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The Enchanted Outlook

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Fantasy

Today’s Inspiration: Monsters

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This one seemed appropriate for Halloween. We’ve all got to go off the edge of the map sometime. What we find there are the stories that shape who we are and what we will become.

Creatures and Happiness: Unicorns

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Week three of the Creatures and Happiness series! Much can be said about unicorns; of their purity, their beauty and their powers. Today, I would like to focus on one particular trait: their unbelievability.

The unicorn, perhaps more than any other magical creature, has come to symbolize that which is impossible to find, irrational, extremely rare, or does not exist at all. It has been equated with those who are irrational or gullible as well as eccentric, I.E. “I’m not weird; I’m a unicorn.” I even once had a philosophy professor use the unicorn to question the definition of existence: “If the idea of a unicorn exists, does that mean a unicorn exists?”

This desperate need to believe in the unbelievable with regards to unicorns has probably been laughed at since the first Viking tried to con some unsuspecting European into buying Narwhal tusks: “Oh SURE it is a magical unicorn horn with special powers (hehehe, suckers!).”

Often mention of “special unicorns” and the like is done mockingly by the most rational among us. However, is admiration of unicorns such a bad thing? Consider this: if the unicorn were commonplace, if we could catch them and breed them and discern their properties, would they still be unicorns? Maybe, but they would certainly lose a lot of their mystique.

The unicorn, in this way, represents the quintessential power of magic. We cannot ever hope to capture it, explain it, or quantify it. And we shouldn’t. This doesn’t mean that it denies facts or stands in opposition to them. Rather, magic’s job is to make us look beyond that which can be concretely explained; to imagine, to dream, to create, to wonder. To realize that there is always more to explore. This is what the unicorn, in all its white rainbow horned sparkly glory, reminds us. Those who admire unicorns know how important it is to believe in the extraordinary. For those who believe, the unicorn is, and always will be, just over the next horizon.

For an intuitive and absolutely hilarious take on the connection between unicorns and happiness, you can’t miss Shawn Achor’s talk on Amy the Unicorn. Check it out.

(Source: Encyclopedia of Fantasy: Unicorns)

 

 

Rules of a Read-In

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When I was in elementary school, several of my teachers hosted read-ins. We would bring our sleeping bags to school along with books and snacks and would veg-out all over the floor reading. I have always been a huge fan of read-ins and have had them on the brain now that the weather is cooling down. I wanted to go over a few ground rules in case you are wanting to have your own:

  • Pick a stack of books- at least three. Varying genres or topics are best so you can alternate if you get tired of one. If you have trouble switching between books, consider adding some magazines or coloring books to the mix.
  • Grab an assortment of snacks and a warm beverage. Tea and chocolate work nicely, also popcorn or ordering pizza, but watch you don’t stain your books!
  • Pick a comfortable spot. Pillows and blankets are a must. Consider making a blanket fort.
  • Disconnect. Soft music is a nice touch, but avoid other distractions, and particularly make sure to silence or turn off your cell phone and avoid the Internet. Postpone other obligations if possible.
  • Enjoy! Your read-in can be as short or as long as you like. You can have a read-in by yourself or in the company of others.

Read-ins also make the perfect snuggly date for your bookworm significant other, a nice parent-child day, or a fun friends day. Consider a read-out as well if the weather is nice, in a pool chair, hammock or tent. Or, go all-out and get a hotel room for a read-in staycation and order room service. Read-ins are one of my favorite ways to slow down and enjoy life’s simple pleasures.

What book(s) are you reading now? Share in the comments below.

Words of Wisdom

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“Some things have to be believed to be seen.” -Madeline L’Engle

Creatures and Happiness: Dementors

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The dementor is a creature of J.K. Rowling’s invention. Cloaked in a dark hood, the dementor feeds off happy thoughts and leaves victims with a sense of hopelessness. The dementor also has the ability to give a “kiss” that sucks the soul out of the body.

How did such creatures come to be imagined?  In an interview with Oprah, Rowling explained that she based dementors off of her own experience with depression. She said, “It’s not sadness; sadness is- I know sadness; sadness is not a bad thing, you know, to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling, that really hollowed out feeling; that’s what the dementors are.”

Interestingly, the more horrors in a person’s past, the greater the effect the dementors have. How, then, does one fight a dementor? By focusing on a positive, happy memory. This memory creates a light force, called a patronus, which chases off the dementor.

Now, it may be a vast oversimplification to say that depression can be fought with “happy thoughts” and it would be irresponsible of me to suggest that as the only solution; in fact, there are times when we need to acknowledge and validate our “negative” feelings. However, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a popular method of treating depression, does focus on correcting unhealthy thought patterns, such as the distorted negative thoughts that depression, like a dementor, can bring about. Harry Potter’s “patronus training” in book three of the series reminds me in a way of the structured nature of CBT therapy.

I think the important thing to note about fighting dementors is that the wizard has a toolbox of happy memories prepared in his arsenal ahead of time and has trained and prepared for the dementor’s appearance.  They are able to recognize why they are feeling hopeless and they know what helps to put themselves in a better frame of mind. In that way, they regain control over their feelings of hopelessness.

Whether you have full-blown Major Depressive Disorder, dysthymia, or just get into a funk from time to time, I do think it is a good idea to have a toolbox of coping mechanisms available to help during your worst days in addition to traditional treatments. Maybe you have a happy memory, or a Pinterest board of things that make you smile, or a favorite go-to chocolate, someone you call on the phone, or a “comfort” box of your favorite things. Be proactive: think of this ahead of time, because you certainly won’t feel like it in a dark moment. Let this toolbox be your own real-life patronus. It may make a difficult day just a little bit better.

Is there a creature you would like to see me cover in the Creatures and Happiness series? Let me know in the comments below.

source: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Creatures and Happiness: Dragons

img_1152In anticipation of the premier of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I am excited to reveal my new series, Creatures and Happiness, where I will examine the symbolism of magical creatures and what they can teach us about our own wellbeing. First up: Dragons!

I love dragons and could talk all day about the different things they symbolize. Today I will talk about one of their less-thought-of attributes: the attainment of wisdom. Dragons are often portrayed as particularly cunning. They love riddles and tricks. They are also, of course, very dangerous. To meet with a dragon is a great risk, but it is also an opportunity. Defeating a dragon takes a lot of courage and a lot of brainpower. In short, it is a chance to find one’s inner strength and see the full extent of what a person is made of.

The dragon, thus, can be seen as a trial. On the other side of that trial is a stronger, wiser person: the kind of person who has had the courage to face their greatest fears. To best a dragon is to grow as an individual into a stronger self, to shed one’s old skin, so to speak, and step into a new self.

Is there a dragon in your life that you have been avoiding because it is scary or involves taking a risk? Think of it this way: the stronger, wiser “you” is waiting on the other side of that dragon. And let’s face it: that person is pretty awesome. So, perhaps this is the week to strap on your sword and get to it. Your dragon awaits, as does the hero you will become by facing it.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Fantasy: Dragons

 

What is Enchantment?

A few weeks ago, I found myself trying to explain what I write about to someone and failing miserably. (There is a reason I’m a writer, not a speaker.) I realized that part of the confusion was coming from the word, enchantment. What exactly is enchantment? What does it mean to live an enchanted life?

While I’m sure there are a lot of different definitions, I would like to take a moment to explain what enchantment means to me and why it is such an important aspect of personal happiness. In fantasy literature, an enchantment is a spell or bit of magic cast on a person that alters their perspective. The physical reality around the person does not change but the way the person perceives the world around them changes.

You have probably heard it said that true happiness comes from within. When we experience a more enchanted outlook, we aren’t focused on trying to change the world around us or our place in the world. We focus, instead, on changing our own perceptions. It is only through changing our outlook that we can truly learn to be happy.

When we live a more enchanted life, we realize that we always have a choice. We can let our reality control our perceptions, in which case we are at the whim of the moods, the fads, the weather, the push-and-pull of everything around us, to dictate what we want and how we feel. OR, we can let our perceptions control our reality, in which case we are lead by our own inner light, our own contentment, our own spark of happiness. True enchantment is being in touch with our own inner light and letting that deeper truth be the filter through which we choose to participate in the world around us.

(Source: The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, Clute and Grant: Enchantment)

When Life is Not Enchanting

Generally speaking, writing about life’s enchanting moments is easy. Just about anything qualifies. Got a head cold? Sure, I can work that in. Going on a trip? Easy. Had a stressful work week? Piece of cake. Enchantment is all about perception. If we change the way we interpret situations, we can live a more enchanted life.

Some weeks, though, writing about enchantment is hard. This was one of those weeks. Sometimes life is not enchanting and no little tweak in how we view things will change that. Sometimes life is brutal and gory and traumatizing and anger-inducing.

I was just in Orlando a month and a half ago at the start of our honeymoon. I may have seen the staff person who was killed last week when I rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that a city that is normally all about finding life’s magic is suddenly about finding much darker things. Finding family members who are missing. Finding bodies or parts of bodies. Finding out the worst. Finding monsters. Finding a way to make it through the night. Finding courage to keep going. Finding out that yet another tragedy has struck.

But, more than finding things, we are ALL searching for things that we can’t find. We are searching for answers. We are searching for meaning, or understanding. We are searching for a consensus that can’t be reached. We are searching for truth in a web of memes and twitter statuses and rumors and opinions and misinformation and corruption and hatred. We are all playing riddles in the dark. We are all running in a giant Caucus-Race.

There are, really, two outcomes of this race. The first is that we will continue to get nowhere. In this case, we can throw our hands up, stop running and give in. The second is that we WILL get somewhere. This will involve scary words like compromise, understanding, empathy, and courage. It will involve us really, truly, looking at things from someone else’s perspective. YES, that means the person whose opinions you don’t like, even if their opinions are full of judgement or fear or misinformation. YES, when I say “us,” I mean YOU. It also will involve taking ACTION in any way that you can, even something small like signing a petition or making a small donation.

I like to think that we will get somewhere. Just look at all the other times we have gotten somewhere. My voice, a woman’s voice, wouldn’t be heard like this if we hadn’t gotten somewhere. I wouldn’t have been able to marry my husband if we hadn’t gotten somewhere. It’s the getting there that makes these horrific moments our generation’s personal journey of overcoming. And it’s a shame that we have to go through these moments, particularly for those whose lives were lost and for their family and friends. It would be so much easier if we could just start with love and compassion, wouldn’t it? Certainly it isn’t fair that we go through these pains again and again.

Still, every magical tale contains darkness and monsters of some form. Every magical tale has its own story of overcoming. Every magical tale ALSO has heroes and friendship and love and so many wonderful things that make the tale worth telling. This may not be a tale that we will ever, ever want to tell. But the heroes who are standing up for what is right, who are working hard to reach a consensus, who are responding to cries of distress, who are doing anything and everything they can, make the tale one that will need telling. We all have the choice as to whether or not to embody those heroic traits like love, courage, and compassion in these situations. That, I think, is how we find enchantment in the world’s dark moments: by being that lightness, by being that love and compassion.

Remember: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

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