Posts Tagged ‘Dealing with change’

#24 — On Taking Risks: “But what if . . . ?”

June 19, 2015 1 comment

Wesley Branch Rickey’s career as a major league baseball player only lasted from 1905 through 1907. During those years, Rickey struggled to earn a position with both the St. Louis Browns and the New York Highlanders. Finally giving up the idea of being a player, Rickey went back to study administration in college and then in 1913 began a highly successful career as a baseball executive. From then until his death in 1965, Rickey served in varying capacities, including General Manager and head of player personnel development for the St. Louis Browns, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is in this series of roles that Branch Rickey earned his place in baseball history.

In 1945, while serving as General Manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Rickey signed a young man named Jack Roosevelt Robinson to a minor league contract to play for the Dodger’s affiliate in the International League. For major league baseball, this was “the shot heard round the world.” Jackie Robison would subsequently become the first African-American to play for a major league team, joining the Dodgers two years later as their second-baseman. Indeed, he would not only play, he would become major league baseball’s first Rookie of the Year in 1947, be elected to the National League All-Star team for six straight seasons, from 1949 through 1954, and be named the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1949.

Yet these accomplishments would not have been possible had not Branch Rickey been willing to accept a considerable risk. He knew that Jackie Robinson would be facing terrible obstacles — racism, discrimination, bigotry, and other abusive treatment. Rickey carefully coached the youngster and insisted that no matter what kind of provocation he might be subjected to, he was not to react, he was not to lose his temper, but rather just tend to the business of playing baseball. And Robinson did just that. Despite the abuse he received, the young man stayed focused and played consistently well, gradually becoming extremely popular with the American public and paving the way for future African-Americans in the major leagues.

Together Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson changed baseball and through that American culture. Those changes are still rippling today, and in some areas still meeting with resistance. Yet none of it would have happened as it did had the two not been willing to accept the risks that came with the changes they helped create. And as Rickey once noted at the time, “Problems are the price you pay for progress.”

To be sure, progress means change, and the desire for change brings a good many people to my office for therapy. Having varying degrees of dissatisfaction with their lives, they want something about themselves or their circumstances to change so their problems can be solved, and they can live happily ever after. Moreover, they expect me to explain or show them how this can happen easily and painlessly.

As a therapist, I have come to understand that life really is about problems. It’s not that we just handle our problems and then go on with our lives; rather, our lives are all about dealing with whatever our next problem happens to be. Yet many of the people who come to see me have the idea that life shouldn’t be about problems or struggles, that it’s really easy if you just know how! They seem less than satisfied when I explain that while knowing how to change is easy, doing it isn’t, because discomfort is the price of change. After all, the only way to make your “comfort zone” bigger is to get out of it!

What keeps these people rooted where they are, seemingly unable to take any action on their own behalf, is fear — fear of disapproval, fear of humiliation, fear of being seen as “different,” or fear that they will reveal themselves as incapable or unworthy of anything better. Paralyzed by this fear, they remain unwilling to risk any of these outcomes and, as a result, have little hope for any improvement in their circumstances.

Therapy begins by helping these people grasp the idea that risk is an integral part of life, that indeed there is no life without risk. While we rarely think about it consciously, we routinely assume that we live in an orderly world and that we are competent to take care of ourselves in that world. Yet upon reflection we must concede that things can happen without warning to remind us that we really have much less control and are really at much greater risk than we realize. Moreover, in this world where we have so little control, change is happening constantly. Our options, then, are not to avoid change and the risks involved but rather to decide if the changes impacting our lives will all happen to us or if at least some of them will happen from us.

As people start to come to terms with this reality, some of them actually begin to consider the kinds of changes they might make. Soon they start to weigh the potential benefits of these changes against the possible risks, and many things they had previously not even dared contemplate suddenly begin to appear possible. As this process continues, many of these people are also able to recognize that, while unpleasant, most of the possible consequences they have come to dread would only be temporary and can indeed be endured.

From here we discuss the mechanism of change and how it drives the ongoing process that represents all our lives. This mechanism is remarkably simple: You must catch yourself preparing to repeat an old behavior so you can replace it with a new one; then you have to accept the discomfort that comes with the new behavior until that behavior becomes familiar. (Anyone who has ever dieted knows how this works!) Finally, we note how discomfort is a necessary part of the change process, how change is a fundamental aspect of growth, and how growth is what life is. So, in a sense if you are not uncomfortable a good part of the time, you are not truly living. And indeed, the most common form of our discomfort is our fear of what might happen if we try to change.

