Tag Archives: mindfulness

The Illusion of Time & Perceived Guarantees

Simplicity.

It’s something I often lose sight of in the everyday chaos. It’s something I entirely forget in moments of added stress and chaos – in the moments when I need to remember it the most.

Often times I find myself moving through chaos. Through stress from school. Through trying to be a good parent. Through keeping up a household. Through dealing with physical and emotional and financial issues.

I lose sight of the “little things”. I lose focus of what’s really important. What really matters.

And then there are the curveballs that, by all accounts, there is no possibility of preparation for.

The sudden death of a loved one. The realization that your child has a disability. The breakdown of communication and relationships. A life-altering accident.

In the past month or so, my close friend’s (now) fiance was in a near-death accident. He thankfully survived and is currently at a rehab facility with a spinal injury that has left him partially paralyzed.

Weeks after this happened, my brother’s friend who grew up in the same town as me, was also in an accident. He also thankfully survived and is currently at the same rehab facility as my first friend. He too has a similar spinal injury.

It’s not an easy task to make sense of two healthy, active young men from adjacent towns being in similar accidents, with similar injuries, in such a short span of time.

It’s easy to get lost in the flood of emotions, to be gripped with such sadness and the feeling of helplessness. To focus only on the negatives.

However, they both survived. From all accounts, they are in good spirits. Friends, family and the entire community have come together in support. There is an overwhelming amount of people coming together to be there for these people.

It also brings me back to my original point.

It’s so easy to get lost in the stress and chaos, in all the negatives. It’s easy to ignore the amazing things that exist everyday around us. To pinpoint what is important and to savor and place focus on those things.

Thinking about situations like the accidents mentioned above makes me wonder how we can possibly waste so much of our lives not really even living them. We focus on material items. We worry about money. We get upset and dwell on things we have no control over or ability to change. We live in the past and the future, without taking the time to live in the present – the only place in time we can actually live. We don’t take the time to tell the people who mean the most to us what they really mean to us. We don’t say I love you. We don’t say what we mean.

We take forgranted the very nature of life – that life is a finite thing. We act like we have all the answers but fail to acknowledge that often times much of what happens is unpredictable, unfathomable and not “according to plan.”

We live our lives as if we are immortal, as if we are immune from death and will live forever.

We need to live in the present and appreciate all that we have right now.  Time is an illusion in that we assume forever, when nothing is ever guaranteed. Life is fragile. So much more so than we like to admit.

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Even in the Pain There is Beauty

There are times, so many times, when it seems like there couldn’t possibly be another thing you could handle. No possible way you could deal with anything else.

And then life hands you another lemon (or whatever vague analogy you’d prefer to use) and you’re faced with the requirement of dealing with that too.

There are people who will tell you stories about how when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Or that when one door closes, another opens.

These are cute inspirational sayings but I won’t insult you with such simplicities. Sure, sayings such as these can sometimes help to uplift us.

But sometimes, life just sucks. And there isn’t necessarily any good reason why. Or any reason at all.

I can’t tell you why some people seem to constantly have bad things happen to them. Really I can’t tell you anything.

Because I don’t know.

I think a lot… about everything. One concept I inevitably come back to is that of reality.

What is real? How do you define real? Is this the real life? Is this just fantasyyyyy? (Sorry, sometimes I can’t help but fall into lyrics).

Reality is constructed, by those around us and ourselves. And what you believe, externally and internally, to be true is what’s real for you.

As someone who helps construct reality (and so MANY things in this world), you do have some say in how you construct your beliefs and perspective.

Bad shit isn’t going to stop happening because you have this knowledge, but this knowledge can allow you to alter your perceptive of said bad shit in the context of your life.

We can’t predict the future and we can’t control it. Neither can we control the past. Whatever you focus on is what life is for you at any given moment. Focus on the negatives in your life and that’s what your life is for you. Focus on worries, that’s what your life is. Focus on gratitude and positives and, yep, that’s what your life is for you.

It’s so difficult to not solely focus on the negatives when there are so many presented to you.

Like when your kid is sick and you have to miss school to stay home with them and your car breaks down so you can’t even make the doctor’s appointment you were lucky to get — this is when life seems overwhelmingly horrible.

