Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Strength In Vulnerability

It was recently pointed out to me yet again that I am not all that good at vulnerability. Of course, I can recall numerous occasions that I have gracefully sashayed my way through a moment of vulnerability or two; however, all in all, I must concur with my critics and agree that vulnerability is not exactly my greatest strength.
Like most of you, readers, I have spent a great deal of my life proving to myself, and others, that I have value, strength, and character. In doing so, I have worked hard to get where I am at by carefully aligning my strengths with my confidences to overcome hardships, triumph over obstacles, and trudge through the sloughs of wilderness that seem to be inherent to our human experience. As such, I have relied on these virtues to thrive and survive, while making a (sometimes very conscious) decision to hide certain parts of myself in order to be strong, sure-footed, and unequivocal, and protecting myself from what I have perceived as potential weakness.  Naturally, then, putting myself in a position to be vulnerable is not exactly my first nature.  Rather, doing so can feel quite foreign, counter-intuitive, and uncomfortable.
Yet as I have grown older, I have come to discover that strength and vulnerability are not exactly opposites.  On the contrary, vulnerability requires a great amount of courage, for being vulnerable is to be authentic despite our greatest fears and put ourselves at risk of rejection. Similarly, vulnerability requires that we accept and embrace the parts of ourselves that we would rather ignore, change, or deny. By definition, vulnerability even takes this one step further and requires that we do so in the presence of others, forcing us to acknowledge these protected parts of ourselves, talk about them as they are, and claim them as our own. The very nature of vulnerability requires that we feel raw, unsure, and exposed.
So, how to we evolve in the name of vulnerability, and allow ourselves to transform? Consider the following exercises:
Practice Self-Awareness: Begin this practice by simply being mindful of your feelings of vulnerability when they arise. Take note of what has triggered these feelings, and reflect on the qualities of yourself that you would rather have camouflaged. Bring yourself to the edge of this practice by asking what exactly it is that you do not accept about yourself regarding these attributes.
Reveal Something: Revealing parts of ourselves can feel risky, it is true. However, in doing so, we are sharing who we really are, thus encouraging others to connect with our truest selves on a more intimate level.
State How You Feel. At That Moment: When you feel that you have lost your footing, find your voice and give a name to what you are experiencing.  Not only is this transparency authentic and true, but it gives others permission to do the same.
Admit When You Are Wrong: Be accountable.  Accept your mistakes.  Forgive yourself. Then, move on. You may be surprised to learn that most others will follow your lead.
Admit Your Weaknesses: Despite the fact that no one of us is perfect,admitting our weaknesses to others can take great strength.  Yet, doing so allows us to be better supported by those that complement who we are, thus allowing us to grow.
Celebrate Your Imperfections: Allow yourself to be “good enough”. Embrace your idiosyncrasies. Consider how your weaknesses are in reality your gifts. And finally, fully accept all that you are, for that is heart of vulnerability.


Monday, May 20, 2013

This Is Your Friendly Reminder

We are all human. And as humans, it would follow that we all have good and bad days, now and then. So as a fellow human, I would like to share with you a few of the reminders that I give myself to achieve mental and emotional balance as I make my way through this very human experience that I am having.
Do not lose sight of what truly matters. Your definition of what truly matters will be your compass, your North Star. It will help you remember that petty things do not, in fact, signify the end of the world, and it will redirect you to what is truly important to you.
It is okay to be alone. When you find yourself cocooning, remember that it is okay to pull back from the world, to take rest, to re-evaluate, and to take time. Quite often, this quality time with yourself, this time of hiatus, is also a time of profound healing, growth, and transcendence.
You are not always in control. Recall the Serenity Prayer. Whether we like it or not, we are not always in control. We cannot predict the future, nor do we always know what is “best”. It is during these times that we are best served to “let it go” so that we may instead “let it come”.
What other people think is irrelevant. Of course, we want people to think of well of us. And this is okay, because it means that we care. Yet, in the words of Dita Von Tess, you can be the ripest, juiciest peace in the world, and there is still going to be somebody who hates peaches. As such, we must accept, and move on from, the fact that we will not always be accepted as we are. And this is okay.
Do not give up. Ever. Never lose sight of what you are fighting for, and why. Likewise, do not confuse “giving up” with letting go, and surrendering to something greater.
You need not know all the answers, all the time. Quite often, not knowing what to do means that it is not time to do anything at all. So, learn to embrace uncertainty, as uncertainty is certainly part of life, and living the questions is often the source of enlightenment.
You are enough. You are. And that is enough. Give yourself a chance to prove what you are really made of. We need not conform to our own limiting beliefs, much less the limiting beliefs of others.
Be here. Now. Stay present. This is hard, as we have a tendency to relive the past and lean into the future. Yet, doing so changes nothing about what has been, nor does it control what will be.
Your feelings will not kill you. Despite what it feels like, feelings are fleeting. Just as joy does not last forever, neither does heartbreak. Find the strength to ride the wave, and you will find that you can endure anything.
You are human. Therefore, give yourself credit for your triumphs, and forgive yourself for your short comings. You will have many of both, so rather than clinging to them and tearing yourself down, build yourself up, and embrace everything about this very human experience that you are having right here, right now.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ribbit, Ribbit

