Facing Life Changes With Wisdom

Life comes with changes, big or small, wanted or unwanted. Since the human nature seeks for certainty and security, one way to cope the best that you can with the unwanted changes is to focus on your inner wisdom. Fumble through the different layers of your identity, recreate your life, reframe the reality, adjust your expectations and experiment with living carefree.

 

The human brain likes certainty. And when changes come our way, we are faced with the opposite of certainty, which is uncertainty. The limbic system of the brain gets activated and we experience all sorts of emotions, positive and negative, big and small.

 

As a person who has experienced major and less major changes in the last 15 years, at intervals of 3 to 5 years, I thought I have a good relationship with change. I thought I tamed my mind to look at change straight in the eyes, and say, “Let’s just do it!”

 

Faced with yet another change, not so big this time, I was surprised to observe my panicky, anxious and sentimental reaction. I was informed ahead of time that the change will come. Yet, when the change happened, there was a dominant voice in my head asking, “Do we really have to go through this?”

 

Yes, unwanted changes do happen. One of the best things we could do is to go deeper in our inner world, beyond emotions and thinking, and tap into the inner wisdom that can teach us a few things about ourselves.

 

Layers of personal identity

 

Change in life makes us revisit the idea of personal identity. Who did you think you were before the change? Who are the people and what are the objects you feel a strong attachment to? What capabilities and qualities do you discover about yourself when managing change? What are the weaknesses that consume you the most?  How do you believe your identity is expanding?

 

In the first phase of change, it can happen that we stubbornly hold onto who we thought we were before. For someone who may go through a divorce, you may think of yourself still as a wife or husband. We refuse to accept that new status is of a divorced person. In the second stage, which can be sooner if you’re lucky or otherwise, later, we may become aware that we experience groundlessness. Groundlessness is the state of being where nothing makes sense anymore, what you thought to be true is not valid anymore.

 

Personally, I find this groundlessness to be a magical opportunity to expand the personal identity, to grow out of whatever roles we may have in different life circumstances and look upon our identity from a larger perspective – the perspective of eternity.

 

Let’s play for few seconds with the idea that in 1000 years from now, someone will stumble upon your photo. What would you like that person to know about who you were?

 

Recreating your life

 

Changes bring opportunities to do things in daily life, differently. In between the moments of emotional turmoil, when we have few glimpses of peacefulness, we may want to ask ourselves how do we want to live. What higher purpose would we like to have?

 

We may not be able to control everything in life but we are very much able to test our limits to do the wonderful things in life. For example, now when I moved house, I have a different scenery when I look out of the window. This new image inspires me to dream about new habits, such as the habit of taking action and implementing one of my dreams.

 

Reframing the reality

 

Change does bring in some moments that we actually love. Let those moments sink into your soul. For example, when moving to another country, there may be something that you love experiencing in the new culture. And when faced with another round of groundlessness, when you believe everything in your life goes wrong, it’s beneficial to remember to be hopeful about what we haven’t lived yet.

 

Adjust the expectations

 

After managing a life change, celebrate yourself for going through whatever it was thrown at you. Make a mental map of the skills you’ve developed. Enjoy observing how the respective skills are now part of you. In hindsight, look upon sensitive moments with humour. Appreciate the people who have been by your side. However, don’t expect to be well-prepared for the next change. Just trust yourself that when the change forges into your life, you’ll be able to tap into your inner wisdom again and tackle the change, one step at a time.  

 

Living carefree

 

Normally, we have the tendency to worry. There is no limit how much a human being could worry. Someone like myself, living in Helsinki, may worry on a sunny day that in the next hour the clouds may come and the sun will be out of sight for weeks.

 

Experiencing change may shed light on an important personal decision about how much we want to worry and what are the things it’s worth to worry about.

 

With each and every change, we have the opportunity to get closer to living freely and embracing life with courage.     

 

I’d love to hear from you. What insights did you gain out of experiencing changes in your life?

  

Ten abilities that may enable forgiveness

Letting go of the past suffering is a meaningful process, which requires that we search deeply inside to find our motivation and strengths to continue life with love and light in the heart. In this article, we discuss ten abilities that we may choose to develop as part of the forgiving attitude.   

To revenge or to forgive?

