Sunday, June 10, 2012

Yin and Yang

Jane has been aware of the yin and yang symbol for quite awhile. You know it, right? Like a fat comma in black with a fat comma in white flipped over and tucked against it. It can be oriented in different ways, but that's the basic concept. Yin and yang. Most of us are at least vaguely aware that it represents balance. What Jane didn't know is that this is one of the most fundamental concepts in traditional Chinese medicine. It goes all the way back to somewhere around 700 BCE. In the I Ching (Book of Changes), everything reduces down to yin and yang.

There is a lot of information about how the symbol came about, the reason for the exact design, the philosophy behind it. Jane is not going to even attempt to discuss some of this because while it's fascinating it is also well beyond her normal conversational level of yin and yang-ness. If you are interested, look it up. The philosophy, though, can be summed up easily. least on a superficial level. More in depth discussions can be held over coffee, lunch or ice cream. Jane is happy to arrive at any of those destinations with her contribution to the discussion.

So...everything changes. Everything, all the time, no matter what. And with that change comes a constant shifting in our search for the balance that allows us to handle the change. If we are out of balance, we suffer mentally, physically, emotionally. If we are in balance, we thrive. Makes sense, yes? But of course it's not nearly so easy to achieve this as it is to discuss it and nod in agreement that we all need balance. Who wouldn't agree with that? Talk about a "duh" moment.

Jane is pretty sure that balance is different for every single person. Some generalities, though, certainly apply. If you are all about yourself, cruising along on an ego-driven trip towards Pleasure Land, you will likely hit some significant road bumps. But the same thing applies to the opposite situation. If you are completely oriented towards the needs of others without offering yourself the same consideration, you will feel the imbalance at some point. The trick is to actually want balance and then to pursue it. You might think that's another "duh" moment, but look around. If it's so basic, why aren't more people doing it?

Jane has a neighbor who walks with a dark cloud of doom and gloom over him at all times. Now admittedly, not everyone is going to see this cloud...but they sense it from his behavior. This neighbor held on tightly to every bad thought, feeling and event in his life. He held them so closely that they became his life. Balance? Not a bit. His mental health reflects this choice. His physical health does, too. The cloud is so palpable that people do not want to push through it to reach him. An extreme example, and a sad one.

What more generally applies to most of us is the need to realize when things aren't quite right, whether we call that yin and yang or some other name or whether we have no name for it at all. For Jane, this specifically means that she needs to watch the balance of busily getting her life in order and still having fun. Simple, sweet, uncomplicated fun. She has not given enough attention to that side of her energy and she knows it. Is this a huge big deal? Not right now, but if Jane doesn't take steps to add some of that simple, sweet, uncomplicated fun to her life she will find it more and more difficult to do so. At this exact moment Jane has a strong desire to find a stream, take off her shoes and wade in the chilly water. Have a picnic. Eat a popsicle. Watch a movie. Chase fireflies. Share a belly laugh. Those things represent balance to Jane.

Create your own balance list and then make time for whatever is on it. Play. Volunteer. Worship. Work. Your own yin and yang are as individual and unique as you are, and the balance grows from the inside out.

Know yourself first. And then...grow yourself.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ten steps towards happiness

Jane was looking at something online earlier today and ended up finding a website that was not related to her search but turned out to have some intriguing information. Isn't it fun when that happens? This particular blog is about getting the most out of life. You can find it at mysuperchargedlife (dot com, of course).

So the author's premise, and one Jane embraces heartily, is that happiness is mostly created within us. There are a whole lot of people running around chasing happiness with all their energy. Do they find it? Unlikely, because the most powerful source is exactly where they are not looking. If they were to slow down and contemplate for a bit they might realize that, like Dorothy while visiting Oz, the key to their happiness has been within their grasp all along.

This blogger divided the list into five things to stop doing and five things to start doing. Fair enough. It's nice to have a mixture.

First on the list is to stop being negative. Jane is jumping up and down right now (in a very positive sort of way), agreeing. Negativity does absolutely no good except to draw more of the same to you. And does that look like happiness? No, it does not.

Next? Stop unfavorable comparisons. There will be people who have more than you and people who have less than you. This is the way of the world. Deal with it.

Stop worrying so much. If you are filled with worry, if your sleep is not peaceful, if your stomach hurts with the anxiety, what has that accomplished? Nothing, beyond turning you into a tired person with a stomach ache. Make a plan. If things change, make another.

