Wednesday, November 16, 2016

8 Practices to Help Find Happiness

Don’t worry; be happy. Sounds simple, right? But happiness has been eluding mankind since the beginning of time, or at least since the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that we had the right to pursue it! And so, like an old-fashioned Easter egg hunt, we all scurried off to find it. And no matter how many eggs we found, there was always someone who found that extra egg, the golden egg, or the one filled with chocolate or money. And then, suddenly, all of our pretty pastel eggs just seemed to dim in comparison.

It seems that we may have the word happy confused with the word perfect. For many of us, it seems that in order to be happy, things must be in perfect order. We must have the perfect relationship, the perfect house and the perfect career. But this is where the road to happiness can cause our vehicle to break down, when it collides with perfection and expectation, the mortal enemies of happy.

The main principal of the Chinese I-Ching is that everything changes. This is the natural and universal law. Our moods and emotional state are not exempt from this law. When you study the Yin/Yang principal and their energetic polarities, you learn that everything has an opposite, that you can’t have the light without the dark, soft without the hard, and you definitely can’t have the happy without the occasional sad. Resisting change and trying desperately to stay the same is what causes us pain, discomfort and unhappiness. Learning to flow and adapt to what is before us in the moment is how we come to arrive at a place of peace, a place of happiness. So is it really happiness that we should be in pursuit of or the state of contentment, satisfaction and peace?

They say that true happiness lies within, at the very core of our being. But for many of us, we don’t know how to begin this journey and feel we need a roadmap to find our treasure. And we’ve all seen the map. It consists of things like meditation, exercise, bubble baths, golden puppies and happy children. But like happiness itself, this road map needs to be customized.

Just as important as the food we put into our mouths, is the food we feed ourselves in the form of healthy relationships, our career or path in life, physical activity, our connection to nature and a spiritual practice. Knowing the path you are meant to be on, which is simply finding your passion, being true to yourself, and trying to put into practice the suggestions below, for me, is definitely the path that can lead to happiness (or contentment):

Let go of expectations. This is a difficult one, because we all usually have some intended outcome that we want to see happen. But try not to get stuck on any one particular outcome. Be open to what comes your way.

Trust. In the universe or trust in your God. Trust that life was given to you to live, fully.

Gratitude. Look at your life in smaller segments.  Everything might not be going great in every life area, but if you break it down, you will find there are lots of things to be grateful for. When we are grateful, when we consider life itself to be a blessing, we can’t help but feel happy.

Be Present. On too many occasions, we wait for the right time and the right circumstances. We fall into the “as soon as I” syndrome. When I think of how much time and enjoyment I have wasted while waiting for things to be “right,” it’s almost a sin

Know that this too, shall pass. Nothing lasts forever. Unfortunately, not the good, and luckily, not the bad

Forgiveness. Anger and resentment only hurt the person bearing this poison. They do not harm the object of our anger. Give yourself a gift and let it go.

Passion. Find something you love to do, and, as Nike says, just do it.  Even if you only take baby steps, just take that first step. If you feel there is nothing that truly interests you, reach back in your memory bank. As a child, what did you love to do? There is always some connection between the interests that we had as a child and what we would be passionate about doing as adults.

Acceptance. Explore the subject of Wabi-Sabi, the Japanese philosophy that finds beauty and acceptance in all things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. Once we can accept that life is full of imperfections and that they too are beautiful and of no less value, we can relax our grip on the reins of perfection, expectations and outcomes. When we accept that change is inevitable, that this is the way, the law of nature, then life becomes easier. We can then get in and flow with the current instead of always struggling to swim 

Friday, March 11, 2016

One Good Deed

When we think of paying it forward, or performing some random act of kindness, we usually think of giving to people less fortunate than ourselves. Maybe they are obviously homeless, down on their luck, holding a sign saying “Hungry” or “anything helps.” And this makes sense. These are the people that need our help, that need to have a nice thing happen to them to make their day a little easier, or to leave them with a little hope for humanity and the future.

