A Joke!

There once was a monastery that was very strict. Following a vow of silence, no one was allowed to speak at all. But there was one exception to this rule. Every ten years, the monks were permitted to speak just two words. After spending his first ten years at the monastery, one monk went to the head monk. “It has been ten years,” said the head monk. “What are the two words you would like to speak?”

He thinks about it or a moment and says:

“Bed… hard…” said the monk.

“I see,” replied the head monk.

Ten years later, the monk returned to the head monk’s office. “It has been ten more years,” said the head monk. “What are the two words you would like to speak?”  Again, after thinking for a moment he says:

“Food… stinks…” said the monk.

“I see,” replied the head monk.

Yet another ten years passed and the monk once again met with the head monk who asked, “What are your two words now, after these ten years?”

“I… quit!” said the monk.

“Well, I can see why,” replied the head monk. “All you ever do is complain.”


Have you ever been told “You sound angry all the time”? Then you think in your head “But I don’t feel that way!”?  I am one of those people that gets a chemical rush from complaining. It feels better to share the problems and frustrations I have with others. The difficulty is: others tend to get burned out by listening to complaints, stress or frustration. Especially when they offer suggestions because they worry that I truly am overwhelmed instead of venting while I am just enjoying the fact that I actually have someone to talk to.

The difficulty is that while I get a chemical rush, my body also responds with stress hormones. So while I enjoy the companionship of venting and I get a release, it also increases the stress in my body. It also increases the stress of those around me as they worry for my health and well being when I need to vent so much, and get frustrated that I always complain. They feel powerless and overwhelmed, and eventually will pull themselves away from me.

How much time do you spend complaining to your friends? How much time do you talk about what is going right? In our heads we may notice all the wonders of the world, both pleasant and unpleasant. The way we express what we see to others determines how they see us.  It also determines how we feel about the world, even on a subconscious level.

Yes. Venting to friends helps feel as though we aren’t alone, and for many of us releases a little shot of dopamine helping us feel better.  And for those listening it often increases feelings of helplessness and frustration, especially when they have ideas to help that you aren’t able to take them up on for, whatever reason.  We have to remember to talk about the pleasant with our friends and partners.  They want to hear what is going on in our lives and want to help with the troubles.  They also want to hear the positives.  Remember, if all you every talk about are the problems, that’s all you will be known for.

Becoming Polished

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”

We don’t know why we are on this planet. There are hundreds of religions that have guesses and ideas, but that is what they are. We are all on this beautiful planet in a universe that is in constant chaos. We are in an island, floating trying to figure out why we are here. We also don’t know why bad things happen to good people.
The universe is about constant creation and destruction. Sometimes creation is not pretty. It is not kind or simple. The beautifully polished stone has been thrown, ground, rubbed, and injured. To create that beauty there had to be difficulty and pain. Beauty is not created in idea situations. The best sunsets are not those with clear skies, but those with clouds.
Some of those tumbles are bigger than others. Some of us have gone through hell, and some of those hells are unimaginable. Those hells are also opportunities to shine the brightest. Those of us that have seen the darkness, if we let ourselves we can see the light as well. We can let others know that while there is darkness there is beauty as well. But we have to let ourselves be polished. We have to be OK with the fact that the world is dark and that the darkness has touched us.
If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished? Some go through more “polishing” than others. It is up to us how we accept the pain of being polished. If is up to us if we decide to see the beauty we can become, or continue to live in the darkness and pain.

I understand

There is a difference between understanding and condoning.  I can understand why people do things.  I can understand why people hurt other people, why people steal, why people beat their partners, and why people use drugs to escape from reality.  I understand.  It doesn’t mean I condone their behavior or agree with it.

