Byron Katie

Cases of Mistaken Identity

<Nov. 26/10>

Been meaning to write about this phenomenon for a while.

A dream I had last night made these thoughts come to the surface as soon as I woke up & recalled it. I’ll spare you the details, although it’s a rather oft-repeated theme in my personal dream life.

Everyone has heard about “cases of mistaken identity.” I think an awful lot of us are victims of the phenomenon, yet with little or no conscious awareness of it.

What I’m referring to, to cut to the chase, is that I think large numbers of us relate to our spouses/partners as though they are the mother or father with whom we had such vastly emotionally complex dealings as children. If you are one of the lucky few on the planet who had a “perfect” childhood, with “perfect” parents, in some lovely Waltonesque or ‘Leave it to Beaver’ family, well – hey, 2 things:

  1. Lucky you! You’re about as common, I suspect, as the long-extinct dodo bird!
  2. You probably won’t understand what the heck I’m talking about here.

I don’t really need to say a whole lot about this. I think we all have to wrestle with this in our own way, on our own time.

I personally seem to have a pretty intimate acquaintance with the phenomenon – from inside out & outside in & 6 ways to Sunday, as they say. I’m not going to share any particulars, because making this “personal” is not my point. I’m talking about it because of its seeming-universality. It seems to be something an awful lot of us are wrestling with, one way & another…

Most of us come from dysfunctional families. It seems a lot of us have lives in which there are a fair number of “elephants in the room.” I’ve had my own gutwrenching experiences with elephants – & I’ve lived with some… & I think there are plenty of them around.

I occasionally see folks whose elephants are so gigantic, they look to be squeezing the life out of the human beings who are trying really, really hard to skirt around them without winding up on a psychiatric ward (& I’ve seen enough of psychiatric wards, what with one job & another I’ve had over the years, to know that there isn’t liable to be much help found there).

It’s painful to watch this stuff from the sidelines (even more painful to be right in the midst of it, of course!!) – & I’m a much bigger fan of joy & possibility & singing & changing the world than I am of numbing pain & misery & scarcely being able to breathe for all the neurotic nonsense one is having to dance around on a daily basis.

So…good luck, everyone. All of us! Wouldn’t it be cool if we’d all work on creating a personal life (& world) in which, if there must be some “elephants in the room,” at least they are small ones? Here’s to baby elephants!

Janet

p.s. I guess you could say that one of the purposes of our lives is healing. Seeking (& working on) our own healing & all the while, as we work to heal ourselves, helping to heal everything & everyone around us. The planet itself too, of course – since we humans are maybe something like the planet’s eyes & ears & hands & legs (& consciousness, but…oh dear me, if I get going down that road, I’ll never get stopped!)

p.p.s. I was about to suggest some books I think can help couples who think they might want to understand & wrestle a little with the mistaken identity “elephant.” Two I can recommend are Harville Hendrix’s Getting the Love You Want & Martin Rovers’ Healing the Wounds in Couple Relationships. (John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus is a pretty helpful read as well. & Byron Katie’s Loving What IsFour questions that can change your life is indeed potentially life-changing!)

p.p.p.s. Some fascinating authors on the subject of consciousness & perhaps the uniqueness of human beans – I mean beings – are:

  • Thomas Berry
  • Matthew Fox
  • Sister Miriam MacGillis
  • Tom Harpur
  • Eckhart Tolle

& oh yes, I could go on… (Check here for lots of great book recommendations.)

Since the personal is indeed political, there is lots of useful spillover from one to the other with all of these books, of course.

'Quote of the day' with this post: “It is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society.” – J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986)

Attitude is EVERYTHING….

<written April 2009>

Once upon a time (almost no-one who knows me now will even be able to believe this), I was a pessimist (& cynic). I was inclined to hang out in sloughs of despond & suppose it was my “fate” to be an unhappy person. Even when I stopped being so down all the time, I was still very, very cynical for a few years there (the job I was doing at the time didn’t help at all…).

Life is complex – I would never pretend otherwise, & we all have life histories that are rather stubborn & sticky with, in lots of cases, plenty of unpleasant experiences and/or even outright nastiness.

I’m not stupid. I do choose to be a “Pollyanna” & do my best to focus on positive things, because one of my key life lessons in the past five years or so has been that “What we focus on expands.”

Life is too short & too precious to focus on doom & gloom, violence & chaos &…well, you get my drift.

I came across this wonderful saying on attitude some years ago now: “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, or say, or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it." (Charles Swindoll)

And I think it’s pretty darn bang on.

I know I’ve changed my attitude plenty over the years, & if I can do it, I’m sure others can too.

We can turn our head around on our own, or we can read wise writers like Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie & get our spirits all tuned up (both these writers/teachers have suffered from horrendous depressions & challenging times, btw; they have been there…).

I’m a passionate environmental activist, & have been for 20 years. Even if we all turn overnight into passionate activists, & start treating our Earth with much greater care & respect (& I certainly hope we do, of course!), the fact is, challenging times are heading our way.

We’re going to need to be tough, resilient, resourceful, independent & smart.

We’re going to need to be people with a “can do” spirit – who can be much more cooperative than we’re used to having to be. (1)

We can choose to do this.

Attitude really is everything, hmmm?

Janet

'Quote of the day' w. this post: “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” – Victor Frankl


(1) At least, that’s what I think! No crystal ball, of course…

Prison Break!

<written Jan. 24/10>

Woke up feeling pretty much like the proverbial “bag of s-it” this morning. There’s kind of a lot of heavy emotional stuff going on in my life just now. Details not important.

