Sunday, March 1, 2015

3/2/15—Saying The Magic Word

I plum ran out of time tonight, so here's a classic post. Hopefully I'll finish the fresh one I was working on for tonight later in the week and you'll get a bonus post. :)

I stopped by my local grocery store the other day and heard the employees whispering about something. Apparently "he" was back and wasn't listening to what they said. Again. When I got to the checkout, I saw who they were talking about. A man was there asking for a receipt so he could return some things. He wasn't raising his voice or anything, but he was persistent. 

My checker told me he comes all the time and asks for a receipt so he can return things. But he doesn't have anything to return. And he didn't buy anything. She said when he doesn't find someone to talk to, he stands by the customer service counter and talks to himself. 

You could see it was really stressful for all the people who worked there and were being checked out. The man wouldn't let up. And he frequently changed languages when he was talking, so it was hard to understand him. They were being a lot more patient with him than I would have been. In fact, I found myself being less than compassionate because he was trying to take advantage of the store, and in a way that was making things difficult for everyone concerned. 

There are a lot of ways to get what you need. You can do it with honey. Or you can wear people down like water on rock. This man chose the latter and he wasn't starving, so clearly it worked for him. But it was hard work on his part, imo. In fact, I think even when done with honey, begging and being homeless is hard work. It might not be physically or intellectually demanding (though I suppose it could be) but the toll it takes on a person's emotions and spirit is a bigger price than I'd be willing to pay. 

I used to tutor recovering drug addicts (who lived homeless most of the time) in literacy and for their GED, so I have a little insight into how soul sucking that existence can be. When they were born they didn't say "I want to be a homeless crack addict when I grow up." It's a cumulative thing that happens as you make bad choices and then face worse and worse options in your life because of it. They're not proud of what it does to their families and what they've done to themselves. Most of them are so far gone they can't see a way out. These ladies I tutored were grateful for being legally compelled to get themselves clean. And even with that, at least one of them went back to the life. 

As a result, I find myself reaching inside my purse and helping random homeless people out from time to time. The way I see it, I'm tithing to the universe. "Tithing to the universe" is a practice I use to keep the flow of money going between me and the universe and also to help my karma. I give freely, without worry or judgment of what it's going to be used for. If I have money to give, I feel rich. If I can be generous, I feel even richer. And the richer I feel, the richer I am, because our thoughts create our reality. I don't always give to people in need, either. Sometimes I like to pay for the order behind me in the drive-thru or whatever. 

Anyway, I digress. Because even though that man was quite annoying to the people who work at the grocery store and even though he probably made a lot of customers uncomfortable, he gave me a gift—the gift of reminding me how grateful I am to be who I am, where I am today. I'm not mentally ill (at least not in a debilitating way...haha). I have a home and can afford heat. Everything is fully functional. I'm not hurting for anything. 

There are people out there with challenges we don't even understand. Something as simple as being sane and employed is a huge thing to give gratitude for. And there are such basic things to be grateful for. When was the last time you consciously gave gratitude for a functional body, as achy as it might be? For a functional mind, as forgetful as it may be becoming? A warm home, though it might need a coat of paint? Or for your work, as crappy as it may sometimes be?

There's a term called "first-world problems" that refers to all the crap people of privilege complain about. Somewhere right in your neighborhood there's someone who would love to have your problems. Maybe their house is being foreclosed upon and their future is in question. Maybe someone inside is nursing a loved one as they lay dying. We often take for granted all the privileges we have, even when they're as basic as "breathing without help". 

Part of tithing to the universe or paying it forward or whatever you want to call the practice is giving gratitude for even the most basic of graces. Paying gratitude in advance is an even more powerful way of calling the universe to your side. I'll bet you could probably write 100 things you're grateful for in less than an hour. That right there is something to be grateful for! If you want to see your life magically brighten and bloom, just say the magic word more often—thanks. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2/23/15—Shedding Our Skins

We encounter a couple of different kinds of personal change in our lives. One kind comes as a matter of course—through things we learn and the experiences we have. Another kind comes because we've seen something inside ourselves that isn't in alignment with who we want to be. So we set a course to change it.

