The Highest Achievement

This week I want to continue sharing some of the shining nuggets of wisdom that serendipity led me to find.  I picked three that have served me well, especially when I’m catching up with the day’s headlines.  In fact, I’ve come to look at reading the news as a kind of test to see how well I’m doing with them.

The first one comes from Zen teacher Traleg Rinpoche: “The only thing we really have any control over,” he says, “is our own experience.”  That’s a tough one!  Am I getting irritated?  Frustrated? Angry? Depressed?  Whose fault is that?

It’s mine, I realize, when I remember this nugget.  And when I realize it, I’m free to examine my feeling, to choose to let it go, or to contemplate why I’m holding the thought, what stories it’s triggering, whether there’s a larger context than what I’m focusing on.  I can play with looking at my reaction from a different perspective.  I can recognize that what I’m feeling is simply an automatic reaction to whatever evoked it.  It’s a mere thought, and I can acknowledge it and let it go.  Or I can listen to it and see what it’s asking of me.  But I get to choose.  I get to claim my power to control my experience.

The second piece of wisdom comes from Osho, who counsels:  “Don’t seek, don’t search, don’t ask, don’t knock, don’t demand – relax.  If you relax it comes.  If you relax it is there.”

Oh!  Yes, of course.  Relax.  In my experience, that’s advice of the very highest order.  And I love linking it to my realization that I get to control my experience.  Relaxing opens my heart and my mind.  It lets unnecessary thoughts and emotions float away.  It brings me back to the present and centers me.  To my delight, it arouses my sense of humor and my sense of wonder.  It allows me to remember that everything is a grand mystery and that I’m lucky to be experiencing it.

And that leads me to the third nugget, a Zen proverb that says, “To be calm is the highest achievement of the self.”  It’s the highest achievement because it provides the highest rewards.  To be calm is to have inner peace, to know serenity regardless of what is happening in the world around you or within your own body or mind.  It summarizes both of the previous two nuggets.  It allows you to respond to life with authenticity and presence.

Unlike the realization of self-possession in the first nugget, or the counsel to relax in the second one, calm isn’t a means to an end, but an end in itself.  It’s the state to which self-possession and relaxation lead.  It’s evenness in mind, emotions and spirit, a beautifully worthwhile space in which to live.

So I give you these three nuggets to place in your pocket.  Think of them as smooth pebbles you can caress with your fingers whenever you notice that you’re ruffled or out of sorts.  I especially recommend holding them in your hand whenever you read the day’s news.

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How to Make This Year Your Best

The first week of the year was rich with gifts for me.  Among them was the gift of free time, and as I spent it happily reading and listening to teachers of all sorts, I collected a whole basket full of ideas that I get to share with you!

I sincerely hope your week brought shining gifts, too—Memorable moments that you can treasure all year through.  If not, it’s a brand new week in a still-very-new year, and it’s brimming with possibilities.

Really.

We forget that because we get trapped in our routines and habitual thought-boxes.  But it remains a fact that you can add more zest and meaning and joy to your life any time you decide to.  Here’s a little 3-step formula I strung together from the quotes I gathered this week:

  1. “The first step to getting anywhere is deciding you’re no longer willing to stay where you are.” ~David Icke

Make a quick list of things that, if dropped, would make your life lighter, healthier, more like the life you want to live.  You know what they are.  You can probably list at least ten right off the bat.  Go beyond (but include) the easy ones like exercising more, eating better, stopping smoking.  Think about ways you spend time that could be invested in more creative, rewarding, or satisfying activities.  Think about your relationships and what you could stop doing that keeps them from being more meaningful and authentic.  What are you no longer willing to do, to be?

  1. Ben Stein says, “The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.”

So we have two different ideas about our first steps.  Personally, I think Ben’s first step is an outgrowth of deciding what you don’t want.  We know what we’re doing that’s holding us down.  It’s close to home.  And whether we look it in the face or not, we know on some level that it’s hurting.  Identify those things, then ask yourself, “What do I want instead?’

Get real clear on this.  What DO you want instead?  What would that look like?  How would it feel?  Think about a few options for beginning to move in its direction.  How will you begin?  When?

