Be Wise: The lesson you can learn from Eeyore the “Awfuller”

Eeyore is a classic "awfuller": The person who takes joy and turns it to sorrow.

“Good morning, Eeyore,” said Pooh.

“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning, which I doubt,” said he.

“Why, what’s the matter?”

“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”

“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.

“Gaiety.  Song-and-dance.  Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

– A.A. Milne, from “Winnie-the-Pooh”

 

Awfullers. It’s a term a friend of mine coined for people who have the unique capacity to take any shining, beautiful, or joyful moment and make it … well … awful. These people are the Eeyores of life. You remember the old, grey donkey from Winnie-the-Pooh who takes any kind or pleasant interaction and turns it into life sucking gloom-and-doom? Eeyore is a classic awfuller. Any conversation, however kind and well-intentioned quickly falls off a cliff and into an abyss of despair.

Awfullers do what they do because it gives them power. They are conversation-stoppers. They are joy-inhibitors. They take a special pride in wiping that ridiculous smile off your face. They have an impact on the world and they know it.

I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that have at least one awfuller in your life.  These are the people who have the capacity to suck the joy out of the air within a 100 foot radius of wherever they are standing. You see them coming down the bread aisle of the grocery store and you make a beeline for frozen foods for fear that whatever grains of sweetness you have accumulated during the day are about to be greedily and ungratefully devoured.

We can actually learn an important lesson from the awfullers of the world – because in the strictest sense – they are powerful, transformational figures. They take joy and transform it to sorrow. They take happiness and transform it into worry. They take good will and transform it into animosity. They take hope and transform it into doubt. They have power to transform our positive inner-states and they are not afraid to use that power.

We have that same tranformative power within us. But instead of being awfullers, we can become wonderfullers.

Wonderfullers look for the seed of light within every moment and seek to liberate it. Wonderfullers take the hard seeds of difficult moments and water them with compassion, so that they soften and stretch toward the light. Wonderfullers wrap cold moments in warmth and bring them to life. Wonderullers heal the hurts of the past by giving them a place to rest and room to breathe. Unlike their awfuller counterparts who take a special pleasure in watching the happiness drain from your face, wonderfullers patiently add oxygen to the spark of light that each person carries and take pleasure in the life-giving fire that emerges.

Awfullers try to drag everyone down to their level of misery, because they are lonely. They need companionship and the only way they can find it is by pulling others down into their little dark hole.

Wonderfullers know that they are part of a living miracle: an intricate and infinite web of life. And they seek to connect others to it.  Even the awfullers.

Posted in be connected, be joyful, be kind, be loving, be wise, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Be Happy: Just because your teen is unhappy, doesn’t mean you have to be!

I live in a home with two teens and two preteens. In the South, where I live, people tend to respond to this fact by saying, “Oh, bless your heart.”

Yes, bless my heart. Bless it with happiness and strength. For, if there is a theme for our lives right now it is this: Moods rule. Everyone has one. And believe me, they are not afraid to use it.

One moment they’re up. Then, they’re down. They need me to be there for everything, yet they want me to disappear. One minute, they need to talk (Right now! Right this very minute — and no, it cannot wait). Then the next minute, they don’t want to talk about it at all! And God forbid I should ask if something is wrong. It’s none of my business, I’m told.

Emotions blow through my house with the unpredictable force of a hurricane gale. And then leave just as quickly, leaving a peace in their wake that makes you wonder if perhaps you imagined it all.

If I relied upon their happiness to feel happy myself, I would be on one hell of a wild, screaming, nausea and whiplash inducing roller coaster ride.

But I don’t. I can’t be held hostage to their emotions. Or anyone’s emotions really.

Of course it goes without saying that I am happy when they are happy. I rejoice in their happiness. It’s what I want for them more than anything. But I can’t be unhappy when they are.  It’s not that I want to ignore their unhappiness. I actually want to be compassionate about their unhappiness. But if I sink when they sink, how can I help guide them to back to the surface where there is fresh, life giving air to breathe?

We have to understand that having compassion for someone else’s sadness or anger or frustration or fear, is not the same as experiencing those emotions on their behalf.  When we are compassionate, we are in the lifeboat offering a hand out of the water. We cannot jump into the water and drown to show solidarity. What good would that be?