I hauled myself out of bed more or less by the scruff of the neck & forced myself to get out for a walk.

I was pretty deep into negative thoughts as I set out. “Oh poor me,” “How could s/he?” Not to mention a large dollop of self-loathing. “Why am I such a LOSER?” That kind of thing…

I didn’t get more than a block before I saw a man walking his dog along Queen St. (I swear there are more dogs than people in this neighbourhood). I very deliberately avoided looking at either man or dog (normally I’d have smiled at the dog, at the very least), & the thought immediately sprang into my mind that I was choosing to remain miserable. Self-absorbed. Wallowing in misery.

It was immediately crystal-clear to me that this was a choice I was making.

“Hmmph,” I thought. “Fine. I choose to be miserable & wallow in self-pity & self-flagellation & self-loathing. Righty then!”

But on I walked, beside Lake Ontario, enjoying, in spite of myself, the waves, the trees, & all the darn dogs (& their people). Especially the little kids (what is not to like about youthful innocence & exuberance?? I mean…)

Pretty soon a few good thoughts came to me as regards how I might wrestle with the personal emotional storms I’m currently caught up in.

And then I thought, is it not so totally true that we are all prisoners of our own minds? And further, that this is a choice we make?

So, therefore, we can choose to “break out.” Figure out ways to navigate a little more fearlessly out of the messy emotional storms we all get caught up in, in this oh-so-human life we each lead.

Joanna Macy has pointed out in World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal that “Choice is so important because it actually constitutes what it means to be a person.”

And also that all of humankind’s problems (& our individual ones) are mind-made. They are not real & immutable & rock-solid. They are really just ideas – thoughts & concepts inside our heads.

So, we simply have to make the choice to change what goes on inside our heads.

(Well, of course we can't make pollution go away just by changing our thoughts about it. But we can change our state of mind about things...)

*******************************************************

I don't feel like a bag of s-it anymore. I feel “human” again (although of course being human does admittedly encompass a wide variety of moods).

I feel as though there are some possibilities open to me as regards these all-important relationships in my life – & that's a great relief, since, in my world, anyway, it’s really the relationships that are the whole darn deal.

So, I made a “prison break,” you might say, & stopped myself from feeling miserable. It didn’t take very long at all! 🙂

Janet

p.s. Eckhart Tolle & Byron Katie are quite brilliant (& down-to-earth practical) on the subject of how we each choose our thoughts & thus, can change them. I highly recommend Tolle’s book A New Earth & Katie’s Loving What Is Four questions that can change your life. Both these writers have been down inside the pits of deep depression themselves. They are writing about what they know, not some high-falutin’ intellectual exercise or airy-fairy spiritual mumbo-jumbo. They have been there

p.p.s. Paul Dudley White, a physician who lived from 1886-1973, said “A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.” I’m utterly convinced he was absolutely right. Walking is downright magical

 

‘Quote of the Day’ with this post: “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” – Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Get Over Yourself!

<Aug. 6/09>

This phrase keeps coming up. A good friend of mine introduced it to me, as I recall. She & several other friends are (or have been) in relationships with very…hmm…shall we say, challenging men.

Actually, I don’t know whether I know any women whose men are not fairly challenging.

And before any male readers become offended, I consider most women to be pretty goshdarn challenging too. I spent too many years having women up on some kind of fancy pedestal – but the pedestal cracked & broke, pretty much – & we’ve all fallen off.

Seemingly, we are all challenging – male, female & otherwise.

And too, I do encounter the odd man or woman who looks to be not terribly difficult or challenging. I, however, seem to gravitate toward both women & men who are, you might accurately say, a “handful.” Needless to say, I’m a handful myself. No worries, readers, I’m in no denial whatsoever about that.

Well. As I say, this “Get over yourself” phrase has been in my head for some time. I’ve never dared actually say it to anyone, although I will admit to having been tempted on more than one occasion.

I heard an interview with Gordon Pinsent on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio recently. He said that his wife used to occasionally tell him “Gordon, get over yourself” – & I note that he said this without any audible resentment in his tone. It seems their relationship permitted this degree of forthrightness.

Two things have been going through my mind since then. One was, “Boy, I wish I’d been able to say that to ––– sometimes! Maybe it would have helped.”

Secondly, I think maybe we all need to think about how this phrase might help us all. Never mind just women saying it to the men in their/our lives; them saying it to us, too. All of us saying it to everyone. All of us saying it to ourselves. Surely we all need to “get over ourselves,” hmm? At least some of the time.

I think we are all hobbled at times by our ancient resentments & grudges & even, in some cases, our repressed (& perhaps unacknowledged) rage.

We let our “old stuff” keep us tied up in knots. All – or at least most of us, I think – do this. Yes – I’m talking about all of us: female, male & otherwise.

I think there are women among us who don’t always (or maybe ever) recognize our/their own “stuff” – our own baggage – & since I’m one of them, I’m not really pointing any fingers here. I’m guilty of it too. Definitely.

Any regular reader of this blog will anticipate my coming up with a recommended book or two, & you’re right on the money. I think there are a few that could help lots & lots of us.

I think it would be most, most helpful for men to read Becoming the Kind Father – A Son’s Journey, by Calvin Sandborn, & I think women should read it too. It seems to me an enormously important & very, very helpful (& practical) book. If your library doesn’t have a copy, why not buy one & donate it? Or buy two, one for you (& friends), one for the library.