The first kind happens to everyone. The second kind happens with varying frequency. Many times the first kind spurs the second kind. For example, someone who is good at their job, might get promoted. That's the kind of change that comes as a matter of course. A promotion will thrust many changes upon a person, but beyond that, will they also have the wisdom to look within and see parts of their personality that also have to step up the plate? Their ultimate success will depend on how well they fill the new skin life has given them. 

I've known many people who turned down promotions or other "professionally advantageous" roles because they didn't want to change whatever needed to be changed. That's not the way they see it. They say it's because they don't want to manage others or whatever. But it's really about not wanting to change what's necessary to fill that skin. There are plenty of bad managers out there who took the job anyway and either don't see the need to change or refuse to fully step into the reality of the role. So it's good to be self aware enough to either know your limitations or self confident enough to bust right on through them. The people who do neither—and there are a lot of those—never really achieve true satisfaction from life, imo.

For me and many of you, I'm sure, that second kind of change is part of your path of spiritual and personal growth. Some people don't put that much stock in it and, like I said above, they're often stuck or unhappy people. Some are blissfully unaware, I suppose. But the thing is, we all nonetheless end up holding on to our toxic or growth-stunting ways longer than is necessary...at least I've never met anyone who changes efficiently and immediately at the point of bad-behavior-identification without angst. 

Even as much as I resist change, though, I can barely recognize myself from who I've been in the past. Sure, some things are the same. My sense of humor has never changed. But I like that part of me. Other parts—the drama, control issues, etc.—have significantly abated to the point that they no longer characterize me. Don't get me wrong. I'm dramatic. I like my dramatic flair. But I didn't like wallowing in drama, creating it, perpetuating it, etc., so I've changed a lot of that. And I like myself much better as a result.

I was recently reading a friend's Facebook thread where she talked about burning all her journals. "Holy crap!" I thought, "what sort of madness would drive her to do that? OMG. OMG! OMG!!!" But her answer was simple. She summed it up with a quote, "when you hold on to your history, you do it at the expense of your destiny."

She said burning her journals was liberating. And I imagine it is. So now I'm considering doing the same thing. I see myself as someone whose history—the insecurities, limitations, fears, abuses and abusers—stands in the way of my destiny.

Change with intention. It's always scary, because you're leaving behind someone you know pretty well to step into someone you've yet to meet. And it's not like the old you was all that bad, but when you're dedicated to doing what Iyanla Van Sant calls "your work", which is moving toward freedom from the things that trip you up, hold you back and keep you running in circles, it's what you do.

Right now, I'm aware of insecurities that need to be secured and a fullness of my own power and capability that I need to step into. This is actually the most recent part of a process that began maybe more than a decade before when I decided I want to be a spiritual teacher and a writer. I feel like each day and year, I walk further and further into that skin and look around for the places that need paint and spackle so I can feel comfortable living in my new skin when I'm ready to live in it full time. One day someone will say I'm lucky that I got to where I am, and I'll tell them that "luck" is almost entirely preparation...being ready to step into an opportunity you have pursued.  

In fact, one of the gifts of the awkwardness, conflict and general ass-hattery that happens in our lives is that it shows us what we need to move beyond. If we see things like that as a reflection of something in our lives, that is. Lots of people just see it as conflict and win/lose and so they continue swimming in the same circles. But if we look within and ask why, we can use the things that bring us pain and discomfort as "lucky" vehicles to help us rise to another level. 

These things don't always show us the exact path and the exact things that need to change, but they show us the direction we need to walk in. And you know what? Sometimes we're going to take a wrong turn or step too boldly. And we'll never be perfect. But at least we'll have gotten a good ride from this lifetime. We'll have pursued something larger than us. And, in the end, we'll have seen life through the eyes of the many different incarnations we've created for ourselves. And maybe then we'll come that much closer to understanding what all of it has been about. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

2/16/15—Spotting Your Reflection

Still waters reflect the truth of our heavenly and earthly selves. 
Tonight's post is from a couple of years ago. I really like the dove/pigeon analogy here, though. I thought it would be a good one to reprint and consider again.

This morning, after a long absence, I returned to my favorite park spot to greet the sun. What I found both surprised and comforted me.

Everything was exactly as I left it three years ago when I gave up my sunrise trips in favor of sleep and blogging. The lone pine that bravely sticks its head above the canopy of deciduous trees—daring to be an individual, daring to claim the nourishment it needs—was still there. The constant din of traffic was there, still challenging the profound underlying silence of the park. And the same glassy water was right where I left it, reflecting the beauty of the sky above.

