The Law of Polarity

Years ago, during my former life as a junior high English teacher, I worked with Miss Briggs, the school librarian. Miss Briggs was a bit of a colorful character, as her name might imply.  She was a woman near retirement age, a dedicated smoker (this was back in the days when teachers were allowed to smoke in the faculty room) who absentmindedly held cigarettes in hand while she talked, and hesitant to interrupt her, we would watch as the ashes grew long and fell all over the place.

She had a little dog named Queenie who came with her to school and spent the day out in Miss Briggs’ car, and Miss Briggs would periodically take a break and go out to tend to her.  Miss Briggs had a dry sense of humor, and her story telling would often be followed by a remark that has stuck with me over the years.  “Life is a snare and a delusion.”

I have to admit to having at times repeated her statement in a spirit of sardonic humor to my children’s complaining. And sometimes to my own complaining as well. There are times when indeed, life does seem to be a snare and a delusion.

Recently I have been reminded that while life certainly seems to present a lot to complain about, that everything contains its opposite. Meaning that while it is true that we may have a number of irritating or taxing things occurring in a day’s time, that we are also living lives that are blessed and bountiful.  It just depends on where you want to place your focus.

Polarity is best defined as the presence or manifestation of two opposite or contrasting principles or tendencies.  In language, it is positive or negative character.  For example, light vs. dark; acceptance vs. denial; love vs. fear; inner vs. outer. In physics, polarity is the positive or negative state in which a body reacts to a magnetic or electric, or other field. I think that both definitions are important and relevant.

They are important concepts because we must acknowledge that both qualities exist within a thing.  You cannot hold a pole for instance without seeing that there are two ends to it. Even the earth has two opposing poles which are a part of the same entity. You can’t get rid of one without destroying the whole thing.

Let’s get back to the matter of perspective, or the qualities that we focus on. Can you believe that we magnetically attract the people, experiences and situations into our lives depending on what emotions we are vibrating or sending out?

This may be a matter of our selective vision or perception or belief.  If I begin my day in an angry mood and am not aware that my moods are the creation of my own thoughts, which in turn evoke my emotions, and instead think that I am angry because my neighbor has once again let his dog poop on my lawn, I am likely in for a “bad day.”

On my way to the office, I will encounter every idiot who doesn’t know that his car is equipped with a turn signal. I will wonder what my boss’s problem is because she is obviously feeling cranky. And I’m likely blow up when my kid has left his bicycle blocking the front sidewalk.  Life is a snare and a delusion!

There is an alternative that I know is a happier and healthier one.  When you observe your mood, stop and listen to your thoughts that have brought those emotions about. You are talking to yourself all the time, and if you tend to see the glass as half empty, that ongoing monologue is not pretty!

You don’t have to lie to yourself or be delusional, or wear a happy face mask to appear to be “positive.” It won’t fool anyone, and pretending will only prove to be an additional stress and strain.

Instead, remember the Law of Polarity. Yes, the dog poop on the lawn is there, and you need to do something about it. Yes, the world news is unrelentingly frightening.  We get sick sometimes, and even people that we love get sick and die. We will grieve those losses. But everything contains its opposite.

There is also new life springing forth all over the place.  There are babies being born; the beautiful cycles of nature are surrounding us; there are those that we love and those who love us; there are people truly doing good in the world, and if we care to we can join them.

We can become empowered by taking responsibility for our moods and perceptions. We do not feel awful because the world is an awful place!  We feel awful because we are focused on what is lacking and are thinking thoughts that frighten us!  This is just a bad habit!  Stop and look around you. Notice that you are surrounded by abundance and that you have the power to envision and shape the kind of life you desire.

If you would like to learn more about this universal law, and others as well, or if you are interested in getting some coaching with developing your life vision, click on the Contact Page and send an email to arrange a coaching assessment and initial appointment.

