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9 September 2011 3 Comments

Life Purpose, Part 2: The Backlash of Inspiring Stories

Life Purpose, Part 2: The Backlash of Inspiring Stories

Dynamic changes in our world remind us we will not here forever. Remembering our impermanence stimulates gratitude for what we have, and can inspire us to live our lives to the fullest. Life purpose is about living our lives to the fullest.

Feeling purposeless and not knowing what to do to make life worthwhile is a distressing plight. Monumentally important questions cry for deeper engagement with life. Pat answers and distraction do not suffice. Having answers that are not your own frustrates your sense of purpose—even if you cannot get your arms around it.

I am writing this detailed post series to address the issues that arise when we consider Life Purpose. I hope to free Life Purpose from misconceptions that derail and confuse. For now, let’s look at a trap some of us set up for ourselves:

Most of the clients who talk to me about Life Purpose use the concept of having a purpose in life to beat up on themselves in some way. What is going on with this?

Cultural focus on Life Purpose causes a backlash as we interpret the messages we receive. Most of our input about Life Purpose is laden with extreme stories of people whose purposes involve wild and amazing success after devastating losses, who change the world with money or place themselves in service like Mother Teresa. I remember being terrified, when I became more seriously spiritual, decades ago, that the ultimate fate of my life would be extreme sacrifice for the benefit of mankind. We are fed stories to inspire us. Inspirational stories can have a vicious backlash.

Have we really begun to believe that every Life Purpose is about becoming rich and famous and changing the world? This would mean that everyone who is not up for this has no Purpose?

It is not a calling for every life to have an obvious and public destiny. Living to the fullest—in any case—begins with becoming truly Present with ourselves, exactly as we are, in our current circumstances.

If you are one of the people who stops yourself from dealing with Purpose by thinking it’s way out of your reach, I have some questions for you. They are not rhetorical. Take time to contemplate them or journal.

Can my Life Purpose be something that is so far beyond what I am capable of actually doing that it is a pie in the sky or dooms me to failure without even trying?

Do I really believe pursuing my Life Purpose will make me less happy and satisfied?

Is the universe really designed so that our Purposes are virtually impossible, or so difficult to take on that they are only for highly exceptional people?

Could it be that my Life Purpose is something that I myself can take on, starting where I actually am?

Could it be that my Life Purpose–being correct for the actual me–is something I can begin right here in my current circumstances?

2 September 2011 6 Comments

Life Purpose, Part 1: Re-Defining Success

Life Purpose, Part 1: Re-Defining Success

“Your work in this life is to find your work, and to give yourself to it with your whole heart.” Buddha

Whether you got your notions about Life Purpose from parents, spiritual or religious leaders, from an assortment of media input, or somewhere else, your concepts will be biased by their energy and their values.

Considerations about Life Purpose are usually entangled with concepts about success. Part of this is because advertisers target those who long for purpose and success by firing up their issues, to fuel their urge to buy programs. The lure of simultaneously succeeding and setting aside the nagging feeling that we must make something of ourselves is powerful.

What about you? Does what you hear about Life Purpose inspire you, cause resistance, or leave you flat? Wherever you got your notions, no problem. But let’s add some deeper, balancing thinking to take out the hooks and get into action.

Focusing on Life Purpose can help us remember to use our time and energy in ways that we value. Remembering that we will die helps us get real and stay present with what is truly meaningful and important. Life is more interesting with a sense of purpose.

I saw a video considered a big deal in the online advertising community. A rich, mucky-muck was saying, “Forget about life balance when starting to be an entrepreneur.” He advises putting aside all values except health and family in order to make money. I have to ask: What values are shoved aside and what is the long-term effect? What else is lost along with life balance? Heart? Soul? Introspection? Perspective? Integrity? I remain unconvinced that the attainment of money will make up for a long period of life without acknowledging internal values.

I have a friend who teaches classes on end of life issues and dying. Here is #2 from his list of deathbed regrets: I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

Re-defining success in personal terms is powerful and helps us access our feeling of Life Purpose. Getting in touch with Life Purpose requires being deeply in touch with yourself.

