the dawn

Darkness Before the Dawn

For good or bad, one of my driving forces is perfectionism. Because of this, I am very focused on solutions, searching always for a tool or a way of being that would lead to right choices and perfect ways of living. My focus had been on the ideal, the end goal of perfectionism. It wasn’t until recently that I began to see the importance of the dark before the dawn. Before we can strive for perfection, we need to be utterly imperfect.

One of my daily readings is from The Language of Letting Go. This week Melody Beattie shared the concept that “denial is the first step toward acceptance.” I am a big fan of acceptance, so much so that I devoted a whole chapter in my book to acceptance. What this quote pointed out to me is that before acceptance, we are first in denial. If we were not in denial, there would be no reason to learn about acceptance. It is the painful place of denial we start in that gives us the ability to strive for better.

Photo by Victor ZH on Unsplash

This reminded me of the Inside Out movie that came out many years ago now. One of the biggest lessons it taught was that before each of the happy moments of our lives, there is sadness. It is in the darkness that we begin to value the light. It is in our difficult moments that we learn there is a different way. It is in the hardships that we learn to value and be grateful for the good.

Over the past years, I have loosened my desire for perfectionism. Perfectionism is no longer my goal, mostly because it is not attainable, but also because it is not enjoyable. Life is not about perfection. Life is about continuous improvement. And to have improvement we first need to start with the difficult. We are not here to become some ideal physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. We are here simply to improve, to become just that little bit better than where we started. We are here to learn a lesson, to experience the journey.

When I am challenged these days, I do not fall into a pity party or launch into a mad rush for solutions. Instead, I step back and ask what I am to learn from this experience. What is this challenge here to teach me?  These questions help me rise above the challenge itself and see this as an opportunity to learn and grow. And I thank the challenge. For without the challenge, I could not grow.

2020 has given us many things to fear and worry about. It helps me to see them as the platform for our growth. Issues with America’s politics, race relations, and institutions have come to light. It is in this negativity that we are given the opportunity to make a change. It is through the awareness of what is off that we are given the incentive to transform.

Look around you. What are your current struggles? Instead of feeding them with fear and worry, ask them how they are here to help. Are you having challenges relating to family members with differing political views? Perhaps it is an opportunity to learn compassion and acceptance. Look at each of your challenges and your fears then explore how they can be a gift to you. What lesson are they presenting to you? Next, take action. Even the smallest step can begin to make a difference for you and others.

Perfecting Imperfection

One of my biggest character defects, my biggest struggles is the dishonest belief that I am/can/should be absolutely perfect. A lot is wrong with this belief. First, it assumes there is one absolute correct way to be, i.e., perfect. Yet with the variety of people, professions, beliefs, abilities, etc. out there, how could someone presume to define a singular explanation of perfection. Second, my belief is tied to the assumption that if I am not perfect, I am not worthy of love. Anyone who has had a child who acted imperfectly (crayons on the wall or meltdown at Wal-Mart) can easily express how the child’s imperfection did not take away from how much the parent loved them (unconditional love). Third, the idea that we should be perfect is inherently wrong because we are, well, human. The Oxford Living Dictionaries defines “human” as “of or characteristic of people as opposed to God or animals or machines, especially in being susceptible to weaknesses.”

broken glass
Photo by Jachan DeVol on Unsplash

Most of my life I thought I could and should be God or at the very least, an infallible machine. But alas, I am not. I am human. The perfectionist in me longs to be perfect and always act perfectly. The realist in me knows this will never happen – for me or anyone else. I am learning to accept my imperfection and see how my struggles and challenges, how my imperfection serves me – and hopefully serves you, my reader, as well. I recently received an email from one of my subscribers, Jill May, who wrote, “By the way, I love your newsletter.  I don’t always take the time to read every one of them, but when I do read it, I always get something from it.  Sometimes it’s a small tidbit, other times it’s a ‘Wow!’ moment.  I appreciated reading about your yoga headstand challenges.  It really does help the rest of us to know you have struggles just like we do.” (my underline)

It is not my perfection which resonates with my readers. It is my struggle with life; it is my imperfection which helps others through the ups and downs of their life. In an interview last year, I was asked what my purpose was. Out of my mouth without my conscious awareness came, “My purpose is to mess up and learn from it, so you don’t have to.” Funny, for decades I had the belief that my purpose was to achieve perfection so I could show others the way. What I am coming to accept is that I’m on this planet to roll around in the muck of life. I am here to choose poorly, learn from it, and find the courage to move on. I am here to realize the obstacles I put in my way through my dishonest beliefs, to find the tools to release these beliefs, and to find a new way to live. I am here to find deep and absolute acceptance of myself – warts and all – and to help others feel and embrace their own self-acceptance. Through self-acceptance, we can all learn how to have unconditional empathy and love for those around us as well.

Do you have a life purpose or mission? What is it? Do you struggle with the desire for perfection? What would your life be like without the struggle for the unachievable?

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.

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?

hiding true self

Letting Go of ME, to be me

As I mentioned recently, surrendering my ego is one of the current challenges, goals, liberations I am working on. The ego is who I think I am. The ego is the persona I have created based on where I was born, how I was raised, and what I look like. The ego is how I choose to see life, the purpose of life, and how life should be lived. But the ego isn’t really me. A few months ago, I defined what ego is and is not. At this point, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what ego is, how it can negatively affect me, and why I should let it go. My ego, however, has different plans.

