Making Friends with Red Flags and Warning Lights

Negative emotions are a pain. Literally. We’ve all experienced them: sorrow, guilt, frustration, anger, discouragement, shame, grief, fear, despair, and the list could go on and on. Because of these bad boys, I used to tell myself I hated emotions. I didn’t see the point of them. I thought I’d be so much happier if I never had any emotions ever again. (Ha! The irony!) But it’s come as an epiphany to realize how important these negative emotions are in order for us to function properly. Knowing about and using tools to effectively release them can be very helpful, but first it is vital to see them as the red flags they are and then heed the messages they send. This is really the key to keep them from coming back, and more importantly, learn, grow, and be happier.

Negative emotions are to the mind and spirit what pain is to the physical body. Pain focuses our attention on a physical problem so we can end or minimize the damage and allow any wounds to adequately heal. Negative emotions are meant to bring our attention to spiritual incongruencies or thinking errors. It is usually more difficult to discern what the underlying problems are, but if we focus, we can learn and change. If we don’t, we will just have to keep experiencing the same negative emotions over and over again, in increasing severity, until we finally get the picture. Without negative emotions, we would never be motivated to change our perceptions or live truer to ourselves. (To read more about how emotions are created by thoughts and motivate us to action, go here.) Now, it is true that negative emotions, if held on to long enough, actually create physical pain and disease, but that is a topic for another day.

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Why do so many people thoughtlessly “live with” and endure the onslaught of negative emotions? Our culture has taught us lies which have led us to minimize the role of emotions. That if we’re strong, we just forget about them and try to rise above them. That they’re “fluffy” or “girl-stuff.” That there’s something fundamentally wrong with us if we experience them often. That all we really need to do is self-medicate in order to mask them or numb them. That our negative feelings define us. That we are doomed to always have these emotions with us. That experiencing some of these emotions damages us forever. Yep, I myself have fallen victim to a few of these lies.

Just for kicks, let’s take these common attitudes to painful emotions and apply them to someone experiencing physical pain, say, a recently-sprained ankle.

  • So your ankle hurts? So what? That’s nothing.
  • Get over it and stop worrying. It’s all in your head.
  • Wait it out; it’ll feel better soon.
  • Just pop a few pills and run that race anyway.
  • You’re not going to let a little pain stop you, are you? Just tough it out.
  • Wow, I admire you so much for all this pain you’re experiencing. You’re so strong.
  • This shows just how much God trusts you and loves you, that you have the opportunity to prove yourself by rising above this.
  • Are you serious? It still hurts? I can’t believe you’re still bothered by this.
  • There must be something really wrong with you. You’re pretty messed up.
  • Oh, you say your ankle is all better now? Well, just keep using these crutches anyway, just in case. In fact, you probably shouldn’t ever try to walk on it again.
  • Now you will always be remembered as The One Who Sprained His/Her Ankle. This experience will define you for life.

The obvious solution would be to put it in a splint and keep weight off it for awhile. You wouldn’t continue to keep the splint on longer than it’s needed, or continue to limp or hobble around on crutches once it’s healed. Of course the above attitudes will seem ridiculous when applied to pain caused by a sprained ankle. But isn’t it almost as ridiculous that we say things like this to one another, and especially to ourselves, when experiencing emotional pain?

The next time you feel an emotional disturbance start to rock your world, especially if it’s a recurring experience, try to step back and look at it objectively, as though you were your own spiritual doctor. Identify the thoughts that preceded that emotion. Go deeper than identifying simply what occurred or what someone else said to you, but pinpoint your attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions surrounding what happened. Also, look for any disconnect between the three aspects of your being (mind, body, spirit). Negative emotions are a common conequence when we’re not aligned. Our spirits constantly seek growth and expansion, our minds want to see the logic in everything and keep us alive, and our bodies seek pleasure and avoid pain, so it’s common for these aspects to be out of alignment!

