Trusting Myself

The other day my mom sent me a wonderful quote:

A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust in not on the branch but on it’s own wings.”  Unknown

I’ve been pondering this quote for the past two days, and it strikes me how often people get mad at others for not taking care of them/doing the right thing. Maybe when we feel this anger we should stop and look at ourselves, and see if we are counting on other people to take care of us because we aren’t sure how well we can take care of ourselves.

For example, women have asked me over the years why I don’t have insecurities about the guy that I’m dating being unfaithful. (Trust me, I have plenty of other insecurities!). My answer is always this: “I don’t have to trust him – I have to trust me.”

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If I’m staying honest about how the relationship feels, I’ll know if there are problems and things are ‘off” between us. When the relationship is unsatisfactory to either of us, then there’s always the risk of someone cheating. So my commitment to myself is that I will stay connected to how the relationship feels today, and I’ll address any problems that come up between us.

I don’t believe that people cheat on their partners when everything is going really well (unless it is a person who self-sabotages relationships and then your relationship is doomed anyway!) So how I protect myself from a cheating partner is not to monitor his behavior, but to monitor how I feel, and how things feel between us.

Invariably when a client comes in for a session distraught because she/he “had no idea” that there was infidelity going on, the client’s spirit gently shows how the client worked very hard to “not see”. We’re all guilty of tuning out information that scares us – the evidence of a teenager’s drinking, the signs of problems at work, or the clues to a partner’s infidelity. In other words, in your heart, you always know when there’s a problem. You may not know how your partner is handling the problem (complaining to his friends, flirting with people at the gym to people, or cheating) but you know in your gut – and in your heart – that there’s a problem.

So the next time you have fears – about your partner, your child, your job – take care of yourself first. Be still and get quiet. Your spirit’s quiet voice can’t be heard unless you create the space to hear that gentle whisper. Remember that taking care of yourself means having the emotional courage to venture inside and feel what is really true for you.

It’s easy to stay restless and busy and follow the ego-mind as it rants on and on about how no one is safe. Your ego will remind you of all the times in the past when people seemed selfish, taking care of themselves and hurting you in the process. Of course your ego-mind will fail to remind you of all the times when you acted selfishly and hurt others.

The truth is that we all have egos, and so we all occasionally hurt others by tuning out to how things feel and following our ego’s desire for gratification. But instead of monitoring everyone else’s behavior exclusively, remember to monitor how you feel internally.

Your spirit is always willing to tell you the truth. Are you willing to listen?

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An Important Parenting Goal

I’ve spoken to several people recently about the goals that we have as parents. These conversations have given me a chance to see how my goals of parenting have changed as my kids have grown – and as I’ve grown!

For instance when my boys were younger I felt that good parenting was evidenced by kids that were polite and respectful. While I still feel that it’s important to teach those qualities to our kids, I now place far more value on empowering my boys to know their feelings and to express them.

polite kid

I believe that a big factor in why my boys are so self confident is because they’ve always been encouraged to discover their truth and share it with me and my ex. If hearing their ideas makes me uncomfortable ( like when they told me that they wanted to try alcohol and marijuana), then I do my work to get clear on why I’m anxious before I just push against their plans. I can’t promise to never be upset at their statements, but I do commit to speaking to them with respect. They’re not allowed to speak to me with disrespect, and I hold myself to similar standards.

I have quite a few teens and young adults in my private practice. When they come in for sessions I usually work on helping them discover and feel their truth. This is similar to the work that my adult clients do.  But the difference is that once these young people know their truth, they have to determine if they feel safe to share it with their parents. If a child’s truth disrupts the parents’ ideas for the child, what happens? It’s different in each household.

Here are some questions that I sometimes ask parents:

If your child’s desires – or fears – contradict yours, what happens?

How quickly can your kids get in touch with what is bothering them?

When your child is troubled, does he hold it in or express it?

