Sunday, May 22, 2016

5/23/16—Loving Unconditionally


Most of the really good stuff I know, I learned from a dog. 

Although there have been countless lessons and observations over the years, the first really big lesson came when my first dog, Passion, was a puppy. She had done something "bad"—I can't remember what—and I yelled at her. I was really mad. And at some point during my rant, I saw her looking up at me with her puppy eyes and she was shaking, trembling with fear. 

That one moment changed me in so many ways. Seventeen years later and I still remember exactly how she looked and how ashamed I felt. To begin with, it held a mirror to my anger and the way I express it. Is this really who I wanted to be? Is this the mother I wanted to be? Second, I had enough empathy in the moment to see her situation—a helpless little girl with everything on the line, trying to be good. Did I have a right to make her feel unsafe? Aren't I supposed to protect her from people like me?

Third, and most importantly, it left me with a critical decision to make. See, up until that point, my love was conditional. I treated her with love when she was good and when she was bad, I wasn't terribly loving. This caused a roller coaster of emotions for both of us. I wasn't sure I could handle a strong-willed, very alpha dog and so she couldn't feel safe I was her forever mommy. 

One look from that little girl and I was brought face-to-face with my inadequacy, my anger, my effect on others and my screwed up way of loving. It was excruciating. To this day, I don't think there's ever been a single more devastating moment in my life. Nor has there been one with more of an opportunity for healing. 

In that moment, I had a revelation—either I was going to learn to love her unconditionally, or I was going to continue on the same path I was on and end up hating myself more than I already did. I chose to start learning to love her unconditionally. And that's when a miracle occurred. 

Once I realized I was going to love her no matter what, I stopped getting so angry at her "imperfect puppy self" all the time! I mean, what was the point of sweating the small stuff if the result is always going to be loving her? What was the point if I was always going to hold her afterward and hope for her forgiveness? I may as well just skip all the drama and stress on both our parts and go straight to loving her and respecting her sensitivities and emotions, even when I'm mad at her.

Of course, my dogs still piss me off from time to time. The people you love unconditionally are going to trigger you, too. But I handle situations differently now. And time after time when adjusting to a new dog, I come to a place where I stop trying to mold them into some perfectly behaved automaton and just accept them as they are. And every. single. time. things get so much easier from that point forward. The more I resist just loving them, the more stress and frustration I have. The more I surrender to them, the more love and joy I receive. 

This has translated perfectly to human-to-human relationships I've had over the years. If you have a family member that drives you crazy, for example, you can change a lot in regard to that without changing them. Just surrender to the fact that, regardless of their bad behavior, the end result is always going to be the same. You're going to end up loving them, even when you're hating them, because you have no choice. Or you can cut them out of your life, too. Both are paths of least resistance and both are legitimate choices, depending on the situation. But sitting on the fence just causes repeated pain.

Before my experience with Passion, I applied that model to my father without even thinking about it too deeply. And the minute I decided to love him, even if he was never going to be the father I wanted him to be, I started enjoying our relationship more. And thank god, because he died soon after, so I didn't have to deal with him leaving while there was resentment in my heart. 

A lot of the pain we have in relationships happens upon the fulcrum of "should I stay or should I go?" Maybe it's not in quite the same words, but that's what it boils down to. Once you commit to a certain direction, that pain largely disappears. However if you find yourself asking "should I stay or go?" over and over again in the course of a relationship, it's because you either made the wrong choice, or you never fully committed to the choice you did make

Not long after that decision with Passion, I was faced with another choice regarding her. She had hip dysplasia and, due to the condition of her hips, her young age, the size she would grow to (100lbs) and the cost of care, I was advised to put her to sleep. So my "unconditional" decision was tested and I chose to get the operation. That pretty much sealed the deal for us as mother, puppy girl and the bestest of friends. After that, I never looked back. 

