Contemplating the Heavens

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Another month has passed, and here I am back to add another brick to my happiness home. According to The Happiness Project, August is the month I’m supposed to spend contemplating the heavens. The “to-do” list includes the following:

a) Read memoirs of catastrophe.

I’ve always loved a good catastrophe memoir or story, even movies. Maybe loved is too strong a word; I’ve always been drawn to them. I’ve read The Buffalo Creek Mining Disaster by Gerald M. Stern, Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson, The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough, Columbine by Dave Cullen, and most recently, Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. I’ve seen Titanic, The Impossible. I force myself to watch 9/11 every time it is re-broadcast so that I never, ever forget.  I own a copy so that when my son is old enough we can watch it together and he will know what I cannot explain.

I cannot articulate why I am so drawn to these stories. Perhaps it is a curiosity to see how the survivors made it out of the horror that engulfed them. Perhaps it is a hope that by reading about the details, I can somehow avoid ever being in such a horrific situation. Intellectually, I know that I can never be so careful to avoid every bad thing that could befall me, but the control freak in me screams differently.

My gut tells me that the real reason is the human connection I feel when I read and watch, the vicarious fear, grief, pride and exultation that emanates from these survivors as heat radiates out from a fire. I never want to lose that connection, so I read and watch, and for a few moments I suspend reality to be in the shoes of the storyteller. Then, when it’s over, I am grateful for everyone and everything in my life anew.

Which brings me to my next assigned task for August….

b) Keep a gratitude notebook.

This is actually a really good idea, one which I plan to implement for at least thirty days beginning tomorrow. Even if I only do it for the month of August, I think it will be a great exercise to make me truly consider my life and things and people that have been meaningful to me, things and people for which I’m thankful. Now, if only I could find the right notebook in my pile to make into the gratitude notebook … Orange? Purple? Pink? Red? Green? Hmmmm……

Can you tell I have a bit of an obsession with Moleskine notebooks?

c) Imitate a spiritual master.

A spiritual master? I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean! Is it someone like Gabrielle Bernstein, motivational speaker and life coach? Or is it someone more like the wonderful rabbi at the temple where my family and I are members?

I’ve always subscribed to the journal of “I’m not really religious; I’m just spiritual.” The trouble is that I’ve never quite known just what that meant. I think I’ll tweak this third of Gretchen‘s tasks for August a bit. Instead of imitating a spiritual master, I’ll try to find my own spirituality and be my own spiritual master by incorporating into my daily life the teachings that most appeal to me and that have the most relevance to me.

When I was pregnant, I approached my rabbi with the question as to how I should deal with Yom Kippur. I had always refrained from taking in any food or liquid for the 24 hour period of atonement, but being pregnant I didn’t think that was a particularly prudent course of action. My rabbi told me that one of the most wonderful things about the Jewish faith was that it was forgiving, and fluid, meaning that I could observe the holy day to the best of my ability within the limits of my physical condition, and, in fact, I was not to endanger myself or my unborn child by refraining from food or water. The following year, I sought her counsel again as a nursing mother. I received the same advice peppered with even stronger language. Since my child’s only source of nutrition was breast milk, I could not partake in the fast because to do so would be to endanger his life.

I enjoy my religion. I enjoy the camaraderie of Sabbath and holiday services. Mostly, however, I enjoy knowing that I can interpret my relationship with my God, and I am not told how I must conduct that relationship.

With that in mind, I will research spiritual masters, and incorporate what I like best into my existing relationship with my God. Perhaps God will be my spiritual master. After all, God loves all humans equally and allows for many different expressions of appreciation and interaction, so there is no reason I cannot incorporate different expressions and interaction into my daily spirituality.

August is for contemplating the heavens. I wonder if that includes watching storm clouds approaching and holding my face up to the cool winds that roll in just before a soaking summer storm.

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Happiness is a Pint of Ben & Jerry’s Bonnaroo Buzz

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Anyone for ice-cream?

My familiar happiness muse tells me that July is a month for buying myself some happiness. Without further ado, here’s how I plan to acquire happiness during the month of July.

a) Indulge in a modest splurge. I need a new pair of eyeglasses this month, and rather than head straight for the sale rack at For Eyes, I plan to stop by the fancy-schmancy eyewear store in the next town and pick up the beautiful pair of Tiffany brand glass frames that I’ve had my eye on for a couple of years.

b) Buy needful things. I’m an under-buyer married to an over-buyer. I guess on some level we balance out one another’s purchasing insanity, but rather than accepting that logic, I’m aiming to bring both of us towards the center.

c) Spend out. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten quite good at this. I get rid of worn out or no longer useful items in my household. What I cannot do is apply the same guidelines to my writing. If I’ve written something, even if I know it’s lousy and will never develop into anything other than what first comes out of my pen or keyboard, I am simply unable to get rid of it. I must learn that the delete key can be my friend.

d) Give up something. I’ve given up my bad habits over the years: too many margaritas or glasses of wine, too much partying, driving overly fast, the occasional social cigarette, eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Bonnaroo Buzz in one sitting when I’ve had a bad day.  I’ve eliminated all of those bad habits as I’ve aged.  To be fair, I still do crave that ice cream on really bad days.

