Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Shifting to Harmony

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony."
Mahatma Gandi

My coach Gil McIff would say the cause of suffering is man's lack of awareness of his true nature.  It isn't an obvious point at first, but that is essentially the same thing Gandi was saying here.  In other words, due to our lack of understanding, what we think, say and do can never quite be in harmony.  Abraham-Hicks would say we feel discomfort because we are not in alignment with our source.  We are not in alignment with our true nature.

From childhood to current day, I have been a lot of different Angela(s.)  Angry Angela(s.)  Sad Angela(s.)  Happy Angela(s.)  Each generation of Angela is more loving, more confident and happier.  I am so grateful I am the sort of person who embraces the opportunities to grow and change as well as a person who navigates through the harder changes always emerging better for having ridden out the storm.

More so than at any other time in my life, I know who I am and I know what I need to do.  For years I have compared myself to others.  Even after the years where I let myself emotionally fall short, I compared thinking others would benefit from the things I was learning.  I have transitioned from evangelist to coach to a fully realized individual continually on the path of being.  More and more what I think, what I say and what I do are in harmony.

From a score of philosophical teachings and teachers, I have discovered a few principles to guide me along my path:

1.  As much as possible, follow a path of least resistance.  One of the things that always shook my life up in a bad way was my need to take action, particularly in the forum of needing to speak up, explain or defend myself.  A lot of poorly advised phone and email conversations happened even though it might have been a technical struggle to complete them.  It was like I was given dozens of tiny little chances to change my mind and yet I still pushed through them full steam nearly always to my later regret.

I don't do that anymore.

Back when I was a darkroom photographer, I noticed that some days photographic printing was a struggle.  The harder I tried to fight through; the deeper the pile of wasted photographic paper that ended up in the trash.  I learned that sometimes the answer was to pack it up, go home, and try again tomorrow.  The path of least resistance is found by grounding yourself in the present moment, being open to the opportunities, but not forcing anything.  I have realized that even no action is essentially an action and that I really can't do anything wrong.  What I once would have considered a mistake that impacted my life in a detrimental way, I now consider an opportunity for learning and growth.  I am not the underdog struggling to keep up.  In a very real sense I am the creator of my world and my personal existence and I have adapted the creative lessons of my "real world" writing and photography.  Creations struggled over remain less satisfying because if nothing else, it is hard to determine when to stop.  The best creations are effortless, flowing out of you as easily as your own personal scent.

2.  I have learned, rather than troubleshooting my life and continually looking for potential problems, I am the creator of my existence.  What I look for I will see.

I'm a big fan of the Walt Disney Company and I have been to their parks many times.  In a very real way, Disneyland is a microcosm of the larger world.  Here is a place that exists to entertain, to kindle the fading embers of your childlike joy.  Yet all around you there are people troubleshooting the problems.  Complaining about the crowds or expense.  I have never heard it better addressed than the cast member I witnessed who was trying to direct a large traffic of people through an already congested area, who said:

"Remember why you came here."

I have come to believe I didn't come here to look for holes in the dykes in which to stick my finger.  I didn't come here to tell any emperor(s) they had been hoodwinked into wearing nudity.  I came here to live a human lifetime.  I came here to be alive.  

All that troubleshooting and complaining we think protects us from danger, simply draws that which we don't want to us.  At the same time it delivers a numbing sameness which may feel protective in times of struggle, but which dulls vibrancy and blocks us from joy.  We freeze out our own potential for happiness in our attempts to protect ourselves from pain.  

If what I see is what I look for, I have decided to saturate my environment with textures I find enriching and beautiful.  If what I see is what I look for, I have decided to look for the silver lining in every cloud.

3.  "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer" I have come to understand as a byproduct of the Law of Attraction.  If we believe we are rich in abundance and things come to us easily, we are and they do.  If we believe we are poor and in competition for scarcity and that life is hard, we are and it is.  

I need to show some gratitude to my mother on this point.  No matter her personal struggles, she always told me "things always work out for you."  Even before I understood the mechanics of why it is so, I found comfort in the awareness.  I found comfort in hearing it and in telling it to myself.  We believe the stories we tell ourselves.  We believe them and our belief causes them to be true.  My understanding of this has forever transitioned my self talk from one of "Life sucks and then you die" sarcasms to one of self soothing pep talks.  I can be and have so much more than I ever knew because I have already witnessed it time and time again.  

