Do I Have What It Takes for Remote Work? (Jen’s Midlife Career Adventure-Part 2)

“I’ve learned more in the last year”, I recently told my husband, “than most people learn in 10!”

This is what happens to me when I am set free, or set adrift (as it first seemed), from a job that has provided my livelihood, and much of my sense of identity, for almost 20 years.

I scrambled for information as a way of steadying myself, finding my bearings, after an unexpected layoff.

As I concluded in part 1 of this series, local jobs can’t provide the type of work or income that I need, so I am forced to search online for greener pastures.

And they don’t call it the “worldwide” web for nothin’.  I have dived into a seemingly endless expanse of opportunities, information, and every kind of marketing under the sun.

With a vague sense of wanting to work online, I let myself be pulled and pushed by the tides of information, wanting to get a real sense of all that is available to me.

After enduring much seasickness and information overload, I was eventually able to narrow my focus to a few viable options.

I decided to:

  • sign up for Flex Jobs, a source of vetted job opportunities including the remote, online work I am looking for;
  • enroll in school to complete my bachelor’s degree with a special program that gives credit for prior knowledge and work experience;
  • take one or more free or inexpensive courses to learn javascript computer programming, a valuable skill to enhance my job prospects.

First, the Flex Jobs.  Finding remote, telecommuting work hasn’t been as easy as I had hoped.  Yes, there are a lot of online jobs, and yes, I do have administrative, customer service, writing, purchasing and other skills sought by remote employers.

The problem seems to be – and this is an odd thing to realize – the world of remote work seems to be dysfunctional to some degree.  Maybe this isn’t such an odd thing when you realize that this phenomenon – working by computer from home for a distant company – is a pretty new thing on the employment scene.  Ten years ago, it was quite the rarity, and now about 20% of employees work remotely at times, and estimates show that it will be around 40% by 2019.

Because it is relatively new, there are still parts that seen to need tweaking.  One company I applied with for customer service, admitted forthrightly that their remote hiring process is “broken”. They have started a “trial work period” with new remote employees (usually 1 to 3 months) before a full commitment is made by either side.  They said that past employees they thought were a good fit turned out not to be, so they are trying this new approach.

I’ve had several interviews for remote positions and my impression is that employers are trying to control the hiring process in such fine detail that they are losing sight of the bigger picture.

Why the need for such control?  It seems that employers – no matter how much they do it – still don’t like the very idea of an employee they can’t see, working in another place, and not subject to the scrutiny offered by close proximity.  Although everyone knows that is is quite easy for an employee working right under one’s nose to waste time, if so inclined, without a manager catching on.

Employees are never under complete control and, in my experience, the best way to get good work and work ethics is to hire someone with a reputation for trustworthiness and desirable skill sets.

Yet, online the old ways don’t always work, which I will discuss in my next post.

Until then,



Can I Find a Good Job Online? (Jen’s Midlife Career Adventure-Part 1)

Getting laid off in middle age brings up many hard questions.  When will I find another job? What kind of job can I get and – most importantly – what kind of job do I really want?

When you work a job for decades that puts food on the table, brings you into contact with many great people, and feels like a home-away-from-home, you can start to feel that it was all meant to be.  You feel grateful much of the time, overlook the negative aspects of the job (there are always some) and strive to appreciate all the good.  You say to yourself:  “I make a good contribution to this company, and while it’s not all perfect, I feel valued in many ways, and I will stay as long as they will have me”.

This is especially true in a poor economy, and if you’re someone like me who doesn’t really like change.  You think “Sure, there may be better uses of my talents, but I have it pretty good here, and many people are a lot worse off.” Some days this feels like complacency, but more often it feels like you’re being a realistic person with a pretty positive attitude.

But when this “nice enough” job is pulled out from under you, as mine was in a restructuring about a year ago, your carefully constructed standards suddenly turn on their head.

You begin to question everything.  You feel angry.  Some days you cry and rant and wish your mom were still around to tell you everything will be OK. But eventually, your mood begins to even out and you start making plans to move on, but – if you’re anything like me – one thing has changed for good.

