“Knowing how the environment is pulling your strings and playing you is critical to making responsive rather than reactive moves.” ~ Ronal Heifetz
Are there ever times in your life when you find that you are overreacting to a situation? Yes, something did occur, but your reaction to the situation is out of proportion to the actual event. Congratulations, the first step to leading a mindful life is awareness and you are demonstrating awareness. The next step is to delve deeper into the your reaction and see if you can find the underlying cause so that the next time something like this happens you won’t have your automatic reaction and you can consciously respond differently which will bring more peace in your life.
Recently, I was attempting to go paddle boarding while I was on a vacation. I tried to go on Wednesday, but the women working at the concession said that since it would be my first time I should wait until Friday when her supervisor was there because she could give me a lesson. She told me to come first thing in the morning as the water is calmer and she called her supervisor and told her my name. On Friday morning I got there a little after 9:00 when they opened to learn that the supervisor had booked a big group at 10:00 AM so I would have to wait until they were done. I really wanted to do this, it was our last day and I was upset. I took a walk around the lake and at 10:00 I did not see anybody go out on paddleboards. I returned at 11:00 when I was told to return and learned that the group didn’t go out until later and wouldn’t be back until 12:30. I knew that afternoons brought wind and I got even more upset. In the end, I did get to go paddle boarding at 12:45 and the water was the calmest it had been all week and I had a wonderful time; it was even better than had I gone out at 9:00 AM It was a positive for me and a positive for the company as they made a lot of money with the big group. But, I had wasted several hours being upset and I was mad at myself. The problem was that I was upset and I was upset beyond what was normal for this situation.
So, I practiced what I know when I have a reaction that isn’t in line with the situation. I meditate on it and I journal about it. It isn’t like I get a big document with the answers clearly explained comes to me, but I get bits and pieces of the answer until it makes sense or until I get to the place where I know the stimulus and I change the response. In journaling, I learned that on vacations when I am super excited about something and it doesn’t work the way “I planned” that I get upset beyond what is normal. I am now aware of this and have realized many things on vacations don’t go as planned – that is normal, it is just like life. I need to go more with the flow, be conscious in my reactions and remember that in most cases things actually worked out better.
Can you think of a recent time when you overreacted to a situation?
Journal about it and see if you can come up with why or at least a plan for the future for what to do if something similar happen.
“The Girl Scouts is an organization that constantly gives you new goals to achieve and that's what life is all about.” ~Maria Bartiromo
Recently I was on a camping trip, and one night around the campfire I was asking a friend about her camping experiences. I learned that she never had any camping experiences as a child. It was another time that made me aware and grateful for all I have in my life. Camping is a big part of my life and Girls Scouts was a crucial component that nurtured my love for camping and nature.
I had the most amazing Girl Scout leaders. They gave up so much of their time and energy for us. When our Brownie troop had the “fly up” ceremony from Brownies to Juniors we actually flew on an American Airlines sightseeing flight that took us over Arizona – I especially remember seeing the Grand Canyon from the plane. This was 1965, so most girls had never been on an airplane and one girl even got sick, but it was a once in a lifetime experience. Notice, that this was a time when people dressed up to ride on an airplane – we even had to wear our white gloves. In our Brownie troop we made “sit upons,” participated in crafts, earned badges, tied knots and sold cookies door-to- door, and we had a lot of fund raisers so we could take an airplane ride. The truly important thing was that we learned to build friendships, be creative, push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and we developed a strong work ethic.
Girl Scouts provided so many experiences that shaped my life. We were backpacking in the Superstition Mountains and our leaders got lost. It was raining and our packs got soaked. We will always remember setting up our tube tents on the muddy ground, trying to cook meals over candles and having to share sleeping bags because our mummy bags got soaked in the rain. I also canoed down the Colorado and we experienced the London Bridge for the first time. I went white water rafting on the Green River and remember we were small enough to wedge ourselves between the pontoons at the front of the boat and we took turns riding the rapids from that perspective. I learned silly songs that I could still sing today– heck I could even probably do some of the hand motions to Doodly Doo. I can’t remember a lot of little things like what I had for dinner last week, but I can remember “Sarasponda, sarasponda, sarasponda ret set set.” I know about s’mores, cooking dinners in foil packets, making fires, how to waterski and snow ski, and so many other camping skills. But, the experiences I had in Scouting were the most important part – I learned life skills like creative problem solving skills, a love of nature and created bonds of friendship that are priceless.
