Reflection

Puppy Love

He ran and hid under the bed like a monster walked into the room. A memory of my father crept into the doorway where I stood looking down at the hardwood floors. My voice, heavy with anger. My heart, filled with love and disappointment all at once.There were fragments of cotton and plastic scattered around the legs of my bed. A pool of what I hoped was water sat still near the wooden chair where I place a few books for nighttime reading. The day had been long.

Thirteen hours had gone by since coffee kissed my lips and I wondered, why on earth should I have to come home to his mess. I could smell shit breathing in a dark corner somewhere. An old pair of socks, attacked by immaturity, were left helpless and out of place. The laundry basket I re-organized  long before sunrise had tugged around the room. How did the little rebel find a pair of underwear exposed at the bottom of the bin just enough for him to chew on? I could not have imagined that a ball of white, brown and grey fur could make me so damn angry when just weeks before he was content with being perfectly still, his two pound body curled up at the intersection of my neck and shoulder, his breath still sweet and innocent.

Having another heart beating in my home had been a thought, for four years prior and now I finally had him. I had been searching for the time and the capacity until I realized it would never come. There was my career, my friends, travel. I had no time to care for anything other than myself until I saw those eyes, brown buttons, brown little liars that whispered, I will cause no harm. Who was I to think that he'd just sit there, still and quiet until I returned home?

Who was I to think that he owed me something because I swiped my debit card and rescued him from wires, shreds of old paper and siblings that ate their own feces while he slid into the back corner of a tight space and looked at everything and everyone with suspicion until I held him close and said his name, a name I chose long before I chose him?

There I was, tired, too tired and then suddenly reignited by anger, so palpable, though I chose not to show it. I chose not to say anything or blame him for being a puppy.

I chose to take off my tie. I chose to roll my sleeves up. I chose to step over the pool of whatever and to get on my knees. I chose to lift the bed skirt up and there I found those brown buttons, brown liars that whispered, I know I made a mess again. Love me anyway. 

And I do... My God... I do.

Staying Cool Under Pressure

The work that I do as a school leader is often very exciting and demanding. Being responsible for  children, adults and high stakes results, requires me to tap into a wide range of skills I've accumulated over the years from setting a clear vision to motivating others when they're lacking confidence. Though I seldom have to explain why I do the work I do, many people are often curious about how I manage some aspects of my role that can be challenging.The question I'm most often asked is, "how do you stay so calm?" Years ago when I found myself in difficult situations, I would hear a little voice whispering "don't ever let them see you sweat."I don't hear that voice much these days, but my sense is that the mentality is baked in. The underlying mindset I hold onto is that appearing stressed seldom makes things easier. It's my responsibility as a good teammate and leader to remove barriers and sources of stress for others so they can focus on what matters most. Having played enough sports, I know that when a coach looks overwhelmed or worried, it impacts the way the team feels about the game.

Though the mindsets I hold are fundamental to the way I operate in difficult times, there are some actual technical/skill-based moves I repeatedly pull that help me stay "75 and Sunny" even in the midst of an unexpected hurricane.

1) Keep things in perspective: Whenever I find myself in the middle of stressful situation, I try my best to be mindful of the fact that there are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week and 365 days in a year. The situation I'm handling begins to look small with respect to time and energy when I keep in mind that it's only one event at one point in my entire career.

2) Rallying my team: I have seldom dealt with a difficult situation alone. Even when I have final decision rights on the best course of action, I am never hesitant when it comes to pulling in thought-partners and key players who can help me remain focused on resources and options at my disposal. I know that my work is demanding and I can't do it without my team behind me. I also recognize that I'm not always the best person to handle critical steps in resolving complicated situations so I leverage the strengths of my team to get things done.

3) Finding the appropriate release: Experiencing stress and appearing to be stressed are not synonymous. I'm not a robot! I don't hide my emotions ad infinitum, but I find the appropriate time to release in a way that does not add fuel to the fire I am trying to extinguish. When I recently handled one of my most challenging crisis in the last year, I stayed focused on being logical and rational in the moment while mobilizing my team to take the best course of action to contain an isolated event that could have mushroomed into a nightmare. But trust me, immediately after the smoke settled, I went into a private room, ate several chocolate chip cookies and prayed. Once I was calm, I took a few minutes to chat with a teammate and mentor about the experience and how I was feeling.

4) Striving to achieve the best possible outcome: Being a leader requires you to strive for excellence in everything you do. You may drop the ball occasionally, but you always push yourself to learn and grow and to serve as a model for others. This can be dangerous though if you lose perspective and ignore reality while becoming obsessed with a vision to the point that your perfectionism hinders your ability to get things done. When you're trying to manage stress during a difficult situation, you can't be concerned about how far off the reality is with respect to what you would imagine in your ideal world. I don't have any survey results, but I'm willing to bet that no one who has ever been responsible for passengers on a sinking cruise line has worried about how much their guests would miss out on the wonderful five course dinner available in the dining hall. Your primary concern needs to be doing the best you can with the best you have in the moment even when that means good trumps great for the day.

