Sunday, September 25, 2016

9/26/16—Calling Out Our Fears

There is something that anyone who reads this blog or who has ever seen my Facebook knows about me. I love dogs. I had them my entire life growing up. And when I bought a house, a dog moved in the very next day. I named her Passion, because that’s how I feel about dogs. They are my friends, my children and my protectors.

My brother John, on the other hand, went to his grave fearing dogs. He was mauled as a child and being around dogs triggered him. He, of course, had to live with dogs as a child, but he never warmed up to them like the rest of us. He's the only one of six children to never have a dog as an adult. To him, they were dangerous, unpredictable beasts.

There are lots of people out there like that. And they don’t have to have been attacked by dogs themselves to feel that way. Maybe a family member was attacked. Maybe they grew up in a neighborhood with some vicious dogs and learned to fear them. Maybe they even have a long family history of dog anxiety that has been ingrained in them, probably for good reasons. They’ve likely been told that dogs can sense and play off their fear, in a co-created, escalating kind of way. Let’s face it, dog lover or not, if you encounter the wrong one (or worse, a pack of them) they will rip your throat out and there’s nothing you can do about it. So dogs are a hazard that those with bad experiences try to avoid.

So imagine if you feel that way about dogs and you’re cornered and growled at. Conventional wisdom might tell you to respond in one way, but your inner fight vs. flight mechanism—your fear—may very well tell you something different in that moment. It’s not about staying calm and rational, it’s about survival and whatever your brain tells you will get you there.

Likewise, I’ve never been mugged. But I’ve been told all my life anxiety-provoking things like “women are vulnerable to muggings” and “walk with your keys between your fingers as a weapon” and “if you feel like you’re being followed, cross the street.” I do know that, when the moment comes, you’re supposed to just give them your wallet. But what if I’m so afraid in that moment that I can’t move? What if I’m in such a panic over my worst nightmare coming true that I can’t access all the lessons I’ve been taught? What if a voice in my head says “run”, even though, intellectually, I know I can’t outrun them? What if some trauma in my past urges me not to listen to the person with the gun or knife in my face, because I feel this will end poorly, even if I cooperate? Maybe cooperating will help save my life. I mean muggings are usually just that, right? But maybe, no matter what I do, it could escalate from the mugging into a murder. I can honestly say I have no idea how I’d handle that because I’ve never been in that situation. I’d probably rely on my gut in the moment.

Are these concerns about muggings and maulings rational? Maybe. Maybe not. When we’ve grown up and seen or heard about certain dangers, we naturally become afraid of them. I remember being afraid of monsters in my closet as a child. I’m 53 years old and probably still won’t sleep with a closet door open. These things—attacking dogs, muggers, etc.—get filed in our head as dangers and no amount of intellectualization can remove them entirely, especially if they were imprinted in our heads at a young age.

And let’s say muggers were targeting green-eyed women specifically. And let’s pretend I had a cousin with green eyes that had been attacked—that just raises the concern to another level. It doesn’t matter that you tell me that the odds of MY green eyes drawing an attack were statistically small, or that maybe it was just a coincidence that all had green eyes. It would be stupid for me to just blindly trust an “unknown quantity” who happened to notice the color of my eyes. Right? I mean, you wouldn’t blame me for wanting to get out of the situation, even if they were dressed like a priest, for example. Fear and survival are natural instincts within us. They are difficult to override.

So this is where we reach the part of this blog where I actually get to the point…haha. It’s not about dogs. It’s not about green eyes or muggings. Those are analogies that explore the same kind of understandable fear-based thinking and response that set the stage for the point I'm trying to make. So I want to be clear—I’m not likening anyone to a dog or a mugger or anything like that.

The point of all of those analogies is that white suburban folk like me can’t possibly say “I don’t see why black people just don’t listen to the cops” and have that be ANY kind of relevant input. What you would do and what a black person might do is completely different, because your perception and reality are completely different. Your experience with the police is like mine with dogs. Positive. And I’ve been bit by dogs, myself. But I’ve had enough good experiences around them to a) not feel fear b) trust dogs in general and c) avoid being bit.

