“The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don't have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it.” ~ Chris Pine
It snowed in Tucson today, which is a rare occurrence. I haven’t seen this much snow in the city since the snowstorm of 1987. And I LOVED it. I loved going outside into the silence and stillness when the large flakes were tumbling to the ground. I loved when it clung to the cactus and made a blanket of snow on the ground. I loved walking in my neighborhood all bundled up in my ski jacket, gloves and hat. It was stunning and I had the mind of a child that giggled and laughed as I stuck my tongue out and collected snowflakes.
But, I know that the people back east are probably tired of snowstorms and shoveling the snow by this time of year. I know that people come to Tucson during the winter to get a break from the snow and the delight that I have found in the snow today would not be the same perspective they would have – they would be complaining as they came for sunshine and warm temperatures.
We were experiencing the same weather; I was giddy with joy and they were grumpy.
Yet, it was all just snow. This is a good reminder that things happen in life and we label them. I labeled the snow today as delightful. Yet, I remember driving in a blizzard in Flagstaff where I could barely see the road and the car in front of me spun out on the highway and I was frightened with terror (I wasn’t in control and you know how I like to be in control) and labeled that as terrible, yet it was just snow. And snow isn’t good or bad, it is snow.
We each bring our own perspective to everything in life and we must be aware that everyone else does as well. No one is right or wrong. It is just a perspective and that perspective can change depending on the circumstances. Each person will have a different perspective based on his/her life experiences. But, we need to understand it is just OUR perspective, we do not have control over the weather or anything else in life, but we have control over our interpretation of the weather and all the situations in our life. It is our choice how we react to life.
Can you think of other experiences that you label differently because of circumstances?
Do you understand that it is just an interpretation?
"Reality is created by the mind, we can change our reality by changing our mind." ~Plato
The other day I was sharing with a friend the numerous things in my life that were not going as I had intended. I used to label these things as problems or ‘bad’ things, but I now know that they are opportunities to learn. I did tell my friend, “I am really happy in life and I don’t need any more opportunities to learn.” But, alas, I know that is not how things work here on Earth School. It is the challenges in life that provide us with the greatest opportunities to learn and grow. We are presented with challenges and we get to choose how to react and respond.
After the fifth challenge in a short amount of time, I said to my friend, “What else can go wrong?” She replied that I didn’t want to ask that question because the Universe could provide me with lots more things to go wrong. She told me to ask myself, “What else can go right?” She was absolutely correct that I needed to reframe my thinking. I know that thoughts become things and my negative thoughts would just breed more negative challenges. My mind tends to ruminate and when I go down that cynical path, I continue to focus on everything that is wrong in life. However, just changing from the negative way of looking at life to the positive has made a huge difference. When I start to catch myself going down the path of negativity, I stop, pause and acknowledge all of the things that are going right in my life – I have my health, wonderful friends, a great house, delicious food and spectacular weather. There are tons of things going right. Thinking about all of the abundance in my life puts a smile on my face and brings an appreciation for all I have and gratitude into my life. Then I start to notice all of the good things in my life and I let go of the vicious negative cycle. Lots of things happen in life that we may view as ‘bad,’ but it is my mind and thoughts that create suffering. It is my responsibility to change my reality by changing my thoughts and by focusing on all that is right in my life.
Do you ever spiral down the ‘Woe is Me” path and look at all of the things that are not going as you desired? If so, what can you do to break out of the negative pattern?
What else can go right in your life?
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.” ~Eckhart Tolle
I walked out to retrieve the garbage can – one more thing I needed to do before I could leave for my morning meeting. But, on the way back in the house I stopped and realized I was missing the beautiful day. I was so focused on the task, that I didn’t see the cerulean blue sky and the magnificent desert surroundings, I didn’t feel the warmth of the sun that many in the east coast were missing because of the blizzard. I was missing life.
Awareness is the key to being mindful and living in the present moment. Yet, my life had become so busy with everything I was doing that I stopped truly living – I was just hurrying from one activity to the next. One of my strengths is being an achiever, yet through a meditation and mindfulness practice, I have learned to balance my need to achieve by not being so driven by accomplishing things on my To Do list. However, research shows that when we get stressed, we resort back to our old habits. I got so busy with my volunteer tasks with the golf tournament and opening a new gallery that I wasn’t sleeping as much and my stress levels were increasing. The signs were there that I wasn’t being mindful because I was running into things and getting bruises, putting my clothes on backwards, breaking things and getting upset over little things. But I missed the signs because I wasn't living in the Now and rushing from one thing that needed to get done to the next without appreciating and enjoying what I was doing. I was not following my own motto to make each day precious.
So, on the way back from emptying the trash, I stopped and enjoyed the majesty of the desert and the life I am fortunate to lead. I am still super busy, but I am taking a few minutes all throughout the day to stop and come back to the present moment and fully enjoy life. I don't want to run myself ragged like I did in my younger years. I am making the Now my primary focus.
What signs do you have when you are stressed and missing life?
How can you do to make the Now be the primary focus of your life?
“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens… Love is the great miracle cure. Loving ourselves works miracles in our lives.” ~Louise L. Hay
It is Valentine’s week and love is in the air. I am so grateful for the love of family and friends and I know I am blessed. However, the last year I have been focusing on self-compassion and loving myself. It seems for most of us, that it is much easier to do things for others than to take care of ourselves. I am really good at beating myself up when I make a mistake and telling myself that I am stupid, clumsy, careless, etc. But, I have realized that if a friend made the same mistake I just made that I would never say the things to them that I say to myself. So, I am working on being kinder and gentler to myself. I will share some tools that have been working for me and you can see if they resonate with you.