One of the problems I see is that people don’t understand, and people think that understanding will mean condoning.  Understanding isn’t about making their behavior OK. Understanding is knowing that people have knowledge that people do things for reason, and it isn’t just because they are bad people.  Understanding is knowing that addiction isn’t about a lack of motivation, or bad will power. Addiction is about how the brain works and how people’s brain respond to chemicals in the brain, and that overcoming addiction isn’t having more will-power, it is about learning how to manage how the brain responds to situations and chemicals and fighting your own brain.

Understanding is knowing that the person that is abusing the kids in his neighborhood and his own kids has his own history, not necessarily of sexual abuse but of emotional abuse or trauma of some sort and isn’t because he or she is a sick perverted asshole with no soul.  It doesn’t make the behavior OK.  It just means that I understand how they got to where they are.

Understanding doesn’t mean that it makes what a person does OK.  Some people find a place and learn that their chemistry or their history or their shoe size affects who they are and how they act and figure out how to move around those facts.  I have ADD.  I didn’t know this as a child, and it affected how I moved through school and through life.  When I was in graduate school I learned about ADD, and I understood why when I was 7 I got bored completing standardized testing and created designs with the bubbles, and my parents had to fight a label of mentally retarded.  Because of the expectations around me and my desire to fit in I figured out how to manage with but never knew why I struggled so much to do what seemed to come easily to others.  Now I know that I learned how to work with a disability.  Sometimes well and sometimes not, but I learned.  It is something I won’t be able to change, It is something that I have to manage.  So when I look at others that struggle I understand.  I understand the struggle of managing something you can’t control.

Understanding doesn’t mean condoning unpleasant, hurtful, or inappropriate behavior.  In my situation I had to learn how to move around something that in some circumstances is helpful, but in our world isn’t.  I work with some people where understand why they are hateful, angry, and dangerous.  I also know that if they want to, they can learn to live with their brain chemistry, their trauma, or their past and manage.  It takes desire, will power, and a willingness to not only accept who they are but to find ways to work with who they are, and still be the best they can be.

It takes work.  It isn’t easy to watch the people that move through life easily and know that we have to fight.  We have to fight through abuse, through brain chemistry, and through life experience that makes life harder.  Some people either don’t have the same problems, or just move through life easier.  For whatever reason, they don’t have the same experiences, the same brain chemistry, or it is just easier for them to move through. We compare ourselves to them and think we aren’t enough.  We think that we should be better.  Ad that is BS.  I fight to make it through a text book.  It is torture, and I read 10 pages to realize that I stopped paying attention 8 pages ago.  It will take me and hour to do something that it will take a non ADD person 20 minutes to do.  It is a success for me when I make it through a book, or do the task and get it done; no matter how long it takes.  I know what is a success for me, and I celebrate it.  I also fight for my successes, and work to manage the shame that someone else wouldn’t have to fight nearly as hard as I do.  My successes are my successes, and I won’t let the fact that someone else doing them would have done them faster or better any less of a success for me.

I also won’t hesitate to protect myself from those that won’t fight to be the best they can be.  I can understand the kids that get pulled in to Neo- Nazi lifestyles. In general they feel outcast and unloved and they work to not only find people that at least act like they love them, but give them the chance to say that others are as horrible as they are.  I can understand them, that doesn’t mean I am going to let them run around wreaking havoc.  I can understand them and I still need to protect myself and my loved ones (and the world) from them.  I understand how they moved through life, through abuse, through trauma, or just through chemistry to get where they are.  I don’t condone their behavior and I will make damn sure that I do what I can to protect the world from them.

Understanding and compassion have nothing to do with condoning a behavior.  When you are able to clearly delineate between the two then you can make decisions.  You can make decisions about celebrating your victories when you accomplish something that is difficult for you instead of beating yourself up for not doing it as well as someone else would have.  You can decide what your values are, and work your darndest to stick to them even when chemistry or history makes it hard.  You can also let go of the judgement of others when you aren’t as awesome as they are, because they don’t have the roadblocks you have.

