How to balance life, religion and spirituality.

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Life is your adventure. Religion and spirituality can help you make sense of your life and navigate its challenges. When was the last time you stopped to consider what your life is all about? Why are you here on Earth? Children hear that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. That is not quite true as we have seen. Some paths require resources, money, skills or connections which might not be readily available to you. Your choices are not unlimited.

Yet you still have many options available to you. Your family, friends, life circumstances and talents guided you toward certain paths. Those paths, suggested by people who care about you, might have been easier to follow than forging your own path, although theirs might not take you quite where you want or expect to go. More challenging paths await you down the road. These will require more effort from you when they are less familiar. Yet they might be more satisfying in the long run as you learn to manage them.

If fame, fortune and power are your main goals in life, you probably see little need for religion or spirituality. You will pursue your goals at all costs regardless of the effect on your life and the lives of those you encounter on your way through life. But you could end up living in a spiritual vacuum. You might want to at least think of reconsidering your priorities. Religion and spirituality are important to people who want their lives to be about something more than what they can grab for themselves. They form a context for living a life directed toward a higher calling.

When I was a child, a “vocation” was considered a call from God to pursue a higher purpose. At that time it meant being called to be a priest or a nun. Later it came to mean living any life in the context of a greater meaning.

How to find meaning outside the limited context of your little world is not always obvious. Where do you start? What are the steps? Spirituality is the process of finding, accepting and sharing the larger meaning of being alive as you journey through life. You can learn from others on a similar path to yours and share what you learn with your fellow travelers.

Religions are formalized systems intended to help you find the meaning for which you search on your spiritual journey. Obviously various religious systems cannot all be the one true path to spirituality and to God although many claim to be the only right way. Regardless of their claims, most religions start with the same premise, offering a way to live in unity between you and God.

How do you know if you are on the right path? Spirituality and religion both suggest reflection and meditation. If you never stop to see where you have been, where you are headed and the effect of your choices on you and those around you, you have no way to check your course or predict where you will end up.

Honest reflection will help you evaluate your life path to see whether it is taking you in the right direction. If you are hurting yourself or someone else as you proceed, you might have made a wrong turn and need a course correction.

Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace. For a free sample, follow this link and choose Look Inside.

 

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How do I get my body to be at peace?

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How do you get your body to be at peace and in harmony? Once you see the answers to this question, they might seem like common sense. Unfortunately we do not always use common sense in our approach to our bodies. Sometimes we take partial or baby steps. That’s a good start, but the more you understand about your body’s needs and the more you treat your body kindly, the more at peace you will find yourself.

What does a peaceful body look like? On the surface your brow is smooth and not wrinkled in distress. Your face is calm; your hands are relaxed and your fists are not clenched. You stand straight and are not stooped over under the weight of your daily stress.

Looking inside, your bloodstream is distributing nourishment and collecting waste and not chronically clogged with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. As we saw before, these hormones serve a useful purpose in preparing you for approaching danger and shutting down regular functions of your body not specifically needed to fight stress.

This is fine when your body is under attack, and you need to defend yourself or get you out of harm’s way. Yet immediate threats pass fairly quickly, and your body hopefully returns to a more relaxed and peaceful state. When you are constantly beset by worrisome thoughts, emotions or both, your body stays in a state of high alert preventing you from feeling at peace and eventually exhausting you and keeping you from living a productive life. Your body, mind, emotions and spirit are all interconnected. We will look more closely at thoughts and emotions as well as spirituality a little later.

Your blood pressure, pulse, and heart rate all rise when you are in a state of stress or anxiety and become lower when your body is at peace. When you are peaceful, you have more energy to use in constructive activities rather that spending it all fighting stress.

Once you get stress out of your life, you will find that in addition to more energy you will a better appetite and better digestion. Rather than finding natural ways to achieve peace within your body, you might be tempted to seek the help of prescription drugs, alcohol or street drugs as a way to compensate for the unrest inside you. Chemical approaches can be helpful at times. Yet better long-term results can be found by considering changes in the way you live your life. What changes? That’s a long story which I will get to another time.

How do I find peace in my life

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Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

~Sy Miller and Jill Jackson~

When we think of peace, we tend to focus on what it is not. Peace is not being in conflict with others or within ourselves. It means not being at war. This is part of it. We have an idea about what we don’t want. Yet it is possible to not be at war or in conflict with anyone and still not be at peace. Sound strange? It’s not if you consider peace as more than the absence of conflict.

Here is the definition of peace proposed by the Christophe Barbey for the Institute for the Progress of Peace, “Peace is part of human dignity. It is living in, as well as the right and the duty to live in, to prepare, to maintain or to restore a creative state of permanent harmony amongst all.”

In this sense, peace is not a construct or an invention of people or governments. Peace is part of the recognition that human life is worthy of respect and that we all share in a sense of dignity just by being born human.

