Wednesday, September 30, 2009

See The Big Picture

She was in her 50s, recently divorced, moved to a new town, and working at a new job wondering about the purpose of her life. She talked for a long time and then paused, looked at me and asked, “is it too late to try to figure out what I am supposed to be doing?” She was yet another person going through major life transition(s) and stuck in those lonely moments wondering what it is all about. I realized that people whose lives are not intersecting with those transitions, just keep on going mostly not driven or even curious about the “whys” of life. I don’t think that some of us are deeper or more serious, I just think that some of us hit the bumps real hard, fall, and then in our recuperation phase, we have the opportunity to ask those deeper questions. It is as if transitions provide the opportunity to be curious about life. When everything is going as planned, when nothing goes wrong, no one questions anything. We are too busy involved in our stories, enjoying the regular routines and non-events. Months turn into years and we may look back perhaps well into our later years and wonder where it all went. Then perhaps an illness, retirement, etc. will get us quiet enough to listen, but that too might quickly be disrupted with the loud noises of the lives of our younger loved ones and we quickly put aside our foolish sentimentality and rush to join them where they’re at, and so it goes, another life spent lost in the mundane stories that run into each other.

Most of us are enamored with the Hollywood type of happy endings. If our life is not predictable and does not fit into the patterns that are accepted by mass consciousness, we panic, we judge and we do all that we can to forcefully squeeze into a life that fits everyone else’s expectations. Then, when we are still not happy, we start blaming everyone else and the cycle continues until the next bump or transition. Transitions get a bad rap, because they are usually seen as something outside of our control. They are perceived as something that happened to us, and in our attempt to understand, we start labeling and judging and make the event the bad thing and us the victim of the bad thing. This is when we start to neurotically recreate a more predictable and acceptable life if we can. If the transition is extremely difficult (e.g., a divorce or death) then we seek outside help and support. Soon after the pain numbs down, we go about the re-building of a new house following old instructions for an old house, until this new/old house comes crumbling down with the next transition.

She was ending our conversation by admitting that she felt lonely at times and it would be nice if she had someone in her life. She was giving up on the whole life purpose thing and looking dreamily into the horizon imagining the new guy she’d build a new life with. Transitions are opportunities for real change, and even though, we claim we want change, our tendency is to re-create an old story. After all, old stories are familiar and we know how to play the same role even if the other characters are being played out by new actors. Since most people like to have a multi-step guide to whatever it is they are looking for, I have come up with my own guide that I hope you find useful. I’ll go into step one or tool one in this post.

The first tool that helps when making big changes is the ability and practice of seeing the big picture. In my sessions, I invite the client to join me on the outside of their story and take a peek in. It is so much easier and lighter to look at even the most difficult transitions from that perspective. It is also easier to make decisions. The key is to be able to masterfully zoom in and zoom out of your story. This also gives a better understanding and appreciation for what is going on. The tricky part however is that when we zoom in, we get stuck. So, I like to work with clients on how to get them unstuck when they dive in deep into their creations. Transitions are the pauses that we have created to provide us with the opportunity to go deeper, to understand ourselves, our choices, and then be able to consciously make changes that empower us towards living a more fulfilling and deliberate life. So the next time something supposedly goes terribly wrong, take a deep breath and zoom out so you are able to see the whole picture and then decide what if anything needs to be done. You will feel more empowered, liberated and purposeful.

Stay tuned in for the second tool for living masterfully through change in next week’s post.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Celebrate Now

This morning I had chocolate cake for breakfast. No, it wasn’t a reward for something, I was not celebrating anything, I wasn’t even happy about anything. I just wanted to eat cake and do something a little out of the ordinary. Instead of my usual health conscious whole grain bread with skim milk, I decided to do what felt good and had nothing nutritional to add except for what some refer to as empty calories. It did feel good, not because of the chocolate, but because I broke the rule, I broke the monotony, the usual, the norm. I also did it because I am practicing something new I’d like to share. What I am practicing is living the feelings I intend to experience. Most of us have been taught either consciously or subconsciously that you work towards obtaining what you want, i.e., you go to school, you get educated, you get a job, you get married, you have kids, you buy a house, and then, (are you ready?) you are happy! Well, this way of living hasn’t exactly been the experience for many of us. Waiting and working towards happiness which is to be obtained at a later date, is a carrot we might never get to.