You can’t feel complacent anymore.  In your low moments, you still feel hurt and lost and disoriented.  After all, you gave your best to your company for many years and they rewarded you by escorting you secretly from the building with your pathetic box of belongings: your Van Gogh print and chipped mug and odd assortment of items grabbed from your top drawer.

Yes, you are hurt.  But in your better moments, you also feel gleeful, giddy and free!   You think – Hey, I can do anything I want now!  The world is wide open! This may or may not be true, but you’re no longer a slave to the alarm clock or to a moody boss, and you have a chance to chose a new future.

Of course, this can be as alarming and disorienting as the earlier feelings of loss and abandonment (perhaps just the other side of the coin) but it does make you wonder if maybe there’s a lot more to life, a lot more you could be doing.  Perhaps you’ve been missing out and living as an underachiever all these years.

You brainstorm about an exciting future.  You could finally finish your degree, reconnect with old friends, travel, find a job that really expresses your unique talents.   Yes, this is all true. And you try many things. However, if you’re like me – a middle aged office worker in a small town  – you may start to feel that your options are fairly limited after all.

Seemingly, my work life changed very little in over 20 years.  Each morning, I drove to the office and each day followed a predictable pattern not much different from the generation that worked before me.

Most people still go to a company office each day and still make physical products that are shipped to other people and places.  These transactions are recorded on paper and kept in physical files.  We still sit together in meetings around big tables, and go home and repeat it all the next day.

Sure, there are always slow concessions to new ways of doing things.  Computers are gradually introduced into more processes, but some managers insist on keeping paper records and files because it’s easier for them to access and understand. They trust paper.

Then came conference calls over computers with people located all over the world.  The technology got better and we started to rely on this “virtual” way of life at work and at home, little by little until it seemed normal and we began to forget some of the older ways of doing things.

But for companies like mine, the changes were slow and often superficial.  Old thinking still prevailed, especially in the minds of owners and management, many of whom were older people who began their careers before personal computers or servers or the internet became entrenched.

I often felt that my company was behind, despite a show of adopting new technology in some respects.  And I am the kind of person who likes to learn about anything new.  I’ve always read about innovative technology and like to think about improved ways of doing just about everything.

As a buyer, I encouraged my department to purchase online for better prices and lead times. I learned as much as I could about computer systems and software and tried to streamline my work day with all the technology available to me.  I was fairly tech savvy and felt like a sophisticated employee in many ways.

However, losing my job unexpectedly caused me to realize how unprepared I often feel in this new work world.

After several months of looking for employment in my local area, I realized that most employers will pay only entry-level wages in this depressed region, no matter the age or experience of the applicant. This because they can usually find someone who will take a low wage.  So why pay more for experience?  (Most seem to overlook the cost and time burden of training novice employees.)

I’ve also come to draw a distinct line between the brick-and-mortar employers operating in my physical region and the employers who operate almost exclusively in the cloud, with most or all staff working directly from their homes around the country or the world.

I’ve come to know this second group from exploring beyond my local geography.  I could find no suitable work in my hometown, had no desire to move or commute long distances, so I began to explore the mysterious world of online business to see what I could discover.

The hard part is wading through all the junk, all the scams, to find the valuable nuggets. There are real jobs online, but you have to be careful, because anyone can go online and claim to be or offer anything, and you have to know how to weed out all the bad.

A friend of mine at my 20-year job used to call me an “early adopter”.  Honestly, I didn’t even know what he meant at first.  But he was right.  I do want to know about everything that’s new.  I don’t always partake, but I want to know how it all works, and if it makes sense for me, I want to give it a whirl.

So, I’ve decided that I want to be a virtual employee.  I want to work from home from my computer.  Not many people do it yet, and there can be unexpected pitfalls, but I’m eager to give it a chance.

Because on some level I do feel that there has to be more for me; that losing my long-term job was a sign that things are changing and I want to be part of the changes and help usher them in.