We can be compassionate and still maintain our spiritual happiness. Spiritual happiness is not the same as incidental happiness. It is not a giddy life-is-a-bowl-of-cherries  kind of happiness. Spiritual happiness is a happiness that validates the truth that life itself is a gift. Spiritual happiness is rooted in gratitude for the simple blessing of being. Spiritual happiness is not dependent on the moment-to-moment ups and downs of life. It is a constant. Because life is constant. And though we may lose sight of it, it is always there for us to return to.

There is no greater gift we can give our children than being happy and compassionate people. Because in being spiritually happy and courageously compassionate, we are there for them if and when they need us. And from our example, they will learn that when the wild ride of adolescence subsides, they are also happy and compassionate people, because we have shown them it is possible — and what’s more: worthwhile.

So today I offer you this: Offer your children your happiness. As a gift. No strings attached. They don’t have to accept it. They just need to know it’s there.

I promise you, some day they will treasure it.

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Be Sweet: Giving up Sugar and Savoring the Real Sweetness of Life

I gave up sugar a week ago. I am not bragging. It’s only been a week, and a week doesn’t especially give you bragging rights. And it certainly doesn’t earn you the privilege of finger-wagging.

There is a sweeter world than Candy Land, and it is right here in this moment. All we need to do is slow down and enjoy it.

So just to be clear: I am not wagging my finger at anyone. But I do want to tell you why I stopped.

I noticed that when a was stressed I would run to sugar for comfort. When I was in the car running errands (for example), and my brain was crazily multitasking, zigzagging from one mad-dashing thought to another — just when I felt the last bit of happiness being squeezed aside by my restless brain — I would get an image of a cold Coca-Cola in my mind. Ahhhhhh. That’s the ticket, my brain would tell me, as if the whole thing was settled. And my brain would not let me rest until I had one in my hand. So I would pull over at the closest convenience store and grab a Coke out of the cooler. And I would instantly feel better.

And then I got it. Like anvil-on-the-head “got it”: What do you call it when you crave a substance when you are feeling stress or sadness, and you feel instantly better once you have it in your hand.

That’s right. Addiction. I had a sugar addiction.

Yikes! Not good. My mind was made up. That’s it: No more sugar for you, Missy.

I’m not a stranger to giving up substances. About five years ago, I went on a Buddhist retreat where I took a vow not to ingest intoxicants. No drugs. No nicotine. No alcohol. Drugs and nicotine I did not use anyway. No biggie. But no alcohol? Really? I enjoyed a glass of wine every so often. But okay, I suppose the point in doing so was to realize that I did not need to use alcohol to relax. Relaxation (as I knew from experience on that retreat) was as close as my breath. In fact relaxation was within my breath. Why reach outside of myself for comfort, when comfort was inside of me, just waiting to be revealed? It was not that hard for me to give up alcohol. I am one of those people who would have half a beer at a party and let the other half go warm in my hand while they are gabbing away. A few sips of wine and I would be downright sleepy.

It’s been interesting, by the way, over the last few years refusing alcohol. When offered a glass of wine or a beer by a friend, I generally refuse by saying, “No thanks, I don’t drink alcohol,” — and I see something pass over their eyes. A not-so-well-concealed (and yet appropriately politely restrained) judgement. They are thinking, “I didn’t know Lauren was an alcoholic.” Because, honestly, what adult who is not an alcoholic voluntarily chooses not to drink? The answer: me (And my husband, by the way, who took the same vow. A friend actually asked me once, “Were you and Jamie sober when you met?” I am so clueless, I thought, “What a weird question to ask. Is our love so unlikely that you are not sure if we were drunk or sober when we fell in love?” And then I got the meaning of his question. Ohhhh . . . )

The weird thing was, at least for the first year, that I noticed a subtle, yet undermining thoughts about alcohol. I would see someone with a cold glass of white wine at a party and think, “Oh man, does that ever look relaxing.” And then I would catch myself. Right. Relaxation is not in a glass of wine. It’s in me. Got it. Easy.

