Archives for Inspirational


How I Found Happiness

I used to chase happiness like a fiend.

I would run after different experiences - goals, achievements - quite sure that once I caught up to them, happiness would at last be at my beck and call.

This is when I learned happiness is a very fast runner.

So then I would try to sneak up on, "if I don't care to little or too much but just enough" won't see me coming and I can catch it.

Turns out happiness is related to owls - they both have 360 degree vision and exceptionally keen hearing.

Finally I decided to sit still, very quietly, until happiness forgot I was there, let down its guard, and crept close.

This, surprisingly, worked better than either of the other two strategies.

After reading a short post in Time magazine's Wellness section, I think I know why.

Apparently, for Americans, the pursuit of happiness is inexorably linked to achieving individual goals.

This is a very big contrast to how other cultures (happier cultures!) view happiness - as a social phenomenon that happens most readily when it is shared.

But our individualistic society puts the sole responsibility for catching and restraining happiness squarely on each of our respective shoulders - a heavy burden indeed.

Brett Ford, the author of the study Time references in their post, says that for this very reason, what we Americans tend to end up with instead of happiness is a life full of neutrality.

We're not really sad....not really happy....just kind of in between, existing.

Personally, in a world fueled by Facebook posts full of ridiculously happy people doing amazing happiness-producing things, I find it reassuring to know that behind the scenes, no one is really that happy all the time. 


I also like what Ford tells Time reporter Mandy Oaklander:

A happy life doesn't consist of happy moments every moment of the day.

Double whew.

So back to why I now understand why letting happiness come to me works better than chasing it down or pouncing on it. 
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Animal Mentors

Why I Love My Stomach

Oh. The stomach.

That bastion of photoshopping. That naysayer of bikini season. That frenemy of (tasty) dessert.

With so much seemingly riding on its relative degree of concavity or convexity at any given moment, it is no wonder I have suffered with digestive issues for nearly as long as I've been alive.

But today I am happy to share I am mostly free from these life-long embarrassments and discomforts.

Thanks in large part to a combination of affirmations, probiotics, breathing techniques, meditation and other gentle helps, my stomach is too.

Today, my stomach and I have an agreement. It takes care of "digestion" and I take care of the rest. 
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Celebrity Mentors

A Camera-Crazy Mentoring Monk

I can't remember the very first time I saw a monk, but I also can't remember any time I've seen one that hasn't given me a lot to think about.

I mean, that takes courage - to walk about in mainstream society garbed in bright yards of fabric and ropes of brown beads.

Somehow, no matter how colorfully diverse humanity gets, that particular form of diversity always grabs my attention.

Something in me whispers, "What if.....?" and thinks of the many months I spent living in an ashram in India.

So of course I couldn't resist watching "Monk with a Camera." But what really makes Nicholas Vreeland stand out is his inability to put. the. camera. down.

Monks are supposed to renounce, well, least from what I've heard. But this particular monk fell in love with photography at age 13, far earlier than he fell in love with the internal life of a renunciant.

The documentary describes how Vreeland has struggled with his passion for well as his passion for women (Buddhist monks, like Catholic priests, take a vow of celibacy).

Interestingly, in the latter he has triumphed. But in the former, not so much. 
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Animal Mentors

Of Dogs and Prisoners

I have always had a phobia about being locked up.

No matter how alluring the crime or how rich the prize, even the vaguest thought of being sent to prison afterwards would be sufficient motivation to keep me honest.

Not to mention that orange is definitely NOT the new black in my personal color palette, and I really like my personal space (a whole house full of it when I can get it).

Plus, prison seems to make already grumpy people even grumpier, and since you become like the folks you spend the most time with, that is a whole lot of grumpy I'd like to avoid.

But when I saw a documentary called "Dogs on the Inside" on Netflix, I just had to check it out. Reason being, I had the thought that if they are now allowing prisoners to bring their pets with them, I might be able to at least downgrade it to my "minor fears" list.

Turns out that isn't precisely what "Dogs on the Inside" refers to.

But it is still really, really cool. 
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Animal Mentors

Optimist Versus Realist Versus Pessimist

As I've gotten older, I've increasingly realized the lines separating behavior that is "optimistic," "realistic" and "pessimistic" are blurrier than I thought.

So rather than getting all tangled up in the various permutations of each, I try to keep it simple and choose my "optimist mentors" wisely.

Let's take my baby tortoise, Malti, as an example.

She loves to go outside and play. In particular, she enjoys a game I call "Malti tries to sneak in the forbidden gate....again."

The game is played like so: I let Malti down in the yard, and she takes off. She makes a beeline parallel to the fence all the way to the gate that closes off my neighbor's yard (which is full of cats, dogs, chickens, a huge koi pond and large water turtles).

