What’s Easy For You; What’s Hard; and How Can You Benefit From Both?

Part 1– Appreciate the Easy Things

When I read a story about someone who has worked valiantly to achieve a goal, say, losing 100 pounds, or quitting smoking after 30 years, first, I am proud of them. I know what they did took hard work, persistence, consistent effort, and appropriate self-love that moved them to achieve something so difficult and worthwhile.

Next, I am grateful, relieved. I never started smoking, so I never had to quit. I find the smell repugnant, so there is no temptation whatsoever for me.

So not smoking is one thing I don’t have to work for at all, and it’s a relief, since so many things in life take effort, work, persistence, and self-control. I feel glad to not have that particularly hard struggle to add to the list.

It’s the same with the demanding task of losing large amounts of weight. I’m not model skinny, but even in middle age, I’ve never really had to put much energy into managing my weight.

And though I try to choose mostly healthy foods (does real butter count?) and have some decent habits, like my daily walk, I’m mostly just born with a trim frame and a fast metabolism. So lack of worry about weight is probably 20% decent choices, and 80 percent the way I was born. No reason to brag.

But to not have that struggle — starving myself, counting every calorie on my plate, spending all my time researching what I can and can’t eat, pushing myself to exercise beyond my limits, or wrestling with myself when I really want a cookie — that’s also a blessing, something I don’t have to work hard at or make major sacrifices for.

But let me be clear. I am neither thinking I’m superior because I’m a reasonably thin, happy non-smoker, nor am I disparaging those who do face the struggles mentioned above. What I’m saying is, (and I’ve had this thought for a long time, so I’ve got “read” and “think” covered here), is that sometimes it’s good to stop and appreciate the things that are easy for us, the things we don’t have to struggle for.

Because everyone struggles with something, and some things – usually many things — are hard for each of us. It’s just that your easy and hard are likely to be different from mine. Some things are easy and automatic for us, and take hard work and effort for others, and vice versa.

People struggling with these admirable efforts are probably naturally good at things that I’m not, like maintaining a tidy, organized home; making decisions quickly and easily; or being a great cook; whereas these are areas where I have to make a real effort, with often less than exemplary results.

And back when I was in school, reading, writing, and everything based on language and ideas came easy to me, and I found them fun. Numbers not so much. Athletics not at all.

Throughout my life the fact that reading naturally comes easy to me and I enjoy it has helped me and enriched my life in many ways. That’s my strong area. But over time, the other two have become less of a struggle for me as well.

I’ve gradually made peace — to a degree — with numbers, though I still don’t find them nearly as easy, or interesting, as words.

And though I pretty much stay away from anything that involves a ball or a team, I have learned to find joy in moving my body. My daily walks are essential to my physical and emotional well-being, as well as to nourishing my creative life. To take it further, of course after reading about the benefits of interval training, I have even started adding in a little jogging.

I took my walk earlier today, when the sun was bright and it was warmer and more inviting outside. But now I feel the pull of a little more exercise, so I might spend a few minutes bouncing on my re-bounder, inside. In fact, it’s a treat to look forward to after I finish writing. That’s a long way from when I was maybe ten and my Dad had to pay me to jump rope!

This talk of learning to love exercise, even to push myself a little, leads to my second point.

Part 2 — Build Your Confidence By Setting and Meeting New Challenges

Meeting even small challenges, taking tiny, progressive steps (literally) can help a lot. If we decide to learn or achieve something that was formerly difficult, unfamiliar, or out of our comfort zone, it can not only give us a sense of accomplishment, but it will help us build our confidence that we can meet other challenges that might now seem daunting.

I’ve read about this approach from others. They set challenges in their life, often physical ones, even large ones, like running a marathon, to help them feel empowered to meet other big goals, in their business or their life.

I definitely don’t feel the need to go that far. But my small, progressive efforts at becoming more active have given me a taste of what’s possible.

There’s a long street I walk up most days, and I often jog for part of it. Over time, I’ve enjoyed trying to stretch what I’m able to do. I’ll set landmarks. The first fire hydrant, a hedge of purple flowers, the next fire hydrant, then the corner, then the first edge of the little park. I’ve reached all these goals, a little at a time. Soon I’ll work toward running all the way to the end of the street.

I know to you real athletes out there this will sound tiny, even insignificant, but I’ve been thrilled and amazed to see how I can gradually build my stamina and stretch out what is possible for me, even feeling it become easier over time.

