Too busy to choose?

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.   ~ Old Zen saying

I find it easy to be busy. Easy to let the tasks of life fill the days and create a sense of pressure. And though I’ve streamlined my holiday plans, December is not a month that lends itself to a slower pace.

Well, let’s be honest…is there any month that slows down? Not on my calendar.

And if I’m already busy, how am I supposed to carve out extra time to sit and meditate? Or find the quiet for reading and reflection?

It’s like so many other paradoxes in life:

The more love you give away, the more you have.

Without darkness there can be no light.

The pursuit of happiness makes people unhappy.

What is this strange logic that works in spite of itself?

The way I make sense of it is to understand the power of deliberate choice.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve lost doing useful things that were unplanned. I sidetrack myself when I sit down to online work and before I begin I have to check email, my bank balance, my credit card charges, my this, my that, my other….All helpful, but not necessarily helping me to the end point, the goal of why I sat down with my computer in the first place.

Other times it’s errands. I have something that I need to do, but I tack on other stops since I’m out. Sometimes I lose whole afternoons to things that didn’t have to be, just because I was out and about anyway.

That may sound like good planning, batching running around and being efficient.

But the busyness also gives me a false sense of accomplishment. It’s easy to get to the end of one of those days and kid myself that I’ve done a lot, when in fact I’ve done very little that I needed to do, or wanted to do.

I’ve done what was in front of me to do, just following the line of busyness right into exhaustion.

But when I choose and stick to my choices, I control the game. When I set aside an hour to meditate, or an hour to read something powerful, I know I won’t have time to check all my favorite sites, or watch a casual hour of TV. I’ve chosen, I’ve committed myself. The decision is made up front, and I’m not even tempted to the things that nickel and dime my hours.

I’m still working on the discipline to set a specific time to read, and a time to meditate. I’ve been traveling, and that’s never a time to create a new routine.

But the paradox is also…if I put off until it’s convenient, it will never happen.

When I tell myself I’m too busy, I’m not always truthful. I may be filling my time, but I’ll acknowledge there’s a big difference between busy and productive.

Not that I think there’s no room for down time in life. Of course I need the down time, the lazy afternoons or slow mornings when I feel the luxury of a change of pace or the joy of the unexpected.

I try to get around this with lists. Yes, I’ve written about the power of lists before, and how as a list maker I’m compelled to check off things as they’re done. But here’s the thing…if I’m deliberate about sticking to my list, I’m better about avoiding the time-suckers. Because you know what never makes it on my list?

Funny, I never list browsing on Pinterest.

I never schedule time for catching up on Facebook.

I never set aside time to aimlessly wander the internet.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, she hastened to add!

But you know what I mean. It’s ok to do it now and then. But too many of those side trips and I’ve eaten up my hour to sit, or my time to read something inspiring, given away all my opportunity for real, and substituted illusion.

Do you ever catch yourself doing that? Give up real for illusion?

One of the words I heard over and over again at the meditation retreat was “balance.” The need for balance is a struggle for most people, and that’s pretty well acknowledged. There are whole book store aisles devoted to time management and work/life balance, personal/family balance, etc., etc., etc.

However you manage it, here’s my tip: Choose, and choose wisely. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Be picky. Be focused. Be honest with yourself and with your time.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time you’re really busy? You’ll find yourself sitting for an hour, and you’ll know it was just what you needed to do.

Hope overcomes doubt.

No guilt, no telling yourself you don’t have time.

Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.  ~ Frank Herbert

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Spirit of gratitude

“Gratitude precedes the miracle.”

The first time I read that I thought the words implied some sort of magic formula: if you live a life of gratitude, more good things will come your way. And while I agree with that interpretation on one level…living with a spirit of gratitude does open my heart to more good things, to seeing more good in life…there’s another, deeper meaning.

Living with gratitude precedes the miracle that occurs within me. Maybe “miracle” is too strong a word, on some days. On others, it’s the perfect term to describe what happens to a spirit filled with thankfulness.

Did you know, I’ve learned when you’re filled with gratitude for whatever is happening in your life, you literally can’t feel anger?

There are things that deserve anger…injustices and wrongs that need to be addressed. And I’m not addressing those here.

I’m talking about life on a very personal level, and I’ll acknowledge that I haven’t experienced tragedy to the degree that some people live with. But gratitude doesn’t erase the negatives from my life. Instead it helps me see beyond those, to focus on what I want to emphasize.

No one is unscarred, unscathed by the hurts of living, growing, suffering, dying, and waking up each day to start all over again.

