Savor the scent

smell

Smells can shortcut the synapses and connections in our brain or body and take us straight back to the past. A certain perfume, the ground wet after a gentle rain, cherry tobacco in a pipe, a campfire in the woods, whatever it may be, and our mind flashes to a different time we smelled that smell. Sometimes it takes us right to a time when someone we lost was still with us. Sometimes the smell can calm us or give us courage. Sometimes that smell takes us to a place where we can remember something or someone we once loved. When this happens, we can pause and be grateful for that person or thing. If the smell takes us back to an unpleasant memory, we can pause and be grateful that we survived that particular obstacle and moved on, and we can celebrate our strength.

For a lovely instance of a mother’s smell calming a crying baby, take a look at this video:

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Pleasantries.

honeycomb

Are pleasantries a thing of the past? Asking after someone’s health and family? Really listening to their answer? Showing concern? Waiting your turn to talk? Making sure your words don’t wound?

For most of us, we can identify moments in our past where we were lifted up or shoved down, and often both of those extremes were a result of someone’s words. What we say has power, and we would do well to wield that power wisely.

 

Thank you, God, for most this amazing day.

amazingday

Today is a gift. Soak in the beauty all around you. Treasure the people in your life. Hold on to gratitude that you are able to be here, now, with all that there is.

In the words of e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings

And then take just a moment to watch this beautiful video. Happy Today!

Starting again.

 

startoverSometimes we start down a path that feels, after a while, like a wrong turn. We think of turning back and taking a different path at the fork, but it’s a long way back, and we’ve made good time on the path we’re on. So we keep pushing forward. We still think we’re on the wrong path, but the fork in the road is even farther back and we’ve learned to get along on the path we’re on. Sometimes we make a mess of the path we’re on, or it becomes impenetrable. And yet we hesitate to start again. So we keep messing up or butting our heads against immovable objects. Because starting over sometimes feels like defeat rather than victory. But is it?

More from F. Scott Fitzgerald:

For what it’s worth…it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.

Isn’t that a lovely benediction?

Making the best of our lives, seeing things that startle us, feeling things we’ve never felt, meeting people with a different point of view, and having the courage to start again if we find ourselves on the wrong path. Yes, please. That.

Listening, or just waiting for your turn to talk?

listen

Listening, truly listening, is rare. Most people are just waiting for their turn to reply. Or maybe not even waiting, but interrupting to say what is on their mind. Two people both talking, but neither listening, and no one, consequently, heard. Too often, we want to avoid the discomfort of listening, particularly if someone is hurting, and so we turn the conversation back to something safe, ourselves.

Celeste Headlee recounts a time when she tried to support her grieving friend, but failed:

A good friend of mine lost her dad some years back. I found her sitting alone on a bench outside our workplace, not moving, just staring at the horizon. She was absolutely distraught and I didn’t know what to say to her. It’s so easy to say the wrong thing to someone who is grieving and vulnerable. So, I started talking about how I grew up without a father. I told her that my dad had drowned in a submarine when I was only 9 months old and I’d always mourned his loss, even though I’d never known him. I just wanted her to realize that she wasn’t alone, that I’d been through something similar and could understand how she felt.

But after I related this story, my friend looked at me and snapped, “Okay, Celeste, you win. You never had a dad, and I at least got to spend 30 years with mine. You had it worse. I guess I shouldn’t be so upset that my dad just died.”

I was stunned and mortified. My immediate reaction was to plead my case. “No, no, no,” I said, “that’s not what I’m saying at all. I just meant that I know how you feel.” And she answered, “No, Celeste, you don’t. You have no idea how I feel.”

She walked away and I stood there helplessly, watching her go and feeling like a jerk. I had totally failed my friend. I had wanted to comfort her, and instead, I’d made her feel worse. At that point, I still felt she misunderstood me. I thought she was in a fragile state and had lashed out at me unfairly when I was only trying to help.

But the truth is, she didn’t misunderstand me at all. She understood what was happening perhaps better than I did. When she began to share her raw emotions, I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say, so I defaulted to a subject with which I was comfortable: myself.

I may have been trying to empathize, at least on a conscious level, but what I really did was draw focus away from her anguish and turn the attention to me. She wanted to talk to me about her father, to tell me about the kind of man he was, so I could fully appreciate the magnitude of her loss. Instead, I asked her to stop for a moment and listen to my story about my dad’s tragic death.

Read more: http://www.oprah.com/inspiration/celeste-headlee-the-mistake-i-made-with-my-grieving-friend#ixzz5BWgsfjLr

How often do we do this in our conversations? We listen to the story, only to remember a time when we experienced something similar and then quickly switch focus to our story. Do we sit with a person in their grief, their discomfort, their loneliness? Or do we try to change the topic to something more pleasant?

Headlee continues:

From that day forward, I started to notice how often I responded to stories of loss and struggle with stories of my own experiences. My son would tell me about clashing with a kid in Boy Scouts, and I would talk about a girl I fell out with in college. When a co-worker got laid off, I told her about how much I struggled to find a job after I had been laid off years earlier. But when I began to pay a little more attention to how people responded to my attempts to empathize, I realized the effect of sharing my experiences was never as I intended. What all of these people needed was for me to hear them and acknowledge what they were going through. Instead, I forced them to listen to me and acknowledge me.

