05 April 2018

Which do you choose?

When we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that's present--love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure--the wasteland of illusion falls away
and we experience heaven on earth.   -
Sarah Ban Breathnach

This is one of those "that's easy to say" concepts.  In my life, I definitely have spent much more time focusing on what I didn't have than on what I had.  Over the last two decades, though, I've been able to shift my thinking so that I'm more focused on what I do have--all of the great things that are all around me--and my life is much richer and full as a result.  It wasn't an easy shift to make, though.  It took a lot of effort to constantly remind myself of the importance of being aware of what I was focusing on, and especially to catch myself when I was being negative, when I was focusing on the lack.

So now my main effort is to maintain my focus on what I do have and what is there in life for me to experience and enjoy.  I can go for a walk in the woods whenever I want, and I can see flowers or listen to very good music at any time.  Seemingly negative things still happen fairly regularly--life is like that.  But I try to deal with them as soon as I can and then move on.  If someone says something awful to me, I move my thoughts to people who are kind to me.  If I have to spend a lot of money to fix something, I focus on the money I do have and the things it allows me to do.

The most important word in the passage from Sarah, of course, is "choose."


13 December 2017

Something to Admire in Everyone

It is one of the great troubles of life that we cannot have any unmixed
emotions.  There is always something in our enemy that we like,
and something in our sweetheart that we dislike.   -William Butler Yeats

It's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything about someone we dislike is awful.  It's also very easy to think that everything about someone we like is positive and wonderful.  But life isn't like that, and if we ignore the good in our enemies and the not-so-pleasant (or even downright bad!) in the people we care for, we're doing a great disservice to ourselves.

I've known many people who have seemed to be extremely positive persons, whom I've liked very much, who after a while have turned out to be extremely manipulative and deceitful people.  The things that I liked about them were simply manipulative techniques to them--they acted nice to others so that others would do what they wanted them to do.  If I hadn't been aware that there's much more to people than what we see on the surface, I might have been simply another "victim" to them, another person being used, but not appreciated.

That doesn't mean, though, that we simply reject all such people.  There was still something about those people that was likable, and it was in my best interest to learn what that was.  Likewise, I've seen people who seem to be all negative with traits that would be good for any of us to emulate.  I've met rude and obnoxious people who are wonderful with their children; mean people who donate time and money to worthy causes; people who insult and belittle others who are extremely good at their trade or profession.  These people, too, seemed to be ones that I should reject immediately, yet if I were to do so I would not learn the important lessons that they have to teach me.

Sometimes the most important lessons we can learn is how to minimize the bad traits we see in ourselves and others while maximizing the good traits that we see in ourselves and others.

Life is always a mixture--almost nothing is one way all the time.  Unfortunately, we often seem to set ourselves up for disappointment, frustration, and worse when we choose to believe that a certain person is all one way.  We must accept that there will be the negative traits in the people we like, and that our enemies have traits that we can admire and learn from.

07 December 2017

A Place in Nature

What riches are ours in the world of nature, from the majesty of the distant peak to the fragile beauty of a tiny flower, and all without cost to us, the beholders!  No person is poor who has watched a sunrise or who keeps a mountain in his or her heart.   -Esther Baldwin York

It's amazing just how much we value things like money and material possessions when we're surrounded by amazing beauty and miracles all the time.  The natural world is one of the most important parts of our lives, yet most of us either take it for granted or ignore it completely as we go along in our daily lives.  It's easy to do when we live in cities, of course, and we see very little of nature from day to day, but if we really want to benefit from our experiences on this planet, it's important that we make an effort to make nature a real part of our daily lives.

It's not always easy to do this, of course.  And for some people, it's much more work than it is for others.  But even when I've lived in cities, I've always been able to find and appreciate little pockets of nature wherever they turn up.  The hardest city I ever lived in was Salamanca, for there's very little nature to be seen there.  But there are plenty of tiny parks all over the place, and I found several "favorite spots" where I could go just to be near trees and flowers and plants.  I easily could have gone weeks on end without enjoying their company had I not searched them out, but it's always been important to me on an instinctive level to maintain contact with nature in my life, so I did so.

The benefits to me have always been a sense of peace and relaxation in the midst of a hectic and somewhat unfriendly environment, where I've been surrounded by cement, for the most part.  Finding a tree to sit under always reminds me that life goes on, no matter what else happens--the stress of my day means less when I'm sitting in the shade of a tree that doesn't care one way or another about all those little stress-causers in our lives.  The trees and flowers remind me that in the bigger picture, all is well, and that the world is filled with resilience and beauty.

