Purpose

Purpose

Easter 47

 

“When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that is the end of the story.  It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.”  Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist who is also an ordained nun. Her words are important for us to remember as we walk our path of mindfulness.

 

It is not always delightful to be fully present in particular moments of our lives.  Sometimes it is painful and to accept the reality of the pain can be difficult.   Pema Chödrön has some advice for such times.   “Rejoicing in the good fortune of others is a practice that can help us when we feel emotionally shut down and unable to connect with others. Rejoicing generates good will.”

 

We have a choice in how we experience the world, even if we do not have the choice of what, where, and when the world meets us.  We still have a choice and some control because we can choose and control our reactions.   Life is not the series of events that we find ourselves in the midst of without any say.  Life does include those events but it also includes how we respond to them.

 

We are the author of our own lives and mindfulness helps us write our own story.  We are not and should not be merely puppets in the story of our life.  We need to be director, producer, main actor, and yes, script writer.    We should also be the musical director and lighting coordinator, makeup artist and caterer.  What?  How do we do all that?

 

The director tells an actor where to go and how to portray the character.  We need to direct our lives, making choices of what we do and how we do it, including how we respond.  The producer helps prepare for the production and handles the detail stuff.  We cannot live blindly; we must take care of the “small stuff”.  Skipping the script writer for now, let’s move onto the music in our lives.  Mindfulness is especially helpful here as we listen to our world and take in the beautiful sounds of living – birds chirping, ducks splashing, children laughing and yes, even the sounds of grief in muffled sobs.  We set out own stage by our choices in life and we either see the world around us lit up in all its glory or we turn off the lights and dwell in darkness and despair.  The face we present to the public is the demeanor or make-up we put on every day.  The food choices we make go a long way in determining our health.

 

These are all mindful decisions we make each and every day.  We need to be aware of them and make them responsibly.    That takes up back to the script writer.  How are you writing the story of your life?  A recent scientific study defined mindfulness as “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.”

 

What is your purpose and what do you want it to be tomorrow?  By living and practicing mindfulness, your awareness of your life experiences will help make the future successful and a much happier place to be.  Mindfulness affords one to have less stress and a healthier living, things that should be among our top three reasons for being.  Health becomes more positive and productive as do relationships.  Simply put, the purpose for mindfulness is to experience life more fully and with positive results.

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.

Laughter is Good Medicine

Laughter is Good Medicine

Easter 21

 

“Being mindful is just pointing out all the bad stuff” someone wrote.  Being a firm believer of mindfulness, it might surprise you that I completely understand this reader’s sentiment.  Many of us go through our daily life in a fog so as to keep from having to recognize the reality.  Mindfulness brings a great deal of that to light but seeing and acknowledging our dismay is not all that mindfulness is.  It is only half of the practice.

 

Being able to see the humor in our situations in life is critical to living a healthy life.  Yesterday I remarked about the irony of a book about grace falling down in front of me.  The corner of the book had actually caught my arm and, being a new book, made a very slight nick in my skin.  Being able to see the humor in the situation, though, actually enabled the small cut to heal faster because I laughed.

 

You read that correctly.  Laughing, science tells us, can actually be the best medicine in some situations.  Ten years ago science revealed evidence that laughter helps your blood vessels function better. It acts on the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, causing vessels to relax and expand, increasing blood flow. In other words, it’s good for your heart and brain, two organs that require the steady flow of oxygen carried in the blood. At a 2005 meeting of the American College of Cardiology, Michael Miller, M.D., of the University of Maryland reported that in a study of 20 healthy people, provoking laughter did as much good for their arteries as aerobic activity. Dr. Miller did not recommend that you laugh and not exercise but he did advise that we should try to laugh on a regular basis. The endothelium, he explained, regulates blood flow and adjusts the propensity of blood to coagulate and clot. In addition, it secretes assorted chemicals in response to wounds, infection or irritation. It also plays an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease.  “The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries,” said Dr. Miller. “So given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium. And reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

 

Dr. Miller also recommends laughter as a great tonic for other ailments.  “Laughter offsets the impact of mental stress, which is harmful to the endothelium.”  The researcher can’t say for sure exactly how laughter delivers its heart benefit. It could come from the vigorous movement of the diaphragm muscles as you chuckle or guffaw. Alternatively, or additionally, laughter might trigger the release in the brain of such hormones as endorphins that have an effect on arteries.  It’s also possible that laughter boosts levels of nitric oxide in artery walls. Nitric oxide is known to play a role in the dilation of the endothelium. “Perhaps mental stress leads to a breakdown in nitric oxide or inhibits a stimulus to produce nitric oxide that results in vasoconstriction.”