This is the age of collaboration. Competition can drive us to beat ourselves up for not living out a notion of success that would never make us happy. Competition may be healthy or unhealthy. Motivation makes the difference. Healthy competition relies on good self-esteem. It stimulates skillful action and allows for team effort. You are able to celebrate the wins for the group, whether or not your own performance is stellar.

Unhealthy competition is toxic to collaboration. It is driven by ego issues and may even be a touch maniacal. Unhealthy competition is motivated by the desire to be worth something. This assumes that you are not worth anything to start with, and that proving something on the outside can change this. It doesn’t. It can’t. There is always something or someone bigger and better.

It is perfectly okay to define yourself as a success just as you are. Try it. Then you can go ahead with your sense of purpose without worrying about external standards.

Goals driven by aims that are not truly and deeply meaningful to YOU leave a disturbing sense of meaninglessness in their wake. This empty meaninglessness may exist inside before the goals emerged. The goals were a temporary distraction. When a major goal is achieved a sense of being empty or worthless may float back up toward the surface of awareness. Getting in touch with Life Purpose helps us to face and set to rest this type of feeling.

This series contains a lot of important questions. If you have an issue with Life Purpose, make a journal and answer them as we move through the series.

Where did you get your notions about Life Purpose?
How well are they serving you?

22 July 2011 2 Comments

Presence & Boundaries Post 4: Self-Possession in Action, an Example

Presence & Boundaries Post 4: Self-Possession in Action, an Example

Self-possession is a particular quality of Presence. The state of self-possession naturally expresses boundaries, a sense of dignity, and the ability to feel emotionally safe around others. When we know who we are and where we are, we define ourselves rather than letting other people define us.

Here is a story I shared that was helpful to a client learning to stay present with her feelings in group situations:

Historically I felt unrecognized in groups and found myself being shut down by the leaders when I spoke out. During a ten-day partly-Zen retreat I practiced sitting in my body and sensing while my inner wounds were active, instead of pulling away through action or distraction. The next time I became triggered in a group setting I was able to stay present. This means that I maintained body-awareness and awareness of my surroundings instead of going off in my head or being lost in the emotions that came up.

I made what I thought was a useful comment in the group. The leader abruptly and intentionally cut me off. Since I was Present, I noticed that the first three words of my comment made it seem like I was speaking about a specific person.

In the past I might have found myself spacing out while helpless, frustrated thoughts arose, disconnecting me from the group. Confident that I could stay with and support myself inside if I were to feel hurt, I stuck around. I restated my comment, leaving the out three words that may have caused misinterpretation. Instead of seeing the group like blobs in chairs like we do when lost in thought, I looked around and noticed that eyes in the group were supporting me.

Turning to the leader I said, “I think this comment is appropriate for our context.” My body language made my statement a respectful question. I remained open to her input so she would still be in control of the group. This respect for the group and her leadership gave her room to agree, and she did.

When we cannot stay Present with our experience and we check out, other people sense the energy of our distress. If they are sensitive to energy they may feel this distress as their own, and think it is theirs. The distress in the room can become magnified like a hall of mirrors. In discomfort, they may shut down to us–as we have already shut down to them by checking out.

Trying to compensate for the discomfort of feeling too open to energy creates a paradoxical state in which one is too open in some ways and too closed in others at the same time. Going head-on into the distress, grounding and balancing, and making a statement that addresses your interests or needs brings clarity back into the room.

Uncomfortable situations can transform us once if we can define, communicate, and address our needs. This starts by staying with discomfort and feeling where it goes in your body. By surrendering resistance to the discomfort, we become able to drawn on resources that allow us to break new ground.

What type of situation challenges your boundaries?
What do you need to embrace in yourself to face that situation fully, without pulling away or shutting down?

15 July 2011 2 Comments

Presence & Boundaries Post 3: Knowing Who We Really Are

Presence & Boundaries Post 3: Knowing Who We Really Are

Being comfortable and clear relies on knowing where we start and stop, what is part of us and what is not, which feelings and sensations originate with us and which come from other people or events. The more intuitive we are the harder it is to make this call.

