Politics and Joy

This is an oxymoron for me, as I have never enjoyed politics at all.  But, with such an intense and enduring election in USA, with a shocking result, it seems necessary to be able to find some joy somehow.  So, I dug deep.  I realized that most people’s default setting is that someone or something -like government- will help them.  Or we need someone or something to blame when things aren’t going how we like.  Or sometimes we use people or situations to distract us from our own issues.  All convenient but not accurate, nor helpful. (Disclaimer: Yes, of course, government programs and actions do help and serve many people.  But we cannot become dependent on anything or anyone outside of ourselves to live our lives for us.)

The truth is that we are the creators of our own lives.  That’s painful to acknowledge when things aren’t going how we’d like.  Yet, we hold the key to our thoughts and feelings.  And our thoughts and feelings create our realities. So, how was I expecting the government to help me, how was I blaming the government for what I didn’t like about my own reality, or how was I using this situation to distract me from my own issues?   In other words, how was I not taking ownership of my own life?

The morning after the election, my knee was hurting badly for no apparent physical reason.  Checking in my Louise Hay, You Can Heal Your Life book, I am reminded that knee problems have to do with pride, stubbornness, inflexibility and not giving in.  Ooooh, I had been stubborn, to say the least, about seeing how the president-elect could be beneficial.  I was being inflexible about how I believed he was selfish, disingenuous, and uncaring (among other less nice characteristics).  I certainly know that agonizing over bad aspects of anyone or anything is never, ever a good thing.  (I had to re-read this post.)  This case is no exception.

Because of this knowledge and the hope that I would find relief for my aching knee, I opened up to try to find one thing about him that wasn’t awful.  I found it!  He doesn’t care what people think of him.  Which is a trait I exceedingly cherish and try to have.  I mean, that’s my life’s work – to be me regardless of other people’s opinions.  (Disclaimer #2: This does not mean that I want to do the same actions as him.  We have different values and want different things.  I’m just talking about the not living life based on needing the good opinion of other people part.)  From there, I found a couple other aspects that weren’t terrible.

I felt some relief now and realized how much energy goes into hating.  With the respite, another level of information came to me:  This has to be something to do with me directly.  I don’t even know him and I’m not into politics, so why is this bothering me to this extent?  I realize it’s not even what he says, but his general mannerisms that irritate me so much.

Then it hits me like a ton of bricks. He reminds me of someone I know.  Someone I had issues with.  Not just annoyance but deep issues from childhood.  I thought I had already dealt with these issues.  But now I see that even though I had become aware of them and forgave the person, I never opened the gift.

The gift is all the wonderful lessons we learn, how we evolved because of it, and noticing the good that came or could come from it.

As is customary after receiving a gift, we thank the giver.  Closure cannot come without acknowledging and thanking the person.  Without opening and giving gratitude for the gift, the issue just sort of lingers and lurks about waiting for our acceptance.  So, I thoroughly went over this issue from childhood and found the good in it and felt genuine gratitude to the persons involved.

The point of this post isn’t that everyone has a personal issue related to a political representative.  But the idea is that we have the power in our own lives.  It’s our choice how we feel, react, and respond to whatever is going on around us, whether it be in our own house, the country, or the world.  Are we going to love or hate?   Are we going to live in courage or fear?  It’s a personal choice of which we have full power.

Second point, it’s always beneficial to not dwell in fear and negativity.  When we look for the positive and good in all situations, absolutely including politicians we don’t agree with, when we stop playing the I’m- better-than and the blame game, then we give ourselves a chance to feel relief, love, and joy.  And from here, we get all kinds of things we want.  Maybe even a politician hearing us.

We can’t be full of hate and negativity and expect to see a loving, positive world.  Through each of our own individual attitudes of love and peace, the world will reflect that.

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Changing Old, Cranky Habits

When we start focusing on feeling more joyful, we soon become aware of some of our habits that are getting in the way of our joy.  These habits can be actual behaviors or merely thought patterns.  But trying to change an unwanted habit can be a daunting task.  It used to make me very grumpy, to say the least, to try to stop doing that old habit!  And that’s even when we are intentionally attempting to break the habit.  But sometimes, we don’t even realize we are doing the old habit.  It’s almost as if our brains are on autopilot.  Lo and behold, that actually is the case!

