A Response to Violence

I’ve been receiving lots of emails about the violent deaths of black men and women around the US over the past few months and especially these past few days, and you probably have too.  I’ve shared some thoughts on violence before, but to sum up I believe it’s sometimes necessary, but only for reasons of showing your strength or defending those who are weaker and in trouble.  I don’t believe violence should be the answer to fear, differences, disagreements or the way to gain power.  We each have our differences and our similarities.  Just because we’re different in one way or another, it doesn’t make it right to treat anyone as less than a human with rights.  We all have our biases and beliefs, but if we really believe we’re meant to live in a global, connected world, we have to start working together at some point in time.

So today I wanted to share with you a few of the comments I have heard that stood out to me, I may reflect in depth on some of them on the Life and Spirituality blog over the coming days and weeks as well.

“We[‘ve] talked about the terror some of us feel in our own homes. Scared of feeling rejected, ignored, dismissed, or unheard by the people who matter most, we reactively retreat to passivity and self-protection.  This is not the path to peace in our own homes, nor in our own hearts…Ultimately, learn to represent your fullest self to the fullest. That way you give yourself, and the ones who matter most, the best chance at the relationships we all crave.”  Hal Runkel

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“… the attack is a reminder that no life will be safe and truly valued until we also confront the broader American culture of violence.”  Kai Wright

“There is a deep wound in this nation and we must re-double our commitment to be a part of healing it — and it must be done nonviolently.  The only way we can truly generate healing is to take the skills and values of peacebuilding deep into our communities.”  Matthew Albracht

“Everybody’s got to reach deep down and find some empathy.  If you cried for the brother who bled out next to his fiancee, but you didn’t cry this morning for those police officers, it’s time to do a heart check.  If you cried for those police officers, but you have a hard time taking seriously all these videos that are coming out about African Americans dying, it’s time to do a heart check.  Because we are either going to come together or come apart.  There’s enough pain on both sides that there should be some empathy starting to kick in.’  Van Jones

“You need the courage to push yourself beyond your own fears.  You need to embrace your fears in order to make your life everything it was meant to be.”  Chris Howard

The world you grew up in is much different than it was for your parents, and the world your kids and their kids grow up in will be much different than the world you grew up in.  I want a world that will be a place to grow, thrive and blossom, and that’s not possible if the threat of violence remains so high.  What world do you want to create for your future generations?

Giving Thanks for Time

Today as we discuss being thankful I want to talk about something that I’m struggling with and you may be too: time.  It’s a tricky beast, isn’t it!?  Many of us spend a lot of time talking about it, berating it, bemoaning it and trying to squeeze every last second we can from the hours we’re given.  Some people do waste the time they have or don’t use it very well, but even they tend to talk about how little time they seem to have.

So why be thankful for time? Why talk about it on Monday instead of another day when we could talk about productivity strategies and time stealers (no worries, we will make time for this in the near future)?  Because time is one of the most valuable gifts, tools, opportunities and resources we have. It, along with health, is one of the things that we take most for granted.  When people are told they’re dying in the near future they often write and try to make it through a bucket list.  When people are on their death beds they comment that they wish they had more time to spend with those they’re leaving behind.  When people we know die too soon we say that we wish we had more time with them.

So as much as this discussions is about the value and importance of managing your time well and making time for the things that really matter in life like your health and relationships, it’s also about being grateful for the time that you do have.  We’re so blessed to be living in a day and age when we’re expected to live 80+ years.  I can’t imagine what it used to be like hundreds of years ago when the average lifespan was much less.

So this week make time to appreciate being alive, that you have the time to panic over and stress about, and do your best to use your time and life wisely.

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”   Seneca

A Preference for Peace

In this month as we talk about quiet, one of the things that is usually associated with quiet is peace (“I’d like a little peace and quiet” being the well-known phrase). If you have kids quiet may be a distant memory for you, and peace may be as well. But as we’ve already established that they’re connected, it’s through that connection that we’ll be able to have a breakthrough in getting peace and quiet in our families, and our relationships as well.

