Attitude: How does your garden grow?

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary”

BY MOTHER GOOSE

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockleshells

And pretty maids all in a row.

I was reading something the other day about gardening and there were subtle references to weeding the negative things in life and planting the seeds of positive things. Suddenly I started thinking, “How does your garden grow?” in reference to a blog post I was formulating. While thinking of an outline for the post, the lyrics to this old Mother Goose poem stuck in my head. As I sat with the words of the song or lets call it a poem, I started to wonder if the poem was about attitude. I did some researching and found some theories on the meaning of the poem, none of which said the poem was about attitude. There are some religious theories and some theories on Mary Queen of Scots, but nothing about attitude.

I think its meaning is something similar to the phrase, “you catch more bees with honey than shit” meaning if you are trying to catch some bees (someone’s attention or someone’s favor) you need honey (positivity) not shit (negativity).

Similarly, Apparently Mary is contrary. I don’t know who Mary is but is being contrary. Contrary to what?

contrary means opposite in nature, direction, or meaning. An alternative meaning is perversely inclined to disagree or to do the opposite of what is expected or desired.  So, using either meaning, Mary is being perversely inclined to disagree or do the opposite of what is expected or desired. What is the opposite? The opposite is likely somewhere in the poem, yes, it is silver bells and cockle shells, in my interpretation, this means the positive, the good, the right thing. I am not exactly sure about the reference to pretty maids all in a row, perhaps that refers to politely serving others (pretty maids) or perhaps it refers to a pretty maiden or pretty girl is not contrary. Perhaps all in a row is about order, as in structure? I am not sure about the last part, but I do think ole Mother Goose in her nursery rhyme was trying to tell us to be nice to each other, to choose the positive, to serve. I could be wrong, but I love to find hidden meanings in things like this.  I wonder what other lessons we can learn from mother goose.

What grows in your garden? Is it beautiful and peace and love and heaven on earth or is it contrary? Do you feed your garden with negative thoughts based on attachment, like envy, greed, hatred, anger or do you water it with love, patience, tenderness, do you fertilize it with compost? What is your compost made of? What thoughts are you recycling? Are they healthy, positive, righteous thoughts or are they negative, infected, dirty thoughts. Does your creative water flow freely or do you starve your garden with ignorance and negativity? Do you keep your thoughts in the dark? Or do you educate yourself, expanding your mind and your creativity? Do you practice mindfulness and pull out the negative weeds? Do you tend to it, remove the garbage other people have tried to put there? Do you treat it with care or do you ignore it, allowing it to wither and die? Perhaps your garden is Eden, lush and abundant with positive thoughts. Perhaps contrary?

How does your garden grow?

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Letting go of attachment- The ball and chain effect

 

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Yesterday, I talked about acceptance and its link to finding serenity. A huge part of accepting is letting go of things outside my circle of influence. Another key part of acceptance is letting go of attachment.

Attachment, I like to think of it as a ball and chain. When we are attached to something, it has the potential to keep us weighted down and stuck where we are drowning or wallowing in our own egos.

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In the Pali canon, Buddha says, “upadhi dukkhassa mūlanti,”  which translates to “The root of suffering is attachment.” The more I think about this, the more I agree. Attachment to outcomes, attachment to goals, attachment to people, attachment to anything my ego wants (desire) seems to be the root of much of my suffering.

When I want something and I don’t get it, I suffer. This suffering can come in the form of hurt, anger, jealousy and a host of other negative emotions.

Whenever I find myself grasping at something I imagine that item as the ball and my desire for it as the chain. This visualization helps me put the situation into perspective. This in turn, helps me reframe my negative thoughts and start looking for my circle of influence. What can I do in spite of the circumstances?

I have already established that I cannot control other people, so I can choose to love them despite them not doing what I wanted them to do. I can choose to be happy despite the fact that a situation did not go the way I intended.

When I put things into perspective, it is my attachment to my idea of how something should be that causes my discomfort. I choose to be jealous, angry or hurt because I didn’t get my way. I choose to attach myself to those feelings and I can just as easily choose not to.

When I find discomfort somewhere, I ask myself what am I attached to here? What am I afraid to let go of? Acceptance means truth. I have to accept the facts. When my best friend recently conveyed a story to me about her unhappiness in marriage, I asked her if she was willing to accept things as they were. To this she emphatically said, “NO!” “Well, you can’t change him and if you cannot accept the situation as it is, the only part you have control over is what you are going to do about it,” I said. To which she responded, “I can’t leave him!” Until she chooses to accept her responsibility in the situation and let go of her attachment to the idea that things should be different, the ball and chain remain and she will continue to suffer.

It is her attachment to her vision of the way things should be that cause her to suffer. The ball is her ideal of what the marriage should be like, her chain is her attachment to that vision. When she cuts the chain and lets go of that vision, she will be free to decide what comes next. It could mean accepting things as they are and choosing to be happy. It could mean she does not accept the way things are but accepts the fact that she has no control over him. At this point she has the power to choose what to do with what is in her circle of influence. Either way, until she lets go of that vision of what her marriage is supposed to be like, she is stuck.

