Silver Lining Blog #100

The international reach of blogging

The international reach of blogging

Recognizing the 100th blog on Silver Lining feels somewhat like watching my kids grow their first tooth – where did the time go?  My awe also extends to the power of the internet and how the average citizen can literally reach the corners of the globe with their message.  Readers from sixty-eight countries have logged on – I’m not sure I could even name sixty-eight countries if I tried.

I won’t go into all my personal reflections on blogging – others have done so, and so very well.  I echo their sentiments about the blessings and lessons in the endeavor, especially gratitude to those who read and support the blog (thankyouthankyou! Please don’t forget to share!).  Instead, I’d like to focus on the blogs that I look forward to reading, which are my little treat when I can make the time.  This is one element of the blogging experience that has been constant, and nothing but a source of pleasure, camaraderie and enlightenment (in contrast, sometimes, to the writing side…).  I’m adding a page entitled “Favorite blogs” to commemorate and thank those writers.

My only regret is not having enough time to explore new blogs to the degree I would have liked.  My goal for the next 100 is to make sure I get out and read more blogs so I can have a much longer list when I hit 200.

Thanks everyone!

Frankoshanko – The most upbeat and positive person, ever!

Ipledgeafallegiance  – Well-written, sharp, funny political and social commentary.

Imperfectly Balanced – A team of gals with a hilarious perspective on life, and who are great story tellers.  Do they really do all that?

Lady Romp – Women’s news.  Helps me connect with my inner feminist (no, it’s not a dirty word) every day.

The Other Side of Ugly – Without a doubt, the most affirming and uplifting messages about our humanity, and so beautifully said.

Career Avoidance 101 – Really well-written career and personal management advice.

The Seeker’s Dungeon – I’m not really that into poetry, but Sreejit has a way of beautifully stating a very human and poignant message.

30 Days to Health and Wellness – A great blog with tips for health (including recipes!), wellness, and happiness.

Acceptance, Suffering and Opportunity

Blogging has been an opportunity for me to push myself beyond my comfort zone.  First, I’m talking about my deepest fears and insecurities to anyone with an internet connection.  Lately, I’m just talking about my ignorance.

And what a vast topic that is.

I have mentioned several times that, as a traditionally left-brained person, I have been exploring my right brain lately out of curiosity, novelty, experimentation, and even new-found respect.  But for me, it’s fairly unexplored territory, though old, familiar ground for many of you.

My latest foray into the right brain has been through the spiritual guide, Eckhart Tolle, and his book A New Earth.   I’d like to start in a place of comfort and confidence, acceptance, before moving into the relative unknown, and that is coincidence.

Tolle reiterates what I believe is one of life’s truths:  that failure to accept reality, what is, is the source of suffering for self and others. For example, if we deny that gravity, taxes, or death exists, if we do not accept what is, then we will suffer. There are so many other truths in our lives, though perhaps less evident, that we also fail to accept and therefore create suffering.

“Life is difficult.…. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult.” ― M. Scott Peck

We fail to accept that we are not perfect, merely human.

We fail to accept that we cannot control our environment or other people.

We fail to accept that we have to take responsibility for ourselves, our own feelings and our lives.

We fail to accept that we can choose our perspective, and therefore, happiness and peace over stress, anger and resentment.

We fail to accept that we can take action or speak out, and use our power instead of feeling powerless.

We fail to accept that life on earth is precious, and should be protected and treasured.

This I know for sure.

Here’s where I’m less certain.

Tolle states that everything that happens is meant to happen, because it did happen.   There is also what appears to be the magic of coincidence when we are in an acceptance mindset.  According to Tolle, when we are not accepting what is, we are creating resistance within, which creates resistance from the universe.  Events and circumstances do not “cooperate” when we are in resistance mode.  When we release resistance and become open, then the universe opens up, coincidences happen, events become favorable, and our paths open up.

Part of acceptance, according to Tolle, is detaching from our Ego identity* (I call it the left brain).  When we do so, then we can access our connection to the unmanifested – the energy that unites all lives and matter in the universe.  I call that the right brain.

