Stories From Unemployment 1

You cannot teach a man anything.  You can only help him find it within himself.  — Galileo Galilei

It’s now two weeks since the layoff.  What a wild ride.  Each minute is an adventure.

Following is a short story from earlier this week.  I’m going to do my best to share more of these stories as they occur, if for no other reason than I to help me remember.  Hopefully you’ll find these stories as meaningful as me.

The Outplacement Seminar

Monday I was scheduled to start a two-day seminar with an outplacement consulting group as the final part of my severance package.  I had signed up for the first class available, hopeful it would help me shift my job search into high gear.  However, I was a little disappointed to learn the seminar was being moved from the consulting firm’s Columbus office to a site owned by my former employer.

Great! I thought.  Saving money again.  They probably won’t even have coffee available.

I woke up crabby on Monday morning, and even my journaling did nothing to improve my mood.  When the rest of the family woke up later that morning, my sour mood erupted into a full-blown meltdown – my first since the layoff.  I barked at the boys, then I barked at my wife.  I even barked at the dogs who barked back at me.

I retreated back to my office in the cellar.  What in the world just happened?

Slowly, over the course of the rest of the day, I began to understand: I was worried that the seminar would be a total waste of time, which is in short supply right now.  How good could it be if my old company was supplying it?

I’m angry at my old company.

Deep down in a secret compartment of my mind I’ve been stuffing all the resentment, anger, and fear collected over the past several years of my career.  I thought I was past it all when I was let go, but I was wrong.

And my family suffered for my mistake.

Now that I’m aware, I’m doing my best to bring those suppressed feelings into the light to release them.  It’s a bit like peeling an onion, each layer reveals a new, deeper level of grievance.  But it’s worthwhile work, perhaps the best that I’ve ever done.

Is this why I had to leave under these difficult circumstances – to make me stop and pay attention to all the baggage weighing me down? I wondered as I signed in for the seminar.

As it turns out, the seminar was extremely helpful and the instructor excellent.  He challenged us with his quiet confidence to pursue our careers with passion, to answer our callings.  Times may be tough, and we’ll all have to work hard at our search each day, but opportunities are still plentiful.

Our instructor, a retired Air Force Colonel of 30 years, was truly inspiring and supportive.  He commanded our attention for two straight days, faltering just once, when he noticed there weren’t any amenities in the meeting room.  “We usually offer coffee and snacks at our site,” he said.  “They don’t even have water in this room.”

It sucks to always be right, I thought.

Ah well, one more layer to peel.

Mind Your Pace

It has now been a little over a week since the layoff.  300 people were let go over two days.  One of them was my friend Brad, who used to work in the IT Department.  The two of us immediately decided to form a support group.

I don’t know how I would have gotten through the past 9 days without Brad’s help.  It’s incredible how many things need to be done when you’re unemployed.  We’ve got each other’s back, so nothing important falls through the cracks.

Brad and I are working harder now than we have in years, we’re just not getting paid for it.  Since we were let go on Ash Wednesday, we joke about giving up being paid for our work for Lent.  Of course, all work looking for a job and no fun will make Doug and Brad crazy-psycho nuts, unsuitable for hiring.

So we agreed to go for a hike in the woods by my house this past Thursday.  We could catch up on our progress while getting some exercise and also get out from under our wives’ feet, so they could both have a break from us – a tri-fecta!

It was clear and cool as we headed up over the hill and down the trail into the Forrey Preserve.  Perfect hiking weather.  Since Brad had never hiked these woods, I led the way, choosing the trails to lead him past some of my favorite areas.

We spoke of what we had been doing the past several days, and  I told Brad how frustrated I was at the pace of my progress.  I hadn’t applied to any jobs yet.  Heck, I was just getting started updating my resume.

As we walked and talked, I discovered I needed to slow my pace a fair amount to avoid leaving Brad behind. “You’re not going to get much of a workout at this pace,” a voice nagged from the back of my mind.

So be it, I decided.  It was too nice a day and I was enjoying our time together too much to worry about whether I worked up a sweat or not.

