Monday, September 18, 2017

Being Okay with Homelessness...Or Whatever Happens

My husband recently had brain surgery to remove a tumor. We did not know what the outcome would be. His condition had been steadily deteriorating to the point where there was a possibility I might not be able to continue to care for him at home. And if that happened, if he had to go into a long term care facility, which I cannot afford to pay for, that meant they would take his whole Social Security check to pay for it, and then Medicaid would pay the rest. But that would leave me to live on my little Social Security disability check of $528 a month, and that was not possible. The building we live in only allows people who are over 62 years of age to live here. I am 56. The only reason I am able to live there is because my husband is over 62.

So the possibility existed that I might be homeless very soon. But I'm okay with that.

"How can you be okay with that?" people ask. Because I'm not attached to my home. I'm not attached to any home, or any of my possessions. I don't need them. They are luxuries. They are not necessary to my happiness.

We must always question our thoughts. "Homelessness is terrible." Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it's true?

I don't think it's terrible. Living in a home might be more convenient, but the reverse is not terrible.

So I made a plan. In the warm months I would sleep in my car. In the colder months, there are a number of options.

First of all, if you're homeless, nobody minds you being around as long as you look and smell clean, behave normally, and aren't pushing around a gigantic shopping cart.

So the first thing is, make sure and get a shower at least every other day. That is possible because if you're a member of the YMCA, there's always a free shower available to you. If you're over 62 or medically disabled and on Medicare, you can enroll in a Humana Advantage Plan that costs you $0 per month, which puts you in their HMO network and with that you get the Silver Sneakers program and a free membership to the YMCA. At the Y, I can swim, shower, sit in the hot tub or sauna, or sit in the lobby and watch television while drinking free coffee and tea. Pretty good deal.

Next is food. In Colorado Springs, I can go downtown to Marion House and get free lunch every day. Anyone can get free lunch, whether you're homeless or not, no questions asked. Care and Share also has a network of churches that give away free food and you can visit them at least once per week.

But with my little check of $528, I should be able to buy any other food I need. After deducting $62 a month for car insurance, $65 a month for a special medical plan I use, $30 for gasoline and $45 for my phone, I still have $326 left. $100 a month should do me fine for food. The rest I will keep in the bank and save up because at some point my car's going to need repairs or I'm going to need a tooth pulled or something. Need to save up some of that money.

To get my mail, I rent a post office box. Only costs about $22 for six months.

Now, the only other question is, where to go at night during the cold winter months. That's easy.

My husband has spent a lot of time in the hospital, so I've spent a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms. And I can tell you that, as long as you're clean, quiet, and look normal, you can spend every night in the hospital waiting room and nobody will question you. Surgery waiting room, main floor lobby, and there are even rows of chairs on every floor that look out on Pikes Peak. You can sit there all night and nobody will bother you. Hospital personnel are used to seeing people falling asleep in those chairs while waiting for news of their sick loved one.

During the warmer months, I can also simply park my car in the hospital parking garage and sleep there. Nobody questions you.

In my car, I'll keep clothes, personal mementos, my laptop, and a pillow and blanket. All I need.

Then what do I spend my days doing? Any blessed thing I want.

No responsibilities. I swim at the Y, spend a couple hours reading at the public library or using their free WiFi internet, take a hike on one of Colorado Springs many hiking trails. Go over to my church and just spend some time meditating in the sanctuary. Go to the mall and see a movie. Call a friend and meet them for a cup of coffee or a chat.

What does a house mean? It just means a floor to clean, toilets to scrub, endless knick knacks to dust, a mortgage to pay, and too much stress.

So you see, the idea of being homeless brings me no stress whatsoever.

When I think about trying to go back to work with my medical issues, to have that daily stress when I don't feel good, just so I can pay for an expensive, high priced apartment, that causes me stress. If I believe the thought that everyone needs an apartment, that one can't be comfortable and happy without one, then I'll suffer when I think of not having one. But it's my thoughts that cause the suffering. I'm not even homeless yet but I'm already stressed just because of my attachment to that idea.

Unhindered Living means living the life you want. And the life I want is a life of low stress, accepting what is, helping others when I can, and living in peace. What more could one ask for?

Sure, you could spend your life striving and have enough to visit the Riviera, eat caviar every night, drive a limousine. But you won't be happier than I am.

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Copyright  Judie C. McMath and The Center for Unhindered Living

Great Reading

Tomorrow Byron Katie's new book comes out. "A Mind At Home with Itself."

"In A Mind at Home with Itself, Byron Katie illuminates one of the most profound ancient Buddhist texts, The Diamond Sutra (newly translated in these pages by Stephen Mitchell) to reveal the nature of the mind and to liberate us from painful thoughts, using her revolutionary system of self-inquiry called “The Work.” Byron Katie doesn’t merely describe the awakened mind; she empowers us to see it and feel it in action."