Letting go of attachments frees our spirit. It makes room for us to know what we really want and what level of discomfort we are willing to endure to get it. Think of the ball and chain again and imagine someone has thrown you into the water. You can struggle, flap your arms, kick your legs, try to swim to the surface but the fact remains the ball is sinking and it is pulling you with it. Once the ball drops to the bottom, you are stuck there, no amount of flailing will help you breathe. But, when you cut the chain and release your attachment to the ball (the vision, the expectation, the outcome), you can now swim to the surface.

When I cut the chain, I free myself, I free up my mental energy, because I am no longer focused on the ball. Now, I am able to focus on action. Maybe, I have scuba gear so I choose to stay and explore and watch and see what happens, when I let go. Maybe I swim away from the ball, exhausted by the attention I have been putting on it, desperate for fresh air. Either way, until I drop my focus from that ball, I cut my attachment to it. Now I have the power back and the freedom to choose my actions. That mental freedom gives me creative solutions, it helps me to see my options. But, when I stay focused on the ball, I cant seem to see that I have choices, I am too busy flailing at the ball and chain pulling at my ankles, I forget I have a pocket knife (freedom to choose). In every situation, I have the freedom to choose. I can choose my thoughts, I can choose my mood, I can choose my responses and actions. I can choose to look around and see what my options are, what my resources are, what my alternative visions can be. But first, I have to let go of that focus, that attachment, that expectation, that ball and chain.

 

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Perspective…The end or the beginning?

“There will come a time when you think everything is ending. That will be the beginning.” — Louis L’Amour

via day 151 — twentytwoclouds

I recently saw this quote in my word press reader and it caught my attention.

Be it the end of a relationship, a career or after someone has just thrown a wrench in our plans or squashed our dreams, how many times in life do we think it is the end. The end of our life, the end of our happiness, the end of our dreams…. somekind of ill fated bitter end.

How many relationships have ended with one of us thinking our lives are over. How many endings do we see in our lives? We have so many transitions in life, some of them we celebrate; like graduation, marriage, birth of a child. Some of them, we think of as some devastating rock bottom, we will never be the same again ending… Maybe never being the same again is the point…

There are several moments of impact in my life, in my career, in my love life that at the time, I thought I would never make it through the transition. Upon looking at each of those, both individually and as a whole, there were always greater things in store for me. Maybe it wasnt what I wanted, or what I thought I wanted, but it was always something bigger, something better in the grand scheme of things.

It really is all about perspective. Of course, when we are in the muck and mud of some life-altering transition, it is easy to stay stuck, it is easy to mourn, life dealt us a bad hand, we didnt get what we wanted, we didnt achieve what we worked for or we werent love in return. Mourning is an important part of being human. As humans, we experience a full range of human emotions, denying those emotions leads to disease and disharmony.

However, the perspective is what is important. It is okay to be sad, expected even, when we lose a dream, no matter what the dream was. But if we get stuck there, it becomes dangerous. Staying down, when we get knocked over is defeatest. Giving up serves no one. We all get knocked down, we all have our hearts broken, we all lose at some point in life. Of course, sayings like the one above and things like, “this too shall pass,” feel like platitudes when we are in mourning. But, knowing this, knowing that we have all been there at some point, knowing that there may be something better on the way, knowing that this too shall pass really can be the difference between sinking our own ship, or learning to fly.

Of course negative things happen. It is the Yin and the Yang of life. Where there is good, there is evil, where there is pleasure, there must be pain, where there is happiness, there too must be sadness. Knowing that life ebbs and flows gives us hope to hang on in those moments when we feel like all hope is lost.

I think it is hard to maintain this perspective when we are in the thick of our emotional grief and torment. But, reminding myself of this, when things are good, prepares me to deal, when things are not going the way I want them to. The perspective of hindsight gives me strength to face the inevitable “ends” in my future. When I can look back with a clear mind and a happy soul, I can actually be grateful for the pain of my past because it stretches me, it makes me grow and in turn, it sends me on a path towards something better. Reminding myself of this, during the good times, helps me to access those reminders during the bad.

When today ends, tomorrow begins, perspective makes all the difference.

 

 

 

Can religion make us happy?

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In the 1926, Leopold Weiss, A central European Jew traveled to the Middle East. Upon witnessing the “community,” of the people there, he converted to Muslim in 1926, at the age of 26. The sense of brotherhod and unity among the Muslims led him to view his former European community as hollow. He believed the aim of progress in Europe had given way to focus on materialism, leaving them to lose awareness of spirituality in pursuit of material happiness. He believed that such a materialistic view left little room for God.

Muhammad Asad, as he was known after converting to Islam spent the rest of his life writing about and defending a culture, many of us in the US, have little knowledgeor understanding of.

Interestingly, he noted, the “shunning,” of the Islam culture began as far back as the Roman Empire, where catholicism was “King” and all others were considered barbaric my comparison. While Islam  spring from the same tradition as Judeo-Christian theology, the “poisoning of Western minds against Islam” began with the Crusades. Asad’s autobiography, “The Road to Mecca,” chronicles his travels in the middle east, but was intended more as a way to correct the erroneous views of the Judeo-Christian Westerners.

