Will Pumpkin Seeds Grow Roses?

“I am dealing with a bunch of idiots.”

“She doesn’t know how I feel – I would never say what I really think; I would be fired.”

“Don’t worry, I behaved like a gentleman.”

These are the types of comments I hear every day.

It seems there is a widespread misconception that if we just keep our mouth shut, no harm no foul.  Many believe that if nobody sees the conflict between what we think, how we feel and what we say, then we can control how we are perceived by others.

This is impossible!

roses-in-the-office

Rosy Results

As within, so without.  We can’t plant pumpkin seeds and hope to grow roses.  Our thoughts are seeds that are planted in the fertile soil that is the depths of our mind.  As with seeds buried underground, we don’t see thoughts.  These seeds sprout in our speech and bloom in our action.

When we say something we don’t mean, we are expecting the listener to believe that our pumpkin sprout is actually a rose sprout.  It won’t be long until that sprout comes to full bloom and our pumpkin is impossible to pass-off as a rose.

Energy is how we water our garden.  Positive (honest, open, willing, compassionate, optimistic and loving) energy will grow thoughts, words, deeds and results that are beneficial to everyone. Negative (fearful, resentful, jealous, anxious, dishonest, secretive and hateful) energy gives rise to thoughts, words, deeds and results that are destructive to common purpose.

The more energy we give a thought, the harder it is to disguise.  If a thought is not helpful, it is far easier to nip it in the bud at its inception.  If we pull our attention away from it, then we can correctly say, “No harm no foul.” Our other option is to replace the thought.  Dig up the pumpkin seed and put in a seed that is in line with a solution and/or positive outcome.

IDENTIFICATION

I just re-read my post from Monday about the parking lot incident which illustrates identification, the first step toward ‘freedom from the bondage of self.’ Identification is one of my most valuable self-improvement tools. It allows me to assess the effectiveness of a certain behavior and not judge the person exhibiting it. Identification also frees me from chain-of-pain perpetuated by the prison of self-deception. Because I am able to IDentify a characteristic, I recognize it from memories of my past experiences. If I am willing to accept that I have been just as immature and forgive myself for the imperfection, I open the floodgates of compassion and forgiveness toward the person Compassiontempting me to scorn. Miraculously, I feel love for this person who has not yet found this path to inner peace. An overwhelming sense of gratitude follows as a result of realizing that forgiving myself is the key to freedom and peace of mind. How simple is that?

Okay…simple, but not so easy! It is just so tempting to go for the temporary high of ‘righteous’ indignation. Outrage is denial of my own earlier outrageous behavior. The brief exhilaration of feeling ‘better than’ comes from ignorance to the automatic low that must follow from karmic kickback. Why must I feel shame soon after feeling pride? It is because my disgust implies my innocence as if I have never and/or would never do something like that. However, I would not be agitated by this person if I didn’t feel shame about similar behaviors that I won’t admit to myself. Instead, my reaction would be magnanimous and I get a wonderful feeling about myself that lasts. When I tell myself that my agitation is about disapproval of them and not myself, they need to change – not me. While that may seem convenient, it is also very dis-empowering. I am doomed to repeat what I won’t admit. It sets me up for another opportunity to behave shamefully and then another to opportunity to temporarily feel better about myself by shaming someone else, and so on, and so on, and….

Admitting is the act of letting in. I can’t release what I haven’t let in! Conversely, the minute I admit a flaw, I can accept it, forgive myself and move on without carrying it around, walled off buried deep in my psyche like an abscess that causes me to react any time someone touches it. That which I resist will persist. Better to feel the pain of admitting it, so I can let it go. This is like feeling the momentary pain when piercing an abscess so I can feel the relief thereafter instead of guarding and defending it forever. If I could recognize my aggressor’s self-sabotaging animosity as something I have been able to conquer, my response will be gracious. This is far more likely to benefit me and anyone involved or even observing the exchange. Any time I have been able to behave with grace or dignity, it has put an extra spring in my step – not from pride, but from LOVE.

