Forgive And Forgive Again

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Forgive And Forgive Again

How were you taught about forgiveness? I remember the adage “forgive and forget” being used often when I was a child. Although this came with no further instruction, I remember liking the idea. Of course, I mostly liked it when it came time for others to forgive and forget what I had done. For myself, I quickly knew upon trying this that it didn’t work. I chuckle now, thinking about the coerced apology forgiveness drill I was made to participate in on the playground. Sure, sometimes it worked.

Teacher: “You, apologize for what you did!”

Kid: Begrudgingly recites an insincere apology.

Teacher: “Ok now, do you forgive them?”

Other kid: Stumbles through tears to nod “yes.”

Teacher: “See, that wasn’t hard!”

Like I said, sometimes it worked, but not often.

Forgiveness is an internal process. It is what happens when we seek to understand another's actions and release any negative feelings we may have formed toward them for those actions. Without attempting to understand, all we feel is hurt. If, like I often hear, we believe someone has done something to violate us for “no reason,” then forgiveness is not likely to follow. The truth is, there is always a reason. Maybe not a good one - or one we agree with that excuses the behavior - but a reason nonetheless.

Forgive and forgive again? That’s right! Forgiveness, in my experience, is not something I can do only once and expect all negative feelings to go away. I saw a quote once that said true forgiveness is an attitude, not an action after the fact. (check out theartofforgiveness.org) I absolutely love this idea because an attitude is just a consistent pattern of behavior based upon a belief. So, an attitude of forgiveness is based in the belief that people do things for reasons, even when those things hurt us. With this belief, we make a practice of seeking to understand and let go of this hurt. With each transgression we seek to forgive, we may need to apply this practice many times before we fully let it go. Patience and persistence are of great importance here.

For perspective, I often turn ideas like this around to see if they hold up. So, imagine for a moment that you are hungry and tired and maybe something bad just happened to you. A friend walks up at this moment, bubbling with excitement about something in their life. You try to push through your negative state of mind, but find it impossible and wind up meeting their excitement by yelling “NOT NOW! CAN’T YOU SEE THAT I’M BUSY?” Ouch! At sometime or another, all of us have treated someone else unfairly. In our argument to defend ourselves, we share our reasons for acting in this way and implore their understanding. So, the golden rule applies: Do unto others as we wish them to do unto us.

In my experience, forgiveness is much more for the person doing the forgiving than it is for the one being forgiven. Not holding onto resentment and anger frees up our energy to be used for more valuable pursuits. So, if you’re not ready to forgive someone because you don’t want to give them the satisfaction, do it to give yourself the satisfaction! Instead of remaining stuck in a place where someone’s past actions affect you negatively each day, you can move on. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

In this process of forgiveness, I would also encourage a consideration of the offending party. Is this person learning from their mistakes and seeking to do better? If not, it might be wise to minimize their opportunity to continue to hurt you. And if it takes a while for you to decide to do this? Forgive yourself. The best practice you can get at forgiveness is toward yourself. Understanding and letting go of your own short sighted or selfish past actions is crucial. An attitude of forgiveness demands that everyone be included, and that means you too!!

As I said earlier, even with an attitude of forgiveness, we may not immediately let go of the hurt we feel. This can take time. I wrote in a past blog post called “Denying Hurt,” about the importance of allowing ourselves to feel this hurt. I would encourage the same during the process of forgiveness. Allow yourself to feel the hurt as you continue to invite understanding. With some patience and persistence, genuine forgiveness will follow.



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Caught in a Funk

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Caught in a Funk

Just now, as I continue to work on a blog post I began writing almost two weeks ago, I recognize  I’ve been in a bit of a funk. Nothing drastic, but I am aware that I have not been spending quality time  grounding myself. Instead, I have been giving into distractions - like stumbling into the disgustingly enticing world that exists inside my phone, watching a television show, or calling an old friend to pass the time.  I know none of these choices are wrong, but having consistently chosen these over grounding myself these past few weeks, I can feel a big difference. I notice the urge to disconnect and distract myself from the realities of life has amplified and the effects are acutely apparent. There is tension behind my eyes and in my chest. I notice a slightly higher level of ambient sadness, frustration, and dissatisfaction - my jaw is tense and stomach unsettled. As I type, recognizing  the activity of writing this blog is grounding for me, I notice these emotions and physical sensations slowly receding. I feel the motivation returning to man the helm and redirect my ship, plotting a course to renew the patience and kindness that comes with a life of healthy and regular connection. I am grateful for this reminder.

However, a singular reminder is not enough. I recognize that I have re-lived this moment countless times. The path of growth I’ve been on has illuminated the need for this grounding long ago, only to regularly and, on the periphery of my awareness, be cast back into darkness. It hasn’t been these fleeting moments of clarity that have helped me to find this again and again. Instead, it has been remembering with my body, not my mind that really brings me back. The way I recognize the difference is identifying whether it is a thought (like “I need to ground myself to get back to my center”) or a feeling (like a warmth in the chest or a release of the tension in the belly).

There is no one right way to do what I am suggesting. This particular practice can vary from year to year or from moment to moment - it is highly individual and context dependent. When I was younger, full on physical activity would fulfill this need. These days, I prefer things like taking deep breaths, writing down my thoughts and feelings, or watching an animal or plant just do their thing. I bask in the release this brings - the physical feeling of “everything’s going to be alright.” Sometimes the opportunity for this simply presents itself, like a beautiful sunset catching my eye or being present when a young person joyfully discovers the world. Whatever it is, I know if I can make myself available to its experience, the result will bring me back to a place of connection.

So go ahead, don’t wait! Take a moment right now to enjoy a few deep breaths or maybe just sit and feel your emotions . Live in (and physically experience) the present moment. Feel the joy of authentically connecting with yourself and others. Know that, from this place, you are truly able to be your whole self...and go share it with the world!

