Surprised by Nature

In July, my husband and I began renting a house in North Carolina.  After being in a townhouse in Hawaii for 13 years, we decided to get a place with a yard.  Out here we were able to find a lovely house complete with a firepit and a stream running through some woods out back, and a bunch of trees in the front yard.  I am surrounded by flora and fauna that I am not familiar with.  There are the regular old Pine and Oak and Hickory that I recognize.  What I have come to learn, is that in a rental property you don’t know what has been planted over the years and sometimes you get a surprise.  And we have had a couple of really beautiful surprise displays over the last couple of months.

We had an incredible display of mushrooms when my in-laws came to visit:

There was this incredible looking mushroom in our driveway:

This vine covered in white flowers was growing and blooming everywhere for about a week and a half.  The air around us smelled so beautiful.

This random berry patch grew out of the swamp next door:

Groupings of these fabulous red plants started blooming in random spots around the house:

Then, after cold weather came for a little while and I thought we wouldn’t have any more surprises, this bush out front of our house went from boring green plant to this:

Gorgeous white flowers all over!  The blanket of fallen petals happened over a few days’ time.  I continue to be stunned by the beauty in the nature around us right now.

I feel so blessed to have been able to find such an amazing location to ease my way back to the mainland.  Mushrooms, flowers, squirrels, foxes, deer, and some really large birds have appeared so far. I can’t wait to wake up every day and see what the property has to offer.

What Happened to Thanksgiving?

Three weeks ago I was walking in Walmart in the gardening section.  And there, tucked quietly on the side, in a row, near the patio furniture, were Christmas trees.  This was before Halloween.  I feel like the school year just started.

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Now, this is not a rant on how we are celebrating Christmas earlier and earlier.  Frankly, I don’t care about that in particular.  I’m sure there are people who quite brilliantly leave their Christmas tree up year round because it takes less energy.  That I don’t mind.  What I do mind is that the “holidays” based on getting stuff are squeezing out the holiday for appreciating the stuff.

Halloween has always been about dressing up and getting candy.  What’s cooler than dressing up and becoming something or someone completely different from yourself for one evening?  And getting Snickers bars to boot?  That’s amazing.

After Halloween is supposed to come Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is a holiday about family, about quality time spent together, about playing soccer or football in the backyard after eating a ton of food around a huge table packed with loved ones.  The whole idea of Thanksgiving is preparing food for someone else.  It’s spending hours together in the kitchen getting different dishes ready.  It’s everyone pitching in to make an entree or a dessert.  It’s guests helping you clean your dishes when half the party has left.  It’s playing Atari with your cousins in the basement and going on a long walk in the woods to counteract the tryptophan from the turkey.  This holiday is all about giving and thanking and community and kindness and gratitude.

No wonder it’s been completely overshadowed by the Christmas holiday season.  I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but here in America we like to get stuff.  We think our kids deserve hundreds of presents and we think other people should know what expensive thing we want to get under the tree.  In every school I’ve worked at over the years, Santa has become a bargaining tool for the children.  If you’re good you’ll get stuff, but if you don’t listen, Santa won’t come.

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So we go from dressing up and getting stuff in October, to a quick thanks for a second in November to “give me, give me, give me” in December.  January we have a momentary break and then we jump into February’s candy and card fest.

I guess I don’t need to go on, you can see where this is going.  We have become a country run by the gifts we get for each other.  We deserve the new car, the newest iPhone, and my child should have all the things on his Halloween, birthday, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day lists.  We have become collectors of shiny stuff.

This year, I challenge you to cover your eyes and ears when the commercials for Christmas come on.  Stop believing the advertisements telling you how much you need.

What do you really need?  You need Thanksgiving.  Over and over and over again.  Remove yourself from the craziness.  I’m not saying not to give gifts.  But you don’t have to get everyone you’ve ever met a gift.  You don’t have to make a card for everyone who has ever crossed your path.  Your loved ones don’t need more than one present from you.

holding-handsThis holiday season (whatever that means) do your best to schedule time for the people you love.  Get out a board game.  Go outside for a walk.  Read a book together.  Create a meal from scratch together.  Do anything, but do it with someone.  Put your phones and your iPads down and look each other square in the eyes.  Whether you pray or not at your holiday of choice, you should still sit next to each other around a table and hold hands for a moment.  Maybe just take a deep breath together.  The human connection is something we’re losing.  Be the one to bring it back to your group.