The ego has its own survival mechanism. It does not want to be easily discarded. If we don’t believe in and protect our ego it goes away, and like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction our ego will not be ignored. Like any change, releasing the ego is scary. For half a century I have believed myself to be one thing, defining myself as an intelligent driven compassionate woman who has scored some victories and made some mistakes. My ego is how I describe myself, it is how most people see me, it is what gives my life meaning. It is my boundaries and my framework. And the ego is also a trap. When we hold on to a rigid definition of who we are, we limit what we can experience. When we protect our ego, we distance ourselves from others. In protecting this persona, this role we have taken on, we can become confrontational toward anyone and any circumstance that pokes holes in what we believe we are.

hiding true self
Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

To be truly me, truly deeply Type-Me me, I need to release what I think defines me – family, nation, body, job title, ambition, accomplishments, beliefs, perspective – and instead embrace my true inner self. I had a glimpse of being me without my ego when I returned from Peru. I had shed the beliefs. I had shed the labels. I had shed the judgments. I was just present. I was unaffected by the world and the people around me. Don Miguel Ruiz talked about being without ego when he said, “I don’t take anything personally. I am a secondary character in other people’s stories. I know that whatever people say about me is just a projection of their image of me. It has nothing to do with me.” When are without ego, we can not be defined, we can not be hurt. Whether others are projecting their image on me or I am projecting an image on myself or others, it is all make-believe. It is not reality. The ego is “the idea or opinion that you have of yourself,” it is not a fact. Like the old saying goes, “sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Words can only hurt my ego; they can never hurt my true self.

Being without ego is pure peace, very empowering, and a bit terrifying. It is frightening because it is not how many of us commonly live. We believe that the life we have crafted is hard fast truth, when it is really perception and interpretation. To let go of this perception leaves us floating without a tether. We are ungrounded. It is pure bliss and yet our ego sees it as alarming because everything has changed; the reality we knew no longer exists. The ego wants to feel loved. To feel loved it needs to define something to love. The ego wants to be recognized. To be recognized it needs to define what is good and what is bad. The ego wants to endure. To endure the ego needs to exist and be defended. Being without ego is living without definition, good/bad, and individual existence.

When I have those moments of releasing the ego, I do not disappear. Yes, the persona I wear fades away, but my truth, my true being shines strongly. Without my self-created ego, I am the a free powerful being beyond restriction. I am tapped into the powerful oneness of the universe which is and will be eternal.

Hopefully in some of my existential babbling you received the message you need to hear today.

computer code

What’s Your Glitch?

I have been burning through the latest offerings from Netflix including Russian Doll which explores choices, redemption, and the meaning of life.  In one episode, Nadia is called into work to fix a bug. Somewhere in all the code for a computer game, there was a glitch, some poorly-written code. Nadia reprogrammed the code, and all was well with the game.  What I have realized is we can all fix our lives with a bit of reprogramming.

We all run on code. Some of the code we are born with, like how our lungs and heart know how to automatically breath. Some code we consciously or unconsciously write ourselves. We learn from our parents, our teachers, our friends, society, and our own experience how to live. We learn something once or twice and then we write our internal code as to how to respond. We don’t have to relearn every day that a stove is hot. We learn it once and then it becomes programmed in our mental database along with the appropriate response (don’t touch). Much of our programming is done in the first seven years of our lives (based on current scientific thinking). Therefore, much of how we live our life at 30, 40, or 50 is based on programming decades old. Sometimes that old programming has glitches. What we have internalized as truth worked in one specific situation years ago, but it is not the best choice nor should be applied to current situations. We need to reprogram our outdated thinking.

computer code
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I am aware of many of my glitches or character defects, and I am sure there are many unconscious glitches yet to be brought to the surface. Here are some of my currently recognized defects/glitches. I react to strong egos and the greedy. I react to those who are “too pretty.” I react to what I deem is injustice. I react to the need to label and create exclusive groups. I react to those whose desire for money supersedes the welfare of the many. I react to those who appear to have had an easy life and expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. Because of these preprogrammed thoughts, I sometimes react to people and situations based on these beliefs and not by the real situation at hand.

Much of our life we live on autopilot. We react to current situations based on the code we created decades ago. We are not in the moment analyzing and acting based on current data. We are usually unconsciously reacting based on something that happened to us when we were five. And it can get us into trouble.

I have addressed many glitches already like the belief that it is good to put work above the welfare of those I love, and have hopefully reprogrammed the ones that were causing the most frequent and damaging harm to me and those around me. Currently I am digging deeper and working through more of my programming with the goal of living every day from a place of in-the-moment conscious action versus living-in-the-past unconscious reaction. Here are the steps I am taking:

Uncover

I am taking a fearless inventory of my past and am being aware in the moment of the contentious situations in my life. Analyzing each situation, I uncover the glitches in my thoughts and the unconscious programming which are causing harm.

Be Here Now

If your mind is like mine, it goes a mile a minute. And unfortunately, my mind is usually replaying again and again something that has already happened or playing out fifty different what-if scenarios for the future. We can not change the past nor accurately predict the future. What we can do is affect the present. To help me as Ram Dass suggests to Be Here Now, I do my best to meditate every day. I find that even spending five minutes a day can disconnect me from the busy-ness of life, turn off the useless monkey-chatter of my mind, and help me center so I can make conscious decisions.

Reprogram

Using the knowledge of my defects and doing my best to be present, I can consciously choose differently in the moment. Instead of being on autopilot, I have the power to make rational and better choices acting on clear thought versus reacting from poorly-written programming. And every time I make a new, healthier choice, I am creating new programming for the future.

What are your glitches? How do you work around them? How has your life improved when you remove poorly-written programming?