Tag: Bridge of Life Blog

Valuing Traditions in Life

With the passing of Labor Day, we are reminded of the pleasures traditions offer us. How they are a rich fabric of our lives, if we pay homage to them. Have you ever stopped for a moment and reflected on the value of your own traditions? Perhaps the grind of modern life has caused you to let go of cherished familial, cultural, or holiday customs. Carving out time for a tradition can restore your sense of connection while providing opportunities to create new memories.

Traditions are a wonderful way to catch up with people you love. They can be as simple as a once a month coffee or as extravagant as meeting for a vacation each year. Maybe your neighborhood has an annual potluck supper? By taking the time to participate, you build and strengthen relationships. You also develop a sense of belonging, which combats feelings of isolation or loneliness.

Honoring tradition helps you establish your own personal identity. When you choose to celebrate with others, whether they are family or friends, this is a beautiful expression of what values you hold dear. Often out of respect for the deeper meaning behind the tradition, you may re-arrange a work-week or forgo a routine. Maybe you and your spouse decide that every Wednesday you have a date night away from the children. Or you commit to a spiritual practice. These micro adjustments can be powerful testimonies to what you value in life. Traditions are often examples or inspirations for others to follow their belief systems.

Children adore traditions. Think back to your own family traditions; my great aunt Rose would make honey cake and my mom would make a chocolate cake with a chocolate cream cheese frosting that to this day when I think of either I feel warm and fuzzy inside. Celebrating with your children can help build bonds while giving them a glimpse of their ancestral heritage. Traditions connect children to their cultural and familial past and paint a picture they can carry with them. They give them a safe sense of belonging and security in a changing world.

Traditions can be modified or adapted to better serve those participating. Perhaps your family doesn’t eat meat, rather than turkey for Thanksgiving you gather over a scrumptious vegetarian meal. All the essential elements are still there; the preparation, the togetherness, the laughter, the breaking bread. New traditions can be initiated as well at any time. They can be serious or silly. I had a friend who started a tradition of “birthday elves” for her children. She would decorate with balloons and streamers the night before her children’s birthdays. In the morning the kids would be delighted to find the elves once again had remembered them. The interesting thing was, even when the children grew to teenagers they still wanted a visit from the birthday elves!
When traditions come from the heart, they allow us time to express our emotions. To commemorate a passed loved one with an annual ceremony gives expression of the love and life of that person. Traditions give us permission to step off life’s merry-go-round and to reflect. By keeping relished traditions we create a haven for ourselves and our children; a place where we recognize the relevance of our past and the importance of our future.

As the fall season fast approaches, perhaps allow yourself time to renew the gift of celebrating traditions. Evaluate those that have meaning to you and have somehow been neglected. By weaving traditions into your life, the fabric of your life will be richer.
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Born Again


Understanding Wellness

“Cosmic humor, especially about your own predicament, is an important part of your journey.” -Ram Dass

“Take it easy.” We’ve all heard that directive in many forms. Sometimes, it’s out of loving concern, a friend or family member notices that we’re pushing ourselves beyond our capacity and they want us to be OK.

Sometimes, the phrase is a snap reaction out of frustration. We, or someone we know, are agitated and we utilize that directive to calm them down and persuade them to come back to center; to take control of the situation.

Now look at it from Dass’s perspective from his beginning quote, finding the ‘cosmic humor’ in our predicament. His words are simple yet mean so much, another form of  ‘take it easy’… especially on yourself.

Let’s start with the ‘why’ of practicing this: Life isn’t always as serious as it seems. We bind ourselves to the negative, we enslave ourselves to it, instead of focusing on the positive that almost-assuredly exists.  In doing this, we only see the bad, which over time, can warp our perception or keep us living in negativity.

If we never learn to ‘let go’ and relinquish our restrictions on what it means to have control just a bit, we’re sure to suffer. If we let the universe unfold as it will, we can find peace in its plan.

Life will happen each and every day. Some moments tragic, other times full of joy, whether we approve it or not, it’s happening, and will continue to do so.

The next time you find yourself at odds with life; frustrated, lonely or the like: try a smile, a chuckle or even just a sigh of cleansing breath. Find the joy in the humor that is this incredible and wondrous journey we call life.


Understanding Wellness

Emotional
wellness is not emphasized in our social, professional, educational or family
systems. If you think about it for a moment, wouldn’t it be great if mental
health were part of the main curriculum at schools? After all this is the 21st
century! And when was the last time you asked a friend or family member about
their emotional wellness? 

