We sometimes take our sense of touch for granted, but for Helen Keller, it was her connection to reality. Since she was both blind and deaf the only way Annie Sullivan, her teacher, could connect with her was by spelling out words on her hands. From ‘water’ the first word she learned she progressed to be able to speak and advocate for the disadvantaged.
You might describe the sense of touch as “the best of times….the worst of times”, to quote Dickens. Pain and pleasure are both parts of our sense of touch. We would rather have more of the latter, but pain serves us well as a warning of danger, a sign that something is wrong Without pain our body could be ailing, damaged, dying, and we wouldn’t know it.
Do you remember when you were little what you were always doing? Touching things. You were exploring your world getting acquainted with everything. No matter how old you get you can still learn using your sense of touch. Have you ever walked barefoot, in the grass, on the pavement, on the beach. Each time you do you get more connected, more grounded in reality. It’s like your other senses. We tend to shield ourselves from primitively letting our body experience the world.
And don’t forget that touching also means keeping in touch, communicating with others. Physical touch that can’t be replicated by email or text or zoom. Forget pictures, a hug can speak volumes to someone in need. Don’t be afraid to let yourself be touched by the world and to touch it in return.
You have to stop and smell the roses along the way. I have done that literally on my way to work many times. There was a planting of roses in downtown Seattle near my work. Of course, that was pre-Covid. Now I work from home full time and have only been to the office once in the last two years- and that was just to clean out my desk.
But I do go for daily walks and enjoy the flowers and trees and just mowed grass in our neighborhood. Have you ever savored the smell of freshly mowed grass – especially if you didn’t have to do the mowing? It is so fresh and clean and refreshing.
And then there is the aroma of cooking wafting through the air. Whether it is barbeque, cookies, and other baked goods, or even coffee brewing, it gets your mouth watering and your stomach growling if you haven’t eaten recently. I fell in love with the smell of coffee long before I learned to love the taste.
One of the side effects of covid they say is the loss of taste and smell. What a terrible thing to go happen:( I know there are much worse things about covid to be sure, but losing the sense of taste and smell is nothing to sneeze at. I remember my mom saying how her mom at some point lost her sense of smell so much that without looking at them she couldn’t distinguish between an onion and a strawberry. I don’t know how accurate that was, but I remember it to this day as a terrible thing.
Taste and smell are closely related and are very important to our awareness of our surroundings. We depend on them to warn us of food gone bad on the one hand and to heighten our sense of anticipation for the feasts that we enjoy. I happen to enjoy almost any food, with notable exceptions, and that allows me great variety in eating.
But do we take the time to savor the tastes and smells that we encounter every day. Or do we just gobble down and hurry on our way and fail to fully appreciate what our senses make us aware of? How many times have you rushed through a meal and barely tasted it? How many times have you walked by a tree or bush and not stopped to lean into the aroma? As the songwriter said “sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses along the way”
Because of covid most of us are holding meetings online and we are facing new challenges in communication. Our meetings can be disrupted by background home noise, static, poor connections, and the ubiquitous mute button. We can have the video on or off and that in itself can affect communication. I rely heavily on non-verbal signs and often feel blind and disconnected even with full audio if many people have their video off.
Sometimes I see this happening when people are out and about. Many are plugged into music, news, or podcasts when they walk. I feel sad for them because they are missing so much audio around them. I used to listen to music when I ran because it was motivational and I listen to music when I work because it keeps me company. But when I take my daily walks I have my ears wide open.
What do I hear? All kinds of bird calls, from blackbirds, crows, and robins, greeting the morning, to the ducks and geese and seagulls as they migrate across the sky. I hear the pounding of woodpeckers and the many-song Stellar jays and the hooting owls even though I rarely see them. Recently I have been entertained by choruses of frogs. And sometimes it’s just nice to hear and feel the wind blowing in the trees.
