Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day #66, #67, & #68: Pleasure

It has been a fun and exciting three days! Enjoying being 30!

OK, to the serious stuff. As you all may know, I absolutely love Liz Gilbert and her book "Eat, Pray, Love." While in Italy, Liz learns to practice the art of pleasure. Pleasure, not crack open a six pack and watch the, divine, relaxing, do what you love pleasure. The Italians and Spaniard and French have seem to have perfected this art. Why not the rest of us? Jane Austen wrote, "“Why not seize the pleasure at once, how often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparations.”

I did something very out of character for me to today. I decided, just as Liz did, to engage in some much needed pleasure. OK, for some of you out there, get your minds of the gutter. I'm talking about slowing down, doing something I love, and leaving obligation behind for once. Yes, I have a hamper full of laundry that needs to be done, a dishwasher to be emptied, and a tub to scour, but you know what, it will all still be there tomorrow. On this beautiful Sunday, I slipped on my toastiest socks and yoga pants, planted myself on the love seat right next to the window in my bedroom, covered myself with a lovely fleece blanket, and curled up with my kitty and Edward and Bella (yes, I am not afraid to admit that I am reading the Twilight series). And you know what, I felt so incredibly happy. This is my pleasure....a soft chair, a warm blanket, and a great book.

I wish more of us would slow down and savor all of the things that bring us joy. Life is hectic and complicated, filled with duty, children, spouses, but so often, one's own heart and psyche stays neglected. I no longer want to lose sight of what my heart needs and what I need to feed my spirit. So, I have resolved to do things that bring me pleasure more often. I will strive to find a greater balance of responsibility and rest, duty and self-love, and necessity and pleasure. As Voltaire once said, “Pleasure is the object, duty and the goal of all rational creatures.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day #64 & #65: Pieces of me

What an incredibly long, busy and draining week. Not necessarily draining in a bad way, but nonetheless, an exercise in mental fitness. I keep thinking about the journey these last few months have been for me and the transformations I seem to make on a daily basis. I'd like to think of the "old" Michelle and the "new and improved" Michelle. What do I mean by this? Well, take this week for instance. Work was insanely busy, patients were very sick or dying, and there just hasn't seemed to be enough hours in the day to get things done. Now, the "old" Michelle would likely have pouted, threw a million and one excuses on the week, retreated to my cave, and sulked for the rest of the weekend. The "new" Michelle has learned that, yeah, things may get tough, and it's OK to feel overwhelmed and discouraged, but at the end of the day, a serene sense of being and a positive outlook makes even the worst day seem like a blessing.

I will not lie, I am really happy with the person I am becoming. I think everyone should fall in love with themselves. It's not about being conceited or self-absorbed, it's about just taking care of yourself and acknowledging all of the good and the beauty you bring to this world. I love that I can be quirky and intense, yet quiet and reflective. I like challenging myself with new words or new languages. I embrace my nerdiness! I also enjoy being kind to someone who may not expect it. I like to talk to people, and learn about them. And, I'm becoming a much better listener, because it's amazing what you learn when you stop and actually hear what someone is saying.

Abraham Lincoln wrote, "I do the best I know how, the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing it to the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me will not amount to anything. If the end brings me out all wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference." There is something invaluable about being your best self and doing the best that you can, even if the final output is not exactly what you had hoped for. It truly is more about the effort, more about loving yourself and giving your all.

So, according to a personality test from the Human Project, I am the following:

Neuroticism 58%
Extraversion 41%
Openness to Experience 96%
Agreeableness 85%
Conscientiousness 86%

"You do not usually get angry too easily but some things can annoy you, however you often resist any cravings or urges that you have, but sometimes you give in. You tend to feel overwhelmed by, and therefore actively avoid, large crowds. You often need privacy and time for yourself. Familiar routines are good, but sometimes you like to spice up your life with a bit of adventure or activity. You are tenderhearted and compassionate, feeling the pain of others vicariously and are easily moved to pity, however there are times when you believe that a certain amount of deception in social relationships is necessary, however you are mostly candid, frank and sincere. People find it moderately easy to relate to you. You are well-organized and like to live according to routines and schedules. Often you will keep lists and make plans."

Don't you just love the Internet :-) Whatever you are, or whatever the pieces that you are made of, you are you, and you deserve to love you. Yes, I may be neurotic, introverted, but I'm also open minded and kind hearted. I like that. So, I want everyone to do something, anything, that allows you to embrace yourself and all of your gifts. Euripides wrote, "There is just one life for each of us: our own." A lifetime is a long time to not like yourself. Give yourself a big hug and each and everyone morning say to yourself, "self, wow, I really do like you."

