Category Archives: Wisdom/Philosopy

Loneliness – The “Illusion” That Feels So Real

Scan 5Many of us are lonely today. It crops up in my own life from time to time even though I am married, do work I enjoy, and have a few people I care deeply about and who also care about me.  You don’t have to be alone be lonely.

It is my nature to question things and look deeper (both a curse and a blessing!), so I’ve delved into this feeling of loneliness almost as an afterthought from writing about happiness. I believe that loneliness is a common and misunderstood obstacle to happiness.  Loneliness is a serious issue and impacts the quality of our lives.  There are many different kinds of loneliness. It is sort of a catch-all term that says very little about what is really going on. Are you lonely because you miss a best friend?  Do you miss being part of a group, something larger than just you?  Does it make you feel unseen because you do not have a place that seems familiar, where you are known? Are you missing a romantic partner in your life?  Are you feeling overwhelmed because you don’t have someone around whom you can lean on and depend upon when things get difficult?  Loneliness has so many faces and so is harder to pinpoint.

A sense of connection is often the missing link in our lives and is a common thread with loneliness. The Welsh have a word for a special kind of loneliness, called Hiraeth. It doesn’t have a precise English translation, but in general means “a homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that never was“.  It is similar to the Portuguese “saudade” which is the theme of Fado music. Hiraeth is a mix of longing, yearning, tinged with grief or a sense of loss and a desire to connect with or touch that which has been lost. It is the feeling of separateness or disconnection that is at the root of any type of loneliness. There is help for this deep existential form of hiraeth  as well as the temporary fleeting feelings of loneliness we all experience from time to time.

Nurturing a sense of connection is the best (and maybe the only) way to shift a feeling of loneliness. I believe that we are all interconnected and interdependent with each other, but the illusion of separateness persists due to our egoic minds, modern life, and our culture of fear and lack. But since I also believe our view of reality is almost entirely perceptual, the “illusion” of loneliness is a very real part of a lonely person’s life.

I do not intend to trivialise the problem of loneliness, but sometimes actionable steps are simply the best way out of a bad cycle.  Just taking a step in the right direction immediately improves our perception and thus our situation.  Try some version of my suggestions, tweak them as much as you need to so they are meaningful to you. and take a step out of any bleak feelings you are having. (The only reason I “know” about this is because I have felt it myself, and edged my way out of bleakness by trying something different.)

  • Make a habit of nurturing others. For happiness in general, studies show that it is just as important to give support as to get support. Make eye contact and smile at someone. Even if they don’t smile back, it cost you nothing to do this and is likely to bring about a lovely smile in return. Offer to get groceries for an elderly neighbor, foster a dog or cat, take care of a friend’s children, teach a class, volunteer in your neighborhood or community. Giving support to others creates a feeling of connection.
  • Make real attempts at connecting with other people. Sign up for an exercise, language, art, sewing, craft class, join a book group, show up at the weekly office coffee hour, take a minute to chat with a co-worker, neighbor, or acquaintance, attend a community talk or lecture, start or join a local walking group. (Yes, I know. All the advice we’ve all heard before. But it really works!)
  • Get better sleep. Sleep deprivation under any circumstances brings down people’s moods and exacerbates negative feelings. You will not feel like building connections if you are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. It is important to tackle this issue. Give it your attention by trying different things for a couple of weeks at a time. (There is a mountain of information out there to cure insomnia, but my next blog will be about this very thing.) Chronic sleep problems are usually the result of bad habits that need to be changed. 
  • Make a habit of staying open. This can be as simple as being aware of the next breath you take or the food you are tasting. It involves staying open to life and experiences as much as staying open to people. I know that loneliness itself can make people feel more negative, critical, and judgemental. Sadly, people who are lonely are far less accepting of potential new friends than people who are not lonely so the hurdle comes down to feeling what you are feeling and gently pressing on anyway.
  • Ask yourself, “What is it that I really want?” We often avoid this question in anything but a trivial way because it can be painful and can bring up what is “missing” in our life. But it is easier to know how to address an issue if you are clear what you really want. Chances are, you do not really want the third chocolate brownie or the 5th piece of pizza. Overeating is a common quick fix for feelings of lack or of not “being” enough. There are other things we do to mask discovering what it is we really want of course, but by far overeating is the most common. Without getting into a deep rut with this, touch into the question “What is it that I really want?” for a few minutes each day. Beginning to feel comfortable with this question – and the resulting answer – will go a long way in resolving feelings of loneliness and unhappiness.

