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October 2009

light up your life: 5 ways to make your path brighter

 

This morning I was walking down the same path I had walked down the night before and it suddenly dawned on me how different my thoughts were in the daylight. Last night, I'd been walking down the brick path late at night and I'd been slightly scared, walking fast, clutching my keys and occasionally looking over my shoulder. But when I ventured down the same path this morning, I was walking leisurely, strolling along and not once considering looking behind me. It dawned on  me that that's the difference between night and day, between darkness and light. This is something that's probably happened to all of us at some point. We've walked somewhere at night and felt entirely differently when we walked down the very same path during the day. It's amazing what a little light, a little change of perspective, a little more ability to see where we're going, can do. To me, this is a great example of how our minds (coupled with external conditions) can transform the world. The path I was walking down was the exact same path. Same bricks. Same bushes lining it. Same distance from the road to the door. Nothing had changed overnight. Yet, now, in the morning light, I was seeing it differently. 

And seeing this path differently made me think about the way I see my life differently too. When I realized what a difference the daylight made in my perception of the path, I really got to thinking about my own internal "day" and "night," the light and dark within my own mine. As I left the path and entered my building, my mind was flooded with questions. What if we applied this light and dark to the paths of our lives? What if we realized, really understood, that we could be walking down the same path and see it entirely differently? What if we realized that we actually have the ability to transform the blackness into light? To transform a situation with the light we shed on it?

Of course, these are not novel ideas. People have known, well, forever that the way we think about things -- how much metaphorical darkness or light we give to a situation -- impacts the world around us. Our minds are powerful, powerful things and can truly alter our worlds with our thoughts. We have the ability to distort things -- both in negative and positive ways -- and, more importantly, we can control how we distort them. We have the ability to cast more light or more darkness on a situation. For example, when walking alone at night, I can frighten myself terribly when I start thinking of all the dangerous things that could happen or revisiting terrifying situations I've heard about. Conversely, when walking along on a beautiful fall day, the sun shining brightly overhead, I can convince myself that I don't have a care in the world. Even I might be having a bad day, for just a few moments, the warm sunshine pouring down on me can transform my mood because it causes me to think of summer, warmth, happiness. My mind takes what it sees out in the world and transforms it, labeling it, giving it a good or bad (or neutral) connotation.

When I thought about how much my mind has the ability to transform the world around me, I began thinking about how I could increase the light in my life. I then realized that, when walking at night, I could have brought a flashlight with me, lighting up the path before me. If I had the power to (as I would in the figurative sense), I could install lighting along side the path, creating a well-lit walk. And these ideas tie in perfectly with what I'm always writing about the effort it takes to be a positive and present person. Both in the literal and figurative sense, it takes work, energy, and effort to have a path that's bathed in light. But, as anyone who has walked down a well-lit path wrapped in a feeling of safety knows, it's worth the effort if you are able to walk down the path unafraid. 

If you're anything like me, you want to walk down your path unafraid. You want to walk down roads and paths that are well-lit. You want to see clearly and not be scared and feel safe. So how do you do that in a figurative sense? How do you make the path of your life a path that is lit up, inspiring contentment and drowning out fear while at the same time finding a balance between the darkness and the light? As we all know, you cannot live in bright, blinding light forever. Light is wonderful. It helps us to see and helps us to thrive and grow. But without darkness, we would be in a lot of trouble. We need the darkness as well as the light. We need a path that is lit the way many streets are -- the light and dark intertwined, allowing us to see without brightening the world to an unnatural state (unless, of course, you find that the roads you venture down happen to be in Time's Square...but even there, at night, there are patches of darkness). We need both the light and the dark in our lives, but there are ways we can make our paths brighter, ways we can make the road we're traveling down just a little bit more clear. And here are the 5 best ways to shed some light on that path of yours...

