The Girl in the “Popples” Panties

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I began to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. It was in the first grade during PE. Back then, thankfully, the teachers selected your teams rather than the other kids deciding who they “liked” the best. At that time, I wasn’t really what most people would have considered to be ‘chubby’, though I did have a round face that adults loved to pinch. It was during this fateful PE class that one of my classmates, one of the popular boys, would refer to me as Ms. Piggy. Now, don’t get me wrong, these days I love that sassy, frog-loving swine… but all that my first grade brain registered was “piggy”.

By 5th grade, however, I had “blossomed”. I could definitely see the differences in my body versus the other girls my age. While the other girls still had slender athletic bodies I was starting to get rounder and squishier. My mother, bless her heart, would tell me that I was just developing more quickly and that I had a cute figure. I certainly didn’t feel that way.

Though I was struggling with my body image, I always managed to have a strong circle of friends. I wouldn’t say that I was popular by any means in school but most everyone either knew me or knew of me. I wasn’t the girl that everyone wanted to invite to their birthday party, but I also wasn’t the girl who received negative ratings in the many “Slam Books” that were spread around. (Incase you don’t know what a “Slam Book” was, it was an awful notebook that listed the names of your classmates. You would then rate each of the classmates on a scale of 1-10 on how attractive they were or if you liked them. There were an unfortunate few who were brutally rated by their peers, I can only imagine how that would have felt.) I was just there.

As puberty began to hit most of my girlfriends and I in 7th grade, boys were becoming much more interesting and interested… well, in some of us. We all had our crushes as most young adults do. I sat by and watched as friend after friend began having their first “boyfriend”, their first kiss, their first “date”. As it became clear that no boys were going to be interested in me, I began to devote my crush energy to unobtainable boys; my older brother’s friends, out of state boys and anyone I could convince myself  (and others) had my affection. I made it to only one middle school dance, and that was accompanied by a group of girlfriends. The idea of going dateless to a dance even in middle school was far too uncomfortable and embarrassing to me.

The summer before high school a couple of my closest friends and I went to Adventure Island, a water park here in Tampa Bay. I had purchased a new swimsuit for the occasion… one that looking back I can say was probably better suited for an adult woman with a nice figure rather than a squishy teenage girl. It was a one piece bathing suit though looked like a bikini with the stomach area being a black see-through mesh and I thought it looked pretty decent. We were all having a great time and then I heard it. It came from another girl… one who was quite a bit older than me, I’m guessing in her late teens-early 20s, and who looked great in her 2-Piece. “She should NOT be wearing that!” I didn’t need to acknowledge her to know she was referring to me. I don’t think any of my friends heard the remark so I quietly filed it away in my memory banks, put on a smile and vowed never to wear that swimsuit again. And I didn’t.

High school is awkward for a lot of people. Everyone is growing and changing by that point. As a freshman you are thrown into the mix with peers who are close to being adults. There are high school dances, boyfriends/girlfriends, football games, proms and scantily clad cheerleaders… all of which can either make the high school experience a great time or an incredible esteem damaging time. My social calendar didn’t improve much as I entered into high school. There were no boyfriends to be had, I never attended even one football game, no homecomings or proms and I wished to look as cute in a cheerleader uniform as many of my friends did. I tried out for color guard and didn’t make it. I still had an amazing group of friends but often I’d find myself becoming a little more withdrawn at school whenever they weren’t around to lift me up, to make me feel important. I did notice that though I didn’t seem to be turning any high school aged  boys’ heads, I was getting a lot of attention from much older adult men. I even found myself dating someone 13 years my senior before graduating. I tried to convince myself that the high school boys were just that, boys, and that I was doing well by having “men” interested in me but I was never fully able to.

It’s been 16 years since my high school graduation. There have been many ups and downs in regards to how I feel about myself physically (more downs than I would say ups). Fortunately after high school I was no longer like kryptonite to men… I’ve been in my share of long term relationships and dated a bit as well.  I have been on about every diet known to man, I’ve even tried seeing a doctor and getting B12 shots. One thing remains constant and that is that I’m almost never comfortable with my appearance. I’ve never felt confident being naked or even in a swimsuit. I don’t know the feeling of appreciating my curves. I feel the need to apologize to anyone who has to look at me. I don’t really know what it feels like to feel ‘pretty’. My poor fiance has to hear about how horrible I feel and has to see me cry more often than he ever should.