This is the same belief that tells us that if we had that job, that woman or man at our side, that house, a million dollars, etc. we’d be happy. In a sense, it is what makes happiness unattainable and something outside and out there to be had if we do x, y, and z, or worse yet, if we were just lucky. In my coaching sessions, I know that even if the client’s goal before they walked in was to have a new job, by the end of the session, they admit that it is the feeling that the new job brings that is what they ultimately want. None of what we want is just material, the material part is connected to an emotion that we are seeking. So, what I am practicing is cutting to the chase, and getting to the emotion. In other words, I am celebrating now instead of later. Take this morning for example, I did not want to feel like I was stuck in a Monday morning rut or the blues, so I thought “what would I be eating if I wasn’t in a rut?” “What would I be eating if today was a very special day and I was celebrating something important?” I took that further: “what would I be wearing if I was going to a meeting I wanted to go to, what would I say and how would I act if I had everything I wanted”, etc. It is a very liberating exercise and guarantees immediate joy! The best surprise is that at the end of the day, you might just feel as if you have everything you’ve ever wanted. The gratitude that you will feel about the ordinary, will leave you feeling extraordinary.

The realization that the material and content driven existence that we think is so real is actually not in charge of our experience of happiness is priceless and this exercise offered me that. Another invaluable gift of this practice is the gift of me at my best to every circumstance I am in. When you show up feeling like you are not fulfilled or you’d rather be somewhere else, you show up inadequate and incomplete. You are sure to be received in the same manner and that will undoubtedly add to your negative feelings, etc. However, when you show up celebrating life because you feel successful, accomplished, and at peace, you will be received as such. So, the next time you feel like you are bored, or wish you had a better life, think again, think about what life you’d rather have and what feelings you’d have living that life and start feeling it. You’ll be amazed at how magical and expansive you’ll feel. And you didn’t have to work hard, rob a bank, win the lottery, or get a promotion to get there. You just had to shift your thoughts, put them in the back seat, and start feeling what you really want to feel. It’s that simple.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What Does Intelligence Have to Do With It?

Watching my dog resist the veterinarian’s efforts to open his mouth and try to bite him when he was insisting, reminded me of the article I had read somewhere about dog intelligence. The author claimed that the smarter the dogs, the easier they are to train and the less stubborn. Our pug, is a bit stubborn and now that he has been hurt, he will not easily trust the veterinarian. I guess that makes him not too smart. Does that also mean that stubborn people are not being smart? I don’t know about that generalization, but I do know that hanging on to old wounds and not being open to change does end up hurting us, so in that sense, it is not intelligent behavior.

Taking this concept further, it seems not only emotionally important to forgive and move on when we have been wronged, but also intelligent behavior. I hear so many people complain about how they’re never going to forget or forgive someone. In some manner they justify their lack of forgiveness as a form of self-defense or lesson for the future because they are compelled to never make the same mistake again. In this way by looking at it as self-preservation, they justify their anger and withholding of their forgiveness. This so called “lesson” ends up being more of a grudge, an emotional and mental block in their experience of life. Inevitably something will happen, someone will mistreat them, and the story comes back, the lesson is alive and they usually choose to repeat the same old understanding, further proving that they are “right”. This type of deepening of a belief is what I think of as hard-wiring and that is what most of us coaches work with clients on undoing. And depending on how old and how deep the wiring is, the more challenging is the dismantling of the belief.

What’s interesting is that most people do not consider themselves as being stupid or want to act unintelligently in their lives. This fear or the belief (I do not want to be stupid) is what pushes them to hold on to those grievances (I’ll never let anyone do that to me again) in the first place. So, the emotional grievance is really the emotional response to something that has happened. The more emotionally sensitized we are, the more we try to not feel the pain again, and this drives us to respond to the belief that we want to be smart by acting in ways that may not get us there. In other words, it has nothing to do with the brain or our intelligence, but the degree and depth to which we “feel”. Our brain uses our emotional experience to come up with a solution that can be rationalized. And our brain can rationalize anything!

I am not suggesting that in order to act intelligently, we have to stop feeling. It does mean though that once we recognize that our feelings have gotten us to believe in whatever it is we are believing, we can choose to think about it in any way we want. The choice is ours. For example, if I was cheated on, I can ignore or deny the depth of my feelings of betrayal and choose not to trust again thinking I did some wrong by trusting in the first place. Or I can first recognize and heal my emotional wounds and then choose to believe that the past is just that, and not everyone is going to cheat on me just because someone did. This is not that easy, and that is why we go to coaches and facilitators to help us release the past and move forward in life.

I have to remember this conversation the next time I take my pug in to the veterinarian. I have to remember that he is not stubborn or stupid, he just needs to heal his emotional wounds and choose to believe that the veterinarian is just trying to help him out! Yikes! I am sure glad I don’t have dogs as clients…

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Practicing Nonduality

The Institute for Noetic Sciences claims that “an especially mystifying aspect of consciousness is the elusive notion of nonduality, whose philosophical roots can be found in ancient Eastern cosmologies. It has been defined in many ways but basically refers to a state of being (emphasis on being) in which there is no sense of separation between the viewer and what is being viewed—a difficult concept to understand intellectually”1 and an even more difficult concept to live and experience.