In fact, scientific research has discovered neural pathways in our brains.  These are like highways in which messages travel.  A simple example of a pathway forming is if we feel stressed (or worried, threatened, anxious, etc.) and then drink alcohol or go shopping or rant to a friend or binge eat or do whatever that makes us feel better, then cells become wired together that tell the brain the next time we feel this stress, take this same road to feel better.  The more the messages travel on the highway, the better formed the highway becomes.  Hence, pathways -habits- become difficult to alter and responses become automated.

But, fortunately, with our conscious awareness, these roads can be changed.  Neuroplasticity is a fancy term meaning the brain can form new pathways throughout our lives.  Research has shown that new neural pathways are formed through new behaviors, and even by imagining behaviors.  What matters is the repetition of the behavior, actual or imagined.  We all have experienced that the more often we do something, the easier it gets. This is the highway becoming better formed.

Think of it as a trail through the woods.  The first time through, it needs careful, slow footing and an axe to get through the heavy bush.  But once the trail is blazed then it becomes a path to easily walk on.  But what happens to the old pathways that are no longer traveled?  Just like the trail in the forest would become overgrown if not walked upon, the pathway will naturally fade out if not used.  But, how to not use these well-treaded paths?!

False Brain Messages

In the book, You Are Not Your Brain by Schwartz and Gladding, they suggest that we train our brains to perceive habits – good or bad ones – as vital to our survival.  Deceptive brain messages, as they call them, convince us we must do this certain behavior to stay alive.  Essentially, the brain’s job is to ensure our physical survival.  When we feel a negative emotion, the brain sees it as an alarm it must take care of immediately.  So, whatever seems beneficial and makes us feel better in the very short term is the route the brain will take.  The brain, on its own, will not bypass immediate relief by considering long term goals and desires.  The brain isn’t concerned with our future well-being, it just cares about preventing our imminent death.  Our brains are not actually smart; it’s our minds that have all the wisdom.

Clearly seeing the brain’s function for what it is, it becomes easier to break free of old habits.  When we notice we are engaging in an old habit, ask ourselves, what benefit does my brain think I am getting from this habit?  Then use our mind to tell ourselves this is a deceptive brain message and that the brain thinks this habit will help us to survive.  This is where it is essential to remind ourselves that the false brain message is not true and then to go over why it isn’t true.  (Hint: it probably has to do with feeling unworthy.) Schwartz and Gladding say to then refocus by doing a different behavior or think a different thought.

An Example of Breaking a Habit

One of my negative habits is to check and re-check my work at my “day job”.  And after I check it twice, to then check it again…and maybe again!  The deceptive brain message from which this habit stems is about not being capable of doing my work correctly (which originated in childhood, but we don’t need to get into all that now).  This message – even though not true – triggers the uncomfortable sensations of anxiety and worry.  To immediately alleviate those sensations, I have trained myself (unconsciously) to check, ad nauseam, to make sure my work is correct.  This gives me immediate relief from worry and anxiety, which is all the brain is concerned with – get those bad feelings to go away ASAP!  Benefit achieved.  But the problem with that is that the false brain message just keeps coming back and, what’s more, it gets worse (the trail get more and more blazed as it is used).

This is where the conscious mind must come in and say something along the lines of, ‘Whoa!  This is not helping me in the long run.  Yea, checking my work makes me feel better in that moment and may even prevent a panic attack, but I now know that I will feel more anxiety about this later.  I now know this message of incapability is false.  I learned it in childhood and have perpetuated it into my adult life.  I know this message is not true now because I have successfully been doing these work tasks for years.’  And so on, until I have convinced myself the brain message is not true.

Next step is to refocus on a completely different activity or thought. I keep a few refocus activities stashed in my mental pocket, so they are available to me without having to struggle to come up with something when I am deep in false brain message mode. Some of mine are going for a walk, learning Italian words, looking at nature, appreciating a beautiful object, Googling a place I’d like to travel, crafting.  The refocusing activities should be positive things or, at least, not detrimental.  We don’t want to replace a bad habit with a new, but still not helpful one.

What old, negative habit do you want to let go of?  What false brain message is associated with it?  Why is the message not true?

Research shows that it takes a few weeks of persistence, practice, and focused repetition to make a new neural pathway.  Remember you are not just breaking a bad habit, but squashing false brain messages.  So give it a try and hang in there!

