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Sunday, June 7, 2009

When Things Go Bad, Examine Yourself First

All of us suffer setbacks. It takes a lifetime of unconscious behavior to shape and acquire your ego, recognizing it and eliminating it takes time and a daily commitment. Despite your best efforts, you may suffer an emotional setback from time to time.

Relationships with family and friends are the breeding ground for negative and hostile emotions. Those who profess to love us the most tend to be the ones that can "push our buttons" and they will test you.

I have to ask you to accept a premise here. I'd like you to pause and reflect on this statement.
"All negative emotion is grounded in fear." Do you agree or disagree with that? When I speak of fear, I am talking about the emotional and irrational fear of your ego. (Some fears are quite healthy and real, they have allowed us to survive.)

The fears that your ego conjures up are virtually all irrational. They are the result of your perceptions as they are checked against your belief system. So about the time someone says to you, "that remark you made was callous and insensitive." You have a couple of choices. Agree and disarm the speaker. Walk away. Or disagree, feel a negative emotion that leaves you irritated or angry, offer an explanation, or launch a counterattack.

Is there a fourth option? Yes of course there is. It takes practice and you prepare for it in advance. It is rehearsed, risk managed.

Anytime your ego perceives a threat, cynicism, labeling, judging, diminishing, or "one up" behavior and you feel a negative emotion, try to recognize it immediately. Once you recognize that negative emotion, you will know immediately that you fear something.

Let's suppose that someone has called you a "dumb ass" in a way that you recognize as serious rather than harmless kidding around or teasing.

Ask yourself, "what do I fear?" Do I fear the impending confrontation if I launch a counterattack? No. Do I fear this person? No. Do I fear that I really am kind of stupid and that this person knows this? Maybe. Perhaps I have bought into a belief system wherein my family and friends used to say similar things. They are no smarter than I but they subjected me to this type of verbal abuse. You have made an agreement with yourself. You have acquired a belief. You have told yourself that even if I am stupid, I am never going to let some one degrade me this way again. Your ego and belief system have you painted into a corner. Chances are good that under this set of circumstances that things are about to escalate.

Many of us call that striking a chord or a nerve. We cannot control our exterior world and some of the things that are told to us but we can control our reaction to those nasty slices of life when they happen.

Let's suppose you have a belief system, an ego, that has prepared differently. You simply have rejected the notion that you are less than or greater than anyone else in terms of intelligence. You have decided to risk manage your emotions. You have made an agreement to accept this as true. You have also made an agreement with yourself not to take anything personally. You accept that what others say is just an opinion, a reflection of their belief system. It has nothing to do with you even when it is directed at you. Your response under this belief system is entirely different. You are puzzled. No emotion comes to the surface. You think through it. You do not react. You suddenly realize the comment has nothing to do with you. It is merely a reflection of someone who is entitled to their beliefs true or not. You do not feel diminished. You do not respond in a way that escalates the situation.

You are in control. And in a very real way, you win. You will not feel ashamed or guilty for not engaging in a verbal assault contest. You will leave your hostile judgment maker in a much better frame of mind than he/she will be in and you will not have to utter an apology later on. Your recovery time is virtually non existent wherein your adversary may dwell on it for hours and days.

That is the power of self examination and emotional preparation. You are not a hostage to negative emotions. And even if you acquire some mastery over this skill, you can always expect setbacks. They will pop up. When things go to hell, apologize, examine where you went wrong and make the adjustments. Seek first to understand then be understood. Over time you will find yourself in much happier space. You will suddenly realize that being happy is far more important than being right-and unfortunately those two things are often mutually exclusive.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

D. Hey! Where's That New Operating System?

If you have arrived here, dazed and utterly confused, you are in perfect shape. You are practicing the "Four Agreements", you have identified that false sense of self- your ego-and you are aware of it and it's negative impacts. You are trying to become a better person.

Welcome. As long as you draw breath-you can improve yourself and your relationships. There is no finish line. Let's see if we can figure out who we want to be.

Let's start with just seven things. The seven deadly sins. We don't particularly care for the religious attachment but it's awfully hard to deny their existence. We witness them everyday. They are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride. Of the seven, perhaps the most damaging and all pervasive is pride. Let's take a look at pride.

Pride could be described as self centered-ness, self absorption, and self love. Narcissism. It is perhaps, the greatest symptom of the ego. Self will. Pride is one of those confusing terms. It actually has a dual meaning-the other of which is steeped in virtue. Such as, "he takes great pride in his work and appearance." For the sake of emotional freedom we are going to focus on pride as self centered-ness and self will.

