Second Thought, First Action

I am so glad I found Cine Club Los Cabos. Every Thursday they show movies for free at the local high school. This month will be French films with Spanish subtitles, which will be a fun language lesson for me. Last month they showed movies about and created by women. “BrØdre” or Brothers was one of the movies shown. Although it centered around two men, it was a film written and directed by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier. The film shows the progression of the no-good alcoholic brother becoming a standup man, and his brother falling into violence and lies after being an upstanding citizen, good husband, and esteemed military leader.

The start of the fall begins when the older “good” brother has to make a life or death decision in wartime. He may not have made the choice we would hope he would, but it was during a war and he was going to die otherwise. I couldn’t really fault him for what he did. What did become difficult to watch was how he lied about the incident again, and again, and again. In one scene, he goes to visit the family of the man he killed. If ever there was a chance to redeem oneself, this would be it. But instead of telling the whole truth or at least that her husband is dead, he tells a massive lie which gives the spouse hope of her diseased husband coming home with no potential of it ever occurring. As I shook my head and sighed, I noticed the woman in front of me doing the same.

How easy it is to see what someone should do and how difficult it is for us to do it in our own life.

angry action
Photo by Heather M. Edwards on Unsplash

I have been doing a lot of personal work lately (again, still) and one of the things I am focusing on are my thoughts and reactions to situations.  I am noticing how my first thoughts when I am triggered are to blame the other person. I can put together a laundry list of how they are a bad person and how what they did is inexcusable. My first desire is then to attack them for how bad they are. Instead, now I try to stop and to look at my part. Once I can see how my words and actions caused or inflated the situation or maybe how I would act the same as they did if the roles were reversed, I can find empathy for the other person and find the right words to make it a growth experience for both of us.

It is not easy, or even commonplace, to not act rashly out of anger. Go on social media for 10 seconds and you can find 50 people who are more than happy to blame the other for the ills of the world. The other political party, the other race, the other gender, the other baseball team. Someone can always be found to blame for the bad in our lives. As a society we thrive off being justified in our anger, outraged, and attacks on the “bad guy.” What we are not good at is taking personal responsibility. I am certainly not perfect at this either. A concept I heard that helps me and has become my mantra in contentious situations is, “I am responsible for my second thought and my first action.”

Second Thought

We are human. More times than not our first thought will be self-serving. Our first thought will be anger. Our first thought will be attacking others. Our first thought will be self-protecting. Our first thought will be based on the fears we learned in our childhood. We are not bad people because we have that first thought. We all do and that is ok. Where the power and freedom and strength come in is when we pause and allow ourselves to have that second thought. When we can look past ourselves to what the other may be experiencing. When we can find empathy and understanding for their situation. This second thought frees us from how we always react. It frees us from mental pain and anguish. This second thought opens up better ways for us to approach our lives and our relationships.

First Action

Most of us tend to live life using knee-jerk reactions. We get cut off in traffic, think the guy is a jerk, and find ourselves flipping him the bird before we consciously choose to. Much of the actions we do during the day are done unconsciously and based on our first, not-so-ideal thoughts. When we take the time to stop and think a second thought, and have the courage to wait for that second thought before we act, we can create a brand new life.

As you go about your week, be aware of your first thoughts. Can you pause long enough to have second thought before you act?

demanding queen

Do It for Me

For over three years now, I have been helping individuals manage unexpected job transition. I love the variety of people I speak to and the different goals and challenges they have in defining and creating what they want next in their professions and lives. One type of candidate, however, always makes me sad.

These individuals are angry that the services they are receiving (for free mind you) are not doing all the work for them. They expect their resume and cover letters to be written for them. They expect me to search and apply for positions in their name. And they are REALLY angry that things are not being done for them.

demanding queen
Photo by Alice Alinari on Unsplash

Part of me laughs. How can you expect me to write your resume when I don’t know your professional history and accomplishments? Do you want me to go on the interview for you too?! Then I wonder, if you can’t get the will power to look and apply for positions, are you going to have the initiative to actually perform the position once you have it?

Most of the time however, I am sad. These candidates are so angry and are only making the issue worse. Yes, they were laid off. It is a horrible situation to be in, especially, if it comes without warning and if the family is already having financial or medical issues. But avoiding pain by putting the onus and unreasonable expectations on others, holding on to resentment, and not making any effort of their own, only creates more problems.

