Sunday, October 30, 2016

I've said it before...I'll say it again...

"Anger is an acid that can do more damage to the vessel in which it is stored that to anything on which it is poured." -Mark Twain

Yes, thank you Mr. Twain, I know that, and I don't want to be angry but...

"For every minute you remain angry you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yes Mr. Emerson, I'm quite familiar with this concept and I actually agree it with it wholeheartedly.  But I can't help it, this thing happened and it made me really angry...

"Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." - Malachy McCourt, Nelson Mandela, Carrie Fisher, Alice May, etc.

Yes all of your wonderful people that I admire.  I understand that. I wholly believe it. I try to practice this every day to the best of my ability.

But no matter what our best intentions are, sometimes we get angry.  We get injured, we get betrayed, we get hurt, physically and mentally. Problems arise, stumbling blocks get in our way, annoying and frustrating things happen that we have no control over.  And while yes, we do have control over how we handle those things, sometimes, in the heat of the moment, it happens to the best of us: we let the anger take over.

Here's an interesting thing I've learned about anger. As I've said before, not all anger is always bad.  In fact, anger can be an integral part of inciting positive change.  I have to think that Rosa Parks must have been pretty angry when she decided to stay in her seat on the bus.  Susan B. Anthony was fed up and frustrated and angry when she led the suffragette movement that resulted in the American women's right to vote.  And do you remember the famous "Angry Phelps" face from this past summer's Olympics? Both he and fellow championship swimmer Amy Van Dyken use anger, and the chemical reactions that result from the feeling, to help them go faster in races.  Anger is a natural emotion, and when suppressed can cause both mental and physical ailments.  Feeling anger can be a good thing.

As long as we don't hold onto it.

Especially for a long time after the initial reason for the anger.  Once the incident it over, it's over, and  yet some of us hold onto the anger that came from it for years and even decades.  We may no longer have contact with the person who hurt us, they may no longer even be alive, but we hold on to the anger we felt then, and still feel, and often instead of dissipating over the years, the anger gets more intense and painful with every passing thought.  We bring it out like an old toy, to play with and remind ourselves of our righteous indignation and how we have every right to feel the way we feel.

At those times we are living in a fantasy world.  While yes, we have every right to feel angry about a particular situation, if it's not happening to us at this moment, it's a complete waste of energy and emotion and time.  Our focusing on the resentment and offense - that is only happening in our heads -  cuts into the happiness and contentment that we could be feeling instead.  It becomes a matter of changing our thoughts and having concentrated control over where our minds might want to take us.

Example: In one of my first jobs I had a colleague who was sexually abused as a child by a family member.  As much as she wanted to cut that person completely out of her life as an adult, she was unable to, due to living arrangements, her parents, money situations, etc.  She was still very disturbed and emotional every time she saw this person and she told me that after seeing him it would often take her several days to get herself back to "normal."  One time she confided in me how she helped herself in these times.

"I plan his funeral," she said.

Me: Stunned silence.  Then, ""

She smiled slightly and said, "Oh yeah. First I plan what I'm going to wear,  if it's in the summer, or if it's in the winter.  Then I figure out what I'm going to do with my hair...sometimes I wear a hat, sometimes I don't. Then I picture walking into the church and what the flowers will look like. Then I think about what I'm going to say when people come up to me and tell me how sorry they are for my loss..." and on and on and on.

At the time, (I was in my early twenties) I was shocked. I found this thought process to be disturbing and a bit sickening. I had never heard of something like this before and it just seemed so weird and kind of gruesome to me.

Fast forward twenty years.  Twenty years that have included incredibly happy times along with times of overwhelming anger, frustration, and heartbreak.  I have had my share of my feelings being hurt, my trust being betrayed, and my sensibilities offended.  I have opened up my heart to hope, had it trounced on by inconsiderate and evil people, and closed it up again in an attempt to prevent further pulverization. Having been through all of that, I was recently thinking about my coworker, and at this point in my life I actually admire her mechanism for coping.  She was actively taking control of her mind and her feelings and doing what was necessary for her to go on living in the most productive way she could.  She was exerting power over her own thoughts, and instead of her past dragging her down, she was making plans for the future that brought her peace.  Nothing could change the past or what had happened to her, but she chose to change the narrative in her head. It didn't make anything right, it didn't take anything away, but it did allow her to not have her present defined by the horrible events of her past. 