Many experts including Louise Hay, Christiane Northrup, and Shauna Shapiro tell us it is important to tell ourselves that we love ourselves. I know this sounds strange. But, until I actually started doing it, I had not realized that I had ever told myself that I loved myself. Louise Hay tells us that you should say “I love you” out loud while looking into our eyes in a mirror. Shauna shares that when she wakes up each day, she says to herself, “Good Morning Shauna, I love you.” She told us that at first she could only start with “Good Morning Shauna” it didn’t feel comfortable to say I love you. But, after doing the practice for a while, she could say the entire phrase. I must admit that it sounded weird to me, but every morning when I wake up I say to myself “Good Morning Peggy, I love you. It brings a smile to my face and makes me feel warm and at peace. It gets me to treat myself much nicer throughout the day. When I do make a mistake, I find that I am much kinder to myself and the words in my mind are much softer. So try it and start simple with whatever feels good and go at your own pace. See if you are nicer to yourself.
The other key component that I do to love myself, is to ask the question, “If I loved myself, what would I do?” I learned this idea from the book Rebirth: A Fable of Love, Forgiveness, and Following Your Heart by Kamal Ravikant. So, when I am asked to do something, instead of responding out of guilt or a fear that people won’t like me if I say no, I ask myself, “If I loved myself, what would I do?” It changes how I make decisions and I am more authentic. If I do agree to do something, then I am more committed because I know I am doing it from a place of love. I also know that is important to set boundaries and take care of myself, so when I say No, I am at peace. I know that I have no control of what others think and if they are upset, that is their choice. I make the best decision at the time that I can; I do consider how my decision will impact others and myself, but I make all conscious choices from a place of love.
As the flight attendants advise you on the airplane, “put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then place it on others” you should follow that advice with love. When you give yourself love first, you will have more to share with others.
Do you love yourself? Do you give more compassion to others or yourself?
What can you do to love yourself more?
“Pain doesn't last. And when it's gone, we have something to show for it. Growth.”~ Kamal Ravikant
I just finished reading the book Rebirth: A Fable of Love, Forgiveness, and Following Your Heart by Kamal Ravikant. The fictional story is based on the author’s experience of walking the Camino de Santiago. Throughout the book, there are many pearls of wisdom that have positively impacted my life.
One of the key messages in the book is that asking questions like “why do people suffer?” or “why did this happen to me?” is not helpful because life is a mystery and there are no answers to these questions. The character shares that what you should ask is, “What Now?” You acknowledge that something happened and then determine what you will do now that it has happened.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in life is that things are going to happen that I didn’t plan or want. Shit happens. When something unexpected happens, I ask the question, “What am I supposed to learn from this?” However, after reading this book, I will not only focus on the lesson I am supposed to learn, but also ask ‘What Now?’ For example, my roof blew off the house, and I learned the importance of detachment and letting go of stuff. But the ‘What Now?’ question leads me to make sure I am much more conscious when purchasing anything new and must justify that the item must bring me pure joy and not add clutter. Asking ‘What Now?’ takes me deeper into learning from each situation.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Nick Foles, epitomizes what can happen when you follow the “What Now?” scenario. He was released from the Rams and could have wallowed in the ‘poor me’ syndrome, but instead took a little bit of time and figured out what he wanted to do. He went back to play for the one coach who believed in him, Andy Reid. Foles was the backup quarterback until Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL. He took the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl and won the MVP yesterday. It is the perfect story about not knowing what the future holds, but having faith, living in the now and moving on from something most people would view as terrible. Being released from the Rams could have been the best thing to happen to Nick Foles.
The significance of the ‘What Now?’ philosophy of life to me is that it does no good to wallow in the ‘poor me’ syndrome. It is important to consider that this situation is the best thing to happen; pain doesn’t last and positive growth has come from things I didn’t initially label as ‘good.’ During times I think of as difficult, I must come back to the present moment, practice acceptance, determine the lesson to learn and ask ‘What Now?’ I am in charge of my life and get to choose how to view what happens and what I will do.
How can you incorporate the ‘What Now?’ philosophy in your life?
”When coasting in our comfort zones, we don't grow. We continue to do more of the same.... Maintaining a comfort zone can, paradoxically, lead to discomfort in the long run. If by being comfortable we avoid important life issues, internal tension accumulates.... Eventually, as both internal and external pressures for change persist, the ‘comfort zone’ ceases to serve us."
The beginning of a new year is when I set my intentions for the coming year. I reflect on the past year, so that I can look at the current direction of my life and see if that is where I want to continue heading or if I need to adjust and change the course. I know it is easy to get too comfortable with life and coast or to be rushing from one activity to the next so that I am not conscious and aware of the choices I am making. So, I purposefully take time to evaluate my values, needs, and desires.
I journal my responses to the following questions about the past year. I focus on:
I answer these questions and reflect on what is most important and then I come up with a short statement or phrase for what I want to focus on for the upcoming year. It is not a resolution, but an affirmation of what matters in my life and where I want to put my attention so that I will focus my time and energy on what really matters most to me. In this way, I will end up where I am heading. After I have answered the questions for this year, I go back and review the answers from the previous years. I see where my focus has shifted and stayed the same on this journey in life.
In past years I have focused on creativity, spirituality, and fostering meaningful relationships. I will continue to do this, however, since it was an intention from previous years it has become an imbedded part of my daily life. This year my focused intention is Pause and Positivity. It is simple and easy to remember and each morning I can set this intention. My plan is to pause more often, to come back to the present moment and live in the now. I also want to focus on the positive and practice gratitude for all of the goodness in my life.
We each are on our own journey and my intentions will differ from yours. I highly recommend answering the questions above and come up with your intention for the year and practice it daily. Remember to keep it simple so you can easily remember it and live it fully.
What are your biggest lessons from 2017?
What are your intentions for 2018?
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~ Thornton Wilder
We are in full swing of the holiday season. I love the holidays and all of the delicious food, fun times with family and friends and the gorgeous decorations of the season. But, the holidays can bring stress as you try to do too many things, reunite with family and resume the family roles you had as a child, and deal with people who have differing expectations for the holidays. Here are some tips from the experts that have worked for me over the years.
May you make each moment of the holiday season joyous! I hope you live in the present moment and are conscious with your heart and express gratitude for all of your treasures. Happy Holidays.
