This year, for the first time ever, I planted a garden. At the beginning, it was fun, rewarding and easy. I began harvesting lettuce within two weeks and peppers barely 30 days later. Every day was a miracle as I watched green tomatoes forming on my wandering vines. Then, just as I anticipated ripe tomatoes, I noticed something awful. Huge juicy caterpillars were munching my vines and my baby tomatoes. Not only were they devastating my plants, their overwhelming presence shattered my idyllic garden image. Almost overnight, my garden became both a challenging endeavor and a reality check. Much as I’d like to believe that disappointment or challenges don’t happen to all of us on a regular basis—the truth is they do. And because it is SMART to stay focused on solutions rather than the problem, here are 8 suggestions anyone of us can use to overcome the hornworms (or any other challenge!) you face in your life.
One of my favorite authors is a man named Parker J. Palmer. Parker comes from the Quaker Tradition which embodies such a genuine depth of spirit and connection that I am always interested in what he has to say. With a background in education, spirituality, community, and leadership his latest book is Healing the Heart of Democracy.” And while politics may seem a strange bedfellow to spirituality or even SMART Living, the manner in which Parker approaches the topic is relevant to every single subject I ever write about. Ultimately, every one of his themes leads to a greater experience of the whole.
Do you think you work too hard? You’re not alone. Many people I talk to, especially those younger with families, report being over-worked, overwhelmed and clearly unable to take even a moment to pause and reflect on the direction of their life. We all know that chronic overwork increases our stress levels, endangers our physical health, triggers depression and decreases our “life satisfaction.” So why do we continue to put in long hours? And what’s the solution? It’s likely that the simple answer is to work less and live SMARTer. In fact, there is evidence that working less not only increases the quality of an individual’s life—it is also much better for the entire planet.
What did you notice when you woke up this morning and started your day? Was it beauty? If you’re anything like me, you might not see much of anything until after a cup of coffee. But once my eyes begin to focus, I attempt to make a regular habit of looking at the beauty I see all around me. Actually, I believe that seeing beauty all around us is a habit we can all develop to create a happier life.
A favorite story I heard long ago is about how some young boys tried to fool a wise old woman who lived in their village. The boys, who had seen the woman hobble about town just couldn’t understand why the adults always seem to treat her with respect. Putting their heads together, they schemed to find a way to show how pathetic she really was. Routinely they tried to come up with questions they thought she’d never be able to answer—but she always had something wise and relevant to say. Still, they never stopped trying to trip her up.
One day a particularly mischievous boy in the group came up with the perfect question that would be impossible for the old woman to answer correctly. He plotted a plan to hold a small live bird behind his back in his cupped hands. He would then ask the wise woman, “Is the bird in my hands alive or is it dead?” Naturally, if the woman said the bird was alive, the boy intended to quickly squeeze the life out of it and answer, “No, the bird is dead.” If the woman said the bird is dead, then the boy would merely present the live bird proving her wrong. Either way, the boy laughed thinking he couldn’t lose. [Read more…]
Yesterday evening Carlsbad, California began its Annual Music Festival with a free Village Music Walk. Similar to free art walks held regularly in cities around the county, the music walk was an introduction to the music to be performed at different venues over the weekend—and just like most art walks—it was absolutely free. Now, most of us know deep down that the best things in life aren’t “things.” But until we stop, think about it and then start enjoying the many free experiences that bring us joy, we might be missing out on the good right in front of us.
There is an old Zen story that uses the comments, “Where are you going? Don’t know,” to make its point. For those who may not know, Zen is an ancient spiritual practice related to Buddhism that frequently uses stories, parables or “koans” to explain and deepen its teachings among followers. Many koans are paradoxical and used to shock the mind into enlightenment. So, when you hear a Zen Koan for the first time, it may not make any sense at all. However, at exactly the right time and place, the truth behind it suddenly becomes clear. That’s what happened for me after a few recent events.
Most of us are drama queens—yes, even you, my macho friends! While it is pleasant to hear good news from others, most of us are more easily sucked into situations where something unusual and oftentimes dreadful occurs. Psychologists say that urge comes from an inborn biological imperative in place designed to keep us safe and constantly on the look out of danger. But for most of us, our lives are routinely safe and secure. So, instead of looking out for lions and tigers and bears, we are drawn into the dramas around us with amazing fascination. And instead of choosing something saner or more helpful, we frequently pass it on to others rather than taking the high road and doing otherwise. That’s why it is SMART to let go of your inner drama queen and instead become a queen of calm.
With the new school year fast approaching, I think it is useful to recognize that people generally have one of two different mindsets when it comes to learning. Some people think you “just have what you were born with” as far as smarts or intelligence goes, while others live their lives with the belief that you can always learn more and become more with effort. Which are you? Sort of like a brain “operating system,” believing and behaving with either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset will go a long way towards determining your success and happiness in this lifetime. The good news is, if you haven’t been getting the results you crave, you can always change your mindset and go from there.
An important part of SMART Living 365 is creating happiness. But what do I mean by happiness? Unfortunately, many people in America seem to be working to either buy happiness or make happiness happen, and that can actually lead to more stress and dissatisfaction than anything else. So, before we go further, let’s explore what happiness is, and isn’t—how we can experience it—and why should we want it in the first place. [Read more…]