December 18

Dancing with Self-Care and Responsibility

Life is this dance of personal needs/wants and those of others.  The question is how to do it with as little foot-crushing as possible and still love the dance.

My body is sore today.  I woke up feeling like I’d just completed my first marathon, which seems strange considering I only did a little over a mile on the treadmill yesterday (a strenuous mile, but only a mile, nonetheless).  Of course, I knew the aches and pains weren’t from yesterday, they were from the day before when I went to the multi-generational center, paid my $13 for a year-long membership, and then worked out for 45 minutes.  Mostly, I tried to emulate what few kettle bell exercises I could remember from some videos I’d watched without revealing my obviously novice status in public. Then I flitted from one machine to the next checking out what was available.  At the time it didn’t feel like much of a work out.  At 3 in the morning last night, my body thought otherwise.

I joined because some days, like tomorrow, scheduling my workout with fitness buddy is challenging;  life gets in the way.  It’s her Planet Fitness membership that I have been sponging off of for the last month and a half or however long it’s been, and while it’s so much easier to stay motivated with a fitness buddy, occasionally she is seriously resistant to going.  But, I need her presence to harken the doors of Planet Fitness unless I want to join myself, which I don’t.

So, it’s nice to have an alternative, especially one that has so many others perks that I could stay seriously occupied with little effort, if I had that kind of time and I took advantage of even a fraction of what’s available.

Plus, they have kettle bells which I have been wanting to work out with!  The down side of it is that they apparently close from 1:30 to 2 for cleaning (a factoid I discovered by arriving for my workout at 12:45) and their hours are much more limited (not open on Sunday).

But I’m sore.  And part of me feels guilty about working out without my fitness buddy, especially since it’s not as enjoyable although less constricting.

This and our conversation last night got me thinking, how often do we modify our true desires out of consideration of another and is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Now, in reality, I would have to say it’s neither good nor bad, it just is.

But, our conversation got me thinking….

Brandi was bellyaching about always back-burning her needs.  Everyone else’s came before hers and she was tired of it.  I reminded her that we train people how to treat us by what we tolerate.

train_treat

I know the issue.  It’s that those of us with an acute sense of responsibility don’t blow them off lightly. So even if you’ve back-burnered some else’s demands, the awareness of them still lingers like so much smoke from a burnt meal.  You can totally chuck it, but the smell still taints the air.

And so it is with juxtaposition of desire for self with eternal demands.  Ultimately this dance called life is chocked-full of conflicting wants and needs and because we aren’t in this alone, compromise is inevitably a part of that.  It is up to each of us to decide for ourselves what works for us and what doesn’t.

And as mentioned in yesterday’s post:

  “9 There must be doubt before there can be conflict. And every doubt must be about yourself.”

If I am rooted in certainty about what my values are and I honor my priorities, then the whole mess becomes so much easier to navigate.  It’s not that I disregard my own stuff, but, for example, when it is more important to me to be present for a friend in need than to watch a TV show that my DVR is recording anyway, the choice is easy.  The key, I think, is making sure I make self-care enough of a priority so that when I am delaying personal preferences in favor of someone else’s needs, I don’t feel cheated in any way.  I chose consciously and I didn’t subjugate my own needs only to breed resentment because it feels like sacrifice.

For myself, I am still trying to figure out how to forestall the pull of external claims on my time without allowing guilt to wreck self-care dibs.  I am trying to remind myself that I, too, deserve to be treated like my needs are important.  But I know that no one else will learn that about me if I don’t learn it about myself.  The balance between self-care and care of others may continue to be an unsteady ride at times – it’s not a skateboard I always float well – but in the end, I do know that Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice is sound:

“To what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.”

 

 

December 17

ACIM: Tuesday Night Group – the Battle with Specialness Continues

acim

Tuesday night and the battle with specialness continued; beginning with T-24.IV—Specialness versus Sinlessness, the opening line: “Specialness is a lack of trust in anyone except yourself.”  Wow, that sums it up nicely.  There is a part of me that just doesn’t trust these other guys to do what I need them to do.  That’s the problem in a nutshell, all right.

Of course, the Course never presents a problem without a follow-up suggestion regarding what the solution is, and this chapter is no exception.  Simple: give up specialness, and embrace sinlessness.

But to do that, I have to relinquish control.

Wait a minute, that’s going a little too far!  Specialness is this attractive state that seems to glimmer.  My ego tells me it is everything I want.  The Course tells me a different story.  “What you have given specialness has left you bankrupt and your treasure house barren and empty, with an open door inviting everything that would disturb your peace to enter and destroy.”

But, but, but, specialness feels good.  Specialness is my friend, right?

The question arose: why is it that we all seem to long for specialness when it stands in the way of everything we really want?

To give up specialness, I must be willing to embrace “sinlessness,” and some part of me resists the idea, “A sinless brother is its enemy, while sin, if it were possible, would be its friend.”

This is where the attraction of guilt is born; of wanting to see “sin” in someone else and determine that that is who they really are.  “When peace is not with you entirely, and when you suffer pain of any kind, you have beheld some sin within your brother, and have rejoiced at what you thought was there. Your specialness seemed safe because of it.”

There it is!  I’m trying to preserve my specialness.  I really like my specialness, you know. 

