Gratitude

Gratitude

It may seem a little cliché this time of year but maybe the season will give that extra push to really give gratitude a try.  I know I’m never disappointed when I make a point to focus on gratitude.

I’ve found gratitude to be one of the most powerful tools out there. Finding the gratitude in every moment INSTANTLY changes my energy.   Of course, it’s easy to find gratitude when everyone’s happy, healthy and the sun is shining but what’s even more amazing is finding gratitude when things don’t seem so shiny.  I have found that no matter what is happening, I can stop and find things to be grateful for and when I do my energy is changed, that instant and going forward.

So let’s say everyone is screaming, I’m dead tired and I just want it to stop.  I can match that intense energy and drain myself more or I can sit back, SMILE, BREATH and find 3 things to be grateful for – the bed that is waiting, the painting on the wall, my girls – even if they are screaming!

When my energy changes things shift. I can meet the intense energy with calm and let it wash over me and it dissipates.  That calm energy is infectious.  You can see it spread out across a room, visibly calming those around me.

Sometimes, it takes a physical act like walking to pour a glass of water.  Drinking the water helps flush out any adrenaline and is a centering act on its own.  It’s a break from whatever is swirling around me and physically helps me move the difficult energy.

A lot of times it’s really just about finding joy in each moment and breathing.   I love Thich Nhat Hahn’s thoughts on smiling.  He believes that it changes the chemistry in the brain.  Studies have shown that smiling releases serotonin and dopamine. It’s just the act of using those muscles.  Try it.  Put on a big smile and FEEL it, really feel how it lifts you.  Amazing!

Using tools like gratitude, breathing, a glass of water and smiling are all things that I use to bring myself back to the moment to really live there and in that I find the joy.

I saw a quote recently: “When I am anxious it is because I am living in the future. When I am depressed it is because I am living in the past.”  The Author was unknown but it really struck a chord with me.  I completely agree and would just add that in the present is where I find JOY and PEACE.  They are always waiting for me to get out of my head and get back into the moment.

~Anna

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No Good or Bad and Everything is a Choice

No Good or Bad and Everything is a Choice

I have found it so helpful to not judge things that are happening around me as good or bad.  It helps me stay open and present in the moment.

The story of the Taoist farmer is a helpful reminder to not get caught up in labeling everything as good or bad.

There once was a Taoist farmer. One day the Taoist farmer’s only horse broke out of the corral and ran away. The farmer’s neighbors, all hearing of the horse running away, came to the Taoist farmer’s house to view the corral. As they stood there, the neighbors all said, “Oh what bad luck!” The Taoist farmer replied, “Maybe.”

About a week later, the horse returned, bringing with it a whole herd of wild horses, which the Taoist farmer and his son quickly corralled. The neighbors, hearing of the corralling of the horses, came to see for themselves. As they stood there looking at the corral filled with horses, the neighbors said, “Oh what good luck!” The Taoist farmer replied, “Maybe.”

A couple of weeks later, the Taoist farmer’s son’s leg was badly broken when he was thrown from a horse he was trying to break. A few days later the broken leg became infected and the son became delirious with fever. The neighbors, all hearing of the incident, came to see the son. As they stood there, the neighbors said, “Oh what bad luck!” The Taoist farmer replied, “Maybe.”

At that same time in China, there was a war going on between two rival warlords. The warlord of the Taoist farmer’s village was involved in this war. In need of more soldiers, he sent one of his captains to the village to conscript young men to fight in the war. When the captain came to take the Taoist farmer’s son he found a young man with a broken leg who was delirious with fever. Knowing there was no way the son could fight, the captain left him there. A few days later, the son’s fever broke. The neighbors, hearing of the son’s not being taken to fight in the war and of his return to good health, all came to see him. As they stood there, each one said, “Oh what good luck!” The Taoist farmer replied, “Maybe.”**

 

We just never know and so I try to face whatever is in front of me with the knowledge that I make it what it is and that I never know why a particular situation is happening and where it might lead me. But I can always choose to learn and grow and be.

