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Community: Something Bigger Than Myself

Community: Something Bigger Than Myself

communityCommunity used to be a nebulous concept for me. Sure, I belonged to communities before now: The writers’ community in Boston, a spiky, jealous, yet reluctantly supportive group of nascent authors. The expat Ohioans living in Washington DC, who spoke exclusively and longingly about the Indians and Great Lakes Christmas Ale. Even the honors dorm in college became a community, where nerds of every stripe unified behind underage drinking.

What does a community look like?

If pressed to give a definition, I would have said community was a group of people united by place, occupation, or interest; ideally it looked something like Sesame Street, but without Oscar the Grouch. A community seemed like a helpful but somewhat archaic thing, much like pay phones and encyclopedias. Surely the collective knowledge of the Internet was really all I needed. It never occurred to me that I may ever want to accomplish something bigger than what I could do alone.

I grew up around Mansfield, Ohio, and left town after high school. After college at Ohio University I spent eight years on the east coast. When I moved back home in 2011, I was broke, discouraged, and above all, lonely. I was surprised and thrilled by the warmth with which I was welcomed into both the artist and downtown communities.

What does a community feel like?

One summer evening, not long after I moved back home, I sat by myself on a bar patio, rereading To Kill a Mockingbird. I was feeling friendless and was pretty low on confidence. Next to me was a string of rowdy tables, packed with people about my age, laughing and enjoying themselves. It wasn’t long before they invited me to join their group, bought me a beer, and became the friends I hold dear as my closest today. Since then, I have tried my best to do the same for other new members of the community. Also, in the years between then and now, I came to learn how community is truly defined, both in words and actions.

Community is not just a physical place, but also an emotional one.

It is composed of a multitude of sometimes very different people working toward a similar goal. It is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a positive zone of thinking, a shared mindset where, no matter how truly annoying your neighbor is, you can work together for the betterment of all involved.

In downtown Mansfield where I work, community means taking care of each other. I had not experienced this kind of community before as an adult: more family than anything. We send our friends and customers to other downtown stores and we all pitch in to keep Homeless Garry warm in the winter. We loan each other our tables, chairs, rock salt, ladders, wine openers, employees, and cars. We joke, we gossip, we give advice.

Now that I feel established, strong, I can help all of us achieve something none of us could do alone: our dreams.

Look around you: who else sees what you see?

Who shares your vision and sees the possibilities you see?

Imagine what you could accomplish, if you had a little help.

 

Feeling unappreciated? Gratitude is the solution

Feeling unappreciated? Gratitude is the solution

FeelingUnappreciatedOverworked and underpaid?  Doing more than your fair share at home?  No one values your contribution?  Wish someone simply appreciated you?  

If you are feeling unappreciated, you aren’t alone.

If you want to get unstuck I have an unconventional and counter-intuitive cure for what ails you; focus on someone else.

It sounds crazy, in fact your friends probably told you to stand up to your boss and ask for a raise.  Your best friend likely told you to stop doing the laundry until someone notices.  Your therapist probably told you to read “Codependent No More”, and your family probably thinks you should change jobs.  

I know from personal experience that the cure for ingratitude is gratitude.  Since all of that stuff hasn’t been working out for you I’m going to suggest a radical notion.  Try this crazy idea whether you believe it will work or not and see what happens.  You really have nothing to lose.

Here is my prescription to the cure for the non-appreciation ailment:

Write one thank you note each day for 30 days. (And once you see the benefit you might just keep doing it.)

A real thank you note—on paper—in your handwriting sent via snail mail. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of thank you notes. If you want a simple way to change your life, your work, your relationships, your business, or your personal happiness then this is it.

I first learned the amazing benefits of thank you notes at an unlikely time for me to feel grateful. I had a really bad year where I lost my job, my home, and my husband in a span of six months. Life crashed in around me, and I had to take whatever work I could get.

I ended up taking a job as a commissioned sales person in a furniture store. My boss was a jerk, my co-workers routinely sexually harassed me, and I worked long hours.  On top of that there were many days that I didn’t make a single sale, which added to the discouragement. Needless to say, I often found myself feeling unappreciated.

As is the case in many commission jobs, we were required to write a thank you note to every customer who purchased something from us. At first it was just a task. In time though, I really started to feel grateful. 

The more notes I wrote, the more grateful I became.

I became so truly happy in my work that it carried over into my life. I started writing thank you notes to customers that didn’t buy anything. I wrote thank you notes to people outside of work.

I felt good.

