What could you do? If you could embrace departed loved ones one last time?

Sadness by Hana Thalova

Loss. Eventually we all face it. So much of the time our feeling of loss is conected to what we have said or done, not said or not done, and while we miss that person, our grief is almost always about our loss, not their loss of life.

It is never easy when someone close to us dies. My first recollection of this was when my grandmother died 35 years ago. I missed her terribly. There was a party after the funeral, I didn’y quite get it – the celebration of her life. Her mother suvived her by another 15 years. I remember for a long time dreaming that she was alive – hiding from me and I “found” her and I could not understand why she would choose to hide herself from me. I always woke feeling good at having found her and being mad at her for hiding from me. I don’t think that I have had that dream in the last twenty years. This dream survived because I found it difficult to let go of that grief at least in my sub-conscious mind.

My other grandmother died just about 6 weeks ago. Children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, 94 years old – she was so very tired and ready to go. And while my father and his siblings kept a vigil, GiGi was ready. She wanted to go home. She had a deep faith as all her children do and she was ready to see her husband and parents and will wait for the rest of her family to come.

People were able to visit, phone and reminisce. I am sure that happened with my other grandmother, Gammy, but I don’t really remember that aspect. I know that the grief was different for me. I suppose part of that has to do with the difference in my maturity, these events are separated by 35 years, but part of that has to do with my own beliefs. And frankly part of this remains totally untested as my parents and their spouses are still around for me to tell them that I love them. I have not had to imagine a life without them or my wife or daughter. In the meantime, I try to tell them how much I love them so that I do not feel that remorse for the unsaid words.

I believe that when those that are dearest to me are no longer physically in my life, that their memory will serve and that they will still be a part of my life because they exist in my heart and mind. Will that be enough? I doubt it. In the meantime, I believe it. It staves off the reality that if life unfolds as it should, I will survive my parents, celebrate their lives and grieve my loss, and my daughter will do the same for my wife and I.

I do still hold conversations with all my departed loved ones. I think that they hear me. It feels like they do. I had a tenuous relationship with my father-in-law, and still I speak with him too. I keep it cordial and upbeat, nothing controversial, we did not agree on some things. Yes, I do hear him answer me in my head also – that is why I keep it cordial and avoid controversy.

I want to believe that keeping these ongoing dialogs going, will help me when I must let go of those closest to me. Will they know how much I have loved them and cared for their happiness? I believe so. At some point though I will know. Won’t I? Perhaps.

Gammy and Pop Pop, Grandma and Grandpa, I love you! A big hug sent from me to you!

What could you do if… You could embrace departed loved ones, one last time?

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I must confess that I have never watched a Bruce Lee movie for more than a few minutes. That said, I have looked at a number of the quotes attributed to him and think that he was quite a wise man. One of my favorites is: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

It is appealing for multiple reasons. Water is a shapeless and formless in two out of three of its natural states, it is essential to life as we understand it and can be an incredibly destructive force. We have harnessed it in multiple ways to produce energy and shape our lives as well as destroyed its life-sustaining properties by polluting it and treating it as an inexhaustible resource.

Water seeks its own level. Water is cool and refreshing. Water is cleansing and has the ability to purify. Water creates energy by harnessing its movement. Water in the form of ice has the ability to break granite, polish stone, and reflect light. A drop of rain is the same as the ocean. You can ride the wave or be overwhelmed and let it drown you.

One of the things that I find appealing about this thought, is that emptying the mind to be formless and shapeless is what living in the present moment is all about for me. That I can fit the shape of the vessel that carries me, suggests I am in the moment. While we have some ability to control water and we have some ability to control our experience, in the end we only truly have the ability to control our reaction to that experience. Just as we cannot prevent the monsoon season, divert a hurricane, or stop a tsunami, we can not truly control our lives beyond our own actions. This is water. If we become the water we can become that unstoppable force as we rush to the sea. We flow this way and that, we can be harnessed for positive results or unleash a torrent of destruction, but in the end we will return to the sea. And so it is for us. We can harness our energy for good, creative, life sustaining activities, or we can be abrasive and destructive as well as everything in between.