4.  I have learned that trying to siphon self esteem and confidence from other people's praise and opinions is like trying to use it to fill a gas tank with a hole in it.  No amount can ever fill it and unless or until I find its source within myself, it will remain empty.  

Near the time of my divorce, I saw Albert Brooks' movie "Defending Your Life."  I recognized the main character's fear-driven life struggles as not being dissimilar to my own.  Not liking the picture that painted for my future, I decided to be brave.  The first thing I did was go with some friends to a place called Moaning Cave in Vallecito, California.  Today they have more things you can do there than then, but at the time, you could choose to either descend a staircase or rappel down into the cave.  I went there with the very specific purpose of rappelling. 

After overcoming the fear based sensations of needing to use the toilet and worrying I may throw up, I found myself dangling by a rope in a huge cavern in full view of the optional staircase.  I was completely over my fear and I was sort of wishing the rope ride down moved a little faster when I heard someone on the staircase notice me and say, "I could never do that."  In that moment, I could remember feeling the same.  Simultaneously, I knew how little effort it took to do it and inwardly I revelled at the awareness I had extended that effort and was doing it.  I had transitioned from the Angela who couldn't do it to the Angela who could.  

Self confidence comes from achievements.  It comes from being able to look at something and tell yourself, "I did that."  

My beginning path as a coach was the same as the rest of my life.  I looked for the pitfalls and tried to troubleshoot clients' lives.  I have come to understand, by simply observing and assessing a client's life status and determining that he/she needs to make some changes does us both a disservice.  It is the equivalent of viewing them in a negative way.  In my portion of our co-creation of existence I am seeing them as coming from a position of lack and having made mistakes.  I cannot drag them to my higher position in that way.  Worse, by simply viewing and focusing on the negative, I am far more likely to fall back myself.  Tread once again through waters in which I have already been.  

That's where I find myself today.  

It is time to no longer tell you the stories of where I have been and what I have overcome.  I am and always will be the woman who wants to share her successes with you.  I am and always will be the woman who wants to drag everybody into the lifeboat with her.  The difference is I am no longer willing to see my words as some sort of lifeboat of advice, I am no longer willing to see you as being in any sort of distress or struggle, and I am no longer willing to dive down into the murkiness of my past or my past unhappiness to try and achieve the unachievable.  If I am going to lead, let it be by example.  

It is time to embrace who I am deep inside, a sort of cheerleader of life.  With that in mind, I am crafting a new blog*.  I want it to be exhilarating with stories of rappelling, zip lining, sled dog racing, and perhaps even scuba diving.  I want it to be stories of joy and appreciation.  I want it to be stories that catch the attention of those people walking down the stairs rather than rappelling.  

Maybe, just maybe .... if I share the stories where I take pleasure in being alive .... I can get just one of them to whisper ...


*New blog is already in construction and should begin the first or second week of July 2015.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Reality vs The Perception of Reality

I had the beginnings of a blog on The Good Life.  A modest proposal that there is no "The" Good Life, but rather there are as many paths to a good life as there are people on the planet.  Then I adopted a new kitty, Sherman.  Now my formerly "good life" has a little too much hissing, growling and spitting in it and I am a little bit distracted.  So, while I watch episodes of "My Cat From Hell," please enjoy this reprinted blog post "Reality vs The Perception of Reality" which I first posted February 20, 2011.  Thanks for your patience.  


Believe it or not, reality vs the perception of reality was the argument du jour on my news wall at Facebook. Actually that in itself makes a good illustration of the argument. In reality, Facebook is a social networking site. A more simplified way to describe that reality would be: Facebook is a place where individuals can post thoughts, photographs, game information - nearly anything of a digital nature that they would like; and make them available for other individuals to access. Perception of that reality then becomes more involved with what people do with the site. Given the capabilities of Facebook, (for our discussion) it makes no difference to the "reality" if an individual uses it to play Farmville 12 hours a day or to post hourly reporting on anything from the current events of "my vacation" to the current state of the world. You see, what the people use the medium for IS their perception of why it is available to them and what is its appropriate usage. Although those perceptions involve a certain amount of judgment, it is the next layer that gets judgmental. That is where, having witnessed a segment of posts or time on Facebook, the individual "judges" Facebook as, let's say, "a place where silly, boring people waste precious hours of their life playing equally silly games." Now, keep in mind, this is NOT reality. This is perception. Facebook still sits there - unbiased as to what its life purpose is. It is the perception based glasses or blinders of the human individual that makes a judgment about that reality and then reinvents it. The problem arises when the human is unaware he is filtering reality through his own perceptions.  

