the magnifying mirror

Ever heard the expression How you do one thing is how you do everything? Well, if that's true, then my hair has just gifted me with a major insight into my relationship patterns.

Let me explain. I wore my hair long and straight for many years. And then, a couple summers ago, I started feeling like that hair was no longer mine. So I got it cut off by the stylist I'd been seeing for years, surrendering myself to her capable hands. And I loved the result.

Soon after the big cut, her salon closed and she left town. I was a little freaked out. How would I find someone else that I trusted with my hair as much as her? Because I am too lazy to use products or style it, I needed someone who could give me a true wash and wear cut, which wasn't easy with my stick straight mane.

So my search began for someone who understood how to work with thick, fine, straight hair. I spent an embarrassing amount of money, which I really don't have for things like this, trying to find a new stylist. Also, I walked around with crappy haircuts for close to a year.

And then, this fall, fate led me to a new salon. I called on a Saturday morning, and wonder of wonders, a stylist had just had a cancellation and could see me right away.

I loved my new haircut. She GOT my hair! It looked exactly how I wanted it to look! She understood my hair, really understood it. She even cut it dry so she could work with its quirks.

And I liked her. She was softspoken, sweet, and kind, with such a nice smile. I gave her a big tip and left feeling sure I had found my stylist for life. I was so happy that I could stop the search and settle into a nice, stable long-term hair relationship. I thought my bad haircut days were over.

Eight weeks later, I went back for my second cut -- openhearted, happy to see her, fully expecting a repeat performance. About halfway through I realized she had forgotten what she did the first time. I watched in shock as the cut progressed, trying in vain to find the right words to express what I wanted instead. I left holding back tears. Maybe I was unclear. Maybe she just couldn't do it this time for some reason.

I returned the next day, after washing it and seeing exactly how choppy and uneven it really was. I redoubled my effort to communicate very, very clearly what I wanted. I even used my hands to show her.

She apologized profusely the second she laid eyes on me, and did her best to fix it. She even took notes in her client book, so she would remember what my hair needed next time. I was comforted by that, and resigned myself to a few more months of ugly hair while it grew out.

But still, I had faith in her. She'd given me the best cut of my life, so I knew she had it in her. I told her and myself that it would take some time to establish our relationship, and I was willing to be patient with the process. Yesterday, I sat down in her chair once again.

This time, I knew my communication was crystal clear. I had spent a lot of time figuring out how to explain what I wanted, even running the explanation by my daughter to test its clarity before I went. The stylist said she understood exactly what to do.

And I'll be darned ... I walked out of there with another crappy haircut that was not at all what I wanted!!

As I got in my car, I said to myself, "I've given her enough chances. I was as clear as I know how to be, and this is not what I asked for. I won't be coming back here again."

Yet when I woke up this morning - I swear I am not making this up - I thought, But I loved that first cut so much! Maybe I wasn't clear enough. Maybe I should give her just one more chance ...

AARGH!! This truly is the way I think, for better and for worse. I see people's innocence. I see their good intentions. I wake up every morning with a clean mental slate, and hope springs eternal in my heart.

And far too often, I do not notice that sometimes, people are unable, unwilling, or un-something of following through on their good intentions.

I give a lot of chances. I give the benefit of the doubt. I try and try to find the right words, as if communication is the magic formula that will set everything right. As if any problem in the relationship is my fault, because I was simply not clear enough.

My kids have endured this quality of mine for years. It means I stay in relationships far longer than they would prefer. It means I try too hard to make things work. It means I cut a lot of slack. It means I focus too much on people's potential and not enough on their actual. It means I endeavor to call forth that greatness I see inside people, and to be fair, I am successful at times, but it's usually not very sustainable.

So every morning when I look in the mirror and see this haircut that I did not want, I can be reminded of how well that approach is working for me. Since it's probably not likely that I will turn into a cynic any time soon, I wonder what kind of checks and balances I could put into place to bring more discernment to my relationships. It will be interesting to see what develops organically from this new awareness.

ps: Oh, look at this! right after I published this, I went to read my email and this was waiting for me:

The realization that something is not as you want it to be is an important first step, but once you have identified that, the faster you are able to turn your attention in the direction of a solution, the better, because a continuing exploration of the problem will prevent you from finding the solution. The problem is a different vibrational frequency than the solution—and all thoughts (or vibrations) are affected by (or managed by) the Law of Attraction.