In the best slapstick GIF we’ve ever seen, according to James Vincent, London reporter at The Verge, we can observe a hilarious chain of events which ends with the revenge of one of the five players. 

The action starts when one of the players, whom James calls The Hitter, enjoys a snack while caressing a cute dog standing in front of him. The second player, The Stander, gets up from the bench to caress the doggy too. The bench tips over the third player, The Faller, who on his way to the floor, grabs the pants of the fourth player, The Spiller. The Spiller happens to pass by, carrying a pan of water in his hands. The tipping bench hits the pan of water which spills in the head of The Hitter. The Spiller turns around to pull his pants up while The Hitter hits him in the head with the pan.

Let’s imagine you are The Hitter. What would you have done if you suddenly got some water spilled over your head, while you enjoyed a snack and caressed a cute doggy?

 Would you have reacted differently if the water was warm or cold? Clean or dirty?

Would it make any difference if the person who spilled the water in your head was a complete stranger, your mother, your girlfriend or any other person important to you?

Scientific articles on human forgiveness show that the desire to revenge is built-in the human nature. The desire to revenge is evolutionary explained by the fear to be perceived weak in the enemy’s eyes.  Social psychologists have done studies showing that if two people fight in the street and there is the third person passing by, the fighters start fighting even harder.

The action in this GIF ends when The Hitter hits The Spiller. We don’t know how The Spiller reacts to the blow. Now let’s now imagine you are The Spiller. How would you have reacted if you got a blow in the head while pulling your pants up? You turn around and you see that it was The Hitter who caused you pain.

 

Motivation to forgive – Mandela’s story

 

The capacity for forgiveness is also built-in the human nature. The environment has a great influence on whether the capacity for revenge or the capacity for forgiveness are developed. One hypothesis for explaining the desire to forgive is the “valuable relationships” one. Primatologists believe that by forgiving and reconciling, our ancestors were more capable for group cooperation, which increased their evolutionary fitness. 

The hypothesis of “valuable relationships” may hold as well in the case of The Hitter and The Spiller. Maybe they are brothers and may decide to have a good laugh as a sign of forgiveness and reconciliation.

What if The Hitter and The Spiller are complete strangers who happen to be in the same place, at the wrong moment? What would motivate The Spiller to forgive The Hitter?  

When Bill Clinton asked Nelson Mandela how he brought himself to forgive his jailers, Mandela’s answer was “If I continued to hate these people I was still in prison.”

Mandela was part of a society torn by racial segregation, which gave more rights to the White South Africans than to the Black or other ethnicity South Africans. In 1963, at the Rivonia Trial, Mandela was accused to life sentence for revolting against the state.

After 27 years of prison, he became the 1st president of South Africa starting with May 1994 till June 1999. In 1995, the new South African government put in place a “truth and reconciliation” commission to investigate human rights abuses during the apartheid era when the rights of the Black and other ethnic groups were curtailed and the White minority rule was maintained.

Mandela had forgiven his jailers and wanted to help his fellow citizens forgive the abuses they had suffered during the apartheid era.

What motivated Mandela to forgive?

His dream society was the one where people of different skin colors and races live in harmony. He wanted a future of equal opportunities for all South Africans, as he declared in his speech at the Rivonia trial in 1964:

“During my life I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die for. ”

 

How about you? What wrong-doings did you suffer in childhood, school, romantic relationships, professional life, etc.? What aspects of the environment where you lived so far might motivate you to forgive?  

Choose one of the wrong-doings that had the biggest effect on your inner life. Would you choose an inner or an outside motivation so you can commit to forgiving your wrongdoer?

Defining forgiveness

Forgiveness has a unique connotation for each individual who suffered a wrong-doing. What do you think of when you hear the word “forgiveness”?

Researchers at GreaterGood Center define forgiveness a conscious decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance towards a person or group of persons who have wronged you, irrespective they deserve to be forgiven. 

When we decide to forgive someone, it doesn’t imply that we accept that the other person continues behaving in a way that could hurt us. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we come up with excuses for the respective behaviour.

Forgiveness means taking responsibility for a non-violent attitude to the wrongs we suffer.

