Help!

As a lover of self-help, I’ve been on a lifetime improvement course. Body, mind and spirit have all been quieted, redirected and made new. Over and over again. And yet…I can’t give up my self-help habits. I don’t even want to, although I know that some efforts, especially those in the “body” have been fantastic fails. Like when I read Geneen Roth’s first book about stopping diets forever and just letting yourself eat what you want.

I gained thirty pounds on that one. This was many years ago but as I recall, her plan was that you had to ask yourself before you ate the ice cream “Do I really want this?” and as I shoveled cookies and chips into my mouth and poured wine down my throat, I was always sure I really, really wanted it.

I stopped going to Geneen for diet advice, but I kept reading her books because she was so engaging. She didn’t just write about food, but about her obese cat Blanche, and her husband, who she could not get in touch with when an earthquake (a very big one) hit San Francisco. I was riveted by her willingness to show herself in all her anxious glory, especially when she wrote about losing all her money to Bernie Madoff.

I expected more of the same from “This Messy Magnificant Life.” Another disaster story that ends when Geneen finally defeats that book’s particular demons. But she surprised me. Her latest is full of hope. It reminded me more of the Buddhist texts I like to read for spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is a tidy phrase. It doesn’t scare people as much as saying something like “Don’t believe your thoughts. The mind is crazy.”

I’ve been reading about and trying to grasp the idea that my monkey mind is not me. All those self-doubts, recriminations for past misdeeds, fears about the future. Who wouldn’t want a free pass to tell themselves “Hey these thoughts have nothing to do with me. Pay no attention. Don’t buy into them. You don’t need to feel guilty and sad.”

The first time I seriously tried to grasp this idea that we are not our thoughts, and that our thoughts often lead us down the path to suffering, was when Mark Epstein wrote “Thoughts Without a Thinker” in 1996. I remember how the title itself puzzled me and in fact was a little frightening. Who would I be without my thoughts? I needed them to get myself through life.

Right? Wrong. Most of our thoughts are better let go. I only finally really got this about twenty years after I read Epstein’s book. Buddhists have no time for ego. They don’t spend days and weeks in self-loathing mode. They start where they are and every day the mistakes of yesterday, or five minutes ago, get a clean slate.

This is not to say all thought should be ruthlessly abandoned. How would I write this post if I did that? What the Buddhists say, and what Geneen finally understands, is that most thoughts are unrelated to our present reality and many of our recursive thoughts will slow our progress toward understanding that, as the Dalai Lama says, our religion is love.

Love your thoughts, if you must, but in the end, you’ll be happier if you let most of them go. Try this. Try seeing how you feel when you give up the persistence idea that you should have protected your child more (I’ve been having that thought for 40 years) or you should never have tried cocaine (30 years) or that secretly you’re a failure because your career was a joke (20 years) or that your marriage just does not somehow make everything okay (10 years) or that your family members do not love you as much as they love other members (yesterday).

Yes, so I had that thought yesterday, and I had it every day for the past week or so and I’ve had it often in the past. I’ve had that thought longer than any other one. What’s great about having a thought like that now is it glides from my mind like a passing cloud in the sky. Silly thought, I think. Knowing 100% that it has nothing to do with me, with my family, with love, or with anything important at all.

New Year, New Spirit

Happy new year! I went to the bookstore yesterday looking for motivation. I need to move more. I’m not as active as my body likes here in Michigan during the winter months. I found a book (I always find a book) but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for…then I remembered an email I’d received from Cassie Steele about esoteric spiritual practices. Cassie writes for the website Backpack Universe and she sent me a link to an article on on using Tarot to deepen understanding of our life path.

I have been reading Tarot for many years and knew I could use Tarot to unlock the secret of motivating myself to move, but before I even got out the cards, I realized the universe had already taken care of me. I’ll be leaving Michigan for warmer climes later this month, to my new home in Florida, where exercise is effortless because I simply live differently there. I don’t hibernate. I do much more purposeful walking there and I dance more there, too. I eat more healthfully. I engage more with physical life in general. Until then I resolve to do some gentle yoga by the fire every day. Just a couple of asanas listening to “Here Comes The Sun” will work.