I have found through an informal and decidedly unscientific survey that most people believe that there is no such thing as coincidence – often referring to fate, divine intervention, or something along those lines.  I believe it is some spiritual version of “when one door closes, another opens.” I have found that, in my personal experience, this addage to be very true.  I also know that when we are in an open, unresisting, accepting mindset, that we are able to notice and take action when that new door opens.  Sometimes that connection is not even remotely subtle… but maybe that’s just coincidence?

If we are closed, then we do not notice the open door, and an opportunity is lost.   In other words, if our Ego is tied to a certain identity or path, our true path will not be evident to us since we are closed to that option.  Our true path is communicated to us through our right brain, through our Being, not out Ego.

So, please forgive my amateur reflections on this subject.  I am in acceptance mode regarding my ignorance and am open to the wisdom of others.  And the wisdom will come.  It always does.  Eventually.

*Ego v. Bliss – A Standoff,  My Ego and Me

Ego v. Bliss: A Standoff

She’s opinionated, needs to feel right, needs to feel safe and protected, needs to defend herself against the world, needs to feel separate and independent, needs to feel good about herself, needs to feel righteous and virtuous, needs to believe she can figure out anything by just thinking it out, needs to defend herself when feeling attacked or blamed, needs to judge everything and everybody.

World:  meet my left brain, my Ego.

Sad really.   I have always been so proud of my analytical, left brain.  It helped me do well in school, solve complicated problems, allowed me to have an intelligent conversation on a (limited) range of subjects, helped me manage a complicated schedule.  Served me well.  Still does.  But something has been left out in the cold, and that is my entire right brain and sense of who I am separate from my identity.  My joy and my bliss.

Please forgive me since I am still a neophyte in this area, and am truly just learning about the 50% of my brain (and much of my self) that I’ve ignored and belittled for most of my life.  In my infinite left brained wisdom, I finally realized, “well what happens if I used my WHOLE brain, rather than just one side of it?”   Some of you might call that an Aha moment.   Others, a du-uh moment (or really:  du-uuuuuh).

Earlier I wrote about Eckart Tolle’s concept of the Ego, and how the Ego (also the left brain) provides for each of us the sense of who we are, what we believe, and our identity not only to ourselves but to the world.   This Ego has us feel separate from others, but also has a need to feel superior in some way – whether it is to feel right or righteous.   It is human nature and collective sickness, according to Tolle, that we feed the Ego and encourage these tendencies.  It is our journey and our challenge to re-discover our conscious awareness of self without the Ego.  That conscious self is living in the present moment, is in tune with the connection between us (that we are all one, not separate), and observes the egoic mind without feeding the thought or emotion behind it.

As a newbie to all this, I’m still processing the ideas in Tolle’s book, The New Earth, and I haven’t quite finished reading it.  But what I’m gathering so far is that simply being AWARE of our Ego and it’s dirty tricks will improve our ability to be present, and will also help others who are unconsciously immersed in their egoic mind become more present and aware as well.   We can observe our Ego react to its need to be better, be right, be strong, be powerful, be more beautiful/talented/richer/smarter/accomplished/virtuous than someone else.  Accepting our need to feel that way also paradoxically allows us to diminish that need.

Tolle also recommends that the next time we are criticized or blamed, that we do nothing but sit with the discomfort of the criticism.  Criticism doesn’t diminish who we are, our essence, by one iota.  Yet again, watching and not judging our reaction to criticism allows us to engage with the self / consciousness  that is separate from the Ego.   Fortunately, I had the opportunity to try this exercise yesterday.  I’m not sure exactly of the outcome but feel like I had a little more lightness in my chest afterwards.

This will be my challenge for my 6th decade…. (yes, my Ego is reacting to what seems like double counting the early decades), to really get to know my right brain, its wisdom and the bliss that it provides.  My left brain has gotten all the attention all these years and it’s time to right that situation.  The two hemispheres will also learn how to play nice together and finally learn to work as a team.  Who’s with me?

My Ego and Me

I’m struggling with my ego.  We all are, really. Our students probably think,” of course you’re struggling with your ego – you’re a professor” with the surprise being  that we’re struggling, with, not mindlessly feeding, the ego.

