May We Never Lose Hope

cloudsHope. What a wonderful human emotion. When life is troubling, when we cannot figure out which end is up or in which direction to go, hope is a beacon that cuts through the fog and gives us a reason not to quit, a reason to not despair, a reason to get up, dust ourselves off and keep going.

Several years ago I met a young lady, Lizette, who asked for guidance to deal with her situation. She was a high school student who had graduated with 3.8 GPA and was seeing her dreams of a Bachelor’s degree disintegrate before her eyes. She was undocumented. She had excelled academically and had a strong record in athletics and dedicated several hours per semester volunteering in the community. Lizette was offered scholarships at a couple of private institutions but even with the scholarships, her family could not afford the remaining cost to attend. After exhausting every possibility to receive additional scholarships, she made the choice to work at a restaurant, save as much as she could, and hope that one day she would have enough to attend college. I worried that she wouldn’t make it.

But, that’s what’s great about hope. I don’t know how many jobs Lizette worked, how many times she got discouraged by the passage of time when she felt she was not any closer to her goal. However many setbacks she faced, however many times she felt like giving up, it was hope that kept her going and striving for her dream. I was thrilled when she wrote me a couple of years later to tell me that she was enrolling in college that fall. Lizette and I kept in touch and as a college student, she faced other challenges, including a serious illness and the death of a parent, that would have discouraged even the strongest among us. Hope kept her going through illness, loss, classes and work. I cannot begin to imagine the enormous feeling of accomplishment and reward she was feeling on the day she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in May 2013.

When hope pays off, like in the case of Lizette, it feels so good. But, not all of our hopes lead to the ending that we wish for. A year ago I came across a blog about hope. It was written by a woman, I’ll call her Elizabeth, who was battling cancer. Her writing combined humor and hard-core reality to depict her battle with cancer in a blow by blow account, akin to witnessing a boxing match. As Elizabeth’s postings became shorter and farther apart, I hoped that it was a temporary setback. The next and final post was written by her husband. Elizabeth had lost her battle to cancer. He wrote to thank all of her blog followers who had become another source of hope and encouragement for her. He said that she remained positive until the very end.

Some situations don’t end the way we wish. At some point we realize that our hope for a certain outcome needs to redirected. Certain outcomes are outside of our control and in those cases I still think it’s important to hope, to keep a positive outlook, and to be persistent. It’s just as important to know when to accept that some things are or happen for a reason and we must accept a different outcome. Accepting and letting go of the outcome frees us to redirect our hope and spend energy on other people or things in our lives that we may have overlooked.

I think of this beautiful soul who documented her fight with cancer. At some point she must have accepted that she would not live to celebrate her next birthday. As the treatments and disease weakened her body, it is likely that she redirected her hopes from beating cancer to hopes for her family and made the most of her time to tell them what she hoped for them.

May we never lose hope and know when we need to redirect it.

Much Love,

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Pruning Away The Stuff That Drains From Us

Spring flowers

Photo taken in Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain. If you thought this was from my yard, thank you!

Spring has finally sprung. Hurrah!! I am so excited to have warm weather and longer days again. Last weekend was the first time this season I spent time in my yard. Let me set the record straight — I only dabble in gardening. I enjoy gardening before the temperature sizzles and the insects multiply – which means only through May. I allow my husband to do his version of gardening (hint – it involves an electric saw) for the rest of the summer. I know, I know, I should do more to help but I really hate mosquitoes. Oddly, a mosquito’s love is unconditional and apparently those buggers cannot get enough of me. But, I digress.

 

I love this time of year when I see the new growth on trees, shrubs and in the flower beds. I find inspiration in the tiny green shoots that I uncover under the dead shriveled remnants of last year’s plants. Pruning and removing the dead stuff to allow new life to flourish is my absolute favorite part of garden work.

