Finding the Sweetness in Life Even When Times Are Tough

Ripe strawberry over wooden table background

A man walking across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, and the tiger chased after him. Coming to a cliff, he caught hold of a wild vine hanging from a tree and swung himself over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from the edge of the cliff. Terrified, dangling, the man looked down. Far below, another tiger had come and was waiting to eat him. Meanwhile, from the tree branch above him, two mice, one white and one black, little by little began to gnaw away at the vine. Suddenly, amidst all of this, the man noticed a luscious strawberry growing out of the edge of the chasm. Grasping the vine in one hand, he reached out and plucked the strawberry with the other and ate it. How sweet it tasted!

I remember hearing this story when I was young but I never really understood it. I never understood why anyone would eat a strawberry when he or she should be trying to escape the tigers! It wasn’t until years later that I finally got it.

I had just found out my mother had breast cancer, and I was walking to meet her for dinner. My mind was seized by the most frightening thoughts of losing my mother and what this illness would mean. Panic overcame me. All of a sudden, a beautiful breeze hit my face and an enveloping peace and joy ran through me. Was it okay for me to feel this joy when danger was looming over my family? And then I realized, aha! This is the strawberry. I got to dinner, and the peace and joy stayed with me. My mother and I held hands and we laughed and cried a bit. And throughout that evening the depth of my joy was profound. I was acutely aware that in that moment there was nothing else to do but be present with one another. Sure, there would be a time to act on her illness and decisions to be made, but at that moment it was time to eat the strawberry. How sweet it tasted!

I am sure you realize that the story stops after the man eats the strawberry because the message of this story is to be in the moment. But my Maybe Mind says, “Hey, we have no idea what happens to the man. He could fall to his death after he enjoys the strawberry, but Maybe he is saved by a friend, or Maybe the tiger leaves for other prey or the man figures out another way out of the situation.” Adding hope and possibility to the story makes it easier to enjoy the strawberry and at the same time be aware that new possibilities can arise. This is when we realize that the unexpected can be our friend. It always brings change and change offers us not just obstacles but also new ways to move forward.

So whatever you are facing today, whether it is financial troubles, illness, or another crisis, be sure to find the strawberries when you can. This is the true essence of being alive, no matter what the future brings. Staying in the present is like opening the window to life. Maybe when you are not even looking the winds will change, offering you a way out of whatever you are experiencing.

Reprinted from The Gift of Maybe by Allison Carmen by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, Copyright © 2014 by Allison Carmen.

 

Penguin Random House Publishes The Gift Of Maybe and is Now Available For Purchase!

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As many of you know, The Gift of Maybe has been published by Penguin Random House and is available for sale today!  Here is a review of my book from The Library Journal.

One addiction that’s gotten little play is that of an obsession with certainty. Life coach and business consultant Carmen has experienced firsthand the need continually to be assured that things would turn out as she had planned. Her struggle caused untold stress and thwarted many of her ideas and projects. When she discovered the concept of maybe—that situations could unfold in myriad ways—she wrote this book to help other sufferers. Carmen uses her own and others’ experiences to explain how one can embrace life’s uncertainties as opportunities, develop hope in unlimited possibilities, and enjoy the present as a true gift.
Verdict A little gem of a book with a positive and powerful message.—Deborah Bigelow, Leonia P.L., NJ

Tonight we are celebrating the launch at 6 p.m. at Barnes and Noble located in Tribeca in New York City.  If you are in the neighborhood, please join us!

It has been a long and wonderful journey and having Maybe by my side has made it all possible.  I want to thank everyone that subscribes to my blog for their support and interest in my work.

The book is available at all major book stores, as well as online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ITunes and other online book retailers.

Also, you can find more of my work on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Its just one change of perspective, but MAYBE changes everything!!!!

How Can We Keep Our Hearts Open When People Hurt or Disappoint Us?

woman holding hot cup of coffee, with heart shape
…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are. ― Pema Chödrön

When my daughter started school many years ago, it was very exciting to meet all the parents and make new relationships. I found most people to be very friendly and enjoyed my time at school functions and drop off and pick-up. There was one father that I used to try to speak with who was not very friendly. He never said hello unless I said it first and never spoke with me unless I started a conversation. However, the times that I approached him we had some nice conversations.

After two years, I remember one day I got so annoyed when I saw him and again he said nothing to me. I actually felt a little tightening in my heart that day and I decided that I would not speak to him ever again unless he spoke to me first. Of course I still said hello if our eyes met, but thereafter I never approached him to speak unless it was a necessity. I felt quite justified with my decision. For a few days following my decision, I saw him and I was so closed off I felt nothing. I had shut down and right then it felt better than being hurt and disappointed every time I saw him.

The next week I arrived at school and learned that this man had passed away. I was consumed with guilt because the last few times I saw him I had barely said hello. When I attended his memorial service, I found out he was a struggling musician who worked odd jobs to support his family. I also learned he was very uncomfortable at school because he felt he was an outsider. He had been having trouble making ends meet and had no health insurance so he was unable to get the medical tests he needed. His friends all loved him so much and told so many stories about this man who I learned had a very loving and kind heart.