I think a lot of women would do well to read The Dance of Anger – A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, by Harriet Lerner. I think lots of us are walking around with a lot more anger than we care to acknowledge, & that we might do well to “wrestle” with that a little.

I also suspect tons of us would benefit from reading The Opposite of Everything is True – Reflections on Denial in Alcoholic Families, by William Crissman. (I believe the book is out of print, but you can always find even out-of-print books through Amazon or abebooks.com or an independent bookseller who really cares about serving her/his customers well). This book has certainly been very, very helpful for me, & since lots of us have/had alcoholic parents, I think it’s potentially useful for lots of us.

I’m going to keep musing on this “Get over yourself” phrase. In what ways do I need to get over myself? How am I being hobbled by old “stuff” – anger or old resentments &/or even shame? (shame is very, very corrosive indeed. John Bradshaw has written a book called Healing the Shame That Binds You, & I suspect it would be pretty useful reading for anyone for whom shame is a serious player).

Maybe we can all muse on this “getting over ourselves” business. I’m not so sure saying it out loud to anyone is really a good idea – it would take a pretty special relationship for this phrase not to sound pretty accusatory. I think we all need to be pretty gentle with ourselves, & with each other. After all, we’re all in the same darn boat, hmm?

Special note for women readers: I think a lot of us do some pretty crazy things sometimes. We’re very quick to throw darts at the men in our lives, but what about our own stuff? Some of us can be mighty petty, cranky, & even downright mean.(1) Lots of us are control freaks, it seems to me. Maybe instead of hurling accusations at these (admittedly very challenging) men in our lives, we could ask ourselves what our own “stuff” is. Our own ancient childhood “wounds” & knee-jerk reactions that sometimes have more to do with “ancient history” – old family dynamics from childhood – than with what’s happening right now. We too are often in denial about our contributions to our relationship problems & challenges, hmm? That’s what I think, anyway, for what it’s worth. However difficult or challenging our men may be, two wrongs don’t add up to a right. They never did

As I wrote in my as-yet-unpublished book Letters to Rebecca Musings on motherhood…& feminism & patriarchy & female/male relationships & the state of the world, I believe it is usually the women who set the emotional tone in families. I also believe we are often leaders – & I feel strongly that our leadership skills (& our integrity) are very much needed in our families (& the world) right now.

Janet

P.S. The books recommended here in no way cancel out or supercede any of the other authors I so frequently recommend: Pema Chödrön, Byron Katie, Elizabeth Lesser, Joanna Macy & Eckhart Tolle. They are all enormously helpful (& very compassionate & inspiring) writers.

P.P.S. Books I’ve found very helpful for understanding some of the challenges faced by couples are Getting the Love You Want – A Guide for Couples, by Harville Hendrix, Healing the Wounds in Couple Relationships, by Martin Rovers & Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray.

P.P.P.S. The book Brain Sex – The Real Difference Between Men & Women, by Anne Moir & David Jessel, is most helpful in gaining understanding of the actual brain differences between the sexes.

P.S. # 4: Women Who Run with the Wolves – Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés – has been pretty helpful to me on the subject of rage & forgiveness. Chapter 12 – “Marking Territory: The Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness” is, in my opinion, brilliant – & very, very helpful.

P.S. # 5 (Sheesh!?) In packing up my book collection in preparation for moving, I’ve come across yet two more books I’d forgotten about that are real treasures: Care of the Soul – A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday LifeSoul Mates – Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship, both by Thomas Moore.


(1) Some of us seem to me to be the best way I can think to describe it is real “pieces of work.” We really are. I say this with great compassion, because I know all too well that we don’t get to be that way without a heck of a lot of hard stuff having happened to us along the way…

Happiness – An “Inside Job”

Does everyone know this?? That happiness is an inside job, I mean? Maybe everyone knows it in a sort of intellectual way, but not really down in our guts – & of course it isn’t until we grasp something in our “guts” that we really get it. We can sort of skirt around something for years & kind of get it – then, eventually, it lands in our guts with (sort of) a thud – & then we really get it. That’s the way it is for me, anyway…

I’ve observed that there are some people in my little town who appear to resent me. There’s a woman who works at my local coffee spot whose behaviour toward me usually borders on rude. We don’t know one another at all, & it could be any one of a hundred things that leads her to be grumpy with me. For sure, that great book The Four Agreements – A Toltec Wisdom Book (by Don Miguel Ruiz) has taught me to a) not take things personally & b) not make assumptions. Of course, being merely human, I do err & do both all too often before catching myself at it.

So it’s pretty silly for me to even speculate about this woman’s behaviour toward me.

I do have a notion that some people find my almost relentless cheerfulness annoying. I’m clearly a pretty happy person most of the time, & I’m aware that it seems to aggravate some people.

The people it aggravates seem to be not-very-happy people – & I suspect that a lot of the not-very-happy people on the planet have not yet grasped the wildly important lesson that happiness truly is an inside job.

There is so much help for all of us these days in transcending/transmuting our little personal “hells.” So many writers who can help us navigate our way out of our personal “holes.”

Writers like Eckhart Tolle & Byron Katie, for just 2 outstanding examples (both of them have faced considerable personal hell & demons themselves, btw). Pema Chödrön & Elizabeth Lesser are two more (they too have wrestled with daunting personal challenges). As has Louise Hay…

Most of our misery is mind-created. It’s our own thoughts that torture us & make us so unhappy. If we can change our thoughts – most of which, as Eckhart Tolle points out – are repetitive – we can change our emotions – & our lives!