As long as someone else is sinful, then I can preserve the notion of my superiority.  I can hold onto the idea that I am better than someone else.  I can remain king/queen of my own little world that I created to make sure that things go my way.

There’s only one problem, in my determination to hold on to that illusion, I am condemning myself to a living hell. (What!) “2 There is no dream of specialness, however hidden or disguised the form, however lovely it may seem to be, however much it delicately offers the hope of peace and the escape from pain, in which you suffer not your condemnation.”

The way to peace is through giving up this notion of specialness and embracing sinlessness instead.  Some part of me is not so sure about that.

Did I mention I like my specialness?!?!

4 Yet let your specialness direct his way, and you will follow. And both will walk in danger, each intent, in the dark forest of the sightless, unlit but by the shifting tiny gleams that spark an instant from the fireflies of sin and then go out, to lead the other to a nameless precipice and hurl him over it.  Got to love the way the Course dramatizes the ego’s intention and illustrates how base they really are.

I’ll show you, you bastard!  Sinlessness, follow me.  I have something to show you just over that cliff over there.  Look!!!  It’s your guilt!!! “Tiny gleams that spark an instant from the fireflies of sin.”

I know! Let’s fix this problem!  Just follow me to the edge and then I’ll be able to “lead the other to a nameless precipice and hurl him over it.”

For what can specialness delight in but to kill? What does it seek for but the sight of death? Where does it lead but to destruction? Yes, but I eliminated that devil sinlessness that was threatening me.

Yet think not that it looked upon your brother first, nor hated him before it hated you. Wait a minute, I’m not the problem.  You don’t have to hate me.

The sin its eyes behold in him and love to look upon it saw in you, and looks on still with joy. Yet is it joy to look upon decay and madness, and believe this crumbling thing, with flesh already loosened from the bone and sightless holes for eyes, is like yourself? I think I’m starting to understand where all my self-loathing comes from.

That’s the thing about the Course: it makes you want to throw the book against the wall at times, because seriously, who wants to give up his specialness??? “And all this grim determination was for this; you wanted specialness to be the truth.”

(Yeah, I did.)

It is only by recognizing that Truth that the willingness to listen creeps in here and there.  “9 There must be doubt before there can be conflict. And every doubt must be about yourself.”

 All conflict comes from doubt about myself?!?!?

In the quiet of our Tuesday night discussions, clarity arises and with it peace.  God loves me so much that we would never forsake me, for “God himself is incomplete without me.”  But here’s the rub, he’s incomplete without you, too.

That is the thing that makes the Course challenging at times: the part of us that wants to maintain separation and exclude the people we don’t like, is not happy about this inclusivity thing.  But the Course is clear,   “He who willed not be without His Son could never will that you be brotherless.

“He is the mirror of yourself, wherein you see the judgment you have laid on both of you. The Christ in you beholds his holiness.”

See, the tricky thing about all this is that it is our brothers who are the path to our salvation.  “He who condemned himself, and you as well, is given you to save from condemnation, along with you.”  This is where I find the teachings of Ernest Holmes and Science of Mind to be helpful, for we are taught to see the “truth.”  Don’t get all caught up in appearances – they are just the reflection of what you have been thinking not a predictor of what can be.  We experience according to our beliefs.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

10 Would you not gladly realize these laws are not for you? Then see him not as prisoner to them. It cannot be what governs part of God holds not for all the rest. You place yourself under the laws you see as ruling him. Think, then, how great the Love of God for you must be, that He has given you a part of Him to save from pain and give you happiness. And never doubt but that your specialness will disappear before the Will of God, Who loves each part of Him with equal love and care. The Christ in you can see your brother truly. Would you decide against the holiness He sees?

That is beautiful gift in all of this: by deciding for love (and it is a decision), we get to change it all.  The errors in perception that someone else has about us don’t define us and they don’t define them.  BUT, we can experience another’s misperception about us as real if we care to accept the assessment.

A discussion about taking offense ensued.  To take offense is to perpetuate sin and guilt and all the good stuff I’m trying to get away from.  “What you think of me is none of my business.”  Unless of course I am enjoying making you wrong.  The ego always loves a good duel over who’s right.

If someone fails to see the truth about me, I don’t have to take that assessment in.

I don’t have to lend validity to their misperception.  And somewhere in that mix, I can recognize that the misperception of another doesn’t make them less holy.  Another’s lack of ability to recognize the truth about who and what they are is a call for love, an opportunity for me to remember for them.

See, that is where the whole brother thing comes in.  Because my specialness wants to exclude them, just make them wrong and be done with it.  But it is only in recognizing who they really are that I get to claim who I really am.  The holiness in you belongs to him. And by your seeing it in him, returns to you.

This is why community is important.  This is why it is precious to meet with a group of like-minded people who can remember the truth of who I am when I forget and for whom I can return the favor.  Because even though we can’t really endanger what God has preserved eternally, we can and do forget who we really are and that forgetting can make life challenging. 5 The Father keeps what He created safe. You cannot touch it with the false ideas you made, because it was created not by you. Let not your foolish fancies frighten you. What is immortal cannot be attacked; what is but temporal has no effect.” 

So I am grateful for my Tuesday night group that comes together each week to hold the space for each other, to laugh at the human proclivities that want so desperately to cling to specialness.  I am grateful for this place where we come together to reminder each other, “Nothing real can be threatened, nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.”

