The Love Seat




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“The Love Seat” is public spiritual practice as performance art.   I am seated on an inflatable love seat and I invite people to join me and rest in my arms to be held, nurtured and healed by the power of unconditional love.

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Dealing with fear and feeling like a failure



©istockphoto/DNY39

©istockphoto/DNY39

Fear is such a formidable foe and self-doubt can be a lethal assassin.   You may – or may not – have noticed that you hadn’t heard from me for a while.  When I look back on the past six months, fear has played far too great a role in my life.  Fear caused me to remain stuck in a situation that wasn’t supportive to me for too long.  I got paralyzed in the uncertainty of how to find my way out of the maze I found myself in.   Then self-doubt began to creep in and I ended up so afraid of making the wrong decision that I became unable to move forward at all for a while.  I probably would still be there if finally, a tsunami of fear about what was imminently going to occur if I didn’t do something propelled me out of my inertia and back into motion.

Then some stuff happened, some of which really sucked.  I collided with some consequences that could have been avoided, had I not been imbibing a fatal cocktail of three parts denial and one part positive thinking. I still would have been ok if it were not for the chaser of some really random bad luck, heartbreak, a health crisis and someone saying something to other people that they were asked not to.   Cue train wreck.  And people I care about having opinions about said train wreck which led me to feel really, really bad about myself, as if I needed their help at that point.

The need to get it right, this adventure  called life, can lead us to all kinds of craziness in the pursuit of the myth that there is one perfect way to do it and if you can figure that out, you will have the secret talisman that will protect you from all failure, heartbreak and danger.

That inner voice that berates me for what I should or shouldn’t have done, that tells me I should have known better, done better, been better is so familiar and so ingrained that it’s actually quite a challenge to even get to the place of considering it a choice.     But the advantage of falling apart, is that sitting in the ruins of one’s old life, there is ample opportunity to look at each brick and figure out how it serves me and if I want to rebuild with it or not.  And I have decided that this way of dealing with things isn’t how I want to do it anymore.

This week I was at a Quaker style memorial service and a man spoke about wanting to be part of a community of people who makes mistakes really well and I found that a very inspiring idea.    The idea is to be able to accept and acknowledge that mistakes are a normal, natural part of our journey and to be able to make them and recover from them with grace and gentleness towards ourselves and others.   What an amazing concept.

So how to apply this idea? Let’s be purely pragmatic for a second;  If your immediate goal is to suck less at some aspect of your life, to get different results you are going to need to do some things differently.   This is going to require a degree of change in behavior on your part.   Changing behavioral patterns requires motivation and a degree of persistence,  Shame and blame are not recommended as tools of leadership and motivation for a reason – people don’t respond well to them.  People who are freaked out and feeling kind of shitty about how things are going respond even less well.  People who are at the end of their resources… well, you get the idea.

Survival is the preserve of the Reptilian brain – or, as my very wise and clever friend Dave Asprey calls it, your Labrador brain.   I like the labrador analogy for your subconscious a lot.  Imagine if you will, the cutest, fluffiest, most adorable Labrador puppy in the world.   You want this puppy to get from A to B.  Puppy, for various reasons which might include being majorly distracted by something along the way, or that it hasn’t learned how to do this yet, goes on an extreme detour and rolls in something yucky, and sticky, very, very sticky.   So sticky, it’s little paws get stuck and it gets frightened and maybe even makes a little whimper.

You, being your conscious mind in this analogy, now storm in there and scream your scary grown-up head off, telling puppy all about how stupid it is, what a failure it is, what a mess it’s made, how it should have known better, how you don’t think much of it’s choices, asking it if it  didn’t think before it got itself in this mess.

What is the end result?  Puppy any nearer to B?  Nope.   Puppy got any clue how to get unstuck and get itself to B?  No. Puppy learned anything that it is going to help it avoid this situation in the future?  Don’t think so.  You wouldn’t do this to a puppy, so why do you do it to yourself and why do you let other people do it to you?

What I am beginning to see is that a better approach is to gently remind yourself that your life is a work in progress. Arming yourself with a sense of curiosity and permission to make mistakes along the way will allow you to explore and learn what works and what doesn’t.  You are learning, you don’t need to beat yourself up so much along the way for not having been omniscient.   What you need is for both you and other people you listen to, to acknowledge that pointing out the ways in which you or your life sucks right now is both redundant and just magnifies the problem.       In moments of weakness and failure, it is being reminded of our capabilities not our ineptitude that will enable us to get things back on track.