I highly recommend the book and hope you will consider purchasing it for your home library. Or, buy it and give it to a friend who is experiencing stress and suffering right now.

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Copyright  Judie C. McMath and The Center for Unhindered Living

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Alleviating Suffering

Suffering does not happen because there is evil in the world. Suffering does not happen because people don't have enough faith or aren't spiritual enough.

We suffer because we are attached to things in our lives. People, things we own, our jobs, our status in society, our health, being pain-free. We fear losing these things and so we become attached to them and this attachment brings us much suffering.

Suffering happens because life is impermanent. We realize that people, things, jobs, our health, are not going to be here forever. We will eventually lose them. So we are suffering now before we ever do lose them. The attachment brings us more suffering than the actual loss. Suffering has an earthly cause, not a spiritual cause.

So should we accept our suffering or strive to alleviate it?


In the first place, let's say you are suffering because you have a disease. You must first recognize that you are sick before you will go to the doctor for treatment. You may then go to the doctor for treatment and alleviate the disease or its symptoms. If you could do that, you would. I don't know anyone who would choose to remain sick if they could alleviate their pain. But then, after you've done everything you can do to recover from your sickness, if there is still pain or illness, there is a place of acceptance. There are things we can learn from our illness. We can say yes to life, whatever that life brings.

When you try to apply this strategy to emotional or mental issues however, there is often the tendency to avoid acceptance, because we always suspect that there's more work to do and if we just do the work, we might be able to alleviate our pain. We're never sure we've "suffered enough." If you go to the doctor and the doctor tells you there's nothing else that can be done for your condition, well, you have a final answer. But when looking inside yourself at emotional issues, who can plumb the depths of your psyche and tell you there's nothing else you can do? No one, not even you, can do that. The mind is a deep well. Who can know if you've reached the bottom?

As a result, there must come a point where you accept that you've done enough. At that point, acceptance can still bring peace. That doesn't mean that if a new miracle cure for your pain comes along that you won't take it. It doesn't mean you aren't spiritual enough because you still suffer.

Of course, our goal is to alleviate the attachments that cause suffering. And from that standpoint, if you are able to let go of an attachment, that will make your psychological pain less. It may not affect our physical pain, but if you come to accept that you don't have a right to expect to be completely pain free, you can then work with the physical pain in a new way.

Suffering is not noble. There is no reason to suffer if you can alleviate your pain. Accepting that you have pain does not mean you have to give up trying to alleviate it.

But you CAN give up the suffering that comes from being attached to the idea of having no pain. If you think the only way you can be happy is to have no pain, then happiness will always allude you.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saying Yes to Life

As we travel through this life, we will ultimately experience suffering. All people do. And when we experience suffering, we keep certain experiences at arms' length - those things that we don't want to experience or that we find painful. And in doing so, we cheat ourselves out of some of the richest experiences we could ever have.

Yes, ultimately we want to recognize that our attachments are what cause our suffering so that we can alleviate the attachments (stop believing our stories, our personal narratives about what is true or best). But before we release those attachments, we can have an incredibly rich personal experience of their depth.

I remember once, my husband, son, daughter-in-law and I were living in the same house. Sometimes my daughter-in-law and I would have issues. She and I would sit down and talk about the issues and work them out. And sometimes tears would be shed. When this would happen, my husband would get very upset. He and my son actually almost got into a fist fight one day because my husband was being protective of me and thought my daughter-in-law was being disrespectful or was hurting me. I had to stand in between them and say, please don't try to fight my battles for me. I am handling this exactly the way I want to, and everything is all right.

My husband would say, how can you say it's all right, you're crying!  And I would tell him, I am just fully experiencing the richness of my feelings. And that's a good thing.

Because you see, many people are uncomfortable or afraid to feel their strong feelings. They don't want to feel sadness, frustration or anger. But those emotions are just as "good" as satisfaction and happiness. Because I have chosen to say "Yes" to life, in all its forms.

In saying yes to whatever comes our way, we are choosing to feel the full gamut of our emotions. We don't fear that these emotions are going to carry us away. We aren't afraid of how they make us feel. We've been programmed or conditioned by society to think that we should get rid of those emotions as fast as we can. But that's not necessary.

People develop all kinds of mental illnesses because they are afraid to confront their painful emotions. But you needn't feel afraid that you're going to get stuck in those emotions. The principle of impermanence says that nothing is going to last forever. Everything eventually changes.

While you are experiencing these emotions, tenderly and gently accept them as parts of yourself that are rejected. These are the unwelcome guests at your table. They weren't invited, but you are accepting them anyway. You are saying yes to life.

In saying yes to life, you are recognizing that there are no mistakes in life. Everything is for your greater good and even the unpleasant emotions can be appreciated and handled appropriately. They are not your enemy.

