Matrix there is no spoon

We are People. Not Labels.

The first half of my life, I pursued truth and absolutes. As a perfectionist, I wanted to know what was absolutely perfect, then live every moment living up to that ideal. My second half of life is being spent releasing the notion that there is any absolute truth and perfection. I am learning that my daily pursuit should be focused on love, acceptance, and compassion.

I used to be a box checker. Every day I had a litany of to-do’s each with their own little check box. Like a bull in a china shop I bulldozed over people and propriety to complete tasks and check off boxes so I could feel that I was perfect, successful, and therefore worthy.

Slowly, I learned that I was the one creating the boxes. The boxes were not some supernatural absolute directive. They were created by me and therefore could be erased and ignored by me. I was the one who defined life and therefore I could also redefine how I wanted to live life.

It reminds me of the first Matrix movie where Neo visits the Oracle. In the waiting room is a child apparently bending a spoon with its mind.

Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Spoon boy: There is no spoon.

Neo: There is no spoon?

Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

There is no spoon. There are no boxes. There are no absolutes. Releasing the notion of absolutes has given me a freedom I never experienced before. It has taught me how to bend. It has allowed me to be more compassionate. When I labeled right and wrong, good and bad, I was filled with hate, disappointment, and fear. In releasing the notion that there is an absolute, and accepting that I can never absolutely know what is right and wrong, has freed me to see each situation in the moment and discern the truth and appropriate action in that moment.

None of us is perfect. We all have times in our lives when we did not act in a way of which we are proud. As I am sure you don’t want to be judged for that low point of your life, neither does anyone else. The world is changing at an incredible rate right now. Some of us are excited about the possibilities that it brings. Others are terrified that what they have always known is gone and are experiencing a massive extinction burst. No matter where we are on that continuum, we need to take things slow, process our feelings, and stay away from labeling.

Instead of making assumptions because of someone’s actions, seek to understand. Instead of labeling someone, remember who they also are. That person is not a Trump supporter, that is my brother. That is not a snowflake Liberal, that is my BFF. That is not a seditionist that attacked the capital, it is a friend from high school. That is not evil media, that is my brother-in-law. That is not a racist, it is my aunt. That is not big tech, it is my client.

This week, catch yourself putting labels on people. Look beyond the label and remember that each of us are just humans doing the best that we can.

the dawn

Darkness Before the Dawn

For good or bad, one of my driving forces is perfectionism. Because of this, I am very focused on solutions, searching always for a tool or a way of being that would lead to right choices and perfect ways of living. My focus had been on the ideal, the end goal of perfectionism. It wasn’t until recently that I began to see the importance of the dark before the dawn. Before we can strive for perfection, we need to be utterly imperfect.

One of my daily readings is from The Language of Letting Go. This week Melody Beattie shared the concept that “denial is the first step toward acceptance.” I am a big fan of acceptance, so much so that I devoted a whole chapter in my book to acceptance. What this quote pointed out to me is that before acceptance, we are first in denial. If we were not in denial, there would be no reason to learn about acceptance. It is the painful place of denial we start in that gives us the ability to strive for better.

Photo by Victor ZH on Unsplash

This reminded me of the Inside Out movie that came out many years ago now. One of the biggest lessons it taught was that before each of the happy moments of our lives, there is sadness. It is in the darkness that we begin to value the light. It is in our difficult moments that we learn there is a different way. It is in the hardships that we learn to value and be grateful for the good.

Over the past years, I have loosened my desire for perfectionism. Perfectionism is no longer my goal, mostly because it is not attainable, but also because it is not enjoyable. Life is not about perfection. Life is about continuous improvement. And to have improvement we first need to start with the difficult. We are not here to become some ideal physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. We are here simply to improve, to become just that little bit better than where we started. We are here to learn a lesson, to experience the journey.

When I am challenged these days, I do not fall into a pity party or launch into a mad rush for solutions. Instead, I step back and ask what I am to learn from this experience. What is this challenge here to teach me?  These questions help me rise above the challenge itself and see this as an opportunity to learn and grow. And I thank the challenge. For without the challenge, I could not grow.

2020 has given us many things to fear and worry about. It helps me to see them as the platform for our growth. Issues with America’s politics, race relations, and institutions have come to light. It is in this negativity that we are given the opportunity to make a change. It is through the awareness of what is off that we are given the incentive to transform.

Look around you. What are your current struggles? Instead of feeding them with fear and worry, ask them how they are here to help. Are you having challenges relating to family members with differing political views? Perhaps it is an opportunity to learn compassion and acceptance. Look at each of your challenges and your fears then explore how they can be a gift to you. What lesson are they presenting to you? Next, take action. Even the smallest step can begin to make a difference for you and others.

cancel written with typewriter

Feel Free to Unfriend Me

This week I shared one of my favorite quotes by Saint Francis of Assisi, “Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart.” This concept is essential to an issue for which I have been struggling.

