Friday, January 28, 2011

Quotes of Joy

Thanks to all who have shared quotes of inspiration and joy. If you haven't taken a look yet, please click on the comment link to the last post and be amazed! Your comments are great reminders to give ourselves permission to be happy.

Please continue to add to the list! If you have already contributed, don't hesitate to add more. Maybe you have a favorite quote, Bible verse, poem, idea, or thought. Or maybe you might look some up. Or read the tag on your teabag or check out a calendar. If you are more comfortable commenting anonymously, that's fine.

I will be away from my computer for the weekend, so if your comment doesn't appear right away, please don't think you are not appreciated. As soon as I get back, I will get all your comments published.

By the way, on a personal note, I have needed some joy reminders myself lately, so you are helping me out a lot. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sharing Inspiration

The month is coming to a close. We have been focusing this month on giving ourselves permission to be happy. One of the things I like to do is leave myself little notes where I can see them, usually around my computer. For example, I have my word of the year “Yield” posted in several places. And another reminder “Live it – then teach it.”

Are there any quotations, Bible verses, thoughts, insights that speak to you about giving yourself permission to be happy? This might be a good time to think of some reminders as a way of reinforcing the good habits we have been establishing this month.

One of my favorites is Fun is good. My son’s doctor said this to me to remind me to let James have fun instead of always focusing on therapy for his autism.

Buddha said There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.

The joy of the Lord is your strength. Neh. 8:10

One gently walks with you who answers all your fears with one merciful reply, “It is not so.” –A Course in Miracles

And of course this classic by Eduardo Galeano–

The church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta!

What about you? I’m hoping that we can collect a cornucopia of inspiration in the comments. Something for everyone!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

...It Pours

Well, if I got knocked over with a feather last time I got an award, I guess I just fell over all by myself this time. I got another Stylish Blogger award from the most stylish of all blogs The Blogger Formerly Known As. Many thanks to you, enigmatic masked blogger.

To accept the award, one must list seven things about oneself, which I did in the last award post (When It Rains), so I will move on to the best part of getting the award, which is passing it on to five other blogs I hope you will enjoy.

Always Well Within
Positive Provocations
Motivated Sista
The Reflective Self

Monday, January 24, 2011

Show Me the Miracles!

Did you ever see the movie Jerry McGuire? Tom Cruise plays a sports agent trying to stay in business. His only client is a football player played by Cuba Gooding Jr. In a famous scene, Gooding repeatedly yells at Cruise, “Show me the money!”

In her book Glad No Matter What, SARK suggests going on miracle walks. Just go for a walk with no particular destination. As you start your walk, say to yourself, “Miracles, find me now!” And then practice recognizing them. This might take some vision adjustment. Look around. See the grass pushing through the concrete sidewalk? What about the person who returns your smile? Do you hear the birds chirping? Don’t forget that you are walking, that you can see, that you can hear.

This idea isn’t limited to walks. You can look for miracles at any time in any place. Like the character in the movie, look around and say to the universe, “Show me the miracles!” Maybe someone will call you out of the blue and reconnect. Maybe you will find a lucky penny. Maybe even in the midst of something that seems challenging or sad, you can find a miracle.

I am in the midst of some challenges right now and I admit to feeling overwhelmed. But I can choose how to view what is happening. I could see this situation as a terrible misfortune. But I keep thinking of the old farmer who said of the events in his life, “Who knows if it is good or bad?” It’s true – I don’t know. Instead of judging, I can ask to see the miracles. And as soon as I ask, I begin to see them. When I open my eyes, I see them glimmering, then shining forth. How could I have not seen them before?

There are two ways to live. You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle. –Einstein

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Powerful Beyond Measure

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson. The first part in quotation marks is from A Course in Miracles.

Once, when a group of American psychologists met with the Dalai Lama, he asked them about difficulties encountered by Western students of Buddhism. They told him that self-hatred was one of the strongest challenges. He did not even know what that meant. Apparently, the concept is unknown in Tibet.

Why is unworthiness such a common shadow belief in Western culture? And how do we free ourselves from it? My mother struggled with feelings of unworthiness all her life. Even in her final months, this was the theme of her conversations with her pastor. No matter how much she had accomplished in her life, no matter how many people’s lives were better because of her, no matter what assurances she got from her friends, her family, and her pastor, it was not enough to make her believe that she was worthy of love and happiness.

And I inherited her belief, as perhaps she had inherited it from her mother. I struggled, too, until I made the decision to change my life and embarked on the path that has led me here, to my happy place, a place of deep abiding joy.

