Romeo and Juliet

Real Love

I try to stay away from sensationalized headlines, but recently I clicked on a talk called “Why you will marry the wrong person.” Thankfully the talk turned out to be more substance that I expected. It was in fact a very poignant look at relationships.

Feelings

By chance, a recent Netflix binge was a show called, “Virgin River.” This Hallmark-inspired soap opera focused almost wholly on feelings. In fact, the characters talk about hardly anything expect their emotions and how they feel. Every decision they make, all of their focus is on their emotions, and their desire for others to understand, fix, or change how they feel. Throughout the show the characters move from love to hate to jealously and are steered blindly by their feelings. It became funny because the characters’ answer to every problem was “I love you.” Yet never did they really supply a reason why they love the other person. It was like saying “I love you” explained every fault and fixed every issue.

In contrast, Alain de Botton recommends in his YouTube speech that we do not follow are feelings. He says that our feelings and instincts can not be trusted because they are based in what is familiar. What is familiar is how our first love, our parents, made us feel. Did our parents get divorced when we were young? Then being around people who will probably leave is familiar and comfortable. Trusting our feelings gets us in trouble, because it draws us to repeat the same issues again and again.  

Romeo and Juliet
Michigan Shakespeare Festival

Love

The Virgin River cast is all about the act of being loved. They focus on the receiving of flowers, attention, and special gifts. They expect their admirers to intuit and respond to their innermost wants and needs, without having to express those needs at all. It is the old belief that if you really loved me, you would know and do exactly what I need.

To love someone is very different than receiving love. To love someone, we accept them warts and all. Everyone is a mix of good and bad. To truly love someone, it is not only an admiration of their good qualities, but compassionate acceptance of their whole self.

Vulnerability

To rule our feelings and truly receive and give real love, we need to be vulnerable. Consciously or unconsciously many of us play games in our relationships, mostly because we are terrified to be truly vulnerable. Instead, we play games to try to get what we need. Instead of saying I need you, we micromanage others trying to make them act how we wish. Out of fear of rejection, we may become distant so we can not be hurt; therefore creating the rift in the relationship out of fear that there may be a rift in the relationship. Instead of saying what we need, we try to manipulate others to give us what we need. This usually backfires.

To be in an authentic relationship, we need to share our truth openly and honestly holding space for our partner to do the same. This may mean accepting things about others we may not fully like. It may mean accepting feedback from our partner as constructive criticism and not attack.

Who are you in relationships? Are you the Virgin River character or Disney princess who believes the fact of love will make everything right? Or are you a vulnerable realist who sees people for who they are and uses compassion and boundaries to create honest, loving relationships?

It's time for a change

Making a Change for the Better

The realization last week that I need to accept my neighbor’s inconsiderate actions was pivotal. But just what do I do with that? As Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” Knowing that I need to accept his poor actions as truth, to release the anger that is hurting me, and to embrace strong boundaries are just mental exercises. These are knowledge but not change. To go from knowing to applying, we need willingness and action.

If you're reading this it's time for change.
Photo by hay s on Unsplash

Willingness

We can know that eating a more vegetable-filled diet is good for us, but the willingness to forgo a juicy burger for a handful of carrots may not be there. Knowing what is good for us is not enough. We have to be willing to act differently. Oxford Languages defines willingness as “the quality or state of being prepared to do something; readiness.” Synonyms are readiness, disposition, inclination, wish, desire, eagerness, and enthusiasm. That is a powerful list. How many times do you know something is good for you, but you lack the readiness, disposition, or inclination to act? When do you go into a new project begrudgingly instead of with eagerness and enthusiasm? Before we can act and make real changes, we need to have the willingness to act.

If there are changes you want to make in your life but you are not moving forward, explore your willingness first. What do you fear will happen if you make a change? Will you lose something? Will you feel unsafe? Will others mock or leave you? Are you just uncomfortable in the newness of it? Are you more comfortable with the devil you know? After looking at your fear, look at the rewards. What do you gain through the change? How would your life’s experience improve? Is the reward worth the effort and risk?

Take your time exploring your lack of motivation and willingness. Don’t gloss over it. If you don’t spend the time getting buy-in from yourself, you will never move forward or stick with your new way of being.

Action

Now it is time to take it to the streets. Making a mental change of attitude and commitment means nothing without action. What steps can you take to move forward into the new? Stay away from all-or-nothing thinking. There is no need to make major drastic changes all at once. What is the smallest most comfortable step you can take in the right direction? What is that one thing you can do that is contrary action to what you were doing before? These little tangible steps lead up to the major change you are looking for.

