Guidance Versus Intuition, and Love

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Image by Pixource from Pixabay 

How do you make decisions?  Are you analytical or intuitive, or some combination?

In the past I would usually relied on intellect and analysis to make decisions, using my brain to guide me.  The trouble with using my brain as the primary tool for decision-making is that the brain is driven by fear, and my decisions would therefore be fear-based.  Perfection and control, both demanding mistresses.

Though I’ve historically relied on my brain for most decision-making, I did use my heart for important decisions such as career trajectories, major relationship decisions, or what car or house to buy.  Somehow I knew that with the big decisions, I should rely on my heart since my heart ultimately decides how I feel about the decision.

Why I felt that was true only for big decisions is a mystery to me.  After all, don’t dozens of small decisions add up to a big one?  Somehow I think I just convinced myself that using my brain for everything was the right thing, even when that meant hurting others because I couldn’t be bothered to calculate the human element into the equation.

My change of heart (pun intended)on this topic has since resulted in a switch in my Myers-Briggs personality trait from a strong “T” (thinking) to a moderate “F” (feeling) as the primary way that I make decisions.  I’m proud of this flip flop because it means I can alternate between T and F frames, but I now erring on the side of considering the human part of the equation.  Which is where I want it to be.

Using feelings to make decisions is one step removed from using intuition.  As a person who over relied on thinking for decisions, I was pretty disconnected from my intuition.  For example, when deciding how to best handle an interpersonal situation, I used to do a calculation in my head based on the rules, and my values and principles, which did not usually include other people’s feelings.  Now I tap into my own feelings and try to ascertain how others might feel in the situation, and integrate that information into the decision.  This is called emotional intelligence.

Now, I’ve added a deeper element, which is intuition.

I’m trying here to unpack the difference between guidance and intuition.  Guidance comes in two different flavors in my experience.  First, there’s the explicit, in-my-channel conversations that I have with my guides.  But there’s also the more in-my-gut feelings that I get from my subconscious, and I believe, the divine.  I imagine it’s this latter form of communication that most people use when receiving divine guidance.

The advantage of intuition is that it provides a deeper and more holistic understanding of situations that’s not available during a conversation with my guides.  Intuition is more instantaneous compared to conversation, which is relatively linear, inefficient, and slow.  I’m also learning that as time goes by, I’m relying more on intuition than dialogue, and my connection feels more integrated in this manner.  However, I imagine there will always be instances where the specificity of dialogue with the guides is needed and cannot be replaced by intuition.

Regardless of the mode of communication, the message that comes across pervasively, and loud and clear, is that Spirit/God loves each one of us, even when we transgress into behaviors and actions that are not in alignment with his wishes for us.  This is true for all people, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, income, country of origin, ability, or other aspects of our social identity.  Spirit/God loves all of us, no exceptions, and God wants us to love each other and Earth unconditionally.

To fail to do so is against Spirit/God’s will for us and karmic consequences will follow, either way.  For example, if I treat someone as unwelcome because of their age or gender, then I will feel unwelcome in my life.  If I am welcoming, then I will feel welcomed.

I believe we all have, deep down, an intuition that we should all love each other no matter whether we approve of another person’s social identity.  The Arbinger Institute has written a series of books that discusses how we unknowingly create problems for others, and it starts when we make a (usually subconscious) decision to betray our own values and do the wrong thing.  What ensues is a cascade of events where we have to blame the other for our transgression, thus escalating the insult on the other, when in fact the origination of the problem is when we decided to do the wrong thing.

For instance, in the above example where I decide not to include or welcome someone, in my subconscious I justify it by now believing that the person is scary or unworthy, then acting unfriendly towards them as a result.  They act unfriendly in response, which justifies my belief to further exclude them, not realizing that I believed they were nice enough before I decided to betray my own intuition and values, and exclude them.

We are entering into the holiday season which is about togetherness, peace, and love.  Perhaps we should all be intentional about tapping into our intuition that we are all connected, and to do even a small injustice on someone else creates injustice for us all.  Create the karma that you want for yourself, and show kindness, forgiveness, gratitude, and compassion towards yourself and others every day this holiday season.

It may become your new habit for 2020.

I can’t think of a better time to start than right now.

Silver Linings Blog Relaunch

IMG_0258It has been almost 3 years since my last Silver Linings post, which ended a 4 year run that included approximately 400 blogs.  It’s time to relaunch the blog since we need it now more than ever.

