Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton, FRSL is a Swiss-born British author and vlogger. His books and talks discuss various contemporary subjects and themes, emphasizing philosophy’s relevance to everyday life. He is the founder and chairman of The School of Life. His books include Religion for Atheists, How Proust Can Change Your Life, and the novel The Course of Love.

http://www.azquotes.com/author/1709-Alain_de_Botton

Here is an interview he had with Krista Tippett, Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and New York Times best-selling author. She created the show On Being,  a Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, a Webby Award-winning website and online exploration, a publisher and public event convener.

Alain de Botton — The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships

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THE LABYRINTH OF LIFE. Martha Beck

THE LABYRINTH OF LIFE

For the past few days, I’ve been busy helping to build a labyrinth. My awesome friend Chris Brandt, master coach and landscape design artist, came and spray-painted an ancient pattern onto a 40-foot circle of earth under some huge oak trees near my house, and then everyone got busy finding rocks to mark the pattern as the rain washed it away. We put a statue of Kuan Yin, an ancient Chinese goddess representing compassion, at the entrance to the labyrinth. It’s like a gigantic human brain, all folded into itself.

I told a friend about this on the phone and she said, “I know how to solve those. You just keep your hand on one wall, and you’ll find your way out.” She thought I meant a maze. This is how our culture sees things: you’re in a place full of tricks and blind alleys, but if you’re clever enough, you’ll “solve” it and get out. That’s not what a labyrinth is. It’s a path you walk as a kind of meditative practice. You could walk out of it at any time, but you follow the patterns at your feet while releasing the patterns in your mind. Walking labyrinths is an ancient custom. Now I know why. I’ve walked my own labyrinth just a few times, and its curving lines have taken me straight to the truth about the way I live my life.

About halfway through my first walk, I found myself feeling terrified and angry. My thoughts went something like this: “This is such a waste of time. What am I doing here? I was two feet away from here before, now I’m doubling back for no reason—where is this taking me? What’s the goal? I can get there faster than this if I just jump….” on and on, ad nauseum.

As every life coach knows, the way we do anything is the way we do everything. The same thoughts that make me squirm in the labyrinth torture me when I’m writing, emailing, even sleeping. I should be going faster, getting somewhere. I should have more to show for this. I shouldn’t have to double back, to revisit old emotional issues, to wipe the same damn kitchen counter every day. These thoughts burble along just under the surface of my consciousness every day. They make me slightly anxious—okay, some days irrationally terrified—and lend a driven quality to moments when I could be relaxed and present.

I’ve heard the same comments from countless people, all schooled to the same obsession with forward progress. We set goals, draw flowcharts, march forward, criticize ourselves if we have to go back, if the same old stuff comes back to haunt us. We want to be DONE with things: the chronic pain, the haunting doubt, the bad relationship patterns, the grief of loss. We want to solve the maze and get out, to the place where we imagine there will be no problems to solve.

The labyrinth is teaching me to question the bits of driven, linear, achievement-based dysfunction that can make me miserable in a life of incredible blessings and good fortune. We didn’t enter life to get it done. There is no place not worth revisiting. We double back to find the pieces of ourselves that still clutch the same issues like a baby clutching its pacifier. Compassion invited us to this unbearably repetitive, slow, complex path of self-discovery, to show us that only when we surrender our idea of how things should be going do we notice that the entire thing is breathtakingly beautiful.

My loved ones and I are still building the labyrinth. Our land is not particularly rocky, so we’ve become obsessed with rocks the way a teenage starlet is obsessed with shopping. We cruise slowly past areas of nearby roads marked with “falling rock” warning signs, then stop the car, heave a few mini-boulders into the car, and speed off feeling the joy of acquisition. We have a goal (finish the labyrinth), we have a process (find rocks and arrange them), and the sense of purpose that comes with that is so familiar, so comfortingly linear. But in the end, what we’re building is a circuitous, contemplative, enfolded path that teaches us to be comfortable with the circuitous, repetitive, contemplative aspects of our lives.

Today, if you’re confronting an issue for the ten thousandth time, or feeling that your life is going nowhere, or panicking over how little you’ve achieved, stop and breathe. You’re not falling behind on some linear race through time. You’re walking the labyrinth of life. Yes, you’re meant to move forward, but almost never in a straight line. Yes, there’s an element of achievement, of beginning and ending, but those are minor compared to the element of being here now. In the moments you stop trying to conquer the labyrinth of life and simply inhabit it, you’ll realize it was designed to hold you safe as you explore what feels dangerous. You’ll see that you’re exactly where you’re meant to be, meandering along a crooked path that is meant to lead you not onward, but inward.

As Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Stop now, right now, and look around you. This is your place in the labyrinth. There is no place else you need to be. See with eyes that aren’t fixed on goals, or focused on flaws. You are part of the endless, winding beauty. And as you learn to see the dappled loveliness of your life, as your new eyes help you begin loving the labyrinth, you’ll slowly come to realize that the labyrinth was made solely for the purpose of loving you.

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Hallelujah. Bless you and Thank You Leonard.

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Meditation for Courage: Rudolph Steiner

Rudolph Steiner:  from a lecture given in 1910  Still apropos today.

Meditation for Courage

We must eradicate from the soul
all fear and terror
of what comes towards us from the future;

We must look forward
with absolute equanimity to whatever comes,
and we must think only
that whatever comes is given us
y a world direction full of wisdom.

It is part of what we must learn during this age,
namely to act out of pure trust
in the ever present help of the spiritual world;
Truly nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us.

Therefore let us discipline our will,
and let us seek the awakening from within ourselves,
every morning and every evening.

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Isaac Lidsky: What Reality Are You Creating For Yourself?

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Revealing Ourselves: The Art Of Self-Disclosure BY Martha Beck

Cindy was my own little JFK: A riddle wrapped in a question locked inside an enigma. She’d been my client for nearly three months, but I still had no idea what she thought or felt. Our conversations always went something like this:

Me: “So, Cindy, what’s going on in your life?”

Cindy: “Oh, you know. Like, my parents…[long pause]”

Me: “Yes?”

Cindy: “You know how they are.”

Me: “Um, not really. How are they?”

Cindy: “It’s like, well, anyway…I don’t know, they…like…[sigh]”

Me: “Like what?”

Cindy: “You know.”

As flattered as I was that Cindy seemed to consider me omniscient (she said “you know” approximately four thousand times per session), I eventually had to advise that she stop wasting money on a life coach who had no clue what to tell her. “But,” Cindy exclaimed with obvious dismay, “you’re the only person who really seems to understand me!”

Until that moment, I’d assumed that Cindy didn’t trust me enough to talk about her inner life. Then I realized that she just didn’t know how. To some degree, most of us share her dilemma. We want desperately to be understood, and we think this will happen when we meet the Perfectly Understanding Person. The truth is that we lack the capacity to make ourselves understood, the ability to disclose our real selves in a way that connects us with others. Even if you’re as stuck as Cindy, you can—and if you want to live joyfully, you must—learn to do it.

The Dance Of The Seven Veils

The ability to make yourself understood is a prosaic, practical skill, like swimming or telling time but more fundamental to your emotional health. In his poem “A Prayer for My Daughter,” William Butler Yeats called it “the heart-revealing intimacy / that chooses right,” phrasing that emphasizes the importance of opening our feelings to others—but carefully. Most of us reveal ourselves about as gracefully as drunken ducklings until we’ve had a little experience. Like Cindy, we may spend years in inarticulate silence, then blurt out things that make us feel, well, like we’re exposing ourselves.

The ability to disclose our true selves effectively is a bit like the famous dance of the seven veils, in which the dancer removes one veil at a time, with plenty of dancing in between, creating far more allure than if she just showed up buck naked. Relationships, even completely asexual ones, work the same way (one of my clients used the term falling in like to describe the happy dance of gradual disclosure involved in making friends). Our true selves are hidden behind innumerable veils. Each time we disclose a truth about ourselves—anything from our favorite color to our deepest feelings—we remove a layer. Pay attention the next time you do this. Notice the other person’s reaction. Does it make you feel understood, safe, glad you’ve unveiled a bit? If so, you’ll probably feel like shedding another layer sometime soon. If not, simply stop unveiling. By responding to your instincts, you’ll develop the skill of setting boundaries very precisely. This sets you free to bond with people who really understand you, while remaining cordially detached from those who don’t.

The Art Of Self-Disclosure

Cindy didn’t have any objection to shedding her veils, but she was tangled in knots of inarticulate shyness. She had to learn the art of self-disclosure from the ground up. I use the term art advisedly. I believe even if you’re a bullheaded truckdriver with the emotional range of a stump, developing an ability to disclose will require—at least temporarily—that you become a self-disclosing artist. There are several different ways to awaken the artist in yourself, starting with:

1. Let your body talk. You could assemble a group of mothers from Zimbabwe, Greenland, and New York, have them describe what it was like to give birth, and rest assured that they would soon be weeping for one another’s pain and laughing at one another’s jokes without any need for interpreters. Lacking a common language, they would speak in Body, the communicative code of gesture, movement, and facial expression shared by all people. If you’re not able to articulate what you feel or believe, you can use this code to let your deep self talk to your conscious, verbal mind.

