March 2015

Relentless: The Blog

Forgiveness

 

It feels to me as though we are continually force fed the notion that we must forgive others for their trespasses. It has earned a place on the list of "shoulds" in our society. Forgiveness is placed upon the pedestal as one of the most holy acts we can achieve, a state for the most virtuous among us and one that remains elusive for many.

 

Of course there are a myriad of issues that might require forgiveness on our part, some very minor and easy to put to rest, but it is the big ones that we wrestle with many times over. In that struggle to reach forgiveness many are left to feel a great degree of self judgment and less than the most pious among us.

 

As we sit in that seat of shame a bizarre thing occurs, we hold on tighter to our resentment. Why? It's pretty simple actually, because we are being denied; denied our feelings surrounding the offender and the offense. We long to be validated. The unspoken message is that a loving person would not feel anger, hurt or vengeful. I have met plenty of people who have felt all those emotions, and more; each one of them kind, compassionate and loving in their own way. When we refuse to allow another or ourselves to own those emotions deemed unkind, we actually fuse the bond to those feelings even deeper. Giving another or ourselves the time and space to give voice to the experience creates an opportunity for the process of forgiveness to begin as the emotions are allowed the opportunity to release.

 

Notice that I used the words "the process of forgiveness to begin". That is because forgiveness is many times not a one time act for those whoppers in our life, but is instead a series of steps we take over time as we continue to peel away the layers that keep us invested in not forgiving. You ask yourself, "Did she just say invested in not forgiving?" Yes, I think we can all relate to the common notion that by refusing to forgive another we believe we are punishing them and that is where we become invested instead. We believe that clinging to our righteous anger makes another writhe in pain and discomfort, a penance for perceived sins. The animosity permits us a false sense of power, and power is what we often feel has been taken from us in these moments of conflict.

 

Do you have to forgive? I would say no, you can make the choice not to forgive another. Is it a healthy choice to forgive? Probably. Because while we think we are holding another emotionally hostage with our grudge, really we are holding ourselves in an energetic prison that remains tied and bound to them and whatever situation that has come to pass. Unwittingly, we continue to give them the power. When we were three we stomped our foot and emphatically stated, "I hate you!" in our efforts to make others suffer for the pain we believe they caused. Today, all grown up, we say such things as, "I don't forgive him and he'll have to live with that." Different words in each scenario but each one is vengeful in nature and requires us to remain continually engaged on many levels with a state of hostility, day after day and sometimes, year after year.

 

That leads me to the next point, which I know you've heard somewhere before, forgiveness isn't for the other person. We don't offer our forgiveness so that they might feel better about themselves and what they have done, we do it so that we might feel lighter. Let's imagine our unwillingness to forgive is like the shirt you pull out of the closet that fits more snugly than the rest. You can get through the day wearing it but it's truly constricting, irritating and uncomfortable. So, you grab another shirt. This new shirt allows for more freedom of movement, is softer and doesn't feel binding in any way - that is forgiveness. When we forgive we are simply giving ourselves the permission to go about our days in greater internal comfort as we pick a new emotional ensemble to don.

 

Forgiveness is not always a matter of will and can not be forced by the "victim" nor the "perpetrator". Offering words of apology doesn't automatically entitle us to the golden certificate of forgiveness but instead is about personal ownership, end of story. What the receiver does or doesn't do with the apology is completely up to them, both consciously and unconsciously. It is the unconscious that often digs its heels in, holding us steadily in the state of an unforgiving mode. With time and self compassion the unconscious will make itself known and it is there that we have the freedom to heal and potentially step into forgiveness if we explore the gifts and intentions of personal awareness. Time and attention to self, not a rigid moral dogma or a denial of our pain, is what can lead us into the freedom of forgiveness for the deepest of our wounds.

