Dear God/Universe

Simple pleasures Photo credit:  tonyconigliophoto.com

Simple pleasures
Photo credit: tonyconigliophoto.com

Thank you for all the wonderful blessings in my life:

  • Thank you for making me imperfect so I have the joy of growth, improvement and change.
  • Thank you for difficult people.  They are a catalyst for self-actualization, self-awareness and an opportunity to practice compassion.
  • Thank you for the difficult times.   They taught me humility and made me stretch my capabilities.
  • Thank you for boredom for it invites me to nurture my imagination.
  • Thank you for not letting life always go my way, for I may start to think that life is supposed to be easy and that my initial inclinations are right.
  • Thank you for the gift of perspective.  I can always find the silver lining in every situation and almost always create an opportunity that I hadn’t thought of.
  • Thank you for my gratitude.  I know I often take small and large things in my life for granted, but mostly I’m filled with a profound appreciation for the amazingness of our life and world.
  • Thank you for my capacity to love.  Despite gratitude and perspective, I don’t know if I could live without love in my life.  Thank you also for teaching me that I can love everyone, not just my loved ones.  But thank you especially for my loved ones.
  • I don’t mean to leave out material comforts.  They enable me to pursue the things I love to do, like blogging, cooking, dining out, dancing, theater, bathing, reading, teaching and going to school. Thank you for every one of those too.

What’s on your list?  What should you add?

Changing A Difficult Person

We have all had times in our lives where we are confronted on a regular basis with a difficult person who is making our lives miserable.   Perhaps you are doing so right now.  The situation is especially trying if that person is unavoidable and/or impacts our future.   Maybe you feel trapped and can’t escape that person without unacceptable consequences.  If so, here are some suggestions for how to deal with that person.

–          Consider their scared inner child – First, let’s give this person the benefit of the doubt and assume they are not evil.  If you cannot do that, then skip the list and go straight to the conclusion.  Next, know that most obnoxious behavior is the result of fear or insecurity.  They fear being invisible, not good enough, not lovable, not worthy, unimportant, and so forth.  Imagine them as a scared child with these feelings and try to find your compassion and empathy for that scared child within.  You likely have some of the same kind of fears, so while you’re at it, be gentle, compassionate and loving with your inner child.

–          Projection – Have you ever heard the saying that the thing that bothers you most about someone else is the trait you hate in yourself?  Hate that control freak because they won’t allow you to control your own environment?  Hate the vain person because they look better than you?  Hate the competitive person because they’re always trying to get one step ahead of you?  It sounds obvious when I state the concept in this manner, but take a step back and listen to your complaints about others and ask yourself how that is true in you.  Which brings us to….

–          Hypocrisy –   Don’t feel bad.  We are ALL hypocrites.  It’s hard wired in us.  Read more about it here.

–          Examine your behavior – Consider the following:  how are you likely to treat someone if you view them as a problem?  Like you trust them, communicate proactively with them, inquire about and wish for their well-being, ask their advice, share the credit, say positive things about them when they’re not there?  Yeah.  Right.  The very belief that they are a problem means that you are likely being a problem for them too.  “Well they started it” works on the playground, but you’re an adult. It’s your choice as to whether to perpetuate or fix this problem.  After all, it’s your future and serenity that’s on the table, not theirs.  Right?

If you do all of the above, then you will have changed the problem person.

How do I know that?  Because the problem person is you.

Hear me out before you close this window out.

I’m not saying the other person has no fault or responsibility.  Au contraire.  Rather, I’m saying that you each have 50% fault and responsibility (approximately) in this situation but you have 100% control over your own thoughts and actions.  You can’t change him, but you can remove yourself from the equation as a problem in a real way, and invite him to do the same.

What do you have to lose?  You have only peace of mind, serenity, and possibly a new ally to gain.

Blind Spots, In A Good Way

It’s been delayed gratification all semester.  We’ve been discussing the VIA character strengths probably since September, but have gotten precious little in-depth information or training on the subject.  As a Gallup Strengths Coach, this is like putting home baked cookies in front of a three-year old but telling her she can’t have any.  Ever.

Today we had the privilege of having Ryan Niemiec from the VIA Institute come teach us about character strengths.  VIA strengths differ from the Clifton StrengthsFinders in that there are 24 character strengths that comprise human virtues.  The strengths fall into six core themes:  wisdom, courage, temperance, humanity, transcendence and justice.  Like the CSF strengths, building character strengths promotes engagement and satisfaction at work; using strengths is fulfilling and satisfying.   Empirical research also shows that using our highest character strengths, or our signature strengths, improve well-being, life satisfaction and symptoms of depression.

And the test is free.  Go to authentichappiness.org and take the test!  How cool is that?

Finding new ways to improve upon our signature strengths was easier for some strengths than others. We asked others to rate what they thought our signature strengths were.  Where strengths list coincide, we’re using our strengths well and transparently.  Where strengths are going unnoticed, we can work to improve their use so they are more apparent to others.  For example, I learned, though high in gratitude, if I mix-up the ways I express my gratitude, I could be more effective in sharing this life satisfaction-inducing strength with others.

