positivity

Life Is Short…Don’t Be Your Own Wet Blanket

Wet everywhere

Wet everywhere

How many times have you talked yourself out of something because the situation didn’t seem quite right? I have done it thousands of times. I am the Queen of Justification. I can talk myself out of anything. This also means, though, that I have the ability to talk myself into anything. It seems easier to avoid than attack, though, which is why I have let so many opportunities in my life slide because it seemed like they might be too much work. Today I decided to challenge myself to go forward rather than retreat.

Three weeks ago, my friend Brooke and I planned to hike on May 4th. So, this morning I woke up ready to hike…until I looked out the window. From my bedroom window at 7 a.m., I saw low hanging clouds, wet ground, and not one patch of blue sky. I texted Brooke to see what the weather was like in Boulder. Light drizzle, she said. I have traditionally been a fair-weather hiker. I try to avoid hiking in the rain when possible because I am not a big fan of being cold or wet or muddy or especially all three things at once. So many reasons not to hike today and only one reason in favor. The forecast for the rest of the week in Denver is rain, one to four inches of it. I decided light drizzle might just be the nicest weather all week. I grabbed my rain jacket and my waterproof hikers and headed to meet Brooke.

On the drive, I tried to convince myself that it was as good of a day as any to hike. I pulled out all my zen and told myself the only moment I have is this one. I can spend it whining about the weather or I can pretend that I’m above it all. By the time I got to the trailhead parking lot, I was convinced this was a good idea. I parked in a giant puddle, zipped up my rain jacket, stuffed my iPhone into one of my waterproof pockets, and embraced our adventure.

Mud is the equivalent of ankle weights, right?

Mud is the equivalent of ankle weights, right?

True to what Brooke had said, there was a light drizzle. I couldn’t actually tell if it was drizzle or just mist from low hanging clouds. Either way, there were no drops of rain. We started up the trail, planning to do a 4 mile hike I’ve done many times with my family. As we turned to head uphill, the path beneath our feet became increasingly muddy where rain had rushed down, following gravity’s lead all night long. For about three-quarters of a mile, we hiked uphill through heavy mud, trying to walk on rocks when we could, scraping our hiking shoes off when we’d gained an extra pound per foot. My mind wandered back to how these shoes had hiked the entire Inca Trail without getting wet. They’d survived four days in the Andes with hardly anything to show for it. I was making up for it now. I blocked out the notion that it would take me an hour to clean them when I got home. I kept on trudging.

I realized about two miles in that we were not on the path I had intended to take. Oops. No worries. We’d figure it out. We kept heading uphill, towards the trees, hoping that once we got into them we would find a trail that had been protected from the moisture. Around the point that we hit four miles, it was clear we had wandered further off course than we’d planned. I pulled out my phone to view a trail map so we could get our bearings. We were two hours into the hike. We’d passed two people. Although the views weren’t much because of the fog, the rainy weather had afforded us a hike in solitude. The only sounds were a gurgling creek running full with rain from higher up the foothill, some frogs chirping, and songbirds flying in and out of the bushes around us as we passed. Being a fair-weather hiker, I’m used to sharing the trail, to catching silence in between polite greetings with groups of fellow hikers. Today there was none of that. There was just peace.

An abandoned house in the fog

An abandoned house in the fog

We figured out which trail to hit and began our descent. We stopped to take photos and enjoy the less muddy section of trail. We paused to appreciate the scenery, limited though it was, and revel in the isolation. Eventually we passed one more set of hikers before we reached the parking lot. By then, the stats on my Fitbit app were impressive. We had logged seven miles in 158 minutes and climbed the equivalent of 116 floors under less than ideal conditions with mud-packs as ankle weights. And to think I had nearly given this up morning workout for an almond-milk latte indoors. Craziness.

I’m going to make a concerted effort more often to go with the flow, even if that flow is from rain. Despite all the mental excuses I could come up with today to skip our hike, nothing bad that I had imagined actually came to fruition. The rain held off, I stayed dry, and most of the mud fell away from my shoes on its own. Even when we realized we were off our intended path, we found our way back to where we needed to be. Everything worked out because everything always works out one way or another. I spend too much time imagining the worst, meanwhile missing out on what might have been the best.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” ~Vivian Greene

The King Of I’ve-Got-This

He has the smug look of a Patriots fan down pat.

He has the decidedly smug look of a Patriots fan down pat. I’ll give him that much.

