This past week I attended Fabienne Fredrickson’s Mindset Retreat in Ft Lauderdale, FL. The event was part of her yearlong Boldheart Academy program that is designed to help small businesses and entrepreneurs grow their businesses. The Mindset Retreat was focused … Continue reading
Ah, the summer. It is a time to relax and unwind and do nothing. I have been doing a lot of nothing this summer and loving every minute of it! Of course, my nothing is still fairly active with regular … Continue reading
At the races conjures up two very different things for me—being caught up in the rat race of work and watching horses racing at the track. The first is being stuck in it all and the latter is being away from it all. The balance between the two is even apparent in my memories of going to the horse-track. The first time I was “at the races” was when I was a young girl and my mom was working as an attorney at Legal Aid Society in Trenton, New Jersey. Periodically I went to work with her instead of school. I don’t remember the exact circumstances on that day that led to me joining her rather than going to school but I can say that my mom was very trusting that I knew which days I really had to be at school and which days were not such a big deal.
I had a great relationship with my mom—I still do—and she understood that when I occasionally woke up and said that I really did not want to go to school that day that I truly needed the day off. I was an “A student” and I was very conscious in my decision to take—what I would now call—a mental health day now and again when I needed a break, careful to not miss an exam or something else important that day. And so my mom and I played hokey a day here or there. She didn’t entirely play hokey because my day of hokey always included some work time for her. In the earlier days it was at Legal Aid but then later when she was on her own, we would go to her private practice office to work for a few hours then head over to the newly opened Quaker Bridge Mall—one of the first malls and certainly the only mall around us in those days. So I had a day off from the rat race of school and she had a partial day off from the rat race of work. As I look back I realize that I continued to quite successfully understand when I needed a mental health day off from work. Throughout my years working in corporate America I managed to take an occasional day off for no reason and I believe I was more successful—less prone to burnout—because I did so.
The day that we went to the races was a particularly unusual day off from school for me. At my mom’s office she was one of the few women attorneys. The guys loved to go to the Garden State Park Racetrack in nearby Cherry Hill, NJ now and then as a lunch break (I think that is where we went, as the racetrack is no longer there). I was fortunate to be at the office on one of their hokey days. We slipped out of the office for a few hours and drove to the park. I remember picking horses based on their names. We found a perfect choice named after a flute or classical piece or flutist—was it Die Fledermaus or Magic Flute or Jean-Pierre Rampal… Well, I don’t remember the horse’s name exactly but I do remember that the choice paid off! What a thrill to watch the horses come around the bend towards the finish line while my mom and I cheered our horse on. We won a few bucks!
Although I have been “at the races” metaphorically in the workforce for many years after that day with my mom, I only recently was literally was “at the races” again—a first time as an adult. Now that Andy and I are working on our own, we have tremendous flexibility when it comes to taking time off from work. A couple of years ago for our 25th wedding anniversary we decided to take a mid-week getaway to nearby Saratoga Springs during the racing season. Saratoga is a lovely town with interesting little shops and gourmet restaurants lining main street and lovely inns. After breakfast, we wandered around the town a bit before going to the races.
Although there were some similarities to my early childhood experience, much of this horse racing track trip felt very different. We parked near where all the horses and their caretakers lived during the season. It was fascinating to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the racing horse life. It felt foreign to me and yet very comforting in a way. It was a hot day and people milled about with their horses; jockeys and horse trainers hung out and chatted with their colleagues; others sat outside around the barracks listening to music. The occasional fancy car appeared with what I assumed were the wealthy horse owners.
We made our way to the gate where we picked up our tickets that we had ordered in advance then people watched while standing in line until the gate opened. The mix of people was wonderful. There were big families, fancy dressed women in hats, men in suits, young groups of friends, older wealthy couples and of course unfortunate looking people who I presumed were gambling away whatever they had. We found our section in the grandstand and then were escorted to our seat by a gentleman who whisked our seat clean before we sat down. Such a lovely tradition.
