Finding Balance

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Siddhartha found and then spent his life teaching The Middle Way. To all of us non-enlightened beings, The Middle Way, basically, is riding out life in the center of extremes instead of adhering ourselves to one or the other.

Siddhartha came to The Middle Way through years of causing himself to suffer. He tortured his body with starvation and deprivation. He lived an ascetic life, denying himself all pleasure. For many years, he was convinced that this was the best way to live.

Lucky for him, and his followers, he put some rice in his belly and discovered what we know now: skipping breakfast makes for an undernourished body and mind.

No matter your belief system, The Middle Way is a wise way for a full and happy life. We can apply it to most areas of life. Don’t gorge yourself on food, but don’t starve yourself either. Don’t visit the pub every night, but don’t stay completely away. Don’t keep twenty cats in your home, maybe just two.

With all of the habits, vices, and conveniences, overindulgence and even under indulgence is too common amongst us.

There are some instances in which extreme is good (never smoking another cigarette) or at the very worst a harmless matter of taste (full body tattoos). Mostly though, our lives could benefit from us easing up on the extremes.

Finding moderation is easier said than done, right? Yep, as are most things. Assuming you don’t have a condition that requires professional attention, you can make the choice. With everyday things, cookies, video games, lip balm, calling your mom, or going to the dentist, you have the power. Enjoy but don’t obsess. Do just enough but don’t totally avoid. Really. If we can find The Middle Way, we can live happy, balanced lives.

Even when it comes to changing our ways, we should follow the middle way. Don’t try to do it all at once. Change one thing at a time. Look for the areas in your life where you tend to drift toward an extreme. Pick one thing and do it a little less, or a little more.

Say you have an obsession that drives you to scrub your toilet three times a day. Try swirling the brush around twice a day instead. From there, slowly whittle down your toilet-polishing time to what is necessary, not obsessive. There, that feels better. On the other hand, perhaps you rarely, if ever, clean the toilet, ooh funky. Invest in a tank tablet.

Goldilocks knew what was up. For her, nothing too hard, soft, cold, hot, big, or small. Everything was just right.

I recommend getting as close to The Middle Way in as many areas of your life as possible. Learn to recognize when the road crowns you over to one side or the other, and then correct your course. You may find yourself a healthier, happier person at peace with the fullness and balance of life.

 

 

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Start Something

salitllo
When we get overwhelmed with options and to-dos, sometimes we choose not to choose. It’s the easiest thing to do, but it leaves life unlived. Many things wait, untouched, sometimes forever, because we don’t know where to start.

How do we overcome it? How do we start? The answer is amazing. It’s simple.

A few days ago, I began work at my former place of employment as a temporary consultant/trainer/fire extinguisher.

Gazing upon a vast sea of paperwork rippling with error and neglect, I felt overwhelmed. For the first day, I didn’t know where to look or what to pick up. I spent hours shuffling papers around without direction or purpose. I accomplished little because I couldn’t pinpoint a good place to start. The truth is there were too many good places to start. The heap was too big, its shadow spread wide.

After all that, I had to come home and find time and energy to write articles for websites, essays for anthologies, lists for editors, posts for blogs, and lists for grocery shopping. I wanted to stop. I wanted to do nothing because it’s too big, too much, and I didn’t know where to start.

How could I keep from being stunned into inaction?

The thing is I didn’t need to start at the beginning. I just had to start. I was looking at Everest in a wide shot when I should have focused on just one step at a time.
The next day, I picked up one paper, decided what to do with it, did it, and repeated.

Instead of seeing a list, see one item on the list. Pick one thing and do it. That’s the answer.

I knew it all along. We all know it. I just needed a little reminder. It’s always such a freeing experience to realize and create your own relief, to answer your own questions.