I’ve loved and lost. I find the best way to acknowledge those I’ve lost is to remember the best of them, all the good. I celebrate that.

I’ve been amazed and I’ve been disappointed. I’ve lost some battles and I’ve had success.

I’ve learned when I have setbacks, low points, it helps to reframe. And that brings me back to gratitude. What can I pull out of each situation that feeds a spirit of thankfulness?

Let me tell you, it’s not always easy. I’m the optimistic sort, and more likely to be up than down. But even so, some days are hard. Some days grace and gratitude are not my default settings. That just means I’m human, normal, susceptible to the blows of life. Who isn’t?

I’ll admit: I wonder if I could rise to this challenge if I faced the burdens some people face? I hope I could. And though the externals of my life look good, it is far from perfect, far from easy.

Sometimes I have to stomp around and talk out loud, pace and rant a bit before I can right myself. That’s healthy and even necessary. You have to acknowledge the hole you’re in before you can begin to climb out. When you’re wounded, you have to stop the bleeding before you can begin to heal.

But after…after…I can reflect, and look for the rays of light.

And when I can see, even on the most basic level, that I’m blessed, I’m fortunate, how can I be anything but thankful?

And thankfulness brings me to joy.

Did you know, I’ve learned when you’re filled with joy for the blessings in your life, you literally can’t feel fear?

Joy quiets the fear that comes from the question. “What if…?” It’s so easy to find the negatives, when I’m afraid of the outcome.

And joy leads me outside myself, inspires me to reach out, be generous, look for ways to share with others.

At the deepest level, a spirit of gratitude doesn’t lead me to compare myself with others and feel smug when my situation seems better. A spirit of gratitude leads me to help in a literal way, to have a gracious and humble attitude toward those who struggle with greater challenges than any I face.

It’s a full circle miracle. When life gets me down, I’m moody, easily hurt, feel sorry for myself.

But then, gratitude creeps in, soothes my heart, eases my hurt, shines a light on my complaints. It’s a life cycle that I see on a regular basis.

The spirit of gratitude…it really does precede the miracle. And that has made all the difference.

“If anyone would tell you the shortest, surest way to all happiness and all perfection,
he must tell you to
make a rule to yourself to thank and praise God for everything
that happens to you.

It is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it,
you turn it into a blessing.

If you could work miracles,
therefore, you could not do more for yourself
than by this thankful spirit.

It heals and turns all that it touches into happiness.”

William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

When life knocks you flat…

It’s been a week. Short weeks always work out to be long in the end. I don’t know why or how, I only know it’s true. And this one has been no exception.

I knew it was a long shot. Usually I’m built to be positive. But this house offer…just didn’t feel right from the beginning. On Wednesday the buyers decided to walk away. It was disappointing. And it was a relief, oddly enough. I didn’t feel good about the offer, and the whole thing felt too rushed. Well, I may have time to regret that one if I sit with a house on Water Street for a long time to come. But when it’s right, it will be right…no forcing it. That’s never a good feeling.

So, in the spirit of cheering myself up and putting myself back on track I thought about the steps forward. What do I need to do to right myself? That’s the image I always see in my mind…my body upside down, somehow needing to find the way back up, back to hope, back to future.

It would be a lot easier if I wasn’t sitting surrounded by empty shelves and dreading unpacking a house I just rushed to pack.

When has my efficiency ever backfired so spectacularly?!

But there are silver linings. I got a free inspection and a free appraisal out of the process, thanks to the would-be buyers. And though the appraisal cost me the sale in the end, at least it helps to price more in line with the current market value. I tell myself things work out in the end. Isn’t that what you tell yourself when you’re disappointed?

I am disappointed, but there’s nowhere to go with that. The best cure for disappointment is action. And since I love the word “grace,” for all it’s meanings to my life, I created a little acronym to help me get going:

Grace

Happy weekend! I’ll be unpacking a bit, staging the house for future showings, and finding grace. And if you’re feeling in need of that gift, I hope you’ll find it too.

~ Sheila

Ketchup and syrup

Did you ever think that you have given your all to a situation, and it isn’t enough? I realized the other day that sometimes, what I have to give is like pouring ketchup on pancakes. I give what I have to give. But even if I give with all my heart, I can’t make ketchup taste like syrup. It isn’t necessarily about giving “enough.” Sometimes it is about the reality of ketchup vs syrup. Both are good, and both have a place. But few people would choose ketchup over syrup for pancakes. Made me think for a long time. I think I’ve poured a lot of ketchup in my life. 

