change

We can decide to deal or bail.

God. That feeling of wanting to just get the F out…of everything.

Isn’t it strong these days? Or maybe all the time? And now we’re just more conscious of it because it’s being mirrored back to us on social media and we realized, “wow. It’s not just me who isn’t feeling particularly content with Life. It isn’t just me who wants to leave this total bomb of a party.”

Yep.

Life ain’t great, sometimes.

Is it really worse now more than ever?

Does it get harder with age?

Is it really because of the current administration?

I don’t think so. I think it’s just the fundamental human tendency to want to avoid “bad” and experience “good”. I didn’t make it up. I learned it from 1,000s of hours studying and practicing Buddhism and other behavioral change theories. Did you know I had a master’s degree in identity and change? Yup. I do.

So that’s why I don’t think it’s worse than ever. I DO think it isn’t a necessarily FUN time to be alive, but you know what? Lots of people have shitty lives that don’t begin or end with one person being the President of the United States. You know what I mean? Some perspective helps, sometimes.

Life is unpleasant on the regular depending on who you’re talking to and about. For some of us, the unpleasant times come and go because we have enough privilege to cling to. Like Rose in Titanic. For the most part, we have these little pieces of wood that keep us afloat. Some people don’t have that. Some people are Jack.

Many people think more privilege helps make life better. People who have, “X advantage” have it easier and if you had that advantage, your life would work or feel better.

I used to think this, for sure, but then from coaching those people as my clients, I learned that even folks with money and identity privilege access than one could use in a lifetime feel the weight of struggle, grief and insecurity.

I’m not saying it doesn’t make life more comfortable but…well, I AM saying that. I think it’s a fallacy to retire. Privilege gets you access and things—but not comfort or happiness.

Money cannot buy inner peace or happiness if it doesn’t reside inside to begin with and, these days, privilege can often be more of a liability than an advantage.

And so the haves and have-nots share in common that thing that keeps us all going, that struggle to survive and make it through. To make things better. To right wrongs and resolve things and try to get a damn handhold to take a breather. To get “there” (where is that?). Basically, to make happy happen.

Despite our best efforts at this, shit just keeps happening, doesn’t it? ARGH! We try to get all our ducks in a row or be brave and try something exciting and it just doesn’t work. Things don’t go as we hoped or planned. As soon as we move this thing into place, something else slips out. Like whack-a-mole.

Then what do we do? Well, we’re all faced with the ultimate decision of LEFT or RIGHT. Well, standing still counts, too. I shouldn’t forget that. Wu wei is full of wisdom in and of itself (but I’ll write more on that later). For now, I’m just speaking to that moment we all face when we have to choose. No, when we GET to choose.

LEFT or RIGHT. Do I do this? Or that? Do I run or stand and face it?

Do I hold my seat or run for cover and check out. Do I deal or bail.

We all have that choice. We have it hundreds of times each day. Everything in our lives is a choice. And the choices we make determine how our lives go and what happens to us. And how we impact others.

BUT THIS IS HARD TO ACCEPT. So we fight it, often unconsciously, since it causes cognitive dissonance to have to face it. I’m not trying to be condescending (because, trust me, this took me way too long to understand and accept, myself, and I’m always a work in progress) but it forces us to grow up a little. And growing up, adulting as the kids call it, is unpleasant and uncomfortable in so many ways.

So it gets tempting to want to avoid it and check out. To run. To bail. To ditch. Come up with any way you want to say it.

We all want to bail. We ALL WANT to. But whether or not we do determines our character and our quality of life. Because we could bail, sure, but whatever we bail on will still be waiting for us in some way.

Like the lentils. My dad told this story all the time. He loved telling stories so I obviously inherited that gene because it sure wasn’t from growing up with him. My parents divorced when I wasn’t even a year old, but when we did have our court-appointed visits with him, he would tell this story over and over. I practically have it committed to memory, that’s how well oral tradition works!

This bowl of lentils was his dinner one night when he was a boy. His mom served it to him and he wanted no part of it so he sat and didn’t eat it. And his father warned him to eat and still he refused. You probably know where this is going.

