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

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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?


365 Journal – January 1 and 2

A friend introduced me to a Journal project that gives daily thought-provoking writing prompts and I thought it’d be a great way to add some words to this here blog. Following are the first 2 days of writing prompts:

1. What does “happiness” mean to you? Would you describe yourself as a naturally happy or an unhappy and worried person?

What does happiness mean to me? I’m deeply struggling with this question. Happiness can come in many brief forms and there are a lot of little things in my day to day that make me smile and/or laugh… but long lasting, true happiness? That is something totally different. That kind of happiness has to come from within and it isn’t related to outer circumstances.

It is hard to really define what happiness is when you are struggling with depression or an overall feeling of discontent for any sort of extended time. That is what I’ve been dealing with lately. I’m tired all of the time, I’m moody, I’m more overweight than I’ve ever been and less active to boot. I’m fairly certain it is directly related to my health in some way, though blood tests show that I have no major health concerns (a blessing that I should be ‘happy’ about, right?).

I see so many gifts in my life from my absolutely amazing and supportive fiance, my favorite fur child, my loving and supportive friends and family to our home in a safe, beautiful neighborhood; I love my life. These are all things that make me smile and bring light to my day..but underlying all of these gifts I’m still struggling to find that level of internal peace. Even now, I find myself beating myself up over the fact that I cannot define happiness.

I believe that in life we have to find balance inside ourselves. We hear stories of people who we feel are in desperate situations… struggling with things that we could not imagine dealing with. Yet, they somehow appear to still be happy. Even in the face of adversity, they are authentically smiling. That is the kind of happiness I want to achieve. Which brings me to the next prompt…

2. Create a list of resolutions you would like to keep over the next 365 days. Come up with 3 that mean the most to you and make a promise to yourself to keep each one.

I don’t really believe in making new years resolutions though I appreciate motivation of any sort. To me, every day could be Day 1 to start over. But I definitely have some things I’d like to focus on that I do think will help me reach that inner balance I feel I’m so desperately lacking.

A) Me. First and foremost, I promise to start taking an interest in myself again. Over the years I became less of a priority as everything else took the front burner which has ultimately resulted in my being way overweight, way out of shape and with extremely low self esteem. I’ve reached a point where I’ve just stopped trying to fix those things, but not anymore. I can recognize that I’ve put my health on the back burner for far too long and how it is effecting me mentally. I don’t want that anymore. I know that when I exercise, even if it is just a nightly walk that I mentally am stronger, feel more confident and utlimatily happier. I want my confidence back. I want to feel attractive. I want to believe I’m beautiful when my fiance tells me I am and I want him to be able to enjoy having a partner that feels that way.

B) RAK. I promise to try and start making more random acts of kindness come to fruition. Being kind and making someone smile or feel good is something that doesn’t have to cost a penny but the value of it is priceless to not only the person receiving the act but the person giving it.  Too often we get caught up in our own day to day lives and dramas, failing to even notice that someone around us may be in need of something as small as a friendly gesture. We push our way through stores, roll our eyes at people who are in our way, honk our horns at people who are driving the speed limit…all because we cannot see past our own issues. This year I want to slow down and be more present. Put my phone and facebook away and focus on the amazing lives of those around me. I want to do more people watching, experience nature more and just live in the moment.

C) Budget, Budget, Budget. Like everyone else, especially in today’s economy, money is a huge stressor. Money is such a superficial thing to allow control your happiness, but it is an unfortunate necessary evil of life. Our first year of owning a home we were fairly relaxed with our finances. Saving money wasn’t really a priority so long as we were paying the bills from month to month. When the end of the year came and property taxes popped up as well as renewing of HOI we were very ill prepared, especially around a commercialized holiday such as Christmas. As the end of last year drew to a close one of the things I knew that I wanted to implement in our home was a budget. This way we know where every penny of our money goes and when and where we have any extra. I’m in the process of lowering some of our bills and we’ve already made a couple of changes to our monthly expenses that I think will ultimately result in huge savings, so that there is a little bit of a cushion available, less stress and no surprises at the end of the year!

