AH-HA MOMENTS

Last week I bought this sign for my kitchen.

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Today, that sign played out in my life as an all-too-rare “Ah-Ha Moment” and for that I am grateful.

It all started with a beautiful sunrise this morning which morphed into a cool afternoon devoid of rain. I decided to take a hike on one of the numerous trails that surround my home. It was a beautiful fall-like day with crisp-clean air, sweet dew laden grassy smells and wildlife galore.

 

After visiting “The Point” my son, Paul, and I started back up the trail. As we turned the corner near the visitors center where a few houses sit back of the path; I heard a Swoosh- followed by a rather loud SPLAT. Looking up I saw two 10-year-old boys lobbing lemons in my direction.

My first reaction was, “those little assholes. Why haven’t their parents taught them better.” That was obviously not the thoughts of the 70+ yo ladies who were heading up the path while I was going down.

“What was that?” the woman asked.

“Lemons,” I answered.

The woman looked over at the young lads and exclaimed loudly, “LEMONS!!!! I JUST LOVE LEMONS!!! CAN YOU THROW SOME MORE MY WAY?”

The boys looked at one another with a total look of surprise on their faces. Then they smiled and gently tossed more of the yellow fruit to the two old ladies who picked them up from the ground with the delight of 10 yo girls playing baseball on a summer’s afternoon.

AH-HA MOMENT…the sign…when life gives you lemons make something sweet…or funny… lighthearted and enjoyable. Why, I wondered, do I use the lemons life throws my way to leave a sour taste in my mouth instead of finding the sweet that is embedded in the moment? Why go to negative first instead of finding and embracing the positive? Why not ask, “Can you throw some more my way?” and be pleased to have them land at your feet?  Yes, I could definitely infuse many parts of my life with more sweet and less sour.

I thought about this as I walked home…tired but enlightened. And later, as I was munching on some of the best lemon bars I have ever made, I was grateful to realize that making something sweet was much more satisfying than being an old sourpuss.

 

Right Speech, Better Communication

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Throughout my life I have been a person who is expressive. A person who uses lots of words and used them well. Too well it seems. I used words to let everyone know exactly what was on my mind at all times. I let words leave my mouth like flying monkeys swooping up people without thinking about the true meaning of my words. I didn’t care how I said IT just as long as IT was said.

Recently, it has occurred to me that my words were hurting others and as a result they were hurting me too. I realized that I was not connecting my heart to my tongue and had no idea how to do so. Even though I knew I wanted to change how I communicated I had idea of how to go about it. But then I chanced upon the Daily OM and the course How to Communicate Like a Buddhist : Lesson 1: The Elements of Right Speech by Cynthia Kane.

Kane’s way of approaching communication is different from anything I had ever seen. She states that the real purpose of communication is to help ourselves and others suffer less. And when communication is looked at through this lens it tosses convention aside and it makes it crystal clear that if we wish to change our relationships then the words we use, the intention behind them, and the way that we speak through them must be radically changed into talk that is kinder, more honest and most importantly… helpful… to those receiving our words.

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The thing I love about this course is that you pay for it based on what you think it is worth to you. Kane’s talks are detailed, thoughtful and in short…amazing. In addition, there is nightly homework to help firm up the ideas you are learning and put them into practice.

So here’s to better communication everyone! May your words be true, kind and helpful and may your well-chosen words spur you on to better and more rewarding relationships!

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Kindness

I saw a THOUGHT today that made me think.

What I saw reminded me to “Be Kinder Than You Have To.”

Wow! Did that struck a chord with me and it got me thinking. How does one Be Kinder Than They Have To?  Are there minimum levels of kindness that are expected? Is there a norm of kindness? Is there a minimum number of times per day that kindness is expected of us? Do we look for it or does it find us? Is kindness based on the intent of the giver or on the perception of the receiver?

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And what does kindness entail, anyway? Is it looking out for “the other” and putting them before yourself? Does it mean handing over your money to someone who needs it more than you do? Maybe it is just recognizing the deeds of others and commenting on them. Or does it mean choosing your words carefully or holding your tongue to the point that it bleeds?

The dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. It sounds as good a place to start as any. For me, the being friendly and generous parts are much easier than the considerate aspect. More often than I would like, my voice rings with harshness, or I flip off the driver who cut me off. I slam the phone down on the teller marketer who has disrupted my day for the fourth time instead of just saying “no thank you.” Yes, that being considerate aspect to life is going to get me turned away from the pearly gates without a doubt.

