You Are Not Alone

For some it’s been a rough week what with the recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. In all honesty, neither person had much significance to me although I am familiar with their work.  I can’t pretend I know what their struggles were or why ending their lives seemed to be the best choice. On the outside looking in we see people that had everything: great jobs, travel, get to do anything they want, lots of money, all kinds of friends and so much more. It becomes incomprehensible and tragic that these people who apparently had “everything” couldn’t overcome their challenges.

These two deaths do dredge up memories, some that I’ve written about and others I have not. These memories perhaps contribute to the empathy and undercurrent of turmoil I feel right now. As usual, the spotlight turns towards mental health for a while and then turns away again. One wish from this is that I wish we’d recognize the prevalence of mental health issues in this world or ours. My feeling is that I have myself experienced such issues but at a much lower level than those who have made the news this year already for what I want to term “all the wrong reasons.”

I recall many years ago a very quick episode. This was in the ’70’s when men were the macho, silent type who didn’t speak about problems. I remember being characterized as a sensitive person, which was not a great thing to be when you’re a teen-aged boy in the early to mid ’70’s. In this brief episode I was being tormented by some of my siblings for reasons I don’t remember. But I do remember lying face down on my bed, crying and thinking about a belt in the back closet and the closet rod. This was but a brief moment in time with its meaning and purpose, really, still unclear. Maybe it increases my empathy but I cannot, in truth, even begin to understand many people’s struggles.

2013 was a relatively dark year for me where I felt so alone even when surrounded by people. The thought of ending my life never entered my mind, at least not seriously. I clearly remember many times, though, thinking that it wouldn’t bother me if something were to happen – not that I became reckless in any way.  To this day a verse from the Townes van Zandt song “To Live is to Fly” retain there relevance.

Days, up and down they come
Like rain on a conga drum
Forget most, remember some
But don’t turn none away.

Back then I would have been happy enough to refund my remaining days while not actively seeking it. These days I’m very happy to keep them for myself.

Even this is nothing compared to others’ experiences. I know that. Maybe this, too, increased my empathy. I’m much less willing to withdraw when such things come to light. This is one of the problems. Many people don’t feel comfortable talking about their struggles because they lose friends. People don’t know what to say. Or they just want to fix everything. And maybe this “thing” cannot be fixed but only managed and coped with.

I can’t tell just by looking at somebody the state of their mental health. People are very good about hiding away their true feelings. I’ve done it myself. If we could recognize that each one of us experiences some of this pain sometimes it might remove some of the stigma surrounding admitting when we need help. I don’t need to know the details.

To those I knew who took their lives, I’d say to them today: You are not alone. You matter. Find somebody you can trust to talk to – just talk. Your absence would create such a huge hole.

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The Reminder

The following was possibly co-authored, of that I am uncertain. But I do know it was meant for more than just me, so is being shared here.

You are being reminded that talents that appear to come easy are often undervalued. The self-deprecation of “Oh, it’s nothing.” (and other such thoughts) runs rampant. However, it is more than nothing. The skill or talent that comes easy is to be equated with walking or talking. These are also undervalued by most. Recall that these skills, undertaken with near unconsciousness, didn’t just happen. They are skills that were acquired through a span of time and with much desire, effort and persistence. The same holds for your artistic talents. These were also acquired over a span of time through that same persistence, desire and effort. They, too, evolved over a span of time.

Remember that this is an extremely common error. You are not alone. This error is created and then compounded through many forces.  “Nobody likes a bragger” and comments of a similar vein takes well placed pride in an accomplishment and crushes it to dust. Imagine a child’s drawing and whether it is placed on the fridge with pride or thrown in the garbage. This is your choice now.

Portrayal of creative genius being unworthy unless accompanied by great turmoil, struggle and near fatal effort only reinforces the perceived unworthiness of your gifts because they seem to come at little to no cost. You are reminded of the first paragraph.

Hear the words of those who truly love you when they praise your creative endeavors. Do not diminish your work, or their words, by repeating those words, “Oh, it’s nothing.”, or giving those same thoughts roots in your mind. Make no mistake that thoughts are as powerful as words.

