Monthly Archives: September 2016

What is Your Truth?

With the first Presidential debates coming up in the next week, I can’t help but think how we can all learn something from the candidates.  Not so much from their views on issues, but from the way they communicate their beliefs, and their world-view.  Things didn’t get this out of control over night.  Our collective belief system in this country has been gravitating for years to the firestorm that fuels our political and personal atmospheres today.

In social media, and on the political scene today, the extreme beliefs that permeate our society have gotten out of hand.  A difference of opinion is turned into a personal battlefield.  Everyone seems to be more invested in being RIGHT, than in stopping to listen to the other side, learning something from it and then uniting our differences to come to a better or stronger solution.

The way our elected officials and the Presidential candidates behave towards each other and use personal attacks to prove their own righteousness at the expense of the rest of us has become the epitome of this mindset.  For the past several years, it has plummeted to the level of bullying.  Most of us, as parents, make every effort to prevent our children from succumbing to such acts.  But if they are exposed to news programs about the election, debates or the political process at all (which I believe they should be) they are seeing adults behave in ways towards each other that have to be confusing to them!

Beliefs are important in our culture. We have each developed a set of beliefs by which we rule our lives.  Even those who say they don’t have a strong belief system think and behave according to certain beliefs they’ve developed, whether or not they are completely conscious of them.

Beliefs are just thoughts we string together and think often enough for them to gain weight.  The more weight they gain, the stronger the belief.  These thoughts have developed from things our parents told us – and what we watched them do, what we’ve heard in church and school, in society at large, from our friends, and from things that have happened to us and that we have witnessed.  Thoughts are some of the most powerful energy on this planet.  (Notice I did not say they produce powerful energy – they ARE energy).  But the point here is that we all think our belief is THE truth.

For this blog, I want to focus on our beliefs and how they manifest.  If we’re conscious of this, I think it helps us to understand how we can manage our communication with each other in a more respectful way – with the intent to come to agreement, rather than just bulldoze our own agenda past the other.

It reminds me of the ancient story about the blind men who were told there was an elephant in their village.  I’m sure you’ve all heard it, but I’m going to briefly share it here, just to make my point.

The men had no clue what an elephant was, but they decided they would go feel it because that’s the way they “see”. Each of them touched the elephant.   One touched the leg and said the elephant is a pillar.  The next touched the tail and said it was like a rope.  Then there was the man who touched the trunk and thought the elephant was like a thick branch of a tree.  The one who touched the ear thought it was like a big fan; the man touching the belly said it was like a huge wall.  The last man touched the tusk and said they were all wrong because the elephant was like a solid pipe!

As they argued about the elephant, each insisting he was RIGHT and becoming very agitated, a sighted man arrived. When they told him what they were arguing about, he told them they were  ALL right, and that the reason they each felt differently was because they had touched a different part of the elephant. When the blind men heard this, there was no more reason to fight.

Are you like the blind men?  As I said before, we all “see” life through the lens of our own experiences, thoughts, and beliefs – which lead to our own perspective. That perspective is what drives our attitudes, how we feel and how we behave.  Our focus tends to be pretty narrow.  If I’m in a dark room with only a flashlight, the things I shine the light on are the things I see, and  therefore the things that inform my beliefs.  That is my truth.  Someone else in the same room, might shine their light on other things, and consequently come to a different truth than mine.

But what happens when someone walks in and flips the switch to light up the whole room?  Then we both have access to everything in the room. Those things have always been there, we just didn’t see them all.  We each might see at least some of the same things the other was focusing on, and at the very least, we might begin to question the beliefs we had each developed and so strongly held onto.  Might the other person have had a point to their perspective?

When we can remember that we each have our own truth, based on our own experiences and values – and can learn to explain how it effects us, it teaches us to be more tolerant towards others for their viewpoints.  We also each have to be able to hear (and empathize) when others describe how their truth effects them.  None of us is wrong when we can see where each of us comes from.  We may never completely agree. We’re still going to have experiences that affect us strongly enough that we hold on staunchly.   But we might at least be able to begin to work together to come to a more unified sense of truth for more of us.  If we don’t, no one wins.

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.  

-Marcus Aurelius

A New Normal

As I watched the TV coverage of the 15th anniversary of 9/11 last weekend, I found myself in a quiet, contemplative mood. That day changed the course of many things in our culture, and I’m reminded of the many layers of grief that we’ve all experienced because of it.  Consequently, I thought it might be appropriate to re-post a blog about how we all have to deal with grief, and the challenge of finding our way through it in the best way we can.

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What grief is really about is the process of experiencing the changes in our lives and finally getting to the point of understanding that we’ll never go back to exactly the way we were. We have to embrace the changes and eventually realize there is a new normal. It won’t be the same, we may not like it as well as what we had before, but it can be better or at least as good.  The one thing we can be sure of – it will be different.

