Friday, January 17, 2014

1/18/14—Finding Stillness

I've been watching sunsets from my front porch nearly every night lately. I sit on my stoop wrapped in a blanket. Passers by ask if I'm locked out or if I'm OK. Sometimes I have my boy, Kizzie, out there with me. And I've managed to see three sunrises this year, which is about as many as I saw all last year. I'm a night owl, so I saw those sunrises before going to bed...haha. When you're still awake at 5:30, you may as well just stay up to see the sunrise. That's what I say. 

There's a special stillness that comes at dawn and dusk. At dusk, the day's noise settles down and earth's little critters settle in their nests. I imagine the squirrels in their nests, wearing smoking jackets, sitting in a lounge chair and reading a good book. I'm sure that's what everyone imagines. :D At dawn, there is a slow, quiet awakening before everyone gets about the day's business. At these times of day I find it easy to access the stillness within me. 

There is a place at the core of all of us, I believe, that is devoid of thought and emotion. It's not a happy place or a sad place. It's neutral. Literally nothing happens there and yet it seems like the point of origin for all that it is. If we're ever able to wrap our head around where all the galaxies in the universe came from and where the space comes from that the universe expands into, we may understand that place of stillness within.

For me, I find it easiest to reach through meditation. First I listen to all the noise around me, aiming to hear the slightest click of a branch in the breeze. And then I listen deeper, all the way until I can hear the silence. Then when my attention is so attuned to the silence that I can no longer hear the noise, the stillness reveals itself. And there I am in a place lacking in conscious thought or whatever it might have felt like in the time before the galaxies existed. Getting there is like anything else you do in life. It's hard when you first try. Then one day it becomes second nature.

So many of us forget the importance of injecting peace and stillness into our days. We all need to push the reset button and cleanse our palates from time to time. I know not everyone is open to meditation, but I think that's the only way you get to the place I describe. But being in the zone, like when you get so lost in something that you seem to enter a trance-like state, is pretty close to what I describe. The difference is that meditation brings you there intentionally, rather than incidentally. And since the experience comes without an activity attached, you fall deeper and more "consciously" into the stillness.

Whatever might transport you to a still, calm space this weekend, make it a priority. This is especially true for people who don't have the time or patience for this nonsense...haha. Even if only for 15 minutes. It's a rest your body needs. Sleep is filled with dreams and tossing and turning. So you're not getting stillness then. So when are you getting it? If the answer is, "not often enough," make it your weekend project.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

1/15/14—Being Gentle With Ourselves and Others

I saw this meme today online and it got me all choked up. But perhaps not for the reasons you'd think. And that's what gave me the idea for today's post. 

Most women will probably look at his as a tender moment when the men in her life were there for of the many special moments of childbirth. Most men will probably see this as affirmation to the role of a father and/or that precious first moment of holding their baby in their arms. 

However, some will look at this picture and see a scene that they're missing from life. Maybe they wanted kids, but couldn't. Maybe their father is not the supportive type. Maybe they gave birth alone. Maybe the baby's father wasn't there for the birth. Maybe the father wasn't allowed there to hold his child. Maybe the grandfather was kept out of the picture because of a family feud. Maybe the mother died in childbirth. Maybe the baby was stillborn. Or maybe, like with me, this picture is a reminder of all the many moments me and my family members have missed because our father didn't live long enough to see them. The possibilities are endless. Not everyone has the gift of a moment like this.

Most of the time, we'll look at a picture like this and only see it from our perspective...or from the perspective intended. Perhaps a stranger would see a tear drop from my eye and empathize with me, assuming I was remembering a similar beautiful moment in my life. But then, they'd be wrong. My mother died when I was 21 and my dad when I was 25. Since then, nobody in my family has had a parent to stand beside them for marriage, baby births, divorce, hard times or any of the monumental events that define who we are. Even though I don't want to be married and never want to have children, it still hurts that I won't have a father to give me away or a mother to teach me the ropes. 

