Wanting life to be different

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Spiritual Fitness
If you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches & pains,
If you can resist complaining & boring people with your troubles,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can overlook when people take things out on you when, through no fault of yours, something goes wrong,
If you can take criticism & blame without resentment,
If you can face the world without lies & deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs…

Then you are probably a dog.

~Unknown

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Top Ten Rules for Being Human

ThinkLessDoMoreI found this year ago and return often to it when I feel off-kilter. Enjoy!

Top Ten Rules for Being Human

Rule One: You will receive a body.

Whether you love it or hate it, it’s yours for life, so accept it. What counts is what’s inside.

Rule Two: You will be presented with lessons.

Life is a constant learning experience, which every day provides opportunities for you to learn more. These lessons are specific to you, and learning them is the key to discovering and fulfilling the meaning and relevance of your own life.

Rule Three: There are no mistakes, only lessons.

Your development towards wisdom is a process of experimentation, trial and error, so it’s inevitable things will not always go to plan or turn out how you’d want. Compassion is the remedy for harsh judgment ― of ourselves and others. Forgiveness is not only divine – it’s also ‘the act of erasing an emotional debt’. Behaving ethically, with integrity and with humor ― especially the ability to laugh at yourself and your own mishaps ― are central to the perspective that “mistakes” are simply lessons we must learn.

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Dancing in the Dark

the danceOh, has it been over a year since I posted on this blog? Well, crap. That’s a long time!

So where have I been? Well, sometime last year, I wrote about my decision to put down my spiritual and self-help books and start LIVING the truths I’d found in their pages. Doing that looks different than I expected—much messier.

I am not a graceful ballerina, moving gently through life lessons with a pirouette and plié. More like a spastic buffalo ramming into everything around me at full force, knocking stuff over and having to decide what’s worth cleaning up, and what should just stay broken.

I’ve spent a lot of time this last year journaling, meditating and sleeping, as well as focusing on creativity and a select few friendships that are deeply loving. Day to day, I’ve turned my attention toward experiencing emotions, people and life just as they are. Just being with them, without judgment or analysis or attempts to change.

Life has given me much material for practice. A few highlights: changing jobs and finding myself in my dream position; going through a deep, four-month depression; meeting and falling head-over-heels for someone, then having the relationship fall apart for no discernible reason; bulging discs in my neck and a botched medical procedure that left me with migraine-level headaches for a month; and a fallout with a family member that left us not speaking from Thanksgiving until last week.

So. That’s a lot.

My decision to stay present with myself through all of this, no matter what, was probably more about throwing up my hands in surrender than any sort of high spiritual commitment, to be honest. In the past, I’ve attempted almost every method of “escape” under the sun and nothing has ever brought true, lasting peace. Why not something new?

Turns out this “something new” is absolute magic. There are days, particularly over the past two or three months, when I actually shock myself. For example, my lifelong, compulsive need to make resolutions to “get good” has disappeared. I have spent immeasurable psychic energy trying to force myself to be better / different / kinder / calmer / braver / worthier…with few results from the effort. I just ended up exhausted and frustrated.

I’ve come to learn that for me, change begins with accepting things exactly as they are right now and looking my fears straight in the eye. I quit trying to change, move closer to myself and poof! I CHANGE (though often in ways I didn’t even expect). Who knew?

Another fruit of this “something new” is that there’s more “padding” between me and everything sharp in the world. I am more open to whatever happens: Happy, sad, good, bad. I can relax because I am less afraid of somehow being undone or collapsing into an experience. There is confidence in my fundamental “OK-ness.”

Finally, the “something new” has revealed to me even more the utter ENORMITY of Spirit / the Universe / God / Higher Power / Whatever You Want to Call It. There’s nothing intellectual about this—it’s completely of my heart and shows itself in these astounding moments of compassion and love toward myself and others. It’s a hugeness inside of me that is not of me, connecting me to all beings in a gorgeous way.

I don’t really know what’s next in the grand scheme; I can only take a stab at doing the next right thing for me. Tonight, that’s spending time with friends, picking up my paintbrush for some creative work and going to bed with my sweet pup. And that is just perfect.

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Bonjour from Paris! I am on day three of my eight-day holiday here, staying with the indomitable Lina, a woman I’d like to be more like when I grow up. I told her in all honesty last night that she’s one of the few people I can happily spend endless amounts of time with and stay delighted by her spirit and company. She’s quite extraordinary.

The adventures abound in the city of lights so far, but I’m following my pre-trip mandate to slow it down and stay in the moment. That’s not hard to do when the culture gravitates towards two-hour leisurely dinners in a bistro, eating quiche, watching passers by, and sipping Perrier. Lina and I can talk about anything: life and love, family and friends, even politics (we’re attending a Sarkozy election rally Sunday and I’m excited to feel the energy of such an event).

