Live your life on purpose . . .

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Letting Go Isn't the End of the World

I recently read a quote that caused me to stop in my tracks. It was about letting go, and this is what it said:

"There are things that we never want to let go of, people we never want to leave behind. But keep in mind that letting go isn't the end of the world; it's the beginning of life."

I was struck by the positivism of this statement, and I suddenly felt more hopeful than I had in months. I saw that I needn't put myself down for feeling the desire to move on, having outgrown my need to hold on to people and events in order to feel justified. It was okay to let go. It was good to be courageous enough to continue on without people who matter to me, if necessary, in order for personal growth to take place. Suddenly, I had permission, a new freedom that made all the difference in the life I was living.

Letting go isn't the end of the world. I have to admit that sometimes it feels like the end of the world and way too painful. There's that parent who let you down, that addicted loved one, that friend who hurt you in ways that make forgiveness seem impossible. When you love someone and you suddenly realize that you have absolutely no control over their actions or decisions, you can do one of two things. You can either use persuasion, compromise, guilt trips, or downright pleading to change their mind -- or you can let go of all attempts to control. "It's the beginning of life."  Life for who? For you, the one who has decided to let go. And what will that life be like? Will it be empty now that the loved one has been set free to live a life of their own choosing? Will the focus now shift to your own needs, perhaps for the first time in a great while? Admitting your own powerlessness and letting go of someone else can liberate you to begin life anew. And it's not so much dismissing that person; it's more about the letting go of the need to control the outcome of your relationship.

We are not in control of everything that comes our way. But we do have some say over how we want to relate to others in our life. Still, holding on tightly to someone isn't the answer, for that person may feel the need to slip between your fingers, and then you find you're left holding nothing. You must let go and give others the freedom to make mistakes, run away, and perhaps even return. And while all this is happening, try to mindfully consider the valuable lesson being offered to you. You may turn bitter from regret and the sadness of feeling rejected by your loved one, or you may take this experience and use it to develop greater character within yourself. You can make that decision, and what you choose will indeed impact your self-esteem and your very outlook on life itself. To let go isn't to cease caring; it is to allow for things to take their natural course and to wait for perhaps a time when peace can reign once again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Comfort in the Face of Grief

Just recently, some people very close to me have experienced things that can only be described as painful and tragic. While we all face various difficulties in life, we're limited by what we have personally gone through. Even though we mean well, we aren't equipped to say things like, "I know just how you feel." We don't, in fact, know exactly how the other person feels. So what can we do to bring comfort to the one who is grieving?

We all go through essentially the same process when we grieve, but the way we manifest our emotions and the amount of time that we need to move from one stage to the next varies among individuals. And our grief can cause us to behave in strange ways. For example, when my mother passed away several years ago, I did something that I had never done before nor since that time. It was a cold but sunny December morning when I heard the news that she had passed on. I was in shock and disbelief, trying to still go about the business of the day. I remember going into our big walk-in closet to put some clothes away and suddenly I just collapsed on the floor in tears. My body up against the door, I sat in the darkness and cried for who knows how long. Eventually, my husband called to me from outside the closet. He asked if there was anything he could do to help me. I said no, I just needed some time alone... to grieve in the dark by myself. After awhile, I got up and left. Somehow, I was better after that. And I was grateful that my husband hadn't tried to coax me out of the closet. He was just there, asking me if I needed anything, not judging me for doing something really out of the ordinary for me.

Sometimes it's enough just to BE with someone in their sorrow, not trying to fix anything or analyze their feelings. Not probing, not judging, just being there for when they're ready to reach out and begin living again. Love expresses itself most beautifully in this way, when someone is unafraid to stand beside another who has experienced grief and loss. We may feel uncomfortable and helpless, but if we focus on the other person and not our own inadequacies, we'll usually find that they will lead the way in what they need.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Life in the Slow Lane

Everywhere you go these days, people seem to be in a big hurry. Take a look at traffic, for example. "Rush Hour" used to happen from around 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Nowadays, the pattern continues all day, seven days a week. Drivers often become angry with those trying to keep the speed limit, as if their need to get somewhere fast should be a justification for breaking the law. Road rage frequently occurs because of impatience, selfishness, and a growing need to go faster and get there quicker than other motorists on the highway. In spite of all this rushing around, it's interesting to note that most who do so may trim only seconds from their arrival time, at the risk of accidents and increased stress levels.