"At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time."
~Friedrich Nietzsche

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day #62 & #63: It's all about the 'tude, baby

Someone may be the most physically beautiful man or woman on the planet, but if he or she has a bad attitude, well then he or she is just down right ugly. A bad attitude really enhances the ugly, while a positive attitude amplifies the pretty. It really is all about the attitude. William James wrote, "The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind."

Webster's dictionary defines attitude as a mental position with regard to fact or state. Unlike personality which scientists considered fixed, attitudes change and develop with certain circumstances and experiences. Attitudes can be positive, negative, neutral, or a cocktail of all three. Psychologists believe attitudes are rooted in the ABC approach: affect, behavioral change, and cognition.The kicker with's all about choice. One can choose to put on a sour face and pout and have the ugliest worst possible attitude, or one can smile, exhale, and find that lovely positive attitude. Each morning you wake up, you have the choice to be in a good mood or bad mood, happy or sad, defeated or hopeful.

There are multiple benefits to a positive attitude. Those with a positive attitude achieve more, are happier, have more energy, inspire and motivate themselves and others, and cope better with the difficulties of life. The other thing, having a bad attitude just takes so much energy. It really is draining. I know many people with bad attitudes, and I am entirely convinced that they are exhausted inside because of all of the energy they are expending to maintain that constant negative state of mind. It might be a beautiful warm sunny day, but they might find one small negativity, and then the beautiful day is just destroyed.

So, to those suffering a bad attitude, I plead with you, I implore you, cheer up cupcake! There's way too much beauty in this world to live it with a permanent frown on your face. To those with a positive attitude, hooray! You got it baby! Just as Winston Churchill said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference." So smile more, laugh more, play more! Exercise that big great positive attitude muscle. Embrace how all of this positive energy changes your well-being. You have the power and the choice to have a good attitude. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, " Your own mind is a sacred enclosure into which nothing harmful can enter except by your permission."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Day #60 & #61: La Dolce Vita

Don't you just find the initial stages of meeting someone new exhilarating. It's like enjoying that amazing piece of 90% cocoa dark chocolate, eating it slowly, savoring each and every bite so that it lasts as long as possible. It's all about the initial anticipation, the hopefulness, learning all about this really interesting new person, and reasons to get dressed up and wear that great new dress. Dating someone new is like a horizon, and just like the horizon, the beginning of a new "something or other" is full of endless possibilities.

Like that fantastic piece of dark chocolate, the birth of a possible new partnership must progress slowly. I have been on the other end of the spectrum, with an alleged relationship moving faster than the speed of light, only to explode like the atomic bomb. My fatal mistake...I never took the time to really get to know someone before I jumped in. I was all about rainbows and fairy tales and finding the prince in shining armor. My rose colored glasses prevented me from seeing some major character flaws, that I would now like to think the smarter and wiser Michelle would now sniff out before a poor heart is broken. Maybe my mom had it right when she lectured to me on an almost daily that the key to a long lasting relationship is built on a strong friendship. C.S. Lewis wrote, "Friendship is born at the moment when one persons say to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one."

The great master Michelangelo did not paint the Sistine Chapel overnight. No, my escapades through the folly of relationships has taught me that like any great work of art, it needs to time to grow and develop over time. I'm also starting to realize that spending time with someone new, the first initial stages, are really some of the best to be had. It's like a runner's high! All of the adrenaline is just pumping through the veins, your head is swirling in a rush of delightful bliss, and everything just seems right with the world.

It's just nice to like someone, just really like someone. It was once said that "getting people to like you is merely the other side of liking them." Aristotle said "wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit." So maybe that's what we all need to do. Instead of diving into a new relationship without a life preserver, maybe we need to slow down, put that unripened piece of fruit on the window sill to ripen, let it turn a lovely color, and then enjoy it's savory sweetness when good and ready.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Day #59: The Eternal Optimist

No longer will I balk at the person with the overly sunny disposition. No longer will I cringe when I see someone with what appears to be a permanently affixed smile on his or her face. No longer will I shut my ears when I hear someone billowing in laughter. I no longer want to be the person with the snide attitude. The one who never sees the good in anything or anyone. I want to be the one who sparkles in the sunlight, who smiles even at the most mundane of things and laughs just because. From now I want to be one of the eternal optimists.

The Oxford dictionary defines optimism as "hopefulness and confidence about the future or successful outcome of something; a tendency to take a favorable or hopeful view." Webster's dictionary defines the word as a "doctrine that this world is the best possible world; an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome."The word is derived from the Latin term meaning "best." There are thousands and thousand of sites out there on how to become an optimist.

