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Cultivating Happiness

Happiness

We all want to be happy. The right to pursue happiness is even written into our country’s bill of rights. But how does one do that? Is it even possible to become a happier person? And if so, what’s the best way to go about it? Researchers in the field of positive psychology have been studying these questions and the answers are encouraging. Turns out you can genuinely increase your happiness and overall satisfaction with life—and it doesn’t require a winning lottery ticket or some other drastic change of circumstances. What it takes is an inner change of perspective and attitude. And that’s truly good news, because it’s something that anyone can do.

(Excerpt from article in HelpGuide.org. Read More)

Teens Being Teased: Karen’s Story

By Joseph Langen

Karen didn’t think much about herself one way or another when she was younger. In middle school she decided she was okay and gave it no more thought. Now she wonders what’s wrong with her. The problem started when a few girls in her class teased her. Then some boys started teasing her too. She became convinced that something must be wrong with her.

She couldn’t figure out why they were teasing her. Her body had more curves now than it did before, but she didn’t have a wart on her nose or smell weird. When she walked with her friends at school, nobody bothered her. When she was alone, a group of girls would look at her as if a dog threw up on her. If they said anything to her it was how awful her blouse looked, how old fashioned her shoes were, or that her hair looked like a rat’s nest.

After this started to happen she spent a good amount of time before school looking at herself in the mirror to see if anything was out of place. As far as she could see, she wore the same clothes as everybody else. She still had the same hairstyle as before they started teasing her. What else could it be?

She didn’t want her parents to worry about her so she said nothing about it to them. She tried to pretend everything was okay. Her mother looked at her with her head cocked to one side. She always did this when she knew there was something Karen was hiding.

Karen was embarrassed to tell her friends about what the girls did, and now the boys. They would probably think she was crazy. Her friends still joked with her, shared their secrets and listened to hers. Maybe she was being too sensitive and just needed to wait until the whole thing blew over.

She decided to ride it out but more and more girls and also boys kept up their mean comments. She had never been mean to anyone and couldn’t make any sense of it. One day during recess, she found herself alone in the lav sitting on the toilet with her head in her hands and her eyes welling up with tears.

Thinking back over her misery that night while trying to get to sleep, she realized she had to do something. She wanted to handle it herself but that wasn’t working out very well. Her best friend Jen was a good listener and might have some ideas for her. At least it would feel good to get it off her chest.

The next day after English class, she asked Jen if she could come over to her house after school. Jen agreed. Up in her room with the door closed, Karen just sat for a few minutes without saying anything. Jen realized it was up to her to start the conversation. “OK Karen, I know something’s going on. You’ve been quieter than usual, and I haven’t seen your toothpaste smile lately. What gives?”

“It’s hard to talk about, and don’t laugh. A few weeks ago a few girls started teasing me for no reason I could think of. They kept it up and got their friends and a few of the boys to start teasing me as well.

“I knew something was going on. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was afraid you might think I was crazy or imagining it. I don’t know what to make of myself these days. Is there something wrong with me or something weird?”

“Don’t you think I would tell you if there was? Would I let you get picked on? I’m your best friend, remember?”

“I know you are but I didn’t know what to say. I can’t think of anything to do to make them stop. I don’t know what I can change about myself to make me seem more normal. Can you help?”

“I’d be glad to help. We just have to figure out what’s going on.”

“I’ve been trying. Could you start by telling me how I might look to them?”

“Without knowing you, here is what I would see. You are a very pretty girl. You don’t wear much makeup but you don’t need to. Your skin is very smooth and almost glows. When you wear you hair down, any boy would want to run his hands through it to see how silky it is. From what I can tell with your clothes on, you have average size breasts which seem to fit your body perfectly. The rest of your body is very well proportioned too. No flab that I can see, but also not too skinny.

“The clothes you are wearing right now show off your body to good advantage but don’t look cheap, attractive without looking like a floozy. Nothing you have on looks ridiculous. At first glance, I can’t see anything to tease you about if I wanted to.”

“So maybe it’s not about my body or clothes. Are you sure you’re not just saying that to make me feel better?”