It's not only driving that we tend to do in a hurried fashion. Look at our eating habits. The term "fast food" has defined how some of us tend to fuel our bodies, gobbling down whatever we can grab from a restaurant window in the comfort of our car. And then we continue on our way to wherever we're going, not taking the time to sit down at a table and give our food the attention it deserves. Eating at home is oftentimes not much better. With everyone's busy schedules, it's difficult to plan a meal that an entire family can sit down and enjoy together. One might find family members eating in shifts, and unfortunately, the evening meal might consist of carry out food, since nobody had time to cook. It's no wonder that we are becoming a nation of obesity, eating disorders, and alienation from others.

I know that I have probably painted a pretty grim picture of how life is for many, but there is a solution for those willing to try to do things differently. We must simply slow down. Instead of racing around town to get somewhere, leave earlier and allow yourself enough time to accommodate traffic slowdowns and unforeseen circumstances. Trust me, you will arrive in a better mood, if nothing else. When you decide to have a meal, take time to sit down at the table and focus on nothing else but the food in front of you. In other words, don't eat in your car, don't try to talk on the phone or read the newspaper while you are eating. Just enjoy your food and savor every bite. If possible, prepare something simple and fresh, rather than eating high fat, high calorie "fast food". I've found that a little weekly meal planning and some advanced preparation goes a long way toward having nutritious food on the table. You and all your family will benefit from this. Speaking of family, try to make it a top priority for everyone to meet for dinner at least three times a week. Turn off the cell phones and television and just talk, eat, and enjoy each other. Soon, you'll find that everyone will be looking forward to the family meal and relationships will improve.

These are but a few ideas for slowing down, but even if you only implement these, you will undoubtedly notice a change in how you feel both physically and mentally. Your stress level will decrease even more if you can find other ways of mindfully changing your pace. Take a tip from lyrics to a popular song heard on the airwaves years ago, but relevant to what I'm saying here: "Life in the fast lane will surely make you lose your mind." Consequently, life in the SLOW lane will surely help you to retain it!

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I used to view change as being either good or bad, but now I'm not so quick to judge its merits or flaws. In fact, change is difficult to define in a universal way, since we each experience it uniquely. For some it's a thing to be dreaded; for others, change is liberating and refreshing. Whatever the case, it’s inevitable. We can’t avoid change if we are to continue living. Life, by its very nature, is not static, but constantly evolving, transforming, becoming. I once read somewhere that the only place where things remain the same is the graveyard. And, frankly, nobody wants to live in a graveyard.

So what makes change so daunting to some of us? Why do we hang on to the familiar and shun the unknown? Sure, we can become creatures of habit, but at what price? Trading our personal growth for the comfort of the status quo can be costly. We've been given but one life here on earth, and that requires daily courage if we're to be the best we can be. Sometimes, it's easier to take baby steps toward positive change in our lives, but that's okay. You'll still be moving forward, and that's what counts. Even if changes going on in your life in particular -- and the world in general -- leave you feeling helpless, you aren't really. You can always choose how to respond to, and ultimately how you will accommodate, these shifts in events as they apply to your situation.

I mentioned earlier that there are some who welcome change, even when it brings discomfort and pain. We can't guarantee that our lives will always be smooth, after all. Changes that lead to self-actualization are more about what we learn along the way and how we apply it than they are about reasons for their occurrence. Some of the wisest, most well-seasoned individuals I've met seem to have a "go with the flow" attitude when it comes to change. Perhaps they have learned which battles are worth fighting and which are not. Perhaps they've discovered how to incorporate change as an antidote to a stagnant life. Either way, I have great admiration for such a way of living.

