CHANGE IS NOT EASY, BUT NECESSARY

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Barack Obama

A Greek philosopher named Heraclitus wisely said, “Change is the only constant in life.” Just look around you—nothing stays the same; even the human body is in a constant state of flux as it replaces dying cells in the body.

ross-findon-303091-unsplash (1)We all know change is inevitable but that doesn’t make it easy.  In fact some of us down right hate change and do everything possible to resist it and keep the status quo.  It’s much easier to do things out of habit anyway.  It’s much easier to do what’s familiar. Change means uncertainty and treading in unfamiliar territory.  Doing things the same or out of habit means control.  Daily routines make things easier. We do these routines without even having to think about them.  Changing the way we do anything requires effort, time and the willingness to overcome the fear of the unknown.

That is huge hurdle for some to get past but it’s also the only way to continued growth and learning.  The late Dr. Leo Buscaglia, a well-known author, teacher and lecturer, said that change was the end result of true learning.  He believed only through change could we learn and experience real growth. “As experienced human beings we must certainly believe in one more thing than anything else—we believe in change,” he wrote.  He went on to explain that if we don’t like where we are, we can always create a new scene.

Stepping into this new scene may no doubt be scary but it’s sometimes the only pathway to realizing new relationships, taking advantage of wonderful opportunities and truly feeling self-fulfilled and happy.

Looking back over my own life, I’ve made countless changes.  I’ve realized over the years that although some were not the right decisions to be made, all were purposeful.  In other words, I’ve learned from my decisions; I’ve learned from those changes.  Whether or not it was the right decision for me did not matter.  None were without lessons to be learned.

I was once working for a nonprofit association as Director of Communication and Editor.  My job afforded me the opportunity to travel and meet wonderful people.  I also loved the people that I worked with.  It was my safety net away from home.  Although I felt safe and secure, I felt like I needed to make a very difficult change.

This change allowed me to work independently as a communications consultant and eventually gave me the chance to realize a dream and publish my first book.  I went on to have two beautiful daughters and today I’m working on my seventh title.

I’ve sometimes wondered what my life would be like today had I not taken the leap of faith and stepped out of my comfort zone.  Sure, it would have been easy to stay in a job I loved and was comfortable doing.  But I also know that I would have missed out on so many priceless opportunities; I would have missed out on so many beautiful memories. None would have been possible without my embracing change.

You can’t get where you want to go, however, unless you have a clear view of where you are going.

Our habits and everything we do on a daily basis literally change the very makeup of our brains.  The brain is very habit driven and truthfully doesn’t care whether something is good or bad for you.  It only wants to make the neural networks we use all the time stronger so that the brain can function more efficiently.  But you do know what’s good for you.  You do know what’s bad for you.  Only you can know what changes are necessary in your life and only you can put those changes in motion.

WHAT DOES “HAPPY” MEAN TO YOU?

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” Denis Waitley

Over the past few weeks, I’ve wished many of my family and friends a Happy New Year!  Who wouldn’t want happiness in 2019, right?  The question is, however, what does “happy” mean to you?happywoman

My daughter Erica is a student at the University of Maryland.  Last semester she took a course in Positive Psychology which involved weekly exercises.  She would text me questions like, “Mom, what would make you happy today or what are you most grateful for?  She would ask me to meditate on a positive thought and report back on how I felt afterwards.

My husband and younger daughter also took part in these happiness exercises.  While I did find them helpful, I was also reminded that the definition of happiness is not exactly universal.  Sure, if you look the word happiness up in the dictionary, you’ll find things like a state of well-being and good fortune or a pleasurable experience.  However, my definition of a state of well-being may not align with your own.

So, I ask again, what does being happy mean to you?  Asking yourself this question forces you to take the time to focus on what’s important to you.  And your answers will change depending on what’s going on in your life.  As an example, my oldest hasn’t been feeling well over the past few months.  She recently had several tests done and will now be visiting with a specialist.

