Balanced Living When the Wheels Falls Off

I’ve had a rough week.  There’s been a major change in my family that happened in a completely unexpected way.  I am still trying to process it and come to terms with the new reality.  In other words, I am trying to regain order in my life after having a little chaos thrown at me.

So my post is late this week – and it is about how I am attempting to find balance when the wheels have fallen off.

The biggest challenges are mental and emotional.  One follows the other.  I am trying hard not to over think.

First, I accept reality.  The situation has changed and it is what it is.  Whether I like it or not, this is the new reality.  I must deal with it.

Second, I am not analyzing or speculating – I do not have sufficient information.  I intend to perform as much reasonable fact-finding as I can, digest the information, and accept the reality of that information.

Third, I am resisting projection.  I do not know what is going to happen and I can’t control the future – no one can.  All we can do is respond.

Fourth, I intend to do what I always do when I have a challenge – focus enough attention on myself to keep up my health (both mental and physical) so that I can meet any additional challenges or fallout.

In the physical dimension, I had intended to begin the Body for Life Challenge on Monday, and that is what I did.  I prepared my meals for the week and I’ve already executed the first of the weight-training and cardio sessions I have planned.  The exercises I intend to do are logged in my journal and I am recording actual against planned.  I continue to log my nutrition – you can’t balance your bank account if you don’t record your transactions.

Every weekday morning, once I’ve completed my workout, I will go to work and do my job. There is a welcome relational aspect to most jobs – I will interact with my co-workers.  They are an incredibly fine group of people whose intelligence and humor I am grateful for.

When I come home from work, my daughter is not there, but my husband is.  We are empty nesters for now, and perhaps from now on.  It’s a little sooner than I expected, and the way it happened in no way resembled my expectations – but then, few things in life ever measure up to our expectations.  For most experiences, “You gotta’ be there!”

My husband and I did expect some day to return to being just a couple.  So here we are.  In the emotional dimension, although we are having different reactions to this past week’s events, we have supported and strengthened each other, just as we did when we first came together as a couple.

I have also availed myself of outside help.  This is relational – having trusted advisors with whom to reflect.  We have a terrific family therapist.  I have seen her this past week.  She asked me “How are you going to take care of yourself?”  My answer was a rather flippant “Chocolate and yoga.”

Well, not so flippant.  Dark chocolate and yoga are a great way to comfort myself.  I intend to indulge in yoga, and occasionally treat myself to a small piece of dark chocolate.  From these two things I can get physical, mental, emotional and spiritual comfort – not a bad deal.

But I also told her I would write.  When I said it, I was not thinking about a blog post – but writing for me is therapeutic.  I hope that perhaps for some who read it, it will also be instructive.

In order to retain balance when the wheels fall off, I need the structure of my regular routine and the strength of my relationships, punctuated by the occasional treat and the ability to express myself creatively.  This is how I keep on keeping on.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Balanced Life in the Face of the Shooting of Gabrielle Gifford

My weekend started out as it usually does, with the weekly grocery shopping.  I usually enjoy these excursions, as my husband is a funny guy and generally something amusing happens.  I was not disappointed yesterday.

At some point during the outing, I checked in on Twitter.  In Tucson, AZ, Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford was shot, along with 20 other people.  9 of the other people died, including a 9-year-old girl.

My pleasant Saturday shopping excursion had been turned on its ear in the blink of an eye.

Aside from checking in on CNN when we arrived home yesterday afternoon, I have not watched anything on TV about this incident.   After watching the trending on Twitter for the rest of the day yesterday, and a bit this morning, I have largely stayed off.  And aside from posting some pictures of the snow in North Dallas this morning out on Facebook, I have not spent much time there today.

My thoughts are these.

If you are fed up with the divisiveness of the politics in our country, do not be divisive.

This is not always easy.  I know this because I am, by nature, a confrontational individual.  I enjoy a good debate, and I often take a devil’s advocate position to keep the confrontation going.  Confrontation in the interest of bringing opposing points-of-view together for comparison can be a good thing.  We resolve issues by discussing them.  And in this country, at this time, we have a lot of serious issues that need good discussion.

However, although what one hopes to get out of discussion is dialogue, what often happens is division.  People are so emotionally invested in their own point-of-view that they simply can’t stand listening to someone else’s.  Sometimes they can’t even admit that there actually is another point-of-view.  Civility breaks down and before you know it, you’ve got a fight going.

When a discussion degenerates into a fight, no one listens to a thing.  And no issue will be resolved.

One thing that will happen in the aftermath of the shootings in Tucson is a debate about gun-control.  It has already started.  This is an issue with deep emotional roots.  It will get ugly. This is not a good time to be having a discussion about such an emotionally charged issue.

Another thing that will happen is discussion and debate on the divisiveness in American politics.  This may get ugly too.  It is also an emotionally charged arena.  If the discussion can remain civilized, it’s one we need to have.  Otherwise, this subject may also need to remain off-limits until we can all cool down.

So, how do we find balance in a world where such violence occurs on an all too regular basis?

I believe there are two things we can do right now that will promote balance.  The first is to make a choice to stay out of the fray and reflect.   The world does not need my two cents on these issues.  I advise avoiding the urge to join in the battles to come, at least until after a time of reflection – especially if you are passionate about your point of view.

