The Capacity of Awe in Focus

We are most likely to experience awe when we are faced with a new and unexpected phenomenon, such as thunder, lightning or when we spend time in nature. The emotion of awe has psychological benefits, such as giving us solace in moments of trial. It also has physiological benefits, such as keeping to a healthy level the cytokines, the proteins that help the body cells fight infection. Since feeling awe does wonders to our mind and body, what can help us be more open to awe and what strategies can we adopt to feel awe in our hectic lives?

 

Can you think of a moment when you saw or heard something which was so unimaginable beautiful and breathtaking that your mind entered a state of stillness? Time stopped ticking and you were overwhelmed with wonder and curiosity. Tears in your eyes, you may have even felt like kneeling down in the midst of the uncanny event. This is how an awe-inspiring experience might be.

 

The need for beauty – a story of awe

 

One morning last May, I woke up with the desperate need to see the beauty around me. On the usual way to the playground where I would spend the mornings with my boys, a violet crocus was blooming on the side of the road. My hands hurriedly fumbled for the iPhone in the bag. I asked the boys to wait for three seconds and the first photo of a crocus was joyfully taken.

 

One month later, my husband gave me as a gift a more professional camera which became my best friend. I started making time in my hectic daily life to stroll around in search of stunning flowers of intense colors and mesmerizing perfumes. Those flowers had been there the previous Springs and Summers but I only noticed them last year. It was such an fascinating discovery for me to observe that there are so many types of tulips, with different shapes of petals.

 

The camera lens allowed me to go closer than ever to the soul of flowers. I felt reverence to their perfect and symmetric beauty. I was perplexed at the universal intelligence that can create such beauty. I came back home relaxed and with a big smile on my face.

 

This year, I am much more aware about the beauty of the nature during my usual walks. Flowers, trees, grass, clouds, birds, insects are my companions. Every day, this is a new parade of clouds in the sky. Some flowers wither, some others are ready to blossom. There is life in every one of them and I watch it unfolding.

 

By now, you might have guessed which is my new hobby. I lose track of time when taking photos of flowers. I feel free and connected to some sort of flower sisterhood. I am in awe!     

 

What is Awe and why is it so important?

 

In the Old English, awe was used to express fear and dread. Now, the meaning of awe has evolved to a positive emotion “in the upper reaches of pleasure and on the boundary of fear.”, as leading researcher Dacher Keltner describes it. 

 

In collaboration with researcher Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Dacher Keltner carried out a study to find the location of awe in the brain. The participants of the study were shown a series of slides that evoked sensory pleasure, pride, compassion and awe. While the participants viewed the slides, an fMRI scanner was taking photos of their brains.

 

The awe slides activated the left orbitofrontal cortex, which is a brain area that is lit when we are physically touched, when we are involved in a goal-oriented action or when we reflect upon our internal experience from a broader perspective. Therefore, it seems that we are wired for awe and feeling awe may change our perspective upon the world.  

 

Furthermore, research has shown that the experiences of awe can have plenty benefits such as: boost our health, make us live in the present, give us hope and appreciation of life, help us feel connected to nature, create a paradigm-shift, broaden our identity and boost creativity.

 

The challenge is to be open to awe experiences when they present themselves to us. You can be standing in front of the most spectacular rainbow and yet fail to be touched by it because you either are busy to notice it or if you do notice it, you do not savour the awe-feeling because your mind is churning some urgent issues.

 

What makes a person be open to awe?    

In 1930, Albert Einstein wrote in his credo

“ He … who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

 

Einstein believed in awe.

Mary Oliver, the American poet, believed in awe when she wrote:

“Still, what I want in my life

is to be willing

to be dazzled—

to cast aside the weight of facts …”

 

Kirk Schneider, humanistic psychologist, believes in awe when he writes in his blog post, Ode to Awe:

“Awe is the God beyond God, the origin and the destination, the expanding question and the expanding answer. It is our humility and wonder before creation; our astonishment before creation.”

I believe in awe and if you are reading this post, it is very likely you also believe in it.

The sources of awe-inspiring experiences

 

In the English Oxford dictionary, awe is

“… caused by profound reverence in the presence of supreme authority, moral greatness or sublimity, or mysterious sacredness.”

As this definition indicates, the belief in awe is rooted in transcendent values such as truth, goodness, and beauty. These three values provide the inner motivation and the need to seek for awe-inspiring experiences in everyday life.

Truth, goodness and beauty are subjective values and precisely the observation of the subjective manifestations of these values can create the awe-inspiring moments in the observer.

Truth

Truth may mean faith in God or in a Higher Power that governs this Universe. Truth may mean the physical laws of the Universe. Truth may mean morality and justice of social system. Truth may mean history and a political ideology. Truth may mean pursuit of our goals.    

This was Einstein’s truth as he writes in his Credo:

“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own—a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.

 

It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.“

 

What is your truth?

The subjective truth guides our actions, influences our decisions and perceptions on reality. Each moment when we observe a manifestation of our truth could be an awe-inspiring moment.

Goodness

Goodness is the second transcendent value which can be the source of awe-inspiring experiences. You do not have to believe in God in order to believe in goodness. Human beings can essentially be kind, compassionate, empathetic, loving, generous, as studies at the research center Greater Good Science also show it. Goodness refers to all the qualities and virtues that people reflect in their behaviors.  

For Mary Oliver, the dynamics of nature and the love for parents represent goodness, as she warm-heartedly writes in her poem, “Of Goodness”.

