In Search of Happiness

   imagesCA4WYXBXApparently in this world, there is a treasure sought after by man that is more precious and desirable than gold but as elusive and unattainable as the Holy Grail. I’m speaking of “happiness”. Just take a stroll down the self-help aisle at Barnes and Noble and you will be blown away with the seemingly endless plethora of “How To” books on the subject. To underscore my point, I just typed in the words “finding happiness” in the search bar in the book section of Amazon.com., which resulted in 5,140 results – amazing, right?

Here are just a few of the titles: 21 Ways to Finding Peace and Happiness, The Happiness Solution, How to Be Happy, When Am I Going to Be Happy…and so on, just make up a title and I’m sure you can find it on a book shelf.

So what is going on? Has this been part of the human condition since the beginning of our existence? Has “happiness” always been a pipe dream? Am I happy? And what does that really mean to me anyway…hmmm.imagesCA02VTN3

Upon deeper reflection, I believe that happiness isn’t so much a state of being as it is an emotional reaction to my surroundings. In other words, when I hold a newborn baby, see a hummingbird land on my feeder or experience any number of life’s simple joys, I get a feeling or sensation that I have come to equate with “happiness”. However, I can walk in the house and turn on the news and hear about a mass shooting and quickly be overcome with emotions of sadness. So, in my experience, happiness is more of a fleeting emotion that comes and goes throughout thappiness-quote[1]he day and is in direct correlation to external stimuli.

People often ask me, “are you always this happy”? And of course, the answer is “no”. I have emotional ups and downs just like everyone else.  So what are they really asking? I think maybe what they are observing is that I am generally “content”. Now, contentment to me is a state of being that is with me whether I am sorrowful over a loss of a loved one, or rejoicing with a newly married couple. In my experience, contentment is static and is not related to my emotional ups and downs. So have I learned to be content or am I just wired that way? I suppose upon further analysis, the answer would be a little bit of both.

What do you think? How do you define yourself when it comes to “happiness” or “contentment”?images[2]

I’m excited to read your comments. Click on the “Leave A Comment” icon below to join the discussion!

Desperately Seeking a Needle of Wisdom in the Political Haystack

I’m not so much intrigued by politics as I am about human nature and how each of us responds to political stimuli. It has been such an interesting, polarizing time unlike any I d72b94edf2301342a11b3361032ddcff1can remember in my adult voting life. At the onset, I used every opportunity to seek to understand both sides of most of the major issues – read the RNC platform, watched all of the main speakers at the convention,  read the DNC platform and listened to their speakers (probably a result of having a conservative Republican father and a liberal Democrat mother). I did this to “know myself”, find out what I really think, to discover what each party really stands for in their core issues and then find out what aligns with my values. Like many Americans, hubby and I watched the debates. Almost daily, we had discusswatching-news-online-300x1801ions with friends with differing opinions, we also gave equal time to FOX, CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg news as well as the Sunday morning political fare offered by those same networks.

Here are just a few things I observed and learned:

1. OBJECTIVITY is on the “endangered thinking” list and is as rare as finding a journalist who doesn’t interrupt and continually talk over someone who doesn’t agree with him or her.
2. FACTS stand no chance against our deeply entrenched filters which are based on emotional responses and run as deep as our flight or fight reflexes.
3. LISTENING with the intent to truly understand rather than to formulate our reply is a virtue all of us need to aspire to and improve upon.
4. TRIBALISM or group think/blind allegiance to one’s team can become a cancer on our society which feeds off of our individual egos and creates a safe haven for an “us and them” mentality, feelings of superiority, disdain for differing opinions and hypocrisy at its most disgusting, distasteful display.
5. HATE is not owned by any particular group, party, religion or race and the justification for vileness can be skewed to fit anyone’s particular ideology and rebranded as “justified retaliation” or “righteous indignation”.
6. LABELING one another, in my opinion, is intellectually lazy and socially irresponsible. But, apparently it is so much more “comfortable” to place others in perfectly constructed labeled boxes than it is to truly seek to understand, which of course, would force us to step outside of our own very comfy box.
7. POSITIVITY and hope are still available to us all no matter how dire a picture is being presented to us or is our actual perception – as always, we as individuals have to choose how we see the world, how we choose to interact with others and how we choose to LIVE our own lives.