Every day online and offline, friends and family members share messages like: “Before I get comments asking if I really believe this, the answer is yes. Please feel free to unfriend me.” “Bet no one will repost this.” and “Here is what I believe. F*CK your feelings.” There has always been the random person or celebrity who says something off-putting. It is easier to deal with aggressive, confrontational attitudes when it is not someone for which I care. What I am struggling with, is how to react when these words and attitude are coming from a family member or someone I have know for decades.

It hurts when it seems a good friend will choose their ideology over our relationship. My struggle with today’s aggressive attitude stems from feeling that I am less important than the person’s ideology. It appears that my loved one’s opinion is more important than our friendship. Just like in the Civil War, brother is turning again brother over a belief. Family members and friends are terminating relationships online and offline because of one post, because of one confrontation. I feel as if I need to accept someone’s beliefs and aggression, or I lose our friendship.

I also struggle when the person I love is believing alternative facts over what I perceive is truth. Everyone has a right to their own beliefs. I do honor and accept that. What hurts is when we can not have a conversation about our differences. It is no longer about personal belief; belief has become non-debatable facts. If I have learned anything this lifetime is that I don’t know anything. Throughout my life I have been shown again and I again how what I took as gospel truth is not true in all situations, or maybe not true at all. These lessons have given me a humility and a willingness to hear someone else’s opinion. It scares me what will happen to us as a society when we stop listening to each other and stop being open to new thoughts and new information.

So, what do we do?  If coaching has taught me anything it is that I can not change anyone’s opinion, belief, thoughts, or actions. They need to be open, willing, and ready to make the change. To navigate these emotionally difficult times, we need to focus on improving our own actions and reactions. We are the only ones we can affect. The solution, as always, is not to change others but to change ourselves.

Understanding

“I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.” This Abraham Lincoln quote was the inspiration for a post I wrote earlier this year about the importance of seeking to understand someone, not immediately disregarding those we disagree with. In seeking to understand, go deeper than the issue. Find out the why behind the issue. Why is this issue important? Why do they believe in this or that solution? Why do they need a resolution? What I usually find when I go deeper than the issue, is that most always the motivation is fear. For instance, this article by the Atlantic goes into why some white men support Trump. It is not about the issues of Trump’s policies. The deeper reason for this group is personal; it is a feeling of disenfranchisement and worthlessness. The sense of power and pride once held is disappearing and this group does not know how to feel good about themselves on a personal level without it. Some men are adapting to the new world, and some are struggling.

The world is constantly changing, and it is scary. No matter what your beliefs or your situation, there is always something that can create fear and a sense of instability. The same goes for those around you. Have the courage to seek to understand. Once you can move past the surface issue and seek to understand, you open the door to real dialog and healing.

Compassion

When we can glimpse the “why” behind the issue, we can find compassion. When I see someone struggling with their lack of ability or willingness to adapt, I see a person in pain.

In my own life, I have struggled to learn to put people above deadlines and tasks. My dogged drive to complete projects was often at odds with those around me. I knew of their frustration with me since my moniker at the time was, “bitch.” They thought I was being insensitive and aggressive – many of the labels I can put on others today. And I was. But I was also feeling pain, joylessness, fear, anger, and frustration. I would be angry at others who did not see the completion of a task as important as I did. I would feel frustration and failure when I couldn’t make things happen. During that time, none of my well-meaning friends and managers could make me see the futility of my focus on work. It has taken time, therapy, re-education, and willingness on my part to change. So, it is with those around us.

If you can, switch to understanding and compassion with the difficult people in your life. Understand that they are actually struggling. Look at times in your own life when you were on the attack, protecting the things that made you feel worthy. We all struggle at one time or another. Provide the same compassion to those around you that you hope they would show you.

Acceptance

Most of our pain comes from lack of acceptance of reality. As an idealist, I often feel frustrated by the dissonance between how people are acting and how I believe they can and should act. The person is not causing my pain and frustration. I am causing my own pain and frustration by not accepting what really is. Byron Katie has written a lovely book to help us accept what is.

When working with those who want to lose weight, the first thing we do is focus on accepting their current weight. Before anything can change, we need to first accept the truth of the current situation. Sometimes that situation is not pretty and perhaps very harmful. But it is the reality. We need to first accept the truth of the reality before we can make changes in our lives and the lives of others.

Acceptance also includes accepting people as they are. Accepting their good. Accepting their bad. None of us has lived a perfect life. We have all made bad choices and gone through bad times. As we would hope that others could accept us when we are acting poorly, we also need to accept that part of the human experience is being imperfect.

