Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Unlearning Our Childhood

Today I was rifling through my pantry trying to find something. I stood back to look at the shelves and saw that all the canned goods were neatly stacked on the left side of one shelf. Except for one lonely can of tomato sauce that was by itself on another shelf. At that moment, I got a pang of sadness on behalf of the lonely can, and moved it so that it sat with the other canned goods.

Have you ever felt sorry for a can of tomato sauce, or some other inanimate object?

My mind went back to my childhood. I'd be sitting at the table eating and the meal would be close to over. There would be one slice of bacon left on the serving plate, or one small spoonful of peas in the serving dish and someone in my family would say, "Look at that piece of bacon, all alone. He's going to be so sad that he's not in your stomach with his friends." And so I would eat the piece of bacon so he wouldn't feel lonely.

Now, any sane person knows that bacon doesn't have feelings. A can of tomato sauce can't be sad. But because those are the tactics used by my family, even now, fifty years later, I still experience that pang of sadness and loneliness on behalf of the loner. And probably one reason I can never leave food on my plate (leading to a lifelong weight problem).

How many of those supposedly innocent things our parents said to us have affected us for life without us even knowing it?

Probably another thing that came out of that was the compulsive need to finish everything I start. You may think that's a good thing. It's not. It's important to know when enough is enough. It's important to know that you are in charge of your own life, and you have the right to stop doing something if it's not what you want to be doing. You don't have to dot every i and cross every t. You don't have to close every door you open.

Many things that parents make their kids do are counterproductive to this understanding. The understanding that I shouldn't have to do somthing that makes me uncomfortable just because an adult or an authority figure says I should do it. I still have autonomy.

But how many of these things have you made your kids say or do, or heard someone else do it?

Making your child hug or kiss a relative they aren't comfortable with.
Making your child apologize for something when they aren't sorry.
Making your child show respect to someone who doesn't deserve it.
Making your child eat something they don't like.
Making your child conform to gender stereotypes.
Making your child say "Yes sir" or "No sir."
Making sure your child knows that his behavior should never embarrass you (even though that's YOUR issue, not his).
Making your child believes that sharing is more important than personal autonomy.
Making your child sleep in a dark room alone, even though he's fearful.
Chastising your child because he doesn't do well in school.

These are just some of the examples.

So many of us need to unlearn what we were taught. We need to stop feeling bad about things that have nothing to do with us. We need to stop feeling bad about things that were our parents' issues and not our issues. We need to start feeling comfortable in our own skin, perfectly happy with who we are. And we need to realize that even if we don't make our beds every day, even if we don't care about school, even if we hate vegan food, even if we don't feel obliged to vote, even if we don't believe in god, even if we don't want to sleep alone, even if we aren't pro-life and Republican, we're still okay.


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Friday, September 22, 2017

The Purple Couch

We are all looking for meaning in life. It is a basic tenet of human existence that we need to find order in chaos. But how to do that is the question.

Any human constructed or derived system has flaws because humans are flawed. But that's all we have to work with. Even religious systems of thought that are supposed to come from divine sources are only systems derived by humans. The gods or goddesses serve only as vehicles for us to accomplish what every human since the beginning of time has tried to do. Come up with some way of understanding the world and some way to navigate our place in it while trying to reach some level of happiness and contentment.

None of the systems available, whether religious, philosophical, or scientific, meet this goal well. And we must ask ourselves, why is this so elusive?

The most obvious answer is that we are trying to give meaning to something that is inherently meaningless. In that case, no matter what kind of system of thought we apply to it, it will never makes sense.

So are there any universal principles that can be derived from our experiences here on earth? Is there anything we can count on to be true?

The answer is no. Because everything that we perceive as existing in the world exists only in our minds. And although we may think we share a common experience of a particular thing, we can never be sure that's the case. The world that YOU experiences is perceived by your mind, through the biology of your brain. But my experience of that same world may be perceived totally differently.

