Sunday, June 28, 2020

Don’t Be What Others Want You To Be

For the majority of people, life is a struggle which consists of doing what everyone else wants them to do while suppressing or ignoring what they really want to do with their lives. This starts in infancy, when babies and young children, eager to please parents and other caregivers, willingly comply with most requests. But later, as they begin to see that what other people want is not what they want, they begin to step into their individuality, and begin to refuse to be controlled, and we punish them for developing this amazing personal autonomy. We send them to formalized schooling, which are bastions of social indoctrination and control, and where we expect them to learn to fall in line and do things the way everyone else does them. This is soul-crushing and cruel.

So schooling does not equal education. Many of the worlds greatest thinkers eschewed most early formal schooling. People like Farragut, Edison, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Washington, Melville, Twain, and one of my personal favorites, Margaret Mead.

Margaret Mead grew up in a freethinking, intellectual home. Her father was a professor at the Wharton School of Finance, her mother was a sociologist. and her grandmother was a child psychologist. Her early formal schooling consisted of one year and half days in the fourth grade. Later she did attend high school, but spent six years in various schools. She then completed several advanced degrees and became a field researcher in anthropology.

Now you might say, her parents were intellectuals with advanced degrees, how could the average person do this with their kids? Parents in this country and around the world are doing it every day. You as the parent just provide support and help when asked. You don’t have to stand over them making sure they do lessons. They are naturally curious and given the chance, they will find something they are interested in.

If you are a person who values your own autonomy, you will not take away your children’s autonomy.

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not 
to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. . . . Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim.. . is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States . . . and that is its aim everywhere else. 
Public education has been a grand, mass experiment to see just how much the powerful could control the powerless. Do you want to be one of the powerless? Is that what you want your children to be? Give them a fighting chance to break out of this social straightjacket.

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Sunday, January 05, 2020

Pain Reminds Us We’re Still Human

In Western society today, the quest to empower ourselves is endless. Self-help books abound, and we eagerly line up to sit at the feet of any self-styled guru who promises us more of whatever we’re seeking. We want less pain and more pleasure. We want people to stop reminding us of our faults and start building us up. We want to revel in our extraordinary qualities and leave behind our imperfections and vulnerabilities.

To be sure, a healthy dose of self-esteem is a good thing. But we forget that in life, everything is our teacher, and our pain exists to remind us that we are still human. We will never be extraordinary, and that’s okay.

Human beings are already perfect - in their messiness, their meanness, their intolerance and their weakness. We have a desire to lift ourselves above these qualities, as if they are somehow less desirable than our more altruistic attributes. But without our messiness, we would not be authentic humans, we would be supermen and women, which we definitely are not.

We are beautiful, difficult, strong, unreliable, smart, capable, irritating messes. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If you expect something higher or nobler from yourself or the people you come in contact with, you are creating your own frustration and pain by holding unreasonable expectations about what being human is supposed to be like. 

The next time you experience pain - physical or emotional - how about taking a deep breath and embracing it rather than running from it? Sit with it a while. I know it feels like a morass you’ll never get out of. You are afraid to stay there too long for fear you can’t get out. But you can, any time you want. Knowing that should help you feel comfortable staying there a little longer. Be a full participant in you life. Don’t eschew parts of it you think aren’t worthy or are too messy. 

Our pain reminds us that we are no different from anyone else, no matter how much we want to be better. There are no good people and bad people. Just humans struggling with our messiness. No villains and victims. We all have the same longings and the same trouble fulfilling them. Almost all of us want companionship along the way. And we want others to honor our choices even if they disagree.

We’re all just figuring this out as we go, so how about some compassion, for ourselves and those we come in contact with. They don’t show any to me, you say. No, and you shouldn’t expect them to. They’re still figuring out how to do that. But the best hope they have of learning is to see you doing it, day by day. 

It’s a paradox that, as we seek to accomplish the elimination of suffering, we learn that we can’t be human without it. We learn that it has a place in our lives. And when we learn that, our suffering becomes less somehow. We learn to embrace everything and be afraid of nothing. 

No one can escape their messiness. But we can love ourselves and others anyway.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

What the.......

Today when I got home from picking up my grocery order at Walmart, this is what I found in my bag.

I did not see this before I got home because it was a grocery pickup order and they loaded it into the back of my car while I sat in the car.

