Posts Tagged ‘joy’

Thoughts on Hope

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all…   — Emily Dickinson

Hope. Even hearing the word brings to mind comforting thoughts of relief, satisfaction, serenity. Hope is something encouraging and enduring, filling bleak spaces with strength beyond fear, triumph over crises, and light amid darkness. The presence of hope can be the difference between joy and depression, persistence and giving up, success and failure – even life and death.

Hoping for something is not the same as wishing for it, as the things we wish for are usually more illusive. When we wish for something, there’s often regret over or denial of an unfortunate reality, like wishing you could sing as well as your favorite rock star, or wishing you’d studied math instead of history in college. Hoping, on the other hand, generally refers to more realistic things in the present or future, so there’s no sadness over past things that cannot be changed.

The dictionary defines hope as “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.” However, be careful about this, because if hope comes with strong expectation, it can actually be destructive. When we don’t acknowledge that hope for something is not a guarantee of its being realized, we set ourselves up for pain and disillusion. For example, we hope our children will be healthy…we hope our finances will be stable…we hope our love relationships will last forever. But what if our children become ill, or we are laid off at work, or our marriage fails? Our hopes instantly transform into disappointment, often leading to bitterness. Reeling from the impact of these crushing emotions, we’re prime targets for the opposite of hope – despair.

Wearing us down and clouding our perspective, despair holds us back from moving toward the happier places of acceptance and gratitude. When we despair, it’s impossible for us to see the gifts that actually come from not getting what we hoped for!

If you’ve ever experienced your hopes “crumble,” chances are you have learned to be careful about allowing yourself to hope. Perhaps you’ve found that making outside, external things or situations the center of your hopes is not worth the anguish of being let down. But that doesn’t mean that you should give up on hope altogether. Doing that would make you hopeless!

Consider this: a new way to hope. Focus your hopes on yourself instead of on things, people, and situations around you. You were born with the light of hope inside you. The truth is…it has never left. Maybe it’s been buried under mounds of sorrow about things you hoped for that didn’t come true. No matter what or whom you’ve lost – no matter what fact, crisis, or circumstance you think has stolen your hope, you only think you’re out of hope. You aren’t. There is an abundant, infinite source of hope that you can see if you’re willing to look for it. This is the unfailing force giving you the power to keep walking forward when all the chips are down, the ability to enjoy a hug from a friend or the smell of a rose during troubled times, and the strength to see future possibilities ahead instead of looking backward at the things you wish had been different. What you focus on grows in strength. Focus on the hope within – the hope for your potential to grow through anything and everything “life” hands you. In the strangest of ironies, the most painful things in our life can actually help us practice the most profoundly healing application of hope. What an awesome opportunity!

Remember that hope looks forward, and regret looks behind. To look ahead or back is your choice. Yours, and yours alone.

Overcoming the Obstacles to a Simpler Life

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

IMG_0241The multifaceted nature of existence itself, combined with our very human ways of trying to deal with all the variables, leads all of us, at one time or another, to wishing our lives were simpler. Tired and aggravated, we look around and point to what we think are the culprits – the out-of-control kids, unreasonable boss, lazy spouse, or too many spam emails and store coupons. Actually, though, the real cause usually has more to do with us than what’s happening in our world.

While it’s certainly true that technological advancements have led to an overabundance of information – affording us more possibilities, but also more choices and conflicts – it is doubtless that people from the beginning of time have wanted less stress and complexity in their lives. The reason is obvious…we humans are the ones who make our lives more problematical than they have to be! By our own attitudes and behavior, we create a lifestyle that frequently exceeds our ability to handle it. To make matters worse, when we inevitably lose control and fail in one or more areas, others blame us and we feel bad about ourselves.

The true keys to simplicity lie within us, regardless of the insane situations and people we feel forced to deal with. If we start focusing inward, on ourselves instead of “them,” we might spot certain attitudes and behaviors that contribute to a complicated life.

1.         Dishonesty – The admonitions against dishonesty are so universal, a phrase was coined describing the consequence…“getting caught in a web of lies.” If we are habitually dishonest, we absolutely invite complexity. This trait, however, may be the trickiest one to address, since if we’re dishonest with others, we’re usually not being honest with ourselves, either. This would apply to countless people who believe their own lies. Breaking free of our own illusions can be impossible unless we’re strongly motivated to do so. Frequently, however, the pain generated by an individual’s deceptiveness can push him or her to change.

It helps if we understand why we are duplicitous with certain people or in particular situations. The lies we tell are usually a form of protection, even though we may be unconscious of what we’re trying to protect. In many instances, we’re trying to spare ourselves embarrassment or shame at a perceived weakness. For some, the fear of exposing certain things is of the same intensity as fear of death or annihilation! Therefore, it’s best to be very patient and gentle as we strive to become more honest with ourselves about our feelings and motives. As we grow more accepting of the truth about ourselves, our need to lie and cover up lessens, along with the complexity of keeping up a false front. What a relief!

