Sunday, December 04, 2005

Don't Forget to Give to Yourself

During this time of year, it's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, social engagements, and the like. While it is better to give than to receive, it's important to remember to fill yourself first. How can you give if you're running on empty?

My friends think I'm crazy because I tend to slow down during this time of the year. Now that I am not working full-time, I even have more time to relax. Read on for a couple of ways to keep yourself from keeping too worked up during this busy season!

1. Buy yourself a gift. Nothing brings me more joy than finding that perfect gift, whether it be for my parents, friends, or others. But I have to always keep in mind that the most important person I have to please is the one in the mirror. So in the midst of my holiday shopping (which I try to do throughout the year), I make sure that I get myself something, too. It doesn't have to be expensive, but whatever it is, make sure it is a total indulgence.

2. Take lots of baths. One of the best forms of relaxation is a hot bath. Light some candles, break out your bubble bath, and get ready to totally indulge. After a long day of work, shopping, and parties, this tried-and-true method for winding down really helps you sleep better at night. Don't forget a terry cloth robe, facial, and warm tea bags for your eyes.

3. Lots and lots of deep breathing. For thousands of years, deep breathing has been touted by Zen masters as a way to get in touch with your inner self. Over the past 20 years, the best of Eastern philosophy has made its way into Western mainstream culture. Yoga studios and meditation classes are available everywhere. Take advantage!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Be Like Nike...

...and just do it!

Nike makes some great shoes. But do you know where the name came from?

Nike, in Ancient Greece, was the Greek goddess of victory, and is depicted in ancient art with wings outstretched over the victor, bearing a branch of peace. According to Greek mythology, she was the daughter of the River Styx and the Ttian Pallas, anf fought Zeus, King of the Gods.

Whether she won or not, that woman has got some ambition. Anyone with enough balls to stand up to the Greek equivalent of what many of us call God today has got some wisdom to share. And no one put it better than the American shoe company:

Just do it!

How are you going to be victorious if you play it safe sitting on the sidelines of life?

I'm not advocating irresponsible living or a party-till-you-die attitude by any means. But the difference between those of us who are hugely successful or extremely content with life is that some of us go for it, and others let negative thinking keep them from going after what it is they really want out of life.

American writer Henry David Thoreau says:

I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

So what are you waiting for? Go out there and make your dreams come through for you.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Dalai Lama Comes to D.C.

The Dalai Lama never takes a day off. During the week of his 70th birthday, His Holiness visited Washington, DC. While he was there, this 70 year old Tibetan Buddhist leader participated in the Mind and Life Conference, whose focus this year was the study of the clinical applications of meditation, a topic very close to the Dalai Lama's heart. In addition, he spoke with President George Bush and several other government leaders about the Chinese occupation in Tibet. He wrapped up his visit with a public talk on global peace through compassion and an awards ceremony where he was the presenter.

Though the public talk was short, it was packed with vital, valuable information applicable to anyone. I have decided to make a conscious effort to follow the three commitments of human beings, as described by His Holiness. Read on to learn more!.

Our Three Commitments as Humans

1. Promotion of Humanity or Human Futures. In Buddhist philosophy, one of the great principles is interbeing, a theory that all of humanity is connected with all of the plants, animals, and minerals in this world. This means that one cannot exist wothout the other. And since all of humanity is connected together as well, our future is dependent upon our own behavior and attitudes. If the majority of humanity relays a negative, pessimistic attitude towards the future, we are all doomed. Fighting, ignorance, and greed doesn't promote peace. Global peace begins on the individual level. We need to engage in compassionate motivation, which means gently pushing for peace and nonviolence.

2. Promotion of Religious Harmony. While religion brings inner peace and a sense of value in the lives of millions, it is also problematic. Wars are fought or caused on the basis of religious intolerance. The Dalai Lama stressed the importance of following one tradition or religion, while respecting all. He continued to say that faith and respect are two very different things. Many religious leaders may have deep conviction and a strong faith, but lack the respect necessary to promote peace and tolerance to all.

