Live Your Verb

Become a person of action.

Tag: mindful (page 1 of 4)

My Cup Runneth Over (I Dare Not Complain)

I’ve been beating myself up the past few weeks. I’m behind on the upcoming relaunch of Live Your Verb, behind on the corresponding ebook and not making my way through client work as quickly as I’d like. Not to mention that I haven’t seen the inside of my gym in over three weeks (I drove past twice and looked at it longingly). My failure to check everything off my to-do list has led me to some personal mental flogging and some very verbal complaining.

But it occurred to me today that all the things I’ve been beating myself up about are, in fact, the direct results of the positive changes I’ve made in my life. I’m not meeting certain goals because I’m finally achieving others. I’m behind in certain areas because I’m getting ahead in others. My body isn’t my ideal bikini shape because I’ve been getting my career and my bank accounts into top-notch shape.

In other words, it’s a trade-off.

And, in some other (more important) words, none of this is reason for me to beat myself up or complain. These are good things, things I’ve wanted for a very long time. And now I’m achieving them at a breakneck pace. Doesn’t really seem like a problem at all, does it? Nope.

These are not problems. These are pieces of my life coming together and falling into place.

I just haven’t managed to keep up with all the goodness well enough to find a balance yet. I’m off-kilter. From all the goodness. Oh darn. (Let’s all roll our eyes at this complaint, shall we?)

So this is the moment that I stop complaining about having to adjust my schedule to accommodate all the blessings in my life.  I’ve realized that my recent complaining has been out of habit, not because I have a valid reason to complain.

This is something we often do in life: complain about something that’s good for us, while completely overlooking what we really need to improve upon. The next time you complain, ask yourself: is this thing I’m complaining about a blessing, a challenge, an adversity or truly a tragedy? Figure out if it’s really something to complain about, or just one of life’s hurdles that is better leapt over by focusing past it and, in Live Your Verb spirit, by continuing to move forward.

Someone once told me the best way to keep your mouth shut and avoid provoking an argument is to ask yourself if that annoying habit, that snarky comeback, that bout of deadline-crushing forgetfulness will matter to you in five days, five months or five years. Chances are, it usually won’t. This doesn’t mean we should let others – or life – run us over. It just means we should pause to check in with ourselves and assess the long-term importance of a word, a lousy day or a fender bender before we set a complaint in motion.

Try this and you’ll find that, yes, it will help you pick your battles. But, more importantly, it helps you gain a more realistic perception of where you are, where you need to go and how to best invest your time and energy to get there. Complaining usually isn’t on that list.

So I’ll close by sharing my gratitude with you (because being grateful is the direct opposite of complaining). I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been met with, and all the success I’ve found. I’m grateful to have so many blessings that they render me overwhelmed and disorganized. I’m grateful for the people who lead me to these little moments of clarity (thanks for this one, Raquel) – and for you, dear readers, who I can share them with.

May my gratitude be contagious. May we all learn to count our blessings first, for then we would be too busy counting to ever complain.

 

What are you grateful for today? What can you stop complaining about?

 

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The Empty Container

There seems to be a trend happening lately in which I come across something while reading that directly addresses my concern at the time.

Recently, while I was in the throes of an oh-no-I’m-overwhelmed-and-I-need-to-simplify-my-life-a-bit spell, a post from the Zen Habits blog arrived in my inbox. Just like that, I had my answer.

Well, to be accurate, first there were a couple questions:

“What would you do if your life was a blank slate?

If it were an empty container, with limited space, what would you put in it?”

I suspect that you’ll agree with me here: I don’t usually think this way about my problems. I rarely start at Square One. I’m much more inclined to start at Where I Am Now, and then try to backtrack to figure out where I went astray or lost hold of the steering wheel.

This approach seems easier. It feels more manageable to try to solve my problems with small steps like committing to spending less time on social media, subscribing to fewer blogs or planning my errands ahead of time. But the problem with small steps is that often they aren’t enough to make a significant change; they’re difficult to track and sustain, and they’re typically less meaningful in the grand scheme of things because they revolve around the “extras,” which are the last things to go into my container anyway.

