26 Things

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Last week I turned 26. It’s not a particularly inspiring age. Really it just means more of my friends are having babies and I’m closer to 30 than 20. But on my birthday one of my friends posted to my Facebook wall “I hope this is your best year yet!” I thought about it for a minute, and then realized there is every reason to believe 26 will be infinitely better than 25, just as 27 will no doubt be better than 26. I figure this because each year I learn more; more about myself, about the people I interact with, and about the world around me. And if School House Rock taught me anything, it’s that knowledge is power. In honor of this philosophy, I present to you 26 things I’ve learned that help keep me sane, and that will help make 26 my best year thus far. These lessons are in no particular order and range from astute to silly, much like my own thoughts. I hope that you find some of them helpful, too.

1. Embrace your inner child

Getting older does not mean that you stop having fun. It does mean you have to cultivate creativity and spontaneity more than you used to. Do a cartwheel. Buy a coloring book. Re-read your favorite children’s books whether you have kids or not. Run after the ice cream man when he drives down your street. Make leaf rubbings. Fly a kite. Watch a Disney movie on VHS (WHAT?!). I promise you will feel lighter, happier, and more youthful afterward.

2. Gaining some weight is not a big deal

Are you happy? Are you healthy? Do you FEEL good? Do you have the money to feed yourself and your family with nutritious things? These are the questions to be asking yourself because these are the things that matter. Your body has been changing since you were born, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. Get over it.

3. Speaking your mind is incredibly empowering

Being respectful does not mean you have to agree with everyone. In fact, people will respect you more if you tell them honestly what you think, instead of complying to avoid conflict. Conflict is where ideas meet, mingle, and make better outcomes. Don’t silence yourself because you’re afraid of what someone might think about what you have to say. Someone might laugh at you, but you can smile knowing you were true to yourself, rather than frowning with regret later.

4. Give yourself the freedom to relax

I am a recovering perfectionist and multi-tasker. I get it. You can make your lists and be productive without sacrificing peace of body and mind. Take a break once in a while to recenter yourself. I promise the world will not stop turning if you take a night off to watch junk TV on the couch or read a book for fun.

5. Make time for what makes you happy

Doing things because you feel like you should is not an indicator of their importance. Life is short. If you enjoy something, you should pursue it whether or not it falls on your typical “to do” checklist. I read a lot and do a lot of yoga. My husband and I make big, delicious meals together. We have a puppy who loves to eat dirt. I don’t always get the laundry folded, our kitchen is frequently a mess, and our clothes often have mud on them. But are we happy? Very much so.

6. You can’t be friends with everyone, so don’t try

This took me a very.long.time to learn. But now that I’ve embraced it, I’m a much happier person. It does not matter how amiable you can be, how funny your jokes are, or how open your mind is. There will be people out there who, for whatever reason, don’t like you, or, aren’t a good fit for your life. Smile at these people and let them flow out of your life. If you try to befriend everyone, you will spend far too much time shaping your life to fit the perspectives of others, which will only lead to unhappiness.

7. You can’t solve other peoples’ problems

When you care about someone you want to help them. But helping a friend, or even a stranger, doesn’t mean you have to take on his or her problem as your own. You can provide support, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and words of advice. These are all good, helpful, compassionate things to do. But you can’t be someone’s solution. It is unfair to you, because you have taken on undo stress, and to them, because you have taken away their learning opportunity.

8. Silence really is golden

meditationI am one to fill silence, whether it be with small talk during dinner or with music while I do the dishes. But the power of silence lies in its ability to foster clarity. If you’re talking with someone it allows you a moment to process what the other person is saying before you respond. If you’re doing an activity alone, it allows you to be present and mindful with your actions. I try to incorporate more silence in my days, especially when I’m stressed, to offer myself a moment of serenity.

9. Complacency and contentment are not the same

The difference is subtle, for sure, but it’s an important one. Being complacent about any part of your life means that, to some extent, you have given up. Complacency is saying that you’re making the most of where you’re at while knowing deep down that you could be trying harder. Contentment means you are doing everything you can to fulfill your goals and live a good life, while accepting your limitations and the things you can’t control.

