Stress Buster ….Embracing the Stress…and Providing the Service

It is not uncommon to feel a bit stressed. I frequently hear of students who suffer from stress, or anxiety – heck throw a math exam my way – never mind that it’s a grade 6 math test and watch the bullets of sweat bead up on my increasingly balding head.  This belies the fact that I did receive 100% in Math 30 back in the 70’s as I finished my high school math career. (That 48% the first year required a second effort and 52% in the second round to attain that 100% but still….who says traditional math instruction didn’t work).

Back to embracing stress…I have 3 daughters and 3 sons – the youngest is now 21 (I think) and all of them have their own unique ways of dealing with stress and anxiety.  Recently I had the opportunity to watch Kelly McGonigal (@kellymcgonigal and Kelly’s website with tips,videos, articles etc)  present at TED (not live I haven’t been that fortunate but on youtube). Check it out below.

 

Kelly McGonigal referred to a couple of studies in support of her work, here is a summary of the Keller, Litzelman study from the University of Wisconsin.

Jamieson, Mendes and Nock’s work on our choice to redirect our response to stress can be read here.   And a brief report of the study can be found here.   Jamieson, Mendes and Nock quote William James writing, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”  This aligns with my belief that we must never forget that our agency, our ability to choose is foundational in all that we do – that and the faith based notion that we will never be tested beyond what we are capable to endure.

Like any other skill or attribute our capacity to redirect or refocus stress and anxiety from debilitating to empowering or at least sustaining our work takes time, but like every other lesson it begins with a commitment to listen, read, and ponder the alternative responses and then giving it a try.

I particularly like the idea that service rendered to others, even when we feel caught up in our own tsunami of events and “stress” can provide us with a valuable stress buster and the capacity to get through the moment and increase our own capacity. I find myself challenged to be more mindful and keep my eyes open for opportunities to serve and support.

Check out Kelly McGonigal on twitter @kellymcgonigal and Kelly’s website with tips,videos, articles etc

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“You are wrong, and always have been wrong”

Which is the more difficult?  To be wrong or to be wronged?

Perhaps it is to come to the knowledge that you have been wrong and in that process understand the impact upon others as a result of your being wrong.

jackmiserables
Hugh Jackman as Valjean

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables has come, once again, to the big theatre screen in 2012, I took the opportunity to go watch it on Boxing Day and enjoyed myself immensely. The classic tale of a man guilty of a minor offense, Jean Valjean, relentlessly pursued by a policeman, Javert, who is convinced that Valjean is a criminal and will never be anything other than a criminal who must pay and continue to pay for his mistake, for the rest of his life. The heinous crime Valjean committed was nothing less than the stealing of a piece or two of bread shortly after the time of the initial French Revolution.

Javert1
Russell Crowe as Javert

Times have changed yet I suspect the life of a paroled criminal remains difficult. The New York Times reported in 1985 that 84% of felons in prison were repeat offenders. Is Javert wrong in his obsessive pursuit of Valjean? The price for stealing bread long since paid, the new crime, violating his parole or perhaps daring to live as anything other than a criminal serving as Javert’s motivation for a lifetime of relentless tracking. I would suggest that’s not the point.

It is not my intent to repeat or review the entire story, I do recommend the movie, the book, and hope someday to join the millions who have seen the play, preferably on broadway…maybe even act in it at the local theatre.  I do, however,  want to focus on one piece of dialogue in the screenplay that struck me particularly hard and serves as the title of this post.

On each occasion where Valjean and Javert meet following Valjean’s release on parole, Valjean struggles to hold to the high ground and refuses to be defined by the perceptions that Javert holds about him personally and one might conclude about those who share in Valjean’s unfortunate past circumstances. However I note that on these occasions he is also forced to run, leave what life he has and seek some measure of solitude elsewhere.

What passes as justice appears heavily anchored in a prejudice of supposed correctness that simply will not allow Javert to consider an alternative possibility. Like many others Javert considers himself not only reasonable but just in his opinion. I am reminded of the words of Carol Tavris who wrote, “any opinion I hold must be reasonable; if it weren’t, I wouldn’t hold it”.

At a critical point in the story the roles are reversed and it is Valjean who holds the life of Javert in his hands.  As Javert awaits his death at the hands of Valjean he once again accuses him of being a thief, a thief for life, and specifically one who has waited all his life to get revenge on Javert and take his life.

It is to this charge that Valjean replies:

“You are wrong, and always have been wrong. I’m a man no worse than any man.”

We do not do “wrong” well. Confronted by the actions of others, when actions and words are brought out into the light of examination there are occasions where we come to see that what we held to just moments ago as incontrovertibly true is in fact, false.

I do not agree with Javert’s actions when confronted by his “wrongs”, Kathryn Schultz wrote, “Certain mistakes can actually kill us, but many, many more of them just make us want to die”. 2  I would suggest that these feelings are in part from the realization that in being wrong we have negatively and needlessly impacted the lives of others.

I started with a question, which is more difficult to be wrong or to be wronged? I would suggest that the answer rests in what we do with the knowledge of either.

If we are wronged we may not have the power to change the mind of those who we perceive have wronged us but we retain the power, the agency, to choose our response. If we are are wrong, we must first be willing to be receive the new information which serves to bring our previous actions or beliefs into question. With that new experience we must then acknowledge our error and make every effort to make right what had once been wrong.

I hope I have the courage when wronged to respond with compassion toward those perceived to have wronged me while at the same time working to correct my mistakes and do no wrong in my interactions with others.

1 Mistakes were made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (p.42)
2 Being wrong: Adventures in the margin of error by Kathryn Schulz (p. 26)
Images are available for download at the official website of the movie http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com

This above all…

The setting or circumstance doesn’t really matter. When the time comes for us to venture out into the world be it that first day of kindergarten, as a teenager, a university student, an adult to work, as I said the circumstance or timing is not the key what we do while we are out wherever we are, therein rests the focus.

In the Shakespearean play Hamlet a father gives counsel to his son ranging from finances, “neither a borrower nor a lender be”, to friendship, “those friends thou hast, …grapple (hold) them to they soul with hoops of steel” to the art of conversation “give every man thy ear, but few thy voice”.  These are Polonius’ words to his son Laertes as he prepares to leave for France.

Polonius closes with “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” 

He shares this counsel confident, and hopeful at the same time, that he has provided Laertes with the upbringing and support that would enable him to make good choices in whatever situation he finds himself. That if he is constant to his values and upbringing he will succeed and be someone that others can count upon. In our own lives, our own self-development we would do well to reflect upon what it is we believe, really value as being at the core of who we are and then ensuring as the day follows the night that our actions align with those beliefs.

bravery 2I suspect it takes an element of bravery to stand for something and follow through in a constant manner. There will be times where we slip, stumble and fall in our efforts to be true to ourselves but the key rests in recognizing that the power lies within us to succeed.  To get up each time we fall and carry on. The Japanese word for bravery is Yuki. It is literally the feeling of being brave.

Yu Bravery

chikara-strength-4

As with all Kanji it is the combination of elements, strokes, and images, that creates the meaning. In the character for brave (yu) seen to the left you have at the base the two stroke character that by itself is the Japanese word for power, chikara (seen to the right).

This is not by accident, we might consider which proceeds the other, do you draw power through being brave or does it require power to be brave? I am comfortable believing it is both.

To thine own self be true is not an invitation to be selfish, it’s not to go get what you feel you deserve, it’s an admonition to reflect upon your beliefs, establish what you will stand for and not fall to the everyday breezes we occasionally mistake for the gale force winds of change. I hope people who know me, know what I stand for and can count on me being true.  Even the children’s cartoon Mulan get’s this with the line, “though the winds may blow yet the mountain will not bow”.

Each director must make choices when bringing a play to the big screen.  Watch this version of Polonius and his counsel to his son.  It is Act1 Scene 3 (I’ve included the full text below) He drops a couple of key lines from the original.  An example “Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment” is absent nevertheless it serves as a reasonable rendition and displays the anxiety at parting that I suspect most of us feel.

LORD POLONIUS

Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

Vision…for those moments we might feel lost

In the summers of 2002 and 2003 I had the opportunity to travel with Team Alberta’s football team for the National Championships in Ottawa.  On each occasion I found myself on tour and on my free time making my way to the Parliament buildings and grounds.  On each occasion I particularly sought out the west side of the Peace Tower where over the window you can read, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”.

I took pictures of the tower but my impeccable filing system has failed me…at least for now though other pictures exist, check out Marcel Mason’s picture here.

The words have been available a very long time, they are found in Proverbs 29:18 and invite us to ponder for a second about our obligation to determine a vision for ourselves and work toward a shared vision for those whom we either choose to associate with or find ourselves in association as a result of our interests, our work, or our common existence.

The musical group Coldplay in the song entitled “Lost” wrote:

Just because I’m losing
Doesn’t mean I’m lost
Doesn’t mean I’ll stop…I just got lost.

(View the video here)

I believe we can, in the process of developing our personal vision, occasionally get lost. Episodes in our life introduce a new set of variables, the unanticipated consequences of our own actions and those of others serve to create a new reality and in that process occasionally we may find ourselves stumbling a little to regain that balance.

