Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stepping Into the Future

The future is something which everyone reaches
at the rate of sixty minutes an hour,
whatever he does,
whoever he is.
~C.S. Lewis
Mooghaun Hillfort - Dromoland, Ireland
(MHopkins 2013)
People speak of “putting the past behind us”.  But where else can the past be put?  It has only one place it belongs and, once there, can only be a reference point for the future.  Yet we make it a part of our present by clinging so tightly to our experience.  We go round and round in our heads, remembering some conversation, slight or injustice, real or imagined, and we stay stuck in that feedback loop reliving it again and again, often exaggerated and out of context because now we’re focused on some isolated aspect of our otherwise fading memory, giving it life, meaning and a whole host of expressions that perhaps never were.   Imagine what we miss while running around the same tired circles!
Can you see it?  How clinging to an aspect of our past might prevent us from seizing something wonderful that is available to us in the here and now?  Consider this: 
A new form of clinical psychology known as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) stems from the understanding that a great deal of our psychological pain comes not so much from the experience itself, but from the words we use over and over to describe our experience.  Instead of getting stuck in our heads and avoiding any real forward movement, ACT encourages acceptance of the situation, conscious choice of direction and action, bringing more meaning and psychological flexibility into our lives in the process.
In his book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, author and ACT co-founder, Steven Hayes, suggests that we can actually repeat a troubling word or concept over and over until it loses meaning and power in our lives.  Take the word grass, for instance.  Hayes recommends repeating the word over and over for 49 seconds.  Grass, grass, grass, grass, grass, grass…  The theory is that at some point, your mind will stop associating ‘grass’ with the luscious green stuff and observe it as a meaningless noise.  This disconnect between words and reality will allow us to drop those mind movies that have been tormenting us.  Why not give it a go,  beginning with ‘grass’ or some other word of your choosing and then moving on to the more emotionally charged descriptors that unnerve you, like ‘rejection’ or ‘failure’ or ‘broke,’ or any other parade of horrible that you can conjure.  The idea is to rub out the sting these words carry so that you can deal with life free from the fear created by your internal dialogue from the past.  Sound feasible? 
Diagnosis, they say, is half the cure.  But we’re best careful with how we use our diagnosis lest it becomes the story we tell about our life, the reason for why we can’t have or be or do what we want.  For just as understanding the root of our problem paves the way for setting it right, so too can it provide a ready excuse for not living our best life.
Is there something that you’re ready to put down, let go of, and leave behind?  Are you ready to reach for something new and make it real in your life?  As you move into a great new year, now is a perfectly fine opportunity to trade what torments for something more solid and real so that it becomes part of your future.

Wishing you all the best in 2014!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Conspiracy of Love

Blessed is the season,
which engages the whole world
in a conspiracy of love. 
~Hamilton Wright Mabie

Can you feel it—the warm fuzzy glow of good cheer building from the first turkey dinner, jingle-belled advertisement and beautifully wrapped vision of holiday bliss, and reaching a crescendo as we join our families and friends to celebrate the season?  Giddy with the holiday spirit, we’re just a little more kind and a little more forgiving as we move through the days filled with anticipation of . . .

Of what?  What are we looking forward to?  What are we expecting?  What do we really want? 

Kids seem to know with surprising clarity.  “I want an American Girl doll!” “I want a new bike!” “I want chocolate chip cookies!” “I WANT MY MOMMY!”  But how many of these wants are truly needs?  Do they even recognize the difference?  Rarely.  In watching kids flit from one toy to the next we see right through their fly-by-night passions, reaching for this and grabbing for that. 

We forget that adults are not so different, except that we use these long, detailed explanations to rationalize our dubious choices, cleverly disguising the pretenses of our decisions even from ourselves sometimes.  We reach for this and long for that then reach for something else.  Sometimes we get what we want.  And sometimes we reach for what we think we really want only to get it and later discover that it wasn’t so great after all.  Maybe things have changed since we began wanting what we want and we find that it’s no longer relevant when it arrives.  And sometimes when we don’t get what we want it makes us want it even more; an unrequited passion not so easily extinguished.  But how much of what we say we want do we truly need?

Perhaps at the root of every desire is a basic longing—to connect, to love, to be at peace; the hunt for comfort and joy.  Remember this as you move through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and look for ways to connect with the root of your longing.   

