Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don't Should On Yourself!

I've been thinking a lot lately about how self critical we have become. We berate ourselves for falling short of some imaginary goal that we set for ourselves. Worse yet, we have a habit of replaying scenarios over and over again in our heads of how we should have handled a situation differently - things we should have said, ways we should have acted. We degrade ourselves and judge ourselves as inferior. We are often far more critical of ourselves than we are of others. We are judge and jury and pronounce a sentence that is extreme and leaves us feeling guilty and shameful. We punish ourselves and then we do the next inevitable thing; we begin to attack others to make ourselves feel better. "Well if she hadn't been so stubborn, I would have never..." It starts a vicious cycle of attack. It's time to let ourselves off the hook. It's time to promote inner peace in a way we've never done before. These times are calling for a radical change. We must forge the waters of inner peace in ways we've never done before by changing the inner landscape of our minds.

When we attack ourselves it is no different than attacking someone else. Since we live in an energetic world where thoughts and feelings relay messages that affect the whole, when we attack ourselves we send a message of fear that is felt by everyone. The response to fear is often attack, blame or defensiveness. Katie Byron, founder of The Work tells us that defense is the first act of war. A Course In Miracles tells us that "In my defenselessness, my safety lies." Having remorse for treating yourself or another person badly is normal. The action called for is forgiveness. Forgiveness of someone else, forgiveness of yourself. As my friend Jacob wisely tells us, "Mistakes call for correction, not punishment." We need to learn from them and then move on. More often than not we punish ourselves significantly more than the alleged crime warrants. How can we learn compassion for others if we lack it for ourselves? "I should be this way, I should have done this, I shouldn't be so..." I had a teacher who used to say, "Don't should on yourself!" If we, for just one week, wrote down all the "shoulds" we impose upon ourselves, it would shock us at the impossible task masters we have become. Who could live by all those rules? Who could live up to that kind of perfection? And yet, this template becomes the one by which we set our standards. We don't even question where these rules come from. And the disappointment of not measuring up to these preconceived standards resides in the background of our lives and adds to our mild or even perhaps extreme discontent.

I'm asking you to give yourself a break. Let yourself off the hook this week. Ease up on all those strict standards and relax in the knowledge that you're doing the best you can. We make life so much more difficult than it has to be. If we ease up a little on our impossible rules, we will begin to feel a natural release from guilt - guilt that we tend to project onto others and then judge them by. We will then begin to see others differently because we will break the chain of defensiveness and blame. We are always first cause. It always starts with us and that's the good news. It gives us the power to change it.

We think all hell will break loose if we relax our standards, but once again it's the opposite; all peace would break loose. We are living by man made, self imposed, seemingly impossible rules; by which we then judge the rest of the world. If we are trying to become happy then that is faulty problem solving at its best. The solution here is inner peace. That may sound like a lofty ideal but it is, in fact, the best contribution we can make toward a more peaceful world. Berate and judge or soothe, forgive and relax the inner critic? Which one are you willing to project today? Inner peace is the beginning of the kind of life that we seek - a life of incredible joy, love and overwhelming good.

I would encourage you to relax this week. Take a vacation from all the "shoulds" you've been burdening yourself with. Check in with Byron Katie whose soul purpose is to teach people how to end their own suffering. Remind yourself of how often you get things right. If you're mind is being insufferable, make a list of them. If you still can't find peace in a given situation, pretend it's your best friends' problem and they are coming to you for advice. Extend to yourself the compassion that you would give your friend. Be easy on yourself this week. You're doing the best you can. Relax in the knowledge that you are loved and all is well.

I leave you this week with a quote from PM Forni, M.D. who said, “We are all the trustees of one another’s happiness and well being in life.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bitch, Bitch, Bitch!

I've been thinking a lot lately about the insidiousness of complaining and how it undermines our happiness. It is cunning and deceiving because we have learned to live with it as normal. It is pervasive and infiltrates every manner of life; it exists in the background of our lives as a constant hum that we don't even realize is there. It often feels good to gripe or complain about something or someone else - it becomes habitual and it will corrupt our every effort toward happiness, peace and joy. It seems harmless, a passing flip comment, a criticism of ourselves and others, a quiet, breeding dissatisfaction about the general nature of things, and yet the damage it wreaks is severe. It is the antithesis of appreciation and while it seems innocent, observational and perhaps even constructive, in its very nature it sets up a chain of effects that suffers our happiness as a consequence.

