Sunday, September 28, 2014

Claiming Courage

Affirmations:  I am courageous.

"I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not the one who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." Nelson Mandela

It seems lately the topic of conversation has often turned to the concept of courage.  Partly because my Women of Faith study group is reading The Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To by Anthony DeStephano. One of the prayers is, "God grant me courage."  I loved the chapter of this topic.  I thought his presentation was clear and comprehensive and for me, just what I needed to "hear" at this time.

I know I have at least two positive affirmations that have bolstered my confidence over the years.  They are, I am a bold adventuress and I am audacious.  I say, "yes I can."  They have worked quite well for me.  Many times I've jumped into situations, well OK maybe I simply walked into them, which I was not sure about.  I'd usually come out the other side excited about what had taken place and exhilarated that I'd overcome my fear and anxiety.  It was always a very empowering experience. 

While those affirmations have been good, most of my days are fairly uneventful or at least not adventurous and yet I can carry with me a sense of concern; concern about my finances, my health or that of my loved ones, my relationships and especially about the future. 

Part of Anthony's premise was that we need to practice being courageous.  We need to pick up the quality, the gift every day.  At first we should start with small things and as our strength grows and our courage muscle becomes stronger, we will be able to be courageous at more challenging times.  They are a coming!  Or, perhaps they are already here.  The words were for me, filling a need.  His advice was exactly what I seemed to need at this particular time in my life.

I believe I am still grieving the death of my mother and her blessed but very difficult last several years of her life.  I know I will heal but for now the memory lingers and weighs on me and leaves me wondering about my future, my old age and my death. 

Think about the brave people you know?  Think about the brave people you have read about?  The first group that always comes to my mind are our service people.  I know for some they discovered courage in situations they never imagined they could endure.  Our veterans are some of our most remarkable heroes.  Then, our fire fighters come to mind.  My dad, Frank Grolimund, was a captain with the New York City volunteer fire fighters.  I vividly remember being with him as he ran into a burning building to help with whatever was necessary.  I believe he was very brave, if not a little crazy.  I think too of all the fire fighters who ran towards the dangers of the World Trade Center on 911. The memory still brings tears to my eyes. Then, there are all those people fighting cancer or some other life threatening illness.  I am here to tell you it takes an enormous amount of courage to continue that fight and sometimes even more, to allow yourself or a loved one, to let go.

The greatest example of courage for me, however, is that of Jesus Christ.  When I mediate on his time in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46) I cannot imagine the courage it must have taken for him to give himself completely over to His Father and get up and walk out to what he knew, he knew in every excruciating detail what he was to experience!  He must have asked His Father for courage that evening and it was obviously granted. 

Now, I have learned that God will also grant me courage if I only ask.  It will be one more answered prayer and I don't have to wait, I can claim it now.  I can claim it daily in all things, small and with practice, large.  "God grant me courage."  I am asking and I believe in answered prayer and with that comes a new affirmation, I am courageous.

How about you? Want to overcome fear and become brave?  Want more courage?  Join me.  Ask!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Being a Victim

Affirmation:  I rest in the inquiry. I stand in my power.

The young woman named Dina (She was one of our tour directors.) was giving the description about Austria and she was clever and quite funny.  She came from Vienna and because of that I felt very comfortable when she described a "typical" Austrian.  "We are a people who always feel like we are being victimized.  Tell me a tale about one of your problems and I will tell you one about myself that is worse than yours.  We have a black cloud always hovering above us.  The good news is we don't take ourselves too seriously, so we can laugh at our problems."  I was fascinated.  I wondered why the Austrian people had this impression about their lives.  Was it nature or nurture?  Certainly they had been through some terrible times.  The tales we heard about the experiences of the people of Eastern Europe were beyond sad and extremely disturbing.  I wondered if all the people in countries that had experienced horrible historical eras had the same general sense of being victims?  What about Russia, Estonia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, North Korea or Japan?  How about Vietnam?  What about the mid-east or some parts of Africa?  Do the people in all of these areas of the world feel like victims. 

