The Power of Choice

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”  
-Alice Walker

We travel through life along our own unique path, choosing to turn in this direction or that direction. Sometimes, however, we find ourselves on a path with no end in sight and no clear alternate route. The world seems like it’s closing in on us, and we are stuck.

Sometimes we feel lost. Sometimes we feel trapped. Sometimes we feel powerless.

I have a huge fear of being trapped. I worry that I will find myself in a situation over which I have no control and about which I can do nothing. Feeling powerless, to me, is the absolute worst feeling in the world.

When I was in Kindergarten, my teacher told the class about the time her house burned down. During the discussion she said the phrase, “There’s a first time for everything.” I believed her phrase in the literal sense and thought it meant that there would be an inevitable first time when my own house would burn down. I fretted over this endlessly. I felt powerless to prevent that inevitable from happening.

But I wasn’t powerless to mitigate the situation and prevent it from being worse. I came up with a plan. I knew my parents could get out of the house themselves, but if they were napping when the house caught on fire, I would wake them up first thing. Then I would focus my efforts on saving our cats. I pictured myself picking them up and carrying them out of the burning house one by one or perhaps chasing them out if that worked.   I would go back for my favorite stuffed animals if I had time.

I am still a planner and a worst-case scenario type of thinker. Unfortunately, we cannot foresee or prepare for every scenario. Life happens.

But I have realized that I am never powerless. If I don’t like the way something is going, I can make a choice to change it. It may not be easy, and I may not like all of the options I see before me, but there is always a choice.

You always have power. You always have a choice.

The way out is not always obvious. Sometimes the pathways are shaded. Sometimes they are completely dark and thus hard to see. They may be narrow or obscured by something else in the way. Sometimes you can’t see it until you turn away and then turn back to look again. Maybe you only truly see it once someone points it out to you.

When you are feeling trapped, know there is another path, another option. There is always something you can do to make a shift, to change things in your world. Trust that a path will reveal itself to you if you keep thinking about it, contemplating it, looking at a problem from different sides. You may not see it immediately, but have faith there is a way.

Your choices may not always be easy or ideal, but you have them. Maybe the choice is about your attitude and approach to the situation. Maybe the choice is an action, a step you need to take towards change. You just have to start by recognizing the choices are there. Anytime you think about something in your life that you don’t like, any situation at all, look for ways to make it better, to improve things, to solve the problem.

I still fear the feeling of powerlessness, but I find comfort in knowing that whatever it is that I don’t like about my life, there is always something I can do to help me find my way, to make a change. I am not powerless. I always have a choice.

 

Photo credit: Gruenewiese86 via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-ND

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A Sanctuary

“By ethical conduct toward all creatures, we enter into a spiritual relationship with the universe.”  Albert Schweitzer, The Teaching of Reverence for Life

The animal rescue organizations in my city work miracles. Teams of people dedicate themselves to taking care of homeless and neglected animals while others donate money or adopt the animals if they can. But what about the animals that are not domesticated? What about the wild and exotic animals, kidnapped from their homes, sold on the black market, used for profit and then tossed aside when no longer valuable? Who helps them, takes them in, gives them forever homes?

The nonprofit exotic animal sanctuary I visited last weekend is a quick turnoff from the rural highway. The rust colored iron gates blend with the muted landscape remaining unnoticed by thousands of daily travelers. We pull into the small, gravel parking lot and check in at the equally unassuming office building for the tour, which costs only the amount you are willing to give, though they recommend $20 per person.

I am not sure what to expect. Perhaps it is like any other zoo in which the intentions behind its existence are good but the disconnection between human and animal is evident. I am relieved to be wrong. It is unlike any other animal place I have visited.

There are bars around the fenced enclosures to keep us from getting too close to the inhabitants. Our guide requests that we silence our phones and not crouch down when taking photos. The predator instincts of these animals are alive and well, and it is ill-advised to trigger them. This is not a zoo. This is not a place where you can shout at the animals or tap on the glass to get their attention. The caretakers do not allow any activities that upset the animals that live here. It is a safe place for them to live out their days in peace and comfort. This is their home, and we are guests.

A wide-eyed lemur greets us from his enclosure as we enter the sanctuary. He is happy to img_8857see us and shows us his long, fluffy tail. He likes visitors and the extra attention.  The bears mostly ignore us. Their enclosures lead to a large plot of fenced acreage where they roam freely. The ones we see through the fence snooze lazily in the shade or snack on fruit.143160330141819img_4158 Nine of these bears were rescued after a PETA sting operation and needed be moved to a new home as soon as possible. With the funding of game show host and animal rights activist Bob Barker, the sanctuary completed the construction of the new bear habitat in less than 90 days.

whitetigerSome of the animals are uncomfortable in the presence of people. One tiger becomes tense when people stand along one side of his enclosure, so we do not linger. We walk to the other side as he follows us, and when we reach it, he begins nudging his giant red ball around and then lies down to gnaw on a huge stick. He is a beautiful creature with thick white fur, brown stripes, and paws the size of my head. Some enclosures we are not allowed to visit at all in an effort to avoid subjecting the animals to discomfort or unease.