Sometimes the wanting or longing you feel can be a marker for you to follow along your path. I wish you well as you listen to the whisperings that come along when you ask the important questions.

If you try, or have tried, any of these ideas to step out of feelings of loneliness and darkness, please let me know how they worked for you.

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Keep Fighting For Your Limitations, and – They’re Yours!

wordpress meditation imagesRecently, I was talking with a friend about all the reasons her life didn’t seem to be working for her. One of the things I kept noticing is the way she insisted she could not do things any differently because of these very unique circumstances she was embroiled in. I said to her, “but if you continue to do things the exact same way, don’t you think you’ll continue to get the exact same results….ie, more of what you don’t want?” She heard me loud and clear but was on the verge of getting upset because she thought I wasn’t hearing and understanding her. What I heard was a woman fighting for her limitations. I had a Eureka moment when I realised what was happening is something that I also do from time to time. We all do.

We will think about what it is we really want – but then spend lots of time and energy going over and over why we cannot have it or what is in our way. While knowing our roadblocks is part of getting clear about solutions, this insistence to and attachment to our roadblocks is what is keeping us stuck. I want to keep this simple and honest, so I will claim that statement: My insistence and attachment to my limitations is what is keeping me stuck.

Now you may be thinking, “I am certainly not attached to my limitations, I want them gone!” I believe that you want them gone but in order to remove them you must stop fighting for them. You fight for your limitations when you insist that you could never retrain in a new field because you are too old. You fight for your limitations when you state, with certainty, that you cannot travel because you would not be able to keep your job if you did that. You fight for your limitations when you say you could never get your book published because you don’t have an agent and don’t know how to self-publish. One thing is certain; if you fight for your limitations, they are yours. I am going to stop doing this even though some of the reasons I have for not getting what I want seem very big and unresolvable. I think it is easier to take small steps in the direction of my goals than to give up on them all together.

We all create a story about ourselves and the way life works based on past experiences. We’ve all had negative experiences that have hurt, shamed, or frightened us and so usually parts of this story are pretty negative. Because hurt, shame, and fear are so powerful – and we all have a strong tendency to put more emphasis on the negative than the positive – we have all built negative stories around not achieving enough, not being enough.

Here are some common deflating and self-defeating limiting beliefs we hold onto:

  • I do not belong.
  • I am not enough.
  • Life is hard.
  • Money is hard to come by.
  • People are not to be trusted.
  • Bad things always happen to me.
  • Everyone else is better than me.
  • No one loves me.
  • Something is wrong with me.
  • I should be doing more.
  • Even though I don’t want to, I have to ______________ because of ___________________.
  • Love is painful.

Do any of these sound familiar? Once we have formed these limiting beliefs,  we go out and collect evidence that supports our story and tend to disregard things that don’t go with the stories we’ve made up about ourselves. For instance, if you believe that bad stuff happens to you or life is hard, you will use everything from not finding a parking space to losing a job as evidence to reinforce this limiting (and untrue!) story but will think it is a one-off fluke when something positive happens. Once you have the belief that “Life is Hard” your mind will filter out most of what happens that contradicts this. It’s how beliefs work.

Why do we keep repeating a story we don’t want to tell anymore? It has become habitual for us to do that. We can choose a fresh alternative, even if we had some very bad stuff happen to us in life. We don’t have to keep re-living the bad stuff. My past is not my identity. I am not my story. I find that I do sometimes believe “the story” (yes….I think sometimes I am too old to get a qualification in Nutrition, or that I don’t have the IT skills necessary to self-publish a book I wrote more than a year ago…) but it helps when I soften the edge of my “knowing” and just get curious about that which lights me up. One step at a time, I go a little further in the direction of what attracts me without putting any requirements on myself. I  allow myself to get pleasure from the process and not get consumed by the goal. 

