Category Archives: compassion

Why do we crucify ourselves?

I love early mornings, when I sit with my coffee and write, sometimes with a cat on my lap, sometimes just with a few fresh ideas in my head. After a good night’s sleep, my mind is clear, and sometimes the remnants of a dream come forth. Very often I forget them right away, and that is okay. My subconscious lets me know when I need to remember them.

This morning I had fragments in my head of a song by Tori Amos that I have not hear in years, possibly decades: “Why do we crucify ourselves?” So that was fascinating. It is a good question though. Why indeed?

Isn’t it amazing how some music imprints itself upon us in a way we cannot explain. This particular album was introduced to me by my best friend in college. The Little Earthquakes album was a staple of our music mix in those days.

“I gotta have my suffering so I can have my cross…”

Yeah. I guess some of us were taught to use Jesus as an example of behavior we should follow. I am going to risk offending people in this post, and probably confess my beliefs here and how they have changed over the years.

I wholeheartedly embrace the example of Jesus as a spiritual teacher, perhaps even a savior in a way. But I always puzzled at people who are so self-sacrificing that they neglect their own self care. The Bible says that Jesus died for our sins, that his suffering was our redemption. So why do we insist on suffering more than needed?

Every human being suffers. It is part of our DNA. It is part of what helps us have empathy for others, the understanding of sadness, of grief, of anger, of any depth of emotion. And yet when we are young, some of us are told “don’t cry, it will be okay” or “honey, don’t be sad.”

It reflects possibly our parents’ inability to deal with their own emotions that they asked us not to express our own. Everyone has sadness, anger or loneliness at times in their life. It is okay. Nothing has gone wrong. These emotions help us to connect with ourselves, and with others, and to let us know when things may need to change in our lives.

Anger is how we SHOULD react to injustice. It is something that can motivate action, though not necessarily sustain it. And yet many of us were taught not to express anger, but to fear it. Or we were not shown that it was okay to be sad sometimes. But being angry or sad is part of the human condition, nothing that should shame us.

When we resist or deny our feelings, that is when they cause more suffering. Our feelings are like vibrations in the body. They come, they move through us, and they complete themselves. Probably no other practice has helped me understand this than yoga and meditation. Every emotional state is temporary. Many of these states are a result of our thoughts rather than anything external.

Simply by feeling our feelings, possibly naming and acknowledging them, we allow them to move through us. They can be a guide to let us know we should reach out to friends and connect with loved ones. They can help us know when we are moving toward danger or toward joy.

As more people develop emotional intelligence, they may learn to identify and embrace their emotions rather than “buffer” them away with alcohol, food, Netflix or other addictions. Instead of piling on the guilt and shame over feeling sad or angry, they can release this added suffering and feel more peace.

I certainly have not mastered this, and have had to deliberately practice feeling my feelings, and identifying the thoughts behind them. But it has allowed me to stop crucifying myself over mistakes, or my own shortcomings. That serves nobody. I am pretty sure Jesus would agree with me on this one, and allow me to forgive myself.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Love over fear

Yesterday, I started practicing a new mantra, as I began to consider my actions in light of love or fear. This came from some reflection on yesterday’s blog and a conclusion I came to in seeing my work situation in a new way.

I started asking: “How can I act with more love and less fear in this moment?” It became apparent to me, when I realized that in leaving my current position in the next few months, I am not leaving my team. I am showing them what it is to be brave and to take on a new challenge. For months, I have been worrying about that, anxious about who would “look out” for them when I am gone. But by staying in department that constantly demands more from them, without providing the resources, I am just keeping a broken system intact. It’s like being a brick in the wall. But it may be a wall that needs to come down. Staying there is not an act of love, on a long-term basis.

Acting out of love rather than fear seems to require that we “re-wire” our brain in new ways, because it will probably seem familiar to us. We are used to doing things the way we have habitually learned to do them. Learning a new way requires practice and commitment.

I took a break from my work and headed to the gym for a quick treadmill run, to clear my head and get my endorphins flowing over the lunch hour. I practiced my new mantra: how can I act with more love and less fear in this moment?

What changed: I put my phone away and began looking into people’s eyes, smiling if they met my eyes. I paid attention to my body while I ran, instead of feeding myself mindless distractions with my iPod or phone. I used my run as more of a “breathing meditation” rather than an excuse to check out from my life. (It was a little hard with all of those video screens at the gym to provide distraction, but I focused on my breath and body anyway).