Blaming / Attacking Others

The first thing I see are individuals who want to blame everyone else for their problems. My manager was a jerk! This was total ageism! Why aren’t you writing my cover letter for me? You are supposed to get me my next job, where is it? In Rising Strong, Brené Brown calls this Bouncing Hurt. “The ego likes blaming, finding fault, making excuses, inflicting payback, and lashing out, all of which are ultimate forms of self-protection.” These candidates are hurt and instead of addressing their anger, fear, and sadness, they attack those around them.

Sitting in Resentment

When we are angry, it is ok to feel that emotion. Journal about it. Explore the stories about why we were hurt. Emotions are great tools for helping us understand what is working and what is not in our life. But we are not meant to sit in the emotions forever. Feel them, explore them, then release them. Holding on to the anger and resentment only creates more anger and resentment. We experience what we focus on so the more we focus on the bad experience, the more our life is unhappy.

Make an Effort

Stop waiting for the situation to change or for someone else to rescue you. What can you do right now to make your situation even a little bit better?  We are often blocked in making an effort because it means we have to stop blaming others and take responsibility for our lives. Have the courage to move past the pain and into action.

Life can be difficult. We experience disappointments, sudden losses, and heartbreak. It happens. We can not control what happens, but we can change how we react to things. Be aware of holding on to your anger, blaming others, or expecting someone else to fix what is wrong. Our lives become amazing when we step up, accept responsibility, and take even a little action toward what is better for us.

a delicate dance

The Delicate Dance

It has come to my awareness recently how much of my anger, sadness, resentment, and victimization all stem from focusing on my ego. It is important to differentiation what the ego is and is not.  Lately every time I am triggered by something it is because I assume someone is doing something to me or not thinking of me, therefore bruising my ego. The truth is, I’m not that important. Others are taking care of themselves. They are thinking about themselves. They are doing what they are choosing to do. All with zero or minimal thought of me. And rightly so. I do the same. We are all the lead character of our play, while everyone else is but a small bit part. My ego takes over when I assume I am the leading character in everyone’s play therefore making everything being done because of or to me. Not true.

Our ego gets us in trouble. The ego is constantly wanting to be seen, protected and focused on. The truth though is we are not our ego. We are not our career; we are not our role as mother/sister/daughter; we are not the labels we have adopted (conservative, liberal, feminist, gun rights advocate). We are not the star of anyone’s play, even our own. What we truly are is what I choose to call our soul. Our soul is our being without any title or label. It is that ephemeral drive which makes some of us love horses and others love Shakespeare. It is what has created our theme and challenges in this life. It is what exists no matter where we live, what we do, and who we interact with.

Our ego is of this world. Our soul is beyond it.

What is fun – and challenging – about this lifetime is we need to be in this world, but much of our happiness steps from being beyond this world. When I returned from Peru, I did not feel or act of this world. I stopped playing the game of wanting a certain job, being consumed by the latest television show or fad, and being worried about anything this transitory world produced. I had never known peace like that before. Think about it. Write down the top five things you are focused on or concerned about right now. Would they matter to someone on the other side of the world? Will they matter in five years? Is your belief about its importance based solely on your chosen societal values? Did you value the same things ten years ago? Will you still value them ten years from now?

a delicate dance
Photo by 7 SeTh on Unsplash

All of the anger, sadness, and resentment I experience is based on and in the transitory world. Remember being devastated at not receiving an A on your college thesis or not being asked to the dance by the person you were smitten by? How important is that class now? Can you remember your crush’s name? Remember the 5×5 rule and release any pain being created by the transitory. Releasing the focus on our ego world is what gives us peace.

And yet, we have to focus on the world around us. Unless you are a monk cloistered away for the rest of your life, you need to be in and deal with the world around you. That is the dance of life. Meditate in the morning to touch the great beyond. Deal with traffic going to work. Open your heart to a friend who needs love and support. Spend five hours on hold with your cable provider. Use music, movement or creativity to release your passionate soul. Spend an hour making a meal that will be consumed in five minutes.