 

Last weekend was my birthday. I don’t know if any of you feel this way, but for me every birthday feels like a new start –  like a rebirth. At some point in the day, between the happy birthday wishes and my bedtime gratitude prayer, I will think about what I have not yet done in my life. Then I wonder if I have enough life left to complete the journeys and experiences that are on my bucket list. As I was pruning some of the bushes and trees in my yard I couldn’t help but sense a parallel to my own feelings of rebirth. What old dead weight am I still carrying that is preventing new thoughts and ideas to take hold? What old shriveled beliefs and negative messages are blanketing my thinking and preventing greater joy from springing forth? Which weak shoots do I need to prune from my life because they drain precious energy from my real life’s purpose?

 

Fortunately, I have pruned plenty of dead, old, or weak stuff from my life with the help of therapy, meditation and reflection. But the cycle of life, as seen in gardening, calls for regular pruning, reshaping and maintenance so that we continue to grow and strengthen. This internal pruning is hard work that requires being acutely self aware, taking time to dissect emotions and reactions by journaling or meditating, and (this is the part I don’t like) talking about it. What I have learned is that getting negative or confusing thoughts out of my head by having to talk about them is the best way to ultimately change how I act or react to things. So, I am starting a new birthday year with purpose – to prune off the old way of thinking and the stuff that is draining focus and energy from my life’s purpose.

 

Has something (or someone) inspired you to make change in your life? How will you know if you are making progress? Please share.

 

Much Love,

Doing What Is Hard

President Kennedy at Rice University, 1962

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard – President J. F. Kennedy

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced to the world that the United States was going to accelerate its efforts in the space program and that we would be the first nation to expand learning and understanding outside of our home planet. He admitted to the crowd gathered at Rice University that, as a nation, we were falling behind in the space race, and had experienced failures along the way. Yet, he vowed that we would not be behind much longer and that our quest to be a leader in space exploration would be hard, it would cost money, but that we could get it done. What ensued were extraordinary advancements in knowledge and understanding in the sciences that has allowed us to see and live in a world that we could not have envisioned back in 1962. In hindsight, we realize the weight and importance of President Kennedy’s words and I am in awe of his leadership to take us farther than we were ready or maybe even willing to go –  and because it was hard.

Doing things that are hard is not just for world leaders. Each of us face our own journeys to the moon. But, we don’t all choose to do what is hard. Mostly, we choose to face the hard things at a later time, or decide that it’s not meant to be. I admit that there are a couple of things that I expect to do – one day, hope I will do – one day, dream of doing – one day. The reasons I give for not pursuing the hard things are timing, lack of resources, lack of time, not enough experience – but in the end, I am not doing them because they are hard.

Getting started on things that are hard is not the problem. At least for me. I know that somewhere in my computer is an outline and the beginning of a chapter for the book I want to write one day. If getting started were the obstacle, well, it wasn’t a big one. The truly hard part is what comes next. Doing things that are hard requires laser-like focus, extraordinary discipline, endurance, sacrifice, and an unwavering belief that you will succeed.

You can say that I only dipped my toe in the pool of my dream to be a writer. So what does that say about my commitment? Is my dream really a dream or a mere fantasy? People that pursue their dreams go all-in. My friend dreamed of getting her Master’s degree so she did everything required to get into the program, including taking a course in statistics – a subject she was not confident she would pass. She studied hard and completed the course with excellent grades. She then retired from her job, relocated to another state, and focused on her Master’s studies. She did what was hard – was focused, disciplined, she sacrificed and had faith, and she was successful.

President Kennedy was not half-way committed to the space program. His remarks said nothing like, if we have the money, if we succeed at step one we will consider step two, when we are stronger, richer, better, we will. Every American who heard that speech understood that America was on this hard journey – and that it would successful get to the moon.

As we start our week into Thanksgiving, a time when we reflect on our blessings and share our good fortune with family, let’s be aware of the decisions we make, and commit ourselves to doing what is hard.

