Beware of Assumptions


There are three hundred units in the condominium complex where I live. The residents come from a variety of backgrounds, including ethnicity, a wide range of ages and sexual orientation. For the most part we get along pretty good. Many of us are dog owners and it is those persons whom I usually interact with when walking my dogs. Like dogs, we are pretty consistent with our schedules when it comes to what time we walk them. There is one dog owner, Chris whom I talk with most of the time and we usually talk about the funny things our pooches are doing. He looks to be in his early 60s and is a white male. Other than what I just told you, I don’t know anything more about him… until today. He likes to roller blade; listens to the heavy metal band ACDC (he owns several of their CDs), practices yoga, is vegetarian and meditates. Never in a million years would I have guessed that he did all that, which got me to thinking about how often (all the time) I “assume” I know who people are.

I know I’m not the only one who does this because I’ve talked with others who make assumptions about people without evidence to back it up. For example; we have a problem in the complex with trash not being thrown inside the dumpster. It ends up alongside and makes a big mess. A neighbor told me she believes it is a “renter,” even though she never sees who does it. I asked her why she believes that and she said, “Because renters don’t take care of their properties like homeowners.” I’m a renter and I care about where I live and keeping my space clean. I mentioned that to her and she didn’t respond. The other day I was talking with a guy who is a cosmetologist. He dresses pretty hip and enjoys the music “scene,” so imagine my surprise when he told me that guys who have a lot of tattoos are “low life.” My son has more tattoos than I can count (except for his neck, face and hands. Thank God! He’d really be judged if he did).  Since this person works in a hair salon, he talks with women all day but when it comes to dating, he stopped trying. In his opinion, women like “bad boys,” like those with numerous tattoos and who work in auto repair shops! At that point I am almost laughed out loud! Who wouldn’t want to date a mechanic? Cars always need something fixed, but in his mind, they are  all “low lifes.”

How many times have you judged someone by the way they look?  We are visual creatures and It’s easy to be wrong and I bet most of us most of the time. Even if we think we know someone because we work with them all week; how many of us have different personalities behind closed doors than what we show to the public?  There used to be a woman who used to live across from me, who was soft-spoken and always apologizing for something. She came across as a “victim,” but on two occasions I could hear her inside her condo screaming at someone (I’m guessing on the phone), so she wasn’t nearly as timid as she came across in person. I know we all are capable of that and are more relaxed in our home but, the point I’m making is we assume we know people but maybe we really don’t.

I know the majority of people who I talk to in my complex don’t know who I am either. They know I use a walker and have two dogs and sometimes wear weird outfits (that’s what my husband says anyway) and that’s about it. My neighbors ask me how I am and when I say, “fine, ” the next ten minutes are spent with me listening to an update about what’s new in their lives or “gossip.” I’m never asked what I do all day or what inspires me or what music I listen to, and I don’t offer that information either. I don’t know why, I just don’t. I write about it instead. Maybe meditation has changed the way I relate to people. I know I don’t enjoy listening to gossip anymore (it’s usually information based on wrong assumptions anyway) and I really don’t like negative speech.

Ever since I got well and started studying Buddhism, my perspective changed. I now believe we are all responsible for our own actions/choices.  From what I observed, most people who are negative, blame others for problems they helped create but they don’t see it that way. It’s not my job to point that out… well, to be honest the few times I did, those persons gave me the “stink eye” so I stopped. I came to the conclusion that some people like drama, that’s probably why reality shows are popular. For me, I want to live a peaceful existence. I had more than my share of drama when I had cancer…  thank you very much.

The next time you talk with someone, ask them questions (that is, if you’re interested in finding out who they are), then see if your assumptions about them are correct. You may be surprised what you find out.



Finding Balance

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

Getting well from cancer was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was also my biggest “wake up call.” Oprah once said, “Difficulties come when you don’t pay attention to life’s whisper. Life always whispers to you first, but if you ignore the whisper, sooner or later you’ll get a scream”. Cancer was a symptom of how out of touch I was with my own body. Looking back, my body asked me on several occasions to change my behavior but I just wouldn’t listen. Finally when it screamed from the pain of cancer, I paid attention.

Some say getting cancer is a gift; I won’t go that far, but it was a valuable teacher. My lesson was a painful one though. My family says I’m one of those people who sometimes need to learn things the hard way. Maybe they’re right, but this time I got it. There is no going back. My life has changed forever and for the better.

Just think how many people sleep walk their way through life, always doing what they are told by others, without questioning anything. The past three plus years I have done a lot of self-reflection. I questioned everything and threw away those beliefs that never belonged to me, but were given to me by someone else. Growing up with an alcoholic mother who thrived on chaos taught me to keep the peace, even when it was detrimental to my well being. How many relationships and jobs had I stayed in far too long because those “anxious” feelings felt familiar? I was a victim and didn’t understand that I had the tools inside me to change that. By changing my views and attitudes, the kinds of people I encountered became different. It’s like I gave off a vibe that said, “Don’t mess with me.” Abusers stayed away.

