Tag Archives: Gratitude

Inspiration From A Child

As children we look to adults to teach us what we need to know in the world.  And why wouldn’t we – adults have life experience so they can show us how to succeed without having to repeat painful lessons.  At least that’s the theory behind it.  We all know it doesn’t always play out quite so neatly.  But regardless, the point is, it is a one-way street.  A one-directional exchange.  Children learn from adults.  Yet, as an adult, if you spend any amount of time with children you will find them to be an incredible source of inspiration unto themselves.

Case and point:  I often spend time with my best friend’s ten-year old daughter – sometimes it is as little as 10-15 minutes while other times it can be a few hours.  And each and every time I am in awe of what I take away even from just watching and listening…here’s just a few areas I have found inspiration through her:

  1. Seemingly endless curiosity: As adults we grow tired of the continual rounds of “why?” and “how come?” that children tend to throw at us because we don’t have time for those questions – there is always so many more important things to do. Yet for a child, understanding the world around them is all there is, hence the endless “why?” and “how come?” questions.  They seek to know and understand – and in a lack of information or answers, their creativity (another example I mention below) takes over in an attempt to use what they do know about their world to explain this new thing they don’t yet understand.  How inspiring it is to see such an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding, for curiosity about the world around them.  Think how we could benefit from having some of that curiosity in our own lives each day as adults.
  2. No worries about what others think: With technology and social media being such a staple part of their norm, young children have no problem making videos of themselves and posting on Musically, You Tube, etc. They don’t worry about what others will think about their hair or their clothes.  They aren’t concerned about whether they stumbled over their words or not.  They just have fun making whatever video they have decided to make.  Meanwhile the thought of using FB live or Periscope is paralyzing to me as I find myself worrying about how it would sound, what I will look like, saying “um” too many times, what people would think of the content, if I even have anything worthwhile to share in the first place…I could go on, but you get the idea.  So many of us could benefit from learning how to relax and just have fun with stuff like this from our young friends.  Think of all the things we don’t do as adults out of fear of what others will think – clearly this an area to find inspiration from young children.
  3. Boundless creativity: Have you ever had a child tell you a story they have made up? Did you marvel at where they came up with half of the stuff in the story?  It seems as if their creativity has no limits.  They are not bound by what is real, what they can touch or see, or feel.  Literally, if they can think of it then it can exist in their young minds.  Just sit back and watch young children in free play sometime and you will be amazed at the incredible amount of creativity you see.  It is one of the most inspiring things I have ever witnessed.  For anyone who has ever struggled to be or feel creative, just sit in the presence of children for even a short period of time and I promise you, you will feel inspired and creative.

The exchange between adults and children shouldn’t be so one directional. We can learn so much from children. Children just do what they do.  There are none of the external worries or cares that we have picked up as adults.  (How we as a society strip our young children of these beautiful attributes so that they grow up to be overly serious, stressed out adults who worry entirely too much about things is a subject for another day perhaps.)  Children serve as such wonderful examples of what it can look like to be present in the moment.  We really should pay a bit more attention to the inspiration we can garner from the young ones in our lives.

“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is about.”- http://www.wisdomquotesandstories.com

The Double-Edged Sword of Life

To experience life, indeed to live it fully, one must open up to all it has to offer. But opening up requires being vulnerable, trusting, taking risks, and becoming attached, to some extent, to things that are impermanent, as all life is impermanent. The net result is either something amazing or something painful.  This is the double-edged sword that we call life – you can’t choose your outcome, so to experience life is to risk one or the other of these outcomes with no guarantee of certainty in any given moment as to which you will receive.

I imagine most, if not all, of us are familiar with this concept from our own very real and personal experiences. And despite how many times we find ourselves at the crossroads of life, feeling the pain or pleasure of this double-edged sword, we forget just how good, or how bad, it can be until we are once again in its midst.

When it is good we never want it to end. When it is bad, we can’t wish it away fast enough, though it tends to cling to us all the more. The quintessential example of course comes to us through our relationships.  When they are good we savor them, desire more of them, can’t get enough of them.  Yet when things go wrong or come to an end, the pain can feel unbearable.  Even when the circumstances are such that we have not personally done anything to directly cause the painful outcome…even when we can find no fault with the other person or persons involved or the choices they have made, we still wrack our brains as to what went wrong or what we could have done differently…we still feel the immense pain of the situation.  As a result we often feel a pull or desire to retreat or to withdraw from life – a natural reaction for a species still controlled by the fight or flight response to outside stimuli.

