Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Keep Choosing Joy

“Whatever you hold in your mind will tend to occur in your life. If you continue to believe as you have always believed, you will continue to act how you have always acted. If you continue to act as you have always acted, you will continue to get what you have always gotten. If you want different results in your life or your work, all you have to do is change your mind” – Anonymous

I read that quote for the first time in, I believe, January or February. It is the perfect introduction that sets you off on a journey of changing your mind set in the book 'Power Thoughts' by Joyce Meyer.  I had listened to messages and read book where they touched on the topic, and I also have had my own thoughts on the topic challenged and changed as I have grown and learned; the idea that we choose our thoughts, and those thoughts can change our life, is a pretty huge thing to wrap your head around.

In my journey so far, I have found I tend to focus on ‘Love’ as an overall theme for everything I do. While it perhaps doesn’t always come across that way (yay for learning and growing!), it is the way I strive to act and conduct myself. I am aware that sometimes tough love is required, and loving people doesn’t always mean giving them answers they want to hear, but love is an incredible thing and truly needs to be expressed as the sole motive behind every single thing we do or say.

While choosing love can sometimes be difficult, choosing joy can sometimes be harder. I am the classic case of ‘I’m tired and hungry which means I’m grumpy and I don’t want to be around people or do anything and I just want to nap and play with a kitten and eat sweets and watch something cheesy’. Anyone else share these same oh-so lovely character traits? Choosing joy means, in the midst of whatever is happening, you are choosing to be positive—looking on the bright side of things when every thing and perhaps every one around you is encouraging the more negative side to take centre stage.

Kittens and cupcakes-- instant joy.
Why do we do this? Why do we allow negativity at the forefront of our minds? I think it’s probably because it’s easy. It’s a lot easier to be down in the dumps when your paycheque isn’t as big as you want it to be, when you can’t afford the new clothes, new house, or vacation you want. When you can’t see friends as often as you would like, when there’s no one physically around when you want someone there, when your dreams aren’t becoming reality. A lesson which needs to be learned is being negative about these things isn’t going to make them any better. Being negative isn’t going to improve the situation—it’s going to do the opposite. You are going to focus so much on the negative that any situation or circumstance that is less than ideal in your life is going to go from the size of a rain drop to the size of a tidal wave.

I’m not devaluing the importance of feeling emotions, or saying when the worst things happen you have to pretend to be happy and like nothing bothers you. I’m actually kind of saying the opposite….

While bad things happen and situations may not be what you hoped, there are always so many reasons to choose joy. When I’m feeling down in the dumps (and don’t have any kittens or candy around) I start to make a mental list of things I am thankful for. Sometimes this list starts as simple as acknowledging the every day things I take for granted which sustain life as I know it:

‘I am thankful my body works in amazing ways I don’t even understand.
I am thankful I have hands that allow me to create things.
I am thankful I have legs and feet that work so I can bike and run.
I am thankful I have food in the fridge and a roof over my head.
I am thankful I have clothing to wear that I got to pick out because I liked it.
I am thankful I breathe.
I am thankful I have a bed.
I am thankful for safety and protection.’

As soon as I start focusing on the things I am thankful for, I automatically start to feel a jump in my heart that spreads through my veins and leaves a smile on my face. I can’t help but be blown away by the sheer magnitude of greatness of the daily things I take for granted. This gratefulness almost always turns into joy. If I am not feeling joyful yet, I continue my thankful list:

‘I am thankful for friends who I can reach out when I need them.
I am thankful for a husband who encourages me, challenges me and supports me.
I am thankful for Love.
I am thankful for God who loves me and has more thoughts toward me they outnumber the grains of sand!
I am thankful for my workplace.
I am thankful for passions.
I am thankful for joy.’

I am thankful for joy.
I become so in awe of the fact I can choose to be happy in the midst of life, I can do a few things:
  1. I can acknowledge how remaining negative and dwelling on things does nothing to improve the situation but actually makes it worse. Had I continued to be negative, the littlest things would have seemed catastrophic and I would have left no room for joy to begin to grow again.
  2. I can assess the situations with a clearer headspace. I am no longer feeding the negativity. I am focusing on joy and being positive. This achieves a lovely balance for productive problem solving.
  3. I can be positive. In the midst of what is happening around me, I know that being positive is good for my mental, physical and spiritual health. I will make better choices in all areas of life, I will surround myself with positive influences, I will continue on a path of positivity.

