OwieZowie

Has something ever happened to you that cut deeply into your soul?  Have you ever allowed someone access to your heart and you ended up being hurt by them?  Have you ever loved someone unconditionally, given them your trust and found that they misused it?  Have you ever been blind-sided by an event in life involving someone you love?

Have you ever been the perpetrator of such hurt?  Have you ever been responsible for the pain of a loved one or a broken heart?  Has something ever happened in your life that you have felt the heartbreak that accompanies the knowledge that you have done damage to someone you love?

If you have been one either side of this spectrum, you are not alone.  Unfortunately for everyone, it seems that most of us have been hurt beyond words.  We know that feeling of betrayal, the sense of deceit, the break of a heart.   And likewise, many of us have been the source of a loved one’s pain and are familiar with the heartache and the broken spirit that is the result of hurting someone you love.  Many of us know that it hurts just as much, albeit differently, to be the broken hearted or to have caused the broken heart.

So when this has happened, when we are dealing with hurt feelings of this magnitude, what do we do to move on from the pain?  It certainly can be hard to be sure.  It can be quite difficult to know the best way to tend to such deep wounds while also moving forward, both with your relationship and with your life.  There is no easy way to decide if it is time to let go and when it is time to continue fighting for something you love.  Rarely is there a right or wrong way to nurse our wounds while also experiencing life as best we can.

But, I must say that even while it may be hard to know how to best recover from your pain and move forward in some way, many of us do have an idea about what we need and what might be most right for ourselves and the relationships that we are in.  Many of us have a voice that resides deep within us that whispers to us, offering us guidance and direction towards healing.  Many of us know, somewhere within us, the path it is that we should follow.  Most of us have something within ourselves that has utmost faith in our ability to recover, to carry on, and to flourish.  Something that trusts, something that wants to guide us toward love again.  Something helps us look inward in order to move forward, mending both the wounds in our hearts, as well as our loved one’s.

Even while that something within you might be difficult to hear or understand, it is worth your while to at least give it a chance.  Pause, listen and reflect on what it is trying to tell you.  Consider the message it is giving you about yourself and those you care about so that you may tend to your wounds, give and receive love, and begin to experience life as fully as possible once again.

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“Unseen Others”

When I was in grad school, I was introduced to the concept of “unseen others” by one of my professors. According my professor’s theory, we all have them. They are the people in the world that we choose not to see because our reaction to them makes us uncomfortable.

I would like you to take a moment and consider who your unseen others are. Is it someone of a different religion, race or ethnicity, sexuality, or socioeconomic status? Perhaps it is someone of a specific profession, age bracket, range of ability, or political belief? Or maybe there are certain appearances, interests, or personality traits that come to your mind.

Regardless of who these unseen others are or what it is about them that makes us uncomfortable, we all seem to have such reactions to a certain group of people. Most often, we avoid our unseen others because we are uncertain of how to relate to them, or we have made assumptions, passed judgments, or developed biases or prejudices against the type of person we believe them to be.

I find this to be such an interesting phenomenon. How curious it is that we have a hard time seeing people as real simply because they are different from us. How unfortunate it is that we short change people because we have unfairly made up our minds about them. What a disservice it is to everyone when we cannot look deeper into one another simply because we are unsure of how to relate to who we think they are. And isn’t it interesting that we tend to validate certain people based on their likeness to our own self-image?

If you have been able to identify your unseen others, I challenge you to consider what it is about you and them that makes them so difficult for you to see. Invite your unseen others to hold up a mirror to you, and take a long look at yourself in the reflection that you see. Ask yourself questions about what you see. Too, ask yourself if you are willing to challenge your beliefs about yourself and the people around you. Are you willing to learn from someone that you have always thought has nothing to teach you? Are you willing to allow them to touch you? Are you willing to reach out and touch them? Are you willing to venture out of your comfort zone and expand your horizons?

Although it can be difficult to deconstruct our personal biases, it is rather easy to approach people with curiosity, rather than judgment. To be kind, respectful, and accepting. It may be easier than we think to have a positive influence and be positively influenced ourselves, even when we least suspect. Just think about a time when you were surprised by someone. How good it feels to be treated as a whole person worthy of understanding and acceptance.