I don't like to classify an entire population into one category but certain characteristics do seem more prevalent in some cultures than in others.  For instance when my husband, Sandy and I traveled through Ireland, we discovered the Irish people love to help lost travelers.  They certainly loved helping us.  We were always lost and they couldn't do enough to get us back on the right road.  We stopped to talk to one fellow out in the county side who stopped mowing his lawn to give us directions and just about invited us in for tea.  I'm sure if I named a nationality, you would come up with an adjective or two that you believe described them.  How about the Italians, the Japanese, the Germans, or the Latinos?  Did a couple of words pop up for you?

There have been times in my life when I could have felt like a victim.  I remember people asking me if I wondered why I had developed breast cancer.  Did I rail at God, "Why me, Lord?"  No, I did not.  It never occurred to me to even ask that question. Dr. Mark Graham told me it wasnt anything I did or did not do; it was a random act of violence.  That might have made me feel even more
vulnerable, but for some reason it may have brought me a sense of peace. The thought came to me after listening to our guide that I probably don't have any Austrian blood in me.  I couldn't imagine living a life where I always went around feeling victimized.  How would that improve the quality of my life?  I think I'd be a real grump and a very unhappy person.  It certainly wouldn't fit in with my concept of creating an intentional life, a life of peace and love, joy, compassion and gratitude. However, upon more careful consideration, I realized there have been many times in my life when I found myself feeling powerless, small and insignificant.  At those moments I did not step up and out.  I did not claim my power and even in the midst of "random acts" we still have choices.  We still have the opportunity to decide how we perceive our situation and what we are going to do or not do.   

I asked Dina, sometimes referred to as "Dina Marie" and her coworker, Scott, whose home is in China, if in their travels they had noticed this victimization attitude in other countries where the people had experienced years of suffering and repression.  They said they hadn't really thought about it.  The documentary The Singing Revolution takes place in Estonia.  It was an excellent film depicting life in Estonia through the last hundred years and it presented a people who even though they were suffering, decided to continue their ancient tradition of a mass sing-along.  It presented a picture of hope and positive behavior even during these more than difficult times.  

I've read and watched a lot of stories about WW I and WW II and about man's inhumanity towards man, especially about the horrors committed against the Jewish people.  As we traveled through Eastern Europe and listened to the guides describe the situations which caused the deaths of so many people, thousands upon thousands, or through which they lived, I began to understand why the people in these countries would still feel a sense of travesty and powerlessness. To be completely honest,
however, I know, with a capital "K" that I have never experienced the repression and torment that so many in the world have in the past or are presently experiencing.  I probably cannot even imagine the horrors that are taking place.  On our last evening of this trip, Scott, also affectionately know as "Scotty Boy" left us all with this advice, "Now that you have traveled this part of the world, maybe the next time you see or hear of something distressing that they are experiencing, you will feel a deeper connection, a greater sense of compassion."  He mentioned that one way to break down the barriers of prejudice and hatred is to be exposed to another's culture.  I am hoping that faced with such struggle, I could muster enough strength perhaps because of my relationship with my God, that I would not perceive my situation as hopeless.

The lesson here for me is that we always have a choice about how we want to perceive our situation. The more I thought about this feeling of being a victim, the more I realized it is not unusual for people to perceive themselves as victims even if they have never lived in a war torn country.  As far as the people I know most have lived in the US and are part of the blessed minority like myself who have not gone through the horrors of war and oppression.  The people Ive met who perceive themselves as victims, are the people who believe that whatever happens to them is totally beyond their control; there in nothing they can do about it.  They don't or can't recognize that even in the most dire of situations we can choose to believe that we at some point can affect change.  Our sense of purpose and power lies within us, not beyond our control.  Daily we are called up to look at our attitudes and to examine our beliefs and then to rise up and to claim our power.  If we practice daily, in the smaller things of life, perhaps if and when we are faced with the larger, more daunting events we will be able to rest in the inquiry and stand in our power.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Choosing Your Words, Creating Your Thoughts

Affirmation:  The words I choose affect every aspect of my life.  I choose mindfully.

