Alone vs Lonely

Cozy homeWhen you are alone it doesn’t necessarily follow that you feel lonely and if you feel lonely it isn’t always caused by being alone. Alone and lonely are often mutually exclusive. In fact, some of my loneliest moments have been spent in a room full of people. I have felt lonely when trying to communicate with someone and realizing they don’t relate to what I’m trying to express or they just don’t seem to “get” who I am. Perhaps the worst loneliness you can ever experience is when you’re with a person you love because in a close relationship you don’t expect to feel lonely so it catches you off guard. We expect to feel connected and loved and understood in a close relationship – we like to have that safe feeling of being with someone who knows us – and when that closeness isn’t there we can feel like we have been cut adrift but there is a lesson in that.

The lesson is that whether you are married or single, spend most of your time alone or are usually surrounded by family and friends we are all, in the final analysis, alone. A lot of people don’t like that idea because it feels too solitary. They don’t like to face the fact that we are all islands in the same sea. We can visit other islands but we can’t take up residence. Every one of us is all alone in our heads – a lot of our lives take place in our private thoughts –  so it is essential to figure out how you want that internal environment to feel. How do you want to decorate your “home” – your inner dwelling place? Do you want your thoughts to create a warm, comforting place where you can always find love and acceptance? Sort of like a cozy room with a fireplace, an overstuffed armchair, a friendly dog or cat (or both) waiting for you … and how about a cup of cocoa and some warm cookies? Or would you prefer a cold concrete cell where you are punished with your thoughts of fear, insecurity and constant reminders of all your shortcomings, failures and disappointments?

Your actions, as well as your reactions, toward people and events all start in the inner room where your thoughts are created and, once again, I’ve been reminded of how powerful thoughts are. Recently I’ve been forced to clean my inner room because some negative thinking cluttered it and made it uncomfortable. I swept out the crumbs of self-doubt and fear, threw another log of gratitude onto the fire of my contentment, fluffed up the cushions on my armchair of love and acceptance, and lit the candle of hope. Instead of beating myself up for allowing negative thoughts to sneak in and accumulate I set myself to the task of cleaning house and accepting that this will be a task that will never end – just like cleaning the house in which my physical body dwells!

What a commentary on civilization, when being alone is considered suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it – like a secret vice.   

                                                                                                               ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Alone but not lonely

Alone but not lonely

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Living in the moment

Let your spirit danceMy philosophy of living, or at least trying to live, in the moment was tested this week. Ideally, when you are living in the moment you are not dwelling in the past or the future, instead you are honoring and being consciously present in the now. You don’t indulge in regret or nostalgia about things that happened in the past and you don’t project into the future in a way that causes worry and anxiety. I think it’s good to plan and dream as long as you don’t spend all your time thinking of the future, just as it is nice to revisit pleasant memories of the past as long as you don’t live there. One of the keys to peace of mind is to realize and accept that the only moment you truly have is the present one.

I am blessed to live a peaceful, relatively stress-free existence these days. There are really only two things that can make me unhappy if I allow my thoughts to take over and project me into the future – the death of my mother and the death of my beloved dog, Stella. I have no control over either of these events and I know they will eventually happen but this past week I allowed myself to be hurled into the future when Stella’s blood work indicated the possibility of lymphocytic cancer. Her doctor sent the results to a pathologist for further analysis and, during the 24 hours I waited for the results, I ran through the gamut of emotions associated with losing her, all created by my own thoughts. I was scared and sad as I thought about how much a part of my life she has become since I adopted her 3 ½ years ago. I morosely thought about how lonely my house would be without her and how I would miss seeing her happy little face first thing every morning.

Finally, I started to get a grip and it was Stella herself who helped me to do that. We were walking in one of our favorite places. It was a sunny, cool, and windy day – just the type of weather Stella likes the best. My heart was heavy and I kept looking down at her, trying not to think sad thoughts, when suddenly I thought “Stella doesn’t know she might have cancer. She is enjoying the smell of the grass, the feeling of the warm sun on her back and the wind ruffling her fur – she is living, as she always does, in the present moment.” As soon as those new thoughts entered my head I felt much better. I knew that whatever was coming in the future was just that – the future. I like to say that when the student is ready the teacher appears and Stella has been and continues to be one of my best teachers. She reminded me that life can only be experienced in the present.

So, as much as I understand and value the philosophy of living consciously in the present moment, I still find it difficult when faced with a challenging situation – usually something that hasn’t occurred yet but still fills me with fear and anxiety. I’m glad to report that I’m better at bringing my thoughts back to the present than I used to be but it has taken a lot of work to get to this point and I know I still have a long way to go. I’ll continue to work on that because it is worth the effort and I’ll continue encouraging others to do the same. I’m sure that the people I admire, like Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, Louise Hay, and others must also have times when their emotional calmness is disrupted and they have to consciously work to realign their thoughts. After all, they’re only human and life isn’t always smooth, right?