When you are able to clearly delineate between the two you can also have more compassion and understanding for those around you that struggle too.  You can see where and when they are fighting their best, and celebrate their successes when they find their successes.  You can also protect yourself when their best is still dangerous to you, your family, and the world in general.  You can let yourself move away and create boundaries without feeling guilt or shame.

Each of us has obstacles that keep us from being out best.  We all have our own individual battles that we fight on a daily basis. Some people, because of chemistry, trauma, or pain have more to struggle with than others. When they win their battles we celebrate with them.  Those that don’t win their battles, that continue to hurt others or lose themselves in the disease of addiction destroying everything around themselves, we have to protect ourselves from them even when we have compassion, love and possibly understand them.

Understanding isn’t condoning bad behavior.  Only you can decide what your values, beliefs, ethics and principles are, and only you can figure how to best live within them with your own stumbling-blocks.  When you live within your values successfully, celebrate.  Knowing that I can’t understand another person’s battle helps me let go of judgement and contempt, and I still protect myself from their behavior.  I understand, and I still expect that I do my best, and that you do your best.  And when I am with the best in me, and you are with the best in you, we can make a pretty awesome world.


There was a movie when I was a kid, made from a book about a little girl named Pollyanna.  In this movie a young Haley Mills is orphaned and moves in with her dour Aunt and Uncle, in a dour little town.  Believing that anything can be over-come with a positive attitude and pragmatism she proceeds to win over the town.  Until the end when she falls out of a tree and is paralyzed from the waist down.  Then the dour little town comes in to remind her that a positive attitude can save all resulting in a happy ending.

I will be the first one to tell you that a poor attitude results in a poor ending.  If you go in to an adventure in your life believing you, or it is going to fail you create a self fulfilling prophesy.  Consciously or sub-consciously you will undermine yourself leading to almost certain failure.  Walking toward life with a belief that you are enough to move through the fires and pains that can be thrown at you give you an edge over those that have a “Half-empty” point of view.  Pollyannaism is more than a glass half full view of life though.  It is a tendency to ignore the problems in life believing that ignoring the problems will make them go away. Those I watch struggle with this often fall in to traps of failure and difficulties that they could have seen coming if they hadn’t been lost in a constant state of Pollyannaism.

Pollyannaism includes ignoring the pit-falls and red flags that life is putting in your way, as well as sweeping the lessons of past difficulties under the rug in an effort to feel safe, ignore feelings of shame or worthlessness, or in an effort to avoid pain.  It is a tendency to paint a pretty picture on life when it isn’t always that pretty. It is standing in the rain telling yourself and everyone else that the sun is shining.

One of the most common places we do this is in relationships.  You are dating someone that you have come to care about.  For the first 6-9 months it was bliss, though with a few red flags.  Maybe the other person had a quick trigger, or put others down, or was mean to animals or people less fortunate to them.  And in the haze of love that clouds judgement for the first several months these behaviors were ignored or dismissed.  Then after the haze starts to wear off, you notice these behaviors occurring more frequently, or even occurring toward you.  This has become someone you are emotionally, and possibly financially invested in.  You are used to having companionship, and know exactly what the dating scene looks like now.  So as your partner starts showing more and more red-flags they are swept under the rug.

In the above example, which I have watched several times, the person often becomes anxious, despondent, or resentful.  Sometimes all three.  The relationship is spiraling the drain but slowly swirls around and around, never getting better and only causing misery, but a pretty little package is wrapped around it to keep it looking pretty on the outside.  Pollyanna.

Calling poop fertilizer doesn’t make it smell any better.  Sometimes life stinks, saying differently doesn’t make it any better, and it doesn’t give you the opportunity to make changes to make it better.  Optimism is being able to see that the sun will shine again.  It is not ignoring the fact that it is raining.  It keeps you from using an umbrella to avoid getting soaked.

