Tag Archive | growth

Practicing Being Myself

Today’s quote on my Zen calendar: “The purpose of our practice is to just be yourself.” (Shunryu Suzuki).

Another gentle reminder that we do not need to practice, practice, practice… to make (ourselves) perfect.  Our perfection already lies within in.  It is our job to discover it and bring it out into the light.

Imagine if each one of us stopped trying to be someone else; or some different version of ourselves; and just practiced being our best selves.  The traits we each possess create the unique tapestry of the fabric of life.

But when we ignore these inborn traits, just lying in wait, we turn our backs on our birthrights. We walk around as masked versions of ourselves.  Sometimes to the point where we even forget who we truly are inside.

So what if we changed our daily practice?

To one of centering the mind and the body, searching along our inner labyrinths to find our centers, the core of our beings.  And what if we looked among the muck and mud that only we can see (all our defaults; the things we so, so wish we could change… if we just tried hard enough), and found the tight bud of the lotus flower, hiding in the deep, dark crevice of our soul?

The lotus: one of the most beautiful flowers in the world, whose delicate appearance belies its inner strength. For it can grow in the harshest, and ugliest of environments. Because it believes in its true nature: it knows that it is a flower and its only job is to open its bloom wide to the sun and seas of adoring faces.

You are the flower.  Find your roots. Pick up that fragile, withering bud deep inside of you and sing to it.  Bathe it in light and love. Coax it open.

Do not try to make it contain certain qualities that you find appealing.  Discover the natural treasure trove of characteristics that lies hidden within, and start to honor, respect and celebrate them one by one.

Do this meditation daily until you start to feel your whole self open like that shy bloom.

Practice it every day.

Practice being yourself… your whole self.

And nothing more.

A more specified application:

Perhaps you are struggling with a daily practice of self-improvement.  You want to become a writer, an instrument player, a mother, a student, a yogi, etc…  This daily practice of “being yourself” does not mean that you cannot choose to learn a new skill or talent.

But try and apply the same principles from above to this practice as well.

I have found that when I stop trying so hard to be the “perfect” artist or “perfect” wife, I leave the door open for my true self to walk through.  I stop defining what “perfect” means, or looks like, or sounds like, and I just practice at being myself while engaging in each activity.

I am already that musician, that artist, that teacher, that student.  I just need to focus my mind on using that skill each day, and let the rest of it open naturally like the budding learner within.

Ever heard the term, “She’s such a natural at…”

I believe this is what “being a natural” means.  It means not forcing yourself to be any one thing or another.  Perhaps you won’t be a concert-hall worthy musician.  But, at the same time, perhaps you excel at engineering new and innovative ways to implement an idea. We all have different strengths and talents.

We can all practice at any activity we want.

Just practice at being yourself at that activity and watch the garden of your soul bloom. Some flowers will grow taller and stronger than others, and that’s okay. You won’t know until you practice at just being yourself and then seeing what naturally grows and develops.

Try and stop defining how your perfect self looks like (and all the talents this perfect being has) and start nurturing the in-born talents you uniquely possess.

The world would be a mighty boring place if we all excelled at the same things!

Going Just Beyond…

above and beyond

A friend shared an alternative approach to creating New Year’s Resolutions. For the last three years, she has chosen a word that defines what direction she wants to head in the upcoming year.  Instead of listing “specifics” she meditates and visualizes her hopes, wishes and dreams and then categorizes them under an umbrella term; used as her motivational mantra throughout the year. For this year she was vacillating between love and courage, thinking about using both. Then through conversations with others, she realized the recurring word that kept popping up was “connection.” And as she said, “I have found that the word I settle on, most often finds me, not the other way around.”

By focusing on this one small, yet enticingly expansive word, she will walk through the coming 365 days deepening her connections with herself and with others, while staying in tune with the connectivity we can all experience, when we dip into the well of our shared roots.

Just a few days after this conversation, I happened upon an article in our local paper, “My Life, My Words; Three Little Words Have an Impact.”*  In it, Kristine Bruneau writes, “Since 2012, I’ve chosen three words to inspire and guide me along the path of achieving my goals.  At the end of the year, I reflect on how well these words have helped shape my efforts.” Her three words for the coming year are “restore, integrate and teach.” For the year just past, they were “amplify, connect and share.”  They are a trio of interconnected words, which seem to act as stepping stones to growth.  The first, a verb, “takes action”; the second exemplifies how she will integrate the first tenet into her own life; and the third, how she will spread this to the world beyond herself.

