FORGET SELF-IMPROVEMENT

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There’s a special edition of Time in the grocery stores titled The Science of Happiness. On page 19 in the article about Nine Ways to Feel More Joy, item #3 is titled “Forget Self Improvement.”

I quote:

“Basking in what’s already great about yourself is a more effective route to joy than trying to fix what is not.”

“Identify your strong suits with the free Values In Action Survey of Character Strengths (viacharacter.org). It takes 15 minutes to fill out and then provides a ranking of your 24 strongest qualities. Think about how you might use your top five strengths in your relationship, at the office, and in your free time.”

“People who consistently apply ‘signature strengths’ experience less depression and more happiness. It’s an easy way to refocus your efforts to better set you up for success.”

I printed out the free report and also spent $50.00 on two others that went into more details about each of the 24 qualities and how to use them. I am working my way through them; they are interesting. I know the idea of focusing on your strengths is valid because I had professional personality analysis 20 years ago and our teacher proclaimed the same advice. So check it out for what it’s worth. I hope you benefit from the experience.

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Life Changes

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As I look out my kitchen window the sun is shining and a slight breeze stirs the leaves on the maple tree. The view is the same as last week and even last month. Few changes. Obviously this view is imperfect. In reality the earth is rotating on its axis at a speed over 1,000 mph at the Equator while the planet is soaring through space over 66,000 mph as it revolves around the sun. My kitchen window point of view is limited. Earth has moved over 11,000,00 miles since last week and 3.3 billion miles during the month. I am simply not aware of the change because of my limits.

We plot the passage of time by our favorite TV shows, TGIF celebrations and golf outings. Then one day another milestone confronts us. We have a birthday that sends us into a new decade. We lose a loved one unexpectedly and wish we could see her one more time so we could tell her how much we enjoyed her company. We are forced to make a radical change in our perceptions.

This is due to our microscopic view of life and who we really are. We prefer to pretend we are physical beings who will last forever once science and medicine figure out the correct DNA sequence that will catapult us into eternal physical life. Another part is our cultural background which views our world as an economic machine focused on being happy by possessing material goods. Clinging to the material world sets us up for undesirable experiences.

We hear people say we should be grounded; but grounded in what? The best answer I’ve found is groundlessness. We must learn to accept life’s changes as they occur, even when the change hurts or threatens to disrupt our lives, by focusing on the present. If you are interested in pursuing this idea further I recommend Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron. It’s a Buddhist approach using meditation but is written for non-Buddhists.

Final thought: We are spiritual beings experiencing life through physical bodies. Only our spirit, our soul, is eternal.

Tips for Meditating

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Meditation is mental exercise. Choose a friendly, peaceful location. Sit in a comfortable position. Relax by breathing in and out several times. As with physical exercise, don’t expect immediate results. We change ourselves slowly over time, by taking baby steps. Make it a habit.

After relaxing, start following your breathing. Don’t become obsessed. Treat it like a game or practicing a musical instrument. Expect mistakes, that’s what practice is all about. When you find you’ve gone off on some problem or daydream, recognize it and say to yourself the word “thinking”. Just “thinking”, no self criticism. Saying “thinking” will interrupt the daydream or problem solving. Smile, be happy, and return to following your breaths.

Love your mind and your self. Pat yourself on the back. With practice there will be times when you can focus on your breath for a longer time. Eventually you’ll notice a subtle difference. Your reaction time be longer between an event and your response. In this longer time you will have the opportunity to decide how you want to react. You will no longer be on autopilot. You will live your life with intention.

The ultimate goal in meditation is to help us discover who we are. We will realize our bodies and our thoughts are passing, temporary. We will begin to see our true self, a soul which is peaceful and mindful of the present moment; a soul which is eternal, beyond all worldly change.

May the peace, love and harmony you find in meditation fill your life with such abundance that it overflows from your life into the lives of your friends and family.

Meditation and Fundamental Ambiguity

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In my previous blog I quoted Pema Chodron’s thought that we desire stability and foundation while living our life which is a dynamic, changing process. I claimed meditation was what we needed. How does meditation help? Meditation is a tool which allows us to challenge our thoughts.

Our thoughts control our emotions. On page 12 of Living Beautifully Pema discusses how an emotion, like anger, only lasts ninety seconds. What keeps it alive after the ninety seconds is that we focus on it and won’t let go. We keep replaying our memory of what made us mad. It’s so automatic we don’t consciously realize what we are doing. We get caught up in the problem.

In contrast, after we’ve been practicing meditation for a while, our mind sees the thought, the attached emotion, and our unwavering attention to the problem, and it shouts, “Time out!” We stop the automatic replay of the problem. During the time out we have the opportunity put things into perspective.

Unless you meditate already, you can’t appreciate how meditation changes the functioning of your mind. So let me share an experience. In the early 90’s I regularly attended Tuesday night meditations taught by Buddhist monks from Thailand. When I learned they were having a three day weekend retreat I immediately signed up. All we did for the three days was listen to talks, do seated meditation and do walking meditation. As I was getting ready to leave Sunday afternoon I felt disappointed. I hoped for a more significant mind change and I didn’t see it. Maybe I wasted my time.

