Doin’ Nothin’

There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.” ~ Calvin to Hobbes ~ Bill Watterson

Some days it feels so good to put the to-do list away and take time to do nothing in particular.  Of course we still breathe and eat and sleep, so we aren’t actually doing nothing, but the delicious extravagance of unscheduled time is a luxury many do not often allow themselves.  We feel the need to be doing something, anything, that we can look back at and say, I crossed that item off my list.  As we go-go-go we then impose that on our over-booked children as well.  How many times has your child had to choose between one activity and another because there just wasn’t enough time to fit everything in?

Teaching our children the art of appreciating down time, simply sitting and observing and taking in the world around them.  A trip to the park that does not involve soccer, or elaborate preparations; just a walk down the block to swing or not, to mosey rather than hurry, to just slow the pace to know how that feels.  We owe it to our children to teach them the value of quiet that does not involve study, but just the simplicity of being.

At each stage of life these moments of doing nothing seem hard to find.  But in the end, will it matter if the floor was swept 1000 times or 1000 and one?  One can always find something to do, but it may also be an excuse to avoid paying attention to the quiet.  Discovering the inner peace that comes with mindfulness and the sheer joy that comes from free spontaneous play are gifts we give our children when we allow them to do nothing at all.  And in that nothing grows imagination, observation, love of the natural world and the ability to be self- entertaining.

We all deserve our down-time, our doing nothing moments. Breathe and jump in a pile of leaves.

Life Lessons

In my time away from writing blog entries I have done little that involved writing and spent much of my time outdoors.   Which leads me to lesson one:

Just because you take a break from something, no matter the duration, you can always come back and pick it up again.  This goes for hobbies, a project you’ve lost interest in, a stubborn problem that needs a new approach.  Stepping away is not quitting and likely when you return it will be with a renewed and refreshed point of view.  In the past, once I had stepped away I would begin the process of berating myself for being a “quitter” and never finishing anything.  Once I was thoroughly beaten down, starting again was daunting.  This time I gave myself permission to take a break, and a general timetable to return and best of all realized that there is no finished, just done for now.

Lesson two:

Sometimes when life is bleakest, the reward for persevering is a powerful moment or one of extraordinary beauty.  This comes from sitting with some of my lowest feelings over the years and reflecting on the grace bestowed upon me when I emerged from despair.  It came together in  stunning visual clarity after I spent 14 long hours behind the wheel, in driving rain for a large part and on a dark, rainy, windswept mountain road at the end. My reserves spent,  I was fully focused on avoiding becoming another highway statistic.  After stopping for the night, I returned to the road to finish my drive home and the stunning beauty of a river gorge awash in fall foliage greeted me and was my companion for much of the day as one river became another and the colors ranged from molten gold to deepest bronze.


It isn’t personal, even when it is.

A long list of events in the last few months, any of which would have sent me to a corner in a funk in the past, sailed right by with hardly a ripple.  The difference is in my self-talk, a change in perspective that has allowed this shift to occur.  Even in one particular situation when a friend said, “that is such a slap in the face”, and perhaps it was.  I took it as the other person having an agenda different from mine and since she was the decision maker, her agenda took precedence.  At this rather late juncture in my life I am able to see that I do not need to take ownership of another’s opinion of me,  that I do not need to take something personally even when it was the intent.  Some might say that the fight has gone out of me, and I suppose when one finds oneself at peace, that is true.  The fire, passion and enthusiasm have not waned though, and those are the traits I cherish most in myself and others.

Being mindful in the moment, giving myself time to sit with my feelings and reframe my expectations, choosing to find my peace wherever I am has given me greater clarity and wholeness.  I look forward to resuming my daily writing, with even greater enthusiasm.






Milestone ~ 100 Posts

This marks my one hundredth post since beginning my challenge to write every day.  While for many it is important to take a day off to refresh and rejuvenate, for some reason I tend to just drift away.  This has been the case for so many things that I enjoyed and looked forward to; morning walks, going to the gym, eating healthfully, watching the nightly news; the list is endless.

I suspect this results from a lack of self-discipline and a somewhat drifty personality.  I lose interest easily, or rather I gain interest in something else easily and leave all of my best laid plans behind.  As part if my personal Happiness Project and overall growth, I realized this was one thing that lead to much unhappiness in my life.  Not only was I not doing something I deeply love, writing, but I had a long list of unfinished projects, unmet goals, unestablished habits.  This blog became my first step in the process of finding a way to make something I value stick.  Taking a day off from it has seemed like falling back into my pattern of drifting away, never to return.  As my regular followers know, I lost a day to a technology glitch, but I am happy to say I picked up the very next day.

Writing daily has other hazards as well.  Repetition being the first and a huge one at that.  I am not offering timely diet tips, a log of my struggles with weight or parenting or learning to dance.  This has become daily philosophical musings, and the topics are often interrelated and have been examined for centuries by great minds and even in my case discussed more than once.  In considering this I began to worry that this blog and its direction have grown stale.  I reminded myself that sometimes I must hear the same thing several times and from several angles before it really takes.  I also reminded myself that every day new readers find me and may only read a couple of entries, which then are new to them.  With that consolation I will continue looking at life, truth, the senses, reading, writing, happiness and the rest.  I look forward to the next one hundred posts and hope that you will as well.

Expect Less, Find More

“As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man, upon easier terms than I was formerly.” ~Samuel Johnson

As I know more of myself, I expect less, and am ready now to call a man a good man, upon easier terms than I was formerly.  Holding oneself and humankind  to a standard of perfection will lead to disappointment and sorrow.  Finding room for the imperfections, the failings, the sheer humanness in the self and humanity is to not only see the world as it is, but to become open to the hidden good within.

As a recovering perfectionist I find that as I have learned to be easier and more forgiving of myself I am easier and more forgiving of the others in my life and the world at large.  It is a burden that weighs heavily to believe one should be able to achieve that which is unachievable, and doubly heavy to believe that about others.  Never finding satisfaction in “good enough”, striving, pushing for just a little more, all sounded like the keys to success to me and perhaps they are.  But when nothing is ever quite right, that more could always have been done, steals away the precious moments of rest and gratification.  To court such disappointment and failing is the expressway to unhappiness.

Viewing oneself and others with a forgiving mind and heart allows the focus to shift from the negative to the positive.  Looking at imperfections as a clue to the hidden value of another, actively searching for the best in each, while embracing the lack of perfection, offers insight and access to the good.  With the focus on the flaws we only see a man, focusing on the merit behind the flaws allows us to see the good man.  The art of turning one’s focus is one of the key secrets to a happy and contented life.  Like a houseplant stretching toward the light we too can grow towards the sun.

Lowering expectations from the unrealistic to the realistic brings the self into alignment with the world as it is.  From there we can look to the good in the man, choose to search for the best in what is, and ease the burden of seeking that which cannot be.

Too Much

“I must learn to love the fool in me the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries”  Theodore Isaac Rubin

I have been told by others from time to time that I am too much.  Too intense, too demanding, too something.  We all may have an overabundence of a particular trait that we frame in the negative.  As we go about the business of choosing what our life will look like, would we really choose to diminish ourselves?

Embracing who we are in all of our extremes is a challenge at times; humor helps I think.  When I find myself running off at the mouth, I inwardly laugh and think,  “there I go again”.  It is a harmless acknowledgement of the otherwise negative,” I talk too much”.  People with large personalities are a vital ingredient in the soup of life.  The flamboyant, the enthusiastic, the highly charged, highly motivated introduce big ideas, inspire us to loftier thought and action if we do not allow ourselves to be intimidated and overwhelmed by their very presence.  And if we are one of the bigger than life personae in one manner or topic, we owe it to ourselves and the grand mix not to scale back, tone it down, shut it off at the source.

It is not the “fool in me” that needs love, it is the message of too much that we need to reframe.  If we are not one who loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, laughs and cries; are we fully human?  We are not fools to have a full range of emotion, the ability to err and fail, we are merely the less than perfect beings among an entire sea of beings all imperfect in their own ways.  There is joy to be found in embracing our quirks, laughing at our foibles, loving all the ingredients that make us unique; accepting our humanness.

