Second Thought, First Action

I am so glad I found Cine Club Los Cabos. Every Thursday they show movies for free at the local high school. This month will be French films with Spanish subtitles, which will be a fun language lesson for me. Last month they showed movies about and created by women. “BrØdre” or Brothers was one of the movies shown. Although it centered around two men, it was a film written and directed by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier. The film shows the progression of the no-good alcoholic brother becoming a standup man, and his brother falling into violence and lies after being an upstanding citizen, good husband, and esteemed military leader.

The start of the fall begins when the older “good” brother has to make a life or death decision in wartime. He may not have made the choice we would hope he would, but it was during a war and he was going to die otherwise. I couldn’t really fault him for what he did. What did become difficult to watch was how he lied about the incident again, and again, and again. In one scene, he goes to visit the family of the man he killed. If ever there was a chance to redeem oneself, this would be it. But instead of telling the whole truth or at least that her husband is dead, he tells a massive lie which gives the spouse hope of her diseased husband coming home with no potential of it ever occurring. As I shook my head and sighed, I noticed the woman in front of me doing the same.

How easy it is to see what someone should do and how difficult it is for us to do it in our own life.

angry action
Photo by Heather M. Edwards on Unsplash

I have been doing a lot of personal work lately (again, still) and one of the things I am focusing on are my thoughts and reactions to situations.  I am noticing how my first thoughts when I am triggered are to blame the other person. I can put together a laundry list of how they are a bad person and how what they did is inexcusable. My first desire is then to attack them for how bad they are. Instead, now I try to stop and to look at my part. Once I can see how my words and actions caused or inflated the situation or maybe how I would act the same as they did if the roles were reversed, I can find empathy for the other person and find the right words to make it a growth experience for both of us.

It is not easy, or even commonplace, to not act rashly out of anger. Go on social media for 10 seconds and you can find 50 people who are more than happy to blame the other for the ills of the world. The other political party, the other race, the other gender, the other baseball team. Someone can always be found to blame for the bad in our lives. As a society we thrive off being justified in our anger, outraged, and attacks on the “bad guy.” What we are not good at is taking personal responsibility. I am certainly not perfect at this either. A concept I heard that helps me and has become my mantra in contentious situations is, “I am responsible for my second thought and my first action.”

Second Thought

We are human. More times than not our first thought will be self-serving. Our first thought will be anger. Our first thought will be attacking others. Our first thought will be self-protecting. Our first thought will be based on the fears we learned in our childhood. We are not bad people because we have that first thought. We all do and that is ok. Where the power and freedom and strength come in is when we pause and allow ourselves to have that second thought. When we can look past ourselves to what the other may be experiencing. When we can find empathy and understanding for their situation. This second thought frees us from how we always react. It frees us from mental pain and anguish. This second thought opens up better ways for us to approach our lives and our relationships.

First Action

Most of us tend to live life using knee-jerk reactions. We get cut off in traffic, think the guy is a jerk, and find ourselves flipping him the bird before we consciously choose to. Much of the actions we do during the day are done unconsciously and based on our first, not-so-ideal thoughts. When we take the time to stop and think a second thought, and have the courage to wait for that second thought before we act, we can create a brand new life.

As you go about your week, be aware of your first thoughts. Can you pause long enough to have second thought before you act?

baby shark

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Do-ing

Baby Shark overtook our household for a while. Everything got the Baby Shark treatment. Baby spinach doo doo doo doo doo doo. Gato Blanco doo doo doo doo doo doo. It was silly and fun. When I started to write this post, I thought of a new variation, Stressy Me doo doo doo doo doo doo. When I was younger, stress was a way of life. I always overcommitted and put my work above my relationships and my health. I was always doing, doo doo doo doo doo do-ing. I thought stress was normal. It was what life was all about, right?


Thankfully through my awakening in Peru, I started to see that there was more to life than stress and that there were ways to minimize the amount a stress I experienced, such as practicing patience. This brought a brand new world to me. A world where I could choose what I committed to and what I didn’t. A world where I had the right and the responsibility to put myself first. I began to live and not to do. Instead of being a victim of stress, I used tools to minimize and prevent it. Life was wonderful. My belief became that stress is part of life, but we don’t have to let it overtake our life.

This new way of being has served me for about the last decade and my life has changed because of it. I left a high-pressure career (or what I made a high-pressure career) for one that fits my outlook on life. I simplified my life and moved to a country that moves at the speed I want to live. I thought I had made it. This was great. Then I learned that I can even go deeper. I am now learning how to stop creating any painful negative stress in my life.