I came across a really great quotation about attitude several years ago. It goes like this:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, or say, or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it.” (Charles Swindoll)

We are in charge. For some of us, it seems to serve some sort of odd personal agenda to be miserable – to feel like a victim. Some sort of neurotic pay-off. Whatever

But this kind of thing is clearly a choice.

Change your thinking; change your life!

The world can sure use our full attention – & energy – these days! It kind of needs us to wake up!!

Janet

p.s. Books by the authors mentioned that I recommend highly are:

Read just one, or any or all of them; every single one is awesome!! :)

p.p.s. Louise Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life is also excellent, & the DVD that’s been made of it is very, very, very worth watching…

Today's quote: “It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, but it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” ~ Agnes Repplier (more quotations about happiness here)

** great big list of "books that can change your life" here

Joanna Macy Invites Us to SHOW UP!

<June 27/09>

On Thursday, June 18th, I heard Joanna Macy speak in Toronto.

What a blessing!!

Luckily, I took notes (writers always do), so I can share some of her insights here.

(Joanna Macy has written some great books, & there are other JM-related items on this blog; I’ll refer to these in a P.S. at the end.)

Joanna opened by thanking us for our attention and pointing out that the phenomenon of self-reflective consciousness (a concept also frequently referenced in the work of Thomas Berry & Sister Miriam MacGillis and perhaps others I ought to name) – i.e., where we now are in the evolution of the Universe/Earth/humanity, has been a 4-billion year process. Here we now find ourselves, at this so-amazing time in history – what an amazing miracle and blessing! (She also referred briefly to the fact of the stunning biodiversity that supports our self-reflective consciousness.)

She noted that we are “waking up together” – and that it’s hard for us to wake up. Our world/culture works very, very hard to keep us asleep – and the “power holders” are very happy to see us stay that way. Not just asleep, but caught up inside our own personal pathologies. For the power-holders/moneymakers, it is good that we feel ashamed of our personal problems, and keep quiet. This serves their agenda very well indeed. (That way, we don’t question, we just keep buying. We don’t rock the boat.)

She spoke of the deep need for gratitude. “Gratitude is essential for our showing up,” she said, and pointed out that all indigenous cultures have always had a spiritual tradition of gratitude. When we are caught up in self-pity, that keeps the power-holders very happy – because it keeps us buying and buying and buying, trying to fill up those holes we have inside. When we focus on gratitude, we see how rich and blessed we are – how beautiful our Earth is – and self-pity (and addictive consumption) fall away.

So – it’s hard to wake up – and gratitude is key.

As is truth-telling. Telling the truth, Joanna Macy said, is “like making oxygen.”

When we do acknowledge the truth about our world, it is definitely painful. That’s why we hold it off – whether as individuals with our personal pathologies (Janet talking now: this is all very, very familiar territory for me just now), or as human beings recognizing the state of the world and the abyss our species is perched on the edge of.

Joanna Macy has long been a scholar of Buddhism, and Buddhist thought and practice have very much shaped her life. Compassion is a key linchpin in Buddhist thought.

Macy points out that when we suffer with others (there is much, much pain and suffering in this world, after all), that is compassion – suffering with is what compassion means. We are sometimes made to feel as though we are crazy when we “suffer with” – but as Macy says, No, we are not crazy – we are allowed to “suffer with.”(1) Our fear and our tears and our outrage are also not personal – we are suffering for our world, not just for ourselves. (This insight alone is so powerful I could probably muse on it for days.)

She also commented that we need and should and are allowed to honour our pain. (I needed to hear that too.)

As other writers/teachers are also pointing out, if in slightly different ways (e.g., Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie), the problems of the human race are mind-made – they are problems that originate inside our minds and our ways of thinking; thus, they can be un-made! (As I’ve said so many times in other blog items here, for goodness sake, read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose!!!! A must, must, must-read.)

We need one another terribly – we need communion and community. Our loneliness/aloneness/isolation keep us “small,” when in fact, as Joanna Macy says, “We are so much bigger than we thought.” We spent thousands of years projecting all the greatness on a “Big Daddy God” who was somewhere up in the sky – not on the Earth – and now we have brought the sacred “back down to Earth.”

Macy says “Our roots, our true nature – is vast.”

We are vast – I have felt this, many times. I’ve also – and very, very recently, as in, a few hours ago – felt entirely trapped inside my own aloneness and personal sadness – and just had the insight this morning that most of us don’t understand our very own nature. We are strangers, even to ourselves! Only in talking with others, in communion and in conversation, do we shed our isolation and our lack of self-understanding. And gain compassion for ourselves, as well as for others.

Well – this notion that we are actually vast creatures should surely empower us!!

Macy says that we now find ourselves, as a species, in a time of transformation as huge as the agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago. Some are calling this time “The Great Turning(2),” and as we know, its outcome is not certain. Perhaps we will make the turning; perhaps we will not… No one can yet say.

As Macy explains, “the not-knowing is the prerequisite of our presence.” In other words, if we knew the outcome, either way, would we “show up” in the same way?

What happens will be the result of “how we show up.”

In World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal, Macy says “Choice is so important because it actually constitutes what it means to be a person.” And “Do-er and deed co-arise. Hence our continuity of character, bearing the stamp of repeated choice and habit. Hence also our freedom, for new options arise with each present act of will.” (my italics)

We cannot know what will happen… What will happen will be the result of our choices and actions. So our choices/actions are very, very important.

Macy also says “You also know that each action undertaken with pure intent has repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern.” As I said in another essay in which I quoted this, I do believe this is true.

