Writing Your Story.

Writing Your Story.

We all have a story to tell, whether we publish it or keep it for just ourselves or family; allow yourself to be heard.

Everyone, at one time or another, has wanted to express his or her story.

Writing a memoir to read privately, share with family or friends, or publish is an emotionally satisfying way to gain perspective on your experiences while sharing your unique voice. We’ve all experienced feelings and events in our lives that we are longing to write down. Giving in to that urge can give you an outlet for purging any frustration, anxiety, or long-dormant feelings.

No one else has to read it. You may even want to write your story without reading it right away. Satisfying the need to tell your story is not predicated upon your writing ability. It does, however take effort to write down the truth in detail. Your memories, captured on paper as descriptive scenes, sights, sounds, and scents, may at first seem disconnected or incomplete. But rest assured that you possess the ability to shape your recollections into stories.

Everyone wants to be heard. Reading your story to others can meet that need. Writing your story can also help you understand your life experiences. And when you finish writing, you may be surprised at what you have accomplished. Your story can encompass as much or as little of your life as you prefer. You may surprise yourself with new insights, or you may find yourself exploring your roots, your identity, and your future through your words. Allow your writing to guide you and write as truthfully as possible. Don’t worry about what others will think of your personal journey, your style of writing, or your words.

As you write, remember to have compassion for yourself, particularly when writing about traumatic events. If you are a young person, you can add to your life story as you grow older. Your writing may help family members know you better, or they may understand themselves more through reading about your experiences.

More importantly, you are expressing yourself in a permanent way, giving a gift to yourself, and letting your voice be heard.

Multiple Meanings.

Multiple Meanings.

The refined impression you glean from your experiences after contemplating their significance, can add a new richness and texture to your life.

Though we humans are self-aware, we nonetheless cannot distance ourselves from the world around us and have a natural tendency to ascribe meaning to all that we experience. The significance we perceive in our experiences is rooted in our observation of patterns as they relate to ourselves.

One situation has the power to teach us about life because it exposes us to something unfamiliar. Another touches our emotions deeply by enabling us to see how fortunate we are. Yet our initial impressions of an experience may not wholly reveal the true significance of that occurrence because our full response to an experience is like an onion with many layers that all have disparate meanings.

Consider that a sunrise may stun us visually while simultaneously evoking memories of childhood and reminding us that each new day is a rebirth.

If you take the time to examine your experiences closely, you will discover that your original impressions may only be a part of a larger story of significance. Peeling away the layers of an event or incident can be a fun and interesting process if you allow it.

Your interpretation of any situation is based not only on facts but also on feelings, beliefs, and your values. As you ruminate upon your experience, spend a few moments contemplating how you felt when it began and how your feelings had changed by its end. Ask yourself what abstractions, if any, it awakened in your mind.

The significance of an experience may remain hidden to you for some time. The meaning of an event can change when viewed from another context or may only become apparent after intense meditation. An incident that seemed superficial may unexpectedly touch us deeply later in our lives.

If you take a truly open-minded approach to your examination of each new level and do not shy away from revelations that could prove painful, you will learn much about your relationship to the world around you.

And the refined impression you glean from your experiences after contemplating their significance can add a new richness and texture to your life.

Based on texts by Madisyn Taylor
Be Open.

Be Open.

As we live, we will go through the processes of opening to new information, integrating it, and stabilizing our worldview.

Living in an information age, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the constant influx of scientific studies, breaking news, and even spiritual revelations that fill our bookshelves, radio waves, and in-boxes. No sooner have we decided what to eat or how to think about the universe than a new study or book comes out confounding our well-researched opinion. After a while, we may be tempted to dismiss or ignore new information in the interest of stabilizing our point of view, and this is understandable. Rather than closing down, we might try instead to remain open by allowing our intuition to guide us.

For example, contradictory studies concerning foods that are good for you and foods that are bad for you are plentiful. At a certain point, though, we can feel for ourselves whether coffee or tomatoes are good for us or not.
The answer is different for each individual, and this is something that a scientific study can’t quite account for.
All we can do is take in the information and process it through our own systems of understanding. In the end, only we can decide what information, ideas, and concepts we will integrate. Remaining open allows us to continually change and shift by checking in with ourselves as we learn new information. It keeps us flexible and alert, and while it can feel a bit like being thrown off balance all the time, this openness is essential to the process of growth and expansion.

Perhaps the key is realizing that we are not going to finally get to some stable place of having it all figured out. Throughout our lives we will go through the processes of opening to new information, integrating it, and stabilizing our worldview. No sooner will we have reached some kind of stability than it will be time to open again to new information, which is inherently destabilizing.

