The Great Big Lessons I Learned in 2015

change

“Embracing the vulnerability it takes to rise up from a fall and grow stronger makes us a little dangerous. People who don’t stay down after they fall or are tripped are often troublemakers. Hard to control. Which is the best kind of dangerous possible. They are the artists, innovators, and change-makers.” –Brene Brown, Rising Strong

It’s been a year of change. It’s been a year of happiness, discomfort, pain and excitement. It’s been a year of hard lessons and a year where sometimes one step forward meant a tumble backwards immediately after. There were things that I rocked and things that I screwed up, things that happened that were out of my control and things I will never understand. It’s been a year of consideration with a fierce need for courage.

As I look forward, I’m reflecting on the things I’ve learned–that we are all doing the best we can; that everything, every thing, is unpredictable; that shitty things happen at good times and really good things can happen when it seems like nothing ever will; that there is always another side to the story;  that I am smart, resourceful, strong and resilient (thank you, Katie); that it’s best to be relentlessly kind to others; that patience is a virtue although, it’s never been one of mine; and that I can’t control everything, that letting go is a powerful decision to make.

“The longer I love, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.” Charles Swindoll

And here it is, the end of another chapter. I leave 2015 behind with this in mind: who do I want to be at the end of the day? 

My mentor once told me a story about change (for the record, the following is the story, to the best of my recollection). He said that he was once an aggressive driver. He said he was that guy who shouted from behind the wheel, even with the windows up, who got frustrated at others’ driving behaviors. And he always said, “that’s just who I am–I’m an aggressive driver.”  I understand this rational completely. I’ve said it many times about some of my weaker qualities or habits–that’s just who I am. Then Gary told me that one day someone said to him, “you are whoever you are at the moment, so if you want to change something about yourself, change it and then that’s who you’ll be instead.”  He said that one day he got in the car and he decided he was not going to be an aggressive driver anymore. He practiced holding in his frustrations and refrain from calling out the other drivers while he was behind the wheel. It was tough, it didn’t happen quickly and there were relapses. But after a while he became more at ease while he was driving. And after a while his urge to shout lessened and the stress dissipated. And then, one day, he wasn’t an aggressive driver anymore. And that’s just who he was. It’s a simple story, but it reminds me that even though we can’t change the past or predict the future, we can control who we are by how we react to life, that our reactions are one of the few things we can control and change.

I’m looking forward to 2016, to the not knowing, to the challenges and the lessons and all the good things that come with the tough stuff like vulnerability (I’m working on it). In 2016, we will not be afraid to ask ourselves, who do I want to be at the end of the day? And then, maybe more important than asking the question, we will not be afraid of going after the answer.

How to be Mindful During the Holidays

smilebreathe

Goodbye November. I’ve got a month of mindfulness ahead of me and I’m ready to begin. The holidays are a wonderful time but they can also be filled with excess and expectation. We come together as friends and families but with that comes the pressure to provide meals, gifts and even our time–which seems like the easiest thing to give, but when you have dozens of people to touch in a short period, this can be a challenge. And then there’s the excess. It’s part our culture to celebrate with food but with so many celebrations in such a short time, the calorie counts soar, causing every gym and health club to brace for (and revel in) the crowd of people who hit the door January 2nd, still reeling from 6 weeks of over-indulgence.

But does it always have to be this way? It seems like everywhere I turn there are angry people voicing their concern that the local holiday parade is called just that in order to accommodate people of all faiths and beliefs. There are family members at odds because they can’t agree on plans. There are people running themselves ragged, giving up their personal time to exercise or reflect, just to do more of the required holiday stuff.

This time of year is not likely to change but it doesn’t mean we can’t change the way we react to it ourselves. As we turn the corner of the holiday season and say goodbye to Thanksgiving until next year, there are things we can do to strengthen our souls and spirits in the next month, instead of overwhelming or ignoring them.

