Do This Simple Trick To Elevate Your Mood

What a glorious day, friends! Hope the light is finding you. For over two decades I was a professional portrait photographer. I specialized in family and children’s portraiture. One of the things that set me apart and kept me in business was an ability to put people at ease. I learned some of my best tricks from a master: Marriott Smith. Presidents and movie stars posed for him. Together, we once photographed Bill and Hillary Clinton when Bill was first running for high office. That was memorable. But there’s something else that stands out in my mind even more vividly. He taught me to make people blink.

“It gets rid of that deer in the headlights look folks tend to get when they’re in front of a camera,” he said.

I’ve learned it does more than that.  A blink re-focuses our attention. It re-sets our brains. Science estimates that we blink far more often than we need to to keep our eyes lubricated. We blink 1,200 times per hour or 28,800 times per day. Your brain knows what it’s doing when it engages your occipital lobes. Try it if you don’t believe me. Blink right now. On purpose. Longer than you might. And with meaning.

It’s like a windshield wiper swipe over whatever you’re fixed on at the moment. Your problems don’t vanish, but your view becomes clearer. You’re able to think cleaner.

Yesterday was a brutal day for me. I was in a rare, dark mood. Maybe it was the weather. Last week temps here hit above 80 degrees. Yesterday brought a blizzard. Maybe it’s because I’m editing a novel that is so real to me the characters’ problems weigh me down. Or maybe it’s just life. You know. It delivers “those days” for no apparent reason.

My friend, Karla, picked me up around 7 p.m. She let me gripe for a good ten minutes before she pulled into a parking lot with THIS view in front of us. I blinked and suddenly everything changed. Darkness lifted. The neurotransmitters in my brain altered their distribution. I got out and snapped this photo with my phone, and instead of grumpy, I became grateful. I became aware that a return to winter can be a majestic thing. And whatever troubles had seemed so big, were dwarfed when confronted with genuine grandeur.

So, next time you’re feeling gloomy, anxious, or frustrated, try closing your eyes and letting the darkness come. Then open your eyes to welcome the light back. It works when you’re tired. It works in the middle of an argument. It’s a simple readjustment, but I promise that it works—all in the blink of an eye.

A Fearless Life? No, Thanks.

Change your thoughts. Change your life. It’s something we hear all the time because it’s true. If we change our thought lives, we change our real lives. But HOW we do change a thought we’ve held and kept as true for so long?

Let’s start with fear. All my life I’ve been told that fear is the opposite of faith. I’ve been taught that faith and fear cannot co-exist. I now know that my thinking has been skewed.

First of all, fear is not your enemy. It might be your frenemy. But fear of itself is a biological blessing. Anxiety, on the other hand, is your enemy. And what is anxiety? Prolonged fear.

Cup your hand and place it on the back base part of your skull. That’s where your most primitive brain is housed. It’s the stem from your spinal cord to your brain. It’s where your limbic system lives and operates to store memories, and to process information for your survival.

At the end of last summer I decided to hike Timp. By myself. It takes fit people at least 12 hours to make the up and back trek. It took me longer. A lot longer. By the time I hobbled down to base I was exhausted in a way I’d never felt. I was within earshot of the parking lot when I came across a rattlesnake curled up in the last patch of the day’s sunshine. In that moment fear put every system in my body on high alert. My cardio system sped up my heartbeat. My integumentary system made my skin tingle and sweat. My respiratory and circulation systems changed my breathing and blood flow.

I eased around the snake and began to release the effects of fear when I heard the sound of children laughing. Around the corner raced a troop of young boys.

A new bout of fear ricocheted through me.

“Look!” one of them shouted. “A sleepy snake!”

The adults with the boys were still out of sight, so I ran back and found a new use for my hiking pole. I worked to push the snake off the trail, down into the bush and away from the boys who showed absolutely no fear at all. They wanted to tease the snake, to play with it.

