Real life lessons from “The Walking Dead”

1.  Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and he (or she) will step up to the plate every time.

2.  If it is too good to be true, well, it probably is some loon with an aquarium full of heads in his house.

3.  Good people are capable of doing bad things and bad people are capable of doing good things.

4.  Trust your instincts.

5.  Have a posse. It is messy sometimes but it’s the only way you’re gonna make it.

6.  Duct tape is your friend.

7.  Zombies don’t have feelings.

Okay, okay, you could probably learn these things from any zombie apocalypse story. But it is important to be reminded of it now and then. Especially the part about duct tape. That thing is so darn handy.

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Getting through the ups and downs

You know when someone says, “I’m sure it’ll be fine” and you lunge at their neck while screaming, “How the hell do you know?”

No? Just me?

I am not a full-time yoga teacher. (It’s a pretty nourishing side gig as far as side gigs go.) But I just don’t have any desire to do it day-in and day-out. I do have a day job – a good one. One I don’t mind coming into even though it occasionally drives me batty. (That’s what yoga is for!)

But, yesterday, I was told that I might lose that job. The contracting company I work for didn’t win the re-bid for the project I am on. So the new company can either replace me with someone else, offer me the job with a significant pay cut or keep everything the same (the ideal situation, of course). As a pragmatist, I am definitely updating my résumé and holding off on major expenses. I am also trying not to freak out.

“What if they cut my pay? What happens to my benefits? My 401k? What if my new supervisors are jerks?”

Uncertainty is a bitch.

But one thing is keeping me from Meltdown City…

A few months ago in one of my yoga books, I came across a Chinese parable. There are many versions of it but all have a very similar gist and it goes like this:

A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

This story is often told when teaching non-attachment. For me, it very clearly conveyed that not all good things are good and not all bad things are bad. It’s best not to get attached to the present situation. I have experienced that some good things have led to bad things and some bad things have resulted in good things. Like when I was happy about being able to get on a crowded elevator in SOHO because I was in a rush and then my elevator ended up being stuck between floors for three hours in 95-degree temperatures… (I no longer run after elevators by the way).

Maybe I’ll lose this job. Maybe I’ll find another job. A better job. Or a worse job that will force me to pursue another line of career, which could lead to who knows what? Fame? Fortune? Glory? For better or for worse, the possibilities are endless!

So I don’t have a panacea to offer you when things aren’t going well. But I am sharing this story with you because it gets me through rough times – especially during times of uncertainty. I hope it helps you as well.

In the meantime I’ll be playing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on repeat.

Rainbow

It could have been worse

Right now I am sitting outside on my balcony. It’s a beautiful day. I’m wearing shorts and an old shirt. I have a glass of ice-cold lemonade nearby and my favorite songs are playing. A soft breeze just picked up to remind me to take a deep breath and acknowledge how perfect things are right at this very moment.

Life feels really easy.

It has been far from being a perfect day. In fact, I started the day seeing that someone had hit my car and left without a note… again. While assessing the damage, a person who has made my family and me uncomfortable rode by on his bike and said hello and lingered as if we weren’t one incident away from getting a restraining order against him. After that, I went for a run and felt like I was being chased by all the unpleasant feelings those two events had generated.

So how did I get from this morning’s ugliness to this afternoon’s calm? Well, at first I felt out of control, angry and disappointed. And I thought my day was ruined when I so desperately needed to relax, rest and work quietly. I wanted to salvage the day but didn’t know how until this thought popped into my head, “It could have been worse.” And, boy, did I have enough experiences to know how bad “worse” can be. For example, the damage could have made my car undriveable. Crazy guy could have been wielding a machete. It could have started to rain… And a million other things that could have aggravated the circumstances.

And you know what? That single thought changed the trajectory of my day. I could breathe a little more. I could enjoy this lovely, quiet day and find ease in my body despite this morning’s chaos. This moment of peace is enough to get me through the next few past, present and future unhappy events. Sure, I could use more money, more responsibilities at work, more space at home, less stress on my commute… I’m not happy all the time but more importantly I’m not UNhappy all the time either. It’s true that life is hard. Which is why one of my favorite quotations is by the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride. He said,

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

We can add to our suffering by holding on to pain tightly and relentlessly. But how exactly does that serve us? Sometimes life really sucks (and it certainly doesn’t need our help to make it so) but it doesn’t always and those small (or big) good moments are what’s going to get you through the rough ones. So recognize when things are good as much as we recognize when things are the pits.

There are many ways to find ease in a hard life. And only you have the right tools to make it happen. Only you can allow yourself to find that ease. And your way will look different from someone else’s. For some it’s a long bike ride, for others it’s a good book or movie… Sometimes it is wallowing in the crappiness of it all. We have to be good to ourselves in whatever way that we can. Even if it means loosening up some of the hard and fast rules that govern our lives.