3. Training of Compassion. We are all one big, human, family, even though we may not act that way. A clearness of vision and sense of closeness with others is important, yet underrated in American society where we stress individualism and a "me first, you last" society. To become compassionate, one needs to develop a social concern for others, even our enemies, of the right to overcome suffering. This concern is unbiased and genuine, reduces fear, and brings about confidence in yourself and others around you. An interesting scientific fact is that the same part of the brain used for motor function is also active when cultivating compassion.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Living Your Dreams

Ever notice how most magazines have a cover feature titled, "How to Get the ____________ of Your Dreams?" It seems that even in America, the land of opportunity, where the streets are paved with gold, we are still searching for that one thing to rocket us into that fourth dimension of existence and make all of our worries disappear.

Whether it be the perfect man, job, car, or career, one cannot achieve their dreams unless they first know what they are. Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? As for me, I wanted to be a rock star, a computer database administrator, a model, an actress, and, of course, a writer.

When I was a teenager, and later a young adult, my interests would lead me down other paths, but writing was what was in my heart, my passion. I never stopped writing, never stopped trying to get published, and never stopped reading about writing. In addition to the countless magazine articles and library books I have read, I have a pretty impressive collection of books on writing, and a few classic pieces of literature.

So a couple of months ago, here I was, a graphic designer, who wanted to write. While I loved my job and the people I worked with, I was tired of feeling like I was missing out on something.

The wheels in my head started turning and I found a way to go out on a limb and chase my dream. Not only would I be able to pursue my own thing, I would also have the time to complete the education I desparately needed to give me some credibility as a freelance writer.

So here I am, less than a month after quitting my full-time job, working on building my success story. I was able to finance my living expenses by selling my home. I got a part-time sales job to give me spending money. All of my friends think I am absolutely insane. In less than 3 weeks, I have already landed a 60-hour editorial internship. I also received an email today from an editor who is interested in me to write for a blog for college students. I am taking two classes online from my local community college, and plan on attending full-time in January.

What did I do? I had a dream and wasn't afraid to chase it. After years of hoping and wishing and waiting, I turned a personal tragedy (see A Year of My Own, Parts 1 and 2) into an opportunity to live the life I believe I was born for. I had a dream, knew what it was, and set out to make it come true.

Someone once told me to do what I truly love, and the money will come later. My placing the outcome in God's hands, I am able to focus on getting things done instead of worrying about the future. A few tips for chasing your own dreams....

1. Have a dream. Have you always enjoyed fixing things? Playing with computers or video games? The first step in realizing your dream is to actually have one. Take a little time and think back to what you wanted to be when you grew up. For me, the first one was the right one.

2. Plan your course of action. In order to know how to get there, you have to figure out the steps to take. Make friends with someone living your dream, and find out what it takes. Education, experience, all that.

3. Don't stray from the path. While I did spend years in jobs that were not exactly what I wanted to do, I never got out of the publishing field. I started as an Editorial Assistant, and then ended up doing graphic design for a few commercial printing companies. This experience gave me an understanding of the complete publishing process, and also an in to my editorial internship. I stressed to them that I am willing to use my knowledge of design to help, but that my primary goal was to break into the editorial side, and they complied with my wishes. Don't take a job as a waiter if you want to fly planes.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Happiness is a Choice

When I was younger, everything made me angry. Whatever a person or institution did was a personal attack on me. I was always blaming the world for my crappy life, and decided that I was destined to be miserable, that God didn't like me.

As I got older, I continued this path to unhappiness. I indulged in self-destructive behavior to forget about the mean, cruel world that was ruining my life, but it never worked. As a teenager, this behavior turned into full-blown addiction, which gave me another reason to be angry.

In my early twenties, I was fed up with being unhappy. On the outside, I appeared to have everything one would need to be content: good job, my own place, a car, and a fiancee. But on the inside, I thought I was the most miserable human being on the face of the earth, and that if you had my problems, you wouldn't do any better.

One day, I stumbled upon a group of people who understood my pain. Even though they had been through many of the same things I had, they were happy. They laughed about the stupid things they had done and weren't ashamed of where they had come from. What a bunch of loonies these people were! Yet even though I didn't think it was possible for me, I was intrigued.

These people taught me that my problem was not the world itself, but the way I reacted to it. I was completely self-centered and cared about nothing except getting my own way. I expected the world to behave exactly the way I wanted it to, and became angry when it didn't meet my excessive demands and frivolous expectations.

I also learned that happiness is a choice. By letting the unfair actions of certain people and institutions get to me, I was essentially giving away my right to be happy by allowing outside influences to shift my focus from all the positive in my life to the negative. Being angry at someone didn't change anything about what happened. It only interfered with my ability to be happy.