If you still can’t see the problem, try free-writing about the situation, your thoughts and feelings. Often, the simple act of writing helps the mind to make connections that it wouldn’t otherwise. If you’re still stuck, wait for a period of time and go back to what you’ve written when you’re in a different mood. The problem may jump out at you when you’re a bit removed from it. (Please don’t keep this paper or text after it has served its purpose, or it shows your brain that you want to hold on to that negative emotion.)

Talking to other people could help, but I must add a big WARNING here. Please don’t discuss your negative feelings with the person or people most closely connected with the situation. This has a huge potential to hurt them. Even if you have the best of intentions, they may assume that you’re blaming them or dumping on them. Or the conversation may quickly turn to be all about them, which could detract you from your goal. Instead, talk about it with an impartial third party, such as a counselor or a trusted friend who is not a part of this particular situation. Or even go sit in your car and talk to the steering wheel. No one can hear you, and saying things out loud sorts them out faster than just letting your ruminating thoughts go round and round in your head. More on this tool later.

It’s time to stop hiding from negative emotions or letting them run our lives. Instead, let’s see them as the valuable friendly warning lights that they are and appreciate them for the self-knowledge that they precipitate. While I will never be able to say that I “love” my negative emotions, I’m starting to become grateful for them.

Microwave Mentality

“Pay attention, please!” As a teacher and parent, I’ve said these words so many times. But I’ve come to realize that this simple request is actually asking a lot of people in our modern society. It seems that attention can only be earned, not demanded. (And I use the word “earned” here in the loosest-possible sense.)

We live in a society of “microwave mentality.” We give our attention to something for just a few minutes, or even seconds, and then we’re on to the next shiny object or squirrel that catches our eye. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve scrolled through an online feed, my eyes skimming over everything and nothing all at the same time. Or when I’ve tried to focus on a conversation in a social setting, but couldn’t keep from thinking what I’m going to say next, or who I’d rather be talking to, or what I have going on later that day or week. Or how many times I’ve read something, only to not remember a single thing about it five minutes later. These are all symptoms of the microwave mentality. (Read about the drawbacks of multitasking here.)

Why is it so hard to maintain focus on something? I think the shift has happened gradually over time, so it’s impossible to delineate just one cause. I find it interesting to think about what people were capable of one or two centuries ago. People used to memorize long poems and tracts of text routinely. It was more necessary then, because they couldn’t pull out their phones and run Google searches if they ever wanted to access certain information. If I’ve learned anything from Jane Austen, it’s that people used to have long conversations where they really discussed topics in-depth, using an extensive vocabulary. In church, they could sit through not only meetings that were hours long, but an address by the same speaker, that was two or three hours! I can’t even imagine an audience of today being able to summon that degree of focus. At the present time, addresses in church usually range from ten to twenty minutes. And that’s too bad, because the speaker can’t fully delve into and expound upon a topic in that limited amount of time.

And now we have our modern technology-overridden society. Here’s some crazy stats. In 2013, the average person’s attention span was eight seconds. In 2000 it had been 12 seconds! (statisticbrain.com) Another source (BrandonGaille.com) is even more bleak, stating that the average attention span (in 2008) was only five seconds. That’s a decrease of more than 50% in only 15 years or so! If this rate of decline keeps up–scary. Here’s more from these sites:

  • The average office worker checks their email inbox 30 (thirty!) times an hour (and that’s average)!
  • Average length of time watching a single internet video: 2.7 minutes
  • 17% of web page views last less than 4 seconds
  • Only 4% of web page views last more than 10 minutes
  • 9.5% of children are diagnosed with ADHD
  • 25% of people forget names of or major details about close friends and relatives

I can think of one blessing from this lowering of attention span: Infomercials are now a thing of the past! But how does this collective loss of prolonged focus hurt us as a society? For one, it’s becoming more crucial that things appear important, rather than really be important. Anything that has dazzle and fanfare will initially catch people’s interest, while things that really do have substance and value will never even be noticed, much less tried. Thus, most of the effort goes into the outside appearance of things and people. This is why so much superficiality exists in our culture. All that is not gold sure seems to glitter more than the real stuff.