Although I wasn’t born here, I’m a Colorado gal. I’ve lived here 33 years, which is approximately 72% of my life if you’re into numbers. People here love the mountains, the sunshine (over 300-days a year, baby), and the micro-brewed beer. Above all these, though, there is one universal truth to life in Colorado. People are a bit crazy about the Denver Broncos. Families who are fortunate enough to have season tickets hang onto them for decades and leave them to family members in wills. And on the Friday before a game, it’s commonplace to see all kinds of folks of all sorts of ages, shapes, and sizes decked out in team colors. We are United in Orange, it seems. Well, most of us are.

It’s Friday, so this morning I reminded the boys that they might want to pull out their orange jerseys for school. When they were showered and dressed, I discovered only one of my sons had complied. Joe was wearing a Manning jersey. Luke? Well, he went another route. Luke came out dressed in jeans and a Patriots t-shirt, which was of course covered by a Patriots sweatshirt. For years I’ve tried to convince myself that Luke is both a Broncos and a Patriots fan, like I am a Broncos/Bills fan, but I’m starting to suspect that may have been wishful thinking. I think Luke has gone over to the dark side entirely.

“Luke, are you really going to wear that?” I asked.

“Yep,” he answered plainly.

“You know you have Broncos stuff you could wear, right?”

“Yep,” he said again, clearly nonplussed by my line of questioning.

“The other kids are going to give you hell for that,” I prepared him.

“I know. That’s the point,” he replied. “I like this.”

That was the end of the discussion. I had not needed to prepare him. Not only was Luke okay with wearing the Patriots gear, he was choosing to wear because he likes it and he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He was not at all afraid of the idea of conflict. I stood there and stared at him for a few minutes while he continued to get his backpack ready for school. He sneered at me. Okay. Maybe it was more of a smile, but it’s so hard to tell with those defiant Patriots fans.

I thought about Luke and his choice as I drove them to school this icy morning. Luke may be the second smallest in his class. He may seem cute and cuddly (and he is). But underneath all of that he is a force to be reckoned with. I’m not exactly sure where he got his compunction because neither his father nor I have it. It’s one of those cases where nature gave him a gift. The kid has had a confident, can-do attitude since birth. As a toddler, he was the King of Me-Do. In his preteen years, he’s become the King of I’ve-Got-This. He knows that he can do anything, be anything, achieve anything. He knows his talents. He never has to be told or praised. He never questions the how or why of it. He simply knows it to be true. He is awesome.

I am working on myself this year. I am struggling to improve my self-esteem and my self-confidence. I’m focusing on positivity and goal setting. And I’m watching Luke for tips because, when I grow up, I want to be just like him.

 

 

 

What A Wonderful World

A glimpse of our wonderful world

A glimpse of our beautiful world

On the way home from school today, Joe began talking about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo. He was curious if the shooters had been found. I told the boys about the attack shortly after picking them up yesterday because I knew they would hear about it anyway. Today Joe garnered more information about it while watching a youth-focused version of CNN at school, and he needed to talk about it. Joe is a facts-based person. He seeks to understand things, and sometimes his understanding leaves him concerned. He processes news differently than his brother, who is far more touched by the emotion of human tragedy. For Luke, it’s not the fear of something happening to him, but the sadness of something happening to someone else.

When they were very young, we shielded them heavily from the news. Our ban on television reporting began late in August, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Joe was 4 then, and I knew that any video of flooding after the levees broke would send my safety child into a panic. I pictured him poised at the top of the stairs, climbing to higher ground for the rest of his natural days. Steve and I began taking our news in primarily via the Internet, where we could quietly absorb the stories and determine what to share with our children. When a gunman killed 12 people in a movie theater in nearby Aurora, Colorado, we carefully explained what had happened to our boys as soon as we could because we didn’t want them hearing about it from anyone else.  Two years later, Joe is still hesitant to see movies in the theater, and he never saw one iota of television news coverage about the story. If he had, I imagine he’d never want to leave the house. (On a side note…that would save us a cool fortune in dining out costs.)

Today as Joe was talking about the news from France and Luke was trying to understand how anyone could take satire for anything other than satire, I stopped them. I reminded them that the world is full of good things that never get reported. We only ever hear bad news, which is why we spend an inordinate amount of time online trying to get cheerful by watching videos of cute animals or cute children. We’re constantly bombarded by the bad, the ugly, the scary, the repulsive, the unexplainable, the ridiculous, and the pointless. The news continually pits us against one another in a contest to determine who is the most wrong and who is the most righteous. Imagine if the news were instead filled with stories of people shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor or friends pitching in to cook dinner after someone’s surgery or a teenager buying a meal for a war veteran seated nearby. Small acts of peace, friendship, gentleness, generosity, and goodwill occur every day in a frequency we don’t see. So instead of allowing the hope of those good things to penetrate our lives, we become consumed with negativity and pessimism about the world that is presented to us.