There was a wonderful payoff, I started selling a lot of furniture. I’m not sure if it was because people appreciated the notes or because I was more joyful, less stressed and ultimately a better employee when I was grounded in gratitude. What I do know is that it worked. I learned it worked best when I started my day writing thank you notes for the previous day’s sales. It set my frame of mind for the whole day. None of the bad things about the job changed, the only thing that changed was me, which of course is the only corner of the universe we ever can truly change anyway.

I carried this habit with me through the next few for-profit gigs that I worked before finally returning to my first love: the arts. Any time things got too hard or too stressful I’d eventually realize I’d gotten out of the thank you habit. Once I started my day with gratitude again everything would turn around.

I know that everyone at times feels overworked and underpaid, most of us have times where we feel unappreciated or under-appreciated for our contributions. Never have I experienced the discouragement of that more than when working in a non-profit.  And, I know I’m not alone.  I’m sure that is part of the reason for high burn-out and turnover in the non-profit world. Non-profit workers are always paid far less than their private sector pals whilst having a greater feeling of passion and personal investment.  Interestingly, I let the thank-you habit slip for a year and it’s amazing how hard my work became.

I sat down and wrote over 30 thank you notes to people involved with my organization.

First I wrote the easy ones, the ones to people who are always positive and helpful. Then I proceeded down the list until I got to my most mean spirited critic. I stared at that blank note for a good long while. I thought about all the reasons I was hurt and angry, but I wouldn’t let myself get up until I could push that aside and find my gratitude. In time I was able to think of 3 things I truly appreciated about that person and I wrote the note.

The transformation was incredible. My heart had changed. I realized that I had real loving and appreciative thoughts about every person in my immediate sphere. Almost instantly all my hurt, anger and anxiety were gone. Not one person other than me had changed and yet I no longer felt taken advantage of or undervalued.

In time that energy spilled over into some positive and unexpected shifts in our situation. A major donation that was critical to operations was pledged, several people from outside my organization made a point to thank me for my service and I was able to sleep at night.  And it turns out there is science to support this.  The practice of expressing gratitude changes our outlook, our behavior, and in the end the way that others perceive us.

But Writing Thank-You Notes is So Hard! I Don’t Know What to Say?

I used to hate writing thank-you notes, and really it wasn’t for lack of gratitude, I just didn’t know what to say.  Once I said, “Dear Aunt Margaret, Thank-you for the lovely sweater,” I really didn’t know what else to say and I still had several square inches of dreaded white space staring at me.  

Then I learned that the trick is to end with the thanks, not start there.  Here is my easy 4-step authentic thank-you.  It works for all occasions.  Business, personal, someone you know well, a relative stranger.  It’s 100% NO fail!

The 4 Step Authentic Thank You Note

  1. Open with their kindness.

Dear _____________,

It was so kind of you to _______________________

What did they do that was kind?  They thought of you?  They came to your party?  They took time for a meeting?

  1.  Gratefully describe their gift/contribution and what you will do with it

The ______________ is __________________ and I will __________________

What did they give you or do for you?  How will you use it or will the contribution be applied in your life/work?

  1.  Describe how it will positively impact you

Every time I ______________ I will think of you.

What good will this do for you?  How are you better for what they did for you?

  1.  Say Thank-You

I can’t thank you enough.

Here is a template:

Thank-You-Template

Here are two examples.  One personal and one professional:

Thank-You-Personal               Thank-You-Professional

You’ll notice that in both examples I embellished a bit and that is always great.  Creativity is always a good thing, but stick to the format.  There is a real psychology to the process.  It helps facilitate authentic gratitude that impacts your thinking and has an impact on the recipient.  If you consciously focus on thanking others your whole world can and will change.

Mosaic, not meteor

Mosaic, not meteor

Each morning I read from a wonderful little book of daily meditations The Promise of a New Day to focus my mind on things that may be lost. This book has little tidbits of wisdom to get me out of my own head, which in these days of smartphones and multiple attention-robbing gadgets, can be a challenge.  Upon reading each day’s message my mind is filled with beautiful images, and some not so beautiful images.  I can see myself in these words, either on the wise-side or the not-so wise-side of the message.

This is my subtle reminder to be more mindful during the day and to nurture myself to be the best I can be today.  

Seemingly random acts, choices, plans and reflections make up the pattern of our lives.  This mosaic gives us a course to follow with blinding clarity if only we listen instead of pushing this spiritual enlightenment away.  Each day we unknowingly prepare for these bursts of clear vision through seemingly ordinary thoughts and actions.  One of the keys to harnessing our moments of direction is to hear and listen to that voice that resides inside each of us.

Ah, THAT voice.  

The same voice that whispers small doses of self-esteem robbing messages or messages that make us doubt ourselves or the choices we have made.  At times the voice emotionally cripples us with fear that is debilitating.