Mystics experience all life as one. The psychologist Jung coined the term “collective unconscious,” where personal experience merges into what is essentially the group mind of all of us together

The more expanded your awareness the harder it can be to tell your own cup of water from the ocean. In actuality, water that runs through us has been in many different people, places, plants, periods of time, and life forms. We now call the water and minerals of our bodies “I.” Atoms jump in and out and energy interpenetrates us in the sea of greater-than-self awareness.

The task of knowing who we are involves being able to sort out different levels of awareness. Telling our bodies apart is easy. Sorting my feelings out from your feelings can be easy or hard, depending on early experiences, how similar we are, and other factors. The mind world is a stickier wicket. If you’ve ever had the same dream a friend had on the same night you have an idea how hard it can be to sort out mind from mind.

The most distinctly personal levels of our minds have a distinct and separate energy frequency or signature that identifies us to ourselves and to those who can identify persons through the energy of their thoughts. Advanced Intuitives and those who are trained in Remote Viewing, for example, have this skill.

Transpersonal levels of mind are more diffuse. The thoughts of everyone are out there in the mind-cloud of general human awareness and can jump from mind to mind. In Family Constellation/ Reconstruction sessions, where group members agree to represent one person’s relatives, it is not unusual for participants to temporarily express very specific emotions and physical symptoms of persons they know next to nothing about. This is exemplifies transpersonal experience. The group mind allows for transfer of information without words.

Boundary confusion STARTS WITH energy. Energy is not a woo-woo abstraction. Energy is a real part of the non-verbal communication that actually occurs during events when boundary issues begin. When a parent or family member invades a child through inappropriate acts, for example, the energy part of the communication actually enters the fields or body of that child. This type of energy is stick and hard to throw back out because the child cannot tell who it belongs to, owning it. This is one major cause of issues with boundaries.

Boundaries are primarily about sensing/knowing what is yours and what is not. This especially includes knowing what you are and are not responsible for causing or creating. Taking inappropriate responsibility for the feelings of someone who is attempting to manipulate you emotionally is an example of boundary confusion. You do not cause their emotions and you are not responsible for stopping them. They are. You ARE responsible for finding an effective and preferably respectful way to get away, and for taking care of your own emotional needs. Your need to be liked, for example, must not overpower your need for safety.

Making sure to be consistently authentic is an act of healing if you have any issues with boundaries. This minimizes giving yourself away to try and please others, second-guessing them, or otherwise getting them in your space and you in theirs. State straight out what you feel comfortable or uncomfortable with, respectfully, and work out positive solutions that work for everyone whenever you can. Challenges can often be used to hone new skills.

“Boundaries” is another word for self-possession. Self-possession is a fascinating term if you think about like this: If you are in possession of yourself, nothing else can possess you. When you are fully in your body and in touch with your feelings, energy that does not belong to you passes through but does not take up residence.

Do you ever get confused about what is YOU and what is someone else?
What types of energy do you get confused with?
What kinds of actions help you sort yourself out?

24 June 2011 2 Comments

Presence & Boundaries Post 1: How Do You Manage Sensitivity to Energy?

Presence & Boundaries Post 1: How Do You Manage Sensitivity to Energy?

This post series speaks to learning to manage sensitivity to energy. Presence and Boundaries are cornerstones of this skill. You have to BE HERE to make a boundary.

The more able we are to be Present and the better we know ourselves, the easier it is to deal with energy we find uncomfortable to experience. If we are honest with ourselves and pay attention we will find that when we absent ourselves in some way through distraction, dissociation, or diversion, we do so because we feel uncomfortable. Often some feeling we don’t like is trying to surface into awareness. We stop it by checking out.

Being comfortable feeling our discomfort is a big key to being able to stick around in the here-now moment no matter what we feel. Although counterintuitive, this skill forms a foundation for learning to manage our own energy. Once we can stay present with our own, we begin to be able to sort it out from external influences.

Bell Rock Vortex

Allowing and observing discomfort instead of trying to escape from it is a very Zen kind of practice. It is the foundation of quite a few types of foundational spiritual work. Basic self-observation—sticking around and noticing what is going on—is also key to numerous therapeutic and healing techniques.