My husband and I remodeled our kitchen a few years ago. We wanted a new kitchen, but waited for a long time because the enormity of the project overwhelmed us. Flooring, walls, counters, cabinets, fixtures, curtains, etc. all make for a large, expensive, time-consuming project. kitchen2

But one thing at a time isn’t overwhelming. Instead of seeing the kitchen, we saw only the floor. We ripped it up. The walls came into view. I tore one down and painted the others. We uprooted cabinets and counter tops. I sanded, stained, and lacquered new cabinets, one by one. We called a friend who flattened piles of Saltillo into a beautiful floor.

Then, it was all done. The stress melted when we focused on one piece of the picture at a time. Like a puzzle. Put one piece in, then the next, until it’s complete. So it is with everything.

I implore you not to ignore the things you want to do, be, learn, or have because they are too big or involve too much. Because they aren’t and they don’t. You don’t have to know where to start. It doesn’t matter if you start at the beginning or in the middle. Just start with one piece. If you don’t, your life will never get done, and then it’ll be over.

 
 

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Navigating the Twisty Roads of Change

 

irish road

Hey you, afraid of change, pissed off that you were ripped from a happy place and thrown into a pit of muck swirling with uncertainties . . . You who stares at the black ceiling in the darkest hours of night, with not even enough hope left in your system to wish for sleep . . . I have something to say to you.

When one window closes, another door opens, and all that jazz. No, that’s not it.

As difficult as it is, we must be receptive to the results of change. The best way to do that is to manipulate them. You see, what matters isn’t the change but the result of that change. And the result is up to us.

You’ve been smacked around and blown to pieces by the winds of change. It comes at you from all angles. You’ve been told too many times that this is the way things are now, so deal with it.

We get scared of the unknown, which is natural, but why can’t we be the boss of the unknown instead?

Take a sucky situation and turn it into something that you want it to be. You can’t see it when you’re so close to it, when it’s so fresh. You have to let it settle around you and get used to the truth of it: it’s inevitable. Everything is temporary. It sucks, but it is. If I think too hard about it, I’m terrified by how temporary my situation could be; but my terror won’t erase the truth.

So when change happens, go ahead and grieve for what was. After you’ve taken some time to evaluate your past comforts, look toward what’s next. Find a new possibility that excites you. Do something or go somewhere different. See what opportunities have unveiled. Make something wonderful out of them.

Change forces us to be on our toes, to adapt, to get uncomfortable. Turn it around and make something good happen. It’s up to you where you go from here. You can wallow and try your best to claw back to the place you were, or you can stand up straight and own what happens next. When you hate where change has dropped you, move.

Remember the freedom of choice. Remember the ownership of self. Remember the power you have over your life. Even when the world you live in looks bleak, when it’s turned upside down, know there is something amazing out there, and you are in charge of getting it. When the road gets twisty, lean in.

Stop telling yourself you can’t, that it’s too bad, or that you haven’t another option/choice. Take the reins. Do something great. I believe in you.

 

Get some sleep.

 

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What Others Think is Not Your Problem

Photo Credit: James Whitesmith via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: James Whitesmith via Compfight cc

Last night I had a dream in which I sat at a table across from a little girl. Her father loomed near as she asked me if I go to church. I thought for a second about how to respond. Then I said, “I don’t believe in God.”

She gasped in surprise, as if it was unheard of. To her, it probably was. I looked at her father for his reaction, thinking that perhaps it was an inappropriate honesty for such a young child unschooled in the existence of non-believers. He nodded his head at me in a way that told me he was okay with it.

When I woke, I wondered to myself why it is that I avoid expressing my belief, or more aptly my disbelief. It may have to do with where I live and its deep seeded layers of culture and heavy religion. Am I afraid of being an outcast? A metaphorical leper? I never have been before. It may have something to do with the years I spent fearing, studying, loving, worshiping, and hating the Christian god before I opened my eyes. Habits are hard to break, even after your belief system already has.

On the other hand, who goes around saying, “I’m an atheist, just so you know”? Not me. Not anyone. But even when religion comes up in conversation, I mostly remain tight-lipped about my stance. When someone uses “God bless you,” as a farewell, I say thank you because it is one of those niceties I appreciate someone passing out to me, even if I don’t share their beliefs. Even if I didn’t appreciate the kindness, I wouldn’t comment against it and risk outing myself.