The blog was created in November 2012 as I was beginning my exploration of creating a good life through intentional practices and the science of wellbeing, ie, positive psychology after my 20 year marriage ended. I was so surprised back then to discover this field after spending a lifetime experiencing challenges and struggling to create a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

The blog was really a way to translate my reflection into learning and sharing.  Those lessons were hard-earned, often involving sleepless nights, many tears, and sometimes at the expense of relationships, my personal self-esteem, or even the self-esteem of others.  I don’t regret having to learn any of those lessons.  We all have to learn them sometime, somewhere.  What I regret are the lessons I failed to learn at the time and the people I hurt despite my good intentions.

What has transpired since my last blog has been an incredible, wonderful, yet tragic span of my life.  About that time, I had just started a job at the University of Georgia supporting faculty success and wellbeing using all the precious life lessons and training I had cultivated over the many previous years.  I felt I was doing the work I was meant to do, and sharing my lessons so that individuals and the organization as a whole could benefit from every tear I shed and heartbreak I endured.  But it was not meant to last because I lost my beloved sister, Sabina, and husband, Christopher, to cancer in 2018, just 7 months apart.

What followed was another crash course in survival, perspective-finding, transformation, and inspiration that led me to eventually quit my job and start a new nonprofit called the Foundation for Family and Community Healing.  Because relationships have been so important to Sabina, Chris, and me, combined with what feels like a crisis in our ability to hold our families and communities together in a healthy way, the focus of FFCH is on helping others to learn to create healthy and rewarding relationships with themselves and others.

Also, as I sat with the forest in my backyard, day after day, holding vigil for my sick husband or my own grief, I realized that it is not just our relationships with ourselves and each other that are in crisis, but also our relationship with Earth.  Thus, FFCH is also helping all of us to restore our healthy and balanced relationship with Earth, not just on the physical level, but also emotionally and spiritually.

We are leading a social media campaign to discuss this more emotional and spiritual side of our relationship with Earth and asking people to become more aware and intentional about their relationship practices and habits with Earth and our natural world.  Please join us as we explore humanity’s opportunity to heal this relationship and provide support for Earth as she heals, as a novel (and also ancient) climate change solution.

I am relaunching the Silver Linings blog here as well because I am in a place of acute transformation and generativity that is above and beyond where I left you in October 2016.  Just as I shared my journey, reflections, and lessons with you after my divorce during the first phase of the Silver Lining’s blog, I wish to again include you in this new phase which is so full of inspiration and hope, despite my personally tragic year 2018, since to do otherwise would feel irresponsible and selfish on my part.

I invite you to join me, anew if you were a previous reader, as I continue to learn and reflect upon the many lessons of hope, transformation, mortality, connection, spirit, our natural world, our relationships, and our purpose.

Despite much effort and attention in the self-help world, I continue to hear that people do not have time to consider such subjects.  They are busy with their goals and responsibilities, many of which are absolutely real and often important, if not critical.  However, I also encourage you to take a step back and look at your life from the 30,000 foot view, and ask yourself what really matters right now given the challenges we are facing as communities, families, and individually? When will you prioritize your own, your family’s, or your community’s wellbeing and peace of mind?  Are all the things on your list really more important than that?

At some point we have to put our proverbial feet down and refuse to continue to buy into the notion that all of our ‘shoulds’, ‘have tos’, and ‘musts’ are real, and to instead, consider and commit to those things that really matter.  Peace.  Hope. Compassion.  Kindness. Connection.  Care. Love.  Is your entire list of priorities really more important than cultivating these things in your life, family, community, and world?

If the answer is No, be bold, get a big, fat Sharpie, and cross things off your To Do list, remove yourself from obligations that no longer hold meaning and purpose for yourself, and commit to taking the time you need to reflect on your values and priorities given what’s going on in your life and world.  Then reallocate your time to pursue the things that are most important and urgent. Perhaps your new To Do list will include sharing your journey with us through this or our other communities.  If so, I appreciate your willingness to learn and share with me and others in this space.

As a seasoned coach, I know that we have the individual and collective wisdom to accomplish anything and solve any problem, if only we will stop running around and take a reflective and experimental approach to identifying problems and solutions.  So stop.  Now.  Tune in.  Engage.  Take action.  With us, and/or elsewhere.

I look forward to seeing you in this space going forward.  May you have peace and hope as you take action to create the world in which you wish to live in.

How To Be A Good Friend: Part 2

In addition to balance, healthy relationships also need boundaries.   Identifying and enforcing boundaries can be difficult, especially with adults. In contrast, identifying and enforcing boundaries with kids and pets seems pretty evident: don’t break things, eat your dinner, go potty in the right place, etc.   With adults, appropriate boundaries are more difficult to name, establish and enforce, yet critical for creating positive relationships.

