Saturday, October 13, 2012

Don't Take Anything Personally.

One of the main road blocks to happiness can be other people, they do and say things to hurt us, frustrate us and anger us.  We worry what people will think of us, how they see us, etc., etc., etc.  This doesn't need to be the case, it's a matter of perspective really.  Don Miguel Ruiz, author of "The Four Agreements," explains that the idea of worrying what others think of us is modern.

Ruiz introduces the reader to the Toltec which anthropologist refer to as a race or nation.  Without rewriting Ruiz book, the essential idea is this Toltec society possessed great wisdom's that over the millennia they were forced to conceal the wisdom to protect it from those did not posses the wisdom to use it or who may misuse it for personal gain.

The thing that stood out for me most in Ruiz's book on the Toltec wisdom was chapter three, "Don't Take Anything Personally."  I highly recommend you read the entire book, if you do or don't, the title of this chapter is a very important lesson and one I really needed to learn.  To sum it up in my own words the main idea is, as humans we are wrapped up in our own world and what is going on in our own life.  If someone loves you or hates you, it really has nothing to do with you as their perception of you is based on their own experience.

One of the greatest lessons I learned in my life was hard to hear but is based in too much fact to be able to deny.  I use to think that if a relationship ended there was something wrong with me then one day someone told me, "your not that important."  Now this may sound harsh and indeed at the time it felt that way but I can't deny the truth behind it.  We do not posses as much of people's thoughts as we believe we do and when we do appear in their thoughts it is often based on their own baggage, for lack of a better word.

For example if someone finds you annoying because you talk too much, their annoyance really has nothing to do with you.  However this could trigger something in their own life perhaps as a child they were shushed and not allowed to talk.  Often time though the things we find annoying, annoy us because we do them ourselves.  So usually when there is something we don't like about someone it is because we posses that same trait and it's something we don't like about ourselves.  Most often people aren't aware that they posses this trait that annoys them so but often the things we don't like in others come from an inherent dislike of ourselves.  The next time something bothers you about someone, take a good, honest look at yourself.  Do you do the same thing?  

I read Ruiz's book over a year ago and it was heart lifting to truly know that if someone likes me or not has nothing to do with me, it's all to do with them.  It takes time for this to sink in but when people do things that hurt me I have to remind myself that it has nothing to do with me it is their own issues.  Bottom line is someones opinion of you should have no impact of you what truly matters is that you like yourself.  Self acceptance helps us enjoy the people around us more as we are not worried about what they are thinking about us.  As Ruiz points out, take nothing personal as it has nothing to do with you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Take Refuge

An excellent way to combat stress is to take refuge or as I call it have a scared place.  A place where you can be by yourself to sort out your thoughts calmly.  A lot of people do this by chilling in front of the T.V., having a drink etc., however those aren't the best ideas.

A better way would be to find a stress reducing environment for you, some people make it their bedroom or another special area in the house.  Others take refuge in nature, the valley, the beach etc.  I personally set up a sacred space in my home.  I didn't want it to be my bedroom as that is where I sleep and I didn't want to fall asleep while trying to combat stress, that just turns into avoidance much like drinking or watching t.v.  

My Sacred Space
Instead I took an empty space in my apartment and made it special, I have a Buddha on a table where I also keep my Mala, a candle, my singing bowl and some chimes.  I chose the chimes and singing bowl because I have learned that their vibrations reach us at a cellular level and help us heal.  It is the same reason chant is so restorative.  I also put a picture of my beloved pets there.  Nothing goes there but sacred things, when I want to meditate I light the candle and sit on my meditation cushion in my scared area.  Yours can be what ever you want it to be but make sure it's a sanctuary and not a television.  Be active in combating stress.

Take 15 minutes each day, more if you are particularly stressed, to sit and breath.  Breath deep through your nose into your belly and exhale slowly through the nose.  Take it gently deeper with each breath, imagine you are releasing tension.  I like to imagine a swirl of wind going in through the breath, taking hold of the tension and exiting the body with the exhale.  Use whatever helps you relieve the tension, you may just prefer to focus on the tense area while breathing.  

What ever place you chose should be a safe place where you feel protected.  Refuge means a place of shelter but it isn't taken so literal in this instance.  You should make your place of refuge where ever you feel, safe, protected and free of distraction.  So figuratively, shelter from the storm of life.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Top 5 Stress Reducers

I just finished reading an article on the top five stress reducers as I was reading the article I was thinking, yeah this makes sense, of course, I know this.  Then it occured to me that it wasn't all the long ago I didn't know all this.