Make no mistake: Accepting risk as an integral part of life tends to produce a sense of freedom, enabling us to take more control over ourselves and our lives. Moreover, where there is no fear, there is no courage. After all, it does not take courage to do something that does not frighten you. Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson are both credited with having great courage. Don’t think they were not also afraid.


#22 — On Being Tested: “But I shouldn’t have to do this!”

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment

In 1963 a 20-year-old pitcher named Thomas Edward John, Jr. was signed by the Cleveland Indians. The young left-hander showed some early promise, but not enough to keep from being traded, and in 1965 he went to the Chicago White Sox. There he spent seven respectable seasons, using his sinkerball to induce batters to hit grounders and start double-plays. Yet in 1972, John was traded again, this time to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he finally came into his own. As a regular part of the starting rotation, he proved to be a consistent winner, and midway through the 1974 season his record was 13 wins and only 3 losses, and he had accumulated 124 career victories.

Then, without warning, there was a misstep and a strain, causing permanent damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in John’s pitching arm. No one had ever come back from this type of injury, and as far as anyone knew, his playing career was over. But then an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. Frank Jobe proposed a new form of reconstructive surgery in which the damaged ligament in John’s elbow would be replaced with a tendon transplanted from somewhere else in his body. Even then, Jobe put the chances of the surgery being successful at only about 1 in 100. Nevertheless, John agreed, and the surgery was performed in September 1974. While it seemed unlikely that he would ever pitch again, John spent all of 1975 in recovery, working at his own form of rehab. Throughout that year, he had daily workouts to strengthen his arm, and he developed a style of pitching that would not strain his arm or the repaired elbow.

By the start of the season in 1976, John was ready to pitch again, and if anything, he was even better than before. His 10 and 10 record that year was considered “a miracle,” yet it was only the beginning. He won twenty or more games in three seasons after that, one with the Dodgers and two more later with the New York Yankees. By the end of his career, he had posted 288 wins, 164 of them coming after his surgery. At the time of his retirement, John had established himself as the seventh most successful left-handed pitcher in major league history. Yet beyond all the victories, he has been consistently credited for his courage, his fortitude, and his daily persistence in overcoming a seemingly impossible hardship. He did not complain. He did not seek redress for the unfairness of what life had handed him. Instead, he simply focused on what he had to do next and then doggedly went about doing it.

It is often said that the true test of our character is not in how we deal with success but in how we deal with adversity, and it is through the unexpected that life tests our character. Not surprisingly, it is often life’s unexpected hardships that bring people into my office for therapy. These people may have experienced an accident or illness, a betrayal, a loss of some kind, or any number of other possible intrusions into the lives they had been planning or had started to live. In many cases it is necessary for therapy to begin by addressing the trauma they have experienced and to help these people through the immediate process of healing. Sooner or later, however, the focus of therapy moves to the adjustments they must make. Life can no longer be viewed or lived as it had been before. The issue then becomes less about the changes that have impacted these people and more about the changes they must make in themselves in order to move on with their lives. For many, this is where the real challenge begins.

Presented with this challenge, people often resist because, after all, discomfort is the price of change. Some people simply refuse to accept that change is necessary, often demanding some justification for what life has dealt them. They may ask, “Why did this happen?” or “Why do I have to change?” Of course, such questions can never be answered to their satisfaction, since life offers no explanations; it just is what it is. At the same time, others may have the opposite view; they want change to be immediate, without all the time and effort that might be necessary — as if all that was required was the pressing of an Enter key or a swipe on a touch screen. Yet, whether it is impatience and the demand that things be “fixed” or the dogged insistence that change should not happen at all, both viewpoints result in utter futility. Life simply doesn’t care.

What’s more, people often think of changes that impact their lives as some sort of aberration interrupting whatever situation they consider to be “normal.” And yet adapting to change is an ongoing process that literally lasts a lifetime, and while it may be imperceptible in the moment, change is happening constantly. This means that dealing with change, uncomfortable though it may be, is an inevitable part of daily life, demanding both acceptance and patience. Moreover, no one is likely to achieve or sustain any substantive change without making a commitment to the process of change itself. This starts by first accepting that life permits us only limited control, and often the things we really want to change are beyond the scope of that control. We must also accept that a lot of patience may be required because the needed changes cannot be forced. Like growth in a garden, life’s changes proceed in their own time.

