Redefining Love

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Rumi

Love is opening your heart to another person and trusting they won’t stomp all over your hurts and fears with cruelty and their own pain. The longer you live the more bruises your heart accumulates and the more protections you create. When we create more and more protections we keep not only the things that will bruise us out, but the things that are kind and loving as well. We put walls and cages around our heart, isolating it from everything and everyone. It becomes very lonely.

If we want to feel connected with others, if we want to be present with the beauty of the world, we have to be open to it. That means letting go of some of the walls, and creating healthy boundaries. Instead of steel reinforced concrete walls, brick walls with doors that we can open.

There is risk with an open heart. We see more of the pain of the world, and we sometimes misjudge and let people in that aren’t save and don’t deserve access. We also see the greatness and the beauty of the world and find the people who’s hearts shine with love and beauty.

Love isn’t about worth. There is not one person on this planet that is unworthy of love, and I say that knowing that there are some truly horrible people out there. There are some people that aren’t safe to open our hearts to, and at the same time every one is deserving of love. That includes you. It is up to you to be safe enough to be let in to someone’s heart and to believe in yourself enough to be vulnerable. Love will find you when you drop the barriers that you have created against love; loving yourself and others, and letting others love you.

 

Forgiving vs Condoning

How do you define forgiveness?  Do you usually respond to “I’m sorry” with “It’s OK”?  For most of us this is why we struggle to forgive people true trespasses.  We correlate forgiveness with condoning the behavior.  For many of us it means that we are telling the person that what they have done is acceptable and let go of.  When someone does something that causes true damage the farthest thing from our mind is letting them know that what they did was acceptable and that we have forgotten it.

We need to change our definition of forgiveness.  Forgiveness does not mean that the behavior was acceptable or forgotten.  It just means that we don’t hold hatred in our hearts.  We have let go of resentment, disgust, and anger toward the person.  We hold the lessons that need to be learned but let go of the things that create suffering in our lives.

Last week I discussed working to accept life as it is as a part of finding enlightenment.  That means that we are required to accept that the past cannot be changed.  The things that we have done and that have been done to us cannot be undone.  No matter how much or how little the person that has hurt or wronged us feels remorse or regret, the deed has been done.

One of the strongest things you will ever do is forgive someone that isn’t sorry for what they did.  For just a moment think of something you hold anger and resentment toward.  Think of the justification for the anger and resentment.  Now notice your heart-beat, notice your breath, and notice your general attitude about the day.  Notice if you feel hopeful or hopeless.  This is what anger does to us.  It steals our kindness and our hope.  It steals our ability to feel in control over our own lives.  We are often quick to blame the person or the event, but the true thief is the anger and resentment.

Forgiveness is letting go of the anger and the resentment so that it doesn’t control and run our lives.  It is not condoning the behavior that caused the resentment.  Forgiveness does not mean letting go of the need to use caution, keep yourself safe, and possibly even remove yourself from the person or thing that is causing the problems.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean “everything’s OK between the two of us”.   Those that hurt us the most often correlate the two.  “You’ve forgiven me?  Great!  I guess we’re OK now and I can keep doing what I was doing!”  It is up to us to make it clear that while we chose to not hold hatred toward anyone, their behavior wasn’t OK.  It is the difference between saying “Thank you” for an apology instead of “It’s OK”.  One is saying that you accept that they regret their actions and you appreciate the apology, and the other condones the behavior.

Forgiveness isn’t about condoning.  Sometimes it really isn’t OK.  It is about letting go of hatred and resentment that binds you to suffering.  Think of it this way.  We can only hold on to so much, and if we choose to hold on to anger and resentment, we limit our ability to hold on to the pleasant stuff.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that forgiving and condoning are the same thing.

Accepting pain can lead to enlightenment

Life involves pain, and live involves suffering. That is a natural fact that we cannot change, though we all try. Enlightenment, also known as insight or wisdom is the understanding that these are basic facts, and nothing we do will keep them away. We do have a choice about how much suffering we allow to enter our personal universe.

So what does it take to control the level of suffering we let in? First and foremost we have to acknowledge that pain is a part of life. We instinctively try to avoid pain. In some ways this is a good thing. We work together toward common goals to avoid the pain of loneliness, we work to stay safe so we don’t suffer painful damage. It also keeps us from taking risks that would bring great joy, letting people love us, letting ourselves love people, or letting go of things that are done and over. It is OK to be in pain. We believe that hurting is weakness, and we want to push pain as far from us as possible. Instead we need to embrace the pain. That sounds counter-intuitive, but when we embrace the pain it has less power over us.

