Life can easily become monotonous. Daily routines become ruts. Ruts become habits. Habits become comfortable whether the habit formed is positive or negative. Doing the same actions over and over, driving the same routes, watching the same television, listening to the same music, eating the same foods also become routine, or a rut, or habit. However I find much of my satisfaction and happiness stems from the new experiences I have that intentionally take me away from the everyday.
A man waiting to make a right turn into a small grocery store parking lot noticed that only two spaces remained. He saw a woman waiting to turn left into the same lot. Knowing it could be some time before oncoming cars would allow her to turn, when the light changed he purposefully held back traffic and motioned that she should enter the lot ahead of him. She did.
The woman was first to arrive at the two adjoining spaces. Instead of pulling into one space she intentionally parked in the middle of both. Shocked, the man stopped his car and got out.
“Excuse me, ma’am. Will you please move your car so I can park too?”
“No, someone will scratch it.”
“But I let you turn ahead of me and there are no more parking places. You’ve taken the last two.”
“So what? It is my right.”
The man found another parking place and followed the woman into the store. He was furious and shouted at her. She completely ignored him and went about her business.
Each day you have opportunities to practice remaining aligned with your heart’s loving, compassionate, and purposeful values or to stoop to the standards other people set for themselves. To consistently have the best life requires acting aligned with your heart. This requires accepting your mind is not the smartest part of you, no matter how much it tells you it is. The rationalizations and justifications your mind will create to defend ego-boxing behavior cause stress, frustration, and disappointment that can get you into trouble.
When we slow down to think about what we are thinking while we are thinking it, we learn our mind is a tool. It is great for balancing our checkbook, filling out an income tax report, or working through statistical analysis. It also comes in handy when reading a map, recalling items we need from the grocery store, or learning how to use a remote control. Our mind thinks, and with our heart’s wisdom we have the awareness to question those thoughts.
Is what we are thinking real, true, or important? Do our thoughts justify actions that can hurt us or someone else? Are our thoughts attempting to limit the cooperative, inclusive, and virtuous motivations of our heart?
Slow down. Think about what you are thinking. Keep emotionally connected to and responsible for the steady stream of mind chatter. Become aware of how your thoughts subtly limit you. Master a mind that has a mind of its own by learning to identify and change limiting, negative thoughts to positive thoughts that support you in creating the life of meaning you really want.
Growing up gay I did not give much thought to getting married. Until recently it was not legal. So when Barbara and I decided to make our relationship official, I had not taken time to sit with what being married to her truly means. Possibly it is because not much will change since we’ve been living together as partners for over 12 years. But, on this wedding eve I am now thinking deeply about why I am eager to say “I do” tomorrow.
Each success we achieve in life is the result of our being emotionally invested in the outcome, to the point that we make ourselves take the consistent actions necessary to create what we want.
For twenty-two years I wanted to quit smoking. My plans were good. Yet hoping to accomplish something did not actually make it happen. After passing up a cigarette or two, soon I’d make an excuse to have just one. Then I would beat myself up for once again not being strong enough not to smoke. Excusing my lack of commitment, I would tell myself I was not perfect, I was only human, with faults, and allowed to make mistakes.
I attempted to change my negative habits for a long, long time, until I realized I could continue “trying” for the rest of my life. Quitting smoking—or any other destructive habit—is accomplished not by trying harder, but by doing. I actually had to make myself not pick up a cigarette until I no longer had the desire to smoke, which took about a month. To stop smoking cold turkey I relied on my personal values of being aware, strong, and accountable. These and other positive values fueled my willpower to not smoke even one cigarette.
Yes, intending to accomplish something is a great first step. Aiming to improve ourselves starts us thinking about the personal changes we want to make or evaluating what career, educational, relationship, and financial goals to set. Yet the statements “I hope to lose weight,” “I aim to be financially independent,” “I propose to be patient in traffic jams,” “I plan to be peaceful,” and “I mean to be successful” still point to some change to happen at a future time.