Finding joy in gratitude

Every day I run in to pet-peeves.  Just driving to work I hit triggers and frustrations, and my drive is only 2 miles.  As I move through my day I hear triggers from others, I hear frustrations and I hear difficulties.  Then comes the drive home on the same roads with many of the same people that hit the pet-peeve triggers to begin with.  Then I listen to the news and hear of the refugees flooding in to Europe that are being turned away, some of them dying in their attempts.  I hear of the cops killing people, and the people killing cops.  I see all of the hate, anger and suffering in the world.  It is easy to get lost in all of that.

It is easy to get lost in the hurt and the anger and the suffering of the day and of the world.  It is easy to lose sight of the other side of the coin.  Every day I see people find the best of themselves, taking strides forward.  I see watch other drivers show kindness to each other. I watch couples talk to each other with kindness, and strangers tell each other jokes at the bus stop.  Every day my partner gives me a reminder of his kindnesses.  If I look for it, every day I can find some kind of beauty.

It is easy to see the frustrations, the hurts and suffering of the world.  It takes intention to see the beautiful, the things to be grateful for.  Each day there are beautiful things to see and be aware of. These are moments of gratitude.   The moment your cat reaches over with her paw to draw your hand in to a pet. The moment you see other people fighting and recognize how safe your relationship is.  The moment you look up and see the sunset setting the sky on fire and see the beauty.  The moment you recognize the things that are beautiful, you remember that the world isn’t just suffering.  The world is also beauty.

Some days the moments of gratitude are easy to find.  Some days you see the little beauties of the world and they fall like leaves from a tree.  Some days it is harder.  The days you find out your best friends dad died and you watch her cry her heart out, or your partner spits up with you.  The days when just the act of existing brings up all the suffering of the world.  These are the most important days of all to find the moments of gratitude.

The next step is to share our moments.   There are many ways we can share our moments of gratitude, especially in today’s digital age.  First, if you have a family make it a part of your family to share, preferably on a daily basis those moments.  At dinner, at bedtime, or in your own ritual.  This keeps your family or partnership connected and helps through the difficult times.  If you are currently single, share with your friends, on your Facebook or instagram or even Whisper page.  We are so quick to share our suffering.  “A thousand candles can be lighted from the flame of one candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.  Happiness can be spread without diminishing that of yourself”.  Mahatma Ghandi

Gratitude reminds us that there are blessings in the world, that there are silver linings on the cloud.  Making a daily practice of gratitude keeps a reserve of sunshine when the clouds seem to be taking over.  These practices can help us when we’re alone and single to remember that we aren’t fully alone.  These practices can help us connect with our families at the dinner table, when each day everyone has to give their one thing, the one beauty they saw in the day.  Every day take a moment and fine at least one thing you can be grateful for in your day.  Find a way to share it, either with your friends or family or on Facebook.  We share our frustrations all the time, switch the script.

Shame vs Guilt – what we need to know

We need to have a discussion about guilt and shame. Often we don’t know the difference between the two. We hear or are told from a very young age “They should be ashamed” or “you should be ashamed”. From a very early age guilt and shame are treated the same, and often behaviors are shamed by our parents, our community and our religion.

The difference is that guilt is feeling bad about something you have done. You cut someone off in traffic, and you feel bad about that. You told your partner that you hate them, and you feel bad about that.   Shame on the other hand, is believing as though you are bad, who you are, who you always will be is bad. When therapists work with people to find empathy, we work with them to find a concept of guilt. We want people to feel bad for things they have done that cause pain to other people or things. Without guilt we would have destroyed each other long ago as we wouldn’t have cared if we hurt someone or they died because of our actions. Guilt is what let us survive before we had all the technology to keep us alive and we were roughing it out on the planes, just us, our intellect, and our capability to care about each other against a very hostile world. Shame on the other hand does nothing but cause suffering.

