“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” Henry David Thoreau
Think for a minute about your daily routine. How often during the day do you feel rushed or overwhelmed? Is there a long ‘to do’ list that never seems to end? A typical day for most people is filled from morning to night with activities and commitments. When we compare our lives to those of our early ancestors, we have many modern conveniences that were intended to make life easier. Instead of giving us more quiet time to reflect though, we seem to fill it up with more stressors. We are bombarded with news and busyness without having time to simply relax and be still. In his Conversations With God books, Neale Donald Walsch discusses how we call ourselves ‘human beings,’ but many of us rarely take time to ‘be’ with ourselves. Instead, he says, we should be calling ourselves ‘human doings.’
It is difficult for many people to take time to just be. We tend to equate how productive our day was with how much we got accomplished. This is not to say that taking action and doing things is not important, but equally important is time to take care of ourselves. Many of my clients struggle to give themselves quiet time to just be still. For some, there is a sense of guilt that comes when they ‘waste’ time in meditation or quiet reflection. For others, there is a fear of being alone with themselves. The busyness is a distraction from having to face the demons they have avoided.
To become a ‘human being’ we need to find time to be still. That ‘being’ time may be meditation or quiet reflection. It may be walking in nature or painting a picture. It is time to unplug from our busy lives and to reconnect with our essence. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” When we detach from doingness, we connect to beingness. If it is difficult to take time to be, this is an area to be explored. Is it a priority? If it is something that is being avoided, where does the guilt or fear come from? Seek support to explore this if necessary. Instead of avoiding that shadow, face it and go into it. How would your life change if you took time to truly be a human BEing?
“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.” –Thich Nhat Hanh
Last week I introduced the first part of the problem with labels, that by giving something a label it automatically becomes separate. Noticing that something is separate is not a problem, but when we lose sight of the interconnectedness of everything on this planet it becomes a problem. When we forget the fact that we are interdependent on others and our environment, we make choices that don’t sustain us. We get so caught up in the labels of separation that we forget we are more than labels.
So, this brings us to the second problem, who are we without the labels? During sessions with clients I will sometimes ask them to imagine a basket with their name on. We then visualize taking all of the labels off themselves and placing them into the basket. We list the labels one by one as they are removed. When they have taken off the labels I ask them what is left? Almost every client tells me that there is nothing left. They don’t know who they are without the labels.
This is the void that I feel many people have in life. They have forgotten who they are at the core. Our authentic self is the pure essence of our being, but it is covered over with so many labels that we forget. To help some of my clients get to know who is under the labels, I ask them to visualize themselves as a newborn baby. They don’t yet have language to describe the world, so all they can do is feel who they are. I discuss the senses that they begin to feel. It may be comfort or love, it could also be hunger. Without language to label these things it is just an experience. I then ask them to keep those senses aware as they begin to visualize growing up. Without putting labels on themselves I ask them to remember when they felt the most alive. We discuss what that aliveness is for them, when they felt connected to something or someone. Under all of the labels we have for ourselves, there is an awareness that remains. It may feel like love, peace, or light.
Getting reconnected with our essence, our authentic self, is what I believe we are all meant to experience during our brief time on this planet. Some people find that connection in meditation, prayer, nature or in loving a pet. We can only find it when we remove the labels and judgements for a moment and become fully present with who we truly are. That sense of aliveness, love or light is who we are without the labels. We see the world and our connection to it when we take off the labels and become fully present. What would your world look like if you took some time every day to remove the labels?
“You look beyond the veil of form and separation. This is the realization of oneness. This is love.” –Eckhart Tolle
Who are you? It is a simple question that we often ask without much thought. We usually answer the question with a list of labels. I’m a mother, daughter, sister, counselor, or Pennsylvanian. We use labels to describe our physical characteristics, economic status, and aspects of our personality. All of these labels help us to categorize and define ourselves. Our brains love order and predictability. The labels provide neat boxes for the brain to store information. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but there are two issues with using labels to describe ourselves. The first issue is separation, which will be explored here. The second issue, which is the difficulty in removing labels, will be discussed next week.