But sugar? A different thing altogether. That rush of sweetness is such a relief for me. I feel it moving through my body, calming it cell by cell. Sugar gives me something to focus on. Something, at least temporarily, more intense then the rising tide of stress or overwhelm. It’s a relief and a distraction.

This is all actually just a rather lengthy preamble to an experience I had this morning: an insight I had while going on a walking meditation today with a group of friends I meditate with up in the mountains outside Asheville.

It could not have been a more beautiful morning. Sunny, but not too hot. So many flowering bushes in full bloom. Birds singing. Lovely.

As we walked together (slowly, slowly, mindfully breathing in, mindfully breathing out) along the path in my friends’ beautiful garden, I listened to the symphony of birds and insects blended with the soft padding of our collective footsteps, saw the color of the flowers shining so vividly that it almost felt as if they were communicating a message of joy to me. I felt the grass resiliently springing beneath my feet and the cool solidness of the earth below. I felt vividly alive. And I couldn’t have withheld my smile from the world if I tried. That smile felt like it was a part of the landscape I walked in. As natural as sunlight and breeze and flower petals.

And I thought: This is the real sweetness. This is the slow and very real sweetness I long for when I am moving too swiftly through life. It is right here. In this moment. Always has been.

And sugar? Sugar is a cheap substitute for the real experience of the sweetness of life we all long for.

I will try to remember that the next time my mind sends me an image of a cold Coca Cola. I will replace it with the image of those flowers. And that green grass. And that solid earth. And the faithful presence of my friends.

Sweet.

Posted in be attuned, be calm, be happy, be healed, be strong, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Top Ten Videos that Will Make You Cry (In a Good Way!)

Sometimes our tears express our gratitude for life's beauty -- and our intuitive apprehension of its basic impermanence.

NOTE: Scroll on down if you just want to see the “TOP TEN Videos that Will Make You Cry”! 

I am a big believer in the healing power of tears. I believe this because I am a cryer. I cry at weddings. Graduations. Bar Mitzvahs. Movies. Poetry. Prayers. And yes, even commercials.

I cry every Friday morning when my favorite radio show, StoryCorps comes on. You know the show? One person interviews a loved one about their life. They tell each other the most amazing, deeply moving stories. And they alway end with something like, “I love you and you have always been my hero,” and tears run down my neck and soak my pillow. It’s a Friday morning ritual my husband has grown accustomed to.

I cry at YouTube Videos, much to the consternation (and sometimes embarrassment) of my children. I don’t fault or blame them. In fact, I deserve every eye-roll, head-shake, and dismayed shrug I get. I have them coming to me. It’s karma.

You see, my mother was a cryer. Once when I was a teenager — probably just around the time I was getting ready to leave for college — I caught her at the kitchen window dabbing her eyes. I asked her what was wrong. “Oh, it’s the new neighbors,” she said with a sniffle, “They just put in a new swing set.” I stood next to her and observed what she was describing: two small blond children, probably ages three and five, screaming with laughter as their father and mother pushed them on their new swing set, their toes stretched up towards the clouds. “Yep,” I said, “A new swing set. And you’re crying because . . . ”

A tear rolled down her cheek and she wiped it away and smiled at me, “Well, they think those children will be small like that forever. But they’ll blink their eyes and those kids will be grown and out the door.”

I probably should have put my arm around her and said, “Don’t worry mom. I’ll always be your little girl.” I didn’t. I think I just stood there and willed my eyes not to roll. I remember thinking, “Oh my God. This woman is crazy.” Thankfully, I had the good grace not to voice it.  I probably said something sensitive like, “Um . . . Can I borrow the car?”

So you see what I mean about karma.

My mother cried at the Mean Joe Green Coke commercial. (Your probably remember the commercial: a boy offers an injured and dejected Mean Joe Green a Coke and then Mean Joe Green tosses the boy his jersey and the boy says, “Wow. Thanks Mean Joe!”)  But not just the first time she saw it.  Every time. My father would just quietly get up and get the tissues when the commercial came on.