I confess I don't know enough about rivers to know why they always seem so still at the liminal times of the day. Maybe it has to do with the moon or tides. Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it has to do with passing boats. But it seems like the river's surface is calmer at dawn and dusk than it is in the middle of the day. It could just be this particular location. A few miles away at Great Falls, the river is never calm.

We're kind of like the river in our spiritual journeys, aren't we? Sometimes we're calm and still, reflecting back both the beauty that beams down from above and that which gathers around us in our lives. And sometimes we're jumbled and chaotic, reflecting back a more distorted view of our reality. We move in and out of the pocket of spiritual love, flowing with the tides and the forecast. 

Looks like a pigeon, but it's a dove.
The other day, a couple of miles upriver, someone came across two doves that had been decapitated in some sort of ritual. The article said that doves and pigeons are pretty much the same bird. "Dove" and "pigeon" are used interchangeably and not even experts agree whether there's a difference or not. But you know the difference, right? Doves are those pretty white birds that mate for life. And pigeons are those nasty gray ones that poop on everything, right?

Turns out pigeons and doves reflect something back on us, too. 

Looks like a dove, but it's a pigeon.
Everywhere we look in life there's a mirror. Our friends and family reflect back our strengths and insecurities. Our words and actions reflect back our beliefs and attitudes. Even the things we don't do or say...the people we don't hang out with...reflect back on us. We may be able to successfully hide our truth from others, but no matter where we look or what we do, our truth is always looking back at us. That's both good news and bad. The bad news is that, wherever you see something you don't like, you're responsible for it being in your life. The good news is that you also have the power to change it. Even if you can't immediately change your circumstance, you can change the way you view or approach it. 

So this week, see how many mirrors you can spot in your life. What does your home say about you? Your choice of a mate? Your pets? Your job? Your response to the email you just got? The quality of your friendships? The condition of your shoes? If you see something you're not pleased with, why is it still in your life?

Moreover, check the state of your internal waters. Are they calm enough to accurately reflect back some higher aspect within you? Or are they choppy, rough and discombobulated? If they're the former, don't take that connection for granted. And if it's the latter, consider what stills you and move toward that. Ultimately, the difference between living a pigeon life and a dove life is all in the way you see it.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

2/9/15—Kicking the Habit

I’ve mentioned before that I considered the process of quitting smoking to be a spiritual journey for me. I guess pretty much anything can be a spiritual journey if you let it teach you…if you use it as a vehicle for growth.

Different people have different definitions of what a spiritual journey even is. To me, it’s a path of self-awareness and self-improvement or healing to kind of commune with that piece of me—however insignificant or expansive—that is god, spirit, one, the universe…whatever you want to call it.

Not everyone sees the value in growth and change. Some people can't think outside themselves, so they don't care or consider their impact on the world. More, though, live in a place of convenient denial—convenient because it allows them to hold on to their toxic behaviors like a security blanket. So, for example, a mean drunk justifies their anger in all kinds of ways to keep from ever having to face the real problem. It's everyone else's fault. 

A friend recently pointed out how some of those deniers use good deeds to cover up for their bad ones. I have a few former Facebook friends, for example, who are very generous in some ways to make up for how nasty they are in others. That tactic works better in theory, though. You might be able to fool some people, but in those quiet moments when you’re alone and honest with yourself, you can't fool yourself. Maybe there’s a path toward change in there, however. You can only be generous to strangers for so long before you question how thoughtless you are to the people you actually know.

Anyway, for me, it’s fulfilling to look at myself and try to improve the things that cause stress and self-disappointment, whether I believe there’s a god or not. Because I have always been a self-aware person. And while, by definition, I have no idea of what I might be in denial about, I think I’m pretty tough with myself. So it just helps me be a happier, more balanced person to not hold on to the burden of, say, being impatient, petty…whatever. 

It is more than just self-development for me, though. Knowing you’re right with your creator or your god or whatever you believe in just makes life easier all around. And, between you, me and the internet, I personally believe we could eradicate assholery from the earth in a single generation if everyone were required to do better with each of life's interactions. So there's that.

