How Do You Embrace Today?

Image result for long lines at disney world

Carpe diem! Embrace the moment!  YOLO!

Times and phrasing may change, but the concept of being present and taking full advantage of life has long been a concept humans have pondered.  This past week was one of traveling with a group of loved ones -new and old- who had never vacationed together. It was a time of learning, exploring, and developing new perspectives.

We all have very different internal paces, curiosities and degrees of wanting to venture and learn.  Whether it is a trip, working on a team project at work , or even going out for a  a date, considering our differences can make a significant impact on the experience. Debra Paulson writes about the Zen principle of accepting rather than struggling in moments where you may find discord.  Detaching from your wants allows you to relinquish your experience of anxiety, anger, or disappointment when something feels out of sorts.

Standing in mass crowds at Disney World certainly knocked me with initial stress.  I then took a breath and started to rearrange my focus from my crowd anxiety to appreciating the hand gently holding mine, the interesting people watching opportunities, the ducks chasing each other on the grass and the immaculately tended grounds filled with luscious greenery and placid bodies of water.

We can approach each situation a little differently.  We can ask questions to help us prepare for what is to come.  We can even be honest with ourselves about our preferences in life and seek them out.  Ultimately, life will toss us armfuls of surprises and our approach, focus, and acceptance will likely have a far greater impact on our experiences than the challenges and eases that come our way.

May we appreciate the ease of the expected,

approach something new and exciting, and

find joy in the surprises we may not have wished for,

squirmy clients, crowded lines, and unforeseen smiling faces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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River of Expectations

Do you value being…..

“Careful as someone crossing an iced-over stream.

Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.

Courteous as a guest.

Fluid as melting ice.

Shapable as a block of wood.

Receptive as a valley.

Clear as a glass of water.”?

(Tao Te Ching.15)

I am often drawn to exploring unfamiliar cultures, mindsets and expectations.  On a daily basis, I am surrounded with generosity, care, and plenty.  Yet somehow I suffer from a sense of feeling let down.  This weekend, as I pondered new ideas and experiences, I had to confront the propaganda that I discovered have largely shaped my expectations.  They have also led to a series of disappointments on those less-infrequent-than-I’d-like occasions when expectations have proved unmet.

Eventually this contemplative journey led me to the gate of my disappointment.  Self-imposed priorities were damning the joyful river of life I usually ride.  I’m still asking myself if I can release these holds, or if whether I can find ways to meet them.  The sense of urgency to resolve this discomfort is tangible.  However, some processes take time, and I own that expectations are one part of my life that require patient formation, reshaping, and at times even dissolving.

It is through considering what truly makes us happy that we can determine what our priorities and expectations would most productively be invested in.  Yoga Blogger Amanda Christian embraces the go-getter approach.  She writes:

The first thing I do when I feel any disturbance to my peace of mind is say to myself, “I am determined to see this person/situation differently.” This is how you step into your power. Everything happens for you, not to you.

An alternative viewpoint comes from the Tao Te Ching (# 15):

          “Do you have the patience to wait

           till your mud settles and the water is clear?

          Can you remain unmoving

          till the right action arises by itself?”

Is it possible that there is a middle ground?  I tend to find myself somewhere between these two stances.  I acknowledge discomfort, consider the root causes, not just surface instigators.  I’m interested in remedies more than band aids.  Life’s impressions on my pensive soul have left a high regard for allowing time to settle many momentary concerns.  Yet, time does not heal all wounds.  A look at the conflicts of racism and religion that have continued for millennia are testaments of that.  However, there is something to be said for allowing time rather than rushing situations or remediation, for acting deliberately more often than reacting, and giving others the respect to work through matters at their own pace.

We are all like flowing bodies of water, sharing this life-giving orb.  Some may be broad, others narrow, some deep while some are shallow.  May we honestly reflect on the breadth, depth, and pace at which our lives bring us the most fulfillment.  And may we honor the differences in one another’s flow.

Plethora of Perspectives

Do you ever find yourself analyzing a situation, resolving it in your mind, and growing emotional about how someone’s choice that impacts you in the situation is clearly “wrong”?  Whether it’s with politics, work, your friends or family, we all run into moments of disliking the choices another makes that impact us in some way.

Why are we so convinced that our own perspective is right?

I recently read an adaptation of Rumi’s poem “Elephant in the Dark” and found it eye opening on this matter.  A group of people, curious about what creature has be placed in a dark room, decide they cannot wait, but must reveal the room’s contents.  One by one they enter, each eager to uncover the mystery, each sure of what she has found.  One feels the ear- like a large fan.  Another feels its long, curving trunk-it must be like a snake.  Someone else encounters one of its thick, strong legs-it is solid and wide like a tree trunk.  Each person  is sure he leaves the darkness with a firm understanding of what the creature is.  Yet with their limited perspectives, none grasp the full measure of the elephant.

This past weekend, I found myself in several situations in which the involved parties grew emotionally charged and all had their own perspectives: with colleagues reflecting on a workshop, my partner as we discussed communication styles, even my dog as we walked. 