Please don’t take this post to be my saying that I don’t like myself as a person. I am not an unhappy person. Quite the opposite, really. I have spent a lot of my life, especially since I hit the milestone age of 30, focusing on emotionally and mentally getting myself in a state I feel completely comfortable with. The problem I have is that I have spent so much energy learning to be kind, compassionate and accepting of others that I have forgotten to learn how to be the same toward myself. Brian, my fiance, asked me recently after showing me some old photos of myself if I believed I looked good in the photos. I said that I did. He then asked me if I remembered how I felt about myself when those pictures were taken… the answer… I felt EXACTLY the same then as I do now. I felt exactly the same in highschool, in middle school and even back in elementary school… which teaches me that the problem is not my body it’s in my mind.

It’s time for me to start putting energy into learning to accept and forgive myself. This body is going to be with me for the rest of my life, though it may change in size, shape and color… it is still mine and I need to appreciate it. In some ways I feel this will be one of the most difficult lessons I’ve ever set out to learn.  I’m afraid of failing… but in the words of the late Maya Angelou, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” And that is exactly what I intend to do.

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Today Was A Special Day!

Today is a special day for me!

You may not know me, but here’s a little tidbit about myself. I hate exercising. I didn’t always used to be this way…there was a point in time when I was at the gym everyday running a 5k on that treadmill. I loved sweating, I loved being toned and I loved fitting into smaller clothes.

Well, then I fell in love, got engaged, bought a house and 4+ years later I find myself to hate the conventional form of exercise. I enjoy being active…hiking, walking, camping, etc. but to actually set out to burn off the egg mcmuffin I had for breakfast? Not so much.

I’d really like to have the motivation back that I lost so many years ago. According to my doctor I need to shed a few pounds to keep myself from becoming diabetic since I’m predisposed to get it. Thanks genes! So I’ve been trying to get back on track…. and trying…and trying..and trying some more with no luck.

This week though…something changed. I’m not sure where the motivation came from..but it came!

My typical morning (pre-motivation week) existed of rolling out of bed with only 30 minutes to spare before I had to leave the house. It’d take about another 15 minutes of that time to find something to wear and attempt to make my hair presentable. Then I’d kiss the fiance goodbye and trudge down the stairs with the cat hot on my heels looking for breakfast. Typically I’d leave the house 15 minutes later than I should have.

Not this week though! This week I’ve managed to pull myself out of bed 30 minutes BEFORE my alarm would normally go off! And what did I do with this extra time? ZUMBA!!!!!  Boy, do I love Zumba. It is one form of exercise that never gets old to me. Though I’m sure I look like a marionette with an electric eel controlling my strings (a blind one at that)..I have so much fun. And I did this..not just one day this week..but EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Guess what? I’m going to do it again next week too, and the week after that, and the week after that! I don’t know that it will shed the pounds needed to avoid becoming diabetic…but it sure makes me feel fantastic everyday 🙂

So in honor of this very special day, I present to you a very special locket! One that needs to go in my collection very soon 🙂

Do you love Zumba too?

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Create your own locket at: ownyourlife.origamiowl.com

Is this real life?

I’ve never been ‘that girl’… the girl who dreamed of finding and marrying her Prince Charming while wearing a poofy Cinderella dress. Yet, somehow, I’ve found myself in what I feel is a modern day fairytale.

When I met Brian in 2010, I had been single for 2 years. Prior to my relationship drought, I had been in a relationship with someone who left me emotionally scarred very deeply. The first year of my singlehood was left trying to understand and give myself closure to the ending of that chapter in my life. By the second year I was focusing solely on myself and making sure that I felt strong and happy on my own… without the need to find it in another person. This was a great transformational year in my life. I learned so much about myself, I was in the best shape of my life and I felt like I needed no one. What I didn’t realize at the time was that though I had benefitted greatly from being single and learning to take care of myself, I had also become so emotionally independent that I wouldn’t let anyone break through the wall I had built around myself.

I found myself scouring the online dating sites. Online dating was a way that I could talk to men without actually having to make a true emotional connection. I went on a lot of “first dates” during that year and I met a lot of nice guys… unfortunately I was never emotionally available to any of them.  When meeting people online I always insisted on a ‘friends first’ meeting. I didn’t want to go on ‘dates’ with people I hadn’t met before. A lot of the guys balked over that idea… and those were the guys I decided not to meet at all.

