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.