Whether one word or several, both approaches are positive and action oriented.  When focused on the solution rather than the problem, you automatically walk in a positive, forward moving direction.

By setting a word, or words of intent, you are practicing the Law of Attraction. 

For the last couple days, I have opened up my mind to receiving a word that describes what I want to attract in the coming year.  I meditated and prayed, and allowed the first word that came into my mind to sit and stew for a while.  It was an unexpected word.  Some may even say an odd word choice.  But the more I let my mind tinker with this idea, the more I realized it encompassed all my hopes, goals and dreams.

My word for 2014? — “BEYOND

I want to reach just beyond my comfort zone into the unknown realm where growth occurs.  I want to re-discover my hidden talents; I want to experience life as it is, and then take it just one step further.  I want to reach beyond myself to help others and the world.

Thinking beyond is going to help me “feel my fear, and do it anyway.”  When I am about to embark on a new or different endeavor, and my fear (of failure, of the unknown, etc.) tries to stop me, I am going to pause, breathe and reach just beyond that fear into the landscape of trust. I am going to take my life just one step further.

I am going to remember this one-word phrase (hmm… oxymoron?!) whenever I am faced with a daily decision, choice or activity; I am going to pause and ask myself, “what would going just beyond look like?” 

The same goes for facing disappointment. Instead of focusing on “why life didn’t turn out the way I had imagined,” I am going to look for the hidden land of opportunity that lies just beyond the field of disappointment.

This word will help define the direction in which I want to head; but I am not concerned with defining what that will look like, what that will feel like, or how I will exactly get there.  That part I’m leaving up to God and the Universe.

And I can’t wait to see what happens!

Some questions you may want to ask yourself when choosing your own Word (or words) Of The Year:

  • In what area of my life do I want to grow?
  • What do I want to learn more about myself?
  • How do I want to more deeply connect with my community? Family? Friends?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • What have I wanted to try that I haven’t yet?
  • Where do I see myself in one year’s time? (in my personal relationships, in my financial stability, in my career, in my state of wellness?)

Then take a deep breath, close your eyes, relax your body, and exhale. What is the first word that comes to mind? Hold onto it, follow it, see where it takes you… and then come back here every once in a while to share your experiences with this annual exercise!

SOURCE: * Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, ROCarts, Section 2C

My 2014 Bucket List is Filled With JOY!

 

bucket list

As you know, I have been mulling over a 2014 Bucket List for the last month.  I want to set my intention for the New Year, so that I expect and accept abundance from the Universe.  But I find myself wary of “asking for too much.”  You know the old fear of “setting my expectations too high only to feel disappointment in the end:” disappointment in the limitations of my physical body, financial resources, time, energy . . .

But I also know from experience that if I don’t open myself up to the possibility of achieving greatness, I will never achieve greatness.  If I don’t trust in my mind, body and spirit to reach beyond the familiar into the stellar, how do I expect the Universe (or God) to?  That by setting my intention and sending it on the wings of my new year’s prayers, I am sending a clear message to God and the Universe that I believe in myself.  That I believe in my hopes and my dreams.

So I decided to attack this personal assignment with gusto! – To choose some goals that my deepest heart desires, reaching just beyond my comfort zone, to where life truly begins.

In the midst of this contemplative meditation, I was gifted resources by my monthly Soul Matters group.  This month is “Living a Life of Character,” the goal being to shift our perspective from a flaw-focused view of “You should be better this year” (IE- fix your imperfections, change those bad habits) to one of building character from a perspective of joy.  I love that!

One of the suggested videos for viewing is a TED talk called “Rethinking Your Bucket List:”

http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=4029

Hospice counselor, Kathleen Taylor, discusses the shift of perspective that happens at the end of life (and can also be mimicked by those undergoing severe/life-changing illness).  That we, as humans, experience three phases in our life on the path to discovering our authentic selves: Youth = fearless, we set our course for life; Middle = we start to question that course; and End = we find answers about that course.

A renowned study discovered that the #1 regret of the dying is: “I wish I had the courage to live life true to myself and not the life that others expected of me.”

Dying (and chronic illness) teaches us that it is never too late to shed what is false and become who we are truly meant to be (authentic self).  She challenges us to think of it in reverse; “that it is never too soon to shed what is false and. . .”