Stop asking for more and appreciate all the things and people you have.

Do you have any plans with friends and family for the holidays?  Share it below!

Class Details

 1020152032_HDR Hey friends!  Have you ever started something, that at the time, felt like it was exactly the right thing, and it was exciting, motivating, and made you feel super charged?  And then something comes up in your life and all of a sudden that thing gets pushed to the side?  Okay, I am going to admit that my upcoming class became a temporary victim to this process.  I was super pumped and about to get ready… and my in-laws came to visit.  Now, this was not bad news.  I happen to love my in-laws.  They are supportive and loving and when they got here we had a great time.  We tried out some local restaurants, saw part of NC we hadn’t visited before, and had an excuse to ride the ferry!

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The only problem came about because I have two jobs.  I have my day job, where I work at a school doing counseling with elementary school kids and their families, and I have my coaching job, which I am more passionate about, but which doesn’t yet, pay all of my bills.  My office for my coaching is in my spare bedroom and the time I spend on my coaching is technically my “free” time.  If you are an entrepreneur you may know about this part of the process.  I am making more money coaching, but I haven’t gotten to the tipping point yet.

So part of this post is to announce to the world that in the next year and a half, at this time next year, (By January 2017) these two jobs will switch.  I may continue to provide mental health counseling to military families, who I also have a passion for, but in a more fitting and more part-time type of way.  I am looking into being a provider for Tri-Care and hopefully for Military One Source (a fantastic source if you are attached to the military in any way!).

The other half of this post is to announce that I have moved the dates of the class, but that it is still happening!  I wanted to be able to give you my 100% and now that things are back to semi-routine and my office is set back up I am ready to rock and roll with the Jumpstart Your Life Class.

It might not be as full of a class, since the holidays will be rolling around and some people feel that it gets to be too much. However, this means that you will get more of my attention.

Classes start November 30. We will meet 6 times, skipping the Monday right after Christmas.

The dates are:
November 30
December 7, 14, 21
January 4, and 11

The classes meet in a Google Hangout and are scheduled for Mondays at 6pm Eastern Standard Time.

If you can’t make that time of the day, send me a message about better times during the week and if I have enough interest I’ll put together a second class at another time.

Message me on facebook, give me a call or shoot me an email to confirm your spot.

marypreston.oasisforchange@outlook.com

Allowing Yourself to Let Go

This weekend I visited my sister in Charleston, SC.  It was an amazing, super fun, last minute trip and I’ll write about that another day.  My dogs also had a fabulous time.  They love a good road trip and they got so excited to see their Anna, Nick and Jackson.  On the way home in the car, they were still pretty excited.  I think they wanted to stay awake to be a part of all of the action.  My small dog, Gizmo, was really tired, but kept moving around on my lap, and standing up so he wouldn’t go to sleep.  He kept shifting and moving and going back and forth between my lap and the back seat.  Then, finally, there was a moment when he got on my lap and his whole body relaxed.  He gave in.  He let go, and fell asleep.  And then he snoozed for a few hours.  You could see his whole body go from tensed to relaxed in a matter of moments and as he fell deeper asleep his legs and head just splayed out and drooped.  0630151300

I told my husband how touching it is to be with someone when they finally let go.  It is a beautiful thing to be a part of that process.  For my dog to feel safe enough in a moving vehicle, to trust that I would keep him safe and he could let us take over.  And he could just relax.  And as I was thinking about this, I realized that this is something I love about life coaching and therapy as well.

