Friday, December 24, 2010

Reptiles in Literature Series: Eat Pray Love

 I found a great passage in the book Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. She was describing her experience at an Indian ashram. She was specifically describing her job as hostess; an administrative job which required her to meet the needs of her fellow housemates.

I love all these people automatically an unconditionally. I even love the pain-in-the-ass ones. I can see through their neuroses and recognize that they’re just horribly afraid of what they’re going to face when they go into silence and meditation for seven days. I love the Indian man who comes to me in outrage, reporting that there’s a four-inch statue of the Indian god Ganesh in his room with one foot missing. He’s furious. He thinks this is a terrible omen and wants that statue removed --, ideally by a Brahman priest, during a “traditionally appropriate” cleansing ceremony. I comfort him and listen to his anger, then send my teenage tomboy friend Tulsi over to the guy’s room to get rid of the statue while he’s at lunch. The next day I pass the man a note, telling him that I hope he’s feeling better now that the broken statue is gone, and reminding him I’m here if he needs anything else whatsoever. He rewards me with a giant, relieved smile. He’s just afraid.

Now, few people reading this will be going anywhere near a Buddhist Ashram, I realize. But Elizabeth Gilbert’s ashram experience could be a microcosm of any workplace. The same principle applies to everyday life, especially the workplace.

Reading this reminded me that everyone has some level of fear in this life, and that fear dictates their responses to various stressors. Some have seemingly minute problems, like the temperature of the office; others are dealing with a boss who wants them to cheat to get ahead.

I think if I consciously made an effort to remember this, it might change how I respond to other peoples’ angst. Instead of taking it as a personal attack, I can respond with kindness and understanding, but most of all peace.

I’m not going to lie to you. This takes work. It isn’t instinctual. I will most likely want to reconsider my intentions of kindness, because, well, I hadn’t counted on it being this difficult today….

c. 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A glimpse inside the Cafe

I had a very funny, yet all too common reptilian incident that happened today.

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I was making the drinks on the espresso bar this afternoon, when amidst the long line of people, a youngish, very impatient lady asked if her tall sugar free, skim caramel latte would be up anytime soon. I looked at my queue of drinks, and didn’t see it. There was a tall skinny hazelnut latte that had been ready for several minutes on the receiving area.

I said to her, “There is a tall skinny hazelnut latte up, which is sugar free and nonfat, is this yours?”

“No, I had a SUGAR-FREE, SKIM latte with CARAMEL in it,” she said disdainfully, with a why must I deal with these incompetents look on her face.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that one, I’ll make it for you right now,” I said, as I passed the next lady’s tall caramel brulee latte. When the irate customer tried to grab it, I said,
“No, that one is her’s. I’m making yours right now.”

As I was marking the cup, my coworker, who had seen what was happening, came over, and said, “ma’am, that one is yours. You asked for a skinny hazelnut latte.”

With a blank look on her face, she said without remorse, “Well, I’m sorry, how am I supposed to know how to order these fancy drinks?”

After she left, my co-worker said, “Actually, she was so adamant about making sure it was a hazelnut latte, when she was telling me her order.”

Being accusatory and recoiling in defense are classic reptilian responses, [as is my  satisfaction in being right.] I don’t even want to try to guess what was stressing this woman out. We are at a hospital, so she’s certainly entitled to it.

And, I do it too…

 c. 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A pique inside my journal...

Michael Dukakis 1988 election
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I had a funny, albeit surreal experience, reading one of my old journals tonight. It is always interesting to read my wistful thoughts with the benefit of hindsight. Amidst all the usual junior high angst, one entry particularly brought a smile to my face.

This entry was during the 1988 election, my earnest 12-year-old mind was very uneasy at the prospect of Michael Dukakis winning the election. 

July 4, 1988
Dear Diary.  Today is the 4th of July. All that is happening has got me thinking, this could be the last 4th of July we celebrate. Because if Mike Dukakis wins, we’ll probably go Communist, and  I am so scared about what might happen.

Now, granted. I was 12, and had precious little grasp on what was going on [I probably still don’t]. I remember being VERY worried. Of course I didn’t understand the intricacies of his ideology, I only knew that they were very different from what I thought was right, from my very fledgling Conservative beliefs.

My stress was very real that night, I remember obsessing for hours about it. The vague notions I had about his policies were frightening. I’m sure I didn’t yet know what all Communism entailed, or even how his policies were going to enable such a horrid effect. 80s-era Russia was my only association with Communism, which scared me. It brought to mind a Narnia-esque environment where it was always winter but never Christmas. I knew, at the time, religion and free speech were suppressed there, two freedoms, I enjoy very much.

Now 22 years later, I look at that and laugh. I had little understanding of government or politics. [Heck, thank goodness I was too young to comprehend Jimmy Carter]. Now that I’m older and wiser, I haven’t changed much at all. I still tend to allow my concerns to seethe and simmer, over actively idling like my car used to do. Exerting the same sort of wasted energy as well.

I always enjoy reading my old journals. They always put things in perspective for me. See how things have worked out seamlessly, despite your fretting about them, they seem to say. Obviously, everything turned out ok in that election. Even if it hadn’t, I suppose we would have learned to live with it.

c. 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010


image credit 

Finally an upside to the strangest of things.

In recent post, I talked about problems often being a matter of focus. Here are some fantastic new ways to reframe some unwelcome situations. How could there possibly be any good in;


From First Magazine…
Feeling enraged that you were passed over for a promotion, the kids won’t behave, that people are being rude? You could sit and stew about it, making it worse. Or you could take that time to really channel your fury into something physical.

Your anger will spark the fight-or-flight response, which will give you a surge of adrenaline. Adrenaline increases blood circulation, allowing more oxygen-rich blood to reach the muscles, enabling them to function at higher levels. This makes rage an opportune time for more effective time to hit the gym. 

But take note: Yoga or Pilates are better choices than weight training because these activities require a mental focus that can prevent you from ruminating on what riled you, explains Lavinia Rodriguez. Doing yoga also lowers levels of catecholamines, another stress-induced hormone produced by the adrenals, to create a feeling of calm.

Wil Dieck touches on it a little about it on his blog, As Stress Frees You.


Am I grateful for my depression?  Definitely.  I can't imagine where I would be in life right now if I didn't have this illness.  It's a curse and a blessing - I don't know how else to describe it.  I certainly don't want to make it sound like depression is like winning the lottery and that everyone would be lucky to live with it - but since I DO have to live with it I've decided to stop fighting it and learn from it instead.  Our life is a journey in self-discovery.  My depression has led me this far - and led me to wonderful people and places.  I truly believe the universe has its plans for each and every one of us and that plan is working out as it should.

Feel free to comment on your unlikely joys. 

c. 2010