I’ve never really understood the difference between the how-important-do-I-feel-ego and the Ego referred to in psychological parlance. It’s somewhat confusing as we can have subjectively a small ego while still being very attached to our Ego.  I still don’t understand it fully, but it seems that they’re roughly the same. However, I think the common usage is somewhat more restricted in meaning and scope than the psychological term. Our Ego refers to how the mind perceives itself, regardless of whether it views itself as important and grand or insignificant and small.

Here’s what I mean:

I am a mother, daughter, friend, professor/teacher and a student of life.

I live in a house, with a hybrid car, and I have two dogs.

I am a Democrat, liberal/progressive, humanist.

I am middle-class, Asian female with a doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences.

I have been a scientist, am now more of a educator/administrator.

I live in the suburbs in Virginia, in the USA.

My most valued possession is my family photos.

I prefer to view myself as a kind, smart, capable person who is somewhat unconventional.

This is my Ego.  My mistake is sometimes believing that this is Who I Am. It is not.  Take away any and all of the above and I am still me.  The trouble with mistakenly believing these identities as who I am is that I might work hard or even fight, emotionally, physically, and psychologically  to maintain those identities. I might spend all my money, spend all my time, have endless and vociferous arguments regarding, might vilify or fight with others, in order to maintain those identities. When I confuse my identity with what I own, who I am, or my roles, then my Ego is attached to something “as a substitute for the Being that it cannot feel.” – Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth.

When we cling to these false identities, we are separating ourselves from who we really are and feeling our essential Being.  We give away our power by clinging to a false identity. Letting go of our Ego attachments can give us our power back and keep us in touch with our true selves and our human essence.

This does not mean that I’m no longer going to try to do/be all of the above. No.  This is what I do and what I care about.  But if for some reason, one or more of these identities go away, I will grieve, but let go of them. Nothing can take away the essence of the spirit  that I am. And that’s power.

Psychic Discomfort, Your Inner Angel

I’m not sure this is even a real phrase or concept, but I think it accurately describes what is a useful feeling that is often ignored. I know – it sounds like Sylvia Brown or tarot-card reader with indigestion or bunions.  And I want to differentiate psychic discomfort from psychic pain, which is non-physical pain that is associated with mental suffering.  Mental illness such as depression can cause psychic pain.

I’m not talking about mental illness.  I’m talking about when we experience discomfort, a nagging feeling in the back of our minds or the pit of our stomach that something is amiss.  This feeling comes up when we find ourselves laughing at a cruel joke or a funny prank that could result in a serious injury or loss, when we catch ourselves after the fact saying something unkind, when we cut someone off on the freeway, when we play finders-keepers without trying to find the rightful owner, when we remain silent when we are undercharged at a restaurant, when we don’t tip a waitress because service wasn’t perfect.  The list goes on and on, but I’ll bet you can look back on the last few weeks and discover a time or two where you felt this discomfort.

Pain is a good thing.  It is an adaptive tool that has evolved to make humans change their behavior.  Physical pain, such as burns, means that next time we avoid getting too close to the fire.  Psychic pain serves the same function.  Fear, for example, can help us avoid dangerous situations.  Anxiety can help us choose safe behaviors such as driving defensively or avoiding unnecessary risk.

Though laughing at a cruel joke is not on par with the possibility of wrecking the car and everyone in it, the discomfort we feel is still a warning sign.  We have a choice when we have these feelings:  recognize and respect our psychic discomfort (and perhaps say, “this is cruel, not funny”), ignore the discomfort (keep laughing, tell another cruel joke, and repress the accompanying feelings of discomfort), or to rationalize that the joke is harmless, maybe actually a good thing (“it’s a harmless joke”), or even attack someone who disagrees with us (“well if you think this joke is cruel then maybe you should get a sense of humor”). The brunt of the attack may actually fall on ourselves if we over react to our poor judgement (“I’m such a worthless, good for nothing, human being.”)

I have written several times in the past on this blog* about how we should be careful to not criticize others because that criticism (or those feelings we are accusing others of having) is usually regarding characteristics  we hate about ourselves (or feelings that we are having).  This very natural, but unhelpful, behavior is called projectionWhen we project our feelings or self-judgment onto someone else, a part of us realizes that we are creating an injustice that we sense through psychic discomfort.

