Online Radio Show -- Finding Your Oasis

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reach Out And Touch Someone. It's Psychologically And Physiologically Healthy

What is the value of a good massage?  For the surgeonfish, even a fake massage will do!  Marta Soares of Portugal's ISPA University Institute recently concluded a study using surgeonfish and fake cleaner fish, that mimicked the movements of real cleaner fish, to see if the draw of the cleaners was their scouring function, or the stimulation that the nibbling action provided to the bigger surgeonfish.

It is well known that many larger fish, including massive sharks, not only allow but encourage small sucker fish to “ride along” and nibble at parasites on the scales of the big fish.  It is a symbiotic relationship, in that the small fish gain protection, while the bigger fish get a good cleaning.  But seeking out these little stimulators for the sake of a good massage seems hard to understand.

However, the Soares experiment leaves little room for doubt.  First, Soares exposed the surgeon fish to all kinds of stressors, similar to what they would experience in the wild, then they were put in a tank with the cleaner wrasse.  The surgeonfish immediately sought out the cleaners, and positioned themselves in such a way that the wrasses’ fins provided the massaging action.

So how does this extrapolate to us humans?

Psychology Today reports that, when used to treat eating disorders, massage therapy had some unexpected benefits.  As expected, it boosted dopamine and serotonin levels, resulting a calming effect.  But it also decreased the patients’ dissatisfaction with their bodies and raised their self esteem.  This is the simple and powerful value of touch, as assessed by the University of Michigan Medical School.  They showed that there is a strong correlation between being touch-deprived and having an eating disorder.

Developmental psychologist Tiffany Field, Ph.D., claims that massage, for premature babies, helps them gain weight and improve health.  She also claims that touch-deprived babies grow up to be more aggressive than those that receive tactile interaction.

Diane Zeitlin, of the New Jersey Medical School discovered that touch therapy revved up the immune system in students at exam time, who were experiencing fatigue and anxiety.

And cancer patients under the care of Pauline King and Richard Jost, of Ohio's James Cancer Hospital reported less pain and anxiety as a result of receiving massage therapy.

More than just sometimes, it seems, the power of touch is all we need to improve our attitudes and responses, our day, and our lives.  Whether human or animal, massage and tactile stimulation are essential to our emotional, and physical health.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Of All The Most Important Things in Life, The Most Important Is Commitment To Others

Ask ten people what they consider to be the most important thing in life, and you may well generate ten different concepts of essentials.  However, explore those ten answers in more depth, revise the scenario to include the possibility of being isolated from human contact, and the critical concern that those respondents will come up with is that a specific person would be the most essential element to be included in that existence. 

Human beings are, like many beasts of the wild, wired to need social contact.  For some, that contact may be minimal, but all of us need interaction.  Does that mean that we view others as vital, or are we so completely narcissistic that we view fellow man as nothing more than a need to make our life complete? 

Regardless of why we need people with whom to interact, the stimulation that man provides for man completes a significant component of how we view ourselves. As far back as 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow postulated that the need for belonging, love, friendship and human interaction neared the base of his hierarchy of needs, just above the need for safety.

The male of the species has been bound, it seems, to man’s best friend – the dog.  While our connection to this four-legged friend undoubtedly offers something psychologically satisfying to humans, it lacks the completeness of human to human involvement.  The connection fulfills, on the surface, the need to have someone, or something else, understand us.

Gang membership, and, in turn, gang initiation, draws on the desire to belong, and to be involved in something that sees us, individually, as something special. While, superficially, gang members appear to lose that individuality, they do view themselves, in fact, as disparate and unique from the rest of the world, or the rest of the neighbourhood.

There may be precious little difference between the desire to be a gang member and the desire to belong to an elite club, or a segment of society that has riches to flaunt.  Both say to the initiate, pledge or member, “You are part of something special and unique, and therefore, you, too, are unique.”

