For me and my fellow Americans, this week marks the beginning of the holiday madness season. My social calendar is starting to fill up with events and celebrations, and the unique rhythm of December’s workflow is already beginning. This week my law office closes today at noon and will reopen Monday morning, a gift from the generous partners to their hard-working staff. While M and I are both local, many at the firm will be traveling in planes and cars to see their families or friends for the holiday.

I am genuinely thankful for the richness, the blessings, the occupants who share my life with me. I have a terrific husband, wonderful adult children (all four of them), amazing friends, and colleagues and business associates that keep me on my toes and fully engaged in all I do to make a living. I have my health, too, something I tended to take for granted for far too long. Until I began feeling the weight of my advancing  years and realizing the true implications of how much worse it could get versus how much better it might be with a few sustainable tweaks and changes now. The effort of taking better care of myself has had genuine, unexpected, highly gratifying consequences.

Because of or in spite of all that, I frequently think and believe mine is a small, ordinary life, mild and rather tepid compared to others with bigger, bodacious jobs, friends, lifestyles. It is a social construct; I am realistic that I am not made for my vision and perception of bigger and bodacious. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the choices I have made dictate the life I am leading, and to my own self I am being true.

Why has it gotten to the point that we feel wrong, unhappy, dissatisfied with the lives we are leading? Grass is grass; if it’s greener next door chances are good it’s a different variety of grass or my neighbors give more of a shit about it’s appearance than I do about my dead brown lawn. Grass to me is completely invisible and irrelevant; I would have 100% fake lawn that I never have to think about ever again if M could get past the sticker shock of the purchase and installation of imitation grass.

Aside from M’s budgetary concerns, the metaphors of grass being greener is a valid point about perception. What we perceive is real to us, no matter how limiting or confining or unhealthy it could be for us.

M and others in my world talk about people being “awake” in the ways they conduct themselves, lead their lives, interact with others in the world. Others describe it as being present or in the moment. Whatever term used to describe this quality, it is a thing, a reality that not everyone possesses or expresses outwardly. Is it empathy? Intelligence? Perception? A combination of all three with dashes of other things to be named later?

Same is true of our listening skills. Being a good listener would seem to include hearing the inflection and potential for unspoken commentary. Or using our empathy to filter the messages expressed or questions posed to us in conversation with others. With the advancements in social media, the willingness to read between the lines and understand context is critical.

Yet so few even try to extract subtle nuances in open minded, impartial ways. Anymore, our individual biases and prejudices are so powerful we seem to no longer be hearing anything that disagrees with our preconceived notions with each other when we speak or when we write. I would even go so far as to say my most recent observations are of people reveling in their own obtuseness and advancing their own narratives by splicing and dicing the comments of another to fit the agenda they are pushing has been elevated to a celebrated art form. Coming together, listening to one another, trying to find common ground, reconcile our differences and agree on suitable compromise is so passé. Polarization, purity of the individual or worse – group think – narrow-minded, focused agenda, my-way-or-the-highway has been become the new gold standard.

Friends I have, people I love, they are generally pretty awake and have a strong sense of hearing in their own ways. They are also mostly tolerant of disagreement while perhaps holding strong opinions of their own. I feel seen and heard by them. Are we drawn to one another because the qualities we instinctively seek mirror those we ourselves possess? Or because they have qualities I lack in my own lives and personality makeup (and vice-versa)?

The last few days it feels as if someone has stuck an electrode in my brain and stimulated all sort of reflexive, reflective blog fodder. A lot of it centers about exercise and the positive changes regular routines have brought to me in my life. Yet the exercise is not the catalyst that made a kinder, gentler person. By itself it has not increased my perception or made me more sympathetic to those around me.

It has, however, enhanced my appreciation for the qualities I bring to the table. My sense of self has expanded, and I have a more powerful feeling of what I am worth as a human being. My needs and desires matter at least as much as those around me that I value and care for and about. I deserve the blessings I earn, I deserve the good things that come my way via hard work and smarter choices.

Yet of the qualities I strive to develop within myself and admire in others, altruism is not among them. Yes, it is a quality I admire as a concept, but it is impossible for me to completely accept it as healthy or normal concept for the average person to try and achieve. It is definitely unrealistic for me, my personality, my mindset; I value personal responsibility, in myself and in others around me, far too much to become what I perceive as an all-powerful enabler.

I like my creature comforts. I like having the things I have. I can appreciate my generosity of spirit and my compassion, but at the same time, I know there is an inherent bias or judgment gene that leads to expectations to people helping themselves. Family, friendship, relationships all have elements of give and take, and we should each have some real hope and desire for return on our investments of time and energy in one another. Balance is important to me in all things.

Once upon a time I felt guilty for having this mindset. I thought I was an inadequate and deeply flawed human being for feeling this way. My ingrained sense of inadequacy did not allow me to perceive my level of practical rationality as a strength and a sign of character. I might admire the same qualities in other people, but for me, with all my childhood baggage and damage, I did not recognize the qualities mirrored back at me.

I do now.

My sister in mother-in-law-hood told me Saturday that she wished I could be her coach, to help get her up and into an exercise regimen. While flattered, I did not have the heart to tell her the truth, that my personal bias would not allow me to be an effective coach for her or anyone else. I lack the skills, and I have zero desire to develop them, either. Another aspect of my burgeoning confidence? Recognizing my strengths, yes, but also being realistic and honest about my weaknesses. This does not cheapen me or make me less, merely makes me recognize my own humanity.