Does the pursuit of material prosperity impede happiness? In contrast to Asad’s views, Karl Marx believed the first step to happiness was apolishing religion. Does believing in God make us happy? If so, does it matter which religion?

I was raised as a catholic, I attended catholic school, recieved all the sacraments and attended CCD classes, when I attended public school. I would not call my childhood happy. As a matter of fact, I found some things about my catholic upbringing very disconcerting, which led me to declare myself agnostic for most of my adult life.

I remember being a young girl when the Pope changed the rules. Suddenly, I was not going to hell for eating a hot dog on Friday. I lost sleep over things like this, forgetting that Friday was supposed to be meatless and eating a hot dog at lunch. I also remember being chastised by the nuns at school one Monday morning because I did not attend Sunday Service. While my parents made me attend catholic school, they were not really practicing catholics themselves. I noticed such things. I noticed that Dad only went to church at Christmas and Easter. I always thought it was hypocritical. My dad, being my dad always said something like, “do as I say, not as I do.” And so, I faithfully recieved my sacraments and had my hands smacked with rulers for wearing clear nail polish and had my hair pulled, the nun dragging me across the hall because I needed to use the restroom at lunchtime. (We had “Special visitors” in the school that day, we were supposed to stay in our classrooms.) How on earth, could a God that loved me punish me for needing to pee?

After leaving home, I can count on my hands the number of times I stepped foot in a church and half of those were for weddings and funerals. I did not babtize my sons catholic, as a matter of fact, two of the three, were not babtized at all. (The eldest son was babtized at the Presbytrian Church where is paternal grandparents were patrons. My poor, sweet, devout grandmother was convinced that my children would end up in pergatory, because they were not babtized. “Just babtize them,” she said, “it doesn’t matter what religion, but for the love of god, please babtize them.”

Grandma was a devout catholic and her faith and her church were very important to her. It just wasn’t for me. I tried. I tried to believe, but the more educated I became the less I believed and I have never been able to reconcile some of the reasons for my skepticism.

Of course, when life took a bad turn, I would find myself praying, mostly of habit more than true intent or belief. I can actually remember starting my prayers with something like, “if you really are there god, how can you allow this to happen?” Perhaps because I didn’t believe?

For 45 years of my life, I have struggled with my belief in God, particularly my belief and /or willingness to participate in organized religion.I have never been able to say I am an atheist, no, I always say agnostic… just in case. My catholic upbringing perhaps leaving me afraid of the repurcussions if I actually say there is no god.

22 years in the military exposed me to many people, from all over the world with their varying degrees of faith and participation in organized religion.I asked questions, I learned, I never judged, but I also never found anything in any of those people or places to shake my agnostic views, if anything, my new world-view made me believe even less.. I still do not believe in organized religion and its hyprocracies. I have read the bible, I have read the Gita, I have read the Koran and parts of the Torah and the Tao te Ching. I have read literature from many different parts of the world and spoken with people of many different faiths. I never could understand how any god, from any religion, would condone the hatred and war in the name of God. How can all religions profess that all men were created in the image of God and yet each religion thinks its followers are the chosen ones. Each religion professes to be better than each other religion. Some religions condone sexism, some speak out against gays, if God there is only one God and we are all his children, how can he condone the hate of any of his children? Futhermore, in the history of the world, more lives have been lost in the name of God than for any other reason, ever.These are just some of the reasons for inability to reconcile my beliefs.

Recently however, I have had a spiritual awakening. My world-view has changed more in the past few months than all of my 45 years together. I am still not religious and short of witnessing a miracle with my own eyes, I never will be. In finding my spirituality though, I have found peace and a taste of that all illusive happiness we all seem to be searching for.

I do not think it is spirituality, per se, that has increased my happiness, I actually think it is quite the opposite. In realizing my place in the universe and upon recognizing the roll I play in my own happiness, I have found happiness.

Let me explain, I realize that in everything I do, I have a choice. If I am unhappy with my job, it is I who chooses to stay there or to look elsewhere. I am not trapped, I have choices. I live in the greatest democracy in history, I have a voice and more importantly, I always have a choice.

It takes a great deal of humility and honesty to get to this state of mind, but the reward is freedom. Similar to crowding into the dark confessional to tell the priest all of my deepest, darkest secrets, I have to face the part I have played in my own life. I had to be willing to admit my mistakes, take responsibility for my own poor choices and accept that most of the negative things in my life, I allowed to happen. You may think this could set one up for great unhappiness, but instead, it gives me an unparalleled freedom. I am not a victim. I am not the victim of circumstances, rather, I have dealt with consequences of my own choices and actions. In realizing this, I broke the chains of victimhood. When I look back and see my own part in my own happiness, or lack of it, I also realize that I have the choice to be happy, regardless of my circumstances.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you inferior without your permission.” For me, understanding that, makes all the difference. I have always liked the quote, but I don’t think I truly, deeply understood its meaning until now. It is true, regardless of what negativity is said, it is my choose to internalize that negativity or not. Now that I have awareness of my own brutal inner thoughts, I recognize the person that has made my life most unhappy, was me.

