How to start merging your efficiencies with your indulgences

naked dancingI dressed up to flash the window washer this morning. Just another day at the office. Life is short – don’t make it short on fun! Just go for it! Play with your food, your clothes, and, in between snooze alarms… your wonderful self!

fast and easy summer salad recipes 3

“Sure,” you say, “but I have to do such n’ such, then yada yada, then…” Bet you’ve got a mile long list of efficiencies that ‘need’ to taken care of before you can drift off into your indulgences and escape to your Secret Garden. Bullshit!

Once you accept the simple truth that your brain will only let you do what you want to do and that there is no ‘have to’, you win back your freedom to play – anytime, anywhere. Our brains trick us into compartmentalization and hypervigilance. And, by natural extension, our culture promotes this fallacy. Our extended systems (community, culture) tend to reflect and exaggerate our internal functioning. Example: primal fear of starving has linked itself, full force, to the fear of not answering your boss’s email fast enough – connected in your brain to getting fired and not being able to afford food. But what might feel logical, even temptingly  intuitive, can trap you in unrealistically stressful beliefs and encourage extreme compensations like addiction, cheating, and obesity.

Why don't we tie it all together?Western culture’s ever widening gap between perceived efficiencies and indulgences has become crippling to our mental, physical, and spiritual health. But we don’t have to be slaves to outwardly imposed glamours. Let’s tie our wants and needs closer together! (in this case with a darling little bow) Trust your senses, not your preconceptions. Take your system boundary back down to the surface of your skin. What does commuting ‘feel’ like? Be honest. Probably just like sitting on the couch watching your fave program. Relax into it, why the hell not? We have choice. Don’t let so many millennia of evolution go to waste! We each have a prefrontal cortex that’s just begging to be allowed to reprogram our Viable Worlds.

Turn off CNN’s perma-coverage of flight 370 for a second. We are blessed to live in a glorious age of concealer and condoms, grocery stores and glasses. Big spoiler alert… You’re gonna die. So what? Really, so what. Depending on where you place your system boundary, this small detail can be of either infinite importance or infinite unimportance. Re-quantize your relationship with time (details in upcoming posts). I know, I know, the concept takes neuroplasticity and self-acceptance to their very limits, but if I can learn to do it anyone can! Slowly, after concentrated practice in attention control, every breath you take (in… out…) becomes a lifetime lived in full. Why not make each the most honest, complete life you possibly can?

shower sexTake inspiration from Japanese ryokans: “As my food is being prepared for me, I’m being prepared for my food.” – Anthony Bourdain. Use this sort of priming and splash yourself with cold water before stepping into the best shower of your life. Story your dishes… why not? Turn your salads into personalized sensory symphonies by following the example of Naples pizza makers: “Almost a poetry to it.” – Heston Blumenthal (because apparently I get all my wisdom from TV chefs lol). Shitty morning? Accept your emotion with unrelenting compassion and work it through your body with a snooze alarm interpretive dance that embraces the unabashed horror and agony of the moment. Just go for it!

Exercise in Engagement: Roll up a sleeve. Bury your nose in the warm, soft – possibly furry – inside of your elbow. Take a long deep breath of your scent. This is a new intimacy. This small area of skin is all your own. Give it a little lick. Its smell, taste, and texture are the physical manifestation of every decision you, your parents, your parents’ parents ever made. This is time. This is life. This is you. Love this moment and be transformed into your own, delightfully portable, indulgence.