Take my heroes of the day, the people who work in any kind of retail position dealing with the hustle and bustle of selling stuff and who manage to keep on smiling and being gracious to the all consuming public. Ever notice how everyone is in a rush to get out of the store, not paying attention to the people providing service, not making any eye-contact and even when they say “thank you”, it is as if it is a robotic appreciation to some unknown being out there in the ethers. We are so focused on getting what we want as quickly as possible and rushing out to get back to another scenario or perhaps to home, where we can finally feel safe! Whatever our stories or reasons might be, we are not connecting or engaging with “the other” or the viewer is not even connecting with “what is being viewed”. This at best is avoiding duality. I know I am prone to being this way. However, when I do set my intention to notice the salesperson or the check-out person at the grocery store, connect in some manner with them, I have extraordinary experiences. It is as if the whole outside craziness is not real. I connect in a nonduality manner or in a new consciousness manner with those I am least likely to connect with and the world of duality collapses on to itself!

Perhaps my retail heroes do the same thing. Perhaps they connect to whomever they can, they set their intention to be present and whoever recognizes their connection, is the beneficiary of experiencing a moment of nonduality. In this sense, it is almost as if working in a place like that would be a tremendous opportunity to practice nonduality. I am not recommending anyone to go out there and look for retail jobs to experience new consciousness, but I am sure that we all face plenty of situations where we feel the world of duality pulling at us, where we find ourselves taking sides, getting judgmental, etc. and we can use those opportunities to expand into the peace that is ours to experience. Connecting with others in a way that denies our separation brings us peace in the most non-peaceful places. So, my wish for you is to give it a try. Be the peace, be the grace, be the space for whatever it is that is happening, and the magic is yours to experience.

1 iShift #38, September 2009: The Nondual Brain, Intuitive Soldiers?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Life's Intermissions

I’ve never cared for intermissions. Whether I like the program or not, I either wanted it to go on or to end without that obligatory break. I am sure that the players or dancers, etc. need the break and because of that, I have learned to put up with it while I stand up and let people go by who want to use the restrooms or have a drink, etc. For me, it is as if we just stop in the middle and wait before we continue.

Last week, I had one of life’s longest intermissions. Charlie, our dog decided to suddenly jump out of the shopping cart in the pet store and crash land on his face. After surgery to repair his broken jaw, he was put on a morphine patch for pain. Well, what we didn’t know was that he is one of the extremely rare cases where the morphine instead of having a calming effect, has a stimulatory effect on. Needless to say, he was running around the house at full speed and trying to bite and chew anything in site. He was out of control and scaring the kids and us. Sitting on the couch in my family room in my pajamas holding my dog so he wouldn’t run into circles and chew on the furniture, I realized how I couldn’t do much. Oh, I forgot to mention, my cable, electric power, internet and phone were out for 12 hours too! So, I really couldn’t do anything, but breathe and try to calm the dog and myself while I waited impatiently for the Vet to call me on my cell phone with further instructions on how to handle Charlie.

That day, once I relaxed and surrendered to the fact that I couldn’t do anything about the situation, but to stay put and be patient, I kept on asking myself if there was any wisdom in it, anything I could learn, etc. I found myself in the theater again at intermission, looking at my watch, hoping it would go by quicker. It felt like being put in “time out”, when you hadn’t even done anything to qualify for it. Circumstances had placed me in “time out” indefinitely and for no apparent reason. I was too exhausted to figure it out, so I just took little naps with Charlie and it reminded me of the days after bringing your baby home from the hospital.

Once Charlie was better and I could go back to work, etc. I realized that I was not the same person as before. It was as if the intermission ended and a new show or story began. I still don’t know what that was all about, but I do know that I have a different outlook on everything. I am not on automatic, just doing my routine. I am more conscious of everything. I am more aware of time, my routines, gratitude for having electricity and internet, friends to call, gratitude for my capacity to be patient, etc. Nothing “important” happened in those 12 hours, but something extraordinary shifted and I feel like a new person. Holding my dog like a baby and rocking him so he could calm down, reminded me of the capacity we all have to love, nurture and be compassionate. My inability to multi-task, gifted me with the opportunity to bask in this new awareness. We are capable of so much gentleness and yet we live extremely harsh lives. My long intermission reminded me to remember to be gentle. These times we live in, require a lot of tender loving care and it begins at home. When we cram every second with a hundred things to do, when we blindly go through our days with chores and lists addicted to our high level of productivity, we are out of control and think otherwise. We are slaves to “doing” and when there is nothing to do, we spend that time thinking about what else needs to be done. Sometimes life extends an opportunity to be present and fully awake, an intermission to our movie, a break to realize that you are not the movie. I think I will be looking forward to intermissions and the gifts they contain. I will be present and aware of who I am instead of giving in to the addiction of doing stuff all the time. Thanks Charlie!