Slipping Outside the Comfort Zone

Slipping Outside the Comfort Zone

Detours in Life

Pentecost 42

 

You can find a survey about most anything.  Facebook is certainly proof about that.  Still, I never thought I’d come across a survey like this.  It was entitled simply “Your Best Insult”.  One of the things I like best about writing this blog (Your comments and our discussions are numbers one and two, of course!) is the research I do for it.  I certainly don’t know everything; I admitted I was not perfect in yesterday’s post.  In the name of research I have read books I probably would have just passed by and attended gatherings I would have not shown up for because… well, because I am just like everyone else and varying from the norm is not a habit of mine.

 

The term “comfort zone” is simply a collection of behaviors that we continue to repeat.  It is not a location nor should it be our destination.  For most of us, our “comfort zone” is where we live, where we feel most comfortable.  It is what we do and continue to do… over and over again.  Our comfort zone is made up of those things that are common to us, familiar in their repetition.

 

None of us are born with a comfort zone, by the way.  We come into this world making the biggest leap of faith possible.  We leave a safe and protected environment and are immediately thrust into a world in which we must fend for ourselves.  We also suddenly are dependent upon others for everything.  We have no chance to develop a comfort zone because we are too busy learning and developing, acquiring new skills and trying new things.  It is called growing, surviving and thriving.

 

At some point, though, we do cultivate a comfort zone and it is often without even realizing it.  We settle in and get cozy in our comfort zone and then suddenly – BAM! An insult comes along and shatters our sense of security we have found within that comfort zone home.  Most of us try to avoid insults so why on earth, I thought to myself, would some create a survey entitled “Your best insult”, especially in an article about bettering one’s self?

 

The survey questions numbered twenty and I am not going to list them all here.  A few did catch my attention, however, so let’s discuss those.  First, what insult was said to you that you actually consider a compliment?  I remember once having my name mentioned as being the chairperson of an upcoming event.  Another stood up and said: “Not her!  She thinks life is just a collection of learning opportunities.”  The statement was said in a room of almost one hundred people and two hundred eyes instantly turned and looked at me to see how I was reacting.  A few close friends began to say something but I stood up and replied:  “I was going to protest but you know what?  She is absolutely right.  Thank you for noticing.”  I had never really thought of myself or life in that connotation but the statement was absolutely correct.  It not only became a compliment, it helped me define my approach to life.

 

More recently I received another such “insult”.  It would certainly answer the above insult survey question as well as this next one:  What so-called “insult” will you adopt as a life mantra?  It is no secret that I attend a church and, like many churches, this one has educational and self-growth opportunities.  One such retreat was being discussed when one of those talking suddenly turned to me and asked why I was not contributing to the conversation.  I replied I had not ever been to the retreat.  Her response was immediate:  “Oh, of course not.  You wouldn’t fit in!”  She then continued to try to talk the woman sitting right next to me into attending.

 

Let’s ignore that the purpose of a church is to share the “good news” of the faith.  Let’s ignore the fact that one of the admonitions given to those that believe is kindness and charity to all.  Let’s even forego the obvious insult in saying I was too….well, exactly what I am not certain.  While I sat there in my instant “OUCH!” reaction, which is how most of us first respond to insults, I suddenly realized just what a great compliment I had been given.

 

It is my fervent and constant belief that any faith-based group that is exclusive is more a social club than a faith-based group.  Whether they are called synagogues or churches, temples or shrines, they have doors and those doors are supposedly open to all who wish to believe.  Please reread that last sentence.  I did not say the doors were open to a select few, or those who shopped at certain stores.  They are not open only to those who know everything.  The doors are an opening through which all who wish to learn and believe can pass.

 

We can either let insults grow ourselves or we can let them be a pesticide that sucks the life out of us.  The survey concluded with some very intense questions:  At the last event you attended that included people you consider friends. Who approached you and shared a handshake or hug?  Who asked about how you were doing?  Who just talked about themselves without inquiring about you?  How do you define friendship?  How do you define yourself?

