Friday, September 30, 2016

TGIF 9-30-16

Something to consider as we head into the weekend. Happy seeking.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Building Happiness

I am the architect of my own happiness. You might be tempted to believe that should make things easier but, if so, you might not understand how much works goes into being an architect. The answer is, lots of work; lots of hard work, even. Being the architect means being in charge, but there is nothing inherently easy about being in charge. The venn diagram of Things I Can Do and Things I Can Do Easily has very little overlap, with the circle on the former side being far larger.

Nevertheless, I am the architect of my own happiness. The power is within my hands if I choose to use it. Sometimes I don’t. The truth of the matter is, sometimes being happy is more work than it’s worth. Sometimes it’s just easier to ride out some particular storm of unhappy and let circumstances run their course. They usually do and, if they don’t, I can decide to engage the necessary level of work when I deem it to be necessary. To be honest, that’s still controlling my own happiness. It’s just about balancing priorities.

There is just as much work involved in controlling your happiness as there is in controlling your health. That is a venn diagram that is almost one singular, overlapping circle. Do things that promote improvement, avoid things that degrade the system, balance needs and pleasures, and take a break to rest and recharge when needed. Whether you’re talking about mental health or physical health, that same list works for either. The details will vary, obviously, but the details vary from person to person on one side or the other. You can probably safely eat more sugar than I can, but I have a hardier-than-average constitution against your common stomach bugs. We each have different specific needs for health, whether mental or physical.

There are some basic principles involved across the board, though. You’re not going to have the body of Adonis (or Venus, if you prefer) if you eat nothing but junk food and never get off the couch. You’re not going to be happy if you fill your mind with nothing but junk and never get off the mental couch either. You are the architect of your own happiness, but you can’t just wave around the nameplate with the fancy title and demand to be happy. You have to draw up the blueprints and take the necessary actions. Sometimes you will have to make difficult decisions. Sometimes you will even have to change your plans.

One of the key steps to being happy is to keep desire and reality on the same page. There are things you can do, things you can change, and things that just are. It is important to know the difference, and to work with things accordingly. If your wants are simple and wholly within your power, you will probably maintain an excellent degree of happiness. If nothing will do for you except that rain fall upward and and tires be square, you have virtually assured yourself of a miserable existence.

Understand that I worded that last sentence exactly right. You have created your own unhappiness. If you are unhappy because rain falls down instead of up, it is not the rain’s fault. Of the two, rain and you, one has volition and one just is. The laws of nature existed long before you were born and cannot be rewritten for every whim. You, on the other hand, know that, and can fashion your expectations to suit. Don’t set your heart on the impossible and then blame the universe for your decisions.

The impossible, though, is fairly rare when it comes to the heart’s desire. Some people want love in all the wrong places, but most people have a pretty decent understanding of at least the difference between possible and impossible. They might be a little too fixated in the improbable, but that objective is still attainable. Bad odds are still odds. They just require more work. Where most people run into trouble is in making things more difficult than necessary. It’s amazing sometimes how many of life’s greater challenges are self-inflicted.

An obsessive desire for reverse rain would be a self-inflicted unhappiness, but it would also be one that most people would readily identify as such. It’s when things become a little more iffy that we tend to get a little more confused. We do things like complain that this apple doesn’t taste like a banana, or that this magazine doesn’t look like that book, or that this song doesn’t sound like that album. The object we want is right there, and we even know where and what it is, but we still insist on demanding that something else fill its place. We are unhappy that one thing isn’t another, even while the other is available for the having. We could have both things to enjoy in their own selves, but we have nothing and then blame the things instead of our own stubborn refusal to take things as they are.

There are exceptions to every rule, and this one is no different. While it might be entirely possible to will yourself into happiness under the worst of circumstances, most of us have limits that we just can’t seem to cross. If I were locked inside a horrible prison or starving to death alone on a desert island, I doubt I could find the emotional fortitude to reset my expectations into a happy place, but those are pretty unlikely scenarios. The exceptions prove the rule, as they say, and they’re more about understanding that these things aren’t absolute than about proving them wrong.