Benefits of forgiveness

Forgiveness liberates the soul…” says Morgan Freeman who plays Nelson Mandela in the movie “Invictus.”

The Bible teaches us to forgive others so that God may forgive us.

Buddha said: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting hurt.”

Researchers confirm that more forgiving people are in a better physical and emotional health. Practicing forgiveness helps to release all the hatred, resentment, hostility and anger that are accumulated as a result of ruminating over the transgression. On the contrary, dwelling on unforgiveness makes your blood pressure rise, face muscles become tense and heart rate increase. For example, people with unforgiving attitudes towards their romantic partners experience jumps in cortisol, the stress hormone which metabolizes fat in the body.   

Second, people who have more tendency to forgive report greater quality relationships and greater commitment to relationships. Try to forgive for the sake of having healthier and happier relationships.

Third, forgive so that you can understand better what it means to forgive. You are more able to teach a forgiving attitude to your children or others you care about.

The Journey of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a unique process of inner life discoveries for every individual who commits to forgiving. For most of us, forgiveness is an emotionally sinuous process, with moments when you think you managed to let go, followed shortly by moments when you find yourself in deep resentment about the wrongdoer.

In the moments when you feel disillusioned that you’ll never be able to forgive, it is time to strengthen one or more of the following abilities in yourself: intention, honesty, acceptance of grieving, expectations, empathy, identity, humility, patience and courage.

1. Intention

Choose your destination – What kind of attitude would you like to have in face of the everyday life challenges?

What is your emotional baggage resulting from unforgiveness?

Your life is now with its present challenges. Are you aware how this emotional baggage mixes with the emotions resulting from the present challenges and how it affects your life?

When you set the intention to forgive for a being able to love again, to trust again, to feel joy again, your psyche is prepared to deal with the resentment and other negativity resulting from unforgiveness.

2. Honesty

Identify your pain - What are your negative emotions caused by the wrongdoing? Try to label them and see what emotions are more frequent.

Be honest with yourself and observe how the pain of not being able to forgive is affecting you. Maybe your self-confidence is low, maybe you don’t trust anyone around you, maybe you become bitter, unhealthily angry and hateful in every day life.

How else does the pain affect your inner life?

How many years do you think that one can live with the pain and other negative emotions resulting from unforgiveness?

For the English historian of Jamaican origins, Colin Grant, it took about 30 years to finally forgiving his father who rejected him. The forgiveness happened when Colin wrote the memoir “Bageye at the Wheel”, in which he explores the emotional differences between his world and his father’s.

Be honest with any negative emotion you might have struggled with for the last 5, 10 or 20 years. Sometimes, it may take a life-time to forgive.  


3. Accept the grieving

Accept your grieving, be willing to go through sadness, anger, pain, loss, fear, guilt whenever you are aware feeling that way.

How do you know when you don’t accept your pain? When you see yourself as a victim, thinking Why did this have to happen to me?, I always end up being hurt, etc. Perceiving yourself as a victim keeps you stuck in the moment when you suffered the injustice.

Instead, try to find an outlet for your pain, which doesn’t involve hurting yourself or others. Find meaning in your grieving. Find your ways to cope with the grieving. For example, some choose to do service to others in need. Some choose to talk about their emotions to someone they trust or complete strangers.

Prayer is a coping technique for many people who seek forgiveness or to be forgiveness. For example, in the biographic novel Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, describes the first time in her life when she prays to God. She starts her prayer by saying, “I’m a big fan of your work” . She hopes that by praying she would get an answer to her indecisiveness of whether to stay married or not. A few months later, after divorcing and after a failed romantic relationship, Elizabeth embarks on a one year trip of self-discovery around the world.    

What way would you chose to cope with your grieving?  

4. Expectations

When you commit to forgiving one person, it is best if you set the expectation of yourself to develop the habit of forgiving in general. Next time when another person causes you harm at emotional or physical level, it may come more natural to you to let go of the resulting resentment and other negative emotions.

Also, in the daily interactions, review your expectations of things that other people should have given to you and they chose not to.  

What are your expectations from the most important people in your life (e.g., family, friends, lover, etc)? Can you remember one expectation you had on one person and in what ways that expectation caused you suffering?

