Thursday, January 29, 2009

Happy Trails to You

Someone asked the Dali Lama how he reduced stress in his life. One would think the answer would be esoteric, or so impossibly spiritual that regular folks wouldn’t be able to do it. His answer (and I’m paraphrasing) is he leaves early for appointments.

While it is true he doesn’t have to worry about a lot of things – like what to wear – the man has a busy schedule. How could leaving early for appointments reduce stress? So, I decided to follow this simple advice. My normal routine for a morning appointment on the other side of town would be to determine the time it would take me to get there, and maybe an extra minute or two to park the car. After I come up with that number, I calculate how long it takes me to eat breakfast, read the paper, do morning prayers, take a shower, get dressed, fix my hair and put on my makeup.

Assuming there are no mishaps (spilled coffee, an unexpected phone call etc) I go through my routine and I have time to spare. So my normal thought is, “I have time, let me check my email.” Or, “Maybe I should clean the rabbit’s cage before I go.” There’s always something I can do, or some way I can multi-task my way through my morning. Before I know it, I’m either running late, or I’m on time, but have left no leeway for an unforeseen problem.

In my old routine, as I begin my drive I’m already worried that I should have left a little earlier. I love to sleep, so I base my “getting ready” calculations according to the average (or minimum) time I need to get where I’m going. Most of the time, I arrive to my destination right on time. Of course I always forget it takes time to get from the parking lot to the office, so I wind up dashing to the door. I consider it my version of cardio exercise. A really organized person would have built in time to exercise, but hey, I’m a work in process.

But back to my typical drive to an appointment. About six minutes into my commute I am ready to merge onto the freeway. “Hmm,” I think to myself, “I am probably a couple minutes behind schedule. No problem, I can make it up.” I decide to drive a little faster. Not speeding exactly, at least not much. But I am navigating the highway more aggressively than I would have if I had built a little cushion of time into the process, or stuck to my plan to leave 15 minutes earlier.

Before I know it, the traffic is backed up, the radio is blaring annoying music, and all the commercials are driving me mad. To make matters worse, I’m stuck behind some wahoo from Nebraska who is leisurely driving his Cadillac like he’s plowing a row of corn. I’m murmuring obscenities and angry at all the cars on the road blocking me from my destination. It feels like the world is out to get me and make me late for my appointment. But who is really to blame? Now I’m exaggerating this scenario a bit, but does any of it seem familiar?

Now let’s consider the Dali Lama’s alternative. We build in an extra 30 minutes – okay 15 minutes – and we stick to the plan. We leave with plenty of time to spare. And because we Americans hate to waste time by arriving too early, we bring a book or magazine to read once we have arrived at our destination. Can you imagine what a more enlightened journey would be like? Since I have done this, I can tell you that the drive is more pleasant (with or without chanting), the other drivers don’t seem like goof balls anymore, and because of the extra time factor and the fact that my brain isn’t in panic mode, I usually remember to bring a couple nice cd’s to listen to on the way. It’s a simple change in routine, but what a difference!

When Jackie and I wrote our upcoming book, “Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within” we wanted to concentrate on simple things people can do to make their lives a little easier. We’re not saints, sages or enlightened. We’re two women who have learned (and are continuing to learn) from our bad habits and want to help others. Some of the best changes we can make are simple. But don’t take my word for. Ask the Dali Lama.


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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Kid and the Ego

I have weird dreams. It would be easy if I just forgot about them, but I’m always trying to analyze their meaning. My spouse says these weird dreams are just dust in the corner of my mind. Maybe. But I think subconscious and spiritual messages try to leak through when my defenses are napping.

The other day I dreamed I was on a mystical journey. I walked past a house where there were seminars, workshops and other spiritual messages being taught. It was a small house, but it had a great reputation. The owner of the house walked me to a nearby body of water. It was supposed to be a lake, but it seemed more like an ocean. I walked onto the pier. Huge waves were building and water was splashing hard onto the pier and the surrounding wall.

The woman who owned the house encouraged me to keep going, that the storms were nothing to worry about. I was less than enthusiastic. In fact I turned around and headed back. I put my hands on the wall so I wouldn’t fall down. She cautioned me that the walls had spiders. I didn’t care (nor did I believe her). The huge waves seemed a lot more menacing. And with the exception of Black Widows or a Brown Recluse, I’m not afraid of spiders.

