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Sunday, October 31, 2010

We Judge Others on Their Actions, We Judge Ourselves On Our Intentions

Do we judge others by their actions, and ourselves, by our intentions?

Sure. How could it possibly be any other way? We alone know our own intentions and rarely if ever, do we know the intentions of others.

We compound this mistake when we make assumptions or judgments. We compound it further, often whether we are in err or not, when we act on those assumptions and judgments. Sometimes this can set off a very nasty chain of events. Sometimes feuds. Sometimes wars.

I want to return to Plato's, "Allegory of the Cave" here. We are seeing shadows on a cave wall. We truly don't know what motivates others, do we? We simply don't have the time, all the time, to explore it. Sometimes we are dealing with people acting on unconscious fears (almost always) and it is doubtful that they actually know what motivated them. If they do, and they find it embarrassing, they might not even tell you the truthful reason.

Sometimes, if a statement or action puzzles me, I do ask. Almost always, I find that my initial assumption was indeed, wrong. As time has worn on, I find myself asking less and less. Why? I simply don't need to.

The solution is simple. We accept that people are simply living their lives. That they are making all of those unconscious mistakes that we are trying to free ourselves from. That what they say and do, has absolutely nothing to do with us. If that is too difficult, I have a default setting.

I make a positive assumption. I assume that they have a valid intention that I am unaware of. That I am simply unaware of that motivation and lacking an explanation- I give them the same break that I give myself. And I turn that saying around.

Wouldn't it be great if we could know and thus judge all others on their intentions- rather than make all of our fear driven assumptions and conclusions? This is made even better when we judge ourselves on our actions.

This simple process has allowed me to avoid conflict. In the three years that I have practiced this simple concept, I have found no need to engage in confrontation. That even in those instances when somebody makes a caustic remark or assault, I simply don't swallow the poison. I assume that they have what they believe to be a valid reason for leveling some diminishing remark. By not reacting to it, or reacting to it in a positive way, I keep the door open for some future moment. A moment which will be far less emotionally charged- a moment where we can have a far more productive exchange. It takes a little vigilance, a lot of acceptance, and the ability to interrupt your ego which may be screaming, "defend yourself!" It takes commitment.

Try it. It works.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Greatest Gift of All

A few years ago, I was introduced to a concept that was completely foreign to me. A concept that I had never practiced and virtually none of the people I associated with had practiced either.

We were fighters. Competitors. We had fought our way all through life. In as much as we survived, I suppose we thought it had worked. So when I was first introduced to the concept of acceptance, I made a mental note of it. That's about it. Over the past few years, I have practiced it much more rigorously. I have implemented acceptance in many areas of my life. It wasn't until this past week that I fully grasped the enormity of and most importantly, the power and strength of acceptance.

Quite honestly, I don't think I can overstate this.

Imagine being given the solution to every problem in your life. A spiritual solution with no side effects. Complete and utter acceptance of all things. Of all situations. Is that possible?

I had occasion this past week to speak with a number of people that had suffered through every calamity imaginable, deaths, deaths of loved ones, deaths of pets, marriage, and job loss. The usual vehicle failures, car wrecks, lack of money, and lesser events. The speakers could not reconcile these things. They felt guilt and shame. But the one common denominator, it was absolutely striking, was that none of these speakers had gained any level of acceptance. They were fighting, wishing things had not gone the way that they did. Still trying to control the outcome of an event that had passed.

A power greater than myself. A power greater than any of us or all of us. Life itself. There is no stopping it. You can struggle, fight, runaway, but all of those things won't change anything.
Chances are, they will make things worse. In fact, they almost always do.

As I evaluated what I had heard, I realized that there was a whole new level of acceptance I had not considered. I began to realize that any problem we have, real or imagined, is a matter of acceptance...and always a matter of acceptance. That in fact, includes the possibility of our loved ones dying and even our own deaths.

All that struggling, fighting, condemning, anger, self pity, complaining... are all manifestations of our inability to accept whatever life deals us and move on. That all of the struggling and fighting we do is really unnecessary. We glorify struggling and fighting. We attach it to victory, indeed to the human spirit. We believe fighting and struggle is necessary. Is it? Or is it just one of those faulty belief systems that we have bought into?

I think acceptance may be the key to all of life's problems. It might have always been that simple.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Never...Put All of Your Emotional Eggs in Another Person's Basket

This is an excellent follow up piece to my happiness piece.

