You have reached your destination

I have nothing against Google Maps, but this week it told me to sleep in the middle of a five-lane city street packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic.

We were driving to see the redwood forests of northern California. We overnighted in San Jose, where we’d booked a charming little Spanish-colonial hotel, set among lush trees. I put the address into Google Maps, which confidently led us into the heart of a major metropolis jammed with vehicles, pedestrians, and huge, flashing Christmas light displays. “You have arrived at your destination,” said the soothing voice from my phone.

So I called the hotel, which turned out to be awaiting my arrival in the heart of San Jose…Costa Rica. This is a true story.

As I booked an outrageously expensive room on very short notice, I reminded myself that living as a Wayfinder isn’t about always getting where you want to go, when you expect to arrive. It’s about venturing into the unknown, making mistakes, and ending up in the wrong place, repeatedly. A good Wayfinder is someone who’s comfortable losing the way.

We eventually got back on track—like you do—and today I stood among trees that were already tall when Jesus and Buddha walked the earth. They grew taller as the Vikings sailed, were already huge before the Aztecs ever met a Spaniard. Wandering through them, I felt acutely that they were not only alive all that time, but aware. They’re like space creatures: immensely still, benevolently alien beings.

I got lost again among these giants—this time not geographically but psychologically. Spiritually. My small body, my brief life, my human identity all felt inconsequential next to the redwoods, and I loved it. Being lost in a blaring city had been jarring. It took some serious positive thinking to cope with it. By contrast, losing myself in an ancient forest was a kind of ecstasy. At some point in the hours I spent there, I forgot that I was separate from the trees, from the soil. I forgot to be a self, divided from the rest of the universe.

This kind of “lostness” is what lets us know that our Wayfinding compasses, our inborn Google maps, are working perfectly. When our minds quiet and our hearts open, we find ourselves in a map of the universe drawn like a Chinese painting, tiny human travelers barely visible in the vast beauty of nature. We don’t need to feel huge or central, the focus of attention. We don’t need to feel anything but present.


The mindset of Wayfinding can help us on a literal journey, or in every ordinary day.
 For you, today, that might mean navigating a relationship problem or a career disappointment. Stop, acknowledge that you’re lost, feel for the step forward that brings peace and lets you loosen your hold on what you thought you wanted. Take that step. Then do it all again. Move always toward inner stillness and loving communion.This mode of Wayfinding can become a constant state. It doesn’t mean life will be perfect. It means getting lost, but without anxiety: blundering into places we never anticipated and don’t understand, and rejoicing in it all. Once we’ve set our internal navigation to track our true purpose, we’ll get lost a thousand times: that’s how the way is found. At any given moment, it’s okay to be someplace unfamiliar without a clue where we’re going next. Whatever is happening, whatever’s around us, we always ultimately know where we are. We’re home.

Watch Out! Everybody’s Trying to Help You

Lately I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends are getting kind of pronoid. Okay, more than a bit. To be honest, there’s an epidemic of pronoia among people I love. I’m even showing signs of it myself. I feel it’s important that you know about this condition, just in case it begins to affect you or someone you love.

Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia; it means believing that people and circumstances are secretly conspiring to help and benefit you. Insane, right? I know! Yet I find myself slipping into this frame of mind, especially when I hang out with pronoiacs. Once upon a time I knew certain things: that people are always judging me; that anything that can go wrong will go wrong; and that we’re all headed for death, the ultimate horror.

I may be losing touch with that reality.

For example, I find myself thinking that everyone isn’t judging me as much as they’re judging themselves, trying to be perfect or beautiful or powerful because they yearn for acceptance. I’m starting to notice that an incredible number of things actually go right: people solve problems, miracles like the Internet and air travel work for me almost all the time, acts of kindness abound. And I’m finding it harder and harder to shake the suspicion that death may be a happy beginning, rather than a dreadful end.

If you start to notice symptoms of pronoia, such as feeling calm, amused, and confident where you once showed normal levels of anxiety, grimness, and grasping, you may already be on the slippery slope to— Wait a minute, I just realized something: You’ve been in on this thing all along! You’re just one more agent of kindness, conspiring to illuminate and delight me—why else would you even be reading this? Don’t deny it! At heart, you’re just a being of pure love, innocent, joyful, and peaceful, creating benefit for all beings. My pronoid friends and I are so onto you. And we, along with rest of the world, have every intention of conspiring to make you happy.

Fang and Buddy: Tuning into your Inner Wisdom

1425765_31554285This very day, two individuals are vying to be your personal adviser. The first, whose name is Fang, dresses in immaculate business attire, carries a briefcase full of neatly organized folders, and answers all e-mails instantly, via BlackBerry. In a loud, clear, authoritative voice, Fang delivers strong opinions about how you should manage your time. Fang’s résumé is impressive: fantastic education, experience to burn.

The other candidate, Buddy, wears shorts, a tank top, and a rose tattoo. If you question the professionalism of this attire, Buddy just smiles. When you ask advice on a pressing matter, Buddy hugs you. There are almost no words on Buddy’s résumé (the few that do appear are jokes and song lyrics), and in the margins, Buddy has doodled pictures of chipmunks.

Who will you hire to advise you?

Yeah, that’s what I used to think, too.

Long, long ago, as a teenager, I gave the name Fang to my socially conscious, verbal, educated mind. Buddy was what I called a perverse, disobedient aspect of my being, who apparently never evolved logical semantics and simply does not understand How Things Are Done Around Here. Fang is wary and suspicious, while Buddy ignores all caution in the pursuit of appealing experiences, like a puppy on LSD. In high school, I vowed to let only Fang run my life. A couple of decades later, I noticed something surprising: Though I generally did listen to Fang, it was Buddy who was always right.

When clients tell me they need to find their “inner voice,” I suspect they’re already listening to one: a loud, logical, convincing Fang-voice that echoes parents, teachers, priests, and angry personal trainers. You have no problem hearing this voice; the problem is, its counsel rarely leads to fulfillment. Yet you sense there’s someone else knocking around in your psyche: someone whose counsel might make you happy—the kind of wise, primordial self I named Buddy. Unfortunately, Buddy is almost nonverbal, initially unimposing, and, from Fang’s point of view, way too weird to trust. I believe one of the primary tasks of your life is to trust Buddy anyway. That means first learning to recognize true inner wisdom, and then opening yourself to its peculiar counsel.

Noticing What Your Inner Wisdom Is and Is Not

Real wisdom is so different from what’s drilled into us by most authority figures that we tend to go functionally blind to it. But even if you can’t recognize your own wisdom, you can notice what it isn’t. Compare this list of Buddy traits with their Fang opposites. 

