Peace in Mind

Western culture Readers of a certain age might not have grown up with the expression, to “Fly by the seat of your pants”. On its face, it makes no sense. But when my grandmother used it – especially with reference to something I was doing or even thinking about doing – there was no mistaking her disapproval. “Flying by the seat of your pants” is a phrase from aviation history; back in the day when airplane pilots had few navigational instruments and had to rely on their instincts. (Aviation also gave us the phrase, to “wing it”.) Both expressions roughly translate as, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but I’m doing it !”

When I was much younger, I for sure did a lot of “winging it”:  trusting my instincts about what felt true and correct at the time. As I’ve grown older, however, Life has taken on more of a jigsaw-puzzle experience:  a lot of pieces showing up on the table; its just a matter of fitting them all together for the beautiful picture I know is hiding in that jumble of shapes.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time and energy looking at those shapes:  education; career, marriage, family, more education, a left-turn in my career, friendships and deep connections, and travel. Always, lots and lots of travel. Are there any other pieces I haven’t mentioned? Yes:  a home by the sea, good health, grandchildren, abundant love and creativity (whatever those puzzle pieces look like – snippets of a rainbow, I think).

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What happens to my mood when the pieces don’t fit together when, and how I think they should? Sometimes I feel as though my Life might be on someone else’s timeline; so, a little frustrated. Why aren’t things coming-together when I want them to? Alana Fairchild, channeler (my word) of all things Rumi, offers a thought that – thankfully – soothes my troubled thoughts most of the time:  “…it’s best to  participate in this Life with much less certainty than the mind would have us believe is needed for Inner Peace. Inner Peace doesn’t come with understanding; it comes with trusting.

Deep in my soul I know that Trust is key to feeling peace in my mind and heart. Trust can translate as, whatever words we choose to use to describe our individual beliefs and hope for this world:  Source energy, God, Buddha, Gaia, Allah – just to name a few. Whatever’s going on, it will all be “ok”. Will it? I’d love to get that in writing.

Klimpt’s “Mother & Child”, bingimages

I think about how difficult Trust can feel, especially when Life is filled with successive hard-knocks. How do we keep getting up and standing, let alone trying our best to move forward, albeit one step at a time? The answer to that question is uniquely personal; but in the midst of my own struggles, and after working with so many damaged children and adults over my many years in public service, I can offer what I’ve seen, heard, and felt. The most at-risk people in the world can and do not only survive, but can eventually thrive. Even without a faith in a deity or higher power, there’s very often an instinctive desire to survive:  to climb up, and out of despair.

The human spirit is amazing in its strength and grace. Peace in mind begins, then, in honoring the living, breathing essence of one’s existence. Life feels fragile, but it’s not accidental. Our primary ‘certainty’, even without full understanding, must be the value of our own lives. We learn to Trust our own beating hearts, regardless of how many times we feel betrayed by others. Peace in mind that can never, despite how complicated or jumbled Life may seem at times, be misguided or misplaced. I’m going to relax in that Peace today, however long it lasts.

The Back Door

Why do people lie? (Rhetorical question, bear with me.)

“I never got your project in my email.”  Yeah, I think you did; I requested a Read Receipt.

“My wife has no clue because I’m such a good actor, but I am so checked out of our marriage.” Trust me:  on some level, she knows.

“Í didn’t eat the last (fill in the blank).” Ok, so it’s you, me and the cat. Has he learned how to open the ‘fridge?

When my son was still a toddler, he thought that by covering his own eyes, he’d be invisible to everyone else in the family. So if he wanted to “hide”, he’d just put his little hands up in front of his face, like the game of peek-a-boo we play with babies. A cloak of immunity (he loved to pull all of the clean linen out of the closet and spread it around the hallway) from discovery and accountability.

