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 believe 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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Copyright  Judie C. McMath and The Center for Unhindered Living

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's 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 to 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 $539 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 57. 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 $539, I should be able to buy any other food I need. After deducting $112 a month for car insurance, $65 a month for a special medical plan I use, $30 for gasoline and $50 for my phone, I still have $243 left. $100 a month should do me fine for food. The rest I will keep in the bank and save up because at some point my car's going to need repairs or I'm going to need a tooth pulled or something. Need to save up some of that money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Copyright  Judie C. McMath and The Center for Unhindered Living

Great Reading

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

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

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


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Copyright  Judie C. McMath and The Center for Unhindered Living

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Alleviating Suffering

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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