It goes without saying that productivity is also hampered by this. After all, how much can an office worker accomplish when checking his or her email every 90 seconds?!? Every time you switch between tasks, it costs your brain time and energy. According to Psychology Today:

Each task switch might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if you do a lot of switching in a day it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity. Task switching involves several parts of your brain: Brain scans during task switching show activity in four major areas: the pre-frontal cortex is involved in shifting and focusing your attention, and selecting which task to do when. The posterior parietal lobe activates rules for each task you switch to, the anterior cingulate gyrus monitors errors, and the pre-motor cortex is preparing for you to move in some way.

I believe that the microwave mentality is also hurting marriages and other important relationships. People have been trained to see novelty as the primary motivating force in their lives. Novelty isn’t a bad thing in itself, but is detrimental when it becomes sought after in every aspect of life, interminably. As we mature, novelty is usually eventually traded in for more permanent virtues, security for one (which may seem boring when compared to novelty, but is much more satisfying and meaningful). The relationships that bring us the most joy and ultimate satisfaction are those that are truly committed and have stood the test of time. People who are continually drawn to seek new relationships while neglecting preceding ones will never understand the deep sense of trust and security that comes from remaining committed to an endeared spouse for life. While they may seem happy, this kind of pleasure is fleeting and by its very nature will ultimately bring dissatisfaction, loneliness and misery. In an attempt to distract themselves from these feelings, they only seek for more thrills and novelty, parading it before everyone else in order to receive external validation for their choices. (Now, I understand that everyone’s situation is different, and some people haven’t necessarily chosen certain aspects of their lives. My only point is that when novelty is sought after above all else, nothing but superficiality can ultimately come of it.)

So what can be done about this? Is there hope? The answer is always a resounding, “Yes!” Your brain may have been unintentionally programmed one way, but it can be intentionally reprogrammed, if you want it enough to do the work. Meditation is a great tool to practice. When you focus inward, your mind forms and reinforces new connections that improve the way you turn your focus outward. Vision boards are another great tool, teaching you to focus intently on what you want so that your brain can make it happen for you. Subscribe to this blog if you don’t want to miss upcoming posts on how to put these wonderful tools to work in your life.

Kudos to the few of you who made it to the end of this post! How long did it take to read this? Five minutes or so, less if skimming quickly? Give yourself a pat on the back for your ability to focus!

Today Really IS My Lucky Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Wishing you lots of the “Luck o’ the Irish.” Although I don’t believe in luck, per se, I do believe in karma, and you’ll soon see why.

We’ve never gotten too much into the Irish part of St. Patrick’s Day. But because it’s my little boy’s birthday, March 17th has been special for our little family these past four years. (It helps that green is his very favorite color!)

Ever since I was a little girl, we’ve had a tradition of letting the birthday child choose ANY cereal in the store for their “birthday cereal.” (A big deal, coming from a family that values healthy eating and frugality.) This morning we had green pancakes because I had forgotten to have him pick out his cereal, but we went to Smith’s later this morning to get it. He promptly selected a box of “Lucky Charmers,” and while I was there I picked up a lot of other items from their sale this week.

Since the boys were hungry after a long morning playing at the playground and story-time at the library, we ate some corn-dogs, during which time my son kept asking me to sing the “Corn Dogs” song from Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band over and over. I complied a couple times, then we resumed shopping. My younger son, whom we call Toad, kept whining and crying, and when I turned to look at him, he was swaying in the seat of the cart, his eyes rolling back in his head. So I held him and tried to get him to lay his head on my shoulder, while pushing the cart and checking my phone for digital coupons and keeping track of the birthday boy, whom we call Buddy.

In the checkout line, I was in for a pleasant surprise! The store manager approached me and said I had been chosen for a random act of kindness, which they are doing every day right now. He paid for all my $50 worth of groceries! Buddy and Toad were excited when they were also given balloons and suckers. All the while, Buddy excitedly chattered away about his birthday. Even little Toad chimed in, saying “Pizza Pie Cafe!” (which is where we’re having dinner tonight, at Buddy’s request, due to the fact that they have all-you-can-eat chocolate pizza!)