And in doing so, get to claim a little peace for ourselves.  Amen for that.

Even if my ego is pissed about the specialness.

December 16

Training Exercises: They’re Not Just for the Gym

I’m at the age where I can get frustrated over acquiring new skills, so imagine my delight to realize that while the frustration might not be keeping me youthful, the skill acquisition is.  Brains, like bodies, are a use it or lose thing.  Since by now we have all determined that I have a fascination with how our brains works, it should come as a surprise to no one that the latest e-book snagging my attention once I’ve doused the lights for the evening (whoever thought of backlighting a Kindle is genius!) is on Brain Training.  (The copy of Drunk Tank Pink I’m reading is a hardback, so it’s strictly a daytime read.)

It seems that the exercise routine I’ve been so keen on lately is not just good for my heart and my body; it’s also good for my brain, which I may have known on some level but never really consciously considered.  Of course, it isn’t just physical exercises that keep you sharp.  The more you challenge your brain, the better it is for maintaining mental acuity.

What I’ve noticed is that I am not always in the mood to challenge my brain. But, in light of my desire to improve myself with age, I went to one of the suggested websites from the Brain Training book. At http://www.brainhq.com, I began with an attention exercise.  The first one displays different shapes where the colors match sometimes and don’t match others, and requires that you hit the left arrow to indicate that the colors match and the right to indicate when they don’t.  They then flash the colors with increasing speed.

 I ended up feeling like Lucy and Ethyl in the candy factory.

It’s not that I don’t know the difference between the same and different colors, but the faster they go, the more challenging it is to coordinate the fingers correctly and even as a child, coordination took me some practice to master.

The tests on Luminosity.com made me feel a little less stupid but were not helped but the fact that their arrows were the opposite of BrainHQ.

Why did I get up early today?

The take away from all of this is a resolve to stretch myself to learn things that try my patience, because the truth is I need to have an ample supply ready to be able to endure the testing.  Like any good human, I am more comfortable sticking with the stuff I know, but even that thought alarms me since I pride myself on loving to learn.

So, in the end, perhaps it isn’t so much about testing to make sure you still have it; maybe it’s about being fearless enough to try new things on a daily basis.   Even though they try my patience.  Even though I know it takes me longer to master them than I think they ought to.  So much of it is really about having the willingness to accept where I am with the knowledge that if I stick with it, I will improve.  After however many days it’s been of daily exercise (I stopped counting once I hit the one month mark), I notice that my body is definitely more compact, tighter.  I know that the key to any of this, to all of this, is persistence.  It’s creating the habit of improving, of doing what I need to do on a daily basis to become who it is I want to be.  It means mustering up the patience to work with the computer software that makes me want to scream, or learning a new exercise machine at the gym.  None of it is stuff I particularly want to do, but I have my eyes on the goal of being a better, more fit me by this time next year, and so I keep on keeping on.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some training to work on.

Oh, and patience, too.  Definitely patience.

easy

December 15

The Brilliance of Labels, Part II: Names

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

~ from Shakespeare’s  Romeo and Juliet

This morning I sent out a group text to several friends of mine and as I signed my name (Nancy), I seriously wanted to sign it Grace (which is what the name Nancy means).  The odd part about this is that my middle name is actually a family name and there is a picture in my baby book of the woman they stole the family name from.  Her name is Grace.  I’ve always liked it better than Nancy.

For whatever reason, for years I have identified with that name more than my own and yet, other than an odd friend or two over the years, no one has ever called me that.  I only bring it up because in reading the book I referenced yesterday, Drunk Tank Pink, there is a chapter on names and how they influence us.  For some reason, subconscious or otherwise, names matter.  At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, think about it: who do you picture when you hear the name, say Misty?  Chances are it isn’t a brain surgeon unless you personally know a doctor with that name (they definitely exist), although she may be a dentist.

I personally have noticed that too many dentists have suspicious last names: Hurt, Ortho, Payne, Smiley, Comfort and of course the surname of my childhood dentist: Fear (not sure it was spelled that way but it was pronounced that way).  This influence is known as nominative determinism.

The point here like labels, name can influence.

When one of my sisters wanted to be taken more seriously as a professional, she stopped going by Sue or Suzie, and used her given fist name Suzanne.  Robert denotes more seriousness than Bobby, Richard more authority than Dick or Dicky.

When I remarried, I took my husband’s surname, partly as a backlash against having lived with my ex-finance for ten years during which time he frequently referred to me as his wife.  After so many years of ambiguity regarding my marital status, I was making a statement.

It seems the number of woman choosing to make similar public declarations is reportedly on the rise, although some professionally established women may be less so inclined.  What does changing one’s name say?  When I was divorced from my first husband back in 1980, I originally kept his last name because I didn’t want my child to face last name confusion in school.  But by the time he was old enough to enter school, I was tired of being identified with a man from whom I’d been divorced from for years and I reclaimed my maiden name.  Also, I lived in hippie towns where there was a higher than average number of women who refused to perpetuate the concept of becoming a man’s property once marriage vows had been exchanged.  It was always anyone’s guess who was legally married and who wasn’t, unless you’d attend the wedding or grown up with them.

