Saturday, June 30, 2012

Heaven is for Optimists

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?"
- Robert Browning, Poet

Three nights ago, my daughter was yelling from the backseat for me to look at something. She was really beside herself. She kept shouting, “Can you see it. It’s following our car.” I really couldn’t understand her three year old babble shrieks.  By the time we got home and settled, she explained it to me slowly. She said, “Heaven followed us home.” 
I asked her what Heaven looked like and she said it was the Moon. Every time she looked out the window, the moon was right next to us. I think I said something to the effect that she is right, the moon is part of Heaven.  Conversation changed and almost forgotten.
Yesterday, the pregnant woman working at the carwash handed me a ticket and I noticed her name tag said Heaven. I had to ask how she got her name. With a huge smile, she said that she was a miracle baby that wasn’t supposed to be born.
Than today out of the blue, my daughter said, “The Sun is Heaven too” and as if pausing for dramatic effect she said “and Heaven is in our hearts.
We are Christmas and Easter regulars at church, far from theologians. I may have had the conversation that God made everything that is alive and God is in each of us at some point. But she reasoned this Heaven thing all on her own.
My husband grew up believing there are only two choices in the afterlife. He takes comfort in the simplicity and absoluteness of that belief. I am okay not knowing. Sometimes I think heaven is a state of mind where we reside in our accomplishments and our loving relationships. If I have to look at it as a destination for eternity, I would choose the Delano Hotel in South Beach after dark. It is timeless, elegant, romantic and full of beautiful people.
Recently, I asked a question on this blog about what gives you comfort and hope. For me, it is writing. My favorite aunt, who has been battling cancer for years, responded “Heaven.”
I leave you with this question for today: Can Heaven be the sun, the moon, our hearts, the girl at the carwash and the place we go when we leave this life all at the same time?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Where Did You Get Those Rose Colored Glasses?

Your Future is Whatever You Make It. So Make It a Good One.
-Doc, Back To The Future Part III

So I just finished reading Martin Seligman’s “Learned Optimism” and it is in contrast to Tali Sharot’s findings in “Optimism Bias”. Sharot focuses on nature versus Seligman’s nurture approach. Seligman’s research led to measurable proof that if we learn helplessness through life experiences, we will adopt a pessimistic view of the world and the world will live up to our dismal expectations. Armed with volumes of data to back up his theory. Seligman has come up with an approach to learn optimism. I will talk more about his suggestions in a moment. But first, let’s compare Sharot’s evidence that we are all born optimists.
The Optimism Bias Sharot found that humans are automatically hardwired for optimism. Her research indicates that the vast majority of people no matter age, race, region or financial circumstance tend to overestimate their chances of great success while underestimating their chances of suffering an illness or getting a divorce. Using an MRI to scan volunteers brains, scientists could actually see the part of the brain light up when participants described hopeful thoughts. Sharot called that area of the brain the human time machine. We can travel to the past with memories and visit the future in our imagination. The author reasoned that this mental capability is essential to survival. It allows us to save and plan for the future, work toward a goal and when we have to cope with an unexpected misfortune, we can move forward with the belief (however unrealistic sometimes) that tomorrow will be better.

So maybe there is truth in both schools of thought. Maybe we are born with a healthy dose of optimism than we start to question and dismiss it over time. Use it or lose it? If you lost it, Seligman has some advice on how to get it back.

Identify your ABC's or Adversity, Beliefs and Consequences. Seligman believes when we experience a problem, our thoughts about the problem automatically form certain beliefs and over time those beliefs become habitual thoughts. Our beliefs and feelings influence our actions and consequences.

Record in a journal for a few days and write down in detail about the adversity you face. He used "blowing a diet"  among several examples. In this case, under adversity you would put "blowing the diet" under belief you may put "I am a glutton", under consequence, you would list feelings such as "frustrated, embarrased."

After you have become aware of some of your thought patterns, Seligman has several suggestions on how to redirect them to a more optimistic light.

Physically interrupt and distract. If you catch yourself thinking about something that is not helpful, he has known people to slam there hand down on something and loudly shout "STOP". Seligman says some people carry a note card with the word stop and take it out and look at it when they become aware of the pessimistic habit, others wear a rubber band and snap themselves with it. He also suggests borrowing a technique from actors who are trying to switch emotions on demand. The technique is to physically pick up an object and concentrate on it for a few seconds, what color is it, does it smell, is it heavy? Soon you will be redirected from dwelling.