There is a sense that I am smudged in the eyes of others because I don’t have a god. I don’t think I’ve ever realized just how intimidating that is. It’s been more of a subconscious weight. Now that I’ve identified the issue, time to get over it. Not by telling everyone I see that, gasp, I’m an atheist, but by just not being afraid to admit it. Whether or not I actually do say something is irrelevant. Just not being afraid is enough.

Perhaps afraid is too strong a word. I think I’m looking for something like uncomfortable or intimidated, definitely not ashamed. I am uncomfortable with admitting that particular part of who I am because of the reactions I may solicit. I don’t want to cause others to feel uncomfortable. I’m afraid of disappointing them. I’ve noticed two major feelings aimed at non-believers by some religious folks: anger and pity. I do not want to be on the receiving end of that pity stick.

What I’m learning from all this is what I’ve known all along. We all should feel comfortable with who we are, as well as comfortable admitting it. When we are not, there is no one to blame other than ourselves. What others think is their problem. If they are uncomfortable, it’s their problem. We must embrace all parts of ourselves even if others won’t.

 

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Act Your Shoe Size, Not Your Age

Photo Credit: guzzphoto via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: guzzphoto via Compfight cc

When we reach adulthood, too often we forget the wonders of being a child. We lose the best parts. We’re always so busy making and living by our own grown-up rules that we forget the magic of simpler ideas. Society tends to beat the greatest lessons of childhood out of us as we mature. We should re-learn a few things from our children.

Be silly.
I’ve talked about this before because, really, it’s important. Children are silly creatures. They laugh, play, and don’t care if people see them as foolish. They want fun and happiness, and so they make it and inject it into everything. We overlook opportunities to play and be silly, opting instead to worry and regret. There are times and places for seriousness, but too many people scratch out merriment from too many areas of life. So sad. Play, have fun, and pay less attention to what people think of you. It will make those serious times easier to deal with.

Dream and believe.
Not only do children dream fantastical, sometimes impossible, things, they also believe they can happen. They harbor an honest faith that they can do anything, and that everything is possible. They aren’t born with the idea of impossible; we teach them the idea of possible. Then they grow up and become us.

Of course, as an adult, believing everything is possible is a bit far off. I’m sure we all know that growing a pine tree from a watermelon seed is pretty impossible. But as we grow, we push away our dreams. We admire them and wish for them from afar. Then we fill ourselves with regret. Not enough of us keep our heads in the clouds long enough to believe in the possibility of achieving our dreams. Keep your dreams close, believe in them, and use your adulthood smarts to go after them.

Have confidence.
Children are awesome and they know it. They have no problem letting us know how awesome they are. They tout how super fast, smart, pretty, funny, and strong they are. As we age, the world does nothing to encourage our awesomeness. In fact, we do a good job of telling each other how deficient we are. If we don’t comply with what is acceptable, we put each other and ourselves into categories: stupid, ugly, eccentric, delinquent, outcast. We learn not to love ourselves too much (or at all) and to downplay our worth. But there is a difference between confidence and arrogance. We need to value ourselves the way children value themselves.

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Revenge is a Cancerous Desire

Recently, I saw a picture on Facebook that said, “Revenge is not in my plans. You’ll f**k yourself on your own.”

Revenge is an ugly thing, isn’t it? When someone wrongs you or someone you love, it’s personal. So becomes the idea of payback. It’s a tough desire to get away from sometimes.

When an inattentive driver hit and killed my friend, I felt it like never before. The things I thought, the horrors I wished, and the words I said still shame me to this day. All sense, reason, and compassion left me. I was empty except for the need to know that the driver suffered. Every day for the rest of his life. I didn’t take into account that he probably didn’t need me to wish the worst kind of fate on him because he has to live with what he did forever. I was not blind, but I was uncaring.

