A Smack-Talking Fast (or an attempt, anyway)

The lenten season is upon us! I know, while I talk a lot about spirituality on here, I generally stay away gotmailfrom what could be defined as “religion” … because (1) I don’t want anyone to get the idea that this is an exclusive club for one faith or another, and (2) that kind of talk can make people nervous. I get it. My relationship with God is individualized exclusively to me.

I suppose another reason is because I see a lot of value in many different faiths … they all have great things to teach and wonderful concepts to apply to everyday living. If someone held a gun to my head, I’d say I’m episcopalian, but it’s more like Buddhist-opalian. I love the sacred rituals of the divine liturgy, but I also love the wisdom of dharma.

So that brings me back to lent. I’ve given up different things with varying degrees of success (never touched a packet of Splenda again after giving it up in ’13 … but when I gave up swearing in 2012 I didn’t even make it through the drive to the office on Ash Wednesday morning). This year I agonized over the choice between shopping or sweets, even thinking about chucking both.

But the real inspiration didn’t hit me until Ash Wednesday, which this year found me traveling across the country for a combo work trip-vacation. I decided I would do my best to give up speaking negatively about other people. At first I just started with “coworkers” – where my offenses are worst – but decided I needed to broaden it to include everyone. Including me!

One time, I heard the ultimate way to practice this – never, EVER talk about someone unless they are in the room and part of your conversation. (In practical terms, that can be difficult, but the intent is marvelous.)

I’ll admit it’s not always been easy, and I’ve failed a couple of times, but overall, I think it’s getting better. And even stopping myself when I can see I’m headed down the path, pulling back to either say something “neutral,” or to just keep silent, really puts me in a whole different frame of mind. Instead of just firing off, I have to be mindful and choose different words – or no words at all.

In a way I’m seeing this as an experiment to try out the spiritual laws of the universe. I absolutely know that what I give out, I will in turn receive. So what if I give more positivity, more love?

It’s not an overnight transformation, but there are payoffs. Today I got impatient when I was behind a driver who clearly wasn’t sure of where he was going. But I reminded myself of all the times I’ve been in that exact same situation myself … and my gentleness and patience were both found. I’ve been able to look at total strangers with a spirit of love, looking beyond their outer appearances and into their very humanity.

It’s powerful. I know I won’t be perfect but I at least strive to be better, especially toward the folks who’ve gotten under my skin. I do my best to bless them, love them, release them. My reward is a more peaceful state of being.

Social Media Zen

welcomeIf there’s one thing I’ve learned to be absolutely true, it’s that there is an immense amount of freedom in taking responsibility for yourself.

The concepts of “freedom” and “responsibility” sound like conflicting ideas, no? But this is what I’ve found to be so freeing: I am the only one in control of me. Other people are the only ones in control of themselves.

That control extends to just about everything – thoughts, feelings, outlook in just about any situation, actions, etc. If someone else feels unhappy, I can apologize if I did something wrong* that caused that unhappiness, but I’m not responsible for that other person’s feelings. In fact, they’re the ones that chose that feeling. There’s not a damn thing I can do to “force” a different feeling for them.

* – (Something wrong, I should clarify, does not include respectfully expressing a conflicting opinion, making a choice in my own best interest, standing up for myself, or not allowing another person to control my actions or attempt to control my thoughts and emotions.)

Wow, I got off on quite a tangent here. What I’m really here to talk about is taking control of your own space in the world of social media. But really, I think you’ll see that these ideas can certainly translate into the “real world” too!

Social media can be both fantastic and awful. There is some amazing, uplifting, funny and creative content out there. We can connect with people we’d never meet otherwise. We can find ideas and knowledge with speed and access never before possible. All good stuff!

But along with it can come bad. It seems some users feel inclined to interact online in a way they’d never dream of communicating in real life. Maybe it’s a “sense of anonymity” that comes with online interaction. It seems some folks have lost their sense of accountability because they’re not in the same room as someone, telling them something to their face. It can get toxic and nasty in a hurry.

But guess what! You don’t have to stand for that. It’s possible to keep your accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., and still keep your sanity too. Here’s my four-step plan for Social Media Zen:

1. Remember, above all, *I* am the one responsible for reactions to anything I encounter online. If someone posts something that angers or upsets me, I am the one who originated that emotion and the thoughts around it. I can choose to believe it and even act upon it, but that’s MY choice. I have to be willing to face the consequences of that.