I’ve done the same thing in building my new business. I’m a born writer, and I have the outside-the-box mind an of entrepreneur, but the business part has required a lot of learning and stretching.

A few years ago, I didn’t know what SEO stood for, and a marketing manual would have looked like Chinese to me. Now I’ve become familiar enough with some of these concepts to be conversant in them, and even to have an opinion about methods I wouldn’t have known the name of when I started out.

So, watching myself keep learning, meeting new goals, and becoming, if not comfortable, at least more at home in these new territories, I feel confident that I can achieve other things that seem hard at first.

I’m sure it’s the same for most of us. If we look back at what used to be hard, or unfamiliar, or not really appealing, and see how far we’ve come, and how great it feels, we can have conviction that the bigger things we want are not out of reach if we keep setting goals, making progress, passing each small landmark, until we get where we want to be.

Part 3 – If You’ve Done One of the Hard Things, You’re Stronger Now and Can Do More

Let’s congratulate ourselves for the really hard things we’ve accomplished or survived, and realize that now we are stronger, more resilient, more confident to take on the next challenge.

Whether it was quitting smoking; losing a significant amount of weight; surviving an illness or a bad relationship; finally starting our dream job; or whatever it is that we’ve struggled for and achieved — even if we’re still only partway there, let’s congratulate ourselves and remember that we did it, and we can do more.

So, I hope you’ll give some thought to what’s easy for you, what comes so naturally that you take it for granted. And to what you’ve achieved, whether it was a small challenge or a major mountain to climb.

Touching Stories

Touching Stories

Read. Think. Walk. Write. – Touch.

So I’m back to one syllable. And today’s word relates to, dare I say, ‘touches on’ the primary four.

This isn’t surprising, since the word “touch” has so many definitions, and most of them involve some kind of connection – physical, emotional, or metaphorical.

In my old Webster’s dictionary, the entry for “touch,” including related forms and phrases, takes up more than a full column. The online dictionary site, www.thefreedictionary.com listed over 40 items from Collins English Dictionary under the word.

A few of these are:

  • the act or an instance of something coming into contact with the body

  • a gentle push, tap, or caress

  • a noticeable effect, influence

  • to have an affect on

  • to be in contact

  • to produce an emotional response in

  • to affect, concern

I started out with one of the most basic uses of this word while doing my part-time job as a massage therapist.

While giving a massage to a particularly appreciative client, I thought about the nurturing power of touch, and the many meanings of touch. When done right, as with massage, both the one touched and the one touching benefit. There is an exchange, a connection implied in the word.

I wrote last time about food as a way of nurturing others. The right kind of touch can also be substantially nurturing, and massage is my way of expressing this quality.

It involves, not just physical touch, but connecting with the other person; sensing their needs; and intuitively providing what is needed – find and then work a knot out here; go more gently there; begin and end gradually so as not to startle; be silent; or listen a lot and talk a little if needed; use a thumb or knuckle here for precision, followed by a flat hand for smoothing out; and so on.

Massage, like so many kinds of therapeutic and professional relationships, is a kind of temporary intimacy.

It’s strange, getting so close so quickly – physically, mentally, or emotionally, often all of them, and then maybe never seeing the person again. But sometimes we have touched their lives in some lasting way, and they with us as well.

Many of my clients have touched – moved, affected, had an effect on, me. Oh, yes, which leads me to say a word about my headline. I have a journal by the same title, “touching stories,” about some of my memorable experiences giving massage to clients who stood out to me in some way.

And this quality of affecting, moving, interconnecting, and exchange, takes us to this blog’s four defining words. Read. Think. Walk. Write.

Read/Write. – When we write, we hope to touch someone, to reach them, to move them, to make a meaningful connection with them. It is similar when we read. We want to be touched and to feel connected to the author, the story, the characters – real or fictional. Then we may want to reach back, to let the author know what their words meant to us, or to share the meaning we derived from those words with others.

Think – And all of this – reading, writing, connecting, feeling an effect, is either preceded or followed by thinking. I often think about my clients long after they’re gone, just like I think about a book I’ve finished reading. And, I hope, I do plenty of thinking before I write. Often much of the creation goes on before I get to the computer, though sometimes writing also facilitates thinking as I figure it out as I go along.

