Archive for December, 2014

Stepping Forward with a Different Foot

December 31, 2014

How does one go about finding motivation to continue working at an impossible job? What enabled Sisyphus to continue pushing that boulder up the mountain?

Now How Do I Do This?

Now How Do I Do This?

Vacations are meant to provide rest and relaxation, a break in routine which allows one to return to work refreshed and with new energy and purpose. So far, completing the middle of three days of work between two four-day weekends, I am only seeing a great reluctance to return to my too-full-time job in January.

Not because I don’t like most of the work. Not even because the computer data base we must use is so extremely user unfriendly. My reluctance comes from knowledge that the caseload is too large for me to meet my own expectations of performance. Working ten hours a day, seven days a week, I would not get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Working an average of 55 hours a week I most certainly do not do so. More importantly, just keeping track of everything I should be doing is virtually impossible. The size of the job is beyond control.

I’ve tried telling myself that doing my best on the cases I reach is all that I should expect. I’ve attempted to focus on the successes I’ve achieved, the clients who are happy with what I’ve been able to do for and with them. Just today I had a call from one of these, a woman who wanted me to hear the latest challenge she faced and overcame. She wasn’t looking for validation or approval, just for a listening ear so she could hear for herself what she was accomplishing.

But now another day has passed without needed services for a client who lost them due to the mistake of a state agency. I’ve spent time every day for the past eight weeks, first trying to prevent the termination of services, then trying to push someone in authority to recognize and correct the error. I did hear, today, that steps are finally being taken to right the wrong – but I’m typing with crossed fingers. After two months of no one hearing or caring, I’ve moved to Missouri. I’ll believe the situation is corrected when I see it fixed and my client is once more getting services.

Also today I dealt with the case of a client who is having difficulty accessing services from the only provider in the state who can care for her – because my employer (an MCO) does not contract with the provider’s employer (a hospital complex). Procedures needed to get her services include access to levels of review in the MCO that I am not familiar with. I do know whom to ask, and have already been given suggestions on what steps to take next. Teamwork and support are positives in my workplace.

I’ve tried to set myself a standard of doing a complete and to-my-best-ability job for each client with whom I have contact, and not worrying about the ones I’m supposed to check in on, but do not reach. Whenever a client’s needs raise issues with which I’m unfamiliar, I require more hours to meet that standard. More time means more clients I don’t contact, more items on the not-done list, and another trip up the mountain, pushing my boulder.

I, like most people, need to feel some control over my work and some sense of completion. The size of the caseload and the imposed expectations of performance erase control and eliminate completion. Sisyphus and a restaurant dishwasher and I share an unending task that is never done. I can’t ask Sisyphus how he persuaded himself to keep on keeping on. Maybe I should inquire of a few local dishwashers?

Management is trying to hire more staff, to bring the caseloads down. They are also going to replace our nightmare software system – in another year (2016). I’m hardly the only person trudging endlessly up the hill. Too large a number of my coworkers have transferred, not out of the company because it is quite a good employer, but to different departments where the work expectations are achievable.

I don’t easily have that option. So I need to learn to love pushing my boulder endlessly up my hill – and I don’t know how to go about that challenge.

Wisdom of my Teacher

Wisdom of my Teacher

What I do know is that everything that comes into my life can be a source of learning. Maybe my question should therefore be, what will I gain from a stint as Sisyphus? Is this whole experience just about me learning to let go of the need for control, on yet another level of existence?

If the details of such an enormous load are too much for mind to manage, perhaps I need to learn how to set my priorities, move through my days, meet my clients and complete my work based on the dictates of some other part of my persona. I’ve had some of my most satisfying work days when my schedule is totally overturned, and I end up just doing what’s brought to my attention, item after item, into the evening. My more frustrating days usually involve trying persistently to accomplish something I’ve determined as a priority, despite computer glitches and multiple petty distractions.

Sounds like maybe the lesson is, once more as so often, Thy Will not mine, Lord.

In which case I don’t need to figure out how to push my boulder up the hill. I only need to be ready to put out whatever effort each day calls for, perhaps to find myself riding a roller coaster, or sliding downhill on skis, and only occasionally carrying a small pack up a mountain trail.

