Mastering Me

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My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like, I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, ‘Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.’  ~ from Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

MPA graduation

On May 18 I graduated with a master’s degree in public administration. During the last few weeks, I’ve had lots of people congratulate me, give me advice, or tell me what this degree means for my future. I’ve realized that, despite their good intentions, not a lot of them understand what this degree really means to me.

Yes, I can now apply for jobs that I wouldn’t otherwise be qualified for. Yes, I might be able to negotiate a higher salary for said jobs. And yes, society now views me as an “academic,” someone who has chosen to invest in education. The thing is, after 3 years of reading, writing, discussing, analyzing, collaborating, and listening, I don’t care about any of those things as much as I did when I started my MPA program.

In the last 3 years, I have learned just as much, if not more, about myself as I have about public administration. Sure, I learned about the necessity of public, private, and nonprofit entities to collaborate to provide adequate public services. But I also learned how I work best in collaborative groups, and what types of services I think every human being should have access to, regardless of race or economic background. I learned about balancing efficiency and equity in tax policies, but I also gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of my own values.

As cheesy as it sounds, I think, in my case, MPA could stand for Master of Personal Awareness. I didn’t just invest in education or job security, I invested in ME. I didn’t just commit to studying, I committed to expanding my worldview. Getting this degree has been a life-changing experience. I don’t just feel like a better job candidate, I feel like a better person. I feel prepared to take on whatever life throws at me next, because I understand myself better. It’s pretty damn exciting.

So, I suppose what I’m trying to say is: do something because it matters to YOU. Not because of what other people think you should do, or because you think something is supposed to matter to you at a certain stage of your life. Become a master of yourself, no degree required.

I also want to take this space to say a big huge THANK YOU for all of the support and encouragement from my family and friends during this 3-year journey. I’m particularly humbled by the patience, love, and support of my husband, who encouraged me from day 1 to pursue this degree. He has put up with a lot: me being gone an extra 3 hours after work for night classes, locking myself in my study to do homework on weekends, and having an occasional mental breakdown. Love you, hubby. xoxo

 

Thoughts on Happiness

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I’ve had several conversations recently about being happy. Specifically, how to be happy when we are put in difficult situations at work, how to maintain happiness while enduring health issues, and how to make time for activities that make us happy. In my experience, most conversations are about happiness on some level. We share our successes and defeats, obstacles and solutions, stressful situations and enjoyable events. By communicating our experiences to one another, we are in effect sharing our happiness or our unhappiness with different aspects of our lives. It seems like there are several factors that can determine our happiness: the perception of fair treatment, kind or unkind words from a loved one, a favorite song on the radio, a paycheck. The list goes on and on. But I try to remind myself, particularly when I am unhappy about something, that ultimately, my happiness is under my own control.

There is a quote by Yogi Bhajan that helps me remember this concept:

Happy and unhappy belong to your mind, not to the world.

The way we choose to perceive, acknowledge, and act on every situation is under our mind’s control. We have the power to be happy or unhappy. Now, I’m not saying this means we must always choose happiness. Life inevitably involves suffering on many levels, and experiencing suffering is natural. But by acknowledging that we can control the extent to which we suffer by the way we choose to think about our lives is very empowering.

Happiness is filtered through your mind’s eye. Special thanks to Pastrami Basket for the image inspired by Bhajan's quote!

Happiness is filtered through your mind’s eye.
Special thanks to Pastrami Basket for the image inspired by Bhajan’s quote!

The next time you feel unhappy, or happy, remember that your feelings have been filtered by your mind. Take a deep breath, and settle into whatever you are feeling. Acknowledge the power you have over your mind, and thus your emotions. Then rejoice in the immense beauty and power of your mind.

Happy New Year

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On the last evening in 2013, I find myself in good company: my vizslador named Daphne, some Indian food, a bottle of sparkling cranberry juice, and myself.  I have a wonderful husband, who is not feeling well, and another little dog, who is recovering from surgery, but they are in a different city. It is not an ideal situation for any of us, but it sums up a number of things I’ve learned during 2013 quite nicely.

 

Daphne goes for my sparkling cranberry juice.

Daphne goes for my sparkling cranberry juice.

