Some years ago, I became fascinated with traditional proverbs and sayings, their metaphorical layers and the many different interpretations found within just a few, succinct words. I marvelled at their ability to transcend race, religion, opinions and age.
These often humble words, offer us knowledge; knowledge that is passed to us in much the same way relay runners might pass a baton. Once it’s handed over, it is up to us what we do with it and how we pass it on.
“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” ~Greek Proverb
The Chinese sages also appreciated their value:
Let us not forget the importance of creating nature; fostering and nurturing Mother Earth.
Trees provide so many benefits to our everyday lives. They filter clean air, provide fresh drinking water, help curb climate change, and create homes for thousands of species of plants and animals. Planting a Billion Trees can help save the Earth from deforestation.
Helping to Plant Trees
Depending on location, it costs between $1-$3 to plant a tree including ongoing maintenance and stewardship. Including organizational overheads, I see this as a real bargain, especially for something that might last 70 years!
The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees campaign is a major forest restoration effort with a goal of planting a billion trees across the planet.
So you don’t have the time or don’t want to get your hands dirty? I hear you, but you can still support the various organizations around the world depending on your preferred location.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” -John Milton
We hear it all the time. Mindfulness. The advice to practise mindfulness as a way to deal with troublesome thoughts.
Why does Mindfulness help?
It’s impossible to stay strong when you’re rehashing something that happened last week or predicting that horrible things are going to happen tomorrow. Mindfulness is about staying present in the moment. And since the only time you can change your behavior is right now, it’s important to be able to focus on the here-and-now.
Our minds become more resilent to stress and less prone to anxiety, if we maintain focus on the here and now; meaning the present moment. The future and the past are, after all, not our reality, but only mental constructs over which we have no, or little, influence. Trying to live in two dimensions at once creates stress for ourselves.
The present moment is the only real time concept we can fully experience, with our senses.
Confucious understood this saying,
“Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.”
Buddha considered the secret of good health was not to mourn the past, or worry about the future, cautioning against anticipation and encouraging the use of each moment wisely and earnestly.
As if each moment was a priceless gift.
Because each moment is a priceless gift that will never return again.
Staying mindful removes the immediate stress for a mind that might continue to worry or dwell on what has gone before.
The present moment is a concept so very difficult to grab hold on to; for it is transient, dynamic and we might rail against letting it go. Even as we ponder its nature, it has passed us by. Gone.
Some of us keep the past, or future, alive in our minds, through repetitive thoughts. Our minds, in idle moments, stray back to past events, or happier times. If those thoughts are negative, and we think them often enough, we can do ourselves real mental damage or initiate a stress reaction in our body.
Strategies for Mindfulness
Stay in the moment
Look around you and note your environment
Notice where your focus lies and your own body’s natural breath
Is your breath short, sharp and shallow, or deep and long? Focusing on the breath is a way to stay mindful
Be Mindful and Ground yourself with the following exercise
Questions for the Self
Are you able to be mindful, keeping thoughts aligned with the present moment?
Can you break your day down and stay with those moments?
Besides Grounding, what is it that helps you to do this?
It is fairly well recognized that counting your blessings, as opposed to your burdens can have a huge impact on your psychological health.
Studies have demonstrated that showing gratitude for even the most basic things can have reduce depression and increase contentment.
How to Find Gratitude in life?
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
We cannot travel to, own, earn, win or consume happiness, but we can find it in gratitude in our daily lives, as Albert Clarke said,
“We must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy.”
Many writers and philosophers considered thankfulness to be the highest form of thought, almost a spiritual experience. Acting thankful is something that inevitably leads to gratitude.
Buddha took this to an extreme.
Let us be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.
Gratitude as a Daily Habit
Marc and Angel suggested making gratitude a daily habit by:
..intentionally identifying three things in your life you are grateful for. It could be as simple as feeling thankful for the clean water that comes out of your faucet or appreciating the cool breeze on a warm day.
List the things you feel grateful for over dinner, or make it a habit to identify what you’re thankful for before you go to bed. Over time, being thankful becomes like second nature, and you’ll experience benefits ranging from improved sleep to greater immunity.
Marc and Angel
Do you make gratitude a daily habit?
For me, feeling and showing gratitude can reset my mind from its daily worries, anxieties and concerns. Concerns that, at times, feel quite overwhelming.
Thinking of the things I am grateful fore, can help ground me, re-focusing my attention on what I do have, on what is around me.
Many aspects of my life are not ideal, are unfair and may never change. And yet, there is still so much I can be grateful for, even in circumstances not so ideal.
Could you identify three things you’re grateful for each and every day?
Do you ever think about what youwant to happen in a forthcoming situation? Or does worry get in the way and you tend to focus on what you don’t want to happen?
The Ego and Finding Fault
It seems our ego focuses naturally on the negative aspects, due to an outdated evolutionary adaptation and we are then in a postion that makes us hard-pressed to see positives.
Fault finding comes from believing your happiness comes from the world according to your liking.
