Monday, March 23, 2009

Cloud Watching

When I was a kid I remember lying in the grass and looking up at the sky. I’d watch the clouds float by and imagine each fluffy shape was any number of things, from dragons to puppy dogs.

I still find it interesting to look at cloud shapes. But now my sky gazing is mostly limited to strolls in the desert, or riding as a passenger in the car. It would be fun to be a cloud watcher while I’m stuck in traffic, but if I were to do that while navigating the highway I’d probably rear end a few cars and send myself and a couple innocent commuters to heaven ahead of schedule. It’s like Kenny Chesney’s lyrics, “everybody want to go to heaven, but nobody want to go now.” So, I’ll pay attention to where I’m driving and wait to see whether that Cumulonimbus looks like a horse or a battle ship.

However, cloud gazing has taken on a new meaning for me lately. I’ve been making it a priority to live in the present moment and appreciate the simple beauty in the world. Isn’t it ironic how we will save for months to go on a week’s long vacation to an exotic place and spend the rest of the year ignoring the beauty that is right outside our door?

But I must confess I have another reason for cloud watching. I recently read a book on how many of the questions we face can be answered by observing nature. This is nothing new. Mankind has been looking to the heavens, plants, animals, tea leaves and any number of physical manifestations to help guide us through life.

A case in point is my own insecurity as an author. I’ve known I was going to be a writer since I was 10 years old. I’ve been published in numerous magazines and won a bunch of awards, but there is always that nasty little voice that crawls from the dirtiest, dustiest part of my brain and sticks its gooey little head out of ear and tells me I’m no good. The little rat fink loves to taunt me when I’m down. She also harasses me when I’m feeling good.

I’ve mostly caught on to her shenanigans and recognize it as the Fundamental Darkness (aka as FD) that all of us share. Of course everyone’s FD will manifest in different ways. Mine mostly takes the form of a writer’s critic telling me that everything I write is schlock. It’s like an internal boogey man. However, just like the boogey man disappears when you turn on the light, mine disappears when I have more enlightened thoughts, actions and speech.

However, I was having a few doubts the other day and I asked for a sign that Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, the book Jackie and I are writing, is going to be successful. I was feeling a tad depressed because I received a couple rejections. I understand it takes time to find the right publisher, but there is always that nagging doubt that I ought to do something else with my life. Anyway, I asked for a sign of what I should do. I looked up at the clouds and I saw a little creature with two paws together, as if in prayer.

“Okay, I get it,” I said to myself. “I need to pray.” Of course I don’t need the clouds to tell me this. I know it, my senior leaders in faith know it, and most of the planet knows that prayer and meditation help us find the answers we desperately seek. But, I’m still human and need to be reminded of the obvious. So I got the message – literally – and did what I was supposed to do. But, being human, I was impatient when a crystal-clear, in-your-face, answer wasn’t forthcoming. This time I said out loud. “Listen, maybe I’m dense, but I need a very obvious sign that I’m on the right track with this book. Can you send me a sign that leaves no room for doubt?”

The next day I left to chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo with Rosie, a fellow Buddhist (see the blog entry, A Rosie Outlook for more about this charming woman). We chanted and chatted. Before I left she told me that she had read my blog and enjoyed my stories. She encouraged me to keep up my writing. Of course I was elated. It’s ironic that I went there with the thought that I would encourage her, and here she was encouraging me. But, that’s how life goes sometimes.

Anyway, I left feeling like my writing was having a positive effect and that I was definitely on the right track. I asked. The universe sent an answer. And there was nothing subtle about it.

Are all my battles won? Nope. Will my FD creep back in? No doubt it will. But I have a plan. When FD returns and emerges from my ear wax, I’ll shed a little light on things and she will melt away. Ewwww. Okay, so maybe I could use a nicer image. How about this? Today, the world seems a little brighter and my heart feels a little lighter. And if you’re wondering about where you’ll find my head and spirit, just look up at the heavens. You’ll seem them both floating on cloud nine.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

True Happiness

I recently posted a story, The Unwanted Christmas Tree, on I don’t want to ruin the plot as I hope you will read the story for yourself, but suffice it to say that a similar scenario is facing thousands of families during this economic crisis that we are facing today.

However, no matter what your financial circumstances may be, or what time of year it is, there is a gift we can give to ourselves and our loved ones – the gift of ourselves. This can be time spent reading to a child, listening to the stories of an elderly relative, the courtesy of opening a door for someone with a heavy load, or simply offering a sincere compliment to a stranger.

None of these interactions cost a dime, yet how many times have you felt too rushed, too angry, or too self absorbed to offer these little kindnesses. And the sad thing is this not only robs so many people of a bright spot in their day, it prevents us from being the warm, loving and kind human being we were born to be.

The truest happiness exists not in how big our bank account is, what kind of car we drive, or where we sit on the corporate ladder. All of those things can come and go in an instant. Read or watch the news and you will see how some kingpin or beautiful actress has fallen from grace. Money, fame and power may be something we strive for, but even if we attain it, there is no guarantee it will last. Therefore, if we base our happiness on something transient, our happiness will not be long lasting. However, the positive relationships we develop with others, as well as our connection to the earth, God, or whatever spiritual practice we observe, can have long lasting benefits.