Bad things do happen. Extremists murder journalists. Children get cancer. Soldiers leave and return in coffins. But if we spend our time in this life focusing solely on the tragedy in this world and looking for answers that will never come, we change. We become fearful. And with each act of violence and hatred, we lose a little bit of our souls. I work every day to show my children why life is worth living and why you can’t let the bastards get you down. When I got home, I showed the boys photos of the vigils in Paris where locals held signs that read “Not Afraid.” We need to be brave, I assured them. Everything is going to be all right. We can never make sense of the dark, but we can light a candle and pass it on.

 

 

Game, Set, Match

Can you see my bunny mind working?

Can you see my bunny mind dwelling on this blog?

Yesterday my sister sent me this Bunny Buddhism quote from the back cover the book:

What the bunny mind dwells on, the bunny becomes.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Heather convinced me to sign up for tennis lessons with her. Neither one of us had taken a lesson since middle school. With the end of the kids’ school year approaching, it seemed like if we were going to do something for ourselves the perfect time was dwindling quickly. So we signed up for Beginner Tennis 1.0, relieved that they didn’t name the class Beginner Tennis 0.0. Heather suggested that our motivation to complete the class should be earning a darling tennis skirt for future lessons and impromptu games. I liked that idea because it seems pretentious to show up at a court wearing a tennis skirt when you’re incapable of hitting the ball over the net. My real reason for signing up, though, was not clothing related but age related. I believe that we stay young by trying new things. I’m comfortable with aging, but not so comfortable with the idea of becoming old. Tennis lessons and a cute Athleta tennis skirt seemed like a good way to practice being actively alive and in the moment, open to life and its possibilities, and not the least bit fearful of being old.

Of course, as I drove to the lesson this morning, I began to revert to my typical thought patterns. I was becoming nervous. The negative thoughts were creeping into my bunny mind. I have wonderful friends who don’t have this problem. They approach every new adventure with enthusiasm and excitement. They are never disappointed because they don’t take everything seriously. They know how to laugh at themselves and they possess the fortitude to keep on trying even when others might think they are embarrassing themselves. They are my heroes. So today as I drove to class, I centered my thoughts around those friends and that bunny quote. If my thoughts are negative, I am negative and negativity consumes my actions. What if I approached the lesson with a can-do attitude and no fear of failure? What if I housed reality, rather than faulty assumptions, in my back pocket? Reality is that I haven’t taken a lesson in 33 years. There will be foibles, flubs, and faults. I’m going to miss the ball sometimes, but it doesn’t matter because I am a 46-year-old newbie. It’s not only acceptable, it’s expected. I kicked the self-limiting thoughts to the curb and confidently walked toward the indoor tennis courts thinking, My bunny mind dwells on fun.

The instructor wasted no time getting us hitting balls. In the first three balls he tossed to me, I missed two of them. Normally, this would have put a serious chink in my confidence. Today it did not. I’m a beginner, I reminded myself and got back in line to get ready for my next opportunity to take a swipe at the ball. Midway through class, I knew my attitude of fun was working. I was having a good time. I wasn’t hitting every ball, but I was hitting most of them and they were going where they should be for the most part. As the balls were lobbed at me from the machine, I noticed I wasn’t tense or stressed about hitting them. Instead I was focused on my set up and on the finer points of my stroke. I kept my attitude light and shut down my negative self-talk. It worked. Class flew and by the end I honestly felt as if I’d learned something. What was even better was that I wasn’t over thinking or second guessing anything from the past hour. I’d had a great time. That was all I’d set out to accomplish. No need to rehash missed balls or worry about how goofy I looked. I’d tried and I’d enjoyed myself. It’s all good.

What the bunny mind dwells on, the bunny becomes.

I’m going to keep working on this bunny mind thing because initial results confirm that it’s true. Where my thoughts go, I follow. Unchecked, my mind conjures all kinds of ridiculous, untrue assumptions about who I am and what I’m capable of. I’ve got to train my bunny mind to focus on possibility and positivity. When it wanders into clover fields filled with manure, I need to turn my thoughts around, step over the crap, and head back the other way. My goal for this year was to lighten up and have fun. I am working on it each day. If my bunny mind keeps dwelling on it, I’m sure this year will be game, set, and match for me.

 

 

 

Note To Self: It’s Not About You

Truth.

Truth.

It’s not about you.