When someone makes a decision to come into your office for the first time, or make that first phone call, generally they have let the stress and frustration and anxiety and anger build up for a long time.  American humans have a tendency to hold on to what is bothering them for a really long time.  We don’t ask for help.  We don’t want anyone to see how weak we are.  We want everyone to think that our lives our perfect, that everything is great, that we have got it all together.  Sowhen someone has gotten to the point to finally tell me their story, to admit that things have gotten tough, that they could use a little guidance, or a little motivation, or just a little nudge in the right direction, I always get this amazing experience.  Someone starts out talking fast, or in spurts, there are high emotions, there is a story about how they got to where they are now.  And at some point in the conversation, there is always a release.  There is a moment when they pause, take a breath, and let go.  That moment in an interaction with others is something I absolutely love.  It’s a necessary process, a turning point, when someone can let go of the story they’ve been telling, and start to build a new one.

I have the pleasure of being a catalyst for that process, I am there in the moment, I offer someone the space to relax, but it is not about me.  If you are feeling that kind of stress that knots up your whole body, that you feel like you can’t relax, you can’t sleep, you can’t breathe really deeply, then find someone to talk to who will just listen.  It can be a friend, your partner, your parent, a sibling.  Or maybe it’s a therapist, a life coach, a masseuse, your crossfit coach, a psychic, a doctor.  It’s such a healing experience.  Find someone who you feel comfortable telling that you are having a hard time.  When you can release that story, when you can finally pause, and take that deep breath, it allows room for you to start something new.

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Adulting

1029151915a_HDRToday was a new day.  If you read yesterday’s blog you know that I had a temporary meltdown.  I think that’s par for the course, that everyone has days like that.  I was tired, hungry, and spent the day trying to look busy.  So the follow-up of a dead battery and a car that wouldn’t start pushed me over the edge.  I’m pretty sure everyone has days like this every once in a while.

Today was a much different kind of day and it’s the reason I can tell that all of the hard work I’ve been doing over the years is working.  Rewind back just 7 years and this type of incident might have set off days or weeks of feeling down.  For me that usually looks just fine, maybe slightly frazzled or a little tired at work.  I would hold it in and put on a happy face for my professional colleagues and then I would drive straight home to crash.  I would watch tv, read a book, or just sleep.  I would definitely eat like crap and isolate myself.

Today it’s a different story.  This morning I knew that I was going to wake up feeling junky.  That’s expected after a day like yesterday.  Especially since I replayed the incident over and over in my head over night instead of getting a good night’s rest.  But, I’ve been here before, and I know what to expect.  So this morning my alarm went off and I angrily jumped out of bed to silence it.  I got straight into the shower, then turned on all of the lights, turned on some music and made coffee.  I took the time to sit in my sunroom to meditate this morning.  I listened to the crickets chirp, the jets flying over head and the birds.  I took the time to center myself for the day.

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When I got to work I wrote down my Core Desired Feelings.  If you’ve never heard of Danielle Laporte and her Core Desired Feelings, you’re missing out.  The very, very basic of it is to identify not what you want to do, but how you want to feel.  I put “supported, connected, joy, freedom.”  I took the time to seek out friendly faces, to smile and chat for a moment.  And as the morning went on I started to feel very good.  This afternoon I texted my friend to go for a walk around the track.  We did 2 miles, talked, and then did some random plyometric moves and had a good laugh about it.

When I got home I decided to take this thing all the way, so I made dinner on an actual plate (courtesy of my in-laws) and set the table for myself.  I ate looking out the window at my front yard and listened to the crickets chirp again.

This wasn’t easy.  It took a lot of work to continue to take actions to make myself feel better and dig myself out of the hole.  But it was worth it.  Tomorrow I know I’m going to wake up in a better mood and hopefully I can enjoy my weekend instead of curling up in my jammies.

Now that I’ve adulted all day I’m going to search for last night’s Criminal Minds episode, and hit the sack early.

A Difficult Day

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There are some days when you just want to fold into yourself.  When little challenges feel like enormous boulders blocking your path.  And even though the intelligent part of yourself knows that there is an easy answer, that it isn’t actually too hard, it feels like it would take the strength of ten giants to complete your task and you have nothing.  You have gritty eyes and a drooping head and the sound of whimpering and wailing is just a breath away.  Your arms won’t lift and your whole skeleton rounds so your shoulders turn in and your head falls to your chest.  All you can do is kneel and wait.