Lessons from Nursery School

“We are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.”
― Stephen R. Covey

 

There is a game category on a popular NPR show called, “Things I would have learned in school if I had been paying attention.” It is sometimes disconcerting to hear answers to those questions which would seem to indicate that maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention.

My grand-daughter, Anna Grace, has begun her school career by attending a nursery school class for three-year-olds. It seems to me that the main purpose at that early age is to begin to tame the savage impulses and get the children to cooperate in a group. Not being the most compliant soul you ever met, she has had some lessons to learn, some more difficult than others.

The first was that her teacher frowned on her merrily racing away to the far corner of the playground when the class lined up to go inside from recess, and then dashing away as the teacher came after her in hot pursuit. (And since it was fall in the South, I’m sure it literally was hot pursuit). Another lesson was that it is not permissible to give a girl a shove, even if she did push you first. And it also isn’t okay to jump in line ahead of someone even when you say “excuse me” before you elbow them out of your way.

Her teachers use a method that I admire, which is to encourage the children to think about their actions and slow down the automatic impulses. They ask, “Do you think that was a good decision?” And the child has time to consider that they DID make a choice and what the outcome of that choice was. Tying together behavior and consequences…something that continues to be a life-long challenge for some.

The other day Anna Grace and her mom were going to take the dog out for his morning walk, and she wanted to bring Scout, a stuffed dog along. As they went through the neighborhood, Anna Grace asked to hold Mudslide, the greyhound’s leash. Her mom said that would be okay until they got to the end of the sidewalk and then she would take the leash back, because the street was nearby.

They proceeded to the end of the sidewalk, her mother took the leash back, and Anna Grace began to protest. She was clearly not ready to give up the leash. When her mother insisted, she started to cry and yell, and threw Scout down on the ground and stomped a few steps away.

Her mother (calmly), “Pick up Scout and come on.”

A.G. (yelling), “No, Mommy! I am so mad at you! YOU pick him up!”

Her mother scoops up Scout, Anna Grace and marches them and Mudslide back to the house and informs Anna Grace that she will have a time out. They get inside, Anna Grace still yelling, and she is deposited on the stairs in her time-out place to get herself collected.

Her mother asks, “Do you think that what you did out there was a good decision?”

Anna Grace (with renewed fury), “I am still so MAD at you Mommy!  I don’t WANT to make decisions!”

When I heard this story I chuckled but could understand her sentiments.  I don’t always like making decisions either. Or more to the point, I don’t like having to be accountable and deal with all the consequences of those decisions!

But one thing that I learned in school (and in the “School of Life”) is that we indeed are responsible for the consequences that we set in motion with our decisions, whether we thought about them in advance, or even intended them, or not.

And, like any three or four year old, most of those decisions are decided on the basis of our emotions. In many cases, our rational thinking is brought in later to justify or explain why we made that choice, after the fact. You can be sure that the red convertible being shown by the model in the mini skirt is not being purchased primarily for its fuel economy!

Or watch a home shopping channel for 15 minutes if you want to see the hypnotic emotional spell being cast over viewers who have their credit cards out to purchase items that suddenly they “need” but would never have thought of before sitting down to watch.

Everyone has likely had the experience of saying something in an argument that they later regret or felt embarrassed by. Who hasn’t regretted making a callous remark about someone or to someone who didn’t deserve the unkindness?

When we are stressed we are especially prone to make poor decisions. We are less likely to think things through, and more likely to strike out or act out on angry or desperate impulses. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are responsible and as such, need to make amends or clean up the mess.  And being human, we can have the grace to forgive someone else as well as ourselves.

Perhaps it is from the perspective of age that it occurred to me the other day that our lives are a sum total of the decisions that we have made. True, sometimes events happen to us that we cannot control. I’m not suggesting that we are to blame (ugly word, I think) for everything that happens. But even in those difficult or impossible to control circumstances and events, we go on making decisions about what to do and eventually, what those events mean to us.