--- Abraham

So, right then, what do I want instead? I want to open my eyes all the way, to see both the potential and the actual. I want to continue to see with kindness, and I want to exercise more discernment, and take more time before getting deeply involved in or committed to a relationship. That'll do for starters.

conversation encouragers and discouragers

I woke up this morning knowing with crystal clarity that I did not feel good about yesterday's post. I don't want to endorse or perpetuate the application of a label as strong as 'abuse' in regard to the failure to acknowledge and respect someone's right to feel how they feel, because it may simply stem from ignorance rather than malintent. So I took that post down and revised it significantly. Here's version 2.0:

In the process of googling something else, I stumbled upon a list of rather commonly used expressions that may come across as invalidating of someone's right to feel how they feel.

No doubt many people who say this type of thing have good intentions, while other people may be in so much pain or confusion that they do actually intend to shut people down.

Since most of us here want our children, mates, and friends talk to us about their thoughts and feelings, I thought it might be helpful to know that even well-intentioned words can shut down the flow of communication.

If you want folks to keep talking to you, try responding with statements that express your understanding of what they just said (empathy and reflection), or your willingness to hear more, rather than trying to shift their perspective or hand them a solution.

Here are some examples of conversation encouragers:

Wow, that sounds tough.
How is that for you?
What's your take on that?

I'm sorry you are hurting.
Sounds like you really didn't like that.
That felt really out of line to you.
Sounds like you wish that had never happened.

Mmm. Uh huh. I hear you. Ohhh.
Silent nod with eye contact.
Move closer and hug them or rub their shoulders.

Here are some examples of conversation discouragers:

Cheer up. Lighten up. Get over it.
Don't cry. Don't worry. Don't be sad.

Stop whining. Deal with it. Forget about it.
Stop complaining. Don't be so dramatic.
You are too sensitive. Don't take it so personally.

You've got it all wrong.
That is ridiculous.
I was only kidding.
That's not the way things are.

Well, I tried to help you.
You are making everyone else miserable.
It doesn't bother anyone else, why should it bother you?

It can't be that bad.
It's not worth getting that upset over.
You are over-reacting.

You should be excited.
You should feel thankful that ____.
You shouldn't let it bother you.
You should just forget about it.

Don't say that.
You know that isn't true.
You don't mean that.

Don't you ever think of anyone but yourself?
What about my feelings?

Time heals all wounds.
Every cloud has a silver lining.

When you are older you will understand.
You are just going through a phase.

Although I don't endorse this guy's site, I do want to give him credit for the unedited version of the second list:

nobody wins the blame game

Remember that game Hot Potato? We never actually played it with potatoes when we were kids, now that I think of it. But whatever object we had available at the time, we would pretend it was too hot to handle, and throw it up in the air trying to keep it out of our own hands by either keeping it in the air or sending it in the direction of the other guy so he had to catch it.

That's the image that came to me when I was pondering blame this morning. Blame is just like a hot potato -- no one wants to keep it in their own hands, and people don't really appreciate when you throw it in their direction in an attempt to make them catch it so you don't get burned yourself.

When you play this Blame Game, there's no winner. Even if you aren't the one who ends up getting burned, you lose the respect and admiration of the one who did, and the relationship suffers.

This is why, when I provide consultations about relationship issues, I often recommend letting the blame potato cool before initiating a conversation. When blame is hot, all we can think of is getting rid of it. And all the other guy can think of when he sees us coming is running away!

When the potato cools, we can each examine it more closely, and therefore we are more likely to take responsibility for our own contribution to the dynamic.

Next time you want to resolve a conflict, don't approach the other guy with a hot potato in your hand! Let it cool first. Vent emotional steam with a friend who is not involved. Journal or exercise or yell in your car.

When the potato is be cool enough for you to hold in your own hand without pain as you carry it to the table, then you are ready to initiate a productive conversation.

characters wearing glasses

People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I read this the first time, I found myself nodding in agreement. But upon further consideration, something stuck in my craw. (Exactly what IS a craw, anyway? I hope it's not something gross ...)

I do believe that our opinions of the world reveal our beliefs, filters, and perceptual limitations -- what I think of as our lenses or glasses. These inner dynamics limit and define what we are capable of seeing. Our opinions reveal a lot about what kind of glasses we wear, and very little if anything about the world 'out there.'

Tell me the world is pink, and I know you wear rose colored glasses. Tell me you see corruption everywhere, and I know you wear dark glasses. Tell me you see the world as it really is, and I know your glasses are still invisible to you.

It's no biggie. We all wear filters on our perceptions. But are these glasses our character? That's the word that got stuck in my craw. It just seems so ... final, or something.

So I popped over to to see what most people mean when they use this word. The definition was quite long, with over 20 different meanings. I think the one appropriate for this context is: the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.

The thing is ... I wonder if maybe character is actually who we are underneath those glasses. And I like to believe that once we realize we are wearing them, if we don't like what we see, we can try on some different ones. So I don't want to mistake something temporary (the glasses) for something permanent (the character).