“It sure is a nice day to be unemployed,” Brad said, as if reading my mind.  The sun shone brightly on the naked branches of the trees, their light gray tips glowing in contrast against the deep blue sky.

Brad has been a computer geek for as long as I’ve know him, but he actually went to school for anthropology, and he worked several years doing archeological field work on local Native people.  As we walked along the trails at his pace, his eyes were always scanning our surroundings.  He paused often to pick something up or to point something out, each time explaining to me what he had found.

I began to understand just how much I had missed by hurrying through the woods at my normal pace.

Brad found a “fire-cracked” stone.  He explained how the Natives didn’t have cook pots that could be heated directly on a fire.  Instead, they cooked by heating stones in the fire and then dropping them into a stew or a soup.  The thermal shock to the stone would often break it, making an edge that resembled a dull axe.

Brad found bits of stone not native to the area, carried there by others in times gone by.  He pointed out an old, shallow trench where someone had mined a small vein of coal.  He spoke of Civil War times, how Ohio had been completely strip-forested to make charcoal for the foundries in the Ohio River valley to make weapons for the Union army.  He explained how the ravines we were passing, like the rest throughout Ohio, were so much steeper than they would have been because of the ecological damage from the run-off of this deforestation.

Brad also showed me the best places to look for arrowheads when I told him I had never found one before.  “Freshly plowed fields are usually the best places to look,” he said, “but in the woods you can find them in the roots of a downed tree.”

At the top of the next hill we found a number of trees that had been blown over by a recent storm.  We wandered like little boys from root ball to root ball, scraping at the dirt, examining everything we unearthed with the solemn focus that only occurs in play.

We continued down the branching trails, my pace now matching his better as I listened to his stories, and that’s when I found it.  There where the trail curved to follow the edge of a ravine just a hundred yards up from the river, I stooped to pick up a bright-white stone nestled in a patch of moss in the middle of the path.

“That’s a piece of Flint Ridge flint that they made into a core,” Brad said.  “See the sharpened edges.  They would have used this to make flint tools like arrowheads.”

Score! I thought, but Brad was looking intently around us.

“I bet this used to be a Native campsite,” he said.  “It’s elevated, so it would have been dry.  The ravine makes it defensible, there’s water nearby, and you can see a long way in all directions.”

I had been past this spot a half-dozen times, but I had never noticed it, nor seen the flint core, in my haste.  I followed Brad into the heart of the ancient campsite, imitating him as he carefully searched under the fallen leaves and around the tree bases.  Before long, he found another flake of white flint.  Then he found a solid black flake.

“This one’s from West Virginia,” he said, handing it to me to examine.  He said another flake of dark gray flint was probably from the Coshocton, OH area.

Now that I knew how to look, I discovered several more flint pieces.  I pocketed my first piece and another large Flint Ridge flake to take home as trophies.  Brad was content to leave his finds where they had been dropped by their original Native owners.

It was the same forest I had hiked scores of times before, but it was a completely different experience, simply by slowing my pace.  I would have passed right by the treasures we found had it been up to me.

I realized in that moment that this was the answer to my job search worries as well.  I’ve been staying focused on the present, following the “flow” minute by minute, working on the top priority of the moment.  In the past week, communicating with my friend, and especially with my family, had been the biggest priority.  They needed to share their concerns and fears, and even their anger.  They needed me to listen to their ideas, to understand their viewpoint, and to share the strength I’ve been receiving with them.

In my heart, I have a sense of peace that I am fulfilling my role since the layoff.  Worry crept in only when I started comparing myself to others, or worse yet, to what I judged I should be doing based on past experience.  I never would have found the treasures in relationships I’ve experienced over the past week listening to that nagging voice in my head.  There wouldn’t have been time moving at his pace.

Yet the miracle this Saturday morning, just two days later, is I have those treasures and good progress on the job search.  There are two solid job applications out in two different fields with two tailored resumes, updated profiles on internet job boards, and a number of other potential leads in the hopper.

There’s still so much to do, but I’m happy to be experiencing the peace that comes from heeding the pace that comes from our higher Source.  My prayer is for you to share this same peace.  May you have faith in the pace He asks of you.

