Monthly Archives: June 2018

What Is Your Truth?

The way we communicate our beliefs and world-view differs for each of us.  The last several years in this country, we all seem to have fortgotten that the real purpose of communication is NOT to prove who’s right and who’s wrong, but to come to a place where we can understand each other. There are some things on which we’ll never agree. But if we choose to, we CAN find ways to co-exist without hating each other. 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 and stronger solution.

The way our elected officials 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 social issues and the political process at all (which I have always believed they should be, depending on their level of maturity and ability to understand) 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 beliefs they’ve developed about how they view their environment, 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 physically touch it because that’s the way they “see”. Each of them touched the elephant. One touched the leg and said the elephant was a tree.  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 large snake.  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 spear!

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 affects 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 affects 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 a grief therapist, I’ve worked with many clients who were struggling with the deep (and inescapable) trauma of the loss of a loved one. There’s no right or wrong way to navigate grief. But it’s one of the few things EVERYONE will have to experience at some point in our lives. With the news recently forcing us to look at suicide and other losses again, I thought it might be a good time to, once again, look at how grief expresses itself.

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 promotion; the list is endless. Some of these are positive changes and some are obvious losses; but even with positive change, there is a loss of what was. 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. Even for those of us who enjoy the challenge of change, it can sometimes be overwhelming.

When things happen in our country or worldwide – like the huge amount of gun violence, the displacement of millions of refugees around the world, the emergence of laws and policies that affect all of us, whether we agree with them or not – 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 it still requires an adjustment of our daily lives.

When the change is not something we wanted, we can get thrown off-balance. 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 or otherwise. 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). As this realization sinks in, they begin 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. There are technologies and techniques being developed every day that can be used to help us learn to expand our resilience.

For my purpose here, I just want 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 (at least not in the way we thought they would).

But don’t misunderstand. While we need to accept where we are and that the future may not look like we thought it would, it doesn’t mean we have to just lay back and allow life to roll over on us. Sometimes change is a challenge to examine that new normal, and decide if there isn’t more we can do to make it even better. Depending on what the loss/change was, maybe we need to develop new relationships, or skills to help shape the prospects ahead or to prevent isolation. Or maybe we need to lose our complacency – to stand up for policies we’ve always believed in, but never thought they’d be at risk. As I said earlier, it will not be the same as it was, but it can be better; but that’s only if we make it happen.

Mostly, we just need 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.

Be open to everything and attached to nothing.

-Wayne Dyer

 

What I’ve Learned

Last week, a FaceBook friend on my personal page totally misunderstood something I said in response to a question she asked, which quickly escalated into a total meltdown on her part, ending with her unfriending me before I could even respond. While I valued that person’s friendship (we didn’t know each other personally, but she had been very supportive of my family through some rough times), I also understood that it was her problem. I always go back and re-read/re-evaluate situations like this to be sure whether I had some part in the issue and take responsibility for it by making amends or whatever is required. In this case, I was making every attempt to be factual and unemotional in my words. This was one of those cases that reminds me that, regardless of how well I choose my words, attitude and tone, I simply cannot take responsibility for how the other person hears them.

So here’s a blog I wrote several years ago that I repeat occasionally. It reminds me how I’ve learned to manage relationships, and how far I’ve come to date. We’re all works in progress, so each time I post it, I add new things I’ve learned. I hope it helps you as well.

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Like many of you, there are people in my life that challenge me in just about every way possible. Some of these people I love very much. I’ve spent lots of energy trying to understand, help them, and at times, to realign my side of the relationship so that it feels better to me. Sometimes, it’s eventually possible and even healthy to eliminate toxic people from our lives. In some cases, this is not an option.

The realization I’ve come to is that these people have been and continue to be my greatest teachers. I now believe that we are joined together on a spiritual path through which each of us is meant to learn.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned (and often am even able to practice) so far:

-To enjoy the moment. Yesterday may have sucked and so may tomorrow, so when it’s good, I relish in it. Even if today is the one that sucks, I’m learning to appreciate the lesson and the fact that if nothing else, it will propel me upward eventually.

-When I know I’m going to be in that person’s presence, I prepare myself emotionally and spiritually to remain aware during that time. This helps me consciously respond to behaviors and comments, rather than impulsively react (which I usually regret later).

-To love unconditionally, with no strings attached, is the only true love. Anything other than that is either obsession or some other form of self-indulgence.

-To allow the other to live their life in their way, even though it feels very wrong or unsafe to me.

-To want the peace that I want for myself even more for the other person.

-To send that person love every day (at LEAST once a day) – and those days when I’m not feeling the love to ask my Source to make me an instrument of the loving energy that comes from the Universe.

-I’ve learned and practiced a meditation where I breathe in the pain of another and breathe out the healing energy of Love.

-We don’t have to be in each other’s lives every day. Sometimes the best we can do is love them from a distance.