So your "conditions" might be tested in your unconditional relationships. But if you're in a never-ending cycle of "I can't take this anymore" after making your decision, you need to really search whether or not you made the right choice or if you are fully committed. Because resistance is what causes the struggle and pain in pretty much every big life decision. You're either resisting giving yourself over fully, come hell or high water. Or you're resisting change. Both are scary things, which is why we resist.

I've struggled with whether or not to surrender unconditionally to each of my dogs, all of my siblings and both of my parents at one time or another. In the moment of anger and frustration, we truly believe we can cut them off. And, for some, that might be the right decision. But most of us can't and shouldn't. The death of my brother, especially, taught me that, when someone you "claim" you don't like dies or is faced with death, everything changes. Years of anger, pain and frustration melted away the second I heard "I've got lung cancer." In that moment, I finally saw that all the posturing and "he said, she said" meant little when the guy I knew and shared a life with from infancy is dying in a horrible, premature and heartbreaking way.

Unconditional love is a lot like forgiveness in that it's not something you do for the other person as much as something you do for yourself. The other person doesn't even have to know you're doing it, though they'll know from the way your energy changes around them. Both also involve letting go, albeit in different ways. And also, like forgiveness, unconditional love doesn't mean you have to be their buddy or look for ways to spend time with them. Some of the people you agree to love unconditionally (or forgive) are toxic. Loving them regardless doesn't mean they stop being toxic, it just means that you're going to love them anyway, preferably from a distance. :D

Being human is hard. We're expected to open our hearts and to love people—and even pets—who will inevitably cause us pain, disappointment, sorrow and even heartbreak. Even the best of them will do that to us at some point. Unconditional love is a brave thing. And once you can do it for family and pets, you can open wider and start learning to extend it out to others, like friends, strangers and the all of humanity. And each time you manage to do it, the less pain you'll experience, the more love you'll net and the closer you'll come to aligning with that big unconditional lover in the sky.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

5/16/16—Surviving Ourselves

ANNOUNCEMENT: For blog readers who may be interested in getting a free, self-serve intuitive reading, I am now posting Weekend Readings each Friday night on my Facebook Author Page: Tierney Sadler, Deck of 1000 Spreads.

 It seems like there's a disdain for television in society. A snobbery, of sorts. "Read something instead of watching TV. You're rotting your brain." 

Well, I watch TV. And, as it turns out, it hasn't rotted my brain. In fact, it conjures all sorts of deep and intelligent thoughts for me. I was raised on TV. I have a degree in broadcasting. And I have written for TV and video throughout my career. In contrast, I don't really read. Maybe a book a year. And yet I'm a pretty accomplished writer with a darned good vocabulary and a brain that doesn't smell like dead fish. So TV has served me well. 

What conjures even more disdain, however, is the kind of TV I like. Sure I like the comedies and dramas, but I have been a fan of unscripted shows—reality shows—since Big Brother and Survivor pioneered the category in 2000. And while some may turn their noses up at that, it's what sparks some of my deepest thoughts. At some point, people forget the camera is there and you see the ways they operate and what they're like under pressure. And you take that in and think of it in terms of yourself.

Over the weekend I binge watched the first season of Alone. This is a show where they abandon 10 different people on 10 different, densely forested parts of Vancouver Island in the Pacific NW. And the last one standing wins. The weather is wet, freezing and unforgiving. There is zero human interaction. They are alone for as long as they can survive. They do all the filming themselves. They only get to bring 10 survival items with them. And when they've had enough, they have a satellite phone that brings in the rescue crews.

The first ones "tap out" (quit) in the first day or two out of fear of the bears, wolves and cougars that dominate the terrain. By the end of the first week, half have tapped out. And that's when it starts to get interesting. Because once you have shelter and a way of getting food, the days get longer and thoughts begin to turn to yourself. As the winner said, "your biggest challenge isn't the bears and cougars, it's dealing with the predator inside you." And, ultimately, that aspect alone took a couple of men out. But the ones who were able to live through their fears and thoughts were fascinating.

