Thursday, July 26, 2012

An Experiment in Positive Focus

A few days ago I decided to break a negative mood by designing a little experiment to remind myself to be positive. For twelve hours, I stopped once every hour (yes, I set a timer) to focus my thoughts on something positive, either a thought or an action.


I decided to post these thoughts to Facebook without telling anyone why I was posting them.I posted my first positive thought/action at approximately 12:19PM and posted my last positive thought/action at approximately 11:30PM.


The posts:


  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 1: I feel good that I stood up for something I believe this morning.
  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 2: I feel great that I finished writing my blog post about Writers on the Move and that I left positive comments on two other authors blogs today!
  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 3: When the power went out, I made good use of the time by altering my plans instead of lamenting what I couldn't do without power. :-)
  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 4: I can be strong and caring concurrently...
  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 5: Smiling makes me feel better even when no one can see it, so I'm smiling right now. :-)
  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 6: My thoughts are just as valuable as anyone else's.
  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 7: Living from a place of love invites incredible experiences and people into my life!
  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 8: Refused to let someone else's negative comment affect my positive attitude.
  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 9: If I do my part and let the rest go, things will work out the way they're supposed to - what I call proactive waiting.
  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 10: When I acknowledge and accept that I deserve better, I open my life to receive better.
  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 11: When I let my heart guide me, my words are more likely to connect with other people.
  • Positive Thought/Action Hour 12: Each moment I inhabit is a moment that matters.


I wanted to see what would happen if I set an intention to turn my attention to the positive at regular intervals during the day. Initially, I wanted to be able to pick some thought or action from the previous hour that was positive. Some hours it worked. Other hours, I had to actually stop and focus on positive thoughts to feel the positiveness.

The time I took to focus on positive thoughts made the hour between each posting feel more positive and productive even if I wasn't having conscious positive thoughts and/or performing overt positive acts. I felt more upbeat and productive.


The negative voice in my head pointing out all the things I hadn't accomplished and still needed to do grew quieter. The positive voice spoke quietly but with so much more authority than the negative voice. The positive voice reminded me of all I have to offer the world and gave me a break for not being perfect. The positive voice told me I deserve the best from all aspects of my life. The positive voice boldly told me I have the right to be treated as a top priority by myself and by others.


I turned around a negative mood created by caring too much about other people's attitude and behavior toward me with positive thoughts and actions that reminded me I am lovable, worthwhile, and worthy. I remembered that I matter, and that perhaps, just perhaps, those who can't see my worth enough to make me a priority shouldn't matter quite so much to me.


It goes back to something I said last year about happiness. Making my worth dependent on someone else gives them too much power, power that should belong to me.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Writers on The Move - One Year After Joining

Around a year ago I joined a Facebook group created by Christina Katz called Writers on the Move with some trepidation because I'm not much of one for workout groups. I blogged about my feelings about workout groups in August 2011 in the post, Writer on the Move May Change My Opinion of Workout Groups, shortly after joining Writers on the Move.

This group is great! I've met many people through the group who have become my friends. Supportive people pursuing a healthier lifestyle populate the group. The group is called Writers on the Move, but the emphasis is on the Move part not the Writers part. We rarely discuss writing though once in a while someone will acknowledge they've let their writing schedule affect their exercise schedule and/or eating habits or, though more rarely, vice versa. Often, members will remind themselves they need to get back on track in the same post. Then the group rallies to give words of encouragement and inspiration.

Everyone seems to enjoy something different or a different combination of exercise routines. The discussion expands my thinking and understanding about fitness. Members share new ideas and information. We ask questions about things we don't understand.  We offer advice based on our experiences, often complete with short anecdotes. We encourage one another to stick with our routines as well as to expand our thinking to include other exercises that may support our other routines. We inspire each other to keep moving regardless of our choice of movement.