If we see ourselves as surfers riding the incoming waves of information and inspiration, always open and willing to attune ourselves to the next shift, we will see how blessed we are to have this opportunity to play on the waves and, most of all, to enjoy the ride.
Beyond “how are you?”

Beyond “how are you?”

The question “How are you?” has long been a go-to greeting, a way to spark a bit of small talk. But this year, as our lives have been impacted by a myriad of challenges  — the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest, political stress, and more — we have an opportunity (and need) to deepen our connections with others. And asking more meaningful questions can help spark those productive, compassionate conversations.

We asked our Thrive community to share with us thequestions they’re asking others right now that are strengthening their connections. Which of these will you start asking others?

What’s something you’re excited about?

“Asking someone what they’re passionate about at the moment can be a great conversation starter. Even before the pandemic, my favorite conversation opener was, ‘What’s something you’re excited about right now?’ It’s open-ended enough for someone to talk about their work, their favorite TV show, or anything else that they’re loving at the moment. I love watching someone’s face light up when they get to talk about something that excites them.” 

—Craig Inzana, content creator, Omaha, NE

What’s been keeping you busy?

“I’ve recently found that asking people more specific, but not intrusive, questions leads to a more authentic exchange. Some of my go-to questions are asking people what’s been keeping them busy lately, how they’ve been spending their time, or even asking about movies or books they’ve come across lately. Since there is so much stress and uncertainty in many people’s lives, striking the balance between curious and compassionate is key.”

—Marta Chavent, change and management consultant, France

What have you learned about yourself lately?

“I have enjoyed asking people, ‘What is the biggest thing you learned about yourself this year?’ Not only have I realized that they usually open up and are willing to share personal stories, but they also get excited about sharing something positive related to personal growth. I find that asking this question always leads to very vulnerable conversations.”

—Isabelle Bart, marketing director, Orange County, CA

How are you feeling?

“One thing I try to always ask my family and friends is how they are feeling emotionally and mentally. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I know that when you are in the depths of the fog, it’s easy to just say, ‘Yeah, I am good’ when someone asks how you are. But taking things a bit further and asking how someone is feeling shows that you understand that feelings are more complex than just being ‘fine.’ It also helps the other person know that they can confide in you if they need.”

—Melinda Jackson, Raleigh, NC 

How are your spirits today?

“The number one question I am asking everyone in my life, from family, friends, clients, and strangers, is  ‘How’s your spirit today?’ At first, people are surprised, because it’s usually the first time they’ve been asked that question. But once they take a moment to reflect, they openly share, and always thank me for asking. They often say that it’s the first time they’ve stopped to reflect on their spirit in a long time. It’s a question that grounds us in the present moment.”

—Nory Pouncil, self-awareness coach, Fort Lauderdale, FL

What are you doing to care for yourself right now?

“Since I’m working with clients consistently on often long-term projects, I like to check in first by asking others what they are doing to care for themselves right now. It’s a good conversation starter to get people thinking about how they are tending to their own self-care and well-being, even as they work on external goals and projects.”

—Henna Garrison, life coach and educator, Sicily, Italy 

How can I help support you?

“I am finding power in the leadership question, ‘How can I help support you?’ This simple question cuts through organizational hierarchies and helps us meet the person where they are at that moment in time. Most often, people don’t have an immediate answer because we aren’t terribly good at asking for help.  But if you ask the question, and then sit in the silence for a few seconds, people realize you’re there for them now and later when needed.”

—-Donna Peters, career coach, podcast host, lecturer, Atlanta, GA

What have you been cooking?

“‘How are you?’ is typically the first question we think of, but a more meaningful one I ask, especially to my 79-year-old mom is, ‘What are you cooking today?’ Talking mutually about what we cook that day or week is always heartwarming, and it’s a great conversation starter. Exchanging recipes and sharing ideas on dishes based on seasonal ingredients gives us a sense of safety and closeness as we share those small but essential everyday things, putting the stressors of the pandemic aside for a moment.

—Esin Sungur, Brand Consultant, İstanbul-Turkey

What are you grateful for right now?

“One question that I’ve been asking lately is, ‘What is something that you are grateful for during this time?’ How we frame things can often elicit certain feelings because it asks for the person to focus on something in particular. In this case, that would be things that bring joy, gratitude, and connection. When we face challenging times, I always find it helpful to remind ourselves what we should be centering on, and that starts with gratitude.”

—Simon Tam, author and musician, Cincinnati, OH

What are you looking forward to?