Along the way, there came a moment when I felt so overcome with shame, shame that I couldn’t even identify. I didn’t know why I felt it. It was terrifying and suffocating. I thought I would die from it. And at the moment when I thought I could not stand it another second, I heard a voice, soft and gentle and loving. The voice whispered in my soul, “It is not yours.” I let it go.

If you want to sing out
Sing out.
And if you want to be free
Be free.
‘Cause there’s a million things to be.
You know that there are
–Cat Stevens

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Counter Beliefs

If you have identified shadow beliefs that are blocking your happiness, what can you do about it? If you recognize these shadow beliefs as habits, then you do what you would do to change any habit.

First, you become aware of it. You catch yourself when you fall into your habitual shadow thinking. Second, you are ready with a substitute or counter belief. Third, you substitute your counter belief every time you catch yourself in shadow thinking – every single time! Gradually, the counter belief will become your habitual belief.

The main thing is not to stress about it – we are trying to reduce stress! Just being aware of our shadow beliefs is a huge step in moving through whatever blocks those shadow beliefs present.

If you are unsure what a counter belief would be, you might start by just stating the opposite of the shadow belief. For example, if I feel unworthy to be happy, I could choose the belief that “I am worthy of joy,” or “I am a child of God, and have been promised great joy.”

One person said her shadow belief is that she has to make other people happy or they won’t like her. Counter beliefs could include “It’s not my job to make other people happy,” or “People like me for myself,” or “It’s okay if some people don’t like me.”

I wrote before about my shadow belief that I had to be vigilant all the time or something bad would happen. Counter beliefs could include “My vigilance does not control what happens,” or “Bad things [specifically the bad things I’m fantasizing about] are unlikely to happen,” or because my shadow belief was based on fear of imagined danger, “I am safe.”

The value of the counter belief is simply that it interrupts your habitual thought and substitutes a better thought, which will become a happier habit. So you might just play with a few until one catches your attention.

Another approach would be to use a generic counter belief, like one that comes from A Course in Miracles. “I can choose to see this differently.” I like this one a lot because you can use it anytime you find yourself fretting or stewing over something that is causing you unnecessary distress. Simply recognizing that there is another option frees us from the grip of our habitual shadow thinking.

Once the counter belief becomes habitual, you will notice the beneficial effect from this new habit permeating your life. And when you occasionally slip back into shadow thinking, you will be more quick to recognize it and switch back to your positive habit.

Remember that it takes about 21 days to establish a habit. If you are like me, your shadow beliefs have been around for a long time, so be patient and give yourself credit for making an effort to change them. It is worth the effort!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shadow Beliefs

In Giving Ourselves Permission, I wrote about shadow beliefs, those habitual beliefs that block our access to happiness. Today I read an excellent post on Dandy’s blog The Reflective Self about cognitive distortions. (That term sounds a bit like a space/time anomaly from Star Trek.) Cognitive distortions are like shadow beliefs. Dandy lists the 10 most common cognitive distortions. Here is the list from her post.

1. Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

2. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.

3. Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.

4. Jumping to conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.

a. Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don’t bother to check it out.

b. The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.

5. Magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”

6. Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

7. Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.

8. Labeling and mislabeling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him, “He’s a damn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.

9. Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.

10. All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

I don’t know about you, but when I read this list, I recognized each one of these as something I have done. Yep, every one. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

So the question is, if I do this, how do I stop it? I think the answer is in substituting counter beliefs until the counter beliefs become habitual. Counter beliefs, as I wrote earlier, interrupt habitual negative thoughts and create positive thought habits. Several people have asked me to say more about counter beliefs, so I will do that in the next post.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Winter Surprise

I was driving to work this morning and there they were, like they are every year. The January daffodils. Not just a green sprout tentatively peeking through the dirt. A whole corner covered with bright yellow blossoms. A small field of sunshine.

If you live in my part of the world you know that the last month has brought record rainfall. The only sunny days have been the below freezing days around New Year’s. Water is rising in basements. Creeks and rivers are spilling over their banks. Everybody is feeling mossy and mildewed.

But these daffodils don’t care. They bloom in January every year. Ice and snow do not deter them. Gray soggy days do not dampen their spirits. They do not bow to pouring rain. They stand straight up on the corner singing and dancing, heralding the life gestating in the winter dark.

