Someone looking on would have assumed I was having a lovely time. I was, on one level. Underneath, however, I was seething. A simple comment, one not in line with my experience and belief system, turned this woman into an enemy. I had never met her before. The conversation was light, non-political or religious; she simply expressed her opinion about something that I did not agree with.
Rather than stand up for myself, I made a joke and moved on. That is what it looked like I did. Internally, I started picking this woman to pieces. Every single thing she did annoyed me. I built a case against her.
When I came home to my sweetheart and shared my evening out with him, what had been a mostly a lovely night, I had turned into a nightmare. All I could think about, talk about, was this woman! The thoughts kept me up late and woke me up early. Because I am working a transformational program, I knew something was off in me, but I couldn’t see it. The more uncomfortable I was with myself, the more wrong I found in her. It was brilliant! Brilliant because I can see now, thanks to my willingness and my studies.
Instead of standing up for something that was important to me, I made a joke and let the conversation drop. I could not stand that I did that, so I made her wrong. I built such a case against her that I could not experience anything else. I had separated from myself – and then chose to separate from the other.
This is what human beings do. This is the underlying cause of violence and racism and war. It is difficult, in the face of another, to stand strongly in one’s self and allow the other the same freedom. It is difficult unless one is willing. The problem is that we get a charge out of the negative pleasure we feel when attacking the other.
This charge can be much stronger than the whispering voice of a higher consciousness. In the light of day, I feel the presence and connection that is truth. I see how I made the mistake of not holding onto myself.
That is all that happened. More than likely, I will never see this woman again. I will, however, be in many, many more situations where I forget to hold onto myself. This habit is strong in me, as it is in most humans.
It is our core work, to hold into our own truth, and not make an enemy of the other who may have a different truth. This can be accomplished in the most mundane situations as a practice.
Hold onto your own truth, and be willing to hold it lightly. Go in peace. So simple. So difficult. From this place, joy and true pleasure are available.
Headaches are a daily occurrence, but I just pop a pill and call it a day. I blame them on the bad Pittsburgh air. Funny how the air isn’t so bad when I take a rare day off. I have spent more time lately frantically trying to get everything done. Who among us ever gets everything done? To this point, I wrote most of this blog while sitting in the Liberty Tunnel.
I remember, occasionally, to be grateful.
I preach health and well-being for a living. I have a very successful business. I’m my own boss, living the American dream. I have a beautiful home, a wonderful partner and am mostly healthy. I look the part I play in this life of mine.
By most accounts, I am a lucky person. I live in a country with amazing material opportunity. I won out in the genetic lottery pool – I am thin and fit and have great hair. I work out and eat right. I look like someone who really has it together. The missing piece is that I all too often feel like I don’t. A big part of me still feels like a phony – and that anything less than perfection is unacceptable.
What I most want to teach, I am still learning. What I yearn for is to return myself to myself more regularly. Without a relationship to the self, nothing else really matters. Fitness level, nutrient intake, core strength, the size of your biceps, mean absolutely nothing if done without soul.
I write regularly, as any of you who read my posts know (thank you, by the way). Over the summer, I experienced a writer’s block. My most recent post about neighborly pain took weeks to complete. It only occurred to me this morning (sitting in traffic) that what was lacking was my connection to Self. Once again, I’d gotten caught up in life – the doingness of life rather than the beingness. It happens. This is why it is important to have in place a way of returning yourself to yourself.
For everyone, this habit will be different, and the way we return ourselves changes and morphs naturally, as do all creative processes. This is not something to be taken for granted, because it then loses power.
Prayer, meditation, writing, walking in the woods and spending time in my yard with my beautiful landscaping are just some of the ways I return myself to myself. Other people play music, draw, write poetry. Still others paint or ride horses. It is not the doing of these things that is important; it is the allowing of life force to flow through your entire being that enriches the soul.
This practice, whatever it is, does not necessarily have to be time-consuming. Nor does it have to be done perfectly, or even well. It is, however, vital for the quality of life.
When I have myself in my own arms, life becomes rich again. I am not just a drone, going through the motions. I am touched and inspired by humanity. I find meaning in my job and am truly grateful, rather than just saying the words I know I am supposed to say.
