Learning through Loss

We all experience times of loss: when life takes an unexpected turn that throws you for a loop.  Sometimes there is no way to foresee the wrench life will throw at you, but you can decide how you handle it.  

I recently encountered some of these twists: the first one rocked my life plans and initially struck me as a very pleasant shift.  Six weeks later, another large “surprise” arrived, but one I was not so eager to welcome.  I tend to think of myself as a person who loves surprises, but Tony Robbins shed some light on this topic for me in his Ted Talk:

“You like the surprises you want. The ones you don’t want, you call problems, but you need them.”

So here I am, swimming through the “problems” Mr. Robbins says I need. I could wallow and wonder why this struggle is happening to me, but what good would that do? Following the mindful tradition, I allow myself to accept the emotions that come. There are moments of despair, times of questioning, and even occasions of recognizing the positives that exist due to recent changes as well. There are multiple ways of looking at any situation. I’m inclined to cling to ideas I like. However, to work through struggles, I have to consider multiple perspectives and try to see the big picture.

In his book, Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth illustrates this Buddhist concept with his parable: “The Farmer’s Luck.”

There was once an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years.  One day, his horse ran away.  Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.  “Maybe,” the farmer replied.  The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses.  “Such good luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.  “Maybe,” replied the farmer.  The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg.  Again, the neighbors came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.  “Such bad luck,” they said.  “Maybe,” answered the farmer.  The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army to fight in a war.  Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.  “Such good luck!” cried the neighbors.  “Maybe,” said the farmer.

I think we can all attest to similar ebbs and flows in our supposed “good luck” department.  We never can quite imagine what is around the bend, but I do find a flow of increasing positivity comes to those who focus on goodness, and downward spin for those who wallow in anger, fear, or self-care at the detriment of others.

Brazilian lyricist and novelist, Paulo  Coelho shared: “I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.”

Whether stormy weather or stormy circumstances, we each get to decide how we handle the unexpected.  Will you stay weighed down in the weight of misery, or allow those painful feelings to flow through you, then allow them pass and move on?  I hope you will allow life’s clouds, at times light and in other moments dark, to cast their shadows and then blow on by.  Acknowledge the hurt, then move on and take in the moments of sunshine.  

There is always light above the clouds.

 

  1. Photo by Elijah Henderson, Clarksville, United States. https://unsplash.com/photos/DMED-sOt1Ak

 

  1.      2. The Kingdom, Sun above Clouds, 2008 © Seb Janiak

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Home

 

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“Home is the love that lives inside you….” –Heidi Barr

Do you remember when you first felt at home?  I remember even in childhood, I sought to find a place that truly seemed like where I belonged.  I recognized that the place I lived my entire life strangely did not seem like home. In my twenties, I started to feel a sense of home as I followed my heart.  By gradually growing into the person I wanted to be, I found increasing happiness. But it was only after a very difficult series of events at the conclusion of my third decade of life when I truly found that comforting sense that I had sought for so long.  Only recently, I began to recognize that such grounding is not about a physical location; it is a product of pursuing my dreams and accepting myself and others as beautiful: flawed and flourishing, just the way we are.

This sense of home was not an easy discovery though.  It came after going through years of incredible struggle that allowed me to develop the inner strength required to eventually walk away from everything. I moved away from my home of over a decade and close proximity to all of my close friends I had developed in that time.  I quit a job of 7 years in a community I truly loved in order to pursue a Ph.D..  The next step was choosing to love myself enough to care for my needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I stopped overeating and started jogging.  I set boundaries for how I wanted to be treated, which led to the end of a devastating marriage.  I then let go of starting grad school at that time because I knew that with all its stress, it would probably be more harmful than helpful in light of the other changes in my life. Eventually I chose to leave a religious community that had once felt comforting but over time, became a place in which I felt incredibly isolated and unhappy.

