Friday, December 25, 2015

Holiday Hope & Cheer

The holiday season is usually filled with joy & laughter, but some of us have a difficult time finding that spirit. I have been a Grinch for years, stemming from divorced parent holidays and losing an important person in my life right at Christmas. It all seemed to lose its magic.

What I have come to realize is that ONE day does not matter. You heard me right. You shouldn't scurry all over creation to see everyone on that ONE day. It's not about the gifts or food; it's all about time. It's a SEASON of love for me and I am slowly embracing that idea.

I send gifts out when convenient or cost-effective, I mail cards to a variety of personal friends and initiatives (like soldiers and nursing home), and I choose to make a special gift for someone who I think will really appreciate it. My time is my own and I get to decide how best to use it to make the most wonderful impact on my little corner of the world.

It's my hope that by brightening my own little corner, that others can brighten theirs as well until we all outshine some of the darker times that we know will knock at our doors. 

So build up your light and share your love and time with the people and causes you most support. Spread some hope and cheer this season.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Inspirational Song of the Week: Try by P!nk

Red rose on sheet music

Weekly I like to share a song that has inspired or comforted me at some point in my life. Sometimes they work over and over again and other times they are simply played at the right moment in time.

One of my longtime, favorite artists that I discovered myself (as opposed to music I grew up with played by others) is P!nk. I have been a fan since her first publicly popular song "There You Go." It's really fun to go back and listen to some of her older stuff compared to where she is now.

Hands down though, my favorite album is The Truth About Love. The songs on this album speak to me all the time. I had it on repeat for 4 or 5 months after it released! 

The song that keeps popping out at me though is "Try." While the video should come with a trigger warning for domestic/partner abuse survivors because it is very suggestive, it has beautiful choreography & P!nk's signature emotive performance. The chorus is my favorite part:

Where there is desire, there is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame, someone's bound to get burned
But just because it burns, doesn't mean you're gonna die
You gotta get up and try, and try, and try

To me, I see this as a daily challenge. Life is tough & likes to take us down whenever it gets a chance. We just have to be willing to get up and rise above it all. The most important part about falling off a horse is getting back up on it. I find strength in the melody & hope in the lyrics of this song.

What do you hear?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Anger No Longer Serves a Purpose to Me

Foggy wooded path in the fall

I was so mad I was practically shaking. I was fuming! Maneuvering schedules to make appointments is not easy for many people and I am no exception. Being stood up twice for scheduled meetings is just unheard of!

After stomping back across the campus, pouting the whole way, I was in no better a mood. The black cloud above my head was growing with no signs of a break. A coworker happened by, saw my obviously angered face and asked out of care and concern what was wrong. 

I unleashed a torrent of venom and outrage that left me panting and left her shocked and aghast. What was worse was that I did not feel any better about my situation and felt terrible for dumping it on someone else.

Usually shared burdens create 1/2 the weight & shared joy creates double the happiness, but in this case it didn't. She talked with me a while and helped me think about it and talk it all out just to get it out of my system, but I knew it wasn't a good situation for her. 

She walked away for a bit and when she came back through I apologized. It wasn't that I was out of line, but more that I didn't see that it helped either of us to be so mean about the situation. I felt that my conduct was unhealthy and unproductive when we're usually pretty good about lifting each other up.

After apologizing I realized, my negativity about an uncontrollable situation had inadvertently hurt someone else and done nothing to ameliorate my problem. That understanding was the first time that I was actually seeing where I had strayed from the meditative, calming path I have been fostering in my life. I made a choice to behave as I did and it was not the best option available to me.

Life is really just about looking out for the lessons that come our way. Meditation, religion, reflection: none of them work if you don't work them even in your most trying of times. 

What is a situation that you faced that could have gone a better way based on your choices? 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Inspirational Song of the Week: I Believe by Blessid Union of Souls

 Inspirational Song of the Week

Weekly I like to share a song that has inspired or comforted me at some point in my life. Sometimes they work over and over again and other times they are simply played at the right moment in time.

