Category Archives: self-help

COMPASSION FOR OUR DARKEST MOMENTS

From Charter for Compassion, Article by Rita Hibbard, Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play
And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn
It’s always darkest before the dawn

And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I’m always dragging that horse around
And our love is pastured such a mournful sound
Tonight I’m gonna bury that horse in the ground
So I like to keep my issues drawn
But it’s always darkest before the dawn

Florence and the Machine, “Shake It Out”

In my own journey, I have learned a great deal about compassion.  Not only for others, but compassion for myself and all my foibles in this life.  As most of you know, and at the risk of sounding utterly cliché at this moment, without our life’s foibles we would never grow- that is, if we have the wisdom to see our foibles as growing experiences rather than things “happening to us”.  If compassion does not begin within ourselves, then it is very difficult to have compassion for other people.  In fact, those that are very hard on others are most likely even harder on themselves.  Our outer is a reflection of our inner no matter how we deal the cards.

A long time ago at a retreat for my coaching work, my teacher Debbie Ford came on stage holding a baby doll.  She brought to everyone’s attention how cute and sweet this innocent little child was.  Then, she started yelling and criticizing the baby doll and hitting it against the chair.  Afterwards, she noted that this is how most of us treat our own selves emotionally every day through constant criticism and fear.  We usually treat others better than we treat our perceived self because no one can hear how verbally abusive we can truly be when we are talking to our selves.  Sadly, not all stick to just verbal abuse with themselves.  There are many in this world that physically abuse themselves as well.  I am confessing in this moment that I was once one of those people.

What most don’t realize is that there is an aspect within ourselves that really is genuinely receiving this criticism and begging for love.  It is usually the piece of us that made that very mistake when he or she was a little child, and shamed for making that very mistake.  In taking on WordPress’s “daily prompt”, I googled the word “kindness”.  In that “googling” I was presented with the above image as the 11th.  It was a graphic on the article “Relying on the Kindness of Strangers” by Rita Hibbard for the Charter for Compassion website.  I love this graphic!  It was perfect, and brought me to one of my favorite topics- compassion!  All of a sudden the song “Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine came on my Pandora station- and the lyrics (listed above) met me at the fork in the road concerning this inspiring graphic and word.  In the song Florence states that it is “always darkest before the dawn” and I could not agree more.

How many of you have been dragging a dead horse around so to speak on your back and you just can’t let it go because it gives you an opportunity to continue to criticize yourself?  What does this opportunity afford you?  Many people believe that attachment has to do with those things we love in this life- but this is not true.  We are also attached to the opportunities that allow for our inner demons to control our life.  Face the inner demon.  It will only get better from there, I promise.  I say that as testimony to my own darkness and how facing it changed me forever.  It gave me new opportunities to love and embrace the joy that I rejected because I didn’t think I deserved it.  The only way I could face it was through compassion.  I was enabled to see that little girl in me suffering and give her the love she needed to move on and own her light.

To express our light takes great courage, and I invite you to express your light and have compassion for yourself.  Let those foibles go and you will be of greater service to this world through the expression of genuine compassion for others suffering.  I promise.

LAYERS OF RAINBOWS

There is neither here-
     nor there.
There is only that which is written in the soul.
  And,
      That is what you must share.

When I think about a “regular” day, it is easy for me to get caught up in the mundane activity that the ego-driven mind has created.  Life as a formulaic, step-by-step process- it could be written down like a recipe, and if someone performed the steps they would be me.  Or, would they?

Within every moment there is more happening between me and the other side of the planet, my simple mind could not conceive it all, yet it is all happening in the instant, within the instant.  Life- constantly unfolding…changing…never stopping.  I had this snap shot in my mind after reading this statement by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Awakening of the Heart on emptiness recently-

“Each of the 5 rivers has to be made by the other 4.  It has to coexist; it has to inter-be with all others.”

The five rivers being the five aggregates: form, sensation, perception, mental formation, and consciousness.  This being said, each aggregate or river flowing within us has to contain elements of the other aggregates or rivers flowing within us.  Nothing is independent of itself. And, we are “empty of a separate, independent existence.”

This being said, I felt like I was looking from above into a tall skyscraper with the top off.  And as I looked in, I could see a system like a corporation working.  Within the corporation are layers of departments each based on an idea, a subject.  Then, there are people working in each department supporting the idea, dependent on one another as they operate.  Each person has its own universe within them including the people they know and love.  Then, they have their own mind chattering away, all day- day after day.  Within their mind is their body.  Their body is made up of organs, tissue, cells, living organisms while the mind is dictating life, while the nature, the essence of this being is slowly, deliberately becoming more apparent in a form of awareness.  Thought becomes another thought- and then what?  Life.