 

We often let insults define us.  We give into the pain they generally cause and let them motivate us into crawling deeper into our comfort zone.  The most recent event I attended was one in which I knew almost everyone.  Less than one tenth said hello to me, two approached me but none offered a hug or handshake and no one asked how I was.  The paragraph at the end of the Best Insult Survey advised that we need to survey our situations, not just ourselves.  At this event, people congregated in clichés, staying within their own comfort zone.  Two joined my group that only vaguely knew the others.  As one said, “My eyes know you because I have seen you around.” 

 

Surveying the situation led me to realize that my group was not a cliché and people felt comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone and joining such a group.  During the exercise, the group of strangers became a group of acquaintances, realizing those things held in common and supporting each other in those things that made them different.  A group that began with people who did not seemingly “fit in” became a group of believers and sharing, a group practicing their faith instead of just talking about it.

 

Certainly if people shy away from us we need to take stock and ask if we are subconsciously sabotaging ourselves.  Sometimes, though, maybe we need to look at the situation and not just ourselves.  We can all recognize an insult when one is given or acted out.  However, maybe we need to do a quick survey of said insult and ask ourselves if it is really painful or something for which to be thankful.  Sometimes that insult might just be the best compliment you have ever received and lead us on the best detour we’ve ever taken.  Why? You ask.  Because, taking a few steps outside our comfort zone might just be the best turn you ever make in life, a turn necessary for us to grow and thrive in this living for a better tomorrow.

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Little Things

Little Things

Detours in Life

Pentecost 31

 

It is an often-repeated saying that life is made up of little things.  Author Kurt Vonnegut once said that we should “enjoy the little things in life for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”

 

In writing for Lifehack.org, columnist Amy Johnson pointed out forty “little” things that could become “big” things that could bring us happiness. 

1.Finding money in your pocket that you didn’t know you had.

2. Being asked by someone who cares how you are doing.

3. Climbing into bed when you have fresh sheets.

4. Taking an extra-long bath or shower when you have some free time.

5. Smiling at a child you see in public.

6. Receiving a 10 minute massage from your partner or friend.

7. Cuddling someone before you have to get up and start your day.

8. Waking up and realizing it is a sunny, beautiful day.

9. Having a long phone conversation with someone you care about and haven’t spoken to in a while.

10. Watching the rain fall when you have nowhere to be, and you can curl up on the sofa.

11. Watching children playing and laughing together, reminding you of the joy in the world.

12. Spending some time with your pets – or animals in general!

13. A stranger giving you a genuine smile.

14. Having a nice, long stretch when you first wake up to get your body moving.

15. Laughing out loud at a funny memory.

16. A gesture of kindness from someone in your life – as simple as your child helping you cook dinner.

17. A smell you love, from baked bread to a freshly mowed lawn.

18. A meaningful, long hug from somebody you care about.

19. Putting on clothes after they have been warmed on the radiator.

20. Taking a few moments alone when things get hectic.

21. Watching the sunset or the sunrise.

22. The smell outside after the rain has stopped.

23. Listening to your favorite artist or album.

24. Receiving an email or a letter from a friend.

25. The chance to be creative, from painting an old set of drawers to doodling a picture.

26. Holding hands with someone you love.

27. Eating your breakfast in bed.

28. Playing a game you used to love when you were younger.

29. Eating healthy, tasty food that makes you feel good about yourself.

30. An extra half an hour to snooze in bed.

31. Having some time to yourself to read a book you love.

32. Buying your favorite drink or snack and savoring it.

33. Receiving flowers from someone who cares about you.

34. Eating your lunch outside in the sun.

35. Trying out a new recipe and creating something delicious.

36. A gesture of support from your friends or family.

37. Listening to a song you used to love and haven’t heard in years.

38. Taking the time to help someone with their problems.

39. Spending time in your home when it is tidy and clean.

40. Achieving a small victory, like fixing the washing machine or replacing a light bulb.

 

Most of these are little things that, if noticed, would bring a smile to your lips and joy to your soul.  Few, if I am to be honest, would be actual detours and yet… Sometimes the detour is simply our slowing down enough to see the world around us.  We all have countless things to do and few feel they have enough hours in the day to get them all done.  Are we really too busy to find happiness in the little things around us?