This next one is great. Stop being so easily offended. For Pete's sake, people. Not everything is meant as a great big personal offense. Sure, some things are...and you will know them when they smack you upside your head. Avoid those people. But in general we are way too quick to take offense when none is intended. Jane likes to remember that there might indeed be one tiny point in the universe around which everything revolves...but that point is not her.

Stop living for tomorrow. This goes along with chasing happiness. If you are always waiting for tomorrow to arrive because then you'll have enough to be happy or meet the right people so you can be happy or experience the next best exciting event so you can be happy you are going to be seriously disappointed. Why? Because just like Annie's song, tomorrow is always a day away. Why not be happy today?

Next comes the start list.

Start finding the good. This sounds so basic, but Jane has found that many people put a lot of energy into finding the negative. If you concentrate on the good, you will find it easier and easier to recognize it in your life every day.

Start practicing gratefulness. Jane has blogged about having a gratitude journal. Definitely one of the most powerful things she does daily. It gets easier and easier to embrace the little blessings and to find them everywhere. Do it. No, really. Do it right now.

Here's something Jane has also mentioned. Start realizing you have choices. Oh, yes, you do. Maybe you couldn't do anything about whatever somebody else chose, but you can decide what happens next in terms of your own choices. Attitude is, after all, altitude.

Start planning happiness activities. What little things do you like to do that boost your spirits? Browse in the library? Meet a friend for ice cream? Dig in the dirt? Cook? Have an idea of these and them. Yes, it really is that simple.

Start helping someone less fortunate. It's amazing what this does for your own happiness. Reaching beyond your own egocentric existence creates an immediate feeling that grows from a little nudge to a great big shove into the land of happiness.

That was the list, both the stops and the starts. Jane thinks it is good stuff and wanted to share. Simple, right? But if it were so simple why isn't everyone doing this? Why, indeed?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jane's two arms

Jane read something the other day. It stuck in her mind, replayed throughout the week and now here it is getting blog time. Obviously this has significance to her.

God gave us two arms. It's up to us to decide whether to cling to the past or embrace the future.

Many times we don't even think about this. Our actions and reactions are instinctive and we move along almost (almost, mind you) effortlessly. Clinging to the past or embracing the future isn't something we even consider because we're just doing it, you know? We're going on with the business of life.

But after a great biggie bump in the road, what do we do with those arms? Sometimes we wrap them so tightly around ourselves that we create a very solid suit of armor. Sometimes we refuse to face forward and reach with determination back into what was, the familiar that we still want to embrace. Because if we actually turn around and confront the unknown future, we might have to let go of the past. Or forever remain twisted up in an attempt to do both.

Jane understands the need to do that for a bit. After all, it's challenging if not completely impossible to bounce up and race forward with a grin on our faces and our arms outstretched. Gimme some future! I'm ready! So a certain amount of clinging to the past is natural. Maybe it even provides a recovery buffer.

Until it doesn't. The tricky part is realizing when that happens and accepting it and releasing our grasp on the past and turning around and reaching out for whatever might come. For the totality of possibilities. Sometimes we don't even realize we're doing the clinging. Sometimes it's so very apparent to everyone but us and when we finally join in on the collective realization we can hear the huge sigh of relief from all our friends and family.

Clinging to the past feels secure because it's what we know. Embracing the future feels like a great big butterfly in our stomachs. It's so very tempting to keep clinging. But Jane knew right from the start that she did not want to miss out on the great and delicious wonders the future would bring. After her grieving time, after she relaxed her arms and shifted her stance and peered cautiously over her shoulder at...gulp...the future, she knew what she was going to do. She knew she would take the first tentative step, and then the next, until she was turned towards the road leading to the unknown. And she would extend her arms, not to shield herself but to embrace the wonderful, exciting future.

The past? Jane wishes she never had to let it go. But in a way, she doesn't. It's part of her, those experiences, part of what makes her Jane. What makes her smile, what makes her think, what makes her strong. Knowing that, Jane can step along the new road with the comfort of bringing the best part of her past with her.

That gives her the confidence and the power to open her embrace even more.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Say What?

Here's something to ponder. We are the stories we tell about ourselves.

No, no, wait. Read it again. The point here is not that we tell stories or that we tell them about ourselves. The point is that we ARE those stories. There's a difference. Jane knows people (and admits to being one herself, though she is working on that) who do this all the time.