 

It's important to examine your personal definition of forgiveness. Many of us believe that offering another forgiveness somehow exonerates them from the harm they have caused. With that belief structure we tend to cling to our sense of indignation. Personally, in those instances where I've reached a point of forgiveness for some major betrayals, I view it in the context of, "What you did is not okay but I no longer hold onto my hurt and anger towards you." It's not that I'm releasing them, instead I am releasing myself.

 

The act of forgiveness can be a complicated venture, but I suggest if approached with awareness of its complexity and with self compassion we might stand more fully and ever closer to our truth.

 

Be well and happy.

March 30, 2015

Accepting Acceptance

 

I had visions of us discussing forgiveness this week. It seemed like a fitting follow up from our time together where we explored apologies. That was my mind's plan last week, but this week the universe has thrust something else into my awareness and that's how I compose this blog each week, observance of where I am being led and not what I personally decide.

 

Throughout my week I've seen and heard many teachings and quotes about acceptance. I was listening and incorporating them vaguely and momentarily in my days. What I didn't realize at the time, was that I was being prepared and supported for a greater test of acceptance that was to follow.

 

One particular morning I was sitting in my living room sipping coffee. I was talking to my husband on the phone, our brief daily ritual that gives us a chance to connect with one another before our days become too distracting. On my lap, as per routine, was our sleeping puggle, Jabbers. I was chatting away when I was cut off mid sentence because I noticed some odd behaviors from Jabbers. I knew he was having a seizure, and my heart dropped.

 

What you need to know about my brain is that from my very conception it was swimming in a world of chaos and abuse, the perfect formula for PTSD. With a lifetime of PTSD comes a brain hardwired for extreme vigilance and an instant, all pervasive anxiety. Witnessing the pain or discomfort of an animal today throws me into my past, where I witnessed my childhood dog being strangled by my father and listened to the squeals of the rabbits before they were killed for that night's supper. I really have no choice in the matter because my brain remembers it all and is still struggling to cope with those overwhelming emotions. It whisks me away without any conscious awareness on my part.

 

To add to the mix is a not too distant memory of our last dog, Regan, having a seizure as well. I loved that dog beyond description and I was given the gift of one more month with him following his seizure before he passed. My brain had not forgotten one detail of that time and it began flashing images across my mind, heightening my angst as the tears fell.

 

I felt consumed with worry as my mind thought of every possible horrific outcome for Jabbers. As we sat at the vet's office I wanted to hold him and protect him, but oddly what I found was that it was me that was being comforted as I pet him. It was in that brief window of calming that I began to recall the teachings of acceptance that had crossed my path earlier. It is said that our suffering comes from not accepting the situation at hand, longing for it to be something other than it is. The longing is what creates our suffering, not the situation. I was surely in that space as I mentally anguished over the clear facts that presented themselves, pleading and hoping that things would be different. And so, I decided to stop and simply stated to myself, "He has seizures." I didn't analyze it any further or fret for the future. I simply stopped fighting that one simple fact. Strangely, the problem didn't feel as overwhelming. That's not to say I liked the fact, but I had accepted what was being presented to me because all of my obsessive concern was doing nothing to remedy or change anything for myself or Jabbers.

 

Another call to my husband following the vet appointment took me instantly back to my familiar place of extreme panic. I was struggling to focus and my body felt as though it was too small to contain the pressure I felt within. When I was aware the wheels were spinning uncontrollably again, I remembered a key phrase that leads to acceptance, "What does this moment right now require from me?"

 

By that point we had returned home and I stood in my kitchen as I asked myself that question. "I need to eat," was the response I heard. In a flash there was a mental rebuttal waiting to that statement because the anxiety had left me without an appetite and feeling nauseous. Part of me wanted to allow myself to be carried away into the emotional whirlpool, so that I might sink away and deeper into myself. Waiting in the wings and tugging at the corner of my awareness I heard, "Your body needs food." Once again, I refocused and accepted what the present moment was asking of me as I ate my lunch.