Throughout
my professional life, I have encountered many people who dislike themselves
because they are not emotionally healthy. They perceive themselves as “damaged
goods"; allowing people to neglect them, as their self-esteem is low. For
them, life is often about enduring, rather than thriving because they perceive
themselves as “broken” and some of society does as well. Not
receiving compassion from those around them, they may feel isolated.

Money,
prestige, position, beauty, cannot be enjoyed and appreciated unless paired
with emotional wellness. Therefore, our emotional, mental and
physical well-being is the foundation upon which we can build. Celebrities who
are in the news and unhappy prove this point.

For
decades as an experienced psychotherapist and relationship coach, I have been working
with people so that they can achieve their dreams and goals. I assist people
to let go of feelings of inadequacy and help them to like themselves as they
raise their self-esteem.  A major component of healing is broadening and
educating ourselves in the art of living, particularly when it comes to
wellness. 


Finding Contentment


Look at each day with gratitude; it’s a new opportunity to grow into the best person that you can possibly be. Your only competition is yourself. When you allow yourself to be content with what is, and identify your personal goals to strive for, it’s a sure path to long-term success, and most importantly, happiness.  

Day by day, be content with whatever you have and satisfied with whatever happens. Everything else will fall naturally into place.” -Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (Tibetan Lama 1910-1991)

How often do you wish that your life went according to a different plan? Do you find yourself disappointed when things don’t quite go your way? We’ve all been there— no matter how wonderful a situation may be, it can be easy to find a way to make ourselves dissatisfied, overlooking the positives that undoubtedly exists.

When we allow ourselves to be caught up in outside influences, we may begin to judge ourselves based upon the way that we perceive another’s life to be. When we take these situations out of context, we begin to develop negative thoughts like envy or self-doubt, which rob us of happiness and joy.

With our new reliance on technology, we’re also afforded the opportunity to keep up with our friends through social media, but it also creates an increased desire to keep up with the Joneses in many facets of life. We find ourselves without the appreciation for what we do have and more focused on the things that we don’t.

As Dilgo Rinpoche so astutely points out, the universe has a way of falling into place organically. We don’t ask the world to spin, or flowers to bloom; they just happen, and it’s glorious, because it’s exactly the way it is intended. In our human lives, there is an incredible opportunity to do the same, the action of letting things happen at will, is a gift to us.

Contentment begins when we gives ourselves permission to not be perfect, when we let go of our assumptions about others and when we begin to see the nuances that make life wonderful. It’s what we’re not planning; expecting or anticipating that makes life interesting and worthwhile.

There is great freedom that comes with us letting life unfold as it will, by experiencing it naturally instead of through a manufactured process; we find beauty in the details we may have otherwise overlooked. Personal satisfaction can be found in being true to who we are; not by keeping up with others.


The Power of Loving Ourselves

With marriage
equality for all now in the United States, ‘love is love’ is the new law of the
land. It’s exciting to see that same-sex relationships are now recognized as
legal and celebrated in our current culture— but what about self-love? Often it
is believed that we can’t have successful relationships with another without
loving ourselves first.

Before we’re
able to live a fruitful life with another person, being satisfied and content with
the person that we are now is paramount. Knowing what our dreams and plans are
for our future will allow for a successful relationship.  If our part of the foundation has a crack,
the relationship will suffer.

We want to be
certain in ourselves and in our abilities—personally and professionally. Only
then, can we be the support system and true partner that a relationship needs
to succeed from both participants. Many times, we look at love as an external
force, when in reality, it is an internal practice.  We all desire to be loved, but knowing how to
love can be quite challenging for many.

Much like
happiness, our approach to love is best based from a proactive, positive place.
When we’re plagued with self-doubt or disdain, those toxic feelings will poison
not only our own mind; they will infect our romantic partner, possibly ruining
our relationship.

Take a look at
your current relationship, or your most recent if you’re single.  Do you allow yourself to be built up by being
happy or are you self-sabotaging by internalizing negative emotions, which harm
your relationship? You may not even be aware that it’s happening, but when
you’re mindful, you’ll be more aware of how your thoughts affect all facets of
your life, including love.

We’re all
responsible to take care of each other, especially the people we have chosen to
love. Give your partner the benefit of having somebody who can stand tall,
proud and strong alone, but loves the idea of having a counterpoint to share in
the joys of life with.  Just like love is
love—light is light, be the light and it will shine brightly, enhancing all
aspects of your life.


