Monday, January 31, 2011

Life Lessons: Dogs

A card during the holidays included the above picture of Cooper. Just looking at Cooper makes you smile because he always seems happy. I attached the picture to my refrigerator in case I ever need to be reminded to smile. This picture got me thinking about the life of this dog and I realized how much we could all learn if we could be more like Cooper.

Cooper Qualities

Endless patience
Good listener
Knows when to bark and when not to bark

Easily entertained
Up for anything
Well behaved

Favorite thing to do: be as close to his people wherever they may be...

Basically, Cooper is content. How about you⎯could you say that about yourself? If not, perhaps you need to start adding a few Cooper Qualities on your “to do” list. Perhaps we all could learn to just "be" Cooper.

The following has been around for a while and many of you may have heard it before, but I thought this might be a good place to remind you since we are leaving it to the dogs this week.
  • Always run to greet loved ones when they come home.
  • Never pass the opportunity to go for a joy ride.
  • Recognize the ecstasy of fresh air and wind in your face.
  • Take naps.
  • Stretch before rising.
  • Run, romp and play daily.
  • Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
  • Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
  • On warm days, lie on your back in the grass. On hot days, drink lots of water and find the shade.
  • When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  • Enjoy long walks.
  • Be loyal.
  • Never pretend to be something you're not.
  • If what you want is buried, dig deep until you find it.
  • And, when someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
  • We'd be better off, better people . . . if we acted more like dogs.
 Author Unknown
© Copyright 2011 Michelle Clark
Thank you Frye Family for Cooper pics

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tipping Point = Crossroad to the Future

This morning my husband and I found out via a feed from our local newspaper that the company he has worked at for nearly 38 years is going to be sold. We really don’t know much more at this point other than the fact there is no buyer being announced at this time, and the future of the more than 800 employees is up in the air. This could be a tipping-point for my husband.

What is a tipping-point? Basically it is the turning point⎯the point at which everything changes for better or worse. For my husband, it may be the point at which he decides what the next stage of his life might be. Fortunately for us, he could retire. Retirement is that carrot we all look forward to during our “working” lives. But is he ready? Because he is staring at a tipping-point right this very day, there are a lot of questions that must be answered. It could be considered an enviable and wonderful position to be in.

There are many stages one might look at when reaching a crossroads. Here are a few to consider:

Fear: What does this mean? Anxiety, apprehension and concern are all forms of fear and natural. The sooner you move off fear and start figuring a few things out the better…

Confusion: I don’t have all the information I need! So, hop to it and start determining what your best resources for information are…

Doubt: Is this the right time to have to make a decision like this? There may never be a right time for anything. Sometimes other factors out of our control come into play and that’s life. It is up to you to get all the facts, tackle your fear and confusion and move on…

Hope: Hope! There are opportunities at every crossroad. There are no wrong decisions when you have all the information spread out before you and you make your decisions based on what is known at that particular time...

Wonder: Yeah, I wonder what the heck I’m gonna do. Let your mind settle here for a time, take the information you have and allow yourself to dream of what each direction might look like.

So husband dear, it is what it is⎯move on and get over it baby⎯but he already knows that. He is the person who has taught me the most about that very fact. He is going to be just fine and we are going to be just fine. I look forward to watching him take the next step in his life, whatever it may be. There are opportunities at every crossroad we come to as we head down the paths of our lives tipping-point to tipping-point...

So how are you going to approach your next crossroad dear reader?

© Copyright 2011 Michelle Clark

Monday, January 24, 2011

How to BE Alone⎯4 Easy Steps

I often discuss the virtues of being your own best friend, putting your own needs first and making time for yourself. It may be difficult for some people to understand the importance of simply being alone, and many may not even like the idea of being alone. BUT⎯it is okay to be alone. While I value spending time with family and friends and treasure the time I share with my husband, I cherish the time I spend with myself. In my alone time I am learning how to be ME.

When I was growing up, even though I had a brother and sister, not to mention a neighborhood full of other children, I often enjoyed playing by myself. I loved to swing high on our outdoor play set on windy days, lie in the grass on the small hill in the back yard while watching the clouds drift by, “bake” mud cakes decorated with flowers and play with my Barbie dolls for hours. As a matter of fact, I could easily entertain myself⎯I was a happy kid because I knew what made me happy⎯with or without anyone else. As a young adult I learned the value of doing what it was I wanted to do because I could always count on ME to show up. If I had relied on someone else to do something with, I would have missed out on the opportunity to learn to step outside my shy self and JUST DO IT!

