My Essay In The Mindfulness Bell

Dear Friends and Family,

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Happily, one of my essays has just been published in the Autumn 2016 issue of The Mindfulness Bell, a journal dedicated to the practice of mindful living. My essay is a reflection on my recent journey to New Orleans with Mindful Peacebuilding’s Roots Retreat 2016. You can subscribe to the Mindfulness Bell or order the autumn issue directly from the magazine. Proceeds from the Mindfulness Bell go to support the worldwide healing and transformation work of the Thich Nhat Hanh community.

 

http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/subscribe/

 

http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/us-subscriptions/us-one-year-subscription

 

 

In gratitude,

 

Edissa Nicolás-Huntsmanimg_8954

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Goodbye Puzzles

 

“There is no escape: understanding a subject means transforming it, lifting it out of a natural habitat and inserting it into a model or a theory or a poetic account of it. But one transformation may be better than another in the sense that it permits or even explains what for the other transformation remains an unsolvable puzzle.”

~Paul Feyerabend

 

The need to transform myself is so strong that it’s like a undertow pulling me in to a new rhythm, drowning me. This happens all the more when I struggle against the current, resisting with feeble humanness, paddling through fifteen-foot waves with only smooth palms as instruments of survival. Each time a wave bats my shoulders and eddies around my feet, filling my mouth water, my lungs burning with salted spray, I continue to fight, heaving up and missing, no place to kick off. What am I fighting against? Why is the other direction so scary? Why is the same vast body less comforting when I’m dragged and pummeled by it then when I release the tension and float with it toward some distant shore? Or should I turn toward it, as they say, to swim with the current? I must be willing to aim the trusted vessel of my body into the unknown because I’m already well equipped to mutate, born under the constellation of the Archer, having entered the world in a dire battle for life—or so my mother tells me.

 

Here is the reason for the raging battle: I no longer want mere survival. I’m not looking for an oar or a raft or a boat. I’m searching out dry land, a rock for these high-water, riptide times. This is not a poem or a metaphor. It’s a thirst for fresh water and a firm foothold amongst the living. Will I live?

 

This time, I’m paddling with the swift motion of the force swelling around me. The surging water is sweeping me away from familiar ground, the old things broken up by a sudden storm. The realization of my own mortality, of the constant corporal dying that must not be met with spiritual or emotional death. This dying is a call to life, shaking me awake to my floundering in the surf, afraid to let loose in the deep or set out for the dry place beyond. This thing in me is asking me to grow, to let go of the small hallowed out place in which I hide, whence I retreat, removed from light.

 

Who cares? Only I do. Only I.

 

It’s not enough to suffer with the unhappiness of a life of complacency, staying in an unpleasant situation, not for happiness’ sake, but for the comfort of the familiar. I cling to a job that pillages my soul daily. This is my family of origin all over again. Or so my therapist tells me. Each day I give the best parts of myself, the most vulnerable and the most brilliant. They take it all. These folks have never been as kind to me as my family. They have failed to honor or recognize me in the smallest way, leaving me to waste in isolation, ostracized where I had thought myself at home. So this return to the self, the awakening of the sacred from the extended nightmare, is over. I’m finally ready to break up with my former employer. How funny, strange and good it is to open my hands and let go, surrender the loose bits of sand and some pretty shells with my eyes on the horizon. “Goodbye.”

 

Walking away, saying ‘no’ to things we’re in the habit of yessing, is never easy. Reality can quickly become insanity like a thousand fragments of truth, none remotely recognizable, yet quite definitely a part of the whole. Who we are eludes defining, evades labels. Searching for the lost parts of myself after deaths, breakups and separations becomes a project of enormous proportion. Shaking my scattered parts, sifting through my past, scanning the oddities, looking for a piece of me I can place in time and connect with: here the edge of a wave, there a shoreline cut at just the right cresting angle to fit my own, I’m inclined to take my time with this one.