I've long known a regular workout routine enhanced my writing as well as my life in general. When I practice yoga every day, my productivity improves. I find the process of yoga improves my focus. When I focus better, the words flow better. I achieve more in my personal life when I practice yoga at least five days a week. Sometimes I think I don't have time to practice yoga, and, almost always, I discover I don't accomplish as much during the day as I do on days when I take the time to do yoga.


I am amazed by how much I look forward to reading the posts on this group even though they are often very similar to the previous day's posts. When I read about other people sticking to their routines or struggling to find a rhythm or searching for just the right exercise for them, I feel connected to someone who understands. When I can answer a question, provide information, or offer encouragement, I feel helpful. When I get a little "like" or a nice comment from someone in the group, it's like a little pat on the back for something I would've done anyway. Yet, that pat on the back feels great!


Writers on the Move encourages me to practice yoga daily as well as to increase the intensity and duration of my routines. When I slack off, I know I can turn to Writers on the Move to find the encouragement to get moving again. Not only will I get the encouragement and inspiration I need to resume my yoga practice, I know it will be judgment free...


So one year later, I can definitely report that being a member of Writers on the Move changed the way I view exercise groups... I still have no desire to work out in front of other people, but that's okay. I've found a group that works for me!


If you're a writer and you care about your health, Writers on the Move just might help you even if you, like me, already exercise regularly. Join us!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hitting Margin Release

Johanna Garth wrote "People who move their bodies as though gravity is just a rule and they've decided not to follow it." in her blog post, SYTYCD, and prompted me to think about rules and the benefits of choosing to not follow the rules.


Lately, I've been struggling with the idea of the rules, spoken and unspoken, we're supposed to follow. People expect us to act certain ways at certain times in our lives. When we don't, they tend to judge us, often without meaning to, but judge us nonetheless. That thing that happened should make you cry. Why? That should make you laugh. Why? You have to do this because that's what people do in your situation. Why? Maybe, just maybe, there's a better way, at least for me. Your circumstances mean you have to feel x, y, or z. Why? And, when I don't feel or do what people think my situation warrants, they question my judgment and perhaps even my mental well-being. But, I'm realizing the people who just let me process my life my way are the ones I most want around me. I'm not saying I never need advice or support, but I certainly don't need someone telling me I have to follow some arbitrary rule because that's what people do.


I have, at times in my life, been a stickler for the rules. Other times in my life, I've pretended there were no rules. When I've lived the most fulfilling life is when I've set rules that honored the truth of me and who I wanted to become. Moments when I've released myself from perfection and released the margins surrounding my life have always brought me more satisfaction than doing the expected.


My Margin Release Necklace
A few years back I bought a necklace at Wordstock, a book event, in Portland, Oregon. The necklace has a pendant made from the margin release key from an old typewriter. I saw the necklace and walked away. It didn't fit with the type of jewelry I normally wear. It didn't follow my fashion "rules". A few minutes later I discovered, much to my own surprise, I had wandered back to the booth and stood staring at the necklace. I needed this necklace. It spoke to me in a way nothing had in a while. At first it whispered. Then it screamed at me. I had been feeling rather stuck on my journey because I was trying to follow the rules, but the rules didn't feel right for me.


See, sometimes I forget that the only way to push myself is to release the margins surrounding me. My most creative writing comes when I hit the margin release key in my mind. My best experiences comes when I hit the margin release key controlling my doubts. My most loving moments come when I hit the margin release key in my heart. My greatest connection with other people comes when I hit the margin release key hiding my vulnerabilities. My most intense pleasure comes when I hit the margin release key controlling my inhibitions. My greatest understanding of life comes when I hit the margin release key in my soul. I live my best life when I hit the margin release key freeing me from a role that doesn't fit quite right.