What follows next is radical acceptance. What this means is accepting the things in life that aren’t as wonderful as we would like them to be and that many of them are unable to be changed. I cannot change the weather, or our government, or the people around me. Once I reach this place of radical acceptance I stop trying to fight the things that I can’t change. I change how I react and move through the universe. With the weather, we don’t try to change the weather we change how we dress in reaction to the weather. We accept that the weather is going to be what it is, and we act accordingly. If we can do the same in the rest of our lives, we are less frustrated. This leads to less suffering as we recognize what we can’t change, and enjoy what is.

The final part of enlightenment is gratitude. Making gratitude a part of your daily life leads to working to find the things every day to be grateful for. No matter how big or how small, finding the things that we can say “thank you” to our own god or perception of the universe helps shift the focus from what keeps us frustrated to what is beautiful in the world. Each day, work to find the beauty, the joy, and the kindnesses in the world. They are there, especially when we look.

Pain is a given no matter who you are. It is a part of life that is inescapable. Trying to escape from pain makes us miserable. Suffering is not as mandatory. Suffering comes from what we believe, and what we try to do because of our beliefs. If we believe that death is a horrible terrible thing then we work to run from death, and suffer greatly when the people around us pass. If we believe that it is a natural part of life, we have fear and pain related to our own passing and that of others, but it isn’t as horrible and there is less suffering. Enlightenment is recognizing that pain is going to be a part of life no matter what we do or how much we try to avoid it. It is working to live with integrity, and find gratitude in the every day. The small touches of a friend or a partner. Gratitude is noticing and enjoying the laugh of a child, the kindness of a stranger, the beauty of the natural world. When we accomplish these three things and work to share it with others, we will find enlightenment.

Yoga and you

Proprioception is knowing where your body is in space.  It is one of the tests police use to test for drunkenness.  Close your eyes and touch your nose.  Walk a straight line.  Stand on one foot.  It is one of the things we lose when intoxicated.  It is also one of the things we lose when we have trauma.  Studies are starting to show that yoga, along with therapy and medication can help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder heal more quickly.  So what in the heck does yoga do?

Yoga itself is a meditation.  Each position is called an “asana”, or focus.  Meditation changes us on a cellular level.  When used correctly, it helps the body know that it is OK and allows regular body processes, including basics such as digestion, to keep going.  When in a state of stress these process are put off in preference of dealing with the stress and what the body perceives as a threat.  When used for anger it continues the process of stress and anxiety.   When you focus on letting your body experience each pose (as imperfect as it may be), and use your breath to move between poses,  your body is allowed to begin to remove the cortisol and adrenalin that has been coursing through it to manage stress.

Yoga is also a test in accepting failure.  When first starting a yoga practice, no matter how athletic you are, you are going to fail time and time again.  Your balance will be off, you will fall out of poses, you won’t be able to transition smoothly in to poses, and you won’t be able to hold poses.  If you are attending a class you will look at the people around you and think “they can do this, I should be able to as well!”.  When you can let go of that expectation, and be OK with your body and what it is capable of, you have stepped up to the next level.  When you can be OK when you can’t hit the inversion you did yesterday, or hold the pose, or lose your balance, you’ve gone even further.  The final step is implementing this acceptance in the rest of your life.  In life we will fall.  We won’t be able to do today what we did yesterday.  We will struggle and struggle.  Failure builds muscle and helps us find solutions that success wouldn’t have let us see.

Yoga also helps us see successes.  As you continue your yoga practice you will find that all of a sudden you can do the pose that has frustrated you for years.  You will feel more confident in your balance not only psychically, but emotionally as well.  You will find that because you don’t let the little things bother you as much.

Yoga isn’t wonderful for everyone.  If it doesn’t work for you, find the thing that will do these things.  The things that let you be OK with failure, that test your body and mind in different ways and encourage your to fall and fail.  People tell me that they have running or swimming routines, and unfortunately that just doesn’t do it.  It doesn’t test where your body is in time or space, and with both swimming and running you probably already know what you are doing.  There are fewer chances for growth.  If yoga isn’t for you, that isn’t a problem.  But do find the thing that will do the above for you.

Yoga helps teach you where your body is in time and in space, and reminds you that you do have control over you.  It reconnects your mind and your body, often after life situations that make you feel helpless with both.