One guy's insights were particularly thought-provoking. Lucas was, arguably, the person best equipped to be there. I say arguably only because he didn't win. But by Day 14 this MacGyver of the bush had built a beautiful canoe from tree limbs and tarp. The canoe provided him access to an unending supply of clams, as well as better places to fish and a better camp. By Day 33, he had built a proper yurt. No kidding. Two days later, he made himself a little guitar, was composing songs and thinking of building a sauna...haha. This man lived like a king relative to all the others. Nothing stood in the way of him surviving the brutal winter there. But within a few days of making that guitar, he was gone.

He left because he got clear about himself. After the first month (only 4 lasted more than two weeks) all the remaining men began to thoroughly examine who they were, the stuff they take for granted in their lives and why they were even doing this in the first place. All (except the winner) ultimately left because they came to the realization that they were there for their egos...to win for their egos. And they no longer needed that. They had endured so much. Accomplished so much. Proven so much to themselves. They had been stripped raw enough to see there were things far bigger than winning. They no longer needed to win. Lucas ultimately decided to leave because he finally felt at peace with himself and no longer had a reason to stay.

Another interesting guy was Sam, the last one to quit...the guy who got second place. I was sure this 22-year old expectant father wouldn't last long. He was too flip, baby-faced and devil-may-care to take this seriously. He was awful at getting food. His shelter was pretty pathetic compared to the rest of the guys. Moreover, it had a flapping tarp, which was a mortal sin in my family growing up. :D But the thing that got him to Day 55 was the very attitude I thought would take him down. 

Mental fortitude, stubbornness, a sense of humor and the ability to face his own demons is what got Sam—and Alan, the winner—to the end. In fact, when they came in a day later to extract Alan (a very skilled and deserving 40-year-old survivalist) and tell him he'd won, he was genuinely shocked and said, "So soon?" He looked over at his shelter like he wasn't ready to leave. He was mentally and emotionally prepared to stay a full year.

So, what all of this is getting to is that the path of discovery that you and I are on isn't for pussies. Once you have food, shelter, water and fire, survival is a mental game you've been preparing for throughout your own spiritual journey. Cougars and black bears aren't what frightens people most. Being alone with oneself and an inability to transcend one's own fears is what makes bad asses crumble. These guys weren't ordinary dudes who got drunk one night and thought it would be fun to go to the woods. They were all experienced at this sort of thing. But only the final few had the ability to search within and come out alive. 

When Alan was leaving camp after he won, he said the experience was "probably the most free a person can get in their life. It's just you, the creator and creation." And that's what this journey does for us. It's what meditating in nature does for me. I know the more I let go of my own fears and work on coming to peace with myself, the more free I feel. We don't realize the weight of the burdens we carry (and impose upon ourselves) until we put them down and walk a few steps without them.

I know for myself that, as introspective and searching as I am, I'm also a big avoider. I'll find any distraction to keep me from looking too deeply within sometimes. Things like writing this blog help me get in my quota, but I do avoid. Lucas talked a lot about that. "I can't stuff it away anymore. Not with food, a relationship, work, social interaction, computers..." When we're alone with our thoughts and no distractions, our truth bubbles to the surface. It's terrifying, freeing, painful and triumphant.

The insights gleaned while watching this show, from cool survival tips and wisdom about working with nature to personal revelations that hold a mirror to our own motivations and fears, are priceless and provide countless cues for introspection. Rumor has it there are books that do all of that just as well as reality TV does. ;) And both can also be used as an escape from searching within, too.

As someone who frequently felt lonely and alone growing up, I've often thought the challenge of the self would be one I would ace. But I think we overestimate the value of our loved ones. I need my dogs. I need my friends and family. I need to interact with others. Granted, I need it less than most people, but I still need it. And that was a big part of what swirled in the minds of these men. "Why am I here when everything that matters is at home?" We can have food, shelter, water, fire and all the coping skills known to man, but humans have a kryptonite that we often take for granted. We need each other.

