Why Bother Paying Attention To Our Filter?

Why Bother Paying Attention To Our Filter?

When I bought my first car, a used Volkswagen, I learned quickly how to pay close attention to its oil level and how to add oil when the level was low. Oil for that old Volkswagen was its lifeblood. If I let it run out, I would no longer have a car that ran. But just as important as the oil was the filter. Without a clean filter, debris and dirt could have entered into parts of the engine and worn it down. But because I knew the importance of keeping an eye on my oil level and its filter, I kept that old Volkswagen running for many miles. 

So it goes that just as a car requires oil and a filter, so do our minds. We need a filtration system to strain debris that can otherwise seize our minds.

    Filtering our Thoughts

Recently, a friend and I had one of those “hard” conversations. I knew it was a difficult topic to approach, and yet, I was grateful we could finally address the issue. For quite some time, the topic had hung like a dark cloud between us and distorted our perspectives of one another. 

When the opportunity arose, I broached the subject with caution and waited for their response. Mingled with positive comments about my character, and a plethora of apologies, they also threw a few barbs. Though at first I wanted to defend myself, I soon realized that the conversation was more about their need to release pent up frustrations than my need to defend my stance.  

When all had been said, we assured each other of our love and I thanked them for their honesty.  Though I was truly grateful, I still needed to pick out the barbs and sort out my thinking before I emotionally broke down. 

When I owned that old Volkswagen, I always carried a few essential tools in its trunk; an extra can of oil, an oil can opener with a spout, an oil filter, and a rag. In this way, I was never stranded with a seized and useless engine. 

So too, without having a few tools in our emotional tool chest, hearing hard words from a friend can sometimes strand us, crippling us and breaking up a relationship. So, after our conversation, I opened up my emotional tool chest and began to sort, clarify and refine my thinking. 

The best tool for sorting my thoughts is reflective writing. Sitting alone for an hour or so with a pen and my journal allowed me to remember the positive affirmations and to be encouraged by them. I’m not a total loser!

Another tool I often use is to seek counsel. Talking about this hard conversation to another friend who knows us both, was helpful. I needed confirmation that I really am not a total loser and along with some empathy, I got confirmed.   

Finally, though I did not agree with everything my friend said, I did have an epiphany. I value honesty and it was a big effort for them to be honest with me. This means that somehow I need to put them at ease. They need to know that I value their thoughts, even the ones that are tough to say and hard to hear. 

So why bother paying attention to our filter? When tough words come our way, as they inevitably will, having a good filtering system will keep our brains and our relationships from seizing up, shutting down and emotionally stranding us.

Why Bother To Be A Good Example?

Why Bother To Be A Good Example?

Recently, our school shifted its administrator and we hired a new principal. Unlike the last one, Mr. C. makes himself visible and available to staff and students. He casually strolls through each classroom every morning and helps out on the playground at noon. At the end of the day, he makes his rounds again through classrooms, this time for the benefit of the teachers. Though his question, “Is there anything that I can do for you?” is the same each day, I’ve learned that he means what he says. At times, I don’t need a thing and simply smile and say, “No thanks.” Other times, when I’m in a conundrum with the curriculum or a student’s behavior, I’ll ask for his advice. Because he’s a good listener, his insight is spot on. Just the other day I realized that just being around him inspires me to want to do a better job at what I do. 

Inspiring Others

Though I am not sure how they do it, some people, such as my new principal, have an innate ability to inspire others. They infuse us with enthusiasm, and give us a vision for something beyond what we presently see. While attending college, I had a few especially inspiring teachers. Just walking into their classrooms I could anticipate something good was about to happen. These instructors stirred up inside of me the potential that I was unaware I possessed. They pointed  to great things they knew I could accomplish. And I believed them.  

But teachers and principals are not the only ones who stimulate me to do better. My friends inspire me as well. Without the influence of a particularly emphatic friend in my life, I would be less inclined to offer sympathy to those who are hurting. Another friend whose lightheartedness and laughter fills up any room she walks into, inspires me to take myself a little less seriously. 

