Tag Archives: Perseverance

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.

Setting Yourself Up For Success

Here we are again, another year has gone by and a new one is set to begin. Amazing how fast time seems to go by anymore – feels like I was just enjoying my July girls’ weekend in Cape May only last week. But alas, it is the end of December and I am staring 2017 in the face.

It’s the time of year when most of us, intentionally or not, spend some amount of time reflecting on this past year. What all we did. What all we did not do, but wanted to.  The good stuff and the bad stuff.  The happy stuff and the sad stuff.  It is also the time when we tend to make promises to ourselves about how next year will be different.  We may even go so far as to make some New Year’s Resolutions surrounding the really big things we want to accomplish in the year to come.  This is all common enough – reflection and goal setting are both admirable activities, but how many of us take it to the next level?  How many of us actually follow through on the realizations from our reflection time and/or on the promises we make for the coming year?  I think we all know the answer to those questions – not many of us at all.

For years I was guilty of that too. If I even bothered to reflect on a previous year or dared to suggest a goal for the coming year, it pretty much ended with those thoughts. In many cases those thoughts never even made it into the new year.  I’d get up the first day of the new year and go about life as I always had.  New Year’s Resolutions?  What New Year’s Resolutions?  And for those few times when I did take my New Year’s Resolutions “seriously”, by 2-3 weeks into January they had fallen by the wayside and it was back to the same old same old.

This pattern held true for me until a few years ago when I began to do things differently. Rather than haphazardly reflect and make a mental goal for myself, I actually sat down and intentionally set 4 pretty significant goals for myself in 2014 and then proceeded to break those goals down into small parts and gave myself benchmarks throughout the year to meet. And every Sunday evening I would take 5-10 minutes to review my progress on those goals.  And so by the time December, 2014 rolled around I was delighted to see the growth and progress I had made with those 4 goals.  I had completely achieved 3 of the 4 goals and was well on my way with the fourth one.  That never happened before, ever.  Before employing this technique I couldn’t even bring one simple goal to fruition.  And happily I have continued to build on that success the past 2 years using this same format.

As I prepare to do my intentional reflection and goal setting for 2017, I share these tips with you in the hopes that you can also help yourself to make 2017 your most successful, productive year yet, personally or professionally…

Step 1 – Take the time (even if it is just 5-10 minutes) to reflect on the previous year

Give this task your undivided attention – you may be amazed at what you can learn. Here are some questions to consider asking yourself as a part of that reflection:

  • What went well this past year?
  • What didn’t go as planned?
  • What made you happy?
  • What made you sad?
  • What would you do differently if given the chance?
  • What were the obstacles that got in your way?
  • How were you your own obstacle?

Step 2 – Choose 3-5 goals for yourself (personally and/or professionally)

These are the things that you absolutely love the idea of…the things that make you light up…the things that will make you feel the way you want to feel and help you to live the life you have always wanted to live. They can be as big or small as you want, but don’t sell yourself short – dream big! Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really want from the new year.

Step 3 – Establish benchmarks for each goal throughout the year

Work backwards from the end point and break your goals down into their smaller parts. (Whatever ½ way for a goal is should be done by the end of June.) Make them realistic but yet also push yourself a little as well.  These can be realigned at any time (especially in light of major life circumstances that cannot be predicted), so don’t be afraid to push yourself on these.

Step 4 – Set time aside to check in on your progress toward each goal

Ideally you should do this once a week. You may not be able to do something related to each goal every week, but checking in helps you to keep track of your progress and to notice areas you are falling behind in. This time should be non-negotiable – the moment you start skipping this step you will have started down a path that will very likely lead to unmet goals in December.

Step 5 – Set yourself up for success

Make sure you have the resources gathered to help you achieve your goals. Those resources might be other people, time, money, or physical resources like books or other materials. Know your own strengths and weaknesses and go from there.  Whatever you will need to ensure forward progress on your goals, make sure you have it at the ready.

Step 6 – Remove the obstacles, including yourself, from the equation

If you want to be successful at achieving your goals you have to be honest about the obstacles that stand in your way (and that includes yourself and your old habits). The best way to identify them is through the very first step above (end of the year reflection) as well as through the daily checks mentioned in #4 above. Call your obstacles what they are and give yourself permission to let them go, change them, remove them, whatever you need to do so they are no longer an obstacle for you.

