splash of water

Splashed in the Face with Gratitude

At this point, my husband and I have caught up on all our favorite Netflix shows and have watched all the movies we can find by our favorite directors or starring our favorite actors. We are now at the point of closing our eyes and choosing something, anything, and crossing our fingers that it has substance or a tad of entertainment. Sometimes there is a surprise-find like the memoir documentary, Cracked Up, which explores Darryl Hammond’s recovery from childhood trauma. And sometimes we do not do so well.

Whatever we choose we give it the five (5) minute rule. A mobster movie by Ben Affleck did not make it past five minutes. A quirky passion project by Noël Wells made it past the first five minutes and all the way to the end (although I don’t recommend it). Both were written and directed by the lead actor which, to me, is the sign of disaster. We all need someone else to call us on our bad choices. At times, we can use someone on the outside to see what we cannot see because we are in the picture. However, having a trusted friend or mentor giving us a reality check, is a concept for another post.

Why I bring these films up is because one of the running gags in Ms. Wells’ movie is throwing water in the face of someone who is spazzing out.  When a character is upset, mad, sad, angry, frustrated, or at the end of their rope, a glass of water is thrown in their face. At first, the soaked character is angry but then they soften into laughter. For me, gratitude is like a glass of water in the face. No matter what is going on, if I can take a few minutes and recite what I am grateful for, I find that my bad mood is miraculously lifted.

water splash
Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

For many years, I tried to think myself out of pain. I would use logic. I would use cognitive behavior therapy tools. Yet my mind seemed to get trapped in resentments and fears. This is because the mind that created the problem, could not solve the problem. I had to get out of my mind. I find now that action more than thinking helps me break my funk. In Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, Richard Rohr states, “Humans tend to live themselves into new ways of thinking more than think themselves into new ways of living.” Living differently, acting differently gets me out of a funk more quickly than trying to think my way out of it.

The action I take may be to phone a friend to see how they are doing, to go for a walk, or to consciously do the dishes. These activities help me break the replaying of my mental angst. They are that glass of water. A gratitude list is also a powerful action. Ann Voskamp said, “No amount of regret changes the past. No amount of anxiety changes the future. ANY amount of gratitude changes the present.”

After decades of researching, coaching, and self-reflection, I have finally realized that knowing why I am feeling bad is great knowledge, but knowledge does not give me peace. Changing others in the hopes that I feel better is impossible and if I does happen, their change does not help my thinking. Trying to convince my mind to think and believe differently takes a lot of reprogramming and does not solve everything. The solution lies not solely in the mind, but in the heart and in action.

Every morning I take a few moments to recount what I am grateful for and if I need to, which I usually do, I also focus on gratitude throughout my day. I find this keeps me away from focusing on lack. Gratitude helps me find joy, appreciate my relationships, and keeps me in the moment – not in the regret of the past or the worry of the future.

Here is a small example of how-to turnaround anxiety into gratitude. My neighbors’ have a lot of cars they park on the street which makes it hard for me to back into my driveway. This used to make me angry (mostly because it is tough for me to back-in even when there are not obstacles). When I notice my mind replaying negativity about my parking situation, I begin to recite my gratitude. I have a car. I have the ability to drive. I have a house with a driveway where it is kept. I have money for gas. I have the ability to buy groceries because I can drive to the store. I follow the gratitude story for as long as I need to in order to feel calm and centered again.

Take a moment now. What are you worried, anxious or upset about? Can you turn it into gratitude? Can you stop thinking and take action?

cat in the house

Stop Chasing the Cat

My husband and I have been adopted by a street cat lovingly called Blanca. We now leave her food and water as she demands. For the most part, she sits adorably on the front porch until I serve her the “right” breakfast. She is very sweet and would love to become a house cat, but my allergies will not allow it. Blanca does not quite understand this and often sneaks into the house every chance she gets.

This week I was bringing in two water cooler jugs as Blanca sat patiently on the front porch amused by the little gringa struggling with the large blue containers. Then she spotted her opportunity and darted into the house and down the stairs. I followed her and closed all the bedroom doors to keep her range of access to a minimum and then went upstairs to store the water jugs.