While it is true that many of these thoughts originated outside of my own head, it is I that chooses to believe them or not. It is I who chooses to accept them as fact. And now, it is I that chooses to disbelieve that I am worthless, that I am not as good as my siblings, that I am ugly, fat or stupid. Regardless of where those idea were born, I now choose to let them go, they do not serve me.

I think when we believe there is some higher intelligence causing us pain for some higher purpose or divine plan which we are not privy to, we let go of our power. We believe someone else, someone who supposedly loves us unconditionally, is the cause for our suffering. Letting go of that idea, accepting my own responsibilities and acklnowleding the consequences for my actions has made me happy. Understanding that by choosing to believe the negative lies created by others I create my own unhappiness, gives me the freedom to let all of that negativity go.

Could organized religion be a cause for us to believe we are all victims? If we hand over our power to god, do we forget that ultimately we still have the power of choice? These are things I cannot answer for anyone other than myself. I have found happiness in finding my voice. I have found happiness in my boundaries. It is I who ultimately holds the power, it is I who holds the reponsibility to be happy, not god, nor anyone else in my life. Recognizing this has ultimately released me of any obligation to believe otherwise and in doing so, I have found happiness and it feels good.

I know this view can be controversal for those of deep faith. I understand and accept the criticism that may come my way for these words. However, my feet are on solid ground and I have found internal peace and happiness, no words can remove my happiness, no criticism can stop my light from shining. I respect the views of others and I believe we all have the right to our own beliefs. I make no effort to force my beliefs on anyone else. I hold no ill will towards anyone of any religion or belief. We all have to share this planet while we are here, I can only hope all of us can find the happiness to be secure in our beliefs without the persecution of others. I welcome your comments.

Namaste,

Angi

 

Acceptance- My circle of influence

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In a previous post, I talked about the Serenity Prayer and how it helps keep me on the  path to serenity. In the first line of the prayer it talks about learning to accept things we cannot change. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks at length about understanding our Circle of Influence. I found the photo below on pinterest which describes the idea.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People- inside circle is Circle of Influence and the outside circle is Circle of Concern.:

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My circle of influence includes only one thing…ME, my thoughts, my actions and my words. Outside my circle of influence is everything else including everyone  else and their thoughts, actions and words. I also have no control over their pain and suffering. I have no control over mother nature, I have no control over anything, outside of myself and how I choose to think, act and speak.

Acceptance means understanding those things that are not part of my circle of influence and letting them go. It does not mean I agree, I  approve or that I have overlooked or forgiven those things. It simply means I acknowledge they exist and understand they are outside of my control.

Learning to let accept that some things simply are not part in my circle of influence and out of my control has worked well for me. Sometimes, I need only to close my eyes, take a deep breath and recite the serenity prayer to find the serenity to let go. Some how, once I do acknowledge the things I have no control, I am able to change my perspective and refocus my energy on the things I do have control over.

Additionally, I have no control over the past. There is no serenity in ruminating over past mistakes because I am powerless to change them. Whenever I find myself thinking those key negative queues, I gently remind myself that I cannot change what I did before this moment. My time, energy and thoughts are much better spent on what I do have control over, which include the intent and the action to fix my mistakes. For example, when I started to berate myself for not packing the other day, I redirected my attention to my circle of influence. Once I looked around and recognized how much packing I did get done and changed my focus to the positive aspects, it immediately motivated me to do more. I didn’t have control over the fact that I slept late, it was in the past, what is done is done. I did however, have control over my intention to pack and my decision to start packing some more.

The interesting thing is, it didn’t all go down like that, I didn’t at the time even intend to pack anything else, I merely meant to stop the negative thought. In stopping the negative thought and looking for the silver lining, I realized that I got quite a bit of work done in a small amount of time, despite my late start. Simply changing the thought freed up my energy to go do some more work. Had I stayed on the negative line of thinking and continued to berate myself, I probably would not gotten anymore accomplished and I would’ve been in a negative mood.

Did reframing my thoughts clear my head enough to focus on right now, which helped me find the motivation to do more? Or, was it because reframing my thoughts and focusing on the positive allowed me to accept myself; flaws and faults and all, which redirected my attention to the task at hand. Maybe, accepting myself, accepting that I had no control over my past mistakes did help me to reframe my thoughts,  preventing negative thoughts from taking control over my mood and my actions.

Accepting responsibility then, is another part of the equation. By accepting responsibility for the one thing that was in my control, me, I became present in the moment and grabbed the power to change the circumstances. I was in control of my mood. I chose to stop the negative thought. I chose to reframe it and look for something positive. In doing so, the action came almost sub-consciencely,  I simply began working more.

I cant say for certain if it will come so easily for me every time, but celebrating my small successes gives me motivation to continue being mindful of my thoughts. The serenity prayer is one of the tools that helps me sort through them. Accepting things that are outside my control gave me the space inside my head to accept responsibility and take actions that were. 

