The Flags Fly At Half Staff

The flags fly at half-staff in remembrance of the dead and a poignant reminder of loss. Maybe they should stay that way for perpetuity, since this war will never end.

Whether it’s in Kenya, Lebanon, Paris, South Carolina, or New York, when one of us is hurt, we all are hurt. Whether it’s international terrorism or homegrown, one thing is for certain – evil will always exist.

Indian activist and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi said, “where there is love, there is life.” Unfortunately, the opposite holds true as well. Where there is hate, there is death. Intolerance breeds destruction.

How can we all not suffer from some form of PTSD? Violence and horrific images are everywhere we turn. Because life must go on, we attempt to go about our business as usual and not give into the fear; however, fear remains in the dark crevices of our psyche.

As I watch the news or read the headlines, I wonder when the simple act of walking out my front door will feel more like Russian roulette. Many in the U.S. and around the world already suffer this truth, why shouldn’t I? Why should I feel safe? Safety is a luxury.

To combat this depressing dilemma, I remind myself to practice love and compassion. I remind myself to be grateful for the freedom to speak openly in a safe place. Being grateful for everyday freedoms, are most certainly some of the things I take for granted, among other things.

Painful events increase my efforts to be a better person – someone worthy of my dog’s unconditional love. I’m reminded of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Calcutta missionary Mother Theresa. Her love for all humans gave her the strength and courage to stand up to injustice making many lives better. Even after death, she continues to inspire new generations.

While there is a seemingly endless cycle of sadness in our world, faith, hope and love remain steadfast in my heart. If Nelson Mandela, former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, can hold to his convictions while spending a quarter of a century of his life in prison, the least I can do for all the peacemakers in the world is share compassion and love.

Mandela recited the poem Invictus by William Earnest Henley during his prison stay to lift the spirits of his fellow inmates. I find this poem inspiring as well.

by William Earnest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Author: Angela Ashley

Importance Of Friendship

Even as an introvert I have found no problem making friends. I use the word “friends” loosely here. I believe there are three types of friends, each of whom have played an important role in understanding my sense of self.

1.) The convenient friend.

This is the type of friend you have for the season. That is, the friend you meet along the road, as you both travel your life journey. You are together for a “season” or two, until one or both of you goes on to your next adventure. You may feel bereft for a while but then you cross paths with someone new and another friendship begins; it’s a cyclical pattern.

2.) The toxic friend.

This one can radically alter your mood for the worst and for me should be avoided if possible. For whatever reason, their negative mood or vibe is contagious. Do they make you feel bad about yourself, agitated, or maybe even ill? Are they consumed in drama ALL THE TIME? Are you finding they always have problems and somehow every conversation is all about them. If so, you could be in a toxic friendship. Remember the saying you are who you “associate” with, hanging out with this friend will only bring you down.

3.) The enduring friend.

This type of friendship is what Aristotle referred to as “friendships of the good,” which he believed to be highly valuable, and necessary for one to live a happy life.

They are rare and you may only have a handful during your life. But if you are lucky enough, you’ll find at least one. I consider myself very lucky to have found a few.

These friends are the people you count on when something big happens in your life. They are honest, and always have your best interest at heart.

**I want to try to have only enduring friendships, otherwise I feel phony.

Life is too short to have or to be a bad friend. Some friendships will drift away, while others may stay the course. But I’ve come to terms with that, it’s sad sometimes to let go of friendships and accept their end, but again nothing is permanent. Remember each and every relationship, good or bad, teaches you something about yourself.

How To Center Yourself For Greatness

One can center their life on an array of things: family, self, principles, friends, work, money, and a host of others. Many things influence our lives. However, it is crucial to have a solid center, because it affects how we interact, perceive, and interpret people and the world around us; circumstances that influence both our actions and reactions.

Centering your life on a series of core principles allows a stable foundation for personal growth. By principles, I mean the values and beliefs that make up your very core or character (in essence who you are). Unlike other life factors, principles are consistent and don’t depend on the behavior of others or the environment. Your principles should be fundamental truths that are timeless and unchangeable.

For me, holding to my principles is essential because I am a highly sensitive person who is often affected by other people and my surroundings. I’m like a sponge, I will soak-up others’ emotions. In crowds or social situations I tend to get very anxious and overwhelmed. I have found that creating a mission statement or daily affirmation helps me re-focus and re-center my mind in these situations.

One of the greatest assets of the human mind is imagination. Through it you can visualize a situation using your affirmation: that is, you see it, feel it, and experience it before it actually happens. So when you get into an uncomfortable situation it is not foreign, because you have created an internal comfort zone.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey points to the importance of affirmations in becoming the person that you really want to be. An affirmation should be personal, positive, engaging, and emotional. Many athletes and peak performers partake in this activity. You can do it before a game, performance, presentation, or really any event/situation.

According to Covey, it allows you to handle the situation with awareness. Visualizing that experience in advance forces you to think through your priorities carefully, so that you can align your behavior with your beliefs.

Here is an example of one of my affirmations: It is fulfilling (emotional) that I (personal) listen (engaged) with an open heart and think before acting, so that my decisions are made with love and integrity.

 Such an affirmation is leading me down a path not driven by the superficial dramas that surround me but by a script that I have created for myself; a mission based on my own set of values.

Let Go Of The Past

You can only lose what you cling to. – Buddha

Most of us have feelings of regret at some point in our lives. Things we wish we had said or done differently (or not at all). However, it can be toxic to cling too tightly to the past. For me it’s like a venomous snakebite. The longer you wait to treat the wound the more conditions worsen as the venom spreads throughout your body.