In most cases, happiness depends on attitude, desires, and expectations. There are things you can do, things that you can change, and things that just are. If you know the difference, are honest about the differences, and work within the differences, you will probably find that happiness just comes more easily. You are the architect. The design is within your hands. Use your tools wisely and build a happiness you can enjoy.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Happy Hump Day 9-28-16

They say beauty is only skin deep, but real beauty comes from within.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

End Of Watch

I have just finished reading Stephen King’s End of Watch, the final book in the Bill Hodges trilogy, and I highly recommend it. If you enjoy well-written thrillers with quirky characters, you’ll enjoy this, even more so if you like those characters to be full of flaws and a long way from action movie stars. The trilogy follows retired detective K. William “Bill” Hodges, who gains new friends and a new lease on life when he takes on trying to solve his last unresolved case. That turns into a new business, new discoveries, and, ultimately, confronting some difficult questions. I’m not much for writing reviews - to be honest, I’m not much for reading reviews - but it’s a great ride that is quite worthy of King, though almost nothing like most of what people expect from him.

The reason I mention this here is because suicide plays a very large role in the stories. As is not uncommon for stories that feature a retired detective, Hodges is suicidal at the beginning of the tale, and a villain who tries to promote suicide is the trilogy’s primary antagonist. I don’t want to go too deep into spoiler territory, but it’s handled well, especially through the use of those flawed characters I mentioned, and it’s handled with hope. To put a nice, neat bow on it, King comes back to the subject at the end of his Author’s Note, reminding the reader to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if there is any need, and to not give up hope because, as he closes, “things can get better, and if you give them a chance, they usually do.”

Those who know me know that I am an avid Stephen King fan. I’ve read everything he has written, much of it multiple times. I’ve come to a conclusion over the years that I’m not even certain King, himself, is consciously aware of. While he is, of course, famous as the Master of Horror, Stephen King has written successfully in nearly every major genre there is. If you actually take a closer look at his body of work, you’ll find that he is almost more of a dramatist than a horror writer, and most of his work is compelling (and, as a result, successful) because of his fascination with and pretty solid understanding of human nature and the whole human condition. Almost every generation for the past thirty of forty years has had at least one groundbreaking drama or coming of age movie that was based on a Stephen King story. It’s true that he works fantastically well with the weird and the macabre, but there is another thread that runs through almost everything he has written (especially in the latter half of his career) that doesn’t get nearly as much attention: Hope.

I remember after the movie adaptation of King’s The Mist came out (easily one of the Top Five King adaptations), there was an interview where he praised the movie and talked a bit about writing the story. One of the things he commented on was the change to the ending. (This is years later, so I’m not worried about spoiling things here. Fair warning. Skip ahead if you don’t want to be spoiled.) The movie version ends with one of the most horrifying “How could you?” moments of movie history. The characters who have survived to this point, believing that all hope is lost, have just completed a round of murder-suicide to keep from being eaten by the monsters. The one character left, out of bullets, is bracing himself for the worst as thunderous noises rumble his way through the mist, only those noises turn out to be the army, and the day is saved. If the survivors had only held out for just a few more minutes … It’s gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, and terrible, and it made for quite a tragic ending. The original book ending was far more ambiguous. The narrating character searches the radio signals for signs of life, hears a single word through the static, and makes plans to go see if life has a chance. We don’t know what happens next. It could be as tragic as the movie ending, but it could also be a new beginning. Hope. In the interview, King said that he wished he had the guts to write the ending the way the movie had gone. Personally, I suspect he did consider it. The signs, the same waypoint markers are there throughout the story, but I don’t think King is wired that way, as much as he (and even many of his fans) think he is sometimes. Stephen King believes in hope. Most of the time, even his most horrific stories end with a lone survivor looking to some point in the future and believing there is a chance. That’s what it’s all about, that chance. One of King’s most controversial endings, that of his magnum opus The Dark Tower series, makes perfect sense when viewed from this perspective. It’s an ending of hope. It’s an ending that says, “Yes, we are going ‘round the wheel again, but this time you remembered, this time could be different.”

King’s idea of hope is never the Pollyanna sort, which is probably why I enjoy it so much. Bad things happen, and they’re going to happen, but good things happen too. It’s worth going on, because things can get better. The monsters are real, and often they are inside your own head, but so is hope, and hope is stronger, if you just let it be. Trust in The Light. It won’t always win, but it can. It’s a real hope, grounded in a very real world, despite the monsters. “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” (From the introduction to The Shining.)