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Daily Practices

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Daily Practices

Each moment of  every day we perform actions which, when put together, make up who we are. The vast majority are rooted somewhere outside our momentary awareness, guided by all  the experiences, knowledge, and feelings we have acquired up to this point. Often referred to as habits, these can range in their benefit - both to us and others - and in their ability to spread positive or negative energy. For example, the habit of working to make money may have great benefit financially to us and our family, but if out of balance, may create negative energy in our family relationships because of what we are neglecting. Whatever our habits may be, I find that the term “habit” generally has a negative connotation.

A cursory google search turned up 20,700,000 results for the term “bad habit” vs. 11,300,00 for the term “good habit.” When I think of a habit, I think of something that often arises unintentionally and is difficult to change. Instead, I prefer to think of my actions individually, as if each time I engage in a behavior I have a choice, sometimes making one that I like and other times not. In this way, each action isn’t burdened by the overwhelming amount of experiences that led to it or the expectation of a certain outcome - which can make an attempt to change it seem futile. I do my best, assess, and come back the next time ready to do better. This way of thinking about it, every moment of life is just practice.

When I think of my actions as practice, I feel liberated from the confines of predetermined, habitual behavior. In effect, I shift process and thought from the past or future to the now. Instead of thinking “I am this kind of person,” I can say “I behaved in this way.” From here, an exploration of the motivations that led to the behavior can ensue - far more objectively than if it held the weight of defining who I am - which provides the necessary information to do better the next time. Practice is something that I need not be perfect at, so each time I choose practice, I am able to engage with creativity, curiosity, and a willingness to fail.

There is a juncture between practice and mindfulness. Mindfulness is described as a practice and when we truly practice, we are being mindful. Being fully present in a moment, as is the practice of mindfulness, we let go of thinking about how the action we are undertaking defines who we have been or who we will be. This frees and enables us to perform to our fullest capacity. Ironically, not focusing on the past or the future while performing each daily task ultimately leads to the best possible result. (I write that last sentence fully knowing that it may be seen as hyperbole and also roundly believing in its truth!)

Instead of being defined by our habits, let us be transformed by our practices. Everyday, each moment is another opportunity to practice something. And if it doesn’t go so well? Another is just moments away. In the meantime, maybe a little practice at letting go of the habit of negative self-judgment could be good. Just keep practicing!

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Nice Guys Finish Last

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Nice Guys Finish Last

For the last few years, I had a close friend in my life who has been waging a war against being “nice.” He would become annoyed whenever I exhibited this particular behavior, and it often left me feeling  judged and rejected. How could somebody tell me that I was wrong to be nice when all I was trying to do was treat people with respect? As time moved on, I gained an understanding of his definition of nice - putting others’ feelings above my own or pretending like I have positive feelings toward someone or something when I don’t. This is when I began to better understand his position. I could sense, in particular situations, that I was “just being nice.” And I knew deep down that something wasn’t right. Eventually, I realized what it was. Much of the time, when I was being nice toward others, I was not honoring myself or my own experience. It was as if I decided that everyone else’s emotional experience was more important than my own. Call it what you will from the outside - fake, disingenuous, phony - I was lying.

Last week, I wrote about transforming relationships through kindness. I strongly believe in what I wrote - that showing people kindness even in the face of disrespect can, with persistence, change the fabric of a relationship for the better. I know this from many experiences doing just that. Now, I’d like to be clear about what kindness really is. When a person is kind, they are choosing to treat another person with dignity and respect. True kindness does this regardless of the prior actions or the response of the other. But to truly be kind to others, we have to first be kind to ourselves. So, lying about how you feel to protect another person’s feelings is a betrayal of yourself.   By doing this, you are not being kind to yourself!

Of course, there are good reasons  so many people want to be nice. Being nice avoids hurting others. This shows a great amount of care and consideration for everybody else - just not the person doing it. As a culture, we’ve known for a long time that nice guys finish last. This is why! Those that are nice are often not honoring and respecting themselves. At its core, it’s dishonest. When a person chooses this path, they are creating doubt in their relationships. How can those close to you bestow you their trust when they know the majority of your  energy is spent lying to others in order to avoid negative feelings? How can they know that you’re not doing the same thing to them?

Honesty and kindness are not contrary values. In fact, they are deeply intertwined. If friends or family you know and love hurt you and later ask if you’ve forgiven them, being honest is important. If you haven’t forgiven them and you say you have, they’ll find out, leaving you a new hurt to process: your lie to them. Instead of protecting other people’s feelings, it is our duty to be honest about how we feel. This might sound something like “I feel angry” or “I feel sad” in relation to something they’ve done. This can create space for these feelings to be seen and validated, which is an important step to letting them go. I've found that doing this while actively connecting and empathizing with the other person can allow for these feelings to be shared in a way that doesn't create more hurt. This both honors your feelings and those of the other, truly displaying an act of kindness.

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Transforming Relationships

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Transforming Relationships

When I was in college, I worked for what seemed like an eternity as a waiter to pay the bills. The flexibility, high pay relative to other entry-level positions, and especially the social climate were extremely attractive to me fresh out of high school. Everyday, going into work not only fulfilled my need to make money, but I could connect with my peers in an intimate, open, almost familial way. In fact, we sometimes quipped that we were like a family - except for the fact that we were all dating each other. Looking back, this experience was extremely valuable in my development in a number of areas, none more so than in my social development. Every day, I tried and succeeded, or failed at any number of attempts to redefine my identity in the eyes of others and myself. The immediate feedback and mostly forgiving nature of the environment created a great stage for this. I used to joke that, if a conversation wasn’t going my way, I always had a good excuse to hastily retreat - an option I exercised often.

