Humility results when we tell the truth about ourselves.
Humiliation results when others tell the truth about us.
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 tempting 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.
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!
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…..
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. He 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…
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:
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?
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!
I want to show you how you can end stress associated with control issues. Actually, that’s redundant! Isn’t all stress caused by feeling powerless to guarantee a desired result?
One of the most important principles underlying everything I say and do and teach is: Life is Lived From the Inside→Out. There are many potent principles associated with this Truth. One of the more challenging and equally rewarding to use is: Thoughts Are More Powerful Than Words or Things. This principle is challenging because it rarely produces instant gratification and we can’t prove cause and effect at this level. And yet, if you pay attention, you will know that all the events of your life, began at the invisible level of thought. Awareness is key. If you are not paying attention you will miss it and dismiss the most effective way to create the life of your dreams. When we understand that our inner world creates our outer world, we know that trying to control people, places or things to get what we want is an option on par with rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The formula is simple:
Many years ago, one of my best friends betrayed me. I was divorcing my husband at the time. I felt like I had been abandoned, unappreciated, unloved and alone when I couldn’t save my marriage. I was so afraid, depleted and depressed. This was one of the darkest periods in my life. To make matters worse, I discovered that friends and relatives don’t like when you upset the apple cart. At least, back then in my little world, divorce came with stigma attached. My friends weren’t happy that I became a single mom and my relatives were not too thrilled with the idea of a ‘failure’ in the genealogy.
One of my go-to ‘peeps’ was so disturbed by my decision, that she set out to destroy my reputation. My situation at the time was rife with highly effective circumstantial evidence that could be used to ‘frame’ me. I was the unwitting starlet of my soap opera. I faced accusation and rejection from people I loved at a time when I needed them most. Luckily, I already had a bit of an awakening having read Deepak Chopra’s book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and James Allen’s classic, As a Man Thinketh.
We reap what we sow in thought word and deed. This is inescapable.
This meant that I was enduring that particular undesirable ‘harvest’ because of seeds I must have sown in the past. If I wanted a different harvest, I would have to plant new seeds. I would have to change something. In this case, I first had to figure out what seeds I had planted – because I had no idea what I did to get those results. It seemed so obvious to me that she was the problem and I was the victim! How could I ever find a way to take responsibility for this cruelty? Then it occurred to me. My life had a very strong theme running through it. From the day my father died when I was a young girl, I developed an increasingly powerful victim lens through which I perceived seemingly unprovoked unwanted circumstances.
I needed to reframe my perception or I would keep real-izing these types of scenarios. I remember feeling so grateful that I had figured out why I often found myself saying, “Why me?” The warm and cozy blanket of denial known as self-pity is particularly challenging to remove. It feels so good to blame others because it gives a brief ego-driven high of righteousness and… quite conveniently, if you are at fault, I don’t have to change. You do! Unfortunately, blaming others also means my happiness is dependent upon other people or scenarios beyond my control. Why would I choose this feeble strategy? Fortunately, by assuming responsibility for all the circumstances of my life, I give myself response-ability. I can respond to an affront, insult, set-back, etc. in a way that will diffuse any negative energy associated with me and begin to build a new momentum in the direction of my choosing.
Awareness of my thoughts, feelings & emotions and the consequences of owning or validating them, gives me the power to choose the next chapter of my life. Conversely, if I am not paying attention to the activity between my ears(positive or negative), I give up my freedom to choose whether what comes next is beneficial or harmful to me.
In the case of my friend, every time a realized I was obsessing, or got a strong feeling of self-pity or resentment, I stopped what I was doing so I could address the situation, because I knew it would be a runaway train in no time. I used to take a moment or longer to bless her and forgive her. Pausing for a minute helped me to remember that what she thought she was doing to me, she was actually doing to herself. She could only harm me if I ‘ate the poison’ by reacting to it, thereby tacitly agreeing with the charges. In pausing, I could also reflect on the thoughts that came before the gripping sensation associated with my earlier negativity. Once I identified what tapes were playing in my mind, I would replace them with new ones that made me feel better, stronger, wiser, happier, positive, etc. I could access compassion for her because I knew that what we ‘send out’ comes back multiplied. I knew that she had no idea of the havoc that her behavior would wreak on her life later… or she wouldn’t do it! Meanwhile,I knew I was fortunate because I could choose to return unkindness with love knowing that I will be so happy when that love comes back to me exponentially.
I was vigilant about harboring no ill will. However, I did not seek her friendship either. That would have been an act of cruelty toward myself that would also bring an undesired harvest. In less than a year, it was time for her to reap the harvest of the seeds she planted with me. Misfortune she never could have imagined caused her much shame and threatened her good name and reputation. She found herself in a very compromised situation suddenly overwhelmed by new responsibilities thrust upon her. Without batting an eyelash, I assumed as much of her load as I was suited to handle. Her young daughter spent the better part of a year with me going home at night just to sleep. I did whatever else I could do. The past never occurred to me. This is why thoughts are more powerful than words or deeds. My response to her suffering that resulted in a beautiful win-win for all parties, was only possible with a pure heart. If I had continued to have a grudge, I could have felt vindicated. I may have enjoyed some twisted sense of satisfaction that ‘she got what was coming to her.’ I promise you, this would have caused subconscious self-loathing and an unintended negative spiral that I would not believe I deserved!
Instead,after a couple of years, my decision to force myself to feel compassion instead of resentment (even when I didn’t mean it at first) reaped a harvest that continues to feed my soul today. I have in her, a most loyal friend. We have trustworthy friendship based on respect, personal responsibility and generosity of spirit. Perhaps even more importantly, I gained so much self-respect by honoring the Golden Rule. Gold it is!