If you ask me what happiness means to me right now as I sit here typing this blog, it’s knowing that my daughter is going to be OK.  Of course, I’ve always wanted my children to be healthy and well but it is of even more importance to me now.  Knowing that my children are happy and well provided for gives me immeasurable  inner peace.  So, again, the definition of happiness is not exactly universal.  What makes me happy may not have any effect on your happiness level whatsoever and that’s perfectly alright.  The key is to know what you want and what’s most important to you.  What is it that will bring out positive feelings and emotions?

But as you do some soul searching in 2019, keep in mind that being happy does not mean the absence of negative emotions.  We all go through periods of fear, stress or sadness, for example.  And if we allow it, those negatives will eventually take over.  Using myself as an example, of course, I’ve been concerned about my daughter.  However, at the same time, I know I have so much to be grateful for in my life.  The love that I feel for my family and friends fosters feelings of joy and gratitude. No matter what the circumstances in our lives, there is always something to be grateful for.  You need only to take the time to look for it.  And when you look, you’ll find it within.

Why?  Here are a few tips to remember:

  1. Happiness is A CHOICE. Be mindful of your choices.
  2. Happiness is about GRATITUDE. Focus on what you do have and not what you don’t have.
  3. Happiness CAN’T BE BOUGHT. Material things bring us pleasure, not happiness.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.”  The key to her wise response is that she describes happiness as a feeling, not a thing.  A feeling that can only come from taking a deep look within.

Wishing you a very Happy 2019!

Stop and Notice

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Meister Eckhart

Gratitude is the state of thankfulness.  It means counting your blessings and appreciating the simple things.  Appreciating the good in life, however, can’t happen without first allowing yourself the time to stop and notice them.

thank-you-362164_1280 (2)On Thanksgiving Day, I gathered with my family at my brother’s house.  At the start of the meal, my sister in-law suggested that we try a gratitude exercise.  Each person at the table was asked to reflect and mention something they were thankful for.  The various responses around the table generated both laughs and happy tears.

My oldest daughter Erica is a first-year student at the University of Maryland.  Missing her over the past three months made me truly appreciate her presence at the table.  When it was her turn, Erica, too, mentioned how much she missed us and how happy she was to be back home with her family.   When it was my daughter Lia’s turn to speak, she made many of us cry with her wise, touching words.  Lia will be graduating from high school in June and will join her sister as a college student next year.

“I just want to say thank you,” she said.  “So many of my friends keep saying they want to go far away to college.  Many of them want to go as far as California.  But I don’t want to go too far away.  I want to be able to come home and it’s because of all the people in this room.  Thank you for making me not want to go far away.”

It was certainly a proud moment for me.  Many beautiful things were said as we made our way around the table that day.  Doing this exercise forced us to stop and be mindful of the present moment while expressing our thanks for something in our life.  This is not to say that we didn’t have bad things going on.  We all do.

On average, people experience more positive than negative.  Yet, unfortunately, it’s the negative that gets more attention.  Why?  Simply put our brains are developed to react more strongly to negative stimuli rather than positive ones.  Scientists report that this is the brain’s automatic response in order to keep us out of harm’s way. The brain’s heightened sensitivity to focus on the bad is automatic and therefore concentrating on the positive requires more conscious effort.

Fortunately, it’s an effort well worth making. There are, of course, countless benefits to positive thinking.  Just to name a few, positivity strengthens the body’s immune system, reduces stress, improves relationships, and increases our overall well-being and happiness.

As we made our way around the table on Thanksgiving, we were all dealing with ups and downs, good and bad.  But for that single moment we took the time to stop and savor the positive.  In that instant, we made a conscious choice to appreciate life’s many blessings.

Thanksgiving traditionally marks the start of the holiday season.  For some “Tis the season to be jolly” but for others it’s the start of stressful times and financial worries. While some things are beyond are control, we are always in total control of our thoughts. It’s a choice that we make in any given moment.

As Roy T. Bennett once said, “Life becomes easier and more beautiful when we can see the good in other people.”

Thank you.