And so it is, this dance we do with life and the double-edged sword that follows life wherever it goes. Do you dare to accept the dance? Do you trust that what you fear will be the very thing that will somehow set you free, or do you play it safe and not take the chance?  And after you get stabbed by that sword, do you dare to try dancing with life again?  How many times do you allow yourself to be stabbed by that sword before you call it quits?  All good questions, but none come with easy answers, hence the struggle surrounding this dance.

I’ve done the dance. I have been stabbed by that double-edged sword more times than I care to count. It hurts the same now as it did the first time I was pierced by it.  The fact of the matter is that no matter how many times you get stabbed by the double-edged sword of life, it will still hurt, immensely.  And each time I find myself asking the question, now what?  Surely it would be easier and safer to just curl up into a ball and shut out the world.  It would be so much easier and safer to say no the next time life asks me to dance.  And there are moments when I seriously consider these two options – there’s comfort in them for sure.  But those are the easier answers…and I am not so sure opting out of life really is an option, as life always seems to find a way to coax us back onto the dance floor.  It may take a little time.  I may have some wounds to lick, lots of  tears to shed, and an aching pain in my heart that needs time to heal, but I’ll come back to the dance floor again in time because in the end I know in my heart of hearts with each dance, regardless of the outcome, I am learning and growing…I am becoming a better person, hard as it may be to believe in that moment of pain.  Oh but if only it didn’t have to hurt so much along the way, but such is the journey called life I suppose.

It’s easy to become bitter and angry when that double-edged sword stabs you. But I choose love. Love for the person or persons who made the choices that caused the hurt…love for life in general despite this never-ending dance it makes me do…love for a universe that would have me continually experience this roller coaster of the highs and the lows of life…love because in the end that is all that really matters.  Life may challenge me, life may try to pick me apart at times, but I will be strong, I will learn from what life gives me, and I will work hard to find the lessons in it all.  And so, give me some time to rest, to feel all the things I am feeling, and to catch my breath and then go ahead and cue the music maestro…so that we can begin our dance once again, as this dance with life is all we really have and I have no choice but to make peace with it.

The Bittersweet Taste of Disappointment

Disappointment – the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.

We’ve all been there. And that definition just about sums it up perfectly doesn’t it? That feeling of sadness or displeasure all because a hope or expectation comes crashing to the ground.  It’s sobering, frustrating, and even maddening at times.  There’s so much raw emotion wrapped up in that one word – disappointment.

I have spent a lot of time over the past 4 years studying meditation, mindfulness, and, to some extent also, Buddhism.  Interwoven in all of these things is a message of caution about attachment, for it is through attachment that we bring great suffering and misery to ourselves. When we attach ourselves to people, things, ideas, or situations we become very invested in how things progress or turn out between us and those people, things, ideas, or situations.  Of course what we often neglect to remember in the midst of all that is that we can’t control anything or anyone other than ourselves.  And as a result things seldom work out the way we wanted or expected them to turn out.  Hence disappointment.

For me, my study of meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhism was an attempt to understand this oh so familiar cycle in my life and to learn how to release my tendency to become so easily and deeply attached in this way. I understand that if I become less attached to people, things, ideas, and situations then ultimately I will be disappointed less often, and in turn be on that emotional roller coaster less frequently. This was a very appealing concept to me.  And so I set about practicing non attachment each day – I meditate, I offer prayers and intentions, and I reflect on my choices and my feelings as they relate to other people, things, ideas, and situations, all in an attempt to attach less and be present more.

Sounds so simple, and in the midst of those daily practices I dare say it even can feel like it is relatively easy. However, life is relentless in its continuous hurling of curve balls. So just when I start to think I’ve got this non-attachment thing down, I find myself in or near a state of disappointment over something.  Grr!  Snagged again!  So, what am I to do?  Well, the healing process I have come to rely on recently is that I first feel the feelings and really look at them and where they are originating from.  Then I acknowledge the attachment I have assigned to the situation – it is important to be honest about that fact that I got attached in some way.  And finally I meditate and offer up prayers and intentions all focused on my continued work on nonattachment.  What I do not do is become angry with the other people involved in the situation – they are not to blame for my attachment.  I also do not berate myself or become angry with myself.  I know those things are not helpful and I also know I am still learning and growing – non-attachment is not easy.

