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.

Connecting to Spirit

My depth of my spiritual journey has been a surprise to me and likely others given my lifelong atheistic leaning.    Raised by Chinese immigrants, religion or faith was never discussed; we prayed at the altar of academic achievement.  Later in life my parents subscribed to the Buddhist philosophy, one which I might choose for myself if I ever felt I needed an organizing principle.

It’s hard to be completely divorced from religious influence in the United States.  I would guess that most Americans are at minimum cultural Christians (is that a “thing”?): Observing Christian holidays in a secular way, and hearing about Jesus as “the correct” prophet and the Bible and the sacred text.  I hear a range of views perspectives and varying levels of intensity from Christians.  Over the years I occasionally went to church with friends out of curiosity, but frankly, mostly it left me pretty dry.   Organized religion is just not for me, and from what I read, for an increasing number of others as well.

The problem with abandoning our faith systems, according to Joseph Campbell, is that organized religion can provide a sense of community and guidance on how to find a sense of purpose, be a good person, and live a good life.  Who or what provides that if we’re turning away from faith and toward our electronic devices?

I have felt for some time now that the new religion of our modern times is science and technology.  Perhaps that is why I was so drawn to positive psychology, the science of wellbeing.  I’m becoming more certain that positive psychology will provide the practices that modern society needs to live a good life given the diminishing role of religion in our lives and society.

I felt pretty competent in living a good life, until I discovered I needed something more to get through that horrible year 2018 when my beloved husband and sister died.  I knew that embracing a post-traumatic growth mindset would help, but even that felt insufficient so I decided to turn to the divine for support and inspiration.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It has been a wild ride and a beautiful journey.

The beautiful thing about being spiritual and connecting to Spirit, however anyone defines that, is that it’s individualized consistent with our personal beliefs, personality, and preferences.  There’s no one right way to do it, and my personal practices have evolved over time.

Admittedly, it was fairly experimental early on.  I had some rabbit holes and misadventures to explore.  But it was quickly evident to me that intelligence and consciousness were there, once I decided to be open to discovering it.

Openness is the most important ingredient to being able to connect to one’s Spirit Guides.  As a lifelong student of personal growth, and decades long coach for others on this subject, I know that when challenges feel insurmountable and we hit rock bottom, that being open to new perspectives and solutions is the only way to go.   It makes perfect sense to me that big challenge can bring big growth, sometimes involving faith and spirituality.

Even still, given my life-long atheism and scientific training (I have a PhD in a laboratory-based science), you can imagine my skepticism, amusement, excitement, and interest.  I once thought that everything could be measured and understood.  By accepting first that I cannot understand everything made it possible for me to detect and explore the mystery of the divine.

The technique which was most helpful to me was when I took an online class on how to receive message from one’s Spirit Guide, Higher Self (soul), and Guardian Angel. I was surprisingly able to receive message right away with a fair amount of clarity.  It does require a genuine openness to communicate with Spirit,  combined with trust in what is being communicated to you.  In essence, you start by asking to connect to your Spirit Guide, Higher Self, or Guardian Angel,  and then you write down whatever words flow through your head while being very present during the process.  If you’re not present, the message can come from our minds, which is more chattery and loud than the quiet and soft message that tends to come from Spirit.

Spirit messages are always loving and beautiful and supportive, and my first message from my Higher Self included a prayer to help guide me.

Spirit Guide help me to live this life with integrity and hope and good fortune.    Help me to realize my full potential.  Help me to be the person I am meant to be.  Help me to understand the nuances of my path and mission so that I may live it fully.  Help me to understand the riches that are available to me.  Help me to know what I need and ask for it.  Help me to find the truth and wisdom in every situation.  Help me to find my bliss and others too.  Help me to know what’s most important in a given moment.  Help me to find the strength and will when times are hard.  Help me to motivate others to do the right thing.  Help me to finally make peace with myself and my shortcomings.  Help me to know when to quit and move on.  Help me to naturally become who I’m meant to be.  Help me find the courage to raise the awareness of others to the beauty of Spirit.  Help me to find the way to accomplish these goals.  Help me to recognize when I am in the wrong.

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.

The Sense of Being Human

What does it mean to be human? As the planet’s most intelligent species (we believe), sometimes it feels that our thoughts define who we are. Eckhart Tolle, author of the Power of Now and spiritual guide, would say that our thoughts do not define us or our humanity. Instead he argues that we can only sense our true selves once we look beyond our thoughts. After all, we are still human when we finally shut off our brains.

Tolle also recommends that we focus on our “inner body,” or the sense of the energy being that inhabits our physical self. It’s something you must feel and sense, not visualize or imagine.   I had a sense of my inner body for the first time when, a number of years ago, I tried a meditation where you focus on feeling parts of your body, one limb at a time. I realized during that exercise that I spent most of my day, actually most of my life, ignoring to how it feels to inhabit my body. In fact, when I first started this body-meditation exercise, there were some parts of my body that were hard to feel at first, demonstrating how disconnected I tend to be.

It doesn’t seem being in our body should feel so weird, but perhaps you’ve had the same experience?

Consciously taking note of being in my body for the first time was an adventure. I notice random bursts of energy, sort of like a chill or tingling, that course through my body fairly frequently. I also notice that I tend to carry a lot of tension around my chest and neck area. I must specifically relax my chest area to most effectively sense my inner body, especially my heart region. When I do, as Tolle suggests, it’s a delightful but unusual sensation that’s somehow hard to maintain for very long.