One of these attempts to try a new approach sticks out and is now a fundamental principle on how I interact with others in all types of relationships. This involved a female server at the restaurant who I had worked with for a while but with whom I hadn’t managed to form a positive connection. In fact, I began to dread working with her because she was...not friendly. For months I had been wholly convinced this was personal, that there was something about me she didn’t like, and I felt rejected. Since I already had a close group of friends providing me support and validation, this didn’t have a major impact on me - I just noticed and disliked this reality.

One day, though, I decided to try something to change the situation. I had been resigned for some time to ignoring her crabby remarks or just generally avoiding her as much as I could. But on this day, I decided to engage in a way that I hadn’t before. I remember being in the side station and feeling her frustration as she had just gotten double sat (meaning two new tables at once). She was grumbling under her breath as she walked back to where I was. I stood tall and asked her if there was anything I could do to help her and, as I expected, she snapped back, “I can do this myself.” I calmly responded “ok” and said that if she needed anything, to let me know. As the night progressed, I continued to take this approach, taking a deep breath each time she responded unkindly. At some point when the dinner rush had passed, I mustered up my courage and asked her how she was. This time, I was surprised by her response. She actually decided to share! And it wasn’t just some superficial response, it was emotionally raw and personal - specific events in her life not panning out as she would like and her frustration about this. I listened and offered what consolation I could. I remember feeling a shift at that moment, like I had - for the first time - really connected with her. It felt good.

Once this happened, I knew I had to keep offering myself in this way. I continued to practice this approach with her as we worked together, and I noticed that, each time, she became less resistant to share what was really going on with her. At some point, the bluntly rude demeanor and words disappeared. And now, when she came in to work she would flash a smile to me and say hello. As I looked around, though, she was not offering this to others - at least at first. I realized that I had created this relationship with her, transforming it from what it had once seemed destined to be forever. I felt pride and satisfaction for this shift. I even remember her asking me at some point, “Shawn, why are you always so nice to me?” Damn, I’m tearing up thinking about this.

My lesson from this has been, regardless of how someone treats me, my best option is to treat them with kindness. I learned that it wasn’t personal after all. Her behavior was about her stuff, not about me. This has proven to be true in other similar experiences. I’ve also watched many of my own relationships transform before my eyes because of my refusal to respond unkindly when I am hurt. I have had to hone this skill, as I have also found it important to set boundaries so that I am not taken advantage of. With all of the effort I have put in, it has been far exceeded by the payoff. I now often remind myself - hurt people hurt people and kindness begets kindness.

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Denying Hurt

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Denying Hurt

Last weekend, I attended a men’s retreat* with the intention of forging deep connections with other men - something I have always been simultaneously drawn to and afraid of. In the last few years of my life, I have - with slowly increasing vigor - followed this quiet but nagging internal voice into joining a weekly men’s group and inviting more vulnerability into my life. I decided I was ready to finally sink deeper into the admission that I need others. This, of course, ran contrary to the values instilled deep within me at a young age - I’m speaking of self reliance and complete independence, which inevitably lead to the pervasive need to be considered better than my peers. Although these values have their uses, they can rob us of the genuine intimacy and connections because of their refusal to accept our biological interdependence.  Until this retreat, I believed I had overcome my aversion to deep connection through willful vulnerability, that I had all but mastered this practice. What I have known since is that I have still been holding onto a small slice of my independence or, more accurately, my isolation from others. I have been giving greatly of myself in recent years but only to a certain point, past which I am still protecting what is mine.

Since the retreat, I have been further investigating this notion that I am still protecting some parts of myself. When I look around at others, I realize that everyone is doing this to some extent as well - and for good reason! How can we expect ourselves to go out and truly be who we are when the society we live in is so desperately inclined to shame, condemn, and cast aside those parts of us that aren’t deemed socially appropriate? And why would I give all of myself and surrender my ego when those around me are still inclined to promote their contribution before mine?  Long ago, I chose to embrace the path of vulnerability and connectedness and reject the “every person for themselves”  ideology that leads to isolation. What I now humbly recognize is that I have not yet fully committed myself to vulnerability as a foundational practice.

Today I write with more questions than answers. I am convinced that living a life of vulnerability will allow me to forge stronger, more authentic relationships. I know that when I do this, I can physically feel this connection - it feels warm, energetic, and calming in my chest and diaphragm. In some way, I’m addicted to it. I also know, however, that I often recoil from this whenever I feel hurt. This hurt not only closes me off, it most adamantly tells me to avoid sharing that I am hurt. As I bring awareness to my body right now, I notice that I feel uncomfortable and vulnerable putting these thoughts to words. I have been taught my whole life that men don’t cry. Just suck it up and get on with it. I practiced this so much, I even still sometimes have myself convinced that I am not hurt when I clearly am. I deny my hurt to myself because a part of me says it is unpopular, even unacceptable. Sharing it, especially with its source (the person or event that elicited the feeling), still brings up such great  apprehension that I rarely ever do it.

I can feel that I am still holding back. I want to let go, but I’m scared. I’m afraid I will be judged, especially by other men, as weak. I know  this stands in the way of me living my life to the fullest, but for now, it’s too much for me. Today, I am happy to admit that I am too afraid to share my deepest hurt. I feel free from the prison of denial that I’ve been living in. Now I know what I must do next and I know that I’m not ready just yet. But I am ready to admit to this, and I feel relieved. Today, as I move forward with my life, I am afraid to share my hurt.