I want to be a valuable, resourceful, innovative player in the new online workforce.   Maybe even an entrepreneur in my own right.

It’s a scary proposition and not exactly what I’ve expected so far.  But I’m taking the journey as far as I can, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Until next time…



How To Center Your Thoughts in God

Center your thoughts in the well-beloved, rather than in your own selves. (Baha’u’llah)

I’ve kept the above Baha’i quote pinned to my bulletin board and taped to my dresser mirror for over ten years.  Sometimes I think I understand what it means, and sometimes I’m not sure.

A few months ago, I lost my job in a layoff and while unemployed I often grow weary of contemplating myself and my situation.  So I’ve decided to use my increased free time and my heightened anxiety as an opportunity to turn more towards God, the well-beloved, to see if I can gain a better understanding of this verse and how it can help me cope with this uncertain time.

When I contemplate myself, my thoughts are often scattered, disjointed.  Sometimes I wonder when I will work again and panic floods my mind.  At other times, I feel giddy with freedom after more than 30 years of continuous employment, and I revel in the possibilities of each day.   Yet at other times, I feel angry with disbelief as I relive the events that brought me to this painful state.

Obviously, my mood is unstable when I think about myself and my future.  This is understandable, as I have limited control over my destiny, as we all do.

However, when I contemplate the well-beloved, my creator, I feel more relaxed and grounded.  I begin to appreciate this fixed point that I can focus upon, something sure and unshifting that reduces my anxiety.

So, how exactly does one go about focusing her thoughts on God?  For a Baha’i, this involves prayer and meditation.  The Baha’i teachings recommend that we read and recite the word of God every morning and evening, and I do find that these special times of focused attention lift my spirit and ease my suffering.

Yet after a period of soulful reflection, I often return to a more conventional state in which my thoughts wander over painful territory again.

My goal, of course, is to stay in this prayerful condition as much as possible.

The question that returns to me is this:  How can I center myself in God when I can’t really know God?

The Baha’i teachings state that God is unknowable to humankind, and that we must know him through his divine teachers, the prophets that he sends to enlighten us in every age.  Yet the prophets are beings above our ken and unknown to us personally.  In truth, even our friends and family members – the people we know best – are largely mysterious to us in their inmost reality.

The irony is that while we are seemingly locked inside our own minds, inside our separate beings, we are also intimately connected to God because he has placed within us the image of his own spiritual radiance.  We can turn to this higher aspect of our nature and find him dwelling within us.

Turn your faces away from the contemplation of your own finite selves and fix your eyes upon the everlasting radiance  (Abdu’l-Baha)

I believe that the first step to accessing our higher nature is to read and study the word of God.  This can be the scripture of any of the world religions.  Then the second step is to remain open to its transformative, healing influence.

For me, a very effective tool in this process is present moment living.  In the present moment, it is easier for me to open my heart to love and healing.   If I leave the moment, my mind begins to wander into thoughts about the past and the future and I start to worry and fret about all kinds of things.

Focusing on my body and breath as I move through my day helps me stay in the moment.  This is a common form of meditation and can be practiced any time, whether we are washing dishes, working, or talking with a loved one.

Body awareness keeps you present.  It anchors you in the now. (Eckhart Tolle)

Body awareness opens the spirit to the placeless.  The body is God’s gift to us that links our physical and spiritual natures.  If we listen quietly and feel the body from within, we can tap into a wisdom beyond our own finite concerns and limitations.  Then we can feel the rush of spirit that takes us beyond our selves and lets us feel the influence of God’s holy presence in each moment of our lives.

This is my goal:  to study the word of God, to recite the prayers and contemplate the teachings of the holy messengers, and then to stay in the present, grounded in the reality of each moment as spirit moves within me.

As I increase this practice, I watch the storms of tests and uncertainties move over the surface of my life, yet my spiritual core remains undisturbed as I make God the center of my world.