For instance, you and I may be sitting on a purple couch together. At least, that's the mutually agreed upon definition of what we're doing. Photons of light hit this thing we're sitting on and the photons bounce into our eyes. My brain and your brain translate these photons into an image that has color, length, width, depth and texture. But we don't really know if we're seeing the same thing at all. When we both look at the couch, we see what we call color. But we don't know what that color really is. Let's say that on the floor next to the couch is also a purple pillow. So I look at the couch and I look at the pillow and I say hey, those two things are the same color. And you look at them and say yeah, they are. Now we have to agree on a name for that color. So we agree to call it purple. But all we really know is that the couch and the pillow are the same color. We still don't really know what that color is because there is no objective standard. I can't ever know if what I see as purple and what you see as purple are really the same. All I can determine is that we both see the couch and the pillow as the same color. But I could be seeing it as purple and you could actually be seeing green. We can't know that because no one can see what another person sees. We just agreed to CALL it purple for convenience, but there is no way to EVER know that the colors look the same to both of us.

All of reality is like this. You can never know that the way you perceive things is right. And therefore you cannot judge someone else for perceiving something differently than you because there IS NO OBJECTIVE TRUTH.

So our whole world is constructed around mutually agreed upon definitions which are often wrong. Nothing that you believe to be true can actually be validated as true.

I must keep this in mind as I walk through my day. Anything I experience is subject to misinterpretation, both by me and others. Most of the things I attach significance to aren't really significant at all. And therefore nothing to get upset about. I should therefore approach my day with a sense of wonder and curiosity rather than irritation, expectations and suffering.

How can you have an expectation about something you know absolutely nothing about? Expectations are derived from past experience. You think something happened a certain way before and so it will again. You can't have an expectation unless you think you know something. You think you know how something is supposed to happen and you are disappointed when it doesn't happen that way again. But your expectation is unrealistic because you don't really know anything. You are basing your happiness on an illusion.

If you were the only one alive in this world and therefore the only one perceiving it, then you could confidently make some assertions about what is objective truth. But once there is even one other person in the world perceiving it as well, there is no longer any objective truth. It's not like there is a meter out there that I can hook up to the couch which will register whether it is purple or not. Your brain is the meter. Your brain is the tool that is measuring all the parameters of the couch.

If we want to do objective research on say, the temperature in the city we live in, we first have to have a way to measure temperature. So you and I go to the store and buy two sophisticated temperature measuring devices. And we decide we are going to go out and measure the temperature in different parts of the city. The first thing we have to do is calibrate our two machines to make sure they are measuring the same. So we get a cup of water and we put the two devices in the water and see if we get the same temperature. If they do, then we might be able to make some objective statements about the temperature in our city based on these measurements.

The problem is, there's no way to do this with our human brains as the instrument. If the two temperature measuring devices don't match, then we can change the calibration until they do match. But there is no way to know if our brains are objectively measuring things the same way. So we can never know which perception of the couch is correct. Is it purple or is it green? We can never know.

So in order to continue to live in the world, most people agree to accept arbitrary definitions for things. The couch is purple, people shouldn't steal from each other, children should be seen and not heard, my spouse should pay attention to me, nobody should hurt me, I should always follow the rules, the rules are important, the rules are necessary, there is a god, my way is right. All these are arbitrary definitions that somebody has constructed to define their truth. But they are all arbitrary. They are not reality.

You are free to determine your own reality. You need no justification for it. When someone disagrees with your reality, you have no need to get defensive and try to justify why you believe what you believe and neither does anyone else. No one way of perceiving reality is right while all others are wrong.

So, you can construct a reality in which you get upset about every little thing that doesn't agree with you, or you can construct a reality in which you are always happy, despite your circumstances.

There is really no need for unhappiness. Unhappiness simply means you have a flawed perception of reality. There's no judgment to this. It's neither right nor wrong to have flawed perception. It's just the state you happen to be in. You are not a bad person because of your perception. You are not defective. You are simply experiencing what it's like to be human.

Next time you experience frustration with someone or with a situation, remember the purple couch. Remember that you cannot know if they are seeing the couch the same way as you.

For instance, let's say you want your spouse to pay more attention to you. You think they spend too much time working, and when they're with you they aren't really paying attention to you, and you're irritated by this. Where's the purple couch in this situation?

You do not know that you and your spouse are perceiving the situation alike. Just as you can't really know that you see the purple couch the same way, you can't know that you and your spouse both agree on what "paying enough attention" is. Your spouse can't read your mind. Have you told them how much attention you expect? Have they agreed to that? If not, then how can you hold them to that standard? How much time is "too much" spent working? How do you know what is "too much"? How do you know that either of these situations warrants you being irritated? Who is the ultimate authority on whether your spouse is working too much and paying too little attention to you? There is no ultimate authority. The definitions are arbitrary. No one is right and no on is wrong.