I am so very grateful to have been introduced to the work and wisdom of Joanna Macy (thank you Skye!!)

I can see no way ahead for my own peace and sanity but to continue truth-telling. This may take some unpredictable turns.

But if I am somehow helping to create a little oxygen with it, I’ll be one very gratified person.

And you, now. How will you show up?

Janet

p.s. Books of Joanna Macy’s that I have read & much enjoyed are Widening Circles – A Memoir (New Society Publishers, 2000) & World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal (Parallax Press, 2007).

p.p.s. Other items on this blog with Joanna Macy-related material are the 2 ‘Despair & Empowerment’ posts – & one called ‘Joanna Macy: Wise Woman.

p.p.p.s. Joanna Macy spoke about the pivotal importance of gratitude in our lives & in the Great Turning. I talk about gratitude a lot too. If you go to the post 'Gratitude Posts: A list & an insight' you’ll see both a list of the posts here that touch on gratitude, & some insight on gratitude from Joanna Macy. Here is the quote:

“Thankfulness loosens the grip of the industrial growth society by contradicting its predominant message: that we are insufficient and inadequate. The forces of late capitalism continually tell us that we need more – more stuff, more money, more approval, more comfort, more entertainment. The dissatisfaction it breeds is profound. It infects people with a compulsion to acquire that delivers them into the cruel, humiliating bondage of debt. So gratitude is liberating. It is subversive. It helps us realize that we are sufficient, and that realization frees us. Elders of indigenous cultures have retained this knowledge, and we can learn from their practices.” [World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal, Joanna Macy, Parallax Press, 2007.]

(1) The next day, on the street in Toronto, I saw people begging, & as I’ve written in a couple of other blog entries, I like to give money to people because a) I suffer with/have compassion for people in this situation and b) it makes me feel good and now c) I have permission to “suffer with” – it’s nice to have this tendency of mine affirmed. I am not crazy for these feelings of compassion.

(2) There is an excellent book by this name, The Great Turning – From Empire to Earth Community, by David C. Korten, 2006. Well worth reading. Also a film by the same name, & it’s great too!

Speaking of Bags of S-it…

<March ‘09>

I was on a long drive yesterday(1) and was listening – as I so often do – to the CBC radio (I’m a passionate fan of Canada’s Canadian Broadcasting Corporation & could go on for half an hour about their fantastic programming – & have been known to say I’d surely die without the CBC…).

There was a guest on the Jian Ghomeshi show “Q” – a woman who’s a singer/musician, who’s been fighting breast cancer – and she blew me right out of the water with her passion & energy & courage. She commented that “Everyone has their bag of s-it” and I thought “Oh yeah, I’ll say,” and lately my own “bag of s-it” has been weighing on me more than just a little.

I am an almost relentlessly cheerful person – this even annoys some people, I know. I think maybe they think I’m not “deep” enough or something. How can anyone be so cheerful when the world is in such a bloody mess??

And I did used to think of myself as a pessimist, once upon a time – & I do like to think of myself as a realist.

There is lots of pain & suffering, misery & mayhem in this world – no doubt about that! I’m not blind, & I’m not a moron (or not a complete moron, at any rate, although for sure, like all of us, I do my fair share of dumb stuff!).

And lately, in the past 6 months or so, I’ve had my own not-so-lovely & not particularly unique set of circumstances & challenges & wounds with which to wrestle.

Even we “Pollyanna” types have our pain, you know… our bags of s-it.

Life ain’t no fairy tale, hmm?

No being carried off to the prince’s “castle in the sky”; no “happily ever after” to pin one’s hopes on (although that doesn’t seem to stop us with the fairy tale expectations, does it?).

But… in spite of all this B. of S. stuff, this world – this Earth – is so beautiful & rich & wondrous & abundant, how can we not rejoice in that?

How can we not glory in the sunshine, the sunrises & sunsets, the sky & the birds & the trees & the rivers & oceans & forests &… and in our fellow human beings, who are so terribly, terribly fallible & hurt, yet so filled with love & generosity & greatness & potential?

No doubt not everyone has read Byron Katie & Eckhart Tolle & Pema Chödrön.(2) Ms. Chödrön is so breathtakingly brilliant on the richness & joy of living “in the moment” & really facing & feeling our pain & sorrows head on – not running from or ignoring or denying them – & then there is Joanna Macy & her brilliance on the subject of “despair and empowerment”…

How can we let our B. of S. weigh us down when we are creatures of such immense potential??

I may have to carry a bag of s-it, but I sure as heck don’t have to act like one.

That’s definitely something that, as Oprah Winfrey likes to say, “I know for sure.”

Janet


(1) Just want to point out that I DO take the bus when I can. On this particular jaunt I had a car full of furniture to take to my daughter’s place, so a car trip it was…

(2) I certainly highly recommend all three! All three, by the way, have experienced very serious “bags of s-it” of their own; they have each been there

 

What We Focus On, Expands…

<Sept. 2006>

I’ve had an “Aha!” moment this morning, and I want to pass it on, because I think it’s potentially pretty useful.

In a workshop I attended a couple of years ago, the powerhouse of a woman who was leading it said casually, “What we focus on, expands.”

I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve written about it elsewhere, but somehow, this morning, I feel as though I REALLY got it…finally…right in my guts. We can grasp things in an intellectual sort of way, but until they grab us by the entrails, as it were, we don’t really “get” them, do we?