 

It has been known for some time that laughter reduced one’s perception of pain, thus enabling a person to tolerate discomfort better.  It also reduces blood sugar levels, increasing glucose tolerance in diabetics and nondiabetics alike.  Laughter can improve your job performance, especially if your work depends on creativity and solving complex problems. Its role in intimate relationships is vastly underestimated and it really is the glue of good marriages. It synchronizes the brains of speaker and listener so that they are emotionally attuned.  Laughter establishes — or restores — a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people, In fact, some researchers believe that the major function of laughter is to bring people together.

 

Life is messy.  That is a fact and no matter who we are, we will face the “bad stuff” at some point.  Being able to see the humor enables us to cope and move forward.  Dr. Miller advises people to do some sort of physical exercise thirty minutes a week and to laugh fifteen minutes every day.  This reminds us to not only be mindful of our physical health but also our emotional health. 

 

“I believe that if people can get more laughter in their lives, they are a lot better off,” says Steve Wilson, MA, CSP, a psychologist and laugh therapist. “They might be healthier too.”  As weird as it might sound, laughter is really a physical exercise for our bodies and our spirits.  When we laugh we go through some physiological changes.  We stretch muscles throughout the face and body, our pulse and blood pressure rises slightly and we tend to breathe faster.  This sends more oxygen to our tissues within the body which in turn creates a series of positive chain reactions.

 

Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.  Now do not get carried away and think you can laugh off excess weight.  After all, it would take about twelve hours of laughing to counteract the effect of eating one chocolate bar.  Still, laughing is beneficial.

 

The focus on the benefits of laughter really began with Norman Cousin’s memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins, who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful spine condition, found that a diet of comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, helped him feel better. He said that ten minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.  Research does not verify Cousins’ belief that laughter was the tonic for his insomnia, however,  Many believe a drama could have done the same thing and that anything that takes one’s mind off the day’s worries would have been effective.  Does this disprove the benefits of mindfulness?  No.  It does emphasize that our reactions to life are very important.

 

One of the difficulties science has in determining just how effective laughter is as medicine is that the cause and effect are hard to narrow down.  Two things are known for certain.  Laughter brings us together and since human beings are social animals, this improves their quality of life.  Secondly, appropriate laughter is not a harmful thing and if you enjoy, one should keep laughing.  Enjoying life is the best medicine of all.

How Hard Can It Be?

How Hard Can It Be?

Easter 6

 

Peter Pan was a fictional character created by J. M. Barrie.  One of the more popular quotes from Barrie’s work has been used to define what is known as the Peter Pan Syndrome:  “I don’t want ever to be a man.  I want to always be a little boy and to have fun.”  The trending term for such is “manolescent” or a man of any age who shirks adult responsibilities. 

 

As young kids, most of us eagerly looked forward to growing up and being adults.  Let’s face it; it really seemed that adults got better toys.  There were certainly those who warned us that life as an adult would not be all fun and games but generally most of us ignored them.  After all, we asked:  “how hard can it be?”

 

What makes each of us special is, in part, the potential of our growing up, that greatness that we all can one day achieve because we are unique.  Mindfulness helps us be present in the moment of our living, each moment.  It allows us to understand the value of being unique.  By being mindful and fully aware of and in our living, we have the ability to turn a mere moment into a miracle moment.

 

It is interesting that there is a group for whom aging and growing up has been impossible, not because they don’t want to but because their bodies seem unable to do so.  We tend to overlook the advantages of aging but they do indeed exist and they are vitally important to our living and our potential to succeed.

 

Neoteny is the delaying or slowing of development in an organism.  The concept of child as the parent of the adult is found in the literature of the Holy Bible as well as the writing of William Wordsworth.  Growth is essential because it is the concrete of the foundation of our future life.  Those suffering from the recently identified Neotenic Complex Syndrome never seem to age.  While the Peter Pan Syndrome is a term used exclusively for males, victim of Neotenic Complex Syndrome (or NCS) are, so far, always female.

 

Not being able to age may seem like the answer to many prayers but it comes with a price.  There is very limited development that accompanies this inability.  This means that victims of NCS are usually unable to see, speak, and have very limited movement ability.  We tend to think of aging as the enemy that limits or deprives us of life.  The reality is that aging gives us the tools for successful living.

 

Mindfulness allows us to evaluate the moments of our living and create new opportunities.  Research into NCS hopes to, one day, enable modern science and medicine to better understand the aging process.  Today, though, these victims give love, even in their limited capacity.  They afford us the chance to realize the importance of our every day and to value that which we do have and can appreciate.  The joy of life comes not in the biggest toys but in the joy we find in each moment and that is not hard to do once we look for it. 

Come to the Party!

Come to the Party

Lent 41-43

 

Our lives are like a puzzle.  Each day, each event, each sorrow, each joy – all are pieces of this puzzle we call our life.  Sorting out the pieces would be an impossible task if we encountered them all at once.  Fortunately, each piece is revealed much like a treasure map or the clues on a scavenger hunt.

