Human beings are social creatures, even those of us that prefer others’ company in small doses. With the world at our feet thanks to social media, but with decreasing contact with those immediately around us, again thanks to social media, it can be hard to find your ‘tribe’. If you’re feeling a lack of real connection with real people, start by identifying the places or activities where you feel the best and the most yourself. Then go do one of them. Now.
Meanwhile, check the tempo of your soul versus where you live. Some of us were always meant for the speed of a big city and others not so much. Your tempo may have changed as well – what meshed well at 25 may be out of synch at 40. You can rail against time or make some adjustments if this is true for you! Figuring out what you want (or need) will start you on a path to other people that march to the same rhythm.
Procrastination is an art form. Based on my own experience, most of the time it occurs when I don’t know how to approach something – so I research online (several weeks), I visit the office supply store and create folders (another week or so), I order books from Amazon and read them (a couple of months) and then I realize I have too much information and still don’t know where to start.
That is the worst case scenario – some home improvement projects can be solved relatively quickly with just one book and no folders but they’re the exception. I’m not sure where the fear of doing it wrong really comes in – is it fear of wreaking un-fixable havoc? Or just the wasted time that will have to be re-invested to reverse course? Or perhaps all the wilderness survival training from childhood took hold in unexpected ways – after all if you’re lost in the woods you’re supposed to stop where you are rather than wander in circles… The sad fact is that wandering in circles is part of a creative life. Hopefully the scenery changes on each rotation and you know more than you did the first time around!
On the eve of Independence Day I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the American obsession with being happy. We are, as a group, surprisingly anxious about this ever ‘slightly-out-of-reach’ carrot. Like any dog with the scent of prey sighted in the distance we race after it harder and harder. Statistically, we rank pretty low on the international scale of happiness too. Perhaps it’s time to just sit back and relax for a moment.
I think happiness is actually something that sneaks up on you. If you have ever tried to get a wild bird (like a sparrow or chickadee) to sit on your finger you know that the secret is being very still and letting the bird come to you. Pursuing it will only convince it to get as far away as possible. Focus your attention on what living well means to you and just maybe happiness will come along for the ride.
It’s easy to fall into the trap where Saturday and Sunday are catch-up days for what didn’t get done the rest of the week. But does that really give you the mental break and relaxation you need? Or does it just heap on the guilt for not getting it all done as you vacuum while staring out at the sunny blue sky? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You may have to sacrifice some “I should’s”, but you can keep your weekends for the other areas of your life that need your presence too. Here are 5 simple, not necessarily easy, things you can do to get your weekend time back.
Divide up the routine chores among family members and among the weekdays. Have a dedicated chore hour every night when everyone chips in and maybe even put on some great dance music. For example, clean the bathroom on Monday night, change the sheets Tuesday night, grocery shop on Wednesday etc.
Stay in on Friday night and get ready for the week ahead (clothes, frozen lunches, etc.) Use that as your wind-down time from the work week. That way you won’t sleep Saturday away and won’t have Monday’s demands eating into your time on Sunday.
Limit your kids’ sports and club activities to one each. They’ll still get into college and it’s been shown that boredom can be good for kids. If the adults in the house are hyperactive joiners; cut back there too.
Have some potential ideas worked out for what you want to do with all this free time. Have a tentative plan for a sunny day, rainy day, stay at home day etc. That way if your first choice isn’t quite so appealing because it’s pouring out, you won’t waste the day wandering around wondering what to do. If you need supplies for a craft project or something, do that shopping earlier in the week. Don’t forget to leave a little free time for just enjoying the moment.
Lower your standards on housework, lawn and garden. Turn your back on Martha Stewart and settle for good enough in these areas. Your soul needs feeding even more than the lawn and if it’s an inch or two longer than the neighbors’, you’ll be giving them a chance to feel superior;-)
Have you ever dreaded having a conversation with a boss or coworker or even a spouse so much that you find yourself playing the different roles inside your head ahead of the actual conversation? And how often does the real conversation mimic the one in your head?
Odds are good that since as much as 80% of communication is nonverbal that you could be ‘leading the witness’ and making things more uncomfortable than they need to be. Think of someone that goes to the boss to ask for a raise but doesn’t think they’ll get it. How often does the boss say yes in that situation? That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have the uncomfortable conversations or that you should like someone that you really don’t. It just means it’s a good idea to leave some of the input to the other party.