How to tackle life’s Tetris tipping points

kitchen before and afterWhat’s a Tetris tipping point? You’re in the zone, everything’s stacking up perfectly – eating healthy, bills paid, emails answered, legs shaved (and/or face and/or whatever else)… When suddenly, life hurls one of those stupid wonky 4 square zig-zags at you and you try to fit it in, but everything’s happening too fast and now there’s a gap. Still, you’re sure you can recover, but the 4 square vertical you were counting on never comes, and no matter how fast you try to anticipate and react, you can’t keep up. All you can do is watch helplessly as chaos closes in and… GAME OVER.

tetrisAs we move up the levels of life in age, career, and responsibility, new stressors come at us faster and faster – just like in Tetris. Sure, you can practice and plan, but inevitably, if you’re human (and if you’re not, well, I’m sure you have other issues) you’ll face that GAME OVER screen again and again. Your perfect plan will go straight out the window because life, just like love, is unpredictable and overwhelming. And we wouldn’t want it any other way!

So, how do we tackle life’s Tetris tipping points? With unrelenting compassion. I suck at housework, always have, and probably always will. I have other skills and talents that can be quite useful around the home (just ask my husband), but dirty dishes will always be my nemesis. I’ll stay on top of things for days (occasionally even weeks) at a time, but then, for any number of reasons, the stack gets past a certain height and I just can’t deal and it just keeps piling up and… GAME OVER.

I’ve laid prostrate on the kitchen floor weeping at my ineptitude. I’ve rocked out to hard-core blues in bra and panties. I’ve dressed up like an Eastern European slave girl. I’ve turned the task into an archeological dig and you can be sure I always try to pawn those dishes off on dear ol’ hubby. And yes, in times of utter desperation, I’ve even resorted to buying paper plates and plastic cutlery. I’ve also, as you can see by these links, apparently blogged about doing the dishes more often than actually doing them!

But something changed the day I accepted the beautifully human truth that I, Cymbria, am a woman utterly overwhelmed by doing the dishes. And that that’s OK. With unrelenting compassion, I released my guilt and shame – so often the source of our procrastination. It was a simple act, but one with profound and wonderful consequences.

Now when I face the scourge, I do it with humour, literally and figuratively. I crank up the comedy station on the radio, wear a scullery maid head scarf to get into character, and take my time. I still loath the task, but it no longer lurks as a constant ugly nag – threatening my self-worth – in the back of my mind. When I’m doing the dishes I’m doing the dishes, when I’m not, they’re simply not part of my Viable World.

If you’re facing a Tetris tipping point today, step back and take a breath. Maybe something happened and you couldn’t keep up… and that’s OK. You’ve been here before; you’ve failed, and you’ve survived. You might have to go back a few levels, but that’ll just give you more practice for the next round. You’re still you – and you’re still marvelously human.

Note: I let it slip in a cross-country conversation with my mother that I was posting a pic of my most recent kitchen nightmare. She was horrified. “Oh, you can’t do that!” she said. “You know how people label.” Well, dear readers, label away. All I can say is… my kingdom for a dishwasher!!   

5 Tips for staying human at the office

office phoneDenying or suppressing our humanity while at work can lead to tragic consequences… depression, anxiety, illicit stairwell trysts, office shootings, or the time my boss found me sitting on ‘the new guy’s’ desk after a drunken Christmas luncheon, performing an erotic reading of an article I’d found in a seismic geophysics magazine on the evolution of the scientific method – oh gawd the horror, the shame! Don’t let this happen to you! We are at our best and brightest when we stay connected to our passions and personalities. The following five tips are simple survival strategies to help you keep hold of your sanity and soul at your own office day job:

1) As counterintuitive as it feels, as hard as it is to say… go on, admit it, you WANT to be sitting there. If you don’t believe me, click here for compelling neurological proof.

2) Personalize, personalize, personalize! You don’t have to go as far as my art installation office phone pictured in the photo above. emoticon phone stickersEven I have to admit it might be getting a wee bit over-accessorized; I messed up twice the last time I had to dial our Xerox technician’s number on my emoticon keypad. A couple of your favourite pictures, inspirational quotes/posters (although these can all too quickly slide into the ironic), or comic strips can add some mood enhancing personal colour and flair.