We can all choose to do this.  Letting go of anger and resentment doesn't diminish the causes of those feelings; it doesn't.   But it gives us each a chance at happiness and peace, rather than living with our every breath filled with bitterness and rancor.  We cannot control what others do to us, but we can absolutely control how we react to it, and how we handle the ramifications of it later.

"Change your thoughts and you change your world." -Norman Vincent Peale

I quite agree Mr. Peale. I quite agree.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Collective Joy

I was just in the shower and for some unknown reason a recent memory popped into my head. One that made me laugh out loud and filled me up entirely with pure, effervescent joy.

I was remembering a few months ago when my husband and I accompanied our son on his football team's trip to Disneyworld. It was the very end of the trip and we were all waiting at the resort for the buses to come and take us to the airport to fly home.  People were hot, people were tired, and people were maybe a little bit grumpy that the vacation was over.  Happiness-infused Disney employee to the rescue.  Seeing all of these boys and their families sitting around with unhappy faces, she put on some line dance music and invited everyone up to dance.  At first only a few boys got up, but as the song progressed, more and more of the team jumped in, and before long everyone was smiling and laughing and not put out at all as a result of the wait.  She kept playing song after song and they kept dancing, dance after dance. If a boy didn't know the steps, a buddy took him aside and broke it down until he got it.  When a new song started, you could hear whoops of excitement and cries of "This one's my favorite!" A crowd gathered to watch and you could see the absolute delight on the people's faces as they watched or filmed 30 to 40 giant teenaged football players clapping, twirling, kicking, stomping, and laughing as they performed these dances together.  The whole scene brought as much joy to the spectators as it did to the participants.  It is one of those special memories that I will keep tucked away in my heart as one of those perfect moments where you step back and time stops for a moment as you take in the magic of what is going on around you.  Unplanned, unrehearsed, just human beings sharing an experience of collective joy.  There's really nothing else like it.

It's the same feeling you can get when you're at a professional baseball game. You're an individual, sitting in your own seat, watching, talking, eating, thinking about the traffic on the way home, etc.  All of a sudden, a player hits a home run.  Instantaneously tens of thousands of people, including yourself, simultaneously rise to their feet, raise their arms in the air, and cheer wildly.  For those few moments everyone is transported to another plane together, which is what makes it so magical and spiritually fulfilling.

Why does this happen? I think it's because it's human nature to want to belong to part of something bigger than own individual selves.  It's why people who may have extremely differing political and religious views stand together as Americans when the national anthem is played.  It's also why, I believe fraternities, sororities, clubs, and organizations exist.  (It's also unfortunately why cults are so appealing to some people, and how hate groups gain power.  People want to belong to something, and often times the stronger and more effusive the message, the better.)

I have not studied anthropology, so I have no scientific basis for why most humans and/or animals have a pack-like mentality, but I would assume it goes back to the survivalist concept of there being safety from predators in numbers.  And for anyone who has ever eaten a piece of their own birthday cake alone, I believe this quote rings true:

"Joy multiplies when it is shared among friends, but grief diminishes with every division. That is life." - R.A. Salvatore

This is why families gather to share in the collective joy of weddings and births, and also why they gather to share in the grief of funerals.  This is why when something wonderful happens (an engagement, a job promotion, a pregnancy or adoption) people share them through announcements and usually have parties to celebrate them.  There is something truly precious about members of the human race coming together to encourage and congratulate one another, and that coming together takes the event or occurrence to a higher, more exciting, and happier level.

I think we need more collective joy experiences in our lives.  Everyone is so divisive right now with the upcoming election, and because the of the saturation and infiltration of social media on our lives, there is a lot more time spent focusing on our differences (and proclaiming them at every chance) than on our similarities.  A lot LESS coming together overall, and it's the coming together part of most experiences that make them so much more fun and enjoyable.

Why are flash mobs so popular - both to the participants and to the passersby who film them and post them later? Because it is a bunch of individuals coming together to do something fun TOGETHER. I will freely admit that I've watched the giant Oprah flash mob to the Black Eyes Peas multiple times and it brings tears to my eyes every single time.  People coming together - to dance, to worship, to play, to sing, to walk or run for a cause, to witness a sporting event, to celebrate, to learn, and to create, can be a very powerful thing in our lives.  And it elevates the joy often higher than we could have imagined.

So I encourage you all, for your next birthday, have a party or at least a get-together.  Invite your neighbors over for a potluck the day after Halloween and exchange your leftover candy.  Go to a game for your local triple or double A baseball team and cheer along with a bunch of strangers whom you would never meet otherwise.  Or join one of thousands of MeetUp groups to share some collective creativity doing something you're passionate about.  As has been said, both "No man is an island" and "It takes a village."  We all need help from others at times, but even more than that, when we share our joys and sorrows its makes them both more joyful and easier to bear.