Cindy and I started using this process shortly after she rejected my suggestion that she find another coach. I had her describe to me, in as much detail as possible, some of the best and worst experiences of her life. Her words were few and halting, but the more she tried to describe these events, the more Cindy’s body unconsciously began to express profound experiences: hands moving protectively toward her throat or opening into starbursts of excitement; eyes narrowing in anger, then widening in astonishment; shoulders hunching, drooping, squaring off for combat. Every so often I’d ask Cindy to freeze, and we’d talk about what we thought her body was trying to convey.

You can use a similar method alone or (better) with a buddy or counselor or (best) with a group of friends. As you talk about a problem or prospect you’re facing, ask yourself and your observers what your body is expressing. When I do this in seminars, I’m amazed by how much information people get from one another’s physical signals, how sensitively they can interpret nuances of feeling, and how much consensus exists, even in large groups, about what any given person’s body is expressing. If your mind isn’t sure what you’re feeling, you’ll be amazed what you can learn from and say with your body.

2. Fumble for words. Despite the power of body language, we are ineluctably verbal creatures; words usually end up being our preferred means of self-disclosure. Most of us don’t realize that humans have barely begun using language to describe subjective experiences. Until a paltry few centuries ago, most people were far too busy surviving to spend time discussing thoughts and feelings. Many of the words we use to describe psychological phenomena (depression, excitement, humor) were originally used to refer to physical objects or actions (a concave surface, the initiation of motion, bodily fluid). These words were adapted almost fancifully to describe feelings or thoughts. They stuck because no better alternatives existed.

Since using words to capture and convey experience is so new, I think we should all consider ourselves verbal pioneers, pushing back the boundaries of the wild frontier, groping for the words to express things that may never have been expressed before. If you’re intimidated by the thought of saying the Wrong Thing, try deliberately playing fast and loose with words. Most of us censor and edit ourselves when the words that pop into our minds aren’t sensible. If Shakespeare had thought this way, he might have written, “That’s a hurtful thing to say,” instead of, “These words like daggers enter in mine ears.” The second sentence is less factual, but we can feel its meaning viscerally. When it comes to self-disclosure, choose guts over grammar. Say what comes up.

When Cindy began to experiment with voicing her first thoughts, rather than the “right” answer, I immediately began to understand her better. “I feel like my head is full of sand,” she said one day, “with a bird in it.” Then she blushed and apologized, “That makes no sense!” But it made perfect sense to me. I could feel the clogged thickness of Cindy’s brain in my own head, sense the fluttering, winged thing that was buried alive inside it. My inner life had connected with Cindy’s, and her emotional isolation began dissolving.

Try writing down the phrase “I feel like a ———” and then toss out the first ten nouns that come to mind: pizza, orchid, sword, whatever. Now read over what you’ve written and see what rings true. Do you really feel like an orchid? In what way? Be as irrational as you can be. The less you keep the rules, the more your mind will begin to use words as vehicles to convey the sense of your experience, rather than as rigid structures that limit your thoughts and feelings.

3. Use artists’ creations to describe how you feel. Great art, in my opinion, is simply a reflection of the artist’s ability to disclose his or her inner experience very directly and accurately. I know exactly how Edvard Munch was feeling when he painted The Scream, and so do you. A sequence of musical tones assembled by Bach, or a few words placed in a sparse line by e.e. cummings, can convey pure emotion or articulate truths I never knew about myself—I have no idea how this is possible, but it is. A wonderful way to disclose your own heart, then, is to get a little help from artists who communicate feelings similar to your own. I tend to play music for my family and friends (“Here! This is what I’m feeling!”) as a way of disclosing aspects of myself I can’t express. I also plague people with drawings, paintings, books, and movies that have touched me deeply. It always strikes me as miraculous that I—or you or even the noncommunicative Cindy—can borrow the genius of artists who lived in other times and places to build bridges across the voids that separate our hearts from each other.

