Comfortable with Ourselves

The more comfortable we are with ourselves, the more comfortable we are with others.” —Kevin Manders

What does it mean to be more comfortable with ourselves? In the past, for me it meant picking out the things that I liked about myself and feeling good about that.

However, the deeper I looked into “myself”, the more I came across things that I didn’t like – I didn’t like my quick anger, I didn’t like feeling shame, I didn’t like being judgemental… the list went on and on. So how do I become comfortable with the items that are on my ‘negative list’? That is where the process of inner work comes in to play.

It is a well-know principle of psychology that what we don’t like in ourselves becomes something that we cannot accept in others. For example, if I can’t deal with my own anger, I won’t be comfortable with yours. In my own practice, as I explore what is prompting anger to arise in me, I discover old wounds and deep feelings that need to be attended to. I begin to understand and take responsibility for my old patterns of reactivity and I become less driven by them.

When I am able to make friends with my own underlying emotions of fear, shame, or whatever, your expression of anger becomes more nuanced for me. On the days when I am feeling good about myself, I can become curious about what potentially lies beneath the surface of your anger? In this way I then become more tolerant and compassionate. I become more comfortable with you. I can begin to see all of you, not just your anger. We become just two people caught up in an old dance.

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Listening to the voices inside

“If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.” – Natalie Goldberg

It has taken me some time to find my own understanding of the voices inside. For me it is not as if I hear a booming voice in my head, like: “Attention Walmart shoppers”. The important voices in my head have been elusive and mostly jabbering away at an unconscious level. I find them when I pay close attention to the thoughts attached to intense emotion.

In my early twenties, I remember my mother causticly telling me, “Your problem is that you want everyone to love you!” Like most sons probably, I simply discounted my mother’s irritating observation. It took many years for me to realize that I had been a people pleaser all of my life. The old reflex is still there today. It is related, in part, to a childhood belief that I must do what I sense other people want in order to be accepted. I had to be a good little boy for my parents in order to feel accepted by them. I am part of the ‘children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard’ generation.

I have since learned the benefits of paying attention when I am feeling the shame of ‘not being good enough’. The feeling could arise relating to doubt in starting a new project, or in comparing myself negatively to others, or whatever. This old pattern can get triggered in many ways. But I am no longer afraid of what arises in me when this happens.

I can allow myself to go to a place of deep shame. Woven into shame’s fabric I hear a voice relentlessly whispering, over and over again, “I am not good enough”. When I allow myself to rest in this place and to accept that this is what I am feeling in the moment, a small miracle happens. The shame itself gently lifts and I feel once again connected and balanced. I also experience compassion for myself.

So when the critics outside of me, real or imagined, trigger that old wound, I now have a different response. I allow the shame to arise knowing that because of my old patterns, it is I who am generating the shame. Sometimes I can catch this as it is happening; sometimes it takes longer. But always it ends with me accepting where I am. Then, without effort, I release back into an open and compassionate state.

If I pay attention, the critics outside of me are a gift because they remind me that my serenity is my responsibility, not theirs.

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Silence

Silence can be an emptiness that is, paradoxically, full. You do not occupy this silence; it occupies you. —Mark C. Taylor,“Hearing Silence”

 

As I write this, most of us are living through a couple of months of self-isolation. In my case, I am grateful that I am in my own home and with my wife. However, cut-off from my normal routines, I often find myself looking for some kind of distraction. It could be books, music, a Zoom call, television, food, etc.

 
While these are all necessary parts of my life, sometimes I use them to avoid boredom, or perhaps, to avoid some sharp emotion or disturbing thought that is running undetected through my psyche.

 

When I become aware of an underlying pattern, I can fall back on my meditation practice. I can address the suppressed energy. Then, I can pause; I can focus on my breathing; I can drop my awareness into my body; and I can let my mind relax. Let all of me relax.

 

It is then that I open to the present moment. It is then I am occupied by silence.

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Falling In Love with Life

What does it take to fall in love with being alive?  Being willing to see the end of what you love.  – Stephen Jenkinson

 

I have spent most of my time on this earth taking life for granted.  I expect things to continue on; at least the things that I love and that are important to me.  Even though there are constant reminders, I forget about the fragility of life and that all of this is temporary.