Let’s discuss what it takes to become more comfortable with discomfort.

In response to my Post Series about feeling the energy of the world, one brave man wrote: “I do feel the energy of the world, and it bothers me sometimes. All the unrest in the Middle East caused all sorts of funny energies, restless energies to hit me. I can also feel the energy of some people around me. I just don’t quite know what to do with it, how to process these energies. It is things like that which makes me need to numb myself unfortunately.” (Quoted and responded to with permission.)

I would like especially to address those of you seek ways to “numb out” when energy gets intense and those of you who get confused about what is and is not your responsibility. The common link here is that you need to be more Present in your body. This previous 3-post blog defines and also discusses “being in your body.” (Scroll part way down that page.)

Being in your body is fundamental to being Present, and to having effective boundaries. In order to keep from getting confused about what energy, emotions and thoughts are yours and which ones come from other people or events, you need to learn to clearly and distinctly feel and identify your own sensations and emotions.

Body sensations are the easiest place to start. These sensations change with each emotion, and when we get connected with different types of energy. It’s important to have a solid baseline of sensory experience so you can begin to tell what is yours. Again, this begins by sticking around.

Dissociation or disconnection from parts of ourselves—physical, emotional, thought, or energy—is a defense against pain. But when we abandon or fragment ourselves we cannot effectively nurture ourselves and minister effectively to this pain. The survival tool of pulling away is not so useful for sticking around and doing repair. Being Present helps us to learn when to physically withdraw, and to make new, more-effective responses to our needs.

Setting boundaries means recognizing your discomfort and being able to make decisions that are healthy for you; staying whole when things happen.

Post #2 will begin to explore constructive responses to emotions, sensations, and energies.

What do YOU notice about how you respond to discomfort?
Can you stay Present and feel it, or do you find a way to avoid your feelings and sensations?

10 June 2011 0 Comments

Subtle Energy, Trauma & Transformation Part 6: Responsibility

Subtle Energy, Trauma & Transformation Part 6: Responsibility

Intense world energies have been bringing up buried personal issues, but there is another phenomena going on too. What is it, and how can we use it for positive growth?

I got a call from an intuitive woman does her Inner Work and keeps her energy clear. She had been feeling disturbed by a vague sense of guilt, shame, or culpability and wondered why. She had effectively scanned inside, finding no source.

Responsibility is in the air. It accompanies all our new opportunities for choice. Choice and responsibility go hand and glove. The world has entered a phase in which we must each and all assume greater responsibility for our actions and impact upon one another.

Example: Persons whose choices courted or passively led to disaster for their families feel bad about it, adding concern about responsibility to collective energy pool. One may feel he “should have” sold the house sooner, or she “should have” selected a different retirement plan, etc.

Even waging peace demands responsibility from participants and those they petition.

We each take up what responsibility we can, hoping to see ourselves through the world changes. This new flood of responsibility—the energy of it—begins to work its way down into the things we feel bad about, into our old wounds and shame.

Assuming greater responsibility requires becoming aware of what we need to be responsible for. Not knowing what we are responsible for can cause stress and confusion. So does loading our plates with way too much responsibility without clarity about exactly what is ours, and what to do differently. This boundary-confusion can reactivate old wounds.

Many blame ourselves when we experience trauma. Children who are mistreated or have a parent die attempt to make sense of their world by taking inappropriate responsibility for things that were done to them. This stance confers a sense of having a measure of control. It’s easier to manage than feeling totally powerless in a senseless world. But it also keeps one stuck with feeling blameworthy. World changes can undermine this sense of control, making the wounds accessible.

Turn this to your advantage by doing deep emotional ‘housecleaning’ while the energy supports this transformational practice.

The sense that at some level we choose and set up our destinies can add fuel to confusion about responsibility. In general, giving our experience meaning and seeing ourselves as participants reduces trauma, whether or not our assessment is correct.