“I prefer asking this question these days instead of ‘How are you.’ I find that itgives whomever I’m speaking with space to assess their answer and reflect. Rather than a thoughtless ‘fine’ or ‘meh,’ their answer is typically more thoughtful and it helps them stay optimistic during this time. This question creates opportunities for engagement that move static conversations into more meaningful directions.”

—Ampy Basa, community director and HerSpace, Oslo, Norway

What’s been the highlight of your day?

“The questions we ask one another can spark a sense of validation and connectivity. I’ve been asking people, ‘What has been the highlight of your day?’ This question shifts the focus away from the expected ‘how are you?’ and ‘I am fine’ interchange, and instead makes the receiver of this question really think about what has brought them a sense of meaning and fulfillment that day. It’s a great conversation starter and an energy-booster. I find that it’s also a great opportunity to focus on our small wins.”

—Randi Levin, transitional life strategist, NJ/ NY

What question is helping you connect with others right now? 

Aligning Actions and Words.

Aligning Actions and Words.

Words carry a lot of weight in this world, but it is through our actions that we bring things into being.

Words carry a lot of weight in this world, from how we say them to what we say with them, but it is through our actions that we bring things into being. This is what we mean when we say to one another that actions speak louder than words.
In many cases, what we say doesn’t necessarily line up with what we are doing, and it is here that it becomes clear that it’s easier to talk about doing something than it is to actually do something.
At the same time, it’s easy to keep doing something that we don’t necessarily acknowledge ourselves doing verbally.

It’s good for all of us to take a look every once and a while to make sure there is alignment between what we say and what we do.

For example, it’s easy to talk about our dreams, but it takes a lot more energy to take the many small steps that lead to bringing our dreams into reality. If all we ever do is talk about it, we begin to lose faith in ourselves because nothing changes on the external level. In this way, being all talk and no action is actually a form of self-sabotage.
It’s also useful to examine our actions to see if, through them, we are following through on our words. For example, in expressing concern about the environment, we can look to make sure that we are taking the simple steps we can take to put that concern into action.

It’s always helpful to observe what we talk about and who we say we are, and then to observe what we actually do in the world.

Sometimes we realize our actions haven’t caught up with what we are saying, and at other times we see that we might change our words in a way that it will more adequately reflect what we do in the world.

Either way, the more we align our words and our deeds, the clearer we are in expressing our truth in the world, and the more powerful we are in bringing it into reality.

By Madisyn Taylor
Living fully present.

Living fully present.

When we live fully in the moment, there is an aliveness that comes easily.

When we are fully present, we offer our whole selves to whatever it is that we are doing. Our attention, our integrity, and our energy are all focused in the moment and on the task at hand. This is a powerful experience, and when we are in this state, we feel completely alive and invigorated.

This kind of aliveness comes easily when we are absorbed in work or play that we love, but it is available to us in every moment, and we can learn to summon it regardless of what we are doing. Even tasks or jobs we don’t enjoy can become infused with the light of being present. The more present we are, the more meaningful our entire lives become.

Next time you find yourself fully engaged in the moment, whether you are making art, trying to solve an interesting puzzle, or talking to your best friend, you may want to take a moment to notice how you feel. You may observe that you are not thinking about what you need to do next, your body feels like it’s pleasantly humming, or your brain feels tingly. As you enjoy the feeling of being located entirely in the present moment, you can inform yourself that you may try to recall this feeling later. You might try this while driving home or getting ready for bed, allowing yourself to be just as engaged in that experience as you were in the earlier one.

The more we draw ourselves into the present moment, the more we honor the gift of our lives, and the more we honor the people around us.

When we are fully present, we give and receive aliveness in equal measure.

For today, try to be fully present in your daily activities and watch a new reality open for you.
By Madisyn Taylor
Transforming Suffering into Happiness

Transforming Suffering into Happiness

“The essence of our practice can be described as transforming suffering into happiness,” says Thich Nhat Hanh. Here, he offers five practices to nourish our happiness daily.

We all want to be happy and there are many books and teachers in the world that try to help people be happier. Yet we all continue to suffer.

Therefore, we may think that we’re “doing it wrong.” Somehow we are “failing at happiness.” That isn’t true. Being able to enjoy happiness doesn’t require that we have zero suffering. In fact, the art of happiness is also the art of suffering well. When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less. Not only that, but we’re also able to go further and transform our suffering into understanding, compassion, and joy for ourselves and for others.

One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that there is no realm where there’s only happiness and there’s no suffering. This doesn’t mean that we should despair. Suffering can be transformed. As soon as we open our mouth to say “suffering,” we know that the opposite of suffering is already there as well. Where there is suffering, there is happiness.

