Saturday, January 26, 2013

You Can Change the World

Affirmation:  All things are possible through God.

Forty women were present at the weekend retreat. 

The command was "Women of God, you are called to change the world."  I panicked.  Maybe now would be a good time for me to run out of the room.

I'm working hard enough trying to be the best me possible or somedays I'm working on simply accepting myself just as I am.  I really couldn't imagine being responsible for the entire world.  I've felt responsible for my entire world for years, my family, friends and community.  It's a daunting exercise and now here I am being told, not asked, but told I am being called to take on the entire world. 

Yes, I believe the world needs help.  I believes it needs to change.  It doesn't take much awareness to know our world is very troubled and sad.  I pray daily for wisdom for our world leaders, a prayer introduced to me by a friend of long ago and I pray daily for world peace.  Can you imagine how different life would be were we all at peace with one another?  At the least maybe they'd take away the security lines at the airport and we could leave on our shoes, belts and watches. 

"Let there be peace and earth and let it begin with me.  Let there be peace on earth a peace that was meant to be." We sing this song often in church, The Prayer of Saint Francis.  My dear friend and guide, Valerie Kelly, use to emphasize the need for more feminine energy in the world and how much better off the world would be with a stronger female presence.  I would hope that if we have not moved too far away from our feminine selves, women running the world would lead to a kinder, more nurturing place and people.  I believe most women are very protective of the greatest product of their lives and would do all in their power to prevent sending their children off to suffer war and perhaps to die. 

At the Not So Big Life Workshop, Sarah Susanka encouraged us to "run towards those things" of which we are afraid.  She suggested some of our greatest learning experiences would come from not retreating from that which repels us.  I took a deep breath and decided to continue with the church program for which I had registered.  After eight weeks of study, a weekend retreat was being presented and I decided to go all the way and see what other life lessons might come my way. 

The number of women who had taken the time and made the effort to attend this event, made me realize how much need there is for women to spiritually feed ourselves and to join forces.  I had decided not to worry about the command to "save the world" but instead to allow the richness of the rest of the program's material and the power of the women's spirit to empower and nurture me.  Our first speaker was Theresa Davis. 

There she stood a tiny woman perhaps in her late 70's or early 80's ready to share with us the secret of leading a rich, powerful life.  She had been with the lay ministry Madonna House for fifty seven years and as she spoke, I felt the walls around my heart fall.  Her manner of sharing did not cause me to erect any protective barriers. I had no resistance to her.  I just wanted to absorb all she had to share.  It was a very unusual response for me.  I must confess to being quite a skeptic, always questioning but not this morning.  This morning when Theresa's time was up, the whole group moaned, "no, let her continue."  She too was calling us, the women of God, to change the world but not by ourselves, together and by allowing God to work in and through each of us.  "Yes" I thought, "all things are possible with God." 

Theresa went on to say that we are all being called to become saints.  Oh, no!  I was just getting my head around "saving the world" and now, I need to also become a saint!  Being a cradle Catholic I'm somewhat familiar with many of the saints and I am here to tell you, they did not have an easy time of it.  The saints of old were tortured and killed.  Many appeared just plain crazy, hearing the voice of God and going off to do really weird stuff.  Our most recent saint, Mother Teresa had a very difficult life.  The women and men of her order only posses a few worldly items: a sari, a bucket and a thin mattress.  Certainly, she made the world a better place and I am in awe of her and her works but I like the comforts of home.  I like bathing in a tub or shower and not using a bucket and I really like my bed, and my clothes.  No, sainthood is not something I'd ever had on my radar.  But, Theresa Davis was not going to let me off so easily.  Her words and her tone had already drawn me to her and now she was going to give me a few tools to help lead me down a holier path.  The first tool was being present to "the duty of the moment."  So simple, so very difficult. 

The call of every spiritual discipline I have ever studied or read about is, "be present to the moment."  Live consciously!  Theresa shared that "God is only present in the moment."  Then came the second step towards sainthood. She echoed Mother Teresa's famous saying, "Do little things with great love."  Again, so simple and yet so very difficult.  Finally, she extolled us to live more simply.  The question was, "What's holding you back? What is the baggage you are lugging around?"  I immediately thought this was going in the direction of the sari, bucket and thin mattress but no, it was way harder than that. Our "baggage" Theresa said, was our: anger, resentments, pride, self-deceit, envy and greed.  I immediately wanted to grab that bucket and just go with that.  This was way more difficult.  Yes, difficult but certainly well worth working towards.  Certainly a project which I'm sure God would like to be involved. 

My faith teaches that once we die and enter into heaven, we all become saints.  I think this is a good thing because while I want to do my part to "save the world" and I'm willing to accept that I'm being called to be a "saint," the probability of my achieving these feats even with God's help seems to me quite slim.  So, on days when I'm simply trying to accept myself as I am, I'll know there's great hope for me, for all of us, in the future, in the afterlife. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Finding Your Joy

Affirmation:  I intentionally choose those things that bring me joy.

