Two pressing questions I need answered.

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Whatever is in me is stronger than what is out there to defeat me.  Caroline Myss

What is the point of perspective? You know those times when things are pretty shitty and life seems difficult then something happens to you, someone you know or in the world and BAM everything is suddenly put into perspective.  What’s the point of that perspective gaining moment?

Numerous times I have had cause to pause and consider this, either as a result of my own experiences or those of others I have witnessed.  Numerous times I have experienced the clarity that comes from such a wake up call and the conviction that I will live differently, be different as a result. Then, as often happens, the perspective fades, the conviction dwindles and the clarity smudges and becomes murky again.  Why does the perspective fade?

In search of some answers this is what I have discovered, so far.

The definition of perspective , which originates from the Latin word perspicere meaning transparent, clear, to see through, is a term used today, especially in art, to refer to a process of representing, on a flat surface, an image as seen by the eye. From this Wikipedia definition I get the sense that perspective, related to my questions, is about seeing something in relation to where we stand and seeing something from another person’s view-point.  This led me then to the Dalai Lama (Yes, it’s a leap but go with me on this).

The Dalai Lama believes the purpose of life is to be happy. He discusses how humans naturally prefer happiness to suffering.  I do not wish to misquote the Dalai Lama but in the interests of expediency I hope to paraphrase what I learnt.  Happiness and suffering fall into two categories: physical and mental. From what I understand, our mind can influence the degree of our happiness and suffering. It’s there, in our mind, that our suffering inflates, drags us down, consumes us.  It’s there too that we can learn to heal from the tragedies, upsets, upheavals we face.

Suffering helps us develop compassion and love for others, this aids us in supporting our own sense of wellbeing too. Compassion and love help us to maintain hope. If we are discouraged and lose hope, says the Dalai Lama, we risk diminishing our ability to face difficulties. The reality of other people’s suffering helps us improve our determination and capacity to address not only theirs but our own suffering as well.  So, if I understand this correctly, when our ability to develop compassion for others grows, our own inner strength and peace increases. Therefore, regardless of the severity of what we ourselves are facing, be it minor first world problems or nightmarish injustices, these issues become easier (perhaps marginally) for us to deal with, their weight becomes less burdensome, the edges softened and, through this, our mental stability increases which in turns allows our physical wellbeing to be addressed. I guess, in this way, there is a small shift in the balance of the universe also.

Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. Rumi

I know for myself, whenever faced with a ‘perspective’ defining moment, I realise how very small I am in the grand scheme of things, how tiny I am in the cosmos, and then come the resolutions to live differently, to think and to act differently.   This mental state lasts for  a few weeks, or months, depending on the severity and impact of both the initial situation and the ‘wake up call’. I determine to focus on what really counts in life and then, slowly but surely small issues creep up that become over inflated problems and the cycle begins again.  Am I, through this process, increasing my resilience? Am I, through this process, increasing my compassion? Am I, through this process, making any progress or contributing in some  minute way to the greater good?

Caroline Myss talks about healing being a type of pain that allows us to become aware of our own strengths and weaknesses and of our ability and capacity to love and do damage to ourselves and others. She talks of how the most challenging person to control in life is within each of us. Myss says that if we define ourselves by our wounds (our suffering) we lose our physical and spiritual energy and therefore risk illness. So, these wake up calls, are they designed to pull us back from the brink of whatever small or large tragedy we are facing to repair us a little so we can continue to function purposefully in the world? Are they designed to allow us, through our empathy and compassion, to lighten the way for another, so they too can step back from the brink of suffering, if even just a few inches, to catch their breath?

If what Myss and the Dalai Lama say is true, that what affects the mind affects the body, is there some grand universal plan to keep us on a somewhat even keel so that what drains our spirit is not allowed to completely drain our body?  So that when one is addressed the other is also addressed?  Is this too grand a leap to make?

Is this why our perspective fades? Is it because, once we have righted ourselves a little the urgency dissipates? Is it because once liberated from the crushing weight of our problems, once our head is again just above water and we drink in more resuscitating air, our quest to change is abandoned in the luxury of the respite?  Is it because these tiny moments of grace are enough to transform us and the world by infinitesimal increments? Is it part of a beautiful and elegant design that we each must improve ourselves and make continual small contributions to  ensure the cultivation and preservation of compassion and love in the world?

I fear my thoughts have steered me off course. Perhaps my initial conclusions are outlandish and naive.  So, where am I as a result of my initial pondering?  I’m not greatly more enlightened and I now have more questions than answers.  What I do I know for sure is: that suffering is part of life; that we will have things put into perspective for us is inevitable; that this helps us regain a semblance of equilibrium in our search for happiness; that perspective will fade is also inevitable. I know too that to make change as a result of our experience is hard and not always actioned (how to address this and ensure our resolve counts is too large a question to tackle here).  Something else I know for sure is that the beauty of the human spirit lies in its strength to overcome, to feel compassion for others in our darkest times and to continue to love despite the travesties and trials of life.

What in your experience is the purpose of perspective and why do you think seems to fade?

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Living a beautiful life

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“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”  Jim Rohn

How many versions of the ideal day exist?

As we begin a new year I’ve seen and heard quite a bit about resolutions to make this the best year yet and starting as you intend to finish. But how do you do that?  How do you manage the routine, day-to-day, and still feel like you are living? How do you stop waiting for life to begin and start living it?  One brilliant idea I’ve come across several times, this week alone, is to plan your ideal day and then live it.

My friend Nicole from Cauldrons and Cupcakes recently shared a post about her weekly planning session – the Sunday session. In this time, as well as planning and preparing for the week ahead, ensuring she keeps her long-term goal in focus, identifying a to do list and nominating time for the completion of said list, she also plans a Lucky Dip activity. A lucky dip is something to make her soul sing; a reward for the week, time out for a busy mind and body.  Martin Seligman, a leader in the positive psychology movement, supports the idea of planning a beautiful day and then living it; it makes people happier.