Or like when your relationship with someone is stressed and you’ve been trying to deal with their addiction while remaining detached enough not to get hurt, but also attached enough to still care and you just can’t save them. Because you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved and slowly you watch them change from the person you loved the most into the saddest stranger you’ve ever seen.

You start stacking all of these negative things, overlapping one another, and you’re stretching yourself out to continue at the same, or higher, level of productivity for an endless period of time. It’s difficult to see life as anything but negative.

But if you looked back at your horrible day or week or year, really look, you’ll see that there is likely positive things as well. The day your car broke down and your child was sick allowed you moments with your child that you both enjoyed and may seldom get to have. Even in the really painful moments there are spaces of positivity. If anything, there is growth and beauty in pain if we allow there to be.

So yes, shit sucks. But you do the best you can with what you have in this moment and you continue to work on improving yourself. People aren’t perfect. Life sure as hell isn’t perfect. You just keep moving forward, getting through each day. And as the Monty Python song goes, “Always look on the bright side of life…”

Is There a Bigger Picture?

Recently it seems wherever I go there are people having a tough time. Having difficulty making ends meet, finding jobs, paying for all the expenses that somehow creep up at the worst possible times. Struggling with sicknesses, addictions, chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia, deep depression and other mental illnesses.

People are working their asses off at jobs they don’t enjoy, that they aren’t appreciated in or compensated for. Racking up large debts to pay for secondary educations with the foresight that there may not be careers available to them when they graduate.

Parents who are stressed out from all of these things and still need to find a way to hold it together to be the moms and dads their children not only require but also deserve. Losses of jobs and houses, and lifestyles and dreams. Losses of people, expected and unexpected, but felt just the same.

Religious arguments and politics. Social injustice. Internal feelings of inadequacy; of lacking. And an overwhelming feeling of despair and disappointment.

It all leads to, let’s be honest, feeling like shit. Feeling like the world is on your back. That bad things just keep happening and will just keep happening. That no matter what you do, it isn’t enough. It will never be enough. It might make you start questioning what the “bigger picture is.”

Is there a bigger picture? What is the point of all of this? And will it ever get any better?

I can tell you this, I don’t have the answers and I won’t try and act like I do.

Or rather, I don’t have the answers for you.

However, I have found the answers for me. Right now. In this moment.

Is there a bigger picture?

Do you want there to be? You are the captain of your life, whether you feel like it or not. In this moment, the bigger picture for me is this: Much of life has been beyond difficult, filled with trauma and tribulations and shit stacked so high against me that at many points I couldn’t see around it.

To be honest, my current life isn’t really any less difficult than it has ever been. But the bigger picture, for me, is that I can’t see having gone through all that I have and survived to just let my life be wasted. For me, the bigger picture is a trap. Looking too far in the future (or the past) blinds me from looking right here in the present, which is the only place I am truly capable of being in.

What is the point of all of this?

You know, I’ve mulled this question over since I was, at minimum, 15 years old. I haven’t ever come up with a definitive answer mainly because there isn’t one. There is no one answer to this question. The point of “all this” is whatever you want it to be.

Do you want to be the wealthiest person in the US? In the world? Do you want to discover an unknown entity or invent the world’s next innovation? Do you want to be the best parent you can be to your children? Do you want to be happy?

The meaning of life is vastly different for each person. For me, in this moment, the point of “all this” is to do the best I can. Right now. With the knowledge and resources and abilities that I have right now. And if tonight when I go to bed I realize that the day didn’t go as I had hoped or planned or even liked, well then tomorrow I will get up and try again.

Will it ever get any better?

At various times throughout my life I have been in places that, regardless of what anyone said to me, I would argue that no, it will never get better. I could point to the current place I was in (which was horrible). I could point to every past place of agony and depression and anger and despair. As if to showcase my evidence of how much everything is shit and always was shit and always will be shit. But, you know what?, complaining and arguing about how much my life sucked didn’t do anything other than allowing myself to sink down into it even more.

So, right here and right now, let’s lay it out. Life sucks. Life is hard and sometimes it seems like horrible things will never stop happening to us. Fair assessment?

Now let it go. Really. Putting the majority of your attention on all the things that are shitty, it doesn’t help you. While you’re busy getting stressed and upset about all the things that, right now in this moment, you can’t change you are missing out on all the wonderful things that are right there.

Sometimes all you can do is keep moving. Just keep waking up and doing the best you can. Just keep swimming as it were, like the fish in Finding Nemo.