Today, during a busy workday, I decided to stop at the corner Starbucks to grab a latte. I was feeling a bit run down from running for the last month and a half on just about empty. My low fuel warning light had definitely come on. You see, late January they found a large mass in my partner’s chest. A thymoma the size of his hand. As you can imagine, or perhaps you know if you’ve been in a similar situation, this type of thing can really take its toll on you. You don’t have to be the actual victim to experience the fear, the stress and the fatigue of trying to keep it all together. The last two months have been an emotional and challenging juggling act of fear, apprehension, gratitude, anger, appreciation, love, frustration, and hope.

And as it turns out, after almost two months of worry and angst, tears and ah ha moments, and not knowing what the prognosis would be, surgery proved successful. The road to wellness is looking to be paved with positivity. What I’m trying to tell you, is that even though my signs of wear and tear might not be overly visible to those around me, I am feeling extra tired, a little beat up. It can catch up with you when you take on the added roles of therapist, spiritual advisor, caregiver, motivator, chauffeur, personal assistant, and pick me-upper, all while trying to continue with your own life as usual.

So today as I stood in line at Starbucks (yes, I got a bit sidetracked, but now I’m back at Starbucks) I glanced at the woman behind me and gave her a smile. She smiled back. When I got to the front of the line and placed my order, a latte and a package of madeleine’s, she handed me a Starbucks gift card and said that she was performing a random act of kindness, and today, the kindness was for me.

I was taken aback. I mean, really. I had my wallet out. I don’t need the money. These things are usually done for people less fortunate and I immediately thought, “Do I look like I need help?” As I stammered a bit, expressed my surprise and thanked her, she told me I was worth it, that I deserved it. And it hit me again, that whole self-worth thing, and why we, especially women, have a hard time accepting gifts. Or compliments. Or simple random acts of kindness.

Donna, I want to thank you again. Not only for making my day one to remember and my delicious latte and cookies, but, for reminding me how a simple act of kindness, that human connection, the art of giving, can have such a profound affect on us. Both for the giver and receiver. And also, reminding me not to make assumptions about one’s life based on appearances only. Most of us don’t wear our pain, our hurt, our exhaustion, on the outside. But we all have it. At one time or another. And it feels really good when someone, whether you already know them or they start out as a stranger, takes a moment to connect, and unconditionally buys you a cup of coffee.

There is no application, no qualifications, no special criteria necessary where love and kindness are concerned. They are equal opportunity employers. I plan to remember that and return the favor, reserving my judgement as to who might need it most. Because none of us have any idea what the other  has been going through and kindness need not be reserved for those whose hardships are obviously evident. We've all heard that it's better to give than to receive, but whether we are the giver or the recipient of random acts of kindness, we all benefit.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Some Idle Wednesday

"Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday."

True, Mary Schmich, true. Those are lines taken from her hypothetical commencement speech, Wear Sunscreen, that was published in the Chicago Tribune in June, 1997, which I have read over and over through the years, because her advice is so spot on.

It wasn't a Tuesday, but close. It was Wednesday. The chest x-ray showed a large mass in his chest. I watched as his face whitened and disappeared into some underground foxhole, as the doctor calmly explained the different types of cancer it might be, the different treatments that might be applied, and explaining that now he needed to go get additional ultrasounds, blood work and CT guided biopsies. I was trying to be his ears and eyes, because I knew this was skimming his surface. But I couldn't hear all that was being said very well either. There was a loud pounding sound making it hard to hear. I think it was both of our hearts.

Blindsided - yes and no. You know these things are coming. One day. Or another. You know it happens every day to so many people. Just not you. Or the people you love. And all of a sudden, life as you know it, is no longer anything that you've ever known. All the plans you've had get shaken out in front of you, like that party game, Total Recall, trying to remember what all was there. You frantically grab for maybe a couple of the really important pieces, because now you just know, there might not be time to get to it all. To make the plans a reality. A wake up call the size of Alaska, slamming into you, reminding you of the fragility, the preciousness of life.

Afraid to go forward, to see what might be up ahead, you start working backwards. In little baby steps. Looking and stepping back on the years, failed relationships, careers that went nowhere, wasted time, all the things you wanted to do while waiting for "someday." And it's hard not to go there, even though you do know that negative thinking will get you nowhere. Right? Yes, of course, refocus, pull it all in. Gather your courage. Soldier on. I mean, really, it's just life, right? Those words ring loudly now in my head. How many times have I heard that? How many times have I said that? It's just life. Like it's no big deal. But oh my, it is such a big deal.