 1. Don’t put all of your personal routines on hold. 

With vacation days, school breaks, travel and no shortage of things to get done, it’s tempting to disregard the routines that serve us personally, like taking a moment to meditate or write, hit the gym or read a book. This is a time where we want to give so much of ourselves to others–and the best way to do that is by first, making sure

2. Be grateful. 

There are more people, experiences and things in your life to be grateful for than you can count. So try. Create a list of all of the things to be grateful for and reflect on them throughout the month.

3. See more.

Experience the food, the lights, the music and the space around you with new eyes. These things are here and then they are gone. Appreciate their splendor.

4. Forgive. 

Give yourself a gift this season. Forgiveness is one a powerful way to rejuvenate the spirit. Forgiveness does not mean whatever happened will be forgotten but it does mean that you are releasing the negative feelings surrounding it and deciding to not let it control you any longer. When you do this, you make room for new and wonderful experiences in your life.

5. Practice empathy. 

When you encounter someone who steps in front of you in line, snaps at you at work, cuts you off on the road, remember that they have their own stresses. You do not know their story. You do not know their struggles. Put yourself in their shoes and treat them the way you would want to be treated.

6. Drink water. Sleep.

This seems simple, but so many people underestimate how much water they actually consume and the quality of sleep they actually get (let alone the length). It’s proven that we function better when properly hydrated and rested so just make this a must!

7. Trade judgement for kindness. 

The holidays seem to bring out the best in some and the worst in others. Use this time to feel warmth and kindness towards others instead of casting judgment.

8. Let go of expectations. 

This is a time of year that is fraught with expectations that just can’t reasonably be fulfilled. Instead of committing to the way you think things should be, stay present and ground and roll with the punches (this is by far my hardest rule to abide by).

9. Love yourself.

Stop looking at your flaws and missteps and appreciate everything that makes you you.

10. “Smile, breathe and go slowly.” -Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist monk

The Freedom that Comes from Forgiveness

http://optimisticquotes.org/quotes-to-boost-your-positivity/To forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover that the prisoner was you. -Lewis B. Smedes

I was having a great day. I mean, a really great day. Then it hit me. The memory of what “that person” did to me and suddenly, out of nowhere I was angry. I thought that I had “moved on” from that part of my life, but I realize now that I moved ahead while carrying the resentment and bitterness of the things that had happened with me.

When an injustice happens, we want to be vindicated. We carry the burden of the hurt because on the surface, forgiving can feel like letting the other person off the hook or excusing their behavior and actions. So we wrap the pain and the anger associated with the events around us like a blanket.

If I forgave, I wouldn’t have anything to hold on to–and we all want the things we’ve done in our lives to count, to not be a waste.  Then I came across something I wrote in an old blog post: “If you want to change, change.” I read that forgiveness is a choice; it’s a gift you give yourself. It does not come naturally like the process of grief, it’s one that you have to actively commit to see through.

Forgiveness calls for a change of heart and thinking. It is not a feeling–it’s a decision you make to do the right thing.  Forgiveness is hard because it means letting go of the emotional attachments we’ve made to parts of our past. It is a practice that requires you to let go and learn . Dr Wayne W. Dyer writes “When you give up interfering, and opt instead to stream like water–gently, softly and unobtrusively–you become forgiveness itself.”

Andrea Brandt, Ph.D. describes forgiveness as “the capping off of your emotional turmoil. [It] puts the final seal on what happened that hurt you. You will still remember what happened, but you will no longer be bound by it. Having worked through the feelings and learned what you need to do to strengthen your boundaries or get your needs met, you are better able to take care of yourself in the future.”

Forgiveness is not about forgetting, it’s about moving on. Forgiveness is not about giving it, it’s about choosing happiness over anger and learning that anger and resentment are a choice as is choosing not to indulge in them. Forgiveness is not about pretending that nothing happened, it’s about the commitment to stop playing the pain over and over again in your mind.  Forgiveness is about forgiving yourself for putting you in a bad situation in the first place. Forgiveness is freedom.