When we label something, it is defined as separate from all other things that do not share the same label. From the time we are young, we are taught to label everything in our world. A child beginning to speak will start with labels for objects; ball, banana, mom, or dad. Having a label automatically defines it as a separate object. Once we have a label for something we can objectify it. The bird is separate from the tree, the drumstick is separate from the drum and you are separate from me. Labeling things as separate is not a problem, but it becomes a problem when we fail to remember how interconnected everything really is. What happens if we separate a plant from water or sunlight? The plant can’t survive without either, so is the plant really a separate object? What happened to the water or sunlight when it was absorbed into the plant? Do we still consider the water separate when it is in the plant? Under a microscope, we can still see the water molecules, but we don’t usually refer to a plant as water. We as people are dependent on plants for food. People could not live without plants, so are we separate? By utilizing labels, we put nice borders around things, but when we really begin to think about it, we are all very interconnected and dependent on each other and the environment in order to survive. Labels, and the separation that comes with the labels, blinds us to the interconnectedness that we experience here on Earth. We are truly an interdependent part of a larger system. We don’t think much about the system, because generally we see ourselves as separate from the system. It is an illusion that has led us to make some damaging choices.
The next time you look at a person, become aware of the labels that come to mind. Which ones are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad?’ Notice how the judgement of the label creates a sense of togetherness or separation. When it is separation, are there connections that can be made?
Next week I will explore what happens when we begin removing the labels.
“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” –Roy E. Disney
It is easy to say that something matters to us, but when we objectively look at our day, does the way we spend our time reflect what we say we value? There are many that say exercise or self-care is important, but is it the first thing that gets cut out of our busy schedule? If our family is important, are we spending quality time talking with our children- without distractions? With all of the phones and technology it is easy to spend time together without ever making eye contact. Our devices are great tools, but we also need the balance of having real conversation, with time spent both talking and listening to each other. Research has shown time and again that it is the quality of the time that we spend with each other, which is more important than the quantity of time. Is adequate time spent on activities that promote family togetherness, if that is a value?
One of the things that I notice is that many people are not clear on what their values are. It is hard to say we are in alignment with our values when we are not even sure what it is that we value. Take some time to make a list of just two or three values that are the most important, then begin to notice throughout the day which activities are in alignment with those values and which are not. Is there balance? What is one thing you can do today that is in alignment with your values? What would your life look like if you spent just a few minutes each day doing that activity? In the busyness of our world it is easy to lose sight of what we value. Getting clear on what our values are and living from those values has the power to change the way we live. Are you ready?
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” John Maxwell
We think we know what we want. We have our sights set on a goal and we know what needs to happen to make it. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always cooperate with our plans. Instead of success, we experience ‘failure.’ These so called ‘failures’ are often anything but a failure. I recently heard an old story which puts this into perspective.
There was once a poor peasant who lived in China with his son. Their most prized possession was their horse. One day the boy left the gate open and the horse ran away. Everyone from the village told the man how terrible it was that his horse escaped. The man simply responded, ‘maybe yes, maybe no.’ Two days later the horse returned and there were six wild horses who followed him. The villagers all exclaimed how wonderful it was that the horse returned. The man again responded, ‘maybe yes, maybe no.’ Several days later the boy was taming one of the wild horses and he was thrown off, injuring his leg. The villagers told the man how terrible it was. Again, the man responded, ‘maybe yes, maybe no.’ Several days later the Emperor’s army came through their village, taking all the young men to fight in the war. Because the boy was injured he was not taken. The villagers returned to tell him how wonderful it was that his boy was spared, to which the man responded, ‘maybe yes, maybe no.’
This story is a wonderful illustration of letting go of attachment to an outcome. The wise man knew that what looked like a ‘failure’ could turn out to be a blessing and what appeared to be just what he wanted, could in fact turn out to be trouble.
Life is filled with ups and downs, blessings and disasters. While it is important to set goals and take action, sometimes life has other plans. Going with what is and letting go of our attachment to how life is supposed to be, is a blessing. Is this experience what you wanted? Maybe yes, maybe no….
“We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy’s fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure–your perfection–is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the buy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
One of the comments I hear repeatedly in sessions is that people just want to be happy. While it seems like a simple request it is elusive for many. Why is happiness so hard to find? I believe that people aren’t looking in the right place. They spend their time searching for something to bring them happiness. Our media has sold us on the belief that we need their product in order to be happy. We can only smile when we have a Coke in our hand or when we are eating a Big Mac. Contrary to what most people believe, getting the perfect job, finding a soulmate, or moving into the dream house are not things that will bring happiness. There are plenty of people who have those things and are still miserable.
