Having lived in Florida for many years has given me the opportunity to learn from the lives of those much older than myself.
We were two hundred and fifty women from around the world. Doctors, teachers, therapists, moms and writers represented just a few of the women I met. The weekend was magical! I attended Spiritual Solutions at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California. Generally, upon meeting new people, one of the first questions asked is, “What do you do?” Immediately I felt the difference in being amongst all women when the question was not What do you do? It was, “What brought you here?”
I’m Stressed Therefore I’m Important
This is a common belief in our society. The busier you are the more activities you have to fill your life and the more hours you spend at work equals your value in the eyes of others and yourself. The problem is when you don’t enjoy your work or you don’t enjoy having every second of your life scheduled then suddenly you’re sick, stressed and unable to find the peace in life. Back in 2007 I thought something was wrong with me because I couldn’t handle having a full-time job, taking care of my kids, my home, and being the mom I wanted to be. I’d snap at my kids or my husband, I’d beat myself up over not keeping the house clean, I’d feel extreme guilt when all I wanted to do was stay home and not go see my children play soccer or perform. At night, I’d try to fall asleep and instead replay over and over in my mind situations at school that I thought I could have handled better. When I finally did have a few days off I’d stress over going back to it all. Sunday’s were not good. There was always this underlying feeling haunting me whispering that the 5 am. alarm was coming soon. It’s no wonder I spent many Sundays locked away writing a novel and lesson plans because it helped me cope and it kept me from ruining the day for my family. I thought this was life and I’d have to learn to adapt that the problem was my inability to handle everything and eventually I’d learn.
When we took a trip to Europe the summer of 2007 I brought along the book The Secret. I also read Sue Monk Kidd’s When The Heart Waits and Firstlight. Eventually, I found Eckhart Tolle’s The Power Of Now and A New Earth. All of the books opened my eyes to living a life I was meant to live. The whisper that plagued my Sunday’s was the same one that told me there was a better way to fulfillment–A way that was designed just for me and if I listened carefully enough I would discover it.
I told Eric that things had to change. He agreed. I was scared. Financially it didn’t appear as though I could leave my job. Then one day I was walking my class to lunch and suddenly I knew it was time. It wasn’t one specific incident that caused me to go into the principal’s office that day and tell her I wasn’t returning the following school year just an overwhelming feeling as if the whisper became a shout and carried with it a light that lit my darkest fears. In that moment I knew it was time for me to live my life unapologetically my way even though it meant no longer being a full-time working mom. I loved teaching but not testing and I simply couldn’t do it all and be the mom I wanted to be. I was not one of those women who thrives on busy schedules. Trying to be someone I was not was slowly killing me and if that sounds drastic then please watch Dr. Rankin’s Ted Talk. Five years have flown by since that day and I have no regrets. I’m a better person for following my own path.
Today, I’m able to recognize stress much easier than back then and navigate my life when I feel it’s doing me harm. I no longer believe I have to live my life like anyone else. I know my importance comes from a deep belief within myself and not what anyone thinks based on what I do. Eleanor Roosevelt said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
So what is stress? According to Dr. Lissa Rankin it’s:
Dr. Rankin addresses the question: Is there scientific proof we can heal ourselves? She says, yes, and it begins with addressing the causes of stress in our lives. Stress doesn’t make us important it hides everything that’s important from our sight until we’re finally ready to stop and enjoy them.
Every morning I wake a half hour early in order to begin my day in thankfulness. I grab my coffee, climb the stairs to my writing room and sit in my grandmother’s old lazy boy chair facing the window with a view of our canal. In front of me are a collection of books. The Power of Now and A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, The Magic by Rhonda Byrne, Manifesting Change by Mike Dooley, Firstlight by Sue Monk Kidd, and The Book of AWESOME by Neil Pasricha. I choose one or two of the books open to a random page and begin reading.
Just like I go to the gym to keep my body strong, I do the same for my mind by reading the inspirational words of others, reminding me of the blessings that every day holds.
Neil Pasricha has done a wonderful job of taking daily life and pointing out the awesomeness in his book, The Book of Awesome. He’s listed examples such as high-fiving babies and popping bubble wrap as those little moments in a day that make us smile.
So, for the next several Sundays in November I’m going to build on Neil Pasricha’s idea. I’m going to write about my thankful moments as a mom.
Magic Moment #1. Riding in the Car With My Kids
From when they were little and Rafi’s lyrics blasted through the speakers to elementary school when Radio Disney ruled, we’ve always enjoyed listening to music in the car. High school brought classics such as I’m Sexy and I Know It to one of my favorites
Gangnam Style Jason Mraz’s, Living In the Moment. Last weekend’s college visit brought yet another change. Shocked by the new crooning sounds I asked, “What are we listening to?”
“It’s Frank Sinatra, mom.”
Discussing life while tunes blast through the speakers, sometimes singing sometimes dancing, sometimes lost… we’re together and that’s all that matters.
My mind is intense. I have the ability to focus on something I want and hold onto the focus for years if necessary in order to achieve my goal. My husband and kids will tell you it’s an exhausting trait to live with because often my focus can lead to daily discussions on how I’m reaching my goal or not reaching my goal and going to try harder. Many times Eric has been on the receiving end of my focus and even though he has had the ability to put up a good fight on the other side of the tug-of-war rope I have come out victorious on many occasions. Not all thank goodness, but many. Example, when I met and started dating Eric he was, “never getting married and never having children.” That was a long emotional battle and all I say to him now is, “you’re welcome.” He laughs. After twenty-three years together we have both mellowed and more importantly understand each other much better than we did when we were in our twenties. Yet, every time I mention the topic of something I’ve been focussing on like needing a new camera or wanting to attend a writing workshop he replies, “no kidding?” with dripping sarcasm. I smile.