My dad went to bed and woke up and sitting on the dining room table sat that same bowl of lentils, now cold and congealed, waiting as his breakfast.

Damn, I can’t remember the end. Sorry! Let’s pretend he had to either eat that nasty shit or go hungry for the day. Either one wouldn’t be a great option.

I remember that story, and so many others, and the amount of times in my life I just felt that feeling of not wanting what was happening in my life to be happening. I wanted to eject pilot seat and disappear. I wanted to run or refuse it. I wanted someone to swoop in and fix it. I wanted someone to come and save me!

For better or for worse, I grew up with no safety net. None. So I learned from an early age that you face the music and take responsibility. Or you can run, but wherever you go, there you are.

But I only learned this after years of bailing in all kinds of different ways. It didn’t feel like it at the time. I thought I was “fixing” things. And maybe sometimes what I did was a solution, in the short or long-term, but sometimes it wasn’t.

And after lots of hours spent reading books and sitting in therapy or Buddhist retreats and personal development trainings (I was on a search, you can tell), I learned that running only prolongs the pain. And sometimes (often) it makes things worse. I’m sure I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.

Or maybe I am! Maybe this is some insight that you didn’t have before. Or a nice reminder of that wisdom inside you that hangs out and waits for you to remember it when you’re hanging on a moment of depression or anxiety. And you’re wondering why your life is going like this.

Maybe this will help you understand it a bit better. Or see it differently.

And maybe you’ll remember when you’re feeling like crap and want to bail, that everyone feels this way. Everyone comes face to face with the feelings that they just don’t want to feel. And people make all sorts of decisions about what they do, say, eat, drink, watch or THINK to avoid those not-fun feelings.

We all want to feel good and don’t want to feel bad.

But if we can remember we aren’t alone in that, it might help. And if we remember that bowl of lentils, we can decide to swallow what isn’t pleasant in the moment so the consequence, all cold and jelly-like, isn’t sitting waiting for us.

What happens now?

I’ve always had a thing for Jodie Foster. Well, since puberty hit, I guess.

I went through a phase where I watched virtually every movie I could find, one of favorites being the original Freaky Friday. I didn’t know it then, but I was especially captivated by her androgynous teenage character. I almost "knew* she was gay even before she came out decades later. I could totally relate to her, even when she didn’t even know herself, or share herself, in that way yet.

In the movie CONTACT, Ms. Foster’s character, Ellie, travels to outer space and on the edge of a major part of the journey into the Great Unknown, she says breathlessly, “what happens now?!”

Matthew McConaughey’s character says the exact same phrase in INTERSTELLAR, another one of my favorite outer space/sci-fi films. Fun fact! Mr. McConaughey also played a major role opposite Jodie Foster in CONTACT. ;)

I’ve been especially drawn to this phrase “what happens now?!” as I’ve intentionally veered off the straight-and-narrow (pun!) path in every aspect of my life, for most of my life. I just recently put together a presentation about living in 25 different homes in 19 years. And that’s just the past 19! I’ve had more than that in my 40 years on this planet.

As I put together that presentation, I realized the guts and glory it took along the way to pull that shit off. I sat at my computer, watching the pictures scroll by and realized the epic courage it took to do what I’ve done. And the more details you know about my story, the more it may dazzle you.

I don’t come from old or new money. I was raised by a single mother who never attended college. I went to school on full scholarships. I left my career due to homophobia in my early 20s. I’ve weaved in and among many different careers including building my own business as a coach and writer and speaker for the past 10 years. I came out as queer in my early 20s and then again as trans in my mid-30s. I put myself through the grad school at the same time I began my transition. I left the long-term relationship I’d been in when I realized it had served it’s true purpose for me and then moved around to find and figure out what Home meant to me ever since.

And along the way, through all those meanderings, I’ve often asked myself when the going got tough, “what happens now?!”

And the answer I’ve learned to hear and trust is: whatever you want.

What happens in our lives is completely dependent on us and our choices and our decisions from moment to moment. It may be why so many people play it “safe” and stay with what’s familiar. There’s a false sense of security when you live your life like that. But you also stay the same, perhaps to a fault that doesn’t serve you to your highest potential.