A New Beginning

Image by _gee_s photostream.  Click on the picture to see more images from him.

Image by _gee_'s photostream. Click on the picture to see more images from him.

The rumor mill was buzzing at work when I arrived there on Wednesday:  layoffs were beginning again.  Coworkers were gathered in small groups, speaking in hushed tones.  As the morning dragged on, I overheard anxious and tearful clips of conversations as people passed by in the hallway beyond my cube.  The rumors were true.

I focused on performing my normal Wednesday morning activities.  At lunch, I went to the fitness center to work out.  The effort and sweat of the work out was therapeutic.  The chattering voices in my head cleared as I focused on the physical effort of exercising.

And in that quiet place, I realized that I couldn’t have planned for what was happening at work by judging from my past experiences.  I needed to trust to the Spirit’s guidance in the moment, just as I did at the ice skating rink (click here to see that post).

“But what would I do if I got laid off?” I thought.  “That would be a huge challenge to my ability to follow the Spirit’s guidance.”

But almost as soon as I had that thought, a sense of peace came over me.  I was being answered, “Of course you able.”

When I returned to work at 1:00, my fellow cube-dweller Roy said that my manager had been looking for me.  I spotted her down the hall and walked over to her.  “Can you come with me?” she asked.

And I instantly knew: for the first time in my life, I was being laid-off.

I have always had a clear picture in my mind of how I would feel and act when I finally got the tap on my shoulder.  Let me tell you, it would not have been pretty, but that’s not what happened.  Instead, in that moment, I felt something far different:

Acceptance.

Peace.

Liberation.

A smile spread across my face, and I couldn’t wipe off that silly grin through the entire termination process.  I even found myself comforting my manager and the HR representative as they conducted my exit meeting; they were both obviously struggling under their day’s responsibilities.  The healing offered wasn’t of me or for me, but blessed me more than words can describe.

“I don’t have to worry about this place anymore,” was the first thought that crossed my mind.  I didn’t realize until that very second just how much the worry of my old company’s economic health had been weighing on me.

I also clearly saw the opportunity that I was being given.  I couldn’t go back to my old industry – all three pottery companies where I had previously worked had closed their doors in the past few years – and the basket company I was working for is one-of-a-kind.  This chapter in my life was now coming to a complete and final close.

My future career will have to be in a different industry, perhaps a different field all together.  I have no idea what it will be, but a strong, peaceful feeling of hope filled me, assuring me it will be far better.  And I realized that I now have to be completely focused on the present, just as I was at the skating rink, in order to negotiate the countless steps necessary to find that life.  I have to rely completely on the Spirit’s guidance.

That’s the best place that I could possibly be.

Skating Into The Moment

Image by flattop341.  Click on the photo to view more of his photos.

Image by flattop341. Click on the photo to view more of his photos.

Sunday our boy scout troop went ice skating at the local rink in Newark, Ohio.  I’m a decent in-line skater, but I hadn’t been on ice skates since I was a teenager.  As it turns out, I’m able to ice skate as well as I roller skate, although my braking abilities leave a lot to be desired.

I’ve always liked skating.  Some of my happiest memories as a teen and as a parent center on visiting the roller skating rink with family and friends.  I enjoy gliding around the oval with a breeze on my face, the music and the noise of the other skaters drowning out my thoughts.  I enjoy the physical exertion of skating for a couple of hours and the challenge of picking my way through the constantly changing cloud of other skaters moving about the rink.

Sunday’s experience on the ice was just like those times spent in the roller rink, only chillier.  A large number of skaters of varying shapes, sizes, and abilities all joined us on the rink.

With so many different people moving in different directions at very different speeds, it’s necessary to be completely focused and present. As I passed through the other groups of skaters, weaving and shifting to avoid collisions and maintain my speed, I once again experienced “flow.”

I intuitively knew where to go.  I adjusted with ease to the constantly changing movements of the crowd around me.  It felt very much like a dance.

My whole world shrank down to the ice immediately in front of me.  My attention was completely focused on taking the next step on my skates, to find a clear path through the other skaters moving and weaving in front of me.