Alone Season 2 is currently airing on the History Channel and this year the contestants included three women, one of which is still competing. You can watch it online

Sunday, May 8, 2016

5/9/16—Seeking Passion

In my mid-20s, I was searching for something meaningful. A solitary pursuit. Something I could  turn to when all the rest of my life was going to crap. Something that would give my life purpose. 

Turns out I found what I was looking for in a gift shop. 

It was a key chain, a narrow pewter rectangle with the word "passion" stamped into it in italic letters. And it hit me—I needed more passion in my life! So I bought the key chain, thinking that if I saw the word every day, it would remind me to have things to be passionate about in my life.

I've always been a person of shifting passions. At one point, it bothered me that I would be  passionate about acting, for example. Then I would just drop it like a hot potato, with nary a wistful thought. Sewing was one of those things. Singing. Stained glass. Jewelry making. One by one, these hobbies and passions would march through my life in a never-ending conga line. I was concerned about my ability to just "fall out of love" so quickly. But then I realized that, while one part of me loves predictability and routine, another part of me needs to keep things fresh, even within routine. So I finally gave myself permission to pursue whatever the heck I felt like for as long as it humored me, without guilt.

But my mid-20s were marked by many things that demanded my attention. My father's murder and all the drama associated with that was big. But there were also job changes, living alone for the first time, navigating the life of a young professional, trying to build a career, keeping to a budget, socializing with friends—lots of challenges and distractions. So I wasn't doing much of anything to feed my passions. That's why the key chain was so important. In fact, passion quickly became my favorite word. In some ways, it might have even saved my life.

It seems a lot of people think we have only one passion to find and pursue in our lifetimes. They think that about soul mates, too. The truth is you have a lot of each. And one may be your one and only for a protracted amount of time or you may just opt for a variety pack. Over the years I've had countless passions, but only two have lasted my entire life thus far—writing and dogs. 

The exceptional Passion the Dog.
When I was finally in a position to own a dog of my own, I named her Passion. People thought it was a weird name, but she liked it and grew into it. Whether it was guarding her mommy or napping, whatever she did, she committed to it 100%. She, too, was a constant reminder for me.

What it all comes down to is that the key chain came along at a time when the challenges of life made me forget what makes me feel alive. I'm pretty much a homebody and I like it that way. And as a homebody that also works at home...haha...you'll go crazy without something exciting to look forward to. 

While I'm a writer for a living and while writing is one of my passions, as a professional I have to work on a sort of "catch and release" basis. I give birth to my writing and then I have to let it go, knowing others will put their paws all over it and who knows what will become of it. You can't have your career be your only passion, because something will inevitably compromise it. I can't just write what I want for work. I have to match a certain tone and set of criteria. No matter what you do, if it's monetized, there is a client you're working to please. So I need something else—a creative outlet that is just for me, one nobody else has input into.

Over the years, the stamping on the letters on the key chain faded as it wore slowly with age. But each time I would see it, it would make me think about what I was doing to keep passion going. I can't remember when I saw it last. Life got away from me again and my focus shifted to my health and just getting through the days for a few years. 

Somewhere along the line, I lost both my key chain fob and my passion. Because I carry around something more akin to a 40-lb key community than a key chain, it could have been missing a couple of months or a couple of years. :D Losing the key chain after 25+ years, however, did the same thing as finding it did half a lifetime ago—it reminded me that I had stopped paying attention to that part of my life and I needed something for myself again...something nobody else gets an opinion on or a say in. 

If it hasn't happened already, somebody somewhere is going to find my passion key fob. It's pewter, so it's not decomposing anytime soon, though one day the letters will be impossible to read. But for now, it's out there somewhere, looking to shine its magic on someone else. Only the truly passionless could find something like that and not have the word turn over and over in their mind. I just hope it serves them as well as it has served me.

