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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If We "Don't Take Anything Personally" Can We Still Have Emotionally Invested Relationships?

An excellent question, posed by a friend of mine. In fact, a young man in my life just posed the same question to me. Why do you love me when I consistently fail? What's in it for you?

Please remember that real love is the unconditional kind. Not obsessive, not infatuation, not superficial. That when we make decisions to love somebody, it should not involve any selfish intent. It does not require "something in return." This is not a business arrangement. Nor should you be thinking that I am going to control and change you to suit my needs. That includes, most importantly here, any idea that I can influence or induce somebody into loving me back.

Whether the people we us back is really not that important to a point. We are invested in what we can control. We love unconditionally and selflessly. We let people be who they are. And love is generally returned to us. If it is not, if we feel as though we have become doormats or are being taken advantage of (this is victim thinking but it exists) then we must ask ourselves a simple question. How much of this will I endure? My capacity for endurance is great. But there comes a point when love crosses the line. That point when we recognize that the people in our lives are simply incapable of returning our love. I have no expectations on return capacity- I know intuitively when the effort is returned. Sometimes return capacity is greatly diminished.

This might involve poor family imprinting. A simple inability to grasp what love is. It may mean that we are simply growing weary of each other- that we are actually falling out of love. It may mean the person has a mental illness, a drug, or alcohol problem.

Love is not co-dependence. It is not self driven fear. It is not pain and suffering. In fact, sometimes love means we have no other choice than to let someone go. That our presence in their lives is preventing or stunting them from development or a greater capacity to love.

I find that in my life, if I know 100 people, that each of them has a different definition for love. But that rarely can any of them practice unconditional love. They practice conditional love almost always. Ok, I agree to love if you do this, this, and this. If you will just quit doing this, this, and this. If you don't comply with these demands, I shall withdraw my love for you. That is what we really practice. That isn't love. That's fear. Hostage taking. Putting lipstick on fear and calling it love- well we just don't have that alchemy. They are mutually exclusive. They cannot exist in the same place at the same time- like fire and water. When love turns into emotional hostage taking- then it is no longer love.

So to answer the question. It is possible for us to invest emotionally in our relationships? Nearly 100% so. It is impossible to think that we can make someone love us back in that same capacity. In fact, it doesn't really matter whether they do or they don't. We do our best. If they are able to return the favor we are enormously happy. If they cannot, we are still happy. If we have done our best, and our loved ones can't reflect our love back- we are simply left with a choice. Am I engaged in this relationship for reasons other than love? Am I fearful? Am I happy? Do I feel sorry for this person? Am I trying to perform a rescue here? There is a life cycle to love, like all things on this planet, and ultimately you are left with a choice that only you can answer. Sometimes that choice must be to detach. We have done our best. We have thrown the kitchen sink at this thing and there is simply nothing else we can do. Often when we detach, we are showing the ultimate love. Love for those that still need to progress and love for ourselves. Perhaps it is we- who will progress.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Applying "Don't Take Anything Personally" to the Extreme

In Ruiz's simple little masterpiece, " The Four Agreements" he makes an outlandish claim. Within the chapter, "Don't Take Anything Personally", Ruiz makes the claim that this includes somebody sticking a gun to your head and pulling the trigger. This was a polarizing statement for me at first pass and clearly extreme. Or so I thought. What is the logic behind such a claim? Is it true?

Ruiz makes a very clear point in the book. That people are simply living their lives. That they are living with the unconscious belief systems that were installed in them. That we simply don't know what those beliefs are. That others will see the world differently than ourselves. That they have pre-existing opinions and beliefs, just as we all do, which they believe to be true. Other people will act on those opinions and beliefs and that...never has anything to do with us.

That conditioning, those opinions and beliefs, are what allow prostitutes to be prostitutes while many of us could not do that. At the other end, material wealth may equate as success to a wall street banker. He may think nothing of stripping the public of their wealth as long as it is legal- perhaps illegal- as long as he doesn't get caught. A driver speeding through traffic may have decided that it is necessary that he speeds because being late may have a very detrimental impact on him.

