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accepting what is: 4 phrases to forget

"Things are as they are.
Looking out into the universe at night
we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars,
nor between well and badly arranged constellations."

Alan Watts

Accepting what is is key to living a positive, present life. To live in the now, one must accept the now as it is. One cannot wish it is something else or create stories in his or her mind of how it should be. Many of us know this, but struggle to find ways to be accepting of ourselves and others. We wonder how we are to live life without judgments. We wonder how we are to live in a world where we often want things to be different, a world in which we are bombarded by the things we should be and say and do, without passing judgement. It's not wrong to want change, but how can you reconcile the idea of wanting change and accepting what is?

The truth is: it's difficult. Very difficult. It's a daily struggle, accepting what is. You must accept yourself, your colleagues, your partner, your friends. You must accept your job, your relationships, your situations, the weather. There is so much one must accept if he or she is to live in the present moment and it's hard to do on a moment-to-moment basis. But here's the thing: you've gotta try to bring acceptance into your life if you want to live a positive present life. And a good place to start is with the things you stay to yourself. Below are four phrases you need to forget. 

4 Factious Phrases to Forget 

"I wish..."
Wishing for a better tomorrow is no crime, but what does all that wishing really get you? I say, take that wish you've been thinking about and do something about it. Acceptance isn't the same as settling. To be happy, you must accept what is happening now, but take action (right now!) to make the situation better. Stop wishing and start looking at the changes you can make to make the present more positive.  

"I should have..."

Let me tell you something: looking back and thinking about what you should have done doesn't do anything. It's a waste of your time -- unless you take action now. If you should have said/done something differently, go tell that person what you would have liked to have said/done. Or, better yet, just say it or do it. Don't dwell on the past; take action to make the present, and ultimately your future, exactly what you want it to be. 

"If only I had..."

If only you had a better thing/situation/person in your life, then you could make all your dreams come true, right? Wrong. If you need something more in your life to make the present a positive place, go out and get it. Can't get it? Find a way to work around it. Use the energy spent on saying "if only I had..." to creatively make the most of what you've got. And remember: what you really need, you already have. 

"It would be better if..."

Yes, it would be better if the sun was shining, you weren't being nagged, you were filthy rich, you had the love of your life, etc., etc. If you spend time focusing on the things that could be better, you're wasting time that could be spent on making things better. Use the present moment not to dwell on what could be improved, but to take action and start improving it. (And let things like the weather go -- you can't impact them.) 

As much as I'd love to sit here and tell you that it's easy to stop saying these things, to accept what is, there's just no getting around the fact that it's not. I struggle with it every day. I want to be living a different life -- writing full time, being self employed -- but I'm not doing that yet. I have to stay present while also looking forward to the future. It's a balance between accepting what's happening now and looking forward to what's happening next. After all, if I hadn't had the desire to do something different, I wouldn't be making steps toward making the life I want to be living. 

Remember: it's okay to have a dream, a wish, a hope. It's okay to want things other than what you have right now. But it's not okay not to accept what's happening all around you. Because, just as the quote above states, things are as they are. We give them the labels of right or wrong, bad or good, but the everything is what it is. We must stop saying the things that force us to deny acceptance because it is this lack of accepting what is that lead us to unhappiness. Instead, we must embrace what's happening now and take action today to make our future a place we'll be happy to accept. 

musings on meditation


Though I've read over and over about the benefits of meditation -- an easier time being present, better sleep, more mindfulness, a greater sense of peace, a more calm demeanor, improved health, etc, etc, etc. -- I'd always been hesitant to even give it a try. With a mind that's often going a mile-a-minute, I didn't think a mind like my would ever be able to be calm enough to sit in peace for any significant period of time. But a few weeks ago I finally gave it a try... 

My boss, my coworker, and I went on a department outing to a local yoga studio that also hold private meditation sessions. Not quite ready to be seated on the floor for a full hour of guided/silent meditation, my coworker and I opted for chairs while my boss and the meditation leader (guide? is there a special name for them?) sat cross-legged on braided blankets. I was oddly nervous, wondering silently if I might pass out from sitting still for too long -- or, worse yet, have some sort of panic attack from attempting to silence my ever-racing thoughts. 

I attempted to calm my nerves by listening intently to everything our guide was saying. I'd only been in a meditation situation once before -- in high school -- and all I can remember about it was giggling and acting childish only to late feel guilty for mocking the teacher who was trying to expand our young, closed minds. This time, I wanted to act like an adult, to really give it an honest try. And that meant listening -- an act I'm sad to say isn't my forte. I'm much more of a give-my-opinion, raise-my-hand, share-my-thoughts kinda girl. But I remained quiet, only speaking when she asked us what our goals were for learning to meditate. 