One reason those who have been victimized feel blameworthy is that we take on, absorb, and come to identify with the energy that abusers refuse to carry. Guilt and shame an abuser pushes away from his or her body congest in their energy field, like disowned emotion tends to do. This energy easily enters us those who are shocked and stunned into absolute openness by trauma.

Energy an abuser rejects can get stuck in your fields or body and echo as if it is your own. If you confuse this with a psychological pattern you will find that pattern highly resistant to change—and perhaps simple once that energy is removed.

Remember that blame is different than responsibility. Blame keeps one stuck in the past. Learning to assume appropriate responsibility in the present can free us from blame. (Also see Forgiveness Series.)

During times of upheaval we have a wonderful opportunity to do deeper healing and make major changes. Bring love and light to all realms of distress. We are helping everyone when we do.

Do you find yourself feeling responsible for things over which you have or had no control?
Do you blame yourself for it or go into shame?
How do you soothe yourself when this comes up?
How can you move into positive action instead of recycling your discomfort?

13 May 2011 2 Comments

Subtle Energy, Trauma & Transformation Part 2: World Energy Cocktail De Jour

Subtle Energy, Trauma & Transformation Part 2: World Energy Cocktail De Jour

How do the changes going on in the world impact our personal energies? We think about housing, money, oil, water, food, and pollution. Let us also begin to consider the subtle impacts of monumental and global change:

Conversations with clients and friends are revealing to me that most of us underestimate the extent to which we are impacted by world events. Changes that impact our personal energy fields are highly subjective–yet more important than one may think at first glance.
If you have a home, a job, and your family is okay you may not recognize the extent to which world changes impact your day-to-day experience.

Changes in the world we live in present new choices. Small changes such as banking options or Facebook format do not rock our world—until they accumulate speed and combine with enormous world changes. Constant change in simple things we have taken for granted can cause overwhelm and over-stimulate us.

“Choices equal change.” (Carolyn Myss) Change forces choice. As our available options change our previous choices are no longer available. We have to rethink things. Here again we see the circular relationship between transformation and awareness, since having to make new choices makes us more aware.

When internal changes–no matter how vague or undefined–challenge basic assumptions about the world this is a type of trauma. (See Part 1)

Think of a time when you were really hungry and absolutely nothing you could find seemed fit to eat. You might feel really stirred up and restless. Feeling a need and having no idea how to satisfy it is, in a very minor way, a kind of trauma.

Have you ever discovered that something you believed in wholeheartedly or took for granted was untrue? Your realization may have taken the form of a betrayal, loss, disillusionment, or the failure of a system, like a religion or the legal system. Situations that force us to rethink everything, wondering where we went wrong and why unimaginable things have happened are traumatic. They throw us into uncertainty and confusion and disrupt our sense of stability.

The severity of trauma does not depend on external factors. When I was raped at 19 the worst part was that the legal system let the guy go. Rape had been verified at the hospital. I had been robbed, and police told me the rapist had assaulted other women but the case was dismissed. Discovering that society allows this and feeling unsafe all the time were infinitely more painful to assimilate than the physical event. I had to work with this disillusionment for years.

Things we do not understand cause a degree of trauma. Some adopt belief systems to make sense out of experience. If these belief systems collapse we feel intense trauma. Right now we do not understand what is happening in the world and many do not feel safe.

Culturally we are accustomed to leaving the world outside our doors, peeping now and then via technology, which we could turn off at will. Technology now streams into our homes on the airwaves. We can turn off our myriad technological linkages, but cannot insulate ourselves. The actual energy of world-rocking events comes through our walls with the same ease as wireless technology, radio waves, ionized air, radiation, and innumerable yet-to-be-defined influences that connect us. That the world is all One is not spiritual rhetoric. It is molecular fact. We are steeped and stewing in the changes that rock the world.

Impacts to our personal energies differ depending on the specific frequencies of the energies that flood the earth. Forces and frequencies real enough to cause sun spots, solar flares, aurora borealis, earthquakes, volcanoes, flooding, extreme weather, and tsunamis can and do impact human energy fields. The manner and extent to which we are impacted depends on our unique personal balance, resilience, sensitivity, strengths and weaknesses, chemical and nutritional composition, stress level, and so forth.