But back to quitting smoking. One of the things I realized as I was recovering from my addiction was that there would always be a “good enough” excuse to smoke until I was really ready to quit. See, I tried a mazillion times to quit over 10 years and the thing that got me every time was that I found a good enough excuse to smoke. Stress. Heartbreak. False confidence. Whatever. If you want to quit smoking, you have to quit having good reasons to smoke. A non-smoker has no good reasons.

And the same thing is true on any spiritual journey. If you want to be a better person, first you have to realize you have a problem. :D And then you have to work your way through that problem, breaking old habits and making better choices, until there are no good reasons left to stand between you and your higher self.

For example, I find myself often impatient…in grocery lines, walking through crowds, driving down the road. Many years back I realized that this was a control issue for me. And I simply did not have control over what the guy in front of me was doing. My impatience and it’s accompanying control issues caused me a lot of stress, so I set out to heal it.

Sometimes I brushed noticeably past the slow person, full of attitude. Sometimes I just stayed behind until I could easily get past, rolling my eyes the entire way. Sometimes I would take a deep breath, relax and nonetheless snort as I passed the person. And now I can mostly accept the grocery store line. I’m still working on the traffic thing…haha. But each time I succeed, the excuses to be impatient and act superior get fewer and fewer. And each time I fail, I feel bad about it later and resolve to do better.

That’s how we work through things. In some cases, you may make a quantum leap in just one try. But in most cases it takes time. It took me ten years to run out of excuses to smoke. And changing our behaviors is often like healing an addiction.

I remember when I was a child and would see how kind my mother was to people she didn’t particularly like. I think at the beginning she was faking it until she made it with the nice. Then after some time, the word I would have thought of was “grace”. My mother had a lot of grace. But what I see as I grow older is that the better word is “integrity.” If you’re a kind person, you’re kind no matter what the stimulus and it comes from a genuine place inside you. 

That’s what integrity is…having no excuses to be anything other than what you show yourself to be. And yeah, everyone probably has a breaking point or bad day. But I saw a pattern of it growing up from her—from both my parents, really, in different aspects of their lives—and having integrity is how I pay my respects to them these days. It’s another dimension of my personal, growth-fueled spiritual journey—honoring the teachers. 

An interesting side note to all of this is that the more you heal something, the more you see the excuses others are making to hold on…the more you see the truths and motivations behind others’ actions. And the more you’re able to ultimately forgive, because if you’ve been through it yourself, you know the pain behind the action and can have compassion for that person. In that way, you can use the unhealed behaviors of others as a way to stretch your own practice of compassion and rising above. And if you can’t get to that place and would like to, then it may be an indication of where you still need to do some work.

The situations that test us and our goals don’t happen by mistake, in my opinion. They are an opportunity for everyone involved to make a growth-related choice instead of an excuse. Some may not take that opportunity and that’s ok. The only opportunity you have to worry about is your own. The only path you have to worry about is your own. And the only behavior you have to consider when making your choice is your own. That’s integrity. That’s healing. That’s growth.




Sunday, February 1, 2015

2/2/15—Welcoming In The Next Wave of Life

Aging is a wild ride. The last couple of years—the years around turning 50—have brought so many changes. Some are worrisome, some are good. 

In the worrisome category is how much harder things are physically. As if overnight, muscle mass was lost. I have a persistent, and sometimes debilitating, exhaustion. Menopause symptoms come and go. And, overall, things ache and creak more than any other time in life. But today's post is about something really beautiful I've noticed, as well. 

I guess the best way to say it is that I'm more chill. I don't sweat stuff nearly as much as I did, say, two years ago. It's like the same triggers that are causing me to become physically more vulnerable are also helping me become emotionally more impervious. 

This past week, some of that was put to the test. I rarely travel for business, and when I do it's just overnight to someplace within driving distance. But last week I had to go to Florida for four days. I can't even tell you all the anxieties that would have normally dredged up in me. 

First, there's the thing of being without my dogs for four days. I had never been without them that long. Ever. Then there's the whole flying thing with making flights and getting through security and traversing airports. With my exhaustion issue, some days I'll be fine and other days walking through an airport would be extremely difficult. Then there's the anxiety of having someone else in my home for all those days, watching the dogs and poking about. And, even though my client is someone I've known for years, the institution she works for is new to me. So will people like me? Will I be a good fit? In that way, it was a little like an interview. 