Thinking in reverse, however, leads me straight to the core. If I start with that empty container and I ask myself what I want to put in there, the Big Stuff goes in first. Health. Loved Ones. Work. Blog.

Those are my priorities, the few things that I won’t scale back. And starting with them ensures that I give each one the full time and attention required for me to continue growing and thriving in that particular area of my life.

Okay. That makes sense. So the lesson here is simple: in the immortal words of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, “begin at the beginning.” Empty out your container, start over, start with the Big Stuff. The rest is just filler.

 

Read The Empty Container, the Zen Habits post that prompted this.

 

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Saint Francis de Sales Quote

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Meditation: Sitting Still to Solve Your Problem

I arrived early at temple this past Sunday. I lolled in the main hallway outside the hondo,  which is the room where our services are held, so I could finish my coffee before entering. Noticing that a zazen, or meditation, service was already underway in the hondo, I tried to stand still so the heels of my boots wouldn’t clack against the linoleum floor and disturb the group.

As the clock ticked toward ten, the large carved temple doors began swinging open and injecting groups of chilled Buddhists, mostly elders, into the hallway. In Buddhist culture, warm greetings are common, almost expected, as people pass one another. And so the hallway was soon filled with the sounds of friendly exchanges and the unwrapping of coats, scarves and hats.

Soon the doorway of the hondo was filled with a large man wearing a frown. He sternly surveyed the crowd in the hallway and then loudly proclaimed, “People are trying to meditate in here. It would be nice if you could all keep it down next time.” The man marched back to his seat in the hondo and returned to his meditation.

The group was silenced for a moment, followed by a chorus of low-volume, “polite” snickers. The elders were chuckling like discreetly disobedient students in the back of a classroom.

“If he wants to learn to meditate, he might remember that it is wise to learn to meditate through the distraction,” someone said. More chuckling. Nods of agreement.

Anyone can meditate in silence,” chimed in a tiny woman who must have been in her eighties. More nods.

This was their polite way of referencing a recurring theme found in Buddhism: other people are not the problem. You are the problem.

In other words, look inside yourself for the root of any distress before you look outside. (And the wisest Buddhists would add that if you’re looking for the right thing, you will always find the root inside; it will never be outside.)

This man was missing the point of meditation. The goal is not to create a calm, peaceful sanctuary where focus arrives with ease, almost like a gift. If we meditated that way, what would be learning? After all, few things in life arrive this way.

The goal of meditation is to harness not just our nagging, unpredictable thoughts but also to harness our senses – to learn how to focus our energies despite what’s going on around us, despite the tumult of outside forces. That serves us much better outside the meditation room; that’s how we learn the skills that will help us remain steady through the ebb and tide of life’s trials, triumphs, disappointments and surprises.

In true Buddhist fashion, the elders didn’t scold or correct that man; I didn’t see anyone address him later on as we filled in for the main service or broke into groups for dharma school. Unless he asks for guidance, they’ll wait for him to get there on his own, to figure out that next time he shouldn’t break zazen, stand up, walk out, scold the crowd and then try returning to meditation. They’ll wait for him to figure out that he disrupted himself far more than they disrupted him. When he does, he’ll realize that the solution to his problem is to move deeper into his thoughts, farther from his distracted ears, until he realizes that he has the power to control his own world, that he has the solution – and he need not ask anyone else to provide it for him.

Image: Staffan Scherz via Flickr Creative Commons

 

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calm.com

My favorite discovery of late is calm.com.

Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: calm. Remember the good ol’ days before we were always queued up in Netflix, when we could set up our televisions to show that fake fireplace scene and add some ambiance to our fireplace-free lives? It’s sort of like that but much, much better.

The website is an ongoing reel of serene views, like rain falling and clouds moving past, accompanied by tranquil music – or no music, should you decide that you’re going to be so dang calm that you will just listen to silence and the slow movement of your breath in and out (because you’re breathing slowly, right?).

If you meditate like I do, there’s even a meditation clock. And, if you’re, er, ultra-neurotic and need some assistance, there’s a “guided calm” setting – click the button and a soothing voice will talk you through the steps of relaxation.

Did I mention it’s free? Bookmark it today and take a break. You know you need it.

calm.com clouds

calm.com lake

calm.com underwater

and my personal favorite:

calm.com rain

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Regina Brett’s Life Lessons

The talented Regina Brett has graciously given me the go-ahead to share some of her life lessons with you. Originally published in The Plain Dealer in 2006, the column 45 life lessons and 5 to grow on quickly became one of the most popular to ever be published in the newspaper; it’s become a modern-day classic of sorts.

I like her lessons because she doesn’t use lengthy explanations or clever kitsch to drive her points home; they’re just simple truths about life from a woman with a keen eye, packaged for easy carrying.

My favorites are below.

11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.

18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: “In five years, will this matter?”

41. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

Read them all, and carry a few with you.

If you enjoy the article, you can find more life lessons in her new book, Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible

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Optimist

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You don't need to go to India to find a guru. Your boyfriend or girlfriend will do just fine - or anyone else that pushes your buttons.

Image: Buddha Doodles by Molly Hahn

 

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Off the Crutches

I recently prayed – after not praying for more than sixteen years (here’s that post if you’d like to read it).

At the time, I was sicker than I ever have been, so thoroughly overcome by rushes of pain that I couldn’t speak or even cry while I was in their grips. I was nervously awaiting the results of the tests my doctor had run, the kind that had the potential to change my life and my future. And none of my loved ones or closest friends were even in the same state at the time. I was suffering and scared and alone.

So I prayed.

It was awkward. And shocking. And confusing. And, yes, still lonely. I’ve been a student of Buddhism for a decade now, and I never thought I would pray again.

What I’ve been thinking about since that moment of prayer is what an act of hypocrisy it was for me. Not because of the act itself; Buddhism and prayer are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It’s the why that’s been nagging at me. Why did I pray? I didn’t have an epiphany or find faith in Western ideals of God; I prayed out of suffering and fear and desperation. I prayed because I couldn’t meditate at the time. I prayed because, in that moment, I felt I had nothing else. I prayed because it was the only crutch in reaching distance. And that’s the wrong reason to pray.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe each of us should embrace whatever it is that makes us feel better when things are bad, whether it’s prayer, meditation, an hour with a psychologist or an ice cream sundae. But resorting to religion only during times of trial isn’t being religious; it’s scrambling for a foothold.

If prayer worked for me, it wouldn’t take debilitating illness for me to embrace it; I’d also be praying in times of joy and gratitude, wouldn’t I? Religion – any religion - isn’t meant to be used piecemeal. Religion is meant to be braided throughout the weave of who we are, every day: our thoughts, actions, values and lifestyle should be a reflection of that very place in which we find our strength and faith.

The answer, then, doesn’t lie in where we go during times of trial – because, when pushed, when desperate, we’ll go anywhere. The answer lies in where we’re willing to go when things are good, when we’re in the throes of love and celebration. In that place is where we’ll find our personal truth, where we’ll find the religion that speaks to us and gets us wanting to speak back.

Religion should be a conscious choice. Not a fling. Not an insurance policy. And most definitely not a crutch.

There is an old saying that hospitals hear more prayers than churches. I’m sure it’s true. I’m proof that it’s true. But the prayers said from pillows in the calm of morning, the prayers said before family dinners, the prayers said over first kisses and California sunsets and clinking champagne glasses – those are the ones that bring truth and guidance to our lives.

My form of prayer is usually meditation. I meditate when I’m nervous or confused or angry, yes. But I meditate most often out of joy, out of breathtaking gratitude for loved ones and the beauty of the world and the brilliant mechanics of this body of mine, taking in and letting out breath after breath so my heart can beat on, and love more, and create more. That’s my truth, and it’s not a crutch.

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