The good news is that Stella doesn’t have lymphacytic cancer. There are some weird things going on in her blood that have yet to be explained and she’ll have to be tested again in a month but, for the present moment, all is well. The sun is shining, it is warm and breezy, birds are at the feeder, the fountain is splashing and Stella and I are on the screened porch enjoying it all.

Be here now

Be here now

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

Finding the Truth

Finding the TruthContinuing along my reinvention journey, I recently published my latest book “Finding the Truth” on Amazon/Kindle. I worked in social services for 22 years (plus 4 years of volunteer work) and, although the story is based on a mystery, it is also an attempt to describe some of my feelings about the “business” of helping people. I worked with a lot of wonderful colleagues over the years, had some great experiences of teamwork and camaraderie, and helped many people who were in genuine need but the nature of the work, combined with the bureaucratic stress, finally ate away at the passion I had once felt. Even though the last 16 years of my career were spent working for a government I gradually began to believe that government, especially at the federal level, should not be involved in social services to the extent that it is. I became frustrated and disgusted with the way the regulations of entitlement programs trap people in a system that rewards failure. I was never a person who was interested in politics but my experiences led me to become more informed and even to reevaluate my opinions.

I started out with an idealistic desire to help people in need and make a difference in their lives but, by the time I retired, my attitude had evolved to one in which I assumed every client was lying until I could verify everything they told me.  No one could be taken at their word. I knew that many clients genuinely in need of assistance were lying, sometimes by omission, out of fear that they would not qualify. Many times their lies ended up disqualifying them when the truth would have given them what they needed. Others were lying simply because they felt “entitled” and had learned how to manipulate the system for maximum return. There were many times when I knew someone was lying but I couldn’t prove it so I was forced to provide the assistance. I felt like I was constantly chasing the truth, both with clients and with the system for which I worked and I’m not the type of person who can flourish in that type of environment. It was personally damaging to me. Applying a simple philosophy that I adopted from Eckhart Tolle – I knew I couldn’t change the system so I tried to experience it differently (change my thoughts) until I was able to leave.

Social services, particularly programs that provide emergency assistance for shelter, utilities, food, and medical care for people in crisis, is difficult work. It tests your patience, compassion, and tolerance and it can wear down your faith in humanity. It is  disappointing when you pour a lot of time, energy, and resources into a client only to discover that they have either lied to you or have gone back to the same negative behavior that created their original crisis. It is disheartening to see how entitlement programs that should be in place to provide temporary assistance actually trap people and take away their motivation to better themselves. I have a great deal of respect for people in the social services field who are truly dedicated to helping people and are not just in it for job security but, for me, the environment in which I worked became soul sucking. I’m not saying that I felt that way every day for 22 years but certainly my attitude changed greatly during the last 4 or 5 years and I realized I was no longer in the right place.

Since retiring I have found my own ways to give to my community and those in need without compromising my integrity and beliefs. I have also done a lot of soul healing and I think “Finding the Truth” reflects that because the core of the story is about redemption, proving I still believe redemption is possible for anyone who really wants it. I’m glad some of my idealism managed to survive.

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Silence is golden

Ocean dreaming 001When I was a child I was encouraged to have some “quiet time” each day – no TV or radio, just quietly playing with my dolls, drawing, or reading. As it turned out, this served me well because I have lived alone for most of my adult life and, although I enjoy my friends and social activities, I enjoy and value my solo time just as much. In fact, I don’t just value time alone; it is essential to my well-being. My mother was ahead of her time in some ways because, as an adult, I understand that what she called “quiet time” also feeds the soul. I was introduced to Transcendental Meditation in the early 1970’s at a TM center and have meditated ever since, on and off, using that method and others. I always feel better when I meditate every day but I realized along the way that it doesn’t matter how or even if you meditate; the important thing is to spend some time every day in silence so you can hear your inner voice. So many of the self-help and spiritual books I have read over the years stressed the importance of this one simple thing. Be still and know that I am.

We live in a noisy, busy world. The noise all around us and constant demands on our time and energy cause stress, anxiety and depression because we become unplugged from our deepest thoughts. Spending some time every day in silence, meditation, contemplation, prayer or whatever you want to call it allows you to connect with your creativity – the part of you that solves problems and comes up with new ideas. Quiet time invites inspiration. As Dr. Wayne Dyer so wisely put it “I think the word inspiration means ‘being in-Spirit’”. When your mind is quiet and you allow your thoughts to drift by like clouds, without trying to grab onto them, you will be in-Spirit. I can’t tell you how many times the answer to something that had been nagging at me suddenly pops unbidden into my mind when I was being still and silent. I have always found the quiet company of animals to be very soothing and calming – often, while stuck in a creative dry spell, a new idea comes to me during a quiet walk with Stella.