Last quote: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade...and try to find someone whose life has given them vodka and have a party." - Ron White

Even though I don't drink alcohol, the sentiment rings true.  In difficult times, try to surround yourself with others for support. In happy times, try to surround yourself with people who can be happy with you.  Loneliness is not an option for any of us, unless we choose it.  SHARE YOURSELF with others.  Actively participate in collective joy, and you'll end up with gleeful memories that can start your day off with smiles and unabashed laughter in the shower. :)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Don't Believe Everything You're Told

In should probably only believe very little about yourself based on what others tell you.  Because most people only have their own best interests at heart, not yours.

I realize that sounds very deprecating toward other people, and hopefully you have people in your life you lift you up on a regular basis rather than bring you down. But in my experience, that's a rare and lucky thing to have and you should treasure those people if you have them.

In yesterday's blog I mentioned looking back, and how that's something that I try not to do too often.  Well, in looking back yesterday I began to think about regrets. I honestly try not to dwell on regrets because there's nothing one can do about them and so it doesn't do a lot toward building a happy life TODAY by holding on to things we wish we would have or could have done differently in the past.

Not to mention that if you believe that everything happens for a reason, and everything that has happened to you in your life was meant to happen to bring you to exactly where you are in the present moment, then I guess there really can't be any regrets because every mistake we make we learn from, which makes us more well-rounded and complete people overall as a result of them.

Except for one thing that comes to mind today, and which is actually one regret that I have.

I wish I hadn't believed the negative things that people said to me.

While I'm sure there are plenty of well-meaning people out there, who choose to offer us constructive criticism to honestly help us in our endeavors, there are plenty more ill-meaning people, whose main goal is to undercut others' authority or talent or ideas or intentions.  In fact, in my life (having worked in many different places, and having lived in several different states around the country) I have personally met many more people who are quick to criticize and put concerted effort into dimming another person's light instead of being complimentary and do what they can to lift up another person by their words and/or actions.

(the reason why people do this is for another day, but I've found that it usually stems from their own insecurities, fear of their own shortcomings, and just plain meanness - see Nellie Oleson posts)

And those criticizers come in all forms, most hurtfully when they claim to be people who love you.  I knew a girl in middle school who knew from birth that her father wanted to have a boy.  She had an older brother and all her father wanted was a brother for his cherished first-born son.  When she came out, she was a bitter disappointment to him, for no other reason than her chromosomes.  (Just as an aside, because the gender of a child is determined by the sperm so the father really should have taken the blame for that one.) He made it very clear to her throughout her young life that he had no expectations of her except to marry a hopefully wealthy man, and maybe be a secretary or a waitress before that.  He had no intention of sending her to college or encouraging her to be anything but the utter disappointment that she was.  And the saddest part of all? She believed him.  She believed that she was a disappointment to her father simply because she was born.  She did not think she was capable of anything special or even worthy to inhabit the earth she was walking on.  He had no right to put her down time and time again, and even if those were his true feelings he absolutely should not have shared them with her repeatedly.  She felt unloved and un-cherished, and worthless because she believed what was told to her.

(I wish I could tell you that she overcame her father's cruelty and and resentment and defied the odds by becoming a successful "something" who lead a fulfilled and happy life, but she moved away before high school and I never found out what happened to her.)

There are so many successful people who did not listen to the naysayers, but instead found the strength within themselves to turn a deaf ear to the criticism and instead worked hard to surpass not only their expectations, but the expectations of what is considered extraordinary and remarkable.

Take Michael Phelps.  He was literally told by a teacher that "He would never succeed at anything."  Twenty-three olympic medals later, nineteen of them gold, he most certainly proved her wrong. Over and over again. Both he and his mother decided that they simply weren't going to listen to what this one person said, but instead realize the potential inside this talented, if unfocused-at-school little boy.

Or how about Oprah? She doesn't even need her last name written out because she has become synonymous with success.  She was not wanted at conception or at birth, she was told repeatedly that she could never aspire to be anything except a maid like her grandmother and great-grandmother before her, and even after she secured jobs in journalism and television, she was cut down all along the way because of her looks, her name, her accent, and of course, her gender.  Practically everyone told her not to start her own talk show in Chicago but she had the courage to do it anyway, and created an empire.  She didn't listen to the criticisms. She forged her own path instead.