Today I was reflecting – as I’m sneaking up on another birth day this month – on the many wonderful ways that age brings not only wisdom of self-knowledge, but common sense. This week, however, I was confronted by both the first and second statements above, made by people who are actually older than I am. So, denial and obfuscation – let’s just call it what it is, dishonesty – is obviously not the sole territory of the young and foolish. Anyone looking for a back door, an escape clause or hatch, a way to be invisible can deploy lying. Lies can be big or small, but they’re all about avoiding exposure. But ‘exposure’ to what? I thought back, to that feeling…

The first professional job I had in my first career (Education) was a high school teacher. I was thrilled to have the job, but apprehensive about being so close in age to my students (I was only 23, and they were between 16 – 18 years old). Despite having graduated from college and having several credentials “under my belt”, I feared being called-out as a fraud. What did that mean? To me, it meant being appraised, and found lacking. Knowledge; poise; maturity; skill:  missing from my repertoire.

I survived my first year of teaching, but learned some hard lessons about being truthful and humble (I told my students I had more experience than I actually did at the time). They learned otherwise.

Why do we lie, or, my favorite, not tell the whole truth in certain situations? As I noted above, this is really a question that most of us know the answer to:  to avoid the nasty consequences we know are coming if we tell the truth about ‘whatever’. The problem with lying, however (unless there’s some kind of pathology in operation), is twofold:  first, the lie seeps into our beliefs about ourselves and almost always causes even more fear and self-doubt; and second, lies tend to proliferate because they become easier to tell.

The man who told me about his clueless wife is totally depressed and wakes exhausted, most mornings at 3 a.m. The woman who told me she didn’t receive my project (despite my receipt that she’d at least opened my email) is developing a growing reputation as a “flake”.

I’m not holding myself above anyone who has lied, or attempted to avoid being exposed by saying nothing or providing only a partial truth. I’m just thinking about what this feels like in our hearts:  when we engage in deception, or when we become aware that we’re on the receiving end of a lie. It doesn’t feel good. It always comes out, in one way or another. The dis-ease of lying is corrosive. How much better to come from a place of Truth, shout or whisper your Mea Culpa, and ask for forgiveness?

Thumbs-Up, Thumbs-Down

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In the past few weeks I’ve had multiple experiences – first a trickle, then a steady daily stream – that’ve revealed a heartbreakingly common theme of being human. Many Readers are familiar with the thought experiment that shows the Law of Attraction at work:  holding an image in your mind during a normal day (a butterfly, for example) and noticing how many times you see images, or the real thing, from sun-up until sundown. It’s pretty remarkable – if you can maintain playful focus on whatever you decide you want to ‘see’.

The thought experiment I’ve been living recently first started (maybe 3 weeks ago) when a dozen or so of my colleagues were tasked with choosing teams for a project. Anyone could start the process of choosing – it began, and ended via email. But as those who were anxious to pick competent and capable friends began sending out Invites, others were left unchosen.  Memories from grade school athletics:  the unsparingly-cruel team captains selecting the best, or most skilled, players so as to avoid getting stuck with ‘losers’.

If you were in the small group of misfits no captain wanted (as I was, in most sports competitions), the lesson was unmistakable and painfully poignant:  no one wants you. In my colleague-teaming situation, this played out (via groupmail) in a very public way:  who was invited to join, and who was left asking to join. Yes, we’re all adults and this is Life, but still; it didn’t feel good. After all, we all want and need to be well-regarded; to be chosen; to be Liked.

In the 26 August “New Yorker” magazine, there’s an article titled “Trouble in Paradise” by Andrew Marantz. The piece focuses on the Tech industry’s efforts to confront its ‘demons’, in terms of its perceived (and fact-based) lack of ethics. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Apple and several others are being called-out for tactics that are now collectively referred to as “Human Downgrading:  …a reduction of human capacity…and human sensitivities” (p. 63).

There’s a ton of ‘psychology’, as it turns out, behind what these platforms do, and how they do it, in their quest for more and more presence in our lives. Turns out (many Readers might already know this), for example, an individual (not a Think Tank) came up with the idea of the ‘Like’ button. The button’s designed to gather data about our preferences, but also feeds our dopamine-hungry bodies in the same way that video games do:  by zapping our receptors with alternating challenges, rewards, defeats and punishments.

