When I was a senior in college, I took a politics course, entitled “The Way the World Works.” On the first day of class, the professor had us divide up into groups and debate the following: are people innately good or are people innately bad? As quiet as I was, I found myself in quite the fierce battle between myself and the three gentlemen in my group, who were all convinced that humans were inherently evil. When the professor brought the class back together, I was tired and frustrated from arguing. Certainly someone else could pick up my crusade in the full class discussion so the introvert that I am could relax. But then, he asked us to raise our hands for which side we thought had won the debates. The entire class had been convinced that people are evil. Myself and the professor were the only people who disagreed.
The other night, over dinner, my mother said, “I think the world is the worst off it’s ever been.” In some ways, I can see how it’s easy to say that. 2014 was certainly a year for scary news: ebola, the abduction of schoolgirls from Nigeria, instability in Gaza and Crimea, racial unrest in the US, and quite an array of national and international terrorism. Yet, I still disagree. To explain, I will defer to Mr. Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a favorite show when I was a young child):
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers- so many caring people in this world.”
In other words, bad things are going to happen, but the way I know that the world is an ok place because when bad things happen, more people step up to help than there are that caused the situation in the first place.
And if you’re still not convinced the world is an ok place, watch this commercial from a Thai life insurance company:
Lately, my facebook newsfeed has been blowing up with posts from friends and acquaintances who are experiencing the sorts of big changes in their lives that can only be expected of adults in their mid-twenties to early thirties. Proposals, engagements, and marriages. Pregnancies and births. It’s easy to think that everyone is entering a new stage of their lives and that I’m being left behind.
But, the other day, as I logged on to a flurry of these posts, I thought of it a different way.
What if all of this extra time was a gift?
When you’re in a romantic relationship, your focus shifts from yourself to your partner. When you have children, it shifts to them. As you start a family, it seems as if it is very easy to lose connection with yourself.
I have a friend who got married soon after college and who has two beautiful children. She posts images of her happy family, but then writes about how she’s felt like she’s lost touch with herself. When she was in school, her hobbies were to sing and dance- that’s what brought her joy. Since she had gotten married, and definitely since she had children, she has not been able to do these things. She feels like she’s lost touch with herself.
I can say the opposite is true for me. Over the past 5-10 years, not only have I gotten better at my favorite hobbies, but I’ve found new ones as well. I’ve put a lot of work into myself, and I have become braver, stronger, and more assertive. With every year that passes, I’ve pushed and challenged myself more. I’ve become more and more connected with myself, and as that connection strengthens, it will become harder and harder to break, no matter what life delivers me.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to keep the focus on myself this entire time. I have had so much time to grow and evolve . . . and I can say with confidence that I’ve been making the best of it.
I used to say that I wished I had been born earlier, so that I could participate in all of the great social movements of the 1960s and 1970s: the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, protests against the war in Vietnam, the environmental movement that gave us Earth Day . . . and it would’ve been fun to have been around for Woodstock, too. There’s something exciting about the idea of being a part of a powerful movement for change.
The more I see of current events, the more I realize that those dramatic opportunities for progress are not a thing of the past. We have just as many high stakes battles to fight now:
We need to battle the denial and apathy that are holding us back from taking action to fight global climate change.
Women are still not being taken seriously, as we are being prevented from being able to make some of our own healthcare decisions.
Children and teens are dying as a result of unnecessary gun violence almost every day.
Gay and lesbian people are not yet permitted to marry in every state, and transgender people are frequently the target of bullying and terrorist acts.
We need to question US military presence in many other countries, most particularly those in the Middle East, as well as the militarization of the police force within our borders.
The middle class is rapidly shrinking due to inflation and income inequality. Corporations need to be held accountable.
The members of our government need to learn how to put partisan politics aside, to compromise, and to treat each other like adults.
And, despite what anyone may say, the battle for civil rights is clearly not over.
These movements, too, can make the history books if we play our cards right. But, we need to put our smartphones down, get outside, and actually do something.
In a Walmart commercial I saw today, Anthony Anderson proudly exclaims, “the holiday season starts right now!”
It’s November 3rd.
And that’s not the only holiday commercial I’ve seen today. In the past hour, I’ve counted 5. The only reason I think the number was that low is because tomorrow is election day and the airwaves are being dominated by political pleas. (I won’t miss those, either.)
Earlier this afternoon, I went out to get a few things that I need for a trip I’m taking this week. The pharmacy was already decked out in red and green, and the Christmas cards were featured in a prominent display at the grocery store. My sister works in a department store, and she tells me that the tree went up in September.
It’s November 3rd. This just isn’t right.
Maybe it sounds like I don’t like the winter holidays, but that’s not true. I love them. I just prefer them to stay in December. The holiday season seems to start earlier and earlier every year. To me, that illustrates a fundamental problem with society: we seem to have an inability to be in the present moment. We always have to sprint ahead to something else.
Why are we running? What are we running from?
Perhaps it is that the holiday festivities feel like a vacation from the norm.
So why are we living lives that we need to take breaks from? What if we could incorporate elements of rest into our daily or weekly lives?
We need to examine the way we live. If we are looking for calm, for relaxation, for peace of mind, we won’t find it somewhere out there in the future. But, we can have it now, if we allow ourselves a moment of pause.
Take some time to acknowledge and appreciate the fall. We still have a whole month of it left.