The List of Already Manifested Things

I have noticed, in the past, that when I didn’t get things that I wanted, there was a part of me that felt it was because I didn’t deserve them.  My somewhat subconscious thinking often went along the lines of, I didn’t get x, so I must not have deserved it.  On the other hand, when I did get things I wanted, I felt that I got them because I did deserve them.  Of course, this is all hogwash and I have wised up from this type of worthy vs. unworthy thinking.  But it did get me thinking.  Could there be some value in recalling things that we wanted and have already manifested?

Often after we get something we wanted, we take it for granted – at least we take for granted how badly we wanted it and how difficult it may have been to get it.  We get it and then we almost directly move on to the next wanted thing, probably already feeling dismal about not having it and becoming discouraged, antsy or even angered about not receiving it.  Rather than keep repeating this energy-draining cycle over and over by focusing on the next thing and the next thing, we can turn it around by putting our attention on what we have wanted and have already received.

This is another way to use our thoughts to increase our joy.  In doing this, it focuses our minds positively, rather than lamenting about what we want and have not yet received.  Remember, if our minds are left untended to, the ego will think negative, unworthy, incapable thoughts.

When we focus on and ponder a list of already manifested things (material, mental, emotional and spiritual things) we not only appreciate what we received, but we also feel the empowerment of our thoughts and actions.  In reminding ourselves that we did indeed get things we wanted, we are uplifted and empowered.  Just as we increased our self-worth by thinking good, kind thoughts about ourselves (click here for a review), this is another way to affirm our worth.  It is a way for us to see our strengths, capabilities and talents in action!

Then we can take and apply this hopefulness and empowerment to what we currently want.  We tell ourselves, ‘I did/received this, this, this, and this, surely I can do/receive this new thing, as well.’  We remind ourselves that we sometimes (or maybe every time) felt daunted or discouraged, at the start, when we wanted something. But it did not prevent the manifestation (although it may have held it up a bit!).  And so this time, rather than feeling overwhelmed or disheartened, we optimistically and enthusiastically anticipate the manifestation, remembering and being grateful for what we have already wanted and received.  Most importantly we remember and revel in our capabilities and worthiness along the way.

What have you wanted and already manifested?   Feel and know your power and worthiness as you recall everything on that list.  What new things do you want?  Remember your power and worth during the process as they make their way to you!

Positive Lists About “Bad” Situations

As discussed in the last post, it can be greatly beneficial to deliberately adjust our bad feeling about someone or something. This time we will focus on the something. First off, let’s point out a not so obvious reason why this can be beneficial.

There is indeed a silver lining to the dark cloud of being stuck in a situation we don’t like. When we know what we don’t want, we know what we do want because we know we want the opposite of what we don’t want! Did you get that? (Ha!) As always, we are mindful of making the best of whatever circumstances we may have gotten ourselves into. But, some things and events we just simply do not want. And that is perfectly okay; we all have preferences – that’s part of being human. So rather than fear, whine about, feel depressed or sulk around when things aren’t going as we may like, we can look at what the opposite of the unwanted situation is and realize and declare to the Universe, I now know very clearly what it is that I do want! This is a huge benefit of a “bad” situation or circumstance. Remember, to get what we want, we have to know what it is. That seems obvious, but a lot of the time we just focus on what we don’t like and don’t want and so that is what keeps getting replayed in our reality.

A personal example of mine was a particularly bad workday. I did not want to be doing that type of work anymore. I felt depressed and didn’t know where to turn next. After I felt bad for a few hours, I wised up and remembered it is okay to feel bad about this (briefly, let’s not get stuck in the bad feeling) because this is helping me to identify what it is that I really do want in a job. So I thought about what in particular I was struggling with at my job – too detail-oriented and not a meaningful objective. So, that meant I want to be working in something that is more big picture-oriented and meaningful to me.

With this shift in attention, our attitudes change from doom and gloom to hope and aspiration. From here, we can move on to making a Positive List about the bad situation. Just as we listed the positive things about another person in the last post, we do the same with the situation. But the positive aspects here ought to also include big-picture types of things, such as: an opportunity for personal growth, what we became aware of from the “bad” situation, what we learned from mistakes or flaws (ours or other people’s), (I love these quotes from Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” “Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.”)

Consciously finding the positive in a “bad” situation or circumstance helps us to transcend the anguish, dread, anxiety, victimhood, fear and anger associated with it and frees us from the mental burdens that stuck with us.

What “bad” situation are you mentally turning around today?