Much of living mindfully is thinking about how you view change in your own life, and making space to accept changes, knowing that there are many things you can't control. So, take a neutral attitude toward change, expecting it, anticipating it, and don't be a bit surprised when it presents itself. If you're flexible, you'll find that changes in your life cannot break down your spirit nor force you to shrink back on meeting everyday challenges. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lessons Learned From Clouds

On Saturday, I took a long bike ride along one of our local trails. I stopped for a brief rest at the park, enjoying the chair swing and sipping cool water as I gazed up at the sky full of all sorts of clouds. Maybe it was just the serenity of the moment, but I couldn't help studying those clouds as I sat there. You see, they seemed to be more than just big, white puffs of moisture and air so far up in the sky. I knew that, as all things in nature if carefully observed, these ordinary formations held extraordinary lessons for us. So, bear with me as I become a bit philosophical, but here are a few things that the clouds taught me that afternoon:

1) Stay afloat and learn to rise above situations

We often become so dragged down with the events of our life that we forget to look up. We forget that we have been given wings to sail, if only we will use them. Live in the present moment, not looking back at the past or worrying too much about what's ahead -- and go forward in hope and gratitude for what you have learned so far in your life. The clouds are always, quite literally, on top of every situation.

2) Keep on the move

Always moving forward, you will never stagnate. Each morning brings a new opportunity to make this the best day of your life! Learn to flow like the clouds from one thing to the next.

3) Don't try to carry a load that's too heavy for you

When clouds become heavy with moisture, they release it in the form of rain. When we become weighed down with problems, we can release our burdens through prayer, support from others, and sometimes even with tears -- our own form of rain.

4) Adapt to the space you're in

Don't be so rigid that you feel you have to behave the same way in every situation. Practice being outgoing sometimes, laid back the next. Keep people guessing as to what you will do next. Become a part of things, wherever you are. Fit in and make the most of every situation. This requires some creative thinking, an open mind, and consideration for others and your environment. Clouds always make room for possibility.

5) Provide shade when needed

Although we love to see the sun, sometimes it just gets too hot. Clouds provide pleasant shade for the earth below at just the right time, so it seems. We can also provide shade for each other, a welcome retreat from the heat of the day, bringing peace and refreshment to a tired and weary friend, just when it is needed the most.

6) Inspire others

People have sung about clouds, still others have painted them, or written poems about their qualities. In any case, clouds frequently inspire others toward creativity and wonder. We can be like this, too, motivating those in our life to be all they can be, encouraging joy in daily living, and cheering our loved ones on in their efforts to follow their dreams.

The next time you are outdoors, take a long look at the sky and observe the clouds. Think about what they can teach you. You might be surprised at their wisdom.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Redefining the Word "Diet"

I subscribe to a well-known health and fitness magazine, and have gradually become troubled over some top stories in recent issues. For the past six months, the magazine covers have enticed us to get a flat belly in record time, to instantly drop 10 pounds and leave the fat behind, and to "get thin" by the weekend! I guess this is what sells magazines to a population obsessed with having the "perfect" body NOW. Unfortunately, the way we tend to go about improving our figures is by depriving ourselves of the nutrition we so desperately need and forfeiting the practice of good eating habits. This is a recipe for disaster, since we're not made to withstand such conditions for long. Nor are our families, co-workers, and friends for that matter, who often suffer along with us as we become increasingly grouchy from hunger and frustration associated with trying to undo years of eating poorly.

If this describes you, have you considered making a decision toward mindful eating habits? Are you ready to take the time to plan healthy meals that will ultimately reshape the way you look, think, and live? If so, start by looking at what you purchase at the grocery store, since so much of what you eat depends on what's currently in the fridge or pantry. After all, that bag of caramels didn't walk into your house unannounced one day and surrender itself to Aunt Jane's candy dish. Most likely, you brought it home to add to the arsenal of "comfort food", that which you have come to believe will satisfy something deeper than simple physical hunger.

