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Friday, October 22, 2010

The Benefits of Being Positive

I got a comment in response to one of my recent blog posts that my "posts are always so positive." I took that as a real complement, as being more positive is something I've been working on.

I always considered myself a fairly negative person, although it isn't something I gave much thought to. But my daughter commented to someone that she thought I was a positive person, always encouraging her to be positive, to try her best, to never give up, to see the good in a situation. Then that person told me that she, too, thought I was a positive person, seeing the humor in even dark situations and never giving up no matter how desperate, challenging or seemingly overwhelming the situation in which I found myself.

So I started thinking: If these two people think I have a positive attitude, maybe I really do. Is it possible that I had had a distorted or inaccurate view of myself all these years? I also realized that I use humor -- albeit a dry sense of humor -- to lighten the mood and help me deal with stressful situations. This was totally unconscious on my part. I didn't think "I need to make a joke about this to relieve my stress." I wasn't even aware that I was using humor to reduce my stress. Apparently I did a good job of finding humor, as my friend has told me that on more than one occasion, she was reading a message from me while driving (not a good idea), and started laughing so hard she had to pull over to the side of the road.

It's much easier to be negative and to complain than to be positive. It's easier, but it takes more energy and a far greater toll on me psychologically. I have reached the point in my life where I don't want to be around people who are always negative. It is so emotionally draining. Sure, I am negative sometimes, I whine and I complain and I have bad days. But I don't do this a lot, and I am aware when I do this and I make a point of stopping before it gets out of control.

I am amazed at how much our thinking and attitude influence our outlook on life. I have a saying on my computer monitor that asks "Who's in Charge?" People at work used to think this question referred to "Who's in charge?" of the office or the department. No, it was simply a reminder to me that I am in charge of how I feel, how I react, and of which emotions are most prevalent in my thinking at any given time. The quote is from a book by psychologist Wayne Dyer, Gifts from Eykis, a book about self-discovery.

It's really easy to be negative. But I find that when I am negative about something, my entire outlook goes south. It is so easy to generalize a negative feeling about one thing, and suddenly I'm negative about everything. Drivers are more stupid, traffic more frustrating, commercials more annoying, and I seem to hit every red light in town. Nothing goes right. I have to stop myself before I dig a hole that takes a lot of work to get out of. Self-pity does not become me at all.

These days, I try to make a point of "looking on the bright side" as much as possible. I'm not always successful, of course, but I do try. Sometimes, such as when I had a recent health scare, it is nearly impossible to be positive. But keeping busy and not focusing on the 'what if' scenarios helped a great deal.

Since my move to New Mexico, I am making a conscious effort to appreciate the natural beauty around me. Even on a rare 'down' day, I can find something positive: sighting a road runner, a beautiful desert plant, the gorgeous azure New Mexico sky.

I have been an advocate of self-discovery and personal growth for several years. I've taken day-long and weekend classes in how to discover the 'true' me, and how to let my true light shine. Taught by a woman with a Ph.D. in psychology, these were not just 'feel good' classes. They led to actual changes in me, in my thoughts and in my actions.

I think self-discovery is so important to our growth as humans. Every so often, we need to step back and take a fresh look at ourselves. As I learned, our image of ourselves can be very incorrect or out of date. I lived for decades thinking I was a negative person, when in reality, I'm just the opposite. How my self-image got so off base I don't know. I guess it doesn't really matter. What matters is that I now have a more accurate picture of myself. And that updated self-knowledge feels good.

I don't like getting negative or critical feedback, but I have found it useful to ask someone I trust a great deal about both my positive and negative traits. Honest, constructive feedback has proven useful in identifying areas that need improvement, and in motivating me to make changes, no matter how small. It's exciting and rewarding to make positive changes, to grow and develop myself, to reach out in new directions.

Even at my age, change is not only possible. It is rewarding and empowering!

Monday, October 11, 2010


Hozho. It's a Navajo word that often is translated as harmony . But to the Navajo, this word cannot be translated so simply. Its true meaning, complex and multi-layered, reflects a state of being one with the world.

I ran across this word recently while reading a book by my favorite author, the late New Mexico author Tony Hillerman. Not speaking Navajo, I don't have a good sense of the depth of meaning of the word. But harmony is a start.

Hozho also has been defined as beauty, order, truth, balance, and clarity of action, thought and thinking. It is the way traditional Navajos strive to live their lives. Those who are 'in hozho' feel that their lives are in harmony with their environment, at one with the world around them. Those who are 'in hozho' walk with beauty, perfectly balanced and in tune with the world, yet still a unique part of it. Traditional Navajo life is focused on obtaining and maintaining hozho. The Navajo respect and honor the natural world, and they are mindful of its importance to their own well-being.

When hozho is lost, the Navajo hold a ceremony to restore themselves to balance and harmony. As Hillerman wrote in Sacred Clowns, "The system is designed to recognize what's beyond human power to change, and then to change the human's attitude to be content with the inevitable." I admire the fact that the Navajo acknowledge that there are some things beyond their power to change; instead, they learn to accept what they cannot change.

It seems to me that hozho is something that is seriously lacking in our world. Modern society is so out of balance with our environment, with nature, with ourselves. We clearcut forests, we pollute the air and the water, we build homes in areas without the resources to support still more people. We take over the habitat of other animals, then we complain when they wander into "our" neighborhoods in search of food. New Mexico is considering an 80 percent increase in the number of black bears to be killed each year because they are becoming 'pests.' A similar fate may await female cougars, in an attempt to reduce the number of animals able to reproduce and add to the 'problem.' Yet we continue to build in the bears' and cougars' habitat, and to graze sheep and cattle in the animals' traditional hunting grounds.

I live in the high desert of New Mexico, where water is always in short supply. Yet wherever I drive, I see bone-dry, sagebrush-covered land being cleared for more new homes and businesses. Vacant land is plastered with 'land for sale' signs. New roads are being constructed. Where will the water to support thousands of new residents and businesses come from? A system woefully out of balance now will only become more unbalanced in the future. How do we restore balance to a world out of control, where nothing seems to matter except pursuit of ever more profit? How do we balance human greed with the environment's need for protection?

The 1/2-acre lot next to mine is still undeveloped, although it is for sale for $95,000. How I wish I could purchase that scrub-covered lot to protect it from development. I know that in better economic times, that lot, and numerous others in my area, will be sold and a large house built on each one. It saddens me greatly to see the never-ending drive for 'development' of our open spaces.

I would like to think that a Navajo ceremony could restore hozho to our world, but I don't have faith that balance can be restored. We humans are taking from Mother Earth in quantities that cannot be sustained, whether it be water, land or resources. And we are 'giving' our planet endless pollution in the form of trash, greenhouse gases and environmental disasters.

Harmony or balance is something I, like many other individuals, seek in life. I seek to live in harmony with the natural world. I try to limit my impact on the environment by recycling, by not buying unnecessary items, by using my own bags when I shop, by driving a hybrid vehicle. Yet my small efforts seem so insufficient and useless when confronted by the never-ending building and construction I see going on around me.

The Navajo approach to life is expressed in the following prayer:

In Beauty May I Walk

In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.

Beautifully will I possess again.
Beautifully birds . . .
Beautifully joyful birds.

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.

With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.

It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

What can we do to get our world back 'in hozho'? Will we ever be able to 'finish in beauty,' or have we already reached the point of no return?