 

Johnson answered this question in her article by quoting Dr. Glenn Williams, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University.  “An effective route to happiness is not necessarily through experiencing major events that we might have planned out such as getting married, moving house, getting that all-important promotion or even being on a holiday.  Rather it is the small, and often unexpected, pleasures in life that can make us smile each and every day to help us build happier and more meaningful lives for ourselves and for others.”

 

Feeling in control of one’s life is a great thing and necessary for attaining success.  We should not, however, be in such tight control that we miss the little things, those little detours that take us away from our norm and lead us to happiness.

Intention and Disconnect

Intention and Disconnect

Detours of Life

Pentecost 20

 

One of the most common detours with which we are faced are often those of our own making, those times in which what we intended did not quite happen.  In spite of the most careful planning and fervent effort, things go awry.  Life happens and sometimes, perhaps often, it simply does not go as planned.  We end up on a detour, an unexpected and usually undesired detour.  Do we respond with this detour with good humor and grace or do we get angry over the inevitabilities of life?

 

One cannot approach the concept of grace either objectively or subjectively without including the religious community.  Indeed, many do not even attempt to define the concept of grace outside of a religious and theological construct.  I am asking you to consider it a form of living but today I will not discuss it as an inevitable part of one’s spirit of living but as it relates to organized religion and its followers.  This is important because often the religions of the world have become stumbling blocks to grace, especially when seen through a subjective lens. 

 

Beyond Intractability was developed and is still maintained by the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. The missions of the Consortium and, more specifically, the Beyond Intractability project reflect the convergence of two long-standing streams of work. The first is an exploitation of the unique abilities of Web-based information systems to speed the flow of conflict-related information among those working in the field and the general public. The second is an investigation of strategies for more constructively addressing intractable conflict problems — those difficult situations which lie at the frontier of the field.

 

We will begin our discussion with a quote from the Beyond Intractability website:  “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a casual glance at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe.  Often, religion is a contentious issue. Where eternal salvation is at stake, compromise can be difficult at or even sinful. Religion is also important because, as a central part of many individuals’ identity, any threat to one’s beliefs is a threat to one’s very being. This is a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists.  … However, the relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. Religiously-motivated peace builders have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world.

 

“Although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latent source of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. After all, if it is the word of God, how can one compromise it? At the same time, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation. Therefore, conflict can arise over whose interpretation is the correct one, a conflict that ultimately cannot be solved because there is no arbiter. The winner generally is the interpretation that attracts the most followers. However, those followers must also be motivated to action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God’s will to fruition.  Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God’s wishes. Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world. If the world is a struggle between good and evil, it is hard to justify compromising with the devil. Any sign of moderation can be decried as selling out, more importantly, of abandoning God’s will.”

 

Manichean may be a word unfamiliar to you but its meaning is how many people view the world and try to live their lives.  Manichean comes from the word Mani, which is the name of an apostle who lived in Mesopotamia in the time frame of 240 ACE, who taught a universal religion based on what we now call dualism. If you believe in the Manichean idea of dualism, you tend to look at things as having two sides that are opposed. To Manicheans, life can be divided neatly between good or evil, light or dark, or love and hate.

 

In other words, in an attempt to live their doctrines of peace and love, people tend to think with a narrow field and view the world as either black or white.  Human beings are complex creatures and no one is one-dimensional.  In other words, no one person is all anything.  In our intention to live a doctrine of love and peace, we allow our subjective narrowness to trip us up.

 

To be certain, some things are either right or wrong.  You cannot murder someone halfway.  A person is either killed or alive.  However, the quality of life then comes into question and such is often what leads people to commit suicide.  Rather than offer grace, their expectations, based upon their belief system, suffocates any grace they might find.

 

So should we assume religion is the problem and not the answer?  Absolutely not!  Religions tend to connect us and remind us of that which we are deep inside.  They are, I believe, most necessary to life.  Religions offer us ways to show, recognize, and live grace.  Life is hard but grace makes it not only possible but worthwhile. 

