Sociable

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wonder-Full

This past weekend my husband and I experienced a very rare phenomenon. Silence. Being able to finish a hot cup of coffee. Sleeping in until 10:30 on the weekend. Reading The Washington Post and actually finishing an article. These extraordinary events were graciouslly brought to us by two very generous grandparents who wanted to give us a break from parenting for the weekend. Hallelujah! We wallowed in the freedom of a weekend at home without the children. For two weeks prior to the occasion, we contemplated different ways in which we would spend our free time. My internal list of things to accomplish grew on a daily basis. It was filled with many hours crossing off household repairs that have filled our ongoing punch list since we moved to our house three and a half years ago. We figuratively threw the "honey do" list into the dusty old box it has been sitting in for three and a half years and instead decided to spend time together pretending to be the young college kids from thirteen years ago.

Despite the growing number of places we wanted to visit, books we wanted to read or restaurants we wanted to try, one event remained a must-do on our agenda; going to the AFI Theatre in Siver Spring to see Slumdog Millionare. I wasn't too familiar with its plot and I was relying solely on my husband's opinion after he listened to a review of the film on NPR. At 7:30pm on a Saturday night I was delighted to be surrounded by an incredible sound system, a bag of swedish fish, Reese's Pieces and a civilized theatre-going crowd.

I won't give away any major details of the movie, but I will say that an overarching message in Slumdog Millionaire is the phrase: It is written. I interpreted this statemen to mean that a person's destiny in life is written. The question is, are we the authors of our own destiny or is it predetermined by the universe? Can someone believe in a certain destiny and orchestrate her life around fulfilling that vision? Or, are we at the mercy of a universe, higher power, or spirit who has already written our life's story. Do we react to a destiny that has been chosen for us before we came into being? How much are we in control? Although there are many formidable opinions on both sides of this question I am personally reminded of a bumper sticker that I once saw claiming "You plan. God laughs", tauting a similar philosophy that there is an element of one's life that is uncontrollable and left to the powers of the universe.

Embracing the ability to let go and realize that there is a written plan and purpose to one's life is liberating, yet very difficult. The virtue that enables us to accept the wonders of our destiny is discernment. With this gift we listen deeply for the true questions, trusting that the answer will unfold and reveal itself when the time is right. We become alert to the messages that come in subtle and surprising ways. We hold decisions lightly until the truth emerges. Discernment allows one to be reflective and meditative and hold a decision with trust, allowing wonder and intuition to guide us by grace.

Whether you believe that destiny is a controllable or uncontrollable force, you may soon be inundated with holiday cards extending wishes for a wonderful season and new year. I simply ask you: How wonder-full is your life? Do you allow the wonders of the universe and your destiny to lead you to the right path and guide your inner vision? I hope you will open your heart to the possibilities of your written plan, not your honey do or punch list, and allow time for reflection and grace to ignite your spirit with peace and love.

With peace and hope,
Elizabeth

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What have you done?

What is your favorite holiday song? This was a question posed in a recent forward that I received from a friend at work. I didn't give much thought to my answer, because O Holy Night has always been one of my favorites during the Christmas season. Until two nights ago.

I was sitting in front of the television screen hoping to zone out to any program that I could find on a major network at 8 pm EST. I started watching the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting and being a sucker for live performances, I eagerly watched. I admit that I even stayed tuned for the Jonas brothers and Miley Cyrus. Mid-way through the program, David Cook, winner of American Idol this year, sang a beautiful rendition of "Happy Christmas" by John Lennon. At a time in our country when we have elected the first African-American president and vowed to make change in our country, several lyrics stood out. For those of you who do not know the song:

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
And what have we done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

The overarching message in the lyrics is that of unity. The virtue of unity calls us to see our commonality without devaluing our differences. Experience connectedness with all people and all life. Unity frees us from the divisiveness of prejudice and heals our fears. It comes when we value every person, in our family or in our world.

In America we watch countries suffer under the demise of disunity and the need for power. The current cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe was caused by the collapse of an economy and health system in a country plagued by fighting and conflict. The war that we are still fighting to win in Iraq was brought upon us by a fundamental disagreement between the Suni and Shiite sects of the Muslim religion.

If we all made an attempt to unite our families and seek unity in all of our relationships, then the world would be a much more peaceful place to live. I look at the phrase in John Lennons's lyrics "and what have we done?" I hope you will seek common ground, appreciate differences, resolve conflict peacefully and honor the value of each individual. Be a unifier.