There’s No Crying in Baseball!

For those of you that don’t watch a lot of movies, that is a line from A League of Their Own that Tom Hank’s character yells as on of his female ball-players starts to cry.  It is the common sign of a man that doesn’t know how to handle the very outward display of emotion in that moment.

Why do men have such a hard time with women crying?  There’s actually a pretty good reason for that.  Think of what men are taught about crying from the time they are very young.  They are taught that crying is weak.  They are told very often to “be a man” when they are hurting, which implies they need to take all of their emotions and push them down deep.  They aren’t allowed to move through, to hold space for themselves when they are hurting.  Instead of feeling the pain, learning that it is OK to hurt, be sad, or feel guilty they are required to withhold and ignore the feelings.  Push them down, push them away, and most of all don’t cry.

So when a woman, who hasn’t been told to shove them down and has been allowed to cry is present with her feelings it makes them uncomfortable.  They don’t know how to hold space for their own discomfort, let alone for the person next to them that is struggling.  They have also been told their entire lives, by family and culture, that a blatant display of emotion is a sign of weakness.

We as women also struggle to hold space for men when they are experiencing strong emotion (other than anger), and showing it.  We also have received the message from society that a man showing emotion is a sign of weakness.  It makes us almost as uncomfortable as men are when we cry.

Holding space for an emotion means experiencing the emotion.  It means feeling it in the moment, without shoving it away. It means acknowledging that whatever is happening is unpleasant and it is OK for it to be unpleasant.  Women are allowed some grace in this as we are allowed to cry and give outward demonstrations of our feelings. Men are taught to shut that down, and then that is reinforced on a daily basis through family, media, and partners. It isn’t surprising that when women cry they struggle with the display.

It is difficult for both men and women to allow someone else that they are close to be present with painful emotions. In general women say they want a man that is more in touch with his emotions, and yet there is discomfort when he does so. If we want men to be comfortable with women crying, we have to encourage everyone to be OK being present with their emotions. It is OK to let someone cry and not need to fix it. Crying releases endorphins that are often needed in tense and difficult moments. It is part of why women are so prone to tears during angry and tense moments, as well as sad difficult moments. It gives a release and helps move through the difficult time. As a society, we all need to become better at not only holding space for someone that is struggling, but tolerating our own discomfort when someone cries.

Crying is natural and healthy. Tears mean that a person cares about what is going on in that moment. We all need to work on holding space for difficult experiences, and being OK when the water-works are turned on.  Maybe there should be crying in baseball.

 

Compassion, Forgiveness, and Gratitude

Last week I wrote about being able to understand the difference about what we can and can’t change in the world around is.  What we really can change is how we think, act, and react to the world around us.  The best way to do this is through compassion, forgiveness and gratitude. These are not to be confused with complacency.  Complacency is ignoring the fact that there are things that we can and should change, including ourselves.

Compassion is being able to see that everyone has their own story that they are trying to work through.  We all just want to live and be happy.  We all just want to find peace and happiness.  No matter what people, what religion, or what country, we all just want to find a life with love and happiness.  The way some of us go about this isn’t healthy or done in a way to accomplish our goals, and yet we still all have the same goals.  When people struggle they are moving through their own demons, hurts, and lessons.  When we find compassion for them we are often softer toward them, less harsh.  Greeting hurt and anger with harshness just breeds harshness and more anger.  Greeting hurt and anger with compassion can soften the harsh edges, soften the hurt and the anger.  This can change the way people act toward us, lessening out own frustrations and resentments.

Forgiveness is being able to let go of the hurt and anger in our own heart.  It is not about condoning or accepting the behavior that is happening around you.  It is saying that you won’t hold anger in your own heart to poison you.  Anger and resentment toward others do nothing to the other person.  We often keep them as protections against getting hurt in the future, but then harden us from finding the things we truly want; love and happiness.  We cannot hold both peace and anger at the same time.  When we find compassion for someone, work to understand life from their perspective even when we don’t condone their actions, it is easier to forgive them and keep from poisoning ourselves with hate.

Gratitude is being thankful for the good things in life that we do have.  We spend a lot of time thinking about the things that we want without remembering that we do have things out there that do bring us happiness.  These can be the little things like a sunset or a child’s laughter, or the big things like a stable place to live and a safe family, or even the fact that you were able to buy that new car.  Each day, start to find a ritual of gratitude.  At the end of every day, find one thing you have to be grateful for.  To help your family you can work to make it a part of a family practice (like praying at dinner or bedtime).  Gratitude helps us recognize that our life isn’t all bad.  It helps with finding compassion and forgiveness.

