Bigger Than Self

My eyes were open today. This means I am alive of course, but even better than being alive, I was conscious today. I was aware of one of those common acts performed with such excellence that it becomes extraordinary, a true example of greatness.

It was a Tuesday after a Monday holiday, which means a busy day in the treatment room as they jam 5 days worth of patients into only 4 days of treatment slots. The faces were all familiar to Celeste, not as much to me, but I sensed an ease in the room.

The woman across from Celeste was clearly on the same treatment. She’d been in treatment long enough to feel comfortable taking a nap on her two hour break between the trial drug and her chemo treatments. Others showed their comfort by napping deeply enough to snore or chatting with the nurses about what each other did over New Years, and in some cases, Christmas.

Celeste was the second patient in the room. She was a good number of minutes ahead of the other lady in her trial, but things don’t always run smoothly with the pharmacy. We had to wait on meds, and the other lady finished about an hour ahead of us. She left her chair, and she and her mother left cheerfully yet wearily, pledging to see the nurses again next week.

With the first bag of chemo down and the second going on, we only had about 45 more minutes and we’d be out of there. We were more than ready to leave for home, a place we left at 5:30am, about 9 hours earlier in the day.

A family of four walked into the room with a medical assistant. Two of the four were an older man and woman, not yet old but later into middle age than Celeste and I. I guessed that the other two were their adult son and daughter. They stood near the door by the nurses station and took in the tour, which consisted of the assistant pointing around the room and explaining its major features: Chairs, bathroom, snacks. They glanced as she pointed but never really seemed to take in what she was showing them. Their eyes would look, but not closely or intently, as if they didn’t want it to really register. This was their new reality, but it didn’t look inviting.

After the tour, per treatment room visitor guidelines, the two younger adults were asked to leave. As they said hushed goodbyes, it became obvious that the older of the two men was the patient. The younger woman looked concerned and tearful as she hugged him. The younger man exchanged an awkward fist bump with him as he departed. They clearly didn’t want to be there, but they didn’t want to leave either.

The couple took the station across from Celeste, the one just vacated by the other woman in the same trial. The man sat in the treatment chair, his wife next to him in the guest chair. As the nurse began to discuss his treatment protocol, we could hear enough. Celeste looked up from her peaceful rest and said to me, “Same trial as me.” I nodded.

The new couple was quiet and spoke in hushed tones and strong accents. As the nurse explained the trial procedures, their accents didn’t seem to get in the way of understanding, but their lack of familiarity with cancer treatment did.

The nurse asked the wife, “What kind of port does he have?” The specifics of ports matter to the nurses. They need to be sure they can do everything they need through the port, such as drawing blood and delivering medications such as the trial drug and chemos. The wife didn’t know the type of port that was recently installed in her husband’s chest. She searched her purse for the specification card she was given when her husband had his port installed. She found it. Celeste carried her port card to her first treatment too. I kept a picture of it in my phone.

“Do you want to use the port for the trial drug today?” He didn’t know. His wife didn’t know. How could they? It was all so new and unfamiliar.

As the man sat in the chair, he seemed completely lost. And he was. That part wasn’t familiar to him. But it was to us. A pancreatic cancer diagnosis is disorienting to one’s experience of life. His blank stare was gazing upon a world that had been turned upside down, and he was not able to trust the sensory input that had oriented him throughout his entire adult life. How does one find his way in unfamiliar terrain without the benefit of any familiar sight to guide him?

His nurse, Cortney, is fantastic. She’s smart, caring, kind, and reassuring. We know this because she’s been one of Celeste’s nurses for going on 6 months now. But despite her best efforts to help him acclimate himself, she couldn’t quite put him at ease. As he returned from the bathroom, before he climbed in the chair to officially become a “chemo patient,” he politely asked Cortney, “Can I take off my shoes?”

“Of course. We want you to be as comfortable as possible,” she said. But even shoes off and feet up in a big recliner couldn’t do a thing to ease the disorder behind his eyes or the rigid, fearful expression on his face.

Our time was up. We started to pack up. As Celeste returned from the bathroom, I handed her her coat and bent over to pick up the cooler and her purse. When she didn’t immediately take the purse from me, I looked up.

Celeste had turned her back away from me. She was now squatting down at the feet of the wife, holding the scared woman’s hands in her warm grasp, moving her gaze from the man to the wife and back again to be sure those lost eyes found something they could recognize.

I could hear her telling them, “It is scary at first, but you will figure it out. And you are in great hands. This team will take great care of you.”

