To See the Light Again

Some days just can’t be helped. No matter how hard we try, bad days come. The good news is they go again too.

Yesterday must have been the worst day I’ve had in a really long time. Sages say to live as if this day is your last. If yesterday had been mine, my life wouldn’t have ended well.

Nothing a good night’s sleep and perspective can’t help.

Every day we get to decide how we will see the world. When several ugly events collide, it’s like a snowball effect. Our mood goes downhill, then lands in the toilet. If you are a human being reading this (and I’m going to assume that you are), then you know we can’t always be — or have — sunshine. But we can do something about it.

Self-soothing is a fabulous way out of the mess we sometimes find ourselves in. Laughter can heal, especially if we can laugh at ourselves. Inner joy is always humming beneath the surface even when we forget to look there. The trick is to find our way back to that place.

You might be asking yourself, But how? How can I recapture that joy I once knew?

Everyone has their way of rediscovering that dwelling place of inner peace. Yours might be connecting with Nature, your pet or your friends. If you know yourself at all, you will find it. Sometimes all it takes is a little push from the outside. Or the inside. Depending on where you are standing.

My mother taught me early in life to be resilient. We all have the capability to develop that bounce mechanism, but it is a learned skill. On days when I forget that anger and upset are a part of the human experience, I tend to believe I will disappear. That somehow I will die if I show my true feelings.

Not so.

This morning I woke up. The sun rose (behind the clouds). A flea market is taking place in front of my house. My son is giggling in the other room.

Life goes on.

The Universe is a place with no beginnings and no endings. It is like a circle and somehow we have found our way here.

We evolve. We transform. We make mistakes. We get up again. We apologize. We make more mistakes. Above all, we live.

Those who stay with us through the bad days are meant to be here. Those who do not are not.

And for those who have departed too soon, we mourn that loss too.

I am counting my blessings today for the chance to see the light once again. And to share the joy and love with all my heart.

 

 

 

The Journey’s Way

Plans are a wonderful point of orientation, but like any roadmap, they change over time. New roads are added. Old ones turn to dust. Anyone with an outdated navigation system will tell you not all roads lead to Rome. Sometimes they take you down dead ends or endless traffic rotaries. Even if you were intending to go to point A, you sometimes land at point B instead.

The journey is the destination, not the end point on a map. And although we often live as though the most important thing comes at the end of one’s travels, the things that happen during those travels are the essence of our existence.

MoonWhenever I am confronted with life’s challenges, I say a prayer of gratitude for the fruits those lessons will bear — even before I receive or fully understand them. I live with a deep faith that everything happens for a reason – but oh! When that faith is lost! That’s when the turmoil begins. Faith and trust are the foundation for your engine’s happiness — gratitude greases the wheel.

When I was knee-deep in writing The Power of Slow, my sister shared a beautiful mantra with me: “Trust the process.” It is about opening your eyes to what is really in front of you instead of watching the film that is in your head.

We are all owners of our very own head-based movie theater in which our films get played over and over again. We react to the world through the lens of that movie theater camera. Sometimes our films take us to beautiful, exotic places, but most of the time the repeated movie performances lead us down those dead ends to the land of the lost. And when that happens, it’s time to change the film roll to a new one that serves us better.

While many of us pine for a better future with the supposedly comforting saying “One day my ship will come in,” I say why wait for that ship when you’re already on it? If you don’t like the direction it is taking you, steer it in a new direction.

You can weather any storm, my friends. You really can — if you believe.

 

Quieting the Complaining Mind

Between the hours of two and four in the morning, my mind enters the Fret Zone. I worry, complain, argue and fight about the weirdest things. It is as if all the frustration from the day comes tumbling into one pile of yuckiness. And if I am awake, those thoughts try to convince me that they are right.

Do you ever have one of those worst-case-scenario daydreams? It creeps up from behind when you least expect it. Then bam! You are rattled by a catastrophic thought.

Watching the evening news only reinforces the anxiety that the world is going down the tubes. I recently had to walk away from the television because every single story had a negative ending.

Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University and co-author of the book The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships (Penguin 2010) suggests that negative and positive emotions are handled in different hemispheres of the brain. Negative emotions, he suggests, generally involve more thinking so the negative information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. As a result, we tend to dwell on unpleasant experiences and use stronger words to depict what they felt like than happy ones.

