Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Guest Post from Igor



Occasionally I receive requests from writers who want to write a guest post for Erase Negativity. Igor Tomić is the featured blogger of the hour (or week.) Be sure to help spread the good news and share his story with others. Igor lives in Novi, Vojvodina (Serbia.)


TWO UNIQUE WAYS TO ERASE NEGATIVITY
 
Many of us have negative spells in our lives. We may be afraid of losing our jobs, stressed about a relationship that we had hoped would develop that didn’t, or anxiously waiting for the results of an exam. During these trying times we usually obsess with all that is wrong, and to be honest, we usually help bring about unfortunate results with our obsessive negative thinking.
How can we change negative thinking patterns into positive, helpful ones? Meditation and positive affirmations help me.

 MEDITATION

In its simplest form, meditation can be viewed as a practice where we monitor our thinking, which affects the functioning of our bodies, all while not thinking of anything. This is harder done than said, and it takes a lot of practice. 

A good way for beginners to start is to focus on their breathing. Stretch, find a comfortable position, make sure no one is going to disturb you, and relax. Then take a breath in, and take a breath out. Focus on your breaths. If you find your mind wandering and thinking about this and that, stop it immediately, and focus back on your breaths. Alternatively, you may try with a guided meditation mp3, where a speaker’s voice will guide you through the process so it feels more natural.

POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS

Positive affirmations are simply positive sentences that you would repeat to yourself. They work
not only because of repetition, but because of a few tricks that you can employ while using them.
For example, when you awaken, or just before you go to sleep your mind is usually more

susceptible to suggestion, and positive affirmations have a better chance of working well. Remember never to use the negative form, as our minds cannot grasp the negative. The standard example would be if I told you right now not to think of a juicy, well cooked, big, tasty potato.

Really, just stop. Don't think of that potato. You are thinking about that potato, aren't you? Also, saying the affirmations out loud, in front of a mirror, with full conviction of what you are saying usually has a tremendous benefit after a few weeks.

Focus on one problem area at a time. Here is how positive affirmations might look like:

"I am completely relaxed at all times." "I take everything on as it comes." "I easily handle all the problems that arise."

It may sound simple, but positive affirmations are effective and they help. Not right away, but take on a habit to repeat about ten to twenty sentences each day, and you'll do good.
There is a website, freeaffirmations.org that is an awesome resource to check out pre-made affirmations for pretty much anything you can think of.

I hope meditations and affirmations will have a benefit on your life, just like they had on mine. Just go ahead and give them a couple of weeks trial, you will be happy you did.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Goodbye Lauren



I am in my own state of shock. My friend, Marsha, called this morning to tell me that her daughter, Lauren, had committed suicide.  She was 34 years old, the same age as my oldest daughter, Alicia. I’ve known Marsha since we attended Kino Junior High together. Some 15 years later Marsha, our good friend, Di, and I delivered baby girls in the same year.

Lauren was always well-behaved as a young girl. I never had a problem with her when she came to our house for birthday parties or other events. She was smart and pretty and had a flair for fashion that I always admired. Yet, I never felt like I knew her.  There seemed to be so much beneath the surface. There was a quiet pain. 

Apparently it did bubble up more when she became older. She became involved in drugs and alcohol and terrible fights with her mother. But nothing prepared me for the call that she would take her own life.  I can’t even fathom what Marsha is going through. The loss of a child at any age is probably the worst pain a mother can endure.

When my friend, Jackie and I wrote our first book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, we started with the story of a woman whose only son was killed. Jackie and I both had second thoughts about starting the book with such a tragic and heavy topic, but somehow it seemed the right thing to do.

As I think of Marsha’s pain and my own loss for words, I think back to what I wrote. I go into more detail about the death of a child in the first chapter of the book and I encourage folks to read it. Libraries will get it through inner-library loan if you can’t afford to purchase it on your own. And an electronic version of the book is only $5 on smashwords.com.

