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Archive for May 4, 2011

Always Do Your Best & The Power of Gratitude


These two things that I read today dovetailed quite nicely together. The first is abridged and adapted from “The Four Agreements,” and it is agreement number four: “Always Do Your Best.” The second is abridged and adapted from Melodie Beattie’s book “Gratitude.”

Always Do Your Best

There is just one more agreement, but it’s the one that allows the other three to become deeply ingrained habits. Under any circumstance, always do your best.

Keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. In your everyday moods your best can change from one moment to another, from one hour to the next, from one day to another. When you wake up refreshed and energized in the morning, your best will be better than when you are tired at night. Your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.

And your best will also change over time. As you build the habit of the four new agreements, your best will become better than it used to be.

Just do your best in any and every circumstance in your life. If you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself, because you will have done your best. There are no regrets. By always doing your best, you will be breaking a big spell that you have been under.

When you do your best, you have to be aware and learn from your mistakes. Learning from your mistakes means you practice, look honestly at results, and keep practicing. This increases your awareness.

Doing your best doesn’t really feel like work because by focusing on doing your best you will more deeply enjoy whatever you are doing.

If you take action because you feel you have to, then there is no way you are going to do your best. Instead of taking action because you have to, it would be better to take action because you want to do your best and doing your best all the time makes you so happy.

Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the TV every day because you are afraid to be alive.

Doing your best is a great habit to have. I do my best in everything I do and feel. Doing my best has become a ritual in my life because I made the choice to make it a ritual.

Doing your best, you are going to live your life intensely. You are going to be productive, you are going to be good to yourself, because you will be giving yourself to your partner, your family, your community, to everything.

That is why we always do our best—so there are no regrets. It is not an easy agreement to keep, but this agreement is truly going to set you free.

(Adapted from Don Miguel Ruiz, “The Four Agreements,” pp. 75-83)

Gratitude

Many of us were deprived as children, and many of us have also carried that deprivation into adulthood.

Deprivation causes deprived thinking.

And deprived thinking perpetuates deprivation.

Deprivation becomes habitual. We may continue to feel afraid and deprived, even when we’re not.

We may react to deprivation in many ways. We may insist that life and the people in our lives make up for all we never had. That’s unfair. And those expectations can wreck what’s good today.

Deprived negative thinking makes things disappear. We grumbled about the half-empty water glass, so focused on what we don’t have that we fail to appreciate all that we do have—the half-full glass of water, the glass itself, or being alive and well enough to drink the water.

We become so afraid that we might not get more, or we’re so sour about only having half a glass to drink, that we may not even drink it—we may let it sit on the table until it evaporates. And then we have nothing! Which is what we thought we had anyway.

Deprived thinking turns good things into less, or worse, into nothing.

Grateful thinking turns things into more.

What we believe we deserve—what we really believe deep inside—will be what we get.

Deprived, negative, ungrateful thinking can prevent us from seeing what’s good in our lives today, and it can stop the good stuff from happening.

It hurts to be deprived. It hurts to be walk through life secretly believing we’re undeserving. So stop. Now.

Many years ago, I dreamed of getting married and raising a family and owning a beautiful little home that would be our castle. I wanted some of the things that other people had. I wanted “normal”—whatever that was.

It looked like I was about to get it, too. I got married. I got pregnant. I had a baby girl.

Now all I needed was a home.

We looked at all sorts of homes, large and in-between, but the home we got was the one we could afford. It had been a used property for fifteen years and had been standing vacant for a year. Now it was three-stories of broken windows and broken wood. Some rooms had ten layers of wallpaper on the walls. Some walls had holes straight through to the outdoors. The floors were covered with bright orange carpeting with large stains.

And we didn’t have money to fix it.

We had no money for pain, carpet, curtains. We couldn’t afford to furnish it.

We had three stories of dilapidated home, with a kitchen table, two chairs, a high chair, a bed, a crib, and two dressers, one with broken drawers.

About two weeks after we moved in, a friend stopped by. She kept repeating to me how lucky I was and how nice it was to own your own home.

But I didn’t feel lucky; and it didn’t feel nice. I didn’t know anyone else who owned a house like this.

I didn’t talk much about how I felt, but each night as my husband and daughter slept, I tiptoed downstairs, sat on the living room floor and cried. This became a ritual. While everyone was asleep, I sat in the middle of the floor thinking of everything I hated about the house, crying and feeling helpless and hopeless.

I did this for months.

And however legitimate my reaction may have been, it changed nothing.

Then one evening, when I was sitting in the floor going through my wailing and self-pity ritual, the thought occurred to me: Why don’t I try gratitude?

Gratitude, I thought. What could I possibly be grateful for? How and why should I?

But then I decided to try anyway.

After all, I had nothing to lose. And I was getting sick of my own whining and self-pity.