The idea of looking to be a part of something that someone else cannot be a part of is coloured with liberal dollops of narcissistic personality.  Yet, is it wrong?  And how is it different, for example, from seeking to find that special aspect or part of our lives that fulfills us? 

I have chosen a minimalistic way of life.  Does eschewing material acquisition make be the antithesis of narcissistic?  Hardly.  I choose this lifestyle specifically because I feel that I want to focus, not on frills, but on fewer, but more significant benefits and luxuries in my life.  To simply forfeit things for the sake of forfeit gains neither the minimalist or society at large anything.  It is akin to being a lowly carrion-eater, and choosing to ignore the carrion that it finds, in case someone else might come upon it and want it.

When I began my journey toward voluntary simplicity, and opted to focus on fewer, but more significant things in my life, I had not contemplated the philosophical dilemma of choosing specifically what the most important thing in my life would be.  I had a concept of things and experiences that would be more significant to me than others, but had not established an absolute priority.  That changed, dramatically, this week.

On Tuesday, my wife awoke, drenched in sweat, breathing shallowly, experiencing numbness on her right side, and thoroughly nauseated.  Within seconds, I had her in the car, heading toward the hospital.  Driving as quickly as I could from our isolated home toward the local hospital, I called 911, and was escorted through  the protocols as I rushed to intercept the dispatched ambulance.  When I determined that I could make it closer to the hospital, rather than park on the highway and await the emergency vehicle, I became quite belligerent with the dispatcher who wanted me to be in an identifiable location for the EMS drivers.  My anger increased as the seconds passed, and my wife’s symptoms worsened.

Ultimately, the ambulance arrived, my wife was rushed to another hospital thirty miles distant (where better diagnostics could be conducted), and her impending critical incident was averted.  I am very pleased to say that, while she was close to a severe crisis, she has recovered fully, thanks to the speedy response of the EMS team and the skills and dedication of the hospital staff.

However, what I learned was that all of the important things that I had casually itemized in recent years truly were minimal in relation to the one important thing in my life: the valued relationship and love affair that I have with Janice.  I learned many valuable lessons, but the most vital lesson learned is that the most important thing in everyone’s life should not be a thing at all, but a feeling:  the feeling that you have for someone important in your life.  For many of us, that someone may not even be human, but a pet or animal pal.  The most important “non-thing,” even for us minimalists, should be a feeling that has its basis in narcissism, but ultimately ends in completely submerging our own wants and desires in favour of the needs of another.  Call it love, or call it selflessness.  Call it what you want.  The most important thing in life is to place all things behind the commitment to another living being.

Give Life A Hug. It's Free and Fulfilling!

Minimalism: emptiness, austerity, meaninglessness, plainness.  Minimizing is the act of reducing or eliminating.  So, it is reasonable to interpret that minimalism is the equivalent of bland.  Wrong!  A life of voluntary simplicity can offer much more than nothing!  Indeed, by eliminating the emotional, physical and psychological clutter in our lives, we free up space for more of life itself.

It is the route of someone who has given up on life that is the path of emptiness and meaninglessness.  A true minimalist does not give up on life: he embraces it.

I currently work on a project that helps those who otherwise could not afford it to buy their own homes, and to live with a measure of dignity even while living in poverty.  Ironically, living in poverty and austerity seems to be how many people view minimalism.  My project does not require me to own, but it does require me to give.  I give of my energy and knowledge, yet it does not deplete me in any way.  That is the essence of the cliché about “giving a smile.”  The more you give, the more you have.

In prior articles, I described how minimalism is like being an art gallery director.  By clearing away the junk and debris, and featuring a sculpture or painting, isolated on a pedestal or wall, you actually draw attention to and enhance the pleasure of that work of creativity.  Similarly, when one gives up the junk in his or her life, more room is created for more valuable pursuits.

