Chaos and Courage


Yokohama

Hi my dear readers,

Sorry to have been away so long.  It’s been a crazy, busy, challenging year.  A roller coaster ride if you will.  I just returned from a trip to Japan.  My sixth visit.  I never imagined ten years ago that I would be saying that!  But my life has changed in amazing, unexpected, and positive ways by embracing this new life of adventure that comes along with marrying someone who is a different background than mine.  I wouldn’t change it for anything.

At the close of this year 2016, there is a lot to think about.  Big changes for this country and the world.  What can we do about it but embrace it?  Dive into the unknown and hope things continue to progress and change for the better.  Continue to stand up and fight for the things we believe in.  Hope in our future.  If there is one constant in life, it’s change.  We can expect it just like taxes.  And when we begin to ride the tide of it, we see some amazing sights and begin to transform in unimaginable ways.

It is hard to let go of all the things we hold dear.  The safe and familiar.  For me, flying halfway across the world, living in a time zone completely opposite of ours, is always an adjustment.  Japan in some ways is the complete polar opposite of the U.S.  Their culture is polite, quiet, and small compared to our freestyle lifestyle, chatter, and super-sizing.  But sometimes there’s a beauty in living a life different from your own.  Like the city mouse and country mouse switching places for a day.  You see the world through new eyes.  You find out the way you always do things is not “The Way” but simply the way you always do things.  You learn to adapt and find new things to treasure.  You also better appreciate the familiarities of home.

On this particular trip, I embraced both flying alone and getting around Yokohama for three days by myself while my husband finished up his business trip.  With the jet lag, feeling under the weather, and not knowing the language very well, I wasn’t sure if I could manage.  But I took up the challenge anyway, even knowing how directionally challenged I am.  I managed to ride the subway a few times, explore the city, shop, and eat out at restaurants.  Sometimes not being able to talk was a welcome blessing.  A quiet I don’t often experience at home.  Other times, especially because I’m a Gemini and love to talk, not being able to communicate was frustrating, lonely, and even a little terrifying.  But luckily, it’s very safe to walk around Japan alone as a foreigner.  And if you’re lost or confused, someone will undoubtedly come to your rescue and try to help, even without knowing much English.  As it turns out, I found many ways to connect with others.  Laugher being one of the best universally shared experiences.

So I challenge each of you dear readers to end the year by stepping out of your comfort zone.  Don’t wait until 2017.  Do it now.  Take that first step toward your dream.  Meet someone new.  Go somewhere foreign.  Experience a different culture.  Learn a new language.  Talk to someone of a different background or faith and really get to know them.  And if things become awkward at any moment, don’t walk away, embrace the moment, and simply LAUGH.  Imagine the kind of world we would live in, if we all laughed just a little bit more.  Feared a little less.  Life is chaos, but we can all join in the dance.

“We live in a rainbow of chaos.”- Paul Cezanne

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The Art of Acceptance

Greetings all and happy fall, unofficially.  I’m still celebrating the end of summer myself, but with the appearance of the full harvest moon, one can’t help but start to prepare for autumn.

With the changing seasons afoot, I’ve decided it’s the perfect time to talk about a powerful little word called acceptance.  We have to accept all kinds of things every day as part of life.  We accept going to school and work.  We accept paying bills and taxes.  And late at night in the quiet of our beds we even accept that death will come for us some day.  Actually, that last one is tricky.  Do we really accept it or do we spend our time avoiding it and pretending it isn’t going to happen?

A couple of months ago I started a meditation practice.  More on the specifics of that in a later post!  One of the cornerstones of mindfulness besides staying in the present moment, breathing deeply, and sitting in silence, is the idea of acceptance for all that is.  Now don’t freak out!  Luckily, it doesn’t mean accepting your current situation forever.  But it does mean surrendering to the moment and accepting it just as it is.  For me, that sometimes means accepting that I didn’t sleep well the night before and have a long day ahead of me.

To be honest, I couldn’t wrap my head around this concept at first.  What do you mean accept it?  That sounds like giving up.  That sounds like accepting hurt and pain and doing nothing about it.  On the contrary, it’s the opposite.  When we accept our current situation, we’re guaranteed to feel empowered.  We put ourselves back in the driver seat of our lives.  We allow our feelings of pain to take a passenger seat on the journey, but we do not let them drive.  Essentially, we may experience pain, but we don’t have to suffer.  And that’s a big difference.