As I write this it's the beginning of January.  My friend, Ann Baucom, a wise and gifted woman, once told me January was her favorite time of the year.  She loved the opportunity to slow down and stay in because she could look at the long range view of the months in front of her and plan her life.  She was very deliberate about what was important to her and what brought her peace and joy and she took the cold, dreary month of January to envision all those opportunities that she could create to nurture herself.  She presented to me a very different view of the long dark month than I had previously experienced.  Certainly, I had used the opportunity of a new year to make plans and to set intentions but I hadn't really embraced sitting with my dreams for the upcoming year and appreciated the month as a time of gestation for those dreams to grow.  

I love to rise before the sun.  In Clyde Edgerton's book Walking Across Egypt he writes about how Matti Rigsbee rises before dawn and sits outside as the blackness becomes gray and then light.  He describes how this is her favorite time of day.  She relishes the new day and awaits the gifts it will bring with it.  It's one of my favorite passages.  I could feel her peace and joy as she waited for the light of day to seep through the darkness and wash away the night.  I once had the opportunity to go to one of Clyde's readings and was delighted to hear him read the very same passage I so loved.   That description completely changed my perception of how I perceived the beginning of a perfect day, rise before the sun, make a cup of tea, light a candle or in the colder months, a fire.  Sit quietly, pray, write, breathe and go gently, softly into the day.  The way I choose to begin my day flavors the way I live that day. The way I begin my year, flavors the way I live that year.  It's not very different, a dark morning opening into light of day or a dark month opening into a new year.

If we begin something, a day, a year, a job, a marriage, a project with an sense of excitement and joyous expectation does that make a difference in how that something proceeds?  In the book The Joy of Appreciative Living, Jacqueline Kelm recommends 3 steps that can be implemented in order to increase one's sense of joy.  The first step is to write daily three gratitudes.  The second step is to think of one thing every day that will bring you joy and the third step is to take fifteen minutes once a week to imagine your ideal life.  The premise of the book is that if you do these exercises for 28 days, your level of happiness will increase and even if you then stop doing the exercises, your will maintain a higher level of joy than when you began the process.  After beginning the program I was driving home one evening right at sunset and the sky was breathtakingly beautiful.  "One gratitude to write tomorrow." I told myself.  I would have appreciated it even if I wasn't in the process of increasing my joy but I wouldn't have made a mental note to remember it.  It was the difference between capturing the image and just noticing it in passing.  I realized I had begun to look for moments of joy to record and that simple process was making me happier. 

Shaun Achor has a short TED video on You Tube about using this process for your job.  It was originally sent to a dear special-education teacher friend of mine by her principal.  She told me looking for three gratitudes each day had the same effect on her as it did on me.  Certainly, looking for joy has got to be a better approach to improving the quality of one's life the looking for sadness or worse.  One need not only look forward for joy.  You get to choose what you focus on in the past.  As part of a healing process my chiropractor, Joanne Noel in Chapel Hill, NC had me "reframe" an upsetting memory which she felt had twisted my body in ways I knew hurt but didn't fully recognize.  "Why choose to focus on a painful memory." she said, "Let's change it or better yet, delete it like an unwanted, useless email."  

Then there's step two and three from The Joy of Appreciative Living.  For many years I've kept a small Hallmark Calendar in my daily journal.  Each morning i record one thing that brought me joy and one thing that I did to help another.  This concept of planning it was new to me.  it reminded me of being on a successful diet. I've read where one step is to write down everything you eat but an even more powerful step is to plan what you're going to eat.  With step two of The Joy of Appreciative Living I plan what I'm going to feed my spirit.
I love my life, however, I still have dreams and once again I am reminded of God's bounty and of the truth that I cannot fathom the riches that can be found once we connect to the Divine.  Why wouldn't I institute a practice that might raise my level of joy?  When I feel positive, joyful and happy I carry those emotions out into the world and while some may find them to be disarming, most seem to need and appreciate a smile, a warm greeting and even sometimes, a hug.  My ideal life always includes optimal health and I work hard to maintain that state.  I eat as well as I know how, I exercise daily, I take my vitamins and I don't smoke or abuse my body.  I'm invested in "dying healthy."  But, good health and an ideal life require more than care for the body, the body will cease to exist one day no matter how well I care for it.  I need to focus on the spirit too.  As in past "planning" January months I carefully considered what my ideal life would include.  I didn't take on any resolutions but carefully crafted ten intentions.  

