Perspective Makes All the Difference

Cherry Blossoms on a rainy dayAt the time I was born my mother was newly come to the US, a bride of less than a year. Except for my father, she was very much alone in a big city, and I was her only companion for quite a while. I have often thought that my persistently positive perspective on life may have had its roots in my trying to cheer her up when she was sad and missing her family and friends back in her home country. Over the years since I have come to understand the power of a positive perspective on a potentially negative situation or experience.

This has become essential to my work. When I tell people I am a writer, they often ask me what I write. If I say I write essays, it sounds as though I am writing from a scholarly point of view. If I say I do inspirational writing, it sounds as though I am coming from a religious perspective. In truth, what I am doing in my columns is to simply present a different or alternative point of view from that which some might take about any given situation or experience. I write to be helpful, but it is self help I write about. Helping others to help themselves is my intention and my goal.

There is little we can do about circumstances. Daily life presents us with issues and difficulties we must deal with. The school of experience is our ever-present teacher, one we cannot escape no matter what we do. I’ve often felt that maturity or adulthood truly begins when we’re willing to learn from this teacher rather than moan, groan and feel as though we are victims of fate, circumstance or those who might perpetrate it. It is a lot easier to complain than it is to “bite the bullet” and admit there might be something to learn from any given situation.

I believe the expression “bite the bullet” comes from battlefield medicine when in the days gone by the surgeon had to amputate or otherwise operate without anesthesia. After whiskey was poured liberally into the patient, a bullet was put between his jaws to bite down on as a way to keep from crying out. Whether this is actually true or not it makes a good metaphor. When our focus is put not on complaint or disappointment but on what can be gained from whatever is happening to us, coping becomes easier and wisdom more accessible.

In my own life right now I am dealing with a change in lifestyle and a need to take better care of myself. I have learned that much of what I used to take for granted, I no longer can. Exercise is not an option it is a necessity. I need to do additional work on my body to restore it to better working order. I could complain, or even bemoan my fate. Instead I rejoice that I now have a good way to lose weight, that I can become stronger and healthier with effort and that it is good and helpful to be made to do that. Therefore I bless these circumstances and state firmly that I am exceedingly grateful for them.

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The Only Constant is Change

20150911_183519Peace Village Sunflfowers Past Present Future

A wise teacher of mine once said, “The only constant in life is change.” This sounds like an oxymoron, or contradiction in terms, yet it surely has been true for me in my adult life. From the time I left home to be on my own I have had to embrace a sense of flexibility concerning my expectations. It may have helped that to begin with I grew up in New England where the weather can go from a shower to sunshine and back to a shower again in quick succession.

When I was a child I lived a protected life. Even the living room furniture stayed the same, as did the pictures on the walls. The people around me were the same also. Death was distant and spoken of only in whispers. There were no TV images of soldiers fighting and dying or talk of murders and fires. The war then was a distant rumble, its only evidence being the occasional blackouts’ and my dad in his air raid warden helmet roaming the neighborhood to warn of any light showing through the darkened windows of the inhabitants nearby.

When the war ended there was still not much difference in my life except for the packages my parents sent to their relatives overseas. They were stuffed with clothing and edibles that could travel, tied with bales of twine to keep them from being opened. This stable childhood did not really prepare me for the life of change I have lived as an adult. However, I have no quarrel with my experiences and quite to the contrary I believe they have benefited me in very tangible ways.

My first husband and I did quite a bit of traveling wile he fulfilled his army obligations as an ROTC student. We settled in one house only to find ourselves moving a number of times before our lives again settled down. To be sure, dealing with the energies and aptitudes of five children provided plenty of opportunities for unexpected adventures. As I approached my forties I felt confident that I knew exactly what was going to happen in my life. However, again my expectations were turned around and new adventures began.

After Stephen and I moved to Grafton and founded our center for inner peace I often found myself hosting the conglomeration of people who would drop by for a swim or a chat and of course be invited to stay for supper or even the night. We took in anyone who showed up at the door and needed it some inner peace. I always had plenty of food on hand, and I didn’t mind in the least especially as long as people helped out when we needed them to.

