Hit The Pause Button, Would You?

pause

My feedback to the student was a tad out of the ordinary. “That was an absolutely perfect use of a pause!”

The adult student was part of a group who delivered their final presentations last Thursday in one of my public speaking classes. Weeks ago, as they were preparing their finals, I had encouraged them to incorporate most of the new knowledge they had gleaned over the past seven units of instruction.

The power of a well-placed pause was part of that training.

Rookie speakers are uncomfortable with pausing. If they’re nervous, they want to rush through the speech and remove themselves from the spotlight. Those who suffer from Imposter Syndrome (see my post from September 8, 2018) hurry through the presentation before someone asks a question they can’t answer. Egotistical speakers don’t like to pause because, well, they’re just so absolutely fascinating they question why should they stop even for a moment?

Admittedly, when you’re the speaker and an audience’s attention is focused on you, a 3-4 second pause can feel like a really long time. But it’s a wonderful tool to add to your repertoire of speaking skills.

A pause gives an audience time to catch up, to process what you’ve said, to take a breath, to consider how a speaker’s words are impacting them. Famous speech coach Patricia Fripp says, “Pauses allow your audience to interact mentally with your words.”

A number of years ago, I remember a guest organist at our church who played hymns differently than the regular organist. At the end of each numbered verse, the guest organist paused a moment before beginning the next verse. We had been so accustomed to our regular organist who just BOOM! started verse two while the congregation was still on the final note from verse one.

When I told the guest organist that I appreciated that time to take a breath, he shared that he had long ago learned the value of a pause. He said, “The larger the congregation (or audience), the longer the pause needs to be.”

This is excellent advice for those on social media where the audience appears to be an endless stream of incredibly angry people.

Go ahead. Take a stand on any issue on social media. Be FOR something or AGAINST something, and I can guarantee it won’t be long before you’re the recipient of narrow-minded, hate-filled spewing of “comments” and then more replies to those comments. It is as if people are engaged in worded fistfights.

I have a deep concern for people who cannot pause for a few moments and reflect on how or why someone may feel or think differently than themselves. The instant negative reactivity unsettles me to the point where I just turn it off. After all, I wouldn’t let people into my home acting like that. So why allow them into my space (and into my head) via my laptop?

Pause is actually defined as a temporary STOP. If we temporarily stop before we react to something and consider our reaction, I’d like to think this would reap amazing benefits to our world.

~~~~~~~~

Patricia Fripp on the value of a pause

Ways a pause can benefit the speaker

 

The Blessing of Smallness

Smallness

a single raindrop

Like many other American women (both young and old, I might add), I have a crush on Dr. Anthony Fauci. And now I’m wondering if this “older man” mild fixation is a new trend in my life because I just cannot get enough of listening to Brother David Steindl-Rast. Happy upcoming 94th birthday, Br. David.

I had included a link to one of Br. David’s meditations on gratefulness in my post Savoring the Good.   And the Network for Grateful Living film “Blessings” (narrated by Br. David) inspired today’s post.

That six-minute film at its essence is a gratefulness prayer. Br. David offers up thanks to the source of all blessings for six aspects of life, several of which we may find unusual topics for which to hold gratitude: breath, humility, imprecision, memory, change, and departures. There’s a link to the video at the end of this post. Please take a few minutes to enjoy it.

In the memory segment, he says, “May I know what to forget and what to retain and treasure, keeping in mind the smallest kindness to me, and spreading its ripples for a long time to come.”

Let those words wash over you for a moment.

The “smallest kindness” phrase carved a niche in my heart because sometimes I feel as though my thanksgiving prayers have become rote; I offer thanks for my life, my family and friends, my home, my church, the community in which I live.

You know, the big five blessings.

Our attention is naturally slanted to the big because that’s what the world pushes. Bigger must be better, right? Huge houses and cars/trucks. Restaurant meals each large enough to feed several people. Designer walk-in closets the size of a motel room. Online influencers who brag of their copious number of followers. Mega churches who boast of 10,000 – 47,000 in attendance pre-pandemic.

So I asked myself, how would I go about being thankful for small things?

Source of all blessings, may we be reminded of the beauty of smallness. Symphonies are a joy to the ear, and equally so is the faint inharmonic melody from a windchime. A photograph of a spectacular waterfall may fill our senses with awe, and yet a photo of a single raindrop waiting to fall from its resting place can bring forth a sense of calming inner peace. Let me be mindful and appreciative of smallness.

As I purposefully seek out small things to appreciate throughout my day, there are too many to list here. Tiny wild strawberries growing by the roadside. An itty-bitty appreciation card that a client included with her payment. A limb of just-blossoming plums that I needed to duck under while on a walk.

A little nose pressed to the screened window sniffing for chipmunks.

Source of all blessings, may we be reminded of the beauty of smallness.