Sometimes they win. That’s true, and it would be foolish in the extreme to ignore that, to pretend it wasn’t a factor, but Stephen King has spent a career demonstrating that we can win too. It doesn’t have to be easy to be possible, and it doesn’t have to be a guaranteed victory to be worth trying. Sometimes they win, but sometimes we win. Keep trying because it can get better. The story isn’t over until it’s over and, even then, sometimes the end is still not the end. Hope can be found in the most unlikely places, if we only look.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

TGIF 9-23-16

The way you get things done is by doing them. Have a great weekend.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Put It In Its Place

Regular readers of Frequently Interrupted will already know that the subjects of suicide prevention and suicide awareness are near and dear to my heart. I am a survivor, I have lost loved ones, and I have struggled with these and related issues for most of my life. It matters to me in a way that is difficult to fully express. It may be difficult to understand if you haven’t been through it. I couldn’t say, but I know that I will never put down that flag. I will never stop supporting this cause because it matters. In many cases, it is very literally a matter of life and death.

Toward that end, I promote the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on a regular basis (1-800-273-8255), and often promote stories I get from them and affiliated organizations to help raise awareness and to just help. September being Suicide Prevention Month, all of this is obviously in overdrive. One of the stories I recently promoted had a small exchange in the comments that got me to thinking, and I wanted to share that with you. It may be something else that helps. I won’t give names, because they’re not mine to give, but, if you’re reading this, thank you for your thoughts and thank you for speaking up.

One person commented that a loved one had committed suicide, and spoke of how difficult a subject this is accordingly, and the next person answered, with sympathy and understanding, “It never goes away if you have lost someone like this. You have to learn to put it in its place and go on with your life.” I read those two sentences several times and knew that I had to say something, not least of which being simply, “Thank you.”

It doesn’t go away. That’s a fact. It is sometimes an unfortunate fact, probably more often than not, but I’ll tell you a secret: It is occasionally, rarely - oh so very rarely - a fortunate fact. There are days when I look at some of the memories I have, and wish I didn’t have them. For those particular memories, I will always wish I didn’t have the specific reason to have them, but the memories themselves … Sometimes they’re worth having. Everything in life is a teacher. Everything, without exception. Some lessons are hard, and some teachers have to be just as hard. All of the lessons we have learned, and the lessons we are still learning, combine to make each of us the person we are today.

I know who I am, and I know where I am. I would like to think that I could have reached this point by a different road, and it’s certainly possible, but I also know what road I did come by. I know what turns I made, and I know where some of the turns I didn’t take were heading. There are probably alternate routes that would still have led here, but there were also routes that led nowhere. I learned things at different points along the way that saved my life. That is not an exaggeration. Maybe I could have found other ways, but the way I found worked.

Part of why it worked was because it taught me to put things like this in its place. One of the struggles with depression, and one that frequently leads to suicide, is that things don’t stay in their place. They bounce around, they get in each other’s way, and they cause the kind of mess that usually gets announced in the morning traffic report, complete with flashing lights and warnings to use alternate routes. Generally speaking, a person who commits suicide doesn’t want to die; they just can’t see an option anymore. Everything that is causing pain has jumped front and center, and is blocking out everything else.

What gets forgotten sometimes is that the same can be true for the survivors. Losing someone you love is devastating, under almost any circumstance. Under the circumstance of suicide? That’s a hole that can’t be described. It’s almost always at least something of a surprise, and then you beat yourself up wondering how you missed it, what you could have done differently, how much of this is your fault, and how much you could have changed. The questions pile up like stones in an avalanche, and, before you know it, the self-doubt and recriminations have taken up your entire world. Things can get as out of place for you as they were for the person you lost.

You have to put it in its place. It’s place is still with you, and it always will be, but it can’t be all of you. This loss can’t be all you have and all you see and all you know. That road leads to someone else having to ask the same questions. You have to put it in its place and go on with your life.

