Thursday, June 24, 2010

Invisibly Obvious

Have you ever looked for something only to find out it was right in front of you the whole time? It amazes me how things can be so elusive, yet so obvious.

I had yet another example of this phenomenon when a friend was helping me with the manuscript of my book. I have looked through this manuscript numerous times, yet there it was, in plain view, several obvious errors that I missed. Tsk, tsk.

I don’t beat myself up too much about this. They always say that authors skim past their own mistakes because they know what they intended to say. It’s always best to seek the help of a seasoned editor or proofreader.

I thought (albeit briefly) that wouldn’t it be nice to have someone in our lives to help point out our errors so we wouldn’t make mistakes? Then reality hit. This is exactly what mothers, fathers, children, bosses and spouses do – and usually with annoying results.

The truth of the matter is it is hard to be objective regarding our own foibles. However, I have found that while illusions of grandeur and omnipotence can be found in the political scene and corporate America, the opposite is more likely to be true of us common folk.

The following is an excerpt from Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.

While many people become selfish tyrants in their lust for fame and fortune, others suffer from another malady – fear of success. People who have this mindset often suffer from low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness. When success is in sight, they (often unwittingly) sabotage their own efforts. This scenario is perfectly illustrated in a passage in Marianne Williamson’s poem, where she notes that our greatest fear is not in our inadequacies, but in recognizing our own power.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Reprinted with permission: (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles", Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3).

Nichiren Daishonin, a Buddhist priest and founder of Nichiren Buddhism cited the difficulty in seeing our divine nature in this famous writing: “We ordinary people can see neither our own eyelashes, which are so close, nor the heavens in the distance. Likewise, we do not see that the Buddha exists in our own hearts.”

I am on a constant quest to become a better person. Sometimes my life is full of “typos” and I try to take a look at how I can improve. Other times I want to put my hands to my ears and sing “La, la, la” every time someone (usually my spouse) offers some unsolicited advice on how I can be a better person.

The point is, we are neither perfect, nor complete failures. While it is important to find ways to live happier, healthier and more compassionate lives, we need to keep the proper perspective and appreciate the many wonderful attributes we possess and the beautiful life we have created.

I may need an editor to help me spot my typos, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write. The same is true in life. We can use obstacles as an excuse to give up, or as a catalyst to become stronger.

I think Albert Einstein said it best. “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

With a shift to a more optimistic attitude and the passion to manifest positive changes in your life, you will discover the tools you need have been in front of you all along. It sounds simple, but of course it’s not. It’s like the analogy of the eyelashes, or typos in our own writing. Sometimes the most obvious thing in front of us is the most difficult thing to see.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How Can You Embrace the Magic Within?

In a recent interview I was asked, “What can people do to embrace the magic within?”

Embrace the Magic Within is the subtitle of my book. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting this question (I’m new at being on the receiving end of an interview after all!) The short response is the two main components are to:

A: Erase negativity.
B: Develop a grateful attitude.

The media expects sound bites and I’m used to lengthier responses, but that IS the long and short of it - erase negativity and develop an attitude of gratitude. The dilemma is “embracing the magic within” is more of a journey than a final destination. For the sour pusses of the world, it requires a shift in thought. It can happen in a nano second, develop over a lifetime, or never happen at all.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Confucius:

Watch your thoughts they become your words.
Watch your words they become your actions.
Watch your actions they become your habits.
Watch your habits they become your character.
Watch your character it becomes your destiny.

The good news is that when you expect magical experiences, they have a way of manifesting on a regular basis. For instance, a couple of nights ago my spouse and I were in the backyard. Our “night time backyard adventures” resulted in our spying a tiny mouse, a baby bunny, and a toad lurking near our backyard pond.

Then we heard a crunching sound. CB pointed a flashlight at the bushes in the common area behind the house. There were two javelina (wild pigs) munching on a bush. We watched in fascination. And don’t worry, there was a fence between us and the pigs, so we weren’t in any danger (although I did retreat a step or two when one strolled in our direction.) It was fascinating to watch the pigs interact, burrow in the dirt, play with one another, and get a bite to eat.

Ironically, the night before I had a dream that we had a yard full of javelina (although in my dream some were striped like a zebra and others were bright colors like tropical fish). Maybe my subconscious was picking up on the possibility of the pig encounter. Perhaps I heard the crunching noise in my sleep and my brain conjured up a pig dream. Or maybe I just ate something that didn’t agree with me. But the bottom line is we did see javelina and it was fun to watch.