The list goes on and on. Barbra Streisand had an extremely unsupportive mother who said she had no talent.  Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.  Steve Jobs was fired by friends from the tech company that he founded.  All of these phenomenally successful people had criticizers close to them, but none of them listened.  In fact, I've heard that the criticisms made them all the more determined to succeed and "show them" how wrong they were.

So why do some people take the criticisms to heart and stop trying, and some take them as challenges to defy?  I don't have an answer for that, but I do believe that someone trying to put you down can be a catalyst for you working harder and persevering more and more to see your goals and dreams come to fruition.  The negative words don't have to crush your heart because you have the choice to not listen to them and not believe them. But if you do listen to them, then you also have the choice to make them work for you, and not against you.

For most of us, there will always be negative people in our lives.  I've been trying to consciously cut them out of mine as best I can, but there are always those that rear their wretched and dismissive heads.  And while I believe it's important to show kindness and compassion to everyone, that doesn't mean we have to honor their opinions by believing them at the expense of our own happiness and fulfillment.  And never forget, just because someone claims to be an expert or a professional critic, that doesn't mean that they "get" your art or fully understand how you choose to express yourself.

I've concluded that the people who tell other people "You'll never make it" are often threatened by the talent they see before them, and because the critics themselves aren't happy with where they are in their own careers (i.e. the food critic judges other food rather than being a professional chef). And while everyone who has dreams of being a success through their passion may not have fame or stardom as a result, everyone has the right to try.  Everyone is entitled, simply because they were born into this world, to pursue their goals to the best of his or her ability.  And no one, I mean NO ONE has the right to take that away from anyone.  No matter how well-intentioned (or ill-intentioned) their criticisms may be.

While criticism can be a springboard for some people to prove their critics wrong, I have found that encouragement goes a much longer way toward someone achieving their dreams.  Positivity always always always works more effectively than negativity, in every situation and circumstance.  It's a basic truth of life that every one of us will be criticized at some point in our lives.  But when it happens, it's absolutely crucial that we remember this:

When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical. - Source unknown

Don't believe everything you're told.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mem'ries....light the corner of my mind....

I have said many times that I don't believe in looking back.  By that I mean, I don't think it's healthy to live in the past, lamenting things that cannot be changed or using your old hurts and wrongs to make excuses for not living the most full, happy, and wondrous life you can NOW.

However, I have found that there are a few situations in which it can actually be beneficial to consider the past, and use what we've learned to help with what we're dealing with in the present.

For example, I'm currently in the midst of what has been (and continues to be) a difficult and frustrating chapter of my life: recovering from back surgery with some minor physical complications and annoying interactions with insurance companies and doctors with less-than-ideal bedside manner personalities.  A dear friend of mine dropped off some "cheering up" gifts yesterday with a card that read, "Hang in there - this too shall be a distant memory soon."  Which made me stop and think, "Hmm....where was I at this time last year? What is now a distant memory?"

As you may recall, last year at exactly this time, I was being plagued almost daily by my aptly nicknamed nemesis Nellie Oleson.  It was a year ago that I was brought to many tears, tremendous anger, and immense frustration and humiliation.  That was definitely a tough time, as I was being personally attacked repeatedly by a person who kept rearing her horrid head into my otherwise content life.  Looking back on that now, what do I feel?


Absolutely nothing.

Can you believe it? No pain, no anger, no sadness, no offense, literally nothing.  It's as if all of that terrible stuff never happened.  Thankfully her heartlessness and deliberate cruelty caused me no lasting heartache, and all of that nonsense has no impact whatsoever on my current daily life.  (It did however, provide some excellent inspiration for some blogs that I am quite proud of, so often times there can even be positive results from the torture you have to endure.)

This is a perfect example of "this too shall pass," and it's wonderful to have a tangible reminder of that while I, or you, are going through a particularly difficult time.