And that leads to EVERYTHING is a choice.   How I deal with challenges. How I act in the world. What I do at every turn.  I always have a choice.  It’s so empowering.  I don’t believe in “have tos”. The understanding that I always have a choice relaxes me in the face of challenges.  I’m able to look at what’s in front of me with a peace, knowing that I can decide what feels best to me.

Let’s take a simple example like dirty dishes.  That can feel like a ‘have to’. If I approach them that way, I could feel resentful, mad, angry, bored, etc.   If, instead, I realize it’s a choice, possibilities open up.   I could throw them away, let them sit for a week, call a friend or a cleaning person, ask for help or I could realize that I enjoy having a clean sink and *choose* to do it.  Then I’m coming from a place of gratitude.  I can then find joy in the task, the warm water, the shiny dishes, the thought of our next meal, the view of the back yard.  It can become my Zen time. Any of those choices are valid, none is “better” than the other.  It’s just a choice and for me the guide is ‘how does that make me feel’.  Then it’s easy.  I enjoy finding the Zen time but I might, just as easily, enjoy sharing the task with a friend and then helping her with her kitchen or setting aside money for paid help.   Each decision can be look at honestly without the burden of “have to”.   So, letting that go makes it easy to find a myriad of options.

We recently had an interesting example of this when our daughters were offered parts as extras in the “Hunger Games” movie.  This was a BIG deal.  It was the talk of the town and everyone wanted to be in it.  As it turns out, the dates of filming conflicted with my older daughter’s play.  It was her first big production and she had an integral part. She was in every scene.   She had a choice to make.

At first she was upset, she felt her hands were tied.  She couldn’t do the movie.  But I told her that it was completely up to her.  She didn’t HAVE to do the play or the movie.  Life would go on either way.  That freedom allowed her to look at her choices and find the one that felt best to her.  So instead of being upset that she “couldn’t” do the movie.  She was happy that she made a choice to do the play because after her deliberation she knew that would bring her the most joy and satisfaction.

I have a choice when I’m relating to others, choices about who I want to be, how I want to relate to them, choices at every turn.  I keep that in mind always, so that I feel empowered, grateful for the choice and open to all of the possibilities.

~Anna

 

** This version of the centuries old Taoist story is from an article written by Kent Moreno.  He has written a beautiful article applying his interpretation of the Farmer’s story to children with disabilities. You can read his full article here: http://www.pediatricservices.com/prof/prof-47.htm

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Non-Judgment

Non-Judgment

One of the most transformational ideas I have embraced is the idea of withholding judgment.  I, of course, make judgments all the time related to what’s best for *me* but that’s where it stops, with me.  What was transformational was letting go of needing to judge everyone else’s decisions!   In my 20s, I was the great debater.  I could argue with skill and precision.  It was something most people avoided.   What I saw as I grew older was that being “right” was distancing me from others.  I knew I wanted connection and yet judgment was a huge road block to finding it.  I learned that connection was key to find solutions with another person, be it my child, husband, friend or stranger.  I learned that connection will keep lines of communication open.  If I stand in judgment of someone, they shut down or defend.  They might get angry or start to judge me and we disconnect.  My new mantra became, ‘Be kind, not right’.

I also learned that I don’t know what’s best for another, ever.  I don’t know best for my child, my husband, friend or neighbor.  I learned how we all process information so differently.  Two people can be faced with the same scenario and the information they take in and what they prioritize may be completely different.   Both will feel they’ve made the “best” decision and they have – the best decision for themselves!!

We can look at an issue like diet.  I’m passionate about nutrition.  I’m informed and at times opinionated.  I have researched and made decisions that I feel good about. But even with all that I know, have seen and experienced, I do not know what is right for someone else.  I have discovered that my body feels and works best on a diet that is about 75-80% raw.  What isn’t raw is organic and/or local whole foods.   My best friend is a meat eater.  She is just as passionate about food and her research skills are beyond comparison.  She has found her body feels and functions best with a diet that includes local, organic meat, including organ meat.

If I were to stand in judgment of her choices, it would only cause defensiveness.  She feels just as strongly as I do that she has found the best diet for her body.  If, instead, I can remain open and trust her path, we can learn from each other.   As a result, we have both learned and grown from our association and knowledge.  I know it’s improved my overall health and I believe she would say the same.

