Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When Things Aren't Adding Up...

“When things aren’t adding up in life, it is time to start subtracting.”

I came across this quote a few weeks ago, and was struck by how much it resonated with me.  As I reflected on the simplicity of the quote and what it means to me personally, I realized that I have lived my entire adult life in a state of perpetual action.  As I apply this quote to myself and the numerous aspects of my very busy life, I see that I am quite good at adding, I do rather well at maintaining, but rarely do I subtract.  It is no wonder that my life does not always add up. 

I imagine, readers, that the majority of you can relate to what I have described.  I would imagine that you are no strangers to the busy-ness of life.  That the feeling of being spread out too thin is one that you know rather well.  That you have described yourself as feeling stressed, exhausted, or overwhelmed at some point in the recent past.  And if you can identify with these feelings in one way or another, I would also imagine that you can relate to the quote that began this column.  That there are times in your life when things just are not adding up for you.  That there are times when you need to subtract. 

And yet, even if you can relate to these feelings, the idea of subtracting can be a difficult one to employ.  After all, we apply ourselves to the things that we do because we care about them in some meaningful way.  Because we have a vested interest in them.  Because we have made a promise to someone, or we feel a sense of personal commitment or responsibility to the people involved or the outcome at stake.  Because we feel driven by a sense of obligation, pressure, or guilt to do what is expected of us. And because of these contrasting feelings, it is natural for us to be unsure of even where to begin or to resist the idea of subtraction all together, despite our need for a more simplified life. 

So as you reflect on today’s quote and what it means to you personally, I encourage you to think about how you might simplify your own life.  As you take an inventory of what you give yourself to, consider also what you get back from those things.  Which areas of your life fill you up in some meaningful way?  And conversely, which areas tend to be more taxing, or stress-inducing, than they are fulfilling?  What areas of your life do you feel that you can or cannot live without?  And what might be able to live without you?  How you might you feel with “less” in your life, and what would you do with that time and energy?  How might other aspects of your life benefit from a more wholehearted investment of yourself? 

As you consider these questions and reflect on the value of a more simplified life, I hope that the answers you discover are simple in and of themselves, and I hope that they offer you gentle guidance toward a more simplified yet rewarding life. 


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Power to the People

Before you read any further, I’d like you to take a moment and consider what the word power means to you.  When you think of these words, perhaps you think of something or someone that has authority or control over something or someone else.  Maybe you think of something or someone that is influential or impactful in some way.  Or perhaps, instead, your definition of these words is more along the lines of manipulation or domination.  When you think of power, do you tend to associate its traits with other people, or might you also think of the power that things, habits, behaviors, and ideals can have?

As you reflect on what this word means to you, I challenge you to also think about what has power in your life.  Are there certain people that have an especially powerful impact on you?  People that have the power to influence how you feel and what you do?  Do you find yourself concerned with what people might think about you, or how you compare to societal standards?  What kind of a relationship do you have with common objects, such as money, food, and alcohol?  Do they serve as a simple means to an end, or do you have an emotional attachment to such things?  How reactive or avoidant are you to strong emotions or stressful situations?  Perhaps none of these examples resonate with you and there is something else that has a powerful presence in your life.  Or, perhaps not.  Perhaps you are truly your own keeper. 

Power, in and of itself, is a dynamic that is neither positive nor negative.  However, power does receive value when we let it influence our lives in some meaningful way.  If we give our power way to people and things outside of ourselves, we surrender a part of ourselves to them.  In contrast, we maintain our personal power when we are able to have a relationship with external things without being controlled by them. 

As you think about your personal definition of power today and reflect on what has power in your life, I encourage you to rethink your relationship with those things if it is no longer serving your higher purpose.  Remember that no thing can have power over you if you do not submit a part of yourself to it, and that empowerment, encouragement, and liberation are far more powerful forces than domination, oppression, control, or authority.  And finally, remember that true freedom lies not in being free to do whatever you wish, but in freeing your mind, your heart, and your true self from negative limitations and constraints so that you may embrace authenticity, peace, and a more harmonious life.      