What is meant by boundaries? Boundaries have to do with knowing what behavior is and is not OK with you. Communicating and enforcing those boundaries is what Dr. Phil means when he advises us “teach others how to treat you”. For example, violence and abuse of any kind should not be tolerated, and a clear boundary should be conveyed and enforced as necessary. On the other hand, verbal abuse may be subjective, subtle and insidious.   If someone makes you feel bad about yourself, diminishes your value or worth through words or gestures, or tries to control you, it may be verbal abuse.

It’s not just verbal or physical abuse that may require establishment of boundaries. Failing to respect one’s feelings, property and requests may also cross a boundary. What’s tricky here is that it’s easy to assume that others should know your boundaries. Some are probably no brainers: if I loan you my car, don’t damage it in any way; if I give you a gift or do you a favor, say thank you.  A relationship that has balance would also require some reciprocation.

However, the appropriateness of most interactions and dynamics are subjective. I may not care if you return a book I loan you unless it’s my favorite book, or expensive.   Sarcastic comments may not bother me in general, but comments about my kids may upset me. This is why communicating your boundaries is important. It’s not fair to assume the other can read your mind or understand the nuances of your preferences, no matter how well you think they may know you.

If you’ve communicated your boundaries and they still insist on crossing them, then you have new information about the level of trust and safety in your relationship. You can then use that data to determine how you wish to enforce your boundaries.   With someone who does not return my property in a timely manner and in good condition, I may decide to no longer loan them my things. With someone who always arrives late, I may choose to let them know that next time I will start without them. With someone who is always negative, I may choose to limit the length of our visit.   With someone who continues to be verbally abusive or critical, I may choose to end the relationship or interact only by email.

In the end, its up to you to decide how important that boundary is to you, and what is an appropriate response. Failing to enforce a boundary tells the other that your boundaries are not important to you, and thus that boundary should not be important to them.  Consider your kids and pets. Inconsistent enforcement is ineffective. For them to really learn to respect a boundary, that boundary has to be enforced every time, and preferably with patience and love. Communicating with patience and love is more likely to create a spirit of cooperation and deepen the intimacy with the other.

How To Be A Good Friend: Part 1

Positive relationships are essential for a good life, yet we are rarely taught how to create good relationships. Likely we have learned relationship skills by observing those who were similarly unschooled. I learned and practiced a lot of dysfunctional behaviors for a long time without ever even knowing there was something wrong with my unhealthy beliefs and practices. Creating a healthy relationship is such a fundamental skill, I believe relationship skills should be taught in K-12 Health class.

We tend to have many types of relationships, some casual and others intimate. However, the skills for creating good relationships are fairly much the same, though the relationship itself may dictate the degree a given skill is employed. A key element to all good relationships, regardless of the depth of commitment or closeness, is balance. In other words, there has to be give and take across the various facets of the relationship such that there is sufficient reciprocity in the long run.

Creating balance can be tricky since assessing balance is subjective. The relationship should not be transactional, in other words, I-call-you-only-if-you-called-me-last-type of behavior.  For example, I know Chris does way more for me than I realize, so if I only focus on what I do for him, I will over estimate my contribution to the relationship.   Also, if I only focus on the picking-up-around-the-house scorecard, for example, I contend I will always win by that measure. But he does so much for me in other areas, which I ignore at the peril of our relationship.

Therefore, when taking stock of relationships we should try to account for all of the ways we give to each other. I may only focus on the money or time I spend on a relationship, but there are other types of relationship currencies that may go unseen, yet should be accounted for. Here are 3 relationship facets, often unseen, that may affect your relationship net balance:

Affirmation –

Friends often have a tendency to either blindly affirm or refute their friend’s stance or behavior.   For example, if I complain about how I’m treated at work, my friends might either just say “Yeah, what jerks. You’re not doing anything wrong and look how they’re mistreating you.” Or they might say, “You never seem to get along with your boss. Maybe you’re too sensitive or stubborn.”

Though the former approach may seem more supportive at face value, both approaches lack balance and objectivity. They both contain judgment (either for or against), and neither help the other learn, grow or find solutions. The approach may even make the situation worse by reinforcing and validating dysfunctional beliefs or behavior.

Instead, a good friend invests effort in listening to trying to understand, and helps the other explore options and responses without controlling or dictating the outcome. Showing unconditional support for the other, without blindly affirming or judging their behavior, is a loving and helpful way to balance affirmation for your loved one.