*The retreat I attended was put on by Evryman. I am overwhelmed with support for their cause and grateful to have shared in this deeply impactful event. For more information and upcoming events, check out their website @ http://www.evryman.co/

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Pride and Gratitude

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Pride and Gratitude

One of the concepts of spirituality I’ve long struggled with is that of humility. Growing up, the value of humility was highly regarded and stressed - especially in my church community. I thought that other people possessed some secret I didn’t know about because I could never obtain the feeling of humility when it came to my accomplishments. Instead, I always feigned humility while inside feeling triumphant, proud, and, even sometimes,grandiose. I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to feel confident (also a quality whose importance was stressed) and humble at the same time. They seemed to contradict each other.  At some point in my mid-20s, I became acutely aware of this emotional paradox. It became so severe that when I began to feel this way, I would become disgusted with myself. I could recognize it on my face in pictures and videos and in my voice on recordings. This feeling was arrogance. I knew that this was a quality I wanted to avoid, but I couldn’t figure out how. So I tried to hide it from the world.

What stood in my way of really understanding humility was my conception of the real life examples who were touted to espouse this enigmatic trait (basically, Ghandi and Mother Teresa). They seemed awesome, but completely inaccessible. I mean, they were out there fasting, surrounding themselves in struggle, poverty, turmoil. And for what? I did not understand, and more importantly, I could not relate. What I knew, however, is that I didn’t want to be humble if it meant living that way. But, you know what? I’ve come to learn that I don’t have to. There is a way to be humble and confident and still be relatable to the person I am and want to become.

The issue I recognize with humility is the giving away of credit. If I accomplish something, it is important that I am able to tell people what a great job I’ve done. While it may be accurate that I’ve done a great job, there is also truth in the idea that I will never be solely responsible for anything I accomplish. In fact, if I really break it down, my accomplishments are based upon an infinite set of circumstances that were outside of my control. What I do that is good is to take control of what I can and to do my best at it. Humility is the recognition of this fact; that most of what has happened is outside of my control and therefore not mine to take credit for. In this way, I’ve welcomed in a sense of awe and wonder that something so spectacular could happen for me. This is gratitude.

When I operate from a place of gratitude, I am open to accepting the awesomeness of the universe that allowed me to achieve a goal. I feel warm, content, and inspired. Really gooey stuff. From this place, I am able to feel pride for my part in a way that feels balanced with recognition of all other forces that allowed for this success. It allows me to avoid arrogance, as I recognize that I am just a small part of what’s happened and am not an omnipotent being that willed my desire into existence.

When pride takes over and turns into arrogance, we become convinced that it is just us who have succeeded. We begin to believe that we did it alone, that we don’t need others, that we are separate from the disparate factors in the universe contributing to our success. This separateness is an illusion - success does not exist within a vacuum of isolation. In time, this separates us from others and can lead to the dangerous belief that we have more control than we do. I challenge you: the next time you find yourself swelling with pride, allow yourself to recognize what great work you’ve done. Then, make sure to take some time to recognize and appreciate all of the other forces that helped you along the way. And feel grateful!

 

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Resentment

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Resentment

Last week’s blog tried to answer the question “Anger - What is it good for?” If you’re thinking “absolutely nothing, say it again…” then you didn’t read it. But you might be remembering the song “War” by Edwin Starr. It’s a classic. Check it out here! While being good for nothing may or may not be true about war, I can say with certainty that it isn’t about anger. Like I discussed, anger gives us information that we can use to understand how to protect ourselves. This applies both to physical and emotional threats. I think that, most often, anger is used for emotional protection. And what happens when we don’t listen to this anger? We leave ourselves vulnerable while feeling attacked which can allow our own anger to turn back on us, creating resentment.

Resentment is like a colony of very angry villagers that lives inside of us and goes on the offensive whenever the source of our resentment presents itself. This builds up because we don’t want to cause harm with our anger or we are afraid of the consequences of expressing it, so we hold it in. Resentment is sometimes directed at a specific person and other times at an area of emotional insecurity. Whatever its root, it continues to grow in us until we find a healthy way to express the anger from which it builds; that is, a way that doesn’t cause new hurt that can turn into new anger and resentment. For an example, I’ll share from my own experience. I have long made a habit of becoming resentful toward those who I perceive to lash out at me in anger. I do this especially to those with whom I am close. Each time I feel myself get hurt, I swallow and breathe and attempt to let it go. What becomes clearer to me all the time is that I am actually slowly allowing myself to build resentment.

When we become resentful, we have allowed our own anger to turn against us. Just like any emotion, in the end it will express itself. The only choice we have in the matter is when and how. Next time you find yourself smooshing down your anger, try this: express it! Don’t use your anger to get what you want. Instead, allow it to speak for itself, to stand up for itself. Know that it has a right to be there, that it is serving a purpose. Let the anger say its piece while respecting the independence and value of others. Depending on your relationship with anger, this may prove difficult at first. Keep practicing and know that by honoring yours and others experience, you can start to create a new pattern of honesty, understanding, and trust that will allow you to let go of your resentment.

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Anger - What is it Good For?

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Anger - What is it Good For?

I’ve spent a good amount of time in my life believing that I could or should be working to a point where I no longer feel anger. Spiritually,  I’ve believed anger to be a selfish emotion used to get what it wants by force. I have seen this at work many times and have never been able to make peace with the consequences anger results in. I’ve been hurt by the anger of others and my anger has hurt others. I’ve spent periods of my life submitting to another person’s will for fear that they will respond in anger if I do not. I long thought that the only way I could change this was to respond with equal force. I practiced this and got better at it, but I never have felt like it was something I wanted to do if I didn’t have to. All of this searching has led me to is this: when used in any situation other than that which poses a threat of physical or psychological harm, the hurt that anger brings about far outweighs the benefit of accomplishing whatever goal the anger intends. This turns into a cycle, as one person’s anger is received by another as a threat and anger is often the chosen response. Anger begets anger.

