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.

blue sky

Why is the Sky Blue?

If you have been around small children, you may have been asked a question like “why is the sky blue?” Science readily gives us answers. Like this one from NASA which talks about how blue light travels in shorter and smaller waves so it is easier for us to see. But NASA did not really answer the question. They answered how the sky appears blue, but they didn’t really answer why. The “hows” of life are very important. They help us function. They explain nature and how the world works. The hows lead us to inventions like refrigerators, cars and air conditioners. Understanding how things work helps us to relate to the world around us. What has always intrigued me are the “whys” of life. Why are blue light waves smaller? Why are there different colors in the light waves? Why do the light waves act differently? Why are their light waves at all?

blue sky
Photo by Breno Freitas on Unsplash

I don’t remember where I heard the why/how debate or if it just came to me, but the difference between why and how made me stop. In our lives there are many times we don’t have answers to why things happen like they do. Why does gravity exist? Why do opposites attract? Why does the body only have a finite number of years of use? Why is there so much pain and hate? Why can’t we all just get along? Why do we exist as we exist and why do we exist at all? The whys delve into the meaning of life.

Spending time contemplating the whys distances us from our every day life. The daily questions we ask ourselves are usually banal.  Why is the Starbucks line so long? Why can the Jones’ get a new car and why can’t I? Why does a size 8 dress no longer seem to be my size 8? Even important questions like, does this look cancerous to you or why is our relationship not like it used to be, keeps us focused on our earthly life. This day to day life can be the source of a lot of pain, anger and frustration. Taking some time to look beyond the commonplace can put things in perspective for us. Going beyond the here and now, beyond what our five senses tell us, can transport us to a thinking and a peace that can provide us with a much-needed respite. If you can’t lift yourself beyond the earthly realm, try to distance yourself using time and space. For whatever is troubling you, explore how important it will be in five years or maybe twenty.  Giving ourselves perspective by looking beyond our current viewpoint, can be a source of great serenity.

If it is hard to find perspective and peace by moving beyond, move within. Explore the whys in your own personal life. I’m not talking about intriguing but unimportant questions like, why do I like pizza more than celery? But exploring deeper whys that affect how we experience our lives. Why do I react this way to certain people? Why do I hold myself back? Why do I keep making the same mistakes again and again? Exploring these whys can help us change how we experience life. An analysis of one’s whys helps us gain understanding of our actions and with that understanding we are able to make different choices. For example, why do I react negatively to narcissists? The answer is I have been hurt by them in the past and it is safer for me to not be around them. This piece of information can help me make choices toward a better life. Knowing why you act and react a certain way can help you make better choices for a better life.

As you go about your day, notice how you are perceiving the world. Is stopping to ask why on a global or personal level a potential source of calm for you?

airplane above the clouds

Rise Above

As my plane approached Chicago and I enjoyed the warm sun streaming through the porthole window onto my face, I remembered that Chicago was in the midst of intense rainstorms. Where was the rain? Perhaps the forecast was wrong.

After a few minutes, the captain began the descent and the plane went below the beautiful sunlit clouds plunging into darkness. Rain poured. Lightening danced. Here was the rainstorm that the forecasters had portended. Interesting how that storm was not apparent, and was not a worry, when we were above the clouds at a higher altitude.

airplane above the clouds
Photo by Thammie Cascales on Unsplash

We spend most of life under the clouds. We are in the midst of the storm of life dealing with issues, challenges, sorrows, and conflicts. From where we are, we can’t see anything besides rain. We only see the storm. We only see the pain. We only see the issues. We only see the challenges. We only see the sorrows. Life is hard. This is only true because we are keeping ourselves at this lower altitude, this lower vibration. We soak in the negativity. We resonate with the pain. We don’t expect better.

It is possible to rise above the storm. Since we don’t have our own planes and a pilot’s license to take us to a higher level, we can use these tools to help us rise above into a higher vibration.

Gratitude: Our minds automatically go to the bad, to the danger so we can protect ourselves. It is a biological, survival technique handed down generation to generation. And it is necessary for our survival. It is not necessary, or conducive, to our happiness. When you feel stuck below the clouds replaying your pain and woe, take time to list at least five (5) things for which you are grateful. This act refocuses our brains and our attitude to see above the clouds.

Act: When we are down, we tend to wallow in the negativity. We stare blankly at bad television while mindlessly ingesting our vice of choice. We have low energy. Instead of taking a nap which will not recharge us, take action. Muster whatever energy you have. Clean the pot that has been in the sink for a week. Pick a weed or two. Go for a walk. Waking up our bodies will also wake up our minds, taking us out of morbid reflection.

Connection: Talk to a friend. Talk to a stranger. By reaching out to another we get out of the loop of sadness replaying in our minds. We are listening to another. We are connected to someone else. We are no longer in the mind-storm and once more connected to a larger world.

Service: A step further than just connecting is to actually serve someone else. This could be helping at a soup kitchen or smiling at the cashier who appears to be having a bad day. When we give to another, when we wipe away someone else’s storm clouds, we receive the same joy in return, and then some. In giving to another we are not just affecting them but are healing everyone they touch, including ourselves.

