May 27, 1998

Peak Performance

Reggie Miller cut behind the screen on the low post, curled and bumped Michael Jordan out of the way, slashed across the top of the key to receive the inbound pass with three seconds left in the playoff game. Beyond the three point arc, in one motion he leapt, squared his body to the basket, and swished the basket to win by one. His was a peak performance. He was playing at his very best.

Sports abounds with stories of players preparing for a peak performance. Athletes plan their training regimens around being at their best at the time of the Olympic Games. Tiger Woods seeks advice from Jack Nicklaus on how to peak for the four major golf championships. They hone their craft. They find the necessary combination of ingredients which will allow them to be at the top at a chosen time.

I want to be a peak performer. I am not an elite athlete, but I want to be at the top of this game called life. Do you remember days when you felt like you were sitting on the top of the world? Have you had days when the joy of living just overflowed? Those are the days that I want and I want them all the time.

I am far from hitting this joyous stride. I have searched for years for the right combination of activities, the right recipe of living, to allow me to always be at my peak. Every once in a great while I hit the right combination and I repeat it the next day. It never works a second time. Why not?

This search for endless joy or serenity, or whatever you want to call it, is a problem in itself. While chasing the unattainable, I miss what life has to offer. And I am a failure. How often can you have a peak performance? What do you call all of the other days? Are they all lost days? Are they all failures?

I am a person known for my ups and downs. I have spent a lot of time trying to control them, to make my experience all in the middle.

Many years ago my wife told me of a saying of her grandmother: “You have to take the bitter with the better.” I do not like that idea, but it is right.

I am learning that leading a full life means living with ups and downs. There is no choice. It happens. The key for me is to continue to do what needs to be done during those times - to not be overwhelmed. But sometimes I will be overwhelmed. I have learned that even those times do not last forever.

In the acceptance of the cycles of life comes a peace. To give up the fight brings an openness to life. For even in the depths, in the bitter, life shines around us. The depths are where we roll in the ashes and are transformed to emerge in a different place.

So I am beginning to stop chasing the peaks. I am beginning to accept what shows up in my life. Those ups and downs and middles are the stuff of living. I have faith that it is all there for a reason - that all of it somehow moves me forward.

May 25, 1998

Tsk, Tsk, Task

A handyman I am not. A handyman is a person who can fix things - you know, take things apart and put them back together. My rule is to never take anything apart that requires more than two steps. Otherwise, it will never fit back together again.

I do not even make a good laborer. Those are the guys on a construction site who have no skill but are good at dragging things around from here to there. They do the grunt work. No, I am not a good laborer.

But sometimes a job at home is so small and inconsequential that it falls upon my shoulders. You cannot call and hire someone to put up two brackets for hanging plants. If there were three, I would understand, but two is not enough. Two is my limit. I bought three of these wrought iron brackets last year, but only two went up. I just petered out during the job. This year my wife bought a fourth bracket, hoping that I could repeat the glory of just last year.

The day came when it was time to do the job. The coming is usually a lot later than most people would think, but I have my own inner timetable when it comes to things like this. I move when the spirit moves me, and the spirit is often slow.

I approached the job differently this time. I laid out all of the tools and materials that I would need for the job. I usually would just start with one tool and when I needed another I would go look for that one. I am learning.

I also got my ladder out. When I am up on the ladder, I am a long way from my tools. I could change this by getting a tool belt, but that seems a bit presumptuous for me. It was only last year that I pumped up my self-esteem enough to get a tool box. No, my pockets are my tool belt. Of course, that results in a lot of pants pockets with holes.

One of my big problems with these tasks is that I get distracted easily. For example, when I was plugging in the electric cord under the porch I noticed the lawn furniture which my wife wanted out on the deck. It would be so much more efficient to carry out a piece rather than walking out empty handed. But I resisted. I have found that if I listen to my efficient mind, nothing gets finished. There is always something else which I could do rather than the task at hand. So I marched out and went back up on the ladder.