The animals here come from all over the U.S. Some were pets. Most were used for profit and kept around only as long as they were submissive and valuable or until they were confiscated. Sadly there are still people in the world who lack respect and compassion for other creatures. So often it is about money and usefulness. It is rarely about a mutual relationship or love.

A traveling roadside circus headed out of town one day stopped by the sanctuary. Their orangetiger2tiger had stopped performing, and they were going to dispose of him if the sanctuary could not take him. It is for this type of scenario that the sanctuary is never at capacity. The caretakers make sure they always have room for emergency rescues. They welcomed the circus tiger with open arms. He lives in the sanctuary safe and sound, never again having to endure the abuse imposed on him by the heartless.

The care provided by the sanctuary includes nutritional plans comprised of whole foods and the occasional treat such as snow cones for the cats and birthday cake for the bears. The animals have toys and pools for play and relaxation. The best part though is the emotional enrichment. The caretakers, including a renowned animal behaviorist, simply spend positive quality time with the animals. It minimizes the animals’ stress and anxiety. The behaviorist spends time inside the enclosures and even takes naps with a trio of tigers he has worked with since they were cubs. For other caretakers though, benches set up outside the enclosures allow people to sit in safe proximity to the animals in an effort to help them grow more comfortable with their surroundings and with human interaction. People who donate monthly to the sanctuary can participate as well. Some people read to them. Some even sing to them. It is a rare opportunity to experience a connection with these beautiful and wild animals and improve their quality of life in captivity.

150160204114634dsc_2620Last year the sanctuary became home to two gray wolves. When they first arrived, they were fearful and skittish, but every passing day they feel more at ease. As I stand nearby, one of them walks through his pool to get a closer look while the other wolf paces back and forth, still a little anxious and unsure. It is through emotional enrichment that they are making progress. They are going to live the rest of their lives here. It should not be a life lived in fear.

It is a relief to know there are people to pick up the pieces of these animals’ lives; to nurture and care for those that have been abused, mistreated, cast aside; to provide a home for those who can never return to their homelands. We must have respect and show compassion for life and nature. The ability to do so is one of the great things about being human.

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Photo credits: most taken by sanctuary but are of actual animals we visited while there

Finding Creative Inspiration

The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. -Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Many great writers have said plainly that writing is hard work. From Ernest Hemmingway to Stephen King, they emphasize the importance of commitment and toiling over your work, even when you don’t feel like it. I imagine this truth is the same for other art forms – painting, composing, design, and all the rest. I understand the importance of work and putting in the time, but where do you start when your treasure chest of inspiration is empty?

Tomorrow is my birthday, my own personal new year and a time I traditionally make a resolution. In the year ahead I want to focus more on writing. To my frustration I have lacked the inspiration and motivation to write much in the past few months. It is a struggle we all face from time to time.

Here are a few methods (some I have tried and others I plan to try) for finding creative inspiration:

Change your environment. We are creatures of habit and tend to work in the same spaces. One option is to change an aspect of those spaces. Hang some new artwork. Light table lamps or candles instead of overhead lights. Rearrange your furniture to face a different direction. Sit on the floor instead of the couch. Do whatever makes sense for your workspace and art form.

A second option is to work someplace else. When I was in high school, two of my favorite places to write when I needed more focus were the roof and my closet. Change to a different room in your house. Sit on your front porch or work in your back yard. Go to a café, library, a park, anyplace that gives you a different view and a different ambience than your usual space.

Meditate. Sometimes the more you focus on a creative project, the more clarity and inspiration seem to slip away from you. Then your frustration makes it even worse. Meditation can help clear your mind of all the noise and bring you back to your point of focus. I recently downloaded the Headspace app per a recommendation. It has a mediation series for many things, including creativity.

Listen to music. Music stirs up emotions and memories. Indulge in your favorites or check out something new. When I was in elementary school, one day a week I attended an alternative program for gifted kids. After recess, we would all lie on the floor with the lights off, listen to a piece of instrumental music, and let our imaginations take over. Afterwards we wrote about the thoughts, images, and stories that emerged in our minds. It was my favorite part of the day.

Seek out visual stimulation. We are very visual creatures. On a recent episode of Gretchen Rubin’s podcast “Happier,” she suggested finding inspiration by reading three magazines you would not normally read. You can gain exposure to new subject matter and ideas by reading the articles or by simply flipping through the pages since magazine are image heavy. There are also many great books of photography and art prints with striking imagery. Buy them, check them out from the library, or browse at a local bookstore.

Read poetry. Poetry, like music, is concentrated emotion and ideas. It is lyrical, beautiful, and often ambiguous. It leaves room for interpretation and imagination. It is also short and often easy to read. I recommend Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Rumi, just to name a few.