So, I’ve decided based on these observations, from this day forward if I’m going to make a difference in the world, I must “be the change I want to see” in the world. Therefore, I am going to work hard on these things in my own life each and every day from this day forward and HOPE that my actions will serve to inspire others to learn, grow, expand, evolve, and ultimately LOVE!

 

INSOMNIA, 9/11 and LOVE

The older I get, the alison sleepmore I struggle with insomnia. The more I struggle with insomnia, the more questions I have about everything. . .the universe, my place in it, God. . .the typical unknowns that no one has all the answers to.

In my most recent battle with the shut-eye, the minute my eyes opened I was roused with this well-known inspirational verse bouncing around in my brain. “And these three remain, faith, hope and love . . .and the greatest of these is love”. Really brain? Ok, I’m game..let’s do this. So I’m pretty sure I’ve got a significant grip on what “faith” is. Spiritually speaking, faith is belief in things not seen which are based on an inner revelation rather than physical proof. “Hope” seems pretty straight forward. . .to wait expectantly for a certain outcome. Then comes the big one, the one that remains, outlasts hope and faith . . .the one thing most of us desire to have in our lives more than wealth, wisdom or fame . . .”LOVE”.

It is difficult for me to slap a one liner definition on the end of love. What is love? I know how I “feel” inside when I love someone. I know how I feel when someone loves me. I also find it rather easy to point out what love isn’t. If love is one thing, I’m sure that it could be defined as “selfless”. When we truly love someone and they are needy or hurting, we give of ourselves without any consideration for our own needs or wants. In my opinion, love is always an action verb, otherwise it is just another word in a poem that rhymes with ‘above’.

After pondering that love is the greatest thing we could aspire to, my thoughts went to another verse that expounds even further on the importance of love. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Wow! Now that is some serious sacrifice. I could give everything I own away to the homeless man on the corner, but if I don’t have love, I have ZIP. Even more seriously, I could be burned as a martyr for my own beliefs . . .but if I go up in flames while hating my neighbor, I’ve missed the boat and my sacrifice is meaningless. That is heavy.

And then the epiphany . . .

I immediately began to think about the biggest modern-day example of such a martyrdom. On 9/11, nineteen hijackers boarded U.S. airplanes. Each hijacker had tremendous faith in Allah, the one they call the one true God, the one they prayed to every day since they had been taught to recite the Koran. Even with such great faith, no doubt, their faith was equally matched and perhaps surpassed by their hope for great reward in the after life. The verse sprang to life for me. This is a picture on a very grand scale. Easy to recognize because of the enormity of the crime and the obvious evil associated with the deed. Faith? Yes. Hope? Definitely, yes. Love? Their hearts were so blinded by hatred for you and me, and every other American, including their Muslim brothers and sisters who were working in the towers that day, that they gave up EVERYTHING …for NOTHING!

So, what is there for me to learn from this middle of the night interruption to my much-needed beauty sleep? If I have a lot of faith and hope…who benefits? It seems that both of these are more for the edifying of one’s self. If my friend is depressed and really needs me to spend time with her, the fact that I have hope and faith are not really helpful to her in that instance. She needs action . . .she needs my love, displayed by showing up, hanging out and listening and holding her hand.

I also realize that when someone tells me how awesome the sermon was last Sunday but in the very next breath tells me how they absolutely hate the President of the United States or how they can’156431_4055687387395_648010028_n[1]t stand their sister and never talk to her anymore…etc., I immediately feel a disconnect. It seems so inconsistent to me, therefore I have a hard time respecting anything else they have to say. Once again, I grapple with this question. If faith and hope are not completely enveloped in love, then what purpose do they serve? Apparently, a whole lot of nada.

