Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Art of Handling Criticism Gracefully by Leo Babauta

This is a great article from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. I will go into more on this in a later post but wanted to share this inspiring article with you.

The Art of Handling Criticism Gracefully by Leo Babauta

Even as we strive to become more graceful, compassionate, elegant, we will come up against criticism. There is no way to perfectly shield ourselves from the negativity of others, but learning how to respond to it will do us all well.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"And when I don’t know what else to be, I am thankful."
~Katie at Kisses from Katie

Thank you to both Katie for her writing and incredible work with her 14 adopted daughters in Uganda (a truly graceful muse!!), and Kalee at Une Vie Chic who brought this blog to my attention.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tag!


"There are good days and there are bad days, and this is one of them." ~Lawrence Welk

Bad days happen, and unfortunately we are capable of making them far worse than they need to be, or transforming them into wonderful days. I took a turn with both yesterday, but I managed to learn a lesson in the process.

Yesterday morning, while waiting an hour for breakfast, a man pulling into the parking lot nearly plowed into me, then got out of his car and made a very rude and sarcastic remark. It was one of those moments that really upsets me because I felt unjustly accused of doing something to this driver which I hadn't done. The morning got started all wrong, and it peppered the rest of the day to where I was impatient with everyone. Food tasted bad, parking spots were nowhere to be found, the world was against me I tell ya!

Okay, in all honesty, I don't really know if people were driving or acting as badly as I thought they were, but I was in such a foul mood that no one could do right as far as I was concerned. It's like that driver had played "Tag, you're it," and I was stuck with whatever bad attitude he had and had to give it to someone else to get rid of it. I could feel my face getting hot every time anyone did anything. The person walking too slow in front of me, the woman who didn't know which latte she wanted, the guy who got the parking space I should have had. These people weren't necessarily doing anything malicious or out of the ordinary, but that didn't stop me from feeling the way I did.

And that's when it hit me. I didn't want to waste my day feeling that way, and I didn't want to keep taking it out on others. Something had to change, that something being me. I flipped the switch and in the words of Gretchen Rubin "I acted the way I wanted to feel." I forced myself to act happy, patient and kind, letting people turn in front of me, opening doors for others, whatever I could do to feel gracious rather than irritable and sullen. The actions took over for the mind and the rest of the day turned out remarkably better, even though there was still bad traffic, long lines and people that were not as considerate as they could have been. I was able to put myself in the frame of mind to know that no matter what I encountered, I could make the decision as to whether it would discourage or encourage me.

I saw so clearly that what we sometimes think of as just social graces (etiquette, manners, poise) are actually tools we can use to make our lives more satisfying and to smooth the rough edges that we sometimes come up against in life. I also learned that the kindness we show others does come back to us, because the kind person we become is much easier to get along with.

What small changes have you made to transform a bad day into a good one?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How To Be A Lady...

"Politeness does not always produce kindness of heart, justice, complacency, or gratitude, but it gives to a man at least the appearance of it, and makes him seem externally what he really should be."
— La Bruyere

Check out this wonderful blog post from fellow blogger Fiona, How To Be A Lady. She discusses a new show called The Girls of Hedsor Hall, where wild American girls are sent to an English finishing school to learn how to act like a lady. I have watched a couple of episodes and it's quite remarkable how atrocious, but also commonplace, some nasty behavior has become for many young women in our society. Watching their scenes in the nightclubs and when they've had a bit too much to drink wasn't so out of the ordinary considering some of the antics I've seen when I've been out. Very entertaining and informative, but I wonder if MTV viewers will be as eager to hop on the bandwagon and follow these girls as they were to follow the examples set by Teen Mom. Wishful thinking I fear!

On a side note, I was reading a book called "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter," and there's a moment where Aunt Julia, a recent divorcee, muses on what courting was like when she was younger. The passage goes "She laughed. But immediately a sad, disabused expression crossed her face. 'In my day, boys composed acrostics, sent girls flowers, took weeks to work up enough nerve to give them a kiss. What an obscene thing love has become among kids today.'" This book was written by a man, author Mario Vargas Llosa, and perhaps he was just as nostalgic for the days when boys could have that anticipation for something so simple as a kiss. I truly believe women pioneer the tone of humanity, and as the genteel sex becomes, well, less genteel, we see less chivalry, less etiquette, fewer displays of manners and fewer opportunities for men to rise to their best when women set the bar so low.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Slow down and breathe!


Our lives are filled with things that are constantly grappling for our attention, which can end up making us feel overwhelmed and like we are juggling too much. In essence, not very graceful. This inevitably leads to irritability, mistakes, lowered performance and stress. (Even less graceful!!) While I know there's a pressure to rush to tackle everything that needs doing, I've found that actually slowing down, and taking each task one at a time provides a greater sense of accomplishment, allows me to perform it more succinctly, and doesn't leave me with frazzled nerves and the "what abouts" that keep me from falling asleep at night.