One could argue that he was shut down to me and my actions were warranted, but the fact is my actions accomplished nothing, and certainly didn’t help me to grow. Should every interaction only be about me getting what I crave? I felt rejected and unwanted so I closed my heart. Yet if I had taken these feelings as a teaching sign that here was exactly where I needed to refocus on love and grace, I would have kept my heart open. Who knows what we could have shared together? All of this heartbreak was going on with this man and instead of leaning in and showing kindness when I felt hurt, I shut down because I was not getting what I felt I needed.

That day I made a commitment to myself that I would not run away from my discomfort or my hurt. Leaning into each situation that I perceive as difficult allows me to cultivate more understanding about myself and the world in which I and my children live. If I feel excluded, frustrated or angry, I try to sit with it and examine it. I allow my heart to feel and I breathe and try to understand the possibilities behind a person’s response or situation. I try to see it less about what I am receiving and more about giving out kindness and love. And I have noticed that this change, this leaning into the situations that I fear may hurt me, brings me more peace and wisdom than shutting down ever did. It also has deepened my relationships with other people.

So Maybe all of us can keep our hearts open a little longer today. Maybe we can stay accessible for even just a few more minutes than we normally would. Maybe there is something to learn or someway we can help another individual that is suffering.

Maybe staying open-hearted is how the world changes a little bit at a time.

Does How We Look Make Us More or Less Lovable?

Love yourself concept. Smiling woman, holding, hugging herself

I was at a party a few weeks ago and a forty-year-old woman was talking to me about how she was trying to get back to her twenty-year-old body with a new exercise plan.  As if it were the most obvious thing in the world, she stated, “I am just not happy with my body anymore.” The minute I heard her say this, I immediate felt compassion.  I’m in my forties myself, and I definitely understood this woman’s longing for her twenty-something figure, but I also understood the level of suffering she was inflicting on herself.  I learned a long time ago that there are thoughts that take us right to pain and misery and “I’m not happy with my body” is one of them.

The mystery of when some of us begin rejecting our physical appearance is a complicated one. It might begin in childhood, or with the onslaught of images of men or women from advertising campaigns or the experience of noticing ourselves or others getting more or less attention because of appearances. For a while, we can manage the ‘need to look good,’ but as we age the gap between these images of how we “should” look and how we actually do look can grow wider. The aging of our bodies brings to the surface one of our biggest internal struggles – that we must be a certain way to be loved.  If we choose to reject our bodies, it initiates an unending inner dialogue that we are never good enough, pretty enough, or just enough in general.  It creates a fear that we are not lovable ‘as is’, and means never having the courage to wear that new bathing suit or pair of shorts,” never accepting our aging bodies in fear we will be ridiculed simply for showing up as we are in that moment.

I realized a long time ago that if a thought was creating suffering in my life, I really needed to examine that thought.  The thought that our bodies must look a certain way as we age is one of those thoughts.  The only peaceful thought any of us can have is that we love our bodies “as is” in this moment. Does this mean that we won’t exercise or use facial creams? Of course not.  Does it mean that one day some of us won’t get face work? I have no idea.  But what I do know is that embracing our bodies in this moment allows us to walk through life in a state of acceptance. We can show up as us, not giving our power away to other people’s thoughts of how someone at a certain age should look.  If we refuse to reject our physical appearance, we can do our best to love our bodies, the vehicle that allows us to be here each day and function in this world.  We all have too much to do to sit around thinking that our bodies are not okay when in reality our bodies allow us to experience great joy in our lives.

Even though many of us are aware of how horrible rejecting our bodies makes us feel, the road map to love and acceptance is not always so easy. Here are some tools that my clients and I have utilized to help honor our bodies and paths in life. I hope it is helpful with your journey of self-love and acceptance of your body and you can find greater ease and joy in every day living.

  • At least once a day, express gratitude for the body that allows you to experience everything that you enjoy in life. If you find yourself getting down about your physical appearance because you are shopping for clothes, going to a party, and don’t like what you are wearing or even seeing an advertisement that makes you feel down about yourself, start the list of gratitude of what you body does for you everyday. Feel true appreciation for your legs that allow you to walk, your eyes that allow you to see and your arms that allow you to express yourself. Keep doing the exercise with different body parts until you feel lighter and gratitude fills your heart.   There is a good chance that wherever you are you will feel stronger internally and more secure about your physical presence.
  • During a quiet time in the day, examine some of the thoughts that make you feel bad, thoughts like, “I am fat”, “That other person is better looking than I am” or “Look how terrible I look with the wrinkles on my forehead.” How would you feel without that thought? Would you still be breathing without that thought? Can you still do all the things that are important to you without that thought? What will change if you let the thought go? Will most of your suffering be gone? Ask yourself these questions. Now try to examine what is really important in your life. Where do you want your focus to be? What makes you feel good? Without these negative thoughts about your appearance, you might feel light and joyous. The more you create awareness about these thoughts that come and go, the more they become less meaningful to you. What is really important will start to take center stage.
  • Try to take some long deep breaths when your mind starts having all of these negative thoughts about your physical appearance.   Our thoughts and emotions often control the way that we breathe and the way we breathe often affects how we think. Try to slow it all down with your breath and equally distribute your energy throughout your body.  Your mind will calm down a bit and you will be more likely to remember the 2 previous exercises especially gratitude for what your body does for you every day.

Isn’t suffering less and accepting ourselves the ultimate in self improvement? MAYBE we are perfect just the way we are.  Now that’s a thought that feels good no matter what our age!