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Friday, February 19, 2010

Lent - What a Concept

Ash Wednesday started the 40 days of Lent. Sure it is a catholic concept. But why should you bother to stop to think about it. And is there more to it than abdication and loss of pleasantries? The Dalai Lama said that without discipline there was no freedom. I was inspired by that saying and here are my insights.
Growing up as a good catholic girl I did not like the time of Lent. For me it was not so much the absence of meat on the dinner table (never cared much for meat), it was how my three older brothers explained the concept of Lent to me. They said I needed to give up something that I love. Wanting to do my share of fasting, I thought it was necessary for me to give up singing. For I loved to sing while I was on my swing and pretty much all the time in between. No wonder I came to think of Lent as a time of punishment and sin.

Growing older I realized that many concepts in various religions are meant to serve the believers themselves. Lent is a time to tune up the body and spirit, help it along with the natural detox that takes place in spring, when the metabolism can come out of the energy storing mode of the winter.

From fasting come other rewards, such as simplicity in daily life and a lightness of body and mind. Having extra time on hands has often been reported as well. Bad habits have the tendency to accumulate over the year. Lent/spring time is the perfect opportunity to get rid of some unwanted habits in order to feel more alive again and in order to live the life once dreamed about.

"Without discipline there is no freedom". The Dalai Lama said in an interview and that the not knowing of this fact is what ails the western world the most. Freedom is a big word here, but what is taken for freedom does not serve the individuals on the long run. Often the call for freedom to do/not to do certain things is motivated by enertia (which is not friendly towards the flow of life itself). "Easy" is not the way a fully lived live is done (another misapprehension). Yet, the current ideal seems to propagate easy. The result of easy and instant rewards is all too often sluggishness, spiritlessness and dullness. The consumer of easy starts to feel empty, dull, uninspired.

So discipline has its place and many rewards (don´t confuse it with obsessive behavior, however): feeling alive, proud, part of the community, being able to make your own living, feel the creativity flowing inside yourself, being able to enjoy rewards. The list is long, satisfying and life affirming.

About Lent today. Every year I make a conscious effort to ask myself what would bring me forward and would assist me in my goals. This year, I will be without wine and committed myself to a daily reading in a meditation book. Whereas I like to enjoy a glass of good wine, I know it will serve me to be without it for some time and be fully present at all times. I want to use the time of Lent to satisfy my graving for more awareness in daily life.

You don´t have to be catholic in order to make a resolution, that´s for sure. You do need to want something bad enough however, in order to shed those sticky clingy habits of instant comfort.

Good luck!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

All You Need Is Love

Have you noticed how much businesses are pushing Valentine´s Day as a gift giving holiday? I even read a column in the San Diego Union Tribune about what to do when "undergifting happens" - meaning being given or giving a much bigger/smaller present than getting from the other person. Can love be flourishing in such strict conventions? Here are my thoughts on having a pleasant Day dedicated to the one thing we all want so desperately: LOVE.

She/He who is truthful to her/himself, is comfortable with her/his actions and can easily recognize love whenever it comes her/his way. Whereas this seems to be such a simple sentence (aside from the gender slashes :-)), let me elaborate it further in order to make it more accessible to your benefit:

Valentine´s Day is/can be a vicious circle: A fond feeling towards someone motivates to express this feeling in some way of material subject. The subject is received and judged in terms of how much love it contains depending on how much it cost or how it compares to the presents the friends have received from their sweethearts. Often the subject in hand also gets compared to the expectations that derive from social learning/environment/media/advertising. The love originally behind the act does not stand alone. It´s assigned value is much more a result of the recipients personality. The gift giver itself needs to free himself of whatever result his present produces and stay with the motivation from the heart. At the same time he is advised to pay attention to the reaction, since this will give very valuable information about the personality of the sweetheart.

The above scenario can happen - and burden both sides - when the media has succeeded and the vicious circle starts its circling.

Let´s simplify things: Whereas I am not too happy about all the gift giving at the countless holidays throughout the year (don´t get me wrong - I LOVE cute things, but I also LOVE serene and empty spaces to live in), I do appreciate the fact that there is a day, solely dedicated to LOVE. Life is often so hectic and full that it is easy to forget that what we all are really after is, well, LOVE. The Beatles really nailed it when they sang "All You Need Is Love". So I am thankful for the reminder and make a true effort to get in the spirit of it. With some thought I don´t need to go along with what the ads everywhere want me to buy, and I can find some great things that make sense. My Sweetie is a true romantic and can never have enough candles around. He also loves a good piece of soap. So deep red candles with luscious incense and some sheep milk soap bars in the shape of hearts are my Valentine´s present to him. Of course there are other treats that I would think are the star of the day, but you can figure that out on your own...

I LOVE the Day of Love, I must admit. I love all the hearts and the reds everywhere. So, I invite you to get in the spirit and enjoy it. How about giving a give or doing something nice for someone who you know did not plan on getting you anything? Make it casual, so that she/he does not feel embarrassed about not having something. Also, if someone surprises you with a treat who you have nothing prepared for, enjoy it and say "Thank You". A lot of uhhhing and ahhhing over it is sometimes a much better reciprocation that making sure you give the same value back. We have forgotten how to receive and how to give without expecting back. It is such a wonderful feeling. I dare you to try it out. There we come back to being truthful to yourself. Then, nothing can go wrong...
Happy Valentine´s Day!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

With Fresh Eyes

Returning form a trip, even if it is a short one, gives me a completely new look at my living environment. Traveling back and forth from San Diego to Austria, I have learned over the years to not only marvel at this new look at things, but also to take advantage of it and use it in order to continually create the life I want.

Just a few days ago I returned from a near 2 month stay in Austria, where my family lives. It was an extended family visit/business trip. On the country side I got the chance to relax and recharge my batteries. First I felt the exhaustion from the whole year, then I slowly got excited about the new year and started to plan it and set my goals.

When the return to my current home in San Diego approached, I got mentally prepared to take in the first impressions of my home there and to make notes about what are the top 5 things I would love to have different. Usually it is simple and seemingly little things that give the life quality a big boost. It only takes one daily nuisance in order to unnecessarily drain precious energy out of me. This time it is a new rug for the hallway (so far only a temporary one has been way beyond its temporary welcome), organizing my cleaning supplies, finally planting the giant bamboo in order to get some privacy in the back yard, finish painting the kitchen and hanging some newly taken family photos on our family wall. If 5 seems too much (it always depends on the size of the items and the current financial options), I do the top 3. Only doing the most important single one adds extra energy and a bounce in my step.

This commitment to making use of my fresh look on things has brought me far along the way already. With only one or two vacations (already one night away from home can qualify) a year, it adds up quickly. Usually I get used to not so ideal things around the house and think I can manage. But if it sticks out right after having been gone, I just haven´t gotten used to it in a way that satisfies me. Sometimes something is on the list more than once until I finally believe that it is not good for me.

The goal is to have a living environment that supports my creativity, expresses who my husband and I are as a couple and who we are as individuals and that gives me energy as opposed to drains it. Isn´t it amazing how fast the things collect on the mantel piece? One at a time would shine and be wonderful. All of them at once just look like clutter and make the place look stuffy and unpleasant to be in.

In case it is too overwhelming, I got a dear friend who is a professional organizer. She is featured in the A&E series "Hoarders" and helps people who are most likely in a worse situation with their nick-nacks than you and I are. She does a great job at freeing up your life. I´d be glad to get you in touch if you are interested...