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?

Hurricane Ida and Nora

Wasted Worry

I know this may seem insensitive to those who went through Hurricane Ida in the United States or Hurricane Nora on the mainland of Mexico, but I was upset we didn’t get a hurricane. Let me explain.

Early last week, Windy.com showed a possible wind formation for this past weekend. Last Thursday NOAA made it official that there would be a tropical storm or hurricane. For three days, I obsessively monitored that latest information about the storm. How big would it become? How would it affect my city? Would there be rain or wind or both?

Windy.com

Prepare for the Worst

After living in a hurricane path for six years, we have become accustomed to hurricane season. August and September, we stay on alert. We watch the sites for notifications of storms. We are fortunate to have scientific bodies who monitor potential storms, their possible direction and intensity. We prepare for potential storms. The first few storms, we really didn’t know what we were doing, but now we know what to expect, what to purchase, and how to prepare. Just like making sure there is an ice scraper in the car and that the snow blower is in working order before a blizzard, we are able to prepare for a possible hurricane. My husband and I are blessed to have the money and means to buy and store extra food, water, and gasoline for a generator.

Hope for the Best

We prepare for the worst and hope for the best. But do I really? I did prepare for the worst, but I think I found myself expecting, and dare I say, wanting the worst. I found myself obsessed with the hurricane path. Tropical storms are interesting creatures. As much as technology and science can alert us to a storm, it is not an exact science. The forecast fluctuates as many variables, like hitting land or moving over warm waters, can change the direction and intensity of a potential storm. I, stupidly, found myself becoming angry when the storm diminished in intensity and moved away from being a threat to my home. Why is that?

Accept the Situation

Accepting the situation was NOT what I was doing. I had invested so much time and worry into the storm’s path that when it was not going to hit, I could see how much worry I had wasted. I was being an obsessed drama queen. My expectations of where, when, and how the storm was going to hit were not met, and I was angry. I was trying to control the uncontrollable. Once again, I found myself planning, worrying, and expecting instead of just living. I was angry at myself for being obsessed about a storm that never arrived.

Keep Living

This is what I forgot to do. I was focused on controlling the uncontrollable or being so focused on worry that I put my life on hold. I waited on, anticipated, the storm. I didn’t go places. I didn’t do things. I told others that I may not be able to make commitments the following week because of the storm. I put a big pause button on my life waiting for something to happen, which never materialized. And I was kinda angry because of all the time and focus I wasted.

What in your life are you waiting to have happen or to be resolved before you move forward? How much time and effort are being spent focusing on things you can not control? What parts of your life are you putting on hold until something beyond your control is resolved?  Breathe. Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best. Accept the current situation which may be one of uncertainty. And keep living.

spock - that is highly illogical

That is Highly Illogical

The last few years have been a struggle to understand why everyone is losing their shit. Ok, maybe that is not stated correctly. Obviously, there appear to be valid reasons for people to be on edge – a pandemic, global climate change, and misuse of power. But the reason we are all on edge, the reason we are emotional, the reason we are at our wits end are not those real hard-core factual logical reasons. We are in pain, individually and collectively, because of how we feel about these facts.

It is never the circumstance that causes us pain. It is our thought or feeling about that circumstance that causes us pain. Our perception of the world and how it works – if it is fair or unfair, if it is ending or being reborn – is constantly being played in the background of our mind. All of the information we receive is funneled through our perceptions and beliefs and adjusted to fit our worldview.

A simple example I provide in my book, is having $100 in our bank account. The amount of money is a fact. However, what having that money means is based on our perception. We can look at our checkbook at the end of the month and think, “Thank goodness, I have $100 left in my account after paying all my bills.” Or we can think, “Oh, my god. I am in trouble. I only have $100 left in my bank account.” The fact of the amount of money has not changed, but how we choose to interpret that fact is what causes us emotional pain or joy.  

All of the conflict that I am watching between friends, family, and society as a whole is not because of the facts of pandemics, vaccines, or the state of the government. It is caused by each person’s unique viewpoint on what those situations mean. If a news event happens and I watch Fox News, CNN, and the BBC reporting on it, I can often get the feeling three completely different events occurred because of how the story is reported and what emotional embellishment is added.

spock - that is highly illogical

My personal pain through all of this is in trying to determine how to help those I love. I see and feel the pain that my friends and family are experiencing, and I don’t seem to be able to provide relief. Many of us are trying to use logic to help each other see the “truth” or the “right” way. The problem with this is that logic is based on facts, and the pain and emotion being felt are based on perception and belief. The way to provide relief to those we love is to deal with dishonest beliefs, not the facts.