Compassion and forgiveness must always start with ourselves.  While we don’t want to always condone our own actions, as we all make mistakes and can do better, we do need to have compassion for ourselves instead of condemnation.  We do need to forgive our own trespasses, while working to learn from them.  Holding anger in your heart toward yourself does not help you be a better person.  It helps resentment and anger build up toward others, in a metaphorical downward spiral that only leads to more hurt, anger and resentment.  We cannot find peace or happiness along this path.  We are fertile ground in which we can grow compassion, kindness and gratitude leading to peace, or we can grow anger, resentment and hurt, which leads to more of the same.

We all want to find comfort and happiness.  We all want to find a living that brings us comfort and peace.  I have yet to find anyone, of any religion that wants something different.  Many of this try to find these things by trying to change things we can’t change, or trying to change people, whom we definitely can’t change.  Finding a practice of compassion, forgiveness and gratitude takes time.  In general humanity has turned toward blame, defensiveness and anger and it is visible in not only our daily interactions but in our national politics, and in international incidents.  We as individuals don’t have power over these things.  We do have power over how we see the world, how we see ourselves, and how we react to the world.  This is more power than you think.

What we can control

Are you familiar with the Serenity Prayer?  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.  This prayer has been a strong part of my therapeutic approach over the years.  It has a good deal of meaning behind it, reminding us that there are things that we cannot change in this world, as well as that the things that can be changed can take a good deal of strength.  It reminds us that we don’t always see the difference between the things we can change and those we can’t. We all want to feel as though we are in control.  We want control not only of ourselves (which anyone that has ever had a cold knows isn’t always the case), but our environment (and anyone with allergies knows that isn’t realistic either).

When control is lost, we compensate often with anger toward ourselves or others.  When we don’t have the recognition that the situation cannot be controlled, we often try to create control.  These attempts to try to create control often create more misery than control.  The feelings of powerlessness we are struggling with just get stronger and stronger the more we try to manage the things that are outside of our control, and we become more irritable, anxious, and angry.  There are some things in this life we will have no control over.  We will never have control over how others think or act.  We will never have control over the weather, Facebook trolls,  or traffic.  These things are out of our control.  We easily accept our lack of control over the weather.   We have no problem changing our behavior for the weather.  We have more difficulty accepting how other people see us, our hair, Facebook trolls, or traffic.

We spend a good deal of energy working to control the things that are outside of our control.  And then we are miserable.  God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.  This means that I will accept it like I accept the weather, and change how I respond in ways that work for me.  With the weather we add or take off layers, add or take away heat, we control the things we can control.  In general, what we have control over is how we respond.  We have the choice to feed in to the Facebook trolls.  We have the choice to try to force others to change their opinions.  Accepting the things we cannot change means tolerating the distress of the things we wish we could, but can’t.  It is painful when others actions, choices or beliefs go directly against out own.  It is difficult when the world seems to conspire against us and there is little we can do.  Our choice is to tolerate the distress or to engage in a futile struggle that will only cause us more pain.

The next step, believe it or not, can be even more difficult.  The next step is to change the things we can.  The thing we can change is ourselves, the things we take on, the things we do, and how we think.  When you start to think that is the easier task, look at the change you need to make to do the above.  You have control over what you attempt to control.  Letting go of the things that we have no control over is difficult, and requires great effort on your part.  If I want to lose weight I may not have control over my genetics.  I do have control over how much I exercise and the food I put in my body.   If I want to change how someone sees me, I can’t argue them in to a different view point but I can behave in the way I want to be viewed as.

The final step is understanding the difference.  What can I control, and what can’t I?  This is the part where we are asking for help to find the difference.  I don’t have a magic trick to help you know the difference.  Sometimes I struggle as well.  I hold on to the prayer.  I look to see what I can do, what I have control over, and then I decide if I am going to do it.  For example, I have no control over Syria, or people’s beliefs about the refugees.  I do have control over whether or not I donate to agencies that help refugees, or even volunteer to help refugees coming to the country. I could even volunteer my home to help.  These are three things that take varying amounts of effort.  These are things over which I have control, in a situation that I find heartbreaking, and over which I have none.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Though the situation can be distressing, admitting that there is no control over a situation can be releasing.  You only have the pressure of controlling you, the one thing you know you have control over.