Edelman’s Boiling Frog Syndrome claims that a frog, if placed in a pot of boiling water, will quickly jump out, as it will immediately sense the pain and discomfort of the scalding water, and do all that it can to save itself.  However, if a frog is placed in a pot of lukewarm water, it will eventually boil to its death as the heat slowly increases.  Edelman explains that the frog will not sense the gradual change in temperature, and therefore miss any signal of danger and fail to take action to avoid its demise.
And so it is with humans, it is not?  When we find ourselves in hot water, we tend to act fast and do everything within our power to improve our circumstances.  As soon as it hits us that we are uncomfortable, in pain, or in trouble, we make haste and get to safety as quickly as possible, in any way that we can.  And, just like our amphibian friends, we seem to adjust just as easily to incremental changes.  In doing so, like Edelman’s frogs, we forget about the problems that we’ve become immersed in, failing to acknowledge important signals warning us of the danger that we are truly in.
Upon further research, I found that Edelman’s theory may not exactly be true.  Nonetheless, I think that many of us can relate to the experience of both frogs.  When we sense imminent danger, like the frog thrown into the boiling pot of water, such as in the case of a fire, an immediate crisis, or unexpected event, we react in kind and quickly get out of harm’s way.  Yet, when our problems slowly evolve, as they often do in an unhealthy relationship, during financial strife, or in a “dead end” career, we adapt, react, and adjust in a similar fashion.  As such, we may not even realize the trouble that has crept up on us until it is seemingly too late.
As discouraging as it may be to realize that you are about to be boiled alive, much like Edelman’s frog, do not give up.  There is hope, as this theory can work both ways.  As I have said time and time again, it is never too late to initiate positive change, even if your situation feels dire.  And just as the problem evolved over time, so will its solution.  So do not be afraid to take the first of many leaps that will ultimately lead you out of trouble and into a better life.


Monday, March 25, 2013

I have often read that we, as live-ers of life, should have no regrets. That we should, in some sense of the word, forget about the finer details of our past and instead be grateful for the opportunities and the gifts that have been bestowed upon us through the process of living. That we should embrace all that we are, for better or for worse, because of what we have been through and the choices we have made.

And to a certain degree, I agree with this. I agree that it behooves us to spend too much time in our past, whether we are fretting over things that we have done, or worrying about that which we have left undone. It does us no good to berate ourselves for our mistakes or relive days gone by, wishing that we had done things differently. After all, what does this accomplish? Precious little, indeed.

Even so, I have to admit that I do have regrets. I have done things that I am not proud of and over-looked things that I should have been more mindful about. I have been reckless at times, selfish, and even hurtful. As I look back on the twenty-nine years of my life, I see with unmistakable clarity that I have consciously and unconsciously made poor choices. Choices that have been foolish, short-sighted, and negatively impactful. And, these things are uncomfortable to think about. They are difficult to speak of. And they are nothing short of humbling.

Yet, even as I think about the regrets that I do have, and I reflect on where I was at in my life when I made those choices, I cannot help but to ask, “Is it really so bad to admit that we have regrets? Is it so bad to look back on the decisions that we have made and wish that we had done things differently? Is it so bad to look behind ourselves every now and then and realize that we could have done better? ” I must say that I think not.

I say that I do not think it is so bad to have regrets because regrets really are a part of life. Regrets, in essence, are nothing short of lessons that we have learned as we journey through life. To feel regretful is not to say that we are bad. On the contrary, to feel regretful is to say that we now see things differently than we had before or to acknowledge that we are no longer where we once were. It is to recognize that something was to be learned, and that we have changed or evolved because of our experiences. It is to agree that hindsight is indeed twenty-twenty.