 

During this series we have been discussing life from the viewpoint of the Beatitudes.  Someone asked me to summarize this series in one sentence.  My answer is a quote from Marty Rubin:  “Drink freely the wine life offers you and don’t worry how much you spill.”

 

We need to celebrate being alive.  All too often we find ourselves competing with others.  Life is not a race; it is a pace.  We should spend our time realizing that our being is a gift and celebrate the party that is our life.  So if we are going to consider our lives a party, how do we live that?

 

Every good party planner will tell you that the first step in having a successful party is the invitation list.  Most of us do not have the ability to control everyone who enters our life.  We can and should make sure that we ourselves come to the party that is our life.  We need to be present in our living.  Kevyn Aucoin explains how to do this.  “Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”

 

Next in party planning comes the actual planning.  We need to awaken and give thanks for having done so.  Then we need to proceed with a purpose, a plan if you will on our living.  This might include some religious or spiritual aspects but it certainly must involve respect and compassion as well as courtesy toward others.  Essential to every good party is lining up any needed help.  No one goes through life without some help from another.  We need to be confident and reach out to others for assistance.  There is no shame and everything to gain when we recognize this.

 

Crucial to a celebration is having the space to celebrate.  Whether the party is at home or at a rented venue, clearing out space to gather and be merry.  The same is true for our lives.  We need to take the time to declutter, both literally and figuratively.  Next on my to-do list for a successful party is the item “set the stage”.  All too often we forget to set ourselves up for success.  Whether it is by getting the proper education and training or simply putting on a happy face and having a positive attitude, we need to prepare to be the best we possibly can.

 

This week is celebrated by Christians as the last big party and the sentencing and crucifixion of the man known as Jesus.  This year, Jewish people are also celebrating Passover this week, a time of great meaning for them.   In their own way, both holidays celebrate freedom and atonement.  They remind us to forgive ourselves and to forgive others.  To fail to do so is to deny one the joy of living.

 

One of my favorite life quotes is one said by Auliq Ice:  “Laughter is like a windshield wiper, it doesn’t stop the rain but allows us to keep going.”  I think in their own way, the Beatitudes tell us the same thing.  We will encounter negativity in our lives.  That is inevitable.  However, with faith and determination as our windshield wipers, we can use them as lessons to keep going and celebrate the living our life is.  When we decide to come to the party of life, great things are bound to happen and we will truly be free to find joy in our being.

 

 

 

Reflections

Reflections

Lent 38-39

 

Last year during Lent we discussed self-worth and then morphed into self-love.  For many there is no difference between the two.  In reality, unless we first love ourselves, we have no true self-worth.  Yesterday I gave you a quote from Harper Lee about the value of reading:  “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing.”

 

Breathing is an essential part of our living.  Without it, we have no life.  Harper Lee was correct, though, because we often overlook it.  It is so much a part of our living that we forget its importance.  Self-worth is much the same way.  Until we love ourselves, we do not allow ourselves value.

 

C. Joybell C. is an author, writer, and community developer.  She also sits on the board of the Scientific Journal editorial board.  A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she also is excellent at keeping the focus off of herself and very much on her work.  She is, I believe, a great example of someone who values herself and her work and knows the difference between the two.  “Life is too short to waste any amount of time on wondering what other people think about you. In the first place, if they had better things going on in their lives, they wouldn’t have the time to sit around and talk about you.  What’s important to me is not others’ opinions of me, but what’s important to me is my opinion of myself.”

 

This coming week we are going back to our roots, so to speak.  This series is about cultivating a better self, growing a better being.  In the coming week we are going to focus on our self-worth and how we implement the self-love we hopefully planted this past week.  One of the best writers on this subject is Shannon Adler.

 

Shannon Adler is not some great scholar or a cosmopolitan literaturist from a distant continent.  She is a regular woman with the same challenges in life we all face.  What is so great about her is her ability to make lemonade from life’s lemons.  She knows her self-worth and that gives her the courage to see beyond the hurdle and stay on track.

 

What I have described as self-worth, Adler would probably call dignity.  She has quite a few definitions for this:  “1. The moment you realize that the person you cared for has nothing intellectually or spiritually to offer you, but a headache.  2. The moment you realize God had greater plans for you that don’t involve crying at night or sad Pinterest quotes.  3. The moment you stop comparing yourself to others because it undermines your worth, education and your parent’s wisdom.  4. The moment you live your dreams, not because of what it will prove or get you, but because that is all you want to do. People’s opinions don’t matter.   5. The moment you realize that no one is your enemy, except yourself. 
6. The moment you realize that you can have everything you want in life. However, it takes timing, the right heart, the right actions, the right passion and a willingness to risk it all. If it is not yours, it is because you really didn’t want it, need it or God prevented it.   7. The moment you realize the ghost of your ancestors stood between you and the person you loved. They really don’t want you mucking up the family line with someone that acts anything less than honorable.  8. The moment you realize that happiness was never about getting a person. They are only a helpmate towards achieving your life mission.  9. The moment you believe that love is not about losing or winning. It is just a few moments in time, followed by an eternity of situations to grow from.  10. The moment you realize that you were always the right person. Only ignorant people walk away from greatness.”