I also welcome sometimes the things I don’t hear. in the early morning, there isn’t that much traffic so the sounds of silence are precious. A number of years ago my wife and I traveled to Moab Utah and visited with a friend who took us to Arches National Monument, where it was so quiet you could almost hear the proverbial pin drop.
Do you have times when you are able to soak in the sounds of nature? do you have times to listen to the sounds of silence? Or is your life filled with a cacophony of sounds all competing for your attention? And when you converse with others how much of that time are you speaking and how much are you listening to others? Communication is a two-way street and unfortunately, many people are listening to respond instead of listening to learn. We need to use our ears wisely.
Do you see what I see? Seeing is believing they say. Without vision the people perish, it is said. Can you see me now? we are asked. But what do we use our sense of sight for? Scrolling through Facebook, watching inane shows on TV, staring at blank pages wondering what we should write? Too much time staring at the four walls of our cooped up lives – thanks Covid:(
We have a great gift with which we can explore our world, but only if we take the time to go out into it. All creatures great and small inhabit it, as you can see by my pictures today. I recently walked another section of the Sammamish River trail and found these two creatures along the way. I helped a yellow snail complete its journey across the path – wouldn’t want to have it get stepped on or run over. And I was able to observe a blue heron in the marshlands along the trail -was he posing for me?
I also saw many walkers, runners, and bicyclists along the way. They were all out and about to take advantage of a weekend that, though rainy, was a fine time for exercise. It takes effort to go walking but it is worth it.
In our vision, we must not only notice what we see and treasure it. We must also be noticing the things we are not seeing. I noticed the absence of chaos among the people I encountered. I was pleased to notice very little trash along the trails – people tended to pick up after themselves. I also enjoyed the absence of motor vehicles – something that I later had too much of on my journey home.
At one spot I encountered someone packing up their tent. It was their temporary home in the forest. It reminded me that not everyone is as fortunate as I to have a roof over my head. We must see those who are less fortunate and that there are still things to improve in our world. To look without seeing is not helping anyone. We must remember to always look with our hearts. Both to appreciate what we have and to be motivated to help those who have less. Do you see what I see?
Are you oblivious to the world around you? Are you constantly surrounded by a cacophony that drowns out any meaningful interaction with what is happening? Sometimes the drumbeat of news, sports, and even music can be so overwhelming that we miss much of the sensations of life going on all around us. Not just us introverts, but all people need to take time out to literally and physically “stop and smell the roses along the way.
I want to examine just what we should be exercising our senses for this week. But first, we need to make sure that we are more than just analytical – gathering data. It is one thing to notice what our senses pick up. It is quite another thing to let down our defenses and absorb the impact of what they sense.
For instance, do you see things or are you actually looking at them, appreciating the differences? Do you hear the sounds of nature or of friends or are you actively listening with discernment.? Do you guzzle drinks or gobble food or do you take time to savor food? Have you ever just strolled across a stretch of grass in your bare feet and reveled in the feel of it.?
We need to not just open our senses to the world but have our brain connected to those so that we can process the input in a way that enriches us. Again not be just reactive but proactive. Let our curiosity fuel our search for meaningful interaction with the world around us. Not just with nature, but with each other, going beyond just the superficial.
The driving force behind being proactive and being a voice, not just an echo is your why. Why do you do the things that you do, why will you say the things that you say, why do you want to make a difference in the world? It is easy to talk about the what and how but we often miss the why. And like any good journey before you step out you need to know where you are going.
Your ‘why’ is your motivation. It is what gets you started and keeps you going. It helps you answer the questions of what and how, as well as when and where, and who. If you want to be a star athlete you have to develop certain physical skills and stamina. If you want to be a doctor or lawyer there are certain academic courses you have to take, learn new knowledge, and take tests to prove you have learned. If you want to influence people you have to learn the skills of communication and leadership. So it is important to know what your why is.