Another time when it's good to look back is when you're feeling stuck in a rut or like you haven't accomplished enough in your life.  At those times it's good to pull out your resume and check out all of the things that you have actually accomplished up until this moment in your life.  When it's all written down, you can concretely see things you've done that might have forgotten about.  And if you don't have a resume for the job you're currently doing (i.e. I don't have a resume for the eighteen years I've been a mom) then write one!  Really think and reminisce and write down every triumph you've had and every obstacle you've overcome.  Everything from "Everyone loved my cupcakes at the bake sale so much that they sold out," to "I had both sets of in-laws over for dinner and I kept the conversation focused on safe topics," to "I worked out 10 minutes longer than I did yesterday" to "All three kids are now packing their own lunches and doing their own laundry." etc. etc.  Some of you out there have completed marathons and triathlons, some of you are working hard at jobs outside the home while taking care of things inside the home, some of you are doing charity work and going on mission trips to help make the world a better place for people in need, and some of you have won amazing awards and have received recognition from outside sources that exhibit your contributions and achievements.  Whatever they are, whatever you have done, WRITE IT ALL DOWN.  Go back to elementary school and spelling bees, high school honors classes and sports trophies, early accomplishments and promotions from your first jobs, and on and on and on. Don't forget to write down specific accolades from people you've admired - family members, friends, or even strangers on the street who might have complimented you on your outfit.  Looking back in this way can strengthen your present, reminding you of all that you have accomplished in the past, and fortifying you for what you can accomplish in the present, and what you WILL accomplish in the future.

The other time when I think it can be healthy and beneficial to look back is to take the quote from Dr. Seuss which says, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."  I was talking to a friend with young children about their Halloween plans and she said something sympathetic to me like, "Aww...your kids are too old for that now, huh?"  And I took a moment to remember all of the fun Halloween experiences we had over the years.  Parties, candy swapping negotiations, and the many great costumes that we put together - sometimes that took weeks to create and sometimes that were cobbled together at the last minute.  I'm not sad at all that my kids no longer go door-to-door (and maybe Halloween is an easy one to reckon with because all along you know there's a short trick-or-treating window in every child's life) instead, I'm so happy that they had such fun and meaningful Halloween experiences while they had them.  When childhood things like that come to an end, while it's fine to grieve for them if that's how you feel, it's also nice to be able to look back on those as chapters that were meant to be started, lived, and closed, as the natural order of things.  Which also means that we should do our best to make them as memorable as possible while we are living through them.

When you think about it, every single thing that we do becomes a memory.  The breakfast that I ate 3 hours ago is now a memory.  My son's football game tomorrow night will become a memory as soon as it's over.  While we lament that "all good things must come to an end" we can also remember that all bad things must come to an end as well.  Which can be very comforting when we're mired down in the quicksand of the tough stuff.

So while I'm riding out this not-so-great chapter, taking things one moment at a time, I'm keeping in the front of my mind that, like my horrible encounters with Nellie, this too will become a distant memory that has no lasting effect on the sustentation of my life.  It's hardest when things are out of our control, but as long as they are, it helps so much to remember that today's struggles become next years "Mem' the corners of our minds." And that's all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down...

...the medicine go dow-wow-p0n, medicine go down. Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in the most delightful way.  - Robert and Richard Sherman

And now you have that song going through your head. It's okay, so do I.  And hopefully it will continue running through your head as you read this, because while it's literally true (adding a spoonful of sugar to a bad tasting medicine will help you to swallow it more easily), these song lyrics pack a powerful metaphorical punch for life.

As in, when there's something you don't want to do, change your attitude and figure out a way to deal with it so you can get it done as cheerfully as possible.

Or, when something goes wrong, try to find the bright side, or the silver lining, or something, ANYTHING good or beneficial about the situation.

Basically, when you are experiencing bitterness, add some sweetness.

That's really what it comes down to, for the actual medicine and for the metaphor. When something is bitter, add your own dose of sugar, in whatever form that may take at the moment.

We all have bitterness. It comes most often dressed as resentment, anger, hurt feelings, and disheartenment.  It differs from grief in that it usually has a hard edge and an acrid taste to it. It usually comes when someone has wronged us, and while we don't want it to stick around, souring everything in our midst, it usually does, the way the stench of garbage still lingers in the empty can.

So how do we get rid of the bitterness that hangs around in our heart, tainting our every thought and action?

Add the spoonful of sweetness that works for you. It may not fully remove the bitterness you're feeling, but it may at least mask it for a while, which is a beautiful first step toward healing. And the more you practice replacing the bitter with sweet, the better you'll get at it.

What is this sweetness, you may ask? Well, there's the obvious answer that chocolate solves every problem (probably due to the endorphins it releases when we eat it) but if you don't want to rely on actual sugar every time, here are some suggestions of things that could sweeten your mood:

1. Count your blessings. See and recognize all of the good things in your life.  Write down a list if you're having trouble remembering them and consult the list when the bitterness threatens to take over everything.

