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.

Consequences

“There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments – there are consequences.” 

                         – Robert G. Ingersoll

I helped deliver the children’s message Sunday during the late service at my church.  I wore a big dog costume to help teach them about the new paper recycling container now located at our church.  I was playing the part of the Abitibi “paper retriever,” who was encouraging the kids and their parents to bring all their household papers to the church to be recycled.

The costume came complete with a full head, body, gloves and boots, making it impossible for anyone to recognize who was in the suit.  So naturally, I decided to ham it up a bit.  I did a fair amount of hurrying about, sniffing at whatever I came across, and each time the kids put a piece of paper in the recycling container, I’d explode into a tail-wagging fit of doggie happiness.  “Paper!  Paper!  Paper!”

I got a number of laughs out of the church audience, and a couple of the kids kept getting up from their seats on the stairs to wave at me, so I got the impression that my performance was well received.  One quick recollection from the event: I started out a bit too animated when we first entered the sanctuary, and I had some trouble catching my breath through the small, restricted air opening in the mask’s nose.  The lack of oxygen made my lungs burn and my head spin, causing me to mess up one of my first lines.  I was able to recover and finish the skit, but it was hot and uncomfortable in that suit.  It was a relief to take it off after our 10 minute performance.

Driving home afterwards, I couldn’t help reviewing the performance in my mind.  I thought again of how I had struggled to catch my breath inside that costume head.  “I should have said, ‘Mister Dog needs to be careful, or he’s going to hyperventillate!'”  That struck me as funny.  I smiled thinking how the audience would have reacted.  Then I thought of another funny line that would have enhanced the performance, and then another.  Oh, if only I had another chance to go back and do it again, I could do it so much better…

Thankfully, I became aware of a small, quiet feeling sounding like an alarm bell from a great distance away, just barely audible, but catching my attention none the less.  I was given the wisdom to catch myself – my mind’s review of my performance had quickly turned critical as I thought of more and more things I could have done differently.  I had done the best that I could at the time; second guessing after the fact was only serving to steal the happiness and joy from the memory of the experience.  “No more,” I resolved as I pulled into our driveway.

At this point, I needed to hurry.  My boys were playing in a soccer tournament, and I needed to eat and get ready before their last game at 1:00 PM.  I had already missed their 11:00 AM game to perform my part at church, so I did not want to be late.  I had a load of laundry to fold, and another load to wash.  The bed still needed to be made, animals needed to be tended, etc.  In my mind, I was thinking about putting off those chores as a reward for my good work in the children’s message, after all, the costume made it hot and hard to breath, and I had delivered the message and got people to laugh.  I deserved a break…

But another small, quiet feeling sounded an alarm, this time as a question: hadn’t I already received my reward?  I had enjoyed the experience of entertaining and teaching the children and their parents, that was the positive consequence of my action.  There was no “reward” after the fact.  Choosing to shirk on my chores in the present as a reward to myself for my past positive actions would have negative consequences in the future.  I realized that I’ve been on a feast & famine roller coaster ride for most of my life because I keep making this mistake about rewards.

I learned quite a while back that most of what we call God’s punishment, or wrath, is usually just the negative consequences of our own decisions.  It’s easier to blame our dissappointments and failings on a ridgid, unsympathetic Supreme Being than it is to take personal responsibility for the poor choices that we’ve made in the past.  As a further consequence, we don’t learn from our hard-earned experience.  We blame our situation on outside forces or events, deny our own responsibility, and repeat the cycle over and over again.  God doesn’t need to punish us, we can do it all on our own.

I’ve been doing my best to avoid making those poor choices to avoid those negative consequences, at first under my own strength, more recently by walking as much as possible in faith.  Thank God, I’ve seen improvement in this area of my life.  However, I now realize that I have been mistakenly pursuing rewards in my life, subconsciously keeping score and granting myself treats for my good works (by my own assessment).  In every case, my “rewards” have negative consequences: fattening snacks or hollow time wasted “resting” in front of the TV, or both.  I allow myself to believe that I deserve these rewards and I’ll somehow avoid the negative consequences associated with them.

We’ve all heard a job well done is its own reward.  I’m not sure that I entirely agree.  Sometime a job, no matter how well done, is nothing more than a lot of hard work that simply has to be endured.  However, I do believe, if we’re focused on being present to each moment in our lives, we’re able to experience the positive consequences of our choices and actions.  Having fun in front of the congregation during the children’s sermon and receiving their laughter was ultimately my “reward”.  Too bad that I didn’t enjoy it more at the time; I was too busy focusing on how I’d reward myself later on.

How about you, dear reader?  Do you believe in rewards?  Is it possible to recognize yourself for your own good efforts after the event?  Do you have any examples of positive consequence rewards?  What do you use for motivation in your life?  Is living in the present its own reward?