When I got back to my desk, I focused on bringing more love and less fear to each interaction with my coworkers, each email, each phone call. I kept asking myself that question: how can I act with more love in this moment? It kind of radically changed the amount of work I was able to get done, and the purposefulness in which I was able to complete the work.

When my husband returned home, I talked with him about my discovery, and then had a conversation about a topic I had been avoiding. I had not been sure how to talk about it. I was honest about feeling afraid before, and about how that has held me back sometimes. He was very open, and he was hearing me. He did not make me feel ashamed about that. He listened and he supported me. I felt much closer to him than I have in a long time.

It brings tears to my eyes as I write this, because I realize how often I have been acting from fear rather than acting to bring more love to all my interactions. I am extending compassion to myself also, knowing this is conditioned behavior, and it is not a character flaw on my part. I am exceeding grateful to recognize it now, and to be able to start consciously “un-conditioning” that automatic behavior. While it feels familiar, it does not serve me. It does not serve anyone.

When we choose to act to bring more love into our experience, rather than to react out of fear, we radically change the orientation of our lives. We bring different energy into our relationships, and into our spheres of influence. Some people may respond in confusion, as they are not used to this type of interaction. But most are grateful for this approach, and feel our caring.

I will try again today, as I am conducting interviews for an open position on my team, to use this mantra. I will need it as much for myself as for others. But I am eager to see what a difference it may make.

 

 

 

 

There is no “better” you

I have been noticing a lot of flyers this year in fitness centers and around bulletin boards that invite people to “become a better you.” I really dislike this slogan. Let me tell you why.

You are just fine the way you are. Right now. No exceptions. You are worthy of love, compassion and forgiveness. Just because you are human. In this moment, and always.

Are you perfect? No. Are you human? Yes. You are an imperfect human being in the process of growing and becoming, as are we all. And that is a beautiful thing.

Are there some things you wish to change about yourself? Probably. Most of us want to lose weight, make more money, become more patient, perhaps become better partners or spouses. And this is fine. But this does not mean we become “better” as people. If we cannot accept that we are fine, and worthy of love and compassion, in this moment and always, it will be much harder to grow and change.

What bothers me about this “better” you is that it implies the you RIGHT NOW is not enough. But that is never true. You are enough. You are doing your best and that is always enough. You are worthy. Always.

You will not become “better” if you lose weight. Perhaps your health will be better, and you will have less discomfort in your body and more vitality if you lose weight. Those are all worthy goals, and by all means strive for those goals if they are important to you. But you must accept yourself and who you are in this very moment to allow transformation to occur.

Does that sound paradoxical? I thought so at first when I encountered this idea. If I’m not striving and trying and working toward it, how can I be “better” at it? Certainly skills take practice, and many of us learned that working hard is the answer, or the way to riches, or even the way to God.

When you have goals that are important to you, absolutely you should work for them. Put the time in every day if you can. But realize that there is no “better” version of you that awaits. You may feel better about your skills, and you may accomplish great things. Wonderful! Congratulations!

But the YOU remains the same, lovable and worthy. Flawed and imperfect. And marvelously human, adaptable and growing all the time. If you accept all parts of yourself, the good and the bad, you begin to feel such compassion for yourself and others as well. 

No person is better than another. We are all just doing our best, even if it seems like not everyone is trying. We actually are doing the best that we know. Try this belief on for a bit. When I really came to know this as true, it gave me so much peace. And ironically, parts of me began to change as I embraced this acceptance.

You are the BEST YOU right now. And that is enough. Let go of the struggle to become better. Work on acceptance of who you are. See how this changes your energy and your life.

 

Emotional hangovers

Do you ever find yourself lashing out at someone you love in a fit of anger at some perceived injustice? But then you realize that it is really your own thinking that is causing the drama, not that other person. In fact, that other person is helpful and loving, and really your anger is misdirected.

Oh, how I wish I did not have to confess to this kind of “emotional childhood” in my own life. I do a lot of work on myself, in meditating daily, doing yoga, journaling and doing “thought downloads” to figure on what’s really going on in that head of mine. And still, there are emotions like anger that feel so powerful sometimes, that it is hard to step back and get some perspective while we are “hooked” by them.

It can feel powerful sometimes, when we are angry. It can feel useful and justified too, especially when we perceive some injustice that has been done to us, or someone we care about. But does being caught in anger actually help us? Or does it do more harm than good?

The Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön refers to this tendency as “shenpa“, the hook that triggers our habitual tendency to close down. It is usually involuntary and gets to the root of why we suffer as human beings. It is that urge that attaches us and causes us to withdraw and perhaps retreat into blame, anger, jealousy, etc, instead of remaining present and calm in the moment.

