Días del Muerte

Life Goes On

After three years in Mexico, this was the first year my husband and participated in Días de Muertos. I wanted to create an altar and I wanted to do it correctly. My Spanish teacher sent me this link explaining the tradition. The first thing I learned was that it was not a single day but a series of days – hence días not día del muerte. Each day is designed to remember a different category of those we have lost. One day is for lost and helpless. Another day is for children who left too early. On each day a different item is added to the altar to symbolize a different type of departed. For instance, bread is added for those who left suddenly without their last meal and fruit is added for our ancestors – they are the fruit, we are the seeds. Días de Muertos is a terrific tradition for remembrance, gratitude, and surprisingly, joy.

Días del MuerteThousands of years old, Días de Muertos originated with ancient Central American cultures who thought it was disrespectful to mourn the dead. Death is part of life and this celebration is designed to keep the memory and spirit of those we love alive. For my husband and me, it was exactly that. Having an altar of those we love and have lost, kept them top of mind for us this past week. We thought about them and shared stories – happy and sad. For us, it did seem that they took the flower petal road to come visit us again for just a little bit. If you haven’t seen Coco, you can watch this short animation about the tradition.

Ironically (or as I say, Spectacularly Perfect), I had planned to write today’s post about a very different video I saw about Paul McCartney. I was surprised when that video fit perfectly into the concept of Días de Muertos. About five minutes into the video (4:55-7:35), Sir Paul shares a beautiful story about a visit he had from his departed mother through a dream.  He had been worrying about the band and their future. She told him, “It’s going to be ok. Just let it be.” As he wrote afterwards in the famous song, “In my hour of darkness, she is standing right in from of me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” Through this dream he felt a connection to his mother and the reassurance he needed at the time. Have you ever had messages from the beyond? Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, have you received a message in a dream or just a pop of insight that helped you through a difficult patch? Many times in my life I have felt those I loved around me, supporting me, providing me with guidance, just letting me know I am not taking this journey alone.

The whole James Corden Late Late Show video of Sir Paul is worth the watch. One of the other things that is interesting is to see all the different lives Sir Paul has had, from his humble beginnings to the fame he has now. Life is every changing. No moment stays forever. No one is always with us. It is important to be in each and every moment, to be fully present for all that life offers us.

Take a bit today to remember those you have known and all the support they have given you before and after they were physically around you. Take a trip down memory lane and review the highs and the lows. Look at the miracle of the amazing journey of your life.

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?

simon electronic game

Everything You Want

As a child back in the 1970’s, I remember spending weeks pouring over the Sears Catalog to compile what I wanted for Christmas. The latest doll. A pair of roller skates. The Simon electronic memory game. The list would go on with every gadget and toy I could find. Santa was usually pretty good to me. I wouldn’t get everything I wanted, but I would receive a lot. And usually by February, I was bored with it all. I had everything I wanted, but nothing I needed.

simon electronic gameIn contrast, two years ago, I gave my husband some plain white socks for Christmas. He was ecstatic. He could use the socks. He wears socks without shoes while working and usually wears them out quickly. With this practical gift, he received something he truly needed and was very grateful.

Look around you right now. Are you surrounded by what you wanted? Do you have the house, car, and clothing you desire? Do you have a room filled with collectibles or your passion? How full are your closets, your basement, your garage? Do you have everything you want? If not, what else is on your wish list?

It’s exciting to have a dream and work toward having what you desire. Yet how often once we have a certain thing, do we find it does not fulfill us? When you look back at your life, is it things that make you happy? Or are your moments of joy due to an experience?

One of my and my husband’s desires and dreams was to have a boat. We would spend wonderful weekends on her exploring the Chain o’ Lakes. The boat itself did not bring us joy. What did satisfy us was what the boat provided. It gave us time together. It gave us projects to do together, and it showed us how to work together even when the projects were not going well. It brought us closer to nature. It allowed us to relax after a hard week of work. What we thought we wanted was a boat; what we really needed was time becoming and being a loving, strong couple.