While I can't say I'm completely free from anger today, I don't allow it to get to me the way I used to. The first thing I do when I get angry is write down what I am feeling or talk it over with someone else. Then, I pray for that person's happiness and wish them a good life, even though I don't always believe that in the beginning. If it's a really bad resentment, it can take me a couple of weeks to get to this point.

While I may not like doing these things, the payoff is awesome. My life today is radically different. I feel more at ease not only with the world but with myself as well.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Enjoy Life Before It Passes You By

Have you ever seen one of those people on TV who can spin 27 plates at the same time while whistling The Star Spangled Banner? You watch in amazement as they manage to keep all of them going at the same speed, until... Oh no! You see a plate starting to slow down and hope they can get to it in time before it falls and breaks...Whew! Just in the nick of time, they save the day, and the fine china.

With all the responsibilities and distractions of everyday life, sometimes I feel like I am balancing 27 plates at one time. Work, school, relationships, spiritual growth, bills...

I can get so focused on keeping all of these plates from crashing to the ground that I forget to stop and enjoy life. I forget that I am a human being, not a human doing. The plates may crash and fall no matter how hard I try to keep them spinning. Or, the same one who makes the world go round will have no trouble keeping my plates spinning for me if I want to go out for a smoke break.

While I am not advocating a life free of responsibility and distractions by any means, please don't forget to have fun! Life is a precious, wonderful and fragile thing. And the most important part of it is that you choose, for the most part, how you spend your time. If you feel like you never have any time for yourself, delegate some of your responsibilities to someone else or give them up. If you feel like you have too much time to yourself, find something that's meaningful to you, such as a hobby or volunteer work, and go do it!

Life is what you make of it and what you do with it. How's yours?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Becoming Peace

Being a peaceful person is not something that all of us are born with, yet it's something that many of us crave.

Living peacefully is not passive, indifferent or weak. According to Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh, it involves inner strength and massive amounts of practice. So how so you practice peace in a chaotic world?

1. Mindful Living. Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what you are doing in the present moment, focusing on nothing else. This practice may seem like common sense, but how many times when you are commuting to and from work are you actually enjoying the drive? Do you focus on the journey, or think about what you are doing to have for dinner? By staying in the present moment and not letting our thoughts or feelings dominate our lives, we can begin to experience true peace.

2. Meet violence with compassion. If someone says words to hurt us, we may be inclined to lash out. But all this does is perpetuate the unrest. When someone is verbally abusive, stop before you react. Take a deep breath, calmly ask the person what you can do to help alleviate their suffering, and listen. If they (or you) are too angry, let them know you will talk to them later when you are both calm. The important thing in a situation like this is not to lose your cool, and realize that the other person is in pain and may not realize how much their words are hurting you. Chaos and drama are not worth the emotional and spiritual damage.

3. Close the window on violence. While we cannot completely eliminate all violence from our everyday lives, we can eliminate a number of negative outside influences, such as violence on TV, in books, and in music. While we may not notice the direct impact these things have on our behavior or spiritual condition, there is some truth to the old adage "You are what you eat." How can one live a peaceful life if he fills it with things of violence?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Three Poisons of the Mind

Have you ever wondered why it is you are constantly in emotional or spiritual pain? Why is it you seem to suffer more than others?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks of the three poisons of the mind, which are the cause of all suffering and pain. This theory goes on to say that suffering is caused by an unenlightened mind, and that the attitude you carry has a lot to do with how you handle it. Read on to learn what they are and how they can be avoided.

1. Ignorance. Ignorance is born out of the misperception of truths, meaning that the way one perceives something is not the way it actually is. For example, the assumption that all people of a certain ethnic group behave a certain way would fit in this category. When you find yourself making assupmtions that cause you to suffer, check with others to make sure your perception is not skewed.

2. Craving. Individualism has spawned a whole generation of people who believe that satisfaction of one's desires is the true road to happiness. We crave more money, prestige, or possessions than we actually need. The antidote to this is simple living. Once your basic needs are met for food and shelter, take a look at how you are living. Do you really need that sports car or designer suit? Are you trying to fill a hole with material items? Simple living encourages us to want what we have. When cravings get out of control, greed takes over and you will never be satisfied, no matter how much you have.

