Tag Archives: Difficult Experiences

What Else is There?

I met him on the line at Lemonade.

He was an old man.  Maybe in his 80s.  I apologized for cutting in front of him, and he glared at me from under his cap.  After a second, I realized he wasn’t glaring AT me, he was glaring INTO me.  And I was looking into him.  So we started a conversation.

After about 20 seconds, he told me that I was remarkably present and this surprised him.  I laughed and told him that I do spiritual work and I am aware of my growing capacity for being present.  He had a high level of awareness himself, and I was curious where it came from.  After we both finished paying, he asked me (without any lead-up): where do we sit?  So we had lunch together.

We talked about what it meant to be present.  I told him that I thought being present was about fully opening up to the experience of being in your body at any given moment.  How there are all these ways that we build stories around things, or physically contract ourselves, that are ways to escape the intensity of the present moment.  That are all different ways to escape the truth of what is.

He told me that he thought that being present meant going into the past in order to relive the sensation of past pain.  I said, yes, and then when you fully feel it, you can let it go.  He said yes, but— I have enough pain and memories for 100 years so I can never let it all go.  I am serious, he said.  I asked him to explain.

It turns out that this man was a primal therapist.  Primal therapy is basically a reliving of the birth experience, over and over and over again.  As he told me, his face still glaring and serious, this work is very rarely done because it is extremely painful.  And it can cause, and often does cause, your life to fall apart.  Primal practitioners are less likely to have children, or even long-term serious relationships.  And the primal experience generally does not get easier over time.  In his own case, he said—holding out his hands wide to show his initial pain–he had maybe shifted a tiny bit of that pain–bringing his hands together just a few centimeters.  And it was obvious with his age that he was not going to close that gap before he died.  Yet he still faithfully did this practice every morning.

So I asked him.  WHY are you still doing something that is so painful and gives you such little reward?  And he answered: what else is there?

There is a part of me that wants to cushion the blow of his answer and spin a comforting story of a life well-spent.  And yes, maybe I don’t have the right or understanding to judge his life.  But I will.  Not out of disdain, but because my heart broke for this man who spent over three decades voluntarily reliving an extremely traumatic experience because he did not “know” what else to do.  Was he addicted to the pain?  To the story of his pain?  Who would he be without this pain?  At this point, I don’t think he could imagine.

I was having a conversation earlier with someone about how to move from intellectual understanding of a truth to concretely embodying that truth in your life.  In other words, how do you shift from “I know this shadow-aspect of myself and I want to let it go” to actually BECOMING a different person.  I thought that there was some intermediate stage where you intellectually understood the issue, but still couldn’t figure out how to get out of your own way.  The person I was talking with disagreed.  They thought that when you really SAW the truth, the change would naturally follow.

I am still curious about the relationship between awareness/understanding and concrete change.  But my lunchtime encounter showed me at least this much: if you can not imagine a different life, you cannot create one.  When that man asked me: “What else is there?”–that question was not for me.  It was for him.  And he did not know the answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Keeping it Real: Know Your Ego’s Defenses!

hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

Are there things in your life you are not allowing yourself to fully see?  Are you keeping them tucked away on the edge of your awareness where you can’t feel them?  What would happen if you let those things come fully into your awareness?

To live in a manner fully consistent with our truth, we must confront reality as it IS.  Not as we would like it to be.  Not as we imagine it might be some day.  What. are. you. feeling. and. experiencing. in. your. life. right. now.  There is pain there, and vulnerability, yes.  But guess what else is there?  YOUR LIFE.   True reality is that shaky, vulnerable place where you actually FEEL alive.  It is that open, spacious freedom where you realize you can actually ask for what you want, that it is okay to desire, that you are allowed to be human, and true love and connection are possible.  There is an incredible amount of vibrant energy there.

How do we live from this shaky open, true place?  If you are like most people, you have become so skilled at escaping reality that you do not even realize that you are doing it.  Our wonderful egos have protected our spirits in various ingenious ways.  When we were young and our egos were developing, these defenses helped us survive.  Now that we are grown, these same defenses constrict our awareness and distort our perception.

To be able to unravel our egos’ work and meet reality head-on, it helps to become familiar with the ego’s tricks.  With assistance from a book I am reading now, The Inward Arc: Healing in Psychotherapy and Spirituality by Frances Vaughan, here is a wonderful list of ego defenses.  Read them, know them, and learn to recognize when you are doing them.  As you become familiar with the ways you struggle to gain control OVER life, you will naturally relax these defenses and gain more clarity.  (I find that it is possible to sense the ego kicking in at an energetic level, a slight escaping or lessening of intensity.  This is part (all?) of what we are beginning to notice when we sit in meditation.)

Woo!  What a rush.  When you can SEE the truth, you can LIVE from the truth.  Like plunging into a cold pool, and laughing because the water is shocking but oh so refreshing . . .