Since you can't depend on these arbitrary definitions, you can't hold your spouse to that as a standard. Not only is it unfair to hold them to a standard they didn't agree to, it's unfair to hold them to a standard that isn't really a standard. It's just your opinion.

So you can't blame your spouse for your irritation. Yet, you can't deny that the irritation is there. What do you do about it?

This isn't about invalidating your feelings. You're irritated and something needs toe done about it. But it YOU who needs to do something about it, not your spouse. Not anyone else. Just you.

Since it's only your perception that can ever define your existence, how can you expect anyone else to change your perception? Only you can do that. To expect other people to change, or your situation to change, as a method to make you happy makes no sense. That's like saying I'm unhappy because the couch is purple. Then you expect your spouse to change that. Your spouse can't change your perception of the couch. Whether it's purpose or green, your spouse can't change the way your brain perceives that color. Your spouse can't change whether you are happy or unhappy, irritated or content. You shouldn't expect that.

If you simply CHANGE YOUR MIND about what your spouse is doing, then you won't be unhappy. Why should I have to change but my spouse doesn't have to do anything? Because you can only change yourself, you can't change anything else in the world. And to think that you can is to repeatedly bang your head against a brick wall. You are arguing with reality and that makes no sense and only makes you suffer.

So I guess the question is, do you want to suffer, or not? I don't.

Some people would say that avoiding suffering should not be our goal. They see suffering as noble and necessary. I see it as pointless and self-defeating. There is nothing to be gained by intentionally suffering.

So, I gladly and cheerfully encourage my spouse to live in a way that makes him happy. Work as much as he wants, spend as much or as little time with me as he wants, because my happiness is not going to be affected at all. I've made up my mind to be happy, and so I will be.

But what about that irritation I'm feeling, you say? I'm irritated because I want to spend more time with my spouse. Maybe it's not about your spouse at all. Maybe you just want to feel connected. If you can't be connected to your spouse at that moment, some other person or thing can give you that connection. It's an arbitrary rule somebody thought up that says that only our spouse can meet our needs. Only our spouse can or should provide connection and validation. This is an erroneous, arbitrary rule.

And then again, we must realize that our perception of what "connection" is or should be is once again arbitrary. No two people's perception of this connection is the same. So your spouse probably has no idea that you are bothered by this lack of agreement about connection. Your irritation with your spouse needs to be redirected. Irritation is probably not an accurate and helpful description. Let's think of another word.

When you feel any negative emotion, whether it's irritation, frustration, anger, fear, etc. This is similar to the pedestrian detection censors they are starting to put on cars that detect the presence of pedestrians and stop the car from hitting them. Your emotional guidance system tells you when to make a course correction. It doesn't tell you anything about what your spouse should be doing. It tells you what YOU should be doing. You and you alone.

When you feel irritated, frustrated, angry, fearful, your emotional guidance system is telling you that YOU need to change something. NOT that your spouse needs to change or that the situation needs o change. YOU need to change. If you're sailing along and you start to feel irritated at your spouse because you have the thought "My spouse isn't spending enough time with me," stop your vehicle and make a course correction. Change your direction.

Find something in that moment that DOESN'T make you feel irritated. What could you do to take away that irritated feeling that doesn't involve changing your spouse or the situation? Because you never can and never should try to change another person.

Well, I just can't do that, you say. Some people are doing destructive things. Some people need to change. Once again, are you enjoying banging your head against that brick wall? How's that going for you?

The bottom line is, you are causing your own suffering. You can stop banging your head against that brick wall at any time. But you insist that causing yourself pain is somehow better? HOW?

You are accomplishing nothing by suffering. The other person doesn't want to change, doesn't see any need to change, and frankly, THERE IS NO NEED FOR THEM TO CHANGE if they don't want to. So you are the only one that's suffering. And you are a hypocrite. Because in one breath you say people should stop doing destructive things and here you are banging your head against a brick wall, causing your own suffering. And you don't see that as destructive.

So the simplest, easiest, path of less suffering is, live and let live. Don't expect anything of anyone. Just go live your life and make yourself happy. Don't worry about other people. Don't worry about whether they are doing the right thing or whether they are doing what you would do. Just live. This is radical acceptance.


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Copyright  Judie C. McMath and The Center for Unhindered Living








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.

http://amzn.to/2ykvh7k



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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?

Both.

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
Why?
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.

Convenience
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.
Habit
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.
And....it 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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