Life - I read that without an end, life really wouldn't have any meaning. that if our lives went on forever our choices would be without ramifications, utterly without meaning; life without death would be meaningless.

So I lie next to him, in his restless sleep, and I close my eyes, clasp my hands together and go to that place where I go when there's nowhere else to go - sending out my thoughts, concerns and requests to hopefully, a God that is listening. And as I send my wimpy, apologetic airmail to the heavens, "Yes, I know, I only come here when I'm desperate, I'm sorry. But what am I supposed to think? Why would you grant me any favors? One out of three deal with this, and with all the mountains of suffering in the world, why would I be special?" I'm not. But I will try anyway to use all of my bargaining powers, this for that. A fair trade.

Then once I am sure he is in a deep sleep, I quietly sob. I know sobbing is usually a noisy affair, but I do it very quietly, under the covers, holding it in, while my body does a few convulsions rivaling that of some Russian contortionist. And then I compose myself, give God the benefit of the doubt, and hope that I might have caught him in a moment of weakness.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Two-Faces of Facebook

Facebook - what’s wrong with everyone? Posting about being in love, sharing all these photos of their children, the food they ate, the food they made, their political views, their vacations, their complaints and woes, their illnesses and losses.

The thing is, nothing’s wrong. What’s wrong, I believe, is how we judge everyone. Maybe that’s fair game, a risk we take, when we are putting it all out there. 

I’ve heard it from so many people and have been guilty of this myself. “I don’t need to know about that” - “Why the hell is he sharing this??” Technically, we probably don’t NEED to know about any of it. But like it or not, the world has changed, the way we communicate has changed, and this is the way we do things now. And right or wrong, we all feel it's up to us to establish the rules of engagement here, to lay down some kind of posting etiquette

Who gets to make the rules?

We all find that we use Facebook (or any social media site) for different reasons. Some find it like a newspaper, with articles and photos about people they know, pure entertainment, their substitute coffee klatch, a diary that they secretly wish someone would read, a form of connection, a cry for help, the only friend they feel they have, the old fashioned grapevine, or the word on the street. Whatever it is to you is ok. And the people that are complaining about the posts on Facebook, are people that are posting their stuff on Facebook! It’s kind of like a high school locker room ~ we’re all here, and we’re all talking behind each other’s backs. And you know what? It bores me.

If you don't want to "unfriend" people, there is also a way to “unfollow” your “friends” so that you can keep that all important friend count up, but don’t need to be privy to any of their posts. If these posts really bother you, if you really don’t care what your “friends” are doing, feeling, and thinking, then unfollow them. Simple. There's really no need for us to bash each other. So let’s lighten up and perhaps even see it as a privilege to be let into other people’s worlds. Let’s enjoy the photos - the recipes - the words of wisdom - the news, whether it's good, bad, or things we don’t agree with, maybe view these posts with a little bit of kindness. I mean, truly, it they are our “friends” wouldn’t we want that? And if it’s all too much, if it has become a chore, a burden to read, it’s so very easy to simply sign off.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sock of Ages

Life is a colossal book of unanswered questions, mysteries and philosophies to ponder. Where did we come from, why am I here, where do we go when we die, do all good dogs really go to heaven? But that looming question, the one that haunts me and I think every other living person on a much more regular basis, the same one that man has been baffled by since the beginning of time (or since he started wearing clothes) "Where in the hell is my other friggin sock?"

You remember the night well, undressing, taking off your shoes, pulling off one sock at a time, tossing them into the dirty clothes basket. So why is it that on laundry day, when the wash cycle is done and the transfer takes place to the dryer, somewhere between the "switch", the sock is out the door. Literally. MIA. You go back to the washing machine, rub your hand around the rim and the tub, searching, nothing to be found. No lone sock hiding up against the dryer wall. Back to the pile of clothes you have thrown on the bed, shake them out, run your hand in the legs of pants, arms of shirts, just in case that evil villan static electricity is holding one hostage, but nothing. Checking under the bed, in the shoe, in the trash, perhaps you were a lousy shot and missed the laundry basket in the beginning. As good a disappearing act as Houdini himself.