 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

5/2/16—Failing Brilliantly

I was recently talking to one of my many gifted friends and she has been hesitating on really dialing up the heat beneath a career transition she's been kinda making for years. She's done the hard part. She quit her job years ago. But the pursuit of her new career and her passion has been slow. 

Sounds a lot like me, actually. :D

So she says to me, "what if I screw up? What if I fail?" My reply was that screw ups and even failures are guaranteed. In fact, you WANT failure to happen to because failure is what gives shape to your successes. 

I've had the privilege to do something I love for 30 years. All but 10 of those years, I've been self employed. I think there's a fallacy out there that if you do what you love, the course will be smooth. You'll intuitively know what to do. You won't meet up against resistance. All the pieces will fall into place. You just have to get over your initial fears and leap. 

I don't know who feeds people that BS, but that's exactly what it is. 

Building a business is building a business and building a practice is building a practice, whether you love what you do, are just doing it because you believe it will be lucrative or are doing it because it's the only thing you feel you good enough at to do. Failure, embarrassments, screw ups and clients that run amok are how you feel your way to what is right for you and your business. Bad decisions and nightmare projects help you define your target clientele. Doing a bunch of stuff that just. doesn't. work. is how you stumble upon the things that do. 

You could read all the books in the world about how to build, grow and run a business properly and you'll still make mistakes. You could be a successful entrepreneur and still eff up. In fact, experienced entrepreneurs don't even use the word failure. Instead, they call it experience. Or lessons. And if you want to do anything bad enough, you're going to have rack up some experience and education. 

What I know from my own experience is that I have undersold myself and oversold myself. I have failed to say the right thing and failed to say anything at all. I have ignored my inner voice and silenced my best judgment. I have disappointed others and disappointed myself. I have stood up for work that ultimately failed and failed to see the merit of work that ultimately succeeded. And because of that, I learned how to sell myself better (though this continues to be a weak spot for me,) share more professionally, follow my inner voice, have fewer disappointments and choose my battles more wisely. All of that came from failure. 

And you know what? After 20 years I STILL make mistakes, still make "the same mistakes" and still can't claim to do it right. But I'm mostly successful. There are some things I did right the first time...some lessons I never had to learn. And, even after all these years, there are some things I'm still learning. 

So that's what I mean about failure playing an integral role in shaping your successes and steering you toward the work that is right for you—and this is true whether we're talking about your career, your spiritual journey, relationships or anything else. Successful people don't get that way through success-only journeys. Their success comes more from how they see failure—as experience or education—and how they respond to it—by taking the information in without losing momentum. 


In a way, you're going to WANT to screw up and fail because, with each little kick in the groin, you get closer and closer to that vision you have in your head of being that highly qualified professional who effortlessly handles any contingency. Plus, you may need to fail in order to hear the calling of something slightly different that is even MORE perfect for you. Personally, I'd rather be wrong and find my bliss than white knuckle my way to something I'm convinced will make me happy, only to find out it doesn't. 

And here's another bit of good news about failure. It comes in many flavors and degrees. But there's only one way to completely and bitterly fail at the pursuit of anything you want badly—never do anything about it in the first place. Everything else qualifies as education or dues. So if you've already started in, whether you've just begun researching your new endeavor or have fully hung your shingle, there's really no way you can fail. All you can do is learn.  


Today's post was revised and updated from one I wrote two years ago.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

4/25/16—Keeping Something for Yourself

Let's talk about secrets. 

My siblings had a discussion recently that brought up a family secret I've been wondering about all my life. It involves my family and another family and why our two families spent time together growing up. At the center of the secret is my mother and something that happened before my parents ever met. 

We know the part of the secret that happened before my parents met. While "scandalous" at the time, it's nothing you'd even blink at today. But the part we don't know is why that occurrence turned into an enduring relationship between us and this other family. And the "why" of all of it, I suspect, would reveal aspects of both my parents' personalities that would surprise me. We'll probably never know the answer, because everyone involved likely brought the secret to their graves and they've all been dead for decades. 