Some people are amazingly resilient; they recover and live rich and full lives. Others become embittered or apathetic and give up or live reduced lives. Whichever path we choose, we ultimately are responsible for what we have made of the talents and resources we are given.

If you are not happy with yours, I recommend that you work on forgiveness and free yourself to change your life in ways that are meaningful and pleasing to you. After all, the choices really are in your hands.

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”
~Stephen Covey~

The Bitter Bank

“You can’t have a better tomorrow if you’re thinking about yesterday all the time.”
~Charles F. Kettering~

Joan was described by her family members as someone who never forgot a thing that was ever done to her.  If harsh words were spoken during an argument, Joan could recite what offended her years later.  Her brother argued with her during the last election, and Joan still wasn’t speaking to him. Joan was certain that her mother had disliked her and treated her siblings much better, and she admitted that she experienced frequent bouts of depression as she replayed scenes that had been particularly painful to her.  Her husband had forgotten her birthday one year and she would berate him for it when they argued, which was getting to be more frequent. He had sincerely apologized to Joan, but even though she said she accepted it, she still brought the incident up.

Joan has a Bitter Bank, and her account is quite full.

Do you? Many people have a large catalogue of past hurts and painful experiences that they drag around with them. Some are more than willing to tell you about them. Some wear them like a badge of identity. And then some are very quiet about their “Bitter Bank balance,” even though they are preoccupied by it. You may recognize these folks for their chronically unhappy or angry demeanor.

Some other signs of a full Bitter Bank may be a frequent use of sarcasm, hiding behind humor while delivering a verbal knife through the ribs to someone else; frequent sighing; passive aggressive behavior such as “forgetting” appointments  or agreements with others; frequent and inappropriate references to the painful past; arguments about the same themes that never get resolved; self destructive habits or relationships that repeat the same patterns over and over again; repeated “hobby horse” rants that go on and on about the same theme. As you may guess, it is common for Bitter Bank account holders to suffer from depression, or anxiety as well as strained and broken relationships.

If you recognize yourself as a Bitter Bank owner, please read on.  This is not just unpleasant for you and for the relationships in your life. Holding onto bitterness is hazardous to your health!

Have you noticed how much time and attention you are giving to these resentful thoughts and scenarios?  If you’re waking up in the night and recounting your grudges and grievances, then it’s too much. If you hear yourself complaining frequently about being treated badly or of past abuses, it is taking up a lot of space in your head!  If you have emotional replays in your mind of “what I SHOULD have said or done, then it’s too much.

Once I was approached by a salesperson that was representing a rehab facility and introduced himself as a childhood sex abuse survivor.  I was shocked that such a personal and painful disclosure was the first thing he told me about himself.

And recently on a social media site I was contacted by a woman whose entire online identity is build around the experience of her husband cheating on her. Nothing like making your wounds into a name tag.

The danger of all this negative focus is that it keeps reinforcing to yourself and to others that you are a helpless victim.  Victims have no power, no responsibility and no real impetus to change anything. What happened to them is someone else’s fault, and the more we hammer the point and relive the painful occurrences and repeat our beliefs that this SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED, the more solidly we believe ourselves to be victims. This practice will fill your Bitter Bank, and harm your life.

What to do? Denying your pain is not the answer. You do need to acknowledge what happened and to allow yourself to feel the emotion connected with it.  In other words you need to let the feelings be as big as they are. Notice in the front of your body (not your head and extremities) where the emotion registers.  Is your throat tight? Is there a lump? Is your chest heavy or tight? Does your stomach have a knot? Or does your abdomen feel tight?

Focus on that spot, and breathe in through your mouth.  As you exhale allow your body to relax if you can. Continue breathing and give yourself permission to feel it fully by asking “Can I feel this fully?”  You may find yourself thinking, “Hell no!” which is okay.  Don’t resist it or “try to get rid of it.” Acknowledge the feeling and continue to breathe. Ask “Could I release it?” If your answer to that is NO, that’s okay. Just continue to breathe and let it be.