The dream morphed and I was in an orphanage. I saw several babies and felt such a desire to help them. The storm approached the building and smacked the windows. Water seeped through and the room filled with water. However, rather than being afraid, I went to the children, many who were submerged in water, and brought them to safety. I remember feeling calm and focused. I worked hard in my efforts and knew I would be successful.

When I awoke, I wondered what the dream symbolized. Why was I afraid when I was standing on the pier, but not when I was helping the orphans? It answered an internal struggle I have been having regarding my altruistic nature and my ego.

I have been visualizing success. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? But when I moved away from my main goal to help others and let my ego get too engrossed in the rewards of my service, my heart and best intentions were knocked off kilter. I was focusing way too much on agents, publishers, promoting our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, and not enough about the message I want to get out.

I feel we are all at our best when we strive to help others and help make the world a better place to live. It takes courage to battle the ego and help others. In my dream, I was afraid for my own life, but when the focus was on helping all those defenseless children, I was strong.

Some would say this whole episode was just a dream. I beg to differ. I think it was a subconscious call to action to fight my ego and focus on more altruistic pursuits. With apologies to Freud about the id, ego and superego, for me, saving kids, helping others and battling my ego makes a lot more sense.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's Your Story?

Do you have a story that defines you? Internal scripts carry strong messages. I like happy endings, but a lot of our personal stories are tragic or melodramatic. In times of difficulty it is important to pull out the good ones and not reach for something that is going to sink you deeper into an emotional abyss.

I’m as guilty as anyone of a sob story. It has only been a few years that this story was shelved. I’m retelling this junior high saga to illustrate the power it had on me, even though decades have passed since the incident.

The villain in my story was a gal named Cynthia. Cynthia was an average-looking, freckle-faced brunette. There was really nothing special about her, except she had a wicked mean streak. In junior high I had my niche as the leader of the outcasts, she was the low person on the totem pole of the popular kids. She carried a grudge against me since the fifth grade. She carried her resentment like a badge of honor and would snipe at me every chance she got.

However, I wasn’t one to dwell on Cynthia and her cohorts. I had my friends and activities and was happy to excel in my own way. My confidence grew and I felt great. I remember standing with a group of my friends laughing and telling jokes. Cynthia called me over. She asked, “Sally, do you think you’re cool?” At that time of my life, being conceited was probably the worst thing a person could be, so I answered, “no.” Then she said “Then why do you try to act like it?”

It was like someone punched me in the gut. Instead of standing proud and confident, my shoulders drooped. My humor became self deprecatory. I made jokes about my failures. I became ashamed of my accomplishments and downplayed my successes. I don’t know why, but I gave Cynthia’s comment a lot of power. This happened when I was 13. Even when I turned 50, I realized how I still carried a piece of this incident with me.

For years I would replay this interaction with Cynthia over and over in my head. What if when she asked me if I thought I was cool I would have had a different response?

Me: “Yes, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Me: “Yes, I’m sorry it bothers you, but I’m perfectly happy with who I am.”
Or what if my garrulous nature would have surfaced and replied, “Yes, got a problem with that?”
I supposed I could have used my sarcasm and said “Yes, and I don’t think it would bode well for me to be talking to someone like you.”

But of course I didn’t. I just said “no”. It took a long time for me to feel good about myself. And I know this is the same for a lot of many of you who are reading this today. Someone, something said or did something bad to you and you believed it. You carried it around and it has poisoned your very being. Maybe 100 people said something good, but that one nasty thing, that’s the thing that has stuck like glue and sapped away at the belief that you are a wonderful human being.

It took me way too long to understand this for myself. But after many years of prayer, self reflection and a lot of self help books, I’ve learned one important thing. People have lots of opinions, and they will have them about you. But all it is their opinion. Just because they say it, and even believe it, does not make it so.

