The Eyes of Perception

Corner Reflections medBecause I was very different in my interests as well as my life circumstances from that of many of my classmates I was badly bullied in grade school. However what was worse was that I had no good way to respond to my classmates’ unkind behavior. It wasn’t until I discovered meditation that I acquired a way of controlling not only my reactions and responses but also of avoiding the potential complications of thoughtlessly spontaneous and perhaps provocative words and actions.

As I grew in my ability to see what was in my mind and/or heart before I made things worse for myself, I also discovered ways to make my life much happier and less complicated by negative thoughts and emotions. Some believe that meditation is a form or religion or at least connected with it. However it is actually a form of exercise for the mind. As physical exercise preserves the body, so meditation practice helps to preserve the mind.

Is my glass half full or half empty? Believe it or not, that depends on the nature of the thoughts I have concerning both the glass and what is in it. Am I looking with feelings or thoughts of fear of emptiness? Am I anticipating or being grateful for what is in the (metaphorical) glass? My days go better when I am aware of what is going on within me.

Since nearly fifty years ago when I began practicing meditation, I have become able to be much more aware of my thoughts and feelings. It is a great help to my ability to remain calm and aware during difficult circumstances. I’m still working to remain conscious of my inner processes, and I expect to do so for the rest of my life. Working on the mind is like doing scales on the piano. A good musician must keep on practicing.

When I find myself dreading an activity or event, I can remind myself that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. My “glass of hope” will then appear to me to be half full rather than half empty. When I feel a sense of joy as well as of gratitude concerning whatever might be approaching, I will have a “glass half full” of optimistic feelings. This approach has the effect of helping me to get the best from whatever does happen, even if that differs from my expectations. The same is true concerning what someone might be saying to me: I can better monitor my responses and reactions.

When I am mindful—aware of what is going on in my mind and heart, I have more control over what I do or say next. If I am able to anticipate my words or my inner reactions to what is happening or to what someone is saying, I am better able to control them. Thus I can to avoid potential mistakes as well as difficulties. In addition, when I am able to take advantage of my perceptions, I may ward off the far larger problems that might otherwise evolve were I not able to see clearly or to be prepared with positive words or actions.

 

 

 

 

 

Self Respect Helps Us Gain Happiness and Inner Peace.

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A friend of mine recently shared this quote from her late father: “I do not count how far I walk, but the time I spend when walking.” To me this demonstrates a wonderful sense of self-respect. Self-respect can be tricky to acquire. It grows when others say kind words, yet if I feel lacking or insufficient, I will not accept nor believe others when they compliment or praise me. With a greater sense of comfort within myself, I can more easily accept others kudos. It also helps greatly when I am not looking through a veil of worry, guilt, or wanting to please. It takes time to recognize and then dissolve that veil.

Small children have a natural sense of self-respect. They may begin to lose it if they do not get good feedback from the adults around them. On the other hand, with too much praise they can become overly egoic, which is why parents have for ages been chary with or even withheld praise. This attitude of disparagement was practiced for generations by well meaning parents. For example, when I proudly played my mother a song I had just learned on my newly acquired guitar, she responded: “That’s nice, now when will you begin to write your own.”

Fortunately I was used to this kind of ‘praise’ and did not take it to heart. My mother meant well. She was only imitating her parents’ behavior. I tried hard not to act this way with my children. It isn’t easy being a parent. Good or bad, the examples from our own upbringing are hard wired into our consciousness. My mother struggled all her life with almost crippling sense of self consciousness brought about by her stern upbringing. I had to unlearn much of what she had demonstrated to me, and in the process I discovered the essence of respect for others: detachment from rigid ideas concerning how I think others ought to appear or behave.

One day my two girls were small and we were out with a neighbor and her children. She looked at her watch: “We must get back or the children will miss their programs.” I was taken aback. I never thought that children might have a special desire that would transcend parental priorities. I was raised in a time when children had hardly any say in what they did or when they did it. Light dawned and I incorporated this new attitude into my child rearing.

As time went on, I perceived another negative aspect of myself. I noticed how unkindly I reacted to the perceived failures of others. I began to work to develop a stronger sense of compassion as well as respect for the effort rather than criticism of the result. What I have learned is that when I am comfortable with my own sense of self-respect I can see more clearly the results of my actions; I am not looking through a veil of worry, guilt, or wanting to please. I have also recognized how important it is to feel compassion for myself as well as for others, and this is an important aspect of my ongoing learning process.

The Discipline of Remembering

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I can clearly remember lying in my bed upstairs and wishing I was able to stay up and be part of whatever was happening. I also remember sitting at the table, a boiled egg or perhaps worse, a piece of liver before me—things I had no desire whatsoever to put in my mouth. If I wanted to leave the table I had to finish whatever I was given. One way I managed was to cut the liver into small pieces and swallow it whole. I can’t remember how I dealt with the egg.

My life as a child had lots of discipline in it. Authority figures held sway over my life. Often it was a parent: “Time to go to bed,” or a teacher: “Be sure to do your homework in a timely manner.” It never occurred to me that these disciplinarians were stand-ins for what comes when we are adults. In my innocence I thought discipline had to come from someone telling me what I had to do, not that one day I would need to tell myself.