~~~~~~~

PS – Thinking it was a typo (but then I read it twice), I realized I didn’t know the word stan, so I’m providing the definition: an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity. (The word is used in the Dr. Fauci article.)

One of MANY articles about crushes on Dr. Fauci

Blessings featuring Br. David

A Good day (the original) featuring Br. David

A Grateful Day featuring Br. David. This is a remake of A Good Day, revised with video and natural sound vs. still photos. I watch them both back-to-back every morning. What a great start to each day!

 

What Are We So Sorry About?

sorry

An opportunity appeared on Facebook to join a Zoom call featuring a speaker who sounded promising. I already had my day planned, working in my home with a part-time housekeeper to get a whole-house cleaning done. So I knew instead of joining the meeting “live” that I would substitute my photo as a place holder and mute the sounds of the busy work going on.

Be honest: When you’re cleaning the house, do you dress up? Fix your hair? Put on makeup? Because we’re friends I’ll share what I looked like:  a plastic headband kept the hair out of my face. I was wearing slippers, pocketless yoga shorts, a t-shirt, and my daughter’s old candy-striper apron to carry my phone around with me so I could listen to a story while I cleaned.

A few days later I came across a story on Vox that discussed how women respond to live Zoom calls. “I’m sorry” are the first two words out of many female mouths. What are they apologizing for, you ask? Their wrinkles, their double-chins, lack of make-up, roots showing, etc, etc, etc. In other words, nit-picking their physical appearances to the point of ad nauseam.

We all want to look good; I get that. I don’t know anyone who purposely sets out to look bad when they’re going to be seen by others. And yes, I’ve taken training on ways to enhance how one comes across on a Zoom screen that I use when I’m teaching classes because I don’t want any distractions to get in the way of my message.

But no apologizing. In fact, a couple of weeks ago in a Zoom session on body language, I reached the point of how important it is to smile with your eyes. A real smile isn’t just with your mouth; the mouth and the eyes should work together automatically.  So I leaned into the camera and showed the class the crow’s feet around my eyes. “This,” I said while tapping at the corner of my eyes, “is the reward for a lifetime of smiling. And I’m quite proud of them.”