I can do that. Yes I can. Happy 2015.

Moving Ahead

Moving Ahead

Transitions Are a Challenge

December 28, 2014

Transitions are a challenge. Some folks make a career out of providing guidance and support to others going through the bigger life transitions – education choices, marriage planning, establishing a home, preparing for retirement, or using Hospice to gracefully end a life.

No one I’ve encountered makes much of a business of guiding others through the little transitions that can be just as disorienting. After months of 6-7 days a week of work, having 4 days “off” requires an adaptation in thinking, sleeping, rhythm of the day that is as much a transition as taking full retirement. But there are no books to tell one how to apply the brakes, slow the metabolism, shift one’s perspective in order to fully benefit from the change in activity.

I have a friend who teaches at the United World College, who has come to recognize a sort of mini-depression that accompanies the start of each eagerly awaited break in the school year. He is tired from the pace of teaching, very ready for a restful change in activities – yet the actual transition is not easy. He handles the vacations more smoothly when he has a trip of some sort planned; when finances prevent travel he says he finds it hard to switch from constantly busy to a relaxed and yet satisfying pattern of activity.

I’m having somewhat the same challenge, on a smaller scale, with my two back-to-back four day weekends. I was/am so very ready for a break from work, but actually slowing and relaxing and letting the days flow in their own form is not easy. My body wakes at its normal 6:30; I have to tell it to go back to sleep. My mind wants to review what is still waiting to be done on this month’s caseload; I have to firmly yank it away with a scolding “not today”. By my third day off, I do sleep in late (stayed up unusually late the previous night) and enjoy the fact that the only demands in the day pertain to cleaning and preparing fish to be roasted later, as part of supper being served for a small group of friends.

A basically unscheduled day.
What a rarity.
What a joy.

So why is it difficult to make the transition, and relax into this open-ended time? Why do I find myself starting to sort through accumulated magazines as I tidy my living space for tonight’s company? The reading material has accumulated over several months, unattended, while I worked. Surely it can remain so during my little space of rest.

The particular transition I and my UWC friend confront is from doing to relaxing (or being, doobee, doobee, do).

Shifting from vacation back to work mode is no less easy, I know. Maybe that’s why, when the vacation is as short as at present, I’m not inclined to fall into resting mode to the depth I might wish to do.

An extreme of resisting transitions or change can be seen in obsessive-compulsive behavior, where a dish out of place on the table can set off a panicked repetitive response. Fear of some sort of loss underlies most compulsive behavior. Hmm… yes I see that I do, at some minor level, fear that if I fully relax I may not be able to bring myself back to the high level of energy required to do my job well.

An extreme opposite to compulsive sameness is found in the principle of impermanence which is fundamental to Buddhism. Meditation, stilling the mind, is the practice of becoming free from the illusion of time and therefore the illusion of permanence (something enduring over time). The contemplative practices of MasterPath also encourage development of an inner realization that the only things which endure are Soul, the Eternal Divine Master, and the emanation of Its energy, experienced as Shabda, a Sanskrit word loosely translated as Love. Happiness is found in acceptance of the transitory nature of what we normally call reality. Pain and suffering are mental constructs which arise from comparison – what is versus what was, what is versus what may be in the future, what is versus what one wishes were true, etc.

Which brings my reflection to another level – why are we constructed such that our mental limits, need for a sense of permanence, resistance to even small changes is so solidly implanted? Why does it take so much concentration to move into a different form of awareness, where each moment is pure and precious and enjoyed for itself, as it is, without comparison?

I will not even begin to probe in that direction. Theologians have argued the point for millennia. I have nothing to add to their dialogue.

I choose instead to focus my attention on becoming fully aware of the small ways I still cling to the illusion of permanence. I choose to continue my effort to let go of the need to hold that illusion. As my Teacher instructs, I choose to put my attention on that which is not just permanent but eternal, for therein lies my happiness.