These things aren’t easy. Just knowing the proper place can be a challenge, and you’re going to make mistakes. Even once you have found that place and done what you needed to do, accidents happen. Something gets knocked over and rolls under the couch, and you sort of forget about it until you’re cleaning one day and there it is. The reminder makes it fresh and new as the first day, but it’s not the first day. You know that because you’ve already learned this. You’ve learned that you can go on, and so you do. You pick it up, you feel what you need to feel, you remember what you need to remember, and you put it back in its place and you go on with your life. Accidents happen, but they’re not your life.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs to talk, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, day or night, seven days a week. They can help you put things in place, and they can help you go on with your life. It might be hard today, but it’s worth living. You are not alone, and there is help.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Happy Hump Day 9-21-16

There is beauty all around you. Never forget. Sometimes you have to look.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Take Time To Breathe

"You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour." The attribution gets a bit messy, but I have doubts that it’s a real quote anyway. I think “Zen proverb” is more likely closer to the truth. It’s one of those things that gets said and said and said, probably with a word change here and there, given as “My teacher told me,” or “Joe’s teacher told him,” or “the Buddha once said,” or any other version of the telephone game you might care to describe. It is probably that none of them are true, even while they are all true. That’s a koan in the same vein, but we’ll return to that in a bit.

The aphorism above is often given as a genuine piece of advice. It may be one of the most common suggestions I’ve personally seen in meditation groups and articles and, while it’s a lovely ideal, it can also seem rather daunting. We tend to be on the go all the time, and twenty minutes can be difficult to find once, let alone on a regular basis. For people who have such trouble, the thought of giving up an hour is terrifying. Anything could happen in an hour, and by “anything,” I mean every wrong thing the Anxiety Beast can imagine. It has an amazing imagination, in case you were wondering.

Good news! You don’t have to sit in meditation for twenty minutes - or an hour! - to achieve the positive benefits of meditation. Ajahn Chah, founder of two major monasteries in the Thai Forest Tradition, so it’s likely he had some good ideas on the subject, said, "If you have time to breathe, you have time to meditate." While it may not seem like it some days, everyone has time to breathe. If you don’t have time to breathe … Well then, you’re probably not doing much of anything else, are you? "If you have time to breathe, you have time to meditate." Everyone has time to breathe, so everyone can benefit from meditation.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Observe the air coming in. Observe the air going out. Be intentionally aware of your breathing. You have just meditated. Congratulations. It’s that easy.

When you are drinking a cup of tea (or coffee, or water, or soda, or even beer - it honestly doesn’t matter), savor the taste, the feel, the temperature, the consistency. Don’t just notice in passing, but be fully present in the action of drinking, even if for just a single swallow. That, too, is meditation.

Watch a baby learning to stand, knowing that he was unable to even roll over in the past and may be running a marathon in the future, and all of this is embodied in this one moment.

Hug someone you love, and take a moment to reflect on the fact that you are loved in turn.

Count your steps as you walk down the hall. Feel the movement of muscle. Hear the tap of sole to floor.

Stand in the rain and notice the drops as unique, individual moments.

Do you begin to see the idea? Live your life. Be present in whatever it is that you are doing, and you are meditating. In his book The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, "Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality." That is the point, and that is exactly what makes meditation so helpful.

We are often so busy being on the go that we forget to stop long enough to actually be somewhere. We are just passing through, everywhere, all of the time, and because of this, we are passing by the experience of living. While we pass through our day-to-day existence, life is passing us by. The purpose and usefulness of meditation is in the reminder to stop and be present. Be where you are, even if only for a minute, a drink, a single breath.

Meditation can help you reduce stress, get better sleep, improve your health, and be more positive and alive overall. Most of all, though, it helps you remember to be you. It helps you to stay grounded so that you don’t get washed away in that rushing flood of activity you think of as living. Taking the time to experience everything as it is makes it easier to keep straight what everything is. It helps you to not get so caught up in all of the pieces that make up your life that you forget to live your life.

As with most things in life, the more you put in the more you’ll get out. If you take the time to meditate for, for example, twenty minutes a day, you will find it more beneficial than snatching stolen moments from time to time. If you are consistent about it, you will get even more benefit, following the normal Practice Makes Perfect rule. If you establish a consistent practice and make use of those additional moments when you can, the benefits just keep adding up. The more effort you make, the more benefit you receive, but any effort receives some benefit.

"You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour." I told you we would come back to this. It’s good advice. It really is. It’s just also usually misinterpreted. This is a Zen proverb, or koan, and the thing about koans is that they are not literal statements. They are thought puzzles. They are mental stimulants. They are often tools that are used in meditation to assist the practitioner think in a different direction than the usual. Twenty minutes a day of meditation is a fantastic practice, and is recommended by teachers all around the globe. Very few of those same teachers would suggest that a person stressed out from being too busy spend an hour a day in meditation. The frustration, alone, would probably interfere with any positive that might be expected. It’s not realistic, and almost certainly not beneficial. What they might suggest, however, in their own enigmatic fashion - say, perhaps, through the utterance of a koan - is that the person who is so busy take a moment to examine why. Are your priorities in order, and are they where you need them to be? Are you doing what you need to do to be a better you? Living a mindful live means being able to answer these questions. There are 1,440 minutes in the day. Think about it.