While many have spoken about the power of meditation, many of us don't have the time or the patience to sit quietly in a room with low lights and no cell phones, children or noisy neighbors to complicate matters. However, I do believe that its key components can be applied to waking, moving, noisy life and still have a very powerful impact on reaching a state of mindfulness.

To start, try moving slower (after you've gone to the gym and run the six miles around your block that you were planning on.) Just try it. It feels a bit silly, but the slowness actually lets you really feel the strength in your body, the sensation of your fingers washing your hair, the texture and taste of the meal you've prepared. It's calming and enjoyable, and helps promote a sense of safety and well-being for those around you.

Today, most examples of feminine elocution and conversation are brash and gossipy. (Turn on the television for 10 seconds. Am I right?) I'm not saying this is an accurate portrayal of feminine behavior, but it's rampant enough that it's the predominant way our sons, daughters and most sitcom writers tend to perceive female communication. So imagine if you tried this instead.

Go back to the post about The Three Gates, and then add this on to it: Speak softer. True, kind words spoken in a calm, gentle tone... is there anything more graceful and powerful in the world? It's strong, but not forceful. I had a Montessori school teacher that could calm a class of twenty children by starting to slowly, quietly sing a song that we all knew. We'd drift over to the circular woven rug, sit down next to each other, and wait to hear her next words. I don't remember her ever shouting, and though I would do anything she asked, I didn't do it out of fear of punishment, but out of respect. Being aware of not only what you say, but how you say it, will have an enormous impact on the way others hear and perceive you, and on the way you perceive yourself.

Lastly, breathe. When someone asks something of you, take a breath, then respond. Before entering a room, pause on the precipice to gather yourself, breathe, and then enter. This is your life, and your well-being and choices are just as important as anyone else's, so being rushed or shuffled along won't be tolerated. Or in the words of my Montessori teacher "It's unacceptable." Taking a moment to breathe and remember who you are as you face the day will help to center you and remind you of the beauty and strength that exists within, and enable you to make more thoughtful decisions rather than knee-jerk and automated reactions.

Practicing meditation techniques as we go about our days can help bring focus, peace of mind, less stress and more compassion. When I think of strong, graceful women, I can't imagine them having to shout or be hurried along, and so I grant all of us permission to do the same. Now slowly, move the mouse to the comments button and tell me how you'll try this new exercise.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What can we do?

Wow. If you're feeling anything like me, you're hesitant to turn the TV on as the events taking place in Japan unfold. A part of me wants to stay informed, perhaps it's the mature thing to do to keep tuning into the news and watching the decimated landscape again and again. But how does that help? The fear mongering created by constantly re-broadcasting the tsunami and earthquakes devastation makes for good ratings, but it can make us, the viewers, feel scared, paralyzed and helpless as the scenes seem bigger than anything we can face. So what can we do?

Look Away: I decided a long time ago to never look at car accidents when I was driving by as being distracted could only make things worse. I could slow down traffic or bump into someone if I wasn't paying attention and thus cause another accident. I knew something had happened obviously, but seeing it up close, the detail, the wreckage, wasn't necessary. In the case of what is taking place in Japan, I feel that this is a good time to look away. We know what's going on. Limit it to the periphery of your vision and instead, focus on the ways in which you can actually help in the recovery effort and healing. For example:

* Reach out to friends in Japan. If you know someone there, send them an email or a call letting them know you're there for them. See if there's something they need or just be an ear as they go through such a difficult time. ATT, Verizon and Vonage are offering free phone calls to Japan through the end of March.

* Donate to the Red Cross. Every organization out there is helping to facilitate the donation process. Discover Card is letting you donate your Cash Back Bonus to Red Cross, and if you text REDCROSS to 90999, you make an instant $10 donation which will be reflected on your phone bill.

* Look for ways to help in your community. Sometimes we feel so overwhelmed by the world news that we forget about what is happening in our own backyard. Look for fundraisers taking place where you might be able to volunteer to help raise money or gather goods that can be donated to Japan.

* Lastly, pray and be grateful for your own safety and the safety of others. Stay in a mindset of gratitude and hope. The world is hurting right now, but you have the opportunity to help heal and restore peace by being a vessel of strength and compassion as you move through your day. Together, we can create little moments of grace around the world, and help to give it some much needed relief.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Seeking Out The Best In Others


To see things in the seed, that is genius.
Lao Tzu

I had the recent pleasure of watching a truly graceful woman in action and picked up on a wonderful trait that I wanted to share with you.