Detachment-Untangling life’s little messes

 

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I was packing some more today. I spent a lot of time and care going through my things, trying to be honest with myself about why I held on to some things. Others, I easily kept without much thought. Others still, I was able to toss because they were no longer useful. I was able to easily put some in a basket or bag, to give away. It’s funny, how as I clear my mind, my attachments to things change. Things I used to cling to now have lost their allure. Formerly, a house full of things and excess and clutter, I now dream of a more serene abode with only necessities, only things I need or love. I do not think it is a coincidence that as we begin to become more one with the divine plan, we also begin to freely lose our attachments. We begin to have faith that what we need will be provided. It is no coincidence that the most free-souls of all give up all attachments, all ego.

I was sorting through my jewelry, carefully selecting only those things I still thought of as beautiful. Easily tossing necklaces that were broken and rings that were tarnished, fake glitter, like fake happiness no longer has appeal to me.

Two of my favorite necklaces were tangled, their dainty gold chains entwined together. The more I struggled and tried to exert my will upon them, the harder the knots became. When I stopped trying to make the necklaces do what I wanted them to, when I stopped trying to pull and tug and force them to untangle, I became frustrated, even angry. When I stopped pulling on them and accepted them as they were, I stopped thinking about how to untangle them, I just followed the one of the dainty chains, I could see now that some of the knots I thought existed were only twists. It was not until I stopped fighting it , stopped trying to force the knots out that I could see the way, a little loosening of my grip, the twists unfurled. When I stopped trying to untangle them my way, they showed me the way, I need only to stop fighting them to see what they showed me.

How often do we struggle to exert our will on life? How often do we fight our circumstances, refusing to see that our way may perhaps not be the right way? How many times do we blindly push forward, trying to exert our will on everything in our path, rather than see sometimes, there is an easier path, if only we stop trying to forcing everything and everyone around us into our way. In the end, when we give up, when we stop fighting, we accept things as they are… a new path suddenly appears, it is a clear path, without struggle. If we hold on to the way we want things to be, we can’t see it, but, when we stop and accept things as they are, we find creative solutions to get what we need, rewarded with abundance only when we work with the gifts we have been giving.

I see this so many times in my life, hind sight is 20/20. When I fight what is, we block our own creativity, we tie up our mental and physical resources trying to exert our will, we exhaust ourselves, we become ill with stress and mental disease. But, when we stop trying to exert our will, when we stop trying to push things and others to do what we think they should be doing, suddenly, things start to flow and we free up our mental and physical energies to be creative, we find a way to work with what we have, our mental resources, our physical resources have not changed, only our will has changed, our sight has changed, we begin to see what is in front of us, what has been there all along. We begin to navigate obstacles without even thinking about it, because the path is clear. We begin to understand how everything is connected, we begin to see how to work with what we have and our lives become better. When I look back at the times in my  life that I clung to something, a person, a dream, I can see clearly now that I had pain, anger, hurt or some other form of discomfort or dis-ease. Often, when hear of people reaching rock-bottom and suddenly turning their lives around to do something extraordinary, we attribute it to the will of the person, the human spirit, the tenacity and fight. But, in my life, when I have reached rock bottom, it has only been when I stopped fighting, when I stop trying to exert my will that I see clearly the path. My resources have not changed, my situation has not even changed, only when my mind detaches from the outcome I think should come, I allow myself to see a different way. Many times, this new path does not give me the outcome I had fought so hard for, but it takes me somewhere even better. My life always becomes better when I stop fighting for things to be the way I think they should be.

When I am working on a computer program, sometimes I struggle making the program do what I want it to do. I know I can make it do what I want, I just don’t know how. I fight and try to make it happen my way, I struggle, I get irritated, frustrated even angry. When I stop trying, the solution often comes. When I am completely detached from it, the way reveals itself. I could be in the shower and it just pops in my mind. I could wake from a deep sleep with the solution to my problem. I think to myself, that surely it could not be that easy… but, it is. When I try those random things, those things that my intuition sends me, those gifts, they work. The secret is not doubting the message. I think to myself, wow, that can’t possibly work, that’s too easy, how could I not see that before. But, I try it anyway and it works. The lesson for me has been in learning to let go and trust myself. When I trust my intuition, the answers always come. When I let go of trying to make it happen the way I think it should happen, I make room for the true answer to reveal itself.

Maybe it is not all that simple. But, it works for me, when I meditate, I spend time clearing my mind. I force my mind to rest. I stop the constant internal dialogue. When I do this, I receive gifts. The longer I relax my mind, the more gifts I receive. Maybe I stop meditating and I feel refreshed and a solution to  a problem comes. Sometimes, I see my connection to the universe. Sometimes, I simply find the serenity and happiness I have been looking for. When I stop thinking about what should make me happy, I am then able to see, that happiness has been inside me all along.

Stopping Negative thoughts in their tracks

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In my last post, I talked about stopping my negative thoughts before they have a chance to impact my mood. I’ve begun to notice some patterns to my negative thoughts. Recognizing the pattern enables me to highlight some key words and phrases that come to my mind at the beginning of the negative thought. Now I can mindfully listen for these key words and phrases and stop the negative thought even sooner.

