No Strings Attached

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A true story: A homeless man was sitting on the curb in front of a gas station entrance, with his girlfriend. He was taking a break from waving a cardboard sign on the corner, asking for help from strangers. A man came out of the gas station, seeing the sign, and asked the homeless man if he needed anything: blankets, cigarettes, food, etc. The homeless man and his girlfriend agreed to cigarettes and a couple of energy drinks. The man came out and handed the requested items he had just purchased to the homeless man and his girlfriend. He then asked again if there was anything else they needed? Before they had a chance to answer, he told them to wait there and went back into the gas station. He returned a few minutes later with a rolled up wad of cash and handed it to the homeless man and walked away. The homeless man didn’t wait long before he opened up his hand to count the money. He was given one-hundred dollars! The homeless man ran up to this generous stranger and with tears in his eyes hugged and thanked the man for his kindness. He paused and said, “Most people who give me money ask me not to spend it on drugs or alcohol…But I have to be honest, I will probably use it to buy alcohol.” The man replied, “Use it for whatever you want. My friends and I are about to go the bar and do the same thing!” The homeless man was taken back. This had never happened before. Anytime anyone had given him money, there was always a stipulation of how to use the money. This act was one of kindness and non-judgment. The stranger gave his money with “no strings” attached and no expectations.

Upon hearing this story, I wondered if I could do the same. We may all think, “Oh, I could do that”. But the truth is, we are often judgmental. I am definitely one of those people that would hope a homeless person would use the money I give for food, shelter, or clothing (not drugs or booze). We give because it feels good and we want to help others, do we not? Yet, we believe and are often told by others that if we give booze to a drunk, we are a part of the problem and enabling their behavior. But even if this is true, we are making choices based on our own morals and standards, not theirs. When we donate money, we usually choose an organization that we believe in or want to support (i.e. animals, youth, homeless, the poor, political campaigns, local businesses, etc.). Do you think you could give your money away to someone without caring how it is used? We give to what we deem as worthy.

So this thought led to another. In the same way, could we love others without expectations? You see, we often do love with expectations. We love with the expectation that we are loved in return. We love with expectations that they will play a certain role in our lives. Can we love others with no strings attached? You may want to jump in and say yes; of course I can, but think about it for a moment. Just as we choose what organization to donate our money to, we also choose the people we want in our lives (or don’t want). When we look for traits in friends, we look for others that add to our lives, people that are generous, listen to us, help us when we need it, are thoughtful, fun to be around, and often that have a similar belief system. What if we loved others not for who they are (social status, religious affiliation, similar interests, etc.) or what they provide in our lives or the roles they play, but simply for the sake of love?

Some parents disown their children because they are gay or lesbian or transsexual, etc. Some siblings get into an argument and stop talking to one another. Some friends stop making an effort, lose touch, or decide that someone is not behaving as a friend anymore and they drop them from their lives. My purpose is not to judge or condemn these behaviors. I am simply providing examples of ways that some of us love with “strings attached”. We may not say it out loud or perhaps we are not even aware of our own thoughts. The next few examples are that of  a parent to their child, but are applicable to other relationships as well.

“I love you if you are straight.”

“I love you if you listen to me.”

“I love you if do what I want you to do.”

“I love you if you are a good boy or girl.”

I think we have many reasons why we love each other, why we value each other, why we care for each other and protect each other. I just wonder if our love can be for the sake of love, instead of love that comes with attachments or prerequisites. I wonder if I can have that kind of love for others; without roles, without expectations, with “no strings attached”. I do love people just because I love them, but sometimes I do get upset if they don’t make time for me or if someone hurts my feelings, but it is almost too easy to take things personal. It is like everything I can ever learn about people and life is summed up into one word…love. When I ask why should I be the better person and apologize? Answer: Love. What is my purpose here on earth? What is the point? Answer: Love. Are you seeing a pattern here? 😉

One poem that came to mind, while exploring this topic, was the “Do It Anyway” poem, by Mother Theresa. I don’t know if I can be like Mother Theresa or like Jesus who loved people “anyway”, and not because of the role they played, who they were, or what they did; but just because, for love’s sake, with no attachments.

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The Gift of Time

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This year for Christmas, I splurged and bought gifts for many people in my family as well as several friends. I felt that I have much to be grateful for and appreciative of and wanted to share that with my loved ones. While I enjoy the idea of also being spoiled with gifts, I am someone that values time much more than gifts. If I love someone, I crave their attention; and I love it even more, when I don’t have to share it with others. Sometimes, I get that feeling of loneliness when I am in a crowd of people, even if it is friends or family. But I don’t get that when I am with one person, that I love, and I am receiving their undivided attention. To me, that time means the same as saying, “you are important” and “I value you”. I think, lately, I have been feeling selfish for wanting that, but I am realizing that there is nothing wrong with wanting to spend actual quality time with people I care about.

