Life’s too short to finish crappy novels

crappy novels

I pick it up. I feel through the pages for the dog-eared one and begin again. I read two pages and have only a shy comprehension of  the words I just read. It should be interesting–it’s a beautiful picture of a lonely man in a foreign country caught in love with someone who loves for a living. I’m uninterested. I press on. I’m half way through the book.

And now here I am, forcing something just to finish. I’m wound tight in the idea that if I hold out a little longer, read one more chapter, I’ll get it, feel it. But I know better. Life is strange and scintillating and above all, finite. There are some things to press through, to see to the end. Shitty novels are not one of them. 

 

A Letter to My Little Sister

A Letter to My Little Sister

 

To my incredible sister, Grace,

It  feels like forever ago when we got our faces painted at Halloween and you turned me in to a zombie by wrapping me in toilet paper. Now here you are, sixteen and nearly done with high school, dancing the night away at Prom and getting ready for your first job. I’m so grateful that we were brought together over eight years ago and have been watching you in awe, as you tackle each new challenge with grace and courage. So here it is, my advice for you, as your sister, with love.

Make plans in pencil and not permanent marker, then forge ahead. Things will not always work out the way you hope. Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Start again.

Be open to change. Change can be painful and a good thing all at once. Adapt and roll with the punches. Trust me on this one, start practicing now and never stop. It will make you better in your career, your relationships and in the ways you interact with the world.

Invent and reinvent yourself.

Approach social media with respect and caution. You are growing up in a world where privacy is pretty much nonexistent. Everything you do is posted, recorded, snapped. Don’t get me wrong, I love it–this is the way we live now, there’s no going back. But understand that people are watching. What you post on the internet doesn’t go away. It’s really hard to undo social media mistakes. Not everything is worth posting.

Another thing about social media–don’t let it make you feel bad. People post their best selves online. They show the happy, romantic, sexy, beautiful moments, full of filters and staged poses. Not many people share the ugly moments, the mistakes, the failures and embarrassments and the tough lessons. Just remember, we all have them. We All Have Them.

Believe in love. It’s real and the world is full of it. Don’t be afraid of a broken heart. It gives you character.

Give yourself permission to be sensitive. You’ll hear that sensitivity is a bad thing. You’ll be told not to let people see you cry and to not let your guard down or you’ll get hurt. This is nonsense. It takes courage to be sensitive and guts to let your guard down. Only the bravest of people can do these things. You are brave.

Read a lot of books. It’s okay to rip the dust covers off of them–there’s often something beautiful underneath. Underline the words that touch you, the phrases that make sense, the paragraphs that shape you. Don’t just stop at books. Read everything. Everything you can.

Have many points of view. I have to relearn this every day. It’s easy to get stuck seeing the world one way. But good things come from perspective.

Try not to let people down but don’t sacrifice your own well-being. Trust your intuition and you’ll continue to get better at it. Have high standards and resist the urge to compromise your core beliefs. You have every right to say yes, to say no, to quit, to be seen, to be heard, to take your time, to change your mind. Life meets you where you honour yourself.

Home is not a place, it’s a feeling. You’re going to make new friends and have new experiences in the years ahead. Stay close to your family and love them unconditionally. You and I have a special understanding of what family truly is, remember that.

You’re going to screw up. I have made many mistakes, some bigger than others. It hurts, but perfection is not an option, so prepare yourself. “They” say that it’s not the mistakes you make that define you, but the way you deal with them. Embrace your failures and don’t regret them. The toughest moments, not the easy ones, will propel you to be incredible.

Love yourself. Don’t let the bad hair day, the “huge” pimple, the bad grade, or the criticizing boyfriend make you think anything less of the incredible person you are. And as you do this, remember not to put others down either. Be kind and generous, and never assume you know what someone else is going through.

Trust your intuition. Fight for the good things in this world. Forgive people. Choose happiness. Don’t grow up too fast. Be proud of who you are. Shine. Shine big. Take chances and do good things for those around you. And remember, dear Grace, I will always be on your side; you are never alone.

 

 

 

 

Wherever You Go, There You Are

here

I can’t remember where I heard or read the phrase, wherever you go, there you are, but those six words have replayed in my head so often in the last five months or so that it’s become a habit to say them out loud every time I’m feeling anxious about circumstances I can’t control or worried about nearly anything.

For me, wherever you go, there you are, is a reminder to be at peace with the immediate present and at the same time, it helps me see the past and future also in the same perspective. Whatever happened, happened and the past is a truth that is what it is (i.e. wherever I was, there I was). And for what lies ahead, whatever will happen, will happen–wherever I go, there I will be.

Mantras have played a great role in my life. I’ve always been in constant mental-chatter. I talk to myself all day long. I know how strongly negative thoughts affect my actions, so I practice awareness and adopt sayings or phrases that bring me back to a positive space when awareness begins to escape me. When I was a young runner, my first coach taught me how to be in the moment when tackling a difficult hill or terrain. Instead of denying that I was experiencing the pain from the hill, she taught me to repeat, I love hills, and so, I conquered them one by one. Sometimes, it’s not a phrase, it’s a word, like strength and focus.

I’ve been up today since about 3:30. I went to bed wired and alert, and found myself in the exact same place just a few hours later, so I gave up on sleep, planted on a chair in front of the fire and researched the phrase I’ve been repeating to myself. As it turns out, it’s the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School who, in his book, writes “Just watch this moment, without trying to change it at all. What is happening? What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear?”

Life unfolds in the present. In the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a friend who, whenever she sees a beautiful place, exclaims in a near panic, “It’s so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!” “It takes all my persuasive powers,” writes Gilbert, “to try to convince her that she is already here.”

Phrases and mantras of positivity and encouragement are like a ladder that helps us reach a little higher than we could without it. I keep mine in a mental catalogue and reach for each of them often. For now, the words I choose to carry with me are simple and six,  wherever you go, there you are.

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.

 
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