When listening to this wonderful song by Billy Joel, let the words be from you to you.
“What a wonderful world this would be!”
Consider for a moment what life would feel like if we had a true, unending, complete and full love of ourselves, including ALL our “positive and negative” attributes.]
When listening to this wonderful song by Billy Joel, let the words be from you to you.
“What a wonderful world this would be!”
In 1971 John Lennon composed a song entitled, "Imagine" in which he wrote the following lyrics.
Imagine no possession / I wonder if you can / no need for greed or hunger / a brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people sharing all the world...
Take a moment to look around you and ask yourself, “What do I own”? You could say that you own the clothes on your body. It is true, you bought them. We make statements like, "these are my shoes, my watch, my car" Even things that aren’t technically yours become owned. For example, perhaps you work on a computer that is in your office that your employer owns, but since it is in your office it becomes your computer. What about things that you owned that are no longer physically in your possession? You threw them out, or maybe donated them, are they still yours? Do know where those things are? What about people who you consider to be friends? How many of those people are still in your life? What about your body? Do you own that? Yes, you do for the time that you occupy it, but is it really yours? How about your feelings? Do you own them?
As you begin to reflect on the idea that I am proposing, when it comes to possession, everything is temporary. If something is temporary, does that really make it yours? The answer is, no. Nothing is truly owned. Everything is on loan. Every thing, drifts in and out of your life. Notice the level of freedom you can begin to experience when you allow this insight. You can possess something, but also realize that is not really yours. You can begin to free yourself of the emotional attachments that develop with the concept of ownership. As John Lennon implies, what happens to greed or even the physical loss of our possessions when we realize that we don’t own them?
Regarding the things that we currently “have” in our possession, we have a choice to either care for and cherish, or dismiss and minimalize them. Realize that you are the holy steward of all that comes into and out of your life. Take care of yourself with love, and treat with love everything you have. Take care of your possessions; take care of the people in your life, take care of your body. Do this with the realization that all is indeed temporary. Do it with the freedom from the heavy emotional energy that accompanies the mentality of ownership. You will find yourself taking better care of everything, and enjoying what you have to an extent you can’t even begin to, "imagine".
These are words to a popular song. Are they really true? What are the differences between a dream state and a waking state? This is worth exploring. Can we use this simple phrase to see our lives in a new and helpful way?
Recall a time when you experienced a nightmare. Perhaps you were defying gravity, possessed superhuman strength, and performed and witnessed events that in the “real world” defy logic. Whatever occurred, the images and the unfolding events were your only reality. At some point you lunged, woke up from the nightmare in a sweat, heart pounding out of your chest, breathing heavily and panicked. You gradually collect your senses, looked around your room, breathed a sigh of relief and proclaimed “it was just a dream…all is well”.
Notice that the ‘reality of the dream’ went unquestioned and unchallenged while you were in the dream state. What I would like you to do is pause and consider for a moment, during any nightmare or even any dream you have ever had, did you know for certain and can you PROVE that you were sleeping? Was your experience of the dream no matter how far from reality the events that you experienced were, did you not think that they were not real? Judging from the physiological reactions, the body believed that the dream was real.
Taking all of this into consideration an important question is begging to be asked. Can you concretely prove that in this moment you are awake? Could you begin to let yourself consider the possibility that there is no difference between what we refer to as the sleep state and waking state? The only thing that can be said with absolute certainty is that whether you are sleeping or awake you are always aware.
Keeping the above idea in mind, let’s return to our nightmare scenario. As the dream unfolded you were focused on its ever changing content. Since the nightmare was your ‘reality’ you experienced all the physical and emotional responses that occurred. The moment when you realized that it was, “just a dream” your attention shifted from the content of the dream reality along with all the reactions that you had, to the awareness that witnessed the dream. The negativity of the nightmare immediately released resulting in immediate relief and emotional balance. It is at this point we realize, “all is well”.