Basically, my very-routine experience today turned into a unique one of gratitude and joy. I don’t know why I was chosen to receive the random act of kindness (probably out of pity since I had my hands full, quite literally)! I don’t believe in coincidences, so it was for a reason, even if I don’t see it now. But being on the receiving end makes me want to give more to others and be more aware of opportunities to make their lives a little brighter.

Have you heard of this Give and Receive Cycle? It’s amazing how it works; as long as we keep the wheel turning, we will experience abundance. I’ve noticed that most people are great givers, but they often get hung up on the “Receiving” side. If we don’t receive willingly and graciously, we won’t have anything to then give. Also, we need to receive because it’s part of someone else’s “giving” side of their own cycle, which will then allow them to go on to receive in the future. I know that this is a true principle. Not only have I experienced this phenomenon every day of my life, but I’ve heard many, many stories from others illustrating its veracity.

I haven’t always been the most willing giver. When I was putting my husband through college on a first-year teacher’s salary, it was tough. We didn’t think we had the funds even for Christmas gifts for each other that year. When I told my mom about the situation, she shared an object lesson that has stayed with me ever since.

When you refuse to share even what little you have what you have with others, it’s like you’re holding on to it with a closed fist. A closed fist isn’t capable of receiving anything new that may come your way. A hand that is open from having just given, is still open to then receive. (This is very similar to my post about the Silver Platter principle.) Thanks, Mom, for sharing that with me and changing my perspective so drastically.

I’m gratified to see my “lucky” experience today in the light of the Give and Receive Cycle. My receiving of a material blessing has prompted me to give this information here today, which I’m sure will add abundance to the lives of some of you readers out there. I really feel that there’s someone out there who needs this message. If any of you have had experiences with the Give and Receive cycle, please share it in the comments. I love to see evidence of this principle in action!

The Mirage of Multi-tasking

I used to pride myself on my ability to multitask. [I’m awesome! Look at me cooking dinner while listening to an inspirational speech on my iPhone while making sure my kids play nice together while asking my husband about his day. I am amazing! Watch me scroll through Facebook, alternating with checking my email and blog feed and managing the budget and paying bills, while having a conversation with my daughter, while dandling my toddler on my knee!] It was almost a game to see just how many balls I could juggle at the same time, so to speak.

Until I would inevitably drop one or two of the balls. Turns out, all this juggling was not merely a waste of time and effort; it was actually damaging to my mind and not conducive to building family relationships. Although I was doing a lot of things, I wasn’t doing any of them very effectively or passionately. Some of it I shouldn’t have even been doing at all, at least, not at that particular time or spending that long doing it.

Looking back over some of the years of my life, it’s hard to identify many truly meaningful and important things that I’ve accomplished in all that time. (Besides being an awesome mom to my awesome kids, of course!) And yet, each and every day, I really did feel busy from sunup to sundown. I blame multi-tasking for stealing away my time and so many opportunities to build and to create.

Now that I’m aware of the false productiveness of multitasking, I’ve been working on reprogramming my brain, but old habits die harder than damsel fish in a salt-water aquarium. At least I no longer pride myself on it. After all, change always starts with awareness and an altered attitude. One thing that has helped me is to add structure to my day through rules for myself: only check Facebook and email once in the morning and once in the afternoon, for example. Meditating, reading inspirational literature, and journaling in the mornings before my kids wake up. Exercising at the same time every day. I’m still working toward these goals, and it’s all about progress, not perfection. When I have structure in place, I’m less likely to unconsciously fritter my time away on trivial things.

I label multitasking as a “mirage” for a reason. A mirage is something that seems real, but is actually just an illusion. I’m sure we’re all aware that we can’t actually think more than one conscious thought in any particular instant. We can, however, alternate among different thoughts in a very rapid succession. And the greater the number of different things we’re trying to do or think or say in a certain period of time, the more frequently our brain needs to switch back and forth. Every time our brain switches, it costs us a minuscule bit of time and energy, but these little bits can accumulate rather quickly. So while it seems like we may be accomplishing a lot because we feel so busy, the reality is … we’re inefficient.