I intend to reflect on the lives that are gone, and the lives that will be forever changed by this incident, especially on the life and loss of Christina Green, the 9-year-old girl among the dead in yesterday’s event.  This was a young life already well-lived, with the hope of tremendous promise.  And now it is gone, in an instant.

The second thing we can do is practice extreme gratitude.  Be grateful for the people in your life.  Hug them every chance you get, especially the children in your life.  Tell them “I love you” and “I appreciate you” and keep on telling them.  These are small actions but they are tremendous forces for good.

I believe if we used these words and took these actions more often, we would read far fewer of the headlines we were confronted with this morning.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”   Mahatma Gandhi

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Happy New Year – What’s For Dinner?

Food is a subject near and dear to my heart.  I don’t consider myself a “foodie”, but I do love to eat, and I love good food well prepared.  I like my food as fresh as possible, and I tend to stay away from processed food as much as I possibly can.  It is a little more work in some cases, but it is worth it, for many reasons.

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to “go on a diet”, I hope you will consider the following:

  1. Eat out less – better yet, commit to eating dinner at home 6 days a week
  2. Eat less processed food (which leads to number 3)
  3. Eat more whole food (food as close to nature as possible, with no additives or preservatives)
  4. Lean more towards vegetables, fruits and grains, and less towards meat, poultry and fish

In my own life, this is how I try to live.  This is not to say I am always successful, but I place a high value on my health, and I have learned that the two greatest factors in the state of my health are 1) diet and 2) exercise.

I have very personal reasons for the choice to make health my first priority.  I was adopted as an infant.  Consequently, I do not know my Medical History.  I have no idea what possible diseases or tendencies run in my family.  So I am playing it safe – I am doing everything I know to avoid anything that is brought about by poor diet and lifestyle choices.

And make no mistake – most of the health issues we see rising in this country and around the world are caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices (aided by some very smart marketing executives and well-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C.!).  Do not be deceived – there is much you can do to avoid many of the conditions and diseases people have come to believe are just part of life.

For instance, the following nutrition-disease links are well-known:

  • Calcium and bone health
  • Sodium and hypertension
  • Saturated Fat and cancer/coronary heart disease
  • Fiber and cancer/coronary heart disease prevention
  • Fruits & Vegetables and cancer prevention
  • Alcohol and liver cancer

With the Human Genome Project, the science of nutrigenomics (the effects of food on gene expression) has proven scientifically the relationship between whole foods, or elements of whole foods, and disease prevention.  It has also shown that whole foods work synergistically.  For example, the benefits of combining various vegetables in a salad are greater than eating a single vegetable, because the nutritional elements of each vegetable work together.  Even the best multi-vitamin-mineral tablet cannot duplicate Mother Nature’s storehouse of nutrition.

There is also a relationship between the ingredients in processed food and disease:

  • Trans fat and heart disease, cancer, digestive disorders,
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup and cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and hypoglycemia
  • White sugar  and obesity, cancer and diabetes
  • Artificial sweeteners and cancer and metabolic syndrome
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate) and nerve damage and vision loss

The following link is an excellent source of information on the top ten additives to avoid and why.  http://www.foodmatters.tv/_webapp_427697/Top_10_Food_Additives_to_Avoid

I am fond of repeating something I heard from Dr. Mitra Ray (http://drmitraray.com), a biochemist and health activist.  Processed foods contain ingredients to extend shelf life – that is, they retard spoilage by deterring bacteria.  If bacteria will not eat a food, why would you?  The best example of an illustration of this is the Happy Meal that did not decompose after 6 months.  You can see it here.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1319562/McDonalds-Happy-Meal-bought-Sally-Davies-shows-sign-mould-6-months.html.

Is this something you want to eat – or to feed to your children?

And speaking of what you are feeding your children, check out the difference between the Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars sold in the U.S. and those sold in Europe.  http://www.fooducate.com/blog/2010/12/02/nutri-grain-fake-color-and-why-do-american-kids-deserve-less-than-europeans/

After reading these articles, it should be clear that while food companies go to great lengths to convince us that they are interested in our health, they are much more interested in our money.  They are, after all, in business to make money.  But the rise of dietary disease parallels the rise of the “food businesses” of the 20th century.

Before industrialization, we mostly grew our own food and ate it before it spoiled.  There are movements advocating that we return to a simpler food model, notably the “Slow Food” movement (http://slowfood.com/) and not merely for dietary reasons linked to disease prevention – it’s also an environmental issue and a political one as well.  Don’t believe me?  Read this article about corn – http://www.corporateknights.ca/article/killer-kernel.

Food, as an issue, is complex.  Food as nutrition, at least for me, has become simpler as I have gotten older.  The best diet, and the one I try hard to adhere to, is the one found in the opening line of Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food”.

“Eat food, not much, mostly plants.”  (http://michaelpollan.com/reviews/how-to-eat/).

I have moved closer and closer to a vegetarian diet with each passing year.  There is so much evidence that it is the optimum diet that it’s hard to ignore.  Even Weight Watchers has moved in the direction or “more plants” with its new program, PointsPlus+ (http://www.weightwatchers.com/).