5. Empathy

Practice empathy – think into more detail about the life of the person who hurt you. How his childhood must have been? How much love and affection he must have received as a child? What situations he must have gone through as an adult? What must have made him hurt you? 

As we can see from the empathy game we played in the beginning of this article, there can be different versions of the story if we put ourselves in the shoes of The Hitter or of The Spiller. Similarly, by developing your cognitive empathy regarding the wrongdoer, you may understand more about his world. You will inevitably take more distance from your pain.  

You may even realize you have something in common with your wrongdoer, like Nelson Mandela did. Mandela befriended a white jail guard who “reinforced my belief in the essential humanity of even those who had kept me behind bars”.

6. Nothing personal

When someone hurts you, it says a lot about the level of consciousness of that person at that moment, his interpersonal skills, ideals and goals in life. He didn’t hurt you because of You, he hurt you because you happened to be in his way at that moment.

The slapstick scene we discussed in the beginning is a good example. The Hitter just happened to be in the way of the Spiller. The Spiller didn’t even mean to spill the pan of water in The Hitter’s head. In a similar way, persons with lower levels of consciousness have sometimes no choice but to react in a hurtful way towards the closest people.

In 1995, Mandela invited for lunch a man called Percy Yutar. Yutar was the state prosecutor at the 1963 Rivonia treason trial and asked the death penalty for Mandela. While enjoying their lunch, Mandela told to Yutar that he forgave him because he was only doing  his job. 

When you suffer a wrong-doing in professional life, it is slightly easier to understand that there is nothing personal because it is your professional identity which is harmed. This is a good time to ask yourself what do you identify yourself with. Do you identify with your job, with your family, with your country, etc?

Think of this scenario in professional life, when your boss criticizes you in front of your team for making a poor report. How would you feel the moment when you hear the criticism? If you take the criticism very personally, it might be an indication that you identify partly with your profession.

7. Humility

Humility is defined as the quality of having a modest view on one’s importance. How you consider humility, as a virtue or as a sign of weak character?

Seneca, a Roman philosopher and dramatist, said “Errare humanum est”, which translates into it is human to make mistakes. Practice humility by reminding yourself that both you and the ones who wronged you are humans, with bigger or smaller imperfections. We thus avoid the feeling of superiority to the faults of those who wronged us and judge less their intentions.

Can you think of an experience when you hurt someone with your words, for example?

By practicing humility, we learn to understand more than we try to make ourselves understood. Madela’s life was an continuous practice of humility in service of his society torn by the racial segregation, as he declares, “I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people”.


8. Patience  


Finding peace in your heart after a being hurt requires lots of patience. In general, how patient would you say you are, on a scale from 0 to 10? How willing are you to build patience in yourself?

The American poet, Mary Oliver describes in her poem, Patience, how the moon cycle inspired her to be more patient.  


What is the good life now? Why,

look here, consider

the moon’s white crescent

rounding, slowly, over the half month to still another

perfect circle —

I used to hurry everywhere,

and leaped over the running creaks.

There wasn’t

time enough for all the wonderful things

I could think of to do

in a single day.  Patience

comes to the bones

before it takes root in the heart

as another good idea.

I say this

as I stand in the woods

and study the patterns

of the moon shadows …

 

 

What or Who could inspire you to learn the ability of being patient when forgiving?

9. Self-compassion

The wound in your heart resulting from being hurt needs your kindness. Embrace your pain as if you embraced a frightened child. Smile to your suffering and validate it. Say to it, “Yes, I know it sucks to suffer but I am here with you.”  

10. Courage  

Courage in forgiveness means to continue life by being true to yourself, your values and principles. For example, courage may mean to continue life with goodness in your heart despite witnessing human cruelty. Courage may mean praying for the wrong doers to find their peace and start spreading goodness.  

Mother Theresa wisely portraits what being courageous in forgiveness means.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

 


After losing someone you loved dearly, to be courageous may mean accepting your shuttered inner life and hope for the rebirth of a new you, a better you, as Elizabeth Gilbert writes in the biographical novel Eat Pray Love, “Ruin is a gift, ruin is a way to transformation”

Considering the circumstances where you’ve been hurt, in what ways could you show courage to forgive?

