park bench

You can’t go back

Recently I worked with a woman in job transition who was stuck. Every time we talked she would only bemoan how she wanted her old position back. She had worked for a company for decades. She loved what she did. She loved her co-workers and the company culture. She wanted it all back. But it was not possible. The position no longer existed. She could not go back. Her desire for what used to be kept her from moving forward. She was sad, depressed, and hopeless because she refused to let go of what was no longer possible.

Many of us are feeling this way right now. When the pandemic struck last spring, we did our best to adapt. We looked forward to the summer, then the fall, then the new year. Every time we reached our expectation of when things should “get back to normal” and found that nothing changed, we became sad, angry, and despondent. Lately I have seen many clients, friends, and family reach the end of their rope. They bucked up during the recent challenges inspired by the hope things would get back to normal. I am not sure if things will go back to what we knew as normal. What we need to do, is let go of the past and move into our future.

Release the Old

One of the recommendations I made to my client who wanted her old job back was to hold a funeral for her old position. She had to let go of the hope there was an opportunity to return to what was. Whether you are holding on to an old position, a relationship which can no longer be, or the life we used to know, the first step in moving forward is to let go of the hope that things are like they used to be.

Nothing stays constant. All of life grows and changes. If it does not, it dies. When things in our lives are not changing and growing, we need to mourn that their time is over. Until we let go of what was, we can never embrace what will be.

Release Time

Some of the stress people are feeling about the pandemic is because they created arbitrary dates in their minds as to when it would be over. Last March I researched the Spanish flu and learned that it lasted for two years. Instead of assuming our challenge would be over in the summer, after the election, or in the new year, I pushed my thinking into the belief that it would be at least five years. I hope and believe it will not be that long but pushing my expectation out past the point I think is necessary, has given me a peace.

We can not control when or if things will change or be better so it is best not to create expectations of timing we can not control. Many of my job seekers want their new position to come by a certain date. It is important to know when we need income and to have plans to pay our bills, but to set an expectation that we will secure a certain position in that timing is unrealistic. Instead of focusing on time, focus on your efforts as in the case of a job search or focus on the moment. Stress relief can be found in releasing uncontrollable expectations of timing.

Define What is Next

What we can do is to look at what is next. For the job seeker it is defining the ideal position. For the pandemic, it may be defining how we go about our day for the short term. We can not move toward something until we define it first. Instead of longing for what was or hoping something will happen in your timing, focus your efforts on defining what you want and making baby steps toward your goals.

As we move into 2021, release the past and your expectations of when things will change. Focus on what you want next and begin to work towards that. If you have the same experience I do, you will begin to see wondrous things come your way.

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.

Cobra Kai

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Sundays are my usual writing days. I had planned to explore the new “feeling economy” but then last night we watched Cobra Kai on Netflix and I just had to write about it as it is the perfect show to be launched at this time. I will not even get into the surprising artistic merit of this show as I would like to focus instead on our perceptions and our need for clearly defined good guys and bad guys.

Literature and art are historically centered around the central theme of the good guy and the bad guy, the hero and the villain. Protagonists in every story need an antagonist to derail their efforts. Think about every Marvel Comic movie ever made. Many of our stories are focused on person-versus-person. One character is a good guy who struggles against the deviousness of the bad guy. But the clear-cut differentiation between good and bad is becoming more and more blurred with shows like Breaking Bad which shows a good guy gone bad for the right, and then wrong, reasons.

from IMDB

What Cobra Kai does is take it one step further. The black-and-white good and bad guys from Karate Kid alternate between their old label, reversing labels, then being both good guy and bad guy at the same time. As I have written before, I think this is much closer to the truth. We are all good, at times. We can all be bad at times. But mostly we are human, fallible, imperfect, inconsistent. What causes problems in the world is when we label someone for a single action and refuse to understand their motivation, their backstory or to offer them a chance for redemption. Once they are labeled, they are condemned.

Sometimes using a label allows us to commit horrific acts as we feel justified because we have labeled and dehumanized the other. Anytime we separate ourselves from others we are hurting ourselves as well as others. Whether we label others as good or bad, Democrat or Republican, Cubs fan or White Sox fan, we are only looking at one slice of the whole person and losing our humanity along the way.