I could have chased Blanca around the house to try to get her out. In the past, I tried this. The result is she finds the smallest, lowest, tightest space she can and barricades herself in there. No way to reach her. No way to get her out. Frustration and anxiety all around.

Blanca en la casa

Now, I leave her be. I go about my business and ignore her. Eventually she finds a nice space to lie down, usually in the open and near me. I can then pet her and say soothing words, then scoop her up and remove her from the house. Angrily chasing her around the house does not remove her. Accepting then lovingly approaching her does.

So it is with our crazy monkey mind. If we are triggered and immediately run headlong into our story, it grows, fights back, hides, and makes us frustrated that we can not remove it. If we quietly notice, “oh, there it goes again,” accept that we are feeling an emotion but don’t feed it, the power of the crazy mind diminishes, and we can lovingly remove it.

This week I was triggered. I had a long day at work. I love my work but due to the intense emotional nature of it, I can only do so many hours. In addition, I spoke with my manager about a new procedure to review our work. “New” and “review” can be terrifying words even if we know our work is positive. Then I learned that the invoices I put into the Mexican government database were wrong and I’d have to redo them, in Spanish and on a confusing non-user-friendly website. And now because my day job went long, I wasn’t prepared for a talk I was to give that evening. Monkey mind ensued.

Stress kicked in. My mind got fuzzy. I was focusing on the pain and anxiety of these issues not the solution to them. I was uncertain what to do next about the invoices and the talk. I was chasing the cat. I was trying to make the pain of the emotion go away which just made the pain of the emotion grow.

Thankfully, I stopped. I gave myself a time out. I meditated best I could. I went to the talk and instead of having a polished presentation, I spoke from the heart about my experience that day. Later I took a walk to clear my head. The result is that the emotional pain was removed, and I could think more clearly and act more efficiently.

Where and when do you “chase the cat”? What would it look and feel like if you stepped away from the emotion, anxiety and fear for just a little bit? How do you feel about letting go to gain control?

Hope for the Future

Many of us are happy and joyful as we celebrate this Christmas Day. And many of us also have some sadness, some worry and some concern about the future. Years ago, I stopped watching the news and it released me from depression and hopelessness. Lately I have noticed that after two minutes on Facebook my warm fuzzies of happiness change to devastation and political divide. For my sanity, I may need to begin limiting my social media consumption soon too. The truth is, even if we remove the news from coming to us, essentially hiding our heads in the sand, the world will still continue to get worse, right?

Or are things really getting worse?

I found two great TED talks you should check out. The first talk I found by Hans Rosling was in 2006. In this first talk, he begins to question what we really know about what is happening in the world.  I encourage you to watch the video and see how what you think is actually based on your perception of the world and, if you are like me, you don’t know much more than the literal monkeys surveyed. The point of this talk was that if we don’t look at the real hard data, we don’t see the positive changes in and the real progress of the world. The negativity we see and experience every day is based on our perception. Our perception is based on what we learned in the past. Therefore we are living in the non-progressing negativity of the past instead of the hopeful reality of today.

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

The second talk by Hans Rosling and his son doesn’t just show how our thinking is skewed. Instead, they also provide us with tangible ways we can look for and truly see the real data. It is when we can see the real data that we can create ways to make real change, or at least sleep at night knowing life is progressing in a positive fashion.  These gentlemen postulate that we all have embraced preconceived ideas as reality. Our beliefs are based on our personal bias due to growing up in homogenized neighborhoods, to the unfortunate fact that we are taught outdated world views in schools, and due to biased news which focuses on rare events and sensationalized fear.

Here is what they suggest to help us start creating a realistic worldview:

  • Instead of focusing on and believing that everything is getting worse, focus on the fact that most things do improve (and they have the data to prove it).
  • Although there is a real gap between the rich and the poor, remember that most people are in the middle of the curve. And that the middle of the bell curve is growing, meaning more of us are living better.
  • Money is not needed to make social improvements. The inverse is true. Social improvements actually lead to increase in personal and national wealth.
  • We may have news, and now even fake news, but we control our consumption. We are often drawn to sensational and unusual events therefore we are fed more and more of these. Stop consuming the sensational, stop feeding your fears, and focus on the true daily facts of our world.