I want to be part of a community of people who make mistakes really well, will you join me?

 

The rollercoaster of unhealthy relationships



©istockphoto/Pogonici

©istockphoto/Pogonici

There is no aspect of life more ripe with opportunities to grow than our relationships.  It also seems to be perhaps the most difficult and often painful way to learn.   Sometimes, I get the distinct impression that I may have been a little over confident when I signed up for what I wanted to achieve this lifetime.

I can see it now,  back in the place it all began, way before I was born. A fluffy, nebulous space of brilliant, white light.   There I am, in my shiny soul nakedness, just brimming with enthusiasm about my coming incarnation,  having a chat with God about what I might like to learn this time around.

***

 

” I’m so stoked about this lifetime, God.  I’m totally inspired and excited.   This is my time, I can just feel it.   This is gonna be my last time around. I just know it”

“There’s no reason to rush dear.   You have all the time in the world to complete the syllabus.  Besides, this is infinity,  you don’t get extra credit for finishing ahead of time” God chuckles, being particularly partial to a pun.

“No really, God.  I’ve been over the last one, I see exactly where I went wrong – I know I’m ready. You know, you really had me with that parenting thing.  You really got me going.  I just have to tell you, that is the most brilliant way to teach unconditional love, I don’t know how you come up with this stuff.”

“Oh, well you know… I’ve had a bit of practice, and of course the omniscience thing is handy, “  God murmurs, with customary modesty  “Anyway, back to you. Have you had a think about what you might like to try this time?  I thought you might like to give Life Purpose 101 a go”  He suggests gently.

“Life Purpose?  No way God, I want you to really challenge me this time.   I want to do Relationships again, but this time, take off the training wheels, I’m going for Gold!”

” Ahh, hmm, I see.”  God pauses, for quite a long time, until squirming, I interrupt the silence

“God, I know what you’re thinking..” God raises an eyebrow

“Well, erm, no obviously not” I respond a little sheepishly “The thing is God, I just wanted to say that whilst it may have looked like a bit of train wreck from your perspective, especially towards the end of  my marriage, I feel I grew so much and I have given it a lot of thought and… well,  I just know I am not going to make the same mistakes again”

God tactfully says nothing and look into the middle distance.   In retrospect, I can see he was probably mulling over the free will issue and how difficult it is to uphold when you really just want to steer your creations away from the impending cliff edge of their own self-destruction.

“Trust me on this, God.  I’m ready.  Don’t hold anything back,  I want you to give me your best shot.”

“As you wish, my child, as you wish.”

***

And here I am.   Stumbling clumsily between the ego: “why is this happening to me?” and highest self: “what am I being shown here?”.   Some days, some years, some relationships it feels like the time I misguidedly imagined I could become some other version of me who isn’t terrified of rollercoasters and got on Space Mountain at Disney.

I’m holding my breath, clenching my teeth and hanging on for dear life.  All I can do is try to remember that this crazy rollercoaster ride through the darkness only feels like it is going to be fatal.  That it’s going to end and I’ll be back in the light pretty soon.  In the light is where I feel like  I’m finally getting it.   I can see where my patterns are, painful as it is to really see them.    But it is in becoming conscious that we can finally choose a different behaviour and that’s when we get to choose to stop the ride and get off.

A prayer or intention for the rollercoaster of unhealthy relationships 

Dear God, (or Goddess, Universe, Highest Self…whatever works for you)

Please heal the part of me that permits and accepts unhealthy relationships.

Teach me to protect my inner child from people who hurt her/him, even unintentionally.

Show me that forgiveness doesn’t mean staying connected at the expense of my well-being.

Remind me that it’s not my job to try to heal or change other people but simply to learn the lessons I am being shown.

Help me surrender, to trust and let go.

Amen (or So Be it, Thank you, Om Shanti)

4 secrets to goal-setting success



©istockphoto/otosipsak

One week into January and for the vast majority of people, the New Year’s resolutions they made with such good intentions have already bitten the dust.

Lack of will power is only part of the problem, your resolutions may be doomed from the start because the way they have been created is a set up for failure.

Whether or not you are in to the whole resolutions thing, new year always seems like a good time to set goals, so here are a few tips to help you come up with some you can actually achieve this year. 