“Plan,” “hope,” or “I am trying” gives us permission to wait another day. And when given the option, all too often we will not begin any action at all. We will lie awake at night fretting, disappointed and frustrated by our lack of progress, but we will not act. But a small shift in perspective can make all the difference.
By changing the planning statement of “I want” to the present-moment statement of “I am,” we can remain mindful of the negative habit. It also helps us stay emotionally connected to the behavior. For example, “I am losing weight” supports us in being more mindful about eating with awareness and passing up the elevator in favor of the stairs. “I am saving money” prompts us to stop before purchasing yet another pair of jeans in favor of achieving the goal of having money left over at the end of each month. “I am a nonsmoker” really does help consciously break the habit by allowing us to visualize ourselves without cigarettes. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. “I am” is a simple yet powerful positive affirmation that actually motivates us to take the daily steps necessary to accomplish our goals.
To change ourselves or a relationship, we must be willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the goal. Change won’t happen just by investing a few hours in a workshop, a religious service, or a counseling session. Creating new, positive habits is an entire lifestyle change, and it takes time to replace old habits with new ones. Living changed becomes our reason for being, our moment-by-moment priority.
When stumbling blocks come up, and they will for all of us, do not take no for an answer. Rely on your values to support you in taking the necessary actions over and over until your new, positive lifestyle is securely in place.
You are absolutely capable of making the personal changes you want to make once you stop “trying” and instead do, do, do.
You and I are impressed with people who bravely stand up to injustice. We consider those who blow the whistle on corruption, irresponsibility, neglect, abuse and practices that harm us, the environment and animals, to be superheroes. But often listening to our own personal whistleblowers is a completely different story. Our prideful and defensive ego is not eager to have people call us on our negative behavior.
Through e-mail, I agreed to pick up and return my friend Katherine to the airport. Two weeks before her arrival, something came up that required me to change plans for transporting her back to the airport. Still through e-mail, I assured her I would find someone to give her a ride back.
She arrived and I was there to greet her. After some time together, I confirmed I was unable to give her a ride back to the airport. The news came as a shock. Nothing I said could convince my friend I had sent a second e-mail two weeks earlier; she thought I was lying.
I can be stubborn, and I can be argumentative. But for too many years being obstinate and confrontational did nothing to resolve my conflicts. And clinging to the notion I had to be proven right only added fuel to the fire in the disagreements I had with others. Through experience I learned the most positive action was choosing to overrule my self-centered ego.
It was not easy, but the truth was no matter how much I wanted validation from Katherine, there was absolutely nothing to be gained by arguing with her. Leading with the heart is caring more for friendship than pride, so I chose to let go of my ego’s need to be recognized as right. I did not want to be angry with her, nor did I want our time together to be uncomfortable. The only option I saw to ensure peace of mind was to be patient, accept what was, and allow the situation to resolve itself.
A few weeks after my friend returned home, she was having repairs made to her computer when several mysteriously lost e-mails arrived in her in-box. Among them was the one I had sent.
I do not believe it is possible for us to agree with everyone all the time about everything. I do believe it is possible for us to stay agreeable when disagreeing. And simply because we disagree with someone does not mean that person is wrong.
My friend was also right! She had not received my e-mail before she left. Yet, for many months after returning home, she was distant. She was embarrassed for not giving me the benefit of the doubt. She was upset at herself for allowing hurt feelings to invent all sorts of reasons to justify turning her back on me. She was also angry at herself for discounting my history of honest and loyal behavior. She was frustrated for permitting herself to invent ego-illusions my innocent actions were a personal attack.
In the overall design, you and I are only alive for a very brief period—much too short to waste time holding a grudge or settling for drama, fear, and sadness. When we place more importance on being proven right than we do on our relationships, we have, in essence, donned flowing silk robes and placed ourselves in the middle of a dense rose garden. Life situations and interactions with other people become masses of twisted thorns that rip and tear at the fragile material. No matter how painful the thorns are or how deeply they tear at us, we are uncomfortable shedding the robe of our prideful self-image. Without our egocentric self-view, who will we be?