Effort –

All relationships take effort, including initiating and planning get-togethers and keeping the energy lively and positive. The latter might include finding interesting topics to discuss or things to do, or constructively managing conflict when it arises. The care and maintenance of the relationship should be shared; if the burden falls almost exclusively on one side, then the friendship may not be a partnership unless reciprocation occurs in another area.

Some young people are surprised to learn that good marriages require a lot of effort, not in terms of paying the bills and taking care of kids, but in doing the hard work of creating a successful relationship. No one ever told me this. I’m telling you now in case you haven’t heard.

Intimacy –

Open and honest sharing of oneself and one’s feelings is an important element for our closest relationships.  There is no one right level of intimacy for a given relationship since everyone has different needs and styles for sharing. Regardless of the degree of intimacy, relationships should have balance with each person contributing in a way that works for the relationship. For example, if one friend does all the listening and rarely shares, it may be a red flag that the relationship is one-sided. That dynamic may work for the pair if reciprocation occurs in other areas.

Since relationships run the gamut from casual to intimate, partnerships to dependencies, a good relationship does not necessarily need to have all of the above facets to be positive or healthy. Rather, healthy relationships tend to have a global balance across the various ways that the partners give to each other, thus enabling its sustenance and success.

Breaking the Ego

Our 4-month old wild-child puppy Kennedy has finally gone into obedience training. Be calm. Walk on a lead. Sit. Lay down. She struggled and fought against the inevitable, thinking she could best the leash, the GentleLead, her daddy and an expert trainer combined. She cried. She fought. She felt sorry for herself.

She eventually gave in.

The trainer said, “You see, we have to break her ego.”

Wow.

Now that’s profound.

What is the ego? The ego has several meanings, including our degree of self-confidence or, in Freudian terms, our sense of personal identity. Part of the personal identity comes from the interplay between the conscious and unconscious, according to Freud. Our unconscious being what it is, often we forget that we are driven by needs, beliefs and assumptions that we are not aware of.

Modern psychology is revealing that that unconscious is even more at play than we suspected. Jonathan Haidt, author of the Righteous Mind, states that the unconscious drives all of our behavior while the conscious unwittingly then back-justifies the decisions made by the unconscious.   It is for this reason that some question whether we really have free will or are we simply slaves to our unconscious (another WOW).

One area that we seem to struggle as a species is acceptance.   I am not in financial ruin. My health is fine. My husband still loves me. My best friend treats me respectfully.   My weight gain is temporary. My alcohol use is under my control.  I am getting enough rest.

However, when we’re in denial of reality, reality fights back. I get another bill, now with interest and penalties. I get a sinus infection. I argue with my husband over the new bill and sinus infection. My BFF makes another unreasonable demand then gets mad at me. The zipper on my very expensive designer dress broke.

You get the picture. Sometimes life has to break our egos before we accept what is.  Only after we accept it do we have a fighting chance to change it.

Our older schnoodle Romeo knows his limits and opportunities. He knows his place, his limits, what he can do and should do, and as a result he has a very good life. He’s peaceful and happy. He’s well-cared for.  He gets to sleep in the big bed. He’s a successful dog. It is partly a matter of reward, but it is also just as much about not fighting against the inevitable and knowing how to work with what is.

Our lives are the same way. I don’t know if there’s a Great Master in the Heavens who is trying to put a GentleLead on all of us, but I do know that when I fight reality, I spend a lot of time in the proverbial crate. Showing gratitude for the good in my life instead of constantly focusing on what I cannot change gives me access to life’s treats and privileges. I become a successful human.  I work for what I want, need, and believe in based on what’s real, not how I think life should be or how others should be.

Kennedy is doing much better now. She’s not chewing up our electronics or making flying leaps off of strangers and loved ones. She has a wider area she can roam in the house and more time to do what she does best: loving and delighting us all, especially Romeo.

She’s going to be just fine.

This is Silver Lining’s 450th blog.  Thank you for sharing your journey with me!  

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Mid-Life Transitions

I’m feeling old this week. Whenever I get up, there are a few moments where I feel stiff all over. I’m having tendonitis in my shoulder, and so I have limited range of motion. I’ve had some dental work recently and don’t like how that feels in my mouth. And I’m just a bit tired and physically slow so it’s tough to keep pace with my exercise class.

As they say, aging is not for the weak-hearted, but it sure beats the alternative.

It’s also hard to believe that I’m at this mid-life stage. You know, it seems like almost yesterday…

It’s tempting sometimes to long for my younger self, especially when I look at the gorgeous and strong young people around me. But I’m never one to want to go back. So far, I have always liked the Older Susanna better than the younger.   I was once as cute and strong as these amazing young people around me, but I didn’t appreciate it then.   I might as well have had the body of a 50-year old given how I felt about my appearance.