Here are a few ways to focus on fulfilling-needs versus unsatisfying-wants:

  • Look through all the things you wanted and now have. Do they bring you joy in themselves? Do they sit on a shelf? If they provide you with joy, is it the thing itself or the experience that the thing provides? Is there another way you could have that experience without the thing?
  • For the things you still desire, what do you hope they will provide? Do you have to have that thing to receive what you really need or should you just focus on having a similar experience of what you believe it will provide?
  • Start a gratitude list for everything you have that you truly need: food, shelter, clothing, family, friends, health. Focus on the fulfillment from the true necessities versus the disappointment of yearning for your desires.

For many years my husband and I worked hard to have the boat and a beautiful home with the items we desired. I don’t regret spending money on the Elfa closets I desired or the Mid-Century furniture and art my husband wanted. When it came time to move and we had to leave much of what we had wanted behind, over time it has shown us the beauty and gift of having only what we need. No more, no less. Feeling free and more fulfilled that any of the items every gave us.

Puerta Vallarta peace

Chaos out of Peace

What I really want is peace. Peace in the world. Peace between people. Peace within myself. For me the biggest challenge to peace is truly believing it is possible.

Often when things are good, I mentally, verbally or physically make them bad. Deep down I find it hard to accept peace. On some level I don’t think peace is real or will last. As they say, I am always waiting for “the other shoe to drop.” I see happiness and peace as signals that things are going to hit the crapper at any moment. And if they don’t, I do something to sabotage and dissolve any of the peace I had experienced.

Puerta Vallarta peaceRecently we went on vacation in Puerto Vallarta. We had a great day on the beach then a lovely dinner with friends. On the way home, we took the wrong bus which took us 30 minutes and a mile or two out of our way. I could have laughed it off as an adventure, but instead I turned a wonderful day into a horrible one. I was tired and cranky. I stayed in the negativity instead of choosing the joy I truly wanted. Why do we do this sometimes?

I think the first reason we self-sabotage our own happiness, is that we don’t believe that peace, joy and happiness are a meant to be the normal way of life. From our own experience, through our parents or peers, or what we see in the news or social media, we are led to believe that life is difficult; life is a struggle. We do not accept that it is possible to enjoy peace, joy, and happiness as much as we want.

Another hurdle to overcome in order to have more peace and joy, is to believe that you deserve peace and joy. One of the reasons we think peace and joy will be taken from us is that we don’t fully believe that we deserve to be happy. For me, the thought is if others are in pain in the world then it is selfish of me to be happy. For others, the thought is that they are not good enough to deserve to be happy.

Starting today, instead of creating chaos and negativity, start bringing more peace into your life through Acceptance, Focus and Gratitude:

Acceptance

The first shift we need to make is believing that peace and happiness are possible. That these emotional states do exist if we choose them. We need to accept and truly believe that we deserve and can have peace and happiness. We need to believe that peace is possible in our lives. Embrace the concept, believe it is possible and know that no matter what, you deserve it.

Focus

Be aware of where your focus is. Are you focused on peace and joy, or the fear of losing them? Are you enjoying the good, or waiting for the bad to follow soon after? Be alert and vigilant. When you notice your focus moving to negativity and fear, take a breath. Shift your focus to what you want.  What we focus on is what we experience. Choose peace and joy.

Gratitude

Show gratitude, not fear of loss, when peace and joy come into your life. Say “thank you more please” when times are good. Have the expectation of more good coming to you. Start out with little things. If 90% of your life is in chaos, focus on and cultivate the 10% of good. Be grateful that you have even that little bit and joy, and soon you will see more coming your way.

Instead of creating chaos and negativity in our lives, let’s do what we can to create more peace. When we can all start creating peace for ourselves, we begin to create more peace in the world.

Marc Anthony

Simply to Live

In an attempt to improve my Spanish-speaking abilities, I had hired a teacher. A recent assignment was to listen to a Marc Anthony song trying to recognize and decipher the words. I have improved immensely at reading Spanish, by my auditory and verbal skills are lacking. Even without dialect issues, being able to comprehend when people speak is difficult. At this point, I am up to recognizing and comprehending about every third word spoken. Sometimes it is enough for me to understand the gist of what someone is saying. Sometimes it can get me into trouble. Going through the exercise listening to the song was helpful, and frustrating. But it was well worth it as the song had a beautiful message.