When someone is ashamed or shamed, the belief is that they are all bad. Well, if someone is all bad, then they can never be good. There is no chance for change, for light, or beauty. There is only darkness and will only ever be darkness. Can you see why shame is a big problem when it comes to healing and recovery? If we feel guilt, guilt means that we did something bad but can do something better in the future. There is an inherent belief that we are overall good, and that even though we make mistakes we can do better in the future. It is a belief that we can learn from our mistakes.

Shame cripples. It is 1000 pound weight tied around your heart that keeps you from being able to recover and move through life. Shame not only keeps you from being able to see your own beauty, but it keeps you from being able to see the beauty of everything around you. It keeps you from feeling a sense of belonging. Brene Brown said “Our sense of belonging cannot be greater than our sense of self-acceptance”, and our sense of self-acceptance will be hindered by our sense of shame.

We all make mistakes.  Every one of us is an imperfect being that does imperfect things.  At times these imperfect things impact ourselves, and at times they impact others.  They key isn’t calling ourselves and idiot, or calling ourselves stupid, as these imply that we are too stupid to ever do anything else. The key is in noticing what the mistake was and learning from it.  When we see our mistakes for what they are and learn from them, we can let go of the guilt once the lesson is learned.  We keep the concept that we are good people that have made mistakes clear, and with that we can let others see that we are good people.  It is easier to let people see our imperfect selves because it is OK.  It is easier to see other’s imperfect selves, because we know they can be imperfect and still be a good person.

We all want to feel as though we belong somewhere.  Whether that’s a family, a community or a religion we not only want to fit in, but feel as though we are accepted.  In truth though we can’t feel as though we are accepted by others without believing within ourselves that we are acceptable.  That means we have to ditch shame and focus on guilt.  When I let myself feel guilty I can know that I did something wrong while still being a good person.  I give myself more room to find myself acceptable when I make mistakes.  Truly, when you see yourself as acceptable even with your imperfections, you can finally let others see all of who you and finally feel as though you are accepted and as though you belong.


Finding meaning

I work with many people that come to me struggling to find meaning in their lives.  They often work in jobs that they don’t see as giving back to the community.  It is often something they are decent at that makes money, while their passions are elsewhere.  My parent’s generation were just learning the concept of work to find meaning. Their parents were the first to have both parents working out of the home because of WWII. For my grandparent’s life, employment was about what needed to be done.  The concept of working for anything other than providing for family was just starting to come as my parent’s generation began going to college. Before then work wasn’t to find meaning, it was to provide.

Think of how recent that is; less than 60 years of our existence on this planet. Only within the last 60 years, out of the 50 thousand we have been on this planet have we been able to focus on finding meaning with more than our free time, but with our daily jobs. If any of you are familiar with Maslow’s Heirarchy  we need to have a lot of things in place before we can really be able to focus on self actualization, such as food shelter and clothing, followed by safety then love and belonging. Often just finding the first two are difficult enough without adding meaning into the mix.

Think about what your life would have been 10,000 years ago.  Life would have been about making sure there was enough to eat, clothing was made, and homes were protected.  Life was pretty much the same day to day.  While there was some specialization, the goal of the community was entirely the same. We were not as differentiated as we are today and meaning was found in different ways, and was only really focused on after daily requirements were met.

I had a neighbor with a hot tub that they used a professional company to maintain.  The guy that worked for the pool company was happy to hang out with them, drink their beer (smoke their pot) and maintain their hot tub.  He had found meaning in his job, though in my mind at the time (I was about 22 and full of myself) the job itself itself had little to no meaning.  It was a wake up-call.  1. Meaning doesn’t always come from your day-job.  It can, (it often does we just don’t see it) and if you are lucky you can have a job that you overtly see as meaningful. 2. Meaning is also what you make of it.  The guy that makes my bowl at FreeBirds has meaning to me, if only for that moment.  He provides food  and often  a smile that can reverberate throughout my day.  The guy that makes sure my internet is working has meaning to me, as I know I’m not alone in my internet not working can put a big crimp in both my professional and personal day.  Though the job itself would not be fulfilling for me, it is meaningful and provides for our community as much as mine.

