student learning

Surrounded by Teachers

Seeing the discord in the United States is very painful for me, as I am sure it is with others. In a recent article from the Center of Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr shared a practice of learning from others which really resonated with me at this time.

To me, attacking the wrongs of others, does not help. Debating the issues does not solve them. Voicing support for those marginalized does send some good vibes but does not seem to do enough. Blaming government or other institutions as the cause of this discord, resolves nothing.

If we want to make a difference in the world, the first and truly only thing we can change 100% is ourselves.

Instead of pointing at others, instead of feeling a powerless victim, instead of showing support but taking no action, look to yourself. Cultivate authentic solidarity as Richard Rohr recommends. Instead of speaking from a point of privilege, shift to understanding the world and experience of the other. Seek understanding and acceptance. Step out of the ego-role of being a savior, helper, warrior, or prosecutor, and instead be with the other.

Photo by Leonardo Toshiro Okubo on Unsplash

Try this today. Look at each person you meet – in person, online, in the news – and view them as your teacher. If they are inspirational, if they share knowledge you do not have, if they treat others as you aspire to, uncover what can you learn from them. How can you embrace their good qualities? Which ones are missing from your life that you can begin to adopt? The same goes for those acting in ways you do not condone. They are your teachers as well. Which of their negative characteristics do you have as well? Perhaps they do not appear in the same way, but how are you selfish, self-centered, dishonest, frightened, and judgmental? How can you change how you speak, act, and approach the world in a better way?

I used this same type of mentality when I was learning to be a theatrical director. By watching other directors – how they treated the cast, how they interpreted the text, how they worked with the creative team, how they handled pressure – I picked up clues about how to be a director. Honestly, I learned more from the less talented directors than I did from the good ones. It is like trying to learn how to play basketball from Michael Jordan. He made it look easy and magical. Instead, by watching someone who does not perform as well, it is easier to see what they are doing wrong or what they can improve. And then I look at making those improvements in myself.

Because my heart goes out to all those in pain and suffering right now, I find it much more productive and calming to focus on what I can change. I am learning of my own prejudice. I am learning how I assume I know how others should act and think I can make them act that way. I am learning how attachment to my expectation causes pain.

As you go about this week, instead of commenting on the actions or words of others, look to them as your teachers. What can you learn about yourself to help you be a better person?


Life is About Choice and Experience

As an Enneagram Type One, Type A Perfectionist, making choices can be difficult. I think I need to make the right choice, and I need to make it instantly. I feel pressure to make choices quickly, “I should be smart and knowledgeable enough to choose the right thing right now.” I worry about being imperfect by making the wrong choice. I am terrified that I will be stuck with a bad choice forever.

While I was writing From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, I started to experience a new way of choosing. First of all, there is all the time in the world to make a decision – or at least there is more breathing room than I allow myself. The only person expecting me to decide immediately, is me. Second, there are no wrong answers because I can always choose again. Is what I chose not what I thought it would be? Do I see a better option now? No problem, I can choose again. Sometimes I need to make the “wrong” choice so I can be aware of what is the better choice for me.

As I have written, I believe life is about choosing, experiencing, learning, and choosing again. The goal is not to get every decision right or perfect. Nor do we only receive one choice and have to live with a poor decision forever. The whole goal of life is to experience – to experience the good, the bad, and the indifferent. And when we get tired of that experience, we can choose again. To me this is the whole concept behind having free will. Free will is not about seeing if we will choose good or bad, right or wrong. Free will is simply being free to choose.

Initially I understood the power of choosing only intellectually and applied it sparingly in my life. Lately I have been learning the deeper meaning of choice and experience, and how this is the core purpose of this lifetime. Life is about free will. Life is about the ability to choose. Life is not about the result. Life is not about perfection. Life is not about getting it right the first time, since there really is no “right.” Life is like a buffet. Put a little bit of this and a little bit of that on your plate. Try it all. Taste it all. Experience it all. If something doesn’t sit well with you, don’t have it again. You may learn that some things may make you happy, but a little goes a long way. Other things you may love intensely and want to get as much of them as you can. Every day you have the opportunity to choose what you want from the buffet of life, and the next day you can choose again.

Photo by Edvin Johansson on Unsplash

Focusing on life as experiencing our choices, has not only affected me directly but has also improved my relationships. It has helped me to release my false belief that I can and should save others. The concept that I should rescue others is wrong because it is my self-focused assumption that I know what is right for someone else. Second, if life is about experience, who am I to deny that person the experience they have chosen. Third, the truth is I cannot choose for someone else. Even if I voice my opinion, the other person has complete control over what they decide to think, act and feel. Someone else’s experience is completely up to them.