Brian and I struck up a conversation over mutual interests. Neither of us were looking for any sort of relationship. In fact, he seemed to be more interested in fixing up his single friends with me than actually meeting me himself. This made me infinitely more comfortable.

A few months later, Brian and I finally met with a group of his friends and a group of my friends. My attraction to him was immediate. He was confident, smart, quick-witted and strikingly good-looking. I’m not one to believe in love at first sight but I was certainly intrigued at first sight. I absolutely adored both him and his friends… knowing immediately that they were guys I could trust. They were like no one else I had met in the last year and I felt safe with all of them. We had a great night of bowling and karaoke.

I saw Brian once or twice after our first meeting at group gatherings but never anything romantic. I was having a great time and had made some great friends that I knew would be in my life for years to come.

A month or so later the guys were heading to MegaCon, a sci-fi/comic book convention, in another city. They were making a weekend of it for Brian’s birthday and he invited me. Having only known these guys for a month, I was surprised by the fact I was willing to stay in a hotel room with them for the weekend. I knew before going that something about that weekend would change my life. I wasn’t sure how or why I felt that way but I was excited… and right.

The first night at the hotel, Brian and I stayed up late watching videos on his laptop. We fell asleep holding hands. It was so purely innocent and sweet, I had butterflies. Was this the life-changing moment?

At the weekend’s end, we parted our separate ways… him traveling back to St. Petersburg with his friends and I heading to my neck of the woods across the bay. It hadn’t been 5 minutes since our parting that I received a text on my phone. “I like you”. “I like you too” I responded.  From that weekend on, we have been inseparable.

Falling in love is beautiful.

It was the weekend of June 8, 2012. Our room was absolutely beautiful, as only a Disney room could be. Brian had always wanted to stay at The Contemporary in a room with a castle view… so it was no surprise when I stepped onto the balcony and saw a perfect view of the Magic Kingdom. I remember thinking to myself how awesome it would be to be able to sit on the balcony with a glass of wine and watch the fireworks without having to fight the crowds. I started to relax and was ready for a fun birthday celebration for Brian’s mom who would be staying with us.

We made reservations to celebrate his mom’s birthday at Chef Mickey’s which is at the lower level of the resort. It’s a buffet style dining experience in which characters frequently walk around and interact with the guests. We had a dinner full of laughs as we posed with Tigger, Minnie and Goofy. This birthday weekend was off to a great start!!

A friend of ours decided to make the trip to Orlando to spend time with us at the resort to enjoy the fireworks as well. We all poured out onto the balcony to get our seats for the fireworks that would be starting in minutes. All of a sudden, everyone’s cheerful chatter quieted. Brian glanced over at me and asked, “Are you nervous?” I chuckled. “Um, no, are you?” “Yes…  and…” he dropped to his knee. It took me a few minutes to notice he had pulled a ring box out of his pocket. Everything at that moment completely disappeared other than he and I. My memory of all of the beautiful words he said to me is completely clouded due to the fact I was in complete shock by the moment (thankfully we have a video). The words I do remember in clear, pristine detail however happened when he took my hand and said “Will you marry me?”

After I rambled off a few “Is this for real?” “Nah-uh, you are not!” and “Oooooh!” I finally said “YES!” Minutes later the sounds of “Wishes” came drifting into the room and the first of the fireworks exploded over the castle. Though my focus was purely on the man holding my hand, my Prince Charming, the man I’d be spending my life with, those were the best fireworks I had ever witnessed.

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Real Women Have Curves (and other ridiculii)

As human beings we are predisposed to be opinionated; to be judgmental. When we see something that doesn’t fit in with our opinion of ‘right’ we tend to believe the other person must be in the ‘wrong’.  I don’t believe there are many of us who could actually say that we do not think or have thought this way at some point in our lives. Afterall, we all have life experience… and our opinions on how life should be lived “correctly” are based solely on our own personal experiences. The fact that we can recognize this thought pattern however, can be enough to change our perspectives.

In many cases we do not voice our opinions/judgments of others. The thoughts stay lodged in our brains; filed away on some imaginary tally sheet for future reference. With the popularity of social media sites, however, our thoughts are being heard like never before.