My life is my creation if and when I am willing and able to be responsible for that – or pay the fine again and again.
Thank you all who contribute so richly to this book of mine.
Most of us think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, but we are actually feeling creatures that think. – Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor
As I was making a deposit at the bank last week, I struck up a conversation (as is my habit) with the young black man who happened to be the teller that day. It was a miraculous meeting of two people who, on the outside, seemed to come from two different worlds. In response to my question about his life, he shared his dreams with me. He was working full time and going to school to be a businessman.
What kind of business, I asked? His dream is to own a youth center, as his grandmother did. But first, he explained that he is working toward his MBA so that he can be a role model to other young men. He went on to explain to me that where he was from there were no role models.
As he continued to share his dream, he lit up. He shared how there was no place in his neighborhood for young people, particularly boys, to talk about their feelings. The result of having no outlet for feelings, he further explained, was drug use and violence. He told me this as if I wouldn’t understand (at least that was my interpretation). He said, “Imagine if a young man was really lonely and he was at the youth center and just happened to sit next to another lonely young man. They could talk about how they feel, and they wouldn’t feel so alone anymore!”
He continued to share with me his excitement about making a difference and how that was all that was important to him.
I left the bank moved to tears. I wanted to share with him that, where I came from, there weren’t any places to share your feelings either. I wanted to tell him that this is a universal pain. I wanted to say that while I did not resort to outward violence, I did resort to drugs and alcohol, and that I still suffer from an inward violence of self-loathing and judgment. If I had been able to be vulnerable, if I thought that he would believe me for one second, I would have told him that we are not that much different, we just hide our pain differently. He told me how the guys from his neighborhood had to act tough. I could have explained that I was told to act nice. Both are false.
Most all of us were raised by emotionally-crippled parents. We were told, with action, words or attitude, not to express our feelings. We were made to feel bad and wrong, sometimes even in danger, for expressing our outrage, our frustration, our fear and anger. We all learned to numb our deepest fears and hurts. We were taught to mute our cries of pain. There is no place in any neighborhood where immature emotions can be tolerated so that they can be heard, forgiven and released.
Immature emotions are as natural as making mistakes when first learning any new mental task. Expecting a child to understand that screaming at the top of your lungs is not the best way to ask for what you need, without any kind, supportive methods in place, is like expecting a child to learn to ride a bike with no instructions whatsoever, all the while punishing her for falling.
Imagine if, every time you made a mistake, fell down, tried to figure out the whole 2+2 thing, you were concerned that love would be withdrawn if you made an error. Yet, this is how it is with emotions. As a consequence, no matter what your neighborhood looks like, you learn to act on top of child-consciousness-based emotions. After a while, the truth of how you feel is so muted with your “act,” you don’t even know how you feel anymore. Underneath the act that you believe to be “who you are,” there is an undercurrent of “something is wrong.”
This feeling rarely goes away, but we usually are not present to it until there is a major crisis – or even a very minor trigger. At these times it seems like the crisis or trigger is the problem.
If you are willing to watch yourself, be curious, with no judgment at all, you will begin to hear the childish wailings. We were all hurt as children. Everyone. These hurts, unless they are felt, expressed, and released with no judgment, still dictate how we respond to life. This pain, when left underground, interferes with our natural creative and intuitive abilities.
The fear of having love withdrawn keeps us from ever truly loving. We keep ourselves safe out of the fear of being hurt again at the cost of our very lives. All of us. No matter the neighborhood.
Why are we never satisfied? Why do we always want more? The day to never end. More dessert. Watch one more TV show before going to bed. More love and attention from family and friends. It’s never enough.
Moreover, as a child … and carried into adulthood, these cravings are responded to with an attitude of “what is wrong with you?!” Or “why aren’t you just happy with what you have?” Or, “if this isn’t enough? Maybe we will take away what you do have and see how you like that!”
In my early years, the seed was planted that to want more meant I am not good. In childhood, not being good (loveable), at least in the younger years, was the worst of all punishments. Withdrawal of love is equal to death in a young child. If physical violence or threat of punishment is part of the system, the child is left with a sometimes subtle, but always present terror. If these feelings are not recognized and walked through, they are left unexpressed and therefore continue to impact the adult.