I'm beginning to suspect that almost all of us are on autopilot most of our lives, operating at the mercy of ingrained habits and reactions that seem so much a part of us that we never stop to wonder if we could be any other way. Maybe many of us are walking around in glasses that we have been wearing for so long that we don't even notice them on our noses anymore.

This line of thought was triggered by a recording I listened to recently of an interview with scientist Bruce Lipton, the author of several books including The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles and Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future (and a Way to Get There from Here). My interpretation of his theory is the product of my filters, so please visit his site and/or read his books to learn more if you are interested.

Dr. Lipton contends that our cells are basically receivers rather than generators. They simply do what they are told by a higher authority; which he identifies as the subconscious mind.

He cites brain wave research that suggests that up until age 6 or so, much of what we are told about ourselves, the world, and our experiences goes straight into subconscious storage in our brain without passing through cognitive filters. And those subconscious beliefs then affect our perception -- in effect, they become our glasses.

Subconscious storage can be quite useful. It's what allows us to drive while talking and solve problems while walking. Our brain is wired to create habits and patterns and transfer them into storage so they can run on autopilot, thus freeing up our conscious thought processes and attention to focus on something new. It's a good thing that we don't have to think about putting one foot in front of the other much past the age of 18 months!

Subconscious storage can also be not so useful. If a child under age 6 hears regularly that he will never amount to anything, or that he's stupid, weak, or sickly, those messages don't pass through any kind of reality check before they go into storage and start running on autopilot. The young child's brain is not yet capable of reasoning: "Dad only says that when he's been drinking. It's not about me, it's just the alcohol talking." Instead, the brain wires it in as truth, runs it on autopilot, and suddenly we are looking at the world through Unworthiness glasses.

When the subconscious issues commands, the cells simply comply with the instructions. If the subconscious 'programming command' says you are sickly, your conscious affirmations of health and vitality may not improve your medical condition. The cells are already busy listening to the subconscious. In effect, their hands are over their little ears and they are whistling while they go about their appointed task of making you sick. Your affirmations sound like quiet little blah blah blahs off in the distance.

I find this to be a rather intriguing explanation for why affirmations don't work for everyone. If the conscious affirmation is in conflict with the subconscious message that got programmed in before age six, the subconscious wins. You might affirm many times a day that you are healthy, but your cells continue to act out the instruction from the subconscious that tells them to be weak like your dad said you were, or to be overweight like your mom was because everyone said you looked just like her.

So the strategy Dr. Lipton suggests to resolve this inner conflict is to reprogram the subconscious with messages that support your conscious intentions. This can be done in a variety of ways, including among others energy work, meridian tapping/EFT, meditation, HeartMath coherence, and various releasing techniques. (Of course I only remember the modalities I am familiar with, but I am sure there are tons more!)

What does this have to do with Emerson's quote? When I look at it through the filter of Lipton's work, it seems to me that it may not be a man's character or essence that he reveals in his opinions of the world. Instead, he may be revealing his subconscious beliefs -- his glasses. And those, as we now know, can be changed.

So a man's opinions of the world, in the end, are basically irrelevant as a yardstick for anyone but himself to use for evaluation purposes. And if he wishes, he can view his opinions as arrows that point to the subconscious programming that is running inside him on autopilot, and make changes there if he chooses.

So here's my tweak to Emerson's quote:

Our opinions of the world reveal our subconscious programming. If we don't like what we see, we can change our perception by installing new messages into our subconscious minds.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

mindfulness doesn't mean what I thought it did

Somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea that it was good to pay attention to my thoughts. I now suspect that was a misunderstanding.

It's recently come to my attention that some problems cannot be solved by thinking them through. And that more often than not, my thoughts are NOT my friends. This is probably not true for everyone, of course. I'm sure that plenty of people have figured out how to use their minds in a more effective way than I have thus far. But it's quite clear to me at this time that I definitely do not need to add any additional fuel to my mental fire by paying more attention to what is going on up there.

I don't need to be more mindful, I need to be more body-full. While my attention is spinning in my head, there's no awareness monitoring the situation below my neck. So I don't notice that I am slouching and can barely catch a full breath. I don't realize that my stomach is contracting painfully because I haven't eaten in many hours. I don't feel that my neck desperately wants to stretch.

So today I started a new experiment: fasting from thoughts. Which means that unless I am actually using my brain for a task, I'm not letting it do any thinking. As soon as I notice I am pursuing something mentally, I gently tell myself to Settle, and immediately place my attention on whichever parts of my body are in contact with the ground, and sink my weight down into them.

I think I logged about a thousand settle utterances before noon. But I am feeling much calmer and clearer already. I ate when I was hungry. I walked slowly enough so that I could feel each step on the bottom of my feet. And I liked it.