Kathleen suggests we reverse the existential question, “What am I supposed to be doing with my life” into “Who am I being with me life?”  If you are living a life of authentic character, you can let go of the confines of what you should be doing, because doing flows naturally from being.  As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “God shows up in us, as us.”

Unfortunately, this spiritual revelation usually doesn’t occur until the time of death.  When people have no time or strength left to be anything other than they truly are, they become their authentic self. Psychologists have studied and identified a developmental stage of growth that actually occurs at the end of life: people “find a deeper sense of self and finally awaken to the preciousness of time.”

Haven’t you ever encountered an ill person who is completely open and honest; who doesn’t fear changing their mind; who freely apologizes and forgives; who expresses love wherever and whenever; and who finds joy, even in the smallest of moments?

Kathleen Taylor states that as the body slows down, perspective shifts, and the person’s mind, heart and soul actually expands. Neil Sulanger, wrote as his ALS progressed, “As I diminished, I grew.  As I lost so much, I finally started to find myself.”

I have experienced this; when I was teetering on the edge of death.  I’ve just forgotten.  But my own experience combined with this spiritual exercise has reminded me that we all have the capacity to find ourselves.  So, my Bucket List is going to be a combination of the traditional (physical acts) and the existential (character trait).  I am going to focus on who I uniquely am and celebrating that… finding joy in all the ways I can and will contribute to the world.

My list includes ways I will nurture my creativity and curiosity; ways I will expand my knowledge of myself and the world; activities that will change my perspective and challenge my bravery; opportunities to expand my capacity to love and be loved; ways to be a leader and to promote justice; prospects for forgiveness and humility; and many moments for transcendence: to appreciate beauty, foster hope, and increase my spirituality.

I am including my list with the caveat that it is not static; my list is not set in stone.  I am keeping it open and flexible for the abundance of opportunities that are sure to come my way this year, as long as I keep my heart open to receiving them!

Please share your bucket list experiences too!!

MY 2014 BUCKET LIST:

  1. Trip to Arizona (get health evaluation at clinic and visit healing-energy sites)
  2. Get my driver’s license
  3. Take Hubby on surprise getaway (like he has so often done for me!)
  4. Take 2 art courses: one to hone existing skills (advanced drawing or painting) and one in a “new” medium (stained glass or silver work)
  5. Return to Cape Cod for vacation
  6. Rent a speed boat
  7. Hang-glide or para-glide
  8. Bond with my sister-in-laws
  9. Take my nephew on an Auntie-Nephew adventure (as yet to be defined!)
  10. Try Paleo diet and document dietary intake/symptoms
  11. Go deep-woods yurting
  12. Learn Reiki
  13. Go on trip to Lily Dale (spiritualist center) with my girlfriends
  14. Get my art featured in a coffee shop, restaurant or gallery
  15. Engage in volunteer activities with young children
  16. Write blog entries at least 3x/wk. so by end of year have enough for a book, if want
  17. Start a Gratitude Jar filled with moments of joy, hope, beauty and love that I will review at the end of year
  18. 18.  Love widely, listen deeply, encourage others, value self, embrace joy, spread love & light, embody hope, express creatively, laugh with abandon, forgive from a deep-well of kindness, practice compassion, and be the gift as much as I see the gift of this world.

The Gift of Illness: A Re-Invention of Self

"See simplicity in the complicated Achieve greatness in little things." {Lao-Tzu}

“See simplicity in the complicated
Achieve greatness in little things.”
{Lao-Tzu}

There are two ways I can look at my illness: 1. “It was the end of my world” or 2. “It was the start of a Brave New World.”  Today, I choose option #2.  The option of Hope, hope for a new world, a new beginning.  I am in no way trying to profess that this was an easy choice!  I lived with both perspectives and took time before making a final decision.  I don’t think I would be in the place of peace I am today if I hadn’t lived with both the Paths of Despair and of Hope.My hope lies in the recognition of an opportunity to reinvent my life. 