Some of us have struggled with early programming in which we reached for food or a drink to calm those uncomfortable emotions as they came up. We were taught not to show anger (very common for women) or to stop being upset over something. So this habit takes some unlearning. It takes deep compassion and awareness to sit with those uncomfortable feelings, to allow them to come up, and to recognize the thoughts and stories we are telling about the situation.

When I recognize I am caught in anger, and I can observe it and breathe into it before I lash out, usually I realize it is not the circumstance “causing” the anger, but rather my thoughts about it. For example, if I feel that I am telling my husband and important thing, and he is looking at his phone, I could choose several reactions. I could get angry because I think he is not paying attention I could tell myself a story that he doesn’t care about me. I could yell at him and tell him he is not listening.

Or: I could calmly tell him that I want to talk with him about something important, and ask if we can talk without distractions. Usually he is very willing, and he realizes when something is important to me. Sometimes he is tired, and he does not really feel like working out my latest angst when it comes to my big career change, or the latest drama at work. I get it. I know I obsess and talk a lot about my work these days. Big decisions ahead. And I tend to analyze things to death, in case you had not already gathered that from reading my blog.

One thing he said from a discussion which really stays with me: “I don’t know how to help you.” I realized what I wanted was not help, it was empathy and understanding. When he came over to put his arms around me to tell me he could understand I was suffering, and wishes he could do something about it, I finally melted. I immediately felt bad about my behavior. Here is a man who loves me very deeply, and I was not angry with him at all.

If anything I was angry with myself. I wanted to find the courage to express certain things at work, but not be affected by the “political” ramifications of those truths. I had invented a story in my head about being trapped in a situation that “is not fair” and where I was the victim. But a day and a half later, after some yoga and reflection and a better night’s sleep last night than right after my anger storm, I have more clarity.

I am not trapped in a situation. I choose to stay in a job which provides me many benefits and much flexibility to develop new skills and challenge myself in new ways. I know that the current position is less of a fit for me now that I have begun exploring what my heart and soul are asking. But it is still my choice, whether I stay or leave. At least as the moment, though it’s not a good sign that I keep yearning for an “exit package.”

What I realize today is that I have enormous gratitude for my kind husband and all of his patience and support for me. He is on my side, and he cares deeply for me. My storm of anger was misdirected, probably because he is a person I trust to reveal the more “raw” side of myself. Isn’t there a country song with a line about “we only hurt the ones we love?” I am extending myself compassion right now, as he has so often done for me, when I do something I regret.

It does help to beat myself up over this behavior, yet I feel myself doing that as well. Compassion is hard, but I typically feel it for other people easily. It is SO much harder to extend it toward myself. Yet I will practice that now. We all deserve compassion, and I am no exception. I am human. Flawed. Imperfect. But still worthy of forgiveness. 

 

 

 

 

 

Letting Go

Happy New Year, Friends! I hope by now you have slept off any late night parties and begun 2018 with vim and vigor.

It is very cold here in Minnesota, only -11F as I write this (without wind chill). My husband and I laughed at the NYC ball-drop countdown last night when they were complaining about 12F. Wimps, we said! You don’t even KNOW what cold is.

Then we went to bed around our usual time after a few episodes of the Twilight Zone, an annual tradition on NYE. I used to stay up late, and as a morning person, the result is that I nearly always ushered in the New Year tired and cranky. Oy, SO not worth it to me.

I dearly love my sleep, the older I get, and I refuse to sacrifice it for something arbitrary like midnight. So I let go of that habit when I realized it was not serving me. When I embrace what makes me happiest and most vital, and let go of doing things just because our culture encourages them.

I spent a lot of New Years in my youth trying to start a new habit, or get on a better eating plan, or become more committed to some new activity. I realize that since I look at January 1st as arbitrary, I do better at starting new things on a date I choose.

Perhaps I use a new season, or a new month or a new week. The past year, I started writing daily as of October 1st. 330 days ago I started meditating daily. So that was February. It happened to be Super Bowl Sunday. Coincidence? Perhaps. I also attended a Satsang session at a local meditation center. But I do not do that regularly. It just helped initiate the ritual for me.

What is more relevant to me this year is not necessarily starting something new, but instead letting go of what does not serve me. They say that adding something new is actually much easier than breaking a habit we do not want. I can see how that is true.