As I stepped out of the gym yesterday, there was a large shift in the wind.  The sky was becoming darker, and as I turned the corner to get to my car, a rainbow was standing before me, filling the sky with its abundant beauty and hope.  This rainbow reminded me of so many other rainbows- and thus began a continuation of thought and life, ever changing and all encompassing, again.

One of my most memorable moments with a rainbow came when I felt completely lost and hopeless in my existence as a human, being.  I sat in my car at the grocery store on Columbia Pike in Arlington, VA, crying and asking my angels to please help me get out of my head and the funk of hopelessness.  I cried, and cried some more.  I finally felt a little relief and stepped out of my car, to again witness a large, brightly lit rainbow illuminating the sky in full color.  At that moment, I felt the hope of transformation and gratefulness chasing out my self-inflicted demons.

How often do we forget that we are not alone, that we are not independent of one another?  This is a reminder that no matter where you look, there is a rainbow somewhere giving hope to someone, who is deeply connected to you.  Just look around you, and listen to your heart.  You will see and hear whatever it is you need, to remember your essence, your divine nature.  It just helps to be open.  To be conscious of it, but it is always there.

My Inner Charlie Brown

My Inner Charlie Brown
By: Jessica Burnham

How many of you grew up watching the famous holiday cartoon- Charlie Brown’s Christmas? Or, reading the loveable character’s foibles in the comic page of your newspaper? Charlie Brown always felt depressed- and usually his depression came from his commonly chattered statement “I can’t do anything right!” Just recently as I trudged through my own inner turmoil regarding my life’s ups and downs, I heard myself saying just that. Tears streaming down my eyes, fear and frustration curling over me like a heavy blanket, I roiled “I can’t do anything right!”

I took a deep breath as I observed myself engaged in this belief system. I realized that I had to embrace this part of me, my inner Charlie Brown. And the tears came tumbling down at light speed! What can I say? In the daily work we all engage in called life, we have this perception of ourselves. We know we are working hard and trying to deliver what we envision as our greatest self- so why is it that when something doesn’t go as we expect it to go, it is so easy to spontaneously combust over our self judgments? It is so easy to attach to what someone says about us and then to take the flag running into our self inflicted fire.

I have probably watched Charlie Brown fall apart over his disappointing Christmas tree a couple hundred times. Yet every time I watch it I feel great compassion for his character. How many times does Charlie have to stumble upon his belief that he can’t do anything right? How many times do I need to stumble over this same belief system about myself? I sometimes find myself wishing (foolishly!) that I also had an inner tape recorder that released a statement to my mind like a red alert every time I start to go into this story- “Jessica, please take a look at yourself- do you really believe you can’t do anything right?” And the answer would be “YES” from my mind’s point of view. But it is just that, a point of view. And just like all points of view, they can easily be adjusted to create a journey that is more empowering and in line with what you ultimately deserve in this life.

I have full confidence that since I have chosen to accept the part of me that truly believes and lives this belief system every day, “I can’t do anything right,” I will be able to choose something that aligns with my heart. I have lived this work deeply over the past two years, so I know I can trust this process. I now have the choice to feel compassion for the Charlie Brown that lives within me instead of judging him like Lucy or any other of his harsh critics. Life is difficult enough as it is, juggling everyone else’s belief systems and projections. How much easier could my life be if I opened up to what is available from the universe that sees me for who I truly am? Rather than always seeing myself through filters and lenses that are attached to points of view?

Nietzsche has been quoted as saying “There are no facts only interpretations.” Interpretations, opinions, points of view- are they not all the same? My dear friend’s grandfather taught her growing up that one of the most important ways of being in life was silence, to not open your mouth. This is something I look at with the deepest awe. To not respond with an opinion, an interpretation about our behavior, as well as others, gives us the space we need to experience the emotions of being human without sacrificing the truth of who we are. And the truth of who we are is not an interpretation or a limit- it just simply is- bound by nothing, open to the possibilities of the universe.

The Weight of Attachment

The Weight of Attachment
By: Jessica Burnham

Every time I go to the ocean, I feel this strong attachment and melancholy when I leave. It is almost as if I am leaving a part of myself behind, and I know it deep within my soul. There is a part of me that wishes I could control it and not have that feeling. Emotionally, it is an aching feeling. As the sun sets, I will sometimes remember singing Taps in the girl scouts- Day is done, Gone the sun, From the hills the lakes to the sky- all is well, safely rest- God is nigh. And with it I tune into the rhythm of the land. My heart goes into another way of being and with that brings a feeling of change.