Wisdom Is Sensory, Not Verbal 
“It’s not as though I hear a voice,” says a friend of mine who’s famous for her wisdom. “It’s more like a little kid tapping me on the shoulder. It’s something I feel.”

In other words, while the voice of social conditioning manifests itself as a stream of thoughts in the head, wisdom often appears as emotions or physical sensations in the body. Brain-damaged patients who lose function in parts of the brain that register emotion may still understand the logic of a problem, but can no longer reason effectively or make advantageous decisions for themselves. The emotional centers of the brain, along with the elaborate bundle of nerves in your belly (the so-called gut brain), have been evolving far longer than language. And that system, more than logic, is exquisitely attuned to helping you navigate your way through life.

So if you’re wondering whether a choice is wise or not, don’t search your mind for a rational argument. Instead, hold each option in your attention, then feel its effect on your body and emotions. When something’s wrong for you, you’ll feel constriction and tightness. The wise choice leads to feelings of liberation, even exhilaration.

Wisdom Is Calm, Not Fearful 

The inner voice of social conditioning—that would be Fang—doesn’t just speak in words; it shouts them. “Do it my way!” Fang shrieks. “Do not screw this up!” By contrast, inner wisdom is stillness itself. If you’re waiting for wisdom to outscream paranoia, get comfortable. It’s gonna be a long wait.

Instead, you might want to regard the thought stream in your brain as an annoying TV talk show playing in an upstairs apartment. Send your attention downstairs, to a place in the center of your chest where Buddy is smiling in the stillness. It helps to take some deep breaths. You may have to lie down. But as you feel for that stillness, the yawping from your brain will seem less important. As you begin to relax, you’ll find yourself guided to do unexpected things. These may include just resting, often the single wisest choice.

Wisdom Is Chosen, Not Forced

From infancy we’re trained by adults who can force us to cooperate. Sometimes, indeed, we’re trained so well that we begin to expect all instructions to come through coercion. “You’re crazy to want that!” Fang shouts as you try to grow or enjoy life. “You don’t deserve it!” “You’ll fail!”

Meanwhile, your inner Buddy knocks gently, then waits to be invited in. Wisdom is far, far stronger than fear, but while fear gladly forces itself upon you, wisdom will do nothing of the kind. We can’t be victims of wisdom: It must be chosen.

Stop and examine any frightening, ugly, or painful thought that customarily drives you. Ask yourself: Really? Is this really the kind of energy you want blaring through your inner space? If not, calmly state a truer thought: “You’re wrong, Fang. I do deserve this, and even if I do fail, the world won’t end.”

Fang will not appreciate this. There will be shouting. But you’ll gain wisdom every time you choose to believe the peaceful thoughts again—and again, and again, and again. Ultimately, this practice will enable you to take Fang less seriously. Then you can go out to play with Buddy, who’s much more interesting.

Following Your Inner Buddy

Exercise 1: WWBD?

Think of a challenging circumstance or difficult decision you happen to be facing right now—something that’s been keeping you up at night. With this situation in mind, write the first answer that comes up when you ask yourself the following questions. Don’t overthink the answers. In fact, don’t think about the answers at all—just blurt.

With regard to your difficult situation…

  • What would calm do now?
  • What would peace do now?
  • What would relaxation do now?

(Note: I don’t include “What would love do now?” because so many people have such misguided interpretations of love. They think love would sacrifice its own happiness, or throw a tantrum, or hide in an ex-boyfriend’s garage wearing nothing but night-vision goggles and a leopard-print thong.)

The more often you ask yourself these strange questions, the more open you become to the gentle energy of your own inner wisdom. When you feel your body begin to let go of tension, you know you’re headed in a wise direction.

And that’s what Buddy would do.

Exercise 2: Nightmare Board, Wisdom Board

Perhaps you’ve heard of vision boards: collages you assemble from pictures of things that appeal to you. Most of us go through life carrying something similar in our minds—except that instead of pictures that appeal to us, they’re crowded with pictures that torment and terrify us. I call these nightmare boards.

Your nightmare board, curated, assembled, and prominently displayed by your inner Fang, contains images of everything that frightens and upsets you, including all your most hideously painful experiences. Fang is continuously adding new pictures to the board and lovingly retouching the old ones.

Here’s a radical assignment: Make your nightmare board real. Glue up some actual images of every frightening thought that haunts you. But don’t stop there. When you’re finished, you’re going to make another board. This new board must contain three or more images that contradict every picture on the nightmare board. For example, if your nightmare board shows a devastating oil spill, your vision board might feature three photographs of people tenderly swabbing oil-coated ducks. For every image of violence, come up with three examples of loving kindness; for every crisis, find three beautiful, ordinary moments of calm.

When you’re finished, ceremoniously shred, burn, or otherwise trash Fang’s nightmare board. Then put your wisdom board where you can see it. Focusing on hope in a world of fear isn’t naive. It’s the irrational essence of wisdom.

Exercise 3: Vocab Rehab

Take ten minutes and write a description of your life—stream of consciousness, no self-judgment, no editing. Then go over your description, looking for every word that carries frightening or painful associations. These words have more power than you might think. Studies show that after focusing on words having to do with aging, people walk more slowly; when they see words associated with anger, they’re more likely to be rude.

This phenomenon is called affective priming, but it works both ways. You can use it to connect with your inner wisdom by changing every stressful word in your self-description to something more freeing, relaxing, or exhilarating. If you wrote “I’m nervous,” see whether “I’m excited” may also fit. The word unsure could be replaced by open. As you change your story, Fang’s voice will begin to soften, and the peace that comes from your wiser inner voice will begin to arise.

Practice Makes Permanent

All these exercises can divert your attention from bossy, self-righteous Fang and help you appreciate the brilliance of your inner Buddy. Wisdom will never be the loud, obvious one in this odd couple. It will never shout down its opposition or barge in uninvited. But each time you choose wisdom as your adviser, you come closer to making the choice a way of life. Trust me, that’s advice you want to take.

Stop Regretting Decisions

Great Egret in FlightSo here’s the story: After a lifetime of hand-copying ancient texts, an elderly monk became abbot of his monastery. Realizing that for centuries his order had been making copies of copies, he decided to examine some of the monastery’s original documents. Days later, the other monks found him in the cellar, weeping over a crumbling manuscript and moaning, “It says ‘celebrate,’ not ‘celibate!'”

Ah, regret. The forehead-slap of hindsight, the woeful fuel of country ballads, the self-recrimination I feel for eating a quart of pudding in a crafty but unsuccessful attempt to avoid writing this column. If you’ve ever made a bad decision or suffered an accident, regret has been your roommate, if not your conjoined twin. It’s a difficult companion, prone to accusatory comments and dark moods, and it changes you, leaving you both tougher and more tender. You get to decide, however, whether your toughness will look like unreachable bitterness or unstoppable resilience; your tenderness the raw vulnerability of a never-healing wound, or a kindness so deep it heals every wound it touches. Regret can be your worst enemy or your best friend. You get to decide which.