So, normally, I'd be all worked up over this trip. Dreading it, even. I'm a cold-weather person, so I wait for winter to arrive. Florida is hot and sweaty. Also, normally I'd be freaking out the night before, staying up until 2am packing and sleepless the rest of the night. 

But none of that happened. In fact, in the days leading up to the trip, I was looking forward to it. I was looking forward, even, to leaving the dogs, because I thought it would be good for them to have a different caretaker (they love their dog sitter.) I was even excited about the warmer weather! Not just that, but I was packed days in advance. And, in the time leading up to the trip, instead of being a big ball of worry, I was a big ball of confidence and relaxation. WHAT HAD COME OVER ME???

In the end, everything went well. I had fun. The meetings, the place and the people were way beyond expectations. The flights went smoothly and, on the return trip, the middle seat was empty, giving this big person more room to spread out and feel comfortable. Even in my most critical moments, I couldn't have found anything untoward to comment on. It was just a pleasure. And, bonus, when I arrived home, my dogs were happy and my difficult baby seemed less manic than usual. 

I wish I had known years ago that I didn't have to sweat everything. Maybe that's part of the hormonal changes of being in my 50s. But whatever it is that has changed within me, I wish I'd known about it sooner. Because you can sweat things and obsess on every detail and things can end up going smoothly. Or you can be chill and things can end up going smoothly. Things can also screw up whether you obsess or not, too. So all the stuff I used to put myself through was just wasted energy. 

It's interesting that, as the physical prowess slips away, the emotional prowess seems to grow. At least that's what I'm experiencing. The physical is something I can work on and improve, though. I'm in worse shape than most people my age in those regards. But I have to say, it's nice to have that added peace of mind that I didn't have in my youth. It really helps when it comes time to cope with the floppy upper arms and wrinkles. And it's really nice, in general, for those voices in the head to quiet down. 

And I know I'm not alone in this. You just don't care so much about crap as you get older. You're more chill. And you kind of have to be, because as other aspects of your being start to fall apart, you need to be stronger in the head to handle it. 

Being human is a magical thing. When one thing exits, eventually something good always comes to take its place. It would be great to have it all. It would be great to have the body and strength of a 30 year old, the intelligence and memory of a 40 year old and the emotional command of a 50 year old, but that's not how it works. It's a heck of a lot better than everything falling apart with nothing beautiful to take its place, though. I've just had glimpses of this emotional and mental calm recently because of this trip. And it's like that is what the waves are bringing in as they usher out parts of my memory and eyes and knees. For someone who has lived inside their head for so much of their life, it's beginning to feel like I'm finally coming home. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

1/26/15—Judging Yourself and Others

Tonight's post is an oldie, but a goodie. It about this thing I hear people say all the time, though fortunately not to me. But they say it about others. I even used to say it myself. But now when I hear people say it, I kinda cringe. It goes something like this:

"If she's so spiritual/religious/Christian, then how come she _____?"

The reason I cringe is because when we call out people for their own hypocrisy, we're being hypocrites. Especially when it comes to calling others out for their levels of morality, judgment, belief, loyalty or faith. 

I have yet to meet the perfect person. I have yet to meet anyone without a shadow, secret shame, unwise habit or otherwise unhealthy behavior hiding in the closet. And the degree to which we judge others for these things is equivalent to the degree to which we're in denial about our own behaviors...the degree to which we are being a hypocrite. It stings, but it's true. And this goes for pretty much everything, not just for someone's spirituality. 

Of course there have been many times in my life where I've gotten small lessons in this, but my first big lesson in it came when I quit smoking cigarettes. I had known on some level for years that I was addicted to nicotine, but I didn't understand that my need to introduce the drug into my system every 15-30 minutes was the same as "getting a fix". And that the desperate cravings I had and the depths to which I would go to relieve them (like smoking butts) on unsuccessful quit attempts made me a "junkie." 

In my journey with quitting, I learned that an addict is an addict and the thing you're addicted to is just a detail. So a lot of the judgments I had about drug addicts, alcoholics, compulsive people, gamblers and others who exhibited addictive and compulsive behavior subsided. And when it comes bubbling up again, I just have to look at the number on my bathroom scale to put myself right. 

