Mind Like Water

Sigh! I’m still in a blue mood because of the loss but I’m forcing myself to get back into a normal routine.

I have to say that doing anything – even washing my hair or talking on the phone – feels like a humongous effort so sitting still and staring at the TV did bring a measure of comfort for a while. However, I’ve decided that two whole weeks of stepping out of my routine is enough. Anything more and I’m afraid of treading into dangerous “I’m Feeling Terribly Sorry For Myself And It’s A Great Excuse To Do Nothing” territory.

In the spirit of getting back to ‘normal’ I have attempted to start on one of the many books I bought earlier this year – remember this post? I’ve started on Getting Things Done since I feel that I haven’t done much of anything over the last couple of weeks.

The book has turned out to be a good choice. I’m only on page 14 and I’m already inspired by David Allen’s approach to productivity. His style is a comforting mix of practical and surprisingly (especially for a book on organization) spiritual ideas.

Allen talks about the “Mind Like Water” Simile :

In karate, there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input, then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact. The power in a karate punch comes from speed, not muscle; it comes from a focused “pop” at the end of the whip. That’s why petite people can learn to break boards and bricks with their hands: it doesn’t take calluses or brute strength, just the ability to generate a focused thrust with speed. But a tense muscle is a slow one. So the high levels of training in the martial arts teach and demand balance and relaxation as much as anything else. Clearing the mind and being flexible are key.

Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Responding inappropriately to your email, you staff, your projects, your unread magazines, your thoughts about what you need to do, your children or your boss will lead to less effective results than you’d like. Most people give either more or less attention to things than they deserve, simply because they don’t operate with a “mind like water.”

Wise words indeed. It applies to work and to life as well. I’m now trying to use this principle to deal with what I’m facing. It hasn’t put a huge smile back on my face but I have to say that it has certainly brought a tiny sense of balance back into my life.

I can’t wait to see what else David Allen has to say….

photo credit: http://www.ojaiwordfest.wordpress.com


What I Learned From….Jane Fonda

Through my readings (and my own experiences) I’ve discovered that life just gets too hard and happiness levels plummet when you have to make all the mistakes yourself or if you have to experience everything yourself before you gain wisdom. It’s much more efficient to learn from everyone else.

You can learn plenty from a friend, mum or dad, your neighbour and maybe even your cat! For instance, I’ve learned from my cat, Charley, that it’s always good idea to take time out to rest and meditate everyday:

I’ve also learned something really interesting from Oscar-winning actress, and ’80s home video exercise queen, Jane Fonda (that hair, those leg warmers!!!).

Back when I used to do Jane Fonda workouts at home (yes, I admit I followed Jane’s videos with much enthusiasm!), something she said in one of her videos really stuck with me: “It’s really important to have strength, stamina and flexibility.”

Jane was talking about exercise of course but I’ve always felt that it applies to life too.

When you think about it, if you have enough strength of character to pick yourself up and dust yourself off no matter what happens, stamina to stay on track with your goals when you feel like giving up and flexibility to make changes in your life when what you’re currently doing isn’t really making you happy, you’ll be able to handle anything that life happens to hurl in your direction. Plus, you’ll probably feel quite pleased with yourself for being so darned clever at gracefully dealing with problems that would floor a lessen being!

There’s just one little problem with Jane’s illuminating advice. How the heck do you build strength, stamina and flexibility? Jane, of course, recommends an exercise regime that includes weight lifting (strength), aerobic moves (stamina) and yoga (flexibility). Unfortunately, it doesn’t apply outside the gym so I’ve had to fumble about devising my own plan on how to improve on each one.

For me, strength comes from my spiritual beliefs. I’m continuously building my stamina – essentially cultivating patience – by practicising meditation. As for flexibility, well I have to admit that I can be a tad rigid (read: stick in the mud). So I force myself to try new things every once in a while (eat a restaurant I’ve never been to, try kickboxing even though I don’t think I’ll like it) to stay pliant and kick up my ability to adjust to new and/or unforeseen circumstance.

