McDowell

Ghost Stories

“If you don’t want to be scared, stop telling yourself ghost stories.” Sheri Holman, “Witches on the Road Tonight”

When you head out on the road of life each day, how do you plan your route? Do you look for monsters lurking under the bed and things that go bump in the night? Or do you prefer the happy ending, cup-not-just-half-full-but-overflowing approach to life?

Our limiting thoughts and beliefs are like the ghost stories we tell ourselves. Limiting beliefs serve as filters of our reality; when we get a limiting belief, our life loses its richness because we are not able to perceive it correctly. When our ghost stories become our reality, fear often leaves us feeling emotionally paralyzed. We are unable to act quickly or decisively or, in some cases, even think clearly.

However, once we can identify anything that might be holding us back, we can always transform the limiting beliefs of our ghost stories into more empowering beliefs that can help us keep moving toward our goals, even if roadblocks arise on our path.

The most important thing to remember is that you can choose what you want to tell yourself: the scary ghost stories or the happy ending stories. You can either focus on what you don’t have, the obstacles you face, the risks you have to take. Or, you can focus on your desires. Focus on negative thoughts, and this will manifest negatively in your life: your health might suffer, your peace of mind will be compromised, or you will exist in a constant state of stress. Focus on pleasant thoughts, and your existence will be pleasant.

Dr. Michael Smith said, “Every utterance from our mouth is a prayer.”

As you prepare to enter the new year, are your words fraught with things that go bump in the night? Or are your utterances light and airy, like prayers?

The Knowledge of Alternatives

“You always have a choice.” Nicolas Lore

I have a friend who lives by this philosophy. Whenever I talk (okay, whine) about decisions I’ve made in the past, her response always is, “It was your choice, remember.”

I HATE it when she says that.

But I also know that she’s right. It was my choice. I always have a choice.

Knowing that I have options is essential to my peace of mind and spiritual wellbeing. Having options means the difference between seeing a way ahead—or a way out—or staying in those deep holes that I have, on occasion, fallen into.

Have you ever asked yourself, “If I didn’t have to worry about the outcome, what would I let myself think about? What options might I have? What choices would I make?”

Giving yourself permission to consider all of your choices is the key to getting from where you are to where you want to be. When you give yourself permission to think about what you want, why you want it, and what you’re willing to do or even willing try to do, you free yourself to at least consider alternatives. Ideas that might not have occurred to you in a million years now might occur.

Maya Angelou wrote, “In order to avoid this bitter end, we have to be reborn again, and born with the knowledge of alternatives.”

Have you been avoiding looking at alternatives? Have you been trying to not look in the mirror and see what is true? Or are you ready to let yourself be reborn again with the knowledge of alternatives?

It’s your choice.

(Not) Home for the Holidays

“Don’t Make Assumptions. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.” Don Miguel Ruiz

I recently joined a business women’s meetup group.

My first meeting happened to be their annual holiday celebration. No surprise, the leader thought it would be “fun” to have each person share their favorite Christmas tradition.

Thank pointy-eared elves, she started on the far side of the room, so lots of other women would share their stories before she called on me.

My first reaction was panic, followed quickly by a healthy dose of contempt. As the conga line of holiday cheer crept ever closer, I could only think, “What am I going to say?”

If you’ve read my blogs or books, you know that not having something to say is, well, let’s just say unheard of for me. Because I’m a Therapeutic Storyteller – I’d better have something to say, some story to share during this season of sharing.

But the fact is, I don’t have any warm and fuzzy Christmas traditions to share because I don’t “celebrate” the holidays.

And why I don’t isn’t anyone’s business, let alone the business of strangers.

“Who is she,” I thought, “to assume that everyone celebrates Christmas, that everyone has happy memories of Christmases past? Has it never occurred to her that not everyone celebrates the same things or even feels the same way about the holiday season?”