EGO DEFENSES: COMMON WAYS TO ESCAPE REALITY

Denial (“Everything is fine.”)
Simply, the blank refusal to acknowledge what you do not want to see or feel.  When unconscious, you will not be aware that you are in denial.  All you will be aware of is that you think things are “fine” or “manageable” or you “can handle it” (often, denial can manifest as a weird insistence on your own strength to handle things).  You numb yourself out to your own pain or destructive patterns.  (Positive affirmations can work to increase denial.)

Projection/Blame (“It is THEIR Fault…”)
The inability to accept a part of your own consciousness, so you project it out onto other people.  Because you deny your own anger for example, others appear overly angry to you, and their anger might feel overwhelming or intense.  You then assume that the “cause” of your discomfort is the other person, rather than owning and accepting that the original discomfort comes from within.

Shame/Repression (“It is MY fault. . . “)
You are aware that you are feeling a certain way (angry, sad, vulnerable), but you do not think that it is safe or okay for you to actually be feeling that way, so you bury it.  Instead of just feeling that feeling, you feel shame and low self-worth.  I think of shame/repression as the flip side of blame.  Instead of pushing the energy OUT towards to the other, you pull it INTO yourself.  Either way, you are escaping the full brunt of reality.

Reaction Formation (“I’ll do it first.”)
To avoid being hurt, you become what you fear.  If what you are actually experiencing is a deep fear of abandonment, you might avoid this feeling by becoming really good at leaving people quickly.  If you are afraid of aggression and violence, you might become a bully to avoid feeling your fear and pain around this issue.  I am rubber and you are glue . . .

Rationalization (“Well maybe I didn’t actually feel that way . . .”)
You explain and justify whatever thoughts/feelings/action you judge to be unacceptable.  You feel something in the moment, but later on, you talk yourself out of it.  If you felt hurt or angry, you convince yourself that you did not have a “reason” to feel that way.  You move an intense feeling from your HEART to your HEAD, where you can dissect it.  In the process, you avoid processing your feelings and actions as they actually manifested.  (If we consistently cling to spiritual “knowledge” that does not yet exist at a heart level, we can rationalize away reality and actually increase our separation from life.  “We are all one . . .” “I forgive you, because we are all love . . . ”  There is a reason why this often comes off as inauthentic!)

Regression (“I am so hurt!  Rescue me!”)
You feel pain/anger, but instead of taking ownership of it, you make the other person responsible for fixing it.  You don’t recognize the ways that you are creating the conditions that allow this pain to arise.  In a sense, you project your own power onto the other person because it is too scary to recognize it in your self.  (As Marianne Williamson says: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”)

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Finding Energy to Move Through Daily Life

Tonight I had dinner with two close women friends.  We are all in different stages of our lives.  One is not currently working, but managing property.  One is running her own spirituality-based business.  And I am currently working for a company.

Despite the different stages in our lives, we all connected deeply when the entrepreneur among us spoke of the feeling of having to drag herself to accomplish things.  “It seems like there are always things to do, and it gets overwhelming, and I just don’t want to do them anymore.”

Our conversation made me realize two things that I wanted to share with you.

First, if you also feel secretly overwhelmed and exhausted by the seemingly endless demands of life, you are not alone.  You are not doing anything wrong.  There is nothing wrong with you.  This is life.  It is demanding and requires us to meet its challenges again and again.  I know that I have a hidden belief that other people–especially those who are doing fulfilling things like running their own spirituality-based businesses-don’t have to deal with everyday crap.  It is a relief to know that I am not in the remedial class of life.  No matter how much you love what you are doing, it can be a drag to get things done.

The second thing I realized is based off of what Thomas Huebl shared this weekend.  (See here for my other post on his speech.)  He said that when we end the day depleted, the issue is not what we did.  The issue is how we approached our day, how deeply we connected with what was going on.  When we learn to be fully present, then we emerge energized and vibrant.

What these two insights open up for me is this.  The idea that there is some “end” out there . . .  just around the corner . . . maybe if we fixed a few things. . . took care of a a few more . . . is an illusion. Something else will always arise.  We can, however, find freedom and peace and ease by completely surrendering to what is on our plate.  If we give ourselves 100% to the task in front of us, there is no friction and no drain.

Rather than pretending I have the answer to how this is actually accomplished, I will honor these insights by shifting the question I am asking.  Instead of daydreaming about some alternative life where there are no more demands (“When does this end?”), I will ask myself: “How can I dive more deeply into the life I already have?  How can I open more fully to the demands of daily life?  Does the rhythm of my daily life require a break right now?”  Oftentimes by shifting our perspective, we find the answer we are looking for.

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Standing Up for Yourself

I used to think of standing up for yourself as something you did when someone was being obviously rude and mean.  “Hey, you can’t do that to me!” you might shout.  But I have learned that standing up for yourself can come in many different forms, some much less obvious.