I don’t know if I will ever reach a point where I no longer become attached or no longer feel disappointed about things, but I am finding that the journey to reach that point is powerful, filled with amazing growth opportunities, and completely worthwhile.

Oh The Holidays…

As the song The Twelve Pains of Christmas points out in its own humorous way, not everything about the holidays is merry and bright.  There are those things that we find to be stressful and frustrating.  And let’s face it, the holidays bring up many emotions – not all of the emotions are ones we enjoy experiencing, especially during a celebratory time like the holidays.

So how do we get through the holidays if our experience with them is filled with anxiety, anger, or angst?  How can you learn to be on the offensive and not the defensive?  How can you see the holidays as not just a challenging time, but also as an opportunity for growth, change, and healing?  How can you learn to be present in the moments such that you are grateful and enjoy yourself?

In general, being honest with yourself so you can clearly identify your triggers along with a willingness to see things differently are keys to a successful emotional shift.  Having a few tips and tricks up your sleeve when you head into those otherwise stressful holiday situations can also make all the difference.

  • If family togetherness is more than you care to handle, try these ideas:
  1. Prepare yourself before you go – in many cases the things that upset us the most with our family are things that happen every time we are together, so expect it and don’t hold on to it. Let it go as soon as it comes.
  2. See those family members who push your buttons through the eyes of love – remember they are doing the best they can given where they are on their own journey, and while that doesn’t always take away the sting of some of their comments it can help you release those things rather than hold on to them unnecessarily.
  3. Don’t take things personally, rather be filled with compassion – they may be struggling with their own feelings about the holidays or other things in their lives and as such may not be able to relate to others in a kind or loving way. Develop and use a mantra, such as “I am love, you are love”, to help you release those things when they happen.
  • Crowds not your thing? Try these tricks:
  1. Do some deep breathing or meditation before you head into a crowded place – get yourself to as calm and centered a state as possible before you enter the stressful situation.
  2. Have a strategy to do what you need to do in that crowded place and then leave – a little pre-planning is invaluable at times like this. Get in, do what you came there for, and get out – there’s no need to stay any longer than necessary as it will only add to the stress of the situation.
  3. Consider alternatives – do you have to go to that crowded place, or can you go somewhere else? Do you have to go at a specific time or can you go at a less crowded time? Consider all your options – don’t just do something because it is what you have always done or is what everyone else does.
  • If you get frustrated with that crazy, busy schedule created by all the holiday happenings you have to attend, then try these tips:
  1. Learn to say no when you can – it is tempting to say yes to all the holiday get togethers but your sanity is important too so consider not going to everything you get an invitation for. Maybe alternate your attendance each year between the events you really enjoy and let the hosts of those events know you appreciate the invitation and plan to come next year if invited.
  2. Set boundaries for yourself and stick to them – honor yourself and your loved ones with boundaries that give you the time you need for yourself as well as for holiday festivities
  3. Get creative – if you are one of those lucky people with multiple family members to visit on any given holiday, think of creative ways to bring everyone together in one place (like maybe your house) instead of running to 3 and 4 places. In many cases your other family members will appreciate the opportunity to not have to be the host all the time – it can be a win-win for everyone.
  • Feeling miserable because of too much food (sugary and otherwise) at the holidays? Try these suggestions:
  1. Re-set your portion size for the holiday – knowing there will be many tempting foods to partake in, consider rethinking portion sizes so even if you eat more things than you planned, by eating smaller portions you have a better chance of not actually increasing the overall volume of food you intake.
  2. Sample rather than eat – use the holidays as a time to try things, which means samples not full blown meals or portions. It’s okay to try things, but we want to try not to overdo it.
  3. Love yourself no matter what happens – practice forgiveness. It is okay if you had more than you wanted to have – it is a special time of the year. Recognize what happened, accept and love yourself, and let tomorrow be a new day.
  • If you struggle with the “keeping up with the Jones” syndrome and get stressed trying to outdo your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the area of decorations, cookie making, gift giving, gift wrapping (you get the idea), then take a deep breath and consider these options:
  1. Let go of the need to compare – do what brings you joy, not what makes you the talk of the family, neighborhood, or office
  2. If you can’t let go of the competition, then give yourself permission to ask for help from friends or family to accomplish all these things you want to do-
  3. Consider how you can turn that competitive spirit into a positive force – think creatively about how to join forces with your “competitors” to do some amazing things for others this holiday season. Turn it into a little friendly competition that benefits others in the process.

