people together

How to Survive 2020

Congratulations! We made it through nine months of chaos. That time was like being in a difficult pregnancy. We are relieved the pregnancy is over, but now we have a new little one to deal with. We have all witnessed the birth of a new world with new rules and new challenges. To be honest, like many of you, I am uneasy. It is hard not to be. Change is challenging. Change without knowing where we are heading can be really scary. To make the most of the reality we are in right now, here are a few ways I try to stay focused and thriving.

Stop Feeding Negative Emotions

Hard not to be angry or terrified these days. It seems no matter your political leanings or background, there is someone or something of which to be wary, afraid, disillusioned, or disheartened. I am not saying it is wrong to think this way. What is not serving you though, is always feeling this way.

According to Harvard-trained neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor physiologically our feelings only last 90-seconds. When we react to a situation and have a feeling, our bodies kick in and do what they do to make us feel our reaction. The whole experience lasts less than two minutes. You may be thinking, “But Melissa, I am afraid all the time. I am worried about what is happening. I am constantly angry.” If that is true for you, it is because you are replaying the story. Every time you replay an incident in your mind (or watch it over in the news), your body reacts in real time giving you the negative feelings again. If you want to stop the feeling, stop replaying the story.

Our emotions are helpful tools. They tell us when something is pleasurable or when something is off. But that is the end of their job. Emotions are tools to alert us to a situation and then we need to decide if we need to accept or change the situation. Staying in the emotion keeps you stuck. Stop replaying the situation and decide what you are going to do about it.

everyone together
Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

Release Hate

Accepting that things just happen and there is not a rhyme or reason for it is tough. Taking personal responsibility is tough. That is why we are often quick to judge and attack someone else. We want someone to blame. Hitler was great at blaming all his country’s woes on certain people. A disturbing scene in the movie Vice, shows how people couldn’t get behind a war against the Al-Qaeda organization because it was intangible so the government decided to focus our anger and hate on a specific country, somewhere on a map to place our hate. We do this in our personal lives too. How many times have you heard what a horrible person someone’s spouse is and how that spouse is solely responsible for a failing marriage?

Jesus warned us to not focus on the splinter in someone else’s eye when we have a log in our own. As we say nowadays, those in glass houses should not throw stones. Yes, there are some people doing some very bad things right now, but they are not only that one bad action and we all have a little good and a little bad in us. It is easy to attack and blame the other but that doesn’t solve the problem or make our experience of a situation any easier. As we have all seen and experienced this year, our hate of “the other” just makes how we feel worse and doesn’t solve anything. Yes, people may be acting poorly but pointing your finger doesn’t help.

First, look at the situation as it truly is. What are the facts. What is the truth. Don’t look for quick and easy answers but what is the true messy interconnected truth? Things are hardly ever black and white. People are never clearly right and wrong. There is usually a lot of messy gray.

Next, how can you help resolve the problem? How do you contribute to the problem? What needs to be acted upon and what needs to be accepted? Instead of taking the easy route of hating and labeling the other, take a step back and see what can actually be done to resolve the issues, no matter the cause.

Be Courageous

Being hateful, angry, and fearful is easy. Being compassionate, loving, and connected takes courage. Acting rightly as our best selves takes effort. It is easy to sit back and blame others, but what will change the world is if we all take personal responsibility for how we think, act, and react. I am not saying you should run for office, join a protest, or arm your militia. You can courageously change the world through each interaction you have every day.

Are you approaching every interaction, whether with the cable provide customer service agent or your dearest friend with a desire for connection and service?

Instead of reaching out with self-righteousness, anger, or fear, how about reaching out with love?

How can you use empathy and understanding to help you provide compassion to those around you?

How can you find the courage and strength to rise above the fearmongering and hate?

When we change how we act and react, we give space for those around us to act and react better as well.