"I'm so clueless that..." "I can't..." "I'm not..." "My body isn't..." "My life isn't..." "My potential isn't..."

Sounding familiar?

It's sneaky, this story telling. It quietly slips into conversation, once...twice...look out, because after the third time it might easily become a habit. And that's okay if the stories are about how you handle adversity (by rising to the occasion) or how you confront challenge (with squared shoulders and a good attitude) or how you are proud of your good strong body and your creative mind and your serene inner peace. But you know what? Those things aren't often in the stories. Because somehow along the way, we (as a society, as a culture) decided that the good stories, the ones that build us up in a nicely positive way, aren't what people want to hear. They want to hear about our flabby arms and our inability to get over hurt. They want to hear about our negatives. Makes a better story and assures an audience ready to listen to each word. If we talked about the good stuff, if we told positive stories about ourselves, maybe they would whisper about how we think we're all that.

Okay, okay. Jane gets it. Nobody wants people whispering that we love ourselves too much. But still...isn't loving ourselves way better than putting ourselves down at every opportunity?

The obvious answer is that yes, it's way better.

Jane can't even think of enough good adjectives to convey how much better. And Jane knows a lot of adjectives! Basically, without excessive adjective embellishment, it comes down to a simple difference. Do you want to become the stories about a flabby-armed person holding onto hurt who has no luck in life and would probably step in poo if there is any in the vicinity, especially when wearing those new heels? Or do you want to become the stories that show a person who loves herself, who allows herself time to grieve but then makes a plan for moving on, who laughingly avoids the poo?

This is all very specific and Jane realizes that some of the stories we tell are simply...stories. No harm in that, right? Sure, no harm except that the little stories have a way of repeating themselves until they really do become us. Or we become them.

Why are we so hard on ourselves? We offer compassion and understanding to friends. We hug away their hurts. We listen gently when they need it and we laugh freely when the mood is lighter. And we encourage them. That's the big thing. We encourage our friends and our family and our children. What happened to encouraging ourselves? Since when were we exempt from that need?

You might be thinking that you don't do this, you don't make negative comments about yourself. Maybe you don't. But it's Jane's guess that you don't realize how many sneak into your daily conversations, either with yourself or others. So Jane is going to challenge you (and herself) to keep track.

Every time you think "that was stupid" about something you did, every time you put yourself down, every time you describe yourself in a "can't, won't, don't" kind of way, make a note of it. Every single time. Jane bets you will be surprised.

You might be thinking that you get along just fine, thanks, so there's no need to keep track of anything. But...what if you still did, what if you still paid attention and discovered the negatives in your conversations and in your stories and what if you decided that getting along fine is...well...fine, but how much better would you get along without all that? What if? What if?

What if the stories we tell about ourselves are kind and loving and brave and positive? And we believed truly that we ARE those things? What if we taught our daughters to do that as well? What if we embraced our positives instead of emphasizing our negatives?

Jane will leave you to consider the possible outcome of such behavior. She feels that it would be not only life changing but quite possibly world changing.

The stories we tell about ourselves become our reality.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Paragraph breaks

Jane apologizes for the lengthy muddle that was her most recent post. Blogger has changed formats and along with that, apparently, the ability to create paragraph breaks has been lost. Jane hopes this loss is temporary.

Jane ponders yin and yang

It's all about balance, you know. The idea is that you lead a balanced life and things work out rather nicely. Right? Is Jane right? Balance your energy, balance your eating, balance your interactions, balance your work and play, balance, balance, balance. Create and maintain a good balance and it's all smooth sailing from there, yes?

Why, then, when balance seems to be in order, do bad things happen to good people? And for that matter, why then do good things happen to bad people? Where's the balance in that?

Jane has heard various theories about why this happens. Some say that it's karmic debt being repaid and so if you were a stinker in previous lives the universe will extract retribution this time around. Jane supposes that could also be the reason some stinkers in this life seem to get such an easy ride. Where they *that* good at some point in their vast histories? Meh. Jane finds this less than satisfying.

Another theory is that God is up there playing Point the Finger of Fate. It's God's will, people say. Ummm...seriously? It's God's will that babies die? It's God's will that happy families are blown apart by bad behavior and bad choices? It's God's will that diseases have no cure? This paints an image of a God that Jane can't accept. Her God doesn't peek down one day after consulting the list in His hand and decide to smite this one and that one. You there, you in the red plaid shirt. It's your turn!