At the core of our recovery it is critical that we have a vision of core values to which we might maintain at least one hand of hold as we right ourselves and re-establish the course of our life.

 

Peace…be still

Amy at “Writing On Stone” Provincial Park in Alberta several years ago

A few years ago we took a trip to Writing on Stone provincial park in south eastern Alberta. The geological formation there is quite cool, and relatively unique in Alberta. The name comes from some relatively ancient markings on the wall of one of the outcroppings. That’s the geography but not the point, I don’t feel like I’m the only one who from time to time feels a lot more like the class hamster on the wheel. In our hyper connected world are we losing the ability to find stillness, the time for quiet reflection and pondering that can open our minds to alternate possibilities for the challenges of our day.

Not really trapped, but sometimes we are stuck between good and best use of our time.

I don’t think it was a big box office hit, another Costner baseball movie “For Love of the Game” where the main character’s ability to focus and, what the character refers to as “clearing the mechanism“. To me this really speaks to knowing  there are times where we need to be able to zone out the distractions, find the quiet spot and expand our ability to hear ourselves above the din that clamours for our attention.

I do not think I am talking about the calm before the storm, more about finding calm, perhaps looking for it in the midst of all that surrounds us in our life.  Steven Herrick wrote, “Men walk through tragedy, quietly, calm and precise on the outside, tearing themselves to shreds inside.” Herrick writes of a calm presence on the surface but inside that calm is absent. There are times for this type of calm, particularly when others are counting on you to lead, but it has a price and requires those possessed of it to find a different time where they too can truly come to a point of resolve, a calmness born of reflection that requires time to be still.

Paulo Coelho wrote in his book, “Warrior of Light”, “Occasionally, the Warrior sits down, relaxes, and lets everything that is happening around him continue to happen….Little by little, everything that seemed complicated begins to become simple.” (p.91)

It’s hard to step out of the rushing river that is our life, even harder to see that sometimes it’s really not a river, barely a stream but from our point of view we’re drowning. Take the time to find that spot and sit down, consider Mark 4:39 “Peace, be still”.

Dare to be, Commit to be, Excellent

Excellence is attainable, there just isn’t any shortcuts.

What is it about the concept of good enough that has become so acceptable when excellence or being exceptional is just over the horizon of average? It isn’t as though we don’t know what it takes to excel, Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers wrote of the people put in 10,000 hours to achieve excellence. Now we certainly cannot put 10,000 hours into everything that we do but where do we settle and in what areas do we settle?

In an interview with Anderson Cooper Gladwell provides a few thoughts to ponder, we don’t succeed alone, really no one does, and it doesn’t happen overnight it takes time and effort and a willingness to push past the point when most quit or perhaps even worse yet…settle.

Vernon Heperi shared this story, “When James A. Garfield, once president of the United States, was the president of Hiram College, a father brought his son for admittance as a student. The father wanted the boy to take a course [of study] shorter than the one offered and exclaimed: “He can never take all that in! He wants to get through quicker. Can you arrange it for him?”

“Oh, yes,” replied President Garfield. “He can take a shorter course. It all depends on what you want to make of him. When God wants to make an oak, he takes one hundred years, but he only takes two months to make a squash.”1

There are no short cuts, wishing doesn’t get you too much past the dreaming stage. If you want to amount to something we have to do something and if we want to do something well, attain excellence, then put in the time and make it happen. Not to disparage the squash, but there is a little more majesty in an oak…it’s in us to succeed, we did not come into this life to fail.

Cheers,

Rick

1. Source: Heperi, Vernon L. December 06, 2005 BYU Devotional Building a Kauri Tree-Like Testimony http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1511

Get found or get busy finding yourself

Wizard: What do you want to be in the world? I mean the whole world. What do you want to be? Close your eyes and think about that.
August Rush: Found.
From the movie “August Rush”

Calling out Marco Polo to our inner self may be a start so long as we answer ourselves honestly but we need to be about the process of finding ourselves. Finding out who we are, being who we truly want to be. There will always be excuses, ways to avoid our potential and slip to something more comfortable perhaps but far below what we are truly capable of becoming.

That failure, falling short of what we can become is really painful the next day, month, year or decade when we look back at an opportunity lost.

Get found and in the finding enjoy the journey recognizing that along the way not everything will go quite as planned, in fact there may be a few days here and there that go quite poorly. There is a plan for each of us and in that plan we are meant to succeed of that I’m quite certain. This does not suggest it will be easy, we actually didn’t want easy when we signed up…but it will be worth it.

By the way – take a few minutes to watch August Rush. Here’s a short clip

Cheers,

Rick