To Be Or Not To Be . . . Divorced

heartinthesandEvery couple needs to argue now and then. Just to prove that the relationship is strong enough to survive. Long-term relationships, the ones that matter, are all about weathering the peaks and the valleys.”Nicholas Sparks

Statistics have shown that between 40 to 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. The rate is even higher for those who remarry with 67 percent of second marriages and 73 percent of third marriages ending in divorce. There are a host of reasons why marriages end. Money issues, infidelity, and stress are just a few.

When I was young, I spent a long time wondering when I was going to meet Mr. Right. Now that I’ve just celebrated my 22-year anniversary with my husband John, I can tell you that I don’t believe there is any such thing. The reason for my shift in perspective is simple. I’m not the same person I was 22 years ago and neither is he.

When we chose our wedding song, Beautiful in My Eyes by Joshua Kadison, I never realized then how true the words would become:

“The world will turn
And the seasons will change
And all the lessons we will learn
Will be beautiful and strange
We’ll have our fill of tears
Our share of sighs
My only prayer is that you realize…
You’ll always be beautiful in my eyes”

Through marriage or any relationship, the world will definitely turn and the seasons will change. And through all those changing seasons (raising children, dealing with job losses, health issues, etc.) it is common to fall in and out of love. The trick is to remind yourself why you fell in love in the first place.

According to a study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), most divorce cases in the US are due to a lack of communication. This breakdown in communication then leads to infidelity and a multitude of other issues. Logically, then, if you want to keep your marriage going or that spark lit so to speak, you need to keep the lines of communication open.

Sometimes couples become so engrossed in being a parent to their children as responsibilities grow that they forget they are also a wife or a husband to their spouse. So, again, the trick is to remind yourself why you got together in the first place. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make an Effort: Marriage or any relationship is a two-way street. If you want to keep the relationship going, you have to show your partner that you still care by making an effort. Go on a date, surprise your wife with flowers, cook your husband his favorite meal, or just call to say I love you.
  2. Listen: You might read this one and say, “I do listen.” Do you?   Listen to what your spouse or partner has to say first and then voice your opinion or concern. Try to understand where they are coming from.
  3. Revisit Memorable Moments: A good way to recreate that spark or rekindle that loving feeling is to revisit memorable, happy moments. Go back to the place where you first met or your favorite restaurant while dating. Play your wedding song. Go on a second honeymoon. The list is endless.
  4. Do Something for YOU: You can’t love someone else if you don’t feel good about yourself. Don’t lose sight of what is important to you or what makes you happy.
  5. Be Honest: This might seem simple but it’s actually not. I’m not just talking about being honest with your partner. I’m also talking about being honest with yourself. Some marriages and relationships lasts, others don’t. When is enough, enough? Only you can answer that question.

 

Notice I didn’t mention intimacy or sex in the five tips above. Yes, maintaining intimacy is extremely important. Sex is important. But obviously if the feelings aren’t there, there is no intimacy; there is no desire for sex. So, again, try to remember why you fell in love in the first place.

People often say that they need someone to make them feel complete. The truth is, however, you are the only one who can make yourself feel complete. It is normal and necessary for a couple to grow and change after so many years of marriage. The challenge is to continue to find things to love about each person you become.

 

Say Thank You

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”

Zig Ziglar

Last week as my family and I sat down to enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner, we first took a moment to say thank you and acknowledge our gratitude. It was a touching, yet emotional time.  Not only did we express gratitude for our blessings that day but we also acknowledged our loved ones who were no longer with us and thanked God for the time we did have with them.

thankyouIt was beautiful and transforming as it really helped to shift the attention in the room. In that moment, we were reminded of the importance of focusing on our blessings rather than our misgivings and hardships.

Two words, “thank you,” have the power to create stronger, lasting bonds. These two words have the power to make people feel appreciated and work harder.  They have the power to increase our joy and happiness.  Yet, these two words are largely underutilized.

I once sent a gift to a friend. Afterwards, as time went by, I never heard from her.  Not a simple text; not an email or a thank you card.  Nothing.  To me, right or wrong, this sent a message that my gift was underappreciated.  This may not have been the case, of course, but I wouldn’t have known. Unfortunately, some people fail to see the benefits of these two simple, yet powerful words.