Every year I forget about those daffodils. By January, winter is in full force, and I’m hunkered down with my mug of hot tea, wrapped in my comfy robe, waiting.... Every winter I forget until the day I am walking or driving by and there they are, laughing at my surprise.

And I laugh with them.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

When It Rains....

Well, knock me over with a feather. I just received the Stylish Blogger award from two different bloggers within two days, Mama Pike’s Happy Home and Living on Less.

I admit I wondered about the title “Stylish Blogger.” Does that mean my blog is stylish? Compared to most of the blogs I visit, mine is decidedly simple. Maybe it means I’m stylish. How do they know what I’m wearing right now? (unstylish sweatpants)

No matter. Having received precious few awards in my life, I’m pleased to get an award of any name! As I advise friends who argue when they get a compliment, “Just say thank you.” Receiving a compliment is a way to give yourself permission to be happy. So thank you both very, very much. You made my day. Both days.

To accept the award I’m supposed to tell you seven things about myself.

1. I love to watch football. (Go season!)
2. To feel better about spending so many hours watching football, I quilt while I watch.
3. I’m studying Chinese.
4. I loved riding horses when I was growing up.
5. My comfort food is a BLT, hold the T.
6. I love rip roaring thunderstorms.
7. I talk to the creek by my cabin. (Sometimes it talks back.)

The best part of getting the award is getting to pass it on to five other bloggers. Since I got two awards, I get to pass it on to ten. (This was a hard choice since I know more than ten blogs I would consider very “stylish.”) So here is a list of ten blogs I think are terrific. I hope you will enjoy visiting them.

From Mountain Tops
Musings and Photography
The Disconnected Writer
Han of Harmony
21 Wits, by Karen
Patricia’s Wisdom
One Mixed Bag
The Soapbox
Superman Sammy
Dreaming of Open Seas

Saturday, January 15, 2011

It's a Dog's Life

The following is an email that has been circulating for awhile – you have probably seen it. As you can see, dogs give themselves permission to be happy every day!

From a Dog's Diary

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm - Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

From a Cat's Diary

Day 983 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects.

They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a “good little hunter” I am. Bastards.

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of “allergies.” I must learn what this means and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released - and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicating with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now... Will keep you posted.

I conclude from this that dogs live in their happy place all the time...and cats don’t. So why do some people think that cats are smarter than dogs? More interestingly, why do cats think they are smarter than dogs??

I’m going to have a dog day today.

Take a shower! My favorite thing!
Eat breakfast! My favorite thing!
Do paperwork! My favorite thing!
It’s raining again! My favorite thing!

It’s going to be a great day! My favorite thing!

Reprinted from archives

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Happiness Reminders

In connection with our focus this month on giving ourselves permission to be happy, I’ve been noticing and looking for reminders that it is okay to be happy. We had our first monthly discussion group on Tuesday, and some folks came up with some good observations. For example, our bodies tell us it is good to be happy. Happy people are healthier and recover more quickly from illness.

It is socially beneficial to be happy because people around us will be happier. I know this from my own family. At times when things got stressful at home and the kids’ moods and behavior deteriorated, I found that fussing at them was not effective at all (that control thing). However, when I would disengage and focus on my own calming down and recentering, magically balance was restored and things improved for everyone. Well, at least sometimes! But at least I felt better! And that enabled me to be more helpful to them.

The Bible is full of exhortations to rejoice and be joyful. We are instructed that a joyful heart is good medicine. We are encouraged to count everything joy and to make a joyful noise (that’s one of my favorites). The angels brought good news of great joy. Joy is a fruit of the spirit, and we are told that our joy will be complete. “This is the day the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it.” –Psalm 118:24

Buddha told us that there is no way to happiness, that happiness is the way. Be happiness itself, he taught. The Dalai Lama says the purpose of life is to be happy. Buddhism is all about the cessation of suffering. (Note: Buddhism does not teach that life is pain free. As Sylvia Boorstein writes, pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.)

I would be interested in knowing about other faith traditions and joy. If anyone can share something about that, please do.

Poetry, art, music, nature, so many things can connect us to joy. What are some happiness reminders in your life?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Power to Choose

Have you seen the credit card commercials that involve some imminent horribleness that is diverted at the last moment by whipping a particular company’s credit card out of a purse or wallet? Some of them are pretty funny. The commercials always end with the question, “What’s in YOUR wallet?” The message is that if you have that company’s credit card, then it will act as a shield against all sorts of catastrophic disasters.

So I got to wondering what’s in my wallet. My spiritual wallet, that is. What do I carry with me to ward off soul marauding Vikings?