1) Getting down to business

Let’s start by taking a look at how you can apply some of the best practice from the professional world to your personal goals.   In the business world, people often talk about setting SMART goals.  This may sound familiar if you have ever worked at the kind of job where they do annual reviews.

The acronym SMART most commonly stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.     But this is not the only definition. Others I have come across include “Significant, Meaningful, Agreed Upon and Rewarding and Tangible”  and “Stretching, Motivating, Action-Oriented, Relevant and Trackable”.    You can choose either or combine terms from all three to come up with the set that feels right for you.   What you now have is a tool to test your goals.   Every goal you set should be able to meet these criteria.

Specific and Measurable

Saying you want to get fit is way too vague.   Make the goal very specific and measurable so that you know how long you have to meet it and can say, in an objectively observable way, how you will know you have met it.   For example, if your goal is to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle, you could revise it by substituting one or all of these types of goals.

  • By March 31st, I will lose four inches from my hips
  • In six months time, I will be able to run 5k without stopping
  • I will go to the gym at least once a week, at least three weeks each month.

Attainable and Realistic 

One of the most common reasons that resolutions fail so early and so often is that people set unrealistic goals for themselves.   Placing the bar too high is a sure-fire way to set your-self up for an early failure.    By way of example, let’s say that your New Year’s resolution was to give up smoking and that you made it through January second without a cigarette.   Woo Hoo! Then on January 3rd, life throws you one of its crappier curve-balls:  You get some bad news or break up with your girlfriend and in a moment of weakness, you console yourself with a smoke or three.

“Aha!”  Says your self-sabotaging inner critic seizing on the opportunity to kick you when you are down.   “I knew you’d never be able to quit!” he sneers,  “So much for your resolution.  Well, at least that’s over and you can go back to smoking with confidence now.”

Game over, till next New Year’s Eve.   But what if, on the other hand, your resolution had been less black and white.    Say it was to reduce the number of cigarettes smoked by at least 50% in the first month.  Looking at the very same experience, you would have reflected that you had gone cold-turkey for the first 48 hours, fallen off the wagon but been able to get back on again on the 4th, feeling pretty awesome that you had already exceeded your goal.  See what a difference perspective and the way you set up your goals can make?

Timely, Tangible and Trackable

By breaking down the big goal into smaller more easily attainable baby-steps, you build in an early taste of success that will keep the motivation flowing.  Make them as small as you need to, to be certain you can get yourself off to a winning start.  If the idea of quitting smoking seems improbable to impossible, chunk it down.     Can you go a week without smoking?  Then start there.  If you know a week is going to be a struggle, perhaps one day is a better first step.

2) Utilize positive thinking to overcome resistance

Another common failing with New Year’s Resolutions is that they fail to address the complex psychology involved.   Our bad habits are rarely rational. Telling ourselves that smoking or over-eating is not good for us is not usually that helpful.    Telling ourselves that we ought to get fit and exercise is not powerfully motivating.   Throw out the resolutions that included any hint of Should or Ought or those that have a foundation in Shame, guilt or self-criticism.  These are not smart ways to motivate yourself.

Think instead about how you want to feel once the goal is achieved.  Focus on the positives of the desired outcome.    For example, many brides are able to diet successfully for the first time prior to their wedding because they are focused on how they want to feel good about themselves on their wedding day.   Spending all the Saturdays in Spring in your basement is probably not an appealing thought, but imagining the sense of satisfaction once you have got rid of all that clutter, gives you a powerful reason to start organizing. (And I have to tell you, I feel AWESOME about all the organizing, throwing away, donating and selling I have been doing for the last couple of months).

3) Take Baby-steps 

Making and breaking Resolutions can be an emotional minefield.  You can create a very useful map of what lies ahead if you pay attention to your emotions, particularly in terms of your resistance and what motivates you.  What are the perceived and real risks and benefits of any change you are seeking to make?    One of the common obstacles to both quitting smoking and losing weight is the powerful resistance that comes in the form of not wanting to experience a sense of deprivation.    Imagining a life-time of having given up or going without something that may be pleasurable can trigger your inner teenager to throw a toddler worthy tantrum.

A nifty trick in this instance, is to renegotiate the action ahead to a level that is way less threatening to the part of you that doesn’t want to change.   Back to the smoking example, when temptation arises or a craving hits, you can take some of the internal pressure off immediately by reframing the commitment as a choice.    Instead of dealing with whatever comes up when you think about never smoking again – try telling yourself that you are choosing to get through the next fifteen minutes, five minutes or even 60 seconds without having a cigarette.   And at the end of that period, you are going to choose again.