Happiness is something that we all have. If you are able to bring happiness and joy to others it is because you have it within you. We can only give what we already have. The problem is that we are often good at giving happiness, but are blocked to receiving it. It is like we are only ever able to exhale without being able to inhale. It just doesn’t work. What we need is to be able to complete the circuit. We need to open ourselves up to receive the joy and experience the happiness that is already ours. Happiness is our default programming, our natural state of being. Our thoughts, worries and ruminations are like a wedge that is driven down, cutting off the return flow of happiness. As long as we are stuck in our head we are not able to feel our natural happiness. When we take time for ourselves, when we slow down and enjoy the smell of the flowers or look in awe at the night sky, we open up the flow. We can also become curious about what the blocks in our lives are. Working to understand and push through the pain of the blocks allows them to dissolve and returns us to the natural state of happiness and joy that is our birthright. Are you ready to look at the blocks to happiness and open up to joy?
“If you don’t change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. Is that good news?” –W. Somerset Maugham
We all have our own way of being in this world. Some people are optimistic and ‘happy go lucky,’ while others are pessimistic and constantly waiting for the next stroke of bad luck to hit. We all fall somewhere on that continuum and that is our baseline experience of the world. It is our default internal programming that keeps us stable in life. When we are on our baseline, life feels ‘normal’ or routine. When events happen, they sometimes throw us off our baseline. We can tell when things are off. We either have a feeling of being down, below our baseline, or things are going well and we are above our baseline. Resiliency is often discussed as being able to get back to ‘normal,’ or baseline after an event occurs.
While getting back to baseline is comfortable, this doesn’t always serve us. I often use an example of someone who has been living in poverty their whole life and they suddenly win the lottery or inherit a fortune. Many times, these people spend the money in excess and find themselves right back at their poverty baseline. It doesn’t have to be that way though. If they are able to raise their baseline and see themselves as a wealthy individual who respects the money they have, they can budget and invest to remain wealthy.
In order to raise our baseline, we need to see ourselves differently. This comes from doing the work of self-compassion and forgiveness. It comes from questioning our beliefs about who we are and what we want in our lives. Working in the addictions field, I frequently see people who start doing well once they get clean. For a period of time, things seem to be improving and changing. Then suddenly something happens which causes them to relapse. While they tell me that they have bad luck, what I often see is self-sabotaging behaviors. Their baseline beliefs about who they are have not caught up with the changes that are happening in their lives. They often feel unworthy of good things happening, or feel that they need to be punished for choices they made. While intellectually they want the good, their underlying beliefs are stuck on seeing themselves as ‘broken’ or ‘dirty’ because of what they did. Their baseline beliefs are still low, so their behaviors bring them right back to baseline.
In order to grow, our baseline beliefs about ourselves need to change. When we go through a difficult period, many people emerge stronger than before. This is referred to as post-traumatic growth. The baseline of how they see themselves shifts during the low point and they have more confidence and awareness once they get through. When we go through joyful times our baseline can raise as well. Knowing that we are deserving of the good and worthy of the blessings allows our baseline to float up and become our new normal. The key to growth is recognizing our baseline and questioning the beliefs that hold the baseline down. What are your baseline beliefs?
“”Why?” is the most useless question in the universe. The only question with any meaning is “What?” Asking “Why is this happening?” can only disempower you. Asking “What do I want to make of this?” does exactly the opposite. Here is a great secret: the Why of anything is to produce the What of everything.” — Neale Donald Walsch
One of the favorite questions of every curious child is ‘why?’ When my son was going through the ‘why?’ stage I remember how frustrating it was to come up with answers to some of his questions. While some answers were easy to explain, really thinking about why things happen is often baffling. There are times when asking ‘why’ can be helpful. There are cause/effect relationships. By understanding how two objects or events are interrelated we can learn and grow. Once we learn why, we can make predictions and better control our environment. The problem is, many questions in life do not have a satisfying answer to ‘why.’