Lately without knowing what or how I have felt that something is going to change in my life. However it seems quite impossible to plan ahead for it because whatever does happen is never quite what I expect. For instance, how could I foresee that Stephen’s acquisition of one pot of a few succulents two years ago would multiply into a garden of pots and many more varieties? I do welcome whatever is next. My only expectation is that as good as it has been in the past so it will be as in the future or perhaps even better.

 

A Valentine to Loves Found

stephen-and-tasha-kissing-2087When I was in grade school I fell in love, or more accurately had a gigantic crush on a boy with blond hair named Teddy. I don’t think he even knew I existed, and I certainly made no advances toward him, being far too shy to do so. I simply gazed at him from afar and thought he was wonderful. In my seventh grade year another fair-haired boy I yearned over named Dana replaced Teddy in my heart. Some years later I discovered that before she met my father, many of my mother’s boyfriends had been blond, and I wondered if her predilections could have subconsciously influenced me in my choices.

My passion for blond men dissipated. When I was sixteen another boy named Teddy though with brown hair, became my first real love. My parents labeled it puppy love, but I knew better. Our dates were conducted via the bus because neither of us had a license to drive. We danced in his parents’ living room to the tune of “Unforgettable,” and snuggled in the movies—it didn’t much matter what was on the screen. When he went away to camp for two weeks he wrote me each day and I waited anxiously by the door for the mailman. I wore his felt beanie with pins on it constantly, which drove my dear parents crazy. I was their oldest child and their initial experience with their children’s first loves.

My first husband and I met at a dance and fell in love quite quickly. I was a rather romantic seventeen-year-old senior in high school. He was from New York, a sophomore in college and quite sophisticated. Our love blossomed over the summer and culminated in an elopement the following year. This was exacerbated by my parents’ protective attitude. They were not happy about our burgeoning relationship and had threatened to send me on a long trip the following summer to visit relatives abroad. They did what they thought best, though their antagonism probably fueled our passion. I was a young bride and soon a young mother. Our children became the focus of our marriage and of our love.

Now so many years later I look back on those early loves and I smile. In those days I knew so little of what love really was about. Most of how I viewed it came from romantic novels and magazines. With time and experience I learned about it for myself, and sometimes this was painful. Yet as I look back I have no regrets. I am married now to the love of my life. Our relationship has endured for nearly forty years. As I age I am grateful for his presence and for the love he brings to our days. As Shakespeare said, “Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds.” We have grown together, changed together, and remained together with all the joy and happiness that our experiences have brought to our relationship. He is my always valentine.

Tasha Halpert

The Eyes of Unconditional Love

heart-and-bellsOnce upon a time I wrote a poem about the eyes of love. It began: “consider with the eyes of love.” Though at that time I hadn’t yet learned about the difference that the qualifying word unconditional makes, what I meant by love in the poem actually was unconditional love. My parents and grandmother loved me very much. They were also quite critical of me, as well as of others they loved and otherwise thought well of. Unconditional love means just that—no criticism, no conditions on the love. It also to me means looking at others as well as at myself without a disapproving attitude.

My dear mother had most probably inherited her critical outlook on life from her highly critical mother who made frequent remarks concerning how she well as others looked. In her eyes one’s stomach was not supposed to be anything but flat as a pancake, one’s waist slender, etc. I at one time wondered why, when she was quite thin my mother wore a girdle. Then I learned it was because she believed bulges were not to be tolerated. She used to try with little success to get me to wear one. They were so uncomfortable, I wouldn’t. Eventually she too stopped wearing one.

My father too had his viewpoint. Once I acquired them my eyeglasses became an issue for him, especially when I was dressed up. I can hear him now as he aimed his camera, saying, “Take off your glasses and look pretty.” Thus whenever I was in my party clothes the glasses I wore from the third grade on became an issue for me, making me think I ought to take them off in order to look properly attractive. He was also particular about my hair, which was supposed to look smooth and symmetrical–properly arranged in a tidy manner.

