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!