But what I found most interesting was my character strength blind spots.  In this case, my classmates pointed out strengths that I was unaware of.   My classmates indicated that they thought I was high on self-regulation and leadership, whereas I ranked myself fairly low.  I guess I could reflect upon the reason for the discrepancy, or even better, just focus on trying to enhance and optimize those strengths.   Given I have a self-regulation strength it should be fairly easy for me to integrate and adopt those changes.

Now, isn’t it nice to learn new ways you are appreciated and ways in which you can improve, simultaneously?

Letter to Susanna – In an Affair With a Cheater

Susanna,

I had been involved in a relationship with a man I loved. He lied and cheated and we broke up. But kept in touch. We dated again recently and have now broken up again as he was also dating his ex.  I didn’t know about her.

He is staying with her. I realize he loved her and not me. He claimed that their relationship was not good and he was trying to leave her. He claimed to love me.

But now, he says he has hit rock bottom and is thanking me for exposing him as his girlfriend (as I guess I was the other woman) has realized how she was not appreciating him and that was why he came to me to try and leave her.

My logical brain is trying to tell me that it is for the best. But I feel so discarded, used and betrayed. I had not known he was still involved in a relationship. But when I realized it was her forgiveness he wanted and not mine I had to step away.

I just want to be happy again. I have spent seven years on and off with him. Anyway. I must seem crazy.

Answer:

What a difficult position you are in.  You love this man but you know he’s not good for you and you don’t know whether to believe him or trust him and you just want to move on with your life.

But how?

This is a difficult question, but I think it makes sense to look at yourself to see why you’re in love with someone who is obviously bad for you.  What is he providing to you that you need?  Do you need affirmation, knowing that someone else loves you?  Even if he’s bad for you?

I think it’s easy to fall into a trap where a relationship provides a salve or balm for our feelings of not being worthy, attractive, or good enough to attract someone better.  Sometimes we feel like that’s all we deserve.  We tend to attract the people we think we deserve.

I think I stayed in a bad marriage way beyond what I should’ve because of fear.  Part of it was being alone.  Part of it was fearing I couldn’t find another man.  Part of it was thinking it was me.  In the end, I decided it was just not a good relationship and it never would be, and that I’d rather be alone than continue in that manner.  Don’t feel bad.  I was in there for 20 years and I’d rather waste 20 years than 40.  It wasn’t really a waste because I learned a lot about myself.

When I was alone it became clear to me what I thought I was getting from my husband.  I thought I was getting affirmation, support, reassurance that I was desirable.  When I was alone, I had to face my insecurities and  the feeling that I wasn’t enough without him.  I had to learn to love myself without him, and give myself what I needed.  I learned I can give myself ALL of that, and it was easier to do so in his absence than in his presence.

I guess this is a long way of saying that I think for us to create a healthy relationship, both parties have to be on sound emotional footing going in.  Otherwise, we’re looking for others to fill something in us that can’t be filled by someone else.  When we fall in love, it feels like they do, but it’s an illusion.  Eventually we just feel empty or incomplete again, just like we did when we were alone.

I hope you trust your instinct and make yourself your first priority and give yourself what you need.  Once you do, you’ll attract all kinds of great men – not just the kind that want to mis-use you.  You must first value yourself before someone else will.  And if a man is a great supplement to your already great life, it’s like icing on the cake.  You can say No to any man who doesn’t treat you with the respect and fidelity you deserve, because you don’t need him.

Here are some questions for you to think about:

  • What is it about being in a relationship with this man is important to you?
  • What does he give you that you cannot give yourself? …. and why can you not give it to yourself?
  • What do you really need to be happy?  How can you get that for yourself without him or even another man?
  • Who or what do you need to be in order to feel good about yourself when alone?

Good luck.  I hope you can create your own love for yourself and your happiness on your terms.

The Family Jewels – Our Strengths

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Despite becoming a  StrengthsFinders coach in June, and learning about the character value strengths (VIA; authentichappiness.com) this fall, I admit I have not really thought of my family of origin much in strength terms until now.   Observing and noticing strengths is something I tend to do when I’m with someone, as opposed to reflecting back on their actions and behaviors retrospectively.

Since Mom passed away, the only way to assess her strengths is in hindsight.  The family went through old documents and photos, and shared memories of her.   During this memorial, I listened for the strength themes that emerged.  They are so obvious in hindsight, but I never really stopped to think about them before that point.  Instead, I have had a tendency to be more aware of how our similarities would often come between us.  For example, we’re both so stubborn and fireworks can happen when two people are not flexible in their life view or approach.  Thinking of Mom through a strengths perspective makes me realize how much she really gave to me.