“What if I fail or look stupid?”

And many, many more ego serving, self defeating voices that stifle our flashing lights of clarity.  That voice is what talks us out of doing things we want and its partner is fear.  I am not sure who first coined “You should do one thing every day that scares you” but I do believe this.  Sometimes that scary thing is making a decision or taking action.  How many times has fear been your first reaction to a choice or action that must be undertaken?  How many times have you reasoned with your scared self and tempered the fear, pushed forward and had a wonderful outcome?  What if you had not been able to push through the fear?  What would the outcome have been?  What would you have missed?  Hindsight is truly 20/20.

Everything we do is a process.  

From the time we arise in the morning to our last step in getting ourselves into bed at night.  Learning not only to hear but listen to our voice is a process which each of us must develop.  Learning to unfold this habit can seem daunting at times.  I don’t know about you but it is not easy to trust a voice that I have listened to and followed in the past which led me to a place that was scary and heartbreaking as well as a valuable lesson in the end.    Is the cost of pushing through the fear too high?  We each must decide for ourselves but I would like to share my lesson and hope you are able to glean tidbits of wisdom from pieces of my mosaic.

My mosaic:

The choice I made came from deep within my soul and six years later that act changed my life profoundly.  In 2009 my father was having health issues which were not being addressed.  I listened to my voice and I made a decision to talk Dad into coming to Ohio from Louisiana to have a battery of tests with multiple doctors for multiple issues.  Three weeks later my father was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, small vessel ischemic disease and vascular dementia.  Bombshell!

In the beginning things moved along fairly smoothly.  

Dad was still driving and seemed better as he was being treated for his medical issues that had worsened the dementia.  A year and a half later he was no longer driving and needed much more help.  Within three years Dad needed help seven days a week and I was working minimally so I could take care of him.  My feelings vacillated between overwhelming fear, heartbreak and guilt for thinking I was not doing enough.  Beginning the fourth year, my husband and I were exhausted and Dad needed assisted living.  After he ran away for the second time, the facility asked that we take Dad somewhere else.

We brought him home.  

Someone had to be with Dad every moment of the day except when he was sleeping.  The baby monitor notified us of his restlessness and impending rise from bed.  Sleep was elusive and heartbreak was a physical sensation I felt in my chest.  I cried frequently and still felt guilty I was not doing enough.  In April of 2014 Dad had a stroke.  He had two more in the hospital which left him unable to walk or feed himself.  Dad’s transition to the Ohio Veterans Home came with more of that voice.  This time the voice was whispering self doubt and recrimination.  Should I have fought harder to bring him home?  Could I have done more?  Was this the right place for Dad?  It wasn’t easy but gradually I was able to push through that doubting voice.  I refused to allow that voice to rob me of my confidence in my decisions regarding Dad and his care.

The impact of just one choice

This one act/choice of intervening in Dad’s life in 2009 became a significant piece of my mosaic.  This piece was much bigger than the fear and guilt I felt and the heartbreak I experience even to this day.  The voice was guiding me to wellness, and is leading me on a search for perfect health.  This decision helped me see that my health and wellness were not something to think about occasionally, I must make my health a priority.  Stress alone had taken a huge toll on me physically and mentally in six years.  Lack of meaningful exercise and movement made me stiff and injury prone.  The food I was putting into my body in the name of convenience and exhaustion was not serving my mind, body or soul.  Lack of sleep made me sluggish and brain fogged.

My blinding clarity came from watching Dad slowly deteriorate.  

The foods served and consumed were full of processed ingredients with unpronounceable chemicals known to cause harm to our bodies.  Watching residents who had moved into the home walking on their own turned into needing canes, walkers and wheelchairs from lack of movement.  What I couldn’t or wouldn’t see before now became crystal clear.

I started a new journey by learning and practicing meditation.  

I eliminated from my diet as much processed food as possible.  I started  researching wellness and well-being and found an unlimited amount of information and avenues to explore.  Soon I was buying organic when available as well as growing some of our food again.  I have milk kefir cultures (SCOBY-symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) that turn milk into kefir with some 35-50 strains of probiotics every day.  I have learned that our micro-biome is what keeps us healthy or weakens us into disease.

A friend sent me a link to a workshop being held by Annamarie Fernyak and Linda Snyder called “Walking Your Path.”  I attended and learned ways to set my intentions, honor myself and how to play.  When I am able I attend Mindfulness with Annamarie on Mondays and I joined a gym.