Her goal? To get to the gate and under the wrought iron spikes.

My goal? To catch her before she achieves her goal.

Here I've learned that baby tortoises can suddenly get a lot faster when you take your eye off them for a few seconds.

I've also learned that Malti can play this game all day long (and I do mean ALL day long).

She never ever ever gets tired of trying to get inside the forbidden gate.  
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How Trauma Has Mentored Me

Out of all the experiences I have had in my 44+ years to date, "trauma" is not one of my favorites.

For example, I did not enjoy the two decades I spent trying to heal from an eating disorder.

I didn't like my subsequent lengthy battle with anxiety and then depression.

I didn't enjoy losing my friend David, both of my best friend's parents, my first cockatiel, Jacob, and our family's dachshund, JP Morgan.

I also didn't enjoy my tumor...
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Animal Mentors

How a Puppy Taught Me to Trust My Gut

I didn't blog about it at the time, but back in July of this year we lost our 13 year-old dachshund, JP Morgan, Sr.

JP and I shared a birthday.

He was just one year younger than my parrot, Pearl.

Like the rest of his family, he enjoyed naps, walking slowly, watching TV and eating.

He also loved people.

He wasn't super crazy about other dogs, but man oh man did he crave the company of people! When my mom would take him out for a walk, he would stop when he saw a person walk by and refuse to move until that person (even if they were a total stranger) came over to give him a pat.

If ever I have met an animal whose sole purpose was to love and be loved, it was Morgan.

He went into a decline quite rapidly, losing the use of his hind legs, then his back half and all the functions that go with it. With surgery out of the question (long story) and cancer, an enlarged heart and other assorted ills already present, the kindest choice seemed to be to assist him to depart.

But this was quite a difficult choice for his little human family to make!

As fate would have it, I had just begun reading a series of books by Marta Williams, an environmental biologist-turned animal communicator (I started with "Learning Their Language: Intuitive Communication with Animals and Nature").

I had no idea I would end up calling Marta just a few weeks later for help connecting with JP in his final week. I just knew the book title intrigued me and the idea of being able to somehow intuitively communicate with the non-human world tugged at my heart strings.

When I emailed Marta, we had no idea what to expect.  
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Good News

That Moment You First Meet Your Best You

For so many years I have lived with the suspicion that there is a much kinder, sweeter, more loving being inside me than the one I spend most of my waking hours with.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not lodging a complaint about being "conscious me." These days, I feel like I mostly do a reasonably good job of staying optimistic, seeing the positive, treating myself and others with kindness and respect, and always trying to do my best.

I'm talking about something far beyond these basics.

I'm talking about a being who is - luminous. Expansive. Tuned in.

I'm talking about an "inner me" who maybe wouldn't even be able to manifest in my day-to-day without significant interruptions to that same day-to-day (for reasons of aforementioned luminosity, expansiveness, and empathy).

Recently, I realized that this being exists. I have proof.

She has always been there. I have proof of this too. 
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I’ll See You in My Dreams

I'll just say this up front - it is awfully hard for me to admit I liked any movie that made me cry this much.

And while sometimes I need "a good cry" as much as the next person, I didn't on this particular day.

Yet even with all this stacked against it, "I'll See You in My Dreams" turned out to possess that rarest and most ephemeral of all cinematic qualities - total authenticity at the heart of a tale of fiction.

As I grow older (45 this year - wow!) I find I have less of a craving for that famous quality provided by so many films - total escapism.

I think this is because, these days, I have lots of ways to escape if I want to....and a correspondingly reduced desire to escape in general as I realize more than half my time here has likely already flown by!

So the outcome is that sometimes what I crave most in a film experience is something much less easy to come by - the affirmation of what is real.

And by this I don't mean knowing answers to common trivia questions or being able to recollect my multiplication tables (I had a hard enough time remembering those on the first go-round!)

What I mean is the affirmation of a realness of life that is both totally messy and totally worth it.

What I mean is a map pointing towards the intersection of grief and gratitude, tears and smiles, complete with instructions for how to find it again from, well, anywhere.

What I mean is a dip into the depth of a totally worth-it life being fully and well lived...that also just happens to be BYOB and ends in approximately 120 minutes. 
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Animal Mentors

How to Know You Really Love Animals

It says "To Shannon, love Jack Hanna." :-)

Back in May, I got to meet legendary zoo director and animal activist Jack Hanna.

He even signed a cool postcard to me - addressing me by name.

At the time, I was pretty confident we were meeting as equals - two fellow animal lovers who simply choose to cohabitate with different numbers of non-human companions (me, 2; Jack, 200? 350?).

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