Thursday, April 24, 2014

4/25/14—Adjusting to Growth

There are a lot things nobody tells you when you're on the spiritual path. You just have to learn them for yourself. 

In fact, one of my many book ideas, and the one closest to be submitted to a publisher, is called "10 Things The Spiritual Gurus Never Tell You". One of those things is that, for those who are really pushing themselves to grow, it can be a lonely and painful process. 

If you're like me, when you first started exploring your spiritual beliefs or personal growth, you were like a doe-eyed kid, thinking you'd be walking a rainbow path filled with unicorns to a place where happiness is more abundant than sunlight. I've been actively pursuing and observing the spiritual and personal paths of growth most of my life now and I can confidently say nobody's happy all the time. I think you become more in balance. You learn to surround yourself with things that fuel you and lift you higher. But no matter how much you stack the deck in your favor, life happens. Things suck. Balance is lost. 

Balance is lost, in fact, every time you grow. And you're always growing. You move from one level to the next and you have to find a new balance in the new place. 

For the most part, growth is slow and steady. It's manageable. But there are times you might find yourself taking a quantum leap. Let's take gossip as an example. Say the friends you're with right now get together every Friday for coffee and to chat about people you know in common. And let's say this is no longer OK with you. Maybe you tell people you don't like the gossiping, but they say they're just having fun. So you no longer enjoy the coffee dates. And one day you don't go. And you decide not to go again. And since the reason everyone gets together on Fridays is because everyone is so busy, it's not easy to get together with people individually. So you don't see these people that much anymore. And you miss the camaraderie. And you know they now talk about YOU sometimes. 

On the one hand, you're feeling the benefits of not having all that gossip energy in your life anymore. You're feeling lighter...more "at one" with the universe. You're feeling better about who you are. But you're not part of "the gang" anymore. And meeting a new gang is going slowly. And you feel lonely, even depressed, when you think too much about who they're probably talking about now.

One of the things nobody ever tells you is that, if you're really consciously trying to improve yourself, you'll lose a lot of friends. And meet new ones, yes. But in between, it's lonely. And when you draw a line in the sand in your life that says "no more gossiping" or whatever, it's hard. Because the part of you that liked that still wants it. You want that part to fade away, and it will. But in between, it's hard. And the whole tamale can be painful as you move from one place to another and try to find your footing. 

You know you've done the right thing and LIKE you've done the right thing, but it doesn't always feel good. You miss the comfort and familiarity of the old way and you went and leaped into a new way that isn't quite comfortable yet. Isn't quite familiar. You're like a man without a country for a while until you make this new thing your home. And it will be your home. And you will never look back in regret. But where are the rainbows? Where are the unicorns? 

I think if we knew how hard and lonely it can be, we might never push ourselves to grow. Maybe that's why this is something we have to learn for ourselves. Certainly it would be easier in many ways to just quietly conform to the conditions around us...not ruffle any feathers. I mean, some people just never seem to change much and they're good with that. But we're not really that type, are we?

I'm not sure there's a moral to today's entry. Just something they never tell you that you have to learn for yourself. If you're feeling left out and a little lost because you've outgrown friends or situations, it's normal. The same kind of situation happens when maybe you quit drinking. Or you get divorced. With everything gained along the spiritual and/or personal path of growth, something is lost...a piece of who you were is left behind. Trying to stay that person, though, is more painful than the temporary pain of change for people who have committed their lives to a path of growth. So it can hurt. And be sad. But the place you've just moved into is a place of greater freedom and firmer balance than the place before. It's just an adjustment before the benefits roll and everything else becomes a distant memory.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

4/23/14—Understanding Forgiveness

My last blog inspired a whole different conversation about forgiveness on my Facebook wall. While many feel the pain that holding on perpetuates in their lives, they also feel forgiveness is somehow a defeat or permission or an affirmation of bad behavior. Forgiveness is none of those things. It's actually your only route back to peace...a victory nobody can deny you. Here's a classic post from the archives that might help.

Forgiveness is a tough topic, primarily because people have so many different definitions of it. You look in the dictionary and see words like "pardon" and "absolve" and say "hells to the no! I ain't doing THAT!" And I agree. That's tantamount to saying "I wipe your indiscretion clean" in my book. That's not going to happen. 

Oprah's favorite definition of forgiveness is "giving up the hope that the past could ever be different." That makes a lot of sense. Because that's what we push up against...we want things a) to be made right or b) to have never happened in the first place. Neither of those things will ever happen. So when we let go of the desire for the past to be different, the bad feelings we hold go with it. I get that and it all sounds really reasonable and nice, but it's a little soft for what I'm really feeling in the moment of anger.