2. Sing a happy song. Or listen to one. Or several.  Music can be such a miraculous tool of healing, and when you are feeling upset or hurt it can lift your spirits and bring you back to peace. (Not to mention,  if you have to do some practical, unfavorable chore like scrubbing the toilets, having some cheery music on to rock out to makes the job not only manageable, but maybe even enjoyable.)

3. Create something. There's nothing like making something with your own hands that helps to bring yourself out of your head and into the reality of the beauty and goodness of the present. If you love to draw, draw something! If your passion is beading jewelry, make something beautiful that you can give as a gift to brighten someone else's day.  If you like to cook or bake or scrapbook or decoupage or build or quilt or anything else that you can find supplies for at Michael's then DO THAT!  It won't take away what the person said but it may help take away how it made you feel. 

4. Exercise.  I once heard James Taylor talk about overcoming drug addiction and he said that he found that the best way for him was to "sweat it out."  His advice was to find something athletic/aerobic that you enjoy doing and do that until you're spent.  Then the next time you want a fix, do it again.  It's not to lose weight or get into shape (although that could end up being a side benefit) but so many of us are addicted to our bitterness and sweating it out of ourselves is an excellent way to help rid ourselves of it - both from a physiological standpoint and from our mental and spiritual views.

(By the way, it's worth noting here that JT's preferred method of exercise was rowing.  "Exercise" doesn't have to mean going to a spin class or training for a marathon - it's whatever you enjoy that's going to get your heart rate up, some sweat coming out of your glands, and your mind focused on the task at hand, rather than the bitterness in your heart.)

5. Connect in some way to the bigger picture of it all. Some people meditate, some pray, some worship, some go out into the wilderness and write in a journal - it doesn't matter what you do, what matters is that you are tapping into the vastness of the universe and feeling your precious place in it.  Gaining perspective on what's going on in your life compared to and conjoined with the other life forms and energy on the planet can make a huge difference when dealing with the problems in our own small realms.

6. Connect with other people.  This is a tricky one - I got this advice some years ago from a well-meaning person (i.e. "If you're feeling down, just call a friend!" To which I wanted to respond "If I had a friend I could call, I wouldn't be feeling so down!!") but the truth is, if the bitterness is taking the form of loneliness, do whatever you can as soon as you can, to get yourself out of that dark hole. Loneliness can cause a tremendous amount of bitterness, and while you might not have a support team around you right now, you've got to make one for yourself.  This might mean emailing a long-lost friend that you want to get back in touch with. It might mean striking up a conversation in line at the store with someone who looks friendly. It might mean joining a MeetUp group that does something that interests you.  Loneliness truly is its own form of horrible bitterness and it needs sweetness added to it, usually more than just a spoonful, as often as possible.

Now, let me just say, and this is VERY important, I am not talking about numbing pain or anesthetizing ourselves from the bitterness.  People do this with drugs and alcohol and food and shopping and all manner of unhealthy things that prevent them from feeling their pain.  I am not advocating any of those things as the "sugar" it takes to help the medicine go down.  Instead, I'm trying to help those of us who struggle with bitterness find a way to deal with as best we can, and as productively as we can, in our daily lives. Until we can learn to let go of it altogether, it makes sense to me to try figure out ways to continue to experience happiness so that the bitterness doesn't consume us.

Because here's the other thing: The bitterness in our lives is there for a reason. It's there for us to learn from and deal with so that the next time we're faced with it, we can handle it more healthily.  Do we want it to be there? Of course not. Would we rather it wasn't there? You bet! But if it IS there (and unfortunately for so many of us it is, and there's a lot of it), it is up to each one of us to choose to enjoy the sweetness of life, rather than the bitter.

I'll tell you, it's very easy to develop a taste for bitterness.  So much so that it becomes the preferred taste in our mouths. We revel in it, we savor it, we eventually begin to seek it out.  Bitterness becomes our favorite flavor and we feel perfectly justified in sprinkling that bitterness over everything and everyone we come across.  And who doesn't know a few people like that? Do you want to become one of those people?

Last thing - have you ever tried eating baking chocolate?  Way too bitter, right? It needs the chemistry of being mixed with sugar to become even palatable.  Don't be baking chocolate.  If right now you can't be sticky sweet marshmallow chocolate fudge, at least be semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Because they have just a spoonful of sugar.

Monday, October 10, 2016


I had an interesting, life changing revelation a few weeks ago when I went to the doctor to have the staples removed from my recent back surgery.  It was two weeks since the surgery and he asked me about my pain level and how I was feeling. I replied that I was still in quite a bit of pain - not so much from the surgery site but the original nerve pain.  He said that this was normal and asked how many pain killers I was taking each day.