The feeling of wanting, desiring, being excited about, reaching for more is thwarted. There may not be any conscious thought about this phenomenon, just a discomfort, a gnawing feeling of being dissatisfied. Something is missing, but what? Guilt may kick in – everyone knows that it’s important to be grateful for the blessings of a comfortable life. There are children starving in the world, and countries at war. We think it’s unconscionable to be angry about not being satisfied. We secretly fear that we don’t even deserve what we do have. We’re ashamed of the audacity to want more. Still, there is this feeling in the pit of the stomach that something is missing.
Depending on one’s particular defense system, this feeling shows up as pouting, anger, manipulation, neediness, drug use, over-eating, gossip, shopping. It could be a subtle, but not-acted-out, energy of dissatisfaction. This feeling can be so prevalent that it just feels normal. Of course I’m not satisfied – that’s life.
We go on, back to work, hoping that someday we will find the key to happiness. We struggle in our relationships, blaming our partners, friends and family for our dissatisfaction. We work harder for more money, thinking that will fill the hole. We travel, shop, read, distract ourselves in any number of ways, all the while wondering why is this not enough. And, meanwhile, life is passing by.
If you’re like me, you have read books about being here now, and know this is the key to ultimate satisfaction. Yet so many of us still return to “now what?” And the guilt returns. I must not be doing it right. I try to be here now, and now I want MORE.
If what is here now is experienced on top of “something is missing” the energy of this missing interferes with our ability to be present. Step back into the energy that is there, underneath the demand that it be different.
You can’t get enough of what you don’t really want. The secret to being here now and being grateful and fulfilled is allowing the feelings of “not enough” and “this isn’t it” and “now what” and “something’s missing.” And then returning yourself to the present.
Allow the child to express all of the disappointments and hurt of childhood. Hold this pain gently and without judgment. A child always wants more; that’s the nature of a child. If this feeling is not allowed for, it is pushed down and twisted into that black hole in the gut that is never filled. By simply allowing, with no judgment, the child feels heard, understood and loved.
Being loved and accepted is our fundamental longing. It is our nature. Fill yourself up with love and kindness. Be gentle with your wanting. Our true desire, to be loved and accepted for everything we are and everything we are not, can only be satisfied through allowing what is.
If challenging feelings are simply allowed to be felt, instead of resisted, the entire body lightens. Sometimes immediately.
The natural energy of every feeling itself is always fluid. It is only our resistance, the locking down against the fear of experiencing our feelings and emotions, that causes blockage.
More challenging feelings and emotions, like depression and rage, have a dense quality to them. But they still move. It is only our resistance to these feelings that causes blockage in the form of tension, tightness and heaviness – which we experience as suffering.
Different emotions move at different levels of fluidity. Take anger, for example. Although perceived as one of the most negative emotions, when anger is true, it moves through the body with a quick and precise energy. It is only when we resist the anger, perhaps due to guilt, blame, shame, fear, etc., that it becomes a problem. However, when anger is simply expressed appropriately, the body becomes light and expanded, comfortable.
Difficult things happen in all of our lives. No one is spared. A death of a loved one, an accident, a betrayal, the loss of a job or damage to a precious belonging. These are the harsh realities of life. They cannot be avoided.
When they do occur, if the sadness, or anger or grief is simply felt in the body and allowed to be expressed appropriately, the body will let go of the energy. And then something else can come in. We can return ourselves to joy, bliss, new possibilities.
This is our birthright. We refuse this because of our childhood-born perception of all or nothing. In this way of thinking, everything is always 100% right or 100% wrong. And there is a profound impatience. If I can’t have it now, I don’t want it at all.
The child in us experiences any negative emotions as wrong and unfair. Why should I ever have to be unhappy? We feel picked on, unfortunate, doomed by fate. We compare ourselves to others and believe what happens to us is worse than what happens to them. These childhood-born habits of perceiving the world keep negative emotions locked in our bodies.
It is the demand that we be happy all of the time that causes most of our unhappiness. It is our childish, immature refusal to allow for what is that keeps us from our greatest joy.
Although our minds believe our bodies to be fixed and static, in fact, we are comprised of energy – living, breathing, expanding and contracting energy. Every thought, emotion, belief, attitude and experience is stored as energy in the body.