Don’t dread the holidays – take them back on your own terms. Try some of these ideas and be open to enjoying your holidays a little more than maybe you have in the past. Make a few small changes in how you approach the holidays and who knows, you might actually have a happy holiday this year!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!!

Surrendering

I just wanted to scream. You know, the kind of scream that originates in your toes and flows all the way up through your body. The kind of scream that hurts to the point of feeling good.  That kind of scream.  Yes, that is what I felt compelled to do.  Just let it all out with one giant scream.    Wait.  I wanted to curl up into a ball and pretend like no one could see me.  That none of this was real.  That this was all just a bad dream.  A really bad dream.  Yes, that was what I wanted to do.  Disappear.  Pretend it wasn’t happening.

Ever feel that way? I am sure you have. In fact, I am sure we all have at one time or another.  And I am also fairly certain we have all experienced those feelings repeatedly.  My most recent rendezvous with those feelings just happened to be this past week.  I had to throw up the flag.  I had to admit it can’t all be done, that I can’t do it all, and then I had to come to peace with that realization (something my perfectionist self did not like at all).

What it came down to was this – there were simply not enough physical hours this past week to get everything done that needed to be done at work, so work bled over into my personal time. That meant a lot of my personal stuff got dropped, rescheduled, etc. Sleep was lost, activities had to be cancelled, my meditation practice and my morning routine got skipped most days, my In Box was overflowing, and my weekly blog didn’t get published for the first time since I started it over a year and a half ago.  I was feeling exhausted and out of control.  I started to feel like a failure for not getting to everything, for having to cancel things, for not being good enough in general, for dropping the ball on my meditation practice, for not getting my weekly blog published, etc.  It was a vicious, unproductive, ego-based cycle that was not serving me.  Arrgghh!!  I had to hit the “make it stop now” button.  I had to pause, breathe, and get re-centered.  I needed to figure out why things felt so out of whack.  And so after spending some time chatting with a good friend and refocusing on what was really important, I had what I needed in order to understand the problem and let go of it.

The problem, as it turned out, is that I stopped honoring the boundaries I set for myself and for my daily life. I got lax with them and the net result was a state of unrest and imbalance that thoroughly wrecked my world for the better part of a week. Truth be told it will take the better part of this current week to fully rebound, but rebound I will because the alternative is not only unpleasant, but it doesn’t serve me or anyone in my life.

So my big lesson this past week was all about learning to surrender (okay I should really say it was remembering to surrender). Surrendering to the knowledge that I will occasionally neglect the boundaries I set for myself (it just happens on occasion). Surrendering to the fact that my ego-mind will sometimes win a few of the battles.  Surrendering to the idea of asking for and accepting help from my friends and colleagues.  Surrendering to what I cannot control and to the fact that I am human.  It really, truly is exhausting trying to hold on to all of it.  Hard as it can seem sometimes, surrendering it really is the better choice.

Special Places

There are places in this world that just seem to resonate with us in ways we may not always be able to explain. These are the places that help us “find ourselves”. We usually refer to them as our “happy places”.  They are the places that often “feel like home” to us in ways that nowhere else does.  Time in those places help us to refocus, to remember what’s important in life, to reconnect with ourselves, and to relax.  We can’t wait to be in these places, and we absolutely hate to leave them, doing so usually while kicking and screaming (either literally or at the very least mentally).  We all have such a place.  It may be a physical address or building, or it may be some place more general like a tropical island or the mountains, but either way, we all have such a place.  Just pause for a moment, right now, close your eyes, and picture that place in your mind.  Recall how it makes you feel.  Just breathe it in for a moment.  Allow those feelings to come back to you in this moment of reflection.  It feels so good, doesn’t it?