Wearing my margin release necklace
at Cumberland Falls, Kentucky
May 2012
When I hit margin release on the things that keep me from pursuing the life I want, possibilities present themselves - or perhaps it's more accurate to say I open my eyes to the possibilities before me. Those possibilities may take me to places I never dreamed of going or they may show me how to accept where I currently am. As long as I am banging up against that margin, all I'm doing is typing over the same spot until I rip a hole in the paper. And, that paper just may be my life.


Next time I stand on the margin looking at all the rules I've been following that haven't quite gotten me where I want to go, I'm going to reach for the margin release key and see where it takes me. I may end up completely off the page, but who knows maybe that's where I need to be...

The Complications of Simplification

A couple of months ago I decided to clean out my office closet. I had avoided it for far too long. I had even avoided putting this chore on my task list. If it wasn't on my task list, it didn't officially become one of my unfinished tasks. I couldn't procrastinate cleaning out the office closet any longer.


I don't have a problem getting rid of things I don't need or use. I don't keep things just to keep them, but I tend to keep things that have some sort of meaning to me.  I regularly get rid of other things I come across that I have no use for. What I don't do as often as I should is set aside time to actually go through cabinets and closets to discover unused items. If I happen to see them, I'll take care of them. Otherwise, items are likely to hang around until they're in my way. I mean, really, who has the time? I have way too many projects going on to dedicate time to sorting through stuff, doesn't everyone?

Mostly I file things away that I need for the short term and then forget to throw them away. There are other things I keep because they have sentimental value. It's a little bit amazing to me how much stuff accumulates even when I try to keep my purchases to only necessities.


I started with my office closet and moved into my office because it quickly became clear the two required simultaneous purging and organizing. Three weeks later, I had made decent progress on a project I had scheduled about a week to do. Three weeks later and I'm still shredding papers a little at a time. That's what happens when I play avoidance games with chores I dread doing.


I was inspired to move the process into the rest of the house. I began simplifying my life several years ago, so    the amount of unused stuff I found in my office made me feel a little ill. The trend followed me out of the office and into other rooms in the house. How could I have accumulated so much stuff I never use? Could other people make good use of some of this stuff? What did all this stuff represent?


The other night it hit me, the problem with purging isn't the stuff. It's the memories attached to the stuff. When I start handling certain papers or trinkets or or photos or whatever, I start to remember this moment and that moment. Pretty soon I find myself lost in nostalgia with things stacked around me. I feel overwhelmed. And, then I realize I've put all these treasures in with stuff that is meaningless. One thing that has become clear to me is that anything that's origin I can't remember has no meaning, and it's time to let it go.

As a writer, I often keep things that I think will be beneficial to my writing. I keep trinkets, maps and brochures of places I've visited. I keep touristy items that I think will spark a memory. I keep pictures of things that mean nothing to anyone else. I even keep research material I could easily look up on the Internet. I decided as I purged this time to let go of much of that stuff. I realized the important memories are in my head. I don't need keepsakes to remember them. They live inside me. They are part of me. That's what memory does. Somehow as I looked through the stacks of prompts I'd accumulated, I realized the greatest prompts come from my heart and my mind instead of from the prompts I'd filed away and never even looked at. Those were the memories that populate the poems in my book, Memory in Silhouette: Poems.

I've never considered myself particularly materialistic, so I'm a little disappointed in the comfort I've taken from being surrounded by things. The accumulation of stuff somehow gave me the illusion of having achieved something, but in truth it only obscured the real achievements in my life. Those achievements are about what I've created and who I've become and no amount of stuff can ever equal that.

I am determined to live a simpler life that doesn't focus so much on material possessions but focuses on finding fulfillment and seeking a sense of achievement through my contributions rather than consumption and accumulation. Strange how I've thought I was doing that for the past several years, and only recently realized how much I still clung to my possessions...

Still, there are belongings that go where I go and have for as long as I can remember. Don't ask me to part with them today, tomorrow, ever... It won't be happening...

And so the process of simplification tends to be surprisingly more complicated than it sounds...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Does Forgiving Mean Forgetting?