Even when things don't turn out the way you want, you can say yes to life. You can acknowledge and appreciate the richness of those emotions before you recognize your attachments and eliminate them. You can love your life exactly the way it is.

If there's something going on in your life right now that you don't like, remember that to fight against it is to argue with reality. And when we argue with reality, we experience suffering.

You can't argue with reality. You can't make people and events in your life be something other than they are. Your love for someone in your life is measured by how much you are willing to allow them to be just who they are. Trying to change someone to be the way you want them to be is saying they're not good enough the way they are. And that's not true.

Don't you want to be accepted just the way you are? Then why wouldn't you extend that same courtesy to everyone in your life?

I can hear the rejection of this teaching as you try to defend your story. "But what if they are doing x, y or z?" you ask. Does it really matter what they're doing? If you say yes, then in my opinion, you don't really love that person. Because if you did, how they behave wouldn't matter. You are putting conditions on your love. And that's not love to begin with.

True love is accepting the person just the way they are. Because you know what? You don't have to have that person behave a certain way for you to be happy. If you do, then you are depending on someone other than yourself for happiness and that never works. Only YOU can make you happy.

No one else has the responsibility to make you happy. Yes, we need interpersonal human relationships to be whole. But we don't need the people in those relationships to agree with us for them to be fulfilling, satisfying relationships. If you need someone you are with to see things your way in order for you to be satisfied, you are focusing on the wrong thing, and you will always be disappointed.

I have heard it said, "People can change if they mean enough to each other." Once again, this puts the emphasis in the wrong place in the relationship. If you are waiting for the other person to change, you are living in the future and not in the present. Don't you understand, the future NEVER comes. Because when that future moment finally gets here, it's still only the present. The future is an illusion. Your need for the other person to change for you is also an illusion. As long as you are waiting for them to change, you aren't really living. You are just waiting.

Feeling that someone else must change for you means you aren't taking their needs into consideration. You feel that you won't be happy until they change, but what about what they need? Does that matter to you at all? What if it's impossible for them to give you what you "think" you need and still meet their own needs. Do you then want them to give up what they want for you? Even though it might make them incredibly unhappy? Why would you want that?

Why wouldn't you be willing to meet your own need instead of expecting them to do it? You might say, I have a need that can only be met by another person." Sorry, but that's just another untrue thought. That's the story you are believing. The truth is, you have a need that can be met by almost ANY person. It doesn't have to be THAT person. You just WANT it to be that person. Can't you see that this expectation is the cause of your suffering?

This is where I have to say, I think the way we look at relationships and marriage in this day and age is completely contradictory to common sense. We expect ONE person to provide for every one of our needs. And that's just not realistic. And it's not the way things have always been for most of our evolutionary history. You might recall a previous blog post where I discussed the fact that we are all connected. We are all one. Why do you think that is? Because it's impossible for ONE person to meet all our needs, and we shouldn't expect that. That's why we are connected to a whole universe of people. To use a previous metaphor, you are living in a little pool of water when you could have the whole ocean.

Why not make a list of all the people in your life, and then write down the one thing you like best about being with each person. What part of them really brings you joy? Focus on that, and let someone else meet the other needs. So you might have a dozen people in your life that together make up what you used to expect of just one person.

In thinking about the people in my life right now (without mentioning their names) I can say that:

A always makes me feel accepted.
B always makes me laugh.
C always challenges me to think in new ways.
D is always there to help me when my car needs fixing.
E always brings me delicious treats or meets me for coffee.
F is my movie buddy.
G is always ready to have sex when I want it.
H is always ready for a deep discussion.
I always makes me feel like a mom that puts her arms around me.
J always makes me feel competent at what I do.
K makes me feel safe.
L cries with me.
M is who I go to for discussing problems with my kids.
N lets me babysit her kids when I miss my grandkids.
O is who I do crafts with.
P is who I bounce ideas off of.

So you see, it really takes a village to meet all our needs.

Saying yes to life feels good. Embracing everything that happens as perfectly okay and not striving to change it frees you from the tyranny of your own expectations. It releases you from your attachments.

Think about this analogy. Life is like a flowing river. You push your boat into the river and it easily floats downstream. It's when you try to paddle upstream that you experience suffering. Paddling upstream is when you argue with reality. When you try to force things to be different than they are. You are only making life harder for yourself. And ultimately, nothing you really want is upstream.

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Differences of Opinion

We all have people with whom we've had differences of opinion. Typically, we usually start to feel uncomfortable around those people because they don't share whatever standards we have chosen for ourselves. Then we start to feel in conflict with that person. But why does conflict happen?
One might say that conflict happens because two people disagree.  But the real reason is more basic than that.
Why do people disagree?  Because they have a different perspective on how or why something should be done.  Why does this have to cause conflict?
Because the bottom line is:
We Want People To Do Things Our Way
1.  It’s more convenient for us.
2.  That’s the way we’ve always done it.
3.  It violates our sense of right and wrong.

