Our Not-So Hidden Humanity

It’s true there are a lot of jerks out there. They cut in line. They tailgate. They yell obscenities.   They don’t acknowledge you when you hold the door for them. They don’t say hello or thank you at their cash register or service counter.

And that’s the minor stuff inflicted on strangers.  Yet that is the stuff that can bring us down and ruin hours or even days, especially when feeling stressed out like often happens while traveling.

Yesterday, as I was making my way to DC on the train, I was exquisitely tuned into the opposite phenomenon: acts of kindness and humanity in strangers. Here’s what I observed:

  • A large group, waiting patiently in line, not crowding each other
  • A gate agent going out of her way to help out-of-towners
  • Travelers volunteering helpful information to those that seem confused or lost
  • Strangers smiling at other people’s children
  • Parents making sure their own children have their needs met
  • A parent teaching his teenage son to give up his seat for female passengers
  • An offer to help me with my bag when the escalator wasn’t working
  • Passengers seated by an out-of-order restroom informing others when they approach
  • Someone asking to make sure I wasn’t injured when my bag fell over
  • My seat companion sharing with me her love and pride in her children

Granted, all of the above are small stuff too. But those small gestures of humanity, kindness and generosity of spirit are everywhere.  They demonstrate our unseen but tangible connection with each other that so many people create so naturally.

Sometimes I am resistant to feeling that connection with others because I’m pretty shy.   It’s easier to stay caught up in my head or my cell phone than to allow these micro-connections to be made or observed.  By being open to seeing or receiving such gestures of connection, I am inspired to seek connections too.

Being open to these beautiful, small gestures, I feel a great sense of hope, pride and affinity for my fellow man.  What could’ve felt like a disaster – late train, late night, turned into a gift.

 

Give Thanks… For Yourself

My dear friend Mitzi is so right. We don’t spend enough time being thankful for who we are and the positive impact we have on others. Too often we are only focusing on how we fall short, we’re not enough, and what we can’t do or what we should be doing instead of stopping to smell our own proverbial roses.

Others may be better at seeing your gifts than you are.   If you cannot identify your strengths and the ways that you positively impact your world, you should A) take those strengths assessments I talk about all the time (VIA and Clifton StrengthsFinders) and B) do the Reflected Best Self exercise. This is one of my favorite exercises! Go ask 30 people to describe a time when you made a contribution. Likely it will surprise you in a very good way (see suggested social media campaign below).

I don’t struggle with my self-esteem like I used to in part because I’ve made a conscious effort to use my gratitude strength more intentionally and frequently. I discovered that, though gratitude is among my top 5 VIA strengths, it was not apparent to those around me. Effectively showing my appreciation for others and for our world also required that I appreciate myself, including the strengths that I have and my passion for creating positive change around me. To ignore the gifts I was given and only focus on my shortcomings is like telling your loved one that the sweater they picked out for you is the wrong shade of green: the blessings in my life

Print

are not good enough. Also, focusing on the little wins during the day is rejuvenating, energizing, and generative. Best of all, since gratitude has been shown to be good for your health while strengthening relationships and positive emotion, adding one more major thing to be grateful for (yourself) can only be good for you.

I also don’t believe it’s arrogant to be grateful for your strengths and abilities. It’s not saying we’re perfect or better than others; rather we are just choosing to focus on what we do well and how we contribute, and feeling good about that.   By using our strengths and assets to improve in our weaker areas, we can even improve our shortcomings while still focusing on our strengths. What a win-win!

Dear Universe: thank you for my ability to see the best in others and to help them grow into that person. Thank you for the ability to do the same for myself.

PS – I’d like to start a social media campaign for us all to do the Reflected Best Self exercise.  Post this on your timeline:  We all need to be more aware of the positive impact we make on the world.  Please help spread the idea by helping me with this Reflected Best Self Exercise.  Comment here regarding how I make a positive contribution to the world, then put this exercise on your timeline so that others can reflect your best self back to you.

Another Day in Eden

Sunrise in Eden.  Photo Credit:  tonyconigliophotography.com

Sunrise in Eden. Photo Credit: tonyconigliophotography.com

Recently, I had the rare delight of watching the sun rise, marveling at the drama and spectacle of something that happens every day. The changing colors. The clouds chasing each other across the sky. The sound of the doves and cicadas. The sun rays reflecting off the tops of the clouds. A perfect, balmy temperature. Something so spectacular only happens in Eden.

Indeed, I was in Eden. I was spending the weekend on this beautiful, vast property in the Texas countryside.  Cows, lakes, and nature galore.