Next time you disagree with someone, instead of debating facts, seek to understand the other. Be open to hearing why they interpret the facts in the way they do. Inquire into their history and see how their past experiences are coloring current events. Investigate what they value to uncover what their fears are and why. When we can objectively see the truth and understand another’s perception, we can help someone else to see circumstances in a new light, not discolored by their or our own fears and dishonest beliefs. When we can put aside our own perceptions and beliefs, we can then objectively and compassionately understand another.

No matter the circumstances, we have a choice of how to react. It is our thought or belief about a circumstance or event that causes us anger, worry, or fear – not the event itself. This is why having a debate on the facts with those who disagree with us do not work. Because none of us are being affected by the facts. We are being influenced and controlled by our beliefs about the facts. If you truly want to create a more peaceful world, be open to exploring how your beliefs are coloring facts and have compassion for others who are also struggling with their own dishonest beliefs.

simpson

True Freedom

Last week I introduced my favorite Greek philosopher, Epictetus. The passage I read today from The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness seemed perfectly suited for our current world. Note that the writing I am going to mention was originally written 1600 years before the founding of the United States of America. Epictetus was neither a liberal or a conservative, nor had any view on American politics, because there was no America.

“Understand what freedom really is and how it is achieved.”

Epictetus invites us to look at the truth of freedom. I looked up the definitions of freedom and thought it was interesting that most of the definitions, including the Cambridge Dictionary, defined freedom as “the condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say, think, etc. whatever you want to without being controlled or limited.” I think many of our Don’t Tread on Me neighbors have latched on to this definition. But Epictetus does not agree with that meaning.

“Freedom isn’t the right or ability to do whatever you please.”

I am sure that doesn’t make a lot of people happy, but to me it is an important point of freedom. Freedom is not a three-year-old throwing a tantrum because she wants candy for dinner or the driver who cuts me off because of his right to drive fast and dangerously. Freedom is not Bart Simpson do-what-you-feel, but a state of acceptance and responsibility focused on more than our selves. Epictetus invites us to see freedom based on knowledge and deep understanding.

Simpsons

“Freedom comes from understanding the limits of our own power and the natural limits set in place by divine providence.”

Epictetus’ view of freedom is based on a realistic view of ourselves and acceptance of our limited power. As a society we have agreed that, at least in most of the world, we drive the right side of the road. If we want to be part of society, we are limited in where we drive. Our external power is limited. Our internal power is unlimited.

The true core of freedom is in the mind, not in our actions. As Epictetus said,

“By accepting life’s limits and inevitabilities and working with them rather than fighting them, we become free.”

By accepting the truth of life, society’s rules, and the way things truly work, we find freedom. Freedom is a state of mind, not a state of action. We find freedom in acceptance, not defiance. We lose freedom when we fight against reality. Much of the anger and fear that people feel these days is because they are fighting against “life’s limits and inevitabilities.”

“If, on the other hand, we succumb to our passing desires for things that aren’t in our control, freedom is lost.”

I want the freedom of perfectly sunny days, each and every day. The truth is there are hurricanes. I can not control the weather. I can not stop an advancing storm. That does not mean I don’t have freedom. It just means if I want to experience freedom, I need to stop being Don Quixote fighting battles I can never win. This goes back to the serenity prayer – knowing those things I need to accept and those I can change, and having the wisdom to discern between the two.

How do you view freedom? Is freedom the action to do just as you please, without thought of those around you? Is freedom the serenity which comes from accepting reality? Is freedom a state of mind or a state of action? What responsibility do you have for your neighbors when your view of freedom infringes upon their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

be the change

Unenlightened Blame

We all have our favorite Greek philosophers, right?  Mine is Epictetus. He never wrote any of his philosophies down, but his students would scribe his talks. As I wrote my book, From Type-A to Type-Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, again and again I ran across quotes from Epictetus which were in direct alignment to my thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about life.

Recently I started reading, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, where Sharon Lebell shares collected passages from his talks. The passages are in bite-size chunks perfect for daily reflection. One passage, “No Shame, No Blame,” really stood out to me. In this passage, Epictetus exposes unnecessary self-created pain. Here is what he said.