My own experience with open-heart surgery offered me compelling opportunities to appreciate what it really takes to be accepting and patient (See #3.). In preparing for and entering surgery, I had to accept that, while I was in a very serious situation, I was ultimately helpless and I had to let go completely and trust the surgical team. Following the surgery, I was tired and weak and in pain; yet I was informed right away that it was important to be up and moving in order to keep the newly repaired heart active. Even as I wondered if I had the strength to do it, I began my own rehab, with my loving wife guiding, supporting, and encouraging me literally step by step. Patiently we both followed a program of exercise and walking, gradually increasing day by day. It took a great deal of patience as I slowly built up speed until I could easily walk an extended period at a brisk pace that my cardiologist deemed “therapeutic.” Even being back at work, I continue to follow that regimen of brisk walking.

Famed Los Angeles Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda once noted, “The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.” In working through life’s hardships with acceptance and patience, we each have the opportunity to demonstrate for ourselves the truth in Lasorda’s comment. The irony to all this is that in many cases no one else will understand or appreciate fully what we accomplish. Still, you never know. No one expected much from that young left-handed pitcher. Yet thanks to his willingness to accept what life put in front of him and the patience to keep working day by day, that procedure which is medically termed ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction will forever be known as “Tommy John Surgery.”

#18 – On Looking for Possibilities: “But I can’t just change now!”

April 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Spring is often seen as a season of renewal, a time when things that have been dormant during the winter emerge and begin to grow again. For baseball fans, this sense of renewal arrives annually as their favorite teams leave the confines of winter and head for sunnier locations and the annual ritual of spring training. As noted baseball owner and executive Bill Veeck once observed, “the true harbinger of spring [is] not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on the ball.” This is a time when shortcomings of the previous season can be addressed and attention given to sharpening skills that can help during the long season ahead. For fans, this is a time in which old disappointments can be set aside in favor of new hopes, when they can imagine themselves in a world where they are once again young and imbued with a sense of possibility. In short, this is a time for fresh starts.

Yet, in a world where most people are reduced to spectators, for many the sense of possibility that spring training represents can seem distant, even absent in their daily lives. Instead, they plod through what Henry David Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation” — outwardly satisfied, yet inwardly longing. Some of them, tired of enduring this quiet suffering, find their way into my office. Ranging in age from twenties to sixties, these people come with pained yet quizzical expressions, often greeting me with the familiar cliché — “I think I’m having a midlife crisis!”

These people often report a variety of symptoms — anxiety, depression, or other stress-related problems. Some have been referred by their doctors after having found no relief from taking medicine. In general, they feel lost and frustrated and without purpose. Their circumstances vary, but their sense of being trapped and helpless does not. Needing to do something, yet fearful of doing the wrong thing, they continue to do nothing except be miserable. Unhappy with where they are in their lives, they simply cannot see any way to arrange something better. Almost without exception, these people have lost all sense of possibility.

So, how does someone manage to get into such a persistent and disheartening routine? Certainly few of us would set out to establish ourselves in lives of such oppressive tedium. So how does it happen? The answer is deceptively simple: one day at a time. Adhering to the encouragements we receive as children, which often persist well into adulthood, we are prompted each day to “get ahead,” to “be successful, and to “make something of ourselves.” The result is that many of us find ourselves obediently moving though life in a direction that we may have contemplated only vaguely if at all.

Almost from our very arrival on the planet we are coaxed and cajoled, pushed and prodded to find our way into the competitive mainstream. Today there is even intense competition for placement of youngsters (more like toddlers) in the most desirable or advantageous pre-school programs. Not gaining entry into one of these programs is often seen as a failure that marks the unfortunate child as somehow deficient. This child may even be put into some kind of remedial program, often with the result that the sense of personal inadequacy is simply reinforced. And it doesn’t end there. High school students are increasingly being required to select a college major even before enrolling in college as freshmen. Then, upon graduating from college, they are expected to emerge fully qualified in some professional or technical capacity so they can immediately “be productive.” From there the popular culture urges everyone to achieve, to earn, and above all to consume, with an ever higher “standard of living” as the way of keeping score.