But the bottom line is there are no perfect words to comfort someone in so much pain. All you can do is be quiet, listen and be there for them. Platitudes such as “he/she is in a better place,” will not only fall on deaf ears, the hollowness of the expression may illicit an angry response.

Being a good friend is the best medicine. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. This type of pain will always be there, but friends can help. It may not be unusual for the grieving friend to lash out in anger, or even try to push you away. But please remember that may be the very time they need you the most. Just stick with your grieving friend and let them know you care about them. Their pain will never go away completely, but in time it will lessen.

As to Lauren, who I cannot help in a conventional sense, I will say a daily prayer. As a Buddhist I believe my prayers will reach her and I hope they can penetrate her soul so that she can absorb what she couldn’t believe in life – that she is a beautiful human being who will be missed. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year's Message

I recently reconnected with an old friend of mine from high school. Sandy was the most talented cartoonist I ever met. We have made plans to break bread and crack jokes. I’m definitely looking forward to catching up with her. However, in our emails she referred to me as “the crazy Sally Marks.”

In the past when I went to my high school reunions, a few folks described me in a similar fashion - crazy. Some stories I remember with embarrassment. Other tales I don’t remember at all, but the essence of the plot seems like something I would’ve done. I want to keep the blog g-rated, so I will not go into my misspent youth, but I can tell you that as I retell these stories to my friends, we double over in laughter.

So, I ask myself, what happened to that crazy girl? Why am I sitting in front of my computer on New Year’s Eve trying to come up with something to write on my blog instead of painting the town?

For starters, if I write I won’t fall asleep before midnight. I’m looking forward to 2015 and I want to usher it in with a smile and a cheer. It hasn’t been an easy year for nearly everyone I know. People have lost jobs and homes. Good friends of mine lost their son. Another dear friend just lost her husband.

However, a new year awaits. As a Buddhist, I know (at least theoretically) that all things are transient. We cannot count on external things to bring us happiness. This includes money, power, lovers, children, success or status. All of those things can disappear in an instant. And this year, I, as well as others, experienced the loss of some of these cherished things firsthand.

However, there is one thing I am taking with me to the new decade. Hope. Hope for a better tomorrow, as well as the determination to do my part to bring a little light to the world. For a lot of my life I tried to shed a little happiness through humor. I did a few wild and silly things, told countless jokes and stories and wrote comedic scripts.

A few things have changed.

Frankly, I’m not as funny as I used to be. I tell people “I’m funny on paper, but I’m not that humorous in person.” When I go to a party I’d rather engage someone in an earnest dialogue than stand on a table with a lampshade on my head. When I look in the mirror I’m still astounded that the image reflected back to me is not a skinny, goofy and animated, young woman, but a middle-aged grandma who needs to exercise, pay more attention to what she eats, and needs a cup of coffee and a shot of liquid vitamins to kick into second gear. I am not the same crazy Sally Marks I once was.

And that’s okay.

As much as we might want things to stay the same, our lives, our country and our universe are constantly changing. It does no good to pine away about things in the past. We can cherish good memories and show appreciation for our blessings. But we cannot be assured that those blessings will always be with us. However, we can keep the light of hope in our hearts and constantly challenge ourselves to work toward a better future. As I write this I am one hour away from a new year and new hope for tomorrow.

I’m not partying this New Year’s Eve. My spouse and I are staying home. But, I am doing exactly what I want to do, writing something that I hope will inspire someone. Maybe that sounds crazy. Hmmm. I guess I haven’t changed as much as I thought. I may be older, fatter, and hopefully wiser, but deep down, and in my own special way, I’m still that “crazy Sally Marks.”

Have a happy, healthy, prosperous and loving New Year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

O Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree How Broken Are Your Branches

It's time to put the Christmas tree up again!


For many of you this may involve schlepping an aromatic pine or spruce into the living room. For others it might be a trip to the garage to haul out the annual plastic model. For me, it means it's time to re-post my favorite Christmas tree story.  So once again for it's annual airing, here is my story about the ugliest Christmas tree. Please feel free to share this others.

I was relaxed, taking in the stereo when a commercial interrupted my listening pleasure.

"Make this Christmas one that she'll never forget," droned the announcer. "Yeah," I thought. "Spend big bucks and everyone will love you. Spend enough and we may even have peace on earth."

Christmas commercialism, it seems to get worse ever year. Do not get me wrong. I enjoy Christmas. It just bothers me that everyone thinks you have to spend a lot of money to have a merry one. I thought back to the commercial, "the best Christmas ever." It took my memories back to the Christmas of my 10th year, my most unforgettable holiday.

My family and I had moved to Arizona from Chicago four years before. Arizona was in a serious recession. My father, who had always provided a healthy paycheck for his wife and five children, could not find work. We got by on unemployment checks.

Jobs were plentiful in Chicago and my father's former boss was anxious to take him back. However, after four years of quiet, safe and sunny Arizona living, my mother refused to return to the Windy City. If my father could not find employment he would return to Illinois, send money, and the rest of the family would remain in Arizona.

It was a sad time - the bickering about money, worrying if my dad would have to move away. Christmas was an added burden. Money was tight enough without the added expense of the holiday. My mother explained the financial situation to us and we knew not to expect much in the way of presents.

Of course the brightly decorated evergreens we had enjoyed in the past were out of the question. We never even asked about one. Instead we pulled a three-foot aluminum tree out from the garage. The cold tinsel stalk inspired about as much Christmas spirit as a box of Reynolds wrap.

While everyone else decorated the tree, I decided to take a stroll. As I walked toward the end of the block, I turned right so I could investigate the bowling alley parking lot where they had been selling Christmas trees. I loved the scent of the pine in the cold air, another of many reasons I hated our artificial tree. As I neared the lot, I saw that it was bare. I kicked at the fragments of broken branches. In the corner, lying on its side, was a long misshapen evergreen.

It was easy to see why the tree was discarded. However, something inside of my brain clicked. The poor tree needed a home. My home needed a tree. I grabbed the trunk, but I was not strong enough to move it. I ran home to fetch my younger brother, Terry, who I was sure would assist in my plight. As it is so often the case with brothers, Terry lacked my enthusiasm.

"I don't even think a dog would use that tree," he laughed.

"Maybe so, but it would make a fine fort," I replied. With that in mind, Terry helped me transport the tree down the block and into our back yard.





My mother looked up from washing the dishes as we walked up the driveway, and warned us against bringing that "filthy thing" into the house.

"Its for a fort!" Terry exclaimed. I just smiled.

Once the tree was in the back yard, I sent Terry on another mission. I had no intention of turning the evergreen into a fort - at least not yet.

My dad walked up and looked at the tree. It was long, sparse on the top with heavy branches on the bottom. I was sure I could win him over, so I explained my scheme to him.

"You could chop a foot off the bottom and cut the branches off and drill holes where the tree is bare and do a little transplanting," I said.

My older sister, Diane walked out and spied the tree. "Father, you are not going to let her bring that thing in the house are you?" Diane shrieked.

"I don't see why you don't like it," I said. "It looks just like you. Not enough on the top and too much on the bottom."

Diane walked off in a huff.

Whether dad was bored, liked my idea, or was caught up in my enthusiasm I cannot be sure. But soon a drill and saw were out and "Ernie" the unwanted evergreen became a beautiful Christmas tree.

Dad brought the tree inside and we placed the few ornaments we had on Ernie. To help fill in the uncovered areas, we strung popcorn and pyracantha berries and cut out little ornaments from paper. Even my 18-year-old brother, Dennis, who was fond of imitating Scrooge and saying "Bah Humbug" to any mention of Christmas, helped to get Ernie into shape.

We did not have any Christmas lights, so Terry and I pooled our money, about 90 cents, and we got the rest of the cash from "Jack rabbit," my little sister Tina's bank. I am ashamed to say it was an unauthorized withdrawal.