Dispute In this case, you may want to go back to journalizing for a while until this comes naturally. Add to the ABC's a D and O Identify the Adversity, Belief, Consequence than Dispute it and restate the Outcome.  Specifically when it comes to disputing, he suggests listing the evidence, alternatives and usefulness of the belief.
Here is an example: 
Adversity: Our roof is leaking and the roofer my husband insisted we use told me he didn't want the job because our roof is too steep. As a result, my husband and I had a tense exchange.I sensed that he assumed that the roofer didn't want to work with me because of how I am an overly demanding customer. 
Belief: My husband doesn't think I can handle problems or work well with contractors that he likes.
Consequence: I felt defensive, angry, inflexible and unmotivated to start the process of collecting bids and fixing the problem.
Dispute: I shouldn't assume what my husband is thinking. (usefulness) He may have just been frustrated with the situation, not with me. It is true that I have not appreciated his referrals for workman in the past, but in this case, I didn't have a problem with the roofer, he genuinely didn't want the job. When I initially called the roofer, he said there were 90 calls ahead of me and he couldn't commit to even looking at the job. (evidence) It is not my fault. I will suggest that my husband give me some additional referrals so he doesn't think I am dismissing his recommendations. (alternative)
Outcome I clearly explained the situation to my husband. He seemed to get it. I will tackle the phone calls and screening process on Monday. He suggested a few names.

Finally, Seligman recommends Distancing. Basically, put your beliefs on someone else for a moment and try this same technique. If a third party told me my husband doesn't have confidence in me or secretly thinks I am rude to contractors, I would defend myself! Why do we not dispute ugly thoughts when they come from our own minds.

This is going to take me some time to get the hang of, and I will do it for the next three days to try and establish a new habit than report back on Monday. Wish me luck!

I leave you with this question for the day: If you think your more pessimistic than what you should be, would you be willing to relearn how to be more optimistic?

You Are My Sunshine

Hope is the thing with feathers-

That perches in the soul- And sings the tune without the words- And never stops-at all -

Emily Dickinson

It is the classic chicken and egg question. Are optimistic people happier or are happy people more optimistic? It is hard to say. As I have mentioned a few times, Gretchen Rubin’s best selling gimmick memoir The Happiness Project  got me thinking about my own life experiment in being more childlike. Her end goal was to be happier. She achieved that goal by trying to be a better person, like going to the gym, being nicer to her husband and taking time for projects with her kids. Her means are my ends. I want to be a better person (friend, mom, wife, sister, daughter and writer) by trying to be more childlike (i.e.happier).
I guess she summed it up with this discovered life lesson: The best way to make yourself happy is to make others happy. The best way to make others happy is to make yourself happy.
Rubin’s former life was editor of the Yale Law Review and clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor before reinventing herself as a happiness expert and author. With the determination and self discipline you would expect from an Ivy League over achiever, she had a highly structured schedule of “resolutions” and read and tried every theory on happiness. From laughing yoga to hypnotherapy to painting classes, her simplest suggestion was the most effective for me.  
I sing in the morning. Since I am focusing on optimism this month, I sing optimistic songs like “You are my Sunshine”  and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”. The only thing risked was someone telling me that my voice reminds them of scratching on a chalk board. The reward is huge. The first time I did it, my kids didn’t say a word. That night, after an exhausting 11- hour day of tests and football practice, my son finally sat down to do his homework and was happily singing as he did it. The next time I tried it in the car, I turned around to look at my 3- year old who was waving her hands enthusiastically like a symphony composer in her car seat. Last week, I woke up growling like a grumpy bear and my daughter started singing “You are my sunshine” to me. I had no idea she knew all the words.

I have given eight copies of The Happiness Project away so far to friends. It is an easy read that will make you take a moment to think about what makes you happy. Whether it is singing in the morning or cleaning out your closets, there is something that is sure to strike a chord.