According to the creation story in the biblical book of Genesis, God said, “Let there be light.” I like to imagine that light replied, saying, “God, I have to wait for my twin brother, darkness, to be with me. I can’t be there without the darkness.” God asked, “Why do you need to wait? Darkness is there.” Light answered, “In that case, then I am also already there.”

One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that there is no realm where there’s only happiness and there’s no suffering. This doesn’t mean that we should despair. Suffering can be transformed.

If we focus exclusively on pursuing happiness, we may regard suffering as something to be ignored or resisted. We think of it as something that gets in the way of happiness. But the art of happiness is also the art of knowing how to suffer well. If we know how to use our suffering, we can transform it and suffer much less. Knowing how to suffer well is essential to realizing true happiness.

Healing Medicine

The main affliction of our modern civilization is that we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and we try to cover it up with all kinds of consumption. Retailers peddle a plethora of devices to help us cover up the suffering inside. But unless and until we’re able to face our suffering, we can’t be present and available to life, and happiness will continue to elude us.

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There are many people who have enormous suffering, and don’t know how to handle it. For many people, it starts at a very young age. So why don’t schools teach our young people the way to manage suffering? If a student is very unhappy, he can’t concentrate and he can’t learn. The suffering of each of us affects others. The more we learn about the art of suffering well, the less suffering there will be in the world.

Mindfulness is the best way to be with our suffering without being overwhelmed by it. Mindfulness is the capacity to dwell in the present moment, to know what’s happening in the here and now. For example, when we’re lifting our two arms, we’re conscious of the fact that we’re lifting our arms. Our mind is with our lifting of our arms, and we don’t think about the past or the future, because lifting our arms is what’s happening in the present moment.

To be mindful means to be aware. It’s the energy that knows what is happening in the present moment. Lifting our arms and knowing that we’re lifting our arms—that’s mindfulness, mindfulness of our action. When we breathe in and we know we’re breathing in, that’s mindfulness. When we make a step and we know that the steps are taking place, we are mindful of the steps. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. It’s the energy that helps us be aware of what is happening right now and right here—in our body, in our feelings, in our perceptions, and around us.

With mindfulness we are no longer afraid of pain. We can even go further and make good use of suffering to generate the energy of understanding and compassion that heals us and we can help others to heal and be happy as well.

With mindfulness, you can recognize the presence of the suffering in you and in the world. And it’s with that same energy that you tenderly embrace the suffering. By being aware of your in-breath and out-breath you generate the energy of mindfulness, so you can continue to cradle the suffering. Practitioners of mindfulness can help and support each other in recognizing, embracing, and transforming suffering. With mindfulness we are no longer afraid of pain. We can even go further and make good use of suffering to generate the energy of understanding and compassion that heals us and we can help others to heal and be happy as well.

Generating Mindfulness

The way we start producing the medicine of mindfulness is by stopping and taking a conscious breath, giving our complete attention to our in-breath and our out-breath. When we stop and take a breath in this way, we unite body and mind and come back home to ourselves. We feel our bodies more fully. We are truly alive only when the mind is with the body. The great news is that oneness of body and mind can be realized just by one in-breath. Maybe we have not been kind enough to our body for some time. Recognizing the tension, the pain, the stress in our body, we can bathe it in our mindful awareness, and that is the beginning of healing.

If we take care of the suffering inside us, we have more clarity, energy, and strength to help address the suffering of our loved ones, as well as the suffering in our community and the world. If, however, we are preoccupied with the fear and despair in us, we can’t help remove the suffering of others. There is an art to suffering well. If we know how to take care of our suffering, we not only suffer much, much less, we also create more happiness around us and in the world.

Why the Buddha Kept Meditating

When I was a young monk, I wondered why the Buddha kept practicing mindfulness and meditation even after he had already become a buddha. Now I find the answer is plain enough to see. Happiness is impermanent, like everything else. In order for happiness to be extended and renewed, you have to learn how to feed your happiness. Nothing can survive without food, including happiness; your happiness can die if you don’t know how to nourish it. If you cut a flower but you don’t put it in some water, the flower will wilt in a few hours.

We can condition our bodies and minds to happiness with the five practices of letting go, inviting positive seeds, mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

Even if happiness is already manifesting, we have to continue to nourish it. This is sometimes called conditioning, and it’s very important. We can condition our bodies and minds to happiness with the five practices of letting go, inviting positive seeds, mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

1. LETTING GO

The first method of creating joy and happiness is to cast off, to leave behind. There is a kind of joy that comes from letting go. Many of us are bound to so many things. We believe these things are necessary for our survival, our security, and our happiness. But many of these things—or more precisely, our beliefs about their utter necessity—are really obstacles for our joy and happiness.

Sometimes you think that having a certain career, diploma, salary, house, or partner is crucial for your happiness. You think you can’t go on without it. Even when you have achieved that situation, or are with that person, you continue to suffer. At the same time, you’re still afraid that if you let go of that prize you’ve attained, it will be even worse; you will be even more miserable without the object you are clinging to. You can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it.

If you come to look deeply into your fearful attachment, you will realize that it is in fact the very obstacle to your joy and happiness. You have the capacity to let it go. Letting go takes a lot of courage sometimes. But once you let go, happiness comes very quickly. You won’t have to go around searching for it.

Imagine you’re a city dweller taking a weekend trip out to the countryside. If you live in a big metropolis, there’s a lot of noise, dust, pollution, and odors, but also a lot of opportunities and excitement. One day, a friend coaxes you into getting away for a couple of days. At first you may say, “I can’t. I have too much work. I might miss an important call.”

But finally he convinces you to leave, and an hour or two later, you find yourself in the countryside. You see open space. You see the sky, and you feel the breeze on your cheeks. Happiness is born from the fact that you could leave the city behind. If you hadn’t left, how could you experience that kind of joy? You needed to let go.

 2. INVITING POSITIVE SEEDS

We each have many kinds of “seeds” lying deep in our consciousness. Those we water are the ones that sprout, come up into our awareness, and manifest outwardly.

So in our own consciousness there is hell, and there is also paradise. We are capable of being compassionate, understanding, and joyful. If we pay attention only to the negative things in us, especially the suffering of past hurts, we are wallowing in our sorrows and not getting any positive nourishment. We can practice appropriate attention, watering the wholesome qualities in us by touching the positive things that are always available inside and around us. That is good food for our mind.

One way of taking care of our suffering is to invite a seed of the opposite nature to come up. As nothing exists without its opposite, if you have a seed of arrogance, you have also a seed of compassion. Every one of us has a seed of compassion. If you practice mindfulness of compassion every day, the seed of compassion in you will become strong. You need only concentrate on it and it will come up as a powerful zone of energy.

Naturally, when compassion comes up, arrogance goes down. You don’t have to fight it or push it down. We can selectively water the good seeds and refrain from watering the negative seeds. This doesn’t mean we ignore our suffering; it just means that we allow the positive seeds that are naturally there to get attention and nourishment.

3. MINDFULNESS-BASED JOY

Mindfulness helps us not only to get in touch with suffering, so that we can embrace and transform it, but also to touch the wonders of life, including our own body. Then breathing in becomes a delight, and breathing out can also be a delight. You truly come to enjoy your breathing.

A few years ago, I had a virus in my lungs that made them bleed. I was spitting up blood. With lungs like that, it was difficult to breathe, and it was difficult to be happy while breathing. After treatment, my lungs healed and my breathing became much better. Now when I breathe, all I need to do is to remember the time when my lungs were infected with this virus. Then every breath I take becomes really delicious, really good.

When we practice mindful breathing or mindful walking, we bring our mind home to our body and we are established in the here and the now. We feel so lucky; we have so many conditions of happiness that are already available. Joy and happiness come right away. So mindfulness is a source of joy. Mindfulness is a source of happiness.

Mindfulness is an energy you can generate all day long through your practice. You can wash your dishes in mindfulness. You can cook your dinner in mindfulness. You can mop the floor in mindfulness. And with mindfulness you can touch the many conditions of happiness and joy that are already available. You are a real artist. You know how to create joy and happiness any time you want. This is the joy and the happiness born from mindfulness.

 4. CONCENTRATION

Concentration is born from mindfulness. Concentration has the power to break through, to burn away the afflictions that make you suffer and to allow joy and happiness to come in.

To stay in the present moment takes concentration. Worries and anxiety about the future are always there, ready to take us away. We can see them, acknowledge them, and use our concentration to return to the present moment.

When we have concentration, we have a lot of energy. We don’t get carried away by visions of past suffering or fears about the future. We dwell stably in the present moment so we can get in touch with the wonders of life, and generate joy and happiness.

Concentration is always concentration on something. If you focus on your breathing in a relaxed way, you are already cultivating an inner strength. When you come back to feel your breath, concentrate on your breathing with all your heart and mind. Concentration is not hard labor. You don’t have to strain yourself or make a huge effort. Happiness arises lightly and easily.