I had a taste of my own medicine this week when I lost two major accounts in my public relations business. It was a deep cut that reduced my monthly income by half. It threw me for a loop at first as I knew I had done a great job for both clients. However, in this economy, there are going to be some setbacks. Fortunately, I don’t believe life needs to be easy to be enjoyed. And I saw a lesson in my unexpected financial diet.

Frankly, I had been a little lazy about getting new accounts. This was a needed wake up call. Now I have the opportunity to build my clientele with new businesses that share my view on creating a more peaceful world, as well as a greener environment. I don’t want to settle for just earning a living, I want to contribute to the betterment of society. And as if by magic, I heard from someone I never met, who contacted and hired me for a great assignment. This isn't the end of my financial difficulties, but it helps. However more importantly, my days of sinking into despair and thinking "I'm no good because I don't have enough money" are no longer a part of my daily mantra.

You can develop the same attitude. In fact, we hope you will. That is why we developed this blog, and our upcoming book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. Let's fight this current stream of negativity and be a beam of hope. And to help spread this message, my coauthor Jackie and I are willing to speak to your group or association on the topics outlined in Erase Negativity. During the month of March, we will do this for free.

Spring is the perfect time to spread this optimistic message. And remember, if we all work together – even in the smallest ways – by showing kindness to strangers, smiling at folks as they walk by, working at something that is meaningful to ourselves and others, as well as trying to find the positive in even the darkest situation, we can make a big difference. Feel free to email us with your thoughts and questions.

Peace, love and happiness,


Monday, March 2, 2009

The Day the Music Died

I was listening to the oldies station the other day and the song, American Pie, by Don McLean came on. I was alone in my car, so I belted out the lyrics “drove my Chevy to the levy, but the levy was dry” with abandon. It made me think of the first time I heard the song in 1971. My boyfriend (later my husband who eventually became my ex husband) and I were driving my car to the Salt River. Somehow singing “Drove my Dodge to the river, but the river’s not dry” just didn’t have the same pizzaz. But I digress.

The song is about the death of Buddy Holly and has the famous line, “the day the music died.” I enjoy listening to music. On occasion I compose an original song, or spoof silly lyrics to an existing melody. Music is a source of joy for me. However, there was a time when the music died in my life.

In the late 1990s I separated from my husband of 26 years. I tried to rebuild a life for myself and my youngest daughter, Brittany. It was a difficult and painful time. In a matter of months my marriage dissolved, I was laid off from my job of eight years, my teenage daughter was skipping school and in danger of flunking out, and two of my closest friends deserted me. My confidence was in the toilet. I mistakenly thought a relationship would make things good again. I found a new love, but to my chagrin, I was dumped after three months. I was a middle-aged, college-educated woman, yet I seemed unsuccessful in making my way in the world. Every time I turned on the radio, a song from a happier past hit me like a slap across the face. I turned the radio off and drove in silence. I did this for months.

Then one day as I was driving home from work, I turned the radio on so I could hear the traffic report. A happy song floated through the air waves. Instead of changing the station, I let the song play. I’m not sure why, but something shifted in my pessimistic brain. I looked at the horizon and noticed a gorgeous sunset. It was, in fact, a beautiful spring day. Why hadn’t I noticed this before? Nothing in my situation had changed, only my thoughts. I felt happy again. I decided to build on that. If I could be happy for five minutes, I could be happy for 15. In time, minutes stretched to hours, and hours into days.

Once I realized that I could shift my thoughts from the old “woe as me” and concentrate on the many good things in my life, I felt better. It wasn’t like there wasn’t anything good in my life. I just chose to concentrate – okay DWELL - on the negatives. It was no wonder I felt rotten.

Every day since then, I make it a point to think of a few things I’m grateful for. I wake up and say out loud how happy I am to be alive. As I go through my morning routine I continue contemplating the many wonderful things I have – my health, my family, my friends… The list goes on. As I read the paper I realize how fortunate I am that I can read. There are a lot of people in the world where literacy is a luxury. I have use of all of my five senses, touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell. I have a roof over my head and enough food to eat. I may not always agree with the political shenanigans that take place, but I am grateful to live in the United States where we enjoy a number of freedoms that others can only imagine.

The joy generated from an optimistic outlook is not unique. It is well documented that individuals who express appreciation on a daily basis feel happier and enjoy a more fulfilling life. I just read an article that states that individuals who express gratitude in their lives report fewer physical maladies, sleep better, are more optimistic, exercise more, and enjoy a greater sense of connectedness with others.

In our upcoming book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, a whole chapter is dedicated to gratitude (Oh Gracious Me!) Every single person who was interviewed for the book commented on how important expressing gratitude was for their success and happiness in life. So if you don’t already have a gratitude journal, recite daily affirmations, or take note of the blessings in your life, why not give it a try? The only thing you have to lose is a little negativity.

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