eeyore and friends

Emotional Contagion & the Holidays

Ah, the holidays. As we approach Thanksgiving in the United States, Christmas everywhere, and a plethora of holidays around the world, no doubt idyllic Norman Rockwell images pop into mind. Or maybe Norman has been replaced by the formulaic sentimentality of the Hallmark holiday movie industry. Either way, we are transported to visions of sugar plums, loving connection, and unconditional support wrapped up in a perfectly tied silk bow and served alongside steaming hot chocolate with two heart-shaped marshmallows.

And then we go home to our families.

Now don’t get all huffy my family of origin, I am referring to the Royal We family. Not any of you specifically.

When people get together, even people who love and care for each other, things are not always perfect. The reality of our lives is that we are all human and imperfect. We have bad moods. We have differing opinions. We have expectations which are hard to live up to. And it is gosh darn hard to maintain a joyful attitude all the time, especially if we have someone experiencing a Scrooge moment around us.

eeyore and friends wallpaper

But it is important that we try. I recently read an article which explores Emotional Contagion. Emotional Contagion is basically how, like we can catch a cold from those around us, we can also catch others’ emotions. Because humans mirror and mimic each other, one person’s bad mood can ruin the mood of everyone around them, and then everyone around those people.

What can be done?

First, don’t be “that guy.” Be aware of your own emotional state. What are you experiencing that you might unconsciously transmit to others? Clean up any Negative Nelly thinking before you hit the party circuit or share anything on social media. It may feel good to scream out the negativity, but if you knew it would not release you from your bad mood but instead spread the crud to others, would you still do it?

Next, watch out for “that guy.” It may be an Eeyore at work, crotchety Uncle Bill, or your best friend on a bad day. Doesn’t matter who it is. What is important is to keep your eyes open for someone who might be spreading holiday anti-cheer.

Once you have identified the ground zero of negativity you have two choices. First, try to help the poor soul. Usually the person experiencing a bad mood is not enjoying being grumpy any more than you enjoy being around them when they are grumpy. Empathize, distract, encourage, instill gratitude. Look to your toolbox of things that make you happy and see if any of them can break your friend out of their mood. Second, run away. If someone is in a funk and you are not able to help them escape it, get yourself a safe distance away so you don’t catch – and spread – what they are exuding.

During the holidays, and every day, decide if you want to spread cheer or negativity. Acknowledge your ability to make this a happier, better world by controlling your emotions and if/how you take on the emotions of others.

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?

conformity

I’m Not Normal, and it’s Awesome!

For my entire life, I thought I was not normal. Not being normal, not fitting in, made me sad. I had a hard time relating to my peers. I wasn’t good in groups.  I laughed at what others didn’t laugh at, and it was awkward. I perceived the world in a way that others did not. I was not like other people. I felt alone and longed to fit in.

conformity
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

In my 30’s, I had a brief stint with the cool kids. I was accepted as normal.  I was part of a group.  We did everything together. At first it was exhilarating. Until it wasn’t. What I realized was that to be part of the group, I need to think, act, and speak exactly how they did. Individuality was not welcome. I watched as they all started to have the same catch phrases, clothes and haircuts. They had to do the same things and were always together. They were lemmings. Identical little robots. To fit in, to be normal, I could no longer be me. As soon as I began to be me again, the group went away.  And that was ok with me.

Today, I may not be fully and utterly myself each and every moment. But I am certainly more myself, more not-normal than anything else. I don’t fit anyone else’s mold. I don’t look and act like others.  And I am pretty happy. Normal is defined at “conforming to the standard or the common type.” If to be normal is to be made to conform, to be like everyone else, then no thank you. I’d rather be me.

I saw a terrific TED talk the other day by Caroline McHugh. She is in the business of helping people to know, accept and truly be themselves.  She believes that we all know who we are and what we are here to express. We see it clearly as children and then begin to see it again in our later years. We see our truth without the fear of what others will think of us and without the restrictions of other’s expectations. We are boldly and unapologetically us. Being oneself frees us from comparison. I am not trying to be someone else so being more than or less than them doesn’t exist. I am not comparing myself to them and their accomplishments. My only goal is to be fully, completely and solely me. As is mentioned in the TED talk, when “we have our own thing, that’s the magic.” We can never excel by imitation. Success, achieving our life purpose is found only by embracing the true self we were each meant to be.

In being our self, we not only remove comparison, but we can accept ourselves completely. I have been listening to an Insight Timer course by John Siddique called Self-Acceptance through Authenticity. In one of the modules, I finally felt a piece of myself integrate making me whole, maybe for the first time. For many years, I have rejected the judging part of myself because I thought it was bad. The Myers-Briggs assessment told me I was a judger. My honest appraisal of myself tells me I am a judger. I felt this was bad. Judging others is bad, right? But it is innate in me, so did that make me innately bad? I have tried for decades to get rid of it, but I can’t. Judging is second nature for me. What finally clicked through this course, is that my ability to see defects and flaws in others is what allows me to be a good coach. I don’t attack people with my judgment it as I did when I was younger. I use this ability to see clearly and deeply into someone helping them to see themselves fully, so they can use the information to become the best person they can be.  I can not help from seeing people’s glitches. And that is ok. It does not make me a bad person. It is actually one of the things that makes me, me.