“You asked me to be honest. I am. That’s what I see.”

“Thanks. Okay, what else do people see about me?”

“That’s easy. You seem like a bright girl, intelligent and funny and sure of yourself. You are on the honor roll, play basketball and soccer and lead the debate club. You’re always kind and polite to everyone. You aren’t snooty and never come across as thinking you are better than anyone else. You’re generous and helpful when anyone needs you.”

“You make me sound like a saint!”

“You practically are. I can’t think of anything you could change to make yourself any better.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Did you ever think that the problem isn’t you? “I just told you how I see you. Don’t you think some of the girls at school might be jealous of you?”

“What? I never thought of that.”

“I think it’s a good possibility.”

“What should I do about it- try to look ugly or start screwing up my life?”

“Then they would really have something to tease you about. Let’s talk with our friends  and see what we can do together to get you off the hot seat. We will all work on it together.”

“Thanks, Jen. Now I know why you are my best friend.”

*****

So that’s what it might be like for one teen. Finding someone to help you isn’t the end of the story. But it helps to know you don’t have to face your problem on your own.

Excerpt from my book Make the Best of Your Teen Years:105 Ways to Do It. For a free sample, follow this link and choose See Inside.

Souls in Flight

 

 

Alone in his room, alone in his mind

No one to share, no one to care

Guns at the ready, loaded and locked

Sights cleaned and polished, mounted and focused

Bags crumpled and empty, his hiding completed

Ammo in clips, stocks oiled and burnished

His mind was empty, his feelings aside

The shooter takes aim and squeezes the trigger.

 

Where was his soul, who knew his fate?

Who will miss him and then wonder why

Fate brought him this far and left him to die,

A soul which flies and dashes to pieces?

His life left in ashes adrift in the wind,

No honor left here, no story to tell.

 

Fifty­ nine souls freed from their hosts

All came for music to brighten their lives.

They hoped for a story to carry back home

Of songs which they liked and maybe they loved.

Their troubles forgotten at least for the time,

No fears for the future, no time for that now,

The music consumed them and lifted their souls

A flash in the sky and then there was silence.

 

Their souls were enchanted and ready to fly.

Not ready to leave, not really their choice,

Their time had arrived with no warning in sight

Their memory stays, their future cut short,

Their stories now passed to those they loved best

Before they expected, it came time to rest.

 

Five twenty ­eight, the number of those

Who were touched by a bullet but not left ice cold.

An instant of fear, but no time to wonder

If next they would live or cease to exist.

The music cut short, panic ensued

Everyone running, ducking for cover.

Would they be among those with stories to tell

Or would they be silenced and murdered as well.

 

Their souls remained, their lives left in tatters

So close to death but spared for a while

Not this time but maybe not too far ahead

A chance for another, a more thoughtful life.

The stories now theirs, they speak in the stead

Of those whom they left and whose lives they now led.

 

 

 

 

 

What Follows Trump and Trumpism?

Review­ of One Nation After Trump­ by E.J. Dionne, Norman  Ornstein, and Thomas Mann

 

I happened upon this book in The Bunch of Grapes, an independent bookstore in Martha’s Vineyard which I have never left without finding a writing treasure.  I picked up and put down the book several times. Did I really want to delve any further into the Trump quagmire? I finally let my sense of obligation to my country overcome the increasing trepidation I have felt since the last election day.

I feared it might just be another diatribe against Trump. I imagined everything the authors might say. Once I began the book, I discovered that they had a plan which made sense to me and offered hope for the future of our country.

They distinguished between the person of Donald Trump and his disregard for the traditions, values and customs of our country and the movement of Trumpism which has taken on a life of its own and created its own horrors.

Part one chronicles the descent of the disaffected into a world of resentment, cynicism and anger about the loss of standing, chiefly of white males who have declined from the relative prosperity they had achieved over many decades. This dissatisfaction has focused on non-­whites and immigrants as the reason for their decline. Their white plight has resulted in a combination of racism directed toward minorities who could further erode their economic well-being and protectionism from those who would come to their country and take what little they had left. In addition to explaining the nature of this movement, the authors also demonstrate how cultural, economic and political trends have fueled the rise of Trumpism over a period of decades.