After tossing and turning for over an hour, my mind was finally able to rest with a fresh respect for the beauty in the truth of  “. . .and the greatest of these is LOVE.”

“Growing” Against the Grain

obama%20romney%20debate%202%20btPerhaps there is no better environment than that of a presidential election year to spark debate, highlight diversity of opinion and emphasize how people can watch and listen to the same conversation and walk away with completely different takes. After watching the second debate, followed by flipping back and forth between CNN and FOX news, perusing the sometimes anger-filled posts on Facebook, eavesdropping on people’s conversations in restaurants and having many conversations of my own, a huge question arose during “morning coffee talk time” with my husband (one of our favorite new soul-exploration rituals).

Question ? ?

So, why is it that we humans often have a riimagesCANME831se in blood pressure, turn red in the face and have our emotional state get so riled – even to the point of anger – over someone else simply having a different opinion than ours? What is that? I asked this because I realized over the last year, I had observed this type of reaction over and over again around me, while at the same time, I became surprisingly aware that there was a quiet calm inside of me..a non-reaction, if you will, that I really didn’t understand. In the past, I could feel my temperature rise and my “blood boil” so to speak, when just listening to a Sunday morning panel on CNN. But suddenly for the first time in my 53 years on the planet, I felt like, in certain moments of awareness, I could discuss any topic with anyone without feeling threatened, anxious or defiant. Weird, but incredibly freeing. (By the way, let me be clear, I am only referring to situations where different opinions are being expressed – not when someone is being completely disrespectful, rude or degrading…obviously there are times when measured reactions are warranted.) How did that happen? Kev pointed out that for quite some time we had actually been watching certain news shows for the sole (and soul) purpose of making ourselves uncomfortable. If Michael Moore or Donald Trump, or anyone who saw things way differently than we do,  was on a rant on CNN and my finger was itching to quickly change the channel…we both would say, “NO”…let’s do this! So, we purposely chose to go against our grain…over and over again.

This was a HUGE change from our habits of only a couple of years ago, when we listened only to those talking heads who mainly agreed with our ideology and underscored our way of thinking. Kev said it was like taking sandpaper to the soul…But, even though we had both been exercising ourselves in this manner, we still did not have a good answer for this question. WHY? Why do some people literally hate every word that comes out of Obama’s mouth and the same held true when Bush was in office. I did not understand it then and I don’t now. So again, I ask .. .

 Why is it so difficult to find balanced opinions and insightful, enlightened observations…but very easy to observe venomous, emotionally charged visceral reactions in the political and religious arena? These type of intellectual shouting matches daily bombard newscasts and radio talk shows – complete with name calling and demeaning “you’re such a moron” implications. So why so much bombastic bloviating versus gracious listening seasoned with rational, educated responses?

As I stated in my last blog post “Reflections and Revelations”, the pursuit of intellectual honesty has led me to a place of self-discovery which has resulted in new found freedom and a deeper sense of peace. Which is what I attributed to this welcomed state of not getting riled when others disagreed with me or vice versa. But there is something more…much deeper and more profound.

I posed the same question I have asked here, to an entire class full of women last week. After the class, one of my students told me I needed to read “A New Earth” Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle.  I immediately went out and bought it. Like reading “The Road Less Traveled” for the first time, every word and paragraph jumps off the page and solidifies what I have been experiencing in the last few years. Within just a few chapters, Tolle addresses the very issue in detail that I had been asking myself, my spouse and my friends. Let me share with you . . .

“There is nothing that strengthens the ego more than being right. Being right is identification with a mental position-a perspective, an opinion a judgment, a story. For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong, and so the ego loves to make wrong in order to be right. In other words: You need to make others wrong in order to get a stronger sense of who you are. Being right places you in a position of imagined moral superiority in relation to the person who is being judged or found wanting.”

Ahh, now we’re getting somewhere.