When we complain, we also give away a great deal of our power to incite change of the very things, in fact, that we are complaining about. I know it sounds like a trite metaphysical tenet, but it's important to understand it because we do it so unconsciously that we don't even realize how much we tolerate. It's a gentle dissatisfaction with which we've become used to. It becomes the tail that is wagging the dog. When asked the simple question, "How are you?" We often answer with a tepid, "Fine." Our knee-jerk dissatisfaction response has kicked in and our brains are running through thoughts of complaints by the nanosecond - we judge our jobs, mates, friends, financial situation, political maelstrom, our neighbors, their dogs and even lament the fact that we don't have enough closet space! It is built into our nature and accepted as status quo within out culture - if we don't criticize it how can we make it better? Again, there's an example of how we live in "opposite world" - you can't get to the solution of a situation from the level of the problem. Remember Einstein's quote? Complaining is even at times considered a personal social grace in our society. We denigrate ourselves lest we come off as arrogant or egotistical.

We must become aware of the underlying hum of dissatisfaction that consistently runs through our lives and surfaces as complaints. Usually, it comes out against another because 'they're always doing it wrong.' Or for the more "spiritually evolved" amongst us, we take full responsibility for creating our lives and turn the fire hose of self-criticism all over ourselves. We've learned to get used to it feeling dissatisfied - we consider it normal - but we must bring it to the forefront of our awareness. Once we become aware of something, we can no longer tolerate it in the same way. Awareness is the first level of healing. Once we become aware of how much room it occupies in our thoughts and consciousness it can never be the same. It has to change one way or the other. When we become aware of the underlying thought patterns that are steering our lives in directions we don't want to go, two things happen. We can no longer perceive ourselves as victims of circumstances, which empowers us to create our lives purposefully; and second, we become aware of our MO and how we operate - it can no longer unconsciously run the show. You can then look in the mirror and say "Ha! I'm on to you!"

I would encourage you this week to focus on how much is going right in your life. Make a list - post it somewhere and read it often. Add to it. There is so much good that happens naturally without our effort from the way the planet runs to the way our bodies work. My heart, circulatory, respiratory, digestive systems all do remarkable and amazing things to create a healthy body. The sun comes up every day and the tides go in and out on our behalf. So much works naturally for our good. If you're reading this and thinking, 'yeah, this is like when my mom used to tell me to finish my dinner because children in Africa are starving.' Just acknowledge that part of your brain, and then give it the day off. Its function is no longer vital to our survival. Martha Beck, author, lecturer and life coach, calls it our "inner lizard." It's that part of the deepest layer of our neural structure that evolved in early vertebrates, like reptiles, that is responsible for survival. It broadcasts the most basic of our survival fears: lack and attack. 'I don't have enough and I am going to die if I don't attack first.' Since we are not threatened on a daily basis by animals that might eat us, we don't need that part of our brain to such a severe extent anymore. It's still there, however, but it is more subtle. It has evolved to become that critical voice that grinds at us telling us we are never good enough. It compares us to everything and everybody and it always leaves us feeling worse. Whether we come out looking better or worse than the person, thing or circumstance we are comparing ourselves to, the result is always separation; separation from others, and separation from our truth. As a teacher of mine used to say, "Compare and despair."

So many of us live with an underlying feeling of anxiety and we can't really put our finger on what's wrong. We just know that we're not happy. I would postulate that it is the thought system of dissatisfaction that we've been taught since birth - a thought system that our society also supports and nourishes. Let's become aware of the subtle and not so subtle ways we criticize ourselves and other people. Let's not give it the space in our lives to create the malaise and unhappiness that we've learned to accept as normal. We deserve more. We deserve to be happy.

This week I would encourage you to become more "onto yourself" and catch yourself when your thoughts run amok in obvious and even in subtle, cunning ways. Remember, that critical voice, that tendency to bitch and complain, is insidious. Let's make our knee-jerk response to the question, "How are you?" be "Never better!" - And then let's mean it because it is true. You'll be amazed at how things and circumstances around you will change. I believe the effects of changing our complaining minds are wide in scope. You will be happy to see how so little effort can make such a big difference in our overall well being. Let's be willing to see things differently today. Add grace and appreciation to the recipe and let yourself be delighted by the outcome.

This week I leave you with a quote from Abraham Lincoln who said, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

You Gotta Give a Little

I've been thinking a lot lately about the power of contribution and how much it does to foster goodwill, and what an enormous gift it is to our own personal happiness. It was Gretta Brooker Palmer who said, "Happiness is a by-product of an effort to make someone else happy." Mark Twain remarked that, "The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer somebody else up." And of course there is the famous biblical adage that admonishes us to, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." And yet, in a world focused on how much we can get, it is not the first item that tops our list of 25 things to do to get ahead. Ironically, it's the one thing that brings the most joy, satisfaction and happiness.