SELF-DELUSION

My niece is an amazing softball player.  She was just in Florida with her team in some series that attracts a significant amount NCAA scouts. Apparently, the competition was fierce. A key player on her team was ejected very early in the series.  Their star pitcher was taunted by an aggressive player on their opponent’s team.  She let emotion get the best of her and retaliated with no regard to consequences.  Her thinly veiled rage was detected, which is why she was charged with intentionally hitting a batter.  This is grounds for dismissal. After this huge misstep, the  team fell apart and they lost in a blow-out.

My son tells me that in soccer, savvy players will scout out the weakest link and make every attempt to break them down emotionally so they will react like a pressure valve and call a foul on themselves. I like that he knows this, which has taught him to understand the impact of giving one’s power away.  He has learned to see right through taunting and use it to his advantage channeling that energy and adrenaline to enhance his own performance.  Unfortunately, my niece’s teammate did not understand that she was falling for one of the oldest tricks in the book.  She stooped even lower than her antagonist.  She hurt her chances with the scouts behaving like a loose cannon in a high stakes environment.  She also hurt her team by depriving them of an important aspect of their strategy – her.

Coincidently, I am friends with the pitcher’s parents.  I promise you, they blamed her dismissal on biased refereeing.  They denied that the hit was intentional and decried the refs for not intervening to punish the taunting that led up to it.  This is a girl who has won prestige for her community service and  respect for activism at church.  The parents are anti-bad behavior!  It was very clear to me that their love of righteousness only worked one way…. for them.  When someone else acts out – they are sinning.  When one of theirs acts out, it is because they have been pushed to it by victimization.  Then I pointed out their self-deluded sweet-spot to my sister in some good old-fashioned gossipy back-stabbing.  This is when my alarms starting blaring!The-Two-Way-Mirror-of-Character-in-Relationships

Here I was, the teacher of the mirror philosophy, pointing out a hypocrite as if the very act of doing so wasn’t utterly hypocritical!  I had to stop to accept and  forgive my self-delusion so I wouldn’t be swallowed by my shame and begin trying to rationalize or justify my behavior.  Rather, I admitted it to my sister and explained all the various ways I have done what she did and how easy it is to fall into her parents’ trap… as I had so clearly just demonstrated.  My God, this stuff is insidious   Everything I spot – there I am!!  This is why I affirm quite often that I intend to see and assume the best in all encounters and situations.  As I always say, I am  a work in progress that looks like two steps forward and one step back, two steps forward…..

He assumed the worst

Assuming the best in the face of evidence to the contrary takes practice.  The other day I drove my son and his friends back from the team lunch to their second game of a  soccer tournament at Columbia University in NYC. There was a line to get back on campus because there were no parking spaces left.  We figured that would happen, which is why we all carpooled to lunch and back. The boys needed to collect their gear from various locations where their parents had parked on the campus and get to their next game.  I charmed the guard into letting me drive on campus to do just that, promising I would return and park on the street immediately after I dropped them off.  In the meantime, some father came up to my window all out of breath as I dropped them off. He began to berate me for hijacking a parking spot from people who had waited patiently on a line. He had clearly assumed the worst.  I looked at him from inside my car.  He looked like he was going to have a heart attack – either from chasing me around the campus in sub-zero weather or unnecessary, self-induced high blood pressure from self-righteous anger.  It all seemed so unnecessary. I asked him why he thought I was planning to park.  assuming the worstHe responded, “Well, I just assumed.”  He did what most of us would do.  He assumed the worst.  When he learned that I had no intention of parking, shame prevented him from apologizing.  He just walked away in a huff.

I’m never happy about being in one of these exchanges because I know that nothing exists without a cause.  Before I got on my high horse and ride around town feeling better than him, I had to stop to figure out when I had jumped all over someone this way either in thought or in speaking .  He was a mirror.  Knowing that I didn’t want to go too many rounds on this vicious circle, I decided to assume the best giving him the benefit of the doubt. I sent him a silent blessing and moved on.  I am grateful for the opportunity to see how our perspective skews our vision.  I intend to catch myself before I do this to people knowing that like everything else in life, this process of self-improvement will unfold for me with two steps forward and on backward, then two steps forward and…

Mental Gym

Suggested Workout

Assume the Best

  • Begin by taking a brief snapshot of your life at the moment.  
  • For the next 7  days assume the best in everything and everyone.
  • Notice how often you feel a temptation to assume the worst.
  • Keep track of each time you intentionally changed your attitude.
  • At the end of seven days, pause and review your week. Has anything shifted?
  • Re-up for another 7 days.