Here are four important steps on the road to BE-ing alone:
  • Be patient⎯if you are just starting on the road to BE-ing alone it is important to remember. Many of us give all our patience away to others and leave none for ourselves.
  • Breathe in the silence⎯practice clearing your mind of all thought. A good way to do that is to hum⎯a little hum here a lot of hum there and you will find it is difficult to “think” at the same time. Before you know it, you will find your monkey-mind melting away to silence. This is when you learn what is really in your head!
  • Realize the freedom within the space you create.
  • Embrace your aloneness⎯plan things for you to do with YOU! Go for a walk or a long drive, pick up a bite to eat in a sit-down restaurant, go out to a movie...just learn to enjoy your time away from everything else in your life with just YOU!
  • Respect the silence and reap the rewards.
I recently saw this video by Tanya Davis and friends and wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!

Over the years I have learned and still am learning about ME. I’ve been there and done that and know it’s okay to dance like no one is watching, go to a movie, sing loudly and strongly and moreover I’ve learned to respect my needs. If you are okay with YOU, happiness and a sense of calm will infuse all the areas of your life. I smile every time I watch this video because I get what Tanya is saying. If you don’t, perhaps you need some serious alone time. How do you carve-out time for YOU?

© Copyright Michelle Clark 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

In the Zone⎯So What’s All the Hype?

My friend Kay was telling me about the first time she finally understood what being “in the zone” meant. She had purchased a treadmill for home and faithfully climbed on for her workouts. Kay was comfortable enough with her new routine and found she really didn’t need to hold on to the handlebars. This allowed her more freedom to move. On one particular day she climbed on, warmed up and began her routine. She found herself really getting into the motion. As her cares of the day melted away, Kay began to experience a feeling she had never felt before. She became one with her treadmill. In other words, she felt as if she was the treadmill. A euphoric feeling came over her just moments before she flew off the end of her oneness. Fortunately for Kay, she did not suffer any major injuries.

She painted quite a visual image and can’t tell the story without cracking up with laughter. Of course anyone listening would laugh right along with her. I’ve experienced my own “in the zone” moments and could relate with the feeling she spoke of. I find the moment I become aware of the zone, I too am launched back to reality. This has happened many times while snow skiing. I become so entirely focused I feel I am one with my skis. But the moment I break the focus and become aware of “it” I find myself tumbling down the hill instead. I would equate being “in the zone” to a hypnotic state of being. The moment you are aware of this state, you allow intrusive thoughts and therefore lose focus. I’ve worked hard at dismissing the intrusive thoughts when I have been in the zone and not fall quite so often, but usually I am unable to get back into the hypnotic bliss I was experiencing.

Since I am working at paying more attention to whatever I am doing, I am finding I am “in the zone” (in the groove, in the flow…) more often and can extend the zone-filled feeling the more I am “in the zone.” You could say, the more you practice mindful-awareness, the better and easier it gets. The one constant for any “in the zone” moment is single-minded focus⎯I am only thinking about what I am doing then basically letting go of thought.

Even if you were unaware of it at the time, I am sure you have experienced the “zone.” You know how time flies when you are doing what you love and love what you are doing. Here are a few examples of what can give me “in the zone” moments:
  • Gardening
  • Running
  • Skiing
  • Writing
  • Teaching
  • Meditating
  • Swimming
On the other hand, I am not in the zone when I am:
  • Multitasking
  • Talking on the phone
  • Watching television
  • Surfing the net⎯ that would be called zoning-out and for me that is not “in the zone”
Just what am I learning with all this mindful-awareness:
  • Being “in the zone” is a state of consciousness I won’t experience in my daily life unless I have the focus, or awareness in the first place.
  • Being “in the zone” is happiness at its best.
  • Being “in the zone” is bringing a sense of flow to the rhythm of my day.
Kay and I enjoy sharing the ups and downs of the different paths before us and are both working on bringing more awareness into our lives. Perhaps this post would be a good starting point for you to pay more attention and find your zone. After all, you never know when you might be snapped back to reality with an unplanned flight off the end of your treadmill.

© Copyright 2011 Michelle Clark
Picture by Sasha Wolff

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Self-Control: Learn How to Enjoy Every Last Bit

“My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate - that's my philosophy”
Thornton Wilder

Recently I was eating a bowl of ice cream with caramel sauce. Even though this is something I rather enjoy, I don’t often do. I know if I allow myself to eat ice cream with caramel sauce whenever I want to, it would only lead to more ice cream and perhaps even hot fudge sauce. The bowls of ice cream would grow larger and larger and so would I, but that would not be healthy or wise. On the other hand, when I do allow myself a bowl of French vanilla ice cream with my home made caramel sauce⎯I completely enjoy it and savor every sticky, creamy bit. By the time I am done, one might say it looks like I’ve licked the bowl and spoon clean. If it was something I ate often, I probably would not appreciate it quite as much. I would no longer allow the ice cream to melt slowly but just gobble it up and wonder where the ice cream went. No longer would the bowl and spoon look as if it had been licked clean. Instead, there may even be a bit of caramel sauce left in the bottom⎯and that my friends would be a sin of the highest degree!