What can you do to enjoy this holiday season more?
How can you express your authentic self and balance taking care of your needs and the expectations of others?
“When you react, you let other control you. When you respond, you are in control.” ― Bohdi Sanders
I recently led an all-day meditation retreat on managing stress. During the dharma talk portion of the day, I shared many tools for handling stress from top spiritual leaders. I am going to share some of the tools I highlighted during the workshop in the upcoming blog posts.
The first tool I would like to share is from my meditation guru, davidji, and his book destressifying: The Real-World Guide to Personal Empowerment, Lasting Fulfillment, and Peace of Mind. The key thing I have learned about stress is that it is crucial to stop the cycle before I spin out of control. The best way to do that is to come back to the present moment. Awareness is the key, and a great tool to interrupt the pattern is SODA. Davidji tells us that when we start to feel stressed, we should reach for SODA. The letters in the acronym SODA stand for:
The first thing is to stop whatever I am doing. That pause causes me to break the cycle and not get angrier or more upset. It gets me to come back to the present moment and consciously think about my next actions, thoughts or words.
The second step is to become the witnessing observer. It is as if I step out of my body and look down at what I am doing, who I am with, and determine what is going on. This helps me put perspective on things and many times I will see that I am throwing a tantrum or about to cry for a silly reason that is not warranting that behavior. It is important to observe objectively without judgment. For me, this means that I don’t beat myself up for the behavior and I just witness the circumstances from a compassionate viewpoint.
Next, I detach from the drama and emotion of the situation. This is where I take a long slow deep breath in followed by an extended exhale. My breath is my anchor. Slowing my breath helps to slow my body and get out of fight or flight mode. This is turn, slows my thoughts, which are coming faster than a steam locomotive. I know that my thoughts mimic my body and if I slow my body, by slowing my breath, I will slow my thoughts. davidji encourages us to subtly step or lean back a few inches to create some energetic and physical distance from the irritant.
Finally, I want to awaken to my highest self. I want to respond from the best version of myself, not that little child who is throwing a tantrum. I typically channel my inner Eckhart Tolle as he epitomizes living in the present moment and not reacting to external situations. This helps me to respond to the situation from a more conscious perspective.
Do I do remember to do this every time I encounter stress? Heck no! But it is like everything else in life, the more I practice, the better I become. Awareness helps me to realize sooner that I am stressed and I use tools like SODA to interrupt the habitual reaction when faced with tense situations.
I think the quote by Sanders above is at the heart of mindfulness and dealing with challenging situations. I have learned that when I am mindful and living in the present moment that I respond to difficult situations instead of my auto-pilot knee jerk reaction. Tools like SODA help me to respond instead of react. Try reaching for SODA the next time you encounter a stressful situation.
What tools to you use when you are stressed?
How might SODA help you in the future?
“The best time of my life is now” ~ Deepak Chopra
Have you ever had a meeting rescheduled or time blocked out in your calendar to do something and it was canceled? Do you get excited with the “found time?” When this happens, I see it as a gift - because I have a few hours to do whatever I want. I am currently ecstatic because I have the gift of a “found” week. I received a notice for Federal Jury duty several months ago and was on call for the week of October 30th. I blocked out the entire week in my calendar. But, when I called to check on my status, I learned that I was not needed and I now have an entire week with nothing scheduled. So, I am going to relish this gift and find time to be present and do things that nourish my soul and bring me joy. I am going to paint, photograph, read, spend time in nature, meditate more, journal and have more space between activities. What this gift reminds me is that I need make sure that I find time in my daily life to do these things that recharge my batteries and not wait until I receive the gift of "found time."
I also need to reframe how I look at time – it isn’t an enemy and there is no such thing as “found time.” There is only the present moment and I must live in the present moment. Every day I am alive is found time and I must make the most of each day and each moment. I am very pleased that Deepak Chopra and Oprah started a 21-Day Meditation Challenge today on Making Every Moment Matter. It is exactly what I need to help me learn a way to reframe how I look at time. The centering thought for today is the quote I shared above, “The best time of my life is now.” It is a reminder to live in the present moment, not to dwell in the past or worry about the future. I must appreciate every moment and know that it is the best time in my life. I highly recommend the 21-Day challenges, as they are free to listen to during the three weeks of the event. I always learn something from the wisdom of the lessons and they also provide a short meditation to help me come back to the present moment. You can sign up at https://chopracentermeditation.com/
May you discover true happiness in the present moment.
How do you view time?
Do you find happiness in each moment?
“When we think we’re multitasking we’re actually multiswitching. That is what the brain is very good at doing – quickly diverting its attention from one place to the next. We think we’re being productive. We are, indeed, being busy. But in reality we’re simply giving ourselves extra work.” ~ Michael Harris
In our accomplishment-oriented society, we have emphasized the ability to multitask as a crucial skill necessary for the work environment. However, research in recent years has shown that our brains truly cannot multitask and when we attempt to multitask we add more stress to our lives. Our brains are not capable of doing more than one thing at a time. So, when you think you are multitasking between working on a project and responding to an email, your brain is just switching back and forth between each activity and your attention is fragmented. This frequent switching overloads our brain.
Many people have thought that it is vital for our brains to multitask because it is giving them a good workout, however, the exact opposite is true. When you multitask, you are exhausting the brain and draining the brain of its cognitive resources. I know that when I was multitasking furiously at work, I felt like I was developing Alzheimer’s disease because I was unable to remember so many little things and the research is proving this to be true. Those people who are habitual multitaskers increase the stress hormone cortisol in their brain and that can damage the memory region of the brain. Prolonged stress and multitasking is harmful to your body and brain.
The biggest detriment in our ability to singletask is technology. I love technology and all of the things it can do for us, but I am also cognizant of the distractions it causes in life. Our younger generation has grown up with technology and finds multitasking normal, fun and exciting. But, as more and more of us have become dependent on our technologies, we too suffer from the constant distractions. Many people are constantly connected to their “smart devices” and when they see an email, Facebook, Instagram, or text notification, they switch from whatever they were doing to deal with the newest piece of information. Thus, they lose the acuity on the task they were doing to check out the latest, tweet, text or email. And for the most part, many people are unconscious and don't realize they are controlled by the technology and the constant demand to switch tasks.