10. You learn the most from people who are different from you

If we were all the same the world would be a very boring place. Interacting with people who come from different cultural backgrounds, have opposite political views, or even who like different books and movies than you do is an opportunity to broaden your worldview and learn more about yourself by analyzing how your perspectives compare with others.

11. Respect and compassion go a long way

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No matter where you live and work, you will have to deal with difficult people. You can see them as an annoyance, or an opportunity to practice patience, compassion, and respect for those around you. These feelings benefit you, and might help the other person learn from your example.

12. Expectations lead to disappointment

I’ve learned this the hard way many times. If you build up expectations in your mind, at some point they will come crashing down and bring your emotions down with them. Goals and plans can be helpful, but if you don’t leave room for change, you will never be satisfied.

13. Spend as much time as possible with the people you love

You have a limited amount of time in any given day, week, and ultimately in your life to spend in the company of others. I am striving to spend more time with people who truly lift me up and help me become a better person.

14. Pursue your interests

Sometimes the weird things you’re interested in can turn into fulfilling, lifelong hobbies, or even a career. Either way, pursuing activities and topics that pique your interest will engage your mind and bring you joy.

15. Balance your intake of fantasy and reality

ImaginationDreaming is wonderful. So is escape. I love good fiction because of the escapism it provides. And I often dream of what my future perfect day might be like. But being present in your daily life is just as important. If you can’t be happy in the present moment, regardless of the hardships you might be facing, you will spend much of your time in a bad mood. It is healthy to experience all of life’s trials and be educated about what is happening in the world, regardless of how awful it sometimes seems. Life is suffering. You just have to learn how to live with it.

16. Be direct and honest about your feelings

People won’t really know how you feel if you don’t tell them, and when you keep your feelings to yourself, you’ll often be misunderstood. Tell friends and family how much they mean to you, or even when they’ve upset you. Tell a coworker you appreciate how they helped you, or that you’re frustrated they didn’t follow through with something. Be respectful without placing blame, but remain straightforward and honest.

17. Take time for yourself

As Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Make sure you take time out from your busy schedule every so often to breathe and do something that you find rejuvenating. When you give yourself time to rest and relax, you’ll be more capable of doing things for other people.

18. Identify your values

Identifying what truly matters to you helps you make decisions that make you feel more fulfilled and happy. It also helps you make choices in complicated situations when there is not a right or wrong answer, but a best answer FOR YOU.

19. Never stop learning

Education continues to be one of the most important and fulfilling areas of my life. The more I learn, the more I feel capable of helping others and moving my life in the direction I want. Watch a documentary, read nonfiction, listen to NPR, take a class on something you’ve always found interesting. You won’t regret it.

20. Be activeYoga

Endorphins are amazing things. Being active and exercising has helped me cope with anxiety and depression at different times in my life. Physical activity can help clear and focus your mind. For me, yoga does these things very well. But for you it might be gardening, walking, training your dog, ballroom dancing; just something that gets you up and moving. Your brain and your body will thank you.

21. Plan ahead, but allow the plan to evolve

It’s good to think about the future and proactively work toward your goals. But, life is transient. If you try to hold on to the reins too tight you’ll get rope burn. Allowing your plans to change organically can lead you to even more exciting experiences and outcomes.

22. Reduce negative thoughts

The key to happiness resides within your own mind. Silence your road rage, forgive those who hurt you, and don’t assume the worst. You’ll be happier for it.

23. Embrace your weaknesses

Weaknesses are blessings in disguise. They provide you opportunities for personal growth and improvement. Instead of seeing your weaknesses as discouraging, view them as motivating.

24. Try new things

Be it food, a sport, or a new genre of media, expanding your worldview is always a good thing.

25. Release your worries

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I am stealing this one straight from the Dalai Lama:

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

26. Learn how to say “no”

This relates to many of the other lessons, but it’s important. Don’t feel like you have to agree to things just to make someone else happy. If you say “yes” to every social invitation, volunteer opportunity, or work request, you’ll spend a lot of time doing things that don’t align with your values and don’t make you happy and fulfilled. You’ll also be exhausted and have little time left over for yourself. You can say “no” politely, but firmly, even to people who matter to you. If they care about your needs, they’ll understand.

