Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

Have you ever been subject to unkind words, insensitive comments, or criticism? Have you ever felt that something you did or said was misunderstood, misconstrued, or picked apart by others? Have you ever invested your time and energies into something meaningful to you, something that you cared about dearly, only to learn that your efforts would be met with negative feedback? Has there ever been a time where you invited dialog from others, hoping for help and constructive suggestions, and instead received messages about what you have done wrong with no mention of alternative solutions? Have you ever felt judged unfairly or labeled because of a single trait, decision, or characteristic of yours? Have you ever felt that you were, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”?

I am willing to bet that you have. It seems that each and everyone one of us can relate to these feelings. We have all been criticized, fairly or not. Therefore, we are all familiar with the sting of harsh words. We all know that criticism can hurt.

Criticism can hurt, not just because people disagree with us or because there are people that do not prefer us. It is hurtful not only because it points out our mistakes, faults, and imperfections. Rather, criticism seems to be most painful because it leaves us feeling misunderstood, mistranslated, misconstrued. It leaves us feeling short-changed, judged, and undervalued. Quite often we feel frustrated, picked apart, ganged up on. Criticism often leads to self-doubt, insecurity, and self-consciousness. Criticism is deflating. It is discouraging. Disheartening.

And yet, criticism serves a purpose. When delivered with care, criticism can be eye-opening. It can lead to growth, self-discovery, and awareness. Criticism, when constructive, can lead to much better outcomes for ourselves and others. It can help us learn, overcome difficulty, and master our skills. Criticism is necessary for objectivity, critical thinking, and honest feedback. At its best, criticism allows us to better understand ourselves and strive for improvement. At its worst, however, criticism is damaging and destructive.

So how do we handle criticism, if it is such a necessary part of communication and understanding? How do we tell someone something negative, knowing that such a message has the potential to hurt them? Do we tiptoe and skirt around sensitive issues, forgoing such honesty? Do we avoid an opportunity to help someone because it might be uncomfortable for them?

No, we do not. Instead, we ensure that our messages, if they are necessary at all, are delivered with compassion, empathy, understanding, and balance. We give careful consideration so that we are helpful, constructive, and supportive. We may even consider offering suggestions and alternative solutions, ideas, and perspectives and providing an explanation of the rationale behind them. Additionally, we make certain that we understand what it is that we are discussing, and we take into account the perspectives and experiences of the people involved.

So how then, might we better receive such criticism, especially when it is not delivered with care? Do we take offense, particularly if we are insulted? Do we disregard everything we heard about ourselves that we do not agree with? Conversely, do we internalize any and all criticism and assume it to be true? Do we allow it to alter our self-image or our belief in ourselves? Should we apologize, excuse, or deny parts of who we are because they were subject to criticism?

No. Not at all. Instead, I encourage you to listen to criticism with strong ears and considerate it with an open mind. Refrain from all-or-none thinking, and do not assume everything you hear to be true. Instead, adopt an objective perspective when making sense of such feedback, and take it for what it is worth to you. Ask yourself what can be learned from it, if anything, and do what you would like with such information.

Take a moment to consider criticism from a new angle. Recall what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such messages, and show compassion to those that you speak to. Ensure that your words come from your heart, and be selective with what you choose to share with others. As you take the time to reconsider criticism, also reflect on how you might better receive such messages the next time you are criticized. Assume an objective stance if you can, and be selective with what you let affect you. Remind yourself that there is nothing on this earth that cannot be criticized and do not allow yourself to be negatively impacted by the opinions of others. Instead, try only to learn, grow, and evolve from such experiences, or do not allow yourself to be affected at all.

You are unique. You are beautiful. Capable. Loveable. You have a calling, you have dreams, and you should absolutely follow your heart and know that you are a precious rarity. Hold this to be true, revel in who you are, and let no one take that from you. No matter what they have to say about it. Ever.

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Breathe Through It

Every now and then, I have to remind myself that it is okay to let go and do nothing, to sit in silence, and just breathe.  The past few days have been a prime example of such a time.  I have encountered something that has left me feeling unsure of how to make sense of my thoughts and feelings, uncertain about what it is I should do next.  And while this lack of clarity is certainly uncomfortable, I take comfort knowing that I don’t have to make a decision just yet.  That I can take the time it requires to listen to myself and sort through my thoughts and feelings.  To pause and reflect on who and where I am, at this time, and just be in that moment, living, and breathing through it.