I am writing about this today because I am feeling angry. I notice when I write that phrase “I am feeling angry” I am afraid of judgment and of scaring others away. This has kept me from expressing my anger many times. Here, I’d like to make the distinction between using and expressing anger. Using anger is what we do when we intend to accomplish a goal with our anger. Things like blowing up to get your way or getting angry to deter people from asking more questions are examples of this. Expressing anger is when the anger is spoken about, but not in a way that holds others hostage or coerces them into a specific course of action. This can sound something like “I’m feeling angry that nobody’s listening to me,” or “I feel angry because we aren’t doing what I wanted to do!” When we express anger, we validate its purpose and give it a voice. This can give others the ability to change course without feeling like they are being pushed into it. And when others don’t change course? Expressing that anger almost always lessens its effects on us and allows us to get at what’s beneath, which is fear or sadness.

Anger protects us from situations that may cause us harm. There are times when this is valuable, but for most of us, these situations are fewer now than ever before in human history. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t feel anger, though. In fact, anger gives us good information about what we need to do to protect ourselves. Also, by feeling the anger, we often expose the fear or sadness that’s underneath. We should listen. Once the message has been received, though, we have the ability to take that energy and use it to accomplish our goals without hurting others; to express our anger without using it. When we do this, we create stronger, more trusting relationships with others and open ourselves up to a deeper understanding of our deepest motivations.

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Self-Confidence

Self-Confidence

Confidence is tricky. At one time or another, we have all felt the exuberance of confidence, the swell of our chest and head, the profound feeling of competence. It may have been a time when we performed a task with great skill or when we received praise from others. Especially in the early years of life, confidence is something we derive from our external environment. When others think we’re great, we think so too! So, those who experience success regularly and at the variety of tasks they are expected to perform (potty training, school, sports etc.) are often those who have the most confidence. This concept seems unfair as there are so many people who do not come into the world naturally gifted at these tasks. And even for those who do, they get knocked down too. At some point in the arc of life, we all revert back to being helpless and having very few practical skills from which to derive confidence. Regardless, we all have the ability to feel confident.

The biggest issue we face in this regard is the concept of “normal.” I have strong negative feelings toward this concept because to most, it is treated like a fact. This is normal. That is normal. When people feel down, the phrase that I hear the most often is “I just want to feel normal.” If you traveled around the world and stopped every 100 miles to ask one person what normal is, you would have 249 different answers (I just looked up the earth’s circumference and it is 24,901 miles:) You probably wouldn’t run into people in the water though, so let’s rough estimate 200. You would have 200 different answers. And it’s from this idea of what’s “normal” that we decide if something that we are good at and enjoy has value and thereby feel confident about it. There are so many layers here, but the idea is that there is not one right or “normal”  way to do things.

I said at the top that confidence is tricky. I would love to write that we should all be confident regardless of what the outside world says, but I don’t believe this to be true. What I do believe is that we all have the right to work for confidence. In my experience, this comes from doing what we can with what we have to add value to our lives, the lives of those around us, and to the world at large. This is not something that we alone hold the controls to because it is our duty to listen to the world around us and figure out what it would like for us to do with our gifts. It also is not in the control of others or our society, as we know that sometimes even large groups of people can be severely misguided in their concept of what is right. Instead, it is important to thoughtfully consider the norms of society and your own beliefs to decide what is right for you. Even when this goes against the grain, if you follow this path, know that you’ve earned the right to feel confident.

Each week I struggle to keep what I’m writing about brief. I know attention spans are shorter than they once were and that folks are busy, but each topic relates strongly to so many others that I feel incomplete not mentioning these connections. Please keep this in mind as you read this blog and post any comments or questions you have on the facebook page @manmadementors.

Seeing Through the Fog

Seeing Through the Fog

 

There are times in every journey that hope is lost and direction becomes unclear. I have experienced this myself and witnessed it in others more times than I can count. When we hear a story about success, it almost always includes this moment as a potential turning point. What follows is either a massive change in direction or a huge increase in resolve to stay the course. If you look up inspirational quotes, you’ll find countless that address this moment and offer guidance about how to respond. “Don’t give up,” and “follow your heart,” are a couple of examples. While I don’t have a new idea on the matter, I do have a suggestion with a bit more direction or an order of operations. My suggestion is this: Be patient, listen, and stay engaged.

Be patient. This too will pass. As with everything and since the beginning of time, things will change. Don’t be so arrogant to think that you can take control of a situation and dictate the outcome. You might find that fighting for what you want is the answer, but do so as an act of passion and purpose and not with the expectation of a specific result.

Listen. There are infinite responses to any situation. It can feel overwhelming to consider them all and we are stubborn if we refuse to look at alternatives. Hear what you are being told. This could come as good advice from a friend or family member, an idea from something you read or watch on tv, or it could simply come from a different state of mind that you are able to accomplish by not giving up or forcing a specific outcome. Listen and the answer will reveal itself in time.

Stay engaged. This is the opposite of giving up. You might not yet know what the right choice is for the issue at hand, but don’t let that stop you from continuing to make progress in some direction. For me, it has often just been this that has revealed to me what to do next. Waiting around can lead to overthinking and further feelings of hopelessness. Keep doing stuff and you will find the answers you seek.

This will be the last entry of the “Find Your Path” series. I have been listening and am feeling drawn to write about other things that feel important right now. There are many more things to be said about finding the right path and I welcome any comments or questions that may come up on this matter. Just leave a message on the ManMade Mentors Facebook page and I’ll be sure to respond!

Staying Open

Staying Open

I’ve spoken a number of times in this series about the importance of being open to whatever “it” is when your path reveals itself to you. After many years of practice this concept makes intuitive sense to me, but I can remember a time when this was not so. Openness is absolutely foundational to anyone attempting to live their most authentic life. It also leads to less solidity in direction (a result of persistent exploration) and increased vulnerability. This has the potential to create seemingly more dire situations in our lives than we may have otherwise experienced. As a result, we may plummet down to the bottom of the pyramid Maslow created (if you’re not familiar, check out “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”) and can find that our ability to feel safe and secure or even meet our most basic physiological needs (food, shelter, rest) is threatened. Examples of this level of openness would be quitting a job or ending a relationship to follow our heart. Rereading that, I can see that I’m not selling this very well. Hang in there!