Gratitude: A New Year’s Resolution

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This year I’ve not made any New Year’s resolutions, something that in the past had often marked the metaphorical turning point in my life, the cyclical chance to begin anew with the start of the calendar year. Even without a resolution, however, I still inhaled deeply in 2016, all too ready for a change and excited to feel a cool bit of crisp newness, a turning away from the past. I haven’t planned to go to the gym or dance or go to church more though those things sound nice. As I thought about ways to say goodbye to a most difficult year, one that included unemployment, health issues, a foot in a cast and the death of my beloved, estranged sister, resolutions seemed trivial. I didn’t want to make myself any promises that I wouldn’t keep. I didn’t want to waste time consumed with myself. What I wanted most was relationship. I wanted to face the portal of time represented in the New Year with love, with the practice of gratitude, to attempt to really see who and what is right in front of me and the blessings offered.

 

I am grateful for my nephew’s first unguarded smile as he leans into me for a picture beneath the Redwoods. Thank you.

 

I feel gratitude over the rain thickly blanketing my garden and the earth after these long many years of drought. Thank you.

 

I close my eyes and hear my niece’s robust laughter and the way she clings to me at bedtime, not wanting to close out a day of sharing. Thank you.

 

I am grateful for my steadfast companion who stands by me through the sadness and joy that life heaps upon us in blizzards as seamless as the seasons. Thank you.

 

I give thanks for the meditation and prayer practices that rebalance me daily. Thank you.

 

And then there is also the open heart and keen intellect to be counted as bounties in times of fleeting health. Thank you.

 

This list goes on and on, counting each friend, naming the lessons and seeing even the tiniest of gifts in difficult situations and the transcendent ones alike.

 

To whom do I give thanks, this contemplative gratitude? Often it is to God in a soft acknowledgement to the sky where a Red-tailed hawk circles above our home surveying her territory. At other times, more directly aware of the richness of my life, I thank people. I thank the children for playing with me. I thank my friends for a visit. I send thank-you notes in acknowledgement of any gifts or small kindnesses. This practice is transformative. Thanking God is a wordless endeavor of the heart; in our hearts words are elegant braille in God’s hands. With people, we have to put the words together. We need to hear it to feel it and match the words with the deeds and awaken to present moment and each other.

 

Gratitude requires skill, practice and technique. When done correctly, our loved ones can feel heard, seen and appreciated. Use her name when you say, “I’m so glad you’re here, Lissa.” Make sure you look him in the eyes when you, “I really liked how you said that, Max.”

 

We all need to feel valued. Showing gratitude is one small but important way to esteem the people who bring us happiness. When we recognize and honor the sources of our blessings, we invite more. That is why in the mornings I greet the birds or the rain with the same enthusiasm as I do loved ones. This is our time. Make it special by appreciating the people all around. Don’t wait. Speak from your heart today.

 

Thank you.

Getting It Wrong to Get Things Right

 

Life has a way of giving us enough challenges to teach us to adapt quickly to situations by forcing us to pay attention to mistakes. Setbacks, missteps and shortfalls form the backdrop of our experience, shaping and contrasting the triumphs and achievements that are the peaks of a rich existence. Accepting mistakes, embracing them, even, is not only a life skill, it is resilience at its most optimal. Mistakes are our teachers—the bigger the error, the greater our potential for growth. I’m finally beginning to appreciate my own mistakes now more than ever, and I’m looking for ways to fall down with grace. If I scrape my knees often enough, I know I’m playing for keeps. Only benchwarmers escape scratches and lumps.

 

During office hours recently, a young lady came to see me to tell me about all the things that weren’t working in her life. Unable to produce work, she complained that she had no motivation and could make no effort. She was scared about failing her classes, rightly so. This particular young person has a great personality, a lot of energy and possesses a very chatty disposition. Even when she is completely unprepared to discuss the topic at hand, she still wants to contribute. Looking at her, I couldn’t help notice her need for guidance. Interrupting her rambling, I asked her to think about the advice she’d give a friend in her situation. Her mouth opened, but I didn’t want an answer—at least not at that moment. I wanted her to go home, reflect and stop by again. I could see that talking is too easy for her. She can talk all day and never get to the reflection and introspection she needs.