Just as saying the word “but,” in the middle of an apology is a sure-fire sign that it is not completely sincere, when I think or say the word after a complement, I now recognize I am getting ready to say something negative.

The words should’ve and could’ve are a good indication as well.  Anytime I start thinking what I could’ve or should’ve done, I now recognize that I am not affirming the work I did do. Usually, the words should’ve or could’ve indicate I am getting ready to complain to myself about myself about something I did not do.

Realizing that I probably won’t be able to remove these words from my mental vocabulary, I am trying to be more mindful of my thoughts when I do use them. As my mindfulness muscles get stronger, the simple act of catching myself as soon as I think the word, I can stop the thought mid sentence and take steps to correct the line of thinking before it turns sour.

Of course it’s a journey and some days, my mindfulness muscle is weak, but (insert smile here as I use but in a positive way), the more I flex it, the stronger it gets. The stronger it gets the easier it will become to life the heavy weights, like when life throws me a curve ball. By practicing each and every day, I am getting stronger and more mindful and as a result happier. Just like going to the gym, the payoff feels pretty good. That is a small success worth celebrating!

Could Maslow’s Hierarchy of “Needs” be viewed as a theory of evolution?

 

Abraham Harold Maslow, An American psychologist (Apr 1, 1908-June 8 1970) who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization.

Early on, Maslow studied such things as primate behavior and sexuality.  Are we not descendants of primates? What is sexuality other than a basic human drive to pro-create. Animals do not have sex out of desire, they engage in sex to create life. 1+1=2, 2+2=4, it is evolution. The difference between what some call our “monkey brain” and the human brain is that the human brain has found beauty and desire in pro-creation. We find pleasure in it because it is pleasurable to unite with another. It feels good. But, the basic human need to procreate is what drives it.

Later, he studied psychology and began to question previous assumptions made by psychologists. Driven to prove that not all human behavior was motivated my negativity. He began to question their conclusions but had his own ideas on how to study the human mind. Unlike some of his predecessors, he studied successful people. He studies with anthropologist Ruth Benedict and psychologist Max Wertheimer and regarded them both highly for their successes in both their personal and professional lives. He began to study their behaviors. This began his lifelong research and thinking about mental health and human potential

He studied and expounded on others ideas. He wrote extensively on a few concepts he developed; hierarchy of needs his best known. He considered himself a psychological pioneer. Many agree, as evidenced by how often we hear and see the hierarchy of needs presented to explain human behavior. His work continues to be the basis of many other theories, including my own.

In 1943, Maslow proposed in his theory in a paper entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation”  in Psychological Review. A closer look at his theory of motivation could hold a key to the theory of evolution.

Maslow studied what he called exemplary people. Rather than focus on mentally ill or neurotic people, writing “the study of crippled, stunted immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy. He focused on those who “self-actualized.” He believed that every person has a strong desire to realize his or her full potential.

He wanted to prove that humans are not blindly reacting to situations but trying to accomplish something greater. Is that not what self actualization is? Do we all not have the drive to be more, do more, create more? His theory of self actualization talks of a coherent personality syndrome, which represents optimal health and functioning. Is this similar to the union of body-mind-spirit? When we are congruent and our body is aligned with our mind and we follow our heart or intuition or spirit, we become self actualized.

When society becomes congruent, perhaps we actualize through evolution. Do we put our thoughts and energy into destruction and war or peace and love? Are mental diseases a sign of incongruence? Does that prevent us from striving for greater things, one of our basic human drives?

As we humans, we evolved to use only two legs, we evolved to express our human spirit through art. We evolved through our constant curiosity and questions and imagination. We create through engineering and physics and science. We study the world around us and we make it better. We study the body and the human condition and we create medicine, extending our lives and our ability to evolve. When we limit ourselves, on the other hand, we become stagnant. When we believed in our ability to get to the moon, we made it happen. When someone has a vision and makes it a reality, they are actualizing that vision. Do we not do the same when we focus on the negative? Negative emotions like greed, hatred, lust (attachment) limit us. They keep us stuck to the ball and chain and we lose our ability to be visionaries. We limit our thinking and thus limit our actions.

We evolved through the first biological needs for food and air and shelter, through sexuality we expressed our need to procreate. We created safety for ourselves in our homes. When we secure resources that provide for our basic needs. We create walls around things we wish to preserve and protect. When those basic human needs were met, we longed for communities and we banded together in tribes and cities. We have an instinctual need for community because the life we have evolved into cannot exist in a vacuum. We need other people. We need someone to farm the soil, to tend the crops, to harvest them. We need someone to study the body and teach us how to heal so that we can endure, live longer, evolve. We need someone to study the mind so that we can learn to control our thoughts, and master our minds in an effort to evolve. We cannot do all of this alone, as we evolve and we fulfill the needs in our hierarchy, there is more to be done. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. We needed to communicate with each other, so we created art and language. Now we begin to share the lessons with each other, we can all learn from one another, in order to evolve.