Okay, so blame it on genetics or conditioning, but now I now have my mother’s tear ducts.  And if I ever need a good cry, I can just go to YouTube and let it flow. So here (without further ado and in no particular order) are the TOP TEN VIDEOS THAT MAKE ME CRY (If you share my genetic propensity for getting misty at the slightest provocation, I suggest you take a moment now to grab a box of Kleenex, otherwise, proceed at your own risk):

1) A flash mob comes together to wish a favorite bus driver a happy birthday:

2) This is a shampoo commercial. Really. Didn’t I just say I was just like my mother?

3) The audio from this video is taken directly from a StoryCorps interview. It is one of the sweetest and saddest testaments to love I have ever seen. Don’t let the cartoon images fool you:

4) People from around the world come together to reiterate this eternal truth: All You Need is Love (I get especially teary when the group from Kazakhstan come on because that is where my two sons were born):

5) For anyone who has ever fallen down and gotten back up, this one’s for you:

6) This was created by the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus as part of the “It Get’s Better” campaign — a movement created in response to the tragedies of gay teens who took their own lives because they were being bullied in school. This video was to inspire hope and offer courage to LGBT youth:

7) We all know that children watch what we do. And they follow our examples. Our actions are powerful. This video drives this point home (with amazing music) — Children see. Children do:

8 ) When I was a child, I adored Mr. Rogers. I idolized him. I honestly wanted to marry him. I recently came across this video where Mr. Rogers melts the heart of a cynical senator in a congressional hearing. That man sure did know how to work magic. I miss him:

9 ) Okay, admittedly, I created this one. When I first heard the song, I cried. When I thought of the story that went with the song, I told the director and he got teary. When we filmed it, the art director and the makeup artist cried when they got to the part when the mom receives the message from her daughter at work. So, believe me, I know it’s all pretend. It still makes me cry:

10) If you have ever loved someone who was counted out before they even started — and if you believed in them and supported them regardless of the odds, this one is dedicated to you:

Did I say ten videos? I meant eleven. This one’s for you, Mom. I miss you. I wish you were here so we could watch YouTube videos and little children swinging and cry together.  And P.S. I will always be your little girl:

What are the videos that make you tear up? Please feel free to post the links in the comments section below.

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Parents: It’s not “I love you but …” — it’s “I love you AND …”

“I love you but you are being so irresponsible.”

“I love you but I am sick and tired of asking you to pick up your stuff.”

“I love you but you have got to bring your grades up.”

“I love you but you are acting completely helpless.”

"But..." Three simple letters can undo everything you just said

“I love you but I don’t have to put up with the way you talk to me.”

How many times have we said these words (or words like them) to our children?  We say we love our kids unconditionally, but when we express our disappointment in their choices, we do it by qualifying our love.

A good friend who is a therapist once told me that whenever we say the word “but” we are saying: “The thing I just said isn’t entirely true, so disregard it. The real message is what follows the word ‘but’.”

Uh-oh. So when we say, “I love you but your behavior is very disappointing to me.” that means we are saying “It’s not entirely true that I love you. The real truth of the matter is that you are a disappointment. When you stop being a disappointment to me I will really love you.

Which means that we are saying that contrary to our TRUE FEELINGS of unconditional love, our words are expressing that our love is qualified on the condition of our children correcting the source of disappointment (which, by the way will inspire two possible behaviors in your kids: 1. Fix the behavior out of fear of disappointing you and losing your love or 2. Persisting in the behavior as a way of making your prove your love is unconditional)  “I love you but … ” is not how you really feel, I know. So let’s figure out how to say what you really feel.

Using the words “I love you but .. ” is just a bad habit that can be corrected. And it can be corrected by changing that simple, treacherous word,”but” to another word. That word is “AND”.

As in “I love you AND . . . “

As in “I love you AND I care about your happiness, and taking on responsibility and seeing it through is a way people will grow to trust you. Having long term trusting relationships is a great source of happiness.”

As in “I love you AND I enjoy relaxing with you and it is easier for all of us to relax when the house is picked up.”

As in “I love you AND I want you to feel proud of the work you do. I also want you to have opportunities ahead of you — and working hard to get grades that reflect your real capabilities is how you will feel proud and have those opportunities.”

As in “I love you AND I know you have the strength and the intelligence to figure this out.”

As in “I love you AND I want the words that we speak to each other truly reflect the love and respect we feel for one another.”