And finally, walk — On my walk I am often ‘touched’ by ideas, feelings, thoughts, things I see or encounter, which I think about and often turn into writing.

The other day on my walk, I faced a frequent dilemma, which made a more literal application of the word “touch.”

Right next to the trash can on my walking trail was a pizza box on the ground. So close, but still not where it belonged. I hate litter, especially at the beach, or in other natural, otherwise beautiful spaces.

My dilemma was, I had to make the difficult choice between picking it up, doing my part to make my own little environment more beautiful and less touched by something out of place and not beautiful, or avoiding touching the unknown and perhaps unclean. A stranger’s trash.

In this case there was another dilemma. Since the dog poop bags, (sorry, but I don’t know how else do say it) were right there, I chose to take one, cover my hand with it, then use that hand and my foot to fold the box until it fit into the garbage. But did unnecessarily using a plastic bag add to the problem more than solve it? Was I really making the ecological situation worse? …

So this situation really did ‘touch’ on a lot of issues — personal, universal, and ecological.

And talk about thinking outside the box, as an aside — why did the person not take the extra step to fit the box into the opening of the trash receptacle? They at least set it right beside the trash can, which is a lot better than many people do. But were they really so lazy, or so unwilling or unable to problem-solve that they couldn’t or wouldn’t just fold the box to fit, like I did? I guess that’s a whole other story though.

Touch. I hadn’t necessarily meant this little episode to be part of the “touch” post, but it fits, especially since it happened on a walk. I didn’t want to touch someone’s trash, but I didn’t want to leave it there, negatively touching the beauty and purity of the nature trail.

And all of this thinking about all the kinds of touch during my work and my walk led me to write all these words, which I hope you will read, and think about. These things are interconnected, they touch each other, and each of us.

This is part of the creative life. Whether you are a writer, artist, designer, marketer, or entrepreneur, everything you see and live and think or read about can lead to a new idea, a new ‘product’ whatever that means for you, a new approach to life and work.

So please touch in, keep in touch, and comment on how this topic touched you.

The Last Tangerine: Food, Friends, and Family.

There is one home-grown tangerine left from the large bag given me by a friend of my parents, from his own trees, a couple of months ago. It’s been in there so long I don’t even know if it’s edible anymore. But I can’t bring myself to open it and eat it, or throw it away if it’s no longer any good.

OK., so I have issues with the last of anything. You’d think I was born during the depression instead of the sixties. Anyway, that’s a story for another day. But the point here is that I tend to value food that people give me more than food I buy at the store.

Especially if they grew it themselves (I don’t have a garden or a green thumb) or cooked it themselves (I’m not a great cook) it means more to me. It’s something nurturing and special, and I want to keep that last bit of nourishment and pleasure, and that last reminder that someone cares for me, around as long as I can. It’s like the last container of my Mother’s home-made soup in the freezer. Nothing I buy or make myself seems as good, so I feel like I need to save it as long as I reasonably can, so I can still look forward to enjoying it, and to feeling nurtured by her, another time.

Nurture and nourish.

That seems to be today’s theme. I just couldn’t stay with the monosyllabic verb theme this time. “Eat” just doesn’t convey enough. “Food” gets closer, but it’s not a verb. And though the title, “Food, Friends, and Family, conveys the familiar and cherished idea of enjoying a meal and conversation with loved ones, I am referring especially to food given to me by others, that I savor when I’m on my own again, after our visit is over. It is a way to feel nurtured by – and connected to – others, as I savor the food they’ve given to me.

It turns out that soon after I started writing this, my parents came for another visit. They brought more tangerines, and oranges, from the same friend’s orchard, and more frozen home-made food, though not soup this time.

By that time I had already taken the plunge and peeled the last tangerine. Now it is replaced, with more freshly picked tangerines and – even better — sweet, juicy oranges.

Now I have enough to last for awhile again, and to share with friends – my own way of giving the gift of good food and caring.

And I feel more able to enjoy the soup when I’m ready, because it’s no longer the last of the home-cooked food in the freezer. I’ve also been making good use of leftovers from one of our meals out together, enjoying both not having to cook and remembering our nice visit together, which almost always involves sharing good meals. But that last slice of really good pizza is going into the freezer, for one more future meal.

I’m someone who has relatively little talent – and less patience — generally, for any of the domestic arts. But I appreciate them in others. A house made home-like; a blouse cleaned and perfectly folded; and, especially for the purposes of this post, food lovingly prepared or grown by skillful hands to nourish and nurture others.

