Tag Archives: psychology

Choosing Love

When I was little I thought the opposite of love was hate.

When I got older I realized that the opposite of love is fear.

Now I think that there is no opposite to love. Life is unending struggle, and we can choose to love anyway.

Love as a way to embrace life.

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Crisis Management

I’ve begun to implement a technique to monitor my level of crisis. In other words, I often (many times a day) get to the point of feeling completely overwhelmed by all the things I’m juggling, by the challenges I encounter, by the people in my life who are emoting, whining, begging, or otherwise creating an atmosphere of desperate urgency.

I truly believe that paying attention, as the Buddha suggests, is the first step toward healing and strengthening. So I am trying to ask myself, when I’m on the verge of panic, How bad is this situation I find myself in? On a scale of 1 to 10. One being a situation in which one might enjoy total relaxation of body, mind and spirit, ten being some sort of life-or-death catastrophe inducing full-blown fight-or-flight stress.

I think it helps when I remember to do it. I think I get down in the trenches and forget to come up for a panoramic view of the situation, to reassess. I get too close to a small little piece of my life, and then when I don’t think it’s going exactly right, it looks like the whole world is falling apart. Because if that one little thing is your whole world, then it really is all falling apart.

If I pull back and try to judge based on everything as far as I can see, chances are there will be enough things that are calm, secure, at peace, that I can put my tiny crisis into perspective and not freak out about it.

Or, if the sky really is falling, I can problem solve for that instead. Either way, I’m looking to cultivate an appropriate response to my situation rather than an overblown conniption fit.

Do you have a way to keep from being overwhelmed by your day-to-day challenges?

“Don’t be mean to me, I’m sick!”

I’ve got this throat cold that my family has generously shared with me. They are so thoughtful not to have left me out!

I know “throat cold” sounds bizarre, but seriously, there’s a knot of something untoward in my voice box. I began to sound croaky about halfway through teaching my class last night.

But this morning, taking stock of my mildly suffering condition, I decided that being slightly ill makes my life better than being completely healthy.

WHAT?!?

I know. The logical conclusion then is that I would want to maintain some kind of chronic condition. Which I absolutely DO NOT.

However, when I’m slightly ill, to where there is mild discomfort such as runny nose, cough, maybe a bit of pain, I eat better. I allow myself to rest. I don’t “should” on myself all day long, beating myself over the head with an impossible to-do list. I am able to simply do the best I can and let go of everything else.

After all, I’m “sick.”

Can I take away from this that I need to find a new way to motivate myself? Because damn, I can get a serious amount of crap done. I can run myself ragged, multitask till I’m turning blue and just generally demand, and not politely either, perfection from myself at every moment of the day. And then beat myself soundly when, inevitably, I do not complete every task, or at least not to my impossibly high standards.

Perhaps I could be healthy and not live like that?

Perhaps I could always be “sick,” if by sick I mean that I am an imperfect human who requires TLC and some consideration once in a while. From my own self, even.

Healthy humility.

Money Madness

They say that if you have chronic money troubles, it’s because you have wrong perceptions, attitudes or practices when it comes to finances. You hold a wrong view of money and what it means.

I believe it.

I know that one of my assumptions is that there isn’t enough. That you have to struggle to get it. That spending it demonstrates self-worth, so when you don’t have it to spend, you are worthless, and then when you get some, you spend it into feeling better about yourself.

Knowing that stuff like that is floating around in my head, it doesn’t surprise me that I come regularly into dry spells like the current one. Trying to make it to tax return time, trying to spend nothing, feeling like a pathetic wretch.

I spent a year doing the mandatory budgeting for the Habitat for Humanity homeowner program. I learned a lot, and I really did my best to get things in order. But I feel like I never really got a grip on things.

Of course, when you’re in a marriage, you can only take on 50% of the responsibility. The rest of it falls on the decisions the other person makes. I remember as a single parent making it work on next to nothing. I had no formal budget, I didn’t save anything or work toward any better future, but I had no debt and I paid all my bills on time.

Now I am still the one officially in charge of the finances, but it feels like there is a little (sometimes big) hole in the pocketbook through which unknown amounts of money are going to randomly escape at unknown intervals.

Throughout the whole year of budgeting, I wished so much that I could try my hand at managing a livable amount of money, instead of poverty wages. What could I do, in terms of saving, paying off debt, (investing, even?) if I had a regular amount of money coming in that was actually enough to cover the basics. I really don’t think it’s fair for me to pass judgment on my budgeting skills until I have that opportunity, and I’ve put the word out to the universe that I’d love the chance.

After all, there appear to be large amounts of money out there somewhere, funding those Hummers and huge houses and expensive dinners. If I change my attitude, and assume that the money could just as easily come into our home (after all, my husband does have a master’s degree and I have a bachelor’s… weren’t we told those expensive little pieces of paper were supposed to pay off somehow?), then maybe I could have the chance to manage money responsibly and avoid these painfully thirsty treks through financial deserts.