“Every ego confuses opinions and viewpoints with fact. Every ego is a master of selective perception and distorted interpretation. Only through awareness-not through thinking-can you differentiate between fact and opinion.” Beyond the realm of simple and verifiable facts, the certainty that “I am right and you are wrong” is a dangerous thing in personal relationships as well as in interactions between nations, tribes, religions and so on.

 …once you identify the ego for what it is: a collective dysfunction, the insanity of the human mind . . .you no longer misperceive it as somebody’s identity. Once you see the ego for what it is, it becomes much easier to remain nonreactive toward it. You don’t take it personally anymore. There is no complaining, blaming, accusing, or making wrong. . .compassion arises when you recognize that all are suffering from the same sickness of the mind, some more acutely than others. You do not fuel the drama anymore that is a part of all egoic relationships. What is its fuel? REACTIVITY! The ego thrives on it.

And WOW… discovery and enlightenment, and a few more layers of the onion are peeled back. All of this makes so much sense to me. Little by little, situation by situation, unknowingly it seems I have slowly been separating “who I am” from “what I think”. Therefore, when I am in that state of clarity, I am not threatened by your opinions – in fact, I love to hear them, especially if they are different from mine because it is just another opportunity for me to expand myself. It is an exercise I must do if I am going to truly serve and love those I am so connected with. If I truly care about you, and want to love you, I must find a way to enter in to where you are . . .ego plays no part in this type of interaction. It wasn’t very long ago I would have labeled myself a certain way (politically and religious beliefs) – which upon definition may close me off from spiritual connection with those who view the world differently. Today? The only label I can come up with is explorationist. Which apparently is a new word . . .how fitting!

Reflections & Revelations

                                                                                                                                                                              

For several months now, I’ve been desiring to get back to my blog. It wasn’t so much that I lost the inspiration to write, it was more about other endeavors getting in the way. So, here in the last few hours of 2012, I have decided it would be a good time to express my thoughts and hopefully inspire moments of230465_1076004257179_3199_n[1] reflections and revelations.

REFLECTIONS

Like most of you, my year was filled with a mixture of blessings, sorrows and celebrations. I derived much joy from my daily interactions with the wonderful people who take my exercise classes or have me as a personal trainer. Getting to help others stay fit and healthy while at the same time strengthening my own body is a privilege I greatly treasure. I amballean dvd surrounded by amazing, strong, inspirational women! This year, I was able to share my passion for exercise with the release of my new Ballean DVD. The response has been equally overwhelming and humbling. Definitely a check in the blessing category!

In August, my husband and I tearfully said goodbye to our oldest child Joel, who moved to Austin. Whilekev and joel we were both so excited for his new adventures in Texas, we were sad for ourselves and the simple joys we would miss – hanging out with him on the deck on Sundays…or just meeting him uptown for lunch…or stopping in for a drink when he was bartending at Aria. Our times with Joel are always filled with stimulating conversation, plenty of laughter and lots of hugs. I think I miss the hugs the most.

My daughter Kara and her husband Shaun celebrated one year of marriage, while we celebrated 32. Interestingly enough, we still work as hard on our relationship now as we did that first year. The cool thing is after many conversations with our daughter over the last year, it has become very cle374157_1758961179153_960237205_n[1]ar she is WAY ahead of the game than we were in that first year. So excited for them and the journey they have chosen to take together…like me, she married her best friend and the love of her life, who can sometimes be a pain in the ass but who makes her laugh her butt off every day!  In my opinion, probably as good as it gets.

REVELATIONS

Alas, this  year of apocalyptic prophesies has been filled with many “revelations” for me.  As you know if you interact with me or read my blog, I am constantly evaluating the human condition, my own life and the world around me. One lifelong goal that I share with my spouse, and probably many of you,  is to always be evolving as a human being. For me that translates into examining my internal maps and filters, my fears and phobias and all that makes me tick. It is a daunting task that requires intellectual honesty and the ability to take personal responsibility for my current state of being…spiritual, emotional and physical.