This week Spotify was kind enough to provide "I Believe" by Blessid Union of Souls in its #ThrowbackThursday playlist. I love checking out this list every week to see what gems they have in store. It's also entertaining trying to figure out the theme of that week's music.

Given the violent streak over the past few weeks from Paris to Mizzou to San Bernadino and everywhere in between, I felt that the lyrics to this song were especially poignant. His voice also makes a powerful statement. Read the words, listen to the rhythm, and feel the power emanating from within. It's just what I needed.

Violence is spread worldwide and there are families on the street
And we sell drugs to children now oh why can't we just see
That all we do is eliminate our future with the things we do today
Money is our incentive now so that makes it okay

But I believe that love is the answer
I believe that love will find the way

What song is inspiring you this week?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Memories vs. Living in the Past

Old man sweeping a parking lot

I have a pretty terrible memory. I've tried lots of tips & tricks over the years to help build it up, but nothing really seems to work. Some incidents stick better than others; some things I can never forget despite wanting to and others that I want to cherish forever fade faster than acceptable.

As a result I have held onto stuff and things much longer than acceptable. They are visual cues that can spark a memory or emotion of some past event. The overwhelming majority are happy memories that I want to preserve. What's interesting though is that they are not necessarily for sharing.

In recent months I have developed an intense need to purge my apartment. This transitory feeling that I've had ever since I first moved out of my parental home has followed me long enough. So I've been going through my belongings via the KonMari method. 

Simply put, the KonMari method stresses:

  1. Collect all like items of a particular category (clothes, papers, kitchen items)
  2. Purge everything that doesn't "spark joy" or that you use regularly
  3. Only after you've completely purged, organize the remaining items
This has revolutionized my process of cleaning and helped prevent impulse buying when I am out and about.

After doing several sections of my home, I'm down to miscellaneous items and items with emotional attachment; thus my introspection. I want to make sure that I don't lose the memories by ridding myself of the physical reminder. I've debated over writing down all the memories, but know that will take a lot of time. My current plan is to photograph the item before sorting it for donation or trash and then storing the photo. I will be able to reference it and write about it at my leisure if necessary.

What's most important to me is not just ridding my home of clutter, but preventing myself from living in the past. It's nice to visit there and remember good things, but dwelling on unchangeable circumstances is unhealthy and unwise. Here's hoping I can untether myself and walk freely.

Do you have a need to clear house; physically or emotionally? What are your best strategies for success in this area?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Inspirational Song of the Week: Shower the People by James Taylor

Inspirational Song of the Week: Shower the People by James Taylor

Weekly I like to share a song that has inspired or comforted me at some point in my life. Sometimes they work over and over again and other times they are simply played at the right moment in time.

Today I feature one of my favorite artists and one of the most moving songs that I love to concentrate on when I am having a rough day with the world.

James Taylor is beloved the world over, but no more than in North Carolina. He spent many years there and we claim him as our own, even though he also gives love to his Massachusetts home. "Shower the People" is an uplifting song that is smooth and steady. The refrain is my favorite:

Just shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel.
Things are gonna work out fine if you only will do as I say, just
Shower the people you love with love, show them the way you feel.
Things are gonna be much better if you only will.

If you have a few minutes, just listen and enjoy the guitar melodies. I'm sure James will make more appearances in this feature because he has been a staple in my life, but this is a good one for today.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Facing Negativity & Rising Above: 5 Key Strategies

Facing Negativity & Rising Above: 5 Key Strategies

The worst feeling in the world is helplessness. The inability to care for something important to you can be devastating. Protection and avoidance techniques can only go so far. Sometimes negative situations just have to be faced and dealt with. How you choose to deal with them will define who you are today and who you become tomorrow.

Today was a rough day for me. I stayed up later than I should last night finalizing my final project for my last class in my graduate degree program. The morning was a bit rough, but I managed. I had prepared myself well for my presentation and while nervous, was still ready to roll.