If you want to try going vegan, The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine has a wonderful program that will help you:  http://pcrm.org/kickstartHome/.

If at this time of year you have determined that it’s time to get your nutritional intake in order, please consider my suggestions, especially the one regarding dinner at home 6 nights a week.  In addition to being a great way to spend time with family and friends, it’s a great way to try new recipes, control more of what you eat, and cut the cost of eating out.

Best of health to you in 2011!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Steps to a Balanced Life – Resolution and Execution

If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else. 

~Lawrence J. Peter

It’s the time of year when most people are making their New Year’s resolutions.  Does the very idea of making resolutions stir up bad feelings about unfulfilled resolutions of the past?  It does for most people.  We start off with an idea, jump in full steam ahead, but within a few weeks, we lapse back into our comfortable patterns. Many wonder, why bother?

May I suggest an alternative?  Don’t make any resolutions this year.  Develop goals and makes plans instead!

Many people go through their lives allowing life to just sort of happen to them.  Although it is true that there is much life over which we have no control, we control ourselves.  And when it comes to our physical bodies, our mental abilities, our emotional states, our spiritual maturity, and our relationships with friends, families, and colleagues, it pays to establish goals, develops plans for achieving them, and then executing tasks on a regular basis to make progress towards achieving those goals.

If, for you, this is a new idea that sounds overwhelming, don’t try to do it all at once.  Pick one or two of the dimensions to concentrate on in 2011, and decide where you want to be on December 31, 2011.

As I have stated previously, I recommend starting with the physical.  There are many good reasons, but the one I think is most important is that if you improve your physical health, everything in your life will improve along with it.  You get a big bang for your buck with improvements in this dimension – and so do the people with whom you come in contact.

By now, I hope you have assessed where you are.  Perhaps your physician has told you that you need to lose weight.  Maybe you have noticed you aren’t climbing those stairs as easily as you used to – and that you are winded sooner.  Maybe you have clothes of different sizes in your closet and you’re looking at adding a new, larger size soon.  Maybe you want to run a race this year – perhaps a marathon.

Whatever it is, pick a physical goal and start breaking the achievement of the goal into manageable pieces.  You may have heard the acronym S.M.A.R.T.  – Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound.   Please see this web page for a great explanation.  http://topachievement.com/smart.html

For instance, if you want to lose 50 pounds, you could determine to lose a pound a week for the next year.  In order to do that, you will need to calculate how many calories you can eat every day, and plan your daily meals.  Or perhaps you will join a program (I recommend Weight Watchers based on personal experience) and make the commitment to a weekly meeting and daily tracking.

The point is that you can decide what you want to do, plan your steps, and execute tasks every single day to move you closer to where you want to be one year from now.  All you need to do is spend a few hours determining your goals, planning, and then doing something every day to move towards the achievement of your goals.

Execution is key – there is no point coming up with goals and plans if you are not prepared to execute them.  Breaking your goals down into steps is essential in making progress towards your goals.  On the other hand, if you have daily goals and fail to execute, there is little point in beating yourself up about it.  Just move the daily goal to your next day and make another attempt to cross it off your list.

If you fail to accomplish a daily task after several attempts, it’s probably not something you are really committed to – you might need to go back and look at your annual goals.  Is this task related to something you really want to achieve this year – or is it more of a dream at this point?

There is nothing wrong with dreams, but we are only here for a finite period of time.  And time is really our most precious commodity.  Once spent, we don’t get it back.  Take time this week to make sure you are living your life on purpose.  You will look back to this week in 2010 from a completely different perspective on December 31, 2011 if you plan today for what you want to accomplish in 2011!

If you want to make your dreams come true, the first thing you have to do is wake up. 

~J.M. Power

The vision must be followed by the venture.  It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs. 

~Vance Havner

Don’t say you don’t have enough time.  You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein. 

~Life’s Little Instruction Book, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Steps to a Balanced Life – Feeling Good

“You can’t have a perfect day without doing something for someone who’ll never be able to repay you.”— John Wooden

My mother would have agreed with John Wooden.  When I was a child, she taught me that doing something for someone else benefits both them and you.  Once I actually performed an act of kindness, I understood exactly what she meant.  There is nothing quite like the feeling you get when you have made a difference in someone else’s life.  Giving makes you feel good!

If you regularly volunteer for or regularly contribute financially to an organization, you already know what I mean. 

I know of no better cure for sadness, anger, or depression than volunteering.  You simply cannot feel sad, angry or depressed when you dish out food at a local mission, or hold a sick child in a hospital ward, or teach someone how to read, or tend to and stroke an animal that’s been abandoned.  At this time of year, it is particularly meaningful. 

So if you are feeling down, check your local paper for the nearest mission, shelter or hospital.  They need you and doing something for them will make you feel really good!  Once you try it, you will be hooked!

I would like to suggest that if you don’t already support an organization or charity that means something special to you, make it a goal for 2011 to find one whose mission really resonates with you, and make a contribution.  If you can’t afford a contribution of money, consider volunteering and making a contribution of your time.  None of these organizations can exist without both financial contributions and the work of volunteers. 

I have contributed to many organizations over my lifetime.  The one I have chosen for 2011 is the Ian Somerhalder Foundation (http://www.isfoundation.com).    Please click on the link and read their mission statement.    