Every day we are bombarded with posts and news about our peers, celebrities, politicians, etc. Most if not all of the posts are written with the opinion of the author being the deciding factor in whether or not the information will be positive or negative with very little focus on the facts.  We as a society have gotten to a point where we even search for our own motivation and validations within judgmental memes and photos. How many times have you seen a post with the line: “A real man [fill in the blank with whatever the author is or prefers]”, A real woman has [fill in blank with whatever the author is or prefers]”?  I was always under the impression that the X and Y chromosomes decided whether you were a “real” man or woman (and with today’s technological advances, even that is no longer true), not our peers.

Why is it we as a society feel the need to be “right” and deem others “wrong”? The only logical explanation that I can see is that as a whole we are a society of insecurity. It is a hard truth to swallow, but isn’t all logical explanation? Think about it. It is important to us to feel that the way that we choose to live our lives is the “right” way. It’s important to feel that the values we hold dearly are also held dear by our peers. It is important to feel as though we are accepted by others. We are constantly looking to prove ourselves to everyone else and if it takes showing others that you are ‘better’ than someone else than so be it. At least you aren’t the butt in this joke, right? Survival of the fittest? What happened to United We Stand, Divided We Fall?

As we struggle to constantly prove ourselves to everyone we fail to remember that the most important person that needs to accept us as we are… is us. Once we accept ourselves for who we truly are, the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly, it’s possible that we won’t feel the need to make judgments of others for how they live their lives.

It takes less than a second to realize when you are making a harsh judgement of someone else but to reframe the thought takes much more effort. The next time you find yourself thinking negatively of someone for their appearance, financial situation or shortcomings try to stop the thought. Remind yourself that you may or may not know this person’s entire story. Try to put yourselves in their shoes. How would you feel if you were on the other end of the thought? Ask yourself why you are concerned with another person’s life choices. Is it because you actually admire a trait they have that you do not? Understand that your negative opinion of this person does not benefit you in any way… the little jolt of self esteem when you determine you are worth more than another human will be very brief. Consider the fact that every one of us in the entire world has a few things in common. The hierarchy of human life only exists because we allow it and we don’t strive to improve it.

Opinions will never cease… but judgments can. The more often we are able to catch ourselves in a judgmental thought and evaluate it, the less frequent they will become. I challenge everyone to try it (myself included). Let’s try to love ourselves and understand one another rather than prove our dominance. How much better could everyone’s lives be without seeing/hearing/feeling the negative thoughts on a daily basis?

All That She Is…

It’s LJ Idol competition time again! I took a ‘bye’ last week due to time constraints but I’m back! (I’m allowed 2  more byes during the course of the competition). This week’s topic is “Build A Better Mousetrap”. My fiance gave me a great idea of how to use the idea of a mousetrap and change it into something much less literal. So this week I’ll once again be reaching into my past with the paranormal and my favorite ‘haunted’ hotel 🙂 What souls might be ‘trapped’ there? Read on to find out!!

She’s a beautiful thing, really. A timeless masterpiece. I cannot look at her without having to catch my breath. Sure, she’s starting to show her age, her exterior beginning to fade and crumble… she is afterall 117 years old. But, she’s beautiful.

The first time I stood outside of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair, FL I could feel the energy pouring from her. I entered the doors to the sound of a grand piano playing and the excited chatter of well-dressed tourists. As I roamed the halls, passing the bustling ice cream shoppe, the numerous ballrooms and large staircases I felt as if I had been transported to another era. The Biltmore, though catering to all of the modern amenities that we are used to, remained an elegant slice of history that refused to be forgotten. I was in love.

I was there that night for the first of many ‘ghost tours’ I would go on. Unlike many ghost tours, this was not just a history lesson or led by someone dressed up in a silly period costume. This tour was put on by a group of paranormal investigators out of Orlando, FL that frequently did tours and investigations of reported haunted locations within central Florida. The group shared photos that members of their tours had taken and let us know of some of the more allegedly active places within the hotel. (On that first tour I took an odd photograph that I’ll place at the end of this entry. I won’t say what I find odd about it… you can judge for yourself.)

After a few months of regularly attending tours the group was offering an overnight investigation. This was the night that I’d affirm my beliefs that the Biltmore hotel had not only captured my heart but also trapped something within it’s walls that many could not see.