For example, you may have to protect yourself against someone you love: a friend, a lover, a family member.   That can make it that much more difficult because we are conditioned to believe that being close to someone means tolerating their hurtful or painful behavior.  We feel guilty cutting off someone we love (or we don’t want to admit that someone we love can treat us this way).  These self-limiting beliefs often prevent us from realizing that even in these intimate relationships, we are still in charge of taking care of ourselves.

To claim our full power, we must redefine what it means to stand up for ourselves.  It is not just a situation where we give a piece of our mind to a bully.  It is the hundreds of small ways that we say YES to ourselves, even if it means saying NO to someone else.   It can be done quietly, with love and grace.  It is often doorway to greater intimacy, not less.  For how can you truly love someone else if you are feeling vulnerable and unsafe?

Let’s examine how this works in practice.

How do you learn to identify situations where you need to stand up for yourself?  Every situation is different, but often you may not recognize it until it happens a few times.  So look for situations that keep on re-occuring with a friend that feels uncomfortable to you.  Each time, you might react in a slightly different way.  Maybe you dismiss it because you think you are strong enough to handle the pain, and the other person’s action are unconscious.  It’s not that “big of a deal.”  Maybe you “have a talk” with the other person, during which they recognize the issue and vow to change.  Maybe you question whether you have a right to feel uncomfortable.  Maybe you hide your uncomfortableness because you don’t want to scare the other person away.

All of these reactions have one thing in common:  you set yourself up to allow the situation to occur again.

At first it may be wise to take that risk, to see if the other person can change.  But when it happens again and again, that is a signal that it is YOU who must make a change in the situation.  The other person is not going to make that change for you.  You are sticking your foot out so that they can step on it.  Because they don’t realize that they are doing so (or they do realize, but can’t stop), it is you who must move your foot.

So the next question:  how do you make this change?  Often, we recognize that we need to act with more self-respect, but we feel totally stuck in this negative patterns.  Here are some insights from my own experience:

  • Allow life to change.  It can be brutally hard to realize that an era is over, a certain innocence and dreams are gone.  Grieve if you must, but adjust.  Make your life fit YOU, don’t cut yourself down to fit life.  If you can let go of the past, you will naturally find the courage to face the future.  (A helpful exercise is when you catch yourself wishing things were different, don’t push that thought away.  Instead, examine it closely.  Recognize what you are trying to hold on to.  Then, with a deep breath, let it go.  Feel the freedom of not fighting to hold on.  Notice the lightness in your body.  You are still here.  Life will go on.)
  • Act out of love for yourself, not anger or resentment towards the other person.  When you act of anger towards the other person, your resolve is muddy and weak.  When you act of love for yourself, your choices are firmly grounded and clear.  This does not mean that you may not experience anger–that is perfectly normal.  Greet it with compassion and recognize that you are larger than it.  Then out of that larger awareness, decide what is best for you.  Remember that you are not here to teach anyone else a lesson, you are just here to grow yourself.  Wish the other person well on their own path.
  • What feels right to you does not have to make sense.  Don’t try and analyze what your heart is telling you.  You don’t have to justify it to anyone, even yourself.  Accept who you are fully and wholly, along with your unique preferences and boundaries.

I hope these insights are helpful to you on your journey.  If you have any stories about your own journey on the path to self-respect and standing up for yourself, please share.  Much love and light!

 

 

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Transparent Communication– teachings from Thomas Huebl

This morning, I participated in a free 75 minute talk by Thomas Huebl, sponsored through the SHIFT network.   For those who are not familiar with the SHIFT network, check-it-check-it out.  It is a hub of conscious teachers who are offering courses and lectures online.

I had not heard of Thomas Huebl before, but the SHIFT network sent me an email about the talk.  My attention was caught by the fact that part of his teachings focused on Transparent Communication.  More and more I am realizing that my spiritual path lies in embodied spirituality–not how to transcend, but how to bring more presence and clarity to my every day existence, with an emphasis on conscious communication and interpersonal relations.  So I was very intrigued.  Although somewhat put off by his Jesus-like flowing locks.

Despite his obvious need for a makeover, Thomas ended up being an intense and obviously highly evolved teacher.  His wisdom and clarity were magnetic, and kept me engrossed for the full 75 minutes.  He talks about working at an energetic level as well as an intellectual one, and I could definitely feel that.  I felt incredibly charged.   To share a bit of what he discussed, here are the two main questions driving Transparent Communication:

1) How can I live my life so that my heart and presence stay available for the next moment instead of getting “stuck” or “caught” in past?  For example, if we have an interaction and something about it throws me off, I will still be processing it even when the conversation is over.  That makes me less available for whatever comes next.  To be 100% available for whatever is arising in any given moment, we need to learn to allow experiences to flow through us cleanly, rather than contracting around them.
Why do we contract, and how can we stay present?  When we leave a conversation feeling unsettled it is not because the other person made us feel this way.  It is because we did not want to feel what we were feeling.  If we can stay present to ourselves and not abandon ourselves when we experience difficult things, we can stay present to the other and not abandon them when those difficult feelings arise.  The other person no longer poses a threat to us because we are willing to experience discomfort.   We must allow ourselves to get comfortable with feeling discomfort so that we can find freedom.  (love this)
2)  How can I not only express myself, but feel into your reality so I can understand how my communication is being received?  This requires enlarging your awareness so you can not just empathize with another, but actually feel into their experience.  As you become more sensitive to the reality of the other person, you can communicate more effectively because you understand not just what you want to say, but how to say it so that it can actually be heard (or realize that it cannot be heard).  This ability to feel in to a reality different than ours is also the basis for true connection and exchange.
After the call, I took some of what he said and applied it to a conversation I was having with a friend.  Before, I had been dancing around my own discomfort with what she had been saying about her interactions with another friend.  I was worried that she was being judgmental.  After the talk, I faced and accepted my own discomfort.  I found a new found freedom to express myself to her in a direct manner (before I had been trying to avoid my discomfort by working on getting her to change her views).  I told my friend I could listen to her if she was willing to take responsibility for her own role in the situation.   But I was not willing to listen to her if the goal of the conversation was to blame the other friend, because I did not believe that was productive.  To my surprise, she readily shifted into discussing the conflict as a reflection of her own limitations, rather than what this other friend was “doing” to her.  Once she made that shift, I not only understood what she was trying to say, I truly respected what she was saying.  We ended up having an amazing discussion that helped both of us gain clarity and insight.  I physically felt nourished.
I felt so fired up about the teachings of Thomas Huebl that I signed up for a nine-month course of his advanced teachings through the SHIFT network!!  I am excited to go deeper into his work, and will definitely share them on this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

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How do I Stop Thinking and Feeling? Answer, You Don’t!

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from a higher perspective, there is beauty and peace in a hurricane

 

“We have to make a relationship with our emotional energy. Usually, when we speak of expressing our energies, we are more concerned with the expression than with the energy itself, which seems to be rushing too fast. We are afraid the energy will overwhelm us, so we try to get rid of it through action. However, once you develop a harmonious relationship with your energy, then you can actually express it, and the style of expression becomes very sane, right to the point.” — Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

 

One of the biggest misconceptions about Buddhism is that it is about getting rid of things: thoughts, feelings, the ego.  It is not.  If you focus your efforts on getting rid of things, all you do is spend even more energy caught up in the very thing you are trying to throw out.    At first you might start out angry about something.  If you try and resist that anger, all you end up with is anger AND guilt about being angry.  If you try and make a thought go away, all you end up with is a new thought: I should not be thinking about that thing (which you then immediately think about again).

It’s like those Chinese finger toys–the harder you pull, the tighter it holds you.

What you can do is develop a higher level of awareness so you can watch these thoughts and emotions arise, rather than identify with them.  I think about the process of disidentification very simply.  The thoughts/emotions are visitors. I stay present and watch/hear them do their thing.  I keep an open heart and a grounded presence, even as I feel/experience anger, sadness, mental jumpiness, ect.  I give them my full attention, but I do NOT let them live inside me and start pulling my strings.  And after a while, they run out of energy.  Then, I let them go.

So the idea is not to get rid of stuff.  The idea is to practice operating from another level that doesn’t get caught in the drama.   Actually, our thoughts and feelings can be important and valued guides.  If anything, I am working towards becoming even more open to my feelings and thoughts.   This helps me develop kindness towards myself and others, and grow more spacious and grounded internally.

It also helps relationships.  The more deeply I allow myself to feel sadness and pain around something, the less I need to create a story about why I feel this way (he is to blame, I am to blame, she is to blame).  Sadness is just sadness.  Anger is just anger.  Both of them are just strong energy moving through me.  Just feel them without pushing them away.

If , after feeling my emotions, it seems appropriate to express them, I can do so with a clear mind, taking full ownership of what I am feeling (see my last post on non-violent communication for more about owning your emotions).  People are much more receptive to you when you come from this place.  As Chogyam says, you can be sane, right to the point.  If you hurl your emotions at someone and say: “This is your fault!” you can’t be too surprised when they throw that ball of sh*t right back at you.  If you can approach someone and say: “I felt really hurt when you did this.” then you have created a safe space for them to empathize.

So, bottom line:  don’t try and get rid of your feelings and thoughts.  Just work on developing a better, saner relationship with them.

What is your relationship with your emotions?  Do you believe them?  Do you act on them?  Do you try and ignore them becuase they scare you?  Or are you strong enough to let feelings move through you without getting confused?

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Learning About Non-Violent Communication (NVC)

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Have you heard of Non-Violent Communication before? If you have, you probably think about it as a way to communicate effectively with other people. That is true.  And to my mind, much more importantly, it is also a very practical teaching about the nature of violence itself.