I love the words hopefulness, confidence, success, possibility. They are beautiful sweet arias to my ears. Why do I love them so much, and why have I become a converted optimist. Plain and simple...the world is a much more beautiful place when lived with optimism. A study at the University of Pennsylvania found that learned optimism decreases rates of depression and improves overall physical health. Scientists have also found that optimists are better achievers, are more resilient, cope better with stress, and live a longer, healthier life. While some of the lucky among us possess the innate ability of sustained optimism, others of us are not as lucky. Not to fret though....optimism, like most positive attributes, can be learned and practiced. Avoid that negative environment or negative acquaintance, and fill life with happiness, warmth, and positively uplifting people.

Winston Churchill wrote, "a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." There are so many difficulties in life, but what a gift to see these seemingly insurmountable obstacles as opportunities of a lifetime. From this point forward, I choose to lead a life full of optimism. I choose to see the good in everyone and everything, and see the positive in the most ugly of situations. I remain cautiously optimistic about the prospect of love, and allow my heart to open to all of the possibilities. I will smile and laugh and play like a child when appropriate. Christopher Peterson wrote in 2000s American Psychologist, "There is abundant reason to believe that optimism-big, little, and in between-is useful to a person because positive expectations can be self-fulfilling." My optimism will be my self-fulfilling prophecy. And as an optimist I believe that my future is a bright shining star, brilliantly glowing in a perfect sky.

The Optimist Creed
by Christian D. Larsen

Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

Talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.

Make all your friends feel there is something in them.

Look at the sunny side of everything.

Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

Give everyone a smile.

Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others.

Be too big for worry and too noble for anger.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Day #57 & #58: Black and white and all shades in between

I have learned one very important thing over these past few month-you cannot live life in black and white. It was once written that "life is like a rainbow. You need both the sun and the rain to makes its colors appear." Life is one big techno-color dream. A groovy, trippy, out of this world existence. Some choose to marvel at the colors, while others work very hard with their pink eraser to get rid of them.

I'm really starting to enjoy the colors. I wish I could say that I've always lived life in some beautiful 64 count crayola box. Sadly, I lived many days in a a very divided state...things were either black or white and absolutely no other possible shade of gray. Few things in life are concrete and perfunctory. Sure, the engineer or the physicist might argue with you on this point. I remember my lab rat days laughing at psychology majors thinking...."ha....that's a soft science (i.e. not a real science)." Now I'm starting to realize that there is real truth to the psyche, and that a healthy psyche is anything but extreme. I've come to this conclusion, looking at life from extremes is dangerous.

How is it dangerous? Well, think of all the energy needed to fit everything into a nice little box, labeled either black or white. Tough, right? It's like trying to force the round peg through the square hole. It's not going to work. Yet, so many of try and try to do it to no avail. Joseph Collins wrote, "By starving emotions we become humorless, rigid, and stereotyped; by repressing them we come literal, reformatory, and holier-than-thou; encouraged, they perfume life; discouraged the poison it." It's so much easier to allow the waves to crash than to hold them up with bare hands.

Life needs to be lived like a rubber band, not a fixed piece of wood. Sometimes you will need to stretch yourself a little further, or retract, or find equilibrium. Either way, you need some leeway. The other problem with living a black and white existence is that it leaves no room for the spontaneity of life. Spontaneity is the stuff that life is made of. Every heard the old quote, "We make plans, and God laughs." We have to allow for the surprises in life. I've yet to meet someone who followed a dream, moved to a new city, met the love of his life, and then ten years later griped and moaned about the whole experience.

So, I am now enjoying my crayon box. I'm even throwing in some vibrant oil paints and dainty watercolors while I'm at it. I'm going with the flow and enjoying the ride. Gone are the days of black and white. Hello color!! Besides, I look better in a rich shade of pink then a dull black sweater any day :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Day #55 & #56: Take me the way I am.

Have you ever noticed that some of us either instantly or gradually morph into our significant others? This reminded me of a passage from Liz Gilbert's book, "Eat, Pray, Love" when she describes an instance when she was having dinner with her friends and her most recent flame. When they both got up and got ready to leave the party, Liz's friend points out to her, "You know Liz you used to look like your ex-husband, now you're starting to look like David (aka the latest boyfriend)." Ouch, just as Liz described it, that's a major slap in the face.

Why is it a slap in the face? After years of female suffrage and equality for all, a comment that you are gradually turning into your partner is down right insulting. Romantic partners are not twins. They are each others complements. Long gone are the days of the man ruling with the iron fist and the woman behaving subservient and passive. The joining of two people has become a partnership, or the act of participation, association, and joint interest as defined by

For years I have been the woman who twisted and transformed herself into the morph of her partner, only to lose myself in the process. And all for win the affection and love of a man. Why had it never occurred to me that maybe just the simple act of being me is the catalyst to get a man to love you. No wizardry or dark magic. The simplest and easiest thing you can do...just be you. Here is the other clincher, if he doesn't love you for who you truly are, meaning your genuine self, then he doesn't deserve you to begin with.