Today was one of those days.  Brought on by what?  Who knows.  Poor sleep, a loud alarm, hunger, a long day.  I seemed to pull myself through the mud in the air and bring myself to the moment I was looking forward to.  Lunch and maybe a nap.  I sat down in my car in the rain, turned the key and my car wouldn’t start.  I had one of those moments when I was just so tired and hungry and cranky already that I couldn’t think of what to do.  I sat there in the driver’s seat, listening to the rain for a full 10 minutes.  I tried the key again and again, but it wouldn’t turn over.  And I felt utterly defeated.

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Pouring Rain

Have I had car problems before?  Sure.  In fact, not too long ago I wrote this post about driving down the road with my husband and having the car stall completely going 55 miles per hour.  That was as big of a deal, there was no one around to help us then.  And here I was in the packed parking lot of the school, feeling like I was the only one on the planet.  Devastated.  Parents and children walked by in their raincoats, piled into their cars, and I just sat there behind the wheel.  Telling myself that no one wanted to help me.

Finally, I pulled myself together and called my husband.  He couldn’t do much to help, but he lifted me up and recommended that I call the car shop.  And, as if I needed someone to tell me what to do, I called them.  And they were awesome.  They said they’d send somebody over.  So I got out of the car and lifted the hood of the car.  And a split second later a super nice parent said, “Do you need a jump?”  And I said, “Yeah!”  He pulled his car around, I called to cancel the tow truck and in about 5 minutes flat my devastating scenario came to an end.  My car was running, I had met a nice person, and I was sitting back in my car behind the wheel, free to go wherever I wanted.  I took the car to get the battery checked and ultimately replaced and then headed home.

Sitting here, writing this down, it amazes me how sensitive and fragile we can feel at times.  And the only difference between this dead battery and the last time it happened is the story I was telling myself about my situation.  Here, today, it was the end of the world.  I was all alone, no one wanted to help me.  We have only one car, so there was nothing my husband could do.  It was raining and cold and I was done as opposed to the last time when I had a great time, enjoyed the situation and took everything in stride.

Is there a lesson in this?  Probably.  I could have taken several deep breaths, changed my story, and pulled myself together to ask for help.  I have to admit that a small part of me was swept away by my story, the intoxication of being in distress, of being helpless and wanting to just lay down on the pavement and bang my fists in the puddles.  I’ve had practice now, I can look at myself in those situations and see that it is a fleeting moment, a temporary situation, but there was a time that this could have engulfed me completely, possibly for days.  Here, sitting on my couch, typing these words, I am still exhausted, my eyes tired from the tears, but I had the sense to ask my husband to take care of me when I got home.  I told him I was not making dinner and that he was in charge and I didn’t care if it was take out.  I sat on the couch with my dogs and snuggled them and we watched an episode of Star Trek, Deep Space Nine.  Now, I’m writing this for you, and I’m releasing the tension in my shoulders, neck, and back.  I’m letting go of the story that I had a horrible day.  I’m taking the time to breathe deep and smile and stretch and appreciate the breathtaking amount of good fortune that I do have.

So, thank you for listening.  And thank you for this blogging challenge that made me write when all I wanted to do was go to bed.

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A Bonfire

Today, when I got home from work, I had the pleasure of using my favorite feature of my new home.  Today was a long day.  I work in the school system again, and while I love it, and the school I’m in is fantastic with warm, inviting teachers, great administration and kids with great attitudes, I always feel like I am judged for any free time I take.  Those who work in the school system know how valuable free time is.  With less and less money going to the education system these days, teachers are asked to step up more and more with their expectations during the day.  Right now most teachers and school staff I know rarely get a minute alone.  They are teaching the kids, at recess with the kids, at lunch with the kids, handing most of the kids off to their parents, but then staying late for activities.  After that they plan for the next day.  Even though my graduate schooling and my license qualify me for much more complicated activities, one of the best things I can do for a teacher is to be in the lunchroom when they need to use the restroom.  Because this is precious time that they have to negotiate for.  As part of my job I can’t be alone with the kids or be responsible, but I can help another teacher watch 40 kids.  And give a hard working teacher 5 minutes of respite from her class.