Sometimes the best advice that we can give ourselves is to just breathe through the moment that we are, inhaling the good and exhaling the bad.  It is quite similar to taking a much needed pause that I have referenced so many times before. Remembering to “just breathe” helps us center our minds and our hearts while also encouraging the body to relax.  Research has proven time and time again that the power of the breath has calming and healing properties, much as it does in yoga and other mindfulness practices.  And while it might not exactly cure what ails us (though some say that it does), it certainly does help us bring our awareness back to where we are, and what we are experiencing in that present moment.

Mindfully breathing, especially during times of distress, helps turn our awareness into ourselves, slowing our minds, relaxing our bodies, and encouraging them to become one. Taking a moment to breathe, center our minds, and synchronize our bodies is truly mindfulness at its best.  It is mindful because it forces us to let go of the noise inside of our heads and bring our awareness to what is going on right now.  As we do so, we must let go of what has gone on in the past, no matter how recent, and ignore our thoughts about the future, no matter how near.

Simply stated, we have no choice but to take our minds off of everything except our most immediate experiences as they occur.  In essence, as we breathe and turn our awareness inward, we are able to mindfully experience our most immediate internal and external happenings, and open ourselves to clarity, self-awareness, and peace.

So today, if you do nothing else for yourself, at the very least, remember to breathe.  Inhale the good.  Exhale the bad.  And know that simply breathing through the moment can be enough.

Resistance Makes the Heart Grow Stronger

 

Fun fact: I almost never remember my dreams. However, when I do, I am usually in flight. Ever since I was quite young, in fact, my preferred mode of transportation while dreaming has been flying. I had not thought much about this dream-theme of mine until I studied dream analysis in college and learned that dream flying is considered the perfect metaphor for living the soul’s longing, or life purpose.

Upon learning that, I did a forehead slap and thought to myself, “Duh!” The symbolism is unmistakable: For many, flight is associated with freedom, ascension, exhilaration, and peace. Yet, not ironically, many of us have a fear of flying. The idea of free-falling, losing control, letting go, and most obviously, the hard landing is incredibly frightening. The metaphor still holds true, does it not?

And so it is with fulfilling our life purpose, for doing so involves navigating obstacles, conquering incredible feats, and then making a conscious choice to evolve and grow. Living out our soul’s longing means choosing the challenge of change over the difficulty of remaining the same while conquering fear and overcoming resistance every step of the way.

If you have ever set out to accomplish something meaningful, you will know that resistance is an inevitable part of the journey. And if you are anything like the rest of us, you have likely experienced resistance as an adversary. And this was likely so because you did not understand your resistance well enough to make it your ally. You tried to avoid, persist, and resist, rather than carry on with intention, commitment, surrender, and trust. Because resistance really is nothing but a form of fear and insecurity, we are much better off examining it with self-awareness and honesty, getting to know it, and thus better understanding ourselves. For the sooner we are able to do that, the sooner we are able to live out our higher aspirations.

So in practice, what can we do about the resistance we experience? We can start by being mindful of all the big and little things that distract us and slow us down as we set out to do the things that our hearts are telling us to do. Notice when you procrastinate, when you make excuses, when you are highly defended, and take note of the things that you worry about. Likewise, acknowledge any patterns that you discover, the limitations you perceive, and the strength of your resistance, and remember that most often, the greater the resistance surrounding a particular longing, the more important it likely is.

As you make a habit of examining your resistance and get comfortable with it, you will become increasingly aware and empowered to move beyond these distractions and forge ahead into the creative and authentic territory of your soul. With more and more ease, you will bring your mind, body, and spirit into alignment and make decisions during each and every moment that support your higher purpose.

And ultimately, you will feel at home with yourself as you fly, and live joyful  life of conviction, intention, and peace.

I Am My Own Problem

A few years ago, while still in yoga training, my son found me buried under a pile of books, pouring over my notes and typing away on my computer.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Homework,” I told him.

“Homework!?” he asked. “Now what for?”

“Yoga training,” I told him.

He watched me for a moment longer before saying, “Mom, remember when you were stressed out about everything that you have to do all the time?”

“Yes?” I replied.

“Well, no offense,” he said, “But you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself. It is kind of your own fault”.

…My son has this fabulous way of rendering me speechless from time to time. He makes these wonderful observations, and then he finds these incredibly simplistic yet profound and blatantly honest ways of telling me like it is. He calls it like he sees it, and far more often than not, he is right. He holds up a mirror for me to gaze in to just when I seem to need it most, forcing me to stop dead in my tracks and reconsider what I have been up to.

As I do so, I often find myself adopting a new perspective and approaching life from a slightly new angle. He tends to begin many of said statements of truth with the dreaded No Offense, saying “No offense, Mom, but…” and then the words that follow are some eye-opening observation that he has made. As I listen to him, it is as if I am dying to know what brilliant statement he is about to make, while simultaneously bracing myself for some tough love.