It wasn't until 2008 when I started yoga that I learned that when humans are stressed out we only breath into the upper portion of our lungs.  When stressed out most of us carrying it in the upper chest and back which is why your shoulders and neck often hurt.  As a rule we don't breath properly even when not stressed out and it is purtinant that we stop and breath fully belly breathes.  This helps us get more oxegen and helps rejuvinate our blood flow.  This is always important but especially when we are stressed out as the stress prevents us getting the right amount of oxygen through normal breathing.  So stop inhale deeply through nose until your beely has expanded, hold, then release through the nose.  Three times is a good rule but doing more will not hurt you.  It's easy to incorporate, at your desk, at a red light, while waiting for the bus or in bed.  It is also a good wake up practice as it helps provided energy.  Deep breathing is natures little miracle as it helps energize when needed and helps us rest when needed, what a powerful funtion.

The article next refers to walking and this seems self explanitory but I think the key is how you walk.  It doesn't mean your rushed walk to the bus stop.  More like a relaxed walk where you are mindful of your surroundings.  Breathing properly while walking, taking in sounds, smells, the feel of your body.  Use all five senses when you walk outside, feel the air on your skin, your feet hit the groud.  Your walks will have much more impact on reducing your stress this way.

Walking ust to be a chore for me something I had to do to get to work etc.  Now I've made it a pleasure, I no longer have to walk to work but I have to walk my dog.  This to me is the most joyful parts of my day, I would almost go as far as to say the dog saved my life that is how much he's given me.  When I was stressed out and just wanted the walk over he would refuse to go up my street as he didn't want the walk to be over.  How could I deny him something that is good for him?  It wasn't too long after I started to look forward to our long walks togehter, just him and me.  I can enjoy the fresh air and my surroundings, I focus on my dog and don't consume myself with ruminating thoughts as I use to while I walked.  Walking has brought great peace to my life and it is an activity in which I enjoy the solitude.

From talking to a lot of my friends and people I meet it seems a lot of people are afraid of yoga.  They know of it's benefits to mind, body and spirit but there is something about performing that inherantly scares a lot of people.  It is truly a great stress reducer and the thing about yoga is it is non judgemental, you aren't meant to be a pretzel no matter how go those poses look on the cover of a magazine.   Yoga teaches us that where we are is where we are suppose to be.  If I can't touch my toes, that's ok as it isn't about getting to your toes, it's about embrassing the posture in a comfortable position and taking in breath.  If you can touch your toes one day, great but if not you are still receiving the benefits.  It's about starting where you are and not competing.  Some folks worry people will be watching them but it's truly hard to concentrate on doing yoga and watch someone else.  It simply doesn't happen, I know as my shirt has gone over my head a couple times in downward dog and everything was okay as everyone was in their posture and not focusing on me.  If you haven't given yoga a chance I really encourage you to try it, even at home if that is more comfortable for you.  That's how I started but now that I go to class, I wouldn't give it up for the world.  

The fourth stress reducer the article referred to was meditation, even into my early adulthood I didn't know anything about meditation.  It was something people from other cultures practiced and I had no idea why or how.  Then I learned there is no real how, you just do.  That doesn't mean it is easy, it takes years to master a quiet mind but even before that the benefits are astounding.  I first started to learn about it when I was suffering from depression and anxiety and a doctor referred me to the works of Jon Kabat-Zinn.  I quickly caught on that if mindfulness can do what it claims, I wanted in.  So I began to practice but I didn't know what I was doing so I needed resources, I turned to itunes and found some guided meditations to start.  Meditation Oasis instantly became my favourite and over four years later I am still using it on my iphone.  The next step  was learning to do it on my own so I joined a work group Toronto MBSR Workshop that taught Jon Kabat-Zinn's method and I have gained such relief from having done so.  Now when something upsets me, I can't sleep or I have pain I meditate and have found it's benefits are priceless.  I only wish I had found it sooner.

The final thing the article says will help reduce stress is guided imagery and I agree it is helpful in reducing stress however I do not agree that it should be number five.  I think the author forgot a healthy diet, one that will keep you energized, promote a healthy immune system and will not cause you harm.  So no chips and chocolate bars are not a part of this healthy diet.  Not being a dietary expert I can't tell you what or how to eat but I do know that not eating healthy will lead to fatigue, depression, increased/decreased weight, illness and your body aging more quickly.  It is hard to fight of stress if your body doesn't have the proper nutrients.  We can't be happy if our bodies aren't well and keeping the body well means treating it right.  Feeding it enough food, not too much or too little.  Feeding it the right foods and at proper times of day.  I truly believe if we follow all these steps we will find happiness and peace.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Over the years I have noticed that I have become more and more pleased while giving gifts.  Excited at Christmas for friends and family to see what I had got them.  Then my family started telling me to save my money and not waste it on them.  I did not like this idea and refused to do it.  So it wasn't shocking that I recently learned that giving is a true way to gain happiness.

This may be surprising to us as a culture as we are often caught up in material wants which become needs.  however studies show that shopping for yourself does nothing to increase our personal happiness.  Buying something for someone else increases the hormones associated with happiness.  Brain scans show giving stimulates the same area in the brain as sex and food.  It can be as simple as buying a friend a coffee next time you are out.  

Research from Harvard university proves that, universally, spending our money on others makes people happy.  It doesn't matter what country you are from or you socio-economic status.  And spending money on others certainly makes us happier then spending it on ourselves.  As a person whose had some issues with shopping, I'm definitely going to take this into consideration.  :)

Giving bigger or more expensive gifts do show we experience more happiness.  Giving doesn't have to include buying someone anything.  I recently made my neighbours an afghan, they were away for the weekend when I finished it.  Monday couldn't come fast enough as I couldn't wait to give it to them and it felt so good, it was a happiness that stayed with me.  

There are many other options, pass on a sweater of yours a friend loves.  Give your used books to books to a friend, give a card of appreciation to someone who has showed you kindness. Make a charitable donation.  Volunteer your time.  Have a talent or skill, teach it to someone.  There are many ways to be generous I'm sure readers will have many other ideas.  I would love to hear them.

The important part is to give without expecting anything in return.  One way to get in to trouble with happiness is to have unmet expectations.  Almost all of your expectations will be too high as not everyone thinks like us.  If I expect someone to make a big deal over my birthday because I made a big deal over their birthday could leave me feeling needlessly hurt.  If I didn't hold such expectations I can't get hurt and would end up feeling angry.  Of course this is a simplified example but as humans we get ourselves into trouble this way.  It is best to give, just to give and not expect anything in return, that way you will experience the happiness of giving and not have to suffer from disappointment when your high expectations are not met. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Material Worth Versus Happiness

We are living in a society that idolizes material worth but you knew that already.  As the saying goes the one with the most toys wins.  When it comes to happiness though, studies show that they really don't.  Gandhi knew it and that is why he chose to live a material free life.  Unfortunately when we are surrounded by all kinds of fancy things we come to believe we need them.  Soon our wants become needs and in order to achieve those needs we as a society are working ourselves to death.  Stress and anxiety rates are rising, families are breaking up.  Our children have everything they could ever want but us as we're working to pay for those things.  The children are not happier for it, bullying is becoming a majour issue, children are suffering with depression and anxiety at earlier and earlier ages.

I recently read "Me to We," by Craig and Marc Kielburger who have gone into some of the poorest areas of the poorest countries in the world.  They found happy people.  Of course this doesn't mean that their lives were great or that they had everything they needed it simply means that even though they had little or nothing these people appreciated life and celebrated the very things our society moans about.  

Marc Kielburger told the story of street children in Bangkok, he learned that these boys were working in the sex trade and didn't know who their parents were.  The amazing thing is these children would get together to celebrate birthday's.  Being street kids, they didn't know when their birthday's were so each year they gathered together and celebrated everyones birthday.  It was simply a celebration of life, despite having nothing.  That's an amazing occurrence that westerners could take a lesson from.

Craig visited a tribe in Africa, material good here were few and far between but what Craig noticed was that these people were far greater at sharing, food, tools, anything they had.  He also noted that they were happy and celebrated small blessings that our society often take for granted or even complain about.  How many times have you heard someone groan, "ugh, it's raining again.  My coat is soaked."  In this African tribe the people celebrated the rain and ran out into it to enjoy it.  It is considered natures gift.  This is truly a lesson us westerners need to learn.  Rain gives us food and drinking water, why do we complain about it.  We should be thankful for it but we have lost sight of where true happiness comes from.  We're busy contemplating what cell phone to get next or how to own a bigger house.
Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.