Picking up the Ball

Going back through all of my posts has had an unexpected side effect…a severe case of “when did I lose track of that?”.  Although going through the ninety posts is slow going; I find I need to re-read each one to pick words that are somewhat reflective of the topic to use as tags.  I covered the first twenty or so and I know it will take longer as I go, the posts grew in length over time as well.

The first topic I lost track of was the “spin”.  Taking the negative or gloomy perspective and finding the positive, upbeat view.  Everything  from finding joy in a long gray day to finding the humor in an awkward encounter seems to have slipped away a bit.

Specific resolutions like Creativity Day and getting the filing under control – the work table for creative projects is now buried under all of that filing!  Some resolutions were kept and the one I hang on to as proof I can do this is writing daily.  So I will give myself a gold star on that one and pick one resolution to add in for the next ninety days. (Hey, I’m a slow reinforcer, most people it’s a month to six weeks, me, far more.)  So I will deal with my pigeon of discontent (as opposed to the Bluebird of Happiness, thanks G. Rubin), which is the filing.  It is not simply a stack of papers that need to go in folders, it is an entire shift of past years to boxes (need to buy one), make new files and purge the old, then put it all away.  But, once done, I am resolving to put the paper in the folder without it ever hitting the “to be filed” pile.  When I look at what has prevented me from doing this I realize, beyond it being a less than “fun” task, my perfectionist streak gets in the way as well.  The folder “needs labels” is the fattest, because I like printed labels, not hand written.  I will accept that it is important to me and make the time to print labels as needed, rather than “later”.

So here I am again circling back to mindfulness; paying attention to what is really happening or keeping me from attacking a project or task.  One of the huge benefits of putting things in writing is being able to look back as a check-up, to remind oneself where we were, where we thought we wanted to go, and hold that up against one’s current location.  There will always be some slipping, life happens, and all of our good intentions may lose some of their priority, but the good news is, with reminders, we can pick up the ball again.

Cool Parents

Parents often try to be cool, to be a friend to their children and not a parent, often in harmful ways.  Providing alcohol for parties, turning a blind eye to risky behavior; parents fall into this trap in the mistaken belief that it will keep their children close.  The photo above is NOT one of those parents.  She is cool alright, getting down and muddy with her daughter’s sixth grade class on a spiritual retreat that is an annual event at the Christian school her children attend.  She leads her daughters by example and in this instance she excels in having unselfconscious fun.

Watching a parent act in joyful, playful ways gives children permission to do the same.  It gives them a sense of safety and security to connect with a happy parent,  one who participates in adventurous activities.  Freeing oneself confers freedom upon one’s children as well.  To give up pretense, to act in a way that is true to oneself and one’s belief system, wasting no time worrying about the opinions of others, a parent is revealing themselves to their children and paving the path for a happy, grounded child who grows into adulthood with the same open, lighthearted approach.  Strong guidance through one’s positive actions instead of lecturing, chastising and berating bestows the title of cool parent without giving up one shred of leadership or strength of belief.

Working on our own happiness has a ripple effect, and the strongest waves from our center are the ones nearest us.  Children who have the benefit of a parent who exhibits their own happiness freely create ripples of joy on the playground, in the classroom and on into their adulthood.  Giving happiness a top billing in our lives serves us directly and radiates outward to all we touch.

Living with Integrity

“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.” Barbara De Angelis

From the root word integrate. Webster’s Dictionary second and third definitions:  the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished; sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition

Acting with consistency is at the root of living with integrity.  Aligning one’s actions with one’s thoughts  a simple concept, execution difficult.  A life reflecting  inner integrity is one that is whole and  has quieted the inner struggle.  To have a clear map and a strong compass replaces fear and anxiety with calm and sureness.

It is human habit to hold back our honest selves with the mistaken assumption that it makes one more likeable or that we are somehow protecting others by not revealing ourselves in our actions.  This crisis of identity is in direct opposition to the wholeness needed for happiness.  Contentment requires a true representation of the self; to have each part of ourselves working in unison for one’s best interest.