Ian Somerhalder is not the only “celebrity” with philanthropic pursuits, but he may be one of the most hardworking and sincere.  What I particularly like about his approach to the work of his foundation is his desire to engage our youth. 

I hope you will check it out – there is something for everyone at the IS Foundation, and many ways to make a contribution.

I have created a list of organizations that have worthy missions to get you started in your search for one to adopt as your own if you don’t already have one.   http://bonniejpreston.com/4thDimensionEmotional.aspx

If you do have one, and it’s not on my list and you’d like to add it, please contact me and let me know.  I will be happy to add it.  I’d like to see this list grow and grow.

And always remember that we can give to each other every single day, with a warm smile, a kind word, and a heartfelt gesture. 

May you and yours be blessed with health and happiness during this holiday season.

Have a great week!

 “No person was ever honored for what he received. He was honored for what he gave.”– Calvin Coolidge

“It is possible to give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving.”— Richard Braunstein

 “The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.”— Albert Einstein

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Give the “Gift of Health” to Those You Care About!

                                                         

Make Holiday Shopping More Convenient and Rewarding…

Give the “Gift of Health” to Those You Care About!

  • Help your loved ones start the New Year by reducing their risk of cancer, heart disease, and other age-related disorders with a beautiful RED and GREEN carton of Juice Plus+®, the “whole food nutrition” of 17 fresh, raw fruits, vegetables, and grains in capsules or soft chewables.
  • Help the “habitual snackers” on your list to “snack healthy” with a delicious can of Juice Plus+® Complete powder for smoothies. Complete is a delicious 100% plant-based powder that when mixed with water, milk, or juice, can be used for a healthy and nutritious breakfast, to replace a meal, added to a meal to increase nutrition or calories, or as a pre- or post-work-out drink—available in Dutch Chocolate or French Vanilla.
  • Juice Plus+® Vineyard Blend is the next best thing to berries and grapes! Concentrated vineyard powders in capsule form or soft chewables, specifically formulated with cardiovascular (heart and circulatory) health in mind!
  • Juice Plus+® also offers an awesome program for children age 4 years through college students called the Children’s Health Study! When an adult sponsor signs up as a Preferred Customer, the child can receive either the Juice Plus+® capsules or soft chewables absolutely free for up to three years!

All of these healthful, quality gifts are available to you as a Preferred Customer at NSA’s discounted prices, and they are shipped directly to your home (price includes shipping)!

Make holiday shopping more meaningful for you and healthful for your loved ones! Visit my Website to find out more about Juice Plus+® and to order: www.bonnie4juiceplus.net or email me at bonnie@bonniejpreston.com.

BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY, HEALTHY HOLIDAY SEASON AND 2011!!!

Posted in Physical | Leave a comment

Steps to a Balanced Life – Question Your Thinking

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  Wayne Dyer

Have you noticed lately that people seem to be thinking less rationally?  As an example of what I mean, I offer this:  http://www.newsweek.com/photo/2010/08/24/dumb-things-americans-believe.slide1.html

Feel free to review the article in its entirety later.  For now, here are a few of the highlights:

  1. 41% of American’s believe in ESP.
  2. 4 in 10 American’s believe there will be “death panels” with health care reform.
  3. 41% of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.
  4. In 1990, 20% of Americans believed the Sun revolves around the earth.
  5. 50% of American’s do not know that Judaism is older than Christianity.
  6. American’s can generally name more of the 7 Dwarfs than the Supreme Court Justices.
  7. 63% of young Americans can’t find Iraq on a map.  9 out of 10 can’t find Afghanistan on a map, even if the map is limited to Asia.
  8. 3 out of 4 Americans can identify the 3 Stooges as Larry, Moe and Curly, but cannot identify the 3 branches of the US Government as legislative, executive and judicial.
  9. Obama is not qualified to be President because he was not born in the United States (and this was reported again as recently as 12/8/2010!) http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2010/12/luke-scott-luke-scott-birther-baltimore-orioles.html
  10. Rep. John Shimkus telling us all that we don’t need to worry about climate change because God will take care of it!  http://www.utne.com/Wild-Green/Climate-Change-Isnt-a-Threat-God-Said-So.aspx

And my personal favorite: http://washingtonscene.thehill.com/in-the-know/36-news/3169-rep-hank-johnson-guam-could-tip-over-and-capsize

11.   Rep. Hank Johnson thinks Guam may tip over and capsize!

It is far too overwhelming a prospect to find all the people out in the world with erroneous beliefs and attempt to enlighten them.  However, this appears to be a growing trend, and as a way to combat it, I am going to suggest that we each, individually, do three things:  1) examine our own thinking; 2) confront reality; and 3) mind our own business.

This is not meant to be insulting.  Please allow me to explain what I mean.

No doubt you’re thinking “none of the stuff on this list applies to me.”  And hopefully, it doesn’t.  But ask yourself if any of the thoughts listed below have crossed your mind:

“There’s not enough time.”

“My kids should listen to me.”

“There shouldn’t be war in the world.”

“People are destroying the environment.”

“Women shouldn’t be so emotional.”

“I am right”.