Before you embrace a life story, make sure it is one that bears repeating. You don’t reread a lousy book. Don’t replay a negative life scenario. Toss it aside and choose something else that inspires you.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Rosie Outlook

I was crabby yesterday. Basically I’m an optimistic person, but yesterday I was a grouch. I had a slight setback regarding our upcoming book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, and I was annoyed. I probably should have taken a walk, but I didn’t. I ate a donut instead.

I didn’t specifically go out in search of a donut. A client asked me to meet him at the Dunkin Donuts shop near my office and I complied. Normally I wouldn’t have opted for the sugary pastry, but I was in a bad mood and I went against my better instincts. Fortunately for me the donut and hot chocolate were very unsatisfying. Indulgent pleasures generally are. I get that little sugar high and then a big let down, both physically and emotionally. After all, it’s January and losing weight and exercising are always top contenders of my New Year’s resolutions. Donut eating is not on the list.

However, I did take some positive actions. I mailed a proposal, stopped at the library and checked out the book, Blink, the power of thinking without thinking, and wrote several query letters to literary agents. I make it a point that when I suffer a setback I take immediate steps to counteract it. Unfortunately, I ate the donut before I took my positive actions.

That evening I went to a Buddhist meeting. I saw an unfamiliar face and introduced myself. Once we started talking I realized I had met her before, but since she had not been to meetings in a while I didn’t recognize her. She told everyone she had become busy at work and her once-strong efforts to strive for personal growth and work for world peace (basic Buddhist tenets) had fallen by the wayside. Unfortunately, her dedicated efforts at work (60-hour work weeks and plenty of stress) took a toll on her health. She became sick and subsequently lost her job due to her illness.

However, rather than fall into a funk over her job loss and declining health, she saw the events as an opportunity to revive her Buddhist practice. It was inspiring to listen to her as she made a determination to start anew. She spoke eloquently and her eyes shone with conviction.

My mood was instantly lifted. She voiced what a lot of folks face in their life – going through the motions of living and not really engaging one’s heart. I thought about the difference of merely writing my goals and making a real determination to create a significant change in my life. I realized that simply writing goals was an intellectual exercise at best and a mere habit at worst.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating a brain bypass. But knowledge by itself is not the answer. Heart-felt conviction is crucial for embracing change and obtaining our goals. It’s no wonder I keep writing the same resolutions year after year. My head was engaged in the process, but certainly not my heart. After listening to Rosie, I knew I couldn’t just go through the motions. I needed to make a strong determination, followed by concrete actions to break through my donut-eating complacency. I may like donuts, but I love my life a lot more and I want to preserve my health.

Like Rosie, we will have times when we backslide in our efforts. It could be a donut, a grumpy mood, a harsh word, or even a financial setback such as losing one’s job. But setbacks are only permanent if we allow them to be. For me, I’d rather adopt the “Rosie” outlook and make a heart-felt determination to start anew. I hope you’ll join us on the journey to Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. And to help in the process, please tell your friends about our blog.

Love and peace,


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Horsepower Sense and Trusting the Universe

The most interesting things happen when you are in accord with the universe, or when the universe gives you a nudge to do something you hadn’t planned on doing.

I had a great little car, but the alarm started going off all the time. The blaring of a car alarm in the middle of the night is not an endearing sound for one’s self or the neighbors, so I knew I had to take it into the dealership and have it fixed.

It was Saturday morning and as I was doing my meditations, the thought went through my mind that I would buy a new car. This was a strange idea as I loved my little car and it was only four years old.

I pulled into the dealership around 10 in the morning and went into the dealership to ask who I needed to talk to about fixing the car alarm. The next thing I know the salesman asked me if I wanted a new car because they had a buyer for a car just like mine.

“Not unless you can make me a deal I can’t refuse,” I said.

Well, they DID make me a great deal, and then some. I wound up with a new car like the one I had, with the same color and a few more upgrades to boot. The best part was I got all of this with a lower monthly payment than I was currently making. This all happened in about two and a half hours and all to my advantage. It turned out to be one of the most pleasant experiences I have ever had, especially when buying a car.

Sometimes it can be a bit “alarming” to trust the universe and be open to the magical opportunities that are out there in the world. However, this experience has shown me once again that when I start and end each day with peaceful meditations, and am open to the inner wisdom that comes from it, wondrous opportunities can prevail.

Peace and Love,