An experiment conducted by Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University and co-author of a Review of General Psychology journal article “Bad Is Stronger Than Good” (2001) reveals how the same experience in reverse offers different intensities of emotion. The loss of $50, for instance, resulted in a stronger negative reaction than the happiness stemming from gaining the same amount. 

Of course it comes down to survival. Those who anticipate bad events tend to be better prepared for them. Back in the Cro-Magnon days, it was important to be a little pessimistic about the future. Your cognitive functions were necessarily on high alert so as not to slide into a false state of security. Any Mammoth hunter knows you need to get it before it gets you.

But today? Do we really need to be plagued by all those negative thoughts? In our relatively safe environment (and I speak only for myself – I am aware that someone in Syria certainly may not feel this way at present), we have a lot to be thankful for.

Therein lies the solution. I have found there is no room in my brain for the complaining mind to voice its opinion when I am feeling grateful. A state of gratitude is easily come by. All you need is to look at what you have, say a prayer of thanks and recognize the abundance around you.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, recently said in an interview that she has long practiced daily gratitude by writing down the best thing that happened to her that day and dropping it in her so-called “Joy Jar”. Whenever she’s feeling blue, she picks out one of the pieces of paper and reminds herself that good things do come her way (I mean, Julia Roberts played her in the movie version of her book. I’d ride on that one for a couple of months, wouldn’t you?).

So the next time you’re up at 3 a.m. wondering why the world can be so mean, remember the good things. Think about them hard. Revisit your jar of joy – in whatever form it takes — and remind yourself that Universal Goodness does indeed exist.

How can you get your daily dose of joy? Well, my friend, as with all things – large and small — it starts with you.

The Curative Nature of Kindness

“You may be sorry that you spoke, sorry you stayed or went, sorry you won or lost, sorry so much was spent. But as you go through life, you’ll find — you’re never sorry you were kind.” — Herbert V. Prochnow

Kindness has its own special type of loveliness. Every day we are faced with the decision to show kindness — or not. We can help that person on the tram or choose to ignore him. We can reach out to a friend in pain just to listen, or we can fill their ears with our own crap without asking how they are.

Kindness cures. It isn’t possessive. It exists simply for the sake of its own wonderfulness. Like a wildflower in a meadow, dancing in the wind.

We can access our inner kindness any time we wish, although sometimes we lose our way to that place. The opening to our hearts gets covered in layers of gunk, generated by stress, fatigue or even boredom.

To create a heart-clearing, we need to stop, breathe and forgive ourselves. If we remove self-judgement and resistance from the equation, that opening becomes free again. And we are able, once again, to reach into that deeper part of ourselves to sip from the well of kindness.

Being kind to others does not mean we are unkind to ourselves. In fact, the greatest acts of kindness come from our center. And we can’t be centered and give to others if we have nothing left to give to ourselves.

What act of kindness can you commit today?

It may be as simple as sending love through your eyes.

The Floodgates of Gratitude

Gratitude makes us happier. So how can we get more grateful to get more happiness?

Here’s how it works: joy and gratitude are related. The more grateful you are, the more joyful you become. And because you are joyful, you increase your level of gratitude for — well — everything. Pretty soon, you are bursting with so much joy that people start to wonder what you’re up to. And that’s where the fun really gets going.

Gratitude starts with looking at what you have. Somehow we have been conditioned to strive for that which we have not yet attained. That gets us on the hamster-wheel-gotta-run-faster track. We race. We sweat. We grab at the dangling carrot. But somehow it is just out of our reach because every time we think we’ve ‘got it now,’ we get sidetracked with something ‘even better’. That kind of thinking will make you certifiably crazy. Or it’ll kill you. Whichever comes first.

Instead of engaging in the imaginary race to nowhere, what if we were to slow down for a moment and take inventory of all the things we already have?

It’s like cleaning out the basement (which I did recently – God bless you, Klaus. That was a grateful experience!). You suddenly can’t believe how many plastic forks you possess that you will never, ever use again. Or all the things we accumulate over the years — that china cup we held lovingly in our hands as we opened it under the Christmas tree; the basket we filled with food for our family; the handbag we once thought fashionable, but now is simply embarrassing. We realize how much we have lived by the scars our possessions carry. For some of us, they are evidence that we have lived at all.