John Jakes wrote, “Be yourself. Above all, lett who you are, what you are, whoat you believe, shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish." The moral of the story...when it comes to relationships, the best you is the real you. That is the person that deserves love and has the capacity to give love. No body wants a fake diamond or a fake Fendi. Why in the world would they want a fake you? Just like any fake, the real thing is hundred times better and worth the exorbitant price of owning it. You are worth it! You are priceless!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Day #53 & #54: A true friend is forever

What would any of us be without our closest girlfriends? I can say for sure that my life would not feel complete. On a daily basis, I am thankful for all of the blessings in my life, and especially all of the wonderful people that I have been privileged enough to call a friend. These remarkable people have been with me through the happiest and lowest points of my life, and in many instances have carried me through when I thought I couldn't survive.

I have incredibly fond memories of silly evenings hanging out, talking about life and love and, of course, boys...struggling through school together; salsa night; shopping trips; manicures and pedicures; girls' night out to fabulous restaurants; vacations to exotic locations; running half-marathons and marathons; picking out a wedding dress or standing next to her as she took that momentous step; bridal showers and baby showers; holding a precious baby and introducing him or her to all of her little "aunties". Of course, my girlfriends have been there for me when I needed to cry my eyeballs out after yet another broken heart. When life felt as it the entire world was collapsing around me, my girlfriends were there to shelter me and keep me standing. The big girlfriend rule is, and always will be...if she needs you, you are there; even better if you bring along tissues and cookie dough ice cream.

Very few people understand me as well as my closest girlfriends. Yes, I can be moody and indifferent, quirky and dry, intense and persistent, but they love me just the same. My girlfriends are vital to my existence. Men may come and men may go, but there is never a doubt in my mind that my best girlfriends will always be there. I have vision of growing old and swapping stories of children and grandchildren, comparing gray hairs and wrinkles, and leaving our husbands/boyfriends/partners once in a while to catch up and have that much needed girls' weekend.

Plautus wrote, "Nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is really a friend." How true. Each friend is a blessing, and if I had to count up all of he blessings in my life, I could easily say that I am one blessed woman. I think all women need a core group of girlfriends. In fact, I think it is essential. As you walk through life, acquaintances will come and go, men will come and go, but the indescribable bond that is formed between girlfriends will stand the test of time.

“You meet people who forget you. You forget people you meet. But sometimes you meet those people you can't forget. Those are your 'friends.'”

Friday, October 15, 2010

Day #51 & #52: mortality

Turning thirty has taught me many things. The most profound thing I have learned is that life is fragile, and none of us are promised tomorrow. I look back on my younger years, and I think how invincible I felt. I could do anything, I could be anything...nothing would hurt me. And then I grew up. I surveyed my surroundings and realized that life is not an indestructible steel rod, but a beautiful crystal vase easily shattered.On a day to day basis, I see people come into this world and taken out of this world. What was it about 30 that suddenly caused this awakening within me? Why at 30 have I finally decided to grapple with the idea of mortality?

I always think of my patients when I have a bad day. Sure, the light bulb needs to be changed, there's no milk in the house, and I desperately need to shampoo my hair. Then, I think of the people I care for day in and day out. I wonder, how would I react if diagnosed with cancer? Would I curl up in a little ball and wither away to nothing, or would I face it head on, armed and ready to go into battle? I'm not sure. It's perplexing to think of ever being put in that situation. It's always the same, "it's never me it's someone else." And then one day it is you or someone you love or someone dear to you.

My patients have taught me that each day needs to be lived to the fullest. Life is a precious gift that should never be taken for granted. Each breath, each beat of a heart is the most miraculous wonder in the world. I wish I could express how deeply my patients have changed me, and how much gratitude I have to them for teaching me about living life to the fullest. Despite adversity, pain and horrible sickness, many of them continue to trudge ahead. They are my heroes. I think we all stand to learn something from a person suffering from a chronic or fatal illness. Life throws curve balls, and it is a struggle some days. The fact of the matter is a life lived with purpose and intent is a life well lived. It is cliche to say, but live each day as it is the last, and be thankful for each and every additional day you are granted. Find joy and love in the simplest of things. And above all, tell each and every special person in your life on a daily basis how much they mean to you, and how much you love them.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” -Albert Einstein

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day #50: Forgive me Father, for I have sinned

OK, I am going to say the one thing you're not supposed to say (and ladies you know I am right about this), we judge. Who do we I don't care if you've declared from the top of Mt. Everest, "I'm just looking for that nice guy with a great personality. It doesn't matter what he looks like" are lying. Whoever said "never judge a book by it's cover," obviously was looking at the book in dim lighting. We judge. It's human nature. It's the law of physics, attraction, and chemistry all rolled into one. Plain, pure, and simple, attraction is a big part of the relationship equation.