5. INSIGHT

With mindfulness, we recognize the tension in our body, and we want very much to release it, but sometimes we can’t. What we need is some insight.

Insight is seeing what is there. It is the clarity that can liberate us from afflictions such as jealousy or anger, and allow true happiness to come. Every one of us has insight, though we don’t always make use of it to increase our happiness.

The essence of our practice can be described as transforming suffering into happiness. It’s not a complicated practice, but it requires us to cultivate mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

We may know, for example, that something (a craving, or a grudge) is an obstacle for our happiness, that it brings us anxiety and fear. We know this thing is not worth the sleep we’re losing over it. But still we go on spending our time and energy obsessing about it. We’re like a fish who has been caught once before and knows there’s a hook inside the bait; if the fish makes use of that insight, he won’t bite, because he knows he’ll get caught by the hook.

Often, we just bite onto our craving or grudge, and let the hook take us. We get caught and attached to these situations that are not worthy of our concern. If mindfulness and concentration are there, then insight will be there and we can make use of it to swim away, free.

In springtime when there is a lot of pollen in the air, some of us have a hard time breathing due to allergies. Even when we aren’t trying to run five miles and we just want to sit or lie down, we can’t breathe very well. So in wintertime, when there’s no pollen, instead of complaining about the cold, we can remember how in April or May we couldn’t go out at all. Now our lungs are clear, we can take a brisk walk outside and we can breathe very well. We consciously call up our experience of the past to help ourselves treasure the good things we are having right now.

In the past we probably did suffer from one thing or another. It may even have felt like a kind of hell. If we remember that suffering, not letting ourselves get carried away by it, we can use it to remind ourselves, “How lucky I am right now. I’m not in that situation. I can be happy”—that is insight; and in that moment, our joy, and our happiness can grow very quickly.

The essence of our practice can be described as transforming suffering into happiness. It’s not a complicated practice, but it requires us to cultivate mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

It requires first of all that we come home to ourselves, that we make peace with our suffering, treating it tenderly, and looking deeply at the roots of our pain. It requires that we let go of useless, unnecessary sufferings and take a closer look at our idea of happiness.

Finally, it requires that we nourish happiness daily, with acknowledgment, understanding, and compassion for ourselves and for those around us. We offer these practices to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to the larger community. This is the art of suffering and the art of happiness. With each breath, we ease suffering and generate joy. With each step, the flower of insight blooms.

From No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, by Thich Nhat Hanh. © 2014 by United Buddhist Church. Published with the permission of Parallax Press. www.parallax.org.

Living like Water

Living like Water

Water is a great teacher that shows us how to move through the world with grace, ease, determination, and humility.

The journey of water as it flows upon the earth can be a mirror of our own paths through life.

Water begins its residence on earth as it falls from the sky or melts from ice and streams down a mountain into a tributary or stream. In the same way, we come into the world and begin our lives on earth.

Like a river that flows within the confines of its banks, we are born with certain defining characteristics that govern our identity. We are born in a specific time and place, within a specific family, and with certain gifts and challenges. Within these parameters, we move through life, encountering many twists, turns, and obstacles along the way just as a river flows.

Water is a great teacher that shows us how to move through the world with grace, ease, determination, and humility. When a river breaks at a waterfall, it gains energy and moves on, as we encounter our own waterfalls, we may fall hard but we always keep moving on. Water can inspire us to not become rigid with fear or cling to what’s familiar.

Water is brave and does not waste time clinging to its past, but flows onward without looking back. At the same time, when there is a hole to be filled, water does not run away from it in fear of the dark; instead, water humbly and bravely fills the empty space. In the same way, we can face the dark moments of our life rather than run away from them.

Eventually, a river will empty into the sea. Water does not hold back from joining with a larger body, nor does it fear a loss of identity or control. It gracefully and humbly tumbles into the vastness by contributing its energy and merging without resistance. Each time we move beyond our individual egos to become part of something bigger, we can try our best to follow the lead of the river.

The invaluable opportunity to change.

The invaluable opportunity to change.

At the start of the pandemic, when many of us were asked to stay home to stem the spread of the coronavirus, it seemed like a lot of people had one of two reactions. Some embraced sheltering in place, thinking to themselves, “Why not use this big ‘pause’ to do something I always wanted to do?” — whether that meant cleaning out the closets, picking up a home renovation project, or learning a new language. The rest of us — including me — had no such plans. My goal was never to come out of quarantine a different, more improved person. It felt like everything in the world was so overwhelming, and getting by — day by day — would be more than sufficient.

As time went on, however, many of us — myself included — came to realize that we can’t help but evolve and come away changed by these times. But rather than let change happen to us, we can be intentional and actively participate in our transformation.

Some of us will make small but meaningful tweaks to our lives. Others will strive for a larger, sweeping “reinvention.” There’s no one right way to go about change; the important thing is to be deliberate and purposeful, and keep moving forward.

Here’s what’s been working for me, as I take this opportunity to contemplate who I want to be and how I want to evolve. Perhaps some of these techniques can help guide you on your own journey.

Revisit your goals. I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions — not because I don’t think they’re useful, but because I don’t think we should limit ourselves to reassessing the trajectory of our lives just once a year. Why not do that right now? Consider this turbulent time in our nation — both with the virus and the seismic reckoning over racism that we’re in the middle of — an ideal opportunity to review what you want to accomplish and who you want to be.

We’re living through something we’ve never lived through before, and that gives us all the chance to look at our lives from a different angle. Do your personal goals continue to make sense and resonate with your values? Have your priorities changed? If you realize you need to pivot some aspect of your life, make that choice now rather than waiting for next month, or next year.

Reflect on the events of this year. Are there things you’ve learned, or that you’ve been thinking about, that have troubled you? Were you bothered by the lack of human connection you felt during quarantine? Did you crave a more active lifestyle when you were spending most of your time at home? Reflecting on what didn’t work for you can be a great tool to help you decide if you want to do something differently going forward. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was pretty much on an airplane every week for work. These past few months have been the longest stretch of time I’ve been home in approximately 10 years. I have discovered a new passion: I love being home. This experience has made me realize that I can be an effective leader, colleague, and influencer without getting on a plane each week. It’s better for me and my well-being, for my family, and for the environment. Now that I have realized this, it excites me to think: How do I evolve to do all the things I want to do, but do them in a different way?

Use your own personal data to fuel change. Your emotions give you information — in fact, I think of my emotions as data. During this time, whether because of COVID-19 or racial injustice or economic challenges or any other circumstance, what were the highs and lows of your emotions? And what can you learn from them?

Observingmy emotions has highlighted the importance of finding joy in everyday moments. I always believed in it, but I was often too busy to fully recognize the joy in little things and hold onto that joy. Before, if my puppy did something funny, I’d laugh in the moment — then move onto whatever was next. Now I laugh and realize that she has no clue about what’s going on in the world; she is just living in the moment and living her best life.

Educate yourself. Sometimes in order to create change — personal as well as societal — we need to commit to learning more about why things are the way they are. I am a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and access, and I am constantly looking for ways to further the conversationi around mental health .

Lately, as the pervasiveness of systemic racism has become a larger conversation in our country, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the history of mental health in the Black community. Our mental health system needs to do better for everyone, and specifically for the communities of people of color. One way we can affect change is by elevating BIPOC voices in the mental health and well-being space. We can’t allow their voices to go unheard anymore.

Recognize your power. Even the most personal changes we make can have a powerful ripple effect through communities and our society as a whole. Think about the collective impact we could have if we all made one small positive change and put that out in the world. If we all decided “I’m going to travel less for work,” the impact that could have on the environment would be immense. Or if we each made the commitment to volunteer with an organization we’ve never worked with before, or committed to learning about racism and how we can all amplify BIPOC voices, the results could be transformative. Simply put, when we embark on positive change in our individual lives, everyone benefits.

By Thrive Global

Mantras to stay Positive.

Mantras to stay Positive.

Amidst the pandemic, each of us has encountered unique challenges and stressors. While the economic, mental, and emotional difficulties are real — and there’s no easy “fix” or escape — how we view our experience can make a big difference. In fact, science tells us that what we tell ourselves in challenging moments matters. Even one negative word can activate the fear center of the brain and impact our ability to reason. On the contrary, empowering or perspective-shifting words or phrases can help us reframe and course-correct from stress in real time.  

We asked our Thrive community to share with us the mantras that are helping them stay optimistic and resilient during this time. Which of these will you try?

“I don’t break, I bend.”

“The mantra, ‘I don’t break, I bend’ has helped me remain resilient over the course of the last few months. This mantra reminds me that I am flexible, adaptable, and unshakeable in the face of adversity. When fear creeps in, I am reminded that I can handle it and will not fall victim to it. When I’m having a bad day, I write this on a sticky note and stick it on my monitor to help keep me going.”

—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO

“Clear on the outcomes, flexible on the approach.”

“For the past fifteen years, I have lived by a simple but powerful mantraDuring the pandemic, this mantra has resonated more than ever before. Everything from working to exercising to raising children has been upended. Staying focused on critical outcomes — for example, quarterly revenue goals, health benchmarks, and educational goals for children — is critical. You might not be able to approach your goals as you did in the past, but it doesn’t mean you can’t keep reaching and exceeding your goals. Shifting focus from uncertainty to outcomes is a great way to reclaim efficacy.”

—Dr. Camille Preston, business psychology at AIM Leadership, Cambridge, MA

“Trust the process.”

“My family members are all huge basketball fans. I am more of a casual basketball observer. Even though I am not a loyalist, I am a fan of the 76ers motto, ‘Trust the process.’ It has become my go-to affirmation during this time. Although there will continue to be uncertainty, I believe having patience, faith, hope and trusting the process will help us grow and rebuild.” 

—Monique Johnson, nonprofit COO, Richmond, VA

“I am not alone in this.”

“In these high stress moments, I sometimes get momentarily lost in the personal challenges COVID-19 has created for me. In those moments, I try to shift my focus by repeating the following mantra: ‘I am not alone in this.’ I remind myself that there are so many others who are facing greater challenges through this pandemic. It gives me perspective, and helps me feel grateful that I am able to manage my challenges.”  

—Marcia J. Hylton, corporate marketing strategist, El Paso, TX

“Warrior.”

“My mantra that I like to repeat to myself is ‘Warrior.’ I keep telling myself that I am a warrior and I’m strong enough to face any adversity that comes my way. When anything happens, I ask myself: ‘How would a warrior behave in this scenario?’  It’s a simple way of getting yourself into the right frame of mind to face any challenge!”

—Celia Gaze, managing director, Bolton, UK

“Live right. Be worthy. Make a difference.”

“Resilience is a journey of grace and forgiveness — for myself and others. This phrase helps me feel grounded, hold myself accountable, reinforce my dedication to serving others, and know that we are all worthy of love. It’s been my go-to mantra throughout this time.”

—Elizabeth Blackney, activist, Williamsburg, VA

Turn fear into fuel.”

“I use this mantra as a reminder to myself that being scared is not a reason not to do something that could be productive, interesting, or put myself or my business in forward motion. And the added bonus is that if it is something I need to say this about, then typically I am that much more proud of the accomplishment when it’s done.”

—Suzy Haber Wakefield, apparel design consultant, Montclair, NJ

“I am the hero of my own life.”

“This is the title of a guided journal by Brianna Wiest, and repeating this mantra reminds me to always focus on what I can control, rather than what I can’t. It reminds me that nearly everything is in my hands and that I can choose to respond to whatever I’m faced with however I want. It also reminds me to consistently demand the best for myself: whether that’s how I spend my time, the projects I say yes to, or the people I work with. It reminds me not to settle for ordinary or to hold back when I know I have something worthwhile to contribute.”

—Jodie Cook, social media agency owner, UK

“Small progress is still progress.”

“Working in senior living and healthcare, this has been the mantra I’ve been living by during the pandemic. These are words of encouragement for those who have struggled. Our landscape has changed each day, often hour to hour, and everyone has brought something to the table to provide some hope and stability to our residents and families.”

—Tamara White, training and education partner, Kitchener, ON, Canada

“Breathe.”

“Whenever I start feeling out of sorts, triggered, or anxious, I remind myself to breathe. I then immediately start focusing on my breath, and with awareness, my breath automatically starts to change; it starts deepening and becomes fuller. This mantra is my reminder to expand on consciously deepening my breath. I stay in the moment, breathing in and out, which calms my body and mind, and grounds me. It works every time.”

—Donna Melanson, yoga teacher, Boca Raton, FL

“I have wisdom within.”

“One phrase that I have found powerful during this time has been ‘I have wisdom within.’ This small mantra reminds me daily to slow down the mind chatter and tune into the knowledge base that exists in my bones. It has been so powerful that I have shared it with friends as a way to remind ourselves to tune in and listen, versus tune out and give our power away.”

—Dr. Tricia Wolanin, clinical psychologist and community wellness consultant , Bury St. Edmunds, UK

“You are already everything that you want to be.”

“When I wake up in the morning, the first words that come out of my mouth are ‘You are already everything that you want to be.’ It’s my belief that most of us tend to want things from a place of lack which only attracts more lack. Knowing and stating that I already have what I want takes desperation out of the equation. It always helps me reframe.”

—Wemi Opakunle, author and coach, Los Angeles, CA

Do you have a go-to mantra that helps you stay resilient in difficult situations? Share it with us in the comments.

by Thrive Global