A small illustration: Last night, Naya, my dear canine companion, was absolutely convinced that she needed to lick whatever was stuck to the street.  I had no idea what the substance was, but a) I was sure I didn’t want her tongue running along the foreign substance and we had somewhere else to go –right then– as I saw it.  I called.  She tried to hold her stance.  I started to walk away, she continued anxiously licking.  What was more important in that moment: moving on or embracing what I perceived as appalling and perhaps sickness inducing, or what Naya thought was an absolutely delectable road treat?  She licked and scraped.  I walked forward.  Eventually she followed and fortunately no sign of sickness has appeared- at least yet.  We certainly saw things differently.

I often present my  challenges to one or two people to hear their opinions when I’m upset about something, just to get some alternate views.  Like looking through a fly’s eye.  Consider how many different angles and slightly different views a fly perceives when looking at a given image. If we’re being “open minded,” we may consider more than one side of any situation, but how many opinions and perspectives are we actually willing to consider?

How often do we remember to consider and look through others’ lenses?

While perusing some of photographer Jon Sanwell’s recent work from Myanmar, I encountered a series of photographs of betel leaves in baskets, including the one below.  Just from my own lens, I initially thought about the beautiful shades of jade green, the eye-catching angle of the shot, the juxtaposed glossy leaves and natural matte finish of the wicker baskets.  I wondered why someone would so carefully stack all the leaves in spirals around the containers.  But perhaps some people look at these leaves as the means to fitting in (chewing betel is a popular social practice in the region), the destroyer of their loved one’s health (betel is carcinogenic), or maybe just a really unique way to capture a part of Southeast Asia.  That’s just some of what I considered.  What are your thoughts looking at this photograph?

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So the next time you find yourself frustrated, hurt, confused, or even elated, consider how others are impacted by the situation and your actions.  Perhaps you will listen and learn a thing or two from someone with a different take.  Remember, everyone’s lens is unique.

 

Dare to Dream

 This week my partner and I walked our dog down the dimly lit streets of our neighborhood, bantering about what we might do had we won this week’s Powerball.  He encouraged: “Everyone has to dream.”

Sometimes it takes an opportunity to utilize one’s imagination.  There are those dreams that we can and some of which we ought to fulfill, like building a dream career, falling in love with a wonderful person who treats you the way you deserve, or developing a hobby that interests you.  Then there are those dreams, like holding a family gathering without awkward drama, living in a nation free of political corruption, or raising your child in a world in which there are no longer religious wars.  These loftier dreams may not actualize in your lifetime, but how energizing to the human spirit is it to hope, imagine and ponder?

What do you believe is possible?  

This past week I read to my students Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier.  The book was thought provoking even for a group of 3-5 year olds who are just starting to grasp the concept of inequality.  But even with such deep-rooted societal problems that racism causes, these young children grasped the heart of Dr. King’s dream.  As one of my students shared with her family over breakfast the next day: ”Love is the key and it doesn’t matter what your skin looks like.”

What do you value?

Imagine how Dr. King would feel hearing those words today from such a young child?  Our world still has a long way to go, no doubt, before racism is completely eradicated, recent Oscar nominations attest to that.  However, a world in which a mixed-race man can be elected president of the USA, or where people from any ethnic background can legally marry, when we see people of all colors in every stratum, it shows that some people’s dreams, through working together, can and do shape the world.

What changes do you see?

It is not always easy to go after our dreams.  We only reach them if we dare to stretch beyond our comfort zone.

So whether you want to become a writer or find a cure for AIDS, I hope you will ask yourself:

What do I dare to dream?

Living Life Fully: Today and Every Day

As I sat in a leadership session at work about 16 months ago, my boss dispersed gifts to each staff member: copies of Daniel Rechtschaffen’s book: The Way of Mindful Education.  Gradually, I’ve dabbled in it for over a year, but the last few weeks have been a time of stepping into a life more cognizant of and aligned with my goals and what truly brings me joy.  One of my great loves is uplifting, contemplative reading.  So the Mindfulness book has become a frequented part of my daily quiet time.

In a culture that focuses on multi-tasking and increasing productivity, slowing down to focus on the present moment and surroundings seems  counter-intuitive.  But research is picking up on this concept and finding that it actually develops greater focus and productivity, on top of some other spiffy perks including lowering blood pressure and decreasing anxiety.

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future (Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life).”  

Recently I found a quote on a friends FB page that really hit home the importance of fully embracing the moment.

“Oh my God, what if you wake up someday, and you’re 65,or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written: or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy: and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid?  It’s going to break your heart.  Don’t let this happen.”  -Anne Lamott

So what are you wanting to try that you haven’t yet?  What have you put off or been too afraid to attempt?  If it’s laughing more often, pick up a funny book (I recommend my recent gem of a find, Parenting is Easy: You’re Probably Just Doing It Wrong by: Sara Given).  Want to try your hand at poetry, take 15 minutes and just try to write a haiku verse about whatever is outside your window.  Plan on your attempts being full of flaws initially, but if you don’t try, you will never master something, let along know if you even enjoy it.  So embrace the moment, listen to the sounds, smell the surrounding aroma, acknowledge how you feel, and take in the view before your eyes.  Now is the time to enjoy your life.  So consider how you want to spend your time and go for it.  What have you got to lose?

For some great illustrations and a simple step-by-step mindfulness exercise, I really like the blogpost by hworsham: Mindfulness: An Excuse to Eat Asian Food .