Fear, I realized from that experience, is a biological blessing.

While ongoing research turns up new information almost daily, we do know that our emotional lives are housed primarily in our limbic systems. This has to do with the memories processed and stored in our brains.             I had memories about the dangers of snakes.

Those boys apparently did not.

Now that I understand fear is designed as part of my biology, I’ve changed my thinking about the emotion, and I have an appreciation for fear that I never supposed was possible. Fear is to be acknowledged, accepted and used to propel me in the right direction.

I know that when I feel fear, Cortisol, adrenalin and other neurotransmitters flood my brain. This is so I can become something more than I was. This is so that my body amps to high alert to keep me safe and ready.

When I honor my fear, it passes through me and leads the way for me to follow. When I challenge fear or run from it, the road before me is blocked.

I suspect we’re all afraid of many things. Me? Hurting someone tops my list of fears. Failure is also up there. I’ve failed so many times at so many attempts—the memories are etched deeply and resiliently. I’m afraid of snakes, mice, rats, spiders, and the vacuum cleaner. Oh, and flies. I am terrified of flies.

What are you afraid of? Every one of your fears is associated with a memory, conscience or not.

Now imagine a fearless life. Sounds easy. No fears to conquer. But let’s take a closer look. First, it would bring new levels of peril. If our ancient brains didn’t kick in, we wouldn’t know when to feel fear. We’d live within striking distance of snakes and die in droves.

Second, there would be no reward. There’d be no growth or strength gained from facing non-existent fears.

Third, in reality, a fearless life would be a boring, if not a meaningless existence. Thrills and chills give us the sensation of being alive. Without some danger, we’d all exist along a flatline.

I’m not suggesting that we live in fear. I’m not telling anyone to take unwise risks. I am suggesting that we live with fear and let it work its magic in our lives.

Doubt, not fear, is the opposite of faith. Fear and faith must co-exist if one is to strong-arm the other.

Fear, I’ve learned, stimulates, motivates, and teaches. It challenges our faith and when our faith is challenged it grows. It guides us to greater opportunities. Wise Eleanor Roosevelt admonished, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

What scares you, my friends?

What fears have you overcome?

How have your lives been transformed through those experiences?

When we realize that we can change our thoughts about something as fundamental as fear, we realize we can change our thoughts period.

That’s powerful And nothing to fear.

A Question To Boggle Your Brain for 2017

Honestly, I didn’t know if I’d make it into 2017. A lot has been going on in my life and I’m in an upheaval. That’s not a bad thing. Change is often good. But I understand the darkness and dimness and fog people talk about. I understand the allure of all the promises and products to “get a whole new life.” But here’s my question: WHAT ABOUT CHERISHING AND POLISHING THE LIFE YOU HAVE NOW?

Of course, there are things you want to change. You want to improve. You want to rid yourself of unhealthy habits and add healthy ones. That’s not the same as building a new life, because in order to build a new life, you have to destroy you old life.

That’s silly if you ask me. It’s a sure road to futility and frustration.

Life is a gift. YOUR life is a gift divinely designed just for you. It’s no fluke that you were born when you were born and where you were born. Your physical features make you unique. So do your experiences. Your genome is yours alone. Out of almost 9 billion people, no one has your particular recipe. Sure, your family is flawed, but it’s also fabulous. Your house needs work, so work on it. Your career needs advancing, so advance it. Your kids drive you crazy, go along for the ride. And love? Just stop and savor it. All kinds of love.

You can’t change your past, but by darn you can use it to guide your future. You can stand taller this year and be responsible for your own life. You can make amends where you can, and trust God to fix the things you can’t fix. You can stop tolerating the crap that’s harmful and just plain dim. You can add new experiences, adventures, and learning. It’s not about spending money; it’s about investing wisely in your own life.