If you’re a multitasking junkie, stop it! It’s not healthy for your brain! In fact, it actually causes damage and stress. Our brains are amazing and are capable of this kind of rapidity when it’s necessary, but not all the time. Our minds work their best when they are given the opportunity to really focus on just one thing at a time, for an extended time. That’s when you can really get into the “flow state” and are your most productive. It’s an amazing feeling where you’re so focused on what you’re doing that your brain sort of takes over and you perform at a high level almost effortlessly. How many times in the past week have you gotten into a state of flow? If not very often, you’re selling your brain short.

If you’re like me, these times of mental clarity and focus are few and far between. But I’m changing that. Empowerment tools like declarations and my vision board are teaching me to focus on positive things with intensity. And I’ve recently begun a practice of meditation, just for a few minutes each day. Meditation is very healing for your mind because you focus your attention inward, and on just one thing, usually your breathing. It gives your mind a break from all the stress-and-anxiety-producing demands we place on it every day. (Check back for future blog posts about the benefits of meditation and empowerment tools.)

You may ask, “Well, doesn’t your brain get enough of a break when you’re asleep?” It’s not simply about a brain break, but training yourself to focus. Sleep is important for your brain, but it also needs time to repair itself and form connections when you are completely conscious. When the “director” in your mind takes a back seat and you’re not putting it to work on various tasks or distracting it with triviality, the different areas of your brain synthesize and form connections, and the damage done by rapid switching back and forth can heal. The expansive feeling of the different parts of your brain working together without your intervention is an amazing experience.

I wanted to add something for all you other moms. I’m there, I get it. Children, especially young ones, redirect your attention constantly, even when they’re supposed to be asleep! If you didn’t multi-task sometimes, you’d never get anything done that your heart leads you to do. But it is possible, and indeed necessary, to find moments of stillness and focus. For me, it’s early in the morning. I’ve always been a night owl, so this has been a sacrifice, but pays off big time. And one more thing about flow: Have you ever experienced being in the “flow state” while playing with your children? For me, it’s very rare, but when it happens, it’s magical.

Readers, I want to hear from you.

  • Are any of you recovering multi-taskers? If so, how are you breaking the habit?
  • Is it different for men and women?
  • Do any of you thrive on multi-tasking? If so, what makes it work for you?

Shout it out! This topic really interests me. I’d love to hear your point of view.

Cruise-World Problems

Problems. Part of life, yes, but for some, problems seem to define their very existence. In fact, I think problems are society’s most prevalent addiction. Is “addiction” is too strong a word? Addiction can be defined as, “A habitual or compulsive involvement in an activity.” How many people do you know who are habitually involved in their problems? And as soon as one problem is solved, they’re on to the next one? This is why people are so stressed out all the time; they’re perpetually in a state of fight-or-flight. (More on lizard-brain later.)

I find it interesting to divide problems into three (oh-so-scientific) categories:

1. Third-world problems, which are a really big deal. Usually life-or-death matters of survival.

2. First-world problems, which are actually just inconveniences, encountered in everyday life. (see this video for some awesomely hilarious examples.)

3. And finally, Cruise-world problems, the most ridiculous and inane of all problems.

A year ago this week, my husband and I went on our first cruise, to the Eastern Caribbean with Celebrity. It wasn’t long before I encountered my first cruise-world problem. I had gone through the buffet, put my tray down at a table, and gone back for something else, but when I got back, my tray had already been cleared away by the staff. I didn’t see it where I expected and thought I was losing my mind, in those 30 seconds I spent looking at all the tables in the surrounding area. Of course it wasn’t a “problem;” it was just startling, merely an inconvenience to have to go back again for the same food.