As Celeste continued her reassurance, I looked at the man. His face was no longer frozen with fear. He was smiling. In this new world of uncertainty, he had found something familiar in my wife’s face and the gentle soothing wash of her words: Hope.

Before the man motioned me over to join the conversation, I just stood mesmerized by what I was seeing. Communication is both art and empirical science, and one never knows just how it’s going to go, especially when one is in feared, unfamiliar territory. I often describe it as a lock and key. The receiver’s mind is the lock, and the sender’s words and gestures are like a key that can fit precisely, opening a door to a new world, or jam in the lock, further closing off effective connection.

For whatever reason – experience being the new patient, a caring heart, a loving soul, open eyes, thoughtful understanding – Celeste had found the key to this man’s world at that moment. The transformation in his demeanor was absolutely magical, and it was an act of greatness. She won’t get a trophy for it (and she certainly doesn’t expect it), but she lifted a mountain today. She was doing the best she could do, and she was doing it by giving into something bigger than herself. She was giving her best to others. And that’s what great communication is. It’s a tool for opening up a world bigger than the one that revolves around the little self. She connected with another. She gave this man her time and warm words to improve his experience of one of the worst days of his life. What could be greater than that?

The four of us exchanged names and few quick stories about how they moved from California to Michigan years ago. It was very hard, they said, but they made it with perseverance and grit. “Now we have another thing to deal with,” the man said as he gestured toward his port.

As we left, the man and his wife were smiling, and there was a shine in their once dull eyes. When we got out the door, my eyes were shining too. I was sobbing.

Celeste turned with a smile and said, “What?”
“You,” was all I could manage.

I kept it together with others in the elevator and until we got out of the garage and paid the attendant. Then I had to let it loose. I could barely speak, but I tried to express how special it was to witness what she did for that man and his wife.

As she handed me tissues, I said, “I’m not sad, you know?”

“I know,” she said.

“I’m just so proud of you. Who you are. How far you’ve come the last 6 months.”

Pride gets a bad rap sometimes, and if I am being honest, proud wasn’t the best word choice to describe what I was feeling. I was experiencing something far more profound. More accurate words would be awe, wonder, inspiration, and transcendence.

My eyes were open today. My mind was clear. I was conscious of greatness. And thanks to Celeste and a family starting chemotherapy today, I was part of something bigger than myself.

When Angry

I get angry/irritated/pissed/etc about things people say and do all the time. Here are a few things I need to remember about that so that I don’t stoke the flames of that anger.

I am angry about it. Nobody has the power to make me angry.

Please note the distinction here. I am angry about it. Nobody has the power to definitively make me angry/sad/happy/etc as if they were using the remote control to change channels on the TV. I have something to say about it, even if I don’t realize it at first. Something about me creates the experience of the emotion. It isn’t programmed or controlled from the outside. It’s influenced from within. I have something to influence about my own emotional experience. If I blame them for my experience, I am lacking clarity and limiting my possibilities for other emotional experiences about the situation/person, such as love and compassion.

2) Just because I am angry doesn’t mean the other person is wrong/bad/irritating/etc. I can’t feel or perceive objective truths about other people. I can have thoughts and emotional experiences about them. These emotional experiences are based on things going on inside me. They do not indicate objective truths about the other person.

When I remember these two things, my downturns seem natural and also naturally limited. The world seems to be a less hostile, frustrating place. My emotional experiences seem to rise easily when I stay away from blame and trust my natural inclination toward love, compassion, and connection.

Where You Should Be


It’s is a problematic word. It implies that the present could be different from what exists now.

It’s a sensible sentiment, the idea that things should’ve worked out differently, but here is the problem: Things didn’t work out differently. The present could be different only if we could change the past. But -to my knowledge- we can’t. Specific causes lead to specific effects even if we can’t measure or understand them. Every moment is perfectly aligned with the causes that created it.

The present moment can’t be different from what it is, and in the mind, fighting what is with illusions of what should be leads to confusion. The tension caused by this battle is like a trap that limits our possibilities. Yet we constantly should all over ourselves (and others).

  • The outcome should be different.
  • You should be different.
  • I should be someone else.
  • I should be a better, tougher, stronger version of me.
  • I should be with someone else.
  • I should be somewhere else.
  • I should be at a better place in life.

The desire to should on life is certainly understandable. When it seems like things aren’t going our way, we have a tendency to believe things should be different. It’s a protective mechanism. It helps saves our self-worth. It helps the world seem a little more controllable and fair.