So I leave you with this question for the day: Is happiness the chicken or the egg?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Memorable Day

 "We used to walk between the two places at all hours. I have an affection for the road yet (though it is not so pleasant a road as it was then), formed in the impressibillity of untried youth and hope.
-Charles Dickens

I just finished Charles Dicken's Great Expectations after ten days of diligent, concentrated reading each night. By comparison, it took less than one day to devour the new best selling erotica novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Both are more than five hundred pages. Both are stories of personal development. Both main characters are abused orphans who were strongly influenced by bitter older women. Fifty Shades was for fun. Great Expectations was my self assigned homework. As I embarked on this new one year adventure to Be More Childlike and dedicated the first month to childlike optimism, I wanted to read everything related to expectations.

For those of you who haven't read the 1861 classic, it is about the expectations of a child named Pip. None of those expectations were met. After great disappointment and suffering, his story ended with true friends and an honest living. He was not living the life of an English gentlemen that he envisioned. But he was living as a man with integrity and character, a true gentleman.

There is one passage that struck me.

That was a memorable day for me, for it made great changes in me, But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

I thought about this passage a great deal and couldn't come up with just one memorable day. Yes, there was the day I met my husband and we exchanged numbers. There was the day I accepted a job that relocated me to Florida. But we make choices everyday. If you choose to go left rather than right or select A over B, would you really be standing where you are right now? Those decisions at the time didn't seem to put a lot at stake or put me on an irreversible course. But they did. Maybe irreversible is not the right word, but a new course never the less. Which makes me think about today a little differently. Where will my actions or reactions today lead me tomorrow or in ten years?

In this month's issue of O magazine Get Unstuck, How to make the Right Decision Every Time. Author Martha Beck describes overly optimistic people as opportunity misers. Their expectations of perfection make them unable to make a choice for fear of limiting better options. Leaps of faith, snap decisions and only going with your gut can be equally sticky. According to Beck, "Great strategists trust both intellect and instinct." She advises that you be well informed and get in touch with your "body truth". In other words, how do you remember feeling the last time you made a decision that ended with positive results? How was your stomach when you chose something that ended disastrously later? Your body knows and you know too, really. Beck, whose latest book is Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, also had some interesting things to say about how your body truth reacts when you are living a purposeful life versus when you are off purpose or stuck in indecisiveness.

Dicken's two hundred year old tale about unmet expectations is as true today as it was in the Victorian era. Expectations rarely turn out the way you think they will. But making decisions based on personal values will never lead you down the wrong path either. It worked for Pip.

I leave you with these questions: How did you feel when you made a decision on a particularly memorable day?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Time Travel

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.
-Oscar Wilde

There were several activities that should have qualified as my childlike activity for the week or my play date. We rode on Chicago’s giant Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier during the day. I went to a Dinosaur Junior rock concert at Chicago’s Green Music Fest with my college room mate and out to a nightclub afterward. 
But the Ferris wheel ride was more about a mom sightseeing with her kids. I explained to them like a noted historian all about the 1893 Chicago’s World’s Fair and the race to outdo architectural wonders like the Eiffel Tower. I  bored them with the story of how the original wheel weighed more than two million pounds and could carry more than two thousand passengers per turn.I recounted the piece of fiction from the novel Devil in the White City about the first untested ride and how a woman pulled a dress over her head and flashed a man to shock him out of his intense claustrophobic reaction. I spent the whole ride taking pictures.
The rock concert and nightclub were more my friend’s deal. It actually made me feel old. The people head banging and playing air guitar looked like they were mocking somebody much younger. I had no desire to climb on someone’s shoulders for a better view of the stage. The girls teetering on their high heels and slurring their words as they waited in line to convince a bouncer they belonged inside didn’t impress me either. Those days were fun while they lasted, but not worth repeating.
No, the activity that transported me back in time was the train ride into the city. I remembered the times us suburban girls snuck into the big bad urban jungle. I remembered rushing to catch the last train home because no one had the cash for a cab much less a car. I remember running into the mysterious boy I had a long standing crush on coming home by myself from Taste of Chicago in high school. I remember my Dad taking the train everyday to work and tallying up how much of his life was wasted commuting; two hours a day five days a week 300 days a year for thirty years. I remember wondering about the business man who sat next to me once with his tall can of beer in a paper bag.
Beyond memories, just the thought of train rides evoke feelings of romance and exploration. I typed in train rides as metaphors and found a lovely blog post Daily OM that talks about choosing our destinations, unscheduled stops and getting on the right track. Check it out.
My question for the week is: what is your preferred mode of transportation for time travel?