I stared at the pictures of the scene: The mangled motorcycle lying in the street, the white sheet covering empty flesh, the helmet, the truck. I stared so many times and for so long, and I would project all of my grief and all of my hatred onto the unseen driver of that truck.

Eventually, I saw things more clearly and I knew that whether or not that man deserved the universe’s punishment (or got it), it wasn’t my job to wish it. I could spend the rest of my life torturing myself over the wonderment, or I could let it be. Instead of living my life in a miserable pit of vengeful thinking, I decided to take care of myself and do the best I could to be happy.

If I think about it hard enough, that natural inclination to hope the driver is suffering sneaks back to me. But then I work to replace that with compassion for him. His hell is not mine to lord over; and if he’s in it, that really is a sad thing.

Seeking revenge, and thoughts of vengeance, steals happiness from us. It’s difficult to overcome, but for our own mental health, we must. I really do believe we get from the universe what we put into it. The best revenge is a happy life.

But oh, isn’t it difficult? One step at a time, one thought, one minute at a time, put away your need for revenge. We need to love each other and love ourselves. One of the worst ways we can love ourselves is to fill up with the ugliness and nastiness of revenge.

 

Posted in Grief, Happiness, Mindset change | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Wonderful Thing About Inexperience.

rasbaby reading
Sometimes, many times, we say, “I wish I knew then what I know now.” But we rarely take the time in our infancy of knowing to appreciate being new and fresh and unenlightened. Those are some of the most fascinating, exciting periods in our lives. The greener you are, the more you have to learn, the wider the world is and the more satisfaction you will feel down the line.

When we begin a new career, relationship, parenthood, or hobby, we are free and empty of experience. We are full of wonder, excitement, and sometimes fear. With each new discovery, knowledge replaces each little piece of wonderment, until very little of it remains. Wonder that you cannot get back.

Liken it to reading a beautiful, well-written, emotional, adventurous book. You want to know what happens. You can’t wait to get to the end, so you stay up late at night flipping through the pages, hungry for more. When you finish the book and you have all the answers, you feel good. With each page you read, you got closer to the answers, but you never failed to take pleasure in getting to those answers, in not knowing. So it should be with life.

We want to know, have, be, and do everything right now, but it can’t always be so. That’s okay; enjoy not knowing. Because when you don’t know, you can savor learning. And learning is so much fun! Through trials and errors and hardships and victories, we fill our empty banks of experience and knowledge, and with that, we make ourselves. Relish each step you take towards the answers you seek. Become excited about what you’ll find out next.

Don’t fret when you don’t know something. Ignore the fear. Refuse to be ashamed. Embrace and enjoy your newness. Feed off your glorious curiosity. If you want to know something, learn it, experience it. When you relieve that ignorance, find something else you know nothing about and dive into it with that same sense of joyful curiosity. Never stop wondering.

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Lies We Tell Ourselves (and Others) So We Can Sleep at Night

Photo Credit: ClaraDon via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ClaraDon via Compfight cc

We tell ourselves many things in order to self-sooth. Some we really believe and some we only hope are true. I’m all for inventive coping, but we have more control over ourselves than we sometimes realize.

1. I didn’t/don’t have a choice.
There is always a choice. Some choices are easy like picking between PB&J or PB&anchovies. Others are more difficult, but they always exist. Sometimes there are no good choices, just bad and worse, but we either make them or let them be made for us. When we think we’ve made a wrong decision, we ease our minds by blaming it on lack of choice. Everybody makes bad choices sometimes. Weigh options, make a choice you can live with, and stand by it.

2. There is a reason for everything.
Yeah, it’s called cause and effect. But the effect never dictates the cause. Not ever. A person loses his job because he sucks at his job or because of cutbacks. A person does not lose it because some dream job lies in wait just for him. A person dies because his body fails, not because two people who wouldn’t otherwise meet see each other at the funeral and eventually fall into a made-for-the-movies happily ever after. There is no one playing puppeteer over our lives. We look for mystery reasons to sooth us through the crappy stuff, but we don’t need them. We already have the answers.