When most of us think of violence, we think of fighting, wars, yelling.  The key book on NVC, by Marshall Rosenberg, starts out by asking us to expand our idea of what it is to be violent.  In fact, the foreword was written by Ghandi’s grandson.  Ghandi asked his grandson to keep track of all of the “violent” things that happened over the course of a week or so.  He asked him to track not just physical violence, but what he called “passive violence” as well.  Passive violence were those mundane acts that generated anger in the other person, which of course is the root of physical acts of aggression.  Before long, the grandson began to see how violence was everywhere around him, all the time.

What is passive violence?  This is where the book takes another eye-opening turn.  Passive violence is basically our subtle desire to control other people.  The desire to control may come from care (I want my dad to stop smoking), insecurity (I just want him to appreciate me), or any one of the other hundreds of reasons.  The basic formula is always the same:  I need you to do X so I can stop suffering.   When we think people hold the key to our happiness, then we don’t fully grant them the freedom to act.  That is violence–not yelling, or threats.  Violence is the subtle and pervasive desire to manipulate others so that we can be happy.

So how do we move away from this violent approach to life?  By understanding one single truth: no one else is responsible for how you feel.  You are 100% responsible for your own feelings and needs. 

Some of you might think that this sounds like some hippy shit.  You might think: wait a second, others do cause me to feel things.  When my boss yells at me, I feel bad.  When my friend calls me, I feel good.  When someone steals my parking spot, they are a dick and caused me to be angry.  Are you telling me to be a doormat so that the world can be a more peaceful place?  No way!  Other people need to be accountable for their actions!

NVC is not a bunch of hippy shit.  It is simply (and radically) asking you to understand your feelings in a totally different way.

Usually, we think EXTERNAL ACT — REACTION/FEELING.  NVC teaches us that things actually work like this: EXTERNAL ACT— TRIGGER BASED ON INTERNAL NEED— REACTION/FEELING.    What does this mean?  It means that external acts are neutral.  They do not “cause” your feelings–they trigger your feelings based on your internal needs.  Your boss yelling at you makes you feel bad because you have a need for approval and love in the workplace.  Another person who didn’t have those same needs might not be bothered at all by their boss’ aggressive behavior.  Someone stealing your parking spot pissed you off because you have a need to feel like you live in a world of nice people, or because you need to feel like you are “winning” at the game of life.   The external act has no inherent impact without your own triggers (although, because many of us have similar triggers, it will produce similar reactions in many people).  It is like how people and dogs are with chocolate.  What is delicious for people is poison to dogs.  The chocolate itself is neutral.

Once you truly accept that NO ONE else causes your feelings (for most of us, a life-long task), you naturally begin to approach interactions with others from a non-aggressive place.  The rest is just technique and practice. 

But there is an even better way to say this, which leads me into the second awesome part about NVC.  Because no one else is responsible for how you feel…

You can choose how you react to situations, rather than be at the mercy of others.   You don’t have to fight anyone to be happy (other than yourself, of course).  You discover true power.

 

Not only does your emotional center of balance change, but you can take care of yourself much more effectively.  Actually, I think this is the true definition of growing up–you learn to provide for yourself, instead of asking (demanding) that others take care of our needs.  If we have a need for peace and cooperation, it is your job to connect with that need and meet it.  And of course, the best way to take care of a need is to GIVE (to yourself, to others) what you were initially seeking to get from outside.  Now you can start living from a place of thinking about what you DO want (connection, love, respect), rather than what you don’t (e.g., I want this person to stop hurting me).  The thing you were so desperately fighting the other person to give you is always available to you . . . if you are willing to let it in.

So what about the practical situation at hand with the other person?   Do we just walk away?  Not necessarily.   Once you understand your feelings and needs, you may choose to communicate them to the other person (using a whole system of communication that is taught in the book).  And they may choose to modify their behavior, or not.  And if they don’t, you have the choice to continue the relationship, or not.  But you respect and honor their decision no matter what.  NVC does not promise solutions, but it does promise that you will stop exhausting yourself mistakenly trying to get someone else to change so that you can be happy.

NVC EXERCISE 
(this is not all talk…put this into action and see how it feels!)

First, think of a difficult situation with another person (or practice this while in the midst of a difficult situation!).  Choose a judgment sentence about the other person.  For example, “This person is selfish and only thinks about his or herself.”)

Next, run this sentence over and over in your mind for about 20 seconds.  Notice what happens in your body.  Do you feel tired?  Does your breath go shallow?  Do you feel tight?