Regrets can give you a sense of loss, sadness, or even anger. But suppressing those feelings or denying them will only prolong the pain. It can virtually take over your life and essentially become who you are. We must keep in mind that this continued suffering is of our own choosing. While no one wants to feel the pain of regret, letting it fester only makes things worse and serves to keep happiness at bay.

Emotions are temporary; they change like everything else in this world. We don’t need to attach ourselves to negative emotions. The only thing for certain is that nothing is for certain.

Yes, all actions have consequences, but those consequences may not always be in your control. I once held onto a relationship just because I needed closure from him so I could move on. But we can’t change others, we can only change ourselves. I eventually ended the relationship and created my own closure so I could “shed” the past. Not only did I feel better, but also I was free.

Instead of holding onto the loss of someone or a relationship, grieve. Regrets come from the mistakes we make, and everyone makes mistakes. We should learn from our mistakes and move on. So reflect, learn, and grow. Don’t let your past define you, but let it help shape who you want to be.

Avoid Getting Entangled In Dead-End Relationships

First and foremost, in attempting a relationship you need to make sure you are both EMOTIONALLY available; that is, you both are available and willing participants. An effective relationship should be mutual and reciprocal. If you overlook, or try to rationalize the “unavailability” of your partner in order to avoid short-term disappointment you run the risk of long-term misery.

Over the years, I created a skewed perspective of what a relationship was suppose to be, which seemingly led me to men who were emotionally unavailable. The men I chose were often evasive, involved with multiple women, or avoided expressing any emotions or feelings for me. Yet I craved their love and attention. Why?

Now that I think back on it, my obsession with these men simply masked my own unavailability and vulnerability. I was too afraid to risk falling in love because I had been hurt in previous relationships. After being hurt, again and again, I began to think the problem wasn’t the relationship, or the guy, but me. This low-self esteem and insecurities dictated who I interacted with. I chose the love I thought I deserved; that is, if we think we are shit, then we deserve shit.

Discovering this about myself made me realize my own worth. I now work on my own emotions, rather than trying to find it in men. One of the most empowering feelings is to accept and love yourself. Once you understand yourself, and what you want, you learn you don’t have to settle for anything less than that.

Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Be true to yourself. How you treat yourself sets the standard for how others will treat you.  -Steve Maraboli

Be Present

For many of us, our lives are filled with routine, responsibilities, and obligations. Often, time is wasted worrying about future endeavors: How can I make more money? When will I find the right man/woman? So much so, we forget to acknowledge the present. When that happens, we often overlook what is really important to us. If you don’t leave time for reflection, relationships, and ultimately freedom to enjoy what you really value in life, unhappiness is bound to creep in and perhaps overtake you.

We tend to forget that life is fleeting and every minute we squander is time we will never get back.

I am not saying you can eliminate all of your daily routines and tasks. Even if given a million dollars, you would still have responsibilities and obligations that you don’t want. That’s part of life – nothing is perfect or guaranteed. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t use those responsibilities as an excuse not to pursue what really matters to you. We need to make time for things that really move us. As the song says, “take your passion and make it happen.”

For me, in the past, I wasted so much time worrying about what others thought of me, that much of my happiness was based on the actions of others or the lack thereof. This just goes to show how time can be wasted on worrying about insignificant things in your life, things that really have no affect on the bigger picture. However, when you let go of that way of living you eliminate much of the unnecessary worries and re-center your focus on more important things, essentially improving your life.

Philosopher and poet, Lao Tzu said, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

Take The Spotlight Off Gossip

Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people. —Socrates

I have to remind myself constantly that gossip is inevitable. What I mean by that is there will always be people who talk about others. I’ve seen families, friends, and coworkers belittled and the divisive aftermath.

For me it started in school – 3rd grade from what I can recall. That was the age when we began to compare ourselves to others. I was talked about, even bullied for a time when particular aspects of my appearance weren’t viewed as acceptable in terms of society’s idea of physical beauty. For that reason, I didn’t enjoy school. It gave me an overwhelming sense of anxiety and self-doubt, that at times made it difficult to endure “normal” day-to-day social interactions. Yet, since I learned school was not something I could avoid permanently, I taught myself how fit in, how to be accepted, and ultimately  how to be liked.

By high school, I was able to go to school without misery. Instead of being considered an outcast or the subject of gossip, I became part of the gossip factory. I came to believe that participating in gossip made me normal. But in retrospect, I see that all I was doing was devaluing others who were different. Gossip is an indirect way to feel better about yourself, while putting others down.

I gossiped, partly as a defense mechanism, hoping I would then not be talked about negatively. I didn’t want to risk losing my recent acceptance into the “in crowd”. I thought it would be satisfying to be liked but all it made me was a phony or poser, who was in no way genuine. I associated with people who were deceiving and manipulative; none of whom I talk to today.

Over the years, I’ve labeled myself a victim; someone that had been mistreated. Believing this somehow made it seem that what I had done was ok…no big deal, everyone does it.

It’s said that sometimes after a traumatic accident people take stock of their life and often develop a different outlook. Well that’s how I would explain my experience. Shortly after my 22nd birthday life began to change for me. It was as if I was seeing myself from an alternative perspective, one that made me feel like an actor in a play. I had let the dramas in my life run the show. It’s time for me to stop feeling like a victim.

The energy that is invested in gossip can be used to focus on self-development instead. Now in time, I can maintain a good and humble spirit.