You are responsible for your own happiness. Nobody else. Never make the mistake of thinking your happiness relies or depends on someone else. For as surely as you do, you will feel the emotional pain of loss. Or negative emotions and disappointment.

Why do I say that? Can't we "trust" others?

The short answer is no. Trust is also the wrong word. Relying on people other than yourself for your happiness creates a potential victim situation for you. Failed expectations. It also creates complacency.

All of this is quite un necessary, avoidable, and insane. It is a belief system of ours, a long held one, that somehow we will meet someone and that they will deliver all of these emotional goodies. Perhaps it is remotely possible. But more likely, and my experience is, that people can't meet my insane expectations.

Therefore the problem is me. It is always me.

Do you remember one of my first blogs? Plato's cave and the illusions created on the walls? We have the same problem when we date, co-habitate, or choose to marry. The truth is, we simply don't know the fears and belief systems of the people we fall in love with. They are unconscious fears and beliefs and it is doubtful that the people who have them (all of us) even recognize them nor could we communicate them if we did. That's deep seated stuff.

I can say at 50, that in a 20 year marriage, I may have known the fears and motivations of my ex-wife perhaps to the extent of 40%. I place no better percentage than that- on the relationship that I have now-maybe slightly better. I had even far less understanding of my own emotions. Why is that?

Because it is virtually impossible to uncover them. Or to know what priority any individual places on fear, or control, or subconscious belief systems. Or what solutions they employ when confronted by negative possibilities. Some folks even kill themselves.

There is a solution. It is the same solution I have stated over and over. You simply can't take anything personally. Ever. You simply can't afford to rely on someone else for your emotional well being or happiness. And you shouldn't have to! Really. No guilt is required.

It is quite possible to enjoy your life and let others enjoy theirs. Will they lie, cheat, and steal? Of course. Will they fail to meet our crazy expectations? Of course. All of those things will happen to you...guaranteed...but the key is how will you respond? Will you get all angry and mad? Act like a lunatic and make it worse? Or will you simply accept that people are free to live their lives. All that you are required to do is to make a decision. Guilt free. You don't need to call every girlfriend that you have and build some insane consensus or lynch party. You simply decide whether or not you can accept a given behavior, talk about it and resolve it, and failing that- decide what to do for your own happiness. Make a choice.

I don't like to mention God on this blog, only because I am not a preacher nor do I tell people what to do along those lines. But, my success is heavily dependent on God. Very often, I ask.."what would God have me do?" That usually answers the question and I then do that. That message was well defined for me in "The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah." Do what makes you happy. Be impeccable as you can. Make decisions that are spiritually sound- decisions that make you happy. Just as you are responsible for your own happiness- it is not your job to furnish someone else with their happiness, either.

People fail, God never does.

Try to do the right thing even when your ego doesn't want you to. You are in charge. Not your ego, not your partner. Don't put all of your emotional beliefs in someone elses basket. Accept that people will fail. But that your happiness is not contingent on that. Loving ourselves and someone else does not involve controlling, manipulating, changing, or relying on someone else.

That's your job.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Happiness is Always...An Inside Job

Many years ago, in my second year of college, I remember the first love of my life talking about her grandmother. She said that in the old days, marriages were arranged. That people actually learned to love each other.

It was my belief back then- that this was nonsense. That from my highly evolved 21 year old brain.

A few days ago, I was talking to a gal who was whining about the guy she lives with. In addition to complaining about him, she complained about the last one. She said her "picker" was screwed up.

You get the same idea when you go to one of these dating sites. People trying to find someone in the insane idea that there is someone out there, "who will make them happy." Make no mistake about what I am about to say. Absolutely nobody, other than you, is responsible for your happiness.

In an extension of the unconscious belief system that plagues many of us, we believe that there is nothing wrong with us. I even hear people say, mostly gals, that they refuse to "settle." In other words, they want someone who they think will complete them or live up to some imagined set of standards that only they have swimming around in their heads. The people who settle they say, are the people who lack self esteem.

So what is it these people want? Money, good looks, adoration, control, great sex? Mutual interests? Good DNA? Do they want honesty, loyalty, trustworthiness? Of course. Well after they complete their secret laundry list of 40 things they think they must have, they have now eliminated virtually everyone.