There are a lot of ways to express addictive and compulsive behavior, from being a neat freak who just can't bear to see something out of place to being me who just can't bear to see any chocolate left in the wrapper. We both have the same urges pulling us to get our fix. And you can argue that the neat freak is healthier and therefore better than the overeater, but you'd be wrong. They've both got issues that cause stress inside their bodies and cause concern with others in their lives. A junkie is a junkie. It's like saying the murderer is better than the pedophile because the murderer doesn't harm children. The fact is, you don't want either of them living next door to you. And if you had to make a choice between the two, you'd probably move. 

This whole thing about "if she's so spiritual..." subsided when I realized that, no matter how spiritual I was, I wasn't perfect. I made mistakes. My behavior didn't always align with my beliefs. And my beliefs didn't necessarily drive all my behaviors. When I realized I was a human on an imperfect journey, working on things in one room, while ignoring things in another room, it occurred to me that others may be doing the same thing. When I realized that I couldn't always keep the 10,000 balls up in the air that I need to keep up in the air in order to be perfectly pious and servile to my higher power, I started giving others a break. And when I saw how, after I grew, I could look back and see how silly or misguided my previous ways were, I just let other be. 

There's a certain snobbery that people have over religion and spirituality. We'll say we respect other religions while we mock their gods and criticize their "stupid" beliefs. We'll question "how Christian" another person is being while we, ourselves, are refusing to let another car into traffic on the highway. We'll expect our odd little corner of belief to be respected while we criticize anyone who doesn't believe the same way we do. 

But the thing is, if we believe in being kind to others...if we believe in building community...if we believe in lifting ourselves up higher and leaving this earth a better person, then every time we make a judgment against another person, we're being a hypocrite. Because judgment is not kind, inclusive or high minded. And most of the time we're judging, we're guilty of the same or very similar sins. I know this because I find myself judging others. And then I find myself turning within and seeing that the same thing I claim to hate in others is also true about me. 

I think a lot of times when we judge or criticize others, we feel a little superior afterward. If we're honest with ourselves, we do. Because we may have a lot of issues, but we don't have THEIR issues. But as people raise their consciousness higher and as they understand more about what drives them, when they hear you criticize other people, all they hear is your own denial and hypocrisy. They don't even have to know you to know it's true. It's that universal a kind of thing. Because when we've truly recognized and healed something within us that's broken, we have compassion and understanding for those who haven't yet made that journey. Not judgment. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

1/19/15—Seeing Through the Eyes of Others


I bookmarked a conversation I had online way back in early December and am only now getting around to writing about it. It all started with something a friend of mine had read on Humans of New York.

For reference, I'll put what the gentleman who was interviewed said here:

"I always remember my mom having this hardness to her. Even if you were at the other end of the house, you could feel her presence. Not like a monster, but kinda. She needed everything to be just a certain way. She'd arrange the towels perfectly and didn't want anyone mess them up. She'd keep these detailed notes on money and daily activities and even her bowel movements. It was a diary of her anxieties. She always needed everything to be just a certain way, and she always had such a hard tone to her voice. But I loved her. I remember walking into her room shortly before she died. She was curled up in bed because she had very bad scoliosis, and she looked so small and vulnerable. And next to her on the nightstand was a picture of her as a little girl, standing with her own mother. And it made me sad, because I knew that little girl had never wanted to grow up to be a ball of anxiety." 

My friend who posted this posed a really interesting question—"how do we get to be who we are? Is there a way back to that little girl we once were before "things happened" that turned us into someone else, someone we don't want to be?"

So after marinating on this for a month and a half, I've kinda concluded, for me, this is what our spiritual journeys are about...finding some essence of who we were before humanness rained down on us. And there's a second part to all of this that has to do with forgiveness, so read all the way to the end. :)

Back when I was a kid, I was a troublemaker in school. I was bossy and argumentative, stubborn and just generally a pain in the ass. I remember there was this boy I had a crush on, so I'd knock him upside the head when I'd pass his desk in second grade. That got me kicked out of that class. Then in 4th grade, I was supposed to skip a grade, but because of my emotional immaturity, I didn't skip. Then in 6th grade, I had to spend the entire year sitting behind a closet (I could see the board and all) because I was too disruptive to the other students. That was the end of me getting in big trouble in school, but it wasn't the end of me being an asshole. The ironic thing is that, while I got attention, I didn't get the positive kind of attention I wanted. And my self esteemed flagged as a result. 