 

The past traumas and programming of my brain do not go down quietly, soon I found myself pausing in the midst of my meal, wanting to continually check on Jabbers' status to be sure he was not in distress. That's exactly what I did find, he wasn't bothered at all and in fact he had returned to barking as cars passed the dining room window and bringing me his ball so that we might play. He was not concerned about the seizure that had occurred earlier, nor was he dwelling on a potential one to follow in the future. He was demonstrating to me the place I was desperately trying to take my panic riddled mind, acceptance of the present. Again I posed the question to myself, "What does this moment right now require from me?" The answer I received was that I was to follow his lead and permit myself to see and feel what he and the current situation offered me, which was a joy and comfort in the routine. I shifted my focus yet again to his present behaviors, not that of the past or future, and relief and happiness soon followed as we both sat by the living room window and watched the myriad of birds eating and flitting about.

 

Each and every time my mind began to slip back into rumination and fear I continued to ask myself the same question about what was required of me in that moment. As I cleaned my house all that was needed in that time and space was my attention to cleaning, and so I purposefully watched my hand as it held the sponge that cleaned the sink. I felt my hand squeeze the bottle of window cleaner and watched as the spray covered the mirror. I danced to the music that was pumping through my ear buds, despite the warning in my head that said I shouldn't be joyous and carefree at such a time as this. Of course my old patterns continued to try to pull me back but what I found was that each time I refused to be pulled away from acceptance, I found comfort and peace in giving my attention to the simple acts I was performing; watching the broom move across the floor relaxed me. I embraced what was asked of me in each moment for at least two hours and what was waiting for me at the end was a sense of centeredness that was free from the trauma loop that often threatened my tranquility.

 

What was required of me in that moment? Allowing myself to fully feel and own that in that instant there was no emergency. I could turn off the alarms and enjoy the serenity. My final step of acceptance was to write this post, a far cry from what I had envisioned when last we met. Logic was trying to dictate that I go back to Plan A and discuss forgiveness but I knew that what this moment asked of me was to share my process of acceptance so that you might see how to incorporate it into daily life, step by conscious step.

 

It is indeed a practice in the truest sense in that it requires constant practice and an alertness to each moment. It was Eckhart Tolle's words that rang in my mind throughout this week and so I share them with the  hope that they may guide you too. As he put it very simply and poignantly, “Acceptance means: For now, this is what this situation, this moment, requires me to do, and so I do it willingly.”

 

Be well and happy.

March 23, 2015

The Art of Apology

 

As we briefly discussed last week, offering an apology can prove to be an extreme internal battle between our heart and our ego. If we finally muster up the courage to mumble a moment of remorse it is often lacking in a genuine tone or missing a few key components. Am I saying we don't even know how to responsibly apologize? Yeah, kinda.

 

Let's be clear, getting the phrase "I'm sorry," out of our mouth when attempting to accept responsibility for some transgression is a monumental step in the right direction. But this blog is all about growth and going one step further and so, I offer some suggestions as to how we can add some much needed bling to our times of contrition.

 

Step 1)

I remember reading a passage from author John Gray regarding the words our culture uses to express regret and in it he suggested that we do not use the phrase, "I'm sorry." He made an interesting point by explaining that those words imply the condition or state of ourselves: "I" am sorry. He felt that those choice of words were self demoting. I had never considered that spin but I could appreciate his intention and began trying to use the term "I apologize..." whenever I needed to make amends. I must say, I find it easier to say "I apologize..." as I feel less shame and more empowered with that language. As we've discussed before, words have power and their own energy.

 

Step 2)

A true apology is not composed of just two words. So many times people utter "I'm sorry," and leave it at that, never making it clear exactly what they are apologizing for. "I apologize for yelling at you. I was angry at my employees and I took it out on you," feels a whole lot more authentic and it shows a larger degree of understanding and ownership for the err of our ways. This type of ownership takes a level of maturity in that it identifies how our actions, or lack of, might affect another. It also shows a degree of compassion and acknowledgment for those that are on the receiving end of our sometimes ill behaviors.