The Happenstance of Happiness

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Happiness may be the most elusive of all ideals. We’re taught from a very young age that happy is good and sad is bad; we’re programmed to believe that without achieving ‘happiness’ we’ll be void of anything worthwhile in life.  And finding it, sometimes, can feel like a tall order.

First of all, how do we even begin to define happiness? Well, that’s deeply personal and different for each of us. There are many books written about how to reach happiness, listing different thoughts on the how. Some list characteristics of happy people. A client mentioned Sonja Lyubomirsky, who does this in her book “The How of Happiness,” which she touts as a “scientific approach to getting the life you want.” However I am not certain I would agree with her, as happiness is an emotion. What I do agree with is that some people are happier than others. This is due to the way they view the world and how they use language to shape their thoughts. Using positive self-talk, you can shift from negative to positive feelings, therefore achieve a happier state of being.

Some of Sonia’s ideas about people who are happier that I do agree with are as follows:

  • • They devote time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
  • • They practice optimism when imagining their futures.
  • • They are not immune to the vicissitudes of life. However they are very aware that change is constant, and don’t dwell on misfortune.

The keywords in the characteristics make sense—devotion, optimism, resilience—they’re all powerful attributes that contribute to positive outcomes. When we focus on what’s possible through positive thought and action, we’re training our brain to be more proactive in creating ‘happy’ solutions.

As I think about happiness, I know it to be an emotion that is created by a combination of thought and action. You are probably aware of the actions you take that make you happy. Consider increasing how often you take those actions. Also, as you become more and more aware of your thought processes practicing positive self-talk will become a habit.

When or if you are feeling sad, you can use this exercise to bring you back into happiness. Sit quietly in nature, focus your intention upon your heart and ask yourself what makes me feel happy…listen quietly as the answer may come in the sound of a voice, the passing of a squirrel, the falling of a leaf. As you regain your center the language of your thoughts will shift into positive ones and you will experience happiness again.


The Key of Communication

Have you ever imagined talking to someone beyond your words? Communicating through speech is our most common form of relating to each other; imagine if one day that changed. We’ve heard of being ‘telepathically connected’ to someone, usually a close friend, relative or lover, but what if everyone could take it a step beyond that? What if our brains could actually connect on a continuously subconscious level?

‘Brain-computer interface’ is the term for this phenomenon, one that was created to help people with physical disabilities to better adapt to the world around them. Turning challenges like picking something up into an action as easily as just visualizing it. These technological and scientific advances will continue to evolve. Going forward they could enter the mainstream and change the way we interact with each other. How will that change our relationships: interpersonal, familial, and romantic?

As the New York Times notes, “Soon, we might interact with our smartphones and computers simply by using our minds. In a couple of years, we could be turning on the lights at home just by thinking about it, or sending an e-mail from our smartphone without even pulling the device from our pocket. Farther into the future, your robot assistant will appear by your side with a glass of lemonade simply because it knows you are thirsty.”

Just as computers can transmit information, what if the future allowed us to transmit directly into another person’s brain through thought? As The Optimist explains, our ability to speak stemmed from the necessity for us to ‘transmit ideas’. Presently it is becoming an archaic way to interact as the world continues to advance.

What is the one thing that doesn’t change? Our intentions, and that may be the trickiest thing for technology to catch up with. While we may think something, is it something we want to share with someone mind-to-mind? For those of you that are Star Trek fans you might recall Spock having ‘mind melds’ in order to merge with another persons thoughts. What is important here is that Spock had a choice and so did the other person. While we may picture a cheeseburger in our minds eye, does that mean we want to eat one? Or does it mean that we’re just daydreaming about them?

What’s most interesting as we evolve as humans is that even with the monumental advancements that we have made, there are still ways to miscommunicate or misinterpret others words. Presently the misinterpretations are through speech, however in the future it very well may be through thought. Make learning to understand the long-term goal. No matter how reliant we become on a new form of communicating in the future; experiencing intimacy with someone is about processing information so that both you and the other person understands, no matter the vehicle.


The Dilemma of Overconsumption

We spend much of our lives just trying to remember what we’re ‘supposed’ to be mindful of— we’re asked to “treat people like we’d wish to be treated”; “give someone the benefit of the doubt” or even just remember to recycle. The list is long and the tasks, many times, feel arduous. Even though we realize that they’re important and for the best, life is tough enough already without the P’s & Q’s, right?