1. Expectations lead to disappointment. I did not expect to spend NYE without my most favorite person and with only a wet dog nose to kiss at midnight. I was sad at first, but then I realized that it really is just another night like any other. I’ve still had a pretty good time, watching some Netflix, enjoying my vegetable korma, and playing fetch down the hallway with Daphne. This year I’ve realized that the more expectations I set, the more times I end up disappointed. It might be something big, like expecting to kiss my husband at midnight on NYE, or something small, like expecting my Indian takeout to be ready on time. Either way, being too attached to an expected outcome sets you up for disappointment. It’s good to have goals and plans, but you can’t be so attached to them that you fall into a funk anytime something goes awry. I arrived to get my takeout tonight, and they had forgotten my order. I could have lost my temper and gone somewhere else, but instead I smiled and waited patiently. I knew that korma was worth the wait. And you know what, I got free masala tea! Not too shabby. Allowing ourselves to let go of expectations allows release from suffering/disappointment. This in turn allows us to enjoy whatever is happening to us right in each moment, instead of waiting for something that we expect to happen in the future. In 2014, I’m going to focus less on planning and more on living.

2. Do what you want, when you can. While sipping my complimentary masala tea and waiting for my food, I enjoyed a nice dose of people watching. Several groups walked in all dolled up, with sparkly headbands, fancy tights, tailored coats, and freshly shaven faces. Clearly these people were going to hit the town after enjoying some delicious Indian food. I probably could have found a group of people to get dressed up and go out with, but I didn’t really want to…I was looking forward to enjoying my Indian food and a cozy night to myself, without crowded bars and crazy people. And, let us not forget, I had a spectacular date at home: Daphne the vizslador. Daphne is also part of this lesson. We adopted Daphne just over a year ago, after I had the epiphany that I wanted another dog. A big dog. A slobbery, cuddly, wonderful dog. I had been telling myself we couldn’t get another dog because of the expense and the logistics. Then suddenly, I realized I was being an idiot. I have wanted said slobbery, cuddly, wonderful big dog since I was about 4 or 5 years old. I had a childhood dog who was wonderful, but not so slobbery, and definitely not cuddly. And we have Hobart, who is very cuddly, but not slobbery and quite small. So I said to myself: Elizabeth, life is short, and you have no business continuing to live without a big, slobbery, cuddly dog when there are so many of them out there to be loved and love you. And now I have one. And she’s wonderfully, excessively slobbery, big enough to earn the nickname “moose,” and cuddles with the best of them while taking up her fair share of the bed. And I guess the point is this: it is pretty rare that we can do exactly what we want. For example, to take a trip somewhere far away, work at a prestigious institution, publish a novel, etc. I think it is very important to do the things that really make us happy when we have the chance (i.e. order expensive Indian food and enjoy alone time, or adopt a big slobbery, cuddly dog), so long as it does not affect someone else negatively. In 2014, I’m going to seize all the chances I have to be happy, and encourage others to do the same.

3. Being alone can be a very good thing. I used to hate, even fear, being alone. I’ve never lived by myself, and up until quite recently, I used to fill any empty hours with social outings so I wouldn’t have to face a minute in the company of just…me. But as I’ve learned to reflect inward, alone time has become something that I treasure. Being alone allows us to tune in to our minds and bodies. It grants us the opportunity to address concerns and fulfill needs. The more comfortable we are in our own company, the better we can act in accordance with our values in the company of others. So tonight, I am enjoying my leisurely evening alone. I could be happy in many other places, with many other people, but I am choosing to be quite content being with me (and my big, slobbery dog). In 2014, I will use me-time to recharge, so that I have more energy to help others.

Now the hour of 2014 is upon us. I’m excited for this year. There are things to look forward to, things to hope for and dream of, and that is good. But I’m going to try to live most of 2014 in the moment, sans expectations. I will enjoy each moment for what it brings, I will choose to be happy whenever possible, and I will help others to be happy, too. When I feel lost, I will sit alone with myself, to remember where I am going.

I am very grateful for all my friends and family who have made this year a good one, and who I look forward to seeing more of in 2014. Happy New Year, all you creative, unique, and beautiful people.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a vizslador to kiss.

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

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ekanost:

A wonderful post that summarizes many of the books written by His Holiness. The list is divided into general topics and more specific Buddhist topics, depending on your level of interest. Happy reading. Namaste.