I am grateful to our leaders who gave up so much of their time to make a difference in our lives. We were very lucky and I am a stronger and more compassionate person because of those experiences.
Who and what are you grateful for from your childhood?
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” ~ Charles R. Swindoll
As I teach in my meditation classes, having a daily meditation practice does not eliminate stress in your life, but it changes your reactions to the stress in your life. Last week, I had several opportunities to put this philosophy to the test and see that I am much less reactive to challenging situations.
I was having a wonderful time camping, when the neighbor who watches our house while we are gone texted to say that part of our roof had blown off. The old me, prior to developing a daily meditation practice, would have worried for the rest of the trip and/or would have wanted to pack up and go home. I would have not enjoyed my time in nature and not have been present with friends as my mind would have been spinning in all directions imaging a variety of scenarios. And the funny thing is when we did pull into our carport the damage was far worse than I expected, but nothing would have changed if I had worried or came home early. It was a good lesson to remind me that worrying doesn’t help and to live in the present moment and deal with the situation one step at a time.
Then two days later after I took my bath, the bathtub didn’t drain and backed up into the other shower and the seal around the toilet leaked and ruined the laminate wood flooring in the master bath and water leaked into the carpet in the master bedroom. We tried valiantly that night to resolve the issues with the tools at home but to no avail. The next morning we pulled up the flooring and padding and we finally got a plumber out here at noon. Our problem is resolved, but now I truly understand the phrase “shit happens” as I experienced the shit first hand. There was lots of cleanup and getting rid of the sewer smell and drying up the carpet in the master bedroom and remaining flooring near the toilet. Now we will need to put flooring in the bathroom as we are down to the cement foundation. But, I am feeling lots of gratitude for plumbers and roofers and all of the things I do have in life. I get to choose my attitude and I choose to be upbeat.
Is this what I wanted to happen in my life? No.
Is this what I planned to happen? No.
But it is what happened. I didn’t complain and say “poor me” and I didn’t waste time worrying about any of it. I accepted the situation, surrendered and dealt with each event as it happened and moved on to the next thing that needed to be done to solve the problem. I didn’t waste any energy being angry or upset and it really was a much more peaceful way to deal with the challenges that occur in life.
How do you deal with the challenges in life?
What can you do to improve how you deal with the challenges in your life?
"There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way."~ Thich Nhat Hanh
If you ask most people what they want, they want to be happy. The quote above shares the wisdom of life; there is no external thing or person that will make you happy. You cannot seek happiness, it is not something that eludes you; happiness is within you. Once you practice acceptance of what is and choose not to struggle or suffer you will find gratitude in everyone and everything and you will experience true happiness. The Dalai Lama says, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
There is a story that when John Lennon was 5 years old, his mom always told him that happiness was the key to life. When he went to school, they asked him what I wanted to be when he grew up. He wrote down ‘happy.’ They told him that he didn’t understand the assignment and he told them that they didn’t understand life.
I agree with John Lennon and his mom that happiness and contentment is the key to life. I concur with Thich Nhat Hanh that happiness is the way. I will express gratitude for this amazing life and practice compassion.
Are you happy?
What will you do to bring more happiness into your life?
“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.” ~Khalil Gibran
I have not met a person on earth yet who has not had to deal with challenging situations. The biggest lesson that I have learned is that it life is about how you react and deal with the difficult situations. The experts tell us that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional and I agree. When I catch myself going into “suffering” mode, I ask if this is the best way to spend my time and energy and what will be accomplished with my suffering. If I am angry with another person or feel that I have been wronged, my suffering will not affect them. If I am ill, my suffering will not improve my pain or disease. I accept the situation, learn from it and take actions to positively deal with the challenge.
One of my favorite quotes by David Simon is “How do you get what you want? You want what you get.” Acceptance of life is the best way to contentment. I get to choose how my mind looks at situations. I get to choose my attitude. Life goes so much easier when I go with the flow of the river instead of trying to swim against the current.
Do you believe suffering is optional?
What attitude do you bring to difficult situations?
"In today's rush, we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just being." ~Eckhart Tolle
We live in a society that focuses on “doing” – we are all human “doings” rushing from one activity to the next crossing things off our never-ending to do list. When do we spend time as human “beings?”
