Today I read a memoir piece in my writing workshop that wasn’t about living with depression (surprise!). It was about – undoubtedly a likely contributor to my depression – my father and growing up in his scary, drunken shadow. It was yet another example of my life the shit show. Continue reading
The goal of therapy is to heal or resolve problematic issues, whether they’re physical or psychological. While I’ve certainly paid my fair share of professional therapists over my lifetime, lately, I’ve been having everyday therapy that comes free of charge, from my experiences. Continue reading
It’s true. I still don’t have it all figured out, folks. Turns out I am a life long learner, and these are the life lessons I learned in 2016.
As the year draws to a close, I find myself thinking about how to take my energy and motivation and desires and go boldly into 2017. Moving forward successfully will require looking back critically through self-reflection. Continue reading
If you haven’t learned a few things from Donald Trump, you haven’t been paying attention this election season. If nothing else, this man has been a stellar example of how not to relate to others and how not to behave.
Throughout his campaign, Trump has been reckless, over-reactive, and quick-tempered. In my opinion, he has exhibited an impressive lack of forethought, good judgment, and calmness – qualities most people admire and strive to have.
So, it’s the honest truth when I say that I have learned a lot from Donald Trump. Donald Trump has taught me 4 crucial lessons on how to be a better human.
- An immediate reaction is not always warranted. Sometimes the best response is no response at all. We all feel slighted or wronged from time to time. When this happens, it’s hard not to tap out a quick email and tell that jerk who offended you what an a**hole he is. But, in the end, what purpose does that hot tempered reaction serve? Sure, it might make you feel better in the moment, but does it actually change the situation for you? Does it bring you a sense of peace, a feeling of happiness, or resolution to a sticky situation? Unlikely.
- Pause and think before you say or do something. Sometimes a little time out from whatever is making you crazy is all you need in order to regroup. Rather than immediately reacting to something when you feel aggrieved (see point 1 above), create some time and space between the stimulus and your response. Pause. Breathe. Walk around the block. Write that email (but do not put anyone’s name in the “To” line for god’s sake!), then hit delete. The desire to react will subside. You won’t have reacted, and you’ll feel better for it.
- Listen deeply to others. People you know, respect, and trust can have good advice to give. Often, that advice is coming from a point of view that may be more objective than yours. So, listen to what other people have to say. Don’t be so committed to your own way of thinking, and your own ideas about how things ought to be, that you can’t consider the counsel of others. Also, don’t close yourself off because you’ve been offended by what someone has said. Consider where that person is coming from. They may be speaking from their own wounds.
- Put your big girl panties on and say you’re sorry. We all screw up. We all say and do things we wish we could take back. But, we can’t take these things back (hence the importance of points 1 and 2 above). We can’t undo the wrongheaded things we’ve done, but we can recognize the error of our ways and be adult about it. Yes, it’s hard to get past our ego (admitting we were wrong) and our embarrassment (because we did something stupid), and admit our mistakes, but that’s what you have to do when you screw up. Apologize and make things right.
You all know that I’m all about learning from whatever experience in which you find yourself – good or bad. So, instead of rolling my eyes when I witness atrocious behavior from others, I’m turning the tables and getting something out of it. I’m letting Trump teach me. And he’s teaching me a lot.
One thing I know for sure is that you can’t change other people just by telling them what to do. The Ten Commandments are the perfect example of this. If God Almighty can’t even get those who claim to love and serve him to abide by what he says is right, then what hope is there for us mere mortals to do the same with each other? Not much. So, while I believe you can (and should) write your own life story, stick to that story, please. Don’t try to ghostwrite someone else’s story, too.
In practical terms, this means fixing and changing ourselves and not putting our energy and attention on trying to fix and change someone else. Of course, we know that we’re right and the other person is wrong, but that’s beside the point. The point is you can only write your own life story. You can’t write someone else’s. At least not if you want to be successful.
When you write your own life story, the bestselling version, you behave toward others how you wish they would behave toward you. You give to others what you wish you could receive back. When you write your own life story, you live your own life, and you are responsible for your actions and words.
Ghostwriting someone else’s story means you tell them what to do and how to live. You offer (mostly unsolicited) advice about what is the right course of action. You (mostly ineffectually) cajole, nag, eye roll, and repeat yourself to get the other person to change his or her behavior.
I speak from years and years of experience, so trust me on this. You can’t dictate how other people behave. You cannot ghostwrite someone else’s story. It just doesn’t work. The plot fails. The book isn’t a bestseller. It’s a flop.
Of course, getting past this conditioned response (to change someone else because he’s wrong and I’m right!) requires enormous patience and compassion. It’s not easy turn the other cheek when you’d like to smack someone across the face (because they’re not doing what you tell them to do).
In situations like this, ask yourself these questions. Is it better to be right or is it better to be at peace? Do I want to create more tension (asserting that my way is the better way) or do I want to create harmony? That’s really the bottom line.
Sometimes you have to shut up and get over yourself. Your way isn’t the one, right way. It’s just one way. And writing your life story is YOUR practice. About you and for you. It’s about trying every day, every hour, every minute, to manifest the person you want to be, to make a small step toward the goals you want to realize, to be more attuned to your best self.
If you want peace in your relationships, write your own life story. Be the author and creator of your life and no one else’s.
When I was suffering in the darkest days of my depression, I was utterly hopeless. Despondent and helpless, I honestly felt that I was powerless to manifest any meaningful change in my life.
Hopelessness was my filter, the lens through which I interpreted everything that happened to me and about me. Life sucked. I sucked. And nothing was ever going to get better.
But as I move out of this darkness, I’m learning hope; it’s my new filter, the lens that is helping me become and see myself as emotionally competent.
Learning hope does not mean having blind optimism. I am not 100% confident that everything will work out the way I want. Nor do I think that I’m immune from sadness, heartache, or loss. Those emotions and experiences are simply part of living. They don’t just happen to me. They happen to everyone.
Learning hope means developing emotional flexibility, being able to bounce back from difficulty rather than allowing it to overwhelm me. It means knowing that although I’ll experience tough times, I won’t generalize about them. I won’t say things like, “This [shit] always happens to me,” when something goes awry.
Learning hope means embodying the adage that, ‘This too shall pass.’ I have to remember that the journey of life is a marathon, not a sprint. Circumstances change. Emotions change. People change. I have to be able to adjust my outlook and behavior. I have to course correct to make the long haul.
This is the essence of learning hope. It’s not an attitude. It’s a practice and a life skill.
Image courtesy of flickr user pol sifter
From the moment we are born, we are exposed. Thrust from our dark, warm, watery bubble into the bright, cold, air-filled world, our life begins with being vulnerable.
But we learn rather quickly that, in this world, being vulnerable is a sign of weakness. So, we cover up the parts of our bodies that seem less than perfect. We put up defenses to shield ourselves from feeling disappointment or heartache. We behave in ways that won’t draw attention to our vulnerabilities, our perceived weaknesses.
If there is one thing that writing this blog has taught me it’s that being vulnerable is not something to be ashamed of or hide from. Quite the opposite. Being vulnerable is being authentic, liberated, and human. It is something to aspire to.
Being Vulnerable is Being Authentic.
When being vulnerable, you honor your truth. You live your story. You don’t rewrite the story when talking to others, in order to project a certain image. You don’t edit out parts of your story to fit in. You admit your victories as well as your failures, your joys and your miseries. That is your life story. There is no shame in it.
Being Vulnerable is Being Liberated.
When being vulnerable, you liberate yourself from the constraints of others. What they think about you and how they might judge you becomes irrelevant. It’s not that you don’t care about the opinions of others. It’s that you consider your words and actions in light of your own values and not in light of how others might perceive you. You trust yourself, so you let yourself be exactly who you are.
Being Vulnerable is Being Human.
Being vulnerable means embracing your imperfections and your struggles, the very things that you may think of as limiting. In fact, they are not. They are opportunities for growth and self actualization. They are being human. As Brené Brown wrote, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.” That pretty much sums up the human experience.
Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable.
Being vulnerable is empowering. Try it out for a day, a week, or a lifetime. Honor your truth. Liberate yourself. Be human.
Instead of focusing on what’s wrong in your life, why not focus on what’s going right?
On my meditation table, I keep a variety of books. Randomly, I’ll pick up one during my meditation time and turn to a page and read. How fortuitous that I recently picked up a Thich Nhat Hahn book and read this quote of his.
“We often ask, “What’s wrong?” Doing so, we invite painful seeds of sorrow to come up and manifest. We feel suffering, anger, and depression, and produce more such seeds. We would be much happier if we tried to stay in touch with the healthy, joyful seeds in side of us and around us. We should learn to ask “What’s not wrong?” and be in touch with that.
After I read this, I found myself repeatedly thinking ‘Count your blessings’ and asking myself, ‘What’s going right in my life right now?’
Admittedly, I do have a daily practice of keeping a written gratitude list. Each morning, I jot down what’s good in my life. But, this concept of reframing a simple question and, in doing so, inviting happiness and joy rather than sorrow and suffering, really struck me.
It’s not that I think we should ignore the difficulties we experience, but, perhaps it’s more fruitful to focus on the good and not the bad, to put our attention on remembering what is working rather than what’s not working. This slight shift in your outlook can be a turning point. It can be the gentle redirection you need to center yourself on joy.
So ask yourself this question. Not once, not twice, but several times a day. What’s going right in my life?
What’s going right in my life right now? I have my physical and mental health. I have a job and financial security. I have supportive family and friends. I have 3 healthy, intelligent, and well-adjusted children.
When I think of those fundamental blessings (health, family, security), what’s going right in my life is mostly everything.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Peace is Every Step: The Path to Mindfulness in Everyday Life. New York: Bantam Books. 1991. Print.
Last week I wrote about how in the era of what seems to be a total loss of civil discourse and an alarming rise of xenophobia in the world, I will practice love. While this is a great idea in principle, the practicalities of actually doing it are a bit murky. I mean, how do I respond to things I don’t like? When faced with stuff that totally pisses me off, what am I supposed to do?
Part of me feels like I shouldn’t bother spending my limited emotional and intellectual resources on people and situations that don’t support my truth (awareness, compassion, connection, forgiveness, personal growth). But, at the same time, if I don’t speak up and act on my values, am I supporting my own truth?
I think we can all agree that you don’t have to love every person or every situation. War sucks. People who abuse women or children or animals suck. Hate-filled rhetoric sucks. These are things that I don’t like. In fact, I find these things abhorrent. But, if I am faced with that kind of shit, which I believe to be not just wrong but immoral, I have to do something. I can’t just pretend it’s not happening and look away. No, I have to respond to things I don’t like.
So, here’s my plan for how to practice love and respond to the things I don’t like.
I allow myself to feel what I’m feeling. You all know I am a big (and new) convert to the “don’t repress and don’t ignore” school of thought on how to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Just because I get my zen on now does not mean I feel only bliss. I still get angry. I still get indignant. The difference is that I allow myself to feel those emotions but try not to act on them in the moment I’m having the emotion. Like everything (the weather, being “in love,” Downton Abbey), feelings change. They wax then wane. So, I allow myself to feel what I’m feeling. “Okay, anger, here you are, a knot in my stomach, a pain in my head.” Repeat until feeling has lost its momentum, which will happen eventually.
I remember our common humanity. Am I perfect? Hell to the no. I’m so far from it that it’s not even funny. Have I ever lied? Have I ever stolen something? Have I ever said or done things that hurt someone? Uh, YES. I’ve done all that and surely some cardinal sins, too. (Truth be told, I enjoy being a sloth.) So when I see or hear or read about someone else screwing up, someone else who is also not perfect, I remember that person is a human being just like me. That person is speaking and acting out of his or her life experience and conditioning. (And if that person is a day over 30, I also think that person lacks awareness; but that doesn’t make him or her any less human. He or she probably still wants the same things in life as me – to be happy and loved.)
I accept the situation. I go through the first 4 stages of grief dealing with the shit (denial, anger, bargaining, depression) and then I get to acceptance. The key is to know what acceptance means. It doesn’t mean giving in, as in, “Okay, I will lie down and take this.” Hell, no! It means acknowledgment, as in “Okay, this is my reality, so now what do I do about it?” I accept that this shit is real – bad stuff is happening. And I know that I must manifest my values, because that’s how I choose to live. The response depends on the situation. It may be turning away from a person or situation. It may be speaking up. It may be doing something that I’m afraid to do. Whatever the response, it comes from honoring my truth, and it comes from a space of equanimity.
This is not easy. It takes effort and practice. But, if I want to be part of a better world, it’s going to take work. I’m ready, ready and able, to respond to things I don’t like.