Friday, September 28, 2018

Here's to solitude

On Wednesday I referenced an inspiration book on which I occasionally draw, entitled Painted Prayers by Jody Uttal. The book contains her original art along with selected poems and prayers by other writers.

Today I want to leave you with a short one by the Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke:

"What is necessary, after all,
is only this: solitude,
vast inner solitude.
To walk inside yourself
and meet no one for hours—
that is what you must be able to attain."

What I've noticed, particularly in our society, is something approaching fear of solitude. Many people seem uncomfortable being alone or being in silence—alone with their thoughts. And yet, how else can we know ourselves? And knowing ourselves, don't we also begin to know and understand others?

I like the way he phrases it: "to walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours."

If you aren't used to solitude, try it just a little at a time until you develop a comfort level with yourself and your own thoughts. It's amazing what you can learn that way. For Rilke, solitude was a necessary prelude to creativity. See if you don't find it so.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

So many life lessons

Some years ago a friend gave me a lovely inspirational book that combines original art with the selected prayers of several writers and poets. The book, Painted Prayers by Jody Uttal, inspires me and always makes me think.

Here's a selection I read yesterday that was written by Rumi, the 13th century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, theologian and Sufi mystic. It speaks to our being open to whatever enters our lives hour by hour or day by day—because everything can be a teacher. This is called "The Guest House":

"This being human is a guest house.
Every morning, a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond."

There really is nothing more I need to say. Re-read it if you wish and simply reflect on Rumi's rich words. Then stay open to each emotion and experience to see what life lessons emerge.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Who has provided light to you?

Albert Schweitzer once said, "At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."

No doubt each one of us can think of several people who have rekindled the flame in our life at one time or another. As I look back through the years, I can think of several people. Can you? Whether our light actually goes out or whether it simply flickers and becomes dim, we need the help of others to light our way and rekindle our light.  We don't do this all on our own. It really does take a village!

As you think of people who have lit your path, why not tell them so and thank them? I remember thinking about this several weeks ago and telling a friend how much of a shining light she was in my life. I could tell my words really meant a lot to her. It made me think I should do more of this—tell people the effect they have on me! I need to tell them how I appreciate them!

It's wonderful to be aware of what others do for us. It's another to feel deep gratitude for this. And it's yet another to tell them so!

What are you waiting for?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Pity vs. care

It's no secret that I am a fan of poet Mark Nepo's writings. His bouts with cancer and other life situations have given him a depth of character that make his words really speak to me.

Last week I read this in his book Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness as he spoke about lessons learned from coming so close to death:

"It's taught me that if we share pain, which is a lot to ask, there is no room for pity. For sharing the struggle requires an investment, a real life-changing investment by those who care, an involvement that will instigate their own tandem suffering. Pity is a bleacher activity. It is the substitute for front-line caring."

Wow, there is a difference, isn't there? "Pity is a bleacher activity." Yes, just so. It is far different from true sharing of pain. Most people don't want pity when they suffer. They want someone to care—whatever shape that may take.

Who might need your care today?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Speaking up feels authentic

I believe in authenticity. The older I become, the more important it is to me to be authentic and true to who I am and what I value. Sometimes that deep calling comes into conflict with my desire to maintain serenity and equanimity. That's been happening for me this week.

Ever since a woman came forward with accusations against the current Supreme Court nominee, her life has been scrutinized. She's been ridiculed and accused of vengeful behavior and worse; several lies have been circulated about her. She has even received death threats! She's being what we now call slut-shamed because she dared come forward and accuse a man who has risen to a high level.

I remember vividly in 1991 when Anita Hill went through this same thing, and I wonder why women are still being re-victimized simply for coming forward with their stories of abuse or rape. As a woman, I have strong feelings about this; and I have been so pleased to see the "Me, Too" movement take hold. It's been long overdue. But the behavior persists.

Here's the thing. I don't want to be upset about everything that I hear on the news (although there's plenty about which to be upset these days). I don't want to always see the glass half empty. I want to live in hope. I want to remain positive. However, I also want to be true to my beliefs and my values. And to tell the truth, I am way beyond sick and tired of the way women have been treated for centuries—the way we're devalued even yet in this country. So I simply have to speak out about it. I cannot sit by and watch the slut-shaming circus without saying something. That may make me a trouble-maker. But history shows that much change has come because of "trouble-makers."