All in all, I’ve found Jane’s advice is sound (in the gym and out of it) but it’s hard work. Now, if only there was a strength-stamina-flexibility pill I could take…..

Jane Fonda pic credit http://www.mindbodygreen.com


Pick-Me-Ups

I have to admit that sometimes, I just don’t feel like being happy. I know, I know – this totally goes against my Journey To Happiness Experiment and my personal pledge to continuously find ways to be happy. Sometimes, I wonder what possessed me to make such a pledge!

There are times when I feel like wallowing in self-pity, eating a ton of ice-cream, chocolate and peanut butter (in any combination but when things get really bad it’s usually chocolate peanut butter ice-cream eaten using a Snickers bar as a spoon).

On days like these, I just want to curl up all day on the couch, wrapped in the pale, yellow blanket my Mum gave me for Christmas, to watch every single movie on the Astro movie channels no matter how bad the movie is…. and trust me, some of them are really, really bad. Don’t believe me? Well, the last time I had a  Gloomy Glenda day, I happened to catch Dinocroc Vs Supergator on TV.

Isn’t that the worst movie ever? I mean, it’s so bad I think actually getting eaten by a Dinocroc or Supergator would be preferable to sitting through 90 plus minutes of this heart-stoppingly horrible film.

The good thing is that the Dinocroc Vs Supergator fiasco taught me a lesson. After I watched that movie, it dawned on me that that was two hours of my life that I would never get back again – ever.

So, I resolved to avoid the sorry D grade movies the next time I happen to feel a Gloomy Glenda Day coming on which happens to be today : (

I suppose the fact that I’m feeling a little under the weather (headachey, sneezy) has a lot to do with this overwhelming ocean of self-sympathy that makes me want to get under the yellow blanket again and reach for the remote. Fortunately, I dredged up just enough willpower to avoid that trap this time, focused on what I’d learned from my Happiness Library of books and turned instead to the video (at the end of this post) that served as instant an pick-me-up. Studies show that it’s possible to boost your happiness just by employing simple tricks and tips, some of which can take less than a minute.

Among the most effective happiness boosters:

1. Looking up (literally)

Turning skywards can give you an instant happiness hit. This has something to do with the mind-body connection, which makes sense since we naturally tend to look down when we’re miserable. To get the most of this pick-me-up, just keep looking up at the ceiling or the sky for about 60 seconds to improve your mood.

2. Aromatherapy.

Catching a whiff of a pleasant scent can put you  on the path to happier times. Just-baked cupcakes, the smell of rain or my personal fave – fresh laundry.

3. Pets.

It’s been proven time and again that animals have healing powers. Petting my cat Charley never fails to uplift me. Even if you only have access to Animal Planet or a funny video on YouTube, watching/interacting with animals is an effective mood booster.

Speaking of YouTube, I here’s my personal pick-me-up that totally shifts my mood from positive to negative every time I view it. It’s an SNL Digital Short by Andy Samberg which lasts just over 2 minutes. He’s made some forgettable shorts but when he gets it right, it’s absolutely hilarious. I think Samberg is a genius! Some people might disagree (citing big-brained award-winning science types) but hey, Einstein never made me laugh this hard!

Enjoy!


Sad Movies Always Make Me Cry

I watched War Horse with The Engineer,  a few days ago.

While I must congratulate Mr. Steven Spielberg for being the master storyteller and world class director that he is, I do take umbrage on a couple of points that totally ruined the movie for me.

1) Spielberg seems vaguely obsessed with communicating the meaninglessness (is that a word?) of war (think Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List). While I do believe that it is indeed a rather worthy issue to be obsessed about, I think he takes things a little too far. Parts of War Horse was focused on World War I and were frankly too traumatic and almost impossible for me to watch. It took all my self control not to openly weep in the cinema. The suffering endured by that beautiful, dignified horse and the sweet boy who was his owner was simply horrible.