As you repeat the exercise, the answer to “Can I release it?” will be followed by “If not now, then when?”  Sooner or later, you will give yourself permission to release it. That does not mean that you are denying what happened.  It just means that you are willing to release your tension and stress about what happened. This is a variation on a well-known program called The Sedona Method.

Another approach, which I frequently reference, is The Tapping Solution.  It is very effective in releasing negative emotions and clearing the way for positive change in your life.

You are ready to shift your focus from what has wounded you to something else.  I suggest a second practice that will aid you in improving your health and happiness. And that is to focus on gratitude by writing a gratitude list, at least one time a day.  It sounds simple, and it is.  Nevertheless, naming the things that you appreciate and are grateful for has been shown to have great benefits. Don’t forget to include yourself on that list!

Emptying your Bitter Bank is the first step in the process of forgiveness, about which we will be writing future blog posts. Often forgiveness is considered a spiritual matter, and it is. But in a holistic sense, it also concerns us psychologically and physically. When we learn to practice it, our health and happiness take a big turn for the better!

 

Seeking Help

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment
that something is more important than fear.”
~Ambrose Redmoon, writer~

This morning I arranged for a computer technician to come to my home office to resolve some problems that I was having with my elderly desktop and my laptop which for some unknown reason, was not communicating with my wireless printer.  The usually reliable desktop had taken a sudden notion to freeze up and turn off without warning.  Not at all like itself.

I hoped that it was happening because of a program that I installed and then uninstalled and would be readily fixed.  But my fear was that it had something more dire wrong and was going to have to be replaced.  Never a convenient thing.

The young man, who arrived toting an impressively heavy looking briefcase/toolkit, set quietly to work.  By the time I had filled my coffee cup and returned to the office, he already had the laptop on speaking terms with the printer.  Something about an ISP address?  He showed me where to find the place and how to input the information in case I get a new printer some day.

It was kind of him, but trust me, when that day comes, I’ll be calling him to come back and fix it again.  Despite being a computer user for over 10 years, I am still largely lost and bewildered in Techno Land.  I’ll bet he wasn’t an English major.

The desktop presented more of a challenge and for awhile it looked as if the mother board was shot and I would have to buy a new computer.  (I love that they named that part the “mother board” because it is so essential to the life of the computer.  Uncharacteristically poetic, don’t you think?  Yes, I was an English major!).  But after 45 minutes of doing one mysterious thing after the other, he brought it back from the brink and after several reboots; it seemed to be running well.

He couldn’t really say why.  He did say, “Well that’s interesting, isn’t it?”  He was looking entirely too cheerful to have meant that in terms of the curse, “May you live in interesting times!”  He did tell me about the 30 day guarantee on labor, and said that I should call them back if the computer returned to its evil ways.  So I thanked and paid him and he was on his way.

I got to thinking about how cheerful I was to have paid the $67 for his work.  My problems were easily and quickly resolved without any undue time and frustration spent on my part.  This represents a change over the years.  Having been reared in a family that was big on self reliance and had more ingenuity than money, the message that I internalized was “Do it yourself!”  Sometimes this approach may be beneficial, and sometimes leads to stress and strain.

When making a suggestion to clients about getting help with a problem, I often encounter their resistance.  Seems that a lot of people believe that they should be able to do it all alone.  Whether it’s hiring someone to help them de-clutter and organize living space that is driving them crazy, or getting help with an alcohol abuse problem, often the answer is “no,” or “not yet.”  They wouldn’t think less of anyone else seeking help, but it’s not for them.

It makes sense to me.  When we offer help to someone else, or solve our own problems, we feel powerful or at least competent.  But when we admit that we need help and that we can’t do it alone, we are immediately in touch with our all-too-human vulnerability.