I read somewhere that when women are looking at a man's dating profile online, the first thing they look at is the picture. If they don't like what they see, then they're not going to read the rest of the profile, and they're going to swiftly press "delete." Harsh, I know. Multiple studies have been conducted on the science of attraction. One study found that physically attractive traits include high degrees of bilateral facial symmetries, such as eyes that are identical in shape and size, and waist-to-hip ratios of 0.7 for women, and 0.9 for men. So, then, I'm not off mark if I don't particularly care for his crooked teeth, or the way he holds a fork (long story). I wasn't crazy when I went to the bathroom 30 minutes into a dinner date, desperately calling my dear friend Missy for some kind of emergency, ANY kind of emergency!!

Of course, there's more to it than meets the eye. Physical attraction coupled with a mental connection is just the spark needed to ignite the fire. You can't have one without the other. I have met many a wonderful man in my time, but without that physical attraction, there just isn't a spark. On the other hand, you could be out with the next Adanis, but if those little neurons aren't firing fast enough to keep up with what's coming out of his mouth, well, then you're still out of luck.

I wish I could say that we never judged someone by the way they look. However, the harsh reality is, when it comes to finding a partner, we're kind of program to do so. My favorite, Jane Austen wrote, "There is safety in reserve, but no attraction. One cannot love a reserved person." I'm sure Ms. Austen's definition of reserved is much different than my own, but the fundamental point is reserve only gets you so far. For the rest of us, we sometimes need carnal, raw passion that only attraction can bring.

You know what, there is some guy out there that we once dated many moons ago, and he also judged us! I have no doubt I've gone out with some guy who said to himself, "Ewww...not so much. How quickly can I get this over with." It's ok. You're not hurting my feelings. Attraction is subjective, and as I've muttered before, we do it too. It's all about finding the complete package. One in which the good far outweighs the bad, because none of us are perfect. We are all waiting for the person that causes a chemical reaction within us. One that mutates cell structures and rips apart DNA. In the mean time, just have fun. If you judge, you judge. So be it, but above all, mind your Ps and Qs, and just because you many not find someone attractive does not mean you cannot show them your kindness.

"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed." -Carl Jung

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day #48 & #49: I am my best friend, NOT my worst enemy

Robert Thorpe wrote, "we have to learn to be our own best friends because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies." I have come to the conclusion that for many of us we are our own worst enemies. I keep wondering why this is. Has our self-esteem just not yet matured, or were we not loved enough as a child? There are probably more reasons than I could possibly count. Whatever the reason, it needs to stop. Helen Keller wrote that "Self pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in the world."

I was, without a doubt, my own worst enemy. I could do nothing right. My existence was futile, at least in my mind, and my contribution to this world was minimal if nothing. It now amazes me that when I looked back at my accomplishments, the "enemy" part of me always found a negative counteraction. I ran the marathon...."yeah, but I should have run it faster." I got a master's degree...."yeah, but really, I should get a PhD." I go above and beyond sometimes at work...."yeah, but really I should be doing more." Why did I do this?! Why do we do this?! When will we realize that all of the amazing things we do are worthy of praise.

It's time to the stop the madness. Each one of us should stand in front of a mirror, and take a good hard look at what it standing in front of us. This is not some meek, worthless, unaccomplished image. No, it's a phenomenal human being that has far exceeded expectation, and who has even more to contribute. I love Mae West, and leave it to her to say the following, "I don't like myself, I'm crazy about myself." I don't care what anyone thinks, but this broad got it right. We should be crazy about ourselves. We should celebrate who we are, and above all, we really need to stop minimizing or dismissing all of our achievements. From this day forward, my goal will to always be my own best friend.

It's inevitable, and it's human, all of us make a mistake or screw up. However, dwelling on what went wrong or rehashing the mess that was made is pointless, and just bad for the psyche. Thoreau wrote, "what a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates his fate." Give yourself a big hug everyday, love yourself above all. There comes a point in life when the wounds of the past must be mended, and we must finally accept that we are, and always will be, or own best friends. And, I don't know about you, but I dare anyone to talk shit about my best friend.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Day #46 & #47: One word...why?

I believe there are days in life when it's as if the world is slowly imploding around you, and all you want to do is crawl into a dark corner and hide. Maybe it's a basic human instinct....the need to feel safe and protected. It's has if this dark looming cloud envelopes you, and nothing you do or try can release it. It is days like this that lead me to ask one little question...why?

How many of us have found ourselves on our knees or lying on the ground staring at the ceiling, tears streaming down our faces, crying out...why, why, WHY??? I have been told by many pious friends of mine that God only gives you what He feels you can handle, with His help of course. Today, I looked up at the sky on my walk, eyes fixated on the heavens above, and simply thought to myself, "dear God, I love you, but you gotta give me a break. I'm tired." Of course, accompanied with this very perfunctory statement, came the elusive follow up question, "God, why did you give this to me? Have I done something wrong? Do you really think I'm that strong?"