Look no further than pop-culture to know that we have a fascination with the idea of being open to new things. This is greatly a consequence of generations repressing the desire to explore in favor of “safety and security.” The example that comes to mind is the movie “Yes Man,” with Jim Carrey playing the lead role. If you haven’t seen it, the plot goes something like this: man is in a rut, goes to a seminar that directs him to say ‘yes’ to everything, man’s life transforms, lives happily ever after! The movie also portrays, thankfully, the downside of being “too” open, when saying ‘yes’ to everything causes trouble in the man’s life. So, openness is good, but how open should we be?

I use a pretty basic model to clarify what the right amount of open is (one created by Tom Senninger) and, as you may have guessed, it is different for everyone. The concept is this: Imagine that everything you’ve done and feel comfortable with is gathered together into a circle and that everything in this circle is now labeled your “comfort zone.” The comfort zone is a place of safety and security, important no doubt, but it does not include any new experiences. Right outside of this comfort zone is the “stretch” or “learning” zone. Here, you don’t feel capable, at least right away, and there is some anxiety that comes along with the experience. Although these feelings are present, you are able to engage willingly. Finally, outside of the learning zone exists the “panic zone.” This area is where experiences do not allow for learning because our fear response is too great. These experiences are frequently traumatic.

The idea is to put yourself into the stretch zone, at times as close to the outer edge as possible. Entering into this zone is the only way that we can learn and grow. It also puts us in a position to have a greater variety of experiences that can lead to the discovery of our ultimate path. This expands the comfort zone and the number of choices that seem realistic. Make this a practice in your life and you are bound to stumble upon what you are meant for.

Check out these links for more information on "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs" and "The Learning Zone" concepts. 

 

Your Internal Compass

Your Internal Compass

In the first blog of this series I wrote that, like in love, when you find your path you’ll “just know.” I believe this because I feel, nearly every day, that what I’m doing is what I’m meant for. In my external world, it is reflected to me that I am doing good work, that I am having a positive impact, that I have the skills and talent for what I am pursuing. Internally, I feel excited, curious, and continually interested in this path and willingly engage in it over other activities because I genuinely want to. For me, this is the first time in my life that both my internal motivations and the external feedback that I receive send the same message. This took some time to fall into place.

I have seen many examples of people who I believe have found their path but do not experience this alignment between the inner and outer worlds, at least not right away. One of my musical heroes, the great Bill Withers, was 32 before he found success as a recording artist. He wrote and performed songs and tried to get his foot in the door of the music industry for five years before saving up to record his own demo. The process of making the first record wasn’t exactly a strong external sign either, having to be delayed six months in between recording sessions because the label ran out of money. It was on the same day, after the years of pursuing a career as a recording artist and being laid off of his job, that he received two calls: one to return to work and the other to be a guest on Johnny Carson. This is when his inner and outer worlds merged.

When I look at an example like Bill Withers, I am reminded that our internal compass has good directions for us to follow. The timing may be different than we want for ourselves, but the uncertainty and fear that comes with waiting are part of the process. Anyone who has experienced success will tell you that it is a combination of preparation and opportunity. The time spent in uncertainty is our time to prepare, to become ready to head down our path. If we let fear keep us from daily practice, we may not be ready when the time comes. Getting to know ourselves and following our internal compass may not always lead down the path we are expecting, but it will prepare us for the one we are meant for.

Living in Uncertainty

Living in Uncertainty

Probably the most difficult part of finding your path is the uncertainty that comes along with not knowing what it is.  Like I said in last weeks blog, there is no right way to engage in this journey and the process is different, both in quality and length, for everyone. This can lead to long periods of time, even years, of not knowing and this uncertainty can lead to feeling hopeless and lost. For me, I can remember many years when I looked at examples of others my age and felt devastated that they had advanced far past me in the same amount of time. This comparison led to my seeking out shortcuts which all came and went with no more direction than I had before.

Looking back now, I recognize that the uncertainty was part of my path.  Because I kept questioning, searching for what I was meant for, I meandered my way, without knowing, to the trail I was meant to embark upon. The funny thing about looking back is that it all makes sense to me now.  I needed to have the exact experiences I had to find my way.  I couldn’t have foreseen or planned many of the events that occurred and yet it sometimes feels like, in some way, I knew that I needed to experience them.

It is this knowing, not from a place of careful planning or thoughtful deliberation but from a place of feeling deeply and trusting what presents itself, that guided me to where I am and helped me to know where I’m going. The only other thing I had to do was be open to the messages I was receiving. I believe this is true for all of us. At certain stages in our lives, we are not meant to know. I didn’t know when I graduated from college at 24 with a degree in business that I was meant to work with people to help them develop and grow.  Grasping for this knowledge and attempting to control our life’s outcomes only leads us farther away from where we’re meant to be. Allow your path to reveal itself to you in its own time by remaining open to all possibilities and making peace with your uncertainty. Do this and you will learn and grow during this time and be ready to embark on your journey when the time is right.

Find Your Path

Find Your Path

Finding the unique gift we are meant to bring to the world is the primary task of our lives. Like falling in love, those who have found this gift will say they “just knew.” This isn’t received as consolation to those who haven’t and it raises the questions “how,” or “where should I look?” Truly, the answers to these questions are different for each person. There is no right way to find your path and nobody can tell you where it is.  It is your job to discover what is right for you. And yes, when you find it, you’ll just know.