Then the preparation for the races began! We scrutinized the racing bet sheet to see if we could make heads or tails of the horses. The only thing we could make heads or tails of was which was actually the head or tail of the horse. So instead of any fancy system we went for horses that were mentioned as promising or had a nice name—that worked when I was a girl. Even making our few-dollar bets was an experience. We went up to the window and fortunately had a teller who was patient as we tried to state our bet the way you are supposed to: Track Name, Race, Amount, Bet Type, Horse Number (not the horse’s name). So it would be something like Saratoga, race one, two dollars to win on the five (though we didn’t state Saratoga because it was obvious we were there). Unlike as a girl, we did not win a penny—but just like as a girl, watching the horses fly around the track to the home stretch was indeed trilling!
I am glad that I have been “at the races” in both senses of the expression throughout my life. Now that I am able to be “at the races” in the getting away from it all sense more often than in the being part of the rat race way, I am indeed grateful.
I have always enjoyed food—and food is certainly a topic that fits into many of my memories of childhood. I indeed baked a lot as a little girl (see Ode to Baking Chocolate Chip Cookies) and I cooked many of our family’s meals. But I don’t think as a kid that I would have ever called myself a foodie (though the trendy term foodie probably didn’t exist then—maybe gourmand in that era?). Whatever you call it, I did not become one with food until I became an adult. Nonetheless, there are several events from my childhood that foretold that I would become a foodie. One in particular stands out as the moment my taste buds came alive.
The year was 1971 and I was 10 years old. This year was an important one for so many more reasons than my awakening to food. This was the year of many firsts: first learning some French, first reading and writing poems (see the photos of the index cards of my poems), first learning how to give back massages (I am still pretty good at that for a non-trained masseuse if I don’t say so myself), first really kissing a boy, and first riding a motorized mini-bike to name a few. This all transpired because it was the year that I went to a private “Free School” called Erehwon. Erehwon (nowhere spelled backwards) was located in a house in Princeton Junction, NJ where 50 or so children of all ages attended. The school was based on the famous Summerhill School in England, an alternative open school where much of the learning was (and still is) experiential rather than entirely textbook trained.
Although there was some learning of traditional materials, for me the year was a year of learning about relationships and social rules and broadening of my mind culturally. I would have remained at Erehwon for more than just one year but financially the school couldn’t make it. I wonder how I would have fared academically if I had been schooled that way until high school. When I went back to my grammar school after one year and having only missed the traditional 5th grade, it was as if I had never left and I continued to excel.
The day in 1971 that remains vivid to me after all these years is our trip to BAM—Brooklyn Academy of Music. Well, to be honest, it isn’t really about the show at BAM. I can’t even remember what we watched (though I think it was dance). What I remember is the drive there. We were spread across a couple of station wagons and I got to sit all the way in the back—those days many station wagons had a row of seats facing backwards. From my perch, I waved to my friends in the other car of our caravan and tried to get strangers to wave back at me as well. And most of all I remember our pre-theatre meal in lower Manhattan at an Indian restaurant. Yes, BAM is in Brooklyn, but we took a detour via the Staten Island Ferry into Manhattan for dinner before going over the Brooklyn Bridge to see the show.
I had never had Indian food before and I can almost conjure the experience of my first whiff of the aromatic surroundings in that restaurant. I remember the miraculous moment that I ate a piece of lamb in a creamy orange sauce (I am guessing now that I know Indian food that it was probably Lamb Korma). It was amazing! I didn’t know food could be so rich in depth in flavor and color and aroma. I was in a trance and that probably explains why the rest of the evening is barely observable in my memory. From that day on, I have been trying to recreate the experience of my taste buds dancing and singing and coming alive! I’ve had a lot of success finding divine eating moments in my life since then and I remember many of them. But none are as profound as the moment my taste buds came alive when I was just a sweet young girl coming alive to all the wonders of the world during 1971.