If you can stop yourself from predicting the outcome of the conversation or what the other person is likely to say, you may be surprised at what happens. So how do you do that? Mostly by stopping the voices in your head. Prep for any difficult conversation on paper. List out what you want, what problems are occurring, things that you know, and leave out the things that you are guessing. Then every time you hear yourself say “he’s going to say…” stop yourself, remind yourself that you don’t know what the other person will say, and focus on your list instead. Notice what really happens in the meeting, pretend to be a silent observer even as you’re talking. It only takes a time or two of seeing things not go quite as badly as you might have predicted to start to stop leading with your chin and spoiling for a fight.
There are a lot of different styles, techniques, and how-to articles out there on meditation. Google’s keyword tool says there are more than a million queries a month on “meditation” and over 27,000 on “how to meditate“. That’s a lot of people seeking something more than what they have. The goal of most meditation is to quiet the conscious mind so it shouldn’t come as a shock that no one size fits all. There are so many ways of thinking and learning that you may have to try out a few different methods before you find what works best for you. The one thing I’m sure about is that if you are stopping every two minutes to ask if you’re doing it right, you’re not!
Technique #1 – Conscious Awareness
Know your physical emotional center; this is the part of your body that has a physical reaction to emotions, good or bad. Mine is my stomach, but I have friends that feel things in their throats and some in their hearts. If you’re not sure, visualize a really happy event and observe your physical reactions. Repeat the exercise a few times over the course of a few days and see what body parts are consistently speaking up.
Also, have a quiet place to meditate; it doesn’t have to be fancy, have crystals or incense, or even be devoid of people. Just a place where you won’t be interrupted and you can tune out any distractions.
How to meditate using conscious awareness
Step 1: Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Find your sense of “me”ness in your body. For me, I find myself in my head, but then it’s universally acknowledged that I think too much. Sit with that sense of consciousness for a moment.
Step 2: Let your sense of consciousness move to your emotional center. For me that means letting that sense of ‘me’ drop from my head to my stomach. I can feel my attention and my sense of self all coalescing in that location. Sit with that sense of consciousness for a moment.
Step 3: When you feel relaxed and centered here, gently push your awareness to a point just outside your body; a few inches from where it was last. If you find your attention breaking then gently bring yourself back to the point where you are fully centered and try again.
Step 4: Once you have your attention focused on that outside point, relax into it until you feel ready to stop. This is the point to ask any questions where you want clarity or guidance, but don’t assume you’ll get the answer right then and there. It may come then or sometime during the day or week as you go about your normal business. Often I just get a sense of reassurance which I take to mean “stop worrying!”
Technique #2 Meditate Using a Mantra
Here is a brief (approximately 10 minutes) video introduction to meditation using breathing and a simple mantra. Some people find a mantra helps them to stay focused while for others it’s an even bigger distraction. Try it and see what works best for you.
Technique #3 – Meditating With Repetitive Motion
Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting completely still. Simple, comfortable, repetitive motion can provide the right dynamic as well. Just like breathing, giving your brain something to concentrate on without actually thinking will help move you into a quieter space.
If you’re a pet owner try sitting comfortably while rhythmically petting your dog or cat. Slowly and easily repeat the same motion over and over. Let your mind follow the physical movement and the sensation of touching fur. If the pet is done before you are, let him go and simply relax back into the comfortable space you were just in.
As long as you don’t have to watch for curbs or traffic; cycling, walking or running can also get you there. Just be sure the motion is easy, not highly aerobic, and that it’s comfortable. You want your mind to reach for the physical sensations, not avoid them. Count paces or repetitions if that’s easier.
Some basic meditation tips:
Pick a time when you can be in the moment and give meditation your full concentration rather than keeping one eye on the clock to get to work or pick someone up.
If you find meditation intimidating or have a had a very stressful day ease into it with a short audio guided meditation, one that lasts about ten or fifteen minutes. This will help break your thought loop and create a more relaxed starting point.
Don’t stress if you don’t immediately have some awe-inspiring experience. It may not be the right technique for you or you may just need some practice. OR… having a quiet reflective moment to yourself is the awe-inspiring experience that you need right now.
Every few years I get myself up before dawn, pack my camera bag, and head out to the tulip fields in Skagit Valley. I don’t go every year because I don’t want it to become so repetitious that I fail to see in new ways. Even in the early hours before anything is open, there are other photographers about and people trying to avoid the traffic rush, but it’s rare to hear another voice. There is something about being in the quiet fields in the early morning that lends itself to deep thinking and slightly quirky analogies.