So for your next Zoom call, spruce up as much as you want, slap on some lipstick, ladies, if that improves your mood, and don’t apologize for anything. But if you’re wearing a candy-striper apron, you might want to remove that.

~~~~~~

I wrote on a similar topic in Feb 2018. You can read that here.

VOX article

A man’s view of his own over-apologizing

The story behind a true smile

 

 

1966 Summer Vacation, Part 2

1960s nurses

What WERE my parents thinking? I was just shy of 16 and so naïve and innocent that anything could have happened to me. But they blithely put me on a train by myself in Johnstown, PA, bound for Chicago for a vacation with my sister. (See post from May 16.) That was a scary 12+ hour train ride.

The trip was supposed to have been my first flight in an airplane, but starting July 8, 1966, the five major airlines were shut down by an International Association of Machinists Union strike which lasted 43 days.

Fortunately, I arrived unscathed, only to find that Chicago was in the grip of civil rights riots on the west side of the city. Starting July 11, fires and looting prevailed until finally the National Guard was called in.

And then on July 14 as my sister was getting ready for her last day of work before our vacation began, the early morning radio news was blasting a horrifying story: During the night of July 13, a 24-year-old man named Richard Speck had gained access to a housing unit for student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital and murdered eight of them.

He controlled the six young women already in the apartment with the use of a knife. One by one, he tied them up. When three more girls came home later, he was able to subdue and bind them as well.

Over the course of about four hours, Speck took the girls, all in their early 20s, individually to different areas of the apartment and killed them. The girls were either beaten or strangled. One was raped before being murdered.

Corazon Amurao, a petite 5’2” nursing student, managed to roll her bound body under a bed while Speck was out of the bedroom killing one of her friends. He must have lost count of the total number because he did not look for a missing girl.

When he eventually left, Corazon freed herself and crawled to a second-story ledge and began screaming for help.

Within two days Speck had been located and arrested. His prominent tattoo Born to Raise Hell was one of the markers that aided in his quick capture. At the trial Corazon positively identified Speck as the murderer; that testimony plus his fingerprints found at the scene led to a slam-dunk conviction.

Richard Speck died in prison at the age of 49; he suffered a heart attack. Throughout the years, he offered up no remorse for his killings.

I remember my 16-year-old self being terrified the entire day of July 14 as I waited alone in my sister’s apartment. I knew one thing for sure; I would not answer the door for anyone.

When as a teen I thought about those young student nurses, I never questioned WHY they would be so gullible, so passive, so willing to just let that man take complete control. It was because I had been raised the same way. “Anything to keep the peace.”

I would hope that if (God forbid) a similar situation would occur now, a group of girls or young women or even old women would ferociously fight back and overpower the evil among them. You can count on me to do just that.

This story is dedicated to the memory of those slain nursing students:

Nina Jo Schmale  /  Patricia Ann Matusek  /  Pamela Lee Wilkening  / Mary Ann Jordan  / Suzanne Bridget Farris  /  Valentina Pasion  /  Merlita Gargullo  /  Gloria Jean Davy

~~~~~~~

Interesting article based on information from the brother of Nina Jo Schmale

 

Savoring The Good

savor the good

Photo by my friend Frederique Vincent

“Our nervous system comes prewired to pay attention to negativity. And it’s jacked up by trauma.” So says Dr. Joan Borysenko, leading mind-body expert.

Is it any wonder that so many of us are feeling anxious, on edge, or in just plain old dark moods during these traumatic times we’re living through?

One way to unburden ourselves from the negative perceptions weighing down on us is to savor the good. The good. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top amazing. It need not be the most spectacular or fantastic. It just needs to be good.

This idea comes from Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk for over 60 years (he’s 93) and founder of Gratefulness.org. Brother David reminds us that “many little good things happen throughout the day.” We take them in but then quickly move on to something else.

For instance, our brains may register the trilling of birds waiting for the feeder to be hung, and we think How sweet. Or we look up to see treetops, newly in bloom, swaying in the wind and register That’s so peaceful. Our phone dings with a message from an old friend and we’re filled with momentary pleasure in recalling that lifelong friendship. Or it might be that emotion of awe when we watch a video about butterflies. The reality is that you get to define your own definition of good.

Brother David suggests staying with each good event for at least 30 seconds. Pay attention to them. Let them soak in. Give them time to embed in your consciousness. Then at bedtime, bring up that day’s good moments and take a minute or so to recall them, to “savor the good.”

When we make this a daily practice, we find that with deliberation, we actually start looking for the good. We’ve set up our subconscious to be alert, to be on the lookout for, good that we can recall that night and be grateful.

Many people are inclined to snap a photo of the good as a means of improving our memory of it. As it turns out, that’s not such a great idea.

Psychology professor Linda Henkel says, “When you take a photo of something, you’re counting on the camera to remember for you. You’re basically saying, ‘Okay, I don’t need to think about this any further. The camera’s captured the experience.’ You don’t engage in any of the elaborative or emotional kinds of processing that really would help you remember those experiences, because you’ve outsourced it to your camera.”

It is as if you’re telling your brain, “Hey, take five; you’re off duty.” Henkel termed this phenomenon the “photo-taking-impairment effect.”