I do see many people who live in small towns, completely surrounded by nature, who also take it for granted or ignore it.  What a tragic mistake they're making, to ignore what could be the source of many, many pleasant moments that will help them to achieve a sense of peace and balance!  I would love to take them by the hand and lead them to a beautiful place where they could experience the feeling of being in the presence of eternity, but my guess is that many of them would simply shrug their shoulders, say "thanks," and turn and go home to resume their busy, crowded lives.

Where is nature around you?  How do you take advantage of all that it offers you?  Please remember that it's there and that it's waiting for you, and it will welcome you just as it welcomes everyone else--without judgment and without condition; and as long as you treat it well, it will treat you very well indeed.  Find that park bench or that trail in the woods that you can call your own, and enjoy it immensely and regularly!

30 November 2017

Why Let Go?

There are things that we never want to let go of, people we never want to leave behind.  But keep in mind that letting go isn’t the end of the world; it’s the beginning of a new life.  -unattributed

Thich Nhat Hanh says that we don't let go of things like suffering because we fear the unknown more than we dislike the suffering--we don't let go because what's known, even if it's pain, is less scary to us.  And that's a shame because by holding on to the pain and the suffering, we're definitely keeping ourselves from being happy, from reaching our potential, from helping other people to deal with their pain and suffering.

When we start to let go of things, we start to live our lives fully and completely.  We start to create space in our lives for other things that may be more helpful to us, more positive for us, more useful to us in our struggle to become the people we're meant to be.  When we hold on, we're telling life that we don't trust it--that we fear losing everything if we let go of this one thing.  We fear being alone if we let go of a destructive relationship; we fear having nothing positive to do if we let go of an addictive behavior; we fear not having anything at all if we let go of some of our material possessions.

When we let go of many things, though, we open ourselves up to new things, new people, new experiences.  We give ourselves the opportunity to see and feel and do new things, and we help ourselves to move on from the status quo into something new and possibly exciting.

I like to collect things.  Because of my upbringing, much of that trait is due to the lack of security that I felt growing up, and it's not the most positive of ways to approach life and living.  Now that I'm older, though, and I've learned that I can trust life and living, and that I'm not going to find myself with nothing at all just because I give certain things up, I can and I do let go of things.  Sometimes I let go of people who have turned out to be destructive to me.  Sometimes I let go of possessions--books that I fear I'll want to read again and cd's that I fear I may need to listen to again, but that in reality are going to end up sitting on a shelf for the next five years, never used, if I don't give them up.  Sometimes I give up behaviors that have become "safe" for me, but that are really keeping me from taking risks and trying new and different things.

Sometimes I ask myself, "Can I let go of this without causing a major disruption in my life?"

And then I say to myself, "Perhaps a major disruption is just what I need."

13 November 2017

The Loss of Silence

Nothing has changed the nature of people so much as the loss of silence.  The invention of printing, technics, compulsory education--nothing has so altered us as this lack of relationship to silence, this fact that silence is no longer taken for granted, as something as natural as the sky above or the air we breathe.  We who have lost silence have not merely lost one human quality but our whole structure has been changed thereby.   -Max Picard

This is a fact of life that scares me sometimes.  It annoys me very often, also, but I'm much less concerned about being annoyed by something than being scared by something.  Silence is one of the most important parts of life, yet it's something that we ignore regularly, and it's one of the necessities of life of which we very often deprive others, whether we're aware of it or not.

I love quiet times at home, and in my home I really should have the right to enjoy silence when I want to.  I can't tell you how many times, though, a beautiful, peaceful spring evening has been ruined by the sound of a power mower--even as late as eight or nine.  I've had peaceful Saturday mornings disturbed by the loud, high-pitched whine of model car motors on the street outside.  Many people in their cars have their stereos turned up extremely high, making sure that they disturb people in the homes that they drive by.

Our loss of silence makes it difficult for us to focus and concentrate.  It makes it hard for us to find our own centers, for we're constantly distracted by external forces.  Our internal workings are a mystery to us because we're so often distracted by things outside of ourselves.  When we get home we turn on the television or radio so that we don't have to deal with silence, and our brains don't get a rest from processing outside noise.

We need the quiet.  We need to find it in our lives, and we need to create it in our lives.  Even if it's just ducking into a quiet room for ten or fifteen minutes to relax and to breathe without any external stimuli, it's important that we do so.  A nice hot bath in a secluded bathroom with no music playing--or soft instrumental music that doesn't require mental processing--can do wonders for us.  Sometimes the silence is a bit overwhelming, but that's okay--we still need it, and it can be a healing force for us if only we allow it to be in order to heal.  There are many sounds that I love, but they generally aren't as helpful to me as silence is, as long as I make sure that it's a part of my life.