Peace of mind is gained by the centering of the spiritual consciousness on the prophet of God.  (Lights of Guidance)

Sweet Body: Anchor of the Soul

img_83464637943705As a teenager, I found mindfulness a little insulting.  One book on the subject instructed me to take a shower as if it were the only activity in the world, to feel all the lather and the hot water and to focus on every swipe of the washcloth; to breathe in the steam and to “be” the shower. Frankly, it seemed limiting and kind of sad.

How could I pretend that a shower is everything, I thought, when there is so much more in the world, when I have a complex mind and emotions and my life is so complicated?  Why, it makes me sound like nothing more than an animal!  It reduces me to less than a human being, and denies my spirit and puts me in a box that reads “this is all life is”. Is this all we can hope to attain: the enjoyment of a good shower?  It seemed small and silly.

But years later, I often find myself caught up in tiring, circling thoughts that lead nowhere.  I feel resentment about my past and anxiety about my future.  I feel like I’m floating aimlessly, with nothing to anchor me to  life, nothing to make me solid and whole.

Yet I find that I am happy when I slip into nature.  The warm breezes and shimmering leaves speak to me and settle my spirit in wordless silence.  And I have moments of conversation with friends when we stand side by side, breathing together, laughing, and I feel a deep connection that I can’t explain.  We are like trees in the sun, warmed and rooted to the earth, as we sink into each other’s physical presence; lost in the moment, and found there, as well.

I begin to see that these moments felt deep in my body anchor me to life, give me a place from which to connect and know.  God gave me a physical body for a reason.  I am not a formless, floating spirit.  Well, maybe I actually am, on some level, but this spirit has its current home in a physical body; a body crafted to experience one moment at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time.

The irony, I am learning, is that the more deeply I go into my body — my physical presence right here, right now — the more I connect to my spirit and its shining joy.  I feel the solidness of my back and stomach as I sit in this chair, I feel the openness of my beating heart and the light that pours into it and moves into my eyes and ears, and I relish all the sights and sounds that flow through me and feed my spirit and move back out into the world.  I am spirit tethered to a body that is a world of wonders, a gateway into all connection within and without.   And I am awed and comforted.

The journey continues…


Misplaced Longing: What Should We Be Striving For?

Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I am a constant striver.  If there were a 12-step program for people who strive too much, I would certainly join.  In fact, I would want to make it a better program, fix anything that was wrong with it, and if there wasn’t anything wrong with it – by gum – I would find something, and fix it pronto.

I’ve often read that children subjected to instability from a young age will often grow up to be strivers and fixers.  My parents divorced when I was five, and from that time, I have been trying to get them back together.   Not literally – at least not for long – but inside me, in an attempt to mend my brokenness.   In the sudden whirlwind of changing homes and changing schools and absent parents (I was sent to live with my grandparents for a time) I felt I was at the center of a raging storm, and must have somehow caused it.  But nothing I did made it any better.  I got angry and scared and cried, but that didn’t change anything.

Eventually, I settled into a new life with my mom and sister, and regained some stability.  Yet, I retained the feeling that things could go wrong at any moment, and no one around me could prevent it.  So I learned to make things right myself, to make disaster prevention my lifelong project.

It began with striving for perfect grades in school.  If I got less than an A, I was very upset with myself.  And I had to keep the house clean when Mom didn’t feel well enough to do it.  If everything was tidy and in order, chaos could be kept at bay.   Mom – while loving and protective – was always the wildcard.  Sometimes she was happy, and sometimes miserable.    So I had to learn to keep an even keel, to be steady and strong for the three of us.

One safety net was my dreams for the future: for a time when I would be an adult and could have a different life, a more ordered life of my own where I was in charge and everything made sense.  Another was the many books that I read to learn how to live, how to behave, how to escape when the world was too scary.  I could be the heroine of a novel, a completely different person; I could try on different roles until one felt complete and real.

I have carried these defenses into adulthood, the belief that with enough striving I could make any situation better.  It has served me well in some instances, but hampered me in others.