17 Reasons To Revel in Halloween

halloween

  1. Halloween is a holiday that allows for your inner child and artist to come alive.
  2. It’s a time to revel in the thrill of the unknown and to skirt reality.
  3. There are no age restrictions.
  4. The display of creativity is at it’s best.
  5. Halloween marks a change in seasons and is an adieu to fall.
  6. The horror movie marathons on network TV.
  7. It’s acceptable to eat inordinate amounts of sugar.
  8. “There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch.” -Robert Brault
  9. You can do it any way you want–rules need not apply.
  10. Individualism is alive and remarkable–it’s about what you will do, who you will become and the choices you will make.
  11. Kids get their first taste of recreating themselves and see the world as full of possibility.
  12. Pet costumes…what’s not to love (unless you’re the dog)?
  13. Halloween creates a community connection with no need to segment people by religion or cause.
  14. There’s no need for expensive gifts.
  15. Halloween is about conquering your fears instead of wasting the day paralyzed with them. It’s breathing a sigh of relief at the end of a horror movie and walking out of the haunted house safe and sound.
  16. Pumpkin carving, bonfires and bobbing for apple.
  17. Halloween is about possibility, held captive by its own unique sense of magic and wonder.

 

Bonus! For those of you who already embrace the adrenaline rush: “The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…”  –Stephen King

 

 

Wounds in the Process Of Healing

 

brene-brown

“We’ve all fallen. And we have the skinned knees and bruised hearts to prove it. But scars are easier to talk about than they are to show, with all the remembered feelings laid bare. And rarely do we see wounds that are in the process of healing. I’m not sure if it’s because we feel too much shame to let anyone see a process as intimate as overcoming hurt. Or, if it’s because even when we muster the courage to share our still incomplete healing, people reflexively look away.”

My parents like to tease me about a video of me when I three and in my first year of pre-school in Pennsylvania. Throughout the year, our class had someone tape “interviews” with each of us, along with our holiday performances and parties. Then, at the conclusion, each family had a personalized year-book on tape, glimmering with the hopes and dreams and oddities of their own child. In mine, I sang to the camera-man, I often turned the “questioning” back on him and I revealed my talent for knowing the difference between a boy Easter bunny and a girl Easter bunny (one wears blue and one wears pink of course).

Over the years, my mom has told the story of my video proudly to many and I’ve come to realize that she was not as proud of me for my performance skills–although I did belt out a fabulous rendition of “Where is Rainbow Bright,” to the tune of “Where is Thumbkin” and reaffirmed my dance skills during the solo in our class Christmas performance in which I chose to lift my dress up over my head while swaying to the music–as she was by my unabashed self-promotion and assuredness. I was all-in. I was proud, fearless and full of self-confidence. And I was having a hell of a time.

Not long after that candid, documented time in my life, I began my life-long battle with perfectionism. I began to recognize consequences of failure and learned the easy habit of self-doubt. I’ve spent much of my life fighting between the two very different, very pervasive sides of my personality–the fearless girl who wants nothing more than to have a purpose, rise and shine and show the world what she’s got, and the one who hears the cruel whispers of perfectionism reminding me of the what-ifs: What if I don’t say the right words? What if I mess up? What if I they don’t like it?

I was driving to work one day and on a billboard outside of a church was written “Acknowledge life’s hurt, habits, and hang-ups.” I pulled in to the parking lot and wrote it down, not sure what it meant to me yet, but knowing it was something important. Then came Brene Brown’s latest book, Rising Strong. There are so many things I love about this book, but the thing that has stuck with me the most is the thing Brown calls the “messy middle,” which describes the part of our story in which we’ve falling and are trying to figure how to get back up.