Walmart, you need to train your employees to remove these items from their protective containers before giving them to us. I needed the test strips immediately, and I live on the other side of town from your store, and I am not wasting my time and gas to drive all the way back so you can remove this. It’s toast now.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

An Example of the Courage to be Disliked

When I talk and teach about the courage to be disliked in a small group setting, I often hear complaints that no one could possible live this way. No one would be willing to make others dislike them, even if it means giving up freedom. And they don’t see how this would make them feel happier. 

So I have found that giving people examples from my own daily life illustrating how I DO use this practice is helpful to them. 

The two main principles I want to illustrate are separation of tasks (also known as minding your own business) and the courage to be disliked (also known as refraining from people-pleasing). 

The use of these principles can range from simple, everyday issues to serious, far-reaching issues.

Example One:  My husband sits by the front window every day and watches what’s going on outside. Every day he says “Well, they moved that orange car parked in front of the neighbors house” or “Why do you think they have that flag in their front yard?” And my response to him every time he says these things is “I don’t really care.” It’s not relevant to me, it’s not my business, and frankly, I have more important things to think about.

This is a pretty benign example. But many people feel it’s their job to comment on everything, have an opinion on everything, and have their nose in everyone else’s business. And I just don’t. Unless someone is breaking the law and endangering my safety, what they are doing is irrelevant to me. 

That means how you are living your life is not my business. Separation of tasks. It’s not my task to figure out why there’s a car parked in front of your house or why you have a flag in your yard. It’s your task. It’s also not my task to care what your sexual orientation is, who’s sleeping in your bedroom, how you spend your money, whether you believe in God, or whether or not you’ve had an abortion. Nothing about your life is my business, and I don’t even have an opinion on what you do, except to say you have the right to live the life you choose. 

Example Two: My mother, grandmother, and aunt lived together for years in a house they bought together.  When they began to get up in years and their health was failing, they told me that I would inherit their house when they all passed away. I went to the lawyer’s office with them and watched them sign the paperwork. Their intention was that after one of them passed away, the other two would inherit the house, then when the next one passed away the last one would inherit it, and then it would finally pass to me. But after my mother and grandmother died, my aunt was the only one left. I happened to run across some legal documents suggesting that my aunt had changed the will and left the house to my cousins instead. I won’t go into all the reasons she thought this was appropriate. But after a conversation with her I told her, if you leave things the way they are, I will go to court and contest the will, because this was not my mother and grandmothers wish. I told her, I don’t care if you hate me for it. But this is all I have left of my family and you are giving it away to someone else. And I won’t let that happen. 

I was well aware that she made an emotional decision regarding the house and most likely the discussion about this would be an emotional one. And I knew it might permanently damage our relationship. But I had to speak my truth. And frankly, making the decision to give the house to someone else wasn’t her task. That decision had been made long ago. My task wasn’t to worry about how she was going to feel about the conversation or whether she was going to dislike me for it. My task was to right this wrong. I didn’t really care what she thought of me. And no matter how the situation turns out, my job is not to please her. It’s to please myself. 

Example Three: Neither my son nor my daugher-in-law have driver’s licenses due to both of them having health issues that prevent them from driving. So I often take them to doctor’s appointments or to the grocery store. When I learned that my daughter-in-law’s son from a previous marriage was moving to our city, and was going to be living with them while he found a job, place to live, etc., I told them in no uncertain terms that I would not be providing transportation for her son, even though he will also not have a car when he gets here. I also have health issues, and coordinating our schedules to accommodate both their appointments and mine is very stressful. I hoped she would understand this and would not be offended. But if she was, well, that’s her issue. It’s not my task to find a way for him to get to his job and not my task to care about what they think of me. If they don’t like it, frankly, I’m not losing any sleep over it. My task is to take care of myself, not other able-bodied people. He is perfectly able to ride the bus or walk. Or they can pay for an Uber ride for him if they want. That's their task to figure out, not mine. 

Example Four: Religion, politics, subjects like this can make for a very volatile discussion with friends and family. Frankly, I don’t care what your ideology is. It’s irrelevant to me. I don’t believe that embracing a certainty ideology is going to send me to hell, or that there is only one right way to think and believe. I only care about how you treat people. Treat people respectfully even if you don’t agree with them. 

However, having said that, it’s each person’s responsibility to live their own best life. It’s not my responsibility to fight your battles for you. It’s not my task to make sure everyone believes everything that is right.  It’s not even my task to decide what IS right. That is for each individual to decide. I do what pleases me and you should do what pleases you. It’s each person’s task to stay in their own business, not other people’s business. If everyone did that, there wold be a lot less conflict. 

But instead, we feel it’s our job to legislate for everyone who is “right.” Never mind that what is “right” can’t be determined. Who’s deciding what is right? My opinion is s valid as yours. So there really is no objective way to decide that. 