If names influence, what of nicknames?  In my son’s world, I am always astonished at how many of his friends have two part name, one of which is descriptive.  Not just Jon, but Hippie Jon, and the not just Mike of which he is one, and of which there are many, but Metalhead Mike, or Comicbook Mike, and lord-knows-what else, probably Mechanic Mike and Messy Mike and Foulmouthed Mike.  Who knows!  But those names inform who they are.

In my ex-brother-in-law’s family, every family member had a nickname, or several, which was extremely confusing the first few years of their marriage.  I think one of Margie’s was Rosie (after the robot maid on the Jetsons) which may have foreshadowed the eventual state of their union or dissolution thereof.

When speaking with one of our teens at church yesterday, she was having a hard time telling a story because there were two people with the same first name in it and she couldn’t pronounce the last name of one of them.  She eventually distinguished by using big and little since one of them is tall and the other short, but it could just as easily been something more descriptive.

So maybe we could use that whole label thing to extend to our proper names or nicknames.

Is it me, or has Meredith Grey stopped calling Derek “McDreamy” now that their relationship has a stormier quality to it?

Maybe the solution is to rename people or ourselves.  Let’s just make sure we choose wisely, because the chances are good we’ll be living with the results of that choice.

December 14

The Brilliance of Labels

fishAnyone who knows me knows I have been having this torrid love with brain science. I secretly toy with the idea of returning to college and seeing what it would take to get my Masters in Neuropsychology (I wonder if I could take the classes online).  I love the show Brain Games on the National Geographic channel (that and the History channel – why we still have cable) and some of my favorite books are those that explore how our ideas about things change our experiences.  The latest book to snag me as a devotee is by Adam Atler, Drunk Tank Pink and it has me thinking about the brilliance of labels.

Atler explains about a number of experiments that show that our ideas about things have a direct correlation to how we have been trained to think of them.  He explains, for example, that when Russians children are taught colors, there is a distinction between light blue goluboy and dark blue siniy.  They are taught what from an English-speaking world perspective is an extra color.  Thus they differentiate blues with greater ease.  The difference between goluboy and siniy is as pronounced as the difference between green and blue, assuming you aren’t colorblind (which he didn’t address but which I want to know the answers to, especially since my father is challenged in that department).

Atler cites the work of Jane Elliot’s groundbreaking Blue Eye/Brown Eye exercise that demonstrated with spine-chilling brilliance the effects of racial prejudice.  I’m not going to go into the details of it too much here, other than to say that her little experiment caused quite an uproar on the heels of Martine Luther King’s assignation. Elliot had the audacity to conduct an experiment with her classroom to help the kids understand what the assignation of was all about by having them live the effects of segregation based on eye color.  It was a ground-breaking opportunity to understand the impact of labels.

It is the “Pygmalion effect,” a term coined by Robert Rosenthal to explain the experimenter expectancy effects, or how it is we unwittingly pigeon=hole people according to our expectations of them.  Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson conducted what is known as the Oak School Experiment which basically highlighted how teachers’ expectations of a student had a direct effect on that student’s performance.

Being the optimist that I am, all I can see is how this whole labeling thing can be flipped to its proverbial ear.  Because it means that

to change the outcome, I merely need to change the label!

Suddenly the ramifications of this crystalize and I understand my love affair with language.  Marketers do this all the time – they shape the prospective consumer’s perception to promote consumption.  Thus an item that is perceived of as being scarce and desirable commands bigger bucks than something that is abundant and less-desirable.  The implications are far-reaching.

I have consciously chosen to do with my animals.  Booboo the cat was (and still can be at times) annoying.  He is an extremely vocal cat, especially since the loss of his sister, Belle.  Once Belle was gone, Beau (Booboo’s real name) became inconsolable.  He would wander the house meowing incessantly.  Up to this point in time, I had always called Beau a brat because, well frankly, he was always sort of an annoying cat.  But once Belle was gone, I decided I needed to start telling him what a good boy he was.  So from that point forward, I would constantly tell him what a good kitty he was and how much I loved him.  It really didn’t take long for him to become an absolute lovebug.  Now the question is: is he more loving and a much nicer cat because I started telling how much I loved him, or because I started feeling more loving towards him?  The truth is

we make up the labels and those labels make our world what it is.

And although this is something I have long been aware of with regard to animals and people (I try to treat my family and friends like people I want to be around so that I will enjoy being around them) what I hadn’t truly considered was how this applies to myself.

The epiphany came with regard to my efforts to transform myself back into a skinny person.  I called myself fat the other day.  My fitness buddy corrected me.  “No.  You’re skinny.”  What if instead of referring to myself as fat, I called myself skinny?

I know, I know.  The brain rebels against such things that are in stark contrast to so-called reality.  But if cats and husbands can be more loving by treating them like I think they are lovable (even when they don’t behave that way), and students can perform better when teachers believe they have a high IQ, then maybe the whole label thing is the answer to everything.

So from now on, I am thin.  I am successful.  I am rich.  Yeah, yeah.  I know.  We’ve been doing the affirmation thing for a while so it’s not like this is new stuff.

But, what if it is?  What if I suddenly have the key I’ve been searching for?  What if it’s not just an affirmation, but an actual label – an assessment of who and what I am?  Deep down.  The real me.  What does that do?  What label have you slapped on yourself?  What would happen if you claimed a new one?

