Monthly Archives: October 2018

The Difference Between Responsibility and Blame

Our culture has veered into an environment of blame and obstruction of anyone or anything that doesn’t fit our narrow view of the world. This past week it’s become even more divided and violent.

We’re all asking – How did we get here? I could write pages about my perspective on that, but that’s not what this blog is about. I work with individuals who are struggling with the difficulty, or even inability to exercise their own choices on a regular basis; some because of legal constraints and some because of personal relationships and family structure.

What’s going on at the national – and international level has become about power. But that is just mirroring what is going on in our communities. As individuals, it’s imperative that we understand that it’s not about dominating “others” but rather about owning our own personal power to be who we are and to live our lives in the manner we choose while allowing others to make their own choices.

Both in our government and in personal and family relationships, it appears to no longer be possible to just disagree about ideas, or to allow others to have their own beliefs or lifestyle while continuing to honor their right to those. It’s about winning and losing. If we want to keep our freedom (both universally and personally) this HAS to change, and I’m afraid we can’t count on our representatives to do that.

People talk about making things great again, which implies a need to go back to the way things were – sometime in the past.  My belief when I hear this is that people want to go back to a time when white straight males had all the power – and when white people were considered the norm. Well, I’m old; I grew up in the 50’s & 60’s – and I remember those times.  Things weren’t any better than they are now. Those descended from a family with mostly caucasian genes, who might feel disenfranchised now because there are other groups who are gaining some personal power and ability to move up corporate and social ladders are kidding themselves if they think it was better in years past. (I don’t mean to imply that all straight white people feel this way. I fall into that category, and I – and many people I know welcome change and diversity. We recognize that moving forward is a positive direction for our lives).

But there is one thing that I see that was better back then.  Adults seemed to have the ability to be more respectful to each other, and not play immature games of putting each other down if they disagreed. These days, seeing others as equal human beings is being touted as “political correctness.”  By using that phrase, it seems to give the speaker permission to continue with racial and derogatory remarks.  Not that there wasn’t racism and inequality in the past.  We all know that has, and will (in the foreseeable future), continue to be an issue.  But I do wish we could go back to an atmosphere of civility.

I strongly believe the words we use influence our beliefs and behaviors. I also believe we each need to take personal responsibility for our own choices and lives, and I encourage that with my clients. 

Some of my clients get it pretty early and become active in confronting their issues – acknowledging and accepting the reality of what is going on. Once they accept reality, they can move on and feel better relatively quickly. The begin to take back that personal power to make the changes in their own lives.

Others take a little longer, and I can usually tell if that is going to be the case during the first session. How? Much like our elected officials, they are more comfortable with “blame” than with “responsibility”. They blame others for their problems, or they blame themselves and continually beat themselves up emotionally, staying caught up in the intellectual violence of their story. They are more invested in being “right” than in being happy and peaceful.  This keeps them entrenched in the problem, and unless they get out of that mindset, the problem wins – nothing changes – or it gets worse.

Blame is defined as “the action of assigning responsibility for a fault”. The use of the word “fault” implies the negativity of blaming, whether it’s blaming someone else or ourselves.

Responsibility is “the state of being accountable for something; the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without external authorization”.  Another definition: “a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of . . .”

Responsibility starts with the willingness to experience ourselves as the cause. Responsibility is not a burden, fault, praise, blame, credit, shame or guilt. As implied in the above definition of blame, all of these include judgments and evaluations of good and bad, right and wrong or better and worse. They are not responsibility.

Responsibility also begins with the ability to deal with a situation from the point of view, whether conscious or not, that we are each the source of what we are, what we do, and what we have. This point of view can even extend to include what is done to us – from the perspective that we all put ourselves into situations or around people that will take advantage of us – or around those who will respect and honor us. For fear that I am misunderstood here, I want to be clear: Certainly, I’m not saying that victims of abuse (for example) are responsible for their own abuse and the perpetrator has no responsibility. What I am saying is that we develop patterns from early childhood that draw us to specific situations and people that can eventually be unhealthy for us. In order to break these patterns, we must recognize this and work to understand what within us needs to change.