Ruiz also states unequivocally that “our whole dream of hell” is based on making assumptions and taking things personally. My whole dream of hell was reduced to the few minutes I waited for my turn. I wanted these people to like me, but I certainly wasn’t going to make any new BFFs if I sounded like Scrooge. On the other hand, Ruiz also says we need to be “impeccable” with our word, so I decided just to say what was true for me in this moment, which was, “I don’t celebrate the holidays.” But I didn’t want that revelation to fall to the floor like an unwanted fruitcake, so I added, “But I’d be more than happy to invite myself to your homes because it sounds like you’ll all be having great fun!”

Impeccably funny, wouldn’t you agree?

However, I continued to feel annoyed about this experience after the meeting, and I started questioning whether I should even join this group. After all, it was “obvious” that their lives weren’t anything like mine, and (or so I assumed) I probably won’t have much in common with them.

But as I thought about it later, it occurred to me that I was the one making assumptions. I assumed that everyone else was telling the truth and that they all had happy memories and endearing traditions. But what if that wasn’t true? What if, like me, some of them didn’t know what to say either, and, like me, were trying to come up with something that sounded warm and fuzzy before it was their turn?

Joshua Liebman, author of “Peace of Mind,” said, “Tolerance is the positive and cordial effort to understand another’s beliefs, practices, and habits without necessarily sharing or accepting them.”

Maybe it’s too much of a reach to transform my entire life. But, learning to be tolerant? That might be worth celebrating.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

“Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend… when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present — love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure — the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.” Sarah Ban Breathnach

Many years ago, I set out to plan a small but thoughtfully laid out garden in the front of my house. I’m a project manager by profession, so I approached this project in the same way as I tackled multi-million dollar technology projects: I evaluated my “current state” (the patch of brown waiting to be brought to life); I envisioned my “future state” (the beautifully crafted blooms that would flower year after year); and, most importantly, I developed my game plan for achieving my final solution that would no doubt one day be featured in Better Homes and Gardens (Western States edition).

I began by researching the best plants to include in my garden. I learned how to amend the soil; how to lay out everything in such a way as to take advantage of sunlight, runoff, and wind; and how to ensure that there would be adequate space between the plants to allow each one to spread out and up (all the while being sure not to plant anything on the dragon’s back, at least from a flowering feng shui perspective).

And so I excitedly bought all of my exhaustively researched plants, and I lovingly and thoughtfully placed each one according to the landscape blueprint I had equally lovingly and thoughtfully drawn up, every detail considered, every place on the dragon’s back plotted out. Now, all I had to do was patiently sit back and marvel as my plans—and my plants—bore fruit and blossomed.

Even novice gardeners know that these things take time. There is an ebb and flow to the seasons; things grow and mature in their own time. Which means that, at least for the first couple of seasons, the garden might look a bit sparse. But, in time, everything will fill in exactly as planned.

As I said, I’m a planner, and a good one. I was confident that I had taken everything into account when I planned my project. And so I was willing to be patient and let things unfold as they were meant to.

Only, as it turned out, I had overlooked one factor that would ultimately spell disaster.

And that one factor was my ex-husband.

Patience was not in his vocabulary. He thought the garden looked “too sparse,” and he was not willing to wait for it to fill in. He wanted what he wanted now (which, as it turned out, was his approach to pretty much everything, but that’s another story). So one day, unbeknownst to me (and while I was at work), he stopped by the local nursery and, explaining this dire predicament to one of the salespeople, came home with what he was told would be the perfect addition to the garden, one that would fill in those artfully planned empty spaces quickly.

Which turned out to be Kentucky Bluegrass seed.

He happily spread that pernicious offender EVERYWHERE in my artfully planned garden. A former minor league baseball player with a wicked throwing arm, he applied himself with the precision of an outfielder gunning down the runner racing to steal home from third base. Nothing was left to chance—and no empty space was left unseeded.

How proud he was to show me the fruits of his labor when I got home. And assured me that I would be happy with the results if I would just “be patient and give it a little time.”

(In truth, he was patiently waiting to tell me, “I told you so.”)

Sure enough, we did not have long to wait. The very next spring, my garden began to take shape. At least, I think it did. I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t see my little buds pushing up to sunlight because they were swallowed up by the JUNGLE of Kentucky Bluegrass that seemed to spring forth overnight.