I knew my mother for 21 years and my father for 25. While most people end up knowing their parents longer, I think the amount of time I knew mine allowed me to pretty much know who they were—their morals, their positions on certain issues and whatnot. And the only logical explanations I could come up with as to the dynamics of this situation just don't make sense in the context of what I know. And, oddly, this has been a question mark in my head going back to my early childhood when I didn't even have the vocabulary or life knowledge to fully form it in my head. I've just always a niggling that something about this situation just doesn't make sense. 

Because I lost my mother so young, there were so many things I never got to ask her. During the last four years of her life, I was in college many states away, so that didn't help the situation. One of my sisters takes these kinds of queries and writes up autobiographical information so her kids won't be left wondering after she dies. I think that's kind of a cool practice, because no matter how old you are when your mother dies, as you age you think of questions to ask that didn't occur to you when you were younger.

But back to secrets. It doesn't surprise me that my mother had secrets. For the 1950s, my parents married late in life and my mother had been married before. She married her first husband to get herself out of WWII England, where her life was pretty hard. So she lived a lot of life and was a single lady for a long time before she married my dad. Then, once she married him, her life took a dramatic turn. She plopped out six kids in eight years. And if we, say, ate all the ice cream in the house, she would complain "why can't I have something for myself, just once?" Well, she clearly had secrets to herself...haha. We know very little about her first 28 years or so of life, and what we do is really interesting. I can only imagine all the gems she kept to herself.

As far as big things go in my own life, for every secret I have, there's another person out there who knows the secret. But nobody knows all of them. And though I've never had a husband or child to "share all my secrets with", I'm not sure I ever would regardless. Like my mom, I like having some things just for myself. And I believe, especially in a day and age where our every meal and mood is put on display for others to see, some things are meant to be kept just for ourselves. 

So can we ever really know a person? And does anyone ever leave this earth without taking a few secrets with them? As I said about my parent's secret in particular, it likely reveals a side of them that I had never seen in all the time I knew them—and my parents were very consistent, predictable, measured sorts of people. So you just never really know. 

Also, we tend to think of our parents as just that. We sometimes forget they are men and women who once had dreams that never manifested, hijinks that showed poor judgment, gaffes they'd rather not relate, crushes that they longed for and relationships that preceded their marriage. I never got the chance to know my mother woman-to-woman. That will probably remain the most epic disappointment of my life. If I had any advice for those whose mothers are still alive and able, it would be to spend time digging deeper into their personal lore. We know them as mothers, but that's just one aspect of who they are. And once they're gone, you'll wish you knew them as humans, women, professionals, dreamers and otherwise.

I'm glad I know as much as I do I know about my mother. She was really a fascinating woman with a compelling inner life I only saw rich, intensely colored glimpses of. Many people, for one reason or another, know far less about their own mothers. So while it drives me batty that I'll never know the story behind this one bit of family lore, I'm grateful for what I have. And I'm glad my mom can look down upon the children that ate all the ice cream during the last half of her life (not to mention my dad who rarely ever took a minute to himself) and know she managed to keep something for herself.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

4/18/16—Managing Fears

I talk to myself.*
 
That probably doesn't surprise anyone who knows me. I do it the most when I'm having fears. I'm not fearful all the time, and, in fact, I'm pretty good about not allowing fears in. But for the past week or so I've been having a lot of fears.

Most of my fears are about fear of failure. Fear of screwing up really badly. Fears around money. Fear of risk and the unknown. Fear of illness. Fear of death, dying alone and dying horribly in a gutter somewhere...haha. I even have fears of success. None of these things are unusual. 
 
I don't know how other people handle them, but I know what I do. I have created a practice around them. And the practice is that, when the fears come up, I have something prepared inside my head to make myself feel better and make the fears go away. I call it relanguaging, but it's really just talking myself out of the fear. 