With pride at stake, we do not stop to question the cost of being right. An egocentric mind does not care about the feelings of friends, family, or strangers. Wounded ego is not content unless the whole world accepts we are indeed right and someone else is wrong. And on the occasions we are the one who is wrong, our ego is not interested in voluntarily confessing our guilt; we are fine remaining quiet as a mouse sneaking off with a piece of cheese.
To lead with our heart, we let go of the need to be acknowledged as right—even when we are. While there may be two sides to every story, there is only one truth between them. Truth has a way of surfacing eventually, making relationships worth much more than egotistically defending our personal pride.
While I don’t have children of my own, throughout life I have always been surrounded by children and young adults. Also, as a former wounded and dysfunctional child who’s spent much of my adult life in self-reflection to heal, I’ve learned how critical it is to a child’s success for them to be intentionally guided through the process of growing up. All children must be taught how to behave, what to value, how to express emotion in healthy ways, and how to respectfully treat themselves, other people and all life. And, I know children learn by watching the actions of those individuals they are exposed to.
I was standing at an intersection waiting to cross and noticed a young homeless man pushing a shopping basket filled with his belongings. He had a beautiful dog with him. Then I saw an older, well-dressed man approach the young man and kneel down to pet the dog. The young man was beaming. The dog’s tail was wagging so fast I thought it would fly off, and the older gentleman was smiling from ear to ear. When he stood up I saw him hand the young man some money. They exchanged a handshake, and with one last pat on the dog’s head the older man turned and walked away.
When I crossed the street I caught up to the older gentleman and said, “That was a very kind thing to witness. Thank you for what you did.” He smiled. I smiled. For several days after I had a delightful feeling from witnessing such a loving act.
Love is more than a romance or devotion. Love is the state of aligning your behavior with the positive values of heart. Loving yourself and others is expressing behaviors like sensitivity and forgiveness. To love is to be patient, honest and enduring.
Each time you behave positively, regardless of how any other person chooses to act, you are aligned with the higher, wiser part of your being. When you behave in ways that align with your heart you create a life of joy and profound meaning.
In this Episode:
Jobs end. Relationships end. We don’t get what we want when we want it. An inconsiderate driver cuts us off. We encounter a traffic jam. Our job becomes very demanding. The line at the post office is out the door. A check we mail never arrives. We are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Challenge is part of life. You cannot escape being inconvenienced or having to deal with unexpected and unwanted circumstances but you sure do have power over your attitude about what happens in life.
When I was 21 I was briefly locked up in a psychiatric hospital. I became severely depressed. At least that is what I was told I was. Deep inside I knew my depression was the result of no longer being able to outrun the personal issues I had struggled with all of my life. Without anyone to confide in and nowhere to turn for help I retreated inward as an act of desperate self-preservation.
At the time I considered life too unbearable to continue. So the answer as professionals saw it was to medicate me and slap a variety of labels on my condition. But that only served to further distance me from a real solution to my underlying problem – self-acceptance.
While I cannot speak for everyone I have learned many things about the variety of reasons we get lost in the limitations of our mind. With our lives moving at ever faster speeds we are often too quick to reach for a drug, or to give up on ourselves, or to isolate ourselves in an attempt to cope. For me, healing began in earnest when I stopped looking for answers to repair my heart from someone or something outside me. As long as I continued to give my power away to other people to fix my life, to accept me as I was, or to validate my existence, my life remained broken.
While one size does not fit all when we speak about moving past depression and traumatic issues, I feel it is important to remember our soul is the force that helps us overcome many challenges we tell ourselves we cannot. While physical and emotional trials are very real, so is our soul’s power to move us past them. For me and countless others who have taken our power back we simply want to share our experience of how powerful we truly are when we truly want to be.