Fumbling Towards Forgiveness?

The connections started in the morning. The background is that my wife is in Costa Rica with some of her girl-friends. She, of course, wanted me to keep in touch, which I had been diligent in doing. But she hadn’t really responded in kind. There were a ton of probable good reasons for this but once ego becomes involved  there is no such thing as a good reason.

Ego takes note of the differences and disparities and then turns them into punishments. Remember that most of us are our own worst critics, therefore, our toughest jailers. In the ego-ic world I am now paying for past sins and indiscretions. It doesn’t matter when I note that Wi-Fi  is probably not as good there as here. Noting that the VRBO they rented is remote, even for Costa Rica, falls on deaf ears, so to speak. Telling myself she is could be in the cloud forest , therefore away from Wi-Fi also does nothing. Noting that perhaps her phone is broken, or lost, or out of battery – all very real possibilities – also doesn’t still that insistent voice. In ego’s world she has told some secrets to her friends and they have now counselled her to leave me and this is why she is not communicating with me. This has never been a threat but ego doesn’t live in a logical world.

It also doesn’t matter that I can watch ego at work, as I have done many times with countless issues now. I know ego’s tricks but that doesn’t help still that harsh, capricious and unforgiving “voice”. Not this day. It never seems to help when I note that I do the same thing, I get busy or distracted so perhaps I could extend the same consideration to others.I have watched it on smaller issues. In all cases there seems to be only one cure. It seems like the only thing that helps is finally getting that response text back. Time ticks away and still nothing, which only adds fuel to ego’s fire.

Then the “coincidences” begin to pile up. First comes an e-mail for an e-book from Hay House. The note promises forgiveness. Given ego’s machinations this strikes a chord. I download the book and begin reading it at lunch. Within the book itself are a few more interesting coincidences. First comes a quote from “A Course In Miracles” (ACIM) which counts as a double whammy.  This two-for-the-price-of-one begins with the fact that I read ACIM nearly every day. As I frequently tell myself, you can’t spend nearly two years now with that book and not be transformed. The second whammy is the quote itself. It reads as follows:

“If you knew who walks on the way you have chosen, fear would be impossible.”

This mirrors my frequent conversations with my guides, one in particular, who I frequently thank for walking with me. I know they can’t do my work but they can walk with me.

The next coincidence is that the forward is written by Gabby Bernstein. I had just spent part of the previous morning with her via webinar. I’ve got one of her books so I have some familiarity with her work.

I ask ego what he wants. I don’t try to just ignore or suppress this root anxiety as I used to and still often do. This is an honest attempt to give ego voice and learn what he really wants. The answer back is forgiveness.  The book, “Wings of Forgiveness”, begins by reminding me I have received (created?) numerous miracles already. ACIM defines a miracle as a shift in perception. It also states that there is no order of difficulty in miracles. One miracle is not easier or more difficult than another. It’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around this at first.

Asking ego that question and considering its answer is a shift in perception. It isn’t ignoring or discounting its voice as most of us are so apt to do. It is a shift in perception, therefore, it is a miracle.  This miracle will create a whole universe of domino effects.

A little bit of reading coupled with handwriting this out served to quieten the beast somewhat. It hasn’t entirely silenced the beast because he makes a good point. Forgiveness with no distinction between giving and receiving is a shift in perception. Or maybe it will be many such shifts. Maybe this is the thing I want to spend much of this personal development time to. All the other things can wait, or take lower priority, because maybe this is the greatest hurdle to clear yet.

Towards Perfection

Ha! Not even close. Being human means making mistakes and having wildly varying experiences even from hour to hour.  By varying experiences I mean mostly one’s reactions, feelings and emotions in relation to outside events.  These are the vibration levels or perhaps the color spectrum that is used as part of chakra identification.

The prompt for this post began with a conversation that ended up with me over-stepping a boundary. The details are not as important as my acknowledgement that while I didn’t mean to touch a nerve, I did. I did apologize for stepping on toes but that didn’t (still doesn’t) seem like enough. A slew of thoughts enter my mind with most of them being not too negative – or in that red, rooted in earth, color.

