Like most things, resilience isn’t something you’re born with, but it’s something you can develop. Continue reading
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.