This isn't a post about poor me, though. It's a post about how all of us have "stuff". All of us have challenges and pains we choose not to dwell upon or share with the outside world. Some are big. Some are small. Some, we may not even know we have. And you have no idea of my stuff and I have no idea of yours. But our stuff comes along with us for the ride everywhere we go. 

A discussion about smoking, for example, may cause me to defend the smoker because I smoked for 26 years and understand the addiction. Or it may cause me to lecture the smoker, because I lost a brother to lung cancer nearly two years ago. Or, like most of the time, I'll just stay out of the conversation altogether unless someone specifically asks for encouragement for quitting. Which way I go on any given topic on any given day depends on which pain from my lifetime is riding shotgun at the moment. And while you may be different, chances are you're not. It's human psychology and if you're not aware of this, it's something to consider.

I think of myself as someone who is more self aware than the general population. If you're reading my blog, you probably fall into that category, too. But even though we might know what's driving our emotion, we still express it from time to time. Maybe we express it most of the time. And we're the self-aware peeps! So when you consider all the others out there in the world, there's just no telling where someone's response is coming from. And if you asked them, they might not even know themselves. 

Sometimes the response is going to hurt your feelings. Sometimes you'll agree with it. Sometimes you'll just think the other person is weird. Regardless, you don't know the other person's story, even if they're someone you know well. On top of that, we all came here with certain inherent challenges and shortcomings to surmount. We came with unique lessons to learn. We came with unique fears to overcome. Social skills to learn. And so on. 

By the time we can walk and talk, we're bumbling balls of imperfection. Some of the pain, anger and shame of that imperfection is turned within. Some of it comes flying out when we least expect it. Some of us received good instruction on how to be polite and sensitive to others. Others did not...or did and decided to ignore it. So some have better tools than others. And even that depends on the situation. It's really all the luck of the draw. Or, if you believe this way, it's what you chose to work on before you were even conceived. 

We all have our unique journeys to traverse here on earth. What you find offensive in others is really part of their sacred path, just as it's part of your sacred path to find or take offense from something that emanates from their sacred path. :D One of the Four Agreements is to not take things personally. And this is why. The things other people do—even when they're doing it intentionally to hurt you—are about them and the sacred journey they're on. 

Have you ever yelled at a salesperson at a store (or any random person for any random reason) for being slow, incompetent or whatever? Then a while later you felt bad because you overreacted because you'd had a bad day or whatever, right? All they know is that some lunatic yelled at them and finds them unacceptable in some way. Maybe they go home and cry. Or get drunk. Or hit their dog. Maybe you just affirmed everything their abusive mother ever said to them. Maybe they were slow or incompetent because they are developmentally disabled. You don't know. And they don't know you regret it. They don't know about your bad day. They don't know that you went home and cried because you disappointed yourself so much by yelling at them. So all that's left is pain and self flagellation.

What this is all coming to is that, if we want to be the change we want to see in this world, we have to be gentler with each other. We have to be gentler with ourselves. We'll still anger or get angry at the random person from time to time. But we can choose to see another person's ill temper as their pain or fear. We can choose to see another person's silence as their lesson learned or as keeping the milestones of their sacred journey private. And we can choose to honor and acknowledge the good, bad and ugly of another's path, rather than to define them through just the eyes of good or bad. 

We can't do that, however, until we can embrace the good, bad and ugly of our own paths to the point that we can see the truth of our interactions with others and how they conjure up some part of our own sacred journey that still needs to be dealt with. It's easy to blame the other person for attacking us or making us feel bad. But that's all a smokescreen. Because what's really happening is that they're ringing a bell within us that needs to be rung for our own evolution. And while that bell may manifest as you deciding it's get-even time, the real reason is something that has nothing whatsoever to do with the other person. Until we can learn to greet another's pain and fear with compassion and self examination, we will continue to tread water on our own personal journeys.

Monday, January 13, 2014

1/14/14—Ordering Fries With That

I was sorting through some of my old posts today to help me outline a book I want to write and this one caught my attention. At first I didn't feel like it applied to me much right now, but now I have to rethink that. I didn't notice until just before I posted it that this originally ran on the anniversary of one of my parents' deaths (a parent I had just been talking to someone about moments ago.) So maybe that's a sign that I should reconsider how this applies to my life right now. So here it is, from 4/9/12...