Step 7 – Be honest with yourself throughout the whole process

Anything less will not net you’re the results you are looking for.

There are many resources out there that share best practices and tips for planning a successful new year. The things I share here are what have worked unequivocally for me. Using these tools I have accomplished more big goals in the past 3 years than I have in all of the rest of my adult life prior to using this technique.  It is amazing.  It is powerful.  And if any of these tips speak to you, please give them a try and set yourself up for an amazing 2017!

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. – Tony Robbins

To Meditate Or Not To Meditate, That Is The Question

“The quieter you become the more you can hear.” – Ram Dass

In our normal, everyday consciousness, our mind is filled with a constant flow of thoughts. It can become quite noisy and even sometimes overwhelming. I often refer to this as the hamster wheel inside my head…that is a hamster wheel with an ADHD hamster hyped up on too many espresso drinks! These continual thoughts can be about the past or the future. We might be replaying events and conversations in your mind (dwelling on the past).  We might be thinking about what’s going to happen at our next meeting, activity, or event.  We might create fantasies about what life will be like when our dreams are fulfilled (aka future tripping).  Or we may conjure up scary scenarios about our worst fears coming true (good old-fashioned worrying).  It is very seldom that are we sitting still in the present moment.

In meditation, the goal is for your awareness to move from the noisy activity of your mind into the quiet “gap” between your thoughts. This takes practice – you don’t just sit down and clear your mind of your thoughts the first time you try it. I liken it to learning to play an instrument.  You can’t pick up an instrument for the first time and expect to play a complex piece of music like a master.  You have to start with the basics and practice (and practice and practice), slowly improving your skills and learning increasingly challenging pieces of music.  Similarly, meditation is not something most people are able to master when they sit down for the very first time.  It takes practice to reach that gap between your thoughts and stay in it for any length of time.  Some days will be better than others…some types of meditation will work better for you than others will.  But sadly many people expect that they will quiet their mind in their first or second attempt and when they don’t they declare that they can’t meditate or that meditation doesn’t work, and thus they quit.  I have seen that happen so often.  People give up due to incorrect assumptions or understandings or as a result of unrealistic expectations.

But consider this story from India in which the mind is compared to the trunk of an elephant, which is naturally restless and undisciplined (just like our minds). When an elephant walks with his trainer through a village during a special celebration or event, his restless trunk swings from side to side, knocking over things, impulsively grabbing things, and wreaking havoc wherever he goes. A wise, experienced elephant trainer will give the elephant a short bamboo stick to hold in his trunk prior to walking through the village so that the elephant’s trunk has something to hold on to and is focused and calm. He is no longer distracted by the sights and sounds in the village market because his trunk has something to hold onto…he has something to focus his attention on.

Likewise, when we meditate, we need to give our minds the equivalent of a bamboo stick – something that will anchor our attention so that our mind doesn’t trample through our consciousness, being carried away by inner and/or outer distractions. There are a variety of options to choose from (different types of meditation offer different “bamboo sticks”), including focusing on the breath, tuning into the sensations in your body, and using a mantra. The best thing you can do for yourself is to try a variety of meditation techniques until you find what works best for your monkey mind.

When you meditate, you experience the silence of the mind when it is not stuck in the past or the future. By its very nature, meditation calms the mind, and when the mind is calm, the body can relax as well. This relaxation is extremely healing for the whole mind-body system. People may come to meditation for many reasons, but it usually includes the ability to reap some of the many benefits of meditation, which include:

  • Lowered blood pressure and heart rate
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Reversal of aging at the cellular level
  • Reduced feelings of stress
  • Increased feelings of relaxation and peace
  • Expanded experience of healing emotions (i.e. love, compassion, joy, equanimity, and gratitude)
  • The ability to respond consciously rather than reacting in a conditioned way
  • Increased focus, memory, and ability to learn
  • Better sleep
  • Decreased addictive behavior

The benefits of meditation can be both immediate and long-term, but either way they are numerous and powerful. Meditation is truly one of the best things you can do for yourself both personally and professionally.

Adding meditation to my daily routine has been the single most important thing I have ever done and I cannot recommend it to others enough. Invest in yourself – take some time to explore the various types of meditation in order to find what works best for you and then make meditation a part of your daily routine. Whether you meditate for 3 minutes or 30 minutes, the benefits you will reap from implementing a consistent meditation practice are totally worth it.