On my Facebook news wall, the reality vs perception question invariably traveled to the question of "if a tree falls in the woods, but no one is there to hear it; does it still make a sound?" But when you think about it from a purely, "reality vs perception," point of view; while it may be a fun little game to play with, it doesn't provide us a lot of enlightenment. Unless, of course, we allow ourselves to travel far enough to make judgments about whose fault it is that the tree fell. Otherwise, it is not a question about what the difference is between reality and perceived reality; it is a question about whether or not there actually IS a reality beyond what we perceive. Which is another ballpark altogether. 

Let's look at another one just to see where it gets us. 

There is an elderly man in a nursing home. One day, a water glass leaves the grasp of his hand, falls to the floor and shatters into many pieces. That's the fact. That's the reality. We have a man. We have a nursing home. We have a broken glass on the floor. But, to the individual's witnessing or impacted by the event, the perception based reality can vary greatly. Perhaps the son of the man perceives the event as a sign of his decreasing strength and decline in health. Perhaps the daughter of the man perceives the event as a sign of the nursing home staff's lack of proper care for her father. Perhaps the nursing home attendant perceives the event as a patient's attempt to receive more attention than the rest of the patients. 

Now here's the next problem with perceived reality. We can judge all of those individual's perceptions based on what they witnessed or didn't witness on that day or in the entire life of the elderly man and his personality; but what our "rational" mind fails to grasp is that ALL of the perceived realities are correct. Every one of them is correct whether they appear to be in conflict with each other or not. Now, "correct" is probably not the best word actually, so let's substitute "real." Every one of those perceived realities is real. Every one of those perceived realities is real and represents the reality of the individual perceiving its existence. 

Understand? We are now in "one man's junk is another man's treasure" territory. You see, humans are nearly incapable of simply reporting the facts of reality. Our opinions, our need to understand and feel safe in our own existence, our fears - they all give us the guidelines of what reality looks like and what it means. 

Now the argument on Facebook involved American government. A whole bunch of "isms" were being paraded around as realities. It is impossible for an "ism" to be reality OUTSIDE of perception. Let's break American government down to the "facts." 

There are three branches of federal government: fact. One branch is the Judicial Branch: fact. One branch is the Legislative Branch: fact. One branch is the Executive Branch: fact. Together, these branches make, execute, and interpret the laws that govern America: fact.

But when Americans get together to talk about their government, this is almost never what they are really discussing. Instead, they are arguing about whether or not the laws enacted by the government are right or good; why the individual's working in the branches enacted the particular laws that they did; and what the government should be doing that they are not. All of that involves perceptional reality. 

Now here is the important part. It is the scary part, but it is also the part where empathy can begin. 

Remember all of those perceived realities are real. They are absolutely the real realities of the persons perceiving them. Let's take one that is as far out on a fringe as you can get in order to make the point. Let's say an individual witnesses all of the news of what laws and decisions the federal branches are making and he perceives that the President of the United States is actually an alien from outer space determined to initiate the destruction of the human race. Just because you or I believe that perception to be ridiculous, it is still that person's reality in which he resides every day. Or at least until the next election. We can't assume that any amount of our reassuring him that we have seen the president's belly button - he is a human - will alter his perception. In fact, he might even perceive our attempts to persuade him as evidence we may also be aliens. 

So now that I've brought you to this point - this distinction between reality and perceptional reality - what is MY point? Why bother, especially if we can never cajole, argue, or persuade the individual into changing his perceptional reality. He can only do that on his own. My point is what I take from the knowledge that an individual's perceived reality IS his reality. 

That man, the one who believes the president is an alien bent on the destruction of the human race? He lives in a very frightening world. Where we may see joy and laughter and all of the best possibilities for the human race; in a very real sense, he is living in a Philip K. Dick novel and is feeling only fear and doom. Imagine how that must feel for him. He must face every day with a generalized sense of dread. He is essentially facing a hell on earth. It is so important that we attempt to interact with him only in a compassionate way. It's my belief, at least, that it is only possible for an individual's perception of reality to change when he or she is in a calmer, more relaxed state away from his or her fears. So rather than yelling at people and calling them idiots for what they believe or attempting to argue them into agreeing with you; take a step into the painting that is their perceived reality. Try to understand why they would believe that. Try to understand what it must feel like. 

But here is the most important part. 

