clear eyes… full hearts… can’t lose.

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“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

If there is one thing about social media that can both warm my heart and make me cringe it is the plethora of kitschy, optimistic quotes it produces, tweeted and re-tweeted, posted and shared amongst the masses. True – I love a good, heart-opening, tingle-inducing bit of wisdom. But the flood of optimism sometimes drowns the inspiration before it reaches my shores. And yet…

I continue to subscribe. Because when it comes down to it it’s who I am: a big ol’ optimist. I just can’t resist. Even when my Pages feed is in optimism overload, I can retreat, unplug, tune out, feeling grateful (even while mildly annoyed) that a community of optimism thrives just a click away and is ready to deliver as soon as I am open and ready to receive.

What is it to be an optimist? What do I take this to mean? It does not mean that harsh realities pass us by as we strut the cakewalk of life. It does not mean that every moment we feel ourselves brimming over with beauty and joy. It does not even mean hoping and expecting our challenging and distasteful circumstances to change.

“What if life was not happening to you, it was happening for you?” Anthony Robbins

To be an optimist means to accept circumstances and choose to see them as opportunities for change: opportunities to grow, to expand, to transform, and to shift. To optimize is “to make as effective, perfect, or useful as possible; to make the best of.” Being an optimist requires taking responsibility for our choices. Responsibility. We can think of this as our ability to have a response, to be accountable for and in charge of how we respond, of what we choose.

To optimize is a choice.

What happens when we choose to greet every person, situation, and circumstance in our life as an opportunity – an opportunity to refine ourselves, an opportunity to practice being conscious of the choices we are making?

We transform our reality.

Challenges, when we optimize them, become opportunities to learn, to grow, to evolve – opportunities to walk our talk, and to connect with who we really are, and what we choose to be. This is the yoga of optimism. To optimize, to make the best of, requires acceptance; it calls upon us to release our resistance to the present moment and be open to the infinity of possibilities offered to us that can inspire creative responses to challenging situations.

 “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston S. Churchill

Let’s be really clear: there is nothing FLAKEY about being an optimist (although I am learning to embrace my inner flake… she’s got it goin’ on). Sometimes optimists get this questionable rap, as though to be an optimist is uninformed and naive. But we are talking about brain science here – about as UN-flakey as one can get.

As it turns out, Optimism, along with its cousin Happiness, is a learned trait. With practice, our brains can be trained to adopt an optimistic state of mind*. And research is all over this. People who are generally optimistic have better physical health, perform better at tasks, are better able to manage their stress, and have healthier relationships. Regardless of how gooood it feels to choose optimism, it is easy to continue to get hung up on “facts”. So, check it out – now we skeptics have some science to soothe our rational minds.

How is your brain wired? How would you like it to be? Look, it’s okay to want to feel good, and it’s okay to see the glass as half full. And, at the end of the day, we all can only speak with any real authority from our own experience. So try it on. Play the optimist for a week and see how that works for you.

Here are some exercises to get you started.

  • Practice becoming mindful of your thoughts. Pay attention to what you are thinking about. In practice, this can feel like one of the furthest things from easy. Our minds are bombarded with up to 60-80,000 thoughts a day. One thought leads to another and away we go, not even aware of much of the chatter in our brains, but physiologically responding to it nonetheless. Can you relate? Most of us at some point have found ourselves stressed out, our heart rate beating a little faster, our chest feeling tight, our throat constricted, our temples throbbing, our gut turning over. Many of us have just gotten used to a little bit of baseline stress like this in our bodies. Pay attention to these signals. Notice them and then bring your attention to your train of thought for some indication of where this stress is coming from. Where has your head been? Begin to notice what your mind is feeding your body.
  • Tell yourself some new stories. Once we learn to become more attentive to our thoughts we can practice reframing our thinking about the circumstances and situations in which we find ourselves. This is a conscious choice: to look at a situation with fresh eyes, to find the opportunity – the silver lining – in the difficulty. This is what distinguishes an optimist from a pessimist, this capacity to change perspective.
  • Get over yourself. It is hard not to love our own drama. But, desirable as it is to bask in the glory of our creations, we can practice shifting the focus outside of ourselves, away from our drama. And one brilliant way to do this is through gratitude and service. Go out of your way to do something for someone else. Google random-acts-of-kindness to get inspired if you find yourself coming up empty.

Feeling a bit self-conscious? Start by introducing the idea of optimism to the kids in your life. They’ll be all over it. Kids have this way of giving us the permission we do not give ourselves to wear rose-coloured glasses, reach for the stars, and drink from glasses half-full.