As the old saying goes, "Keep Calm, and Carry On!"

 

Sitting In Silence & Listening

"When I remember to sit in absolute silence, I hear great things." -Dymir 

My first experience with meditation came in my senior year of high school. My principal, Mr. Palatucci, selected several students to be members of a leadership development program he ran and I was honored to be one of his pupils.

In the spirit of cultivating leadership, we studied a variety of executive skills such as planning and effective communication, but the most powerful lessons came in moments when we were forced to turn inward and think more critically about who we were in the world and what power we possessed both individually and collectively.

I remember being asked to close my eyes one day during class when Mr. P was discussing the power of meditation and reflection. My peers and I sat in a dimply lit classroom and under the direction of his carefully orchestrated words, we were transported into a world of calm energy; a state in which I felt at total peace.

It was as if I had discovered some hidden energy within myself that had always been there but from which I had always been distracted.Meditation is now a part of my daily rituals and it has served me well in some of the most challenging moments in my life.

What I love most about my practice now as an adult, is that I have grown into a sense of comfort with listening in silence. I sit in a comfortable wooden chair in my living room before the sun rises and I listen, with an open heart, to what the universe has to offer. Words and stories come to me  and I am made  aware of my role, my responsibility to share them with others, for they are not my own.

The moment when you realize that there is great power in silence is the moment when you realize how much time and effort you've wasted on distractions on your journey toward understanding who you are and what purpose you serve. It is the moment when you embrace the tremendous power that exists within you and you decide to become who you were always meant to be: a powerful source of energy, divinely created for a unique purpose.

Happy Listening,

Dymir

I Knew You When...

There are points of pain to which you must become accustomed if you desire to live with an open mind and an open heart. Despite these points, if you have the required faith in love, you will never forget the value of dreaming regardless of what nightmares may come and they will come, in many forms, like unrequited love, affection given without being earned, and sacrifices made for those who know not of sacrifice. Over the years I have left the door of my heart open or at least cracked and every so often, some damaged and discouraged creature of beauty has crept in searching for nourishment, searching for an opportunity to speak its truth without the fear of judgment.

At first I cared, perhaps too much, lavishing weakened muscles barely gripping bones, with affection and encouragement hoping that once restored and renewed, an unfamiliar guest would become a familiar fixture, transcending time, growing beside me as love propelled us forward outweighing fear enough for the trajectories of our desires to intersect like rivers flowing into one united waterfall until all distinctions became undetectable…

But I have learned that even the most broken creatures begin to dream of flying and running into the wild when they forget what it feels like to crawl and remember how to walk.

Too many nights had passed before I grew to see the patterns of my love like undiscovered constellations. Alone, partially by choice, in the most silent silence, I could feel time stop and suddenly I felt an unknown body beside me, a body of secrets forgotten; grievances untold; trespasses too readily forgiven. There I was face to face with the truth of my addiction to fixing other people. I had been wrapping myself in other people’s problems so that I would not have to see my own and when there was nothing there to distract me, I crashed into my own truth, unable to take another breath without opening my eyes to see my own pathology.

Now as I stand firm on a mountain of love for myself only second to the love and adoration, I have for my creator I can see the pain of my previous tribe, a nation of souls fixated on saving everyone but themselves. Those souls, fearful of seeing their beauty, their brilliance, churn around in a cycle of misfortune with glimpses of hope, until they fall to the bottom of an imaginary world where they can convince others to love them, where the broken bodies they find will grow to appreciate their nourishment, where they will be rewarded for accepting less than they deserve.

They will become bent to the point of almost breaking just before they too will realize that the narratives they have created enslave them to the point that being in the presence of anyone but themselves is more desirable than true emotional and spiritual freedom.

To those souls who are still fixed on loving others back to life, while they remain broken and are ultimately left to stand alone, my heart does pray for a much needed awakening… I too know what it is like to sing “I knew you when you needed me” again and again. Today I sing, I knew you when I was afraid to know myself.

Begin Your Climb Today

Perched on an oversized hotel bed at a work conference, I was faced with a decision: use the remaining twenty dollars in my account to purchase food for the next two days until pay day, or buy a ticket to a writer’s networking event.

I’m at the beginning of my journey to be a writer. Figuratively standing at the bottom of the mountain looking up with no clue as to how to get to the top, but I know I must climb. And climbing is work. And climbing is sacrifice. So there I sat.