So when I have 10 or more minutes of time in between my groups and I have a chance to sit down at my desk, there is this pervasive feeling of guilt that seeps in.  I can’t help it.  I know that I have every right to sit down and take a break.  Every human has that right.  The fact that teachers don’t get it is appalling.  So I get swept up into the momentum of everybody doing something all the time.  Nonstop, all day long.

This came up for me today because I was sitting at my desk, eating my lunch, and doing my encounter forms on my phone.  So I wasn’t even actually taking a break, I was still working.  And someone came into the room and I heard myself telling her that I wasn’t sitting here texting, haha, I was actually doing work.  What the hell?  I don’t have to explain myself to her.  I don’t have to make excuses to put my feet up.  In fact, every fiber of my being believes that mindfulness and meditation are important.  I’ve been completely abandoning that at work.

So, today, when I got home from work I did not go inside and get on the computer and continue the go, go, go mindset from school.  Instead I did something that always brings me back to the present.  I lit a fire.  Lol.  My husband and I collect all of the cardboard boxes when we get something shipped from amazon and we pile up all of the magazines that arrive at our house.  Today I took a huge box full of papers to the firepit in the backyard of my house, piled on some sticks and branches that have fallen around the yard recently and lit a big bonfire.  I stood there and watched the flames. When it started to die down I got a stick and poked at the magazines that always have just a little more fight in them, opening up the pages to start new little fires.  I poked it and prodded it and threw on some leaves and altogether left the school day behind me.  And it felt really, really good.  The primal heat and edge of danger that a huge fire brings keeps your concentration on the present moment and is a meditation like no other.

I am making a commitment today to figuring out how to be an example for the kids and the staff.  I am not sure how, but I need to stand true to my values.  I don’t need to be a busy bee, bouncing from activity to activity making busy work so that I’m not sitting still.  I believe in stillness and I am going to somehow pass that along.  It’s going to be a challenge, but screw it, I’m done with pretending.  So tomorrow I’m going to sit at my desk and do absolutely nothing.  And see what happens.

A Great Sullivan Bonfire
A Great Sullivan Bonfire

 

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www.oasisforchange.com

 

How to Get Over Your Fears and Breathe Underwater

About 5 years ago, my husband and I decided to get certified to Scuba Dive.  Hell, we live in Hawaii.  How could we leave here without giving it a try?  I had been snorkeling many times before and I never had any problems breathing through a snorkel, so I did not foresee how terrified I would be.  Before you ever take your course, you have to read through the book they give you.  You learn all about the dangers, including how deep you can safely go, what happens to the air inside of your body as you go deeper, why you need to clear your ears, why you need to ascend so slowly, why you need to wait a certain amount of time in between dives and how long and how deep you can safely dive if you go twice.  You learn about how long you have to wait before you fly in an airplane after you dive, not to hold your breath, to empty all of the air out of your BCD before you start to ascend.  This is, obviously, all very important.

I was very excited about learning to dive until we practiced for the first time.  Your first practice is in shallow water.  You learn how to put all the gear together, you practice putting your mask on and off under water, you practice safety breathing, you practice all of the emergency prep stuff that you might need when you go deep.  You also practice swimming around under water.

This cat breathes underwater better than I do.

In Hawaii we are lucky.  We don’t have to practice this stuff in a pool, we can just go to a shallow, calm section of the ocean, put on the gear on shore and wade right in.  And it was then that I realized how heavy the gear is.  The weight of the air tank did something to me mentally.  And when I waded into the water and put my head in, I panicked.  Something in my head was saying, “you are going to put your head under water and try to breathe and that is seriously stupid.”  I am not one to quit, so I basically forced myself to go through the motions.  I had my husband there and our instructor, so I was able to pack down the terror by basically telling myself that they know I’m new at this, they will watch me closely and they won’t let me drown.

Then, as part of your class, you do a deep dive and a shallow dive.  I didn’t fully admit to myself how terrified I was, I think I told myself it was just because I was a beginner.  But the fear got in my way so much that it was hard to concentrate on what everything did.  I had a really hard time remembering the name of the gear, how much weight I put in my BCD, how to connect the regulator, and kind of let the instructor set everything up for me.  I got through those dives again, by thinking that the instructor was going to keep an eye on me and not let me drown.  Awesome.  