Many of us today live under such a heavy financial burden that the last thing on our minds is giving. Survival and fear seem to be more the order of the day. Yet because our economic calamity has been brought upon us, in a very large part by greed, the very antidote that is called for is a spirit of giving - financially, emotionally, spiritually.

We have to remember, lest we perceive ourselves as victims of any circumstance, that everything we have done, thought and acted upon has contributed to the world as it is today. Our physicists and scientists from Einstein to Hawking, Newton to Braden have all contributed to the continued revelation of a subatomic culture that responds and literally rearranges itself according to our thoughts. They are learning more and more about how we interconnect with a field of energy, a superhighway or underpinning of our universe. Some scientists have called it the Mind of God and the Divine Matrix, by whatever name you call it, I think we can all agree that it is a creative framework for creation. It becomes easier to see how we are all connected; how every thought, word and deed of each individual contributes to our world - good and bad. All our thoughts of selfishness and greed have contributed to an unstable economy. While it's easy to look at the economy and point to one thing or another as obvious blame, we all have to take responsibility for how we contribute to the pot. Once we take responsibility and understand how we are creating circumstances, we are then powerful where we stand to affect change.

This is where giving, service, contribution and generosity play such an important role. There are so many stories of people helping one another in this economy that even our "serious" media outlets - if it bleeds it leads - are featuring good news stories. They are heartwarming, inspiring and encouraging. Nothing feels better than making a difference in someone's life. Oprah Winfrey herself claims that nothing has made her happier than her philanthropic outreach, especially her school for girls in Africa. Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, risks life and limb in Afghanistan and Pakistan to forge his tireless effort to champion education, especially for girls. He has gained the trust of Islamic leaders, military commanders, government officials and tribal chiefs simply because of his generous acts of kindness. He has done more for detente in that region than the billions of dollars we spend on war.

Nothing feels better than contributing positively to another person's life. If it is true that we live in a vibrational, responsive universe then every loving thought, kind word, smile and attempt to make someone laugh is an investment. No good act is ever wasted. It contributes to our momentary happiness and to the whole web of creation. It stands to reason that if bad feelings contribute to greed and war, good feelings contribute to peace, harmony and happiness. My mother used to tell me it was better to give than to receive, which was an awfully bitter pill at 6 years old to swallow. Now that I'm a tad older, I know that it is impossible to do one without inciting the other. As a teacher of mine used to say, "You can't out-give God." I believe the ripple effect of generosity and kindness has such far reaching effects that it would blow our minds.

This week I would encourage you to practice the balance of giving and receiving in your life - they are two sides of the same coin. As my friend Jacob says, "You can't just exhale." If you find yourself in a bad mood, take the advice of our wise friend Mark Twain and smile at someone, extend a kind word or compliment, make any small gesture of kindness. You will be amazed at how it will instantly change your mood. If you have more financially, give. If you don't, open yourself up to receive and give in other areas that you are abundant in. Check out my Joyous Contribution area on this blog and act on one that inspires you. Muhammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh won the Nobel Peace prize for his contribution to eradicate poverty and the inception of micro finance. And it all started with a kind act - he gave a woman a quarter one day to help her start a business. There is enormous potential in each generous act that we initiate. Let's open our hearts, extend our hands and unleash our power. We face an unparalleled moment of possibility.

This week I leave you with an inspiring video - a story of contribution. I also leave you with a quote by Arthur Ashe who said, “From what we get in life we make a living, from what we give we make a life.”

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Monday, September 7, 2009

A New Attitude

I've been thinking a lot lately about how we affect our own happiness and well-being, health and prosperity. We've talked at length about how happiness is an inside job and how we hold the power, in the moment, to change everything. But how does that translate into the real world? - What does that mean to us on a daily basis?

I think a lot of it has to do with attending to our internal well being. In this society, we constantly seek to change external circumstances in order to create the life we want without addressing our internal minds. That's a lot of work. It makes me think of my sister-in-law's father - a funny, warm and brilliant man, who would always make us all laugh. An avid lover of puzzles of all kinds, he would be working on a jigsaw puzzle and if a piece didn't fit he would take off his shoe and pound it into place. He didn't care if there was a fish in the sky, he made the piece fit! While being funny, I couldn't help but think that he was driving home a point. It's the way many of us approach problem areas in our lives - we try to force them to work from the outside - which of course in the end never does. We want something so badly we are willing to "make" it happen with our sheer will, frequently fighting against spiritual, emotional, and in the case of the puzzle piece, physical laws. It's exhausting.