 The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.
-Ayn Rand

I went to bed tonight with the words “Girl Power” echoing in my head. The day started with my daughter’s first of what will likely be many trips to American Girl in Chicago.  After my daughter picked out a doll that looked just like her and we changed them into matching dresses, we headed to the American Girl restaurant for tea. The doll had her own chair and place setting. I especially loved the box of thought provoking conversation starter questions on the table.  If you could own a store that sells something, what would you sell? If you could own a pound of anything excluding jewels, what would it be? Have you ever thought about running away? My 12- year old son quickly answered yes to this last question, followed up with “right now”. He was the only boy there.
Our day ended at the movie theater where my daughter and I saw the new Disney movie Brave as the guys watched  Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer in the theater next to us. In a departure from the princess finds her prince and lives happily ever after theme, Princess Merida defies an age old custom to marry. Her father’s kingdom will be split apart by war and her mother will be transformed into a beast unless she can find a way to undo a spell that she caused through her own selfishness. There is still a happy ending, but this time the princess is free to make her own path and find her own purpose.
I love the story line. Like any mom, I want to be a role model for my daughter to empower her to find her purpose, to create her own happy ending. There is much written about Girl Power. How can a term that has come to represent the third wave of feminism really originate from music by the Spice Girls? Is it the next phase of the female empowerment movement or is it an ideology based on consumerism as some critics claim?
According to the Oxford dictionary definition, Girl Power means: power exercised by girls; spec. a self-reliant attitude among girls and young women manifested in ambition, assertiveness and individualism. 

Maybe it is that and it happens to sell a lot of stuff. After all, American Girl's tag line is "follow your inner star". The company's mission statement is "celebrating girls and all they can be." A doll will set you back $100 without the accessories. Founded 26 years ago by a teacher, the brand has expanded beyond dolls to books, magazines and movies. Annual sales exceeded $350 million in 2003. I couldn't find recent sales figures, but based on the number of girls we saw walking on Michigan Avenue with a doll in hand, it is a lot more than that.

Before now, I didn't know there were "waves" of feminism. Apparently, the second wave between the 1960s and 1980s was criticized for assuming that women shared a universal identity. The current movement or third wave challenges stereotypes and media portrayals. It recognizes that I share different views and values than a woman raised in Afghanistan or a devout southern baptist or a someone with doctorate degree or a single girl in her twenties. Come to think of it, it was rather offensive that some people assumed I should like Sarah Palin just because she was a woman who found herself on the national political stage. Third wave is American Girls of every every hair, skin and eye color to the second wave's Barbie. Third wave is Merida. Second wave is not Cinderella. 

I leave you with these questions: Are you brave and what is your definition of an American Girl?

Someone's knocking

I believe that every single event in life that happens is an opportunity to choose love over fear.
-Oprah Winfrey

If the bluebird symbolizes happiness. What does the yellow bird represent? On this morning, we were staying in a rented cabin in Wisconsin. A persistent tapping at the door woke me. Outside the glass door was a little yellow tweetie-like bird. It was such an oddity that I woke up my son to confirm I wasn’t dreaming. The bird, which I think may be a yellow warbler, alternated between the front door and the back door for more than an hour. Maybe it doesn’t have to mean anything, but I am choosing to believe it means something good, opportunity maybe? Especially since it happened on what turned out to be such a strange day.
We flew there to celebrate my mom’s 65th birthday. We ended up helping her pack up the last few odds and ends as she said goodbye to her house. She downsized from a 9 thousand square foot home to a four hundred square foot travel bus. The idea was to simplify and see the country. If my mom does anything well, it is living in extremes. More than the lack of possessions and space, she has never not had a permenant address and she has never really lived alone. I asked her how she felt as we drove away for the last time. All she could do was choke out “I don’t know how to feel.” Up to that point she had been so busy with the sorting of sell, store, donate and directing a team of cleaners,inspectors, repairman and movers that she had not had a chance to think about where she is going.
A professional life coach sent me this quote yesterday by author Frederic Hudson, “As we go through life, we either find ourselves in a Life Chapter or a Life Transition. This cycle is repeated over and over throughout our lives.”
My friend who recently retired as a top administrator at a college has launched a second career for herself as a life coach. She recommended Hudson’s book, Mastering the Art of Self Renewal. I plan on reading it and maybe sending it to my mom. Hudson has been called “Dr. Midlife” and “The Dr Spock of the Adult Years.”  He and his wife also co-authored Lifelaunch- A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life.
His website, Hudson Institute, claims he was the original “Life Coach” and has dedicated his impressive career to studying how people get off-track from their inner purpose and how to get back on track.