Shapeless and formless, water is neither good or bad, it just is. It does not know the past and is unconcerned with the future. It is only our experience of the water and the labels and judgments that we attach to those experiences that creates a “good” or “bad” about water as well as our lives. In those instances where I have tried to resist, the water in my life has made my experience difficult to say the least. However, when I choose to stop resisting the current, and became like the water harnessing its power and embracing the direction that it wanted to carry me in, my life became easier. Sometimes we don’t have a choice and life throws us into rushing rapids where it is all we can do to keep our head above water and other times we are able to float serenely on a calm lake. Choose to experience life as water does, and see what it is like to perfectly fit the vessel – your life.

What could you do, if you could?

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What could you do if? You could love like this moment was your last?

Love. The capacity to love is an intimate component of what makes us human. It is the first thing that we experience in life and if we are truly fortunate, the last as well. We love our family, our friends, our pets, our food, our possessions, our favorite TV shows, our thoughts, the sound of our own voice and some of us even love misery. With all this love going around, you would think we would be a lot happier. Really, sit back some time and spend a few hours counting how many times you hear the word LOVE in conversation, commerce or communication.

I have often thought and said that the words we choose to use are important. They have meaning and power beyond the obvious. And context is equally important. Don’t think so…the next time you are standing in the checkout line, turn around say “I love you” to the person behind you. Watch the reaction. Unless that person is related to you, a friend of yours or either very young or, well, very mature they are likely to think you are just one or two cards short of a full deck. Yet, you could turn around to that same person and say “ I love cheeseburgers, my collection of antique nose hair trimmers, Dora the Explora, and singing in the shower,” and that same person would think nothing of it. Ok, they might think you are a little odd but not as odd as if you just said “I love you” to them.

What I think is sad about that, is that it is perfectly ok to overuse the word in almost every other context except the one that it was created for, to express the deep and sincere affection that one person has for another. It is sad that we can freely love things but not each other, sometimes not even ourselves. I have been guilty of that, and may still be guilty. I suppose that it is a part of what makes us human.

The major events of a lifetime can change that, but all too often it wears off after a time. When my daughter was born, it was the most amazing event in my life. She has been told thousands, probably tens of thousands of times “I love you.” For her, no matter what and no matter where, I do love her unconditionally. So why don’t I love others with the same lack of conditions? I suppose that I do, but I may not show it. And then again I suppose that I don’t.

Why can’t I love like this is the last mortal moment that I will have? If I think about that, and I am thinking about that now, there are a number of reasons:
1) I am shy and have difficulty expressing my feelings
2) I do not want to experience the rejection of my sincere affection
3) Our societal norms do not reinforce this idea even though many if not most religious beliefs do
4) Forgive me all, growing up as a male of the species, I am emotionally stunted
5) It just seems awkward
6) Everyone who knows me would wonder what happened to the real me
You get the point. Yet I know that we are all the same. The difference between you and me is miniscule on a biological or molecular level. The difference between you and me may be incomprehensible on an experiential level. Yet we really are all the same. We want security, love, a little recognition every now and then… so why not?

Truly, I have been moving in that direction for about four years. There have been starts and stops. Much has changed, because I wanted it to. Much still needs to evolve, because I want it to. Will I ever be Mother Theresa? Doubtful. But I can love myself like this is my last moment. I can love and show that love to others around me and with time, patience and mindfulness I can express those feelings if I am very fortunate, I may be able to love like this is my last moment.

What could you do if? You could love like this moment was your last?

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Serenity can enter your life when you least expect it

Serenity can enter your life when you least expect it. Being present and able to accept life’s gifts, helps in the quest to find a measure of that which makes life serene. It does mean taking time to accept what is in front of you and letting that surround you. Last week, we went on a family vacation and in some measure my wife, daughter and my daughter’s friend found that even if only for a few minutes.

