The Company We Keep

The Company We Keep

Easter #32-35

 

We all know those friends who firmly believe that misery loves company.  They are the ones who seem to thrive on drama and simply cannot wait to share their latest event that has occurred in their lives.  Part of being a friend is listening but sometimes friendship is a one-way street with all the sharing being done by the other person.

 

Often a person who is abaitual whiner is someone who is best listened to and ignored.  Sometimes just being there and then giving them some space to work through their latest incident is all that is desired.  A hug or simple hand squeeze can also work wonders.

 

Sharing anxiety is not generally a way for someone to control your own emotions.  However, we need to be certain that we do not, in the guise of being a good friend or coworker, buy someone else’s problems nor fall prey to their panic.  It has become fashionable to use drama to make one seem important and that is sad, in my opinion.  Coping with issues does not improve someone’s esteem; living so that you do have control over issues does.

 

So how do we control our reactions when a friend simply has to “rant” or talk about their latest difficulty?  A mindfulness expert and spiritualist, Thich Nhat Hanh, has some great advice and it uses something as simple as a facial half-smile.

 

Anytime or place you find yourself affected by someone’s expressed anxieties as well as life’s curveballs in your own life, simply make a half-smile with your mouth.  Nhat Hanh advises to look at “anything which is relatively still and smile.”  Maintain the spot of your attention as you own true nature.”

 

Music is a great way to escape and cope with anxiety.  It is especially easy with today’s technology to listen to music for two or three minutes practically anywhere.  If the piece is instrumental, listen to the different instrumentations.  Whether pop or operatic, focusing on the words is another way to zoom in on the mindfulness of the moment.  The tempo, style, and/or rhythms also help convey the sentiment of the music.  Allow your mind to concentrate on that and then focus on your breathing to help discover calmness and peace.

 

When you realize you are becoming anxious or irritated, half-smile; then slowly inhale and exhale quietly, maintaining the half-smile for three breaths.  Relax for a minute or two and then repeat this.   Breathing is a well-known way to pace one’s emotions.  Combine it with walking or slow deliberate arm or hand movements.  Once you have combined your movement with your breathing, you can lengthen you inhalations for twenty to thirty seconds and then return to a normal breathing pattern. 

 

We cannot control life or what people relate to us but we can control our responses.  When we act instead of reacting to the drama of life and those around us, we are able to reduce the anxiety that often seems contagious.  By using mindfulness, we are able to act.

 

If you can, find the time to sit in silence and imagine a leaf drifting slowing through the air as it descends.  Allow yourself to slowly imagine yourself coming to a gentle resting place on the earth (or chair or bed).  Continue meditating on the lead as it gradually comes to eath, allowing your mind and body to also arrive at a place of rest, a place of calm and joy.

 

Being mindful and present in a place of peace and joy is the perfect response when someone disrupts your calm.  We can and should be compassionate with others buy we should not buy their problems.  To offer calm and peace is a gift we give to others and ourselves by being mindful of the joy of living. 

The Long Walk Home

The Long Walk Home

Lent 44-45

 

Lent is traditionally thought of as a period of forty days and forty nights.  This year, because the date for Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Vernal Equinox, we have six extra days.  It is as if Mother Nature decided we needed some extra time.  Most of us go through life begging for more time, wishing a day had a few extra hours.  Thus this Lenten season begs the question:  Did you use your extra time wisely this year?

 

This Lenten series has been about how we respond to life and I used the eight verses of the Beatitudes as both prompts and lessons for doing so.  In deciding how to spend one’s time and in retrospect, if our time was used wisely and efficiently, productive not only for the present but as a prelude to the future, we need to really consider the words of the Beatitudes.  They offer truth as well as encouragement.

 

I have also used the analogy that our life is something like a treasure hunt, an adventure in which we seek the best we can obtain – happiness and joy.  If we are authentic about our reasons for our actions and our purposes, we must admit that the ultimate quest is one for contentment and delight.  In our careers, our hobbies, and even our mates, we seek that which brings us pleasure and amusement, giving reason to the humdrum necessities of life.

 

Google executive Mo Gawdat seemed to have it all and yet, he was not happy.  He set about to find real happiness and recently gave an interview about his search.  He used the common analogy we have all heard:  Is the glass half full or half empty?  Gawdat believes “Happiness is looking at the glass and seeing the truth of the glass.”  He goes on to explain that we need to recognize that glass as being half full and be grateful for that.  Then, he continues, we need to see the half empty portion and ask what we can do about it.  “True happiness is not about what the world gives you.  It is about what you think about what the world gives you.” 