 

That’s a familiar response for many of us. We fill the silences with noise. We turn the volume up on the voices on the television or radio—anything so long as we don’t have to be alone with our thoughts. To her credit, she pulled out a battered notebook and a pencil stub and wrote down the assignment. I’m not sure I’ll see her again, however. She hasn’t been back, yet, despite her enthusiasm. But before she left my office, I looked her in the eye and told her she shouldn’t worry too much about making mistakes. They’re natural, I said, just make some new ones, too.

 

Contemplating her situation later, I couldn’t help but see myself. She’s been repeating the same errors for nine weeks, now, always returning to pick up where she left off, and I, too, have done the same things for years. It seems I easily get on the dreaded hamster wheel, naively expecting to step off in Paris, while merely circumnavigating the familiar perimeters of my comfort zone. I can’t grow if I’m not willing to be clumsy, to fall down a few times and keep trying. I’ve grown too careful; I don’t want to look foolish or risk too much, but security also has a price tag.

 

Reading the San Francisco Chronicle a few Sundays ago, I was so saddened by an article about the growing income gaps between blacks and everyone in San Francisco and California. It seems that every other group is making financial and economic gains, while African Americans are literally moving backwards. I walked around with the unsettling numbers on my mind for weeks. I searched my students’ faces for answers, but they don’t have any more answers than I do. I grieve as I look at the handful of African-American students out of the ninety in my sphere. I think about my part to play in keeping them from becoming the living statistics in the newspaper. I pray for them. I nudge them to stay vigilant so they can ride their star to victory.

 

A few days later, it hits me. An email about a full-time position in my department sent by our department chair is a historical first. It was the first time in my eight years as an instructor in the department that I learned about a position from an inside source. As my past telescoped through my mind, all the pain I’ve endured at the hands of my colleagues, of hiring committees predisposed to disqualify applicants who happen to be people of color, I suddenly recognized myself, the woman trapped by fear.

 

 

Despite being illegally disqualified from the applicant pool more than once, I repeatedly applied for a full-time post, steadfast and loyal daughter of the college that I am. Each time, my disappointment mounted heavily on my buoyant personality, weighing me down, etching away my confidence. It was only last year that I decided to stop applying, to stop torturing myself with the process. But there I was, once more drawn to the idea by an email even though I know I have try something different if I want to thrive.

 

I am the living statistic in the paper. This year I spent half the year unemployed, only to make up the deficit in a deafening whirl of activity as I unexpectedly accepted a temporary full-time position, while nursing a debilitating injury.

 

Noticing is my first step off the wheel.

 

For me, the task is to stay on course with my purpose and calling, to be willing to persevere and walk into the unknown. The temptation to stay comfortable is great. Even the squeak of the wheel is comforting—I know just where the bumps are, where to pause for a breath. Limping at high speed on the wheel to nowhere, I hurry to my stop, chasing a dream that has long since lost its opulence.

 

With these realizations, I am at last able to see that my student, the one justifying and stringing together excuses, the one who can do it all with her eyes closed like an expert beader, is me. I am my student. I keep making the same mistake. It’s safe and easy—predictably awkward, but not at all scary. Finally able to understand why the Chronicle article was so upsetting, I acknowledge that it is because the article is about me. I have to make a new mistake.

 

The decision to change is nothing new for me. I have been a transitional character all my life. This is my big chance to fall down while doing something I feel is critical for my own liberation. Ironically, it’s the best semester of my teaching career, because I am finally living from the very center of my heart. Releasing and opening to possibilities is more like disembarking in a strange land than it is like falling exhausted from a squeaky wheel. At least I know I’m heading toward the unfamiliar. When the alternative is to tighten up my laces, pop a few Advil, and keep spinning, I want all the more to take a chance. It can’t get any worse. I’m already at the bottom. Maybe I can kick off from here and make some of those mistakes I’ve been dreaming of, the ones that require faith, courage and support—the essence of what we must believe, ask for and risk to answer a calling.

 

Taking time to reflect on the last 15 years of my life, I notice some of my biggest failures have helped me to get quiet and reflect. In many ways, taking a risk to make a major change, such as a career shift, is an opportunity to be authentic. I can’t tell my students to follow their dreams and take risks if I live a safe existence, sanitized by fear. A life of meaning requires letting go and inviting transformation to happen; transitions require discernment and faith, a deep knowing that there is enough, that God will sustain us, and that we are meant to fall down and help each other up again.

 

Looking Out Toward the Gray-Headed Years

 

At the gym during a Zumba class some time ago, I made a reference to Jane Fonda—“Remember her workout videos?” to which the instructor replied that I was dating myself. I didn’t and don’t mind. This is who I am. I’ve got to love me, in all my complexities, before things really start to go wrong. Even people in optimum health have to die someday. Resisting the natural turns in our physical, emotional or mental condition seems like a good way to add extra suffering to an inevitable outcome. But, I ask, what of looking ahead in the direction of integration and contribution? Hal’s brother-in-law laughs when I talk about preparing for aging, but it’s true. There seems to be a formula to entering into the wisdom years with grace.

 

I like old people. I hope to be one myself some day. I wish I had known more of them in my life, especially my grandparents, none of whom I had the pleasure to get to know. By the time people get to their 70s, a perspective shift happens. These are years when the wisdom can flow down to generations. But this happens only if someone is there to listen. This is a good time to pull up a chair and hear about how things used to be, listening deeply for the story in between the words as carefully as to those articulated. When this happens, time gets stitched together, the histories of a full life woven into a tapestry that needs time to emerge. In the retelling, a new color, some forgotten detail gets worked in. Like an elaborate quilt, my elders reveal a beautiful tableau of personal history and triumph. These are gifts bequeathed to descendants, which need not be biological in nature.

 

I also enjoy doing nice things for the seniors in my community, but mostly I smile and give a kind greeting when I can. When I lived in New York, it seems I slowed down only to carry some heavy bags across the street for older neighbor. They’ve earned some privileges. What I’ve noticed is that some elders view my behavior as ageist, while another set revels in it. This is about perceptions, of course. We are meant to give and receive. To maintain balance, it is necessary to accept and ask for help, even if we don’t need it, making room for another’s gifts to inhabit our physical and interior spaces. It’s an invitation to open to connection, a time for sharing. And, that means accepting help with our load, as well as making time for intimacy.

 

For some people, those things are too hard to do and give. Take the example of my mother, who constantly complains of exhaustion, pain and fatigue, but when we spend time together, my mother wants to bleach the interior walls of my home, cook every meal and wash dishes (This for her vacation). Hal wouldn’t tell her where the broom was. Cleaning is wonderful, and my mom’s cooking is superb. But if she’s doing everything, all the time, when will she get a rest? It’s difficult for her to accept a small offering or service graciously; to sit still and let someone serve her is not in her nature. She’s not the only one. As I observe the behavior of other seniors in our community, I see similar patterns. I also see them in myself.

 

This is the other teacher in the school of life. It seems that if we refuse to accept basic support, loving gestures and kindnesses, we will emerge in our final hours without energy, possibly going without simple pleasures. We can practice now for the later years, when the door should open as often as it does in the prime time, whether we step through it or not. We do it for posterity. I’ll admit that having a cast on my foot is humbling. I get it. It’s pretty hard to ask for everything you need when you don’t want to depend on other people and you’ve done it all yourself all your life. I breathe into this space and see the years at the horizon and imagine this will be similar in the future. Unable to drive, and the sandwich isn’t quite as I’d make me, so I say “Thank you,” tasting the love that went into it, knowing one of these fine days, I’ll be making the sandwiches for someone else.