The next rung on the hierarchy or evolutionary step ladder is esteem. Esteem by definition means respect and admiration. Just as a self-actualized person has a healthy dose of self respect and self esteem, perhaps this indicates our need to have a healthy dose of esteem or respect for one another in order to evolve.

Our need for belonging is evidenced by the groups we create. We choose our friends, we choose our colleagues, we choose the people we spend time with. We explore our mutual interests, we push each other to be better. Again, it seems to express a need to evolve. But in order to do so, perhaps we need each other. Only when we exclude through judgment, greed, hatred do we stop ourselves from evolving. When we have periods of peace, we grow in technological pursuits and advancements. We label periods of our history based on the evolutionary advancements. Could this mean we need more tolerance. Is it possible that we can all co-exist without judgments without exclusion? Can we find a way to co-exist with compassion? Could this be the key to evolution? We learn to be tolerant through education. Education is nothing more than stretching the limitations of the mind to do more, be more accomplish more. When we begin to stretch the mind to be tolerant, we grow. We abolish slavery, we detest injustice. We create law and order meant to demand we follow a certain standard we hold ourselves to and we imprison or otherwise punish those that do not adhere. Ironically, many of those same standards we set for ourselves come through religion or the belief in something better. Perhaps organized religion is not a bad thing, it is the belief in something, a shared moral code. Only when we judge those with different beliefs to we stunt our growth. We war with one another, we essentially create our own hell on earth. Only those that are tolerant progress. When we esteem all human life we will have fulfilled the next evolutionary step.

The future of evolution could lie in how long it takes us to find that esteem for one another. As a society, until we respect all thoughts, and all beliefs we cannot evolve. Or perhaps only those that refuse to revolve remain stuck in their wars and their hatred and their hell on earth.

Our founding fathers believed in equality. In fighting evil and injustice. We welcomed everyone regardless of religion. There is good and bad, heaven and hell, we choose our paths. We stopped tolerating slavery and we evolved. We wanted every single person to have a voice. When we granted that voice to everyone, we evolved.

It’s just a theory of course, but it makes sense to me. Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I am a visionary. I will stick to saying I am just me, trying to find my purpose. Rather than label my thoughts and ideas as good or bad, I choose to express them. Rather than judge them, I just mull them over. I like to write them down, see them on paper, type them on a screen, see how they feel when I try them on…. Just an idea I had… of course, ideas are also a spark of evolution. one person’s crazy thought becomes another’s invention.

I like Maslow’s hierarchy, I have found ways that it resonates in my life, in my mind. I can see how sometimes my actions express a need. When I am hungry, I eat. If I ignore my hunger, my ability to function slows down, I can’t move as fast, I can think as clearly. After I eat, I am then clear headed and able to focus on my next need. If I feel physically, emotionally and spiritually safe, I can then focus on relationships, finding my place in the world, finding my people. When I start to feel like I belong and I feel safe in that community of people, I become more creative. When I create, I write or I work or I teach, or I dream. These seeds plant my future. It is not until I let go of attachments to my ideas that I can become most creative. The ideas just begin to flow. I don’t judge them as good or bad, right or wrong, I just allow them to flow. When we as a society allow the ideas to flow, the possibilities become infinite. Evolution is the history of infinity. Each of us started as a cell and one cell became two. It is evolution. When we stop judging ideas as good or bad, right or wrong, when we allow ourselves to dream, we create our futures, we also create our futures when we hate, when we are greedy, when we judge, when we exclude.

Could Maslow have been on to the secret to evolution in his study of the mind. I like to think there is something there. Maybe not, but I choose to believe. In my personal evolutionary journey, that makes it so.

Celebrating the small successes-flex your mindfulness muscle

victory

I managed to get off my posterior and get some packing done. I actually got quite a bit accomplished today. Just as I sat down I caught it. There was my inner critic, ready to jump on me for what I didn’t get done.

“Good job, but you would’ve gotten much more done if you wouldn’t have stayed up so late last night,” Just as it started, I caught it. I noticed my negative inner voice getting ready to hop on a tangent and I stopped it in its tracks before it had a chance to grab hold of my emotions.

The sooner I notice the negative thoughts start, the sooner I can turn them around before they have a chance to impact my mood. Realizing my thoughts have such a huge impact on my mood, I try to be mindful of them. As soon as I recognize the negativity start, I try to stop it, look for a positive in the situation and change it around before it has a chance to turn my mood sour.

Acknowledging the impact of my thoughts is the first step. The second step is just as important, and that is being mindful of my thoughts as they occur, before they take control. This is not always an easy task, but I have noticed that mindfullness is like a muscle, the more I practice it, the stronger I gets. Hopefully, with practice, my mindfullness will be strong enough to stop the negative self-talk before it even starts.

My dad gave me some advice when I first got married, “Never go to bed angry.” I like to apply a similar idea here. I don’t like to just stop the negative thought and stop there, I feel like that ends things on a negative thought. Two of them actually, the original negative self-talk comment and the guilt or other negative thought that results from realizing I just did it. In order to end it on a more positive note, I have to turn it in to a positive thought, “Great job packing today, you got more done than you thought you would, you got a lot done.”