As the saying goes, “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” It is amazing and wonderful to touch on the enlightenment of seeing beyond this world. While we are simultaneously loving and dealing with living in this world. That is our delicate dance.

we all fail it is up to you to rise again

Oops, I did it again

Did you see this coming? I should have. Again.

Back in March, my perfectionist ego was triggered during the 30-day yoga challenge. To help create a daily practice of yoga, there was a contest to attend yoga every day in March. Those with the most days won a massage. At first, my competitive overachiever was triggered. It was not just winning, doing the most or being “the best,” but it was the feeling that I was a failure if I did not meet the challenge. Thankfully, after about a week I caught myself. Yoga isn’t about competition. Yoga is about a physical, emotional, mental connection, and a way of being which improves our lives.

we all fail it is up to you to rise again
Photo by Simeon Jacobson on Unsplash

Unfortunately, pride, competition, overachieving, and perfectionism are my life’s challenges, so I was tested again this summer with the headstand. At first, I set a realistic goal for achieving a headstand. I had a year and a half until my 50th birthday and thought that was a fair goal. I was proud that I did not push myself to do it faster. The concept of a headstand was the challenge and giving myself plenty of time to get there was in alignment with yoga. Instead of sticking to my plan however, a comment by the 20-something instructor that I didn’t need that much time kicked me into overachievement mode. Now the goal was to do a perfect headstand by my 49th birthday, just a few months away.

The yoga class I took at the time included headstands as a basic part of the routine, so I thought I would have enough time to master it by my birthday in September. However, I went on vacation for two weeks in July then in August there was teacher training at the studio. Not only was my morning routine thrown off and my daily opportunity to practice the headstand gone, but now the classes were much more difficult. I could not keep up with them and the perfectionist in me was triggered. I was no good. I should never have started yoga. Instead of quitting, I pushed myself harder. And I did what I set out to accomplish. I was able to do a headstand by my 49th birthday, but there was a price.

Because I rushed things. Because completion of the headstand was more important than technique. Because I was driven out of anger, resentment, and self-attack. I hurt myself. If you look at the headstand I shared, you can see I am in pain. The headstand happened, but it was not well executed and doing it caused damage. So much damage in fact, that for the last two months I have not been able to do any yoga and initially lacked even basic mobility. My routine changed from morning yoga to regular cupping and acupuncture to make the pain manageable. What happened?

What happened was that I got in my own way. I made the accomplishment more important than my health. I listened to instructors and gurus instead of my own body. I pushed myself toward perfection instead of accepting where and how I was. Throughout my life I have a history of pushing myself harder than is necessary, pushing myself past my breaking point. Because I push myself, I have accomplished amazing things. Always followed by a need for recovery.

The theatrical director Peter Sellars shared that his mentor told him he was bound to repeat the same mistakes, only in the future he would recognize them. So it is with me, and all of us. We all have our character defects. We all have the challenges we are going to be plagued with this lifetime. They will not go away. What we can do however, is notice them earlier and earlier, and choose differently when we realize we are headed down the wrong path.

What challenges do you continue to repeat? How can you approach them differently next time? How can you catch yourself earlier so things do not go too far? How can you cut yourself some slack when it inevitably happens again?

angry cat

Anger

Anger appears to be the common feeling these days. Politics, religion, gender, race, guns, even in professional sports, it is hard to find a subject today that someone isn’t angry about.

Anger is important. Anger tells us that something is wrong. This emotion alerts us to an injustice we have suffered, to an issue that needs to be resolved, or to a situation which is not emotionally or physically healthy for us.

angry cat
Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash

Anger acted upon is what causes issues. When we act with anger, we are only spreading more hate, pain, and confusion. Anger is not intended to be an action. Acting upon our anger creates more anger in ourselves and others. Anger is for awareness not action.

A group of us meet frequently at the same location. The carpeting at the location was washed, but due to the high humidity of the season it never dried. Three weeks later the room still smells strongly of mold and mildew. A friend had intense anger at the situation. Her feeling was very justifiable. Her anger alerted her to the potential health issue because of the wet carpet. Instead of recognizing her anger and then releasing it to be able to logically discuss solutions, she let the anger loose. Instead of fixing the problem, she caused emotional stress to those around her and distanced the individuals who could have found a solution. A better choice would have been to temper her anger, express her concern clearly, and work with those involved for a solution.