So how do YOU find or create ease in your life?

Balcony

I hate running

Yeah, I said it.

From the moment I step off my porch until the second I’m back on my porch I am hating running.

There’s no clarity. There’s no Nike-like video where a woman is running on a lonely road looking strong and confident.

Lonely Road

Instead there’s me shuffling along angry, tired and wheezing like grandma – wondering to myself when this torture is going to end. I know that’s the case because on one occasion I ran by a punk teenage boy wearing all black who looked up at me, smiled and gave me an encouraging thumbs up. He actually felt bad for me! That’s how sad-looking I am when I go running. People always ask, “But you must feel good after, right?” Nope. There IS relief that it’s done but there’s NO celebration. There’s no enthusiasm for more. There’s no “I feel great!” – only “Man, that sucked.” It’s just not getting easier.

I’m convinced that people who claim they love to run are actually doing it on a bicycle. They’re confused, that’s all.

I only run once or twice a week and about 3.5 miles. And every single time it takes all of my mental capacity to tie up my shoe laces and head out the door. All the block rocking beats in the world in my MP3 player couldn’t help. It’s always the last thing I want to do.

Naturally, on a running day it’s the first thing that I do.

I don’t love working out. Some days I don’t even love doing yoga. I would rather read a book, watch TV or nap. Exercise or anything healthy would not be in the top 10 choices I would make if I were given a menu to choose from.

So to get around this lack of motivation to move, I simply removed the choice.

It’s not whether I would run or not – it’s what time will I go running. In prosaic terms, it become a way of life. It removes the option of not moving. There’s no talking myself into it (or out of it). It’s just something that’s going to be done. I’m healthier when I move. Being sedentary is not an option and that left me with exercising. So despite my hatred of running, I treat it like the many necessary evil tasks of my every day life – just get it done and move on. Don’t linger over it. Don’t wait. Don’t stall. Get out there and get it over with. (This is perhaps why the “Just Do It” Nike campaign resonated with so many people).

This did not happen overnight. I don’t have the discipline of an Olympian. I first had to learn that I could do it and even reap the benefits. But like my yoga practice it evolved over time and I worked on it over and over again. I failed over and over again. But we can train our mind to help us make the right decisions for our body. There is no difference between people who exercise and people who don’t. It’s just that some people push through the inertia of a body at rest staying at rest.

This is not to say that I don’t do a happy dance for the torrential downpour on my running day. I do a little bit but I also remind myself: if not today, then tomorrow.

There is an effective mental trick in all of us that can get us off the couch and moving. You just have to figure it out. Maybe it’s not for running. Maybe it’s for doing another unpleasant task like polishing the furniture. If you have something, will you please share it? Maybe you can inspire someone else!

Photo via Flicker (Creative Commons) by Anoxlou.

Meditating without even knowing it

Meditation is not as big a mystery as you think it is.

Have you ever said something to yourself over and over again? Maybe under your breath or out loud? Maybe right before a big presentation and you’re telling yourself “I can do this. I can do this.”

Have you ever gone to someplace quiet or took a walk so you can sort out your thoughts? Or to escape your thoughts temporarily?

Have you ever used music to enhance your mood? Whether to cheer yourself up or as a way of expressing your feelings?

Have you ever taken deep breaths to calm yourself down when you’re upset or anxious?

Well, guess what? Those are all ways of meditating.

Meditating Couple

And there are countless of ways to do it. You might not realize that you’re already doing some form of it in your day-to-day life. We picked up these techniques from different people – maybe we saw it in a movie or read it in a book… Regardless, you have been unwittingly meditating to improve your life and get you through stressful times.

This is not to say that you couldn’t learn so much more about meditation. Only that it’s not as inaccessible as you think. You don’t need to be in an ashram, sitting on a cushion, surrounded by incense… It is a tool already found within yourself that you can use at any time.

And imagine this, if you are already benefitting from the little meditating that you are doing, how much more would you gain if you put more time towards practicing or studying meditation?

Need advice on getting started? Check out my post “Meditation: It’s here to cure what ails you.”

Good luck!

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Kevin Labianco.

Karma is as karma does (aka An ode to the guy who hit my car)

My poor car

Yesterday, someone hit my car in the parking garage and drove off without a note. We’re not talking love tap here. This person hit my car so hard that it ripped a hole in my back bumper, then he (or she) drove off without a word.

I was so mad that I ran out of expletives. I yelled, “I hope karma gets that bastard!”

But then I thought, what if this was MY karma coming back to me? Then my mind turned to my day wondering what I could have done to deserve this… I’m pretty sure I wasn’t a jerk wad to anyone today but maybe I wasn’t as nice as I could have been… And so on and so forth in a downward spiral. My mind stuck on this idea that I deserved to get my bumper hit and forced to pay the painful deductible. And, honestly, I felt crappy about it. I felt crappy about myself.

This is why I struggle with karma.