My aunt Martha attended the investigation with me along with a group of about 10 other people. We entered onto the 4th floor of the hotel that was closed off to the public. Behind the locked doors, in pitch blackness, laid the skeletal remains of a once booming hotel. The floors were bare of carpet, in many places the wood planks were broken or missing. Dust lined all of the walls, toilets and sinks were filled with rust and the doors to the rooms were removed from their hinges. It could have been the atmosphere, or something unseen, but the feeling of suppression in the air was stifling.

Walking down the silent hallways with only the light of our flashlights to lead the way we went into each room. Snapping photos and carrying voice recorders… all hopeful that we’d find some sort of evidence of a spiritual realm. After about a half hour of exploring the west wing of the fourth floor it didn’t seem there would be much activity. We reconvened in the center of the hallway for an EVP session before heading to the east wing. As we stood in a circle, our backs to the gaping doorways of the empty rooms we began to ask questions.

“Is there anyone here with us?”

“Why do you stay here?” 

We began to hear random noises from down the hallway. A knock here, a scratch there… it seemed there was movement happening all around us. Members of our group began to say that they were feeling the temperature drop. That’s when I had my first experienced of being ‘touched’. I clearly remember the pressure against the back of my thigh. It happened very quickly. I assumed my aunt was trying to quietly get my attention but as I turned to her, her arms were crossed and she was looking toward the end of the hallway. I turned to look behind me and noticed I was standing directly in front of an open doorway. Moments later, a self-proclaimed medium in our group said “There are children here.” She claimed that there were small children walking around us and she began talking to them. As I began to think about the positioning of where I had felt the pressing on my leg and the size of the area I became very convinced that I may have been touched by the energy of a small child. In my mind I could easily envision a child standing behind me and peering out from behind my legs to view what was happening in the center of the circle. It certainly could be my imagination running away with me, but for me, it was and is still reality.

The night continued on with many more interesting experiences though none directly affecting me.  The ‘medium’ in our group claimed to channel the disembodied spirit of a widow who committed suicide upon hearing her new husband had been killed in an accident. I am quite skeptical when it comes to ‘psychics’ or ‘mediums’, but it is hard to deny that a person who begins sobbing uncontrollably is feeling an overwhelming emotion. To experience someone feeling this emotion in total darkness, in an empty shell of hotel hallway, the sound of her waling bouncing off the walls can be unsettling to say the least. Another group of people investigating the hotel were investigating the tunnels that run below the hotel and heard a very loud scream which they were able to capture on a recording. There were stories from some of the investigators of being pushed as well.

By all accounts, if you believe in the supernatural, it would seem that there are many souls that still reside at the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, whether by choice or by entrapment. The most unsettling part of this tale for me however, is the current state of the hotel. The hotel has been closed since 2009. Developers say that it will cost millions to repair and preserve the historic icon. Many developers want to demolish the building and build homes on the land.  This hasn’t sat well with the community nor those of us who love her and numerous groups have fought the developers on every level. I pray these groups continue the fight and that I, one day, will be able to enjoy her and all that she houses again.

Photo of a hallway from my first tour (this hallway was not closed off to the public, tho under renovation.) This is an enlarged image so it is a bit grainy, but I have not added any filters. Also, I am not referring to any orbs in the photo… I do not feel orbs are very often proof of anything other than dust, moisture in the air, or bugs.
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Random photos from The Belleview Biltmore Hotel:
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Thirteen

Andddd… we’re back for another week of LJ Idol! This week’s topic is “In Another Castle”. Not being a fiction writer I wasn’t sure at first where I’d go with this. A few people got me brainstorming some ideas and I’ve decided to write about one of my FAVORITE topics…the paranormal. So without further ado, below is my take on this week’s topic.

(and remember to look for the link to vote on Tuesday!)

– M

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It was a warm, breezy fall evening like any other in my hometown of Bradenton, Florida. My neighborhood best friend and I were doing what we had done on many a school night; sitting in the front yard of my home and chatting about boys. The darkness was starting to set in and soon it’d be time to go inside and get ready for the following day. I glanced somewhat nervously in the direction of my back yard.

I had always felt a little apprehensive about going back there at night. I didn’t have any clear reason to be apprehensive but I always felt as if I wasn’t alone.  On this night my apprehension would be replaced by pure terror.