 

The 5 Best Ways to Shed Light on Your Path

  • Bring your own source of light. As I mentioned above, if you're going to be heading down a dark path, bring a flashlight. What does this mean in a figurative sense? It means you have to create light where there is darkness. When you're faced with a difficult situation, find a way to shed light on it. Look at it from new angles, shine a bright light into the darkest corners, and look deep within yourself for a positive perspective. You don't have to wait around for someone to turn a light on or rescue you from the darkness. In fact, more often than not, light isn't just going to beam down on you for no reason. If you're on a dark path, you have to create light or, better yet, you have be the light. Don't wait for it; be it.

  • Surround yourself with others. Ever notice how a dark path isn't nearly as scary when you're with other people? Walking down a dark road alone can be scary, but it's a lot less terrifying when you surround yourself with others. Life's kinda like that too. It can be scary and overwhelming at times, but when you surround yourself with people (especially positive, supportive people), the dark road before you seems a little brighter, a little easier to bear. I'm not exactly a people person, but I do know that I feel a lot safer on a dark road with a group of friends than I do when I'm on my own. Surrounding yourself with a great support system will help make even the most dimly lit path seem safe enough to walk down.

  • Choose your route carefully. It would be nice if we could always walk in sunshine, but we know that's not the case. We will all have to walk in the dark sometimes, stumbling and unsure of where we're headed. But don't look down and give up. Instead, look around you and see if this really is the best path to be on. Sometimes all it takes is opening your eyes and looking around to see that nearby is another, brighter path, a path that would be much safer to venture down. Occasionally we're forced in one direction, but more often than not we have a choice. We can choose the path we want to go down. We can look for the brightest path, and, if we don't see a bright path, we can make our own paths.

  • Imagine the best possible scenario. You're probably familiar with the Law of Attraction and, though I won't go into the details here, I find the concept fascinating. I really do believe that we can attract things with our thoughts. Therefore, if you think the path you're on is going to get darker and darker, it will. So imagine the best! Imagine the sky lightening and the sun peeking out of the clouds. Imagine bumping into a friendly group of people along your path. Don't think of all of the negative things that could happen or you will attract them to you. Instead, think of the wonderful things you'll encounter on your journey and you will encounter them.

  • Be prepared for the dark spots. Even with all of your positive thinking and imagining the best, sometimes things don't go as well as planned. Sometimes the batteries in your flashlight die. Sometimes all of your friends have to head down a different path and you're on your own again. Don't despair! Instead, be prepared. If possible, it's ideal to have some self-defense skills under your belt. This works in a figurative situation too. If you can prepare yourself by strengthening your skills, you'll be more likely to travel safely down your path. Not sure what to work on? I'd suggest confidence. I've read that the more confident you look, the less likely you are to get attacked. Same thing goes for life. Be confident, believe in yourself, and you're a lot less likely to be brought down by others.

 

Life is filled with light and dark, perfectly lit paths and dark, winding roads. We're all aware of the good and the bad, but we don't always remember that we can make the most of the darkness and, in fact, we can make even the darkest times brighter if we choose to take any of the actions I've mentioned above. You, me, we all have the ability to shed light on our own paths, to make the roads we're traveling down brighter. And, awesomely enough, we also have the opportunity to shed light on the paths of others as well. Give some thought to how you can brighten your own path and how you can give others a little bit of that bright light too.


How do you create light when walking down a dark path?
Do you shed light on the paths of others? How so?
  


5 simple ways to cultivate inner peace

 

Today, for those of you who don't already know this, is the International Day of Peace. I know this, of course, because it was printed in faint grey writing in the corner of my day planner. (Yeah, I know, a little less impressive than knowing this because I am a peace activist or something like that...) A few days ago I noticed the small letters nearly scrawled all over by my "to do" lists, and I thought, "Wow! International Day of Peace! I've never even heard of that!" According to the International Day of Peace website: 

