I spent most of my youth after my parents’ divorce trying to make a family to replace the broken, violent home from which I came. I didn’t just want friends, I wanted sisters to stand beside me and help me learn what unconditional love feels like. I longed for a best friend. I met Sarah when I was 21. Within a week of knowing each other I was driving her daughter in her car to a language camp that I organized.
Join Wendy while she works to master the art, study the science and discover the practice of positivity one day at a time. The growing body of scientific research in positive psychology proves without a doubt that shifting your thinking habits from negative to positive creates a thriving life. When you train yourself to remain open, curious and lean towards wonder, surprise, gratitude and occasional moments of awe, the way you see your life changes the life itself.
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I have spent the weekend putting old photos in frames. Some of the photos are images of people I have never met, pictures that I found while cleaning out my dad’s apartment after his death. There are images of him as a baby being bathed by his mother in 1933, and as a toddler and as a young boy riding a bike. I see a resemblance to my own son as I pick and choose among the moments of his life long before he ever thought he would be a father. He looked happy and proud as a boy. He looked well-loved. There are also photos that go back another whole generation, of my beloved grandmother as a small girl with her own family. Pictures of her and her sisters as children and young women of the 1940s and great uncles who I barely knew who were soldiers in World War II. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother beginning their life so long ago and yet connected to me through features frozen on their faces that look a little like mine. This is the first time I have ever found traces of my genome in the form of old photos. I wish my father would have shared these with me, telling me how I am related to the adorable women wearing 1920s swim suits.
Even for as long as I have been studying positivity consciousness and working on maintaining a daily practice, it still surprises me that the simplest, seemingly the most basic aspects recede from view. It was upon listening to a Pema Chodron lecture on joy that I realized what was keeping me from experiencing positivity lately. When she was explaining the basic experience of joy, she shared a story of how the mood in her workshops always seem to lift when people start to understand the “workability” of their own minds.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -Rainer Marie Rilke
This quote is the first thing that comes to mind these days. Living inside a question takes practice and vigilance. Dancing between the edges of the unknown and yet having the courage to take steps forward takes a lot of balance and still it is easy to feel clumsy. Yet, pushing towards some secure outcropping is usually that, pushing. You land there, try to stake a claim but it isn’t the real answer and the only way to get to it is to let go and float in the stream of uncertainty. Some days everything feels uncertain. I glance through the news and the weight of the vast changes in climate, how the governing bodies remain stuck, the persistence of the sorrow and violence surrounding us. To what do we cling? Each other of course, but even that is compromised in a culture that has confused friendship with digital connecting and intimacy with hookups.
The most effective mind-shifting, gratitude-awakening thought I have is when I ask myself to seriously consider how many more times I will have to do the thing right in front of me. I remember reading this thought somewhere where the author realistically assessed just how many more nights like this one would you see a sunset that makes your jaw drop? I can’t remember how many nights I watched my kids splashing in the tub and didn’t take the time to share the sheer joy of their playfulness. I couldn’t imagine then, that those days would disappear as they have already.
I have come to believe that a life well lived is really closely attuned to one’s facility to let go. As I age, more and more things that would have seemed so important years ago become unnoticeable- a blip on the screen. Maybe I just don’t have the adrenaline for the drama anymore. Yet, other things seem to stick to me and take advantage of every opportunity where my energy is waning to needle its way back into anxiety. As I have begun to study the things that I can’t seem to drop, I would have to say that those fall into another category of unfinished emotional ties.
I have been working on the completing the Positive Change courtyard at South Eugene High School for over 3 years now. Like the long- awaited ending of most things, the resources of time, money and people have run thin and I, like most everyone else, is ready to move on. Unexpectedly, I have had an offer from a small group of boys who have taken on building furniture for the courtyard as their senior projects. Suddenly, I am in the courtyard again every day and it is the kids who are reminding me how far we have come.
The best things that ever happened to me in my life, occurred on the birth days of my four children; although I might not have admitted to it immediately post labor. Becoming a mother and growing into the kind of mother I always wished I had, has been the most essential healing journey of my life. Lest I paint some overly rosy glow of the challenges and frustrations of raising children, let me say that this love affair between mother and child may well be the most intense, complex and significant relationship we create in our lifetime. Certainly, it is the primary relationship, which instructs and influences our capacity for sustaining all those that comes after.
The future will be spoken in images. Words will be used in small quantities, as a laser pointer to highlight a meaning or to elicit an emotion- mostly laughter. We are already on our way to this new language if you are a teenager or hang around teenagers. Facebook is so ten minutes ago and Instagram and Snap Chat are the mechanisms by which they communicate. Capturing the moment and sharing it is the new art form. And it is less a broadcast mechanism like Facebook and Twitter, which opens your content to everyone and more a select tribe. Also, snaps disappear in seconds; no long term record of what has passed… The kids are all about this moment and the only way into their attention is through a personal invitation.
“So many fail because they don’t get started – they don’t go. They don’t overcome inertia. They don’t begin.” -W. Clement Stone
Starting things is hard. It explains why so many great ideas go unrealized. To begin, you have to become comfortable with the discomfort of the unknown, to embrace the truth that even the best laid plans often don’t hold up to the uncertainty and chaos that accompanies the process of making a start. Relationships are especially fragile in the space of beginning and often the people you believe would be beside you at every step fall away and people you may not have even known come forward to guide you at moments when everything seems lost. Likewise, the process of identifying roles and assigning responsibilities takes both patience and flexibility. The beginning offers a clean slate on learning how to relate, and the leadership that emerges from striking a delicate balance of direction and freedom is both inspired and inspiring.