Go for a walk. Sometimes a breath of fresh air can work wonders on your creative aspirations. With each step and brush of the wind, you feel more a part of the world around you. You can listen to the sounds of daily life happening around you and focus for a bit on simply living in that moment and observing all of that life. It is refreshing and inspiring.

Take yourself on an artist date. I got this idea from the book The Artist’s Way, which I highly recommend reading and practicing. Take your self some place new or to one of your favorite places that has inspired you in the past. Artist dates of my own include visiting a local museum and hiking through the nature reserve. Taking time out from your daily routine to spend some quality time with just yourself in a creative space helps bring clarity to your thoughts and is a great way to find creative inspiration.

Free write/paint/draw/knit/etc.   Sometimes we over think things, and the best way to pave the way for creativity is to stop the chaotic thought process. Set a timer for 10 minutes and just do your thing! Do what feels right and trust your creative outpour. What you create though simple instinct may surprise you and inspire you to keep going.

Regardless of the pathway to creative inspiration that works best for you, the key is to let go of your frustration. Negativity will inevitably block the flow of ideas. Relax, open your mind, and trust that inspiration will come to you.

Happy creating!

2011 Northern Spark

Photo credit: Northern Spark via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Bound Together

Friends are as companions on a journey, who ought to aid each other to persevere in the road to a happier life.”
-Pythagoras

What is a true friendship? Aristotle believed that true friendship is rooted in goodness of character and equal virtue and is extremely rare. In the age on social media, we use the term “friend” loosely. We can easily connect with anyone and everyone, but those connections are often shallow and empty of real meaning. I, too, believe that true friendship is rare, and I am grateful to have firsthand knowledge of it in my life.

N and I met in 7th grade history class. I don’t remember the moment we met. She was simply and suddenly in my life. Our family structures were very similar. Our parents both married and split around the same time. Both of our dads remarried and were often absent from our lives. We were both only children and very close to our moms. It was our common ground.

We partnered on projects together, ate lunch together, went to school dances together. We made frequent treks to the grocery store to buy rolls of sugar cookie dough to snack on while binge watching MTV. We decided that when we turned 16 we would take a road trip to Seattle, the capital of grunge, and we started saving money for the trip by putting change in a jar. We asked kids in the cafeteria to donate their leftover lunch money to our cause, but we never saved very much. We kept buying cookie dough with it instead. We made up songs and games to entertain ourselves. We had (and still have) infinite inside jokes that no one else would ever understand. We roamed around our city, exploring and making our presence known.

N and I both have somewhat adventurous natures. We never daydreamed about our wedding days or settling down to have kids but instead focused our free spirits on really living life, taking advantage of opportunities, and experiencing everything we could. As we got older, this of course got us in trouble a few times. We snuck out, partied hard, got tattoos and piercings. But we took risks. We didn’t shy away from the world and never felt like we were missing out. We were in advanced honors classes all through school. I was in the internship program and N competed on the debate team. And we were both in math club (believe it or not).

In high school our friendship got more complicated, as many teenage friendships do. As our relationships with other people increased and became complex, so did our relationship to each other. There were rivalries, jealousies, and dramatic love interests intermixed with the white lies that we told each other for no real reason except that we were simply trying to find our ways through the world and didn’t know how to be honest with each other or ourselves.

Our bond was undeniable, but still we grew apart. Our friendship became too disjointed and frictional. On high school graduation day, we threw our caps in the air, hugged each other, and didn’t speak again for three years. N and I have taken a few natural breaks throughout our friendship, but our bond has always brought us back together. I think those days are behind us now. We have learned how to be better friends to each other. We have traveled across country many times to see each other, having lived in different states for more than half of our friendship. We message each other all the time, for vital reasons and for no reason at all except a desire to connect.

Here is a little bit about N: She is incredibly bright. It was easy to see that way back when we first met in junior high. I have always admired her quick wit. She makes me laugh longer and harder than anyone I’ve ever known. I wouldn’t let her wear her pretty long blonde hair down at my wedding because it would have overshadowed my whole bridal ensemble. She has a glamorous style that she never sacrifices for any reason. She is smart, bold, and brave.

N is stronger than she sometimes realizes. She is finally seeing that she deserves so much more in life than she has allowed herself to have. I have not been diligent in showing how much I admire, appreciate, and love her. In this way I have failed her as a friend, but I hope to have many more years of friendship with her to make up for it.

Relationships are complex, messy. N and I have grown up together, spending some of our most turbulent years together. True friendship is not about perfection. It’s about working through life together. We have seen each other at our worst. We have judged each other and carried each other. We know each other on multiple levels, and for that reason we can talk more deeply and laugh more honestly and whole-heartedly together than with anyone else. We are kindred spirits.  After more than 20 years, we continue on our journey through life bound together forever in friendship.

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