We took a trip to Wilmington, NC. We generally speaking had a good time going to the beach, visiting Myrtle Beach, SC – even if the drive there was longer than the stay and spending time with my parents. While there we visited a wonderful hospital in Topsail, NC.

Actually we visited the hospital twice, but only saw the facilities once. We heard about this unique hospital through my mom, I knew that I wanted to see it right away, so did my daughter’s friend Lauren. After doing a little research and planning we determined that Thursday would be the day.

We made the drive from Wilmington to Topsail on hot and humid day. Figuring that we would get there and get out of the “weather” quickly, wrong! An hour wait to enter and at least half of that would be in direct sun. We decided that though we had made the trip, we would not be able to wait. I was not happy and neither was Lauren. We did however decide to return the next day with dress more appropriate for the wait.

It was worth the return trip. Getting there shortly before the hospital opened, shortened our time in the queue. The staff provided us with some interesting facts about the patients and we were afforded the opportunity to get our own questions answered. So what makes this hospital so special? What makes it worth two forty minute drives from Wilmington? In short the patients. The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center caters to injured sea turtles.

Magnificent creatures, these turtles are. We saw Oceans 11, named for the 11 steel plates used to hold her shell together while she heals from a boating mishap. There was lefty, who was brought to the center as a hatchling missing a right flipper – the interns told us lefty probably was attacked by a crab or gull. There was Lennie, a blind Kemps Ridley, who is a permanent resident. While there is more than a measure of sadness, great satisfaction comes from knowing that these people have saved dozens of these beautiful animals. With a life span of up to a hundred years, these gentle giants need our help.

So where does the serenity enter? After spending time learning about these turtles, you can’t help but feel connected. Some of these patients will spend years in the care of these very special people. Serenity enters when you let it. Seeing people care for, nurture and release these “patients” created such an amazing feeling for our family. It brought tears to our eyes. Not only did we get to see these turtles up close, we were able to contribute to their well being. This facility and its good works are donation funded.

The people at Karen Beasley are in the process of building a new facility on Topsail. The new hospital will allow them to expand their efforts from the dozen turtles that they help today, to as many as forty at a time. Please visit their website, better yet stop in for a visit. Soak up some sun in line and feel the serenity from being in the presence of these majestic creatures.

For more information:

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What could you do? If you could live in this moment and know that it was the one only that you had. Really knowing that the moment before is gone and the one coming is not materialized yet?

Time is elusive. The concept of past and present are alien to small children, they only know about this minute. And then, all that changes. We teach them about the past, often times with a reference to something that they should not have done and we create a memory. And then we explain the future, often in the form of anticipating some reward, and there it is. We have moved them from living in the present moment, to the place that most of the world lives in, not the present moment. It would be naïve to think that we could raise children or live in a society that does not have these constructs, but couldn’t we do this more purposefully?

It doesn’t happen all once. Little bite sized chunks of living in the present are slowly replaced with could have, should have, would have, anxiety and fear. We also remember the good old days, and look to the future with our wants and hopes and dreams. Fear and regrets; dreams and anticipation. To be sure, having a way to relay time is important. We are able to reminisce, pass along history, and plan and set goals and myriad other aspects of a modern world only take place in a space where there is a definition of time.

The problem is that we all too quickly move out of the space where we live in the moment. We wish our lives away waiting for some future event to make us happy. We ruminate over things that have happened in the past. When we are thinking about the past, reliving some moment, we are not focused on the moment in our hand. Trust that I know we need to be able to contemplate the past and the future. But do we need to do it incessantly? What do we gain by spending the majority of our time fast forwarding and rewinding our lives? You know your body does not know the difference. It reproduces chemicals and hormones based on what you let your mind think.