But if I were my brother, frozen in fear, surrounded by barking dogs with thoughts of mauling going through my head, it would be totally different. Everything I might have been told by my mother about how to handle a situation might be out the window and replaced by fear. If the relevant portion of my dog experience is “dogs bite” I’m going to do whatever I’m capable of in the moment to avoid being bit. That might be freezing in terror, unable to respond. That might be running. And if dogs get me down on the ground, even if it’s to smother me in kisses, I’m probably going to struggle and panic, regardless. Even if I know I’ve done nothing to invite aggression, even if I see tails wagging, I’m going to respond from a place of trauma. I’m going to act like the dogs think I’m a threat, because MY history with dogs says that’s what dogs do. (That's if I were my brother. The real me would tell them to clap their yaps and come over and give me some lovin'.)

Dog lovers can’t possibly relate to what people with a societal knowledge of repeated maulings feel, think or do. Even if it’s only, say, 5% of dogs who attack. They are going to be afraid or on guard 100% of the time. And they should be, just as I should be concerned about a rash of attacks on green-eyed women.

Now that that’s out of my system, I’ll say this. I respect cops and I love dogs. And I’m also going to say these analogies work both ways. Just as blacks have a cultural knowledge of excessive trouble with cops, cops have a cultural knowledge of excessive trouble with blacks—not all blacks and not all cops, but enough that it has created a real issue. Further, white men (not all but in general) have a cultural “caution” against black men, from what I’ve observed. To the black man, that might seem unwarranted. But, frankly, that white man is aware that people who look like him kidnapped, enslaved, beat, raped and lynched your relatives. You might hold that against them and you might not. But they don’t know if they don’t know you. You could be Will Smith and that caution would be there—not out of fear of The Fresh Prince—but out of fear of karma.

This is a co-created dynamic that builds upon itself. A snowball. The more cops profile and have preconceived notions based on color and the more they shoot unarmed black people, the more distrust and fear they earn. And the more black people fear cops and respond in ways that support the policeman’s fears, the more people get shot. It’s a self-feeding cycle that repeats over and over again because neither side is willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Because they are both acting and responding in fear, the consequences of trust feel too great. But, in my mind, when one person is armed and the other is not, the armed one is in the position of power and, if they shoot, they do the greater wrong. So why do we keep placing blame on “untrained” victims, when trained “officers of the peace”—professionals who have supposedly learned best practices on how to respond in a variety of situations—keep losing their objectivity? To be fair, unarmed white people get killed by police, too. But, according to the Washington Post, it's five times more likely to happen to a black person. 

Another thing I’ve heard white people say is “why do black people have to stage violent demonstrations?” Well, most of the demonstrations are peaceful. You don’t hear about them, because nothing bad happened and stories with happy endings don't get as many clicks as controversial stories do. But yes, some of these protests turn violent. And yes, cops were recently killed by a fringe sniper at an otherwise peaceful protest. And they have been targeted elsewhere, too. Which is not OK. NONE of the killing is OK. But consider this…Colin Kaepernick staged a peaceful protest and the country was OUTRAGED, calling him everything from the n-word to traitor.

So the fact is, there is really nothing a black person can do to win when it comes to speaking against this. Society has set it up for them to be wrong. It would seem we want them to just forget, look the other way and be silent despite there being a clear and dangerous pattern of bias out there. White people simply don’t have a right to ask that of them. You wouldn’t ask it of a victim of any other kind of violent crime or inequity, and you sure as heck wouldn’t stand there silent if it were happening to people you love.

Being a white person myself, I can say this: a lot of white people think racism is over. A non-issue. They just want everyone to go on with their lives like nothing ever happened. I wish my brother had gone on like he’d never been mauled, because his kids weren’t allowed to have a dog growing up. I was never invited to bring my pups over to his house to play, either. But ultimately, it wasn’t my place to tell him to just move on from trauma that, understandably, haunted him all his life. He healed a lot of it, but of course his guard was up until he knew, for sure, a particular dog was trustworthy. And while I can't speak for his children, I wouldn't be surprised if at least one didn't have preconceived notions about dogs based on their father's reticence.

His caution was as much a part of him as being family-oriented and a sports lover was. It was woven into the fabric of his being, just as unwarranted violence and bias against blacks has been part of the fiber of our country going back to its very inception.  And the fact there are white people out there who believe that Obama started all the racism in our country is proof. That may be the fringe, but the fringe is always nothing more than an exaggeration of the feelings of a much larger population of people.