I may experience the positive stress of an upcoming event like a trip or a birthday; to me this should really be called excitement not stress. And yes, there will be negative stress events in my life like deadlines, losses, and accidents. But I don’t need to make these negative stress events into more than they are. The event is stressful. My thoughts about the event are what makes it painful.

Brené Brown reminded me of this in her book, Rising Strong. The stressful event itself is not what causes the pain. What really causes the pain of negative stress is our thought or our story about the event. It is not that there is a deadline. It is the thought that if we don’t meet the deadline we are imperfect and unlovable. It is not that we lost a loved one. It is that we didn’t do enough for them when they were alive which makes us a horrible person. It is not that there was an accident. Our story tells us that we were a worthless stupid idiot and that is why there was an accident. When we can keep our stories at bay, the pain of stress naturally minimizes.

Recently I had an off week. I really didn’t know why but I felt anxious, tired, and worried. Yes, I was having a busy week but I have had busy weeks before and I didn’t feel this poorly. What I realized was the story I was telling myself about my busy week was what was causing me pain. I felt I had to take on more clients at work or I would be seen as unproductive and maybe lose my job. I felt I had to put my needs to the side to take care of others or I would be a failure. I believed I had to do everything myself and not ask for help or I was not doing my share and was unworthy of love. Once I identified and released the stories I had made up, it was easy to look at my week, schedule in downtime/self-care, and approach my work from a space of giving instead of being taken from. And the pain was gone. Painful negative stress is caused by our thoughts and beliefs around issues. I was stressed because I had poor boundaries and was choosing to take too much on because I thought I had to or I was worthless. Once I removed this dishonest thinking, I moved forward to solve problems without the crippling effects of stress.

Where are you feeling stress right now? How much of it is fact? How much is it a story you have made about yourself or other people? If you release your false story, how much stress do you feel?

computer code

What’s Your Glitch?

I have been burning through the latest offerings from Netflix including Russian Doll which explores choices, redemption, and the meaning of life.  In one episode, Nadia is called into work to fix a bug. Somewhere in all the code for a computer game, there was a glitch, some poorly-written code. Nadia reprogrammed the code, and all was well with the game.  What I have realized is we can all fix our lives with a bit of reprogramming.

We all run on code. Some of the code we are born with, like how our lungs and heart know how to automatically breath. Some code we consciously or unconsciously write ourselves. We learn from our parents, our teachers, our friends, society, and our own experience how to live. We learn something once or twice and then we write our internal code as to how to respond. We don’t have to relearn every day that a stove is hot. We learn it once and then it becomes programmed in our mental database along with the appropriate response (don’t touch). Much of our programming is done in the first seven years of our lives (based on current scientific thinking). Therefore, much of how we live our life at 30, 40, or 50 is based on programming decades old. Sometimes that old programming has glitches. What we have internalized as truth worked in one specific situation years ago, but it is not the best choice nor should be applied to current situations. We need to reprogram our outdated thinking.

computer code
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I am aware of many of my glitches or character defects, and I am sure there are many unconscious glitches yet to be brought to the surface. Here are some of my currently recognized defects/glitches. I react to strong egos and the greedy. I react to those who are “too pretty.” I react to what I deem is injustice. I react to the need to label and create exclusive groups. I react to those whose desire for money supersedes the welfare of the many. I react to those who appear to have had an easy life and expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. Because of these preprogrammed thoughts, I sometimes react to people and situations based on these beliefs and not by the real situation at hand.

Much of our life we live on autopilot. We react to current situations based on the code we created decades ago. We are not in the moment analyzing and acting based on current data. We are usually unconsciously reacting based on something that happened to us when we were five. And it can get us into trouble.

I have addressed many glitches already like the belief that it is good to put work above the welfare of those I love, and have hopefully reprogrammed the ones that were causing the most frequent and damaging harm to me and those around me. Currently I am digging deeper and working through more of my programming with the goal of living every day from a place of in-the-moment conscious action versus living-in-the-past unconscious reaction. Here are the steps I am taking:

Uncover

I am taking a fearless inventory of my past and am being aware in the moment of the contentious situations in my life. Analyzing each situation, I uncover the glitches in my thoughts and the unconscious programming which are causing harm.