So again, responsibility is a context of seeing ourselves as the source of our attitudes, feelings, behavior and life. If we are the source, then we are at least able to manage how these turn out. We cannot be responsible for others, but we can be responsible to others, for who we are and for our response to others. There is also some truth to the concept that who we surround ourselves with helps to shape who we become.

I want to believe that most of our elected officials started out responsibly wanting to improve things, regardless of their politics.  But somewhere many of them lost sight of the difference between responsibility and blame.  As individual citizens, we can begin the change ourselves (regardless of who started it) by taking personal responsibility for our rhetoric and behaviors, by showing respect for ourselves and each other and by staying away from blame. 

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mindfulness in a Scary World

Are you as overwhelmed as I am with the fact that every time we turn on the TV or look at our phones or computers, there is ANOTHER major issue of catastrophic proportion?  We can’t seem to escape the bombardment of news anymore.  Those of us who want to help in some way feel overwhelmed often. It used to feel like after a major catastrophe, the first responders would show up, the rest of us would come together and do what we could, and things would eventually get worked out – not completely “fixed,” but on the path to recovery.

Now, it feels like so many huge things arise every day that there’s not time for things that happened a week ago to even begin to regain balance (or for us to begin to process them), so there’s more and more crap (that’s a clinical term) piled on top. And each situation is enough to bury us on it’s own – colossal hurricanes, one after another, forest fires devastating hundreds of homes, the biggest mass shootings in our history, changes in our government – even the real possibility of nuclear war or some other international catastrophic event.

And on top of all that, we each have the daily stress we’ve always had – just making ends meet and managing our own responsibilities. It’s just too much at times.  The reality is that our world has always been a little chaotic.  It just feels like it’s coming faster and harder now. We’re on overload.

The general purpose of my weekly blog is to help people manage their mental/emotional/physical health.  So why do I focus on social issues more these days? For one thing, I tend to think sociologically, as well as in terms of the individual’s emotional and mental balance. But also, it’s because my clients keep bringing these things into their sessions! And because of my holistic view, it’s clear to me that it’s ALL interconnected.  We are spiritual beings having human experiences, and some days it’s really hard to keep that balance!

Whatever your stance is on what is going on within national and international news is up to you.  But we do have to recognize that what is going on right now IS affecting each of us, whether we are actively responding to it or trying to pass it off as just more fake news. I’ve never believed that sticking our heads in the sand and avoiding something that feels bad is a good idea.  I have lived by the rule that WHAT WE RESIST, PERSISTS. So I do believe in meeting things head-on, facing them, acknowledging they exist, and then determining how to address them.  Anything we ignore, just gains more and more power over us.

But we do have to slow down occasionally – shut off the TV, put down the phone, work out to shake it off, take a breath, walk in nature, and/or pray or meditate for a while to get ourselves back to some semblance of balance.

There are several ways to manage the stress (some of which I just mentioned), but I believe the first step is to change our relationship to the stress itself.  I’m a long-time meditator, and I’ve learned that what we focus on dictates how we feel, and often what we do about it.

What that means is if we only focus on what upsets us, or what we don’t have, we’ll become more anxious and fearful, our bodies will tense, our minds will fog over, and the stress will be exacerbated because we’ll be more reactive. In other words, we probably won’t consciously choose our response, we’ll just act impulsively, often making things worse.

Another option is to stay in the moment with it; acknowledging the stress, but not owning it.  For instance, when I see it as “my stress,” it becomes part of “my story.”  Instead, if I gently put my awareness where I feel it (as if I’m holding something very fragile), I can witness it as just a sensation without trying to make anything happen.  This detaches me from the stress and it’s easier not to identify with it; hence easier to let it go.

So coming back to this moment and putting our awareness on something more tangible (our bodies/ the texture of the couch we’re sitting on/noticing how our legs feel as we walk up a flight of stairs), instead of letting our thoughts run away with us, is called mindfulness. If meditation sounds like something you just couldn’t manage (although I believe that’s probably because you have some misconceptions about what meditation is); at least give some thought to being more mindful.

Mindfulness activates our minds and sharpens our focus.   We are more able to observe with non-attachment (as Buddhists would say). This gives us more conscious control over our feelings and choices.