The same trend continues when I look across my life domains. I’m kind of jealous of the young people that have the stamina to entertain, go out with their friends, and to volunteer/work till all hours and their mental acuity. Yet I also like feeling like I don’t have to do everything, and be everything to all people, at work and at home and that I can turn the ticker tape in my head to off or mute. I also like the feeling that I am secure in my relationships with my friends and family. I can let those relationships be what they are and just enjoy them.

In summary, I enjoy my life so much more given that I take so much less for granted. I’m also much better at being present, so I’m less worried, stressed or upset about the past or future.

I think the hardest part for me professionally is feeling a lack of mentors.   I have always actively developed and valued relationships with those more experienced and wise than me, and had several that I could go to when I needed advice or an ear. My mentors are all, well, retired or I’ve moved to different areas of interest. I AM the mentor now for a number of people. But who advises me now?

On the personal side the hardest part is missing the daily interaction of the larger family. I understand that as we age we tend to become increasingly isolated, especially as our friends and family start to pass. Isolation is a potential threat to our wellbeing. Yet I also enjoy having a quieter house and that time to myself that an empty nest provides.

In the end, life is full of trade offs. I don’t envy young people. They have their struggles, most of which I do not want to return to. I don’t envy those older than me either, even if they are retired. I’m sure that comes with its own opportunities and challenges. I guess I’ll just enjoy where I am now, for one day it will feel as fleeting as my youth.

Susanna’s Comparative Life Table

  Body Career/ Intellectual Relational Family Personal
Youth – Assets Physical peak, form and function Education fresh, mind alert and active. Plenty of mentors Energy for socializing and entertaining All potential, yet still able to enjoy all those great moments Relatively more idealistic
Challenges May over rely on strength and stamina

Relatively low body image

Relatively poor at prioritization; tries to do it all Relational skills still in development Daily challenges of raising children; still having conflict with siblings Relatively low self-confidence and fewer emotional resources
Mid-Life – Assets Efficiency, strategy. Better appreciation for assets Experience, patience, better able to prioritize. Giving back as mentor Skills well developed; perspective on what’s important Enjoy fruits of child-rearing Self-confidence and self-awareness
Challenges Beginning loss of function Must prioritize. Mentors harder to find. Meet relatively fewer people, less opportunity for “hanging out” Daily challenges of managing parental care May be less apt to change, beginning loss of function

Message to Asian Parents

Growing up I was told that Asian kids are just smarter.  This stereotype seemed to be buffeted by all the hyper-accomplished Asian students with the perfect GPAs and mix of extracurriculars (BTW I was kind of just average or above-average or so all around). Indeed, Asians tend to be over-represented in institutes of higher learning and highly technical fields.   However, I’ve never seen any data that shows that Asians are any smarter than people originating from other continents.

Asian students do have a secret weapon though: their parents. It’s maybe not so much the parents per se as the culture. At least speaking for the Chinese American culture, it was simply a given that we’d go to college, and probably graduate school. We’d have a sport, learn Chinese, and play a musical instrument. Being cool wasn’t important, but your GPA was. Indeed, some of my Chinese American childhood friends went on to that Ivy League school and are literally world-famous.

For some of us, that formula and pathway works perfectly well; we’re 100% suited and passionate about a career in a STEM discipline, or maybe law. For the others of us, well, too bad.

Asian parents, I know you want the best for your children and economic security is paramount. I ask you, though, to weigh the degree of economic security (do they really need to make in the high 6-figures to be secure?) against the psychological cost of doing a job you don’t love. For me the toll was psychological, physical, and relational. My body and life were shutting down because I couldn’t keep doing that job.

Parents, I’m not saying that you encourage your kids to throw caution to the wind and hop a bus to LA in hopes of being the next “It” girl.   What I am saying is that maybe our young people should be encouraged to pursue that passion and dream but have a reasonable Plan B ready to go if that dream doesn’t work out, preferably one that allows them to pursue that passion at least as a hobby.

I didn’t tell you earlier that one of my Ivy League Chinese American friends ended up pursuing a non-traditional path (non-doctor/lawyer/engineer) and became world famous anyway. Many of the parents I know would not have supported that path, but fortunately for him, his did. In other words, it is possible to follow your heart and dreams and achieve that economic security. Had he pursued engineering, he might be secure enough, but would he be as happy or successful?

I know from my own experience that pursuing my Plan A (which temporally came to me in late life) not only means that I’m passionate about my job, but that work enriches my personal life and wellbeing too. And that’s worth all the money in the world.