There are at least two time zones where you can choose to make regret’s powerful energy healing rather than destructive: the past and the future. Both can be transformed by what you decide to do right now, in this moment.

Let’s start by changing the past. If you think that can’t be done, think again. Literally. The past doesn’t exist except as a memory, a mental story, and though past events aren’t changeable, your stories about them are. You can act now to transform the way you tell the story of your past, ultimately making it a stalwart protector of your future. Try these steps, more or less in order.

1. Get Beyond Denial
As long as you’re thinking, “That shouldn’t have happened or I shouldn’t have done that,” you’re locked in a struggle against reality. Many people pour years of energy into useless “shouldn’t haves.” The angry ones endlessly repeat that their ex-spouses shouldn’t have left them, their parents shouldn’t have overfed them, or their bosses shouldn’t have made them wear uncomfortable chipmunk costumes in 90-degree heat. Even drearier are the sad ones, who forever drone some version of “If only.” If only they’d married Sebastian, or gotten that promotion, or heeded the label’s advice not to operate heavy machinery, they would be happy campers instead of les misérables.

I call this unproductive regret. People use it to avoid scary or difficult action; instead of telling the story of the past in a useful way, they use it as their excuse for staying wretched. If you’re prone to unproductive regret, please hear this: Everyone agrees with you. That thing you regret? It really, really, really shouldn’t have happened. But. It. Did. If you enjoy being miserable, by all means, continue to rail against this fact. If you’d rather be happy, prune the “shouldn’t haves” from your mental story, and move on to…

2. Separate Regret’s Basic Ingredients
Of the four basic emotions—sad, mad, glad, and scared—regret is a mixture of the first two. Your particular situation may involve enormous sadness and a little anger (“My father died before I ever met him. Damn cruel fate!”) or enormous anger with a side of sadness (“Why, why, why did I get a haircut from a stylist who was actively smoking a bong?”). Whatever the proportions, some regretters feel sadness but resist feeling anger; others acknowledge outrage but not sorrow. Denying either component will get you stuck in bitter, unproductive regret.

Considering anger and sadness separately makes both more useful. Right now, think of something you regret. With that something in mind, finish this sentence: “I’m sad that __________.” Repeat until you run out of sad things related to that particular regret. For example, if your regret is contracting Lyme disease, you might say, “I’m sad that I feel awful.” “I’m sad I can no longer ride my pogo stick.” “I’m sad that the woods don’t feel safe to me anymore.”

When you’ve fully itemized your sadness, make another list, beginning each sentence with the phrase, “I’m angry at ________.” For example, “I’m angry at my body for being sick.” “I’m angry at God for creating ticks.” “I’m angry at the entire town of Lyme, Connecticut, for which this $#@* disease was named.” Write down all the causes for your rage, even if they’re irrational.

Once you have a clear list of your sorrows and outrages, you can move on to step 3, where you’ll work both angles to transform unproductive regret into the productive kind. This is extraordinarily useful but also profoundly uncomfortable because the only way out of painful emotion is through.

3. Grieve What is Irrevocably Lost
Sorrow is a natural reaction to losing anything significant: a dream, a possession, an opportunity. Productive grief passes through you in waves, which feel horrific, but which steadily erode your sadness. The crushing mountain of sorrow eventually becomes a boulder on your back, then a rock in your pocket, then a pebble in your shoe, then nothing at all—not because circumstances change but because you become strong enough to handle reality with ease.

You’re finished grieving when you see someone gaining what you regret losing and feel only joy for them—maybe even secret gratitude that circumstances forced you to enlarge your own capacity for joy (this is how I feel about people who don’t have a kid with Down syndrome). If your sadness stops evaporating, if a certain amount of it just isn’t budging, simply grieving may not be enough. Regret is telling you to seek out a part of whatever you’ve lost.

4. Reclaim the Essence of Your Dreams
You can’t change the fact that you binged your way up to 300 pounds, or lost a winning lottery ticket, or spent decades in celibacy rather than celebration. But you can reclaim the essential experiences you missed: loving your own healthy body, enjoying abundance, feeling glorious passion. In this moment, resolve that you’ll find ways to reclaim the essence of anything you can’t stop grieving.

Jenny’s big regret was that one disastrous gymnastics meet had tanked her chances to make the Olympic team. When I asked her what she would’ve gotten from the Olympics, she said, “Pride, excitement, world-class competition, attention.” Once she’d articulated these essentials, Jenny found herself gravitating toward a job in television, which provided all of them. Now, she says, her life is so exciting that she virtually never thinks about the Olympics. Instead of sidelining her, regret became just one more springboard.

I’ve been coaching long enough to brazenly promise that if you decide to reclaim the essence of anything you regret losing, you’ll find it—often sooner than you think, in ways you would never have expected.

5. Analyze Your Anger
The anger component of regret is every bit as important and useful as your sadness. Anger is a bear, but if you pay attention, you’ll hear it roaring useful instructions about how you should steer your future. Don’t fear it, run from it, tranquilize it, try to kill it. Just leave the kids with a sitter, team up with a sympathetic friend, spouse, therapist, or journal, and let your angry animal self bellow its messages. There will be a lot of meaningless sound and fury, but there will also be information about exactly what needs to change in your present and future so that you’ll stop suffering from old regrets and create new ones. Basically, your anger will roar out this next instruction…

6. Learn to Lean Loveward
When I saw A Chorus Line, I wondered if it’s literally true that “I can’t regret what I did for love.” So I did a little thought experiment. I recalled all my significant regrets, and sure enough, I found that none of them followed a choice based purely on love. All were the consequence of fear-based decisions. In the cases where my motivations were a mix of love and fear, it was always the fear-based component that left me fretful and regretful.

For example, I’ll be up most of tonight, having spent the daylight hours eating pudding in reaction to writer’s block, which is a species of fear. I predict that tomorrow I’ll regret this—I’ve spent many, many sleepless nights fearing this or that, and no good ever came of it. But I’ve also lost a lot of sleep for love. I’ve stayed up communing with friends, rocking sick babies, avoiding celibacy. And I really can’t regret any choice that brought me one moment of love. Do your own thought experiment, and I suspect you’ll come to similar conclusions. (Let’s face it, a song that catchy just can’t be all wrong.)

So the ultimate lesson of regret, the one that will help guide you into a rich and satisfying future, is this: Every time life brings you to a crossroads, from the tiniest to the most immense, go toward love, not away from fear. Think of every choice in terms of “What would thrill and delight me?” rather than “What will keep my fear—or the events, people, and things I fear—at bay?”