I’d love to tell you there are guarantees in life. There aren’t any.

I’d love to tell you life is fair. It’s not.

I’d love to tell you you’re in control. You aren’t.

The fact is this: Life is not controllable, guaranteed, or fair. The illusion of control exists when you only account for forces you can observe with your limited awareness. The perception of control is like admiring the top level of a house of cards while completely ignoring the bases that support it. This limited admiration ignores the fragile, connected beauty of the entire structure. Every moment of our lives, forces out of our awareness and control influence what we are capable of thinking, feeling, and doing. Like a house of cards, a change in one aspect can influence a change in the entire structure.

The illusion of control is compelling. It seems to make sense. It’s also quite convenient at times. But the illusion creates problems. When we believe in the illusion of control we tend to throw shoulds at everything we see because we see causality in a very limited, constraining way. This has some consistent effects. When things appear to be going against us, the illusion of control leads to confusion, blame, frustration, and eventual despair. When things appear to be going our way, the illusion of control blocks us from the gratitude that naturally flows from understanding the beautiful and miraculous harmony of uncontrollable forces that have aligned to give us what we want.

We desire control because we imagine it helps us feel powerful. To relinquish control can seem scary and uncertain, but in truth, the illusion of control is limiting, confusing, and frustrating. When we reject this illusion to clearly see degrees of influence in the order of the universe, we gain clarity, freedom, and possibility.

  • We don’t get to change the past, but we can influence how we understand it. A change in perception of the past changes our experience of the present.
  • We don’t have control over other people and the situations of the world, yet when we understand we have creative influence over our own experiences, we gain incredible freedom. Mind over matter isn’t a power struggle. It’s the way we are built.
  • We don’t have control over our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we have influence over possibilities that far exceed anything we attempt to control within us. When we learn not to fight ourselves, composure, awe, gratitude, wonder, curiosity, joy, and love flow through us.
  • We don’t get to control other persons’ thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet our influence is far greater than any control we might attempt to impose upon them. Don’t sell short others’ ability to love, admire, and appreciate you and your deeds.
  • We will never truly understand the order that created the present moment or where the swirling forces are taking us from here, yet we can influence finding reason, meaning, purpose, and connection along whatever path we travel. When we learn to dance with the rhythms of life, we find the miraculous in the common.

Much of the order of the universe works outside our awareness and understanding, but our lack of awareness and understanding doesn’t mean things should be different from what they are. Things are as they should be. Every moment is perfectly aligned with the causes that created it. We may not understand or appreciate it. We need not like it. We may wish things were different and even have regrets. But ultimately, the order of the universe is a good thing because if there is solace in the order of the universe, it is this:

You are where you should be. Here and now is the only place you can be. It’s the only place you’ll ever be, and you are enough to be great where you stand.

Respect is Radiated

I hear this a lot: Respect must be earned.

I’m sure we’ve all said it, and at some level we all believe it. We believe it because it sounds like an excellent idea, a lesson everyone needs to learn. And yet, when examined a little deeper, I’m not so sure it’s our best play.

After all, haven’t each of us been in crisis or misunderstanding? Haven’t we all needed respect at times when maybe we haven’t earned it?

If respect must be earned, how does anyone move forward meeting new people or helping others in crisis? How do we deal with a child in a tantrum? How do we expect others will understand us when we are angry and lashing out? I am certainly guilty of this. I doubt if I go any full day with perfectly respectful comportment. I’m sure I act like a fool to somebody in some way on a daily basis.

If respect must be earned, where does that bank account have its beginnings? Doesn’t at least one party have to give respect even though it hasn’t been earned on the other end? Where is the risk in extending others respect? After all, we aren’t exactly talking about trusting someone with our nest egg, deepest secrets, or car keys. It takes zero actual risk to extend respect, deference, or courtesy. It takes zero risk to conduct oneself respectfully even though the surrounding world might be filled with anger, lies, and backstabbing.

Respect, like love, is something that flows from within us to the outside world. Respect isn’t earned. It’s radiated. When we radiate respect, other people can sense it, and they tend to enjoy it. That’s one reason why respect is good. People connect to it. But if we are always waiting for others to earn our respect before we give it, what is there to connect to?

When we conduct ourselves with respect and extend it to the world around us, we become powerful, shining examples for others. When others see us showing respect without it being returned in a transaction, they see strength, resilience, and composure, and this observation is often the point at which they come to understand the true nature of respect. Once the true nature of respect is understood, its real power can be unleashed. Respect as a transaction is extremely limited, but respect as a radiating light has the power to change the world.