You can be the light. You’re meant to be the light. Here’s how you do it:

  • Come out of the darkness. The picture is symbolic for me because it’s me literally coming out of the fog.
  • Open your soul’s eyes and be mindful of miracles. They’re there.
  • Stand in front of a mirror (clothing optional) and marvel at the miracle of your body. Don’t you dare mock, ridicule or be unkind. Just marvel and vow to take care of every inch of it.
  • See the people that God has brought to the threshold of your heart. List everyone who matters to you and figure out why they’re there. If you need to close a door on someone who hurts you, close it, gently, but firmly. You decide when and if you’ll answer, should they knock to be let back in.
  • No one makes progress staying stagnant.
  • Eat for energy and strength. Not for gratification or companionship.
  • Clean the clutter. If something isn’t purposeful or meaningful give it away or sell it. The simpler your life is, the more it will feel new.
  • Ask your Highest Power for help to understand why you exist, why you’re where you are, and what you can do to increase your light. Then listen and trust the answers that come.

I don’t mean to get preachy. I do mean to get passionate. So this message is mostly for me. I haven’t always loved my life. It hasn’t been easy. The odds have never been in my favor. 96.7 percent of dreams have not come true. There are so many, many things I’d like to change. But I do not want a new life. I want a greater appreciation for the life I have. I want to cherish my loved ones even more than I do. I want to see more good in life and focus on that. I want to welcome the available light.

My singular goal for 2017 is to be more spiritual. Not religious. Spiritual. I want to connect with my Highest Power and find new ways to be His light. Buddha said, “It’s during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” He also said, to “let your light so shine.” I guess that means I need to re-focus. I don’t need a new life. I just need more light. So I’ll be looking for ways to flip my internal light switch. And no. I won’t buy into the dull, depressing hype that I need a whole new life when all I really need to do is change a burned out bulb.

Here’s to your best and BRIGHTEST year ever!

Treat Yourself Like A Dog

I’m working on a project and I’d like to share a just bit of it with you. Since we’re saying goodbye to a worn out year and welcoming a new one, I think it’s appropriate that we shed old habits that no longer serve us. For me, change begins in my brain. I’d really appreciate hearing what you think, so please make comments.

The picture is of Puppy and this is her story:

They were driving through a Florida downpour when my daughter Taylor screamed, “Stop the car! Pull over!”

Their Jeep came to a screeching halt. My son-in-law Mark jumped out and came back moments later, his arms laden with the saddest, sickest, skinniest dog you can imagine.

Taylor was in tears, trying to keep their German shepherd, Marshall, calm. My granddaughter was reaching for the strange new dog folded and quaking in her father’s arms. “Puppy,” little Adelaide called. “Puppy.”

And that’s how Puppy became part of the family.

You should know that Puppy is a blonde Boxer. Boxers, at their peak, are big, strong dogs, bred for their athleticism. They come from the bull family of canines, but aren’t instinctively as aggressive as some of their relatives. They’re meant to weigh around 100 pounds.

Taylor knew none of this. All she knew was that her heart was shredded by the sight of a bony, suffering dog in desperate need of love and care.

Puppy had no tags, no collar, and no homing chip. The vet was skeptical at best. “She’s very old. Her teeth are rotten and her bones brittle. She’s flea ridden. And incontinent.”

“We’re keeping her,” Taylor said.

The veterinarian leaned forward. “I don’t think you comprehend what you’re getting yourselves into.”

“We’re keeping her,” Taylor repeated.

Mark petted Puppy’s head. “She seems like such a sweet dog. What’s she been through—and why?”

The doctor shook his head. “Hard to say. Probably abandoned. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s been on her own for months—maybe years. The crook in her back leg tells me a car hit her. Her scars say she’s been in plenty of dogfights. Her cracked ribs indicate that she’s been kicked hard and repeatedly.”

“Can she heal?” Mark asked.

The veterinarian shrugged. “She’s going to need a lot of care. The medical attention she’ll require will be very pricey, not to mention ongoing.”