I have found that, when I cleanse my body through short-term dieting, I find sources of energy inside of which I doubted the existence.  In the same manner, when I began the process of cleansing my accumulation of worthless stuff, my involvement with this frivolous fluff decreased concurrently.  That meant more free time to enjoy the activities that I liked.  But dieters who deprive themselves of eating, or who gorge on exercise, have replaced one weakness with another, and neither offers the intrinsic pleasure that a life of casual, regular and responsible living and eating provides.

The great benefit, for me, of a life of voluntary simplicity is that I have become more enthused about other pursuits. Those pursuits, such as charitable ventures, are the ones that drive me. However, you may find more time for family, or participating in events, in learning, and so on.  By owning less, you receive more.

But, with less baggage, you also are free to enthusiastically embrace life, and become enthusiastic about the world around you.  Do not sit back, and waste the freedom you receive by carrying less material, less responsibility and more stress.  Grab the world, and give it a figurative hug!  Enthusiasm and excitement are not “things.”  While they are simple, both are free, take up no space and yet will fill the newly discovered free spaces in your life.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Newton Was Wrong: (Human) Bodies Do Not Tend To Stay At Rest!

Newton postulated that a body at rest will tend to stay at rest.  Witticisms aside, that principle clearly does not apply to human beings.  Rest is merely a reprieve from living. Those of us that seek to stay at rest are not seeking that oasis in life that allows us to feel fulfilled and satisfied, but are seeking to avoid the challenges that interaction with the world demands.  Yet, many of us describe our idyllic oasis in terms of doing nothing!

In my articles on finding your oasis in life, I have focused, to date, on self-realization.  Self realization principally enables us to recognize who we are, what we want and how we relate to the world around us.  It is self-actualization – the endeavour to become the best we can be – that provides the fulfilment necessary to being comfortable with ourselves and our lives.

In the early 1900s, Abraham Maslow proposed his hierarchy of needs.  This schematic implied that the most basic needs must be met before we could hope to climb the eight-rung ladder to self-actualization.  More recently, psychologist Steven Reiss suggested that there are sixteen basic desires that all of us seek to satisfy.  Psychologist Clayton Alderfer revised the Maslow model, and formulated his Existence, Relatedness and Growth theory.  He subsequently added in a regression component, saying that, when higher needs such as self-actualization and self-esteem needs are not met, we redouble our efforts to achieve lower-level needs.

These theories all imply that humans have needs that are ongoing, and that we, internally and externally, seek to have those needs satisfied.  We all, therefore, are seeking that oasis where we can regroup and renew our attempts to reach self-actualization.

Ironically, as we near the self-actualization level, our concerns begin to focus more on our role in the world around us, and our perceived needs begin to give way to the needs of others.  Social responsibility becomes one of those integral elements in self-fulfilment.

Many people, altruistically, place others well ahead of themselves.  My mother, for instance, would sit up into the wee hours of the morning from September to December, making presents for children who needed to have a Christmas gift.  She ached to provide for “those people who are less fortunate.”  However, she failed to consider herself to be one of those less fortunate, even though our household income never exceeded $3,000 in a year, our 450-square foot home sheltered six family members, one of the rooms in the house had no floor, and she was dying of cancer.  Others came first, for her.  Most of the year, she lived an embittered existence, but, as Christmas approached, she found her oasis.

As I was preparing this article on motivation and self-development, I took time to view a documentary on Harry Belafonte.  I was in the midst of writing about achieving self-satisfaction.  But the documentary changed that focus, dramatically.

In one scene, a starving child lay passively, as flies crawled over his gaping, listless eyes.  And I was thinking of how we should seek out tranquillity?

In another clip, Belafonte and Martin Luther King struggle to make the Kennedys understand how unjust the treatment of blacks in America was at that time.  And I was considering ways to escape from the world around us, to alleviate the angst and stress?

Neither Belafonte or King reached the point where they could say that they were satisfied.  King never saw the progress that he stimulated.  Belafonte has never been satisfied to say that he has done enough.  Yet, each reached a point in their lives that very few of us ever even strive to reach.