I’m not saying that others are never misbehaving, having hostile or negative feelings, or are always doing the right thing and that we have no right to have concerns about their behavior.  I am saying that we, more often than not, have a role that may be invisible to ourselves in the situation we’re complaining about.  I might blame someone for losing something (which I may or may not have had a role in) and then feel, on some level, that they’re responsible for my feelings of loss of control, anxiety, or anger, rather than taking ownership of my own feelings.  I might decide a colleague is getting in my way and is evil, but feel discomfort when I complain about her because I know that I play a 50% role in our dysfunctional relationship.  I might feel discomfort because I know I owe someone an apology (or a tip) and yet I remain silent and do nothing.

The trouble with repressing our psychic discomfort is that those unresolved feelings accumulate and escalate.  These unresolved feelings could cumulatively result in actual psychic pain, such as depression.  We may continue to suffer poor relationships with others because we don’t take responsibility for our feelings and roles in those relationship.  We perpetuate and reinforce our feelings of unworthiness, unlovability, and incompetence while hiding behind bravado, arrogance, martyrhood or depression.  The more we act against our conscious, the more we confirm to ourselves that we are unworthy and unlovable.   So, in the end, we’re only hurting ourselves by not respecting and heeding our better angels.

I’m no Sylvia Brown, but I do know that hiding from our pain and discomfort only creates more pain and discomfort.  Like a toothache, the more you ignore it, the worse it gets.  We have evolved these adaptive mechanisms to grow and improve.  Going against our basic nature of heeding our pain, psychic or otherwise, impedes our natural growth and evolution to become a self-actualized person.  The good angel inside us is our guide:  treasure her wisdom.  Doing the right thing and following our conscious, though it might seem harder in the moment, is easier in the end.

*See also Love Thy Enemy, I’m Rubber and You’re Glue, and My Self-(Un)Fulfilling Reality

Reading an unhappy future

Reading an unhappy future

My Reaction to Stress: Like Night and Day

This blog may sound like I’m whining.  Or maybe it won’t.  You decide.

In the last two months we:

Put our home of 16 years on the market and will be giving up the family home where our children grew up Have the opportunity to downsize and move to place we really want to live
House on market means dogs have to go stay with Ex No muddy feet to wipe or midnight whining to go to the bathroom
Have children who are struggling with decisions about their education, and therefore their future Have children who are taking the time to reconsider their path and make sure they are on the right track
Had a parent have a major and sudden illness, and almost died Had a parent have a health event, where the recovery phase might mean he can become stronger than ever
Had students who, for administrative reasons, faced the risk of deportation Had students that stepped up to advocate for themselves and realized that they have the power to make changes that affect their lives
Had a choice to take a job out of state, and potentially leaving our home, friends and family Had an opportunity to move out of state to meet new people and enjoy new professional challenges
Had to deal with the possibility of an out of state move with my sweetheart Learned that uncertainty and stress can forge a relationship to be even stronger
Was told that a major collaboration was ending Was told that a major educational opportunity was opening
A new grant opportunity came up suddenly that required a brand new, university-wide project be conceived of and proposed before the 2 month deadline The brand new project had a dream team of talented, committed people and we now have the makings of a fantastic project
Had a major grant deadline the day of our annual graduation.   Four more family graduations follow in the ensuing 5 weeks. Learned that graduation goes on without me.  Four more family members graduate in the ensuing 5 weeks.
Had a beloved assistant of many years announce her pending retirement Have a chance to hire a new assistant who will have new ideas, novel (to me) experience and style

 

Yes, life has been crazy lately.  When people ask what’s new, I just shake my head.

But this is life, in all it’s chaotic glory.  I remember years ago, my dear and most amazing friend Lisa told me that she doesn’t have stress in her life.  “How can that be?” I wondered.  Any one of the above could’ve and would’ve freaked me out back then.  The difference to me now is striking, as despite all of the above happening virtually simultaneously, I really did not stress until 2 nights before the grant deadline where I had to pull the first all-nighter of my life to get it done on time.

Back then, the column on the right was vanishingly small.  The column on the right now makes all the difference.  The column on the right is not my delusion or wildly- and naively-optimistic thinking.  The column on the right is choosing to view events not as stressors, losses, setbacks, or disasters, but rather to view them as opportunities and chances for growth.  Note that the column on the right avoids trying to control people or situations; rather it embodies acceptance of reality.