Sometimes the choice will be utterly clear. Love steers you forward, and no fear arises. But on many occasions, things will seem trickier. The path toward what you love may be fraught with uneasiness, anxiety, outright terror. The pound dog will tug at your heart, but worry about upkeep will push away the first sparks of love and leave you without a four-footed friend. You’ll long for success but dread the risks necessary to earn it. Your impulse to champion the oppressed might compete with panic for your own sorry hide.

That’s when you can call on regret—not as a burden that you still have to bear but as a motivator that can forcefully remind you not to make choices that will feel awful in retrospect. If you’ve grieved your losses, reclaimed your dreams, and articulated your anger, regret will have made you the right kind of tough-and-tender: dauntless of spirit, soft of heart, convinced by experience that nothing based on fear—but everything based on love—is worth doing. Living this way doesn’t guarantee an easy life; in fact, it will probably take you on a wondrously wild ride. But I promise, you won’t regret it.

Projection: What You Spot is What You’ve Got

“There are two kinds of people I can’t stand,” says Michael Caine’s character in the epically low comedy Goldmember, “those who are intolerant of other cultures, and the Dutch.” I love this line, not because it slams the Dutch (for whom I feel great admiration) but because it slams hypocrisy—specifically, the baffling double standards of people who condemn in others the very offenses they themselves are committing. My fellow life coach Sharon Lamm calls this the “you spot it, you got it” syndrome. In other words, whatever we criticize most harshly in others may be a hallmark of our own psyche; what I hate most in you may actually be what I hate most in me. 

This style of thinking is so illogical, you’d think it would be rare. Because of the peculiarities of human psychology, though, it’s actually more the rule than the exception. Understanding the “you spot it, you got it” phenomenon requires some focused thinking, but the effort will bring more peace and sanity to your relationships and your inner life. 

Why We Spot What We Got

Hidden AlligatorLet’s start by replicating a little thought experiment devised by psychologist Daniel Wegner: For the next 30 seconds, don’t think about anything connected to the subject of white bears. Don’t think about bears of any kind—or the Arctic, or snowy terrain, or white fur coats, etc. Ready? Go. 

You probably just had more bear-related thoughts than you typically would in a month of Sundays. They’re still coming, aren’t they? You may distract yourself for an instant, but then another pops into your mind—see? There’s one now! 

This is a universal truth: We invariably experience more of any thought or feeling we try to avoid. Why? Because when our brains hear the instruction to shun a certain topic, they respond by seeking any thoughts related to that topic, in order to escape them. (After all, if you decided to throw away every blue thing in your closet, the first step would be to go looking for blue items, right?) Wegner calls this search the “ironic monitoring process,” which has the perfect acronym: “imp.” When we try to repress awareness of anything, we activate a mind imp that zeroes in on every memory, every sense impression, every experience related to the forbidden subject. 

The “you spot it, you got it” phenomenon occurs when we do things that are in opposition to our own value systems. To feel good about acting in ways that are reprehensible to ourselves, we must repress our recognition that we’re doing so. Our imps go into high gear; we become hyperalert to anything that reminds us of the behavior we’re denying in ourselves, focusing with unusual intensity on the slightest hint of that behavior in others, or imagining it where it doesn’t even exist. 

This is why people can, without irony, say things like “So help me, Billy, if you keep hitting people, I will slap you into Thursday!” Or “I only lie to him because he’s so dishonest.” Condemning others for our worst traits turns us into ethical pretzels, hiding from us the very things we must change to earn genuine self-respect. Articulating such false logic is the key to resolving it—but this is always easier when we’re talking about someone besides ourselves. So let’s start there.

Project And Reject: The Hypocrite’s Two-Step

When we’re the ones doing the spot-it-got-it tango, we don’t see the paradox; we simply feel an unusually ferocious antipathy to someone else’s actions. When someone else is perpetrating the very acts they claim to despise, we may feel confused, sensing that there’s something crazy going on, unable to pinpoint exactly what. I have some recommendations. 

Be Suspicious. Be Very Suspicious. 
One of the friskiest babysitters I ever hired was a sweet little grandma I’ll call Beulah. Despite her age, Beulah had endless energy; she could keep up with my three preschoolers far longer than I could. She was also touchingly concerned that my children not become “addicted” to anything: Sesame Street, ice cream, pop music. She volunteered to police my bathroom cupboards and remove any leftover medication the children might consume. Even so, she worried constantly that they would get drugs somewhere. 

One day I came home from work to discover that Beulah had wallpapered half my daughter’s bedroom with hideous paper she’d found at a discount store. She’d also single-handedly moved our piano to a new location, and (though I wouldn’t discover this until weeks later) ordered four hundred dollars’ worth of Girl Scout Cookies at my expense. As Beulah gave me a disjointed, rambling explanation at a rate of approximately 900 words per minute, I noted her many small scabs and that her pupils were dilated. I recalled an article that mentioned these were symptoms of crystal meth abuse. The light finally dawned: Beulah was a speed freak. 

As I regretfully fired my babysitter, I realized that her obsessive talk about addiction had always been a “you spot it, you got it” behavior, and it should have been a signal to me that Beulah herself was a drug-stealing addict. Everyone makes comments about other people from time to time, but those who focus on one topic continually, irrationally, and inexplicably are often describing themselves. When someone seems unduly preoccupied with a certain flaw in others, it’s time to do a once-over to see if it’s taken root in Mr. or Ms. Obsessed. 

Sidestep Mind-Binds 
If you want to experience insanity, observe a relationship with a hypocrite: the unfaithful lover who sees endless evidence of a partner’s nonexistent infidelity; the rude, hurtful coworker who expects to be treated with kindness and respect; the political extremist who violently opposes violence. Opposite moral imperatives that come from the same person, called double binds, are so crazy-making that they were once thought to induce schizophrenia. If you try to have a close connection with someone who vehemently attacks flaws in others while demanding that you accept, overlook, or excuse those same flaws in him or her, you will feel a blend of anxiety, extreme bafflement, self-blame, anger, and hopelessness. When you see people abiding by a big fat double standard, step outside their duplicitous perspective by telling yourself that the craziness you feel is coming from the critic. Once you’ve had this perceptual breakthrough, you may be able to use it on the one person whose behavior you actually can change: yourself.

See It And Free It

The impish nature of our psychology ensures that we all occasionally spot what we’ve got. However, we rarely see our own delusion; we just find ourselves ruminating on the vices of others. If Joe weren’t so lazy, we think, he’d always bring me breakfast in bed. Or Chris is such a miser. Expected me to split the check for coffee—like I’m made of money! When these thoughts become especially dominant, there’s a high probability we’ve got what we spot. But we can turn our own unconscious hypocrisy into a wonderful tool for personal growth. Here’s how: 

Phase One: Write Your Rant 
To begin, list all the nasty, judgmental thoughts you’re already thinking about Certain People. Who’s offending you most right now? What do you hate most about them? What dreadful things have they done to you? What behavior should they change? Scribble down all your most controlling, accusatory, politically incorrect thoughts. 