Finding your oasis, consequently, should not be about finding a level where one can be at perpetual rest.  It is not human nature.  Finding your oasis must be as much about enduring the travails of the desert, so that one can pause, look around for a few moments and say, “I’m ready to continue my journey of being a better person.”  Without satisfying those higher-level human needs, we are doomed to continually attempt to slake our human thirst to be better by turning to our more base, self-serving needs.  That, in turn, makes us no better than the animals around us.  Our oasis can only be found when our focus is on being a better person, and a better part of humanity.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Competition, Like Chocolate, Must Be Right Type To Be Healthy

Ask the average person to describe the ideal retreat from everyday life, and she will depict a life that is stress free and non-competitive.  However, ask that same person to endure a month of living with no stress of any sort and no challenges, and that person will describe, at the end of that period, a life of boredom.  Our perfect oasis in life, then is not a safe, comfortable, unchallenging escape from the joys and distresses that constitute our lives.

One of the most banal beverages is water.  However, try to live without it!  A quarter of the world eats potatoes as a staple part of the diet, while three quarters eat rice.  Can you think of foods with less taste?  On the other hand, foods like lemon, tomatoes, dark fruits and green vegetables have sometimes harsh, other times vigorous tastes, yet we need them, in abundance, to ensure health.  The analogy is simple: vitality springs from contrast and challenge.

In life, our staple foods for emotional wellbeing are competition and stress.  Like red wine, too much can be harmful.  Like chocolate – dark versus milk – stress and competition, to be healthy, must be the correct type.  Competition, like stress, can produce positive benefits, or erode our wellbeing.

Psychologist David Lowenstein states that “healthy competition can help a child have more energy and spirit, it can stimulate better performance.”  At the same time, unhealthy competition can destroy self-esteem and decrease incentive to achieve.  Low self-esteem is one of the significant contributors to stress, as is loss of control over a situation. 

Competition, where a party to the challenge is subjected to feelings of inferiority is likely to result in long-term effects, as well.  Consider the child who is repeatedly placed in a sports environment that emphasizes winning over personal improvement.  The result often is an insecure child.

As we move through life, competition can take nasty turns.  The movie, Mean Girls, highlighted that nastiness.  Facebook has become a forum for vindictive sniping at peers in the adolescent and teenage world, and has led to numerous suicides at the hands of victims who feel denigrated because they did not “fit in.”  That type of competition is extremely detrimental.

But competition is more than an element of sports, or social pecking order for teens.  Again, look to the office setting.  In such environments, the competition to dress “to the nines” results in a stressful focus on clothes, makeup and posturing.  On the other hand, in the rural environment, such preening would be ostracized. In the work world, the competition for jobs leads to backbiting and underhanded strategies to tear down opponents.   The stress that results destroys marriages, creates huge debt crises and encourages distorted perceptions of that which is important in life.

The answer to how to segregate good stress from bad, healthy competition from unhealthy is simple: release the need to be competitive in areas over which you have little control, like appearance or fancy possessions.

However, eliminating all competitive urges leads to a society disinterested in challenges and self-betterment, while cooperative competition leads to self-improvement and awareness of the benefit of rising to the challenge of making the world a better place. 

Ask the average person, again, to describe their idyllic oasis in life, once they understand the void that eliminating all challenges and competition in their world will create, and he is likely to opt for an environment where he can choose how, where and when he competes, but is unlikely to opt for a mellow, milquetoast world of indifference.  Thus, our individual oasis in life is less about passivity and indolence, and more about enjoying and embracing the stimulation of life, on terms in which we are comfortable engaging those challenges.  In short, our oasis is a place where we have a measure of control over those stressors and challenges that we feel that we have a reasonable expectation of hurdling.  We want competition, deep within. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Your Bad Day Rarely More Than 5% Bad!
So you think you’re having a bad day?  Perhaps, the worst in your life!  Hyperbole aside, bad days rarely are truly bad.