I don’t always accomplish and achieve huge goals quickly this way. But I definitely enjoy my every day life more when I incorporate the juiciness of participating in what attracts me without shutting myself down with…”You’ll never get that book published”….or, “who do you think you are?” kinds of feelings.

Please stop coming up with all the reasons you cannot afford something. Or do not have a great relationship. Or are stuck in a job you don’t like. Or whatever else you are convincing yourself is unchangeable. Maybe you cannot do it all right now, but you may be able to take small steps in the direction of That Which Makes You Smile. (I recently bought a Mac Pro that I “couldn’t afford” by saving my spare change for a couple of years! I am using it right now.)

I understand that sometimes there are circumstances that are difficult. I know that sometimes it seems like you do not have choices about certain things. Sometimes it means the dream has to be modified, or it means not now (not no), or it means you must do something entirely different.  Even if you cannot change an external circumstance (right now), you ALWAYS have a choice about how you perceive and respond to it. I know this is old advice, but it is Truth. I am not a victim of my circumstances. I do have a choice in what I do next, even if the choice is how I respond.

 Stop fighting for your limitations, or they will surely be your truth!

Why Having Compassion For Yourself Is Important

downloadHave you ever heard someone say, “I am so hard on myself.” or, “It’s not easy for me to be kind to myself”. Truth be told, I’ve said this myself in the past. But I’ve come to realize that being hard on myself makes it impossible to have compassion for someone else. I’m sure the same is true for you too.

What is compassion exactly? My dictionary defines compassion as follows: “Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.” A few years ago, I lived several years of my life single mindedly being of service to my then-new extended family. I don’t say this to make myself sound like a saint – far from it, because I sometimes secretly resented all I did for them with little or no recognition for my efforts. In this era of my life, I became increasingly unhappy and unfulfilled as I ignored my own wants and needs and let myself become preoccupied with the needs and wants of everyone else. My obsession with what “everyone else” needed was not making anyone’s life better, least of all mine.  For me, things had to come to a head and become intolerable before I was able to take a step back and shift my thoughts and behavior to a healthier way of living that reflected a little better who I really was. I learned a lot from this period of my life.

What I now know is that it is a lovely and positive thing to want to help others….if the motivation and intent is right minded. Many people become helpers of others for all the right reasons. But it my case, and in countless others I have since come in contact with, there are those who will nearly exhaust themselves helping others because then they do not have to look at themselves or their own lives. In their minds, they are constantly focused on someone else’s troubles and so have little or no time to really get to know themselves. There can be quite an arrogance in helping others to the exclusion of giving yourself what you need. How easy it is to fix others, compared to the hard work in fixing yourself!

Yes, it can be painful to see ourselves as we really are at times; our pettiness, our jealousy, our judgements. But what a wonderful freedom can be had by doing this. At first, it is so painful to see these traits in ourselves that we quickly look the other way at first glimpse. “Whoa! I don’t want to think about that!” But then, using techniques described in my last blog, you observe, breathe deeply, and feel the emotion. You see that you can survive that first awful blow of recognizing yourself as a flawed human being. Learning compassion, really learning it, is to look right at the awful, embarrassing things you know about yourself; to look them square in the mirror and get closer to that messy, yucky part of yourself that you really don’t want to see. That is the true start of learning compassion. To see these unattractive parts of yourself and not have to turn away, not have to deny. To experience the feelings these parts of yourself bring up in you. Acknowledging them and casting the light of day on these things helps them to melt away, to lose their teeth and claws. Then you will begin to know what it is like to have compassion for others.

The inability to look at oneself in this way, even if one goes to great lengths to be helpful to others, is arrogance.  True compassion is not possible for one who refuses to look at their own shortcomings in this soft and thoughtful way. This is the unvarnished truth about learning to be compassionate.

Start with yourself.