Until I wasn't. The presentation order was changed, pushing my time slot back from the first position that I was ready to be in. Then, during my presentation, it dawned on me when I was given the 5 minute warning that I had mis-prepared. Instead of having the 15-20 minutes I was prepared for, I only had 10 total. My brain switched into high gear, my mouth went dry, and panic clawed at me. 

I survived. I made it through the presentation as best I could, skipping lots of fantastic details I had worked so hard to lay out along the way. As I sat in my chair trying to recover I realized my eyes were watering. "There was no way that this should make me cry!" my brain called out. As the next presentation started up I focused on my breathing and tried to remember my mindfulness and meditation practices.

5 Key Strategies to Facing Negativity and Rise Above It
  1. Breathe! It sound so simple, but people often hold their breath without even realizing it. This breathing pattern gif is saved on my iPhone so that I can pull it up easily.
  2. Focus on a repetitive practice. I finding counting to be soothing because of the predictability and pacing. It allows my brain to zero-in on a task and ward off negative emotions to allow for processing.
  3. Use a "touchstone". A meditative object that has a predetermined and dedicated purpose is key to reigning in my emotions. I made a simple prayer-bead-like item. I can count the beads, roll them, or rub the Ahimsa charm. Just touching this object gives me peace and satisfaction enough to begin calming down.
  4. Look to the positive. I know "looking on the bright side" is not revolutionary, but it does important work. Even though I felt like I bombed my presentation, I thought about the fact that it was over and I could not change it. I had done my best and was good with that.
  5. Enlist help. Sometimes I really can't bring myself back up. That's when friends and family are important. We all hit rough patches and how we care for ourselves and others is what we give back. Helping someone and sharing the load makes for faster recovery work.
These are not the easiest things to remember in stressful times. It has taken my several years to realize the worth and value of some of these practices. Most of the time I did not even realize I was already doing some of them until someone else pointed it out to me.

What would you add to this list?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Feature: Inspirational Song of the Week

Inspirational song of the week
I truly believe that music has the power to change things. It can change your mood, change your opinion, and change your life if you hear the right thing at the right time. From listening in your car to hearing something performed live, music can speak across time, space, and language. Much like math, it's a universal thing that flows through everyone.

What I find particularly striking though is musical frisson. Here's where my nerdy comes out. I majored in French and International Studies (History focus) in undergrad a few moons back. I loved learning new words & ways to say things. 

The greatest challenge is translating from one language to another. Sometimes though, the definition of the word or idea can be experienced in the saying. One of my favorite experiences of this was with the word "frisson," which translates to "shiver." It just sounded like that is what it meant. 

Back to the subject at hand. Musical frisson is the chills or goosebumps you experience when you hear certain songs, chords, or melodies. The two biggest musical frisson triggers for me are: Hedwig's theme from Harry Potter and Rue's whistle from The Hunger Games.

In honor of musical frisson, and to provide some of my personal favorites, I will be featuring a song each week that has inspired me or helped me in some way. Some will be upbeat, some will be dulcet, and still others will be a bit melancholy. 

We experience a range of emotions and have thousands of thoughts every day. By allowing music to help us deal with these experiences, we can move through them and on to what we really want to do.

What songs or sounds give you inspiration?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Past: Acknowledging Where You Have Been

Acknowledging Where You Have Been

Living in the past is giving up any plans for the future. As a history major I know the importance of looking back from where we have come. That really is the best way to plan for where you want to go by means of avoiding past mistakes. What it does NOT mean is that we are doomed to repeat ourselves. Every single day is a new chance for us to make choices. I can choose to be negative about a situation or I can choose to look at it as an opportunity. I can choose to eat things out of emotion or I can choose to eat things that fuel and boost me.

However, with choice comes consequences. I am telling you, you have the power to make any choice in the world regarding most subjects. You are not free from the consequences of that choice. I'm sure you're thinking "but you just said that we can't live in the past...what if I'm experiences the consequences of a past action? Isn't that living there?" 

Honestly, the consequences of choices made can be short term or long term. Sometimes their length is up to you, other times it's not. What I am encouraging you to do is stop dwelling on those past choices. You cannot change them, no matter how much you want to. What you can do is make choices today and in the future that will mitigate or help counteract the consequences of previous choices.