These stresses, too, sometimes create unintended consequences, like overconsumption. We feed or drink ourselves to excess, buy things we don’t need in the guise of creating greater happiness or we participate in other unhealthy habits that do more harm than good internally and externally. We try so hard to ‘be good’, that many times, we self-medicate ourselves by relying on something or someone to give us comfort instead of curating wholeness within ourselves.

In 2010, Shambhala Sun, now Lion’s Roar, dissects the mind of the consumer before mindfulness was the buzzy catchphrase it is today. The idea of being a conscious consumer has grown exponentially in recent years and now exists far beyond its surface meaning, as the article’s author Daniel Goleman alludes to a half-decade ago:

“I think there is a level of mindfulness, or ecological intelligence, that goes beyond just decreasing our acquisitiveness. It relates to what happens when we buy something. So the question is, ‘When we consume, how can we consume more mindfully?’”

It’s an important question being posited— what is our motive to purchase something? And beyond that, as Goleman asks, what does it mean to “consume more mindfully?” What gets in our way? What is clouding our filter on focusing on what we truly need? Many times, its mediums we don’t even realize are subconsciously affecting us. What subliminally drives our overconsumption?

We all know that scripted reality television, exploits this idea with shows that solely focus on the amassing of things. From the ‘Real Housewives’ franchise boasting exorbitant wealth and excess, to the sad reality of those suffering on ’Hoarders’, or even the ‘extreme couponing’ phenomenon, where those featured stockpile as many household products as they can for the least price possible— some even receiving money back from a store.

When our reality is, literally, cluttered with portrayals of the mostly bad and ugly of consumption, how can we rise above what we see and may even experience?  Most importantly, how can we practice and become more cognizant of what it means to be whole without buying more.

It begins with our ability to find peace and joy in the intangible—in feelings and experiences, instead of items. I agree with Goleman when he explains that we’ve got to understand consumption in a way that’s “directing our contemplative mind to the true impact involved in our buying decisions” but first, we must find balance in our rationale for buying. Are we merely feeding into what we feel we ought to do or is it to give us a false sense of happiness or security—maybe even keeping up with the Jones’?

Instead, focus on gratitude. Find great opportunity in the ability to be abundantly thankful for the bounty given to us, beyond our physical possessions. Just as someone developed the idea of minding our P’s & Q’s, someone was also very right when they so adeptly noted, “you can’t take it with you.” Enjoy and appreciate every day beyond what you own, live for the joy that is always available to you.  


Can Stress Be Healthy?

When we have negative reactions to stress, it becomes unmanageable in a way that can be harmful to our bodies and minds. Stress when managed properly may actually be beneficial in your life. Stress at work, with family, and friends, even commuting can be chunked down into a series of small manageable bites.

We grow from the challenges that occur in our lives, rather than from what is easy. Stress is actually an attribute that can help us lead more balanced lives, if we approach it from a positive perspective. The key is to learn how to handle it in a continually constructive way.

When our bodies or our spirits experience stress we instantaneously want to run away from it—which may not actually be the most beneficial route.  Pushing through what seems difficult, persevering to the other side and eventually making it through, that’s what makes us stronger.

Like many things, however, too much can be detrimental. What’s important is to find the balance between what is healthy stress and what may become chronic negative stress, for example: anxiety or worry that turns into a long-term health concern.

What are some of the ways that stress may actually make your life healthier? It definitely plays a role when it comes to immunity—leading to an increased production of healthy cells that ward off sickness and disease. Studies at Stanford University show that our bodies produce extra interleukins  –chemicals that help regulate the immune system. This action of our bodies taking care of itself is one way stress may be useful for us. Another would be the strategies learned from the experience of a stressful episode, can be used and improved upon in the future. These experiences can make you more successful in your day-to-day endeavors.

Stress has been demonized in our current society, I am suggesting that whatever demands the world is making of you, it is you that is creating the stress. With this mindset, it becomes possible to use all your energy and creativity to solve the individual challenges you are facing, thus eliminating all negative stress from your life.

With this knowledge, that stress may actually be helpful to promoting better physical health, as well as help to provide a competitive edge in career or life aspirations—identify the way that it negatively affects you and change it!  Give yourself the opportunity to examine it, and begin to take away the good and discard the bad.