Archives for July, 2012
This post is from this month's Good News for Eating Disorders Recovery ezine. It is a message I have kept close to my heart for years and years and years now, so I wanted to share it with you here as well. I hope you enjoy it! xo Shannon "Everything Really IS Alright" I mentioned in last month's Good News that I carry around a card in my wallet that says "everything really is alright." It has been in there since 1995. I have also noticed that in many similar sayings I come across, the message seems to be "everything WILL BE alright." As in, it's not alright right now. Maybe it's just me, but somehow, I find that sentiment strangely un-reassuring. Because it IS alright right now. How could it not be? I'm still here. I'm still breathing. This, to me, seems like really, really good news. But sometimes my mind disagrees. When that happens, I use this short helpful checklist to put myself at ease again:
In #9 of "15 Powerful Things Happy People Do Differently" we come to the thorny issue I've been trying to date to avoid not just on this list, but in my life. What does "abundance" really mean? This, I have discovered, is a very, VERY difficult question to answer. Or at least I find it very difficult. I want to be realistic - a concept which seems quite at odds with the concept of abundance. I also have to weigh considerations between different forms of abundance - such as financial wellbeing and free time to spend alone and with friends and family - which may seem to be or may actually be incompatible. In the same way, concepts such as "lack" or "poverty" translate in the Western parts of the world at least as directly materialistic concepts - do I lack a new car? A regular paycheck? A bigger, fancier cage with more shreddable toys for my more than deserving pet bird? Digging down deep beneath surface considerations that can be stacked, counted, and stashed, we get to the less tangible aspects of abundance, lack and poverty. Some, such as "an abundance of love," I find frankly confusing. Who can really have too much love in their life? Any amount would seem like an abundance - even an over-abundance when so many lonely people live amongst us today. A poverty of love, on the other hand, may look quite different in one life versus another.
As we arrive at #8 on the list of "15 Powerful Things Happy People Do Differently," it is crystal clear that the issue of selfless versus selfish behavior has never been more clouded than it is in today's culture, with its me-first-run-rife mentality and obvious, gaping inequalities in places and between people who really ought to know - and do - better. If you just so happen to inhabit the world of recovering and recovered people, like I do, then those discrepancies can get even more confusing. In the course of my work, for instance, it is not uncommon to encounter a "recovery martyr." This is an individual who is hell-bent on helping others, but seems to have somehow exonerated themselves from ever actually having to endure the awkward process of accepting any help for themselves in return. It is nearly as common in recovery work to encounter the individual who is all out for themselves - typically, this person has either spent the preceding years mired in quicksand on the recovery martyr trail, or is only just emerging from a pattern of unkind treatment from self and others that is too unacceptable to be born for one moment longer. Somewhere in the middle, at various points along the continuum, the rest of us are usually hanging out.
With #7 in the list of "15 Powerful Things Happy People Do Differently" we tackle the issue of lookalikes. By this I mean, when one thing masquerades as another, how do we know which one is "real"? What if they are both real - for instance, what if the presence of a "problem" is as real in the life of an unhappy person as the presence of a "challenge" is real in the life of a happy person? It is for just such a dilemma as this that Ms. Purpose Fairy (aka our beloved "15 Powerful Things'" authoress) apparently wrote her article. According to #7, "Happy people will see PROBLEMS as CHALLENGES, as opportunities to explore new ways of doing things, expressing their gratitude for them, understanding that underneath them all lays many opportunities that will allow them to expand and to grow." Period, the end. With most of the other points, there is additional explication, quotes from famous people, etc. But with #7, this is all we get - and this is all we need.
Oh boy. When I saw this topic, #6 on the list of my current obsession, an article called "15 Things Happy People Do Differently," I thought "here we go." Because this just might be the nuclear missile-equipped fire-resistant wall that stands, ever firm and resilient, between my little corner of the world and the good folks who are even now lining up to join the "happy people" club. In particular, I struggle with self-criticism. I struggle with criticizing others too, of course, but the meanest thought my mind can ever produce while trained on someone else is just a weak pretender in the face of the verbal bombs I lob at myself on a daily basis. Obviously, this is an area my mentor and I work on a lot. The issue can be aggravated in the presence of stress, female issues, heartache, the mere mention of certain members of my extended family, finding bird poop on the brand new cute dress I was planning to wear out tonight.....pretty much anything can trigger it, actually. I also grew up in a family with the double-edged sword of DNA laced with the "sarcastic humor" gene. As I have progressed in my recovery journey, this means that what I used to find really funny now I often find just plain mean. Thank goodness - but it is a painful discovery nonetheless.