Einstein said that “the single most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” There are variations on this quotation, but I like this one best because it emphasizes the role of choice.

When I was young and knew everything, I wrote a philosophy paper based on the premise that we participate in creating the reality we perceive. In the arrogance of youth, I thought I came up with that idea myself. Well, of course I didn’t. But somehow I knew that I had untapped potential to shape my world.

Sadly, the world I shaped for most of my life was not a kind one. To paraphrase Montaigne, it was a world of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened. Like the lookout in a western, I kept watch by the fire during the night, always on alert, always vigilant. And when some bad things inevitably did happen, I believed it was because my guard had dropped, because I had failed to maintain control.

Even as I write the words, I shake my head in disbelief that I lived that way for so long. If necessity is the mother of invention, then exhaustion is the mother of major life changes.

A Course in Miracles teaches that there is another way of looking at the world. A way of peace, a way of compassion, a way of happiness, a way of connection, a way of loving awareness. In the words of the Tao Te Ching, the eternal way.

I live in a different universe now, a friendly one. I can’t prove that it is friendly. I simply choose to believe that it is. And that choice drives my perceptions and experiences. Does that mean that I close my eyes to the suffering in the world? Do I ignore tragedies like the shooting in Arizona this week or the flooding in Australia? No. But if my world view is shaped by love rather than fear, then these events trigger compassion and reaching out rather than anger or defensiveness.

So what’s in my wallet? A credit card of power. Not power over my circumstances, but power over how I interpret them and interact with them. The power of choice.

And guess what. That’s what’s in your wallet, too. What will you choose?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Giving Ourselves Permission

I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. –The Dalai Lama

We all want to be happy. Realizing that at least 40% of our happiness is based on our habitual thoughts, words, and actions, we might set out to change our habits to enhance our happiness and deepen our joy. But maybe we seem to make little progress. We feel frustrated and wonder why our efforts don’t produce results.

If someone asks you if you want to be happy, you would probably say of course. But sometimes we hold shadow beliefs that block our happiness. We may not even be aware of these beliefs.

Take me, for example. I was not a very happy person for much of my life. Not that I didn’t have happy times. I did. But I did not have a foundation of deep, abiding joy. I had a foundation of anxiety and fear. I believed that I had to stay vigilant. I believed that if I relaxed my guard, terrible things would happen to the people and things I felt responsible for. I felt so weighed down by crushing responsibility, much of which I later understood was not even mine.

When I was a little girl, my mother had debilitating headaches and sometimes fainted. Often I was the only one home with her. I would have to get the smelling salts and try to revive her. I was afraid that one day I would not be able to revive her and she would die. When I would come home from school, I would come into the house and call for her, terrified that she had died when I was not there to take care of her.

Then, when I became a mother, I felt responsible for my son’s autism. (I was otherwise a fairly rational adult.) My failure to find a cure for him was a personal failure that caused more soul anguish than I have words to describe (The Book I Cannot Write).

This need to be vigilant permeated so much of my life I didn’t even see it. I didn’t really understand that I had a choice about these beliefs. I just thought that this was how the world worked. My wake up call came in the form of a health crisis which brought home to me the imperative need to change my life (Resolution or Revolution). And so I set about to do that.

As part of that process, I finally saw that much of my world view was based on beliefs that I could change, that I wanted to change. Einstein said that the most important choice we can make is to decide whether the universe is friendly or hostile. For much of my life I saw the universe as hostile. I wanted to make a different choice, but I couldn’t just snap my fingers and change my beliefs. These beliefs were the basis of deeply ingrained habits. I realized that to change these habits, I needed to address the underlying beliefs. I needed to believe that terrible things would not happen if I relaxed my vigilance. Or rather, I needed to believe that terrible things, which do in fact happen sometimes, did not happen because I relaxed my vigilance. I needed to give myself permission to be happy.

Giving ourselves permission to be happy is what Step 1 is all about. Do you have shadow beliefs? They could take many forms, as I described in Getting Our Happiness Bearings. Some people believe they don’t deserve happiness, or that it is unfair to be happy when others are not. Some people might think that being happy is frivolous or unsophisticated. When you think about joy, do you feel any subtle resistance? Any discomfort? Any anxiety? Can you identify any beliefs underlying these feelings?

If so, then consider what it would take to change these beliefs. Your shadow beliefs might not be as lifelong and deeply rooted as mine were, so perhaps being aware of them and substituting other beliefs will not be so challenging. Whatever your shadow beliefs are, what we are looking for is substitute beliefs.