There may be seasons of our lives when the good moments might be few. There are times when we may even need to really search for the good. And for those who are alone right now, this may be that season for you. I pray that you find at least one good moment each day.

~~~~~~~

https://gratefulness.org/

“Photo-taking-impairment-effect” article

A Grateful Day with Brother David Steindl-Rast This five-minute video may change your life.

Video of monarch butterfly swarm from Nature on PBS

 

 

Thinking Outside The Box

Thinking Outside The Box

A few years before she died, my mother-in-law Rosalie was appalled by the birthday card her son Bill bought for my special day. When Rosalie did the choosing, the card usually depicted flowers and professed loving words.

Bill’s card, on the other hand, portrayed an office conference room. A cat’s litter box sat in the center of the long table with spilled litter all around. The “people” standing around the conference table were dressed in business attire but had cat heads instead of human ones. The card posed the question, “All right. Who’s been thinking outside the box again?”

Go ahead and laugh since I did then and still do when I remember it.

Surely everyone in the world has heard the phrase think outside the box. It has been used so often that it’s become a cliché. It’s intended to encourage us to discard our usual way of looking at problems and come up with new ideas, to disregard the obvious and look further for answers.

Like most things, there is some dispute about who “invented” the phrase.

One source says it developed from the publication Aviation Week & Space Technology, July 1975 when a writer said, “We must step back and see if the solutions to our problems lie outside the box.”

Some credit James Adams, emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, for making the phrase popular. His book (originally published in 1974) Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas is now in its fifth edition. In that book he presents a visual puzzle depicting nine dots, three dots in three rows lined up. The puzzle is to connect all nine dots with four straight lines (or fewer) without having the pencil leave the paper and without retracing your route.

If you’ve not seen this puzzle before, go ahead and try to solve it and then come back here. One standard solution and some others are noted in a link below. Yes, there are multiple correct answers!

Many fail at this because we make up a rule that was NOT in the original direction. The made-up rule is this: There is an imaginary box around the dots and we believe we cannot move beyond that square. It’s only in the disregard of that imaginary box that the puzzle can be solved.

And isn’t that just like real life? I know that I’ve not put to good use all of my talents because I’ve imposed an imaginary box around what I believe I can do. I’ve missed taking some important chances because I didn’t think I could dare step outside the confinement of what my belief system said about myself.

I like James Adams’ response to people who ask him just how does one think outside the box?

He simply asks them a question in response:  “What box?”

~~~~~

Solution to the nine dots puzzle and some other fun info!

The Negative We Actually Need Today

negative capability

F. Scott Fitzgerald borrowed the poet’s phrase “Tender is the night” to become the title of his 1934 novel. The term “Bright Star” was taken from one of his poems and used as the title of a 2009 biographical film on the poet’s life. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” (on the adverse effects on our environment caused by pesticides) was supposedly so named because Carson had been inspired by a line of his poetry that says, “And no birds sing.”

Well, since others have used English poet John Keats’ words for their own purposes, so will I.

Keats, who died in 1821 at the age of 25, used the phrase Negative Capability just once in an 1817 letter to his brothers. Keats was describing a conversation with friends from a few days earlier. Wikipedia notes that Keats meant the term to “characterize the capacity of the greatest writers (particularly Shakespeare) to pursue a vision of artistic beauty even when it leads them into intellectual confusion and uncertainty, as opposed to a preference for philosophical certainty over artistic beauty.”

Although the primary reference was in regard to a writer’s ability, Negative Capability has come to have philosophical meanings. After some research, I believe this is my favorite meaning of a person possessing negative capability:

One who has a willingness to embrace uncertainty and can make peace with not knowing everything right now

If ever there was a time for Negative Capability to be present in our lives, it is this day, this week, this month.

Many of us are like four-year-olds on a car trip whining, “How much longer?!” We demand to know when this COVID-19 crisis will be over. Come on; give us a date to circle on our calendars so we can X-out the days as we get through them!

Acting as if it’s our right as Americans to demand certainty in uncertain times only causes us more stress. What we know is that we don’t know for sure when life will resume its normal patterns. And in the meantime, we’ll follow the rules of social distancing and washing hands.