 

The "expanded apology" became a requirement in our house. Of course the kids disliked it immensely, squirming as I asked them to elaborate on exactly what they were owning up to doing. Yes, it felt uncomfortable to them and it might feel uncomfortable to you as well, but that is a great motivator for change and doing better the next time. Why? Because as you offer a complete apology you are more in tune to what it is you actually did in a situation that was harmful, you feel it as you speak the words. Glibly saying, "I'm sorry," allows us to be completed disconnected to the full impact of what we may have done.

 

Not included in the full length version of an apology are the phrase "but you..." or "if you had/hadn't..." Both of these completely negate any remorse being offered for our carelessness and squarely points blame back at the other person for our thoughtlessness. If you do feel the other person has a role in the dynamic played out, then it must be shared in a manner that is completely unrelated to your apology and instead expresses your feelings about their behaviors.

 

Step 3)

Sincerity is key. An insincere apology is an insult to the receiver and will only fuel an already tenuous encounter. If our motivation is only to appease another or bring an end to an uncomfortable situation, it will backfire and all will remain unresolved until the intentions of a healing closure are recognized.

 

Falling under that umbrella, is the person that offers an apology for everything under the sun. They apologize for breathing and taking oxygen that perhaps might have been yours to use. There is no sincerity in what they offer because it is a reflexive action for them and it is often in relation to nothing that is under their control. It is not about taking ownership but is instead about simply rolling over, and that never leaves us in a position of being respected by others as it demonstrates a lack of self respect. In this instance, as the number of meaningless apologizes increases, the weight and importance of a sincere apology decreases.

 

Step 4)

There's also some subtle shifts that are important in the acceptance of an apology. Several years ago when my oldest child was about four another child hit him. The child's mother instructed her son to apologize to mine. The child quickly spat out, "I'm sorry," as he stood itching and ready to move on to the next distraction. I stood at the ready to coax my son to accept the apology. My son looked somewhat perplexed and then stated, "But I don't want to say it's okay, because it's not okay." He had made a very valid point, it was not alright that this other boy had bopped him. I offered that my son instead say, "Thanks for the apology." He felt much more comfortable with that response and to this day it is our twist on the acceptance of remorse offered.

 

"It's okay," is what is commonly said in response to an apology. The truth is, it is not okay or else an apology wouldn't be necessary. "Thanks for the apology," rightfully and respectfully gives ownership to what has been offered without pretending that it was all no big deal; it's a way of honoring both parties.

 

Step 5)

The final step in an apology has nothing to do with words but everything to do with action. After a verbal apology is offered it is the change in behavior that drives it all home. When we strive to not repeat the same offenses we are demonstrating a true sincerity in our intentions to grow, learn and honor each other.

 

It is inescapable, people in our lives will hurt us and make mistakes; sometimes intentionally and other times mindlessly. There is no one that can avoid the role of offender or receiver, but what is in our control is the mature acceptance of this truth and a conscious manner in dealing with it.

 

Be well and happy.

March 16, 2015

I'm Right

 

If that is indeed true, than chances are you're wrong. Doesn't feel so great, does it? It's not the warmest way to begin our time together today but it is nevertheless an approach most take when dealing with those in our lives and it is one of the key factors in the stress of those relationships. It's emotionally exhausting to maintain this war mentality with one another. So, why are so many of us hellbent on proving others wrong?

 

It comes about quite naturally in our world. Parenting styles of days gone by fed the notion that as children we knew nothing, we stood naive as the adults in our life reigned omniscient. Truth be told, parents today still use this as a building block for their style of child rearing. We attend schools that grade us on whether we are get an answer right or wrong. In that same system we learn that perfect matters and is an elusive state we should all continually strive to obtain. Sports further reinforces the importance of winning. All these factors yield an environment of competition and comparison, leaving only winners and losers. And who likes to be labeled a loser?