In my case, I realized that my obsession with the inconsideration happening next door was taking away my joy. A major change could have been for me to move. That was not necessary. What I started with was noticing I was allowing myself to be disturbed by his actions, even when he was not around. I became ready and willing to release my obsessive thinking about the injustice when it was not happening and then I took action. The first easy action I took was counting. On the first day, I counted how many times my mind replayed the story of injustice. This did two things. First, it stopped me from feeding or fighting the story; all I had was objective awareness. Doing this took me out of the emotion of the story. Secondly, it gave me something tangible to work on. Sadly, that first day I disturbed myself over thirty times with my story of injustice. The second day that number was just over ten. By the third day it was less than five. My circumstances have not changed, I still have an annoying neighbor living next door, but my experience has improved immensely because I have changed my actions and behaviors.

What do you want to change in your life? Do you have the deep-down inclination and true desire to make the change? What is a small tangible step you can take today?

angry sign

Acceptance Sucks

My life seems to be one of constant learning. Recently themes of connection, service and compassion have been prevalent. And Acceptance. Lots of acceptance. I am not very accepting of my lesson in acceptance. In fact, I am resisting and very much not accepting my lesson in acceptance. Unfortunately, it is this same resistance that is causing me more pain.

Acceptance comes in different forms. One can struggle in accepting themselves and their human body. Perhaps it is accepting bad situations like an impending natural disaster or disease. Sometimes it is acceptance of others who are, think, and believe differently than me; I have worked hard at not imposing my expectations on others which makes it easier to accept them. The acceptance I am struggling with now is not when my expectations are off, but when people can not act with common courtesy.

I am, of course, talking about my chain-smoking neighbor who I have been writing about ad nauseum. He is my current teacher, and I can’t wait to get this lesson, really get it, so I can be free of him. The acceptance he is teaching me is accepting others, even when their behavior is harming me. Phew. That is a hard one. In the past, my expectations of others were based on my selfish wants and needs, and I could see how I needed to release those expectations to find peace and acceptance. In my current situation, it is hard for me to release the expectation that my neighbor not carelessly poison me with his smoke.

Can you relate? Many of us are losing our shit because we feel the actions of others are infringing on our health, wellbeing, or freedom. I saw a video the other day of a man on an airplane insanely freaking out because he did not want to wear a mask. Others are upset that those around them will not mask and get the vaccine. It seems we all have a definition of freedom and safety that contradicts the wants and needs of others. In many ways it is more than just our expectations; it feels like others are purposefully attacking and harming us and not allowing us the freedom to live the life we want.

The question remains, what do we do with people who appear to be causing us harm?

We accept them.

Damn, I didn’t want that answer, did you? I want to fight them, publicly shame them, be as harmful back to them as they are being to me. But where does that get me? It just makes me more angry and resentful – and then I would have to deal with the repercussions of my “Karen” behavior as well. Instead of going ballistic and acting in a hateful, self-righteous, and self-focused way I would regret, here are a few things I am trying.

Stop Fighting Reality

A hurricane just passed through our town recently. The hurricane did not form with the intention of hurting me. It did not have the choice to just be a light breeze but instead decided to have 100 MPH winds just to be a jerk. The same thing with my chain-smoking neighbor. He is living his life the way he chooses. He is not doing it intentionally to me. I can’t want and expect him to be any way that he is. A dog is going to be a dog. Expecting him to be a cat only causes me pain. We can not blame or attack another for their behavior. We can not change another’s actions or behavior. We can’t. Instead of being upset that people are not acting in a way we deem as appropriate, we need to surrender to the truth that they are acting in the only way they know how to right now. Until I stop fighting, I can’t be open to finding solutions to get me closer to what I want to experience.

Focus on What I Want

I have spent way too much time obsessing over the pain and inconvenience my neighbor is causing me. I find myself upset about his smoke in my house, even when there is not smoke in my house. Instead of feeding my anger and victimhood, I am beginning to focus on what I want. Serenity. Peace. Fresh air. When I have those things, I am grateful. When I don’t, I see what I can do in the moment to make changes that will get me closer to what I want.

Stop Trying to Win

If I went to court, I could have a good case as to how my neighbor was infringing on my right to clean air, good health, and full use of my home. But winning that battle does not give me clean air and good health. It would only create animosity and more conflict. There are no winners and losers. There is no good or bad. If our world is ever going to heal, we need to release the concept of duality. We are not separate. It is not us versus them. We are not separate from each other but connected parts of a whole. Until we stop fighting the non-existent separation from each other, we will not come together and find peace.