After the class was over it was another year before we dove again.  We went with a dive group and I felt okay knowing that we would have a dive leader who would remind us of what to do and stick around us just in case something went wrong.  My husband and I were buddies, and I knew he would keep an eye on me.  Well, I jumped off the boat for the dive, got to the rope and couldn’t force myself to go down.  I panicked.  I put my head under, started to sink and then started flailing like I was drowning.  The dive leader came back up and told me to breathe out, I did, calmed down enough and went down the rope.  I had an okay time, but I struggled with how much air to keep in my BCD and kept thinking about my breath.  We saw fun stuff, but I spent most of the dive thinking about my breathing.

The second dive was similar, minus the panicking at the top of the rope.  I kind of floated around with the group thinking of all the things that could go wrong, and trying not to move too much.  Then, on the way up, my husband went just a little too fast.  He was having a hard time keeping himself on the rope.  The dive leader grabbed him and pulled him down, but it was a struggle to go slow enough.  When we got to the surface he had a small bloody nose, but everything else seemed to be okay.  The dive leader, who I will not name, did not check on him.  He did not explain to him why he might have been going to fast, or even talk to him at all about it.  We got back to shore and later than night he had pains in his chest.  Yes, we probably should have gone to the doctor and we are idiots that we didn’t immediately head off to the emergency room.  He was okay in the morning, so we just went on about our lives.

So, when we go the opportunity to go scuba diving on Christmas Day this year I had mixed feelings.  I was excited and I was terrified.  I remembered how the last trip went.  I checked the weather and surf- there was supposed to be big waves and very little visibility.  Things weren’t looking great.  But I decided that since the only thing I could control out of the whole situation was myself, that I would do so.

Christmas Eve, before I fell asleep, I did a visualization of myself, with the gear on, breathing fantastically.  I recalled the way it felt breathing out of an air tank, and I reminded myself that it would feel different, but it was safe.  I thought of all of the things I could do to make this trip go better.  And I took charge.

That morning two of the five that were supposed to go diving didn’t go.  So I told my husband and our friend, Brian, that I reserved the right to go on the boat and decide not to go in the water.  Of course, they agreed.  Just that one thing made me feel better already.  They were okay if I decided it was unsafe.  When we got to the group, and the leader asked us if we were comfortable divers, I flat out told him, no, I was kind of terrified and I hadn’t been diving in years.  The truth felt good.  We got on the boat and we started to put our gear together.  I told Brian that I had some dumb questions, including “What the hell do I do now?” and “How do you scuba dive?” and similar questions.  He is experienced, so I let him walk my husband and I through how to put the gear together.  And this time, knowing that I was more in control, I really watched.  I asked questions about how much weight I should wear and how when I should fill my vest and really listened to the answers.  I told the dive leader that I might go really slow, I might decide to turn back.  I also made sure he knew that my husband has tubes in his ears, so there was a possibility that he wouldn’t be able to clear his ears, and in that case, we would both be going back to the surface.  Again, the truth felt really good.  And this time, when I jumped in the water, I felt much better.  I remembered to breathe out, take my time, do a really quick meditation and when I got to the rope, I let all the air out to descend.  I wasn’t heavy enough and couldn’t get under water.  But the leader came over and made sure all the air was out of my vest and helped me go under.  I reminded myself that I was in control.  I knew what my gear was for.  I took my time and went slow.  I made sure to concentrate on all of the cool stuff happening around me, like the bubbles coming from the divers below me.  I made sure to clear my ears and looked at the rope in my hands.  As long as I was concentrating on the good stuff, the fears about my breathing went away.  I made sure, the entire dive, that when I started to feel the panic about my breathing, to breathe out, and to look at my surroundings and pick something to concentrate on.  The only time I allowed myself to think about my breathing was to check my air level periodically and to make sure I wasn’t holding my breath.  As long as I was enjoying the moment, the experience, the fish, the bubbles, the wreck, and the Eagle Rays that we saw, I was totally fine.  We went very slow on the way up, and I appreciated that.  Nathan started to float a bit again, and go fast, but he held on, the leader made sure he didn’t go too fast.