Be Here Now

If your mind is like mine, it goes a mile a minute. And unfortunately, my mind is usually replaying again and again something that has already happened or playing out fifty different what-if scenarios for the future. We can not change the past nor accurately predict the future. What we can do is affect the present. To help me as Ram Dass suggests to Be Here Now, I do my best to meditate every day. I find that even spending five minutes a day can disconnect me from the busy-ness of life, turn off the useless monkey-chatter of my mind, and help me center so I can make conscious decisions.

Reprogram

Using the knowledge of my defects and doing my best to be present, I can consciously choose differently in the moment. Instead of being on autopilot, I have the power to make rational and better choices acting on clear thought versus reacting from poorly-written programming. And every time I make a new, healthier choice, I am creating new programming for the future.

What are your glitches? How do you work around them? How has your life improved when you remove poorly-written programming?

blackboard formulas

Simple is the Solution

The other day I found my husband’s Reader’s Digest magazine open to a puzzles page. One of the puzzles consisted of five simple addition formulas using letters, like A+B=C. The goal was to replace the letters with the given numbers. I started out with analyzing the letters; how many times was each letter used as either an additive and as a sum. Then I analyzed the numbers; I figured out how many different ways I could add them together to create sums that would fit within the given set of numbers and using this data, I uncovered how many times each number could be an additive or a sum. Then I spent hours trying to use all of this data to solve the problem. All to no avail.

blackboard formulas
Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

In the middle of the night, I woke up with the solution. I threw out all the complexity I created, all the comparisons and analysis. Instead I simply looked at the formulas. Based on the formulas to solve, I created a simple greater-than-to-less-than scale of the letters based on the formulas. Then I started to plug in the numbers. This number had to be all the way to the right because it is the largest, that number is somewhere in the middle because it can be both a sum and an additive. Once I had the majority of numbers where they had to be based on this logic, I started to plug them into the formulas to uncover the position of the other numbers. In less than five minutes I had it solved. It was simplicity and simple deduction, not over-complex analyzation that allowed me to solve the problem.

This reminds me of a few elections ago, the first time the electoral college caused a bit of an issue. By chance, it was the first time a television network used a fancy new electronic tally board. As the night went on, it became less clear what was needed for the candidates to win the election in this neck-and-neck race. The fancy electronic board had tons of data and cool images and pre-programmed formulas, but it couldn’t handle this unexpected situation. The host of the show, Tim Russert, asked for a white board. He threw out all the complexity of the super computer and went back to the facts. Using simple calculations, he was able to more accurately predict what was needed for each candidate to win.

How often does our self-created complexity cause more problems then it solves? Sometimes it is our making a situation too complex. Sometimes it is having too much complexity, too much stuff in our minds. Brigid Schulte author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time first introduced me to the concept of “tunneling.” Tunneling is the result of being too busy. Our brains are overloaded with what is on our plate, all the details, all the continuous thoughts, all the worries and fears. When we tunnel, when we are caught up in the complexity of life, we can not see broadly anymore. We have tunnel vision losing our big picture thinking. And we lose 13 IQ points in the process. Lost in the complexity of tunnel thinking, we can not see the solution that is staring us in the face. We are lost in our thoughts and not thinking clearly.

I don’t know about you, but I can easily point to times in my life – more than I care to admit to – where I was caught up in the tasks, in the responsibilities, in the overwhelming challenges. My mind swirled with all there was to do and fix. I didn’t identify it at the time, but yes, I was not using my whole brain. I was so consumed by the complexity of the small details that I couldn’t see the simple answer right in front of me.

Where in your life are you currently challenged? What obstacles or overload of challenges are consuming all your gray matter right now? Can you put away all the details for just a bit and look at it with fresh, expansive eyes?  How does it feel to be stuck in the tunnel? Are you effective? How would things shift if you got out of the complexity and into simplicity?

a delicate dance

The Delicate Dance

It has come to my awareness recently how much of my anger, sadness, resentment, and victimization all stem from focusing on my ego. It is important to differentiation what the ego is and is not.  Lately every time I am triggered by something it is because I assume someone is doing something to me or not thinking of me, therefore bruising my ego. The truth is, I’m not that important. Others are taking care of themselves. They are thinking about themselves. They are doing what they are choosing to do. All with zero or minimal thought of me. And rightly so. I do the same. We are all the lead character of our play, while everyone else is but a small bit part. My ego takes over when I assume I am the leading character in everyone’s play therefore making everything being done because of or to me. Not true.