"One," I said.

"ONE?" He gasped? "Why are you only taking one?"

"Well," I said, "according to the post-op instructions, after two weeks I'm to resume normal activity with certain restrictions, so I figured that meant by now I'm pretty much better, plus I don't want to develop any kind of addiction to pain medication.

He sat there, shaking his head for a moment.  Then looked up at me and said calmly, "You had BACK SURGERY. The nerves that had been inflamed and painful for the past three years got even more aggravated from the surgery.  Your body is going to heal as it's going to heal, there's nothing anyone can do about that.  You can choose to be in pain or not as it's healing."

Whoa.  I had to let that sink in.  My body was going to heal as it was going to heal. In its own time, the only way it knew how, it could take weeks, it could take months, but it certainly wasn't healed yet. And as my body reacted to what it had been through, I had the choice to suffer through it in pain (even though I didn't have to) or not.

So that got me thinking about that as a metaphor for life.  Things happen. Bad things that are completely out of our control.  Good things happen to, that sometimes we don't recognize or appreciate.  This experience taught me that things are going to happen and it is often 100% our choice to feel pain about them, OR, to do what it takes to push through them until they're over.

Now I'm not talking about tragedies like sudden deaths, sicknesses, disasters, or things like that. Those are in another category.  I'm talking about things on par with my minimally invasive back surgery.  Things like people being inconsiderate and saying hurtful things. Or being stuck somewhere (an uncomfortable or frustrating situation) that you can't get out of.  In every one of those times we can make the choice to take offense, be hurt, get angry, hold a grudge, and do all of those things that poison our lives and our joy much more than the person or thing that is causing us all of the pain in the first place.  It's not easy to do, but with practice, I believe it can get easier to the point of it being the natural reaction instead of the pain.

Have you ever noticed that while there are certain things that might drive you absolutely crazy, they don't bother another person at all? I believe that we are hard-wired from our early experiences to have our own reactions to things based on feelings/hurts/offenses that we are still holding onto.  Absolutely understandable.  But when we're adults, hopefully we can see that the current offense may not actually be intentional, but we're taking it that way because of something that has happened in the past. It's our choice to change that initial reaction to choose the path of happiness instead.

Example: I was recently in a situation that made me extremely upset for several days.  Each offensive thing that happened on every subsequent day became compounded because of what had happened before.  These things - specific actions by a specific person - made me repeatedly angry, sad, upset, and at one point I was so frustrated that I actually imagined myself throwing drinking glasses so I could have the satisfaction of seeing them shatter. (I don't know if that has ever happened to you but it has never happened to me before and I sincerely hope it never happens again.  I was holding everything in to keep the peace around me but inside I was bristling with rage and despair.) With regard to the other people I was with in this situation, one was also very bothered by the actions, one was mildly annoyed but kept her attention on the newly released Pokemon Go game, and the other one wasn't upset or disturbed by anything at all.  The same things were happening to all of us, but some of us chose the road of bitterness and exasperation and some of us chose to let things roll off of their backs and go with the flow.

Again, it all comes back to perception and what's going on in our own minds.  Person #4 wasn't offended by anything because she had no prior experience of the treatment. Person #3 was upset, but made the choice to remove herself from the situations and found a welcome distraction to help herself do so.  Person #2 was partially upset because she knew how upset I was, and Person #1, me, couldn't get out of her own head to see that while some of the actions were definitely meant to be dismissive and hurtful, many of them were not, they were instead just based on the ignorance and utter cluelessness of the person doing them.

This is hard stuff. I'm not saying that at any point you can just choose to say, "I'm not upset about this, I'm going to choose joy instead." But there are times when we can look at the reality of a situation - the cold hard facts separate from the emotions - and make the choice to have precious moments of our own day ruined by a thoughtless comment, or to take the higher road (the proverbial pain meds) and either laugh it off or at least consider the source from whence it came.

It's also all about perspective.  I worked with a colleague whose husband was extremely ill and was embroiled in a difficult lawsuit regarding the negligence that caused the husband's current state.  While the rest of us complained about the latest horrible treatment from our boss she just shrugged it off.  When we would ask her, "Doesn't this bother you?" She would answer, "This is small potatoes compared to what I'm going through."