An old mentor of mine often said that if we’re not making the progress we want and know that we’re capable of making, the reason is that our goals aren’t clearly defined.  “Crystalize them,” he said.  Spell out what you want in tangible terms:  “I want to spend two hours more every week with my family.”  “I want to lose ten pounds by March 1st.”  Then decide how you’re going to do it and begin.

  1. Finally, the real key to making it happens is in this quote from Jim Rohn: “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”  Okay, I know that “discipline” isn’t a warm and fuzzy word.  But the root of it is the same as the one for “disciple,” a follower.  When you’re disciplined about moving toward your goal, you’re following your own vision of what and whom you want to be.  It doesn’t mean you have to attain perfection all at once.  It means you keep moving, one little step at a time, one hour, one day at a time, in the direction that you’ve chosen to go.  Some days you’ll make leaps and bounds.  Some days you’ll fail altogether.  Discipline means you keep going, that you keep your eyes on the prize.

I’ll close with a key phrase that has served me well when I’ve chosen to make changes in my life.  It turns on my sense of daring and adventure, so it gives me a delicious sense of courageous nonchalance.  It’s these simple two words:

Why Not?!

Wishing you soaring dreams and the gumption to pursue them.

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The Ultimate Fresh Start

Well, here we are, teetering right on the razor edge of a brand new year.  Another chance to take a stab at being our best, at finally deciding to focus on our best dreams.

And then the next day comes and all the excitement and determination fades right away with the rising sun.  With unadmitted relief, we slide back into the comfortable routines.

And that’s okay.  It’s called being human.  Back-sliding is built right in.  That’s why the more realistic among us don’t even bother making “resolutions.”

Still, it’s good to take some time when the New Year rolls around to give some thought to what you would like to do better, what you would like to leave behind.  That’s how real change happens, after all.  And every morning, every minute, offers us a fresh start.  You can grab one any time you decide to trade something old for something new.

So, if you were going to name something you want to claim more of, or something that you no longer want in your life, what would it be?  Over the next day or two, roll that question around in your mind and see what you come up with.   It’s a good thing to know, just in case that genie with the magic lamp shows up to offer you wishes.

Personally, I start thinking about what I want more of and what I want to leave behind several days, and sometimes several weeks before the New Year dawns.  Then I tuck my answers inside two words or phrases that I use as guide words for the year.  I write one of them atop the first page of my journal and the second one atop the facing page, and every time I turn the page, I write them again.  If I didn’t keep a journal, I’d write them on a card and put it somewhere that I’d see it every single day—on my fridge, in the notes section of my weekly calendar.

For my focus in 2017, for example, I chose the phrases “Vibrant Health” and “Inspired Creativity.”  Looking back, I see that I’ve significantly expanded my knowledge of nutrition and tweaked my food choices in harmony with that.  I’ve added some simple exercises to my routine.  And almost every day, I’ve taken my camera for a walk, fulfilling both guidelines at once.  I’m more playful.  I doodle more.  I make up songs on my electronic keyboard.  I read more poetry and I think my writing has improved.

I’ve come to call my two words/phrases my “nudge words.”   I don’t really think about them or make any conscious effort to act in harmony with them.  But my daily encounter with them seems to give them some power.  They sink into my subconscious and remind me how I want to be, what would make my life richer.

It works for me—effortlessly.  And as this old year slides over the horizon, I find that I’m excited about seeing how my new set of nudge words will be reflected in my life in the days to come.  Pick a couple of your own and give it a try.  It’s no magic genie, but it’s the closest thing I’ve found.

Wishing you a fine New Year, full of health, kindness, beauty and love.

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Stress-Busters for the Holidays

the Grinch

Here they come, ready or not!  The Holidays!  Oh, my!  All those lights, all that music!  Feasts and gifts galore.  And sneaking right in with them, like that mean old Grinch, comes the pressure and stress.  Well, never fear.  I have three stress-busters for you that are guaranteed Grinch-slayers.

  1. The Movie Scene

Every now and then, imagine you’re watching yourself as if you were the main character in a movie.  Imagine feeling what the character is feeling: happiness, frustration, involvement, excitement, dread, anticipation—whatever is real for you at the moment.  Imagine heart-felt appreciation and understanding for the character.  Then zoom out a bit and notice all the circumstances and how the character is doing his or her best—whether things are working out beautifully or totally falling apart.  Extend your love to him or her.  Imagine giving that character-version of you a hug.