There was the thought that each one of us is responsible for our own reactions alone. That didn’t help much. I know this is canon in the personal development world and that the truth of this is solid. But, being human means sometimes telling ourselves this doesn’t help at all.

Asking why this was bothering me so much revealed the answer that this person is at least somewhat significant to me so her thoughts and her opinions matter to me. That helped a little bit. Having said that, this is a work acquaintance so when it comes right down to it of either of us left we’d likely lose touch – thus the tag of “somewhat significant”.

Recognizing the teaching moment in this moment helped a little bit. The main teaching moment revolved around a quote from A Course In Miracles that still sticks with me:

Teach only love, for that is what you are.

I’ve extended this to “Teach (speak, think and be) only love, for that is what you are.” Looping back to being human, I know this was not a “speak only love” moment and that strict adherence to this suggestion (stopping short of calling it a rule) is near impossible at all times.

I’m very well aware that we are bombarded with messages of imperfection. I can read about the 31 ways I’ve been cooking my chicken wrong. Yeah, that was real article. I can read about which color I like that is either unflattering on me or so last year that it isn’t even funny. I’m also very well aware of my imperfections and how I should do more of this and less of that. Maybe in some strange way this helps ease the burden of having to be perfect that seems to be imposed by so many forces, both internal and external.

The lessons from this I suppose are to not expect to be perfect always, not expect others to be perfect and to own as much as possible when the imperfect happens. That’s a lot of ownership going on! There is also the opportunity to ask why a thing is so bothersome, what lessons can I teach myself and how can this move me towards thinking, speaking and being only love more often.

Fear and Action

My struggle these days is with action, not with inspiration or dreams. There is no shortage of desire to succeed in helping a lot of people eventually. There is, however, something a shortage in action. It’ll be a gradual process, probably, but at least I do have a little more knowledge to work with.

I listened to a T. Harv Eker webinar last night that outlined eight steps on to How To Make A Lot Of Money & Help A Lot Of People.  This is one webinar workbook I want to re-visit many times in the near future, rather than put it in a desk drawer to gather dust.  The last step is the one that is holding me back. In some ways it should be a pre-step or step 0 in addition to being step 8. At least for me that’s the way it is. Here’s the summary of step 8:

Step 8 is titled “The ability to take action”. To take action we have to overcome fear. To overcome fear we need a definition better than the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear involves the anticipation and avoidance of pain. The fear that is created in our minds is a future imagining designed to protect primarily the mind with the body along for the ride. This is different than the primal fight-or-flight instincts that might happen when you happen to notice, for example, the car barreling towards you in a crosswalk. The last part of that workbook  states that the key to success is to act in spite of our fears. T. Harv Eker likes using declarations, which some might call mantras or affirmations. The final declaration is, “I act in spite of fear, I act in spite of doubt, I act in spite of worry.”

Part of discovering our fears is discovering our pain points. This involves becoming more self-aware and then not suppressing the shadowy thoughts that may bubble up. For me scarcity is what appeared. As with all fear or pain it reaches back tens of thousands of year in the dark past when mere survival required a lot of work. Scarcity thoughts involved a lot of varied things. There is the tendency to hoard things due to potential scarcity. It could be anything. I’m still trying to figure out whether my fear is motivated by scarcity and how it impacts my ability to take action.

One thing I want to do, but have problems with, is doing more writing and drawing. I’m already aware that even 10 or 20 minutes extra on most days is enough. I’m also very well aware that I must take action for my dreams to come true. But there are blocks to beginning this. Part of removing these barriers is becoming aware of when it happens and even trying to listen to that hidden voice that tells me why it is so difficult to start one small habit.

It’s all a work in progress, as is life itself. From there eight steps, to me, become a rinse and repeat sort of thing as I discover where else my skills and passions lie.

Think Pink

Today is pink shirt day. I have to confess I am getting a bit tired of all these different days. It’s not because I don’t support these causes. Every single one is worthy and deserving. But for me these various days have become a bit like corporate speak. For example, I don’t like the term “empowerment” in corporate environments because it becomes lip service. My contention with the word empowerment, again in a business setting, is that you either talk about or do it but not both. Same thing with accountability – your either do it or talk about it but not both.