  • Zest – my crazy energy and drive comes from her.  The character strength zest apparently increases the likelihood that I will sense my calling – to help others be the best possible versions of themselves.  Possibly I would not even be here pursuing my calling if it were not for her.
  • Perseverance/focus – this is the stubbornness I mentioned above.  We’re gritty.  We don’t give up, sometimes even long past when we should.
  • Input – going through Mom’s stuff, I realized she collected tidbits of information on endless pads of paper.  She probably had every phone number she’s ever written down.  Most of the information is in Chinese so I can’t understand it.  I have endless pads of paper too but keep my information on paper lists and hundreds of Word documents.
  • Ability to love and be loved – I couldn’t always see it as such, but Mom was always trying to help others grow and to be better people.  This is my personal mission as well, though our styles are very different.
  • Ideation – Mom was an extremely creative cook.  I didn’t acquire that as much as I would’ve liked, but my interest in trying new things comes from her.

Thanks Mom.  There is more of you in me than I realized, and they are shared traits that I treasure even more.

The Purpose of Life – A Call to Journey

Why are we here?  What are we supposed to be doing with our life?  This topic has been of inquiry and debate for millennia and across cultures.  To further understand such questions, comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell has studied the answers among religions, mythologies, tales and folk stories across time and the globe. I used to think myth was just the ancient and somewhat naïve stories the ancients told each other to explain what we already know, like why the sun rose and rain fell.  But mythology is so much more:  the stories are the symbolic representations of humanity’s understanding of ourselves and the world.

One common and universal theme in stories throughout the history of man is described by Campbell in Hero With  A Thousand Faces as the hero’s journey.  The purpose: to enter into one’s unconscious to revive and restore the lost dreams of one’s generation.  This universal process is the individual discovery of self and one’s own power.  The hero returns to share his lessons with others, which then enriches each person’s understanding of self and humanity.

This physical or moral journey is a personal transformation that each one of us may either choose or refuse.  To refuse the call results in a life devoid of meaning, creates personal psychological havoc and a world that is a wasteland.  Refusal also destines one to battle against the summons of the journey, both internally and externally, until the call is heeded.

To engage the call can be a high, historical undertaking, be a matter of life or death, and provide religious illumination and self-awakening.  The hero must battle his own limitations and, in so doing, transcends to battle beyond himself and taps into the visions and inspirations of humanity itself.  Along the way, the hero will encounter obstacles, perils and good fortune on the journey.  There are no shortcuts on this journey; taking a shortcut means crucifixion by one’s violated psyche or chaos when the uninitiated hero assumes unearned life roles.   The hero that embarks on the journey will die to the world with respect to his former self but will learn to penetrate to a source of power, which he finds within his own heart.  He learns who he is, and learns how to exercise his power.  Destiny is on his side, and guides him to success and victory.

How is this concept of the hero’s journey relevant for each of us?  We’re not literally meant to become Hercules or Wonder Woman.  But what myth tells us is that we each have an authentic purpose in life, and we have a choice as to whether we heed or refuse the summons to our destiny, which is to tap into and share our authentic power.  Paul Coelho, author of the Alchemist, calls this your Personal Legend, or whatever it is you deep down want to do more than anything.  Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star, refers to such as a quest as finding your essential self.  Refusing the call means to be living as one’s social self, the part of oneself that is living based on expectations and should/should-nots instead of authenticity.   According to Beck, problems and obstacles (physical, emotional, and/or psychological) are encountered when one refuses the call, but doors open and success and fulfillment are realized when one heeds the call.

Often we do not even know that we are not living as our essential or authentic self.  A trauma or even a major, positive life event may take us to ground zero like a great self-perception reset button.  Once we shed our own and others’ expectations, we may take a fresh look at our authentic self and our life’s purpose.  We may finally sense the summons that has been present our whole lives.

The blog I reposted on New Year’s has to do with acceptance of self.  We may choose to accept our social self and continue to live in a way that fails to respect our authenticity, our north star or our hero’s journey.  But a much deeper acceptance of self, the one that perhaps we’ve pushed away, can lead to discovering one’s power and personal meaning.    Where are you on this path?  Are you pursuing your hero’s journey or have you refused the summons?

Hearing Your Calling This New Year.  Photo courtesy of tonyconigliophoto.com

Hearing Your Calling This New Year. Photo courtesy of tonyconigliophoto.com

On Loss

Loss is on my mind today. I am reblogging this post, as my feelings about it are unchanged.

Silver Lining

Max

My little dog has stopped eating today.  He has refused chicken, salmon, cheese, and even pate.  He ate a few bites of doggie treat, maybe a teaspoonful for his diminished 8 lb frame.

For the last 5 months, he’s been battling a soft-tissue cancer, called a sarcoma.  The tumor has advanced so aggressively that meaningful treatments were either not an option or ineffective.  He’s not even 11, which is young for a little dog to be so sick.

I have been a pet owner since I moved out of the dorm in college.  Cats first, then more recently dogs ever since I acquired first a cat allergy and then a fenced back yard.  So for the last 15 years, I’ve surrounded myself with as many dogs as the county will allow without having to register my home as a kennel, a paltry three animals at a time.  Even still, when…

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