Let’s think logically for a minute.  Why should we expect that the rest of the world should always do things in a way that is convenient for us?  This is a little self-centered.  If you want things your way, and others want things their way, then there is always going to be somebody who is inconvenienced.  What’s wrong with that?
I don’t like it.  OK, so you don’t like it.  So what?  Just because you don’t like it, does that mean it’s wrong?  To get upset because you’ve been inconvenienced is illogical, because the only reason to get upset is because you think you deserve to not be inconvenienced.  That makes you more important than others. 
The only reason to be upset because we are inconvenienced is because we feel we have a right to have everything go our way.  No one has that right.  Inconvenience happens to everyone, no one has the right to have everything their way. 
It takes some practice to start thinking of inconvenient things or events as non-negatives.  We must consciously correct our thinking to get rid of the erroneous beliefs or unrealistic expectations which cause us to view events as inconvenient.
Just because you have always done something a certain way, does that mean other people don’t have a right to do it differently?  You may feel that the reason you have always done it that way is because it is the best way. 
But each person has the right to decide for themselves what is “best.”  We don’t have the right to expect other people to think our way is best.  Everyone is entitled to their own ideas and habits.
Belief System
You may have been taught by your parents, teachers, or religion that certain things are right or wrong.
In real life, every individual decides for themselves what they are going to accept as right or wrong.  One person’s belief system may allow for behavior that another person’s belief system deems as wrong or inappropriate.
Although you have the right to decide for yourself what you believe is right or wrong, you do not have the right to impose that belief system on others.  You don’t have a right to expect that others agree with your belief system.
You may say, “Right and Wrong is not a matter of opinion.”  Yes, it is.  Different societies, cultures, and sub-cultures make different decisions about what is right and wrong for their group.                     
It is possible to respect a person without agreeing with their belief system.  When we disagree with someone, we often begin to have feelings of discomfort toward them.  We do not feel at ease around them.  Why? 
We feel they are wrong.  To de-escalate conflict, we must realize that there is no right or wrong where personal choices are concerned.  But if you still can’t rid yourself of the idea that the person has made a wrong choice or beliefs, realize this: It’s OK to be wrong.
It’s OK to be wrong.  We want other people to make the same choices as us because we believe our choices are right, but the bottom line is,
It’s ok to be wrong.  Don’t persecute people for making wrong choices, and don’t make them feel bad for not choosing the same way as you.  This is all about RESPECT.    Respect other people’s right to make wrong choices if they want to. is not your personal responsibility to point out their mistakes to them.  You don’t have to try to explain to people why you think they are wrong, you don’t have to try and change them.  Just be responsible for your own beliefs and choices. 
When I disagree with someone, I don’t say, “I think what you believe is wrong” or “I think what you did was wrong” because that is basically attacking the other person.  I try to say, “I believe differently than you do in that area” and I always try to end the discussion with “but I think we can believe differently and still respect each other.” The other person may not feel the same way, but at least you have done your part to live and let live.                
You are letting the other person know that you are not judging them or their choices, you have just made a different choice.
The bottom line is, we don’t have the right to expect things to always be convenient for us, and we don’t have the right to expect that others should always do things our way or agree with us.  We do have the responsibility to respect others, no matter what their choices, and to be responsible for our own beliefs and choices without judging others.
How is thinking this way going to reduce our level of conflict or stress?
Because when something happens to you, you feel stressed because of what you believe about the situation and yourself.   If you believe that you have a right to not be inconvenienced, then you will be angry or upset when something happens that inconveniences you.  If you expect things to happen that inconvenience you, and you realize this is normal, you will not be stressed by them. 
If you think that only your belief system is right, and you feel upset or stressed when someone does something differently than your belief systems allows, you are really disrespecting the other person, and placing yourself on a higher level than that person.  You see yourself as better than them because your belief system is right and theirs is wrong.  This is incredibly arrogant.  You have the right to decide how you will live, and what you will accept as right and wrong, but you must realize that what you choose is only right for YOU, you cannot hold others accountable to standards you have set for yourself.  They are your standards, not the whole human race's standards. 
So, when something happens, and you feel in conflict with that person or stressed because of the choice they made, or just upset because of what happened, realize that you feel upset because you feel entitled to have things your own way, or you feel entitled to not be inconvenienced.  And these are unrealistic expectations. Also realize that when you judge someone else, you are creating stressful thoughts that will ultimately cause you unhappiness.
If you do not have unrealistic expectations about how things should be, then you will never feel stressed about the situation, or in conflict with another person.
It's because we expect that things should be a certain way, and when they don't turn out that way, we are flustered, upset, and feel stressed.
Do you see that by changing your expectations, you change whether or not you feel in conflict?
Think about your last conflict.  What were the expectations you had that caused you to feel that way? 
Let's take an example. 
You are at the grocery store with your two or three-year old.  They are sitting in the cart and you are pushing them through the store trying to get your shopping done.  The child is crying and begging to get out of the cart.  You keep telling them to be quiet and continue to do your shopping.  But you are feeling stressed and the conflict between you and your child is escalating.  You are starting to get angry with him/her.  Why?