The first part is the hardest, and that's becoming consciously aware that fear has taken hold and that your head is filling up with fearful thoughts. Sometimes people walk around filled with fears and they're not consciously aware of them. Some people don't like to cop to the word "fear", so they call them worries, concerns or issues. But by being conscious of those things, whatever you call them, you can usually nip them in the bud before they take over. 
 
So the first step is to stop and recognize when you're feeling this fear. Then determine what you're afraid about. Then tell yourself one of your prepared things like a mantra until you replace the fear with confidence. Here are some of the things I might say to myself when I'm afraid:

--"The universe (or God) didn't lead you here to fail."
--"You've never come across anything in your life you couldn't handle, why would this be different?"
--"You've gained benefit from everything that's ever happened in your life. There's no reason why that shouldn't continue."
--"You are blessed and guided by love."
--"Everything is here to help you grow."
--"There's something good on the other side of this."
--"This is only temporary."

For difficult things, like fears of utter financial destruction, I work out contingencies—Plan As, Plan Bs and other solutions. This calms the fears because the worst case scenarios are never as bad as I fear. 

Coming up with worst case scenarios is also a valuable tool. I learned this back when I started freelancing. My worst case scenario then, for example, was "I get a job." Now, as horrific as that option might be, it is a reasonable worst-case scenario. The dramatic scenario would be "end up homeless and whoring my body for spare change." And if that's how you want to play it, I suppose you could. But for most of us, there are other more realistic options. Like getting another job, even if it doesn't pay as much. Or moving to a place where jobs are more plentiful. Or moving in with a relative. Or getting a roommate. Once you start considering all the options, you see how unlikely the fear of homeless whoring really is. 

You also see you have far more options than you think you have. When you don't think out all your options, then of course fear is going to have power over you. You haven't discovered who is really in charge of the fear and you haven't set up a defense against it. In my freelancing example, seeing as how I had just had a job, getting another wasn't as awful as it seemed. Which made me feel better. And which gave me my power and confidence back. The "big risk" of quitting my job (and I won't pretend it's not a big risk) shrunk in my imagination when I realized that failure would just land me right back where I started. When you make the decision to go out on your own, that's a horrible outcome, but not insurmountable. 

Nothing that I can think that's worth having comes without a risk. And with risks, come fear. But you don't have to let that fear control you. Recently, I saw fears coming in throughout the week, culminating in a fear-filled day. I knew I'd feel better in the morning if I could just sleep it off. And I did. But in the meantime I spoke with my sister, who helped me realize that I was already living my worst fear in this particular situation. Sure, there were more dramatic scenarios we could have come up with, but realistically speaking, the reality of staying stagnant and not challenging myself forward was the worst case scenario. 

So if you're feeling fearful about something right now, ask yourself what you believe about why the universe led you here and what the universe's intentions were for doing that. Think about times you've had fear like this before and how that all turned out. And consider your most realistic worst case scenario. Then maybe sleep on it. Chances are the greatest issue you have is fear itself.


*Today's post is a classic post that I have revised and updated for today. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

4/11/16—Letting the Light In

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the times I made some of the greatest leaps in my personal and spiritual growth…about the stories that brought about change in me.

 
While some came at the hands of age/time/maturity, most of the big leaps came in the midst or aftermath of struggle or adversity. I’ve been thinking about why this is.

For me, there are a number of reasons. Sometimes we see a repeating pattern in our lives and, at some point, the consequences of continuing on get kind of bad and we know the universe will just keep upping the ante until we learn our lesson. And sometimes crisis shocks us into recognizing that some behavior—or some aspect of our personality that we hadn’t recognized before—isn’t working for us and we need a change.

Some of the more game-changing shifts, however have come in the midst of some of my biggest crises and I surprised even myself with the leaps I’d made. They came in times of great loss or personal challenge. And I think I've pinpointed why this is, at least for me.  