The question I've been asking myself while preparing for the September 9, 2014 Barnes and Noble signing has been, "What makes you think you're someone who can inspire or motivate another to live an intentional life?"

Truth to tell, I am simply another human being probably a lot like you who is trying to live a rich, giving, compassionate life.  My mission statement for my life is, "I live a Christ centered life of love, peace, joy, hope, gratitude and compassion."  And, everyday I have to remind myself of it and of how I want to live.  I've written before of my desire to be loving, forgiving, nonjudgmental, non-grasping and compassionate.  It's a meditation.  It's something I have to keep in mind everyday, sometimes every moment.  Do I?  Of course I don't. 

I know I'm not an expert on human behavior.  I have studied it for many years and I've worked with a lot of people in many different capacities.  One of my first loves is a study group.  I facilitated my first study group at Barnes and Noble in Cary, NC around 20 years ago with another MSW, Jane Cook.  We presented the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.  We had around 35 people participate for the twelve-week session.  I've either facilitated or participated in hundreds of groups since then.  From my observation I would propose that most people are trying to find a way to live a more fulfilled life.  What that takes is of course different for different people so I don't claim that I can offer everyone that opportunity but there are some basic skills available to most of us and using our words to shape our thoughts and therefore our lives, is a very powerful one.

I recently had a women ask me if I'd read Ten Percent Happier.  I have not.  She explained to me that the author's secret to a happier life was meditation and he shared that approach in his book.  He felt he became at least 10% happier because of his practice.  I believe it.  He therefore, felt a desire to help others find this same sense of well being.  I think we can definitely improve the quality of our lives by meditating but while it's simple, it's not easy.  It's takes practice.  It takes discipline.  It's no different than exercising the body.  It's exercising the mind.  In fact it's easier to exercise the body than it is to quiet the mind.  What I am proposing, however, is something that almost anyone can easily put into practice.  I don't mean for it to be a substitute for meditation, certainly not a substitute for prayer, but another tool to be utilized in the search for a better existence.

We are all talking to each other and ourselves all the time. With just a little effort we can start carefully choosing the worlds we use.  You know what I'm saying.  In fact, it's probably easier to shape the words we use to describe events and others than it is to shape those we use for ourselves.  We can be our own worst enemies.  I have a long list that I've collected of negative self-talk phrases.  Things I've heard people say to themselves or perhaps I read somewhere.  For example:  "I am so stupid!"  "I am such a klutz!"   "I just never seem to get it right."  "I just can't make any friends."  "I never have enough money, time, energy, etc."  "My right leg, arm, hip, etc. is my bad one."  The list I've compiled has about one hundred negative phrases.  Two others that don't sound negative but have that effect are, "I am right!" and "I can do that better."  Those two statements may be vey true but I'm here to tell you (and I know I'm right!) most people don't want to be around someone who has all the answers and who willingly will tell them how to do something better, even if they've been asked. 

So, I'm not here to give you any answers.  I am here to propose questions and to tell you what has worked for me with the same hope as the author of Ten Percent Happier.  I want to share the practice and the words that have made my life better, not perfect, but definitely better.  The positive affirmations I have created for myself and that I write about here and in my book, Creating Positive Affirmations, Living An Intentional Life, have improved the quality of my relationships, my health, my work and perhaps, most importantly, my faith.  They aren't designed to improve your life.  They simply serve as an example of what has worked for me and in case your searching, what may work for you.

My dear friend, Joanne Dawe shared her wisdom with me many years ago when we spoke about using positive affirmations.  "They have to work," she said, "I've been using negative affirmations for years and they've always worked."