 

We can pay into this lavish reciprocity with a little mindfulness: Learn to leave a small task undone for a friend who asks, “May I help?” Assign jobs to young people that are simple and important, making sure to mention the impact that their service will have on others. When someone asks how you are, take a breath and look her in the eye before replying with your standard answer. When we do these things, we let other people into the sanctuary of our private lives. Start now, for it’ll get harder when you really need it. Form a habit of camaraderie and cooperation in your circle of friends. While we’re on the subject, I could really use a glass of water, please.

 

 

The Long Walk Down Valentine Road: Documentary Review on DVD


 

Sometimes a film is homework. The 2013 documentary, Valentine Road is not for the faint-hearted. Then again, perhaps it is, because tender hearts may well be the solution to the complex social issues we must come to terms with in our diverse society. If there’s a message in this powerful film, it may be that we cannot look away from the pain around us. The act of viewing the film may itself be an act of courage when it is far easier to engage in mindless entertainment. There were many times during the two hours of viewing that I paused to reflect, walk away and rest my mind, yet I was compelled to return to story again and again. The filmmakers asks us to confront our collective tolerance for violence as well as our intolerance of the often-superficial differences that entirely separate us from one another through conscious and unconscious biases.

 

Valentine Road carefully turns over the fibers of a small community grappling with its identity after one child kills another child. It asks us to see each child with compassion, to recognize the total annihilation of the spirit of hope when violent acts transpire. Not only are our children, the unwitting actors in the transmission of social norms, hurt, but so are our families, friends and teachers, when blood is shed. We are crushed in the aftermath of the wars within. There are no sides to choose in Valentine Road; instead, we are called to witness the human condition with unceremonious frankness. “Watch, and see,” the film seems to say.

 

Still, Valentine Road is much more than a measured glance at the mistakes of others; it also tells a story about what happens when good people respond to differences by stepping into the comfortable mantel of the status quo—whatever it may be.

 

A misunderstanding between eighth-graders becomes a showdown.

 

This is a cautionary story about how when children cry out for help and support and can’t find it, they withdraw and learn to rely on and resort to the tools of power, which are too often violent. Turn it over on the other side, and it is a story about how the human spirit flourishes when love and light are shined on an individual, empowering him to embrace himself and explore his identity.

 

This is about what happens when you give an angry baby a gun.

 

The law has responded punitively to gun use by minors, trying them as adults, but the law is the same vehicle that perpetuates gun violence, continuing to tolerate them on our streets. The proliferation of guns in our society means they exist in many homes, giving children easy access to weapons when there is an emotional urge. Sadly, children act impulsively, and are driven by surging hormones and unpredictable emotions. They are ill equipped to make thoughtful decisions in resolving complex problems. They need caring adults to guide, teach and protect them. Wouldn’t it be nice if every child had a caring adult to talk to?

 

 

This tale will haunt you because it’s subtly expresses and exposes the profound prejudices people harbor in their hearts, along with the perfect justifications that accompany them. There is a moment when the people in the film become us, and we can no longer distance ourselves from their beliefs and choices. Their narratives become ours, and it forces us to look at our belief systems and determine whether they are valid. For this reason, the film left me unsettled in my opinions. That is one of its strengths: the ability to fully embrace liminality. The director, Marta Cunningham, skillfully renders the gray areas that comprise the larger part of this episode: how uncomfortable we are when people step outside of proscribed norms—racial, sexual, gendered or otherwise. She reveals how we are still unwilling or unable to allow differences to coexist in public places.