Mark swallowed. He was in school, working nights to support his wife and daughter and Marshall, the rescue dog Taylor had before they met.

“Whatever my wife wants,” he said.

“I want to give her a home,” Taylor said. “Puppy deserves a chance.”

And that was that. When there was no response to the “found dog” ad they ran, Puppy stayed put.

Let’s pause here because I’m going to ask you to think of yourself as Puppy—or any animal that’s been abused, neglected, and damaged. I want you to take a deep breath and hold it. When you release it I want you to feel the pain go out of you. The shame leave. Feel despair dissipate.

It’s time, my friends, to change the most damaging thoughts of all…the harmful thoughts that have defined you and held you back and held you down, especially the thought that tells you have no worth. You are worth saving; you’re worth any pricey rescue.

That said, no one else is going to rescue you. No one else can change your weak and harmful thinking. It’s all on you. That doesn’t mean you’re alone or without resources, because that is simply not true. So here’s what I want you to do—I want you to start treating yourself like a dog.

Would you kick a broken dog? Would you call that dog ugly because it’s scarred and battered? Would you heap shame and disgrace on an already fragile and wounded animal?

No. You. Would. Not.

And so it’s time to stop treating yourself that way. Stop programming your brain to believe the worst about you. Stop using hurtful words and tones to describe and define you. Stop harming yourself physically with food, alcohol or drugs. Stop neglecting your self-care. No more injury inflicted by you on you. Cease to think thoughts that limit you, and start thinking of thoughts that empower you.

(This is where I’ll end for now, but I do have one particular “power thought” in mind. We’ll get to that later, but for now, I’d very much appreciate hearing what thoughts you’d like to clean out of your brain. And which thoughts you’d like to start believing about yourself.)

Loads of Love and Gratitude,

Toni

This One Thought Will Change Every Thought You Ever Think

One morning while I was stalking an iguana a thought struck me out of nowhere: I think I’ll spend the rest of my life doing this—not the iguana part, but traveling the world as a student and a servant.

WHAT?

Where on earth did that come from?

Exactly my point. It didn’t come from any earthly source and there’s scientific research to back me up on that “thought.”

By now you know that I’m over the moon about the human brain. I study it all of the time. I can name parts and tell you how those parts function. I wake up in the morning excited to learn what science discovered over night about the three-pound mass of neurons we have between our ears.

What does any of that matter? It’s trivia to most people. To me, it’s the pathway to metamorphism. I want to change my stony life. But I can’t change anything if I don’t change my thinking. Yes. Yes. Every self-help guru I read said the same thing: Change your thoughts to change your life. It may well have begun with Buddha who observed, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”

I wanted my world to change. I wanted my life to change. I wanted to start by changing my thoughts. Problem was…none of them told me how to do it. So I spent a good chunk of my life figuring it out, and that’s the genesis of this blog.

Webster says that a thought is an idea, plan, opinion or picture formed in your mind. It stems from the act of thinking.

Yes, but where does a thought originate?

Guess what? Nobody knows. Not even Einstein. Not even today’s most brilliant neuroscientists. Some of the world’s greatest thinkers speculated that there is a massive pool of ideas somewhere in the universe. It’s from that unseen source that we draw our genius and creativity.

Are we a result of our “thought pool” as surely as we are a result of our “gene pool”? Some minds think so, they even equate this theory to Aristotle’s “Sensus communis”…the fact that we all perform perceptual operations far beyond the capacities of our five senses. Some things we just “know” without knowing how we know them.

While there are scientists who believe in an opaque subconscious process where thoughts form before we’re able to think them, there’s no viable science behind those theories. Thoughts might be self-generated from information and memories, but no one knows for certain. Truth is there is no identifiable part of the brain where thoughts are born. There is no concise neurological pathway that traces the journey of a thought. Science doesn’t even know for sure which populace of neurons fire in a common thought process. Research is evolving and the subject is still very controversial and exciting.