So it is with Pink Shirt Day. The thing is, every day is pink shirt day. And pink ribbon day.  And Let’s Talk day. These issues don’t just go away because their “day” has already passed. For some these days and symbols may truly help. For others awareness and vows to do better may be temporary. Or behavior may actually change. For still others a blip is barely registered if at all.

I suppose part of what I’m saying is that all these causes are worthwhile but there are so many of them it becomes nearly overwhelming. The only way I can choose which ones I’d like to support is based on my personal experiences and challenges. I guess the only other thing I can add is that if an issue is important enough to you then be a voice for it every day.  One voice alone is merely a whisper in this great big world. But enough voices together for a sustained period of time becomes a shout and maybe even a roar.

Roller Coaster

Up and down, left and right, wavering this way and that – it sometimes feels like being on some kind of demented roller coaster. And with me is the equally demented roommate , sometimes so fully identified with me that we seem indivisible. Is the inner Roommate ego and also the meaning making machine? We are meaning making creatures who are incredibly self-centred. Everything is all about me. If I say, “It isn’t you, it’s me”, I’m not lying.

I don’t perceive the contradiction when I dislike something you do but then turn around and do the same to you. It happens rarely out of spite. It’s even the small things. I text and you and don’t hear back for a long time. So the meaning making begins. And sometimes completely unrelated events get bundled in to the meaning making. The time I said something, innocently,enough in my mind, that caused an unintended reaction. And now you’re using your silence to get back at me. And when I happen to suggest to the inner roommate that maybe you got busy – maybe the suggestion is accepted but more than likely isn’t. Then you respond and it’s like when suddenly the cloud moves away from the sun and all is bright and warm again. For a while.

Maybe this is one thing I’m learning – how to live with the meaning making roommate and maybe teach him how to be more consistent and more understanding.

Musings on a Bus

It seems like some of my more productive moments are on the bus ride home. It is long enough to get relaxed and I generally don’t know anybody on that bus so I get plenty of alone time with just me, my iPod and my thoughts.

On one such recent bus ride I wedged myself into a seat as the fourth one of four on this sideways facing bench. I had my music on, as usual, and my eyes closed, as I usually do. The bus ride was truly uneventful except toward the end of my ride. The rider beside me got off so there was now a seat to spare. I could have moved over to it but I didn’t. Here’s why. I often see this happen and I wonder if the one who remains in their seat is put out a bit and half tempted to smell their armpits in case they have an order they weren’t aware of. In other words, I wonder if that act of moving away makes the other person somehow self conscious.

So I sat there and didn’t move because in my own mind I’m trying to be nice. And then I began wondering further and casting doubt upon my thoughts. How could I be sure that the young woman beside me wasn’t asking herself, “Why isn’t this old guy moving to the other seat?” And other scenarios played through my head. They ranged all the way from complete unawareness of that empty seat, to mild annoyance, all the way to full-blown frustration on the part of the passenger sitting beside me. The thing is, I couldn’t tell. My attempt at even a small kindness may not have been viewed that way by her. And I became aware that I was projecting my own thoughts and some of my own insecurities upon this unsuspecting person’s thoughts. We do this all the time, often without even knowing it.

There’s little voice inside that Michael Singer calls the Inner Roommate that chatters at us all the time. It projects our thoughts, fear and biases on to other people. Generally these days people are more absorbed in their own world that others barely even register except when we ascribe malice to, perhaps, situational unawareness. I believe that very few people wake up intending to “F”up another person’s day.

My challenge to you is to try seeing your own thoughts and projections when you’re feeling self conscious or mad because somebody did something disrespectful. By doing so maybe you can reduce the amount of anger in the world just a little bit or add a little bit of understanding to it.

Choices

How do we begin to take control of our choices rather than life seemingly just occurring? Sometimes it helps to start small. I’ll begin with a hopefully short story about taking control with a relatively minor thing. Before I begin that I’ll note that these days I am often reminding myself, and others, that a series of smaller iterative steps is often more achievable than a “swing for the fences” approach despite a general “go big or go home” mentality. In the grand scheme I know the following is illustrative of a very minor irritant but starting small is often easier and can sometimes yield huge benefits.