Mental Outlook – One of the Four Pillars of Health

Be the type of person you want to meetSince you are the only one that thinks inside your head, it would seem that choosing positive thoughts and creating good healthy mental patterns would be quite easy. But for any of us who have tried to walk this path and create thoughts, behaviors, and habits that lead to the life we want to manifest, we all know that it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Despite our best intentions,  at times we get engulfed in the negative story line.

Besides going through emotional upsets and even traumas in each of our respective lives, as a species we also have a negativity bias built into our brains that makes it easier to lean towards the negative. Indeed, left to our own devices, we all tend to put more weight on the negative than the positive in our lives. Yes, we can get a nice warm glow when someone gives us a sincere compliment or praises our achievements. But where is the residual value of this praise if we are wounded so easily by criticism or a harsh word by an unmindful, thoughtless person? Think of how easy it is to allow a negative story line to spiral out of control in our minds until we are convinced that we are not loveable or worthwhile. It often doesn’t take much for us to sink to a low depth in our self esteem.

You can devote some time to doing things that make you feel good, that make you laugh, that give you a high. But those same demons will sneak in the back door as soon as something goes very wrong, or someone decides to take their frustration or own low self esteem out on you. The yo-yo method of Mental Outlook doesn’t work any better than the yo-yo method of dieting. We swing from “vine to vine”, looking for something else (we’re not sure exactly what) because we don’t see we are already whole and complete as we are right now. We have to wake up and tune into this.

What really helps take you further down the path of love and acceptance is a conscious choice, then being willing to do the work to make this happen. Geeze,,,,it’s like so many other things, eh? Even a positive mental outlook takes work, a bit of mental and spiritual weigh-lifting. This is not because we are lacking in any way, but most of us have learned what we know and believe from others, who had their own wounds and issues to work out. “Unearthing” the richness of who we are and what we have to offer takes work mainly because we have to get rid of the unnecessary baggage before we can dive deep. It is simply part of our life’s work to discover first hand what is true for us and not just blindly accept another’s blueprint for our life.

For me, a meditation and yoga practice is important for clearing the clutter in my mind and tuning in but there are other practices that can be just as valuable, including Tai’ Chi and Qi gong (pronounced Chi Gong).  I believe a spiritual practice of some sort – whatever that is for you – is important for a sense of fulfilment and vitality. Does the word “spiritual” bother you?  Then pick another word.  But a practice where you can quiet the mind and stop the chaos, and feel a part of something greater than just yourself and your problems is crucial for good health.  This positive spiritual practice will help you plug into things that really nourish and recharge you.  You must nourish yourself, otherwise it won’t take long for you to become depleted. Even if your time is limited, you can set priorities and let something go so you can have a mini-break and recover. You only have 30 minutes while the baby sleeps? Spend it meditating instead of watching some silly TV program. The meditation will leave you more calm and refreshed than the TV. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time well, whatever the hype is about “multi-tasking”. If you try to open up too many windows on your computer, what happens?  It crashes! So will you. Get calm, close some windows, take a deep breath, and focus on the one thing you need to do in front of you. When that is done, you can move on to the next thing. Work on one “window” at a time.

By now, we’ve all heard how important a positive attitude is for health and happiness, and more than likely you’ve incorporated some of this sage advice into your life already. If so, good for you!  If not, don’t take my word for it – just commit to adding some positive practices, such as positive affirmations and a gratitude journal, yoga, meditation, etc. into your life every day for one month, and then see if your life improves. If it doesn’t you’ve lost nothing.  But you will never know that life can be so much better if you don’t give it a try.