We do know that once a thought enters the brain there are incalculable electro-chemical reactions, but these are complex beyond computation. At a basic level we know that our thoughts influence our emotions and our emotions influence our actions. We know about neurotransmitters and their effects, but we can’t connect them to the fountain of thought.

A good place to begin is by understanding that no one understands where thoughts originate.

The concept is life changing—that your thoughts are gifts, guides, and nothing to be taken lightly. They choose you and come to you for a reason. Add to that the fact that you get to control or drive those thoughts. That endows you with the kind of power that boggles the mind. You get to accept or reject thoughts. You get to experiment or enhance your thoughts. No one else can think like you. Your thoughts are yours alone.

Wowzers!

We’ve all heard or said something like: “A thought just struck me out of the blue…I don’t know where that thought came from…I never thought of it like that before.”

Considering the possibilities, I hope you’ll be more open to inspiration. More appreciative of your own genius and creativity. I hope you’ll be more cognizant of the thoughts you allow to enter and dally around your mind. Most of all I hope that you’ll be more welcoming to whatever Source and Force is out there caring about you, and trusting that you can handle your muse.

It’s something to think about, isn’t it?

References:

What Is A Thought?

Thoughts

Do We Know Our Own Thoughts?

Parts of A Thought

Scholarly Thoughts On Thoughts

Brilliant Thoughts on The Creative Process

Why I Sin On Sundays

This is the month I focus on gratitude and this is a picture I took some weeks back at Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. Good-humored locals call it “Touch Down Jesus,” — you can see why.

Speaking of Jesus, I’ve got a confession to make. Sundays are the hardest day of the week for me. It shouldn’t be that way. Sundays are for worship, family time and rest. Right? They’re for rejuvenation and spiritual replenishment.

I must do Sundays all wrong because I drag out of church feeling degraded and depleted—spiritually slapped, which of course leads me to feel like smacking my whole family upside the head. And by the end of my “day of rest” I’m worn to the core. I need the other six work days just to recover.

I don’t think that’s how God set Sundays up. I think I’ve messed it all up.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week.”

That’s a lovely sentiment, but for me it feels like that clasp is a scale that weighs my “volume of the week” and finds it pitifully wanting.

So…I did some examination and realized that one of my Sabbath problems is my consistent breaking of the ninth commandment. I blatantly bear false witness on Sunday.

“How are you doing, Toni?” someone asks.

Blood rushes to my frontal cortex where my brain comes up with, “Great. Terrific. Superb.”

Lies. Lies. Lies.

I have great moments. I have terrific times. Once in awhile I feel superb. But I’m not doing great, terrific or superb. Right now, today, I’m all wound up in the metamorphic stage of life when I’m more pupa than butterfly. While I’m not the slug I once was, I’m still cocooned in a mess of my own making, doing everything I can to unravel myself to freedom and flight.

Soon enough, I’ll emerge and be a new creature. But not yet. Not by Sunday. So I’ve decided to tell the truth from now on when someone is kind enough to inquire how I’m doing.

No, I won’t say, “s&**#y” because that’s not true either. Not even close. And no one wants to hear anything beyond, “Fine. Thanks for asking.” While people want to be courteous and caring, they seldom really want to hear the gritty answer to that question.

From now on though, Imma gonna tell the truth in one word: BLESSED.

“I’m blessed.”

Blessed. Because that’s what I am. I am blessed beyond measure. Blessed when I don’t deserve to be blessed. Blessed with the chance to change. Blessed with friends and family to help me. And blessed to be a blessing.

So there. One word helps me tell the truth. It changes my attitude. It increases my capacity for gratitude. And while it may not be a complete six-point touchdown, I suspect Jesus will be happy to deem it at least a field goal and give me a couple of points for sincerity and effort, don’t ya think?

 

references:

New Orleans Home

NOLA.com

Redbeansandlife.com

Beliefnet.com