At first I wasn’t certain what to be grateful for. So I decided to be grateful for everything!

I didn’t feel grateful. So I willed it. I pretended. I faked it. I forced it. I made myself think grateful thoughts. When I saw the layers of peeling wallpaper, I thanked God.

I thanked God for each thing I hated about that house. I thanked God for giving it to me. I thanked God that I was there. Each time I had a negative thought, I countered it with a grateful one.

Now perhaps this wasn’t as logical of a reaction as being negative, but it turned out to be much more effective.

Because after I practiced gratitude for about three or four months, things began to change.

My attitude changed.

I stopped spending my nights sitting and crying in the middle of the living room floor. I started taking care of the house as if it were a dream home. I acted as if it were my dream home. I kept it as orderly and clean and nice as could be and made it a little better every day.

And nine months later, after a lot of learning and ingenuity and scraping by, I eventually had a beautiful home.

I had finally learned how to make something out of almost nothing, instead of making nothing out of something.

I had empowered myself and changed the course of my life!

Anger & Anger-Management & Making New Choices


    ANGER
    And Anger-Management

Growth

A huge part of breaking with the past and, in particular, with our past maladaptive patterns and conditioning, and instead learning new responses (being able to actually make new and different choices), depends on our becoming more and more aware of our own inner processes and leading a more self-examined life.

Something that is very difficult to do.

In part because of our past conditioning—we just haven’t yet made it a habit of leading a very self-aware and very inwardly honest and open life.

But more likely the bigger obstacle will be our desire to steer clear of strong and painful emotions and not have to deal with our sore spots—sore spots which are still perhaps so very sensitive to the touch.

Do you remember that scene in “127 Hours” where James Franco, as Aron Ralston, is about to amputate his own arm and he finally reaches the fully exposed nerve and he has to sever it if he is to finally break free?

Such is the sensitivity and fear that many of us may feel when prompted to look honestly at ourselves and our patterns/schemas and our wounds—AND when we’re asked or prompted to give up or outgrow that part of ourselves. For better or worse, those wounds are a part of us, and they are infused with tremendous amounts of psychological and emotional energy that keep them in place and as a part of us. And so to break with the past and parts of ourselves, however maladaptive and counterproductive and self-defeating those parts are, will feel like an amputation, a death, a huge loss, and may require that we heroically sever some nerve-endings that are still hyper-sensitive to the touch.

But that is what growth requires—that level of relinquishment. Relinquishing the parts of ourselves that we need to outgrow, that contribute to our own and other’s unhappiness and pain, the parts of ourselves that just don’t work or play well with others. We have to be willing to give up those parts of ourselves that don’t work in order to make room for the new, for something healthier. And that’s a lot to ask a person; especially those who have already experienced a lot of pain and loss and heartbreak.

But that is what truth will do. It will shine a bright light on parts of our psyche that haven’t seen light for years, if ever. And that new light can be blinding and painful and too intense and oh so bright.

But it’s also what can heal us and allow us to transform our lives and become the person we know we have in us deep down inside and that we truly want to become in those moments when we are most honest with ourselves.

Anger

Anger is an emotion. As such it is neither good nor bad.

Anger can be a force for destruction or used for creative change.

Anger is stored in the body, causing stresses in your personal life, as well as both physical and mental illnesses.

Anger is energy which can be transformed into actions which benefit the community.

Anger is also a habit, which can be broken.

HOW?

Therapy can help you learn about the triggers which can set you off in a destructive manner, teach you new ways of looking at the things which set you off, as well as learning constructive ways of expressing that anger.

Schemas

Schemas are learned reactions to stress. Many of us have learned to react to stress in a manner which is neither beneficial to us, or to those around us.

Schemas begin as coping strategies; a way of avoiding dealing with a difficult emotion and situation.

And as such, they are self defeating, guiding our lives within a framework of distorted reactions, feelings and beliefs similar to when we first took a certain course of action. We’re still reacting as we first did when we were first wounded or hurt.

Schemas influence our perceptions of events without our being conscious of them. They hinder us in responding to things as they actually are; they keep us in the rut of counterproductive habits.

If reading or talking about schemas brings up emotions, it’s a good thing. We need to experience the emotions in order to begin the healing process. Allow yourself to feel the emotions without judging them, holding on to them, or evaluating them. Just let them pass.

A few of the most common Schemas are:

Abandonment

The prospect of being alone stirs up a deep sadness and feeling of isolation. The resulting fear and panic are signature emotions of the abandonment pattern. While many with this schema adopt a strategy of becoming clingy and constantly seeking reassurances in relationships, others may take an avoidance approach; steering clear of attachments to others to ensure not suffering as he did in childhood–they adopt a strategy of “I’ll leave you before you can leave me.”