I’ve found this idea really important when walking into a sibling conflict.  When we walk in on, or are drawn into a conflict, our first reaction is often to judge what we see.  Who is right, who is wrong, etc.  What works for me is to instead *observe*.   When I am observing I’m not assigning value or judgment, merely reporting what I see.  This helps me maintain a role of facilitator, instead of judge and jury.  That role keeps me connected to both children and allows us to work together to find solutions that feel good to all of us.

I don’t want to spend time or energy judging your parenting, your diet choices, none of it.  I’d rather use that time and energy to connect with you, find out the amazing things about you and be open to things that maybe I didn’t even know were possible.  That’s what practicing non-judgment has done for me.   It has allowed me to open myself to really see people and all that they have to offer.

~Anna

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Assuming Positive Intent

Assuming Positive Intent  

Assuming positive intent is one of my first go-to tools after I’ve breathed through the “90 seconds”.  The decision to assume positive intent lays the foundation for making sure that everyone feels safe and heard.  It also gives us the best chance to find solutions.

The idea involves believing that everyone is doing the best they can right now. It’s understanding that they want to be a part of a solution and that they aren’t attempting to stop my needs from being met.  I realize that they are just trying to meet a need. It’s not about me but I can have a role in helping them and moving toward resolution of our conflict.

There are times when I’m faced with someone who is angry and lashing out.  Often the first, natural, response is to defend and protect but instead we can choose to really *see* that person, to meet them with acceptance. Then we can understand that they are trying to meet a need and not trying to hurt. That allows me to hear what they have to say.  If I’m busy defending, then I can’t hear.   This goes for other adults, spouses, kids, really any situation.

Recently, a neighbor sent me a threatening email.  I’m on our neighborhood HOA board and there had been a contentious change of direction in the recent past.  The threats centered on our chickens.  Our chickens are beloved pets who we have hand raised either from egg or as day old chicks.  The email immediately put me on the defensive.  My first reaction was, “You don’t know who you’re messing with!”   It took some deep breaths and time on my part but I was able to reign in that defensive and attacking energy and calm down.   I assumed positive intent.  I realized that while it *felt* and even sounded like it was about me, it wasn’t.

I thought about his situation.  He was a stay at home dad with 4 kids, one a brand new baby.  They had bought their house at the height of the market and since then we had seen our home prices drop significantly.  Perhaps he felt out of control.  Often when we feel out of control we try to control others.   I tried to find a place in my heart to accept him where he was.  I turned to a tool shared on the Consensual Living yahoo list.

The Buddhist idea of Metta Mediation was shared.  The poster talked about using this idea to meditate and invite the person with whom you are in conflict, into a room in your mind.  When they are there, embrace them with love, kindness and acceptance.  So, I did.  I visualized a room with this man and I welcomed him, gave him some imaginary cookies and just felt nothing but compassion and acceptance.   My energy about the situation *completely* changed!  I no longer felt anxiety or stress when I thought of him or the situation.   I knew he was doing the best he could in that moment and that whatever came of the situation, all was well.

I find with my children it is a lot easier to assume positive intent.  We have a shared history of unconditional love.  There are still times I have to remind myself to assume positive intent.  We are all doing the best we can.  We are all trying to meet our needs and live our best life.   When I start there, solutions start to flow and connections are made or strengthened.

~Anna

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“90 Second Rule”

Over the next couple of months, I want to share my favorite tools/ideas/concepts, the things that have helped me the most over the years.  These ideas have helped me be the parent, partner, friend and person that I want to be.

The “90 Second Rule” is a tool that helps me understand my reactions and empowers me to make choices that serve me, keeping me connected to those around me. It is a concept introduced to me by a friend after she read Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight”.  I found it fascinating at the time and have found reason to revisit it recently.

Below is a snip from an interview with the “Bleeping Herald” where she explains it in her own words:

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BH: I love the part in your book where you discuss that when a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body and then after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.

Dr. Jill: The 90 second rule and then it’s gone. It’s predictable circuitry, so by paying attention to what circuits you are triggering and what that feels like inside of your body, you can recognize when it has happened. We all know what it feels like when we suddenly move into fear. Something happens in the external world and all of a sudden we experience a physiological response by our body that our mind would define as fear. So in my brain some circuit is saying something isn’t safe and I need to go on full alert, those chemicals flush through my body to put my body on full alert, and for that to totally flush out of my body, it takes less than 90 seconds.

So, whether it’s my fear circuitry or my anger circuitry or even my joy circuitry – it’s really hard to hold a good belly laugh for more than 90 seconds naturally. The 90 second rule is totally empowering. That means for 90 seconds, I can watch this happen, I can feel this happen and I can watch it go away. After that, if I continue to feel that fear or feel that anger, I need to look at the thoughts I’m thinking that are re-stimulating that circuitry that is resulting in me having this physiology over and over again.

When you stay stuck in an emotional response, you’re choosing it by choosing to continue thinking the same thoughts that retrigger it. We have this incredible ability in our minds to replay but as soon as you replay, you’re not here, you’re not in the present moment. You’re still back in something else and if you continue to replay the exact same line and loop, then you have a predictable result. You can continue to make yourself mad all day and the more you obsess over whatever it is, the more you run that loop, then the more that loop gets energy of its own to manifest itself with minimal amounts of thought, so it will then start on automatic. And it keeps reminding you, “Oh yeah, I was mad, I have to rethink that thought.”

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This is so powerful to me.  It is something I have done, without even knowing it.  And I think it might help bridge the gap for people who think I’m crazy to say “it’s always a choice”.  I didn’t realize that I naturally wait and observe when I have a reaction and in talking to my friend realize that many others do not, their natural reaction is to react :)    But even for me, being aware of the 90 seconds has been so cool.  Today, my friend was telling me something about a local woman and it kind of irritated me and I could feel myself amping up to launch into a diatribe and then I remembered the 90 second rule and just sat quietly while that passed.  I could actually feel it (the irritation) melt away, afterwards I had no desire to get amped up about this woman, none at all.   Had I reacted during the 90 seconds I think I would have stayed in that place of anger/irriation for a while.

I’ve seen it work with my husband and my kids.  It’s a neurological explanation for the advice to  “take a deep breath and wait”.    I think it’s a great tool in helping to find solutions because if we can wait through our “reaction time” and then *choose* the path we want, we are that much closer to connecting with whoever we are dealing with.  I think it helps us not feel trapped or like we can’t control our rage because we can, we have the choice, we just need to honor our reactions for 90 seconds and then decide where we want to go next.

~Anna

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Creating a Climate for Consensual Living

Creating a Climate for Consensual Living
By Anna M. Brown

Consensual living is a process, a philosophy, a mindset by which we seek to live in harmony with our families and community. It involves finding mutually agreed upon solutions, where the needs of both parties are not only considered but addressed. Everyone’s wants and needs are equally valid, regardless of age. Conflicting wants or needs are discussed and mutually agreeable solutions are created or negotiated which meet the underlying needs of all parties.

There are several key factors that help create an environment where consensual living can thrive. First, there needs to be a climate of respect and trust. Trust in a child’s ability to know their body and know their mind. Respect for their feelings as true, valid and important. If a child feels safe and comfortable they can explore their feelings and are more interested in understanding the feelings of those around them. There is no room for punishments or rewards in this environment. Punishments and rewards are really just tools of manipulation and when you are working together as a team for shared solutions there is no need to manipulate.

It is critical to have the belief that there really are solutions. In fact, the reality is that there are often many solutions. It is just a matter of hitting on the one that works for everyone. That process can be broken down into a few steps but will become more fluid and simple the more it is practiced.

The first step is to identify the underlying needs. Often there is a stated need or desire. When in conflict, it helps to go deeper. It may just be that the two stated needs are in conflict on the surface. When you get to the underlying needs, typically there are several ways they can be met. When you have the underlying needs on the table then new alternative solutions are more apparent.

For children and adults both, understanding how biological needs play into problem solving is critical as well. The short cut for this is the much talked about HALT theory – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. When we are hungry or tired it is hard to see beyond our immediate needs, our head is not clear to be creative, this goes for kids too. When we are angry about something, that anger can become misdirected and interfere with communication. The same for loneliness, our behavior can really be a call for attention, which is often a need for engagement. So when we keep in mind that the underlying need may be biological it helps us find solutions more quickly. Sometimes stopping to address the biological need is all that is required to get us back on track.

At times, conflicts can be heated. There can be a lot of emotion behind requests. In those situations, it is often helpful to begin with some basic communication skills like validation and reflective listening. Both of these tools help us to explore the underlying needs. Validation is the simple process of acknowledging what someone is saying with no judgment, “you really wish that …”, with no “buts” attached. Often times after a few minutes of validation the person feels free to move forward to more in depth communication, but sometimes validation is all that is required to resolve a situation. Reflective listening is similar but it used more for clarification, “what I hear you saying is that you don’t want to be here now”. This allows the person to hear how what they are saying is being received. At that point, they can agree and feel validated/heard or can restate to make their point more clear.

Once everyone feels heard and validated you can move to “I” messages to state your own needs for a given situation. That gives the person you are talking to a chance to hear your feelings. Sometimes it is easy to fall into “you” mode. “you make me. . .” but if you can stay with the “I” statements the lines of communication remain open.

Another helpful tool is to assign positive intent. When we look at someone with whom we are in conflict, sometimes we feel they are deliberately trying to thwart us. If you can shift that paradigm and begin to apply positive intent it, again, leads to more open communication. This involves believing that everyone is doing the best they can right now, that they want to be a part of a solution and that they aren’t attempting to stop your needs from being met. Everyone wants harmony to return.

After everyone involved is feeling heard and understood, you can move on to the creative problem solving step. This can look different each time. Often it is a series of ideas being thrown out by each party. Each idea is accepted, rejected or modified to fit the underlying needs which have been communicated. This often requires “thinking outside the box” always keeping in mind the underlying needs. At times, we enter this step with preconceived notions about how it should turn out. When we can release this, we are able to access the full range of possible solutions. Children have an amazing gift for problem solving and tend not to fall into that trap. Let them lead the way when you are feeling stumped.

While, on paper, the process seems a bit laborious, once a commitment is made to live consensually, the fun begins. When your energy is used to work together as a team to meet everyone’s needs, you create an environment of mutual respect, consideration and joy. The skills gained by daily practice transfers to all kinds of situations where people come together and reach an impasse. Each time, it becomes easier and easier, the tools become habit and over time for 99% of situations solutions will be found quickly. For the 1% of occasions where it takes a while, the time will be spent in positive connection with the other person, not locked in a negative, adversarial exchange. As everyone becomes secure in the fact that their needs will indeed be met and honored, they are able to branch out and enjoy engaging in the process of helping others meet their needs. It becomes a fluid partnership, a beautiful dance of connection.

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Choices, “Have to” and the Stories We Tell

Choices, “Have to” and the Stories We Tell
by Anna M. Brown

Life is filled with choices, from the mundane to the epic. For the most part it’s an invisible process. We make decisions on the fly through out the day. Other decisions are made with much deliberation and forethought. The ability to choose is something that empowers us, the knowledge that, no matter what, we have a choice. If a situation is out of our control, we still have the choice of our reaction. This knowledge can permeate our lives and our interactions with others. When keeping in mind that we always have choices, we are able to be present with whatever is occurring around us.

Unfortunately, there are times when we can lose sight of that. When we start feeling that we don’t have a choice, often times a feeling of “have to” is involved. The phrase “I/you have to” has become so common place in our language that we are actually starting to believe it. We say we have to go to the store, have to brush our teeth, have to brush our hair, etc. Using the word for such innocuous statements has allowed it to worm its way into our subconscious. Suddenly, we start to believe that we “have to” do things, that we don’t have a choice, that we are in fact prisoner to a long list of “have to’s”. Then we begin to project that on to our children, believing that they have to do things like go to bed at a certain hour, learn to read by x age, do what we tell them to do, etc.