But at the same time, there are a few things that I realize no longer serve me, and I will  work on letting them go, replacing them with habits that are more compassionate and that honor my needs. Here are a few:

Self-criticism – this is a hard one. I have a pretty tough inner critic. But I have worked at being more forgiving lately, and realizing that I am doing my best. That’s really all I can do, and I will continue to honor this.

Self-blame – I have been told I sometimes feel “inappropriate guilt.” A mentor mentioned this to me once when I talked about moving onto a new position but not wanting to let my team down. It would probably serve me to let this one go as well.

Judgment of self and others – It really is impossible to live someone else’s life, and understand what they are going through. Empathy is something to practice, for sure. But beyond that, people need to just be allowed to be who they are, without my imposed story-lines of what they should or should not do.

Doing others’s work – There is another manager on my team (a physician) who conveniently does not always follow the bureaucratic procedures we need to follow for things like hiring at work. In the past I would often pick up the slack to be sure things were done correctly. This year, I intend to let him do his work. By himself. Yes, I want to be a team player. But last year I did more than my share. This year I will let him fail when he does not do what is required for managers. His boss (and mine) is ultimately responsible, not me. My husband will be proud of me for this one, if I can follow through on it. He heard me say last December “I’m done!” when it came to another scenario where my colleague’s lack of follow-through put me in a difficult position.

Whew I guess you can tell what pushes my buttons. And it felt great to get that off my chest. The first three of these things, I have worked to let go, especially in recent months and over the past year of committed meditation practice.

It takes some work, awareness and commitment to change old thoughts that do not serve us. For some of them, they have worn grooves into our brains after thinking the old and tired thoughts too many times. It is not because they are TRUE, it is just because we have practiced them. The good news is that we can practice other thoughts! And over them, we then “weed out” those ones that no longer serve us.

Some thoughts I prefer to practice are:

“I have time to do what I need to do today.”  

“I am doing my best, and that is enough.”

“I trust myself and deserve compassion.” or “I trust my body to tell me what I need.” 

I may set a few goals this year with my husband, because I want to work better as a team when it comes to things like money and savings goals. That will undoubtedly be a topic for a future post, as I examine my own obstacles in learning this new practice.

But for now I feel satisfied with letting go a few things so I can welcome in more compassion and love for myself and others. I’m ready, 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

Adult tantrums

I am a little embarrassed to admit that Christmas Eve this year I indulged in an “adult tantrum” about all that I had committed to do to prep for the holidays.

It wasn’t pretty. My hubby and I had been sick with colds during the week, so we were behind our usual holiday preparations, and I was struggling to get some things done at the last minute.

Upon reflection, I realized that the reason I was upset was not that I *HAD* to do anything for the holidays. Nobody was forcing me. I choose to celebrate the holidays in this way with my family, exchanging gifts and creating traditions especially for the children in the family.

When I reminded myself that I was doing the best I could under the circumstances, and that it is not my obligation to create a “perfect” holiday for anyone, I could finally relax and enjoy the time. When I was able to take a breath and realize that the purpose of the holiday is to pause, to reflect, and to enjoy time with loved ones, I came back to reality.

I realized that my inner dialogue was responsible for creating this idealized version of a holiday, in which I was falling far short. Also I know that I suffer from decision fatigue quite often. It is part of coping with an a.d.d. brain, and it is part of my reality. During the holidays, with all of the gift giving choices to make, this fatigue tends to be magnified.

Our expectations during the holidays are what typically get in the way of our joy. In recent years, I have tried “turning down” my expectations, so that I can focus on what is really important. I still wish my family might refrain from gift-giving and do something charitable instead. But I also realize that giving gifts brings people a lot of joy, and some people really do enjoy selecting gifts for loved ones.

I have explored the concept of emotional adulthood, and I realize it applies in these situations as well. We are responsible for our own feelings, and not the feelings of others. I cannot control whether others have a happy holiday. Since it is our thoughts that drive our feelings, having thoughts about “I have to…” or “I must…” tend to leave us feeling trapped, resentful, and Scroogey.

If we have thoughts instead of gratitude, for the opportunity to travel to see family on the holiday, or for all the abundance we have enjoyed in the past year, we feel joyful. If others in my family rely on me to provide their happiness, either by my getting them a perfect gift, or following family traditions to the letter, that is their business. I am not responsible for their thoughts and expectations of the holiday. I certainly hope and wish they enjoy it, but that is their own responsibility.

Holidays can be stressful for many reasons. But when we understand emotional adulthood and take responsibility for our own feelings, we can minimize our stress. That is certainly something to celebrate!