And year after year, while some of my plants failed, and others seemed to thrive, I could always count on one thing that would never fail and would always thrive in my garden: That (insert various expletives here) Kentucky Bluegrass.

In time, I decided to once and for all eradicate my garden of all pernicious weeds, failures, and seasonal flops. I also eradicated my husband. (Told you so.)

But the one thing I’ve never been able to rid my garden of is that lousy bluegrass. Which in the spirit of the holidays, I’ve come to think of as The Gift That Keeps On Giving.

Every spring, when I see that bluegrass spring forth (actually, it’s really more like the zombie plant in my garden because nothing can kill it, and it’s the only thing that seems to stay green year-round), I’m reminded of my life BKB and AKB: Before Kentucky Bluegrass and After Kentucky Bluegrass. My life—like my thoughtfully and carefully planned garden—looks nothing like the landscape blueprint I thought my life would be those many years ago.

Marcel Proust said, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

And while I curse that bluegrass every spring, I also make a conscious choice to think of it as the best possible Gift That Keeps On Giving that I’ve ever received. It reminds me of many things: of how things can change when we least expect it; how our best laid plans can go awry; how what might at first seem to be the worst thing that could happen might, in time, turn out to be one of the best things.

So, when you open your gifts this holiday season, what gifts have you received that will keep on giving—and what gifts can YOU give to others so that you, too, will be a charming gardener?

Cheer Up and Just Pull Over

“Life is simple. You just have to stop trying to figure it out.” Marty Rubin

Question: What do you do with a blue monster?
Answer: Cheer him up!

This is one of my favorite jokes, told to me over 30 years ago. Obviously, I’ve never forgotten it.
Why? Because it cheers me up every time, even when I’m not blue. And because it reminds me how easy it is to make things far more complicated than they really are. After all, the answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? It’s not a trick question. But I’ve never found a single person who could answer it.

Muhammad Yunus said, “Things are never as complicated as they seem. It’s only our arrogance that prompts us to find unnecessarily complicated answers to simple problems.”

I have a tendency to overcomplicate things. I like to think it’s due to my natural ability as a project manager, rather than arrogance. However, I’m pretty sure there’s a healthy dose of that character flaw mixed in as well.
Once, I took one of those Facebook quizzes to determine what type of “seeker” I am. My results showed that I’m a seeker of knowledge, that I need to know all answers to everything NOW.

I already knew this about me.

One other thing I already know is that, when we pass over to the Other Side, we will have access to the Akashic Records, which can be equated to the universe’s supercomputer system. This system is the central storehouse of all information for every individual who has ever lived upon the earth. More than just a reservoir of events, the Akashic Records contain every deed, word, feeling, thought, and intent that has ever occurred at any time in the history of the world.

As a seeker of knowledge, I’m really looking forward to browsing this cosmic supercomputer because I have more than a few questions. And I need answers, especially to life’s more complicated problems.

However, I must admit that there are times when I’d like to know the answer to some great mystery that I’m witnessing NOW. Not only am I arrogant, I’m also impatient. So given that I plan on living many more years, and given that I’m a seeker of all knowledge, I’m afraid there are times when I can’t wait that long for the answer.

Take, for example, someone who drives well below the speed limit on a road with no passing lanes, but plenty of places to pull over—and a string of cars have piled up behind, whose drivers are praying that the person will suddenly become enlightened, look in the rearview mirror, see all of us behind, and courteously PULL OVER.

These are times when I want to follow the person until they finally do pull over somewhere and get out of their car. I want to go up to that person and say, “I believe that the Akashic Records will be open to us, and I will know the mysteries of all things when I pass over. But, I’m afraid I can’t wait that long. So let me ask you this: Why didn’t you pull over?”

This doesn’t seem like a trick question, either. Perhaps some darker force is at work here? Somehow I doubt it.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth said, “I have a simple philosophy: Fill what’s empty. Empty what’s full. Scratch where it itches.”

I might add, pull over when you’re holding everyone up. Seems pretty simple.

And, don’t forget: the next blue monster you run into, just remember to cheer him up!