Much Love and Happy Holidays,

Here is a link to President Kennedy’s speech

http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm

The Pains and Gains of Starting Over #startingover

Photo by Eve Anderson from markmallett.com

Does the idea of starting over cause you grief? Starting over, whether we volunteered to do it or it was imposed on us by an employer, ex-husband, or fate, is not always easy. I recently started a new job and am feeling the pains of being new. This past month I have been in the deeply uncomfortable condition of not knowing – anything. Contrast that to just six weeks ago when I was managing a contract where I knew everything (well, at least that’s what I think). Being the new kid on the block is fun for just that 30-minute introductory meeting. After that, I just want to get to work and be productive. I know that it’s my high sense of responsibility talking. My calm logical brain understands that learning takes time and it will be a good 4 to 6 months before I feel like I am working at 85-90 percent. Still, my productivity instinct is drowning out my brain’s logic.

 

The next four tips to starting over are meant to help me you through this period. As I reflected on my feelings and thoughts over the last couple of weeks, this is what emerged as my starting-over mantra.

 

Get comfortable with uncertainty

When starting over, it often means not knowing what comes next. We don’t know the steps to take, we just know we have to move forward. The problem begins with figuring out where to start. The volume of possibilities is daunting and we can be paralyzed by the fear of failure. This is when I remind myself that even if I fail, I will succeed because failure brings invaluable lessons. Getting comfortable with uncertainty also means asking for help and allowing others to contribute to our journey. Let’s not let our ego rob us of a wonderful opportunity to receive from others. Let’s also remember that uncertainty is a temporary condition that will yield to confidence as we try and succeed at new things.

 

Be patient on your climb up the learning curve

I remind myself that kindness to ourselves is recognizing that we can’t learn everything in a day, a week, or a month. Learning is a life-long process. Lately, I have spent countless hours reading everything I can get my hands on about my new work. After suffering from sleeplessness and headaches, I recognized that I’m over-doing it. “Drinking from a fire hose” effectively describes my attempt to run up the learning curve. But, how much could I really learn and retain if I read constantly to the point of fatigue? Surrendering to the learning process, and giving myself the time to combine experiential and knowledge-based learning is a kinder, gentler way of starting over. Let’s practice patience as we learn new things.

 

Clean house of old emotional baggage

I hope this happens to everybody and not just me. You start a new relationship and you catch yourself comparing your new guy to your old boyfriend. The new guy gives you strange looks as you continually reference your past. New experiences can trigger memories about where we’ve been, and so, we bring it up and we share. It is important to remember that as we broker new relationships, we have to leave room for making new memories, and that necessarily requires leaving past glories or hurts in the past.

 

Try on different hats

With starting over comes an opportunity to exercise adaptability. You are adapting to a new culture and norms. This is very exciting because you can adopt new behaviors, tweak your work style or try a new approach. Adapting to your new set of parameters also offers you a chance to re-invent yourself, and to do things differently. I will share my example. I was always the last person to leave the office in the evening. Part of the reason was due to traffic. But, contributing to that was the way I organized my work –most time-consuming matters were pushed to the end of the day. Now I have a chance to organize my work so that I am finished by 5:30 pm and leave the office at a reasonable hour.

 

Starting over comes with frustration and anxiety. But, it is also a great time of learning and growth. For this reason, it is a blessing to have a new start. With kindness towards ourselves and a willingness to learn, ask for help, let go of the past and adapt, we can receive the gifts the future has in store for us.

Much Love

 

Find Joy in Everything

The message for this week was: find joy in everything. Hmmm, how exactly would I do that?

If you’re wondering how I received that message, let me assure you that I’m not hearing voices in my head. It wasn’t a dream. But, if you read my blog about reading the signs, then you’ll understand about messages that just pop out at you, or repeat themselves on different occasions. For several weeks I have been “hearing” about joy, and this week the message came right out of my iPod. One of my newest motivators for running is digital books. Tangent: I don’t think I’ll ever buy a book in print again! The joy of listening to the author’s voice or the total immersion of clicking through links in the digital book has made a convert out of me; though I will miss the way a book smells. But, back to the story.

While listening to Shirley MacLaine’s book about her pilgrimage, The Camino, The Journey of the Spirit (read about El Camino in my 8/12/2012 post), there the message was again. “Why do I keep getting this message?” I thought. I would soon find out.