Take a moment today and think about what a wonderful thing it is see the goodness in one another. See that we are so much more connected by our similarities, our vulnerabilities, and our very human nature than we realize. Celebrate and embrace our differences as a source of richness, rather than a point of division. Give all people a chance, no matter who or what we assume them to be.

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.

Hurt People Hurt People

If you have ever been a part of a relationship, I am willing to bet that you have also found yourself amidst an internal struggle that is, at least in part, due to something that has happened within that relationship. Something that was confusing, hurtful, or upsetting. Something that was difficult to let go of, move on from, or understand. As such, I am willing to bet that whatever it was that had caused you discomfort has also had a lasting impact on you in some meaningful way. Perhaps it has influenced how you approach people. Perhaps it taught you a valuable lesson. Perhaps it shaped you in some other meaningful way, for better or for worse. Rarely do we make it through such things without an impact being made.

Because of this, it comes as no surprise that such lesson can be quite difficult to learn. That we may be rendered incapable of embracing a lesson until we are capable of approaching the situation from an entirely different perspective. A perspective that does not focus on the hurt and is instead driven by a compassionate empathy for all that are involved. A perspective that allows us to let go of what may otherwise hard to set free.

When you take a moment to think about the implications of approaching painful circumstance in such a loving way, it is no wonder that many of us undergo a transformation of sorts as we move forward. It is no wonder that we also begin to soften, forgive, and let go of that which has hurt us in the past. I say that this is no wonder, because I believe that when we are able to approach another human being from a point of compassion, we begin to see life through their eyes, instead of through our own, and in doing so, we often gain a better understanding of their true intentions and greater insight into their deeper experiences. Rather than being convinced that we have been hurt by their selfishness or deceit, we may see instead that they were driven by another force entirely. Or, rather than looking down upon them with disappointment, judgment, or condemnation, we may soften our gaze and realize that they are coming from a place that we otherwise may not understand.

And of course, as I say this, please understand that I do not mean to minimize any pain that has been experienced, nor excuse any wounds that have been inflicted. I only mean to say that it does seem to feel better, and therefore take us farther, when we are able to invest in love and compassion and allow our pain to be transformed, rather than submerge ourselves in negative and destructive emotions.

So today, if you find yourself revisiting a painful relationship, I challenge you to consider the alternative perspective. Attempt to understand what may otherwise be unfathomable. Reject the victim mentality and let go of blame. Instead, hold fast to your optimism in humankind and have faith in what you believe to be good.

Serenity Prayer

Most of us are familair with the following prayer:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

…Through experience, I have learned that it is not always easy to accept the things in our lives that are not within our control. It can be rather difficult to come to terms with the fact that many things in life are uncontrollable, and perhaps even inevitable. Try as we might, we simply do not have the power to change all things we encounter, be it another individual or a relationship, an event or circumstance, or something different entirely. And this fact seems especially difficult to come to terms with when we are struggling to accept something that we do not like or something that may be particularly uncomfortable or difficult to endure. Especially when these things are what we are most desperately trying to change.

So when we struggle to simply accept these things, how are we supposed to take one step further and do so with serenity? How can we be expected to embrace such things “as is”, maintaining unconditional acceptance, a calm mind, and a peaceful heart? To approach life with a “Que Sera, Sera” attitude can be tricky, indeed.

Perhaps, it is better to remind ourselves not to dwell on such things, and remember that it is better to invest our energies into other things. The things that serve our higher purpose. The things that we can, in fact, influence and change.

Just as the prayer says, it takes wisdom to know the difference between what we can and cannot change. It takes wisdom to recognize what we have the power to influence, and what we must simply accept. And not only does it take wisdom to know the difference between these two things, it also takes courage to change that which is in our power. To adopt a different perspective, transform how we think, feel, and act. It can take courage to change the way that we relate, respond, and interact with the life that we are surrounded by. It takes courage to look at ourselves from a new angle and reflect on what we might do differently. And it especially takes courage to set those changes into motion.

So today, if you find yourself struggling with something in your life, consider this prayer. Ask yourself, what about this is within my control? What must I do to accept this with an open heart and an open mind? Or, how might I begin to let go of this entirely? How may I go about making a change, and, am I willing and able to take those steps? When you ask yourself such questions, you will likely find that as long as you are in control of your thoughts, and subsequently your feelings and your actions, you usually have more control over the “uncontrollable” than you had first realized.