"The International Day of Peace ('Peace Day') provides an opportunity for individuals, organizations and nations to create practical acts of peace on a shared date. It was established by a United Nations resolution in 1981 to coincide with the opening of the General Assembly. The first Peace Day was celebrated in September 1982...Since its inception, Peace Day has marked our personal and planetary progress toward peace. It has grown to include millions of people in all parts of the world, and each year events are organized to commemorate and celebrate this day. Events range in scale from private gatherings to public concerts and forums where hundreds of thousands of people participate...Anyone, anywhere can celebrate Peace Day. It can be as simple as lighting a candle at noon, or just sitting in silent meditation. Or it can involve getting your co-workers, organization, community or government engaged in a large event. The impact if millions of people in all parts of the world, coming together for one day of peace, is immense. International Day of Peace is also a Day of Ceasefire – personal or political. Take this opportunity to make peace in your own relationships as well as impact the larger conflicts of our time. Imagine what a whole Day of Ceasefire would mean to humankind."

I'd love to sit here and write that I'm the most peaceful person in the world and that I strive for peace with all my heart, but I can't say that's entirely true. You know, there are those people who you look at or speak to and later think, "That person is really peaceful"? Well, that wouldn't be me. You might walk away from a conversation with me thinking a lot of things, but I'm pretty sure the idea of "peace" wouldn't come to your mind. The thing is, I want to be peaceful. Like a lot of people, I want there to be peace in the world and I've pretty much summed up the reason why there's not world peace: 

 

We don't have world peace because too many people lack inner peace. There isn't peace in the world because many people aren't at peace with themselves. 

 

 

Yes, I firmly believe that's true. If everyone in the world (me included!) was at peace with him/herself, there would be no need for hatred and jealousy and spite and wars. There would be happiness and love and, of course, peace. I know this is completely over-simplifying a concept that, let's be honest, I don't know all that much about. I'm not an expert on politics or history or even relationships or psychology, so I can't say that the above statement is based on anything more than my own opinion. I don't have facts to support it or statistics to say why it would be true. Instead, I just believe it. I know deep down in my heart that this is the truth. 

Ideally, at this point in the post I'd offer up some grand idea of how we can change the world and create peace everywhere, but I don't have a grand idea. I only have a small idea, but an idea that I believe could impact the world if we all took it to heart. Here it is: We need to create peace within ourselves. Yes, it's as simple as that. It would be easy to say that going to peace rallies or making donations or getting involved with politics is the solution, but I believe it's much more complicated -- much more personal -- than that. What we need is not more talk of peace; what we need is the creation of peace within ourselves. 

Personally, what I love about this idea is that I can start doing it right now. Right this second I can start working on my own inner peace, on cultivating an sense of contentment and happiness that I can pass on to those around me. As I've written before, positive thinking and emotions (as well as negative ones) can have a ripple effect. Ever notice how you feel after spending time with someone who is very calm and peaceful? You feel more peaceful. It's amazing how that works, isn't it? And we can have a part in creating world peace if we just take some time to work on our own inner peace. We can create a ripple effect of peace just by cultivating peace within us. 

Growing up, I was a big fan of wishing. (Okay, I still am, though I certainly don't put the emphasis on it that I once did...) Whenever I used to wish for something personal, I would feel guilty. I would realize that I was wishing for me, when I should be wishing for something big and universal, like world peace. Now I realize that world peace starts with one person. And it's not even necessarily an act or a word; it's a state of being. Though this is an area I absolutely need more work in (as does anyone -- like me -- who has been at one point joked about as being as "high strung as a yapping chihuahua"), I do have some ideas on how to get started on cultivating inner peace. Check 'em out below... 