Deprivation

My needs won’t be met. A deep sadness and hopelessness stemming from the conviction that one will never be understood or cared for. People with the deprivation schema often feel angry that their needs are being ignored and that their fears and insecurities are not being placated. That anger in turn covers an underlying loneliness and sadness. For some, the deprivation schema stems from a lack of nurturance, warmth or affection. Others may have been deprived of empathy because no one tuned into the feeling the person had as a child. Sometimes it was merely a lack of guidance and direction that every child needs.

Mistrust

People can’t be trusted. Suspiciousness typifies this schema. People can’t be trusted is the core belief of this schema. Quickness to anger and rage occur frequently. They are constantly vigilant in relationships fearing that people will take advantage of them or otherwise betray them. Because they are so wary of people’s intentions they have a hard time getting close to people and opening up. Intellectual functioning is compromised and highly biased: the other person is scrutinized, oneself is not. Because they are so distrustful, they often try to beat the other to the punch by also adopting a strategy of “I’ll leave you before you leave me.”

Vulnerability

Loss of control lies at the core of the vulnerability pattern. The exaggeration of something small into an imagined, full fledged disaster. The feeling that some catastrophe is about to strike. Ordinary fears escalate out of control. The child learns to worry too much; and as an adult still does.

Often a parent who would frequently imagine that some catastrophe was about to take place will pass this same tendency onto her children. Sometimes it is because real problems are threatening. The message received by the child is that the world is a dangerous place.

Anxiety or apprehension in anticipation of a true crisis can serve a useful purpose when it causes us to take needed actions. Evacuating when a flood or fire threatens, for example. But this same anxiety becomes dysfunctional when it continues past the point of preparing for a true problem.

People prone to panic attacks are often victims of this schema. As are those who over prepare or grossly limit their activities in order to feel safe. Some incessantly seek reassurances or develop private rituals, checking their locks three times each time they leave home. Other go in for risky pursuits to show their fears are misplaced; skydiving for instance.

Entitlement

People with the entitlement schema feel special. They believe that they are entitled to do what ever they want whenever they want. They secretly see themselves as above everyone else. Laws are for others, not them. They can fly into a rage when others don’t immediately recognize their specialness and give way to them. They have little empathy or concern for those they take advantage of. Selfish, impulsive and childish, even as adults.

This attitude can develop from being spoiled as a child. Parents who set no limits for their children, giving their children whatever they want, rarely punishing them or having them take responsibility for anything put their child at risk of developing this schema.

Another way this schema can develop is through a reaction to being deprived of attention, affection or material need in childhood. Those who develop this schema through this method are so aggravated over being deprived in childhood they feel they are entitled to more than their fair share as adults. They feel a sense of inadequacy, even shame, which they cover over with narcissistic pride.

Transforming Anger

The Dalai Lama’s method of Transforming anger is highly recommended. Condensed from “The Art of Happiness” it is a simple to understand four-step method that has one requirement. The requirement is to be honest with yourself.

Step one

The first step is to write down what is making you angry. Take your time with this. If you have a lot of things making you angry, pick the one making you the angriest. If you find yourself getting angry as you write, take a break. Go out for a walk or do something you feel calming. Tell yourself, I’m addressing my anger, I’m working to resolve my anger Take the time you need. Then go back and continue writing. Write down all the details about it. When you think you’re done, ask yourself, Anything else? Write it down.

Step two

The second step is to ask yourself: Did I contribute anything to this situation? Write down all the contributions you made. It may be eighty percent of the situation, or it may be one percent. Write it down. When you think you are done, ask yourself, “Anything else?” If you think of anything else, write it down.

Step three

The third step is to ask yourself: What was the other person’s perspective? Write it down. “What was the other person view of what happened?” Did that other person see some danger to themselves or one of their loved ones? What was the other person’s perspective? Was the other person doing the best he or she could? Write it down. Was the other person in over their head? Was the other person dealing with a new situation? Sometimes it isn’t a person you may be angry with. If you’re angry with God, ask yourself “What was God’s perspective?” Were you being given a challenge to overcome? Are you being requested to improve your life or the lives of others? If the answer feels right to you, it is the right answer.

Step four

Anger is a perceived injustice. If you have gotten this far and still feel anger, either you hid something from yourself along the way, or an actual injustice was done.

Anger is energy stored in the body. It will seek action and release. It is up to individuals to find ways to release this energy in a way that will benefit themselves and society. MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING (MADD) was formed by parents angry over the death or injury to a child, or other loved one. NAMI was formed by parents and family members who were angry over the lack of knowledge, treatments and care available to those of us with a mental illness. They have changed things. But, more work needs to be done.

Write down what you can do to make things better for someone else who may be in a similar situation…and then do it.

Much of this was adapted from — http://www.approach2balance.org/id23.html

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