If it wasn’t for television, I wouldn’t even know what’s happening anywhere else, and I’d be happy. It’s because we pay too much attention to other people’s tasks that we are unhappy. Then we try to take on their responsibilities. And this makes us more unhappy. 

Wouldn’t you rather be sitting on a beach somewhere, sipping a drink and reading a book? Then go do that, and let the rest of the world take care of itself.  

If someone else’s life isn’t the way they want it to be, it’s their responsibility to change that. It’s not my responsibility, or anyone else’s. Separation of tasks. 

That doesn’t mean I can’t participate in the lives of others. It just means I don’t HAVE to. I can choose not to, and that’s okay. 

And if someone doesn’t like the way I live my life, it’s their task to disapprove and my task not to care what they think. 

What bad thing do you think is going to happen if someone doesn’t like you? Maybe they won’t want to talk to you or be around you?  Why is that such a bad thing? There are plenty of other people you can be with. I just don’t understand the need to be liked, so much that you’d rather give away your right to live your own life in return for being liked. 

If one person doesn’t like you, there are a million others out there who will. You don’t need to depend on anyone else to make you feel good about yourself. That’s your task. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Courage to be Disliked

This book presents a revolutionary approach to life and happiness. It presents the psychological approach of Alfred Adler, who was a contemporary of and an opponent of Sigmund Freud. 

Rather than blaming human psychological problems on past traumas as Freud did, Adler makes the case for the fact that we choose our behavior based on whether or not it helps us reach specific goals, either conscious or unconscious. 

The author explains, through a dialogue between a wise sage and a misguided young man, that all problems are human relationship problems, mainly the fact that we are unwilling to be disliked by anyone. And therefore, we choose behavior that minimizes the chance we will be disliked. In choosing these behaviors, we give up our freedoms to live our lives as we choose.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It can change your life if you fully embrace it.

It also dovetails nicely with the Work of Byron Katie. While Katie states that one should not concern oneself with other people’s business or “God’s business,” Adler espouses a concept called “separation of tasks” in which a person takes responsibility only for his own tasks and chooses to ignore other people’s tasks. The main human problem is that we want to take responsibility for tasks that are not ours. This causes us to make choices which result in an unfree lifestyle in which we cannot be happy. We choose to please others rather than ourselves. 

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Feeling the Connection

I was recently meeting with a group of friends. We were talking about having lovingkindness for all beings. I was talking about my feeling of connection with all that exists, with all other beings. They were complaining that they don't feel this connection, especially with people with whom they disagree or they don't like. But I assured them, it's there.

I asked them to try this exercise with me. We sat in a circle facing each other. Feet firmly planted on the ground. Eyes closed, body relaxed. I asked them to hum a mantra or chant. We used the syllable Ohm. There's nothing magical about that syllable, you can use anything you want. But that ah sound is deep and rich and resonates well within your body, and if you're in a room with good acoustics, it resonates beautifully in the room. We happened to be outside.

So I asked them to repeatedly chant this sound along with me. We sat silently and chanted the syllable several times. I asked them if, as they were listening to the sound being produced by those around them, if this made them feel more connected to those individuals. We sat and chanted some more. As I listened to the person next to me, the energy of the sound connected with my hearing apparatus. Light and sound are both energy. They produce waves that are sent out and connect with other beings. When you see another person, light is bouncing off their bodies and into your eyes. When they make sound, that energy wave is being sent out and connects with your ears. You are literally connected to them.

But those are only the forms of energy that our senses are consciously aware of and can pick up. It's a fact that our unconscious minds take in 11 million bits of information per second, but our conscious minds can only process 40 bits per second. So almost all of what the communication we receive from the outside world is beyond our conscious perception. But our unconscious minds collect what we can't perceive, store it, and use it to help us make unconscious decisions.

The point is, you are connected to every other being in ways you can't consciously perceive, but they exist nonetheless.

As we sat chanting, we became aware of this connection because the sound allows us to perceive the connection. And after the chanting, those who participated said that yes, it did help them feel more connected to those around them.

I encouraged them to realize, next time they are hearing someone talking who is saying something they don't like, or they think about someone they've had conflict with or simply don't feel connected to, realize that you do have an imperceptible connection to that person. You can leave the room, turn off their voice, put them out of your mind, but you are still connected. You need to find a way to deal with your feelings toward them because you can't sever that connection, and you'll be unhappy the rest of your life by being connected to people who you feel negatively towards.