You get the idea.  We are all victims of our own irrational thinking from time to time.  We develop our beliefs over time and we come by them honestly, usually as we are growing up, in our households, from loving parents who want the best for us.  But somewhere along the way, some of the beliefs we’ve adopted stop working for us.  They start to cause problems.  They start to cause stress, or anxiety, or depression.

The first step to fixing a problem is recognizing that there is a problem.  It is very difficult to recognize our own irrational thinking patterns.  It takes introspection, discipline and a very healthy dose of humility.

But it is so worth it.  If you can both confront reality and mind your own business most of the time, you will experience a lot less stress in your life.  I know this is true based on my own personal experience. 

Let’s take one of the statements above and “analyze” it.  “There shouldn’t be war in the world.”  Nice thought.  But what is the reality?  The reality is that there has always been war in the world.  However much we want there not to be, or think that there should be peace, the reality is there is war.  To argue with reality causes stress.  There is nothing wrong with working towards peace – it is a truly noble goal.  We should all be working towards peace and getting our thinking straight as a way to eliminate conflict.   

In the meantime, we need to acknowledge that there is war.  To do otherwise is to ignore reality – something a rational person would not do.

Another thought – “My kids should listen to me.”  What parent does not believe this?  But what is the reality?  Do your children always listen to you?  Or, like most kids, do they push the boundaries in their attempts to grow up?  This is trying for parents (and kids) but it is normal.  How else will they grow?  We worry, and we say they “should” do this and that – but they don’t.

Again, this is about facing reality.  The reality is that kids do not always do what we ask them to do.  If you walk around continually saying “my kids should listen to me” but they still don’t, you are not facing reality – you are fighting it. 

Our irrational thinking patterns come with emotional consequences.  Thinking precedes feeling.  For instance, if you think “My kids should listen to me”, how do you feel when they don’t?  No doubt you experience a range of emotions – frustration, anger, sadness, anxiety.  These feelings are often accompanied by physical sensations.  They are usually stress-related, and this is not good news.

Take a different perspective and try to imagine how you would feel if you did not believe the thought “My kids should listen to me.”  Chances are, if you can imagine not believing this thought, you can also imagine not feeling frustrated and angry.  You can also probably imagine that you might treat your kids differently. 

Of course, this is just an example and I am not suggesting that we all become disengaged parents who don’t care about our children.  I am only suggesting that there is a relationship between fighting against reality and our mental health.  In order to get balance, we have to get a handle on reality and stop fighting with it.

The other magical thing about confronting and accepting reality is that you quickly see that you have been trying to mind someone else’s business.  In my example, you are trying to mind your kids’ business.  Our children will not always behave the way we want them to or think they should.  We need to accept that.  That doesn’t mean we condone or approve of all behavior – but we need to stop fighting reality and think clearly. 

There is a wonderful resource available to everyone that I have found very beneficial to getting my thinking straight and more balanced.  It is called “The Work” and was developed by a woman named Byron Katie.  I recommend it to people who want to find peace of mind and improve their thinking. 

Please visit http://www.thework.com.  Check out the resources page, particularly the “Little Book”, which is a wonderful explanation of “the work”, instructions for doing it, Emotions and Reactions List, and Universal Beliefs.  There are also video clips of Katie actually doing the work.  They are instructive and some are fun to watch.

“The Work” is much like the “Body for Life” program.  Both are simple, but not easy, and they describe what I believe are foundational principles for good health – mental and physical respectively.

In closing, borrowing from the Emotions and Reactions List from “The Work”, if you feel angry, depressed, confused, helpless, indifferent, afraid, hurt, sad or judgmental, I hope you will take the time to investigate “The Work”.   If you do, you will soon be on your way to feeling Open, Loving, Happy, Interested, Alive, Positive, Peaceful, Strong, and Relaxed – regardless of what is going on with the people and in the world around you.

Have a wonderful week!

Posted in Emotional, Mental | Leave a comment

Steps to a Balanced Life – Nourish Your Spirit

In order to discuss anything of a “spiritual” nature, I think we have to define what spirit is.  It often means different things to different people.  Merriam-Webster defines it as 1): an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms: 2) a supernatural being or essence: as soul; 3): the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person. 

All of these definitions work for me.  Regardless of how you define it, we all have a spirit.  It’s deep within us, and it can be a great source of inspiration and strength – providing it is cultivated! 

And that is the subject of my post this week – nourishing and cultivating the spirit.  In order to do that, you need a “practice”.

That’s another interesting word.  So let’s go back to Merriam-Webster and get some definitions:  1) to do or perform often, customarily, repeatedly, or habitually a: to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient b: to train by repeated exercises    2) to be professionally engaged in.

I love that second definition.  It refers, of course, to “the practice of medicine” or “the practice of law”, but it can apply to any profession.  The implication is that in addition to being work, there is implicit the idea that “practice makes perfect” – or more accurately, “perfect practice makes perfect”.  

The fact is, when we do something repeatedly, we become better at it – eventually, we may become “proficient practitioners” or some art of science or skill.  At that point, we can perform a task without thinking about it. 

Think of learning to read – it’s hard to imagine the time when you could not do this, but try to remember the effort it took to memorize the alphabet, put the words together, and practice sounding them out until you eventually became proficient enough to read silently! 