Some of you might know this habit as self-care. That’s a term that, while I understand what it means, grates on me a little.  (I’m not sure why but I’m sure it reveals much about my nature 😁.)  Anyway, this habit it is not about waiting until a crisis hits to look after yourself. This habit occurs on a regular basis, it’s planned for and completed weekly.

It differs to a practice I have engaged in over the past few years where I created a list of exciting and adventurous activities, a love list, to keep the enjoyment factor of life at a high. Usually there are 10 to 12 things I’d like to do, places I’d like to visit, experiences I am keen to try out in the year.  I embrace this practice and the sense of achievement from meeting each target. The ensuing flood of endorphins, from each activity, is a huge boost. While I’m not quite ready to give this away totally, I have to admit, there have been years when several items have stayed on the list, unachieved, simply because they were not planned for.  I think Nicole is onto something when she plans one small action, activity or indulgence per week.

A time out for mind, body and soul each week, no matter how small, is a brilliant way to stay focused, recharge, and keep the positivity factor high. Julia Cameron calls these artist dates. Oh, I can hear the protests already. I’m too busy, there is no time, I’ll do it next week. STOP! If you don’t value yourself enough to plan your ideal day, your lucky dip, a date with yourself then where will you find the fun in life, the joy, the real meaning? Who will look after you and your needs, if not you?  It need not be a whole day – keep Seligman’s idea for a once a month practice perhaps – a weekly lucky dip could include going to a new cafe to sit and write for an hour, having that massage you long for, taking your bike out for a ride, going for a short hike up the local lookout or a walk on the beach, redesigning your garden, seeing a stage show, visiting the gallery, eating ice cream while reading a magazine on your back deck. When the brain is happy it is more productive and (while this is not backed by any research I have read) I reckon it makes us more compassionate, considerate and patient too.

How many versions of the ideal day exist? I could let my imagination run wild and create multiple ‘ideal’, beautiful days. I certainly have a nice list of weekly lucky dips in mind too. The options are endless and limited only by the effort and time it takes to plan. The key though is living them. You need to think it. Write it. Plan it and DO it.

Isn’t it time we stopped waiting for life to begin and start living it? Isn’t it time to bring back the joy and inject some happiness into the routine of life? If you’ve committed to making this the best year yet, stop wishing and start living.

365 days of gratitude changed my brain

This is what 365 days of gratitude looks like.

This is what 365 days of gratitude looks like.

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” Eckhart Tolle

Did you know you can rewire your brain to become more positive?

In 2015 my son gifted me an ordinary, relatively inexpensive, empty glass jar for Christmas. It was one of the most thoughtful gifts he could have chosen for me and the timing was perfect. You see, while it was an ordinary jar it had a significant purpose.  It was to be the receptacle for positivity, gratefulness and happiness.

Each day, for a year, I wrote one thing (sometimes more) I was grateful for on a slip of paper and popped it into my gratitude jar.  If I travelled I took my little slips of paper with me. I loved this practice. It was nice to end each day in reflection and thanks. It helped me to focus on the good and what I wanted more in my life rather than the negative.

Now that the new year has begun, I feel at a loss, searching for some new ‘project’.  In 2014 I took a photo a day of something that caught my eye, stirred my emotions, interested me in some way.  2015 was my gratitude challenge. What small routine, I’ve been wondering, can I focus on this year to build positivity and happiness?  I’ve had a few ideas and then I heard a TED talk by psychologist Shawn Achor that gave me a few more.

What, you ask, does all this have to do with rewiring your brain?  Well, what I learnt from Achor’s illuminating talk, “The happy secret to better work”, was that in modern society we link happiness to success. Sadly, this paring ensures we never get there.  Why? Because we constantly shift the goal posts of success. Once we reach a goal, we move it, we are compulsively reaching to be more successful because we believe we will be happier.

Interestingly, our brains work the other way around. If we are happy we’ll be more successful.  When we raise our level of positivity in the present, our brain experiences a happiness advantage. In this state intelligence, creativity, productivity and energy levels rise thanks to a neat chemical called dopamine. Dopamine floods into your system when you’re positive, making you happier.  It also turns on the learning centers in your brain.

Can you imagine the advantages of utilising this theory in the classroom, at work, and in your personal life?

According to Achor’s research you can rewire your brain simply and easily.  Below are a some ideas, like my gratitude jar exercise, that can, if done for 21 days in a row, allow your brain to work more positively and henceforth successfully.

Try one of these:

1. Write down three new things that you are grateful for for 21 days in a row.  At the end of this time your brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world for the positive first.

2. Journal about one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours. This practice allows your brain to relive it. Multiple exposures to positive events and emotions helps to create new patterns of behaviour and thought.  Your brain can’t tell the difference between an actual event or a relived/ remembered event.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens

3. Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters. Do a two minute workout – try squats or push ups while the kettle boils or take a 20 minute walk at lunch time.

4. Meditate.  It doesn’t have to be long. Start with 5 -10 minutes a day. Meditation allows your brain a break from the frenetic, fast paced, multitasking we engage in daily and allows your brain to focus.

5. Practice conscious acts of kindness. One idea is to write one positive email praising or thanking somebody in your support network/ work team each day for 21 days.

Research has found that by doing these, or similar, activities and by training the brain we can create ripples of positivity.  It takes only 21 days to create habit, and only about two minutes a day for most of the actions above. Simple.  Easy.  Fun too.  Is it worth giving it a shot?

Each new and unexperienced day is a celebration, the key is to see the specialness of each day so you can tap into the science of happiness.