So, when you find yourself tempted to deny ever having regrets, rethink what that word really means to you. Remember that it is a rare soul that truly has no regrets, and that there is no shame in using the feeling of regret to propel us forward as we learn from our misgivings.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Look on the Bright Side

I once read that some of the most valuable lessons we learn in life are taught to us by difficult people.    You know the type of people I am referring to.  People that seem to embody cynicism, judgment, and pessimism.  Those that take delight in the misfortune of others or seem satisfied by having a complaint.  The people that expect the worst from the world and seem committed to their unhappiness.  
Being around negativity, even for a short moment, can be frustrating and emotionally taxing.  Yet unfortunately, it is unlikely that we can avoid negative people all together.  We are bound to have a run-in with a disheartening individual at some time or another, so it is best that we are prepared to respond in such a way that protects us from the negativity while still allowing us to learn something positive from the experience. 
So, having said that, what is the best way to respond?  Is it best that we ignore them and hope that they go away?  Should we respond in kind and give them an attitude adjustment?  Do we shower them in sunshine and encourage them to see life from a more elevated perspective?  And, on the same token, how do we protect ourselves from being drawn in by the pull of their negative energy?  How do we prevent an unsettling encounter from ruining our mood? 
To answer these questions, consider the following checklist, presented by author and counselor, Julie Hoyle. 
1. What does this person need?
Is there a chance that positive input is being sought? If the answer is yes, share something enlightening.  If the answer is no, keep the interaction brief.
2. Are they acting as a mirror?
The answer is a resounding “yes” if we have been sucked in by their negativity. When there is a pull, there is a resonance, and we are being shown where we are resisting the flow of life. When this is the case, breathe in deeply and accept what is.
3. Remember, this too will pass.
While we can offer compassion and point to other alternatives, we are not responsible for others. Suffering, to a point, is a choice. Be a part of the solution rather than adding to the illusion. Create space for an opening of awareness to happen.
4. Avoidance is O.K.
Protect and safeguard the sanctity of your internal state, and surround yourself with people who nurture you. On other occasions, remain upbeat and transform the negative into a positive.  Do it for long enough and it works wonders. If the other person cannot turn you on to their negativity, they may eventually give up.
5. Love really is the answer.
Everything always, always comes down to love. If we love and respect ourselves, we do not give ourselves away cheaply, and we do not stoop to negativity.  Instead, we stand our ground, offering others a place to rise up to. Always listen with love, and offer kindness to everyone, even if they don’t seem to “deserve” it at the time. 


Monday, February 25, 2013

"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Lao Tzu
While doing a bit of research, I came across the following experiment. Humor me for a moment, and give it a go:
While sitting at your desk, or kitchen table, or wherever you may be, lift your right foot off the floor. With your foot in the air and your toes pointed away from your body, begin to draw clockwise circles in the air. As your body gets the hang of this, raise your right hand in to the air and draw the number “6” with your index finger.
Before you even attempt to give this experiment a try, I will tell you what will happen: Your foot will change its direction. And I will even be so bold as to say that there is not one thing that you can do about it.
Having said that, give it a go and take note of what happens.
…If you are anything like me, your foot changed its direction as your hand moved counter-clockwise, completing the bottom half of the number “6”. And if you’re anything like me, you tried again and again in an effort to prove me wrong. I tried so many times, in fact, that I gave myself the giggles as I realized that the only thing I was successful in was either proving myself wrong or creating a sloppy letter “Z” out of my nearly perfect and original clockwise circle. My resistance was indeed futile.
This little experiment also gave me a laugh because I found it to be so true to life in a much bigger context. Sometimes, despite our most honest efforts and our best laid plans, life changes directions on us. It does an about-face, turning on its heal and leading us down a path that we had never thought that we would go. When this happens, it seems that we have two choices. We may dig in our heals and bury our head in the sand, refusing to see or accept that life is not turning out as we had once imagined. Or, we may adapt, go with the flow, and adjust our sails to the winds of change.
Of course, the latter of the two options is the most attractive. But in my opinion, it is much easier said than done. Because as I have said many times since I began writing this column, change is not always easy. And in fact, some changes can be anything but easy. In my opinion, there is no such thing as simply changing direction when you have had your heart set on another destination.
And yet, this happens. So when you find yourself twisting and turning about midair, and changing directions despite your original intentions, do not lose heart. Remember that some changes may really be for the better, even if we do not yet understand the how or the why. Remember that some things we encounter in life are of the divine, or are beyond our control in one way or another. And remember that even when it is within your control, it is okay to have a change of heart of a change of mind. Always know that you will get to where you need to be.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Be Positive