How many of us can relate to the experience of thinking about a situation that did not play out the way you wanted. You are unhappy with the other actors in this drama, and you watch that scene over and over and over again in your mind’s eye. Ever stop to wonder why? Ever stop to consider what function this might be serving? Does it serve you? What are you doing while you are replaying your drama, and by the way you play this drama dozens, or hundreds maybe even as much as a thousand times if it was particularly painful before you replace it with a new drama. You lose control of the trajectory of your life by focusing on what has happened rather than living in this moment.

The same can be said for the future. There are many folks who worry about things that are in the future that frankly, may come true, but also may not. I know, I have lived significant chunks of my life in that mode. For me the past has less hold. It is what has not yet become that captures my attention. It has an equally consuming quality about it as rehashing the past and for me has the added benefit of making me anxious about things that are mostly beyond my control. At this point in my life I can frequently get that under control and live in the moment – when I realize it is happening. Of course the problem is that I frequently, I do not know that it is happening right away. Sometimes, the whatever it is that is consuming my thoughts is so powerful, that even once I realize this is occurring, I cannot pull my mind back, at least not right away. The good news is that with regular practice these mental muscles can be strengthened and you can and will pull yourself back to the moment, back to reality, back to the place where you are living in the moment and creating and experiencing your life fully.

One of those little quotes that I find useful in bringing me from the future back to the present is from the movie, The Spanish Prisoner. “Worrying is like paying interest on a debt that never comes due.” When you think about the future in that light, and with a bit of pragmatism you quickly see how silly it is. Who would choose to pay interest on a debt that will not come due? We all do every time we spend time worried about things that are beyond our control.

The only time that you have is right now. Don’t believe me? Ask a two year old. A two year old, is old enough to speak, old enough to tell you about what occurred 5 minutes ago, but living in this moment. Ask the person who is dying. All they have is the present moment and the past, those that choose to live out their days in the past often do so in regret.

Living in the present moment is not easy to do but vital to creating the life you want. You do have to analyze the past. You do have to plan for the future. These are crucial elements of achieving any set of goals. But you also need to train your mind to stay in the moment, to be in the mode of observer and to participate, participate, participate.

I want to live in the moment. When I do I am engaged in my life, creating good times and in some instances not so good times. The key is that I am engaged in my life.

What could you do? If you could live in this moment and know that it was the one only that you had. Really knowing that the moment before is gone and the one coming is not materialized yet?

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What could you do if? If you could experience pain, anger, sorrow, jealousy, for an instant and let it go with the wind, the way a strong breeze carries downy seed puffs to distant acres?

You could add to the list any behavior or belief that you would like to release. Things like resentment, impatience, hatred, sarcasm, defensiveness, complaining and so on. The single most important thing is recognizing what you would like to change. Other important questions are: Why do you want to change this? What will being successful in changing that behavior, emotion or value mean to you? How can you measure the change? Who can role model the change? Who will you get to recognize and reinforce your success? Who can you trust to let you know when you miss the mark, in a positive, growth oriented fashion? Why do you behave, or think this way?

Deconstructing this into a series steps means thinking about why this is important. Motivational guru, Tony Robbins, talks about this in terms of getting leverage on yourself. They say that you can move the world with a lever and a strategically placed fulcrum. And that is what you need to think about. There are so many things that we might think that we want to change about ourselves. Which are superficial and really just daydreams? And which are the things that you are willing to risk time energy, and the reality that there will be many opportunities to learn from delayed success.

It is important to think about this in terms of delayed success. Anything that you wish to change about yourself will only come about through repeated effort, and repeated learning opportunities. One more thing to think about. When choosing something to change, make sure that you are trying to change something about yourself and not trying to change the behavior of others. In the end we are only successful at modifying our own behavior, and while I intensely dislike to speak in terms of failure (preferring delayed success), trying to change someone else will almost certainly result in failure.

So you have figured out what you want to change, think about why you want to change this. What will this change do for you? One of the most important things that I have learned on my journey is: Wherever you go, there you are. Thank you Jon Kabat-Zinn, for titling one of your books with that quote. It is powerful, at least for me. It grounds me in the sense that I am responsible for who shows up, when I show up – 100% of the time. Whatever happens, I control my response – well at least some of the time.