Sometimes you need to change your perspective. To acknowledge the bad and let it go. To choose to focus on the positive things you do have in your life. To be grateful.

Are bad things going to keep happening? Yes. And good things too.

Duality of Significance

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein

On Expectations & Disappointment

We all have expectations.

I expect the sun to rise each morning and set each evening. I expect that I will, in fact, wake up and be alive each morning. These kinds of expectations are generally not acknowledged as being an expectation since, it’s assumed by the majority of people that they will occur. They’re assumed events.

Then there are expectations that lessen our ability to see the choices and control in our lives. Many of these expectations we obtain through the course of our lives — through our childhoods, from influences of peers and authority figures, through exposure to situations, from the media and from familial and societal norms.

They may never be labeled as expectations. In many families there is an expectation that children will graduate highschool or go on to attend college. It’s often never verbalized directly. There may not be a direct, “You will go to college” but instead through learned behaviors and patterns, it’s understood and assumed.

There are many expectations that are “placed” upon us. Educational and career expectations, monetary expectations, and the order in which one’s life path will progress (for example: college, dating, marriage, house, kids). Other’s can have a great deal of expectations for how they wish or want us to behave, act and choose.

For me, the expectations I place upon myself are often the greatest. Not just for how I want my life to progress but also in how I view certain situations.

Holidays are a great example. For most of my life I remember believing that Christmas was supposed to be the most magical day of the year. That I would come down the stairs at my house and the tree would be the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. I’d be filled with happiness and joy and excitement. As I opened the presents that Santa brought me, I would be overwhelmed with surprise and the most amazing feeling of content at receiving THE thing I desired most. It would be a perfect day.

I honestly don’t understand where this view of Christmas came from. A television show? A movie? Did someone once tell me a story like this?

Either way, it was an extremely unrealistic expectation. Nothing is perfect. There was no possible way I would get the thing I most desired (which was a little sister). Over the years I began stripping away at my expectation of how Christmas “should be”. Eventually all that was left of my original vision was the emotional feeling. I should feel amazingly happy and joyful and content.

You might see where I’m going with this story. My expectation that Christmas should equal happiness, joy and contentment was a set-up for disappointment. I felt like I should feel those things and, by not feeling them, I began to question what I was doing wrong. What was wrong with me. Everyone else (in my extremely skewed viewpoint) felt that way on Christmas.

Of course, everyone else did not feel that way on Christmas. They felt however they felt. And there was no way Christmas should be or how I should feel. Believing that the situation should go a certain way was an expectation that was doomed to fail because it was impossible. And in failing, I looked to myself as the culprit. That I must have been the wrong variable in the equation.

What actually was happening was that my expectation was unrealistic. It was a fantasy that was unobtainable by me, or anyone else. My mistake was believing that I was the incorrect part. The incorrect part was the expectation itself.

Unrealistic expectations don’t just come in the fantasy form, of expecting that events and circumstances should turn out perfect or pretty darn close. We also have expectations that events or circumstances will turn out poorly.

Often times we have these expectations based on past experiences. In a situation where we have had a poor experience, we may give ourselves a poor expectation or even no expectation to avoid continued pain.

For example, if a person in our lives constantly lets us down – doesn’t follow through with what they say and disappoints us – we may begin to lower our expectations for them. So the next time they say they will visit or call, we don’t expect that they will. This allows us to avoid the disappointment that will follow if they do not visit or call.

However, this lowering of expectations may eventually spill over into other parts of out life. We may fear disappointment or failure, so we lower our expectations of events or situations to avoid feeling disappointment.

In doing so, we may be inadvertently setting ourselves up for failure. So many times I’ve set myself up for disappointment by believing that my expectations were not only obtainable (as in fantasy) or realistic (as in lowered expectations) but also the way things were supposed to be. That’s not to say that one shouldn’t have expectations, but we need to evaluate the validity of them.

Stress and disappointment, not to mention failure, certainly come from a disconnect between our expectations and reality. Setting realistic expectations for ourselves, and those around us, can help reduce stress and disappointment.

If everyday I expected to wake up and have a perfect morning, with two children who perfectly listened, got dressed, ate their breakfast and got themselves ready, I would be setting myself up for disappointment and stress everyday. The reality is that my girls are 3 and 7 years old and the morning I just described is not realistic. By having a realistic expectation of how my mornings will go, I can better plan and handle them.