I notice this is much easier to do when I am alone, and I imagine it will take a while to maintain it while interacting with others. Which is no problem. I've got the rest of my life to practice.

up, up and away

a dear friend of mine gave me a tremendous gift when he shared his vision of me the other day.

He said I'm like a passenger riding in a hot air balloon. If someone were to ask me where I am going in life, I'd point in whichever direction the wind is blowing at that moment.

If asked again in five minutes, I may shrug and point in a different direction if the wind has shifted. But what remains constant is that I pay close attention to whatever territory I am floating above, and document it in great detail.

I find great comfort in that visual. It feels right on, and it's really awesome to have friends who understand me so deeply. I have no idea where I am going in life, but I feel pretty safe and secure in my little floating basket. I sure do enjoy the scenery most of the time. Writing my travelogue brings me boundless pleasure. I seem to be drawn to document the mental and emotional landscape, at least for now.

And since I never really seem to land, I spose a destination isn't actually all that important anyway.

As I was thinking about this on my morning walk today, I came around a corner, and guess what I saw in the sky?


she didn't buy it

seems like this whole 'it's not about me' concept has hit the mainstream.
check out this fascinating article from the New York Times:

But wait. This isn’t the divorce story you think it is. Neither is it a begging-him-to-stay story. It’s a story about hearing your husband say “I don’t love you anymore” and deciding not to believe him. And what can happen as a result.

twenty responses to unsolicited advice

I created this list to help me deal with comments that I consider to be opinions but the other party considers to be facts. For example, while I am enjoying a cookie, a well meaning friend might announce, "Too much sugar causes diabetes."

I happen to believe that there are multiple causative factors beneath illnesses, including thoughts, beliefs, and expectations. So instead of explaining that I don't believe it's that simple, and trying to launch a discussion about the many potential non-physical root causes of disease, I might try saying something from my list:

I'd be curious to hear about your personal experience with that concept.

Thank you, and I'm gonna change the subject now.

Thank you, and I will give that some thought.

I agree that it may be one of the contributing factors.

I am sure that is indeed one piece of a rather complicated puzzle.

That's probably true in some cases.

Sounds like you are really passionate about nutrition.

I appreciate that you want to share what you learn with me.

I don't know what to say to that.


That's one way to look at it.

Could be.

Well, I tend to have rather unconventional opinions about things like that.

We may need to agree to disagree on that point.

Hopefully you can respect my right to take a different perspective.

That interpretation does not resonate with me, but thanks for sharing it.

Thanks, and if I want to hear more about that, I'll be sure to ask you.

Is this something you want to discuss, or did you just want to let me know your thoughts?

Sounds like you believe sugar is damaging to the body.

Sounds like you take a strong interest in health and nutrition.

If you have some other responses to add to the list, please let me know! It's a work in progress.

hitting a child

I saw something that broke my heart last night. Some friends and I were dining on the patio of a restaurant that overlooked a plaza. A man was pacing around talking on his cell phone, which is nothing unusual, when several of his children came out of a store. One of them, a girl of about 7, blasted through the door with her face twisted in a grimace and emitted a loud wail.

In the blink of an eye, the man flew into a rage. He grabbed the oldest boy, who was about 10, corralled him in a headlock, and started punching him very hard in the shoulder while yelling in a whisper through clenched teeth with so much intensity that his face flared red and his veins popped out. The girl and the other children immediately disappeared back into the store.

After a moment, the man seemed to remember that he was in public, and he released the boy roughly and pushed him away. The boy choked back tears, cradled his shoulder, and took off. I will never forget the look on his face - a terrible mix of shame, violation, and rage.

I was transfixed in horror. The man visually scanned his surroundings to see if he had been witnessed. He began in my direction, and our eyes met.

My dinner companions had not seen the incident, so I did not mention it and rejoined the conversation. This morning, I woke up crying. I am trying to regain my center, and having a hard time.

I know there are innumerable acts of atrocity happening all over the world at any given moment. I also know we are more than these physical bodies, and that I don't have access to any given soul's purpose or plan for its own experience, and that spiritual learning and awareness can come from any situation.

I further believe that my own soul has had many more experiences than those my mind is consciously aware of, whether in other lifetimes, other dimensions, or what have you, and that it's likely I have acted as both abuser and victim many times.

And yet ... when I see a parent hurt a child, my heart aches for them both. That father's reaction was so instantaneous that it seems highly likely that when he was a child, he was a victim of abuse himself. It's also possible that he never learned how to cope with major internal stress, and he has lost all self-control.

Either way, he's simply another link in the chain of pain, passing along a legacy of domination and violation.

