Who would have thought that at 47 years old, I’d become a political activist? Yet here I am, marching, protesting, visiting my state legislators at the Capitol and my federal legislators at their local offices, calling politicians, writing politicians, attending activist meetings, and getting my activist game on. Full court press and balls to the wall, y’all. Continue reading
If you know me, you know the role that running plays in my life. It’s not just a hobby or a social activity, although it is certainly both of those things. For me, running is the deepest form of meditation and reflection. Running is contemplation in action. Continue reading
If you haven’t learned a few things from Donald Trump, you haven’t been paying attention this election season. If nothing else, this man has been a stellar example of how not to relate to others and how not to behave.
Throughout his campaign, Trump has been reckless, over-reactive, and quick-tempered. In my opinion, he has exhibited an impressive lack of forethought, good judgment, and calmness – qualities most people admire and strive to have.
So, it’s the honest truth when I say that I have learned a lot from Donald Trump. Donald Trump has taught me 4 crucial lessons on how to be a better human.
- An immediate reaction is not always warranted. Sometimes the best response is no response at all. We all feel slighted or wronged from time to time. When this happens, it’s hard not to tap out a quick email and tell that jerk who offended you what an a**hole he is. But, in the end, what purpose does that hot tempered reaction serve? Sure, it might make you feel better in the moment, but does it actually change the situation for you? Does it bring you a sense of peace, a feeling of happiness, or resolution to a sticky situation? Unlikely.
- Pause and think before you say or do something. Sometimes a little time out from whatever is making you crazy is all you need in order to regroup. Rather than immediately reacting to something when you feel aggrieved (see point 1 above), create some time and space between the stimulus and your response. Pause. Breathe. Walk around the block. Write that email (but do not put anyone’s name in the “To” line for god’s sake!), then hit delete. The desire to react will subside. You won’t have reacted, and you’ll feel better for it.
- Listen deeply to others. People you know, respect, and trust can have good advice to give. Often, that advice is coming from a point of view that may be more objective than yours. So, listen to what other people have to say. Don’t be so committed to your own way of thinking, and your own ideas about how things ought to be, that you can’t consider the counsel of others. Also, don’t close yourself off because you’ve been offended by what someone has said. Consider where that person is coming from. They may be speaking from their own wounds.
- Put your big girl panties on and say you’re sorry. We all screw up. We all say and do things we wish we could take back. But, we can’t take these things back (hence the importance of points 1 and 2 above). We can’t undo the wrongheaded things we’ve done, but we can recognize the error of our ways and be adult about it. Yes, it’s hard to get past our ego (admitting we were wrong) and our embarrassment (because we did something stupid), and admit our mistakes, but that’s what you have to do when you screw up. Apologize and make things right.
You all know that I’m all about learning from whatever experience in which you find yourself – good or bad. So, instead of rolling my eyes when I witness atrocious behavior from others, I’m turning the tables and getting something out of it. I’m letting Trump teach me. And he’s teaching me a lot.
When I was suffering in the darkest days of my depression, I was utterly hopeless. Despondent and helpless, I honestly felt that I was powerless to manifest any meaningful change in my life.
Hopelessness was my filter, the lens through which I interpreted everything that happened to me and about me. Life sucked. I sucked. And nothing was ever going to get better.
But as I move out of this darkness, I’m learning hope; it’s my new filter, the lens that is helping me become and see myself as emotionally competent.
Learning hope does not mean having blind optimism. I am not 100% confident that everything will work out the way I want. Nor do I think that I’m immune from sadness, heartache, or loss. Those emotions and experiences are simply part of living. They don’t just happen to me. They happen to everyone.
Learning hope means developing emotional flexibility, being able to bounce back from difficulty rather than allowing it to overwhelm me. It means knowing that although I’ll experience tough times, I won’t generalize about them. I won’t say things like, “This [shit] always happens to me,” when something goes awry.
Learning hope means embodying the adage that, ‘This too shall pass.’ I have to remember that the journey of life is a marathon, not a sprint. Circumstances change. Emotions change. People change. I have to be able to adjust my outlook and behavior. I have to course correct to make the long haul.
This is the essence of learning hope. It’s not an attitude. It’s a practice and a life skill.
Image courtesy of flickr user pol sifter
Instead of focusing on what’s wrong in your life, why not focus on what’s going right?
On my meditation table, I keep a variety of books. Randomly, I’ll pick up one during my meditation time and turn to a page and read. How fortuitous that I recently picked up a Thich Nhat Hahn book and read this quote of his.