So I came up with a different definition befitting the drama I feel at the time, and that is: "I will no longer stew in toxins over what you did". I personally believe I was born uniquely qualified to stew in toxins, so forgiveness means setting aside my playtime with my "special gift". Some of the time forgiveness also means that I "get" it...I get why you did whatever you did and while I don't agree with it, I do get it. In short, I come to peace with what happened. But understanding and being at peace with what happened are NOT requirements of forgiveness. They just make it easier.

Whether I'm at peace with it it or not doesn't mean I'll ever talk to you again, though. It just means that I'll stop ramming pins into the poppet I made in your likeness and I'll move my anger down to a simmer. And then I'll let it cool and evaporate. Some people, like family, will remain in my life and our relationship will carry on (albeit changed). Others, depending upon the crime and the amount of personal responsibility acknowledged, may not. 

For me, forgiveness also does not include forgetting. I will never forgetCome crawling back five or ten years later thinking I forgot, and you will find that I have not. I will likely be kind to you because I am a kind person. But I will not forget. I will not invite you in for tea. We will not laugh about "old times". I will not inquire about your pet rabbit. And I will not encourage our conversation to linger. Remembering is my prize in the Cracker Jack box of forgiveness. You can make me eat the sugary, stale brown popcorn of letting go, but the prize is mine to keep, dammit!

Ultimately, forgiveness isn't something you do for anyone other than yourself. In fact, they don't need to know you've forgiven them. It's not a gift for you to bestow on them. It's a gift you bestow upon yourself. You do it to release the toxic effects of anger, pain and hurt from your body, mind and soul. In some cases, you do it because you refuse to allow the other person to take anymore of your peace of mind than they have already taken. You may not like hearing this, but refusing to forgive is choosing to remain a victim.

Carrying stuff like pain, betrayal and violation changes the chemicals in your body. It keeps you chained to the past. It keeps you from creating better situations in your life.It can give you cancer. And it closes off your heart to others. Forgiveness reopens your heart to others—maybe not to the offender, but to yourself and others you care about. The energy of bitterness toward one person pervades every other relationship you have as long as you hold on to it. Don't fool yourself that it doesn't.

Every one of us will be in two positions in our lives—we will be the forgiver, as I've already discussed. And we will be the one who needs to be forgiven. The crime we committed may be one perpetrated against someone else or against ourselves. In each case, we will not find forgiveness anywhere outside of ourselves. 

"What?" you say? Yeah, you heard me. No one can forgive you but yourself. You don't need anyone else's forgiveness to be forgiven. Their forgiveness is for them, remember? So all that time you spend thinking, "I really wish Tommy would forgive me" is really just you saying "I wish I could get to a place where I forgive myself for what I did to Tommy". Tommy's forgiveness means nothing if you can't forgive yourself. And if you forgive yourself, you don't really need Tommy's forgiveness to move forward. Do the math and you'll see Tommy's forgiveness is irrelevant. Sure, it would be nice to know he "gets it", but you don't need it. 

On a final note, I have never, to my recollection, ever purposely done anything to anyone to get revenge. If that's your thing, you're just creating bad karma for yourself. The universe makes all scores even and, from my observation, is much better at it than I am. It's actually possible that whatever was done to you was something you had coming from some "crime" you committed years ago against someone else. So get off your high horse and stop thinking you get to be god because someone "done you wrong". It's not your job to judge, convict and sentence others. Do that and you'll just continue the cycle of nastiness in your life. Because all scores are made even, including the ones you commit against the natural order. 

Listen, in the end, we all screw up. And sometimes the offending act is actually a gift waking us up to a relationship that's gone past its sell-by date. Sometimes its waking us up to something that needs to change in a treasured dynamic. Sometimes it's telling us something we didn't previously know or acknowledge about someone we care about, thereby giving us the opportunity to know them deeper, whether we continue with the relationship or not. And sometimes it's telling us something we didn't know about ourselves and our choices in life. 

The gifts of these situations can be lost in the anger. So always remember to ask yourself, "what did this betrayal (or whatever) come here to show me?" While forgiveness truly is a gift you give yourself, many times that gift is just the cherry on top of a much bigger one. Don't let your anger blind you to that.

Adapted from a post originally made on 7/3/12.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

4/21/14—Remembering Perspective

April is a month that holds a lot of painful memories for my family, and even more so for me.