When practiced in earnest, you will notice that your outlook changes when you change your outlook.  

If you can’t imagine a favorable interpretation, simply decide that what seems like a  snag is either an opportunity in disguise or a blessing that has protected you from harm.  Remain alert to the opportunity.  Examples of  assuming the best when we might usually assume the worst:

  • Someone cuts you off on the road and you assume they didn’t see you or they had an emergency so you send them a silent blessing instead of a curse.
  • You miss your flight and assume that  there is a good reason for the delay.  Grateful for the ‘found free time,’ you seize the opportunity to catch on reading, journaling, writing, etc.
  • You don’t get the job you were hoping for and assume that something better is right around the corner.
  • You get such a bad cold that you don’t get out of bed all day and assume that your body knows that if it doesn’t slow you down, you could harm yourself.  So you take the day to rest, watch old movies, read magazines and just relax.
  • Your children are misbehaving and you assume that they are releasing tension from the day in a safe environment where they are not rejected or judged.  You are so grateful that you know how they tell you about their stress and can help them through  times when they want to act out instead of feeling our feelings or because we don’t know what to do about our frustration.
  • You were left out of a social event and assume it was an oversight and that you would have been in a compromising position by someone at the event or something wonderful will happen as a result of the oversight.

It is easiest to think about adopting this attitude “just for today.”  Sometimes I break it down even more.  In very challenging times, I have broken it down to hours and even minutes.  I can tell myself (and believe) that at this time I am okay.  I appreciate the fact that this thing that wants to cause me fear has not yet come to pass.  I can take that perception of ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’ and turn it around one minute at a time.  My friend, Walter, once told me, “I can swap my sense of impending doom for a sense of impending wellness.”  I love that!

I can choose to swap a sense of impending doom for a sense of impending wellness.  What to I have to lose?    

 

Hold the Vision

One of my clients has a daughter who serves as a barometer for his well-being.

He came to me for guidance handling the emotional stress of divorce, being a single dad and new fiscal challenges.  He was high on a potent cocktail of resentment and fear.   When we met, he was stuck in a chain of pain that seemed as if it was manifest in his daughter. His relationship with his daughter has made my job very easy!  She was like my Cliff Notes.  Once he described what was ‘wrong’ with her, I knew how to help him arrive at his solution.  Like clockwork, when his daughter acted out, he reacted  impulsively with feelings of anger and even rage.  Then he felt engulfed by remorse for his behavior.  He told me how much he loved his daughter and didn’t want to hurt her, but….. he was just so afraid that she would end up like her mother!  Having heard about some of his former wife’s antics, I certainly understood why he hoped for something different for his daughter.  I also clearly saw why some of his daughter’s behavior would remind him of her mother and trigger his fear.  Luckily, it was easy for him to see that saying things like, “You’re just like your mother!” would not help his daughter to blossom into a woman of substance, especially since she was aware of his disdain for her mother.  But nothing was working.  He could not issue enough consequences or express enough disapproval or launch enough warning flares to get her to change.  Thank goodness.

Because of his failure to effect a change in his daughter after having exhausted every option he could imagine, by the time he came to me, he was teachable.  I explained to him H.O.W. I surmised in less than 3 minutes that he that he will have the relationship of his dreams with his daughter.  From the moment we first spoke, he was Honest, Open and Willing.  If one of those components was missing he would have had to cycle back through his pain-driven chain-reactions until he was ready to  let go.

H.O.W. can you spot a winner? They are Honest, Open and Willing.  Denial is a valuable tool of the human psyche.  It protects us when we could be overwhelmed by circumstances.  However, it will also destroy us if we are not willing to face it when it is no longer serving us.  How will you know if you are stuck in denial?  You will get repeated unpleasant feedback from your environment.  This is our inner guidance system at work letting us know it is time for another growth spurt.  Getting honest with ourselves and others allows us to change for the better…evolve.  However, honesty alone is not enough.  Openness to new ways of thinking and acting is a need for intentional change.  I like the expression, “My best thinking got me here.”   Until you are open to see that your way of processing events is no longer working for you, you will keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results.  Lastly, winners are willing to change.  They don’t feel like a failure when their way didn’t work.  They are excited to find and try a different way of thinking or acting that will give them what they want.  You will know they are willing by their actions.  There is no other way to show willingness.  Period.