Does your child seem connected to her own ideas and plans, or is she following the route that has been laid out for her (by you, her peers, etc)?

What happened the last time your child told you something that made you anxious or uncomfortable?

Living with people who allow you to speak your truth without negative repercussions is critical to emotional well-being. I believe that this is true for adults as well as for children.

father speaking to son

I know that I’m guilty of half listening to my kids – listening for the excuse or the statement I’m dreading, then pouncing on them before they’ve finished the sentence. I’ve been working on taking a breath, knowing that I need to wait before giving my opinion. My impatience and irritation will cut off the flow of information that I know we both need in order to keep our relationship emotionally safe. So I force myself to pause, waiting to speak until I know that I’ve actually felt what my child is saying instead of just hearing the words and immediately giving my response.

Many years ago my spirit told me that “everyone yearns to  feel truly seen and heard.” This desire does not emerge at a certain age, but is always present in each of us.

Who really listened to you as a child? Which adults really seemed to hear you?

If you think back to the favorite relationships that you had as a child, I’m sure that they will be ones in which you felt truly seen and heard.

So when my adult clients ask for parenting advice, I say some version of:

“Make sure your kids feel truly seen and heard. Work to listen more openly, without your own agenda filtering everything that you hear from them and affecting how you respond. Make it a priority to be an emotionally safe person for them to talk to, and encourage them to discover their true feelings.”

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Learning to be Present

Quote from a wise Buddhist teacher:

Learn to grasp the moment! Do not sneak away;

do not escape to the delusions of the past or the future.

Bring your mind to where you are,

with an acute awareness for the present moment.

This is where we are.

There is no other place than here.

–Drukpa Rinpoche

I’ve come to realize that spending a lot of time in the present moment is not easy! This is primarily because the present moment is what the heart focuses upon, while the ego-mind wants to stay busy focusing on the past and the future.

Typically in each moment a person is either replaying an event form his past, or planning something for the future. Very little time is spent feeling/observing the present moment and the feelings that are there.

But today when I read this quote I was struck with this thought: if I’m busy planning my future so that it is pleasurable, but then when it gets here I’m off in my head planning the next day’s ‘future’, then I’m planning for a pleasurable future that I’ll miss anyway.

ri-sunset

When will I be “done” planning so that I can actually enjoy what shows up?

And if I’m not paying enough attention to my present, then how can I make the adjustments to it that will yield a better tomorrow?

Being in the present moment involves pausing. Pausing means “doing nothing”, which to my ears sounds like “WASTING TIME”, which is practically a crime in our culture.

I know that there are many cultures that encourage people to pause throughout the day for prayer. It seems wise to take a moment to feel how your day is actually unfolding before jumping back into activity.

I don’t live in a culture that encourages me to pause in the midst of a busy day, so I’m having to create this habit for myself. Two or three times a day I pause – especially when I notice myself reacting to something in a disproportionate way.

I try to ask myself “What am I feeling?” And then (perhaps the more important question) I ask myself “And what is the feeling underneath that feeling that I’ve just described?” Usually the culprit is a reaction to something from the past – be it 15 minutes ago or 15 years ago – that I didn’t feel and handle in that moment. And so here it is resurfacing, sparking an old fear that is driving my neurotic behavior.

I always thought that my Buddhist teachers were encouraging all of us to be in the present so that we would slow down and be peaceful in that moment. But now I understand that by being present right now I also create more happiness for my future, as items that feel painful can be dealt with as they come up instead of later when they re-surface in a distorted way.

So, I vote for a 2 minute break right now to feel how your day is going. Feel the quality of your relationships – including the relationship that you have with yourself. How are you treating yourself today? How is this day feeling right now?

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Scarcity Thinking

I read somewhere that for most of us, our first thought of the day is one of scarcity. Is your first thought “I didn’t get enough sleep last night?” Or “I’ll never get everything done on my list today”? I confess to having had both of these thoughts before my feet even hit the floor. I’m realizing how this perception that we don’t have enough – of things like time and energy – sets us up to be dissatisfied all day.