Choose your motivation and preferred ability and let forgiveness begin! :)

More reading material, useful self-help guides that enable you realize at what stage of forgiveness you are and what to expect next:

 

Robert Enright’s 4 phases model of forgiveness 

 

Fred Luskin’s Eight nine steps to forgive  

 

Jack Kornfield’s 12 principles of forgiveness 

 

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! :)   

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

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?

The Dormant Richness Inside Each One Of Us

Where does happiness come from?

“Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”, Benjamin Franklin, the Founding Father of USA.

Most certainly, it is easy to agree with Benjamin Franklin’s view on happiness. We all have our small joys in life, such as watching a TV series or going to an ice-hockey game in the weekend. The problem is that we don’t perceive these small joys as real and long-lasting happiness. Instead, our minds are wired to chase the happiness, which comes from the “good fortune”. And this is how we go through life feeling empty, depressed, miserable, self-disillusioned and bitter.

The hope helps us survive the bottom line. We will be happy when we find love, when we get our dream job, when I get promoted, when we become a mother, when our sexual life gets better, when we are rich, after I divorce, etc. Yet, all these future expectations are beguiling and the very source of unhappiness. For example, if you do become rich, there will always be room for making more money. Therefore, the chase after happiness continues and the present is a struggle. Or, if you do get promoted, you may be disillusioned to realise that it is not bringing as much happiness as you expected.

Are there any chance for us human beings to be happy at certain points in our lifetime?

Research on happiness has flourished in the last ten years, offering to individuals self-help tips on how to find their own happiness. Here are few books, which I consider worthy of mentioning: Sonja Lyubormiski, The Myths of Happiness, and Robert Biswas-Diener and Ed Diener, Unlocking The Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Scientific studies show that we can at least reach happy moods and irrespective of what causes these happy moods, they “lead people to be more productive, more likeable, more active, more healthy, more friendly, more helpful, more resilient, and more creative.” (Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness, pp. 265)

Have you ever made this test to observe people from the distance? If you did, I am sure you agree that you can spot the unhappy ones by the way they carry themselves. Especially in the case of us women, the gloomy atmosphere in our minds reflects in our body movements.

Has it ever happened to you to adopt new ways of thinking for few days and think you are finally happy just before you slide back into the old way of viewing the world? Is sustainable happiness but an abstract concept that exists in the work of psychologists such as Sonja Lyubomirsky?

Can we reach a steady level of happiness?

How we relate to happiness differs from one individual to another, depending on our genetical heritage, our childhood and adulthood experiences. However, I strongly believe that we all can find our glimpses of long-lasting happiness by digging out the dusty characteristics which make us human.

Compassion, empathy, love, gratitude, altruism, soul-to-soul connection: they all live in us, the problem is that they have been forgotten. The age of science has brought wonderful advancements into the world at the cost of taking us away from who we really are: human beings.

If we want to be happy, we need to take a good look inside and cultivate the seeds of all these characteristics that make us human. Yes, it hurts when we feel that there is not love in our life. While we are waiting for love, we’d benefit from turning our face and soul towards the people around us and offer them the crumbles of love that there are in us. When we hear about a sick person who needs money for surgery, why not donating few euros from our income? Why not joining a group of people with similar interests?

Life happens now and we fool ourselves if we think we have control over it and we’ll be happy tomorrow. If we can control something, well that something is the humanity in us. The happiness will follow it.

 

Do we know what to expect when we decide to be stay at home mothers?

“Mine, mine! I can’t manage to read anything … Aurora takes all my time… and there are moments when she does only what she wants! … she gets upset with me if I scold her and she would not talk to me anymore.” This is a fragment from the Skype message written by a friend who is the mother of a 2 years old baby girl. She took up studying for a new degree while being a stay at home mother.

Before becoming a mother myself, I used to think that mothers must have so much fun in the world of games and toys of their kids. I am now discovering the journey of motherhood – the reality of a stay at home mom. This is what I wanted to do for the first few years of my baby’s life. I had waited for such a long time to have a baby that I just didn’t want to miss anything that my little one is doing.