With all this emphasis on competition and accomplishment so early in life, people are increasingly finding themselves living with life choices that they would prefer not to have made. In therapy many start to become aware of their own frustrations and latent resentments over not having had the time to consider a variety of life paths or to explore their own personal interests and talents. And yet, despite being upset over where they are, most believe there are no options for change — no possibilities. Some are held in place by fearing what other people might think of them if they do seek something different; others simply have no clear idea of what they might actually want. Yet, however gradually, the focus of therapy inevitably does shift from regret to change.

To be sure, such change is not easy — especially when you have already invested decades in your present circumstances. Even when you are clear on the change you want to make, starting over can be a major undertaking, potentially impacting career, income, relationships, family, and more. This is why so many cling to their misery rather than trying to pursue their passion. And if you have not yet found your passion, the effort just to look for it can be equally daunting. It isn’t surprising, then, that so many of us hesitate before deciding to make a major life change.

My own journey has sometimes been ponderous and often frustrating (See #2 and #3). But it taught me that life doesn’t necessarily work the way many of us were encouraged to believe. The course of life rarely runs in a straight line. Instead, it presents us with many twists and turns and forks in the road — many possibilities. In the modern hurry-up world where everything must happen in the space of a sound bite, we are not encouraged to explore many possibilities. Yet they are there. Indeed each year, each week, each hour, even each moment can be viewed as a chance for a fresh start, just as in spring training. As Cleveland Indians ace pitcher Bob Feller once observed, “Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day.”

If you’ve ever watched a hitter trying to break out of a slump, you’ve seen someone busily experimenting — adjusting his grip, his stance, his position at the plate, his weight shift, his timing, and more. This is someone willing to try anything to start hitting, no matter how outlandish or disruptive it might seem or how awkward he might look in trying, because he knows that without doing that he will wind up on the bench. That’s also the way it is with life. We must always be open to possibilities and willing to explore new directions, even knowing that change will not be easy. Yet change we must if we are truly to be ourselves and to participate fully in what life has to offer. Otherwise, rather than being in the game, we could wind up just sitting on life’s bench.

#13 — On Behalf of Adjustments: “But why me?”

May 28, 2012 2 comments

Baseball is a game of adjustments.  Players, managers, and even owners are always making adjustments to improve performance.  Pitchers change the sequence of pitches to keep opposing batters guessing.  Catchers alternate methods for signaling the pitchers to keep base runners from stealing the signals.  A pitcher having trouble throwing strikes might adjust his delivery or his mix of pitches.  A batter in a slump might adjust his stance or his grip on the bat or the timing of his swing.  The manager might change the batting order or the pitching rotation if the team is not winning.  And the owners will always try to orchestrate trades or acquisitions to strengthen different aspects of the team.  Fans might not always be aware of it, but from game to game, from inning to inning, and even from moment to moment adjustments are being made all the time.  In fact, adjustments are so vital to the game that any player or team not prepared or willing to make them will ultimately lose.

Just as adjustments are an essential part of baseball, so are they an essential part of life.  Most of us are unaware that change is going on until some of this change impinges directly on our lives.  Naturally, change often comes when we are least prepared or disposed to deal with it.  Instead, we view the need to adjust as an inconvenience at best, or at worst a hardship or an injustice or both.  Many of us, faced with the need to adjust to some new situation, whether at work or at home or in the community in general, will complain, “It’s not fair,” or “I’m too busy,” or “What was wrong with the old way?”  Yet, whether we like it or not, life simply doesn’t care about our complaints; it just goes on being what it is — a constant swirl of ambiguity that ebbs and flows in all directions all the time without regard for our personal preferences. 

It is perhaps a basic aspect of human nature to resist change.  After all, change can be upsetting, often disruptive, even painful.  Indeed, the price of change is discomfort.  Yet despite all the hardships and all the complaint, most of us — perhaps after first groping and fumbling — find ways to adjust and deal with changing conditions.  We call this process coping.  Yet as difficult as coping with change can be, the greatest hardships tend to befall those who believe they can somehow keep change from happening to them.  And it does little good to point out to these people the futility of their resistance or to remind them of how aging affects us all or how living in today’s world means dealing with ever changing technology.  But of all the adjustments we might make, the most difficult and by far the most resisted involve the way we think and what we believe, especially about ourselves. 