It’s largely a timing issue, no doubt. It’s clicking for me in a big way right now because of the books I’ve been reading (The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, by Pema Chödrön; Loving What Is, by Byron Katie and If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland) and because of a little (or, perhaps, not-so-little) tailspin my boyfriend and I are caught up in right now. Also, because of something my daughter and I talked about yesterday, and a letter I wrote to someone else recently.

Generally – about 99% of the time – I am probably the happiest person you’re liable to meet. I’m able to take joy from small things other people don’t even seem to notice (the sky, the clouds, the birds, squirrels and chipmunks, the rocks, the trees, the river…). I worry some, but my mind does not default to worry and stress and fuss, the way it seems to for so many people. Of course, there is my daily (almost daily) active practice of gratitude that pretty much turned my head (and life) around when I decided to stop focusing on what I did not have in my life (what I had lost) and worked at regularly enumerating the many things I do have and need to be thankful for (this was truly life-changing – transformative – for me!).

What I discovered when I began to do this was that, slowly but surely, my attitude began to shift away from, “Oh, poor me” to “Oh my goodness – what an incredibly fortunate woman I am!”

The way I now conceive of it is that, if I choose to fill my head with positive thoughts, the negative ones get squeezed out due to a simple insufficiency of space.

So, 99% of the time, I am happy – energetic – joyful – content – cheerful. People seem to enjoy being around me, and this delights me to no end. I think it’s because I have a (mostly) positive and cheerful attitude. It must also be mentioned that I’m an Aries person. We are said to be “the infants of the zodiac.” Some of my naiveté and cheerfulness and friendliness and energy and ability to “live in the moment” are 100% natural to me – just plain inborn. Grace. Lucky me!!

Back to what we focus on…

I can look back in my life now, and see times when I was clearly focusing quite a good deal on negative thoughts. During my days in the correctional business, for example, cynicism and suspicion were, perhaps not too surprisingly, pretty big players. During the first few years of learning about the depth of the environmental crisis, anger became paramount. Of course, emotions are complicated critters; sometimes we start with one and before you can say “Jack Robinson,” it has quickly morphed into another. Pain or disappointment or worry or hurt or resentment can turn very quickly into anger, for example. Say your child or spouse is really late getting home, and you’re worried sick. S/he arrives, and you explode in anger. Worry transformed into anger, lickety-split!

After a marriage goes belly-up on us, especially when one is the “dumpee,” we can certainly almost lose ourselves and drown in these negative emotions and thoughts. We can be sucked into a spiral of pain and sadness and despair and self-recrimination, and wind up feeling (and acting) as though our self-esteem were in the toilet. Been there!

What we focus on, expands.

I’ve also grasped recently that anger has a tendency to recycle itself. When I keep anger and resentments bottled up inside me, they keep on expanding and growing and fuelling themselves (and me) in a surprisingly persistent fashion. I once saw at fairly close range how truly deadly repressed rage can be; had an extreme case of witnessing how literally murderous it can be. Not a pretty story, that one…

But here is what my “Aha!” moment was about this morning. The boyfriend and I have this tempest in a teapot going. I feel as though he has mistreated me. No doubt he believes I have mistreated him. Familiar scenario, anyone??

So I wallow in my own feelings of resentment. Pretty soon, I’ve dredged up other, older past hurts, and my current case of resentment gradually expands. Instead of this being a relatively minor incident, it grows and grows and has pretty soon ballooned to ridiculous proportions. Now I’ve become absurd…even to myself!

Here is another neat insight (I think). When I was in Malaysia a few years ago, I stayed in a luxury hotel with a huge, impressive lobby large enough to park a couple of Mack trucks in. There was a front entrance – but no door. The place was wide open, 24/7. There was no back door, either. I was told this was because the building could better weather severe storms that way. The pressure wouldn’t build up inside and cause an imbalance that would lead to an explosion (or implosion).

I suspect we human beings are constructed in much the same way. If we keep ourselves opened up, the storms can blow right through us and be gone. Dissipated. Vamooshed.

If, on the other hand, we hunker ourselves down and don’t let things pass through us and be gone; if we hold tight and solid and firm and very determined to hang onto our hurts and pain and losses and resentments, the storms rage on inside us. On and on and on, like pus from a wound that needs to be lanced. We poison ourselves from the in-side out.

Ugh.

We human beings are certainly complicated critters! We all of us have childhood baggage we seem to hold onto for dear life. We guard it jealously (though perhaps mostly unconsciously). Not-nice things we experienced as children that caused us to adopt an “Oops – time to hunker down!” stance.

It served us well as children. It got us through!

But it doesn’t really serve us so very well now, does it?

I do believe hormonal activity plays a significant role in our lives as well. PMS, perimenopause and menopause throw real curves at us. I’m convinced that fluctuating levels of hormones inside us contribute to women’s (sometimes disturbing) internal mood swings (and thus, of course, the Pill can really play havoc with our emotional thermostats, since it’s all about manipulating our body’s hormones).

It’s a complicated life, hmmm?

I think there’s a need for each one of us to “connect the dots.” Our own personal dots. When we learn to understand our own internal workings a bit better, the world outside us simultaneously becomes easier to fathom as well.

As Gloria Steinem and the 1970’s-era feminists famously used to say, “The personal is political.”

It is not an accident, not a coincidence, that at this time when the outer world is a mess and pretty much falling apart around our ears, our families and marriages and relationships are doing the same. Not a coincidence that rates of depression and alcoholism are skyrocketing at this time.

What we focus on, expands.

If we want to transform the world (surely all of us do?), we have to start by transforming ourselves. We need to learn to tone down the inner workings of that ridiculous “drunken money” inside our heads (meditation helps a lot with that, so I’m told).