One string of lights did not cover much, so we pushed the tree into a corner and decorated only the front. Despite the circumstances, I was happy. We all were. Never before, and unfortunately never afterward, do I remember my family working together so joyfully. For a short while, we were happy to be together and share what we had, each other.

That was the last Christmas we celebrated together as a family for a long time. Shortly afterward, my father returned to Chicago, unable to come home permanently until I was 16.

Except for my nemesis, Diane, my siblings and I still live in Arizona. Most holidays, we get together to exchange insults and presents. Our Christmas trees are always magnificent and the presents are plentiful and brightly decorated. You will not find strings of popcorn or pyracantha berries anywhere.

Christmas carols, if they were sung (and they are not) would be drown out by the big football games that are always scheduled in honor of the birth of Jesus.

I still think back to my childhood and that yuletide of my 10th year, and I know a truckload of presents could not match the happiness I felt that day. It was a special time when my father listened to me and made a small dream come true. And it all happened because of a poor misshapen Christmas tree that nobody else wanted.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sock it to Me!



I remember the phrase “sock it to me” from my childhood days in the 1960s. I was a big fan of the television show Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh In.” Now that I’m older I have a different “sock it to me” tradition. Shortly after Thanksgiving I don my Christmas socks. I don’t know why, but this annual event makes me happy.

Last year my holiday stockings were so full of holes that I had to send them to sock heaven to live with all the other socks that disappear from the clothes dryer. Before I let my little tootsie warmers move on to that great sock and underwear drawer in the sky, I bought two replacement pairs. One is black with a red and white leaf design (holly?) and the other is decorated with white snowflakes against a blue sky. 

Of course living in sunny Arizona I rarely see holly wreaths (unless they are plastic) and spotting snowflakes would be a rare occurrence. But I don’t care, it’s officially the holiday season and my Christmas socks are out for all to behold. In fact, due to our warm weather (80 degrees) I’m wearing my socks with shorts making them even more visible than usual.

There would’ve been a time when I would have been too embarrassed to show my socks off to the world. They usually hide under a pair of khaki pants or jeans, but the older I become the less I worry about wardrobe rules. I can just let the world think I’m a golfer. That is the one sport where it is almost a requirement to wear odd color combinations. And what is up with putting  the equivalent of stuffed animals on your clubs? Just saying.

But back to my sock saga.

My love of socks goes back for decades. Maybe it’s because it was one of the few things that were not hand-me-downs from my older sister Diane. I inherited her clothes, but mom drew the line at making me wear Diane’s old socks, underwear and shoes.

When I was in high school I conducted a sock celebration of my own -sockerjacks. My mom packed my lunch and sometimes I would get a box of cracker jacks. Algebra was the class after lunch. I would have the guys who sat near me show off their socks (the girls didn’t participate because we had a dress code and they all wore nylons with their dresses.) Anyway, whoever had the loudest socks would win the crackerjack prize.

Even my algebra teacher, Mr. Reid, participated. In fact he even won the prize on occasion. He was the golf coach and almost always wore a white shirt, tie and dark slacks with white socks, but occasionally  he would show his wild side and don a pair of bright yellow or lime green socks. I never did figure out if he wanted to win the prize or his wife hadn’t gotten around to doing the laundry.

Other participants included Robert Respass and Lynn Sterling, two burly men from the football team, and Curt Hall, who I believe was a wrestler. We had a lot of jocks in this class. Curt was pretty conservative and didn’t win the cracker jack prize too often. I had a big crush on him, but he never asked me out. One of my friends, Julie Heasty, asked him about this. It was obvious to her that he liked me. He admitted to her that he did think I was cute, but we were different religions and that was too big of a bridge to cross in the early 1970s. But I remember feeling better that it was that and not me personally. 