Unshackled and unfettered. . .the truth shall set you free! In the glorious year of 2012, I made a wonderful discovery. Upon taking a very deep look into myself – my thoughts…motivations…desire to seek truth and the meaning of life – I came to a place called “honesty”. In this place, there is no room for self-deception, fairy tales,  victimization and blame. I am who I am at this point in life because of the daily choices I have made. Ahhh…the sweet feeling of chains falling off my soul. The sound was so loud and triumphant, I was sure all the neighbors could hear them clanging on my hardwood floors.

SPIRITUALLY -What do I really know? In relation to the mysteries and enormity of the universe…not a whole hell of a lot. As far as my soul goes, when I am serving others…I am the most peaceful, content and fulfilled.  EMOTIONALLY -What do I value? Personal relationships more than stuff and the feeling that I am valued and respected especially by my spouse. PHYSICALLY – Why did I suddenly find myself 15 pounds heavier on the scale? This one took a little more time…I so wanted to blame it on hormones, menopause…anything DOC please? But NO…the truth was I was eating more calories, especially carbs, than I was burning off. The scale offers a real fun dance with reality – kind of hard to lie to yourself when you are “butt naked” staring down at a number that defies your driver’s license stats. And the truth shall set you free…of about 15 pounds of excess baggage in my case.

So, here I am writing my blog and once again examining and baring my soul in hopes to not only enlighten myself but also with the deepest hope and desire that through my explorations, you might be inspired to find yourself as well.

I am looking forward to all your comments, questions and suggestions in 2013.

Happy New Year…LuvYa!! 

The Gift

Red and Yellow, Black and White. . .We Are Precious in His Sight

We all feel blessed when we recognize our parents passed on their wonderful talents and gifts through their DNA, such as the ability to create beautiful art, sing an aria, perform amazing athletic feats or to solve intricate mathematical equations. But one gift I am especially thankful for was not part of my genetic make-up, but rather a gift my mother gave me – unknowingly, by her life example.

When I was ten years old, my mom moved our family to a very small rural town in Oklahoma. It was the summer of 1969 and although the schools had been integrated, the town itself was still segregated by law. Black residents were not allowed to live on the north side of the train tracks, forcing them to exist in a part of the city which had no indoor plumbing or running tap water. Soon after we arrived, my mother landed a job at the hospital as a purchasing agent. After a few short weeks, she became close friends with a co-worker in her office. Her name was Cora, she was a single mother of a little boy. . .she lived with her parents and several other family members in a little three room house on the south side of the tracks. My mom’s best friend was black, and even though it was 1969 and she had a good job with good pay at the hospital, she was not allowed (at that time) to be our neighbor and enjoy a simple thing like an indoor toilet.

That summer between my 5th and 6th grade year, as well as the next, Cora’s mother offered to take care of me while my mom worked full-time. My days were filled with chasing chickens around the yard, learning how to dance (soul-train style) and doing typical kid stuff (playing tag and hide and seek). I remember the first time I had to use the outhouse – I pinched my nose together with my thumb and index finger and looked around at the four wooden walls. Light was streaming in through cracks and holes – time and weather had left – in the gray wood slats. I prayed no peeking eyes were staring in at me. As soon as I was finished with my business, I pushed the door open and ran out to play with my new friends. . .quickly forgetting the unpleasant odor, no trauma or anxiety, just childish acceptance of my new surroundings (amazing how the world looks through a child’s eyes). Although my presence was certainly a spectacle in the neighborhood, I was never made to feel different or like I stood out (which I definitely did). I became part of the family…and I have wonderful memories from that time in my life. Early in the 70’s, the city managers finally passed a new (much belated) law allowing anyone, regardless of race, to live wherever they wanted. Cora, and her sister, moved into a lovely, new apartment just down the street from us. My mother was elated.