Pride, or love of the self, prevents us from engaging in and loving anyone else. We are preoccupied with taking care of our own needs. We are self indulgent to the extent that we rarely listen or care about others. We almost always take care of our needs to the exclusion of all else. Since proud people believe that they always come first, they may never view anything wrong with their behavior. In fact, many of them actually confuse intelligence with self will. Anything is intelligent as long as there is something in it for them. If they can achieve some benefit then they see nothing wrong with it. Conversely, they view others who do not possess the same levels of pride as weak or unintelligent. They lack respect and show disdain. In many cases, they simply can't utter an apology or admit fault. Very often, when the prideful crash and burn, there are very few people willing to help them.

The opposite of pride is humility. Have you ever heard anyone ever say, "Gosh that guy is so humble that he makes me sick?" Probably not. Humility is an increasingly scarce commodity. For some, we wonder if they have ever heard of the word.

So seeking to be humble attracts love in others but pride has the opposite effect. It's not hard to see which has value to us and which does not. A big part of your new operating system should probably include a big dose of humility unless you already have that covered.

We systematically look at those seven deadly sins. We focus on the ones that plague us and we seek to remove them through a conscientious plan that we are developing. We add those to our "Four Agreements" plan and maintain a vigilant watch over our egos. Our daily meditation and plan for the day enlarges in scope-reminding ourselves each day to recognize, adhere to, and refuse to indulge in those seven deadly sins.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

C. Lose Your Ego

If there is one common denominator, one giant and all encompassing barrier to emotional freedom, it is your false sense of self. Your ego.

It is very real and it exists. To the unconscious, they simply can't accept this. The idea is too abstract. They simply cannot understand what you are talking about. The ego becomes such a necessary component of their psychological make-up, that they simply aren't even aware of it's existence. They may look at you and think you are bona fide nuts.

Yet the evidence is overwhelming. Fear driven and controlling egos are everywhere. Whether it's a lunatic N. Korean dictator firing test missiles, a controlling boss who has to have everything done his or her way, or a couple engaged in a mission of conflict and one ups man ship, ego in an individual or collective form is utter insanity. It is everywhere.

A year ago, I found myself talking to one of these unconscious folks. In addition to a fear and control driven false sense of self, this individual had consumed about a full bottle of wine. I found myself in a social setting where good etiquette was the rule. I was listening to the conversation intently when Tolle's book, "A New Earth" became the topic of discussion. This individual had not read the book and was applying his version of "contempt prior to investigation" and calling it a bunch of hogwash and rhetoric. I was asked what I thought primarily because the people at this particular gathering were aware of my fondness for Tolle and the work I was doing. I only made a half hearted defense. The reality was that Tolle's concepts are so completely true that my belief is that they are prima facia evidence. But to say that would diminish my friend. I did not find any reason to defend Tolle's work because it requires no defense nor did my ego find it necessary to impose my beliefs on an intoxicated friend at his expense.

Therein lies the ultimate dilemma. If people are unwilling to learn-you cannot control that. You cannot teach willingness even if it's for someone you love. This man would be a poster child for an ego run riot of self will and self centered behavior.

I accept that willingness is all that separates my buzzed host from me. I was willing to examine the concept of ego, weigh it on it's merits, and jettison the material if I found it not useful. My host that night was a mechanical engineer and successful businessman, very bright, but just not ready to take this step yet. That doesn't mean he is not intelligent, articulate, or any other label or description. He is simply unwilling to take the leap of faith that is required because he sees no reason to. His ego is in control and it is unwilling to learn, accept, or comprehend what Tolle teaches.

So how do you lose your ego? It is relatively simple, actually.

You recognize it's existence. That's 75% of the battle. You remain vigilant and on guard. You don't indulge in any of that false sense of self nonsense anymore. You don't have to be the smartest, the fastest, the richest, or the prettiest. You resist every urge to impose that on others. As time rolls by, it requires less and less vigilance. You recognize that insanity. You begin to say only supportive and kind things to others. All you require of yourself-is to be happy. Indulging in that false sense of beliefs, opinions, you have about yourself will not make you happy. In fact, it will bring you conflict and pain. Guaranteed.

If you find yourself in a place of utter confusion or having an identity crisis, you have done good work. Think of that as removing your old computer's operating system. We have a blank screen. It is time to install the new operating system.