It has made me want to shape life in a way that it can’t be shaped, to organize my life into submission.   It has made me believe, on some level, that because my life was painful and chaotic in childhood that God and the universe owe me an ever-improving future, with all the things I missed out on growing up.

But I know that’s not how it works; that no one gets to create their own life.  Sure, we do to a certain degree, but life always throws us curve balls.  The unexpected presents itself regularly; it is part of the plan.

Many wise people have said that all we can control is our attitude.  I don’t really care for this reality, because I want to control all events as well.  Somehow I got the idea that I know what is best for me: that I need certain friends, or I need to live in a certain house, or have a certain job.  That God wants me to have the full, brimming life of “normalcy” that I have been trying to recover since I was five.   But what God really wants, I believe, is for me to love him, and he wants my spirit to grow, and he wants me to let go of everything but him.

And he has his own mysterious ways of making these things happen.  Maybe he put me in an unsettled family so that I would learn – eventually – that he is my only safety net.

Maybe he takes things away from us, and turns our lives upside down, so that we will learn that he is our one true reality.  We are the living, breathing images of God walking upon the earth; each of us a sign of his love and beauty.

Nothing else matters.  Sure, it’s good to have goals and hopes and dreams.  And, I believe, ultimately, that God will help us make this earthly world a reflection of heavenly virtue and beauty.  But I believe that our souls are the main thing: the only real thing.  And he will do whatever it takes to wake us up, to remind us again and again to strive for the only thing that matters.

Our hopes may be dashed; we may not get what we think we need; but in the ruins of the life we wanted, we can see a glimpse of the life we need.  A life where we look in the eyes of others and see God’s loving spark within.  Where we look at the rivers that flow and the sun and moon overhead and we know that God is father and mother and sister and brother.  And we know him by knowing each other and loving each other.  We are each an eternal reflection of his loving, heavenly light.


My Mother’s Voice

When I was a child, there was nothing more beautiful to me than my mother’s voice.  She was a classically-trained soprano, and when she sang, my heart rejoiced. She had a lovely speaking voice too, full and expressive. Both as a mother and as a school teacher, she spoke with kindness, always eager to encourage and inspire.  Whether talking to her class of second graders or at home with me and my sister, her words were gentle and reassuring.  They have accompanied me through my life, prompting joy and easing sorrow.

A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding.  (Baha’u’llah)

Mom died nine years ago, at the age of 72, from a sudden illness.  As I grieved, my greatest desire was to hear her voice one more time; to hear her talk about her abrupt departure from this life (had it surprised her?) and about her newfound joy in her celestial surroundings, and to hear her say – though, of course, I knew – how much she adored my sister and me and would always be with us. Although we had talked about many of these things during her life, and I knew how she might answer, my broken heart needed to feel her presence in a tangible, visceral way.

I found her voice — the sound I longed to hear — in a cassette of Irish folk songs she had recorded several years before, and I listened to it again and again, relishing her warm and playful performance.   And I found her face — the sight I longed to see  — in an old driver’s license that my sister discovered among Mom’s things after the funeral.  Mom was rarely photographed as an adult, and this photo — taken in late middle age — captured her radiant essence and gentle humor.  My sister seized upon this find, enlarged and framed the photo — which I had never seen — and rushed the gift into my hands.  When I opened the package, Mom returned to me in all her familiar sweetness, like a warm breath upon my face, reassuring me that everything would be OK.   It is, dear sister, the best gift I’ve ever received.

As the years passed, I slowly learned to let Mom go.  And the more freely I have relinquished her physical presence, the more profoundly she has returned to me in every part of my life.  When I talk to both friend and stranger, I sometimes hear her voice emerge from inside me.  There’s a similarity in our tone,  but more importantly, I feel the resonance of her heart within me, helping me to be the kind of person I want to be.   Mom had a way of making people feel respected; when she talked to anyone — adult or child — there was no one else in her world.  More and more, when I interact with others, I find myself intent on their well-being.   I want them to know that the simple kindness between us — the recognition of our shared humanity — is a gift that I treasure.