 

Happiness is equal to or greater than the expectations of one’s life and the reality of it.  We sometimes believe life should behave a certain way and if it doesn’t, then we become unhappy.  Life is not always fun, Gawdat believes.  Fun is when we accept our life and are happy.  We achieve happiness when we accept the life we have at that moment and feel at peace about it.

 

Many people reading this are going to say “Well, yeah, easy for an executive to talk about accepting life.”  Mo Gawdat came to this realization the day he went from having a delightful family vacation to his son dying, a time span of four hours.  He went from fun to the harshest life had to offer in four brief hours, one-sixth of a day’s span.  How was he ever going make that long journey home and find normalcy ever again?

 

The Beatitudes do not offer us a perfect life.  They offer us a way to find the peace and happiness Mo Gawdat spoke about and encouraged us to seek.  For Christians, today is Maundy Thursday and tomorrow is Good Friday, a day in which their hero was tortured and left to die, crucified in front of his mother and followers, one who had betrayed him and another who had denied knowing him.  There is no joy in the events of this Thursday and Friday remembered and yet, without them, the rest of the living of this hero’s purpose would not have been possible.

 

The long way home for Mo Gawdat was not an easy one but he says that each day gets a little bit better.  The secret to happiness, he believes, is to accept where we are at the moment and move forward at peace.  “I can either chose to suffer, or I can choose to sort of accept life as harsh as it has become and reset, make that the zero-point and try to make that slightly better than it is today, and slightly better tomorrow…  “Happiness is not about what the world gives you – happiness is what you think about what the world gives you.”

 

As we make that long walk home from whatever we have encountered today, we can choose what to think about what life has given us.  We can reset for tomorrow and vow to make it better or we can crawl in a hole and let the tides of life drown us.  Make whatever thorns came your way today a crown of success for tomorrow or at least, a first step towards a better future.  You alone are the only one that can take that step for yourself.  Sometimes smiling and being nice is the best way to run the race of life.  And then, to quote the Moody Blues, “When all the stars have fallen down into the sea and onto the ground, and angry voices carry on the wind, a beam of light will fill your head and you’ll remember what’s been said by all the good men this world has ever known.”

 

 

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.”

 

Mindful

Mindful

Lent 34

 

Every so often a new word seems to capture our attention.  Recently the term “mindfulness” has become trendy.  It is, however, an integral part of our growing and always has been ever since the first time we fell as babies trying to walk.  During the fifty days of Easter we will discuss this topic more thoroughly but today, the Beatitudes are calling us to be mindful and aware of the events in our own lives and how our response determines the chart we course in our being.

 

Throughout this series we have discussed cause and effect and attitude.  We have compared our living to following a treasure map.  We all are truly adventures on a quest for a better life, hopefully not only for ourselves but for all humanity.  The paths we walk are not always the path we anticipated. 

 

Born Deirdre Blomfield and later adding Brown to her name, the American Buddhist nun Ani Pema Chodron practices the Tibetan tradition through the Kagyu school and Shambhala tradition.  She grew up in Connecticut and graduated from college at UC Berkley.  She became a mother(and grandmother) and taught elementary school in California and New Mexico.  On a trip in her later thirtie’s to France, she encountered

 

While in her mid-thirties, Deirdre traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years.   Soon her path led to her becoming a novice nun and then receiving full ordination with the name Ani Pema Chodron.  Ani Pema served as the director of the Karma Dzong, in Boulder, CO, until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey.

 

I think this Western nun’s philosophy towards finding mindfulness in our own living is best summed up in her book titles:  “Start Where You Are”; “Comfortable with Uncertainty”; “The Wisdom of No Escape – How to Love Yourself and Your World”; “Living Beautifully”.  Her philosophy is simple, direct, and true:  “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

 

To be mindful is simply, quite simply, to be aware.  I referenced a baby learning to walk.  The child will fall several times and yet, the wisdom in getting up and trying again is the key.  We learn to walk not because of any first time success but because when we fall, we get back up and try again.  With each unsuccessful attempt, we gain knowledge.  We become aware.  We learn to be mindful of how to balance and then take that first successful step.  Blessed are the children who fall because they learn to get back up.