What does that mean for them? Well, it means of course...that they can live alone for ever, or they will be forced to "settle." Or date 500 people in some sort of marathon event while critically judging everything they have to say and eliminating potential partners as quickly as possible. It is insanity.

Happiness is an inside job. You don't need anyone to make you happy. That's your job. When you are happy with who you are, you will no longer worry about that nonsense. When you are happy in your own skin, when you quit judging everyone critically, you no longer say things like I refuse to "settle." You don't fear relationships. You simply realize that you are a good person, and good people are tolerant and forgiving. Good people do not run around critically judging others and condemning them, driven by fear simply because someone refuses to notice your haircut. That was the big transgression that brought on my friend's rant. Apparently she forgot to add, "makes compliments and notices everything" on her laundry list. Maybe she will kick him out.

Some 29 years later, I have changed my belief system. I think it is entirely possible for an arranged marriage to work. Especially if the two people involved grasped this concept. In fact, I honestly believe I could learn to love anyone. How's that for rotation? I can say that because I am happy. My happiness no longer depends on some artificial notion or something from the exterior world. I no longer rely on anybody other than myself to do a job that was always mine to do in the first place.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Fear of Isolation

Throughout this blog, I have spoken at great lengths about fear. That unconscious fear is the single greatest motivator of all human behavior. Today, I'd like to focus on the fear of isolation or social exclusion. I have a target audience in mind.

Imagine if you will, a young set of parents. Children raising children. Parents determined to raise their children using standard reward and punishment themes. These parents, armed with nothing other than the very limited skill set given to them by their parents are going to set about the task of raising a child. They have no real experience other than their own childhood perspective. They have no formal training as parents. Yet they are about to embark on a mission of the greatest importance. They are going to do this with virtually no knowledge of what they are doing.

Would we hire a person with no education, no credentials, and no job experience? Probably not. But then again, we don't get to perform job interviews and select our parents. That there is a tremendous element of luck involved in the parent lottery is self evident.

Armed with the brimming confidence of ego that they alone have been given the inherent knowledge of how to raise children, and the DNA urge at the ripe old age of 22 or so to procreate, they launch the greatest responsibility of their lives.

Do you see some flaws in this design?

One of the symptoms of the antiquated reward and punishment themes that our wise parents are about to instill in us is the fear of abandonment and isolation. Clearly that is a punishment theme.

It occurs in many different ways. It occurs physically when kids are given "time outs." Or they are left at the sitters or sometimes left behind on trips. They can be beaten, scolded, embarrassed in front of siblings or relatives. Compared to others in a diminishing capacity. Or ignored continually either on purpose or by parents too busy working. Parents checked out on alcohol or drugs. Distracted for other reasons. Or they can be ridiculed or scorned. Shamed and made to feel guilt. Told they are not good enough.

Make no mistake about this. There will be consequences to this. In fact, some of the people I love the most have been subjected to these things. Their fear of isolation, that nagging feeling that they don't measure up, may never leave them. In fact, subjected to enough of this isolating and abandoning type treatment, may create a significant problem in their lives. They may be gripped with the fear of isolation to such an extent that they will go to any lengths to avoid it.

My target audience is gaining awareness.

So who is to blame? Those incredibly mature, well trained, and educated parents? Their parents? Some kid who is supposed to shrug it all off at some point in the future? Are we going to hope that the men in black arrive and give our children a taste of that flashy thing memory eraser?

I have a flashy thing. It works like this.

Your parents screwed up. They didn't know what they were doing. It was never personal. They simply thought they were doing the right thing within whatever formal education and experience they thought they had. Requiring a confession or apology from them may make you feel better for a second but it will not fix you. Nor may they give you an apology at all. They might even make the situation worse by defending themselves. They may be egoic hostages. The good news is that we don't really need them anyway. We accept the situation as it is- we don't create any more damage.

The solution is in realizing that we are the resultant problem. There is something wrong with us and that's ok. We fear isolation to such an extent that we become compliant "brown nosers." Or that we are constantly paranoid that someone is plotting against us. We intrude into situations believing that someone is out to get us or is talking about us. We seek virtually any kind of approval to such an extent that we actually ask people to shower us with compliments. Indeed, some of us actually hold resentments because we think a boss is with holding praise that we deserve. We get crushed when not invited or somebody turns us down for a date. We fear any kind of rejection or social exclusion. We seek rewards.

The fear of isolation is real and we all feel it. We are social creatures. We want to be part of something- not made to feel isolated and alone.