“How good

That the clouds travel, as they do,

Like the long dresses of the angels

Of our imagination,

 

Or gather in storm masses, then break

With their gifts of replenishment,

How good it is that we travel from one side of the family to the other

On this Thanksgiving weekend

 

Disappearing fathers on one wing and diminishing mothers on the other

But what I would give to see a teal to deal

With the heartache and the loss

And so on and so on.”

What else does goodness mean to you? Search for goodness in people and when you find it, that goodness will become part of yourself.   

Beauty

Beauty, the third source of awe, involves ideas of taste, aesthetics and passion in nature, art, music, science, technology, etc. The same properties and sounds of an object in nature or in artistic/scientific/technological works can terrify some of us or make some others stand in awe. The encounter with a snake can make some freak-out and run, whereas others may stand still and observe the snake with fascination.

To Einstein’s mind,

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. … To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms— this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men.”

 

Beauty may lie in the expression of emotions captured in a poem, a song or a dance.  

Beauty may mean your passions. What are your passions and how living your passions can be awe-inspiring? For example, if you were passionate about mathematics, a novel mathematical formula could be a source of awe.

What else does beauty mean to you? How important is to surround yourself by beauty?

Eventually, beauty lies in anything that touches us deeply and makes us live for.

Creating awe-experiences in everyday life


In everyday life, it is more challenging to live transformative awe-inspiring experiences, like standing on a mountain top – unless we live near-by mountains. Researcher Rick Hanson suggests that 30 seconds of focus on a good fact, such as a cup of coffee, can be extremely efficient to rewire the brain to remember positive emotions. In a similar line of thought, how can we create some space in our everyday life for awe-inspiring moments? Here are four strategies:

Design your home space – The animators at Pixar, an American computer animation studio, have their offices designed as wooden huts or caves, awe-inspiring symbols. How about designing some awe-inspiring corners in your home? What awe-inspiring objects would you put in those corners? Now and then, change the symbols or the places where those symbols are so that your brains can react to the novelty.  

Listen to a video of an influential person you think highly of – YouTube is an abundant source of talks of talented people in different fields of your interest. Recently, I discovered Jason Silva’s channel Shots of Awe, which I listen to whenever I feel the need to be enlivened. How about you? To whom would you like to listen to sparkle your imagination?

Get into a child-like mind – take some moments to be playful. Play with your kids, your partner, your friends. How would you like a drawing game, for example? Chose a photo of a famous person and draw a caricature.  Who has the funniest drawing? You or your kid? If you like cooking, how about arranging creatively the food on the plates for the people who are going to taste the food? If neither drawing not cooking are your cup of tea, there are so many domains out there for you to choose from and get playful. Playfulness shakes off the jadedness and brings to surface the curiosity to investigate further. Surprise yourself!   

Reorganize your daily life – make a list of your values and describe how these values are reflected in your everyday life. There may be some conflicts between some of your values and daily activities. There may be some values that don’t serve you any good and some activities that don’t reflect your deeply held values. Most importantly, be ready to change for the better version of you. What touches you most in your everyday life? How could you explore it closer and more often? How much time would you need for that? What else do you need to carry out your exploration?

According to Protagoras’ myth about the origins of human beings, Zeus endowed humans with the capacity of awe. Therefore, let’s make the most out of this capacity. We wouldn’t want to make Zeus angry, would we?

If you have a personal awe-story, I’d be glad if you shared it with me, at discoveriesinto(at)gmail.com. With your acceptance, I will publish it on my blog. Awe-stories inspire people, so how would you like to inspire someone with your story?       

When toddlers push parents buttons

On a scale from 0 to 10, how satisfied are you with yourself as a parent? What is your reaction when your children have bad tantrums or other crises? We, parents, like any other human beings, may have accumulated negativity and this can be a hindrance to constructive communication with children. Luckily, we can learn to go beyond negativity and help our children grow happy and loving adults, who in their turn can help others.   

“We would like to believe that only a disturbed parent responds in a way that is damaging to a child. Unfortunately, even parents who are loving and well meaning also blame, shame, accuse, ridicule, threaten, bribe, label, punish, preach and moralize.”, Dr. Ginott, Between Parent and Child.

When my second child was born, the elder brother’s jealousy for mother’s attention was sparked. The new baby born is now an active 15-months-old toddler who cries when I hug his brother. The initially simple and crude jealousy manifests in more complex and violent ways. I find myself yelling more often and getting frustrated with the lack of improvement in the interaction between my boys.

“Parenthood is an endless series of small events, periodic conflict, and sudden crises that call for a response. The response is not without consequence: It affects personality and self-regard for better or worse.”, Dr. Ginott, Between Parent and Child

Being a stay-at-home mother, I’ve experienced all too well how fast and how often I need to respond to conflicts between siblings. Inappropriate responses such as my emotionally stirred reaction to the boys’ argument set an undesirable example of how to solve dispute. Furthermore, shouting, threatening or punishing may lead to further frustration in children, and thus the conflicts can become more frequent.

We may want to help our kids understand that it’s perfectly fine to have negative feelings but it’s not fine to shout or hit others around just because we feel bad inside. In order for children to learn how to deal with their negative feelings, they need guidance from us.

The challenge for us parents is to overcome our own emotional unbalance so that we can communicate effectively with our children. The following 8 steps may help in getting in touch with the inner space inside us where there is peacefulness and from where we can connect and talk to our children:

Step 1

Have no expectations that kids will behave as adults (maybe it’s for the best they don’t behave like us). Kids are playful, creative, imaginative and without boundaries. They like eating while standing instead of sitting. They like to jump in pools of water even if they don’t wear the proper shoes. They express awe in a loud voice.