Bottoms up!

*Interested in how your brain rewires itself? Google neuroplasticity. It’s all the rage.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Dr. Seuss

Resources for your browsing pleasure:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027273581000019X

http://mariashriver.com/blog/2013/02/eight-ways-cultivate-optimism-and-confidence-dr-jason-selk/

http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_72.htm

http://life.gaiam.com/article/how-cultivate-optimism

http://thehawnfoundation.org/mindup/

https://www.chopra.com/community/online-library/the-seven-spiritual-laws-of-success/the-law-of-least-effort

And, must give credit where credit is due: thank-you, Coach Taylor. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0758745/quotes

 

 

 

Who Am I?

I became a mom. And then – somehow, somewhere – I lost my mojo. Yup – this was my Austin Powers moment – like waking up in a new decade to new music and not knowing any of the moves on this dance floor.  But, of course, the beat goes on. The story does not end there. This is where it begins: the journey back to me, to the real deal, to my authentic Self. The upper case ‘s’, Self. Not that little ego-reflection of my-self, the one that is consumed with the roles that it plays, with this being a mom deal. Sure, I embrace being a parent. I feel pretty jazzed about all of the roles that I play – most days anyways. But, there came a moment after having kids – or rather a number of little moments that make up THE moment – when simply playing a part just stopped cutting it. I was losing myself in this drama. It occurred to me, if these roles that I play were to disappear then who would be left? Who really is this person that I am? Who am I?

Who. Am. I. Three little words loaded with bang when you ask them together. And I started asking them. Who am I? And, in the asking, I have embarked on a journey back to myself. Along the way I’m reclaiming my mojo – my personal power, my charisma, my influence over the circumstances of my life, the kind of magic that motivates us to leap our asses out of bed in the morning.

Who am I? Who AM I? Some moments I’ve hardly recognized the voice I hear speaking. That nastiness, nagging, whining – is that really me? I hear the words that have worked their way through my vocal chords, yet I don’t recognize myself in them. And I wonder, when did I disappear?

Who am I? There have been days when, going through the motions, I feel a smile on my face. I’m laughing at a joke my kid made. But, my laughter sounds hollow to me – like an echo of some distant joy. But, it’s laughter: check. Pleasant tone of voice: check. Successful multi-tasking of dinner on the stovetop, returning voicemails, helping with homework, wiping up another toddler accident: check. Going through the motions: check.

Check. Who AM I? There was a time when I avoided glancing towards the mirror as I passed it in the foyer on my way out the door. I told myself this was because I’m not that shallow. C’mon – there are bigger things to preoccupy myself with than my looks. I reasoned, “life is busy and I’m busy with important ‘busy-ness’ and I’m taking it all very seriously, so there is no time to waste with vanity.“ I almost had myself convinced. But, truth is a relentless nag: I avoided the reflection because I didn’t recognize it and that scared the hell out of me.

Who am I? Where did “I” go? At times I have felt desperate: desperate to reclaim my joy. Painfully aware that there was more to me beyond these roles I play. I knew this because I asked the question. And something deep within me whispered a reply. A glimpse, that’s all it takes to inspire change, a glimpse of a deeper aspect of our selves.

So, I made a new choice. I made the choice to sit every day – not just some days but every day – to connect with that aspect of myself that is beyond the roles that I play. I sit in silence. It’s a rare moment in my day, silence. I’ve had to get up before the kids and before the sun in order to find this space. But, surprisingly, it was easy to do because I have ached for this. Breathing in this silence, I simply sit. I follow my breath effortlessly, my attention on the rhythm of each inhale and exhale, lingering on each pause between one breath and the next, savoring those briefest of moments when all that exists is the silence and the potential for my next breath. And I know – the way that sometimes you just know – that it is this potential that is the source of all that I am, all that I ever have been, all that I ever will be.

This stills me. My thoughts come and go; I see them, release them gently, and return to my breath. The tightness in my chest begins to ease, and I am reminded of my grandmother’s 1970s window sheers that hung in every room of her home – flimsy, synthetic sheers. It is as though my heart has been shrouded in layer upon layer of these tacky accessories – cocooned, encapsulated. But, each time, as I sit with this stillness, my breath loosens a layer of this suffocation and one of those filmy, synthetic layers just up and floats off and is carried away… and, I feel myself again.

Who am I? I am many. I am mother. I am wife. I am daughter. I am sister. I am friend. I am teacher. I am student. I am lover. I am writer. I am creator. I am believer. I am artist. I am seeker. I am meditator. I am all of these, yes, but so much more. Giving myself this space to be, accessing this silence within me, the pause between my breaths, between my moments, I am pregnant with possibility. I am pure potential.

