Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Finding Peace in Stressful Times

We live in stress-filled times. Stress is making some people sick. It can damage the circulation, the heart, the glands, and the whole nervous system. It is making many miserable and unhappy. Here are a few simple techniques that can help us find peace amid the frustrations and challenges of life.

Replace thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude. Whether our concerns involve relationships, finances, health, or something else, we can choose to remember our blessings. When my husband lost his job, I was grateful he still had his health. My friend Beth, paralyzed from the chest down for 30 years, told me she noticed many people who suffered more than she did and was grateful for that (and, trust me, she suffered a lot.)

Breathe deeply whenever possible. Breathing from our belly helps the parasympathetic nervous system relax us. Breathe deeply if you feel tired, upset, or bored. This is a terrific way to release tension and reduce and is so easy to do.

Slow down. This can be hard to do in a fast-paced world, but consider driving slower, eating more deliberately, and talking at a calmer pace. Listen attentively when someone is talking and enjoy the moment.

Celebrate yourself. Many create their own stress by comparing themselves to others, berating themselves for innocent mistakes, or focusing on their weaknesses rather than their strengths. Although we won’t find peace if we are egomaniacal, we will find peace if we love and cherish ourselves just the way we are.

Smile often. Researchers have found that smiling produces endorphins in our brain, those feel-good chemicals that reduce pain and increase feelings of peace, pleasure, and well-being. Smiling sincerely when you see loved ones, friends, or even strangers makes us happier and reduces our stress. I try to smile at cashiers, baggers, and clerk when I am shopping, and it makes routine errands a lot more fun. Even genuinely smiling when no one is around is helpful.

Set healthy boundaries. If you tend to be a people-pleaser, this is sometimes hard to do. Before someone asks you to do something that you know will create unhealthy stress in your life, breathe deeply, say, “I would love to do this but won’t be able to this time,” or tell them you’ll get back to them after you consider their request. Show yourself the kindness and consideration that you try to show others.

Try these techniques and notice the difference their make in your life. Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” As we consciously choose to find peace in stressful times, we feel happier and life is sweeter. Today, choose peace.

© Carol Brown

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Blessings of Adversity

It’s easy to celebrate the blessings of health, friendship, family, and nature. Focusing on these gifts makes us happier and more peaceful. Because sometimes life presents us with surprising challenges, we can learn to be grateful for difficult times as we discover that these times can bless us with wisdom, patience, and understanding.

Some of our greatest strengths are refined in the fiery furnace of adversity. Think about the times when you’ve overcome some serious difficulties. Notice the qualities you developed from enduring well. Contemplate the strengths you gained. Trials can transform our lives for good when we allow the Lord to refine and mold us by the things we suffer.

Here are a few examples of things I’ve learned from adversity:

I grew up desperately poor. After my dad survived a horrific car accident, he was left disabled and lost his business, his livelihood, and his savings. He struggled to support our family on a meager part-time income. I had two outfits a year, sewn by my mother with a dollar’s worth of fabric, and a pair of school and Sunday shoes. There was no money for vacations, Christmas presents, birthday parties, or outings. Eating out, go to movies, even buying a television set was not possible.

From that experience, I learned to appreciate the simple things. Time with friends and family. Spending time in nature. Reading library books. Writing. Using my imagination in creative play. Enjoying the privilege of a free public education. Loving the opportunity of learning new things. I discovered that the best things in life are free. That adversity has blessed my life in countless ways. I am more grateful for simple blessings. I celebrate life more fully. I am content with what I have. I have compassion and empathy for the poor.

My father became very ill with leukemia when I was in high school and died when I was a teen-ager. Because we had a close, loving relationship, the loss was hard to bear. I grieved his loss and still miss him very much. My mother struggled with health problems, and since I was an only child, I was left to face the world alone, or so I thought. During that difficult time, I discovered how much God really loves me. I realized He understood my pain and was willing to help and succor me. My greatest adversity became my greatest blessing.

Caring for my son, who has some serious health challenges for eight years, gave me the gift of patience. Caring for my dying mother, who became blind and unable to walk, gave me the gift of courage and fortitude. Caring for my neighbor, Beth, who was paralyzed after cancer severed her spinal cord, allowed me to reach inside myself and unlock my inner gifts of compassion. Those experiences, although very difficult, blessed my life in beautiful ways. I would not be the person I am today if life has been easier.

When I developed back and knee problems recently, I have learned to value the peace of meditation and solitude. I celebrate the songs of birds and the beauty of clouds in ways I never have before. I have discovered that life is more that being constantly busy. I have learned that peace can be found found in silence, in gentle thoughts, and in loving attitudes, and that peace is not a result of doing but of being. Jesus taught us this when He is the great I AM. He is our peace. He offers us a peace that surpasses anything the world offers.

As we trust in Him, worship Him, and follow Him, He gives us a peace that is perfect and pure. Jesus told Gideon that His name was Jehovah-Shalom or the Lord is our peace. May you find peace—even during your adversities—as you give your heart to God, who is peace.