Try this: 

  1. Volunteer!  Get out of yourself and give back to your community!  As Rumi says, there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
  1. Keep it real!  No holiday is perfect and few celebrations rarely resemble the cozy gatherings depicted in commercials and our favorite programs on television.  If your family dynamic has changed or tradition is too hard to satisfy, don’t be afraid to do things a little different each year! Get rid of the pressure!
  1. Take some time for yourself!  Give the gift of your presence.  You can’t be there for others in any real way if you’re not there for yourself so slow down, take a nap, read a book, get a massage, and take some time to reflect on where you’ve been, where you’re going and what you’re thankful for.
  1. Remember what’s important.  It’s easy to lose sight of why we’re doing what we’re doing when we’re so busy baking and buying and wrapping and coming and going.  Take some time to connect with the real reason for the season.

Succumb to the conspiracy of love and you just might find that what you’re looking for has been with you all along.

P.S.  Thanks for sharing the quote Mom!

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Why would you give your precious life energy . . .
to something you [don’t] want?
~Dr. Wayne Dyer
The Road Less Traveled
Connemara Region, Ireland © 2013 MHopkins
While learning to ride her motorcycle, my mother decided to practice in their neighborhood.  Having made the loop, she topped the hill and came to a stop, preparing to make a left turn.  That’s when she saw it—the neighbor’s mailbox just across the way—and though she tried not to look at the mailbox and, instead, focus on the road before her, as she turned left, eyes still on the mailbox, she veered off course and crashed…into the neighbor’s mailbox; the very thing she wanted to avoid.

There is a golden rule of motorcycle riding that says “look where you want to go.”  Though she knew it in theory, my mother learned this the hard way.  There are many long and complicated theoretical reasons why this rule of riding might be true, but none that make any real sense except the idea of target fixation, which says, in essence, that what you focus on expands. 

And so it is in our every day lives.  How often do we repeat some aspect of the past or dwell on the negative parts of our situation and then find ourselves faced with more of what we don’t want, instead of giving attention to what we would most like to create and then taking small steps each day to make that vision our reality?  Maybe we’re unhappy in our relationship or we dislike our job or we don’t like the extra weight we’re carrying around like a spare tire, yet instead of creating a positive plan of how to get from here to there we focus in on what we don’t like, complaining or feeling sorry for ourselves, repeating the same bad habits, or avoiding the discomfort of change, and so we keep driving our proverbial motorcycles around and crashing into the same mailboxes. 

It is impossible to be angry and laugh at the same time.
Anger and laughter are mutually exclusive
and you have the power to choose either.
~Wayne Dyer

Choice is the essence of our free will, and it is through our choices that we direct the course of our lives.  While we may disagree with the actions of others and even dislike our own circumstances, we have the right, power and opportunity to make choices every day—the attitude we adopt, how we respond to the world around us, where we place our attention, the thoughts we entertain, what we take responsibility for, the meaning we give to the events of our lives, and what or to whom we give our power.  It’s all energy, and the lightness or heaviness of that energy determines much about our physical, mental and spiritual health. 

Take another look down the road you're traveling.  Do you really want to go there?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dogs Never Lie

In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.
~ W.H. Auden

Madison would be freaking out right now if she were here to see this flood.  She would be tempted to get in the creek but she would hesitate; tuned into the water’s raging energy; connected to the heightened turmoil around her.  She was sensitive like that; dialed in before others even knew. 
Like the time she made a big fuss of dragging her blanket and pillow around to my side of the bed so she could sleep next to me.  I noticed the change right away, and I wondered out loud if perhaps I had cancer, or some terrible malaise, because I had heard about dogs that can sense these things.  A few days later I learned that I was pregnant.  She continued to drag her bed around to my side for weeks until one day she didn’t; and, again, I wondered out loud if everything was okay with the baby.  A few days later I miscarried.  She didn’t drag her bed around to my side after that, but she stayed close and loved me through my tears.
One time she charged to the edge of the yard and scared the dickens out of our neighbor.  She could be intimidating with her stocky frame—almost 100 pounds and mostly muscle—but Madison just wanted to say hello.  We knew her approach could use some work; still, she went too far that time and she knew better, so when her daddy scolded her bad choice she put herself in time-out; cowering on the little mat in front of the soaking tub in the master bath, shaking and shivering in her remorse.  She wanted to do right, she really wanted to do right, and it killed her to think that she had disappointed us.