With peace and hope,
Elizabeth

Thursday, December 4, 2008

One of the top songs in the country right now featuring T.I. and Rihanna is "Live Your Life." This song is not only a global hit, but also a pretty big hit in my house right now. I admit to downloading the song to my ipod and having dance parties with my girls in the kitchen. I can't help it. I feel a burst of adrenaline every time I hear "Mia-hee, Mia-Haa. Mia Hoo, Mia Ha Ha ". I can't resist the urge to blast it at full volume and shake my tail feather or beat the steering wheel. Besides its catchy opening, two simple sentences in the beginning of the song get me going; "what you need to do is be thankful for the life you got, you know what I'm sayin'. stop lookin' at what you ain't got, start being thankful for what you do got"(T.I.). A rapper's ramblings couldn't be any more genuine or mind-altering. Be thankful! Count your blessings! Have an attitude of gratitude!

Our nation is currently in an economic crisis partly due to the fact that Americans have been trapped in a cycle of wanting more and wanting bigger and better. A bigger house, faster car, or more material possessions. If our attitudes shift towards recognizing the gifts in our lives, then perhaps the need to look further or larger will stop at our own doorsteps. The gift of gratitude forces us to contemplate the bounties of our lives. Being thankful everyday can lead to more contentment and even more blessings coming into our lives in small, subtle ways. Another aspect of being thankful is having the ability to discern the gifts in our tests and trials. If you believe in the philosophy that everything happens for a reason, then look at each situation, whether the outcome is or is not how you had hoped, in a positive light. Be thankful for the gift that emerges in those times of trial.

How often do you express gratitude to your spouse? Expressing positive emotions or validations to one another can sustain your marriage. In the book How Full is Your Bucket by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton (Gallup Press, 2005), the author describes a scenario which has been studied by John Gottman of The Gottman Institute. He suggests that there is a magic ratio of 5:1 in terms of a balance between positive to negative interactions with our partners. In fact, Gottman teamed up with two mathematicians to prove the validity of this ratio. He studied 700 couples who had just received their marriage licenses. For each couple the research team videotaped a fifteen minute conversation between husband and wife and counted the number of positive and negative interactions. Then, based on the 5:1 ratio, they determined whether or not the marriage would be successful. Ten years later they followed up with the participants and looked at their original predictions. They had predicted the divorce rate with 94% accuracy.

The importance of expressing thankfulness at home, work and in the community keeps life celebratory and bountiful. One of the most influential ways to offer thanks to someone is by writing a validation. You can visit www.bucketbook.com and go to the Drop Zone to send electronic drops to someone as a way to acknowledge them for the virtues and actions for which you are grateful.

As a gift to yourself today, find some time to reflect on what you have. A Rihanna song may not be the catalyst for you to begin this journey of gratitude, but maybe a warm house, enjoyable food or a nice glass of wine may start the process.

Peace and Hope,
Elizabeth

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Close the Gap

I am sitting in a familiar place. The sounds of nature surround me as I sit atop a steep hill cushioned by soft mud, twigs and little rocks. Through the tall pine trees is a ray of light that delicately falls and illuminates the Beaver's pond below. It appears to be an opening to heaven. Soothing music fills the background and I close my eyes to retreat to the silence of my mind. Without actually looking, I can see the eagle soaring high above the trees, offering a new energy, fierce protection and a reassuring mantra that brings peace, harmony and serenity to my soul. Out of the silence I hear a faint cry. Could it be an animal in search of food; a bear running through the woods? Maybe a fellow hiker has been wounded and is crying out for help. I open my eyes to sharpen my senses and follow this painful sound. The scream becomes more intense, more agonizing. As I open my eyes I suddenly find that I am no longer atop the beautiful hill sitting in tranquility and harmony. I am in my own house, walking through the living room, bumping my elbow on the dining room armoire, following the sound to its source. I arrive at the peaceful step where my daughter has been sitting for four minutes. Finally the peak of her temper tantrum begins to subside. What a rude awakening! But, hey, I got to take a break from the chaos.