This sense of home was not an easy discovery though.  It came after going through years of incredible struggle that allowed me to develop the inner strength required to eventually walk away from everything. I moved away from my home of over a decade and close proximity to all of my close friends I had developed in that time.  I quit a job of 7 years in a community I truly loved in order to pursue a Ph.D..  The next step was choosing to love myself enough to care for my needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I stopped overeating and started jogging.  I set boundaries for how I wanted to be treated, which led to the end of a devastating marriage.  I then let go of starting grad school at that time because I knew that with all its stress, it would probably be more harmful than helpful in light of the other changes in my life. Eventually I chose to leave a religious community that had once felt comforting but over time, became a place in which I felt incredibly isolated and unhappy.

Needless to say, there was a lot of change in just a few months. Sure I had moments of self-doubt, fear of the future, and even overwhelming grief.  I didn’t dwell in them though.  I  allowed them to come, be acknowledged through tears, prayer and reflective writing, then I let them pass.  I focused on the task at hand. I kept my plate pretty light in order to heal, but wasn’t entirely crippled.  I recognized that only through a hike can we truly appreciate a summit. I knew that someday there would be a series of summits and hikes that felt more manageable ahead.  Sometimes we face those Everest type journeys in life.  I certainly didn’t want to get stuck on a snowy cliff, so with one gradual step at a time, the hike was eventually concluded.  Now I feel like I’ve made it down safely and headed out on several wonderful adventures since then.  None quite so intense, but then, I’ve grown stronger from each trip.

So wherever you are in your journey, whether struggling up an Everest or gliding down a Dinky Hill, I hope you breathe deeply enough to enjoy the aroma, look around enough to appreciate the view, and pace yourself so your next step can move in the direction you desire.

And find someone to smile at each day.

 

Thanks to photographer Hristo for the incredible summit view.

Grit: The Beauty of Overcoming

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

While heading home late on Christmas Eve, I asked my driver: “What inspires you?”  He thought for a moment, then answered: “Stories of overcoming.”  That was it! I thought to myself.  That is what makes this holiday so significant.  That is what  draws people to reality shows like Biggest Loser, or even the title of Survivor speaks to what is accomplished, and the dramas are all about skilled people who overcome one challenge after another.  We find hope for humanity in witnessing success after a difficulty.

Consider the story of Rudy, the classic tale of a young man who has a dream, a love, a great flaw, but he perseveres unflinchingly until his dream of playing football at Notre Dame comes true.

To be honest, I always questioned how this story was so loved because it focused on supporting someone’s dream that seemed (to me) pointless because, let’s face it, Rudy never became a great player.  But maybe that’s the whole point I’ve been missing.  Maybe pursuing a dream isn’t just inspiring because someone becomes great.  I wouldn’t want children to only try in classes that they are going to earn A’s.  Growth and strength tend to develop through the experience, the practice, the journey, not the ending point.  These trying moments along life’s path are what increase what is being called “grit.”  Author Paul Tough points out that psychologists list grit as one of the most important characteristics of successful individuals.  They may not be highly successful at everything they try, but those failures and challenges that are part of the human experience are what develop happier people, individuals who have learned how to overcome difficulties (http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/05/why-grit-is-more-important-than-grades/).

Today’s helicopter parenting techniques prevent this development.  Parents trying to sway a teacher or even college professor’s grade selection for their child doesn’t exactly help a child learn about his or her own merit.  I once learned that the mother of a job candidate (who had no connection to anyone at the school) called the office to encourage the director to hire her daughter.  Talk about an effort leading to the opposite result that parent desired!  If a parent picks up her child every time he falls, how are his legs ever going to be strong enough to get up and walk independently?

How will such a generation solve challenging problems at work or overcome difficulties in relationships?  How will it handle deep questions like: Do I truly make a difference in the world?” or “Am I doing enough?”  

A little piece of advice from the educator Dr. Maria Montessori :“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”  And for adults- may we try harder, stretch higher, and attempt to walk a few more difficult trails than ever before.

Here’s to a year of developing greater inner beauty and strength!