Focus of mind can be good when it comes to writing habits or exercise but it can be harmful when it turns dark. I remember once as a young adult someone asked me to describe myself and I said, “I feel too much.” What I meant was that I thought about things like people who were homeless, foster children, abused animals, animals being slaughtered, hungry children, thousands of greyhounds being killed, the elderly feeling lonely, and the list goes on. My eyes have been open to the dark side of life for… probably my entire life.
If I am not careful this darkness can overcome me. I can begin to feel helpless to the huge problems of the world. When I was fourteen my grandmother gave me, The New King James version – Possibility Thinkers Edition of the Bible. In it are highlighted all the positive versus. On the first page it reads: When I am faced with a mountain I WILL NOT QUIT! I will keep striving until I climb over, find a pass through, tunnel underneath – or simply stay and turn the mountain into a gold mine, with God’s help!
I have kept this Bible close to me since I was fourteen. Looking back I wonder why she gave it to me. Did it have more to do with her life or what she saw in me? As a mom I’m guessing she was trying to impart on me the power in positive thinking. It’s exactly the same lesson I’ve been trying to teach my children.
Positive thinking lights the dark thoughts that can prevail in my mind. The past five years I have been on a journey to better understand myself and my purpose here for… if I’m lucky sixty more years. While on that journey I have been reading books by leaders such as Deepak Chopra, Sue Monk Kidd, Rhonda Byrne, Charles Haanel and Eckhart Tolle. One of the greatest lessons I have learned from them is the necessity of gratitude. Gratitude. Being thankful for everything from the house I live in to the chocolate Toblerone bar I eat while sipping my morning coffee.
Feeling gratitude is more than simply making a list of things I’m grateful for. It’s more than every Thanksgiving sitting around a table and reciting, “I’m thankful for my friends and family.” It’s understanding why I’m thankful. Digging deeper in my mind and asking myself why am I thankful for my home or the chocolate or my friends. I have discovered that when I probe deeper I am creating a habit of being thankful. It’s not a rote mantra repeated over and over, it’s an exercise of the mind that strengthens a new way of thinking. A brighter way of thinking. One that leads to possibilities.
In my journey I have discovered that just as I have habits such as drinking coffee every morning I also have habits of the mind. I wake and immediately the to do list begins scrolling in my thoughts. I think about a party I’m invited to and immediately I tense. My mind worries about finding the right words among strangers. These are nothing more than habitual thoughts that create anxiety within me. I’m addicted to them just as I am addicted to caffeine.
The best way I have found to combat those habits of the mind (no way I’m giving up my coffee!) is to create the habit of being thankful first thing in the morning and before bed. Train my mind to recognize the positive. For the past month I have been keeping a thankful journal. I am reading The Magic by Rhonda Byrne and she suggests writing ten things you’re thankful for and why every morning. Some mornings I drag myself to the journal and my mind screams there’s so much to do today… make the list later. It feels a lot like the days I talk myself out of going to the gym. But just as I feel renewed when I have completed spin class – I feel renewed after I’ve written my thankful list. It is – like … Magic.
Recognizing the dark side of life has created a sense of compassion in me that I am thankful for, however, seeing the negative and feeling helpless to make a difference makes my life useless. Thankfulness brings hope and hope creates change from destructive habits of the mind to new possibilities and solutions. Thankfulness brings a sense of joy that can soothe the heaviness of despair. Thankfulness can make me realize what is truly important in life like a beacon guiding a ship through fog, I focus on the light.
Thankfulness is food for the soul.
Photo by Square Dog Photography.
It begins as an uneasiness that I push down and pretend is not there. I busy myself with chores. This time I cleaned our entire garage in four hours. That night when I laid down to sleep, proud of my accomplishment, there was the question sitting like a rock in my gut waiting for an answer. Taunting me, telling me I could clean for weeks and never escape until I faced it. The question? What did I have to say about New Years? I rolled over and went to sleep having no idea.
The next day I tackled loads of laundry and more miles on the treadmill and elliptical than I had ever done. This time instead of sleeping I turned on the TV and watched The Kennedy Center Honors. Halfway through the show I realized I had been smiling nonstop since I had switched it on. Seeing the lifetime achievements of artists passionate about their work brought an undescribable joy to me. Is that what I had to say – follow your passion in the new year? Maybe.
I have four people who I consider my teachers. Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Sue Monk Kidd and Oprah. Their understanding of life is far beyond mine and I often turn to their words to learn. Tonight I browsed Oprah’s website knowing I would find what I was looking for. I did.
When I asked myself how I felt about this new year and if I was going to set any goals or resolutions one phrase came to mind. I am going to be me. I am going to be the real me, not the me I think some people want me to be or the me that has to play a certain role. I am going to be 100% me and if that means considering my feelings before others than so be it. Why? Because I finally realized how much inner turmoil I cause myself in trying to protect others feelings. I realize how much I hurt myself in doing what I think “I should do” instead of what I truly want to do. Not being true to myself – causes pain and I finally get it. There is freedom in being who you are. Freedom when you are confident that your motivations and actions are true.
What did I see on Oprah’s site? I discovered the next book I will read and I learned a lesson about pain. There will always be pain in life. An accident, a loved one lost, the ending of a relationship, even saying good-bye to a child about to begin college. I can make that pain my identity and use it as an excuse, letting it affect my every day life or I can acknowledge the pain and be a lake. Watch and you will see what I mean.
Oprah Shares a Favorite Passage from The Book of Awakening