My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.  (Baha’u’llah)

My mom’s love wove the fabric of my heart, every stitch a luminous memory.  Like the day we were driving in the country and she sang Ave Maria to me over and over again — laughing with each repetition — because it was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard and I cried “again, please, again!”  And the day she gave me My Friend Flicka –her favorite children’s novel — because she knew I was often lonely and wanted me to know the companionship of books.   And the way she loved animals and nature and helped us to protect every small creature — every injured bird, chipmunk, or turtle — that crossed our doorstep and wean it back to health.

Through Mom’s influence, music has long been my daily companion and helps me to appreciate the lyrical quality of life: words and melodies that move the heart; lights and shadows that dance in our eyes; feelings and desires that we all share — no matter what we look like or where we come from.

Mom taught my sister and me to look for the beauty in every soul.  As a Baha’i, she believed that God made humanity to live in love and unity.  She said that we all come from the same earth and grow toward the same sun, and that we are destined to live as one family — the fruits of one tree.  She taught us that people must learn to look into each other’s eyes and see this basic unity — across every border and barrier — until every child can grow up free of fear, alive in a world of love.

This is Mom’s voice in my heart — a song that never ends.

The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Daystar of Truth beareth Me witness!  So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.   (Baha’u’llah)


Beyond the World We Know

In the little Baha’i book called The Hidden Words, there is a passage that I often recite on my afternoon walks.  It attracts me endlessly because it highlights a spiritual paradox.  The words nudge me out of my limited sense of self.  Yet they also pull me into a deeper reality that is more “me”, more intimate, than anything I’ve known.  I believe these words offer a glimpse into the soul’s true potential, as endowed by our creator:

O Son of Man! If thou lovest Me, turn away from thyself; and if thou seekest My pleasure, regard not thine own; that thou mayest die in Me and I may eternally live in thee.  (The Hidden Words, No. 7)

This verse opens me to all the possibilities beyond my own cares and desires.  And I feel a profound peace, a spiritual expansion.  Yet it is also a challenging experience, because there is a part of me that wants to hold on to what I know, that resists letting go and following God wherever he wants to take me.

This is true for many of us, I believe, especially in a world where we are taught to relentlessly pursue a narrow, materialistic version of personal happiness and success that disregards our spiritual nature and growth.

The goal of The Hidden Words is to bring us back to the profound spiritual truths of our inner nature, truths that many of us have forgotten.  The book was written by Baha’u’llah, the Prophet and Founder of the Baha’i Faith, and is a  distillation of the spiritual teachings common to all the world’s great religions.

One of these spiritual truths is the concept of turning our inner life over to our creator, letting him remake us in his spiritual image, as in the Christian New Testament verse, Ephesians 3:17:

That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

“The fullness of God” calls our spirits back home.  We feel the joy of being saturated with love and goodness, leaving no space for our lower human qualities, such as fear or selfishness.

It sounds simple — to let God in and to be released from all the small, limiting parts of ourselves that we would rather be without anyway.

But what about releasing our pleasures?  The Hidden Words state that if we desire God’s pleasure, that we should “regard not” our own.  This is much more difficult, because we naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain.   So how do we take this step in our spiritual development?

I believe it comes down to a matter of knowledge and trust.  Can we trust that the pleasures of God are greater than the pleasures of man?   Can we become like a caterpillar and give up our limited experience to become a glorious butterfly?   I believe the answer is yes, and that God helps us with this transformation if we ardently seek him, and gives us the knowledge and courage to become our true selves, the reflection of his divine being.

He assures us that he created us out of infinite love.  The Hidden Words say:

I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love me, that I may name they name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.   (The Hidden Words, No. 4)

When we love God and welcome him inside, he calls our spiritual name, revealing us more fully to ourselves. We become more intimate with our unique essence created in love, and our spirit awakens.  We more clearly see the reflection of God within ourselves and others, and our greatest desire becomes to grow closer to him and to share our unique gifts in celebration, love, and service.