We simply don't know what motivates others to do what they do. It's not particularly important either. We cannot possibly know all of those things. But what we can do- and the point of the whole chapter- is to recognize and accept that people are free to live their lives as they see fit.
But where Ruiz stops short, and to expand this just a bit, is that when we take things personally- we make the assumption that we are victims. Agreement three, "Don't Make Assumptions" applies here as well.

If we think our erratic driver's behavior endangered us, aren't we entitled to be victims? If our spouse cheats on us, aren't we victims? Surely we can find people to agree that we have been victimized, can't we? Of course we can. But that won't make us well. In fact, it is likely to emotionally mire us in even further.

Therefore our answer has to be no. That driver and that cheating spouse were making decisions based on beliefs that the behavior they were engaged in was necessary, rational, or justifiable. Those decisions do not have a thing to do with us. And if we allow ourselves to be feel victimized, we wallow in an emotional tar pit that consumes us. We cannot move emotionally forward. Our day is ruined because a driver was late for an appointment. Or in the case of a cheating spouse, I have seen "victim" spouses consumed with decades of hatred. Incapable of moving on. They cannot accept that their cheating spouse was simply living his or her life. That the decision to cheat had absolutely nothing to do with them.

If you find yourself wallowing in self pity, looking for people to agree with you that you were a "victim", you will find them. The time you spend languishing as a victim will be additional lost time. You will be mired in that tar pit of negative emotions, consumed with pity, anger, perhaps hatred while all the time...the other party will just continue living their lives. Oblivious, perhaps angering you even more at the apathy you suppose they display. Perhaps they will even generate a second round of "victimization" within you or perhaps you might ponder or conduct a revengeful counter attack.

This insanity is completely avoidable. We simply cannot achieve any level of spirituality until we can take "Don't Take Anything Personally" to the extreme. That people are simply living their lives and that never has anything to do with us. We also can't let the actions of others turn us into self pitying or angry souls. There is simply no upside, absolutely nothing to gain, when we can't practice acceptance of this simple agreement.

Does the logic make sense? Yes, of course it does. Is it true? It doesn't really matter. When we adopt this agreement, the logic becomes so powerful that we no longer feel animosity, anger, or hatred. We let people be just as sane or insane as they want to be. The actions of others have little or no negative impact on us. We practice acceptance and we get over it quickly. No need for decades of anger and frustration- no ruined days simply because someone roared up along side of us and cut us off as they weaved in and out of traffic to some undisclosed location. It works.

"Don't Take Anything Personally" is the virtual cornerstone of emotional freedom. It is essential and it is essential that it be practiced to the extreme. In fact, it is when those extreme things happen- when we feel desperate and alone- that we need this principle the most. It allows us to endure, heal quickly, and thrive.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

To Be Re-born, You Have to Die First

First a brilliant quote.

I have often wished I had time to cultivate modesty... But I am too busy thinking about myself.

Edith Sitwell, As quoted in The Observer (30 April 1950)
A few years ago, I found myself actively murdering my ego. This situation was brought about by the awakening and understanding that my false sense of self or ego, was preventing me from being happy and free. It had taken control of my life and had isolated me from the love of others. Being angry, depressed, and miserable is no way to live your life. And so I found myself at a crossroads. I could remain isolated and depressed. Or I could free myself. It was time to kill the hostage taker.

The good news is that I didn't leave a body behind. There was no crime to solve, no warrants of arrest, no burial.

I evaluated every belief system, every facet of my emotional life, and I put the pieces together and resolved them. As the dust settled on that part of the project, I took an inventory of the things that caused me the greatest distress. The first order of business was to eliminate alcohol or any mood altering drug from the solution list. I added mindless distractions. I did not watch 5 hours of TV that year.

I then compiled a list of things that I focused on each day. I meditated on them. At the top of that list was, "I will not take anything that is said or done in my presence, personally." At the bottom of that list was, "I will listen to everything that is said to me before thinking or talking."
(If anyone would care to know the full list, I still have it.)

This was my new blueprint for living. From the very start, miracles began happening in my life. I cannot begin to tell you the value of meditating and how my life dramatically changed. It was the best 5-10 minutes that I have ever spent. Soon, I was able to memorize that list and meditate on those things in the shower. After a year or so, and perhaps it is my nature, I became complacent. I quit meditating. I quickly forgot that fundamental part of my daily ritual.