My sock drawer is like a singles nightclub. There are a few coupled up, entwined in one another, but the majority are just hanging out, waiting to find their match, that Mr. or Mrs. Right. I am a believer that there is a sock for everyone. It is just a matter of time before the right one shows up. But until then, it can be mind boggling. I mean, it's not as bad as misplacing your car keys or reading glasses, because there is always a pair or two among the dozen or so onsies in the drawer that will do until the others safe return. All I can say is thank God you don't need them for anything more than to warm and protect your feet, like to start the car for example ~ you would then become witness to me starring in the new Tyler Perry film, Diary of a mad white woman.

But as another big birthday of mine is soon approaching I am trying to focus on what is important, what needs my time, deserves my attention. I think I am going to have to let this sock thing go, just leave this mystery to be solved by the universe, future generations. Like my almond milk, toothpaste, gasoline and most things in life, I guess I will just have to replenish my sock stash on a very regular basis. Instead of looking at each lone survivor sock as a misfit, with frustration and disgust, I will celebrate their independence ~ find new uses, check Pinterest for new ideas. I'm sure there is always a market for a recycled hand duster or a good hand puppet.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

New Year's Resolutions are So Last Year

With the New Year just days away, it’s time once again to reflect over the past year, re-examine where we are in our lives today, and where we want the future to take us, or should I say, where we want to take our future.

Most of us practice the yearly ritual of setting New Year’s resolutions, which many times are just a repeat of last year’s resolutions. How many times have you vowed once again to “lose weight, stop smoking, get more exercise,” or other things along those lines? I think two out of three of those have been my running mantra for at least half of my life! 

And therein lies the problem with making NewYear’s resolutions. They usually focus on the negative, areas in our life where we feel we have shortcomings, or where we have failed in the past. One more way to beat our self-esteem up a little bit. And focusing on the negative things in our life or the negative way in which we feel about ourselves can only bring us more of the same. Our thoughts become our reality. What this means is that if we create and visualize something in our mind, that image attracts energy and whatever we’re picturing begins to become a reality. 

So if this is true, then instead of looking back, and “resolving” to make a change, or to get it right this time, we should set intentions, where we look forward, take aim, make a plan. When we focus, commit to, and are clear about the positive things that we want to attract in life, that is when we are working with intentions. But there is that little catch; we can’t just want something. We need to focus on that something, commit to that something and have a clear vision as to what that something is.

Intention is the strong desire and visualization of what you want to create in your life. Everything you do in life involves an intention and is followed by an action. We have the power, free will, and the choice to create the kind of life we want to live.

To set an intention, there are three main elements needed. The first is to know exactly what you want. So really sit with yourself and decide what that is. For example, if you want to attract a partner in life, don't just say, "I want to be in a relationship." No, be specific. What are the qualities you want in this person? Write down the details, all of them. You can't be wishy-washy here. Then, you need to visualize the desired result before it actually happens, and lastly, expect the result to happen. Intention is that magical combination of will, motivation and desire.

All of our feelings, beliefs and knowledge are based on our internal thoughts, both conscious and subconscious. We’ve all been told about the power of positive thinking. But it's not that simple. Just thinking positive won’t bring about the changes you desire. We need to truly believe these positive thoughts. And since we don't really know what old beliefs our subconscious is holding on to, we need to get these two on the same page. Here are a few things you can do to help you develop the power of positive thinking/believing:

  • Positive self-talk. Only use positive words in your inner dialogue, and repeat them often. When we hear something enough, we start to believe it. So use words such as, I can, I am able, it is possible, etc.
  • When setting your intention, visualize clearly in your mind its successful outcome. When you set an intention, always clarify, “this, or something better.” But also, make sure to show gratitude for all that you already have.
  • Surround yourself with positive people who fully support your vision and goals.
  • Be patient and loving with yourself and believe that you are worth having the best that life has to offer. 