Then there are the people, whose names I don’t know, yet whose lives, when I observe them from afar, prompt me to consider being better. On my commute across a mile long bridge, I observe a woman in a wheelchair. When the weather is warm and sunny, she wheels herself speedily across the bridge, her muscular arms glistening with sweat. On other days, I notice a physically impaired young man pedaling a heavy three wheeled bicycle across the same bridge. His smile is big enough for everyone to take note. Both these individuals remind me that if they have the grit to overcome their obstacles, then so do I.  

Whether a fellow employee, a friend or a stranger, there are folks all around us who are living good examples. 

Why bother to be a good example? You never know who may be watching, so live as if anyone who may be watching, will be inspired by your good example.

Why Bother To Be Foolproof?

Why Bother to be Foolproof?

Today is April first, also known as April Fool’s Day. If you like to pull pranks, this is your day to shine. If on the other hand, you don’t want to look foolish, then be on guard so you are not the brunt of another person’s antics.  

Though I try not  to be fooled, one year I fell for a very good practical joke. When a friend of my youngest’s son came over to play one April Fool’s Day, I noticed his arm wrapped in bandages and nestled in a sling. Forgetting the date on the calendar, I felt instant pity for him and asked how he’d hurt himself. “I fell out of a tree,” he said. This was not hard for me to believe, as he and my son were both eight years old at the time, and tree climbing was par for their course of play. But then he looked up at me and a smile crept across his mouth. I knew then that I’d been duped. “April Fools,” he shouted out in triumph. 

From Harmless to Harmful

Practical jokes and pranks are usually harmless, but being a fool can be harmful to our health. When we lack common sense, make decisions without sound judgment and walk the path of least resistance, we are more likely to fall for fake news, scams and make one poor choice after another. 

At times, we can be desperate. We want to believe that we can lose forty pounds by simply taking a pill, make a million dollars without having to work hard, or fall for a schmoozer who says they love us but really only want to have their way with us.  In other words, we want something to be true when in truth, it is not. 

But there are those who do rely on others to be gullible. If not for the foolish, some business, politicians, and smooth talking individuals would fail to succeed—they’d be without a job, out on the street without a penny or a person to uphold their name. 

My young son’s friend had no evil intent with his prank, but after that, my guard went up every April Fool’s Day after that. I’ve become more of a skeptic and fall less for things that are not  true. I am cautious about being manipulated into believing everything I am told, more level headed and I make it a point to check the date on my calendar.  

Why bother to be foolproof? It is worth it to employ our common sense and guard ourselves against thinking things are true when they are not. Nobody wants to be a fool, but there are plenty of people who want to fool us.

Why Bother With Ungratefulness?

Why Bother With Ungratefulness?

Although the Big Dipper remains in the sky during daylight hours, its starry beauty can only be seen against the backdrop of a dark sky.  Without this contrast of starlight against darkness, we would be unaware of not only the beauty of the Big Dipper, but all the other constellations in our night sky. 

Sometimes a contrast is what we need to see what otherwise goes unnoticed. Therefore, when gratefulness is contrasted against its opposite, ungratefulness, I think we get a better view of the benefits of being grateful. 

Putting the ‘Un’ in Gratefulness

Two little letters change everything about a word. When the prefix, un, is placed in front of the word grateful, we get the exact opposite, ungrateful. To be ungrateful is to be unthankful, rude, uncivil, unpleasant, disagreeable and not very fun to be around. Ungrateful people focus on what is lacking in their lives and covet what others have. Ungrateful people are fault finding and self-centered individuals. Just like an ingrown toenail is painful, ungrateful people are ingrown and hurtful, who only live to satisfy themselves. Being ungrateful is not a useful character trait for building relationships, living a happy life or believing we have a purpose in this life.

Seeing the grimness of ungratefulness we can remove the ‘un’ and turn our focus to its opposite, gratefulness. Grateful people appreciate and value what they already have. They are gracious in their words and actions toward others. Gratitude inspires us toward goodness, kindness, and joy. It raises our consciousness and gives us empathy toward other human beings. When we are grateful we are not anxious, breaking other people’s hearts with our selfishness, or envying what others have. Being grateful though, goes beyond just feeling gratitude. It is a moral disposition, a virtue, a trait. 

Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar and writer. He tried in vain to uphold republican principles in the last of the civil wars that finally destroyed the Roman Empire. He is known to have said that gratitude is the queen of all virtues. I am sorry to say that he was executed for his ideals.

Another famous man who had important things to say about gratitude was Martin Luther, a religious reformer. He believed that gratefulness was the basic Christian attitude. He, unlike Cicero, was not executed for his ideals. 

I don’t think we need to fear for our lives if we practice and cultivate the virtue of gratitude in this day and age. 

So why bother with ungratefulness? When gratefulness is contrasted against ungratefulness, it ought to be enough to motivate us to take the ‘un’ out of our gratefulness.

Why Bother Being Grateful for Spring?


Why Bother Being Grateful for Spring? 

It seems that suddenly, winter gave way to spring. The snowbanks melted, the sunlight grew warmer and the daylight longer.  Like a dog that naturally sheds its winter coat when the weather warms, spring invites us to lighten up and move into spring. 

     A Season of Change

An increase in daylight hours along with the warmer air brings people out of their houses. From the second story window where I sit at my desk to write, I can view an expansive public park with soccer fields and walking paths. December through early March, these fields and pathways are desolate. Blanketed with snow and ice, few people venture out to walk on these paths. But now that the walkways are ice free, people have reappeared. Kids on bikes or scooters, couples walking their dogs, and joggers now enjoy the spacious green area from dawn to dusk. 

During the cold dark months of winter, there was no happy chirping heard from birds or the playful scampering of our resident squirrels. Instead, songbirds migrated, and squirrels hunkered down deep into their leafy nests. But now our backyard wildlife is active once again. The birds have returned, and the air is filled with the male voices of robins, sparrows and swallows singing their mating songs. The squirrels, no longer curled together for warmth in their nest, chase each other across the lawn and up and down tree trunks. Recently, my husband and I spied a squirrel lying on a branch in one of our trees just to warm itself with the rays of the morning sun. 

Spring also calls for a change in our wardrobes. Fur lined boots, wool hats, and cumbersome coats are shed for lighter wear. Dark green sweaters, black leggings and brown long-sleeved dresses are replaced with the lighter colors of yellow cotton shirts, blue capri pants and orange skirts. This simple change, from heavy to lighter weighted clothes along with the brighter colors is enough to make me smile.

Spring also brings anticipation for the future. Possible projects around the house are planned—rooms that need repainting or furniture that needs restoring, along with garages and storage sheds that need clearing out. Early spring is the time many gardeners start their garden seeds indoors whether flowers, herbs or vegetables. 

Our diets usually lighten up as well. Spring is the time we replace those starchy, comforting casseroles for the many different varieties of salads. And finally, spring is the time to get back outdoors. Whether a walk around the park, a bike ride, kicking a soccer ball or strapping on some roller blades, it is time to get out and get moving.

Why bother being grateful for spring? The daylight is longer, the air is warmer, the birds are singing love songs and we’ve shed our heavy winter wear for colorful outerwear. It is worth it to enjoy the season of spring and all of what it brings. 

Why Bother With A Healthy Occupation?

Why Bother With  A Healthy Occupation?

Our mental wellness is tied to managing and caring about all the different aspects of our lives—the emotional and physical self, the spiritual, intellectual, and social self as well as our environment, interpersonal and occupational areas. We are complex creatures and when all of these systems work in congruence to one another, the result is mental stability. But when they are incongruent, acting against one another, chaos reigns. 

Though each of these areas of our mental wellness are interconnected, I thought it wise to break them apart and look at them individually. Today we look at the last item on our long list of the areas that we need to pay attention to for our mental wellness; healthy occupations. 

