There are so many things that happen in life that we can’t control. Thus, it is especially vital that we understand where we have real control and where we do not. This way we know where to direct our energy. At any given moment in life, WE are responsible for the opening and closing of our hearts to peace.
1. Don’t scratch the bite! Yes, your mother was right- the more you scratch the itch, the more itch you will get. At times, we can get hyper focused on the bite and it is ALL we are aware of. It’s all consuming. Our focus is on high alert: I have a bite, I itch, I scratch, I tell myself “don’t scratch” and then REPEAT this cycle. We are too caught up in the bite and urgent need to soothe the itching that we are not aware we are holding our breath and tightening our muscles which creates additional strain. What the bite really needs is some soft, cooling touch with a damp compress. We override the true need with our own sense of urgency and irritation. We “meet” the bite with frustration and negative comments about how we got the bites in the first place which in turn festers more frustration and more need to itch. It’s never ending. Look beyond the bite (insert applicable metaphor to your life here) and see what it is that you truly need.
2. Always look for the choice. And sometimes we may need to look really far. One of my mentors in my early years reinforced to me that no matter how difficult life can be, there is always a choice. I never forgot these words of wisdom simple as they may sound. Even in the most challenging of times such as when we grieve the death of a loved one; we have a choice to grieve in a healthy or unhealthy way, to accept or reject help. If we get to a point where we feel like there is no other choice, then we are stuck. We are victims. We are caught up in a story, in a situation and have lost perspective; our ego has landed. We are the martyr who can’t say “no” even when it is in our best interest.
We always have a choice about what we tell ourselves, how we respond, the words we say when angry with our partner. We have a choice in saying “yes, no, maybe, not now, I’ll have to think about it, or I need some help”. We have a choice to respond with criticism towards ourselves or others. Or we can choose compassion. Choices are deliberate; they are intentional and responsive – not reactive out of pain, hurt, anger., defensiveness. Become solution-focused and open yourself up AND choose to be empowered.
3. Check your internal monologue. Okay, okay, you know that your thoughts influence your feelings and thus your actions. And yet, life happens….we get sucked into the vortex and lose sight of our unconscious habits, automatic thoughts and our unhealthy (distorted) core beliefs are soon running the show. You know the inner critic that goes something like “you are not good enough for that job, that relationship, that community, who do you think you are?” This is an ideal time to check your gratitude meter. Shift focus (you know, what you have control over) on the things that ARE going right and well versus the things that are not going according to your plan or meeting your expectations. It’s not that you should ignore the struggles or distress. It’s about giving consideration and attention to the good in life. Creating balance with what you focus on. Talk back to that inner critic. Don’t bow down easily. This critic is NOT you. It may feel as though it is you and your voice, but you in your truest essence would NOT speak harshly towards yourself.
Spend time each day recognizing the positives and feeling into gratitude. Yes, it IS a practice and YES it is powerful. In this article, How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain published by the Greater Good in 2017, “those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended”. There are numerous studies on the effects of gratitude. Simply put, it works. Train your brain to focus on the people, situations, and “things” that fill you up and quell that inner critic who is not adding any value to your life.
4. Listen for the birds, not the drones. Recently I traveled to a remote area in another country. I was in the jungle, high in the mountains. It was pure, pure bliss. The sounds of the birds were incredibly appealing and gratifying. It was remarkably pleasurable to be surrounded by nature, mountains, and the sounds of the jungle’s ecosystem. In the middle of meditating, I heard a loud noise buzzing in the sky that certainly was not a bird of the jungle. I became irritated and opened my eyes to see a drone flying around. Seriously?! I asked myself. Is this a joke? I was immediately taken out of my meditation and was focused on the annoyance of the drone and my inner commentary “who flies a loud drone in such a peaceful place”. The drone (which I had no control over) made several loops in the sky was not stopping any time soon. I had a choice (this is where I had control) to feed my irritation and negative commentary about the person who was in charge of creating this noise OR accept this is the situation, acknowledge my annoyance and choose to return to meditation. I deliberately (notice I did not say easily) focused on the sounds of the birds. Indeed, it took effort to shift my focus. My feelings did not want me to let go. My peace needed me to let go. I chose peace. I chose freedom in that moment.
5. Follow your own visionary path. When we wrestle with ourselves, such as in making a choice between two seemingly equal choices or deciding which sacrifice to make, such as to be a stay at home parent versus work outside of the home, our boundaries become tested. We must recognize what our boundary is (first step), and then maintain it and live within these within very personal boundaries- or at least that is the goal, right? When we lost sight of our individual boundaries, we have greater propensity to succumb to societal pressures for success. The question to ask yourself is WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS? You decide. You give yourself permission to define how success looks to you. You own it. It is your path. Your journey. Take a step back from the monotony of every day life and re-examine your path and give yourself the permission to re-adjust the course if need be.
When we live life on other people’s terms, we slowly erode our sense of self, we risk disconnecting from our power, truth and desires. This can happen very gradually and without much awareness as it is happening or it can come in like the force of a hurricane by way of a traumatic event. It might look like you not taking the dream vacation because nobody else wants to go on your dream vacation with you. So you ignore and disregard your deep longing to travel to (insert your dream vacation here) because you can’t fathom going alone.
Another example of the slow erosion is that you don’t pursue the career path that you are clearly drawn to. Maybe you have a longing to get into real estate but your beliefs block you. You know the ones: “there are too many realtors in my city” “I don’t have enough experience in sales”. “What if I fail, then how will I face my family” and on and on and on. Meanwhile, you keep getting “signs” that nudge you to take a step, even if it is a small step like shadowing your realtor friend in the field so that you can get a “hands on” feel for the work. And so it goes, the chip, chip, chipping away of your deep desires.
6. Spend time in silence. Every. Single. Day. Turn off the background noise. Give yourself a gift of connection with your heart and allow wisdom to enter and plant roots. Reflect, ask yourself questions as children naturally ask questions of the world around them. Are you living your life in accordance to your top values? Okay, so kids might not ask questions about their values…but they inquisitively ask where did all the dinosaurs go?
If you haven’t identified your top values..no worries…because there is no time like the present to figure that sh** out.(insert curiosity, delete judgement). When is the last time you laughed from your belly? If you can’t answer that…well then, perhaps it is time to create deliberate action to invite more laughter into your existence. Laughter yoga anyone? Activate that inner child muscle and ask the questions that want to be asked.
When is the last time you genuinely and without expectation upon return offered a kind gesture or act to a stranger? TV, traffic, music, social media…it’s all there….all the time unless YOU choose to step away. Lose yourself in time. It’s so hard, I know. It does not come easily to many of us. Time is such a constraint in our modern, western world and yet it is necessary to live within the constraints.
In conclusion, we have to….no, we MUST give ourselves a break away from time. You know the type of break when you are on vacation and suddenly you realize you have absolutely no idea what time it is, maybe even what day it is (if you are so lucky) and it feels flipping fantastic and freeing! You don’t have to wait until your next vacation to give yourself this gift. Take an afternoon (responsibly, of course) and tool around a museum that you have wanted to visit or take your dog to a new dog park even if it feels a bit inconvenient. Change up the monotony. Pretend you are a tourist in your own city and engage your curiosity muscle. Spend time with YOURSELF. and leave the phone in the car.