Speaking and acting one’s truth and accepting the consequence when it includes tension or conflict with another is where the difficulty lies.  And yet, which is the more damaging; to be in conflict with another person, or to be in internal conflict?  No matter who the other person might be, one can exist without them; not so for the self.  As always the resolution lies within.  And once whole, the inner world aligned with the outer; the resource of calm, steady, clear thought becomes available to express ourselves.  The tensions with others can be eased somewhat with our clarity and sense of purpose.

The clarity and sense of purpose then help us clear the clutter of our outer world.  Viewing all aspects of living through the lens of personal truth, belief in our personal value;our expectations of others the same as we demand of ourselves, affords the opportunity to resolve or remove harmful relationships and habits.  This is the hard work of happiness.

All of the externals that we use to help us create our happiness are additions to the primary goal; whether it is exercising more, being more organized or tidy, or losing weight.  But unless one chooses to exercise the mind, organize one’s thoughts around their personal truths and lose the unhealthy relationships and habits; the changes are superficial and the gains easily lost.  Drilling down into the core of oneself and coming out with a clear sense of values, truth and self-definition and then building on that foundation is the way to create happiness that is lasting and real.  The fully integrated person is the content and satisfied soul.

Disturbers of Happiness

“The disturbers of happiness are our desires, our griefs, and our fears.” — Samuel Johnson

It is interesting that Mr. Johnson listed our desires at the head of the string of disturbers of happiness.  It is easy to see how grief and fear can disturb one’s inner state of happiness, but desire?

I have come to think of happiness as synonymous with contentment.  The states of joy and elation are fleeting; happiness is a deep well of reserves to weather the daily with good spirit.  To desire, to long for something, is to disrupt this calm and to color all that we have with the sense that we are missing something.  Longing steals the present, throwing us into the search for the distant and perhaps unattainable.

While working to overcome fear and guilt as thieves of happiness, let us not overlook the draining energy of desire.  When desire springs up it requires examination and if the object is a valid one, broken down from a powerful emotion to a goal and a plan.

A balance is needed to keep one moving forward without losing sight of the happiness in the moment.  To dream, to plan, to work daily on the goals that add to our contentment are necessary to continue to grow.  To crave, to covet, to yearn for that which we do not have works in opposition to that goal.  A happy inner life is one of moderation and equilibrium.  Extreme emotion is to be reserved for the most extreme circumstances, to allow that to bleed into our everyday way of being crowds out the space one has carved for personal peace.  Happiness will be disturbed; it is our task to minimize those disruptions and continue to be mindful of all that adds to our wellbeing.

It’s Still Allowed

“To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”  ―    Bill Watterson

As changes and choices present themselves to us we can look at each of them in isolation or we can look at our options through the lens of the broader meaning of our lives.  While the meaning of life is the eternal question, what gives meaning to each individual life is a matter of personal expression.  To answer the question, what should my life look like, on a personal level we can also ask:

  • If I had to give up one goal what would be last on my list?
  • On a dreary day what is my sure-fire mood brightener?
  • What do I do just for myself that excites me to think about?

As  the questioning process begins, being observant becomes part of the search.  Paying attention to the times when one becomes passionate in a conversation, when one jumps out of bed excited for the day’s activities, when an activity causes the Zen-like paying attention without seeming to; all cues to the things that shape the meaning of one’s life.

The weave of your life, the threads you choose, the colors you accentuate, the texture and weight, all yours.  A life of meaning can be unconventional, success defined in non-traditional ways.  It can be selfless and courageous, quiet and introspective, brash and world-shaping.  The meaning one derives from the living of their life is as unique as the person who has chosen that path.

Refusing to have the meaning of our lives defined for us, to fail to bow to the cultural and societal norms if our inclination is to do otherwise, is not taken lightly.  Stepping outside the circle drawn around us to seek another shape and pattern, creating definition from internal yearnings, wearing  passion draped lightly or wrapped snuggly; the  value comes from within and may not be a twin to the values foisted from without.  It is not easy, it is a life’s work; the lightness that lifting off the cloak of convention allows is the undeniable feeling of happiness.