Imagine you're at McDonald's and you order a large chocolate shake in the drive thru. Here's how the conversation might go:

DRIVE THRU: "Welcome to McDonald's. Would you like to try one of our extra value meals?"

YOU: "No, thank you. I'd like a large chocolate shake."

DRIVE THRU: "A large chocolate shake?"

YOU: "Yes, a large chocolate shake."

DRIVE THRU: "Would you like anything else today? How about some fries with that?"

YOU: "No thank you. Just the shake."

DRIVE THRU: "OK, that's one large chocolate shake. That will $3.89. Drive to the first window, please."

Sound pretty familiar? It's a fairly basic way businesses have of determining your needs and seeing your openness to accepting various up-sell contingencies. The same kind of thing happens when you decide to make a change or ask for something from the universe.

Say, for example, you're determined to say "no" more often to the people who are always asking you for your time or resources. So you decide you're not going to be suckered in any longer. Next thing you know, Marcie calls you. She is running late, as usual, has a whole dramatic story and needs you to drive her kids to school. You say you're really busy and can't possibly fit it in. Situation handled. You're a naysaying machine! You can do this!

But then a few days later, Karla calls you and ups the ante. Her husband has surprised her with an anniversary getaway weekend and it's going to be SOOOO romantic! He found a babysitter and everything. No worries there. But the thing is, it's Karla's turn to bake five dozen cupcakes for tomorrow's PTA meeting. And this whole thing came as a surprise to her. Of course she wants to get her hair and nails done before she leaves town. And she'd also like to surprise her husband with a little something something from Victoria's Secret. But there isn't time to do all that AND bake cupcakes. And you're the best baker she knows. The best in the whole PTA. And she'll owe you one. It's her ANNIVERSARY and her husband is FINALLY being romantic!!!!

But here's the thing, Karla already owes you at least two or three, if not more. And the reason is because every time you need Karla, you can't seem to get her on the phone. She has the uncanny ability of calling you back right when her help is no longer needed. On top of that, Karla's one of the reasons you realized you needed to say no in the first place. She's there for you when it's convenient for her to be, but she's not there for you in clutch situations.

It's Karla's anniversary. You don't want to disappoint her. And, now that she mentions it, you DO make the best cupcakes in the PTA. What do you do?

Think of this as the equivalent of your "do you want fries with that?" moment.

See, you've been chugging away like this for years. You TAUGHT people to take from you because you've always offered yourself up so readily in the past. And, while normal people would insist upon doing something nice for you for all the nice things you've done, you're not surrounded by normal people. You're surrounded by people who will take until you stop giving. Because that's the dynamic you've always accepted.

So, all of a sudden, the universe is supposed to believe you're serious about changing? You made a New Year's resolution to cut carbs just two weeks ago, and you've just ordered a chocolate shake from McDonald's! What's the universe supposed to think about you and your resolutions? No, the universe needs to be sure you're serious, so it sends tests. And once you pass those tests, it sends tougher ones to determine your boundaries around what you've said you want. How far are you willing to go on this "no" thing? You were strong when Marcie called, but what about Karla? What kind of contingencies are acceptable? The universe needs to know in order to help you get what you say you want.

We make a mistake when we ask for transformation and expect the people or situations that bother us to just disappear from our lives like "poof!" Yet, often that's why we give up. Because change is hard. The people who are used to taking from us become unhappy with us. And we assume that's a sign that the universe is against on this. Because if it really wanted to support us, it would be easy and everyone would applaud us. So we just give up.

But what we don't see is, in fact, the universe is in the process of giving us exactly what we need. It just wants to make sure we really want it know........the whole chocolate shake thing...and all the other chocolate-shake-like things that came before it. And it also needs to know what the new parameters will be, because you've always been a sucker for a good sob story in the past. So it's refining the request. And yeah, you'll have to do some heavy lifting because the universe is a fan of teaching you how to fish, rather than just giving you fish.