I'm not sure if I have a good answer to any of it. Perhaps, it's just not meant to be answered. Maybe, I need to stop trying so hard to figure it out, and just let the answers come to me. Am I strong? I suppose so. Do I feel I can handle what God has handed me? Hmm, so far so good. The deep underlying question, however, is for what reason? The reason...I have no clue.

I can think of all the difficulties in life, all of the pain, and heartache, the tears, the moments of complete and utter despair. It's as if part of me has welled them up inside, and only now, when I have reached the ripe old age of 30, I can finally understand that I need to let it go. Maybe God is trying to tell me, enough. Yes, He's given me difficulties in life, but He has also given me free will and the tremendous ability to forgive and to love. He's also granted me beautiful and wondrous moments in life, for which I am grateful. Maybe, there's just not one concrete answer. Life tends to be a myriad of shades of gray, as opposed to the distinct black and white. I think at this point, I will stop asking why, and simply start listening. I will listen to my heart, my feelings, and to the little clues that God seems to be whispering in my ear, that I have yet to hear. I'm not sure what it will eventually bring me, but it has to be better than the present circumstances.

I found a beautiful quote that Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh. He says, "Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Hmmm...maybe, just maybe, God is standing in front of me, arms waving, blow horn in hand, and trying to tell me, "yes, I've given you a lot, but remember this, you are braver, stronger, and more able than you think. Give yourself more credit girl. I think you're pretty darn spiffy, and I made you."

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer." ~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Friday, October 8, 2010

Day #44 & #45: Let's play the dating game.

Dating is a tricky sport. Some of us are Olympic champions, while others of us are the Jamaican bobsled team of dating. We try and we have the heart, but we're just not very good at it. I think after years of dating, it is very easy to become cynical and jaded. However, I think most women, including myself, have not been playing the game correctly. Many of us have turned it into the quest of finding "the one," instead of just enjoying the game.

Whenever I think of the woman desperately in search of her knight in shining armor, I think of Charlotte from "Sex and the City." I will never forget Charlotte declaring, "I've been dating since I was 15. Where is he!" She is what I'd like to call the quintessential "hunter." She is always in search of her knight, imagining the china pattern they would pick out, the wedding dress of her dreams, his last name next to her first name, and how many children she and her "prey" will pop out. And, of course, Charlotte imagines this all on the first date! She's got all of it planned out even before they are done with appetizers. Tricky, very tricky....

OK, so here is my confession, I used to be that girl. Dating to me was not about having fun and getting to know someone. No my friends, it was all about finding "the husband." This is what makes a bad dater. Now, of course, this isn't to say that we don't get to a point in life where we are ready to settle down with the right person. The problem is when that one notion consumes you so deeply that you forget to just go out, be yourself, and have fun. It's all about an agenda and a deadline. This is what gets us in trouble.

So, from this day forward, I am putting my ammunition away and bringing in the search party. My goal is to date with no expectations. Rather, I will enjoy the ride. As my dear friend Amy says, "Your cake is already fabulous! He's just the icing!" So, if I find my sweet butter cream icing, well, that would be just wonderful. If not, I know my cake is wonderful enough to stand on its own :)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day #42 & #43: the pursuit of happiness

I have been reading a book entitled, "10,000 Things to be Happy About." This is a book compiled by a professor who kept meticulous notes and journals throughout the years of all of the things that brought her happiness. What I find so intriguing about this book is that she really finds happiness in the most simplest of things. The finds happiness in the softness of a rug under her feet, junk in the attic, and, believe it or not, a clean litter box. I have been thinking about what are "my little things" that make me happy, and if the recognition of these "little things" only amplifies the happiness.

Happiness means many different things to every one of us. A beat salad with arugula may be the highlight of someones day, while another may struggle to get it down. This of course, is the subjectivity of life. The tricky thing is figuring out what makes us happy, and then sustaining that happiness for as long as we live. No easy task, but then again, nothing is life is ever easy. And, I can say for certain that a little bit of work to find my happiness sounds a thousand times better than a lifetime of misery.

Buddhism teaches that one's own happiness comes from forgetting one's individual happiness and focusing on the happiness of others. This is the path to self-enlightenment. Christians believe that following the teachings of Christ will bring every lasting joy. Judaism teaches that happiness is a state of mind, while Islam believes that complete surrender to Allah is the path to happiness. Whatever you believe, the core principal of all practices, beliefs, and life for that matter is the pursuit of pure and unending happiness. I'd like to try an exercise. Just like the professor I discussed above, maybe we all need to make our list of what makes us happy. Maybe it's more that we need a daily reminder to be happy, to look and see all of the things that make us happy, and realize that we are never without them. So, I will get started, and I encourage each and everyone of you to create your list, and follow your path to happiness.