Trust me on this, you will get far more respect when you stop demanding that others earn your respect. Give it. You’ll get plenty back. And even if you have to bear some disrespectful actions of others, when you understand that respect can exist a) in infinite amounts, b) without a transaction, and c) even while you are surrounded by people acting like cold fools, you won’t care. Your radiating respect will keep you as warm as you will ever need to be.

Need more warmth in your life? Radiate more respect, even if it hasn’t been earned.

Blame Elimination Diet

“Be relentless in pursuit of those goals, especially in the face of obstacles. Along the way, make no excuses and place no blame.”

Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque

I’ve had some interest in a mental challenge of the day. So here is one you can try for a day, a week, or a lifetime: Eliminate blame.

When you catch yourself blaming someone or something for how you are thinking, feeling, or acting, just stop. Let it be.

Why eliminate blame?

We act as if blame is a righteous return of fire against an enemy trying to harm us. But that’s not what blame is. Blame is the brick and mortar we use to wall off our connection to others and the freedom that is ours if we don’t construct our own prisons. Blame leads us down an inaccurate path that strips us of our rightful influence over ourselves and the world around us. Blame primes us to be victims rather than seeking our positions of power.

Please don’t confuse reasons or causes with blame. There are reasons why we experience what we do. Our universe obeys orderly rules even if we don’t always understand them. But the chance of accurately understanding why you are experiencing a particular thought, feeling, or action is next to 0% until you can greatly reduce blame. When you eliminate the noise of blame and open up to greater possibility, more answers to your, “Why?” questions will occur to you. When you eliminate blame, you will gain freedom, possibility, and influence.

A small caution: Eliminating blame will not eliminate pain from your life. Even without blame, you won’t like everything you experience, but without blame your sense of influence and freedom will increase.  In turn, this will help limit the frequency, duration, and intensity of your painful experiences.

A couple of thoughts/tips: After you begin to eliminate blame of other people and situations, you may be tempted to blame yourself for your pain. Don’t do it. Continue eliminating blame. Don’t blame yourself either. None of us is perfect. It’s one of the beautiful ways we are connected. Don’t kick your own butt for your imperfections. Imperfect happens and pain results. There’s a reason for it. Blame won’t fix it. It will improve fastest when you simply experience it without blame.

You may not be able to eliminate blame with your current vocabulary. Instead of saying something like, “That made me mad,” which blames an external cause for your anger, try saying something like, “I am mad about that,” which implies an internal experience of anger without blaming an external cause.

That’s it. I hope you enjoy the challenge. I can’t wait to hear how you experienced it, so please post or contact me privately.

I hope you have a great day. Make the plays you can. Cast no blame along the way.

What’s In You Today

What do you have in you today? What can you do, think, or feel today? What is possible for your experience of life today?

Please rest assured, you have enough in you to be great today. I say this not knowing what you intend to accomplish. But no matter how limited your initial thoughts on this topic, please understand my point.

Your capacity to imagine greatness in this moment doesn’t change your capability to manifest it. In other words, the old adage, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right,” is wrong. Dead wrong. It’s not an absolute. Optimists fail and doubters prove themselves wrong on a daily basis. The only thing that hides us from these facts is denial. Why live in the illusion of denial when something more powerful exists? These clear facts exist: We can experience great thoughts, feelings, and actions out of the blue, and others experience the greatness of our thoughts, feelings, and actions without our awareness.

You don’t have the capacity to understand how powerful a little gesture might be to someone else. You simply can’t judge it. You aren’t in their shoes, and you may not be in the right frame of mind to see how powerful any kindness can seem to someone else. Have you ever expressed deep gratitude to someone only to have them shrug off their efforts as no big deal? It didn’t seem like no big deal to you, did it?

Not only that, but the person on the receiving end of your kindness may change her mind about its power down the road of time. How often do we come to understand the impact of someone’s influence on us only after they’ve moved on? Shouldn’t we take time to appreciate those people today? Shouldn’t each of us strive to be one of those people?

Furthermore, you do not have the capacity to judge the impact of your own efforts on yourself without the benefit of passing time. How often do we look back and discover that small seeds sprouted into something enormous? Shouldn’t we recognize the enormous potential of the little things that exist in this moment as it occurs?

Nobody is guaranteed anything. Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you may still be capable of greatness. You may not always manifest it. That’s life. You win some, you lose some. But before rejecting your potential for greatness, allow me to ask: Who are you to judge your capacity for greatness before giving it a shot?