Phase Two: Change Places 
Now go through your written rant and put yourself in the place of the person you’re criticizing. Read through it again, and be honest—could it be that your enemy’s shoe fits your own foot? If you wrote “Kristin always wants things her way,” could “I always want things my way” be equally true? Could it be that this is the very reason Kristin’s selfishness bothers you so much? If you wrote “Joe has got to stop clinging and realize that our relationship is over,” could it be that you are also hanging on to the relationship—say, by brooding all day about Joe’s clinginess? 

Sometimes you’ll swear you don’t see in yourself the loathsome qualities you notice in others. You spot it, but you ain’t got it. Look again. See if you are implicitly condoning someone else’s vileness by failing to oppose it—which puts your actions on the side of the trait you hate. You may be facilitating your boss’s combativeness by bowing your head and taking it, rather than speaking up or walking out. Maybe you hate a friend’s greediness, all the while “virtuously” allowing her to grab more than her share. Indirectly you are serving the habits you despise. Your rant rewrite may look like this example from one of my clients, Lenore: 

Phase One: The Rant 
“My kids take me for granted. They expect me to drop whatever I’m doing and focus on them, anytime. I’m sick of them taking me for granted.” 

Phase Two: The Rewrite 
“I take me for granted. I expect me to drop whatever I’m doing to focus on my kids, anytime. I’m sick of me taking me for granted.” 

This exercise was a watershed for Lenore; once she realized that by devaluing herself she was teaching her children to devalue her, she could begin getting respect from them by respecting herself. 

We can often learn such priceless lessons by remembering the “you spot it, you got it” dynamic. Recognizing this impish quirk of human thinking helps us peacefully detach from crazy-makers who might otherwise drive us nuts, and jolts us free from the places we get most stuck. We automatically become freer, less caught in illusion, less obsessed with other people’s flaws. That’s good, because there’s nothing worse than people who are always talking about what they hate in other people. Boy, do I hate them. 

 


 

P.S. “You spot it, you got it” syndrome also applies to positive qualities or traits that can incite jealousy or envy of another, specifically when we aren’t acknowledging these qualities or traits in ourselves. Ever been jealous of someone else’s success? Chances are you aren’t owning up to the fact that you, too, can create that kind of success if it’s something you really want.

Seeing Your Emotional Blind Spots

Most of us have such psychological “blind spots,” aspects of our personalities that are obvious to everyone but ourselves. There’s the mother who complains, “I don’t know why little Horace is so violent—I’ve smacked him for it a thousand times.” Or your gorgeous friend who believes she has all the seductive allure of a dung beetle. Or the coworker who complains that, mysteriously, every single person he’s ever worked for develops the identical delusion that he’s shiftless and incompetent. As we roll our eyes at such obliviousness, some of us might think, What about me? Do I have blind spots, and if so, what are they?

You can find the answers if you care to—or more accurately, if you dare to. This is the roughest mission you can undertake: a direct seek-and-destroy attack on your own pockets of denial. Denial is far trickier than simple ignorance. It isn’t the inability to perceive information but the astonishing ability to perceive information while automatically refusing to allow it into consciousness. Our minds don’t perform this magical trick without reason. We only “go blind” to information that is so troubling, so frightening, or so opposed to what we believe that to absorb it would shatter our view of ourselves and the world. On the other hand, becoming fully conscious of our perceptions—simply feeling what we feel and knowing what we know—is the very definition of awakening. It creates a virtually indestructible foundation for lasting relationships, successful endeavors, and inner peace. Hunting down your blind spots is a bumpy adventure, but it can lead to sublime destinations.

Identifying your own blind spots is an exercise in paradox, because if you’re aware of a problem, it doesn’t count. It’s like tracking the wind: You can’t observe the thing itself, only its effects. The tracks that a blind spot leaves are repetitive experiences that seem inexplicable, the things that make you exclaim, Why does this always happen to me? For example:

1. You keep having the same relationship with different people.
All of Macy’s friends are “takers,” emotional parasites who drain her and give nothing back. Steve’s three ex-wives all had extramarital affairs. No one in Corrine’s life—her children, her coworkers, her mother—ever responds to her feelings.

These people don’t know that they carefully choose friends and lovers who match certain psychological profiles or that their behavior elicits similar reactions from almost everyone they encounter. It would take you about five minutes with Macy to see that she’s so self-effacing she actually resists normal friendships, gravitating only toward takers. Steve’s friends will tell you he falls for women who remind him of his mother, an enthusiastic practitioner of promiscuous sex. Corrine is so reserved that even the most intuitive people can’t read her moods. All three have gone through life blaming their relationship patterns on other people’s shortcomings.

2. Your luck never changes.
Over years of life-coaching, I’ve become more and more convinced that we create our own “luck.” I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as blind fate, but I am saying that choice is far more powerful than chance in determining the pattern of our failures and successes over time.

Many of my clients have lost jobs in the recent economic downturn, but those who were previously doing well in their careers are finding ways to learn from their experience and bounce back. Those who complained of relentless bad luck before being laid off have slid further downhill. A client I’ll call Shirley recently complained, “When my sister was fired, I thought we’d bond because we both had the same bad luck. But then she started her own business, so it turns out that for her getting fired was good luck. Just like always, she gets all the breaks.” As I punted Shirley to a psychotherapist, I wondered if they train Seeing Eye dogs for people with her kind of blindness. If so, Shirley will almost certainly develop a dog allergy.

3. People consistently describe you in a way that doesn’t fit your self-image.
If tracking patterns in love and luck isn’t enough to reveal your blind spots, there’s another way to go after them. You just have to notice what people tell you about yourself—the things you have always cleverly ignored or routinely discounted. Complete the following sentences as accurately as you can, and you might be closing in on a truth you haven’t fully acknowledged.

  • “People are always telling me that I’m…”
  • “I get a lot of compliments about…”
  • “When my friends or family members are angry with me, they say that…”
  • “People often thank me for…”

If you heartily agree with all the information that pops up in response to these phrases, you’ve simply reinforced an accurate self-concept by recalling times when others have validated your perceptions. But if any of the descriptions seem strange, incongruous, or flat-out false, consider the possibility that your image of yourself may not be accurate—and almost certainly doesn’t correspond to what other people perceive. By the way, you may well discover that you’re blind to your positive characteristics as well as negative ones. Some people (especially women) may be so biased against being arrogant that they overlook or dismiss their own best qualities.

Getting Rid of Your Blind Spots

If the evidence suggests that you have blind spots, you can try to eliminate them with a simple mindfulness exercise. You already know what’s in your blind spot; it’s just that looking at it makes you extremely uncomfortable. Only by being very gentle with yourself will you become able to tolerate more awareness. So as kindly as you can, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What am I afraid to know?
  2. What’s the one thing I least want to accept?
  3. What do I sense without knowing?

Whatever comes into your mind, do nothing about it. Not yet. If you feel even a hint of some new realization, you’ve taken a huge step. More insights will arrive soon, and the kinder you are to yourself over time, the more likely you are to experience major breakthroughs.

Hunting for your own blind spots, like trying to examine the back of your own head, is much less efficient than soliciting feedback from others. This process combines the attractions of strip-dancing and skydiving, making you feel completely exposed yet energized by the sense that you could be catastrophically injured. I known how valuable honest feedback can be, how much precious time it can save in my struggle to awaken. I still have to force myself to go looking for it, but when I do I almost always benefit.

Try this: For a week, ask for blind-spot feedback from one person a day, never asking the same person twice. Just say it: “Is there anything about me that I don’t seem to see but is obvious to you?” You’ll probably want to start with your nearest and dearest, but don’t stop there. Surprisingly, a group of relative strangers is often the best mirror you can find. I’ve worked with many groups of people who, just minutes after meeting, could offer one another powerful insights. Like the emperor in his new clothes, we often believe that our illusions are confirmed by the silence of people who are simply too polite to mention the obvious. Breaking the courtesy barrier by asking for the truth can change your life faster than anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Handling Feedback

Any feedback is scary. The kind that addresses topics so uncomfortable you’ve stuffed them into a blind spot can be almost intolerable. That’s why, before you even ask for an honest appraisal, you have to have a strategy in place for processing it.

1. Just say thanks.
When others discuss your blind spots, you may have a violent emotional reaction. Remember: All of the upheaval is a product of your own mind. You do not have to dissuade or contradict the other person in order to feel calm. Instead of launching into an argument, just say thanks. Then imagine yourself tucking away the other person’s comments in a box. You can take them out later, examine them, decide whether or not they’re useful.

2. Dismiss useless feedback.
There’s real feedback, and then there’s the slop that’s merely a reflection of the speaker’s dysfunction. Fortunately, you can tell these things apart because they feel very different. Useless feedback is nonspecific and vague, and has no action implication. It demotivates, locking us in confusion and shame. Useful feedback is specific and focused. It can sting like the dickens, but it leads to a clear course of action; when you hear it you feel a tiny lightbulb going on upstairs.

“No one could ever love you” is useless feedback. “You project a lot of hostility, and it scares people” gives you information that you need to make healthy changes. It’s safe to assume that useless feedback is coming from people who are themselves shame-bound and blind. The best thing to do with it is dismiss it and focus on the information your gut tells you is valuable.

3. Absorb the truth.
Neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote about a man who, virtually blind from early childhood, had an operation that restored his sight when he was middle-aged. Though the man’s eyes now took in visual information, his brain wasn’t used to making sense of it. He couldn’t differentiate between a man and a gorilla until he touched a nearby statue of a gorilla; then the difference became immediately clear.

This confused state is similar to what you’ll feel when you’ve accepted feedback about what lies in your blind spots. You’re not used to this new set of eyes, this novel image of self. After my first revelation of how I can be very dominant, I felt incredibly clumsy. I felt a little as if I were talking while listening to headphones: I couldn’t correctly gauge how I was coming across to others. Slowly, asking repeatedly for feedback, I began to see my own behavior more clearly. My false image of self gave way to a more accurate model, and I learned to avoid accidentally stomping on people with my conversational style.

Deliberately, methodically eliminating your blind spots simply intensifies the natural process we all endure as life teaches us its rough-and-tumble lessons. If you undertake this accelerated journey, you will learn much more in much less time (albeit with a few more scrapes and bruises) and achieve a deeper level of self-knowledge than you otherwise would have.

Just observing the truth about yourself without judgment or spin will begin to change you. It’s well-nigh impossible to see yourself more and more clearly while continuing to act without integrity, or in contradiction to your life’s real purpose. Eventually you may come to see what Marianne Williamson meant when she said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” To see your truest nature is to recognize that you have a capacity for goodness far greater than you ever dreamed, with all the awesome responsibility that entails. It’s a difficult proposition, but in the end the view makes it all worthwhile.

How to Break Through Old Limitations

As many of you know, my system of coaching consists of several conceptual “tools” that can quickly cut through the chatter of people’s socialization and connect them with their essential self.   Recently, I have modified one of the tools, turning it from a paring knife into a sort of Swiss Army affair with additional flanges. Because this exercise has helped me get through the month, I want to share it with you.

Right now, in your imagination, call up a persistent problem that you have been unable to solve for yourself. Maybe you never get the rewards you feel you deserve, or you can’t get rid of the clutter in your home, or your health just keeps failing you. Maybe you can’t stop kidnapping zoo animals and hiding them in your bathtub. Whatever this problem is, the persistency with which it occurs and your inability to make it go away show that it is hiding in a mental blind spot. You are the common factor in all these situations, and the likelihood that they are happening to you by sheer random bad luck is vanishingly small. I know you don’t know what you are doing to cause this problem, but I’m willing to piss you off by saying that you are doing something.

(By the way, we were all educated in a system where the “right” and “wrong” answers were determined by the system’s definitions. In that sort of environment, you can argue your way from a C- to a B+ by making excuses, pointing out how much stress you are under, or showing the teacher where the test was wrong. Don’t even try that here. If your life isn’t working, you can be sure that there is a cause and effect reality at play. For example, if you tried a thousand times to make fire by bashing two rocks together, it would not be your teacher’s judgment that would show you failure. You could not argue the rocks into creating fire for you or into feeling sorry for all the stress they are putting upon you. Your life gives you solid, empirical evidence that what you are doing does not work.)

Now comes the tricky part: Holding your problem in your mind, relax all your muscles and breathe deeply and without effort. Instead of thinking about your problem, feel the energy of the problematic situation as a sensation that affects your entire body. You may notice strong emotions arising without quite knowing what they mean. Just keep breathing, and if you are tempted to become analytical, repeat in your mind words like “let go,” “relax,” and “be still.” Keep feeling. Somewhere in this welter of emotion, you will connect with a sensation of yearning. Oddly, you may not feel this as your own yearning; rather, it is the problematic situation itself that is yearning to change. Where you may think you want a certain person to love you, truly and romantically, the situation may be yearning for you to stand up for yourself. Where you may believe it is up to you to organize those papers in your office, the situation may be begging you to bring in another person whose filing skills are better than yours. Where you may think you should take charge of your teenagers, the situation may be yearning for you to relax and laugh with your children, to accept them without reservation and to trust them to keep themselves safe.