The left overs in my mom's house ranged from cleaning supplies to framed art to a bread machine that dates back to my college days. Also found collecting dust in the garage was a mint condition1930's typewriter in it's own carrying case. My mom mentioned  that it belonged to my grandmother who loved to write. I spent the biggest chapter of my life so far as a professional writer and I never knew this typewriter existed much less that my grandmother had dreams beyond being a rural housewife.

Yes, think that book is a must read.

I leave you with this question for today: Are you currently in a life chapter or a life transition?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Constant Companion

Passion and purpose go hand in hand. When you discover your purpose, you will normally find it's something you're tremendously passionate about.
-Steve Pavlina 

I realized last night that writing is my form of prayer. It is my meditation. It is my mirror and my crystal ball. By writing, the past has context, the present is embraced and the future is awaited. If this is how I feel about it, it must be my passion. Strange how it has been a constant companion that was so easily overlooked as I searched and struggled.
My question for today is: Is there something you do that gives you comfort and hope?


And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
-Max Ehrmann, Poet

Today while searching for a parking spot at the airport, my 12-year old son said “I will look on the right, you look on the left.” It reminded me of a drive home from daycare when he was three. He was on a kick that he wanted a brother or sister. I explained that I needed to be married to have another baby. And before I could get married, I had to find a boyfriend. Always a solution-based thinker, my wise and practical little boy said, “Okay Mommy, you look out your side of the car and I will look outside mine.” 
A lot has happened since the drive on that dark four-lane road. Eventually, I found a boyfriend who turned into my beloved husband and the father of my son’s baby sister. This morning, the sound of him in the shower woke me up not only from my sleep but from my habitual thoughts. This is my everyday, but it was once my someday. For the briefest of moments, I remembered what it was like to wake up alone. I remembered how I once longed for a partner who would share my mornings. I remembered how much I wanted to grant my son’s wish for a sibling.
My life is nothing like I envisioned it nine years ago when my son first started the “search”, yet better than anything I could have imagined. Maybe it wasn’t the timeframe or path that I expected. Still things always have a way of working out exactly as they are supposed to, for the best. On the mornings I wake up believing that universal truth, my days are bright and easy. By the way, found a parking spot next to the elevator and a free cart for our luggage. 
My question for today is: Is there something about your today that was once your someday? If so, are you cherishing it?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Let you in on a secret

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” 
-Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I just finished Dr. Wayne Dyer's 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace. It was a quick read and like so many books lately, it found me. At the insistence of my friend that I check out the Unity Church bookstore, I went browsing in search of inspiration on the topic of Optimism. The first random page that I turned to in Dyer's book spoke directly to what I have been focusing my intentions on for the past two weeks. So without giving away the ending to a movie you want to see...let me share some highlights with you.

His first secret is  "Have a Mind That Is Open to Everything and Attached to Nothing." Remember the idea for this blog was born from a realization that I had been carrying around a lot of guilt and that guilt was coming in part from unrealistic expectations (attachments). A friend of mine who is a professional home organizer once spoke of this same concept in physical terms, "if your hands are full and clinging to the contents, they can not be open to receive. If your closets are full, you can't get new clothes." I have also heard it explained in biblical terms "nature abhors a vacume." Dyer puts this concept to work on our thoughts.

Dyer's second secret is "Don't Die with Your Music Still in Your Head". This one really hit home. In short, we were all put on this earth to make our own individual mark. Whether you were born to be a pediatric surgeon or a sculptor or a writer, you have a unique purpose. Are you on your path or someone else's? If your not on your path, you probably already know it deep down and that is likely causing some internal conflicts like frustration, despair or guilt.

Here is the rest of the top ten:
3. You Can't Give Away What You Don't Have
4. Embrace Silence
5. Give Up Your Personal History
6. You Can't Solve a Problem with the Same Mind That Created It
7. There Are No Justified Resentments
8. Treat Yourself As If You Already Are What You'd Like to Be
9. Treasure Your Divinity
10. Wisdom Is Avoiding All Thoughts That Weaken You

Some of what he says is things that we all instinctually know to be true, but Dyer illustrates his points with thought provoking examples and logical metaphors. We are what we think we are. Our relationships are what we think of them.  Change your thoughts and you change your feelings, change your feelings and you will change your way of life.