 

That is the danger in continuing to use this approach in relationships, someone ultimately is left to feel they are wrong, which implies they are a loser and not a respected partner in the relationship. Losers are imperfect and faulty, whereas winners often possess an air of superiority and perfection. If someone is on top, that means another is on the bottom and that is fuel for animosity in any encounter.

 

Continuing to battle another to prove we are right sets up both sides to be on the defensive as we are anticipating our comeback to what the other person is saying. If we are in a mode of anticipation we can not be truly listening to what is being shared and the dismissal of another's feelings follows suit. It becomes a competition and not a moment to share and perhaps understand, or at the very least acknowledge each other's opinions, thoughts or emotions. In these instances no one leaves any more enlightened than when the conversation began, only more wary and distant.

 

Trying to prove we are right is a not so subtle means of controlling another as we attempt to force them to concede to our point of view, leaving us to feel safe in our cocoon of perceived perfection and supremacy. If we leave a conversation feeling we are right, our world feels more secure and stable under the false pretense that we've got it all figured out. I've met know one who has all the solutions, despite the fact that we all have played this role many times and to varying degrees under the tutelage of our egos.

 

Unlike the heart, egos are not invested in kindness, compassion and caring in the context of "we" but are instead solely focused on only "I". As far as the ego is concerned the "I" is of utmost importance and it will fight tooth and nail to ensure its survival. That's an issue because we are not in this world only as an "I", we remain reliant and engaged with others our entire life and it is there that it seems a fair amount of our growth occurs. It is the "we" that can feed our souls, open our hearts and allow us the connections each of us craves, if we don't remain intent on belittling one another. Interestingly, it is those we love the most that we tend to hammer the hardest, and I think we can all agree that is not love at all and to continue to follow in the egos footsteps will leave us alone as relationships lie in ruins.

 

When we take part in a battle of wills we often imply or demand the other party justify their feelings or opinions. Opinions and feelings don't always have a logical answer but that doesn't make them or their owners wrong; what it is is simply different. We've forgotten that we are allowed to have a wide range of discrepancies between what one perceives compared to another. "But," says the ego, "I'm right!" You very well may be sometimes, but the question that is posed to us in these situations is, "Would you rather be right or happy."

 

We falsely believe that our happiness can only be obtained through proving we're right, an egoic victory. It's a lie we have all told ourselves many times over. The truth is that there is a greater joy when we compromise, simply acknowledge what the other person is saying, or agree to disagree. In all those scenarios each party wins and is left feeling respected and the bond nurtured instead of damaged. This mindset changes from an either/or scenario to one that is both/and.

 

Struggling to apologize is a close cousin to the "I'm right" monster that lurks in each of us. Unfortunately, our ego tells us that apologizing is a sign of weakness. Being in a scenario where the words "I apologize..." are the most appropriate thing we can say sets our internal alarms sounding because openly sharing remorse reminds us that we are not perfect and shame often follows soon after. Of course perfection remains the mythological mark we all fall short of achieving. Ironically, if we dare to silence the voice of our ego and offer an apology, what we will find is that it takes a degree of vulnerability and humility to admit an error and because of that, many times we are left with the admiration of others, which is what we most desire. And even more importantly, after having the courage to apologize, we will develop greater self worth, self respect and self acceptance.

 

Disagreements are some of the richest soil we as humans have to expand, learn and grow. Approached with the intention of connection and not competition, it can only be a win-win situation for all.

 

Be well and happy.

March 9, 2015

How are you Feeling?

 

"Fine," is the dutiful response to that inquiry. Very few people ask that question expecting another to give them the truth of what they're feeling. Fact is, not many of us even know how we're feeling. Our society's main operating system says that we must deny and avoid emotions at all costs, a fear-based pattern that keeps us disconnected from our ourselves and others.