As soon as we become aware of any expectation, it’s best to ignore it, take a deep breath and think to ourselves, “Kids are kids”. This does not mean that we should allow kids any kind of behaviour such as, writing on the walls, jump from the top of the cupboard, or play with knives.

By ignoring the expectations on kids’ behaviour, we avoid moments of unnecessary fury. Instead, we become more creative in explaining what is acceptable and what not.

For example, when my eldest son used to drop water on the floor, I was very much tempted to shout at him “Don’t do that!”. Instead, I said, “There is water on the floor. The water can damage the floor. Let’s wipe it off together.”Did he keep on spilling water on the floor? Yes, many times and I reacted in the same way to him.

Nowadays, he stopped doing that. I don’t know if he understood my explanation. However, in the long run, I hope he understands that there are consequences to our actions and if we make a mess, then we are responsible to clean it up.

Step 2

Expect that anger is unavoidable. In such moments, we may shout something undesirable, such as “If you hit your sister one more time, I’ll pull your hair”. Such statements are threats, which if we don’t keep, then kids learn that we don’t really mean what we say. And if we do really mean what we say, threats become acts of physical violence which can traumatise the children and disturb the wellbeing of the whole family.

Bursting out in anger is unavoidable but anger should NOT be expressed in acts of physical violence. For other ways of expressing anger, such as blaming, labelling, ridiculing or accusing, we can apologise and openly talk about it with our children.

Each time when I become aware that I overreact, I apologise to the boys and explain what is happening. For example, “Mommy didn’t sleep well last night and is a bit tired today.” Apologising shows respect towards the child. At the same time, the child gets the message that shouting is not a constructive solution. Raising the voice does not give us what we want and furthermore, it can hurt the person we’re yelling at.

Step 3

Become aware of our emotional state when interacting with our children. For example, we can be emotionally unbalanced because we just had an argument with our partner. When we turn our attention to our children, we may overreact to what they do or say. We may take the negativity out onto our kids. Awareness can help us disconnect from the negative emotions and tune into our children inner lives. They will feel the connection and they’ll feel safe to be next to mommy or daddy.

Step 4

Increase awareness of the present moment. When we feel the anger is taking control, it’s time to start taking deep breaths. If the tension is still at its peak, verbalize what we feel about the particular crisis. For example, “I am so angry because you pushed your brother”. When the fury is fading away, I usually turn towards the toddler and ask him to forgive his brother.

A crisis is a good opportunity to teach important values to children. For example, I want to make sure that my boys will eventually understand that violence against another human being is not accepted. Since neither boy can talk articulately, I can’t expect them to explain in words what feeling drives them to resort to violence. The best guess is that it is the jealousy. But what if it isn’t that? What if there is something else that one of siblings did and the response comes under the form of hitting?

Instead of guessing and going on and lecturing based on what my guess is, I chose to state only that it is not allowed to hit each other.In addition to non-violent behaviour, there may be other values that we may want to share with our children and our behaviour and communication should reflect those values (i.e.,love, forgiveness, etc).

Step 5

Let empathy towards our children shine through the anger. If we want to understand something about our children, we’d better focus on questioning why they behave the way they do and not on what they do. When there is physical violence between siblings, being empathic can help us see the conflict from both kids’ perspective: from the perspective of the child who hits and from the perspective of the child who is hit. What is the reason for which a child hits his sibling? How does he feel hitting his sibling? How does a child feel when is hit by his sibling?

Step 6

Set up a strategy to follow in moments of crises. Even if we may not always be able to put it into practice, at least we can keep it in our minds to help us keep calm.

For now when my kids are at the toddler and pre-school age, the strategy for handling bad tantrums consists of three steps: 1. I explain why I can’t grant a particular wish, i.e., eat chocolate for breakfast. 2. When the heartbreaking cry starts, breathing helps to calm myself down. Words are unnecessary. The kid can’t listen because he wants one thing only – to have his wish granted. 3. Maintain eye contact once in a while and look compassionately at the child. When the storm is over, he asks for milk, which is always granted to him as a sign that we made peace.

 

With every new situation, we take stand based on what feels natural to us. But it also has to be an attitude from which our children can feel that they are understood. Think about how you feel when you tell to your partner that you’d like to buy a dress but it’s slightly expensive. How would you like your partner to react? Would you like him to say, “Honey, I think we have enough expenses already, forget about the dress.”, or, “I would also want to buy loud speakers, so let’s both buy whatever we want”, or “I wish I could buy that dress for you. I am sure you would look gorgeous! Maybe next month, you can buy it.”.

When feeling understood, children, like adults, feel loved. They become thus empowered to find acceptable solutions to manage their lives. They learn to be responsible for the choices they make.

Step 7

Spend short moments of daily relaxation. It is crucial to relax daily during short breaks and gain the much needed emotional balance and patience. It can be more efficient to relax 10 minutes every 2 hours than wait for that one evening in the week when we can go to a Pilates class or for a coffee with a friend.

I don’t know what can help you relax, but as far as I am concerned, meditation is a good way of creating inner space. The method of relaxation is less important, the effect matters – that of creating inner peacefulness. We can thus become more patient when bad tantrums come out of a blue.

For a few weeks already, I started doing a daily 10 minutes meditation focused on nature’s beauty. It is a project I plan to carry on for half of a year. I will share the details in the following blog post for anyone who may be interested in this type of meditation.

Step 8

Dedicate time and effort for the development of parental abilities so that we can keep up with the developmental stages of our children. For example, I find parental self-help books on how to communicate with kids to be sources of inspiration that provide new perspectives to parenting. Talking with other parents about how to become better parents, writing a diary of the most tensed moments with our kids, etc, may helps us expand our consciousness as parents and build bridges to our children hearts.

