Friday, September 26, 2008


I own dozens of self-help books, many of which discuss the same ideas. I occasionally ask myself whether I believe any of it. Several of the books even discuss the whole concept of belief itself. I drove past the local Presbyterian church today, and the sign outside came straight to the point. It read: “If you aren’t living it, you aren’t believing it.” This is why I try to always have a notebook handy wherever I go. I do believe life constantly inspires us.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Reflecting On Yesterday's Talk

The church service* went really well yesterday. A few people left in tears, and I received a number of hugs. This morning I was trying to understand why. The talk certainly wasn’t slick. The way I organized my notes would have made many a Toastmaster evaluator cringe. My topic wasn’t brilliant. I disregarded rules about symmetry. I had, in fact, embedded a lesson within a lesson.

I think what made the service work was that it touched the best within each of the people present. For most of them, it stimulated a neural network where they had stored something precious, some of their best thoughts and memories. What I had done was provide a way to reconnect with those parts of themselves.

This realization, of course, brings more questions than answers.

*My minister is attending a workshop, and our normally dozen or so attendees numbered seven.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Our First Class of Liuhebafa Quan

Saturday was our first class of Liuhebafa Quan, an internal martial arts system in the same broad category as Tai Chi and Baqua. I was more than a bit intimidated. All of the other students have been taking classes—besides Tai Chi—from Bob on a regular basis for a long, long time. On top of it, all of my life I have had dyspraxia or a similar learning disability, which has always made coordination somewhat challenging. I felt like a fifth grader working out with a bunch of college athletes. Bob was going at a pace several times faster than he normally takes an introductory Tai Chi class. “God’s littlest angel*” I sometimes refer to myself during moments like this. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Everyone one else was wondering about the difference between a 70/30 versus a 60/40 stance as we did a particular movement; I was just trying to figure out where the heck all my body parts were supposed to be, like which leg was supposed to be forward.

Yet part of me loves experiences like Saturday morning. I had to throw out all of my expectations. I had to ignore as much internal chatter as possible. I had to focus totally on the moment. Yeah, maybe I was “God’s littlest angel” but at that moment my right hand was swinging back and I had to figure out where my palm was facing.

The next morning, we had minor chaos at the tiny church I attend. The minister was nowhere to be found. The only person who knew what happened to her was ten minutes late for the service. As acting deacon, I tried to shepherd the flock to at least start setting up for service. Once we all knew that the minister was in Emergency, I officially took over the service. I was scheduled to conduct the service the following week, but I hadn’t quite gotten everything together. I declared that this was a “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough” service. It wasn’t quite baked, but it could still be good. I managed to remember the major points of some readings I had planned and improvise in other ways. I “rolled with the punches,” as the cliché goes, when some unexpected things happened during the service. I did not deliver the church service that people had expected when they drove to church in the morning, but I think most of us felt that we received what we had needed given the circumstances.

I am not sure that my teacher Bob and my fellow students would understand that in my mind there was a direct correlation between the Liuhebafa Quan class Saturday morning and the church service on Sunday morning. Both required surrendering to the moment and intense focus. I had already practiced those things on Saturday. Sunday my brain was already primed.

I don’t know if I can realistically expect to learn Liuhebafa Quan in the two to three semesters that are currently planned for the course. It took me between two and three years to get the basic movements of Tai Chi down. On one level, I am not sure it matters. I am still learning what I most need to learn.

* For years Hallmark has carried a Christmas card with three little angels on the cover. One of the angels has her halo hanging off to one side on her forehead. This is in contrast to the many other cards picturing the majestic angels of Christmas with their trumpets announcing the birth of Baby Jesus.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Goals and Trusting Ourselves

Sometimes the most important goal we can set is to learn to trust ourselves again.

This summer I have begun to experiment with setting goals for the week. One thing that struck me while reading Stephen Covey’s books was the importance of keeping promises to ourselves. When we keep a promise we increase our self-confidence and trust in ourselves. When we don’t, we erode that trust. This has helped me realize the importance of setting smaller weekly goals and then keeping them. I can always increase the size of the goal the following week.

Years ago I decided I would walk an average of 10,000 steps a day. At the time I was very out of shape and could barely walk 2,000 a day. I faithfully wore my pedometer from morning to night and recorded my steps before I went to bed. Each week, I set a goal for the average I wanted to achieve. In a couple of months I reached my goal of 10,000 steps average per day. Having a weekly average helped, rather than basing my progress on isolated bad or good days. Setting reasonable goals helped, too. I slowly gained faith in my abilities.

I had to remind myself of the walking experience as I set goals this summer. After a week or so of failing to meet some goals, I realized that I had lost faith. I either needed to drop some goals or decrease them. For example, I would like to practice a certain technique in a book everyday, but I am new to it. I don’t know everything that is involved and how it will affect me. I am better off trying it three times this next week and then observing my response, making tweaks in the technique so that it works for me, and getting help if I need it.

I vowed to do some strengthening exercises five times a week. One day, I absolutely couldn’t bring myself to do them. Finally, I did one exercise at a time. It took me all day to complete a set that normally would have taken under ten minutes. But I did it. At the end of the day I could put a checkmark in the box on my goal sheet. What was more important was that the following week, I felt good about doing my exercises. I had increased my trust in myself.