Patience

If you thought understanding, compassion, and acceptance are hard, you won’t like patience. Patience is a struggle for me and my fellow Type-A’s. But patience is not only needed, it is essential. In my younger years, I thought I could and should affect everything – immediately and decisively. These days I am seeing the power of patience. When I can pause, solutions come to the surface on their own. Others may step up to make improvements for society. Individuals are given the space to make changes to themselves. When we can give others the space and time to do their own work, no matter what that work looks like, we are really acting in the solution.

Remember, we have all experienced struggles in our lives which made us act in unbecoming ways. I know I have. And I know that with time, compassion, acceptance, and understanding, I have changed. My hope is treating others with this dignity will give them the space to change. If you are also struggling with those around you, I hope that this post helped you find at least a little peace and understanding.

mended heart

Our Role in Healing

Last Saturday, Joe Biden made a call to the country to unify and heal. He pledged “to be a president who seeks not to divide, but unify. . . We need to stop treating our opponents as enemies. They are not our enemies. . . This is the time to heal in America.” Hopefully, the Biden administration will lead the way to heal the country, but he can not do it alone. We all have a responsibility to heal our nation, our communities, and our families.

Stop Spreading Hate

The easiest route to take is always one of blame and attack. No matter where you stand, it can be easy to attack “the other.” Instead of pointing out the wrongs of others, be aware of how you are adding to the distrust and distress. Are you adding to misunderstanding and separation? Are you spreading misinformation? Are you sharing negative attacks on others? Or are you seeking to understand and accept?

Stop Labeling

No one is solely a Democrat or a Republican. We are women, men, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers. We are multi-faceted individuals. When we label and attack “the other,” we are being close-minded and closed-hearted. Seeing others one-dimensionally keeps us stuck in duality. When we can begin to look at people fully and completely, we can begin to have understanding and compassion.

Photo by Ante Gudelj on Unsplash

Reconnect

During this election and over the last few years, I have emotionally lost friends and family members to differing ideologies. Somehow our opinions on one subject became more important than the lifetime of experiences we had together. When did a political ideology become more important than family and friendships? We need to look at each other as friends, family, and people again, instead of boxing someone into this or that label. Stop using labels for groups of people and remember that the person you see is not a snowflake liberal – it is your loving Uncle Ted. That woman is not a crazy conspiracy theorist; it is the sibling you spent your entire life knowing. If we are going to move forward, we need to move out of rhetoric and into compassion for humanity on a person by person level.

Be Open

Much of the pain these last years is due to isolation and close-mindedness on all sides. I believe Biden calling us to “give each other a chance” applies to each of us. We need to take off the blinders of our viewpoint and be open to learn about others. Start by not just reading what agrees with your narrative. Look at multiple sources of information from liberal, conservative, and international viewpoints. Be open to what is written and draw your own conclusions. Don’t only listen to one source. Don’t negate immediately what does not agree with your view. Be open to new points of view. Knowledge is power and wisdom is how we use that knowledge.  

Choose

Each of us has the power in each and every moment to make life better – or worse. Biden beautifully said, “It is a decision, a choice we make and if we decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate.” Are you choosing to make things worse, to keep us stuck, or are you choosing to act in ways that bring us all together?

Walk the Talk

If we want to be accepted, we need to accept others. If we want to be understood, we need to seek to understand others. We can’t expect someone to accept us as we are, if we won’t accept them for who they are. If we want inclusion, we need to include. We need to walk the talk and lead by our example.

Be Compassionate

I don’t know anyone who wasn’t emotionally engaged in the past months, if not years. We all have an emotional hangover, no matter where we stand on the results. Change – whether it is our address, our spouse, our job, or our political leaders – is difficult. As humans we like consistency, and any change is challenging. When we can move past the fear and anger of change, we can begin to build together. Even if we want things to go smoothly and we try to act our best self, we may not always. As we hope others will have compassion for us in our struggles, we need to show compassion to them as well.

Remember No One is Perfect

Biden used a very interesting quote in his speech, “We must restore the soul of America. Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darker impulses.” None of us are all bad. None of us are all good. We are all a blend. We are all human. As we begin to rebuild together, seek to find the good in everyone. It is there if we take the time to look for it. “Spread the faith.”

We welcome everyone

United We Stand

Cubs versus White Sox. Thin crust versus deep-dish pizza. Growing up in Chicago the debates were fun and fairly innocuous. These days the debates have become much more polarizing and contentious. More issues are black-and-white with no room for gray. Our opinions have become facts. Our beliefs are the only truth. The lack of open-mindedness and acceptance have led to a division in the States we have not seen at this level since the Civil War; although it may have always been there under the surface.