The perfect is indeed enemy of the good. My long-held belief that I was so flawed, so imperfect, so bad that I drew bad things to me has been a drape blinding me to my own better qualities. Maybe I would be an unhappy disaster as a self-improvement coach (versus the professional skills type mentor/coach roles I have in my career), but I have come to feel that recognizing that shortcoming within me allows me to utilize and recognize the qualities of truly great coaches.

How awake I am, how good or great a listener I am – there is a spectrum. Mine is more or less defined and utilized by the person I am involved with in the moment and adjusts accordingly. Some people I am paying very close attention to every word, every gesture, every imaginable nuance, because they offer something that appeals to and completely engages me. Others, I am barely paying attention. Somewhere along the line I stopped apologizing for not caring for the opinions of everyone around me or with whom I must engage.  I also stopped seeing myself, my value, my worth through the eyes of others. There are still people whose thoughts, ideas, opinions matter greatly to me, but I no longer substitute or utilize their opinions and thoughts as basis for my own good (or bad) feelings toward myself. Better for all concerned that I do not grant the power of their will to make or break me over my own opinions and feelings. Not anymore. It’s been liberating to free them of the burden of not having to take care of me so completely and for me to understand that it is appropriate and healthy for me to have a positive self-image.

The current climate of polarizing debate within our country is so demoralizing to me. What used to go on inside my own head now rages openly all around me. Our differences are no longer something to be celebrated; the present trend is that differences are something to be annihilated. For someone who has always wanted to be just like everyone else and blend with the herd, the strong desire to be my own unique, quirky self is a big admission and step to somewhere better.

For much of my life, my attempts to be homogenized into a “normal” woman meant my pain would go away. I would be absorbed into the anonymity of great unwashed masses. It seemed like more than I deserved for so long. And that urge to be released from guilt, pain, rage, and anger meant letting go and losing a lot of who I am and what makes me unique, special, and important to people who matter to me.

Right now I see far too many who are taking an easy route riding on the backs of others working harder and trying harder. The struggle for exceptionalism is not an easy road, it is hard and bloody and has lots of falling down and getting back up. I have always admired this in other people. I know get to see it clearly to a greater or lesser degree within myself.

And to be so public in my tiny steps toward health self-appreciation is a Very Big Deal for me. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind negative girl is taunting me about how I sound like a conceited prat.

At this point – I simply don’t care. She is locked away for good and valid reasons.

I want to appreciate everyone I encounter, to understand the unique things we each bring to the table and add to the conversation. But honestly, I can’t. It’s irritating, but I just can’t. I do not believe human beings are created equal, and no amount of shrill demands that everyone has the same natural gifts and blessings is simply ridiculous. Altruism may be alive and well, but not within me, apparently.

My third post in three days about the benefits of exercise. My third post in three days about the powerful ways overcoming my resistance and convictions of all I can’t do has changed my perspective on all I will do.

I may be a lot of a special snowflake, one of the few people in the world whose learning to wield a dumbbell competently and without great risk to myself and others has released me from a prison of mental and emotional shackles. Or perhaps I give myself too much credit and everyone who has lost weight or transformed their physiques and their health achieve similar modifications and upgrades and enhancements in their head spaces once they embark upon a program of regular exercise. I do believe harnessing a slice of self-discipline with physical activity helps depression and anxiety. Embracing the challenges, falling in love with my body’s physical capabilities tends to draw me away from the sky-is-falling problems that I once worried and obsessed about.

I wish personal training sessions – with good, smart, knowledgeable personal trainers – could be prescribed as readily as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs. I wish people, myself included, took the diet and exercise proposed by every doctor I have seen in the last 35 years more seriously. A solution for world peace or a cure for cancer? I doubt it, but the impact could be so powerful on whole slices of populations that perhaps there would be more funding and energy available to devote to world peace and curing cancer.

I may have the shining conviction of the born again, but I do not tend to preach or to express zealotry in my convictions to others. Except here, in my safe space. Here I can download my thoughts ad nauseam and have them available for review in the future. Perhaps I will cringe at my naivety or feel proud of my new strength.

No matter what the future brings, the discipline of practicing my new skill set, getting stronger in ways that matter, has worked – is working – for me, and I feel both peaceful and powerful. My obsession with exercise is a healthy habit, not an addiction that has overtaken my whole life. Nope. Blogging, writing, exploring my thoughts and feelings – lately that has consumed a good chunk of my time. I do not tend to worry, obsess, or feel anxious about much of anything. Doing my best with what is within my locus of control is best I can hope for, and my confidence in my best being good enough grows as the days pass.

I grew up in an alcoholic home, and I still bear the scars of codependency. The urge to control all things in my life, my environment, my sphere of influence lingers. Disconnecting from those impulses and behaviors was hard at first, but after awhile it became habit, now almost second nature. My time to be healthier, more awake and with sharper hearing, is now. For me, it starts every day with some quality time meditating at the gym, List in hand, focusing on the sweaty and gross work ahead. With a smile and a happy soul.

My zen is showing. And I am so thankful.

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