Maybe you don’t have a basement full of stuff, but I bet you have more than you realize when you start to look around you. Instead of looking at the missing cash in your bank account, start looking at the filled hearts that surround you — because of you.

In my view, relationships enrich our lives far more than anything we could ever possess such as a boat, a fancy car or a vacation home. It is nice to have those things, but if it means taking away lots of time from the people I love to get them, I’d rather pass.

Open the floodgates of gratitude today. Count the many, many blessings you have. Share them with others, including how grateful you are for those people.

Gratitude, like laughter, is contagious. You may just spark a revolution with your awesomeness.

And well, by golly, that just creates more gratitude and joy and juice.

You see where I’m going with this?

A Measure of Strength

Foto-3Being ill can bring you down and make you wonder if you will ever feel good again. It is in those moments when gratitude sets in for the times you did feel good.

I am certainly not an advocate for feeling sick, but there are good things that come of it. It makes you realize you don’t always have to be – nor can you always be — strong. Moments of weakness remind us that we are human. We make mistakes. Our bodies protest. Our minds grow weak. The soul remains constant, but the rest seems to tumble like a house of cards when illness sets in.

Our bodies are our temples, yet we often neglect them through lack of rest, poor nutrition or less than ideal amounts of movement. Even if we do pay attention to those things, we might still catch a cold that lays us low for a while.

Rarely will you hear someone tell you it is okay to be weak. It is as if we think we always have to be strong – or that a state of weakness is abnormal.

It isn’t.

It’s a part of life.

Even in moments of physical, emotional or moral weakness, know that you will bounce back with the help of your inner strength (and the strength of the people who love you) – it is a strength that cannot be measured in pounds or kilograms. It can only be measured by how well you live your life.

If you are feeling less than Herculean today, it is really okay. You are not alone. Being in a state of vulnerability reminds us of our beautiful fragility and the tightrope we walk between strength and weakness – every day.

The Shattering Power of Gratitude

Gratitude can rock your world. It’s the cousin of joy. No, on second thought, it’s the Siamese twin. You simply can’t have one without the other.

Yesterday a sales lady caught me cradling some high-end shampoo as I walked to the checkout counter. I was celebrating having landed another, albeit short-term, client by purchasing some sparkle in a bottle. It’s not the kind I use every day. It’s expensive, smells good, and gives me an inner shine.

“What reverence!” she exclaimed as she watched me carefully place the bottle on the counter.

If she only knew.

I wasn’t always this grateful about things. In fact, I took a lot of things for granted ~ big house, nice cashflow, effortless opportunities to travel whenever I needed to scratch my travel itch.

Things have changed now. Effortlessness now comes in the form of my own gratefulness for the things I still have. And although my material world has shrunk, my spiritual one has expanded immeasurably.

Everything else was merely a trapping of an empty, less than ideal existence. Doing what you want doesn’t always give you what you want. Oftentimes that kind of freedom sends you on a downward spiral into misery.

Money can’t buy you happiness. In fact, happiness is not for sale. Unlike the shampoo, an expression of my joy for having acquired another client, happiness is a state of mind.

As I left the store with my new purchase (and I swear I think the sales lady was glowing, too), I reflected on the shattering power of gratitude. It can break down walls of resistence within ourselves. It can carefully craft a whole new way of being in the world. When we look at what we have versus what we do not, our entire perspective changes.

I know people who drive fancy cars and live in palatial homes, but their happiness level isn’t any higher. They seek satisfaction only to watch it crumble after a few moments of fun. When we are accustomed to so much, it is hard to see it all. It grows into a blur and an unsettling feeling of dis-ease enters our bones.

Yes, gratitude can indeed rock your world. It has certainly rocked mine. Foundation and all.

 

 

 

Going into the Full Release

Letting go is one of the hardest things for us to do, especially if we are highly attached to the way we think things should be.

Whether we like it or not, we have expectations about things. You might argue that you do not, but my guess is you do expect a certain kind of treatment at a restaurant or other public space. You may say you expect nothing of anyone, but I bet you expect something from yourself.

To be human is to expect. There’s a reason why we use the term ‘expecting’ when a woman is pregnant.

We expect a lot.