I used to be confused when people would talk about choosing joy. It seemed to me people were devaluing the things we, as human beings, feel and experience. It seemed so fake—like when we are having the worst day we are supposed to just smile and say cheesy things like “Everything happens for a reason!” (not true!) or “It’s in God’s hands!” (yes, God takes care of situations but we need to actively pursue the life His word tells us we should strive to live!).  This, to me, is crazy. If I feel bad, I feel bad. But the bottom line is I don’t want to feel that way so I’m going to change it—from the inside, not just the face I’m putting to the outside. Too many approaches, like those previously mentioned, also remove from us our ability and responsibility to change how we feel and think to ensure we live a happier life—they leave us thinking we need to learn to live in the midst of negativity. The truth is, we need to learn to leave negativity behind and focus on positivity.

Power Thoughts by Joyce Meyer was an awesome book that challenged you every single week with a new power thought. From things like ‘I love people and I enjoy helping them’ to ‘I am difficult to offend’, ‘I live in the present and enjoy each moment’, to ‘I put God first in my life’. There are 12 power thoughts and I plan to put them all on my wall to remind me that life doesn’t have to be spent wondering how in the world you can make things right, be happy, and overcome the negativity in your life. You can actively choose how you think to ensure you are continually choosing joy in the midst of what comes your way in life.

Images in body of blog courtesy of Pinterest

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Dreams Come True!: Thailand

“Dreams come true!”
Ask anyone I am surrounded by on a daily basis; I say the above statement quite frequently in regards to the silliest, simplest things.

Example: At work a co-worker will leave chicken for me to use on pizzas. She’ll say something like “Aelea, I left you chicken for pizzas!” and I’ll respond with “Dreams come true!”
Another Example: At work a co-worker will have taken out the compost already and my response will be “Dreams come true!”

I don’t know when I started saying it, I really don’t know why I say it so often, but a good part of me guesses it’s due to the whole ‘choosing positivity in every situation’ thing I try to do. Anytime something good happens I respond with “dreams come true!” It’s like giving an extra shot of enthusiasm to the little things that help make life awesome.

When I think back to the two experiences I’ve had in Thailand, I often think the perfect description to attach to the feelings and adventures is “dreams come true!”. Oh yes, that sounds cheesy, and it might be a little lame, but as I often mention, it’s the little things that make a difference—and it’s the smallest of dreams coming true half way around the world with special people that can make all the difference.

The first time I was in Thailand, on our final day at the Children’s home we had an epic goodbye party. Now, I know I shouldn’t compare the goodbye party from 2012 to the goodbye party in 2014 but we all know I do. The goodbye party in 2012, being my first, will always hold special significance in my heart. It was the day we said goodbye to these adorable little humans that changed our hearts forever in the way they so selflessly and unconditionally loved us foreigners. We came to help them, and they all helped us in more ways then we could possibly imagine and describe. It’s the special moments shared throughout the week which see their climax at the goodbye party. You play games, you laugh, you eat till you’re stuffed, you dodge bugs, you hug, people cry (I’m generally an exception), and you tell the kids you now cherish you hope to see them again one day.

The children’s home generally has quite the party planned—the meal is special, the games are special, everything about it is out of the ordinary for the daily lives of the kids. Two of the final activities involve saying goodbye in an organized manner so you have a chance to say goodbye to everyone, and one of the other activities are sending off lanterns into the sky!

Ahh the lantern scene in Tanged. Thanks Google image search.
I had always wanted to send off a giant lantern into the sky. Seeing it in movies like Tangled (what would we do without Disney to give us these romantic ideas of whimsy?) created in me a desire to live this magical experience. It was a dream of mine to release a lantern and this dream I held on to in my heart, never spoken out loud, became a reality on the night of the goodbye party. With the little girls I had gotten to know, we released a lantern into the sky before saying our final good byes. While this dream may seem small, it’s often the littlest things that carry the most meaning; the smallest moments creating the brightest memories. This unspoken dream of mine filled my heart with an indescribable feeling of joy, love and overwhelming enchantment—to this day I can close my eyes and I feel I am back in the moment. Releasing the lantern, looking up to the sky and feeling those same emotions grow in my chest.

This year at the goodbye party another unspoken dream came true on the very same night—the goodbye party. This may sound lame, and I’m OK with that, but I have this love for floral crowns. Yes, yes, I know, I know, what?!?! Am I seriously going to write about wearing flowers on my head? You know what, I am. Remember, the littlest experiences can hold the most significance—especially when shared with a little girl who has held a place in your heart since the first time you met her two years ago.

Thanks, Pinterest. We all knew you could never fail me in a search for
Floral crowns!
So, floral crowns. Have you seen them gracing magazine covers and bridal inspiration shoots over the past couple of years? They are an embodiment of regal grace, fairy-like magic, and the perfect rustic adornment. Floral crowns have a way of taking any model and turning her into a woodland creature you can’t help but be captivated by. Seriously, a floral crown does that and can do that to anyone. I admit, I wasn’t always sold on the idea, but as time went on I began to love it. It’s simple and beautiful.

A part of me has always wanted to wear a floral crown. And while I have always wanted to do so, there really aren’t many opportunities kicking around for your average lady to do so. However, since this had always been an unspoken dream, it was OK I hadn’t yet found an opportunity to do so. I would wait. Opportunities will always present themselves… and let’s be honest, it would be kind of weird to be actively looking for opportunities to wear one.

At the goodbye party I was hanging out with the special little girl I bonded with the most the first time I was in Thailand. Since we weren’t in the same ‘animal’ group, we didn’t spend too much time together during the trip. This, however, didn’t stop us from connecting whenever we had the chance. These connecting moments came in the form of showing me her artwork, tapping her on the shoulder and exchanging smiles and waves when we would cross paths, being partners in games when you could choose who you were with, and, of course, spending as much time together during the goodbye party that we could.

Photo booth style!
We did as much together as we could; she taught me a rock catching game, we watched the fashion show and performances together, took an array of photo booth style photographs… it reminded me of the first year I met her. It was so fun to see her personality grow and see her stronger characteristics come out in full force. She’s a leader, a mother-like figure, and always takes care of me as much as she can. She’s also athletic and silly and enjoys showing off too. She’s awesome. While hanging out during the evening she got her hands on some lovely flowers which had been strung together. One of the girls who lives at the home was wearing one of the same as a floral crown *swoon* with a gold dress for the fashion show. Oranut, in all her tomboy sportiness came over to me with the flowers and placed it on my head as a floral crown to wear for the remainder of the evening.

How did she know my little unspoken dream of wanting to wear a floral crown? She didn’t. All she knew was what she felt to do in the moment and acted upon it—a simple act of love that changed my world.

Back at the hotel after the goodbye party.
Floral crown still on my head.
We too often think dreams have to be these elaborate visions with grandiose plots and even bigger final achievements. Dreaming big is so very important to get you to where you want to be in life, but little dreams able to be fulfilled by the simplest acts are the ones that make day-to-day living worth experiencing. Perhaps you’ve dreamed of dying your hair some fun colour, or owning a pet, making an epic Jamie Oliver-esque meal, getting a tattoo, making it through a tough time in your life, or learning how to knit. No dream is too small, and no dream should be devalued. If your only dreams will take years to accomplish, what will make today special?

‘Dreams come true’ every single day, you just need the little dreams, the simple ones, to be part of your dreamscape. When dreams come true, no matter the size, the feeling can be indescribable except to yourself and the person who acted upon their instinct and can see you experience the joy the moment has brought.

A video of us floating away the paper lanterns at this years goodbye party!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Greenhouses & Elephants: Thailand

One of the best parts of Hero Holiday trips with Live Different is the ‘building project’. This project will vary depending what trip you happen to be attending. In Mexico and Dominican Republic you will build a house for a family, in Haiti you help build a school. The building project in tThailand is a little different. Our volunteers only travel once a year to the children's home which also receives sustainable funding from other organizations. This makes a ‘year after year’ project a little more difficult. So, this year, we built a greenhouse.

A greenhouse, you ask? Your first thought is probably ‘cool’. Then you really think about it and question why, in a place so hot year round, we would build a greenhouse. Well, this particular greenhouse is almost the opposite of what we are used to in Canada. Our Canadian greenhouses are designed to keep heat in, allow in sunlight, etc. The greenhouse we built in Thailand was thoughtfully composed to keep the sun out. Keeping the sun out means the plants have an opportunity to grow without being burnt by the hot rays of sunshine.

A few things make this particular project amazing:
Putting up the netting for the greenhouse!
  1. As volunteers, we were able to see the previous attempts the home took to grow vegetables in the space where the greenhouse was going to be built. It was obvious this was a need—a need that was only discovered after their basic needs were met. This home has dormitory spaces for the children, a library and meditation area, washroom facilities, common areas and a massive basketball/random sport court. Once the basic needs were met, the home was able to dream about ways to make themselves sustainable and also turn a profit from markets. Enter, the greenhouse.
  2. This project required everyone. Teamwork is always the best—especially when working on such a beneficial project. The older boys helped dig holes and mix cement, the younger kids jumped in on the bucket line to transfer said cement to said holes to hold the posts in place, the older girls helped stitch the netting/fabric for the top of the greenhouse—there was a job for everyone who wanted one! Even the really young kids helped plant some seeds so they could begin to sprout! It was only with this teamwork the goal was accomplished.
  3. On the last day the home throws an awesome Goodbye Party! As part of the farewell they extended an invitation for us to return next year and eat the vegetables they will be growing!
It’s amazing how a big vision, paired with driven teamwork, can create something so outstanding!

That same concept is true where we had the surreal opportunity to ride elephants! Anantara is a super fancy hotel that also has an elephant and Mahout rescue program. Commonly elephants are kept as street-begging elephants, are abused and are not kept properly to sustain their long lives. Anantara rescues not only the elephant, but the mahout as well. An elephants Mahout is their owner, the individual who has trained them and has done life with them. This person is valuable to the survival of the elephant. Since elephants live so long, the mahout is often with the elephant from the beginning! Rescuing both the Mahout and elephant means the elephant is safe and properly cared for and the mahout and their family receives a wage, shelter, and education! Anantara even rents the elephants from the Mahouts for the use at the hotel! It’s such an amazing model that does incredible things to both protect the elephants and the owners families.

Riding elephants is quite the experience! The elephant I rode is named Lana. She is 28 years old and was a hungry lady! Let me tell you, the last thing I wanted was a 'hangry' elephant so we let her eat! When learning to ride an elephant you are taught how to mount, commands to move the elephant forward, backwards, left, right and how to stop. You learn to dismount and then mount again another way.

Lana and I chilling in the water.... before I became
completely drenched!
After our Elephant 101 crash course it was our turn to mount the elephants! It was a little scary at first—I mean, these are elephants! They are massive animals— It is kind of intimidating. However, you get up, do a little test course having your elephant go around pylons, start and stop, and then we were on our way! We rode the elephants around the amazing property and even had a little water time with them which resulted in a lot of laughter, awesome pictures and some extremely soaked volunteers—myself included.

I took this opportunity to chat with the Mahout who owns Lana. He was a lovely gentleman of 35 years old who has owned Lana for over 15 years. He is from Thailand and, while a few other sentiments were exchanged about how he enjoys being at Anantara, he didn’t know enough English to understand the other questions I was asking. It was wonderful to know that our fun was contributing to the sustainability of such an amazing program.

The team of volunteers and their elephants!
It is through experiencing moments, like seeing a greenhouse take shape and riding elephants, we are tangibly shown the good that can come from expanding on potential which exists only once needs are met. To often, after a need is met, the deliverers leave expecting those who have received to easily grow without any further attention. Love, guidance, and encouragement are all needed to continue growth and to reach levels of potential which could have previously been unfathomable.