When you find yourself in a storm, remember you can rise above the clouds. You can find your joy again through gratitude, action, connection, and service. Through these tools you can rise above the rain clouds into the sunny skies.

books

What Can You Trust?

Like many coaches and psychologists, I have looked at the famous Stanford prison experiment to show how power and perception of rank changes how we treat each other, see our place in the world, and believe in our ability to affect change. The results of this experiment state that those pretending to be guards began to treat those playing inmates harshly as soon as they were given the power. The inmates in turn became depressed and powerless. Truth is though, the experiment, which is still being included in college text books, was falsified. Additionally, it turns out this experiment taken as real for years, is not the only one purposefully or unintentionally misleading.

When I ran across this great article exposing issues with currently accepted psychological experiments, it reminded me of a time when I was doing marketing research for a company. The research did not reflect positively for the goals of the sales department. The managers of the company pressured me to manipulate the research data so that it was more convincing for our clients. I refused. The managers, however, adjusted the results on their own, eventually winning the contract and creating issues when the product did not perform as well as the doctored research.

books
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Never in my lifetime have I seen more of a need to qualify and confirm the information being presented to us through books, articles, and news sources. In this time of easy information and no supreme governing body over the quality of information, it is very important to analyze the source of the information, the quality of the information, and the conclusions drawn.

Analyze the Source

What is the agenda of the source? What does the source have to gain by swaying you one way or the other? If your best friend of 40 years tells you that your new spouse is cheating on you, but your spouse says s/he is not, who has the most to gain by lying? Even when I read news from a source I trust, I often look for corroborating reports. I’ll especially look for news outlets removed from the topic so they have less of a tendency to create bias as they have no stake in the issue.

Analyze the Quality of the Information

Where is the information coming from? Is it first-hand experience or a game of telephone? What scientific, objective methods were used? Can what is being told be proved? Is the information presented as tangible facts or conjecture? Is what is being relayed objective or an interpretation?

Analyze the Conclusions

Before we could see the subatomic particles of an atom, we thought the atom was the smallest component and therefore any conclusions around that topic were limited by that belief. Are the conclusions in what you are reading limited by what we currently know? Are there facts missing which would affect the presented conclusions? Is there social or cultural bias affecting what is being presented? Can you see alternate conclusions based on the facts?

If you are only trusting one source, or even one person for your news, you are giving your power away. Gather a broad palette of information and then question everything before accepting what is presented. We can be easily deceived by those who are intentionally or unintentionally trying to manipulate us for their own purposes.

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.

Tiki Bar Curricanes

Chopsticks

No, I am not going to talk about the favorite beginner piano song. I want to talk about those wooden implements created to shuttle sushi and other delicacies into one’s mouth.

My husband and I were at our favorite local hangout enjoying, once again, curricanes, our favorite dish of tuna, avocado and crab. Not sure why but I looked at my chopsticks and I had a revelation. In reality, chopsticks are just two thin pieces of wood. Not a lot of engineering went into them. As single pieces of kindling, they are pretty useless. I guess I could stab a piece of melon with one, but where chopsticks become powerful is when they are used in a pair. It is not a single chopstick itself that does much, it is when a pair are used together that they can make a difference.

Tiki Bar CurricanesMy thoughts turned from kitchen utensils to people. For many years, I was independent. I was a loner. I didn’t want or need anyone. When I met my husband, I found my other chopstick. Yes, I could function and survive and even thrive without him, but with him things were better. We work well side-by-side picking through the ups and downs of life. We are a team. We support each other. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We pull up the other’s slack and let our spouse lead when it is their strength. We may not always believe the same things, but we always strive to keep working in unison.

I see other couples who have forgot they are chopsticks. They have forgotten how to work together. They think they are doing it all on their own or are expecting the other to do all the work. Instead of striving to work together, many are focused on attacking the other and causing separation. They have forgotten how to communicate. They have forgotten how to be vulnerable. They have forgotten how to forgive. It is similar to the division I notice in the larger United States. Both sides of the political system are pointing fingers and placing blame. They are focused on the differences. They further divide through personal attacks. The country is separated chopsticks and is not working well.

Whether individual relationships or larger groups, I see a lot of single chopsticks running around. We have forgotten that we need each other to make things happen. We have forgotten that we work much better together than apart. Instead of trying to come together, we focus on how the “other” is wrong and condemn them for it. We have forgotten that we are all wrong at certain points. We have forgotten that one poor action does not define who a person is. We have forgotten that we are all flawed human beings. We have forgotten how to forgive and love.

Now is a time for unity. It is a time for compassion and understanding. It is a time to look for ways to come together instead of dividing further apart. Our strength is amplified when we come together.

Take a look at your relationships. Are you working as a team? Are you creating unity or division? We don’t always have to agree or be happy about our other chopstick, but through compassion and understanding, we can learn to accept and come together. As with chopsticks, people work better when we are together.