It is the nature of grace always to fill spaces that have been empty.   ~  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

These I like

These are a few random quotes that caught my eye for their cleverness, humor, or absolute clarity of thought ~

I don’t know why “wanty” sounds better than “needy,” but it does!

Ahh, my southern roots!

December Saturday

Saturday afternoon in Craig is a bit quiet. In a small apartment that is not my own, there isn’t much inspiration or much of a to-do list. I’ve got some writing projects I’m working on, but I can only focus for so long at one stretch.

One of my favorite things to do when I’m ready for a break is to catch up on reading. I read blogs, read email, pull up a book in progress on my Kindle. I sometimes look for new quotes and inspiration for blog posts. Inspiration comes from everywhere…and inspiration is whatever catches my interest, makes me smile, the thing that touches my heart or rouses my curiosity.

This week I saw this (thanks to my friend Doug):

Religion is a guy at church thinking about fishing. Worship is a guy out fishing thinking about God. ~ John Fischer

And I found this:

20111210-164202.jpg

I always wonder if the quotes I post resonate with others or if they seem trite or simplistic. But whatever…they speak to me, and if these words don’t speak to you…well, that’s just the difference in people. Not right, not wrong, just different.

Words are powerful; they have the ability to heal and encourage. Words can also be negative. I’m careful about what I allow to lodge in my thoughts. I would rather have a store of sayings and quotes in my head that can add to my support when I need it, whether they sound corny or not. The truth is that just as we are what we eat, we also are (or become) what we think.

I don’t always feel positive. Who does? No one I know. But I’m learning, I’m growing, one phrase at a time, one encouraging story at a time.

Quiet Saturdays…well, with a good book in hand, or with an Internet connection…you can find inspiration. It isn’t geographic, you know. Inspiration is everywhere. Hope you find some in your world, wherever you are.

Has this ever happened to you?

Yesterday I got my teeth cleaned. Nothing exciting about it, just a routine dental appointment. My first plan for the time during the cleaning was to take a nap. That may not be an activity you would consider during your dental cleanings, but the hygienist at this office is so gentle I have almost been able to doze off in her chair.

I closed my eyes as she was doing her thing, and just as I was getting comfy, I thought about a funny thing I read recently, and it started. I felt the urge to smile, then giggle, and then I suddenly had a case of the giggles. You know, like when you were a kid and for no particular reason got the giggles at bedtime, or sitting in church, or pretty much anywhere that laughter was inappropriate, and impossible to suppress. The more you tried, the more you couldn’t stop.

I was almost at this point yesterday, almost at the point of embarrassing myself. It didn’t quite reach the annoying stage with the hygienist, but I think I was on the verge. I tried to think of sad things, boring things, anything that would wipe the smile right off of my face. Do you know how hard it is to have hands in your mouth when you have to giggle?

And the trigger? I was giggling about…giggling.

“I laughed so hard the tears ran down my leg!”

Saw that recently…I’ll be honest, I have laughed this hard. I only wish it was tears that ran down my leg! Let me tell you, when you suddenly develop a dark streak down the leg of your jeans, it’s hard to explain away! But if it ever happens again, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. That’s right, those are tears!

Thank goodness it was only giggles in the dentist’s office…don’t know if I could have survived the embarrassment if I had tears running down my leg yesterday. The giggling was bad enough. But I made it through without creating an incident that would haunt me for the rest of my life. No need for a change of clothes! And I got a star on my chart for great brushing! How’s that for a successful trip to the dentist?

Hope

From my collection of quotes, declarations of hope:

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.        Robert Fulghum

The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.   Samuel Johnson

Expect to have hope rekindled. Expect your prayers to be answered in wondrous ways. The dry seasons in life do not last. The spring rains will come again.  Sarah Ban Breathnach

All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.  Winston Churchill

I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy!           Louise Bogan

Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.    Lin Yutang

If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.                  Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.         Allan K. Chalmers

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.        Mohandas K. Gandhi

Some people believe that  having an attitude of hope is a way to practice self-deception, to hide from reality. But I disagree. I think hope is what fuels inspiration, strengthens resolve, helps us to hold on when we doubt. Hope is not a mind-numbing drug. It is an affirmation that though our wishes don’t always come true, they often do. Sometimes our own faith in the outcome is what makes the difference. We all have the ability to be self-fulfilling prophecies. I choose to live on the hopeful side of life.

Spring is sometimes called the season of hope. But hope isn’t limited to a time of year, or a time in life. It can flourish at any time.

What are you hoping for?