One does not have to look very far to realize the degree of chaos, strife, wars, anger, fear, suffering, sadness, and overall negativity in the world today. One bout with the evening news, national news sites, or newspaper will help you come to this conclusion very quickly. (see post on my thoughts about watching the news). Compounding this bout with negativity are our own family and personal issues and challenges we currently face. One can quickly feel overwhelmed, scared, sad and angry. I know, that is how I have been feeling for the past few months, which is the primary reason I have not posted recently.
That has been the story of my life recently. Challenges at work where the company is undergoing major transformation, translating into reductions in staff, continuous changes, and uncertainty. My spouse is having problems with her job, and in particular her manager. We recently lost an amazing pet. My children are growing older as I watch them begin to make their own decisions meaning that I am no longer in control (or was I ever really?). And of course there is the upcoming election, which has been driving me crazy and concerned for our future. So on and so forth. Life is indeed challenging!
These are the waves of life. There are periods where we are on top of the wave, experiencing the amazing aspects and times life has to offer, feeling on top of the world, and having a great time. And then there are periods where the wave crashes, where we find ourselves underwater, crashed up on the shore, and struggling once again. It sucks to be on these up and down cycles, but that is what life is about it.
I received an email from one of my favorite authors, Anita Moorjani. Her email led with this… “How can we manage to keep loving, laughing, and shining our lights while we feel the suffering of others around the world?” She then continues…
“This is really the biggest challenge. If we feel guilty because they are suffering while our life is good, we won’t be bringing healing into the world. I like to explain it as follows: If you imagine that you are a light bulb, the brighter you shine, the more you illuminate the room, including for the people who are lost and who are in darkness. The only way that you can bring light into the world is by shining your light brighter, not by dimming your own light. Your very presence is all that matters.”
It was the reminder I needed to realize that I was succumbing to my fears which had the effect of dimming my own light. It was easy to fall back into this hole, one that I had been in many times during my life. I had somehow thought that I would be immune to these periods because I had spent so much time soul searching and dealing with my personal issues. Instead, I wake up each day and realize that although my awareness levels have changed, I am prone to feeling the fears that developed almost half a century ago. The difference now is that my awareness (mindfulness) kicks in earlier than it used to, reminding me to practice what I preach, which is to make that attitude adjustment.
This awareness is tough, just like a double-edge sword. On one side it helps us to live life more aware of what is going on, our patterns, strengths, challenge areas, and beliefs. On the other side, it can cut deep, reminding us that we have choices and must take charge of our attitudes, beliefs and actions. Understanding that we have choices helps us to overcome living in the victim role. But with this realization, comes responsibility, something we really like to avoid. After all, it is easier to blame someone else than to point the finger back at ourselves. For me, this is about switching the lens over my eyes, from one of focusing on the negative, to one that allows me to focus on gratitude.
It is the classic play between our own good and evil, David vs. Goliath. In my case, it is my tendency to focus on fear, which was a result of the trauma I experienced during my life. Fear then becomes a cloud that hangs over my head, making it difficult to see any light. My own light, in terms of my ability to help others, diminishes as well. I am too focused on what I fear will happen. This is compounded by what we see in the world today, the negative impact on ourselves and others as a result of greed, quest for power, close-mindedness, arrogance, bias, prejudice, etc. When I focus on these, which is what happens whenever I watch the news, I find myself drained and unhappy. It impacts me, since I realize the impact that this behavior can have, and does have, on others. It feels like Goliath is winning, and I feel helpless in taking a stand.
What can we do during these times? Is it possible to be happy with all of the negativity around us?
I begin with the Serenity Prayer. Although it refers to “God” and “He/Him” you can replace this with whomever or however you believe in some concept of a higher power…
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/prayers/protestant/addiction/serenity-prayer.aspx#VowdtDdKgxmlf502.99
This reminds me that I cannot change all the negativity and issues out there today, but what I do have in control is my own attitude. The first difference I can make is with myself!
The next step I would suggest is to change the word “happy” to “content” or “okay”. Happy brings with it the connotation that we are on top of a wave, laughing, partying, and having a grand ol’ time. Content, just as the name implies, is a feeling of being okay, and being okay with feeling okay. Content recognizes that crap is happening around us, and a choice to acknowledge this, but not let it consume your focus.
Next is focusing on gratitude. No matter what your situation is, there is a great value in recognizing what you do have in this moment. Spending a few moments for what you are grateful for can shift your perspective to something more positive. My personal fix for this is watching my favorite Ted Talk by Louie Schwartzberg, “Nature, Beauty, Gratitude“. When I realize what I have to be thankful for, and focus on this, it is easier to feel okay.
Then comes mindfulness, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
One of the powerful aspects of being okay with self comes from your awareness that you are feeling scared, angry, sad, overwhelmed, and that these feelings are okay! This is what is meant by acceptance of how we feel. This is what being human is all about. Acknowledge your feelings which can take some time to understand. We may feel agitated, but with some further reflection, realize that we are really scared or angry, as we get in touch with our core issues, fears and unhealthy beliefs.
To get through these challenging times, it is important that we define our core beliefs. Whether it is subscribing to a religious belief, or defining your own, a belief is central to how we experience life. The stronger our core beliefs are, the easier it is to withstand life’s challenges (see post on ABC model for more on this topic)
One of the fundamental beliefs I have about life is that what we see in our external world is actually a reflection of our own beliefs we have formed over our life experience. Your Inner World equals your Outer World. The pain we see around us, is actually a reminder of our own pain. The good we see in the world, despite all the negativity, is a reflection of the good we see in ourselves, seeing our own good despite our own negative tendencies and beliefs.
But mostly, it is all about being okay with who we are, how we are, where we are, and why we are the way we are. This is what being authentic is all about. Something I learned along the way, and have to remind myself repeatedly, is that there is no measuring stick or definition of success that I have to subscribe to, whether it is that of our parents, society, or friends. It is about being who we truly are, accepting the good, bad and the ugly. It is my belief that at the end of this life, my way of viewing my life, will be based on how well I loved. And it begins by loving and accepting ourselves first.
On a personal note: thank you for caring about what is happening in the world today. Being impacted by what is going on, and feeling depressed, saddened, scared, etc. shows that you care, and care is a form of love!