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.

Redefine Struggle

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

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

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

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

The Silver Lining

2015 was a tough year for many.   We each in our own way have struggled with adversity.  We have experienced pain, suffering, and hardship in one way or another.

We have been put to the test, we have questioned our beliefs, and have challenged our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.  We have questioned our identities, struggled to remain well, and persevered in any way that we could.  Our hearts have ached, and our heads have searched for answers that may not exist.  We have adapted to change, overcome adversity, and done everything in our power to remain positive.  In many ways, we have felt that life has fallen apart all around us.  And in many ways, it may seem that it has.

But you know what? Whether or not we have been through tough times such as those described above, our lives have not fallen apart completely.  We still have so much for which to be grateful, so much to hold on to, to love, and to live for.  We have our friends, our families, our passions.  We have a purpose, our health, our spirituality.  We have sources of strength.  Sources of joy.  Sources of hope.  We have our lives to live.  And it is my opinion that we have the responsibility, as well as the opportunity and the pleasure, to live our lives as fully as we are able.

As tempted as we may be to reflect back on the struggles that we have been through, I believe that it is even more important to consider how things will fall back together, even after they have fallen apart.  There may have been times when we ourselves have crumbled, and yet even when that happens, it seems that things always have a way of coming together again.  Sometimes we may watch the pieces fall together right before our eyes.  Sometimes it may take us time to realize what has happened.  And other times, we must take control and put the pieces back together again.  But no matter how it happens, it seems that most things in life usually do fit back together again somehow.   They may not look or feel the same as they did “before”, and that might be painful or it may be a pleasant surprise.  Yet whatever this new picture looks like, it is up to us to find new meaning in it.

It is up to us to influence or change what we can, have the serenity to accept what we cannot, and to make the most of the gifts that have been bestowed upon us regardless of the situation at hand.  It is up to us to keep searching for the light, even in the face of total darkness, and have faith that “this too shall pass” and brighter day will come if it hasn’t already.

Grrrr

I once read that some of the most valuable lessons we learn in life are taught to us by difficult people. You know the type of people I am referring to. People that seem to embody cynicism, judgment, and pessimism. Those that take delight in the misfortune of others or seem satisfied by having a complaint. The people that expect the worst from the world and seem committed to their unhappiness.

Being around negativity, even for a short moment, can be frustrating and emotionally taxing. Yet unfortunately, it is unlikely that we can avoid negative people all together. We are bound to have a run-in with a disheartening individual at some time or another, so it is best that we are prepared to respond in such a way that protects us from the negativity while still allowing us to learn something positive from the experience.

So, having said that, what is the best way to respond? Is it best that we ignore them and hope that they go away? Should we respond in kind and give them an attitude adjustment? Do we shower them in sunshine and encourage them to see life from a more elevated perspective? And, on the same token, how do we protect ourselves from being drawn in by the pull of their negative energy? How do we prevent an unsettling encounter from ruining our mood?

To answer these questions, consider the following checklist, presented by author and counselor, Julie Hoyle.

  1. What does this person need?

Is there a chance that positive input is being sought? If the answer is yes, share something enlightening. If the answer is no, keep the interaction brief.

  1. Are they acting as a mirror?

The answer is a resounding “yes” if we have been sucked in by their negativity. When there is a pull, there is a resonance, and we are being shown where we are resisting the flow of life. When this is the case, breathe in deeply and accept what is.

  1. Remember, this too will pass.

While we can offer compassion and point to other alternatives, we are not responsible for others. Suffering, to a point, is a choice. Be a part of the solution rather than adding to the illusion. Create space for an opening of awareness to happen.

  1. Avoidance

Protect and safeguard the sanctity of your internal state, and surround yourself with people who nurture you. On other occasions, remain upbeat and transform the negative into a positive. Do it for long enough and it works wonders. If the other person cannot turn you on to their negativity, they may eventually give up.

  1. Love really is the answer.

Everything always, always comes down to love. If we love and respect ourselves, we do not give ourselves away cheaply, and we do not stoop to negativity. Instead, we stand our ground, offering others a place to rise up to. Always listen with love, and offer kindness to everyone, even if they don’t seem to “deserve” it at the time.

Regretfully Speaking…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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