Yet, even if he does make me wince from time to time, his insight really is a beautiful thing. Because every time he demonstrates a bit of such wisdom, he serves as a reminder that “I am my problem, and I am also my solution.” He reminds me that it is I that am the one stressing myself out. It is I that has the tendency to take on the world. And it is I that am the only one who can do anything about it, whether I keep on keepin’ on, or I give myself a break. He reminds me that, for better or for worse, I am up to me, and I had better take responsibility for myself. No matter the problem I am faced with, I must bear in mind that I represent some part of the problem, if not the whole thing. And, I must care for that part of myself differently if I am to reach a resolution.

So, today, I challenge you, readers, to take such a look at your life. And as you do, reflect on how you have become your own problem. Of course, do not be hard on yourself, but rather, acknowledge the tendencies you have that might perpetuate issues in your life.

And most importantly, ask yourself what you can do differently to become your own solution.

Laugh and the World Laughs With You

Most of us are well-acquainted with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And of course, this is an excellent rule to follow, as it offers us sound advice as we navigate our way through life. But how many of us are familiar with Rule Number Six? If you are not yet familiar with this rule, consider the following story:

“Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing the affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts through the door in a fury, shouting and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister quietly looks up says to the young man, “Peter, kindly remember Rule Number Six.” Instantly, Peter regains his composure, restores to complete calm, apologizes for the interruption, and leaves the room.

The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again by a hysterical woman, sobbing uncontrollably and gesturing wildly. Again the host prime minister quietly says, “Marie, please remember Rule Number Six.” Much like the gentleman before her, Marie calms down, apologizes, and exits the room.

When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister says, “My good friend, I have seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Pray tell, what is this Rule Number Six?” “Very simple,” the host prime minister replies. “Rule Number Six is ‘Don’t take yourself so damned seriously.’” After pondering this rule for just a moment, the visiting prime minister asks, “And what are the other rules?”

The host’s reply? “There aren’t any.”

As most of you well know, life can be pretty heavy sometimes. Our families and friends, our work, even our own well-being require constant and attention and care. And not only do these aspects of our lives require us to tend to them, but we also need to take them seriously in order to do so. Most simply said, sometimes life is no laughing matter. And yet while it is important to take our lives seriously, it can also be to our detriment to take things too seriously, all the time. Doing so can lead to burdens or problems that may not otherwise exists, a skewed or negative outlook, and undue stress and anxiety.

Because of this, it can be to our advantage to know when to lighten up bit. Whether that means making time for play, enjoying your loved ones, or finding the humor in life, enjoying the lighter side of life encourages us to make the most of we have. It can even help us put life into a healthier perspective as we focus on what is most important, letting go of what is not, and leaving time and energy for the things that matter most, such as our loved ones and our interests and passions.

Today, I encourage you to embrace the lighter side of life. Keep in perspective your responsibilities, your stressors, and the bumps in the road. Remember all that you have to enjoy in life. And maintain your sense of humor, as it is a strength beyond measure to laugh with others and appreciate what there is to love about your surroundings.

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

As the old adage goes, “You can’t make a square peg fit in a round hole.”  Most of us know exactly what this saying means:  You cannot force something (or most often, someone) to be something that it is not.  We cannot make a square peg  fit any better into a round hole by thinking that the hole should be square or wanting the peg to be round.  Instead, we are much better suited to focus on and tend to what actually is, rather than wasting our precious resources fretting about the way things should or should not be.  And while most of us would agree with this reasoning, it is certainly easier said than done.

When we are honest with ourselves and examine how we view the world, the majority of us would have to admit that we have a relatively clear idea of how things should be.  Whether we are talking about ourselves, other people, the ways of the world, or something different entirely, it seems that we all have some kind of definition of what should and should not be happening.  We have our ideals, our beliefs, and our way of making sense of the world, and it reasonably follows that we would like to live in a world that supports our views.

And I think this is quite natural.  As humans, it is natural to have personal preferences and aversions.  It is even natural to want things to be “our way”.  To see the world through our very own eyes.  To have a few expectations here and there.  To have a compass of sorts, that helps guide us toward betterment, as we see fit.

And while this may be entirely natural, and even beneficial, it is not always in our best interest.  For when we become attached to our ideals and fixate on the way that things should be in favor of how things really are, we become frustrated and upset.  We might even pass unfair judgments based on our biased perspectives and unmet expectations.  As we cling to how things should be, we project them onto the world at large.  And when that happens, we react to what we think should exist, rather than acknowledging what actually does.  And this, of course, sets us up for further disappointment.

