Grateful for the worst year of my life

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2013 has, in large part, been one long year of looking deeper and more intently inside myself – exponentially more so than any of my other 37 years. Why? I guess life has its own perfect way of knowing when to nudge you and say, “Yo! Time to stop and breathe!” Doesn’t mean you have to listen. Lots of people choose to ignore and focus, instead, on the noise around them. And that’s typically been my pre-programmed reaction — Nevermind. Head down. Keep going. Wait for this to pass. But this time, life pushed back harder and louder. To the point of being deafening to anything else.

When I was in college I read The Celestine Prophecy. The book couldn’t have found me at a better time. Lots of life changing events swirling around me, notwithstanding my blue hair. True, it was a fuzzy period, but one thing I took from Mr. Redfield was to pay attention to “coincidences”. 17 years later and its Eckhart Tolle’s words that found me at the right intersection.

Amazing how life or God or karma or fate (whichever you prefer) works, right? Inviting or debilitating, challenges are put before you just when you need them most. And so, after all of my inward reflection this past year, I wanted to outwardly share (some of) what I took away from it.

I’m sharing, mostly, because writing is cathartic for me, but also because maybe someone else will read and connect with this post and, hopefully, feel better about their situation.

On Being Present

Right at the top of life’s lessons from 2013 was the recognition to spend more time in the present moment. Maritza had been nudging me to do the same for years and I was too busy to even hear it. But when life inserted itself, I was reminded of how moved she was by Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. So I spent time reading and watching his teachings and there was monumental impact.

During some dark times of his own, Eckhart found salvation in the majesty of being present. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before… don’t dwell in the past… you can’t control the future. Everyone’s past is filled with hurt and betrayal. Everyone’s future is filled with uncertainty and fear. These are the realms where the idle chatter of your mind will turn on you. But the one thing you can control and find comfort in is the present moment, by turning your attention away from your head and toward your body.  How? Try this little exercise. Relax your face – sounds weird, but do it… look down, close your eyes, lower your cheeks, drop your tongue, close your mouth. Now follow your breath, in through your nose as it fills your lungs. As you breathe out, reflect on this new stillness you feel. Next time two breaths, then three. Before you know it, you’re meditating. And in that rooted quiet, you’ve found the present moment, where nothing can possibly be wrong. The world stopped ending, right? Phew.

For me, there’s yet to be an experience where being present hasn’t served me well, but the biggest payoff has been in the time I’ve spent with my boys. Being a parent is hard. I always have a million excuses to be impatient and take the stress of my day out on these little whining, messy people.  So they chucked a lego at my face and knocked their chocolate milk on the floor. What if instead of reprimanding them (again), I remained present with them? What if, instead, I paid attention to their hug, as they smiled up at me? And then with one breath, I’m able to reflect on how this moment will be gone by the time I breathe out. I find a gentle voice, I hug them back and I appreciate the moment we’ve shared together.

Bonus: If you liked that exercise above, here’s a good, quick article to digest: http://www.fastcompany.com/3023459/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/12-tools-for-more-mindful-living.

On Showing Compassion

There is no greater character trait that I consistently try to work on than being compassionate. But I have some obstacles to overcome. For one, I have always found safety in sarcasm. It’s my way of defending myself, making you laugh and making you feel shitty about yourself, all at the same time. I’m human. I can be a douche like the rest of us. And two, I have historically been quick to judge others. From strangers I’ve never spoken to, to close friends and family. It’s an ugly and embarrassing characteristic, to the point where I’ll catch myself doing it and verbally tell myself “stop.”

We all have our demons, our struggles and insecurities that have shaped us. Going back to Eckhart, he talks a lot about being consumed by the endless string of judgements your brain creates, about yourself and others. These help you identify who you think you are, as well as who others around you are and what they must be thinking. They help you make sense of the world, so as to cause as little disruption as possible to your perceived reality. With practice, whenever I remember, I’m trying to judge less and empathize more.

Next time someone gives you the finger as they slam on their horn and cut you off, consider what horrible set of circumstances must have gotten them to the point of losing their mind because you didn’t use your blinker as timely as you should have. I know it sounds like a stretch, but with practice, you’ll move from feeling personally attacked, to feeling sorry they were so upset. Then imagine how much compassion you can achieve for those who are truly struggling. And on that note, I’ve been looking to find ways to donate mine and my family’s time to the needy. If anyone has any volunteer services that allows young (3 and 5 years old) kids to participate, please leave a comment.

On Giving Up Control

If compassion is my life’s perpetual journey, then going with the flow is my albatross. When you own your own company, you get caught up in not only being entitled to form the control, but it’s expected of you… from making sure you stay in business, to dealing with pissy clients and delinquent vendors. No sweat, right? Then you walk in the door at the end of the day… Screaming kids. Wife who’s had her fill of the little aforementioned angels. Letters (plural) from the IRS. Dog that wants you to take her back out in the cold rain to watch her drop a load. And don’t forget the migraine you just got from all of the above. And you’re supposed to just receive this all and shrug it off? Yes, or so I’m learning to embrace.

Accepting more and expecting less.
Laughing more and yelling less.
Breathing more worrying less.

There’s a quote that goes well here … “There’s complacency in always being right. There’s peace in simply being happy.” And while I believed it when I wrote it, I have a long way to go until I’m practicing it, routinely. But 2013 was the year I became aware of it’s importance.

On Being Appreciative

I watched a TED Talk once where a psychologist recommended that part of his recipe for being happy in his own skin was to spend a few minutes each day appreciating and thanking one person. Coincidentally (there’s that word again), he also preaches the benefits of being present, and the benefits it has on your brain.

Below is my list of people and things to feel blessed about during 2013. I’ve tried my best not to justify anything written in this post, but I want to make special mention to say that lots of people I didn’t mention here, I’m equally grateful to have in my life. It’s just that, for this year in particular, the list below deserved separate acknowledgement.

For Ionut. A business partner I sometimes feel I don’t deserve. Also one of my best friends.
For Beth & Jim Haessig. They listened to and grounded me at my bleakest, which provided the foundation for me to take the steps to piece my life back together.
For yoga. The practice. The people I meet through it. The mind-body-spirit connection it continues to teach me.
For the expression “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” It followed me, incessantly. I’ll be returning the favor in the near future.
For Paul. For listening, never judging and caring, genuinely.
For Mike. A soul that, like everything else in my life this year, appeared at just the right time.
For Kirtan.
For Mom, Dad and Sis. For always loving me and wishing me the best, even when their own lives weren’t perfect.
For Jason and Brody. For being so unequivocally adorable. And for always making me laugh.
For Maritza. For everything, but mostly, for her open heart.
For God. I’m not sure who it is, or if it’s even a being. I’m not even sure what my level of faith is. Maybe it’s just the good (growing) inside me, and for that, I’m humbled.
For the life I’ve been given. For all of the chances things could have gone horribly wrong, but for some divine reason, remained in my favor.

Note: In the course of writing this list out, both Mike and Paul, neither of whom I’ve had any contact with for weeks, both text me to check in on me. Signs. Pay attention to them.

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