Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Whip It...Whip It Good!

“Being smart as a whip includes knowing when not to crack it.”
~ Vera Nazarian

There's an important life lesson on my mind...one that is seldom spoken of, but that is subtly contemplated many times throughout each day. If we shine no awareness on this elusive process we inevitably waste time, energy and our own peace-of-mind. I have had this familiar feeling of confusion and frustration many times in my life. If we open our eyes to this lesson, however, there is no end to the learning and rewards that appear. The sparkly discovery that I'm pointing to is our constant ability to use our free will to decrypt any thought we conger up.

One rarely spends a moment to think about this cogitating that goes on within the confines of our own minds, but we're constantly deciding whether are not we will trust the thoughts we create. Sometimes we drop thinking that would serve us quite well. At other times, we may give power to thinking that gets us into trouble. Either way, we decide to trust some thinking, while we dismiss other thoughts. This does not mean that we should begin a practice of manipulating our thoughts...this is not a possibility. Instead, we can begin to count on our thinking...knowing new thought will come whenever we feel leery of the current selection.

So far, this is common sense...a simple truth that goes unnoticed as we live our lives. It comes up, though, all the time, and goes unnoticed even when we begin to feel lost...hopeless. Paying attention to how you use your thinking is in many ways the key to getting what you want...whatever that may be. Can you see the importance of deciding not to trust your thinking at times? Further, can you slip beyond seeing this and put it into action?

I was observing recently, both myself and others. There is a pattern I see in a lot of us...dare I say most of us. It's this ability we have as humans to have a loud, proud voice when we speak up for others, and yet we loose this confidence and volume at times when we need to use our voice for ourselves. I think the root of this is two-fold. One,we have a tremendous connection to each other...causing us to feel powerful and immediate empathy for one another. This happens quite naturally and spontaneously...and without our permission at times. Two, we somehow decide regularly to allow less of this esteem for ourselves...our vision of ourselves is not as clear. Not as affirmative.

I see this in friends and clients, who insist on believing the worst in themselves, but will then quickly believe me when I offer them a less destructive perspective. It's as though they want to hear about their own worth but they will not call it up for themselves. They hear beyond my words something they know is true...they are redeeming, but they let themselves forget this until I release it into our setting.

There are many stories I could tell about times when I have felt vocal for other people. The love I felt for them in their time of need overshadowed any thought I had to be quiet...to question their character. This may even be the powerful feeling that led me to the field of counseling to begin with. Somehow, though, when I am the one in need these thoughts of questioning and doubting appear to be valid...stopping me at times when action is needed. What is good enough for my fellow-human is too good for me in my own mind!

One story fits well here, because I was aware throughout the process that I would not have been so strong on my own behalf. My good friend was being manipulated by a person who was herself very lost at the time. My friend was in tears. Without hesitation, I walked the short distance to this person's house and dealt with the matter. I spoke from the heart...I found a way to point out my friend's strengths without attacking this other person's character. I was even, solid, and fearless. I remember feeling like I wished someone would do this for me in all of the compromised friendships I had at the time. Funny I never thought of enlisting myself!

In a way the learning curve has been steeper when I throw myself into the picture. Conversely, this is why it is so moving when I realize occasionally how beautifully other people see me...the ease at which they forgive me and move on with their image of me untarnished.

Recently, though, I had some insight that is helping me blaze a new trail. There is a process regarding personal thinking that I see with great clarity in other people. This is the fact that when someone is in a bad feeling, they have gotten there by believing some personal thinking that they shouldn't have. This has led them somewhere where they cannot easily thrive. I know this for myself too, but mostly I would not make this connection until after a decision had been made. The feelings all along the way were too often ignored. Although realization (at any time) that I had followed harmful thinking was helpful, it did not always lead to action in real time.