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I didn’t think about that experience again until the end of the trip. We had to sit behind a group of people on the bus after disembarkation who were rolling out complaint after petty complaint. Here they were on the tail end of a wonderful vacation and all they did was whine about all the privileges they felt entitled to, but didn’t get. I would have understood if they had been simply comparing the positives and negatives with other cruises they’d been on, but their tone was bitter, and they sounded like someone had stolen something from them; like they’d been cruelly mistreated and abused. These were some of their complaints:

  • “I can’t believe I didn’t get any slippers until the second-to-last day of the cruise!”
  • “Last time we had a butler in the hall who came and got you whatever you wanted if you so much as cracked your door. This time we had to call for him when we needed something, and *gasp!* he didn’t seem very happy to help. Like we were bothering him!”
  • “He asked to take his tea out of the dining room and, can you believe it, they said no!” (because of a potential safety issue while the boat was pitching)
  • “[My daughter] spilled something on her shirt and I had to scrub it out with stain remover. Can’t believe I had to do laundry while on vacation!”
  • “The way we’ve been treated on this cruise has just been terrible. My wife is planning to make quite a few phone calls when we get back.”

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Now, I know I’m in no place to judge their situation, but I definitely judged their attitude! My husband and I talked about them a few times since, sometimes just making fun of them, sometimes angry, because these people represent the attitudes of so many more spoiled, entitled people. What made me sick was that they spoke this way in the presence of their little girl, only about ten years old. What kind of example are they setting for her? There were so many things we’d wanted to say to them at the time, and now, we really wish we had said something. Something positive, of course! Most of all, though, I feel sorry for them because they’re missing out on so many wonderful blessings that they just don’t see, right in front of their faces.

One of the episodes of the Travel Channel show “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain portrays hundreds of people digging through a dump for anything recyclable they could find to earn a mere $1 a day. Little children were among the scavengers. These people were on the very edge of survival. Problems like these are third-world problems, the only kind that would warrant bitter complaints. This is what truly is “not fair;” not the fact that you paid for a suite only to get the kind of service you’d get in a veranda.

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To deal with our frustration with those people, we had fun coming up with a comprehensive list of the cruise-world problems we were subjected to while we endured the unpleasant experience of our Caribbean cruise vacation:

  • You are already late to the evening entertainment show when you get stuck behind a group of geriatrics in the casino moving at a snail’s pace.
  • You forget to reapply sunscreen at the beach and get baked like a lobster.
  • The first night at dinner, no one else is seated at your 8-person table, and you are left with only your spouse to converse with.
  • You go back to your stateroom for a sweater, but the housekeeping staff is cleaning your room and you feel awkward.
  • The pool volleyball game is cancelled because the ship is pitching too much, so you don’t get a chance to show off your mad volleyball skills.
  • You sleep in and miss the seating time for breakfast at the Grand Restaurant, and have to end up eating buffet food instead.
  • There are no elliptical machines available in the fitness room, plus it’s way too hot in there.
  • The weather is too cold and windy for swimming while at the beach.
  • You get guilted into paying way too much for a lousy back massage on the beach.
  • The ship’s photographers keep harassing you for photo ops with people dressed up in smiling dolphin costumes.
  • Everything on the menu when you dine looks so good that you can’t decide.
  • There are so few people on the dance floor that you feel too awkward and self-conscious to be out there shakin’ it.
  • Bartenders annoyingly keep asking you if they can bring you a drink, but you don’t drink alcohol.
  • Your stateroom TV’s remote control doesn’t work or is out of batteries.
  • The water is too warm in the shower and there’s no cool water.
  • The nearest restroom is closed for maintenance and you have to walk all the way around to the other side of the ship.
  • There are no available lounge chairs on the deck because they’re all being “saved” for others.
  • The elevator takes so long to arrive that you have to use the stairs instead.
  • There is only one electrical outlet in the stateroom, so you can’t charge both your iPhone and iPad at the same time.
  • The water container is empty during Zumba, so you have to walk all the way to the cafeteria for a drink.
  • You have to endure the hassle of changing clothes yet again to comply with the dress code for dinner.
  • Your shoes give you blisters while walking around the island and you have to go barefoot.
  • The minibar fridge is so full that you can’t fit your own drinks in there.
  • You don’t have enough low bills for tipping and are forced to tip much higher than you want.
  • The humidity makes your hair frizz out and you can do nothing with it.

Just look at all these horrible problems we experienced. What an awful vacation, apparently.