Because if we focus on negativity, judgment (of ourselves and others), resentment, pain, anger, loneliness, despair, and rage – well, they will surely expand to fill us right up!

If we turn our gaze instead in a positive direction – toward gratitude and appreciation of what a beautiful Earth/world we live in, and the amazing qualities of the human spirit (resourcefulness, indomitability, strength, resilience, courage, creativity, love, energy, generosity) – we transform both ourselves and the world around us.

It’s our choice! Focus on negativity, nurse resentments and grudges, judge everyone around us (including ourselves) harshly and continuously, immerse ourselves in daily doses of all the world’s “bad” news, or…

Begin focusing on gratitude and beauty and joy and what we amazing human beings are capable of when we set our hearts, minds and spirits to it…

You don’t have to take my word on this, of course, but you might want to give it at least a moment’s thought. I am one of the happiest people I know, and although I earn less money than almost anyone among my rather wide acquaintance, I often think to myself that I am the wealthiest woman in the world.

Not such a bad way to go through the days and weeks, hmmm?

Janet

P.S. There are some practices, habits and books that have really helped me a lot. I recommend all of them.

# 1. Frequent, preferably daily, walks. Frequent attendance at beautiful places such as, in my case, the Ottawa River (but the Earth is beautiful quite abundantly. Wherever you live is no doubt beautiful in its own unique way).

# 2. Attendance at a Landmark Forum. I found the one I went to a year ago very worthwhile. It was somewhat expensive ($500 for the weekend; three full, exhausting, inspiring and worthwhile days of learning and personal insights), but I figure I’m worth it. So are you! (see recent posting on this topic.)

# 3. Books. Books, books, books, books, books. I am a serious readaholic…

* anything by Pema Chödrön

* Loving What Is – Four questions that can change your life, by Byron Katie

* The Hidden Messages in Water, by Dr. Masaru Emoto

* If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland (especially if you want to write, but even if you don’t!)

# 4. I don’t watch TV or read newspapers. I catch all the necessary bad news I really absolutely require from occasional Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio listening (the CBC, btw, is one of Canada’s really grand treasures).

# 5. I find Buddhist thought very, very interesting, challenging and useful.

# 6. I’ve been learning – partly as a result of the aforementioned Landmark Forum, and partly due to my exposure to Buddhist thought – to remind myself often: “It is what it is.” This phrase is a remarkably sanity-inducing one, and I use it often. When there are stubborn circumstances that frustrate, annoy or infuriate us, and if we cannot change them, let us just sigh, perhaps, and say, “It is what it is,” and then get on about our business. Not much point in letting everything drive us crazy, is there?

# 7. I often belt out songs while working in the kitchen. Pretty tough to remain unhappy for very long, while singing, hmm?

Prisons (& Prisms) of our own Making

<January 2009>

I often write cheery how-to advice pieces about how we can each change our lives, be happy more or less routinely, & so on. Not everyone I know buys my advice or is a big fan. (Heh heh.) I’m guessing some of the people pretty close to me dismiss me disparagingly as some kind of mindless “Pollyanna.” Funny, since if I had to name one of my top all-time favourite movies, it would indeed be Walt Disney’s “Pollyanna” from the 1960’s.

I don’t think everyone understands what "being a Pollyanna” really means. It doesn’t mean being a naïve person who wears rose-coloured glasses 24/7/365 & pretends or believes that everything in the world is just grand; what it means is, one is aware that what we focus on expands, & that focusing on the good in all people & situations is liable to make life a whole lot more pleasant & the people around us a lot more cheery (& the world, maybe, a better place to be, even!).

Does anyone really suppose I’m not aware of the myriad horrendous, despair-making problems that exist in our world? Trust me – I am! I’ve been a problem-watcher & hopeful world-changer all my life. That’s what my dysfunctional childhood led me to, seemingly...

What I find I see around me, quite a bit, are people whose minds seem to have become their own prisons. They’re always living out of old scripts, replaying ancient (& more recent) hurts & grievances, & just generally making their own lives miserable.

Whatever turns you on, hmmm? If misery is your “thing,” you go for it; no skin off my nose.

If, on the other hand, you’re tired of the mind prison you’ve spent too much time in & you don’t want to be a ‘lifer’ there, turf out the prison & exchange it for a prism.

Borrow “Pollyanna” from your local library (or video store that has the “oldies”) & watch it. Let yourself be a kid for a bit, & enjoy the scenes with Mr. Pendergast & the prisms that brought so much enjoyment to Pollyanna & her fellow townspeople (even & especially the really grumpy ones).

Swear off immersing yourself in bad news all the time. Start focusing on possibilities instead of on problems & limitations. Think about light & goodness, not darkness & evil. Practice forgiveness. Learn to live “one day at a time.” Remind yourself often that everything isn’t all about you. Smile often, & sing, too – both are free & almost invariable mood-lighteners. Take up a daily gratitude habit. Start doing volunteer work & learn that a life of service to others brings enormous satisfaction to ourselves. Take a daily walk (no I-pod – instead, focus on Nature – sky, clouds, birds, water, critters…).

If you want to read some wonderfully helpful writers who can help you switch from prison to prism, go for it! I highly recommend Pema Chödrön, Byron Katie, Eckhart Tolle – & I also recommend Louise Hay – especially her DVD “You Can Heal Your Life.”

