New Year’s Reflections

The craziness of December is finally coming to an end and now we embark upon the hope of a new year. I have been stealing quiet moments over the past week to reflect upon the challenges of the past year and the lessons I have learned from them. I always savor this last week of the year because I seem to find more time than usual to open my mind to new possibilities and small revelations. I am also able to take advantage of my holiday gifts, which almost always revolve around comfort; new soft blankets on the couch, fluffy slippers on my feet, a silk sleep mask and heated massage cushions for my back. I meditate more often and regain the clarity of a still mind.

But the true challenge of the New Year is figuring out how tranquility can actually become something enjoyed all year, as opposed to just during vacations. I have been paying close attention this week to something known as “self-talk.” It is all the judgement that you pass on yourself every moment of the day. Much of it has become automatic, so you don’t even realize the negativity you put on yourself until you take a step back and become aware of these patterns in everyday thinking. I found myself erecting barriers that don’t exist outside of my own mind which have made it harder for me to simply live a life of reduced stress and challenge.

What I am realizing quickly is that there is much catastrophizing going on in my head in regards to future events to come. This shouldn’t be much of a shock to me, as this is essentially the definition of anxiety. And what’s furthermore even less shocking is the realization that it’s always worse in my own head than what actually happens in real life. I have survived many difficult times in my own life that I never could have even dreamed of. This small revelation is one that should be taught as early as preschool and repeatedly reinforced; you can’t control everything so stop trying. And beyond that, you are much stronger than you give yourself credit for; you will handle what’s coming.

I have heard over the last few months that this blog resonates with people; especially those who understand the struggle of anxiety. If I have made one life better by putting into words that fight, then I have succeeded.  The continuum of angst is a long one and there are people on all parts of that spectrum from “not easily bothered” to “living in constant panic.” But I truly believe that all of us can benefit from listening to the voices in our own heads; they have become automatic and you might be surprised at what you find when you truly listen. My quest is for what our culture has deemed impossible, constant peace. But I continue, because I believe it exists as other cultures have found it. Cheers to the New Year and everyone finding their own version of peace in 2018.

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Are You Happy?

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” -Joseph Campbell

For anyone who has known me well, and over a significant period of time, you know that I have never allowed myself to be truly happy. I have been an extraordinary actress, complete with a perky attitude and a bright, wide smile. But underneath it all, there has always been a sense that I am missing something. I have always been convinced that the grass is greener elsewhere and certainly not where I was standing. If I reached the next goal, I would be happy. Contentment was only something that might occur in the future. Interestingly enough, my fantasies of perfection always happened to be those situations that were completely out of my reach. Lamenting for the ideal was my only source of tormented happiness.

In therapy, a recurrent theme kept emerging; no matter where I was in life, I only saw what was wrong, never what was right. It is a type of OCD where you can’t get past the flaws; a form of perfectionism towards oneself and therefore everyone around you. You begin to ruin even the best things in your life, because you are convinced you don’t deserve them. And it all stems from a dark place inside, an abyss, where you were never told that you actually matter. No opinions of your own held any value. Perfection, dictated by cultural extremes, was what you were after; nothing less was acceptable.

Therapy teaches you to dig in to the places where you have the most emotional resonance; when do you feel the most anger or the most sadness? Go there, delve down and resurrect those most painful memories. It is in those moments that you find your demons. As Stephen King said,

“We stopped checking for monsters under the bed when we realized they were inside of us.”

It is in that place that you realize why you get so angry when a similar situation pops up, or your eyes well up when something today resembles your greatest loss. It is there that you discover what you have been hiding so gracefully behind your elaborate mask of normalcy.

While this journey that I describe is heart-breaking, it is necessary. It is upon rising out of that pilgrimage that you can truly start to rebuild your life on a stronger, more solid and sustainable foundation. And it is upon that bedrock that you can become your most true and best self. And ultimately,  there is where you discover something called HOPE.