The good news is that we can help others find their path just by being a positive force in their lives.  As we progress through adolescence and early adulthood, we are repeatedly faced with obstacles, some of which are seemingly insurmountable. Because of this, we feel the desire to give up, bury our head in a hole and not come out.  This feeling is natural and important to engage with because it holds valuable information about what to (or not to) do next.  The people that care about us need to step in to let us know that this feeling, like all others, will pass. They also need to encourage us to do something productive. Really, whatever we choose is the RIGHT thing as long as it fuels our growth. Even if it’s wrong for us, we’ll find that out soon enough and change course.  The importance lies in our continued exploration.  

Everybody’s timeline is different.  There is no wrong way to find yourself and the more we tell ourselves that we’re doing it wrong, the more we obscure the path that is meant for us. Rather than trying to control or manipulate, allow it to come in its own time. If we do this, we must then surrender to whatever this may be.  What is meant for us is so much more than we could ever plan. We just have to be ready to let go of those expectations and self-identifications to move forward strongly in our destined direction.

This is the first entry of the “Find Your Path” series.  Stay tuned each week as I will dive deeper into my experience and perspective on this important topic.

Treat Yourself

Treat Yourself

The relationship we have with ourselves is the most important one we have.  The way we treat ourselves sets the tone for how we treat others.  This idea has gotten me through the forest of anger to the shores of compassion and understanding many times with folks in my life.  It has helped me to realize that, if someone is treating me badly, they must be getting it even worse. The truth is, nearly everyone is doing this and very few have found a way to break the cycle.  

I can say from investigating my own thought patterns that I came to think this way using the justification, “I won’t grow unless I really scold myself for my mistakes.”  I know I heard this idea thrown around and I totally bought it. The fear that drove this was that if I didn’t scold myself in this way, I would never learn and become soft and undisciplined.   As I developed into my twenties, I started to notice that all of the areas where I was beating myself up were the same areas that I was not growing. I began to discover that talking to myself harshly about my mistakes brought up feelings of shame and inferiority, both of which kept me convinced that I could not do any better.  

What I’ve learned is that a good dose of firmness mixed with compassion (a la last week’s blog post) is what leads to the most growth.  Doing this, I can hold myself accountable without bringing up negative emotions. This allows me to, with a good amount of objectivity, assess my behavior and make a plan to do better in the future. That’s what I want. That’s what we all want --- growth spurred by understanding and compassion rather than scorn and shame.  

This week I propose a challenge: Notice the way you talk to yourself when you’ve made a mistake. After you’ve done this, ask yourself if this is a way that you would allow someone else to talk to you.  If it is, you are most likely showing yourself kindness and understanding.  If not, make a change.  Trust that you can grow without shame and try showing yourself the firmness and compassion that is important to maintain any healthy relationship.  If you do, be ready for the nature of all of your relationships to develop into truly collaborative and supportive ones.  

 

Firm AND Compassionate

Firm AND Compassionate

For those lucky enough to have grown up in a home with both parents, we may have been exposed to one parent who is gentle and kind and the other being rigid and uncompromising. This balance seems to have worked to raise children for generations somewhat successfully. However, the flaws of this approach are apparent, namely that both parents in this arrangement end up feeling unsupported and the kids learn that you can only be one way or the other.  Either your are understanding or you are firm.  This pattern is then repeated when they have children and so it continues.

As with anything, it is balance that we should seek to find. I will often point to the principle of finding balance as it is foundational in anything we choose to do.  There is a balanced way to address our kids that shows both compassion and firmness.  And why, you may ask, are more parents not doing this? Two reasons: 1. People repeat the patterns they know, so if this is how their parents were, you can bet they will be the same way and 2. It’s hard to strike a balance between these two values.  This is because a parent is now responsible for both withholding what their child wants and empathizing about how hard it must be not to have it.  Sound cruel?  It can be, when done with malice.  When done with love, a parent is able to vulnerably show their child the hurt they (the parent) feel by not giving them what they want while calmly remaining firm on the boundary.  This creates safety for the child and teaches them the lesson that actions have consequences.  They may not now, but someday they will appreciate this, both for how it positively molded them and how difficult it was.

For an example, I’ll point to the idea of privileges.  As kids, our parents give us things with the understanding that, if we don’t abide by the rules of the house, we will lose them.  This is a great system as it replicates the adult world (jobs/relationships) and trains us with an understanding of how this might work in the future.  So, when given the most coveted privilege of adolescence, the cell phone, many young people are thrilled.  In the event that major rules are broken, however, this privilege may be taken away.  To be balanced in your approach, calmly bring up with your child that a significant rule has been broken and, as a result, you will be taking away their phone for a specified amount of time.  Are they yelling? Telling you that they hate you?  Screaming that they are going to run away?  Calmly let them know that you know this is a bummer for them and that they can earn the phone back in no time by making the choice to follow the rules.  They won’t give it to you?  Let them know you’ll shut off service, change the Wi-Fi password and that each day they keep it adds two days to the amount of time it will be taken away.  Do this with respect of the fact that you are taking away their most prized possession.  Don’t belittle their relationship with their phone and don’t threaten more time for yelling or being upset.  Let them know that you understand why they are upset and that you still have to take away the phone.  Do this consistently and your child may begin to feel safe enough to display their deepest emotions with you instead of at you.

Emphasizing Connections

It’s hard to become a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adult human.  It’s really, very hard. No time is more indicative of this struggle than the teenage years, where we’re suddenly grappling with the shift from being a fun-loving, care-free kid to a young adult from whom many things are expected but to whom little responsibility or freedom is bestowed.  It can be confusing at times, maddening at others...and that’s just the perspective of the teen!  For the parents, family members, and community members involved in helping to guide this person, it can feel at times like dealing with a dangerous, wild animal. The use of extreme emotions to get what they believe they deserve combined with the, sometimes, complete absence of reason or acceptable understanding of all factors at play can leave caregivers feeling helpless, powerless, and out of control.