In the official video for the song, Marc Anthony begins by asking, “What is your legacy?” In his response, he doesn’t talk about the number of albums he has sold, the number of countries he has played in, or the notoriety and acclaim he has received. In his words, “Yo vivo para, de alguna manera, dejar mi huella . . . yo simplemente vivo” which translates to “I live to, in some way, leave my footprint . . . I simply live.” He speaks about being a father, son, brother, and friend. He says he is his smile, his music, and part of New York and Puerto Rico. Nothing more. Nothing less. His legacy is just to live.

The song talks about laughing, dancing, and enjoying life. It recognizes that everyone will have some rain – disappointments, losses or challenges – but that these cleanse our wounds and help us move forward. No matter what we suffer, that is part of life and we are just meant to live it.

Many of us, including me, at different ages have explored what life is about. What are we supposed to leave behind? What is the purpose of being here? Teenage angst was filled with discovering myself and being confused over my purpose. My twenties were full of hopelessness of achieving the success I thought I wanted. A nice midlife crisis had me re-evaluating all the years I spent pursuing something which did not fulfill me. Thankfully lately I tend to agree with Mr. Anthony.

There is no big secret to life. There is no big purpose. The only thing we are supposed to achieve with our life is to live it. To make the most of each moment. To move past fear. To experience emotions – good and bad. To feel love and heartbreak. To win and lose. To touch, to feel, to move, to laugh, to cry.

As you go through today, notice how much you are actually living. Are you in the moment or are you thinking about a past foible? Are you smiling and laughing or are you fearing the future? Did you take an opportunity when it presented itself or did you deny yourself? Are you living your life or watching it go by?

As for me, “I’m going to laugh, I’m going to dance, feel, dance and enjoy, there is only one life. “ / “Voy a reír, voy a bailar, siente, baila y goza, que la vida es una sola.”

customer service

Making a Human Connection

This past Easter, a fire erupted in a local parking garage. Thankfully no one was injured. Although hundreds of cars were destroyed.

We park our trailer in this garage.

After a few days wait, we were able to access the garage and remove our trailer which was thankfully unharmed in any way. We had to find alternative storage as the garage would not be reopened for over a month. We found a place to store it and waited.

While we waited, I attempted to receive a refund for the time we paid for but could not access the garage. I talked to the mall office who sent me to the garage office which was inaccessible. A security guard gave me the phone number of the woman in charge, who never answered her phone. A friend obtained and called the number for the garage management parent company in Mexico City. On the first call we were told to call back because the individual we needed to speak to was on break. Next time we called there was no answer. At this point, I was measuring the importance of how much we paid for the missed month versus the effort to receive a refund. I laid the issue to rest.

customer serviceA week or two later, after the garage opened, I happened to be in the area with some time to kill. I walked to the garage office and asked for the woman in charge. After a few minutes she, and the two little dogs that accompany her at work, appeared. I was preparing myself for what I expected to be a terse conversation, when she introduced herself, shook my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “Mucho gusto.”

In Spanish, “Mucho gusto” means approximately “pleased to meet you.” All at once we were not manager and customer but two human beings making a human connection. I smiled. She smiled. All the tension dissipated and we had a cordial conversation. In my broken Spanish, I was able to negotiate an extra month on my contract. Problem pleasantly and easily resolved in 15 minutes.

When was the last time you had to call the cable company or return something damaged to a store? What attitude did you go in with? Did you expect to be denied? Did you feel wronged, entitled, or outraged? Did you have anger blurring your mind?  When you entered the conversation, what happened? Did you get your issue resolved? If you did, did you feel good afterwards or did you still feel painful, angry indignation?

Replay the situation in your mind. What if you started off by introducing yourself and by taking a moment to truly connect to the other person as a human being. What if the issue was now secondary to the importance of treating the person across from you as a living breathing being with feelings?

Next time you need to address an issue or when someone confronts you in an aggressive manner, stop. Breathe. Connect as two individuals. Remember that you are speaking to a person who deserves as much respect and unconditional love as you do.