Monday came with an avalanche of new things to do. A contract came through, a project was revised, and suddenly a 30-day month didn’t seem long enough. If you sense frustration, you’re right. On Monday, when things were the calmest, I felt like I was on top of it and shared with a colleague my message for the week. I was a bit cocky about it and had the attitude of, “I got this.” As the days passed however, the intensity of the issues increased. An onslaught of interruptions and obstacles would make a 5-day week seem not long enough. By Thursday, my serenity had left and I was rattled by an unexpected situation. I was so deep into the who’s and the why’s and the how’s that I forgot to find the joy.

The good news is that joy does not expire and is always available to us. So, after I got over myself, I took my brain to that plane where I can see the bigger picture. I knew exactly what I needed to do to move forward and handle the new situation that came with a new set of variables.  I realized nothing had gone wrong –  it had gone exactly the way it was supposed to. The plans that had gone awry were mine. And, since I am not the only person in the universe, I have to accept that the universal plans may differ from mine. I calmed down and felt an odd thing happening on my face. A smile.

Joy is never in the little things, the petty things. The joy is in seeing every moment as a gift. Every moment is rich with teaching, human connection, self connection and love. The best part of each gift is that it’s another opportunity to be ourselves, to exercise our own true talents, and to help others find joy. Now I understand why I needed to hear the message over and over again. Our society teaches us to sweat the small stuff, to compete, to do it faster, and to disregard others because all that matters is winning. These negative messages are constantly repeated to us through mass media. If you believe television, even baking cupcakes has become a cut-throat competition.  My brain has become trained to pursue the small and the petty; and my ego has gotten used to recognition and wants to always be right. “Find the joy in everything” is a message we have to hear constantly until we can reverse the negative programming. Our soul, or our spirit, knows joy, and connecting to it through meditation and reflection is helping me claim the joy that is mine. Go on and claim your joy this week.

Much Love…and Joy,

A Violation of Trust And How I Helped

Graphic credit: joedonatelli.com

When an acquaintance asked me about problem I had been having I was perplexed. Why would she ask me that? I was caught off guard and didn’t know how to respond. I finally said something that moved us off the subject. After I hung up I began processing what had just happened. How could she ask me something that I have rarely talked about to anyone?  I took a few minutes to think and recall who we mutually knew. Then the link came to mind. There was only one person I had opened up to about this problem. My very brief delight in having solved the puzzle quickly turned into a deep disappointment and sadness. Wow…I thought she could be trusted.

Coincidently, Oprah’s Lifeclass tonight is about the terrible things women do to each other  –  like gossip. I am looking forward to hearing Oprah’s insights but until then, I am taking out the magnifying glass and taking a close look at my own situation. Surely I can’t point the finger at the gossiper without acknowledging that three of my fingers are pointing right back at me.  What role did I play in my friend’s betrayal?

With age and heartache I have figured out that I am a person that needs to feel liked by and connected to other people. I am much better at it now, but with this “condition,” I have a tendency to jump to BFF status in a relatinoship while still in the getting-to-know-you stage. Basically, what it boils down to is that I give away my care and trust too prematurely. When we are needy we are fallible, which is why it is important to be aware of our neediness because it often drives our decisions and behavior.

Whenever my friend and I got together we just let it all hang out. We talked about this, that and the other over a glass of wine, coffee or a meal. Boy did we have a good time! But, admittedly some of that good time involved gossiping. Thinking back, our bonding revolved around sharing our true selves which included airing our opinions about other people– things, I thought, we would never share with anyone else.

My mistake was to believe that she would not have a similar good time with another friend where my life was the juicy topic of conversation. I don’t betray people’s trust, and I don’t share things that people have told me in confidence or that are no one else’s business. But, I am ashamed to admit that I have gossiped and talked about people with the justification that it’s just “harmless talk” that will never leave this room.

