Understanding is Peace
“Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood” lyrics from Love Potion #9
Being misunderstood creates a complicated series of emotions. Frustration, confusion, anger, sadness cascade around inside a confused mind. How can I be more clear? How can I express myself in a way that can be understood? Understanding is peace – recognition feels so good, and when a communication is received through a clear filter, hearts open, joy arises. Layer the filter with insecurities, resentments and bad memories and misunderstandings can build to a crescendo of confusion.
“Why did you say that? Why didn’t you say it a different way? Why Why Why?” Many abusive conversations start this way – it has just occurred to me that those conversations in which we are told (usually angrily) that we should have done something differently are in fact abusive – since none of us can change the past. What would kindness say? I’m delving into some other ways to communicate that will be more effective, more kind and way more understanding.
There are many systems who aim is to remedy this kind of situation. Most of them would recommend staying away from the written word, as inflection calls for assumption, which is the beginning of a slippery slope and a downward slide. I love the book “The Four Agreements” which proposes a simple set of rules for staying on the positive side of discussions and conversations.
“Don’t Make Assumptions” is a rule that can often clarify misunderstandings. And oh how assumptions can multiply in a texting barrage. Oh dear! What is the remedy? To ask for clarity, to be open to receiving it instead of clinging to the original assumption, which has come from a clouded place – often dark. If we are going to make assumptions, it might be best to assume loving motives – albeit this can cause romantic confusion from time to time. Once again, just simple clarity can alleviate many kerfluffles. Simplicity rocks!
“Don’t take anything personally” – is another “rule” that is often forgotten. All of us have a unique perspective, a personal view. We can sometimes see clearly, but vision is once again clouded by our personalities and histories. Finding a way through to an open hearted perspective does bring us to the Promised Land of love. Bringing this teaching close to heart has helped me many times. “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” said Anais Nin, in a fit of wisdom. “you, you, you” says the ego – if only “you” did something differently, I would be able to love you. Sigh, squirm, deflect, resist….
These two suggestions come up often for me. They can effectively guide me back to a place of understanding that includes seeing myself and others with compassion and love. If I still can’t get there I can turn to NVC or Non-violent communication. That system is based on the idea that criticizing and judging others (if only you had ________, I would be ok) is violence. It certainly isn’t the path of love or kindness. I haven’t met a person yet who could turn back the clock and re-do the past. It is a superpower many of us may wish for from time to time, but what we have is this moment, this opportunity, this love. NVC says to speak of feelings, instead of our judgements of other. “When you did X, I felt Y” as opposed to “why didn’t you do that differently, what’s wrong with you, now I’m mad”… And this is easier than it sounds, most of us have underdeveloped vocabularies for feelings due to centuries of emotional repression and interrelations that are based on anger and rage. NVC includes a handy reference guide to feelings – and a reminder that when we say “I feel like you are ________” is not a feeling, but a judgement.
I recently learned that when we say “I feel” it is most likely to express genuine emotion. When we say “I feel like” then the contemplation has returned to the mental realms of criticism and closed hearted judgements. These are fine points, I know as we stumble along on the day to day experience of living life as a learning process heading towards love. And just as an unfinished painting doesn’t include the finer details, an unfinished comprehension is the same. Filling in the details, being aware of the finer points, paints a different picture. Be an artist! Make your life be your masterpiece of understanding. It’s more fun that way, I am sure of it!
and then, when all else fails – there is a beautiful system called Ho’o’ponopono which goes something like this:
I’m sorry, I love you, please forgive me, thank you….
repeat, repeat, repeat until you get it right….
Heart medicine – a poem
letting the raw parts be heard
finding expression for the inexpressible
tears for words
words for tears, cried through my mind
The discomfort of some feelings
certain sizzlers like charcoals
yearning to burn
cannot be contained in this body
nor understood in this mind
or felt in this heart
where do they go
how can they be handled
how do I surrender to the flame
or Lou Reed
cushion the blows
that rain upon my shattered soul
How did this happen to me?
What detours did I have to take
to reach my destination?