There is good news here, and it simply requires a bit of a perspective shift.  The idea is that it is actually the job of adults to teach young people that their behaviors and choices impact others around them. Whether you understand this from a spiritual, philosophical, or practical perspective, the idea becomes evident as we mature.  Our actions affect others and theirs us, whether we like it or not. Unfortunately, this understanding is not yet fully developed in the teenage years.  The difficulty of the stage of adolescence is that the most important task becomes self-exploration and identity development. There’s just not enough energy for teens to focus on themselves and others.  So, the teenager takes priority and others suffer.  Rather than viewing them as selfish, oppositional, or lazy, the more helpful perspective is to believe that, at this stage of development, this is actually their job and they should not be doing anything differently.

To balance this out, it is our job as adults to regularly point, non-judgmentally, to the signs that exist which indicate the consequences (both positive and negative) that result from a course of action.  For example, if a young person breaks up with their boy or girlfriend and experiences backlash from their social group, ask them questions about what happened. What led them to want to break up?  How did others respond?  Do they feel it was fair or unfair?  Avoid providing answers.  Be ready to point out blind spots without insisting that they see or accept them as true. This will give your teen the ability to look at their choice and consider its connection to other forces in their world. This open exploration of what happened can help guide them to come to their own, well-informed conclusion, without raising the natural defensiveness common at this age (more on this next time).  The takeaway here is: the more dots you can help your teen connect, the greater understanding they will develop regarding their impact on others.

Of course, every relationship between parent and teen is different and you might not feel able to enter into this kind of dialogue.  Stay tuned for next week’s blog, which will discuss improving the relationship by setting firm boundaries from a place of compassion.

The Trap of Comparison

Comparing ourselves to others is maybe the most natural and prevalent thought process we engage in as humans, and for good reason.  Comparing is a form of judgment that allows us to identify our place in the world in relation to others.  Most people who have gained a high level of success at anything are able to take the comparisons they derive from their judgments and use them as motivation, cues for improvement, or sometimes acceptance of a shortcoming in natural ability compared to others.  This can help guide a person to make the right choices for them to find their most effective place in the world. 

Unfortunately, there is often a dark side to these comparisons and one that I see is all too common.  More often than not, people use the information they gain from this to put themselves down or make excuses for what they haven’t accomplished. Sometimes, people will even use them as toxic motivation that, instead of building themselves up,  breaks others down so that by comparison, they can claim superiority.   This can look a whole lot of different ways, but almost always involves a cycle of self-shaming, feelings of insecurity, and decrease in optimism about what can be accomplished.

Here’s the pickle: How can you take a process that has evolved naturally into a self-destructive thought mechanism and begin to use it for good?  The answer: practice!  Well, first you have to notice and accept that this is what you are doing and it isn’t doing you any good; then, practice doing it a different way.  For example, if you’re really into the idea of becoming an actor and you become aware (jealous) of someone else who, in your judgment, is better than you, learn from them!  Observe this person and take away what you can to hone your own skills.  If it feels safe, even consider asking them for help.  Remember, nothing is forever and always.  Your perception of who you are and what you’re capable of is always changing.  Put in focused practice to improve in areas of interest and you can become what you currently envy.

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What are we fighting for?

When I look around at people exchanging viewpoints, I notice that it almost always devolves to nothing more than fighting: attack, defend, counter-attack. And no, I don't mean arguing. I mean disrespectful, win at any cost, break the other guy down to build yourself up verbal warfare. Most glaringly, this happens in our political world where both sides are so entrenched in their ideologies that they are not even considering the viewpoint of the other.  Instead of attempting to reach a compromise, the issue is put aside and an all out attack is launched to destroy the opposition’s character.  If this is accomplished, then the path is clear to forge ahead with the original agenda unscathed.

I haven't been around long enough to say for sure where this cycle started, but I can say that it is a cycle and, like any cycle, it will continue until it is broken. I don’t have the solution for this problem, at least on the grand scale. What I can say is something that will be a theme in anything you read from me: It is your responsibility to break this cycle in your life.

Here is what has worked for me with good success in my life. Firstly, the most important thing to remember in any conversation is what your goal is. Is your goal to make the other person believe what you do? If so, really ask yourself what it is like for you when people shove their views down your throat. In my life, I have never met anyone who loved to be dominated in a conversation. My experience has led me to regularly strive for two things and they both fall under the umbrella of respectful communication. The first is to feel like the other person really hears and understands my side. The second is to really try to listen to and understand their side of things. These two things are inseparable. If you listen, they are more likely to listen. If you respect their view, they are more likely to do the same for you. Not always, but often and more and more as you improve your respectful communication skills.

Each time I've considered this approach to a conversation, it has brought me to think about a person in my life who was particularly hard for me to communicate with. Was it really possible for this to change? Maybe, maybe not. This cycle is deeply ingrained in our culture. Some may find your new approach refreshing, but many will find it insulting and will become further entrenched in their combative ways. At least at first. This is an issue of trust. They may think that you are only tricking them into being open to your side just to attack them once their defenses are down. Keep the course. There is no excuse for treating someone with disrespect and the worst excuse of all is that they started it. This is childish and if you're a child, then you have every right to fight fire with fire. As adults, we need to learn to put fires out.

Once you've decided on a new set of goals, the next and only necessary step is consistency. When you are attacked, attempt to listen better. Show a person you understand them and they will pull back their troops. When you realize that you are on the attack, pull yourself back. If you can't do it in the moment, apologize for it later. This will help for future conversations with that person and it will build trust. Once trust is established, you'd be amazed at how much more can be communicated without hurt feelings.

As Dan Doty would say, “Grow Up!” Winning an argument at any cost does not make you a victor, it makes you the biggest baby. It takes strength, commitment, and integrity to sacrifice winning an argument to maintain respect. This also makes you a winner in the end anyway, as you will form deeper relationships with greater trust because of it.

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