Serenity in an Age of Anxiety

vintage from Pixabay   “Most people who come to see me want to find their calling, “ reported Shoshanna, a counselor who works with adults. She and two of her self-employed friends were chatting over dinner about work. “The idea that you need a calling makes people unhappy and is completely untrue. A job puts food on the table and should not be seen as second rate,” she lamented.


Ellen, a physician with a clear and strong calling, balked. “Everyone needs to discover their calling,’ she countered. ‘It is critical for vibrant health and well-being.” She embarked on a story to support her view.


“This is exactly the thinking that makes people miserable,” Shoshanna muttered.


“Anyone for dessert?” piped in Kerry, whose calling appeared to be peacemaker.


Shoshanna’s point is worthy of further consideration. A calling is an internal or mystical tug towards a specific vocation. Your mission, should you recognize and accept it, makes you special. God, the universe, or something bigger than myself has chosen you to do something important.  Who doesn’t want to be acknowledged from above for their gift to the world?


Indeed, research suggests a sense of purpose is associated with happiness. But a purpose and a calling are not the same.  You can choose a purpose.  A calling implies the purpose chooses you.  You wait and the situation is out of your control. There is a sign, a dream or a transformative feeling that bestows worthiness or does not.


Everyone might have a calling but there is little chance we will all hear it.  Each person does have a purpose. You can decide what you are doing here whenever you want and have providence over your happiness.


The differences are:


Calling                                                             Purpose

Involves a job/task                                          Is a way of being, not doing

Requires outside intervention                        Requires internal decision

May never come                                             Is always present

Implies you are chosen                                   Available to everyone


If you have a calling, terrific! If you don’t, forget about waiting for a burning bush and choose a purpose. It can be a simple as being as kind as possible to everyone you meet or having an intention every day.  You don’t have to save the world; you just need to have a reason to be here.

Post #29

Next time: Your Mission Statement



picket-fences from Pixabay            When Stephanie* heard loud music and children yelling, she asked her husband if the neighbors were having a party at their pool. “It is a block party,” Alan replied without looking up from him iPad, “ but Jason said it was just for families with kids.”


Stephanie frowned.  That meant they were the only people on the street not invited. Having kids seemed to be the entree ticket to social events where they lived. She felt a familiar hurt from not be included. She and Alan went out of their way to be friendly. She thought about the neighbor’s fluctuating moods and decided something was wrong with him. Maybe he had bipolar disorder.


Stephanie wants to dislike Jason because her neighbor was unkind. Further, she will follow the advice of therapists and not bother with people who don’t want to be with her. She will surround herself with uplifting people and weed out the irritating. While this is reasonable advice, it misses an important element. Jason may or may not be in her life but her disdain for him remains. That disdain poisons her, no matter what he has done.


An old Buddhist parable goes like this: Two monks are walking in the forest when they come upon a woman at the edge of a river. “I can’t get to the other side,” she cries and one of the monks tells her to climb on his back and he will carry her across. She hops on his back. A few minutes later they arrive safely on the bank, she thanks him and they all continue on their way.


Several hours pass and one monk senses the other is upset. “What disturbs your peace, brother?” he asks.


“We have taken vows not to touch women and you carried that woman,” he accused.


“It is true, I carried her across the river,” the first monk replied, “but I left her there. You carry her still.”


Jason was thoughtless but he has long forgotten the social snub. Stephanie carries it still. It is in her best interest to learn to love Jason. Not his actions or personality. She never has to have a glass of wine with him or spend an evening in his company. She may even need to call the police if the party gets out of hand. She can do what she has to do without disrupting her peace of mind but first she must have peace of mind and control her irritation.


Stephanie has forgotten that she and Jason share the same nature, which is love. She forgot she does not need Jason to confirm she is love or lovable. Love is who she is whether he is kissing her feet or throwing stink bombs over the fence. Her happiness  and peace of mind depends on her connection to herself, not his or anybody else’s actions. It is easier to hate when someone hurts you but hate keeps the hurt coming.

Post 28

  • All names are changed.


brainDon’t believe everything you think; Part 3 of 3. Blog #27

“Watch where you are going, as$!%&#,” Randi yelled out the window when a car cut in front of her, narrowly missing her bumper. “People are so rude,” she fumed.


We have all had this experience because people behave thoughtlessly and badly in large and small ways every day. They steal our parking spots, make nasty remarks and take credit for other’s work. Or worse, they lie, cheat or harm others.


If you have been cheated or attacked, your friends will support your position and condemn the perpetrator.  The perpetrator’s friends might have a different view and see you, the victim, as getting what you deserve. How else would you explain two widely different reactions when a restaurant refused to serve the President’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Her friends saw the rebuff as an unwarranted attack. Her detractors saw it as just desserts (though she did not get dessert) for a women pedaling cruelty.


Two Attacks Don’t Create Peace


Does Sanders willingness to justify inhumane treatment of children make her fair game for a small taste of her own medicine? People are distraught and angry, but does she deserve what she gets?  While her behavior may be callous, attacking her will not move her towards kindness, and also, sullies the attacker. Bad behavior should not be allowed to stand, but no matter what the behavior, cruelty does not justify more cruelty. Ask Einstein.