You can't change the fact that you are connected. You can only change your own reaction toward this connection. It's really the only chance you've got to be happy.

You can't even alleviate it by becoming a hermit, because even when you're alone, the connection to the rest of the human race is still there.

You were born into a network of imperceptible energy connections. The chanting only highlighted and made that connection perceptible for you. If you've ever had a thought about that person, that thought is in your unconscious mind, so even when you're not consciously thinking of them, you are connected to them unconsciously.

So you better get some happy thoughts about that person, or you'll be miserable the rest of your life.

How can you have happy thoughts about a person you don't like? It's not hard at all.

Your thoughts about that person are part of your story. The story that says they're a bad person. They story that says they've done bad things. But it's just a story.

But you say no, it's not just a story. And you start recounting all the bad things they've done. But the past is just a story. It's not happening now, it's over. The past is not real. It's only in your imagination. You keep it alive by continuing to think about it and characterize it as bad.

What happened in the past doesn't matter. It's just a movie that's playing in your head.

You might say "That person is hurting me by saying x, y, z. They shouldn't be doing that."

Can you absolutely, positively know that it's true that they shouldn't be doing that?

They're not saying anything to you right now. You're just remembering something that was said in the past. And the past isn't real. So in real time, right now, nobody's hurting you. It is absolutely not true that they are hurting you. Only your memory is hurting you. The thoughts you insist on clinging to are hurting you.

Who would you be without the thought "They shouldn't be doing that?" Pretend you're standing in front of that person, and they're saying something you don't like, and you're thinking "They shouldn't be doing that." It doesn't feel good, does it?

Now what if you couldn't think that thought? What if it was impossible for you to think the thought "They shouldn't be doing that." You're standing there in front of them and they are talking and if you couldn't think that thought, how would you respond to what they're saying?

Let's imagine they are saying "You never take responsibility for anything that's your fault." Now, if you aren't able to think the thought "They shouldn't be doing that," what would you be thinking about what they're saying? Answer this question for me. Has there ever been a time when you didn't take responsibility for something you did? I think we could all say that yes, we've done that at one time or another. So that person is speaking the truth to you, but you push that truth away by saying they shouldn't be telling you that. It's just a defense mechanism.

If you weren't thinking the thought "They shouldn't be doing that" you'd be able to see where the other person is coming from. And that would make them more human to you. That would make you both able to connect. Then you'd be able to respond by saying "Yes, I can see that, and I'm working on that." What would be so wrong with that? It's so important for us to be right that we're willing to make the other person wrong every simgle time in order to feel better about ourselves. Except we don't feel better. Remember, when you think "They shouldn't be saying that" it doesn't feel good.

The goal is to see things clearly, and by doing so, relieve stress and suffering so you can feel good. Blaming doesn't feel good.

Removing the idea of "I need to be right all the time" helps to alleviate stress. You don't need to be right all the time, and neither does anybody else. In fact, nobody has to be right, ever.

You don't have to be right all the time, and you can't expect others to be right all the time. It's just not reality. Reality is that people are imperfect.

You are no more perfect than the people you don't like.

We are all the same.

Yes, you say, but I haven't done x, y, or z like they did.

No, but you've done other hurtful things. We all have.

Own it.

The fact that you can acknowledge that we are all the same, we are all imperfect, we are all on a level playing field. There's nothing unfair happening. It's just your story, your illusion, to make youself look good.

There's nothing unfair happening.

When you truly see that, all the disconnection falls away.

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     Judie McMath

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Copyright Judie C. McMath and The Center for Unhindered Living

Friday, February 23, 2018

We Are In Control of Nothing

The idea that we are in control of our lives is an illusion. We are not in charge of anything; whether or not we get cancer, whether we get a good job or not, whether someone else loves us or not, or whether or not we get shot down by terrorists. Sure, we might be able to improve the odds of good things happening by eating healthy foods, going to college and working hard, being sweet and trying to please people, or staying out of dangerous places. But ultimately, we just aren't in control of what happens in our lives.

When you really think about the prospect that you have no control over anything, that can be a little bit upsetting. But there is one thing you ARE in control of, or can be in control of. And that's yourself.

I often tell people that I am happy all the time, don't worry about things, feel peaceful and contented despite my circumstances and can get along with even the most irritating person. I don't stress about life. When I say those things, some people are in awe of it, and some are incredulous. They don't believe it's possible, don't believe I am capable of it. They think I am exaggerating or even outright lying.

But I'm not. This is truly how I feel.

But that's not to say that those worries don't pop up. Sometimes a disquieting thought will happen. But I'm in control of what I do with that thought.