I vividly remember “Ed,” a man in his mid-fifties who was referred to me because he was, according to his doctor, “mildly depressed.”  Within the first ten minutes of our first visit, Ed insisted that he was not depressed; he was simply “fed up.”  Married for over thirty years, he had worked the entire time at the same factory job.  He was a consistently hard worker, rarely missing a day of work, and he prided himself on being the “breadwinner” for his family.  He had insisted that his wife remain at home to see that their two children were “raised properly.”  Certainly, he said, he had made sacrifices; that was to be expected from the “head of the household.”  And his hard work had ultimately enabled his son and daughter to attend and graduate from local colleges. 

After his children left home, Ed looked forward to the leisure he felt he was due after all those years of hard work.  But then he was informed that his job was changing and to keep it he would have to spend a lot of extra hours on some intense “remedial” computer training.  He went home and began complaining to his wife about the unfair burden this change at work was imposing on him.  At that point, however, she informed him of her plans to attend college herself so she could finally pursue the career in journalism she had always wanted.  Angry and disillusioned, Ed spent the next several days alternately cursing loudly and then sitting, often in the dark, simply staring in silence.  His wife insisted that he see a doctor, which he finally did and was referred to me.  I still recall his plaintive objections:  “It just isn’t fair.  Why should I have to change?  Why now after all these years?” 

The man Ed had always believed himself to be, the one he had always seen in the mirror, had somehow been replaced.  Instead of being in charge of himself and his life, he now found that life had taken charge of him.  And none of his expectations for himself were being met.  The result was that Ed was angry and resentful and bitter, and he seemed defiantly determined to show life who was boss.  But slowly, painfully, and much to his chagrin, Ed came to understand and accept that life will always have its own way.  It is frequently problematic when we create expectations for ourselves, and perhaps the most problematic of all is the expectation that life owes us something.  The result, when life fails to deliver, is that we are easily tempted to protest this perceived unfairness.  Some of us, like Ed, simply refuse to move until life decides to cooperate, which it never does.  In the end, by refusing to adjust to change, we have shut ourselves off from growth and development and from the possible benefits of life.

There is an often-told story in baseball about the young hard-throwing pitcher who emerges from nowhere and begins to dominate batters with his blazing fastball.  For a while, perhaps even a few seasons, he seems unhittable.  Then, all too soon, age begins to take just a little off his fastball, and the opposing batters begin connecting.  Now the young pitcher faces a choice: he can continue to do what got him there and keep working even harder with his fastball.  Or he can make some adjustments and begin to include some off-speed “junk” — sliders, knucklers, change-ups — in his mix of pitches.  The choice this pitcher makes often spells the difference between having “a shot at playing” and having a career. 

Following my own open-heart surgery, the array of adjustments I was required to make seemed truly daunting.  There were adjustments in diet, adjustments in exercise, adjustments in medications, increased doctor visits, and a lot of self-monitoring.  Yet it has been these adjustments and more that have allowed me to keep moving forward and have a career instead of just a shot at playing. 

I believe that each of us ultimately gets to choose:  Are we going to approach life as victims or as volunteers?  Victims blame life for happening to them.  Volunteers create the lives they want by always moving forward and always making adjustments.  So, get ready; the next pitch is already on its way!

#3 — On Life, Experience, and Change: Free baseball!

October 8, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s called “open-heart surgery,” and somehow the term doesn’t do justice to the experience.  There are many ways to describe spending 4-5 hours having your chest cut open, your heart stopped, and one of your giblets taken apart.  What comes to mind for me is memorable.  In my case, my defective aortic valve was removed and replaced with donor tissue described as “porcine.”  My doctor said later that he had installed a “large valve.”  That makes the porcine citizen probably male, and my intuitive sense sees him as British and going by the name Barnaby.  Even now, I find myself developing an interest in tea in the late afternoons. 

Naturally, the impact of such an experience is profound and not to be taken in all at once.  Yet what is most memorable to me is not the occasion itself but many of the details involved.  What struck me first was how routinely I was greeted at the hospital.  There was a group of us, all scheduled for surgery early that morning.  We were all cordially yet unceremoniously greeted and then ushered into a series of preparation rooms.  Then there were questions, followed by a lot of poking, sticking, and “prepping,” followed by more of the same questions.  I was struck by the contradictory nature of this experience, a bizarre mixture of the monumental and the mundane.  So much was treated as simply routine that it was difficult to connect it all with the idea that I was about to face my own mortality, with my life and future quite literally in my surgeon’s hands.  But then another voice from the back of my mind chided, “What did you expect — a brass band, fanfare, some kind of ceremony?”  I recognized this as the part of me that seeks to keep me grounded and that lets me know if I start to take myself too seriously.  I have come to value this part of myself very much.  After all, the only thing I really needed to know was that I was about to go through a major transition — change. 