2) I do realize that this movie, although not based on a true story, does give the right impression of war. I believe real war  robs everyone involved of practically everything they hold dear – or at the very least – they get really, really close to losing everything. Either way, there is no way anyone can go through a war and come out of it unscathed. You pay a price either emotionally, physically, psychologically, financially and sometimes all four. Spielberg skillfully brought this truth to the fore with War Horse but in so doing, the message of love, honour, trust and faith, took a back seat. I felt distraught after watching the movie instead of hopeful.

These two points made War Horse one of the saddest movies I have ever had the bad luck to watch.

I love animals and it was almost beyond my ability to watch many parts of the movie ( I seriously considered leaving the cinema). I ended up burying my face in The Engineer’s sleeve half the time which only helped a little because I could still hear what was going on.

I don’t like sad movies. I don’t see the point. Real life can be hard enough and I don’t fancy paying good money for a large dollop of unhappiness.

I ended up feeling miserable and exhausted that day – not what you want to experience on a weekend night at the movies. I had to talk myself out of feeling entirely hopeless and it took at least a couple of hours to feel better.

So, if you’re thinking of watching War Horse (and especially if you’re an animal lover) you need to be armed with more than a box of tissues. You need some sort of mental defense mechanism as well.

If not, proceed with extreme caution. It’s going to cost you some happiness for a while.

pic credit http://www.moviefanatic.com


The Joy Thieves

Joy Thieves are everywhere and they’re usually camouflaged which makes them really tough to spot.

So, what are Joy Thieves, I hear you ask (okay, maybe you don’t care but I’m going to tell you anyway)?

Well, Joy Thieves are what I call the little things in our lives that create a massive decrease in happiness levels.

The first biggest mistake we all make in our search for happiness is to assume that just because we’re not hungry, cold and don’t have a terminal illness, it automatically means that we must feel ecstatic all the time. The second biggest mistake we make is that it takes a huge change to create a difference in our happiness levels.

A really good Joy Thief example from my own life is my hair and the regularity of bad hair days. This might not sound like a big problem compared to let’s say not having enough to eat or a place to live but I’ve realized that just because I’m not as badly off as some of the people in this world, it doesn’t automatically make me feel thrilled about my life.

You may have heard of Malcolm Gladwell (who also seems to have troubles with his hair) and his fantastic book The Tipping Point, which is essentially about how little  changes can make a big difference. Gladwell says that one of the reasons he wrote the book is to inspire people to start ‘positive epidemics’.

In his website, Gladwell proclaims,”The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started and it can spread very,very quickly.”

In the spirit of starting my own positive epidemic, I’m determined to identify my personal Joy Thieves so I can create a huge wave of happiness with little effort.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far and what I’m doing about it:

Horrible Hair

I have wavy hair and I live in a humid climate – needless to say the two don’t mix. If I don’t blowdry and apply product my hair tends to curl up in every conceivable direction – needless to say, this makes me want to scream every time I look in the mirror.

Solution: Tried going for a weekly blowdry at the salon and it turned out to be too expensive and time consuming so I’m currently learning to blowdry my own hair and have invested in an anti-frizz product that works.

Jump in Joy: 7/10

Cleaning

Unlike some people, I don’t naturally pair the word domestic with the word bliss. I hate hate hate doing housework – the mopping, the dusting, the ironing and the general cleaning. The Engineer is given to bouts of cleaning fits but isn’t the type to do it everyday. As a result, our house often winds up looking a little more pig sty and a little less palace.

Solution: We recently hired a domestic to come in every other week to keep things from entering the crazy cluttered territory.

Jump in Joy: 8/10

Workspace

When I started working from home, I used the dining room table as my workspace. This made the entire living area in my apartment look messy and unwelcoming. It also had an adverse psychological effect on me. Every time I walked in the front door, I felt like I had entered an office and was forced to deal with a powerful awful urge to sit at my computer and work!

Solution: I have converted one of the rooms into an office space and had great fun shopping at IKEA for this reason. It’s nothing fancy, just office supplies, a place to store my files and everything neatly arranged and within reach but it definitely works for me.

Jump in Joy: 8/10

So there you have it – little changes, big jumps in joy. There are many more Joy Thieves lurking in my life and my aim is to shine a spotlight on each one and I’ll share them here once I do. It’s such an easy path to more happiness, I just have to take it!