 

Self-worth is not something we can purchase, no matter how many times we try.  It is not the latest fashion or snazziest vehicle.  It is neither the biggest house nor the most friends on Facebook.  It is not even guaranteed if you repost that blurb on Facebook or Twitter or share your latest and best snaps on Instagram.  It is, as Adler says, “the moment you realize that you were always the right person”, that “happiness was never about getting a person”, and that “no one is your enemy, except yourself”.

 

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  I did not ask what do you think you should see but what DO you see?  I think selfies are so popular because we are striving to see ourselves from the eyes of another.  We seek to see what the objective eye of the camera sees.  Of course, we are interpreting that vision through our own eyes so it still is blurred but we continue to try, taking picture after picture.

 

I recently came across a picture of our family pet when said pet was just a tiny baby.  It was his first day with our family and the picture was taken at the pet store as we purchased the necessary items to become his caregivers.  “Goodness!” I thought.  “If I had known I looked like that, I never would have walked out of the house!”  Needless to say, I thought I looked less than desirable.  Yet, we had been approached by an animal rescue group, an international group, to adopt said pet.  Clearly, regardless how horrible I thought I looked, someone thought I looked caring and responsible.

 

Perception is everything when we view a reflection of ourselves.  “You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away.”  C. Joybell C. speaks a great truth in these statements.  “It’s not like you have forever, so don’t waste any of your seconds, don’t throw even one of your moments away.”

 

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert makes an important point that we often forget:  “never forget that, once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you saw yourself as a friend.”  For most of us that time was when we were children.  Children have this undoubting talent for embracing life, embracing passion, and finding joy.  We need to tap into that part of ourselves we think we have outgrown and embrace it, reflecting a zest for life and ourselves.

 

“Let’s tell the truth to people. When people ask, ‘How are you?’ have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you because, they, too, have knees that pain them and heads that hurt and they don’t want to know about yours. But think of it this way: If people avoid you, you will have more time to meditate and do fine research on a cure for whatever truly afflicts you.”  This advice, written by Maya Angelou in her “Letter to My Daughter”, is right on track but very hard to do. 

 

The Beatitudes help us look at ourselves from not only the past and present standpoint but also give us a line of vision into the future.  We can recognize and accept where we came from and where we are in the present moment and be assured that the future will be better because of everything we have experienced.

 

Value yourself to live honestly and realize that if someone doesn’t share the value you bring to the world, you probably do not need them in your orbit.  Be yourself – honestly and joyously.  You have value.  You are worth having value.  Most importantly, in the words of Malcolm X, “We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.”

 

Slip Through the Cracks

Slip Through the Cracks … and Stop

Lent 37

 

The note was short and written in a surprisingly strong hand.  “It is ironic that I have chosen this course of action.  I do so because I am tired of slipping through the cracks.  I offer suggestions that are never followed up.  I volunteer only to never get called.  I am, apparently, a profession al slipping through the cracks.  Emails go unanswered; phones never returned.  I thought I had something to offer.  I thought my life had value.  Apparently I was wrong.  And so, I am calling it quits.  The irony is that some will consider that choice to be “cracked”.  Perhaps that is fitting since it was caused by my slipping through the crack of life.”

 

One of the comforts of the Beatitudes for me is that they describe what we all experience in life – the good and the bad.  No one walks a smooth and straight path all the time.  We all encounter detours and bumps and yes, sometimes dead ends.  Marlon Wayans believes that “Success is not a destination but the road that you’re on.  Being successful means that you’re working hard and walking your walk every day.” 

 

Henry David Thoreau sought peace and personal success in his own unusual walks of life.  “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

 

We cannot give control of our lives to others, even when we seem to be ignored, forgotten, or slip through the cracks.  As Gautama Buddha once said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”   More recently Jay Woodman said something similar.  ““The world is a wide place where we stumble like children learning to walk.”

 

We all stumble and at some point in time, feel like we have slipped through the cracks.  Maybe we have but anything that can slip though can also crawl or pull itself out.  When we forget that even the negative things in life, the stumbles and falls we make on our path can offer us lessons, then we truly stop living.  Our life is a gift and we have much to learn and to offer.  If you feel you are being ignored or overlooked, make a turn and go down a more productive path.

 

Steve Maraboli offers this wisdom:   “Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.”