I’ll be the first person to tell you I don’t have the answers. I mean, spiritually speaking, trust building is the answer. Heart-centered listening, as opposed to reactive listening would help, too. But the trust took hundreds of years to erode. Thinking you can overcome that with a quick fix is naive, though I think we can knock it out in a generation or two if we start healing it *consciously* and from a place of love right now. That said, I don't think society in general is capable of that at this juncture in history. So I won’t claim to know the fix. My strength is more in understanding what motivates people and what goes on beneath the surface. And understanding is always the first step to healing.

Racism is a thing. Denying it or looking the other way or blaming others won’t make it disappear. That *sort of* worked with the monsters in my closet, but it doesn’t work when there are real tensions, real people, real fear, real guns and real lives involved. It flabbergasts me how many otherwise good people suck at empathy…at putting themselves in other peoples’ shoes. And, to be honest, we can never really do that anyway. But if we are the people, the society and the country we like others to think we are, we have to at least try.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

9/19/16—Standing in Your Integrity

I was out with a friend the other day when she brought up a question of integrity that she had been struggling with. And as we talked through it, I realized she and I had kinda different definitions of what integrity meant. 

First of all, let me state that I think anyone who is questioning their own integrity is doing things right when it comes to personal and spiritual development. In fact, they are probably pretty far along their path. To question one's own integrity means that a person's self-awareness is in a pretty evolved place. That you can know yourself and what you feel is "right" well enough—and have transcended your ego to a point you can identify lapses and worry about it—no God or form of human perfection can ask for more of you, imo. You are definitely in the front of the class as far as seekers go.

So let's define integrity. My friend defines it as the dictionary does—being honest and having strong moral principles, along with being honest with yourself. And while my definition is 90% that, I also define it somewhat by one of its antonyms, hypocrisy. So, in other words, I see integrity as being true to the person you feel you're supposed to be, and represent yourself to be, in the not be a hypocrite. 

It's such a fine line, really. And I'm sure my friend incorporates anti-hypocrisy, too. But the reason I'm making this point is that I think the needle moves on integrity depending on who you are, where you are in your journey and what you believe. After all, "having strong moral principles" is subject to interpretation, and being honest has degrees. If we're REALLY honest, honesty is also subject to interpretation, not to mention the fact that there are situations where honesty clashes with some of your other ideals. "No your butt doesn't look big in that" and "I'm fine, how are you?" are not always honest, but they don't exactly make you a hypocrite or amoral loser, either. In fact, they are fully integrous with other moral ideals, like kindness, non-judgement and social courtesy.

To illustrate this, let's pretend you're a gay man living in Texas. Sodomy is not only illegal, it's considered amoral in your community. So are you acting in integrity by being true to the man you love and having a full relationship with him? Or is it more integrous to refuse your homosexuality and align with both the law and God's view of your love as an abomination? And is that refusal of your sexuality integrous to the "integrity ideal" of honesty? Do you align with accepted moral principles and what is considered the "truth" in your community... or do you align with what is true to yourself and what you know is right based on your sense of what is right and good? I imagine pretty much every homosexual has faced that question in one way or another and almost all of them chose to remain true to their homosexuality. But do they have integrity when they bring their lover to church on Sunday? The ansewer to that question is another question, "who's asking?"

We all feel killing is "wrong". So is it wrong for soldiers to kill our enemies? Are they acting outside of their, say, "Christian integrity" to go against the Ten Commandments? Is it wrong for a vigilante father to kill the man who raped and tortured his daughter? If our country believes killing is wrong, are we being hypocrites by having the death penalty? Also if it's wrong to steal or profit from theft, is Julian Assange wrong to deal in stolen emails? Are we wrong to read them? And if that is right, is it also right to release Colin Powell's—a private, albeit influential, citizen's emails—emails that have no corruption in them, but are scandalous to read?

Integrity is a tricky thing. And it's a personal thing.

Which brings us back to self awareness. In my mind, you can't have integrity without self awareness. You need to be able to examine yourself and be as honest and fair with yourself as possible before you can even determine what is in your integrity, much less police it. 

So my friend's issue involved a behavior she noticed when she was at a group thing. The group leader did something that didn't seem very leaderly. And there was another woman she knew at the group thing. So she contacted that woman and said she wanted to talk about something that had happened that night and her friend, without even knowing what they were going to talk about, told her they could talk, but "just so long as we don't judge others" (which was a principle discussed in the group the night before.)