My grandmother had very strong ideas about what it was to act like or to be a “lady.” When I was twelve, inspired by my first experience of being paid for it, I decided to earn money giving the puppet shows I wrote and performed for birthday parties. My grandmother quickly put an end to this. She told me sternly that ladies didn’t work. Then she gave me a twenty-dollar bill and said, “Now you don’t have to earn money.” She had grown up in a household where as she informed me, if a log rolled off the fire she rang for a maid to come in and put it back. While she did volunteer work, she had never earned money.

The critical eye that I inherited from my family persisted for a long time. It took me years to be aware of it. Then I had to learn to stop the little voice in my head that called attention to whatever deviation from the “norm” of beauty I perceived. To begin with I applied this to my view of others. Gradually I learned to do this for myself as well. The eyes of unconditional love do not see critically but with an understanding that for good reasons, we are all perfect just the way we are. These days the eyes I see through are my own, and I look out upon the world with love. As well, when I look in the mirror now, I smile.

Tasha Halpert

How to Grow Your Heart Bigger

Peace Village 3 Heart.jpgVery young children share quite naturally. Who hasn’t been the recipient of a toddler’s offering of a cookie or a treasured toy? Later, children become more self-centered, and parents have to teach them to share. Then we outgrow our parents’ teaching and begin to form our own ways of behavior. At this point we may often emulate peers who may or may not be good examples of heartfelt behavior. Some, like me, inherit critical attitudes from parents or teachers, and so unwittingly continue them. This can shrink the heart.

Most of us are familiar with a character of Dr. Seuss’s called the Grinch. His heart was shrunken–too small by far. This resulted in his acting meanly toward others and because it annoyed him, trying to take away their joy. When he couldn’t, his heart grew. Most of us believe we would never try to steal another’s joy, however perhaps we could be ignoring opportunities to grow our hearts bigger. This is something I’ve had to learn and I worked hard to learn it. It’s not easy to do so; the first step in he process is to observe one’s very own smallness of heart.

For example, when I look at someone or even myself with a critical eye, observe with distaste mine or another’s extra pounds or unkempt clothing, or think negatively of my or another’s behavior and don’t catch myself doing it, I am missing an opportunity to grow my heart. I could change my thinking and reflect that they could be on medication, indigent, ill or feeling uncomfortable and instead feel compassion for them or myself. I’m aware that when I am tired or someone annoys or irritates me, it takes restraint not to snap back. Yet when I can manage to see them in a different light, it will grow my heart.

Another way to grow my heart is to not act selfishly and take the biggest, the best or the most for myself. Being generous to others is a simple way for me to grow my heart. As children we have often been taught this by well meaning parents, yet depending on how I might be feeling, it is easy to do the opposite. Then too, if I do it grudgingly or without a genuine desire to give, it may not be as effective for heart enlargement, however it can still work to my benefit. The most effective attitude is to put others ahead of oneself with joyful willingness as opposed to grudging obligation.

While it is sometimes painful to observe myself behaving in ways other than how I want to see myself, it is also worth doing. I’ve learned that if I catch myself in the act often enough, I will stop whatever negative behavior I observe. Selfish behavior, a judgmental attitude, an outlook automatically critical of others can lead to shrinkage of the heart. Generosity, compassion, and loving giving can lead to the growth of the heart. Plus there is often a return on one’s investment. What goes around really does come around. Those who practice these virtues may well reap good fortune in some way in return. While this is not a reason to be doing it, it is a nice side benefit.

Tasha Halpert

 

A New Year, A New Beginning

snow-designMy grandmother lived alone in Boston. A widow for many years she had an unusual way of celebrating New Year’s Eve. As my father told it, she would pick a movie theater that was showing a film she wanted to see and go to the last show. In those days on New Years Eve the theaters would pass out noisemakers and at midnight everyone would sound off with them.