Robert Wright, author and professor of science and religion suggests that mindfulness is not just helpful for us as a coping mechanism.  He also believes that mindfulness can be used as a way to process those incidents that seemingly cause the stress and even as a way to respond.  (The reality is that an event/person does not CAUSE stress, but how we look at the event/person triggers how we feel about it).

He speaks of responding mindfully to things we see or hear on the news or on our social media feeds that might otherwise fuel anger. For example, there’s a certain person who’s on the news a lot that is a natural at pushing people’s emotional buttons. He’s able to instantly generate excitement – or outrage, contempt, disgust . . .  you get the picture. When we cooperate by expressing that outrage, we are just playing into his hands.  And more importantly, it distracts us from being able to assess some of the issues being brought up; and makes it more unlikely that we can focus enough to help make the changes needed.

Wright points out that the outrage some of us feel gets in the way of empathy for his supporters.  We’re not talking about the emotional empathy most of us are able to express.  Here we’re talking about cognitive empathy – or the ability to understand how the world looks to other people.  We need some cognitive distance in order to do that.  Otherwise, we’re just going to lump them all together, and assume the worst. I’ve talked about this skill before when I’ve shared how I try to view the world through my clients’ eyes in order to understand what they are feeling; yet maintain enough objectivity to back up and be able to help them look for alternative ways to manage their lives.

The above-mentioned person is advocating for populism. Populism can only survive when there is polarization. Just like all religions, it needs a demon. Therefore, if we react from rage, we’re more likely to say or do something that immediately sparks flames in others – placing us in that demonic role. Consequently, they see us as the enemy and we see them as the enemy – polarization.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with feeling anger about what is going on.  In fact, it’s probably healthy to acknowledge that anger exists. But as Martin Luther King, Jr said,  Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Fighting hate with hate is never productive.

So if we can respond mindfully, it gives us that space to consciously think about the issue being discussed (or the natural disaster of the day) and choose how we want to respond to it, rather than focus on the negative aspects of the situation.

Wright also makes it clear that “responding mindfully” doesn’t mean just passively accepting things. We can’t normalize a corrosive violation of norms, extreme weather events or terrorism. So he suggests we reserve our outrage or our righteousness for the issues we find most important.

For instance, rather than spending our energy making fun of someone who wears 5″ heels to a hurricane, or a jacket with a weird quote that leaves us to wonder what the underlying message really is –   focus on calling or writing your representatives to ask them to appropriate more resources to the affected area, or donate time or money to that cause.

Remember, every time you retweet or post something on social media, you’re casting a vote. Be sure you’re doing so consciously and with intention. So allow yourself to feel the anger and recognize the stress for what it is. But don’t let it immobilize you.  Acknowledge it and let it empower you. Channel it into energy that is spent towards the improvement of a situation. (But do so with balance. Limit your activism to only the issues most important to you. Take a break occasionally, and distract yourself with fun or otherwise interesting activities, rest, or some of the other coping skills I mentioned earlier).

It’s not always fun, but we are all on this earth together, so we each have the responsibility to find ways to make this life work.  Many of us believe the best way to do that is through kindness, education and love. When we are challenged by those who don’t believe the same way, we may have to do some fighting.  But please don’t fight against them, fight FOR that healthcare, to save the earth, or the unity, democracy and peace we all dream of.

What is My Purpose in Life?

I occasionally have clients who believe they are wasting their lives because they haven’t figured out what their “purpose” is.

These people seem to think there is some great, magnificent accomplishment they’re here for. If they haven’t figured out what that is by a certain age, they tend to beat themselves up, thinking they are letting God (or family) down.

After several years of studying the Afterlife, I now understand that we are not necessarily here to accomplish a task or pursue a special talent. Although this may be a part of the process for some of us, and we may be on a path to learn more about a specific characteristic (ie, compassion, accepting or giving unconditional love, self-love, etc). But primarily, we are simply here to experience life as a human being. That experience will likely propel our Higher Self on to new awareness, but we don’t necessarily have to accomplish anything to do this.