So this sent my friend into a conundrum. Was her desire to talk about this thing against her integrity? Was it wrong? Would it be judgmental to discuss this thing that happened? So she started looking deeply at *why* she wanted to discuss this thing. Was it to gossip or feel superior? Or was it to get the other woman's read on the situation in order to gain greater understanding so she can be a better leader herself?

I face a similar conundrum when it comes to what some call gossip. Some of it is mean spirited and a toxic way of judging others and feeling superior. I don't want to hear or participate in that shit. But if someone I know, whether I like them or not, has a major life development—marriage, illness, etc.—is it against my integrity to want to hear? Where is the line between "gossip" and "news" drawn?

One of our assignments as humans is to draw or adopt a "personal code of conduct". And my code of conduct and that of someone, say, raised amidst poverty and crime, may be different. I might think stealing is never right and they might think it's right to steal if you're starving, for example. So we all have to decide what integrity is for ourselves. And often when we're asking the question "what is within my integrity?" we're really asking ourselves "what do I truly believe about this?"

On more than one occasion, I've written that, if you represent yourself as a loving and nice person, then it's not OK to bully or deride someone who you think is a bully or an asshole. Either you believe love is the answer or you don't. But it's not really that simple. Doing things against our integrity and then feeling bad about them is how we determine where to draw the lines within ourselves. And, of course, we have to have the accompanying self awareness and self examination to even see where we're being hypocritical in the first place.

I can't tell you how often when writing these posts I change my wording or the point I'm making to avoid being a hypocrite. Seriously. I'll be writing something and know within me that it's not true to me, regardless of whether or not it's true to what I want to represent to you. And it is NOT within my integrity to call someone names as I've done in regard to this presidential election. But if there's any doubt, I see the hypocrisy and lack of integrity when I do it. It is unhealed, angry, and even possibly unexamined parts of me that I'm battling with to understand my own beliefs. Or possibly I'm battling with the integrity of one principle I hold dear against the integrity of another. Calling someone a conman is name calling and judgment, which I don't really like, but it's true to my desire to not be silent when I see something dangerous happening. I can't satisfy both senses of integrity.

And right there is the point at which we all need to be careful. We have to be careful what we justify to ourselves in order to make us right. Which is exactly what my friend was wondering about the other day...was she justifying something to make it right or was she examining the situation with another seeker to assist in her own understanding and growth? A lot of spiritual seekers never even consider these kinds of questions because they are either unaware or don't want to know the answers. 

So my final answer to conundrums like this is they are individual judgment calls within the larger framework of generally accepted standards of honesty and morality. My integrity is mine to decide, not out of stubborn resistance and a need to be right, but out of responsible self examination. And wherever you draw the line (for example, between gossip and news) is up to you. Further, that needle moves between people and moves even within yourself as you challenge yourself to grow. And once the needle is set, challenges may come along to make you question the line. Finally, as with most things in life, the intention beneath something is key.

So integrity is a living breathing thing that is a joint creation between society and individual beliefs. And it's not a badge you earn because you do it right in one area of your life...or have some sort of right to because you go to church or pay your taxes...or because you hold on to some stubborn view of righteousness or superiority. It is an evolving thing that needs to be tended to every day through your own self awareness. And it is fed with fruits of good intent and the genuine desire to evolve. Also, once your lines are established, you can't blame others for knocking you off. How well you walk those lines lands squarely on the shoulders of your own integrity.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/12/16—Creating Magic In Your Life

A friend of mine recently introduced me to this book, E Squared. It's a book of nine energy experiments that "prove" your thoughts shape your reality. 

To begin with, and to get this out of the way, it's basic psychology that thoughts shape reality. If you're a negative person, you will naturally notice and focus on the negative things in your life. Meanwhile, someone can have the exact same experiences and see their world through a positive lens. Each viewpoint sets the world up to deliver more of that viewpoint, because you tend to screen out viewpoints that don't agree with yours. So if you're looking for something to complain about, you'll certainly find it.