So much of how we deal with change is determined by how we view experience, whether we see it as happening to us or from us.  Do we have active control of our lives, or are we merely victims of them?  This is, of course, a classic yin-yang debate: subjective or objective, proactive or reactive, right brain or left brain.  There is benefit in understanding and appreciating both sides of this debate, yet there is great danger in actually choosing a side.  The reason is that we are not truly faced with an either-or question.  The answer, ultimately, is both.  Just as we seek to change our experience, our experience changes us; that’s what it is supposed to do!  That is the way life works!  There are many important lessons we all must learn that only experience can teach us, which means that being an active participant in life is not an option but a requirement.  You can’t learn about love or pain or inebriation, for example, from books or in a classroom.  Sure, you can get an intellectual grasp of what those things are like, but until you’ve actually experienced them for yourself, you can’t really know. 

 If we make the mistake of choosing a side in this yin-yang debate, say opting for objective over subjective, we first experience a gradual devaluing of the other side, the other point of view, and an inevitable loss of perspective.  I remember working with a couple years ago who always ran into conflict in making joint decisions.  He would start by asserting they should choose A because it “made sense.”  She would respond that A didn’t “feel right” and B did.  He would then accuse her of being “illogical and emotional.”  She would respond that he was “insensitive.”  I would point out that they had both painted themselves into a corner by insisting on seeing and interpreting all their experience from just one point of view.  Such decisions cannot be made in the corners; they must be made in the middle.

 An even greater danger, however, in adopting a fixed viewpoint is that it makes you vulnerable to that dreaded bugaboo, expectation.  There is much wisdom in the saying: The man who has no expectations cannot be disappointed.  Yet having no expectations is a tall order.  Despite all our practices of mindfulness, presence, acceptance, and so on, we still inevitably develop expectations even without knowing it.  And expectations love to play off ego.  Without even being aware of it, we can easily become wedded to those expectations and start to feel entitled.  Then, when an expectation isn’t met, we’re not just left disappointed, we become resentful.

 My recent major surgery was not my first.  Having gone through coronary bypass surgery nine years ago, I looked forward to this latest experience with the confident air of a veteran.  I knew the territory.  I knew what to expect.  I knew how to handle it.  I was ready.  And, of course, what I expected is not what happened.  I awoke in the ICU, not with focused attention or relaxed acceptance, but in a kind of anesthetic never-never land.  Rather than the quiet calm and constant attention I had received previously, I was surrounded by chaos and cacophony and a caring but harried nurse who had to deal with me and three other people.  To make matters worse, I suffered a bad reaction to a pain-suppressing drug I had been given, which took several days to identify and eliminate.  In all, my arrival on the other side of this surgery defied all my expectations and left me feeling somewhat chagrinned.  Nevertheless, while I didn’t exactly breeze through the way I had expected, I did get through.

 And there is a bright side.  Before and after both my surgeries a lot of people made a point to discuss post-operative depression with me and how it is prevalent among “older men.”  I am forced to confess that of all the aspects of this surgery with which people struggle, this is the one I relate to the least.  I still vividly remember what it was like being in those cheap seats at Fenway, when the game would end tied and then have to go into extra innings.  Every pitch, every hit, every play became a potential game winner for one side or the other.  The players, coaches, umpires, and fans were never more engaged, and all this was after we had already completed nine innings.  The game was still going, and being there was never more fun.  We used to call it free baseball.  For me, this is what it was like waking up after surgery.  Once I became oriented and understood where I was and that the surgery was past, I realized that the game was still going.  I could still be engaged and make every part of every moment of every day count.  Rather that post-operative depression, I experienced post-operative euphoria.

 I think there are two things to take from all this.  First, if you’re having surgery, leave your modesty at home and take your sense of humor with you.  Second, in approaching experience, it’s importance to seek a balance.  Life is rarely all one thing or all another; rather it is an ambiguous mixed bag in which we get to choose some things but not others.  And sometimes life makes choices for us, even when we prefer that it wouldn’t.  Nevertheless, if we can resist choosing the yin or the yang, if we can keep seeking our own balance, accepting its personal and elusive nature, then we can be truly free to engage fully in life’s ballpark.  We can keep the game going and enjoy personal enrichment.  Free baseball!

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