“We often ask, “What’s wrong?” Doing so, we invite painful seeds of sorrow to come up and manifest. We feel suffering, anger, and depression, and produce more such seeds. We would be much happier if we tried to stay in touch with the healthy, joyful seeds in side of us and around us. We should learn to ask “What’s not wrong?” and be in touch with that.
After I read this, I found myself repeatedly thinking ‘Count your blessings’ and asking myself, ‘What’s going right in my life right now?’
Admittedly, I do have a daily practice of keeping a written gratitude list. Each morning, I jot down what’s good in my life. But, this concept of reframing a simple question and, in doing so, inviting happiness and joy rather than sorrow and suffering, really struck me.
It’s not that I think we should ignore the difficulties we experience, but, perhaps it’s more fruitful to focus on the good and not the bad, to put our attention on remembering what is working rather than what’s not working. This slight shift in your outlook can be a turning point. It can be the gentle redirection you need to center yourself on joy.
So ask yourself this question. Not once, not twice, but several times a day. What’s going right in my life?
What’s going right in my life right now? I have my physical and mental health. I have a job and financial security. I have supportive family and friends. I have 3 healthy, intelligent, and well-adjusted children.
When I think of those fundamental blessings (health, family, security), what’s going right in my life is mostly everything.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Peace is Every Step: The Path to Mindfulness in Everyday Life. New York: Bantam Books. 1991. Print.
Last week I wrote about how in the era of what seems to be a total loss of civil discourse and an alarming rise of xenophobia in the world, I will practice love. While this is a great idea in principle, the practicalities of actually doing it are a bit murky. I mean, how do I respond to things I don’t like? When faced with stuff that totally pisses me off, what am I supposed to do?
Part of me feels like I shouldn’t bother spending my limited emotional and intellectual resources on people and situations that don’t support my truth (awareness, compassion, connection, forgiveness, personal growth). But, at the same time, if I don’t speak up and act on my values, am I supporting my own truth?
I think we can all agree that you don’t have to love every person or every situation. War sucks. People who abuse women or children or animals suck. Hate-filled rhetoric sucks. These are things that I don’t like. In fact, I find these things abhorrent. But, if I am faced with that kind of shit, which I believe to be not just wrong but immoral, I have to do something. I can’t just pretend it’s not happening and look away. No, I have to respond to things I don’t like.
So, here’s my plan for how to practice love and respond to the things I don’t like.
I allow myself to feel what I’m feeling. You all know I am a big (and new) convert to the “don’t repress and don’t ignore” school of thought on how to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Just because I get my zen on now does not mean I feel only bliss. I still get angry. I still get indignant. The difference is that I allow myself to feel those emotions but try not to act on them in the moment I’m having the emotion. Like everything (the weather, being “in love,” Downton Abbey), feelings change. They wax then wane. So, I allow myself to feel what I’m feeling. “Okay, anger, here you are, a knot in my stomach, a pain in my head.” Repeat until feeling has lost its momentum, which will happen eventually.
I remember our common humanity. Am I perfect? Hell to the no. I’m so far from it that it’s not even funny. Have I ever lied? Have I ever stolen something? Have I ever said or done things that hurt someone? Uh, YES. I’ve done all that and surely some cardinal sins, too. (Truth be told, I enjoy being a sloth.) So when I see or hear or read about someone else screwing up, someone else who is also not perfect, I remember that person is a human being just like me. That person is speaking and acting out of his or her life experience and conditioning. (And if that person is a day over 30, I also think that person lacks awareness; but that doesn’t make him or her any less human. He or she probably still wants the same things in life as me – to be happy and loved.)
I accept the situation. I go through the first 4 stages of grief dealing with the shit (denial, anger, bargaining, depression) and then I get to acceptance. The key is to know what acceptance means. It doesn’t mean giving in, as in, “Okay, I will lie down and take this.” Hell, no! It means acknowledgment, as in “Okay, this is my reality, so now what do I do about it?” I accept that this shit is real – bad stuff is happening. And I know that I must manifest my values, because that’s how I choose to live. The response depends on the situation. It may be turning away from a person or situation. It may be speaking up. It may be doing something that I’m afraid to do. Whatever the response, it comes from honoring my truth, and it comes from a space of equanimity.
This is not easy. It takes effort and practice. But, if I want to be part of a better world, it’s going to take work. I’m ready, ready and able, to respond to things I don’t like.
Weekly Musings is my summary of the week’s highs, lows, and in betweens. There’s always some of each.