But somewhere in all of this, for those who believe in things like higher powers and the ability to manifest things in the universe with the help of that higher power, a line gets crossed between basic psychology and "magic". And that line is located in a different place for different people. Some people are all in. Some are non-believers. For me, the line is nearer all-in, but also recognizes that other explanations may exist for whatever phenomena you're experiencing. That said, read tarot or practice psychic development long enough, and you'll definitely amass enough "evidence" that the universe interacts with us willingly, reliably and clearly when you are open to it. 

So the first experiment in this book is to ask God or the universe to send you proof that they exist and are listening, and that proof should come in the form of a surprise or gift. You don't get to say what the surprise will be. You get what you get. This is important because if you think you know what it's going to be, that is what you will look for and you might overlook or even reject the real gift. Besides, who better than God to decide what gift is appropriate to and the occasion?

The book also said to put a time limit on it for two days (which I don't normally do.) Then you're supposed to just let it go and trust. My two days were over Tuesday at 2pm. 

Tuesday at 2pm comes and goes and there's no surprise or gift. This really surprises me (haha, maybe that was the surprise?). After all, I have countless stories of times this kind of manifestation has worked for me and I was extra sure it would happen, because I was so excited. I truly believed something would come to me. But nothing came. 

So around 3pm I had to run out to do some errands. One of the things I hate about my PT Cruiser is that once a year or so, the check engine light goes on. And sometimes it turns itself off. But many times I have to bring it to a mechanic to the tune of $600. In Virginia, we get our cars inspected every year for emissions and safety. You can't get your car inspected with the light on, so you can't just ignore it. 

It usually goes on when it's really hot and pressure builds up in the gas tank. Sometimes just putting in gas and driving a long distance (like 70 miles) will make the light go off. But my light has been on for two months (fortunately for me, it went on right after I got my car inspected.) It mocks me every time I turn the ignition. It makes me regret my choice in vehicles. It stresses me out because it's expensive to fix.

On Monday, that damned check engine light was still on. But when I went to run errands Tuesday afternoon, it was off. 

Coincidence? Perhaps. It does turn itself off sometimes. But for anyone who wants to see more and greater magic in their life, this is a critical point. This is the point where you have to suspend disbelief and, instead of doubting the universe or questioning the "gift", extend your gratitude for gifts received. 

In my case, when 2pm rolled around, I was puzzled. Because I was sure the experiment would work and was anxious to see what the universe had cooked up for me. And when I got in my car,  I didn't even notice at first. But there I am driving around and thinking about how the deadline came and went and maybe I need to try again, and then I noticed. So I even felt like the universe was playing a little joke on an endearing way. 

So anyway, try the experiment yourself and let me know how it goes. Ask the universe to send you "a clear and positive gift or sign" in the next 48 hours. Suspend all disbelief, even get excited about it. And then, and this is important, keep your mind open. You will probably not get something wrapped in a Tiffany box with a bow. You may even wonder "is this really it?" Instead of that, be grateful for whatever good comes into your life. Then do the experiment again, if you like. 

The more you recognize the signs the universe is sending you—signs of good fortune and hope and love—the more of these signs you'll see. Keep it in mind, and you'll weather hard times easier, too. I was in a really bad place a couple of months ago and two powerful "signs" came at a critical moment one day, reminding me that the universe has my back. 

So maybe it's magic and maybe it's psychology. Believing it's psychology makes me less motivated to try. Kinda blah. Believing it's magic makes me want to do all sorts of fun things with it, however. So I'm going with magic, God's infinite grace, universal connection, etc. Who doesn't want more of that in their life?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

9/5/16—Making What You Have Work

Tonight's post is a classic post. I intend to be back next week with a fresh post for you. :) 

There's this tree in my neighbor's back yard, behind their shed. It's an evergreen...a cedar, I think. It's sort of a Charlie Brown tree in a way. It's not symmetrical. The branches reach every which way. It's top heavy. Awkward. Lopsided.

You might consider this tree "unfortunate" were it not for the fact that it has somehow managed to grow quite healthy with a shed on one side blocking the afternoon sun, a fence and vegetation on the other side blocking the morning sun and a bunch of bigger trees above it blocking the daytime sun. But I've seen this tree grow pretty big over 15 years with all these obstacles remaining constant.