I can actually have gratitude for my chronic illness today (imagine that!).  Because when I look objectively at my life “in the now,” I have been afforded opportunities to discover and develop parts of myself I didn’t even know existed before.  In saying “before,” I mean the time before my autoimmune disease (Polychondritis, Fibromyalgia, Migraine, Chron’s) stopped me from working, and let’s be honest, engaging in most of my previous activities.  In this “T.B.,” I was a Type-A, “go, go, go girl!” I was (egotistically) proud of my ability to multitask and juggle all parts of my life, during all parts of my day.  No breaks! Believing all that “idle hands make idle minds” crap. I mean, really, what was I constantly rushing around for?  Sure I received accolades and “atta girls” from all facets of my life.  But, in the end they were just words; words with no real meaning because they didn’t originate from within me.

Lately I’ve begun to look at this change in my life differently…

I’ve started to celebrate the fact that I was given the gift of reinventing myself!  I look around and see most people on the same path for 40+ years of their adulthood.  And many are content with their journey. But few, too, are afforded the luxury of stepping off the established path and taking side-trails until they re-discover a new route that fits for the next phase of their life.  Luxury?  How can I call chronic-illness a luxury?!  Well, for as much as it has taken away from me (which is plenty!) it has returned, just in different forms than I was used to.  It would be (and has been) easy for me to overlook these new “gifts” ahead of me because I am spending my time looking back at all the things that have been stolen from my life, on a constant hunt to retrieve that which has been lost.  It’s not atypical to be stuck on what once was and is now gone; because trusting in an unknown future is a far scarier prospect.  But this approach only caused me constant emotional pain, regret, sadness, and emptiness.

Then, one day, I decided to look forward. I picked up one of these “new gifts” lying in my (new) path and opened it.  Inside I discovered an opportunity to awaken my inner artist.  It came in the form of a night nurse who suggested I begin beading to pass the time during my lengthy hospital stays.  I was quickly hooked, finding this quiet, meditative activity deeply soothing to my mind and pain fluctuations.  In a short time, I was selling my creations out of my “hospital room storefront” (no joke!) to all the staff.  This first step on this Road to Artist boosted my confidence and helped me to feel productive again.  The best gift was the positive energy I gained and shared with the influx of visitors coming in and out of my room, nurturing my own Soul Beacon of Hope.

After veering off what I thought was going to be “My Path for Life,” which I blamed my illness for taking from me, I realized the first step was the hardest.  I’ve taken many breaks along this new way, some chosen by me and some chosen for me by my ailing body.  But when I reflect on the anguish I first felt at “losing” all the things I thought made me “me” and then I fast forward 7 years to today, I discover that I am now an artist, a writer, a truly present friend and wife, a seeker of peace, a role-model of hope and acceptance, and a Survivor!  I started to look at all things I’ve gained.  No, none of those things would be placed on a resume.  But for me they are far greater accomplishments than all of my professional and schooling achievements.  They are my re-invention of self!

Just the other day, in the midst of painting, my husband commented, “You know, in a strange way, you getting sick was a blessing.  You would never have become the artist you are today if you had continued to be so consumed with work.”  And he’s right!  It used to be hard for me to recognize that a blessing of this magnitude could arise from such severe, sudden illness.  Oh, I’ve always had a hopeful heart and been able to recognize small, daily gifts of gratitude, from a helpful friend to a stunning sunset.  But, again, this was gratitude for all the things outside of me.  To have gratitude for what’s within me?. . . now that’s a truly miraculous discovery!

I was able to pursue a solid career in early childhood education for 15 years.  Now, I am on Re-Invention Phase Two: becoming both a Creative Person and a Beacon of Hope for others. Herein lays the miracle: I can reinvent myself again at any time! It may be self-directed or Universe-directed, but either way, I am staying open to the change. And am embracing the NOW… where I can truly find gratitude in being sick!

Pink Lotus of Life

Pink Lotus of Lifew

The lotus flower, a type of water lily, is held sacred among many of the world’s religions and cultures.

With its roots in the mud, the lotus rises through the murky water to blossom clean and bright, symbolizing to the Buddhist purity, resurrection and the enlightened being who emerges undefiled from the chaos and illusion of the world.

The lotus flower is a favorite of Taoist artists, who paint it to remind us of the miracle of beauty, light and life, and to communicate an understanding of the Tao and of our place in the world.

CELEBRATE WAYS IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOU HAVE PERSEVERED THROUGH DIFFICULT TIMES, ONLY TO EMERGE RESURRECTED AS A NEWER, STRONGER VERSION OF YOURSELF.
WE ARE SURVIVORS! YOU ARE A SURVIVOR!