If Booboo can change from an annoying cat into a lovebug that I would hate to lose, maybe just maybe the rich, skinny me has just been waiting for me to notice she’s been here all along.  Maybe that beautiful life I’ve been waiting to find me is already here.  Maybe the secret to having everything I want is to treat it as is it’s already what I want it to be.  This is the Law of Attraction – plastering a label on life and making sure it’s stuff you like!  Hmmmm.

How would you act differently if your boss was already as nice as you want him to be?  If you coworkers were the nicest people you know?  If your kids were already as respectful as you’d prefer they act?  If you bank account was already as fat as you hope it will someday become?  Would you be different?

December 13

Why Have I Been Keeping This a Secret?

How sweet it is to awaken to the day with a sense of purpose.  That is what happens when goals are well-defined and I’ve been snuggling with clarity all night.  That is the power of visualization.  That is what happens with focus.

Yesterday morning’s floundering and the realization that I had too frequently been falling victim to Parkinson’s Law made it clear to me that if I ever hope to accomplish all that I want to do in this lifetime, I need to be a lot more strict about deadlines and scheduling my time.  As a writer (and the same applies in real estate!), it is easy to just allow the day to be lost to piddly tasks that don’t yield results when structure is lacking.

I sometimes wonder if my ex-husband hadn’t had eczema what my life would have ended up being like.  He came from a long line of military men and had the insight to realize that when you don’t have a pot to piss in, career training and opportunities can be snagged by joining the military.  We were going to go in together.  We went through all the aptitude tests and I scored quite high on mechanical/automotive something or another, which floored me and excited the recruiter.  But my then husband, who’s English was spotty at the time since he is Tunisian by birth and hadn’t yet mastered our language (our marriage was conducted in French) barely passed the necessary exams, but he passed.  Until it came time for the physical, where he was denied entry due to eczema.

I nearly ended up in the military. 

It was 1977.  We weren’t involved in any military action at the time so that seemed okay, but me in the military?  Still, sometimes when I notice how disciplined my ex-military friends are, I wonder about it.  Pennsylvania would be minus a physics teacher right now if it had all worked out.  And it is my understanding that he is a damned fine physics teacher so perhaps it is for the best.

But my casual ways get shoved to the back of the tolerance queue when I have a visual of my priorities crowding the front of my brain.  So, for example, since I managed to achieve clean kitchen-status yesterday (counter to my usual what-do-I-need-to-dig-through-to-be-able-to-find-room-to-cook area), finding the time and motivation to clean up after I’d finished making breakfast was not challenging.  My goal was to maintain clean.  My visual, the sight of an orderly space that makes me feel good to walk into it.  Shockingly, the sight of a semi-disastrous kitchen isn’t motivation enough.  I need the visual of what I want to pull me towards action.

It’s scandalous how frequently my brain forgets the goal.  The image must be seared into my mind for me to latch onto it and use it to my advantage.  But I am working on this because there are  a half-dozen areas of my life where if I would just keep the visual in the forefront, I would make huge strides.

Clarity is born from focus.  Maybe if I had studied photography, I’d remember that.  Laser sharp focus can catapult intentions into results in record time.  It is only my own sense of ambiguity that prevents me from making the progress I profess to desire.  Why?  Why haven’t I claimed my desired outcome with authority?  Was I afraid I’d look foolish if I didn’t manage to accomplish what I set out to do?  The part of me that wants to play my cards close to the vest so I don’t have to fret public humiliation should I fall short has been sabotaging my goals.  It’s time I tell that bitch to leave town.  I have work to do.  A body to shape up.  A blog to monetize. Books to write.  A house to beautify (and keep clean!), and some real estate to sell.  I don’t have time for dilly-dallying.

And neither do you if you are ever going to live the life you secretly long to live.  Get moving!  I’m not the only one who needs to stay focus.  You have work to do!     FALLS_AWAY

December 12

Stop the World! Life is Speeding by Me.

Today, I awoke with this gnawing desire to find the pause button for my life.  Two hours after dragging my ass out of bed and I’ve barely had coffee, much less paid attention to much of anything else, aside from a couple of texts and so I find that I just want to hit the pause button, you know like you do on a movie, or even TV these days, or the virus scans that are running on my computers.  Pause.  Take a time out will you!  Stop the world; I need to get off for a sec.

So, it is no surprise that instead I am doing battle with Parkinson’s Law, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”  There are definite disadvantages to limitlessness.  It can, in fact, be paralyzing.  Too many choices means that before anything can be accomplished, decisions must be to narrow down the choices.

Open-endedness is great, except when it isn’t.  It is awesome to have unlimited possibilities and crippling to have to access so many things at once.  It’s probably why we develop preferences in the first place.  It is helpful to filter out the obvious incompatibles right out of the gate — that much less to deal with.

It’s not always once of my strengths to do that narrowing.  When my son was a toddler, his preschool teacher wisely advised me to pare down his options to a paltry two to keep him from going into overwhelm.  To this day, it is advice I too often neglect to adhere to, which means I’ve been known to be too generous when presenting choices.  My husband can’t decide on dinner without me imposing limitations and I can’t decide what direction I’m headed without curtailing my own free will.  I have to limit the prospects somehow or I’ll never make any headway.