Suggestions to get started:

  • Commit to devoting time to becoming the person you want to be. Writing an agreement with yourself is good, or teaming up with a good friend can also be beneficial. It is not easy to stay the course on your own if you have no experience with this. Work out one or two small steps to begin in the direction of your goal (even if the goal is just a vague idea like “I want to be a better person”). You can get more specific after you begin and get more clear on what is important to you.
  • Start small, and add to this as you have some success. Meditate for a few minutes (10 is good, then add more time.), write in a gratitude journal every day for 30 days without fail, look at yourself in the eyes every morning and say something positive. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Try “closing all the Windows” and being present – to the activity you are doing, to the person you are with, to the feelings you are having. Notice the next breath and place your full attention on this. Place your focus on the sensations in your body….is your jaw tight, are you slouching, are you warm or cool, is there discomfort anywhere in your body? Tune in and really feel what is happening for a few moments. It can start this small, but be fully present to what is happening now.
  • Bring more positive people in your life. Spend more time with the ones you already know. Limit your time with people who bring you down, make you doubt yourself. Don’t waste your precious time with people who want to tear you down.
  •  Be persistent but kind to yourself. Don’t immediately think, “I’m no good at this” when you try meditation and your mind is all over the place. If you had to fly a jet plane, you would probably not feel confident your first try. So just show up for it, no matter what happens. Be present for the chaos, for the calm, for the anger, and for the happiness. No judgement.

Feel free to let me know how you do with this, or for that matter, how you feel about this post.

 

Living With Good Health and Vitality – Implementing The Four Pillars of Health

happy-people-in-the-poppy-field-1280x800-wide-wallpapers-netOur bodies are designed to perform optimally. Knowing this yet seeing the number of people who struggle with feeling good every day can be perplexing.  Why does it seem so elusive for many people to wake up feeling great and to have energy throughout the day?

There can be complex issues that effect our quality of health caused by modern 21st century lifestyles, but in an effort to distil information into bite-size chunks let’s keep this simple. I believe there are four essential foundations for optimum health and that often we leave one or more out of the equation while trying to care for ourselves  The Four Pillars of Health, which form the foundation for great health and vitality, are Diet, Exercise, Good Sleep, and Mental Outlook. Very often people will focus on one, two, or even three of these categories but it is a bit more rare to embrace all four consistently….so at times we get out of balance, or homoeostasis.  The body will always circle back to homoeostasis if we give it what it needs.

All four of these “Pillars” are equally important and support good health, but let’s arbitrarily start with Diet. (This is where most people start when trying to make changes to enhance health.) There are volumes of wonderful blogs and books dedicated to this subject, but in a nutshell what you must do is eliminate, or severely restrict, all processed foods from your diet. You want to eat foods that come from Nature, not from a laboratory. Your body does not know what to do with the artificial ingredients in processed food and they will cause serious problems for you in time. Begin this process by adding in good healthy things to your diet – focus on the plethora of foods you CAN eat, instead of the things you cannot. If you build your diet on what you must stay away from, your willpower WILL cave in time! Ask yourself the question, “What great foods can I add to my diet?” Stop thinking “no,no,no” when it comes to food, and instead make a list of healthy foods you like and have fun creating new meals. Give yourself the tools you need to get started by doing a little research, collecting tasty recipes, and start adding great food to your pantry and fridge. Remember to make the shift to focusing on everything you can eat and don’t browbeat yourself. Begin to crowd the bad stuff out of your diet by adding in the good.

Exercise: Most of us simply don’t get enough. Our ancestors walked around about 10 times more than we do. (Great quote from Lucas Rockwood: “Sitting is the new smoking” – I love it!) Sit less, and move more. The fact is, the more lean muscle mass you have, the more energy you’ll have. And, even better – the more you will need to eat to maintain your lean muscle (without gaining weight) and keep going.  If you don’t have much lean muscles mass, you won’t have as much energy and you will require much less food to maintain your weight.  So, look into Burst Training (sometimes called Interval Training), and move your body every day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk whenever you can, join a class, and move your body throughout your day in as many creative ways that you can think of.

Sleep:  It doesn’t matter how great your diet is, or how much exercise you get; if you are not sleeping enough consistently, are are not going to function optimally. Full stop. Rest and recovery phases are crucial for healing and maintaining vitality and good health. Sleep dysfunction is tricky because there are so many different causes for lack of sleep.  Good sleep hygiene is essential, and an upcoming blog will be devoted to this topic. But it’s really good and proactive for you to dig into your own research about this, so even googling “sleep hygiene” is a wonderful start. Take even a small step in the direction you want to go and try to let go of worrying and fretting about not getting enough sleep.  I know how hard it can be, because I have not been a very good sleeper at times….but never once was it helpful to worry about it.  Watch this space for more information about improving the quality of your sleep.