Role Models
Who do you know that exemplifies this new behavior? They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Find your role model, tell them how much you appreciate the particular qualities that you admire in them. Ask them about what has shaped their life in this area. There are a number of benefits to this strategy and if you choose this person wisely, little downside. The benefits include deepening a relationship, an added level of insight about your desired changed state, and a potential opportunity to have someone who is successful, in a definition of success that is important to you, coach you on your journey. The down side includes possibly choosing the wrong person to emulate, a small possibility that they might take your admiration the wrong way and if you have really not done your homework some potential for ridicule. Please do not let this deter you, just do your homework, and if you cannot pick a role model that you can interact with, choose a person that personifies this attribute from history or today’s world and study them.

Support and Feedback
It is important that we create mechanisms that will reinforce our success in our desired changes as well as pointing out (in a kind way) situations where we have additional room to grow. You do have to go out on a limb here. But you know what? You are not going out that far. The people that you are most likely to choose for these assignments already have a clue about whatever it is that you want to change about yourself. They are likely to appreciate the fact that you trust them enough to share the goal and your desire to receive their feedback. Now this is really important. Thank them when they catch you doing something right. Now this is really, really important. Thank them twice as hard when they catch you in delayed success mode. It is not always easy to give someone feedback about something they want to change when they are experiencing delayed success. You must give them permission to do this and value them for their hard work as well.

There is a strategy that I like to help facilitate the change. If I can figure out why I behave the way the way that I do, and if I can tie to it an event, I like to write it down on a piece of paper and then burn that. The symbolism works for me. Turning whatever is driving the behavior into ash helps it to lose its power over me. It is at this point that I am able to begin the journey. I will experience success and delayed success. It is all ok. As soon as I recognize that I am in delayed success mode, I can begin the process of letting the breeze carry my seed puffs away.

What could you do if? If you could experience pain, anger, sorrow, jealousy, for an instant and let it go with the wind, the way a strong breeze carries downy seed puffs to distant acres?

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What could you do?… If you could evaporate anger like the sun does the morning dew.

Anger. Ahh, our relationship with anger is complex. Some will claim that is fuel for accomplishment. Others say that it is the only time anyone listens. Others will avoid it at all costs until it boils to the surface – and that is where that old saw “the straw that breaks the camel’s back” comes from. The emotion of anger manifests itself when we are hurt by someone or something. Ever gotten angry after you have hit your thumb with a hammer? I have. The anger is directed at myself, the hurt is not about my thumb. It is really about me thinking about how stupid I am for smashing my finger – I hurt myself accidentally with the hammer and then intentionally on an emotional level with that thought.

The truth is that every time I get angry, I hurt myself. If I inflict that anger on someone else, I still hurt myself. And more importantly, I hurt myself more than I am hurting the object of my wrath. Every time, no exceptions, don’t believe it? The next time you are angry, stop and think about what is making you angry. Why is this making you angry? Why is this important? Why do I need an emotional response to whatever is evoking this emotion? Is this the best response? Does it solve the problem? Would I appreciate this solution if it were being applied to me? Would a more considered, rational, detached approach create a similar, better, worse outcome? Having a response that is not anger based when problems occur does not make you a doormat. Anger will most frequently crop up when we have lost control of something. Think about that. How many times do you get angry when you are in control? Do you get angry when things are going your way and people, places and things are being compliant? Probably not, most of us don’t.

When I think about the times in my own life when I became the most angry, who am I kidding? When I think about anytime that I have gotten angry it is because something was not going to turn out the way I wanted, planned, schemed, etc… It still happens. What I have learned and only relatively recently is that, “I only control myself” and sometimes I don’t do that, all that well. I have also recently discovered that being angry with others or myself only prolongs the amount of time it takes for me to move on and accept circumstances or when possible influence the situation. I do not do either particularly well when I am angry.