 

Quoting David Smock, the Beyond Intractability website offers one solution to consider in finding grace amid all this conflict and discord.  “Religion is inherently conflictual, but this is not necessarily so. Therefore, in part, the solution is to promote a heightened awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role religion has played in many conflict situations. More generally, fighting ignorance can go a long way. Interfaith dialogue would be beneficial at all levels of religious hierarchies and across all segments of religious communities. Where silence and misunderstanding are all too common, learning about other religions would be a powerful step forward. Being educated about other religions does not mean conversion but may facilitate understanding and respect for other faiths.”

 

We all have intentions and the faith-based communities of the world are no different.  However, when need to give closer attention to our efforts and revitalize them every day.  Grace might very well be the key to world peace and it certainly makes each of our lives better.  Rather than being the problem, grace is the answer.  When navigating the detours that life will certainly give us, grace is the best compass one can employ.  Grace should be the connection between us and the rest of the world.

 

 

 

 

Be

Be

Easter 31

 

At the beginning of this series I mentioned that it would not be the daily blog postings you have become accustomed to from me.  I believe I characterized that this series might seem “chaotic” at times.  That is because I wanted you to take time to participate in the series subject matter – mindfulness.  When we are practicing mindfulness, we are, quite simply, fully in the moment in which we are living.  More importantly, we are aware of every aspect of that moment.

 

Once upon a time I taught young children problem solving and anger management.  We used the hand in explaining to children there were steps they could take to react positively to the messy time of life.  In problem solving I taught them to first identify their problem.  That might sound silly but all too often, we get so caught up in our emotions that we are simply reacting instead of acting.

 

The second step in problem solving is to think of solutions and the third step is to imagine those solutions being put to good use.  The fourth step would be try the best possible solutions and the fifth step – to evaluate and, most importantly – do not be afraid or ashamed to start all over again.

 

The five steps of anger management sound fairly simply, especially compared to those of problem solving and yet, they are actually quite harder.  The first step is to take a deep breath.  Do not yell or scream but simply breathe.  Then we taught the children to count to five.  This puts some space between you and the root of your anger.  It also helps you to proceed with deliberate and hopefully positive action rather than simply react in a defensive and often unproductive manner.  And, we encouraged the children to count to five several times.  The fourth step was to feel good about one’s self and the fifth – well, the fifth was to problem solve the cause of one’s anger.

 

Both of these are examples of using mindfulness.  Life is messy and chaotic and we usually try to find the quickest way out of such situations.  The problem is that by doing that, taking a quick and easy way out, we tend to repeat the same actions over and over.  In other words, we create our own messes.  Take time to simply recognize the moment and simply “be”.  In your mindfulness journal record your feelings and then move forward.  Forgiving the anger does not mean you approve of what caused it.  It simply means you are moving forward and leaving it in the past.  Mindfulness is of value because it allows us to live more fully, to be that which we seek to be – the very best we can be.

Loss and Gain

Loss and Gain

Lent 18 (and 15)

 

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  I messed up.  It is not the first time and will not, I am certain, be the last but I did mess up.  I counted incorrectly, a problem when one works ahead and loses track of where one is and when something will be posted.  I could explain that there were technological issues as well as weather delays but the bottom line is… I messed up.

 

I could get all over on myself about the mistake.  I could listen to the voices inside my psyche that instantly begin to list others instances of my not being perfect.  Having been raised by a perfectionist parent, I don’t have to imagine those voices.  They are ever present, trust me.  It is almost as if, by messing up, I have lost a part of myself.

 

When we mourn, we feel an intense emotion.  Bereavement is described as something less severe but mourning is powerful, concentrated emotion that hits many of us in a number of different circumstances, not just when a loved one passes on or dies.  When I mess up, I mourn and that is followed by, typically, one of the stages of grief – anger.

 

There are those who try to tell us not to overthink when we mess up but sometimes we should.  It often is what keeps us from making the same mistakes over and over.  Grief has a purpose in our bank of emotions and we need to realize it and let ourselves experience it as part of the growing process.