This fear is irrational. The key to fixing the problem is to recognize that we have it. It exists and we accept that we have it. The basis for fixing it comes in understanding and accepting it. Once we are past denial...then we can move to the concept of agreement 2. Take nothing personally ever. We are going to let people live their lives and be who they are. If they choose to exclude us socially, we accept that they are free to live their lives and make that decision. We know that has nothing to do with us. And we are not resentful, nor are we diminished, by conduct we can't control anyway.

The principle of "never taking anything personally" is the key to solving problems of isolation and the fear that we all have. This concept is difficult to grasp and it requires commitment once you do grasp it. Complete success occurs when socially excluding problems no longer bother us. We receive the gold medal when we can look at our parents, those folks who were trying to do the best that they could, and we realize it was not personal. They simply screwed up believing all the while- that their forms of isolating or abandoning behavior were acceptable. I mean, after all, they were just kids raising kids.

It wasn't like they let you interview them.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Gift You Cannot Give

Throughout the various stages of my life, I had always known there was something wrong with me. It was an intuitive belief- a feeling. It was always hard for me to identify precisely what it was or when I was going to sense it.

It went something like this.

I'd see my peers having completely normal relationships. They would exchange "I love yous" having sincere exchanges with their families and friends. Many of them had mapped some actual course for their life, had a plan and goals, and seemed very happy. When life intervened and threw a wrench in their plans, they had acceptance and changed course with a minimum of frustration or disruption.

I could never do that. I would dwell, lament, and get angry when things didn't go my way. I had no acceptance. I blamed the exterior world. My perceived enemies. And yet I'd see peers having the same type of problems. They had emotional tools for dealing with those things. Nothing illustrates that point better than a funeral I attended once. The death of a young police officer in a firefight. His name was Mark S.

As a police officer, I had always attended police officer funerals. They are always large affairs. Bagpipes, memorial services, giant parades of police cars lights whirling as we followed the hearse to the graveyard. Military burials, honor guards, 3 shot salutes, American flags. So it was on this particular day, I attended the largest funeral I had ever attended. A young police officer in Boise. It was held in a gymnasium. The crowd was very large. There on the stage stood his family. Parents, widow, young children. All of them dare I say, almost beaming. I will stop short of saying they almost appeared happy. No crying, no stuttering voices at the microphone, no sobbing. The entire family was that way.

I was in awe. I had been to a number of these funerals. This was not how people acted. So I listened intently to what they had to say. I can sum it up this way. They were very Christian, they had complete acceptance, and they had a 100% intuitive belief that Mark was a devout Christian and that he was in heaven which is where he had spent his life on earth preparing to go.

I would learn all of this at an awards ceremony- seated with Mark's parents and family- several months later.

There was no way on earth I could have managed the strength that they displayed yet the term strength is a misnomer. They had emotional tools and an absolute belief. It was unshakable. They had something that not only did I not possess but I didn't even know how to acquire it. I have never forgotten that day.

They had truth, preparation, love, and an intuitive belief or tool with which to handle the worst event life throws at any of us. They handled that incident bravely and with forgiveness. Not once did they utter a harsh word or direct an attack on their sons' killers. I could not have handled that situation in a similar way. Not even close. Yet, I knew they had something I just didn't get and it was clear that whatever that was, their way of dealing with that trauma was a hell of a lot healthier than anything I could muster.

They had received the gift of desperation and responded with spirituality. A spirituality born of their beliefs and the ability to respond with love, tolerance, and forgiveness.

You see, there is no question that life is going to deal you the desperation card. It is inevitable. Sooner or later, adversity is going to come your way. By knowing that, preparing for that, and when it happens...responding correctly is a lifelong commitment and process. When it does, you have the emotional tools to respond, to accept, and to recover quickly.

It doesn't take the death of a loved one to call on those tools. It might be something as disappointing as a bad grade, a conflict, losing a game because you fumbled the ball. Recognizing that I simply didn't possess those tools happened long before I was given the gift of desperation myself. I had to retrofit my life and find those tools. Had I not been given the gift of desperation myself- I doubt that I would have ever sought the answers or the tools. It has been an arduous task for me. A lot of retrofitting has had to take place. Hard work and commitment.