Albert Einstein said you cannot fix a problem from the mindset that created it.  Pain, self-hate and insecurity generate nastiness. You cannot fix nastiness with more nastiness any more than you can put out a fire by adding more fire. We justify unkindness by reframing the situation and demonizing the victim. An insult becomes the hard truth a clueless person needs to hear. A angry tirade turns into an appropriate response to thoughtless behavior. This makes us feel better but does not move the situation towards resolution


Hateful behavior can only flourish if we believe our best interests are separate from someone else’s.  In other words, we can get ahead at someone else’s expense. The current divisions in our country fuels bad behavior. We believe we only win when others lose. History tells us, this is not true. A house divided falls.


Fear and anxiety are the mindset that created a situation where children end up in cages. That same mindset caused otherwise reasonable people to justify inhumane behavior by demonizing outsiders. More cruelty will not correct their thinking because it comes from the same misguided mindset.


Call your lawyer, call your congressperson, express your outrage and don’t take “no” for an answer but keep tabs on your mindset.  If you notice hate creeping in, you are in not in your right mind.





brainDon’t believe everything you think-Part 2 of 3

Luke was tired of his wife, Leah* pressuring him about changing his job.  He would look for another eventually, but now was not the time. Leah insisted Luke had broken a commitment to her that they could move when the kids finished school. She was counting on that promise. There were no promises, Luke fired back. Leah wanted to bring in witnesses to support her version of events.  Luke said she was rewriting history. Perhaps twenty-five years of marriage was enough, each of them thought.


Leah and Luke were so confident about their individual memories that they believed the other was lying.  Since the truth was obvious to each of them, the other must be deliberately twisting reality for their own benefit. Decades of mutual love flew out the window. How can you respect a partner who is a liar?

Changing Memories

While only one of these versions of events may have happened, the other is not necessarily invented. Turns out, memories are more malleable than most people realize. Memory researcher consistently find that people forget, modify and incorporate information from other people into their recollections.


Over time, memories become a hybrid of other people’s experiences, news reports and random events. Fluctuating emotions and a flood of stress hormones will also alter what is left in our minds. Further, research finds people are unaware how the brain works and cling tenaciously to their current version of events.


Flashbulb studies provide insight into our shifting memories.[1]  They track what people recall after sudden life changing events over long periods of time. Sept. 11, 2001 was the perfect time to collect this data. One study followed people for ten years. Others looked at those who were less affected vs. those who had losses.


Details of such a horror should be permanently tattooed across neuronal pathways.  Instead flashbulb studies consistently find long-term memories become less accurate in predictable ways but people’s confidence in their recollections is unwavering. In other words, your memories will become less accurate but you will continue to swear by them.[2]


If Leah and Luke understood how memory works, they would stay confident in their versions of events and cut the other some slack.  Leah would not assume Luke is a liar. Luke would be open to an alternate memory reality where Leah is not a manipulative harpy. Instead of hostility toward each other and anxiety about their relationship, they would remember their mutual affection and work out their differences from a place of wholeheartedness.

*Not their real names





brainDon’t Believe Everything You Think   (Part 1 of 3)

In 1944, as World War II raged and millions of people did not have enough to eat, researchers at the University of Minnesota began a study on the impact of starvation.  Conscientious objectors volunteered to live in a dorm for a year and eat only what they were served. As the participants got thinner and thinner, their thoughts became increasingly focused on food.  They cut recipes out of magazines and talked about meals they wanted to eat (you wrote ‘not eat’- did you mean would eat? If so, I’d say ‘wanted to eat’).  By the end of the experiment their thoughts were completely hijacked by what they did not have.[1]


Since then, research has revealed the unexpected ways scarcity changes behavior. Not only do unmet needs occupy our thoughts, but they usurp the ability to make good decisions.  Long-term plans and goals fly out the window. Warning signs are missed.  The brain loses some of its capacity for rational thought.


Judge Less, Forgive More


As a society, we are unforgiving when people get stuck in scarcity situations. Why doesn’t that person in debt get a better job or follow a budget?  Didn’t she know that borrowing    money at high interest would make things worse? It is easy when you have enough to imagine what someone without should do. Your brain has not been commandeered by lack. What you may not see clearly are the areas where scarcity has taken over your brain. Perhaps it is a paucity of time, inadequate purpose or a shortage of friends.


Loneliness and exhaustion are also manifestations of scarcity. They can impair your judgement and leave you behaving in ways that perpetuate the feeling of emptiness. A desperate need for companionship may cause you to behave in ways that send others running or maybe you will self-medicate tiredness with drugs that cause more problems.


Whether our poverty is real (we don’t have friends or money) or imagined (we don’t have enough friends or money compared to others), the brain hijack is the same. We want to be empathetic to others in the same situation and with ourselves. The next time you think, why doesn’t Jane just dump that loser? Or closer to home, why can’t I make more friends? Consider how scarcity may be at play.