*****
As a matter of fact, Cindy the Silent gradually blossomed into one of the most expressive people I’ve ever coached. After learning to interpret her own feelings, speak freely, and ride piggyback on the self-disclosing genius of others, she decided to quit her dead-end job and enroll in film school. She recently sent me a still shot she’d taken of me sitting in my office with my dog, discussing the art of self-disclosure. Beneath the image Cindy had written, “This is a little underexposed, like me. But I’m working on it.” She didn’t need to say more. She knew I’d understand.

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The Top 48 Most Motivational and Inspirational Websites

You can now find inspiration anywhere, anytime. http://www.8womendream.com/6460/the-top-48-motivational-and-inspirational-web-sites

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How To Survive Life’s Rough Patches, Martha Beck

I just LOVE how Martha writes. So practical and useful.

HOW TO SURVIVE LIFE’S ROUGH PATCHES

"Long and Rough Road" by CT M is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“What is happening to my life?” said Dorothy, exhaustedly sipping a triple espresso across the table from me. “Did I do something to deserve this?”

By “this,” Dorothy meant a series of crises that had recently hit her like a gang of meth-crazed prizefighters. Her husband had filed for divorce—a week after she lost her job, the same day she was diagnosed with diabetes. Then her best friend moved away. Now Dorothy was caring for both her aging parents while paying a divorce lawyer way more than she (or her retirement account) could afford. “I’m not sure I can go on,” she told me. “Why is all this happening at once?”

“Well,” I said, “according to probability theory, random events can run in streaks. It’s like patterned disorder, and in nature it creates beautiful things.”

Dorothy looked as though I’d poured mouse droppings into her coffee. “That’s your explanation? My screwed-up life is just beautifully random?”

“It’s the most rational explanation,” I said. “It’s not my explanation.”

“What is?”

I shrugged. “I think you’ve hit a rumble strip.”

Then I laid out for Dorothy what I’ll now lay out for you, just in case your own current luck makes Job look like a lottery winner. I don’t know why catastrophes sometimes come in clusters. But experience and observation have convinced me that these patches of awfulness may be purposeful and, in the end, benevolent. If you’ve had a run of horrible luck, you can tell yourself you’re being tortured or punished. Or you can decide you’re being steered.

Life Is a Highway

Imagine that your true self is your essential consciousness, the part of you that still feels what it was like to be you ten years ago, even though most of the atoms in your physical body have been replaced since then. Suppose you set out to experience the adventure of human life by inhabiting your body. And that this essential you sees your life as an epic road trip. Destination: inner wisdom, love, and joy.

Now let’s suppose you forgot this destiny at birth. In its place you created a mental map of the life route you preferred—passing through good health, perfect romance, and professional success on the way to a cheery, painless death (say, being struck by a meteorite while bicycling at the age of 110).

Unfortunately, your essential self very probably has in mind a stranger and more exciting road, featuring spooky tunnels, scary precipices, and sharp curves. Which means your destiny isn’t at all what you think you want. Which means that as you drive along the road of life, there will be times when your essential self plans to turn even though you most certainly do not.

Behold the Rumble Strip

If you’re paying attention to your environment, relaxing and following the road, detours from your mental map may be unnerving but not catastrophic. Maybe you planned to become a dentist and marry your high school boyfriend, only to realize that (1) you hate staring into other people’s mouths, and (2) you actually prefer women. So you quit dental school, break up with Mr. Wrong, and find work and love that suit your innate preferences.

Or not. This is a best-case scenario, and such scenarios virtually never happen.

What virtually always happens is that when destiny swerves, we proceed straight ahead. We step on the gas, ignoring the fact that we feel trapped in the dead relationship, stifled by the secure job. We go blind to the landscape and the road signs, steering by our assumptions about what life should be, as unaware of those assumptions as a sleeping driver is of her unconsciousness.

Et voilà: rumble strip.

Suddenly, everything’s shaking, jolting, falling apart. We have no idea what’s happening or why, only that all hell has broken loose. It gets worse and worse—until we wake up, see through our false assumptions to the deeper truth of our situation, and revise our life maps. This isn’t punishment. It’s enlightenment dressed as chaos.

My Rumble Strip

I hit my first rumble strip while driving hell-for-leather toward my third Harvard degree. In six memorable months, I was almost killed in a car accident, in a high-rise fire, and by a violent autoimmune reaction to an accidental pregnancy. I had incessant nausea. And fibromyalgia. And lice. By the time the baby was diagnosed with Down syndrome, I was pretty much done for.

It took all that to shatter my core assumption: that achievement and intellect gave my life its value. Only after my world seemed to completely fall apart did I learn the lesson my true self needed me to learn: that no brass ring is worth a damn compared with the one thing that makes life worth living—love. Duh. You’d think I’d have figured that out earlier. There were signs absolutely everywhere. But until my first rumble strip shook me awake, I never even noticed them.