“[Acceptance] simply means that you are acknowledging reality,” said psychotherapist Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, RSW in an article on radical acceptance published in Spirituality & Health. “You are acknowledging what happened or what’s currently happening. Because fighting reality only intensifies our emotional reaction,” she said.

And there’s more.  When you take the time to accept something, you gain the power to transform its energy.  Think of yourself as an alchemist, if you will 😉  It may not happen today or tomorrow, but your situation will change, guaranteed.  In fact, I bet if you think back, you can come up with some examples from your life.

I’ve been a runner for most of my life, but recently I had to accept that maybe my running days were over.  I’ve been experiencing heel pain, even when I walk, so running was quickly out of the question.  I started swimming instead, but still missed running.  Then I went to see a foot doctor.  I fully expected the worst and even worried about needing surgery, but as it turned out, I have over-developed calves, from running, and needed to work on specific stretches for my heel as well as exercises to help strengthen my other leg muscles.  Then the real surprise.  I was told I could still run.  After I had already given it up.  Just as I was beginning to enjoy my new activity of swimming.  Say what?  In the aftermath, I’ve decided to go for balance, running less and incorporating other enjoyable forms of exercise.  But the lesson is clear.  Things do change.  Often for the better.  But first you have to accept the way they are.

And I know what you’re thinking.  What about when they don’t change?  I came across a great quote recently by Lucille Ball.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

This resonated with me and I hope it also sparks something in you.

If you’re still grappling with the concept and need something more tangible, try this exercise:

Step 1: Imagine your pain in detail.  Give it a color.  Rank it on a scale from 1-10.  Does it have hard or soft edges?  Where does it reside in the body?  Is it flat or is it 3-D?

Step 2: Focus on your body now.  Start with your toes.  Wiggle them.  Relax your feet.  Move through each part of your body, slowly relaxing it, all the way up to your head.  Release your thoughts and even let your brain relax.  Breathe in and let go.

Step 3: Close your eyes and breathe deeply.  Focus on the present moment.  Imagine your heart is open, filled with empty space.  Imagine only the space.  Then imagine your pain AND the space.  Keep this up.

Step 4: After an increment of time, say 10 min. or more, wiggle your fingers and toes, and then open your eyes.  Now think about your pain again.  Imagine its color, size, intensity, etc.  Has your pain changed?  Does it feel different?  Even if it feels the same, how has your relationship to the pain changed?

Wait another hour and check in with your pain again.  You might be surprised how different you feel!

If you’re interested in more, check out an audio version of a specific dissolving pain exercise here.

Acceptance isn’t easy.  It takes time.  It’s an evolutionary process.  But when we begin to make space in our lives for acceptance, we open a doorway for all kinds of miracles to shine through.

 

 

 

 

 

Paying It Forward with Birthday Acts of Kindness

Greetings,  Dear Readers!  For my birthday this year, I decided to do something special.  Instead of simply focusing on me, I decided to do something nice for others.  I read about this concept of “birthday acts of kindness” on a blog called ScaleSimple last year and couldn’t wait to try it out myself.

After purchasing two bouquets of flowers and ten lottery tickets, I headed to the park.  And oh what a beautiful day it was!  A bit hot, but who is complaining when you live in Michigan.  We’ll take what we can get 😉  My good friend agreed to meet me for the inaugural event.  We set off immediately, with only an hour to spare, since she was on her lunch break from work.

I immediately realized we had no plan, so I just jumped right in and started handing random people either a flower or a ticket.  Often we chose flowers for ladies and lotto tickets for guys, but not always.  We quickly got in the groove, often telling people it was their lucky day as we handed them a ticket or wishing them a nice day with a flower.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, as the blogger mentioned getting mixed responses from people.  But truly, about 90% of people were very happy to receive the free gift 🙂  Only a few turned down the offer, mostly because they were in a hurry or had their hands full.  One guy was actually allergic to flowers, but very apologetic.  We even visited a retirement home briefly, which seemed to brighten the mood there.  A mother and her young daughter accepted the flowers like a treasure.

Before we knew it, we’d passed everything out, and by then, we were in such a groove that we wished we had even more to share!  I’d love to do this again and extend it even further.

If you’d like to try your own service project, here are some possible acts of kindness:

  • pass out flowers
  • give away lotto tickets
  • recycle
  • donate old clothing and other used items
  • pay for people’s parking meters
  • pay for someone’s coffee or lunch at the drive-thru
  • pick up litter in the area (We did a bit of that at the end!)