Gratitude is essential for healthy, long-term relationships—both personal and professional. In fact, studies show that the number one reason people leave their job is because they feel underappreciated.  You would automatically think it would be to earn more money but this isn’t the case.  A little show of gratitude can make a big difference to a company’s bottom line.

The benefits of showing thankfulness are endless. Here are just a few:

  1. Not surprisingly, people who focus on gratitude, live happier, more fulfilling lives. When people feel appreciated, negative emotions like anger, frustration and jealousy diminish. They also have a higher level of self-esteem.
  2. In addition to improving mental health, feelings of gratitude also improve our physical health. People who feel appreciated have stronger immune systems and live healthier, longer lives.
  3. Those who feel appreciated are more willing to be of service to others. They are not as materialistic and see the value of the simple things in life.
  4. Grateful people are naturally more optimistic and have a greater capacity to forgive others.

Simply put, feelings of appreciation lead to positive thinking and positive thinking leads to positive action. Positive thinking hence leads to a more positive, fulfilling life.

However, don’t say thank you if you are not sincere. Say thank you when you truly mean to say thank you.  Your insincerity will only show if you don’t really mean it.

Also, don’t sweeten the deal with a promise you can’t keep. People sometimes offer things that they have no intention of giving.  For example, if you say thank you to someone and also offer to follow up with a dinner, do just that.  Don’t offer things you can’t give or make promises you can’t keep.

So as you go through the holiday season, remember to say thank you often. When we focus on and appreciate what we already have in our lives and not what is lacking, we inevitably draw more abundance into our lives.  When we give thanks, we bring thanks.  And this is key to living a healthy, happy, fulfilling life.

The Gift of Heart Failure

I remember the day well.  My friend Dan Weiniger and I were hanging outside of the middle school awaiting the arrival of our daughters at the end of the school day.  As usual, we enjoyed each other’s company chatting about life and everything in general.

But on this day, Dan surprised me by asking, “So, Josie, do you really think there is an afterlife?”  As an author and afterlife researcher, people come up to me all the time asking about the afterlife.  But Dan, though a loyal friend and huge supporter of mine, was agnostic.

I looked back at him leaning against his car, “Yes, Dan.  I don’t think.  I know.”  Dan told me that he wanted to believe but wasn’t sure.  For the next several minutes I answered his questions about heaven and the afterlife ending with, “I’ll tell you what Dan.  If I go first, I’ll bring you a sign and if you go before me, you bring me a sign.  All I can tell you is when you die, you’ll going to be surprised. Because, yes, we die in body but not in spirit.”

He gave me a serious yet cheerful laugh and said, “OK, Josie.  You got a deal.” That day was February 18, 2014.  Below is a picture Dan took of us that day and posted on Facebook. Pictured with us is his dog Popcorn.

Daniel H Weiniger February 18, 2014 · Discussing life & afterlife with my good friend Josie Tropeano Varga — feeling great with Josie Tropeano Varga at Thomas Edison Intermediate School.Daniel H Weiniger

One year later, almost to the day (February 4, 2015), Dan suffered a massive heart attack losing 80 percent of his heart’s functions.  Basically 80 percent of his heart was dead and there was no place to by-pass to; no veins to stent.  Dan opted to have a LVAD (left-ventricular assisted device) implanted in his chest which is a mechanical pump that helps to pump blood. The surgery was a success and he was then placed on a list awaiting a heart transplant.

Sadly, Dan passed away on July 25, 2017.  The heart he so desperately needed never materialized.  The fact that a heart failed such a wonderful, kind, loving person is beyond my comprehension.  Ironically, he was all heart.

In April of this year, Dan released a book, The Gift of Heart Failure.  While he was working on the book, he called to ask if I would write his foreword and also wanted my advice.  We talked at length about his book and his reasons for writing it.  I advised him to include an introduction as well as a final thoughts section.  I explained that it was important to tell people why he was writing the book.

“Heart failure has taught me how precious life really is,” he told me.   “And what do you want people to remember when they finish your book?” I asked.  Dan quickly answered, “Be grateful for the tough times because they mean you are alive.”