Deliberate Joyful Activities

Awhile back when I was doing an appreciation list, I realized that, although thoughts and feelings are of utmost importance (which the appreciation list comprises), we are physical beings living in a physical world and our activities cannot be dismissed. So, along with appreciating, I have found that doing things that are joyful is also a big part of being joyful. Yes, having a joyful attitude no matter what activity we are doing is essential. But why not also deliberately put joyful activities on our to-do lists, as well. I’m a list person, so I made a list, ‘Do 3-5 things that bring me joy today’. I have a tendency to get caught up in things I have to do, as many people do. What this list does is remind us to make time for joyful activities. The joy list is vital because before we know it the day is over and we didn’t get to do anything we enjoyed. And before we know it our lives will be over and we didn’t do anything we enjoyed. A joyful day- each day – adds up to a joyful life.

The list also brings into our awareness that what we are doing is joyful; we remember and acknowledge joy. For me, a lot of times I don’t even realize I am doing something I enjoy because too much of my focus is on the negative (ego in charge). I have realized that I am more joyful than my ego would like me to think! The joy activity list serves as a reminder that we are indeed leading a good, happy life which may just be covered up by a focus on the negative.

What kinds of things are on a joy to-do list? They don’t have to be big, exciting, thrilling activities. Bigger isn’t better. Remember the point is to remember and acknowledge joy. A typical list of mine includes things, such as, listen to music I love, exercise, walk in nature, talk or email with family, do an art/craft project, read an inspiring book, watch a funny show. This will be a very personalized list. Whatever is enjoyable to you can be on your list. Remember the point is not what you are doing, but that you are making a deliberate effort to do what you enjoy and acknowledging the fact that you are doing it.

At the end of the day I like to think about each thing I did on my joy list. That is when it really sinks in that I did indeed have a fun, joy-filled day and the ego cannot tell me otherwise. This review really makes the most of the joy activity because not only do we enjoy the activity in the moment of doing it, but then we get to re-live the good feeling when we think back on it.

What’s on your joy to-do list today?

Maintaining Self-Worth

Now that we’ve gone through numerous ways to increase our self-worth, what happens when we don’t keep up with the practice or the ego has off-putting comments?  The other day, for instance, my ego said, ‘You are not good at this because you have to keep doing it every day.’  That got me down at first, but then I realized these interesting analogies with eating and exercising:

We don’t eat everything for the week on Monday and then say, I’m good to go for the rest of the week.  Obviously, to be in good health we need to eat every day.  The other analogy is regarding exercising.  Even when peak physical condition is reached (analogous to having high self-worth), such as for those that win marathons and Ironman races, they don’t say, ‘I reached physical perfection and I’ll just stay here now and not workout ever again’.  No, every day they must maintain their peak condition.

So the same goes with maintaining our self-worth.  We must think kind, loving thoughts about ourselves and acknowledge our strengths and affirm our talents every day.   Because we need to do this practice every day does not make us weak or wrong or unworthy.  Just as we aren’t weak or wrong because we need to eat every day, it simply is how being human works. And if we go a day without eating -whatever the reason- of course we wouldn’t berate ourselves.  We simply would begin eating again as soon as possible.  The same goes for maintaining our self-worth.  If we miss a day (or 2 or 30!) –whatever the reason- we simply begin again as soon as possible.

I have noticed that when I get in these not-loving-myself ruts, it is when my life is hectic (physically or mentally) and I have not taken time for myself.  I am reminded that no matter how busy we are, no matter what devastating crisis has come up, if we want to be joyful we must take time to just “be”.

Yep, I’m talking about meditation.  But that word can be somewhat daunting.  I used to think I had to meditate for a certain amount of time, two times a day, in a specific way – for example, with candles lit, specific type of music, fingers touching in a certain way, sitting with my back perfectly straight.  Guess what happened when I thought that…not much because I rarely would do it!  I realized intuitively that one minute of focusing on breathing is meditation. So rather than tell myself to meditate, I like to just say I am doing some deep breathing or being still (mentally) for a few minutes.

What happens when we are mentally still (usually during but sometimes not until afterwards) is that we feel calmer; we feel the connection to something bigger than ourselves; a connection to the Source from which we came; we are able to see the Forest for the trees.  With this, our ego worries and fears drift off.  This is not something that can be quantified or proven through the senses to satisfy the ego.  But it can be felt.  Give it a try today!