Change is one of those things that either opens us up to new possibilities or gives rise to a shut down within like a top spinning out of control. When change comes upon us, we have a choice. We are being led to a cross roads where the universe is giving us an opportunity to grow and feel out what it means psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. No one’s cross roads is any more life shattering than the next- it is all a matter of perspective and openness. Have you ever watched a child try to control a top’s direction as it spins and whirls across the floor? The outcome is usually a crash and burn situation. What does that mean?

When we try to control a situation rather than allow it to simply deliver what it is there to deliver- we usually make it very negative. I was watching a father and his son at the beach, and the young boy was attempting to go into the ocean with his father to body surf on his boogie board for the first time. Every time the father got the boy to a certain part of the waves, he would turn and run away back to the beach laughing and yelling “No!” His father was getting frustrated and kept trying to persuade him to come back into the surf. Finally the father just gave up and went on to do his own thing, while the boy continued to play on the shore. The boy was not ready to take that risk yet of going further out into the waves. But as adults, we sometimes do the same thing regarding certain levels of emotional engagement, or with our career.

An opportunity comes up, and there is someone like this father persuading us to come out and test the waters. But we half attempt it and then decide to turn around and run back to the shore. Our free will gives us the opportunity to either choose growth or run away from it. The uncomfortable feelings that come with stepping out of our comfort zone into change usually pass. We just need to be with those feelings- engage and experience them without resistance. The more we flow with the way life delivers us these opportunities for growth, the less anxiety we will feel as we step into the ocean of waves around us.

Resistance is the road block to growth. And growth is essentially the purpose of our life. Yet we engage in resistance over and over again. What does it feel like when we resist? We usually feel stress within our body, indecision can mask as resistance- instead of making a choice we pretend we really don’t know what we want or what our intuition is telling us. What other red flags are there? Anger, resentment, a feeling like the world is passing us by and we’re not getting a piece of the pie- all of these feelings are important for us to pay attention to. They are there for a reason and it is up to us to determine what that reason is. This requires deep honesty with yourself. If you can’t be honest with yourself in regards to what your feelings mean then you will always feel a sense of anxiety and nothing will take it away. The mind will tell us that our temporary fixes will diminish this stress- but we all know that the relief lasts a very short period of time and eventually a bomb will go off inside of us.

Life yields so many gifts. Yet we tend to see what we are ‘missing out on’ more than opening up to what we are experiencing and being given in the present moment. As I left the beach today- I did feel a deep sense of sadness within myself. But I also knew, through grace and awareness, that it would dissolve rather quickly the less power I gave to that feeling. Rather than make it mean something, I just chose to experience it for what it was. And you know what? It did pass rather quickly. Without attachment and expectations- we get through the times that feel like weights are attached to our heart. Letting that heaviness go can be life changing. Sharing this with you, every month, is life changing for me. I thank you for sharing in this journey with me, and I hope that the next time you feel that weight of change- it becomes a little lighter because the attachment is not weighing you down.

Because I’m a Pisces!

Because I’m a Pisces!
By: Jessica Burnham

Recently, I was helping my step daughter in her ballet lessons from home. With her competitive nature, comes the desire to always find a way to blame her teacher for bringing her down whenever the going gets tough. I noticed this occur when she first took karate, and now, even with the sport she loves the most, she still does it. In her frustration with a teacher who told her she had not been paying attention, I asked her this question- why aren’t you paying attention? You would think I had just set off a bomb within her mind. Her response was lots of tears and an excuse that I loved- “but I’m a Pisces!”

I was so surprised by her responses! But why should I be surprised? Children are amazing mirrors for us, and they innocently show us the workings of the mind without so much internal manipulation as an adult. Adults are more masterful at hiding their shame and making excuses for themselves. So here was a child already learning different ways to avoid responsibility for not paying attention by actually blaming her inability to pay attention on an astrological tendency.

What?

It brought much laughter to me later. This laughter existing, because we all do it, just in different ways. All of us make up excuses for ourselves in the most complex ways to avoid taking responsibility for our emotions, actions, lack of action, and beyond. Most of the time, we are unaware of it because we have become programmed machines doing it as an automatic response any time we feel discomfort or want to avoid something. How amazing would life be if we could see our selves from the outside perspective, like I could see my step daughter so clearly, and laugh at ourselves rather than allow our mind to hold onto its rationalizations for dear life in pure dramatic form?