The point I wish to make is, to the part of ourselves that is aware, the awareness is unaffected by what it sees. Think of it this way. When you are watching a movie and the scene is depicting a house on fire, is the screen physically burning? If the scene is showing an earthquake, is the screen shaking? Furthermore allow yourself to realize that the screen has no preferences to what is shown, it remains unperturbed and unchanged by anything it happens to depict.
So when it comes to living our lives, take a valuable lesson from our experience of dreaming. We have the option to focus our attention on the content of our thoughts feelings and sensations. We can tell stories and make judgments about what we are seeing. Or we have the opportunity to see them from the vantage point of pure awareness. From the vantage of pure awareness we are then neither attached nor unattached to what we think, feel or happen to see at any given moment. We have the opportunity to experience life and all of its rich emotional content from a place of simple acknowledgement without attachment and identification. We can then live our lives knowing that, “all is well.” What would our experience of life be like if we knew that the events that occur in our life are like the dream? Like the television screen that is undisturbed by what it is depicting perhaps we too can row, row, row, our boat gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.
We live life and experience a full range of emotions. We experience the ‘good ones the bad ones’. How we respond to these feelings determines how we are going to feel in our lives in general. We have choice when it comes to this. We have all been there. We can bury feelings and become numb to them. The word for this is repression. We can try to replace them with something more desirable, like eating, drinking, exercising or engaging in some kind of pleasurable activity. We can also simply express them, emotionally responding with whatever and however life hits us. Like a valve on a pressure cooker, we can blow off steam and feel good for a few moments until the pressure builds back up and we explode again.
Where do our feelings originate? They arise from something called Ego. Ego is the part of us that dictates how our life is unfolding. Ego forms our perceived identity. When we look around the room and say to ourselves that the chair is not me, and that person over there is not me, that’s ego. Ego is operating when identify as a particular religion or formulate ideas about our identity based on our race, gender, age, or profession. We hear the voice of ego every time we experience anger or fear. Ego can also work in the other direction. Ego can make you feel smart, wise and even happy. While there is nothing wrong with these feelings, they too can be used by the ego to keep us vain, superior to others and separate from others. Ego strives to perpetuate its own existence and feels threatened when something or someone wants to infringe upon it.
Ego has subtle a way of not embracing life, all the while it will convince you that it does. In short ego is an internal mechanism that could potentially direct us straight to personal hell. Since life is always changing, ego attempts to keep up by tweaking your thoughts and behaviors to preserve its created identity intact and will do cart wheels to keep up with the ever changing demands. As much as this sounds untenable and undesirable we can’t live or function without ego. We need ego to function in the world. Ego allows us to drive our car, take care of our physical body, allows us to know when someone is speaking to us. The difficulty with ego arises when we IDENTIFY as the ego. Living from the ego creates an endless cycle of struggle and emotional pain. The reason is that ego has insatiable appetite for wanting everything, including ourselves, to look the way we want life to appear.
The good news is that there is a way out of the ego’s grasp on our lives. In his book entitled, The Surrender Experiment, by Michael A. Singer, writes the following:
“The flow of life had served as sandpaper that, to a great extent, freed me of myself. Unable to unbind myself from the incessant pull of my psyche, in an act of sheer desperation, I had thrown myself into the arms of life. From that point forward, all I did was my very best to serve what was in front of me and let go of what it stirred up inside of me. Joy and pain, success and failure, praise and blame- they had all pulled at what was so deeply rooted within me. The more I let go, the freer I became. It was not my responsibility to find what was binding me; that was life’s job. My responsibility was to willingly let go of whatever was brought up within me.”
This brings me back to my topic, obtaining spiritual enlightenment by going to the gym? Imagine trying to build muscle without lifting weights. Life provides the weights (in the form of emotional pain and suffering) which hopefully prompts the desire to become free of the pain. The process of finding and letting go of emotions is one that requires repetition and practice. As releasing becomes second nature, the more ‘strength’ you have to stay rooted in truth of who you are, and less tempted to respond to life from ego. Life will take on a new and completely different energy and vibration. What are you waiting for?