“Time is money,” is a phrase I have heard often. This means that I am not the only person that believes in the idea that time is a valuable thing. We value and even protect our time. We make time for work, for appointments, practicing a hobby, time to eat, to sleep, and to see our loved ones. If we spend an afternoon watching TV or sleeping, some may say it was a “waste of time” and they start listing all of the things they could have gotten done instead. We feel guilty when we don’t feel we are “using our time” productively. When people die or pass away some may say, “They were out of time” or “I wish I had more time with them”.

Isn’t it ironic, that these days, when we are “spending time together”, we are on our cell phones or watching TV or some other form of distraction. It is rare to see two people talking without interruption or distraction of some kind. For me, when I was with my partner, I now look back and cherish the days we spent together “doing nothing”. When we stopped scheduling so many things, we just spent the day together walking to the park or cuddling in bed. We even “lost track of time”. When a couple starts having children, they may say they no longer get any “quality time” with each other.

Time is a gift.

In reality, time is actually irrelevant. What I am really trying to say, is that we should give each other more undivided attention. Just simply being present with one another is a gift, especially these days. Part of being present with one another is listening. Listening is a gift too. I do not mean hearing while distracted and thinking our own thoughts, or waiting for our turn to talk. I mean to really listen and try to understand what they are saying.

“The present is a gift, that’s why they call it a present”. 😉

So as this year ends and next year begins, I want to give the gift of time. I want to volunteer and share my time with others that need it. I want to give my friends and family more undivided attention and really listen to what they are saying. I want to give myself time: Alone time. Time set aside for me, where I can rest and rejuvenate. Time to explore life and figure out what I am meant to do or maybe just what I enjoy doing and being okay with that. Time to listen to nature and what the Universe has to share with me. Time to have fun: To laugh hysterically, sing loudly, dance wildly, and not worry so much (about time).

Wherever you are and whatever your view of time is, consider the fact that there are people who care about you and would love the gift of your time. Even if it were only a few minutes of your time each day, this could be a world of difference to someone. We don’t always remember to say it, but we really do value and appreciate the time we share with others. After all, “time is precious”.

 

 

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

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Why does it feel so difficult to make a decision sometimes? What is it that stops us or paralyzes us from making one choice over another? This is something that I often struggle with.  I want to dig in deeper and attempt to better understand the reasons why some of us may have a harder time with making decisions. Then I would like to uncover some solutions that could help with being a more confident and effective decision-maker.

One of the life altering decisions that has me feeling paralyzed is the big question of, “What do I want to do with my life?”. I am not one of those people that grew up knowing who I was and what I was meant to do. In high school I played sports and hung out with my friends. I was not thinking of the future or goals. Even after giving it more thought I felt stuck between what I wanted to do and what I ought to do, between my dreams and what was more practical. At the later age of 33, I am still baffled by this question. I  often wonder, “How does everyone else have it all figured out, but me?” or “Why don’t I know what I want to do?”. What am I so afraid of by making a decision? What will that mean for me?

I realized quickly, I am not alone, with this way of thinking. After reading many online articles, I discovered that many people have a difficult time making decisions due to the fear of failure. We are afraid to make the wrong decision. To take it a step further, many people (including myself) tend to have the habit of catastrophicizing, where you think of the worst possible things that could go wrong. This means, in the present moment, there are no real problems. We make them up in our minds, ahead of time, as excuses for why we cannot or should not do something.

Part of our fear of failure has to do with our fear of criticism. Though we are often our own worst critic, we care far too much about what other people think. This is something I have felt from a young age. “What will they say about me if I choose the path less traveled? Will I be more respected if I choose this profession over that one? Will I impress my friends if I am successful? Will they value me more because I have this skill? Will my partner think I am special? Will my parents be proud of me?” These are all questions that (subconsciously or consciously) go through my mind when trying to make a decision about my future career. Why do I care so much about what others think of me? Why do any of us care what others think is special or what their version of success is?

We grow up with our parents telling us what is right or wrong, our teachers telling us what to think, and our friends (in addition to the media) telling us what is cool or uncool and how to act. My older siblings constantly made fun of me; and reminded me often that what I thought was wrong, because I was too young or not smart enough. So all of these influences caused me to be a very insecure person, where I not only doubted my own decision-making ability but I thought I needed others’ approval, as well. I became the person that asked everyone I knew what they thought before making a decision for myself. I thought about the decision a lot, but in the end I trusted others more than myself.

Now, I would like to switch gears. How can we change our thoughts? I have recently read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. According to Tolle, those thoughts of self-doubt and fear of rejection is due to the “voice in your head” (a.k.a. our ego). The voice that tells you, you are not good enough and criticizes you constantly. This is the same voice you have been listening to since childhood. You believe it and listen to it. How can you begin to trust yourself if the voice in your head or ego is constantly telling you, you will fail? At the end of the day, you are the only one who really has to be okay with the choices you have made. In The Power of Now, Tolle talks about  how living in the now and quieting your mind (your voice) can help you be more aware and present. You see, the voice in your head is in control when you listen to the fears, the doubts, the criticism, and the shame. But if you are in the present moment, you are in control, your senses are heightened and you are making the calls, not your voice (ego).

One simple way that I am learning to quiet the voice or ego, is a form of mindfulness. I sit somewhere quiet and undisturbed, I breathe deeply, and I check in with my body and my senses. What do I hear? What do I feel? When I take my attention off of my thoughts and into the present, the voice is gone and I am only aware of what is now. That is when the answers come, in silence. Then you can learn to trust what you feel instead of what your voice says. Trust your own intuition, instead of caring so much about what other people will think. I’ve learned the hard way that by asking so many people you will get way too many answers. Make a choice in the moment and if it does not end up pleasing to you, then make another choice.

Sometimes I have noticed that just by making a decision, I feel much better mentally, than before when I am feeling unsure. Sometimes, it is the fear of uncertainty that makes us worry, as mentioned above. Trust yourself and your past experiences that guide your intuition. I am someone that values “walking the talk”, so I decided to go back to college at age 33 to earn a bachelor’s degree. I am starting out taking two classes and then I will declare my major. One class is Creative Writing and the other is Psychology. They are both introductory classes and I hope to get a better feel for which profession draws me in. Or maybe I’ll choose both! 🙂 After all, we can always make another choice in each moment. If we are just able to stay present enough to do so, I think we will realize that making a decision is not as scary as the power we once gave it.

R.E.S.T.

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Rest, is the last thing I thought I would write about, this week. Lately, I have been filling my schedule with appointments, open mic nights, and setting up dates with friends and family. Last weekend, for the first time, I didn’t have plans Saturday and Sunday. I did  work Saturday, so I could have Friday off to celebrate Thanksgiving a day later, with my family, who was in town. I came home from work, surprisingly full of energy and in high spirits. I sat down, at the kitchen table, looked around, and realized I had nothing to do.  This was not a common occurrence for me. At first, my brain panicked. I thought to myself, “It is the weekend, I ought to do something!” But when I began to list things that I could do, one by one, I declined them all. I moved to the couch to pet my (adorable and cuddly) cat, Daisy, and just sat there in silence.

So much of my life, I made plans to stay busy; and did things that I thought I needed, in order to be happy. I plan my to-do list, things like going to get groceries or going to the gym (something to be accomplished). I plan creative activities to keep my imagination active (writing, playing music, games, etc.). I plan time for reading, so I am always learning; and I plan time for my relationships (friends, family, partner, etc.). Are these things bad or wrong? No; of course not. However, I do not need all of these things or activities to feel happy. This was a huge revelation for me. I was at home, doing nothing, and I felt great! I had tons of energy, and naturally thought that because of this excess energy, I should make plans with a loved one or should get something done. For the first time, I had a weekend where I did stuff, but there was nothing I had to do. I just sat still and felt my own body’s reaction to each thing and gauged  by that reaction what I wanted. It felt good. It was peaceful. It was stress-free. I did not have ridiculous expectations of things to get done or people to see. I allowed myself to just be.

Winter, as much as some of us dread this season, is the perfect time for rest. The days get shorter and so naturally our bodies feel tired, earlier than usual. Winter, is a time to rest and a time to reflect. Haven’t you noticed how everything seems to slow down during the winter? The rain turns to snow and suddenly the pace at which it falls slows, softens, and becomes almost magical. The traffic, though sometimes frustrating, becomes slower and people are more careful with their driving (hopefully). People often choose to stay in with their families rather than go out. I’m not saying to completely stop your life or stay in and watch Netflix every night, but winter is a nice excuse to give yourselves a break. Allow yourself rest and rejuvenation. Our bodies and our minds need to time to heal, time to renew.

People seem to associate productivity with success. It is the common belief that if we are busy and constantly doing something, then we will accomplish more. While it is good to have goals, this is not necessarily true. People even sacrifice their sleep because they pass it off as a waste of time or believe it will interfere with their productivity. Meanwhile, others are skipping meals and think that as long as they eat one meal or replace it with energy drinks, they will get more accomplished. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. If we are not letting our bodies and minds rest, we are not functioning at full capacity; therefore, we are actually getting less done in a longer amount of time. I know when I get sleep and proper nutrition, I feel fresh and alert. Thoughts and ideas come to me faster, my body feels full of energy and less sore, and even my attitude is improved and ready to take on more.

Typically, my challenges for you to apply to your lives and “take home” often involve taking action. In this case, it is quite the opposite. I challenge (a.k.a. encourage) you to find time each and every day for rest. I am not talking about sleep, though I would hope you are getting your eight or nine hours of sleep every night. I am referring to time where you are doing nothing but sitting and relaxing. This also does not include your TV, phone, radio, or any other electronic device that this world has invented. This is you, being silent, allowing your body and mind to be at peace for at least 30 minutes every day. Are you up for the challenge? Let me know how it goes! Tell me what has changed, once you incorporated this new habit into your schedule? It seems like a silly thing, but I would not be surprised to hear back from several of you, that this activity of doing nothing, became the most favorite part of your day! Whether you are a mother or father or single or married, this is YOUR time. This holiday season, give yourself the gift of REST:

Recover

Energize

Simplify

Take It One Day At A Time