The scholar Joseph Campbell described three groups of people in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces :
Those who heed a powerful inner call and slog through life’s misfortunes in pursuit of it
“The multitude of men and women [who] choose the less adventurous way of the comparatively unconscious civic and tribal routines”
And “those who know neither an inner call nor an outer doctrine whose plight truly is desperate”
I think it’s fair to say that the last group contributes a fair number of cases to the family court system. Too often in trying to help, we speak from a single point of reference, similar to looking down tulip rows to the horizon. There’s no getting around the fact that the curve of the earth combined with the nature of the human eye will create the optical illusion that parallel rows appear to angle towards each other to a single point on the horizon. It seems like an inevitable destination. The illusion is so powerful that even knowing this, most of us are still a little startled if we walk straight down the row into the field only to find that it doesn’t finish anywhere near the landmark that originally marked that point. A person standing ten rows away will see the rows come together at a different place although possibly with the same erroneous landmark. The reality is that each row ends in a different spot and that whatever the goal, both parties are probably going to have to step over some boundaries to achieve it.
I don’t know how many photographs of tulip rows marching towards that vanishing point are taken each year but it’s a lot. I can tell that because almost all of the other photographers have their cameras safely attached to a tripod at chest height. It easily could be that they are seeing something that I’m not, but I can guarantee that they aren’t seeing what I am because it’s impossible to do so from that kind of vertical and horizontal distance. Unfortunately there are a lot of photography books that imply that a tripod is what distinguishes a ‘real’ photographer from a tourist and it quickly becomes habit along with avoiding the mud (some of those unconscious civic rules Campbell referred to.) But sometimes getting your knees dirty and breaking a few of the unspoken rules can lead to a whole new perspective. Suddenly the tulips aren’t diminutive and sweet but giants reaching for the sky or an entire universe of water droplets on a single petal. In the same way, some kids need the rules of organized sports while others could be more positively influenced by watching Star Trek reruns and others still by being given a camera. Trying out different perspectives may open new doors and new solutions.
I can’t take the credit for this one; I came across this simple technique in The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander. This simple but powerful concept is to use ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ when joining two clauses. It was a brief section in the book and I noted it mildly when I read it. A few days later I started to realize just how often most of us use the word ‘but’ in a conjunctive sense. For example:
I want to drive to Alaska, but I also want to see the Greek islands
I want to make money blogging, but I need to pay the bills now
I want a loving relationship, but I appreciate some of the things that go with being single
These sound innocent enough until you start adding them up. Then ouch! At first it may not seem that you are limiting your options by doing this; it may seem more like setting a priority or qualifying the desire. Try sitting for awhile with these rephrased sentences:
I want to drive to Alaska, and I also want to see the Greek islands
I want to make money blogging, and I need to pay the bills now
I want a loving relationship, and I appreciate some of the things that go with being single
It doesn’t imply that you can do anything simultaneously or suggests anything impossible. Yet there’s a subtle difference between the two sets of sentences. Maybe there’s a solution out there that involves both Alaska and the Greek islands that you wouldn’t find if you were only looking for one side of the equation.
What is very clear is that the second set seems infinitely more open to possibility and the potential for abundance. It doesn’t deny one thought or desire in favor of the other; it makes them more equal. So while I work on reducing my use of the ‘b’ word, try it for yourself and let me know if it makes a difference for you.
It’s funny how people tend to focus on the big moments and major events in life as being the most joyful; things like graduation,weddings, etc. These should be joyful occasions, but they aren’t nearly frequent enough to live on joyfully. It’s the small everyday things where a drop of pleasure repeated will multiply and stretch to last.
How to Start
Here’s a simple way to start adding more joy into the everyday moments. Start by looking at your daily routine for the tasks and moments that you repeat so often that they are almost unconscious. Things like brushing your teeth or grabbing that first cup of coffee. Pick one and then think about ways to bring more pleasure and joy to that moment, using all five senses. For example, are the coffee cups in your cupboard there out of convenience (free, cheap, gifts) or is each one truly a representation of the perfect coffee cup? The right shape, color, thinness, to suit your mood on a given day? If they aren’t, start weeding out the ones that are simply functional and begin a quest for mugs that feel, look, and taste the way you want them too; bringing just a little more joy into your day, everyday. There’s no time limit and no rules. Enjoy the process of bringing beauty and pleasure into your surroundings in small, inexpensive ways that don’t add clutter or simply more ‘stuff’.
After tackling the first area of improvement, look around for the next one. Again, it’s all about the little things that you use everyday. The umbrella, the lunch bag and so forth.
If you keep gradually improving your experience with your daily routine it won’t be all that long before moving through the day feels easier, lighter and joyful.