Pics credit: my.telegraph.co.uk; diminishinglucy.com; anythingabteverything.wordpress.com


Getting Happy With A Little Help From Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg. If you haven’t heard of her yet, you’re gonna.

This incredible woman is the COO of Facebook and soon to be billionaire when the company goes public. You can read more about her in this Yahoo Shine! article.

What does the female COO of Facebook have to do with my own, humble Journey To Happiness Experiment? Well, as most of us know, feeling happy is inexplicably tied to how good you feel about your job and Sheryl offers sage advice on the issue.

In the article, she says: “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.”

This is too true – especially for women. Marry the right person and your spouse is your champion, urging you to ever greater heights. Marry the wrong person and you’re in for a world of painful nagging from a significant other who can’t (or won’t) understand your personal career goals.

How can you be happy if your soulmate isn’t onboard with one of the most important aspects of your life i.e your job/career? The answer is, you can’t be happy.

So for those of us, like Sheryl, who have chosen wisely – bravo (I’m pretty pleased to say I’m one of them!) but for those of us who haven’t, you have 2 choices:

1) Leave

2) Spend as much time and effort that it takes to fix the difference in viewpoints.

Pretending that you’re okay being a stay-at-home mum or housewife or tuning down your ambitions to keep your spouse happy , isn’t going to do you any favours. You’ll be miserable for years, maybe even the rest of your life and end up resenting or maybe even hating your partner.

That’s why I think it’s a good idea to heed Sheryl’s advice. She should know – the woman is married, has two children and oh, she made a cool US$30.87 million last year.

pic credit http://www.guardian.co.uk


The Lesser Cousin Of Mindfulness

I’ve discovered that in the journey to happiness, mindfulness is the light that illuminates the road.

Mindfulness is essentially a Buddhist practice. It means staying in the moment and being mindfully conscious of what’s taking place in your thoughts, body, emotions and surroundings while maintaining a sense of calm.

Sounds like a deliciously peaceful idea but let me tell you it’s a DAMN hard thing to put into practice!

I haven’t managed to ‘stay in the now’ despite reading and re-reading one of the best books on the topic – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

In his book, Tolle encourages readers to savour the moment – even if you’re just washing the dishes or hanging clothes out to dry – without thinking of the future or the past. No grasping for something that you want to happen and no replaying what happened before. Just taking pleasure in the water over your hands as you get your dishes clean or inhaling the fresh scent of clean clothes as you hang them up to dry. This sounds wonderful and even doable but I’ve perhaps managed it for say half a second at any given time! My ‘monkey mind’ as the Buddhists call it swings from one branch of thought to another with no regard for my efforts.

For instance, I’ll catch the scent of clean clothes and think ‘how lovely’. Before I can stop myself, the next thought would be ‘we need to get more detergent coz we’re running out’ followed by ‘what else needs to get on the shopping list? Are we out of eggs? Better go and check’ and on and on and on.

I almost gave up trying mindfulness altogether when I realized that I might be setting a standard that’s way to high for my monkey mind. These days, I’m attempting to get to the lesser cousin of mindfulness – staying aware of my thoughts. I’m at least conscious of my monkey mind and how it leaps from thought to thought. I’m less ‘attached’ to it’s antics and the thoughts that come into my head.

That’s why I was able to feel some sense of calm this morning, despite waking up on the wrong side of the bed. I didn’t snap at The Engineer even though I felt like it when I couldn’t find a book I was looking for. I was glad that I held my tongue because it turned out that it wasn’t he who had misplaced it, it was me!

If I hadn’t been aware of my thoughts that were going in many different directions and Lizard Liz going ‘it’s his fault – blame him!’, I’d have probably started an argument and then felt guilty about it for the whole day. This way, I’m still not in the best of moods but at least I’m free of the additional burden of unnecessary irritation and guilt.

I may not be deliriously happy today but I feel rather calm – and I’ll take that for now!

meditation pic credit http://www.livingwithtolle.com