Embracing uncertainty can assist us in accepting our changed lives. For instance, you may have seen one of the Facebook postings that reads like a lesson from the Bible. This one is by Kitty O’Meara:

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

Or this one from the Center for Spiritual Living: “Nothing should go back to normal. Normal wasn’t working. If we go back to the way things were, we will have lost the lesson. May we rise up and do better.”

Wishing you joy, peace, and some negative capability on this day.

~~~~~

Article from BrainPickings.org

Mind Over Body OR Body Over Mind?

Mind over bodyFor many years I have found the subject of the mind/body connection fascinating. One of the original books on the topic that hooked me goes back to 1987. Minding the Body, Mending the Mind by Dr. Joan Borysenko is still applicable all these years later. In fact, I include the book as suggested reading to my public speaking students.

So I was thrilled to find in a new book I’m currently reading (Successful Aging by Dr. Daniel Levitin) that the author has a strong focus on the mind/body connection as it relates to aging well. Dr. Levitin (62) is a neuroscientist and cognitive psychologist. I appreciate that instead of relying simply on his own work and own opinions for the book, he reviewed around four thousand peer-reviewed scientific papers.

One phrase that popped out at me in the section on exercise is embodied cognition. Basically our brains thrive on our body’s physical movement. Our memory, problem-solving skills, planning abilities, creativity, and thinking are enhanced by physical activity.

Note that “physical activity” doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a gym rat or taking up running. (Unless those activities bring you joy. Or unless you’re Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins who took up competitive athletics at age 75 and then at age 100 moved on to running. At 101 she won the hundred-yard dash in the National Senior Games.)

Physical activity can be as simple as moving around, interacting with the environment.

Dr. Levitin says the true meaning of embodied cognition came as an epiphany to him when he went for a walk in the Quebec countryside with two 70-ish friends. The path was a dirt trail through the woods. They meandered over tree roots, rocks, and fallen branches. They had to negotiate around young children running along the path as well as duck those pesky low-hanging branches.

It struck him that he had to carefully watch where he walked, making sure that foot placement was just so. Compared to walking on a treadmill or strolling on a nicely paved sidewalk (both beneficial movement), walking outdoors, he believes, is the best physical activity to keep the brain active and flexible.

It turns out I had intuitively already made this part of my routine. While walking my dog Grace along a creek at a local park, we negotiate our way among humongous tree roots. Then we go off the path to mount the small hillside so Grace can sniff out the fence line adjacent to a cow pasture. We make our way through an uneven terrain of pine needles, pinecones, dead leaves, twigs, fallen tree limbs, and rocks on the park’s opposite side. For once I am ahead of the curve for health recommendations!

I think everyone over 60 and their adult children will benefit from reading Successful Aging. While the book (at 400 pages not counting the 74 pages of NOTES) can at times read a bit too much like a textbook, it’s thoughtfully written. It’s not a list of DO THIS / DON’T DO THIS bullet points, nor does Levitin try to shock readers with DO THIS OR ELSE! predictions.

Instead, the pages are filled with interesting science-based material and gentle nudges for readers to incorporate the key concepts into their daily lives in order to live a longer, healthier, and enriched life.

The book also provides the information our adult children need to understand this new stage of life we parents are living through, such as why we grow accustomed to things the way they are. For instance, the challenge of a new cell phone doesn’t arise because someone has turned 72 and suddenly grown stupid. It’s because of changes in the brain that make learning something new more difficult as well as make our fingers less dexterous.

This is a book that will bring a better understanding among our family members, and so it is well worth the 400-page read.

~~~~~

Interview clip of Dr. Levitin

Making Ourselves Sick (with fear)

making ourselves sick with fear

I rarely write about topical issues mostly because it’s the “stuff” that everyone else is already talking about. If your email inbox is anything like mine, this week you’ve had new mail from your bank, the credit union, your church, the grocery stores, your insurance agent, your children’s school, and any place where you might physically show up. I even had one from Budget Rent A Car (from whom I haven’t rented since 2009). The companies all want to assure us that OUR health and safety is of utmost priority for them during this time of COVID-19 crisis.