Brown writes, “But scars are easier to talk about than they are to show, with all the remembered feelings laid bare. And rarely do we see wounds that are in the process of healing. I’m not sure if it’s because we feel too much shame to let anyone see a process as intimate as overcoming hurt. Or, if it’s because even when we muster the courage to share our still incomplete healing, people reflexively look away.”

I’ve decided to start my process over again by sharing the fears (not altogether rational) that have crept up on me in the time of my own messy middle with the hope that the act of writing them down and putting them out there will in itself pay homage to the fact that we are where we are. We all fail. We are all afraid. It’s okay to be low.

The Fear:

The fear that I can’t find my voice. The fear that I’ll never be a good writer. The fear that I might appear too self-confident. The fear that I will appear not self-confident enough. The fear that my words will be taken wrong.  The fear that I will offend somebody. The fear that I am not good enough. The fear that I will make a fool of myself. The fear that I will not be the best I could have been. The fear that I will not succeed. The fear that I will not bounce back. The fear that I have wasted my time. The fear that I gave up too soon. The fear that I didn’t quit soon enough. the fear that I am too hard-headed. The fear that I put up with more than I should. The fear that I am selling myself short. The fear that I won’t tell enough of the truth. The fear that I will say too much.  The fear that I am not a good enough friend. The fear that I have let someone down. The fear that I will let someone down. The fear that someone close to me is hurting, and I am not engaged enough to know. The fear that I made too much out of nothing. The fear that I made not enough out of something very big. The fear that I don’t laugh enough. The few that I might laugh at something that hurts someone else. The fear that I take things too seriously. The fear that others won’t get me.  The fear that it’s written all over my face.

In Response to My Own Fears:

May I learn to trust the process more and worry less about the outcome. May I muster up the courage to sing more, dance more, go all in.

May I worry less about what other people think. May I contribute more to other people’s joy.

May I take more time to enjoy the moment, be present, uninhibited, and happy in the midst of imperfection and fear.

 

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn

alicerabbit

The past five months have been some of the strangest in my life. When I stop and reflect on them, I see that I was living in a way that I have always admired in other people without even knowing. Because circumstances were beyond my control and the stress could have easily eaten me alive, I had to make a decision to look forward, live with the risks and just handle whatever was coming at me in the moment. At the time, it just felt like survival.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written and of course, the longer you wait to do something, the easier it is to build that something up in your head, until it seems enormous and out of reach, looming above your head. I tend to look at the things I am not accomplishing more closely than the things that I am experiencing at that very moment. When I look back at my notepad, I realize that I have been writing all along these last two months, just not in my usual format. Here are a few sentiments I wrote down that have stayed with me on the journey.

Fear can only hurt us if we let it.

Trust yourself.

Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to stop participating in it.

Well, why the hell not?

The best people possess a a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable, they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed. -Ernest Hemingway

There is no path to happiness; happiness is the path.

Take courage.

Choose to see beauty.

Let go.

If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves. -Thomas Edison

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. -Ernest Hemingway

The bad news is, people are crueller and meaner and more evil than you’ve ever imagined. The good news is people are kinder, gentler and more loving that you’ve ever dreamed.

Always be kinder than you feel.

Be quick and curious and playful and strong.

Don’t stumble over something behind you.

Trust the vibes you get from other people. Energy doesn’t lie.

Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better. -Maya Angelou

The trouble is, you think you have time. -Buddha

You don’t need a reason to follow your heart.

Don’t settle: don’t finish crappy books. If you don’t like the menu, leave the restaurant. If you’re not on the right path, get off it. -Chris Brogan

Wake up each day and say ‘Thank you.’

Silence is so accurate. -Mark Rothko

Kindness has a beautiful way of reaching down in to the weary heart and making it shine like the rising sun.

Be happy for no reason.

If running is difficult, run more. This lesson applies to many things.

Fall in love often.

Doubt is your only disability. -Chris Mott

You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body. -C.S. Lewis

Be filled with wonder. Be touched by peace.

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable. -Mary Oliver

 

 
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