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Pressed: Fifty-Two Weeks Begin Now: Week Forty-Three: What Trouble Teaches Us

31 Oct

Fifty-Two Weeks Begin Now: Week Forty-Three: What Trouble Teaches Us.

IMG_7126

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows my sorrow

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Glory, Hallelujah”  Louis Armstrong (traditional)

Standing on the Edge:  I was on an airplane with few movie choices, and I stumbled across a thought-provoking one called A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby.  It is about these four unsensational, but depressed characters that find themselves up on top of the Topper Tower in London all looking down contemplating the jump.  They are embarrassed to be exposed to each other as they find themselves on the same humiliating journey looking down to the ground.  After some awkward conversation, they agree to put off their decision to jump for six weeks.  They decide that if they still feel the same way on Valentines day, that they will meet and resume the jump.  However, predictably in the interim, they find that by knowing that they are no longer alone, and by seeing each other through the mirrors that are vulnerably held in front of them by each other, they find other ways of seeing and then resolving their difficulties.

What I have found in my human journey filled with markedly exciting and successful highs, and some periodic difficulties, is that trouble can insidiously shape us in some pretty unnervingly long term ways if we allow it to happen.  Sometimes it takes someone to say, “Hey, actually the problem is not this way, or that way, or that big.  You are just seeing it that way.”  Each time we have a problem that we delicately avoid, shove under the carpet, or feel that we have successfully averted, we become more adept at avoiding looking life in the eye through fresh and resilient lenses.  More often, we spend a lot of solitary time trying to “…to rebuild [ourselves], piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go” (Hornby, 2014). As a result, after each little break in the glass, when we finally stand back and look out of our windows, we have a very distorted view of life out there.  Our “cognitive distortions”, ranging from “tunnel vision, all-or-nothing thinking, should and must statements, worse case scenario thinking through to personalization, overgeneralization” (Beck, 1995), and many more disfunctional thought patterns, begin to rule how we conceive of the world around us.

The Trick is to Pretend and Not Let It Happen Again:  What we learn as children when we fall down, burn ourselves, or have something painful happen, is that in the future, we steer clear from making the same mistakes again.  The whole goal of our human conditioning is to avoid pain at whatever costs.  However, as we get older, the maze of “avoiding life’s difficulties” becomes pretty complicated.  We get lost in it.  We lose other people while we or they are in it.  Then, we stay clear of all things because there might be some remote possibility that something awful that we experienced before, might jump out at us when we least expect it.  We deny.  We blame.  We hide.  We do not “cope” in the really profound ways that allow us to get back on the horse and keep riding onward. We know when we get triggered by past episodes.  Our bodies start to tense.  Our breathing gets faster.  Our muscles get ready to fight.  However, our brains turn off because our blood flow is relegated elsewhere in our state of flight and fear.  The majority of the population gets lost in this trigger trauma cycle.  No one likes going down these scary rabbit holes, so they are either hyper-vigilent to prevent any problems (doing everything right), or hypo-vigilent to respond to them (numbing out and apathy).

The Mind’s Eye:  What has dawned on me lately, as I live on my own and have to grapple with difficulties by myself, is that troubles are only as big as I choose to make them.  It took a few recent falls to see that I am going to continually fall as long as I “live”.  Now I need to learn how to fall, and not how to avoid falling.  I remember learning how to roll and fall on cross country skis.  It was something that was expected to happen when we skiied, and as a result, when we fell, we knew how, and didn’t think much of it.  The key is to get up and to look at what happened and learn from it.  However, it is very important to not take on crazy reactive behaviour because we take what happened to us too personally and own more of the responsibility than is ours to own.

What I am discovering about my own life is that my circle of influence is pretty small.  There is really very little that I can truly control in my life other than how I think about my experiences.  I can make some choices within the context of my home, my work, my society, my culture and the world; however, there is a randomness in the universe each and every day that I live out loud.  There is always going to be some asshole who is going to say his or her rude comments and be obstinate just because I have an idea that is new or different, or that he or she did not think about first.  There will always be some obstacle standing in the way of some outcome (not all) that I am trying to achieve.  There will always be some cost-benefit analysis that I will have to do to make my straight lines to happiness a bit loopier than I want them to be.

