Gratitude, Perspective

Gratitude + Presence = ?

While driving my grandmother to her Silver Sneakers class at the YMCA she turned to me and said, “It’s a strange thing, this being 90.”

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“Your memory. You do things and then later you don’t remember them. It’s just, ‘poof’” as she made a tiny explosion with her hand.

For years I’ve watched as Grandma’s fading memory frustrated and angered her as she refused to accept the fact that she was aging. While I empathize with the fear she feels at being unable to remember, the silver lining in her evolution is that she’s been brought fully into the now. My Grandmother knows that she will soon forget what just happened, so she’s learning to live moment to moment.

Lately I’ve been researching gratitude and I’m finding more and more that a by-product of being grateful is being present. In order to appreciate something (gratitude) we have to be consciously aware of its existence in this moment (presence).

As we wind through the hills she whispers “Oh my…” and “That’s beautiful” and “Look at that!” with a smile that would convince you that she’d always seen the world this way.

Grandma lost her memory but found gratitude and presence, which have combined to gift her the experience of “joy”.

Before we lose anything, let’s take a moment to be grateful, get present, and experience some of the joy that exists in our life right now. Enjoy your day!

Life Lessons, Change

"Can I get some change?"

While waiting for some java at the local coffee shop a guy rushed up to the counter and thrust forward a one-dollar bill muttering, “Can I get some change?”

The barista stepped back from the register as if the guy had pulled a knife, put his hands up and shook his head saying, “Change comes from within, brother.”

The hurried man rolled his eyes and rephrased with, “Fine. Can I get four quarters?”

“That I can do! Here ya go, sir.” the barista said with a smile.

(Well played barista man. Well played!)

Lately my life has undergone a lot of change both personally and professionally. For years I read books, joined coaching groups, sat through webinars and attended conferences in an effort to make the kind of change I was seeking. I had this crazy pervasive feeling that something big was on the horizon and I kept investing in this and that to help bring what felt far off into focus.

One evening this past spring I told my head coach and fellow assistant of my decision to step away from coaching basketball in service of coaching people. This was a tough thing to do because the truth was I loved everything about my life: the people I coached with, our team, the school, the department, the location, my charming little cottage by sea… 

Driving home that night with eyes swollen from the tears that came with sharing the news I remember stopping at a red light. For YEARS I felt like something big was coming, that something was about to change. 

Sitting at that light in a Field of Dreams type moment I suddenly realized that the thing that had to change, was me. I was what I’d been waiting for.

                                     “Change comes from within.”

For the next two weeks I barely slept - partly out of panic about a very uncertain future - mostly because for the first time in a long time I was so damn excited about my life. I had no idea then what it would look like, if it would work, if I could make it, or even how to get started. It was terrifying. And, I felt blissfully alive!

Maybe four quarters is all you need. But if you’re searching for something more, read the quote below and look inside. 

Happy adventuring, change-makers ;)

“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” Jon Krakauer


Perfect Timing

Lately I’ve had a blast doing my “Listen & Be Heard: The Art of Communication” workshop with various teams and organizations. The first part of the 90-minute interactive session covers 6 barriers to effective communication; context, tone, trust, timing, clarity, and word choice. Life continually throws new material into an ever-evolving communication overhaul that’s part stand-up comedy, part raw vulnerability as participants work collaboratively to hone their skills. 

The comedy comes from unscripted situations like a dinner conversation with Rita last week.

Rita is my 88-year old friend and a gem of a human being. Playful, classy, and full of spirit, Rita delights those in her company with a genuine engaged enthusiasm. One night we were sitting on her porch in Chautauqua watching the world go by and talking about “the kitty”.

Many guests come through the Chautauqua home and during their stay they put some money into a jar known as “the kitty” to help cover groceries and cleaning fees. With the summer winding down and no more guests on the schedule, Rita was telling me about the elaborate (aka ”expensive”) breakfast offered at the nearby hotel. In mouth-watering detail she described the menu then said with excitement, 

“We’ll take whats left in the jar and treat ourselves to a nice breakfast…We’ll eat up the kitty!!”

As we laughed I turned in time to see a couple walking past the porch with horrified looks on their faces. The woman nervously reached down and picked up their miniature poodle, no doubt fearing that if we could so joyously talk about eating cats then her tiny dog was surely next.

“Oh dear, “Rita giggles, “I dare say I don’t think we’ll see them again.”

Thanks to context and timing we made two less friends that evening, but gained one hilarious experience in miscommunication.

The Ding-A-Ling

Glancing up from her keyboard, Carolyn said, “Well you look strong and athletic which is good, because you’re gonna need all that in a second here.”

“I am?” I asked, “Why’s that?”

A playful smile spread across her face, “Because you’re about to ring the biggest bell in the tower with one finger.”

Perhaps the most famous icon of the Chautauqua Institute is the Miller Bell Tower. Erected in 1911, it plays the Westminster Chimes every 15 minutes and the number of the hour on the hour. Many Chautauquans measure their days by the bells which also ring out 15 minutes of song at 8am, noon, and 6pm daily thanks to chimemaster Carolyn Benton. 

In a single day you’re sure to hear classics like “It’s a Small World” or “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and though she plays only hymns for the morning bells, Carolyn takes requests so “Happy Birthday” frequently slides into the lineup. 

Carolyn grew up coming to Chautauqua with her family and took over as chimemaster in 2002. 14 bells played by hand is no simple task, and when Carolyn started, well… she was so bad that folks dubbed her “the ding-a-ling”. 

Admitting that she’s always lived a little off-key, Carolyn embraced the name and over time has added her own twist on traditional songs as a tribute to having her bell rung when she first took over. 

“What folks don’t know is a few keys don’t work and we’ve got a bell or two that’s fallen out of tune”, she explained as I watched her play the evening bells. “But, that’s life. People judge what they don’t know and I’ve learned to accept it.”

I blushed and confessed to Carolyn that lately I’d been thinking the same - wondering why some tunes were off and why things didn’t always sound quite right.

“But the difference, honey, is that you’re here. You were a curious monkey and now you know.”

4… 3… 2… 1… “DONGGGGGGGGGGG”.

With one finger I rang the bell that weighs 3,200lbs. And, it was AWESOME!

Thank you, Carolyn, for letting me chime in and for the reminder to play our own tune regardless of how others may judge the music.