You have the freedom to do what is necessary to make your life better and more brilliant than you ever imagined. The question is: are you willing to explore that freedom? I am working on my exploration every day and every day I feel like I am gaining ground. Care to join me?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

No Day but Today & Nowhere but Here

As cliche as it may sound, RENT is one of my all-time favorite stage shows. I found it via the 2005 movie and fell in love. I met my husband doing drama in high school, so we fully support the arts whenever possible. For our 7th anniversary, he took me to see a live performance and while he liked the movie, the live show gave him the good kind of chills.

"No day but today" is a refrain from one of the core songs talking about why a couple should even try because there was no way it was ever going to work out. One character was arguing that they should give up before starting and the other was arguing that we only get this one chance in life, so why not risk it? I've always loved that idea but struggled to put it into action in my own life.

I've gotten so caught up in working a job I'm decent at but don't enjoy, to pay bills that need to be taken care of, for things that I rarely get to enjoy. How much of a disappoint I am in comparison with my ideal. How did I get here? The same way everyone else did. I stopped dreaming as much, stopped being fearless, and stopped pursuing what I mattered to nourish my soul.

As disappointing as this sounds, don't lose hope. There is a way out! Starting where you are, a little at a time is all is takes to make a difference in your life. Nowhere but here. That's all that you have and where you are. Life isn't about making sweeping changes. The best and most effective changes happen incrementally, over time, at the right pace for a reason. They are sustainable and too important to rush through.

This is what I am focusing on now. My meditation app helps me focus on being present while I begin my search for my passion. I have so many things running around in my brain that are "cool" or "fun" but I'm not passionate about. I'm trying to hone in on that inner voice and work on starting where I am.

No Day but Today & Nowhere but Here

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Goals & Ideas Before the Big 3-0!

Blank notebook with pen and coffee mug

I mentioned last time some books that I have been working through and loving. It seems like the best way to keep myself accountable is to create a working list of goals and ideas. While my 30th birthday is not a hard deadline, there are a lot of changes coming up in the next year and that one seems like a decent marker.

I love making lists, although I rarely complete all the tasks listed. It helps me sort through my thoughts and ideas to write it all out. While I am a hardcore pen & paper gal, this format will work best for my blog and I think that is what's important. I may hand write it all out as a reminder to help keep me accountable.

To use my mindfulness app once a day
To be more present in my day
To be kinder to my body by focusing on exercise as nourishment, not punishment
To journal in my art journal once a week, moving up to once every 3 days as I get more comfortable
Blog two to three times a week
Be kinder to others
Be kinder to myself
Smile more
Cook at home three days a week (maybe more when classes change)
Hand-write one letter a month (birthday cards don't count)
Travel to a new city

Take a meditation/mindfulness class
Take an art class (college or store?)
Take a movement class (silks, aerial, pole, Zumba, something)
Create an arts/crafts mini-business for the next holiday season (make stuff all year, sell in the fall/winter)

How do you keep yourself accountable?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Getting started

It's been over a year since I last posted on my book review blog. As a matter of fact, it's closer to two years. Time has gotten away from me and I've lost myself. Not just in work and school, but I feel like I have lost my way in life. It's not the existential crisis it sounds like. It's more of a nagging sensation at the back of my mind that says I am not quite where or who I need to be. This blog is going to help me see my path a bit more clearly. It's going to be heartfelt & brutally honest because this life does not leave us with many other options.

Currently I am inspired by One Minute Mindfulness  by Donald Altman & The Crossroads of Should & Must by Elle Luna. I have so many more books at home that are helping me work through myself, but right now these two are the most profound. They are telling me the facts & truths that I have been working so hard to ignore or avoid.

I turn 30 in 298 days. It's not crucial or life-changing to be honest. It sounds daunting and yet I look forward to it. I have 298 days to start working towards a better me. A happier me. A healthier me. One that is ready to keep working at life. The struggle is what reminds us that we are still here and that there is still time.

I will persist until I succeed

Sunday, November 1, 2015