One Life

One person may own many cars and houses, but even the richest person in the world cannot possess more than one life.
-Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Transform Your Life

I very recently started getting back into meditation, a practice I initially got into while in college. “Life” got in the way, however, and I let up on my practice until a long series of events pulled me back into it. Now more than ever, perhaps because of my time in the “real world” so far, I’m seeing the lessons to be learned far more clearly, especially the one quoted above.

Now, I’m not a Buddhist. I was raised Catholic and still recite the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, though I went to more Jewish services in college than I did Christian, started going to a few Unitarian services here and there after I graduated, read many books on Buddhism, and meditate. My dad calls it being a “pluralist” haha. I find the general message in all religions to mainly be the same: life is all about loving and respecting yourself and others and not wasting your life away on material objects, hate, greed, and all those Sunday school seven-deadly-sin-type teachings in order to achieve some sense of spiritual awakening- whatever that is for you. This is our only life and we must use it wisely.

Even if you believe in reincarnation, you only get one life at a time and when you worry it away on petty things you find yourself unable to enjoy it.

Worrying about and focusing on material objects will always, in one way or another, leave us disappointed. In the book from which I quoted by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, he also brings up the following point: Imagine you have a week to live and someone gives you a gift. Does it make sense to receive the gift of diamonds or a big house or a fancy car, etc? This life is fleeting, we could pass at any moment, and focusing on these things only takes time, energy, and focus away from the things that will truly allow us to get the most out of our time here.

I meditate in order to remind myself of this. I meditate to focus and clear my mind of the worries of everyday life that we fall so easily into. Why do I say that life is laughter and tears? Why did I name this blog that? Because life is a roller coaster ride that we have no choice but to go along on. We can enjoy it, or we can fight it. We can choose to cultivate the mind and prepare it for the bad times (by meditating), like strapping ourselves in for safety, or we can let ourselves be thrown at every curve and upside-down twist. Isn’t it so much better to laugh at the end of the ride? We had our moments of fright, our tears, but ultimately we made it, and still in one piece.

True happiness comes from within and is not dictated by outward circumstances and material objects.

We can cry and cry, or we can cry, refocus, and decide to laugh instead. Happiness is a choice- Wow. I think I’m really just realizing that as I type it… and that’s coming from someone with a mood disorder, so I *understand* how hard that is to come to terms with. Learning to be content with where we are in life, no matter what it may be, is the key to a happiness. Happiness comes from spending time with those you love most. Happiness is a good, deep belly laugh in the face of fear. Happiness is that overwhelming warm sensation you get when you’ve done something good for someone else, expecting nothing in return. Happiness is knowing you’re doing something to leave the world a better place. It’s watching the sun rise or set in perfect quietness, experiencing what it is to be with the moment. It’s feeling true joy for someone when they’ve had a wonderful life event, like the birth of a child, marriage, graduation, or a new job. Happiness is not a new car, house, or clothes. Depending on your job, living circumstances, etc. they are necessities, but they do not dictate your happiness.

How wonderful would it be, how wonderful would your life be, if you did not worry about those things, if you did not worry about being happy, because you already were? How wonderful would it be if you were content and happy from the inside, living in a loving, respectful manner always with a smile on your face and a laugh just waiting to emerge from your lips, regardless of the tears that might fall from the sad events that are inevitable in this human life?

I’m not telling you to convert to Buddhism. I’m not telling you to give up all your worldly possessions or quit your job. I’m just asking you to consider how wonderful life could be  by reconsidering what you think makes you happy and perhaps by simplifying the material aspects of your life.

May all beings have happy minds.
-the Buddha

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The Lindor Truffle: A Laugh

Sometimes we remember random little events from our past that were seemingly irrelevant to the course of our lives, but upon further reflection we may find that they had a profound effect on us.

For me, that little event involves my favorite high school teacher, a fight with my best friend, and a Lindor truffle:

I had just opened my locker to find a note from my best friend (because that’s how you communicated with your friends in 2007) that left me feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach on a day that already felt like the worst of my life. I was very good at hiding how I really felt and had been carrying on quite an impressive positive face despite the darkness inside. That’s how most of high school passed for me. But I did my best to keep up that face and headed down to my sophomore English class with my all time favorite teacher. I was early and she was the only other person in the room.

My teacher seemed to know something was up, though no words were exchanged. She simply offered me a Lindor truffle- a rare treat, which I immediately accepted with gratitude, unwrapped with excitement, and opened my mouth to plop it in….. only to have it immediately plop right back into my hand after bouncing off the elastics on my braces that prevented me from opening my mouth even remotely wide enough to insert that delicious chocolaty goodness.

Pausing for the slightest moment, I looked up at my teacher apprehensively, afraid that she saw how idiotic I must have looked, and found her suppressing the slightest smile, causing me to let out a stifled giggle that resulted in a snort, followed by a full bellied laugh in reaction to the snort, so that when the first of my peers came in and asked why I was laughing, I was laughing too hard to explain. Every time I’ve eaten a Lindor truffle since that day, I’ve always thought of that moment and still find the corners of my mouth curving ever so slightly into a smile.

After composing myself, my best friend came in and took her usual seat right behind me with a shy smile of acknowledgement. I smiled back, knowing eventually we would be OK (and we are still close to this day). My teacher shot me one last smile before beginning class, but I never thanked her for the truffle and the lesson it taught me, because I didn’t learn it until now:

We cannot let pain prevent us from smiling. We cannot let hard times keep us from laughing. We must laugh in the face of it all- in spite of it all- because one day the memory of the smile will be worth 1000x more than the tears. The smallest moments can save you.

PS. I did eventually eat that truffle and it was heaven to my taste-buds.

Stand Up & Live

In a journal entry in August, 1851, Henry David Thoreau wrote:

How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.

This is a new quote of his that I hadn’t read yet, and, having been minorly obsessed with Romanticism and Transcendentalism in high school (I’m sure my English teachers can attest to that), it brought on this wave of a full spectrum of thoughts. I’ve watched Dead Poets Society about 30 times and can quote Mr. Keating practically from memory when it comes to carpe-ing the crap out of your diem: “Sieze the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” I used a Thoreau quote in my high school year book. I based my AP Studio Art final project off of various Romantic authors’ quotes. And the fact that I live probably only an hour from Walden Pond and have never been baffles me (field trip this weekend?). Yet, despite what I have learned from my “minor” obsession, I face life in terror, almost frozen, waiting for the courage to jump into a world of opportunity and adventure- as I sit down and write.

We live our lives in the comfort of what we know, hoping one day to travel, hoping one day to see something rare, hoping one day to do something that scares us, hoping… We hope as we sit in the familiarity of our own living room, under the safety of our favorite blanket, next to our friends, family, roommates, or others who know us well. And we sit and we hope and we wait and we wait and we wait until suddenly life is passing us by and we wish we had done more when we were younger.Thoreau also wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” (Civil Disobedience and Other Essays)

I enter 2016 utterly blessed with a certain freedom that most mid-20s don’t have and I find myself swimming in chances. The words of a thousand adventures are waiting for me make them known, but without the experience, what justifies me to do so?

I enter 2016 wondering why it took me until now to realize that I need to stand up for my own life.

I enter 2016 hoping to make a difference in the world and inspire others, but how vain to do so without taking advantage of my own opportunities to grow? It is important to note that “vain” here doesn’t mean to be narcissistic, but to be futile or useless. Worry is vain. Excuses are vain.

I enter 2016 terrified.

I enter 2016 with one goal: stand up. The biggest thing that has been holding me back is no longer there to strap me in. So, I will stand up and live. Even if only in my own city. I will go see parts of Boston I haven’t visited before. I will venture to Walden Pond. I will explore every option available to me so that when the opportunity comes to travel farther, I will be ready to jump. I will save my money so that I can stand up in Ireland, Montreal, Rome, New Orleans, and other, farther places I’ve yet to see. I may not get there this year, but someday I will, because I will not experience life sitting down anymore. I will go to my grave knowing my song is out there for all who wish to listen; a song about laughter and tears.

Will you stand with me?

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The Greatest Lessons of 2015

This last year was tough on my health (mental and physical), so I was forced to look really hard in the mirror and learn to accept a lot of things. It’s a heavy word, “acceptance.” Is it easy? No. It’s taken me 24 and a half years to finally realize it, so I don’t expect it to be easy for you either, but it’s those idiotically simple truths that are the hardest to really accept. Earlier in the fall I started to realize that I was getting nowhere by constantly trying to remake myself. In fact, I was digging myself deeper… So I took a real, hard, excruciating look at myself in a way I’ve never done before (I “take a look at myself” quite often).

In a way, I guess you could say I gave up. I gave up the constant self-criticism and downgraded to occasional self-criticism. I gave up trying to be someone I’m not. I gave up thinking I’ll never be happy. I gave up a lot of negativity. I looked at myself in the mirror and faced the facts: I’m overweight, I’m on a tight budget that I’m constantly pushing, I don’t have the social life I thought I’d have, my job is extremely stressful… I’m pretty, I’m experiencing my mid-20s exactly the way I should be, I have two awesome roommates and a number of good friends, I’m independent, and I have my entire life ahead of me in an ever-changing world.

This December was a series of seemingly unrelated events that caused me to realize those latter facts- the positive ones. Once again, God/the universe/the Great Spirit has thrown me some hints and I’ve picked up a lot from them. To save you time I’ll jump over the explanations of each event and instead offer, as we face the New Year in just a couple days, what I have learned:

  1. I’m not fat. You’re not fat. Fat is what you cut off your chicken before you cook it. Fat intake is something you monitor when you’re trying to be healthy. Fat is a part of the body just as muscle, bones, and flesh are, and you, therefore, cannot BE fat, because YOU ARE NOTHING ELSE BUT YOU.
  2. Being attractive means being the kind of person that others want to be around. It means being a good person, kind to others, and always thoughtful of your impact on the world. It means making people laugh. It means being able to laugh at yourself.
  3. We have limits. We must recognize when something or someone we love dearly and deeply is no longer right for us.
  4. Boondock Saints is one of the greatest movies ever made.
  5. Miracles do happen.
  6. There is much hate in this world, but there is greater love, and the moment we give up on love is the moment we lose. And the people who love us- our family, our friends- are the ones who will comfort us and cry with us when we feel there is too much bad, when we think hate has won. They will save us in our endeavor to save the world.
  7. We must never give up on saving the world.
  8. While it is important to take note of ways we can improve ourselves, we cannot do so without first taking inventory of the ways in which we should never change. If we are forever focusing on what’s missing or wrong with our lives, how in the world do we expect to one day be happy?
  9. Tight budget, big appetite? Pasta, hot dogs, frozen veggies, alfredo sauce, all mixed together. It’s where childhood and adulthood meet in perfect harmony… in your mouth.
  10. Laughter, as always, is everything. Be a goof.

So this New Year’s, please remember to smile, to laugh, to love, to let the bad roll off and the good sink in, and to look hard in the mirror. Watch good movies. Spend time with friends. Remember that everything changes- the hardest thing we can ever accept. Make your resolutions, but knowing first that you are already a wonderful and beautiful creature to begin with. Be a Calvin (see cartoon below).

Laugh on, my friends.

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Why Do I [You] Write

This isn’t a widely read blog and many of my followers are friends of mine, so I found myself asking “Why do I write this?” You know, what? Good question. Why do you?

Is it because you have a lifelong dream of being a journalist? Is it because you write poetry? Short stories? Are you an activist? Photographer? Traveler?

I came to realize that I’m writing for me. Sounds a little weird, I know. Why not just keep a diary? Well… when I was younger, I had a mentor who inspired me so much that I decided that I wanted to inspire others and what I’ve found is that what I need to hear, everyone needs to hear. We need reminders everyday to smile, to laugh, to cry when you need to cry. We need reminders of what makes this world worth saving, what we can do for others, what makes us wonderful people. For a while I thought I’d make a pretty dope public speaker and I wanted to be able to reach and inspire large numbers of people, but that might be a stretch goal. This questioning has caused me to really think about what I can do- both for myself and for others. I need a laugh to keep myself going and I know that sometimes you, whoever you are, need to as well.

So I challenge you to question yourself. Not for self-doubt, but for personal insight. Get to know yourself and the reason behind why you do what you do. Maybe, just maybe, it will help you do it better.

And because I started this endeavor of blogging because I wanted to make people smile, here’s a little humor for you.

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I’ve already posted this one a while ago, but it’s so relevant.

“I Never Knew”

I want to share this experience I had last night:

After ordering my sub at D’angelo’s, the young man behind the counter asked, “So are you like a Girl Scout?” After a moment I recovered from my confusion, realizing I was in my Scout uniform, and I said “Actually the Boy Scouts. I’m a professional with the Boy Scouts of America.” The normal questioning expression fell over his face, followed by surprise as I explained that, actually, a lot of women are involved, especially considering we have a co-ed program called Venturing. What he asked next really surprised and pleased me.

Instead of asking, “So what do you do?” he asked, “So what do the Boy Scouts do then? Like, as their mission?”

I was SO happy to hear someone ask that! I summarized the mission of the BSA, the Scout Oath and Law, and explained all the different kinds of programs and activities we use in order to accomplish that (thank you training for drilling the Aims and Methods of Scouting into my brain). And when I finished, his reaction gave me so much hope! In everything- the youth in this country, the world, humanity as a whole, why I do what I do.

He said, “You know, I always thought of the Boy Scouts as those kids that just go camping and learn how to tie knots, but I never realized how many different important life skills and lessons you guys taught. I REALLY could have benefited from that as a kid, and if I ever have a son he’s totally going to join the scouts. I bet this world would be a whole lot more caring if everyone was a scout.”

People care. People care about their children growing up to be responsible, caring, upstanding citizens who can take care of themselves and others. People care about character development. People care about the effect they have on the world. And considering how much hatred we are trying to fight right now, I’m starting to believe more and more in the value of Scouting for our youth. People say to only surround yourself with caring, positive people with good intentions, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 90% of those people in my life are those I know through the Boy Scouts (for Pete’s sake, both my roommates are Eagle Scouts!). They are the funniest, most caring young men and women I’ve ever met. They keep me laughing, and hopeful, which, as you know is pretty much the entire point of this blog here.

I’ve been saying that I need to figure out a way to change the world, not realizing that all along I was doing it just by going to work everyday. It’s an incredibly stressful job and sometimes my exhaustion tears right through me, down to my core, but the Boy Scouts is,when you get down to it, a program that can change the world. And I’m pretty darn proud to be a part of an organization that can help with that.

I’m Just Gonna Leave This Here

I’m tellin’ ya, man, these signs from the universe just keep on comin’ (If you read my post from yesterday you’ll get the full explanation). This came from my daily zen calendar.

The moment we succumb to pain and hatred is the moment we lose the battle against evil.

I’ll just leave this here and let it speak for itself.

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