Or driving.  Ever had that experience where you are driving and suddenly realize that you haven’t been “present”? Or better yet, do you actually remember putting the car in gear this morning to back out of your driveway – or putting the signal on to make a turn? Chances are you don’t actually recall doing it, but you know you did because it’s so habitual now, after years of practice.

My point is that there are many skills that we’ve picked up and now do without much conscious effort.  They are important skills, yes.  But there is a lot to be said for making the time to have a spiritual practice.  Most of us don’t.  At least not until later in life, when we begin to realize the value of “quiet time”, and “relaxation” – a maturity that recognizes the value of developing an “inner life”.

You can have a spiritual practice whether you believe in a God or not.  I do believe in God, and I’m not shy about saying so.  My belief is strong, so I also like to say if you don’t believe in God, that doesn’t mean there is no God.  As the saying goes “There are no atheists in foxholes” and by the increased turnout in holy places after 9/11, I’d say that if people do not seek God in times of extreme stress, they are seeking something greater than themselves, even if that is the comfort of others facing the same stress. 

But I am not writing this to convert anyone, because I also believe that spirit is a deeply personal thing.  As a Christian, I’ve never been comfortable with the whole idea of “saving” people.  Frankly, I have so many friends who are Jewish, or Buddhist, or Islamic, I can only imagine how insulted they’d be if I were to suggest that can’t get to heaven without Jesus.  And I think my non-believing friends are entitled to believe as they see fit.  As I said, it’s a personal thing.

However, I believe we all have a spirit and that it is one of the 4 primary dimensions of our lives.  As such, it needs attention -and the best way to cultivate the spirit is to establish a regular spiritual practice.   And by regular, I mean daily.

I can hear you groaning.  “Oh no – not something else to add to my list of things to do!”  Yes, but honestly, this “thing” doesn’t have to take more than 5 – 10 minutes.  I am so convinced that you will see value in this that you will want to take something off your list to devote more time to a spiritual practice.  To start, I’m asking only for 5-10 minutes.

If you don’t have a daily calendar, get one – remember I’ve said “Most people plan their vacations better than they plan their lives” and you don’t want to be one of those people! On your daily calendar, block off 5-10 minutes every day to sit and “meditate”. 

Another groan! I know that some of you are thinking “NO!  Don’t want to do that!” or “Can’t do that!”

I do NOT mean I want you to sit on the floor in the lotus position, chanting “OOOMMMM” and trying to empty your mind.  If you currently have no daily practice, that would not be a good way to start one.

I would just like you to spend 5-10 minutes, sitting alone, quietly (no people, TV, other distractions) and…..breathe!   Yes, that’s all I want you to do to start.  Most of us don’t breathe properly.  I want you to sit and take deep, long breaths in and out.  Mentally, count slowly to 5 on the inhale and slowly to 10 on the exhale.  Start with 5 minutes.

Remember, I said this is a practice, and that’s what you’re doing. Concentrating on counting and breathing will have a secondary benefit of “clearing your mind” – something that is incredibly difficult to do.  If you don’t believe me, start now and think of NOTHING for the next 60 seconds!  I dare you.

Having a regular, daily spiritual practice is a wonderful way to refresh yourself in this insane world we live in.  It is clearing and grounding.  I challenge you to just try this for a week – and please let me know what you think.

I do take the time to breathe consciously for 5 minutes every day.  But I have other spiritual practices – specifically, I pray.  I know there are some of you out there who know me and may find this hard to believe, but I do.  I even have a prayer list! 

In fact, for the past 15 years, every December I go to a Christian book store and I purchase a daily bible.  I buy a different one each year. Some have been the kind where you read a passage from the Old Testament, the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs every day.  Others have been start at the beginning and read through.  Still others are the books of the bible arranged chronologically.  This is a particular favorite of mine, except every time I read this version, I am amazed at how long it takes to get to Jesus!

So every morning, before I leave for the gym, I breathe, I read the Bible, and I pray for someone on my list.  It takes me 15 minutes and I do it while I have my first cup of coffee.  I also end the day with an entry in a gratitude journal and another prayer.

This year, I added yoga to my spiritual practice.  On Tuesdays and Thursday, I take a basic yoga class at the fitness center where I work.  I decided to try yoga because of my injuries earlier this year.  My hips are a wreck and I needed something less vigorous than weight-training and high-intensity aerobics, but I found stretching on its own a total bore.  So I decided to try yoga.

I have always eschewed yoga – I thought it was for whimps!  I thought “If you don’t sweat, it can’t be exercise”.  Boy was I wrong about that.  After my first class, my core burned for three days!  I was a convert – an enthusiastic convert.  Yoga can be a workout, but it is also therapeutic, AND it can be part of a spiritual practice. 

Why?  Because like prayer and meditation, yoga is a very individual, personal practice.  You are not competing – you are trying to get in touch with your own body.  You need to concentrate on your balance and the muscles you are engaging.  Yes, weight-training – done right – cultivates this skill with regard to muscles.  But there is nothing like yoga to make you mindful of balance.

And as we age, maintaining balance is of vital importance.  We lose the ability to balance easily as we age.  The waning of this ability is exactly why I fell down the stairs – twice! – injured my hips, and got sciatica.  I knew I was losing my balance, and if I’d been sensible enough to start my yoga practice ten years ago instead of waiting until now, I might have avoided both those falls and the resulting injuries.

