Why worry? Part 1

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When I think about worry, I realize two important components; the past and the future. I worry because I might’ve said the wrong thing, or made an incorrect decision, or failed to do something really important. In this worrying moment, the past haunts me. Worry also makes me fearful about the future. Will I make enough money to pay my bills? Will I find love again? Will I ever complete my PhD studies? The future disturbs my present peace of mind.

 

Does this sound familiar?

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When I am present in this moment. I have no worry or fear. Baba Ram Dass reminds us to “be here now.” I have a slender, silver bracelet I wear each day, inscribed with these words.  It reminds me that the present is this moment, and where life is carried out. And in 99% of these moments, I am okay. I can keep doing what I am doing, or decide to do something different. All of my actions contribute to a future I cannot know. It will be here whether I want it to be or not. And then it will be the present. And I will deal with it.

The past is gone. I can do nothing, but learn from it. There is no benefit in worrying what should have or could have or might have been. Think about it. What real good comes from worry?

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Peace, friends.

 

Expand your range

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I recently made a change in my vocabulary that has affected my range of experience and how I make choices in this life. I decided to eliminate, as much as possible, using the word “but” in my speech. Example: I want to go to yoga class, but I don’t have time. Or, I want to go on vacation to New Mexico, but I need to work on my writing.

 

Using the word “but” implies a duality that mirrors much of our culture, where something is either this or that. Often this is played out by the ideas of good or bad, love or hate, beautiful or ugly, work or play.  Although they seem to be, these ideas need not be understood as complete opposites. It is possible to hold two seemingly oppositional ideas in the same space. From my perspective, the word “but” is limiting, the word “and” is inclusive.

 

So, I want to go to yoga, and I am short on time. Do you see how the meaning of this statement has just greatly expanded? It includes an entire range of activities between the yoga and the time. Framing the statement this way frees me to prioritize my activities. When I allow that both possibilities exist, I also allow myself more choice about what I actually do. I don’t have time for yoga because I choose to do something else, whether it is dishes, laundry, coffee with mom, or writing.

 

The “and” is the empowering word that allows my choice. My decision to include both sides of the spectrum has helped expand the range of my choices and thus the decisions that go along with them. I am much more at ease when I accept the “and” parts of a situation.

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The word “and” also helps expand the range of understanding about a person. People are usually not only good or bad, beautiful or ugly, naughty or nice. They fall somewhere along the continuum of both ends. Allowing both ends acknowledges the range and nuances of human existence and, for me, helps me find compassion in all situations. For example, my partner was very late the other evening, and I learned later about the care and effort he put into a project that contributed to his tardiness. I chose to accept both realities and hold space for them without reacting just to the time element. There are thousands of variations around the “and.” And, some may work for you, and some may not. The key is you may choose. What works for you and what does not?

I believe people are much healthier and ultimately happier when they realize the power there is in being choiceful. And all from a simple substitution of words.

See what happens the next time you substitute the word “and” for “but.” I’d love to hear your comments below.

 

Peace, friends.

 

Self-ish

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The self is what we commonly refer to as the collection of our experiences, knowledge, values and personality. When we say someone is selfish, we are usually referring to a negative attribute, in which a person places their own interests above the interests of another.

In Gestalt therapy we pay attention to the ways in which a person makes contact with herself (or himself) and the world. Does she avoid or interrupt contact with others? Prolong it? Or have trouble withdrawing from contact? These ways of managing contact are called creative adjustments. Using my own experience as example, I tend to avoid contact when I think conflict might ensue. My creative adjustment to this situation is to avoid contact with the person with whom I have conflict. Perhaps I don’t answer their phone calls or text messages, or maybe I avoid the topic of potential conflict in my conversations with them. It may not always be healthy or productive for me, but in a deep sense my avoidance is my way of taking care of self.

In this way, we understand that each person acts in her (or his) own best interests by creatively adjusting to different situations. People are more likely to make creative adjustments when situations are challenging or difficult. And this adjustment rarely, if ever, makes sense to someone witnessing it. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing the exact nature of someone else’s experience, so we tend to dismiss their behavior (adjustments) as illogical, crazy, stupid, etc. Each of us makes creative adjustments, all the time, throughout the day. When we are on the receiving end of someone else’s creative adjustment, it is tempting to label the other person’s behavior as “selfish”.

Creative adjustment is how each person takes care of the self. In this sense, they are self-ish. I invite you to think about what it would be like if, next time you hurry to label someone “selfish,” you instead reframe it “self-ish,” with the understanding that he or she is doing their best to creatively adjust to their current situation.

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How to be Zen during the holidays

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As we enter the middle of the month, many of us find we are short on time, long in line; busy, tired and perhaps hungover. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, December in American culture is a busy, event-filled, sometimes frantic time. The media, consumerism, and social norms (think of the messages in secular Christmas carols) tell us to be joyous of the season, to buy stuff, and to rush around. And amidst all of this, we expect to be happy, peaceful, and generous. This push and pull can knock us off balance.

Zen Buddhism shows us how to maintain balance and harmony during the holidays or other busy, stressful times. Here are some Zen principles and ways to apply them in December and every other month of the year. They are all interrelated and by attending to one, you are very likely doing another.

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  1. Do one thing at a time and do it completely.

In other words, do not multitask. If you sit down to eat, stay there. Do not rush around answering the phone, taking something out of the oven, or checking the laundry. Modern science has also shown us that multitasking is not as effective as we would like to think it is. Here is a story from NPR addressing this very issue: http://www.npr.org/2013/05/10/182861382/the-myth-of-multitasking.

  1. Do less.

Think about what is truly necessary and you might be able to remove some of your thinking around what you feel “must” be accomplished. For example, must you attend every single holiday party you are invited to? Will you stay home if you need down time? Only you know the answers. See if doing less helps you do more.

  1. Develop rituals.

The holidays are already imbued with many rituals. See which ones work for you and your family and incorporate them into your holidays. Create your own. Rituals create stability and opportunities to connect with others.

  1. Think about what is necessary.

When we slow down, we do less. This gives us an opportunity to think about the essentials. How does our current way of doing things contribute to or take away from our quality of life? What do you really need?

For further information about Zen Buddhism, see Alan Watts’ seminal book, entitled “The Way of Zen.” Available here: http://www.amazon.com/Way-Zen-Alan-W-Watts/dp/0375705104/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418663524&sr=8-1&keywords=The+way+of+zen

Have yourselves a Zen holiday, friends!