A few days later, I had my own anger. I count on my yoga classes as a point of consistency for my week. They keep me grounded. They provide me with the physical exercise and mental calm to assist me throughout my day. Since July, my classes have not been consistent. The times have changed due to other events at the studio. The content has changed without warning. My anger rose. I took some time to look into my anger. What was I really angry about? I released things that were my issue. As a recovering Type A, I am still triggered by those who don’t adhere to the clock or a schedule like I do. This is something I need to be aware of, accept, and work on. The issue outside of myself that anger alerted me to was that I had paid for a service which was no longer being delivered. We had a contract for a certain type of yoga at a certain time. This contract was broken. Once I found the actionable issue anger had alerted me to, I could have an unemotional conversation with the studio owner working toward a resolution.

When you find anger rising up, remember these three steps:

Turn Off the Anger Alarm Clock

Thank your anger for alerting you to an issue. Don’t feed the anger. Don’t immediately share your anger with friends, family, and all of Facebook. Take a breath.

Find the Cause

Look for the reasons anger has shown up. Write them all down. Separate them into what is your personal issue to work through and what are the issues you need to resolve with others.

Work for Solutions

For those things which are your normal triggers, work through them. What lesson are you being given about things you can improve about yourself? For larger issues that affect more people, approach those involved with facts and in a state of calm. The goal is not to attack or criticize, but to find solutions.

As you go about your day, embrace anger as the awareness tool it is and work on creating new healthier reactions to it.

don draper walter white

Dealing with a Narcissist

Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder has a larger-than-life belief of self-importance, an extreme need for admiration, and a complete lack of empathy and compassion toward others. Narcissists feel a sense of superiority to the point of arrogance and therefore often abuse their power and control over other people. Do you know a narcissist? Take some time and think of someone you know personally or in the public eye who is a narcissist. Americans, I’ll give you a moment to scour your brain for an example.  If you are having a hard time thinking of someone, you can think of fictional characters like Don Draper from Mad Men and Walter White from Breaking Bad who are both great examples of narcissists. These fictional characters, like most narcissists, believe that they are better than everyone else and are invulnerable. They are compulsive liars and willing to abuse those around them to get their way.

I had a run in with a narcissist recently. Initially we spent very little time together. I noticed she needed to be the center of attention but didn’t care because I don’t need to be in the spotlight. Then our relationship shifted, and we had to spend more time together. Now the lies about her status and importance, the demand for constant attention, and the disregard for my and others’ feelings became unbearable. When I was no longer willing to feed her ego and pretend the world was the way she imagined it to be, she was threatened. She needed people to play along with her fantasy. When I didn’t, I became a threat and she went on the attack. I asked my friend and psychiatrist Dr. J what I could do to make interactions with this person bearable. Her response was that “there was no way to make narcissists human.” She recommended using praise and admiration to get things done and calm the waters. Other than that, I just had to get myself away from the narcissist. Not the response I had hoped to receive.

don draper walter whiteI had two struggles. First due to circumstances, I could not remove myself from this relationship and found it very difficult to feed the disillusions and abuse. Second, my passionate belief is that we all have control of our minds and emotions. I found it hard to stomach that some people are unwilling or unable to change. What helped me move through this challenge was to see how broken this person was. Her delusion of grandeur was a cloak to protect her from vulnerability and lack of self-love. She has no real friends because she does not know how to have a real relationship. She is either using people or being used by people. On some level, she may know her beliefs are not true and feel like a fraud ever in fear of being found out. Once I could remove myself from the hurt I was feeling, I felt deep compassion for this person who knowingly or unknowingly was not living in the real world or capable of having real relationships.

My prescription for the narcissists in your life are first, remove yourself from this person if you can. If you have to interact with a narcissist, find compassion not hate, through acknowledging how empty their life really is. If you need to work with them, use flattery and adoration to help motivate them to action.  If you are like me, it may be a challenge to lie and feed their ego, but I have learned, unfortunately, there is no other way. And finally, release any hope that they will change. Narcissism is a disease without a cure, for now.

What has been your experience with narcissists? How have you responded to their behavior? How do you make the experience bearable?