For rage of that intensity to be so close to the surface ... well, I can't imagine what it's like to carry that much pain. But I know someone who can imagine it. His 10 year old son.

I'm not sure why I witnessed this event. I spend most of my time working with very high functioning parents who know that it is never never never okay to hit a child. I struggled with it this morning - what is the spiritual gift for me in this? In the heat of the moment, I did some energy balancing on both father and son to clear some of the rage and pain. But since it's still active in my memory, there must be another purpose, too. It's obvious that I need to do some more work on the victim/aggressor dynamic, as I clearly am quite triggered by it.

And then I thought ... well, I am a writer. Maybe I was shown this so I could share it with others. Perhaps there are parents who are still hurting their children, believing that it is for their own good.

Perhaps in reading this bird's eye view of an incident like this, those well intentioned parents may come to understand that when they hit or hurt their children, they are teaching a very different lesson than the one they mean to impart. Children learn what they live. That boy might indeed have hurt his sister inside that store, but who do you think he learned that behavior from?

Violence begets violence. Not remorse. Not future self-restraint. Not morality. And it certainly does not teach children how to handle their feelings, communicate with each other, or work together. Children learn those skills by watching the behavior of those they love, and receiving gentle instruction during quiet and loving moments together.

Please don't hit or spank your children. There many more effective ways to help your children learn appropriate behavior. Physically punishing a child does not teach him a lesson. It only creates feelings of pain, violation, and rage.

If only that father could have seen what I saw on his son's face, maybe he would understand ...

cleaning the lens

this train of thought chugged through my morning shower today:

If I am perceiving anything other than an expression of love or a request for love from anyone, including my own self, then my inner lens needs to be cleaned.

When bugs get smashed on my car's windshield, I know that the remedy is to use my wipers, not to get out of the car and go try to clean the thing I am looking at through the dirty windshield.

the wipers I've been using lately come from the Hawaiian tradition of H'oponopono. There's an article I like that explains it here:

The short version is this:

I internally repeat four simple phrases in sequence until I feel an inner release of tension. I usually experience the release as a melting feeling in the area of my heart.

I love you.
I'm sorry.
Please forgive me.
Thank you.

These phrases are directed at myself, not at the other person.

I usually start melting the instant I tell myself I love you. It puts me right in touch with my little innocent human self, and how hard I am on it sometimes.

I'm sorry is almost always followed by more when I hear it in my head, but it doesn't have to be. I'm sorry for treating myself this way. I'm sorry for forgetting my innocence. I'm sorry for talking to myself that way. I'm sorry for forgetting who I really am, and what I am doing here. I'm sorry for hurting myself with that thought.

Please forgive me and Thank you normally stand alone for me.

So here's how this might go in real life:

Let's say I'm at the store, and someone says Hurry up, you are in my way!

Through a clean windshield, I see someone in a big hurry, and I simply step aside.

Through a dirty windshield, I might see someone who is full of himself and thinks his pace is more important than mine.

so I activate my wipers:

I love you (and it's perfectly fine for me to walk at whatever pace I like right now).
I'm sorry (for the feeling inside me when I got angry at him).
Please forgive me.
Thank you.

If I don't feel better yet, I run it again.

I love you (and there is nothing wrong with me for feeling this way).
I'm sorry (for taking any of this personally).
Please forgive me.
Thank you.

Rarely do I need to run this through more than twice before my happiness is restored. But I will happily do it for as long as it takes to feel good again.

the article I linked to above goes into more detail.
gotta dash ... I have a daughter with a DVD waiting for me downstairs.


I'm back, with a stomach that hurts from laughing so hard at Little Miss Sunshine, to elaborate a bit on the expression/request for love concept. It's rooted in A Course in Miracles (ACIM), which I studied about a decade ago.

The idea, as I recall it, is that verbal and nonverbal communication falls into basically two categories -- affectionate words, compliments, and kindness are expressions of love, whereas insults, complaints, demands, whining, and attacks are simply indirect and unskillful requests for love. When we hear them that way, there's really only one response that feels appropriate -- compassion.

Compassion can show up in many guises. It might be a very loving and gentle NO. It could be that we simply reassure the whiner/complainer that we care about their feelings and their experience (like a well-trained customer service representative who lets you know that your feedback is important, she's sorry for your inconvenience, and she'll do whatever she can to make it right).

Compassion doesn't mean you just lay down and let people walk all over you. It does mean that you don't see them as terrible or evil, but rather as temporarily communicatively impaired. You may choose to remove yourself until they can be more clear, or you may be willing to translate and offer love in response to their request. It doesn't really matter either way. The point is that you don't stew yourself in your own juices while building a case to prove how bad or wrong they are.