Masterchef Junior is one of my guilty pleasures.  I am astonished by the skill levels and creativity of the kids on this show.  And I’ve watched how the kids who are limited in the number of ingredient choices can often do better than the ones with a more generous selection.  The other night, I watched poor little 8-year-old Abby go from wowing the judge whilst having a mere three ingredients to work with to floundering when given a hundred.  With so much to choose from, she couldn’t seem to focus.

So today, I remind myself that while it is awesome to dream and explore limitless possibilities, there is a reason that inattentional blindness exists.

Because we are hardwired to filter out the stuff we aren’t focused on, but it you never stop to focus, well then everything is blurry.

So, the next time you are beating yourself up for not being as productive as you think you ought to be, remember Parkinson’s Law.  Then remember this, maybe the real question to be asking yourself is, “What do I need to focus on?”  Sure, you are going to miss out on the stuff you aren’t paying attention to, but the advantage is that you will get things done.  You will have saved yourself from going into overwhelm.  You won’t feel like you are spinning your wheels and getting nowhere, and then you will have time to move on to the next task on your list of stuff you wanted to do today.

Now, list three things you wanted to accomplish today.  You can only choose three.  See how easily the important ones rise to the surface?

Open to the possibilities, but for God’s sake, start by narrowing the choices!

December 11

Who is at the Door this Time?

Certainty has been my enemy lately, or should I say, lack of certainty.  This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this – I think it is at least a little inevitable when disappointment knocks on the door. It’s natural to then brace oneself against getting too attached to outcome, but this morning, it came to me that I have been too uncertain over the past couple of years.  I’ve slipped into the habit of hedging my bets, as if I couldn’t quite trust the Universe to support me.  This is not a good place to hang your hat.

What I notice is that I hedge my bets when I’m trying to play it safe.  I want to believe that something will come through, that everything will work out, but just in case, here’s my back-up plan.  Back up plans can be murky territory.  They are the prenuptials that invite failure to the wedding.  They are gun-shy commitments.  “Well, I want to believe it is going to all work out, but just in case it doesn’t…”

Do you want it to or not?

The answer, for me, is that I want it to, but do I trust it to work out?  (Thank heavens I’m not that squirrely about my marriage, or we’d be in trouble instead of loving each other’s company!)

What I have figured out, and which I seem to forget with alarming frequency at times, is that it’s okay not to be attached to how things unfold, as long as I can anchor myself in the certainty that they are working out for me.  (And truth be told, that may be the only thing that’s gotten us through at times!)

The Universe loves confidence.  There is something seductive about “knowing.”  I can know that things are working out and not know what that looks like.  In fact, sometimes it’s better that way – that way I can be romanced and delighted by the creativity of the Universe.  But I still need to know what it is I want; at the very least how I want to feel.  I need to be anchored in the certainty and unafraid to claim that wanting as my own.  My “knowing” what I want  sends out a Bat-Signal to the Universe to let it know back up is needed and that I’m not dictating what the help should look like.

bat signal

So today, I am reclaiming my certainty in the end result, with no attachment to how I get there.  I remind myself of a quote I stumbled upon yesterday:

 “Disappointment means you are taking score too soon.”
                                                                        ~Abraham-Hicks

The Universe has much better timing than I do anyway.  I knew Jay for five years before we ever managed to get together and I always say that had we tried to make it work sooner, we wouldn’t have been ready.  So I may not know exactly how I will grow into the life I am claiming for myself, but I know for sure that I am.  And that is the only real certainty I need.

December 10

Tuesday night ACIM: The Treachery of Specialness – An Overview

Cover of "A Course in Miracles: Combined ...

Cover of A Course in Miracles: Combined Volume

It was an unusual evening.  Here is a taste of it.  Fittingly, I didn’t pray us in or out in the usual fashion which in and of itself felt weird to me, because the part of me that wants to be special definitely noticed.  I was running late on a day where nearly everyone else was on time.  Again unusual (not the me running late part, the everyone else on time part). Together we all read:

I am here only to be truly helpful.
I am here to represent Him Who sent me.
I do not have to worry about what to say or what to do, because He Who sent me will direct me.
I am content to be wherever He wishes, knowing He goes there with me.
I will be healed as I let Him teach me to heal.

We began the reading: 1 Comparison must be an ego device, for love makes none.”  This goes back to the idea of levels, or better or worse than. Of my God’s better than your God.  My religion trumps yours.   Na-nana-nana-nah!

Some part of us wants to be “special.” (Although, I’d like to take a moment to say that when I went to school, you didn’t want to be one of the kids on the “special” bus unless, of course, you were into being tormented and outcast!)  Yet the Course tells us, “Specialness always makes comparisons. It is established by a lack seen in another, and maintained by searching for, and keeping clear in sight, all lacks it can perceive.”  It compares and the results aren’t pretty.  The cost is peace.

3 Specialness is the idea of sin made real.” What does that mean?  Well, it introduces the concept of levels; that something can be better or worse than something else and that in turn means guilt has reared its ugly head.  If I don’t live up to expectations, then I have something to feel guilty about, abolishing the sinlessness of God’s Son in the process.  Sin is insanity.  Whenever there is this idea that we can take illusions, the stuff we made up, and make them into reality, the Course says we are insane.

“4 You are not special.”