Did you know that you do not have to physically kill yourself to commit suicide? As I reflect back on my life I realize that I was committing suicide, albeit unconsciously. Since everything in life has a divine purpose, my unconscious acts of internal self abuse are no less different. On one hand, ironically, self abuse somehow made my life “easier”, but in reality made my life difficult. I wish to share some of my observations with you; perhaps you are engaging in the similar behaviors. If you are, you may want to know. You may want to know because committing suicide without physical death brings emotional pain. Emotional pain is not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing, but you will rob you of what peacefulness and joy you can experience right now. The good news is that pain doesn’t have to be your everyday reality and something that you must live with. Let’s dive in and see how I committed suicide without physically killing myself.
I made assumptions about how everyone around me was feeling. I felt that I knew who liked me and who didn’t. I would distance myself from those who I felt did not like me and attempt to bring those who did closer to me. I made assumptions about how others were feeling and why they feel the way they do. These assumptions led me to a plethora of internal emotional experiences. I was overrun by feelings of guilt anger shame and depression. The reality is I have no clue how anyone feels. Assumptions and beliefs that are not accurate allow for behaviors that could keep you feeling lonely and isolated from others. If this is your pattern, you could be losing out on relationships with people. I had an experience with someone who I thought was dismissive of me. I based my conclusion on the fact that I hadn’t heard anything from him in a long period of time. One afternoon I allowed myself to drop that assumption. I decided to call this particular individual. After speaking with him I learned that my belief was far from the truth. I learned that this individual wanted to work as a team and was delighted to hear from me. If I had stuck to my inaccurate position I never would have made the call. I was needlessly angry and disappointed with this person. I felt ignored and disrespected. I could have easily continued that stance for as long as I felt justified. Looking back I created a ton of negative emotional angst, playing the victim role, all for nothing. What are the possibilities for you if you could drop your assumptions of how and what people think and feel about you?
I avoided doing things that ultimately make me feel good. Procrastination and ignoring daily tasks and obligations felt easier. This method worked however only for a short while. Time inevitably runs out and I would have to rush to get things done. Afraid of making wrong decisions, I spent my life letting choices “make themselves”. I also never realized that doing things in a timely matter would make me feel so much better. I was living with pain the pain of not doing. An example from my life is that I used to ignore my finances. I would have a rough idea of how much money I had in the bank, but not know exactly. Every time I would write a check or use my ATM card I would have that old familiar knot in my gut saying, “is this transaction going to get declined?” I never would have felt the relief that I now experience knowing exactly what is in my account. I can now trade my anxiety for a feeling of safety by being responsible with my finances.
I hated myself. Feelings of self degradation pervaded my life. I carried so much self hatred and rejection that I automatically would keep myself from experiencing any happiness. I found that internal hurt was easy to inflict. I would reject and nullify myself before others did, which kept me from feeling the pain of rejection of others when it finally occurred.
I tried to make my death look accidental vs. intentional. I was a huge risk taker. Any opportunity to harm myself without harming others was a welcome moment. I purposely put myself into harm’s way.
I lived my life in a constant state of fear and unbearable physical tension. This was without question, the worst feeling of all. I could never relax. The relentless feeling of the knot in my stomach was enough to make me want to die. I worried about absolutely everything. I thought that my life had to look a certain way. I thought I knew what I needed and wanted, and if I didn’t get it, anxiety was the price I paid. I based my self worth on external things, like how much money I had or didn’t have. Looking deeply at everything I discovered that at the core of everything I feared my own mortality. That is the irony of the whole story of our lives. We fear what we don’t want, which leaves us with…fear.
I discovered that these old ways of functioning in the world was my way of saying, “NO” to life. So while I was not physically dead, I was a walking dead person. I was living life with the brakes on. I learned that I was living my life through something called “ego consciousness”. The good news is we can constructively use the emotional pain that ego consciousness generates, to free ourselves from our suffering. Start by allowing yourself and be willing to look deep within and see what beliefs you are holding on to. Do this without judgment. Be willing to see if your beliefs are really true without exception. As you discover how these beliefs work in your day to day life, you can start to open up to another reality. Something refreshing and different will begin to show up. Take some time to explore what arises. You will be pleasantly surprised.