Coming to me, who another one of my clients calls her tormentor,  as you process another of life’s growth opportunities, is almost a guarantee that you know H.O.W. it works!  I say that in humility and with a big smile on my face because I know that just showing up to hear me say, “You are the problem'” is an act of willingness!   Someone once told me that he hated me for more than a year because I wrote on a 3×5 card “I AM THE PROBLEM,” and told him to tape it to his mirror.  But, he never forgot it.  And, he knew that my motives were pure and helpful.  So, gradually he became open to try to understand what I meant.  That is when he realized that if he is the problem, then he is also the solution!.  Oprah calls that an “Aha moment.”  In the case of my client with the daughter issues, when he understood his role in real-izing her ‘flaws,’  his behavior changed immediately.   I showed him how to define the exact nature of his objections.  Once he identified the problem in her, I directed him within asking, “How is this a mirror of you?”  He began to notice that if he didn’t  do what was necessary to take care of himself with loving compassion, his daughter would show risky behavior.  If he was too hard on himself, she may have a cutting relapse.  If he was being judgmental or resentful, she would judge him, resent his ‘flaws,’ and ignore him for weeks.

Realizing that she is a reflection of his spiritual fitness, he  began to change his behavior with her and made great changes with his internal dialogue. Of course he had his moments of  ‘two-steps forward and one step backward,’ but that is life.  No one ever gets through life without what they perceive as a misstep.  When we are honest about the events that came before a little slip backwards, we prevent a mindless slide back into that powerless chain of pain.  Honesty allows us to correct course. Every so-called step backwards can serve as the catalyst to move us even further forward…. if we don’t stare at it and blow it out of proportion.

Meditation is a microcosm of life – as well access to pure awareness of the Source of life.  In a meditative retreat our awareness of the stimulus of life slips  to the silence of pure Source awareness.  We come out of  silent Source awareness feeling refreshed and ready for anything.  The brief retreats in life that we call setbacks, give us the fuel or motivation for forward motion.  The ancients liken it to an archer pulling back on his bow with the arrow.  That retreat gives the arrow all the dynamism for its flight.  Lamenting losses , missteps, etc. is like trying to shoot an arrow without the tension of backwards motion.

Demonstrating great skill with one of my favorite tools, the mirror of life and relationship, my client began to see major changes in his relationship with his daughter.  In time, he actually saw major changes in her.  He began to notice that the connection between his attitude and his experiences ran deep indeed.  When he assumed responsibility and gained response-ability for his experiences, he stopped all blame. When  his daughter dented their expensive car, he conveyed his relief and gratitude that his priceless daughter wasn’t damaged.  In the past she may not have been hurt in the car accident but the invisible damage her father would have caused by overreacting would have affected her indefinitely.  Instead, he gave her a huge hug and helped her come up with a plan to pay for the damages  – resisting his impulse to take care of everything himself.  He gave her the ability to assume responsibility for the events of her life!  The pain in her pocketbook was a small price to pay for the empowerment she received by her father’s respect. His compassionate, tempered response felt like trust to his daughter, which is quite different from approval for doing  the ‘right’ way  or being ‘good enough.’

That wasn’t the last time she did something that would have made his head spin in the past.  In fact, a few events followed that I am not sure I would have been able to handle without a lot of  fear and some regrettable behavior.  But, he held the vision. He used Joel Osteen’s trick:  When someone we love misbehaves, instead of  highlighting or inflaming the situation by rehashing and shaming, simply accept what happened and then silently say, “Subject to change!”  Then quickly get back to your vision of this person at their best.  Refuse to dwell anywhere else.  This loving dad did just that in the face of some very trying situations. I remember being in awe of his growth and humbled by his devotion.   Before I could catch my breath he began regaling me with the most joyous stories of her transformation.  Because of his unconditional love and acceptance, she began to feel worthy.  She started to take better care of herself.  She acted with poise and dignity.  She was beginning to impress and humble him as he had done with me.  I have the greatest job I can imagine!