          Oh The Jobs I’ve Held

While growing up, I didn’t think too much about the future since I liked my present status as a kid.  But I remember my fourth grade  teacher asking the whole class a question that forced me to think beyond childhood and into adulthood. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She asked while standing in front of the room full of nine and ten year olds. There were plenty of my classmates who wanted to be nurses and doctors, policemen and firemen. So that by the time my turn came I wanted to be something other than what everyone else wanted so I announced, “I want to be the president of the United States.” The laughter echoed off the walls deafening my ears. I guessed my answer was too far-fetched.

Arriving at high school, the counselors put students on two different tracks—those who were college bound and those who were not. I fell in line with all those who were not. Obviously I’d lost sight of my elementary desire to be president. 

While in high school I took a job as a nurse’s aid to earn money for a car. Working as a nurse’s aid was far better than going to high school and I imagined dropping. But my mother would not allow such a thing. When I finally did graduate I pursued other jobs for better pay. Though house painting, house cleaning and waitress jobs were steady and somewhat satisfying because of my earnings, these jobs felt hollow. 

When I turned nineteen, though no one had ever suggested it before, a fellow restaurant worker suggested I try going to college. I was surprised by his idea and later as a student, I was amazed with my ability to succeed. 

My choices for job opportunities broadened and for a short while, I believed working with handicapped preschool children would be my career. But then I fell in love, married and started a family, and my profession changed. Though as a mother, I was not paid any wages, motherhood became my livelihood. It also became the training ground where I learned how to inspire, guide, and encourage others, namely my sons, to maturity. My labor did not feel trivial, but as my sons matured into young men, I could see my job would soon end. Mothering is not a lifelong career. 

I knew my education was not finished and I returned to college. After earning a Bachelor’s degree, I still did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Then one day, while working as a teacher’s aide, it occurred to me that the profession of teaching was calling me and I answered. Once again in the workforce, teaching is my station in life. 

Finding our profession is not necessarily a linear pathway. We may start out going one direction and then shift directions later on. What matters most is that we find satisfaction in where we expend our energy. Our satisfaction or dissatisfaction at work will have a direct impact on our mental wellness. 

Why bother with a healthy occupation? Working at a career that just doesn’t fit is like sucking in our gut into a tight pair of pants. We can do it, but not for very long. On the other hand, working in a healthy occupation, one that “fits” us, is much more enjoyable for the long haul. 

Why Bother Relating to Others?

Why Bother Relating To Others?

Our mental wellness is tied to managing and caring about all the different aspects of our lives—the emotional and physical self, the spiritual, intellectual, and social self as well as our environment, interpersonal and occupational areas. We are complex creatures and when all of these systems work in congruence to one another, the result is mental stability. But when they are incongruent, acting against one another, chaos reigns. 

Though each of these areas of our mental wellness are interconnected, I thought it wise to break them apart and look at them individually. Today we look at our interpersonal relationships. 

         How Deep Do I Want to Go?

 Interpersonal relationships are those relationships that are carried on between two or more people. We may “know” a number of people and a number of people may “know” us. Yet the relationships we have with each person will vary. Envision  a concentric circle, something like a dart board. The center, or bull’s eye, is small while circles surrounding it get larger the farther away they are from the bull’s eye. If we were to write names inside that small bulls eye center, those names would be of the people who are closest to us. These people have endured the best of times as well as the worst of times with us. My spouse, for instance, resides in that bull’s eye circle, as does my best friend. Going outside that bull’s eye to the next concentric circle dwells some of my family members and a few close friends. But further from the center and scattered throughout the other circles are other friends and acquaintances. This concentric circle is a visual map of my interpersonal relationships. Not everyone fits inside the bull’s eye, nor should they. 

Yet, no matter if we confide with a close friend or share simple pleasantries with a new acquaintance, following a few general communication principles ensures an enjoyable outcome as a result of mutual sharing.  

First and foremost is to respect them. Even if we do not like or agree with their particular opinion or point of view, mutual respect ensures future conversations.  Disrespect guarantees losing the relationship. Secondly, be an active listener. People want to know they are being heard. And even though we may not always understand what someone means, our full attention to their words will eventually lead to understanding them a little bit better. Finally, as much as possible, be empathetic. Giving empathy is like giving an invitation to someone to go a little deeper into the relationship. But, not everyone will accept our invitation and we can respect their choice. 