Where is the map?
still, letting her lead is an
unaccustomed kind of sensation
like breaking in a pair of shoes
or traveling to a foreign land
at first, everything is different,
then, gradually a learning
a relaxation and trust emerges
the way is shown
Love and Devastation
When a love relationship turns to hate, or dislike or disharmony – what is that about? This is one of the most troubling, painful and challenging situations in life for me. I imagine it is the same for others. One of my spiritual mentors said it this way: “In order to love you must be willing to face the devastation”. A Buddhist friend and I were pondering this turn of events and he relates it to the idea that in the light there is also the dark, in happiness there is sorrow – it is the yin/yang truth of life. Absolute duality. In the emotional realm it makes sense that once again the idea of attachment and aversion is where the suffering lies. Attached to “good” feelings and afraid of “bad” feelings – there is also an unconscious awareness of the pain embedded in the pleasure. True freedom is acceptance, but that is not a Pollyanna-ish idea. Acceptance includes everything. Leave anything out and it is not acceptance.
These spiritual “basics” are bandied about frequently in my world. The basics don’t change but my relationship to them and understanding of them does continue to deepen and expand. Contemplation and experience, rinse and repeat. The cycle becomes a spiral…unwinding towards understanding, and then acceptance.
There was a time when I mourned my lover’s death while he was alive. Deeply entwined in a long term relationship I feared its ending – and sometimes felt I should leave before he left me or died. I imagine this is not an uncommon way to react to intimacy and love. If I push it away then i can save myself from the pain of loss. Well – that is a losing game! It is not win-win, it is lose-lose. Perhaps it is easier to avoid intimacy and love altogether, and so avoid the pain of loss. Pondering that it is easy to see that life then collapses into pain, loneliness and depression. There is no the easy way out.
So, what is the way out? My experience is this – the way out is through. Through the pain, through the difficult emotions, through the grief and through the loss. Remembering all those I have loved and lost, the grief remains but the love, wow, the love was so good. My life was so enriched by the loss, by the love and continues to be enriched with the memories. Happy, happy memories. Ironically it seems that happiness is easier to remember than pain. Is that true for you, too?
Emotions are tricky turf. Our coping mechanisms and addictions seem to be born from the desire and need to suppress what we are afraid to feel. The British culture was molded from the idea of “stiff upper lip” which is shorthand for “show no emotion”. What happens to feelings that want to be felt but aren’t? Where do they go? One theory is that they turn into themselves and cause disease (dis-ease, duh). I see the possibility here. The psychiatric diseases are clearly seen as suppressed emotion and energy.
How, then do we feel emotions? It takes so much courage to let the painful feelings be felt and pass through. The more deeply and completely they are felt, the more quickly they pass through, at least that’s true for me. I consider this process to be the sacred fire, as the allowing of intense emotion seems to burn something – and there is a purification that completes when a feeling is fully felt.
A wise person once said to me “Every feeling fully felt leads to love”. I have experienced the truth of this – the complete and utter bliss that lies on the other side of grief. The Tibetan Buddhists belief is that we have the possibility to attain a “rainbow body” – and the process of burning off all that is not true, all this is not love, leads to this illumined state. Bring it on!
Crisis = Opportunity
Life as a human is confounding, demanding, intensely challenging and ultimately a complete mystery. It doesn’t matter how many drops of wisdom have rained upon my head, there are simply always ways to get it wrong. To be messy. To trigger and be triggered by others actions. To be misunderstood. To lose track of how to do it right – if there really is any doing it right! Or perhaps we just keep picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and trying again. That seems to be a more realistic way to understand life and how it actually works. The never ending challenges that are presented as the pilgrimage, the path, life itself – are ways we grow and learn and simply experience.
How do we reach for humility? Or does it sometimes just come and slam us to the ground, in an unexpected moment? Is there hope of perfection? It’s possible that humility is the complete realization that perfection is unattainable…that our foibles are part of us, that finding others whose quirks and crazinesses coincide and resonate with ours is the most effective way to enjoy ourselves. Even then, the stumbling blocks just keep coming. They trip us, we fall, sometimes break a bone, or sprain an ankle, other times just pick ourselves up and continue on. Perhaps we dance to reggae music all day just to scare the blues away. The so-called higher path would have us see each stumbling block as a gift as a messenger as an opportunity. What gold is the dragon guarding? The dragon of course symbolizing the challenge. A tangible result of living in humility is to see everything as a gift from the divine – and to be able to genuinely ask the question “how is this situation helping me be the person I strive to be” and fully facing that recognition with confidence in its positive outcome.