Simon Sinek wrote a book called Find Your Why Collectibles | New & Used Books from ThriftBooks in which he explained the process of finding your why – your motivation. He said that in the case of companies people don’t buy what you do or how you do it, but rather why you do it. The message is the medium of exchange, the reason sales happen. In the same way, people care what you say not because of the what or the how but the why.
He has you write down a list of your life’s accomplishments and the reasons why you feel those are significant and memorable. This leads to a recognition of trends that show your motivation. For me, I harkened back to my first Toastmaster icebreaker where I identified 3 words that help define me. Exploration, Experimentation, and Expression. My life’s accomplishments and the things I love to do all center around those 3 words.
I realized that in all my speaking and leadership activities I want to inspire people to embrace those concepts. So my Why is “I want to inspire people to explore, experiment, and express their discoveries and passions so that together we can make this world a better place”. So the task for you is to determine what are the driving forces in your life – your Why. What makes you tick and why do you want to spread that message to others.
In my next two posts, I will discuss finding your voice and finding your place, your network. But before you can take advantage of that you need to find your Why. It may surprise you when you find it.
Do you feel sometimes that you are in a fog? Or like you are heading into a cloud, where you can’t see very far ahead? People ask what your goals are and you ask “what goals?” You know that you should be setting goals but you feel like you don’t have a good grip on what you will face. And after 2020 we all might be a little leary of what chaos we might find in the next year or two. New Year’s will be really interesting this year.
But I discovered recently a different way to look at all this. I’ve been reading a book called The Education of an Idealist, by Samantha Power, who served as a foreign policy adviser to President Obama. She did a lot of work investigating and advocating for action against oppressive regimes in the Balkans and Sudan. She dealt with a lot of anxiety issues, both personal and workwise – often facing anxiety over decisions, afraid of failing or making a wrong decision.
She came upon a strategy she called the X factor. She asked herself ‘if I do this and all I achieve is blank, is that okay?’ She would be aiming at achieving a goal and downsized her expectations so that it would be okay if she only achieved a small goal and not the major one.
As an example, she was having dinner with Obama, while he was still just a Senator. She had hoped to be able to join his Senate team so as to be able to have more influence in dealing with the world troubles she was passionate about. She was afraid to ask but decided if all she was able to do was heighten the awareness of the issues, that would be okay. So she asked and got a spot on the team.
Sometimes we have to realize that it is not always about reaching the goal but it is the striving for it, the journey not the destination. Think back over trips you have taken and remember the lessons of the journey.
Patience is learned through practice. Someone once said if you pray for patience expect hard times to come. That is the only way you learn it. I remember my years working at the lumberyard. I learned many things about woodworking and dealing with difficult people. I had a couple of partners who tested me -one who was moody and another who was argumentative. I learned from those encounters and developed an ability to push back when challenged. I also had a boss who was abusive and because he was my boss I couldn’t push back in the same way. I learned patience in dealing with him. I endured the times, usually when my partner was on vacation, that I had to work closely with him on projects. I learned to appreciate more the many more times when I did not have to work closely with him. There were times when I would come to work with an almost militant attitude that I was going to enjoy my day regardless of what anyone did or said. And in future jobs, I really appreciated that I had endured the worst and no other boss came close to being as bad as he.
In another realm, I have learned patience -— gardening. Waiting for flowers to bloom, bulbs to pop up, vegetables to mature, takes patience. Especially when you can’t really see the growth. Take carrots for instance. I have planted them in the past and due to poor soil or too little thinning I have had very skinny or very small carrots. I should have seen it coming but did not. This year I planted carrots and radishes, but in my planting, I forgot which were planted where. The radishes were supposed to mature in 25 days, whereas the carrots would take twice as long. I could not easily tell the difference between the leaves of the two. So even though I was eager to see how the radishes turned out I was afraid I might pull up a carrot prematurely so I let them be. As a result, and from my judicious thinning, I have sprouts like the one above that indicate I should have a few good-sized carrots at harvest time.