Let me make it plain, I am not saying we need to be on the outlook for weapons of mass destruction under the bed or in the garage of everyone who doesn't agree with us politically. 

What I am saying is that just because we believe another individual's perceived reality is "crazy talk;" we should never assume that whatever actions they claim they may make are anything other than factual statements of their capabilities in their current perceived state of reality. It is action based on shared perceived reality that brings about change and revolution, but can also bring about destruction and slayings of the Charles Manson variety. Individual perceived reality can bring about great thinkers, artists, visionaries, inventors, but it can also deliver that mundane job worker who takes the whole office hostage. 

Underestimating someone else's capabilities within their perceived reality can bring about an end to your own.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Let's Play a Game

Pull out your favorite writing utensil, your phone or tablet, a pen and a piece of paper.  Either imagine or remember the last time you tried to uplift a friend who was down.  Maybe he/she was getting a divorce or had a death in the family.  Maybe the person just got fired or wrecked their car.  What did you say?  Maybe you said, "No worries.  Everything always works out for you."  Or a simple "I love you."  Write down all of the sentences you can think of or remember.

This next part is going to involve a bit of honesty.  You don't have to be honest with me, but you do need to be honest with you.

Take your list to the bathroom or whatever room has the largest mirror in it.  Look yourself directly in the eye and tell yourself all of the sentences.

Could you do it?  Did you laugh, feel silly and walk away?  Or did you rush through the sentences, emotionlessly reading them, without ever really meeting your own gaze in the mirror?

I really can't remember when it was I realized I could not meet my own gaze in the mirror.  Oh sure, I could look at my face.  Brush my teeth or hair.  Put moisturizer or mascara on.  Even then, I would survey what I was seeing critically.  It was like I was constantly looking at someone of whom I ever so slightly did not approve.  The only time I would catch a glimpse of my own smile was when I happened to be laughing when I entered the room.

The discomfort I found trying to look myself in the eye was not like trying to avoid seeing a wrecked car on the side of the road or the latest gruesome death on The Game of Thrones.  It was closer to that of a child who knows he/she has misbehaved and is reluctant to see the disappointment in mom's eyes.  I found it a bit disturbing and fascinating.  Think about it.  How many years do you spend in the company of your parents?  Your children?  Your spouse?  The only person who will be with you from the beginning to the end is you.  And you can't look yourself in the eye?

There is a power in observing yourself in a detached way as if you were simply a witness.  There is a scientific term called "The Observer Effect" which refers to the changes that the act of observation will make upon the observed.  I'd like to humbly suggest that being able to observe yourself in a kind and loving manner will cause dozens of tiny, infinitesimal changes in your outlook and life which, like tiny stones tossed at the top of a hill, may be much larger and have much greater momentum somewhere near the bottom.

Do you have a best friend?  A person who just "gets you?"  Who could possibly "get you" more than you?  That's where I started.  I pictured myself as my own sidekick.  My own best friend who had only the best intentions and love in her heart.  What did I say?  I ad-libbed and I recommend you do the same.  That's because life is too fluid for a script.  Even talking to yourself, you can't anticipate just what you may need to say.  Beyond that, I basically told the truth.  I acknowledged feeling silly talking to myself in the mirror.  I apologized to myself for all of the disappointments in my life.  I cried a little.  In the end I told myself all of the comforting things I had ever wanted to hear from someone else.

It will be ok.  Everything will be ok.  Everything always works out for you.   I'm right here.  You are right here in this moment.  There is nothing in this moment that can hurt you.  I am sorry I neglected you.  I won't do that again.  I love you.  I will always love you.

Over time, my conversations with myself became less like a parent soothing a disappointed child and more like an admirer or fan.  

Wow!  What a great day!  You did things today you never realized you could do!  You are unstoppable!  There is just no stopping you now!  You are on FIRE!  

Pretty silly huh?  Just another pointless self-help, waste-of-time game.  

Except a funny thing happened.  Along the way it became easy to look myself in the eye.  I not only began seeing my own smile in the mirror, rather than being the set expression one sets knowing his/her picture is being taken, it is the natural, easy shapes a mouth makes when it can barely resist bursting out into laughter.  

