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)
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.
I had an amazing weekend facilitating the Vive La Différence Weekend for Couples with Bruce Gold. I am awed and humbled by the transformational power of love. It truly is the strongest medicine. This morning, one of the participants forwarded me an email she had received today which I would like to share with you along with a song – MC YOGI Give Love.
Daily Inspiration for Monday, February 27, 2012 from Renaissance Unity
“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.”
My passion is freedom and my purpose is love.
Your presence in my life is like a burning fire and a cool breeze.
Your truth pushes and cradles me.
I intend to be a better person today than I was yesterday.
With Your help, I passionately live my purpose.
With my help, You transform the world.
And so it is.
Today I hope that you feel connected to and inspired by your life’s purpose.
I have a confession to make, I fell off the self-care wagon. Looking after myself has been an Epic Fail the past few weeks. Quite frankly, if I were a dog-sitter I would have fired me for reckless disregard to needs for adequate exercise, rest and good nutrition
I had a major lack of short-term motivation to think about long-term goals. I was besieged by an inner conflict, as all my good intentions got defeated, one by one.
Healthy, mature me: “ I should really go to the gym tonight”
Adolescent me with bad attitude: “I’m gonna watch tv.”
H.M.M: “Ok if the gym is too much effort, I could do a little yoga here”
A.M.W.B.A: “Screw yoga, Where’s the wine?”
H.M.M: “At the very least, I think you really need an early night”
A.M.W.B.A: “Leave me alone, I’ll go to bed when I want to”
The worst part of not taking care of myself is that I know better – and not in any sanctimonious expert kind of way. Unless you’ve been under a rock somewhere, I think it’s fairly safe to say that we all have an idea of what self-care should entail. If only it were that simple. And it’s not just me.
I regularly meet people who wouldn’t neglect a house-plant they way they treat themselves. A big part of the problem, it seems to me, is that people are uncomfortable with the whole concept of self-care, judging it to synonymous with narcissistic naval gazing and self-indulgence of celebrity proportions.
There is such a cultural aversion to it that you could be forgiven for thinking there is a competition for America’s biggest martyr, when you listen to people try to outdo each other with boasts of how much they are working and how little sleep they are getting.
People who do a good job at looking after others are amongst the worst offenders when it comes to looking after themselves, it seems. As for professional caregivers – Oy. These are intelligent people with a good sense of cause and effect and more than a passing understanding of human biology and yet they would pretty much rather die of a stress-related illness rather than take the risk that anyone could possibly accuse them of being selfish.
The ironic thing is that actually, not taking care of yourself is really far more selfish. If you neglect your physical well-being for long enough, chances are you will be checking out on your loved ones somewhat earlier than they could have wished for. And back in the here and now, when you don’t manage your stress, you’re guilty of polluting other people’s day with a toxic emission of negative energy.
Self-care is about taking personal responsibility for your health and well-being. About ensuring that you show up for the people and things that matter, most able to give your best. At the very least, it’s about maintaining your physical body in good working order for as long as possible. Not eating crap, moving the moving parts on a fairly regular basis, resting when you are tired. That’s the minimum and yet even that seemed like an impossible task last month. I was way beyond prevention, but I was unable even to activate the rescue plan that I would usually implement to get myself out of burnout.
Happily, I think I have figured out was going on and it’s already getting better, thanks to the phenomenal healing gifts of Dr. of Oriental medicine, Tansy Briggs. She explained to me that when chronic stress reaches a critical level, it triggers a permanent acute response to everything. As my recent blood work confirmed, my cortisol (the stress hormone) level indicates that my fight or flight mechanism has been stuck in the on position for a while now and closely resembles that of someone with PTSD. Thanks to my mind, my body has been locked in survival mode.
The sympathetic nervous system evolved back in the day when having a snappy response to an approaching tiger was a giant asset. However, living today like a tiger is permanently about to attack is not conducive to doing most of the things that are helpful to my stress level. It makes sense really. If I thought the chances were fairly high that I was about to be eaten by a tiger, I probably would choose the extra calories with a side of Chardonnay. As far as exercise is concerned, I’d want to conserve my energy to out-sprint the tiger – this of course, is the reason that there are no prehistoric cave drawings of people doing aerobics.
