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October 2011
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seeing the small: how to look for the little things

Over the weekend I checked out an art exhibit featuring miniature art. All of the paintings and sculptures were miniature -- no bigger than my hand -- and they were beautiful. They were also quite impressive. How people can paint such tiny, tiny canvases is beyond me. As a walked through the exhibit, surprised by the details and inspired by those who painted them, I began to think about the little things in life that often go unnoticed. Should one of those beautiful paintings be placed in a typical art gallery, it might go unnoticed, dwarfed by the scale of the typical paintings hanging beside it.

Likewise, surrounded by all of the big things in life, the tiny things around us often go unnoticed. For the past 28 days I've been snapping photos of the world around me for the Positively Present 30 Day Photo Challenge. Most of the photos I took were of the big things -- the obvious ins and outs of daily life -- and it felt good to be noticing things. In the rush of every day, it felt good to be paying attention to something, anything. 

But after seeing that exhibit this weekend, I realize that I'm still missing out on some of the best things in life: the little things. How often do I look down to see what's on the ground? How often to I look closely at something I love -- a book, a painting, a person -- and really see the little things in it? The soft pages of a book, the brush strokes on canvas, the curve of a loved one's eyelashes? Not often enough, I'd say. 

Life is short and I don't want to miss out on any of it. So I'm going to commit to looking at the little things in life -- both through the lens of my camera and through my unfiltered eyes. I'm going to commit to looking for the tiny changes, the small details, the little ways the world is shaped by almost imperceptible elements. But I know it's going to take some practice. Being present is tough enough and looking for the little details will kick the difficulty level up a notch. Here are some of the ways I'm going to learn to look for the little things: 


25 Ways to Look for the Little Things

1. Study the lines on the face of someone you love.

2. Watch the sidewalk when you walk.

3. Look closely at the cover of your favorite book.

4. Examine the brush strokes on a painting. 

5. Check out the background of a photo. 

6. Pick up a fallen leaf and study its color and shape. 

7. Pause your favorite scene in a movie and look closer. 

8. Look at the details on the font of your favorite website. 

9. Seek out one little thing you love about your home. 

10. Study your face in the mirror (positively please!). 

11. Find a pattern you like and look at the details. 

12. Compare two versions of your favorite color. 

13. Look at the various colors in a clouded sky (it's not just gray!). 

14. Check out the design of a box (cereal, moving, etc.).

15. Study the patterns raindrops make on your window. 

16. Watch the way snowflakes land on a hard surface. 

17. Check out the people on the sidelines during a big game. 

18. Look up and see what's above you right now. 

19. Find out the years on the coins in your pocket / purse. 

20. Contemplate the color on the walls you pass. 

21. Study the shape of your favorite number. 

22. Print out a quote you love and memorize the words. 

23. Look at shadows cast at various times of the day. 

24. Watch the way your hands move when you're typing. 

25. Study the way lamps light up a room. 


Those are just a few suggestions to get me started. Like most things, I think the more I practice looking for the little things, the easier it will get. Just like being present in a general sense, being present to the little things in life is a great way to live a more positive life. Focusing on what's all around you -- what's happening in this moment -- allows us to live our lives more fully without worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Don't forget to look for the little things. After all, it's all of those little things that add up to the big picture of your life. 


Participating in the 30 Day Photo Challenge?

I'm going to be wrapping up my 30 days this week,
but feel free to join the Photo Challenge any time!
You can check out the Positively Present photos on Flickr,
join the Positively Present Photo Challenge Flickr group,
and share your photos on Twitter or Instagram using #PPphoto


how to set your dream free from its cage

There was a dream
And one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage
I broke in and demanded
that somebody free it

The Avett Brothers


Stop what you're doing and ask yourself this: "If you could have a dream come true, what would that dream be?" We all have dreams -- some big, some small -- but we often push them to the back of our minds, thinking someday... or maybe completely denying the notion that they could become realities. If we want to live our most positive, most present lives, we cannot deny our dreams. We cannot look at them like caged birds, something pretty to look at, something that shouldn't be set free.