 

This is a wake-up call for us to interrupt—behaviors, our lives, the stifling inertia—and take a stand even when we’re afraid. I’m reminded of what Father Paul Keenan defines as the “soul’s calling,” a perfect opportunity to “bring eternity and daily life together in mutual compassion and gracious action.” In these times, answering a “soul’s calling” is an awakening and no small act. When we are strong, acting with courage, conviction and compassion, the violence that shatters lives when it cuts down our youth can be the energy of transformation. So if you watch Valentine Road, know your heart will break. Invite it. Open yourself to include more. Allow the pain to touch you, and bring it back home to the people you love, transformed into understanding and openness.

Believing in People: Practical Practice in Supporting Each Other

 

 

I’d like to think that as a teacher, it’s my job to believe in people, especially when they don’t believe in themselves. But even when I’m not wearing my teacher hat, I find myself looking for the sacred in other people, looking for that one particular element that is precious and perhaps goes unseen, some overlooked dollop of goodness even we may not see in ourselves when we look in the mirror. We may miss it entirely. This, unfortunately, happens to many of us. Life batters and abuses us. We make so many mistakes we become strangers to ourselves. Perhaps we can no longer look upon ourselves with compassion and kindness. Our self-love is fraught with conditions. Negative thoughts can spirals into decisions that are not always made with our well-being at heart. That’s when we need someone to believe in us, to look into us with the loving light of compassion.

 

This is no trivial matter. Many people feel or become invisible after setbacks, withdrawing into pain and isolation.

 

Believing in someone can save a life. It is a human need to be seen and recognized. When John Legend accepted the Oscar for his song, Glory, he told everyone watching the Academy Awards that evening that he could see them. It was a powerful moment, symbolic of a soul seeking to water the goodness in our society, a flood of recognition and an outpouring of love from a public figure to nameless witnesses. It was Legend’s way of saying that the daily struggles of our lives are not in vain, acknowledging our collective journey toward a more just society. For Legend, “seeing us” was an affirmation of us, showing his belief in us, in our ability to change institutions with our awareness and activism. His simple act of seeing affirmed the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and witnessed the continued unseen struggle and toil of the many people working for societal transformation.

 

We all need to be seen. We all want someone to believe in us, in our ability to surpass self-imposed limitations and external barriers, to act with courage in the midst of our fears and doubts, to involve ourselves for the betterment of our communities, to stand with conviction. It’s not clear to me if we can believe in someone else if we can’t believe in ourselves. My hunch is that we can build up a reserve when we practice this act of loving kindness. Like a muscle, it will atrophy from disuse and strengthen with repeated exercise.

 

Essentially, this is time sowing and watering seeds. We do it for friends and family or strangers; it will form the foundation wherein we allow love and support to flow back to us. The Rev. Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist philosopher and teacher, talks about the importance of watering the seeds in oneself and others that we want to nurture. The seeds are attributes, traits or emotions. He asserts that the seeds that get the most attention, intentionally or otherwise, are the ones that will thrive. Therefore, it’s vital that we look deeply into at each other and really see the gifts therein, and to selectively water the ones that foster health and wealth in all their forms.

 

Unfortunately, if the seeds of love, peace, and joy are not watered, they will not bloom.

 

The path to connecting can take many forms. We are the bees in the garden touching every flower. Maybe it’s taking a few minutes to affirm an aspiration without interrupting. We can mentor an older woman starting something new, or listen to the dreams of young people around us. Take a moment to be kind to folks in transition or depression and recommend and promote their gifts. If you see a spark in someone, name it, because it’s one of the ways to grow a society that is strong and good: by looking into a heart and honoring those gifts. We can step up for each other when it really counts.

 

The truth is, believing in someone else sets us free. We get to leave behind our judgments, criticisms and fears and just let ourselves see the light in another person. We create an environment for ourselves where feelings of appreciation and friendship can be reciprocated. In other words, we get to be seen, supported and loved because we’ve made room for those things in our lives. Imagine the wonderful world we can create by taking time to believe in each other.