Like most things that are worthwhile, this is a practice that takes some patience and discipline before you reap the benefits. You have to make the commitment to yourself that you want to feel calmer, more inspired and more in touch with your inner voice. You have to turn off the TV or music and put down the book or Kindle. Disconnect from your computer and cell phone. You have to find a way to carve at least 15 minutes of solitude and silence out of your day and you have to do it every day. At first this may seem like a challenge and you will have to remind yourself to do it but, after a while, you will crave that quiet time and you will notice that you feel better because of it. Eventually you will be able to carry the sense of peace you feel during your quiet times into the rest of your life and it will help you to stay calm in the midst of turmoil.

The best quiet time for me is when I am outdoors enjoying nature, especially near water but, my screened porch or any peaceful place outdoors is fine. You have to experiment with different times and places and discover what feels best for you. Work with what you have – for a busy parent a few minutes in the car after dropping the kids off might be the only time you’re alone so don’t let it go to waste! Take a few deep breaths – most of us tend to breathe very shallowly, especially when under stress – and just let your thoughts drift. Forget about all the places you have to go and things you have to do for a few minutes.

I am a believer in the idea that you can change your life by changing your thoughts but the first step is to become conscious of what your thoughts actually are!

Stella takes a little solo time

Stella takes a little solo time

See more of my artwork at Lynda Linke Productions

Resisting “what is”

Great pair of shoesToday I’m thinking about the concept of resisting reality. I can look back at situations in my life when I was not honest with myself about what was right before my eyes – for example, denying the reality that a lover or a friend was not capable of giving me what I needed and continuing to try to turn the relationship into something it could never be, or resisting the reality of an unsatisfying situation, like where I worked or where I lived, and allowing it to make me unhappy with my life. I finally understood that one situation is not your whole life. I’ve also resisted reality in small, insignificant ways like getting annoyed while standing on a line or waiting in traffic. Yes, these are insignificant situations but how you handle them contributes to your overall sense of well-being. Every thought you have affects how you experience life and I realized at some point that every time I choose to be annoyed and frustrated by what is I am giving my power away. It could almost be considered a form of mental illness to resist reality.

 Resisting reality creates feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, insecurity and a lot of other potentially damaging emotions that not only have no positive effect on a situation; they often prolong it and make it worse. When resisting reality we are also not being honest with ourselves, which will eventually diminish our self-respect. After all, would we respect anyone else who is not honest with us? For the sake of our self-respect (yes, I’m back to self-love!), we have to be honest with ourselves about our situations, accept them as they are, and then figure out what we can do about it if we are dissatisfied with them. Sometimes the only immediate thing within your power is to change the way you think about a situation, in other words, choose to experience it differently. Sometimes you might be able to take positive action to change a situation, other times the best choice is to walk away from it. Take the path of least resistance – you’ll be happier.

For several weeks I have been watching a male cardinal bash himself into the two windows on the front of my house. He starts around 6:45 a.m., visits frequently throughout the day and finishes up around 6 p.m. Last week I hung a windsock in front of the windows, thinking the movement would keep him away – you know, the scarecrow theory? It was a windy day when I hung it so the streamers were flying madly about but, by the time I had closed the garage door and was back in the kitchen the bird had returned and was actually using the windsock as a resting perch in between bashing into the windows. I became curious about the meaning of his behavior so I looked it up on the Internet. Apparently some birds, cardinals being prime culprits, become extremely territorial during mating season and can become obsessed with their own reflection in a window because they think they are seeing another male. They will continuously “attack” the intruding male in an attempt to chase him away from their territory. This behavior can go on for weeks, even months. The bird thinks what he sees is real, whereas; we humans can actually understand the reality of a situation and still insist on bashing our heads against it, thinking we can change it if we repeat the same behavior over and over. At least the bird believes that what he sees is reality – what is our excuse? We engage in the futile behavior of denying or resisting reality and cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary anguish when confronted with serious challenges like illness, death, divorce, or economic hardship.

I have said before that facing facts is empowering. I’m not denying that facing facts can sometimes be painful but, once you get through the pain, you will be rewarded with the strength and freedom of self-respect. It is painful to walk away from a partner or a friend who is not giving you the love and respect you need but, it is more painful to live a life in which you don’t love yourself. Think about actually embracing your reality as it is in this moment and then determining how you can work with what is instead of resisting or denying it. The trick to embracing reality is to surrender to it – a lot of recovering control freaks (like ME) don’t like the word surrender because we associate it with weakness and giving in without a fight. If you can think of surrendering as just accepting and being relaxed with reality, instead of struggling with the ego’s need to control everything, you will find it easier to recognize the right path.  Don’t just keep bashing your head into the window! After all, the thoughts and actions you made yesterday helped to create the reality you have today – what kind of reality would you like to have tomorrow?

Reality – the hippest of all trips, the true diversion, the mind excursion. Reality. (anybody out there remember Frankie Crocker on 1010 WINS New York, circa 1964?)

All this serious stuff is such a snooze. Just get real. Nuff said.

All this serious stuff is such a snooze. Just get real. Nuff said.