What makes me happy:
1. my family and my friends
2. handing an airline attendant my boarding pass and getting on that plane
3. my furry little kitty cat curled up next to me under the covers, even if she is sticking her butt in my face :)
4. fresh homemade seltzer
5. buying produce from the local farm
6. mornings when I get to sleep in
7. real cream in my coffee
8. a shelf full of books
9. watering my plants
10. a good hair day :-)
11. fresh cleaned clothes that are folded and put away
12. getting real letters, not emails, in the mail
13. my soft sofa
14. pumpkins
15. pumpkin pie!
16. shoes ;)
17. rainy days where I can stay in my jammies and do nothing
18. a good book
19. shamelessly watching some reality TV show
20. NPR in the morning
21. old photos of family and friends
22. poetry
23. buying new running shoes
24. the Fall, and anything and everything associated with it
25. writing
26. giving someone a hug that isn't expecting it
27. rare meat, yum!
28. sushi
29. a tank full of gas
30. an organized sock drawer
31. getting all of my bills paid for the month
32. silence
33. getting my passport stamped
34. being on time for anything
35. this list

to be continued....

"Optimist: Person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness." Mark Twain

Monday, October 4, 2010

Day #41: The day the earth stood still.

Have you ever had a day that was so startling, so shocking, that the world feels like it has come to a screeching halt, and time stands still. It almost feels as if you're an extra in a movie, instead of the star of your own life. This has been my day. I will spare everyone the gory details, but the fact of the matter is this day in many ways is a rebirth for me. It's the first day that I have stood up on my own, and really and truly believed that I can and should depend on me.

Maslow's theory of hierarchy states that the highest level of human achievement is that of self-actualization. Self-actualization is defined as "What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming." I wonder how many of us go through life lacking this crucial piece. Is it that something in our past has prevented the development of self or has our true self been squashed and beaten into submission by someone or something that felt threatened. I'm not entirely sure, but it seems that a life lead without self-actualization is more of an existence than actually living.

Here are Maslow's characteristics of self-actualized people:

* Acceptance and Realism: Self-actualized people have realistic perceptions of themselves, others and the world around them.

* Problem-centering: Self-actualized individuals are concerned with solving problems outside of themselves, including helping others and finding solutions to problems in the external world. These people are often motivated by a sense of personal responsibility and ethics.

* Spontaneity: Self-actualized people are spontaneous in their internal thoughts and outward behavior. While they can conform to rules and social expectations, they also tend to be open and unconventional.

* Autonomy and Solitude: Another characteristics of self-actualized people is the need for independence and privacy. While they enjoy the company of others, these individuals need time to focus on developing their own individual potential.

* Continued Freshness of Appreciation: Self-actualized people tend to view the world with a continual sense of appreciation, wonder and awe. Even simple experiences continue to be a source of inspiration and pleasure.

* Peak Experiences: Individuals who are self-actualized often have what Maslow termed peak experiences, or moments of intense joy, wonder, awe and ecstasy. After these experiences, people feel inspired, strengthened, renewed or transformed.

There are of course the critics that say Maslow is full of bologna, and that there is no scientific validity or acceptable manner which to test this theory. But this is such the scientist talking. Maybe there is more to it than data with a P value of <0.001, or reproducible science. Maybe it's so much deeper than that. I like what Maslow has to say. I like the idea of autonomy, realism, acceptance, spontaneity, experience, and yes, even solitude.

I found this wonderful poem on a site that goes something like this:

Mirror, Mirror

I look in the mirror and what do I see?
A very wonderful, special me!
With pretty eyes all shiny and bright,
My smile show my teeth all pearly white
It certainly is great to be
This very wonderful, special ME!

~author unknown

So what do I see when I look in the mirror? Have I reached self-actualization? When I look in the mirror I see a strong beautiful woman. I see all the potential and desire that lives inside of me, just waiting to escape. I see a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a niece, a cousin, a friend. I see a wife to be, a mother to be. I see a caregiver and a scholar, a writer and artist. I see kindness and compassion, and most importantly I see the readiness and willingness to give and receive love. Maybe this is what Maslow had in mind. Buddhists believe that love is wanting others to be happy, and that love is unconditional and requires courage and acceptance, including self-acceptance. To love self is to love others, and to love others is to be happy. On this day of days, I believe within my heart that love is and always will be what will carry us through, and for that I choose to love unconditionally, with courage and acceptance.

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” -Mother Teresa

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Day #39 & #40: Finding my religion.