Focus on Gratitude

This one took me a while to wrap my brain around. I have been truly blessed this year. My husband and I still have work. Neither one of us contracted Covid. We are doing very well this year. And I have survivor’s guilt. I feel guilty for being ok. Thankfully, my mentor has helped me work past this. Diminishing my joy, gratitude, and good does not give anyone else more joy, gratitude, or good.  Misery may love company but being in misery with someone else does not support them. My goal is to first accept and fully embrace all the good I have in my life. I am grateful for a loving husband, relatively good health, a beautiful home, and the Cubs winning the division. Second, I compassionately hear the pain of others, sit with them in their hurt, and then help them to refocus on their good. No matter how bad things get, there is always at least one thing to be grateful for.

Holding on to how things are, will only bring pain and disappointment. Embrace this new world we are moving into, whatever it turns out to be. Release your fear, anger, and hate. Have the courage to connect with and love others. And take some time every day to focus on gratitude. These simple but not always easy steps can make a difference in your experience. Hang in there!

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?

living woman with flowers

Flowers for the Living

This Anne Frank quote came across my awareness the other day and stopped me in my tracks. “Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude.” wow. Here are some themes that came up for me.

Be in the Moment

One of the reasons regret has more power is that we are living more in yesterday than today. Instead of being here now, we spend much of our days living in yesterday. We replay what happened, what we could/should have done differently, and we ruminate on how others wronged us. We are often so consumed by what happened yesterday that we completely miss what is happening right now. We can also miss right now by focusing on the future and then later regretting that we skipped over the present moment. More power, joy, reward, connection, and love exist in the present. The present is really the only reality, because fear of the future and regret of the past are completely diluted with our perception. Being in the moment is where happiness and gratitude reside.

Why is Gratitude So Hard

Hardly a person today could say they haven’t heard the importance of gratitude. Many agree gratitude is very important, and yet, hardly any of us practice it with any consistency. My belief is that gratitude is hard because it makes something other than our ego important. As humans we are constructed to focus on ourselves for survival. Or maybe it is not a result of humanity but a culture that puts the “I” in “team.” Western focus is very much on individual contribution and success. The community is secondary, and yet the community and the larger world are where much gratitude lies. Yes, we can be grateful for the health of our bodies and our current situation, but we can also be grateful for the support of a loved one or the beauty of nature. Whether it is something essential to us individually or something that affects the group as a whole, gratitude is sent outside of ourselves – and unfortunately the ego doesn’t like to lose the spotlight.  

Regret and Punishment

As a society, we focus on punishment, getting your just deserts. We have an ingrained belief of a judgment day; that there will eventually be someone earthly or not-so-earthly person who will punish us for our wrong-doing. If you are like me, you may not wait for someone else to judge you and you may spend a lot of your time punishing yourself for a wrong misdeed. This focus on punishment may be the result of human survival needing to focus on threats. Many of our threats are no longer physically based, by emotionally and psychologically. For survival, our ego focuses on negativity and what we are doing wrong, because this is what may kill off the ego. Unconsciously we feel we are protecting ourselves by focusing on the bad not the good. We feel more comfortable and secure if we keep our attention on the negative; which is counterintuitive but commonplace. We send flowers after the fact in the desire to have our regret forgiven, instead of giving in the moment where it can do the most good for all.

Living versus Dying

The final theme I see in this quote is the call to live. Be present. Be grateful. Be here now. Stop looking for the finish line and the final judgment. Stop focusing on the end. Much of my life I focused on the end result. I was focused on the goals and the regrets. I was doing not living. Overtime I have learned that living meant being. It is connecting with others, asking for and giving help, acknowledging growth and progress in myself and others, and striving for better. None of my accomplishments meant as much to me as putting a smile on someone else’s face. Focusing on business and personal goals takes us out of the moment. Focusing on making the most of each and every moment, brings us into the present where life is richer and more wonderful. We are truly alive.

What does this quote mean to you? How can you use it to reframe today? Share with us here.

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.