One thing that helps is that it's an evergreen. When everyone loses their leaves, the evergreen gets to bask in the sun. I have a pear blossom in my yard that buds and blooms before the maple above it gets its leaves. Otherwise it wouldn't get the sun it needs to do all that. Once it has leaves, it's happy to live under the maple, but if the maple grew leaves sooner, the pear blossom never would have made it.

Both the evergreen and pear blossom are able to get what they need to survive, partly because of the kind of tree they are. The evergreen is evergreen, so it gets a good five months out of the year without any competition for sunlight. The pear blossom is an early bloomer, so it gets a valuable month's head start on establishing its leaves and gets all the power it needs to bloom while the maple is still making whirlybirds.

But beyond the tree type...what's in its DNA...the evergreen thrives as an individual by poking its branches out wherever it can to catch sun and rain. Which is why it's so oddly shaped. It is, in fact, NOT oddly shaped, but instead, perfectly shaped to take advantage of its environment. Same with the pear blossom. It's grows thin and tall with more leaves higher up because it competes with two much larger trees and has to find that bit of clear airspace available to wash as much surface area with sun and rain to keep it going.

So there's a tall, fat tree using its tall fatness to make the most of its mission on earth—growth and light. And there's a tall skinny flowering tree that's tall and skinny for the same reasons.

Most of my life I've resented the body I'm in. Like the evergreen, I'm an apple...leaner legs with all my weight around the middle. It's no mistake I have this body, though. Like the evergreen, the universe planted me where it did for a purpose and I grew as I did for a purpose, too. Some of the evergreen's awkwardness isn't awkwardness at all, but what that tree needs in order to face the it copes to both protect and expose itself to the right elements. I suppose I'm the same way.

Same with my pear blossom. In fact, one day the maple will have to come down and that pear blossom will change in all sorts of ways because of it, just as the evergreen would change if the shed or one of the trees around it came down. But then again, we don't know what other issues something like that may trigger. Right now, everything is thriving just as it is. 

And as long as we allow our special kind of DNA and our weird and awkward ways of coping to keep focusing on our unique missions of growth and light, it's likely we'll continue. What the trees don't have to struggle with, but we do though, is accepting that they will never be an oak or maple—tall with an impressive canopy to drink in the elements. Oaks and maples have their own issues to contend with. The lifespan of a maple, for example, is centuries less than the lifespan of a cedar. But that's just it...the trees don't struggle at all. They just work with what they have and make what they have work.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

8/29/16—Practicing Unconditional Love

This is a classic post, but the phenomena has repeated itself over and over again in my life since. So pay attention. ;) 

The other day I mentioned that a stranger smiled at me when I was on the verge "having a moment" in the drug store, and it made me feel like things were going to be all right. She had no way of knowing how I felt. She just smiled from her heart.

Later that day I saw a little girl in a restaurant. She seemed transfixed on me. Children of a certain age range, say birth to 5 or 6, tend to see something in me. I flatter myself by thinking they see a lovely aura or that they see guides around me. Anyway, she had that look. And as her mother walked her out of the restaurant, I smiled at the little girl as she walked past. Then she made a monster face at me and disappeared through the door.

I was sitting near the window, so as they walked by me again, I made a monster face back to her and she laughed. We were simpatico. I knew she was playing and she knew I was playing. And we had a secret little moment that her mother was completely unaware of. I imagine both of us relished it.

Then today I was having really bad day. Just exhausted to the point that just sitting here writing was almost more energy than I had to expend. I've been on the verge of sleep and tears all day, but had deadlines to meet, so I soldiered on. Then I got an email from a friend saying wonderful things to me and giving me permission to feel exhausted without feeling guilty about dogs that need walks or anything else.

These little, seemingly mundane moments are far more important than they seem. The stranger in the drug store defused the emotion welling up in me. The little girl removed any lingering trace of negative feelings within me. The friend affirmed that I don't always have to do it all. 

Helping others doesn't have to cost money, it doesn't take an elaborate plan, it doesn't even require that you know the person or sense distress. It just means walking through life with an open heart, an encouraging smile or a kind gesture or word. You'll never know if your smile fell on deaf eyes or saved a life. And it doesn't matter. All it takes is to develop a practice of kindness and love within yourself, regardless of the other person and whether or not they mean anything to you.

One of the hardest and most rewarding spiritual lessons is unconditional love. Hard, because it requires you to love those society deems unlovable. Rewarding because it literally sets you free and transforms you spiritually. And it all starts with simple, kind shows of love like I described above. 