Photo by Maria Thalassinou on Unsplash

Blame

He starts out strongly saying that it is not the circumstances or issues we face that cause us pain, but our  feelings about them. I have thought and written about that before. Epictetus takes it one step further – which is obvious, but I hadn’t tied the two thoughts together. He says when things are difficult, “let us never place the blame on others, but on our own attitudes.” Pretty obvious – and powerful – right?  I always focused on self-improvement. How do I improve my thinking to resolve a painful situation? And yet, I might blame the other party for their role. That guy is a jerk for doing X, Y or Z, but I am going to rise above it and change my thinking. If, however, I am going to truly, completely accept that it is our “feelings about things” that torment us, then the others involved are not to be blamed, at all. Yes, they may be acting in inappropriate ways and perhaps we need boundaries to protect ourselves, but it is our feelings, not their actions that are causing us pain. We can not blame them for our experience. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” If you are feeling a certain way, you can not blame anyone except yourself because you are choosing to suffer.

Moral Progress

Epictetus then takes this concept out to society as a whole. “One of the signs of moral progress is the gradual extinguishing of blame.” Wow. Sit with that. What if our current culture stopped pointing their finger at the other side? What if we stopped attacking others for taking away our freedoms or putting us at risk? What if we stopped feeding our negative emotions with biased, sensationalized viewpoints? What if we stopped playing victim and instead stepped into responsibility for our own lives? Epictetus saw society moving from the small-mindedness of blaming others, to blaming ourselves for our situation, to “a life of wisdom” where we embrace the truth that blaming others or even ourselves does no good. This is true acceptance and compassion.

A New Way

As you go about your day, notice who you are blaming. Is it the driver in front of you who is going to make you late for your appointment? Is it yourself for something said or not said? Is it politicians or extremists? Take a step back from the circumstance and look at your feelings about the situation. What is causing your emotional reaction? What are the beliefs, attitudes, and expectations that are causing your anger or sorrow? You may not be able to change the circumstance, but you can ALWAYS change your attitude about it. Let’s all make strides to move our society into the way of wisdom, not unenlightened blame.

support group

Learning from History

When I wrote my book, From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, I was sure I had a novel and new idea. But I did not. Turns out Epictetus, a philosopher from around 100 AD said pretty much the same thing. He thought philosophy should be lived, not just discussed. He taught acceptance of what is and releasing the desire to control things we can’t control. He believed in self-examination and self-discipline. Many of his quotes could have been easily integrated in my book like, “People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.” Or “Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.” And “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

At first, I was bummed that I was my writing was not groundbreaking. Then, after I accepted that there was nothing new under the sun, I started to see his writing as a validation of my thoughts. We saw the world similarly and having the same thinking as someone else lent credence to what I intuitively believed. This was no longer my experience but a shared experience.

support group
Photo by adrianna geo on Unsplash

Often when something happens in our lives, we believe it is new, novel, and singularly unique to us. The truth is that someone, somewhere has gone through what we have. It may not be exactly the same, but it will be close enough that we can learn from that person’s experience, strength, and hope. We can understand their challenge and how it relates to ours. We can learn how they approached the issue, and what worked, or didn’t. We can be inspired to act knowing how their actions netted a positive result.

Learning from history and from others’ experiences helps us to create our own plan of action. This is different than receiving some guru’s three-step plan to happiness. This is learning from someone’s experience, applying it to our lives, and discerning how we should mirror, or not, their choices. This is real life experience that can be applied, not some sterile one-size-fits-all expert formula. Learning from others is learning to fish, not being given a fish.

Learning from others can happen on many levels. It may be talking to others who went through something similar and discerning our options based on what they tried. Small and large business can learn much from the practices other businesses have had in the past. Learning from others can also be applied on a global level so we can learn from and not mindlessly recreate history.

It helps to go through this process with a confidant; to have an outside objective voice to work through your problem. They will be able to spot things quickly and more easily because they are outside the story, outside the emotion. If they have gone through something similar, it is even better because they will know what to watch for which you may not yet realize.

What is your current challenge? Are there those you know, support groups, or memoir books which explore your challenge? What can you learn from their choices? Is there a mentor who can help you navigate what you learn and how it applies to your situation? Knowing that others were able to rise above their challenge, are you ready to try to tackle your own?