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In an effort to honor the idea of Being Kinder Than You Have To I decided to give myself a reminder list of things that I could do on a regular basis that just might embody that philosophy. Here goes:

  1. Instead of just tipping the restroom attendant also tell her that her bathroom must be the cleanest in the entire city and just how much you appreciate being able to plop your butt down on a seat so clean you could eat off of it.
  2. Keep McDonalds gift cards in your wallet and hand them out to those in need.
  3. Ask your elderly neighbor if there is anything you can do for them
  4. Send your kids teachers a card telling them how much you appreciate what they do for your child.
  5. Spend a couple of hours volunteering at a place that needs one-on-one interaction
  6. The next time someone cuts you off get out of your car and hand them a McDonalds card instead of giving them the finger.
  7. Do your kids chore
  8. Give your spouse a massage.
  9. Give a bigger tip than your server deserved.
  10. Feed the parking meters of others
  11. Bye a big bouquet of flowers and hand stems out to strangers
  12. Shovel your neighbors driveway
  13. Send a text to a loved one giving them an example of why you appreciate them instead of just telling them that you love them
  14. Write a REAL letter instead of sending a text or email. It is something they can hold in their hands and look at when they are feeling down
  15. Hand out balloons to strangers just because you can
  16. Throw out a little extra birdseed to our feathered friends
  17. Each day message a different friend you have on Facebook and tell them what you like about them
  18. Go through and label all those people in the zillion pictures that you have. Believe me your relatives will appreciate it in the future and will nominate you for sainthood.
  19. The next kid who passes you on the street…give him a buck.
  20. Practice biting your tongue two or three times a day.
  21. Make your spouses favorite dinner
  22. When sending your loved ones out into the cold cruel world instead of just saying have a good day go over and give them a big long hug,
  23. Pick up someone else’s litter
  24. Give up your seat to someone who needs it more than you do
  25. A heartfelt smile can do wonders for someone’s soul
  26. Let that mother with the three out of control kids go ahead of you in the checkout line. She just wants to get home and put the little boogers to bed.
  27. Pray for someone if you are so inclined
  28. Put a thank-you note on someone’s car.
  29. Pay for the person’s coffee behind you
  30. Say something nice to the person in the wheelchair
  31. Talk to someone who doesn’t look the least bit like you
  32. Forgive someone and let them know it

 

So there you go. A list to promote kindness is born and in doing so it is my hope that all of us will be reminded to BE KINDER THAN YOU HAVE TO at least once per day. Just imagine if everyone did that what a truly different and exciting place this world would be!

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A Good Book

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I am reading the book Perfume River by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler. His words flow like a river during the spring rains…rushing and so powerful that they threaten to pull you under. Yet, Butler also knows how to write as if the river is also drying and receding into itself … the author’s words trickling from the pages in a sparse kind of way like the character who finds himself parched and unable to continue his journey.

As a writer I find it amazing when an author can match the flow of his words with the flow of the story. It’s a rarity, that. Most people can write of feelings and place but show me an author who has the gift of using words to match the tempo of the story, like a composer who pens his first notes for each instrument; well, it is a gift to the reader.

I wish I had the ability to match my words and actions with the tempo of storyline that is running throughout my life. Often I feel that my passion is too intense for the scene or that I fall behind not realizing the importance of the moment until it has passed. Sometimes I find  myself experiencing a momentary loss of words as I traverse this life that is mine. Having my emotions and words match what is going on in life often presents a bit of a challenge and I find that sometimes I am missing the perfect words that would complete the chapter in a satisfying sort of way for all the characters in my life.

But if the truth is told,  seldom is the time that we get to write our own life story as we envision it. Often plots are pushed upon us through no fault of our own and characters we never imagined magically appear. We expect a monsoon but get a drought instead. And as we journey through life we often forget that our words set the pace for what happens next, who we become, and the quality of our relationships that we are in.

So today, let us be mindful of the words we are saying and where they might be taking us. Let us craft our words and deeds like the chapter of a good book. And by thinking before speaking, let us be like that author who knows what to edit out to make the story flow. After all, it is our own personal story so its up to us to make it interesting and something we would be proud to let others read.  We may not get a Pulitzer Prize but we will get immense satisfaction in taking the time to craft a life that becomes our own bestseller.

 

 

 

 

Forgiveness

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Tonight it was my turn to pick our dialoging question and I chose one to address something that has been weighing heavy on my mind. It was a difficult statement which forced nothing less than that kind of down-on-your-knees honesty and a period of tough introspection on my part. The statement was:

Please forgive me for ______________.

As part of a married couple, I think that way too often we just expect to be forgiven for our misdeeds because, well, isn’t that what you are expected to do for someone you love? Too often we ask for forgiveness without stepping into our love’s shoes and trying to image the pain we may have intentionally or inadvertently caused them. Too often we expect to be forgiven when we have not taken the necessary steps to repair the damage we have inflicted. Yet, when we really stop to consider what we have done and ask for true forgiveness we find it harder than we ever could have imagined. Why? Because we  have to really look inside of ourselves, examine our motivations and sit with the various hurts that we have caused others by our actions. It is tough slogging-through-the-mud kind of stuff.In addition we often fail to:

  1. Consider how our actions were responsible for the feelings invoked in both parties
  2. Think about why we did what we did and then take responsibility for it
  3. Examine how our past has influenced our present day behavior and in order to do better in the future we have to unpack the past.
  4. Recognize our actions as continuing pattern of behavior and then evaluate if it is serving us and our loved ones well
  5. Notice how our actions may have led to a reaction from our spouse that is justified under the circumstances; but then turn around and use their reaction to justify our own less-than-stellar behavior

I have to confess that I often find asking for forgiveness to be difficult but not for the reasons you might think. I find it difficult because by asking I am risking that the other person may say “No I don’t forgive you.”  Or I might have to change. In addition, by asking for forgiveness it forces me to examine those parts of me that I do not enjoy recognizing in myself which then forces me to abandon the luxury of blaming my spouse and instead I have to look inward…which is not always an easy place to go.