2.         Being Controlling – Trying to control or manipulate people and circumstances around us is another sure way to live in constant anxiety. The truth is, our ability to control things and people is an illusion, and when we base our life on an illusion, we’re certain to suffer. Sometimes it may seem as though we’re successfully managing all the players in our particular drama, and we feel satisfied. This lasts literally a few seconds, however, before something goes wrong.

To let other people handle their own problems, to let situations work themselves out instead of insisting on and forcing our own solutions, to keep our focus on our own life and responsibilities instead of becoming involved in others’…these are attitudes which lift the crippling burden of trying to manage things which are not ours to manage, and at the same time free others to feel good about solving their own problems.

3.         Over-Committing – Wanting acceptance and approval from others is basic to human nature, but when this approval-seeking becomes more important than our own feelings and needs, we get ourselves into trouble. Oftentimes unconsciously, we put others first, discounting our own wants and responsibilities. We drive someone here or there, take off work to help a friend move, offer to chair the monthly board meeting again…whatever. The relief we see in others’ faces when we take on extra tasks gives us the comforting feeling that they are happy with us. But our efforts backfire later in exhaustion and resentment, two unpleasant consequences of people-pleasing. When we offer favors without considering the effect on us, we fail to protect and care for ourselves, and both our schedule and feelings spiral into overwhelm.

To be of service to others is obviously a great thing, as strong individuals grow even stronger when they give of themselves. But to give in a healthy way means we are whole and able to do so, and not just reflecting a neediness to have others like us.

4.         Addiction to Drama – Usually a characteristic that operates on an unconscious level, drama addiction greatly perpetuates complexity in our lives. In this addiction, we actually crave the intense emotional highs and lows brought about by conflict. Perhaps we’ve never known anything different, or maybe we fear what would be left without constant upset. After all, in those mundane moments or when things are going well, we feel a scary emptiness. We’re left with only ourselves, and if we’re not comfortable with who we are, we subconsciously seek out a new distraction, even if it’s the negative kind.

Drama addiction robs us of peace and simplicity as we find ways to sabotage relationships with others, make choices destined to bring chaos, and often feel sorry for ourselves and like a victim. All the “excitement” is a grand escape from reality, which usually is less thrilling but far more fulfilling if given the chance!

5.         Disorganization – On both the material and emotional levels, being disorganized can lead to all sorts of complications in our lives. We have so many pots on the stove, so to speak, that it’s impossible to adequately tend to them all. We’re surrounded by loose-ended projects, goals, and relationship issues. The disorder in our houses and minds keeps us stuck dealing with emergency after emergency, with little resolution to anything. By being disorganized, we maintain the adrenaline of negative excitement in a crises-based lifestyle. Like drama addiction, being disorganized pays off in that it’s an avoidance behavior, in this case a self-generated diversion from the work involved in confronting and resolving problems.

If we’re driven by ongoing overwhelm, we’ve lost sight of the fact that we need only attend to one issue, goal, or chore at a time. By slowly – and again, gently – trying to become more organized in all areas of our lives, we find we can get rid of the ideas and belongings no longer useful to us, clearing the way for simplicity and sanity.

6.         Perfectionism and Procrastination – Both these characteristics have the same end result: we don’t get to enjoy the simple satisfaction of completing a project, knowing we’ve given our best effort. Procrastination relates directly to disorganization, already discussed as a source of needless complexity. Perfectionism can actually contribute to procrastination, since our mind can be so overwhelmed by thinking we have to finish something according to our idyllic standards, that we unconsciously (or consciously) avoid even starting on it. The same applies to projects we have started, but never wind up finishing because the outcome might be less than flawless.

Perfectionism, although a positive quality on some level, can thus lead us to a house cluttered with projects not started or not completed, and a mind cluttered with self-recrimination at all the things we haven’t accomplished. A helpful slogan to use when we start feeling those pangs of dissatisfaction or anxiety arising from perfectionism goes like this: A mistake a day keeps perfectionism at bay.

It is up to us to decide if we’re ready for a less complicated life. Certainly, trying to live simply requires awareness of the ideas and behaviors that contribute to our living problems. In this respect, striving for simplicity certainly does not imply that there’s no work involved in avoiding the pitfalls that get us in too deep.

As we continue to be conscious of how we ourselves are basically responsible for our attitudes and ways of living, we may experience a sense of being humbled. This can be uncomfortable…after all, it’s far easier to blame other people, places, and things for the craziness of our lives! But if our goal is simplicity and serenity, it’s worth journeying inward to the place where peace can truly dwell and thrive, regardless of anything or anyone outside our skin.