The column on the right has many advantages.  First, I did not unnecessarily add stress to those around me. I was a calming influence for the most part, not an anxiety-provoking one.  Second, by staying calm I was able to be more effective in each circumstance than I would have had I lost control.  Staying productive, focused and effective reduces the overall stress in the end rather than escalating it.  Third, I still was able to have a great quality of life despite the confluence of several potential making-me-crazy  situations.

I wrote recently about stress and how it really is simply a matter of perspective, which boils down to a couple of simple choices.  The first choice is whether to accept reality without judgment.  We have a tendency to want our lives to go smoothly and everything to come easily and naturally.  Comfort and ease are not conducive to growth.  Trial and tribulation inspires change and improvement.  So which is really better?  It’s not for me to judge.

The second choice is whether we choose the negative or positive (column on the right) interpretation of the events in our lives.  We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by choosing the positive. So – what’s it going to be – whine or get engaged with a great opportunity?  You decide that too.

Love Thy Enemy and Other People You Can’t Stand

love-your-enemy-probably-doesnt-mean_

We all have that person/people we just can’t stand to be around.  They wronged us.  They’re selfish, demanding, controlling, mean-spirited, and/or negative.  When we’re around them, they make our blood boil and we just want to bolt or wallow in a chocolate binge.

I was never sure which was more upsetting – being near someone I couldn’t stand, or the fact that I couldn’t stand being near them.  I mean, why should their presence upset me?  Ruin an otherwise lovely event or meeting?  (I realize “lovely meeting” is an oxymoron but you know what I mean.)  It just makes it worse when that person seems completely oblivious to their effect on others.

The problem with this scenario of allowing someone else to rock my boat – justified or not – is that I’m giving away my power.  In other words, I’m allowing someone else to control how I feel.  If I spend five minutes, no  – one minute, feeling any less peaceful, content or happy with my life because of someone else, then I’ve let that someone “win.”

Illegitimi non carborundum” (translation:  don’t let the bastards get you down) – World War II British army intelligence

The solution is to avoid going there in the first place.  I realize that’s easier said than done, but I feel like it’s well worth the effort.

First, realize that by treating that person as a problem, obstacle or a happiness/joy black hole, I am objectifying  them.  Dehumanizing them.  I am treating them like an object, a thing, not a person with feelings, dreams, and (this may be a stretch here sometimes) good intentions.  Sounds like I’m the person with the problem.

Second, view that person instead with compassion and empathy.  Usually if someone is acting so unreasonably, selfishly or negatively it must mean that they are struggling with their fear, control issues, confidence or ability to see the world as a loving place.  I imagine them as a scared child, and see that their actions are being driven by their hot buttons, not their better angels.  He who has never acted or spoken based upon their hot buttons can probably never understand this concept, but I would hazard a guess that we’ve all been there, done that.

In addition, remember that the characteristic in someone else that drives you nuts is the thing you hate/fear about yourself.   A friend recently said, “but I hate lazy, ineffective people, and I don’t think I’m lazy or ineffective.”  This would fall into the latter category of something you may fear you may find in yourself.  For example, people who are driven to work hard and excel may have an underlying belief that tells them they are not worthy/lovable/valuable/a good person unless they demonstrate their competence and productivity.  Such people may work very hard to avoid their feelings of incompetence – a feeling they hate in themselves.

Third, forgive that person.  It’s easy to forgive them when I see their scared child.  I’ve said in this blog many times that “Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself” (Suzanne Somers) and I truly believe that. Forgiveness lightens the spirit and opens the heart, regardless of whether I think they deserve it.  It’s for me, not for them.  Plus, I’ve  just identified that quality in the person that I fear that I may share with them.  So, I can forgive yourself, while I’m at it.

Finally, approach that person now with love, compassion, and empathy. Once I do the above three steps, the last step is surprisingly easy, because I am no longer judging either of us, and now I can bring my best self to the dynamic.  You may be surprised how healing, powerful and affirming it is to approach difficult people with love and empathy, not only for you but also for the person you are no longer treating like something you found on the bottom of your shoe.  They may also just find that you’re not being as difficult as they once thought and forgive you too.

My assistant’s tag line on her email has been “I choose love.”  And she does.  And so should we all, especially when it’s hardest to do.