Asking for forgiveness is scary. Asking for forgiveness is humbling.Forgiveness takes practice. It is an art. Yet, asking for forgiveness by our mates is also necessary so that we can forgive ourselves and move on. For it is only in moving on that we can become all we were meant to be.

Please forgive me for_________. It is the only way to start.

 

Love Letters

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Recently someone contacted me (after finding my family tree on a genealogy site) saying that they had found a box of letters from 1912 from my 2nd Great Aunt (I’ll call her Mary) to her then boyfriend who later became her husband. She had three boys from an earlier very bad marriage and in stepped (I’ll call him Ned) to love and cherish her and the boys. Not many men would have had the heart or the courage to take it all on but he did and I know that Mary and her sons were blessed to have Ned in their lives for another 51 years.

There are about 40 letters in all and they are courtship letters. Mary and Ned were separated at the time by two long train rides from one another and they were trying to find a way that they could be together as a family but things were hard and there was not a lot of work where my Aunt lived, so Ned went to the “Big City”  to look for work. One of the bonuses of these letters is that my Grandfather is mentioned in them twice. He was about seven at the time. In one her letters to Ned, Mary says that my grandfather said to her son, “Do you think that man is going to marry your mom?” He replies “I reckon they might.”

Throughout all the letters there are pronouncements of practical love and a few glimpses of passionate love too. In one letter my Aunt talks about what might happen if they were to work together and says, “But if we do you have to promise to keep your hands off of me while at work!”

These letters are nice reminders of how early in relationships we do our best to impress, to praise, encourage and to believe in the possibilities that lie ahead. I think that is often missing as marriages mature and the letters have reminded me of just how important those kinds of gestures are in everyday life. Mary and Ned’s belief in their love and their future together is strong and its an overriding theme throughout their writings. It was important to them to believe and celebrate what they had and what they had found in each other. It’s some thing I want to rediscover in my relationship too.

Ever since B brought up the”maybe divorce” I have had difficulty celebrating what we have had, what we do have, and what we might have. Yet, as Mary and Ned have shown me celebrating a relationship and each other if important. It is a must do and it serves a much needed purpose to foster love and a sense of connection. So I have decided that if I want B and I to be a couple, I have to live like we are a couple and act as if we will be together forever. I have to believe in the possibilities that still exist for our marriage if this relationship is to survive. I must:

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Trying to Maintain Dignity & Grace

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Its hard. No doubt about it. When you feel so wounded and so hurt not to lash out. Not to want to say “Stop being an asshole!” over and over again. To not to want to destroy or implode the last vestiges of your relationship or something that is meaningful to the two of you.

It would be very easy for me to get in a “bad” place very quickly right now. A place I would not be proud of in the future. But I know that it would only serve to heap more shame, guilt and sadness on a plate that is already filled to the brim with it. So instead, I am trying to focus on acting with intentional dignity and grace. I am trying to use words that embody dignity and grace. I am trying to act in ways that show my love for myself, my family and B being mindful to incorporate these ideas into my actions. For instance, a small petty way was when B gave me a chocolate bunny for Easter yesterday and instead of taking a hammer to that damn 5,000 calorie creature I thanked him. So while my thoughts may not always be inline with my thinking regarding dignity and grace I am trying to  be mindful and change them too. Thanking instead of hammering. Acting elegant instead of spiteful.

I am trying desperately to remember that no matter what happens with this relationship, the truth is that ugliness, bitterness and anger will do nothing for anyone. And it won’t make me a better person. More importantly it will not make me feel better about who I am and will certainly steer me away from the person I have been trying to become. A more peaceful person. A happier person. A person who loves what is in front of her and not wishing for something more.

So even though B may not see a future together and even if there is no future to see I have to believe if I act with dignity and grace then it will allow the good stuff to come to me and to be seen by me. And that is what I need right now and in the future. I want to be mindful and happy with myself and I want to minimize regrets. I want to see the beauty that is all around me. I want to feel the softness of soft feelings and actions even though things feel angular and hard right now. I want my heart to be open to possibilities so that I can make decisions out of love for myself and not out of anger and confusion.

Dignity and Grace. In fact, I like them so much that I might just go get a tat. I have never had one and could never find anything that I would like enough to permanently place on my body. But maybe these are the most important things for me to remember especially now. Dignity and Grace.  They are my new mantras and just maybe my new ink.