Lessons from Life of Pi

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I first read Life of Pi a few years after it was published. I was in high school, still figuring out who I was and what I believed. At that time this book provided a fantastic fictional escape from the anxieties of everyday life. A few years later, in college, I lived with a girl who shared Pi’s last name: Patel. Like Pi, she was from India, and had interest in multiple religions. I recommended the book to her, and she loved it as much as I did. At that time the book provided a cultural connection and a point of conversation, something I think both books and religion should do. Then just a few months ago, I revisited the book before going to see the film. This time, although I still found it fantastic, it was less of an escape. I found myself connecting more closely to Pi’s philosophical and spiritual musings and struggles on a very real level. With this book I think Yann Martel addresses some very important conflicts with religion and spirituality in the modern world.

Life of Pi

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Life of Pi, and the lessons and insights I have personally drawn from them.

“To choose doubt as a philosophy for life is akin to choosing immobility as a means for transportation.”

Pi says this during his commentary on agnosticism. I respect agnostics, because as Pi says, we are all permitted to doubt from time to time. I have spent plenty of my life in doubt. But I think the point this quote makes, and what I glean from it, is that accepting doubt, and stopping your thought process there, robs you of potential insights. Life is uncertain, and uncertainly must be embraced to avoid unnecessary suffering; but to use doubt and uncertainty as an excuse for apathy or an avoidance of digging in deeper to religious/spiritual/scientific thought will not bring you peace or enhance your experience of life.

“Bapu Ghandi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God.”

I think this quote is important because people in all religions are guilty of telling others who practice “you’re not doing it right.” Once, a long time ago, when I was in an evangelical youth group, I told a counselor that I thought my spiritual gift was to make others happy. She told me that wasn’t a spiritual gift. At the time I believed her. Now I know she was projecting her own insecurities onto me. If you have found a spiritual path that allows you to grow and help others, don’t let someone else tell you that you are wrong. Ever. It is good to constantly evaluate your actions and reflect on whether they are aligned with your beliefs, but as long as you’re not harming anyone, you should not allow others to make you feel you are communing with God or the universe in the “wrong” way.

“These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.”

This is so beautifully written, I find it difficult to analyze. Rather than focusing energy on telling others how their beliefs are wrong, internal, self-reflection should be one’s spiritual focus. People from all religions spend lots of time, money, and energy fighting to defend what they believe are God’s laws and teachings. This frequently blinds them from seeing their brothers and sisters who are right next to them, who are begging for help.

“The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar.”

A great testament to the human spirit and the power of positive thinking. No matter how dire a situation may seem, the mind can overcome; each person has the ability to control his or her happiness.

“Reason is excellent for getting food, clothing and shelter. Reason is the very best tool kit. Nothing beats reason for keeping tigers away. But be excessively reasonable and you risk throwing out the universe with the bathwater.”

This message reminds me that confining your thoughts and beliefs into one narrow path limits your ability to find solutions, acceptance, and peace. There are many benefits to being strictly logical and scientific-minded, but it is important to remember that the universe is vast and full of mysteries, and that much of human interaction is controlled by deep, emotional and spiritual beliefs. If you are very religious or spiritual then it is important to remember that science is not an enemy of faith, but rather they can enhance one another.

If you have not yet read Life of Pi I hope you will. It is a book for everyone, on every journey.

Namaste.

Happy 151st Birthday, Edith Wharton

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Today would have been the 151st birthday of my favorite author and the inspiration for the title of this blog, Edith Wharton. I found this list online of reasons why she is “a badass.” While I don’t disagree with them, I think there are other aspects of her life that were left off the list, and I wanted to make one of my own. I could go on and on about Ms. Wharton, but I will be brief. J

 She valued learning and education.

Yes, she grew up in a privileged household that provided her with more opportunities than most girls had. But, that aside, Wharton was an exceptional student and greatly valued learning and expanding her mind. Even as she got older, she was constantly reading and traveling, meeting new people and learning new things. She loved words and ideas and discussing them with others, as do I.

wharton the scholar

She was a strong, independent woman who challenged social standards.