4) Understand what motivates you 

Perhaps the biggest key to success is to figuring out what really motivates you. Perhaps it’s accountability, in which case, you might want to join a group or make your goals public on Facebook or amongst some other people that it would be painful to disappoint.  Add some incentive to accountability and you have the “Biggest Loser”.   I had been trying to lose ten pounds for the longest time but when my workplace put on a Biggest Loser competition and I found out the first prize was over $500, I became more motivated than ever before, lost 15 pounds, and have kept it off for three years.  If you are more into carrots than sticks, what rewards can you promise yourself for goals you achieve?  Perhaps it will be a vacation at the end of the year with money saved?   Perhaps it’s a series of little gifts or treats? A mani-pedi each month that you have met the goals?

Reverse Psychology

At the other end of things, you can use losing money as a motivator.   Perhaps you will set up something like a Swear Jar and pop in $5 every time you curse.     If you really want to raise the stakes, one of the most powerful motivators I have come across is to think of an organization, cause or political party that is most opposed to your views, the more dramatic the better.    This reverse psychology has been researched and found extremely effective, so it might be worth a try if all else fails.

Think of something that would make you absolutely cringe to have your name associated with and then write out a check for a significant amount of money addressed to it or them.   If you can’t come up with a cause, you might be able to think of a person, whom it would really pain you to pay out to.  Once you have written the check you need to get it out of your hands and into safe-keeping with a trusted friend or colleague.    You can even ask me to be that person for you.   Just bear in mind it needs to be someone you can rely on to stand firm no matter how much you might try and persuade them you have changed your mind.   Meet your goal and they tear up the check.   Bail and into the mail it goes.  If you like to do this type of thing more publicly, I just discovered that there is even a website that can do all this for you called Stickk.

Yes, you can

So remember, it doesn’t have to be January 1st for you to set a resolution.  If you are still on track, I hope these tips will help you to keep up the good work.

If things haven’t gone as planned, take heart.   Dust yourself off and and get back up on that horse by reviewing, renewing or redoing your resolutions, setting SMART goals instead and make this the year that counts.   Keep me posted on your progress.

It’s not about the stuff – how organizing can heal your soul



I have become quite entranced by the power of organizing this year and I am recommending it to several of my clients and many of my friends. I have been waxing lyrical about discovering the almost magical healing properties of this seemingly mundane activity. Ironically, given that it is all about the physical detritus we accumulate over a lifetime, I have found that organizing is, in fact, very good for the soul.

    Want to know the biggest secret about organizing? It’s not about the stuff

To say organizing is about the stuff is to say that kissing is about moving your mouth around next to someone else’s. Which is to say that the sum of the whole is far greater than the parts. It’s a process, people and within this process there are many profound revelations and hidden benefits to be had.

To begin with, it’s an eye-opening indicator about just how much attention (or not) we have been paying to what surrounds us. Some people say that the state of your surroundings is a direct reflection of your state of mind and I have to say, that for me at least, there is a lot of truth to that. To begin with is the fact that the times I start to get messy coincide with the times I am feeling overly stressed or rushed. Of course, this easily becomes a vicious cycle if you find it stressful to be in disorderly surroundings.

I happen to think there may actually be some scientific merit to the idea that de-cluttering reduces stress, if only because it must take more energy to be in a cluttered room because each time our eyes survey it, our optic nerves and brain have to fire off so many more times to relay the information about all the stuff they are seeing.

So there’s something to be gained from the end result but what I haven’t heard so much about, is the healing that can happen along the way. Having recently gone through all of my possessions, I looked at, touched and made a conscious decision about the value and benefit of keeping each thing. In my case, needing to decide whether each thing is worth the cost of either storing or shipping pushed the stakes quite a bit higher.

What was astounding to me, given that I have moved a fair bit and most recently within two years, was the embarrassing amount of stuff that I really didn’t even know I had in my possession. I wish I had kept count of the astonishing number of trash sacks of stuff that got thrown away, not to mention all the things that were donated or sold. And at the end of all that, I still look at what I ended up with and feel that there is more to be let go.

Looking at mementoes from the past can be bitter-sweet. Reading love letters from someone who no longer shows us that they love us – for whatever reason – brings grief as we remember and re-experience joys and love lost and feel the pain of its absence.