The search

I kept searching and found Dr. Deepak Chopra and his teachings.  I read many of his books and in February/March of 2015 traveled to Carlsbad, California to the Chopra Center and completed two of the three prerequisites to start teacher training.  My intention is to complete my third course this year and start teacher training for Primordial Sound Meditation.  I am excited about the prospect of being a Chopra Certified Instructor and sharing tools to help others find greater peace and fulfillment in their lives.  All are pieces of my mosaic.

I hope you have been able to glean some useful information from the pieces of my mosaic and are able to put them to use in your life.

With even a small but sincere desire to understand your fear, something inside of you will open wide and you will see things totally different.  The voice of ego will diminish with your continued ability to push forward through this fear.  Start small, continue to make progress and before you know it you will be able to apply your experience and knowledge to help you add to or form your own mosaic.

An intention of gratitude

With the New Year’s arrival, instead of beating myself up for goals missed, I have set the intention that I will be grateful for all I have found and incorporated into my life that inspires me and is my path toward wellness and well-being.  I will add what I can to serve my mind-body-soul journey and approach this new year as an opportunity to add what was not attainable in the past year.  No self recriminations.

 

I was thrust out of my comfort zone…

I was thrust out of my comfort zone…

AMFThe “art of the pause” has been on my mind, as I was recently a participant at a Cindy Biggs retreat (SeeBigg.com). The retreat entitled CONFIDENCE, COMMUNICATION AND CREATIVITY Women’s Leadership Retreat was held at Mohican State Park.

I attended this retreat in order to bond with three amazing women. My intention being, to get to know them at a deeper level; to build a stronger relationship than is possible across the board room table or in our local coffee shop. What I walked away with however, was the sense of being more comfortable in my own skin.

What does, “to be more comfortable in my own skin” mean?

The Art of the Pause…
Consider taking a moment to take a few deep breaths. In…and Out…extend the exhale as long as it’s comfortable for you. Ask yourself, what does it mean to be comfortable in my skin? And simply note the physical sensations that arise. You can journal any ah-ha’s or words that arise in your awareness.

The day and a half retreat focused on confidence, communication, and creativity, and it was the creativity piece of this retreat, led by Lauren Rader, which moved the entire learning aspect from a mental dialogue about confidence and communication, to experiential learning.

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
-Pablo Picasso

The retreat, for me, was timely. If your reading this post, most likely you know about my new business, Mind Body Align, and the vision I have for women in our community.

Starting this business has thrust me out of my comfort zone and into the public eye, triggering all of my “not good enough”, “not smart enough”, and “who are you to…” gremlin thoughts. Starting and building a business with these gremlin thoughts as consultants can be crippling and would, over time, have a devastating effect on me and the business.

So, what do I do about the Gremlins?

Interestingly enough, the focus for much of the creative part of the retreat was confidence. The act of using pastel pencils to draw the sensation of no-confidence and then inversely, the “knowing” sensation that accompanies confidence, shifted something inside me. The image shown above is how I visualize myself in the state of being not good enough.

I teach and practice a form of meditation called Yoga Nidra and Mindfulness. These practices are great for noticing and “being present” to the thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they arise, and for accepting rather than resisting the thoughts and emotions.

Pause…
Take a moment to bring your attention to your body. What physical sensations do you notice? You can start at your feet by noticing the felt sensation of your feet on the floor. Then move up your body and include your heart and your breath. Are there any thoughts or emotions present? If it feels right, journal what you notice.

You may have heard the quote, “What you resist, persists”; mindfulness practice, and the practice of Yoga Nidra supports attention to, and acknowledgment of, all of the thoughts and emotions that are moving through your awareness.

In some ways, I feel this retreat experience has closed a circle for me. My drawing of the image of the Gremlin, “Just Not Good Enough”, simply poured out of me onto the paper.

When the image was complete, I felt a deep sense of relief; something akin to opening the closet to reveal the “monster.”

Drawing the image; giving the experience shape, form, color, and texture (possibly even a face), on the heels of my practices with Mindfulness and Yoga Nidra; attending to the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations of an experience, felt like finally slaying the demon. I left that retreat center Friday afternoon after having opened the closet door and illuminating all of its dark recesses.

Pause…
Take a moment to pull out some markers or colored pencils and draw. Draw anything that you might feel at the moment. There is no judgment here…and no one will see the result, in fact, I challenge you to keep it as your very own secret…like a journal entry.

In conclusion, I want to thank the amazing leaders of the retreat: Cindy Biggs, Lauren Rader, and Ethel de Jesus Tabora.

Thank you for giving me another powerful tool to support my voracious appetitive for personal growth and learning. I can honestly say I am a better, more enlightened, person today because of the gift you generously give through your work. Namaste’ my friends, I look forward to working with you again in the future!