I got in my car and pulled out on to the nearby highway to head home. Whoosh! A car passed me so fast I wondered what the guy was thinking. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Three more cars sped past, one beeping his horn. I was thinking of showing them a sign of my displeasure when I glanced at my speedometer. I laughed. I was in the left lane going 30 mph in a 55 zone. I moved over, gradually increased my speed to a respectable 50 mph, and made it home safely.

Meditation won’t change you after one session. It will change your thinking slowly and surely over time. It will give you the ability to call your own time outs. It will help you feel at ease in this fundamentally ambiguous existence.

The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human

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I’m reading a wonderful book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun. I’m reading it because I’m going through changes. It doesn’t matter what they are, just that they are changing, that’s always the scary part.

Chapter One is titled The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human. Pema notes we are focused on attaining things which will give us a sense of stability and foundation: a new job, a little house with a white picket fence, our soul mate, wonderful children, and the opportunity to live ‘happily ever after.’ Those are my words, not hers. They are memories I focused on. I use them, not as recommended goals, but as personal examples.

There is, however, a problem with that focus. I had many jobs in my career, some good, some not so good. I’ve had many homes, five in the last sixteen years. My wife, Marilyn, passed away. My children, whom I love dearly, weren’t perfect and are now adults. How’d they mature so quickly? And  what about happily ever after? I’ve lost my hair, my arthritis bothers me, and I’m now a senior citizen. I quit wearing my glasses when I shaved because I hated seeing my wrinkles. Well, I had to put the glasses back on because I was missing those thin white hairs that are hard to see but obvious to casual observers. Sometimes you can’t win.

Don’t reach for the Kleenex yet. My point, and Pema’s point, is we strive for those items which will become a solid foundation in our lives. Yet the greatest constant in life is (take a deep breath and type it) change. Life is a dynamic process, not well suited to our building block philosophy. That is the fundamental ambiguity of being human. So what is the solution? Meditation. More on that subject in my next blog, hopefully tomorrow.

Spring Is Here

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I’m not referring to the meteorological Spring which the TV weather people say arrives Wednesday. No, none of that TV hype. I’m talking real Spring, signs of Nature.

My experience indicates the Cardinal is the first to announce its arrival and usually does so two weeks early. Back on February 14 Mr. Cardinal visited a large bush outside my living room window. He gave enough chirps that I started telling friends Spring was on the way.

On February 20 I parked my car in the garage and stepped out into the sunshine when I heard geese, high above me. I looked up. I saw four or five groups of geese circling above; each group at a different height, wheeling in slow, clockwise circles. More geese arrived from the South. All groups broke their circles and headed Northwest in ‘V’ formations. I knew from past study this is their migration path because they fly around Lake Michigan on their way to Canada. This was the second sign.

Finally, on February 25, I was out in Lockport for a visit. I heard a chirp I recognized but had not heard in a while. Yep! It was a robin. He was hopping on the lawn and flew up to the low branches of a nearby bush. He paused and looked at me. That’s when I confirmed its orange breast.

I enjoy getting this information firsthand from Nature instead of TV. Weather reporters throw too many numbers at us and report on the worst weather event they can find, even if it’s halfway around the world. Nature Is more fun than TV.

Happy Spring!

Healing Others

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Heal ourself, heal others.

Hawaiian kahunas believe we are interconnected at the level of soul or energy. Scientists refer to a similar concept they call string theory. Assuming interconnection is a fact, changing our self automatically causes change in everyone we know. So when you let negative feelings go you are improving your connection to the other person or people. This change within will also be reflected in how you react to that person. They will see this change, hopefully sooner than later, and may change their reaction to you. This could become a reconciliation.

Hawaiian kahunas also believe our minds, bodies and emotions are interconnected and that healing should focus on all three areas. If you wish to pray for someone to heal them mentally, emotionally and physically, you must follow a formula with the greatest potential for success. The steps are:

  1. Get permission from the person you wish to heal.
  2. Perform a Ho’oponopono for yourself, insuring nothing negative stands in your way.
  3. Form an intention to completely heal yourself and the other person at the same time. The healing will be for all physical, emotional and mental aspects.
  4. Pray to God, and spirits (angels, saints, healing spirits, etc.) to assist with the healing. All healing will be done according to God’s will. We will not focus on specific results. God knows what caused the illness, what needs to be healed, and when it needs to be healed. Our motto is “God’s will be done.”
  5. Breathe in slowly thinking ‘Aloha’ (Love), bringing God’s healing energy into your body. Breathe out slowly thinking ‘Mahalo’ (Thank You). As you do this the energy will flow into you and the person you are healing, even if they are remotely located. Do this breathing exercise eight times.
  6. Thank God and all healing spirits for their help.
  7. Let go and let God. Release your wishes and thoughts about healing so your request flows unencumbered to God. Let God take charge. The Hawaiian kahunas say, “Amama Ua Noa”, which means “our prayers have flown to God.”
  8. For healing which requires more time, I recommend healing every other day.

Sometimes you will see quick healing results. Or it may take time. In some cases God may not want healing to take place. I recommend using Aloha and Mahalo because this healing method has been used by Hawaiian kahunas for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Words have power.

If you have questions, or are interested in learning more about these techniques, or  wish to organize a healing circle, please contact me through my blog site www.spiritwalkingjoournal.com , or at pauljmcallister@sbcglobal.net.

Amama Ua Noa

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