Now, re-frame this feeling in terms of what you DO want rather than what you DON’T.  Ask yourself, what is it that I really want right now?  What would I like to receive that would make me feel better (keep it general)?  In the example above, you might recognize that you really want to feel special and loved.
Now, express that need in the following positive way: “Wow, I really love it when ____(I feel special and loved)_____.”  Run it over and over for about 20 seconds.  How does your body feel now?  It might feel bright, energized, refreshed, or open.
Now say to yourself “I AM special and loved.”  Take 20 seconds to run this affirmation over and over, and connect with the energy of feeling special and loved.  You are essentially feeding yourself.   The feeling of being special and loved is ALWAYS there and ALWAYS accessible to you . . . even if it is difficult to find sometimes.
Now that you have fed yourself, turn your attention back to the other person.  Has your perception of them changed?  Has the things you want to say to them changed?  Do you feel softer?  Imagine how different it would be to have a conversation from this positive place, rather than from the typical tense, blaming place you started from?
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Relaxing into the Rush of Daily Life

The past month has swept me away in a rush of things to do.  Early rising straight to the gym, long commute, lots of work, writing an article searching for a new job, finding a new job, weddings, bachelorette parties, dinners with friends.

On the surface, there is a lot of activity, but underneath I feel a bit stuck in the eddies of everyday life.  I want a spark.  I long for a transformative experience to touch me deeply.  I want an AHA!  Or an Ahhhh . . .

Part of this intuition is probably right–I need to create some more space for me to connect with my higher self in the midst of all this running around.  Some breathing room for my inner voice to come through.  Some down-time to set my intentions and delve into my creativity.

AND there is also another lesson I am learning here, and one that this blog is all about.  It is about not needing to escape every day life to feel connected to a higher sense of purpose.  It is about opening up to this deeper connectedness by fully meeting the rough and tumble of daily life.

Viewed from this perspective, the way out is through.   In addition to creating “time out” from life, I am also being called to embrace the messy mad rush of life more deeply.  I am being challenged to let go of my ideas about what feels spiritual and connected, and find new and different ways to open my heart.  Instead of rejecting whatever is in front of me, I am being asked to live it more fully.

My Tantra teacher, Charu Morgan, refers to this continual process of accepting whatever is rising up in life as “softening into” our experience.  When we feel something uncomfortable, we tend to harden against it.  We resist.  When we resist, we fight life.  When we soften, we let life have its way.  We let life move through us.  We let life touch us.

Writing this post is an acknowledgment of where I am at right now, and a way for me to embrace and soften into it.  By naming and owning up to my current level of consciousness, I am bringing this pattern into the light.   I am also helping myself honor and understand that being in touch with the spiritual side of life does not mean I have to be in a super-fired up state all the time.

Actually, the more I hold on to a rigid concept of what my spiritual path “should” look like, the further away I get from what life is offering me right now.  The mundane experiences of life are a great chance to wake up, to get out of my head about what things should be like, and experience them as they actually are–which is way beyond anything I could imagine.  That about sums up the point of Buddhist meditation in many respects.

As I write this, as I acknowledge and soften into my discomfort, I also feel another layer of truth coming through.  The truth is that there is a purpose and spirit and divinity moving through life, even when it is not hitting me over the head.  I am relaxing into faith and gratitude.

Where are you right now?  How are you feeling?  Is there some sensation, some intuition tickling the back of your mind that you can acknowledge, feel, and soften into?  When you relax into it, what new insights come to you?

Love and blessings for your journeys,

N

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A Full Experience of Helplessness

“The only way to ease our pain is to experience it fully. Learn to stay with uneasiness, learn to stay with the tightening, so that the habitual chain reaction doesn’t continue to rule your life.” –Pema Chodron

I love discovering spiritual principles at work in the world around me.  They are unexpected and surprising, yet perfectly formed.  Like a nautilus shell, or a starfish.

Recently, I have discovered the beautiful symmetry of helplessness.

I have always hated feeling helpless.  So I make sure I am not helpless.  I am the one flagging the waiter down to get the check, making an extra call to double-check that there is really no availability, finding a way, someway somehow.  Useful, yes.  Rewarded, often.  And also, a way to escape the feeling of helplessness itself: a refusal to admit that nothing can be done, that I lost, that I am vulnerable, that I can be hurt.

In my last relationship, I often struggled with feeling helpless.  The person I was with at times chose not to listen to me, or could not hear me.  And so . . . I talked calmly, I talked loudly, I argued rationally, I made emotional pleas, I threatened, I begged.  And maybe, eventually, I got my way.  Until it all fell down and the cycle started again.  Rather than truly own up to this cycle and my part in it, I simply insisted all over again that this person would hear me.  Rather than admit that this person could not meet me, I worked hard to hold up their end of the relationship for them.  Until one day life gave me the gift of making the dysfunction so bad I could not ignore it any longer, and I paid life back by paying attention.  And so I left.

Right now, I am in the final stages of ending this relationship, wrapping up loose ends.  And this person is still repeating the same patterns of broken promises.  And I–the new, strong me, who left–what do I do?  I feel helpless.  So  I leap right into my part: “He can’t do this to me,” or “I will figure out a way to get him to listen.”  The same broken record, stuck in the same broken groove.

But this time I catch myself.  Okay: I took the big step of ending the relationship, but I find myself back here again.  What do I still need to learn?  The answer arises naturally: the very thing I am struggling with IS the answer to my question.  I am back here so I can FEEL what helpless feels like.