26 years ago on the 9th, my father was murdered (by a black widow) and me and my siblings became parentless. Five years ago on the 21st, I was told to say goodbye to my beloved companion, Passion the dog, because she may not make it through the night. And two years ago on the same date I said goodbye to my brother.

This year, when I turned 51, I became someone who had lived more of my life without parents than with them. Most who read this will never know what that's like. My mother died while I was still in college, so I never knew her as an adult. I've never heard a parent tell me they're proud of the person I've become and I've never gotten to tell them face to face that it's all because of what they gave me.

Another thing most of you will never know is what it's like to live 26 years knowing your father's murderer is free, alive and living off his pension in Florida. You may never experience the complete failure of the American justice system firsthand. You'll never have to let go of something so maddening in order to save your own sanity. You'll never have to see what something like that does to the people you love. And you'll probably never have someone who, despite your spiritual beliefs, you wait and hope patiently for decades to die, because it will be the only form of justice you'll ever see. 

On the upside of all of this, I have a few friends whose parents have Altzheimers or who have to struggle with the decision to put their parents in a home. And I'm truly grateful I'll never have to deal with that. I think you're more resilient when you're younger. Losing my brother a couple of years ago was very hard, primarily because of the history we had together. And while you expect your parents to die, having a sibling die is somehow a thought that never occurs to you until it happens. But I think the longer you have someone in your life, the harder it can be in many ways. Also, the older you get, the more sentimental you become.

I'm thinking of all of this because these anniversaries tick by and we don't often speak of them. We just take them in silently. And Monday (today or tomorrow, depending on when you're reading) marks the anniversary of the final hours of my "first born" dog and the final minutes of my fourth born sibling. Aside from remembering them and continuing to talk to them in their current form, I think one of the best ways to honor our departed loved ones is through perspective. That's one of the gifts we all receive when someone we love dies.

Is what you're going through right now as bad as losing your brother? Is it as bad as what he went through, knowing he was leaving his wife alone with with four children to raise? Is it as painful as going through a year of civil and criminal trials while grieving your father's death? Is it worth losing your dignity and integrity over when you've been able to hold on to both for 26 years while waiting for justice to happen? Is it as big a loss as losing the only person who would ever love you unconditionally? Is it as crushing and defeating as knowing there's nothing more you can do to save the life of a being you raised from a puppy and who taught you some of life's most valuable lessons?

We go through life, myself included, and get all worked up about the stupidest shit. We let small things hold us back and defeat us when we've slain much bigger monsters in our lives. We've lost bigger things, had bigger worries, faced bigger fears, overcome greater challenges, forgiven greater slights. And yet, there are times we forget how strong and resilient we are. We forget how blessed we've been and how blessed we still are. 

And the same is true about life's victories. We forget how many times our prayers were answered, how often our dreams were realized and our thoughts became tangible. So many times what looked like inevitable defeat turned into a great blessing. So frequently the things that brought us great pain also brought us valuable gifts. 

Is something that's weighing heavily on your mind really as big as it seems? Or is it just distracting you from addressing something even bigger? 

Is the annoyance that's currently in your life worth all the energy you're putting into it? Or is minuscule in comparison what you've weathered in the past?

Are you really on the verge of utter defeat? Or have you forgotten just how strong you truly are?

Does everything around you seem hopelessly bleak? Or does it look just like the same darkness before the dawn you've experienced before?

Some who are reading this are truly facing epic moments in their lives...the kind that put all other moments in perspective. Some may have never faced anything truly difficult and, therefore have little perspective. But the rest of us—most of us, I would imagine—are occupying our minds with things that, in the context of what we've already experienced, are trivial at best or a speed bump at worst. 

Perspective is one of the greatest gifts that comes from the tragedies and difficulties in our lives. It reminds us how big we are. How blessed we are. How strong. Resilient. Forgiving. And compassionate we can be. In that way, the moments that bring us perspective also bring us closer to God, even though they're also the very moments that might cause us to question him. 

So as you go through your week this week, consider putting your issues—from commuter traffic to interpersonal issues to the truly tragic—into their proper perspective. If you're a Christian, Easter marks the perfect time to do this. The rest of us can just consider the rebirth that spring brings. In the experience of the soul, nothing can be taken from us. Nothing lasts forever. We cannot be defeated. Whatever threatens us today is already doomed to fail. Everything brings us closer to god. We are all divine beings. Nothing can change that. We can only forget. And it's never too late to remember.