 

 

 

5 Simple Ways to Cultivate Inner Peace

 

  1. Focus on the present. A lot of inner conflict is a result of worrying about the future or dwelling on the past so a great way to cultivate peace within yourself is to focus on the now. 
  2. Simplify your life. You've heard it a million times before, but less really is more. The more you simplify your life, the less anxiety and stress you'll have counteracting your peacefulness. 
  3. Learn to accept what is. Whenever you choose not to accept what is reality, you're causing turmoil within yourself. Accept what is and you'll be a lot more at peace with yourself and the world. 
  4. Avoid most negativity. While some negativity does have a purpose (such as to alert of us danger), most of it brings you down and if you want to have peace in your life, you have to do what you can to avoid it. 
  5. Make positive choices. Choose to spend time with positive people in positive situations or you will have a very difficult time having peace in your life. It's your life -- choose your surroundings carefully! 

 

Inner peace is a difficult thing to master, but it's something I truly believe is worth working on. So let's all try to work on perfecting that ripple effect, spreading peace by embracing it first within ourselves. As always, I'd love to hear about your thoughts on this topic. What do you think about peace and how it relates to inner peace? Any thoughts on how you will be celebrating peace in your own life today? 


don't forget about the sunshine

 

 

"A cloudy day or a little sunshine have as great an influence
 on many constitutions as the most recent blessings or misfortune."

Joseph Addison

 

 

Where I live it's been unfortunately gloomy lately. Dealing with the cloud-filled skies and dipping temperatures has never been easy for me, especially when the gloominess stretches on for days and it seems as if the summer has packed up its things for good. Today I started wondering why it was that the cloudy days always seem to get to me. While pondering this, I realized that the reason they get me down is because it is on these days that I forget about the sunshine. I spend all of my time moaning about it and missing it and in the midst all of that complaining I lose sight of the fact that the sunshine will return. Even if it takes days (or weeks!), the sunshine will be back.

Of course, you can probably guess that this pattern of thinking applies to my life as well. Though I'm getting much better at it, I still sometimes find myself focusing on the negative things, honing in on them and analyzing them instead of realizing that they -- like the cloudy days -- will pass and soon the sun will be out again. (Ironically, as I'm writing this, the sun is actually peaking out from the clouds, confirming the fact that what I write here is true; the sun does always come out again.) I realize that this is not a new found idea and that most of what I'm referring to here is plain old, cliched optimism. You know, "the sun'll come out tomorrow" kind of stuff. But, you see, as much as we all know about these cliched notions  like "things will get better," "this too shall pass," and "the best is yet to come," we don't always remember them when we need them most. Or, to be more accurate, I don't always remember them.

I'm great at reminding others that things will get better, that whatever tough time they're going through will pass, but I'm pretty terrible about helping myself out in that department. And I have a feeling I'm not the only one who struggles with taking her own good advice. It's so easy to give others positive, helpful advice, but, when it comes to advising ourselves, it's easy to fall short, to -- using the metaphor from above -- forget about the sunshine. Whether it's in a literal or metaphorical sense, it is so important that we don't let the sunshine fade out of our minds. If we do, we lose hope. And without hope it's much, much harder to get through any sort of struggle.

When I re-read what I've written so far, I almost have to laugh. I cannot believe that someone like me -- someone who used to be constantly sulking beneath dark rain clouds -- is writing a post about how we need to remember the sunshine. I used to feel hopeless, lost, and unhappy. Now, even on the hard days, I feel one of the most important things in the world: hopeful. That's what remembering the sunshine is all about -- being hopeful and believing that, even when things aren't going well, they will get better. 

This isn't the easiest thing for me to remember sometimes. Sometimes I find it very tempting to let go and move back toward the sadness, back under those clouds... but I don't. I remember the sunshine instead. When I'm feeling down, when those clouds are getting to me, I listen to Adrienne Pierce's "Under That Cloud," in which she sings: "I used to watch all the dark clouds form/I used to be drawn to that storm/Now I am never going back/Never going back, never going back under/Never going back, can't do that/Never going back under that cloud." With these words I remind myself that the sun will always come out again and the worst thing I can do is to go back under that cloud. Oddly enough, as I finish writing this post the sun is out in full force and the day has morphed into a perfect fall afternoon. The transformation of the day is a fantastic reminder for me (and all of us!) to remember the sunshine in life.