And that leads me to the reason why letting go is so incredibly hard. We are hard-wired to expect things. To shift our thinking from what we want to what we have isn’t always easy.

Perhaps you expect your child to attend an Ivy League college and then are disappointed when his path takes a different turn.

Perhaps you expect your spouse to treat you like a God, then are shocked when he or she doesn’t come close to seeing you that way.

Maybe you expect to be paid what you are worth, but cry every time you bring your measly paycheck home.

Going into the full release can help allay those feelings of disappointment.

Whenever I feel expectations creep up the back of my spine and into my skull, I thank them for their time, then breathe them away. I recognize they are there for a reason ~ to foster hope, to shape my reality, to give me a sense of joy. But it is a false joy because oftentimes expectations cannot be met. That’s when the searing pain of disappointment settles into our bones, turning joy into sorrow.

Joy, for the mere sake of it, is more sustainable. Releasing those great expectations, counting our blessings and steeping ourselves in gratitude for What Is and What Shall Be are the cornerstones of immeasurable delight.

Breathe with me now. Thank those expectations, then send them on their way while you go yours.

Going into the full release is a guaranteed path to your personal liberation. Forever.

 

 

Your Life’s Inventory

There is nothing more powerful than cleaning house. And I mean really digging down deep into those closets and drawers. Taking inventory of your belongings is a lot like taking inventory of your life. What do you need? What can you cast aside?

Treading lightly on the Earth can be incredibly empowering. Who needs all this stuff anyway? As we careen toward another holiday season, I am reminded that we need a lot less than we think.

Just today I pulled out three cabinets of contents that I had completely forgotten about. Most of the items were sheets I never use. Thinking that perhaps someone else could use them instead, I placed them in a bag for charity. But I didn’t stop there. I went through all my children’s game closets and pulled out puzzles and games they’ll never look at again.

Decluttering never felt so good.

Take stock of what you own. Maybe it isn’t material items, but relationships that need revamping, reevaluating or reassigning. Now is a good time to think about how you have spent most of your time this year and with whom. Has it been in joy and bountifulness? Or have you been left staggering in the wind, depleted and exhausted from the treadmill that is your life?

As we enter the season of gratitude this week (that’s Thanksgiving for you American folks and, well, togetherness and family time for the rest of you), do you know what you are grateful for?

One thing is for certain: I am grateful for you.

 

The Act of Self-Forgiveness

“What a stupid thing to do!”

“How could I have done that?”

“I’m soooo embarrased!”

“I’m such an idiot.”

We have all said these things to ourselves at one point in our lives. The negative self-talk in which we engage only serves to make us feel bad, overcautious and victimized by our own decisions. It is a powerless place where nothing we do differently will make it better. We remain the imbeciles we think we are.

That is, unless we practice a little self-forgiveness for the mistakes we make.

About ten years ago, I began the self-forgiveness journey with an inquiry about what life would be like if:

  • every time we made an error, we would laugh instead of cry
  • we acknowledge the cringing sensation of having said/done/thought something less than optimal
  • we celebrate the knowledge of what doesn’t work versus beating ourselves us for selecting that path
  • we distinguish between making mistakes and our own intrinsic value (that is to say, one does not affect the other. You are still worthy even if you’re imperfect).

In an earlier post last year, I blogged about the seemingly unforgivable that people actually forgave. Forgiveness, whether of self or of others, is the route to setting yourself free. It is not the perpetrator who is liberated by your forgiveness, but yourself. If you are the perpetrator of your own acts of self-violence, then forgiveness is needed all the more as you play a double starring role in your own unfurling drama.

My dear actor friend and acting coach Gabrielle Scharnitzky taught me a lovely exercise I would like to impart to you. Since many of us in this insane-size-zero-celebrity-driven culture carry with us a less than ideal body image, you might find this exercise particularly helpful for developing a sense of gratitude for your body as well as practicing the act of self-forgiveness. It goes like this:

After taking a shower or bath, thank each part of your body for the things that it does. As you apply lotion to your skin, really look at yourself. Every part. Say a prayer of gratitude (“Thank you, feet, for helping me stand tall.” or “Thank you, hands, for helping me create miracles today…”). It will not only give you a better sense of self, it will also put you in a better mood. After all, how can you not forgive a person who is saying “thank you”?

And that person, my love, is you.