I don’t know how to dance the Argentine Tango with its virtually unlimited improvisational opportunities or the American/International Tango where specific steps and patterns are learned for competitive events. If I want to be part of a successful dance team, whether it is for competition or just out for fun on Saturday night, I first have to learn how to dance. The same is true of my having successful relationships because those also require me to be able to move in rhythmic partnership to an ever changing dance of interpersonal dynamics.
It used to upset me when people pointed out things about my manners they thought were inappropriate. I did not welcome being told, “You do not listen. You are too impulsive. You are emotionally disconnected. You really need to think before you speak. You are irresponsible.”
The nerve! Then one day my heart was open and I heard what was said. Honestly taking the comments into consideration resulted in a new realization: when I become uncomfortable with, or offended by, something someone says about me, or when someone challenges my actions, it is a red flag, a sign for me to look within.
Instead of getting angry and impulsively shooting the messenger, as I had in the past, I took to heart what was offered. With honest assessment, I recognized the behaviors pointed out about me were true. By responsibly questioning why my ego was pricked, I was able to accept other people’s observations.
Taking their comments to heart, I began focusing on truly listening to other people. With practice I learned how to quiet my mind so I heard what was being said. I concentrated on keeping myself from interrupting or formulating a response while someone was still talking.
Teaching myself to remain connected to someone’s words as they spoke also helped me learn to be a more patient person. I realized that when I am patient I am also present in the moment. When I am present in the moment I am connected to my heart and what I am feeling. And once I had the patience and awareness to think before speaking, it became easier to discern those who were making accurate observations about my behavior from those who just projected their shortcomings onto me.
Today, I work to remain aware of, and connected to, my words and conduct by listening as I want to be heard, speaking as I want to be spoken to, and treating other people as I want to be treated. Yet no matter how closely I pay attention to my thoughts, words, and actions, I am not perfect by a long shot—I never will be, and that’s okay. Occasionally someone still points out something he or she sees about me that could be improved. I voluntarily take the advice. Now I recognize that one handy tool for identifying necessary change in myself is to listen to and appreciate the messenger.
By being open to what others say, we receive gifts in the form of answers and candid observations about ourselves that, if listened to, sincerely evaluated, and applied, will make us better people. And when we are better people, our relationships will be better.
At one time I was obese. The short answer to how I lost the extra weight is, I worked my rear end off through exercise to burn the 220,500 calories necessary to get back down to 130 pounds. The long answer is that before I hit the gym, before I committed to a new habit of eating healthy, and before I could care for my physical body as a daily lifestyle, I had to confront my emotions and why I was stuffing them with food.
When I was a little girl I loved superheroes. In comic books, movies, and flights of imagination, superheroes defended us mortals from villains bent on world domination. They fought for justice. No matter what personal adversities they faced, no matter how big the bribe, they remained committed to exposing the injustices of society. They did so while adhering to moral excellence. They lifted my spirits and sparked my imagination:
What if I too had superhuman powers?
Superheroes are real. They are not only the superhuman subjects of fantastical stories, they are normal people. In fact, we are surrounded by them; they simply look different from how we imagine a superhero should look. They do not wear capes, or have X-ray vision or lightning bolts shooting out of their fingers. They do not stand out in a crowd, because they look like everyone else. They look like you and like me and like our next-door neighbors.
Becoming a real-life superhero is much less dramatic than you may imagine. It does not require being bitten by a radioactive spider, or being caught in the blast of a gamma bomb, or being hurled to Earth seconds before your home planet explodes. You become a superhero by choosing to master yourself through developing a positive sense of purpose for each day, for life, and for how you personally make the world a better place.
Self-love, respect, and inner peace come from learning how to travel through life in the easiest and most fulfilling manner. Finding the path of least resistance requires accepting it is your actions that create your life. Through self-assessment, you identify those aspects of your behavior, beliefs, judgments, and fears that are preventing you from creating the life you truly want.
Confronting your behavior is not nearly as difficult a process as you may believe. Yes, it takes time to be comfortable looking candidly at yourself. At first, what you consider faults stand out under the bright lights of self-evaluation. So you may tell yourself it is easier not to look. Yet, if you do not look at yourself, it is impossible to see what you do like about you. Without self-assessment it is also impossible to identify those aspects of yourself that you do not like but can change.
Getting to the heart of the matter of self-change requires shifting your ego’s focus from the laundry list of what everyone else needs to do to make your life easier to concentrating on what you can change about yourself. To begin moving past your ego’s resistance to change, ask yourself these questions:
Do you own your behavior, or do you pass the buck for your actions?
Do you evaluate yourself and others based on seeking facts, or do you allow reactive ego to jump to judgment?
Are you blindly following the beliefs of others, or do you seek to establish your own?
Does fear keep you tied up in knots, or have you chosen to walk in faith?
Don’t be upset or judgmental if what you discover is disappointing. There was a time I was not the person I told myself I was. Today I am the person I always wanted to be only because I took time to determine what was not right about me.
Only when you know what needs changing can you change your path, so your life changes for the better. Positive change begins by being truthful with you, about you. Intentionally looking within, you reach the understanding of who you are, what you value, what about yourself is going right, what is not going right, and what wounds need to heal.
By honestly looking at yourself, your heart begins to take the lead in creating your life. Your life as a superhero.
When I was younger I spent much time daydreaming. In school, in church, while watching television, when mom and dad were talking. I was constantly distracted by my thoughts. Needless to say I was not a good student. So while pursuing my master’s degree I genuinely wanted to do my best. I consulted a psychiatrist who, after a long series of tests, diagnosed me with Attention Deficit Disorder. Aptly so, since I was so easily distracted I could not finish reading one sentence without my mind carrying me off to whatever it got distracted by.
There was a time when my focus was on things I did not have. For many years, my glass seemed to be half empty, until I realized I was the one holding the pitcher. I changed my point of view from one of lack to one of gratitude. Through hardship and loss, I began to see life’s glass was actually full to overflowing.
Dealing with physical pain over a long period of time wore me down. After a while, life was dull. I found less joy in daily activities, and the constant discomfort kept me on edge. Every day I woke up focused on the pain. Each evening I went to sleep wishing something would change.
When I received news that my twenty-nine-year-old cousin had been killed in an automobile accident, I experienced a dramatic shift in the way I viewed life. Physical pain turned into a positive sign that I was still alive. It was surprising to discover how much my pain decreased when my focus changed from living in pain to appreciating the life I had.
After being downsized from a job, I faced the daily temptation to just give up. Instead, I spent eighteen months getting up each morning with renewed determination. I became grateful for the opportunity to return to my parents’ home, spend time with them, and help around the house. My father was dealing with bladder cancer. Being able to share these moments with him strengthened my resolve. My lengthy unemployment had a silver lining.
That lining turned gold when I found employment and drove through the gates of Berry College in Rome, Georgia, for the first time. The magnificent beauty of the campus was breathtaking. Its twenty-six thousand acres of trees, pastures, meadows, lakes, streams, cattle, sheep, and other wildlife were magical. I was instantly in love with the herds of small deer that wandered between the buildings as if they were a different kind of student. I was in heaven.
Although I have not worked for Berry College in many years, I am deeply grateful for that job. It was the opportunity that ended my unemployment. What a gift to have worked surrounded by such beauty in my last traditional job.
Gratitude for whatever happens in life—the positive and the seemingly negative—is my goal. For example, I appreciate the blind woman and her guide dog I met one day on the bus. She was smiling and contented as she softly stroked her handsome black Labrador. Thank you, gentle woman, for silently yet joyfully reminding me of my ability to see you, your dog, and our beautiful world.
Gratitude is feeling appreciative or thankful. The state of being grateful is the positive emotional acknowledgment of something you have already or are going to receive in the future.
Being grateful—for a sunny day, the food you have, a job, your partner, your pet, etc.—creates contentment, and appreciation for what you have gives you satisfaction. Being satisfied fills your heart with joy.
When you express gratitude, the act of being appreciative instantly connects you to your heart. Gratitude generates positive feelings: love, compassion, joy, and appreciation. When you focus on what you are thankful for, all stress, apprehension, and upset melt away.
Do you realize that the joy you receive from simply being alive is within your reach? It is true. All you need is an attitude of gratitude.
Slow down. Hug your loved ones. Take a moment to smell a rose. Feel the refreshing wind on your face. Enjoy the song of birds, the sound of water rippling in a creek, and the beautiful glow of dusk when the night creatures begin to stir. The more you find to be thankful for about life, the more life finds ways to appreciate you in return. It is the gratitude guarantee. Enjoy the little things, because the very best moments in life really are free.
In Cabaret, the 1972 movie based on the hit Broadway play, Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and cast sang these lyrics in one of the movies most memorable scenes. “Money makes the world go around, the world go around, the world go around. Money makes the world go around, that clinking, clanking sound of, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money.”
Early spring in my neighborhood in Los Angeles is a heavenly time to lie in bed at night with the windows open. The orange trees in front of my apartment building are blooming. Orange blossoms, while fragrant during the day, become intoxicating at night. The sweet perfume wafts invisibly in on the light evening breeze and collects heavily within my room.
For such a powerful fragrance, orange blossoms are actually very small. One sunny day I spent thirty minutes picking up many of the tiny, paper-thin blooms that had fallen from the trees. Seeing them from below is deceiving. Only when I was squatted on the ground did I truly appreciate how little the flowers are. It takes quite a number of them to fill even the smallest package. But I carried on, determined. Squatting and kneeling under my orange trees, I picked up hundreds of blossoms, cramming them into a teeny ziplock baggie until it was bursting. I found a cheerful greeting card, put the sealed package of orange blossoms inside, and mailed it to my mother. With everything my mother has done in life, of all the places she’s traveled throughout the world, she confessed that she had not once smelled orange blossoms.
As I sealed the envelope, I felt the excitement of her surprise at opening the card. Of her wondering for a moment what in the world I’d sent her. Of her opening the teeny ziplock bag, and for the first time breathing deeply, taking in the intoxicating fragrance, the smell of my love for her in the form of orange blossoms.
I’ve learned that acts of kindness provide me deep contentment. Knowing I helped brighten someone’s day makes my heart feel full long after the event itself has passed.