Do try this.  You can practice it right now.  See yourself wherever you are, reading this email, feeling whatever you’re feeling.  Appreciate who you are right now, in this very moment.  Give yourself a hug.

  1. The Easy Tool

Whenever you find yourself facing a challenge—visiting the family, performing for an audience, getting all your preparations done, finding the right outfit—ask yourself “How easy can I let this be?”

It’s a magical question.  It reminds you that can let it be easy.  You can focus your attention on this one moment, and breathe, and then take the immediate next step into the next moment and the next, one at a time, and each one can be as easy as you’re willing to let it be.

  1. The Only Expectation

You never know how things are going to turn out.  You may think you do.  We all project our past experiences onto our futures and expect repeat performances.  Then we tend to act in ways that make our predictions come true.

But what if you didn’t?  What if you decided in advance how you wanted something to turn out?  What if you could hold an open space in your mind for the idea that everything might turn out beautifully?  What if you set up an expectation that you would be at ease, and gracious, and kind, and patient, and loving?  What if you expected to see and enjoy the good things in the people you encountered?  What if you expected to do everything you needed to do easily and remarkably well?

As you approach an event, think about how you would like to be in it.  Pick a key word or two to symbolize what you think would be the best you in that situation.  Then let that be your only expectation.

Putting It to Work

To make these tools work for you, try this:  Hold up one finger and say “The Movie Scene.”  Then raise a second finger while you say, “The Easy Tool,” and a third finger while you say, “The Only Expectation.  Do it a few times and then practice it a few times throughout the day for the next couple of days.  Then, when you’re feeling stressed or challenged, remember that magic is as easy as 1-2-3.

Wishing you Grinch-free holidays, full of love, and joy, and good cheer.

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The Gift of Light

gift of light

I confess.  Despite my best efforts, I fell into the Bah-Humbug Swamp this past week.  Its appearance in my path is a seasonal thing.  Right smack in mid-December it bubbles up and grabs me. I tried to tip-toe past it this year, but it sneaked up and sucked me right in, covering me from head to toe with slimy sadness and chunks of disgust.  (Wait!  There’s a happy ending.  Don’t quit reading now!)

Instead of seeing the beauty of the holiday lights and enjoying the music that floated from stores’ speakers as I shopped,  all I could see was how driven and stressed everybody seemed as they tried to live up to all the expectations that the season evokes.   While I was under the Swamp Spell, it all looked like sheer madness.

But then I remembered the magical rope I had created for myself.  See, I knew the swamp was likely to show up, so I prepared for it in advance.  In my imagination, I found a big, glittering, quartz-encrusted slab of granite and right in the middle of it I anchored a tall marble pillar etched with the words “Kindness” and “Compassion.”  Because it reminded me a bit of a light-house, I placed a revolving light on it, too.  I wanted to be able to see it in case I did fall into the swamp, no matter how dark the swamp might be.  Then I made the magical rope.  It was woven of golden fibers and it had a kind of detector on the end of it so that if I swung it in the air above my head, it would automatically be drawn to the pillar and attach itself there.

It was a cool rope, because I could roll it up into a little ball that easily slid into my pocket, but when I pulled it out and swung it overhead, it would become any length it needed to be to reach the saving pillar.

Another cool thing about it is that while you were reading my description, you built one of your own in your imagination.  So now you can save yourself from the swamps of Bah-Humbug, too, if need be.

Anyway, once I remembered that I had my rope in my pocket, all it took was an instant for me to see it swirling over my head, finding the Pillar of Kindness and Compassion, and latching on to it.  Once it did that, I flew right out of the swamp and my whole view of things changed. I started looking into people’s eyes and smiling at them.  It surprised them, and they smiled back, forgetting how frazzled they had been a minute ago.  I winked at children and they giggled.  I found little ways to help people.  I told the check-out clerk how I appreciated her efficiency and friendliness.

Later, I used the rope when I caught myself losing patience with a neighbor, and again when a friend was telling me a litany of troubles.

I plan to use it all through the holidays.  Kindness and Compassion are, after all, the best gifts you can give.  They’re the ones that everyone remembers, the ones that truly touch their hearts.  And that’s because the glittering granite rock where the Pillar of Kindness and Compassion stands is anchored in your heart, surrounded by the sea of your love and casting a light so bright that it can shine through  any darkness.

 

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