As we move into 2019, don’t focus on the past. Don’t expect things to get worse. Don’t let the past hold you back. Don’t bring the heartbreaks of the last year into the new year. Look at things with open eyes. Look to the new year with hopeful eyes. And usher in the positivity and hope the world needs today.

scary clown

Boo! Scared you!!!

I read online the other day that we are only born with two fears, and no, fear of clowns is not one of them. What I read stated that babies are born only with the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. This implies that all other fears are learned.  As I researched this premise, I found new studies that show the fear of falling is also learned. I feel it is pretty safe to say we are born with two or less fears hard-wired in us. Which means every other fear we have is learned.

scary clown
Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

Our experiences, our parents, our friends, and society as a whole teaches us what to fear. I am sure if I gave you five minutes you could come up with a host of fears that you have. The truth is though that each of these fears are things we have chosen to believe. We have either accepted the fears from those around us or have taken an isolated incident in our experiences and chosen to fear that it will happen again. Fear is good in that it can keep us from doing things that will harm us. When fears are unfounded, they can hold us back.

Feeling Fear

A lot is happening in the world right now of which we could be afraid. Yet when we really look at it, as Trevor Noah said recently, “Feeling is often times more powerful than what is actually happening.” Yes, there are shootings. Yes, there are incidents of violence. Yes, there are bad people out there. But what we really fear is what we have created in our minds. It is fear of what could happen. It is important to do a little reality check on what is really something to fear because it is imminent versus the fears we have created which only occur in our minds. I wrote about sorting through our mental fears a few years ago.

Moving Past Fear

Fear is good when it is something that can keep us safe. Fear becomes detrimental when it is something that holds us back or keeps us stuck. Seth Godin shares how fear has been used to keep us complacent and how overcoming our fear can empower us. Instead of avoiding your fears, pushing through them can help you succeed. We can train our minds to choose to be brave and to be the best version of ourselves.

Most of my life I was shy. I was afraid to be seen or heard. I thought I would be told I was stupid, unimportant, incorrect, and would be shunned and unloved if I spoke up. This fear kept me stuck. I didn’t speak up when I should have to protect myself. I didn’t share when I had something of value to provide. I muted my voice from fear of being attacked and ostracized. I became a follower instead of a leader because it seemed safer. As I am learning to use my voice, yes, I have found some people who have taken offense and attacked me. But the percentage is so small that it is not worth discussing. What is more important are the individuals I have helped when I share my truth without fear.

Take a look at your fears. Are they keeping you safe or holding you back? Are they based in reality or are they unfounded? What would it take to empower you to move past your fears? What would you achieve or experience if you allowed yourself to release your fears?

giving

Service and Surrender

At different times of my life, I seem to have themes on which I am focusing. Two current themes I keep sensing right now are Service and Surrender.

Service

I grew up the daughter of two consummate volunteers. Under their tutelage, we were always helping others in small or large ways. At times I resented the need to spend my time giving to others, but now I see service as the ultimate gift to me. When I find myself depressed and unhappy, I usually notice that I am solely focused on me and my worries. Don’t know about you, but when I think of my worries I get caught in a downward cycle. The more I think about them the lower I get and the more I worry. It is an ugly cycle.

giving
Photo by Sabrina May on Unsplash

When I instead turn to others, to their needs, to their worries, to their growth, I find release. Not only do I feel the joy that naturally comes from giving to others, but I am released from my personal torment. Giving to others is a form of gratitude. When we listen to others’ issues or can help them in some tangible fashion, it brings awareness of all the good in our lives. Visit a friend in the hospital, be grateful for your health. Give someone a ride, be grateful you have a car.  Give children a meal, be grateful for the food in your home.