 

Timothy Shriver is chairman of Special Olympics, an organization started by his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.  I like his thoughts on when we mess up:  “What’s to rationalize? You mean you shouldn’t pray if you haven’t got your s–t together? This is another fairly common misconception of faith, which is that people who go to church, or people who pray, or people who talk about their religion must be, somehow more pious or ethically rigorous or have more morally cleansed lifestyle. The high correlation is supposed to be between faith and your search, the depth of your search, your willingness to try, your willingness to admit error, your hope and belief in the ultimate meaning and value of that search.”

 

Are you holding yourself up to an impossible standard, one that disallows both messing up and grief?  When we lose someone or something, we feel sadness because the person or item had value in our lives.  We need to remember that we had the opportunity to have that someone or something special and find comfort in that knowledge.  Messing up simply means we had an opportunity to try something and that is often not something others can say they have had.  I messed up numbering my blog posts but I am still able to post.  The next day several people reposted that blog and I am grateful to them and overjoyed.  Realizing I messed up was not enjoyable but finding comfort in that the post got read and reposted was solace indeed.

 

I am not trying to say that losing a loved one is the same as a numerical mix-up.  It is not.  Both, however, are opportunities, prospects that life has given us to be explored, enjoyed, and valued.  There is much to be gained from spending time with a valued companion and from making mistakes.  Regret should not be part of the equation, though.  Never regret the time spent with someone or something for which you cared.  A mistake is simply a chance to grow and learn.  Both offer great comfort to me.

Hope Floats Us All

Hope Floats Us All

Lent 11

 

I remember reading a biography of a military strategist.  “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable.  There was no hope at all of a victory.”  I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something.  I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure.  I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud.  I had missed nothing and so I continued forward.  Then I read the last sentence of the chapter.  “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational.  They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win.  Hope that day was the best strategy.”

 

As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes.  I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope.  The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.

 

Hope is not the same as optimism.  Optimism os a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive.  Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief.  Hope is a choice.  We can choose fear or we can choose hope. 

 

Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way.  “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”

 

Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them.  While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time. 

 

I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life.  We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart.  At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution.  Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones.   Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best:  “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

Goodness

Goodness

Lent 1

 

During Lent our series will focus on the Beatitudes, those eight to ten, and in one location, four saying about goodness, happiness and spirituality.  While the basis for this series will be taken from the New Testament, this will not be a purely religious series.  It is a series about goodness and our search for it in an overall sense – goodness of living, of health, of being.  We will delve into such distinction as the difference between a happy person and an optimistic person and there will be, hopefully, a vignette to explain and explore our discussion each day.

 

Most Creation stories open with “In the beginning” and the world seems to have been complete, whole, and happy.  Then something happens and chaos ensues.  While it may seem hard to relate to something like that, most of us experience it every day when we go to check social media.  The science of happiness would tell us that while the caveman did not have a Facebook account and the only twitters he heard or saw were from birds in the trees, he did fall victim to the same social pressures that we do when reading about a friend’s seemingly perfect life.

 

We are all connected and the people in our lives play an important role in the basic goodness we experience and the happiness we feel.  Both of these are contributing factors to our sense of well-being and our actual physical health.  Skeptics argue that optimistic people may not necessarily live longer and we certainly have discussed that topic before.  However, recent scientific research and the resulting evidence indicate that there is a strong link between happiness and health and it goes both ways.

 

Our approach to living is key in our trying to improve our lives and the world.  Being happy will never be as simply as taking a pill and seeing the goodness in life will not be accomplished with an increased prescription for a new pair of glasses.  We can, though, take the wisdom of the ages and look at our own approach to living. 

 

Lent is traditionally a time of introspection and, let’s face it, dreary feelings of guilt and shame.  Our source material is a wonderful way to change that and improve ourselves without beating ourselves up – figuratively or psychologically.  Let’s replace those pounds of guilt with feelings of goodness and happiness!  Life will always be a work in progress.  I hope you join me for this series in making lemonade out of lemons.  Who knows?  We might even find a way to make a lemon tart or pie without fewer calories!