However, when are able to detach from these “should bes” and take the world as it is, in a more objective light, we are better able to accept and respond to life as it truly is.  Instead of being obscured by ideals, we understand the facts.  Rather than focusing on what is missing, or what we would like to find, we deal with what is actually present.  And this is empowering, because it helps us clarify and illuminate what is within our power to change, and what is not.  And that is what allows us to integrate our ideals with our reality, live in the here and now, and interact with life as fully as possible.

Fear vs Love

Several years ago, in my yoga study, I was given the assignment to journal and reflect on the connection between love and fear. Our homework began with the task of taking note of the what we are afraid of as well as the things that we love.visit it

We were reminded that our feelings of fear and love come in many forms: our fear may be experienced as fright, anxiety, apprehension, or insecurity, while love may be expressed as demonstrations of emotional investment, passion, fondness, or true love itself. After mindfully noting such emotions, we were instructed to analyze our feelings to decipher what exactly our attachment is, with the intention of detaching just a bit, and thus gaining a new perspective on life or a deeper understanding ourselves.

This assignment is based on the theory that fear and love are the only basic emotions that we feel, and everything else stems from them: greed stems from a fear of lacking, anger from a fear of perceived threat, humor stems from a love of the lighthearted, joy stems from a fulfilled love of some sort, and so on. And while you may online casino or may not agree with this theorizing, my homework showed me that there is a definite connection between love and fear. That every single day we experience some kind of love. Likewise, each and every day we encounter something that we fear.

…If you take a moment to think about what that means for you personally, you will likely discover that there is a connection for you as well. And as you see fear as an attachment to something you love, you may also find that fear itself is not be so scary after all. Of course, there are plenty frightening things that may or may exist, that may or may not happen to us in our lives, but fear itself is nothing more than a feeling. It is just one of many emotions that we may feel at any given time. It is natural, it is okay, and it is useful. Fear is always looking out for our best interest. It demands our attention, warning us of potential threats, and it guides us toward safety and security.

However, because fear is just an emotion, and it is just like the rest of them, it is up to us to be aware of our feelings, prioritize them, and act on those that best serve our higher purpose, even in the face of fear so that we do not become its prisoner. So when we feel frightened, what might we do? It seems to me that before we do anything, we should slow down and acknowledge our fear. Really examine it. Take note of it has to say, and ask ourselves if that is worth listening to or if we are better off ignorning it. And then, we can make one of two choices. We can choose to do what fear tells us to do, at the risk of doing nothing.asia Lambda sensor

Or, we can remember the words of Franklin Roosevelt, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself,” and call upon our courage and act anyway.

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{YAM} Heart-Openers and Back-Bending:

These poses, hence their name, involve the opening and blossoming of the heart. Which inevitably exposes the most intimate and vulnerable parts of our internal and external self.

And not surprsingly, this can feel scary, uncomfortable.  Yet, it can also feel beautifully and incredibly naked and raw, as these poses gently encourage us to peel away our protective layers and let the magic of our hearts shine.  They force us to drop our head and mind back into the unknown behind us, expose our neck and throat, drive our chest forward, and allow our heart, soul, and intuitive gut lead the way and journey blindly into the unknown before us.

Yet, as scary as this may be, we need not move in the direction of fear, or we will forever be stagnant.

Instead, move in the direction of your heart. Let it open. Expose yourself. Be authentic, raw, and naked. Liberate yourself. Dance with life. Open up to the cosmos.

A Journey Of A Thousand Miles

When I was very young, my family spent a few days vacationing at Itasca State Park. I was only four or five years old at the time, and I remember very little about the trip. In fact, the only thing I remember about that summer vacation at all is visiting the source of the Mississippi River. I know that my mother and my sister were with me, I assume that my father was too, and if my memory serves me correctly, I was also accompanied by my aunt and my three cousins. I don’t remember how we had spent that morning or the afternoon, nor do I remember arriving to the park. Rather, my memory begins and ends with me being in what seemed to be the middle of the Mississippi River, carefully stepping from one slippery stone to another, as I tried to make my way across the water and to the shore. My sister may have played alongside me, my mother may have encouraged me as I went, and I likely lost my footing from time to time. However, if these things did occur, I do not remember them. I remember one thing and one thing only: carefully, yet clumsily, making my way across that mighty river.

