An Abused Child’s Smile

A child dealing with regular physical abuse often has to deal with it alone.

I wasn’t completely alone. A few people did their best to cheer me up, and reassure me they loved me loved.

But at that age I wasn’t able to even talk about the shocking experiences, much less ask for help. I had no points of reference or way to begin a conversation about what had happened.

And I was afraid that if I did, more bad stuff would happen to me or somebody I cared about.

So I reflected on the confusion and pain when I could–while in bed.

During the day, and at night.

I vividly remember nap times in a great uncle’s enormous Victorian Gothic home. They were in a guest room overlooking a vast front yard, which I could see through windows filled with gentle Atlanta sunshine.

But as soon as the door and curtains were closed and I closed my eyes, all the room’s furniture tried to smother me.

Overstuffed chairs, a brocade sofa, and a large dusty oil painting started to slowly, silently inflate over me like demonic soft balloons.

Soon the light was blocked out, then the air. It felt like I’d dropped into a nest of boa constrictors and they were squeezing my lungs empty.

But by just blinking a few times, I could make everything return to its proper size and position. I couldn’t stop the vision but I could let it go.

Through the closed door, I could focus on my great-grandfather Jimpops talking, or the upstairs maid singing as she worked.

Afraid to close my eyes again, I’d lay quiet until nap time was over.

Nightmares were worse, because the darkness was like a projection screen for lurid visions of my stepfather’s angry red shouting face, or the sofa I’d bounced off of when he’d thrown me across the living room, or the fuse box he’d had to spend a few minutes at after my last scientific experiment had gone wrong, blown the lights, and gotten me a beating.

These images floated into my mind like the tornado scene in The Wizard of Oz, until one of them would hover like a deadly threat in the dark air above me.

There was nobody I could talk to about this regular nightmare.

Certainly not my stepfather; and my mother had never even acknowledged I was being beaten. My brother would be as much in the dark as me.

So I had to come up with a nightmare-busting solution on my own.

And I did.

Rather than trying to wish the fearful image out of my sight, I turned it into a kind of daydream, in which what had scared me was magically changed into a brilliant cloud of yellow butterflies.

And almost as soon as they appeared, the butterflies would scatter and fly off in all directions to reflect the unforgettable morning of a new spring day.

This became my regular night ritual. After a while, I was ready for the scary visions.

Creating such a beautiful event, and knowing it would bring new light and color to my imaginary scene, gave me a sense of control over my life and creativity.

I could turn ugly into lovely as easy as (snap) that!

And I’d keep my daydream going until my stepfather and mother arrived, but transformed into the kind of parents I knew they really wanted to be.

So by the end of the daydream, we’d become a happy family. I’d begin living a productive and fulfilling life, doing things I loved to do.

After all my disappointments and trauma, of course I realized that most dreams don’t come true.

But that didn’t really matter either. Not yet a teenager, I had a tactic to help me deal with adversity.

And ever since then, I’ve approached complicated and even threatening problems by seeing them as a cloud of butterflies, ready to dance away through the air and bring new light to whatever situation was confronting me.

No single butterfly was in charge of the cloud either. Each had its own dance to finish and flash of light to contribute.

Over the course of my long adventurous life, on some level I’ve accepted and celebrated every person and turning point as having the potential to add light and beauty to the world.

What A Day For A Daydream!

How a dream can make you more positive:

Your life has been filled with daydreams and “what-ifs,” right? Chances are, you don’t use them very effectively. Yet.

Actually, quantum physicists suggest that a daydream might actually be one scene from a parallel life that’s just as real as what we call “reality.”

Or as an ancient Chinese poet wrote, “Am I a man dreaming I’m a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I’m a man?”

And wouldn’t it be cool if we could control which parallel reality we inhabit? And if they could become “reality?”

Dreams Can Come True

Decades ago I first daydreamed of building strong communities, filled with happy people– “making myself useful,” as my great-grandmother Mimi liked to say.

And who’s to say such a positive parallel life is less important or valid than my “real” one, filled with disappointment and partial successes?

I also try to understand other people’s daydreams, so I can avoid joining negative people in their imaginary worlds. Otherwise, I might start agreeing with them that one failure always leads to another and that everyone around me is a potential threat or problem.

That wouldn’t be the parallel life I choose to live.

Your Parallel Resume

I’m always filled with hope and fulfillment by my daydreams, and the parallel lives they’ve helped me enjoy. At least five of them made the leap from daydream to “reality:”

  1. Hosting a weekly pot-luck supper for homeless Bowery residents, at which fellow Quakers and I would cook and share home-cooked dishes.
  2. Developing an innovative “service exchange” program in my Seattle neighborhood, which won an award from the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, then continued for seven years after I moved away.
  3. Organizing and leading weekly classes in a Japanese village for Vietnamese boat people who’d been stranded there while waiting to settle in America. I prepared them to teach Vietnamese culture to American hosts–with pride and optimism.
  4. Developing classes and interviews for a Boys & Girls Club’s after-school program, in which a dozen preteens interviewed local business and community leaders. The interviews were then compiled in a fund-raising book.
  5. Training volunteers for a Taiwanese service organization on how to introduce foreign visitors to a major recycling center in Taipei.

Here are two other daydreams I’m still trying to bring to fruition:

  1. Social Media International Leadership Education (SMILE), which can provide any child in a less developed country a chance to design and activate his or her unique “microeducation” program–based completely on their innate talents, interests, and preferences.
  2. Providing online support to women in less developed countries so they can establish tiny home-based businesses with significant value to other community members.

Use your daydreams in daily life and interactions

Daydreams have a way of popping up whenever we need to be happier, more productive and a better friend or relative.

Just a few minutes ago, in the middle of a conversation with two friends, I sensed the arrival of some unwelcome judgemental thoughts about them.

Rather than criticizing myself or getting distracted, I remembered a recent daydream in which these friends and I were enjoying a happy conversation.

This enabled me to back away from judgment, and accept them as the good friends they’d been during my positive daydream!

They were pleasantly surprised by my sudden improvement in mood, and our conversation was soon as enjoyable as the one in my fondly remembered daydream!

We can all weave daydreams into our daily lives, for fun and profit.

So the next time I see you smiling, I’ll know …

How to get more positive–for more positive results

We’re all filled with healing energy … which the world could definitely use more of.

Nothing will make you happier than helping people around you relax and enjoy themselves.

Even without saying a word, your pleasant expression and alert demeanor might charge the air with positive energy.

They will also help you build some things you wish you had more of:

  • Optimism and resourcefulness
  • Happier moods
  • New collaborative relationships
  • Popularity
  • Greater productivity

(After all, everybody prefers to be around upbeat people)

It isn’t always easy. But the worse you feel, the bigger improvement that attitude adjustment will make in your day.

Everyone responds differently to different  to different self-talk.  Here are a few tricks that have worked for me:

  • Any time you’re bored, or feel left out, or start wondering if you’ve got any new digital messages…
    • Take a deep cleansing breath, look around you and mentally some of your positive energy to the people and situations around you. And smile.
  • When you’ve reached a “dead end” and don’t know how to deal with a complex or very challenging situation or person…
    • Tell yourself that your current perspective is exactly opposite how things really are, and imagine what you could do if that were the case, then smile.
  •  When you feel you’ve done everything possible, and have reached the end of your rope…
    • Mentally accept the current situation as your starting point, exhaustion and all (take it from this avid swimmer, we’ve always got more strength or energy than we imagine); then smile.

At the very least, a decision to share positive energy or ideas rather than licking your mental wounds will make your day more positive and show in your demeanor. Everyone around you will be motivated to share their own positive energy with you, and get you in a productive state of mind.

Then you can shine into the universe a little more brightly than usual!

(And tell the stars I sent you!)

Being a “Happiness Coach”: my vow of poverty

Over the weekend I accompanied a friend to a funeral. The crying and lamenting began during the wake, only intensifying as the departed lady’s coffin was lowered into the ground.

As I told my friend later, I hope my own “bon voyage” will be much more like a party or the traditional post-funeral parades they have in New Orleans.

Even without music, there should be plenty of laughter and singing. I’d be disappointed if someone doesn’t mention my weirdness, before they plant my ashes around the seed of a tree and wish me luck on my newest and grandest adventure.

Here’s how weird I am: since before I could walk or talk, my priority has been helping people smile. When I was nine months old, everyone who entered the room got a happy wave until I saw the smile and greeting I was looking for.

So please don’t ruin my last chance to do that when you say farewell, by crying!

This personality quirk has made me pretty popular. Until my 50s it was easy to find work, possibly because employers found my bright and outgoing manner pleasant.

And being naturally friendly made it much easier to discover the world without studying a local culture or language (I’m recording personal adventure stories for my grandson on a YouTube channel called “Stay Happy Samuel” as we speak).

Achieving a certain kind of success has always been quick and easy. The only measure of success I care about is improving somebody’s day.

My career and regular income haven’t done as well, though. People seem to enjoy the better mood I put them into, but rarely try to help me be more successful.

Everyone else in my family has achieved the stability and material success I can only dream of. Meanwhile I’m the weird adventurer, living by his wits and grateful for every smile.

Couldn’t have done anything differently if I’d tried.

The Joy of Losing

Life is often about losing, and feeling unhappy when it happens.

We lose people we care about, and our home or possessions.

(I never hear from many people I’ve loved the most; and all the pictures, clothes, letters, books that once seemed to define me have disappeared)

We lose arguments or discussions. Our precious status at work or in the family too. Our expectations and dreams–big sources of disappointment!

(I try to persuade people to work with me, yet conversations eventually turn into word games or ego trips that go nowhere, accomplish nothing, or alienate acquaintances I thought would help me make it big)

We waste valuable time and money on optimistic plans that disappear without a trace, and find ourselves in dead ends with no apparent way out.

(Social media. ‘Nuff said)

But guess what? That’s good news. The more we lose, the closer we’re getting to the kind of joy all those things were supposed to bring us.

Life is a journey. Like any journey, it’s most fun with minimal baggage–emotional, physical or mental.

We’ve spent most of our time acquiring or getting attached to “baggage.” So we’ll gain the most happiness by dealing with its loss in a positive way.

(Being cheerful and generous in defeat, resourceful when things go screwy, and philosophical when everyone around us is losing it)

All that baggage can make us feel important and permanent. But the kind of happiness that hangs around forever … comes from traveling as light as possible.

Take it from a lifelong road bum: the less baggage you have to wrestle with, the more you can enjoy the beauty and fulfillment in the world we’re lucky enough to be part of.

And in the last moments of life, the realization that we’re about to lose everything will be front and center.

The more graceful and buoyant we are about our loss and pain, the happier we’ll be when it matters the most.

So practice being a graceful loser today. Celebrate what you’re really accomplishing … by losing.