The more I resist feeling a certain way, the more likely it is that I will “find” myself in situations that cause that emotion to arise.   To break the cycle, I need to surrender and let myself feel.    

I am trying to wake myself up, and my feelings are my alarm clock.  

Okay.  What does it feel like to experience helplessness?  The very first thing I become aware of is how much effort I have been putting into avoiding this feeling.  I was approaching life with a big sign that says “YOU CAN’T HURT ME.”

I surrender– I take down the sign.  Life can hurt!  It is life!  And people disappoint you and accidents happen and sometimes you lose.   Surprisingly, this admission feels like cool relief.  It feels sweet to be human.  It feels sweet to be capable of being hurt.  This IS life.  I can feel life touching me, because I am not trying to hold it at a distance.

Emotions are like a knot that only tightens the more I pull against it, and then as I relax it slips free.

I let the messy, vibrant energy of LIFE sweep into this vulnerable place I have been trying so hard to protect.  My heart relaxes as I release my grip.  And as I relax, light and space and movement rush in and blow away the last shred of my resistance.

And I laugh because I suddenly understand why I have been trying so hard to not let down my guard.  I thought that if I experienced pain, if I “lost,” if a situation got messy . . . that it was my fault.  More than my fault: it meant I was not good enough to get it right.   I have compassion for the part of me that believed this.   I send love to myself, and gently let go of this belief.   Encountering obstacles does not mean I am a failure.  It is just part of being human.

Opening wide to the uncomfortable experience lets it become just that: an experience–a bird flapping through my sky.  I can experience it without identifying with it, without confusing it with who I a fundamentally am. 

Having reconnected with my own basic worthiness, I regain my true power.  Deep, full, expansive breath.   Suddenly, I have many choices before me.  YES I have the power to enter into this situation holding the highest intentions for both me and him.  YES I have the power to protect and honor my own needs–or, to give up the fight if that ultimately brings me greater peace and joy.  YES I have the power to forgive him.  YES I have the power to refuse to get drawn into a negative cycle.

Ultimately, I replace the illusion of control I tried so hard to maintain with a much more profound power.  Although I can not stop painful experiences from arising in my life, I always have the choice to meet them with love and integrity.

So what does all this mean?  Externally, nothing has changed.  I still have a tough situation on my plate.  But now I accept that it may not turn out perfectly–and that is okay.   I am no longer struggling with myself.

The symmetry is complete:  by experiencing ‘helplessness’  fully, I can let it go.

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How to Have Difficult Conversations

“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”
-Albert Einstein

“The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.”  -Lao Tzu

Familiar Scenario #1: You pore your heart out on the phone to a friend about someone who is causing you pain.  You really want to heal the difficult situation, but you have no idea how to communicate these difficult feelings to the person that is actually involved.   So you ignore the situation, and pretend that nothing is wrong (even though part of you knows you are not being real or authentic about how you feel).  [Note:  Or, just start at the word “Ignore.”]

Familiar Scenario #2: Ditto heart-to-heart with close friend.  But this time you decide that you will not be stopped!  You march over to the other person, tell them exactly. how. you feel.   And what they did to make you feel this way.  This confrontation freaks them out enough that they now avoid you.

How do you tell someone when they have caused you anger or pain . . . and be heard?

This is a tough question that can take strength to even ask.  Ultimately, it comes down to a simple question.  Either you are coming from a place of truth and love–for yourself and the other person, or you are not.  If you are not, Familiar Scenarios One and Two are the common results.  You do not honor yourself.  Or you do not honor the other person.

So how do you honor both?

To have an authentic conversation with someone about a difficult topic,  stand strong in your light and lovingly speak your truth. 

But wait you say!  How can I possibly do that when the other person is NOT operating from a place of love?  The other person is completely contracted and acting in a crappy, selfish, judgmental way.  Okay.  Fine.  Now let it go.  Stop worrying about what they did to you.  Stop worrying about whether or not they can hear you.

The first step is to realize this is really not about them.  This is about you.  This is about you getting strong enough to hold a loving, open space so you can speak from your heart to people who you think can’t hear you.  

So how do you begin….

First, listen to your mind and the stories you are telling yourself about why they did what they did.  Recognize that they are just that.  Stories.  Those stories tell a lot more about your own unexamined crap and fears and hurts than they actually tell you about the other person.  They are often called projections.  Whatever name you use, see that they are not truth.  Ultimately, the other person’s motivations are a black box.  You have no idea why the other person is acting the way they are.

One way to shake yourself loose of your projections is to try and come up with different stories about why the other person is acting a certain way.  Try and see if you can find a nice story about why that person was mean to you (they had a difficult day themselves).  Then find a story that makes you angry (they are jerks used to getting their way).   Play around with it.  After a while, you can see that while your own fears may draw you to one story, you actually do not know which one is true.