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Thinking back on this makes me more aware of the blessings that are hidden within every one of the situations we often label as “problems.” Sometimes all it takes is a perspective adjustment. When something isn’t going the way I would like or expect it to, I try to think of it as an opportunity for growth, instead of as a problem. How about you, readers? What do you do to free yourself from the tyranny of being in problem mode?

Master Your Influence

For three days last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Master Your Influence training seminar from 3 Key Elements. It was a fabulous experience. (My readers who were there too, go to the comment section and shout out a WaHoo! and an inside joke!) I learned some energizing empowerment techniques, how to know what messages people are sending through their body language, and just really got to know myself on a deeper level. Although there was some awesome information presented, my favorite thing by far was interacting with the people there. I went by myself, so I didn’t know anyone, but it didn’t take long to connect with people in that environment. Kirk Duncan, the presenter, really knows how to bring down the barriers between people and unify the group as one. I never thought I could feel connected to and unified with 1,200 people all at the same time!

Those of you who knew me as a child and teenager might remember: I used to be scared of people. I tried to be invisible in my classes, and every time I got called on in class was a huge ordeal. When I had to give presentations in class, I really thought I might die. Adults were particularly scary to me. One time in second grade, I was so scared to ask permission to use the restroom that I ended up peeing my pants. I still remember it clearly: I was in the library in a reading group in an orange chair at a round table, wearing white denim pants. The teacher was talking on and on, and I knew it was rude to interrupt. I squirmed until I couldn’t hold it anymore, and then didn’t even tell anyone what I had done, and just hoped no one would notice! I really hope no one sat in that wet chair after me! (I’ve never told anyone about that–ha! It feels good. I have no shame!)

Even just a few years ago, I didn’t like meeting new people, unless some common ground had been established first. It’s only been lately that I’ve really looked forward to getting acquainted with people I’ve never met before, and have even been excited about getting to speak in public! I think the difference is the way I feel about myself. For most of my life, I didn’t feel comfortable being who I am. I didn’t really think I had much to offer people, so I didn’t see why they would care to know me. I didn’t want them to see the weaknesses that were so glaringly apparent to myself, and didn’t think people would accept me if they knew the real me. All that has changed now. I finally love myself, so why wouldn’t anyone else want to meet me and be my friend? I know I have flaws and weaknesses, but so does everyone else, and I’m continually working to change and put out newer, better versions of myself. (The current model is Bonnie 7.2!)

I found it fascinating how, with all of the people I met last week, small talk didn’t happen, or at least was gotten over with in 30 seconds or less. Small talk is very draining of my energy and feels like a chore. Instead, right after I met people, we would start talking about things that were meaningful, personal, and deep, and after an hour and a half it seemed as though we’d known each other for years! This is the kind of interaction that really energizes me. And it almost never happens like that out in the “real world.” Why is that?

I believe it’s because people think that the invisible boundaries they put up around themselves keep them safe, protected, and comfortable. While that may be true, just look at that they’re missing out on, trapped in their little bubble of isolation! For me, seeing the divine spark in people inspires me and brings me a delicious burst of energy. I wish I could thank all the people I’ve met for sharing their essence with me. I felt honored and humbled by each interaction. And I wish I could thank them all for being able to see through to the real me. It helps that I was open and allowing them to see it. One young man, just minutes after we started talking, looked deep into my eyes told me I was curiously investigative. I thought it described perfectly what drives me!

I can’t help but feel a little sad, though, at the same time. I felt a deep connection with so many people who were recently strangers and entirely unconnected to my life, but I can’t say the same about some of the members of my family, even some of my very nearest relations. Why is it so easy to connect to strangers but so hard to connect with those who are a huge part of my past, present, and future, whom I interact with so frequently? I would love to hear your thoughts on this, readers. I have a few theories, but I’m quite stumped over it.

I just love people, in all their complexities and unlimited variety. I’ve become aware of a wonderful phenomenon: when I love myself, I love other people more, and then I love God more. When I love God more, my capacity to love myself and others grows and grows, and it creates a beautiful upward spiral. It is through other people that I truly become acquainted with the nature of God. I believe that someday our connections with other people will be perfect and full and will never dim. I can’t wait for that day, but will keep striving for it, within the limited confines of this mortal existence.