The second part of the book outlines possibilities for moving forward as a society rather than disintegrating into irrelevance. They suggest ways that patriotism can be reborn, how a new civil society can be reborn and how conservative and progressive ways of thought can come together to restore our standing with ourselves and with other nations while bringing hope to disaffected white males as well as the groups against which they rail.

In my opinion, this book is a comprehensive, thoroughly researched manual for understanding the state to which we have descended and ways we can all work together to bring ourselves back to our roots and convictions.

How to understand and deal with terrorism

If we continue to create a world where there is poverty and disrespect,
there will continue to be terrorism.

~Jodie Evans~

Lately, it has become common to associate terrorism with religious groups, particularly radical extremists within Islam. Ben Norton quotes Max Abrahms’ observation that scholars have traditionally conceived of terrorism as, “a political communication strategy in which groups use violence to amplify their grievances and the costs to the target countries of ignoring them.” He notes that no one claims responsibility for the majority of terrorist attacks unless they have something to gain from it politically.

Abrahms notes that terrorist groups are not acting with a common motivation. He sees these groups as varying significantly. He also cites differences in motivation between the leaders of such groups and those actually carrying out the terrorist acts.

Daniel Pipes writes in an article in the New York Sun that at one time terrorists generally noted their goals such as the release of imprisoned members of their groups. In more recent times, demands are not usually made before acting and terrorist attacks take place without any announcement of what the terrorists are aiming to accomplish. He suggests possible motivations such as personal grievances of individual terrorists related to their anger about poverty, cultural alienation or prejudice, and attempts to get various governments to change their policies. Lately, a major goal has been the establishment of a caliphate, although it is unclear what that would actually mean if the goal was met.

It is easy to forget the role of our country in creating terrorist movements. In the case of ISIS, the United States and other Western powers–probably unintentionally–destabilized the government of Iraq through misguided intervention and left a power vacuum and lack of leadership as well as warring factions. This in turn created fertile ground for the roots of ISIS to take hold.

There is no easy solution to dealing with ISIS or other terrorist organizations. Their leaders are bent on destroying the influence of the “devil” United States in the Middle East. Reasoning with them does not appear to be a promising strategy.

Many of those at the bottom of terrorist ranks who actually carry out the terrorist attacks are alienated individuals who see life as holding no future for them, at least on Earth. These people tend to escape our notice, much as do youths with potential violence in their future in our own country.

Tori DeAngelis suggests characteristics of potential recruits to terrorist organizations stated by John Horgan, director of the Pennsylvania State University Center for the Study of Terrorism:

  • Feeling angry, alienated or disenfranchised
  • Believing that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change
  • Identifying with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting
  • Feeling the need to take action rather than just talking about the problem
  • Believing that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral
  • Having friends or family sympathetic to the cause
  • Believing that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity

As a world society, it is our challenge to identify these people, understand their frustrations, and help them see more constructive alternatives. This is a big order one more humane than trying to destroy everyone with such leanings.

Joanne Bourke in her book, Deep Violence, says, “Evidence suggests that killing leaders of terrorist organizations pushes those groups into becoming more aggressive, in part by fueling fury about the power of Western nations such as the US.” This piece of wisdom should humble us and remind us that we are not all powerful.

DeAngelis suggests that there are several promising avenues of approach to changing the “hearts and minds of terrorist detainees.” These include:

  • Engaging moderate Muslim clerics to work with them focusing on the “true teachings of the Qur’an” about jihad and violenceShowing authentic concern about their families through real life programs to improve their family functioning
  • Engaging reformed former terrorists in efforts to help others understand that “violence against civilians compromises the image of Islam”

Before such efforts can lead to success, those working with captured terrorists must first manage their own perceptions and emotions about the people with whom they work, looking beyond their initial reactions. Next, let’s take a look at violence in our culture not related to terrorism.

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

How to balance life, religion and spirituality

Sunrise over Lemon Bay

Sunrise over Lemon Bay

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. 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.

How do I get my body to be at peace?

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.
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?

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?

teen girl

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.)