But what happens when we put ourselves ‘out there’, in the arena of social scrutiny, and we are not chosen? Or, we don’t get the number of ‘Likes’ we want and think we deserve? Studies are now showing that we grow panicky and anxious, sad and even despondent. Combatting the Awful Truth of the phrase “If It’s Not Insta, It Didn’t Happen”, Instagram in Canada has removed the ‘Like’ button entirely from its application, knowing full well what this means to the company’s bottom-line.

So after my “teambuilding” (a deliberate oxymoron, here) experience, I continued to encounter friends and family members who were feeling invisible, neglected, unloved and even shamed in their experiences and relationships. I’m not trying to imply that all of these outcomes are the result of being “on” Social Media, or, Under the Influence of Social Media, but the New Yorker article presents pretty compelling evidence of a connection. The Tech Giants (the humans running this industry) themselves seem to be in growing realization that much of their money-making relies on promoting and maintaining human emotions such as apprehension, uncertainty, insecurity and a sense of inclusion or exclusion.

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Who are these people Liking and Following us, and why does this even matter so much? What might Likes and Follows be a substitute for? I note the symbolism of a simple ‘button’, like Roman Emperors of ancient times:  “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as to whether or not a gladiator’s life should be spared. Wait – did you think that ‘Thumbs-Up’ was invented by Tech? (smiley emoji)

Passion and Purpose

Talking with a friend this morning, I asked her how her job was going. She’s a psychiatric nurse at a residential facility for troubled kids. You might assume that she has both good, and bad days in this role; you’d be correct – as she freely admits. As with other people-serving professions, there’s huge potential for burnout in her job. Nevertheless, each time we chat, she says “I’m so lucky !” My friend explains:  she never dreads going to work; and, unlike some of her colleagues, ‘Fridays’ aren’t the Finish lines of end of the week exhaustion. My friend’s ‘luck’, according to her, was entering a career that’s consistently satisfying and motivating – even on bad days.

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For many people I know, work’s just a part of Adulting. My own peer group didn’t give it much thought after high school. They went to college, or, they went to work. They took jobs that were offered. More than a few of them ‘ended up’ in careers not remotely connected to their college majors. Others entered a family business, while still others took minimum wage jobs right out of high school and relied on promotions over the years. They married, had families, got divorced, sent kids off to college, planned for retirement. In the midst of all that, I can’t recall ever discussing, or being taught about the need for Passion and Purpose.

Growing up when I did, I’m sure that my parents and grandparents probably would have laughed me right out of the room if I’d suggested I needed time to contemplate my Life Purpose. Moving out of my family home after high school, while I was still only 17, I took a part time job while I went to community college. I lived on a meager salary, and on my deceased mother’s Social Security (until I turned 18 and was cut-off). So busy trying to survive and make something of myself, I still didn’t have the luxury of thinking about Passion and Purpose. And yet, I got the schooling and the career that I, too, feel “lucky” to have had. How did this happen?

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As I’ve grown older, clarity around Passion and Purpose has made me realize that anyone can discover both, and everyone deserves to discover both. How often do we ask ourselves, especially as Life grows more complicated and demanding, What do I feel most passionately about? How often do we then give ourselves permission to do, and be whatever that is ? Alana Fairchild (one of many practitioners who’ve interpreted the teachings of the poet Rumi) believes that each person on our planet has her, his, or their unique “soul-light”. She writes, “Every light holds its own beauty, and every light has a particular task to fulfill. We’re given a built-in reminder of this. That reminder is our Passion.”

Honoring ourselves, honoring and trusting what our instincts tell us about our true natures is the path to discovering our Passion. Our Passion, in turn, leads us to the Purpose (or task) we’re meant to fulfill here on planet Earth. One doesn’t need to believe in or rely upon a deity or higher power to discover Passion while writing poetry, playing music, sculpting, dancing, photography, painting, teaching, building, helping a child, animal or an elderly person. The list of passionate pursuits is as endless as there are humans on the earth. Fairchild continues, “We may be fearful that with  (following our) Passion there are no guarantees of success, or that we may even be throwing away a stable life to pursue our Passion.” 

