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.

handling covid-19

Dealing with the Fear of Uncertainty

At an online work meeting the other day, management shared this graphic which was found on LinkedIn. The message is beautiful, but unfortunately the author of the graphic could not be found. The graphic is focused on the current pandemic, yet the message can be applied to our lives in general.

who do I choose to be during the Covid-19

Over the last month or so, if I am going to be absolutely honest, I have been wavering between the fear, learning and growth zones. Two weeks before our state announced official stay-at-home requirements, I fell into the fear zone. The unknown tends to send us into fear. In the States, fear transformed into lack of toilet paper – for whatever reason. Being in a hurricane zone, it was funny to watch how like myself, my neighbors prepared for the virus like we would a hurricane. We stockpiled water and food. I saw lines at the gas stations. Our fears from previous storms, made us act similar ways – even though surviving a tropical storm is very different than surviving a virus.

Isn’t it interesting how our fear – fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of others’ actions – makes us act in unhelpful ways? After leaving the hoarding phase, I noticed my tendency to use food (usually bad-for-me “comfort” food) and distraction (Candy Crush / Netflix) to make me feel better. If it did do anything to alleviate or dampen my fear, the affect was usually short-lived and often caused more issues than it solved. My unconscious mind thinks coffee, chocolate, and binge-watching are the easier, softer way to reduce my fear. All it really does is puts fear on a pause button, and then fear comes back with a vengeance once the pacifier is removed.

The seemingly easier, softer way is in the fear zone – sharing information (without fact checking), hoarding, blaming others, and drowning overthinking-brains in alcohol or carbs. Unfortunately, no matter what is going on, this does not work. What does work is when we can move into the learning or the growth zones.

These zones are full of acceptance, surrender, compassion, and conscious action. This is where we stop fighting reality and learn instead the power of accepting what is really going on. We surrender to the new reality and surrender our misguided belief that we can control the uncontrollable. We stop having pity-parties for ourselves and begin look to who we can help. Sometimes we are able to help in big ways as in the case of the front-line healthcare workers, sometimes it is an action like delivering food to shut-ins or those without work, and sometimes it just means picking up the phone and connecting with someone who needs to hear a friend’s voice.

The difference is that in the fear zone we are avoiding reality and believe we can control the uncontrollable. In the learning and growth zones, we accept reality and act on what is within our means to affect.

Take some time to review how you are handling this unprecedented situation. Which zone are you spending most of your time in? Don’t attack yourself for spending time in the fear zone; it happens as we are all human. Just use this review to consciously decide where you want to be and how you want to spend your time.

Hang in there. Share your success and struggles with us here.

we look at the smae moon but live in different worlds

I Do Not Like That Man. I Must Get to Know Him Better.

Amid all the hate speech on and offline, I thought this quote from Abraham Lincoln provides some sound advice. He is noted for saying, “I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.”

Isn’t it easy to see something we disagree with online and immediately dismiss the person who wrote it? Isn’t it easier to attack or discredit them than to be the bigger person and reach out to make a human connection?  I can’t tell you how many times I have spoken to someone who hated this group or that ethnicity, but when I said, “Isn’t your friend Sammy one of THEM?” their response is often, “Well he is different than the rest of THEM. I know him.” Knowing someone personally helps us to accept, understand, and even become friends with those of different cultures or backgrounds.

As the world becomes smaller and smaller, we are not able to isolate and insulate ourselves like in the past. It is time to come together as a global community and begin to understand those who are different than us in appearance, culture, or thinking. Here are a few ideas to make that happen.

Photo by Arie Wubben on Unsplash

Stop Lumping

One of the biggest culprits of bias is lumping people together by some label. All men, Mexicans, Republicans, or St. Louis Cardinal fans are horrible. Really?  Every single one of them? Our mind likes to label and name things because it helps us to recall information quickly. Yet in grouping people together, we are creating our own perception and judgment about people instead of seeing the unique individual. Look at yourself. What groups or labels could you be categorized by? What assumptions could people make about you if they only looked at a single aspect of you? What are they missing out about who you are if they only see one facet of you?

What Do You Value

When we label others, we are choosing to make some aspect of the person important above the rest. What does it say about you in how you choose to label?  What are you deciding is important? Nationality, gender, wealth? Why do you choose that element to judge others? When we prejudge people by one element of their being, we are saying more about our own fears than about the true character of the other person.

Second Chance

Let’s cut each other some slack. I would hate to be judged because of how I look or where I come from. I am guessing you feel the same, so why not extend the curtesy to others by not judging? Instead of judging and attacking, have the courage to reach out to someone who irritates you or someone who is different from you. Learn about them. Learn about their culture. Learn who they are as an individual. You may not become fast friends, but it will make moving around in the world easier.

Who have you met recently who has irritated you? Why was that? Are you making assumptions because of one element – nationality, ethnicity, culture? Try to be more open and welcoming this week. See if you don’t find more connection when you take the time to really meet and know those around you.