1.   You have unrealistic expectations about how your child should behave.
2.   Deep down, you feel entitled to do your grocery shopping without being inconvenienced.
3.   You believe your child is wrong, and you are right.
Let's take a look at these one at a time.
Shopping carts are incredibly uncomfortable to sit in.  My child was able to tell me this when he was old enough to talk.  It is also incredibly boring for a child to sit for an hour or two in that cart with nothing to do.  So they are uncomfortable and they are bored, and no matter what they ask you, you say no.  No, you can't get out.  No, you can't touch that.  No, you can't have something to eat.  No, we can't go home.  I am going to punish you if you don't behave.
Why is it that we expect children to "behave" under these circumstances?  That is an unrealistic expectation.  You as an adult have a goal, and you feel you have the right to force your child to do things they don't want to do just to achieve your goal.
There are ways to accomplish grocery shopping without all this conflict.
Let your child walk instead of putting them in the shopping cart.
But you say, "I can't do that, he'd be touching everything."
Yes, probably so.  That means it might take a little longer to get done.  So what?
"I can't stay at the store all night, I have other things I have to get done."
Then don't bring your child to the store.
"But I don't have anyone to watch him."
Then bring him, and change your expectations.  It's your expectations that are the problem, not the child. 
You have an expectation that grocery shopping is supposed to be a certain way.  How about making it a fun adventure for you and your child, not torture?
Tell your child you are going to play a game.  There are some special items hidden in the store, and he has to help you find them.  He can only touch the special items, and when he finds them, he can put them in the cart and take them home
Let him help you put them in the cart, walking along side until he gets tired and asks to get in the cart to rest.  At that point, a snack to eat or a drink while you finish would probably work.
And if they touch everything as they go down the aisle, so what?  That's what kids are supposed to do, explore their environment.  If you are going to take them into an environment where they can't do that, don't expect them to behave in a way that you deem to be "appropriate."
I stopped long ago making my children behave according to other people's expectations.
Expect that children are going to behave like children.
Expect that there are going to be interruptions in your life.
Expect that things are going to get broken or spilled.
Expect that children are going to get bored and tired before you do.
Expect that your child is going to want out of the cart, and plan ahead what you are going to do.
Expect that, in order to respect your child's needs, you may have to leave the store before your shopping is done.
In fact, these are good rules to use with adults as well. In any situation.
If you had a best friend, and they were shopping with you, and they said to you, "I just can't continue with this.  I am too tired, I don't feel well, I am hungry, and I am uncomfortable being here.  I need to leave."  Would you respect your friend and their needs enough to say, "Ok, we'll go, I can finish this another time."  Then why wouldn't you respect your child's needs enough to say the same thing?
It's because we are bigger and stronger than our children and we feel we have the right to force them to do what we want.  But force is not right, not with other adults, and certainly not with our children. It is possible to live a life without coercion or force of any kind.
Don't put what you want before what everyone else wants.  Respect that other people may have needs that are in conflict with yours. 
As adults, we usually take the incredibly arrogant position that we are right and our children are wrong.  Just because they are children, that does not mean they are wrong.  And just because you are an adult does not mean you know best.  It does not mean your way is better than your child's. spouses, etc.
When you enter into a situation, do not have any expectations about how it should turn out.  Know what you want to accomplish, but be fluid in the way that you respond to the situation.  Realize that there is no certain way that the situation must turn out in order for it to be "right".  Change the way you are dealing with the situation as the situation changes.  Don't expect things to be convenient, don't expect things to be comfortable.   Expect that you are going to have to alter your beliefs and actions as the situation changes.
You may say, "Why should I have to alter my beliefs and actions, but I'm not to expect others to alter theirs?"  Because you can only control yourself, you cannot control anyone else.  So don't expect that others are going to change.  You can only change your own thoughts, beliefs and behavior.  We get stressed because we think others ought to change.  Why should they?  If you don't like the situation, the only thing you can change is YOURSELF.  So to make yourself have a lower stress level, you must change what you think or believe about the situation.  That is all you can do, or you will spend your whole life with a high stress level, upset about other people's behavior, or the circumstances life deals to you. 
You will have a higher risk of heart attack, you will be more likely to develop cancer, and many other diseases.  Your unwillingness to change your thoughts and beliefs will kill you physically in the end.
It doesn't seem fair.  I'm supposed to change but the other person doesn't have to?  Stop and think about it.   Each person is only responsible for themselves.  You are not responsible for other people's choices.  You cannot change another person.  It is unrealistic to expect that other people should change just because you want them to.  Why stress yourself out trying to get someone to change?  Because you think your way is right?  Arrogance again.
Even if you are right, you can't expect other people to understand that, or to change their minds.  Why spend your life trying to make people agree with you?  You are not necessarily 100% right, everyone makes mistakes.  Just remember this:  it's OK to be wrong.  We are under the mistaken impression that people have to do things right all the time.  Well, that's an erroneous belief.
It's OK to be wrong.  First of all, right is just a matter of opinion.  But even if there were a way to tell just exactly what "right" is, it doesn't mean everyone has to choose the "right" way.  It's ok to be wrong.  Let people be wrong if they want to.
So what are our guiding principles so far?