When the next moment of crises comes, let’s all do a small exercise. First, think how the situation may look through the eyes of our children. Second, how would we want to be treated if we were the child in that situation.

I wish to you a meaningful journey of parenthood!

Lessons of Motherhood

On my 37th birthday, I came to realize the importance of shifting from the “me and myself” thinking to “us” thinking for the wellbeing of the family. When small personal expectations are not met due to unexpected events of the present moment, inner conflict arises. Despite that, if we allow ourselves to express the love we feel for the family, before we know it, we are back to inner balance.

Daydreaming

I’ve recently turned 37 years. My husband rented a boat and we went off sailing around the archipelago of Helsinki till sunset. We enjoyed the serenity of the still dormant nature of March in Helsinki. We had some white wine and blue cheese while sharing whatever thoughts budded in our minds. We danced salsa and played board games.

As a matter of fact, the related events are but mere imagination.

The reality

Being a family with two small kids, we had a silent agreement that we would focus the energy on our boys. Our family of four spends most of the free time together. Yet somewhere deep inside, I was hoping that my birthday or my husband’s would be spent with a tiny bit of focus on ourselves also.

 

The morning of my 37th birthday followed after a bad night’s sleep. Yet, the joy of life surmounted the sleepiness when my hubby informed that he’s taking the day off to spend it together with me and the boys. The first half of the day was spent at an indoors playground, where we were switching between the two boys. On way back home, I was thinking which tasty dish we would have for dinner while our boys would be sleeping like angels.

 

Hardly did we arrive home when our youngest son started crying. With every scream of help, my soul was overcast by worry. The face of our baby was furrowed by pain and we were watching helplessly. Half an hour later, which felt like an eternity, we figured out what the problem was. One hour later, our baby felt better but I was in an emotional blockage.

 

I was doing my best though to fake an “Everything is fine” smile to the boys. My hubby gave me a heartfelt hug while whispering, “You must feel awful now!”

Lessons of a meaningful moment

My birthday may not have been a day of celebration and romance, yet it was a day that showed to me the power of love and living meaningfully. I would not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world, but right there, in our flat, holding our baby in the arms during his moments of pain. I felt lost for not being able to find a rapid cure for his ailment. I felt guilty for ever thinking to put him earlier to bed so I can enjoy the birthday evening solely with his father. Most of all, I felt how my love was soothing him despite the pain. And this was a remarkable feeling!

 

As for our marriage, the love that we feel for each other has been expressed differently since we became parents. We passed the stage of salsa parties (where we met) or walking under the moonlight. We are at the stage of supporting each other in parenting the best we can. We certainly miss being just the two of us. However, we are aware we are at this stage when we have to wait for our turn to have a hug. The little ones are first in line.

 

It became clear to me that at this stage, living meaningfully means giving up on any other plans of enjoyment or must-do errands and be present with the whole being when our children need us the most.

 

Every new day may bring unexpected challenges for our family – i.e., the entire family waiting in the emergency room. Facing such challenges while finding new ways to express love strengthen the family bonds. The challenge remains a memory upon which we look back and say heartedly, “We did it together!”

 

How about you? What changed in your life after becoming a parent and how do you feel about it?

 

PS. On the 4th of March 2014, our second baby was born. I am still at home with both boys. Being a mom is the toughest job I ever got and the most meaningful at the same time. I feel lucky to be the mother of two wonderful boys who make me want to be a better person. Each day is a storm of emotions, such as love, empathy, joy, anger, irritation, frustration, etc. At the end of the day, there is the feeling of contentment for spending a full day together when I discover new faces of the boys’ personalities.

 

I will continue writing on my blog each time I get some time on my own. Considering how our life has been so far, the most realistic scenario is once a month. I hope you’ll enjoy the new posts! :)   

Be brave, embrace the happiness

We can choose to practise living with joy. For that, we need awareness that we are the ones who can do something about our genuine happiness.

If someone said to you: “ Here you have two pairs of glasses: through one, you can perceive life colourful . Through the other pair of glasses you can perceive life in white and black. Choose one pair. You’ll wear it for the rest of your life and you’ll perceive the surroundings accordingly.”

Which one would you choose?

I would choose the glasses which allow me to have a colourful vision. I love colours. They make me feel alive! They inspire me.

It’s the same with the choice between worries and joy. We can choose which one we want to prioritise and follow with interest. If we prioritise worries, we may risk to develop the habit of seeing bad in everything we do.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer to develop the habit of seeing the good and positive side of life situations. This does not mean that I would ignorantly dismiss the worries. It means that I’d rather maintain the inner joy while doing self-inquiry into why and what worries me.

Lately, I’ve felt under the weather, swamped in worries about my future delivery and burdened with an overall feeling of dissatisfaction about myself. One day, I remembered the words of the Balinese healer, Ketut Liyer, from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray, Love”:

“To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight at hotel. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You can calling the good energy with a smile.”

I started smiling with my belly where my second baby is growing. I felt deeply in my heart that I have a choice. I can choose to not take worries too seriously. When worries are out of the way, what emotions and thoughts are in us?

When worries are under control, happiness may have more room for manifestation. Happiness coming from the people around us and from the experiences we live – built on the joy that sheepishly lives in us.