One time I travelled to my parent’s house for a visit, and as soon as I walked in, I was greeted by the aroma of delicious food cooking, as well as the sound of a favorite piano music CD, and probably a vase of fresh-picked roses from my Dad’s garden. A true feeling of home-coming.

I suppose this idea of nourishment as nurturing can extend also to what we do for ourselves. I do many things on a daily basis to take care of myself. I walk, jog, and bounce on my re-bounder; I feed myself spiritually with daily Bible reading; I research natural medicine to manage chronic health conditions; I feed my mind with a vast array of reading material; and I practice massage and acupressure techniques to manage a perpetually tight neck and back.

I even do research on food, and try to eat a healthy diet. But the matter of cooking, and actually feeding myself, enough food, of the right kind, at the right times and frequency, is something I frequently fall a bit short on.

So I’m going to work on that. Plan meals and shopping lists ahead; cook extra so I can eat home-cooked food without spending too much time in the kitchen; build on the decent success of my recent first venture into crock-pot cooking; and try to remember to eat something substantial enough before I’ve gotten distracted by other things for longer than I should. Nurture. Nourish. We can do these things for ourselves.

But still it’s not quite the same as when it comes from someone else who showed their care by feeding us, from their kitchen or garden.

Again your call to action is simply a matter of thinking about these questions, and, if you feel moved to do so, sharing some of your answers in the comments.

  • What does food – home-cooked; home-grown; or otherwise, mean to you?
  • What else do you do to nurture yourself and others?
  • How can we transform something we view as a chore (like cooking) that takes us away from our real work, into an enjoyable and valued way of taking care of ourselves and others?
  • And for those of us who don’t excel in the domestic arts that make life better, let’s pay extra attention to showing appreciation for those who do, because it is a skill, an art, an act of love, which should be valued and not taken for granted.

“Consequential Strangers” — Part 2

In Consequential Strangers” – Part 1, I mentioned one particular group of people that I see in passing in my daily life that have become important enough to me to merit their own post. So I’ll start by repeating the paragraph I wrote about them in part 1, and try to do them better justice now.

In the next category are the people – and their dogs — that I see a little beyond my neighborhood, on my daily walking route. I have come to depend on seeing them, petting their dogs, getting to know the names of the dogs first, and then sometimes the names of the owners. I think this item on the list deserves its own post, because these people and pets have become important to me, a part of my social life, and a vicarious way to enjoy pets when I don’t have any of my own at this time. 

And here they are.

During my regular walks in the neighborhood just beyond mine, I often run across the same people, and their pets, time and again. Most I know by sight but only smile at and don’t know by name. Some I’ve come to know a little better. A few have become real friends.

There is a small path that I traverse before crossing a busy street to another neighborhood I like to walk in, because it’s a long, attractive street, with a little dog park at the end. A lot of my more important “consequential strangers” are on this long street, but first there is the little path in between, and I often see the same people walking their dogs there.

Among these are two pairs of small white poodles, both obviously deeply cared for. One is walked by one half or the other of an elderly couple – mostly a gentle-looking man, whom I’ve gotten to know a little. The other pair were rescue dogs adopted by a kind lady who works as a nurse, and it’s clear that their lives made a dramatic turn for the better when she took them home with her. They are dressed in sweet little outfits, carried when they’re tired, and are clearly cherished and well-cared for.

She and I often stop to talk, and, though the dogs don’t like to be touched, they will now get close enough to smell my hand or stand on my leg when I bend down to visit with them. I have not seen them lately, so their impending move must have taken place. But they have been a memorable part of my walks for a long time.

Now for the long street with the dog park. Near the beginning of the street live a couple with their daughter and their dog, Blitz, a large, friendly Rottweiler. At first glance he looks as powerful and impressive, maybe even intimidating, as his name would merit. So much so that when I first came across him, years ago now, I asked his owner if the dog was friendly. Basically I was asking if it was safe for me to get close.

He assured me Blitz was quite harmless, and soon Blitz reassured me even more. In fact, I privately call him Bliss. He is sweet, affectionate, and certainly not threatening. He likes to sit on my foot and lean against me while I practice my dog massage techniques on him.