I find this life we all lead a very circular sort of deal. It’s up and down & all around – like a roller coaster, or a merry-go-round. This particular little essay is as much me reminding myself of some things I need to remember as it is about advising anyone else. I happen to be going through some stubborn challenges of my own right now & I seem to need to re-learn some of the simple lessons that have helped me so much in the past, during other hard times.

Just like you, I’m making my way, moving ahead, one step at a time, one day at a time.

Far as I can tell, there’s no other way to do it!

Janet

p.s. I’ve said it elsewhere, and I’ll say it again now: read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. There is no bigger favour you can do for yourself – I mean it!!

 

You CAN Heal Your Life

<December 2008>

Tons of people are already familiar with the astonishingly inspiring work of Louise Hay – author of the book You Can Heal Your Life, first published in 1984.

There is now also a DVD by the same name, and it’s a mind-blower! I’ve just watched it for the second time, and have ordered multiple copies to give as Christmas presents (it only costs $20, and you can order it on-line).

The DVD is awesome. It features Louise Hay telling her own amazing, inspiring story and life – but not just Louise Hay. It also has appearances by (Dr.) Christiane Northrup, (Dr.) Mona Lisa Schulz, Wayne Dyer, Gregg Braden – and many other equally wonderfully inspiring individuals.

They all back up Ms. Hay’s confident assertion that no matter what has happened in your life – no matter how deep-seated, numerous and stubborn your “wounds” – you can indeed heal your life!

Not only can you heal your life, only you can heal your life. No one else can do it for you or to you – it cannot be done against your will. It is completely and utterly up to you.

Now, lots and lots of us don’t really seem to want to heal. Family therapist Bert Hellinger explains this seeming mystery in his excellent book Love’s Hidden Symmetry – What Makes Love Work in Relationships.(1)

Some of us, apparently, are quite content to be unhappy. I don’t spend a great deal of time focusing on this, as there are so many more interesting, enlightening, energizing and inspiring ways to spend one’s time.

I do believe – down to my toes – the truth behind the assertions of Louise Hay and her small army of colleagues and happy, healed friends and acquaintances. I’ve written plenty of other items that speak to this in one way or another.

I expect some people ask themselves why I keep on and on with my own activism and attempts to help myself and others find healing. Given the truly grave situation the human race now finds itself in (and which, of course, we have caused), only healing strikes me as a worthy enterprise to spend my time engaged in. It is no secret, surely, to anyone, now, that our own extinction is a real possibility.

What could change us – turn us off the trajectory we’re on?

Healing. The healing of this planet can only be brought about by our own healing – not a radical idea at all to Buddhists, whose beliefs have always emphasized exactly this: we cannot heal anyone else, nor can we heal or change the world single-handedly. We can only heal – and change – ourselves.

What a lot of us have come to know is that, as we work on our own healing, we free up energy that can happily be put toward helping others and the world. And we can change things; we are changing things.

Life is not some pretty fairy tale, of course. My own life is no “happily ever after” story – although I do often lay claim to being one of the happiest people I know.

I make my fair share of mistakes and missteps, trip over my own feet all too often, and step in largish piles of doo-doo more than I wish for, exactly, too (sometimes rather spectacularly, I might add!?). Far as I can tell, though, that’s merely the human condition – and I am all too clearly and fallibly human.

Buddhists see life as “a joyful participation in a world of sorrows” (quoted in Pico Iyer’s delightful book The Open Road – The Global Journey of the 14th Dalai Lama).

Oprah Winfrey has a column in her monthly magazine in which she regularly muses on what she “knows for sure.”

One thing I know for sure is this: when I work passionately – on my own and with others – to help other people, and on the wildly serious work of “saving the planet,” it makes me feel like a million bucks. It feeds me – rewards me – challenges me – energizes me – and I am not about to quit.

Like tons of people, I had a somewhat less-than-Walton-ish childhood. I could let it keep sucking me down, but I choose not to do that. There’s so little fun in that, hmm?

Tons of inspiring people who’ve had wildly challenging things happen in their own lives (to put it mildly), are now doing truly mind-blowing amounts of good for millions of people. People like Louise Hay and Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie and … well, the list is long, and it’s growing longer all the time.

Eckhart Tolle says, “Suffering is the spiritual teacher.”

The lesson is that we needn’t stay mired in our suffering – that misses the whole point! Suffering is the motivator to make us grow. It’s the fertilizer

Well, I could go on and on, but I believe I’ve made my point.

You can heal your life; it’s your choice!

Why not do it, and come join the party, hmm?

Janet

P.S. This healing, by the way, not only won’t cost you a red cent, it’s as close as your own thoughts. Check it out! (What do you have to lose??) I’m convinced the Universe is ready to meet us more than halfway – but we do have to take that first step… Read Louise Hay’s book, or watch the DVD – you can’t help but be powerfully inspired by it!

P.P.S. I’ve donated a copy of the DVD to my local library, so others can see it without having to buy their own. Hurray for libraries, hmm?

P.P.P.S. You can watch a 4-minute trailer of the film here


(1) In his very, very interesting book Love’s Hidden Symmetry – What Makes Love Work in Relationships, under the heading “Understanding ‘Resistance’ as Misplaced Love,” Bert Hellinger explains that “clients have a strong tendency to use their strength to hold on to their problems and to avoid solutions.” And that “Therefore, finding solutions to our problems is threatening and unpleasant.” He goes on to say “Resolution and happiness seem dangerous because we believe they’ll make us lonely. Problems and unhappiness, on the other hand, give a feeling of belonging. Often this kind of belonging is more important to people than happiness.” Fascinating book!!