We think nothing of showering or shaving each morning. Of drinking coffee. Perhaps even jogging or exercising as part of an exercise regimen. This is part of our daily preparation. Why then would we skip the most important preparation of all? A daily plan for how we were going to perceive and conduct ourselves all day long. A plan that focuses on our flaws and enhances the lives of the people we come in contact with- our family, friends, and co-workers.

I made a number of observations this past week. Reminders of what it used to be like. I don't want to return there. I have no intention of letting a zombie hostage taker in the back door.

That I had forgotten the most important step of my sanity is evidence that I am complacent, lazy, and terminally human. I am grateful that I have the experience to know what works. I am fully aware of the damage that thinking about myself causes, just as that old poet Edith Sitwell pointed out. That's bad news for any would be hostage taker. Good news for the people in my life.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Fallacy of Diminishing Behavior

A few years ago, I was introduced to the topic of diminishing behavior. Contextually speaking, I was astounded. Astounded not because I know that people love to cast blame on others and wallow in self pity but that some folks clearly believe that to be true. That others diminish them accidentally or deliberately.

Let me make something perfectly clear. No person, other than yourself, can make you feel diminished. In spiritually correct people, it is impossible to perceive any external behavior and accept that as diminishing. Regardless of the source. For a couple of reasons.

Is it possible for spiritually correct people to diminish others? Of course. We have no control over the thoughts, actions, and behaviors of others.

Therein lies the dilemma. In a way, it is preposterous.

Imagine if you will, Jesus Christ or the Dalai Lama, teaching others spirituality. Some of the students, as they listen and comprehend what the Dalai Lama teaches, become offended. They internally realize that they have acted selfishly or contrary to the Dalai Lama's teachings. They feel victimized or less than. They feel diminished.

Does the Dalai Lama have any control over that even if he chooses his words wisely? No.

Should he simply not talk of anything, or vaguely or imprecisely, for fear that he might diminish someone?

This idea that someone can diminish us is insane. In order for that to occur, at least four ideas in varying degrees must exist inside our belief systems and ego.

1. We have taken an inferior position. We have granted intellectual power or superiority to another.
2. We have accepted a victim role.
3. We are unwilling to accept the message because we are incapable of internal rigorous honesty.
4. We have made an assumption about the speakers intent and believing that assumption to be true, we have taken it personally. We feel diminished.

An example might go something like this. A neighbor greets you on the street and you stop to chat. During the course of your conversation, the neighbor begins to tell you about her recent trip to Europe. She describes all of the places she went to, the things she did, the great food and wine she had, and even all the money she spent. As she does this a thought creeps into your mind. It dawns on you that you would like to do all of these things yourself. But you simply lack the time and money. You begin to feel jealous, you feel inferior. You may even feel that she thinks of herself as better than you. You are incapable of being honest about these misplaced feelings. You begin to assume that the only reason she is telling you this, is to diminish you. Perhaps you even tell a friend and she agrees with you.

You have chosen to believe her conversation was diminishing when it all likelihood- it was not. In fact, the "diminished" party can actually become the aggressor or accuser.

For spiritually correct people, such an encounter is not possible. We don't take an inferior or superior role to another person. Therefore, there is no need for unbalanced power. We reject victim roles because we do not blame others nor wallow in self pity. If we feel negative thoughts we apply rigorous honesty to our emotions and expose the reasons for that. Spiritually sound people cannot make assumptions nor take anything personally. We simply let people be who they are. In that way, whether it is the Dalai Lama, or an excited Mrs. Jones from up the street, we learn from, we love them, and we enjoy them.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Eppur Si Muove

I'd like to introduce this piece as an add-on to my prior piece, Intuitive Truth. First lets start with a phrase attributed to Galileo although there is no factual evidence that he uttered it.

The Italian phrase "Eppur si muove" means And yet it moves (Nonetheless, it moves). It is pronounced [epˈpur si ˈmwɔːve].

Legend has it that the Italian mathematician, physicist and philosopher Galileo Galilei muttered this phrase after being forced to recant in 1633, before the Inquisition, his belief that the Earth moves around the Sun.