Leaving aside the expectation of having loads of fun, I had no other expectations about how my life would be. There are articles that build up the expectations of being a stay at home mother and that discuss whether it is healthier for the baby if the mother stays at home or gets back to work but in the end, it all boils down to what each mother wants to do (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/owning-pink/201111/do-working-moms-raise-healthier-kidshttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/adventures-in-old-age/201105/are-stay-home-moms-happierhttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/one-true-thing/201009/candy-band-stay-home-moms-who-rock). I didn’t live up to my boss’ expectations when I extended my maternity leave. The most important aspect for my decision was that I was fully convinced that I am ready to embrace the role of a mother.

It’s been one year now when I haven’t slept an entire night. If I am lucky, I sleep for four consecutive hours. The day that follows, I find the creative energy to invent games to play together with my baby, which makes me very happy. If I am less lucky, the little one wakes me up every half an hour. The following day, the toys spread on the floor are but an annoyance. The scarce energy that I possess is saved for feeding and changing diapers, and I feel I am not a good mother for not being able to offer him more.

And there are days when the little one gets sick. On those kind of days, he is glued to me and I wish I was a kangaroo so that I could carry him in my marsupium.The whining is omnipresent in our apartment, which feels smaller than its actual size. More than ever, he cries to get what he wants.

Had my friend communicated her frustration one year ago, I would have probably thought, “Why is she complaining that she dedicates all the time to her baby?”. But now, I feel for her. In addition to frustration, I usually get lost in the pitfall of impatience with the baby, irritation with my family and bitterness with the world.

Why didn’t anyone tell me about this aspect of motherhood? The day progresses slowly while I am having a constant inner fight between what I need to do in the house and what my baby wants me to do. How can I manage this inner tension, which nests in me every week?

Let the baby cry while I proceed with the housekeeping duties? Tempted, but no.

Change my goals for the day? Yes, yes, yes! I put on hold my housewife duties so that I can prioritise the baby’s needs. Still, I have to admit that it is easier to make this choice than to actually implement it. And that’s the challenge of a stay at home mother – the inner struggle to get out of the pitfall with negative emotions. What it usually works for me is to write a few words to a friend, another stay at home mother who can sympathise.

I sometimes laugh at my naiveté to ever think that when you become a mother, you step into the land of never ending happiness. On the contrary, according to my experience, motherhood amplifies the weakest aspects of yourself. Sad examples are the new mothers who can be affected by post natal depression or, a more severe type of illness, puerperal psychosis. Statistics say that 20% of new mothers are affected by post natal depression and 1 in 1000 mothers can be affected by puerperal psychosis (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-14011669).

I have not suffered of PND nor puerperal psychosis but I do feel that my mind is more unstable than what it used to be. Even in days which I think they are good, there are moments when I find myself experiencing panic attacks. The adorable smile of the baby is not enough to bring back the required energy to carry on with the day.

When the mind restores its balance, I become aware of the space that has opened up in me. I assume that it happened when I was fighting my negative emotions but after all, it does not matter when or how it happened. What counts is the discovery of a new territory in myself. In this new space, I feel in touch with myself, more than ever before. I feel strong and bathed in a peaceful energy which springs from the reservoir of pure and unconditional love.

My mind and soul are free of personal limitations – at least for a day. The journey of motherhood continues at another level now – the level where resides the acceptance of my imperfections. There are still many fights to be carried on at this level, fights between the newly acquired awareness and my personal weaknesses.

When the personal weaknesses wins, I’ll say to myself, “This too shall pass and all that counts is that my baby is healthy!”. Furthermore, it may help to write on a post it note, “It’s up to you, woman, to get back in balance, so find a way, be creative!”. I will stick it to the fridge or to the baby’s crib to read it when shit hits the fan.

It’s never easy to be a woman

‘All the world’s a stage’. This is how Shakespeare begins the monologue in Act II, Scene IV, in the play “As You Like It”.

‘And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;’

Shakespeare’s verses came to my mind after the visit to my workplace where I am currently on parental leave. It was a grey and rainy day of Autumn when I couldn’t spend much time with my baby outdoors. So, I figured out I could pay a surprise visit to my work colleagues. When we arrived at the campus, I was the one who was surprised. Most of my colleagues were away. In the department, there was a deadly silence, which was disturbed by the squeaking of the pram wheels . The only open door was to my boss’ office. He is the best boss I’ve ever had, so with a smile on the face and my baby in the arms, I stepped into his office.