I’m a true believer in diving deep into self-awareness. I’ve read about everything in the bookstore on my particular favorites which have led to a greater understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve had psychic readings, religiously read Astrology Zone every month, Astrobarry every week, and of course, read Tarot as a guide, and, more lately, a portal to my intuition. I recently did a day of reading other people’s cards in a Facebook group and found I didn’t need to consult any of my (many) Tarot books. I saw the symbolism of each card immediately and intuitively. Several of those I read for connected right away with my take on where their life is at and what they can do to improve it.

I also follow the phases of the moon. Kate Surgery, a psychic who did a reading for me a few years ago, writes a lovely essay on the phases of the moon every so often. We have a super full moon today so I’ll be checking out what Kate has to say about it. Susan at Astrology Zone worried that the full moon would intensify the already wild energies spent on New Year’s Eve. It didn’t happen that way for me. I had a single glass of champagne and was tucked in bed reading well before midnight. Perhaps due to the moon, I was more restless than usual and ended up awake anyway to see in the new year.

If, like me, you’re looking in the bookstore for a quick start kick off to a resolution, you might check out some of these less traveled paths to deepen your connection to body and soul in 2018.

 

Backstabbed & Betrayed

IMG_3710A few days ago my Facebook account got hacked. This is not the first stupid problem I’ve been losing sleep over this week. I keep wondering if I’m trying too hard to please others. Amy Morin certainly thinks I have that tendency, and she’s shown me ways to correct that weakness of character. I’m going to be better about screening my Facebook friends. And so it goes with writing friends. I am in a few wonderful writing groups, but one local organization has been in turmoil lately. Along with many other good people, I have been dragged into it.

Sometimes, no matter how I try to be helpful, no matter how good my intention, people still direct their disapproval and even anger toward me. In my head, that’s okay. Can’t please everyone, right? Not everyone is going to love me or see my good intentions no matter how much time and effort I expend on their behalf. But wow in my heart it hurts, particularly when  someone I once trusted backstabs and betrays me.

This is where I have to weigh it out. There are over a hundred people in this organization, and as far as I know only three or four are deliberately maligning me and my friends. I still have a role to play there. If I just quit, I will be betraying one of my key values, which is behaving ethically in all situations. Many good people are counting on me to finish out my commitments. It goes against my values to simply walk away because it’s the easy thing to do.

Amy Morin says people pleasers feel responsible for how other people feel. Check. People pleasers self-worth often depends on how others perceive them. Check. People pleasers thrive on praise and reassurances from others. Check. We would rather do things we dislike than risk conflict. Check.

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As I transition out of “people pleaser” mode, I have learned to refer to my list of core values and assess from there.  Sometimes that means being willing to tolerate uncomfortable emotions. Morin says being very clear on your values helps figure out if you are in people pleaser mode or if you are staying true to yourself. Do you know your values and their priority in your life? If not, make a list. Here’s mine.

Physical and mental health

Always behaving ethically

Strong marriage

Feeling connected to family and friends

Sense of purpose (writing)

Looking at my list with my core values in mind, I can clearly see my connection to friends and family through FB. I’ve formed strong connections and friendships in my writing groups, too. These connections also foster the sense of purpose writing gives my  life. It’s worth it to me to hang in there, despite the discomfort, at least for now. And there are things I can do starting now to stand up for my values with the few troublesome folks in my writing community. There are ways I can say NO to them without saying NO to the organization.

Morin says self-confidence increases once you begin making all decisions with your core values in mind. She also includes other perks like having more time to devote to the things that really matter to you, cultivating healthier relationships, and increasing will power. In my case this translates into having time to work on physical and mental health by doing things like walking, yoga, dancing and developing positive habits of mind, not to mention more time for writing. It means the friendships I make going forward will be stronger and less likely to come back and bite me, and, I hope it also means I will be sleeping soundly instead of spending the wee hours ruminating on a silly social media issue or a truly awful and unfair real life situation.