No wonder I couldn’t convince myself to leave the house and head for the gym, my body was sending me signals that a disaster might happen at any second, sheltering in place was the obvious choice. Tansy explained that she needed to “reset” my adrenal function with acupuncture. And believe it or not, after just one session, I woke up with the startling realization that I wasn’t feeling stressed. Normal, happy even. Rational. Willing and able to quite cheerfully go for a run and hit both Saturday and Sunday 8am yoga classes this weekend. What a relief.
Sometimes it seems that just knowing what one should do differently is not enough. We need to ask for help. And that involves believing that it’s more than ok to take care of yourself. You deserve it and so do the people who love you.
In spite of the fact that many people tend to live as if their head and body are two distinct entities, there is, in fact, a great deal of kosher clinical research to back up the notion that what goes on in your head has a tangible effect on your body. Evidence continues to accumulate in favor of the idea that psychology affects biology. In other words, what you think will affect your physical state of health.
Your mental and emotional reaction to stress – and by that I mean any experience, real or imagined, that you would rather avoid, triggers an internal alarm system that activates a host of physiological events that tax the body and reduce the capacity of the immune system. Mood swings, headaches and migraines, digestive problems, trouble sleeping, more frequent episodes of illness, such as colds or flu, and lack of energy and fatigue are commonly reported among people under stress. Other adverse health effects attributed to exposure to stress include increased blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases and accelerated aging. Chronic stress may lead to damage of the receptors of the hippocampus, the area of the brain that helps interpret whether an experience is good or bad, which has been linked to depression which has been proven to increase the risk of heart disease and other serious physical ailments.
Seems obvious that the easy answer is to immediately eliminate all stress from your life. Back on planet reality however, the good news is that in recent years, scientists have also come to the same conclusion that the yogis have known for a couple of millennia; that you have, in the space between your ears, a powerful mechanism with which you can improve not just your emotional well-being but your your physical health too. The literature on happiness, optimism, and behavioral therapy techniques designed to re-frame negative thoughts continues to grow exponentially as new discoveries are made regarding the connection between positive mental outlook and physical and emotional health.
What this means to you, is that by learning ways to control your emotions, you can protect your physical body from the damaging effects of stress which occur when our habitual fear or anger reactions trigger the “fight or flight” response – and begins that chain reaction of chemical events.
According to studies by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, subjects studying meditation for periods of at least 8 weeks and longer in order to measure the effects of mindfulness based meditation practices on chronic pain and anxiety disorders yielded significant findings. Chronic pain subjects demonstrated a decrease in the need to use pain medications; those with anxiety disorders showed a drop in the number and severity of panic attacks, as well as a reduction in scores on depression and anxiety inventory tests up to three years after the initiation of the study. Other research, indicates that meditation reduces the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Meditation has been reported, both in scholarly journals and by word-of-mouth, as an antidote for everything from mood disorders to cardiovascular disease to a heightened sense of compassion and empathy for our fellow man. It seems that there may just be something to all that woo-woo meditation stuff after all.
So the good news is, that regardless of external stress, cultivating a way to a calmer, happier way of being lends itself to a healthier body, and meditation and positive thinking are proven ways to get there. Simple enough, right? Until you actually start to pay attention to what goes on in your un-supervised mind. Scary, isn’t it? My friend Lynnie was fond of saying to me “Stay out of your head, you’ll get mugged in there.” Left to it’s own devices, your mind will tend to fall into a few familiar ruts of repetitive, and often negative, thinking.
Once you start noticing your thoughts, try to avoid spiraling into a vicious cycle of self-criticism and despair as you realize how negative they are and how doomed you are! The good news is, that simply noticing your thoughts is 99% of the battle. This is what they call the development of a ‘witnessing consciousness’. In other words, rather than just being angry – you are able to notice that you are feeling angry.
Once you make this very simple but critical distinction, congratulate yourself! You have just given yourself an unbelievably powerful advantage: by creating the possibility of choice. In the words of Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning which he wrote about his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, it’s “The last of human freedoms – the ability to chose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”
What this means, is that with a little practice, you can develop the ability to change and control your emotions. Yes, you! You can do this, I promise; even if you hate the idea of meditation, can’t sit still and have the attention span of a gnat. I’m here to help.
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