Category Archives: Attitudes

The Key to Happiness

The mind is a powerful tool. We can use it to love or hate, forgive or condemn, create or destroy, accept or blame, trust or doubt, respect or shame, despair or hope. How we choose to use our minds is entirely up to us. Every thought we think creates our reality. The mind affects how you feel, and what you do. All of your experiences are the outer effects of your inner thoughts.

Many of us think we have no control over our minds, but this is only because we have been taught to believe this is so. In fact, we are capable of controlling each and every thought we have. When we can’t change anything else, we can choose to change our minds.

KEY TO HAPPINESS

Human beings have what psychologists call a psychological immune system. It is a system of cognitive processes that helps us change our viewpoint, enabling us to feel better about our circumstances, conditions, or situations, no matter how undesirable. In other words, we are not dependent on getting what we want or having things go our way to feel happy. Instead of chasing after experiences that we hope will bring us joy, we can manufacture our own happiness by changing our minds. Our brains are hardwired that way.

Toni, (not her real name) a 29-year-old quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair for five years, was referred for therapy. She was depressed and acting out in self- destructive ways; resisting help she couldn’t do with out, firing her caregivers with regularity, and generally being non-compliant with her medical treatment. The story she told herself about her quadriplegia was, “God is punishing me. Before the accident I wanted to kill myself so God took the use of my hands from me.”  “Do you still want to kill yourself?” her therapist asked. “Yes, but now I can’t. That’s why I’m depressed.”

Being trapped in a body that did not move was bad enough, but being trapped in a negative mindset, which was there before her accident, was literally destroying Toni. Like Toni, many of us are trapped by negative or limiting thoughts. We distract ourselves from our negative thinking and its effects by searching for and relying on experiences to make us happy, never realizing that by changing our thoughts we can change our experience of any situation.

Toni knew she couldn’t change her paralysis but through therapy she discovered that she could change her mind. Through techniques of meditation, controlled breathing, and deep inner listening she learned to use her mind as a tool of awareness. She strengthened her psychological immune system and was able to develop the insight she needed to find peace of mind, hope, self-love, kindness, happiness, and forgiveness. She even became friends with the man who caused her accident.

Five months into therapy, Toni’s perspective had shifted from despair to hope. When asked, “Why do you suppose God kept you alive?” she corrected, “You mean why did God give me a second chance at life?” Her therapist nodded yes. “Because He knew I didn’t love myself when I had my accident and He wanted me to have a chance to do that, so He gave me a chance to rest and to use my mind to think, and to use my imagination, and to learn about myself.” Because she had no distractions and no other choice, Toni had to rely on her mind as a tool of awareness, which is the proper use of mind. Her efforts did not go unrewarded.

As her psychological wounds healed, Toni’s body and spirit also healed. She began to take good care of her body by complying with her medical treatment. She began to develop positive relationships with her caregivers and returned to the church where she had once sung in the choir. She began to experience a level of support she never imagined possible.

Your mind is a tool for you to use any way you wish. Instead of relying on winning the lottery, finding the man or woman of your dreams, landing that big contract you’ve been working hard to get, strengthen your psychological immune system. Tap into your ability to create your own happiness.

  • Attend personal growth workshops and go to psychotherapeutic counseling.
  • Make dietary changes and engage in various forms of physical activity such as yoga, martial arts, or other forms of exercise.
  • Do meditation and prayer.

It does not matter where you start. The key to happiness lies in cultivating practices that strengthen your innate capacity to create your own happiness whether or not you get what you want.

Namaste

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Looking Back

An Akan proverb, or the Sankofa tells us “We should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward.”

It is hard to believe that the close of 2013 is just weeks away. I feel like this is a good time to circle back and highlight some thoughts I’ve shared over the past 12 months. I chose past writings that speak to some of the holiday ups and downs most of us experience in hopes my words will bring you greater well being and, as always, continued growth! Enjoy…

LIVING HEROICALLY
As far as I know my father never once stepped onto a yoga mat. Yet it is through his example that I learned what living yoga off the yoga mat really means. It’s about attitudes and actions that keep you focused, calm, and non-reactive in the face of life’s challenges. It’s about doing what’s right, not what’s easy.

Lt. Colonel Frederick L. Parker, USAF

Lt. Colonel Frederick L. Parker, USAF

He did this throughout his military career by valiantly fighting, at his own peril, for freedoms that were not always granted to him, because it was the right thing to do. He demonstrated courage by standing up for and insisting on equal treatment for all, even in the face of overwhelming opposition. He proved that obstacles are overcome by committing to relentlessly following your purpose, no matter who or what opposes you. He demonstrated that living life heroically means living life authentically and facing your fears head on, everyday, with an open heart.