According to the should-be-a-blockbuster-bestseller article "15 Powerful Things Happy People Do Differently," there is a difference between ambition and success, but not meaning and success. Or at least there is if I am reading it correctly. Here is what I am reading: "The irony here is that most of the time they [the happy people] get both, success and meaning, just because they choose to focus on doing the things they love the most and they always pursue their heart desires. They are not motivated by money; they want to make a difference in the lives of those around them and in the world." Being a freelance writer, speaker, and (very) non-profit director with a, um, variable income, I do have to confess that there is also a point where meaning and success at least want to, if not choose to, part ways. By that I mean - it can become very, very hard to focus on making a meaningful difference to others - at least in a way that actually has any meaning to it - when one's own bank account has logged a certain number of hours in the red zone. But then again, as my mentor always reminds me, "Anything worth doing is worth giving everything of yourself to". It is the hardest stuff that also comes with the biggest payoff attached, and the most meaningful stuff that often takes the most effort and time to accomplish. In this mix there is also another variable my mentor has struggled to infuse me with - a meaningful attention to self.
I will admit when I first read #4 on the list of "15 Powerful Things Happy People Do Differently," I automatically read "Trust Versus Distrust" instead. It took me a minute to read the d-word that was actually written - "doubt." Sooooo interesting! The dictionary definition of distrust basically says that when we distrust, we "have no confidence in" or "regard as dishonest." When we doubt, we "have a lack of conviction" or "hesitate to believe." So distrust is basically doubt in a hurry. And while it may not seem like a big step to go from doubt to distrust, that tiny window of hesitation is what allows trust the chance to apply for our consideration. Probably my favorite line from the "15 Powerful Things" article on this segment is: "They [happy people] understand that beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies, and because of that, they make sure to treat everybody with love, dignity and respect, making no distinctions between age, sex, social status, color, religion or race." How beautiful! So many great people - Mark Twain, Marianne Williamson, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and others - have worked, laid down their lives even, to attempt to level the playing field between surface differences and give trust a chance to take root, bloom and grow. I feel that I owe them - owe others - owe myself - the effort to do the same.
I must admit I don't spend a lot of time reading articles and blogs on the internet. If I did, it is a pretty safe prediction I wouldn't spend much time doing much of anything else. As a lifelong learning addict (especially when the learning doesn't require scary things like tests or having to fight other students for the choicest parking spot) I could easily fill my brain with lots of information I would as quickly forget - even while I'm pretending to lock it in and justifying it as "professional research." So I have to pick my inner student's battles, so to speak, and just hone in one or two posts or articles that really speak to me at any given time. Such is my ongoing fascination with a post alluringly titled "15 Powerful Things Happy People Do Differently." I would really like to be one of these "happy people" too so I've been studying this one a lot lately. #3 on the list tackles "forgiveness versus unforgiveness." In this segment, the writer points out that it is not healthy to hold on to anger. Which makes me feel both very smart (like everybody else, I already knew this, of course) and very stupid (because somehow I still manage to do it anyway). There is a quote from Buddha included: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” I have gotten burned a lot in my lifetime, and frankly, when I start to feel that getting-too-hot feeling moving from my hand up to my brain and back down again, I have only found two things to do that are really helpful: breathe, and call my mentor.
I may be an anomaly here, but I have not yet found a way to get to acceptance without going through resistance first. This is why I found the 2nd item on the "15 Powerful Things Happy People Do Differently" list so intriguing. Or impossible, depending on when you ask me and what the particular situation I am facing may be. The writer of the article does concede that resistance is futile. Of course, I already knew that. But what I didn't know is that there is a positive as well as a negative way to view the presence of the thing I am resisting. For instance, asking questions like, "Why me - what have I ever done to anyone?" is pretty much a guaranteed downer. But if I rephrase the question (pretending I am one of those "happy people" who naturally do all these things right the first time) to ask, "Hmmm...isn't this situation interesting - what might I be able to learn from this that will be helpful to future-me?" Well then, that has the potential to change everything. I can feel that. Truly I can.