Of all of the gifts I'd like to give someone, anyone, it is the gift of complete desperation that may matter most and the ability to respond to desperation in the appropriate fashion. With love, tolerance, understanding, and acceptance. The elimination of ego and self- that part of me that wants to whine, complain, blame, defend, and act like a victim. To respond inappropriately, to deny, and thus prolong the depression of an event that I've always known that I was unprepared for anyway. An event I cannot escape. It is coming whether I want to deny it or lie to myself and say, "I will deal with it when it happens." That intuitive feeling that you get when you see someone deal with adversity in a way you cannot conceive.

Just recognizing that is a gift. Finding a way to achieve complete acceptance has been difficult but not impossible. Unfortunately, it is a gift you must give yourself.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You Really Don't Have to Let it Get This Bad

The human ego is a fascinating thing. It is intangible yet you know it exists. It's existence manifests itself in the crazy things people say and do.

An ego is a false sense of self. The manifestations are all around you. It is why people who view themselves as good looking must buy good looking cars. It is why the affluent must buy Mercedes and Porsche convertibles. It is why people with low self esteem and self worth often fail to achieve "success" in our materialistic way of evaluating success. Sometimes it leads to self examination. That point when we finally get conscious and say, "what the hell was I thinking?"

All of that insanity makes the planet colorful. Today, I read the story of that Jet Blue flight attendant, Steven Slater. He had been sentenced in court for having quit his job, grabbing a beer and pulling the emergency exit chute on a Jet Blue plane while still loaded with passengers. Apparently his disruptive departure caused 25,000 dollars in repairs and caused flight delays.

I secretly cheered for that guy and thought the initial reporting was hilarious. Who hasn't worked a job, got completely fed up, and wanted to quit with similar flourish? Grabbing that beer on his way down the chute was an interesting piece of that story. It hints at something else.

As unconscious as we are when we are sober, drugs and alcohol only make things worse. For millions of Americans, drugs and booze are the immediate escape hatch, the chute. They allow us to quit "feeling", to quit dealing with our emotions. To runaway, just like this dude on the plane.

In a society that searches for an instant cure for everything, from insomnia to depression, many of us think we can just runaway from our problems. Take a hit, a few pills, a couple of beers. In fact, that idea has been marketed to us and absolutely instilled in us.

What we are really trying to do- is to quit thinking and feeling. And so we have a very successful legal drug industry that markets and sells what we want. Instant relief. A hundred bucks for the doctor, maybe a hundred or so for the prescription. Can't get a prescription? Plenty of liquor store and drug dealers.

Need someone to talk to? Psychiatrists sell their time for a couple of hundred bucks an hour.
Why is it that we are the only living beings that need that stuff? Ever see a dog looking for a shrink or some tranquilizers?

And so a large number of us runaway emotionally. We become addicted. And we find similarly situated people and we commiserate with them. We marry those like minded souls, have kids, get divorced. And because we can't deal rationally with our emotions, we teach those kids the same skills. How to runaway, how to avoid depression and conflict, by altering our states of consciousness. All of those drug companies, the beer, wine, and liquor producers and distributors, bars, cater to those unconscious and ego driven beliefs. They whisper in our ears, "we have the solution." "We will make your pain, your depression, go away." Unfortunately, it works for just a brief time. In the long run, that solution will damn you to a life of enhanced unconsciousness, misery, and death. Just as surely as tobacco kills, alcohol and drugs are responsible for a huge amount of hospital admissions and they account for upwards of 75% of every prison population.

There of course is a real solution. A long term, healthy solution. One that is simple, doesn't require any money. It does however require willingness, honesty, commitment, education, a new skill set, and work. Had Steven Slater been aware of it, I doubt we'd have heard his name.

It works. I was able to define what really matters and how to achieve that and still sleep at night.

I am able to quit a job today without fanfare or flourish. Without demeaning an oppressive and controlling boss. Without all of those war plans swimming in my head. Without going home and killing a six pack of beer. No escape chute. I evaluate all of my jobs and relationships based on two simple pieces of criteria. No drugs, alcohol, or psychiatrists needed.

Have I been as impeccable as possible? If so, is this situation making me happy? That's it. If I am not happy, I simply quit or remove myself from the situation. No one up and diminishing wars, no resignation letter calling people names, no chute onto the tarmac. No need for hope or reliance that things "will change." I accept the crazy and ego driven behavior of the world around me without diminishing it. I let absolutely nothing stand in the way of my happiness. And I am still able to get a chuckle from people like the Jet Blue guy.