I once tripped over a broken concrete slab, fell to my knees and was unable to walk for about 5 years. Walking was then (and still is) one of my favorite activities. It seemed possible that my injuries would require me to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life. This seemed unimaginably painful, truly agonizing and utterly terrifying. I sobbed, I wept, I sat around a lot and gained a lot of weight. Yikes! Then, somehow a miracle occurred and a talented physical therapist tweaked my knee back into place so that true healing was catalyzed. Today I can go days without any pain at all and walk miles in the sand. I am so grateful for each step, each stroll, each meander – so much more grateful than if the possibility hadn’t gone missing.
It is also humbling to find a close friend or companion preferring the company of another. One of the most difficult life challenges to navigate is the loss of love, or the seeming loss of love. And then, the resistance to it actually drives it farther away. All the teachings about acceptance and surrender are called upon to no avail. It’s hard not to feel forsaken again, alone – not friendless but without that special friend or soul mate. Humility and love say – celebrate your friend’s happiness with their new friend. The demon ego says all kinds of other unhelpful things, which I’d rather not repeat. Often anger arises – which is of course masking the deep pain of loneliness and rejection. And yet, what if we are never actually being rejected. What if the universe is giving us exactly what we want and need, but we have a lag time in recognizing that. In that lag time, humility comes in handy to keep us balanced and joyous. Saying thank you to everything is truly the path of love.
And yet – as we are continually evolving, ever-changing ephemeral beings made from a lot of empty space with some molecules floating around in it (!) perhaps change really is always good. My inner Pollyanna knows this – it is one of the superpower wisdom bits of life. See challenges as opportunities. The Chinese character for change also means opportunity. Emptiness leaves room for something new to arise. Looking back at my own life, and its stages, when one person leaves, another arrives, or another dozen arrive. Net gain, for sure. Being able to find this truth in the harder moments is another benefit of humility, which in my opinion means living in acceptance and surrender to the conditions of this moment. The truly deeply unbelievably profound mystery of manifestation and life seems to demand a recognition of its magnitude. In Sanskrit it’s “Jai Ma” – or “Celebrate the Mother of Us All”… It’s not humility if it doesn’t feel fantastic!
Grace is the flower, the fragrance the sunlight of life. How can we tend the thoughts in our head in order to create a fertile field that nurtures grace?
I recommend a simple experiment. Imagine a scenario – play it out in your head from start to finish. It can be something simple, as long as there is a desired outcome. Here’s a possibility – you’re in line at the grocery store. You’re in a hurry and the person in front of you is taking a long time unloading their cart. What do you do? One option is to get mad, frustrated, tap your toes, sigh loudly expressing frustration. Imagine that fully. What do you suppose that is creating in the general area? Are others supportive or possibly disgusted at your behavior? Ponder this. Then, imagine the opposite. You move up and lend a hand, helping unload the cart, and in this process discover that the person you’re helping is actually handicapped, and only has use of one arm. Oops, in the other scenario that was overlooked, as selfish priorities completely took over. The minute that kindness and gratitude were introduced there was a complete paradigm shift and in this instant you are living in the world as you truly wish it to be.
Now, extend this outward. During the day the “attitude of gratitude” has an effect on others around you and a deep effect on yourself. It sounds so simple but doesn’t always prove to be easy to maintain. It’s a work in progress!
Then there’s grace. Is grace accidental? Is it completely random, or is there a way we can create fertile ground for grace? If there is, then gratitude is the bedrock, the compost, the essential nutrient for grace. Despite circumstances, despite everything, we can be grateful and in that very feeling is opening to grace that makes life worth living. Sometimes it seems to evade us – where does it go? In this interactive life there are definitely ways to invite back the honored guest and offer her the seat at the head of the table. Most religious and spiritual teachings are about this – how to nurture grace. The ten commandments of Christianity, the Eightfold path of Buddhism, the 8 arms of Yoga… all are profound wisdom, distilled to bring the most benefit to our lives.