3d-underwater

The next thing that happened was the most important for me, and why I was able to do the second dive in utter bliss, and am excited to go diving again someday.  When we got back on the boat and took our gear off our leader came over to check up on us.  He explained why I didn’t get all of the air out of my vest and couldn’t go under at first.  He explained what to do next time.  He explained to my husband why he was going up so fast last time, and what to do next time.  We talked about the dive, the cool stuff we saw and problem solved a few things so that the next one would be even better.

I set up my own gear for the second dive, and when I descended the rope, it was such a joy.  We went very, very slowly, because my husband was having difficulty clearing his ears.  At one point I thought we might have to go back up, but it would have been okay.  It was that feeling of accomplishment, that I had overcome complete panic and terror to be able to breathe underwater with such ease.  And that dive was amazing.  I was able to swim a tiny bit farther away and look at things on my own.  The dive went great and we went slowly to the top.

Taking the time to overcome of of my fears was one of the best Christmas gifts I have ever received.  Is there anything that you were able to overcome in 2013?  Celebrate it with us below in the comments!

 

Living a Happy Life- It’s not about luck.

As we come upon the end of the year and look forward to the next, the posts about how to improve your life are taking over social media.  And in response I’ve seen many posts about how annoying it is to have those posts pop up all over the place.  I enjoy reading both sides, the ones outlining activities and practices that lead to more positivity and those convinced that those people should just shut up.  What really entertains me is the comments at the end.  I am floored by the numbers of people who take the time to comment.  And it saddens me to see how many people are convinced that happiness and joy are out of reach.  I understand that these articles often come off with a Pollyanna vibe, like it’s supposed to be easy.  “10 Easy Steps to Joy!”  And if you are currently in a depressive state, reading the easy fixes like, “Smile more!” might make you want to punch someone.    The truth of the matter is that Joy and Happiness are not easy to come by. Not at first.  Especially when you’re out of practice.  The people writing these articles have usually taken years of practice to come by their current state of calm, peace or joy.  They didn’t just “smile more” for a day and then BAM, HAPPINESS!  It is not easy, and it doesn’t happen quickly.  But it CAN happen.  One of the first steps is to figure out if you even believe it’s possible, despite your present circumstances in life.  You can be in exactly the same circumstances that you are in now and have a more peaceful, calm, even joyful state of mind.  Another thing to realize, is that being happy or joyful despite your circumstances does not mean that now you become a passive floater in life.  The people writing these articles are not simply running down the shore of the beach in the sun all day.  That might be a part of their day and all the power to them!  They take the time to have fun.  But they are also feeding their families, paying their bills, writing blog posts, putting their effort into the projects that they care about.  They work hard.  They do not simply lie on the bed all day with a big grin on their faces.
I know, because I’m one of those people who tend to write and share those positive posts.  I love to talk to people about how to live a more joyful life.  But the truth is, I didn’t use to be this happy.  I used to be pretty miserable.  I went to my boring, stressful job, came home to my husband and dogs who I love very much, and made dinner and either worked out or worked on the computer and went to bed.  It wasn’t a bad life.  If you had asked me then, I probably would have said I was pretty happy.  I enjoyed a lot of the things I was doing.  I was being paid well enough to continue to live in Hawaii, which is a beautiful place to be.  My husband took wonderful care of me and dogs give unconditional love, the best kind.  And yet, looking back, knowing how happy I am now, I see that I was “pretty happy” but also “pretty miserable” in probably equal amounts.  Good memories and moments of sadness, boredom, discontent.  And that feeling that I couldn’t change it.
So I know.  I know what it’s like to think to yourself that you should be happy because you have a great husband, family, dogs and for $#@$ sake you live in Hawaii.  I know what it’s like to look at people with those beaming smiles and think they’re faking it.  Believing that that level of happiness doesn’t actually exist.  Believing that those people were trying to sell me something, their product, their website, something, and that when they were done convincing me how awesome it was, they were going to go home and collapse into an exhausted heap of human, spent after spending the day trying to keep up that level of deception.  I believed that it wasn’t possible.
Seeing a therapist in 2010 was a big change for me.  I stopped trying to do things by myself.  And in that small act of asking for help from someone else, I became a little braver.  I decided that I didn’t have much to lose by trying.  I decided to live an experimental life.  I decided to give it a shot and see if it was actually possible to enjoy the little things in life.  To see if, in fact, meditation works.  To test out whether or not those joy gurus were right.  I started to listen to “self-help” books and to experiment with prayer, yoga, meditation and mindfulness activities.  Even if I thought it was stupid at first.  In fact, when I started meditating, it was painful.  My mind raced, thinking of all of the more important activities I could be accomplishing, my legs hurt because I’m so inflexible, my back hurt because I don’t like to sit up straight and they tell you you should.  Sometimes I would fall asleep, other times I would peek open my eyes to see how much time left I had on the clock.  But I gave it a shot.  I made a commitment to a week of meditation in the morning.  And slowly, in little tiny moments, I began to feel that inner peace.  Those moments of just being and nothing else.  Where all the pain in my body and all the painful thoughts were briefly not important.  In the beginning it was so short, but once you’ve felt that, you become a bit of an addict.  You want more.  And then I finally believed that those joy gurus could be right.  That feeling does exist.
At the same time I was exploring books on the subject.  If a book didn’t interest me in the beginning, I stopped reading it.  I wasn’t there to waste my time.  Over time I found a few people whose words touched me and hit a nerve.  Not everything they said was like that, but every once in a while there would be a statement that just zinged me from my head to my toes and landed in my heart.  And I knew, just knew it to be truth.  I felt it.  It was not logic, it was knowing.  It was similar to that feeling of just “being” during meditation.