It is occasionally used in modern speech to indicate that although publicly someone who is in a knowledgeable position may discount or deny something, that does not stop it from being true.

Galileo had become the target of the Catholic Church. He believed the earth revolved around the sun rather than the other way around. His views were seen as heresy by the church. Had he not recanted his view, Galileo would have been sentenced to prison. When he did recant, he was spared prison and sentenced to house arrest until his death 12 years later.

All of that insanity did not change one thing. Years later, Galileo was proven correct. The Church never uttered an apology nor would an apology have made a bit of difference. No matter how hard the church tried, they simply could not make the sun revolve around the earth.

Truth has power. It can't be bent. In the end, it is always self evident. That Galileo found the truth earlier than his peers, left him in the precarious position of one against many. Isolated.

What do we do when we find ourselves in the precarious position of knowing something, yet to utter it, will certainly wreak accusations and hostility?

I had a wise old guy tell me once, "Son just because you know something, doesn't mean you are required to tell anyone." So what do we do when we intuitively know something is wrong or people we know are untruthful? It depends on what is at stake. Very often, I just let people tell me things that I know to be untruthful. The stakes are simply not high enough nor do I want to embarrass people.

Yet, as the stakes increase, we may find ourselves in a position where the truth becomes overwhelming. We simply can no longer accept untruths because it is robbing ourselves of the opportunity to make informed decisions. When someone deceives us, we unconsciously feel victimized. We feel diminished. Our sense of fair play has been violated.

And very often the selfish needs of others impact us. When they impact us to the point of feeling helpless- perhaps diminished or of little value, we must practice acceptance and limit our losses. This is what Galileo did.

He accepted that the church was too formidable of an adversary. He recognized the inherent power that the church had and it's willingness to punish him. Lacking the facts to defend himself, Galileo did the only thing that made sense. He limited his losses. He capitulated and thus enriched our lives although under house arrest. In the end, he did the only thing that made any sense. And the planets cared not who was right.

And yet it moves.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Intuitive Truth

Many years ago, I read a parable. In fact that parable, or metaphor, became the focus of my life. I'd heard it before. Perhaps, I wasn't ready when I first read or heard it. Perhaps I believed in that artificial and superficial definition of wanting- that some of us think is happiness. Maybe I just didn't realize the context or the circumstances with which you judge happiness. Maybe I thought happiness wasn't even a priority. It is simple. You must do what makes you happy.

Perhaps at 24 or 34, I didn't realize that. Maybe I was too busy, or too insane. Perhaps I bought into some belief system that we must endure a certain amount of emotional pain in the workplace or in relationships. Somewhere, around 44, I read something that put it all into context.

That each of us is our own Messiah. That we are free to live our lives doing that which makes us happy. That at any time, if we ask ourselves that intuitive question "am I happy?", then we will know the answer. And if you hesitate or balk at that question, you already have your answer.

To become happy again, often means conquering fear. You can't wait for a Messiah to rescue you. And you can't let fear imprison you. And you can't let the fear of failure, or the responsibility you may leave behind, stop you. So it was- that my Messiah, who had healed thousands and grew weary of the throngs of sick and scared people that followed him, found his God and asked him. God told the Messiah, "do what makes you happy." "Even if that means never helping another sick person, that people will perish?", asked the Messiah. God replied, "Do what makes you happy."

I practice very hard at doing the right thing. Trying to act ethically, morally, and spiritually correct. To behave responsibly in those situations that I am a part of. If I have satisfied those things without hurting others, then I am able to ask the question. "Am I happy?"

That was the context I sought. I found that context to be quite empowering. That no level of responsibility made it necessary to be miserable. That the people we touch are all potentially Messiahs. Perhaps you enter their lives, or they enter ours to teach us that. That people are free to find their own happiness. That reliance on others, or their reliance on you for happiness- is an illusion.

Perhaps it is that self pitying part of us that enables us to think that we must endure some crappy job, or that we must stay in a relationship which no longer makes us happy. That somehow we can fix those things when clearly, we can't. We accept what is and avoid the conflict of trying to change things. Things become "fixable" when we decide that happiness is not an option- but misery always is.