I leave you with this question: Does one of those secrets resonate with you?

The most empowering thoughts you can have are those of peace, joy, love, acceptance and willingness. These thoughts don't create a counter-force. Powerful, joyful, loving thoughts stem from your willingness to allow the world to be as it is. Then you're in a state of inner bliss where serenity replaces fighting, reverence for all of life substitutes for craving and anxiety and understanding supplants scorn. You become an optimist.
-Dr. Wayne Dyer

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Riddle

Life is just a bowl of cherries. Don't take it serious, life's too mysterious.
-Buddy DeSylva and Lew Brown, songwriters.

Someone commented on this blog the other day that being more childlike can be good and bad. I thought they were talking about the difference between childlike, an adjective for temperament, and childish, an adjective for behavior. 

For the record, the definition of childlike is: innocent; naive. The definition of childish is: belonging to a child; foolish or petty; indicating a lack of maturity.The definitions add to the confusion. For instance, being innocent is very different than being naive in my book. Why would foolish or petty be put exclusively in the same category as belonging to a child?  

Even the synonyms for childlike are contradictory or as the comment suggested "good and bad". It doesn't seem logical that simple, natural, spontaneous, unaffected and trusting could be used synonymously with artless and immature?

I do not want to be the antonyms of childlike: untrusting and complicated. But I do want to be the antonyms of childish: adult, mature, sensible and wise

Is it just semantics; the study of meaning? Or is it actually a matter of connotation; the secondary meaning of a word or expression? 

Reminds me of the idiom Bed of Roses. It also reminds me of the song, Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries, written in 1931. Some people interpret the song to mean cherries are sweet even though they have pits. Like life, the fruit can be good and bad. If the the songwriters were simply trying to convey optimism and pleasantry during the great depression, why do so many use the phrase sarcastically to mean life is tough? 

In the end, the answer to all these questions and contradictions is what you believe them to be.

I leave you with this question. Are there other things you can think of that can be both bad and good?

Life is just a bowl of cherries
Don't take it serious,
Life's too mysterious
You work,
You save,
You worry so
But you can't take your dough
When you go, go, go

So keep repeating "It's the berries."
The strongest oak must fall
The sweet things in life
To you were just loaned
So how can you lose
What you've never owned

Life is just a bowl of cherries
So live and laugh, aha!
Laugh and love
Live and laugh,
Laugh and love,
Live and laugh at it all!

It should be an Olympic sport

In art and dream, may you proceed with abandon. In life, may you proceed with balance and stealth.
-Patti Smith, The Godmother of Punk Rock

 My childlike activities this week  included letting balloons go and hotel bed jumping. I did both with my 3-year old daughter which made me feel like a young, cool mom. But when I looked up images for these activities, I felt less than original. Did you know there is a blog dedicated to hotel bed jumping Hotel Bed Jumping Blog?  Did you further know there is a Facebook page dedicated to letting balloons go?Letting Balloons Go
It is like stumbling upon a strange underworld. You would be amazed how many people are willing to strike a pose in mid air and than share the evidence. How do they get those superman flying pictures? Surely it is not all Photoshop. Somebody had to jump, jump, and jump some more to capture facial expressions of pure reckless abandon while their feet are a yard above the nearest pillow or blanket. Next time you are in a less than firm, creaky hotel bed, think about that! Even though it was a blast, there are practical reasons why I can't make a habit of this at home. Broken beds and chipped teeth come to mind, but mainly in our 90-year old house, I don’t want to go crashing through any ceilings.
As for the balloon release,  it seems there are hundreds of adult fans of this practice too. I have seen it done at memorials and weddings. But just because? That was new to me. Usually when my daughter accidentally lets one slip away, we wave goodbye and tell it to have a great time at Disney. We like to think all free floating balloons head there. To quiet the environmentalists who consider this a form of littering, let me just say it was only three little balloons. We let one go and it was so enjoyable and fleeting, we had to do it again. No wishes. No deep sentimental healing process stuff. We just watched them for as long as we could until they disappeared.

