Letting go of ego · Mindfulness · Open heartedness

When the student is ready…

It turns out that just about every thing I have needed to become a more loving, happy and compassionate person has always been available to me.

For the longest time it’s been right under my nose, calling my name, knocking on my door, laid out like a freaking buffet of knowledge and wisdom. For years I didn’t see it, didn’t heed its call, didn’t open the door, didn’t pick up the fork or drink ravenously from its cup.

Yet there I was–for more years than I care to mention–wanting, hungry, starving…

…for connection…

…for love…

…for acceptance…

…sometimes simply to be seen and appreciated.

These are some of the uncomfortable and inconvenient truths of my past:

I was wrong a lot, but could seldom admit it.

I often didn’t know what I was doing, but faked my way through it, rarely asking for help.

I got overly invested in perfectionism, which drove me–and the folks around me–crazy. Spoiler alert: Despite all the worry and the polishing it almost never made a substantive difference in the quality of my work.

I sat in judgment of others while simultaneously doing a lousy job of scrutinizing my own side of the street and taking appropriate responsibility for my shit.

I spent plenty of time regretting a past I couldn’t change or fretting about a future over which I had little or no control.

I took just about everything personally.

I seldom felt good enough.

I tolerated inappropriate behavior because I prioritized staying in a relationship over my own most important desires and my genuine need for emotional safety.

I held on to resentments, unable to discern between disappointment and frustration, and often failing to see my own role in what had transpired.

I’d push my agenda and defend my particular version of reality, rather than try to see the other person’s humanity–their own moments of struggle and brokenness–and seek to discover their version of the truth.

Much of the time I’d rather be right than be connected.

I am keenly aware that most of my struggles pale in comparison to what so many face. Regardless, this all brought me to my knees more than once.

Career opportunities gone or missed. Serious health crises. Fractured friendships. Not coming close to showing up for my family in the way they deserved. Romantic relationships that I deeply valued now strewn upon the trash heap of history.

It still hurts, because it all mattered, even if I didn’t always know how to show it.

Here are some more truths, which turn out to be rather more convenient:

In recent years, I haven’t become a more open-hearted and compassionate person because a clinical trial needed to be completed or some new breakthrough book was finally published.

I didn’t start consistently choosing love over hate, forgiveness over condemnation, accountability over blame, because a new law was passed requiring me to do so.

I didn’t have some sort of medical procedure that suddenly allowed me to realize that I am good enough just as I am.

I didn’t start surrounding myself with people that were more spiritually and values aligned with me because I moved to a new neighborhood.

The books, videos, seminars and people I have learned so much from in recent years existed long before I ran into them, sought them out or had someone point me in their direction. But I had to be ready for their lessons.

The truth is always there if we are willing to look for it.

A different path is possible if we are willing to do the work.

It’s never too late to start. And I got here as fast as I could.

When the student is ready the teacher appears.

WHEN-THE-STUDENTIS-READY-THE-TEACHERWILL-APPEAR

 

 

Letting go of ego · Self-compassion

Spreading wisdom instead of pain

In our daily lives we face some fundamental choices. Some are mundane, like deciding what to have for breakfast, which route to take to the office or which hashtag to attach to a social media post. Others, of course, are far more profound.

So isn’t it interesting how often many of us obsesses over the prosaic, yet respond reflexively or out of habit to those that make the most difference?

In the choice between practicing judgment or forgiveness, ownership or blame, humility or self-righteousness, many of us get it wrong time and time again. And in doing so we unconsciously choose spreading pain over wisdom.

In her TED talk “Choices that can change your life” Caroline Myss does a splendid job of laying this out. She reminds us that choice is the most powerful thing we’re born with–and that’s why it terrifies us. She reminds us that we hesitate to commit to a decision because then we might have to do something about it. She reminds us that the words we choose matter. She reminds us that three words are lethal: “blame”, “entitled” and “deserve.”

If you are anything like me you may get stuck in your own reactivity. You may find it challenging to overcome a life time of habits. You may find it hard to make a different choice, even when you know one path calls you to your higher self.

But deep down we all know it makes far more sense to share our wisdom than to perpetuate and spread our pain–or the pain of others.

Once we realize and accept that we have a choice, then we have the opportunity to make a different one.

h/t to “Shepak” for continuing to call me to my higher self, albeit from afar

1_QuRLUayP_QTC125wU2ibfQ

Do the work · Letting go of ego · Radical acceptance

They’ll see it eventually. Or not.