Often my conscious mind would judge the best path to take to maintain my speed and desired direction.  As I flowed around the rink, however, another intuitive voice directed my steps, frequently in a different direction from my judgements.

Each time I followed the intuiti0n, it was right.  The path I had judged as better would be cut off by a change in direction from another skater.  Whenever I followed my judgements, I needed to correct sharply or brake to a stop to avoid a collision, no easy task given my braking ability.

As I gained experience trusting to my intuition, I began skating at faster speeds.  It was exhilarating to move so effortlessly through the crowd, skating at the limits of my abilities to maintain control, the danger that I should have felt replaced by a thrilling peace as I relinquished control to that intuitive voice.

What a rush!  I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face as I glided around the rink in a counter-clockwise direction.  I wondered if  others experience this sensation.

As if in answer, a man skated in behind me saying, “I’m going to follow you.  Now I don’t have to think about where I’m going.”

I was pleased that he could see how I was performing, but I knew that he wouldn’t be able to follow me for long unless he also attained a state of flow.  The intuition was very soft, just a whisper or a tickle in my gut; without total focus on the present moment, I wouldn’t receive its guidance.  Sure enough,  it wasn’t long before the other skaters cut the man off behind me and he abandoned his attempt to follow me.

As I turned my skates at the end of the afternoon, that quiet, higher voice whispered one last time to me, “This is what life can be like all the time.”

There are so many people with so many ability levels, all moving together in a chaotic, ever changing mass.  Our task is to be present, living in the moment, forgiving and releasing the past.  In the present we can hear that voice and receive His guidance.

And He will show as how to help, not harm, each other, how to set the example for others to follow, and how to share what we’ve learned with our brothers and sisters in this world.

A Quick Answer To A Prayer

Image titled Pacific Spirit by lawmurray

Image titled "Pacific Spirit" by lawmurray

Many of the posts to this blog have been inspired by my prayer journal, but I’ve never shared an experience directly out of its pages before now.  The following account is taken from my journal entries for Friday, February 20.

I started as I do most mornings with my prayer time at my desk before the day’s activities.  In my journal I wrote this prayer, which was inspired by the work I’m doing in A Course In Miracles:

Lord, help me to hear the Voice of God.

Yes, I know that deep in my mind I’ve resisted this request.  I want to prove I’m right; I secretly want to play the role of God.  I don’t know all the reasons I harbor this secret desire to be apart from God and His Love.  I imagine I need to acknowledge those reasons before I can hear His Voice.  Help me to see Spirit, so that I may hear.

Then I felt inspired to write:

* Forgiveness is letting go of the past, so that we may live in the present.

-> You have to believe that today can be different from yesterday.

I finished my prayer time and morning chores, and headed off to work.  This is what happened next:

I had a realization concerning my project this morning, so I went to talk with Brian Tigner (a coworker and friend).  I was feeling present, and our conversation turned to faith.

“If God would grant you one wish, what would it be?” he asked.

I’d never considered this question before.  After a few seconds consideration, I said, “To know God.”

He approved, saying, “Most people would say they’d ask for a billion dollars or to be put in charge.  You can tell a lot about the kind of person someone is by the answer they give to that question.”

And I realized in that moment that the Spirit was speaking to me through Brian, answering the question that was in the back of my mind, “Is that what I really want?”

Our conversation went on, discussing potential manufacturing layout scenarios.  He expressed concerns about the employees accepting the changes based on past experience, and I found myself explaining the need to forgive the past in order to live in the present where the Spirit can reach us.

“You have to believe that today can be different from yesterday.  If you’re always reacting to people based on the unforgiven issues of the past, you’ll misperceive the present and make the future turn out just like the past.  Forgiveness is letting go of the past so that we can live in the present.”

As I talked, I heard what I was saying and realized that it was true, and I also realized that the authority of my words was coming from a deeper Source.  The Spirit was speaking through me, connecting with both Brian and me.

By the way, Brian’s parting words to me were, “It’ll be interesting to see how things work out for you and your studies.”  Walking the walk will do far more than talking the talk.

