Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Fake It 'Til You Make It

Most weekday mornings I write a "Good Morning" post at A Word From Aunt B and most weekday evenings I write a "Good Night" post on my Facebook page. The tone of these pieces is deliberately calming, the language and flow of the wording deliberately soothing, the subject matter deliberately positive.

I'm not always calm when I sit down to compose my posts.  I don't always exist in a zen-like state.  My life is just as crazy and disorganised and stressful as anyone else's.  

My purpose in writing my morning and evening pieces is to practice a form of meditation.  They are like mental yoga for me:  stretching the muscles of my mind while at the same time focusing my attention and calming my spirit.

When we're feeling stressed or anxious or grumpy there may well be merit in trying to "fake it 'til we make it;" acting the way we wish to feel. Research suggests that when people are feeling sad or stressed the simple act of intentionally pasting a smile on their face actually works to improve their mood.  Smiling stimulates the brain to release mood improving neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrin, which work to reduce or balance stress related hormones.  It also stimulates increased production of endorphins, which improve our mood and can even increase our resistance to pain. Likewise, assuming a more confident, open posture appears to result in increased feelings of self assurance.

Certainly, the practice of writing calming, positive words reduces my level of stress.  By focusing my mind on the peaceful, restorative things in my surroundings, I am able to slow myself down, draw deeper breaths, and find a quieter place within myself. I may not always be calm when I start to write, but the process of sharing soothing words leaves me feeling more peaceful when I'm done.

I'm not saying that fake it 'til you make it will always work.  Many troubles are bigger than a smile (no matter how wonderful), a confident stance (no matter how bold), or a few calming words (no matter how well intended) can cure, but it's a worthwhile method with which to address the smaller concerns of every-day.  

So, the next time you feel your shoulders inching up towards your ears, the next time you're nervous about an interview or meeting, the next time you find yourself gritting your teeth rather than losing your temper, consider it.  Try pasting a smile on your face, or standing up straight with your shoulders back, or sharing a silly joke, or writing a couple of paragraphs about something that calms you.

It's worth a try, right?  At the very least you'll have paused for long enough to give yourself a small break before moving on.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Give a Little, Take a Little

Recently, a friend and I went for a walk in one of my favourite parks.  We visit there often, walking familiar trails along the rocky shoreline, then back through the shaded woods, finishing at salt water once again.  

On this particular walk, near the end of the path through the woods, we found a new surprise.  Someone had carefully crafted a fairy house, shaped to fit the hollows of a large fir tree.  

It really was charming:  A little curved door and an arched window, calked with living moss, and bearing a sign that said "Give a Little, Take a Little."  

I unlatched the tiny door and found all sorts of treasures inside: Feathers, pretty shells, heart shaped stones, notes, and photos, and little greeting cards. 

I was charmed both by the idea of the fairy house, and by the fact that so many passers-by had chosen to participate.  

There is something to be learned from this gift in the forest:  

It speaks volumes about our desire to reach out to others, to feel part of a community, to share what is beautiful to us.  

It speaks about our ability to respect the creativity of others, and to use our creativity to bring moments of brightness to friends and strangers alike.  

And it speaks to our understanding of need to give when we can, and to accept gifts with grace when we need them.

I have trouble with the accepting part, and I know that a lot of other people do too.  I find great joy in helping others but when I'm offered help myself it embarrasses me and hurts my pride.  I feel shame that I can't surmount every challenge on my own.

Pride is a good thing.  It helps us to carry on in times of trouble.  It helps us to retain our dignity.  It helps us to be self reliant and to do our best to rise above our circumstances.

But pride can be a bad thing too.  There are times in every person's life when they truly do need a helping hand; sometimes in the form of emotional support and sometimes in the form of tangible assistance, like help with food, or shelter, or medical care.  When you are stretched beyond your ability to cope by yourself and pride prevents you from accepting a hand up, your pride is working against you.

Perhaps the key to finding balance between pride and need can be found in the example of that little fairy house in the woods.  When you're doing well and reach out to help others who are struggling, you're leaving a treasure in the fairy house.  When you're struggling and in need of some caring, it's okay to take a what you need from the trove.  In doing so, you're honouring the kindness and generosity of those who left the gifts, and you're receiving some small repayment for kindnesses that you, yourself have done in the past.

So, please, if you are in need right now, do reach out for help. There are generous hearts and caring arms all around you, reaching out to help hold you up.  Don't let pride get in your way. You'll repay what you've received - and more - when you're able, by offering your own gifts to others.  

Give a little, take a little:  In the greater equation, it all balances out in the end.