Pray

It doesn’t matter what or who I am praying to, but I need to remind myself that this problem is bigger than me. I am powerless to change the views and actions of my neighbor. By praying I turn the problem over to whatever is larger than me in universe which can possibly affect what is happening. This is an act of detachment with love for myself and for my sanity. The other piece of prayer is compassion. “Bless them, heal me” is a great prayer of compassion for others, and ourselves.

It is not hard to look around these days and find others who are in acting in ways that feel like they are infringing on the life, liberty, and freedom of others. Fighting them directly only feeds the fire. We need to try new ways to heal differences in opinion and lifestyles. I hope that finding acceptance can be the foundation to help make a positive change for us all.

forgiven

Learning Unconditional Compassion

I have written a few times about my neighbor and the inconvenience of the smoke that comes from his house. Over the years I had made a few attempts to let them know there was a problem. My first attempt was to my neighbor’s girlfriend who had absolutely no interest or desire in improving anyone else’s experience. My second attempt was through the home association board because the smokers were now a string of people cycling through the house. This helped for a few months, but then the problem sprouted up again.

After three years of having to close my windows multiple times during the day to minimize the amount of stinky weed in my house, I lost it. I lost it big time. The owner of the home was now staying at the premises, and I let loose years of pent-up anger, frustration, and fear on him. I did it without attacking him or his guests, but it was definitely expressed with an excessive amount of feeling. We have come to an agreement that they will let me know before they smoke so I can at least close my windows before the smoke gets in. The entire incident was very emotionally charged for me and after reviewing the situation I realized a few things.

Over-Accommodating

In hindsight, I should have been letting the homeowner know how difficult it has been over the years, but I believed I had to take the high road. I should be the bigger person. I should be accepting. What I forgot was that I can take the high road – and still have boundaries. I can be the bigger person – and take care of myself. I can be accepting of not only others, but of my needs. In trying to be a good person to others, I completely forgot to be a good person to myself.

Release

Stuffing down the emotions of my unmet needs for years manifested in depression, anger, and physical illness in my body. My repressed anger created constant anxiety and an inability to express my thoughts and needs clearly. Once I realized how much negative energy I had stored in my body, I needed to find release. Unfortunately, I do not have an energy worker where I live. However, I stumbled upon energy release through death metal. My husband put on an album by Master; ironically a band started by my childhood neighbor. This was not the normal music I listen to, but for some reason, it was a wonderful tool to help me release my bad vibrations.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Once I could be free from the cloudy thinking of my emotions, I could start to take inventory of my actions and options. Having smoke in my home is unhealthy and my thinking that he was doing it on purpose or disrespectfully made it worse. In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz tells us not to take anything personally. It was self-focused to think this was happening to me, specifically. The smokers were smoking. They were living their life wholly separate from me. When I could release the thought that it was intentional, it relieved some of the pain.

Focus

I spent a lot of time focusing on my neighbor. Judging him for his actions. Ruminating on things I could say to him. Rehashing the same ideas on how to solve the problem. I wasted a lot of energy and peace focusing on someone and something beyond my control. When I switched focus to my inner mental health, instead of uncontrollable outer circumstances, I found peace. It was amazing how I found serenity simply by changing my own mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Nothing really changed externally, and yet I found much more peace.

Expectations

As I always say, a dog is going to be a dog. When we expect a dog to be a cat, we are just causing ourselves pain. I was expecting people to act differently then they are capable. I just created my own pain and frustration by expecting something which was not possible. Every day my neighbor showed his true colors, yet I expected that he would act in a different way. My pain is on me if I am expecting someone to act other than they have shown inclination to do.

Compassion

By releasing pent-up emotions, switching focus to what I could control (my thinking and actions), speaking and standing up for my needs, and adjusting my expectations, I was also able to find compassion for my neighbor. I stopped seeing him as an intentionally bad person and was able to begin to see him wholly. No one is all bad. We are all just doing the best with what we can do right now. By releasing that judgment, I also received more peace.

I learned unconditional compassion for my neighbor, and myself, through this emotionally charged incident. In the world today, it is easy to have rage and take offense at the beliefs and actions of others. How can you find release and compassion?

Hurricane Ida and Nora

Wasted Worry

I know this may seem insensitive to those who went through Hurricane Ida in the United States or Hurricane Nora on the mainland of Mexico, but I was upset we didn’t get a hurricane. Let me explain.

Early last week, Windy.com showed a possible wind formation for this past weekend. Last Thursday NOAA made it official that there would be a tropical storm or hurricane. For three days, I obsessively monitored that latest information about the storm. How big would it become? How would it affect my city? Would there be rain or wind or both?