My challenge to you is, celebrate the little things in life.  Appreciate the things that matter and don't take them for granted.  I'm doing this myself.  Keep a journal of the things you are thankful for.  I keep mine by my bed, that way I go to bed thinking of the things I am thankful for rather then negatives.  Try to keep these things non material.  Think about the person who makes you happiest, the last time you laughed until you cried, all the things that make you happy.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Be Assertive

An important way to remain positive is by being assertive, staying in your own power.  This helps us not be taken advantage of and ensures we stick to our own values and beliefs.

Often times we need to communicate things that aren't always easy.  In our society there seems to be a fear around this as we worry about how it will be received.  We worry about: saying no, setting limits, asking for things and expressing our feelings, thoughts or opinions.  This should not be something we worry about as long as we do it in an assertive and respectful manner.  If the person on the other end reacts negatively, that is their own issue.

If I tell someone how the way their treating me makes me feel and they opt to react negatively, I then know that the problem lies with them and not with me.  For example, "I feel that (name behaviour) is unfair."  I have been assertive and respectful.  I did not blame, call anyone names or accuse anyone of anything, I simply stated how a behaviour made me feel.  If the response is, "this is B.S." they I know this person is not respectful of my feelings.  People who respond like that or in other negative ways do not deserve you as a friend.  If the response is something like, "I'm sorry you feel that way, I didn't know..."  Then the person is at least acknowledging your feelings and showing respect.  

It is important to remember that if a person responds negatively when you have been assertive and respectful, then it is their own issues interfering and really have nothing to do with you.  So if the person responds with, "Well you do..."  Then that is defensive and an attempt to deflect.  Someone assertive and emotionally healthy will not respond this way.  It doesn't mean these people are bad, it just means they are not emotionally healthy or able to respect your feelings.  I don't mean to drop everyone who doesn't respond the way you want them to.  Simply choose to hang around people who can be respectful of your feelings and how they may affect them.  

Remember you do things that affects that person as well so be open to hearing about your own behaviours and how they impact someone.  As long as it is delivered in a respectful and assertive way.  Don't discount things that aren't said in an assertive manner just be selective of what you take on and what you don't.  If someone says, "you're a jerk," I wouldn't put much weight into that.  Basically aim for the behaviour, not the person and surround yourself with those who do the same.  Be mindful though, not everyone has been taught this so if someone is a good friend but they slip, assess whether it's a regular thing that impact how you feel about yourself or just a momentary laps.  If someone is affecting how you feel about yourself in a negative way then please move on.

Formula for Assertive Communication:
The 3 F's below are the core components for assertive communications.

Facts-State the problem objectively 
Feelings-Use I statements, not "You."  express how you feel and think, not something about the other person.
Fair Request-Clear, specific, behaviours.  Not attitude.  "You're really negative," won't work.  Try, "I feel hurt when you criticize my clothes.  I wish you wouldn't make negative comments about my clothes." 

If the above does not work, then you need one more element.
Consequences-If needed can be positive rewards or negative consequences (must be reasonable and do able).  "If you continue to insult my clothes I won't go to parties with you anymore."  Or "If you stop insulting my clothes it would be more enjoyable to hand out with you and I would likely do it more."

I have used a very simply example to demonstrate how this can be applied but I am more then confident you can figure out how to use this in your own life.  You may be thinking, that is basic, common sense stuff.  It isn't always, some people were never taught this.  Others have become so overwhelmed with life that they have placed their tools to the side.  I am writing this as a reminder for both myself and you.  If we don't practice our tools, we lose them. 

Monday, August 13, 2012


See what The Dalai Lama has to say on affection. This post was inspired by an article I read on Yahoo about a woman charging $60 an hour for cuddling.  Now I'm not suggesting we pay someone to cuddle with us what I do want to point out is how important human affection is for our well being.  

While taking my Psychology B.A. I studied cases (prior to ethical rules) that proved an infant will die without human contact/affection.  So this suggests to me that human affection is very important to our soul.  We cuddle our babies, hug our children and then at a certain age that leaves our relationships. 

When was the last time you hugged someone?  Were hugged by someone?  Can't remember?  Time to ask for a hug.  Don't just randomly grab someone and hug them, make sure you have permission.  :)

I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of stats or clinical research, you can look into that if you want.  But one of the key ways to stay postive is affection.  People who hug are happier overall.  This makes sense as people who have supportive relationships are happier and healthier.  

When does hugging become uncomfortable for North American's?  It's not like that in other cultures.  A hug is supportive, caring and kind.  So find someone you love to hug today, it will lead to happier days.