Grief is not confined to the loss of loved ones or relationships. It extends to any change in our lives: the birth of a new baby, an older child going off to college, a job loss or change; the list is endless. Some of these are positive changes and some are losses; some are a combination. But they are all change. This list should also probably include the huge changes that are taking place at lightning speed in all of our lives today because of the internet, immediate news coverage and other technological advances.

When something happens like the economy change we all experienced several years ago, 9/11, the wars and terrorist attacks that are threatening the lives of many innocent people over the world, the displacement of millions of refugees – even the emergence of new laws, like the Supreme Court decision that made same sex marriage legal – the way we have always perceived our world is affected. If the change is something we had hoped for and worked to implement, it makes it easier to accept.

But often, we felt a sense of safety because we thought we knew “how things were supposed to be.” Then when something happens, we may feel threatened – life as we have always known it, is gone. We try to deny it – or if we acknowledge it, we still hope/wish it will go back to the way it was. If we maintain this mindset for long, it puts us into a holding pattern. We wait it out, assuming that one day things will go back to “normal”. As this time of waiting increases, we are just existing. We miss out on life. We don’t experience the day to day joys – and sorrows. We just don’t experience life as it happens. We sit in depression, missing what used to be and in anxiety, wondering when it’s going to change back, so we can get on with our lives.  Some become angry and try to fight it.

One example that illustrates this is people who have successfully found recovery through the 12 Step programs. They eventually realize they have grieved the “good old days” – the partying, the fun or the escape they experienced as their addiction progressed, the self identity they developed over time as the life of the party, or just someone who could enjoy an occasional drink (although as addiction progresses, “a drink” is usually not the norm). And they have begun to accept that things will be different, and there will be a new normal in their lives.

Our grief process from the loss of a loved one, a broken relationship, a job, or a major social change is not different. We have to get to a place where we recognize – and even embrace the fact that things will never be exactly the same.

In his book THE TURNING POINT, Gregg Braden called this expanded resilience. Resilience is the ability to return to normal functioning after a trauma in our lives. As Gregg explained it, expanded resilience is the ability to think and live every day in a way that allows us to thrive in whatever comes, because we’re facing reality. He goes on to discuss physiological reasons we become less resilient as we age or face traumas, and new technology, such as HeartMath that is being used to help us learn to expand our resilience.

For my purpose here, I just wanted to make the point that regardless of whether we are experiencing the loss of a loved one, or some other change in our lives, we are probably at some stage of grief. It’s important to take the time we need to mourn the relationship/things we’ve lost, and even the hopes we had for our future that won’t happen now.

But it’s also important to be as honest and open to whatever comes each day. If we continue to hold on to what was, we won’t be able to create space in our lives for what will be.

“It is not the bars that hold the tiger in, but the space between them.”

So Much to Do

The title of this article is my life story these days.  I’m supposed to be “semi-retired,” but just yesterday, I said to my husband, “Our lives are not supposed to be this complicated at this age!!”  In the past, I over-committed myself to the point of exhaustion.  Currently, I’m really not doing it to myself, but there are issues to deal with in our lives that just take a lot of time and energy.

So, as I continue to do what has always worked for me to stay centered – exercise, meditation and eating as healthy as I can MOST days, I also am using the stress-management tool of setting priorities and putting more energy into those things that have deadlines – or that are really more important (like my family).

This blog has always been a priority for me because it keeps me in touch with people I haven’t seen for a while and others I’ve never met, but find interesting and like-minded.  Each week as I ponder what I should write about, I think to myself, “I don’t have time to write a blog this week!”  Then I sit down & just start writing what’s going on inside.

I’ve learned that I don’t have to let myself be overwhelmed by all I have to do.  I stop thinking about how much there is to do, and start getting it done!  Feeling overwhelmed is just a state of mind that I choose.  Or I can choose to let it go.

The older I get, the faster time speeds by.  But rather than panic when I feel deadlines creep up on me, I can make each moment meaningful.  Each moment that comes is an opportunity to experience something fully.  That experience isn’t always positive – but if I allow myself to feel it instead of turn it into anxiety, it is always authentic.

That’s how things get done; moment by moment, step by step, one day at a time.  Small tasks added to one another build into larger, more fulfilling accomplishments.  And those accomplishments build into a more fulfilling life.

However, while accomplishing things feels good, it’s not what all of life is about.  Doing things, especially if they make life better for ourselves or others, is important.  But the people I know who have found the most fulfillment in their lives understand that it’s more about “being” than about “doing.”  Understanding that simply as human beings, we are worthy of love and respect is a concept that often escapes us.  I see friends and acquaintances who seem hyper focused on accomplishments – learning new things so they’ll be better at their jobs, making more money so they’ll be able to afford more “stuff.”  Both of these avenues of “doing” are about finding a sense of security.  We need to really examine WHY we feel the need to compulsively “do.”  While neither is necessarily bad, and it’s fine to want to improve ourselves and our skills, when we do it compulsively, there’s a sense of insecurity we are trying to avoid dealing with; and we are missing the point that we are OK just the way we are.