But how can we find our inner happiness? I’d say that we need to increase our awareness about the emotions and thoughts that burden us, such as:

  1. Expectations – they are such a big and silent part of us that it may take some time to realise we have them. We may spend years in sufferance until we realised that the solution is simple: stop having expectations as the reference point for living. Things go the way they do. Others behave the way they are. If our expectations are met, that’s great! If not, we can learn something from the experience of unmet expectations and move on wiser than before and with a broader outlook on life.
  2. The negativity in us that creates the dirty energy that Ketut Liyer was talking about. Joy can’t live in the same place with envy, jealousy, selfishness, hatred, etc. I wonder if anyone can be happy when such negative feelings rule. And since most of us are prone to feeling negativity, how about doing something about the roots of any negative feeling we may feel? Inquiring into negativity is an amazing way to know more about ourselves.

At the same time, we need to increase awareness into what boosts the inner happiness:

  1. How to become a better human – practising empathy, compassion, unconditional love and humbleness can help us cross the borders of individualism and find the beauty of human connection.
  2. Living meaningfully – such as dedicating ourselves to loving someone, raising kids, a noble cause or the pursuit of other dreams. Turning dreams into reality is a process that can make us see things (such as skills or flaws) about ourselves we were not even aware. It may challenge us reassess our core values and beliefs. All in all, it can help us grow out of the limits of our own minds.
  3. The know-how of relaxing – in times when individuals are required to excel at efficiency and productivity, it’s very important to discover what relaxation means for each one of us and to find time for it.
Next time when you’re worried to death, do yourself a favour by trying an exercise of awareness. Bring a tiny bit of smile into awareness and the good energy will follow.

 

PS. This is the last blog post before taking a break. My second baby is due to be born this March. Therefore, I feel it’s time for me to focus on my toddler, my husband and the tiny human being who will come into the world. A big Thank You to the good people who have been by my side since I’ve started the blog. Looking forward to the next time we meet!

You may also like reading:

When expecting from others, remember the joy of not expecting

Human connection – a beautiful and rare thing

How can mothers relax

 

I Dream of Seeing More Compassion

The art of helping through conversation 

Is there any sense in making new year resolutions?

Making new year resolutions can improve our lives if we diligently work on them. Even if we never carry on with them, by writing down resolutions it gives us the chance to dream of a better life. Yet, if we are wholeheartedly dedicated to our resolutions, there are a few tips to remember in order to avoid disappointment at the end of the year when we do the maths and we see that we are far away from reaching our goals.

When a new year is about to begin, some of us like to make a list of resolutions. For the last 4 or 5 years, I’ve made resolutions that would help me live my dreams.

Throughout the year, I would get entangled into the events that life brought in my way and I would lose focus of my resolutions. At the end of the year, I would have feelings of failure and disappointment coming from my incapability to kick-start or complete my personal or professional projects.

Dan Puric, a Romanian actor, once said “If you want God to laugh, tell him about your plans.” Many of us don’t see the point in making one year plans. Some of us succumb to higher forces of life and cope with life situations that require different skills, emotional reactions and actions than those that would lead to reaching goals.

I am somewhere in between pursuing goals with determination and waiting to see what plans the destiny has in store for me. For example, for years, I’ve been planning to write a book on spiritual development in a foreign environment. I’ve started two drafts already. But year after year, I faced other challenges, which required my energy and time that I would have otherwise put into writing my dream book.

I’ve learned a few things about reaching goals:

  1. Have a list of huge and ambitious goals to work on. Keep it short – two, three at maximum.
  2. Have some self-discipline and break the big goal into smaller steps to follow through each month of the year.
  3. Be ready to put on hold the work on a project in favour of more important life situations that you didn’t envisage in the beginning the year (i.e, the birth of your child, the illness of a parent, etc)
  4. Keep focus on what is more important, that is your wellbeing. Therefore, no matter what happens, don’t beat yourself up if at the end of the year, you have still to work on your list of top goals. As a matter of fact, it is very valuable what you’ve learned from the unexpected experiences you lived. What insights into yourself did you gain? For example, if you maintained your inner peacefulness through challenging times, most likely you’ll have the energy to get back to where you left your work-in-progress.
  5. Be flexible to revise and even change your new year resolutions throughout the year. Goals may be too idealistic or unrealistic. Unexpected opportunities may come along. You may lose interest in pursuing a certain goal. For example, you may have aimed at finding a job abroad but then something happens and you realise you want to stay close to your family. You may have aimed at losing 20 kg but by the time you lost 15 kg you feel that it is time to stop because the respective weight is just perfect for you. Life is about change, so allow your goals to change as you gain more insight into your life.

Reaching goals can give feelings of satisfaction, achievement and meaningfulness. Above all, it is a process that challenges our beliefs and skills. If at the end of the process we are better persons than before, than this is the most priceless achievement.

How about you, do you like making new year resolutions? How do you manage the process of turning them into reality?

You may also like reading:

Living without desires?

Embracing braver attitude towards change

Who said that it is easy to follow your dreams

In the pursuit of healthy self-esteem

My intuitive belief, backed up by findings of researchers in psychology is that a healthy dose of self-esteem is necessary for individual happiness. Self-esteem, the way people perceive their own worth, lays the foundation for the thoughts, emotions, actions and behaviours that we adopt. The problem is that each individual has too high or too low of a self-esteem, which affects our inner life, relationships and professional life. It is possible though to discover a balanced perception on our worth in order to live deeply and in harmony with who we truly are. 

Healthy self-esteem means the ability to perceive our own worth as realistically as possible, by reviewing our current relationships and achievements and further challenging ourselves. It is less important whether the outcomes of our challenges are successes or failures. It is more important to develop a healthy self-esteem, which enables us to feel content and learn from our personal endeavours. In other words, a healthy self-esteem means feeling good in our own skin while we are improving different aspects of our life.