Trust what’s in you today. It’s enough.

Unseen Anchors

Hebrews 6:19. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul….

Hope is an anchor for the soul. We’ve heard this over and over the last month. It seems to be one of the most reassuring ideas we can entertain. Yet why, at times, why does it seem like hope’s anchor is bludgeoning us over the head?

Don’t we all do it? Don’t we hope for a bigger paycheck, a smaller tumor, an easier path through life, more sunshine and less rain, fewer red lights and less traffic? It seems no matter how big or small, hope let’s us down from time to time. The bigger the hope, the bigger the letdown. It’s almost as if life would be easier if we simply abandoned hope.

And yet, to abandon hope would be to misunderstand the analogy. Hope is useful anchor. It’s not always a useful expectation. Hope isn’t an outcome. It’s a force.

Consider an anchor on a boat. It can be useful to inspect an anchor from time to time and admire it’s beauty or functionality. But when we are inspecting the anchor, it is not in use. And this is where the analogy gains its true power. An anchor at use is unseen. It does its work, keeping us grounded where we want to be, from beneath the rolling surface of stormy waters.

Hope as an anchor keeps us firmly planted where we want to be while allowing us to go about our daily work dealing with the turmoil in front of us. It’s wise to occasionally inspect an anchor, but we need not keep our eye on the anchor to feel its force and effects. Indeed, in order to deal with more pressing matters raging against us, at times we need to toss the anchor overboard into the depths and trust that it will do its job even when we lose sight of it.

When dealing with life, hope may be the last thing on your mind. Yet as long as you have occasionally inspected the anchor of hope, making adjustments and repairs as needed, you can trust it to do its job. From somewhere beyond your vision, you will be able to feel the pull of a strong and steady anchor as it works its purpose, firmly rooting your vessel, keeping you from drifting too far away from your intended center.

Hope is an anchor, and the true strength of an anchor isn’t in what you see. It’s in what you feel.

Our best to you and yours. May be be anchored with hope, even when your sight line is adrift.

Beautiful, Strong, & Important

Our great friend Ben sent us the posted photo of the cross and anchors. Upon receiving it, Celeste and Ben exchanged these texts:

Celeste: They are beautiful. They look strong and important.

Ben: Just like you.

This is the first official week of treatment for Celeste’s pancreatic cancer, although I like to think we started fighting at least a month ago. With the diagnosis and onset of treatment we have experienced an incredible outpouring of support from family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. I want to share two of those stories from late Tuesday (8/8/17) and tie them into some general thoughts on life.

The first is written above. Our great friend Ben sent us the photo above, and Celeste and Ben exchanged those texts.

The second was a comment from our great friend Carrie, who accompanied us to Celeste’s first chemotherapy treatment.

As we were driving home, Carrie said, “Thank you for including me tonight. I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but I enjoyed it. I consider it a great honor.”

It’s not weird it all. I feel exactly the same way, and I’m glad I do.

Think about the sentiment explained in those two anecdotes. Think about the possible power it holds for those who understand.

“You are beautiful, strong, and important. It’s an honor to serve you. Thank you for letting me do so.”

How awesome would it be to tell that to our teammates, those special family and friends that mean so much to us?

“You are beautiful, strong, and important. It’s an honor to serve you. Thank you for letting me do so.”

Can you imagine expanding your definition of teammate to strangers in your community, or possibly even a stranger who has very little in common with you other than the fact that we all inhabit this earth as humans today? Could you say it? What might it mean to you? What might they do with the understanding of how you feel?

“You are beautiful, strong, and important. It’s an honor to serve you. Thank you for letting me do so.”

Please consider this my word to you, and you can book it as my bond. I don’t care what you’ve done in the past or what mistakes you are going to make.

“You are beautiful, strong, and important. It’s an honor to serve you. Thank you for letting me do so.”

So, my friends, if I can serve you, let me know how. Tweet it (@woodjared and @1sideline). Facebook message me. Text. Call. Write in the comments below.

If you don’t need anything, how about you do something for someone else? Do something for a friend, family member, coworker, teammate. Do something for a friend of a friend. Do something for a stranger. Make a play. Do what you can.

Let’s do this people. Let’s move mountains. Let’s build a team. Get your butt in action. If you want to be humble and quiet, that’s fine. But if you’ve got something to say or do, I’d love to see you light up social media today with #woodswarriors. After all, you are beautiful, strong, and important. Let your light shine.