I don’t think it is necessary to continually dwell on impermanence; that would probably keep me in a heightened state of anxiety or depression.  However,it seems that being out of touch with this reality has a tendency to put me to sleep.

I had a recent ‘brush with death’.  It was an infection that could have been fatal but for the intervention of modern medicine.  Throughout the healing process I developed a deep sense of gratitude.  At first I was grateful to those who helped me heal but the gratitude slowly expanded.  First to my wife and the rich deep life that we share; on to friends and family; and outward still to the very fact of being alive, to having this life.   I did indeed “fall in love with being alive”.

And still a few months later, i forget to remember how grateful I am.  I pause as I write this to look out the window at how the sun is illuminating the leaves of the forest; the play of light and shadow, the warm late summer air, the birds signalling. When I pause to remember, my heart fills with love all over again.

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Finding Your Gift

“The meaning of life is to find your gift.  The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Some people are lucky and tap into their gifts early in life.  For me, it has been a journey over much of my adult life.  My journey began consciously in my forties when I first recognized my passion for being of service to others.   Over the years as my work evolved, as my personal growth work continued, as my spiritual practices took shape, I became increasingly in touch with what I would call my gift.

 

My particular gift relates to the heart. It is a deep sense of compassion and a desire to make things better – to help ease the suffering in the world, my own and that of others. I can now see how this has been a theme running through most of my life.

 

I have also learned that I sometimes get in my own way in terms of being able bring my gift to the world.  My innate talents are accessible when I am open, when I am not taking a defended stance in life. Coaching is one of the ways for me to give my gift away.

 

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Practicing Happiness

“Happiness is to be practiced like the violin.”        – John Lubbock

 

At first glance, this quote may seem a bit contrived.  Many tend to think of happiness as being something which spontaneously arises when we are engaged in something that we like doing, e.g. “I am happy when I am gardening”.  Therefore, the more ‘I garden’, the happier I am. While there certainly is truth to this way of thinking, it can also be limiting – it relies on happiness being caused by conditions that are external to ourselves.  What happens when we ‘can’t garden’?

Happiness is a quality or state of being. A state of being can be generated from within. One simple method for generating happiness is to cultivate gratitude.   Here is a simple exercise to test this for yourself:

Close your eyes, take a few soft breaths and bring to mind someone or something that you are grateful for having in your life.   Stay with your image of the object of your gratitude and think about some of the reasons for feeling grateful.  Stay with this for ten seconds or more.

When you have finished, do you notice any changes to how you feel inside?  Do you feel happy?

Even if you only noticed a slight internal shift, you will understand that happiness can be practiced like the violin.  Imagine if you did this everyday…

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Relating to What Happens

“It is not what happens to us that determines our experience, but how we relate to what happens”         – Lama Surya Das

 

 
We know that life does not always unfold the way that we would like.  We all have experienced loss and will continue to do so throughout our lives.  We all have made plans that ended up not working out.  This too will continue to happen.  We all have people and situations that we want in our lives and those that we do not. Somehow life continues to bring us both.  In the end, we do not have direct control over what happens to us in life; life is bigger than we are.

 

By choosing how we react to life’s situations we can begin to experience freedom and a deeper sense of who we really are.  We might not be able to avoid unpleasantness, but we can avoid harming ourselves further by how we react to it.  There is an old saying:  “Resentment is like taking poison and hoping that the other person dies.” We can learn how to stop taking poison and how to connect with ourselves in healthier ways.

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No success without errors

“There is… no success without many errors.”   – Dogen Zenji

 

I spent a great deal of my life trapped with a silent inner voice telling me that I had to be good at things before I could attempt to accomplish them.  The ludicrousness of this idea is obvious, but it is a clear example of how we can play old messages in our unconsciousness that do not serve us well.  Because these types of messages are operating at an unconscious level, we often fail to recognize that they are playing with our minds and our hearts.  Like an undetected computer virus they shape our conscious thinking and our behaviour.

It is important to uncover these old messages if we are to free ourselves from their grip.  Working with and befriending the attending emotion is a direct path to accessing these old patterned responses and to gently free ourselves from them.  It was when I began to consciously experience and work with my underlying fear and shame that the world became a bigger and more inviting place to play.

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