 

Anyone that truly expresses feelings is harshly judged as weak or "sensitive" and those around them are often left feeling awkward and uncomfortable. People are just as fearful of their own emotions, most times unable to name the feeling let alone aptly share it. So many times in my practice I've listened to clients share that they are petrified that their feelings will consume them and they will "lose control".

 

Ironically, not addressing one's emotions is what leads us to the explosive and intense moments that so many dread. Left to stew and fester our feelings will ultimately create damage, either externally or internally. It's important to understand that in those instances where emotions cause a perceived harm or hysteria it has nothing to do with the feeling itself, but instead is a reflection of the avenue with which it was conveyed, or not. For example, anger in itself isn't harmful; it's simply how we've witnessed or dealt with its voice that is the issue.

 

We have only to look at the root of the words "emotion" and "feelings" to understand what they were designed to do. Emotion contains the Latin root word "mot", which means to move. Feelings is originated from the Greek root "path". In the most simplistic English interpretation of the two we can gather that our emotional experience is meant to "move us along our path". They are not meant to stymie us or remain stagnant. Feelings are simply a personal barometer that allows us to travel to greater depths within ourselves and distances in self awareness.

 

There are no wrong or bad feelings but in their simplest form, all originate from a place of love or fear. Feelings simply are and they are not meant to be a tool to measure our worthiness and don't require  justification. They are that helping hand that says,"Come with me, let me show you what I found." When we take the time to know our emotions and where it is we are being led, we can begin an archaeological dig of our inner realms. Our personal gems are buried beneath the rubble and awaiting discovery.

 

Of course discernment is in order. All of the relationships that make up our life are not equal and some deep disclosure is only meant for those most cherished in our lives, but we can still strive to make efforts to know the teachings of our emotions and share them on a level that matches the depth of the exchange.

 

Embrace your feelings. Ask, "What are you trying to show me?" and then listen as you are gently guided to a place of greater self awareness and knowing. With the clarity gained strive to assertively and respectfully share what it is you're feeling.

 

It is an important habit that we share our emotions in "I" statements. "I feel depressed..." for example. Not, "You make me feel depressed..." The first statement puts us in a position of ownership, the second makes us a victim. I'm guessing it's not news to many, but it bears repeating: No one can make you feel anything. Your interaction with them can certainly cause an emotional reaction within you, but they are not the cause, it is your own inner world that is responding to them and manifesting the feeling that results. Your emotional response is attempting to alert you of your inner workings. If you don't believe me, recall a time when when you felt sad or angry and perhaps someone was sharing with you all the reasons not to feel that way. Did that alter those emotions? Could they "make" you let go of those emotions? No, because ultimately we have no control over another's emotions, which are an individual and energetic response created within themselves based on their personal life experiences.

 

What we do have control over is the way we handle ourselves from both the sharing and receiving role. The first step is the responsibility in sharing, "I feel frustrated because I asked you to put the dishes away and they're still in the dishwasher." The second step is how we choose to respond to that sharing, and that is the other level of responsibility; how the receiver handles what was given to them. So ultimately it's about responsibility for our choice in relation to what we disclose and to what another said, not the feeling they have based on our choice.

 

Another point worth reviewing is the knowledge that we must not share with the agenda of making another agree with our feelings. They may not understand or agree with how we feel at all, they don't have to. What we can do is hope that they can acknowledge our feeling and where appropriate intercede as asked. But many times individuals do not have the capability to compassionately take in what we are sharing. If they can't honor themselves it is tough to validate another. That is why our ultimate goal in expressing our emotions must be to simply honor ourselves. We can not let another's limits or resistance prevent us from voicing our truth but instead can use that information to better understand and adapt our response based on their engagement or lack of.

 

As we know and understand ourselves better we can more effectively and openly share that with others, and that is a magical place. The wonder that we will discover in honestly, openly and vulnerably sharing our feelings is that we are not alone. Each and every one of us has run through the gamut of emotions and it is through honoring our feelings that we honor ourselves and one another.

 

Be well and happy.

March 2, 2015

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