Multitasking does not help our productivity. If you want to be the most productive on a complex task, you should singletask and place all of your energy and brainpower on the one task.
What can you do the change the multitasking habit? Mindfulness and doing one thing at a time is the key. I schedule a block of uninterrupted time each day to focus on big projects that require the most brainpower. I have turned off notifications on my computer, tablet, phone and watch and set times each day to attend to email and social media. Many advise checking email and dealing with it two –three times a day instead of letting it interrupt your flow all day. I usually work on email at the beginning of the day, after lunch and before dinner. The only notification I receive during the day is the reminder to breathe. When it goes off, I stop what I am doing and practice focused breathing for a minute or two and that brings me back to the present moment. When I am with other people, I turn off my phone and am fully present with the people I am engaging with and concentrate on the conversation. Finally, I give my brain practice in doing one thing at a time with a daily meditation practice, which calms my body, fights the stress caused by multitasking and improves the cognitive functioning of my brain.
Do you multitask? What impact does it have on your life?
What can you do to include more singletasking activities in your day?
The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress
Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford study shows
Neuroscientists say multitasking literally drains the energy reserves of your brain
Email Duration, Batching and Self-Interuption: Patterns of Email Use on Productivity and Stress
The Myth of Multitasking
A critical role for the right fronto-insular cortex in switching between central-executive and default-mode networks
“Anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment.” ~Tori Rodriguez
Everyone has different ways of expressing emotions. In my family, I learned that you stuffed your emotions – it was all about appearances and we wanted to look happy. When my father was angry, he stuffed his emotions and gave us the silent treatment. I learned this was the way to deal with emotions. However, after developing a mindfulness and meditation practice, I learned that this was not an effective or healthy way to deal with emotions. I now know how important it is to express emotions in a conscious manner.
Stuffing your emotions is like holding a ball under water; you can keep it under water for a while, but at some point it’s going to pop up. That’s what happens with your emotions. You might be able to hold your tongue when you are angry and suppress the emotion, but it will come out and you might lash out at someone (it may or may not be the person you were angry at intially). Or if you never express the emotion, it may manifest in your body and lead to dis-ease that turns to disease. Research has shown that stuffing our emotions can lead to heart disease and cancer.
I have been at mindfulness presentations and asked to think of a time when I was upset or afraid and to notice where the tension appeared in my body. Initially I wasn’t good at that exercise – I couldn’t feel the emotion in my body. But, then I began to practice listening to my body when the emotions of anger or fear arose. When I start to get upset, I pause and listen to my body. For me, I feel the tension in my chest, it is a constrictive feeling like a weight being placed on my chest and I also find that my shoulders and jaw become tense. When this happens, I take a few long slow deep breaths and practice releasing the tension in body. Once I regain composure, I consciously deal with the fear or anger. If it is fear, I ask myself if I am truly in danger and deal with the situation. If I am not in imminent danger, I examine my perceptions and determine what is really going on – why is my ego afraid. If I am angry, I evaluate why I am upset and how to get my needs met in a constructive manner. Everyone expresses emotions in the body differently – you need to determine how and where you hold emotions in your body.
Am I successful at doing this all of the time? – NO! But awareness has helped me see that expressing emotions is far healthier than stuffing them. My daily meditation practice allows me to come from a calmer state of mind and I don’t react inappropriately as often as I once did. I practice living in the present moment and continually work on listening to my body. Staying in my body leads to a healthier life and allows for more contentment.
Do you feel emotions when they arise in your body?
What part of your body do you feel emotions and what do they feel like?
How can you release any negative emotions in your body?
“Fears are nothing more than a state of mind.” ~Napoleon Hill
I know that most fears are unfounded, they are all in our mind, but we all seem to have something we fear. I have always had a fear of camping by myself in a tent. I have lived alone, have no problem staying in a hotel alone, have slept in a tent alone on group camping trips and I love my silent alone time. But the thought of camping by myself in a tent frightened me. My husband worked for a lock manufacturer and shared that locks only keep your friends out - if someone wants in, they can get in. I know this to be true since my house was burglarized. But, for some reason I feel safe if there's a lock on the door and the material of my living quarters is made of more than thin fabric.
Recently, I was to go on a camping trip with friends and they would be in their motor home and I would be in my tent which was perfectly fine with me because someone I knew was nearby. I was following behind my friends in their motor home when they had a blowout of the front passenger side tire and they went off the side of the road. Fortunately, my friend had taken the motor home safety-driving course and was able to keep the motor home upright and everyone, including the dogs, was safe. The motor home on the other hand did not fare as well. I was grateful they were alive. They had their jeep to drive home in after the motor home was towed to Tucson. I had prepped for this camping adventure by purchasing a tent I could set up by myself, a new smaller pop-up shade, and a bunch of other camping accessories. So I decided to continue on my own to the camping site and face my fear of camping by myself. I probably should not have been listening to a murder mystery book about a camping safari trip where all of the guests ended up getting murdered - the irony was not lost on me.
I arrived at the beautiful camping spot on the lake and noticed the storm clouds, so I got busy putting up the tent. I got the tent set up and staked down just as the rain started. I immediately started working on the rain fly and got it on before the downpour. I waited out the storm by sitting in the car and decided to drive into town and get an umbrella - the weather forecast had not mentioned rain. The storm passed and I got everything else set up.