2. Don’t feed the trolls. Is there someone who likes to make nasty comments on my posts? I don’t have to respond. If possible, I can find ways to keep them from seeing what I post. If it’s not someone I want to “unfriend,” I have no problem with blocking people from my Facebook wall. I’ve done it before and won’t hesitate to do it again. But in the meantime, I don’t need to get dragged down into the gutter to wallow with someone else who wants to take me there. I can peacefully move on without reacting.

3. BUT … I also need to be mindful of what I put out there. If I share things that are deeply personal (hello! like this blog), I also need to be prepared for the consequences of that. I can’t attack people, ideas or institutions and not expect retribution.

4. I can create my own “happy space.” My Facebook and Twitter feeds are filled with positive, uplifting messages from different spiritual healers and other folks who spread a sense of peace, happiness, and serenity. On Facebook, I can block people from my newsfeed without unfriending them. Sometimes it’s the best way to coexist.

So what do you think? How have you learned to own your happiness online?

Before the Party … a Few Moments of Peace

NYE ritualsAs I write this, I am preparing for a very important ritual. I lit some candles, found some peaceful music. My home is suffering some “holiday chaos,” but I cleared and prepared and nice space before me for the ritual. After I write this, I will shut down the laptop, turn off the phone, brew a pot of tea, and spend a couple of reflective hours with myself. This isn’t a time for hurrying or for distraction. This is time I spend in the loving company of myself.

For the past several years, one of my rituals has been to write myself a love letter. Then, I open it on the following New Year’s Eve. This year, I’m doing the same, but with a twist – I am also going to write a letter to my Higher Power (which I call God), written as though all of my prayers for this year have been answered.

But this morning I was blessed to find this terrific New Year’s ritual from The Ford Institute. So I am going to embark on this as well – some writing, some prayer, some meditation. The ritual begins with taking a vow to myself and to the universe to find peace and blessings in the coming year, and to live in the best way that I can. After that, this is how the rest goes:

  • Make a list of 10 experiences that blessed and nourished you in 2013.
  • To complete 2013, write out why you chose the challenging experiences of the last year. Do this from the highest perspective so that you can find their gifts.
  • Notice if you’re carrying any dark, small or limiting thoughts into 2014. Write them all down. Affirm you don’t need them anymore. They’re not the truth. They’re just thoughts. Then rip them up into 100 shredded little pieces and throw them in the trash.
  • Choose one quality (e.g., love, peace, success, respect, etc.) that you most want to express and commit to in 2014. Write out 5 ways that you can give and share this quality with others.
  • Write down 5 goals that you feel inspired to commit to in 2014.
  • Read this vow or use one of your own each morning to reconnect with the power you hold to light up the world.

Whether tonight includes a festive gathering of friends, quiet time with a loved one, or a solo night relaxing, I wish you all a safe, happy, joyous, blessed, and peaceful New Year. Thanks for being with me on this journey for the last year. I am sending you all the love of the universe for 2014!

Ingredients for a Serene 2014

On the WaterI’ll admit that 2013 wasn’t my favorite year, but I do think that in retrospect I’ll look back and see it was the one where I grew the most. It’s certainly ending a whole lot better than it started. I think the themes for this year could be “Painful Things that Led to Better Things,” Or “Laying the Foundation.”

I ended a relationship with someone I really didn’t want to leave behind, but it was becoming too detrimental to my sanity and peace of mind. I learned I had the courage to love myself enough to walk away from a situation that wasn’t giving me what I wanted and needed. I also learned that I can be quite content and peaceful in standing alone, because I can keep the focus on me for the time being. I also have complete faith that my Higher Power, which I call God, is going to deliver the right person to me. So I don’t need to worry or go out “hunting.” I just need to have patience.

I also had a situation of struggle at work that turned into something great … a new position with a lot of promise, working for someone I respect and like a whole lot. That was nothing other than the answer to a whole lot of prayers.

This was also the year that I found I liked sparkling water, distance running, and meditation. I can’t wait to see what I pick up next year!

I really believe that everything we encounter on the path happens for a reason – God has our best intentions in mind. If I let go and keep faith in the process, I’ll feel calm, serene, peaceful. My life will go more smoothly. But if I fight and struggle with it, everything will seem challenging and difficult.