It may take five or six minutes before you get even a flicker of this sensation. We are so used to working these problems in our minds that letting go to see what wants to happen can at first be a baffling experience. Let the emotional power of your wish for a better life motivate you to persist in this exercise until you can feel what your life is begging for.

You will then be faced with some interesting choices, because the situation will not be yearning for what you already know how to do. It may not even ask you to do something that you think is logical or “right.” Feel free to go back to your old methods of dealing with this issue. The next time it kicks you in your teeth–and it will–this exercise will be waiting for you to reorient your approach. When you take the leap of faith to do what your wilder instincts recommend, you will break through old limitations and find that the problems evaporate.

Victory by Surrender

girl jumpingThink of a problem that has plagued you for a long time—your weight, a loved one’s bad habits, fear of terrorism, whatever. No doubt you’ve tried valiantly to control this issue, but are your efforts working? The answer has to be no; otherwise you would have solved the problem long ago. What if your real trouble isn’t the issue you brood about so compulsively, but the brooding itself?

Psychologists who subscribe to a form of therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) call “clean” pain what we feel when something hurtful happens to us. “Dirty” pain is the result of our thoughts about how wrong this is, how it proves we—and life—are bad. The two kinds of suffering occupy different sections of the brain: One part simply registers events, while another creates a continuous stream of thoughts about those events. The vast majority of our unhappiness comes from this secondary response—not from painful reality but from painful thoughts about reality. Western psychology is just accepting something saints and mystics have taught for centuries: that this suffering ends only when we learn to detach from the thinking mind.

Judge not…

Learning to detach starts with simply noticing our own judgmental thoughts. When we find ourselves using words like should or ought, we’re courting dirty pain. Obsessing about what should be rather than accepting what is, we may try to control other people in useless, dysfunctional ways. We may impotently rage against nature itself, even—perhaps especially—when that nature is our own.

This amounts to mental suicide. Resisting what we can’t control removes us from reality, rendering our emotions, circumstances and loved ones inaccessible. The result is a terrible emptiness, which we usually blame on our failure to get what we want. Actually, it comes from refusing to accept what we have.

Victory by Surrender

Most of us see yielding as the ultimate failure, but that’s absurd when the war is between us and reality.

Surrendering allows the truth to set us free. And how do we surrender? Two words: Observe compassionately.

I recently watched television interviews with two actresses, both in their late fifties. Each was asked if she’d found anything good about aging. Both snapped, “No. Nothing. It’s horrible.” A few days later, I saw Maya Angelou on TV. She said that aging was “great fun” and gleefully described watching her breasts in their “incredible race to see which one will touch my waist first.”

“Sure, the body is going,” she said. “But so what?”

Ms. Angelou has said many wise things, but I thought “So what?” was one of her wisest. It expressed the sweet detachment of someone who has learned how to rest in her real being and knows that it is made not of flesh or thought, but of love.

The Fruits of Acceptance

There is enormous relief in detaching from our mental stories, but in my experience, the results go well beyond mere feeling. Surrendering leads directly to our right lives, our hearts’ desires. Whenever I’ve managed to release my scary stories and accept the truth of my life, I’ve stumbled into more happiness than I ever dreamed possible.

When I stop trying to control my mind—that verbose, paranoiac old storyteller—my thoughts become clearer and more intelligent. It’s a delicious paradox: By not trying to control the uncontrollable, we get what we thought we’d get if we were in control.

This thought pleases me greatly.

Airport Hobo Life: Your ticket to happiness, with connections at Heathrow and La Guardia

THE AUTHOR

 

AIRPORT HOBO

Those of you who follow me on Facebook of Twitter may have noticed posts written by my alter ego, the Airport Hobo. Today I thought I’d explain who that is, so that 1) you’ll know what I’m talking about, and 2) perhaps you too can develop an Airport Hobo alter ego, should the need ever arise.

HOW THE AIRPORT HOBO CAME TO BE
When I set out to become a writer, my objective was to earn a living without ever physically moving. But after publishing some books and articles I realized, to my horror, that we lowlier writers not only have to move about the house, but travel. A lot.

Now, I love many places that are far away from each other, but I do not consider getting there to be half the fun, or even .00000003 percent of the fun. So averse to travel am I that one day, as I packed for my seventeenth airplane trip in a month, I found myself…not myself. I had morphed into a creature designed specifically for airport travel: the Airport Hobo.

Since that day, whenever I’m called upon to fly, I find myself disappearing like Clark Kent, and Airport Hobo appearing like Superman, except that instead of being handsome and devoted to doing good, my alter ego is incredibly wrinkled (in clothing and body) and obsessed with tiny packets of snack mix.

IDENTIFYING CHARACTERISTICS OF THE AIRPORT HOBO
As the name suggests, Airport Hobos are life forms specifically adapted to survive in airports and passenger jets, although small planes and ground transportation (such as taxis) are also suitable territory. You can recognize them because an Airport Hobo…

• …always carries enough travel-survival items on person to thrive even if all luggage is lost, stolen, or eaten by bears. See “kit and kaboodle,” below.

AIRPORT HOBO KIT AND KABOODLE

• …appears extremely patient and stoical: when plane is delayed, will lower metabolism and go into a light coma similar to hibernation.
• …can become aggressive when fighting to claim overhead luggage space.
• …has a morbid fear of babies.
• …gets through airport security lines at maximum possible speed (1 kilometer per week), despite carrying a full array of liquids and electronic equipment.
• …has a special, intimate relationship with all caffeinated beverages; may be observed pleading for them or whispering to them.
• …obsessively forages for electricity; will crouch for hours near any wall with a “hot” outlet, hoarding power in various appliances.
• … actively discourages conversation with other travelers; may feign language deficit or death to avoid chatting on planes.
• …walks with a forward-leaning stance, as if climbing a steep hill (and adaptation that developed to roll luggage).
• …speaks Airplane fluently (for example, the standard Airport Hobo phrase for making sexual overtures is, “Please be careful when opening overhead bins, as items may have shifted during takeoff and landing”).

THE AIRPORT HOBO KIT AND KABOODLE
Like Batman’s magical belt and Wonder Woman’s awesome pushup bustier. Airport Hobo’s outfit confers superpowers uniquely adapted to airport life. The basic outfit (kit) is pictured above. It includes:

• Cash. The lifeblood of travel. Most Airport Hobos, as shown here, try to carry at least thirty billion dollars in local currency at all times.
IMG_0341

• Boots. For kicking off and slipping on. While another traveler unlaces and reties one pair of sneakers, Airport Hobo can take off and put on boots 12 to 15 times, and often does, to the amazement of other passengers and security personnel.