Mental Outlook: We’ve all heard how important a positive attitude is for health and happiness, and more than likely you’ve incorporated some of this sage advice into your life already. If so, good for you!  If not, don’t take my word for it – just commit to adding some positive practices, such as positive affirmations and a gratitude journal, yoga, meditation, etc. into your life every day for one month, and then see if your life improves. If it doesn’t you’ve lost nothing.  But you will never know that life can be so much better if you don’t give it a try.

We swing from “vine to vine”, looking for something else (we’re not sure exactly what) because we don’t see we are already whole and complete as we are right now. We just have to wake up and tune into this. For me, a meditation and yoga practice is important for clearing the clutter in my mind and tuning in but there are other practices that can be just as valuable, including Tai’ Chi and Qi gong (pronounced Chi Gong).  I believe a spiritual practice of some sort – whatever that is for you – is important for a sense of fulfilment and vitality. Does the word “spiritual” bother you?  Then pick another word.  But a practice where you can quiet the mind and stop the chaos, and feel a part of something greater than just yourself and your problems is crucial for good health.  This positive spiritual practice will help you plug into things that really nourish and recharge you.  You must nourish yourself! Even if your time is limited, you can set priorities and let something go so you can have a mini-break and recover. You only have 30 minutes while the baby sleeps? Spend it meditating instead of watching some silly TV program. The meditation will leave you more calm and refreshed than the TV. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time well, whatever the hype is about “multi-tasking”. If you try to open up too many windows on your computer, what happens?  It crashes! So will you. Get calm, close some windows, take a deep breath, and focus on the one thing you need to do in front of you. When that is done, you can move on to the next thing. Work on one “window” at a time.

Choose one of these four pillars that you think needs some bolstering (Diet, Exercise, Sleep, and Mental Outlook) and add one positive thing to your life every day. You will be the one to benefit from this positive attention. Please watch this space for future blogs on each indivdual Pillar of Health.

Note: Dr. Pedram Shojai is a wonderful teacher to learn from.  I discovered him while compiling notes for this blog. He is teaching and writing about the very same thing (now I know there is nothing new under the sun!…..ideas, thoughts, and words are part of our collective knowledge base and are constantly being recycled and given a new spin, a new life.) that I am writing about only he calls it The Wheel of Vitality, and Mental Outlook is referred to as Mindset. Follow him if you are interested – a beautiful man with wonderful things to say.

Love Is All There Is – in memory of Debra Genevie Parsons

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For the second time, I’ve just lost a sister.  She slipped away in the early morning hours of May 14th, 2014.  She was alone at the time of her death.

Her journey in life was not an easy one, and she developed a serious food addiction that she never owned up to, not even when she weighed 400 pounds and had secret stashes of candy and salty junk food all through the house.  She detested exercise because it made her uncomfortable.  If I were carrying around 250 pounds of extra weight, it would make me uncomfortable too.

Her family, me included, was sometimes angry and resentful when her health started to fail and she continued along her unhealthy path to an early death.  There were perfectly good reasons for our anger and resentment because even though it was “her life”, her unhealthy choices impacted all of us hugely.  She developed Type 2 diabetes but did nothing to change her unhealthy habits.  Eventually, the disease wrecked havoc on her kidneys.  Her daughter stepped up to donate a kidney because my sister could not lose the weight necessary to be eligible for an organ donation.  Did her daughter get angry when my sister continued with her overeating/no exercise habits?  You bet she did.  Did it make a whit of difference in my sister’s behaviour?  Nope.  Eventually, her heart and lungs were affected and she was unable to sleep unless she was sitting up.  She still maintained that it was all the drugs she had to take that prevented her from losing weight.  We could all be unhappy and resentful from time to time due to what she was doing to herself, all to no avail.