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How You Doin'?

“How are you?” is such a simple question.  It is a question that most of us both inquire and answer every day.  In fact, this question is rather reflexive for most:  we use it as a greeting, a formality, even a habit.  And, quite often, we answer this question in a similar manner.  We partake in “how are you” exchanges so many times a day that we don’t even realize how often we use it.  In a sense, we we’ve become desensitized, and as a result, we do not pay attention what we say and hear on a daily basis. 

Take a moment and think about how many times you have heard that one little question just today.  How many times have you asked this question, and how did you go about doing so?  Was it a form of hello or a quick exchange?  And how intentionally was it asked?  Did you listen to the answer?  If you have been asked “how are you?” today, what was your reply? 

I am willing to bet that these exchanges were positive, impersonal, and brief.  Perhaps you cannot even recall the specifics of such interactions.  It seems that we often don’t listen to the answers people supply to this question, nor do we expect to hear an answer that is substantial or boldly honest. 

So what would like it be like, then, if someone asked, “how ARE you?”  How would you feel if someone took the time to investigate exactly how you are holding up?  What might it be like for you if someone expressed a genuine interest in your feelings, your well-being, the current events of your life?  What might you think if someone would not accept a “fine, thanks” for an answer and insisted that you must have something more to say, and they would like to hear more about it.  Of course, it is a social norm to keep our inquiries and disclosures short and sweet, but wouldn’t it be nice if we took the time to show a more genuine concern and curiosity for one another’s well-being?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we created more opportunities to invite others to engage in such a way? 

It is my hope for you that you have people in your life that will take part that will take part in this meaningful exchange, for it implies that you are fortunate enough to have sincerity in your life.  It illustrates the consideration, concern, and lovingkindness that you have with your loved ones.  It demonstrates care, and that assumptions, formalities, and cover-ups are not being made, and that you feel invited and secure enough to talk about your experiences. 

Today, I encourage you to ask “how are you?”  in a different way.  Seek out a real answer and really consider what you hear.  Take a bit of time to show your friends how much you care, how much they are loved.  Break your own habits and dare to tell someone how you really are.  Give someone a chance to lend you an ear.  If you can, connect in this way, and I think you will be surprised by what you hear and learn about your loved ones, as well as what you share about yourself. 


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hakuna Matata

Consider this:  What if we had no past?  What if we were only operating with our short-term memory, and we woke up each and every morning, only to deal with the day that we have opened our eyes to?  What if we lived each day without the memories of yesterday, or the distraction of tomorrow?  Can you imagine how life might be different for you if you treated each day, and everything that it presents, as something entirely new?

Time and time again, we have been told to live in the present moment, as fully we are able.  We are told to learn what we can from the past, to accept it, and to let it go.  Likewise, we are told that there is no sense in worrying about the future, that tomorrow will take care of itself, that we should let it unfold as it may.  And so this is true.

Most of us, it seems, are able to learn about ourselves and the world around us because of the things that we have lived through.  We are continuously transforming and evolving, being molded not only by our past, but also by how we relate to it.  In a sense, our past is something to be grateful for, no matter what is looks like, because it has helped create both who we are and the lives that we are living today.

Yet, spending too much time in the past can be a problem.  When we relive each struggle, open each wound, and recount each moment of pain, we inhibit ourselves from moving on to more positive things.  Similarly, we run the risk of underappreciating the beauty that we have when we cling to our glory days and compare our present state to the times that we remember with longing.  Living in the past in such a way is a hindrance because it removes us from the here and now.  It makes us miss out on what is happening in our lives today.  And it may prevent us from enjoying things as they currently are, healing hurts that have happened to us in the past, and avoiding those that may be coming in the future. 

Because our pasts are a part of us, it does matter.  But perhaps it does not matter as much as we may think.  Perhaps if we let go of some of our hurts and spend a little less time with the things that no longer need our attention, we may be better able to heal and grow, and tend to the things that need our attention in the here and now.  Perhaps if we bring our awareness away from what has already happened, we may open up to this moment and fully embrace what is yet to come.