Lean In/Lean Away

Leaning

Leaning

Are you biding your time?  Are you coasting?  Have you given up?  Is it not your responsibility? Or, maybe you’re trying too hard?

In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, the author advocates that both men and women lean into the roles that they are perhaps not fully engaged in.  Women will often lean away from their work roles for a number of reasons, according to Sandberg, such as feeling it is not their role, trying to be polite/team players, anticipating maternity leave, or feeling like it’s cheaper to leave the workforce than pay for childcare.  Sandberg states that, in contrast, men lean away from the traditional female roles of parenting and housecleaning.  For equity and the benefit of all involved, men should lean in toward their home and family roles and women into their work and professional roles.

Apparently, Sandberg got a lot of heat for this book.  I’m not sure why exactly, except to maybe surmise that whenever you generalize, you will potentially be wrong about someone.  And gender roles are a hot topic, so while I generalize all the live-long day on this blog, I haven’t really touched upon these hot gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political affiliation topics.

But I digress.  What I really want to point out is that maybe Sandberg was too specific in her request for both men and women to lean in and engage.  There are men who are disengaged and women who are engaged in some areas and not others in the workplace.  At home, it’s the same dynamic – some ways women are disengaged (stereotypically, with finances) and others in which men are more engaged (stereotypically with the TV, haha).

Once, during a professionally restless time period, I was looking for a new job.  One job in particular seemed like it had a great deal of potential and a likely job offer, but the timeline just streeettcchhed on, even more so than the usual academic search.  During that time period, there was a tendency to disengage, not only from my work, but also from my local relationships.  I had more than one person tell me, “oh you’re leaving so I guess we won’t plan to get together.”  I did not end up taking that job, and so leaning away for the almost 10 months that the search process spanned would’ve meant 10 months of treading water,  lost productivity and opportunity to grow relationships.

I have also heard others just talk about wanting to wait until…. graduation, their new job, retirement, when their kids go to college, their next vacation….to be happy, start caring for themselves, de-stress, quit rushing, enjoy themselves, try something new.  Isn’t that a long time to wait to be happy or satisfied?  Why not aim for satisfaction and engagement every day?

I don’t really have a problem with leaning in.  Fortunately, during that job search I possibly even over-compensated and worked harder.  When I did not actually leave, I had both feet fully engaged at work and some terrific projects and opportunities that had developed during that time period – which honestly was part of the reason I decided not to go.  In hindsight, it would’ve been a huge mistake to lean away for so long, especially since I ended up staying.

But, I think there’s a whole subset of us who tend to lean in too hard sometimes.  We’re euphemistically called, “intense.”  We are also less charitably called, “pushy” or “demanding.”

Intense people sometimes need to lean away. I know my teenaged boys and my sweetheart sometimes just need some space.  That is not my natural inclination, and, in a way, to lean in with them means to lean away physically, psychologically and emotionally.   There are similarly situations at work that also just require time, letting situations ripen, working the process, letting go, or self-reflection instead of pushing pushing pushing.  Sandberg would say that women who push are “aggressive” while men who push are “assertive.”  I’ve been called aggressive more than once, as you can imagine.  My goal is to temper it with diplomacy and hopefully a growing amount of wisdom.  A dose of humor and positivity never hurts either.

So, as with all things that we endeavor to do, we should be conscious.  Where do we lean in?  Where do we lean away?  Where do we need to adjust and step in or step back?  I know some feel overwhelmed by these choices, but these choices are where our power is.  We have very little control in our lives, and the only thing that we can control is ourselves.  If we focus mainly on what we can control, instead of what we cannot, we can be more powerful.  Applying wisdom and intentionality to what was previously unconscious allows us to be more effective and happier in our lives.

So go for it.  Lean in.  Lean away.  We will all be metaphorically bobbing to and fro as we experiment.

I know some people are afraid to make a change because they might make a mistake.  What if you ARE making a mistake now, and by not making a change, you’re prolonging a mistake that could’ve been fixed years ago?  Doing nothing is not the same is doing no harm.  Remember, the sin of omission is just as bad as the sin of commission.  Don’t assume inaction is safer than taking a chance.  The worst case scenario is that you learn a lesson.  So what do you have to lose?