3. Hatred. Born from ignorance, hatred is one of the most deadly poisons. Your perceptions are so skewed that you cannot see past your rage. By spending so much energy hating someone or something, you actually giving them power over you. Hatred doesn't do anything to the person or thing you hate, instead it eats away at your serenity and prevents you from being happy. This is one of the hardest to overcome. The best thing I have found is to pray for that person's happiness everyday, whether you mean it or not.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Slow Down and Unwind

A fast-paced lifestyle can wreak havoc on your spiritual condition. We live in an age of contant stimulation, where you are bombarded with information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. While there is nothing wrong with being informed, constant bombardment can leave you reeling. From hurricane coverage to The War on Terrorism, one can get obsessed with finding out what's happening.

The practice of mindfulness, made popular by Buddhist philosophy, can help ease tension. When practiced daily, it can also shapren one's focus and increase awareness.

Try the following to help unwind after an exciting day:

1. Deep Relaxation. Doctors have started to realize the benefits of a daily relaxation routine on physical health as well as mental stability. Many prefer to practice this at bedtime. To begin, lay down comfortably, in loose clothing. Breathe in deeply, while expanding your stomach. When you breathe out, your stomach should deflate like a balloon. Bring your focus to each part of your body, starting at either the top of your head or your toes. Tense each muscle for 2-10 seconds, then relax it to help keep focused. This usually takes about 15-20 minutes.

2. Conscious Breathing. The practice of conscious breathing is extremely popular, and can be combined with other exercises to help calm the mind and body. Sit comfortably, and place your right hand on your stomach. As you breathe in, your stomach should expand like a balloon. The opposite occurs when breathing out. Repeat for 2-5 minutes. This can be done anytime to relieve tension.

3. Sitting Meditation. This involves the practice of conscious breathing combined with focusing the mind. Many people use special props, such as incense, scented oils, and/or candles. Sitting meditation is done in the dark, while breathing deeply. In the beginning, you may allow your mind to wander for a couple of minutes before bringing it to focus. Some like to use a certain sentence to bring them down into the meditative state. One of the most popular methods is to bring your attention to your breathing. There are many books, classes, and guided meditations available on CD.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A Year of My Own: Part 2

Well, my year is not quite over yet, and so many wonderful and painful things have happened I don't quite know where to begin.

I have learned alot about myself so far, but I also know I have only scratched the surface. One of the most important lessons I have learned is that self-improvement takes a lifetime. I will never be perfect, and some days will be better than others. When I started on this phase of my self-discovery, all I wanted was to go back to "normal." I wanted to get the emotional, physical and spiritual pain I was feeling down to a manageable level.

I was tired of being afraid of my own shadow, of jumping out of my skin everytime I heard a noise when trying to sleep. I wanted to pretend that what happened never happened and get my life back. While the fear has subsided to a certain degree, I have also had to look at the choices I made in my life that led up to that point.

I know that I am not responsible for my ex-boyfriend's actions, that what he did to me was not my fault. But I was well aware of his anger problem, which is why we were not dating at the time this occurred. I also knew his drug use had increased, because everytime I saw him he acted crazier and crazier. The fact of the matter is, I chose this man, and did not break things off when I saw him spiraling downward.


Because I thought I could save him. I loved him, wanted him to be happy with himself and with me, and thought that maybe, just maybe, I would be more successful than his past girlfriends in helping him become the great man that he was. I have wrestled with the demons of addiction and mental illness myself and come out the other side a stronger person.

Since Part 1, I have continued with the PTSD support group and Al-Anon, both of which I have found extremely helpful.

In the PTSD group, we have been focusing on mindfulness and spiritual development from a Buddhist perspective. I meet with the facilitator one-on-one about once a week, and call him on a regular basis.

I do affirmations about 10 times a day. I meditate and pray on a daily basis.

I obtained a restraining order and my ex spent several months in jail. After he was released, I ran into him at a 12-step meeting. He called me about a month later and I had him arrested again for violating the restraining order. I was issued a new restraining order and moved.

I also have started going back to church and was baptized in May.

I completed 12-weeks of therapy.

I have also started dating again, but have been very careful not to let myself get focused on a guy who needs fixing. Even though it has been over a year since I broke up with the last one, I no longer feel I need a man to make me whole.