Anyway, now and again I wonder if any of these guys remember my colorful sock contest. It’s a silly thing, but it was a small effort to brighten the day in algebra class. And who doesn’t want a cracker jack prize?
Another sock story is an excerpt from Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, a book I wrote with my friend, Jacqueline Howard. This snippet is from Chapter Two - Reversing the Downward Spiral of Anger, Alcohol and Abuse.

“We were at a meeting and everyone had to say one thing they were grateful for,” said David.  “One guy was living in a half-way house.  He had been living on the streets.  When it was his turn to share he said he was grateful that he had a clean pair of socks in his drawer.  And he wasn’t kidding.  Having clean socks was a luxury to this guy.  It really made me stop and think about how many things I have in my life to be grateful for.”

Having an attitude of gratitude is a crucial step in developing an optimistic mindset. For those who find it hard to think of something they are grateful for, imagine the opposite - how you would feel if you didn’t have something – or someone in your life? Then turn it around to create an example of something you are grateful for. 

For me, as odd as it seems, I don’t need to experience a sense of lack to feel grateful. I think about my happy socks. For those of you who need more help, here is another excerpt from the book on how to prepare for daily optimism-enhancing exercises. 

EXERCISES 
Before you begin these exercises it always helps to engage spiritual help. Close your eyes and ask God, angels, spirit guides or another divine source to help you maintain calm and in control.  Even if you do not believe in celestial beings, create the image in your mind’s eyes as a tool to help you regain a sense of calm.  Whether real or imagined, these protective beings will always be there to assist you whenever you ask.
If you want to read more, I hope you will check out my book. It’s available in paperback through Amazon and the e-version can be purchased through the smashwords website.

Either way, I hope those who read this will share it with others. And one bit of advice, it is better to share words of wisdom than someone’s smelly socks. And if that isn’t cracker jack advice, I don’t know what is.
 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Don't Let Negativity Gobble Up Your Thanksgiving Dinner



Thanksgiving is next week. Many of us will have the opportunity to dine with family and friends for a special once-a-year meal. Many look forward to this event with anticipation – some with dread. And I confess, in my life I have approached this holiday with both mindsets.

I have seen the confidence of the strongest, most confident men and women become mushier than a bowl of mashed potatoes at the thought of facing the snide comments, comparisons and cruelty that some of our relatives bring to the holiday table.

How ironic that a feast that is supposed to be a celebration of gratitude and harmony can churn out more negativity and drama than a soap opera marathon.

But there is hope. We cannot change other people, but we can work on our own reaction to them. Last year I posted a short video on you tube on three simple steps on how to erase negativity. It’s not a cure all, but it can help us reduce our own negativity, which in turn can have a ripple effect on others.

Please check out this video and share it with your friends and family. Heck, share it with your enemies too. They probably need it worst of all. You can view it at
As an added bonus, I will offer a free ebook with the purchase of every paperback copy of the book. The catch is you need to contact me directly through this blog or my website www.EraseNegativity.com. The book is $14.99 or two for $25. You can also purchase the book at various independent stores as well as Amazon.


For those of you who are not familiar with the message in the book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within is a practical guide on how to reduce negativity and embrace happiness. From meth addicts to multi-millionaires, the book offers powerful experiences of individuals who have faced dramatic challenges, but did not lose hope. Using these compelling biographies, as well as practical advice and simple exercises, the reader is guided on an internal journey toward adopting a more joyful way to live.

We pay a heavy price for our negativity and I want to combat that with a free tool that provides a more optimistic alternative. I’m really hoping folks will spread the word and use this window of time to read the book and suggest it to others who are interested in embracing a more hopeful message.

So there you have it. No more excuses. Discounted book and a free video. Kick that grouch out now. But lest I come off too brash or too self serving, I do have one last bit of advice for this holiday season. Try to take a moment and find the love in your heart and send those laser beams of love out to those family members around you – especially those who annoy you. While we might not think so now, there will come a time when they are out of our lives and we will miss them. And more importantly, we do not want to miss the opportunity to summon up a little love and shine a little light in the world.