Of course, people have not always viewed their fellow humans with dignity. Throughout history, various groups of humans have been viewed as possessions or objects to be bought, sold and used with impunity as we might do with any other possession. In some countries, only certain people are allowed to vote. Others are not seen as full citizens.

By viewing everyone with the same human dignity shared by the rest of us, we necessarily change the way we look at each other. No one is beneath us, less a citizen, without rights or unworthy to be included in the discussion about how we conduct ourselves locally or globally.

We all have the same dignity and should respect this dignity in each other. When we define peace in this way, we learn to approach each other with generosity, empathy, common sense and non-violence.

Looking at peace this way is certainly not part of how some people and some nations approach each other in current times. It has been the exception rather than the rule throughout recorded history and perhaps before then. Yet it can be a goal for the future and would be to the benefit of all of us, presenting a healthy alternative to destroying or controlling each other for our own selfish purposes.

Most people who pray at all pray for peace on Earth. Maybe we think God will bring us this peace. We have had times of peace but frequently return to times when peace seems out of reach. Is that God’s fault? I don’t think so. God has left peace as something for us to earn. Sadly, we are often preoccupied with getting what we want for ourselves rather than working together toward what would benefit us all. Our journey toward peace starts with ourselves. Let’s get started on that journey.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace. For a free sample of this book, follow this link and choose Look Inside.)

What Do Teens Like Best about Themselves?

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Teens like a wide variety of things about themselves. Being able to entertain friends or having a nice personality come to mind for several of the teens I talked with. If you are fun to be around, you will be popular and never lacking for company. Did you ever wonder what makes you attractive to others? It’s not so much what you look like. Being very pretty or handsome might even make others jealous.

A researcher in the nineteen sixties studied what people look for in a friend. The number one quality is being able to listen. If you can keep your mouth shut when you need to, hear what someone is saying, and understand how that person feels, you will be very much in demand. As Amy puts it, “I have the ability to put myself in others’ shoes.”

Some see their sense of themselves as their best quality. Ellie says, “I know who I am and stick with my values.” This is not always easy to do. You have to think about what’s important to you and decide that what you believe in is more important than making others happy.

Did you know it’s impossible to keep everyone happy? No matter what you do, there will be some people who like what you do and others who don’t. If you follow your own sense of values, you will attract friends who respect what you believe in. You probably wouldn’t enjoy the company of others who don’t share your values anyway.

Can you imagine having a friend who changes his or her mind all the time? Maybe you have a friend like this. You never know what to expect and probably wouldn’t be able to count on that person for anything important. Being consistent in your values makes it easier for you to decide what to do when something really important happens. It also helps your friends know what to expect from you. Consistency is probably the most important quality of a good friend after being a good listener.

Other teens like their physical qualities such as their appearance or sports ability. As with personality, these might be just as much a reason for others to be jealous as to like you. However, what is important is that your physical appearance or sports ability might give you some confidence which you might not otherwise have. Your self confidence just might attract others more than your special abilities or appearance.

Sometimes it is not so easy to choose one quality you like best about yourself. Punkman sees his grades and willingness to help others who need him as tied for his best qualities. This is not surprising. Most teens have several things they like about themselves. Did you know it’s easier to think of things you don’t like about yourself than things you do like? When I asked teens and adults in counseling to make two lists, the list of dislikes is usually longer than the list of likes. Maybe people tend to take their good qualities for granted.

(Excerpt from my book, Make the Best of Your Teen Years: 105 Ways to Do It. Read a free sample by clicking on this sentence and choosing Look Inside.)

How do I effectively communicate?

Effective communication is the glue that helps deepen your connections to others and improve teamwork, problem solving, and your social and emotional health. But all too often, what we try to communicate goes astray. We say one thing, the other person hears something else, and misunderstandings, frustration, and conflicts ensue. But whether you’re trying to improve communication with your spouse, kids, boss, or coworkers, you can learn the skills to interact more effectively, improve your relationships, and build greater trust and respect with others.

What is effective communication?

Effective communication is about more than just exchanging information. It’s about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information. As well as being able to clearly convey a message, you need to also listen in a way that gains the full meaning of what’s being said, builds trust, and makes the other person feel heard and understood.

More than just the words you use, effective communication combines a set of 4 skills:

  1. Engaged listening
  2. Nonverbal communication
  3. Managing stress in the moment
  4. Asserting yourself in a respectful way

While these are learned skills, communication is more effective when it’s spontaneous rather than formulaic. A speech that is read, for example, rarely has the same impact as a speech that’s delivered (or appears to be delivered) spontaneously. Of course, it takes time and effort to develop these skills and become an effective communicator. The more effort and practice you put in, the more instinctive and spontaneous your communication skills will become.

(Excerpt from  from Lawrence Robinson et al’s article in Helpguide.org. Read more.