How can we feel good when we are under the stress of reaching goals? A healthy self-esteem can take away the focus from the stress and increases our awareness into how we can meet are our most important needs as human beings. For example, a healthy self-esteem can make us see how to live meaningfully and take steps in that direction. A healthy self-esteem can help us have “feel good” interactions with different people.

However, reaching the balance point where we possess healthy self-esteem can take years of our life. Each one of us has to first fight with either too high or too low self-esteem, which results from the parenting style we were raised with and from the culture where we grew up.

Having a too high self-esteem means being overly confident about everything we do. We believe that we are much better than the people around us. Thus, there is the risk that our ego inflates and we may miss out opportunities when we could learn something valuable from others.

Especially in love relationships, the too high a self-esteem may turn us into egoistic individuals who become blind to the needs of the loved one. Relationship conflicts may result from excessive pride and too high expectations about “what I want and I need”.

On the other hand, others may struggle with too low self-esteem, the depressing feeling that “I am not good enough, so I deserve less”. As a result, the job, the love life and everything else are a reflection of the lack the confidence to even hope for good things to happen to us.

Having too low self-esteem brings us down and keeps us away from exploring our true potential in life. For example, thinking that “I am not smart enough to study mathematics”, may prevent us from at least give it a shot. Instead, if we think, “I will study mathematics and see how I feel about it”, we may be surprised to see that mathematics is an exciting discipline.

If indeed, you start studying mathematics and you see it’s not your cup of tea, then nothing prevents you from studying other more interesting topics.

How can we develop the sense of a healthy self-esteem? Each one of us knows it deep inside on which side of self-esteem we are. It is a matter of admitting to ourselves that we have too high or too low self-esteem and get motivated to do something about it.

Learning to be humble about everything we do can be useful for those of us with too high self-esteem. This means that we need to become aware that we are not the centre of the world. Our work, while it is fascinating for us and useful for a group of people, may not be interesting for some others.

Learning how to ask for what you want is a skill that those of us with low self-esteem may need to work on. This way the people around us may start paying attention to us and respect us for who we are.

Thinking, acting and behaving according to who we truly are, bring joy, satisfaction and healthy relationships. When we master the skills to live according to healthy self-esteem, we have the chance to discover authentic happiness.

So, let’s start 2014 with a very important resolution: to find our healthy self-esteem! Good luck to everyone who is interested in such a pursuit!

For a detailed analysis of internal and external factors that can influence self-esteem, you might like reading:

Six Pillars of Self Esteem by psychotherapist and writer Nathaniel Branden

 

You may also like reading:

Why you owe to yourself to find your true self and what it implies

The gratefulness for 2013

Today, in the last day of 2013, I look back at the year that seems to have passed at the speed of light. The first word that comes to my mind is gratefulness.

I’d like to thank to all the wonderful people who have inspired me to keep on writing on my blog. Your emails, comments and post likes fuelled my mental energy and creativity during days when I mostly needed them.

Having a healthy body and mind is of outmost importance for a happy life and this year has offered a few experiences which proved just that! So, cheers to a healthy life!

I’d like to express gratitude for the dear ones in my life. More than in the previous years, I have lived through frustrations and disappointments in close relationships. Despite the temporary emotional pain, in the end, I have felt how my love for them helped to become a better person, with broader view on the mystery of life.

I feel thankful for carrying in me a new life and for experiencing for the second time how a tiny fetus grows inside. The second pregnancy reminded that maternal love and sacrifice go hand in hand.

In the last day of 2013, it is time to stop for a while, contemplate on our experiences over the year and look with confidence, positive thinking and excitement towards the new year! To many new life experiences that will make us feel closer to God or the Life Source from where we all come!

Let’s start 2014 with love!

 

How about you? What thoughts of gratefulness do you have today?

What is the magic of Christmas?

When it’s Christmas time, the world becomes more beautiful and miracles seem closer to reach. Even little towns and small shops in Christian countries embellish themselves with lights and decorations. Shops play traditional carols, probably much to the despair of the shop assistants but, most likely much to the delight of the shoppers who like Christmas. I’ve always loved Christmas but this year, I reflected deeper why I feel this way about this religious holiday.

When I was a child, waiting for the Christmas day meant living in a fairytale. The thrill revolved around the Christmas gift, which was the symbol of making the impossible possible. If normally, I was just a simple girl, in Christmas day, Santa Claus, coming all the way from the North Pole, made me feel special by visiting me.

Even after finding out that our chubby neighbour impersonates Santa, I could hardly close my eyes, the night before the Christmas day. The gift in itself was not important, but the fantasy created around it.

As an adult, I like to put on the Santa hat and buy gifts for the loved ones. I’ve learned to disregard the inherent stress and look upon the mission of finding Christmas gifts as an opportunity to take time to think about the dear ones. What are their needs? What are their hobbies? Any new ones? What is their favourite music? etc

This is the third Christmas as a mother and I became aware that the most priceless gift is to offer the love and joy that you possess. Yet, offering this special gift is not exactly a walk in the park. I need some time to prepare my soul for getting to the space inside where pure love and generous joy live.

Over the year, frustrations, anger and complaints accumulate and dominate the inner life. Some Christians fasten for six weeks before Christmas. This year, my way of fastening is to spend the last week before Christmas with the thought, “Joy, love and relaxation. Spend each day accordingly!”

Daily interactions come with opportunities to turn my attention inwards and focus on the goodness and kindness in me. The anticipation of Christmas gives the strength to let everything be and feel the love, joy and peace that are at the core of my being.