We are not the same. Some of us thrive when others decline from stress. The stronger the influences, the more of us feel stress. Current influences are very strong. Even if you are someone who thrives during massive upheaval and change you know and love others who do not. Through bonds of compassion and the energies that link us with those we care about we are bound to feel something. Energy-sensitive people who resonate with those in trauma mirror that distress.

In Part 3 and 4 we go on to explore exactly what you might be experiencing and how you can use your experiences to enhance your life.

How sensitive are YOU to events that impact Earth?
Which kinds of change impact you the most?
How does your sensitivity show up for you?

22 April 2011 3 Comments

Full-Spectrum Forgiveness, Part 13: Social Appearances & Inner Wounds, Part 3

Full-Spectrum Forgiveness, Part 13: Social Appearances & Inner Wounds, Part 3

“Being positive” or acting “loving” can be driven by narcissism. Denying wounds drives them deeper and makes them inaccessible to healing or forgiveness.

I am going to say some things about narcissism. Please understand that this discussion is less about the disorder itself than a further commentary on the importance of owning our wounds.

Narcissism, in my estimation, is a kind of a turning point. One common expression of narcissism represents an extreme of social adaptation. It’s like social conditioning on steroids. Appearances have turned the corner from being socially useful and are now headed down the road to pathology.

Narcissists do exist whose adaptation is focused on professional attainment, who do not care how they appear to others. They are perceived as jerks. This post focuses on those whose world revolves around being liked.

P1040458Society generally envies narcissists. And why not? They have mastered the art of social appearances and seem so enviably well-adjusted and well liked. External appearances are maintained without functional introspection or sensitive awareness of other people’s feelings. Narcissism is a personality disorder. Something is not working correctly.

Recognizing the disorder is essential self-care. A sensitive and loving person can get drained and dispirited relating to a narcissist. Staying in the relationship too long is likely to become something for which the sensitive person needs to forgive him or herself.

Narcissists are motivated by how they appear to others. They may seem very normal. A crucial difference between someone with a bad case of “nice” with an intense need for approval and a narcissist is that the latter is incapable of putting themselves in another person’s shoes. If you feel distress about something a narcissist has done they blame you for making them look bad–if only to themselves.

Someone who lives in their image of themselves CANNOT understand or value in you what they push away in themselves. The wounds. It’s not personal. That makes it more confusing.

The most confusing interactions I have ever had were with people who excelled at appearing positive, confident, and caring as a way to avoid their wounds. Sensing what was actually going on was like being lost in a fun house with a distorted hall of mirrors.

Narcissists can be consummate actors. Some narcissists can be generous with material things, attention, and loving words, and may even have scores of adoring friends. (Think: “Iron Man.) A narcissist may even run a charitable organization, become a doctor, or set themselves up as a spiritual leader. It’s easy to believe the narcissist’s act–because they do. Seeing what is going on can be shocking. You just don’t want to think someone who ACTS like they care so much could be so cruel without even noticing. They have no clue.

Trying to explain backfires. If you express distress or give them feedback, they may praise themselves as loving, generous, and skillful with people, telling you with apparent sincerity that you are way off base. Meanwhile they systematically ignore anything that does not support their glowing image. Attempts to communicate your own experience are interpreted as something positive or negative—about them.

If you become angry or hurt this only seems to prove that the problems are all yours. He or she maintains the illusion of being wonderful while you “carry” the difficult emotions for you both. Superiority is a powerful defense.

When we show compassion to someone with this character disorder DSC_0042they have no compunctions about using that—and the rest of our energy—for themselves.

Narcissism is extremely difficult to treat. Those who need treatment cannot recognize it. They are extremely successfully defended. Narcissists don’t seek help; they do not admit to having any issues. They are likely to put down people who appreciate or suggest therapy.

My heart totally goes out to anyone living with a narcissist. It can make you feel crazy. Even intuitive people can be taken in. I hope this post will increase awareness. If you’re partnered with someone who everyone seems to love, who is super-friendly with others and casually callous to you, this is a warning sign. Forgive yourself with great tenderness if you are in this situation. You can forgive the narcissist too—but remember that you are dealing with a personality disorder. Mind your boundaries and don’t let yourself be used.