In Dan’s memory, I am sharing some of his enlightening words of wisdom from the book.

Kindness:

What I learned from this is that there is more to being kind than simply just being nice, more than being a good neighbor, more than doing the right thing. All of that can be driven by ego and have self-serving adulation and recognition.  True kindness is generated by our true essence and attitude not by our ego.  It taught me, besides my mother’s insistence, I am not the center of the universe.

Kindness is born of compassion for others.  It is a deep sense of understanding and caring that comes when your heart is open and your mind is not solely focused on your universe.  It is again showing us the importance of being able to look at our situation and ourselves from an unemotional, detached angle and see more than one perspective.

Your actions may appear to be kind.  I always try to display kind behavior.  However, what this experience has taught me is your thoughts have to be kind, kindness must initiate from inside, from your heart.  Are your thoughts kind?  If not, you are not expressing true kindness and compassion, because inspired kindness flows from the soul and it treats all things and all people with gentleness and respect.

Enthusiasm:

Your enthusiasm can cause a chain reaction of good in the world.  So live your life with enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  Every great endeavor has been fueled by passion, which is the byproduct of enthusiasm. By passion, I mean zest and zeal, a fiery non-stoppable enthusiasm.  I’m talking about an inner force that relentlessly drives you forward.  Setbacks and frustration just fuel your passion to try again, and climb that mountain.  It is a burning desire that creates a commitment to obliterate one’s obstacles and live the life you imagine.

Mindfulness:

Control your thoughts and your mind.  To live more in the now we must control our thoughts and our mind.  To live in the present moment we need to develop more mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of paying attention, nonjudgmentally, to whatever arises in the present moment.  When we are mindful, we experience what life presents to us, and we are no longer resisting the flow of life. The flow of life energy, when you go with the flow, you are surfing life’s energy force. When we are mindful, we realize that we are not our thoughts; we become an observer of our thoughts without judging them.

Forgiveness:

There is always an opportunity. Mistakes offer a fork in the road. They represent a chance to choose one path or another.  Choose forgiveness, choose kindness and choose love. Use your past and a broad perspective as a light to identify the opportunity so that you can forgive yourself and others. One of the best opportunities and paths to forgiveness is to seek opportunities to help others. When we shift and focus on others a real shift takes place in us and in our lives: you can feel it. When you move pass your worries and look back at your mistakes and you are focused on helping others in this world, that is when some magical things begin to happen.

It takes a lot of strength to forgive someone who is not sorry and to accept the apology you never received. However, unforgiveness is a negative emotional mindset where you, as the offended party maintain feelings of resentment, hostility, and anger toward the person, or persons who offended you. If you do not forgive, all you see is an injustice.  This unforgiveness will take a huge toll on your physical and mental health and will destroy your relationships.

Personal Perspective:

Most of us see only the trees; we cannot or choose to not see the forest. We live our lives in small 24 hour segments, or even smaller.  The answer is personal perspective. It is not easy to step back from a present obstacle, especially a painful or emotional obstacle. However, by stepping back we can see a bigger picture, find the new angle, and look for the always-present opportunity. Yes, personal perspective is the key, and what a wonderful way to achieve wisdom.

Be a Miracle:

By making the choice to live as if everything is a miracle, every moment becomes something to appreciate and be grateful for. One of the biggest miracles I see in my life is my family, friends and the love we all share.  Love is the most amazing thing in our lives.  It is what makes us sing, dance and smile. The miracle of love also leads to what we have already discussed and that is the acts of kindness, forgiveness, thinking of others and seeing life from another person’s point of view.

Difficult times will happen. To find the light, we have to go through the darkness. Please remember while you’re in the midst of it, to try and take a deep breath and remember that the lessons you are learning from the very obstacles you are facing, will shift your view of life. You will learn what matters, who matters, how strong you are and how lucky you are to exist. That is what difficult times teach us, and they are some of the most important lessons we can ever learn.

I loved what Dan had to say about appreciating the little things in life.  “When we are faced with difficult challenges and when death stares us in the face, it is then that we often realize that our smallest joys and accomplishments are what matter most.”  As I wrote in the foreword to his wonderful book, The Gift of Heart Failure, sometimes it takes something bad to teach us something good.  Sometimes it is our greatest challenges that teach us our greatest lessons.