And on the other side, I see a lot of people beating themselves up because they DON’T do the things they think will help them be a better person.  Perhaps they are more honest with themselves about their insecurities, but they are also people who are wonderful, just as they are.  They’re just approaching those insecurities from a place of shame, which only continues the cycle of compulsion, as opposed to one of abundance and fulfillment.

Taking things a step at a time, resting between the steps and asking for guidance before I move on to each next step – and during those resting points, appreciating that I am a piece of the loving energy that created this life (and acknowledging that, as such, I must be LIKE that loving energy) is what keeps life from feeling so overwhelming.  Before I know it, I’m able to look back at the task that originally felt so overwhelming with pride and gratitude for the opportunity.

And then I can remind myself that I would have been just as worthy if I hadn’t done it at all!

What My Mother Taught Me

This blog is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Roberta Linnens Koestel. As I write, it is the 16th anniversary of her death.

Many of my clients had parents who were sick and abusive. Consequently they weren’t all taught to be empowered as a human being – to know what choices were available – or even that they had choices. We can’t give something we don’t have, and often our parents were victims as children themselves. But we can learn from what we were given, if we allow ourselves to step outside and become the compassionate observer of our lives.

Often a client will say, “I wish I had another mother or father.  Why couldn’t I have a loving family?” We all deserve to have love in our lives. But we also need to accept the hand that is dealt. Many have parents who were very loving, and who taught them valuable lessons. But I would venture to guess that even those people secretly wish one or both of their parents was different in some way. Virtually no one has had perfect parents. But our parents are who they are. They’re human with virtues and with frailties, as are we.

OK, here’s where I get “woo woo” on you again, so feel free to quit reading at this point if it makes you uncomfortable. (I hope you will continue though, because I believe what I’m about to say can be helpful.  But please know that I am not trying to convince you of anything – just to explain my view point and how it helps me). Many of you know I study the Afterlife extensively, so my beliefs have evolved from this education, and I’ve learned much about how I want to live my life here, today.

I believe I chose my family – contracted with their souls to incarnate together to help each other experience specific characteristics and emotions so that our souls can expand and continue to grow toward enlightenment. For me, when I can look at life in that way, it makes it not quite so personal – I can see it as I see my granddaughter’s problems. I know they’re very important to her at this moment, and I can have compassion for her as I attempt to help. But I (personally) have moved way past the playground woes of a 7 year old. So I can see the whole picture, and the possible outcomes, depending on how she chooses to deal with the issue at hand.

From my understanding, this is how our souls look at this life on earth. As the spirit, we are intricately connected to our everyday dilemmas, yet simultaneously detached enough to learn the lessons presented.

Back to our parents, and more specifically, my mom. As I matured, I began to question my parent’s beliefs, as many of us do. Most of their values (such as family, personal responsibility, compassion for others, a strong work ethic, etc) fit for me. There were others that were more unconscious, but still drove their behaviors, that I silently challenged.

My dad was a farmer, but beneath his rough exterior, he was a shy, kind, gentle man. Mom was also a good person who was active in our small community; but she was more irritable and reactive at times.

One message I got loud and clear from my mother was to not be “melodramatic”, which meant don’t show anger or cry in public. So I learned very early to shut my emotions down, because it’s much easier not to show them if I didn’t feel them. (I was in my 40′s before I actually worked through this one).

My mom also deserves much of the credit for my strong belief in inclusiveness and acceptance of others for who they are. She taught this through her own self-concern. Although she was a generous, considerate woman, there was a pivotal situation in my life when it was clear to me that she was embarrassed, and much more worried about how others were seeing my behavior (and perhaps how she looked as a mother), than about what I might be going through at the time. I remember the exact moment I promised myself that I would always look at the effect a situation was having on another in order to understand how I could be there for them. Not that it isn’t important to express myself if I disagree or can’t understand their feelings, but I make every effort to do that from a non-judgmental place.

Education and perseverance are important values I learned from my mom. She was an excellent example of a strong woman. She taught in a one room schoolhouse before marriage, and when I was in elementary school, she went back to get her degree in education; going on to teach for years. I followed her lead here. Having quit college after my first year to get married and start my family, I went back when my kids were in elementary and Jr. high to finish two degrees.

There are other valuable lessons my mother taught me, but I think the most important was that I could do and be anything I wanted. There were no obstacles, only opportunities.

So as I remember my mother today, I’ve used her as an example. As I’ve learned with clients, when we actually process their childhoods, there are always more positive memories that surface than they originally remembered. It’s just that the hurtful ones leave scars and overshadow the good. Negativity is heavy and sticky.

I believe all parents do the best they can with the resources they have available to them. We all do. When we know better, we do better!

I love you, Mom. And thanks!