While extreme energies like hatred and love are more easily felt, all emotions, feelings and attitudes have a particular vibration. These are stored in the body, beginning at conception. The feelings thoughts and beliefs we gather as we grow up become who we believe ourselves to be. This wiring feels very real, just as our bodies are real to us. Some of the thoughts and feelings that we have about ourselves are life-giving and supportive, but there is not a human being alive who does not also have very destructive thoughts and beliefs. Even birth itself is a violent, terrifying ordeal. Then childhood, no matter how well done, is filled with disappointment and hurt feelings and misunderstandings from the point of view of the child.
This imprinting is hardwired into our bodies. The way we hold ourselves in our posture, the way we feel about ourselves internally, and much more, are determined by this wiring. The hurts and fears of childhood do not just go away on their own; they must be felt and purposefully released. Otherwise, like any energy, they continue to work on us without our knowing. Trauma, abuse, abandonment, trust issues, and so on are all stored in the body. These experiences do not need to be relived over and over again, they just require being felt and let go. This is our true work.
There is no way around this. Other emotions, such as love and acceptance, also live in our bodies, but it is part of our human conditioning to hold onto the more life-threatening emotions and feelings. This wiring was vital for our evolution. We needed to remember and know in our bodies where danger lurked in order to avoid it. It is now important to remind ourselves, consciously and intentionally, that we are safe, that we are loved, that we have much for which to be grateful.
Of course, sometimes we will be in actual danger, or someone may threaten us, lie to us, and so on. Having felt our past wounds leaves us in a place to respond more powerfully and appropriately. Moreover, if we are clear about who we are in the present and not constantly reinforcing old injuries, our energy systems can feel imminent danger.
If we are connected to our own truth, we recognize truth in the other. It is usually our old injuries that we refuse to look at or feel again that get in the way of feeling connected to the other.
Not having felt our past wounds leaves us in a near-constant state of defense. In this state, the energy we put out is like a force field that keeps us (we believe) safe. It can be quite scary to imagine life without this defensive energetic force field. But living behind that mask is far worse.
I set the intention, on a daily basis, to feel into the truth of who I really am, through my feelings, not around them. It is both challenging and rewarding. The alternatives are anything but rewarding; for example, living in a drug-induced fog, or the fog of consumerism, hatred, addiction, etc. of any kind.
Resistance to feeling our feelings, causes a block in our system. Life cannot flow through such blocks. True emotions are like a wave, they come and go. Yes, there is an impact on our being and on our mind, but it is fluid.
If you watch a baby, you will see the constant flow from happy and wanting connection to rage and then to contentment. Babies do not have the distinction good and bad. They just allow themselves to feel whatever is there.
In childhood, we are taught things like don’t be upset; it’s not appropriate to be angry; and, even that there is danger associated with too much happiness. Our minds then learn to control the energy of what was once free-flowing emotion.
Negative emotions have a particular feel to them – they are more dense. Add resistance to this density, and tension is created – tension that is stored in the body and causes pain, tightness, illness. This dense block is also felt by the other. We yearn for connection, but stand before the other with a dense block which defeats our greatest desire.
Practice experiencing how various emotions feel in your body. Practice sitting and being with whatever comes up emotionally. Allow the feeling to pass without any judgment.
We are feeling creatures. It is both a blessing and a curse that we then also have judgment. There is absolutely nothing innately wrong with any particular emotion even though some feel pleasant while others are challenging. If consciously seen and felt, emotions will shift on their own. It is only our resistance that keeps them stagnant – which is the root of most of our pain.
Self-loathing. I had a full dose of it yesterday. Thankfully, it was not I who was indulging this time, but rather a good handful of clients. Self-loathing is a tough one. It is hard to penetrate as it is held onto quite tightly.
You can’t argue with self-loathing. You can’t heap accolades on someone to try to help them counter it. Self-loathing only increases when met with resistance.
Self-loathing is fundamental to the human condition and I believe does more damage than any other habit. We all suffer from this condition to one degree or another. As a defense, some people are much better at hiding self-loathing with a “happy face” or acting superior, but scratch the surface and there it will be.