I think this quote from expresses it pretty well:

ACIM considers all behavior to be either a call for love, or an extension of love. When we can see the “call for love” under difficult behavior, forgiveness naturally occurs, and we are left in a state of compassion rather that locked into anger, fear, or guilt. It is our compassionate mind than can then make proactive decisions which result in a more positive life.

communication does not equal conversation

I think perhaps many of us have a little bit of a blind spot when it comes to communication these days. Communication is not actually the exact same thing as conversation. Instead, conversation is one of many possible ways to communicate.

Today I overheard a woman saying, "I shouldn't have to make assumptions. He should just tell me how he feels!"

I wanted to interject, but it was none of my business. I imagined handing her a copy of The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate
and saying, But maybe he IS telling you how he feels! What does he say with his eyes, his touch, and his actions? There's more than one way to let someone know you care!

I hear women declaring to each other with righteous conviction: If he doesn't say it, he doesn't care. And of course, sometimes, it's true! But before you release him back into the wild simply because he's not showering you with verbal affection, consider that words may not be his primary mode of expression. If you love him, a little experimentation may salvage the relationship.

I invite every woman who has been Scrabble scoring her man's verbal output (and finding it lacking) to figuratively plug her ears with cotton for a few days, and to rely upon her other senses to receive communication instead.

Smell those ribs cooking on the grill? He put that extra spicy sauce on half of them because you like them better that way.

See his muddy shoes at the door? When he lived alone he would have worn them into the house.

Feel his strong hands massaging your shoulders? He noticed you were tense and wanted to help you feel better.

Why does he do all this? Maybe it's because he cares about you.

I don't mean to diminish the value of words. If they are your primary love language, you'll probably prefer a mate who speaks affectionately to you often.

But some women find that when they open up their other senses, words are not as important as they previously thought. You may discover that there are plenty of other very satisfying ways to express love, affection, and appreciation. Sometimes, once these other channels have opened, words even become pale in comparison...

the dangers of disapproval

Here are some examples of the kind of disapproval I'm talking about today:

I am so disappointed in you.

You could have done better than that.

I expected more from you.

You should know better.

You didn't even try.

What's the matter with you?

How could you?

This might sound radical, but I propose that disapproval does much more harm to the one who issues it than the target.

Why? If we look underneath the urge to express disapproval, we find the intention to shame, harm, or control the target in some way, in the hope that we ourselves will feel better.

At first blush, we may deny this. We may say we are acting out of concern for the well being of the other person. But if we sit with it a while, and really look inside, we may find less altruistic motives underneath this. What have we truly accomplished by "contributing to the well being of others"? We feel worthy, valuable, and helpful. It's all about us. We want to feel like good people. No crime there.

But shaming or manipulating others into doing what makes us feel good is a short term solution at best. Our contentment is doomed to unravel as soon as the other person's autonomy wakes up again.

Using disapproval to control someone else's behavior hurts us. Before we can judge another, those standards and expectations must pass through our own systems, and they leave behind residual standards that we ourselves cannot meet all the time. When we measure ourselves with the same yardstick that we use to measure others, we will inevitably come up short at some point. We are only human, after all. We have bad days and bad moods; our thinking gets muddled up sometimes.

Disapproval also disempowers us by perpetuating the illusion that we can't feel better until something or someone 'out there' changes. It hands control of our inner experience to another, and says "You are responsible for my feelings. I can't feel better until you change." That's a lie. There are lots of ways to feel better that have nothing to do with anyone else.

Plus, disapproval sets up a dynamic of separation from each other. It's fundamentally disconnecting. We must distance someone in order to judge them ... must believe that they are different from us. That kind of separation hurts, every time. Understanding heals. Compassion connects.

Disapproval also steps on our buzz. Can't feel disapproval and joy at the same time. They are on different channels. Personally, I prefer to stay tuned to the fun stuff.

Oh, and did I mention that disapproval doesn't even work? Research has shown that the most effective way to support change is to express understanding of the inner conflict underlying the choice of behavior: You really planned on skipping dessert tonight, but when they brought out that birthday cake, you thought it would be rude to refuse a piece. Or You didn't want to hit your baby brother, but you felt so frustrated that he wasn't listening to your words that you couldn't think of any other way to tell him to back off.

When people feel that their conflicting good intentions are acknowledged in this way, a safe space opens up for them to examine other options. They may ask themselves What can I do differently if that happens again? They may even ask for your help or input. I'll write more about this in another post.

So what's an alternative to expressing disapproval? Accept people as they are, accept circumstances and events as they happen, and then make a choice about how you will relate to them. You may choose to walk away. You may express empathy for their conflicting good intentions. You may communicate your opinion or preference. You may simply love yourself and say nothing.