Spring Break 2016
I went on vacation for 2 weeks, and it was fabulous.
After a week in Colorado, where I traveled for work and ended up getting sick with allergies (or a cold or the flu, or I don’t know what), I returned to Germany and, almost immediately, the whole family flew off and spent 13 days gallivanting about the UK. The length of the trip was due in large part to the enormous savings we initially made by staying with our generous friends in London and York for a total of 8 nights. (Thank you, Darcy and Emma’s family!) Of course we made up for those savings later by staying in an 11th century castle (now hotel) and a 17th century prison (now hotel). Let’s just say that the upgrade from peeing in a bucket to peeing in a flushing toilet brings the price of a room up dramatically.
The good news is that the hubs and I only got into 1 fight on this trip, which is quite possibly a new record. It happened half way through the trip when I was starving, and, instead of feeding me, we went on one of those double decker tour buses. For an hour. In the wind. And the cold. Did I mention I was starving before we left?
When we got back to the hotel, my husband worked on trying to find a great fish and chips place, which led to us wandering for blocks between our hotel and one pub then the next (NOTE: the pubs in the UK, while seemingly restaurants, do not allow children after certain hours, like 6pm!). I got hangry. Super hangry. And then before my full fledged breakdown on the streets of Dublin happened, we ended up at an “American” diner with a menu that could have been straight from a TGI Friday’s. We ate burgers and fries and didn’t speak to each other during the entire meal.
But, it’s all good. We made up the next day once my husband came to the realization that one cannot rationalize with a hangry wife. Just gotta stuff some food in her face right then and there.
What I’m Into Right Now
I’m reading 2 books – No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh and Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. I’m also participating in the Deepak/Oprah 21 Day Meditation Experience on Shedding the Weight – Mind, Body, and Spirit. The overall message is the same, and it has to do with suffering, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been diagnosed with cancer or somebody died. It can mean you’re mad at your spouse or you’re upset about screwing up something at work or you’re just feeling restless and off.
Both authors (and the meditation series) are clear about 1 thing. All peace comes from within; it isn’t dependent upon external factors. Therefore, every person can transform his or her own suffering. Obviously, it takes work, but here’s how you can start. First, acknowledge the suffering, as opposed to ignoring or resisting it. Second, recognize that suffering does happen. No one is immune or leads a charmed life where it doesn’t happen; it’s something that we all experience. It’s part of being human. Finally, when you are suffering, practice self-compassion. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Treat yourself kindly.
In addition to those 3 steps, here are two mantras I really like that you can repeat to yourself to help you. The first is for inspiration/intention at the beginning of the day and the other is for whenever you need some self-love.
Waking up this morning, I smile.
I have twenty-four hours to live.
May I live them deeply.
May I learn to look at the beings around me with the eyes of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need.
Those are my weekly musings, and what about you?
What did you tell yourself this week to inspire you, motivate you, or help you on your path?What words of wisdom has someone else (through reading, a podcast, a talk) shared with you?What are you grateful for in your life?
Learning to be patient is the perfect follow up to practicing acceptance, because if you can’t accept your reality as it is, you will never have patience.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, patience is the ability to accept delay, suffering, or annoyance without complaining or becoming angry. In other words, if you’re patient, you tolerate things that bother you. If you’re impatient, you get all worked up and bent out of shape, because you’re not getting what you want, right this second. Watch out, World! Meltdown imminent!
Impatience Example #1: Every December, I order a bunch of Christmas presents on Amazon US and use my German credit card to pay for them. When the German credit card company notes suspicious activity (ordering things in the US when I live in Germany, for example), they don’t call or text or email me. They just deactivate my card. So the 30 minutes I just spent on Amazon is now all for naught. I can’t buy Christmas gifts for my US friends and family, which is ALL my friends and family, until I get on the phone, navigate the German language, non-human customer service menu, and, eventually, get someone who speaks English and can reactivate my card. By the time I hang up the phone, my heart has shrunk two sizes, and I’m spewing profanity. Let the holiday season begin!
Impatience Example #2: I ask Emmy to put on her pajamas and brush her teeth a full 30 minutes before her bedtime. “Brush your teeth, please.” And then 20 minutes before. “Em, go brush your teeth.” And, 15 minutes before. “Have you brushed your teeth yet?!” Finally, 7 minutes before bedtime, I start to get all mean mommy and yell, “Why haven’t you brushed your teeth?! Go do it. NOW!” She starts to cry and hands me the card she’s been working on for the last 23 minutes. The card with hearts and flowers that says, “Mommy, I love you.” Way to go, Mom.