Four Great Reasons to Get a Game Night Going

 

 

While I make time to play with children as often as possible, I also love to play games with other adults. This is a time to unwind and let out my stored up sass. The benefits of play are well researched, and game night is one way to make sure you get a free booster shot of psycho-emotional wellness. As a teacher I believe we can only reinvent the world when understand the one we’re living in. This applies to the game of life. I’m almost always open to changing the rules of a game to make it more interesting, challenging or fair. I look at this as an important life skill. It’s agency at its highest potency. Like will power, we can store up skill sets and cash in when the time is right. Can I negotiate the salary I really want? How well am I at playing by the rules? What happens when I don’t get what I want? Games teach us about and help us to improve upon the parts of ourselves that we want to strengthen.

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For starters, game time involves communication. It’s a time for discussing rules, finding answers, problem solving and sharing. A new game usually requires careful reading—often out loud—and lots of review. These are core skills that can be useful when we’re proposing ideas at work or presenting to a room full of strangers. Game time is face time. There’s opportunity to try on different roles and experiment with personality.

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Some games require lots of negotiating skills. Interesting dilemmas come up when you play a game like Settlers of Catan: Should you trade with an opponent? What’s a fair trade? Whose resources should you raid? These are difficult choices that have to be made while directly facing the intended person. These are small, but not insignificant, ways of dealing with confrontation. They are opportunities to get comfortable asking for clarification, explaining complicated ideas, sticking to a hard decision or ditching a game plan that’s not working. These are real life negotiating skills that can toughen us up for when it really counts.

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Learning a new game requires patience. When I first started to play Scrabble as an adult, I thought I was a complete idiot. I no longer think that. Achieving a score of 333 points helped boost my confidence. (I still keep the scrap of paper with my winning score in the Scrabble box in case I need to charge my battery.) Scrabble is a word game, yes. But it’s also a game about strategy and knowing how to use the board to maximize points as much as it is an actual measure of the extent of one’s vocabulary. This mirrors real life. Sometimes half of what’s happening is how you’re using what you’ve got. Sometimes it takes time to see the possibilities in life and to actualize them. One doesn’t always win the first time around.

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Let’s not forget the oodles of fun to be had. There’s often a great deal of storytelling, laughter and sharing involved in a game night. Frequently, we partake of a meal together prior to the game and invest time getting to know each other throughout the play. When you play board games, it’s a time to sit around and share memories and see how others respond to setbacks and understand what makes them laugh. There’s also competition, which I think needs a positive outlet. And, if you’re really enjoying yourself, playing games with friends can also lead to higher levels of serotonin and dopamine in your system. You can start out playing a game and end up contributing to your own emotional and social wellness.

 

Children and Board Games Go Together

These days, video games are all the rage with young people. They’re everywhere and really fun. They’re exciting because they move fast and give big rewards for achievements. They have their place in our society, and I’m sure they’re not going anywhere. Board games, on the other hand, have to prove themselves. Most aren’t portable, take longer to play, require a time commitment and multiple players. They also have something not too many video games provide: built-in skill sets that provide several forms of intelligence and offer a tactile experience that supports the development of well-rounded individuals. That’s why I’m advocating for classic-board games, and some new ones, that the entire family can play.

Here’s what the traditional board game can do for you:

•    Literacy that translate directly to math and English skills. Many board games require reading at regular intervals. Instructions for learning a new game are dense and require analytical skills involving step-oriented processes. It’s also a great opportunity for adults to coach children with reading and following instructions.
•    Even simple games require some strategy, which is working on higher-level cognitive reasoning. Even choosing which piece to move or what play to make in a game of Sorry is a life skill. Board games require making long-term plans, or at least thinking ahead several moves.
•    These games help build emotional resilience and patience. It may not seem obvious, but learning how to lose can strengthen character. Chances are, a child who plays board games will lose once in a while. They can learn that losing is not the end of the world, and that there’s always another opportunity to win if they don’t quit. This helps with regulating emotions and keeping life in perspective.
•    Even small children can setup and clean up a game. Particularly with children around four-years, participating in the prepping and clearing stages teaches them responsibility. Sometimes asking for them to put away just four pieces can yield unexpected results like cooperation, initiative and problem-solving skills. Also, they may also like having all the pieces around the next time the game is played.
•    Maybe one of the most important reasons to play board games is to have family time. Making a ritual of sitting around the table talking, laughing and having fun can only lead to memories and deepening friendships. Conversation is built into most games. It’s an hour well spent.