When we begin to ask questions like; ‘Why do some people have lives filled with suffering and hardship while others have it easy?’ or ‘Why do some people die so young?’ or ‘Why doesn’t God bring peace to our planet?’ or even ‘Why didn’t I get the dream job I was applying for?’ there are no simple explanations for ‘why?’ These are the big life questions that defy simple answers to ‘why?’ When people get stuck in the ‘why’ questions it becomes disempowering. It begins to feel like we are the victim of life and are powerless to control everything. Then the big question becomes, ‘Why even try?’
There is another question that is more powerful. Instead of focusing on why, instead ask, ‘What do I want to make of this?’ The shift from ‘Why is this happening?’ to ‘What can I do about it?’ creates a different energy in the question. ‘Why’ is passive, ‘What’ is active. When we ask what we want to make of a situation, we have a choice. We have the power to define how we handle every situation. Asking ‘what’ instead of ‘why’ takes no more effort, but it can create different results. What will you do with this information?
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” –Leo Buscaglia
Joy is an emotion that we all say we want more of. The pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right. But, what happens when we find the happiness and joy that we say we all want? If you are like most people, when things are going well, we say that things are ‘too good.’ We wait for the other shoe to drop. As crazy as it sounds, thanks to the research of Brené Brown, we now know that joy is the most difficult of all emotions for most people to stay with for any length of time. When things are going well, we forebode the joy. I remember standing over my son’s crib when he was a baby and as I looked at him in wonder and amazement, feeling the joy well up in my heart, I had a sudden image of him dying. I was sure that he stopped breathing and began to panic as I didn’t see his chest move. Of course, he was fine, but in that moment of pure joy, the brakes were applied and it was back to reality. Whether it is due to Hollywood sensitizing us, or our own innate nature it is difficult for us to stay with joy. When my son was going to a high school dance, a group met at a friend’s house for pictures. He was then riding with his friends to the dance. I couldn’t help but have a moment on the ride home, when I was alone, to think about whether the photos of him laughing and smiling could be his last. Images of a terrible accident and headlines flashed across my mind. This should have been a moment of joy, but instead I was worried.
Joy is an emotion that we have fear of. In many ways it is scarier when life is going well then it is when things are falling apart. Misery loves company. It seems you can always find something negative to talk about with other people, and they will commiserate with you. People try to offer support and help when it is obvious that there is a need. When things are going well, everyone seems to assume that there is no need for support. One of the points that Brené Brown makes is that people in recovery need to go to more meetings and be with more people when things are going well, because joy can be a trigger for relapse.
While it seems counterintuitive to think of joy as being a dangerous emotion, in many ways it is. Joy is pure vulnerability and whenever we feel vulnerable, fear sets in. Become aware of foreboding joy and remind yourself to enjoy the moment for what it is. Challenge yourself to feel the pure joy of life. Take some time to soak in the joy.
“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” Rainer Maria Rilke
Over the holidays we got to talking about how times have changed. Grandparents were sharing stories of when they got their first TV, which amazed my children. I talked about the first TI computer we had and how I remembered typing code in to make a game. While it sounds foreign today, it was not that long ago. We got into a discussion about what antiquated technology my children are going to be telling their children and grandchildren about in the decades to come. It is amazing to think about how fast technology is changing our world and what the future will be like.
Every new year is symbolic for new potential. It is a time to reflect upon that which has not been serving us and to draw a line in the sand. That was then; this is now. This year to come is full of potential, but the first step is to begin visualizing what you would like to see. To conceive of an idea and to nurture it, is to bring it into creation. In Genevieve Behrend’s book, Your Invisible Power, written in 1929, she discusses the importance of moving beyond the known boundaries and into the unknown. She states, “We now fly through the air, not because anyone has been able to change the laws of Nature, but because the inventor of the flying machine learned how to apply Nature’s laws and, by making orderly use of them, produced the desired result. So far as the natural forces are concerned, nothing has changed since the beginning. There were no airplanes in ‘the Year One,’ because those of that generation could not conceive the idea as a practical, working possibility. ‘It has not yet been done,’ was the argument, ‘and it cannot be done.’ Yet the laws and materials for practical flying machines existed then as now.”
This year, what new ideas will be conceived of? What new possibilities will arise? This generation is able to imagine things that were thought impossible by previous generations. What an exciting time to be alive! Here is to a NEW YEAR!