© Carol Brown

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Peace of Simplicity

When we discover the secret to happiness, we realize that happiness cannot be bought. It is a state of mind, a way of thinking that allows us to enjoy the moment, to celebrate life, and to live authentically. Living a peaceful life is not a complicated matter.

Here are a few suggestions you might consider to experience greater peace:

• Breathe deeply whenever possible. Focus on your breathing when waiting for a red light, an appointment, or while in a check-out line at a store

• Eliminate clutter. Spend a few minutes during the day picking up, sorting, throwing away stuff or putting it in a goodwill sack.

• Spend less. Pack a sack lunch. Enjoy all the free activities in your community: libraries, parks, concerts and programs. Join blogs that post great deals on food and entertainment in your area.

• Discover the magic of thrift stores, where great books, clothes, and household stuff can be purchased for very little. My teenage granddaughters have discovered Plato’s Closet, a second-hand store that has an assortment of wonderful clothes. They earn their clothing money and buy many of their clothing there. (Their wise parents, a doctor and a nurse, have been teaching them the joy of simplicity since they were little.)

• Enjoy the beauties of nature. Train yourself to listen to birds singing, to see the varied shapes of clouds and the sun, stars, and moonlight. Smell the fragrant roses and pine trees after a rain storm. Feel the breeze as it rustles the leaves on aspens and maple trees.

You can’t buy happiness. It results from peaceful thinking and gentle living. Jesus took time to retreat into nature, meditate, enjoy children, and relax during boat rides (even when storms were raging). His simple life of service and devotion to His Father teaches us that life can be beautiful when we love God with all of our hearts and when we love others as we love ourselves.

© Carol Brown

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Be Kind to Yourself

Research shows that being kind to ourselves reduces stress, improves our immune system, and increases our sense of well-being and happiness. Sometimes it is easier to show kindness to others than to ourselves, yet we need to nurture ourselves so that we can nurture others. Jesus asked us to love others as we love ourselves, not before we love ourselves or instead of loving ourselves.

So how do we should kindness to ourselves?

We begin by speaking words of love to and about ourselves, not in a prideful way but in a gentle, compassionate way. We think lovingly about ourselves. We forgive ourselves. We celebrate our victories and learn from our mistakes. We are patient with ourselves, remembering that we’re a work in progress.

Yesterday I attended a funeral for a relative. In the past, because some members of that particular family have been rude and unkind to me, I made a plan. I decided to stay as long as the family was respectful to me and others and to leave when and if they were not. I mentally set a boundary on those things I would and would not tolerate from family members.

I entered the gathering with a kind and loving attitude towards myself and others. I spoke compassionately to the family members who had lost their loved one. I honored and respected older family members, even those who can be unkind. As the day progressed, I was delighted to discover that kindness prevailed.

For years I allowed that family to belittle me and my parents. Now, I have set healthy boundaries. I love them when they allow me to do so and leave when they do not. For years I attempted to win their love by tolerating their inappropriate behavior, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not win their approval. I have learned that by showing kindness to myself, I am better able to love them and can recognize how to handle difficult situations—even if I need to leave to find peace. I have discovered that they respect me more when I respect myself more.

In addition to setting healthy boundaries, we need to treat our bodies with kindness. Eating nutritious foods and getting needed sleep are ways that we show our love for our precious bodies. You show kindness to yourself every time you breathe deeply, go on a walk, enjoy nature, and think loving thoughts about yourself and others.

Kindness is contagious. The more kindness you show yourself, the more kindness you will radiate to others. As you show kindness to others, often that kindness will return to you—multiplied.

As we show kindness to ourselves, we become empowered to live life fully and joyfully. We no longer think of ourselves as victims but as victors. We not are vain or arrogant, but instead we treat ourselves with respect and gentleness, and by so doing, can share that love with others.

Today, be kind to yourself. Think or say “I love you” when you look in the mirror. Celebrate your body exactly as it is. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and to learn from them. One of my favorite authors, Leo Buscalia said, “Love yourself—accept yourself—forgive yourself—and be good to yourself, because without you the rest of us are without a source of many wonderful things.”

© Carol Brown

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Peace of Contentment

We experience peace when we are content with our lives, our looks, and our possessions. When we feel true gratitude for the blessings we enjoy instead of focusing on the things we don’t have, we feel happy and joyful. Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who was born 341 B.C., wisely said, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you do not have.”

Most cultures do not foster contentment. Instead, they insist we need more money, bigger homes, newer clothes, or thinner bodies before we can be happy. They say that we must update our wardrobes, home furnishings, or appearance if we want to be fulfilled. However, we can’t buy happiness for true contentment if found in the heart. It is found in the attitudes we foster and the thoughts we nourish.

Despite what the media says, we can be content in any circumstance if we choose three attitudes.

1. Be content with who you are. Don’t compare yourself to others.

When we decide to love ourselves unconditionally, we discover one of the great secrets to contentment. This doesn’t mean that we strive to better ourselves, but it means that we accept ourselves just as we are and then gently allow God to mold us into all that we can become. If we are constantly berating and criticizing ourselves, we will not enjoy everyday living. We will also discover that we are more critical of others and find it harder to forgive.
When we truly celebrate our own talents, gifts, and abilities, we can also celebrate those of others. Then we feel happy to become our own best self and to allow others to enjoy the same journey. We are not threatened if others have different abilities or talents than we have but rejoice in the diverse gifts that we—and others--enjoy.

2. Be content with what you have. Celebrate the blessings that God has given you.

We can be poor, rich or in between and have been blessed to find contentment in any circumstance. I have poor friends who are very happy and rich friends who are not. Henry David Thoreau said, “The man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.” When we find happiness in the simple beauties of nature and in spending time with friends and family, worldly interests become less appealing.

The amount of money a person earns does not determine whether or not they will be happy but how they manage our money does. Wise stewardship of our finances creates harmony in the home and enhances our inner peace. As we show gratitude for those things we have, spend less than we earn, save for a rainy day, tithe, and give generously to others in need, we discover the windows of heaven truly open in our behalf and we can live happily on very little. I know. I’ve spent my life doing this, and many times my ability to provide for my family and help others and far exceeded my income. God blesses those who give to Him and to others with peace, joy, and contentment.

3. Be content with your life. Celebrate the joys of everyday living.

Richard Carlson, Ph.D. has written extensively about finding peace and joy. His classic book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, contains one hundred ways to live more happily and peacefully. He writes, “Often we allow ourselves to get worked up about things that, upon closer examination, aren’t really that big a deal….Whether we had to wait in line, listen to unfair criticism, or do the lion’s share the work, it pays enormous dividends in we learn not to worry about little things. So many people spend so much of their life energy “sweating the small stuff” that they completely lose touch with the magic and beauty of life. When you commit to working toward this goal, you will find that you will have far more energy to be kinder and gentler.”

Dr. Carlson titled he last chapter of his book, “Live This Life as If It Were Your Last. It Might Be!” Ironically, he died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism while on a flight to promote one of his books when he was 45 years old. I have read many of Dr. Carlson’s books and find new ways to live more authentically and happily with each book.

The apostle Paul, who suffered physical torture, imprisonment, and chronic health challenges, wrote that he had learned to be content in any circumstance. I know people who are content amid financial, health, or family adversities. That doesn’t mean their lives are perfect or that they don’t ever feel sad or discouraged. However, they have discovered that life is beautiful and that peace is possible, even during the hard times.

Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of the book, Simple Abundance, said, “Whatever we are waiting for--peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance--it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.”

May we open our hearts to the blessings of peace and contentment that lie without our hearts, waiting to be discovered.

© Carol Brown

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Power of Thoughts

Picture yourself as the director of your life. Imagine that the thoughts you think are the script of your life. You choose which thoughts to include in the script and which ones to edit out. You decide which scenes you will replay and which ones you will cut. You alone determine the words and actions of your life by the thoughts you select.

We cannot control the actions of others, but we can decide how we will react to the things others say and do. We can ruminate about past hurts or remember past blessings. We can focus on present happiness or misery. We can look forward to future peace or despair. The choice is ours alone.

Think of the amount of attention to detail, planning, and hard work that directors put into making a movie. Every word is weighed, every gesture and facial expression is analyzed, and every action is scrutinized. Great movies require dedication by the director, carefully who prepares and executes every second of the production.

Imagine working that hard to create a magnificent life. Think of yourself as the hero or heroine of your production who develops his or her talents, promotes peaceful thoughts and inspires peaceful living, and who lives and loves with integrity and enthusiasm. You will become the person you create through your thoughts. The thoughts you choose to rehearse in your mind either empower or weaken you, bless or harm you.

Our subconscious minds believe everything we tell it so we need to choose our thoughts carefully. Consider this teaching of Buddha: "What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind. Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts. But once mastered, no one can help you as much."

The book, As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen can help us master our thoughts. You can read it here. Another amazing book is Drummand's The Greatest Thing in the World, which is available free online here. Reading great books, including the Bible, can help us discover our infinite worth and can give us a powerful supply of healing thoughts. Committing beautiful verses or thoughts to memory can help us confront and replace negative thoughts. I love the words, “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.”

Here’s an inspiring poem by an unknown author that is worth considering:

I asked God to give me happiness.
God said, "No. I give you blessings. Happiness is up to you."

I asked God to spare me pain.
God said, "No. Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me."

I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said, "No. You must grow on your own, but I will prune you to make you fruitful."

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
God said, "No. I will give you life so that you may enjoy all things."

I asked God to help me help those weaker than myself.
God said... "Ahhhh, finally you got the idea."

May you have a peaceful day and week as you direct the thoughts and actions of your life.

© Carol Brown