Recently, Diana Abu Jaber, author, asked "Is there someone you haven't forgiven? Are you going to?" in her Facebook status.


I started to answer this question in the comments section a couple of times, but my answer was just way too long. It seems like the answer should be short. Either yes or no and if the first was no, either yes or no for the second, but instead these two simple questions really made me think.


Forgiveness is a tricky thing. Often we think we've forgiven only to realize we haven't. Sometimes we forgive someone but allow them to continue to mistreat us. Other times we think we haven't forgiven someone when in reality we have let the transgression go while refusing to allow the transgressor to hurt us again.


Over the years I have come to realize that forgiving doesn't need to mean forgetting. Forgiveness is always more about the forgiver than the forgivee. I learned that I could remember a hurt or a lesson learned from a betrayal. I embraced the idea that forgiving someone didn't mean inviting them back into my life to hurt me all over again. It took some hard hits and some life-changing betrayals for me to come to this realization.


I thought about Diana's question for quite a while. I have forgiven the worst betrayal I ever experienced. I have no desire to ever see, talk to , or know about the betrayer again, but I have forgiven the betrayal in the sense that I no longer let it dominate my life. Yet, I ask myself if I've forgiven the person. I think I have, but I'm a self-preservationist. Being near said person again would be inviting pain and heartache into my life. I'm not willing to do that. I have forgiven but not forgotten.


As I thought about Diana's questions, Mary Chapin Carpenter's line "Forgiveness doesn't come with a debt" from the song, I Take My Chances, popped into my head and decided to stick around. But is that true? Is forgiveness debt free? If I hurt you and you forgive me, am I really off the hook completely? Don't I owe you something - an apology at the very least... You'll likely get it even if you don't think it's necessary. In 2010, I blogged about apologizing to someone 19/20 years after hurting him. In the end, the person in question told me the apology was unnecessary, but I could never have lived with myself if I hadn't apologized. It was an apology I owed. It was a debt. And, I'm glad I apologized. Yet, I have to admit, I have forgiven people where I don't feel I'm owed an apology and other people whose apology I wouldn't believe if offered.


I like to think I live from a place of love. Forgiveness is a large part of living from a place of love. One can't live from a place of love with a lack of forgiveness in one's heart. So I tend to let things go. Bitterness, resentment, and anger do me more damage than the person I feel them toward. A betrayal or bad act may end our relationship, but if I hang on to the pain, I'm the one who has to carry the weight of that around. When someone hurts me, I express it somehow - whether to the person, via poem, in a letter (sent or not), in my fiction, or whatever - and then I release the negativity from it. I focus on finding the life lesson that will help me be a better person, but I don't dwell on pain, anger, or hatred. Yet, there's a part of me that questions whether I'm as successful at this as I think.


Holding a grudge just feels like renting space in my life, or at least my thoughts, to someone who doesn't deserve it. I have no desire to do that. There can be a fine line between letting a grudge go and inviting a pattern to continue. I must admit I've been guilty of inviting, even welcoming, negative and/or hurtful patterns of behavior into my life in the hopes the outcome would somehow be different. It rarely happens. So I'm working on forgiving without inviting people to perpetuate hurtful patterns in my life.


I can't promise I will ever both forgive and forget because I find forgetting dangerous. In the end, forgiving makes sense if for no other reason than it releases the forgiver and holding a grudge rarely affects the betrayer at all. Remembering helps us to break hurtful patterns and move forward with the life we're meant to live. I remember the good and the bad, so I can find the way to being the best me I can be.


Thinking about it now, I realize many of the poems in all three of my books of poetry and my novel all somehow touch on forgiveness as well as forgetting. Because I write so much about interpersonal relationships, hurts and betrayals often figure into my work drive home the idea of forgiveness from both the side of the forgiver and the forgivee. To check them out, visit my Amazon Author's Page or my website, www.tlcooper.com.