For the past 30 days I listened to the Fostering an Undefended Heart meditation course. At the core of the class was the desire to break us from our us-and-them mentality. It is so easy to think only of ourselves, our lives, our needs, our perspectives. The class used exercises to help cultivate forgiveness, worth, peace, compassion, kindness, and joy in a telescoping fashion; first by truly embracing these concepts for ourselves as self-love is a challenge for many, then out to those we love, then out to those nameless people around us, then out to those with whom we are in conflict, i.e., the bad guys. Through the course I found myself becoming whole as I truly saw and embraced others wholly.

In an entertaining way, Cobra Kai does the same thing. Through the show we do not only see one aspect of the character, we learn their backstory. We see areas they do well and where they don’t. We see their struggles, we see their efforts, we see them grow – and fall back. It is interesting that the characters in the show that now appear to be the bad guys, are the ones which we have not learned their backstory yet. We can make Kyler out to be the bad guy who beats up nerds and is a womanizer, but will he be so easy to label when we know the full picture of his life?

This week notice your labels. When are you putting others in a box? Take a moment to see that person fully and see if your hatred lessens and your compassion grows through understanding.

hurricane genevieve

Are you done with suffering?

Covid, racial tensions, political unrest, opioid crisis, and hurricanes. What a great year huh? 2020 has certainly given us enough reasons to ask why bad things happen to good people. As I write this, Hurricane Genevieve is swirling wind and rain around our home. As I have written before, into every life a little rain must fall. I imagine this year we have been hit with more than our fair share of challenges, leading many of us to ask why this is all happening.

I have been asking this too, on a global and personal level. As I researched suffering, the same answers came back to me through religious and non-religious sources. The bad things that come into our lives, our struggles and challenges are not punishment, they are there to help us evolve and be the best people we can be. It appears we need pain, suffering and hardship to transform and become our best selves.

Hurricane Genevieve from Windy.com

I know this is true for me. Every challenge I have had has resulted in me releasing a bit more ego, letting go of my rigid unhelpful thinking, and has made me more aware of how my actions and reactions affect others. These challenges took me out of my routine and made me look at life differently. Illness, loss, and natural disasters disrupt my normal and force me to look at what I believe and how I am living. Without these challenges, I would not have chosen to really look at how I was living my life. Without challenges, I would have never chosen to shed my armor so I could become vulnerable and honest with myself and others. Without this suffering, I would not have chosen to fully examine my life. That is how suffering is a gift.

In the past, I shared the story of a pinecone and how a seemingly horrible event like a forest fire, is actually the birthplace of new life. And so it is with us I believe. We don’t grow, we don’t evolve until our old self – our old beliefs, habits, and knee-jerk reactions – are ripped away. It is through the shedding of what doesn’t serve us that we can uncover, accept, and embrace what is better for us.  Instead of living every day on autopilot, just going along one day after another doing what we have always done before and hiding from the realities of life, we can face our fears and embrace change. None of us want to be challenged, and yet, I believe, we all become better when we do.

The next time you are faced with a challenge instead of asking why me, ask what am I being asked to learn? How can this opportunity help me grow? What belief and way of being is no longer serving me and needs to be shed?  When any living things stops changing and growing, it dies. Instead of fighting reality, refusing to change, and withering on the vine, step up to your challenge and learn how you can become better on the other side. And remember to be kind and considerate of others as our path to enlightenment often has to reveal our worst selves before we can shed them and become better. Hang in there!

which way?

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

This year, I have been learning more about the Enneagram. It is a personality categorization system which has roots in ancient wisdom. What I like about the Enneagram is that it not only defines a person. The system also provides insight into what faults to watch out for, what things to strive for, and how to be our best self in relation to others.

It is no surprise that I am a One in the Enneagram. The perfectionist. We Ones believe our worth is derived by doing things “right” and being “good.” The good news is that means we are often “conscientious, responsible, improvement-oriented, and self-controlled.”  All things I am happy to own. However, as a One I am also judgmental and critical of myself and others, and often resentful.

Living life as a One is teaching me to live by the Serenity Prayer. A mainstay in 12 Step programs, the Serenity Prayer asks for the serenity to accept the things that can not be changed, the courage to change the things that can change, and the wisdom to know the difference. I have seen this prayer play out strongly for myself throughout this year.