Chaos is unpredictable. The word itself, as defined by Wikipedia, is derived from the Proto-Indo-Euopean root ghn or ghen meaning "gape, be wide open". Due to people misunderstanding early Christian uses of the word, the meaning of the word changed to "disorder". How does chaos start? Does the gap present itself and we blindly fall in? Chaos may be a gap in time, a gap in space or a wide open energy that is calling us to jump in and meet negativity with more negativity. The wipe open chasm that becomes a chaotic event rears its ugly head in our homes, work, country and global community. Do you become caught in the trap? In an article published in Positive Psychology News Daily (http://pos-psych.com/news/david-j-pollay/200812021258)
David J. Pollay discusses the feelings of waking up happy versus waking up with random, negative thoughts. As he writes "my unattended brain will find some shred of evidence to build its negative case. And the result is that the initial bad memory or random thought captures my attention and then sets the tone for the day." We are all guilty of having those infamous "bad days" , where you think you would have been better off staying in bed instead of enduring through the endless negative circumstances of a day; spilled coffee, traffic, long lines, poor customer service. What if the cause of such chaos and negativity during the day was the result of our own free will choosing to fall into the wide open gap instead of pouring a bucket of antidote at its core?

The antidote that I refer to is serenity. Having an abiding sense of trust and faith that all is well, detaching from strong emotions and arriving at lucidity of thought. Keeping the peace. Not everybody has the self-discipline or self-awareness to invite serenity during those tough moments. Take the guy from Florida who recently attacked his father and mother with a Christmas tree and its metal stand. (http://www.myeyewitnessnews.com/news/local/story.aspx?content_id=6f676323-2163-4377-8c8a-f7b21d11fad9&rss=59).
37 year-old Edward Lackie was arrested and charged with felony assault last week. He attempted to throw the 3 foot Christmas tree at his father, but luckily he missed. His parents subdued him. Being able to stop in the moment, detach, and figuratively travel to a more calming, tranquil place could have been transformative for him.

As a country we all wished and hoped for serenity and peace after the awful terrorist attacks in Mumbai. During this chaotic and tragic event, came a pure example of serenity admist turmoil. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his pregant wife Rivka, 28 were two of the Israeli's murdered in the Mumbai attacks. Their two-year old son Moshe, was also at the Chabad House when the attacks occurred. An angel of serenity, his Indian nanny, carried him away and protected him from harm. He is now being hailed as the "Child of all of Israel". Moshe Kotlarsky, a rabbi from New York proclaimed at his parent's memorial " You don't have a mother who will hug you and kiss you, but the community will take care of the boy. You are the child of all of Israel" (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28020013/). Moshe's nanny demonstrates that in the midst of chaos, one can create tranquility and accept tests with grace and trust.

When chaos ensues, how will you respond? Before you start hurling Christmas trees or allowing one negative occurence in the morning set the tone for your day, think about detaching. Go to a special place in your mind. You've already heard about my little slice of heaven, otherwise known as Hawley Lake. Heal the wide gap of chaos with a peaceful and serene soul. Be the calm in the wind.

Peace and hope,
Elizabeth

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Purposefulness

How often do you take time to ponder your true calling and vision for the future? Have you ever taken time away from the daily hustle and bustle to explore your purpose in the human race? What is your deepest gladness?

Those of us sitting and staring at a computer screen right now may think that these questions are overhwhelming and even impratical when looked at through the lense of needing to support a family, pay the bills or have food on the table. Not to mention the current recession. I can tell you that my deepest gladness ten years ago (moving to New York, becoming entrenched in singing lessons, meeting with agents and taking a stab at my life on the stage) is definitely not my deepest gladness now at thirty-one, happily married with two daughters.

The virtue of purposefulness offers us a gift. Visions change and goals become altered, however the message of bringing purpose to our lives remains constant. It calls us to evaluate our present life circumstances and set clear goals for achieving a vision. With this gift we can dream and be idealistic and think "what if" while being purposeful and creating a plan for implementation. I invite you to discern your true calling today. Write it down and make it concrete. Where do you see yourself professionally? personally? spiritually? What is your plan for the future?

Purposefulness can be applied to the many different roles we carry out each day. My vision as a preschool adminstrator is vastly different than my purpose or vision as a mother. Be mindful and look at each role seperately. You will invite clarity and honor your true intentions as you map out your vision for the future.

For parents, purposefulness calls us to concentrate fully on what we are doing. At times it is a struggle to turn our attention to our children when we can easily slip away and finish an email, sweep the floor or talk on the phone with a friend. Today give yourself and your children the gift of purpose. Get down on the floor with them and make it count...without distraction. We have a limited amount of time to engage our children and raise little moral beings. Your sense of purpose with your own children will in turn cultivate their own strength virtues.

The virtue of purposefulness tells us "Our calling is where our deepest gladness and the world's hunger meet." -Frederick Buechner

May you connect with your deepest gladness today.

Peace and hope,
Elizabeth