When I do this day after day, accessing the deepest aspects of my Self, glimpsing my soul, I begin to see with greater clarity. My reflection is transformed, the picture before me whole.  I am whole. I am complete.

I remember me. I remember Who I Am.

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Miriam Desjardins is a Chopra Certified Meditation Instructor and the creator of Mindful Mamas, a series of mindfulness and meditation workshops. Coming from a background of graduate work in International Conflict Management, she is committed to bringing peace to the global community by promoting a shift in consciousness; a shift that she believes must begin at the level of the individual with the world’s moms, dads, and children.

Follow on twitter @mojo_mamas

When stepping up means stepping back.

Last weekend being a conscious parent meant practicing defenselessness, stepping back and allowing another to love and nurture and hear my child in a way that just wasn’t happening for me in that moment. It just wasn’t. I thought I had given it my best go, really. But, my daughter was having none of what I was putting out.

It’s the familiar adage: it takes a village to raise a child. Parenting does not have to be my solo act. But there is that inclination in me to want, or think that I need, to do it all, to be the ultimate source of growth and enlightenment and education and nurturing and love for my kids. I’m their mom! I’m the primary caregiver of mom-type-stuff. And, I’ve got this. I’m all over it. Or at least I thought I was. I was neglecting the Superbowl last Sunday to properly ruminate over this, when my co-parent who had been patiently listening finally put it to me simply. “As a mom you are like the quarter-back for this team. You touch the ball in every play. But, you don’t always have to be the one to make the touch down.” Bam. There it was. And dang – if it wasn’t all neatly packaged in a football metaphor… This idea, this self-applied pressure not to drop the ball, thinking this could really screw up the whole endgame, what is this? My need to be the one to do it all, it serves no one. It dawned on me that clearly there had been some important pages that had been overlooked in my parenting playbook.

It’s been my experience that we always get from life what we ask for, and in this case for me this was another opportunity to open my heart – lean in a bit more towards that lovin’ feelin’ that sometimes I work really, really hard to resist; and expand my consciousness maybe an inch or two. The practice of doing this, of shifting our internal dialogue, of dropping our defenses long enough to open our hearts and minds a crack, is always a bit tougher when it hits, literally and figuratively, close to home. Our kids, how we parent them, what they need and how we believe we can best meet these needs – we parents can become acutely sensitive and resistant to anything that diverges from our course, of anyone who suggests a diversion from our course. And yet our fiercest challenges and challengers can present our greatest opportunities for growth. Look – I like to control stuff. I like being in control. I’ve had to learn to chill out and go with the flow. I’m learning to become comfortable with, and even excited by, uncertainty. I’ve made a practice of detaching from the outcome – about many things in my life. But, my kids and my role as a parent, this is one area where the reins have been the hardest for me to loosen. My children, they are like these incredible little vessels of pure potential and I don’t want anyone or anything to mess that up. But I risk doing just that by restricting too severely who has access to their malleable little minds, by limiting the diversity of their upbringing to primarily my influence.

And so I came to this conclusion, during my own little super-soul Sunday, that sometimes taking a step back is the best way to step up as a parent. This doesn’t mean doing ****-all. It’s an emotionally intelligent appraisal of what is best for your kid in that moment. And sometimes what is best for them is to acknowledge that someone else can serve them in a way that you just cannot. It’s not always easy to decipher. Back in the ‘olden days’, as my daughter refers to them, the days before I was a parent, my thoughts about raising children were definitely colored in some stark black and whites. Now, for the most part, I am parenting in a penumbra. And by embracing all these hues of grey, by getting a bit more comfortable with some uncertainty, the ups and the downs, a bit more creativity and a lot more love have had some room to show up.

I’m realizing now that it takes a team. And that it is important to remind myself of this by occasionally giving a shout out to my team: to my co-parent, to the mothers and mothers-in-law, the grandparents, the teachers, the babysitters, the friends, the aunts and uncles, the neighbors, the customers behind us in the grocery store line, the baristas, the flight attendants, the other passengers… To the endless number of people who are part of my children’s extended community and who, whether consciously or not, are helping to mold who these little people are today and who they will become tomorrow. Thank you for being a part of my team. I trust you are doing the best you all can from the level of awareness you each have, and I am fortunate for the diversity that you bring to my family.

Thank you for covering me. And, the thing is, I’m in position. I’m ready, when anyone of you fumbles the ball, to pick it up and run. Game on.