I remember as a kid that I frequently felt self-conscious—you know, that awkward feeling of discomfort when you said something and were all too aware that it didn’t come out right. Or you did something and you thought you looked stupid or foolish—like that first time I slow-danced with a boy at a party. I was just reading an article that used the expression “self-conscious” when I suddenly saw the words in a different light. Out of curiosity I looked up the definition of self-conscious and this is what it said, “Aware of oneself as an individual or of one’s own being, actions or thoughts. Such an awareness can impair one’s ability to perform complex actions. Synonyms include: awkward, uncomfortable, insecure, even embarrassed”.
Ah, but to be self-conscious is a wonderful thing if looked at from another perspective. And this perspective doesn’t entirely fit the dictionary definition. Yes, I agree that to be conscious of yourself means that you are aware of your own thoughts and feelings. You are self-aware. I would add that to be self-aware also means that you are aware of the impact of your words, actions and behaviors not just on yourself—you are aware of your words, actions, and behaviors on others as well. But here is where I diverge from the standard definition. It doesn’t have to be the case that such an awareness impairs your ability to perform complex actions. To be self-conscious can be such a powerful way to be. To be aware of your thoughts, actions and behaviors and understand their impact on you and on others is to fully experience life! Why should it make you insecure or embarrassed?
Now granted, as a student of linguistics, I am well aware that “self-conscious” has a non-literal interpretation or connotation and not just the literal interpretation: “conscious of self”. It is true that in some instances when you are more aware of what you are saying or doing, you become stuck on that awareness. Perhaps you said something that was misunderstood or you did something that didn’t make you look so good so you are embarrassed. But can’t it simply be that your awareness is just that—an awareness of whatever it is you are being or doing in that moment?
So today I am redefining “ self-consciousness” as “self-awareness”. I say that it is a wonderful and completely not uncomfortable thing to be self-aware. I say that it is the best way to live and love your life so that you can feel the depth of your experience, feel the impact on your actions on yourself and others. And if you do feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, you get to learn from the experience and perhaps change your future action—or not change your future action :). Or maybe you could even relish looking foolish if it is something that isn’t hurting anyone—like slow dancing with a boy, or frolicking in an apple orchard!
You know that wonderful flowing feeling you get when you connect with someone so strongly and you feel that you can complete his or her sentences? This connection is both real at the biological and emotional level (see discussion in Mind and brain: connection not only “feels” good, it is good for you). A result of being present in that moment and focused on the other person and yourself simultaneously, the feeling can in a moment lead to romantic as well as non-romantic love. That spark of connection feels so powerful and I suspect that is in part because of how it validates your own true being. Many theorists speak of the “Self” as really non-existent in an individual – rather, they posit it exists only in connection with others. It rings true to me that we learn of ourselves through interactions with others.
To be present to others, we first must get ourselves grounded in our own self-awareness. Having presence stems from a deep, sense of self-confidence and boldness within in any given moment. It is mindfulness. The art of having presence can take place not only in one-on-one conversations, but when speaking to any size group of people. The key is to tap into your presence before you start your presentation.
Some people think that you have the presence skill or not. I know that it is trainable and I believe it is critical to tap into that magical and resonant place in order to positively change the way people interact with others, in work, in politics, in any relationship. But for most of us, the times we are in that moment of high and feeling humanly bold and brilliant, only happens occasionally, and we can’t seem to get into that state without a conscious effort. How can you bring out that state?
Music is one key component for me to get myself connected to my own personal power. I have certain songs that I turn to over and over that automatically make my body move. Perhaps for others, it isn’t music but poetry, or certain thoughts or food, or maybe cooking or gardening. Whatever form it takes, the goal is to get grounded in your own confidence and as self-aware of your inner thoughts as possible. When my body moves, I relax and I am more easily able to prevent negative thoughts from interfering with my confidence. It is easy to be convinced by those negative thoughts that you do not have the right to be bold and present. But we all have the right to be true to that inner strength. I will be as bold as to say that we have a responsibility to show our compelling presence. In the art of being present to others, you get to share your own magnificence while seeing and really understanding the other person. Only with all of us tapping into our own presence will we shift the balance of the world into a more peaceful state. How do you tap into your own brilliance?