If you want quiet and peace with your kids you need to establish quiet times. When your kids aren’t napping any more you should still have time set aside each day for reading or coloring time or another quiet activity that’s able to be done independently for the most part. To set a good example you should have a quiet activity to do as well, maybe folding laundry, checking/paying bills or even reading yourself. Setting aside just 30 minutes each day for everyone teaches your kids that there is value in being quiet, and it’s not just BS you’re feeding them to make them stop being crazy.

As for relationships, one of the challenges many of us face is finding peace in them. We’re busy trying to get our way and be right or even be together that peace goes by the wayside all too often even though it’s something that we all claim to really want. If you really want peace you have to create it. Instead of fighting over things by default, choose to make compromises. Instead of forcing your partner to do something they don’t enjoy step up and do it yourself without them asking or begging. Instead of putting things off big discussions, have them before things really turn into issues and do create fights. Instead of always thinking of yourself first, try to put your partner’s needs above your own at least once each day. When you’re both putting forth effort to make peace in your relationship it will be a lot easier to keep the relationship healthy and happy, and the same holds true for your family.

“My wife and I don’t compete. We know each other’s preferences, and we work to provide those for each other. One will take over when the other is faced with something he or she dislikes. That’s what friends do.” Matthew McConaughey

Ready to Relax

I don’t know about you, but my schedule changes over the summer, and I try to move my days off to those that are nice and sunny whenever possible so that I take advantage of all the wonderful fresh air and summer sunshine! I have always made a point of taking time each week to relax and not do work on my computer or meet with clients so that I can have time to regain my perspective and remember that all the work I’m doing is for the goal of being able to enjoy life more. After all, what’s the point of doing all the work if it isn’t to have time to enjoy the fruits of your labor?

I don’t believe that resting and days off are a waste of time. We aren’t machines built to run 365 days a year 24 hours a day (and even machines have down time because of issues, repairs or overheating concerns). We’re humans designed to sleep every night, but sleep is only a small part of the resting and recharging we need, we need showers and food and friendly conversations that have nothing to do with how we make money or how we’re making a difference in the world.

I’ve never felt that taking an afternoon off to enjoy nature or go on a hike, have a picnic, or read a book is a waste of time because I always feel better, more grounded and more productive after I’ve had that quiet time. There’s something special about nature that all too often we don’t take advantage of. So this summer I encourage you to make sure to take time with your family and by yourself to get out there and enjoy what’s all around us. Take a day to go out into the country and see what you don’t usually see when you’re riding the highways to and from work, go to a National Park and see what your taxes are caring for, and get some perspective on how much bigger life is than what you see in your daily journey.

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the blue sky, is by no means waste of time.” John Lubbock

Full Joy

We’ve reached the last month of 2014, are you ready to finish this year strong?  Back in January I laid out a planned topic for each month to help keep us focused as we’ve journeyed, struggled and learned through this year.   With this last month the topic I’ve chosen is joy.  Yes, it fits really well with the Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays this month, but it’s also the way I want to end this year.  In so many years past I know I’ve felt like I’m racing for the finish line, praying to get out of the year as quick as possible.  This year has had lots of challenges, and as I said to a friend I feel like I’ve had less sleep in the past 6 months than in all my college years, but for what seems like the first time in a long time I have hope for the year ahead.  I’m not just looking at it as a way to get out of this one, but as an opportunity to grow on the lessons, blessings and opportunities of this year.

So as I said this month we’re talking about joy, and the first thing that needs to be said about joy is that it’s not a quiet hug, small smile or tiny gesture, joy is big, passionate and full of life.  Its exuberance is one of the first things you notice when someone around you is experiencing joy.  It’s not something you can hide and it’s something that should be shared.  Happiness, a part of joy, is something we’ll talk about this month because most people don’t live life just on a high like joy or low like pain, suffering or grief, they experience life a little less passionately with things like happiness, sadness, hope and hurt.

But today I just want to encourage you to not be afraid to be joyful.  We often live our lives tempering our reactions and responses because we don’t want people to think we’re weird or strange, and living life full-out is tiring.  Don’t be afraid to celebrate the good moments in your life and in other’s lives.  What joys will you celebrate this month?

Your Happiness Perspective

One of the greatest challenges we all face is seeing our own value. Some of us do a lot of boasting and act all self-important, but all too often we’re unaware of exactly how awesome we are. It’s partly because we are with ourselves all the time and we just get used to who we are. It’s also because we get told by others how capable or incapable we are, and if we hear it often enough we start to believe it, whether it’s true or not. A third, and unfortunately too often true, reason would be that we simply aren’t aware of how much potential we have. It’s all too easy to just get wrapped up in life the way it is and not think about changing things. Life is complicated and challenging enough without bringing in more changes than we already have to deal with.

But it’s exactly when we choose not to pursue our potential that we choose to make our lives miserable, or at least a shadow of what it could be. I can do tons of things for you but ultimately it’s up to you to choose the things that will satisfy you, make you happy and fulfill you. I can’t force you to be happy or satisfied with life, that can only be decided and felt by you. I may get satisfaction from helping you or completing a job for you, but I can’t make you experience the same thing. So what does that mean? It really means that we have to be comfortable with ourselves enough to accept who we really are and what we need from life. It means accepting in all brutal honesty who we are, warts and all.

Perspective is a funny thing; the world looks much different when you sit on the floor, stand, or fly through the sky. Not sure? Just a simple exercise of walking through a park or your yard and then sitting on the ground can show you exactly what I mean.  Sitting the world looks much bigger than it does when you stand. But, just like optical illusions, the world isn’t really any bigger when you’re sitting, standing or flying, it’s all the same size, it just seems different because you’ve got a different perspective on it.

So if you’re feeling lost this week, ask someone else what they see as your potential. I honestly believe that we’re all world changers deep inside, some of us are just waiting to be released, or unleashed, on the world. If you can’t see your own potential initially that’s OK, don’t be afraid to reach out to a coach or someone who can give you a positive perspective (don’t bother chatting with those who don’t like you, they’ll just convince you that you don’t have potential to find). It’s not a bad thing to ask for help if you can’t see your own value.

“A man cannot be made comfortable without his own approval.” Barbara Walters

Start with a Smile

How many couples do you know that greet each other with criticisms or lists of things they did or didn’t do and are in trouble for?  There’s no “how was your day?” “I’m glad to see you” hugs, kisses or other welcoming greetings.  It’s one of the many reasons, I’m sure, dogs are considered our best friend (just kidding).  And maybe that sounds an awful lot like your household.  Maybe you and your partner spend a lot of time sniping at each other and at each other’s throats.

If that is your relationship I hope you take serious consideration of why you’re in it and that the reasons you come up with are very good.  Because I don’t know about you but that’s not the kind of relationship I want.  No, you don’t have to rush the door every time they come home, but to not kindly greet someone you love, or even just greet them means you’re probably not happy to see them.  And if you’re not happy to see them why are you in the relationship?

I’ve gone in a circle here but it brings us back to the same two questions: are you happy in your relationship and if not what are you going to do about it? If you really think you could be happy in your relationship, you have to ask yourself what needs to change, and specifically what you need to do differently.  You can’t heap all of the blame on your partner, you need to take your own portion as well because while your partner is a part of your happiness, ultimately only you are responsible for it.

I think it starts with greeting each other.  If you greet each other with a smile it reminds both of you that you’ve chosen to be in that relationship and are happy to see the other person, despite whatever issues you need to deal with that day.  I believe that there is always room for love and a smile, that life is better when you start with that foundation.  When you’ve got the love you can deal with anything that comes your way.  But when the love isn’t supported or encouraged and you’re just a laundry list of things to do much of the magic that that love brings is gone.

“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”  Mother Teresa

To Peace and Partnerships

In life we often ask ourselves what to do with our competition or the people that have become those we consider as enemies or those who are or could be a threat to us or those we love. Some people mount campaigns against them to try to beat them into submission, or destroy or defeat them.  This is what much of the world chooses to do: we see the evidence in the myriad of fights, wars and conflicts around the world today.

However, I believe there is a better way.  I believe that the only way we’ll really come to conclusions that will actually make the world a better place is by working together.