I tell my sons this all the time. Trust me. They are sick of hearing it. But it’s a mantra I hope they will embrace sooner than I did because this simple statement is life altering. Although we humans are hard-wired to be egocentric (and our current social media epidemic does little to abate this situation), our self-obsession causes us the greatest amount of emotional stress. There are times when you need to be self-centered…like when you’re in a throng of people and in danger of being crushed to death, for example. Then it’s probably a good idea to be proactive about your survival. Most of the time, however, our unwillingness to recognize how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of planet earth and its long history entangles us in self-doubt, worry, anger, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, and sadness. Acknowledging that the world doesn’t revolve around you can be liberating.

It’s not about you.

I’ve been struggling with some personal revelations, dark things that I had buried so I didn’t have to deal with them. As these thoughts have risen to the surface through a fissure that recently appeared, I’ve suffered emotionally. This is what I was hoping to avoid with the whole stuffing process in the first place. But now that these thoughts are in the forefront of my mind and I’m feeling the negative effects of their presence, I have a choice to make. I can become angry or upset about what my ego perceives as slights, injustices, and infractions, or I can accept that none of what I’m blowing out of proportion is about me at all. It never was.

It’s not about you.

When someone else says, “It’s not about you,” well…it really isn’t. It’s about them. You just feel it’s about you. But that feeling is a choice. We choose to feel hurt, betrayed, belittled, and injured. It’s a mental decision we make. We could just as easily say, “It’s not about me? Well, that’s a relief. I wish you luck wherever you land,” and move on. We’d be much happier if we could accept that most times others’ seemingly negative comments or actions have more to do with them than they do with us. They’re hurting, lost, searching, damaged, or antsy. They need a change. They’re insecure. They’re frightened. They’re simply not able to be open and give. We can’t help them in their struggle because their struggle is not about us and their journey is not ours. They’re doing us a favor by picking up their bags and moving on. We need to let go and take a step forward.

It’s not about you.

At the end of the day, we create and hang onto more than is necessary in this life. We do this because we’re not conscious that we have another choice. We absorb others’ negativity instead of accepting that it’s not about us. We don’t have to own someone else’s snarky comments. We can acknowledge them and let them go. It is possible. I’ve been storing junk that doesn’t serve me. I’m sorting through it now, determining what positive information I can glean from it and use to make myself a better me, and hitting the delete button on the snark because it’s simply not helpful. It’s a daunting task, but I suspect it will be worth it. My next step will be to move away from taking everything personally in the first place and to venture toward keeping things in perspective so I don’t have to go through this process again somewhere down the road. Life has given me as much luggage as I can handle. It’s time to leave others’ bags with them and move on with a lighter load because what really is all about me is my attitude. That’s all I’ve got, so I’d best make it a good one.

You Just Never Know

Our jar filled with things we did in 2013 that made the year memorable.

Our jar filled with paper reminders about all we did in 2013 that made the year memorable.

My friend, Rachel, posted this to Facebook earlier today, and it’s been tumbling through my mind like socks in a dryer all afternoon.

People like to use New Year’s Day as a “clean slate” or a “new beginning” but in reality every second of every day is a new lifetime, one you have never lived before, so if you are ready to make a change do it. You are the master of your fate. Use every new moment to be who and what you want to be.

Boom! There it is. What an amazing revelation. Every minute we’re given an opportunity to start fresh. The past is behind us. Our future becomes reality one minute at a time as the present begins anew. There’s no need to wait for New Year’s Day to begin a resolution. You never know what’s coming up next. We fool ourselves into believing there’s always tomorrow. But, sometimes there isn’t. The time to go, to do, to forgive, to trust, to try, to adventure, to reinvent, and to begin is now. No matter how bad things seem, you can make an improvement if you really want to.

Yesterday I spent time with a friend I haven’t seen in a couple of months. I mentioned that hubby and I are planning a trip to Peru next year. It’s a trip we’ve talked for twenty years about taking but have found somewhat legitimate excuses to put off. We recently pulled the trigger and booked the trip, rational thought be damned. As I relayed my concerns about leaving our boys for 12 days of international, out-of-touch travel and adding way too much debt to our credit card at one time, my friend implored me not to delay any longer. She understands that there’s no better time than the present. Her husband is 48 and is suffering from progressive MS with an emphasis on progressive. In six years he’s lost the ability to complete simple daily tasks most of us take for granted. His body is betraying him and his sons and his wife provide support so he can get dressed, get in and out of bed, and function as best as he can each day. As she has witnessed her husband’s decline, she’s learned a lot about life. Life is too short to wait for anything. The time will never be right. There will always be things that stand in our way. But, honestly, sometimes there is no better time. Sometimes there is not even a tomorrow. And we may not know that until it’s too late to do something about it.