Organizing gives us the opportunity to come face-to-face with a literal manifestation of how much emotional baggage we are carrying around.

The letting go was at times incredibly painful but when you stop to really think about it, totally irrational. Why do we get so attached to things? Of course, what we are really attached to is the meaning we ascribe to that thing, for a really good explanation of this, check out what my friend Jon has to say about Essentialism here.

What I came to realize was that the reason it was so hard to let go of certain things was because I greatly valued the meaning that I had attached to them. I realized that my reluctance had to do with feeling like I was letting go of experiences and emotions I wish were part of my present.   So I understood that it hurt because it was very important to me to be able to remind myself or perhaps even to prove to myself that at this time I felt loved, at that time I felt happy or successful, or creative or whatever that emotion was that I want to be able to hold on to.

One of the most difficult parts of the experience was realizing that I needed to acknowledge that not only certain relationships were over, but also that certain phases of my life are over. That there are roles I wish I were playing in my life and other people’s lives that simply don’t fit or exist anymore. I realized I had been holding on to the props required for the movie set of the life I wished I was living.

Letting go of the things shattered my denial and resistance to being fully in the present – which of course is the only place we actually exist in. When I am able to drag myself (sometimes kicking and screaming) into fully being in the present, which perhaps I fear will be just too painful to even survive, I always experience relief.  I need to try to remember that just like throwing up, once I finally submit to the inevitable, I always feel so much better afterwards. And the present is where the rebuilding can begin.

So this, dear reader, is how I came to discover the little known fact that organizing is in fact, a sort of spiritual practice since just like meditation it brings one into the present. Organizing facilitates a healing whereby we can review the past and acknowledge its gifts and lessons. As we take the gifts and lessons into our minds and hearts, we can let go of the stuff and without all that baggage it is so much easier to gracefully move on and grow towards a better future.

Beyond forgiveness – the yoga of atonement



©istockphoto/ artpipi

Today is Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the year to those of the Jewish faith which calls for reflection, repentance and atonement.

As I thought about this day and what it means, I was struck by the idea that the desire to make amends or reparation for wrong-doing to another is, at the heart of things, a process of recognition that we are not separate.

Repentance requires from the transgressor an identification with and a validation of the pain of the victim. Sin is an act of separation, but both repentance and forgiveness unite. Thus, atonement can be understood as At-one-ment, a fundamentally yogic practice.

The Jewish prayers said today enumerate the many forms of sin that might need to be confessed. One of the first of which is described as having “hardened our hearts“. The hardening of our hearts may sometimes start as a desire to protect ourselves, yet the armored heart ultimately functions to inhibit our ability to feel another’s pain.

Once our vulnerability is secured beneath the shell of a hardened heart, our compassion becomes hidden alongside it. The hardened heart is disconnected from the other and becomes consumed with the ego of its individuality which need not be affected by the suffering of another.

The hardened heart belongs to both victim and transgressor and in many relationships both parties play both roles, in turns or simultaneously. But there is a cure for this evil malady, it is the practice of unconditional love.

As my yoga teacher Shiva Das would say “it’s easy to love when it’s easy to love”. But it is when it is least easy to love, that it may be the most powerful and the most important to do so. This is a rigorous spiritual practice, it requires faith, humility and discipline.

The revelation I had today was that true liberation from my own suffering was possible through the healing power of love. In order to be free, we must reject the illusion that we are a wounded child and remember the divinity within us that connects us with infinite, benevolent power.

By choosing to love precisely at the moment that it would seem impossible to do so, by loving the person who seems least deserving of our love, we transcend the role of victim. We are able to view the transgressor and ourselves and the similarities between us with compassion.

The division between us falls away and we see that we are both struggling and striving in our perfectly imperfect ways to understand what we are being asked to learn. In this moment of Namaste, all things are possible.

Today I celebrate a deeper understanding of how “Love is the Strongest Medicine”. Even as we feel broken by others, we can heal and grow by consciously going beyond forgiveness and striving to love those who hurt us.

Perhaps the true loves of our life are the people who challenge us the most to love them unconditionally. It is not an easy path. But when we succeed, how sweet the reward. When my heart is fully focussed on giving love, there is no space to fear or recollect it’s absence. In this moment, love will give us a God’s eye view of the situation and miracles can truly occur.

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