I really believe that 2014 is going to be a great year for me and mine. One thing that both my fiance and I have going for us is that we never want to stop growing or learning about ourselves. We have a tendency to always want to look for ways to improve. Whether we’ve acted on that tendency as of late or not, it is buried within us and it just needs a little nudging to come back to the surface and with each other’s love and support I know that we can do ANYTHING we put our minds and hearts into. We’ve got this.

Side note: I do hope that no one reads this and feels I am a very unhappy person inside. I’m definitely not! I know that it does not carry the usual ‘chipper’ tone that I try to write with. I am not at 100% but I do love my life, everyone and everything in it! Writing this entry has been extremely meditational for me and I feel 100x better having written it than before I started.

The Night The Lights Went Out on Facebook

If you are like most people, and I am, you are familiar with social media websites such as Facebook. And if you are really like me, you have a habit of checking your Facebook multiple times throughout the day. For many of us Facebook has become more of an addiction than just a way to keep in touch with friends and family.

My addiction to Facebook was becoming more and more apparent. A typical day for me consisted of waking up at 6:15 a.m. and before ever even leaving my bed opening up both Facebook and Instagram to see if anything had transpired between the hours of midnight and when I woke up. (Usually not). I’d then go for my morning walk, which I of course posted my route on Facebook, get ready for work and then leave the house. My phone would stay on my car seat next to me so that at stop lights I could quickly scroll through my Facebook feed. Once I got to work I would then open up two tabs on my computer; my email and Facebook. Throughout the course of the workday I’d chat on Facebook to anyone who would listen in between working on my work projects. I’d often find myself having to quickly close windows so that I wouldn’t be noticed or assumed to be goofing off by my boss. After leaving work I’d head home to my fiance and our cat. Once I’d get home we’d often make dinner and settle in for our tradition of watching Jeopardy and trying to clear our DVR of all of the shows that we had recorded. Of course, we both would have our laptops open to Facebook or Candy Crush (or any other random social media or messaging sites). Then it is time for bed and one last check of Facebook before trying to sleep. Repeat.

Does any of that sound familiar to anyone? (Boy, I hope I’m not the only one! 🙂

I don’t think all of Facebook is bad. It certainly is nice to keep up with family and friends that you don’t have the opportunity to see regularly. Once in a while there are even positive posts from happy people or encouraging words for friends in need. The majority of what I’ve seen on Facebook as of late however, is anger, hatred and bullying. Whether it were my Facebook ‘friends’ complaining about the weather or posting photos mocking complete strangers or a public comment thread, there was SO much negativity. I often found myself on local news posts or celebrity gossip threads where people were just downright hateful. I found myself feeling that I needed to fight the ‘good’ fight and defend those that were being bullied or wronged. This was  not bringing any positivity to my daily life… and if it isn’t benefiting me, why was I so dependent on it?

I made the decision yesterday that I was going to end this addiction and tune out of Facebook for a while. My fiance has coined it as a “blackout”. My goal with this ‘blackout’ is to try and become more present not to never return to Facebook. I want to be more mindful of all of the life that is going on around me and not numbing myself by staring at a screen of meaningless status updates. I want to enjoy my fiance’s company without distraction. I want to appreciate the simplicity of reading a good book while sitting on the porch watching birds and squirrels play  in our yard.

As of approximately 10 a.m. yesterday morning I have not been on Facebook.

I wish I could say it is so silly simple to just not go to a website; that I am in total control of my life… but every time I pick up my phone or look at the internet I’m tempted to pop open a new tab. I’m sure it’ll get easier as the days progress though.

I did notice yesterday though that I felt pretty good by the day’s end. Not only did I not have to feel any annoyances with posts I was seeing on FB but I also focused on things I felt could benefit me. I joined and applied to a website I read a magazine that I previously hadn’t had time for, I worked on a crochet project that I haven’t touched in close to a year and thoroughly enjoyed my time with my fiance and our cat. I felt great by the time that I went to bed and I woke up this morning with a clear mind.

I intend to keep this post up to date as I go through the detox from Facebook. I look forward to documenting any changes (if any) that may occur with my mindset and happiness. At this point in time I’m feeling pretty good about the journey.

What do you think? Are you addicted to a social media site? Do you think you could give it up cold turkey? What benefits do you get out of using social media?