If there is some direction you are supposed to move towards, the door will open. If something you had hoped would be your “purpose” doesn’t work out, then it wasn’t the right path for you. Another door will appear when it’s supposed to and you need to be conscious enough to see that it’s cracked open.

I heard a profound statement about this in a podcast with Carolyn Myss a couple of years ago:   Rejection is protection.

I understood her to mean that if we’re not supposed to go in a certain direction, we will be rejected. We can feel the disappointment, but if we dwell on it and keep trying to go through the same door in the same way, we’ll just prolong the pain.

This doesn’t mean that ultimately, we’re not going to end up there. We may or we may not. And maybe there is a different direction that will eventually lead to the same place – or to an even better one.

Bob Olson addresses this very eloquently in his book, ANSWERS ABOUT THE AFTERLIFE:
. . . life is about having experiences that our souls are unable to have in the spiritual realm. . . .When a being knows it can die, it changes everything. It creates fear and alters choices . . .many folks believe that something has gone wrong in life when they meet challenges (disappointment, tragedy, suffering, loss, and pain), but life is about experiences, both positive and negative. . . .

Bob goes on to say that if we can accept that life is about experiences rather than about being happy and easygoing all the time, then we’ll be able to understand our lives here (and the answers in his book) more fully.

My hope is to be as aware and conscious as possible so I don’t miss the lessons. But the test is not pass or fail. We will each still end up where we are supposed to go from here. We may take a detour or two, but we can’t screw this up.

So relax and enjoy the ride!

Things You Can and Cannot Change

People who have been involved in a 12 Step program have been exposed to this concept, but it’s also appropriate for those of us who just tend to live in our heads a little too much –  determining what we can change and what we can’t. It makes all the difference in how we view the world and our part in our own problems. The following by Ralph Marston is an excellent way of helping me decipher the difference:

There are things that you can change, and there are things that you cannot change. Both have much value.

The things you can change can enable you to create, to achieve, to express yourself, and to improve the world in which you live. The things you cannot change give you the opportunity to grow stronger, to develop real wisdom, patience, acceptance, flexibility and effectiveness.

There is much you can learn from the things you cannot change. And there are countless ways to positively apply that learning toward the things you can change.

The things you cannot change give you a base from which to work. The things you can change give you an ever-increasing world of possibilities.

When you accept what you cannot change and find positive ways to deal with it, you lay the groundwork for success. When you understand what you can change and find positive ways to put that change to work, success and achievement are yours.

You are fortunate to live in a world where there are things you can change and things you cannot. As each moment arrives, you’re in a position to make the best of it all.


The most difficult thing (in my life) that I can’t change is other people’s behavior. I work daily on being nonjudgmental, and I believe I accomplish that much of the time. (The one thing I can admit to being intolerant of – is people who are intolerant of others). And one of my most herculean lessons, which I’m still working on, is to send them love. I do believe we all come from the same source, but we arrive in an array of different colors, ethnicities, sexual orientations, personalities, and genders – for a reason. I practice seeing God/Source/Beloved in each human and animal, which makes it much easier to meet them where they are.

And yet, those I love the most are the ones I have the most difficulty not judging! When we get upset with people’s behavior, what we’re really saying is “You’re not enough like me!” So when I can remind myself that the person before me is exactly who (s)he has always been, and that is the reason I love her in the first place, then I can accept the behavior much more readily. (I don’t have to LIKE it, but again – I can’t change it). Then I can determine whether there is something about it that I can change – not that I can change the behavior, but maybe I can see that his behavior makes perfect sense, given the situation at hand. Perhaps I can work on getting to know that person a little better, which could help me understand why she reacted the way she did. If it’s someone I do already know well, hopefully, I can start a conversation (with curiosity, not judgment) about the circumstances or belief that drove the action. Or maybe I can change the way I look at the situation, which might make his behavior a non-issue after all.  Finally, I want to show each person the respect I would ask in return, to make the choices for their lives that they see appropriate. Even when (sometimes with every fiber of my being) I believe it is harmful or inappropriate for them.

Bottom line is that the only thing we each have any control over is our own attitudes and behaviors.  Coming to terms with what I can and can’t change helps with that. If I want to live in peace, which I do, then it’s up to ME to make that happen!