So why bother relating to others? Having healthy interpersonal relationships are worth the effort because reciprocating with each other decreases the risk of living a lonely life the rest of our life.   

Why Bother With a Healthy Environment?

Why Bother With a Healthy Environment? 

Our mental wellness is tied to managing and caring about all the different aspects of our lives—the emotional and physical self, the spiritual, intellectual, and social self as well as our environment, interpersonal and occupational areas. We are complex creatures and when all of these systems work in congruence to one another, the result is mental stability. But when they are incongruent, acting against one another, chaos reigns. 

Though each of these areas of our mental wellness are interconnected, I thought it wise to break them apart and look at them individually. 

    Environment by Design

I remember the first time I had my own bedroom. By then, I was a freshman in high school and my three older sisters had flown the coop, so to speak. Finally, I had my own bedroom and I was ecstatic. First, I painted the walls a color that I liked. Then I put up different curtains and bought some plants to place on a shelf in front of the windows. I had the freedom to create my bedroom in a way that matched my personal preferences and as a result, it became my personal space. In my very own bedroom I could relax in comfort and feel content. 

Creating a healthy environment for ourselves might be a challenge but it is a worthy one. The space in which we live or work affects our mental wellness. Our environment can either reduce our level of stress or create more. It can put us in a happy mood or take us down to a funky one. Our surroundings can motivate, suck our energy dry, be inviting or cause us to stay away.  

I’ve lived by myself in apartments, shared a tiny cabin with a group of others, lived a short stint in tipi, and raised a family in a house that was under construction. Though each place was a different sort of space, there were some things that remained the same. No matter the size, the number of people, or lack of conveniences, such as running water and a toilet, I kept things in order. 

Cluttered environments give me a sense of being out of control, so I never let clutter accumulate. Instead, I stay on top of things. Dirty dishes are not left in the sink, laundry, clean or dirty, does not collect into piles. Neither does the mail. The simple routine of paying bills on time, or putting the laundry away creates an orderly environment, one that is peaceful to me. As a result, happiness reigns in my world. 

Walking into our space, whether at home or on the job, should be a pleasant experience, not something we dread. If we let out an audible groan when we walk into one of our rooms and not someone else’s, we know it is time to make some changes. Note that we are responsible only for our space and no one else’s. 

But remember, a healthy environment does not just include the space inside our house or our space at work. What about our car, our garage or yard? Oh my! It is enough to make us shudder when we think of all the different spaces we need to maintain. Yet, we don’t need to get overwhelmed. We  just need to roll up our sleeves, face the room, and get busy turning it into something healthier for us.  

Why bother with a healthy environment? Our environment is after all, our environment and worth the effort it takes to make it a healthy one. When we live, breathe and move in a pleasant space, a layer of stress falls away making us happier people. 

Why Bother With Social Wellness?

Why Bother With Social Wellness? 

Our mental wellness is tied to managing and caring about all the different aspects of our lives—the emotional and physical self, the spiritual, intellectual, and social self as well as our environmental, interpersonal and occupational areas. We are complex creatures and when all of these systems work in congruence to one another, the result is mental stability. But when they are incongruent, acting against one another, chaos reigns. 

Though each of these areas of our mental wellness are interconnected, I thought it wise to break them apart and look at them individually. 

‘No Man is an Island’

John Donne, a poet from the 1600s, wrote a short, but poignant poem, No Man is an Island. In a few words he emphasizes the interconnectedness of human beings. In his poem, Donne used the idea of the sea washing away a small clod of earth from the continent which makes the continent less. So too, as humans, we are diminished by any man’s death. 

Humans are made to connect with one another. As in the movie Castaway and in the book Hatchet, the two main characters learn to survive on their own because they have to. They both build shelters, and learn to eat whatever food they find. But all along, they think about how to reunite with the civilized world. At one point, after being alone for so long, both characters consider ending their lives because although they can survive, they can’t imagine living the rest of their days alone. Surviving is very different from thriving and it is the connection with people that enriches our lives.