Some moments in life are so jarring, we’re shocked out of our routines. We’re in crisis. Life is seen through a different perspective. We’re broken. We don’t have the strength or wherewithal to focus on maintaining our defenses. We’re cracked open. And those cracks let in both light and darkness.

In those times, we look toward either the light or the dark. But if we don’t look toward the light, the cracks will grow larger and larger or they’ll crack and re-crack until we can’t ignore the light. Sometimes that takes decades. Most of the time, the shifts happen quickly, though.  

When my father was murdered, for example, I didn’t have the energy to both hate and deal with the surreal circumstances of his death. So I made a leap in my ability to forgive. Another lesson I learned then wasn’t quite as high-minded. It was the lesson of how alone we are as individuals. Surrounded by the insanity of the situation, the differing emotional journeys of others, the dearth of precedent (in that I have never, outside of my siblings, met anyone else whose stepmother was a black widow) and the fact that the systems we rely upon for justice aren’t always just or fair, you definitely go home at night and realize that, while you might have support, sympathy and people who love you, you are nonetheless alone.

Some slip into the darkness in situations like that. After all, the darkness is all around you and you’re mourning and dealing with whatever you’re dealing with. Emotions like anger, revenge and hate bubble up and keep acceptance and letting go at bay. For some reason, I was blessed with a spiritual awakening and some big insights that changed the course of my life for the better at that time. 

All I can sense about why that is is that, with all my defenses stripped and weakened, I couldn’t take on any more darkness. And also,  the more that's asked of me, the more I generally deliver. This was a large order and with the stuff in front of me I HAD to deal with, I didn't have much energy left to feed darkness and let it grow. So the same circumstances that may have shocked others into anger and hate, shocked me into a kind of understanding and forgiveness. It's like a switch turned on inside me that brought me clarity. A divine insight that couldn't have breached my defenses and gotten through so quickly under any other circumstances.

I noticed the same thing when I was sick. At times when I would normally protect and defend myself, I found myself making different choices, grounded in forgiveness and acceptance. Many (but not all) things seemed to just flow off my back. In some ways, I had enough fear to manage not knowing what was wrong with me or if I was going to be able to function tomorrow, that I didn’t indulge other fears so much. And interestingly, as I’ve gotten stronger and healthier, I’ve backpedaled a little on some that growth...haha. Things piss me off a little more now. But still when I look back, the net result is significant growth.

I can't say bad things happen to us so that we grow. I struggle with what things may or may not be fated to happen…or come “at the hands of god” or are karma or any of the other mystical reasons we assign. But I am certain bad things present an opportunity for us to experience big growth...if we choose to look for the light that comes in through the cracks created by whatever was broken. 

I think letting go is key. Letting go of wanting to control a situation out of your control. Letting go of needing to blame someone. Letting of wanting to fight back. Letting go of wanting to displace your anger. Letting go of fear. Letting go of denial

Like I said, I find this more possible the more severe the “crisis” is. So I’ll be less generous of heart to, say, a stranger who stole my parking space as I’ll be to a stranger who stole my wallet. Go figure. And, again, some of the letting go just comes with age, for much the same reason—we no longer have the energy to put toward the kind of emotions that drain us.

So there's something here to consider if you're in the midst of a situation like this. There is no shame in letting go or forgiving. It’s not a betrayal to the deceased, it’s not a matter of principle, it doesn't give anyone the permission to hurt you again and holding on is not what god or any caring human would want for you. Not when it’s painful or toxic. 

What's important is to take care of yourself. And sometimes we need to indulge ourselves in the darkness, at least for a little while. But remember we can choose differently at any time and turn our darkest moments into something triumphant and beautiful—a last gift left behind by someone who passed or the light at the end of the tunnel in a bad divorce or a valuable lesson that prevents you from being taken advantage of in the future, whatever the situation may be in your life. 

There is no shame in finding light within the darkness. And some of the moments in which you feel most vulnerable, actually hold the greatest power for change.