A smile alone can transform and even save a life. You very well may be the one bright light in someone's day. You don't have to always be the smiler. Sometimes you'll be the smilee. But either way, recognizing and appreciating you're part of a beautiful transaction can move you further down the path toward achieving universal unconditional love.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

8/22/16—Sharing Six Things About Happiness

Odd piece of trivia: people tend to like enumerated lists of things. So if you get an email with a subject line that says "Five Things Weird People Do," you're more likely to open that than an email that just says "Stuff Weird People Do." 

Before you protest and tell me all about how you'll read any email with "stuff" in the subject line, there are, no doubt, exceptions. And you, a board-certified snowflake, may be one of them. But it's just one of those things the advertising industry does research on, then pumps into my head. So I thought I'd share it with you. Now here's a classic post, "Six Things To Know About Happiness."

1. Happiness Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be. You very well may be happy right now and not even know it. It doesn't necessarily come with a balloon and streamers attached. It's not necessarily something you get in exchange for something good you've done. It's merely a feeling of remarkable wellbeing in body, mind, emotion, and/or soul. And by "remarkable", I'm not talking "rare". I'm talking, "hey, I'm remarking that I'm happy!" (Notice the lone exclamation point?) So it's not quite joy or bliss (which *do* come with streamers...AND a few extra exclamation points). Happiness is just a nice smile that comes from within. :) 

2. Happiness is Not a Destination. It's part of the journey. There's never going to come a day when you're "Happy. Period." We all have ups and downs. We may be happy in one area of our lives and less than happy in another. It's not a place to land and plant roots. Nor do you want it to be. Because happiness should never become mundane. If it's how you felt all the time, it wouldn't be such a gift. 

3. Gratitude is a Direct Route to Happiness. Want to be happy? Count your blessings. We are all so incredibly blessed and we don't even realize it half the time because we're looking at all the areas where life has fallen short of our expectations. Well what about the vastly larger number of areas in which it has met and exceeded...or at the very least mirrored the effort we put forth?

4. Happiness is a Choice. 
In most moments, you can choose to be happy. You can choose to see your situation as a gift. Sure, if the bad guys are chasing you with guns, it's hard to be happy. Unless you like that sort of thing. But most of us lead pretty tame lives. And we can choose to let some inconsiderate person, for example, ruin our day. Or we can choose to focus on the positives, see how good we've got it and let our bodies and minds flow with gratitude. Now, chemicals in our body can make our moods shift. But even those, we can choose to improve through exercise or pharmaceuticals or whatever. But still, we're all human, so there will be times it won't be a choice. But many times it is.

5. You Can't Know Another Person's Happiness. So stop looking over the fence and thinking that person is happy! C'mon...think about all the times you walk around with a smile on, even though you're less than happy. Well, newsflash! Everyone else is doing that, too. In fact, some people are significantly better at looking happy than you are. The Dalai Lama is probably the happiest person on earth (that I know of, at least) and even his moods modulate. Besides, he's waited on hand and foot, worshipped far and wide and hugely respected. He was literally born to be a leader and a holy leader. But he was a leader in exile most of his life and his people were oppressed...all this happening to a very compassionate man. You want his problems? I didn't think so. So be careful what you're wishing for. 

6. Happiness Shouldn't Necessarily Be Your Goal. Contentment should. See, the ultimate goal in life is supposed to be balance, right? Well, happiness is weighted to one side of the spectrum. It's not in the center. And the things beyond center are harder to maintain. Not only that, but in order to have balance, things that are weighted to one end eventually have to be mirrored by things weighted at the other end. But contentment is at the center. It's satisfaction. It's upturned lips and a relaxed brow, but not quite a full-on smile. With contentment, there may be things in your life that are less than hunky dory, but you'll take it. Because it's pretty good overall...pretty good for a Wednesday. It's the wellbeing without the exclamation point. And it feels really nice. And, with the right mindset, you can maintain it longer. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

8/15/16—Making One Better Decision

Almost exactly a year ago, I found myself in a rut. This was back when I still felt the overwhelming exhaustion that would eventually lead to my asthma diagnosis. So I had no energy. I was feeling lackluster. Life was just meh. I knew I needed a change, but the life force just wasn't in me to do it. Then I was sparked with an inspiration.