It was a little magical how you can follow them for several seconds, but if you happen to blink, they are just gone. Kind of like childhood.....
Today I leave you with this question: When is the last time you did something just because?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ending Unplanned

Today is where your book begins. The rest is still unwritten.
-Natasha Bedingfield

A new friend I met through a local Happiness Project group sent me this link. She said my plans for blogging reminded her of this song.Thanks Yvonne! You made me smile. I always liked this song, but never really listened to the words before.I  Enjoy! "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield (Music Video)

I am unwritten, can't read my mind, I'm undefined
I'm just beginning, the pen's in my hand, ending unplanned

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Oh, oh, oh

I break tradition, sometimes my tries, are outside the lines
We've been conditioned to not make mistakes, but I can't live that way

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten
The rest is still unwritten
The rest is still unwritten

Oh, yeah, yeah

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Things Desired

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the 
stars; you have a right to be here.
-Max Ehrmann 

PBS Host LLewellyn King wrote a syndicated op/ed piece that ran in our local paper yesterday about the advantages of bookstores over e-books. King told stories how sometimes books find you. “Call it serendipity: It is the marvelous thing about books. You can pick them up just about anywhere, and a single volume can change your life or lead you into unexpected realms of delight.”
Has a book ever followed you home like a puppy staring at you with wide lovable eyes? It happened to me a few weeks ago when I picked up Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. It winked at me in Anthropologie, a store that primarily sells house wares and clothes, not books. The Happiness Project inspired me to take blogging in a new direction and more importantly commit to this one year experiment in being more childlike.
Another important, maybe even life changing book, found me last summer. We were on vacation in Newport, Rhode Island in this historic B & B that had a library filled with board games and books to enjoy during your stay. My than 2-year old daughter handed me a little book of poems by Max Ehrmann called the Desiderata of Happiness. The title stopped me in my tracks. The Desiderata was my grandmother’s favorite poem framed above her bed. My parents had the poem made into a stained glass window for my first apartment. I subsequently had the poem printed in calligraphy and framed for my parents as a sentimental gift. You have to understand we are not a literary family. I grew up on a steady diet of TV. Reading was limited to homework. Our idea of poetry was “roses are red..violets are blue”. But this poem was different. It was special. Sort of a manifesto for life. Perhaps it added to the importance that it was so mysterious. I grew up believing the author was an unknown 17th century writer. I was told that the poem was discovered in a church hundreds of years ago. So who is Max Ehrmann? 
Turns out he wrote the Desiderata and copyrighted it in 1927. History of Desiderata Ehrmann was a Harvard law graduate who practiced law in his hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana than went on to work in his family’s business. At age 40, he gave up everything to pursue his passion for writing. He married his longtime companion just shortly before his death in 1945. He may not have died alone, but the philosopher and writer died in obscurity after a mostly solitary existence with no possessions.  As the story goes, Ehrmann mailed copies of the Desiderata to friends with Christmas cards. Thirty years after it was copyrighted, a minister found a copy and reprinted it for a sermon without crediting the author. From there, it did the 1960‘s version of going viral. By the 1970’s, the Desiderata was known through out the world. It was the subject of songs, referenced in movies and quoted extensively by everyone from Dear Abby to presidents.

Even now, Ehrmann doesn’t make the top ten list for the most famous people who only became famous after they died. Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, El Greco, Vincent Van Gogh, Henry David Thoreau all beat him out. Top Ten Famous People After Death

The Desiderata is by far Ehrmann’s most well known work. I have since found hundreds of his poems reprinted in books such as The Desiderata of Happiness, The Desiderata of Faith, The Desiderata of Love and The Desiderata of Hope. They are all wonderful. It would be hard to pick a favorite.

I love the hopeful tone of the Desiderata, especially as I focus this first month on childlike optimism. Desiderata, by the way, means things desired in Latin.  When his Harvard classmates were leading nations, he lived in a modest three room house with no means to support a family, even if he had a family. How did he maintain his sense of optimism, a sense of self worth? The answer is he followed his dream. He stayed true to what he passionately believed he was put on this Earth to do. He wrote.

In a 2009 newspaper story One of Terre Haute's Most Memorable, the reporter dug up a quote from the philosopher who said he wrote the Desiderata for himself “because it counsels those virtues I felt most in need of.” Ehrmann was the eternal optimist. He once predicted “Perhaps when I’m dead, some browser in libraries will come upon me and, seeing that I was not altogether unworthy, will resurrect me from the dust of things forgotten.”