When we are able to look at a situation and see that choices exist, there is no feeling of being trapped. It is when we believe that there are no choices, when we buy into the “have to”, that we start to feel the need to impose them on others. Then we start to tell our children “it’s time you learn there are some things in life you just *have* to do”. A couple of things have happened at that moment, the first is the fact that we have effectively shut down all communication. Second we have resigned ourselves to our own current state of misery. Instead, we can look at that statement, and ones like it, as merely red flags, signs to step back and see where *we* are feeling pinched, where *we* are feeling controlled. At that point, we can identify our own underlying needs, and begin to address them. Then the need to impose on others to meet our needs becomes unnecessary. We can become advocates for our children’s, our spouse’s, and our own freedom. Changing this paradigm paves the way to living consensually. This can be one of the most empowering shifts in thinking.

Suddenly, past areas of struggle become open for new ideas. Many people will say, “children *have* to go to school to learn”. Actually, there are hundreds of thousands of homeschoolers that don’t believe that. “Kids have to go to bed at 8, kids have to eat at dinner time, kids have to obey”. In fact, kids can sleep when they are tired and eat when they are hungry and dissent when necessary, all things that are assumed for adults. Examining these cultural norms in light of a belief of freedom and choice opens new doors to communicate with those in our lives. It allows us to make decisions based on the here and now, instead of outdated memes and mores.

So the challenge is to look at conflicts and disagreements with new eyes. Look with eyes that see the possibilities, eyes that see the *choices*. Choices always exist. It’s just a matter of being open to them. So when your child says they aren’t ready for bed, instead of insisting, choose to engage and connect. Enjoy the extra moments that you will be able to spend together that night. When your child is unwilling to share her toy, instead of forcing, choose to listen and understand her point of view. Facilitate her need for playing with that toy, while helping the other child find something just as interesting. When your child skips dinner but is hungry before bed, instead of being frustrated, you can choose to share a quiet bowl of cereal and chat about the day. In each situation and the other unlimited examples out there, you always have the ability to choose joy and connection.

This leads to another area where our choices influence our perspective, an area where we often give away our power. We tell our own stories, we are the creators, the writers and the orators of our stories. We tell stories all the time, big stories like the story of our childhood, little stories about our trip to the grocery store. In both scenarios, we have the power to look at the positive, to tell a story that reflects joy instead of pain, growth instead of anger. Our childhood can be “full of stress, hating school, oppressive parents”; or that same childhood can be “trips to the lake each summer, popsicles with sisters, late night sleepovers and joyful Christmas mornings.” It’s the same childhood, just a different focus. Same with the grocery store, “the lines were huge, the deli was closed, some jerk was in front of me in line” OR “I got almost everything on my list, there was the sweetest little boy behind me in line, it stopped raining just as I was loading”. It doesn’t have to be the proverbial “putting on rose colored glasses” either. It can also be gratitude for the growth opportunities, even when they stretch us. In the midst of challenging situations, it is difficult to have perspective. It is often after the fact that we can see the journey and enjoy more clarity about its purpose in our life. The next step can be to openly greet each situation and to remain present with acceptance. We don’t have to wait for later. We can experience gratitude and joy all the time. Changing the focus empowers us. It benefits us by moving us out of a place of powerlessness and victimization to a place of awareness and joy. In that place, we can be more connected partners and parents. Accepting the journey for all that it is we can live fully present in today.

Our stories have a way of defining us, for ourselves and for others. For ourselves, they become a sort of “self talk”. If that talk is negative and full of worry and distress then we become that. If that talk is positive and full of joy and gratitude then we become that. For others, it colors the way they see us, they trust that our story is our truth. If that truth is steeped in frustration and anger then we attract the frustrated and angry. Misery loves company. If that truth is infused with joy and gratitude we attract the joyful and grateful. Where we put our energy is what grows. So again, it boils down to a choice. How do we want to spend our energy and what do we want to attract with it?

This process is especially important with kids. They look to us for information and emotional cues about the world around them. We can model a view that we are *exactly* where we need to be, that there is value in all of our experiences. We can model that there is value and purpose in our experiences and our feelings, even the tough ones. We can show them how we direct our energy and why. They can then make the choices for themselves.

Together we can navigate a world with a variety of situations and we can face those with the confidence that we always have choices, that we don’t *have* to do things we don’t want to do, and that our story is ours to tell. We can remain open to seeing all the options and hearing all the sides. We can keep doors open, instead of closing them. We can attract joy and happiness, instead of pain and anger. The choice is ours.

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