Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cleaning Up Our Acts

Over the weekend I went to an Achieve Today Sundance Retreat in Provo, Utah.  It is easily one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.  In addition to hearing excellent inspiring presentations by some of the programs best life coaches, I got to meet one of my idols, Joe Vitale in person.  Not just in a fangirl,  "I love you Joe.  Could you please sign a copy of your book for me?" sort of way, but he spent enough time with us, shoulder to shoulder, I got to glimpse a little bit of his humanity.  In other words, I got to see a little bit of the "Joe" in me and a little bit of the "me" in Joe.  I got to realize and appreciate all of the reasons why he is my idol in the first place.  All of this happened while I was surrounded by other Achieve Today students.  Awhile back, after hearing about a World-of-Warcraft-loving-friend's Blizzcon experience, I told them I wished I could find whatever it was I needed to find in order to feel like I had found "my people."   This weekend I did that.  I met people I know I will be friends with for life.  I just can't say enough good things about the experience.  It is easily one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.


Sometimes, maybe after a retreat or a workshop, we wake up, look around, and realize it has been as if we have been living our lives in a drunken stupor.  We're thirty pounds larger.  Our debt is 20% deeper.  We look at our lives and we don't like what we see going on, but we have no idea how we got to this place or what to do about it.  I have had that moment so many times in my life.  I used to view it as a moment of shame, like I was suddenly witnessing what everyone else could see.  Angela Estes sitting in a pile of my own discarded trash, spittle on my chin, cake crumbs in my lap with only cats left for friends.  (Isn't it funny how we can overdramatize everything?)

Now I see it for what I believe it is.  Opportunity knocking.  As Joe Vitale or any one of the life coaches at Achieve Today would say, "in order to know what you want, you have to know what you don't want."  Those moments display what you don't want as if on a platter before you.  In other words, I don't want to be sitting in a pile of trash; I want to wipe off the spittle, vacuum up the crumbs and, while my cat Peabody and I have a relationship that is somehow more than owner and pet, I need human friends in my life.  Those moments are the crossroads where we need to be our own advocates.  We need to be a little bit selfish, focus on our needs and our wants and sometimes, make some life altering changes.  

It's a tricky situation because I believe it is selfishness that put us on that pile of rubble in the first place.  It is looking at life and thinking ours isn't good enough and will never be good enough.  It is receiving dessert and wondering why we always get the smallest slice.  It is sitting at a large table of people and becoming offended when the waiter misses us and forgets to ask what we want to drink.  It is becoming estranged from our life partner because we focus on how they have hurt us rather than asking ourselves how we have hurt them.  In short, it is picturing ourselves as "the victim."  

I didn't know it at the time, but my father once told me a story that perfectly embodies what I am trying to say.  My father was a Nuclear Scheduler at Mare Island Naval Shipyard.  Like anybody, he had preferences as to his work hours.  He had a bit of a longish commute and used a Mare Island "commute specific" bus to make life easier.  During one extended time period, when he had to work the swing shift instead of his preferred day shift and he was having to drive the entire commute himself, he was feeling a little put out and essentially while he wouldn't say it, I will.  He became "the victim."  In order to make his situation more bearable, he started stopping at Dairy Queen on the way home and buying a milk shake for the rest of the drive.  Then, of course, he woke one morning and had problems buttoning the top button of his pants and swore off ice cream forever.  Until the next time.  

I think victimhood is the ground floor to the downward elevator called "bad decisions."  We feel bad.  We feel bad and we want to feel better RIGHT NOW.  We demand instant gratification.  We may not tell ourselves we deserve to be happy or have the life of our dreams, but it is easy to say, "I've had a hard time here.  I deserve that designer pair of shoes."  How can we more easily tell a bad decision from a good decision?  A bad decision feeds the moment, whereas a good decision feeds the lifetime.

That's a tricky situation too because I believe the way to escape telling yourself you're a victim is to ground yourself in the moment.  Because really, you may think you are reacting to something in the moment when you're victimizing yourself, but aren't you really just revisiting a long list of grievances?  All of those bad things happened in your past, but when we are wearing a victim's mindset, we see them constantly reoccurring whether they truly are or not.  In other words, we spend our days looking to be offended.  For instance, let's take that poor busy, harried waiter trying to take drink orders for a large table of people.  The victim's mindset can make you actually believe that out of a table of twenty or more people he singled you out to slight as not being worthy enough of choosing a beverage!  (Isn't it funny how important we can make ourselves while telling ourselves we are unimportant?)  No one at that table knows all your baggage and judges you for it.  It is YOU who knows your baggage and judges you for it.  While you judge yourself for it, you believe you are undeserving.  While you believe you are undeserving, your heart aches like a cut with dirt in it, but instead of actually cleaning it out, you buy designer handbags and milkshakes to bandage the wound and you wonder why it is still festering time and time again.

You need to stop.  Take a big breath in.  As Janeen Detrick, an executive coach at Achieve Today, frequently suggests "Touch something around you and tell it thank you."  Perhaps the chair you are sitting on.  Breathe in the air of the moment deeply and slowly.  Feel the way the chair is supporting you.  Is there a cushion?  Is it soft and envelopes you?  Or is it cushion-less, but strong, solid and durable?  Really notice everything that surrounds you.  Rather than always noticing the sudden burst of car alarms or horns honking, what about the birds singing or the breezes whispering in between them.  Why not thank the chair for being there to allow you to sit rather than stand?  Why not bathe yourself in the gratitude of all the beautiful sounds, smells and sights that surround you.  As Eckhart Tolle says, "The past has no power over the present moment."  Peace and piece of mind are always waiting for you, grounded in the present moment.

Fully present and in NOW, you have a better chance of making good decisions.  The discord and discomfort of victimhood frequently makes us feel like we have to act hastily.  "I can't bear this and have to bandage this bad old thing RIGHT NOW!."  A calm mind sees choices and decisions as simply a variety of paths and opportunities.  There is no right one that is a cure all.  There is no wrong one that destroys your life.  Every choice is either a blessing and a joy or a lesson learned which can help you better fine tune your future choices.

Let's think again about my father and his swing shift commute.  There's nothing wrong with him stopping at Dairy Queen on the way home and having a milk shake.  I'm a firm believer in occasionally treating yourself to wonderful tasty things like ice cream.  In fact, I had a milk shake just last night myself.  But if you treat yourself like that every day, you can not only gain unwanted weight and damage your health, you can suck the very joy out of a "treat."  How many days of milk shakes does it take to strip them right down to habit and routine?  Meanwhile, there are so many things he could have chosen to do that could have fed his future rather than just his resentment about the drive home.  He could have:

1.  Listened to a book on tape that would have entertained him and made the time seem like nothing.  It would have not only lightened the trip home, but the trip to work as well.
2.  Listened to a book on tape that could have taught him skills to use at his current job or towards getting a different one.
3.  As the only one in the car, he could have chosen to make a stop each day to enjoy the view or take a little time to meditate.
4.  As the only one in the car, he could have chosen a variety of routes and explore different and new sceneries.
5.  Even if he couldn't have ridden on the commuter bus he used normally, he could have pursued creating a network of friends who could trade off driving and riding when they were stuck on the other shifts.

.... and those are just a few off the top of my head.

The first step to truly "cleaning up our acts" is learning to make choices from a calm mind grounded in the present moment free of victimhood and past resentments.  

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