But she could never really disappoint us, not for long anyway.  No matter the infraction, just one look at her cute little mug and soon we were laughing at her heartfelt expressions.  She could be a real drama queen sometimes.  Mostly, we just loved her and cherished every minute we shared. 
Before I came along she was her daddy’s best friend, but she welcomed me with loving paws and big wet kisses.  She even let me paint her toenails in my favorite shades –“Party-in-my-Cabana” pink for the summer and “Fa-La-La-Luscious” for the holidays.  From the way she watched me beautify, I imagined that she secretly wanted to join me in my primping.  And when she walked down the aisle as the honorary ring bearer for our New Year’s Eve nuptials, wearing a big red flower behind her ear, I couldn’t have loved her more if I had given birth to her myself.  I hope she knew that.

When she left her condo in the city for mountain dwelling, we teased that she was living the high life in her new retirement home.  More than bacon and eggs—more than anything—she loved being outdoors, and she moved freely between meditations in the sun, chasing sticks and mindless rambling by the creek.  Madison taught me so much about living, about the joy of routine and unconditional love, about seizing each moment and never being afraid to ask for what you want.   I envied her life.
Sometimes I still hear the tap of her nails on the hardwood floors and I turn to call her name.  Then I remember.  But like the whispering wind that moves the trees and urges the water downstream, we’ll carry her loving spirit in our hearts forever. 
Photos by Lori Kennedy Photography.  (c) 2012 Lori Kennedy.  www.lorikennedy.co

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Bright Side

Promise Yourself . . .

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.  

To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something in them. 

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only of the best, work only for the best and to expect only the best.  

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others are you are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and to press on to the greater achievements of the future. 

To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.  

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

~The Optimist Creed, Optimist International

I once quit the Optimist Club because it was too negative!

New to the Gulf Coast of Florida, I had looked for a good civic group to join that would be meaningful, engaging, and helpful in learning about my community while meeting like-minded others.  Hey, I’m an optimist, I thought; what better group to join than the Optimist Club!  Then one day, a few months in, the President of the chapter came up with this “brilliant” idea to increase membership:  we would take turns carrying around a brick until each member brought in at least one new member.  Now I’m sure this doesn’t represent all chapters of this wonderful club, but WOW!  What a heavy load!  I barely knew anyone in town—part of the reason I had joined the group in the first place—and after an unsuccessful attempt to get a waiver from this dismal approach, I quit.

Not entirely surprising because I tend to run from the negative, choosing instead those friends and associations that lift me up and inspire with positivity.  A bit of a dichotomy, really, when I consider the way that I have to approach my work as a lawyer—looking at the contract, deal or business strategy with a critical eye, which allows me to consider all potential outcomes—good and bad—and advise my clients of the consequences of their decisions.  Yet for much of my life, when making personal decisions, I brushed aside anything negative, focusing only on the great and wonderful outcomes that would surely follow my next great step.  This is a poor business plan and a terrible life strategy because when things run amok, as they sometimes do, instead of working out as I envision, I have a tough time adjusting to the reality.

I read somewhere that having an over-abundance of optimism in the “it-won’t-happen-to-me” sort of mindset can be detrimental to our sense of wellbeing, and as harmful to longevity as high blood pressure and cholesterol!  In fact, studies have shown that those who operate with extreme optimism experience more difficulty rebounding from set backs, which I have experienced first hand, because we get stuck on a mental track of “I can’t believe that happened to me!  Why me?”

So a little worry can be helpful when channeled into productive action, like having a Plan B or creating a Will or making peace with getting older while you’re still young, or allowing your thoughts to follow the chain of "what if" while maintaining faith that no matter what happens, you're going to be okay—all great building blocks for our peace of mind; and very different from dwelling in the negative, which we know causes excessive stress, impacts our health and affects our mind and spirit in often undesirable and unintended ways.     