Yet, he wasn’t the usual smiling guy. “Maybe he has a bad day.”, I thought and carried on the discussion, on a cheerful note. He asked if I can get some help with the baby so that I can return to work. (Note to the reader: The law in this country gives to women the freedom to choose to stay at home for the first three years of motherhood, without running the risk of loosing their job. )

“Of course, the problem is that your parents are living abroad. This makes it more difficult for you.” He mused.

The uneasiness became heavier with every minute, so when my baby started whining, I bid farewell and left his office.

I was about to get in the elevator when another colleague stepped out. She is very fond of my baby, therefore, we followed her to her office so she could cuddle with him.

“Can I ask you what are your plans?” She asked at one point.

I replied that I choose to stay home with my baby for one more year.

“You know, over here the competition gets fierce. These people have even higher expectations about publication performance.”

“Well, competition is always good, isn’t it?” I replied.

My head was spinning when I left. My boss wanted me back on the research stage. My colleague set the stage for me, by updating me on the atmosphere at the department.

In his play, “As You Like It”, Shakespeare describes the seven stages of a man’s life: Infancy, Childhood, The lover, The soldier, The justice, Old age, Mental dementia and death. What about the stages of a woman’s life? How many are there? Shakespeare is not addressing this question in his play. To me, it seems that in a woman’s life there are only two stages: Before and After getting married.

‘Before getting married’ stage starts very early when baby girls receive as gifts their first dolls. I received my first doll, the day I was born. My father bought it for me when he heard he is the father of a baby girl. It was my favourite doll until years later when my sister broke its neck. Nowadays, toy manufacturers outdo themselves by producing super dolls, which can be fed and which poo. As girls grow up, they get tips about how to behave when they get a husband, “when you are old enough”. Because a respectful woman should not get married before the proper age.

In the ‘After getting married life’, we are expected to focus on the well-being of the family, on having children and raising them. All these while carrying on with our professional life. There is a certain time window during which a woman is expected to become mother. And unfortunately, the Mother Nature supports the expectations. Nowadays, this time window can be between 25 and 40 years old, depending on the country. I’ll refer to these women as ‘mainstream women’. But since life is not like in the romantic Hollywood movies (I wish it was!), there are many women around the world who should be in this stage, and they are not. And there is very little sensitivity shown to them, these ‘other women’.

Getting 30 is the threshold when people start thinking, “There must be something wrong with her that she is not married!”. I happened to read Melanie Notkin’s article, “Single and Childless Can We Just Move On?”. Melanie Notkin is best known for her bestseller, Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and All Women Who Love Kids. The article above-mentioned was published in Psychology Today, on September 26. Melanie is about 40 and she gets tips from people about what online dating services she should use. No matter what their intention is, most certainly, they invade her inner world. The main idea in her article is that she came to terms with the thought of not being a mother, despite the fact that is wasn’t easy to do so.

What if a woman didn’t want to date any man any longer? What if a woman doesn’t want any children? There are destinies, which are meant to be meaningful in other ways than married, with children. Take as an example, Elizabeth Gilbert, the writer of the bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love and the sequel to it, Committed: A Love Story.

I agree that marrying the right man and becoming the mother of his children gives the meaningful touch to life. You are a lucky woman, in the same way he is a lucky man. This is when your life, the mainstream woman, gets even more challenging. Once becoming a mother, the entire perspective on life changes. The brains start having a brownian motion, higher than before, and you become the master of multitasking. You will never again buy a dress for yourself, without feeling guilty that you should have bought instead something for your kid/kids.

The biggest challenge is to balance between being a mother, a wife, a woman and a career woman. In the first stage of motherhood, national laws stipulate how long a mother has the right to stay at home with her baby. The problem comes in the later stages of motherhood, when the mother returns to work. Out of 24 hours in a day, how much time does a mainstream woman dedicate to her work, to her family and to her baby?

I was given the right to choose my priorities. And yet, I feel the judgement in other people’s eyes when I tell I am a stay at home mother. The ultimate challenge is to be able to silence the voices of other players and connect to the core of your inner being. Over there, there is no role to play, only the authenticity of a meaningful life.