Solitary confinement is a disciplinary action used in penal systems. Those in solitary confinement experience depression, hopelessness, and paranoia. Being alone, with no meaningful contact with another human being whittles a person down to feeling less than human. If left in solitary confinement for too long, one even forgets how to live around others. 

But, if you are reading this blog post that means you are not stranded on an island by yourself as in Castaway, or alone in the Canadian wilderness as in Hatchet, or in solitary confinement in prison. So, you have the capacity to benefit from interacting, connecting and interfacing with others. Even introverts, such as myself, reap something worthwhile when we learn to balance our preferred solitude and silence with mingling and conversing with other people. 

Our sense of purpose is heightened when we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Belonging to a community, whether at work, or church or volunteering for a good cause, we share  a commonality with others like ourselves. When ideas, resources, and energy are exchanged among a group, greater things can happen. And though many use Facebook, Instagram, emailing, zooming and texting, too much is lost in cyberspace. There really is no substitute for person to person connections.

Thankfully, we have the freedom to choose those with whom we want to keep company with, but keeping company with them ought to benefit both participants’ social wellness. Do we share similar values? Is there mutual respect? Is truthfulness, accountability and honesty a shared goal? If so, social wellness is almost inevitable. If not then we might want to reevaluate the company we keep.

Why bother with social wellness? Our emotional wellness is worth pursuing because with it we are enriched without it, we are less than we could be. 

Why Bother With Intellectual Wellness?

Why Bother With Intellectual Wellness? 

Our mental wellness is tied to managing and caring about all the different aspects of our lives—the emotional and physical self, the spiritual, intellectual, and social self as well as our environmental, interpersonal and occupational areas. We are complex creatures and when all of these systems work in congruence to one another, the result is mental stability. But when they are incongruent, acting against one another, chaos reigns. 

Though each of these areas of our mental wellness are interconnected, I thought it wise to break them apart and look at them individually. 

A Healthy Brain

A healthy intellect begins with healthy thoughts and those healthy thoughts will shape healthy actions. 

For instance, our thinking forms our success or failure. Someone once said, whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right. If we believe that we can succeed and apply the necessary hard work to reach our goal, we will most likely come through with flying colors. But, if we don’t believe we can make any headway toward our goal, well then we won’t even try. Instead, we’ll simply throw in the towel and accept defeat as inevitable. 

Our thinking also affects our emotions which in turn, affect our actions. We don’t have to be mind readers to know when someone is angry, sad, or happy. Our body language tells it all. A scowl and stomping feet lets everyone know we are mad. A smile and skipping feet tells everyone we are lighthearted and ready for some fun. Tears and a trembling lip signals our sadness. We can’t fake what we think. Even without a word, thoughts are communicated. 

Maintaining the health of our brain and intellect is not a difficult endeavor. Incorporating a few good habits any one can afford will change the way our brain functions. 

Getting enough sleep is a good beginning to a healthier intellect. Prepare your brain for

rest by shutting off all screens at least an hour before you go to sleep. Begin to relax by reading something that doesn’t rile you up, such as poetry or an inspirational story. Take a hot bath scented with lavender oil or open a journal and review your day by writing about it. Don’t expect to instantly decompress the minute your head hits the pillow. Allow your brain to gradually wind down. Then, after a good night’s rest, we are much more intellectually prepared to take on the world and everything it throws at us in one day.

Eat a healthy diet. Lots of vegetables, fruits, and protein. The fewer processed foods, the better. Eat regular meals instead of grazing all day. Take a real lunch break away from your desk, computer and even the office if possible. Enjoy the taste of your food and any good company you can find. And don’t forget to hydrate with lots of water. 

Exercise brings out the best in all of us. Find an activity you can sustain no matter the season. As often as possible, get outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Buy a dog if you have to have an excuse to get out for a walk. Join a jogging club, a cyclist group or a gym. Do it alone or with friends and reap the benefits exercise offers to everyone. 

Why bother with intellectual wellness? Maintaining the health of our brain is beneficial. We are more apt to think better thoughts about ourselves, others and the world we live in.