Pause. Breathe. Repeat.

I have a dear friend Ann who lives in another state and I try to see her as often as possible.  Her husband, Jim, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago .  During one visit, I had planned a surprise birthday party for Ann and managed to get most of the family there for the big party.  At one point, Jim came up to me and said, “Well, it’s finally happening.  This is it.  I think I’m going to die now.” This alarmed me quite a bit and I said, “Oh, no.  What makes you say that?”  He responded, “Because everyone I’ve ever loved is here tonight and visiting me.  I’ve seen everyone now and been able to tell them how I feel.  That must mean that it is okay for me to go.”  I remember feeling sad that he interpreted this event as a sign from above that it was his time to go and then feeling angry about the illness that was robbing him of his faculties.  But it wasn’t until later that something clicked for me about that moment. It wasn’t his illness that was creating an irrational thought process about his death.  It was the fact that he, like so many of us, get caught up in our lives and it’s only when something tragic or life changing happens that we truly pause and finally cue ourselves to be completely present with the things that matter most.  People.  Connections.  And our relationships and feelings with those people.  His illness had provided a gift of presence that most of us gloss over each day.  So now, I affectionately call moment’s when I’m acutely aware of the blessings and fortune in my life, a “Jim” moment.  Because I think, “Life is alright.  I’m alright.  I’m safe and the people who love me are here.  This is peace.”

I spend more time in a state of anxiety, worry, or otherwise feeling overwhelmed much more than I would like to admit.  And it becomes too clear when, out of the blue, I have a “Jim” moment.  I can’t help but reflect on a couple of these moments that happened just this week.  The first one happened on my way home as I was talking with my Mom and the second was after spending a laughter filled evening with two of my close friends.

In each of those instances I was able to share how I was feeling, what my worries and fears were about and, in turn, receive love and support. With my Mom it was more of an emotional purging and she responded with love and understanding that sometimes can only come from your Mom.  I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for her support.  With my friends, it was more about the pure acceptance of me that brought so much joy to my heart. They receive me exactly as I am without judgment.  I am able to speak my heart and not worry they are going to look at me like I’m crazy.  Okay, they still may look at me like I’m crazy but we laugh while they are doing it! They remind me what true friendship really looks like.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for me not to be present in my own life.  I often start thinking about some task that I haven’t done yet or some schedule issue that I need to resolve.  I worry about things way outside my control or get caught up in some downward spiral of negative thinking.  But the wild thing is that when I’m present and totally engaged in a moment with someone I feel more alive and true to myself than any other time. My heart fills with joy and it is almost like I’m receiving some miracle drug of sorts that makes whatever current challenge or fear seem more bearable.

I notice that as I take better care of myself and express my true feelings, I have more of the “Jim” moments and become aware of how grateful I am to have people in my life that mean so much to me.  When I am fully present in my daily interactions I am more open to embracing and expressing gratitude.  It is happening more with my family, my friends, with my work, and especially within myself. I hope that I will continue to get better at recognizing and cherishing these moments until one day it is simply the natural state that I exist.  Until then, I will use the simple and effective strategy to increase my awareness…it takes 3 steps: pause, breathe, repeat.

 

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The power of hope is stronger than the turmoil of worry

When is the last time someone asked you, “What are you hoping for?”  And how often do we spend time thinking about our hopes and dreams?  I say things all the time like, “I’m hoping for a quiet day today” or “I hope traffic isn’t backed up this morning.”  But I don’t really think about what it means to be hopeful when I’m saying these things.  I have things in my life I think about often, including work, financial security, my parent’s health, the people in my life, emotional stress, the tragedies that occur each day, and my overall state of well-being, but what I get from all that is a lot of time worrying and not so much time hoping

And let’s be real, who can blame me?  The media and our culture tell me every day a host of things to worry about including health, politics, the BPA in plastic, global warming, gas prices, community violence, and the unstable economy just to name a few.  I stopped watching the news on a regular basis because I just couldn’t stand it any longer.  Each broadcast seems to start with a highlight of something violent, traumatic, and/or otherwise tragic.  I don’t know if I have ever seen a news hour with a promo of  “This is going to make your heart sing…so stand by and get your daily dose of uplifting news.” Or better yet, how about “Look, we are about to give you some really overwhelming and scary information but we promise to end out the news cast with solid strategies to reduce your anxiety and improve your sense of calm and peace.

I can’t help but wonder what we are doing to our younger generation when we subject them to all of this worry instead of instilling more hope.  If I ask a teenager what they hope for.  They may start off by saying something like “I hope I’m rich and famous someday.” But when I go ahead and ask them a couple of more questions, like “So if you’re rich and famous, what will that mean for you?”  or “What if you were rich and famous right now, what would be different?”  It takes a few rounds of creative questioning, but eventually I hear “…because if I have money and fame then I won’t have to worry.”

The reality is that we have been conditioned to be more comfortable in a state of fear, worry, and angst than we are in a state of peace or hopefulness.  Not to mention that we are constantly being told that we need more money and everything is getting more scarce and the concept of ‘enough’ is almost unheard of.  It’s so sad that we are programmed to respond to the routine question “How are you?” with a dismissive, “Oh, I’m fine.  Thanks.”  Because then we end up in this place where we don’t really share our insecurities or worries nor do we create a space to resolve them with acts of hope.  This is a common place I like to call turmoil.  Unfortunately, I know this space too well.

So how do we get out of the turmoil and make a left turn towards hope?  I believe we have to start by acknowledging what it is that is really worrying us so much and then invest time and effort in figuring out how we are doing address it.  And a major part of this process is: 1) being honest about what it is that we are wanting, and 2) defining what reasonable steps we are willing to take in that direction. The raw definition of hope (according to Dictionary.com) is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.  And an effective way of feeling that something CAN happen is to identify at least one strategy that puts us one step closer to our stated desire.  So figure out what you need and then create movement in that direction.

Essentially, when we make goals…we promote hope.  And I believe it’s not just hope for ourselves, but for other people too.  I know that when my friends start showing me their accomplishments or telling me of their goals, I start thinking “Dang, I need to get off my butt and do something useful too.”  Now, it does help to have awesome friends who inspire you to be better and challenge you out of your comfort zone, but even if your friends are not lighting fires beneath you; think about how you can be the source of that fire for someone else as well as for yourself!

Of course, I can’t make goals to control things like illness, tragedy, or even how someone will react to me, but if I create strategies that help me address stress, sadness, and other overwhelming feelings…I can at least have options to explore when these things happen.  I guess what I’m getting at is that I realize I can’t control all of these external things happening, but I always have a choice on how to respond.  I can choose to respond with worry, fear, and anxiety or kick all that to the curb and respond with hope, love, and faith.  Those are the things that promote my feelings of safety and security which increase my state of hopefulness and ultimately, my well-being.  Yes, I admit; it’s much easier to say it than to do it.  But as always, this is my reminder that doing it feels much better than just talking about it.

Peace.

Afternoon by the river

Afternoon by the river