The key for me lately is to stand my ground:  What do I need?  What can I leave?  What matters?  What does not matter?  I need to be clear about these fundamental questions in the moment of each experience that I live so that if I am triggered, I can breathe and say, “I don’t need to address this right now or ever!”  That is a choice I can make each and every time I feel my defences kicking in, and I experience what I perceive to be trouble coming my way.

Trouble in Partnership:  What I am also learning lately as I date and discover with whom I am interested in being in partnership, is that people do not have to be similar in many ways, and sometimes not even all that perfectly compatible except in one way:  Do we know how to solve problems together?  If people can agree on how to see and solve trouble together, we have a better shot at a relationship than all of the fairy tales stories we grew up believing would be our romantic outcomes.

The difficulty is that there are not many problem solvers who want to sit in the eye of the storm either independently or interdependently and “take it on”.  We are in a wounded world of avoiders, defenders, and fair weather seekers.  It is not easy to find that special someone who is well-versed in the matters of handling difficulties with a level head and heart.  Many of us look, connect, sense a little trouble, and move onward.  In established relationships, some are healthy teams of trouble shooters, but many marriages are filled with land mines and danger zones that are delicately side-stepped to stay “happy” together.

Stay Awake:  I encourage all of us to really look at all of the things that scare us–the people, places, things, experiences, memories, and ideas.  Sometimes they are hard to conjure up as we have become desensitized.  Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know until someone points it out to us.  However, when we are ready, it helps to get raw and vulnerable and find out what frightens us, why it hurts us, and then start examining how to address it each and every time it happens… because it will happen over and over again until the day we die.  It means responding, and not reacting.  As well, when we are awake to it, we can stop asking everyone around us to walk on eggshells to avoid hurting us, and start getting a bit stronger about dealing with what real life experiences have the potential of giving us both good and bad.  It puts us in charge of our own life experiences and what we believe about it.

Let’s stand away from the edge so that we don’t feel as if we are on this dangerous precipice each and every time trouble arises with the fear of falling over.  Better yet, let’s make sure that there never comes a time that we feel the need to jump off.

The self is a mystery. In our efforts to pin it down or make it safe, we dissociate ourselves from our complete experience of whatever it is or is not” (Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life).

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Fifty-Two Weeks Begin Now: Week Forty-Three: What Trouble Teaches Us

30 Oct

IMG_7126

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows my sorrow

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Glory, Hallelujah”  Louis Armstrong (traditional)

Standing on the Edge:  I was on an airplane with few movie choices, and I stumbled across a thought-provoking one called A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby.  It is about these four unsensational, but depressed characters that find themselves up on top of the Topper Tower in London all looking down contemplating the jump.  They are embarrassed to be exposed to each other as they find themselves on the same humiliating journey looking down to the ground.  After some awkward conversation, they agree to put off their decision to jump for six weeks.  They decide that if they still feel the same way on Valentines day, that they will meet and resume the jump.  However, predictably in the interim, they find that by knowing that they are no longer alone, and by seeing each other through the mirrors that are vulnerably held in front of them by each other, they find other ways of seeing and then resolving their difficulties.

What I have found in my human journey filled with markedly exciting and successful highs, and some periodic difficulties, is that trouble can insidiously shape us in some pretty unnervingly long term ways if we allow it to happen.  Sometimes it takes someone to say, “Hey, actually the problem is not this way, or that way, or that big.  You are just seeing it that way.”  Each time we have a problem that we delicately avoid, shove under the carpet, or feel that we have successfully averted, we become more adept at avoiding looking life in the eye through fresh and resilient lenses.  More often, we spend a lot of solitary time trying to “…to rebuild [ourselves], piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go” (Hornby, 2014). As a result, after each little break in the glass, when we finally stand back and look out of our windows, we have a very distorted view of life out there.  Our “cognitive distortions”, ranging from “tunnel vision, all-or-nothing thinking, should and must statements, worse case scenario thinking through to personalization, overgeneralization” (Beck, 1995), and many more disfunctional thought patterns, begin to rule how we conceive of the world around us.