We then tend to find fault with whatever is going on, to blame others or circumstances, especially where the outcome has been less than, what we consider, satisfactory.
This may have helped us survive in pre-historic times, where man-eating beasts lurked close by, but is hardly relevant to modern life. Now, our egos flood our brains with self-critical thoughts, most of which are not terribly accurate and anxiety quickly follows.
Lee Jampolsky once asked a stressed-out salesman,
“What is the real purpose of a sale?
Replying about his own needs and that he wanted to boost his sale stats, Jampolsky then encouraged the salesman to instead direct his thought focus outwards – ie. so that his real purpose in a transaction or interaction would be that he was genuinely interested in the person he was selling to, in being patient and kind and, to try to ‘see’ the customer’s heart.
To the salesman’s surprise, his sales rose significantly and he was no longer so stressed when he followed that sageful advice. His customers picked up on those non-verbal and verbal signals that he ‘cared.’
Without the ego naturally defaulting to negative, there is room in our minds for all sorts of alternative thoughts.
Contemplating a more positive goal at the beginning of any situation may help influence the outcome, (even if you are not convinced of its worth, at first).
What Went Wrong?
Don’t waste your precious time on analysing what went wrong with a situation. Ignore those feelings that you have been short-changed in lifeas they tend promulgate the victim concept, which only makes you feel worse.
Think about what your goal is, making it pertinent to your perception and personal actions and see what happens.
We can attract the exact things that we give thought oxygen to or dwell on.
Jampolsky believes that we can direct ourselves to be peaceful inside regardless of what is happening outside.
An ever so slight adaptation of a quote from William James.
When things are grim for Christmas in your part of the world, it may help to ponder an old Norwegian saying: “behind those those dark clouds, the sky is always blue”. The old Norwegians did not have an easy life through the long, harsh, unforgiving winter. One group of settlers died out, literally starving to death in Greenland, but even so they balanced their negative thinking with such a positive saying.
In olden times, a negative attitude may not have been conducive to a successful community. They may have had to put emotions on the back burner and concentrate on sourcing or rationing meager food supplies. Life priorities were vastly different and yet, all that time these old people were fostering self-reliance and resilience to adversity.
We can learn much from their attitude if we are open to it.
What do you think? Is action correlated with our level of happiness?
We spend a lot of time in our own headspace, either at work or at home relaxing. In lockdown, some of us might be alone with our emotional thoughts, much more than we have ever experienced before.
This level of introspection, or mulling over problems, can get to a person, especially if they are a deep thinker or highly sensitive.
Concentration, Energy and Motivation
The extent to which we are occupied by our emotional-driven thoughts is often the extent to which energy is diverted away from our working memory, our concentration and motivation. We find it hard to concentrate on our work when we have something on our mind. The monkey mind, it is often called.
Caught Up in Our Emotions
We talk about being caught up in our emotions and it can feel like being trapped inside your own head. At these times, it is hard to re-focus on matters at hand. Our worry or frustration centres switch on and at times, go into, ‘overdrive.’
But those thoughts in our worry centre, are not reality-based thoughts. They are magnified, exagerrated, skewed or biased. We are so much more than those thoughts. Thoughts are not who a person is. Yet we give them power over our moods.
Just like a loud noise that bothers us, trying hard to block it out, will inevitably make the noise appear louder. This is because our focus on the noise has increased. We might even become angry and frustrated.
If we can’t remove the offending noise, we must decrease our focus in order to tolerate the annoying noise, or the many frustrations of our lives. If our attention is diverted away from focusing on the noise or the frustrations, we tend not to notice it and its persistence wanes.
Practising Mindful Strategies to Prevent Worry
Similarly, we can re-focus our attention away from the abyss of introspection, by practising ‘Mindfulness‘ techniques, which are designed to assist us in staying within the present moment. The only time we can act and live is right now, in the present moment. Everything else, the past and the future is only a construct of our minds, so focus on the here-and-now.
The Glennon Doyle and Buddha quotes may have been at odds, but one might assume their objectives were the same.
As if Covid isn’t enough to contend with, have you ever had one of those days when nothing seems to go as it should? Where it seems the forces of the Universe are set against anything going smoothly? Yes, it was one of those.
Chaos Rules or Life by Crisis Management
A friend I haven’t spoken to for over a year sends a message, out of the blue, with only the words, “How are you?” There was no other context to her message and yes it was her – I did check. A little odd or, perhaps, spontaneous. She was just wondering how I was, she said. After a year without communication!
My daughter rings to make an appointment at a medical specialist doctor and the Receptionist asks her to supply a full length photo for a the appointment. Weird. Full length?
Three out of three kids then had mini breakdowns of sorts on the same night, unrelated to each other, sending us scampering from one to the next in succession. It was a busy night.
That same night the neighbour sent me a message at 7pm that he wants to come sit on my garden bench for a while. Did he have a fight with his partner, I wonder? This is out of character. I only saw the message at 9pm whilst scampering to and fro, said kids.