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If I believe that today I will have to go without – without sufficient energy, or sleep, or  satisfaction – I begin my day frustrated and irritable. I look for evidence that my fears are accurate, and each tiny struggle or disappointment fuels my sense of injustice and dissatisfaction.

OR…..

I can recognize this tendency to think negatively in those first waking moments, and I can counteract it with some deliberate choices.

When I’m disciplined I take the time to write in my gratitude journal before going to sleep. This helps me to keep track of the little things that went right each day, things that are easy to forget when annoying items clamor for my attention. Now when I wake up I try to read over what I wrote the night before to remind myself that things always seem to work out in a way that is perfect for everyone.

For years I’ve been teaching that we find evidence of whatever we’re looking for. Because there are millions of events that happen in the world each day, your ego mind will focus on the ones that validate the perspective that you’re holding, and ignore the events that seem to contradict your viewpoint.

Knowing this, I try to pay attention to my perspective, noticing if I’m looking for evidence that life is pretty great, or that it’s pretty tiresome. Because my perspective will be validated, of that I’m sure!

And boy is it easy to slip back into scarcity thinking!! We are inundated with messages about scarcity, since it is scarcity thinking that motivates us to buy more products. You know, so that we can get more time, youth, health, sex appeal, etc – all the things that we’ve been told are in short supply.

I’m writing about this topic because the goal of this blog is to help the reader feel better. At the end of the day I believe that this is why we pursue anything – because we believe that it will make us feel better in some way. And I’ve noticed a direct correlation between scarcity thinking and unhappiness.

waking up happy

So the more that I can move away from scarcity thinking, the more I move towards happiness. I invite you to notice this pattern in your own life, and let me know what you observe.

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Progress on the Path

I love this quote:

“The path to our enlightenment is nothing else but the rediscovery

of our Buddha nature that we have forgotten.

When the wind has blown away the clouds from the sky,

you can see the sun again – actually it had never stopped shining.”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Blue sky and white clouds (Panorama)

Over the past few weeks I’ve observed myself and noticed how neurotic I can be when I’m sleep deprived, distracted by a romantic interest, or worried about my boys. The fact that I can feel so peaceful and clear one day and so muddled and confused the next is…..very daunting. Years ago I would worry that all the progress along my spiritual path had been lost, that my day of angst demonstrated that I had failed in my quest to be more loving, peaceful and trusting of the Universe.

Now I know better.

Now I understand that I have “cloudy days” and I have clear-sky days, where the progress that I’ve made on my path is evident and readily available to me.

I used to gauge my spiritual progress on how many “good days” I had, days where I felt peaceful and clear and could use the wisdom that I’d acquired to help my clients. But I’ve changed my barometer to reflect the fact that I, like all humans, have an ego. And with an ego comes the ability to feel fearful, and to worry and fret that my needs will not be met. Eventually I will get enough sleep, or sit and meditate to connect to a higher perspective, and then my fears will subside and I will feel calm and clear once again.

Understanding and accepting this ebb and flow – between love and fear – has been a major step towards acceptance of myself and others. No one is perfectly calm in every moment, and when we’re feeling anxious our reactions will be…..less than ideal. Now my goal is not to be clear and calm in every moment, but to recognize when I’m feeling “cloudy” and my ego is influencing my perception and reactions. Once I spot this “ego bias”, I stop taking my anger, worry and frustration too seriously. Instead I take steps to re-connect to a higher way of seeing things.

So my new barometer for assessing my progress on the spiritual path is this: how quickly can I notice when I’m coming from fear instead of love, and what will I do to re-orient myself to a higher perspective?

Under this barometer I do not have to be perfect. I just have to be brave enough to be honest  about what I’m feeling, and willing to work to shift my perspective to a higher one.