Cancer gave me permission to put my needs first. For the first time in my life, others took care of me which was hard at first because I was always the caregiver. Now I take time out for myself everyday; before that, going to bed at night was the only time I had to rest. My days are still busy but I strive to find balance. If someone asks me to do something, I make sure I really want to do it. I stopped multi-tasking. Doing too many things at once just led to mistakes and for me not being “present.” I spent way too much time in the past, worrying about the future and not enjoying the present moment. My astrological sign is Libra and it’s all about balance.  My life had been out-of-balance for decades and it took a life crisis to change that.


Post cancer my life still has some ups and downs but I deal with the “downs” differently, meaning I no longer “freak out” when things don’t go the way I “think” they should. What usually happens is that things go better than what I expected anyway. If I get out of my own way, I always land on my feet. The word “should” is no longer part of my vocabulary. Ok, it is, but not as often. “Should” is to restrictive. It doesn’t allow for other possibilities and these days my world is full of possibilities.

Now I choose to listen to my inner voice, my intuition. It tells me when to slow down and seek balance.  Daily meditation and yoga keeps me grounded if things feel uncertain. Staying calm and centered helps me make better decisions.

Who knows if I would have eventually figured out a better way to live without having the cancer wake up call. It doesn’t matter anyway, but what does matter to me, is that I figured it out before it was too late.



Reality is Subjective


The other day I had a discussion with Bernie, a  70-something student in my writing class; about what, I can’t remember. I do remember saying he was thinking negatively and his response was, “I’m being realistic.” Instead of continuing the discussion I stopped talking. I knew it was a “no win” argument and I knew why; his reality is different than mine. Pretty much everyone’s is if you think about it. Most of us think in “absolutes.” We see the world our way and believe we are the rational one and anyone who sees things differently is irrational. I know because I used to think that way.

Cancer caused so many things in my life to change and a big one was how I saw the world or at least my small part of it. I started reading books about health and nutrition which led me to writings about how our minds play an important part. We are a whole being; body/mind/spirit. For example; if I am scared I can feel my heart beat faster and my breathing becomes shallow. My thoughts turn in to action. If I think someone is getting me angry, I feel angry or lash out (although, I am working hard to stop that behavior). Nobody makes me do anything, I just think they are. Its my choice if I decide to get angry or not, which brings me to the most important revelation I had (so far anyway)….  everything is a choice. If we choose to be angry then we can choose to be happy. I can choose to see the world a certain way, like “It’s a dangerous place” or I can choose to see it as “a beautiful place with new opportunities every day.”

Our news media bombards us with images and stories that make us believe the world is a dangerous place. Fear sells newspapers. It seems that we humans like drama, otherwise why are all those “reality” shows so popular? We seem to enjoy watching others fight and argue, but for me anyway, I change the channel. Realizing a few years ago that I might be dead sooner rather than later helped me decide how I wanted to see and express myself in the world. Don’t get me wrong there are days I think our current events really suck but I don’t allow myself to stay in that mindset for long. I don’t want to buy in to the “hype” anymore.

So back to my discussion with Bernie; he sees the world as a terrible place. I know because I’ve listened to him talk with others in the class during break time. I don’t like to label people, even though I do it all the time (don’t we all?) Bernie is what I call a “classic pessimist” and I am working hard to be an “optimist.”  Some days I seem to attract a lot of pessimists (I need to meditate more about why that is) and one of two things usually end up happening. But first, let me back track a minute.

Before I got sick I would dive right in to someone’s pity party. I was definitely part of the “ain’t that awful” crowd. These days, I don’t have much patience for that. Instead of “talking” something to death, I search for solutions. If someone is complaining about their situation to me, I offer a suggestion or ask them to look on the bright side which many times pisses them off, or they tell me they are being realistic, like Bernie did. In their view, being optimistic is somehow unrealistic, or Pollyannaish .

I remember now what Bernie and I were discussing. He told me he can’t be happy when there is so much misery in the world, specifically starving people in other countries. I told him that many of those people are happy in spite of their living situation. I’m sure he thinks I’m a selfish ass.

The teachings of Zen (as I understand them) does not distinguish between good and bad. It is what it is. It is up to each of us to determine how we respond to our life circumstances. We create our own world. I can choose to feel bad or hopeless about poverty or I can choose to do what I can to alleviate suffering by 1.) volunteering my time  2.) Donating money to an organization that helps the poor. If I can’t do either of those things I can do my best to not create more suffering to those around me, in other words, “Charity begins at home.” I can choose to bring positive energy to my sphere of influence.

Being negative all the time leads to stress, which weakens the immune system, which leads to disease and I’ve been down that road before and I can’t go back. There was a time not to long ago that my reality was; taking pain meds, getting poked with needles, enduring physical pain and allowing myself to be poisoned (with chemo and radiation), but I was willing to go through all that to end up with something better. I had to keep my mind straight and focus on a positive outcome. I’m sure if I worried and complained my way through treatment my story might not have turned out so good. I’m happy with the choices I made.

Someone else might not be happy with my new reality (a walker and colostomy bag) and choose to be depressed about it, but I choose to be happy. Choosing to be optimistic is my reality. It works for me. Maybe Bernie’s reality works for him and that’s ok too. Henry Ford said, ” If you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”

Be Well and Be Happy… or not. It’s up to you