Unfortunately for my childhood dreams, I need to enforce my own discipline in order to function in the world in an orderly manner. There is really no one that can do it for me. As a child I dreamed of the day I would be my own boss, as I thought of it then. I yearned for the day there would be no one to tell me I had to go to bed if I didn’t wish to, or make me eat something I didn’t wish to eat. Of course that is how a child thinks and the reality does not occur to us because as children we simply cannot conceive of it.

I remember thinking how grand it would be to be a grownup with no one to tell me what to do and when to do it. I could, I believed do whatever I wished, whenever I wished to do it. Children are so innocent. Little did I know then what I had to remember to do for myself when there were no more grownups to tell me and I was the grownup. As an adult I find discipline needs to be addressed often. For instance, there is the discipline of deadlines. If I wish I can ignore them though I do so to my peril. There is also the simple discipline of my body, which needs to sleep eat and go to the bathroom, occasionally at inconvenient times.

As I have grown older it seems to me there are more and more things I need to do each day in order to maintain my health and sanity. These require me to remember them as well as to do them. Lists help, yet were I to write everything I need to do daily down, it would be a lengthy list indeed. Practicing the discipline of remembering is perhaps the most important one of all, and in addition to doing my exercises and taking my vitamins, I practice this each and every day.

Perspective Makes All the Difference

Cherry Blossoms on a rainy dayAt the time I was born my mother was newly come to the US, a bride of less than a year. Except for my father, she was very much alone in a big city, and I was her only companion for quite a while. I have often thought that my persistently positive perspective on life may have had its roots in my trying to cheer her up when she was sad and missing her family and friends back in her home country. Over the years since I have come to understand the power of a positive perspective on a potentially negative situation or experience.

This has become essential to my work. When I tell people I am a writer, they often ask me what I write. If I say I write essays, it sounds as though I am writing from a scholarly point of view. If I say I do inspirational writing, it sounds as though I am coming from a religious perspective. In truth, what I am doing in my columns is to simply present a different or alternative point of view from that which some might take about any given situation or experience. I write to be helpful, but it is self help I write about. Helping others to help themselves is my intention and my goal.

There is little we can do about circumstances. Daily life presents us with issues and difficulties we must deal with. The school of experience is our ever-present teacher, one we cannot escape no matter what we do. I’ve often felt that maturity or adulthood truly begins when we’re willing to learn from this teacher rather than moan, groan and feel as though we are victims of fate, circumstance or those who might perpetrate it. It is a lot easier to complain than it is to “bite the bullet” and admit there might be something to learn from any given situation.

I believe the expression “bite the bullet” comes from battlefield medicine when in the days gone by the surgeon had to amputate or otherwise operate without anesthesia. After whiskey was poured liberally into the patient, a bullet was put between his jaws to bite down on as a way to keep from crying out. Whether this is actually true or not it makes a good metaphor. When our focus is put not on complaint or disappointment but on what can be gained from whatever is happening to us, coping becomes easier and wisdom more accessible.

In my own life right now I am dealing with a change in lifestyle and a need to take better care of myself. I have learned that much of what I used to take for granted, I no longer can. Exercise is not an option it is a necessity. I need to do additional work on my body to restore it to better working order. I could complain, or even bemoan my fate. Instead I rejoice that I now have a good way to lose weight, that I can become stronger and healthier with effort and that it is good and helpful to be made to do that. Therefore I bless these circumstances and state firmly that I am exceedingly grateful for them.

Pleasure Can Take Many Forms

As regular readers of my column know by now, my mother really did not like to cook. She did what she had to do to feed her family. However, at least as far as I can remember preparing meals gave her no pleasure. Nor did she want my father to cook because, she said, he burnt everything. Perhaps he was impatient or perhaps he wasn’t watchful. I don’t know because I never saw him in the kitchen except to mix cocktails.

The only household chore I ever knew him to do was to polish the silver. My mother refused to do that and I do not blame her in the least. It is a dirty, tedious job. My father however seemed to enjoy it. I have a memory of him in an apron made from black and white striped mattress ticking material, vigorously polishing some of the lovely silver items he had inherited or been given by family members.

I on the other hand have always derived great pleasure from preparing food, baking, and providing meals for loved ones. For years I collected recipes. In the 80’s I wrote a cookie cookbook as well as a completely refined sugar free general cookbook with many recipes I had created. In those desserts I used only honey or maple syrup. Now even that kind of baking, along with a lot of other recipes I enjoyed making over the years, is history.

Recently I was diagnosed with a medical condition that requires severely restricting my carbohydrate intake. This has resulted in a major upheaval in both my eating and my cooking. In addition to sugars I have had to stop eating rice, pasta and potatoes. Thus I have had to eliminate many favorite comfort food recipes. I can no longer eat the Chinese fried rice I specialized in, the home fried potatoes or the shrimp scampi I enjoyed making as well as eating.

