maslow needs

The Quest for Improvement

Today I was going to write about the story of the two monks and the river in order to show how most of the time our mental pain hurts us more than our physical pain. Then I realized I shared the monk story back in 2010. So . . . I thought about a different angle to take so we could explore how we usually cause more pain and discomfort in our lives by how we think about others, ourselves, and situations then by anything that is actually physically happening to us. I looked up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to use that as a basis to show how for most of our current society the base human needs are taken care of, yet we are torturing ourselves so much more from our mental pain. In researching Maslow I found this great article giving the basics about Maslow’s psychology and found some solace for my own current angst.

maslow needs
From Simple Psychology

Being a perfectionist, I unfortunately tend to beat myself up for the times I do not act how I know I am capable. Instead of seeing these struggles as part of my growth, I wallow too long beating myself up for my imperfections. Yet they are not imperfections. They are the bumps and struggles we all have as we strive to become the best people we are meant to be. It is our challenges, our setbacks, the adversity we face (from others or self-created) which give us the opportunity to grow. Not that I am anywhere close to this, but I looked at the list of characteristics of self-actualizers in the article and can see that at my core this is who I want to be. Seeing the goals of life this way has always made me feel different than others and yet it is what I feel driven to become. It is my goal. It is my definition of happiness and contentment.

Lately I have been praying for help because I have been so down on and overcritical of myself. Finding this article was Spectacularly Perfect for me as it told me that although the path is currently bumpy, I am heading in the right direction because I share many of the behaviors, or strive to have the behaviors, that lead to self-actualization. I am trying to be fully and completely in each moment. I am listening to my inner guidance (even when it is not popular or when it is scary) and sharing my truth honestly. I am willing to try new things, to walk the road less taken. I am surrendering my defenses and having the courage to take responsibility for my growth.  And I promise to remember what Maslow said, “There are no perfect human beings.”  I’ll just continue to do my best every day and accept when my best is the bare minimum.

What are you currently struggling with? What are your goals? What obstacles are in your way? What Spectacularly Perfect Events help you to know you are on the right path or give you the next step on your journey? How do you accept the hiccups and imperfections of the human experience?

Have hope. Keep walking. Keep growing. Keep loving.

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.

bunny on the subway

The Definition of Insanity

I saw a little boy learn a lesson the other day. At least I hope he learned from the experience. I was at the bank and the front of the bank was all glass. Even the doors were glass. The doors were not trimmed with metal; there were just two brackets top and bottom and the rest of the door was all glass. I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the glass doors. A young boy was playing with the door. He opened the door enough so he could touch the difference between the wall glass and the door glass. And then, unfortunately, someone left the building and the boy’s fingers were stuck between the door and the wall. I have never heard someone scream out in pain like that before. And then it was heartbreaking to see his mother have to open the door, causing more pain, to get his fingers out. It was traumatic for him and everyone who witnessed it. I can’t blame him for the incident. The door was cool and I can see how it would be fun to play with it. I am guessing this was his first time seeing this type of door and he could not have known better.

bunny on the subway
France mass-transit system Photo: Melissa Heisler

What I would blame him for is if it happens during his next visit to the bank. Sometimes we need to have painful experiences to learn lessons from them. It happens. But if we constantly repeat painful experiences, we have to ask ourselves why? How many of us have painful experiences, but instead of learning from them we keep repeating them again and again? We know bad boys are only going to break our heart, but here we are again dating a tough guy. We know we have to take heartburn medication after eating certain foods, yet our next meal we choose the same dish that upset our stomach the last time. Why do we keep repeating our mistakes? Why do we not learn from our mistakes and decide to choose differently next time?

I think it has to do with our expectations. “Men are always going to hurt me.” “My family all have stomach issues so I will too.” We think we are predestined to pain and disappointment. I do not believe that is true. Yes, we could have been born into a social setting filled with people we could not trust. Yes, we may have some genetics which make certain foods irritable. I do not believe however, that we must continue to choose to bring pain into our lives. As adults we have a choice of who we hang around, what we put in our bodies, and how we approach life. Yes, we can choose to repeat things that bring us pain. And we can also have the courage to choose to do something different and ultimately better for ourselves.

What is causing you the most pain right now? Is this the first time you have felt this pain or can you point to other similar issues? Are there any thoughts which make you feel like you deserve this pain or that this pain is inevitable? Are those thoughts 100% provable true in a court of law? Do you know three (3) people personally or in the larger world who act as if your beliefs are not true? How would your life change if you did not believe those thoughts?

As you go about your day, watch for painful thoughts and incidents that you are repeating in your life. What thoughts make you believe this is just a part of life? Even if it is just a little bit, how can you choose differently?

march of the penguins

Think Before Committing

Have you ever watched March of the Penguins or any other penguin documentary? Those silly little birds who can’t fly are pretty tough creatures. They migrate for hundreds of miles and then overcome amazing odds to feed their young. If I wanted to choose an image for persistence and perseverance, it would be a penguin.

march of the penguinsI am a penguin. I am very good at doing, at persisting, and at pursuing difficult challenges come hell or high water.  What I am not good at is choosing where I should put my efforts. I am still learning to discern and choose.

Last August I participated in a yoga class that consisted of doing a twelve-step sun salutation for one-hundred eight (108) repetitions. Penguin powers activate!!!!! Somewhere in the smart part of my brain, I knew that I should not have accepted the challenge. It was clear halfway through that I could not maintain the speed of the rest of the class. I finally had to recognize that one of the twelve moves was difficult for me, and my doing it incorrectly was hurting my lower back and shoulders. But I didn’t want to stop. I felt I chose to take the course and I should persevere no matter what my body was telling me. Thankfully, I finally chose to recognize and fulfill the needs of my body and stopped.

How many times do we feel like we have committed to something and have to see it through?  I understand that some of us make commitments we never intend to complete, or we have a hard time with follow-through. I am not talking to this camp. I am talking to those people, or all of us at times, who push ourselves harder and harder to complete something we don’t really want or worse, which may be hurting us. If you are like me, you need to learn to stop, discern, and choose what is really best for you.

Stop

Before raising your hand at the PTA meeting or just jumping in to fix something, take a breath. Count to 10. Turn off the knee-jerk reflex to do and allow there to be space to decide.

Discern

When we allow space, we are able to more clearly see the right choice. To discern is to come to know and to recognize one choice from the other, and which is right for us. Take the time to see what the options are and how they affect our experience and goals.

Choose

Sometimes we can discern what is best for us, but we do not feel we can choose it. We always have the power to choose. When working with career transition candidates, sometimes they have to take the first position offered so they can keep their family afloat. That is a choice. It is also a choice to continue to search for the ideal position while working the new not-so-perfect position. Choice is always available to us. Sometimes we receive the result immediately, sometimes in the future, but we can also choose the path we take.

As you go about your week, notice the things you are pushing yourself to do. Stop. Discern how this project could benefit you, or not. Choose what is for the highest and best of all involved, especially for you.

Hope for the Future

Many of us are happy and joyful as we celebrate this Christmas Day. And many of us also have some sadness, some worry and some concern about the future. Years ago, I stopped watching the news and it released me from depression and hopelessness. Lately I have noticed that after two minutes on Facebook my warm fuzzies of happiness change to devastation and political divide. For my sanity, I may need to begin limiting my social media consumption soon too. The truth is, even if we remove the news from coming to us, essentially hiding our heads in the sand, the world will still continue to get worse, right?

Or are things really getting worse?

I found two great TED talks you should check out. The first talk I found by Hans Rosling was in 2006. In this first talk, he begins to question what we really know about what is happening in the world.  I encourage you to watch the video and see how what you think is actually based on your perception of the world and, if you are like me, you don’t know much more than the literal monkeys surveyed. The point of this talk was that if we don’t look at the real hard data, we don’t see the positive changes in and the real progress of the world. The negativity we see and experience every day is based on our perception. Our perception is based on what we learned in the past. Therefore we are living in the non-progressing negativity of the past instead of the hopeful reality of today.

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

The second talk by Hans Rosling and his son doesn’t just show how our thinking is skewed. Instead, they also provide us with tangible ways we can look for and truly see the real data. It is when we can see the real data that we can create ways to make real change, or at least sleep at night knowing life is progressing in a positive fashion.  These gentlemen postulate that we all have embraced preconceived ideas as reality. Our beliefs are based on our personal bias due to growing up in homogenized neighborhoods, to the unfortunate fact that we are taught outdated world views in schools, and due to biased news which focuses on rare events and sensationalized fear.

Here is what they suggest to help us start creating a realistic worldview:

  • Instead of focusing on and believing that everything is getting worse, focus on the fact that most things do improve (and they have the data to prove it).
  • Although there is a real gap between the rich and the poor, remember that most people are in the middle of the curve. And that the middle of the bell curve is growing, meaning more of us are living better.
  • Money is not needed to make social improvements. The inverse is true. Social improvements actually lead to increase in personal and national wealth.
  • We may have news, and now even fake news, but we control our consumption. We are often drawn to sensational and unusual events therefore we are fed more and more of these. Stop consuming the sensational, stop feeding your fears, and focus on the true daily facts of our world.

As we move into 2019, don’t focus on the past. Don’t expect things to get worse. Don’t let the past hold you back. Don’t bring the heartbreaks of the last year into the new year. Look at things with open eyes. Look to the new year with hopeful eyes. And usher in the positivity and hope the world needs today.

mask of ego

Ego and Surrender

Yoga and other mindfulness practices talk a lot about the ego and surrendering the ego. Thinking that the ego meant the self and being raised a Catholic where I heard many times it is better to serve and give to others, I interpreted surrendering the ego to mean that we are meant to be self-sacrificing. That we should release our desires and remove all selfishness. That we should be humble and put others first no matter the personal discomfort. For me this led to a life where I did not take care of myself. By putting everyone and everything else first, I became a neglected last. I thought that surrendering my ego meant surrendering my basic needs.  I’m going to attempt to explain what I have learned over the years.

Self Care

First, unlike what I assumed, surrendering the ego is NOT giving up our essentials needs. You are the only person responsible for you. Therefore, feeding and caring for our own bodies, minds and spirits is and should always be our primary concern. This does not mean intentionally harming or taking from others to satiate our desires. It does mean that we need to care for ourselves. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can not care for anyone else nor truly live our purpose.

Ego

mask of ego
Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

If our bodies, minds and spirits are not are ego, what is ego? The Cambridge Dictionary defines ego as “the idea or opinion that you have of yourself, esp. the level of your ability and intelligence, and your importance as a person.” Ego is not you, not your body, not your mind, not your spirit. Ego is what you think of your body, your mind, your spirit, and your position in the world. Our responsibility is to care for our physical and spiritual being, ourselves. What we are exploring is how to release what we believe about our human presence.

Our ego, our thoughts about our self, is often out of balance. Sometimes we have a much grander opinion of ourselves than reality dictates. Maybe we think we are “the best” and superior to others. For whatever reason, our opinion of ourselves is inflated. Sometimes our ego is deflated. We can’t see our good and what makes us amazing. We downplay our accomplishments and our worth. Whether high or low, what is important to remember is that our ego is our self-created opinion. It is not fact. It is a thought or belief.

Surrendering the Ego

Surrendering the ego is letting go of our opinion, good or bad, of who we are. The first reason we strive to surrender our ego, is that our ego, how we think of ourselves, is often misguided. Whether we inflate ourselves or put ourselves down, our ego is based on our beliefs, not hard cold facts. When we surrender the lies we tell ourselves, we can reconnect to the reality of who we are.

The second reason we strive to surrender our ego, is we release viewing the world through our perception of ourselves and begin to see the reality of the world. We stop seeing people as actors in our play, and begin to see them fully and truly as they are. We stop interpreting events through the filter of our ego and begin to see the facts that surround us. We stop seeing the world as a reflection of our opinion and see it more clearly.

The third reason we strive to surrender our ego, is it allows us to connect to the universal. Releasing our opinion of ourselves, opens us to see the truth of who we are in and of the world. We let go of the personal entity we have created and can begin to see ourselves as part of the whole collective universal spirit. When we can release our ego, when we can release the belief that we can creating who we are, who others are and what the world is, we can surrender into the truth of life.