Service is always a gift that is given freely, with no resentment and with no expectations for compensation. Service is the ultimate in acceptance and compassion. Giving freely and receiving so much in return.

Surrender

The song “Landslide” has been popping up in my playlist and seems to encapsulate the surrender part of my current theme. In the interpretation of the lyrics I like, Stevie Nicks is expressing looking back on her life, on the persona she created then “the landslide brought” her down. The life she created, the roles she played, even the accomplishments she had now seem meaningless or maybe not as meaningful. She is looking to make a change from what she created on the outside into what she is on a deeper level.

Surrender is the ultimate letting go. It is letting go of beliefs held. It is letting go of expectations. It is letting go of pride. It is letting go of judgment. Surrender is letting go of our ego. This term is not just the concept of ego as self-importance or self-worth. Ego is all that is “I.” Our ego is who we think we are or who we think we need to be. It is our thoughts, beliefs, memories, and physical self.

The pain one often feels in life is tied to the ego and it usually revolves around fear. We are afraid of not being good enough, afraid of not being accepted, afraid of being judged, afraid of loss. Our fears become our dictators. We act and react in life as a response to our fears. Our choices are made to keep us from the negative outcome of our fears. Love and peace come from letting go of our ego and the fears protecting that ego. Surrender is seeing that we are something other than the self. Surrender is releasing the personas we have built for ourselves. Surrender is embracing our connection to something larger than we as an individual are.

What are your current themes? What do surrender and service mean to you?

angry cat

Anger

Anger appears to be the common feeling these days. Politics, religion, gender, race, guns, even in professional sports, it is hard to find a subject today that someone isn’t angry about.

Anger is important. Anger tells us that something is wrong. This emotion alerts us to an injustice we have suffered, to an issue that needs to be resolved, or to a situation which is not emotionally or physically healthy for us.

angry cat
Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash

Anger acted upon is what causes issues. When we act with anger, we are only spreading more hate, pain, and confusion. Anger is not intended to be an action. Acting upon our anger creates more anger in ourselves and others. Anger is for awareness not action.

A group of us meet frequently at the same location. The carpeting at the location was washed, but due to the high humidity of the season it never dried. Three weeks later the room still smells strongly of mold and mildew. A friend had intense anger at the situation. Her feeling was very justifiable. Her anger alerted her to the potential health issue because of the wet carpet. Instead of recognizing her anger and then releasing it to be able to logically discuss solutions, she let the anger loose. Instead of fixing the problem, she caused emotional stress to those around her and distanced the individuals who could have found a solution. A better choice would have been to temper her anger, express her concern clearly, and work with those involved for a solution.

A few days later, I had my own anger. I count on my yoga classes as a point of consistency for my week. They keep me grounded. They provide me with the physical exercise and mental calm to assist me throughout my day. Since July, my classes have not been consistent. The times have changed due to other events at the studio. The content has changed without warning. My anger rose. I took some time to look into my anger. What was I really angry about? I released things that were my issue. As a recovering Type A, I am still triggered by those who don’t adhere to the clock or a schedule like I do. This is something I need to be aware of, accept, and work on. The issue outside of myself that anger alerted me to was that I had paid for a service which was no longer being delivered. We had a contract for a certain type of yoga at a certain time. This contract was broken. Once I found the actionable issue anger had alerted me to, I could have an unemotional conversation with the studio owner working toward a resolution.

When you find anger rising up, remember these three steps:

Turn Off the Anger Alarm Clock

Thank your anger for alerting you to an issue. Don’t feed the anger. Don’t immediately share your anger with friends, family, and all of Facebook. Take a breath.

Find the Cause

Look for the reasons anger has shown up. Write them all down. Separate them into what is your personal issue to work through and what are the issues you need to resolve with others.

Work for Solutions

For those things which are your normal triggers, work through them. What lesson are you being given about things you can improve about yourself? For larger issues that affect more people, approach those involved with facts and in a state of calm. The goal is not to attack or criticize, but to find solutions.

As you go about your day, embrace anger as the awareness tool it is and work on creating new healthier reactions to it.