The first bracket went up pretty well. The ladder was up above the sliding windows and they sure needed to be washed. Why not do it while I was up there? Wouldn’t it be more efficient? I mean it would take at least ten extra seconds to move the ladder back here later. I resisted. I know myself. But what about that paint that is peeling? It is only a small area. I could patch that up while I am up here. No!

The second bracket was a little trickier. It involved a lot of left hand work which is not natural for me. And the manufacturer tripped me up. The screws changed from flat heads to Phillips heads. That meant that I had the wrong tools. In the past this would have put me in a rage because it interrupted my perfect planning. It made me less efficient. But I just got down off the ladder, and went down cellar to the tool box to get what I needed - no big deal.

Yes, the tool box stayed down cellar. I am thinking about taking it to my next work site. But for now that seems like advanced handyman stuff. I am not sure that I am ready.

After I put up the brackets, I washed the windows and brought out the lawn furniture. So those things got done, even if not in my old efficient way. One task at a time works better for me. It gets things done in the way they need to be done. I am not good at multi-tasking. I will leave that to computers.

I am reminded of the Zen story about the roshi who taught his students about the value of attention. He taught them to do one thing at a time. When you eat, eat. When you walk, walk. When you cook, cook. When you wash dishes, wash dishes. Keep all of your attention on the task at hand.

One day one of his students spied the roshi reading a book while he was eating lunch. The student approached and said, “Roshi, I am confused. You said when you eat, eat, and when you read, read. And yet you are doing both. What is the lesson?” The roshi did not hesitate. “When you eat and read, eat and read.”

Life is a matter of attention, and what matters is what works for you.

May 13, 1998

Green, Green Grass of Home

I did not expect it to happen so quickly. And I did not expect the outside intervening causes. I just wanted it to be a little better.

I am talking about my lawn, of course. America’s love affair with the lawn is well documented. Men and women work diligently all week long, day and night, in corporate settings, to make enough money so that they can work even harder in the yard on weekends. The ultimate payoff is an expanse of lush green lawn.

My love of green grass springs from my childhood. I worked for many years on a golf course. Those endless fairways of tightly mowed grass were places of safety and comfort for me. Safety and comfort are certainly worth repeating.

Creating a fine lawn takes special knowledge and special weapons. I do not have much of the knowledge. My solution is to go the nursery center periodically and ask them if I should be doing something to my lawn. I know that spring and fall are the two important times.

I started a written record last fall of what and how much I put on the lawn. However, I have been too busy this spring for this type of scientific efficiency. And anyway, the guys at the nursery center will always know what to do.

I recently spread fertilizer on my lawn with my new rotary spreader. I wanted to green up and thicken up the grass. And then it rained for seven days straight - the intervening cause. And guess what happened? Yes, the grass grew greener and thicker than ever, except for the yellow stripes where I missed with the fertilizer. And that was after only two days of rain! Each further day of rain brought exponential growth. My yard began to resemble the rolling fields of wheat of our country’s heartland. But I do not possess a thresher. My little lawnmower is unprepared for this.

So, I got what I asked for - a lush, green lawn. But then I got more than what I asked for. I got a really tall, really lush green lawn. There is a bible thing about this - something like “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” The modern, less behavioral, version is “Be careful what you ask for, because you might get it.”

I have been fertilizing other areas of my life lately and they have begun to grow. But I am unprepared for the growth. What began as an idea now requires time, action and commitment. It seemed much easier and clearer as an idea. It was safer as an idea. No change was required.

My friend and I were discussing over coffee issues involving an organization in which we are both involved. I brought up an idea which I had been talking about for a year. She said, “That’s a great idea. Why don’t you do it?” Do it? No, I was talking about an idea. I was not talking about actually doing what the idea requires. Whoa, that would be a big undertaking. That would require time, action and commitment. I am not ready for a power surge. I like it simple. I like it safe.

The truth is that my life is ready for a power surge. I am not ready, but my life is ready. I knew that when I started to spread the fertilizer in my life. It was the first step of change and was sure to lead to being engaged more fully in life. The nutrients with which I have fed my life are now being watered by sources outside of me. The growth has begun and cannot be stopped.