In planning an upcoming event at her mother-in-law's home, she was in charge of bringing a varied group of people together to navigate and coordinate a quickly-approaching party. There were contractors, clients, assistants, the homeowner, the event planners and many others, all vying for her attention, describing their burdens and trying to please her. And what did she do? She asked what everyone else was looking for, and guided them to their greatest potential. Everyone was assured of the competency of others, and it created a great tone for the entire group as everyone felt heard, felt that their role in the event was acknowledged and would do anything to make the event a success. But she never made a demand. She simply asked what was needed to make them happy, and had the highest hopes for everyone to do their best.

I think this is a remarkable trait for all graceful women to have. I think setting the standard for ourselves to be our personal best is only magnified when we also honor and encourage this same behavior in others. No one wants to feel like so little is expected of them. They want the opportunity to rise to the challenge, and aiding them in doing so can be one of the most selfless and rewarding acts.

Who around you has the potential to reach further than they already have? Perhaps it's a child that struggles in a certain subject, but excels in others. Maybe it's a spouse who is frustrated with their job or has health concerns. Don't remind them of their troubles, but instead remind them of their strengths. Help them rise to the challenges they face in life by showing your unwavering faith in their potential. Don't think of how their troubles add to your own, but how instead their unique and wonderful attributes (and most people have many) enhance your life.

A grander part of this is realizing you already have everything that you need, and now it is your turn to give to others. Give peace of mind, give kindness, give friendship. These are all contained in you and abundantly so.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts."

~Thomas Merton

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Silent Game


Recently, I practiced a day of silence with one of my dearest friends. This meant no phones, internet, radio or talking. Spontaneous laughter was allowed and necessary. We had discussed it briefly before and worked out the logistics and ground rules to make the day as pleasant as possible with little need to actually speak up. Our plan was to wake up, make breakfast, then spend the day hiking, reading and meditating. It was silence until sundown.

It was an interesting experiment to say the least. First, it gave me a chance to hear the judgments and programmed reactions that traipse around my head on a daily basis, and figure out where they were coming from and deal with them consciously. Most of these judgments were self-directed, rather than outwardly so. I was surprised at how unkind I could be to myself, starting with my first thoughts in the morning and how much I wanted words to explain away my shortcomings. My realization? Shush that inner critic and get on with your day.

Second, I reconnected with my friend in a funny, thoughtful and unique way. During the day, we often knew what the other was thinking and proceeded on an agreed path without a word being exchanged. Other times, we just had to laugh at the fact that whatever gestures we were making, we were completely lost and would have to sort it out later. At one point, he went in one direction that I did not want to go, and the battle going on in my head over wanting to speak up versus go with the flow was interesting to experience. I didn't speak, but boy did I silently grumble!

At dinnertime, we recounted the thoughts that had come up during the day, what we were trying to say with our frantic hand movements and shared that we had both been surprised to hear the ocean waves from far atop the hiking trail. We both felt emotional and grateful for the presence of the other on the day's journey, and were better able to listen to one another with the chatter of the day removed. I couldn't do this daily (my posts are long, as I am a girl of many words,) but taking a break to re-examine the way we communicate was very insightful.

Third, it was wonderful to have the space to have some bizarre and eccentric thoughts that I was curious about and not be able to instantly Google answers to find out more. My strangest thought was "Where exactly do hamsters come from and why do you never see them on National Geographic?" I didn't say the thought was life changing, just different. And there was a grace in the not knowing, of just being bewildered by my own thoughts and having to use my imagination to sort it out rather than getting a finite answer. (Don't look it up and just try to see what kind of fun stories you'd tell a child who asked you the same question. It's a bit delightful to have to imagine again, isn't it?)

Fourth, being able to try something like this with someone that you're close to is great practice for being more mindful when with others. I could really hear my thoughts, feel the strength or strain in my movements, and by reflecting on what my response was, I began to listen to what must be the constant internal hum in the background of my day to day life. I could begin to question the automatic responses that compel all of us to react without considering what we truly want. A brief study in heuristics which I'd like to delve into again soon.

It was a bit like a childhood game for adults, and I must admit, strangely draining, but insightul and incredibly fun. I was not getting the constant stimulation of internet, phone, TV, text messages, conversation, etc. so I could tune out and shut my brain off. I had to surrender to the day, let it reveal itself and choose my path rather than being guided by search engines and TV schedules. With all this quiet, uninterrupted space, I was able to look inward and see what mentally steals my time away, so that I could face it head on.

I encourage you to do this, either alone or with someone else, so you can discover what mind tricks you may be playing on yourself to keep you from your greatest potential. Perhaps you don't speak to yourself in the kindest way, perhaps you'll find some lost time to tackle a problem or task you've been putting off. Whatever transpires, I'd love to hear how the silence impacted you.