Impatient Silke is not exactly (or even remotely close to) My Best Self. For one, she’s not very nice, and she’s not very calm. In fact, she’s loud, rude, and highly stressed. Also, I’m pretty sure no one likes her. So, why do I allow her to come out and interact with others when clearly she needs a muzzle and possibly a restraining order?
As I already mentioned, impatience emerges when you don’t get your wants met immediately. Your self-importance inflates automatically, and you react out of the emotion you’re feeling – frustration, annoyance, or anger, because you’re not getting what you want. The injustice! Behavior born from frustration, annoyance, or anger typically isn’t mindful, thoughtful or considerate. It is usually regrettable, however.
Given that both of my examples are just 2 from a long, long list, this month, I’m learning to be patient.
To work on developing patience, I will continue to work on acceptance. Specifically, I will be more aware of the physical manifestation of my impatience. When I start to feel frustration surface, I will focus on what is happening in my body. I will name it. ‘Feeling tension in my shoulders, breathing more rapidly.’ I will respond to the impatience with compassion. ‘Breathe deeply. Put yourself in a time-out for 5 minutes and chill.’ I’m hoping that these techniques will help me to stay slightly more balanced and peaceful.
Patience is a virtue after all. And if Monica of Hippo could endure with dignity for her entire life, well, I can at least try to do it for one month.
In its most simplest definition, evolution is change over time. In biology, this change results from a mutation – actual changes in the DNA – or migration, the genes leave one place and go elsewhere, or by genetic drift, in which life circumstances shift the allele (gene form) frequencies in a population.
Alternatively, change can result from environmental influences on the organism. For example, certain species of birds have red/orange/yellow plumage because of carotenoids, which aren’t endogenously made by the birds but are only available in the diet. Changes in feather color, when carotenoids aren’t available, undoubtedly affect the bird’s ability to camouflage itself from predators and attract reproductive partners, paving the way to evolution.
Whether it’s genotypic or phenotypic in nature, change happens to an organism but not necessarily because of what the organism does. An elephant seal can’t stop hunters from killing it (leading to genetic drift); a flamingo can’t make more crustaceans (which provide the carotenoids needed to give the flamingo pink feathers) appear magically in the water. In biology, by and large, evolution happens to the organism.
This is where personal evolution differs from biological. Personal evolution is all about our role in the process. Personal evolution is about the choices we make to grow ourselves in ways that always help us navigate our world more effectively.
Life doesn’t just happen to us. Happiness doesn’t happen to us. Suffering doesn’t happen to us. No. We have a hand in creating those states of being. And, I believe that it is largely by our own doing that we experience personal success or failure, that is happiness or suffering. The choice is ours, whether we want to act in ways that move us forward, toward being our best selves, or to act in ways that cause our regression, moving us toward our more unskilled selves.
It has take my almost my whole life to learn this truth. (Good Goddess, I can be a slow learner!) And even though I’ve learned the lesson, I’m not totally, or even highly, evolved. Not in the least.
You see, personal evolution is both a life long process and an indirect path. It’s not an arc from point A to B; it’s a sine wave. It oscillates up and down but hopefully moving in an overall direction toward greater wellbeing.
Life is like the ocean – still and serene at times, crashing with violent waves at other times. The only constant is that it changes, and when it changes and it’s turbulent, we have to learn how to navigate those waves. This is how we evolve, how we survive and thrive. We learn to adjust and harness that wave energy to support us rather than letting the waves pull us under.
This is personal evolution, choosing to act in ways that support your own wellbeing regardless of what life throws at you. As Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.”
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~Thornton Wilder
“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” ~Alphonse Karr
“…a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy.” ~Abraham Maslow
When I made my “January Is Appreciation Month!” proclamation earlier this week, I wrote that I would be thinking, reading, and writing about appreciation on a daily basis in an effort to help me grow this quality in my own life. I made an actionable goal for each of the 3 definitions of appreciation (being grateful, understanding worth, being aware), and I put these goals out into the Universe (that is, I posted them on the blog) so that you all can hold me accountable.
Now it’s time to do the work. So, I made a virtual visit to the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley and got referred to this interesting article by Rutgers psychologist Nancy Fagley who found that being appreciative predicts life satisfaction more than being grateful or being an agreeable, open-to-new-experiences, conscientious kind of person. While you can read the entire paper here, I was particularly struck by a table in the paper, which listed eight aspects of appreciation.