The Trick is to Pretend and Not Let It Happen Again:  What we learn as children when we fall down, burn ourselves, or have something painful happen, is that in the future, we steer clear from making the same mistakes again.  The whole goal of our human conditioning is to avoid pain at whatever costs.  However, as we get older, the maze of “avoiding life’s difficulties” becomes pretty complicated.  We get lost in it.  We lose other people while we or they are in it.  Then, we stay clear of all things because there might be some remote possibility that something awful that we experienced before, might jump out at us when we least expect it.  We deny.  We blame.  We hide.  We do not “cope” in the really profound ways that allow us to get back on the horse and keep riding onward. We know when we get triggered by past episodes.  Our bodies start to tense.  Our breathing gets faster.  Our muscles get ready to fight.  However, our brains turn off because our blood flow is relegated elsewhere in our state of flight and fear.  The majority of the population gets lost in this trigger trauma cycle.  No one likes going down these scary rabbit holes, so they are either hyper-vigilent to prevent any problems (doing everything right), or hypo-vigilent to respond to them (numbing out and apathy).

The Mind’s Eye:  What has dawned on me lately, as I live on my own and have to grapple with difficulties by myself, is that troubles are only as big as I choose to make them.  It took a few recent falls to see that I am going to continually fall as long as I “live”.  Now I need to learn how to fall, and not how to avoid falling.  I remember learning how to roll and fall on cross country skis.  It was something that was expected to happen when we skiied, and as a result, when we fell, we knew how, and didn’t think much of it.  The key is to get up and to look at what happened and learn from it.  However, it is very important to not take on crazy reactive behaviour because we take what happened to us too personally and own more of the responsibility than is ours to own.

What I am discovering about my own life is that my circle of influence is pretty small.  There is really very little that I can truly control in my life other than how I think about my experiences.  I can make some choices within the context of my home, my work, my society, my culture and the world; however, there is a randomness in the universe each and every day that I live out loud.  There is always going to be some asshole who is going to say his or her rude comments and be obstinate just because I have an idea that is new or different, or that he or she did not think about first.  There will always be some obstacle standing in the way of some outcome (not all) that I am trying to achieve.  There will always be some cost-benefit analysis that I will have to do to make my straight lines to happiness a bit loopier than I want them to be.

The key for me lately is to stand my ground:  What do I need?  What can I leave?  What matters?  What does not matter?  I need to be clear about these fundamental questions in the moment of each experience that I live so that if I am triggered, I can breathe and say, “I don’t need to address this right now or ever!”  That is a choice I can make each and every time I feel my defences kicking in, and I experience what I perceive to be trouble coming my way.

Trouble in Partnership:  What I am also learning lately as I date and discover with whom I am interested in being in partnership, is that people do not have to be similar in many ways, and sometimes not even all that perfectly compatible except in one way:  Do we know how to solve problems together?  If people can agree on how to see and solve trouble together, we have a better shot at a relationship than all of the fairy tales stories we grew up believing would be our romantic outcomes.

The difficulty is that there are not many problem solvers who want to sit in the eye of the storm either independently or interdependently and “take it on”.  We are in a wounded world of avoiders, defenders, and fair weather seekers.  It is not easy to find that special someone who is well-versed in the matters of handling difficulties with a level head and heart.  Many of us look, connect, sense a little trouble, and move onward.  In established relationships, some are healthy teams of trouble shooters, but many marriages are filled with land mines and danger zones that are delicately side-stepped to stay “happy” together.

Stay Awake:  I encourage all of us to really look at all of the things that scare us–the people, places, things, experiences, memories, and ideas.  Sometimes they are hard to conjure up as we have become desensitized.  Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know until someone points it out to us.  However, when we are ready, it helps to get raw and vulnerable and find out what frightens us, why it hurts us, and then start examining how to address it each and every time it happens… because it will happen over and over again until the day we die.  It means responding, and not reacting.  As well, when we are awake to it, we can stop asking everyone around us to walk on eggshells to avoid hurting us, and start getting a bit stronger about dealing with what real life experiences have the potential of giving us both good and bad.  It puts us in charge of our own life experiences and what we believe about it.

Let’s stand away from the edge so that we don’t feel as if we are on this dangerous precipice each and every time trouble arises with the fear of falling over.  Better yet, let’s make sure that there never comes a time that we feel the need to jump off.

The self is a mystery. In our efforts to pin it down or make it safe, we dissociate ourselves from our complete experience of whatever it is or is not” (Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life).