Nope. No, thanks. When it comes to karma, Jane does believe that we create an energy for ourselves, something that is at times palpable. There are people who radiate such joy and positive energy that others are drawn to them and respond with more of the same. There are others who radiate such negativity that people withdraw. This doesn't mean that the joyful and positive people are spared challenges. It does mean, though, that when confronted with these challenges they have a stampede of loving friends coming to help. We can't live good enough or perfect enough lives to avoid the bad stuff. We can live in a way that keeps us from being alone when the bad stuff happens.

And as for God? Jane has never and will never accept that God creates the bad stuff. God does not create the whammies or double whammies that sneak up and surprise us. He's there to comfort us, inspire us, strengthen us and hold our hands, but not to punish us.

How, then, to explain why these things happen? Maybe there is no explanation. No tidy reason why. Maybe the point of seeking balance is not for the ultimate protection from stuff that happens but instead is for the ultimate survival kit when it does. Balance is not a talisman to keep you safe. It is, though, a wonderful tool to keep you secure.

Why do good things happen to bad people? Jane has no earthly idea. She does believe, though, that bad people do not have the balance to ultimately embrace the good and so it will slip through their fingers and they will be left grasping exactly nothing.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Jane believes there is no reason why. No explanation, nothing that can make sense of it all. She also believes that the balance in their lives creates the strength they need to cope. Step by step, with their hands held securely by people who care, with their faith in place and their hope and their love leading the way. And because of that, they consider themselves blessed.

Maybe that's the greatest balance of all. Finding blessings in the midst of despair.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Surrender is not a bad word

Sounds like it, right? Jane's mental image of the word surrender is one of an army, bowed with fatigue, laying down their weapons and awaiting their fate. Official definitions seem to concur.

Verb: cease resistance to an enemy or opponent, submit to their authority.
Noun: the action of surrendering.
Synonyms: yield, submit, give up, capitulate.

Well, okay then. Who can really get excited about that?

But, wait...what about this quote that Jane read recently?

Surrender is faith that the power of love can accomplish anything...even when you can not foresee the outcome.
Deepak Chopra

That doesn't sound so bad. Jane kind of likes the idea of having faith about the power of love and what it can accomplish. So in this case, surrendering is a GOOD thing. And this kind of surrender is far more applicable in Jane's life because she can't recall ever needing to lay down her weapons and await her fate.. She feels rather blessed by this.

Now when Jane searched for more quotes about surrender, she found many that made it sound like the very last thing you would ever want to do. But then she came across someone who seemed to be thinking like Deepak Chopra.

Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.
Gail Sheehy

Oooh, and here's a good one.

Surrender to what is. Say "yes" to life--and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.
Eckhart Tolle

So lemme see here. Surrendering our tight hold on our own circumstances, on what we deem essential in our present and in our future, means unclenching that tight hold on it all. Relaxing the grasp, letting our hands rest peacefully, letting our thoughts calm. If we, as Eckhart Tolle suggests, surrender to what is, we are no longer quite so intent on what should be. Maybe that feels a bit wobbly, a bit less than secure. Can we believe that very feeling could lead to growth?

Jane is reminded of those gadgets...and there have been many over the years...that challenge our balance. The notion being that your core works harder to regain balance and the harder work results in a tighter core and...drum roll, please...better balance. Aha! So the fitness gurus have just proved what philosophers have been postulating about all along. Finding ourselves in situations where we do not have absolute control results in growth.

It's not easy to balance on one of these contraptions. It's not meant to be easy. Jane has a large exercise ball and it's not uncommon, when she is attempting to get in exactly the right position to work her abs, for the ball to shoot out from underneath Jane's...well, you know. Plop! Jane lands on the floor. Confession: sometimes this results in Jane frowning at the exercise ball and there might even have been times when she kicked it once or twice, just to show that darn ball who was boss. Or at least who was boss when Jane was back on her feet.

You can't kick at life, though, however rewarding that might be. You can only hang on, regain your balance and remember that growth, when it comes, will be all the more rewarding. Really. Yes, really.

Marianne Williamson writes about how something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. Jane believes she is talking about loving ourselves and offering love to the world, neither of which are easy things to do. So what happens?

We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us. The world changes when we change, the world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world.

Surrender, when viewed that way, is not a bad word. It does challenge our balance, though. For a stronger core, isn't it worth a try?