Instead, we should see those dreams of ours -- beautiful in the cages of our minds -- and find a way to set them free. Dreams, after all, deserve to be free. They deserve at least the chance of becoming realities. And so few of us give them that chance. So many of us lock them up, put them away, avoid them because they remind us of what could be. Some of us are scared of facing our dreams. If we look at them too closely, pay too much attention to them, we see too much of ourselves. We are forced to face the possibility of setting our dreams free.

My dream has always been to become a writer. That's all I've ever wanted to be and, in some ways, that's something I've always been. I pacify myself with journaling, blogging, and hand-written notes sent around the world, but these little bits of writing are like feathers fluttering out of a cage. They have escaped and are free, but there is still so much more that is trapped behind the bars. To fully set it free -- to live my life as a writer -- will be a great risk. Like a caged bird set free, letting my dream out of the cage will bring me face to face with my greatest fear: failure.

And isn't that why so many of us keep our dreams locked up? Because we are afraid of failing? Because we are afraid that our dreams, once free, won't be able to fly? Though it's hard to admit it, I believe that's why so many of us (including me) keep our dreams tucked away for someday, claiming that the timing isn't right or we don't have this or that in order to make it work. It's easier, isn't it? It's easier to have a dream for someday rather than making a dream a reality right now. There's no risk in having a dream that's locked up safely in a cage. You can control it, believe in it.

But that's not what dreams meant to be -- pretty little things locked in cages. They are meant to be set free, no matter how much unlatching that door might scare us. To set your dream free, you must...

... believe you deserve to live your dream.
You deserve -- we all deserve -- a dream. And, even more so, we deserve to have a dream that becomes a reality. Believe in your deservingness of your dreams and don't let anyone convince you that your dream is anything less than perfect.

... accept your fear and move past it.
Setting a dream free to make it a reality is scary; there's no doubt about it. Don't deny your fear. Instead, accept it, appreciate it (after all, it will make you stronger), and move past it. Do not let it hold you back or hinder you from unlocking that cage's door.

... set your dream free and close the door.
Tempting as it might be to keep the door open, allowing for the possibility that you can someday return your dream safely to the cage, don't leave the door ajar. Don't cloud your mind with the idea of just giving it a try to see if it might work. Give it your all. Give it everything.

... don't look back on what might have been.
Dive headfirst into making your dream, whatever it is, a reality. Don't wonder about what would have happened if you hadn't set it free, if you hadn't given it everything you had. Looking back will only prevent you from living your dream in the present.

Once you set your dream free, you will feel scared. You will feel lost. You will feel as if your dream might fall straight to the ground without the hope of flying. But do not give up. All of the very best dreams take time, energy, and focus. Unless you give yourself fully to making your own dream come true, you will never know what might have been. You will always be looking back at that cage listlessly, wondering what might have happened if you had opened the door and given your dream a chance. Don't wait for someday, for the perfect time. Open the door and let the possibility of what could be take flight.

Participating in the 30 Day Photo Challenge?

Check out the Positively Present photos on Flickr.
Join the Positively Present Photo Challenge Flickr group
Share your photos on Twitter or Instagram using #PPphoto

slow down: learning to accept others as they are

This morning I started reading Wonderland: The Zen of Alice. As I was walking my dog and reading (my dog-walking MO), these lines jumped off the page and made me stop in my tracks: 

"Most of us are like Alice, trying to get others to make sense (by our definition) and to do things that make us happy. I need to remind myself of this daily: The point of everybody else's life is not to make me happy. What would your relationships be like if you accepted the people around you exactly as they are?" 

It seems so obvious: of course everyone else isn't here to make me happy. But do I really believe that? How often do I find myself annoyed by someone else's behavior? How often do I judge people for not being like me? I'd like to think of myself as a open-minded, accepting person, but when I stop and think about it -- as I literally did this morning on the sidewalk, confusing poor little Bella who tugged at her leash -- I realize that I'm not as accepting of others as I would like to believe. And, as a result, I make myself (and them) unhappy in my lack of acceptance. 

Sure, I'm tolerant in the politically correct way that many people are today. I strive not to judge people on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc. But when I think about the people closest to me and the way I react to them sometimes, I realize that I'm not exactly the embodiment of acceptance, a fact that I'm a bit ashamed to admit. Whether it's getting annoyed at a coworker for playing his music loudly in the office or getting frustrated with my sister for always being late, I'm frequently in positions where my expectations of what others should be doing cause me not to accept others for who they are. 