But what was it that I was enjoying? Sunrise, trees, sounds? The ingredients of Eden are present everywhere, whether from the deck of my house, or on a bench in Manhattan. Wherever we go, beauty, wonder and plenty abound.

We need not travel to Eden. We are IN Eden. We were banished from Eden only in our minds.   And just as easily as that, we can go back. We only need to stop and make the choice.

We Are Inconstant

Despite the many problems we have in this country, we are still among the most fortunate people in the world. While we must continue to strive to improve our country and our world, we also should not forget that we have probably the highest quality of life in the history of mankind.

That privilege, however, will not likely last forever. Our individual fates are also fragile: it only takes an accident, a major illness, job loss or natural disaster to turn our fortunes around. Here by the grace of God…

I know that everyone knows this on some level.   But it’s all too easy to forget and behave as if this privilege is our right and ours to enjoy forever.   In fact, everything is impermanent and subject to change or loss.

Strangely, I’m grateful for when we have a hurricane and we lose power for several days. Such a loss provides a vivid reminder for how dependent we are on the things we take most for granted. When the power goes out, we disconnect from the TVs and computers and spend time walking and visiting with our friends, family and neighbors. We spend more time attending to our food and physical environment. We never take a balmy evening or a cool breeze for granted when the heat pump is on vacation.  And when the lights come back on, we have a precious few minutes before we start to take the electricity for granted again.

Spend a minute thinking feeling gratitude for the following items that we tend to take for granted. Which of these are you most likely to take for granted as being constant in your life? Going forward, see if you can remember to be grateful every day for some of the things you’ve been taking for granted:

  • Clean air
  • Water – clean, accessible and plentiful
  • Sewage services – down the tubes without smell or contamination
  • Electricity – lights, refrigeration, washer/dryer, HVAC
  • Shelter – warm/cool and dry
  • Clothing – sufficient in quality, quantity and even style
  • Ready transportation and good roads
  • Food – plentiful, safe and varied, and even prepared for you sometimes
  • Friends, family and neighbors
  • Technology, like Star Trek
  • Entertainment – 24/7 of all kinds
  • Safe community
  • Community and government infrastructure – stable and largely functional
  • Health care – accessible and comprehensive (for the most part)
  • Good health – body and mind
  • Jobs and economic opportunity
  • Education – at all levels for all people

Let us savor our good fortune.  Let’s hope it lasts.

 

Celebrating Life

photo credit:  tonyconigliophotography.com

photo credit: tonyconigliophotography.com

Think back to the last time you had a near-death experience or had just recovered from a nasty illness or setback.  Remember how you felt?  You probably felt exuberant, so alive and grateful to be living.  That feeling is elating.

What separates that moment from any other?  In other words, on a daily basis we tend not to be acutely aware of how precious and beautiful life is, but perhaps we should.

Perhaps we should.

If you think about it, it’s a huge miracle that we exist in the way we do at all: sentient beings living cooperatively on this beautiful planet, enjoying the benefits of culture, technology, health and affluence (mostly).  That we have plentiful and delicious food, entertainment, employment and education (mostly).  That we have friends, loved ones, and even great colleagues (mostly).  That our bodies even allow us to sense the glory of nature, smell delicious food or aromatic flowers, feel the softness of a child’s skin or kitten’s fur, taste the sweetness of a ripe piece of fruit, and hear a classic symphony.   Yes, it’s a true miracle.

Instead, what do we focus on all day?  Our problems, what we don’t have in our lives, what are loved ones are not doing or providing to us, our discomforts, our failures, our shortcomings.  I can hear some of you thinking:  yes but I have financial problems/a bad boss/a chronic illness/an abusive relationship.  I’m not saying our lives are perfect.  I’m saying that we have so much to be grateful for despite our problems.

This focus on the negative is not a bad thing necessarily.  It can be adaptive and good, but only to the degree that we are solving that problem by focusing our attention and energies on it.   But at that point when we are simply worrying or complaining instead of finding a solution, we’re wasting precious time, energy and the opportunity to savor our incredible lives.

If you’ve been living your life this way, you don’t have to feel bad.  The past is the past, and all you have control over is this very moment.  So in this moment, what do you choose?  Pain and heartache?  Or joy and gratitude?

You may have squandered some of your past but don’t squander your now, and your future.

What do you choose?