1.     Don’t argue with reality.

2.     Expect people to behave exactly as they do.

3.     Expect things to be exactly the way they are.

Another thing we need to be clear about is that all our fears and expectations have to do with the future. If you are sitting somewhere comfortably reading this book, then nothing unpleasant or dangerous or inconvenient is happening to you are at this present moment. Your fears are all about what may or may not happen in the future.
So you may be afraid that you won’t be able to pay your rent next week or that you won’t have a date for New Year’s Eve or that you might someday get cancer. But today, you are all right. And even if the worst thing you could possibly imagine happens, you will still be all right.
There is a verse in the Bible that says God will not give you more than you can handle, but will provide a way of escape so you can handle it. This is true, but not because there is a god giving you some supernatural assistance. You already have everything you need to handle anything that comes along. Don’t attribute the ability you have as a human being, that is an inherent part of your intellect, to a god. Don’t give that power away. You are already powerful in your own right. You were born with this power.
         Your power lies in your own mind. If you don’t believe every imaginative thought your mind produces, if you know when to believe your thoughts and when not to, then you will always know what to do. You will have no problem making the decisions that are right for you. You will not be bothered by other people’s behavior or the circumstances you find yourself in. You will not feel stressed, you will not suffer. You will always be happy.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

A Day Spent Babysitting the Ego

Today I didn't have any place I had to go or anything I had to do. So I sat in my chair and dozed on and off all morning, letting my mind wander to wherever it wanted to go. I highly recommend this mind wandering. I wandered through the absolutely delightful place of no stress, no direction and no needs. It was blissful.

I realized that I might not have many of these days after my husband returns from the hospital, which he will be doing in a few days. And boom! In that single moment, the ego managed to pull me out of paradise into a story. You know, those stories we've talked about in almost every blog post. The stories that aren't true and that bring us stress.

In moments like this, I don't even have to use the Four Questions and Turnarounds anymore to prove to myself that it's a story. I KNOW that it's not true immediately. Any stressful thought is not true.

So I toss the thought out and go back to bliss. I wander through the streets of bliss for a while more, and become aware that I'd like some coffee at some point. But how to get up and make the coffee, to engage in actual motion and accomplish something without leaving this blissful state? I pondered it for a few moments and decided to try and still do some mind wandering while making the coffee. But then I'm not being present with making the coffee if I'm trying to think of something else to distract myself from the making. So that won't work.

The key is to only do one thing at a time.

In our present culture, multitasking is a skill that is highly appreciated and even expected in some circumstances. Some job advertisements will even state "able to multitask" as a requirement. If you see a job ad like that, run the other way.

So I get up, go to the kitchen and learn that the coffee carafe is at the bottom of a pile of dishes, so doing just a few dishes will be necessary. How to do this so I don't pop out of this blissful state? I decide that not rushing is of paramount importance. I turn on the water, I slowly squirt some soap onto a dish. I slowly sponge the soap over the dish. I feel how the soap feels against the dish. I watch the soap bubbles artfully slide down the dish and drip into the sink. I enjoy the warm feeling of the water against my hands. I breathe in the sweet smell of the soap (I always buy dish soap based on it's smell, not its cleaning ability). I place the dishes in the drainer. Very slowly and deliberately. Very gently. Gentleness is also of paramount importance. Treat each dish tenderly.

Finally the coffee pot is perking and I sit down in my chair again to wait for it. Now I decide rather than just mind wandering to actually go into meditation. As I am sitting there, I immediately begin to notice my leg bouncing up and down. It's a little nervous tic that happens sometimes, like somebody tapping a pencil against a table. And I realize my body is trying to communicate with me.

Remember Sigmund Freud's model of the id, ego and superego? The id represents the passions and the ego tries to be the mediator between the passions of the id and the unrealistic expectations of the superego. The ego is always hailed as being the sane and practical one, the rider that rides and directs the horse of the id. But of course, this was just Freud's interpretation. Reality is a little bit different.

The id is like a child. A child that comes to its mother's side and tugs on her sleeve to get her attention. And what do parents often do when that happens? If they are busy with something else, they say "Yes dear" and ignore the child. Not always, but often. When you're not paying attention to your id, which often manifests itself in your body, your body will try to get your attention. The ONLY way it can get your attention it to do something physical.