As I write this I realize that there have been other times when I was totally blindsided by a friend’s betrayal. And, the pattern was the same. Perhaps the gossiper believed it was harmless talk that would never get back to me. But, each time those people couldn’t help but show me their cards. Sometimes it was a direct reveal, and others it was a set of clues that let me know that they were in-the-know about my business.

Now is the issue of how do I move forward with my friend. There won’t be a big confrontation. I will continue my relationship with her because I genuinely like her and respect her. I believe that the root cause of her betrayal was not a desire to hurt me. In fact, I am certain that it was not about me at all. Her behavior was driven by her own need to feel liked and accepted. Perhaps she wanted to get closer to this other person and believed that there was some kind of gain from telling her something that no one else knew. And/or, she wanted to appear more important and sharing my privacy was proof of her power. Whatever the cause, I am in not her judge or jury.

I am disappointed in me for deceiving myself that “harmless talk” would not come around to me. Gossiping or talking about other people’s lives is not harmless; it’s a game of Russian roulette and eventually you’re going to get the bullet. So, let’s stop playing the game and not gossip about each other. I am sad that I cannot trust my friend and that I have to be guarded around her, but I forgive her. I pray that she, and I, and others will heal from the wounds that make us needy and drive us to hurt others as a result.

Much Love,

http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/oprahs-lifeclass.html

Getting Over Ourselves

“They’re gonna do what?!” It was official – my mind was blown. I could not believe what I was hearing. My friend was sharing the behavior of people we know. I was appalled and indignant. How dare they behave this way? Didn’t they know that was wrong? What gave them the right to manipulate the situation in their favor? I was angry. My anger came from a deep place, triggered by the injustice of it all. If a nurse could have magically appeared and strapped one of those blood pressure machines on me, I’m sure it would have registered 400/200. I got home that evening in a flustered state and immediately asked my husband to pour me a glass of wine.  It didn’t really do any good as I continued to feed my outrage by recounting to my husband every detail of the situation. I wasn’t hungry at dinner and continued to talk through my disbelief. When bed time came, I was calmer but found myself in a foul mood.

When Saturday morning’s coffee was soured by my acrid mood I finally said, “Alright, I just have to get over myself.” Sigh – easier said than done. When things are bothering me they just play in my head in an endless loop, kind of like that “gotta go to Mo’s” jingle. Well, every time my indignity surged, I would take deep breaths and remind myself that I cannot control or change the situation. I focused instead on what I could control and that was how I reacted to it. I decided to trust that the people who are in the know and have influence will do the right thing. I couldn’t change the outcome and confronting the people about what they intended to do would be interpreted as self-serving. The best I could do was to pray and let go.

Letting go, however, required that I confront and stare down my ego. By the way, this wasn’t the first time I sparred with my ego. http://yayaspeaks.com/2011/11/20/getting-to-know-you-ego/. When we react so strongly to something, the majority of times it is because our ego is involved. I had to be honest and accept that my ego was bruised. Ego said that my contributions to the situation were loftier and more valuable and yet they were overlooked and had gotten me nothing.  Ego said that my beliefs and standards were holier and as such gave me the right to judge others. Ego fought back each time I questioned it: what right do I have to judge what others do?  How dare I behave this way? How could I believe that my way of doing things is the just way? Worst of all, how could I latch on to this judgment without all of the facts?

There was a lot of emotional processing that weekend. By Monday, I was 90 percent over myself. It took another two days before I could face the situation with total peace. That was about 40 hours of internal turmoil. Unfortunately I will not get back those 40 hours of physical disturbance, but I am fortunate to say it was a short time compared to what some people are willing to hold on to for years.

I think that our passion and motivations can result in anger. And, anger can be a great emotion to channel into action in order to make change and improve our life and others’. But, when the situation is out of our control, we have to let go and get over ourselves, especially when our anger is a result of a bruised ego. When we have a strong reaction to something, we need to put our ego on the hot seat and try to see what is behind the anger with objectivity. It’s an tough exercise on humility but worth the effort. Nothing is worth is our health and inner peace and so I end this week’s blog with the serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Adopted from Reinhold Niebuhr’s original prayer

Much Love and Peace,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer