As a Life-Coach I like things that work, that get results and help people make useful changes in their daily lives. And I’m especially impressed by how well one practice seems to work in shifting a self-pitying or complaining attitude into a more positive one.
I’m talking about the practice of gratitude; that is, writing or focusing on what you are grateful for in your life, rather than paying attention to what is going wrong. The attitude of gratitude seems to trump all others and when you are feeling grateful you cannot simultaneously feel resentful, angry, or sorry for yourself.
Kudos to it. It is an important point to remember, and does seem to help many feel better about themselves and able to cope with whatever life throws in their path.
However, sometimes I find myself, like the proverbial stubborn mule, balking at the word itself. I just don’t like the word gratitude very much and I think I know why. I’m sorry. I know this borders on sacrilege, so if you love it and it works for you, then stop reading this bit now and skip to the next section.
Here we go. For me gratitude always seems predicated by ought and should, as in, you ought to be grateful for your health/home/good income or you should be grateful for the food on the table. There are lots of starving children in Africa—sort of thing.
I’m so blessed, gushes the movie star from her Malibu home where she does yoga and meditation on the beach each morning while she sips her smoothie. The subtext is, I am the recipient of all these wonderful things that have somehow been bestowed on me and I am so thankful I am not like others.
Sound of teeth grinding.
Yes, I guess you would be. In the next breath she is saying in her L’Oreal ad that she gets to live this life and wear this makeup because I’m worth it. How does that work? Worth it? You mean you think you deserve it? Does that mean all who don’t have this stuff aren’t worth it? Are we all entitled to a house in Malibu? And how will she feel when she loses it all in bankruptcy or her next film is a failure? Still blessed?
Caveat here. I was never very good at what I should and ought to think and feel. I’ve always been one of nature’s rebels—cantankerous and bratty. And OK, a little catty at times.
Words That Work for Me
Back to the matter at hand. I am always casting about for words or phrases that take me away from either entitlement or victimhood. Words or phrases like gratitude and I’m so blessed but without the baggage.
There are lots of them: cherish, relish, not take for granted, appreciate, to name a few.
I really like appreciate. It carries no remonstrance or guilt-trip for me. It means more or less the same thing as gratitude, but with slightly different connotations. It is more about “valuing, noticing, being conscious of, or placing a high estimate on”. I like that. It’s good to appreciate things and people in your life.
But I don’t want it to feel like I’m thankful for being privileged when the rest of the world is not. Something feels ‘off’.
I don’t deserve anything any more than anyone else—trust me on this one. I’m not especially worth it and I don’t feel I’m entitled to anything. But I can appreciate everything.
My Favorite Word
The other day I stumbled across another word that expresses similar feelings, but in a way I like even better. It made me tingle with recognition. It’s a well-known word, but not used all that often in everyday conversation.
This word was lurking in a book called Getting Stoned With Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu by J Maarten Troost. (How’s that for a title? I’m so jealous.)
It was recommended to me by my equally rebellious and curmudgeon-in-crime niece, so I couldn’t resist downloading it. (We’re in this together Sally. I won’t give you away.)
Here’s the quote. See if you can spot the word before I tell you what it is.
“For what is life, a good life, but the accumulation of small pleasures? In Washington, we lived in a place where everything was available, for a price, and yet I couldn’t recall the last time I had really savored something—a book, a sunset, a fine meal.”
There. There it is. Savored. That word just jumped off the page at me, daring me to ignore it.
Savor. That works better for me than gratitude. I want to savor life, everything about it, appreciate it, experience it, even the smallest of details.
Savor reminds me of chocolate—you put that truffle on your tongue and know you have to savor every moment of it before it disappears forever. You know it’s not a good idea to have another (well, maybe one more) or you will feel sick. But this first bite is just heaven and you want to enjoy it fully. When you savor something you totally appreciate it with all your senses.
I want to approach life like that. When I step out into my garden in the morning I want to savor the soft sunshine (unless I’m in England in which case I savor the rain and chilly breeze.) I savor looking at the trees and I savor watching my dogs playing. I know they won’t always be with me, like the chocolate, so I want to savor every tiny moment with them.
The Benefits From Nearly Dying
Eckhart Tolle, the great spiritual teacher and author, says he enjoys reading about near death experiences because it seems to be the closest any of us will come to proof of what happens when we die. Everything else is just speculation. He notes how, despite the differences in what is experienced or who people meet up with while journeying to the other side—Jesus, parents, Buddha, Yogananda, a spirit group, and a plethora of different scenes such as tunnels, beautiful palaces, brightly lit scenes from nature—everyone seems to come back with the attitude that all is well.
They also have a new perspective on life and most never again take anything for granted. They savor the life they have left. Every second. And are filled with purpose.
Ok, I guess they are grateful to be back in the land of the living, but strangely not always. Sometimes they resist being sent back, at least initially, because their experience of the afterlife is so incredibly blissful and interesting. And when they return everything is changed, different. They seem able to experience and enjoy life more than before. They’ve been given a second chance. They can accept whatever is happening. All is well.
Gary Zukav in his wonderful book, The Seat of the Soul, refers to this emotion as reverence for life. That’s another good word that resonates with me. He says,
“Reverence is simply the experience of accepting that all Life is, in and of itself, of value. If we perceived life with reverence, and understood our evolutionary process, we would stand in awe at the experience of physical Life, and walk the Earth with a very deep sense of gratitude.”
Oh, I know. He uses the G-word there. But it’s in reference to reverence. And I like the way he uses it, as acceptance. If I’m accepting life as it is, I’m not complaining or feeling sorry for myself. I’m grateful, and appreciative, and I don’t take anything for granted.
How about this idea: It always seems to be the ‘good’ things we are grateful for. How about being able to accept and flow with everything that happens to us, things we judge as both fortunate or unfortunate? We are truly blessed when we can enjoy everything in life—good and bad—and savor whatever weather greets us each day.
A Beautiful and Elegant Turn of Phrase
Not too long ago I was grousing to a friend about how the word gratitude didn’t work for me. She said, “Hold on, I heard a phrase the other day on YouTube, or a podcast, can’t remember where, and it makes a perfect mantra for you.”
“Try this; first thing when you wake up say, I am the essence of gratitude; when you step outside, say I am the essence of gratitude; when you go to sleep, say I am the essence of gratitude. At every moment in the day, when you remember, say, I am the essence of gratitude. You don’t have to say what you are grateful for, unless you feel like it, or to whom, just that you embody gratitude. See if that works for you.” (Thanks for this Sharyn. I’m eternally grateful!)
Well, it does work. It’s a powerful mantra. I recommend you say it, all day, all the time, for everything, and every experience, without judgment. It completely reframes the idea of gratitude for me. It takes it away from objects to be thankful for, like the Malibu beach home and big bank account, and expresses an appreciation for simply being alive.
So I guess the word doesn’t really matter as long as it takes you to a place that feels empowering and significant. Who cares what the word is if it is life enhancing?
I want to savor, reverence, walk the Earth with a very deep sense of gratitude, and enjoy every moment, taking the good with the bad. Just as if I had been given a new lease on life—a second chance. That seems to me to be what living my purpose and following the trail of my spirit is all about.
(Excerpt from my soon to be published book on finding life purpose, called Follow the Trail of Your Spirit—The Search for Life Purpose by Margaret Nash.)
If you find the ideas in this article interesting you may like some personal life coachingon getting your life to work the way you want it to.
Have you ever had a problem so big, so overwhelming, and so intractable that it woke you up at 3 am with panic attacks? Caused you to have heart palpitations? Usually around health or money?
It happens to the best of us. Most of us. It’s not fun. And you can get stuck there.
My personal Waterloo was after Sept 11, 2001 when my business tanked by 90% overnight. Nobody wanted business training when they thought the world was ending. Kept me awake, I assure you. Couldn’t pay my bills.
What was yours? How did you handle it?
These are the three most common approaches to big scary issues:
Like the Warrior. Brave, head on, resisting, determined to win. Taking matters in your own hands and going out to battle. Take no prisoners. No surrender. This approach is positive and takes responsibility for the problem. It’s down to me folks. I can’t rely on anyone else.
Or you can be the Realist and stop resisting what is. You put yourself in expert hands and accept you can’t run that marathon. You surrender to reality. This is the way things are so let’s make the best of it. Let’s face it; I’ve never been healthy/good with money. No point in fighting it.
Then there’s the Friend. You make nice with your problem. What is it trying to tell you? You try to rise above it. You look for causes and meaning, and try to root out negative thinking. You relax and trust it will all work out because you believe everything that happens is meant to be.
Each approach has its pros and cons.
Here are some of the cons
The Warrior is stubborn and sometimes won’t listen to others… and can become the Terrorist if you are not careful. This approach can leave you exhausted and bitter. Fighting the battle becomes all consuming and more important than finding a solution. Result: anger, burnout, obsession with your issue, friends avoid you.
The Realist can leave you overmedicated, dependent on therapy groups, and entrenched in your victim story. Defeatist, not trying anything new. You come to believe there is no cure or that you will go bankrupt and lose your home. The Realist becomes the Victim and just throws in the towel. Result: depression, despair, low energy, just getting by but no solution. Friends avoid you.
The Friend approach can leave you dead if you’re not careful.
Alternative treatments can be effective, but sometimes you need more than affirmations and visualizations. Discovering the root cause of your money issues may not save your house from foreclosure. The Friend can become the Fanatic, insisting that meditation will cure everything. Just imagine all that money you’ve got and it will magically appear. Result: no results, loss of faith, sometimes death.
I have two friends who have passed on prematurely because they got stuck in one mode and in each case the shadow took over. One refused blood thinner and insisted on using quantum touch instead for his heart condition, and the other stubbornly stuck to green drinks and a vegan diet for a serious cancer condition. Both are gone now.
Would you like to know how to come unstuck from that problem?
Use all three. You need them.
Engage the Warrior and attack with energy and enthusiasm. Do your best. You can do this! But you must take action and stop procrastinating.
Indulge the Realist and give yourself a break. Relax, accept what is for an afternoon and collapse in a heap with the dogs and Netflix. Hey, it wasn’t entirely your fault.
Dialogue with the invisible Friend and look for the underlying causes—what can you learn from this? Is the Universe trying to tell you something? Can this make you a better person?
All three approaches are essential for the best results
What worked with my financial meltdown was this 3-pronged approach: go to battle and try to save my company with other streams of income; put myself in the hands of a financial advisor, swallow my pride and ask for a loan to tide me over; and hey, what was the lesson here that would prevent this happening again? Stay out of debt and live within my means. Save. Hello. I got through it, survived, and eventually thrived.
Recently there was a Netflix documentary about Ram Dass, the well-known and beloved spiritual teacher who suffered a debilitating stroke a few years back. He used the 3-prong remedy: Still in a wheelchair, he seemed really happy, content, at peace, and he said with a smile that the stroke was the best thing to happen to him. He wouldn’t have chosen it, but it was nevertheless a gift. He understood more about life. The Friend. And he was also busy with physical therapy and daily swimming. The Warrior. He had helpers to help him get around. The Realist. Covering all bases.
Sometimes we have to give in and accept help from others. Sometimes we have to put aside our long held beliefs about diet and vitamin pills in the face of serious illness and get to the doctor. Sometimes we need to fight, not accept what we’ve been told, and try different solutions. Sometimes we just need to pray.
The Warrior says you can beat this. The Realist helps you see your limitations. The Friend says, hey we can make something good come out of this. Buck up.
You need all three.
Find that balance between them. Using all three ensures your success.
If you are stuck in that problem then check to see if you are sticking with one mode of approach. Try using all 3 and see what happens. Let me hear from you! I’d love to hear your successes; and if you’re still stuck, maybe I can help.
If you liked this you might also like life-coaching. It’s about how to get your life to work the way you want it to. Visit my website and peruse the blogs, check out my life-coaching books, and find out if personal coaching could be just right for you. www.Margaretnashcoach.com.
Prefer to listen to this blog—while you drive, while you work, while you exercise, or even while you cook? Try this audio; it’s eyes and hands free! It’s only 6 1/2 minutes, but if you’d like to download an mp3 to load onto your phone, right-click control-click on the mac) HERE.
Let’s be honest—we all experience stress. We all experience problems. Some big, some not so big. The big stuff:
A health issue that won’t go away.
That huge debt that keeps you tossing and turning at night, leaving you exhausted.
That deteriorating relationship. It’s been on a downward spiral for some time now. You need to make a decision soon.
That friend/partner/family member who is drinking again.
The not so big stuff:
The noisy neighbor.
The barking dog.
The new person in your group who talks too much and is spoiling it for all of you.
That high school friend on Facebook with political views that are driving you crazy.
The weird thing is, the big things and the not so big things can be equally stressful. There’s no accounting for what causes us unhappiness. We can sometimes sail through major life changes, and fall apart when someone is rude to us.
Whatever it is, stress and worry can steal your energy and put you through an emotional wringer— leaving you unable to cope with everyday life.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to deal with problems that dissolves the stress—even if it doesn’t necessarily dissolve the problem?
A way to handle stress that gives you a new point of view and sense of perspective?
Something, anything, that helps you cope? Feel more peaceful? And works immediately?
Good news! There is a way. I call it my Quick-Fix Stress Manager.
Let me share.
I first came across this set of 3 questions years ago, in the 1990s, when I was a hot-shot business trainer and this meme was making the rounds in training circles.
I remember going all cold with the ‘aha’ moment I experienced because of its simplicity and brilliance—as I was simultaneously overcome with jealousy that I hadn’t thought of it first. But I think the Buddha was first, and Seneca a few hundred years later. It sounds a lot like the Serenity Prayer written in 1951. Perhaps it’s always been around.
It’s simple, easy to remember; at the same time profound.
Here was something I could actually use—not just a clever sound-bite.
And definitely this was something that could help me with almost every problem I encountered. A true ‘across-the-board’ solution, kind of like an umbrella over anything in my life I found difficult to deal with.
Here we go:
The next time you are feeling anxiety, stress, worry or experiencing something disturbing, ask yourself these 3 questions:
1. Can I change it?
2. Can I accept it?
3. Can I walk away from it?
Note: You are working to find a yes somewhere here; otherwise you’re in for trouble. Expect to implode shortly.
Let’s look at this more closely:
1) Can I change it?
If you can change it, or at least do something about it, and it is somewhat under your control—take action. Any action. Then stop worrying about it. You are doing your best. Action is the absolute best stress reliever. Go on that march. Write that Senator. Donate. Make an appointment. 2) Can I accept it?
If you really cannot change it, and there is nothing you can do to affect the situation, can you accept it or resign yourself to it? Can you learn to live with it? If so, surrender to reality. You can’t change those election results. You can’t live that person’s life for them. Accept what is, and then let go the stress. Drop it now—it’s not serving any purpose. 3) Can I walk away from it?
If no to both of the first two questions, then the third option is —can you walk away from it? Get out, break off the relationship, move away, change jobs. You know that partnership is never going to work. You know you’ll never be happy living in Kansas. You can’t live with someone who is mentally ill if they won’t get treatment. Get out, now.
Walk away. You can’t change it and it will never be acceptable to you. It’s ok; you’re not a selfish monster, just realistic. You can always move to Antarctica.
Walking away can mean physically, as in leaving the scene, or emotionally and mentally. Sometimes we may not be able to move away or get on a plane, but we can just decide to switch off. It may be your only option for survival.
This Quick-fix Stress Management tool works for any issue or problem. It gives you a reframe, and a way to let go and move on.
These are your choices. You can work with 1, 2, or all 3.
If you can do all 3, then so much the better.
For instance, you can remove yourself from a nasty situation, and try your best to change it from a distance, at the same time accepting the reality of what is and feeling OK with it.
You may not be able to walk away from that health problem, but you can work to change it and accept what is at the same time.
You may not be able to walk away from that election result, (unless you unplug and become a hermit), but you can take what action you can, and accept what is, in the meantime.
You don’t have to like it, but if there is nothing you can do, you don’t have to let it ruin your life either.
The key is to let go of the worry and stress. Remember this: Nothing works well when you are stressed. Everything works better when you are calm.
You can’t argue with that. So make it your aim to let go of stress.
Try my Quick-Fix Stress Manager. I wish I had made it up. Really. I’d be a millionaire. So put it in your tool-box and use it next time you need it. And checks made out to Margaret Nash gratefully received…