Think of your morning commute.  A fifteen-minute delay in traffic.  Perhaps a rude driver cuts you off.  10 seconds, at most. That’s a mere 910 seconds out of a day of 86,400 seconds. The “bad day” has consumed no more than 1% of your day.  However, the delay puts you in a foul mood for the entire forty-minute drive, and the first half-hour of your workday. In turn, you snap at a couple of coworkers, and may make a mistake or two because of your elevated stress levels.  This consumes another ten minutes to correct. You’ve added eighty minutes of “bad” to your bad day!  Not only that, you’ve helped to ruin a few moments of your coworkers’ days; perhaps even more than that.  One percent has become 6.6%, very quickly. 

Still, if your “bad day” has no more than six or seven percent negative in it, that’s far from disastrous.  93% is still okay to great, if you adjust to the circumstances.  Unfortunately, many of us let the bad moments fester, and our day goes downhill.  It is all a matter of attitude, and yours is leading to unpleasant experiences.

In 1986 (June 6, to be precise), I had a relatively bad day, that started at about 10pm.  At that time, I was heading to my house with my children.  When I arrived, I found the door locked.  A moment of stupidity followed, where I pounded on the leaded glass window of the front door.  Hard.  Very hard.  It broke.

My arm went through the glass, and then the glass went through my arm, with a sharp spear about six inches long in the bottom of the frame slicing into my forearm, precisely at the wrong point.  My instant, reflexive reaction was to pull back.  That raked the flesh, muscle, tendons, nerves, artery and vein back toward my wrist for a distance of about five inches, into a messy pile.  Blood spurted like a wildcat oil well.  My hand flopped wildly back and forward as I flinched.  That was bad.  Less than three seconds, and, including the angry moment, less than thirty.  Out of 86,400.

Now that bad day had potential to get a lot worse, with the vast amount of blood I was losing.

I rushed into the house, to my dresser (or, more precisely, to the last drawer in the dresser that did not contain my wife’s clothes.  Ripping open the drawer, I grabbed one of my cotton tee shirts to use as a tourniquet, wrapping it tightly around my forearm, and slowing the flow.

I thought it was my tee shirt.  My wife, unknown to me, had commandeered my last drawer, and I had used one of her white tops.  I heard about it from her.

This still had potential to be horribly bad.  I needed to get to the hospital, quickly.  And my wife was screaming at me for ruining her $15 top!  That was when the fun started, as I saw it.  It even seemed grotesquely funny at that moment!

My wife had been home, but was disinclined to unlock the door for me.  The good luck was that she was in the company of a friend, who saw the urgency, quickly got me back into my car and drove me toward the hospital.  On the way, we intercepted a police car, heading for, of all places, a snack shop.

Local police generally are not supposed to transport emergency victims to the hospital.  They are to stabilize the patient, while summoning the ambulance.  I was not going to wait.  I was able to get out of my car, and made my way to the cruiser, opening the rear door myself.  The police re-entered the car and looked at me.  Didn’t put the car in drive, didn’t look to help this profusely bleeding individual.  Just looked at me, one by turning around, the other in the rear view mirror.  I knew my colour was pale.  But when I fell against the side of the door in weakness, the male cop turned more white that I could ever have been.

“Drive, drive, drive,” he screamed at the female cruiser pilot.  She drove.  That, too, was funny.

Within eight minutes, we were at the hospital emergency entrance.  However, neither cop seemed to have the strength or will to get out of the vehicle and assist me.  Both, now, turned to stare, terrified, at me.  I was trapped in the rear, bleeding to death.  I could feel the air conditioning start at my feet and well up my legs.  I could not release my grip on my left forearm, largely because I could no longer feel my hands.  The top of my head felt air-conditioned.  I knew what was happening, and, somehow at that moment, the absurdity of the situation was not particularly funny.  It was, in retrospect, but not at the moment. 