I take the bus and usually I get a seat for the ride home. I began noticing that it bugged me that sometimes people sat with their bag(s) beside them so they were taking up two seats. This was irrational, I know. But it still bugged me. To this day I still notice so it isn’t like I am completely done with this. Now, simply noting my reaction was one small step. But then I began asking why it bothered me so much. It’s not as if it offended some social justice aspect in me because I’d never dare to actually say something to the so-called offending party. An answer was not forthcoming and I’m not sure one ever will aside from any aspects of other people’s possible inattention to the world around them.

Gradually I settled on acceptance of this situation by first reasoning that this disrespectful situation is my interpretation of events. In a situation like this there are two parties, not including any observers. Some people are okay with standing on a bus and it is not really my place to question their actions or inactions. Nor is it my place to question the seemingly oblivious person denying another passenger of a seat. Countless reasons could explain the situation and I have no knowledge of the mindset of either party to this small transaction. The sitter may have worked long hours and is so exhausted that they truly are on auto-pilot. The stander could well be a person who doesn’t make waves. If such a situation irritated me that much, beyond it making feel like a douchey social justice warrior, then I could have always offered up my own seat.

I still see such situations and sometimes it is me who is left standing. I note the young people who are absorbed in their phones. Sometimes I briefly pass judgement on how they seem to do this so there is plausible deniability – as in “I never even saw you there.” And then I remind myself that all I know is my own self and some days even that is debatable. Sometimes when I look around I see plenty of open seats and that is a reminder about choices and how it is best to accept other’s choices even if they seem irrational and unexplainable. To me they may appear that way but to others they may be perfectly logical.

And then this small step leads to other such steps. It leads to increased awareness of my own choices, not all the time, but enough times to make a difference.

Anger Management

To begin with I’ll go back in time to when I used to be angry quite often.  I was rarely publicly angry or even angry in front of my family. Sure, there were times when traffic and drivers would cause a mini-explosion. But that was healthy release, I told myself, after all we can’t be just all happy all the time. That just isn’t natural. My anger, instead, generally was privately expressed. If the dishwasher did a terrible job the offending dishes would be tossed into a sink of water with some of the dishes sometimes breaking. Typing remains a challenge to this day so what I call my “finger dyslexia” (meaning the letters are generally correct but not always in the right order) created many opportunities for turning the air blue, sometimes under my breath, or for some angry keyboard mashing. In the course of time more than a few things were broken. The space bar on my keyboard has never recovered, for example, so you have to press it in the middle. You get the general idea.

My first attempt at transforming this anger issue began with my typing which is the one thing I do a lot of.  So it seemed like a good area to work on. As it happens working on improving one aspect of life often has spin-off benefits in other areas. I learned how to release the negative energy in some amusing ways. I began with different exclamations, just quick air explosions sometimes with miming the explosion with my hands. I’d let out quick raspberries or a silly facial expression with my tongue stuck out like that famous Albert Einstein photo. Aside from releasing energy it creating a more humorous reaction to something personally upsetting.

Spin off benefits eventually extended to things like waiting in line. I still tend to avoid lines and there is still some impatience (a form of anger) when I can’t avoid lines. But I notice I am less inclined to fidget, sigh or any of those other things that signal that I’d rather be somewhere else. And I am less inclined to see a driver’s “bad” behavior as an insult directed at me. On the road I do think there is a lot of competitive behavior out there where people feel the need to get to the stop light before me.  So I’ve learned to mostly just let the aggression pass. And there is just a lot less of throwing objects around.

I’m far from perfect so I still slip back into old ways. Drivers still sometimes get the better of me and I then feel the need to express my displeasure. But even then the thoughts and words get retracted and brought back to me, even the (in my eyes) worst of offenders. Typing is, of course still my Achilles Heel which is why I tend to prefer writing long-hand first. But I’ve learned to slow down at least for a while, sometimes ignore those little red squiggly lines at least for a little while  and use my little strategies to release some of this energy in a healthier way. A particularly bad dishwasher still gets its fair share of sigh and clucks but at least I don’t break things.