The list goes on and on!  I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, giving to others and seeing their happy faces was the best gift I could give myself on my birthday 🙂

“You may be only one person in this world, but to one person at one time, you are the world.” –Anonymous

 

Get Your Zen On with Zentangle!

Greetings on this lovely Friday the 13th!  I’m sending some good vibes your way with some very relaxing artwork that I just made in a new art class– Intro to Zentangle.

Maybe you’ve heard of it.  Maybe you’ve even seen it printed on t-shirts or bags.  It’s taking the world by storm, so of course I decided I needed to see what all the buzz was about.

It’s the art form described as being for the non-artist.  Why?  Is it because it isn’t artistic or doesn’t require skill?  Well I guess it depends on how you define art and skill.  It was founded by a couple named Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas.  They wanted to practice art that was both creative and meditative but without all the rules and tools required of most other types of art.

Everything you need comes in a little drawstring pouch.  And here’s something to keep in mind.  One of the tools is NOT an eraser, because there are no mistakes, only opportunities.  Don’t you love it already?  The basic concepts involve focus, framing, creating a string, filling, shading, and signing your work at the end.  We learned just a few tangles, but there are many more and you can even come up with some of your own.

But the best part about zentangle is getting into the zone!  This goes along with coloring mandalas, which I mentioned in a previous post, so you can see why I like it 🙂  It will be interesting to see how I can factor this into my own art.

Even if you aren’t an artist, you might want to give this a try.  It was designed for you 😉  It’s a great way to practice mindfulness–focusing on the present moment.  Imagine what you can create if you put your mind to it and just relax…

Consider their motto: “Anything is possible…one stroke at a time!”

The Power of Our Heart Vibrations

Let me just dive in! Our heart is more powerful than our brain. Did you know this? 60 times greater, according to the article “How to Change Our Self-Limiting Programs” on Uplift. Powerful stuff! Both organs vibrate and generate energy as part of the electromagnetic field that makes up our body. But the heart has a far greater amplitude. And with the heart, the vibes are always positive and far-reaching. So why not just follow these good vibrations?

Our brain is running unconscious programs that we learned since birth. These vibes can get in the way of our happiness…if we let them. By thinking negative thoughts, we attract negative energy into our lives. This may manifest as a negative event or illness. We may also attract negative people into our lives. People that are simply reflecting the same energy that we put out there. The more positive people and experiences are vibrating at a higher frequency. But how do we make that same leap?

It’s simple really. Just follow your heart. More specifically: follow your heart’s vibration. The best way to do this is to find your center. Be calm. Go inside yourself. Stay in the present moment. That is where you find your divine bliss. Ultimate connection. Creativity. Universal spirit. Love.

Stop analyzing, over-thinking, worrying. Just be. That’s when you get tuned into the right frequency. The heart frequency. It can take you places, manifest your dreams, and even heal you.

Seem too simple? Not convinced? Try this experiment by molecular biologist Bruce Lipton. Take two guitars tuned the same and pluck the A string on #1. Then watch #2, which also vibrates. All because they are tuned to the same frequency. We can train our brains to do the same by thinking positive thoughts. Or go a step further and follow the stronger and truer vibration of our hearts.

So start harmonizing your thoughts.  Tune in to a different, more positive broadcast. Change your story. Attract what you want out of life. Let the vibrations of your heart create your reality. Starting NOW.

“People will leave the old story when they see a new story working. Every individual who changes their own story, is changing the vibrational environment within which we all live.” –Bruce Lipton

 

Notan: Harmonizing Darks and Lights

I’ve been taking some art classes this week.  While studying composition, I came across the Japanese term, “notan” which literally means “dark-light.”  It’s a fascinating design concept centered around the idea of creating harmony in a drawing through value contrast.  When darks and lights are dynamically balanced, the result is a more pleasing work of art.

More specifically, dark shapes are placed against light shapes and light shapes are placed against dark shapes.  Relationships are formed through this interaction of dark and light.  Neither white nor black dominates.  Consider a portrait drawing done in grayscale.  Notice how the effect of the drawing improves when a dark background surrounds the lit part of the face and a light background surrounds the shadowed part of the face.

According to Dorr Bothwell’s book, Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design, the way that positive and negative space interact has meaning.  Both shape and background have equal importance.

This design principle can be used for all types of artwork including painting, pottery, and photography.  One of the simplest and most well-known representations of the concept of notan is the yin-yang symbol, which depicts the dual nature of the world and literally means, “dark-bright.”

Imagine your life in terms of notan.  How might you see the world differently?  Notice how the stars stand out in the night sky or how your shadow stands out on the wall.  The beauty of dark and light is all around us.  As artists, we must have the courage to draw it.  And in life, we must be willing to see it.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”   — Anne Frank

 

To learn more about the Japanese concept of white space, termed “yohaku,” see my post here.

 

Tidying Up = Letting Go = Inviting Miracles

A new year is all about a fresh start, right? Well, what better way to start off the year 2016 than by cleaning up around the house.  Sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it?  I thought so too, until I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.  Actually, my husband and I listened to it on audio. We both have a habit of holding onto our possessions, long after they cease being of value to us. But what good is it to be surrounded by so many things that you aren’t even sure which things you like and use and which things are just there simply because you can’t let go of them or, worse yet, forgot they even exist.

Ms. Kondo wrote this New York Times bestselling self-help book on tidying primarily for Japanese people who need to organize small living spaces, but the book has taken the world by storm and its popularity continues to grow.  Why?  Let me share some of the great tips and insights I learned from this book that changed the way I view cleaning and organizing. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly feel like tidying up your space too.  The best part is, if you tidy all at once now and really put your things in order, you’ll never have to tidy again. What could be more appealing than the idea of never having to spend time straightening up or decluttering again?

First things first. Know that you will come away from this experience  with more than just a tidy house.  This book promotes cleaning as a way of restoring balance to your life.  How cool is that?

Here are just some of the ways tidying up will affect your life:

–The moment you start, you reset your life.

–You discover what you were really meant to do in life.

–You surround yourself only with those things truly important to you.

–Letting go allows more good things to come into your life.

–You gain confidence in your decision-making ability.

–You become more zen.

–You can truly see what you have and appreciate it.

–Your health and vitality often improve (like a detox).

–You are forced to confront your choices, which is cathartic.

–Tidying can increase good fortune.

Tips

–If you tidy only a little each day, you’ll be tidying forever.

Apparently my mom had it right years ago when she had my sisters and I “overhaul” our basement/play room rather than just straighten it up.  But at such a young age, I couldn’t fully appreciate this concept.  To us, “overhaul” simply meant getting rid of some of our favorite toys (and they were all our favorites), never mind we were probably too old for some of them and didn’t play with half of what was down there.

–Ask if something truly brings you joy.

–Remember everything wants to be useful.

This means that if you are holding onto a vase that you don’t like because your Great Aunt Zelda who passed away gave it to you, but you never use it or take it out of the box, then it isn’t serving its purpose.  Give it away and let it “spark joy” for someone else.

–Realize that some items fulfill their purpose the moment you receive them or purchase them.

You know that sweater you bought that made your bad day better but ended up not looking that good on you?  It’s ok to discard it.

–Most items are kept based on an attachment to the past or anxiety about the future.  Keep only that which reflects and supports who you are today.

–If you discarded something useful, you can usually recover it or get over it.

–Own only what you love and need.

–Organizing is not the same as decluttering, so discard first and then organize what you have left.

–Declutter by category, not place.

–Best order of decluttering: clothes, then books, then papers, then misc.  Save mementos for last.

Feng shui is about living in accordance with nature, so put your house in order in a pleasing way that makes sense for your life.

Favorite quotes from this book:

“One theme underlying my method of tidying is transforming the home into a sacred space, a power spot filled with pure energy.”

“The lives of those who tidy thoroughly and completely, in a single shot, are without exception dramatically altered.”

Real World Application:

My husband and I put the KonMari method to the test.  Last weekend we started by cleaning out our closets, first realizing that we had clothes in several closets but with no apparent order whatsoever.  I would say between the two of us, we’ll probably discard at least 6 bags.  And we still have all the clothes we want and need, now arranged all together in a satisfying way. So all I can say is, what’s next?

As for you, I recommend you go out and get this book.  But don’t take it from me.  Try it for yourself.  If you want to get your life in order, start by getting your house in order.  See what happens.  Trust that by letting go, the release of energy will come back to you in a new and surprising way at just the right moment.  Maybe in the form of a miracle.

PS: Stay tuned for more results from me about this life-changing experience!

 

 

 

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