I don’t know if any movie theaters do this today; certainly when they did it then it was a wonderful way for her to celebrate. Seeing the old year out is a in whatever way chosen is a ritual that has been practiced by peoples of all times and places for centuries if not millennia. I enjoy my personal rituals, which include ringing all the bells in the house not to mention kissing my husband a midnight. Then there are the ones I also practice for New Year’s Day.

The old year now past holds both failures and successes. I need to take these into account as I do my rituals to begin the New Year. What are my expectations? My resolutions, my hopes and dreams for the next twelve months to come. Realistically I must base them partly on what has been as well as what I hope will be. The trick is not to limit myself by any failures nor be overly egotistical about any successes.

When I look out of my window in the morning after a fresh snowfall, the gleaming white expanse seems like a new beginning. The crusty, trampled, slightly soiled snow beneath is hidden from sight. Everything looks fresh, ready to be inscribed with the present. A new beginning is a blank sheet of paper, a bed newly made with clean sheets, the first breath of air I take when I walk out of my door. A new beginning is a wonderful opportunity.

However, I must remember that beneath the newly fallen snow are the remnants of the snows that fell days before. They lurk there like the mistakes, the mishaps, the opportunities not taken and the regrets I may have for all that remains undone. A new beginning must also take into account what has gone before. Mistakes and misses can be useful if I am willing to learn from them. If I am not, they remain like the old mounds of snow banks–freshly covered but still obvious in any parking lot.

I have always enjoyed my New Year’s Day rituals. I try to do a little of whatever I hope to be doing for the next year: corresponding with friends, calling family, writing a poem, cooking, and other activities that I enjoy. In addition I make two resolutions. Like most I haven’t always kept them. Still I keep hoping. My favorite activity on New Year’s Day is to look back, to see how far I have come, and to plan for the future. Each year brings its share of joys and sorrows, regrets and triumphs; I welcome them all.

 

Practicing Unconditional Love

 

Sidney and pony 6

 

          Holy week celebrates the life story of Jesus, specifically its culmination. His life is a very special example of unconditional love. Whatever you may or may not believe concerning His life, you cannot argue the fact that here is someone for whom love was the supreme guiding light. In his life and in his words there are numerous examples of unconditional love: that love which is given without expectations or parameters. While Christians are supposed to practice this kind of love, they may or may not focus on it to the extent He did. Unfortunately, it is often not easy to do. It begins in families.

          We learn about love in childhood. If the love we are given does not feel to us like love, we grow disappointed and eventually believe we are not loved. To a child’s mind, if we are not loved it must mean we are unlovable. With the help of a therapist I learned to see my parents love as authentic, thus I was able to begin to love myself. The more I can love myself, the easier it is for me to be grateful for and accepting of the love of others.

          My parents did the best they could. They were two very different, very volatile individuals. Their attitude toward one another was so fierce and their fights and disagreements so frequent that even though now I know I was loved, I could not feel it then. In addition they had high standards for me, their oldest child, and were quite strict in what they expected of me. Too often they stressed my inadequacies rather than my successes. This attitude, with which they both had been raised, did little for my self esteem.

          As a result of learning to love myself, I started to practice unconditional love. I began with people I didn’t know well, went on to friends, and finally to family. It is most difficult to practice unconditional love with dear ones because I have expectations of them. Expectations and unconditional love do not mix. Still as I learn to love more deeply I can allow myself imperfection. After all if I do not spot my errors, how can I correct them. If I love myself enough, I can smile at my errors and congratulate myself on my efforts rather than criticize.

          Awareness is important; it is easy to justify criticism of others by thinking of them as in need of correction. However, when I encounter what seems to need correcting, I can ask myself if the fault I perceive in another is a reflection of something in my own being that needs work. If not, it may be that what I am uncomfortable with in the other person stems from a wound of which I am not aware. Then perhaps I need to relinquish judgment and practice compassion. The practice of unconditional love is ongoing. As I work at it I find that as well as deepening my love of others I am deepening my love of myself. In this way I find more and more harmony in the beautiful song of life.

Tasha Halpert