One thing I haven’t given up, however, is my worst habit ever. I yell. I have an explosive temper, most especially when I feel defensive. So that’s what I’ll be giving up for the month of July, and I hope for good. I don’t want to yell at my child or my husband anymore, even when I’m seeing red.

I recently discovered the blog The Orange Rhino, written by a mom who decided she was fed up with yelling so much at her kids and decided to stop.  Her commitment was 365 days without yelling; I will commit to 30 days and when I fulfill that obligation to myself and my family, I will recommit to the next 30 days.

On Being Brave

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Lately I’ve been reading some squirmingly honest blog posts and articles by some incredibly brave women.  Posts and articles about drug addiction, weight issues, regret at having become a mother, past love affairs, and any number of other cringe-inducing “god, I wish I could erase that from my experience” moments.  I’ve had my fair share of those moments, but not many of them are nearly interesting enough to provide me with enough material for a blog post or an article.  For example, the time that I told my good friend I would never consider purchasing a particular house that had been for sale for some time because it was on a main cut-through street.  A street on which she and her husband had just purchased a house.  Ugh.

What reading those pieces has done for me, however, is given me the courage to look at my own life with honesty and try to discriminate between those little moments that are not worth obsessing over and the things that truly deserve my examination and analysis, the moments that have defined me.  While most of them have been good moments, I’d be lying if I said that all of them have been.

There is the gut-wrenching divorce from my first husband that shattered my soul.

There is the relationship (or lack thereof) that I have with the man who provided half of my DNA (otherwise known as Sperm Donor) that reverberates through my being, affecting everything from my self-confidence to my willingness to be vulnerable in a relationship.  I’d like to be blithe and say that Sperm Donor and how things went down between him and my mother, and between him and me, doesn’t affect me, that he doesn’t have that much power over me, but I’d be lying.  The truth is that he was my father for the first five or so years of my life, and his abandonment has caused problems for me, lots of therapy notwithstanding.

There is the ending of my career, the career that I pursued for most of my life with a single-minded drive bordering on obsession.

There is my marriage and learning how to navigate a long term intimate relationship with another human being not related to me by blood.

There is the birth of my son, the most amazing and awe-inspiring gift I’ve ever received, that turned my world upside down and challenged my opinion of myself and my world view.

There is the decision I made to start this blog, to put myself out there for the world to see, flaws included.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that decision set me up for my most recent defining moment.

Last week I received a mass e-mail from Danielle LaPorte, a lifestyle/career guru.  She is starting a new magazine in September, and she’s seeking submissions for the inaugural issue.  My heart leapt when I read through the submission guidelines, and instantly decided to submit something in each of the categories.  Over the last week or so I’ve been revising and shaping up various pieces, and for most of that process I’ve been doubting myself, wondering if I’ve really got any business doing what I intend, wondering if the reviewers will be laughing their asses off reading the materials I’ve submitted.  But still I’m going ahead.  Heart pounding, mouth dry, hands shaking, I will be pushing the submit button and sending my babies out into the publishing world.  I may get my head slapped, but at least I’m moving forward, taking chances, and building the life I want.

With any luck, someday soon I’ll be including a link to my published work.  Wish me godspeed and good fortune.

Fresh Beginnings

A friend from long ago with whom I’ve reconnected on Facebook recently posed the following query:  “Instead of traditional Resolutions this new year, I will be following The Happiness Project (by Gretchen Rubin) and starting my own happiness project. Anyone interested in doing this with me?”

I immediately responded with the equivalent of “hell, yes!”

I read Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project earlier this year and fell in love with the idea of figuring out what made me really happy and finding a way to get there.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a good life:  a family I love, a comfortable existence, and I really want for nothing.  But still there occasionally is a glimmer of “ooh, that doesn’t feel quite right,” something I can’t quite put my finger on, and I’ve been aching to figure out what, and more importantly, how to resolve it.  At roughly halfway through my life, I should know it already.

All that being said, I was hesitant to take on such a project by myself for the simple reason that I was afraid without accountability I would simply abandon ship when it got too hard to fit into my schedule.  So my friend’s idea was heaven sent, and I’ve made myself a promise (decidedly NOT a resolution) that I will spend as much time as I’m able trying to figure out what makes me really happy – not just content, but jump for joy happy – and how to get there.

I went out this past weekend and purchased a lovely new notebook, which I’m hopeful will be the first of many I’ll fill on my journey.

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And I’m starting this blog, which I’ll share with friends and family in the hopes that maybe my journey and discoveries will bring a smile to somebody’s face.

Happy new year to all.  Here’s hoping 2013 – the year that, according to the Mayans, was never supposed to be – is everything we all hope for.