I believe that the alignment of our internal selves, our minds and our thoughts coupled with feelings, is the only thing that will create the life that we seek. We tend to value the outside world much more than the inside - we call it reality. In fact, one is not any more real than the other, quite the opposite, one creates the other. I was taught, in my early spiritual training, that the universe constantly conspires for our good. I loved believing in a conspiracy for my good, but we can't take ourselves out of the equation. We must set our internal world, our minds and hearts in accordance with this conspiracy theory. Ernest Holmes, founder of Religious Science calls it a "mental equivalent." He said, "The limit of our ability to demonstrate depends upon our ability to provide a mental equivalent of our desires, for the law of correspondence works from the belief to the thing. But it is within our power to provide a greater mental equivalent through the unfolding of consciousness; and this growth from within will finally lead to freedom." 

Rollin McCraty, Ph.D, Vice President and Director of research for the Institute of HeartMath, tells us that, "The heart generates, by far, the largest rhythmic electromagnetic signal in the body. If you look at this magnetic field as a carrier wave, it's being modulated with information." It is this information that is communicating our beliefs, expectations and desires. If we align our internal perception with love instead of fear, something shifts in our minds and we begin to see things differently. A new perspective is born and the insights we bring to a problem will change. It helps us to see possibility where perhaps none had existed before. It brings a clarity and a different objectivity to the table because we are fundamentally different. In Buddhism, it is called a high life condition.

Since all minds are joined, by the energetic field that we have spoken of before, when our life condition is high we don't even have to necessarily do anything - the phone will ring, an email will come, a solution appears. If action is necessary, it will be inspired and not forced by fear. Here again is where the beauty of the moment can powerfully intervene. At any moment, we can stop and create a life condition that will affect a situation positively, instead of trying to "power" through it. Stop. Relax. Breathe. Bring a state of well being to the equation - gratitude, forgiveness, appreciation, a revised story - they will be more likely deliver the results you desire.

We must stop the internal chatter that replays stories from our past that do not serve us. Katie Byron, creator of The Work, is brilliant at teaching us to let go of our stories. We hold on to stories that bring pain and we create evidence to prove those stories true and draw circumstances into our lives that we do not want. We say things like, 'I never get what I want in my life because (fill in the blank here) my mother was abusive, my father was an alcoholic, I was ignored, I had too little, I had too much...' Whatever your story might be, I encourage you to drop it. Instead of arguing for our limitations, let's begin to argue for possibilities. As my friend Jacob says in his 365 Miracles, The Miracle Workers' Handbook, "We are not trying to get rid of something or push against it. We are suggesting that you invoke something Greater." He goes on to talk about invoking positive denial."Positive denial is looking right at the situation and negating the frightening story you've told about it. Positive denial neutralizes the fear by stripping it of its power over you. Always follow up positive denial with affirming a deeper truth."

This week I would encourage you to rewrite any story that you continue to tell others about yourself (a good clue to your inside beliefs) in order to end their cycle of attracting unwanted circumstances. All it takes is your willingness to change; you will receive help when you become willing. Begin your day by aligning your internal self to your higher self. In your quiet moments reflect on gratitude and appreciation and then really feel it. By backing your thoughts with emotions you will create a positively charged, powerfully attractive state - a high life condition. If there is a situation that is causing you worry or fear, give thanks for all the help you are receiving for its resolution. See it as resolved and without having to know the details of the resolution, feel the relief. Feel the relief. Feel the relief. Answers abound if we move away from the thoughts that created them. Albert Einstein said it the best when he said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." It requires a new perspective. A true miracle occurs when we shift our perceptions from fear (greed, jealousy, hostility, hatred, etc.) to love (gratitude, appreciation, honesty, integrity, generosity, etc.). When that perceptual shift is made, we attain inner peace and well being; and that will change our outer circumstances without the need of a shoe.

Again, I'd like to reiterate that this is not hard to do, it is just different. It is a shift in consciousness, which is the most important thing we can do to create peace, happiness and joy in our lives and usher in a new paradigm. Here lies the hope and change that we can really believe in.

I leave you this week with a quote by Maya Angelou who said, "We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate - thereby making the present comfortable and the future promising."