What kind of bricks are you carrying?  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

An Unlikely Pair

I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.
~Abraham Lincoln

You listen here girl, I don’t know what kind of little lawyer games you think you’re playing, but you’re running with the big boys now!”   He boomed through the phone in response to my letter requesting that he produce certain documents to support our client’s deal.  Red-rage raced through my body, from the scalp down, touching my ears, and setting my chest on fire.  How dare he speak to me this way, this two-bit, good old boy lawyer!

Only two years out of law school, I had been thrown into the fire with this deal to help my client purchase a restaurant and nightclub from a well-known business owner represented by none other than this J. Don Ridell, Esquire, now on the phone yelling at me!  What I wanted to do was rip that guy a new one!  Jump up and down and pound him on the head; tell him that I was a lawyer just the same as he and defend my right to vigorously represent my client. 

Perhaps because we didn’t have the luxury of time to dicker over such trivial things, and I didn’t want to get fired, somehow, I found the will to simply restate my request.  “No games here.  My client wants to buy your client’s business and they want to close fast.  Now my guy wants me to give this deal my blessing and I’m not going to do it until you turn over those stock certificates and the corporate books.”  Click.  He hung up on me. 

I seethed.  I knew I wasn’t over-lawyering this stock purchase.  If anything I wanted to slam on the breaks, take our time; what’s the rush?  But they had an agenda and I knew I would be committing malpractice if I didn’t do some basic due diligence.  So I stuck to my guns and called my client to tell him where we stood. 

An hour later Mr. Ridell begrudgingly called back and told us to be at his office by noon.  I had heard stories of this J. Don Ridell and other rogue lawyers who had had the run of the place long before it became a resort town with high-rise condominiums, nightclubs and top law firms.  A criminal lawyer by trade, he was stepping up to handle a stock purchase for his best client, but until that moment I had never met him or had any dealings with him.  Intimidated, I packed my briefcase and headed to his office.

I saw his boots first, wingtip leather all shined up with some fancy studs on them; and as my eyes traveled up to the top of his six foot-five head, I saw his jeans with matching studded belt buckle and bolo tie—the consummate cowboy, this one—made evermore complete by a headful of white hair and small strips of surgical tape in the corners of both eyes supported by bruised, swollen pockets beneath.  I relaxed a little, breathed deep, somehow comforted by the idea that this big bad man had just had a little cosmetic surgery.  He sized me up in my expensive little lawyer suit and off we went to his conference room, with barely a word between us.

As it turned out, his client didn’t own the stock after all because he had transferred it all to his 20-some grandchildren who were scattered, along with the stock certificates, all over the country.  We wouldn’t be closing any time soon, that was certain, but for the first time, appearances and judgments aside, we began working together to make this deal happen.  

Later, we walked downtown to discuss pay-off of the business loans with the bank, only to return to a locked office.  Brilliant!  What now?  My briefcase and car keys were inside, so I had to stick around and help him break into this one-story-brick-ranch-styled-home-turned-office.  Sure, the ice had thawed between us that afternoon, but I wasn’t prepared to shove his Wrangler-wearing butt through the conference room window.  

There he was, stuck and distressed, bossing me around from that awkward bent-at-the waist-crunch position he was sort of hanging in with one leg touching the office floor and the other bent at the knee, jammed in the window sill by that wingtip boot.  I tried to contain myself but soon lost control to my laughter.  I was laughing so hard and crying and pretty much useless to help this guy.  Then he started laughing too…and farting…there, stuck in the window, which made me laugh even harder; him too.  Yet something in his jolly laughter dislodged him from the window and he fell to the conference room floor.  Within minutes I was in the office collecting my things and thanking him for an interesting afternoon.

We closed the deal—everyone was happy—and a real fondness had grown between Mr. Ridell and me in the process.  But I never saw him again until the year that I served as president of the local bar association, hosting an event for our judges and winding up my tenure there.  He made me cry with his compliment, he actually praised my mind and told me that working with me on that deal had changed him.  He apologized for being such a jerk.

This fabulously crazy encounter between a cowboy barrister and a little lawyer girl became one of my great lessons, again reminded that things are not always as they seem.  We think people are one way and they turn out to be quite different.  We make quick judgments based on superficial things and think we know all there is to know about each other, but we don’t.  Yet if we’re open and willing to be surprised, and laugh at our differences, we just might find ourselves part of an unlikely pair.

** Names have been changed.