-When we are together, it’s OK – and often better to just have a surface level conversation so things don’t get uncomfortable. (In most cases, I encourage open and honest communication to get down to real issues; but there are people with whom this is just not possible. I need to know the difference and act accordingly).

-To honor the other’s perspective on life and understand that we each see our environment through the lens of our own experiences. Based on that person’s belief system, I can respect their choices.

-I can’t hurt enough for the other person to make them better. All that does is double the amount of hurt. It doesn’t help the other, and it certainly doesn’t help me!

In order to do ANY of the above, I have to allow space in my life to let something new in. If I keep myself obsessively busy trying to understand it, control it, fix it or worry about it the only thing I’ll be successful at is numbing myself. Any of these behaviors will keep me from having space in my life to allow anything else to come in. Peace, true understanding or love will not be able to squeeze in. And I will have drained myself of any energy I had to be of help if and when the opportunity comes.

I’m not saying I can practice all of this all the time. Life isn’t all or nothing, and sometimes, even though we learn, it takes several reminders before it becomes a part of us. But each time I get pulled back down, a new light eventually comes on and I’m that much further ahead than I was before.

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SANAYA SAYS: Donning Your Cape

“Oh, but I don’t want him or her there!” you cry, and this is understandable if that one’s energy is so very dissonant to yours. If you are unable to see from your soul’s perspective, you will spend your time together focusing on how your two vibrations grate against each other. Ah, there’s the rub. That other is in your life for a purpose. If they rub you the wrong way, there is growth to be had. Can you be in their presence long enough to ask your higher self why the discord? Yes, you can choose not to include another in your activities, but when you can include them and find peace, then you have turned what would have before been an unpleasant situation into a triumph of the spirit.

How to survive a clashing of vibrations? Be like Superman. Put on your spirit cape and your giant “S” and rise above the clatter. Do you recall how humble Superman was? He did not go about telling the world that he was the caped crusader, and we recommend you do the same. Quietly shift to your greater role and see why that other acts as they do. Now muster all the compassion in your heart and silently send it their way from that giant “S” on your chest. Suddenly it will not matter who is in the room, for your love will have changed the whole dynamic. You have saved the day for your lower self. Isn’t it powerful to be a superhero?

– Sanaya

 

Embracing the Humanity of Others

Even though I typically deal with individuals in my office, I’m acutely aware that I’m not just having a conversation with the person sitting in front of me.  That person brings with her all of her experiences to date – experiences with family, friends and others with whom he’s connected, as well as experiences from institutions such as churches, schools, businesses  where he’s worked or those that serve him in some way. She also brings in her experience with our larger culture – the institutional biases that permeate our environment.

In the current political and social climate, the bandaid has been ripped off a gaping wound in our country. This is such a delicate and hurtful issue for all of us. I’m talking about the “ism” issue in all our lives.

I want to make something clear at the beginning. I’m not wanting to preach here.  I’m no different from anyone else. We all have biases. As babies & young children, we don’t see differences, but as we are socialized, they become a part of how we experience life. As we mature emotionally and socially, it becomes a tendency for us to begin to put things, experiences and people into categories to make sense of them. It can be helpful to put things into categories because it really can aid us in understanding and approaching issues better. It can help us evaluate if things we are dealing with in our own lives fit the norms that others are also managing. It gives us a sense of security and life feels so much more organized when we can put things, thoughts and people into compartments – labeled right or wrong/good or bad/like me or different.

But many of our behaviors are driven by fear-oriented patterns of thought. In my business, the purpose of diagnosing is to give us a structure from which to work. I personally don’t like to label a client unless I have to, because it also can blind us to other aspects of the person. (I have worked in agencies where therapists and docs talked about “that borderline”  or “the addict” as if that’s the whole of who that person is). So the problem arises either when we become too rigid with our categories; or when the fear gets so strong that we feel a need to protect ourselves – eventually morphing into hatred, which gives us a false sense of power.

I’m not going to ask you to agree with me on this issue.  I respect your right to believe however you believe. But once again, as we’ve seen more recently, it’s when those beliefs lead to derogatory comments and explosive behaviors that harm – and sometimes kill others.

First, I want to say I strongly believe in the need to openly discuss such things, or we’ll never move forward on them. To make that happen, we have to know what our intention for the conversation is.  If it’s to prove who’s right and who’s wrong, I’m out.  But if we really want to come to an answer that might make it better, or at least get us started in that direction, then we have to focus, not on what was done to who in the past, but on where we are now; and to LISTEN with the aim of understanding more about the other person and why they feel and behave the way they do; rather than coming up with our defense in our heads while the other person is talking. Most of us know this process as conflict resolution. In Brene Brown’s book BRAVING THE WILDERNESS, she borrows a term from a colleague, Michelle Buck –  “Conflict Transformation.” I love this term. It implies the healthy aspect of communication – it can transform the relationship(s). But transformation is also an ongoing process.