That doesn’t mean that some ideas aren’t good and some aren’t bad; they are.  There are things that we need to let go of and things we can all learn from. Only by making those decisions, making educated decisions about those things, can we find the strength and space to move to better things and become better people.

We don’t seem to be solving anything by fighting.  It’s like when you were a kid and you fought, wrestled and threw tantrums with your siblings or friends.  You didn’t really accomplish anything with that other than a lot of fun and some bruises.  It was when you worked together to build the block town, made that science project or worked on that special gift for a parent that you made real progress.  Yes, there is some sense to the fighting because it can establish hierarchy or comradery.  But when the fate of many parts of the world is at risk does it really make sense to establish hierarchy or work together to achieve progress?

This week consider someone that you’ve been at odds with for a long time and reach out with an olive branch or just touch base to see if you can work things out.  If things have been really hostile between you two in the past it may be a tough conversation but if you want to make true progress it won’t be easy.

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” Nelson Mandela

Peace in Partnerships

We’re going to be talking a lot about peace this month, if you haven’t figured it out yet it is our monthly theme but it also coincides with a lot of the unrest and uncertainty in the world that we’re dealing with.  There are plenty of reasons for us to be without peace.  There are lots of demands on our time, we’ve got lots of responsibilities to fulfill and the world is moving at such a fast pace that it’s hard to find time to develop or find peace.

Which is exactly what some of us don’t realize: peace must be developed.  You can’t just pick up peace like you do your coffee in the morning or be dropped off there like a taxi does.  If we want peace we have to work at it.  I know we sometimes have an aversion to hard work, thinking everything should be easy, but sometimes the best things are the ones you have to work the hardest for.

When it comes to our families and romantic partners I’ve learned over the years that peace is essential to the success of that relationship, and that they take work if you want them to succeed.  If you’ve followed this blog or worked with me for a length of time you’ve probably heard my preference of calling it a partnership, not a relationship, for many reasons but most of all because “relationship” makes me think about just relating to you, whereas a partnership reminds me that both/all people in the situation must be active participants. It’s not about being politically correct, but about getting back to the concept that when two adults, a parent and child, or adult (teacher, pastor, babysitter, coach etc.) and child are working together by choice or requirement there is no laziness or lack of participation, but rather both sides are expected to be involved because it is a partnership and both people bring something to the table.

What will your choice be this weekend and this coming week?  Will you choose to work at and bring peace to the table or will you do your best to cause problems and stress others out?

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Stress Solutions

We finish up this month’s discussions on health with a favorite topic for everyone: stress.  Most of us live with it on a daily basis, trying to avoid the things that cause bumps in the road.  No one likes to be stressed, and as it turns out stress actually contributes to a lot of our health problems, so we have very good reason to dislike it.  However, while we may recognize the negative effects that stress has on our lives, few of us actually do anything about it.  Let’s change that!

First, stress is mental.  In most cases how stressed we get is a choice.  We all react differently to things that happen, but some of us react in a way that completely blows the initial stress out of proportion and as a result greatly increases the stress we experience, and the damage to our health.  If we were more prepared mentally for the challenges we’ll face and how to deal with them mentally we’d be less stressed.  I’m not suggesting we practice being stressed more often, just learn better ways of dealing with typical life situations we find ourselves in and generally learning to think and believe more positively.

Second, dealing with stress is both mental and physical.  Stress sets in motion an amazing chemical reaction throughout our bodies in addition to the freak-out our minds go through. The best ways to deal with it on a physical level and combat the effects on a regular basis are physical activity like running, walking, yoga or boxing, and other things like massages, relaxing scents, acupuncture, Bach remedies, Reiki and other similar practices.  Working through the stress on a physical level will often help you get enough distance and perspective that you’ll be able to think through the situation much clearer.

Finally, stress should not be dealt with alone.  We’re in a world with many other amazing people, people who can help us learn to forgive ourselves, deal with the stress we’ve kept in our lives and embrace what the future holds with less fear.  We can work with coaches, pastors, our partners and friends to learn techniques and get support when we deal with stressful situations.

The thing to remember here is not that stress can necessarily be avoided, but that we’ve got lots of room to improve how we handle the stresses that come into our lives.  How do you handle stress?