Like I said, it will take a little bit of honesty.  Only you know what your experience is when you look in the mirror.  If it is anything less than, "Look at you.  You ROCK!"  You might want to have a heart to heart with the one person who will truly always ever be there for you.  It might just be the start of a  surprising, but beautiful, friendship.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Modest Proposal About Changing Your Memories

Memory is a squirrelly thing.  The other day I was at a memorial service for a friend I knew way back from high school and I was reminded that my memory for those days is not very good.  Which is always kind of funny because, in those days and for years afterwards, I was frequently told I had a memory like an elephant.  Both are true.  In those days, life felt very precarious and I felt the need to keep track of nearly everything.  I couldn't be found to be wrong in any circumstance.  Nowadays life doesn't feel as scary anymore.  You could challenge me to a battle of who remembers our childhood's more clearly and I would just shrug and say, "you win." I no longer have to wear my memory as a suit of armor.  While I am sometimes amazed by the depth and breadth of the details that have now slipped by me from my childhood, I know that my hyper vigilance at the time is also the culprit now. While I was tabulating details, I wasn't very present or "in the moment."  How can you be when your mind is running a constant check list to see if everything is ok?

Until recently, though, I could remember bad details of my childhood with crystal clarity.  The sad result of filing the successful moments away as something completed and the unwanted moments as problems somehow still waiting to be resolved.  Holding myself as never being any better than that little girl who got into a lot of trouble when she was eleven.  I know I'm not alone too.  The dates and ages are different, but a lot of other people do the same thing.  It doesn't have to be that way.

The other day I was reading about memory and I learned a startling fact.  When you remember an event you are not actually remembering the event itself, you are recalling the last time you remembered the event.  While that might be a nightmare to those who always have to be right, to the rest of us it provides a surprising opportunity.  Since the details about an event are invariably going to shift like a phrase whispered from one kid to another during "The Telephone Game," why not help them along?  Particularly if you have painted yourself a loser or the villain of your childhood.  Why not rewrite your story and treat yourself with a little bit more kindness?

Let's try an example.

Let's say you didn't have a lot of friends growing up and you spent a lot of time by yourself.  Rather than focusing on the loneliness and the isolation, how about focusing on the things you did and what you enjoyed?  Form a sentence in your mind looking at the positive aspects rather than the negative.  For instance:

I really developed my love for art back in high school when I was able to spend hours of uninterrupted time looking at reference books.  

Just like a good affirmation, the sentence has to be something you will find believable.  That means can't just put on a cape in every memory and become a super hero.  You will find more success if you shift your point of view more than the details themselves.  

When I was growing up, my parents were very over protective and controlling.  When I would get into trouble, my mother would have a massive freak out and behave as if I were "The Bad Seed."  I tormented myself with the self image that I had processed out of those memories until both of their deaths.  My mother, who was bed ridden the last two years of her life, gave me the inspiration for rewriting some of those earlier stories.  One day when I was visiting, she was talking about the time she, my aunt and my grandmother attended college classes.  It was when I was a toddler and was a sort of "girls night out" for them.  In the story, my mother told me one of my cousins once helped her with writing a paper.  "Pointing out what needed to be capitalized and that sort of thing."  She gave an example or two and, while I said nothing at the time, I was struck by the contrast between us.  All of the rules of grammar for which she needed guidance, came to me so naturally I couldn't possibly forget them.  While driving home, I thought about the notion of knowing more than your parents and remembered the many times my parents had talked about how smart I was.  "What if," I thought, "I didn't get into trouble so much because I was a 'bad person,' but because I was a 'smart person.?'"  I already knew that my mother's life revolved around fear.  What if my mother was afraid early on that I would be smarter than her?  What if she worried that I would create or get into troubles that were beyond her coping skills?  It certainly wasn't the story I had been telling myself, but at the same time, I could see it as a valid point of view.  I stopped rehashing the notion, "I am inherently bad" and began telling myself:

I was a bright and curious child who liked learning new things and exploring.  My parents sometimes felt out of their depth keeping me out of harm's way.  

Notice I didn't change the facts.  My parents still went to unusual or undesirable methods to control me.  I changed my understanding of why that was the case.  Whatever happened, let's say you broke your arm, got an F in Algebra or wrecked your dad's car.  That event still happened.  It is the story you tell yourself about why it happened or why it was such a bad thing or had such a negative impact on your life where you have the most opportunity for change.  I would argue the most need for change as well.  

Think of it this way.  Whether you believe in an anthropomorphized god, a life force of energy, or no god at all, this is your life.  You are here to live.  During that lifetime, you will attempt and accomplish a lot of things.  I just think you will have an easier time if you start out telling yourself you are good and worthy and capable.  This is just a method to backdate that way of believing in you.