Staying present is also made easier for me by the wonders in every moment. That cheese? I’ve never tasted such fromage. Those people? They’re trying to sell me a scarf, draping it around my neck and rubbing my hands over the purple and red silk. That dog? It’s taking a Parisian poop! It’s all different and special. I find myself marveling in the wall graffiti and can labels, smells from the bakeries and the sound of French being spoken and shouted all around me.

Last night, we visited the Foire de Paris, a huge street fair with halls representing different parts of the world. While I was pondering a purchase at one booth in the South American section, the man was speaking to me in French, heard Lina on the phone in Spanish, and then me speaking to her in English. Our exchange became almost comical at that point and as we laughed about it and decided on English. It was very much a “small world” moment and I was reminded how much more we all have in common than we usually allow ourselves to see. There were people of all nationalities and races at the fair and we all just meandered about, bumping elbows and looking for fun, food, and great deals on jewelry (okay, that was me, and I found them!).

Today, we rent a car and drive to Honfleurs on the Normandy coast, just Lina, me, and Nikita the wonderdog. It’s a short road trip to a charming area and we’ve stocked the rental car with junk food and Coke Light. I can’t wait for the scenery and conversation. This is a fabulous country and fantastic company.

Paris is Always a Good Idea

Next Wednesday afternoon, I’ll be hopping a flight from Dallas to Paris, the first time I’ve been abroad since May 2006. It feels like a triumph, making this voyage. I’m ready for the adventure!

I worked for about two years as a travel writer, so I’ve had the opportunity to flit all around the place in North America and a few places in Europe. So it was a bit of a surprise to discover that, in fact, travel makes me anxious. I overplan and get expectations and demand too much from myself when I travel, so I end up coming back more tired than I left. And several of my trips during the past four years have included anxiety attacks and tears.

But despite that, I’ve continued to travel in limited doses, listening to that discomfort and letting it tell me what I need to do. A lot of time that is slow down.

As it turns out, hitting the brakes is one of the things that makes it possible to appreciate the very things that make travel so enjoyable. It’s all about all those delicious details that are different than home, from street signs to smells to the sounds of a different language being spoken all around me.

Through all those differences, though, there’s something that always jumps out at me: we’re more alike than we think we are. After I get past the different way a person ties her scarf or slurps his soup, the separation begins to lessen. I see the ways we are alike, the things we share as humans. The very best thing: sharing a laugh with someone from another culture. In that moment, there’s so much connection.

The other thing that happens when I slow down is that I remember to have fun. Be in the moment. Smile. Paris is an absolute delight, and I’m staying with a dear friend I’ve known since my high school days. We’ll have a long weekend to spend in the city, and to rent a car and drive to Bruges, Belgium. There’s not checklist, there’s no museum itinerary to follow, there are no rules.

So that’s the plan for Paris, insomuch as there is a plan. Relax. Stay present. And make much laughter. Throw in some croissants, and I think it sounds perfect.

Anger As a Teacher

Anger is probably my least favorite emotion and I’m right in the middle of it today. I actually hesitated to blog anything because I’m feeling so very stabby, but I figure that’s actually one of the most authentic places from which to write—smack in the center of it.

I struggle with what to do with anger, with that part of me that wants to take some sort of action to change how I feel. Historically, I would just get madder and madder until I burst into tears and wallowed in feelings of victimhood, a whole afternoon or day ruined until I came up with a storyline to explain the situation. I then would settle into the story (in which I was always in the right), ruminating on it every so often, so as to confirm my rightness and the other person’s wrongness. I learned a few years ago to pray for the person toward whom I have anger, so I would throw that into the mix a few days later, arriving sometime in the next week at forgiveness. But always with that story in place to confirm, I AM RIGHT, YOU ARE WRONG.

But today, I’m not doing any of that. I’m sitting here just being angry and uncomfortable, trying to let the anger be my teacher. Every time my brain tries to make up a story about the anger, about how I was wronged, I steer it back to the present moment and remind myself that I don’t know the truth of this situation. I do not need to be a victim or even be right in this situation. And I do not need a story.

The person toward whom I feel this anger is not really even the issue today—it’s about retraining my brain to accept the emotions I feel and treat them with loving-kindness, to think about the object of my anger with that same love and pray for him, even if that sounds like, “Bless that son of a bitch.”

My other focus for dealing with anger today is doing the next right thing and trying to take good care of myself. I spent the workday tearing it up at my office (seriously, this was one of my most productive days in memory. I should get pissed off more often!). I’m spending this evening in self-care: exercising, seeing a good friend to talk, meditating, and going to bed early.

Treating my anger as a teacher is a very new practice for me, only a few months old, and I’m feeling how rough the ride is as I sit here. But I trust that the process is a solid one and that I will come through this with new lessons for living and more awareness about anger, which, though still my least favorite emotion, may become my most instructive.