3) Practice mindfulness brain games to help you reengage with your tasks and surroundings in novel ways. Try focusing on the experience of one sense at a time or imagine that you’re exploring a museum exhibit showcasing long-outdated 21st century office supplies. Trust me – it can really open things up. Just don’t advertise your little field trip, especially if you’re the only employee already risking your professionalism (let alone dignity) by dialing with customized emoticons.

4) Oxygenate! If at all possible, incorporate plants into your office environment. Spider plants are surprisingly easy to sustain and provide the optional bonus of an interactive tactile relationship. Refuel the rest of your body with a living lunch. I don’t mean go hunting for something (or someone) skulking around on the third floor, but get creative with your limited office kitchen supplies and make yourself something worth waking up for.

5) Keep your fantasies out of the office! Breaking news – you are a sexual being. Acknowledge this honest truth and move on. And obviously, do not, under any circumstances, engage in drunken desk hopping this holiday season! Keep your daydreams focused on your future, your weekend, or if things get really bleak, pretend you’re embroiled in a multi-billion dollar international corporate espionage conspiracy while filing your next report. Regressive? Perhaps. Nerdy? Decidedly. But desperate times call for decidedly desperate measures.

funny stickerMost importantly, stay conscious (always a good place to start) and on guard for subliminal, and not so subliminal (like that stupid Chubb door sticker I have to try to ignore every morning!), social and environmental cues that threaten to compromise your value as a precious, uniquely wonderful human being. And if you manage to get out alive this Friday, have a fabulous, unabashedly human weekend!

What do you do to stay human at your 9 to 5 job?

How to survive a woman who threatens your universe at the atomic level

universal photocopier“I’m pissed off.” The red haired woman states the obvious, with equally obvious venom.

I think I hate her. The realization is sudden, visceral, and acute. My stomach has made up its mind. She presents as an archetype I’ve spent my life avoiding eye contact with in high school hallways and grim office elevators. Not that I can’t come around – I’ve done it before – but the photocopier she did battle with earlier has my sympathies. And now that I’ve sacrificed the sleeves of my sweater to her jury-rigged straightjacket, there’s no turning back.

“I can see that,” I say. “Three minutes, will you give me just three minutes?”

“You’ve got a captive audience, girl.”

Swallowing her ‘girl’ with quiet martyrdom, I take her ever so gently through a 3 Minute Sense Scroll Mindfulness Meditation – my go to innovation that has helped my own brain rewire to focus its attentions, engage with the environment, and emerge from internal constructs/conflicts.

“There.” I breath deeply, feeling quite relaxed myself. My perception of my client is momentarily softened and compassion is awakened by my reconnection to self. “Are you feeling a little more grounded now?”

“No.”

The word is spit with a certain – yes I’m certain – gleeful malice that hits me right in the gut. How could any brain resist such a powerful tool? Must be out of spite. But why would any mind fight its natural craving for balance and peace? Her death stare is unrelenting, and now she’s fidgeting in her straightjacket and stretching my sleeves more and more by the second. I’m appalled by her total disregard for another person’s property. The photocopier becomes personified in my mind, poor thing. I empathize with its jamming now that the gears in my own head are locking up. And here she is traumatizing something else that doesn’t belong to her. Bitch.

“Shit.” I say. To which she looks triumphant. Drawing a blank in the face of such hostility, I reluctantly serve the cat her cream: “So why don’t you just tell me what’s pissing you off.”

I see her mouth open as she sucks in not only all the air in the office, but all available energy too, extending her vacuum to rob our oxygen atoms of their very spin as they’re drawn into her black void of negativity. I swear my eyeballs bulge and the overhead florescents flicker and dim as their photons are stretched and dragged screaming, tearing, into the abyss. Only a black hole or an angry woman can disrupt the space-time continuum – I know this, just ask my husband. But I could never match this wild haired force of nature. Sleeve assault aside, this woman’s utter disregard for the room’s atomic balance leaves nothing even remotely sustaining for me. Bitch.

“Wait!” I cry out, all hard-won professionalism abandoned. “I have a better idea.”