We are all the same.  Of course, it feels better to say, we are all special, rather than none of us is special, because we are attracted to specialness.  But it is that idea that screws us up in the first place.  And the Course is so bold as to assert that not only aren’t we special, neither is Jesus.  What the….!!! Does it really mean that?!?! (“It is not God Who has condemned His Son, but you, to save his specialness and kill his Self.”)

10 Here is your savior from your specialness. He is in need of your acceptance of himself as part of you, as you for his. You are alike to God as God is to Himself. He is not special, for He would not keep one part of what He is unto Himself, not given to His Son but kept for Him alone. And it is this you fear, for if He is not special, then He willed His Son to be like Him, and your brother is like you. Not special, but possessed of everything, including you.

Provocative stuff.

Would it surprise you to discover that we only got through section T-24.II—The Treachery of Specialness. and T-24-III. The Forgiveness of Specialness?  That’s how lively the discussion was.  The ego does not like the idea of letting go of specialness, even though it means that in doing so, we are basically opting out of heaven.  But the ego would rather rule its own special little world than let God in and allow everyone else to be the same as it is.  That’s how much it wants to be superior.

13 The hope of specialness makes it seem possible God made the body as the prison house that keeps His Son from Him. For it demands a special place God cannot enter, and a hiding place where none is welcome but your tiny self. Nothing is sacred here but unto you, and you alone, apart and separate from all your brothers; safe from all intrusions of sanity upon illusions; safe from God and safe for conflict everlasting. Here are the gates of hell you closed upon yourself, to rule in madness and in loneliness your special kingdom, apart from God, away from truth and from salvation.

As always, the next section (in this case, The Forgiveness of Specialness) is the answer to the indignities aroused by the previous section.  “Forgiveness is the end of specialness,” it begins.  “Only illusions can be forgiven, and then they disappear.”  Because “specialness” creates sin which is a judgment created by the ego.  Not God’s thought system, but the ego’s.  God’s thought system doesn’t need forgiveness because for God, we are all sinless, the same, as He creates us – love.

“God asks for your forgiveness.”  Is the Course implying God did something wrong???

No.  It’s trying to tell us to give up our illusions.  6 Forgive the great Creator of the universe, the Source of life, of love and holiness, the perfect Father of a perfect Son, for your illusions of your specialness. Here is the hell you chose to be your home. He chose not this for you.”

“Forgive the Holy One the specialness He could not give, and that you made instead.”

There is still this part of me that wants to cling to specialness and deprive other people of it, because there is still some part of me that is attracted to judgment.  (Not of myself, of course, but those jerks over there!)

It’s not easy for us as humans to wrap our brains around.  Some asshole (oops, judgment!) spends $200 on a fancy dinner indulging himself in gluttonous (more judgment?) luxury when that money could go to help feed starving children and that asshole feels entitled to do so….  Let’s just say that the entitlement scenario excited more than a few tendencies to make sin real, because it violates our sensibilities about right and wrong and good and bad and infuriates our sense of morality in the process.

And so we had to keep returning to the lessons of the Course, that remind us, among other things:

1 Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.
2 I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.
3 I do not understand anything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].
4 These thoughts do not mean anything. They are like the things I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].
5 I am never upset for the reason I think.
6 I am upset because I see something that is not there.
7 I see only the past.
8 My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.
9 I see nothing as it is now.
10 My thoughts do not mean anything.
11 My meaningless thoughts are showing me a meaningless world.
12 I am upset because I see a meaningless world.
13 A meaningless world engenders fear.
14 God did not create a meaningless world.
15 My thoughts are images that I have made.

 

We made it up.

There is a reason many of us study the Course for years and years.  It takes time and persistence to learn that the thing we think of as reality is not reality.  We give our lives all the meaning it has.  I’ve used this example countless times, but I’ll repeat it again: it’s like the rollercoaster.  For some people, the experience is terrifying, for others it is exciting and delightful.  The rollercoaster didn’t change.  It just is.  The same is true of life.  It just is.  If there is something happening that violates our sensibilities in this world of ours, then by all means, use that as a call to action.  Teach love.  Demonstrate another way of being in the world.  We all get to have our experiences.

AND it is not up to us to say how other people do theirs.

But ultimately, we really all want the same thing.  Because, how could we not?  We are all connected.  We are all one.

It can be helpful to remember that.  We all want peace, freedom, love, joy.  And there are still people misguided enough to think that you can bomb peace into war, that the means justify the ends and that violence can create peace.  The Course says we can be mistaken (coming from the ego thought system that creates and promotes separation) but that doesn’t give us an excuse to perpetuate the evil we wish to eradicate.  An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  We are all the same but some of us running around ignorant of that fact.  But the teachers of God can still know the truth of who they are, even if they don’t.  “The task of the miracle worker thus becomes to deny the denial of truth.”

Meanwhile, appreciate.  Love.  Choose peace.  And know that judgment is a weapon the ego uses to keep us hurting ourselves.  Because if we don’t recognize who we are, then how can we recognize the other human beings?  If it’s not serving you, choose again.

This is the note we ended on last night, a poem by one of our group.

A Course in Miracles ch26
Forgiveness is this world’s equivalent of Heaven’s justice. It translates the world of sin into a simple world, where justice can be reflected from beyond the gate behind which total lack of limits lies. Nothing in boundless love could need forgiveness. 