Being normal, adhering to a standard is restriction. We are not meant to conform to a standard. We are not meant to be anyone else. We are not meant to fit a certain mold. We are each unique and different and are here to bring something special to the world. Stop blocking your purpose. Be weird. Be abnormal. Be you. And notice how much happier you are and how the world is better because of it.

what is love

What is love?

Deee-lite, one of my favorite bands, asked back in the 1980’s, “what is love?” Although they wrote a fun song that asks the question, the song never really gets to the answer (unless love is “degroovy”). Love is a theme of a lot of music, literature, and art. Mostly we see people who are pining or longing for love. They want your love. They need your love. They gotta have your love. This type of love is often seen as a noun. It is viewed as something that exists on its own and can be given away. It is seen as something that is gifted to another. It is as if we each have a bundle of love that we dole out in clumps and pieces to those we deem worthy.


This type of love is focused around the ego. Our persona, the person we believe we are, needs need to be loved and accepted. We expect that those around us should shower us with love and we have definite expectations of what that love should look like. We determine if someone’s gifted love is enough or given in the right way. Not only do we judge the quality and quantity of the love we are gifted, but we also feel as if we are nothing if we do not have that love. How many romantic comedies show a person as incomplete without their “other half.” Seeing love as a thing, as something that is parceled out, makes it a commodity. It is just another possession. The gifting of it is usually conditional and transitory. This is love as a noun and something that can be possessed, and lost.

Giving the power of love to another, having them be the one who has what you want, also makes you powerless. Many people are sad and depressed because they do not feel another’s love and therefore feel incomplete. We then make stupid choices to get love. We hide who we are so others accept us. We give up what we want in order to receive another’s love. We hold our tongue around our “friends,” afraid if they truly knew who we are they would abandon us. We diminish ourselves, our purpose, our being so we can be gifted with a nugget of love from someone else.

What I am coming to realize is that love is not a thing with which someone else gifts us. It is not a noun but is something inherent in our soul. It is something peaceful, fundamental, and deep. Love is a state of being. It is a way we move throughout our day. Love is seeing others around us with the eye of empathy and compassion. Love is being conscious of our actions and words and how they affect others. Love is feeling connected to those around us, even when they hate us. Love is a state of inherent peace found in the connection to oneness.

Sometimes love comes out as a gift or expression. What I have found though is once the love takes form outside our self it becomes a noun.  When love becomes a thing, there is now a conscious or unconscious desire to be recognized for what we are giving. Love is an inherent, internal experience. It can be seen in our eyes, words, and actions, but it is not what we say or what we do. It is an energy that fills our being and radiates unseen to all those around us.

Sometimes we can experience true love through an enlightened person like Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama. Sometimes it is seen in a common person. The garbage man who came by my old house was one of those people. He was calm and joyful and just radiated a peace that is indescribable. He didn’t give me the noun of love through picking up my garbage. But being in his presence I felt the existence of love.

Think through your life. Have you met someone who radiates love? Have you ever embodied that pure essence? Have you ever expressed your love without wanting in return?

giving a rose

To Give is to Receive

I am not a relationship coach, but I often work with clients who are seeking a real, long-lasting relationship. Often times they are depressed and desperate. They are upset that this amazing relationship has not come into their lives yet. From my side of the desk, it is easy to see how no one would be attracted to someone who is desperate and depressed. I encourage them to start being the person they want to date. If you want someone with a good sense of humor, smile, laugh and joke more often. If you want someone who enjoys an adventure, get out every weekend and try something new. If you want someone who enjoys travel, book a trip. If you want someone who jogs, schedule time every day to get a run in. If you want someone who loves freely and completely, start loving others. If they follow my advice, worse case scenario is they begin living the life and being the person that will truly make them happy. Best case scenario, by being all they desire to be, they will attract someone like-minded.

giving a rose
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The best way I have found to receive what we want, is to give it out. Often, what we send out into the world is what we receive ten-fold.

Don’t ask people to love you. Be love.

Don’t desire to be accepted. Be acceptance.

Don’t long for someone to comfort you. Reach out to comfort someone else.

Don’t pray for someone to forgive you. Forgive those who have hurt you.

Be the experience you want to have. Give to others what you wish to receive. In giving we also receive, and often we will receive more by giving to other, than others could ever give in the first place.

Be careful not to give to get. Do not give to receive immediately or directly from the person to which you are giving. Give to your mother and you may receive from your friend. Give to a stranger and you may receive from your boss. This is not quid pro quo. It is not like going to a store and exchanging money for the thing we want. This is open, honest, and non-expectant giving. The second you do something in order to receive, you stop the flow. Your giving must be done freely, with love, and without the expectancy of receiving in return. It is the unattachment from the result of giving that leads to receiving.

As with the example of looking for a relationship, giving freely of what you want to experience leads you to experience that thing. What we feel by giving is deeper than if someone tried to give us these experiences, because so many times we do not accept what others are giving to us. How many times has someone tried and failed to cheer you up when you are down? They can not give you what you don’t want to receive. They can’t give you what you can not embody yourself. By first embodying what we want to receive, it opens us up to accept more.

For the next few days experiment being the emotional states you want to receive. Give to others freely what you want to receive yourself. How does it feel to give without expectation? How does embodying what you want to receive feel different than when you actually receive it from others? See for yourself if it is not more beneficial to give than to receive.