For me, that special place is the beach. Any beach really, so long as it is warm. The feeling of the sand between my toes, the rhythmic sound of the ocean, the relaxing feel of the breeze on my face…these are some of the things about the beach that call to me.  Time there helps me to refocus my life, to remember what’s most important, to reconnect with myself and my dreams, to relax, and to re-establish that sense of calm in my life which I appreciate so much.

It is in these places and at these times when life gets a bit clearer and we start to see the areas of our life that could use a little adjustment. We can sit back, away from the normal daily chaos in our lives, and reflect on things like:

  1. What about my life is working right now? What about it do I really like?
  2. What about my life is not working right now? What about it do I not like so much?
  3. What am I willing to commit to in order to have more of what is working in my life/less of what is not working in my life?
  4. How do I keep this clarity about my life when I go back?
  5. What can I do differently in my daily life to maintain this feeling?

Maintaining the feelings, the clarity, and/or the calm that you experience in your special place can be accomplished after you leave that place, though a conscious effort is needed on your part. Taking the time to ask the questions listed above is a great place to start, but that is only the beginning. You have to actively work to make the changes you committed to once you return home.  You have to take the steps you identified when answering the 5 questions above in order to maintain the life you identified as desirable when you did that reflection.  With practice and perseverance, living that way will become your new habit, but until then you have to become aware of the times when you slip back into your old habits and then work diligently to pull yourself out of them.

Reflection for the purpose of awareness is the first step. Taking consistent action is the second step. Together you can create a life anywhere that resembles the one you have when you are in your special place.

Finding Joy

I have heard it said that the key to happiness is being able to find joy in your daily life, in the seemingly mundane things that make up our everyday routines. And my experience, particularly in more recent years, has proven that to be quite true. The problem is that for so many of us, we do not pause long enough to see that joy.  It’s not that there is no joy to be had, it is that we just don’t see it, even when it is right in front of us.

It is no secret, nor should it be a surprise to anyone, that we all get so caught up in the day to day happenings of our very busy modern lives to the point that not only do we not find joy in our lives, but we seldom even notice the people and things around us that could bring us joy if only we stopped for a moment to take them in, appreciate them for who and what they are, and gives thanks for them.

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – William Arthur Ward

Some people refer to this phenomenon of going through the motions of life without really being present as living in a robot-like or zombie-like state. Regardless of the words we use to label or describe it, the bottom line is that we are not present in the moment. We don’t see the people and things right in front of us for the beautiful, amazing creatures and opportunities that they are.  We are so focused on where we are going next, on the goal we are trying to achieve, on getting through the day, on getting to our next day off or our next vacation, on getting to the next thing on our To Do list, on reaching retirement, on getting the next job or house, etc. (you get the idea here), that we go through virtually every waking moment of each day not noticing most of who and what is around us, let alone see any joy in those things.  The sad and ironic thing is that for many people when they reach their destination (be it the end of their To Do list, the weekend, that next vacation, their next job, the completion of their goal, etc.), they usually find no more happiness than they had previously.  Why?  Because joy and happiness doesn’t come at the end of your journey to that place you wanted to reach – joy and happiness is found throughout that journey.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” – Greg Anderson

Like most of us, I spent many years living for the next thing. I was never quite happy, but I was certain I would be after the next thing. But then I wasn’t.  It was a vicious, rather depressing cycle.  When I finally decided to let go of the next thing and really experience each moment as it came and went, careful not to become too attached to any one moment though as that can be problematic in and of itself, I finally began to enjoy my life and all the people and things in it.  I had spent so much of my life looking for joy and happiness and what I came to realize is that it was always right here, in front of me, the entire time…I was just too busy, too side-tracked, too distracted to notice it.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the trappings of this modern world, but if we are conscious about the choices we are making, focusing on each individual moment, I do believe we would all experience more joy in our lives. While reaching a specific destination in our lives is important, let us not forget that what is even more important are the experiences along the way – opportunities to learn and grow, to appreciate the people and things in our lives, to give thanks, to create something new, and to experience true joy and happiness.

So let go of your expectations and the single-minded focus on the end goal. Be present in each moment as it unfolds. Even when things become difficult of challenging, there is beauty and joy to be had.  Pause to reflect in the moment.  Give thanks for what the moment has to offer you, even if it is a difficult lesson.  And always remember that at the end of the day, it is about the journey, not the destination.  That’s where the joy resides.