You’re not a placeholder in the universe. You’re a complete person with a life meant to be lived. Take the time to breathe. There are going to be times when life gets away from you - it happens to us all - but it’s your life. Remember that more often than you forget, and take the time to live.

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Friday, September 16, 2016

TGIF 9-16-16

Something to keep in mind as we head into the weekend.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Don't Forget To Laugh

We are far too often our own biggest stumbling block. We get in our own way and make things more complicated than they need to be. Then we complain because things aren’t going the way we want them to go. It’s a perpetual loop. I make it too difficult, then I can’t do it because it’s too difficult, then I complain because I can’t do it, then I make it more difficult because I’m frustrated, then … You get the point. It’s a vicious circle, and our own actions are the beginning, the end, the radius, and the diameter.

One of the ways that we do this is by being too serious. Everything is a challenge. Everything is a competition. Everything is a matter of life and death. Everything requires your game face, your A-Number-One effort, your highest concentration. Everything has to have your best at every moment or you’ll never get ahead, you’ll be a total failure, and you’ll never get another chance.

Nonsense!

None of that is true. In fact, most of that is the antithesis of true. The attitude that says All or Nothing is often why we end up with nothing. It’s not because you didn’t put enough effort into it, but because you thought you had to put too much effort into it. You were so busy being your best that you forgot to enjoy it. You forgot to be you, and you forgot to live life.

Life is not a contest, there is no scoreboard, and you are not in competition with anyone. The purpose of life is to live. While you’re taking everything so seriously and making it all so much work, life is passing you by. That’s horrible. The whole point of everything else you’re doing is to enable you to live your best life. If you’re not living, no amount of best effort will prevent all of that work from being wasted.

There are things that require a serious effort. That is true, and we should absolutely put a serious effort it when it is needed, when it is useful, when it will actually do the job. Most of the time, though, all of that serious effort isn’t doing the job. It’s making the job more difficult. Relax. Take a breath. Laugh. If it’s not actually a matter of life and death, or something in that neighborhood, you probably have some room to maneuver. You have space to breathe. You probably have a reason to laugh.

Laughter may not always be the best medicine, depending on what ails you, but it often goes hand-in-hand with the best medicines. Screwing on your Grumpy Face is not going to make you feel any better, but laughing frequently will. It’s cathartic, and it’s hopeful. How many times have you sat there crying with your best friend, commiserating over some heartbreak, when your friend reminds you of something silly that happened? You look at each other uncertain, then you grin, then you laugh, and then you feel better. Maybe just for the moment, and the problem isn’t solved, but you feel better. It helped.

This is something I learned as a kid. You see, being laughed at is one of the hardest things for some children, and it’s one of the central points of being bullied. You wore the wrong clothes, had the wrong haircut, or just walked with the wrong gait, and people point and laugh. They’re not subtle about it either. Right out in the open and making sure that everyone knows about it. To this day, the fear of being embarrassed, the dread of being laughed at, is still one of the most difficult struggles I face on a daily basis, but I’ve learned how to short circuit it most of the time. It’s different if I’m the one laughing at me. I can’t be the joke if I’m the one making the joke, and it helps me to remember that it’s not really so serious as all that. Let them laugh, but I’ll make sure they’re laughing with me rather than at me. The fear of embarrassment stems from taking things too seriously, but I can throw that off balance and cast it in a new light by being the one who laughs at it.

When you shift the balance in this way, it’s not the clothes that are funny. It’s the importance placed on the clothes. It’s not the haircut that is funny. It’s the importance placed on the haircut. You see things from a different angle, and that angle pulls away some rather harmful illusions. We get our priorities so out of joint sometimes because we don’t step back and look at things from different angles. When we finally do take stock and notice the absurd ways that we were trying to organize life, sometimes the only rational response is to laugh. Let it all out, take a break, and then see about putting things back together in a better order.