 

Nun and spiritual teacher Pema Chodron encourages us to view our world, being mindful of the lessons found in it.  “The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. … If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”  Then and truly then, will we become mindful in our own living.

And then … What?

And then…What?

Lent 22

 

It is almost impossible to name a fairy tale that does not start with “Once upon a time…”.  There are certain things that come with predisposed bits of language.  Parents usually begin a lecture with “When I was your age…” and most board meetings with “Thank you for coming.”  This not only are commonplace, they give us comfort because we know something will follow.

 

Most of us will take a breath right about now and, hopefully, that breath will be followed by another.  Millions of people have been given comfort when, having been diagnosed with sleep apnea, they are given a CPAP machine which blows air into the nasal passages to facilitate respiration.  The mechanized blowing in is followed by an automatic human exhaling which then triggers another breath in…and out… and in… and out, etc.  The process gives the equipment its name – Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.

 

Life offers us its own continuous process.  The dilemma is that we seldom recognize the lessons contained therein.  The beatitudes are a series of such continuous processes.  If we love and value something, we will miss it when it is gone.  If we stand up for what we believe, others will try to dissuade us and criticize us.  When we try to do goodness, we will be more able to recognize goodness in others and the world.

 

So yesterday is history.  Today is the present and tomorrow…well, tomorrow’s page has yet to be written.  The words that will be on it, though, the future, will be based upon what we learned from yesterday and today.  If we handled ourselves with grace and compassion towards others, we will be identified as benevolent people, most likely followers of a benevolent belief system.  If we remain calm and work towards peace, we will encourage others to do the same.

 

Many do not think that the Beatitudes do not offer comfort but to me, they promise another day.  The beatitudes are about the future and the fact that our actions today will write our future tomorrow.  Suzy Kassem wrote a poem about this, entitled “The Four Heavenly Fountains”    It goes like this:

Laugh, I tell you

And you will turn back

The hands of time.

 

Smile, I tell you

And you will reflect

The face of the divine.

 

Sing, I tell you

And all the angels will sing with you!

 

Cry, I tell you

And the reflections found in your pool of tears –

Will remind you of the lessons of today and yesterday

To guide you through the fears of tomorrow.”

Our hopes and dreams should be sought today but we need to take faith in the tomorrow that they often bring.  Even when we seem to fail, we really are succeeding by gaining knowledge.  We need to embrace today and be open to the lessons that will promise us a better tomorrow.  The real blessings are found in living.

 

 

 

Waiting to Exhale

Waiting to Exhale

Lent 2

 

Life is hectic.  Life can be chaotic.  Life is messy.  We all know this.  However, and yes, there is a however… Life can also be beautiful.  We build our life step by step and we build those steps from the hectic, chaotic, messy moments we live.  The thing about life is… It is always about the next best thing.

 

The way to build those steps to our next great moment is to exhale.  The average person breathes once every five to eight seconds.  Records have been set and tragically, not set due to death, by those attempting to pass over twenty minutes of holding their breath.  Experts say that the average person, relaxed in a pool, can comfortably hold their breath for two minutes.  In a stressful situation, though, thirty seconds is the average length of time to hold one’s breath.

 

Life seems to go at top speed some days but if we take a second and wait before exhaling our reaction, we might just find a few seconds of calm.  Holding one’s breath is more a mental exercise than a physical one.  When we exercise we use more oxygen than when we are at rest.  Waiting to exhale and subsequently inhale allows us time to regroup and de-stress.

 

When learning to hold one’s breath, there are a number of variables that come into play.  When responding to life’s moments, the same is true.  Never assume but always verify.  What you think you heard might not be what is really being said.  Often we feel we react and instead of act.  By taking a few moments, we can avoid creating more stress and might even find some much needed and greatly desired few seconds of calm to appreciate and value our living.

 

The beatitudes are the basis for our discussion during this series.  They are a group of writings that begin with “Blessed are they that…”  They exemplify to me the process of waiting to exhale and evaluating all the aspects of the moment.   Life is messy and sometimes painful.  By giving ourselves a few moments or minutes, we can see that there is grace even in the pain and turmoil.  So take a deep breath, count to five and wait before exhaling your next response.  You might, in those few seconds of waiting, just discover the next best thing that will bless your living.

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!