Lord only knows what teachers thought about the way I was being raised. It's the kids with the bad childhoods that make all the trouble, right? But the thing is, I had a pretty decent childhood. I was just a kid who craved more attention. Both of my parents worked, I was the youngest of six kids and my demand for attention didn't meet the available supply. Not knowing how to get more, I acted out. Somewhere there was a turning point, because with low self esteem and a bad attitude, it could have gotten so much worse. I don't know for certain when that turning point came, but at some point I veered back on to the higher road. 

What I didn't realize at the time was that, for someone interested in bettering themselves and serving God and society at a higher level, this attention issue was to become part of my life's work, spiritually speaking. Back then, it manifested at tantrum level. Over the years, this need for the ego to be noticed and recognized has mellowed into things like writing long, meandering blog posts about myself. :D I have consciously worked on and let go of many "bad" behaviors around this whole attention thing. I try harder to give others their turn. In some cases, I've managed to channel the energy into something that actually helps others (like the stuff I write about). And some of the behaviors I'm still working on. 

So, to answer my friend's question, I do think there's a way back. Her question went down some different rabbit holes about being raised by someone like the man above's mother and being raised by a mother like my own...in other words, an effed up upbringing vs. a relatively normal one. But it's worth considering that it doesn't really matter. For better or for worse, we get the upbringing that gives us our assignment/s. And the difference between Oprah and Hitler—two people with difficult upbringings who grew up to be powerful thought leaders—is whether you work on that assignment or whether you let it work on you. 

The second part of the discussion with my friend was about forgiveness and compassion. Many times when we have parents or others in our lives who are so broken by their humanness, we put distance between ourselves and them. In fact, we do this with all sorts of unsavory people, not just relatives or close friends. We do it with co-workers and homeless people and people we see on TV who have committed crimes. In fact, there doesn't even have to be a serious issue with someone. All they have to do is disagree with us on something important to us, like politics, and that's it. They're gone. 

We justify this to ourselves as doing what's healthy for us. But is it really? Or is it healthier to learn to open our hearts to these people—to see the little girl who was doing fine until humanness hit her square in the face—and feel compassion and love for them anyway? Isn't that really the healthiest, most evolutionary choice for both us and them? 

While I might not always practice it perfectly, learning how to look at the person beneath the person is something I learned about many years ago on Oprah. When you encounter someone who is different from you or who has done you harm, realize that they didn't grow up with the dream of being reviled by others. That happened somewhere along the line when life happened. And life has happened to all of us. 

Moreover, for the people who are just different from you, realize that they have the same dreams for themselves and their families as you do. Those families in Africa that live in cardboard huts...they have the same kinds of hopes and dreams for their lives and family as you do. If that child turns out to be a thief, that wasn't part of the dream. Everyone, from terrorists to saints, just want their children to be safe and happy and their lives to be as fulfilling as possible. Yeah, even terrorists. 

Which is not to say that I'm defending terrorism. There is no defending that. And some of them may have debilitating mental issues that take them out of the "everyone wants to be safe and happy" mold. But I'm just saying that compassion and forgiveness can be given to anyone, albeit it might take a master class to give it to a terrorist. Because it's not what THEY do that matters in your spiritual practice of compassion and forgiveness. It's only what YOU do and how much you can open YOUR heart. 

Remember Antoinette Tuff, the woman who talked a school shooter into giving himself up? Her ability to do that saved her own life and the lives of countless children. It's rare to find someone capable of seeing the pain in another—especially when that other person is holding an AK-47 to your face—and focusing on that pain instead of the terror that pain wanted to cause. But she did it. And she did it because she understood that, on the way to whatever dream our parents had for their family and the dream we had for ourselves, some people get woefully lost on the trail. She had the humility to look at her own difficulties and see through his eyes and see that what separates her from him was just a few choices that could have gone the other way. 

So there's a lot to think about here. Self improvement. Spiritual purpose. Forgiveness. Compassion. And even self-forgivess and acceptance. We were all once innocent babies with simple needs...food, water, shelter, love. Then life happened and all hell broke loose. The difference between you and someone in prison or their own self-sustained misery is actually a matter of a small choice here or there to hold yourself to a higher standard...a choice each of us is handed multiple times daily in life and we usually choose not to take. So perhaps you've taken enough of those opportunities to get by, but you let a lot pass you by. Even you aren't your best all the time. The rest of the world is no different. It's all just a matter of degrees.