Once again, as in all true teachings there is no reason to just believe them, they are all possible to confirm through personal exploration and experience. Give gratitude a try, make a charitable donation or help a person or animal in need. The reward for selfless service (called Seva in sanskrit) is immeasurable grace. Perhaps sainthood is elusive in this life, but living in the light of love, well that is a worthy goal. Each step taken has the option of moving towards love or away from it. Choosing mindfully, with conscious awareness means paying close attention, bringing awareness back over and over to the simple truths that belie their power.
It is a hard won realization for me that when I’m struggling and heading towards suffering, the best thing to do is find somebody who needs help more than I do. That’s not hard to do in this world, there are so many down and out, or handicapped in ways I’m not or injured, or…..well the possibilities are endless. During one of the hardest time of my life I was living in Hawaii (hmmmm) and would just get in the car and ask the universe to guide me to someone I could help. Then it turned out that they were everywhere – the sufferers. I know I can’t help everyone, but supporting just one person or animal is important to that one. Making a positive difference in life – that to me is truly meaningful. Go for it!
Determination revisited – the Hero’s Journey
This is a hot topic for me right now. What has made the difference in my successes and completions? What has provided the fuel for those endeavors? Some contemplation led me to this realization: The most important factor in success, the very most important ingredient is ….. (drumroll, please) self-love.
For us to believe in ourselves, we do need to love our very own self. Unconditionally. Absolutely. Completely. Believe in ourselves, nurture ourselves and trust our own guidance and intuition. Self-trust is born of self love, just as trust of other is born of love.
If I love myself, I’ll follow through on healthy eating, regular exercise and self care. I can’t put the cart before the horse, that is the piece called will or discipline, which can be inflicted in various ways upon ourselves but isn’t successful in the long run. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that discipline, as in the military, creates defeat, since the will or commitment comes from outside influences, not our own desires, stirring from the cauldron of self love.
How do we nurture this all-important self love? That sounds so easy, but as part of the game of life it seems many of us were implanted with a bug that creates havoc in our operating system. This “bug” has created self-doubt, shame and guilt. These low vibration emotions can defeat us – they render us incapable of self care, of taking powerful steps in the right direction and are self-limiting.
Learning to love ourselves from the inside is a hero’s journey. It’s a full time job, it’s the Big Work. Don’t delay, just take a step or two in the direction of self love, as often as you can. Become your own cheering section – find reasons to believe in your own worth. It’s really a matter of realization, awareness and choice. How do you treat the people and animals in your life that you love? How can you give yourself some of that same loving care, in your mind and in your actions? How are ways self love might express? This takes some mighty pondering! Ponder away, the benefits are fantastic.
The successful times of my life have had this important thing in common – I believed in myself. I used to think this way: “if it’s possible for a human to do it, I can do it”… taking into account my own limitations, of course, but applying that thought and confidence to a potential outcome, I always experienced success. We believe in the ones we love (including ourselves). This applies once again to the “law of attraction” – a principle that states that when we are in alignment with our goal then we can achieve it.
Here’s a possible affirmation: In this moment, I choose to love myself. I love my life, I love my little ways and foibles and I am completely confident of my success in whatever I choose to do. And if I do fail, I will learn as much as I can from that failure, pick myself up, dust myself off and try again. I release all shame and guilt and recognize myself as a piece of perfection, an integral part of the Great Mystery – a beloved being, perfect in my own eyes, the only ones that really matter….And so it is!
Alchemy of the Heart
Our pain reveals itself to be the sacred fire of transformation – it forces change and burns through resistance. When emotional pain becomes unbearable, there is only one effective option – healing. When the traumas of the past are destroying our chance for happiness and peace in each moment, what is the process for transmuting that pain into love?
Taking the first step means making a commitment to the inner work that will lead us out of pain. Humility and sincerity are potent companions for true change, and it seems that for many of us pain is one of the secret keys to those states. “It brought me to my knees” is a description of being humbled, changed into a person who willingly steps forth into the healing process. The depth of that humility is the power of it. “Give everything to get everything” is a message I received at an important time of my life, and event led to an unfoldment more wonderful than my mind could have imagined (think; Hawaii).