This year’s Lent season began on February 13, 2013. Traditionally, many of us honor Lent by making a sacrifice of some sort, abstaining from something, fasting, or removing something that we will miss during the 46 days leading up to Easter. Ideally, the commitments that we make in honor of Lent are made with self-improvement in mind, as we look within ourselves and discover what we may do to better ourselves and our lives as a whole.
As I was doing some reading regarding spiritually and Lent, I came across a very interesting article that suggested an alternative approach to this time of year. The article, written by a certain Reverend James Martin, suggested that those who acknowledge the Lenten season should abstain from abstinence this year and instead celebrate a positive Lent. By this, he means, do something!
More specifically, followers are encouraged to practice a “positive” Lent rather than a “negative” one. Rather than emphasizing sacrifice and abstinence, the Reverend suggests that we take the time to add something positive into our lives, do something good. As he states with simplicity, celebrate a positive Lent this year by taking the time to “bother to love”. Instead of giving up behaviors or habits that you are trying to kick anyway, why not focus on doing something positive for yourself, or perhaps more importantly, for others? Call that friend that has been on your mind. Reach out to someone in need. Donate your time to something you feel passionate about. Engage in a random act of kindness. Spend the day with your children or a loved one. Allow yourself some much-needed quiet-time. Just do something that is good. Bother to show your love.
Reverend James quotes Jesus in the Gospel, saying “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice.” So whether you are Christian or not, why not take the words of Jesus literally and bother to share the love that has filled your heart. Show compassion and mercy to those you encounter. Pay attention to your loved ones, and shower them with lovingkindness. Be kind to yourself, by embracing your own inherent goodness, and encourage others to do the same.
Whether you are open to the idea of a Positive Lent, you prefer a more traditional approach to the season, or you prefer not to celebrate this time of year at all, do consider taking a more “positive” approach to this time in your life. Consider the words of the Dalai Lama, “Kindness is my religion” and practice giving of yourself, rather than imposing limitations upon yourself. Take the opportunity that is this Lenten season, and invest your energies in doing something positive. Be kind. Do good. Bother to show your love.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Easy Doesn't Do It

My sister recently sent me an article entitled, “Struggle for Smarts”. The author opened his article with a story about a fourth grade classroom in Japan. In this story, the teacher was teaching his class how to draw three-dimensional cubes. As he observed the class, the author noticed that one of the boys was struggling with the concept and appeared unable to draw the cube correctly. The teacher noticed this as well and invited the youngster to draw the cube on the board in front of the class. Doing as he was instructed, the boy went to the front of the class, and drew the cube to the best of his ability, but he still could not complete the cube correctly. After his first try, the teacher asked the class, “How does that look?” The class confirmed that it was drawn incorrectly, so he tried again. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the class if he had gotten it right, and each time, the students would look up from their work and shake their heads “no”. As the hour went on, and the boy had still not completed the cube correctly, the author realized that he had begun to perspire as he watched the boy anxiously and worried that he would become discouraged and begin to cry.

But, to his surprise, he did not. He diligently persisted, drawing his cube incorrectly each time. Try after try, he continued to draw his cube until, , he had gotten it right. And when he had finally drawn the cube with mastery, the class broke into applause and he was able to return to his seat with pride.

Like the author of this article, many of us become uncomfortable when we imagine this young boy struggling in front of his peers in such a way. We think, “Why would the teacher do that to him, knowing that he was unable to draw the cube correctly? That poor boy! I feel so badly for him!” Yet, while this boy was struggling to master the task of drawing of the cube, it does not appear that he was struggling emotionally. So why is it that we assume that he was? And why is it that we ourselves shift uncomfortably and feel badly for this boy who struggled to learn something new? It seems that many of us tend to view struggle as an indicator that we, or someone else, is lacking or “less than” in some important way. That we are not as intelligent, not as capable, not as resilient as we “should be”. That because we do not have it figured out yet, we are missing a skill or trait that we should otherwise possess.

Yet, if we were to adopt a perspective that is similar to the Japanese classroom, we would realize that struggle is an inherent and predictable part of life. It is part of learning, part of mastering a skill, part of figuring things out and finding our way. As this classroom knows, to struggle is not a sign of weakness. Rather, to struggle is to be presented with yet another opportunity to overcome challenge and to learn. To struggle is an opportunity to be proud of ourselves and satisfied with our efforts as we work through something difficult and overcome an obstacle.