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Recover from a bad first impression using only the clothes on your back – and someone else’s!

terrible first impressionWhen I get off the elevator Tuesday morning on the 6th floor, I find Dr. C talking to my boss, who looks quite overwhelmed by the white haired 10th floor phenom.

“Cymbria!” Dr. C turns and greets me with neon pink lips spread wide. “Paper’s got to roll itself for a few minutes. I’m borrowing you for an emergency.”

She doesn’t say another word as she leads me up to Blank Canvas Living’s offices, despite all my questions and panicked pleas for training, something, anything, Aaaack! We get off the elevator and she takes me down a bleak, almost institutional, hallway without giving me the tiniest hint of what to expect. Not even when she opens a green glass door, about halfway down, and guides – who are we kidding, shoves! – me through. The door clicks shut behind me and I’m in a small white office with silken green carpeting that looks suspiciously like-high end Astro Turf. There are two chairs, but their purpose is lost on the fire haired woman who, I’m assuming, is my first ‘real-time’ creative counseling client.

It’s my turn to be speechless. A faint scratching, grinding sound is coming from under the opposite chair. That’s right, under. My client, a well-dressed 30-something businesswoman, is curled up in the fetal position gnawing on a chair leg. No joke. What the hell?

I wait for an opportune lull in the gnawing. “Are you Ok?” I ask.

“Do I look Ok?!” she snarls. “I’m gnawing on a f*&^^*ing chair leg! I hate my job. I hate my life. I hate my hair. And I hate the *&^^%&*((* photocopier that jammed and made me crazy this morning!”

“I like your hair.” My voice is so meek, even I’m not sold.

“Whatever. Who the hell are you anyway?”

“I’m Cymbria. It’s my first time.”

“Dr. C had better not be charging me for this. And seriously, why would I take advice from someone wearing such an abomination of a sweater?
recovering from bad first impressionShe’s right. Dr. C may have helped me burn my ugly pants, but the sweater she met me in still haunts my closet, its ease too easy an argument on so many grey/black branded mornings. I take it off and toss it on the grassy floor between us.

“Oh sure,” she says, letting go of the chair leg, “like that ratty old tank top is any more professional.”

“Fine.” I take that off too, and let it drop like a limp white flag of surrender. But this is no resignation. I’ve got her full attention now that I’m down to my bra and jeans. It’s my turn to call her out: “And I don’t know how I can listen to someone bitching about their life when they’re wearing a fresh-pressed button-down and Christian Louboutin heels!”

“Fine.” The woman picks herself up, strips off her shirt, and kicks off her shoes. She stands her ground with arms crossed and jaw set, challenging me.

“You want professional?” I say, as I take her white oxford from the top of our laundry pile and button it over my bra. It’s a tad loose, but the more like a lab coat the better. Off go my jeans and I make an improvised matching skirt from my repurposed ‘ratty’ white tank top. Recovering from a terrible first impression demands high risk creative problem solving. “Now hand over the tights. You came here wanting to expose your brain for someone to poke around in. Hosiery sharing isn’t anywhere near as intimate and you know it.”

She gives me her tights and lets me dress her in a true tickle trunk representation of how she says she feels. I tie my sweater sleeves (so what if they stretch – t’is a noble sacrifice) behind her back for a straightjacket effect, then get her to put her feet in the wrong end of my jeans to trap her legs. She draws the line at letting me hood her with her black gabardine pencil skirt – “can’t wreck the hair,” she says, which I take as a possible sign of improving moral.

We sit facing each other, transformed. “Now,” I say, as professionally as possible, ignoring the pain of her glorious but too-tight Louboutins, “how can I help?”