Sometimes I think of that scene in the movie Meet the Parents, where Ben Stiller’s character is on the airplane near the end telling the flight attendant that the only way she is going to get his bag from him is if she can take it out of his kung fu grip. His reaction is like the pure manifestation of our mind’s kung fu grip to old belief systems and judgments. How do we obtain the openness and flexibility to be able to confront such a grip on reality? What kind of structures can we place in our life to assist us in seeing ourselves from the observer point of view when we start to go to that place of denial?

In my coaching work with the Ford Institute, one of the ways we do this with ourselves is to write down all of our typical excuses, rationalizations or justifications in advance so we identify what they are from a point of awareness. Once they’re out there, it shifts something and it makes it more difficult to give power to them when we know what we are doing on a whole different level. We recognize as the observer of the mind that this is something we really do; it is not just something someone is telling us they see. There is power in observing from our own awareness. When others tell us what they see, the mind usually reacts discordantly. There may be more resistance, more stress.

From the Buddhist perspective, we have slowly become addicted to the mind’s power and the wheel of karma. There is so much suffering, yet we still engage in the same behaviors that cause us suffering without regard to the deeper consequences- the karmic ones. Reincarnating countless times, until finally our awareness evolves to a level deep enough that we just touch on the surface of enlightenment. Yet our laziness and resignation to the mind’s way of constantly dragging us into the past, into our worries of about the future, and its need to be right pops us in and out what we truly are like a contestant in a pinball game. The lights go on, the noise distracts us, and we give away our power to move in a certain trajectory to wounds that never heal.

Taking the step to acknowledge our weaknesses and make the commitment to become more aware of them is the beginning of liberation. Once we start to question the mind’s addictions and its constant wasting of energy, we start to bring the power back in and see how choice can enliven the soul. The choice to say- I’m not going to react in autopilot today. Let the liberation begin! Namaste.

Attaching to Self Sabotage

Attaching to Self Sabotage
By: Jessica Ahlers
Have you ever had someone ask you the question- “Are you a self saboteur?” If someone did ask you that question, how would you answer it? I feel asking ourselves this type of powerful question strengthens our ability to truly be honest with ourselves. After all, if we can’t be honest with ourselves, then we’re definitely not being honest with others about who we are underneath our many worn masks, nor are we kidding anyone. Most of our relationship view points are truly our own, and if you ask someone else what they think about their relationship with you- you will most likely get a response that differs greatly from what you think you will hear. I have found in my own life that no matter how much I might try to lie to myself about how others like to play the truth is always there for me to see in my reactions to others around me.

It takes the deeply hidden intricacies of the mind to develop the many unsuspecting pathways to self sabotage. In the end, we usually are not aware that we are trying to sabotage ourselves because it is a difficult subject to approach and be honest about with ourselves. Have you ever experienced a breakup, where the conditions yielded a person you never even thought existed due to the self developed perception you already maintained about them? This is a very common feeling after the ending of a relationship. Most of the time there are plenty of circumstances that yield this situation. I feel all of them are rooted in the understanding of what it means to be honest and open to the possibilities of the world around us. When we can remember that we are one with all, and whole beings, then our awareness that all traits exist in every one of us- no one excluded- is heightened.

Buddhists believe that if we can look at every person in the world with the understanding that everyone is suffering, just like us, then we will cultivate more feelings of compassion and understanding, rather than seeds of anger or frustration which typically lead to a dead end and more suffering for ourselves. In trying to practice this challenging way of viewing the world, I have found it opens many doors to self reflection and kindness. When we can be honest about our own suffering, as well as the suffering of everyone around us, a major part of the human condition, we can live a life that shines authenticity. With authenticity, our abilities to sabotage ourselves become weakened. Transparency within our own world leaves more room for opportunities on all counts- especially when it comes to happiness.

Recently I lost a friend that I had known for years. I have gone through many stages of mourning this relationship. I have felt anger, sadness, and helplessness. But in the end, I can see how both of our commitments to self sabotage caused our relationship to end. It was very difficult for me to accept this person’s behavior, and couldn’t believe how I was being treated. Basically, I was in disbelief of my own self generated view point that I had for years, and had to come to terms with the fact that not only do the qualities I witnessed exist in this other person, but they also exist within myself- I just have not accepted them fully, which is why I felt so angry and plugged in.

Our issues got in the way of enjoying one another without the limitations we placed on our relationship through our view points. We both judged one another in some form, and the judgments got in our way of simply having a good time and being grateful for the manifestation of awareness we both represented. Our quest to reject an opportunity for happiness in our relationship with one another was our own self sabotage. The most any of us can do is walk away from these experiences wiser, so we can continue to be open to the joy of being that we all deserve rather than repeatedly living out life times of suffering.