When we believe another person is unable to see the harsh reality of their words or actions it can particularly frustrating. When those words or actions affect us directly by activating our own worry, shame, sadness or pain, it can be especially difficult. Even traumatic.

Maybe we want to change their perception of past events.

But then again “truth” is a relative concept, often simply held in the eyes of the beholder.

Perhaps they can’t let go of a something we’ve done in our history together.

Yet the idea that we can magically make their feelings go away by our well reasoned arguments is a fool’s errand.

Maybe we don’t like their choice of friend, lover, job, outfit, hair style, the book they are reading and on and on.

But it’s probably worth remembering that it’s their life and most of the time their decisions have little or nothing to do with us. It’s also worth reminding ourselves that much of the time we rarely have the full picture anyway.

Maybe we want them to see us fundamentally in a different light, to focus only on our good parts, or forgive us for past ills we’d prefer they ignore, or just simply extend us more grace and compassion.

Yet their journey is their journey. And our is ours.

Things will unfold in their own time, despite our attempts to jam the accelerator to the floor.

Hope is not a workable strategy. Acceptance is.

In the absence of a fully functioning time machine (which, by the way, I HAVE added to my Christmas list) we can only start where we are.  And we can only work on what is within our control and, whether we like it or not, that’s our stuff, not theirs.

It may well be that the other person is in denial, or using poor judgment, or making a terrible mistake. It turns out this is what we humans do.

And eventually they’ll see it. Or not.

Either way, OUR work is the same.

The longer we stay in judgment, blame or resentment toward the other person, the longer we make ourselves miserable.

 

Being vulnerable · Letting go of ego

Well isn’t that interesting?

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. ” 

– Thich Nhat Hahn

I don’t like to brag but my judging skills are pretty epic. I don’t always have my phaser set to “judge”, but it often just seems to turn on automatically.

Sometimes I attach a story (spoiler alert: a negative one) to what certain individuals say to me or the way they behave. Sometimes I react (spoiler alert: negatively) to a certain tone of voice or take something personally before I have even fully heard and discerned what’s actually been said. Sometimes I instantly get a feeling (spoiler alert: not a good one) that I’m being put down or being attacked when nothing of the sort is actually going on. Other times, I actually sense the intention of what’s being communicated but I fixate on needless stylistic details or meaningless semantics because of my need to be right (spoiler alert: this rarely works out well for me). Sometimes I ridiculously feel the need to make the other person wrong to feel okay about myself (spoiler alert: this has often blown up in spectacular fashion).

Now to be sure there are times when other people fail to maintain proper boundaries, and there is no reason to tolerate those sort of violations. But in my experience, it is far more common for me to simply jump to a false conclusion, become defensive or go on the attack with little or no justification.

And that’s about me.

My desire to protect myself from past wounds. My need to go “one up” because I’m having a lousy day or feeling badly about myself. My fear of really being vulnerable.

I wonder what would be different if instead of sinking into judgment mode I simply paused to observe and took a deep breath?

What if instead of assuming the other person was wrong, I shifted my energy to challenging my filter or habitual response?

What if I realized that he or she is just as human and imperfect as I am and sometimes we all just simply make a mistake.

What if I chose to interpret what was said or done from the most generous place, instead of assuming it comes from some form of malicious intent?

What if I because curious instead of defensive or aggressive?

What if I decided it was more important to be remain connected rather than chase my need to be right?

What if I simply said, well isn’t that interesting and let it be?

It’s taken me a long time to see this and start–emphasis: start–to evolve my behavior.

I got here as fast as I could.

 

Letting go of ego · Smile at fear

Punished by anger

“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.”

–  Buddhist Proverb

There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling anger from time to time. Frustration and anger are perfectly normal human responses to perceived threats, unfair circumstances, unkind words and even the ebb and flow of daily annoyances, like being cut off in traffic or making a simple mistake. Yet it is how we understand our anger and what we do with it that is the problem that ultimately leads to suffering.

Clearly there are vast injustices and truly awful persistent situations that my cause us to stay in anger beyond an initial reaction. But for most of us, it is an underlying fear or painful experience that causes us to “bite the hook”, ramp up our defenses, escalate our aggression and stay stuck in our anger beyond the momentary trigger.

If you are anything like me, trapped in habit, you often latch on to a story that we are being attacked by an outside force, when in fact what is really going on is, deep down, some fear or wound within us is being poked and uncovered. And when we layer on a dose of shame, unresolved hatred or long simmering aversion, we are quickly lost, making matters far worse. Now, if we’ve played out an angry dance with someone we care about, we’ve made ourselves miserable, broken connection in an intimate relationship and likely pushed our friend or loved one away–perhaps forever.