Hurry Up: An Example of Non-Acceptance

My boyfriend is a laid-back guy (who I am incredibly lucky to have and am missing terribly right now since he's been on a week-long business trip). I, on the other hand, am not so easygoing. I generally move as quickly as possible from one place to another. I walk quickly, talk quickly, complete tasks quickly. I act as if I am in extreme hurry, no matter what the situation might be. As a result of our difference paces, I often get exasperated with my boyfriend's slower pace, holding my hand out to him like he's a small child, jokingly saying, "Hurry up, Pokey!" (a nickname for slow poke). He, on the other hand, has never once told me to slow down. He accepts me for what I am -- quick talking, quick walking girl who acts like her entire life is an emergency fire drill. 

When I think about my behavior objectively, I am a bit shocked. It's not acceptable; it's not accepting. It's an all-too-obvious example of me thinking that my way of doing things -- the quick, speedy way -- is the best way. And whether or not it's the best way (and it's probably not, especially for someone who wants to be more present), it doesn't matter. What matters is that I, like so many people, assume that what I'm doing is right and what someone else is doing is wrong. Clearly this is something I need to work on -- and not just with my boyfriend. Upon further reflection, I realize that this my-way-is-best attitude permeates a lot of aspects of my life including relationships with friends, family, and coworkers. 

In theory, believing the idea that everyone is here to serve my personal happiness sounds almost insane, but it seems like I might have been living with that belief tucked in my back pocket. As the example above shows, I'm not only hurting others by not accepting them as they are, but I'm hurting myself as well. Though "Pokey" might not love his nickname, he shrugs it off with a laugh, unruffled by my impatience. I, on the other hand, remain annoyed that he's not moving faster, causing myself unnecessary stress and further removing myself from living a positive, present life. 

So what's a non-accepting girl like me to do? To live a more positive and present life, to increase my happiness and the happiness of others, I better start accepting others ASAP. Here's how I'm going to get started. 

6 Ways To Accept Others As They Are

  • Watch your thoughts. Think about what you're thinking about. I often think things about other people, judging them, without even realizing it. I'm going to work on paying more attention to my thoughts and do my best to push them in a non-judgmental, more accepting direction. 
  • Look for the positive. Not accepting others is a result of seeing the negative in them. Instead of focusing on why someone is different, I'm going to focus on what's good about that person and his/her choices and actions. My way is not always the best one. 

  • Avoid right/wrong dichotomies. It's very tempting to see the world in black and white with a right and wrong way to do things, but that's just not how it is. Things don't have to be right or wrong if I choose to accept them as they are. I'm going to stop labeling my way as "right." 

  • Stop judging yourself. Our judgments of others are often a result of our personal criticisms. If I stop putting pressure on myself to do things the "right" way, I'll also stop putting pressure on others as well. Not judging myself or others is a crucial step to acceptance.

  • Focus on the now. A lack of acceptance can generate from comparing things to the past. I'm not going to think about what happened before and try to live accordingly; I'm going to think about now. Comparing things to the past always hinders an acceptance of what is.  

  • Reverse the situation. I ask myself: What if someone were judging me and not accepting me? How would I feel? I'll keep these questions in mind the next time I'm not accepting others. I will imagine someone constantly telling me to slow down (and how annoying that would be!). 

Clearly I have a lot of work to do when it comes to accepting others -- especially those closest to me. It's so easy to abstractly think of yourself as an accepting person, but when it comes to your daily interactions, really pay attention to them and ask yourself if you are accepting others as they are. Are you really accepting them? Are you really not thinking your way of doing things is the best way? If you find that you're not as accepting of others as you'd like to be, think about the six ideas above and see if they don't help you to be a more accepting, more loving person. And remember: the only way to live a positive and present life is to accept what is, something you certainly can't do if you don't accept others for who they are.


Participating in the 30 Day Photo Challenge?

Check out the Positively Present photos on Flickr.
Join the Positively Present Photo Challenge Flickr group
Share your photos on Twitter or Instagram using #PPphoto