Did anyone bring the marshmallows?

glowing campfireI tend to be an optimist, but sometimes I have a hard time seeing the silver lining right away.  Thursday morning started as any other day. I got up and showered, fed the dogs, made my breakfast, packed my lunch for work, then went into the laundry room to check the dogs’ water bowl.  I know many people walk through their mornings in a haze, but I literally walked into the haze during my morning. The room was filling with smoke.  In less that a minute the smoke detectors started blaring and smoke started filling the house.

Skipping to the end of the story – everyone is fine and the house is intact.  But a lot happened between the smoke and now.

Our boiler malfunctioned (another long story) and was burning a hole through the floor beneath it.  If this had happened after we had left for work we wold likely have lost everything.  I made it to work, although smelled like smoke) and Scott stayed home, assessed the damage, and went to work on the repairs.

At work I alternated between anxiety and gratitude that this happened while I was at home.  Fast forward to Friday – no hot water and the house smells like a campfire.  I decided I had a picture of marshmallows toasting to make s'moreschoice.  I could either focus on how inconvenient it was to not be able to take a hot shower and how smokey my house smelled or I could close my eyes and imagine cooking marshmallows for s’mores over the campfire.  I chose the latter.

kitchen sink with running waterSaturday – still no hot water.  My natural optimism was returning and by Saturday afternoon I could finally wash dishes again.  Wash dishes? I have never looked forward to washing dishes in my entire life.  Perhaps that is optimism taken too far.

Looking at everything that happened from this vantage point revealed a few lessons.

  1. I really am an optimist.  However, just because I am an optimist doesn’t mean I don’t feel unhappy or frustrated sometimes. Being an optimist just means that it is my default viewpoint.  Both tapping and conscious choice restored my balance.
  2. Looking for the blessings in your life is important. Unless you look for them you might miss out.  It would have been easy for me to focus on the inconveniences of the day but I know it would not have been a good thing for me or anyone else.
  3. I can tolerate more than I sometimes think I can.  I don’t usually like surprises or anything that disrupts my daily routine.  This event was a disruption but I actually bounced back rather quickly.

I hope I don’t have a fire again.  I hope you don’t either.  But if we do, think about marshmallows.

Confront Your Naked Identity

Large rope implying presence of a docked shipDoes that statement scare you a little bit? It did me. I noticed that statement in Jump Ship, a book by Josh Shipp.  I’ve mentioned this book in a few different posts.  What the author was speaking about was getting real with yourself about who you are. He considers this an essential task for becoming successful in life. The question one must ask is “who am I?” The answer needs to be honest.

The question isn’t very difficult, but the naked answer sure is. When you first consider the question you may have some ready-made answers like “I’m a mom”, “I’m short”, “I’m Caucasian”, or “I’m a doctor.” I would argue that these are just the roles you play. Other people come up with answers that include what other people have said about them like “strong-willed”, “efficient”,  “lazy”, or “beautiful.” That may not be who you really are either.

To help with confronting your naked identity Shipp offers these questions:

  1. What makes you unique?
  2. What do you love?
  3. What are you good at?
  4. What do you believe?

I’d like to offer a few more:

  1. What do you dislike?
  2. What are you most afraid of?
  3. What makes you cry?
  4. What makes you laugh?
  5. What are you afraid to let other people know about you?
  6. What brings you the most pleasure?

You might be wondering why this is so important. Consider this. Suppose that I want to make chocolate cupcakes. I have my ingredients all lined up to make them. Unfortunately the canister labeled sugar actually contains salt. What will happen to the cupcakes? You can be sure that I’ll be unhappy with the end product. In life the same thing can happen. If we do not see ourselves with accuracy – confronting that naked identity – it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get the end result we desire.  We must know what “ingredients” we bring to the table.

So, if you dare, confront your naked identity and get “cooking”!

What Are Limiting Beliefs?

Limiting beliefs are those thoughts, sometimes conscious, sometimes not, that keep us from doing the things we need to do to reach our goals.  For example, when I was growing up I wanted to be an astronaut.  That was at the beginning of the manned space program and whenever I would mention that I wanted to be an astronaut I would hear someone say – girls can’t be astronauts.  That is a limiting belief.  It kept me from trying to become an astronaut.

Not all limiting beliefs come directly from an outside source.  There was a time when I also wanted to become a doctor.  I knew that I had to take physics and calculus in order to go to medical school.  I didn’t believe that I could do well in those subjects in spite of the fact I was a straight A student.  There was no logical reason to assume I couldn’t pass those classes but my belief that I couldn’t kept me from actually trying.

History is full of limiting beliefs.  The world is flat. That belief kept people close to home so that they didn’t fall off the edge. A limiting belief is anything that keeps you stuck right where you are.

The good news — they are just beliefs, not facts.  We can challenge our limiting beliefs.  Tapping is a great way to do that.  Believing that I can’t pass physics is a belief. Deciding that I don’t want to put in the work that physics would require is a choice.  Being in a position of choice is “where it’s at” if you ask me.

Contentment Is A Verb

Contentment is a hot topic in many venues and disciplines. References to contentment can be found in virtually every religion, social group, culture, and philosophy. The word contentment can even be found in economics and psychology. Most of the references I have found seem to refer to contentment as a destination or objective.  While that may be an accurate usage of the word I believe that it lacks the depth and dynamic that is possible when used another way.  It would be more accurate, in my view, if contentment was a verb.  Verbs indicate action.  Contentment is really a process, not a destination.  In that way it defies our typical grammar structure.

Contentment doesn’t mean not wanting, not achieving, or not trying.  You can have contentment while trying to reach goals.  You probably must have contentment to really accomplish anything. My definition of contentment would read like this: the struggle of knowing that all that there ever could be is not enough and all that exists right now is abundant.

Here are some other definitions.

  • from WordNet 1.6 1997 Princeton University: happiness with one’s situation in life
  • from Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1996: contained within limit; hence having the desires limited by that which one has, not disposed to repine or grumble; satisfied

At the website www.pausetoponder.org they suggest that we are trained to be dissatisfied. Our economic structure thrives on discontent. Contentment in the Western mind is having enough so that you are happy, can sit back, relax, and have no care in the world.  This can never be achieved.  According to Paster Gerry (Pastor Gerry is Gerald Whetstone, Ordained Elder and teacher in the Church of the Nazarene), in A Pause to Ponder God’s Word there are several actions one can take to find contentment.  Note that I said ACTIONS.

  1. Always rejoice in the Lord
  2. Don’t be anxious, pray
  3. Think on Holy Godly things
  4. Practice Holy living
  5. Always remember that with Christ there is nothing that we cannot handle
  6. Be a vital active member of a community of believers

The Jewish concept of Shabbat is also related to contentment.  Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg defined Shabbat as resting in the eternity of this day when we do not try to change or control our reality.  We are not pushing anything away or longing for anything to be different. Shabbat is completion, acceptance, realization, and fulfillment – all of the qualities that we cultivate when we rest our attention in the present moment.

In my dynamic model you “contentment” (the verb) in each time of prayer, meditation, or practice of Tai Chi.  The more one practices the longer you are able to experience the expanding state of contentment.

Graciousness – A Lost Art?

Does anyone value graciousness anymore?  Can you define it?  Merriam-Webster offers several different definitions including Godly, kind, graceful, and merciful.  The ones that interested me most were marked by tact and delicacy and characterized by charm, good taste, generosity of spirit, and the tasteful leisure of wealth and good breeding.

Lifestyle Lounge offers some lessons on graciousness. They suggest that graciousness is about how you make the other people around you feel.  Here are some of their suggestions.

  1. Take a compliment with a smile
  2. Small acts of understanding lead to greater acts of graciousness
  3. Do not fake
  4. Be forward with your help. Don’t want for anyone to ask you for it.

Consider these 10 Characteristics of a Gracious Person from www.godhungry.org.

  1. A gracious person is slow to take credit and quick to lavish praise
  2. A gracious person never seeks to embarrass another
  3. A gracious person is always thanking others
  4. A gracious person doesn’t monopolize the conversation
  5. A gracious person doesn’t try to play “one up-manship”
  6. A gracious person pays attention to people
  7. A gracious person desires to say what is appropriate
  8. A gracious person looks out for the comfort of others
  9. A gracious person understands that she is not indispensable
  10. A gracious person constantly points out the good that he sees

The question that pops into my mind is “Where has this quality gone and how do we get it back?”  I actually know a few people I would describe as gracious. While it may come naturally to them now, I suspect they had role models who exemplified graciousness and that it was also specifically taught and rewarded. I see examples in our current culture which promote competing values that make graciousness more difficult.

What is the consequence associated with the absence of graciousness?  Francis Bacon said, “If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world.” Gracious individuals attract others to them.  The absence of graciousness would lead to separation and isolation.  Graciousness invites cooperation and compromise. The absence of graciousness leads to argument, division, and conflict.

I suspect that the lack of graciousness is cultivated by fear and anxiety. We, as a society, are so worried about making sure we get “our share” or that we “won’t have enough” that we cannot even see what is happening. What are you modeling for your children? Do your children see you thanking others, even for the small things?  Do they hear you thanking them?  How often do you embarrass your children?  When your children talk, do you give them your undivided attention or do you use it as a time to play on your phone or multitask?  Do you focus on your blessings and all the good things that are all around you or do you focus on problems?

I am really not advocating a society in which we ignore problems, fail to correct errors, or overlook deficits. I do believe that if we are engaging in activities with graciousness as a characteristic of who we are, it can have a positive effect.  Remember, graciousness is the use of tact and awareness of other people’s feelings. It suggests that their feelings are at least as important, if not more important, than our own.

I am concerned that graciousness is becoming a lost art. I’m as guilty as anyone else. I plan to work harder to re-introduce graciousness back into my life.  Are you?

X + Y = Z……..or does it?

That seems like a pretty straight forward algebraic equation. We can plug in two numbers and calculate the third one. Another interesting aspect of such an equation is that there are limitless possibilities for Z.  All you have to do is change either X or Y or both.

A while back I read a book called Jump Ship by Josh Shipp. He uses this equation to illustrate a method for moving toward achieving your dream job.  In his formula X is your present, Y is your past, and Z is your future.  I was quite intrigued.  I would like to rearrange these components based on time.  My formula would be Y + X = Z.  With the change in order we could read this as: take your past, add your present to it, and you get your future.  Why is this change of order important to me? Because you can’t change your past.  You are stuck with it.  BUT – it doesn’t dictate your future.  You still have X, your present, that you can use to either overcome or enhance whatever is in your Y.  Sure mathematically the order doesn’t matter, but in the context of understanding your life it might.

Many people go to therapy and assert that they CAN’T do certain things because of their past or because their past means that they ARE a certain way.  I’ve never believed that. Now I have a way to illustrate why.  Mathematically speaking, assume you have a past with a numerical value of 2.  I gave it a low number because you may have lived in poverty, had a mean stepmother, or grew up with prejudice.  Your desire is to have a future that is a 10.  Perhaps for you a 10 would include financial abundance, great relationships, and good health care.  We can plug it into the equation and solve for X.  In this case,  X=8.  That might mean a lot of work to make your present an 8, but at least you know what it would take and can make a decision about whether or not you are willing to work that hard.  Just because you started out at Z doesn’t mean you have to end up there.

Although scary, the reverse is also true. Perhaps you had a wonderful past and assign it the value 8.  Like most people, you want your future to be a 10, but are putting in -2 in your present. You are just floating along without achieving anything, using drugs, or hanging out with people who are “takers.”  Where are you heading for the future?  Not a 10; you are on track for a 6.

The main point is that your past does not decide your future.  It is your present that decides where you are going.  Not 5 minutes ago. Not 5 hours ago.  Not 5 years ago.  The decisions you make in THIS moment.  No……Wait…….This moment…..Each and every moment are the ones that determine your future.

Peace in – Peace out!

I know that many people have developed the habit of starting the morning with the news, whether print or digital. That habit can have some merit since you can prepare for the weather, have the latest news to discuss with colleagues, or enjoy a chuckle if you are reading the comics.  The downside is that you are also exposing yourself to all of the negativity that has accumulated in the world the night before.  Have you ever wondered how reading about murder, theft, hunger, poverty, corruption, and deceit might impact your day?

I have found that I often start my day at a full sprint.  I pop out of bed and fly through my morning performing tasks at superhero speed trying to get as many things done in as short a time as possible.  Again, this has both positive aspects as well as hazards.  When in sprint mode I can cross many things off of my to-do list and give the appearance to myself and others that I am amazingly efficient and effective.  But at what cost?  After this sprint to get things done I am usually too tired and too grumpy to enjoy the free time that I expected to have later.  Truthfully, when in that mode I suspect that I’m not all that pleasant to be around either.

At different times in my life I have made the effort to exercise first thing in the morning.  I got up very early and dedicated that time to riding my stationary bike.  Most of the time I also had some positive attitude or personal growth CD playing in the background.  The combination was fantastic.  I know other people use yoga, meditation, spiritual study, prayer, or running as a way to get their day started in the right direction.

Other times, and prior to the time change (now sunrise comes after my work day begins), I took my dogs on a short walk to get some fresh air and exercise and to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery.  They felt better.  I felt better.  That feeling persisted throughout my morning at work.  Once darkness and black ice interfered with our early morning walks I began using inspirational CDs during my commute to gently lead my mind where I wanted it to go. Most mornings you will find me listening to WayneGirl with headphones in the snow Dyer, Anthony Robbins, or the Dalai Lama.  I confess that during the Christmas holiday season (starting around Halloween for me) I listen to endless hours of Christmas music instead becauase I adore it.

I am trying to be more aware of my mindset at the beginning of my day and have noticed that when I do plan for a peaceful start that I have a more peaceful day.  I can tell a difference in the way I feel about the world, myself, and the people I meet when I have made a conscious choice to start my day in this manner.  It does take some planning and intention to manage my time in the morning so that this is possible.  It is all too easy for me to just hit the floor running.  But, much like the garbage in – garbage out metaphor in computing, peace in – peace out seems to be every bit as true.

Jumping to Conclusions

I hate to admit this, but I tend to jump to conclusions. That’s not much of a surprise. In fact, my Myers Briggs personality type is INTJ.  That J stand for Judging. Now in the Myers Briggs, judging does mean judgmental, but there are those tendencies.

This personality trait shows up frequently while driving. Recent a truck pulled out in front of me and I instantly thought, “wow, that is an odd color for a truck.” In a split second, and without much information, I made the assumption or jumped to the conclusion that the truck was a funky color.  Upon closer inspection I noticed that the truck was actually covered with dirt and other evidence of an off-road adventure.  Underneath all of that the truck appeared to be white – a very normal color.

So what – you might say.  By itself this even had very little meaning. As I continued to ponder this I wondered how often I make snap judgments without all of the information.  This also raised some other questions.

  • When I do make snap judgments, am I open to additional information?
  • How often are these judgments correct?
  • Am I really not very observant?
  • How do I take in more information?
  • Would I benefit from slowing down by judgments?

I am a work in progress and plan to consider these questions more as I go through each day.  Perhaps this is an issue that speaks to you too.  How many snap judgments do you make?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.