Windy.com

Prepare for the Worst

After living in a hurricane path for six years, we have become accustomed to hurricane season. August and September, we stay on alert. We watch the sites for notifications of storms. We are fortunate to have scientific bodies who monitor potential storms, their possible direction and intensity. We prepare for potential storms. The first few storms, we really didn’t know what we were doing, but now we know what to expect, what to purchase, and how to prepare. Just like making sure there is an ice scraper in the car and that the snow blower is in working order before a blizzard, we are able to prepare for a possible hurricane. My husband and I are blessed to have the money and means to buy and store extra food, water, and gasoline for a generator.

Hope for the Best

We prepare for the worst and hope for the best. But do I really? I did prepare for the worst, but I think I found myself expecting, and dare I say, wanting the worst. I found myself obsessed with the hurricane path. Tropical storms are interesting creatures. As much as technology and science can alert us to a storm, it is not an exact science. The forecast fluctuates as many variables, like hitting land or moving over warm waters, can change the direction and intensity of a potential storm. I, stupidly, found myself becoming angry when the storm diminished in intensity and moved away from being a threat to my home. Why is that?

Accept the Situation

Accepting the situation was NOT what I was doing. I had invested so much time and worry into the storm’s path that when it was not going to hit, I could see how much worry I had wasted. I was being an obsessed drama queen. My expectations of where, when, and how the storm was going to hit were not met, and I was angry. I was trying to control the uncontrollable. Once again, I found myself planning, worrying, and expecting instead of just living. I was angry at myself for being obsessed about a storm that never arrived.

Keep Living

This is what I forgot to do. I was focused on controlling the uncontrollable or being so focused on worry that I put my life on hold. I waited on, anticipated, the storm. I didn’t go places. I didn’t do things. I told others that I may not be able to make commitments the following week because of the storm. I put a big pause button on my life waiting for something to happen, which never materialized. And I was kinda angry because of all the time and focus I wasted.

What in your life are you waiting to have happen or to be resolved before you move forward? How much time and effort are being spent focusing on things you can not control? What parts of your life are you putting on hold until something beyond your control is resolved?  Breathe. Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best. Accept the current situation which may be one of uncertainty. And keep living.

be the change

Unenlightened Blame

We all have our favorite Greek philosophers, right?  Mine is Epictetus. He never wrote any of his philosophies down, but his students would scribe his talks. As I wrote my book, From Type-A to Type-Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, again and again I ran across quotes from Epictetus which were in direct alignment to my thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about life.

Recently I started reading, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, where Sharon Lebell shares collected passages from his talks. The passages are in bite-size chunks perfect for daily reflection. One passage, “No Shame, No Blame,” really stood out to me. In this passage, Epictetus exposes unnecessary self-created pain. Here is what he said.

Photo by Maria Thalassinou on Unsplash

Blame

He starts out strongly saying that it is not the circumstances or issues we face that cause us pain, but our  feelings about them. I have thought and written about that before. Epictetus takes it one step further – which is obvious, but I hadn’t tied the two thoughts together. He says when things are difficult, “let us never place the blame on others, but on our own attitudes.” Pretty obvious – and powerful – right?  I always focused on self-improvement. How do I improve my thinking to resolve a painful situation? And yet, I might blame the other party for their role. That guy is a jerk for doing X, Y or Z, but I am going to rise above it and change my thinking. If, however, I am going to truly, completely accept that it is our “feelings about things” that torment us, then the others involved are not to be blamed, at all. Yes, they may be acting in inappropriate ways and perhaps we need boundaries to protect ourselves, but it is our feelings, not their actions that are causing us pain. We can not blame them for our experience. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” If you are feeling a certain way, you can not blame anyone except yourself because you are choosing to suffer.

Moral Progress

Epictetus then takes this concept out to society as a whole. “One of the signs of moral progress is the gradual extinguishing of blame.” Wow. Sit with that. What if our current culture stopped pointing their finger at the other side? What if we stopped attacking others for taking away our freedoms or putting us at risk? What if we stopped feeding our negative emotions with biased, sensationalized viewpoints? What if we stopped playing victim and instead stepped into responsibility for our own lives? Epictetus saw society moving from the small-mindedness of blaming others, to blaming ourselves for our situation, to “a life of wisdom” where we embrace the truth that blaming others or even ourselves does no good. This is true acceptance and compassion.

A New Way

As you go about your day, notice who you are blaming. Is it the driver in front of you who is going to make you late for your appointment? Is it yourself for something said or not said? Is it politicians or extremists? Take a step back from the circumstance and look at your feelings about the situation. What is causing your emotional reaction? What are the beliefs, attitudes, and expectations that are causing your anger or sorrow? You may not be able to change the circumstance, but you can ALWAYS change your attitude about it. Let’s all make strides to move our society into the way of wisdom, not unenlightened blame.