This reframing the negative helps me end the experience on a positive note. That small celebration actually motivated me to take a little break and then go back and do more. I spent a couple more hours packing. Turns out, my old habit of berating myself for lack of perfection actually sabotages future success. When I chose to end it on the more forgiving and compassionate, positive note, it prompted me to want to do more. Could it be that changing or reframing my thoughts could help me procrastinate less too? I guess that part remains in question. But, I can’t deny that as I happily whistled to some tunes while getting more work done, I couldn’t help but notice how smoothly everything was going with my improved mood.

It is not an exact science, I still think negative thoughts and I don’t always catch them right away, sometimes not at all. Simply the fact that I am doing better at recognizing the thoughts as they happen is an accomplishment. The impact though, the improved mood, the lighter feeling as I go about my work.. that gives me motivation to be even more mindful of my thoughts.

Just as my negative thoughts cause a negative mood and it becomes a viscous cycle, my positive reframing improved my mood and made me want more of that positive self-affirmation. I guess the seven dwarfs were on to something when they sang, “whistle while you work.” Changing my thoughts did change my mood which in turn made me do exactly what I was getting ready to berate myself for not doing… more work. I think I will call it a bliss cycle, instead of the old viscous cycle. It really does work.

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Procrastination…Why is it so hard to live my life?

 

Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task which needs to be accomplished. It is the practice of doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, or carrying out less urgent tasks instead of more urgent ones, thus putting off impending tasks to a later time

Time Lost

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Procrastination, the eternal struggle between doing what I need to do and what I want to do. The definition makes sense to me in some regard, I put off work for some instant gratification, we all do that in some ways don’t we? But I think I bring it to new levels. I am able to keep my focus on the goal, that helps me to do what needs to be done, but I still seem to thrive on waiting until the last minute. I like the pressure of a time sensitive task, I like the urgency, the stress of having no more time to put something off.

I do it all the time, I goof off at something I would rather be doing until the urgency hits me, until I have no more time to wait. I do it with work deadlines, I even do it with my social life. But why?

After all, in my spiritual trek, I am getting clear on my goals, on my destination, on the my future path. But, for some reason, I am still putting my life on the back burner. For some reason, I would rather philosophize, read, study, write and mentally prepare for my future life than actually start living it.

Here I sit getting all philosophical, trying to understand my actions rather than changing them. What is that ? I mean I am here on this blog right now blogging about procrastination, which is essentially keeping me from doing what I need to be doing. My four-bedroom house sits still, when it should be covered in boxes. I have a shipping container being delivered on Tuesday. It is Saturday and I have still to really start packing. Yes, I have a few boxes of non-essentials sitting around my bedroom, but the meat of my house remains untouched. Moving to Hawaii is my dream. I have worked hard to prepare myself. I searched and searched for a job that could pay for my life there. I acquired the essential skills necessary for advancement. I’ve put in the work, I successfully navigated the interview, which consisted of a five-person panel of executives. I’ve accomplished one of my dreams! I am moving to Hawaii.

Moving to Hawaii is the next step of my dream. It’s part of my life plan. I am thrilled with the accomplishment! I have overcome adversity and accomplished my goal. I am excited. I have lists of things I want to do when I live there. I have a mild draft of the next part of my dream, what I plan to accomplish there. How I plan to get to a place where I can live there independently, without working for someone else, eventually. I’ve waited two long months between accepting the job and navigating the tedious on-boarding process. The day is here, my travel plans are set. My car has been shipped. The shipping container will be here in three short days. I am thrilled! But, here I sit, house unpacked. Why am I procrastinating?

Last night, I found myself perusing my mostly unpacked bookshelves for some kind of motivation. I wanted to read some magical words that would miraculously transport me to full-on motivation. I bargained with myself. Knowing I had a three-day weekend to get it job accomplished, I successfully put it off all week, knowing that today was the day. Half expecting to wake up motivated today to do what I have put off until the last minute, I woke this morning ready…. I checked in with myself, “Self, are you ready?” Mentally, I have been ready for months. I found myself wondering if my new-found spirituality would enable me to manifest a packed house, a packed office. Nope, I manifested my dream… I am going to Hawaii! Alas…. I still need to do the work.

Even this post on procrastination is just another way to procrastinate from packing.

Why is it so much easier to write about it than actually do it? I should be excited, I mean my dream is just days away. .. Why is it so much easier to write about my life than to live it?

Last night, I stayed up until 0400 (4 a.m). I was writing, reading, getting philosophical. My synapses were firing. I was able to write the plans for accomplishing the next phase of my dream, financial independence. The irony, I want financial independence so I only have myself to answer to. Yet, I have been unable to hold myself accountable.

I know intellectually, that once I start, I will be ok. Its kind of like going to the gym… once I get in the gym and put on my music, I can work out for hours, but, I will truly put off actually going to the gym as much as possible. Why?

I mean, I know why I want to pack. I know why I want to move. The motivation is clear. I thought if I was clear on my motivation, I would find the drive to do what needs to be done. Yet, here I sit.