If you can’t laugh at yourself, you are taking things far too seriously. Life has a beginning and an end, and no one gets out alive. What you leave behind has far more meaning than what you try to take with you, and they won’t remember you for the big house or the fancy car. Oh they might appreciate them, and then they’ll use them and they’ll be gone. They won’t remember that A-Number-One effort, but they’ll remember that time you made them laugh. The good times we share are the best memories we make, and those almost always include laughter.

Do the work you need to do. There are serious things in life, and they deserve the effort you need to give them, but don’t let them be all of life. You are alive to live, so live. Make memories that will be worth sharing. Eat the cake, watch the sunrise, and don’t forget to laugh. Laughter makes most things better.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Happy Hump Day 9-14-16

The path isn't a straight line; it's a spiral.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Life Is Complicated

There is no doubt that life comes with plenty of challenges. I think anyone who would disagree with that assessment might be missing a few points, or perhaps has not yet had much experience with life. I don’t know, though, because even most children seem to catch on to this fact fairly early. Some, unfortunately, learn it earlier than others. Some learn it far too early, but it is something that everyone needs to come to grips with sooner rather than later. The sooner you can make peace with the idea that life is not easy, the sooner you can work out that it isn’t necessarily all that difficult either. It takes work, but it’s work you can do.

Having a positive outlook isn’t about looking at life through rose-colored glasses. You don’t need to pretend that it never rains or that bad things never happen. In fact, I firmly believe that having a truly positive outlook requires that you recognize the existence of bad experiences. You have to see them as they are. You just have to only see them as they are. It’s the difference between mindful acknowledgment and willful ignorance, as well as the difference between mindful acknowledgment and unhealthy obsession.

On the one hand, if you do not acknowledge negative experiences, you can’t do anything about them. Whatever is adversely impacting your life is going to continue to do so, and will likely pile up and add to the problems. Closing your eyes and whistling past the graveyard doesn’t keep the ghosts at bay. It just guarantees that you are caught unawares when they pounce. You have to know what life is throwing at you in order to figure out how best to respond.

On the other hand, giving too much attention to negative experiences isn’t do you any favors either. Focusing on the bad to the exclusion of the good is like watering the weeds and then complaining that you don’t have any flowers. The weeds need attention, certainly, but don’t give them too much or the wrong kind of attention. Give them the response required to keep them from killing your garden, but don’t reward them for being weeds.

The best response can be more obvious sometimes than others. If you are having financial trouble, you might take steps to get a better job, tighten up your budget, or, ideally, some form of both. You can see some relatively clear options, even though they may not always be relatively easy options. They may not be options you like, but they do present a path that gets you where you want to go. Sometimes, though, there is no external, physical change that you can make, in which case, you might need to make some internal, mental changes. If you had your heart set on becoming a world-famous concert pianist but you have the manual dexterity of a drunken gerbil, you have some deep soul searching to do. When you can’t change the outside, your happiness might depend on learning how to change the inside. If you can learn how to change the inside first - learn to change how you think - you’ll skip a few steps in this process. If your happiness depends on a desire to have rain fall upward, you’re in for a world of disappointment, but it’s disappointment you can fix. It’s up to you.

There is a Cherokee legend that has been making the rounds on social media lately. You’ve probably seen some version of it, but it bears repeating. An elder is explaining life to his young grandson. Grandfather tells the boy, "A fight is going on inside me between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too." The boy considers this for a moment and then asks, “Which one will win?” The answer is simply, “Whichever one you feed.”

This story is usually told in relation to good and evil, right and wrong, but the same applies to positive and negative in virtually any context. You have to acknowledge both - if you are at Ground Zero of a fight between two wolves, the last thing you want to do is ignore one in favor of the other - but acknowledging is not feeding. You don’t strengthen the one that is going to turn around and eat you when the fight is over. You have to support one. These wolves are, in essence, your own life, trying to determine its path, so you can’t just let them kill each other. Doing so would mean your own destruction. One or the other is going to win, and which one that is rests within your power to decide, so choose the one that is going to help you, the one that will be your partner and friend.

Life is not easy, but understanding that can make it easier. Far too often, the disappointments we face are of our own design. We build up expectations that reality can’t follow, and then complain when things don’t go our way. If we were honest up front, if we expected the difficulties and made them part of our plan, we could have been prepared and come out with a better result. Take care of your garden and feed the right wolf. If you are mindful in these things, you can have a positive life through rain or shine. Some days are more difficult than others - I know that as well as anyone - but they’re still just days. They’ll pass like all the rest. Take care of your garden and feed the right wolf. It makes a difference.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cycle Around The Globe 2016

Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day, and to raise awareness, the International Association for Suicide Prevention is hosting their fourth annual Cycle Around the Globe event. Because of the importance of this, I'm going to let their words speak for themselves. The below is from their website, which you can find here.

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Cycle Around the Globe is an inclusive and inspiring annual event hosted by the IASP on World Suicide Prevention Day, Sept 10th. This Cycle event signifies the joining together of people from across the world, and all sectors of society, in unity, to raise awareness of suicide in theirs and the global community through individual and group cycle events. Through the Cycle Around the Globe we share the message that suicide is preventable.

This is the fourth annual event. Each year individuals and organizations across the world cycled, and in some cases walked, to raise suicide prevention awareness. The total distances reached was almost six times the circumference of the globe!

Following last year's success, IASP is again this year hosting Cycle Around the Globe for World Suicide Prevention Day.

Again, the challenge is to collectively cycle the circumference of the globe, 40,075 km or 24,900 miles, and to have participants cycling on every continent. We are hoping, though, to exceed last year's distances. Please join us; it does not matter how far you can cycle; every kilometer or mile will help and there are no limits, you can cycle at home, in the gym or outdoors.

This activity is all about the global community spreading awareness of the importance of suicide prevention. This year's theme for World Suicide Prevention Day is Connect. Communicate. Care..

You may wish to take this opportunity to raise money for your local or national suicide prevention charity or similar organization. A sponsorship form will be made available to help you collect donations. If you wish to donate to IASP, all donations would be gratefully received.

An Official Participant label, which can be printed off and attached to your top whilst you are cycling, and a Certificate of Participation, which you can also print and fill in once you have completed your cycle will also be made available. Please check back again.

This is a great opportunity to spread the word of suicide prevention. We will have WSPD banners and Light a Candle postcards in many different languages on our website www.iasp.info/wspd, which can be printed and handed out, as well as lots more information on World Suicide Prevention Day.

We will, of course, be spreading the word on social media as much as possible. Please let us know how you get on, send in your photos and confirm how far you cycled and we will try to put together a total distance. We would also appreciate your support in promoting the cycle. Please tell others about the activity and encourage them to join in and, if you use social media please feel free to spread the word.

Join us and Cycle for WSPD and show the world that we are all connected in the aim of preventing suicide.

***

Me again. Thank you for helping us raise awareness for suicide prevention. Always remember, if you or someone you love is in crisis, you can always call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, 24/7 and someone will be there to help. You're worth it.

Namaste

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

World Suicide Prevention Day 2016

Please join us in helping to make this year's World Suicide Prevention Day a success. See below for some quick ideas, or visit the webpage for more.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Happy Hump Day 9-7-16

Always practice the Three R's.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Taking Stock

I like to take stock periodically, to spend a little time reviewing where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going. This helps me to stay … well, not exactly on track, but at least in the right neighborhood. That neighborhood doesn’t often have tracks, so we will certainly do more than a little wandering, but we’ll wander in a general direction, looking for some specific landmarks. Those landmarks get up and wander around sometimes too, but that just keeps us on our toes. No time for complacency when the landscape is part of the adventure.

This doesn’t just keep me going in the right direction, though. It also helps you to know what direction we’re even going, especially if you are a new reader, and some of you are. You might have gotten here by following a particular idea path and now have no idea what weird turns we have taken. There isn’t a map, per se, but I can draw you a rough sketch. Just understand that there are quite a few Here There Be Dragons or what gamers might think of as Fog Of War spots on that sketch. When you get right down to it, I only have a little more knowledge of our travels than you have, and that, sometimes, only moments before you. It keeps things interesting.

First of all, the primary purpose for this intellectual amusement park is what I think of as Zen Mental Health. The name of this place was going to be Finding My Zen before I discovered that name was already taken, so you see how much that idea means to me. Zen is the idea of being here, right here, present and at peace with this moment. It is something I have been studying and practicing for more than twenty years, since I had my breakdown and began my path toward living a full life with mental illness.