This may not seem like a magical encounter to many folks. In fact, a few years ago it wouldn’t have seemed like a magical encounter to me either. But when I changed my mindset from negativity (or indifference) to a grateful attitude, seemingly innocent encounters seem enchanting.

There is a gosho, or letter from the Buddhist priest and founder of Nichiren Buddhism called, “On Attaining Buddhahood in this Lifetime.” My favorite snippet from this writing is this: “If the minds of living beings are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds.”

When we shift our attitude from cynical to grateful, miracles can happen. It’s as if we create a new space in our hearts for happiness, or illuminate joyful things that had been previously hidden in the dark.

I do not believe that we are born negative. It is a behavior we learn. We may enter this world with a certain predisposition toward happiness or crankiness, but it is not written in stone. We have the power to change it.

For example, I have two grandchildren, one is two years old and the other is one. Since I don’t have to deal with the day-to-day responsibility of their upbringing, I have the opportunity to observe them as they perceive the world. And I can tell by watching them that they embrace magic every day. Everything is a wonder to them.

Now some of these wonders are a “no no” (like turning the TV, computer and other electronics off and on) but other things are perfectly acceptable to enjoy. I try to expose them to as many delightful encounters as I can. The same is true for we grown ups.

We can choose to embrace the magic of every day sights, sounds and experiences, or we can go through life bemoaning the things we do not have. I believe Abraham Lincoln said it best. “"People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

You can go through life as a grouch, or you can embrace the magic within. The important thing to remember the choice is yours. It may be a simple decision, but it one you will need to make every day.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Resolve to be a Hero

I love movies. I not only enjoy the spectacle, the humor, drama and music, I find it satisfying to absorb the moral of the story through the comfort of a cushy seat in an air conditioned theater.

Movies, like sports, give you the chance to root, root, root for the home team, without risking your own neck. And that is a good thing, especially for me. If my heroics were the theme of a movie, I can safely say there would be no sequel. I doubt I’d defuse the bomb in time, the Red Queen would have my head, and I’d be reluctant to jump into the bubbling and short-circuiting Hot Tub Time Machine. “Can someone please call an electrician?”

I’m a big fan of the under dog (still rooting for the Chicago Cubs) and I never tire of the ongoing movie theme of the reluctant hero rising to the occasion and saving the day. I also use the morals, or theme of a movie, as a guide in my life. Great one-liners become my credo.

For instance, I just saw the movie, Alice in Wonderland. There is a line of dialogue, “Think of six impossible things before breakfast.” I have edited this for my own purposes to three impossible things. I’m not satisfied with thinking of unachievable (or seemingly ridiculous) feats, I come up with three that I’m determined to accomplish. This year I’ve accomplished two - publishing my book and hitting a home run in softball. Both of these endeavors have not just taken me years to achieve, they have taken decades.

I probably could have shaved years off completing these goals if I had put 100% of my passion and determination into it, but I got a little sloppy. After all, there are so many things one has to do in a day and it is easy to become distracted. But the one thing I do have is persistence. Some would describe it as “bull-headed or stubborn” but I’m taking the high road here.

However, when I look back on the many seemingly impossible things I have accomplished, there is one ingredient that has always been there – a burning resolve to succeed. These are not tasks I said I would TRY to do. It is something I determined I WOULD accomplish, no matter what. It’s more than a choice of words, it a determination that sparks an electrifying passion in my gut – like heart burn, but in a good way.

In addition to movies, inspiring books have the same effect on me. They are a motivating tool. It’s like putting high octane fuel in my tank. The thing is, we have lots of choices we can make every day. We can choose to read, hear and listen to things that can inspire us, or we can surround ourselves with sadness and sorrow. There are plenty of examples of both in the world.

That is not to say that we should bury our head in the sand when something disturbing occurs. We can whine and bemoan the situation, or we can determine to face our difficulties head-on with a gut-busting determination to win.

I was on a radio show recently talking about the importance of erasing negativity and embracing optimism. One of the questions was, “Isn’t optimism a form of denial?” I get that question a lot. My answer is, “Optimism is a way to approach situations with an eye on success.”

So my advice is to wake up in the morning, take a few moments to think of some things that you are grateful for, then make a firm resolve to accomplish three, four, five or however many impossible things you want to accomplish. You can get your spark from talking to optimistic people, reading a motivational book, or even watching an inspirational movie. In the final analysis, the important thing to remember is that you are the one writing the script of your life, and you have the power to make it a tragedy, melodrama, comedy or a triumph.

Now go listen to the theme from Rocky and accomplish something great.