I just Googled COVID-19 and was rewarded with  2,650,000,000 results. That’s two BILLION, six hundred fifty million. Clearly, every adult on earth knows about this topic.

While naturally I have some concern about the virus that is especially threatening for older adults with underlying health conditions, I refuse to sit around and wring my hands. And actually, I am more concerned about the deep stress and overwhelming anxiety so many people are going through worrying about COVID-19.

I rarely watch any live news but was too lazy to get up from the sofa when it came on last night. Story after story was shared by anxious newscasters about schools temporarily closing in the DC metropolitan area. After nine minutes I announced that I couldn’t take any more. The media was making this proactive step sound like confirmation that we are all going to die.

If we focus on fear and the worst predictions, we’ll make ourselves miserable. I hear and see people tuning out the positive aspects with a “yes but” response. As most psychologists will tell you, “yes but” actually means “no.”

Four days ago the Director-General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus offered remarks on the COVID-19 virus. He said that among those who are infected, most will recover.

Yes, most will recover, just as most people recover from regular influenza. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that during the flu season of 2019/2020 there have been at least 22,000 deaths and 370,000 hospitalizations among the 36 million people unlucky enough to have experienced the “regular” flu.

Follow the CDC precautions for avoiding this current virus. Absolutely wash your hands on a regular basis and use hand sanitizer when you can’t. Stay home if you’re sick. Cover your coughs and sneezes. I would add stop reading every alarming article and watching every scary video about it. Check out true sources such as the CDC instead.

And keep in mind Dr. Ghebreyesus closing words in his remarks:

“Let hope be the antidote to fear. Let solidarity be the antidote to blame. Let our shared humanity be the antidote to our shared threat.”

~~~~~

Remarks by WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Please read!

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice page

 

Who Knows What’s Next?

what's next

My mother-in-law Rosalie often quipped an adage up to the week before she died at the age of 100: “Old age isn’t for sissies.”

QuoteInvestigator.com says that the phrase first appeared in the Reader’s Digest April 1968 magazine, having been submitted to their “Life in the United States” section by a Ruth Hain from California. Ruth’s story was that her group of elderly friends had been sitting around complaining of various aches and pains and the maladies associated with aging. Until finally one friend said, “Well, it just proves one thing; old age sure ain’t for sissies.”

As we age we hear more about decline, both physical and mental. Maybe we clicked on one social media article about aging and the algorithms kicked in, gleefully filling our news feeds and inboxes with notices about the hazards of getting on in years.

Many of them scare us because we don’t want to be THAT person who ends up with Alzheimer’s, or THAT person confined to a bed or a wheelchair, or THAT person who has been forgotten and is living in isolation.

The older we get, the more frightening the concept of not being the same version of ourselves becomes.

Next month I will cross the calendar date when I will officially be closer to 70 than 69.

May I just say that feels impossible?

For the past ten years I haven’t minded sharing that I’m in my 60s. I had a blast at my 50th high school reunion in 2018, reminiscing with all the other 68-year-olds. Keeping active in all the ways that it counts (spiritually, mentally, physically, socially), I haven’t felt my age. I don’t feel old.

So I’m not certain why the idea of becoming 70 in the fall feels like a dramatic turning point.

The “aging” site that most frequently pops up in my email feed is called NextAvenue.org. Their tagline is “where grown-ups keep growing,” and their menu tabs are: Health / Money and Policy / Work and Purpose / Living / Caregiving / Technology.

Unlike many of the “you’re-getting-old-and-you-need-to-be-afraid-of-what’s-coming-next” sites, articles, and stories, Next Avenue offers encouragement, insight, inspirational stories, and advice to those in their midlife season.

I like it because it’s not one of those preachy sites that makes it seem as though there is just one right way to live your older life. And actually, it parallels my teaching and writing methods: offering up new information in a positive way for readers to consider and then ponder how they might find ways of incorporating the ideas to improve their own lives.

I’ve included a link below so you can check out their site.

So for now, this is your 69 years, four months, and 22 days old blogger signing off.

~~~~~

QuoteInvestigator.com

Next Avenue