Living with vulnerability is a tall order.  I call it the “raw egg feeling.”  Being aware of our frailty and the ambiguity that comes with it presents a big temptation to run to whatever distraction we can find.  We don’t know for certain what will happen.  Just admitting that we are out of control of some aspect of life is tough to do.

And yet, we must pass through this threshold if we are to recover from what is plaguing us.  We must be willing to stay in “Not Knowing” until we can see the light.  And more frequently than not, it is someone else who turns the light on for us.  Despite our doubts most people are willing and in fact happy to help us.  Whether they are paid professionals or a friend or neighbor or acquaintance, when we are willing to receive their help or wisdom, we usually discover that they are fellow travelers who have faced their own vulnerabilities in order to learn something that we need to know.

After investing in your own growth or change with time, effort or money, you will once again find yourself on firmer ground.  Living creatively or building your health is an ongoing process that seems to take us from times of strength and confidence and then onto a new phase requiring us to face vulnerability again.  The gains that you make along the way equip you to pass on your wisdom and help to those who come across your path and need you.

It is no doubt true that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but I would add that being willing to receive is also essential to the process of living.

 

Getting Grounded

“And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays.”
~James Russell Lowell~


This morning is one of those days when just being alive with all my senses intact is at the top of my gratitude list.  After a hot and muggy spell, followed by a rainy day, this morning dawned clear and breezy with low humidity.  As I opened all the windows, James Russell Lowell’s poem sprang to mind.

Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that spring is ruled by the element of wood, and an energy that pushes up with vigor.  You can see this all around with tender shoots of every kind of plant coming up and out.  Mother Nature invites us to come out and be a part of all this growth and to remember and to be in tune with that energy within ourselves.

One of my spring rituals is planting the potted garden on my porch.  It is a remnant of past years when my garden was large and the landscape extensive.  During the dregs of winter, the arrival of the seed and tree catalogs revived my spirits, and my spare time was spent making lists of new varieties I wanted to try, and figuring out where to plant another blueberry bush.  A change of address, brought about by a new phase of life, reduced my garden to very small proportions.

My approach is now much more spontaneous and simple.  A stop at the neighborhood garden center (well actually, it turned into more than one stop), and ideas about some colors and a couple of must-haves led to a leisurely walk around the greenhouse.  I came home with a variety of plants that will thrive either in full sun or shade or somewhere in between.  I’m still pondering where I can put in a couple of tomatoes and basil.

As I worked in the dirt, placing the plants and then moving them several times until the balance of height and color looked right to me, I thought about not only the joy, but the value of planting and harvesting.  The electronic age has pulled us even farther from what for our parents and grandparents was a life more grounded in earth and nature.  Many of us spend hours in front of one kind of a screen or other but rarely even a few hours outdoors, unless it’s accompanied by the roar of a lawn mower.

I know there is a growing consciousness about this alienation from nature and our food sources, and hopefully that movement will gain momentum and we can all benefit.  In the meantime I invite you to get your hands in the dirt and to experience the energizing and grounding effects of planting and being a part of the cycle of life. Your life will be richer for it.

 

Facing the Dragon of Fear

“Your wealth is hiding under the very thing you are afraid to do.”
~Joe Vitale~

 

The other day I was watching a video on You Tube which someone sent me.  It was about a man who had worked very hard to accomplish something that at one point in his life, he couldn’t possibly conceive that he could do.

Maybe he had been told that he wouldn’t amount to anything when he grew up.  Or that he wasn’t smart enough to do such-and-such.  Or that he just wasn’t gifted enough to do public speaking.  Or that people in his family didn’t go to college.  Or that he wasn’t artistic.  You get the drift.  Most of us have “caught” such limiting beliefs about ourselves, and repeat them to ourselves and live through them.

The beliefs live on, usually unconsciously, and become a part of our self image, until we confront and challenge them.  And what do you suppose is first in the line of defense that keeps that old limiting belief alive and operational?  You guessed it:  FEAR!