Considering my recent ice cream experience, I was reminded of the importance of self-control in day-to-day living. Control is something that touches many corners of our lives. It is one of those things many of us would like to have a bit more of. It’s best to start with yourself first and see how taking more control of YOU will get the ball rolling in those other corners. A few thoughts:

First Off: Self-control requires you to listen to your inner dialogue⎯and yes you do have inner dialogue. If you don’t think so, chances are you are living a very noisy out-of-control existence.

Secondly: In order for you to hear your inner dialogue or inner voice, you must allow awareness into your life. Turn down the noise and allow your inner dialogue to turn up the volume.

Finally: Being aware means you are observing. My last post underscored what I am learning by focusing on my needs. By asking myself questions, I was slowly becoming the observer of my life⎯something I did not realize at the time. This step alone helped me see more⎯kind of like when you stop talking and start listening⎯you hear more. So when you observe more, you see more. When you see more, you are more informed and thus can make better decisions. Your newfound awareness will help you make better decisions, and making better decisions helps YOU gain control. There it is!

We know the difference between what is good for us and what really isn’t. My advice to you⎯if you are listening to your inner dialogue and are aware of what you are doing, take pride and enjoy whatever is on your plate. You may now begin to take control of the various corners of you life, and you can appreciate whatever it is all the bit more.

 Copyright Michelle Clark 2011
Picture: Original source unknown

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year⎯New YOU, Here’s How...

The beginning of the year marks a renewal of sorts. Forget the resolutions, I know you’re saying, “What, the year just started!” How many people do you know benefit in the long run from making and following through with a new year resolution? I would venture to guess⎯not very many! Usually resolutions are big life gotta do’s, as in quit smoking, lose weight, start working out, pay off debt and save money, to name just a few. I think of resolutions as those things we know we should or shouldn’t be doing but can’t seem to follow through with. Many people set themselves up for failure by trying to take giant leaps rather than small baby steps. Big life gotta do’s are significant lifestyle changes. For example, it’s not just dropping a few pounds, but keeping it off. It's a matter of changing your thinking, and the follow through is maintaining that thinking. Making resolutions might sound like a good thing to do⎯but if all they do is set you up for failure, what is the point. I know⎯you’ve got to start somewhere…

Baby Step #1: Focus on One Word
Might I make a simple suggestion here⎯instead of a resolution, why not pick a word for the year. This word would really be a sort of theme for the year ahead. Eight years ago, my health began to deteriorate rapidly and was leading me down a dark and narrow path. After two years of being lost, I came up with the idea of selecting a word. This word became my focus for an entire year. The first word I chose was ME!

Baby Step #2: Fine-tune Selfishness
One might think of considering one’s own needs first as being a bit selfish. No matter where you look to define selfish you basically come up with the same negative definition⎯a person who lacks consideration for others. If that is how you want to define it, fine with me. But if I don’t consider ME, who will? If it takes me being selfish to help me be healthy and happy then so be it. I know if I am healthy and happy, I will be a better person for anyone else who comes into my life.

Baby Step #3: Question Yourself
During the year of ME, I began to take care of myself. I would remind myself of this by asking,
“Is this in my best interest?”
If it wasn’t, I didn’t do it; if it was, I did it. Another question that would surface  regularly would be,
“Is this something I really have to do, or want to do?”
By questioning myself, I learned to focus more on me and to take better care of my needs first and foremost. That forced focus brought me the gift of awareness and gratitude which lead to peace of mind and happiness. I learned more about myself that year than I had in nearly a lifetime. As a matter of fact, I continued with this theme the following year⎯I was on a roll and I knew I had more to learn.

Baby Step #4: Simplify the Process
You define yourself in different ways throughout your life, but you can simplify the whole process by learning to tune in to YOU. By considering your needs and whether or not something is or isn’t good for you, YOU can take control of YOUR life. YOU can quit smoking, lose weight, start working out, pay off your debt, save more money or whatever is best for YOU. It may not always be smooth sailing, but your word will serve as your reminder. Selecting your word for the year will help you make baby steps and aid in your follow through, thus helping you maintain whatever changes you are making in your life.

Baby Step #5: Carry the Word Forward
I’ve been selecting a word for my annual theme ever since the two years of ME. I have been amazed at how much the word affects me and carries on into my life even after I have picked a new word the following year. My word for this year is momentum. I want to be the driving force in what goes on in my life. Look out…

Let this year be your new year⎯your new YOU. How are you going to define your year? Will it be in a word? What will your word be for this year? Feel free to comment and share your word. I would love to hear from you!
© Copyright Michelle Clark 2011