My good luck was that the cops had forewarned the hospital that I was arriving.  An orderly was waiting at the entrance, and, after a minute, stepped forward to let me out of the car.  The cops sat there, and as I looked back at them, they were staring in revulsion at the bloody mess that I had left behind on the rear seat.  I found that slightly amusing.

As I was wheeled to the intake desk of this newly renovated emergency area, I took note of the bright carpet in the area.  So did the intake nurse.  She gasped, when she noticed the blood that I was dripping onto the carpet, and quickly wheeled me onto a linoleum-covered area.  That, I confess, was morbidly funny, and I pondered why any sane  administrator would put down carpet in an emergency entrance.

The rest of the night was a mix of bizarre, tedium and graveside comedy.  The only doctor-in-residence on shift that night came in an hour after I had been wheeled into a quiet area, a compression bandage applied, and painkiller offered.  I had declined, because I absolutely was terrified of needles.  The doctor entered, lifted the compression bandage briefly, shuddered, uttered “ugh,” and left.  I never saw him again!  That was both absurd and somewhat frightening. Ten hours later, at 8 am, my plastic surgeon arrived to begin the reconstruction.  He was introduced as Dr. Robert Grafton.  What a marvellous name for a reconstructive surgeon!

Nine hours later, I saw him again, as I emerged from the anaesthesia.

“What kind of job did you do?” I asked him.

“Not as good as you,” he replied.  It was intended as humour, and I laughed.

The next day, I met my roommate, who had been asleep when I had usurped his territory on the ward the previous late afternoon.  He was a marvellous character, who had had his left elbow shattered by a baseball bat when he went to the assistance of a young man who was being beaten by several attackers.  From his left ear to the tips of his left fingers, he was a beautiful, translucent purple, with the skin so swollen that it looked like the balloon that was his arm would pop any second.  He spent a great deal of time on Demerol.  Anyone who calls the centre of nerves at the back of the elbow a “funny bone” should discuss that choice of words with my roommate at the hospital.  I felt pain just looking at the injury!

That was Sunday morning.  The entire weekend had been a Monty Python marathon on television.  We both, it turned out, loved Monty Python, and we both devoured episode after episode all day, well into early morning.  Neither of us bothered with any painkillers, from early Sunday afternoon, until the next morning.  We laughed so hard, so long, so loud that the nurses frequently came into the room to threaten to evict us from the hospital. It was not that other patients were being disturbed, as our door was shut.  It was merely that the staff wanted to be part of the experience of these two patients, supposedly in extreme pain, enjoying the night so fully and vivaciously.  That day was one of the best that I had had in years, throughout my crumbling marriage.

I learned from that accident that I can do a great deal with only one hand, and practised for months at improving those skills.  Prior to the accident, I loathed sales.  Because I could not return to my old occupation for many months, I took training in sales, and became a very successful salesperson. 

I found, most of all, that bad days – even as supposedly terrible as June 6, 1986 – most often are not bad.  I had less that 2% of my day that could be categorized as “bad.”  I saw a lot of unique situations, and even enjoyed a lot of laughs along the way.

The day would have been bad, if I had not reacted to staunch the negative flow.  By interacting with positive experiences, my bad day became a great one (albeit mightily inconvenient), and I grew, as a person, as a result of what was supposed to be a bad moment.

Before you let that jerk who cut you off ruin your day, and the days of those around you, think.  How many seconds really have been ruined?  Then get on with enjoying the rest of your day, even with its few not-so-great moments.  Have a great day!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friendship The Greatest Inconvenient Way to Relieve Stress

Friendship is inconvenient.  It is trying and often fragile.  Friendship frequently requires effort. Yet, in spite of all its impurities, friendship is the best salve for the fatigue of a hard day, the anxieties of a stressful experience or the melancholy of a tragic loss.