07 November 2017

Desires--Can We Scale Them Down?

We don't need to increase our goods nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.  -Donald Horban

Good luck scaling down your wants in our society. Never in human history have so many people been exposed to so much advertising--which is basically other people telling you what you should want, trying to create a sense of dissatisfaction in you through their words and images that doesn't go away until you have the product that they want you to buy. It's rather sad, really, that we're so constantly and consistently exposed to this sort of mental and emotional manipulation, but it's a fact that we need to accept if we're going to be able to cope with it effectively.

Human beings seem to always have wanted lots more than we could really get--or if we could get it all, much more than we could really enjoy and take advantage of. Life can become a different experience if we're able to "scale down our wants," to be satisfied with less and fewer, to not allow the lack of some particular thing in our life to determine how we feel or what we think. There are many, many legitimate wants, of course--I need a computer to do much of the work I do, so I definitely want to have a computer, but the work I do is rather simple, so I don't need a thousand-dollar laptop when a much less expensive one will do just fine.

And even if I wanted an expensive computer, I know from experience that when I do have access to all of the extras that make such a computer expensive, I don't even use them most of the time, so the money spent for them has basically been wasted.

I neither want nor need a new car right now. I don't want a different job. I like reading and I like listening to music, so I do want books and music, but I don't need to have every book ever written--I just want the ones I'd like to read. And even then, I can borrow them without possessing them. 

I believe that what Donald is saying is that we should allow ourselves to be satisfied with what we have. Not to the point that we can't want anything else, but to the point at which we realize that our happiness or satisfaction are not dependent upon getting and possessing more things. Life isn't about "I'd be happier if I just had. . ."; rather, it's about finding that space and feeling of "I'm happy. It might be nice if I had this thing, but I'm fine without it, too."

01 November 2017

How Do You Meditate?

Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet.  It's a way of
entering into the quiet that's already there— buried under
the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.

Deepak Chopra

When I was growing up, meditation had a bad name in our country.  For many people, it meant something negative--it was something that only people who lived on the fringes of society did, something for the hippies or the religious zealots.  Nowadays, though, the practice is accepted much more broadly among the people that I know--though its practice still is rather uncommon.  To me, meditation is extremely important, but I really don't meditate in the ways that the books tell you to.

My most important form of meditation is running.  It's not something that helps me to completely empty my mind, of course, but it does help me to slow my mind down and clear it of a lot of baggage.  I need to stay focused on my running, on my breathing, on the feelings in my legs, and other thoughts simply don't have room to surface when I run.  That's the main goal of meditation, as far as I've learned--empty the mind of the zillions of thoughts that run around in there constantly in order to calm ourselves down and be able to center ourselves without all the distractions.

I also like to go for long walks.  For many people this doesn't work because they still think those same thoughts during their walks.  I'm lucky, though, because I try to notice everything I can while I'm walking--the leaves on the trees, the flowers, the colors of the houses, the changes that I notice from the last time I walked.  When I'm walking, I'm not thinking of my problems, unless I'm walking specifically to ponder a particular issue, and then my walk is a way to deal with something rather than a meditative exercise.

Sometimes I do a more traditional type of meditation, focusing on my breathing--in. . . out. . . in. . . out--listening to it closely so that other thoughts diminish until all I'm aware of is the breathing.  It's very helpful to me, and when I stop--sometimes after three minutes, sometimes after twenty--I always feel better.  I sit in a way that's comfortable to me--cross-legged on the floor is not comfortable--and I do it sometimes when I have very little time available to me, sometimes when I have plenty of time.  Generally, I know when I need to do it--when my mind is racing and I'm feeling like I'm being pulled in many different directions at once.  This is a way that I get centered and I can look at all the problems in a new light.

Formal meditation obviously isn't necessary in life for everyone--many people have lived long and productive lives without ever having sat down with the specific purpose of meditation.  But we all have those things that get us so focused on one thing that the rest of our minds calm down--for some it's cooking, or working on engines, or cleaning a house, or reading a novel.  Be careful, though, because some activities have huge potential frustrations--if you're working on an engine and a part doesn't fit properly, you may be facing more stress than calmness.  Raking leaves works for me, but that's a fall-only activity!  What are some ways that work for you to clear your mind?  What are some things that you can do to calm yourself down?  It's very important to set aside time to do them regularly--you'll definitely benefit from doing so, and all the people you're involved with will benefit, also.