So much happens at 30, at least so much has happened for me, and not merely on a physical and mental level. I've started to begin this transformation that to me feels metaphysical and spiritual, and part of it is really discovering who I am. I was out today taking a walk, hopefully not to the dismay of my physical therapist, and my goal throughout the entire walk was to take in ever sensory experience I could...I felt the cool Fall breeze on the tip of my nose, I smelled the lovely smell of fresh fallen leaves, I saw the tapestry of color that comes with the season, I heard the toil and chatter of a pre-teen soccer game, and I tasted the burning embers of a blazing fireplace. You see, to me, this is my spiritual place, this is my church.

I've been searching over the past year to figure out what "religion" suits me best. I was raised Catholic, and although I appreciate and respect the beautiful traditions of the faith, to me I've always felt disconnected. To me, church has never been a place where I feel close to God. It's more of a place for ritual and practice, and that has never appealed to me in the spiritual sense. I've always felt closest to God when alone, or at least alone in a physical sense...just me and God one on one, amongst the beauty of nature. I often have this conversation with God that goes something like this, "Hey God, it's Michelle, again, how are things in the universe?" And he would reply, "Just stellar my darling. It's good to hear from you again. We really should catch up more often."

I'm not convinced that one creed, or one religion, is the right and most divine path to God. Yes, I do believe in Jesus, but I also believe in Buddha, and Moses, and Shiva, and me they are all vessels for God, and not one or the other is more important. It has always seemed silly to me that the human race finds some inexplicable desire to fight over religions, but when we strip it down to its structure and skeleton, all revolve around the same God and love one another. Maybe John Lennon had it right when he wrote,

"Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

I'd like to think that my spirituality, or my religion, is based solely on my relationship with God, and the incredible bond that I have formed with him this past year. I simply felt what was in my heart, and without flinching, my relationship with God was born. Now, this isn't to say that I find anything wrong with organized religion. In fact, in many ways I see the beauty of Christianity, Judaism, and all of the worlds religions. I'm in awe of the discipline of my family and friends who attend church every Sunday, or keep kosher, or pray five times a day. But, the truth of the matter is, that is them, but it's not me. My relationship with God is what lives and breathes within my heart. So maybe the take home point is that spirituality, religion, or whatever you want to call it, is deeply personal, and cannot be expressed in one creed or one book for everyone. Maybe the simplest way to think of it is this, from the beautiful words of Les Miserables, "to love another person is to see the face of God."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Day #38: My body is a temple.

Among other things, turning 30 has had a very profound effect on the way I see my body. If any of you know me well, you know that one of my many psychoses includes running. Unfortunately, running has not exactly loved me back. After ten years of pounding pavement (did you know that each foot strike when running exposes your legs to an impact force of 3-6 times your body weight) my body is starting to rebel and has finally declared, "STOP I need a break!!" Amazingly, it took a huge herniated disk resulting in physical therapy to finally get me to wake up and realize that the most important thing I can do for my physical well being is to slow down and actually listen to what my body is telling me.

I think it is very common for the lot of us to think we are indestructible, especially when we are in our teens and twenties. We put our bodies through grueling tasks, always pushing the limits, never really feeling the impact it has on our physical well being. Then something happens, and one morning you wake up, and you're 30, and you realize that that 20 year old body is a thing of the past. This is not to say that at 30 we are old and decrepit, and ready for the old age home. No, it's more that it's an awakening. It's more that at 30 you realize that the body is not made of kryptonite, more that it is like a fine piece of china, and it needs to be handled with care.

I will say this, at 30 I love my body more than I ever did at 15 or 18 or 25. At 30, I want to take care of my body, and nurture it so that I am able to do all the things I am driven to do for as long as possible. In some ways, this injury has truly been a blessing, because it has allowed me to slow down and take care of myself. As a runner, and I know I have many friends who are runners and understand completely where I'm coming from, you tend to just push through no matter how badly you are hurting. It's all about increasing the speed of your mile or reaching that PR. But you know, and it's been very hard for me to accept this, there comes a point when that mentality does more harm than good.

Simply put, we need to listen to our bodies. If we are hurting or something just doesn't feel right, then our body is telling us, "whoa, you are pushing me way too hard, and I'm about to break." Grace Mirabella wrote, "The name of the game is taking care of yourself, because you're going to live long enough to wish you had.” Stopping when something hurts is also part of taking care of yourself. Believe me, my goal is to be back out on the pavement as soon as my sports medicine doc waves the green flag. In the mean time, I'm going to love myself and be kind to my body, and do what it is asking of me right now. You see, the body and the spirit need to flow and work together in perfect symbiosis. They are in constant communication, and are always telling the other what the other needs. Without this perfect relationship, the human form just doesn't work. Buddhism teaches that it is our duty to keep the body in good health, otherwise we are not able to keep our mind strong and clear. I will honor my spirit and I will honor my body so that eventually things will heal, and my spirit and my body in mutual harmony, will allow me to tie my running shoes and head out the door.