Been there, done that.

How does this serve us or support how we wish to show up in the world? Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron offers sound advice on this topic in her talk The Freedom to Choose Something Different.  She suggests that we must embrace three difficult practices.

First, we must notice when we start to bite the hook, that is, when we begin getting caught in habitual patterns that cause us to suffer. We must learn that getting hooked is a natural, spontaneous reaction. There is no suffering in the hooking itself, only in how we respond to it.

Second, and far more challenging, is actually doing something different, or as Pema calls it, “choosing a fresh alternative.” We must practice changing the negative momentum we are so familiar with and learn to avoid speaking and acting in ways that only serve to strengthen our habits of resentment, anger, blaming others and other patterns that entrench us (and those around us) in becoming more and more unhappy.

Third, is to make this difficult practice a way of life. One or two “good” reactions does not change our negative habitual ways. It is impossible to avoid challenging circumstances and we will be faced with many opportunities to bite the hook. Learning to avoid getting stuck there is the real opportunity and what ultimately sets us on a path to freedom.

Deciding not to punish ourselves is, in fact, a choice and a habit well worth breaking.

eckhart-tolle-primary-cause-unhappiness-5r3e

 

Letting go of ego · Open heartedness · Serenity

A hypothesis of generosity

None of us suffer from a deficit of experience. In fact, “stuff’ happens virtually non-stop.

The daily rhythm of life is that we have ups and downs. Problems manifest, big and small. Complications arise, both profound and mundane. We encounter joys, concerns and everywhere in between. Items get checked off our to-do list. Or not.

Amidst the backdrop of our existence come the many challenges to our equanimity. Often these arise as times when we feel confronted, slighted, or disrespected, Other times we may feel shunned or even attacked.

Maybe we get get cut off in traffic or treated rudely by a stranger. A friend doesn’t call us back. A co-worker doesn’t include us in an important meeting. Perhaps we don’t feel truly heard by our partner. Maybe we even sense that we are being judged or harshly criticized by someone who loves us.

If you are anything like me, you might find yourself drawn to apply a strong filter of negativity, propelled by self-righteousness, defensiveness and anger. If you are anything like me, you might start to make up quite a lot about what’s actually going on and what it all means.

So what if instead we started with a hypothesis of generosity? What if our filter was set to kindness and curiosity instead of assuming the worst possible interpretation? What if we followed Brene Brown‘s advice in her book Rising Strong and we asked ourselves “what is the most generous assumption about this person’s intentions or what this person said?”

In choosing this path we have to challenge our ego. We have to let go of the need to be right. We have to stop getting our needs met through propping ourselves up by putting others down. We have to move toward connection, rather than run from it. It’s not always easy. And it means telling ourselves a fundamentally different story.

But as Brene goes on to remind us:  “What do we call a story that’s based on limited real data and imagined data and blended into a coherent, emotionally satisfying version of reality? A conspiracy theory.”

42c10b3d7c52ffb1dcecfb48751f64e0--brene-brown-vulnerability-quotes-brene-brown-quotes

This post also appeared on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

A world of abundance · Letting go of ego

We over me

The other day President Trump talked about how “my military” was successful in carrying out a bombing run.

Regardless of how one feels about the merits of taking military action, or which side of the aisle you happen to sit on politically, it’s hard to imagine a leader who deserves less credit for the strength and skills of the US armed forces. It’s also shocking in its failure to recognize who foots the bill. Criticism was deservedly fast and furious.

Contrast that with superstar golfer Jordan Spieth (who, by the way, is nearly 50 years younger than Trump). It’s rare for Spieth to not say “we” when talking about his play. In fact, the times when he tends to use “I” or “me” are when he hasn’t played particularly well. In a sport which is highly individualistic, he is quick to credit his team; to value the we over me.

Of course, we drive every day on roads we didn’t pave.

We sit in offices we didn’t build.

We use an internet we didn’t design and don’t maintain.

Almost of all us eat food we neither planted, nor tended,  nor picked, nor hauled to the store.

It’s easy to be selfish, to value the me over we.

And often harder to give credit where credit is due.

Harder still, it seems, to be grateful for all all we have whether we deserve it or worked for it or had it fall into our laps by luck or some measure of grace.

 

This post was also published on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com