That said, what am I aiming for in the coming year?

1. A mindset of abundance: I do feel that what we believe is what we will attract. If I feel like I am always lacking, always needing or wanting something, then the lack will become my way of life. If I focus on a belief in abundance, then what I already have will attract more. Louise Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life talks about this in excellent detail.

2. A change in routine: I’ve set a goal to try at least two new things a month that are outside of my routine. I’m fortunate to live in a big city that offers a lot of possibility. I’ll soon be making a list of things that interest me – classes, activities, outings, volunteering – and deciding what I want to pursue.

3. Learn something new: A new language? Learning to code? A different type of fitness certification? Herbology and natural medicine? All of those things were flowing through my mind last night as I was lying in bed.

4. Have fun! I stole this straight from Buddhist Boot Camp’s Facebook post today: “Make a list of 10 things you enjoy doing, and do them often! We constantly make To-Do Lists of the things we “have to do”, and then we wonder why there’s no joy left in our lives. Remember to always add “have fun” to your list.”

What’s on your list for 2014?

Confession: My Love-Hate Relationship with Facebook

For as much as a lot of folks complain about Facebook, I actually don’t mind it too much. For one, it keeps me connected to people I’m pretty sure I would’ve lost touch with years ago. I’m also pretty good at keeping it in perspective, that for the most part people are only sharing their “best moments” on there. So the folks who look like they have the great relationships or awesome vacations or super-nice whatever thingy aren’t also posting about the big fight they had the night before, or when they almost got fired at work, or when they found themselves in massive debt, or when they did things of which they weren’t so proud. In some ways, Facebook is a continuous TV commercial about life.

I’m not one of those folks who gets on Facebook to continually complain about Facebook, and that’s not what this is about. My opinion is that each of us is personally responsible for either keeping or rejecting the things in life that are useful and of service to us, or not so. Yeah, Facebook is going to show you ads you don’t want to see, send you requests for games you don’t want to play, and so on. It’s their business model. They are a business. It’s how they generate revenue. So, if this were too uncomfortable to me, I would delete my account and move on. And, confession time – I have been known to block people from my newsfeed who I find too dramatic or whiny or generally toxic, or even block them from seeing my own updates. Again, it’s not that I dislike those people. But I’m taking responsibility for setting boundaries and what comes into my space.

But I noticed something about myself on FB that could use some work. I live in a place that is much, much different from the place where I grew up. I’m in a big city where people make a lot of money, have high-pressure careers, have big fancy degrees, travel the world, drive fancy cars, live in expensive houses, etc. It’s a place that values Success, with a capital S. Don’t take this as me saying that people are “bad” for having those things. Not at all – they have all worked very hard for the things they have. But it’s a lot different from the place where I was raised, where things are simpler, perhaps more laid-back. It’s a different way of life. (But in my blood, I also know that I belong in the big city and am much happier here than I would be back where I came from.)

Opportunity maybe isn’t as easy to come by in the place where I grew up. The socioeconomics are different. I guess you could say that in some sense, I feel like where I live now is for those of us who “made it out.” But I know not everyone shares that sentiment, and I know that’s a judgmental thing to say. I was privileged to get an education and to travel on a successful career path that’s given me a decent income and the luxury of a lot of great experiences along the way. A lot of folks back where I came from haven’t lead that kind of life.

And here is where I’m not proud of myself. I notice myself looking at status updates, forming an opinion about other people’s lives, and pitying some of the folks “left behind.” Pity does not equate kindness. It means that I think I am somehow superior to these other people. Somehow, I have made myself “better” than the others. But how can I be “better” than my fellow human beings, when God created all of us equally? This is nothing more than my ego at work.

It’s true that I don’t see eye-to-eye with a lot of people from my home state – culturally, politically, spiritually. But in no way does it make any of us superior to the other. It’s something I need to remind myself, over and over again. Even the person who wishes me ill is not lower than me. I strive to believe that not just because I want to be “nice,” but because there is a sense of inner peace and harmony that stems from it. The less I allow my ego to be in charge, the more peaceful I feel – at all times.

And so, I’m striving to look at every single person as God’s own precious child – not for me to judge, condemn, or scorn, but for me to love as part of our collective human spirit.

Andrew Hines

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