To me, the underlying issue is selfishness and self-centeredness increasing to obscene proportions. It started out innocently as the pride of being a self-made person and a true individual. Over time the scales have tilted too far. Today self-focus is not self-care, but a ridged extreme self-importance created at the expense of others. Sometimes this self-centeredness is created out of fear and sometimes it is created out of pure narcissism. No matter how it started, we are now at a critical time where we need to come together or we will completely fall apart. Now is a time to accept each other and find empathy instead of anger and hate. It is time to seek to understand differing viewpoints instead of dismissing others when we disagree.

To shift the current negative momentum, try to make a human connection and instead of labeling, get to know the other. You can hate what they do but hating the individual does no good. Brené Brown teaches of shame versus guilt; basically guilt is feeling bad for something done versus shame is believing the person is inherently bad because of their actions. Division occurs when we label someone as bad instead of labeling their actions as bad.  Each one of us is a bit of good and a bit of evil – we are a little Larusso and a little Lawrence – when we support and accept each other it is easier for all of us to stand in our good.

Instead of hate and labeling, take the not always so easy path of compassion. Compassion is seeing and understanding another’s pain objectively allowing you to act or provide relief. When anger arises, choose compassion over hate. Two wrongs do not make a right. The way to reduce aggression in the world is with compassion, not more aggression. Don’t forget to be compassionate to yourself. In these unprecedented times, we are not always going to act and feel at our best. That is ok. Do what you can every day and cut yourself from slack.

We may not be able to control the larger issues and struggles in the world. What we can do is change how we approach others. We can make decisions through the eyes of love instead of hate. We can focus on joy instead of fear. We can be the peace we want to bring into the world. 2020 is hanging around for two more months and 2021 does not necessarily bode a change, unless we usher one in. Find tangible ways to make your life better by learning to accept those around you. Together we can not only survive but thrive.

A Need for Balance

One of my favorite finds this year is the book and series called, Good Omens. In it, the earth’s birthdate is uncovered, and it turns out the earth is a Libra. At the time, this made me laugh as I too am a Libra. However, with all that 2020 is challenging us with, I am discovering that both I and the world are being asked to find more balance, which is both a core challenge and passion of we Libras.

Photo by Evan Clark on Unsplash

Balance is not a fixed location but a constant readjustment. Think of someone riding a unicycle. They do not get the unicycle upright and then stay in that perfect state of equilibrium. To stay balanced the cyclist – and we – need to make constant adjustments in how we think, how we act, and how we interact.

Balance Your Time

Much has been said about balancing our time between work and home. Balancing time is also finding the present moment. Staying in the past brings regret. Focusing on the future brings fear. Being in the present moment is the point of balance between negative emotions of the past and future. It is also the space where we are empowered to act.

All or Nothing

Much of our pain these days in in taking sides and seeing issues, people, and situations as clear-cut dichotomies, which they never are. All-or-nothing thinking makes us lopsided and off-balance. Through my own life, I have found that nothing is absolutely black-or-white, right-or-wrong, true-or-false. Between all people, issues, and ideas there is always gray. When we can find that gray, we can find balance.

Action and Inaction

Where all-or-nothing exists in our mind, the concept of Yin-Yang expresses balance in action. Yang gets the limelight for me personally and much of society. Yang is aggression, action, accomplishments, and holding to beliefs. Taking action is not bad in itself. The trouble comes in when this is all we have and when we don’t make space for the Yin. Yin is about flexibility, adaptability, and flow. Yin is about strength through bending and humility. You can learn more about these concepts in this great video.

For me personally, I usually lead with the Yang. I am the bull in the china shop trying to fight for what is right and make things happen. Again, this is not bad, unless action is all I have. Sometimes the best solution is in the pause, in acceptance, in flexibility, in humility, in the Yin. The key to peace is not to choose Yin over Yang or Yang over Yin but to discern when to use each.

Equality

Equality is finding balance between people. Nothing, read that again, nothing makes one person more important than someone else. Not money, not beauty, not nationality, not gender. We are all equal. The only inequality that exists is based on our own judgments. I have experienced inequality growing up a woman in a man’s world. I have being perceived as “the other” being the only Caucasian in an African American History class. I have felt superiority bestowed upon me due to my education, position, financial status, and skin tone. Through all of these instances, I see that the differences, the inequalities were all in someone’s mind. To find balance between us and others, we need to release the false sense of separation. We need to seek to understand and accept the other, instead of spreading and continuing prejudice. We need to release our fear of loss as meeting others as equals (raising up others) does not minimize ourselves. Together we are both stronger.

Steadiness through Constantly Changing

Where are you feeling off-balance? Is time making demands you can not meet? Is your thinking skewed? Is the imbalance between trying to act when the best option is to wait? Is it in feeling that you are due more than you receive or a fear that others are taking from you? Take a few moments to close your eyes. Breathe gently in through your nose and out through your mouth. Find the balance and peace of this moment. Then examine where you feel off balance. What needs to shift to help you find serenity?  Throughout your day check-in and make minor adjustments to help you maintain stability in balance.