LIVING FULLY
leg up framed-_MG_2724To live life fully we are called to live a life of service to others. Ask yourself each day upon awakening, what difference you want to make in someone else’s life. It doesn’t have to be a monumental difference. It could be something as simple as offering a listening ear to a friend in need, making a phone call to someone you’ve been thinking about, or running an errand for a neighbor.

LIVING HOPEFULLY
web_b_MG_6940Do not let limitations or barriers keep you from pursuing your dreams. No achievement comes without obstacles. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and continue moving toward your goal. Remember no effort you make goes unrewarded. Keep looking for a job if you’re unemployed. Keep applying to schools until you’re admitted. Finish what you start. Don’t give up.

LIVING MORE SLOWLY
b-edit_MG_6892-1For many of us doing has become more important than being. Even though we long for rest and relaxation, these are needs we tend to ignore. We have to talk ourselves into the practice of slowing down and being still. A culture of doers, we have places to go, people to meet, things to do. The only thing we think we can’t do is nothing.

LIVING OPENLY
b_MG_8295The problem with carrying around a secret is that it can be toxic, costing you peace of mind, happiness, even your health. Keeping secrets interferes with your ability to be yourself, and to be intimate with others. It doesn’t matter what your secret is; keeping secrets is a form of dishonesty that causes harm to us physically, psychologically and spiritually, and sometimes causes harm to others.

Yoga teaches us that truthfulness is a guiding principle of our practice both on and off our yoga mat. We learn that by shining a light on the hidden places within ourselves we can safely avoid their stress-related consequences. Even though the thought of revealing a secret can seem scary, once you take that first step, it gets easier.

LIVING WITH STILLNESS
october blog“Go to your room!” “Sit still until I tell you to move!” “You need a time out!” For those of us who grew up hearing these words when we misbehaved, is it any wonder that as adults we have an aversion to being still, to being quiet, or to being alone? When stillness, time-out, and alone time are used as forms of punishment, how likely is it that we would look forward to, much less be able to delight, in stillness?


LIVING WITH CONTENTMENT
grayweb-edit_MG_4513Contentment should not be confused with complacency, which is a state of stagnation, or no growth. Rather, contentment is a sign that we are at peace with our circumstances, and ourselves. Being content does not mean that we have to settle for what we don’t want, whether it is a toxic relationship, unbearable living conditions, or inhumane working conditions. Contentment starts with accepting reality as it is, not as we want it to be. Accepting reality can lead us to make the necessary changes that result in an overall sense of well-being.

Contentment is not the same as happiness. We all face difficult times in our lives. But it is possible to find contentment even in painful circumstances through acceptance of the situation. In the case of a devastating illness, loss or other unwelcomed circumstance, we may go through various stages of emotional turmoil such as denial, anger, and depression before we reach acceptance. But it is possible to find contentment and inner peace, even then….No matter what your circumstance, there is always the possibility of living life more fully.

Contentment is the ability to appreciate how much you have, rather than how much you want.

LIVING LIFE WITH CHANGE
b-edit516Change is risky and can be accompanied by sadness, fear, regret, anger, and disappointment. If you stepped on a nail, it would obviously be painful and you would want to remove it. But before it feels better, removing the nail hurts, sometimes more than staying on it. Truth be told, there are times when we’d rather adjust to and accept a familiar hurt than risk the discomfort of change, even if the change we face leads to something better. But you can’t “put the past behind you and move on” without saying goodbye to what you are leaving.

There is wisdom to be gained by reflecting on change, its inevitability, and how to gracefully accept it. The ability to embrace change is an essential part of living. Accepting the pain that sometimes comes with it is fundamental to the embrace of life itself. Where there is life there is change. Without change there is no growth and no life. To align with life, we must become one with change and “go with the flow.”

 The Rune of Termination and New Beginnings
“The life you have been living has outgrown its form, and must die so new energy can be released. May you undergo a death within your self. You are always free to resist, but remain mindful that the new life is always greater than the old. Prepare then for opportunity disguised as loss.”

Namaste

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Make A Way Out of No Way

b_MG_7448There is a popular story–some call it an urban legend–that circulates about Itzhak Perlman, one of the greatest and most famous violinists of our time. He contracted polio as a child, requiring him to wear leg braces and walk with crutches. Now, at each concert performance, he makes a slow entrance on his crutches onto the stage, sits down, unclasps the braces on his legs and prepares to play. As the story goes, one evening in a performance at New York’s Lincoln Center, he entered the stage in his usual way and began performing a challenging concerto. Near the middle of the performance one of the strings on his violin broke. Everyone in the audience could hear the loud snap. For any other violinist this would not have been a problem, embarrassing maybe, but not a problem. He would have simply gotten up, gone to the side of the stage and attached a new string or gotten another violin. The audience sat in silence waiting to see what Perlman would do. Would he have to put his braces back on and painstakingly make his way across the stage to find another violin?