Serenity is truly what I strive for; that feeling of being calm, peaceful and untroubled. Yet, my natural tendency is to look for the judgment and resentment which makes me feel anything but serene. What a beautiful dichotomy from which to learn. Here are a couple of points I have noticed:

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

It is rarely either/or

When I first started to use this prayer, I thought the goal was to choose either acceptance or action. As my go-to response is to fight for justice, I thought the correct new response should be to accept everything. What I am finding is that it is not to either accept or change, but both. In every challenge there is something to accept and there is something to change. Usually it comes down to accepting the circumstances or actions of others. Acceptance means that something is currently happening, and I accept that it is the current truth. Then I look at what I can change – usually my viewpoint, expectations, actions, or reactions.

It is not you, it’s me

My gut reaction is to want to change you. If the government, my neighbor, the world was only different, then everything would be ok. Wrong. Change begins with oneself. I first need to change how I see and approach situations before I can make any positive changes for myself or others. It is easy to see what is wrong with someone else and what they should do (or at least we believe it is easy to change them). The truth is we need the courage to take a self-inventory and clean our own house before we presume to be able to change anyone or anything else.

Importance of action

The importance of action is another key lesson for me this year. The courage to change the things we can does not always mean attending a rally or fighting for the disenfranchised. Sometimes it may just mean doing something a little differently. If we normally turn right, the change may be to turn left. Action also means getting out of one’s head and doing something, not just ruminating on the issue. Real change happens in the physical world, not between our ears.

Using the Serenity Prayer

A recent example of the serenity prayer in action is in dealing with one of my husband’s vendors. I handle much of the ordering and billing for my husband’s business. One of the companies used frequently has issues with shipments and billing. At first, I was angry and resentful as if this company was purposefully making my life difficult. That line of thinking did not make me feel calm, peaceful, or untroubled. I began to accept that I could not change the way the company created their ordering and accounting systems. I accepted the employees that company chose to hire. These were things beyond my control and I needed to accept that reality. Then I looked at what I could change. If I could not count on the company to provide the information, tracking and clarity I needed, then I needed to change my expectations. I created my own spreadsheet to track orders, backorders, and charges. I took control of what I could control and released what I could not. Not only did I find more peace, but I improved efficiency.

As you go about your week, look at your challenges. What parts of the challenges are beyond your control to change? What do you need to do in order to accept this fact? Next, explore what is in your control to change and then actually take action. See if you can’t improve your relationships, your stress level, and your ability to make things go smoother.

coin

Rise Above: The Journey from Black/White to Gray

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” To me this is the root of many of the social and political issues today. The mind that created racism, sexism, divisive politics, elitism, and a host of other problems was born out of duality. It was born out of a way of thinking that perceives everything as split, separate, and opposite. It is a way of thinking that is competitive and self-centered. This way of thinking leads us to fight for our side of the coin. The problem is that we think only our side of the coin is right and, the larger problem is that we think there are two sides of the coin. The problems we have today were built upon and are trying to be solved by a thinking that sees the world as dualistic.

The solution is not to decide which side is right. The solution is to see that there are no sides.

Photo by ZSun Fu on Unsplash

In my book, From Type A to Type Me, I talk about each one of us having alternatives. That we did not need to stay in dualistic thinking. We do not have to choose between black and white, stay or go. In the middle of black and white there are an infinite number of shades of gray. For those who feel stuck in situations, “Using the infinite number of shades between black and white frees us from being stifled between selecting only two less than desirable options. Releasing the bondage of black-and-white thinking, and opening oneself to the limitlessness of gray, is the root of empowerment.” What I did not realize at the time was that the metaphor did not only show a plethora of choices outside of dualistic thinking, but it showed that black and white are not separate. They are both just shades of gray. There is no duality. There is just oneness.

The new way of thinking we need to solve our problems is to see things wholly, not dualistically.

According to Franciscan Mysticism, there are four ways we split from reality and our journey in life is to release and heal these splits. Boiled down the concept is we are born thinking holistically, we shift into duality, and then we spend our lifetime trying to regain the knowledge that we are united not separated. We return to wholeness.  

This year is forcing us to re-examine our lives, our relationships, our goals, and the meaning of life itself. We are shifting in consciousness. Some of us are ahead of the curve, some catching up, and some resisting. No matter how we are approaching it, I feel we are all being called into this journey of remembering.

We can not control others’ journeys, but we can control our own. When you feel in conflict, angry, or frustrated:

  • Explore how you are seeing the situation. Do you see right/wrong, good/bad?
  • Step back from the situation and see if you can find the wholeness. Can you find the shades of gray that connect the two extremes?
  • Step out of the duality and see what solutions rise out of seeing things from a unified perspective.

And hang in there. This is an important point in civilization, and like any great change, it may be a bumpy ride.