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.

unicorn rainbow puzzle

Life is Not All Unicorns and Rainbows

Well, this is certainly an interesting year, isn’t it? As a student of perpetual improvement, one of the challenges I have experienced lately is finally having to accept that no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, no matter how well I make choices and live my life – there will always be struggle, strain, sorrow, and sadness. Being an idealist, I had always hoped that I would crack the key to uncovering a pain-free joyous life. Instead what I have found is that suffering is a part of life – and, importantly, suffering is the path of enlightenment and joy.

Focus on Joy not Happiness

If your happiness depends on the quarantine being over, you can not be happy. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in The Book of Joy, “Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.”  Many of us focus on and desire happiness, but happiness is fleeting. Happiness is based on circumstances. Joy is from within. Joy does not need money, relationships, or others to act how we wish. Joy is a choice. Joy is how we decide to face the day.

See the Whole

I find that my fear and anger take hold when I only see the bad and when I make assumptions about others’ actions. Much peace and joy can be found in looking at the whole. Find the beauty. Find the joy amongst the sorrow. Stop making assumptions and start really learning about those around you.  Look for the helpers. Greet people with compassion. Choosing to expand your awareness, seeing the good, accepting the not so good, and treating others with compassion are scientifically proven to help with overwhelm and stress.

Finding Meaning

Catherine Johns shares about Viktor Frankl’s focus on finding meaning in tragedy and hardship. The concept is not to deny the hardship but to see how it is truly a gift. As I work with many who have lost their jobs during Covid and the protests, I see the impact of this stress on them – and I also see where it eventually leads them. It may not be immediate, but many times the job seeker can see how this was a gift to them – freeing them to move when they felt tied to a location, freeing them to try starting their own business or a new profession, freeing them to explore life outside of full-time work. In the moment there is stress, fear, sorry and anger. The meaning behind the struggle is sometimes hard to find and accept, however whether it is job loss, a health crisis, or other life shift, for myself and those I work with, finding the meaning and the gift in the tragedy gives purpose, hope, and optimism.

Evolve

Overall, what has been helping me during this trying time – for myself and those I work with – is to look at this time not through the eyes of victimhood as something to hide from, but to see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to grow. A time to evolve faster and further than we could have ever done on our own. Just like a pinecone does not become a tree without first having the seed release throughout intense fire, we can not become who we are meant to be without going through our own trials and strife. Whatever you are experiencing right now, embrace it as a gift to help you become the best you, you can be.

frustrated girl

A Crisis in Confidence

Now, more than ever, I try stay off Facebook as much as possible. I post my daily It’s My Life, Inc. contribution and stay in touch via Messenger, but I rarely scan through posts. The hate and misinformation on both sides shakes me to my core.

This past week I had a Facebook incident that left me dismayed. A friend posted something from a website. Instead of ignoring it, I looked up the website and found that the ownership was blocked. Unfortunately, I did not stop there, as I shared what I learned about the website on his post. The poster and another friend encouraged me to click the link which they found funny. I didn’t. It was hateful, not funny. I felt bad for seeing the post, researching it, sharing my input unsolicited, and learning that my friends found making fun of others delightful.

The whole incident was not a big deal, but for me it just intensified what I have been feeling. I am sad watching our country, families and friendships being pulled apart by polarizing politics. I am disheartened that so many people look to attack and discredit “the other” versus learning to understand and find common ground. I am losing hope that things will turn around and we will come together for the good of humanity.

Photo by Henrikke Due on Unsplash

Thankfully, I have two life rafts I hold on to which help me navigate these depressing times.

This is not the end

A while back I wrote about a movie quote, “Everything will be alright in the end so if it is not alright it is not the end.” This may be a simplistic look at life, but it also tends to be the reality. So many times, in my life and in the world, the tragedy being witnessed is not the end of the story. It may take days, weeks, months, or years, but eventually, things get better. I hold on to a glimmer of hope that this is the case now.

A short while back I ran across President Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence speech. The speech was given back in 1979 in the midst of the energy crisis. What surprised me was how many of the sentiments in the speech, relate to what I am experiencing now. The President said many things 40 years ago, that feel like they could be written about today. “I want to talk to you about a fundamental threat to human democracy.” “We can see this crisis [in confidence] in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation. The erosion in our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.” At the time, two-thirds of the people did not vote because they didn’t think it mattered. Many Americans thought the next five years would not be better than the last five years. I am sure that it felt like the end of America, and maybe it was a mark of its decline – all I know is that it did not end in 1980. Things continued.

Many sages over the centuries have said, “this too shall pass.” They are right. No matter if what we are experiencing personally or on a global level, it is not permanent. Holding hope and taking the right next step can help shift and move us all in a positive direction.

I have power over my experience

No matter what others are doing or what is happening on a global scale, I have the ability to adjust how I react. In my book, From Type A to Type Me, I mentioned how Nelson Mandela was treated poorly in prison but he “felt he would lose himself if he lost his love for his fellow man. The results: often the warden had to replace Mandela’s guards because, once they experienced his kindness, the guards could not be severe with Mandela.”  We can do this too.

We have the ability – and the responsibility – for our individual experience. Sometimes I need to remind myself to put on my big girl pants and take responsibility for my life. Blaming or trying to control the actions of others does not work. The only thing we can truly affect is ourselves, our thoughts, our words, and our actions. What helps me is to stop looking at others and to take personal responsibility for my experience.

When the reality of today gets you down, look at what you can control, stop blaming others, and know that this too shall pass. If you need any help or support during this time, reach out to me or others. Taking care of ourselves also means reaching out for help when we need it.