Originally posted on Shambhala Blog:

Dalai-LamaFor this latest installment of our Great Masters series, we turn to a contemporary master, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, often referred to by Tibetans as Gyalwa Rinpoche or Kundun. As with previous posts, this is not intended to be a complete biography but rather a look at His Holiness’s teachings through the lens of his books, mostly the two dozen published by us, though a few others are included here. For those looking for a biography, His Holiness’s autobiography, Freedom in Exile, is an excellent starting point.

While His Holiness is not formally the head of Tibetan Buddhism (there never was one) nor even of the Gelug tradition (that title belongs to the head of Ganden Monastery, the Ganden Tripa), he is the figurehead and ambassador of Tibetan Buddhism and culture to the world. Considered the emanation of Avalokiteshvara, he is beloved by practitioners of all…

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Small Victories: A lesson in attachment

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Today I made a personal victory of epic proportions. I had a book on hold at the library, and I didn’t pick it up. How is this a victory, you ask? That is sort of a long story…

I love to read. A lot. In a perfect world I would get paid to read and do yoga and then tell people about it. Alas, “professional yogi reader” is yet to be a job posting at KU. So instead, I read in my free time. When I say “free time” I mean time I have carved out for myself to read because it is important and enjoyable to me. Wait a minute, this sounds like a good thing, right? Well yes…and no…

Here’s the problem: Every time I hear about a book that piques my interest, I put it on hold at the local library. Usually there is a short wait, so I won’t get the book right away. When it is my turn to read the book, I have 2 weeks to pick it up before the next person in the online queue gets it. Thus begins the reading waiting game, which goes something like this:

“Aha! That awesome book about cheese you heard about on NPR is ready for you! You must go pick it up immediately! No, wait! You are already reading a rather long novel…you have 2 weeks, just be patient. *3 days later* Jumping jackrabbits! Book 1 in that Indian detective mystery series is ready! YOU NEED TO FINISH YOUR NOVEL SO YOU CAN PICK UP THE BOOK ABOUT CHEESE SO YOU CAN PICK UP THE INDIAN DETECTIVE MYSTERY!”

Happiness is a busy bookshelf

In many ways that last sentence is the story of my life…Sometimes I get really excited about several books, all at once, and I want to read them all. But my reading waiting game has unfortunately begun to tarnish an activity I treasure with stress. Instead of savoring my long novel, I am now attempting to race through it, budgeting how long it will take me to finish so I can return it and grab the next book before it, *gasp* IS TOO LATE AND THE NEXT PERSON GETS IT!

So today, while trying to decide when I could fit in a trip to the library to pick up the book about cheese (Yes, it’s real. I love cheese almost as much as I love books…maybe more.) on the LAST day before my 2 weeks are up, I had an epiphany. I could let the book go on to the next person, who is probably just as eager to read it as I, and then request it again, put myself back in the queue, and read the book when I have more time. No one will die. I will still have things to read in the meantime.

I realized I was forming an unhealthy attachment to the idea of attaining the book. I imagined opening its glossy cover, reading the reviews on the first page, flipping through the introduction, and staring at it longingly as I passed by the coffee table each day until I finished my other book.

This is a rather silly lesson in attachment, but it shows how pervasive that feeling can be. We think we must have something because we’re excited about it, so we need it right then, even if we don’t necessarily have time to appreciate it.

And so, today, I will not go to the library to pick up the book about cheese. Instead, I will I will enjoy the book I am reading, and I will not worry about all the other books out there yet to be read…at least…not too often.

4 Ways to Fulfill Your Needs While Helping Others

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“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” ~Dalai Lama

dalai-lama-tibet

 

Today I am very humbled to be able to share some of my self discoveries on the website TinyBuddha. This is a fantastic site that offers daily posts on mindfulness, compassion, and general spirituality in everyday life.  I hope you enjoy the post. Please let me know what you think!

4 Ways to Fulfill Your Needs While Helping Others

 

Namaste, Elizabeth

Lawrence, KS, the freedom city

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Lawrence, KS, the freedom city

150 years ago today Lawrence, KS was raided and burned by William Quantrill and his pro-slave riders from Missouri. The massacre killed close to 200 Lawrence citizens.

150 years later, we are still a community that fights for freedom and equality despite the rest of the state’s political leanings. We rose from the ashes of Quantrill’s Raid, and continue to thrive.

Today, and every day, I am proud to be a Lawrencian, and Kansan.