Once we’re on our knees what next? I recommend asking for what you want, spending time in contemplation (also known as meditation). I began by using each bump in the road as a messenger and seeing each person I encountered during the day as a carrier of whatever message I needed to hear the most in any given time. I gave myself permission to feel, to deeply feel all the confusing, painful, avoid-at-any-cost feelings that had been denied for so long. “Every feeling fully felt leads to love” is a message I received early on and that teaching carried me through many hardships and still does, to this day. Like most wisdom gems, it comes to mind when it is most needed.
Emptying our mind so that truth can flow and peace can land is challenging. It means sitting with discomfort, with the ongoing mindstream that is creating our reality. Learning to get a distance from our thoughts is powerfully healing. Realizing that we can come to a place of choice where emotions are concerned is one of the milestones I’ve come to appreciate. Following any system that resonates as truth will bring us to the place of peace and happiness. There’s no timeline, it takes what it takes, but trusting that we can make it through our challenges gives a stability to the process. This is one of the deeper meanings of trust in Great Spirit, God, Creator, the Divine, the Tao, whatever name you prefer. I choose to trust in the benevolence of this mystery, and use the appearance of what isn’t benevolent as another messenger. How can I have compassion for even the darkest day?
A dear friend just passed along a beautiful piece of writing from Matt Licata – and part of the wisdom he included was profoundly illuminating about the ways we bully and judge ourselves. Many people I know well confess to having a disarmingly well fed inner critic. That voice is at the ready and willing to join sides with anyone who is bullying us – that is what “self-abandonment” means to me. Yes, there is something “wrong” with me, yes I accept your criticism and recognize my flaws…yes, I hate the same things about myself that you do…
Wait a minute! What about love? As soon as I kowtow to the negative, judgmental voice in my head I’ve stepped off the path of love. It’s that simple. I feel it in my heart. And yet those voices carry on, but the way I’ve approached it is by imagining a volume knob, and imagining that I’m turning down the volume on that inner bully. It is a lot like physical training, the mental training required to tame the wily beast we call our mind. The workout includes gratitude, meditation and affirmations. Preceded by realization and awareness of course…this information is as old as humanity – born and reborn into poetically nuanced truth. The Vedas, the Tao, The Dhammapada, the Bible, The Koran, The Talmud – each one has already codified a system to aid us in our quest for inner and outer peace.
Knowing that this wisdom has been available to our species for eons – might be a small clue that it is not the easy path. There’s no quick fix. Most if not all (I haven’t read them all) ancient texts teach that determination is a key element of success. It can be called by other names as well – devotion, contemplation, commitment. Making a decision and holding it forefront in our consciousness is far from being easy or simple. Becoming a yogi or any other kind of devotee means adhering to the path of discipline and commitment. It isn’t easy but the rewards are great. But there is no need to believe me or any other religion or doctrine. These suggestions are best tried for yourself. If it’s true then it will be true for you, too…
“Begin within” is a bumpersticker I love seeing as I drive through town. I’d like to live in a world that reflects my loving heart – and also to be part of creating a world that is free from bullying and hate crimes. The wisdom of that nugget compels me to face the ways I bully and abandon myself – to remember the importance of training my mind to stay connected to the love in my heart. This sounds so simple, perhaps reminiscent of a Hallmark card – and we all know that it is a heroic task. It takes all the courage we have to turn directly towards our inner demons and face them down, deflate and disempower them. It is an ongoing work, for all of us. I have witnessed a widespread propensity to project this accomplishment on another – a Guru or spiritual teacher. I’ve noticed that there is no way to verify that another has accomplished this wondrousness, no matter how glowing their resume and credentials. It is the smaller challenge, in my opinion, to stay open for the duration of a workshop or satsang, and to embody open hearted lovingkindness for an hour or two. And that is a worthy way to spend time, for sure. One story I’ve heard (unverified, just so you know) is that it was in times past, important that one’s guru lived a two days walk from home. In this way it was possible to keep a distance from their everyday lives, which are inevitably easy to judge. Learning to withdraw our projections from others is also an important task on the path to open hearted living. It means an end to comparing, to finding others superior to us (ah there is that self abandonment again) and what a relief it is, to level the field and embrace our own divine perfection.
Self-embracing is the healing for self-abandonment. Love yourself. No need to change anything. Just. Love. Yourself. End the quest for another who can do that for you. Begin within…