According to Merriem-Webster, karma is “the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.” Some simply define it as “you reap what you sow.” But karma isn’t that simple. Your life is affected not just by the things you think or do in this lifetime – it could be from a past life! Additionally, karma isn’t restricted to actions. Good behavior motivated by less than perfectly altruistic intentions will still generate bad karma. That is, you can’t do good things for the sole purpose of generating good karma (because that’s self-serving). The good or bad seeds that you plant in one lifetime could manifest itself in the same lifetime or in the next. Karma works in mysterious ways!

Maybe nice is not the first adjective you would assign to me (kind or sweet probably aren’t either). But I go through my day inflicting as little pain as I can to others. I keep to myself. I do what needs to be done. I don’t cheat or commit fraud. I play by the rules. If I can help, I do. If I didn’t make someone’s day, then at least I didn’t make it worse.

Nevertheless, bad stuff happen to good people. Good people like me.

I would like to think that good deeds are rewarded and that bad deeds are punished. But I struggle with the idea that I (or others) did something to deserve the bad things/events in our lives. And that I won’t ever know whether it was this action or another one. I wouldn’t even know if it was in this lifetime or a previous one! I don’t need to walk on the moon myself to believe that it isn’t made of cheese but the fact that you can’t prove the existence of karma or predict how it works makes it hard to swallow. It’s all a little too convenient – like whether God hears your prayers or not. If what you want doesn’t happen, then God must have an alternate plan for you. (<~Yup, I’m going straight to hell for that one. Sorry, Mom!)

Karma tells you to live a life where doing something good is its own reward but how do you escape the idea that if I do good, I will reap good things? Sounds more like true altruism doesn’t exist – not even for Mother Theresa.

I don’t think that life is meaningless or purposeless. I’m not denying that I can’t see patterns or causality in my life because I do but I also feel like sometimes things just happen and we can’t do a damn thing about it. Other than come up with a rationalization that helps us sleep at night… The Indigo Girls expressed it best when they sang in “Galileo:”

And then you had to bring up reincarnation
Over a couple of beers the other night
And now I’m serving time for mistakes
Made by another in another lifetime
How long till my soul gets it right?
Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?

I am not a karma expert. What little I know about it is a shallow understanding at best. But as of now there is no place for it in my life. Reality is hard enough as it is without feeling ambiguously bad about myself. Maybe the person who hit my car will get his just desserts or maybe he won’t. I will never know and I am okay with that.

The Alchemist is full of crap

Yeah, I said it.

The Alchemist with its message of the universe conspiring to make our dreams come true is (in my humble opinion) a bunch of baloney. When I first read the book 10 years ago, I was totally on board. I wanted to believe it. I bought it hook, line and sinker.

So did everyone else apparently. As of 2012, this book has been translated into at least 56 languages and has sold over 30 million copies.

Universe in a teardrop

But my feelings about it over the years have changed. Why? Because we don’t function in a vacuum. Our actions have consequences and affect others. If one person wins, it means there are losers. Picture this scenario: What if your goal is to win a baseball game or be the best team ever? Well, the universe conspiring to make that happen for you means it’s working against the other team. And all I can say to that is “WTF?!? Not cool, Universe.” That kind of arbitrariness is not something I want to live with. Not to mention that karma will tell you that wishing that kind of bad juju on someone else is going to land you in a whole heap of trouble. (Disclaimer: I am not necessarily a believer of the machinations of karma either).

So what do I believe? Personally, I take huge comfort in the idea that the universe is neither working for me or against me. Things just are – whether they’re beautiful or ugly. Imagine how much better it would feel for everyone if we were all prepared for and accepted whatever life threw our way? I don’t mean settling or compromising but more like doing our best and if things don’t go well despite our efforts, then so be it. That’s just how it’s going to be. Peace and coming to terms with unpleasant things happens so much more quickly when I don’t spend time trying to analyze and re-analyze everything. Ultimately, we will never know the “why” behind the events in our lives anyway. Though I guess you could then argue that it doesn’t matter what you believe or what rationalization you attach to life events… (If that works for you, why not?)

We are all so caught up in trying to find the meaning of life or trying to figure out how the universe works. Whether things happen for a reason… Or whether if we behaved in some terrible way (in this life or a past one) and simply “got what was coming to us…” I don’t know if spending time trying to figure that out serves a purpose when the truth will never be known. Why can’t we just be good to ourselves and others?

Like the Staple Singers sing in their song “Respect yourself:”

If you’re walkin’ round think’n that the world
owes you something ’cause you’re here,
You goin’ out the world backwards like you did
when you first come here…

But in case I am wrong and the Universe really is paying attention, then I would like him to know that I am still interested in, nay, dedicated to winning the lottery. And that I’m being good, praying to him every night and I have left him some milk and cookies for when he comes down my chimney. 🙂

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by H.Koppdelaney.