I expected to see the pitch blackness deep in the back of the yard. The yard was filled with large shade-filling trees that rarely let light in. I didn’t expect, however, to see a white figure moving in our direction. I can only describe the figure as a contained mist. It was loosely in the shape of a person but there were no clear distinct features and no sound came from the figure’s movement.

I must have stopped mid-sentence because my friend turned to look in the direction I was facing. Her exact words were “Wha-what is THAT?!” Knowing that I was not the only one seeing the figure sealed the deal. I jumped up and said “I don’t know, but I’m not sticking around to find out!” I made a beeline for the front door with my girlfriend hot on my heels. We stopped before going inside and looked at each other and I asked her, “Did we really just see that?”. She responded with an urgent “Yes!” and we bolted inside. I locked the door and immediately ran to the french doors that lead to the back yard and locked them as well.

I wasn’t sure what we had seen, all that I knew is that I was shaking from fear.  Up to this point in my life I had no interest in the paranormal. I had no reason to believe that there’d be a ‘ghost’ in my yard. I had always figured that my uneasiness with the back yard was due to my fear of the dark, which still, to an extent, exists today.

My girlfriend recounted to me what she had seen and it was most certainly the same thing that I had witnessed. My mother was in the shower when we ran inside so we sat quietly in the living room waiting for her to come out. I’m fairly certain that she told me we were being silly as we told her the story and told me to get ready for bed.

The following day at school I confided the experience to a couple of friends. One of my classmates overheard and said that he believed we were seeing spots because a car must have driven by and the headlights blinded us. At that point in time I would have liked to believe nothing more. Unfortunately there were no cars driving by at the time and our back yard backed up to a creek… not a road.

My childhood best friend lived just two houses down from me. We could see one another’s back yard from our own. There were no dividers and no fences. About a week or two after my experience my friend said to me “Were you in your back yard late last night?” She didn’t know that I was terribly afraid of being in the back yard at night (I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I was afraid of the dark back then). I explained that I wasn’t and she got a confused look on her face. She told me that she had been in the back yard with her boyfriend late the night before and had seen what she thought was me walking around in a white night gown. I told her she must have been mistaken and she said that she was so sure she had seen me that they had even called my name but that “I” hadn’t responded. This was a huge validation for me.

To this day, even after I’ve learned and experienced so many different things, I cannot say exactly what we saw that night. I have since learned that my mother had a stepsister who died of a flu-like virus (Hong Kong flu) when she was only 12 years old. She had frequently stayed the night in the house that I grew up in but had lived (and died) in a house on the next street over. Coincidence? Possibly. Uncanny? Definitely.

That was my first experience with the “paranormal” and it has never left me. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to find an explanation for what I had seen… be it supernatural, scientific or natural. Over the 21 years that have passed since that first experience I’ve encountered many more unexplained events that have led me to be a firm belief that we are not alone in this world. I’ll never stop looking for the next experience. Will it be in a cemetery? Probably not. Will it be in an old abandoned building? You never know. Will I be prepared when it happens? Definitely not… but I can’t wait.

One Step at a Time

I managed to survive the first week of the LJ IDOL writing competition! This week’s prompt is “The Missing Stair”. Below is my interpretation. If you enjoy, please consider checking back on Tuesday when I post a link to vote for me in the comment section. Thank you for reading!  – M

!!!Vote for me here!!!

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In my, not so humble, opinion I feel that society is on a steady decline. We are a society of judgments, hateful remarks, ‘brutal honesty”, and the neverending need to be ‘better’ than someone else. We laugh at others mistakes, we extort others faults and the term ‘bullying’ is as prevalent in our vocabulary as the word potato (probably even more so). We tend to let others opinions on politics, religion, lifestyle that are different than ours to dictate the type of person that they are in our minds and determine whether or not we’d like to allow them into our lives. People are no longer thought of as human beings…they are labels created by very small stereotypical parts of their personalities.

If you are like me, you want no part in being a part of a society of that nature.

Self-reflection can be one of the most difficult and life-changing experiences that we can/will go through. At times, it is unavoidable but it is the times that we choose to become more aware that we will truly see the benefit. It’s also the first step in finding true happiness and contentment in your life.

“I know who I am.”

“I know what I like.”

“I don’t need to reflect to know about myself, I’m who I am and that’s that!”