For example, because my shadow beliefs involved a sense of danger, I substituted the belief “I am safe.” Whenever I would catch myself feeling anxious about relaxing my guard, I would tell myself “I am safe.” Eventually, I truly believed it, and I began to experience the universe as a friendly place.

If you can identify a shadow belief that is blocking your happiness, what would the counter belief be? If you will make an effort to consciously substitute the counter belief (even if you don’t really believe it yet), eventually the counter belief will take root and grow.

Giving ourselves permission to be happy will free us from self-sabotage of our efforts to develop joyful habits.

Related post: Fun is Good!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Reality Check

Aneri Masi left an important comment on the last post about dropping our stories that block our happiness. She observed that this is a great idea but hard to do. She asked, “Any help?”

I have discovered two questions that help me. If I am spinning out one of my negative stories about something that has happened, I can ask myself, “Do I know for a fact that this is true?” For example, in the scenario I described in the last post where someone did not respond to an overture I made, I was spinning out stories of all the things I might have done to offend her. I could have stopped myself by asking if I knew for sure that any of those stories were true. The answer would have been no.

If I need reinforcement, I can ask myself, “Is it possible that there is a different explanation?” The answer is usually yes. For example, in that scenario, I might have asked myself, “Is it possible that something kept her from responding that doesn’t have anything to do with me?”

Once I realize that I don’t know for sure that my negative story is true, and that it is possible that there is a different explanation, it is easier to let go of my drama.

You might be thinking, “Okay, but it is also possible that my negative story is true.” That’s right, and if it is true, you might find out in the fullness of time and you can deal with it then. Or you might never know for sure. Either way, you can choose to drop the currently unverified story that is blocking your happiness and peace of mind in the present moment. And of course if your negative story turns out to be false, as mine did, you can save yourself a lot of needless worry.

Sometimes if I’m really hooked on the negative story, I might need to come back to those reality check questions several times. That’s okay. What we are doing is recognizing that at least at this moment, we are making something up that is causing us distress and we can choose instead to let it go.

Related post: I Love a Parade!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dropping Our Stories

I read recently about a speaker who was trying to contact the man in charge of the retreat at which she was speaking. She called and asked for him. The person who answered the phone said he wasn’t there. So she left a message for him to call her back. He didn’t call. The next day, she called and asked for him again. The person who answered once again said he wasn’t there. At this point, feeling frustrated, she said, “Well, maybe this means that I shouldn’t be speaking at your retreat.” The other person paused and then said, “Maybe it just means he isn’t here right now.”

Our theme this month is giving ourselves permission to be happy. One way that we can do that is to think about the stories we tell ourselves.

Several years ago, I tried to get in contact with someone to thank her for something she had done for me. She didn’t return my call. I left a couple of messages over the next several weeks, but she still did not respond. I felt confused and a bit angry, and my feelings were hurt. I wondered if I had done something to offend her. I kept thinking about our last communications, looking for something I had said that might have been taken the wrong way. Several months later I ran into her somewhere. She assured me she would get in touch. She didn’t. I was even more hurt and confused and angry. And embarrassed because by now I was convinced I had done something to warrant her behavior.

I dropped it, but it stayed in the back of my mind. Then a couple of weeks ago, something reminded me of her. I wrote her a short note, telling her that I was sorry if I had done something to offend her and inviting her to meet so we could talk about it. I was somewhat surprised that she responded immediately and graciously. We met a few days ago. She explained that she had been dealing with some personal issues and had become distracted, and she sincerely apologized for her behavior. It had nothing to do with me. I told her some of the things I had imagined as the reasons for her ignoring me. We had a good laugh about some of them.

I used a lot of mental and emotional energy constructing all sorts of scenarios, and feeling bad about most of them. None of them were true.

We choose the stories we tell ourselves. Instead, we can choose not to tell ourselves any stories at all and just pay attention to what is really happening. Do you tell yourself stories that block your happiness? If we can catch ourselves spinning a negative tale, and recognize that it is simply a story we are making up, then we can choose to drop it and be happier.

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. –Shakespeare

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Opposable Thumbs

I have discovered that opposable thumbs are a great invention. I know that now because I injured my thumb in taekwondo last night (sprained or broken--not sure), and I have been fumbling around all day with a brace on my thumb to keep it immobilized. So the post that was planned for today....

Kiss your thumbs and tell them how much you appreciate them!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Getting Our Happiness Bearings

Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start ....