At his award ceremony, the man on You Tube gave a speech about getting out of his comfort zone in order to achieve his goals.  He said that when he began, Doubt and Fear came to surround him, and his Courage went to hide in the bathroom!  But despite feeling fearful, he persisted in putting one foot in front of the other.  By confronting Fear, his Courage came back to him and he soon prevailed and met his goal.

His friends, supporters and team members were elated in offering their congratulations.  No doubt they were caught up in his inspiration as they clapped and cheered.  I know I was.

How are your limiting beliefs holding you back?  A way to clarify this is to ask yourself what you are afraid of.  What are you NOT doing that you really want to do, or know that you would be happier and healthier if you were doing it?  When you identify it, you can see where your wealth lies.  I’m not just talking about money here.  True wealth is abundance which is expressed in good health, supportive and enriching relationships, spiritual well-being, meaningful work and a life lived on purpose.

If you are willing to face fear and take action despite it, you will enrich and expand your life.  And the dragon of fear becomes truly transformational and you will discover gifts, strength and abilities that you have only dreamed of.

Note:  I can recommend a wonderful book on this subject to you, which is Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway:  Dynamic Techniques for Turning Fear, Indecision and Anger Into Power, Action and Love by Dr. Susan Jeffers.  This is a great guide to dealing with every worry, jitter and terror that is stopping you.

Strange Teachers

” The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.”            ~Dan Rather~
                                                      
Do you remember a favorite teacher?  Or maybe you were fortunate enough to have several.  Those gifted women and men who had a mission in life, and were able to connect with you in a way that gave you a mission too, at least for a little while.  Even if you don’t remember the facts they taught (I was right when I said I would have no use for algebra!) your mind was expanded and perhaps most importantly because she or he cared about you and the kind of human being you could become.

Fortunately we don’t have to be in a formal education setting to find a teacher with a valuable lesson.  They may come in the guise of a boss or a mentor.  I have been surprised to find them in the children I have known.  Sometimes the most poignant and yes, painful lessons, have come with the experience of being a parent.

The greatest gift of relationships in general is that they hold a mirror up to reflect our own image, and if we are willing students we learn a lot through them.  Although we prefer our pleasant and close relationships, the conflicts that inevitably surface are true teaching moments.  If we can get out of the angry blaming mode and take a good look in the mirror, we will catch a glimpse of truth about ourselves that we haven’t seen before.

There are patterns in those conflicts that are telling.  And because the patterns tend to repeat over the years, we could look at our part in them and learn something valuable.  Maybe the strangest teacher of all is that person that you really can’t stand.  The one that gets on your last nerve.  The one you find yourself ranting about to your friends or in your own head.  They have qualities that you reject, even find repellant.

This is dark stuff.  Dark in the way that Carl Jung called the shadow.  Not necessarily evil, but rather “in the dark.”  That stuff we can see readily in other people, but not in ourselves.  As a matter of fact, Jung said that true evil was in not facing our own shadow.  We tend to defend against looking at that uncomfortable dark stuff by projecting it onto others and getting self-righteous about how we are not like them.

The next time you are poked by this “sharp stick” try this:  repeat the phrase “just like me.”  For instance I have to confess to some self-righteousness about Hummer owners, and when I saw them on the road, I would mutter to myself about how they are a part-of- the-posterior-that-we-don’t-say-out-loud-in-polite-company, if you get my drift.  I started adding “…just like me,” to the end of the name I was calling them, and immediately had to laugh.

The next time you are arguing or complaining, try this. “You are an idiot…just like me.” “You are lazy…just like me.”  “Harry is irresponsible…just like me.” “Republicans (or Democrats or Christians or Jews or Europeans are _________ just like me.” The effect of this is immediate in that it releases anger, fear and judgment, at least for the moment. And in that moment a little light will shine into your own shadow.  And if you are brave enough to look, you might see something about yourself that on the surface, may seem ugly.  But when fully explored may hold the keys to your own emotional freedom.