So if you are like me and think yoga is too quiet and gentle and whimpy for a jock like you, take it from me, you could not be more wrong.  Yoga is good for all dimensions of life – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  In terms of balance, it’s a bonanza.  I hope you give it a try.

But if you need some time to think about what you would like your spiritual practice to be, I hope you will simply take 5 minutes a day to sit and breathe!

Posted in Spiritual | Leave a comment

The First Steps to a Balanced Life – Assessment and Planning

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you are moving into the holiday season in a spirit of good will, with enthusiasm and energy – not with feelings of being all stressed out.

Before I begin the first of what I hope will be regular weekly posts, I want to explain my intentions with Antipandemonium.  As I mentioned in my introductory post, my approach to life is to look at the dimensions of my life as a 4 legged stool and to try to keep the wobble out by balancing each dimension.  As such, it is my intention to make a post on a weekly basis – probably on Sundays – that focuses on one of the 4 dimensions – Physical, Spiritual, Mental, and Emotional.

There will also be a 5th post each month, and the focus there will be on the 5th dimension – Relational. 

I believe that each of us should make health our number one priority.  Think about it – without good health, every area of life suffers.  You cannot be an effective partner, parent or professional without good health.  For this reason, in my attempt to achieve balance, I started with the physical dimension – and I often return to it when things appear to be getting out of balance.  Get straight physically, and you may find that working on achieving mental, emotional and spiritual health is often easier. 

Another good reason for starting with the physical dimension is that it’s something over which you have a great degree of control, and that is important when you are trying to establish balance.

Many things in life – perhaps most things – are beyond our control.  However, we always have control of what and how much we put into our bodies and how much we move.  We may have all kinds of “good” excuses for why we make poor choices, but we need to recognize that our personal choices are within our control.  We cannot blame someone else for eating junk and skipping exercise.

Before you race to your latest excuse, let me just say I spent many, many years making bad choices myself.  I had a full time job, a house to keep clean (I have never had a housekeeper), a husband and two small children.  Instead of being reasons for making a health a priority, they became excuses for not doing that.  If I’d spent as much time on good nutrition and exercise as I did justifying my bad choices, I would have been far better off. 

We all have the same 24 hours in a day.  What we do with our “discretionary” hours is within our control.  Many of us choose to spend our time in front of the TV with a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream, or in front of the computer spending hours playing games – and we tell ourselves “I worked hard all day – I deserve a break.” 

I would like to suggest that making the choice to spend part of that time exercising, and planning meals of wholesome food is a better investment of your time because it will pay you dividends in good health for years to come.  And good health will support everything else that you do – whether you do it by choice or not!  

At this time of year, many people begin to determine what their “New Year’s Resolutions” will be.   For many, “getting into shape” heads the list.  Unfortunately, it heads many lists every year.  For the majority of people who attempt to get into shape (whatever that means), they never achieve their goal.  For most, it is because they have not planned for their fitness. 

There is an old saying – “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

Another old saying – “Most people plan their vacations better than they plan their lives.”

Don’t be one of those people.  Do not show up on January 1, 2011 without a plan for achieving health and fitness.  You have 5 weeks to develop a plan and goals.  Let’s start with the first step – determine where you are now – your baseline.

Weight is the easiest measure, but body fat percentage and measurements are a more accurate reflection of changes towards a healthy lifestyle.  If you can, get yourself a scale that measures body fat percentage.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure.  And once you take your baseline measurements, you need to track them periodically.  For most, that means weekly for weight and monthly for measurements.  Get yourself a notebook or a journal, pick a day of the week when you will measure your progress, determine your starting day, and record your weight and your measurements. 

You should measure your right arm (bicep), chest, waist, hip, right thigh, and right calf at the minimum.  As you progress with exercise, you will notice a change in your measurements as you track them regularly.  This can be a great motivation for continuing with exercise – especially when the needle is stuck on the scale and you feel as if you are not making progress.  More on that in another post!

If taking your measurements doesn’t motivate you to develop a plan, try taking a picture of yourself, front and back, in a bathing suit.  That should do it.

As to the specifics of the plan, there are two programs that I recommend with enthusiasm because I’ve used them. 

Weight Watchers is a solid program based on sound nutrition principles and provides information on exercise as a way to enhance weight loss and get fit.  This week, Weight Watchers International will introduce the first major revision to their program since they introduced “Points” 13 years ago.  I am looking forward to it! 

I am currently in the WW@Work program with other associates at my company.  We have been meeting at work for about 9 weeks now and I have lost 13 pounds.  Three more pounds and I will hit my goal weight.  I will have another 6 weeks in the program to maintain this weight, and that will get me to Lifetime Membership in Weight Watchers.

The elements of the Weight Watchers program that I find most valuable are “accountability” (you weigh in each week with a counselor), “community” (you are part of a group with common goals – ah, the 5th Dimension – Relational!), and “eTools”, which make it easy to count points and track.  (There’s that measuring and tracking thing again!)  You can find information on Weight Watchers online at http://www.weightwatchers.com.

The other program I recommend is a bit more ambitious, but will put you into the best shape of your life.  An injury earlier this year kept me from being able to exercise for several months.  Once I was able to get back to the gym, this program proved a little too difficult for me due to the nature of my injury and the weight that I gained from not being able to exercise.  Weight Watchers (and yoga!) has helped me to get ready for taking it on again.

The program is “Body for Life”.   It is simple (that does not mean easy!) and based on sound fundamentals – something I believe in.  The web site for this program is at http://www.bodyforlife.com, and it’s full of information and inspiration.  I encourage you to visit this site and just read some of the inspiring stories of the “champions”.  You don’t have to enter the BFL Challenge in order to make use of the plan.  But if you think that will motivate you, by all means, sign up. 

I have taken the Body for Life Challenge – officially – twice in the past ten years.  In truth, I’ve never really been “off” this program since I first started it in 2000.  When they publish the new challenge dates for 2011, I intend sign to up for the first challenge of 2011.  And I will post my progress on my blog.  I hope you will join me. 

In the next five weeks, I hope you will consider Weight Watchers, or Body for Life, or some other type of program to put yourself on the road to good health with an eating and fitness plan.  Select a program this week, and use the next four weeks to prepare yourself for your new health and fitness lifestyle!

Wishing you the best always.

Posted in Physical | 6 Comments

Celebrating the National Day of Listening, Friday November 26, 2010

There’s an old saying along these lines – “God gave us two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in that proportion.”  That means we should listen at least twice as much as we speak.

I don’t know about you, but this is an area where I am challenged!  Those of you who know me are laughing…I can hear it.

But truly, I took this message to heart the first time I heard it, and I have tried to become a better listener.  I am trying even harder than usual these days, because I have observed that among our most powerful public figures – that is, government officials – and those whose job it is to inform of us what those in Washington are up to – that is, the broadcast media – listening has disappeared.

In my lifetime, I have watched our government become more and more polarized.  As such, most of what we see in the media is groups of people shouting across the aisle at each other – and getting nothing done! 

The media love it – they do a lot of shouting of their own.  Controversy is apparently good for ratings.  It does nothing, however, to enlighten the public.

I can think of two instances in particular that were apparently ratings bonanzas for a short period.  The first one was Bill O’Reilly’s visit to “The View” to promote his latest book, “Pinheads and Patriots”.  During his visit, the subject of the 9/11 Mosque came up and Whoopee Goldberg and Joy Behar became so offended by Bill’s reference to “Muslims attacking us” (Whoopee and Joy would have preferred that he say “Muslim extremists”) that together they got up and walked off the set.

This was followed closely by “the Juan Williams incident”.  Juan Williams was fired from NPR for saying – on the O’Reilly Factor (Bill again!) – he gets a little nervous when he sees people on airplanes in “Muslim garb.”  A day or two later, NPR CEO, Vivian Schiller, distinguished herself by flippantly saying “Mr. Williams’ feelings about Muslims should be between him and “his psychiatrist or his publicist—take your pick.”  

Intolerance all around!  As I said, a ratings bonanza.

Here is a question – what did either of these high profile incidents do to further the public’s understanding of islamophobia?  Nothing. 

A phobia is an exaggerated fear.  Did either of these incidents involve a rational discussion of our irrational fears?  Quite the contrary – Bill O’Reilly was silenced (metaphorically) when his audience got up and walked off.  Juan Williams was punished for naming his irrational fear out loud.

It doesn’t matter which side of the arguments in these two incidents you take.  You should be very concerned about the fact that there are certain subjects that are off limits these days – talking about them, or using “the wrong words” to talk about them,  can get you censured, fired, ostracized, etc.

But if we can’t talk about our irrational fears, how can we resolve them?  

For me, the issue is this – we have serious problems in this country, and around the world.   And if we don’t learn to listen to each other and have civil discourse, we have no hope whatsoever of solving these problems. 

This will involve talking about issues where we are divided.   Can we discuss them in a way that draws us closer to answers?  Can we have a dialogue about anything without name-calling, shouting, and sarcasm?

I am an optimist.  I think we can.  We just have to find the will and the skill.  (And honestly, isn’t this true for everything?)

For the skill part, I’d like to recommend two very fine resources.  One is a book by Dr. Mark Goulston (http://markgoulston.com/) called “Just Listen”.   Read it – it’s great.

The other is http://storycorps.org/ – this is the organization that actually came up with the National Day of Listening.  Please read about them on their web pages.  If you want to cultivate the art of listening, they have many resources to help you do that.  

I have also downloaded their iPhone app and one of the things I do to start my day is to play a “story”.  This practice has not only helped me “practice” my listening skills, it has been life-enriching.  As long as they keep posting stories, I will keep listening. 

I’d like to suggest that on Friday, November 26, 2010, for the National Day of Listening, that we take the time to ask the people we care about a really interesting question – and then really listen to the answer.  Make it a regular practice.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a few quotations about listening.  I hope they will inspire us all to have the will to become better listeners.

“It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.”  Oliver Wendell Holmes

“While the right to talk may be the beginning of freedom, the necessity of listening is what makes the right important.”  Walter Lippmann

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”  Winston Churchill

“Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker.  When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.”  Sue Patton Thoele

“A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying.  In the end, he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.” Kenneth A. Wells

Posted in Relational | 2 Comments