Now as you know, I'm a big advocate of "If you don't like your situation, CHANGE IT!" If you're unhappy in your job, in your relationship, where you live, etc. do whatever you can to get out of it! As soon as possible!  Life is too short to be stuck in situations that you CAN control - and most often you CAN control those kinds of things, even if you think you can't.  But in those situations that we actually, honestly, truly cannot control or change, then each one of us can make the decision to choose how we handle it.  If it's going to happen as it's going to happen, then we can open up our "medicine bottle" and do what we need to do to free ourselves of the pain.  Think of a happy memory, remember a funny scene from a movie, sing a happy song in your head, or just rest assured in the promise that "this too shall pass." Because it always does.  It is hard to do, but there's always a choice in how you react to and deal with difficult things.  And the choice you make will affect your health and well-being as well as those of the ones you love around you.  So what will your choice be?

Sunday, October 9, 2016


"If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I'll bet they'd live life a lot differently." - Bill Watterson, creator of "Calvin and Hobbes."

I love this quote.  And I love to look up at the stars.  (so much so that I even wrote a song about it)  There is something about seeing those multitudes of twinkling lights punctuating an inky black sky that makes me feel like all is right with the world.

It also reminds me that there are forces greater than ourselves at work in the universe, and that as much as we feel we have an influence on things, we don't have as much as we think.  And I mean that in a good way.

I was reminded of this fact when my family and I went to a planetarium show about quasars and galaxies.  We learned the mind blowing statistic that the universe is populated with at least 10 to the 11th power (that's one hundred billion) galaxies. Not stars, but GALAXIES.  Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, contains at least 10 to the 11th power (that's still one hundred billion) planets.  If you multiply one hundred billion by one hundred billion you get 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000  or 10 sextillion, a number that I honestly cannot even fathom or imagine. I won't even get into how many stars the cosmologists and astrophysicists have seen and know are out there.

So what can these staggeringly enormous numbers teach us?  That we are insignificant? Well, in a way, yes, but not in the way that says we should do things like spend all of our money and break laws and be inconsiderate because we're just a blip on the universe's extremely long timeline and incredibly vast expansiveness.  (Because while that may be true, in our own small universes there are still things like jail and fines and people's feelings to consider - which can make those blips that are our lives miserable.)  I prefer to look up at the stars and have it give me a healthy perspective of what's really important.

Yes, we are each a teeny tiny speck in the universe and ultimately our existence, when measured against the massive timeline of the cosmos, doesn't matter.  In that comparison, one human being cannot alter a planetary orbit or affect a moon or star's existence. But that reminder of how truly small we are and how infinitesimal our time is here on Earth should remind us that we have to make the most of whatever time we are given.  While we can't literally move mountains, we CAN make a positive difference in the lives of others, who are also here for a blink of time and space.  And we should take every opportunity we can to make the world a better place for others, even on a small scale.

On the radio this morning they were having people call in to describe a good deed they had done in the past week and the callers were receiving gift cards and other prizes for these random acts of kindness toward others.  One woman anonymously paid for the dinners of a party of seven military members at the restaurant where she was dining. Another threw her arm and leg between the closing doors of the airport train so a person rushing to make the train could make it.  Yet another paid for the groceries of the elderly person in front of them in line as they struggled with their food stamps.  The list went on and on, and each person was rewarded for their attempts to help others around them in need.  While I think honoring people who do nice things is a great idea, as I listened to the segment I couldn't help thinking to myself:

Shouldn't everyone be doing this for each other anyway? Shouldn't these acts of kindness and generosity be the norm, and not something extraordinary to laud and celebrate?

I think that everyone is so caught up in their own lives, getting things done, crossing off lists, checking their social media, etc. that they forget to look around and see what other people might need and how they might be able to help them.  That's where looking up at the stars is a good reminder that we are all a part of the same universe, on the same planet, looking up at the same stars.  We're all here for a colossally short time, and that time can be used to make our own minuscule world as happy, as healthy, as lovely, and as good as it can be.

It's also interesting to note that many of the stars we see every night actually burned out many years ago, but we can still see their light.  That makes me think of each one of us.  Every person has a light inside them that we can choose to share to illuminate the darkness that we see in the world.  We can shine our own starlight and hopefully shine it enough that our light will last long after we're gone. Like the stars in the sky.

Yes, we're each only a minute speck of dust on the seemingly infinite continuum of time and space.  But we ARE HERE, for the time that we are, and it is up to us to make that time as happy and fulfilling and awe-filled, and beautiful as possible.  Especially for the next specks of dust that come along.  What light can you leave for them?