Each of us indulges in the practice in our own special way and is triggered by our own individual circumstances. Some parade their self-loathing around as if it is who they are. Others do everything in their power to cover it up. It is very slimy, hard to describe, difficult to pin down. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it slips away and then turns up again when you least expect it. It has ultimate power when not recognized as being in control.
Unfortunately, we cannot transform something about which we are unaware. The invitation is to watch and feel into when this very particular energy takes over. Because that is what it does. Self-loathing has super-villain qualities. When you least expect it, it high-jacks your brain and controls your every move.
Then, it feeds on your reaction to it. This vicious cycle becomes a life-force of its own. The vicious cycle can be stopped anywhere, but first it must be seen and felt – this insanity of doing the same thing over and over and then hating yourself for doing it.
Some approach this by desperately trying to stop the doing (eating, smoking, yelling, not exercising). But because self-loathing is in control, this rarely works.
Another option is to watch the self-loathing. Don’t even think about changing it, just watch it. You will be amazed by the resources it has at its disposal. You will admire its endurance and ability to mutate on the spot. It keeps going and going on with no sleep. It loves junk food. It can kill a relationship and keep on moving until you have no friends and your family barely tolerates you. It can simultaneously spoil any vacation and reduce your chance at a raise.
Watch and be amazed! Although it has super-villain qualities, self-loathing is not a villain. It deserves some credit! I promise you, it will not be going anywhere, so you may as well become friends. Then, just like with any friends, some compromise can be discussed. You can set up a dialogue. Learn more about one another. You can choose to spend some time with it, consciously and intentionally wallowing in its powerful energy. This conscious lack of resistance will allow it to dissipate.
Self-loathing is a primary condition of being human. That is all it is. We give it its power by resisting it, which is its source of energy.
Embrace your humanity – it’s not going anywhere.
On most holidays, I pass the day with a sickening feeling of self-pity and resentment. I feel like there is some magic picnic that every single person in the world has been invited to, but I was left off the list. They all have great, wonderful friends and huge families. Everyone loves each and everyone else. The food is phenomenal. There is music and singing. The weather is ideal. Games are played in which there is never a loser. But I was not invited.
It’s worse on holidays with no specific structure. At least on Thanksgiving I know the drill. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. I cook all day, so I don’t have time to think. The Fourth of July? I just don’t know what I am supposed to do. Crowds, fireworks, picnics? Not for me. The truth is that if I was invited to some Fourth of July outing, I wouldn’t go. I’d like to celebrate, but I don’t know how. So I wallow while I imagine others are cheering. Ironically, I am grateful to go back to work, because at least there I know what I am supposed to be doing.
Could I be the only one who feels this way? Look and see the truth about what you tell yourself you are “supposed” to be doing, feeling and experiencing on a holiday. What I hear from most of my clients and friends is that my experience is not uncommon. The resistance we have to life shows up on days when we are not so preoccupied with activity. (What a relief to just pay attention to fireworks for 60 minutes!)
When you do have the time, when you’re not preoccupied with activity, this is an opportunity to listen to the background noise of your mind. What are you telling yourself when you are not busy with work, commitments and chores? Or do you just keep yourself too busy to hear it at all?
I’m getting better at just allowing myself the freedom to enjoy. But it still feels dangerous to let down my guard. It feels like if I do allow enjoyment, it will just be taken away. So, I take it away from myself before anyone else can. That way, at least I am in control. For others, there is a feeling of not deserving or experiencing guilt, instead of allowing what is theirs to enjoy. Most of us experience at least some form of resistance to fun, pleasure, enjoyment and so on.
Sometimes we put on top of this resistance an exaggerated outward appearance of having pleasure, but if seen closely, the forcing is rather obvious. What happens if you let down your guard and allow yourself to see the wonders and simple pleasures that life has to offer? Automatically we judge, compare and come up short. Or worry that this moment won’t last and we had best prepare for disappointment.
There is a watching of others to see what it is they’ve got that we don’t, and we feel “less than” or shortchanged. This dualism, this comparing ourselves to others, is a slippery slope.
It is important to listen to the background noise. We cannot transform something we don’t know exists. Who wants to realize that the thoughts in the background are so disturbing? Not me. But my commitment to transformation is larger than any need to hide my darkest secrets.