It might be true that pursuing one’s Passion, one’s dream of How Life Can Be, can feel risky at first. Some might seek Passion through a hobby that becomes a livelihood; others might keep that “day job” and allow passion a part-time existence another way. But Passion and Purpose are what’s really behind the “luck” so many of us feel in our daily work lives. What better way to greet each and every morning? It all starts with finding meaning in your own beating heart; loving your heart for its life-giving energy. Accepting that your life has incalculable meaning in, to, and for the World. What stirs you? Do that. Be that. Start right now…

Continue reading “Passion and Purpose”

Dreaming of Love

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More than a few people who study the subconscious mind have concluded that our dreams represent either fears or desires. Lately, my own dreams have felt like the massive, corner-to-corner ‘housecleaning’ I always say I’m going to do twice a year. My subconscious has returned to The Past. Specifically, how I used to feel, think and act ‘in love’, before I actually knew who I was. Why am I now dreaming about how I used to behave in relationship? I suppose, as I think about adventures that lie ahead of me, I fear  that I’ll forget crucial lessons I’ve learned over the years, and am therefore doomed to make the same mistakes.

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How hard is it – when we want and need Love in our lives – when we’d so much rather be part of a couple than alone – to not “settle” for less than we deserve? We hear and read that word (settle) a lot; we know what it means. It’s never a good ‘look’, from others’ perspectives. When it comes to romance and Love, we’d rather gossip (I’ve seen and heard this, even at weddings) about the person who’s “definitely settling!” than think we could ever ‘betray’ our own hearts.

What does “settling” mean? Not too long ago a friend told me he was getting (re) married. I surprised myself, still optimistic and romantic, after all these years: “You’re in love – how wonderful!” Not, as it turns out. He was feeling his age, tired of living alone, wanting a companion in his big house, and – of course – hoping for “regular sex”. As it turned out, his fiancé was in the same ‘boat’. So they married. And are already struggling to adapt to one another’s personalities.

I totally understand why people enter into and stay in relationships (even complicating things further, with marriage). Whether it’s romantic love, erotic love, platonic love, companion love, or any other variation of Love. I don’t judge them. But the dream I had last night (yes, back to the whole point of this Post) showed me that my own heart demands something more. In the dream (totally reflecting real life, some years back), I was in a Love Relationship; sort of a long-distance thing. We’d been together for some five years and I was wearing a beautiful diamond engagement ring, but in my heart I knew that I would never marry this man.

In last night’s dream, we stood holding each other in a loving embrace. He was whispering sweet words and talking about the future. I was ‘in my head’, not feeling it at all. (There had been, over the trips and visits to one another’s cities, strong indications of his substance abuse and mental health issues, and many deep dive conversations.) His words were all about our ‘road ahead’. I kept quiet, a total coward, not wanting to leave his arms just yet.

The thing about dreams:  I always seem to wake up from this ‘movie’ in my head when it’s either just getting really good, or, when my heart tells my subconscious, “That’s enough of that!” Last night I woke up before I had to say anything negative to my lover. The dream was a total flashback, a psychic “do-over” scenario with a question waiting at the end for me, when I woke up:  “Here’s this guy, so perfect for you in so many ways; except for the substance abuse and really concerning mental health issues. Are you going to “settle” when your heart is screaming ‘Run for the door!?’ ”

In Love, how do we know, for certain and for sure, what our non-negotiables and deal-breakers are? How can we be sure that we know, understand and accept what we’re ‘in for’ in a committed relationship, and not feel like we’re making excuses for not receiving what we really want and need? Rhetorical question, right? Because we  know that each one of us asking these questions has to look deeply into our own hearts, eyes wide open, stripping away any romantic fantasy or feelings of desperation before the decision’s made. Real Happiness and joyfulness  is always a better option than bargaining-away our deepest needs and even values. Whatever that ‘Happiness’ means…it’s worth holding on to, waking or dreaming.

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