“I’m not being judgmental or hateful… it’s just my opinion. So what?”

I certainly was (and still, on occasion, am) someone who thought I knew myself inside and out. I liked what I liked. I had opinions/judgments on topics and people that came naturally so why would I even consider researching where these ideas came from?

The reason is that I started to see how I wasn’t much different from the societal norm. I couldn’t figure out why I felt the need to remark on someone’s appearance or behavior when it was less than a positive response. I couldn’t understand why I was letting other’s choices create negativity, stress, disdain and anger in my life when their choices honestly had no effect on me personally. It was then that I realized, if you are not part of the ‘solution’ then you are most likely part of the problem. I don’t want to be the societal norm..and I certainly don’t want to be a problem, do you?

It was around this time that I began to study Buddhism. I submerged myself in books about finding true happiness and understanding the workings of the mind. I listened to Eckhardt Tolle describe the ego. I took in teachings from the local Kadampa temple. I learned so much about self-reflection and understanding why my thoughts were going in the direction that they were.  It is quite a liberating experience to be able to step back and look at your thoughts as impermanent rather than defining fact.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is difficult. Considering the idea that you may be on equal ground with others that are different than you, may make you feel vulnerable. Is feeling vulnerable for a short time a worse feeling than the feelings of stress, anger, resentment or critical judgments? I don’t think so. We all have felt these emotions at one point or another… and some of us feel them on a daily basis. The natural and easiest response is for us to blame others for these feelings being stirred up within ourselves. Is it really another person’s fault that you feel a certain way? Truth be told, no. This is where self-reflection can change your life. It certainly has mine.

For example, we all know someone who will take a photo or post a meme of a stranger who they feel is not dressed appropriately for their body type. This sets off a long “discussion” of insults… each person trying to come up with a better insult for the person in the image. As a poster or participant in the conversation… what could the tangible reason be for saying or posting hate-fueled material? What has the stranger in this image done that was so deserving of your negative reaction. YOU do not know the stranger’s circumstances. YOU assume he/she chose their attire because he/she felt it was attractive. YOU do not find it attractive. It would seem the person with the actual problem in the matter is YOU.

Anytime that you realize you are feeling a negative emotion toward someone else for ANY reason, step back and consider why you are feeling that emotion. More often than not, you will find that you have no real tangible reason to feel the negativity toward the other person.

Can you imagine how many of today’s societal problems could be solved if more people examined themselves before acting upon their instinctual emotions?

I am far from perfect and I still have my moments when I forget to stop and reflect before acting but they have become much less frequent. Social media (Facebook in particular for me) is a breeding ground for negativity. It is easy to get sucked into a conversation about a current event, celebrity, “friend’s” behavior, etc. and find yourself expressing judgments, hateful insults, self-righteous banter, etc.  If you notice that you often find yourself in the middle of a debate, feeling frustrated with other people, especially people you don’t know personally, it may be time to ask yourself why you are putting yourself through those emotions. A few things that I’ve found helped me on Facebook are:

– Blocking certain people from my News Feed. I do not necessarily want to not be friends with them but their posts often leave me feeling less than happy.

– Removing Celebrity Gossip pages

– Removing local and national News pages (you can still be in the know by watching the news or reading the newspaper online. Avoid the comment threads!)

– Removing pages created solely to mock or evoke negativity. A perfect example of this is People of Walmart. Some pages are harder to recognize as negativity breeding grounds. Gawker, for example, is a ‘news’ site, however it is put together as editorial matter based on opinion. I found the writers to be very negative in their views..even when I tended to agree with their basic points. Basically, if a page makes you laugh at someone (who isn’t a comedian), feel angry, frustrated, irritated, etc. remove it. Learn your tolerance points!

– Following pages that post motivational and inspirational stories, news, etc. 
A GREAT one is The Optimism Revolution!

– Remembering that each and every one of us wants the same thing in life… to be happy! We are on this journey together, though on different paths and at different distances. No one received a rulebook straight out of the womb and each one of us has to make the rules for ourselves as we go. Show compassion to those who seem to have run into a roadblock… don’t worsen their conditions with negativity.

Becoming fully aware of oneself is like climbing a seemingly neverending staircase toward the well lit “PURE HAPPINESS” door at the top. Each day offers you an opportunity for a new stair to take one step closer to the door. Have you taken your first step or are you still missing the stair?