So think about where this may apply to your life right now. Maybe it's not around saying "no". Maybe it's about speaking your mind to others. Maybe it's about trying to leave a bad relationship. Or maybe it's about saying "yes" to something, like working out, and obstacles like icy roads, long days at work and chocolate shakes that need some lovin' keep getting in your way. You're going to be tested. Your boundaries are going to be pushed. You're going to be offered "fries." And then you're going to be expected to do some work for what you want.

Are you going to say "I give up! I'm doomed to my miserable life!" the minute something gets in your way? Or are you going to hand that sackful of fries that mysteriously ended up in your car to a homeless person and say "bring it on, universe. Bring. It. On!"?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

1/13/14—Finding Love in a Box

Dry conditioner (for second-day hair), fruity body
lotion, fruit-pigmented mascara, a cream for blemishes
and scars, and three flavors of tea.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a picture of what I got in my Birchbox this month. What is Birchbox? Well, it's an online place where you can go to buy high-end beauty and personal care supplies. And if you subscribe to Birchbox, they send you a box of samples every month for $10. That way you don't have to shell out $80 to see if a skin cream really works or wonder if a shampoo is really worth $40. You can try before you buy. (If you're reading this on Facebook, please use this link so I can get referral points: :D

It would be perfectly understandable for most to take the stance of, "so you pay them to send you the samples the manufacturers give out for free?" Yes. That's exactly what I do. And for $10/month, I only get five samples—five samples that are not of my choosing, but do follow a profile I filled out. And now that I've poked around online (I usually discover trends right in the middle of their popularity, so I only discovered this recently, though it's been around awhile), I realize that other sites like Sephora are happy to send you samples for free with an order.

Good for them. I don't care.

I like Birchbox. I tell my friends about Birchbox. I am blogging about Birchbox as we speak. I've bought Birchbox gift subscriptions. And I have turned at least five people on to this nifty subscription service (which, btw, they do for men also...hint, hint). I am a mini Birchbox tornado blowing through peoples' lifeless hair, past their dull skin and across their unpainted fingernails to let them know that samples are on the way. Samples are on the way and everything is going to be fine!

So yeah, you could say I'm paying them to send me free samples. But I think anyone who has ever received a Birchbox knows that what I'm really paying for has nothing to do with finding a mascara I'd pay $50 for. I mean, Maybelline and Cover Girl have long standing track records for being among the best and you can get them at any drug store. And I so rarely wear makeup...or even shower for that matter, haha....that it's not really about the beauty supplies. I mean, it is. But it isn't.

It's about getting a box every month in the mail, and you have no idea what it contains. The picture shows what I got in my Birchbox, but my sisters got different stuff. Last month everyone I spoke to got something different in their box. You don't know what you're getting. And you may not like all of it. My sisters give the parts they don't like to their daughters (which sounds mean, but it's's nail polish colors they're too mature for or hair products unsuitable for short hair...that kind of thing).

But here's the get an email telling you it's on its way. And for those two or three days you're waiting, there's a delicious wondering about what you're going to get. A nice anticipation. It's something that, if you're having a bad day or week, you can look forward to. And it has tracking so you can watch it fly across the country to you....a little surprise, for you and from you! And you give the Best. Gifts. Ever!!!! so you know it's going to be good.

For $10 a month you get a few days of curiosity that you know will have a happy ending. Then you can reach inside your box and use a $40 shampoo or hairspray, dab $150 perfume on your wrists and rub some Argan Oil on your face to feel what all the buzz is about. It's like anticipating a little love befalling you every month...a love that's different than other kinds. It's you, loving that part of you that still likes to explore makeup, the part that wondered about the oils and unctions on your mom's dressing table, the part that never gives up hope that you can squeeze lemonade out of an aging lemon. :D

Each month a box of love, beauty, mystery and possibilities falls on your doorstep. It's about more than paying $10 for a box of samples. It's about reviving magical pockets of wonder within you that, even if you're a very young 50 like me, you might have long ago forgotten.

(BTW, I'm not a paid spokesperson for Birchbox...haha. I'm just really enjoying it and had nothing else to write about today.)