It is the kind of profound pleasure we all need.    The pleasure of God that transcends our superficial desires, and takes us beyond the world that we know to a place of real transformation.  It isn’t always an easy journey, but it is the path of our spiritual growth and fulfillment.  It begins by inviting God home, into our hearts created by love:

O Son of Being!  Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for my descent.  Thy spirit is My place of revelation; cleanse it for My manifestation.  (The Hidden Words, No. 59)

O Son of Being!  With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof. (The Hidden Words, No. 12)

The Thrill of Just-In-Time

I have an addiction.

In the past, it was often exhilarating.  But now it is making me ill, so it’s time to do something about it.

Five days a week, I allow myself plenty of time to get ready for work.  And five days a week, I am running out the door, heart racing, palms sweating, because I know I am going to be late.

But the thing is:  I am never late.   Or almost never.   And that is the thrill, and the trap.

It is a beautifully choreographed dance.  I rise at 5:30.   I eat a nutritious breakfast, pray and meditate, do a little stretching and reading, and pack a wholesome lunch.   I feel alive and refreshed, ready for the day.  I may even take a little time to straighten the house as I groom and dress.  I feel that I have lived a good morning, many worthwhile things have happened in this quiet space before daylight.

One would think the final object of this perfectly choreographed morning would be my early arrival at work – perhaps by ten or fifteen minutes – so that I can carry a relaxed feeling of clarity into my day.

But no, apparently the real object is for me to arrive breathless and dizzy, bounding up the stairs thirty seconds before our 8 a.m. start time, acutely aware of my boss standing a few feet away, checking his watch to see that I just barely made it (again) and wondering if this is the day he should reprimand me.

But he doesn’t reprimand me, because I am a good employee, and I do good work, and I stay a little late each day to make sure everything’s in order.  This is also part of the thrill.

I’m always just in time, just under the wire.  Not a moment to spare.  The irony, of course, is that I’ve undone most of my good work of the morning.  Well, not most.  I did eat well, and I enjoyed my reading, and I felt devotion in my prayers.   But I undid the relaxation, the peacefulness, that is a primary goal of my quiet morning routine.

So why do I defeat myself?  Why do I do this nearly every day?  Why have I done this in some form since I was a child?

I’ve read theories about attention-seeking and low self-esteem, but I’m not entirely sure.  That’s why I lay it out before you, hoping my attempts at an explanation will shed some new light, reveal a way out.

In the past, I didn’t care so much.  It was a game.  And the adrenaline rush that it produced gave a kick start to my day, like a strong cup of coffee that got me off and running.

But now, it just makes me ill.   Not at first, but in a matter of hours.  And even the rush itself is contaminated with anger.  Because I have tried to change, and I can’t.  I have reduced my morning activities, for instance, to allow time to leave my house earlier.   But I just end up sneaking something else in (like one more peek at Facebook) so that I am back on my breakneck pace and any gain I’ve made is lost.

I am compelled, and that is the addiction.  But now I see that aging, that old substitute for wisdom, is forcing me to change.  I just can’t do this any more.   What once gave me a charge, now leaves me drained.   My body has to recuperate from this sudden explosion of energy, sometimes with aftereffects late into the day.   It just isn’t worth it anymore.

So, perhaps, my tired body will force my unruly mind and spirit to take a higher road.   Maybe that is one of the benefits of aging: a forced humility that makes us confront things about ourselves that we would happily ignore, things that may nudge us toward finally being the person we really want to be.

The Prayers of a Random Mind

A friend of mine once remarked “Each day, I think of every person that I’ve ever known”. 

Really?  I seriously doubted that.

Yet as I watched my own thought patterns, it didn’t seem that far-fetched.

Most of my activities, especially when I was alone, reminded me briefly of someone I knew.  If I didn’t watch carefully, I missed these images entirely as my mind skittered from thought to thought.