Pressed: 52 Weeks Being Now: Week Forty: Silent Knowledge

12 Aug

52 Weeks Being Now: Week Forty: Silent Knowledge.

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Stopping to Listen: Every so often we get caught up in the inertia of our lives and in the words and actions that precipitate what we believe to be the “truth”. We are so busy trying to figure out what the truth means, that we lose the essential point of why we are trying to learn it in the first place. We want to experience joy. We want to experience love. We believe that the absolute truth will allow us some sense of security in knowing our goodness and that of those around us. Then, and only then, can we experience true joy and love. However, the truth is only a story that we tell ourselves, or that we allow others to interpret of us:

“I am only one half of the message; you are the other half. I am responsible for what I say, but I am not responsible for what you understand. You are responsible for what you understand; you are responsible for whatever you do with what you hear in your head, because you are the one who gives the meaning to every word that you hear” (Ruiz, 2010, p. 104).

Usually, we listen to the words of those we hope are telling us the truth. We watch their actions. We try to align their words and actions so as to have them make testaments of what we need to believe to be true. However, in the end, it is all a story. It is a perspective, and what truly matters is what is beneath the story. “The truth is silent. It’s something you you just know; it’s something that you can feel without words and it’s called silent knowledge” (Ruiz, 2010, p. 110). I refer to it as intuition.

Quiet Communication: Intuition is sometimes fed by little clues. If we really listen, we hear someone’s character by subtler things found in between the words and actions. These sometimes imperceptible details become magnificent, in particular when we are at odds with ourselves and each other. Compassionate details matter most in moments of difficulty. For example: the sound of the patient breath; a loving look; our tears wiped; a patient tone; loving eye-contact; arms open; whispering tones of gratitude; no rushing; quiet rest; the benefit of the doubt; a hug; a loving presence; strong persistence; a belligerent belief in our internal goodness despite the proof in the moment of something less; a hummed melody; pure stillness; compassionate space and intimacy; staying awake; a caress; a touch on furrowed brow; a knowing look; and never ever feeling ignored. All are quiet forms of love that are somewhere between or beyond words and action.

When we show this quiet love, we believe in ourselves more. This silent belief in our own goodness are the roots that we grow into the ground around us. These are the roots of disciplined empathy which I like to call integrity. These roots give ourselves and people confidence in us, even when the wind blows.

Although you are a talisman protecting a treasure,
you are also the mine.
Open your hidden eyes
and come to the root of the root of your Self.
(Rumi, Root of the Root)

When we are quietly strong this way, we and the people around us always know that we only tremble a bit in the storms, or when we are tired. Regardless, we remain standing, and continue to grow upward into the sunlight. There is a tacet understanding that unless we are forcibly chopped down, or burned, our goodness is intrinsic and constant. We do not tire from being this way because it is a good way to be, but it takes effort. We see no limitations to it because we understand that “the mind that perceives the limitation is the limitation” (Buddha).

If we are really listening, we do not question the internal goodness of ourselves and others because it is just there, sometimes covered up by confusing words, and complicated actions and the assumptions that we draw from both. However, if we are really listening, we hear each other in deeper timbres. We know intuitively of the pain and the love that resides deeper inside of us and those around us. We ask different questions. We appreciate the power of the pregnant pause when we respond, not react. We step forward into the wind, not backwards. We sing inwards, rather than shout outwards. We pull forwards rather than push away.

Don’t go away, come near.
Don’t be faithless, be faithful.
Find the antidote in the venom.
Come to the root of the root of your Self.
(Rumi, Root of the Root)

In other words, when we are rooted, we stay. We stay present. We stay connected. This staying is the silent knowledge of our spiritual love as compassionate people in all of our complexities.

“Human beings are millions of things in one day.”
― Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 22: I Will Meet You in the Garden

19 Mar

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 22: I Will Meet You in the Garden.

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Looking Beyond the Veil: Sometimes, it takes making a big shift in life, to start seeing things differently–deeply, in such a way that I have had to review what my tendencies are in relationship with self and others. Taking any risk such as moving or travelling, forces me to examine what it is that is really important to me, and why it is so. What motivates me? What am I vulnerable to? Who do I let in my life? Why am I being given, what I perceive to be, the same types of challenges in relationship over and over again? What is now different than when I have been in relationship before, is my engagement and attachment to being “right” within them. I have also learned that feelings are never wrong to the person feeling them. Therefore, it is this delicate balance of not fighting for right and wrong, but knowing that there is somewhere in the middle of thoughts and feelings where people need to find some common ground. The poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī writes: “Somewhere between right and wrong there is a garden. I will meet you there.”