And realize that unless you can do those things with an open heart, while feeling love and acceptance of both yourself and the other person, it's the equivalent of drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

What if you happen to be the target of someone's disapproval? No big deal. Treat it as information to investigate internally. Am I drinking too much? Was I listening? Am I in someone else's business? Did I eat more than I was hungry for? Do I have trouble saying no?

There are no right or wrong answers. The point is just to use their input to increase your self-awareness. Having done so, you can then interact with the disapproval from a different place -- not defensively, not with a counter attack in which you point out the other person's failings -- but with gratitude. Thanks for sharing your opinion with me! I'll check that out and see what resonates with me. I'm grateful to know more about what is important to you.

Then let it go. No need to let someone else's control issues clutter up your day!

conspiracy exposed

Oh my gosh, how could I have been so stupid?

I fell for all the Law of Attraction hype. I voraciously devoured the plethora of advice about How to Manifest. Yes, there are things and situations I want that I don't have! Sign me up for the program that teaches me how to get them!

Well, heads up, Abraham-Hicks, Louise Hay, The Secret, and other such snake-oil salesmen. I have seen the tiny wizard behind the big curtain, and the gig is up. I know this is all a bait and switch scheme. I've figured out what you are REALLY trying to do with all this manifestational crap. You can't fool me one minute longer.

You don't care whether or not I ever manifest the house, job, car or life of my dreams. You tricked me ... baited me by dangling the fulfillment of my desires in front of me ... told me I could have it all if I just changed my thinking.

But this was never about the future, was it? Huh? Admit it!! You had the bald-faced audacity to actually want me to be happy NOW. But you knew that I wouldn't think that was enough, didn't you? So you went along with me, pretending the future mattered, teaching me how to manifest, telling me to reach for a thought that feels better.

And all the while, you knew that by changing my thoughts in order to attract or create what I wanted in the future, I would become happy in this moment, even before I manifested anything!

It's the crime of the century as far as I'm concerned. The ultimate sleight of hand. While I was busy making a vision board, creatively visualizing, and writing in my Done Book, earnestly imagining how my future would feel, some of that joy seeped into my experience of the present moment. And once that leak started, it wouldn't stop.

See what you have done? Now I am so happy in this moment that I don't even worry about the future any more.

It's brilliant!!!

You were right, by the way. I didn't believe that being fully present and happy in the moment would be enough. It's just too simple, too darn easy.

I really thought there had to be more to it than this. I needed to be tricked out of my delusion that hard work, noble effort, and due diligence were the only way to earn the rewards of satisfaction and joy. And you found the perfect way to do it.

Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.

p.s. several hours later: oooh, check out this abe quote I just stumbled across! nice synchronicity, eh? they say it much better than I did ...

As you set a goal to achieve a new house, or a new body size and a shape, or a new occupation - and you reach that goal - you misunderstand, thinking that the new house or new body or new job was the subject of creation, when all along the subject of creation is your state of being.

In this physical experience you use the format of houses and bodies and jobs to facilitate your state of being - but none of those physical things are the subject of your creation. YOU ARE THE SUBJECT OF YOUR CREATION. YOUR STATE OF BEING, OR THE WAY YOU FEEL, IS THE SUBJECT OF YOUR CREATION.

If you will seek ways to observe your state of being, you will have a clearer understanding of how you are doing in the creation of you. If you will deliberately identify the way you want to feel or be, you will be more effective in achieving that which you came into this body to achieve.

- Abraham-Hicks

what happened ...

well, I took the advice I gave to my friend, and spent four hours in the mountains alone on saturday. It took about three of them for my mind to settle down. Finally, a nap in the sun baked my mind into a lazy stupor, and when I woke up, the truth was waiting for me: It hurts to hold back love.

It was just that simple. In order to force myself to stay away from him, I had been closing my heart in a way that was painful. And it wasn't worth it. (this would not be true in all cases, to be sure. Sometimes relationships are dangerous, toxic, or seriously outgrown, and simply must be left behind. I have experienced breakups that were very heart opening for me. But this wasn't one of them.)

I remembered Abraham's wisdom that our purpose here is joy, and that by seeking relief, and doing what feels good in the present moment, we can give ourselves a break from trying to row upstream in the river of life. And when we stop fighting the current and relax, Love will happily carry us to our well being.

I knew exactly what would feel good in the moment. I ran some quick calculations: What was at risk if I contacted him? The answer was illuminating: only my pride. Which, as it turns out, is a renewable resource, so there really was nothing to lose.

So I called him. And he came.