Learning Patience

Our strengths are our weaknesses (and fortunately, visa versa, because I’d be in big trouble!).  My creativity, zest, and desire to get things done are great assets – until they’re not.  Put me behind a slow driver or in front of someone who doesn’t get it or wants to deliberate, or in the middle of a slow, boring process and I’m at my worst.  Impatient, antsy, impulsive and hyper are adjectives that have been used to describe me.

I’ve figured out a way to turn that frown upside down and turn my liabilities into an asset.  I’m not talking about the upside of the creativity/zest/activator.  I’m talking about the downside.

I like to use the story of the Buddha – sorry, bear with me once again – as a metaphor.  The Buddha liked to keep a student nearby who was impatient, antsy, impulsive and just generally annoying.  Someone once asked him why he insisted on keeping the student so close by and the Buddha said, “She is not my student.  She is my teacher.” (haha I am the Buddha’s teacher!)

I’ve always told that story in relationship to difficult people, but in this context I’m telling it in relation to myself and when I am my own worst enemy.  One of the things I have had to struggle with the most in my lifetime is that voice in my head (mine, that is) that is constantly somewhere else.  That voice is in the past being unhappy about something.  That voice is in the future worrying about something.  That voice is in the present complaining about something or someone, usually myself but often someone or something else.  Unfortunately/fortunately the antidote for that voice is being present, and meditation is the best exercise for that.

I have to admit that I don’t meditate that much these days but I do work at being present on an ongoing basis.   The little devil in me in the form of impatience, boredom or annoyance are the perfect cue to practice being present:  I’m not exercising either these days (but I will.  soon!) so I do some isometrics.  I stop to practice gratitude and appreciation of the beauty around me.  I use my compassion for someone who is going as fast as they can or doing the best that they can.  I stop and think about my loved ones.

I’m embarrassed to say that these opportunities to practice being present are all around me as I’m frequently resisting the urge to be bored or annoyed.  I’m proud to say, however, that I think I’ve reached a milestone because an usually long and tedious responsibility has recently become a pleasant and enjoyable occasion.  I imagine my being present also improved the experience for those around me as I stopped fidgeting and looking completely unengaged.

I can’t help but reflect once again that our shortcomings are our opportunities.  If we fail to look at our shortcomings we are missing out on probably what we need the most to cultivate our well-being.  I once was unable to look at my shortcomings at all, but by thinking of them as strengths on an effectiveness spectrum, I can see them for all that they offer.  Where in your life have you been stuck and given up looking for a solution?  You have the tools and skills already.  Take  a fresh look and make it happen!


The Things They Never Tell You About Being A Mother

Being a Mom isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

It’s so much better.

I never want to take for granted the gratitude of others.   But for me, Mother’s Day is also about celebrating one’s children and being grateful to them for enabling me to be in the best role I’ve ever had.

Here’s why I’m grateful to my children on Mother’s Day:

  • Yes, being a parent can be exhausting.  But for me, it was an energizing experience overall.
  • Yes, sometimes I just wanted them to go to bed or go to school, but mostly I looked forward to every chance I could just hang out with them, get a hug or hold their hand.
  • Yes, sometimes it was just hard work, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, doing anything else, ever.
  • Yes, sometimes it was just yukky, particularly during the diaper or barfing (yes we had that) stages, but I loved seeing my naked baby several times a day and getting to play with his tummy (there wasn’t really an upside to the barfing stage, in retrospect, aside from the great stories I can tell – subject for another blog).
  • Yes , sometimes it was just frustrating and aggravating, but there was 10x as much joy as frustration. Besides, there was a lesson about myself to be learned during those times though I admit it took me a long time to learn them.  I had as much growing up to do as they did, and they were my teachers.  If you think about it, kids can only do what they can do.  So blaming the kid is like blaming a dog for barking or pooping:  it only reflected my need to control or my unrealistic expectations.
  • Yes, sometimes I felt it was a thankless job, but I know how they feel about me and the unique role I played in their lives.  Any time they willingly choose to spend time with me feels like a thank you note in disguise.
  • Yes, sometimes those life stages were difficult and challenging, but I thought they were all amazing and I enjoyed every one of them (some more than others).  It was an honor to watch them grow and transform through each stage.
  • Yes, everyone told me how much work it is raising kids but no one told me what an utter and complete joy it is.  I loved almost every minute of it and, now that they’ve flown the coop, the time with them is ever more precious.

So you Moms out there who are fortunate enough to still have your kids at home:  savor the moment, all of them, and find the silver lining and personal lessons during the challenging times (if you’re not already).  Perhaps the mothering experience will be more than you bargained for too.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Photo credit: tonyconigliophotography.com

Photo credit: tonyconigliophotography.com