I began to see the personal truth in something that I had only deemed true for others in the past. Here it is....when my feeling state is off, this is not just an indication that my personal thinking should be ignored. It is actually a notification that I should not make decisions at this time. This is quite different, because the first level of understanding still leaves a lot of room for different, yet just as destructive personal thinking to be at play. The second, deeper, understanding has a whispering of reassurance in it...something like “Just let it be. New thought is on the way. There is no reason to continue on this path you've chosen. Your answer is waiting for you to get out of the way.”

There is so much freedom here! Somehow this little tweak in my understanding means that my feeling state can guide me with much more ease. These decisions that I make every day, big and small, can be informed by my feelings rather than analyzed later. I'm the only one attached to the thinking that is informing me at any given time...I'm the only one who can veto it. The goal, after all, is to make decisions that are right for me...not to make decisions because I've locked myself into them in my head. This does not take courage...maybe just patience.

I love when these glimpses into the nature of thought allow me to change my behavior. Because I give myself total permission to dismiss my personal thinking when necessary, I will not make as many unfortunate decisions for myself. Waiting for the right answer is more logical. Insisting on a thought that I just made up, does not hold any merit. Noticing later the wrong feelings I was in while I made a decision, is not good enough anymore.

This, ladies and gents, is how change happens. Instantaneous, because you are suddenly informed by a new perspective that makes your old process seem obsolete. Suddenly the shackles are off and you realize that you had the key. Just like that, you can become smart as a whip, without worrying that you'll injure yourself with a lashing!

Friday, January 6, 2012

If you are not ready, just start.

I returned to the UK a couple of weeks ago and life has truly hit me in the face. My old life, that is. The life I once lived, but now can't quite remember myself within. This is no bad thing. I am just learning to find my place again. It's like trying lots of pieces of the puzzle within a well known picture. I'm feeling my way through to see what bits fit snugly and which ones, despite looking right and familiar, just aren’t a comfortable fit. It's a process that has its ups and downs. There are moments of surprise when I do something, or behave in a way that I might not have done last year. There are also fleeting moments of sadness that come when I realise I've fallen into old ways of being, ways that I thought I had long gotten over. I'm frequently thrown out of my comfort zone and required to act gracefully within the discomfort. At these times I remind myself, discomfort is an opportunity for growth.

With all this going on, I've also been entertaining my Blogger's block. Giving it way too much power as it itches away at my mind. I’ve so much to write and comment about, but I’m in a familiar environment where I once wouldn't write so freely. I’ve felt the conflict between the old habits of insecure thinking about my writing against my more recent desire to just write and share my ideas. Being back in the village where I grew up has surfaced a number of those insecure thoughts, which I had happily abandoned while being in the States. So, here's what I've noticed:

My understanding of the Three Principles supports a deep understanding of how, as a human, I create my experience of life via the thoughts to which I choose to give my attention. This brings a unique understanding and standpoint to life and my interactions. However, this understanding doesn't rid me of unhelpful thoughts. Neither does it cure me of my idiosyncratic behaviours. Rather, on a daily basis, it brings me closer to a human connection that we all share. So when these idiosyncratic behaviours and unhelpful thoughts show up, I can begin to navigate them more gracefully. Over time, without having fed them and taken them too seriously, I expect they may well disappear altogether. But, in the meantime, I’ll continue to stumble.

For a few days now, I’ve been taking my Blogger's block surprisingly seriously. I asked myself, “has it ended before it's even started?” Each time I sat down at the computer my thinking felt serious, my body felt heavy and under pressure. These were sure signs that my thinking was getting in the way of any potential good ideas I had brewing. Tonight however, after taking myself so seriously, I decided to listen to my own advice, "If you are not ready, just start". So I did. I ignored my concerns and my excuses, regardless of how compelling they felt. I sat down and started writing. Now, I find myself writing and I am enjoying the process. My flow of words feels like it is bypassing too much analysis. It's a connection that was only possible once I'd dropped any dominating thoughts. I'd gotten out of my own way.