Sure, it takes longer to formulate. And yes, you really have to think about what you say before you say it. You may even struggle to make the statement work. But isn’t it worth a few extra second to clarify for yourself WHY certain behaviors are important to your child’s long-term happiness and success in life? Isn’t it important to take a few extra second to make clear to your child why what you are asking is not a limitation of your love, but an extension of it?

Remember “but” puts conditions on the real love you feel. “And” extends and clarifies it.

I know taking on new habits can be a challenge …. AND because it will increase and extend the power of the love you share with your child, I am certain it is worth your time.

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Be Kind: Practice kindness in everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) you do

Kindness. It’s the gift we give to people and animals. Right?

What if you practiced kindness and not judgement when you looked in the mirror?

Well, yes. But not that alone. Kindness is not just an emotion we feel toward living, breathing beings. Kindness is an energy that abides within you that is waiting to be released into the world, so it can work its magic.

What if we were able to bring kindness to everything we did? What if we offered the energy of kindness to everything we touched today? How would that work?

First, think of kindness, not as an emotion, but as an energy that infuses our actions. Think of times that you have felt kindness flowing through you and how it touched and transformed the world when you released it. Perhaps you offered kindness to a child who was afraid. Or maybe your offered kindness to a friend who was celebrating their birthday. Or perhaps to a stranger who unwittingly dropped a loaf of bread in the parking lot of the grocery store. Or a thirsty dog who needed a cool drink of water on a hot day.

Really take a moment to sense what that feels like in your heart, in your mind, in your body.

Now think of offering that kindness to every aspect of your day. It may seem like a stretch at first, but once you get into the practice of it, it will feel quite natural to practice kindness:

  • While you brush your teeth
  • While you look at yourself in the mirror
  • While you take a bite of food
  • While you put your hands around the steering wheel of the car
  • While you tap the keys of your computer’s keyboard
  • While you twist the handle on a door

Really? You may be thinking. Kindness? To my teeth? To my toothbrush? To the sink I spit in? My rumpled image in the mirror? To the gray strands appearing in my hair? To the new wrinkle or blemish I just noticed this morning? To my steering wheel? To the gas pedal? To the turn signal? To the fork that lifts the bite to my mouth? To the food I am chewing? To the keyboard my fingertips? To the words on my screen? To the door handle? To the wide open world I am stepping into?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And YES!!

You can offer kindness to anything and everything.

How different would your day feel if you did this little experiment? How might your world transform?

I challenge you to try it today.

Practice kindness in everything (and yes, I mean EVERYTHING) you do. And watch how the world changes.

 

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Be Courageous: All Meaningful Paths Begin with a Single Step

The path to peace begins with unrest. The path to wisdom begins with unknowing. The path to love begins with loneliness. The path to a new life begins with the old. If we want to get to where we are going, we must first compassionately accept where we are. Then take one brave step forward . . .

All paths of meaning begin with a single, courageous step.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh tells the story of a time he was visiting Seoul, Korea. He was to lead a walking meditation through the streets of that busy metropolis, but before he could even begin, he found himself surrounded by a throng of admirers, who ironically made it impossible for him to walk. He was so crowded in by people who wanted to follow him, there was no place to move.

So he did the only thing he could do. He took a single step. And when he made that simple gesture in the direction of freedom, the crowd immediately parted. A path opened. And so he began to walk. Peacefully. And the people who had once been the obstacle to his movement began to move themselves.

I think we are sometimes like that. Our lives feel so stuck, so crowded, so oppressively stagnant that we see no opening. No path forward. And so we stay just where we are. We lament our lack of opportunity. We think, “This is it. This is the way it will always be. Where I want to be is over there, but I see no path out. So there is no path out.”

But every worthy path must begin with a single step. A step in courage. A step in strength. A step in beauty and faith. This is ultimately the only way out: to go step by step. There is no leaping over it. There is no teleporting our of it. If there is to be a path, we must create it by moving on it. The path is defined by our steps on it.

We have to have faith (as Thich Nhat Hanh did) that in moving forward with compassion and courage —  a path will clear.