I’ve had other streaks of awful “luck” since, but none has ever caused as much suffering. That’s because I’ve developed a rumble-strip coping strategy. If your own luck seems weirdly cursed, try this:

Navigating Rumble Strips

STEP 1: Hit the brakes.

When Dorothy told me over coffee that she wasn’t sure she could go on, I secretly rejoiced—not because I wanted her to suffer, but because I didn’t.

“Yup,” I said, trying not to sound smug. “The rumble strip is telling you to stop.”

“Stop what?”

“Everything,” I told her. “Except what’s necessary to survive. Eat. Sleep. Go to the bathroom. Make sure your children, pets, and sick parents eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. If that’s beyond you, ask for help. Not forever. Just for now.”

This time Dorothy looked as though I’d asked her to stab a baby panda, but she was too exhausted to argue. That was a good thing. When you feel so beaten down that you can’t sustain normal activities, it’s time to stop trying. Surrender, Dorothy.

STEP 2: Put your mind in reverse.

From a place of minimal functioning, you can back off the rumble strip—by reversing the assumptions that steered you onto it in the first place. These key assumptions are clearly marked with intense negative emotions: fear, anger, sadness. Such feelings are big red WRONG WAY signs. Back away from them.

To help Dorothy do this, I asked her which, of all her tribulations, was causing her the most pain. Topping her very long list was the thought “My marriage has failed.” So that’s where we began shifting Dorothy’s mind into reverse.

“Give me three reasons your marriage actually didn’t fail,” I said.

“But it did!” Dorothy muffled a sob.

“Well, was any part of it good?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Did you learn from it?”

“I learned so much,” said Dorothy.

“And is every learning experience that comes to an end a failure?” I asked. “Like school, or childhood, or life?”

“Well, no.”

Dorothy paused, thinking. Then her shoulders relaxed just a little. Ta-da! She’d begun reversing a painful assumption.

To be clear, I wasn’t trying to minimize Dorothy’s pain or plaster a creepy happy face over her legitimate sorrow. I only wanted her to alter her beliefs enough to catch a glimpse of a different road, where a marriage could succeed as a soul adventure even if it didn’t last forever.

Try throwing your mind into reverse right now. Think of the worst, most hurtful thing that’s happening in your life. Now think of a way this horrible thing might be good. The more rigidly you hold on to your assumptions, the harder this process will be. But with practice you’ll improve—and trust me, it’s so worth the effort. When life gets rumbly, being able to reverse an assumption turns out to be the handiest skill imaginable.

STEP 3: Find and follow smooth terrain.

Because rumble strips are one of the few experiences that will make sensible people hire a life coach, I’ve been privy to hundreds of them. And I’ve noticed a very consistent pattern: At the point when someone sees through a false assumption, the road of life suddenly turns smooth. Instead of crazy bad luck, bits of strangely good luck start showing up. They’re small at first, inconspicuous. Never mind—slather them with attention. Your attention is what steers your life, and it’s much more pleasant to steer by focusing on the good stuff.

In Dorothy’s case, the moment she reversed her assumption that divorce always means failure, the waitress brought her a cupcake, said, “On the house,” and walked away. Later that afternoon, Dorothy found an abandoned New York Times unfolded to an article titled “The Good Divorce,” which helped and encouraged her. Then she ran into a former boyfriend she hadn’t seen in years. During their brief interaction, he told her how much he still respected her, and how valuable their “failed” relationship still was to him.

Little miracles like this will begin happening to you whenever you turn toward your right life, even if you’re in the middle of a rumble strip. If you stop everything you think you should be doing, surrender to what’s actually happening, reverse your assumptions, and steer toward the glimmers of light that appear as your old beliefs shatter, the small miracles will turn into big ones. Eventually, your good luck will seem as incredible and mysterious as your bad. Once more you’ll be asking, “Did I do something to deserve this?” Only this time, the question will arise from a sense of overwhelming gratitude, not overwhelming pain.

By the way, the answer to that question is yes. You did do something to deserve this. You had the courage to keep traveling the precarious road of life. You deserve to be guided. And rewarded. And, when all else fails, rumbled.

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The Invincible Summer Inside You and other Wisdom from Martha Beck

I cannot resist sharing the latest from MARTHA BECK.