Of the two books that followed me home and changed my course, one is on the New York Time's Best Sellers List and the other remains an unknown classic. The irony is not lost on me that as I write this, no one yet knows this blog exists. 

I leave you (if there is a you out there) with this question for today: Has a book ever found you and changed your life?


Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; 
and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than 

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it 
is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. 

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm a Good Forgetter

“A retentive memory may be a good thing, but the ability to forget is the true token of greatness.
-Elbert Hubbard
My husband reminded me today that my son used to frequently say, “I'm a good forgetter”. Did you make your bed? Did you brush your teeth? “Nope. I'm a good forgetter.” At age 12, he is watching his sister grow up from the perspective of a 9-year age difference. Suddenly, his memory is improving. As he was practicing the ABC’s with his little sister, he mentioned remembering what I said to him the first time he read a street sign himself. He remembered Tinker Bell sprinkling fairy dust to make our Disney cruise ship fly home and than magically waking up in a Florida port the next morning. He remembers our family date nights. Getting tacos and than going to the drive-in movies back when our family consisted of just him, me and our dog. Random stuff. Happy stuff.
I love hearing his memories. It reinforces my desire to create many more. It also makes me wonder as life unfolds, which moments will stick with our youngest daughter.  Finally, it makes me question my own habit of remembering. 
Yesterday in the blog, I talked about people who make themselves unhappy and pessimistic by ruminating or over thinking an unpleasant memory. The opposite of that extreme memory habit is called avoidance. By definition, it means the act or practice of keeping away from or withdrawing from something undesirable. Most psychologists agree that is equally as damaging a habit because it leads to repressed memories and behaviors.
Nothing is ever perfect and life hasn’t always been ideal for my son.  There must be some memories that fall short for him. If so, he never brings up disappointments or times he was sad. Is that a child’s natural inclination? A personal choice? Maybe he really is a “good forgetter”. If so, as turn-of-the-century philosopher and writer Elbert Hubbard said, that may be a token of his greatness. Not dealing in extremes like rumination or avoidance, but rather consciously focusing on the positive and letting go of things that can’t be changed is the bottom line in enough self help books to fill a library.
My mother used to tell me if I verbalized a fear or some other unpleasant thought, I should immediately say “Cancel. Cancel. Cancel.” Not sure where she came up with that, maybe a Catharine Ponder book on affirmations. Mom always followed her “Cancel. Cancel. Cancel” by reminding me that “words are powerful”. Our whole family is bought into that notion now. 
Not sure if that trick works with redirecting memories. But if it is any comfort, scientists now believe that ALL our memory is essentially selective memory. In a fascinating article about post traumatic stress disorder and new drug therapy that can remove specific unsettling memories, they cited a study of survivors of the September 11th attacks.  The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Psychologists William Hirst and Elizabeth Phelps surveyed hundreds of witnesses immediately after the attacks. One year later, 37 percent changed their stories. Three years later, half of the stories changed from minor details to complete alterations of where they were when the towers fell. Yet, everyone was convinced their memory was completely true.
The article talks about how our brain has a complex filing system. Negative memories are actually stored in the center of your brain. Visual memories are stored in a file marked “visual cortex”. Memories of sounds are piled into the “auditory cortex” cabinet. The same memory that includes sound, and sight are split just like the emotional response of the same memory is stored in a different space.  The story concluded that “our memories are formed by the act of remembering them, controlling the conditions under which they are recalled can actually change their content.”

Essentially our memory is a story we tell ourselves a little different each time. We are both the authors and the readers of these stories. We choose what we believe.

While searching the keyword "childlike", I found Christian blogger Justin Taylor's post about  about the Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe author C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis' Delightful Childlike Forgetfulness Taylor observes that children can be delighted to the point of self abandonment. But by the time we reach adolescence, we are taught to be self conscious about being perceived as naive or gullible. We don't want to be caught believing in something that others don't. Taylor concludes:

Surely Lewis himself would have said that when we can no longer be "wide open to the glory" - risking whatever immaturity thereby- we have not just lost our childlikeness but something near the core of our humanity.

Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted, because without self forgetfulness there can be no delight, and this is a great and grievous loss.

Hope my son keeps on being a good forgetter, we will all take our lessons from him.

I leave you with this question today. Is there a story that gives you joy when you retell it? Is there a story that is no longer worth telling or may be best remembered a little differently? 

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