Standing in the Sun: a lesson in acceptance

I went for a run the other day and was enjoying my reward of standing and gazing out on the water and feeling that familiar sense of accomplishment and peace.  As I was standing, I realized the sun was beating down on my face and hindering my view. My initial thought was “Damn, it’s too bright and hot now.”  I immediately realized the ridiculousness of this thought.  For a split second, I was totally agitated with the sun for shining on my face and disrupting my beautiful moment on the path.  For that millisecond I thought that I was in control of everything around me and somehow responsible to change everything too.  I mean, who is so ridiculous as to think they can change the sun and why would you want to even if you could?

When we adjust our perception and accept the reality of any given situation, we are able to become more free with each moment.  It’s not about being passive.  It’s about acknowledging our limitations and owning our responsibility.  Through acceptance, we are able to recognize our options and navigate the experience based on how we want to feel. It’s this idea that we may not choose what happens in each moment, but we always have a choice on how we respond and how we feel.  That is true power.  When we focus on ourselves in that way, we save a tremendous amount of energy that would have been futile to waste on changing the other person/situation.  Granted, it may be easier to conceptualize this with the idea of the sun’s beaming rays, but isn’t it just as applicable to think of the guy who cut you off in traffic, your co-worker who is incessantly negative, or the family member who seems to only call when they need something?  You can’t stop those things from happening AND you are not responsible to change the way people talk/act/think. Just like it’s not up to you to get the sun to shine today.

Acceptance is not about being weak, resigning to the other person, or ignoring a real problem…it is simply about acknowledging the sun (aka current situation) exists as it is without trying to control it and remember that the only thing you are responsible for is deciding how you want to experience it.  So go out, stand in the sun or move over to the shade. Just do what makes you happy and love doing it!

 

 

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Finding my happy place

Mississippi River

When I hear the term ‘happy place’, I’m always curious what that means for people.  Throughout the years, I have explored different ideas of what this magical place would look like.  It would vary with certain images and experiences but nothing remained constant.   I struggled with the confines of establishing a physical location that only held feelings of happiness or peace.  I began to wonder if I would ever determine one place of existence as purely happy.

Then, this past week I had a perfect storm of stress, anxiety, and fear all rolled into one challenge after another. As I experienced intense uncertainty, anger, and frustration I wasn’t sure what to do or even how to cope.  There was nothing ‘to fix’, it was more about navigating overwhelming feelings and accepting the reality of the situation.  I knew in my heart that I would have to let go of the worry, the fear, and the frustration and try to find a place of peace.  Talking seemed to help a little, but I still needed to clear my head and lighten my heart, so I decided to go for a walk.

As I headed to the park by my house, still full of fear and worry, I realized that I was going towards the only place that could provide me peace.  The park.  It was my refuge.  I go there every week, almost every day to walk our dog or go for a run.  I couldn’t help but welcome the small sense of relief flooding my body as I realized that no matter what, when I am at this park, I feel that the world is an okay place.  There I am insulated from the chaos of the day, the ever-growing tasks lists, and any other expectations from the world.  There is a calm supported by the trees and the rolling hills that is hard to express through words or even pictures. There is a constant that only nature can provide.  The birds never fail to sing in the trees, the river doesn’t cease to continue rolling past, and the squirrels and wildlife promise to rustle in the woods every evening.  And sometimes, the universe will grace me with wonderful surprises in the form of a deer and her fawn running across the grassy area or even the rare site of a blue crane walking along the banks.

I walked for a while and then became absorbed in watching the river run past me and disappear around the bend.  Then, like water rolling off my shoulders, the burden in my heart became lighter.  I forgot about my fears for just those moments and breathed in deep and started releasing some of my tension.  I couldn’t help but be reminded that even in the midst of angry and hurtful people, scary situations, terminal illnesses, and more pain than is imaginable at times…there is also peace.  Walking along the river path and catching a glimpse of a blue crane doesn’t make all that heartache go away.  But it allowed me to catch my breath and simply remember that there is always something bigger than me.  Something more powerful.  I can choose to get caught up in the things that are big, powerful, and scary;  or I can choose to embrace the bigger/more powerful and peaceful things.

blue crane at park

I came home that evening feeling only a little lighter, but I had gained just enough of what I needed to get me through that evening and the next day.  And even more importantly, I realized that I can, without a doubt, finally claim my ultimate happy place.  It’s not the actual space of the park, it’s perspective that I gain through the park.   I believe our happy place resides within us at all times; sometimes we just need an external reminder of how to get there.  Maybe it’s a river walk, maybe it’s a meaningful conversation with a loved one, or maybe it’s just the stillness that is finally recognized in the heart.  No matter what, the space to feel peace is always there, it’s just up to each of us when we are ready to embrace it.  And in that space, deep within my soul where stillness lives…is my happy place.

My park

This thing we call stress

stress

stress (Photo credit: bottled_void)

What is the stress in your life?  The actual definition of stress is an emotional strain on the body.  However, I think we tend to use the word like it’s a living thing instead of simply a reaction of our own thinking.  The reality is that we can’t bottle stress up and give it away, we can’t take it from someone or leave it on the kitchen table.  Stress is the result of what we feel after experiencing stressful thoughts.  In those terms, if we limit or reduce the stressful thinking; we reduce the experience of stress.  Simple, right?  Ha!  Even as I write that statement I realize how difficult it is to let that sit.  Stress is real.  I feel it, I experience it.

The problem is that I don’t often take the time to think through to the source of stress. It’s easier to say, “yeah, work is stressing me out’ than it is to actually process what is happening and what I could reasonably do about it.  Oh wait, that’s part of the problem.  Because when I feel stressed out, I start thinking about the fact that I may not be able to do anything about it.  And of course, the other twisted part of this whole stress reaction is its kissing cousin, worry.  Worry is also a source of thoughts that typically involve anxiety or concern about a real or imagined situation. I mean, has there ever been a time in your life when worrying about something helped the situation?  Or made you feel better?

Hmm, I’m sensing some themes here. So if we think stressful thoughts and worry about things that may or may not happen we essentially cause our own emotional and mental strain on our bodies. Now, I’m not going all crazy and suggesting that we never experience stress or worry.  But maybe if we realize that when the stressful thoughts occur or the worry happens, we simply acknowledge it and spin it into a less stressful thought that includes a solution, support, or strength.  For instance instead of thinking “all this work is stressing me out” could be “how can I take better care of myself and organize my work to make it feel more manageable?”  Granted, it may be tough to find a positive spin or proactive approach for each situation, but it’s a lot easier to think about actions I can take to change a situation or simply cope rather than get caught up in the relentless space of fear, worry, and stress.  Yes, if I have to choose, I will always choose a space of hope versus stress or worry.  Now I just have to practice making that conscious choice instead of falling into the habit of an automatic way of thinking.  🙂 

 

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.