Nothing prepares people for reading the “fine print” in life like board games. The more complicated a game is, the more rules; the more rules there are, the more navigational capital gets stored for when it counts, like applying for jobs and college or buying a house. If you’re new to board games, I recommend you start with these: chess, Sorry and Carcassonne. Hal’s picks are backgammon, Stratego, and Go.

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Laugh for Life: The Benefits of a Good Guffaw

 

“A vegan and a Big Mac walk into a bar…”

 

I don’t know the punch line for that joke, but I do know that laughing is good, and that most of us want to laugh when we can. For example, on a recent social call, we spent an afternoon with friends who made us laugh nonstop. For about four hours, we laughed at jokes, each other and ourselves. The afternoon left us feeling lighthearted, energized and glowing. Imagine my delight when I found out that laughter is better than an anti-depressant pill. Now I’m on the hunt for my next big laugh. I hope you’ll join me.

 

Have you ever laughed so hard that your face hurt and the skin behind your ears got hot and your cheeks ached? If you answered yes, endorphins were coasting through your veins, and you were happy, truly and simply happy—naturally. That is what laughter is all about. There’s a reason why people feel light, balanced and happy after a day with friends. Friends are awesome, especially if they make you laugh. What’s more, I’m convinced that laughing makes us look and feel younger and more vibrant.

 

As it turns out, this is not just my fanciful idea. There’s plenty of research that confirms that laughter really is good medicine. Don’t take my word for it, investigate positive psychology and see what you learn. And, there’s also such a thing as laugh yoga, which focuses on daily laughter techniques. Because of what I’ve learned, I’m adding laughter to my list of 2015 goals, and here’s why you should, too:

 

  1. Just look at someone who laughs a lot. What do you notice? Laughter peels the years off of our faces. When we’re laughing, we’re literally working countering gravity, pulling our face muscles up—they’re tightening, drawing up and flexing, and we’re shining and beaming like a porch lights. We are meant to do this. We are meant to be bright, our eyes cleared with tears of laughter.
  2. Laughing is great exercise. This is in intuitively true. Think about it. When we laugh hard for even five minutes, what happens to our bodies? First, abdominal muscles contract, and who couldn’t use some free sit-ups? Next, some might experience shortness of breath or other physical sensation caused by peals of laughter. This is like running around the block because it’s aerobic, only you don’t need to shower afterwards, unless you’ve been rolling around the ground in utter jocularity while at a picnic, which actually sounds quite awesome. During all of this, the brain and other muscles in the body are getting fresh oxygen. Clearly, this is a superior method of staying young. Simply laugh off the years.
  3. Another benefit of laughing is that apparently we can’t hold two emotions simultaneously. That means we must choose to be positive. We can turn the tide of our emotions by exercising the positive ones. When we do, chemicals in the brain and body are altered. We can’t hold grudges while we’re laughing. So we  essentially free ourselves with laughter. Laugh long enough and all your troubles will be forgotten. That sounds marvelous to me.

 

Now that I understand some of the benefits of laughter, I’ve been looking for more things to laugh at in my daily life. In dance class, I’m quick to laugh when I make a mistake, and it makes the time more pleasant, the learning easier. It also means I can bounce back more quickly from uncomfortable situations. I start looking for the humor in my actions and thoughts and take myself a teensy bit less seriously, because life is more fun when I’m laughing.

 

Curious about how to get more laughter in your life? Check out Dr. Madan Kataria’s video introduction to Laughter Yoga: Laughter Yoga Video