Our ego gets us in trouble. The ego is constantly wanting to be seen, protected and focused on. The truth though is we are not our ego. We are not our career; we are not our role as mother/sister/daughter; we are not the labels we have adopted (conservative, liberal, feminist, gun rights advocate). We are not the star of anyone’s play, even our own. What we truly are is what I choose to call our soul. Our soul is our being without any title or label. It is that ephemeral drive which makes some of us love horses and others love Shakespeare. It is what has created our theme and challenges in this life. It is what exists no matter where we live, what we do, and who we interact with.

Our ego is of this world. Our soul is beyond it.

What is fun – and challenging – about this lifetime is we need to be in this world, but much of our happiness steps from being beyond this world. When I returned from Peru, I did not feel or act of this world. I stopped playing the game of wanting a certain job, being consumed by the latest television show or fad, and being worried about anything this transitory world produced. I had never known peace like that before. Think about it. Write down the top five things you are focused on or concerned about right now. Would they matter to someone on the other side of the world? Will they matter in five years? Is your belief about its importance based solely on your chosen societal values? Did you value the same things ten years ago? Will you still value them ten years from now?

a delicate dance
Photo by 7 SeTh on Unsplash

All of the anger, sadness, and resentment I experience is based on and in the transitory world. Remember being devastated at not receiving an A on your college thesis or not being asked to the dance by the person you were smitten by? How important is that class now? Can you remember your crush’s name? Remember the 5×5 rule and release any pain being created by the transitory. Releasing the focus on our ego world is what gives us peace.

And yet, we have to focus on the world around us. Unless you are a monk cloistered away for the rest of your life, you need to be in and deal with the world around you. That is the dance of life. Meditate in the morning to touch the great beyond. Deal with traffic going to work. Open your heart to a friend who needs love and support. Spend five hours on hold with your cable provider. Use music, movement or creativity to release your passionate soul. Spend an hour making a meal that will be consumed in five minutes.

As the saying goes, “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” It is amazing and wonderful to touch on the enlightenment of seeing beyond this world. While we are simultaneously loving and dealing with living in this world. That is our delicate dance.

bunny on the subway

The Definition of Insanity

I saw a little boy learn a lesson the other day. At least I hope he learned from the experience. I was at the bank and the front of the bank was all glass. Even the doors were glass. The doors were not trimmed with metal; there were just two brackets top and bottom and the rest of the door was all glass. I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the glass doors. A young boy was playing with the door. He opened the door enough so he could touch the difference between the wall glass and the door glass. And then, unfortunately, someone left the building and the boy’s fingers were stuck between the door and the wall. I have never heard someone scream out in pain like that before. And then it was heartbreaking to see his mother have to open the door, causing more pain, to get his fingers out. It was traumatic for him and everyone who witnessed it. I can’t blame him for the incident. The door was cool and I can see how it would be fun to play with it. I am guessing this was his first time seeing this type of door and he could not have known better.

bunny on the subway
France mass-transit system Photo: Melissa Heisler

What I would blame him for is if it happens during his next visit to the bank. Sometimes we need to have painful experiences to learn lessons from them. It happens. But if we constantly repeat painful experiences, we have to ask ourselves why? How many of us have painful experiences, but instead of learning from them we keep repeating them again and again? We know bad boys are only going to break our heart, but here we are again dating a tough guy. We know we have to take heartburn medication after eating certain foods, yet our next meal we choose the same dish that upset our stomach the last time. Why do we keep repeating our mistakes? Why do we not learn from our mistakes and decide to choose differently next time?

I think it has to do with our expectations. “Men are always going to hurt me.” “My family all have stomach issues so I will too.” We think we are predestined to pain and disappointment. I do not believe that is true. Yes, we could have been born into a social setting filled with people we could not trust. Yes, we may have some genetics which make certain foods irritable. I do not believe however, that we must continue to choose to bring pain into our lives. As adults we have a choice of who we hang around, what we put in our bodies, and how we approach life. Yes, we can choose to repeat things that bring us pain. And we can also have the courage to choose to do something different and ultimately better for ourselves.

What is causing you the most pain right now? Is this the first time you have felt this pain or can you point to other similar issues? Are there any thoughts which make you feel like you deserve this pain or that this pain is inevitable? Are those thoughts 100% provable true in a court of law? Do you know three (3) people personally or in the larger world who act as if your beliefs are not true? How would your life change if you did not believe those thoughts?

As you go about your day, watch for painful thoughts and incidents that you are repeating in your life. What thoughts make you believe this is just a part of life? Even if it is just a little bit, how can you choose differently?