Can you think of the last time you felt the “joy of just being?”
You must understand that prior to developing a daily meditation and mindfulness practice, I was a human doer. I believed in the Western philosophy that success is based upon all of your accomplishments and all you “do.” I was an overachiever and running so fast in the rat race of life that a friend gave me the book “Art of Doing Nothing” by Vienne and Lennard. The book provides ideas for “being” including tips on the art of breathing, listening, bathing, lounging, napping, and so much more.
Take some time today to just “be.” Take long slow deep breaths, go for a walk without having the purpose to get somewhere, meditate for a few minutes, take a relaxing bath, pamper yourself, watch a sunset, spend time in silence or whatever works for you to slow down. Don’t feel guilty about doing these things; know that you are nurturing your soul.
What can you do to foster the “joy of just being?”
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
We have had a beautiful May in Tucson. It is the first year that I recall where we haven’t hit triple digits. That is about to change and we aren’t just going to temperatures of 100 degrees, but probably over 110 degrees and the grousing has started. But, does it help or hurt to complain about the weather?
I have been reading a great book by Janice Kaplan called “The Gratitude Diaries” where she takes a year to express gratitude and it transformed her life. Janice lives in New York and she has a section where she talks about the brutally cold weather and snow in her hometown. One day she shares she was exhausted after all of the griping about the weather she had heard on he way to work. Whining about the weather has absolutely no effect on the weather, but it does have an effect on the energy of your conversations and mood. Janice states, “Announce too often that you’re miserable, and you begin to believe you really are.”
I understand that I have no magical powers, although I do wish I could fly. I cannot wave a wand and change the weather, but I can change my thoughts and words about the weather. I can be grateful to live in a place with blue skies and sunshine and appreciate that I am fortunate to have air conditioning in my house and that all of the places I go have air conditioning. Plus, it's a dry heat. Pay attention to how often people complain about the weather, and see if you can change the negative attitude with your positive comment.
The weather provides the perfect opportunity for you to practice letting go of things you can't control. And by the way, you cannot control anything but your thoughts, words, and actions. So practice acceptance with the easy stuff like weather - it is what it is.
Do you complain about the weather? Does the venting help or hurt your mood?
What can you do to transform your approach to things you cannot change like the weather?
“I used to care so much about what others think about I almost didn't have a thought of my own” ~ Natasha Bedingfield
A friend of mine recently shared a picture of her granddaughter on Facebook going to the 8th grade promotion dance. It was an adorable picture of her smiling granddaughter in a cute white dress with pleats and lace and her date in a jacket with a red bow tie. It wasn’t until I clicked on the picture that I saw the complete photograph that showed the couple wearing high top Vans tennis shoes; she was in red tennis shoes that matched her red wrist corsage and he in blue high tops. I just loved it. If you are going to a dance and want to dance a lot and enjoy it, you should wear tennis shoes! Tennis shoes are indeed the answer!
How many times have I gone to proms, dances, and weddings and worn shoes that weren’t ideal for dancing? I have never worn high heals – I would break a leg walking in high heals – so dancing in them would be out of the question. I am not a “girly” girl who lusts after Jimmy Choo shoes, but whenever I have gone to dances I have worn “dressy” shoes. One of my keys to purchasing shoes is comfort, but seeing these kids wear tennis shoes shows me that I cared about what others thought about me as I would never have worn tennis shoes to a dance. And I must also ask, what is the point of those high heels and most women take them off and dance in bare feet. So, once again I believe tennis shoes are the answer.
The peer pressure I felt in elementary school, high school and college made me always think and care what others would thought about what I wore, how I looked and how I would fit in. Although, I must admit in some of the recent pictures people are posting online, I wished some friends would have given me a little more fashion advice. The picture of the kids in their high top tennis shoes and the quote from Natasha Bedinfield’s song remind me of the importance of doing what is right for me and knowing in my heart that it doesn’t matter what others think. What others think is usually a reflection of them and not me. So, I learned a great lesson from these 8th graders. I must always be open to learn and recognize that teachers come in all ages. They taught me a great lesson: Tennis shoes are the answer!
Would you wear tennis shoes to a dance?
How much time do you spend worrying about what others think?
Peggy Steffens is an artist and Chopra Certified Meditation Instructor
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