Using the Negative

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” — Kenji Miyazawa

Lao Tzu says that we must feed the good and the bad will wither and die.  This approach feels right to me, as I see so many people stuck in the “bad,” whether it is being trapped by worry or feeding negative fantasies until they come true or even talking obsessively about the “devil” and what he is trying to get them to do.  If we pour our energy into the positive, we cultivate the positive, and the negative has nothing to feed on.  (Why the “devil”-obsessed folks don’t just turn their attention to their faith in Jesus I cannot understand.)

So the negative withers and dies.  Compost!  It is still usable.  The idea of turning to the positive is a helpful reminder, but to turn our backs on the negative permanently encourages a dangerous denial; we don’t have to be afraid to look the dark side in the face and use it for good.

I think I have resisted optimism for so long because it seemed pathetically passive, to be a weak pawn clinging desperately to happy thoughts against the raging storms of chaos that toss us all around.  I could never understand how it could be better to be clueless about how bad things really are and to pretend that everything is okay.

But to be optimistic in the face of the suffering, the horrors, the pain of life, what courage and strength!  True optimism does not deny the negative, it simply acknowledges it, refuses to feed it, and converts it to positive energy to move forward along the path.

Cynicism and pessimism, which I used to think demonstrated a brave, bold acceptance of reality, I now believe are signs of defeat, of allowing the negative to swamp you and take over your life.  It is a cowardly surrender to despair.

There is suffering.  The negative does exist, and you will meet it on the path with alarming regularity.  But it is not the Way.  If we keep to the Wise Way, we will find love even in the midst of pain and sorrow, and our hearts, minds and wills can follow that light through any darkness.

Harmony, humility, compassion

Taoism offers three elements that can help one along the Way: harmony (balance, moderation, surrendered will), humility (open mind, open eyes), and compassion (open heart, empathy, love).

Three resonates as a powerful arrangement: body/mind/spirit.  The Blessed Trinity.

Similar to the way the Kabala is used as a system for organizing knowledge, I find myself organizing ideas I encounter into these three spheres.

Harmony: In surrendering to a Will greater than myself, I let go of my own desires and embrace What Is; striking a balance, I ride the wave of energy of the Here and Now; in tune with What Is, I respond to people and situations in the most loving way possible.

Humility: I relax into a quiet mind and clear awareness; letting go of thoughts, allowing them to pass; being open to What Is instead of coloring my perception with desires, wishes, fears, etc.

Compassion: Keeping an empty heart, I become continuously filled with Spirit; I let go of ego and emotions as they pass; I accept union with Oneness.

Emptiness, letting go, opening to the flowing wonder of the world.  Keeping the energy moving with grace, centering senses  and freely releasing love.

Whether I read a Buddhist text, the Tao Te Ching or the Bible, I hear a resonance of this wisdom and the meanings become brighter.

I want to share my inner work as a way to get a new perspective and thereby learn more, and also as a way to invite you to share yours.  In this sincere exchange, the seeds of our inner work can meet in a middle ground and grow amazing new flowers.

Is Anger About Control?

I am determined to find a new way to deal with my angry outbursts.  The books I’ve been reading suggest that I look my anger in the face, embrace it, listen to it.  When I read Thomas Moore’s suggestion in “Writing in the Sand” that to be self-possessed (to act in loving, healthy ways) is to be open to life, not to resist what is happening but to surrender and harmonize, to move forward with open heart and surrendered will, I realized how tight my grip is in those moments that I explode in rage.

The other day, to name just one example, I was trying to cook something and my three year old had been sitting on a chair at the kitchen table when he had an accident, for which I kept my cool.  I stopped my cooking chore, got him out of the puddle on the chair and began to clean him up.

As I’m doing this, my 16 month old is climbing on my desk chair and banging on my computer, reaching for scissors, scribbling on important papers.  I keep stopping my cleaning task to get her off the chair, telling her “no,” trying to clean up my son and get him some clean clothes so isn’t standing there in the middle of the room cold and naked.  I leave the room and run to get him some clothes.  When I get back, she has climbed up on the kitchen chair and is standing in the puddle of urine, splashing happily.

I freaked.

Now, whatever I should have done or not done, whatever the ideal course of action was, my internal reality was that I had a death grip on the situation and the more it slipped away from me, the tighter I clung to it.

I think this desperation for control stems from my belief that if I don’t have complete control, then I’m not doing a good job.  Taking responsibility and being a good Mama is equal to never losing that death grip on people and events.  Intellectually I know this is wrong, but in everyday life, that is my process.  I need to replace it with something healthier.  I cannot simply eliminate bad habits without cultivating new habits in their places, because life does not operate in a vacuum.

The worst part is that I see my kids act out in anger, and although I understand that almost everyone is going to display immature reactions at a young age, I can’t help but think that they might have learned some other ways to deal with things if I’d healed my anger sooner.  I have a responsibility to learn how to let go, to face things bravely and calmly and to know that the best I can do is to stay open to solutions and channel love and grace as I do what needs to be done.