So I realize that my body is trying to get my attention. That little nervous leg bounce starts. And I am immediately aware of that child tugging at my sleeve. What is it trying to tell me? I am trying to meditate and it is tugging. Pay attention to me, it says. Could it be that even meditating takes me away from the needs of my inner self? Usually meditation is how I get in touch with my inner self.

And then I suddenly realize, I am lost in a story again. The ego is so masterful at deception. It poses as the id to trick me into getting lost in another story. I am once again, not in my bliss.

Not that your body doesn't try to communicate with you, it does, and often. But you need to know when it really is the id tugging at your sleeve, and when it's the ego trying to trick you.

So the paragraph before last, these words, "What is it trying to tell me? I am trying to meditate and it is tugging. Pay attention to me, it says. Could it be that even meditating takes me away from the needs of my inner self? Usually meditation is how I get in touch with my inner self." That is the story. The story that meditating takes me away from the needs of my inner self. 

The ego does not WANT me to meditate. It wants to stop that at all costs. Too much introspection will reveal the true motives and methods of the ego. He does not want to be found out.

Okay ego, good try. But I caught you. Now back to my bliss.

And back to the thought of the id as a little child. You may have read a previous blog post or page on my website about taking care of children, and how important your connection with them is as a parent. Let's say you are a parent of a six month old. You have the child laying on a blanket in front of you on the floor. You've got eye contact with the baby, and you are engaging them with talking, singing making sounds and gestures. The baby is smiling and laughing and obviously there is a connection. Then the phone rings. You immediately break the connection and jump for, running to the phone. The baby's connection with you is broken, and this causes him to become very disoriented and unsure of what is happening. He may even start to cry. That sense of connection is very important to the baby. If there's one thing I could teach parents, I would like it to be that you shouldn't suddenly break that connection. You need to ease out of it slowly as you gradually shift the baby's focus to something else other than you. Gradually, slowly, gently and tenderly. Anything sudden is not constructive for babies.

Well, your id is exactly the same. I am sitting there in my bliss and suddenly I'm pulled away by the ego. My connection with reality is broken. It should be startling to us to realize that, when we are actually in reality, it seems like a dream to us. Only the stories of the ego seem real.

But eventually you recognize, the stories of the ego feel hard, stark, razor sharp and often painful. The mind wandering, lovely, gentle, blissful presence of the reality often feels like a dream. And we've been taught that this dream is laziness, non-productive and useless.

Just as my experience with the dishes taught me, you CAN get something done without popping out of that bliss. Just slow down and pay attention to one thing at a time.

Now I know why I never could enjoy having a full time job. When you have to work on somebody else's schedule, it can be a challenge to stay in the moment. You constantly have to be questioning your thoughts.

"I have to get this project done on time." Is it true? 
"I can't do a good job unless I do x, y and z." Is it true?
"If I do this, my boss might fire me." Is it true?
"I have to keep this job." Is it true?

And then you're spending all your time out of your bliss, answering questions. Now, the questions ARE absolutely necessary. You have to question your thoughts to understand that they are not true. But, you get to the point where you don't even bother to ask the questions any more because you know they are almost always not true, and you want to get back to your bliss as soon as possible.

However, if you are new to The Work, I suggest you absolutely do need to do the questions. To learn about the Four Questions and Turnarounds of The Work, click HERE.

Unfortunately, the longer I stay in my bliss, the more impatient the ego becomes. It tries to convince me that I'm bored floating around in my bliss and need to get back to supposed reality to accomplish something. Too bad Mr. Ego, I've already proved that's not true.

Then the phone rings, twice. One call from a friend checking on my husband, one call from a doctor's office to make an appointment. I take both calls and write down the information. Then back to bliss.

Then immediately there's that tugging at my sleeve again. Don't you want to be doing something else, somebody says? My mind starts to wander, but not in a good way. It's looking for something "constructive" that needs doing to lure me back into frenzied activity. No chance.

What about clothes, it says. Don't you want to change out of your pajamas and put on clothes? I think about that. Putting on clothes is sort of a subconscious signal that I've got to "get something done." Can I put on clothes without feeling it's a precursor to useless activity? If it's slow and mindful enough. Putting on clothes can be a meditation without racing to the end to get it done. There, I'm dressed, ready for the next task. No, putting on clothes is the meditation. One piece of clothing at a time, slow and completely aware. Just like the dishes.

In this case, Freud's metaphor for the horse and rider seems completely backwards. I'm spending all my time restraining the ego to keep it from running amok. I finally decide that if I don't give the ego a few minutes of frenzied activity, who knows what it might do. So I set a time limit. Ego, you have 30 minutes to engage in frenzied activity. Then it's back to my bliss. I actually set the timer.