Tears filled my eyes as I understood the decision I had to make: short term sacrifice with the promise of long term benefits. Knowing that God will provide but unsure of how or when. Nothing really matters when you are hungry. I thought about being hungry tomorrow and the next day. And the tears fell.

I mean, after all what if this writing event didn’t work out? I would have spent two days hungry and a whole evening networking for nothing. Before I went too deep down the rabbit hole of the depression I played a song that’s near to my heart. The song simply says “It’s turning around for me. Sooner or later, it’ll turn in my favor. God is turning it around for me. It won’t always be like this.”

I wiped my face.

Instead of thinking of all the reasons why things weren’t going to work out, I held onto the promise that it would. The scripture says the end of a matter is better than the beginning. There I was at my beginning, defeated before I took even one step towards the mountain.

My face was dry now. I started to think what life would be like if I really gave it my all. If I invested the energy into what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do. Where would I be a year from now if I kept pushing instead of letting every set back, delay and denial leave me cowering at the bottom of the mountain?

I felt the spirit urge me to trust Him. To give Him my little bit of nothing and watch Him turn it into something more than I could imagine.

I told myself, “In the grand scheme of life, one late night, one missed meal, one rejection won’t matter a year from now.” I took my last little twenty dollars and paid for the networking event ticket.

Confident that I’d made the right choice I played the song on repeat and went to bed.

I woke to two e-mails.

Email 1: Your check has been deposited.

Email 2: Tickets for networking event are now closed.

Two days early? My check came two days early and I still don’t know why or and I don’t care. Imagine if I had decided that not missing a meal was more important than missing this opportunity.

The networking event rolled around and I made a connection. That connection is now an additional source of income for me. God took that 20 dollars and gave me recognition and a paycheck I could never have gotten without attending that event.

And there I was cowering at the bottom of the mountain afraid of the climb. Afraid to make a short term sacrifice for the long term promise.

Now, here I sit at the good part. Here I sit at the peak of this first mountain (there are always other mountains) and I look around. I almost gave all of this up because I was unable to trust that right now isn’t forever. I almost gave it all up because I was so focused on what I could see that I missed what I believed.

How might life be different if we could know the end? There are few guarantees on this journey upwards but the peak is always better than the base. You may not know what waits for you up there but it’s better than where you are.

Be unafraid to climb. Be unafraid to leave it all behind, to sacrifice now, and gain so much more.

The end of the matter is always better than the beginning.

Written by Dee Rene

Contributor and Thought-Partner 

Loving Ourselves Completely...

Last week, while meeting with several college students who are all interested in becoming educators, I found myself laughing a bit when one guest asked me how I dealt with "bad" students during my time in the classroom. Three years ago, I probably would have responded by talking about behavior management systems and understanding the personal interests and triggers of students, but today I'm often amused by the attempts we make to categorize children as good or bad based on their actions and our personal or institutional standards. In education, religion, politics and daily life, we are taught to take in information about the beliefs and actions of others and depending on our personal values we paint pictures of those we assess as good or bad people. Interestingly enough, as I continue to grow and evaluate the deep internal workings of my own mind and heart, I've discovered that the person we often judge most harshly is the one we see in the mirror.

I have been guilty of allowing external standards to influence the way I see myself. I have a pretty clear understanding of who I am when I am operating at my highest level of self, but there are clear inconsistencies between my actions and my ideals at times. I hate being late but I'm no stranger to being tardy or showing up to an event just in time. I'm often perceived as calm and even-tempered, but there are times when I become angry and have to find my way back to peace.

In those moments when my actions haven't been aligned with my personal standards, I've come to realize just how incredibly multifaceted I am. I've come to understand that there are many little parts and contradictory pieces that make me who I am. When I'm making tough decisions, I can hear conflicting thoughts and I know that all of the voices that speak belong to me and I've learned to appreciate them all.

It is true, that as we become wiser, we learn to listen more carefully to those voices that align best with who we aspire to be, but it doesn't mean we are immune to jealousy, insecurity, greed, anger, sadness, depression, fear and all of the other emotions that come with a full human experience.

I've learned not to punish myself when I identify the "bad" within me, but simply to hear it or touch it where it is, recognizing its presence before deciding to return to a path toward healing, inner peace and success. Even when I make a decision I ultimately consider to be a poor one, I now understand that failing does not make me a failure.

Five weeks from now I will be 26 years old and I know that I have made many mistakes and I'll likely make more, but I also know that each and every year I learn to love me more and that means loving all of me, just as I am.

We are not meant to live in fear or pain because of our imperfections. In many ways, we are designed to be imperfect beings. The task isn't to suppress the "bad" as we ultimately see it and hide it under the carpet pretending it doesn't exist, the task is to see the "bad" and the "good" as both authentic components of the human experience and to love ourselves completely regardless.