It is that thought process that helps to evaporate the anger. Sometimes anger is like the morning dew and it dissipates quickly, and other times it is much deeper and takes time. Taking charge of how you feel about what you can and cannot influence is a big step to burning away the toxic residue.

What could you do?… If you could evaporate anger like the sun does the morning dew?

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Mark Twain – Annoyance

“Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”
Mark Twain (1835–1910) American writer

I love Mark Twain. He was just an amazing observer of the human condition. That said, why do we get so annoyed by a good example? For starters that good example, points out our own shortcomings. Speaking for myself, and being blessed with so many of those shortcomings – earlier on in life, I feel like I have some expertise on the topic.

It is all in the framing of the idea, do I want to ss this through a negative filter or a positive one? We can view annoyance at the good example of others, as an illustration of our shortcomings, as many of us so often do. Or we can view these as opportunities for growth. This is life’s way of showing us where we need sandpaper to smooth an edge. Identifying someone else’s example as a goal to emulate feels different than being jealous that they are better at something or other than we are. And that really is the heart of it, isn’t it? When I am annoyed at someone else’s good example, I am not only measuring myself against that person, I am doing that in a negative way, it saps energy, makes me feel bad, and if I am truthful about it creates some resentment. None of this is positive, productive or emotionally healthy.

The trick is to convert my mindset to one of growth. Actively looking for those good examples because they illustrate my desires and help me focus on what I want to be. If I can realign my focus from the more negative annoyance to one of positive growth oriented appreciation, then I have created the possibility that I can change in a way that I think is desireable. It is work, and for every step forward there is the occasional step backward. But what do you have to lose by reframing your perspective? Not Much!

What could you do…If you could?

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What could you do…If you could metabolize fear into courage?

If you could take your fears and convert them into courage you could be unstoppable. It is our fears after all that prevent us from taking action. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of being humiliated. Fear of success. Fear of dying. Fear of losing wealth/possessions. Fear that I won’t be loved. Fear of being hurt mentally, physically, emotionally. The list could go on.

Fear has been an important survival element for virtually all of our history. Think fight or flight. Our body manufactures chemicals that help us deal with fear. Ever felt the adrenaline surge just before an accident or near miss? Instantaneously released so that your body will have the burst of strength required to deal with whatever is creating this immediate and intense fear. The problem is that in today’s world the kinds of things that create fear don’t typically require the hormones and chemicals released by the body in order to deal with them. In fact they act as a detriment – stress.

Fear creates stress, stress can reinforce fear. Here is the thing, most of what we fear never comes to pass. We stress and obsess about things that are only in our mind. And our body betrays us and acts as if they are real. In our mind’s eye they are real. If you want to metabolize fear into courage you have to come to an understanding with your mind. That understanding is, that you don’t have to believe everything that you think. Yes, that is right you do not have to believe everything that you think. It is that simple in concept and as usual anything that seems simple is often difficult. This can be quite difficult, because you have to catch yourself.

So now what? Recognizing the pattern is only the first step. But now we can move to a place where you can use your mind. Evaluate what is causing the fear. What will happen if I am rejected? Will I die? What will happen if I fail? Will my happiness disappear? What will happen if I am humiliated? Will that destroy my reputation permanently? What would happen if I succeeded? Would it be tragic to accomplish what I had set out to do? You get the picture. Often we take an improbable worst case scenario and make it the only possible outcome to our taking action. And so we don’t. Or we take half hearted action. Or worse yet we believe things that we don’t have to and it impacts our ability to move forward in life.

Metabolizing fear into courage is possible and you can do it. Believe it when your mind is telling you all the horrible things that can, could, would, should happen to you for taking action when you are fearful. Nothing will get done and you will live the life of regret. Or, challenge yourself, start small, build on your success and take the next step. As Yoda says “Do or do not, there is no try.”

What could you do?… If you could metabolize fear into courage.

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