So now I had to face my fear of sleeping in the tent with no one I knew near me. I followed all of the things I've been learning with my mindfulness and meditation practice. If I heard a sound and began to worry, I stopped myself, took a deep breath and asked myself if anything bad was happening in this moment? The answer was always no. I told myself, if something bad happens I will deal with it then - I am prepared. I was in a safe State park, had the recommended wasp spray that shoots 10-12 feet to ward off attackers and I could sleep in my car if I really get scared. I knew that worrying does me no good - so I practiced living in the present moment. I enjoyed the beauty of the full moon reflecting off the lake, the sounds of the heron's wings as he took to flight and the smells of the forest. I love being in nature and I released my fears to the wind and fell peacefully to sleep. Worries and fears are all in my mind and I get to choose what thoughts I believe. I have faced my fear and know that I can camp alone in a safe campground.
What fears do you need to release?
“Anyone with the camera can take a picture. Not everyone with the camera is a photographer.
Technical information can be learnt in schools. Great photographs can be seen in libraries and museums. But where is photography to be found?
In the heart.”
~ Robert Leverant
In recent months, I have been focusing my creative efforts on photography using both my iPhone and my DSLR camera. Photography is another way for me to live in the present moment. When I am living in the present moment, I am grateful for all that exists and I see more details and the things I would normally miss because of rushing from one thing to the next. I am aware of bugs, flowers, insects, and so much more. I see and appreciate the colors in the foreground and sky. The shapes and textures of everything in life mesmerize me and I get excited about life. My body, mind and spirit are integrated and I capture images that come from my heart and soul.
Facebook, Instagram and a plethora of other social media sites have allowed everyone with a smartphone to take snapshots and post them for the world to see. I enjoy seeing many of these photos, but the ones that I am drawn to most are the ones where the person has gone beyond pushing the shutter button to plan the composition, effectively capture a mood and tell a story. I agree with Leverant that anyone can take a picture but not everyone with a camera is a photographer. He wrote this quote before smartphones with cameras even existed, but he understood that photography comes from the heart. We must all be present and conscious when photographing our world.
Do you take photographs?
Do your photographs come from the heart?
Do you think about the story and emotion you want to convey?
“We must forgive those we feel have wronged us, not because they deserve to be forgiven but because we love ourselves so much we don't want to keep paying for the injustice...when someone can touch a wound and it no longer hurts you then you know you have truly forgiven.” ~ don Miguel Ruiz
In the book The Four Agreements, don Miguel Ruiz talks about the importance of forgiveness. For many of us, forgiveness is difficult. I know I had a tough time in my life forgiving my father for sexually abusing me. But, over time, I have learned that forgiveness is not about the other person, it is about releasing the pain and anger I was holding on to in my life. Forgiveness is not saying that what happened was okay, it is about acknowledging that it happened, understanding that I cannot change the past, and deciding to live in the present moment where I am no longer being abused. The best lesson that I learned was that by not forgiving my father, I was suffering over and over. My suffering didn’t have a negative impact on him; it had a negative impact on me. The pain was real, but suffering was my choice. And when I realized, I had a choice, I decided to stop suffering.
When I decided to stop suffering, I faced the emotional wounds head on. I worked with a counselor, journaled, meditated and attended the Healing the Heart program at the Chopra Center for Well-Being. It was hard work and emotionally draining, but it changed my life. I explored the emotional wounds, and released the poison I was holding onto in my body to heal the pain.
I agree with don Miguel Ruiz when he tells us to forgive because we love ourselves so much that we no longer want suffer from the injustice. I know that forgiveness is the only way to heal and experience freedom. I understand that I have forgiven my dad because when I hear his name or think about him, I no longer have an emotional reaction. I am free!
Is there someone you need to forgive in your life?
What steps can you take to acknowledge what happened; understand you can’t change the past and forgive?
“Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.” ~don Miguel Ruiz
The fourth agreement in don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements is to Always Do Your Best. It implies taking action with the first three agreements discussed in earlier blog posts. One of the key lessons in this agreement is that your best will change from hour to hour and day to day. When you are tired or ill your best will not be the same as when you are healthy and energetic. Whatever is going on in your life, you must always do your best, no more and no less. Don Miguel tells us that “when you overdo, you deplete your body and go against yourself, and it will take you longer to accomplish your goal. If you do less than your best, you subject yourself to frustrations, self-judgment, guilt, and regrets.”
In following this agreement, I had to learn to concentrate on the “no more” part of the concept. I grew up believing that to be successful I had to give 110 percent – doing my best meant going above and beyond. I have learned that I just need to do my best and I don’t have to be “superwoman” and go beyond. Going above and beyond did not lead to balance in my life - I was exhausted because I ran from task to task; I was afraid that I was not doing enough. I was tired because I was expending more energy than was necessary. I have high expectations for myself, but I have learned that I just need to do my best at each moment in time. Now I give my best, no more and no less. I’ve slowed down, and I take the time to savor my work and my relationships.
Another key concept in this agreement is that you do your best because you love what you are doing and not expecting anything in return. Some people only take action because they are expecting a reward. You should take action and do your best for the sake of doing the task without expecting a reward. I have found that the best rewards come when I am not attached to expecting a reward. Life is so much more enjoyable! As I continue to follow all four agreements, my best continues to get better.
How does doing your best change throughout your day and week?
How can you do your best – no more and no less?
“Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.” ~don Miguel Ruiz
The third agreement from don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements is Don’t Make Assumptions. One of the things I learned is that I had a tendency to make assumptions about everything. Much of the drama in my life was rooted from these assumptions because I believed them to be true and then I took them personally. I made assumptions about the actions of others and what they were thinking about me and I didn’t even know if they were accurate. I then blamed them and created drama in my mind.
An example of making an assumption might be that you are out at the store and you see a friend and she ignores you. You then make the assumption that she is mad at you. You concoct a story about why she is mad you and then your ego gets involved and you begin to defend yourself about how ridiculous it is that she is mad over that situation. Then your anger begins to build and you are now mad at her. If you would have asked why she ignored you, it might have been as simple as she didn’t see you or she just received bad news and her mind was focused on other things. But, most people don’t take the time to ask questions and just let the situation fester in their head. Making assumptions happens in the mind and it causes you to create all sorts of “what if” scenarios that get out control and create angst.
Why do you make assumptions? You make assumptions because of fear – you are afraid that something is wrong, that people don’t like you, that others are mad at you, or any other number of reasons. You are afraid to ask for clarification. But, it is always better to ask questions than to make an assumption, because assumptions lead to pain, suffering and worrying.
Most people make assumptions many times during the day and most of them are made unconsciously. You might feel that it is not safe to ask questions; you believe that if you friends or partner really knew you, then they should know what you want or how you feel. The problem with that thinking is that everyone does not see the world like you do. Others have had different life experiences and they view the world in their own way.
The best way to stop making assumptions is to ask questions. You must be authentic and find the courage to express yourself. You need to have clear and open communication with others. If you don’t understand, then find your voice and ask questions until you do understand the situation.
Do you make assumptions about what others are thinking and doing?
What can you do to get clarification when you don’t understand?
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” ~ don Miguel Ruiz
The second agreement from don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements is Don’t Take Anything Personally. For many of us with thin skin, we take everything personally. When someone disparages us or says something mean, we take it to heart and believe it to be true. This happens because what the person has said triggers our old wounds. One of my old wounds is that I am not good enough. So, when a boss or colleague criticized my work, I was crushed and saw it as more proof that I really was not good enough.
Over the years, I have worked on not taking things personally. This is easier said than done, but the more I practice, the better I have become. A few weeks ago in the blog, I talked about human domestication. Ruiz tells us that during domestication you learned to take everything personally because you think you are responsible for everything. But you are not responsible for everything. The most important lesson, that has taken me a long time to learn, is that what someone says about me has nothing to do with me – it is about them. As soon as you understand that what people say about you has nothing to do with you, you will no longer take things personally. Each person is making judgments based on their life experiences, which are different than your experiences. Their point of view comes from all of the programming they received during their life. So what they say is more about them than it is about you – they have not lived your life and therefore cannot know your situation.
You take things personally because you are looking to others for validation that you are good, lovable and worthy. You must learn to look on the inside to know that you are good, lovable and worthy. You have a choice to let your self-worth come from the outside or the inside. Who will you give your power to – yourself or others?
When you follow the agreement to not take things personally, you will become immune to all of the negative energy and suffering that happens when you believe what others say about you. Whatever people say about you, remember not to take it personally. It is never about you!
Do you take what others say about you personally? If your answer is yes, what can you do to not take what others say personally?
When you get offended by what someone says, it is because they have triggered your old wounds. What are the wounds and limiting beliefs you still have that need to be addressed?
“Gossip is black magic at its very worst because it is pure poison… At first it may be difficult to avoid gossip entirely, but eventually you will see how breaking the agreement to gossip will transform your life.” don Miquel Ruiz
Last week we talked about the first agreement to be impeccable with your word from don Miguel Ruiz’s book the Four Agreements. Today, we will expand on that agreement with the focus on gossip.
We discussed that being impeccable with your word is one of the most difficult agreements to keep because your word includes your thoughts, written and oral communication. The other aspect that makes it difficult to keep is to not gossip. According to Ruiz, we learned how to gossip when we were children; we heard the adults in our lives gossiping and giving their opinions about other people. We saw gossip as the normal way to communicate. Everyone was doing it.
If you look at our culture, you see tabloid magazines full of gossip, reality television capitalizes on people talking bad about one another and creating drama, and social media sites are full of people venting about individuals they may or may not know. Gossiping has become our main form of communication. We use gossip as a way to feel close to one another and to feel better about ourselves. Some of the appeal of gossip is that there is a thrill when we feel that we are in on “the secret” about another person. Our ego likes to be “in the know” and feel superior to others. Our ego even loves negative gossip because we feel better about ourselves when we see other people suffer and make the same mistakes that we have – misery loves company.
When we gossip, we are not being impeccable with our word. Gossip is poison and we must stop the spread of it. This is a difficult agreement to break. Awareness is the key. Once I decided to be impeccable with my word, I noticed how many group interactions deal with gossip. I noticed which friends and groups spent more time gossiping. Start to pay attention to when and where you partake in gossip. Notice how it makes you feel when you gossip about others or yourself. Do you feel guilty or sad?
Since gossip is so prevalent in our society, what can you do?
I still struggle with gossip, but continue to pay attention in my conversations. I practice it one day at a time. When I make a mistake and engage with others in gossip, I stop. I don’t beat myself up. I again make the pledge to not gossip. And with each pledge it gets easier and I go for longer stretches of time without gossiping. It is difficult, but I feel so much better about myself when I am impeccable with my word and don't gossip.
How does gossip make you feel?
What can you do to stop the spread of gossip?
“Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” ~ don Miguel Ruiz
In the continuing blog series focusing on the book the Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz, today we will talk about the first agreement: Be Impeccable with your Word. According to Ruiz, the first agreement is the most important agreement but it is the most difficult one to keep. You might be thinking to yourself that it sounds simple and not understand why it is the most difficult agreement to honor. The answer lies within the fact that you manifest everything in life through your word. Thoughts become things.
It is imperative to recognize that the word is not just what you speak aloud, but it is also the thoughts you have about yourself and others. It includes the written word and all of the things you communicate in texts, emails and other written communication. The word is a force, it has energy and can be used for good or evil. Your kind words can heal and bring beauty and love and your harsh words can cause pain and suffering. Depending on how you use words, you can set yourself and others free or enslave them.
Don Miguel Ruiz tells us that impeccability means “without sin.” He is not talking about the “sin” that most organized religions discuss. He shares that everything you feel, think or say against yourself is a sin. When you judge yourself or blame yourself for things, you are not being impeccable with your word So, to follow this agreement, you will not judge or blame yourself. You will be mindful of all you say and do and take responsibility for your actions. You can measure the impeccability of your word by your level of self-love. When you are impeccable with your word, you feel good, happy and at peace.
To practice this agreement, pay attention to your thoughts, oral and written communication. Look at how you speak to yourself and others. What thoughts run through your head when you look at yourself in a mirror or see others in the world? Slow down and pay attention to what you are going to say before you speak. One of the key practices I try to follow is asking the following questions by Socrates before I speak:
In many cases, the first two statements are true, but the last is not. It is usually my ego that wants to speak and share a story. By asking these questions, I don’t talk as much and am more likely to be impeccable with my word.
Are you impeccable with your word including your thoughts, oral and written communication?
How can you incorporate the first agreement to be impeccable with your word into your daily life?
“We need a great deal of courage to challenge our own beliefs. Because even if we know we didn’t choose all these beliefs, it is also true that we agreed to all of them.”
~ don Miguel Ruiz
I recently taught a four-week meditation class based on the book The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. Over the next weeks, I am going to share some of the key points, from the book, in this blog. If you haven't read this book or haven't read it in a while, I highly recommend reading it and adopting the agreements. Ruiz is a master in the Toltec tradition and he shares powerful teachings from the Toltec Wisdom.
One of the first concepts that impacted me was the belief that humans are domesticated just like dogs and cats. As children, we did not have a choice in what to believe. We learned the rules we had to follow based on our culture, society, parents, teachers and adults in our life. We were punished if we did not follow the rules and we were rewarded when we followed them. I learned to please others so that I would be praised and accepted and did not break the rules for fear of being disciplined or judged unworthy. I became so well-domesticated that I no longer needed the adults in my life to punish me. I did a great job of beating myself up and chastising myself for any misdeed I committed. Ruiz calls these beliefs the ‘Book of Law’ and we each have our own set of rules that differs from everyone else. I judge myself and others based on my Book of Law, which causes serious problems because everyone is playing from a different set of rules.
One idea that affected me the most was the fact that I didn’t have a choice about the rules when I was a child. But, now as an adult, I can take time to examine the rules and see what I accept and what no longer serves me. I want to live a life of joy and fulfillment, therefore, I have found the courage to break the agreements that are fear-based and claim my personal power. I will be authentic and no longer say or do things from the perspective of pleasing others. I know from within that I am lovable, worthy and good enough and I no longer will seek approval from others. This isn’t easy and is a work in progress, but awareness is crucial for the transformation.
The Four Agreements will be discussed in future blogs. The agreements are:
During our domestication process, we learned the rules to be a “good girl” or a “good boy.” What were the rules in your house for being “good?” What did your caregivers consider "bad?"
What agreements do you need to break that are fear-based and claim your personal power?
“Don't be shy about asking for help. It doesn't mean you're weak, it only means you're wise.” ~anonymous
Somewhere early on in life, I learned that it was a sign of weakness to ask for help. I am not sure where I learned that silly rule or why I followed it for so long, but I believed the social norm to never ask for help and tried to do it all by myself. I did everything I possibly could and then went above and beyond because I believed I had to give 110% to be successful. I didn’t dare delegate anything as I thought that would be a sign of weakness due to the fact that I was asking others to do something I couldn’t do, plus I was a control freak. When my back was hurting or my arthritic knees were bothering me, I still moved the furniture, crawled on the floor to get to the computer cables and carried the boxes. I cared more about what others thought of me than I cared about my physical and emotional well-being.
Luckily, as I got wiser, I learned that asking for help was beneficial to everyone. By asking for help, I was involving others in the tasks and the outcomes were usually superior because more minds were involved in finding the best solution for the job. I wasn’t as tired because I wasn’t doing it all myself, so I had more to offer others. I was taking care of my body and listening to what it was capable of doing and not injuring myself.
It took a lot of courage to initially start asking others for help. Now, I see that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. I help others, others help me, and I express my deep gratitude for all the help I receive! It is so important to lend a helping hand to those in need and to feel comfortable to ask for help when you are in need!
How do you view asking for help? Is it easier to offer assistance then to ask for help?
Do you ask for help? Why or Why Not?
“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” ~ Louise Hay
Does the critic inside your head tell yourself things like “I’m a moron,” “I’m stupid,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m unlovable,” or a host of other negative thoughts? If it does, you are not alone, as we all seem to have an internal judge who is critical of us and our actions.
I am really working on not judging myself, letting go of the inner critic and practicing self-acceptance, but it is on-going practice. For the last several weeks I have been learning a new skill. When we do something new, we will make mistakes and we must be gentle with ourselves. I was learning about astrophotography and creating star trails. To create a star trail image, you take hundreds of pictures on a tripod of the same part of the sky over several hours and combine them all into one photograph as each photograph captures the movement of the stars. Each night I would try different ISO settings, shutter speeds, white balance settings and a variety of other settings so that I could be most successful during the photo shoot at Oracle State Park under a new moon.
One early morning, I went out to retrieve the camera from the backyard and was expecting to see that the camera had taken 400 pictures only to discover that it had just taken a few images – I had forgotten to change the battery. My inner critic said, “You are such a moron!” I immediately was aware of the inner critic and said to myself, “you just got out of bed and are not totally awake. You made a mistake, it isn’t critical in the big scheme of life. What can you learn from this mistake?” In a matter of seconds, I stopped the inner critic and reframed the situation. The mistake was actually a blessing. With the mistake, I learned that I need to make sure that my batteries are fully charged, but it also got me thinking about how old the rechargeable lithium camera batteries were and I ordered a new one. When the new one arrived, I learned that instead of the battery running out after 400 images, that it could take 650 images on a battery charge and therefore get more images for my star trail. The mistake I made helped me to capture an even better star trail photograph during the actual photo shoot. The star trail image from the new moon is the picture above and the parts that look like clouds are actually the Milky Way. I am so grateful that I learned from my mistake!
It is important to silence the critic in ourselves. We can do this by practicing love and compassion towards ourselves. If you find yourself being critical, stop and appreciate yourself for all you do and all that you are, and send yourself love. If you made a mistake, ask what you can learn from the mistake and how you can rectify what has been done. Be gentle with yourself, try treating yourself with compassion as you would treat a young child who made a mistake. If beating yourself up hasn’t worked over the years, try self-love and approval.
How do you deal with the inner critic?
How can you send yourself more love and approval when your inner critic arises?
“Enlightenment comes when we realize happiness is a choice, sadness is a choice, anger is a choice, love is a choice. Every state, emotion, and mood available to Man can be generated at will in our mind.” ~ Brendon Burchard
Challenges happen to everyone in life. If you truly look around, everyone has challenges in life – no one is immune. We want to be happy and we have these thoughts about what will make us happy and these thoughts tend to be in the future. We believe we will be happy when we make X amount of money, when we marry Mr. or Mrs. Right, when we have children, when we retire, or any other number of other ‘when this happens’ scenarios. But the truth is there is only now and the only time to be happy is now and you are the only person who can make yourself happy – because happiness comes from within and it is a choice.
Brendon Burchard points outs that we have a choice how to react to all situations: we can choose happiness, anger, sadness or love. The biggest gift I have learned in life is that things don’t happen to me – it is simpler than that – things happen. I get to choose my response and I choose to learn from life’s challenges and be happy for the opportunity to learn. Being angry and upset only breeds more negative energy and it makes the situation worse and causes suffering. The sooner I let go and move on, the better off I am physically, mentally and spiritually. I choose to let go of blaming others and live from a place of peace and happiness. Each time I let go, I get a little lighter on the road to enlightenment.
Are you happy?
What can you do to bring more happiness into your life?
“These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nature is our greatest teacher. The above quote by Emerson reminds us about mindfulness and living in the present moment. The rose can teach us how to live. The bud doesn’t worry about the future and what is life is going to be like when it blooms. The bloom doesn’t fret about the future and what will happen when it dies. And the leaf-less plant doesn’t regret the mistakes made during its lifetime.
We should live our life more like the rose. Enjoy today, and this moment, for it is all we have. If we are a bud, embrace the stage and all it has to offer. The rose doesn’t compare itself to other roses. It doesn’t say, "when I bloom, then life will be better" or worry about the mistakes it made as a bud. If we are in full bloom, then enjoy today with your family and friends. Don’t worry about wrinkles, looking younger or what might happen in the future. The rose doesn’t complain about the rain, the sun or the wind, it accepts the present moment. Make the most of the sun in your life and enjoy the rain and all life has to offer. Accept whatever happens in your life and move with the winds of life as the rose moves with the wind. The rose doesn’t resist the wind and do everything in its power to stand tall, it dances with the wind. You will have many things happen in your life – you get to choose to go with the flow or resist. Life is a gift, make each day precious!
Emerson shares that the rose was living in the present moment, it has no past or no future. Man postpones or laments the past and misses the richness of his life.
What is your interpretation of Emerson's quote?
How do you relate personally to the quote?
“Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.” ~Dr. Seuss
After my last blog post, I shared how excited I am about having a clearly defined purpose because it helps me decide where to go. Dr. Seuss is correct that I get to choose the direction and my purpose helps me set the course. If you don’t have a clearly defined purpose, I highly recommend you read the book The Power of Purpose by Richard Leider or go to his Life Reimagined site and click on the option to Create Your Purpose Statement. The site is free.
The first thing you will do on the Life Reimagined site is select from a list of things you are good at like creating things, instructing people, empowering others or researching things. Next, you decide on the passions that inspire you like the outdoors, the arts, education, making things or your well-being. Then you determine the values that you feel most strongly about like compassion, relationships, health, curiosity or spirituality. Finally, you decide on the things you want to focus on in life including wanting to be healthy, have more peace in your life, being challenged, fulfilled or a multitude of other things. The lists of choices in the program are quite extensive. After you make your initial selections, you narrow down to your top three in each category and you end up with a purpose statement. The purpose statement the program created for me, based on my answers, was “I want to use my gifts for Creating Things, Awakening Spirit and Writing Things and passions for Outdoors, Education and The Arts to create an impact on Personal Growth, My Friends and My Spiritual Group because I value Spirituality, Relationships and Health. This will help me to Be present, Be creative and Be purpose-driven.”
That purpose statement really does sum up my beliefs and intentions, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue for me, nor was it easy for me to remember. But, I used the ideas and concepts from the book and website to create an easy to remember purpose statement that drives me. To sum everything up in a few words, I determined that my purpose is for personal growth to positively impact others. I can use that purpose statement to make decisions. I can ask myself if an activity or event will help me with my intention for personal growth or will make a positive impact on others. I am a person who uses name mnemonics to remember things. For example, as a kid in science class, I used ROY G BIV to remember the colors in the rainbow. So, I decided to create a mnemonic for the words I chose from the Life Reimagined website as part of my purpose. I know that exploration and learning new things is part of my personal growth. So my mneomic for personal growth is NEW PLACES and the letters stand for:
The second part of my purpose statement is about positively impacting others. One of the things that I feel I do best in life is teach, and so I used the mneumonic TEACHER for the ways I want to impact others. The letters stand for:
So, my purpose is easy to remember: Personal growth (NEW PLACES) to positively impact others (TEACHER). The reason for sharing this with you is not because my purpose is something to emulate, because it is not. The reason for this blog is to inspire you to read great books and utilize tools on finding your purpose in a way that works for you. The important thing is to clearly delineate your purpose statement. You have unique gifts and you must determine how you will share them with others. In Richard Leider’s book The Power of Purpose, he shares research by Dr. Majid Fotuhi that shows people with a strong purpose in life protect their brain against cognitive aging and are more likely to stay sharp in their seventies and eighties. Take the time and effort to create a purpose statement so you can have a meaningful life, share your gifts and make an impact on your world. I can't wait to hear about the Places You'll Go with a clearly defined purpose!
Today is your day, how do you choose where to go and what to do?
If you have a purpose, what is it? If you don't have a purpose, what will you do to create one?
Peggy Steffens is an artist and Chopra Certified Meditation Instructor
My goal is to build a community with like-minded individuals who want to grow, share and learn from one another. Please post comments to enrich the experience for all.