So I'm going on record here (and on social media and my friendship circles) to call people out when they do this to women. Enough already. This needs to stop! Women are human and deserve respect just as do men. Let's not keep silent when our sisters name abuse.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Are you a worry-wart?

Author and entrepreneur E. Joseph Cossman, creator of the ant farm, had a subtle reminder for those of us who are prone to worry. He said, "If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today."

Chances are pretty good that you cannot recall what you worried about on this day a year ago—unless, of course, something traumatic and dramatic was occurring on that day that makes it stand out for you.

Typically, those of us who are worriers spend far too much time worrying about things that never come to pass, preparing outcomes for problems that don't even develop and therefore, wasting perfectly good time that could be better spent!

I tell myself that worry is a monumental waste of time. But it doesn't really stop me. I would like to at least cut back on the time I spend worrying. How about you? I would far prefer to spend my time living in gratitude and letting life unfold rather than worrying about things and thus, trying to control them (a useless pursuit anyway).  Starting the day thinking of 3-5 things for which I'm grateful does help. And calling myself back to gratitude helps, too, whenever I find myself stressing over some possible future event. Can I refocus? Or even reframe?

Do you have some tried-and-true ways to decrease worry?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Control as illusion

Have you ever tried making a list of the things in your life that you actually control? If you haven't ever tried this, do so now, just for fun.

How long is the list? In retrospect, are there even some things you want to cross off that list as you give it more thought? Did it just get far shorter yet?

It is true that we like to think we're in control of a good deal in our lives. But think about it honestly—are you really able to control much of what happens?

When we get really honest with ourselves, we realize that about the only thing really in our control is how we respond to what happens to us. Try as we might to keep things under control, "stuff" still happens and we have to resort to Plan B, C, D or even X and Z! And for that matter, even how we respond isn't always something we control. Some of that is knee-jerk and may have been programmed into us at a very young age.

It's humbling and necessary to get past the idea that we're in control. It can also prevent a good deal of frustration, anger and resentment. Again, it's a matter of letting go of some illusions. We can learn to be more flexible and to acknowledge that we're really not in charge. We can go with the flow more often; and through it all, we can learn to be more grace-filled and accepting of others as we recognize that we're all just trying to do our best to get by.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

'I am loved'

I recently saw a journal exercise that would be fun to try. First, you are asked to list the ways you think someone you love would describe you. Second, you then go to them and ask them to list their favorite elements of who you are. Then compare their list to yours. In the exercise instructions, you are invited to not be shy, because "it will make them so happy to tell you why they love you!"

Are you willing to try this? Often, we think others would let us down if we tried such an exercise. We think others see us as we see ourselves—and who is harder on us than our very self?! In truth, such an exercise might make the other person happy. But it surely would make us happy, too—that is, if we can suspend our disbelief and self-doubt long enough to really believe the other person is sincere.

Sometimes we do a real number on ourselves and think of someone who compliments us, "Oh, they have to say that" or "They're just saying that; they really don't mean it." We don't think we're worthy of love.

Make it a point today to let go of that kind of thinking. Shed those old tapes that tell you that you aren't worth loving. Believe people when they say they love you. Believe in your own lovability!! Remind yourself every day that you are lovable. Repeat to yourself, "I am loved, and I am worthy of love." For letting go of the old negative messages is only half the equation; the other half is to fill your head space with new, positive tapes!

Monday, September 10, 2018

More grace

I just read the most fascinating quote by American author and playwright Robert Anton Wilson: "Under the present brutal and primitive conditions on this planet, every person you meet should be regarded as one of the walking wounded. We have never seen a man or woman not slightly deranged by either anxiety or grief."

Wow! It really made me stop and think. Such a quote has a way of grabbing our attention, right? I admit that I don't know the context of that quote, although I did do a quick search that didn't yield anything.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how everyone I meet is dealing with something or other—many facing painful, frightening and heavy issues. And I have absolutely no idea when I see someone in a store, at church, in a meeting or on the street what's going on in that person's life. The term "walking wounded" really seems apt. Yes, we are all wounded in some way, aren't we? And we are all dealing with anxiety or grief.