As Gina Lake writes in her book, “Ten Teachings for One World, Wisdom from Mother Mary” ,

“When your attitude is to let everything be, this acceptance allows you to relax and feel at peace with whatever is going on! What a relief it is to not to have to fight with the way things are! How exhausting it is to feel angry, sad, or afraid…Instead of being upset and overwhelmed, you relax and let everything be as it is. Life is much easier that way.”

For some reason I am not aware of, waiting for Christmas makes it easier to accept who I am, who the loved ones are, how my life in general is, the political and economic situation of the country I am originally from, etc. If the Christmas day brings stillness and immense joy in my soul, then, this shall be the Christmas magic to me!

How about you? What is the Christmas magic to you?

You may also like reading:

Report on two weeks of trying a complaint-free life

When expecting from others, remember the joy of not expecting

How tolerant we should be with others’ intolerance

 

Embracing braver attitude towards change

Most of us like our comfort zone, with the people and activities that are integral part. In these modern times, changes to the comfort zone take place without asking for permission. The hope for future can help counterbalance the fear of uncertainty and attachment to what we have. Personal insights may arise and show the way to a balanced life while coping with change. 

In general, human beings are resistant to change. Especially when we have love in our lives and we are thriving, why should we want to change anything?

We may not like changes but changes like us. The idea of permanence, about which some of us may feel comfortable and safe, becomes slowly an utopia. We may live in different homes at different stages. There are more divorces. Friends move abroad and other people take their place.

Even when life is not so satisfying, we may still muse and ponder whether to make any change. This is the case of a friend who feels that she works in an organisation where she can’t use her full potential, and yet, “I’ll keep this job for three more years. I shall see after that.”

Sometimes we may be forced to make a change. The company where a friend was working closed its activities this Summer. Despite that he was previously considering to look for a more rewarding and meaningful job, he didn’t take quite well the news that he is jobless.

The way I see it, being able to cope with change is a must-develop skill both personally and professionally – in particular if we specialise in knowledge-intensive fields.

The way we embrace change is an interplay between uncertainty, emotional attachment to what we have in the present and hope. After going through quite some changes in my life so far, I’ve concluded that life is all about changes. So, how can we use hope to shine through fears and attachments in order to live fully?

Initially, fear may be the queen of our emotions about change. While fear is natural, we have the option to give it a positive twist by trying to manage it. This may be more difficult when we are not be willing to admit we have any fear. Instead, we blame others for circumstances that led to changes in our life.

For example, we may think it is our boss’s fault for lacking the competence to maintain the profitability of the department. As a result, the board decided to outsource the activities of the department, including our job. We may blame the persons with whom our partners cheated on us.

While these accusations may be well founded, it’s better for our wellbeing to stop giving them importance. It’s a better use of time to turn the focus to ourselves and sort out how we can go through the change.

We could try visualising how our life will be in one or two years after making the change. Creating positive scenarios of the future may give us the boost to make the first baby steps in the process. For example, taking a short vacation or long walks daily – anything else that relaxes the mind and brings peace to the soul. The more we open to a new stage of life, the more we’ll be able to recognise and react to the opportunities that come into our way.

When we loosen up from the grip of fear, we can start getting curious about how we can improve whatever happens in the present. Who can help us? How we can reach out to the people who can be helpful? Moreover, there is another kind of curiosity that we can sparkle – the curiosity about any personal insights into our inner lives.

Self-inquiry may make us want to explore:

  1. What it means to accept our fears. Fears may teach us some useful lessons about how we live our life. This requires that we get over the stage when we are stuck in the realm of fears and expand out attention to what lies beyond them. For example, you get dump and among other things, you are afraid you won’t be loved again. Why would you have such a fear? What is it about you that you feel that another person won’t fall in love with you? What kind of a person you dream to be in order to make someone fall for you? etc.
  2. What it means to look with anticipation at the future. Hope about tomorrow may increase our ability to dream today and get some inspiration for how to live in the present. In the case of my friend who lost his job in the Summer, while he was seeking for another job, he remembered about an old passion for which he hadn’t had time. He contemplated changing his career to follow the respective passion. This led him to starting to study a new field.
  3. What it means to wait for the right opportunity. When we send our resumes to companies, we may finally get more offers to choose from. The offer that suits the best may not be the first one that comes. Intuition and peace of mind may be help while we are waiting. Continuing the story about my friend, while his studies were in progress, he was invited for an interview to a firm where he felt it is the work place for him at the moment.
  4. What it means to discover hidden sides of your true-self, such as the intuitive nature, the strength and flexibility. It can happen that while we are focusing on a particular goal during change, other opportunities come up and are very beneficial. These are opportunities we haven’t considered ever before but which may be just the right thing for us in the midst of change. Returning to the scenario when you get dumped, receiving a job offer in another country may be the best thing that can happen to you.
All these inquiries can lead to the realisation that mindfulness is very important for a balanced life through change. By mindfulness, I mean the orientation of one’s experiences in the present moment, orientation characterised by curiosity, openness and acceptance. Life does not end at the bumps of change. Life continues!

Now, please share with us how do You cope with forced change?

You may also like reading:

 

The value of personal belongings


Your Life, With or Without Soul Mate

Why does falling in love not always have a happy ending?

Who Said That It Is Easy To Follow Your Dreams?