The interesting result of this is that this experience is relevant for all of us right now. With New Year comes the inevitable New Year’s Resolutions. A handful of promises made in an attempt to rid ourselves of any nasty habits and become a better person. For those of us that bother to try, the first week normally starts out well. We're inspired by the newness of the year. We even feel brave enough to admit our failures and dream of a new way. However, often as time goes by, our old habitual thinking can take hold. It starts creeping back in because actually nothing has changed. We are still surrounded by the same cues, the same people and therefore tempted daily by the same familiar thinking paths to bad habits. Nothing changed except the last digit of the year that we scrawl down occasionally and a shiny new calendar to hang on the wall.

And, perhaps this is why New Year’s resolutions don't necessarily work. Responding to an external environment will likely only bring a short-term change. Deep down we all know that change comes from within. It's something I am learning more and more about every day. It's like a gentle unpicking of myself and my automatic responses. I recognize the thoughts that feel good, light or fresh and I move forward with them. At the same time, the more difficult bit is that I am learning to recognise the thoughts that bring a sense of fear, lethargic comfort or just plain old habitual thinking (that leaves no room for surprise). These thoughts of familiarity and comfort are harder to distinguish, but they too often only bring a short-term relief. These are the thoughts that lead us away from being that new and improved healthy self, the one we dreamed about on December 31st. These thoughts, I don’t act on. I let them pass by without too much fuss.

So, while I deal with my own acculturation issues back here in the UK and the few New Year's resolutions that I couldn't resist making, I remember this. When I notice I am moving off track, either within my thinking or my overt behaviour, I recognise the opportunity to gracefully move on out of it. Any crankiness or shyness that might be the symptom of an unhelpful thought, for instance; 'why is everyone so unenthusiastic?' (I have just spent 6 months in America!), or 'I can't be bothered to go for a walk' have quickly been recognised as unhelpful. I can tell because they come with a physically heavy feeling. It also disconnects me from my interaction with others and takes me out of a natural flow with my environment. This recognition, with my understanding of the Three Principles has given me the opportunity to recognise this experience as 'thought-led'. Thought being a moment to moment creation that I can't control, but I can let pass by. So if it feels sticky, I remember that under that heavy thinking is something more pure and insightful, or even just the potential for some other new thought. The more I trust this, the more I experience it to be true. In the times that I have a deeper felt sense of what I want to do, I acknowledge that I am not quite ready and I just start. In the cases where there is no deeper felt sense, I stay still and remain kind to myself.

Eventually, a more useful thought may come along bringing something new and fresh. In some cases, this may even just be to apologize and smile. It's incredible what these non-automatic responses can bring about. When we offer genuine, non-automatic responses we leave behind the clumsiness of the previous experience. We give ourselves permission to not berate ourselves and due to this, we can genuinely move forward into unknown territory.

The beauty of facing a new year is that our thinking and subsequent expectations get a chance to run wild. Temporarily our slate is blank and anything is possible. We are not restricted by our everyday, self created identity. In these moments we are more likely to entertain our potential for change, brave enough to admit our less attractive sides and more willing to shine without fear of what others might think. There's a lot to be gained from this time and the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. But as the dust settles and we fall back into our more familiar life, remember that the excitement and potential we felt came from a thought. A thought about changing the number 2011, to the number 2012. This means that really we have that potential at every moment. New habits, from eating, to exercise and to the way we communicate with each other are all there for your making. The most important thing we can do to cultivate them is to listen to the feeling that our thoughts create before we act on them. By doing this, we'll always know we are doing the best that we can in any given moment.

So, when you fall off your shining new horse, take notice, dust yourself down and then grab the reins and climb back on. And if the idea of that sounds easier said than done, what I actually mean is; take notice, take a deep breath, let go of previous thoughts and move as gracefully as possible into the next fresh moment. Just remember to go steady when the inevitable and often familiar thought-led obstacles come along, you’ll know them by the feeling they bring.