Monthly Archives: January 2014

# 34 Thank Someone Who Helped You Fly Higher

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Do you remember that song written by Henley and Silbar and made popular by Bette Midler titled “You are the Wind Beneath my Wings” ? It starts, “So I was the one with all the glory, While you were the one with all  the strain.” It is a great song to sing at graduation ceremonies to acknowledge all that the parents did for the students. “It might have appeared to go unnoticed,” she sings, “But I’ve got it all inside my heart. I want you to know the truth. I would be nothing without you.”

Who has been the wind beneath your wings? Who has stood in your shadow when you received all the glory? What sacrifices did that person make for your benefit? Was it a parent? A brother or sister, aunt/uncle, or grandparent? A coach? What did they do for you?

If that person is still alive, make a phone call to them today, or send a letter and tell them you appreciate what they did. It will be unexpected, it will be awkward. It also will be much appreciated.

Better yet, says psychologist and researcher Martin Seligman of Penn State University, is to do it in person. “The best way to turbo charge your joy is to make a ‘gratitude visit’ “ he says in a Time magazine interview. That means to write a full testimonial to someone to whom you owe a debt of gratitude, and then visit that person to read them the letter of appreciation. After you complete this assignment, write down your reactions.

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Henley, L. & Silbar, J.  “Wind Beneath my Wings.”  WB Gold Music Corp., ASCAP.  Warner House of Music, BMI.  (Sung by Bette Midler, Experience the Divine, Atlantic Recording, 1993).

Seligman, M. quoted in, Wallis, C., “The New Science of Happiness.”  Time, Jan. 17, 2005.

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# 33 Offer Compassion to Someone Who Acts Badly

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DSC_0417“People Behaving Badly” could describe much of human interaction.  Responding to people behaving badly with anger and resentment could easily become the story of your life.  Do you want it to be?  I have come to view people’s bad behavior as arising out of one or several of the great human weaknesses:  Ignorance, Fear, Emotional Pain, Cowardice, Thoughtlessness.

When viewed in this way, we make a perspective shift.  The person behaving badly becomes small, human, flawed, pitiable.  We, in turn, let go of anger and become enlightened.

For example, the person who races ahead of you on the expressway and cuts you off… most likely does so out of a fear that others will get ahead of him or a fear that something catastrophic will happen if he isn’t where he wants to be when he feels he must be there.

When your child says hurtful things to you in the heat of an argument, he does so not out of an intent to cause harm to you but out of emotional pain, or thoughtlessness.

The co-worker who makes disparaging remarks about other co-workers does so out of a fear of not being deemed the most successful or well liked, or ignorance of the contributions of others.

The customer who is demanding does so out of a fear that she is not getting enough in life, or that she will be exploited by others if she lets her guard down.

The person who betrays you by lying to you does so out of cowardice.

Take one individual with whom you are angry.  Try to frame the person’s behavior as due to one of the above sources.

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Now view the person as deserving of some small amount of sympathy.  Take some small measure of gladness in the fact (hopefully) that you are not that misinformed, afraid, cowardly, thoughtless, etc., at least not for toady.

# 32 Taste a Peach

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One of my favorite poems is “Blossoms” by Li Young Lee.  In it he writes of the experience of buying a bag of peaches from a roadside stand and biting into one.  The taste of the peach recalls the orchards the reader passed driving down the highway.  He imagines the blossoms as they appeared on the branches, the hands that picked the peaches, the dusty skin of the peach and how it recalls the dust of summer.

O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into

the round jubilance of peach.

The poet encourages the reader to live “from joy to joy to joy,” as if death were nowhere.

Lee’s poem reminds me of a beautiful Spanish film, The Sea Inside.  It is the true story of a man, Ramon Sampedro, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident and who fought a long legal battle for the right to die with dignity.  The character, played with passion by Javier Bardem, tells the woman in the story how he cannot move his body and thus cannot go to the sea which he hears outside his window, so he must “carry the sea inside.”  He uses the sound of the sea and the salt smell to re-create in his imagination the physical feel of diving into the surf and swimming in the ocean.

What does it mean to “take what we love inside,” to “carry within us an orchard” or to “carry the sea inside” ?

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What one thing you love can you “take inside” today?  To savor it you must re-create a picture in your mind of where it came from, or where you experienced it.  You must use your senses—smell, taste, feel, movement.  You must recall the momentary burst of euphoria you felt when you encountered it.

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You may read the entire poem as well as hear it being read aloud by Garrison Keillor at:

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2003/08/19

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# 31 Redeem Your Past

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So often I encounter psychotherapy patients whose story goes as follows, “I am (depressed, angry, an alcoholic, etc.) because I grew up in a dysfunctional home.”  This story is not only flat and lacking in perspective, it is lacking in hope.  It far oversimplifies the true nature of the human condition.  I recall the man who told me that he grew up in the ghetto and realized by his teens that if he stayed there he would end up dead or in prison, so he resolved to get out and to make something of himself.  I have personally interviewed many adult children of alcoholics who felt they became very mature and responsible at an early age because they had to run the household due to a dysfunctional parent. . They resolved never to drink alcohol,l and they kept that resolve. Contrary to what you hear in the media about how children who were abused grow up to abuse their own children, the research indicates that 90% of adults who were physically abused as children do not abuse their own children.  They made the decision to leave abuse and hatred behind them.

Do you feel burdened by a life story about growing up in a dysfunctional family?  If so, we must rewrite the story, embracing the whole of the human experience and pointing the way toward a livable future.  Your past is yours to make of it what you will.

Finish these statements:

Even though I grew up in a dysfunctional home, there were three good things I got from my family.  These were

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Growing up in a dysfunctional home taught me many valuable lessons.  Here is one of them:

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Even though I grew up in a dysfunctional family, I turned out well in many ways because of some innate qualities (or abilities) I was born with.  These are:

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Though there were many painful experiences in my home life growing up, there were people outside my immediate family who were beacons of light in the darkness, and whose support and encouragement sustained me.  These were:

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