Report on two weeks of trying a complaint-free life

I think I liked complaining for the sake of it until some months ago when I felt I don’t like myself when I complain. After struggling to avoid complaining for two weeks, I concluded that after all, complaining is not harmful as long as you are careful how you complain and as long as you do something about the subject of complaint. In addition, if you feel the need to complain about something you can’t change, then take a deep look inside yourself and see what you can change there.  

Complaining, the statement that you are unhappy or not satisfied with something, is deeply rooted in every human being. Jane Wagner, American writer, director and producer, said “I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.”

For a while, I had been noticing that I complain so many times a day about other people or daily minutiae that it started to bother me. I realised it didn’t help me in any way, not even to let some steam off. On the contrary, I felt even more negativity in me after expressing the reasons that brought dissatisfaction.

In mid-November, I happened to read a call on joining the initiative coming from author and radical career change coach Farnoosh Brock. She invited everyone who reads her blog to pledge to spend a complaint-free November.

I instantly loved the challenge, which seemed like the perfect orchestration of the Universe (through Farnoosh) to make me experience how my inner life be without complaining. Therefore, I enthusiastically joined the community of approximately 300 people who pledged to avoid complaining for the whole November! Except that I got an easier job than the rest by joining the common effort when half of the month had passed already.

The rules of the challenge were:

“1. No getting mad or frustrated or annoyed with YOURSELF.

2. No gripping at your pet, children, spouse, friends, parents, strangers.

3.No judging others even if they are incompetent or at fault.

4.No expressing displeasure about the weather.

5.No getting annoyed about the news.

6.No agreeing to another person’s complaint. That’s like being accessory to complaining.

7.No fussing about electronics or wifi or online apps misbehaving.

8.No feeling sorry for yourself or swearing even if you stub your toe or jam your finger.
9.No complaining about your work, the stupid co-workers or the horrid boss.

10.No criticizing anything, anywhere, anytime, in any capacity.” 

After publicly declaring on Farnoosh’s blog that I accept the rules, the personal awareness about what I am feeling, thinking and saying increased. In the first two days, whenever I detected the urge to speak out any criticism, I swallowed the words and remained silent. The third day, I broke the commitment by pointing fingers about how bad drivers some people can be.

As days passed by, there was a small change in the well-rooted need to complain. I did manage to avoid speaking about what made me unhappy to friends and acquaintances. If someone complained, I would either be quiet or emphasise the positive aspect.

The one who got to hear about all the things that made me unhappy was my husband. But there was a tiny bit of change even in the discussions with him. The tiny bit of change was based on changing first how I look upon the life situations which normally make me angry and irritated.

For example, one grey afternoon, busy bus travellers kept passing by while I was trying to get off the bus too. My son was crying and fighting to escape from my grip. With the other hand, I was pulling the pram loaded with bags. Despite the noise coming from my direction and the space I was taking, fellow passengers seemed not to notice that I was there as well, waiting for someone to let me pass.

One man stepped on my foot while he forced his way out of the bus. Another man hit me with his big shoulder bag, which made me lose my balance. Without apologising, he jumped off. Needless to say that I was the last one to get off the bus. I was on the verge of anger, about to shout, “What’s wrong with you people?”.

Then, I remembered my pledge to avoid complaining. I took deep breaths thinking, “They were complete assholes but I can’t teach them manners by shouting at them”. I made it for home feeling grateful that we made it safely out of the bus crowded with ignorant people.

I started thinking about the two men who in my opinion behaved rudely. What kind of life they might have – are they single, are they happy with their job, are they mentally stable, how were their parents showing the love for them, etc?

When I met my husband and told him how my day had been, I preferred to skip the negatively charged story and simply state to him that “The bus was full and it was difficult to get off the bus because no one helped me.”

There were other life situations in the last week of November when I couldn’t help complaining. I couldn’t lift up to the promise I had made on Farnoosh’s blog. Yet, I did experience moments when I refrained from complaining about things I can’t change. And I also enjoyed the feeling of peace that followed.

Actually, I find this experiment so useful for personal happiness that I want to turn it into a habit of carefully scrutinising how I complain, about what and what actions I take after complaining.

Summing up, here is a list of positive changes that I started experiencing during two weeks of attempt to refrain from complaining:

  1. Awareness – I detected thoughts of complaint and the emotions behind those thoughts. With every thought of dissatisfaction, bitterness spread in my heart and got hungry for more things to complain about. Becoming aware of this vicious cycle, I managed to stop it in its early stage. Instead, I redirected my thoughts to something more positive that was happening around me.
  2. Expectations – complaints are based on expectations, such as expectations about how people should behave or how the day should progress. Therefore, I started paying more attention to my expectations. I wondered why I have such expectations. I was fascinated to feel that I had opened a door to a secret world inside myself where dreams, desires, and fears live. Inquiring into those feelings is an opportunity to self-discovery.
  3. Create space for creativity – instead of spending time on negative emotions raised by useless complaints, I focused on how to take care of the daily to-do list in a more efficient and pleasant manner. For example, while at playground with my toddler, one of the parents behaved unfriendly with my little man. After getting angry for a few seconds, I chose to think of other fun activities I could do with him at the playground.
  4. Just go ahead with the complaint – last but not least, I indulged myself in complaining when it’s about things that matter the most, such as aspects of the relationships with the dear ones. The trick is to let the complaint out of my system, and then come with solutions. As a matter of fact, researchers in psychology explain that the problem is not the act of complaining but how we can efficiently express our frustrations and anger. Irrespective if we complain about big or minor stuff, if we complain just for venting thoughts and not for actually finding a solution, we can be affected emotionally, physically and mentally.

Now, about you, what is it that you are complaining about? Do you feel that complaining helps you? If yes, can you please describe how does it help you?