No matter how hard we try in life, we will all find ourselves in this place- many, many times. The bottom will drop out from under us. We will fail. The sh*t will hit the fan. Things will get real. And we will be left in a daze with nothing to do but pick up the pieces.
It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve found ourselves in this pit before. We will find ourselves here again. Therefore, each of us needs to cultivate a routine for coping and adapting with challenges. Here are the 10 things I believe everyone should keep in mind during tough times.
1. Let yourself feel your feelings. This one is the hardest, yet it is also the most important. If you let yourself feel your negative feelings, they will eventually pass. If you suppress them, they will linger in your body, where they may fester and cause you more physical and mental woes later.
2. Let yourself take a break. There are times where it might not be plausible to allow yourself to work through your negativity as soon as it arises. That’s okay. When you have time to be alone, give yourself some space to relax and express your feelings to a journal. Or process it with a friend, if that’s more your style.
Along the same vein- don’t make any decisions right away. Wait a few more days until you are more clear-headed, or else you might do something you regret. It might not seem like it now, but the feelings will pass.
3. Remember that you aren’t the only one! When we screw up, we are so quick to assume that no one else could have possibly made the same mistake we did, and as a result, we beat ourselves up over it. That is an incredibly unrealistic assumption! Because of the omnipresence of social media, we are often comparing ourselves to other people . . . or rather, the photoshopped images that we have of other people in our minds. But, we must remember, that most often, people only use social media to display their good news. They aren’t going to go public about their screw ups, unless they’re looking for advice.
Talk to other people that you trust. It is very likely you’ll find someone who has been in a comparable situation.
4. Don’t take it personally. It didn’t happen because God and the universe are out to get you. It didn’t happen to you because you are a bad person, and it didn’t happen because you are cursed.Whatever it is happened because hard times are a fact of life for everyone.
5. Seek perspective. Is it really as big of a deal as you are making it out to be? Again, I find it really helpful to talk to a friend. Many times I have thought I was a total loser who ruined her future, and they have been able to show me where maybe I or someone else was overreacting.
6. Speak kindly to yourself. Talk to yourself the way you would to a friend who is experiencing the same circumstances. Being harsh with yourself will only make you feel worse.
7. Participate in your self care activities. To gain your energy back and to lift your spirits up, you will have to rest. Participate in whatever activities rejuvenate you. For me, this includes yoga, meditation, journaling, singing, spending time in nature, and drawing mandalas. For you, it may be one of these things, or something else.
8. Can you learn from it? Now that you’ve let yourself feel and process your feelings, it is time to move on. What’s done is done. You can’t change it, but perhaps you can grow from it. Is there anything you could have done differently? Something you’ve learned so that you won’t repeat the situation again? Take note of all these things.
9. Determine your action steps. Where would you like to be in a few days? In a month? What will it take to get there? Make a list of these (bite-size) steps, and then start doing them!
10. Seek positivity. Moving on is going to be challenging. Surround yourself with supportive people. Watch shows that make you laugh. I like to print out inspirational slogans and hang them in places where I will see them often. (This includes in my car, on the mirror, by my desk, by the front door, as my laptop and iPhone wallpapers . . .)
The important thing to remember is that although suffering is inevitable, it is also temporary. If you play your cards right, you can find the rainbow on the other side.
Every year, I rejoice when summer begins and mourn when it ends. While others are unleashing their sweaters and boots and pumpkin spice lattes, I try to prolong summer’s carefree gaiety by sipping on iced tea and walking around barefoot until it finally becomes too cold to do so comfortably. But as is inevitable, I have finally had to don my warm socks and change my tea from iced to hot. The breeze is cool and the trees are erupting in fiery brilliance. I can’t deny it anymore- fall is here.
I’ve decided that instead of lamenting the change of seasons, I’ll try to embrace it. I’ve challenged myself to come up with a list of things that I appreciate about the fall:
Fall is perhaps the only time I am able to appreciate a gray sky. There’s just something about the contrast between the dreary clouds and the bright foliage that I find to be poetically beautiful. It’s a natural reminder of how our joyful days and our difficult ones contrast each other in order to create beauty in our lives.
Fall presents us with a valuable reminder to be in the present. As I go about my day, I’ll often notice a strikingly beautiful tree or scene. I’ll say to myself, “Wow, I’ll have to stop and take a picture the next time I pass by here.” But naturally, when I come back, even if it is just a day or two later, the tree doesn’t look the same and the lighting is all wrong. The moment is gone, and I’ve missed my chance to take an artistic photograph.
Fall shows us that it is okay to adapt and let go of that which no longer serves us. We watch as the trees drop their leaves so that they may take care of themselves and survive throughout the harsh winter. Not only is that okay, it’s beautiful.
At Thanksgiving, we remember the importance of gratitude as we take a moment to celebrate and appreciate the blessings that we often take for granted. Science shows us that people who regularly practicegratitude are happier.
Fall teaches us impermanence by reminding us that change is inevitable.
What do you love about the fall? What else can we learn from the changing of the seasons?
In The Way of the Happy Woman, which I have just started reading, Sara Avant Stover recommends writing a YES and NO list as a reminder to keep yourself on track. The YES list contains all the things you should remember to do to keep yourself happy and healthy, and the NO list contains all the things you should remember not to do. It turns out, I had written mine a couple of months ago, only I called it my “Rules to Live By.” I share mine below: