Romeo and Juliet

Real Love

I try to stay away from sensationalized headlines, but recently I clicked on a talk called “Why you will marry the wrong person.” Thankfully the talk turned out to be more substance that I expected. It was in fact a very poignant look at relationships.

Feelings

By chance, a recent Netflix binge was a show called, “Virgin River.” This Hallmark-inspired soap opera focused almost wholly on feelings. In fact, the characters talk about hardly anything expect their emotions and how they feel. Every decision they make, all of their focus is on their emotions, and their desire for others to understand, fix, or change how they feel. Throughout the show the characters move from love to hate to jealously and are steered blindly by their feelings. It became funny because the characters’ answer to every problem was “I love you.” Yet never did they really supply a reason why they love the other person. It was like saying “I love you” explained every fault and fixed every issue.

In contrast, Alain de Botton recommends in his YouTube speech that we do not follow are feelings. He says that our feelings and instincts can not be trusted because they are based in what is familiar. What is familiar is how our first love, our parents, made us feel. Did our parents get divorced when we were young? Then being around people who will probably leave is familiar and comfortable. Trusting our feelings gets us in trouble, because it draws us to repeat the same issues again and again.  

Romeo and Juliet
Michigan Shakespeare Festival

Love

The Virgin River cast is all about the act of being loved. They focus on the receiving of flowers, attention, and special gifts. They expect their admirers to intuit and respond to their innermost wants and needs, without having to express those needs at all. It is the old belief that if you really loved me, you would know and do exactly what I need.

To love someone is very different than receiving love. To love someone, we accept them warts and all. Everyone is a mix of good and bad. To truly love someone, it is not only an admiration of their good qualities, but compassionate acceptance of their whole self.

Vulnerability

To rule our feelings and truly receive and give real love, we need to be vulnerable. Consciously or unconsciously many of us play games in our relationships, mostly because we are terrified to be truly vulnerable. Instead, we play games to try to get what we need. Instead of saying I need you, we micromanage others trying to make them act how we wish. Out of fear of rejection, we may become distant so we can not be hurt; therefore creating the rift in the relationship out of fear that there may be a rift in the relationship. Instead of saying what we need, we try to manipulate others to give us what we need. This usually backfires.

To be in an authentic relationship, we need to share our truth openly and honestly holding space for our partner to do the same. This may mean accepting things about others we may not fully like. It may mean accepting feedback from our partner as constructive criticism and not attack.

Who are you in relationships? Are you the Virgin River character or Disney princess who believes the fact of love will make everything right? Or are you a vulnerable realist who sees people for who they are and uses compassion and boundaries to create honest, loving relationships?

Midlife Rebirth

I stumbled upon another brilliant talk from Brené Brown. Not sure what the full interview was about, but what was shared here is about the growth that comes midlife when we realize that most everything we have been working toward doesn’t make us happy. Whether you are in a midlife crisis, or in your 20’s and choosing your path, she has some sage advice. Here are some things that resonated with me.

Know Your Theme

Like any good fictional character, I believe we all have a theme, a challenge that we work through in this lifetime. Our key challenge usually centers around similar issues which we are here to learn and grow from. What is your whole life defined by? My lifepath is an exploration of self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-love, and self-empowerment. Whether in my personal relationships, my career, or even my health, every obstacle in my path usually relates to one of these themes. Knowing that we have a theme can help us get out of the weeds, see things from a broader perspective, approach worldly challenges differently, and see our life in an expansive way.

Let Go to Grow

We learn a lot of tactics in our youth to survive when we have little choice in matters. That is all well and good. What becomes a problem is taking these survival tactics, our armor, into our adulthood. Oftentimes what protects us in youth, no longer serves us in adulthood. When we see this intellectually, it may still be difficult to release these old tools and tactics, but when we can, we open the door to growth and becoming who we are truly meant to be.

Define Your Joy

As I started my midlife rebirth decades ago, this was the first lesson I embraced. When we can stop looking at our peers, our families, and our communities for what is prescribed as the best life, we can begin to explore what really makes us happy. Taking the time to discover, define, and accept what makes you you can help you make better choices as to where you spend your time and energy.

Enjoy the Ordinary

In our youth, we look for accomplishment and acclaim for our worth. As life provides us with trials and challenges, we begin to be grateful for the ordinary moments. It is hard to imagine someone going through the past year and not now being grateful to move about freely or to hug their loved ones. Unfortunately, it often takes tragedy and hardship to help us realize what really matters.

Share Your Gifts

Once you stop playing society’s game and embrace yourself and your purpose, have the courage to share it with the world. There is only one you. You may have something the world is to receive. Maybe it is just something for your community or family, but there is a light, a gift you are here to share. Stop holding yourself back. Embrace you. Embrace your purpose. Gift it to the world.

What is your experience of midlife rebirth? Share with us.

curb your ego

I get in the way of my happiness

How I get in the way of my happiness may not be what you think. You may be thinking I refuse to accept things that would make me happy or don’t allow myself to ask for what I need. Both of which I have done in the past, and still do more than I would like to admit. No, the other way I keep myself from joy is focusing on my ego, my needs, my perspective, without allowing myself to see and be in the bigger picture. When I focus on my ego – my little insignificant self, my perspectives, my assumptions, my expectations, my intellect, my public image, ad nauseum – instead of being more secure and happy, I am less.

Years ago, I wrote a post about how taking on a different persona when playing Wii made it easier to take risks and not to take failures so personally. Since then, I have been receiving lesson after lesson about how surrendering myself, my ego, brings more happiness. My new favorite book, The Art of Living, explores this topic. Here are my thoughts on finding joy by releasing one’s ego through living in the moment with humility and equality.

curb your ego
Photo by Orkun Azap on Unsplash

Live in the Moment

We humans tend to live in the present through the filter of our past. Using our past experiences and perceptions, we create a story about what is happening currently. We are not in the present moment. We are in our minds playing out a story about the present moment. The story we create is not the truth about this specific situation. Just because a red car cut us off in the past, does not mean every red car is going to cut us off.

We feel more secure when things are known and predictable. We don’t do well in the unknown and therefore we create certainty by assuming that things will be like they were before. It is a story we create in our minds to understand and make things concrete. We would rather believe a lie than to sit in uncertain unknowing. We want to believe this manufactured truth, because we think we will find peace in the certainty. We don’t.

When we try to define a situation or predict the future based on the past, we miss the reality of this very moment. The past can inform and instruct us, but when we assume that things will be exactly like they were before, we are creating expectations which usually fall short. Instead, if we can be in each moment, experiencing everything fresh and new, we can see the reality of the situation without bias from our previous experience.

Live with Humility

Humility is usually thought of as making one’s self lower than, less than. Humility is actually defined as “freedom from pride or arrogance.” It is arrogant to believe that our firm, ridged views are 100% correct and infallible. We think that being certain in what we know will give as safety and security. I have found the opposite to be true. When I can release my strong beliefs and approach the world with wonder and openness, I feel calm and at peace. Certainty is a rigidity which takes away our power and strength.

If I swear that the sky is green, if my parents believed the sky is green, if their parents believed, I would fight and dispel anyone with contrary beliefs. I need everyone and every fact to align with my thinking to feel safe. Instead, if I thought the sky was green, but had an open mind I could then analyze any new opinions and thoughts, discerning if they were valid. My self-worth would not be victimized and traumatized by new information. I would not need agreement from others to feel ok.

Many philosophies talk about the “I don’t know” mind. Even if you are well-versed in a subject, instead of assuming you know what is right or what is going to be said/done, be open to the reality of the moment. You may have predicted it correctly. You may not have. But holding on to arrogance that you know exactly how things will be, or how they should be, causes stress. Give yourself a reality check. How much of what you knew five years ago is still the hard-core truth of today? Things change and shift. Nothing is set in stone. Be open to receive and discern new information.

Live with Equality

The ego also takes us out of happiness by telling us we are better than, or less than, others. My husband and I listened to a great podcast the other night that showed how a sense of entitlement seems to be invading our society. Humble your ego. Level the playing field. You are not above – or below – anyone else. Stop judging others by self-created differences. Stop putting others down to raise yourself up. Everyone is equal. Nothing raises us above another – not age, race, gender, education, finances, celebrity. We are all one.

To release your ego and find true peace, live in the moment without the taint of previous experience, act with humility and an “I don’t know” mind, and accept everyone, including yourself as equal.

It's time for a change

Making a Change for the Better

The realization last week that I need to accept my neighbor’s inconsiderate actions was pivotal. But just what do I do with that? As Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” Knowing that I need to accept his poor actions as truth, to release the anger that is hurting me, and to embrace strong boundaries are just mental exercises. These are knowledge but not change. To go from knowing to applying, we need willingness and action.

If you're reading this it's time for change.
Photo by hay s on Unsplash

Willingness

We can know that eating a more vegetable-filled diet is good for us, but the willingness to forgo a juicy burger for a handful of carrots may not be there. Knowing what is good for us is not enough. We have to be willing to act differently. Oxford Languages defines willingness as “the quality or state of being prepared to do something; readiness.” Synonyms are readiness, disposition, inclination, wish, desire, eagerness, and enthusiasm. That is a powerful list. How many times do you know something is good for you, but you lack the readiness, disposition, or inclination to act? When do you go into a new project begrudgingly instead of with eagerness and enthusiasm? Before we can act and make real changes, we need to have the willingness to act.

If there are changes you want to make in your life but you are not moving forward, explore your willingness first. What do you fear will happen if you make a change? Will you lose something? Will you feel unsafe? Will others mock or leave you? Are you just uncomfortable in the newness of it? Are you more comfortable with the devil you know? After looking at your fear, look at the rewards. What do you gain through the change? How would your life’s experience improve? Is the reward worth the effort and risk?

Take your time exploring your lack of motivation and willingness. Don’t gloss over it. If you don’t spend the time getting buy-in from yourself, you will never move forward or stick with your new way of being.

Action

Now it is time to take it to the streets. Making a mental change of attitude and commitment means nothing without action. What steps can you take to move forward into the new? Stay away from all-or-nothing thinking. There is no need to make major drastic changes all at once. What is the smallest most comfortable step you can take in the right direction? What is that one thing you can do that is contrary action to what you were doing before? These little tangible steps lead up to the major change you are looking for.

In my case, I realized that my obsession with the inconsideration happening next door was taking away my joy. A major change could have been for me to move. That was not necessary. What I started with was noticing I was allowing myself to be disturbed by his actions, even when he was not around. I became ready and willing to release my obsessive thinking about the injustice when it was not happening and then I took action. The first easy action I took was counting. On the first day, I counted how many times my mind replayed the story of injustice. This did two things. First, it stopped me from feeding or fighting the story; all I had was objective awareness. Doing this took me out of the emotion of the story. Secondly, it gave me something tangible to work on. Sadly, that first day I disturbed myself over thirty times with my story of injustice. The second day that number was just over ten. By the third day it was less than five. My circumstances have not changed, I still have an annoying neighbor living next door, but my experience has improved immensely because I have changed my actions and behaviors.

What do you want to change in your life? Do you have the deep-down inclination and true desire to make the change? What is a small tangible step you can take today?

angry sign

Acceptance Sucks

My life seems to be one of constant learning. Recently themes of connection, service and compassion have been prevalent. And Acceptance. Lots of acceptance. I am not very accepting of my lesson in acceptance. In fact, I am resisting and very much not accepting my lesson in acceptance. Unfortunately, it is this same resistance that is causing me more pain.

Acceptance comes in different forms. One can struggle in accepting themselves and their human body. Perhaps it is accepting bad situations like an impending natural disaster or disease. Sometimes it is acceptance of others who are, think, and believe differently than me; I have worked hard at not imposing my expectations on others which makes it easier to accept them. The acceptance I am struggling with now is not when my expectations are off, but when people can not act with common courtesy.

I am, of course, talking about my chain-smoking neighbor who I have been writing about ad nauseum. He is my current teacher, and I can’t wait to get this lesson, really get it, so I can be free of him. The acceptance he is teaching me is accepting others, even when their behavior is harming me. Phew. That is a hard one. In the past, my expectations of others were based on my selfish wants and needs, and I could see how I needed to release those expectations to find peace and acceptance. In my current situation, it is hard for me to release the expectation that my neighbor not carelessly poison me with his smoke.

Can you relate? Many of us are losing our shit because we feel the actions of others are infringing on our health, wellbeing, or freedom. I saw a video the other day of a man on an airplane insanely freaking out because he did not want to wear a mask. Others are upset that those around them will not mask and get the vaccine. It seems we all have a definition of freedom and safety that contradicts the wants and needs of others. In many ways it is more than just our expectations; it feels like others are purposefully attacking and harming us and not allowing us the freedom to live the life we want.

The question remains, what do we do with people who appear to be causing us harm?

We accept them.

Damn, I didn’t want that answer, did you? I want to fight them, publicly shame them, be as harmful back to them as they are being to me. But where does that get me? It just makes me more angry and resentful – and then I would have to deal with the repercussions of my “Karen” behavior as well. Instead of going ballistic and acting in a hateful, self-righteous, and self-focused way I would regret, here are a few things I am trying.

Stop Fighting Reality

A hurricane just passed through our town recently. The hurricane did not form with the intention of hurting me. It did not have the choice to just be a light breeze but instead decided to have 100 MPH winds just to be a jerk. The same thing with my chain-smoking neighbor. He is living his life the way he chooses. He is not doing it intentionally to me. I can’t want and expect him to be any way that he is. A dog is going to be a dog. Expecting him to be a cat only causes me pain. We can not blame or attack another for their behavior. We can not change another’s actions or behavior. We can’t. Instead of being upset that people are not acting in a way we deem as appropriate, we need to surrender to the truth that they are acting in the only way they know how to right now. Until I stop fighting, I can’t be open to finding solutions to get me closer to what I want to experience.

Focus on What I Want

I have spent way too much time obsessing over the pain and inconvenience my neighbor is causing me. I find myself upset about his smoke in my house, even when there is not smoke in my house. Instead of feeding my anger and victimhood, I am beginning to focus on what I want. Serenity. Peace. Fresh air. When I have those things, I am grateful. When I don’t, I see what I can do in the moment to make changes that will get me closer to what I want.

Stop Trying to Win

If I went to court, I could have a good case as to how my neighbor was infringing on my right to clean air, good health, and full use of my home. But winning that battle does not give me clean air and good health. It would only create animosity and more conflict. There are no winners and losers. There is no good or bad. If our world is ever going to heal, we need to release the concept of duality. We are not separate. It is not us versus them. We are not separate from each other but connected parts of a whole. Until we stop fighting the non-existent separation from each other, we will not come together and find peace.

Pray

It doesn’t matter what or who I am praying to, but I need to remind myself that this problem is bigger than me. I am powerless to change the views and actions of my neighbor. By praying I turn the problem over to whatever is larger than me in universe which can possibly affect what is happening. This is an act of detachment with love for myself and for my sanity. The other piece of prayer is compassion. “Bless them, heal me” is a great prayer of compassion for others, and ourselves.

It is not hard to look around these days and find others who are in acting in ways that feel like they are infringing on the life, liberty, and freedom of others. Fighting them directly only feeds the fire. We need to try new ways to heal differences in opinion and lifestyles. I hope that finding acceptance can be the foundation to help make a positive change for us all.

forgiven

Learning Unconditional Compassion

I have written a few times about my neighbor and the inconvenience of the smoke that comes from his house. Over the years I had made a few attempts to let them know there was a problem. My first attempt was to my neighbor’s girlfriend who had absolutely no interest or desire in improving anyone else’s experience. My second attempt was through the home association board because the smokers were now a string of people cycling through the house. This helped for a few months, but then the problem sprouted up again.

After three years of having to close my windows multiple times during the day to minimize the amount of stinky weed in my house, I lost it. I lost it big time. The owner of the home was now staying at the premises, and I let loose years of pent-up anger, frustration, and fear on him. I did it without attacking him or his guests, but it was definitely expressed with an excessive amount of feeling. We have come to an agreement that they will let me know before they smoke so I can at least close my windows before the smoke gets in. The entire incident was very emotionally charged for me and after reviewing the situation I realized a few things.

Over-Accommodating

In hindsight, I should have been letting the homeowner know how difficult it has been over the years, but I believed I had to take the high road. I should be the bigger person. I should be accepting. What I forgot was that I can take the high road – and still have boundaries. I can be the bigger person – and take care of myself. I can be accepting of not only others, but of my needs. In trying to be a good person to others, I completely forgot to be a good person to myself.

Release

Stuffing down the emotions of my unmet needs for years manifested in depression, anger, and physical illness in my body. My repressed anger created constant anxiety and an inability to express my thoughts and needs clearly. Once I realized how much negative energy I had stored in my body, I needed to find release. Unfortunately, I do not have an energy worker where I live. However, I stumbled upon energy release through death metal. My husband put on an album by Master; ironically a band started by my childhood neighbor. This was not the normal music I listen to, but for some reason, it was a wonderful tool to help me release my bad vibrations.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Once I could be free from the cloudy thinking of my emotions, I could start to take inventory of my actions and options. Having smoke in my home is unhealthy and my thinking that he was doing it on purpose or disrespectfully made it worse. In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz tells us not to take anything personally. It was self-focused to think this was happening to me, specifically. The smokers were smoking. They were living their life wholly separate from me. When I could release the thought that it was intentional, it relieved some of the pain.

Focus

I spent a lot of time focusing on my neighbor. Judging him for his actions. Ruminating on things I could say to him. Rehashing the same ideas on how to solve the problem. I wasted a lot of energy and peace focusing on someone and something beyond my control. When I switched focus to my inner mental health, instead of uncontrollable outer circumstances, I found peace. It was amazing how I found serenity simply by changing my own mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Nothing really changed externally, and yet I found much more peace.

Expectations

As I always say, a dog is going to be a dog. When we expect a dog to be a cat, we are just causing ourselves pain. I was expecting people to act differently then they are capable. I just created my own pain and frustration by expecting something which was not possible. Every day my neighbor showed his true colors, yet I expected that he would act in a different way. My pain is on me if I am expecting someone to act other than they have shown inclination to do.

Compassion

By releasing pent-up emotions, switching focus to what I could control (my thinking and actions), speaking and standing up for my needs, and adjusting my expectations, I was also able to find compassion for my neighbor. I stopped seeing him as an intentionally bad person and was able to begin to see him wholly. No one is all bad. We are all just doing the best with what we can do right now. By releasing that judgment, I also received more peace.

I learned unconditional compassion for my neighbor, and myself, through this emotionally charged incident. In the world today, it is easy to have rage and take offense at the beliefs and actions of others. How can you find release and compassion?