Finally late on the same day as ALL of the above:
We discovered the new pup had eaten the TV remote control, yes, the plastic controller part. The Moth’s favourite activity is to watch television and you can imagine what the Moth said when it became apparent he could not change the channels or adjust the volume. Not to mention the possible harm to the puppy, which resulted in my daughter having to check the poo for remnants of plastic when she walked the dog around our estate, for the next few days.
Not so strange, I suppose, but given that we live in an area where there are lots of tradie workmen building new homes, you have to imagine the strident scene of strange stares and comments when they see a pretty young teen, now adult, picking up dog poo on the footpath, then examining it closely, feeling it and squishing it around in her hands, (inside the doggy poo bag of course)!
It seems the little pup has a penchant for chewing anything. Here’s more evidence of her dental disasters.
And the final piece of news – we have “worms.”
Not in our bodies thank goodness; we’ve merely purchased a batch of garden-variety, soil-improving worms and installed them in their new home at the Home by the Sea.
At least the worms aren’t having a personal crisis or feeling chocked up with plastic remote controls.
We are often harshest in our treatment of ourselves in the way our inner voice reprimands us for making mistakes.
Rather than an objective assessment of our actions, we strive for perfection in ourselves, and are disappointed or angry with ourselves if we cannot attain that desired standard.
Trying to be Perfect
Perfection is impossible, yet we continue to strive for it. Let us face it, we are all imperfect beings in some way. So it is a natural and normal state to be imperfect.
We may feel anger or diappointment when we judge ourselves to be useless, inadequate or ineffective.
If your critical inner voice is devaluing who you are, answer back with self-kindness … this is the antidote.
Turn negative statements into neutral statements
One easy way to adjust our damaging self-talk is to change “always” and “never” statements into specific truthful ones.
“I always fail at ….” Really, is this accurate? Or, is this statement better?
“It seems like I fail every time I try something I find difficult, but telling myself that doesn’t help or support me in any way and each time it happens, I am learning something about what doesn’t work for me.”
Even in simple situations you might catch your self-talk saying, “You always forget where you put your phone/keys/wallet.”
Imagine how less disappointed you might feel if you change that self-talk to, “When life gets really busy, it is easy to forget where I left my phone/keys/wallet, but that is okay. Next time I might take more notice where I put them.”
If you make a mistake in your work, instead of labelling yourself, useless, using more nurturing phrases under your breath can feel less reproachful.
“I stuffed up this time, but that is okay because I am still learning how best to carry out this task and next time I might do better.”
Here is another example from medium.com
Let’s say your inner voice tells you that you’re fat, and you think: “I did gain five pounds. She’s right, I’m ugly.” You feel miserable, right? Neutralize that negative statement so you feel good about yourself. Paint the situations your inner critic is nagging you about, in neutral colors. Name the facts. Add what you think will help you to make it better.
“Yes, I want to lose a couple of pounds. Last week I was too stressed and tired so I ate more and skipped my exercises. I’m more relaxed now, and I can go back to my usual routine.”
Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own.
Carol’s quote came to mind recently, when I received some strongly-worded criticism in response to a post I’d made, on a social media group. Whether my words were truth or lies, seemed less relevant than the individual opinions of the responders making the comments.
It seemed some people relished an opportunity to vent their spleen, albeit in an anonymous way.
Normally, I’d be a little rattled by heavy-handed criticism, but I’m no longer surprised by being hammered with a critical counter-argument, at least on social media.
And yet, in distancing myself from reacting to the negative commentary, I began to feel like some kind of stone-hearted internet troll.
Aristotle was unsurprisingly philosophical about criticism:
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
I wondered should we ignore all negative feedback and scroll on, or respond to critical comments? If so, how?
Criticism of others’ opinions via the internet, and indeed, cyber-bullying, itself, has seemingly reached pandemic proportions. Thankfully the blogging world is mostly immune to negativity, but it did make me wonder how others dealt constructively, with heavy-handed criticism.
An American Politician, Sam Rayburn once said,
Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build it.
What do you think the underlying message says. Does it refer to the support of friends and family that folk find so essential to personal growth and development?
Or, could it refer to the many divergent paths one might consider, or does take throughout life, before we reach our ultimate destination or end goal?
I often find there is profound wisdom in proverbs, sayings and quotes and I marvel at the way they are so succinct in communicating messages, to the reader. Mostly anonymous, they come to us from past generations and from across cultures. They speak of the experiences of lives lived and lessons learned. Quotes, like proverbs, make us think more deeply about something.
Nothing is more beautiful and powerful than a smile that has struggled through the tears
~ Demi Lovato (Actress and Singer Song-writer)
This theme of this week’s quotes is power, not raw power, but rather that power of the self, as an entity, that power we find within ourselves.
The less effort, the faster and more powerful
you will be
~ Bruce Lee
We have nothing to lose by trusting the infinite power
of the Self, except the bondage of our own ignorance
~ Mata Amritanandamayi Devi
And finally there are these words:
“You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world’s happiness now.
By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.”