A knowledgeable friend said, “They can be so charming and persuasive. And one can be fooled at first, then be ensnared by the time the damage is done.”

(The psychiatrist and Intuitive Judith Orloff has online resources for dealing with narcissists.)

Here are a few links for technical information in case you need it:

Symptoms of Narcissism
Diagnosis and Treatment of Narcissism

The rest of this post applies generally, not just to narcissists.

If the need to look good or nice or loving or even spiritual makes us deaf and blind to the distress of others, hidden wounds are blocking the ability to see out. We need to be able to see IN in order to see OUT clearly.

Acknowledging our own wounds is a genuine kindness to others.

Part 14 consists of tips and suggestions that support forgiveness, in each of the four modes from Part 1.

How do YOU feel around people who do not acknowledge any shortcomings or issues?
What happens inside you when you extend kindness to yourself?

Please pass this post along to those who need it.

15 April 2011 6 Comments

Full-Spectrum Forgiveness, Part 12: Social Appearances & Inner Wounds, Part 2

Full-Spectrum Forgiveness, Part 12: Social Appearances & Inner Wounds, Part 2

Positive people who have not experienced or do not accept emotional pain radically limit their ability to include and support others. This story shows how social contexts can suppress inner wounds:

One of my most vivid memories from seventh grade involves a lovely young man, a Christian in my singing class. He came from a loving, intact family. One day he made an overture to me, to join inP1040675 an after-school activity. I remember vividly the intense sensations that passed through me and the aftermath of this tiny moment. His eyes were so happy, so full of light. I so much wanted to join him. I actually sensed IN and THROUGH him his family and community support, and how loving they were to one another. I hesitated in terror that they would reject me, and asked a few questions to try and find out if I were truly welcome as myself. The light faded from his eyes. He did not meet me as I was. I could see the shroud of “other” settle between us. It felt like becoming a non-person.

Over the next few weeks I turned this event over in my mind. I realized at some point that his group was looking for recruits. They wanted me to believe something. Part of me wanted to believe it because I thought it might make me happier. I watched. What I saw struck me deeply. I noticed that the people in that group turned away from any expression of distress, however subtle.

I almost judged them for dismissing the people who needed them most. Then I realized that they simply were not equipped to deal with anybody who did not come from the same mold. They had great hearts and intentions. But they lacked depth. Their lack of depth diverted their compassion to the extent that they had no idea whatsoever that they were exclusive and closed to people who were in pain, people they could help.

I am not saying this is true of Christian groups in general. I am saying that the same thing happens, to a lesser or greater extent if more subtly, at a cultural level. Those who have not experienced suffering are generally incapable of compassion for those who hurt. And why not? It is not in their realm of experience.

I thought about that young man on and off in the course of my life. I wondered how he unfolded, whether he ran toward the arrogance of assuming that his way was better and isolated himself within his comfort zone, or whether his lovely heart gradually opened him to new people and experiences. He could have gone either way.

Those who come from families who seem to “have it all” and do not have a heart focus as his DSC_2892did often become hardened to feeling and focus on external attainment. Their children tend to lack compassion and even look down upon those who are in pain—and themselves when THEY are in pain.

Serious competition is not compatible with compassion. When we get caught up in trying to be better than others they become heads to walk over. This is an extreme state of ego with the wounds hidden and denied. It’s all about the outside.

Even being ‘all about other people’ can become an ego defense. It can be another way of being all about the outside. Those who study what it takes to please others and do it in order to avoid pain by securing love for themselves have not processed their wounds. They may have authentically loving natures and values. In general they get by well in the world. They may even get by in close friendships with clearly defined roles. Profound intimacy challenges people who use this defense because it goes beyond roles, brings up wounds for healing, and requires receptivity.

Forgiveness asks of us to feel first what is going on inside and to understand that others too are molded by life circumstances and conditions.