[Note: One of the eight aspects I didn’t care for. It was comparing your situation to others to help you be thankful about your own status. Since I pick and choose what works for me and what doesn’t, I declined to include this aspect of appreciation here. The thought of saying, “Well at least I’m not in Somalia where 97% of the female population is being circumcised,” does not make me appreciate my (non-genitally mutilated) life more. It actually makes me feel pretty horribly about all those girls in Somalia. So, I’m not including this, “There but for the grace of God go I” aspect. Okay, back to the other seven.]
Here’s my modified list of Dr. Fagley’s Aspects of Appreciation, or, as I refer to them, tips for cultivating appreciation in your life.
Get Awe struck. Looking over the Grand Canyon or sitting beneath a star filled sky. Listening to a Bach concerto or kneeling in a pew at Notre Dame. Whatever it is that makes you say, “Wow, this is something beautiful and infinite that I am experiencing,” whatever it is that makes you feel a small part of something so vast and mysterious that you cannot explain its wonder, whatever it is that makes you cry tears of joy and laugh out loud at the same time because it’s so moving. That, friends, is something awesome. Be in awe!
Connect with others. Take stock of the meaningful relationships in your life. Let the people who matter most know it. Tell them you love them. Tell them what their presence means to you. I did something like this before Xmas. It was scary as hell in the moment, but I sent a handwritten letter to my former boss thanking him for the professional opportunities and support he gave and continues to give to me. For all the bitching I do about him, he has been one of my biggest supporters and my career path changed direction when he hired me, and it’s been 100% better as a result. I’d never told him how much I appreciated all that. But then I did and happened to be at his office a week or so later. I saw he’d put up my letter like a Christmas card!
Focus on the good. Use your energy to note what you have (rather than what you don’t have). You perpetuate your challenges (take it from me!) if that’s all you think about and talk about. So, focus on the good stuff not the bad stuff. Here’s an example. Last year my sister created a 100 Days of Gratitude FB page for posting something we were grateful for every day for 100 days. One day, after she’d been to the doctor and found out she was allergic to cold (yes, you read that right – allergic to cold), she searched for something to be grateful for. She ended up writing, “Well, if I hadn’t gone to the doctor and found out I had this allergy then I could have died taking my daughter into the pool. So I’m grateful that I know I have this allergy. ” She made some lemonade from that lemon, for sure.
Practice Gratitude. Recognize and acknowledge the good things in your life. Say thank you to people who extend kindnesses to you. Be cognizant of the blessings in your life. Heart transplant recipient and college professor Elizabeth Bartlett calls this doing thanks (I love that phrase!). Bartlett says, “Give thanks. Give things. Give thoughts. Give love. So gratitude becomes the gift, creating a cycle of giving and receiving, the endless waterfall. Filling up and spilling over…perhaps not even to the giver but to someone else, to whoever crosses one’s path. It is the simple passing on of the gift.”
Don’t forget the Hard Times. We all know that life can be difficult from time to time, but that doesn’t mean when things are going well you should forget what you experienced, pretending like it didn’t happen. Instead, when you start to feel habituated to your good life (that is, taking things for granted), take a moment, take a long pause, and reflect on those tough times. They will ground you and remind you of what is good in your life right now.
Stay in the Present Moment. Buddhists say that the past is gone and the future is not yet here. The only moment you have to live in is right now. In other words, stop thinking about the sucky things that happened yesterday (or last month or last year). Don’t worry about mistakes you made in the past. Let go of your anger about how someone treated you rudely, and don’t fret about what might happen in the future. What good does it do to put your energy into things you can’t change right now? Get out of those mental machinations and plant yourself in the present. What is working for you right now? What is good in your life right now?
Create an appreciative Ritual. Start each day listing the blessings in your life. Every day, take time to recognize and acknowledge someone who would otherwise go unnoticed – the doorman, the delivery guy, the homeless person you never make eye contact with. Give thanks for your food before you eat. End each day thinking of the best thing that happened to you that day. Make appreciation a habit, and you will become more appreciative.
If you start incorporating these aspects of appreciation into your daily life, you will experience greater subjective well being. That’s actually what Dr. Fagley found in her study. Appreciation breeds feelings of joy and fulfillment. I’m totally down with that.
January is Appreciation Month!
Fagley NS (2012). Appreciation uniquely predicts life satisfaction, above demographics, the Big 5 personality factors, and gratitude. Pers Individ Diff 53:59-63.