Later in life, I realized my mother had given me a unique and precious gift that would stay with me for the rest of my life . . .the gift of color blindness. As I entered into adolescence and adulthood, the gift would not only serve to broaden my horizons and social outlook, but would actually blossom into a rather quirky personality characteristic – I possess a stalker-like attraction to anyone from a different country, who has a unique accent, different language, culture or religious background. Early in our marriage, my husband worked for a Dutch company, so I studied Dutch for several years. Much to my amazement, I was able to converse with some of the wives when they came to the United States. Now he works for an Italian company, so I have spent many hours listening to “How To Speak Italian” CD’s while driving in my car . . “come stai, molto bene, grazie!”

Fortuitously, my job as a fitness instructor has allowed me to interact with people from all over the world – which for me, is so friggin cool! Just two weeks ago, I had three ladies from Russia, two ladies from Japan and two from Israel in one class – truly fantastic. My class – which is done in a circle – is just a small representation of our world today. I feel so incredibly fortunate to work in an environment where my so-called “box” is daily expanded. If I had not been given the gift at such an early age, perhaps I would be striving hard to pull them into my narrow space, but because my mom was a very open-minded, accepting person, I find myself enveloped in a world of nuance, cultural beauty and colorful celebration. Now, it is up to me and the rest of us, to make sure this type of societal color blindness,  is passed on to our children. For this gift I have to say…merci, grazie, gracias, spasibo, danke and finally, THANK YOU!! 

Dads . . .In a Word

Recently, a male friend of ours (trying to save his troubled marriage by attending counseling sessions) confided in my husband. During an emotional session, a provocative question was posed by the therapist. “How would you describe your father…if you could only choose three words?” Much to his surprise, he could only come up with one – selfish.  This realization led to his most insightful “break-through” session to date.

When my husband shared the story with me, it naturally made me pause and think about my own father. My last conversation with my dad was only a year ago – just a few hours later after we said our goodbyes, he passed away peacefully in the middle of the night.

In the midst of missing him and mourning my loss, I’ve visited many memories – some sweet, some bittersweet. Throughout the day, pictures of my dad’s life – a young handsome sailor to an 83 year old great grandfather – randomly pop up on my computer slideshow. With the visual backdrop, searching for the “one word” to describe my dad proved not to be so difficult, in fact, as I really observed each captured freeze frame, a common thread began to emerge. It was so obvious, at least from this baby daughter’s perspective, if confined to one word to describe my dad, for me it would have to be . . . “loving”.

Truly, I’m not blind to the fact my dad had flaws and may have been selfish in some ways – but in the area of affection he was more than generous. His arms (always available for hugs) and his kisses (sometimes rebuffed)  – sealed every hello and goodbye. Over the course of his life my father struggled with many personal demons. Which is why I am positive if you asked my three siblings the same question, they would all come up with a different one word descriptor for my dad. In many ways, he was his own worst enemy, perhaps a character flaw that the artist/lover personality types share. Interestingly, I have observed many of the same traits in my son.

Upon deeper reflection, it occurs to me that my perception of my father as “loving”, has been colored not only by my dad’s displays of affection, but also by my own personality, filters and role I played in his life. Since I was only five years old when my parents divorced, I have no scarring memories (at least consciously) of their often tumultuous interaction. I grew up oblivious to his personal approach toward parenting, discipline or perhaps lack thereof.  Time spent with my dad meant fun-filled activities, cool restaurants and shopping sprees. In a sense, from birth until the day he passed away, I was the baby daughter who climbed into his lap and flung my arms around his neck.

In the last few days, I have posed this same question to a few of my friends.  The answers have covered a broad spectrum, from “harsh” and “bully” to “aloof” and “pleasant”. If the first word that comes to mind is negative, perhaps it would be helpful to take the time to identify at least two positive attributes which could allow a different reality to take shape and emotional healing to begin. No matter what one word comes to light, I believe, at least for me. . .the life lesson is to not be held back by what my parents were or were not, but to constructively use the information to choose what kind of person, spouse or parent I want to be. Learn, change. . .grow.

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