Pray Unceasingly
Forgive Continually
Accept and Give Love Freely
Hug Whenever Possible
Learn Constantly
Dance Often
Eat Mindfully
Recognize the Shadows
Smile Early, Laugh Daily
Be Grateful, Always and for All Things

I share them here with you so that you too may take the time to write down your ideal life.  So you too may craft some intentions that will bring more light and joy into your life and into the lives of all those you love and the lives of all those your life touches.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Don’t Make a Resolution, Create an Affirmation

How many new years have you tried to enact some form of change for yourself?  New Year’s resolutions present themselves every January, and once in a while a resolution works but all too often they fail leaving us exactly where we started and feeling powerless or just plain sad.  One of the problems with a resolution is that most of them are phrased using the future tense.  “This year I will begin exercising.”  “As of January 2nd, I will begin my diet.”  “I will stop smoking.”  It’s like making a wish and then sitting back and waiting to see if it comes true or not.

A more effective way to initiate change in your life is to set an intention and then to create an affirmation.

When teaching yoga I encourage the participants to "set an intention" for their practice session.  That's all I say.  I could give them examples but it's so much more effective and powerful when a yogi forms his or her own intention.  I have carried this beginning practice step into my life.  I make an effort to set an intention for each day and especially for the beginning of the New Year.  Once my intention becomes known to me, I then form an affirmation to cement it into my mind, body and spirit.
What exactly is an affirmation?  An affirmation is a statement that makes firm that which you believe.  It is a statement about that which you perceive to be true.  You can have positive or negative affirmations.  When I began writing out my affirmations, I discovered the power of controlling my thoughts.  Once you take charge of what you're thinking, you then take charge of your life.  For me there was also joy and power in the process of creating the affirmations.  I love testing the words, seeing what resonated and deciding what was so important to me that I would focus on it day after day.

Not sure it will work for you?  Think about this.  All those negative statements you’ve been telling yourself for as long as you can remember, how have they been working?  They’ve probably worked quite well but unfortunately not to your benefit.  Changing them to positive statements will work too and think how much better you’ll feel.

What does your self-talk look like?  Sometimes, you're having the conversation when you're alone.  Sometimes, you're saying the same things to yourself but you're not alone.  And, sometimes you're saying things aloud about yourself that you would never say to or about a dear friend.  What are the phrases you've adopted over the years?  "Boy, am I stupid." or "I never get it right!" How about, “I can’t do that." or “It frightens me.”  An affirmation is about changing the things you tell yourself in order to empower yourself and improve the quality of your life.  It’s a powerful free tool that can make a positive difference in your life.  Begin by noticing when your self-talk weakens you, makes you feel powerless, or useless.  Pay attention!  That's the first step, awareness.

When creating an affirmation avoid the word "not."  It won't work to your benefit; it may even work to your detriment. I heard a story many years ago about a mother teaching her daughter to drive.  There was a huge bolder in the road ahead.  The mother kept reminding her daughter about it.  “Don't go near the bolder.”  “Don’t’ hit the bolder.”   What do you think happened?  They were both so focused on missing the rock in the road, they drove right into it.  It’s the same with negatives in your affirmation.  You won’t hear the “not” and you’ll move right into the place you’re trying to avoid.

There are phrases you can use instead of enlisting the negative.  For example:  "I release" or "I let go of."  Two of my affirmations using those phrases are:  "I let go of fear and anxiety." and "I release myself from my childhood limitations."  It's simply more effective than saying: "I will not let fear and anxiety influence my life."  I have chosen to tell myself, "I eat mindfully" instead of saying, "I do not eat foods that are bad for me."  Another example is, "I attract financial prosperity." rather than, "I don't waste my money."  Can you hear the difference?  Can you feel the difference? 

I sometimes write out the affirmation without too much thought and then take time to fine tune it. Begin by taking a few minutes and re-reading the words.  You are looking for words that stir an emotion in you.  Don’t over analyze it.  Let the sentence be a statement of how you want to perceive your life.  Write it in the present tense.  It may be a statement you have a difficult time believing but try it anyway.  Sometimes those are the most powerful. I have a dear friend whose affirmation is, "I am a gifted and talented artist."  When she first claimed that, she did not feel that way but that's how she wanted to feel.  It worked!  She now is a gifted and talented artist.  Her affirmation led her to the steps which led her to believe in herself and to expand her gifts and talents. 

One example of an affirmation I use in my daily practice is:  When I stay focused on the present, I am calmer and more peaceful.  I created this one because I believe what is truly important is today.  Worry magnifies my difficulties and diminishes my ability to live fully in the present moment.  Anxieties almost always arise because I fail to put all my effort into the here and now.  I am calmer and more peaceful when I focus more on the gifts of each day, instead of worrying about tomorrow or reliving something unpleasant from the past. 

The quality of my life is all about how I perceive every event and person, including myself.  If I can change myself for the better, won't that help others? If you did the same thing, wouldn't that help you, the world, or at least your world? It’s an amazing process. Take full advantage of it.  Write them down, write them every day, post them on your bathroom mirror, by your doorway, on your computer and wait!  Instead of another set of New Year’s resolutions you didn’t keep, you’ll have created a set of affirmations that will change your life in ways you never before dreamed possible.