So today, I am focusing on my side of the street, my choices, my experience. I am not solely looking at choices and their result, but taking the time to fully experience the choice. Life is not results-driven but experience-driven. We are here to experience, feel, and connect. We are here to choose our own path, to experience the power of free will.

How would your day change if you looked less at the result and more at your experience? How much stress would you release, if you only focused on your choices and experience, and not those of others?

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.

splash of water

Splashed in the Face with Gratitude

At this point, my husband and I have caught up on all our favorite Netflix shows and have watched all the movies we can find by our favorite directors or starring our favorite actors. We are now at the point of closing our eyes and choosing something, anything, and crossing our fingers that it has substance or a tad of entertainment. Sometimes there is a surprise-find like the memoir documentary, Cracked Up, which explores Darryl Hammond’s recovery from childhood trauma. And sometimes we do not do so well.

Whatever we choose we give it the five (5) minute rule. A mobster movie by Ben Affleck did not make it past five minutes. A quirky passion project by Noël Wells made it past the first five minutes and all the way to the end (although I don’t recommend it). Both were written and directed by the lead actor which, to me, is the sign of disaster. We all need someone else to call us on our bad choices. At times, we can use someone on the outside to see what we cannot see because we are in the picture. However, having a trusted friend or mentor giving us a reality check, is a concept for another post.

Why I bring these films up is because one of the running gags in Ms. Wells’ movie is throwing water in the face of someone who is spazzing out.  When a character is upset, mad, sad, angry, frustrated, or at the end of their rope, a glass of water is thrown in their face. At first, the soaked character is angry but then they soften into laughter. For me, gratitude is like a glass of water in the face. No matter what is going on, if I can take a few minutes and recite what I am grateful for, I find that my bad mood is miraculously lifted.

water splash
Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

For many years, I tried to think myself out of pain. I would use logic. I would use cognitive behavior therapy tools. Yet my mind seemed to get trapped in resentments and fears. This is because the mind that created the problem, could not solve the problem. I had to get out of my mind. I find now that action more than thinking helps me break my funk. In Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, Richard Rohr states, “Humans tend to live themselves into new ways of thinking more than think themselves into new ways of living.” Living differently, acting differently gets me out of a funk more quickly than trying to think my way out of it.

The action I take may be to phone a friend to see how they are doing, to go for a walk, or to consciously do the dishes. These activities help me break the replaying of my mental angst. They are that glass of water. A gratitude list is also a powerful action. Ann Voskamp said, “No amount of regret changes the past. No amount of anxiety changes the future. ANY amount of gratitude changes the present.”

After decades of researching, coaching, and self-reflection, I have finally realized that knowing why I am feeling bad is great knowledge, but knowledge does not give me peace. Changing others in the hopes that I feel better is impossible and if I does happen, their change does not help my thinking. Trying to convince my mind to think and believe differently takes a lot of reprogramming and does not solve everything. The solution lies not solely in the mind, but in the heart and in action.

Every morning I take a few moments to recount what I am grateful for and if I need to, which I usually do, I also focus on gratitude throughout my day. I find this keeps me away from focusing on lack. Gratitude helps me find joy, appreciate my relationships, and keeps me in the moment – not in the regret of the past or the worry of the future.

Here is a small example of how-to turnaround anxiety into gratitude. My neighbors’ have a lot of cars they park on the street which makes it hard for me to back into my driveway. This used to make me angry (mostly because it is tough for me to back-in even when there are not obstacles). When I notice my mind replaying negativity about my parking situation, I begin to recite my gratitude. I have a car. I have the ability to drive. I have a house with a driveway where it is kept. I have money for gas. I have the ability to buy groceries because I can drive to the store. I follow the gratitude story for as long as I need to in order to feel calm and centered again.

Take a moment now. What are you worried, anxious or upset about? Can you turn it into gratitude? Can you stop thinking and take action?

good omens - angel demon

Accepting Humanity

My friend and talented author, Nan, introduced me to the Good Omens series based on the book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The video series has been my go-to escape during The Big Time Out we have all been given. It is funny, brilliant, and very insightful.

One of the main lessons I learned through the Good Omens series is that we are neither inherently good or bad, we are just human. We have days where we can act like perfect angels. We have other days where we make choices, say things, or act in a way that is purely demonic. In truth, however, we are neither good nor bad. We are just human. This concept has helped me accept myself, and others, at a deeper level than I had been able to before.

Most of my life, I tried to be that angel. Acting perfectly. Striving for more. Looking for recognition. And I completely ignored where I was a demon. Saying the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time. Allowing my own fears to self-sabotage my dreams. Attacking others to keep from falling into my own insecurities. Until recently, I thought one day I could be all angel. Now I have come to accept that I will always be part angel and part demon. This acceptance helps me feel so much more comfortable in my own skin. I embrace and accept my full humanity.