–Do Re Mi, from The Sound of Music

I suggested last week (Preparing the Ground) that we all rate ourselves on a happiness scale of 1 to 10, and that we think about our habits, the ones that serve our happiness and the ones that don’t. There is no right or wrong, no better or worse, no comparison, no competition, no failure, no blame. There is just where we are. And wherever we are is perfect because it’s where we start, at the very beginning. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” is cliche because it’s true.

So let’s begin with loving awareness of where we are. Where did you rate yourself? Which category fits you best?

You have been on the high end of the scale your whole life

Wonderful! You have always lived in the embrace of joy. You might reflect on how that has manifested in your life. How does happiness permeate your views of yourself and other people? How do you interact with the world from this lifetime foundation of joy?

For example, a friend who would put herself in this category offered these reflections about her own philosophy. 1) Don't strive to have everything you love. Love what you have. 2) Anything beyond my needs is wealth.

Those of you who have always been happy might not have given it much thought, so maybe this would be a good time to take stock and offer some reflections to the rest of us.

You are on the high end now but this wasn’t always true

Wonderful! You have had the experience of transforming your life. What motivated you to change? What specifically did you change in your life? How did you do it? And how have you maintained it?

I fall into this category, and I will describe more of my own story in an upcoming post. Maybe some others would like to share here. Whether you want to share or not, consider these questions so that you can reinforce the habits that will help you stay in your happy place.

You are on the mid to lower end of the scale

Wonderful! You are aware of where you are, and perhaps you are willing to take some steps to bring more joy into your life. Many of us want to be happier but it eludes us for reasons we might not understand. I found that many of us hold “shadow beliefs” about happiness that block our efforts to be happier. I know I did.

What are your uncensored thoughts when you think about happiness? Do you feel some resistance? Some anxiety? Fear?

For example, maybe you think that happiness is not an appropriate goal when there is so much suffering in the world. Maybe you think that you shouldn't be happy when people around you are not happy. Maybe you don’t feel worthy of happiness. Maybe you don’t want to tempt fate. Maybe you are scared to be happy because you can’t make it last. Maybe it isn’t sophisticated in your circle to be happy. Maybe being happy means relaxing your guard, and then all those terrible things you keep at bay by the sheer force of your vigilance will come in the night to destroy you or someone you love. And if you are a high school student, then for sure it is not cool to be happy.

Do any of these examples resonate for you? Can you perceive other shadow beliefs? If you have discovered some hidden blocks, then that’s terrific. Don’t judge them. Remember, no blame. Holding these beliefs in loving awareness will begin to soften them.

To everyone – Remember, wherever you are on the scale is perfect. Today is a new beginning. We will be focusing on Step 1 this month, giving yourself permission to be happy.

Start where you are.
–Pema Chodron

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Word of the Year 2011


This word has been dancing around my awareness for a few weeks. I thought it might be my word, but I wanted to keep my mind open. However, no other word came. By New Year’s Eve, I knew this word was here to stay. So here are some initial reflections on “yield.”

What first came to mind was a passage from the Tao Te Ching.

Yield and overcome
Bend and be straight
Empty and be full
Wear out and be new
Have little and gain
Have much and be confused

I like the idea of yield and overcome. It reminds me of my tai chi teacher years ago. The teacher would stand face to face with a student, about half an arm’s length apart. Feet were stationary and could not move. The student would try to push the teacher back, forcing the teacher to take a step to maintain his balance. As the student pushed on his shoulders or chest, the teacher simply melted away from the touch without avoiding it or resisting it. It was like trying to push water.

At some point, the student would be so extended that the teacher, using only his thumb and forefinger, would lightly grasp the student’s wrist and with a gentle pull throw the student to the ground. No matter how many times we participated in this exercise and vowed not to be caught off balance, our efforts to push invariably resulted in a quick trip to the floor while the teacher remained serenely unaffected and unmoved.

It’s like what Bruce Lee said about water. “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

As I sat with the word, other meanings began to enter my thoughts, at first just a trickle, but soon a stream.

A fertile field yields a bountiful harvest.
A branch yields to wind and does not break.
We yield the right of way.
We yield to God’s will or to our inner wisdom.
We yield as a gesture of courtesy or respect.
We yield (or resist yielding!) to temptation.
We yield in surrender or defeat.

By midnight I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by my word. Then the word whispered in my soul. Yield. I don’t need to understand it all right now. I only need to ... yield. Yield in faith. And so I do. I yield.