So this year, blow off making those guilt-ridden resolutions and set a positive, empowering, intention or two instead. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Musings at 3500 feet

I don’t know if any book has moved me as much as the Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I have read it more than once and have watched the movie several times. I am fascinated with human relationships and the mother daughter relationship may be one of the most fascinating and complicated of all.

My daughter, Olivia – beautiful, magnificent, a fire tiger, and because of this she was given an extremely strong will, a determined spirit, a fiery temperament, and as sometimes only a mother can know, a heart of gold. If what I have heard is true, the Chinese, because of their one child only law, would rid themselves of their female babies. Boy babies being much more desirable because when they become men they take care of their parents in their elderly years, while the daughters go on to live and take care of their husbands families. And if the girl baby happened to be a Tiger year baby, well heaven help her, she was definitely “disposed” of. Tigers were known to be “disobedient” and there is no room in a Chinese household for a disobedient daughter.

Flying up to Portland, deep in my own thoughts, thinking of my own daughter. If we were characters in the Joy Luck Club, Olivia would definitely be Waverly. Strong, ferocious, determined. I like to think that perhaps I would have been June’s mother, kind, soft and gentle, but I’m afraid I fit the part of Auntie Lindo much better. A bit manipulative, but a mother who wants only the best for her daughter, to see her fulfill all of her dreams, of which thankfully she has many. When Waverly cries to her mother “nothing I do seems to please you”, I feel a sadness and a keen sense of my own responsibility as a parent, knowing that on occasion my own Olivia has been made to feel that same way. But my intentions have always been good – my intentions have always been to let her be a free spirit, to live a life like a tiger should and shine in her own blinding light.

I thought about our self-worth and how hard it seems to be for women (or at least my experience with women) to know their self-worth. Whether it be the art of homemaking, child rearing, or any career we choose, we are always fighting to be recognized for the work we do, for who we are. If a large paycheck doesn’t accompany it, it is sometimes regarded as insignificant.

In a society where everything and everyone wants it bigger, from our homes, our 8-seater SUV’s, super highways, our men, the Big Gulp, the Double-Double, the big screen TV, the largest computer monitor, etc., it seems the only thing we still want small is our women. And we comply, which by doing so, we are sacrificing our own self worth.

We torture ourselves with clothing that is too tight, plastic surgery to reduce our thighs and stomachs, we keep quiet when at times we want to scream out, we let "them" win at a board game, or tennis,
or. . . we wear black endlessly instead of celebrating ourselves in color. From taking the tiniest of portions (even if we are crazy hungry) so that someone else can have more, to taking the most uncomfortable chair in the room, the worst side of the bed, the cup with the chip, is this just part of our training as women, or do we really believe we are not as worthy?  It is not our true nature. If you observe little boys and girls, she is not such a push over, she will fight for equal time on the swing.

As I sit here in this cramped isle on my flight to Portland, jotting down notes on my airsickness bag, I’m noticing the large man seated next to me, who comfortably has legs spread wide open, has taken possession of the middle arm rest (there is only one, and it is also mine to use), his USA Today is spread across his air space and part of mine. I, on the other hand, sit with my knees forced together, both arms in my lap with my fingers clasped together. It is as if I am trying to disappear. Is this just being polite or am I doing what has been expected of us women for all of time? Stay quiet, stay small.

From the Joy Luck Club opening narration:
The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum. "This bird", boasted the market vendor, "was once a duck that stretched its neck in hopes of becoming a goose. And now look, it is too beautiful to eat!" Then the woman and the swan sailed across an ocean many thousands of lei wide, stretching their necks toward America. On her journey, she cooed to the swan, "In America, I will have a daughter just like me. But over there, nobody will say her worth is measured by the loudness of her husbands belch. Over there, nobody will look down on her because I will make her speak only perfect American English. And over there, she will always be too full to swallow any sorrow. She will know my meaning because I will give her this swan, a creature that became more than what was hoped for." But when she arrived in the new country the immigration officials pulled the swan away from her, leaving the woman fluttering her arms and with only one swan feather for a memory. For a long time now, the women had wanted to give her daughter the single swan feather and tell her; "This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions."