Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Let Go and Go On

Sorry that last post wasn't very uplifting. Let's try this one:

In going through quotes by Andy Rooney for the last post, I came across this gem:

When you harbor bitterness, happiness will dock elsewhere.

Wow. So true. For some people, bitterness is easier than happiness. To them, sadness and cynicism are the norm while happiness is a fleeting thing that comes and goes and can't be trusted to stick around for very long. When you're all filled up with one thing, you can't fit anything else in, even if it's better than what's already in there.

You know what odd image came into my head to illustrate this? A work refrigerator. Picture this: you come to work, you've made yourself a delicious lunch that you're looking forward to enjoying on your lunch break, you go to put it in the mini-fridge, but there's so much old, rotting, neglected food in there that you can't find a spot for your fresh, new, nutritious food. And you can't take anything out because it doesn't belong to you. You're stuck standing there, knowing what you want to do, knowing that what you want is better than what's already there, but there's nothing you can do about it.

Now look into your own heart. Is it filled with old, nasty, rotten, unhealthy things put there by someone else? If so, then like that old food, they do not belong to you. Luckily in this case, you own the fridge and you can take out or put in whatever you want. This makes you free at this very moment to clear it all out and start anew. Remove all of the old stuff that has "gone bad," give the inside a good scrubbing, and resolve to only fill yourself with clean, fresh, new attitudes and outlooks, about your life and everything that comes with it.

Easier said than done you say. Well, that's true. So try this quote on for size:

Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Original author unknown, but he or she was really on to something.

Not so odd anaolgy #2 - Remember the play/movie Amadeus? The composer Salieri spends his adult life hating Mozart and being angry at God for giving Mozart the talent instead of him. When Mozart dies, Salieri finally feels vindicated, like all of his anger and resentment have finally paid off and now he is going to be the famous and revered composer he has always dreamed of being. What actually happens? Mozart's music is loved around the world for centuries and (until the play was written) very few people knew that Salieri even existed.

So what did all of his years of anger and resentment do for him? Absolutely nothing, except give him a thoroughly miserable life. His perceived betrayal and unforgiveness left him empty and broken, and in his mind, with nothing to show for it. I wonder (metaphorically) what music he could have created had he not been obsessed with darkness and malice? Could his music have been as beautiful and magical as Mozart's? No one will ever know. But what we DO know is that when you look at your life through the lens of anger and cynicism, you are unable to reach your full potential. In everything. Gorgeous paintings go unpainted, amazing sports records aren't broken, engineering theories remain undiscovered..and the world is left with far less excellence and brilliance than it could have had.

One more, I believe this is a Buddhist saying:

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.

So true again. It's so easy to hang on to being angry and upset with someone, and so very difficult to forgive them and move on. I'm not sure why that is, but I think it's one of the most difficult intellectual things we try to do as human beings.

So in that same vein, yet another odd analogy. Remember the bad guy in Raiders of the Lost Ark who grabs the hot medallion and has the image seared onto his palm? That's anger. It's something that you believe you deserve and so you take it. Then, when you have it, it hurts like hell and leaves a horrible, blistering scar. In the movie, the bad guy at first is okay with what happened because he thinks that his scar will lead him to the right place. As it turns out, it doesn't. It ultimately sends him digging in the wrong place.

See, it works, doesn't it? Like him, we think we deserve to be angry at someone for what they have done to us. We also think that by holding onto the anger it's the right thing to do. That person wronged us, and by remaining angry we are saying to the world, "That wasn't right! They had no right to do that to me!" Well, that may be true...but do you know where that leaves us? Living in the wrong place.

I know letting go of bitterness, resentment and anger is hard. Especially if you have been hanging on to them for dear life for a long time. But if you don't let go of them, you're only hurting yourself. Isn't that what the mean people had in mind in the first place?

Don't let them win. Let go and go on.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tribute to Andy Rooney

Well, it's not really a tribute, but I did want to start this one by saying, "Have you ever noticed that...."

Have you ever noticed that it's very difficult to find people who are genuinely happy for you when something good happens? And even more difficult to find people who actually want you to succeed and be happy in the first place?

After living for more than two decades, and living for long periods of time in very different parts of the U.S., I have found that not only are most people happy when you fail, but a lot of them will deliberately put obstacles in your way to ensure that you will fail, or at least have a much harder time succeeding. These can take the form of discouraging put-down remarks, or spreading false rumors, and sabotaging work that you have put your heart and soul into. Other ways they can try to facilitate your demise is by gaining your trust and then using what you say against you, or by maliciously respresenting themselves at first as people who support you and want the best for you. We usually find out the hard way that first impressions can be deceiving.

Why does this happen? Why do people who claim to care about you want so desperately for you to fail? Or more accurately, to not be as successful as they believe they are?

I've come up with a few reasons that I've experienced in my life. One huge and obvious reason is jealousy. No matter what good things these people have in their lives, someone else always has it better. They focus on what they don't have, instead of seeing all of the miracles and blessings that are so plentiful in their own lives. When that happens, everyone around them is a threat to their happiness, and even the smallest or simplest of successes of others are met with disdain or indifference.

Another reason, of course, is their beliefs in their own shortcomings. They feel so rotten about themselves, often to their very core, and are unable to detach themselves from those feelings of inadequacy to experience anything joyful or congratulatory for or with someone else. I have seen that if someone feels that they don't measure up, then anyone who measures higher just reinforces their sense of inequality and debasement.

Two additional reasons I have personally experienced: self-centeredness and narrow vision. Some people, make that a LOT of people, are honestly incapable of focusing their full attention on anything but themselves. They perpetually live inside their own heads and are disconnected from reality most of the time. We all know many people like this. At best, all they can ever do is half-listen or half-participate in what is going on around them. They are so caught up in their own imagined drama that they are unable to deal with anything else. In some cases they may genuinely want to. But they don't know how to break the chains that enslave them to their own narcissism and delusions.

But really, no matter what the reason is, no matter what the situations were that caused these people to be like this, they ARE like this, even though we wish they weren't. Often times we resign ourselves to have to put up with these people, to the detriment of our own souls and spirits.

Unfortunately, in my life and in my travels, I have known exponentially more negative and unsupportive people than upbeat, encouraging ones. I have come across many more people who go into relationships with an agenda, which is never in the other person's favor. Quite frankly, I've known more mean people than nice ones, I've met more vindictive people than trustworthy ones, and I've known more selfish people than generous ones. In every place I've lived.

To be honest, I have spent a lot of time labeling these people as jerks, and blaming them for their inconsideration and often nasty attitudes. But do you know who I should have been blaming all this time? Myself. For allowing myself to form allegiances and friendships with these people. For not having enough inner strength and confidence to insist that I not be treated this way. For actually thinking those people were going to be there for me, help me, and celebrate my successes with me, when time and again they were incapable of doing so.

Well, all I can say is, NO. MORE. I heard someone say recently that if a person doesn't lift you up they don't belong in your life. I would add to that, if a person not only doesn't lift you up but takes pride in pushing you down, they don't belong anywhere even near your life! I would rather have very few friends, who believe in me, support me, and stay true to their word than lots of "friends" who take delight in my failures. Or who sabotage my work. Or who pull the rug of trust out from under me on a regular basis. Enough is enough.

For those of you who have already learned this lesson, I applaud you and admire you. For those of you who haven't yet, I encourage you to get on it! Life is too short to settle for anything less than you deserve, especially from people who claim to care about you. You deserve to be treated like the beautiful, special, unique, fascinating, successful miracle of life that you are, and nothing less. Absolutely nothing less.

To quote the late Andy Rooney: "I'm always on the lookout for the good in people. Often months go by." Well sir, I hope you are finding lots of good in the people around you now. Rest in peace.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Change the Station

So I was driving along today, happily and contentedly, when an old song came on the radio. It was a song that brought back some particularly painful memories, and as I listened, I felt myself reliving all of those old feelings. All of a sudden I was feeling sad, discouraged, bummed out, and in a matter of seconds my entire outlook and demeanor changed. My previously happy mood took a nose dive and I found myself almost beginning to cry right there in the car.

It was at that moment that I heard a little voice inside my head. The little voice said, "You know, you can change the station."

Change the station. Right! I didn't have to sit there feeling miserable listening to that stupid song, I had the power to change the station! The song and the feelings that it brought back did NOT have power over me, I had power over them and I didn't have to sit there and keep listening. (note to self: Duh!)

Armed with this newfound wisdom, I reached over, pressed a little button and the song was instantly replaced by a happy, upbeat, uplifting song, and my good mood returned. How about that!

And that got me thinking...how often do we NOT change the station in our lives? How many times do we get pulled down by the past, or find ourselves stuck in a rut, or feel hopeless that we can't change anything about our current situation? We think that we are powerless over our own lives, which, when you think about it, is absurd. All we have to do is change the station!

We can't expect anyone else to do it for us. It's up to us to choose to change what we don't like about our lives. Like those "friends" who let us down on a regular basis, or that co-worker who is constantly taking advantage of our good nature and work ethic, or those memories that send us spiraling downward instead of lifting us up - we don't have to get stuck in those anymore. We don't have to continue on in relationships that don't make us happy or feed our souls. We don't have to say "yes" to every single person's request of us. We are not stuck where we think we are, regardless of our circumstances.

More importantly though, I think we need to change the station when it comes to what we tell ourselves. There's that other little voice in our heads that tells us we're not good enough, or that we'll never get it all accomplished, or that it's pointless to even try because it's not going to work out anyway. It also reminds us that happiness means the other shoe will drop any minute, and that it's foolish to have high hopes and dreams for ourselves. Often times these words were spoken originally by someone else but we have made them our own, and often cling to them as the absolute truth. This particular station needs to be turned off completely, and be replaced by presets that applaud our successes, foster joy and optimism, and encourage us in our pursuits and endeavors. Let these be the ones we go to when we look in the mirror or talk to others or think about trying something new.

We don't need to be stuck listening to the same old songs anymore. We can just change the station. And do you know what happens when we do that? We find a whole bunch of new songs that we get to sing along to and enjoy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Don't tell me one person can't change the world...

...especially on the anniversary of 9/11. That's when I think of the 4 "one persons" who irrevocably changed the world, for the worse, forever. It wasn't a military group or an entire country trying to show their perceived power over the United States, it was 4 individuals. 4 individuals who woke up that morning and made the choice to commit horrific acts of violence and terrorism. 4 "one persons" decisions, and now the entire world is different, from the unspeakable loss of family members and friends throughout the world, to me having to remember those 4 when I'm squeezing my shampoo into a 3 oz. bottle for traveling. Everything is different now, because of those individual people and the choices they made.

Do you realize that we have that same choice every day? Not to commit an act of terrorism or not, but we have to choose every day what we put out into the world around us. Is it going to be negativity, aggression, pain, and selfishness? Or is it going to be kindness, compassion, love, and acceptance? Each of us is "one person," who is lucky enough to get to make that choice every day, as opposed to the victims of other "one persons," who don't.

Interestingly, we may never know how our actions may change the world around us. Remmber that Ray Bradbury story about the butterfly on the path? We never know what act of kindness (or anger), or love (or hate) will actually change the course of things as we know them.

Enter my husband. Two days ago, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, he was feeling that people needed to see some light on this dark day. He wondered what he could do to bring some brightness into other's lives, even for moment. So he drove over to our local IHOP, walked into the packed restaurant, went up to the cashier, and told her that he'd like to pay for everyone's breakfast who was sitting there right now. The cashier was incredulous, but he finally convinced her that this was what he wanted to do to help shed some light on people's lives today. So she rang up every ticket, and he left smiling, not waiting around to see the looks on people's faces when they were told the cost of their meals was taken care of.

He then drove over to Starbucks. He purchased a very hefty gift card, and when the cashier asked him if he needed a cover for it, he handed it back and said, "Nope, I'd like you to use this to pay for people's orders until it runs out." This cashier was likewise flabbergasted, and eventually agreed to his unusual request. He left that place smiling as well, thinking of all of the people who were going to have their spirits lifted on a day when they were most likely feeling pretty down.

Now, while this was a lovely gesture, did it change the world? Maybe. We know that he was able to touch the lives of at least 70 or 80 people that day. We will never know how that small act changed someone's attitude so that they became a "one person" who made a choice to do, or not do, something that would have an effect on the entire world. We will never know how many people these people told about the great surprise they got that day, and how many people told other people, one of whom might later be faced with a choice involving changing the world, and because of this, they will make the positive choice, rather than the negative one. We will never know how far reaching these small acts will become. But I believe that they did in fact change the world for the better, on a small scale, on a medium scale, and ultimately on a large scale.

My husband got the idea for this unique altruism from something that the kids and I have done for years. We will often anonymously pay for someone eating alone at a restaurant, usually a Friendly's or an IHOP or someplace like that. This practice began many years ago when the kids and I were having dinner at the local Friendly's and I noticed an older gentleman enter alone. It took forever for the hostess to get to him, and when she finally did, she sat him at a small table near us. He looked at the menu, and after a few minutes no one came to welcome him or take his drink order or anything. He kept waiting patiently, and as we were happily drawing on the children's menus with crayons and laughing amongst ourselves, I noticed that no one came to take this man's order. I don't know how much time went by, but it was much longer than it should have been, and when the waitperson finally made her way over to him she said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't see you there."

I didn't see you there. What could be worse for this gentleman, or for any of us? All of us want to be seen in our lives, no matter how old, young, tall, short, etc. We just want to be seen and our presence acknowledged. At that moment I wanted to do something that would show him that he was indeed seen, he was cared about, he mattered, so I surreptitiously consulted the waitperson about paying for his bill, under the strict condition that she not tell him who paid for it. She agreed, the gentleman ate his dinner, and when he was finished, I barely looked up to see her tell him the good news. (I really didn't want to look up because I didn't want to give ourselves away) I whispered to the kids to check it out (they knew what was going on) and all three of us watched as this man's entire demeanor changed. He stood up slowly, and we saw that he was now standing straighter than when he had first entered. He turned around and scanned the restaurant to discern whom he might have recognized or who his benefactor might be. We quickly resumed eating and playing around like nothing was out of the ordinary. We then saw the smile slowly spread across his face. It was a bright, happy, genuine smile, and he kept smiling as he made his way up to the front, continuing to look for any signs of who might have done this for him. We watched him go out the door, smiling to himself, and the three of us felt even happier than he looked as we finished up and paid our and his bills.

You know how much that experience cost me? $9.61. To change someone's life, even for a few minutes. Since that time, when we go to similar places, the kids will look for solo diners and ask me if we can take care of their meal. We don't always do it, just when it feels right. I can say though, every single time we do it the person exits the restaurant standing tall, looking proud, feeling happy, and ultimately changed for the better. We will never know the long-lasting effects of these tiny acts of compassion. But in some cases they may be huge.

Everyone has their own way of spreading joy and good feelings to those around them. It doesn't matter the way, it matters that we DO it. We take the time to notice who might need a lift and then we give it, knowing it's the right thing to do. And wow is it fun for us too!

On days like 9/11, we're reminded of the evil that people are capable of, as well as the tremendous goodness people are capable of. We're reminded of the choices that we make every day that affect the world around us. And we're reminded that, without a doubt, one person can make a difference. One person CAN change the world.