It came to me while I was meditating one night on finding an answer—make just one better decision each day. Make one decision that moves you forward. 

It's really kind of simple, but I'll bet most people have never consciously set out to do it. It can't be a decision you make every day. So if your goal is to live healthier and you already drink enough water each day, you can't make that today's decision. It has to be a better—or differentdecision than the one you're used to making or want to make...not the BEST decision, just one you think is more in the direction of where you want to be. And if going for a walk is your better decision today, that doesn't mean you have to go for a walk tomorrow. You can choose a different "better" decision each day. 

What I found was that it had a near immediate effect on my well-being. Within a couple of days, my lackluster and meh lifted. I found myself having fun with it—thinking up all sorts of ideas to try and overachieving by trying more than one each day. 

I also started realizing a little more profoundly how everything we do is a decision. Not just a choice, but a decision. I'm spelling that out, because choices feel less permanent than decisions to me. There is also a greater sense of personal responsibility attached to a decision. Because what we do with many little actions in our lives is we make them more or less permanent. They become automatic. I feed the dogs before I brush my teeth every morning. It's a part of my routine. I don't think about it. But if self care is one of my goals, then I need to create a new routine where I care for myself first. I need to decide to see the behavior, recognize it and seek a new way of moving forward.

For example, somewhere along the line, I decided Crystal Light Decaf Iced Tea was delicious and a tasty alternative to water. It became my drink. Screw water! So I went for a couple of years with that just being a given in my life. What I didn't realize at the time was that it had aspartame, which is unhealthy and addictive. So in looking at the decisions I made about my health each day that could stand improvement—my lack of exercise, my love of chocolate, my Crystal Light, eating fatty foods, etc.—I saw a number of places to make better decisions, one by one, just for a day. At that point in my life, I couldn't handle tackling all of it at once.

So I started by replacing one glass of Crystal Light with a glass of water each day. I started making infused waters, too. This little one-day decision turned into a mission for me. Since I was doing that daily, I started tackling other things, one decision at a time, one day at a time. Within a couple of weeks I had quit the Crystal Light entirely. It was completely painless for me. And the more decisions I recognized that I was making each day, the more I saw all the aspects of my life I had placed on auto pilot, and the more I realized I had abdicated my control over my life to all these automatic, everyday behaviors that kept me from moving forward

What I find happens for me is that I do this plan, then I get happy, then I drop the plan. Then, a while later, I feel stuck, depressed, in a rut, whatever, and I start back up doing this again. The past couple of months I've been pretty down and this came to mind the other day and I've started doing it again, and, again, I'm feeling better. Ideally, though, it would be a good practice to incorporate into your life every day, good or bad.

So the plan is really simple. What is your goal? Where's a place in your life you're feeling stuck or meh? What choices and decisions are you making that are keeping you from moving forward to a better place? And how can you interrupt the pattern of one of those things, even in a small way, today?

Even if it's an emotional issue you can, for example, decide that you can only think about it twice today, for 15 minutes each time. Then after that, you have to stop yourself from thinking about it each time you find it in your mind. Or maybe you decide to do something crafty today to take your mind off it. Or maybe you go out for a jog or to work in the garden. Or you decide to try to meditate tonight. Or you look into joining a new club. The goal is not to CURE it today. It's to chip away at challenge the notion that you are powerless over it. Then, once you see your power, you can take larger healing steps. 

The beautiful thing about this strategy is that, when we're feeling stuck, or when we have no energy, we tend not to resist the status quo. It takes too much energy to change. So we wait for things to pass or improve, or we wait for ourselves to be inspired to dig out. I've told myself that I have to hit a certain bottom in my sadness, stuckness or dissatisfaction before I'll be inspired to dig out. But that's really not the case. I can do one little thing different today. And tomorrow I can do another. And little by little I start feeling better. And that builds momentum and energy so that, some days, I can make bigger or more decisions. And then other days I can only make only one. And that's OK, because that's all you have to do. .

There are times in life where we move forward by bounding leaps. Then there are times we inch forward with all we have. Anyone with a chronic disease or emotional/chemical imbalances knows the latter all too well. But either way, through the effort alone, you get further along your path than you would had you just kept waiting to hit bottom. All it takes to start clearing the energy in your life is just one, small, better decision.