I could not have maintained the pace of work this past year, nor found the new love delighting me, nor been enabled to assist those who now say I have done so, had I been focused on finding permanence. Indeed, my life for many years before 2013/14 had seemed stuck in one place and one pattern. I was learning the lesson of seeing small positive changes in what appeared to be sameness. I was learning to be patient while karmic issues exhausted themselves. I was learning to be happy and feel free within what could be perceived and felt as a prison.

Now I must learn to be as patient, as free and as happy within the context of constant change. My Master, in His inner form, brought me through the illusion of being stuck. He will see me through what I am now experiencing as a whirlwind of impermanence.

So be it.

Eyes on the Sparrow

Eyes on the Sparrow

Accomplishments

December 21, 2014

In high school, I was required to complete English to French translations on a weekly basis. In college, minoring in French, the translation obligation continued. I became quite adept at it, even thought about a career as a translator but life took me in a different direction. Over the many long years I’ve lived in New Mexico with minimal occasion to use French, I gradually lost my fluency.

A year ago, I felt that if I did not do something – urgently – to begin using French again, I would cease to be able to express myself in the language. I sought out someone with whom to speak and not only regained fluency but totally transformed my life. Now, a year later, I was called upon last night to translate English into French once more. The task was only a short prayer for Advent, but I found myself able to complete the project easily and rapidly. Few recent accomplishments have given me as great a sense of satisfaction as that paragraph of translation, flowing readily from my pen.

Over the course of a day, I reflected on why I value the resurrection of bilingual skill so much more highly than I do the talents that let me do my daily work effectively. I have been complimented on what others perceive as my unique work skills which they value and appreciate. I don’t exactly take my talents for granted, but – like my ability to cook – they come so naturally as to be simply a part of me.

Is it the perceived effort involved, that affects what I feel to be an accomplishment?

Once upon a time, I suppose, cooking took effort. That was so very long ago that I truly don’t remember not being easy in the kitchen, as I was when recently called up to create a satisfying Asian/African meal for 3 hungry men with only an hour’s notice. It did please me that the meal satisfied my guests. I expected nothing less of myself.

My mother had a part-time job, when I was small, that took her out of the house just before I arrived home from school. She would leave me notes listing my chores for the day, often including the beginning preparations for that night’s supper. I apparently absorbed the basics of cooking and seasoning so completely that, years later, I “created” a chicken dish for company that was a big hit. I later served it to my parents when they came to visit. My mother took a bite, then said, “When did I give you this recipe?”
“You didn’t. I made up the meal when I wanted to do something different with chicken.”
“But I used to cook this same dish,” she insisted.
We compared notes on spices and preparation and she said I had copied her exactly. I was 24 then. The last time my mother could have cooked the meal for me, I was eight.

I cannot so easily point to the origins of my skill with people, and with words, that contribute to the appreciation I have lately experienced in my work. Living in different cultures certainly played a part. So did my parents’ emphasis on speaking correctly. I remember my father walking around the house practicing “around the rough and rugged rock the ragged rascal ran” in order to soften his Germanic r’s. In recent years, I’ve had to consciously undo some of that early language training. It comes across to some people as arrogance or snobbishness, qualities that interfere with establishing the rapport essential to my job in health care.

It still surprises me, that people perceive me as having a unique talent for connecting “with all sorts” in many different environments. People interest me. Understanding them is necessary to assisting them. I’m just “doing what comes naturally.” Which brings me back to the idea that there must be some effort involved in an activity, for me to feel that it is an accomplishment. I had to work, this past year, to restore my comfort with French, so completing the translation feels like an achievement.

There is a caution offered, that one should beware of what comes easily. “Easy come, easy go.” I wonder if it is meant to warn against not taking one’s own easy talents for granted? If one disregards the talents, will one lose them? Certainly, not practicing and using French almost led to that sort of loss. But I cannot conceive of not knowing how to cook, and am now daily making meals pleasing to someone other than myself, using recipes I have not prepared in more than ten years.

My people skills and cooking seem to fall into the realm of habit – like riding a bike, swimming, or driving a car. I no longer need to think about them, I just do them. Habitual skills do not fade (except maybe with dementia or other brain malfunctions) for lack of practice. In fact, it took close to forty years of non-use for my ability to speak French to fade from fluent to almost erased. I’ve been told that my French was not at risk of extinction, only dormant and waiting for the proper environment to cause it to rise once more to a serviceable level. Maybe. It didn’t feel that way last year at this time.