After the death of her husband there was no one to take care of her.  Four months after his death, she had a fall trying to get to the bathroom and could not get up.  Luckily her grandson was there and called 911.  After being taken to hospital, she never returned to her home again and lived the last few months in a nursing home because she was not ambulatory and no one could lift or transfer her without professional help.  These last few months of her life were not very good.  We can leave it at that as I’m sure you get the picture.

It is all very easy to say my sister created this situation and no one should feel blame or guilt over the fact that she died alone.  Given what she had “done to herself”, perhaps a little self-righteous anger or resentment would be a little more understandable.  The truth is, one or all of her family members felt all these emotions from time to time over the months.

The last few weeks of her life I noticed a change in her.  She became less demanding and more loving.  This may not happen to all patients in her situation, but it happened to her.  I spoke with her by telephone on the last night of her life, just before I went to sleep 5000 miles away.  She told me she loved me and how happy she was that I was her sister.  It was very touching to me, but I did not even realize she was saying goodbye.  What I did realize, however, was that I no longer felt angry that “she had done this to herself”.  I only felt love for her and wanted her to be comfortable and at peace.  None of the things she could have done differently in her life mattered to me anymore.  I was empty of all those “could have, should have, would have” statements.  I got the call the next morning that she had stopped breathing between 4 and 5 a.m.

My feelings were sadness at the loss of her, a profound grief that I wasn’t with her when she took her last breath, and awareness that her swift death had been a sweet mercy for her and for all of us.  The feelings of anger and blame were gone completely, as if someone had pierced my heart and they had gushed out like air from a popped balloon.  I got so clearly the old cliché “love is the only thing that matters”.  Intellectually, I often have that saying in my mind and it is always flying around in my orbit but sometimes doesn’t make it in to the core of my being.  This time, I really got it deep in my bones in regards to my sister’s life and death.  Love is IT, and all the rest is just stuff we go through to get back to love.  Next time I feel anger or resentment at someone I love, I will at least practice this simple (but not easy) concept.  I will try to skip all the “stuff” and just get back to love.

Having the Courage to Be Bad at Something

 

Being a complete beginner at something is not easy for grown-ups. Children are much more used to this experience because there are so many things they face on a daily basis that they’ve never done before. As adults, we tend to avoid the uncomfortable experience of not having a clue about what we are doing. There is no doubt this holds us back.  On a more personal note, I know it has held me back. I wanted to learn to speak French and decided to take a class. Learning a foreign language was always something that I just couldn’t get my head around and I had made a few attempts in my lifetime to learn, but always quit when it got too hard – i.e., when it felt like my head was about to explode. It was really hard for me; I would get to a point and think, “This is impossible!”

What made it so hard is my discomfort with being unsure and my inability to understand and speak words and sounds with any confidence. I felt so awkward having to speak out loud and my pronunciation and accent was always wrong. So I quit.

But what I know for certain now is that this period of discomfort and uncertainty is necessary in order to etch new pathways in the brain. As grown-ups, we want to think in the same ways and do the same things not because we are dull and boring (though this may become the consequence of doing that!) but because our brains have worked hard to develop a pattern (literally, a physical groove, or path in the grey matter of our brains).  Our brains want to use the already established “path” to get things done. Learning a new skill requires laying a new path. It takes a lot more work to do this when one hasn’t learned something new in a while.

And also, our egos hate for us to “suck” at something. Newsflash: We are going to suck at something we are doing for the first time, particularly when we compare ourselves with someone who is accomplished at the thing we are trying to learn to do. Perhaps we can change the way we think about this. For instance, start thinking….”so what?” “So what if I’m really bad at this in the beginning. How could I not be bad at it; I’ve never done it before.”

Think of something you’ve always wanted to learn to do…..cook, dance, play a musical instrument, sing, knit, skateboard, learn a language, paint or draw….let yourself be uninhibited and come up with one thing you want to try. I have started to learn to play guitar. I do not read music and I’ve never played a guitar or any musical instrument.  Yes, I suck. It has been seven weeks already, and I still suck. “So what! Who cares?” I am giving this six months, and if I am not having fun then, maybe I will consider quitting and learning something else.

Let’s have fun laying some new pathways in our brain.