Sometimes quick and decisive action is needed and hesitation can be harmful. but there are other times when the opposite is needed. As someone once said “all good things come to those who only stand and wait” Wisdom is knowing when to wait and when to dive ahead.
Our world is full of rule makers, most of them unofficial. Some people are obsessed with making sure everyone obeys the rules so that there is order and things proceed as they should. Unfortunately often they think that their standards are the rules—everybody should behave like them. And often they have a pretty strict interpretation of any rule.
They forget one of the key lessons of sports. If you have no rules or rule enforcers you have chaos. But if you have whistles blowing and flags thrown at the slightest infringement of a rule, you have referees running the game, and at the same time ruining it for all the players. There is such a thing as wiggle room. And it differs from sport to sport. Most sports do not permit fistfights, but in hockey as long as the combatants throw down their gloves and stick the refs will back away and let them go at it for a bit.
People tend to approach a list of rules with either of two different approaches. Some believe that if some action is not specifically mentioned in the rules, then it should be prohibited. Others, such as I, believe that unless something is specifically prohibited in the rules that it is okay and allowed.
Let me illustrate. One day I was playing softball with a group of singles years ago. I spent three years in Little League Baseball fearful of being hit by baseballs either at the plate or in the outfield. I think my poor eyesight played a part in it, but needless to say, even though I was on championship teams I didn’t enjoy it. Playing softball there was less to worry about and I had fun. I got to first base once and decided I would try to steal second base—something I had never had the guts to try in Little League. I succeeded and felt great. Unfortunately, others objected, saying that since this was a casual game it wasn’t allowed. I countered that since nobody had specifically said we couldn’t that I was free the do it. I maintained my place on the base, but there was general agreement that stealing would henceforth not be allowed in the game.
This past year I served as district chief judge for our Toastmaster season of speech contests. Along with recruiting judges, timers, ballot counters, etc. I also was called upon to interpret the contest rules and make decisions on how we would handle different contest scenarios. There were plenty of things that were spelled out clearly, but there were gray areas—especially since we were holding contests online instead of in person. My bent was that if an activity wasn’t specifically prohibited by the rules—say the use of a PowerPoint presentation—then it was allowed.
The problem with those who want to make rules for all of us isn’t just that their set of rules might not be accepted by all. It’s that they are bound by fear of stepping outside those rules. We need to set ourselves free, not only from those rule-makers but from ourselves when we may hem ourselves in.
Relax, life is short, remember to live. And if you want, eat the cupcake.
This was one of my mom’s favorite -but one I hated in my teen years. My mom had it placed prominently in our living room. She loved it because as she said, it was the last picture of the whole family together. I hated it because I was 10 years old at the time (the summer before my sister Barb got married and was out of the house). It was at a time that I didn’t want to be reminded of my little kid days. It was like someone calling me ‘Bobby’ when I wanted to be ‘Bob’.
It’s funny how we can look back at our life and reflect on situations from a different perspective. I can look back and realize that I was a little boy at the time and appreciate that to my Mom that picture was special. I am not that little boy anymore but that was part of my life. I don’t get reactive to me , just feel weird if someone calls me Robert, since I usually only heard that from teachers and my dad – which was included in my full name and I knew I was in trouble.
The same is true as we look at national and world history. When we were children we were taught a very simple version of many events. As we grow we obtain more information that can fill the gaps. And we learn to view things from a larger view, encompassing many different players in the events. We can see past the slogans and presumptions that drove the earlier stories and come closer to what really happened.
In doing so we are not being revisionists, as some would accuse. But rather getting a better understanding of the big picture, just as someone who puts together a jigsaw puzzle has to have all the pieces in order to have the puzzle match the picture on the cover.
So when you view your life,, be kind. We all make mistakes, miss things, get upset sometimes at the wrong things. Accept yourself for who you were and who you are, and simply continue to grow to be the person you were meant to be.