 

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Embracing the Gifts of Other Cultures

“There is no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them,’ my mother explained shortly before she left me. ‘If you can remember me, I will be with you always.”
― Isabel AllendeEva Luna

During the past few years, I have become very interested in the holiday called Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The Disney movie Coco has only increased my fascination with it. This past Halloween, I read as much as I could about the traditions and origin of the celebration. The days coincide with the Catholic holidays on November 1st and 2nd, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days. But Dia De Los Muertos, in countries throughout Latin America, combines their people’s beliefs about celebrating the storied lives of their own beloved families.

The reason I became so enamored of this celebration was because I did not feel as though my own culture did the deceased justice. While All Souls’ Day exists, I did not experience a true spiritual reunion with those family members who have passed; there was remembrance but not quite enough festivity or connection. When I learned of the traditions associated with Dia De Los Muertos, I finally felt as though I had found that crossover between life and death for which I had been searching.

The movie Coco did such an amazing job because it takes you on a small boy’s journey to understand his past and then shows you how that recognition will shape his future. But it also breathes life into a true cultural wonder. I am so appreciative that we have a world full of traditions other than my own that are so truly spectacular as you make efforts to understand them. This is a holiday I want to bring into my own home to show my children that there are understandings in the world that go far beyond our own and that it is up to us to seek and learn them.

The following article from the Chicago Tribune describes the ofrenda that is made to the souls which cross over to visit the living. It is filled with significant offerings to those on their journey home.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-day-of-the-dead-altar-diagram-spanish-english-20151029-htmlstory.html

Next year, I will do my absolute best to pay tribute to a holiday that I did not grow up with, but that I want to pass on to my own future generations. I will pass them on with true respect. But more importantly, I will pass on the stories and the legacies of the lives of my ancestors. I will pass on their triumphs as well as their fears. My children will know what a great journey this, being human. And they will understand the connection they have with all the people in this world around them. They will know to celebrate diversity and to embrace the brilliance of all cultures around them.

Check out http://presleyspantry.com to discover how to make these amazing sugar skulls. The following link also shows great photos of the festivals themselves.  https://www.everfest.com/magazine/dia-de-los-muertos-photos-2016

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Keep it Light

To me, one of the absolute key components of creating a fulfilling life is surrounding yourself with people who make you laugh. It is one of the main characteristics that you will find in anyone close to me. Laughter has gotten me through the toughest times in my life. There are few feelings as wonderful as releasing all the rough parts of your day through some quality moments of hilarity.

My first year of college was a rough one as the transition to living independently was challenging for me. There were some pretty tough days to get through during that experience. My freshman year roommate was crucial to my survival that year. We used to come home from our days and compete for the title of who actually had the worst day. We had incredibly entertaining stories that probably weren’t hilarious when you looked at them through sane eyes, but our sharing and laughing was imperative to never quitting and moving on to a somewhat stable sophomore year.

“Anne, I failed my midterm” -Lisa

“No really, what’d you get…?” -Anne

“An F”  -Lisa

“Oh.” -Anne

Of course I am a huge proponent of serious education, so don’t get me wrong that I am saying it’s OK to fail a midterm. But I was in uncharted territory back then and it was all part of my overall learning and growing experience. I was stepping out of who I was always disciplined to be and seeing what it was like on the other side. I didn’t stay there for long, but constant seriousness for long periods of time always ends up with a little healthy rebellion.

There have been countless mornings of talking to my best friend via phone on my way to work where we have turned work situations that were utterly maddening into the most entertaining fodder for hysterics. One of my favorites was finding a grasshopper on the dashboard of my car where the two of us proceeded to legitimately discuss if he was there to enjoy my hip hop musical selections for the day or perhaps was there for some other purpose. I made her google if grasshoppers like music as a serious question. Dialogue below:

Lisa : Dude, do grasshoppers like music?
De: Um, I don’t know
Lisa: can you check?

De: OK

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I could go on and on with similar tales and believe me there are plenty of good stories for future blogs that you can look forward to. No matter how tough your days get, remember to surround yourself with those who can keep it all in perspective with a good laugh.

 

 

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