Sociologist Charles Derber describes this tendency to insert oneself into a conversation as “conversational narcissism.” It’s the desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself. It is often subtle and unconscious. Derber writes that conversational narcissism “is the key manifestation of the dominant attention-getting psychology in America. It occurs in informal conversations among friends, family and co-workers. The profusion of popular literature about listening and the etiquette of managing those who talk constantly about themselves suggests its pervasiveness in everyday life.” Derber describes two kinds of responses in conversations: a shift response and a support response. The first shifts attention back to yourself, and the second supports the other person’s comment. Here is a simple illustration:

Shift Response
Mary: I’m so busy right now.
Tim: Me too. I’m totally overwhelmed.

Support Response
Mary: I’m so busy right now.
Tim: Why? What do you have to get done?

Here’s another example:

Shift Response
Karen: I need new shoes.
Mark: Me too. These things are falling apart.

Support Response
Karen: I need new shoes.
Mark: Oh yeah? What kind are you thinking about?

Shift responses are a hallmark of conversational narcissism. They help you turn the focus constantly back to yourself. But a support response encourages the other person to continue their story. These days, I try to be more aware of my instinct to share stories and talk about myself. I try to ask questions that encourage the other person to continue. I’ve also made a conscious effort to listen more and talk less.

Read more: http://www.oprah.com/inspiration/celeste-headlee-the-mistake-i-made-with-my-grieving-friend#ixzz5BWhblDfL

Today, pay attention to your conversations. Think about the difference between shift responses and support responses, and focus on listening.

wingstoabird

So much depends on perspective. When we are mired in a difficult circumstance, it would be helpful to just lift up and fly above it and get a new perspective. Yet we are often trapped in the fetters of our own subjectivity, unable to realize that our current troubles are temporary, and we remain stuck in the problem and blind to any bigger picture.

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker who, along with her family, sheltered Jews during the Holocaust. Her actions were fraught with danger but compelled by moral certitude. In prayer, her soul took flight and lifted her out of the horror of the day into the beauty of a larger truth.

We, too, can turn to the comfort of a larger power, tap into the stillness behind the chaos, and take comfort that we do not need to have all the answers. We can let our souls take flight.

Plunge into life.

book2

Plunging into a good book expands your empathy, takes you to places you’ve never experienced, and lets you walk in the shoes of someone who thinks, acts, and lives in a way different from you. And you can fall in love, again and again, with the perfectly flawed, endearing characters you encounter there. It helps you realize that the world is complex and full of many perspectives and life experiences, that your way is not the only way, that you are one thread in an infinite, glorious tapestry of life.

 

Are you a people pleaser?

aesop

No matter what you do, there will be someone who disagrees with the way you do it. Consider this fable:

The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey

Aesop

A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along by his side a countryman passed them and said, “You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?” So the man put the boy on the donkey, and they went on their way.

But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said, “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the man ordered his boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other, “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passersby began to jeer and point at them. The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at.

The men said, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours — you and your hulking son?”

The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, until at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them until they came to a bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the donkey fell over the bridge, and his forefeet being tied together, he was drowned.

Try to please everyone, and you will please no one.

Poor donkey.

Are you a people pleaser? Do you ever try to please so many people, you wonder if you are pleasing any or if you have lost yourself in the mix? Sometimes people pleasing can live to inauthentic lives spent looking out from behind a mask. Instead, consider this article and these tips for how to honor your authentic self while still acting appropriately in the situation:

  • Ask yourself what you are feeling. Are you afraid of what someone else is thinking of you? Are you avoiding an inconvenient truth or difficult emotion?

  • Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling. All emotions are okay; they are a key part of our intelligence and the human experience.

  • Assess the situation. Can you safely share your feelings with others? Would it make you feel better to do so? If yes, go ahead and share. This might feel risky, but authenticity and vulnerability usually create intimacy and connection—two keys to happiness.

  • Decide on an appropriate behavior based on how you’d like to feel. If you are afraid, for example, you might want to choose a behavior to calm your fear, like taking deep breaths. If you are feeling low-energy, you might want to do a few jumping jacks to get your blood circulating.

  • Finally, check back in with yourself to see how you are feeling. Allow whatever comes up for you. You may now be feeling both a sense of calm (from taking a bunch of deep breaths) and a little frightened. It is entirely possible to experience more than one emotion at a time. Or, your blahs might have vanished now that you’ve taken a little walk outside.

 

We are emotional beings, and that’s ok. It is only when we are honest with our emotions that we can honor our inner selves.

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Avoid the drift.

holdhands

Otters sleep holding hands. In the open water, it would be so easy for them to drift away from each other in the ebb and flow of the tides. They also use kelp to wrap around themselves, but there is something about the image of sleeping otters holding hands to stay connected that is utterly endearing.Sea_otters_holding_hands.jpg.638x0_q80_crop-smart.jpg

We, too, bounce around in rough seas, and it is easy to drift away from those we love. Distractions, distance, inattentiveness add up until you are apart, in the storm separately, rather than braving it together.

Today, work to avoid the drift away from those you love.