Of course, this memory is hardly remarkable. But I do think that it represents an unmistakable metaphor for the journey that is life. For, it is so often that we find ourselves in the middle of somewhere (or, nowhere for that matter) not knowing how we got there, or where exactly we intend to go. We may not know what step it is that we are going to take next, and we may feel completely uncertain how, much less where, our feet will land as we put one foot in front of the other and carry on. Yet, we continue to move forward, despite our uncertainty. And we have faith that our journey will lead us to where we need to be. For now.

Much like in my memory of walking across the source of the Mississippi River, sometimes it is not our destination that matters most. And paradoxically, sometimes it is not the particulars of the journey that is most important either. Rather, sometimes, it is the faith that we have in ourselves and the forward movement that we are making in the face of uncertainty that is most valuable to us at that time.

So, if you find yourself stumbling from stone to stone, and you feel unsure about where it is that you are heading, do not lose heart. Remember that progress is not only measured by the direction we are heading, nor does happiness always depend upon the shore that we reach. In fact, it is not even the stones that we step on that most determine our outcome. Rather, what is most important during these times is the courage to act despite apprehension, the ability to persevere despite difficulty, and the faith that who we are and what we are made of is greater than any obstacle we may encounter.

You Will See It When You Believe It

 

A belief, as defined by the dictionary, is the psychological state in which an individual holds a premise to be true. 98-367

To have beliefs, or a belief system, is very human. Our beliefs, in part, help us conceptualize the world, and make sense of our experiences. Beliefs may be based on evidence, personal values, and convictions. They may stem from socialization, or they may be deeply personal. A belief may be quite accurate as defined by reality, or it may be entirely untrue when measured by the same standard. Beliefs stem from personal convictions, thought processes, and feelings, and they vary greatly from person to person. Beliefs are not right or wrong, valid or invalid. They are beliefs. And they are deeply personal, and very valid and true to the person that deems them to be so.

Take a moment, if you could, and reflect on your beliefs. Do you tend to form your beliefs based on factual information, or are your beliefs more difficult to prove as “true”? Do your beliefs stem for your background, upbringing, peers and society, or do you hold them contrary to popular belief? Do your beliefs incorporate religion? Spirituality? Moral values?  Human nature?  Are they based on your perceptions, judgments, schemas, or experiences? How are your beliefs representative of your thoughts and feelings?

Think now, for just a moment, about how your beliefs serve you. How much do you rely on your beliefs to guide you through this world? How flexible or rigid is your belief system? Do you compare them to those of others, or label beliefs as right or wrong, better or worse? How well do you know and understand your beliefs? How much consideration do you give to the beliefs of others?

And finally, I would like you to consider what you believe to be true about yourself.

As you do this, perhaps you will become aware that your beliefs about yourself are secure, reassuring, positive and empowering. That you are able to accomplish anything you choose to do. That even while you have both strengths and limitations, you are a uniquely beautiful and  gifted individual. You have worth. You are valuable. I hope that as you reflect on your beliefs about yourself, you feel self-love, self-awareness, and self-efficacy.

But what if you do not? What if, when you reflect on your beliefs about who you are, you realize that your beliefs are quite limiting? What if you believe that you are a lost cause? That you are not good enough. What if you believe that you cannot make a difference in this world, that you are dispensable? What if you believe that you are faulted, or at fault, when things go wrong? What if you believe that love is conditional, that you must fit a mold in order to be loved, accepted, cherished?

What happens then, if you realize that you are harmed by your very belief systems?

If you come to the realization today that you are the victim of limiting beliefs, I will tell you that you are in luck. You are luck, because you have the power to change those beliefs. You are in luck because the first step to changing your core beliefs is to identify them. You are in luck because you have made a self-discovery, you now have greater self-awareness, and you are now closer to making positive changes in your life. If you have identified a belief that is not working for you, you are able to change it. You are able to combat the negative self-talk, and replace it with positive dialogue. And as you practice doing this, you will be able to shift your perspective, changing how you look at the world, and slowly but surely, changing your beliefs about yourself. And once you are able to do this, you will instantly change your reality.

Today, my cherished birds, take a moment to examine your beliefs yourself and the world in which you live. I hope you notice that these beliefs are positive and empowering. But if any part of them is not, remind yourself that they do not have to stay this way. Remind yourself today that while your beliefs do define your reality, you may change them. You may do anything you so choose to do, whether you believe it or not. You may change your reality by changing your beliefs.

Spread your wings just a bit wider today, my birds, and challenge your beliefs. Sing songs of praise to yourself and cherish your beautiful individuality. Revel in who you are, and believe that you do indeed hold the key to the life of your dreams. Believe that you may fly, spread your wings, and soar.  But only if you believe that you can.