Am I alone in not taking much credit for habitual skills? Is it common to only value that which one has worked to achieve? If skills and talents already developed are sufficiently satisfying, does one then “rest on one’s laurels” and perhaps cease to learn and grow?

Aspiration Accomplished

Aspiration Accomplished

I don’t have answers today, only questions… seulement des questions, pas de reponses.
Merci de me lire et de me repondre.

What Is…

December 14, 2014

I just spent some time last night and this afternoon checking out and replying to various posts on Facebook – a place I have not visited in weeks. Finding out there’s still a world out there where people have time to watch clips, post pictures, and generally interact for something other than work. Wow.

I hit some sort of end point yesterday shortly after noon. In retrospect I recognize how much I had been counting on having the entire weekend to use on personal interests. Instead, I had to work for much of Saturday to meet demands imposed by an impending state government audit of my employer. It was after 3:00 P.M. before I was able to head into Las Vegas for a walk along Bridge Street and a bit of shopping for the few items I needed to complete my Christmas gift package to a good friend and her family. By that time I’d fallen into a snit – one of those unpleasant moods somewhere between anger and self-pity, feeling unappreciated and generally out of sorts.

Walking and window shopping and finding items for the gift box was not in itself important. Doing something I wanted to do, rather than something expected or required of me, was what mattered. Another friend called, we met for a coffee and talk, and my mood improved. Today I am “back to myself” and readying for another long and demanding week of work.

I wrote – I think in my last, rather distantly past blog post – that I’m so busy living I don’t have time to reflect on, nor write about, what I’m experiencing. I didn’t realize until now that I was actually identifying a problem that needs a solution. I’ve gone from an excess of “me” time to virtually none at all. Neither extreme is healthy.

My Teacher instructs that one cannot outflow effectively if one does not first fill one’s cup, to have something worth pouring out to others. I know this to be true of spiritual matters. My Teacher also reminds us “as above so below”, meaning what one contemplates and envisions manifests eventually in one’s outer life, though perhaps not in the ways the mind and ego imagine or expect. Filling my Soul above with Divine Love, Power and Wisdom through my daily contemplation exercises, I am equipped to pass along encouragement and support to those whom I meet in need.

In the spirit of...

In the spirit of…

Knowing and practicing this Truth, why is it still so hard for me to apply a similar practice below, in my daily allocation of time and energy? How ingrained is the habit of acceding always to the needs of others, rather than speaking up for “me” time!

My new husband is such a loving and generous soul – telling me often that if I want or need something from him, just ask. On those occasions when I’ve broken a lifelong pattern, and asked for what I want, he has responded promptly in the affirmative. But, nonetheless, yesterday happened. I apparently still cannot give myself permission to take what I need, when I need it!

I suspect that this is another manifestation of an uncertainty as to “worthiness”. Have I earned the right to self-care? Have I earned my way into grace?

Grace isn’t earned, it is gifted. Isn’t it about time I left myself open to accept the gift in every moment, so that I automatically provide self-care and don’t reach the stressed out point of needing to demand “me” time? Why is this such a hard lesson to learn?

Yes, I know that each time this lesson of self-acceptance has arisen, it has taken a more subtle form. Each time I get “bent out of shape”, I recognize it sooner and do less harm before calling myself out for my conduct. But that sounds like a mental justification for continuing the behavior, not like an indicator of progress toward eliminating it.

Open Acceptance of Beauty

Open Acceptance of Beauty

In this season of annual review, of winding up things and making new beginnings, I wish for myself the humility and openness to finally release whatever underlying sense of unworthiness causes me still to push myself to prove… I know not what.

++++++

The last few paragraphs were written after what was in their place “erased” with an unintentional sweep of the mouse. Do I get upset at losing my words – or accept that something expressed more effectively was meant to be in their place? The latter, if I am to implement in my lower, outer life the same acceptance of grace that I claim in the higher, inner places of my spirit
What is, is meant to be.
What is, is enough.
What is, is.
Enough.


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