Which, of course, leads to the parallel purpose, which is the discussion of living a full life with mental illness. While I certainly could have stepped onto the path of Zen without having gone through my past, and many people do walk that path for a variety of reasons, we are each today composed of the cumulative moments of the past. Who I was then directly influences who I am now so, while I may have walked the same path, I would have entered it at a different location, walked at a different pace, and been in a different place today if I had begun from a different past.

I have lived with issues that include depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation for as long as I can remember. I was a nerd who was bullied. I am an unrepentant freak, who usually does a decent job of faking it around “polite society,” but I do occasionally forget. I am ex-military, ex-law enforcement, and a walking mashup of old fashioned ideals with new-fangled ideas. I want everything to be peaceful and loving, and will encourage that in every reasonable way I can, but I know how to be … otherwise, and will always strive to do what I believe to be the right thing at the time. These things have not always played well with each other, but they have learned to live with each other.. They are not who I am, but they are among the pieces that make up my mosaic. They are why I will always spend a significant amount of time highlighting these issues, and any issues that spring from these things. This is my journal that you get to see because it helps me to offer ways and ideas that might help you. It’s a circle, and I hope it remains an interesting circle, but it’s ultimately my circle, or it doesn’t make any sense.

I want to help build a better world, and I believe the best way to do that is to start with a better me. If every person focused on being better, the cumulative effect would be a better world, automatically. Building a better me is also where I can have the most direct impact. I can control me; I can’t control you. Nor do I want to. One life is more than enough work for me, thank you. I’ll be happy to be an influence and an example, though. If something I’m doing looks like it would work for you, have at it. Let me know if you have any questions. If we work together, the work gets easier.

These are the things I spend the most time with here because, frankly, these are the things I spend the most time with. Period. Anywhere. Like everyone else on the planet, though, I have a variety of interests and priorities that, while not receiving quite as much of my attention, still rank highly in my estimations. I also like variety, though that is something I struggle with. It’s a little too easy for me to get set into a routine, stuck in a rut, even, so mixing in some variety occasionally is borderline mandatory. Bad things happen when I get bored, and no one wants that.

Music, books, comic books, science fiction and fantasy, movies, history, science, learning in general. These are just some of my interests, and I do believe that following your interests is part of how you be better. The human mind tends to work better when happy, and we tend to be more happy when we’re entertained. Being human is kind of like being a stew, with all of the ingredients mixed together to achieve the right results. Some ingredients might be more important than others, but they all go together to form the whole, and the same is true about living your life. Anyone who tells you that happiness or entertainment are not important doesn’t understand the stew, or maybe has very bland taste in stew. I like my stew to pop, so I will keep throwing spice at it to keep it from getting dull.

I also don’t have time for things I don’t like. Life is short, and I will never manage to read every book I want to read, see every movie I want to see, and experience every song I want to experience. There just isn’t enough time, so I’m not going to take away from the time I have and give it to things that aren’t making my life better. Sometimes you have to address the negative - to defend yourself or to actually fix a problem, for example - but most of the time, it’s far more productive to just move on and focus on the good. It also feels better to be positive than negative. Spend more time promoting what you love than objecting to what you hate, and you’ll usually find that you have more if what you love and the rest just doesn’t matter as much.

I believe that rule applies to most of life: the more time you spend on the positive, the less the negative matters. Most of the time - not always, certainly, but most of the time - there are both positive and negative ways to address a situation and most of the time the positive way is actually the better way. I think there is already too much negative in the world, so I try not to add to it. I’ll do what I have to do, always, but I’ll look for the positive, and use it if I can.

I will also, of course, make mistakes. We all do. If I were a naturally positive person, none of this would be an issue in the first place, so I have to put in special effort and frequent reminders. It takes work, but I think the work is worth it. It helps to make me better, which helps to make the world better. Round and round and round we go. It’s a long path, but that’s not really an issue. Life isn’t about the destination. The last page is not the book. Enjoy it along the way, and learn as you go. I think that’s pretty much the whole point.

If you have been walking with us for a while now, you’ve seen most or possibly even all of this. You’ve seen the twists and turns and I hope you have enjoyed the scenery, detours and all. If you are newly joining us, I hope this sketch helps you to see what is going on. As I said, it’s not really a map, but it’s more than we might have otherwise. It helps, and that’s what we can do for each other. We walk together. We can’t walk for anyone else, but we can all help each other walk. I think we’re doing fairly well. How about you?

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Monday, September 5, 2016