Broken, But Fixable

So often when I look around I see so many signs that point to the fact that we are a broken society.  Life in general is hard these days and living our purpose and acknowledging our true self can be near impossible in this crazy, modern world in which we live.  And I recently sat through a presentation that thoroughly reinforced these thoughts and feelings.  The presentation included some alarming statistics about suicide, the number of people with mental health issues who are not seeking treatment, and the overall impact of such things on our work and personal lives.  Depression, drug & alcohol abuse, anxiety, etc.  The effects are wide spread.  I was struck by just how far reaching this mental health epidemic has become and by how broken we are overall as a people – not just because of the statistics themselves, but because part of what fuels the increase in those statistics is the societal messages we all receive about what it means, according to the society we live in today, to seek help.

We are all doing the best we can with what we have been given, learning from those around us who are doing the best they can as well…but still we find ourselves in this place.  So many people in our society are dealing with challenging things in their lives while at the same time lacking a knowledge of the tools that could help them better navigate those difficult times.  Instead, most people struggle to work things out on their own.  Sadly, this is something I see all too often in my work – so many people struggling to deal with any of a number of issues both personally and professionally, but unwilling to seek help, be it counseling or coaching, because they have been taught to believe that in seeking help they are indicating they are unable to handle things on their own…that they are weak or somehow flawed.

One in four people struggles with some type of mental health issue. What’s even more upsetting than that statistic is the stigma society places on seeking treatment. The societal messages are that you should just ‘learn to deal with it in your own’, “suck it up”, “get over it”, and “everyone else can handle it so why can’t you”.  Such shame and humiliation is cast upon those already struggling with so much.

The “shame of it all” is both in terms of the shame that the people struggling to decide if they should seek help or not feel as a result of those societal messages, but also that we as a society allow that stigma to perpetuate. Rather, we should acknowledge that life is hard for all of us, that we all could use a little help from time to time, and that seeking that help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

So what causes this societal stigma? Is it a lack of love and understanding of our fellow humans? Is it because we do not teach resiliency?  Is it just the chaotic, fast paced life we live in?  Is it the high expectations held for us, real or perceived?  Is it because we have not been taught how to ask questions and to make our own choices?  Is it because we have not been taught how to stand tall in the decisions we do make?  Or is it because of a loss of creativity and curiosity?  I am not sure we will ever truly know the exact cause(s), but one thing that is for certain is that the societal stigma attached to seeking help for even the mildest of stressors in our lives, such as every day stressors like finances, relationships, work, or caregiver stress, is slowly killing us.  We need to find a better way.

The reality is that everything is connected – we can’t leave our problems at home or at work. The mind/body connection is real. Pretending otherwise only makes things worse.  We need to begin recognizing how hard it is to admit the need and/or desire for help.  We need to see it as a strength and not a weakness.  If we are going to help each other through this life, we need to start by creating awareness of the problem and then developing a culture of caring.  We may be broken, but we are still fixable.  A good place to start is to become more mindful of our words and the messages we send with them.

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” – Yehuda Berg

Say It Softly

As humans, we want and need feedback…suggestions…criticism – call it whatever you want, we ask for it continually.  We crave it yet we cringe or run away when we receive it. We are dying to know what people think of us, our work, our outfit, our hairstyle…you name it, we want to know what people think. But the moment that feedback comes, we often want to curl up in a ball and die because it isn’t exactly what we were hoping for, or worse yet, it is downright mean.  And yet we only grow as people if we face the feedback for what it is. Such a strange relationship we have with feedback.  So convoluted.  So confusing.  So frustrating.

Here’s a recent personal example to further illustrate my point: I asked for feedback on short workshop I recently did and I received quite a bit of feedback from the group of people with whom I worked to put together the event (as I had hoped I would – since we all had worked to put it together I was anxious to hear their thoughts on the final product, delivery, etc.). Most of the feedback was the typical niceties (good job, I think it went well, etc.). Some people mentioned the sound issues we had (while completely valid and quite frustrating, that was unfortunately beyond our immediate control…but helpful feedback nonetheless).  But there one piece of feedback that had an edge to it.  It seemed to be a list of complaints with no acknowledgement for the work that went into it.  It was as if there was nothing good about the whole event.  I wanted to run from that feedback when it came through in my email.  It came across such that it triggered that oh so familiar ego voice in my head which began questioning if I was good enough, if I knew what I was doing, etc..  It was the kind of thing that allowed the ego mind go to town.  And unfortunately I don’t know the person who delivered the feedback well enough to know their true intention, but nevertheless that email got my mind rolling down a dangerous and unhealthy path.