As I balanced my checkbook, a friend appeared to me for just an instant, a man whose ordered life I admired.  He seemed to nod approvingly, then vanished.

When I went to rest my tired legs, lifted them as I sat in my favorite chair, my aunt’s voice came to me, her weary sigh right in time with my own.

These images continued, unbidden. Most were benign, some a little troubling.  Introvert that I am, relatively independent of others, I am surprised that so many people appear to me in the course of a day.

I believe this is a remnant of childhood, a time of our total dependence on others.  We are attuned to the faces and voices of friend and stranger, those who protect us and those who could harm us.   This focal point remains and is internalized as we mature.

So what value can these images, these daily visitors, bring to our lives?  The encouraging ones bring a familiar warmth, a comforting connection.  But the troubling ones seem to ask something more of us.  They come to the surface, demanding attention, time after time.  We can push them away, but as we do, there is a sense of unpleasantness.  Suddenly, we feel a little down or angry, and may spiral into negative thinking, left with a feeling that something isn’t quite right.

But wait! Ten minutes before, it was a new, shining day and the possibilities for joy were endless, a gilded path before us.  So what happened?   How can a mood darken so quickly, how does one get back on track?

One method is meditation.  Human minds have always been plagued by random thoughts that can lead us astray.   Meditation comes in many forms, but the basic practice invites us to watch our thoughts as we would watch ripples in a stream, rising and falling, avoiding attachment to any of them.

We must realize that our thoughts are not our essence, but the associations created by agile minds that were designed to sense changes and possible dangers at every moment.

The value of detachment from our random thoughts becomes obvious, and brings stress relief and spiritual renewal, as we develop the practice of letting go.

My friend, quoted in the opening line, is a person capable of watching the faces from his past come and go with warm acceptance, perhaps nostalgia for days gone by.  And I believe that for him, troublesome guests provide an opportunity to spar, rather than a road to despair.

But we are all different, some pulled more forcefully toward the dark currents of life than others.

For me, the best approach is to offer a little blessing to those who arise before me, especially those whose insistent grip won’t let me go.

When someone tugs at my heart and mind, prompting a pang of sadness or regret, I say a little prayer for both of us.  For me, to help me open to the meaning of this pain: perhaps to smooth rough edges, release narrow aims.  For him, to send him on his way in love and peace, hoping that we meet again on better terms.

Elvis After Midnight: Contemplating Our Obsessions

When I was a child, I had an early bedtime.  And once I was asleep, almost nothing could wake me up.

So decades later, it amazes me to recall a time in my life, around the age of 10, when my mom would regularly wake me from a sound sleep, often after midnight, to let me watch old Elvis movies with her. These aired on network TV, long before the advent of VCRs or on-demand.

Who initiated this ritual?  I don’t quite remember.  Did I plead with her to let me watch? Did she offer because she knew that I was as crazy about Elvis as she was? I can’t recall the negotiations, but I know that we must have reached an understanding that some things are simply more important than sleep.

A couple of years later, I had other idols, people closer to my own age. Teenage singers like Donny Osmond and Tony DeFranco, whose fan club posters covered my bedroom walls. What did I want from these boys who were strangers to me?  Why was I obsessed with them?

I remember lying in bed and yearning for something beyond romance, something I couldn’t name. I wanted to be taken out of myself, transported to a place where I was special and deeply cared for. And somehow these famous boys who made pretty music embodied this for me, as they did for many.

It wasn’t that I didn’t already feel cared for, that I didn’t feel loved. But life often hurt, life was often disappointing.  And I imagined being whisked away to a place where this wasn’t so.  For me, this yearning sometimes melded with something mystical, something almost reverent. I longed to unite with some one or some thing, to be part of something bigger than myself.

Isn’t this the feeling from which devotion of every sort is born? It starts when we are very young and we attach ourselves to many objects, some more deserving than others. Later, if we are lucky and persistent, we find an object worthy of these feelings.  A true mate, a passionate cause, a divine love that knows no bounds.  It is the spark that ignites our souls.

Teen Age Idol

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