Because I took the time to experiment, I allowed myself to be open to the possibility.  And I discovered it could be true.  And it took a long time.  A 10 minute meditation in the morning is long for me.  I still peek at the clock sometimes.  But there are times when I start to meditate and I drop into this wonderful state of calm and peace.  And I’ve come to a point where I can find that state during times of stress and frustration.  In traffic, in long lines at the supermarket, while one of the toddlers I work with is purposefully taking as long as physically possible to put his dish into the dish tray after lunch.  In these moments I can drop down into that feeling of relaxation.  And here’s where I think we have led people astray.  Once I’ve reached that state, I don’t just smile and say, “Oh, it’s okay, do what you want” and pretend to smile blissfully.  I don’t let people walk over me just because I’m able to stay calm.  Being peaceful and calm is not the same as being a push-over.  In those moments, though, I can clear my mind and think of something to keep me busy.  Instead of fuming about how slow the lady in front of me is, while she counts out 85 dollars worth of pennies and drops a handful on the floor, I can take a second to drop in the calm.  Then I can look around and see if there is a different line, I can see if the person behind me is friendly and wants to share a smile about the situation, or look at the cover of the Enquirer which is always entertaining.  And instead of being furious about the pennies on the floor, I can smile at the woman with arthritis, assist her in picking up pennies, and wish her happiness in her life.  The truth is, either way, the woman is going to pay her money for her groceries.  I can fume, I can help her, I can find another line.  When you are paying your mortgage bill, you can do it with a smile or a grimace, both cost the same.  When the child takes forever, you can make a calm decision about how to react.  Do I shout at him to hurry up?  Do I take the plate from him and do it myself?  Do I let him continue on so that a more important lesson of self-sufficiency is learned?  Can I use a gentle, but firm tone to remind him that we have something to do so going fast is important? mIs it more important to be fast or for him to do it himself?  I can decide in a calm state of mind instead of reacting in anger.
So ask yourself a few questions.  Do you believe that happiness is possible?  Do you believe that being calm and peaceful would change you into a push over?  Do you think that once you accepted reality,  you would have no power to change it?  Leave your answers in the comments!
“Happiness is not circumstance.” Marianne Williamson says this on an episode of SuperSoul Sunday.  And I truly believe this to be true.