When one begins the search for his or her individual oasis away from the travails of everyday life, the single best place to search is in the company of a friend.

An apt adage declares that, “the best kind of friend is the one you could sit on a porch with, never saying a word, and walk away feeling like that was the best conversation you’ve had.”

Many of us find friendship difficult, either because we feel we are imposing on that friend, or that the friend may impose on us.  Most frequently, when we are despondent, our first inclination is to seek solitude.  It is less true that misery loves company than that gloom makes no room for others.  Yet, by interacting with people, we are less able to focus on our own distresses.  Intuitively, then, when we least want company is when we should seek it out.  How lonely it would be to struggle across that barren desert, searching for our oasis, only to be trapped at that abandoned waterhole, having no one with whom we could share our sanctum!

Friendship is inconvenient, though.  It requires that we be prepared to give of ourselves, and to be there for our friends in need.  Need arises at greatly inconvenient times.  So how do we justify giving of ourselves to friends (and strangers) in need?  Do we selfishly do so, expecting that whatever favours we grant will be repaid?  That is a certain route to disappointment and resentment.  Giving to and being there for a friend should be viewed as the reward in itself.  Attitude determines the colour of the world around us.  The pleasure we derive from the comfort that we provide to a friend should be the selfish reward we seek; consequently, we should be selfish often.

Friendship can be fragile, though.  Disagreements – trivial or intense – occasionally threaten the fabric of interaction with friends.  How we handle those fractures determines our own emotional security, more so than that of our colleague. 

A friend lost may soon be found in the ranks of those whom you count as enemies.  Yet, by allowing a man the privilege of being your enemy, you strengthen him and weaken yourself.  Aristotle said, “The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.”  In truth, make as many of those enemies into friends as you can, for, like warm hugs, we can never embrace too many friends.  

Friendship, fortunately, is not fading as the television or computer screen replaces the face of a friend.  Yet, we need to be diligent in keeping human interaction in the forefront of our lives, if we wish to reduce the everyday anxieties that our fast-paced world throws at us.

Finding our individual oasis of comfort in life is less likely to be found in financial wealth than it is in the wealth of friends.  While friends may be found cheaply, they are the most precious possession we have in a stressful, combative world.

As Thomas Edison stated, “I have friends in overalls whose friendship I would not swap for the favour of the kings of the world.”

Friends are, in fact, the kings and queens of the world.  Bow to them.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Finding Your Oasis: Turning Life Into Luxury

We all seek a safe, pleasurable life, or moment in life.  We all seek an oasis of comfort, safety and well-being.  Finding our own oasis is a quest, and it is a quest that is individual.

This article, on finding your own oasis, is really about you, so to confuse things, and to appear completely narcissistic, I want to start by talking about me.  About what I regard as being important.  About what my dreams are.  About my beliefs.  About the things I do.  And, most significantly, about to whom I relate and love.

Actually, I intend to do very little of what I have just claimed.  Quite simply, I approach life with a maximum focus on living it, and a minimal focus on owning it.  I rent life.  And my supplier makes no promises to me!  That is the basis on which I operate.  Do, feel and live it now!  That is, be and do the best you can be, today.

What each of us deems to be “the best” is extremely subjective.  However, there are a few very definite principles that should guide our direction.  I would like, in this introductory article on “finding your oasis,” to elaborate on those concepts, and help you to discover that idyllic spot – figurative or literal – in this world that is meant just for you.  This quintet of canons are: 1) Know what is important to you.  We evolve throughout our life, so what is important may change periodically.   2) Have a dream.  Better yet, have dreams! 3) Believe in something, energetically.  Stand up for your beliefs, too.  4) Live life, and do so with commitment. 5) Love life, and the things in it.  Even love that which you hate.

