So I’ve been reading heaps of books lately. Heaps. I can use the word heaps because I’m located so close to Australia and New Zealand and they use that word in this part of the world. Plus, I think it sounds pretty cool. Maybe it’ll be one of those things that I take back to the States with me. Who knows…
I’m currently pretty happy with life … really happy actually, but I want to work on being an even happier person - hence why I am choosing to take part in a happiness project that will last an entire year! - so I’m going to learn what I can from some masters (Dalai Lama, Thich Naht Hahn, Desmond Tutu, Pema Chodron, etc.).
Well, aside from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, I’m currently working through Buddhist Boot Camp by Timber Hawkeye and man, I’m learning heaps while digesting this little literary gem.
Here are a few passages that stuck out to me and how I’ve thought about them in terms of living and serving here in the South Pacific… (the bolded parts are direct quotes from Hawkeye’s book, Buddhist Boot Camp).
When you approach each moment with gratitude, not only will you stop experiencing life from a place of lack, you will experience abundance! THAT is luxury. THAT is being rich! Guys, I live in the South Pacific. I live next to turquoise water, under coconut trees, and the trade winds are here and making the weather beyond beautiful. I love this place so much and sometimes I get trapped so far into my head that I have a hard time stopping and really taking in the beauty around me. Very few people get to experience something like this (unless they’re on vacation) and many times I forget this, but WOW. Even though I make hardly any money, I have never felt richer, happier than I have the last few weeks.
Will this action that I am considering get me closer to the kind of life I want to live, or farther from it? I have a confession to make. Here it is: Every day in Class 5 we begin our time together the same way. We go through a series of fill-in-the-blank activities (Today is _________. Tomorrow will be ______________. One week from now will be ______________.) There is a calendar above the activity so that the students can reference it should they forget what day of the week it is. We’ve been working on this all year. And by all year I mean since February. And today I asked one of the students to get up to complete the activity. He did it correctly yesterday and the day before that, but today… nope. It was like everything he has learned just momentarily fell out of his head. I felt something tense up inside me. I was frustrated: How could he not get this? How did I fail him so badly? We’ve done this every day! EVERY DAY. Seriously?! I wanted to raise my voice, but instead I felt myself pause, take a deep breath, and calmly and lovingly ask the students if they could help the boy out. I smiled at him, (a real genuine smile) and then one of the students raised her hands and without calling him stupid (because that sometimes happens here... not by me and I’ve almost put an end to it), helped him out. And the moment was actually really sweet. They worked together to solve the puzzle and even high-fived each other at the end. I want to live a life where I spread kindness and love - one where I cultivate compassion. And recently, if given the choice (because there is always a choice) to get frustrated or to stay calm, I’ve been choosing calm and it’s making so much of a difference. Treat every living being; including yourself, with kindness, and the world will immediately be a better place.
If you really want to do something, you will find a way. If you don’t you will find an excuse. Since I was little I have struggled with my body image and weight. Overeating was a way to mask my feelings of inadequacy and because I’d always been the fat girl (or perceived myself that way), I just kept telling myself the same story: I can’t do anything about this – I’m never going to have a waist, double chins are going to be a part of my future forever and ever. I’d compare myself to my skinny and beautiful sister, my mother who can still do the splits, my brother who is a great runner or my dad who is naturally athletic and think, “I’m just never going to be like them”. But recently something has shifted – It’s okay if I’m not like my family members. I’m Mandy. I’ve started eating more mindfully, practicing more yoga, not comparing myself (because it’s kind of cool being me…most days) being more active and not obsessing about the number on the scale. I feel so much better (not to mention the number on the scale is going down – woot. woot.). The journey to loving yourself is a tough one, but it helps that I’ve stopped telling myself I can’t change.
It was interesting to understand that even an act of kindness could have a negative impact, and that sometimes we cause more damage by trying to help because we’re not looking at the big picture of what “helping” truly means. Approaching the year mark in Peace Corps makes me think a lot about what “aid” and “serving” really mean and whether or not what I’m doing is beneficial. When does help not really help at all? Sometimes aid is given and because those who receive it didn’t feel like they worked for it, it is wasted. I’m grateful that a good portion of my primary role in Peace Corps is to work on capacity building – helping the teachers of Tonga establish student-centered learning environments and encourage the creation of learning spaces that present abstract ideas and knowledge in engaging ways. School should be a place where new information connects to each child’s uniqueness so that everyone has the most dynamic school experience possible. What I’m finding is that I can’t just give these people school supplies or find them “free stuff” (new computers, a copy machine, etc.), but what’s more meaningful and longer lasting is empowering people to take control of their situations and to adopt best practices. New stuff is nice, but knowledge lasts longer.
If you recall the happiest moments in your life, they are all from when you were doing something to help somebody else. –Desmond Tutu When I look back at the happiest moments from my life (so far) they all involve other people. Sure it felt cool to win awards, to finish running a half marathon, to climb that mountain, but the juicy moments I will forever cherish involve helping others realize their awesomeness. My heart is so full when I think about watching a little girl who spent all year learning memorizing the ABCs finally get them right, helping a little boy at summer camp finally learn how to master the art of friendship bracelet making - Don’t laugh! It can be tricky!, or teaching 60 children how to do yoga (and then spend the whole next lunch hour practicing with each other!)! These are memories that I will have with me forever.
When you release your expectations that the world should fulfill you, your disappointments vanish. – Dan Millman Life is unpredictable and when we believe that we have it all figured out and know what is going to happen, and then it doesn’t happen that way, there is a lot of internal discord. Sometimes what happens is NO WHERE near close to what we were imagining for ourselves or our loved ones. What are we suppose to do then? Get angry? Frustrated? Nah. We just have to change our thinking. I’m letting go of my expectations for the way I think my life should be or the way things should happen. I’ve stopped expecting certain things to happen during my days in Peace Corps. Even the school schedule isn’t always consistent. I wake up every day determined to try my best to make it the best day possible never knowing whether I will have a full teaching schedule, whether I will have a high school visitor at 10:30pm at night asking for help with their homework, or whether the weather will change my plans. I just enter each day with an open mind and heart and hope for the best. Since adopting this attitude I have yet to be disappointed, but I have been continually grateful, surprised and excited.
I’ll leave you with this:
Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future, that he does not enjoy the present moment. As a result, he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never truly lived. – The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprises him the most