Boundless Love

Leaping out of the Light, burning
away ego’s need to express a self
needy beyond this moment…beyond
this touch…beyond this knowing…now!

No conditional gift…all of self in return
for the mirror’s gift of self…ecstasy in a
glance…a touch becomes a local nova…
what once passed for dancing…that
breathless pantomime is now such
oneness that partners become
inseparable even as the day takes
them across town…across country…
across oceans…they are not separable
they are one…

This, then, is the Song of Wonder…the
Kiss of the Holy Spirit…the BeLoved’s
Grace upon one’s brow…expanding
one’s heart in super-consciousness…
leaving mere ego agape at the depth
the breadth of a breath…leaving ego
‘needs’ in the dust and yet finding there, as
Majnun did Leila’s grace…The BeLoved’s Face

What need now have I of someone’s
sweet offering of individual Love…when
in my breath all illumination is always given…
but for the opaqueness of my vision…Ahh…
BeLoved!…Remove the scales from my eyes…
I would leave these shadows behind….
I would see Thee in Thine own Light…as given…

                                                ~ Qutbuddin Loren Smith

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December 9

Inviting in the Boogie Man or Not!

 “Every thought is temporary until you decide to invite it in for martinis and offer to make up the guest bedroom.” – Pam Grout

I came across that quote yesterday in Pam Grout’s blog and knew that it was the inspiration for today’s musings.  Why do we hitch our minds to a thought and hang onto it like it’s the oxygen we need to survive in outer space?  And why is it mostly the negative ones we invite to take up residence?  What insanity is it that we operate that way?  I, for one, often notice that certain thoughts aren’t going to be good house guests, and yet I have to consciously evict them to get a good night’s sleep.

A few years back, I was afraid I had breast cancer.  There was no real basis for my fear other than the fact I have cysts in my breasts, one of which I had removed thirty years ago to verify its benign status.  The little bugger left behind scar tissue when they sliced open my girl and I have had wonky mammogram images ever since.  Anyway, the cyst has cousins that still reside in my girls and once in a while, they freak me out.  A couple of years back, I started to invite the fear in to take up residence.  Fortunately, I had the good sense to voice the fear to a couple of friends who pointed me towards a free breast cancer screening program (I didn’t have health insurance at the time).  I’ve had two mammograms since that first terrified thought ran through my brain and I’m happy to report that I’m healthy.

The point here is not to brag about how healthy I am, or tempt fate or anything along those lines, it’s that I knew when the thought occurred to me that the last thing I wanted to do was invite it in for martinis, although the impulse was certainly there.  So instead, I told a couple of close friends of my concern and then listened when they pointed me towards action that could alleviate that concern.

That’s the thing with fear; it wants to come in and terrorize you, make you the star in your very own horror flick;

and you can’t let it.

It’s the reason I don’t watch scary movies, or violent TV shows, or even watch the news.  If it’s important for me to know about it, I will find out, but I consciously choose not to feed my mind crap.  It’s way too good at running rampant with unfounded fears.  I can’t afford to allow it to create mayhem where none exists.

Many years ago, before I was a married-again woman, I had a boyfriend that I lived with for ten years.  I’ve mentioned the relationship before and while in some ways it was highly dysfunctional, I wouldn’t have given it up for anything because I learned so much while I was in it.  One of the things I learned was not to make up fear-based scenarios.  I distinctly recall times when I would get myself all worked up, to the point of tears, fretting over our relationship.  I’d spend hours going over things, trying to figure out how to fix things, only to discover that I had invented the whole thing.  Everything was a figment of my imagination; he was oblivious to it all.

Girls, most men don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about relationships as you do.  It’s not how their brains work.

I’m forever grateful to Dave Barry for pointing out these differences years ago in a column he wrote.  Here are a couple of versions of it here.  Since Barry has specifically asked that folks not repost his column in their blogs, I won’t.  But here are some links (do yourself a favor – take a laugh break and read one of them):

http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~an4m/fun/thoughtful-look (longer version)

http://www.blameitonthevoices.com/2008/05/difference-between-men-and-women-in.html (shorter version)

Once I got that my ideas/fears about our relationship were insane, I decided I should affirm what I wanted and tell the fears to go play with some other sucker.  So instead of playing the “you don’t love me,” game, voicing my fears, I’d affirm, “You love me.”  It was an awesome strategy until I decided to break up with him.  After all those years of me brainwashing him on a daily basis, he took my leaving rather hard.

The point here is that it is just as easy to invite in an idea that empowers as it is to invite in one that excites your fears.  And you get to choose which it is.  When Jay and I decided to move across the country to New Mexico where we knew exactly no one, our friends thought we were crazy (the nicer ones called us brave).  But the idea that I had invited in for martinis was that I was highly employable; that any time I’d really wanted a job, I’d landed it.  A few months after the move when I was ready to start working again, I landed the first job on which I’d set my sights.

So if you are going to invite a thought in, make sure you like its company.  When the unwelcome house guests arrive, slam the door in their faces.  As a friend of mine once told me,

“When crazy comes knocking, just close the door.”

Thoughts come and thoughts go.  The ones that take root are the ones we pay attention to.  If you are determined to invite some thoughts in for drinks and a sleep over, why not choose the ones that take you towards sweet dreams.  So much nicer than a crazy hangover!  Just saying.