How do YOU feel around people who are in pain?
Are you able to be present with them, or do you turn away?
What do you tell yourself about people you perceive as being better than or not as good as you are?

8 April 2011 4 Comments

Full-Spectrum Forgiveness, Part 11: Social Appearances & Inner Wounds, Part 1

Full-Spectrum Forgiveness, Part 11: Social Appearances & Inner Wounds, Part 1

Day-to-day social life can convey the impression that there is something wrong with us when we hurt inside. Understanding why enhances forgiveness and healing. The next three posts explore social impediments to emotional health, and support integrating self-awareness with life in the world.

P1040454Remember that social life is our external life. Emotional health is balance between our internal and external lives. Society sees to it that we learn social norms. Instruction and modeling for our internal lives is sadly uncommon.

Social personas or images seem to work in the outer world but often retard or prevent inner healing. Those who do not process their wounds often hold an attitude of superiority toward those who are in pain. There is nothing superior in being out of touch. Despite posturing and pretense, lack of compassion and insight is not social or moral high ground.

AVOIDING wounds strains social life and creates a need for pretense. HAVING wounds is not necessarily a problem. How we MANAGE them often is. Noticing wounds with the intent to HEAL them is healthy. Once we have healed our wounds we become infinitely more socially functional—authentically. No pretense necessary.

Motivation to heal is less likely to be strong in people skilled at social adaptations. Is this good or bad? That depends whether you want to stay in adaptations or heal deeply and become fully authentic. In some ways being unable to hide wounds can be an advantage over being able to bury them so well you can get by without working on them.

We get socially conditioned to shut down the feelings that others are uncomfortable feeling themselves. We get social messages to turn away from our wounds. The only necessary change is to be careful to discuss the wounds only with persons who have developed compassion already, can make a caring response. If we talk about them with someone who cannot manage or see their own wounds they must reject us in exactly the same way they reject that part of themselves. They cannot do otherwise.

Awareness of wounds indicates being healthier, not more messed up. Those who appear really together without processing their wounds have just as many problems. They are simply less apparent—until they do something obvious. How many times do we hear about someone in a public office or position of service, or religious power like a priest, whose wounds overwhelm his or her ability to stay balanced in the role of public service or sanctity?

Here are some of the societal reasons why we get the impression there is something wrong with us when we are wounded:

  • People ask, “What is wrong?” instead of “Can I do anything for you.”
  • Our pain scares people who are not able to embrace their own.
  • We live in a culture who “medicates” with drugs, alcohol, and diversions instead of bonding in ways that connect and involve people in healthy ways
  • We may have been scolded when we cried or had a tantrum
  • People who do not know how to express compassion pull away when we express our pain
  • We send people to professionals to deal with “their problems” instead of supporting them appropriately before this becomes necessary

In the movie “The King’s Speech,” Bertie was imprisoned in his royal persona. He lacked the positive vulnerability (see post #7 in this series) essential to effective therapy. He wanted the speech therapist to fix his problem on the surface, without approaching its causes. The therapist was blocked from access to Bertie’s inner world of feeling.

Bertie lived in the emotional isolation common when worldly roles are of greater importance than personal feeling. He was unable to fulfill his role of King until he confronted his depths by allowing his therapist, Lionel, into his inner world. Through the mirror of both therapy and genuine friendshipP1040293 Bertie learned to allow his inner life its central place in his own world. Then he could be King.

Social life may require images from time to time. Authenticity does not require full and complete disclosure at all times or with all people. We pick and choose appropriate expression for this moment. I am suggesting that the motivation for what we pick can be based on comprehensive values, not unconscious compulsions or social conditioning.

Social life, in balance, is our exterior life. Its healthy function does not take the place of your inner life or cripple your personal life. The horror movie in which the mask becomes stuck on someone’s face depicts this malady. In real life this issue is more of a problem the less we are aware that it is occurring. Wounds wake us up to our humanity, needs, personal emotions, goals, dreams, and capacity for genuine intimacy.

How is YOUR balance between your social life and your inner life?
Does one take over the other, or can you move back and forth between them with ease?
What makes this balance easier or more difficult?