Good Omens - angel and demon

This acceptance of myself, has also helped me accept others. What if I met you on one of your demon days? Is it fair to think that how you acted on your worst day, is who you are all the time? Or what about the times when all we see of someone is angel and then are devastated to see their dark side? No one is perfect all the time in all ways. Having unrealistically high expectations for another – or ourselves, only leads to disappointment.

In a snippet of talk by Ram Dass, he adds another facet to the idea of self-acceptance. Ram Dass responded to the question “how do we love ourselves more”, with an answer of “why we need to accept ourselves fully”. Ram Dass was pointing out what I do so well, judge. I judge myself. I judge others. I judge the actions of society as a whole. But judging does more harm than good. Judging separates us. It is natural to notice our differences, but to attack or demean another, or our ourselves, because of the difference leads to separation and hate.

What is interesting to explore is what we are using to judge. Who sets the rules and the measuring stick? When I was younger, I judged myself against the super-skinny models of the 1970’s, to which I would always lose. As I changed careers, I judged myself against others’ success and notoriety. I have even judged myself against others’ spiritual depth. In all these instances, I had to first decide by which scale to judge myself and other people.

Ram Dass gives a nice example of when someone is in a forest, they just enjoy the trees. Unless they are a lumberjack and have a scale to judge trees, the forest walker only sees the beauty of the forest as a whole or the uniqueness of a single tree. The person does not judge each tree as too crooked or too short. They just are. Which begs the question, why do we judge ourselves and others? Why can’t we accept ourselves and others as we are? Why do we feel we should and have the right to judge ourselves and those around us? Are we not just trees in the forest of humanity? By judging ourselves and others we are missing out on the absolute beauty and peace of acceptance and understanding.

What scale do you judge yourself and others by? Where did you learn and agree to that scale? How do you feel when you judge? Self-righteous, better-than, superior or fearful, lacking, and victimized? How would your experience and life change if you no longer judged, and just accepted people as they were?

Photo of Victorian Multicultural Commission, Melbourne , Australia

Come Together

Almost every day my husband and I have the same conversation. We are spending less and less time on Facebook because of all the hatred and resentment being spewed back and forth. Don’t worry, this is not a post about current events and who is “right.” What I would like to explore is how this time is helping us see how our ego (our sense of self, beliefs, politics, ideologies) has become more important than basic humanity. And how we can begin to correct this.

On both sides of the political table, I see hate, judgment, and labeling. The basic result is the same, “I am right. You are wrong. You are a bad person.” Our ego, our self-centeredness, our narcissism has taken hold so strongly that we see ourselves as separate – and usually – superior to others. What we have forgotten is that we are in this together.

Photo of Victorian Multicultural Commission, Melbourne , Australia by Pramuk Perera on Unsplash

No one is an island. No one can survive without someone else. Our lives are so intricately interwoven, yet we often think we are separate.

Are you one of the lucky ones who is financially stable and using this time to relax? Could you relax without artists creating moving pictures for you to watch, technicians maintaining platforms delivering entertainment, and engineers ensuring you have electric and internet to receive it? Could you survive without farmers growing food and someone delivering that food to you?

For those survivalists who think you can do this all alone, maybe you prepared by having your own seeds and land to farm. Maybe you have the skills to make your own clothes and to keep water and power coming to you. I know of one such guy. If I was ever to end up alone on a desert island, this is the dude I want by my side because this guy can do it all. And yet, I see that even he can not make it through this time without his family. Without connection. Without love.

My wish is that this time of isolation, teaches us all how we truly are NOT isolated in this world. We are connected to and intertwined with the planet, our neighbors, and those living in countries far away. I understand fear of the unknown – and I think fear is what is causing most of the hate these days. When we become afraid, we try to protect ourselves. But shielding ourselves from the outside world is not protection; it is separation. It is like the child who covers her own eyes playing peek-a-boo. Just because she is choosing not to see, does not mean there are not others around her.

Try these exercises to help broaden your perception on our interconnectedness:

  • Go Around the World: My husband plays this on laundry day. Read the labels on your clothing as you are putting them away and see how many different countries you can find. You can try this game on all your household goods and supplies too.
  • Six Degrees: Many people know of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. Why not play that yourself and see how many people you can connect to? I am two away from Conan O’Brien which is cool and am three away from the Kardashians, which is not.
  • Six Degrees World Edition: Combine both these games and see how many places in the world you have visited or lived, or where you know someone who lives there or came from there. The world becomes a little smaller when we can equate a country to a friend or experience.

And next time you notice being upset about someone’s post or a politician’s rhetoric, breathe. Take a moment. See if you can identify their fear. Close your eyes and send them peace. Conflict only breeds more conflict. Understanding and compassion breeds peace.