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)
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?
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.
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.
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.
“Life will break you.
Nobody can protect you from that,
and living alone won’t either,
for solitude will also break you with its yearning.
You have to love.
You have to feel.
It is the reason you are here on earth.
You are here to risk your heart.
You are here to be swallowed up.
And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near,
Let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps,
Wasting their sweetness.
Yesterday I found a new role mode, in an Elephant Journal article by Robert Sturman about The Guiness Book of Records reigning oldest living yoga teacher, 93 year old Tao Porchon Lynch. As impressive as her strength and flexibility are for someone of any age, let alone a nonagenarian, it is much more than her physical prowess that enchants me about this radiant being.
For not only does she love yoga, but also wine and dancing the tango.
In a interview with Tara Stiles-Parker, she credits her longevity and zest for living to proper breathing and making a concerted effort to think positive thoughts, along with a nightly shoulder stand before bed each night. She eschews fear and procrastination, simply doing the next right thing without delay.
She beams and twinkles with a light that simply dazzles me.
“Smile at everyone”
She advises as she illustrates the phenomenal magnetism of her charismatic charm.
This is how I want to live my life.
Waking up grateful for each new day,
thrilled by the prospect of all that I can learn,
all the wonderful places and beautiful people to be met,
making the most of the great gift of life
and blessing all I see with a smile.
Being in the business of helping people, it’s a little annoying that it always seems so much more difficult when I’m dealing with my own problems. Undoubtedly it’s all due to a lack of perspective and not being able to see the wood for the trees. Sometimes the answer we are so desperately seeking comes simply from being able to find the right questions. I’m grateful to have had a breakthrough tonight when I read this question from the fabulous Cheri Huber
“What do you have in your life and what do you exclude from your life in order to avoid discomfort?”
Cue major epiphany. Not so much because I answered the question but because, all of a sudden, I became aware of the way I was reacting to the problem. Inspiration came when I realized that a beautiful solution to this and every other problem might lie in simply changing the way I thought about the whole concept of having a problem. Back to Cheri here, who succinctly explains in The Key that there are Four Causes of Suffering:
- Not getting what you want
- Getting what you want and not being satisfied with it
- Having to endure the absence of those or that which you love
- Having to endure the presence to those or that which you do not love
The issue, in every case is that we don’t like that which we don’t like and that our reaction to experiencing discomfort or fearing that we are about to experience discomfort is to attempt to do just about anything to avoid it. The ego goes into over-drive in an all out attempt to control and change things. I think that actually having some tools and skills in the interpersonal realm can put one at a huge disadvantage here as the danger is that we can become consumed by the fallacy that if we just try harder or longer we can make it all better.
Some part of our brain is fixated on a series of irrational assertions centered in the flawed logic that insists that things should be different. That this version of reality is totally unacceptable. That if we were to take the unimaginable risk of accepting the way things are, nothing is going to change. That by taking a stand and refusing to accept the way things are, we have some possibility of changing them. Not so much. The truth is that there is one and only one thing within our control and that is how we think about things.
When it comes to reality, resistance is futile because resisting reality is really the problem.
And here is where the miracle comes in. When I am able to give up my attachment to the way I hoped, or dreamed or believed things should be, it actually comes as something of a relief, suffering is really exhausting.
There is a peace in the acceptance that comes from surrendering the impossible task of trying to control the universe. It’s even better when we entertain the concept that someone or something much better and bigger than us is actually in charge.
Here’s to serenity.