Which makes me think of another quote that I love:

“The first requirement of any spirituality is fearlessness.

For a coward it is impossible to act virtuously.”

                        Mahatma Gandhi

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May we all be fearless in our pursuit of love and a loving perspective.

 

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It’s been another week of great sessions, with my the spirit world sharing wonderful advice and interesting observations. But several times this week I’ve had to point out to my clients that they were beating themselves up without even realizing it. These instances happened after their spirit shared a great piece of information. Each client was intrigued or amazed with the insight that was offered, and then immediately chastised herself for not already knowing that information. It reminded me of a chapter in my book where a client’s spirit eloquently commented on this tendency:

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“Humans are the only species that learn something and then feel anger towards themselves once they’ve learned it – anger that they didn’t already know it. As if life is not meant to be experienced but figured out before one arrives. Since it is impossible to know the best action to take in every foreseeable situation, I recommend that you avoid needless suffering by having compassion for yourself after you learn something.”

My client Carolyn immediately recognized the truth in her spirit’s comments, and later in the session her spirit offered more on this topic:

“…And adults tend to resist learning – learning things about themselves and about healthy changes that they could make – because of the ensuing self-judgment. We are more compassionate with children, and we tell them that they are not expected to know everything already – that’s why they go to school. But school is not capable of teaching a person everything that she will need to know throughout her entire life, agreed?….And yet adults tend to judge themselves when they have to learn through the process of “getting it wrong.” This self-judgment implies that no more learning should be necessary beyond a certain age.”

kids in clasroom

Is there an age that – if you reach it – you then know everything necessary to “never get it wrong”? I’m thinking probably not….

So now I’m trying to pay more attention to my own tendency to cringe self-consciously when I learn or realize something that I’d not known previously.

I’m not suggesting that you get excited about your ignorance, just grateful that you’re always growing in awareness and that there is always more to learn.

Because let’s face it, if you already knew everything, wouldn’t life be boring? And a bit aggravating, waiting for everyone else to figure out what you already know? 🙂

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Quickly Shifting My Mood

Every person craves more happiness and less suffering.

I think this universal desire unites us all; no matter who you are, I assume that you want to feel good as often as possible. I can also assume that, like me, there are moments every day that lead you to feel negative emotions – anger, sadness, loneliness, etc.

We all know intellectually that there are people who have it worse than we do. I can rattle off dozens of scenarios that make me cringe and count my blessings that I have the life that I do. The problem is that in my moments of sadness, anger and hurt these mental ideas offer me no real comfort. “Yeah, yeah, I’m lucky to live the way that I do.” I grumble to myself, but my emotional state doesn’t change and I remain in a bad mood.

unhappy little girl

But over the past few years I’ve created a simple technique to quickly shift my perspective so that I’m feeling grateful and blessed and I want to share it with you.

happy boy

I’ve realized that a fast way to shift my emotional state is to use videos. My thoughts and emotions can be quickly influenced by the combination of sound and visuals. So I’ve created a file in my email system (Outlook) as well as one on my computer. These two files are called “Shifting Perspectives” and “Feel Better”. When I find a video that moves me emotionally – a soldier coming home and greeting his daughter at school, a man tearing up as he holds his newborn baby, a devoted dog comforting its master, and the best – a baby cackling with laughter over the simplest thing – I send it to myself as an email and add it to my folder.

When I realize that my mood is sinking, I try to remember to go to this folder right away. I know that there is no prize for staying blue; my perspective isn’t validated because I sit in it and talk about my unhappiness for hours. If I need to share with someone in order to resolve a situation, then I call a close friend or my mom and do that, and then I get down to the task of shifting my emotional state.

I know that my best solutions will come not from my negative emotional state but from a positive, empowered one. Once I’ve shifted and I feel more optimistic I’m more creative, powerful and kind.

Here is one of my favorites to get you started:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDIoq1abDCY

 

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