Then along came some difficult news. This caused a reaction I did not expect. I found myself in a depressed state and developed new aches and pains. I kept asking myself why was this happening? Then I realized I had been limiting most of my pleasure to cooking and eating. This is not to say I wasn’t doing fun things or having enjoyable experiences other than with food, however, I had concentrated principally on food related pleasure. I no longer regularly practiced other experiences I found pleasurable, like playing my harp or coloring.

Pleasure can rebalance the body’s ph and help keep us healthy. So now I am working to discover ways besides eating and cooking to give myself pleasure. In so doing I have rediscovered hobbies from the past like embroidery and begun to watch favorite old TV shows we have on DVD. I am spending more time with my harp, simply playing for the pleasure of it rather than working to learn tunes. I got out my coloring books and blank paper pads and began to color and as well as to draw. As time goes by I expect to enjoy new pleasures as well and look forward to discovering them. Meanwhile I already feel better.

Smiles and Frowns can Grow on You

My first husband was in the ROTC in college. After his graduation we went to El Paso to live while he attended officers’ school. My little girl took her first steps there. We lived in a small housing complex with other young families. I became friend with another of the mothers in her twenties. She was from Oklahoma. One of the first things I noticed about her was that living in that hot, dry climate had scored deep frown and squint wrinkles in her youthful skin. Seeing them I determined right then that if I was going to have wrinkles at least they would be pleasant ones, and so I trained myself to notice whenever I started to squint or frown. Then as I caught myself, I would stop.

Some research on the Internet revealed that it takes more muscles for a genuine smile than it does for a frown. Furthermore, the act of smiling exercises the facial muscles and brings more blood to nourish the cells of the face. This I turn helps make us look younger and prettier. More important, so far as I m concerned is that the act of smiling releases endorphins in the brain. These are feel good hormones that makes us feel happier. So as we do so, we smile more and so forth. This is called a positive feedback loop.

One does not always feel like smiling. Some days it seems like the whole world is conspiring to create problems for you. Now certainly you do not feel like smiling. However, you can take heart. Even a pretend smile releases he feel good endorphins. I learned this from Thicht Nhat Hahn, the well-known teacher of meditation. If you make even a small smile it will release some of those feel good endorphins and make you feel better and more like really smiling.

The subject of this column was sparked by the visit of an old and dear friend who came over recently for lunch. He told us that a little while ago when he was interviewing for a job his interviewer asked him, “Do your cheeks hurt?” He said they didn’t and asked why. “Because you never seem to stop smiling,” came the reply. He does indeed smile a lot, and he is a very happy person. I expect there is a connection there. For myself ever since I can remember I have always enjoyed smiling at people. It does make me feel good and sometimes I get a smile in return.

Years ago I did find that it was unwise to smile at strangers on the subway because they might get the wrong idea and try to follow me home. It is also true that in some societies, smiles are considered bad form and indicate something less than friendliness. An article in Wikepedia suggests that smiles may have evolved from a grimace of fear. However, perhaps this worked to make people less fearful and happier, who knows. It has been said that in our youth we have the face God gave us, and in our elder years we have the face we have given ourselves. This is a good enough reason to smile as often as possible.

Tasha Halpert

A Valentine to Lost Loves

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When I was eight years old my dear nurse, Emily left to get married. She had taken care of me since I was around eighteen months of age and was in most respects my second mother. She was a practical nurse. That meant besides looking after me, she helped with household chores as well as driving me where I might need to go. She was a devoted caretaker and when she left I missed her sorely. While my own mother loved me dearly, she loved me in her own way. Unlike Emily she was not a physically affectionate person. Also she had much higher expectations of me than Emily did.

When I was twelve, my friend and classmate Sally went away to boarding school. A bookish, unathletic, somewhat plump child, I had no interest in the things my classmates did, and neither did she. As a result from the third to the seventh grade we formed a team of two, and I defended her from the bullies that taunted her for her shyness. I missed her sadly. She lived in a big house by the ocean and our idyllic summers were spent swimming and playing tennis in her private court. Her freezer always held a tub of ice cream and we could make cones when we wanted. When we reached sixteen and I began dating, despite my efforts to remain close, we drifted apart. She had been my best and only friend. She remained distant.

Once I was married and had children I became friends with woman whose two boys were around the age of my two girls. We all went everywhere together. She had a wonderful voice and we used to sing folk songs at our children’s school. We even performed in a contest. Very close, we spoke on the phone almost daily. Then for some reason she became angry with me and disappeared from my life. For months I was devastated. Later on I had another friend I went to the beach with each day. Sadly, after several years she went back to Germany and never returned. By then I was beginning to learn what it was to lose someone I loved, and how to handle it; I was able to recover faster.

Throughout my long life I have had many opportunities to learn to live with loss. I had to come to terms with son’s death when he was twenty-eight, and as I grew older, my parents passing. More lately have come the deaths of others I loved. As time has gone on, these experiences have helped me learn to let loved ones go with a more peaceful heart. I have discovered that I do not need to stop thinking about them, nor do I need to regret their absence. I can take the images of them together with the memories of our time together and put them lovingly in a special album I keep in my heart. Then when I wish to I can open it, turn the pages and smile as I remember with joy the good times we had and the love we shared.

Tasha Halpert