“What happens now” feels like it’s out of our control, which it often is, but we do have plenty of agency in what happens next. External factors may influence our means and methods but if we let ourselves fall victim to that, we’re in dire straights. When we empower ourselves to act with whatever we have in the moment, we find our way, sometimes one fingerhold at a time. And if you’ve ever tried to plan something, like a wedding for example, you realize how imperfectly Best Laid Plans may actualize.

I think that’s why I loved the movies I mentioned earlier so much, besides my major crush on Jodie of course, because they show just what happens when we choose our own adventure and let go of what happens next. It’s a dance between choosing to act, choosing to see, choosing to try and releasing our grasp on how it will unfold.

Both characters intentionally choose to go into Deep Space with no idea what will happen to them and no idea who they will become or if they will even continue to exist.

I’ve done that so many times in so many ways, my transition being one of many decisions I’ve made, my moving around the Northeast of America being another, and what I’ve learned from the process is how scary and thrilling and wonderful it is to leave the familiar and learn who you become as a result.

The way meditation works.

I’ve been meditating since 2001 or so. So about 17 years.

It’s been a long journey figuring out what I needed to really understand about meditation. One of the biggest misconceptions I had, and I hear other people having, is how meditation is actually supposed to work.

I was at a wellness event last week and met person after person who, when I asked if they meditated, responded with, “oh no way. I can’t make my mind that still. It just never stops. I’m too busy to sit and do nothing like that.”

Then there was the person who scoffed a bit and said, “well, I pray. Which is…more important.”

Listen, in America we get to have different opinions. We get to choose our religious path or spirituality that serves us. We also get to decide what works and doesn’t work for us. But I think it’s unfortunate when people make assumptions about something or form fixed opinions based on misinformation.

Meditation isn’t about turning off your brain. It doesn’t work like that. Our brains are designed to process information to keep us breathing and keep us alive. So if you’re brain stopped, that would be a bad sign. I told those people last week, “if your brain stopped, you’d be dead."

Meditation isn’t about being dead. It isn’t about being numbed out. It isn’t at all about shutting down the constant stream of thoughts that run through your mind. It doesn’t work like that at all and isn’t meant to. But perhaps people think that because they desperately crave that kind of feeling to escape the prisons of their minds, which never stop and hold them hostage and cause a lot of fear and suffering.

I can see why people would want to shut that shit down. I KNOW why, because my mind can be a dangerous place to wander around. I am extremely intelligent from a lifetime of wonderful education and I also pursue information like it’s my job, because it IS my job. I am an overthinker by nature and an over-analyzer from a tumultuous childhood. I learned from an early age to strategize and sort things out to survive.

It’s taken some hard lessons and a lot of discipline to figure out how to turn the machine of my mind to a different setting. Meditation helps. That’s how it works, actually.

Meditation doesn’t work overnight. It takes practice. It’s meant to help us actually understand what we’re thinking about, not to stop the thoughts. It works by helping us see the way we get hooked on a thought and get carried away by it. It works by seeing how we live our lives in reaction to people or events instead of responding from a place of power and balance.

That’s the way meditation works.

When we sit on a cushion or a chair for one minute or five or an hour, we are practicing how to sit still and watch our thoughts like our favorite Netflix show. We learn to watch the thoughts like they are a sitcom or crime drama and not what we think they are, which is REALITY.

Still with me?

Our thoughts are not REALITY. They are like a tv show, created from our fears and perceptions and the stories we tell ourselves—not necessarily what’s really happening.

Meditation helps us practice this so when things happen to us in real life, when we aren’t sitting still on a chair or cushion, we apply that same awareness.

What’s the point? Well, when we start to see that our reactions to life cause us stress or unhappiness, we want that to end. We want to change things. We want to think differently to feel differently. We want to learn how to have a more loving and fearless approach to life.

That’s the way meditation works. It actually helps us do that to feel better.

But only when we stop saying things like, “I could never just sit there and turn my mind off, it’s too busy.”

Meditation isn’t meant to turn you off, it’s meant to turn you ON to what you’re doing that’s keeping you struggling and feeling stressed out.

So when you’re ready to sit yourself down and be brave enough to do something different, that’s the way meditation works.