3. God/The universe/(Insert your deity here) has a plan.
This one is close to number two. No matter your beliefs, you must take control of your life. You cannot wait for something to set you down inside its plan. Live for yourself. Make your own plan. When it takes an odd turn, adapt. Your life is your own.

4. I was raised that way.
Many people use this one to blame their present actions or ways of thinking on their past. Deep down (sometimes way deep down), we know what is right and wrong. As intelligent beings, we have the power to change our behavior and thoughts to match what is right. Nothing says we can only behave the way someone told us to behave. We are our own teachers. We never stop teaching and we never stop learning, unless we choose to stop. When we refuse to learn differently, we can still only blame ourselves. Be who you want, not just who you were taught to be.

 

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Anger Management

 

angry

Bad days happen. Some are full of defeat. Natural tendencies toward anger and bitterness pull at me harder than any amount of positivity I can muster. Everyone I encounter deserves the middle finger and it takes all my strength not to give it to them. Sometimes I fail and give it anyway with varying degrees of ferocity. On these days, the world sucks away my motivation for compassion and kindness. I just want to give in, say f*** it, and let negativity take the reins. Why fight?

It goes against all I work to be. It’s not how I want to live.

We as human beings are fallible. Everything about us is fluid and malleable, including our moods and our attitudes toward people and the world. We hover over the good and the bad, and we can end up on either side. Life is not fair (surprise!). Sometimes people suck. Situations suck. It happens. Everything can’t always be great.

What is important is what we do with those bad days and the nag of anxiety, depression, resentment, defeat, and plain bitchiness. How do you recover? Do you let go and let the black suck you in deeper? Do you beat yourself up and question your worth or abilities?

No. You keep fighting. You understand that happiness and a good attitude is not always easy. Tolerance, compassion, generosity, and positivity take work. Accept it and move on. Have a bad day (just don’t harm others doing it). Then, go back to you.

Go back to the fight to be a better person. Put your attitude back in its good place. Don’t always assume that happy people don’t struggle. Everyone has shitty days. No one is perfect. You’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. Don’t wallow when you have an imperfect day. That one bad day doesn’t define you. What defines you is how hard you strive to be the person you want to be despite the hiccups.

 

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Rediscover Forgotten Pleasures

It’s a shame when we get so wrapped up in running our lives that we put away some of the things that make us happy.

We stuff them back to the edges of our minds, for so long, that we forget just how much joy they bring us. We think it’s impossible to fit in our pleasures because we have so much else to do. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. Guess what? That’s never going to change. You must take one or two hours and swap something out for something else.

Until yesterday, it had been over a year since I was tattooed. Somehow, I had forgotten how happy it makes me. I forgot how the seer of the needles, the smell of green soap, the drone of the machine, the loud music, even the frigid air and the nag of timidity all form a happy, relaxing experience. I don’t have to think about the world, problems, work, what I’ve done, or what I haven’t done. All I have to focus on is breathing.

What is it you miss? Dirt bike riding? Do you remember the sensation of the wind, the grit of dirt on your face, your muscles tensing, the way you feel when the day is done but the exhilaration lingers? No? Then hop on and go for a ride. Do it, even if it’s just a short one, even if you only have enough time to remember that feeling.

Do you miss walking through your neighborhood in the evenings? Do you remember what the flutter of cool air feels like on your skin? Remember the tranquility, and gratitude for spring, when you hear birds whistle or the rustle of fat green leaves on the trees? No? Let dinner wait a half an hour tonight, pull on those sneakers and go out.

Get back to yourself. Don’t lose the things you love. Don’t put them away for so long that you forget what they feel like. Get a tattoo. Go for a walk. Rip up a mountain on your bike. Put your feet in the ocean. Take a road trip.

Sometimes, if you wait too long, forget too much, the things you love feel less important than they are.

It’s simple. If you fail to do the things that bring you joy, you will forget what joy feels like.

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