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Secret to how to REALLY start doing things differently

I once witnessed a car accident while driving with my sister-in-law. At impact, the red minivan two cars ahead of us lifted up and spiraled like a football into the ditch. Mercifully, there were only minor injuries. After attending with water (and chocolate) until the paramedics arrived, we were asked to write witness statements. Upon reading each other’s, my sister-in-law and I were surprised to find that what we’d paid attention to was wildly different. Our attentions can be inherent to our coded personalities, cultural, or based on personal experience. But here’s the secret: retraining your attentions will give you incredible freedom of action.

Now let’s go to the grocery store. If you noted and evaluated every single one of the tens of thousands of products sold at your average grocery store… well, quite simply, your brain would shut down. In reality, we each walk into a markedly different store, depending on our tastes and habits. Like those big green signs on the highway, our attentions allow the rest of the landscape to blur into the background. A few weeks ago, I was standing in the salad dressing aisle with a bottle of Miracle Whip in my hand – not only Easy Squeeze, but on sale too! See that fellow on my shoulder in the illustration above? That’s Mitch – my insatiable human itch. When you give something an identity (Mitch’s origins will be explained in an upcoming post), you give yourself the freedom to open a dialogue. NOTE: This isn’t any sort of talking-to-yourself or actually seeing the little guy weirdness, just a fun philosophical allegory, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra or Virgil’s guides in Dante’s Inferno (although I don’t suppose either of those two examples could be called particularly ‘fun’).

When you can dialogue with your primal human drives, habits, and interpretations (dare I say subconscious), you can begin to challenge your reflexive attentions, thoughts, and actions. In this case, choice of salad dressing. Don’t let a touch of natural, biological anxiety hold you back from trying something new. Our neurotransmitters are calibrated to keep our patterns stable in this so often unstable world… just push through (practice makes it easier). I’ve always thought about trying to make my own dressing, so told Mitch to shove off, and through the subsequent catecholamine haze, went hunting for apple cider vinegar, canola oil, and a good novelty mustard.

This shift in attentions began to change my experience of the store. New products came into focus, new flavour combinations, textures, and possibilities for combination. I was essentially shopping a different store, not literally, but a new menu for selection had opened up on familiar shelves. In lieu of an allegory brush off, you can also try this…

Practical Exercise For Retraining Attentions: Next time you’re in the grocery store, arbitrarily pick a 2′ by 2′ area of shelving. For every product within that square, imagine being served a sample at a dinner party. How does it taste? Smell? Look? What is it being served with? What are people talking about while eating? Build a story around it. Then pick one of these products (one you’ve never picked before) and have the balls, yes I said it, balls, to put it in your cart. You can stop here, or if you’ve really got kahoonas, build a dish around this product and see how your story plays out when you serve it to your family.

How to capture and define your system’s own unique waveform

Last week’s pantless adventure has had a curious effect. I’m seeing the world differently, and I love it! I feel my cognitive paradigm shifting; the world around me is suddenly bursting with possibilities. I recognize this freedom from childhood, but I am very much an adult, and by definition must commit to an internal framework or risk losing whatever I try to build – only by knowing the tides can one place one’s castle with confidence. Sigh…beaches, even metaphorical ones, seem a long way off on this icy January night.

A slip of moon shimmers above the frosted sidewalk. Standing at the bus stop, I rate my little path of footprints. I feel a bit ashamed, they’re duck toed and should be straighter. Ms J would be incensed! And according to an article I read who-knows-where, my steps are too far apart. I wonder if my stride is consistent? I know how to test it. I walk the same stretch while matching up the toes. Sure enough, it’s the same.

The cold air catches in my throat – a pattern is emerging in the frost. The sidewalk becomes an oscilloscope, and I can’t resist filling in the waveform. I don’t care if I look silly. This is fun! My duck toed shame disappears; I am alone with my own individual waveform. It is unique, personal – any judgment is gone. I’ve mapped a key feature of my body system, and seeing it exposed on the sidewalk gives me a private thrill. I don’t want to give up this new freedom of perception, of creation, but am I brave enough to take the next step? Can I really commit to Blank Canvas Living as my internal framework?

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