In hindsight, even though this past five weeks sucked in a lot of ways, I am glad it happened. I gained much more than I lost, including the visceral awareness that I don't NEED him, but I do WANT him, and they are very different things. And that when it comes right down to it, it's my moment by moment decisions that turn my boat upstream or downstream. When I notice that I am exhausted from trying so hard, I must be rowing upstream! All I have to do is drop the oars and the current will turn me around again.

I don't know what the future will bring, and I honestly don't care. I am happy in this moment, once more not holding anything back. And that is more than enough. I am here, now, enjoying the scenery, floating on the current of joy and love. The future doesn't need my assistance. It can take care of itself.

how would I rather feel?

that's my new question. or maybe it's not new, but I just forgot about it for a while?

anyway, I'm taking my self-inquiry deeper than "What do I really want?" because it occurred to me that whatever I want is actually just a means to an end -- I want it because I think having some situation, condition, or circumstance will result in me feeling a certain way. So I'm playing around with cutting out the middleman.

Here's what I found that amazes me about this:

As soon as I've identified how I'd rather feel, I can go there right away, via imagination!

My poor little imagination is sort of withered from disuse. I was a very good student in a traditional school system, which means I was an excellent absorber of other people's knowledge and could regurgitate it on demand. So I'm still recovering! But that's okay. I'm having lots of fun dusting my imagination off and finding out what it can do.

(I just re-read this, and a song in Willy Wonka's voice started playing in my head. I embedded the video below for those like me with bizarre inclinations for musical nostalgia. What a trippy movie this was!)

or has time rewritten every line

Chi Chi Rodriquez (remember him? that cute little golfer dude in plaid pants?) apparently said:

I don't exaggerate. I just remember big.

I'm right there with ya, Chi Chi, except I'm more likely to remember things better than they actually were rather than bigger.

My mind simply does not retain stuff I didn't enjoy. Frankly, it doesn't retain a lot of the stuff I DID enjoy, either. It also seems to convert unpleasant experiences to pleasant ones before it stores them away. That's sort of a fascinating and useful programming feature, in my opinion. Can't relive a terror or be haunted by regret if I don't even remember what happened!

So it makes sense that I don't put much credence in memories. My own, for sure, but also those of others. Memory is frightfully subjective. Same with history, which to me, is just a collection of some people's perspectives that got recorded somehow.

I'm suspicious of stories, too, even first person accounts. Once the moment has passed, they are are simply narratives of a memory. Even just one minute later. Oh heck, even IN that moment, we all selectively screen out a ton of data. Our nervous systems can only process so much. The instant we try to communicate something, we have limited it. It's perfectly natural.

My theory is that memories and stories tell us much more about the personality, beliefs, and outlook of the person who is sharing them than about actual events.

By listening to your stories and memories, I can get clues about what is important to you. Do you tell me how it looked, how it felt, or how it sounded? Do you describe the people or the surroundings? Include information about individuals, relationships or systems? Use the language of feelings or thoughts?

Do you project intentions as if you know the perspective of someone else on the scene, or just report what you have observed from your position?

Lots of info there. And none of it has to do with what actually happened back then. so I guess memory and history are useful to me after all, not as a window to the past, but to contribute to my understanding of the perspective of whoever is sharing them with me.

getting to know you

I don't like that man. I must get to know him better.
- Abraham Lincoln

I normally stick pretty close to home, but over the past several weeks I've taken two trips. One to go camping in Big Bend National Park in Texas, and the other to visit family in Chicago, where I also spent many hours in a nursing home visiting my dear great aunt. I'm sure I interacted with more strangers this month than all the rest of the year combined.

And every one of those strangers has a story. At first, I found myself wondering about these people -- where did he come from? Where was she going?

Did the serious receptionist not return my smile because she was embarrassed about her teeth? Did someone tell her to wipe that smile off her face one too many times as a kid? Was she depressed or overworked or burned out?

Did the laughing toll booth attendant just hear a good joke? Was he genuinely happy to meet and greet each driver that passed through his territory? Was his favorite song playing on the radio?

I heard folks around me inventing stories about others, too. She's trying to get away with something. He's a cranky old man. She never talks to anyone. He doesn't care about anyone but himself.

Such a curiously human thing to do, this story-telling. Isn't it amazing how a simple imaginary context can change our feelings about their behavior? If we attribute malicious intention, we react with anger. If we imagine innocence, we react with compassion. And neither one has any basis in fact!

Ultimately, I decided that if I felt bummed after interacting with someone, it was worth my time and effort to invent a story that helped me feel better. Thinking that she didn't smile at me because her teeth are yellow awakened my compassion. Thinking she must not have liked me would only harden my heart, and leave me carrying a painful burden long after I'd walked away from her desk.

Doesn't really matter what's true, I just search for whatever will awaken my compassion. Since I'm making it all up anyhow, I figure I might as well make up a story that I enjoy listening to.