He is famous in the neighborhood, and enthusiastically greets other neighbors as they go by. Like I mentioned before, though I’ve had cats or dogs much of my life, I don’t live with any pets now, and I miss them, so Blitz gets his massage and I get to enjoy a little canine companionship and affection.

Visiting with him, and his friendly and interesting “parents” if they happen to be outside when I go by, is one of the highlights of my walk. In fact, my neighborhood walks have become a kind of social network for me, a much needed resource for an introvert who often works at home. Though I have plenty of friends I can and need to spend time with, I enjoy being and working at home, by myself, and could easily become a recluse.

But my daily walk (or two) has become important to me, not only for the exercise, but for a change of scenery, a bit of fresh air and “green space,” and a break both from work and from solitude. I appreciate the brief but meaningful human contact and conversation, and it gives me a real feeling of community.

At the risk of revealing my age, and the fact that I sometimes diverge from more intellectually stimulating pursuits into a bit of mindless escapism, I’ll mention that in some ways these walks remind me of the words of a theme song from an 80’s sitcom – “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.”

My frequent walks in my extended neighborhood are like a healthier version of this same idea, of seeing the same people in the same setting frequently enough to feel a sense of connection and belonging. Consequential “strangers,” heavy on the consequential.

With most of the people I see, we just nod or say hello and go on our way, but they have become part of my “community.” These casual encounters help to connect me to my extended neighborhood and to my fellow human beings, however casual and transitory our meetings may be.

Though I am reluctant to adopt the casual use of the word “friend,” a relationship I take very seriously, my conversations with the various acquaintances I frequently meet up with on my walks are certainly more real and meaningful than many that some may have only on a computer screen. This is face to face contact with real people who live near me, and whom I see repeatedly.

These brief encounters often provide a bit of creative fodder as well. For instance, there is the lady who jogs on the treadmill in her garage, facing out into the street. I find the situation a little ironic, but amusing. I’m not sure why she jogs on the treadmill in the garage, while looking out on the street, instead of just doing her jog on the street. Maybe its a bit of a best of a both worlds scenario: inside but looking outside, and with some fresh air coming in; treadmill features but out in nature too; privacy but a bit of interaction as well; and she gets to watch everyone else pass by.

We’ve gotten used to seeing each other, and sometimes we’ll wave as I bustle by. I haven’t seen her lately, though, so I hope I do soon. Maybe she’s taken to moving beyond her garage after all.

Some I see only once, or now and then, but they make an impression on me, like the sweet-looking elderly couple whom I saw walking down the street hand in hand, then taking a turn in the little park. This seems like the most romantic version of “growing old together” in action. I find it inspiring.

There are other elderly ones I often see out walking, some with a cane or obvious difficulty, and I admire their tenacity. And I often pass one dapper-looking older gentleman, dressed nicely and walking briskly. He reminds me of a retired professor. We often wave as we pass by on opposite sides of the street.

Then there is someone, a woman about my age, whom is see frequently, and who is a bit of a puzzle to me. She walks around in circles in a route similar to my own close to home, though I’ve never seen her on the long street in the neighborhood beyond mine. She must live close to me, but I’ve never seen where her walks begin.

She is clearly health-conscious, walking diligently, and wearing a hat to protect herself from the sun. But unlike so many others I’ve gotten used to seeing and sharing friendly exchanges with, she doesn’t seem to want to talk at all, and sometimes appears to barely tolerate my smile or wave. She’ll smile too, but looks a bit strained. At first I tried to talk to her, without much response. I think she is wearing headphones, and maybe talking on the phone.

Now I feel awkward when I pass her, wanting to respect her privacy, but feeling rude if I don’t acknowledge her at all, especially since we literally cross paths so often – sometimes twice on the same walk. I wonder what her story is. Where she lives, what she’s listening to, why she walks when and where she does, why she doesn’t seem to want to talk to me.

It may turn out that we have other things in common, like our walking route, but I may never get the chance to find out.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

So these are some of my most prominent “consequential strangers” for this one demographic, my extended neighborhood walking route. So many stories I get only the smallest glimpses of, but they make a difference in my life.

And that nice couple that belong to Blitz — our conversations have gradually gotten longer and deeper, and it turns out we have some important things in common we never would have guessed at first. So now I consider them more than “consequential strangers,” and in fact potential good friends.

You never know what you’ll find when you walk a little beyond your front door, and pay attention to all the faces you could otherwise take for granted.