They watched in wonder as he paused, closed his eyes, and remained still. Then he signaled for the conductor to begin again. Perlman picked up where he had left off and began passionately playing the piece in its entirety with only three strings. It was obvious watching him that he was creating, modulating, and reconfiguring the piece in his head to accommodate the absent string. At the end of the performance, there was an awed silence. Then the audience went wild, jumping to their feet in deafening applause. Perlman raised his bow to quiet the crowd. When the audience settled down he spoke in a reverent tone. “You know,” he said, “sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

Grandmothers used to call that making do with what you have; or making a way out of no way. In yoga making do with what you have, or finding a way out of no way, is one of 10 ethical principles practiced to cultivate inner harmony and strength. It is called the practice of Santosha, or contentment. To the yogi, practicing contentment is a wise way of making peace with our family, our community, and ourselves. It is a pathway to joy.

I used to think that making do was a sign of complacency, but I’ve come to recognize it as a way of being satisfied within the container of your own experience. It involves the practice of appreciating and wanting what you have instead of focusing your attention on having what you want.

Contentment should not be confused with complacency, which is a state of stagnation, or no growth. Rather, contentment is a sign that we are at peace with our circumstances, and ourselves. Being content does not mean that we have to settle for what we don’t want, whether it is a toxic relationship, unbearable living conditions, or inhumane working conditions. Contentment starts with accepting reality as it is, not as we want it to be. Accepting reality can lead us to make the necessary changes that result in an overall sense of well-being.

Paradoxically, accepting reality as it is can help us develop a greater capacity for hopefulness. It opens us to the possibility of a better situation than the one we may find ourselves in. The Perlman parable teaches us that by accepting reality as it is instead of longing for something different, we can learn to make something beautiful with what we have left.

Contentment is not the same as happiness. We all face difficult times in our lives. But it is possible to find contentment even in painful circumstances through acceptance of the situation. In the case of a devastating illness, loss, or other unwelcomed circumstance, we may go through various stages of emotional turmoil such as denial, anger, and depression before we reach acceptance. But it is possible to find contentment and inner peace, even then.

No matter what your circumstance, there is always the possibility of living life more fully. Contentment is the ability to appreciate how much you have, rather than how much you want. As we cultivate this attitude within ourselves we become more stable in our ability to remain joyful even when things don’t go as we planned or as we hoped they would. When we find a way to make do with what we have we have opened the door to making a way out of no way, to finding peace and contentment within ourselves, and to becoming joyful beyond measure.

Namaste

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Go With the Flow

web ready_MG_6906

“Everything must change. Nothing stays the same. Everyone will change no one stays the same…There are not many things in life you can be sure of, except rain comes from the clouds, sun lights up the sky, and hummingbirds do fly.”
Benard Ighner

There is a story you may have heard about a postman on his mail delivery route who happened to see a man sitting on his porch. Next to the man was a whimpering dog. The postman asked the man, “What’s wrong with your dog?” The man said, “He’s laying on a nail.” The postman was confused. “Laying on a nail?,” he said. “Well, why doesn’t he get up?” The man replied, “It’s not hurting bad enough.”

This story is often told by motivational speakers as a way to point out the absurdity of remaining in a painful situation, and to encourage people to get off their own personal nails and make the necessary changes that will ease their discomfort. Coming off the nail could mean leaving an unhappy relationship, a dead-end job, or fulfilling a lifelong dream. But the parable leaves out an important element. Change is risky and can be accompanied by sadness, fear, regret, anger, and disappointment. If you stepped on a nail, it would obviously be painful and you would want to remove it. But before it feels better, removing the nail hurts, sometimes more than staying on it. Truth be told, there are times when we’d rather adjust to and accept a familiar hurt than risk the discomfort of change, even if the change we face leads to something better.

Whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, change is always occurring and with it comes uncertainty. It may manifest as an unwelcomed illness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or as an opportunity, like an unexpected promotion, or the finalization of an adoption, an event you’d given up hope would ever occur. You might experience a change of heart, like a vacation you thought you wanted to take with friends, but at the last minute you decide to stay at home. It could be a failed relationship. No matter what it is, accepting change and adjusting to it can be tough.