Many people have a job that brings in the bacon but has little to no meaning for them.  They feel as though they are a cog in the wheel and don’t know where to turn.  Their life is turned toward making sure they and their families are provided for, which 60 years ago would have been enough.  It would have been meaning to help their community in they way they could, and providing for their family in a meaningful way.  Today many are seeking a different meaning.

If you are unable to find the underlying meaning in your daily job, meaning does not have to come from your day-job. Yes, I fully understand the irony of a person that gets to find meaning daily in helping others telling you to find meaning outside of your daily life.  I can say though that even though you love what you do and find meaning in it, doing something everyday, making it a requirement, makes it a job.  Meaning still needs to be found elsewhere.

The first step is to find what the meaning actually means to you.  Does it mean volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters?  Or does it mean going to the animal shelter and reading out loud for hours to keep the pets company?  I see thousands of ways to find meaning, some big such as joining the Peace Corps, and some little like cleaning up the local lake once a year.  I know people that help build trails, that provide supply packets for the homeless, that volunteer for their church, or for the poor, or for the animals, explore all the planet has to offer, or create beautiful music.  They all found a way to find meaning in their lives after their 9-5 job.

Meaning is what you make of it. A job is a job, and even if you love what you do it is still work.   Allowing yourself to find meaning both in your day job (if it isn’t there) , and in your life is a quest.  What is meaningful to you.  What helps you feel as though you give to your community, to the world around you?  What lets you know that you helped, even just a little bit?  First, as you start on your quest, let yourself be thankful that you have the room in your life to be able to go on that quest.  Then work to decide what really has meaning for you and find a way to do it.

What’s in a breath?

Take a moment to take a deep breath. The kind that makes your ribs creak and pushes your tummy out. That one breath helped you in the following ways: It purged toxins that were being help in the bottom of your lungs. It massaged the nerves along your spinal cord encouraging blood flow to the spinal chord and your extremities. It massage your internal organs, encouraging blood-flow and increased productivity. It let your brain and limbic system know that you aren’t being attacked right now, and it can start releasing calming hormones and chemicals. That one breath did all of that. Imaging what 5 more can do.

We are a society that has forgotten how to breath. When I teach meditation, I often have to teach people to breath, because they have forgotten what it is to take a deep breath. For some the entire meditation is about practicing the unfamiliar feeling of breathing deep.

For some the shallow breathing is a skill that helps keep the emotions from being felt. Those emotions well up, swirling around, creating havoc and pain in the rest of their lives. The deep breaths let to emotions flow out, letting go of the pressure that is being kept up. This can be painful or difficult, but cleansing and releasing. The concept of a clean pain is often foreign to some people. A clean pain has movement and helps move the pain clear out, breath helps do this. The trick is the pain has to be felt, it can’t be ignored anymore.

Breathing is key. It reminds us to slow down and be present in the moment. It helps the body function better. Breath helps cleanse not only toxins from the body but toxic emotions that can build up if we let them. If you have listened to the most recent meditation you know that breathing can help cool the body, and when the cooler weather comes, it can help warm the body as well. It sounds cliché, but a deep breath helps calm down anger and fear, bring you more in the moment, and helps with focus. It all starts with the breath.

Should’ve kept my mouth shut!

We all have goals. We set goals involving our careers, weight loss, relationships, finances, productivity, and health. With all of these goals we set there are many roadblocks to meeting them. Roadblocks can be both internal and external; physical limitations, environmental limitations, and emotional limitations. A big surprise is that one of our roadblocks ends up being something that we originally believed helped; telling our friends. This is an amazingly insightful talk on ted.com that discusses the concept of completing goals how sharing with our friends actually sabotages us. Ted.com is an extraordinary site that give short talks on multiple topics.