There has also been more discussion about biofeedback and heart rate variability (HRV) as a method for improving your energy, health and cognition.   You can intentionally improve the quality of your HRV by being aware of your heart and then imagine breathing slowly through your heart.   For those of us who are in our heads most of the day, shifting attention to a body part (yeah, even our heart!) feels like a huge paradigm shift.

Focusing more on the corporeal side of the human experience actually makes me feel more human.   I’m not just my thoughts, nor am I just my emotions. I’m not just my body either though I tend to take that for granted. There’s an awareness that underlies all of those parts of me that I usually am even less in touch with than my body. That awareness is quiet, wise and connected to the wider world. I have to go digging for her, and sometimes I cannot access her at all, but she’s worth every bit of effort that I invest in noticing or connecting with her. She is larger than my problems, thoughts and feelings. She is the divine within me that connects to all else.

This greater sense of connection has been the primary benefit of my spiritual journey.   In the past, as a practicing atheist, I couldn’t even conceive of this phenomenon. Yet now that I’ve developed an appreciation and practice for connection, I find that it’s a sense that provides me a sense of peace and inspiration.   It also makes me more aware of that interplay between body/mind/emotion/world/universe. Just like realizing I should start using the right side of my brain, why not access and appreciate my connection to everything else? Somehow realizing that I’m just a tiny piece of it makes me feel more complete.

 

Note: Dear friends, you may have noticed that I’ve taken the spring off from blogging. I needed some time for reflection and rest, and I believe I am now ready to share with you my recent journey. I hope to get caught up on yours!

What Is Your Value?

We are constantly evaluating and being evaluated. Grades, applications, audits, performance indicators, reviews, evaluations, assessments, appraisals, exams, measures.

And those are the external evaluations.

We also have the constant litany of internals comparisons: Is he/she more/less successful/smart/thin/interesting/accomplished/talented/wealthy/attractive/likable/famous/stylish/better/lovable than me? Sometimes those comparisons and assessments come from others, often giving credence to our worst fears or best hopes. Sometimes we cannot even hear the value/praise or suggestions/concerns from others because our internal script is so much louder and more definitive.

Who determines our value?

It’s easy to say that we determine our own value, yet the affirmation or criticism of others often carries consequences. Even if our livelihood does not depend on that evaluation, we may attach psychological value to those opinions as if each acquaintance or loved one is literally St. Peter.

I’m not even sure it’s correct to say that we determine our own value. We all have blind spots, biases and unspoken fears which all impede our ability to make an accurate judgment of what is the epitome of “too close for objectivity.”

If the judge is not ourselves, and not others, when who?

To me, the question is moot. Our value as humans, both individually and collectively, is beyond judgment. It’s analogous to asking what is the value of a rock? One rock may not have much value, but where would we be with no rocks? Our existence is tied to that rock, to the water, the air, the mosquito and to each other. We each bring a light to the world that is precious and common at the same time.   Like the rock, we are each essential and yet dispensable. We don’t have to attach value to that. We just are.

Similarly, who am I to judge someone else? I don’t need to feel better than someone else to feel good about myself. My light and connection is not affected by how successful or talented someone else is. Yet I dim my light when I engage in jealousy, spitefulness, or contempt, so I’m only hurting myself.

I am not above such feelings, however. To be human means a constant struggle with our fears and the monologue in our head that feeds the fear. Love, gratitude, connection and forgiveness are the enemy of fear and feeds our light. And that is what I value.

Cardiac Exercise Revisited

Try this exercise: Find a time and a place that is somewhat quiet and free from distraction. Now, relax the muscles in your chest. Notice the energy and emotion coming from your heart and take a few moments to really experience that. What does it feel like? Next, envision your happy place, the people, place, or circumstance that makes you feel peaceful and joyful.   What happens to your heart energy?

Next, imagine taking the quality of this energy to another person. Would this energy change the quality of the interaction compared to bringing tight chest muscles? If so, in what way?

Now imagine a scenario that is scary, hurtful or frustrating, or where you’re feeling attacked. Now what happens to your heart energy? How would that energy impact the people you interact with?

Like many of you, I’m relatively new to this concept of energy and its impact on others. I’ve learned that having awareness and some ability to manage and tap into that resource has made me a more effective and peaceful person.

That quality of my energy affects how I feel. I can either feel closed to the world and the reality of others, or I can feel open and receptive to others’ reality, new ideas and the beauty around me.   When closed, I’m more likely to be in denial about the impact I have on other people, focused on my own problems and thoughts, and indifferent to the world around me.   When open, I’m more likely to be present and in the moment and feeling gratitude or appreciation for my extraordinary life.

I know that people notice and are impacted, even on an unconscious level, by the quality of my heart energy. I also know that I have the ability to determine the quality of my energy, as you may have just learned from this exercise. Though getting an unexpected text from a loved one or witnessing an act of love or kindness can open me up, mostly my openness is my decision and within my control. Literally opening the chest allows me to feel and share love and a sense of connection. Additionally, research shows that this kind of connection is good for our health.

So brush your teeth, exercise, eat your fruits and veggies, and relax your chest muscles! You’ll love the results.