Every day is a learning process. By examining my expectations and developing more realistic ones, I not only sidestep a lot of disappointment and pain, but I am better able to appreciate the situations and events that I do have. I try to have realistic expectations, not expectations of perfection because my life isn’t perfect, but it is real.

I Walk Down The Street

Many years ago in my life I was in a situation that I didn’t like. I was a teenager, struggling not only with being a teenager but also with some serious mental health issues. I remember at the time feeling like I was doing everything I could and being extremely frustrated that, despite my efforts, my life did not change.

At some point during this time period I was given this poem:

I think the first time I was given it, I didn’t even read it. I was given this poem on several other occasions as a teenager. Eventually I read it but, seriously?, this person is stupid! Just don’t walk into the hole, right?

Later, as an adult, still struggling with many of the same issues that plagued me as a teenager, I was again given this poem.

Reading it, I understood that the person in the poem wasn’t actually walking into a hole in the sidewalk. It was a metaphor. And it made a lot of sense.

The title of the poem, “Autobiography in Five Chapters” is aptly named. I won’t dissect the poem because, like most poetry, each person interprets it in their own way. However, I will discuss the implications to change.

Change really centers on a few things. First, we must realize that there are things that we cannot change and that we have no control over. Next, we must be aware of our own actions and behaviors and acknowledge them as our own choices and responsibility. And last, we must desire and have the courage to make different choices.

It’s obviously an over simplified description of a life-long, complex process. As a teenager I viewed my life much as the second verse in the poem. I continually made the same choices and was surprised that I was in the same place. It simply wasn’t my fault.

With time and a lot of effort to be more aware of my choices and responsibility for those choices, I shifted into a viewpoint somewhere in between the third and fourth verses in the poem. I made the same choices and ended up in the same place, but I wasn’t surprised anymore and I knew how I had gotten there. Eventually I was able to avoid the choices I had made out of habit. And by doing so avoided the outcome.

At present, I’m very much present in the fifth verse of the poem. I’m making new and more aware choices. I realize that those choices are mine to make and, if I don’t like their outcomes, I am always free to make a different choice.

There are parts of life that are out of our control, that we cannot choose and we cannot change. But the majority of our lives and things come directly from choices that we ourselves make. We are in control of those choices and any change we wish to make for ourselves. So often we lose sight of all the choices we (unconsciously) make and all the choices we can make, by focusing too greatly on the few we cannot.

Someone once told me that there are always choices, and they were right. It’s your life. It’s your choice.

Moments

Moments.

That’s all we have. That’s all we ever had and will ever have.

Good moments. Bad moments. Moments that seems so insignificant at the time that later down the line we find ourselves replaying in our minds. Moments that make us feel something. Anything. That let us feel alive, if only in that very moment.

We’re all kidding ourselves to think otherwise. It truly isn’t about the grand picture, the sum of it all. It’s about the very little tiny times, scattered amongst the sea of monotony and sameness.

We don’t ever remember the majority of our lives. All the times spent sleeping or driving or working. We don’t keep those. We don’t keep the moments of repetition or status quo either.

And as quickly as we have them, as soon as we acknowledge their presence and grasp them with both hands, they slip away just as fast.

All we have is moments.

I know I keep writing about moments and being mindful, but  it’s because its important! And honestly, it’s easy to forget.

Building on yesterday’s post, The Myth of the Perfect Holiday, I want to continue to focus on slowing down and being mindful.

Mindfulness (or being present in the moment) is being aware without judgement — of life as it is, of yourself as you are and of other people as they are — in the present moment, here and now.

Whatever your attention is on, that’s what life is for you at any given moment. Focus on the negatives in your life and that’s what your life is for you. Focus on worries, that’s what your life is. Focus on gratitude and positives and, you guessed it, that’s what your life is for you.

deviantart: trancestor

Take just a few seconds to recall a moment you have really valued. Maybe it was a special time with a loved one. Or an experience you had in nature. Perhaps it was time spent with a child or a pet. Or a time you reached an accomplishment or supported a friend in need. Think about this time (write it down if you wish) and take the opportunity to focus on what really matters.

It’s so easy to get lost in life, swept up in the rush of emotions and movements. Take the time to be in the moment, whatever it might be, because it’s really all we have.