And on some level I also found myself feeling some anger about it. Who was this person to do nothing but complain. They didn’t have to make all the contacts to set all this up.  They didn’t have to deal with old equipment that didn’t work right.  They hadn’t spent hours preparing and practicing.  My mind got stuck cycling between the anger and insecurity I was feeling after reading that email.  I had to force myself to close my email and walk away for a few hours.  Okay…until the next day actually.  I needed to let it go, to give myself time to put it into perspective.  So I went home and meditated on it a bit  (after my mind seemed to fixate on it for a while though).  I needed to distance myself from the content, reflect on what were valid concerns (like the sound issues), what was perhaps an issue of someone not reading previous emails and then complaining that they didn’t know something, and what were areas where we truly could work on and improve.  That time away to reflect, rather than immediately responding to the email, was essential I believe so I could respond in a more loving way.  I needed to do that so I could loving accept the person and the feedback and move forward in a more positive way.

And now, after processing it, I realized one additional thing – I really just want people to say whatever they have to say with a little love. I would prefer they land the plane softly. Otherwise it feels like people assume we intentionally screwed something up, like we went out of my way to do something they didn’t like – which of course is not usually the intention or case.  In reality I believe it’s a communication thing, which is a good thing because that is something that’s fixable moving forward.  It is a learning moment.  But I also realize my desire for people to say it a bit more softly is likely a pipe dream and that in reality I need to hone my skills in the area of personal development so that when I do receive difficult feedback it doesn’t make me want to run and hide.  Perhaps by modeling that which I wish to see others do I will influence some portion of the population to be more gentle and loving with their words.

And so to close today’s blog, I offer a few words of encouragement to those giving feedback – don’t operate from a viewpoint that someone intentionally did it “wrong”, but instead offer suggestions from the heart with the intention that everyone benefits. And to those receiving the feedback – don’t respond to difficult feedback right away, rather give yourself time to process it properly and find a way to respond (if a response is even necessary) that is productive and of service to all involved.

Just Stop

So much to do, so little time to do it. We just never really stop. We don’t stop to see all the beauty that surrounds us in nature, in our lives, in the people we are interacting with on a daily basis.  We don’t have time.  Yet we crave it.  We crave the peace that exists inside the pause.  We crave the opportunity to appreciate and feel gratitude.  Yet so few of us experience it.  This is somethings that has fascinated me over the past few years, both for myself and in terms of watching others.

I recently started doing more work with people on meditation – teaching them how to meditate, what the benefits of meditation are, how to incorporate meditation into their lives, etc. And in my conversations with these folks I am continually amazed at the level of stress, frustration, apathy, and exhaustion that they are experiencing in their lives. When we break those feelings down for them it is abundantly clear that the constant “on the go” reality they live in is slowly sucking the life out of them.  And all they want is to find a way to make it stop.  I believe this is true for many more people as well.  In fact, I think it is somewhat of an epidemic in our society today.

We live in a society that says we can have anything we want super-fast. Yet relief from these kinds of feelings doesn’t come quickly – it requires a change in attitude and/or behavior…neither of which tend to change overnight. There is no quick fix.  It requires a change in how we view things, how we interact with things, and in how we live our lives as  a whole.  That means reprogramming how you have probably always done things.  That is not easy and it certainly is not quick.  And so we get easily discouraged and fall right back into those feelings of despair and frustration.  It is a vicious cycle.

But for those who persevere, who recognize you won’t break life-long habits in a day or even a week, the results can be life-altering. Like meditation though, it is a habit to work a little each day on adopting a new mindset and set of behaviors. You’ll have good days and bad days.  But if you just stop living as you have always lived and entertain the possibility of more and better in your life, you can begin a new journey which can result in a much happier and healthier way of living.

I teach meditation as one such tool for making that shift, though there are many other tools out there as well. I encourage you to find what works for you, embrace it, and settle in for the exciting journey ahead. You have nothing to lose – the alternative is more of what you already have and if that’s not what you crave, then why not give it a shot.  Simply put, this or something better please!