I know that the stories my mind tells itself about what I should be doing, what others appear to be doing and so on, are a pack of lies. The freedom comes in telling the truth. Just writing this here, already I feel that something else is now available.
Transformation only comes after we tell ourselves the truth about our negative thoughts. What are yours? I invite you to share them.
To the best of your ability, I hope you have a happy Fourth of July!
This is one of my favorite Steven Wright lines.
“You know how it feels when you’re leaning back on a chair, and you lean too far back, and you almost fall over backwards, but then you catch yourself at the last second? …. I feel like that all the time.”
The reason that jokes works is because the audience recognizes that feeling oh so well. The almost constant feeling that, if I make a mistake or turn the wrong way or say the wrong thing or buy the wrong product or pick the wrong partner, job, car, house … my life will be ruined. If you let yourself think about all of the decisions you make in a day and the ultimate potential consequences of any one of them, it is enough to make a person crazy.
Should I exercise? What kind of exercise should I do? How many? For how long? Eggs or no eggs? Fruit or no fruit? I could go on for days. And we all do go on for days. As if the just right choice will make everything magically perfect.
This is the tension behind our desperately searching for just the right _____________. This is especially challenging if you were born into a home of trauma, as was I. One wrong choice, one wrong move, and you’re dead. Literally. At least that is how it feels. But, trauma or no, the energy behind this extreme need to get it right drives a lot of our behavior.
As if there is a way to function as a human being without countless mistakes!
The mistakes are not the problem. The problem is that we hold the mistakes against ourselves, rather than take whatever lesson might be available and move on (probably to the next mistake). To make decisions lightly (with the knowing that there is no “perfect” and you are not going to die) takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. We all have different mechanisms for making decisions, but underneath the particular mechanism is an energy.
This is what you want to feel into. Allow yourself to feel and experience the underlying tension and fear, and just let it be there, without having to do anything about it, and you will see the energy shift. Decisions can then just flow. Mistakes can be made, risks can be taken. Behavior can change, or not, with ease rather than a life threatening struggle.
Having deep compassion for oneself in the face of all that we are up against every single day, this being human, allows life to flow as the creative process it is. You can know that even if you do fall, all is not lost. You can laugh at this joke and move on.
It took me a while to understand the difference between these two motivations to perform a task. Most of us, without realizing it, go about our day acting out of in order to. We get up in order to go to work or take care of our children – not for its own sake but in order to pay the bills or fulfill on an obligation.
By acting out of in order to, the richness of life is missed. Imagine a day during which all, or even just some, of your activities are performed for their own sake. From this perspective, the activity is pure and unencumbered by the automatic ego needs. Any action or creative expression done only for the ego falls flat. The ego is never satisfied. The ego only wants more of every single thing and it wants it now, if not yesterday.
I am talking about one aspect of the ego here. The ego in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact it is necessary to have an ego; you just don’t want it to be in control of all aspects of your life. And, this is the point. When doing something for ego reasons in order to (get more, have more, be more, etc.), there is less inner fulfillment and more of the constantly comparing, judging and assessing.
For its own sake comes from a higher level of consciousness. Unlike the ego, this is not automatic, at least not in our culture. My hope is that, with practice, lots and lots of practice, this way of living life can become more automatic.
So what is the feeling of doing something for its own sake? Complete, enough, calm, flowing, natural, and organic are words that come to mind. This does not mean perfect, exact, finished – these are words the ego would be looking for.
For its own sake has a meditative quality, a knowing that there is no beginning or ending, there is just now.
For its own sake is giving and receiving seamlessly. There is no expectation of reward because the action (or non-action) is the reward. There is faith that whatever outcome may come from a particular long-term project will find its way … or not; however; this does not lessen the preciousness of the action being taken now. For its own sake doesn’t require patience; it is patience – not a superimposed demand for patience, but a patience that comes from knowing that all things are in perfect balance and it is only the ego that tells us otherwise.
Practice watching, or more importantly, feeling, the energy behind the actions taken today. Try to find some small way to do something for its own sake. The reward for this kind action is the prize in the Cracker Jack® box.