• Cheap sunglasses. These disguise Airport Hobo’s true identity, can be replaced at low cost when lost, broken, stolen, or offered as peacekeeping token to Airport Hobo’s most feared natural enemy: Babies.

• Scarf. The scarf is crucial equipment, as it can be loosened in a stuffy airplane parked at a gate, or used as a blanket once the plane is in flight through cold air. Airport Hobo can also drape it over his/her own face to discourage conversation or hide from babies.

• Passport holder. This is the Airport Hobo power source, as crucial as life itself. If an Airport Hobo loses this item, the next step is to jump out of a plane during flight. Holds cash and credit cards, as well as spare dental floss and a few gumdrops for bribing babies.

AIRPORT HOBO CRACK

• Dried instant coffee. Can be used according to label, or offered as a sacramental tribute to Earl, the God Of Turbulence, Runway Traffic, and Unhappy Babies, or Jolene, the Goddess Of Those Tiny Lights In The Cockpit That Always Blink On at the Last Minute Before Takeoff And Prevent On-Time Departure. Dried coffee can also be eaten in jet-lag emergencies.

• Vest. This is actually a piece of luggage in disguise. Multiple pockets can carry enough supplies (kaboodle, see below) to keep Airport Hobo comfortable should flight attendants confiscate roll-aboard luggage, run out of coffee, or mutiny.

• Raincoat. Again, wearable luggage. Except for brief “dry” episodes at security stations, pockets hold bottles of water. An Airport Hobo with fully water-laden raincoat is able to travel tens of thousands of miles without stopping to hydrate, many times further than your average, non-flying camel.

In addition to the basic kit, Airport Hobos carry optional items (kaboodle) which may include:

• Electrical adaptors from around the globe, including mechanisms that plug directly into lightning bolts.

• Extra spoons.

• Oven mitt. This is of no known use to Airport Hobo, but this specific Hobo received it as a gift in a swag bag at an Oprah Magazine event, and kept it because of the basic philosophical position of all Airport Hobos, which is: You Never Know.

So the next time you travel, keep an eye out for Airport Hobos! Have no fear, they are usually non-aggressive (except near overhead luggage space, see above). On the other hand, use common sense: remember that Airport Hobos are antisocial, and will run into restroom stalls if pursued by a conversationalists or babies. Now, if you’ll forgive me…

Airport Hobo pack now. Go fly in plane. Please Earl make all babies go sleep.

AIRPORT HOBO'S NIGHTMARE

All is Futile Because I Can’t Find My Pants

bigstockphoto_Women_s_Pants_4992160Because I flit around the globe fairly frequently, people tend to assume I’m one of those good-to-go, Eat-Pray-Love-To-Travel kind of girls. I am not. My favorite fantasy is that I can just beam myself places á la Star Trek, nestling into my own bed every single night and a large portion of every day.

But once I’m traveling, I try to bloom where I’m planted, despite jetlag and disorientation. By and large, I do all right. This is especially true in the African bush, where I feel deeply relaxed despite days that begin as early as 3:00 a.m. and continue as late as midnight.

This scheduling isn’t masochism, just a fascination with animals both diurnal and nocturnal. The last evening I was at Londolozi, my friends and I were prepping dinner when we heard that two male leopards were squaring off for a fight nearby. Everyone sprinted to an open Land Rover, leaving the food on the table. We spent the next hour gazing at the incredibly brilliant stars and drinking mini-bar liqueurs while the leopards thrashed around us in the tall grass, growling at each other.

Sleep? Who needs it?

As it turns out, I do.

During my two weeks in Africa I have slept, by my own calculation, for approximately seventeen minutes. That said, it must be noted that “my own calculation” is none too trustworthy. I can tell you this for certain, because I cannot find my pants.

They’re my favorite pants—you know, that one perfect pair of black pants that fits well, doesn’t need ironing, and can go from casual to formal with a few accessories? Such pants are like soulmate; you don’t find them more than once or twice in a lifetime. I wore my special pants all day yesterday while training some wonderful coaches and having dinner with friends. After that I was so tired I don’t remember getting back to my hotel. When I woke up, my shoes, blouse, and jacket were on the floor by my bed. But my pants are gone. I’ve pawed through my luggage a dozen times, searched every inch of my hotel room.

No pants.

You know, it’s impossible to predict what’s going to break the camel’s back.

This month I’ve heard tales of anti-Apartheid heroism, I toured a hospital where a patient casually toted a jug that was stuck through his chest wall so his punctured lung wouldn’t collapse, and spent an hour teaching a 15-year-old orphan who’s holding her family together with nothing but hope and grit. I heard by “bush telegram” (word-of-mouth) that Iceland went postal on Europe. I’ve handled this all with deep breaths, optimism, and a smile.

But my favorite pants going AWOL—well, that’s just too much.

Worse than the wrenching loss and the terrible fear of never ever ever finding such a great pair of pants again, is my utter bewilderment. What the hell happened to them? My addled brain keeps going through the possibilities:

• In my sleep-deprived madness, I could have had some sort of wild fling in the hotel elevator. If so, it seems deeply unfair that I can’t remember it.

• Perhaps as I was undressing, I hallucinated a dragon coming in through the open window, and defended myself—as one does—by hurling my pants at it.

• Extremely tired people do weird things in their sleep (I have an insomniacal friend who awoke one morning to find approximately 500 “Thank you for your order!” emails from Amazon.com). For all I know, I gave my pants to the maid as a tip.

• Perhaps my subconscious self hates globe-trotting, and stuffed my favorite travel pants into the hotel ventilation system reasoning that without them, I’ll just stay home.

• Maybe I ate them.

At any rate, they’re gone, and this on top of the anti-Apartheid stories and the punctured-lung jug and the orphans and Iceland LITERALLY invading Europe…well, it just makes me want to lie down and suck my thumb forever.

I’m so grateful for my happy, itinerant life. I know you’re grateful for the good in your life as well. But sometimes we wake up and our pants are inexplicably gone, and at those times, it’s okay to be weak. It’s okay to slump to the floor in a hotel robe, pound the carpet, and, yes, use strong language. It’s okay to feel that of all the massive natural and man-made disasters in the world, the bizarre disappearance of our own personal favorite pants is for us, at that moment, by far the worst.

All right, enough whining. It’s time to pull myself together, regain perspective, and prepare for another really lovely event, which I will experience through the light haze of a waking REM doze. It’s time to be thankful that I have other pants—inferior ones, but pants—to wear in place of my bygone favorites.

And I am thankful. I truly am. Just please, God, let my underwear be where I left it.