For me, that means that I need to pay special attention to how I treat everyone. I need to remember to approach people with kindness and a full measure of grace, acceptance and forgiveness. More grace. Less attitude.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Anger's good side

It's clear to me that there's a large amount of anger in our country right now. And no wonder, really. We are experiencing many changes—in our economy, in what we consider "civil discourse," in norms that we'd come to expect (for example, that it was safe to go to the mall or a theater), in some of our institutions and so much more. And many people still struggle to replace lost jobs and income, to get by on less and to hang onto what they consider "the American dream." Add to that all our personal struggles with illness, career, relationships and more—and it's no surprise we experience anger.

Anger in and of itself is not bad. Anger is a necessary emotion, in fact. It can remind us that we've just witnessed or experienced injustice, and so it can serve as a call to action. It can protect us, reminding us of danger and the need to create safety and boundaries. Anger often has messages for us. It may flag to us that we have some unresolved grief and loss issues, things we've not acknowledged or grieved yet. For example, I just read about a woman who had completely buried her grief and pain about being raped 50 years ago (at a time when she knew she'd likely be re-victimized if she talked about it to anyone).

What we do with anger is what's important. Notice it. Acknowledge it. See what lessons might be learned from the anger. Do you have grief you've not faced yet, for example? Is it telling you that you need better boundaries with someone in your life? Once you have gleaned the lessons, let go, let go, let go of the anger. You definitely do not need it anymore. It'll be a ball-and-chain if you hang onto it.

It's essential that we learn to deal openly and healthily with our anger—not that we suppress it but also not that we use it to lash out at others. It needs to be processed. And then, shed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The real you

Who is the real you? We all wear masks. It's something we learned to do when we were quite young. We develop masks to protect ourselves. We fear that if people saw who we really were, we wouldn't be loved. Or perhaps we would be harmed if someone saw how weak or afraid we were—in which case, we may develop a stance of toughness that tells the world, "I dare you." So many reasons, so many masks.

By the time we reach middle age and beyond, we may have several masks, depending on whom we are around at any given time and what the situation is in which we find ourselves. Typically, however, by that stage of life, we're also beginning to realize that the masks meant to protect us are suffocating us, too. They are keeping us from being who we truly are. They keep us from being authentic. And authenticity becomes more important to us as we age.

What Muhammad Ali once said is true: "If you're the same person at fifty that you were at twenty, you've wasted thirty years."

Yes! The idea is to grow, to evolve, to let ourselves be transformed by life and its experiences. When we reach a more mature stage of life, we want to be as true to ourselves as we can be. Having said that, we will always hide behind some masks for safety. The hope is that those become fewer and lighter as we become stronger and more sure of ourselves.

What masks are you still wearing? Do you need them? Have you shed some of your masks? Do you feel that you're as authentic as you can be?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Look for the light

As I observe my own behavior and that of others, I often wonder why it is that we're so drawn toward the negative—toward the chaos and drama—rather than toward the positive and inspirational. It's as though the worst behaviors are the shiny objects in the middle of the road. On any given day, we collect as many of those as we can and cluck-cluck about it all. "The world's going to heck." "Whatever happened to civility?" "There are too many nuts out there."

I keep remembering what the late Mr. Rogers said his mother told him about "looking for the helpers" when any tragedy occurs. Rather than focus solely on the tragedy itself, he was taught to look for those who rush in to help. And there are lots of them out there, once we refocus!

I like what poet and inspirational writer Mark Nepo says in The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be:

"So, in a world where tragedy is broadcast every half hour; where situation comedies are rerun nightly; where confusions and betrayals replay themselves; where dark histories repeat themselves, help me put my stinger down and I'll help you take the deep chance to come to your senses. We can take the time to move toward whatever we sense is precious."

Yes, that's it. We can help each other in this regard. It's so easy to focus on the bad behavior, the tragedy, the negative—but we can help one another refocus. Go toward the light. Find what is precious. Look for the helpers.