When we are talking about a difference of opinion, it’s sometimes contentious and uncomfortable, especially these days.  But sometimes the real issue behind the original beliefs is more than a difference of opinion. That’s what gets overlooked in altercations. As  humans we have many more similarities than we have differences.  But we are choosing to focus on those differences, without the will to do anything but bitch at, or about “the other side.” Under the surface, this comes from our need to belong – to have a tribe with which to identify. Again, this is a safety need we all have,

To have a real conversation about it is difficult, messy and scary. (I have to admit, just posting this blog makes my heart race a little, because I’m sure there will be opposition. But because I believe nothing will change until we can talk about it, I’m plowing ahead).

Why do we have such a difficult time accepting those who are different from us?  When we go to the store (or these days, shop online) we usually enjoy looking through all the choices of brands, sizes, colors & prices. It’s part of the attraction to shopping.  We get to pick the item that best fits our needs or that we find the most attractive in some way. And even if we don’t like some of the items we didn’t buy, we can at least be grateful to have all the variety from which to choose – or life would feel pretty boring. If you think about it, the way we are as human beings is similar. We all come from the same factory – we just have different packaging. It’s part of what makes our culture interesting and more perfect. Having grown up in an environment where I saw no diversity, except for the Amish who rode my school bus with me, I am excited and inspired by my connections with those who come from completely opposite geographical & philosophical backgrounds.

People who protest are typically energized when they perceive or experience an injustice of some kind. For instance, it is a fact that more people of color are arrested, get harsher sentences and and are more endangered by police and others just because of their skin color, or they are refused service because they may not look or sound “American.” But it’s not just people of color. Over the past few years we’ve heard a lot about the bathroom issue that affects transgender people, and many in the LGBTQ community are refused services in shops, and mosques and churches are being burnt down or their members are mocked and shot . Those who believe our country is supposed to exhibit equality often become angry when they see what they deem as unfair treatment.

I understand you may not agree that people of these groups, and more are being treated unfairly, but unless you are a member of one these marginalized groups who has lived in this country, it may just not be your experience That doesn’t mean it’s not happening. (And just because I don’t like how many of my black friends have been consistently treated by the police, that doesn’t translate to “I hate all police officers.” I have had experiences with police officers personally and as clients, and have found each of them to be extremely dedicated and devoted to protecting all of us, regardless of who we are, how we look or how we worship. I have nothing but respect for those who put their own lives on the line every day. But, just like there are poor therapists, grocery clerks and accountants – there are police who do not represent the quality and integrity of the majority).

If we think the real issue is just about patriotism or the belief that people & organizations that champion the rights of marginalized groups are unfairly affecting our rights as straight, white citizens; we need to think again. My experience is that protestors and organizations that work towards equal rights actually honor what our country stands for BECAUSE they are taking advantage of the rights our constitution spells out.

Many of us (myself included) have been guilty of not exercising our rights. We have become complacent because of our privilege. We are blind to what happens daily to others who don’t have the advantage of being a caucasian (or male/straight/able-bodied/Christian, etc). If the concept that there even is such a thing as white privilege is offensive to us, we are either 1) a member of an extremely small group who has never experienced the pain of prejudice or 2) we are complicit in perpetuating the problem.

As I’ve implied, hate begins as fear. Someone who is different shows up in our lives, and we feel our way of life threatened because we don’t understand them. (Change can be really scary, but it can also be liberating). Let me suggest something that helps me. Look them in the eyes. Try to see beneath the color, gender or accent to the person. Listen to what they have to say – and try to hear beneath the words to the emotion and experience. Ask questions about their family or lives. Tell them about yours. Start a conversation. Don’t give the fear the opportunity to develop into hate.

My purpose for writing this blog is two-fold.  First, I have become very distraught by the things I see and hear on TV and social media. Even when I might agree with the perception expressed about certain public figures; if the comment is derogatory, it still upsets me. That’s the point of this whole blog. No one deserves to be diminished – and none of us knows when we will be the one(s) who are under some vicious attack. As a therapist, I have had the privilege of vicariously seeing the world through the eyes of many people who don’t look like, believe like, act like or love like I do.  They have taught me that we all have the same needs and rights.  Second, I know the only way we will ever change any of this is if we begin to communicate, holding each other at the same level of respect.

So when clients come into my office, I pledge to continue to look them in the eye and meet them where they are – to  HEAR what they are experiencing, whether I agree with them or not; because their experience is their reality, and if they can experience someone who will honor that, maybe their reality will change a little.

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Those we’re told to hate: Throughout our history, there has been a long list of those we’ve been conditioned to hate. The British, French, Spanish, Germans, Japanese, Russians, Communists, North Koreans, Vietnamese, Iranians Taliban and both northerners and southerners in our own country are some of the people we’ve been encouraged at various times to call enemies and to hate. The list is long, and as time passes, those we were assigned to hate we later were told should be removed from our hate list.

The enemy is obviously hatred itself.

-Wayne Dyer