Dan once told me that if you wanted a miracle in your own life you had to first be a miracle in the lives of others.  I truly hope he knows as he now watches from heaven what a miracle he was and what a difference he made.  Thank you, Dan, for the gift of your friendship.

ONE LOVE, ONE HEART

“Remember that all is One… and what you do to your neighbor, your friend or your foe, is a reflection of what you think of your Creator.”

Edgar Cayce

This month my family and I vacationed in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We had a wonderful time. Although I found the beaches to be breathtaking and the many scenic landscapes to be unforgettably beautiful, what I will cherish most about our time in Jamaica is the people.

Everywhere ybobmarleyou went everyone was kind and free-spirited. One day we decided to go shopping and stopped in a gift shop to buy some souvenirs. While there, we struck up a conversation with a petite Jamaican woman (Nell). She asked how we liked Jamaica and I commented how much I loved the people. She looked at me smiling, “You know, one love.” All of a sudden, Nell began to singing the lyrics to the classic hit, One Love (written by Bob Marley and the Wailers).

My family and I quickly joined in singing, “One Love! One Heart! Let’s get together and feel all right. . .” We left that store with something far more important than t-shirts, we left with smiles on our hearts and the feeling of oneness within.

Marley, who died at the age of 36 on May 11, 1981 after suffering from melanoma, was said to be very spiritual and intuitive. In fact, I’ve read that he used to read palms for people as a young boy growing up in Nine Mile, Jamaica. As some of his songs imply, he believed in monotheism which is the belief in one God or one supreme source. He also believed in oneness for all and the connection of all things.

The concept of oneness is difficult for our earthly minds to comprehend. Honestly, it’s not our fault. We live in a world of contrasts which gives us the illusion of disconnectedness and separation. But in reality, we are not separated at all.

The late Wayne Dyer explained it well when he wrote, “The idea of oneness is next to impossible to grasp because we live in this world of contrasts, and contrast requires more than one element. So here we are, persistently in our world of twoness. How can we grasp the idea of oneness in the world of nonbeing that we occupied before we came into beingness? One way might be to think of our fingers, legs arms, toes and eyes: We don’t think of them as separate entities from our total being. We don’t refer to our fingers as being separate from ourselves. So it is with our relationship to Source or God before we came into this world—in that world, we and God were one.” (www.healyourlife.com/what-is-oness.com)

If you think this is pseudoscience, think again. Albert Einstein once said, “Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one.” Let’s start with the human body. When asked what your body is made of you might automatically think: blood, bones, skin, organs, etc. But if you break down everything that you can see and feel to the subatomic level what you will find are particles and atoms.

As you look deeper and deeper into the workings of the atom, you will discover that nothing is there. Well, at least nothing very tangible. What you will find is an energy field or energy waves. These atoms, in other words, are composed of nothing very tangible. So everything that you see around you (the trees, the sand, the sky, the ocean, your house, computer, cell phone, etc.) is made up of this energy and everything is connected to that energy.

Science has discovered that matter is 99.999999999999 percent empty space. So what looks and feels solid is not solid at all. It’s actually energy. In 1911, Max Planck was the first to demonstrate that the seemingly empty space between the planets, stars, etc. is actually teeming with energy.

If we all truly understood the implications of this on the nature of reality, the changes in our way of looking at life would be immeasurable. We are all connected by an unseen force that in turn infuses everything else. This is why it is so important to make sure we surround ourselves with positive people. The energy waves that make up who we are constantly collide or join with the energy around us.

We get back what we put out there in the universe. Taking this one step further, everything that we think, say and do influences our reality. If you want good, you have to do good. If you want love, you have to give love. You create your own destiny.

I will never forget the kindred spirit of the Jamaican people; someday I hope to return there. As we left the store that day, our bags filled with souvenirs, Nell looked over at us with her contagious smile and warm heart, “Remember, one love, one heart.” It was a day and a lesson that my family and I will not soon forget.