Live life at your pace

We move through life in lock-step through about the age of 18. Sometimes even 22.  We are born, we roll over, walk, talk, skip, move through school, all pretty much at the same pace.  For younger kids, if they aren’t moving through the milestones at about the right age, then there are problems.  Because so much of our life is moving through in lock-step, we start to think that is how life should be as adults as well.  We need to get married, have kids, have the right job, buy a house, etc.  The concept that if we haven’t met the adult “milestones” by a certain age creates anxiety and shame in so many people.
At some point we stop needing to do the same things about the same time. One person may have to leave high school because life got in the way, and finishes later in their own time.  The other may not get married until their 50’s because they didn’t find the right person. We each have a path that we need to walk.  For a while it may be similar to someone else’s, but ultimately we don’t have to keep pace with anyone.

There is a path in Austin called the Hill of Life.  It is ½ a mile, with 200 meters of elevation change.  It is the very first entrance to the Barton Creek Trail system that runs through Austin, about 8 miles long. It is rocky, uneven terrain.  It is a phenomenal work-out to walk up it.  And it is exhausting.  I have found, that even with all the exercise I do, I have to take the hill slow.  On a bad day I need to take breaks and can’t finish the hill in one go.  While I am huffing and puffing there are often people running up the hill, or even college students walking from the river-bed in flip-flops.  And I’m not in a race with them.  I don’t need to keep up, go the fastest, or even need to march up it without breaks.  I need to go at my pace.  I will get to the top of the hill, I will just take longer than the others.  And I will be faster than some. It isn’t a race.  We will all end up at the same place.
The ego tells us “You should be going faster”.  The ego has a very strong belief in how the world should work.  It believes that if you aren’t moving at the same pace as everyone else you aren’t good enough. You aren’t worthy enough to live amongst the decent people that are doing “better” than you are.  With the hill example, if I work to keep up with those that are doing “better” than I am, I will in all likelihood hurt myself.  I will exceed what my heart and lungs are capable of, or I will twist an ankle, or have some other sort of problem.  When I take the hill at the pace that works for me, I generally tend to make better time than when I try to keep up with someone else.

We all have the same finish-line.  No matter how quickly, gracefully, or easily move through life, we all end up at the same place.  If we try to live life at the pace we think we are “supposed” to often we feel inadequate, frustrated, and sometimes worthless.  We each get to find what works for us, the pace that is best for us, and find our own groove.  Push yourself, and at the same time make sure you aren’t just trying to keep up with the “shoulds”.  This isn’t a race, and if you treat it that way you may just end up at the finish line faster than you wanted to.

I was wrong

I was wrong. These are three of the most difficult words to string together in one sentence. Living in a blame filled society where being wrong is seen as being weak, or at times leaves us vulnerable to attack from the wronged makes it difficult to admit to our mistakes. It is also one of the best ways to resolve conflict.

We all make mistakes. We make mistakes in the way we act and the way we treat each other. Sometimes the mistakes we make dig deep holes. In order to dig out way out of these holes, most people want to hear one thing: “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done that, and it wasn’t OK.” It takes a good deal of strength to say those words. It also begins a healing process.

Most of us want to hear the other person say that they were wrong when they have done something they shouldn’t have. It allows the forgiveness process to start, both with the wronged, and the person that committed the act. I know personally when I screw up I go through a guilt / shame cycle in which I work to forgive myself for behavior I did. The simple admission of being wrong lets me shift from shame (I am wrong) to guilt (I did wrong and am capable of doing better). It lets me shift from what a f$%k up I am to how I can do better next time.

The ego is the part of the self that regards itself as real. It is the part of the self that says “I can’t show weakness”. It is the part of the self that says “You suck, and always will”. Strangely enough, the ego is trying to help us fit in and make us be better people, but what it does is encourage us to either tear ourselves down, or tear others down to feel better. In reality, we all make mistakes. We all have the ability to change and the ability to do better next time. In order to do better next time though, we have to admit that we made a mistake.

Our ego will yell at us when we go to admit to our mistakes, especially out-loud to others. It is also the best way to start the healing process. It has been found that a Doctors or clinicians that apologize and admit when they have made mistakes are less likely to get sued. That is clear, definitive proof that we just want someone that has wronged us to admit that they were wrong. It starts a healing process, both within ourselves and with others. Three little words that can help so much, but are amazingly scary. “I was wrong”.