You may not realize this, but most unhealthy food choices are made when you are tired, hungry, or upset. Emotional eating may be your downfall, but you can begin to be mindful about how you spend your dollar at the market. Make a shopping list that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources -- and then stick to it! Learn to read labels, making note of such things as saturated fat, sugar, and sodium levels. Steer clear of certain aisles in the grocery store (you know which ones I mean!) -- and pay no attention to the "goodies" stocked near the checkout lane. These are merely a last ditch effort to get you to pay for something that you'll later regret taking home.

Let me give you an example of what to avoid doing next time you shop for food. Just today, I was at my local grocery. As I stood in line to make my purchase, I was intrigued, if not puzzled by what I saw. The rather heavy-set woman in front of me was buying 5 "lite" yogurts and a 6-pack of diet soda. Then she grabbed a king-size bag of candy from an adjacent display and added it to her order. The logic behind this action led me to conclude that she was torn between "being good" by eating low-calorie foods (the yogurt was a better choice than the soda, but both contained artificial sweeteners) -- and "being bad" by indulging in a sugary treat that had no nutritional value whatsoever. She didn't seem to have a clue as to how to select foods that would be healthy and satisfying at the same time. And somewhere in her mind may have been the thought that she must reward herself with junk food in order to fill some emotional void. Sadly, this probably happens over and over in this woman's life as she struggles over food choices.

What I'm suggesting here is that we must find a new way of eating, one that redefines the concept of the word "diet" in our society. Something that doesn't call to mind images of starvation and bodily punishment. When the term is used to describe the day-to-day nutrition that you take in -- food to fuel a healthy body -- a positive mindset replaces the frenzied attitude that drives you to drop 10 pounds before that beach vacation, no matter what it costs you in terms of your health and sanity. If you were to learn to enjoy meals that brought you energy and vitality, instead of mindlessly choosing foods out of convenience, past habits, or media influence -- think of how your life would be revolutionized! Mindful eating is something that can and should be exercised on a daily basis. Today is as good a day as any to start doing things differently, for the choices you make today will affect what you'll look and feel like tomorrow. Bon appetite!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hang Up and Live!

Psst… Have you heard about the newest love affair? No, you won’t find anything about it in the latest copy of the supermarket tabloids. This love affair isn’t one that has people whispering behind backs. It hasn’t caused any marital breakups that I know of, and you're not likely to find folks wondering if morality went out the window with this one. In suspense? Okay. It seems that many of us have fallen head over heels in a relationship with our... cell phone!

How many times have you spotted someone gabbing on their phone as they maneuver their car through a busy intersection? When was the last time your conversation was interrupted by someone who just had to answer their phone? How often have you been in a meeting, at school, or even at church and heard the persistent and annoying ring of a cell phone? Truth be told, these things happen all too often. Perhaps you yourself could be accused of such behavior.

Yesterday, I saw a young woman walking down the street with her cell phone in her right hand. Not in her purse, mind you, but planted firmly in her palm. She was armed with an attitude of expectancy. Maybe she was anticipating a call from her impatient boyfriend, her nagging mother, or even the lottery commission. Who knows? Her cell phone held a place of honor in her hand, as she checked it for calls roughly every two seconds. At that particular moment, and maybe even 24/7, her cell phone was top priority! Unfortunately, she was missing out on what was going on around her -- the beauty of the sun peeking over the mountains in late afternoon, the smell of newly-mown grass, and the sounds of children happily playing nearby. All for the love of a little electronic device which she tightly clutched in her hand.

These days, I make a conscious effort to give life and the people around me priority over my cell phone. I frequently set the ringtone to “silent”, and though I usually carry it with me in my handbag, I make a point to ignore my cell phone as often as possible. You won’t see me looking at it longingly when we have been separated for hours, nor will you catch me stopping an important conversation with a friend just to answer a call. I probably won’t be the one on the phone while driving, unless an emergency arises, and then I'll most likely pull over at the first opportunity. As for the possibility of having a love affair with my cell phone, let’s just put it this way: I would rather spend my time enjoying the world around me than being enslaved to an inanimate gadget. Sorry, but no love affair here.