Virtually all of Wharton’s writing addresses inequalities in social strata and the social expectations of men and women. Her stories challenge the status quo at the time she was writing, describing men who choose love over business, women who desire love and sex without marriage and children, and men and women who desire to befriend or bed those outside their social stratum. But Wharton didn’t just write about these dynamics, she lived them, too.

wharton in the snow

She achieved many firsts for women.

She was the first woman to win a Pulitzer prize for The Age of Innocence in 1921. Read it, you won’t regret it. Don’t watch the movie, you will regret it.

the age of innocence

She was also the first woman to be accepted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was the first woman to receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Yale.

She was a woman of many talents.

Not only did Wharton start publishing her work before the age of 18 and go on to have a successful, lifelong career as a writer, but she was also accomplished at:

–        Research and academia; she traveled Italy researching villas

–        Correspondence; she was an eloquent and avid letter-writer and kept in touch with all her friends

–        Design; she designed and decorated her home, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts.

The Mount It includes a drool-worthy library for any bibliophile.

wharon's library

She was altruistic.

Even after they were divorced, she ensured the financial and medical stability of her former husband Teddy, who had basically gone batshit crazy. On a more serious note, she used her extensive finances during WWI to provide medical aid and housing for refugees and jobs for women.

She loved dogs.

The woman was crazy about dogs. She had several throughout the course of her life and loved to cuddle with them.


wharton dogs

Seriously, crazy…

crazy dog lady

“My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.” ~Edith Wharton

wharton lapdog

It seems Wharton and I have much in common.

me and hobart

In conclusion, Edith Wharton was a visionary. She opened doors in the literary world and the world in general  for women and set many standards. Her passion for learning, writing, equality, friends, altruism, and dogs, among other things, makes her someone I hold in high esteem as a role model. Every time I read or re-read one of her works I am in awe at her talent and ability to write about issues that continue to be relevant today.

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We must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.

 

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ResoYOUtions

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The time is upon us. It’s the first day of a new year and one feels compelled to broadcast a list of impressive goals and improvements to accomplish in the next 365 days. I feel like I give progressively less and less thought to my “resolutions” each year as I get older. It’s not because I don’t want to change or improve myself, and certainly not because I don’t intend to stick to the goals I make. I think it’s because during the past few years I’ve been in mindset where I’m constantly making promises to myself.

This is me, not apologizing for taking a bad picture. Just being myself. 🙂

Work out more. Be better at menu planning. Clean house on a regular basis. Go to bed earlier. Eat more vegetables. Develop patience. No really, go to bed earlier. Exfoliate often. Do more volunteering. Read. Vacuum your car. Menu plan. Don’t go to bed with a dirty kitchen, and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GO TO BED EARLIER. It becomes a vicious cycle of self-improvement, but more realistically, self-loathing.

I have spent far too much time mentally telling myself what to do, how to do it better, and when to do it. All this does is set me up to feel like a failure. This year I’m making resoYOUtions, or, I guess, resoMEtions…which sounds odd, so let’s keep it in second person.

This year, I am committing to myself. I am going to make decisions in my best interest; not in a selfish way, but in a self-care sort of way. Oh sure, I still have a list of things I want to change about myself and my lifestyle, who doesn’t? But I’m not going to feel guilty when I don’t accomplish them. The only standard I will strive for is being the best version of myself, one day at a time. I won’t apologize for voicing my opinions, won’t feel pressured to do things I don’t want to simply to make others happy, won’t feel ashamed for writing cheesy blogposts with titles like “ResoYOUtions,” and I won’t hate on myself. If I make a mistake, or fall off the proverbial wagon, I will recognize my fallibility as a human, and move on.

Because I know you want to know my secret list of regular resolutions, here they are:

  1. Respect my body’s needs and go to bed earlier so that I can have the energy I need to live each day to the best of my ability.
  2. Try to do at least 15 minutes of yoga each day, with the yoga specific goal of working on the splits (it’ll be my party trick for 2014…maybe).

And that’s it…really. On the days when I don’t succeed in these two goals, I will shrug, laugh at myself, and vow to try harder the next day. I think the only path toward self-improvement is through self-acceptance for who you are at any given moment. So that’s my ResoYOUtion. To be me, all the time. Maybe you should focus on being, you, too, and we’ll both be happier for it.

Happy 2013. Namaste.