After our conversation, I opened the Text, and the Spirit spoke strongly to me again in the next section that I read, confirming what had just happened.  (that section is titled Finding The Present and you can read it by clicking this link.)

Forgive me Spirit for my misunderstanding.  I do hear Your Voice.  You have been speaking to me, I just wasn’t paying attention.  I was focused on hearing an internal voice, like the voice in my head.  I’m sure You could do that if You so desire, but I shouldn’t try to limit You, just as You’re unwilling to limit me.  Thank You for answering me in such a strong and rapid way.

Halfway And Just Beginning

Image by Erika Mugglin

Image by Erika Mugglin

It was my birthday last week.  I’m 48 years old.  Not a major milestone birthday like 50, but it got me thinking: this could be the halfway point in my life.  My grandmother celebrated her 95th birthday back in December and she’s still going strong; it’s not unreasonable to think of reaching 96 in my own lifetime.

Halfway done.  50% complete.

And here’s the most amazing, surprising, and sometimes frightening thing: I honestly feel like I’m just getting started living my life.

It’d be nice to say that “just getting started” means I feel like I’m poised at the starting line of a race that I’ve been preparing to run for the past forty-eight years.  That would give a favorable impression.  The world respects strength, vision, and perseverance.  I enjoy writing from a position of authority, of power.

In this case, however, “just getting started” feels more like being a newborn baby.  I’m beginning to see that I’ve misperceived a great deal in my life.  “Truths” that I’ve accepted all my life are being questioned and found lacking.  So many have fallen lately that I no longer have confidence in any of them.  All of my core beliefs, the way that I understand the world and how it works, are being challenged.

The cause of this reexamination is A Course In Miracles, my sole goal for 2009.  I mentioned the Course (published by The Foundation For Inner Peace) and my goal in a previous post.  So far, I’ve progressed to Lesson 46 in the Workbook For Students and I’m halfway through chapter 13 of the Text.  The Text reading has gone slower than planned because I find myself taking so many notes in my prayer journal; the journal has been virtually taken over by these notes.

I also read Gary Renard’s The Disappearance Of The Universe, a book describing his experiences from the Course, back in January.  And I’ve located an ACIM website that provides all of the Course’s lesson and Text on-line; it’s a great resource when I don’t have my book available.

The Course has been very good.  It has also been very challenging to me.  At times I’ve been truly inspired by the beauty and peace that the Course is teaching.  At other times, I’ve found myself resisting its message of love and healing.

The Course teaches that there are two mutually exclusive forces at work in our world: the Holy Spirit and the ego.  The Spirit operates from our true self, offering us a vision of love and wholeness in God.  The ego operates from our false self and gives us fear, guilt, and separation to maintain its own existence at our expense.

When I choose the Spirit as my guide, I give Christ permission to work through me for reconciliation, blessing others and myself.  But when I attack in word or thought, I’m siding with the ego, making its insane beliefs real in our world.

My efforts to side with the Spirit have caused a great deal of resistance within me from my ego these past few weeks.  I’ve felt worn out and sick for a large portion of the last two weeks.  I lost confidence in my ability to express these new ideas and avoided posting to this blog.  Even my efforts to advocate the core Course principal of responding with love and not fear fell short in comments I exchanged with my friends in the post What Message Are You Sending?

The journey is just started, and it’s too early to have an idea of the outcome, although the Text takes pains to assure us that we will all ultimately succeed.  For now, the newness of it all is daunting, especially when I think about how to share it with you, my readers.  But the experiences I’ve had so far as I’ve practiced the principles of A Course In Miracles gives me faith that its teachings are true.

I invite you to check it out for yourself at the links above.  I also invite your comments and questions below.  Salvation is a shared experience, and I’m ready to get started.

New Page Added

Just a quick note to let you all know I’ve added a new page above.  It’s one of the first stories I wrote back in my college days, titled “Such A Waste.”  I maybe adding extra stories in the Pages area as time goes on and the muse moves me.

Please check it out and let me know what you think.  Thanks!