Tonight at dinner we sat down and went through a jar we’ve been keeping since January 1st, 2013. We filled the jar all year long with paper reminders of all the memorable things 2013 brought us. As a family we recalled camping trips, personal accomplishments, and cool adventures. We relived our year, and it was pretty great. Universe-willing, 2014 will be amazing too. Steve and I will be hiking the Inca Trail in July. And in the meantime, we’re going to continue to hug our kids and tell them we love them every day. We’re going to wake up and be grateful for what is good rather than lament about what is not the way we had hoped. Some days we’re going to do crazy things, like splashing into 37-degree water on a brisk New Year’s Day, just because we can. I’m going to take deep breaths, revel in joyful little things, and accept last-minute invitations. I’m going to let the laundry pile grow while I go for long walks. I’m going to welcome new friends into my life and linger over the last sip of wine in my glass with old ones. I’m going to be more bold, practice being at peace, and enjoy my precious time on this planet because you just never know. And if a year from now I’m still fortunate enough to be on this crazy ride, I’m going to sit with my family again and add up the gifts I was willing to reach for, one minute at a time.

 

My Silver Linings Playbook

If I ever found the end of the rainbow, I'm pretty sure someone would have gotten there a minute before me and claimed the pot of gold.

If I ever find the end of the rainbow, I just know someone will have arrived there a minute before me and claimed the pot of gold.

“To expect defeat is nine-tenths of defeat itself. ”           ~Henry Louis Mencken

On the flight back from Hawaii, one of the movies offered for my in-flight viewing pleasure was Silver Linings Playbook. I’d seen it in the theaters just before the Academy Awards, but I had liked it so much I told myself I would have to see it again. (Someone must have told United Airlines this, which is why I was able to view it not once but twice on our six hour flight from sunny Honolulu back to snowy Denver.) If you haven’t seen the movie, rest assured I won’t ruin it for you with this tiny summary. The story’s protagonist, Pat, is working to regain control of his life after an ugly downward spiral. He plans to overcome his difficulties by focusing on the positives, the silver linings that life presents to him. Pat’s willingness to remain open and look for the positives touched me because, well, I am not great at that.

For most of my life, I’ve regarded myself as a cynical person. I’m Eeyore. I would like to believe the best and be a Tigger. I really would. But people keep disappointing me. Just when I think I see a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, I am proven wrong. I hate to be proven wrong. I hate it so vehemently that I am careful about what I say because I want to avoid just that fate. If I don’t know the definitive answer to something asked of me, if I’m not absolutely 100% certain, I will insert a disclaimer. I’m an attorney in my own mind because being this way saves me the future headache of explaining my wrongness. I am many things, but I try earnestly not to be irrevocably wrong. (Yes. I know I have issues. My therapist and I are working on it.)

There is something worse than being proven wrong, though. And that is being proven right on something you truly hoped you were wrong about. This usually means having a negative opinion about a person or a situation and then determining by some word or deed that your original, less-than-positive assessment was entirely correct. Doesn’t that suck? Now you’re right, which is what you prefer to be, but unfortunately you’re right about something you wish you had rather not been right about at all. And that’s just wrong.

When I stretched these thoughts out before myself tonight to investigate them fully, what I uncovered is that I am not cynical at all. I say I am cynical because negativity is easier than positivity. If I expect things not to go well and they don’t…well, I’m no worse for the wear. I expected as much. If I expect, however, for things to be fine and they’re not, I struggle. So, like water, I take the path of least resistance. A tender heart is far better off dealing with an expected disappointment than planning for the best and being forced to deal with the worst, right? But this is where things get sticky. To have been disappointed in the first place, there must have been some sort of room for that, some positivity…no matter how hidden. How sick is it to try to convince yourself that you’re negative when really you’d rather be hopeful? There must be at least 40 sessions on my therapist’s couch for acknowledging that I choose to be negative because it makes facing disappointment a trifle easier.

I know the best way to be is to remain without expectation, but I’ve never been very good at that. I would like to be like the Dalai Lama and be open to the guidance of synchronicity rather than allowing expectations to hinder my path. But, dammit…it’s hard. I’d like to be like more like Pat in Silver Linings Playbook and look for the good without always keeping a wary eye out for the bad. If expectation of defeat is nine-tenths of the defeat itself, maybe I should try a bit harder to think positively and therefore potentially avoid the defeat altogether? Perhaps that’s my next life assignment on the road to Zen?