I began by threatening to talk about me. I find that difficult, since I have been indoctrinated with the belief that I should always place others first, and that modesty requires that I not talk about myself.  It is a belief that I have analysed, and found that, even though it was impregnated in me as a child, by my parents, it still remains true.  That is the beauty of adulthood.  I can choose to embrace or reject those tenets and moral imperatives that others hold to be absolute.  I can make the choice as to what principles will guide my actions and thoughts.  It is choice , in itself, that impacts on our drive to seek a sanctum or haven from the rest of the world.

According to psychologist, Dr. Richard Lazarus, "Stress resides neither in the situation nor in the person.  It depends on a transaction between the two."  Yet, one of the primary reasons that people cite as to why they may want to escape from a situation, a circle of influence, a way of life or a job is that they are stressed.  And, combining a lack of control over our stressful situation with a lack of tools to deal effectively with stress seems to heighten that need to seek relief from the stressor.  Occupational psychologist, Cary Cooper, suggests that even the new technologies that should have been relief mechanisms for stress are contributing to greater stress on individuals.

So, since stress seems to play the pivotal role in our need to “find our oasis,” many of my future articles will examine ways to deal with that stress.

Much of the lives of many of us is spent doing things that we loathe, or, at least, would prefer to not be doing.  The majority of us, for example, count the seconds until the end of the workday, because we are labouring at a task that we do not enjoy.  We either have to “suck it up” and endure, leave the job, or discover ways to turn the tasks into fun.  That is the essence of one scene in the Mary Poppins musical.  We should, regardless of our job or circumstance, be seeking out those things that are important to us, and embracing them, while, at the same time, finding significance in what we do.

For some of us, ironically, the most important thing is money, and we are willing to endure unpleasant consequences in the pursuit of it.  My wife and I live a life of voluntary simplicity, living with the minimum of acquisitions.  In my blog on Lean and Green Living, I elaborate, though, on some of the stressors that such a lifestyle generates, even though the way of living is intended to reduce stress.  If money is that important, then you need to find ways to achieve the goal of acquisition, in order to find your own oasis.  However, a word of caution:  money, most often, is not the objective.  It is what that money signifies, so look deeper, to find the truly important things that you believe that money provides.

Hand in hand with discovering what is important to you is understanding and elaborating upon what your dreams may be.  Dreams are viewed as being distant goals, rather than immediate rewards.  In fact, dreams can be close at hand, or even instantaneous.  My dream is to share a way to live harmoniously, with every one of nature’s gifts, free of intolerance, and to live magnanimously.  While I have not reached that goal (and never will, since the goal constantly moves, and I frequently stumble), I have enriched my life by keeping that dream in focus.

The third tenet in finding our unique oasis is to believe in something, energetically.  I believe in the idea that, in everything I possess, ownership is transient.  Therefore, since I also believe that I am “my brother’s keeper,”  I should not waste or frivolously destroy what I have been given, and should, indeed, seek to improve what I possess before passing it on.  Tied with each of the other four canons of living, I spend much of my leisure time exploring energy and conservation concepts, in the hope that I can improve on what is available currently.  It may be vain, but it is satisfying.

How many of us live our lives with commitment?  How many of us passively watch our lives expire?  By doing little to rescue ourselves, we contribute to our stress and our feelings of being lost and helpless.  Stand up and be counted.  You may be standing up on the side opposite me, but that neither makes you right or wrong.  It makes you dedicated and enthusiastic about that which you choose to embrace, and that takes you a step closer to finding your oasis.

Lastly, we need to love life, and everything in it.  My severed finger, or my long-distant failed marriages, or my infrequent financial crises may not be pleasant, but they reveal to us that we are not observers of life: we are participants, and we should as eagerly endure these hurdles as we do those special, wonderful moments in life, that occur far more frequently than the bitter ones.

There is no one answer to how all of us achieve the goals and objectives outlined in our guide to finding our own oasis.  There are thousands of ideas and routes, as well as side trails and detours.  Nonetheless, when we set out on the journey toward our oasis in the desert, we will already have begun to find it.