Thoughts fleetingly come and go through our minds at all times. We can't prevent that from happening. Our minds imagine all kinds of things. We have good imaginations and our brains work constantly to stretch our creative muscles. Therefore, we are constantly creating scenarios in our minds where we make up stories about what MIGHT happen. Most of those things never happen. But we can frighten ourselves into living a very limited kind of life if we believe those thoughts.

When a disquieting thought comes up, I choose to deal with it in a way that keeps my peace intact.

The other day, I was explaining to some friends that I feel this connection with all that exists. This connection helps me know how to treat people in every situation because I believe our universe is a large living organism of which we are all a part. I would no sooner hurt someone else than to hurt my own body. In a way, every person or thing that exists is part of my body. Just as we don't want to bring pain to our own bodies, it would hurt me to know I'd brought pain to another being.

My friends were saying that they don't feel this connction themselves. They can accept it intellectually, that we are all dependent on each other in this ecosystem which we all share. But that it is not something they feel with their hearts.

I don't like being judgemental because it doesn't feel good. It feels like I am hurting others and myself. I don't like putting others down, it doesn't feel good. I like having unconditional positive regard for everyone. Everyone deserves respect, even if their thoughts, beliefs or actions aren't desirable. If I injure my foot, I might not like the fact that my foot is hurting, but I still love my foot and want to nuture it back to health. The same is true of others in my life. They may say or do somethign unpleasant, but that doesn't mean I am going to abandon them or cut them off. I will try to nurture them, be supportive to them, and if it's the only thing I can do, leave them alone to live their lives. But I won't intentionally hurt them.

I try not to take a side. If you take a side, that's a judgment. You've judged that one side is right and the other is wrong. I have learned that rarely is it that black and white. If I don't take a side, I can maintain respect for everyone. If I get up on my high horse and start to preach about one side being wrong and the other being right, I have become divisive. I've alienated someone. Mostly myself, because if I believe someone is wrong, then that makes me feel negative toward them, makes me feel I don't want to be around them, and creates this artificial wall between us. And that doesn't feel good.

It's also not constructive because when you create that wall, you've stopped listening to that other person. You become unable to consider their point of view. Once you've decided they're wrong, something in your brain prevents you from seeing your bias.

Now, having said all that, this finally has become very easy for me to do. I've trained myself to think this way. But I don't want you to think that I never had a stressful thought or never feel inclined to take a side. It still happens, but it's what I do with it that counts.

Yesterday I was watching David Letterman interview Barack Obama after he had left office. When the interview was beginning, I didn't know who Letterman's guest was going to be. He then said, "Let's welcome the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama." And then, my heart jumped up into my mouth. There was a sudden rush of adrenaline and I was so happy. Because I don't think there is a person in the world that I respect more than Barack Obama.

It's no secret that I have been very disappointed in our current president and the direction he is taking the country. But as I do with every other person in my life, I try not to have negative feelings toward him, and I continue to believe that everything will be all right in the end.

But for a moment, my mind started to stretch its creative muscle, and I imagined what it would be like if Barack Obama was to run for president again. I imagined hearing the announcement that he had won the election, and I watched my internal reaction. I jumped for joy, shouted, and felt vindicatred in disliking our current president.

In that moment, I had taken a side. You must realize how easy it is for this to happen, even for someone who has trained themselves to do otherwise.

The difference is, you don't have to stay in that moment. I make a conscious choice every day to be happy in my present circumstances, whatever they are, not to make other people wrong, and to go with the flow of life.And it works for me pretty well.

Because I am not in control of anything, except how I respond to my circumstances. When I start to take a side, that's a circumstance I'm not in control of. But my response to those thoughts, I can make a choice about. Eventually, after constantly reminding myself not to take a side, not to make others wrong, not to try and be right, it becomes almost second nature. And those judgmental thoughts stop happening as often.

The point is, being happy no matter what your circumstances is possible for anyone. It may take you a while of constantly training yourself to get to that point. But I wouldn't trade the ability to stand in that place for anything. It's an invaluable skill. And it's a skill that you can learn.

Whether I'm in control of my life or not (mostly not), the point is, I don't want to suffer. This way of life has reduced my suffering from 90% down to 5%. And it continues to inch lower. It might not ever get to zero because I still have a fight-or-flight response that kicks in occasionally in an involuntary way. But I can quickly dispense with whatever the momentary fluctuation in mood is by reminding myself to stay out of other people's business, and just enjoy my life.

Because no matter what's going on outside myself, right here in this present moment, I am still all right.