During that 30 minutes, I eat breakfast, vacuum, do the dishes, take out the trash, go get the mail, whatever I can fit into that 30 minutes, and let my mind chatter away while I'm doing it. I notice that several times while sitting down to write this, the leg tic starts again. I ignore it for the 30 minutes.

Timer goes off. Ego, back in your corner. I'm through with you for the day. Babysitting's done.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Dealing with Unreasonable People

All of us have people to deal with in our lives that we feel at one time or another are unreasonable. There is a balance to be struck in learning how to deal with these people, and how to deal with your own expectations in the situation.

First of all, there is a very important principle, one that you can't live without. And that principle is:

No one is ever wrong.

Well, you may ask, how can two people who disagree both be right? In our culture, we have been trained that there is always someone to blame, that there are always black and white answers to everything, and that if one person wins, that means someone else has to lose.

This could not be further from the truth.

Katie often says, "There are three kinds of business. My business, your business, and God's business (God being reality)." So if things are uncomfortable, stressful or in conflict, it's usually because somebody is in business other than their own.

So you are in conflict with someone. Let's look at it from the other person's point of view. Their behavior is caused by whatever they are thinking and believing. Whatever their story is, they are projecting that onto you and onto the whole situation. If you believed the story they believed, you would act the same way they are.

But you are doing the same thing. You are acting out the story that you are believing as well. And as we know from our previous talks, 99% of the thoughts we think are not true. They are projections of what we believe to be true. They are not reality.

So you and the other person both have your stories, neither of which are true. That's okay, you can go on believing your story if you want to. Just don't expect the other person to believe it also.

It's perfectly okay for both of you to live according to your own stories. But we should always expect people to behave exactly as they do and we should always expect things to happen just the way they are. Nothing is a mistake. Everything happens for a reason.

So as always, an example is helpful. Let's say you've invited someone to your house for dinner, and in your family's tradition, the dinner guest always brings something with them to dinner, possibly a bottle of wine or dessert. But let's say that in the other person's family, nobody drinks alcohol, and they never had family dinners at all. So that person is unaware that this is something other families do.

So this person shows up to your house with nothing in hand. And you get highly offended because this person came empty handed. The other person just showed up at your house, grateful for the fact that you cared enough to invite them. They are happy and cordial and oblivious to the fact that you are steaming because they showed up empty handed. Now, who is wrong in this scenario?

No one is wrong.

You both had expectations based upon your story about how a family dinner is "supposed" to go. But anytime you use the word "supposed to" or "not supposed to" then you KNOW you're in somebody else's business, not your own.

So, drop the attitude.

I this scenario, you could blame the other person for now knowing what you consider to be the common courtesies of family life. Or, you could blame yourself for not communicating to them clearly your expectations.

Or better yet, there need be no blame at all.

Realize that there really is no conflict. The stress is being caused by the thoughts you are thinking and believing, not by the other person or their conduct.

There is no one to blame. You both have your stories and you re both believing them. But when you become aware of this, simply drop the story. Then everybody wins.

And no, it's not your job to correct the other person, no matter what the scenario.

If you still come out of this feeling that you were right, then you have more work to do. Being judgmental is always a signal that you are still in somebody else's business.

And this may mean that you have to be a little flexible because you're not going to get everything your way. So I invite you to ask the Four Questions and Turnaround with this scenario.

"I still think I was right." Is it true?
Can you absolutely know that it is true?
How do you respond when you think the thought "I was right."
You feel superior? You're frustrated, irritated, angry, in conflict, critical?
How do you react when you feel this way? Does it feel good? Would you like to alleviate that stress?

Then the important fourth question: Who would you be without this story? The story of being right and feeling stressed because of it?

Without believing this story, you would just be having dinner with friends. No stress, no blame, no criticism, no expectations.

Can you think of one good reason to keep this story that does not cause you stress or suffering?

Now the turnarounds.

"I am not right" or "You are right." Can you come up with one example of where these are true?

Well, the other person has just as much right to believe their story as you have to believe yours. And, has there ever been a time in your life when you were wrong? Ever? Maybe this is one of those times.

As far as I'm concerned, there's no good reason to keep the story that I am right. In fact, there is NEVER a good reason to keep that story, in any situation.

But wait, you say. "Didn't you say no one is ever wrong? If I'm not right, then I must be wrong."
Can't you see how right and wrong are archaic concepts? If you believe your thoughts, then you are never wrong. If you don't believe them, then it doesn't matter who's right and wrong. Either way, you're not wrong.

The bottom line is, you'll be less stressed if you choose to be okay with whatever is happening in this moment, and not live in the past or future. Expecting someone to bring wine to dinner is living in both. Your past memories of what dinner should be like, and your future expectations of what they should be like. But right now in this moment, neither the past nor future exists. So you alleviate this problem by just paying attention to NOW.

NOW I'm enjoying dinner with my friends.

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