Clinging to the familiar is a normal part of the process of accepting change. Once we realize and accept the fact that change has actually occurred, we find ourselves living with the anxiety of not knowing what lies ahead. That can be disorienting. To ease the anxiety we alternate between clinging to the way things were, and frantically searching for what’s next.

Rather than remaining stuck in how you wish things were, and before you rush into how you hope things will be, take some time to reflect on how you feel right now about the change that has occurred. You can’t “put the past behind you and move on” without saying goodbye to what you are leaving. Let yourself experience the impact the change has had on you, even if it hurts.

There is wisdom to be gained by reflecting on change, its inevitability, and how to gracefully accept it. The ability to embrace change is an essential part of living. Accepting the pain that sometimes comes with it is fundamental to the embrace of life itself. Where there is life there is change. Without change there is no growth and no life. To align with life, we must become one with change and “go with the flow.”

In the spirit of embracing change, it seems fitting to share some wisdom that can help us look at change through fresh eyes. It is wisdom we can turn to for comfort, reassurance, and clarity as we courageously build the bridge we walk across into an uncertain future. Consider this:

“The life you have been living has outgrown its form, and must die so new energy can be released. May you undergo a death within your self. You are always free to resist, but remain mindful that the new life is always greater than the old. Prepare then for opportunity disguised as loss.”
The Rune of Termination and New Beginnings

Namaste

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20/20 Insight

Recently I watched a documentary called “Dark Girls” produced by Bill Duke, in which various shades of brown-skinned American women of African ancestry described their experiences of being shunned, bullied, and made to feel inferior because of their dark skin. These women were beautiful, but had been made to feel unattractive and unwanted in a culture that regards certain differences as odd, foreign, threatening or, even worse, repulsive.

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Whether or not we know it, like it, or believe it, deviations from deeply embedded, culturally accepted stereotypes shape our attitudes toward what is acceptable and what is not, as well as who is acceptable and who is not.

Americans have been acculturated to regard certain types of beauty, usually fair skin, straight blond hair, blue eyes, toothpick thin, no curves (except maybe for large breasts), as the standard by which to evaluate women as worthy, beautiful, smart (or not), pleasing, and acceptable. And there are other stereotypes that shape our consciousness and affect our attitudes toward race, ethnicity, religion, body type, gender, political affiliation, gun ownership, physical ability, intellectual prowess, age, and more.

Attitudes operate on two levels – consciously and unconsciously. They reflect our thoughts, influence our words, and manifest in our actions. Our conscious attitudes are made up of what we are aware of, what we choose to believe. Our unconscious attitudes are those knee jerk reactions and automatic associations that lurk beneath the surface of our awareness. These unconscious attitudes could be entirely incompatible with what we say we believe.

We don’t deliberately choose our unconscious attitudes; we’re obviously not aware of them, and therein lays the problem. Unless you become aware, the unconscious may cause you to say or do things that embarrass you and unintentionally harm other people. We see this all the time in media reports of people falsely accused of wrong doing based on their looks alone, or the latest high-profile politician, celebrity, or religious leader who has to publicly apologize for making outrageously offensive remarks about a group of people or an individual who doesn’t fit their stereotype of acceptability.

There is an ongoing national conversation about how to cultivate inclusive attitudes and behaviors that embrace and celebrate all types of difference, and that challenge cultural stereotypes. The yoga community in the United States is an important part of this conversation.

The word “yoga” means to connect or to join with. Yoga really is for everybody, not just for those who look a certain way, think a certain way, and act a certain way. We can easily forget this and be lulled into thinking of union as sameness, ignoring the reality and the value of difference.

Some of us have been taught to ignore difference, learning that it doesn’t really matter and shouldn’t exist in our minds. But that’s delusional. Any observant human being knows that difference does exist and it does matter.

Ignoring differences might give you a feeling of comfort or security, but it creates disconnection between people and makes intimacy impossible. It also sets you up to be highjacked by unconscious attitudes.

Our attitudes around difference may not always be conscious, but through the practice of compassionate Self–Study we can become conscious of them.

If we choose to live a conscious life, we can benefit from checking our attitudes. With awareness we can rid ourselves of unconscious prejudices and shape our consciousness to be open to, embrace, and celebrate a culture that is becoming more varied and expansive every moment. If you’re curious and want to learn more about your deep seated attitudes regarding a variety of differences including race, gender, ethnicity, weight, skin tone, religion, sexuality and more, go to www.implicit.harvard.edu and take the test that reveals your unconscious attitudes about difference. It’s a real eye opener and remember: 20/20 insight is a precursor to change.

Namaste

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