Consider these examples:

  • The path to a great book begins on a yawning, empty page.
  • The path to the phone call that will change your life begins with a dial tone.
  • The path to a decluttered home begins in a chaotic mess.
  • The path to a blooming garden begins with a dry patch of land.

We have a choice here:

  • We can stare disconsolately at the empty page and tell ourselves “this book will never get written.”
  • We can listen sadly to the dial tone and tell ourselves, “this sound is the sound of my empty life.”
  • We can stand amidst the chaos of our homes and say, “This mess is reflective of the state of my life.”
  • We can look at the arid land and say, “Nothing will ever, ever grow here.”

Or we can take that one brave, faithful step:

  • We can write that first word on that page.
  • We can dial that first number.
  • We can throw away that first piece of clutter.
  • We can plant that first seed.

Everything changes. Great books emerge from empty pages. Deep relationships emerge from lonely silence. Simplified, joyful homes begin in clutter. Beautiful gardens grow from weedy, arid land.

But we must first write that word, dial that number, say goodbye to the meaningless object, plant that seed. And that all begins with compassion and love for the empty page, the dial tone, the cluttered room, and the empty patch of land. 

And from that place of love and compassion we can take that first brave step, remembering that we can only begin from precisely where we are.

So if you are looking for your path in life — look no further. It is right under your feet!

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Be Joyful: A Missing Diamond is Cause for Celebration

I was at a meeting in a local coffee shop when I saw it. Or rather, when I didn’t see it.

The diamond from my engagement ring. The symbol of undying love and commitment that I have been wearing every day for nearly two decades. Gone.

At first I thought maybe my middle-aged eyes were playing tricks on me. Perhaps it was a mirage created by a combination of the brilliant, overhead spotlights in the café and the fact that I was not (as usual) wearing my bifocals. I held my hand out at arm’s length, squinting.

My emtpy ring setting: In Buddhism, emptiness represents the ever-changing fullness of life

My friend asked me if anything was wrong. “I think the diamond is missing from my setting.” I said moving my hand toward her in hopes that her eyes might deny what mine were confirming. She leaned in and frowned. “Shoot,” she said.

For a moment my heart sank. I had already covered a lot of territory that morning. Up early to get the kids ready for school. Out to walk the dog. Showered. To the grocery. The possibility of my finding it seemed next to nothing.

So just to be clear: We’re not talking about a big rock here. This was a ring that my husband bought for me when we were both in graduate school. We had only known each other for four short weeks when he offered it to me over a simple Italian meal on Valentine’s day in 1993.  We were both pretty poor. When he bought the ring, I reached into my purse and offered to pay for half. It seemed too much to ask a guy I barely knew to shell out so much money for a diamond ring for me. I told him I didn’t have the money just then, but I could owe him. I was dead serious. Which made him laugh. It was just the beginning of the memories we would go on to build together.

After my meeting yesterday, I sat in my car and held the empty setting in my hand and thought of what it represented. In Buddhism, “emptiness” represents the fullness of life’s every-changing possibility. To me, the fullness of our lives together is represented by sacred space between us — the very space in which an unlikely love blossomed almost twenty years ago. The space  into which four beautiful children later arrived and were welcomed with eternal love. The space in which we have loved together, celebrated together, cried tears of joy and grief together. The space into which we continue to grow each and every day.

Perhaps an empty setting is the most fitting of symbols, like a small golden hand cradling the beautiful, open possibility of our lives together.

I texted Jamie from the car, “I lost the diamond from our engagement ring.”

A minute later, the message alert dinged, signaling his reply:

“I guess we will just have get married again.” 

You know what? I think I’ll forget the diamond and keep the text.

Or better yet, I’ll just celebrate the love it all represents.

Posted in be blessed, be caring, be loving, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Be Clear: What lens are you looking through?

Those who look at life through the lens of compassion will see opportunities for healing and wholeness.

Those who look through the lens of gratitude will see opportunities to celebrate life’s blessings.

Those who look through the lens of courage will find opportunities to encounter their essential strength.

The opportunities we see in life depend entirely upon the lens we choose to look through.

Those who look through the lens of freedom will see new opportunities for movement and expression.

Those who look through the lens of love will see opportunities to connect with others in the deepest and most meaningful way a human being is able.