Second, as you recognize your stories are actually about YOU not THEM, you free up energy that you were using to try and figure out the other person.  Stop running those mental loops trying to figure them out.  You can’t. 

Now reclaim that energy and refocus in your own body.  (Literally, this is taking energy you were putting out there and bringing it back here, and now.)  Welcome back.  How do YOU FEEL in your BODY?

Try getting down to the level of body sensations.  Tingly?  Hard to breath?  Weak?  Strong urge to hide?  Chances are you have been running around telling yourself stories precisely as a way to avoid feeling these feelings.. to avoid feeling hurt and weak.

But this is exactly what you need to do.  You need to own your feelings.  You need to be a soft, real, human capable of being hurt.  Do not judge whatever comes up.  Instead, love these emotions.  Be there for them. Give them your attention and compassion.  Let them be.

As you do this, you can feel yourself relax.  Breath.  Expand.  Let those walls come down.

As you relax back into your body and accept whatever is coming up, you naturally reconnect with your light (you might literally feel lighter).  If you already have a sense of being grounded and spiritually connected, then you will know what it feels like to be present and radiating light.

If this sounds totally abstract and confusing, then just ask yourself: “Even if I feel sad/angry/hurt/frustrated right now, do I feel generally at peace with myself?  Can I offer love to someone else?  Can I even, maybe, laugh?”  These questions are a good way to gauge if you are connected to your own power.

Third, as you reconnect with your own physical body and spiritual light, you can turn your attention back to the other person.  Now you have enough strength to open your heart to them. 

Wow!  All of a sudden they are not so scary/mean/bad anymore, are they?  Maybe they are just another human soul, trying to do the best that they can.  Just like you.

Focus on loving them for who they are, no matter what issues may separate the two of you.  Phew, that feels good.  No need to go on the attack.  Maybe, you can even start to see some ways in which the other person might have been acting out of fear or hurt that you caused them (oooo! own that!), and have compassion for that.

Sit with this love for a while.  You may have to go through this process a number of times, as new stories pop up that you need to work through and release.

You are now in a tender and open space.  You feel your feelings, you are connected to your body and light, and you have compassion for the other person.  Now you are ready to talk. 

This is the tough part.  Because now you need to remain firm in your truth and light and love while you are talking face to face with this person who triggers these difficult feelings in you.  I find that visualizations can really help you get through this.  Imagine that you are physically enclosed in golden light.  Imagine that your heart is actually opening to the other person and sending them love.  Imagine the other person’s face as soft and open and loving.  Whatever it takes to keep your feet firmly planted in YOUR light and your heart OPEN.

In terms of timing–no need to force it.  Obviously, you need to set up some time in a quiet environment to speak with them alone, but allow the moment to speak to arise naturally, when you feel comfortable and open to share.

As you speak, all the work that you did beforehand should affect the manner in which you speak and the energy you emit.  Speak slowly.  Speak simply.  Speak honestly.  Speak from your heart.  And most importantly, remember to listen to what the other person shares with you.   Be open to RECEIVE their energy and words . . . do not get caught up in getting your message across.  Because what you are really looking for, more than anything else, is an exchange.  To be seen and heard by each other.

Also, it is okay if you feel fear or anger or other tough emotions.  Let yourself feel them, but do not fall into them.  Let them pass through you.  Do not let them knock you off center.  Stay connected to your light.

In terms of content–in plain but vivid language, communicate how you feel.  Remember not to mistake your stories for the truth.   You can share your stories, but communicate them as your fears (“I was afraid that maybe you were avoiding me because of X.”)  If you make it about what you are feeling, not what the other person did, even sharing difficult emotions (hurt, anger, fear) can be non-threatening.  Be surprisingly vulnerable.  Offer insights into ways that you might have harmed the other.

Finally, remember you do not need to have answers.  Maybe you do not know exactly how you are feeling, or are feeling two contradicting things.  Maybe you do not know what the next step should be.  Share that.  Wherever you are at, let that be enough.  You are just a real person, trying to connect.

Ultimately, what you are looking to do is to be so open and free and authentic that the other person is naturally drawn to  responding in the same manner. 

If you are really operating from your heart, most people (unless they are really closed) will naturally raise their own level of energy to meet yours.  Because they feel safe and recognize that you are coming from an honest place, and do not want anything except to have a true exchange.   But if they don’t meet you, you have to accept that too.  You will be able to see clearly that it is about them, not about you.  You have honored yourself, and that is enough.

It feels good to write this.  Slowly, I am learning to practice a new way of communicating.  It is a gorgeous feeling to know that I can remain open and loving even in the face of some things that really scare me or hurt me.   It feels like a victory to take a stand for a better way of being, rather than give in to fear and pettiness.   And it brings me peace  to realize that I can bring that open and loving energy to a difficult exchange with someone else.

Practicing love and honesty is not idealistic.  It just takes a commitment to being open, rather than closed.  And there is a domino effect.  Every person who commits to authenticity can help raise another person up, and let them see there is another way to relate. 

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