The Invincible Summer Inside You

I’m thinking of training a hamster to predict the weather in California, where I live. It won’t be difficult; I’ll purchase two buttons – a red one that says “sunny” and a blue one that says “not sunny.” Then I’ll teach the hamster that the blue button doesn’t exist. We’ll make millions!

For those of you who don’t live in California, please accept my deepest sympathy. The first time I ever sought professional counseling was during my freshman year in college. I told the psychiatrist at the student health services that I was weepy, despairing, and unwilling to get out of bed. He glanced at his watch and said, in a casual tone, “it’s February.” Apparently, every February, Massachusetts sees a mass rush to psychotherapy. It’s not the cold as much as it’s the darkness, or maybe it’s the wetness. Or maybe it’s the wind – I remember being unable to carry my sketchbook to art class without being blown off course as if I were a ship in full sail. February in the northern hemisphere is hard on the body and the soul.

Albert Camus wrote, “in the midst of winter I finally learned that there is in me an invincible summer.” I believe this is true of every human being. In ancient cultures, there are distinct rituals for dealing with winter – both the winter of the earth and the winter of the soul. In our culture, we put on our microfleece, plug in fluorescent tubing, and pretend February isn’t happening or that it isn’t hard. I suggest we go back to the ways in which thousands of generations of humans learned to get through hard times. If you are having a February – and I mean a February – try these nearly universal ways of coping:

  • Be still. When times are difficult, many of us think we should get up and get moving. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth century mystic wrote, “I need to be silent for a while, worlds are forming in my heart.” During the times we think we’re being “unproductive,” the seeds of new worlds are germinating within us, and they need peace to grow.
  • Breathe. If only I had known during the worst times of my life how much conscious breathing can change our brains, I would have missed a lot less sleep, suffered a lot less physical pain, and avoided a lot of depression. Deep steady attentive breathing, as simple as it sounds, is a cornerstone of almost all mystical traditions. If you’re having a February, try ten minutes of lovingly observing the way your body breathes for you. Be grateful for the miracle. Gratitude for the breath takes the brain into gratitude for everything in life. After watching someone struggle with terminal lung cancer, I am literally conscious of almost every breath I take and that consciousness has warmed my heart a great deal this February.
  • Sleep as much as you can. Our bodies were designed to fall asleep when it gets dark. When we force them to stay awake during darkened hours it messes with our brain chemistry. In a place like Massachusetts during February, this means sleeping approx 23 hours and 45 minutes a day. Do you have a problem with that? Get over it.
  • Come to California. Visiting a sunny place even briefly can rejuvenate your entire system during February. Besides visiting a warmer climate, you can head toward the equator emotionally by watching a warmer climate on video, getting together with a silly friend, or reading a book by a warm and compassionate author. You must make time for such mini vacations!

If the weather in your home gets brutal, these suggestions might help until the sun makes its way back north. If the weather in your heart is the problem you may not have to wait as long. The moment we acknowledge the invincible summer within us, the light edges closer, and the temperature goes up ever so slightly. Keep tending that inner flame, and soon there will be enough light and heat to cheer not only you, but everyone around you. – at least that’s what this hamster tells me.

~MarthaTrees with some broken Branches by heavy Snow in Winter, Sun shining through

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Bless This Mess. By the brilliant Martha Beck

I’m always pathetically grateful for January, this blank slate of a month, in which I can resolve to clean up the utter mess I made of the holidays. I always mess up the holidays. Combine my logistical incompetence with the social demands of December, and you have the Hindenburg of social faux pas. I could tell you everything I did wrong last month, but then I’d end up in bed eating the Funyuns of Shame for another week, so let us not speak of it.

Suffice it to say that as 2015 begins, I’m taking stock of my life and realizing that I have messed up virtually everything I’ve ever done for over half a century. News flash: I am never going to do life right.

And yet…

By being my incompetent self, I seem to have weeded out the friends and acquaintances who can’t stand my inadequacies. Each year I’m surrounded by more kind, understanding people who seem willing to love the messes I make.

When neurosurgeon Eben Alexander went into a coma and had one whale of a near-death experience, he received three messages:  “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever,” “You have nothing to fear,” and “There is nothing you can do wrong.”

My New Year’s resolution is first, to do my best in all situations, and second, to stand in the mess that is my best, and remember Alexander’s three messages:  Dearly loved, nothing to fear, no way to get it wrong.

Just contemplating this helps me put down the Funyuns. It makes me suspect that maybe, instead of being here to get things right, we’re here to learn to love the mess that is every human life. If that’s the one thing I get right this year, it just may be enough.

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