"I'd like to be more present in my life," I told our guide and my colleagues. "I always find that I'm thinking about what's next, in a rush to the next thing, and I want to be able to stay more in the moment." She nodded understandingly and I felt hopeful, like maybe she might actually be the one to help me slow down my racing thoughts, to finally make me one of those people who is fully, completely living in the now. 

Getting Started

Our guide started us off with guided meditation before allowing us to sit in the silent kind of meditation (are there more specific terms for these things?). The guided meditation was oddly familiar to me. It was a tactic I used frequently when I'm having trouble sleeping -- focusing on all five senses to distract myself from my racing thoughts. Doing it on a wooden chair in a room I'd never been in before guided by a voice that was not my own was a bit of a challenge at first. It was hard to let go of my thoughts about the new environment, my hopes that I'd really be good at meditation, and the nagging notion that I might be missing something happening in the world of my iPhone. 

With a little effort, I find myself more and more in the moment. I found myself getting just a little bit better at steering my thoughts back to whatever sense we were supposed to be focusing on. As we moved on to the next part of the meditation -- paying attention to various parts of our bodies -- I felt more relaxed. I was using some of the breathing techniques we'd learned at the beginning of the session. I wasn't able to completely focus on the now (I desperately wanted to know how much time had passed), but I was making a valiant effort.

Third Eye Meditation

In the last stage before silent meditation, our guide taught us third eye meditation. This was the kind of thing I'd always been a little be wary of (mostly because the idea of a third eye kind of grosses me out). This was the stuff that was crossing into what I thought would be unfamiliar territory. However, it ended up being the part of meditation I liked the best. We were encouraged to close our eyes and focus on the spot in the middle of our foreheads. There we were to imagine a movie screen and playing on it were our thoughts. Any time we had a thought, we were supposed to visualize it on the screen and, rather than judge it or try to get rid of it, we were encouraged to watch it as an observer. 

Watching my thoughts on the tiny screen on my inside of my forehead was something that, while it sounded odd, was actually quite interesting. Instead of judging myself for being distracted, which would only result in more thinking, I was able to see the thoughts objectively and let them go. This didn't mean they didn't keep popping up on the screen, but I was able to look at them in a different way and not cling to them as I typically would. I was able to let them go. 

At the end of the session I found myself more relaxed. I wasn't completely present-moment focused yet (my mind was already wondering what I'd missed in the hour I'd been away from the office), but I was happy to have some new tools to use when I found myself unable to focus on the now. Though I haven't meditated since that day -- it's so much harder to be motivated to do it without the guide! -- I would gladly do it again. It helped focus on the present moment without external distractions and it taught me a few new tricks for learning how to deal with my internal distractions. 

Have you meditated before? What did you think?
Any tips/tricks for someone just getting into it? 

get over overthinking: 6 steps to start now

The January 2012 issue of Real Simple had a great article on how to get over overthinking (a negative mental habit that too many people -- including yours truly -- battle far too often). Below is my take on the six steps recommended to kick that cycle of too-much-thinking to the curb.


6 Steps to Stop Overthinking

Step 1: Take Action.
As the article says, "If the problem is specific and solvable, try to turn it into a concrete solution." Don't focus on what happened in the past (or what hasn't happened yet). Instead, focus on what you can do to improve the present moment.

Step 2: Challenge Your Beliefs.
Ask yourself if what you're thinking is definitely true. (More on this can be found in Byron Katie's Loving What Is, one of my all-time favorite books). Try to think about other possible ways of looking at whatever you're thinking about.

Step 3: Distract Yourself.
My mom always used distraction on us as kids and to this day I find that it's one of the best methods for dealing with almost any situation that has resulted in overthinking. Find something that will stimulate you mentally and focus your attention on that activity.

Step 4: Don't Talk It Out.
Sometimes you need to share with other people, but when you're overthinking something this is a big no-no. The more you talk about something, overanalyzing it and allowing for others' comments to take you in new thinking directions, the more you're going to obsess over it.

Step 5: Practice Mindfulness.
Focus on the present moment and you'll take away the power your thoughts seemingly have over you. The present moment isn't about what could have been or what could be. It's about right now.

Step 6: Be Patient.
Overthinking isn't an easy habit to break so it's important to be kind to yourself as you're working on this problem. As the article reminds us, overthinking about how you can't stop overthinking isn't going to do anyone any good.

Overthinking isn't something that can be stopped over night. It takes time, patience, and practice. The more you work on the steps above, the more you'll be able to avoid overthinking. And remember: there's a difference between thinking and overthinking. Thinking is great -- inspiring, motivating, necessary for survival -- but overthinking brings nothing but stress and negativity into our lives. If you want to live a positive life, it's important to have a handle on your own mind and these tips are a great place to start!