Those who look through the lens of happiness will see opportunities to smile, to laugh, and to enjoy the many gifts available in every moment.

With all these many lenses available to us, why would we choose lenses like anxiety, frustration, and despair?  Through these lenses we will see reasons to be angry, suspicious, covetous, or resentful. We will be consumed by emotions that drain us and drain the people around us.

Each of us is free to choose the lens through which we look at the world.  This is not a question of blind or naive optimism. This is truly a question of self determination: What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of experience do you want to have in life?

There are people who have lived through devastating tragedies, but whose lives have not been destroyed, and who ultimately emerge with more light to share and to offer. Why is this? Because they have chosen to determine their fate — not by circumstance — but by their choice of their lens. These people become our family touchstones, our neighborhood heroes, our cultural icons. They have not been defeated by life’s circumstances, because they have chosen lenses that have allowed them to see spiritual lessons shining in the most difficult and challenging events.

The hero’s journey is a journey of self-determination and it begins with a simple question: What lens will I look through?

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Be Grateful: May You Have Many Worries

Is it possible to see some of our worries as blessings?

“I vow to let go of all worries and anxiety in order to be light and free.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

My mother was what you might call a “professional worrier.” She worried with skill, power, and acumen.

She could incisively hone in on the most seemingly benign situation and find within it some kernel of trouble to worry about. Money. Health. Household. Children. Travel. Work. You name it. She worried about it. A lot.

That is until my father was diagnosed with cancer.

When my father became ill, my mother changed radically—and apparently overnight. Faced with the potential of the greatest loss of her life, she found that she was suddenly free of the many worries that had plagued her for all those many years.

In the wake of the most terrible news imaginable, the many troubles that had been burdening her suddenly fell away like a heavy winter coat on an unexpectedly warm day.

So, strangely and without warning, in the midst of a terrifying life-threatening crisis, my mother became a more light-hearted person.

Things that had bothered her before my father’s illness were dismissed with a smile and a wave of her hand. If you came to her with a knit brow and a bee in your bonnet, she would simply say, “If no one is dying, then it’s not a problem.”

There is an old Yiddish blessing that ironically wishes, “May you have many worries.”

At first glance, it seems more like a curse than a blessing. Why would you wish someone you care about many worries?

The answer lies in the heart of my mother’s experience: If we have many troubles swirling about us—and we choose to entertain those worries—that means that we do not have a single, overriding worry to consume us.

And the absence of that single, oppressive worry is a blessing in itself.

There is a great source of empowerment in this understanding: If large troubles displace small worries and with a single powerful stroke, suddenly wiping our slate of worries clean, then we ourselves can choose to wipe that slate clean at any moment.

This little bit of folksy wisdom is, in fact, a very deep instruction:

Don’t wait for a big trouble to come along and make you realize that your small troubles don’t matter.

Novelist and essayist Anne Lamott tells the story of a time she was out shopping for clothing with a friend who was terminally ill:

She was in a wheelchair, wearing a wig to cover her baldness, weighing almost no pounds, but very serene, very alive. We were at Macy’s. I was modeling a short dress for her that I thought my boyfriend would like.

But then I asked whether it made me look big in the hips, and Pammy said, as clear and kind as a woman can be, “Annie? You really don’t have that kind of time.” I just got it. I got it deep in my being . . . You don’t have that kind of time.

And she is right. We don’t have that kind of time. We live under the illusion that we have plenty of time to worry.

We have the feeling that we have hours and days and weeks and months and years to concern ourselves about whether our hips look big or the house is drafty or the bills are piling up or there is dust under the furniture or the car needs vacuuming or the kitchen is outdated. But we don’t.

My mother realized that those kinds of worries added up to nothing on the day my father became ill.

She found that she no longer had time to worry about meeting agendas and traffic tie-ups and household clutter and gas prices and rainy days and rusted gutters—all the things that consume so much of our time and energy.

She found she only had time to love the man she had committed her life to over three decades before. And that is just what she did.

We don’t have to wait for a crisis to realize that we only have time to love what is real. We only have time to care for what is right in front of us. To vow to let go our worries is a vow to love what’s most sacred.

And once we realize this, we’ll be free.

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