After recently experiencing a short-lived, but intense relationship, it became clear that what started out as a fairy tale, was only a story of two personalities still learning about ourselves. It was not, in the end, a meeting of the souls, or I believe that things would have turned out differently. It is interesting reading Gary Zukav’s Seat of the Soul (finally) that he talks about spiritual partnership as the following:

“Spiritual Partnership
… The new female and the new male
are partners on a journey of spiritual growth.
They want to make the journey.
Their love and trust keep them together.
Their intuition guides them. They consult with each other.
They are friends. They laugh a lot. They are equals.

That is what a spiritual partnership is:
a partnership between equals
for the purpose of spiritual growth.”

The Power of Words: When two people discover that their egos and baggage hamper this type of spiritual evolution of relationship, there is nothing one or the other can really do. I have now learned that I truly cannot change anyone. If judgment and harsh behaviour emerges, I can only comment on it, and explain the human experience from the other side while trying to understand the other person as well. However, the wall that is often quickly erected and obstructs a compassionate vantage point, is one in the form of harsh words of judgment and accusations. “How could you do this to me?” Instead of, “What are you trying to say, and why is it important?” Erroneous and arbitrary words that bubble up in argument can be fatal as they cage the conflict in ego, and not in truly seeing each other for what the issue ought to be, a difference of perception and experience. Where I see someone attempting to personify me in a way that does not exemplify my true intentions or best self, it is important for me to first consider why it is happening. Then I try to attempt to communicate my thoughts and feelings to clarify any miscommunication (without wounding), and failing these efforts, it becomes necessary to let the relationship go where it continues to assume the worst of itself under pressure.

“A power struggle collapses when you withdraw your energy from it. Power struggles become uninteresting to you when you change your intention from winning to learning about yourself.” Zukav indicates that when souls, not personalities, love each other, they can meet in this garden that Rumi describes. Otherwise, they are caught trying to impress upon the other the “right way” to act and feel and perceive situations. They are caught blaming each other for their reactions to difficulties, instead of uncovering what is happening in any given dilemma. The goal of any relational conflict is for each person to learn more about each other while still coming out of the situation unscathed and whole. Too many arguments in relationship wound each other, and this is the unfortunate cycle of things. Maturity has taught me that I must walk away where woundedness controls the situation.

Relationship Skirmishes: Regardless of who starts the difficulties, how the matter is handled, and the empathy for the context within which it arises, is paramount. Where there is compassion and empathy, comes love. If empathy leaves the room and counter attacks (based on perceived attacks) take over (passive or aggressive), it is not a reliable or trusting connection. We have to trust that even in the darkest hour of our relationships, we can count on the other to endeavour to see us for all of our good points, and provide us with the benefit of the doubt even where painful to do so. We like to think that an emotional bank account in relationship is deposited so that the partner can draw on it to balance out anger when he or she sees some of our uglier sides. What happens too often, is that people bankrupt all of the emotional investment in one argument.

Compassionate relationships see the frailty of human nature, and understand that where we fail, we are usually grappling with ourselves and the challenges at hand, and not attacking or meaning to attack. People who go through their lives blind-sided by conflict, and seeing it as an attack (passive or aggressive), are not likely to see or understand the other person underneath the surface of their personalities. Therefore, it is not love, it is something else. I have learned that when relationship skirmishes arise, that they are very telling of how successful the relationship will be over time. They give us insight into the journey of our partners and how we can be sensitive to the relationship. Sometimes, we can love people but detach from their pain that might otherwise, pull us under. Sometimes, we can do this in the context of the relationship, and sometimes, we need to leave the relationship in order to stay healthy. We can always love people regardless of our connection to them.

In the end, we are all human. If this humanness is not truly appreciated, we are caged by our relationships because we must alway be perfect. We must always be perfect for fear of toppling over the egos engaged in the relationship of right in wrong. We then live in fear of emotions, rather than embracing them for what they are truly meant to teach us about our souls. Sometimes we have to look fear, anger and hurt in the eye of the storm, and unveil it gently and carefully so that it can look back. When it is this vulnerable, it is best not to label it with unkind words, or pathologize the intentions of the person expressing it, or “it ” will hide or attack; rather we must uncover what “it” is. Once people in relationship can do this over and over again, the volatility of the relationship holds less power and love penetrates everything.

“When you have an emotional reaction to what you see, you are judging. That is your signal that you have an issue inside of yourself – with yourself – not with the other person. If you react to evil, look inside yourself for the very thing that so agitates you, and you will find it. If it were not there, you will simply discern, act appropriately, and move on.” Gary Zukav

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