It’s almost the New Year and many people are formulating New Year Resolutions. Whatever you may or may not be planning, here are some things I believe with even a modest amount of attention on your part will let 2019 be a good year.
Allow yourself to notice when you are engaging in comparisons. This includes comparing yourself to others, your past self, or your “ideal self.” For example, I used to run competitively. Five decades later, I am not able to run nearly as fast as I used to. I allow myself to notice and embrace the difference and focus on sheer enjoyment of movement and exercise. In my not so distant past I may have gotten angry and given up running altogether. I have clients tell me they notice their friends are, “handling their lives better than they are.” The reality is we don’t actually know how anyone is truly feeling. The person you believe is “calm and collected” may actually be a burning inferno of emotion and uneasiness on the inside. The idea here is to become aware that you are engaging in comparison. Gently embrace this idea and inform yourself that what you believe may not be true. As you allow this realization to permeate your consciousness see what new insights and ideas you uncover.
Understand your fears for what they are. Fear imposes limitations and can keep you from living a life of infinite possibilities. Perhaps you want to try something, like start a business, or learn a new skill. Fear dictates, “I am afraid to fail." The question you can ask at this point is, “am I willing to test my belief and consider the possibility that I will not fail?” If you never try, you will be guaranteeing the failure you fear. The difference between can and can’t is the letter “t”. In this case the letter “t” stands for TRY. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Do not let fear stop you from your passion.
Live your life in the NOW. Fears originate and are sustained in projections about the future. We are never afraid of what we don’t know; (because there is absolutely NO thing to know), we are always afraid of what we THINK we know. I was chatting with a man who expressed his fear of going on his “first vacation ever.” He conveyed his belief that “he is totally incapable of being able to have fun and relax." I asked him if he could PROVE and GUARANTEE this belief would still be true a day, week, or a month from now. He thought for a while and said, “No”. I asked him to consider that since he could not prove or guarantee his belief, if he could see it's arbitrary nature. He shook his head yes, and after a bit of reflection, stated that he is actually starting to feel excited about his trip. His arbitrary belief in the past projected into his future, simultaneously ruining his present moment. Notice that when you are afraid, you are in a future that hasn’t happened yet. A wise teacher once told me, “you can’t breathe tomorrow’s air today.” Allow yourself to start to apply this principle to your own life, and observe what happens.
Love and be kind to yourself. So much of our suffering is internal self degradation. We don’t need nor do we want others to hurt us. It is ironic that we are often willing to abuse ourselves. Many people engage in this behavior whether consciously or not. Here is an analogy I can offer. If someone is hitting you with a steel pipe, you are in trouble. To get that person to stop, you must somehow find a way to get the pipe away from them. That is not going to be easy. If you are hitting yourself with a steel pipe, the good news is all you need to do is simply drop the pipe. The simple act of noticing is the key here As you notice the habit of picking up and putting down the pipe, the more likely you will find yourself putting it down. The idea behind this is, awareness heals.
Let your past be where it is… In the past. Much of our suffering is a result of looking back and saying, “if only." Take this opportunity to reflect about something you regret. Ask yourself if could you could have done anything differently. You may answer yes, but if that was absolutely true you certainly would have. Reality dictates that whatever happened in that moment was the only thing that could have happened. What you will begin to notice is "if only" thinking perpetuates needless self abuse You can not undue what happened, you can learn from it while fostering a more loving relationship with yourself right now.
I offer these ideas for you to consider applying in your life in 2019. Take notice of what happens when you do. It is my prayer that you have a beautiful and fulfilling New Year.
Often times I see parents who believe: I have to worry about my children…Right?? You may not be a parent, but perhaps a son or daughter worried about a parent(s), or any important person in your life. “Look at all the terrible things happening in the world. I can’t even feel safe sending my kids to school.” While it is true parents have to provide food clothing and shelter and a safe environment, is fear a requirement for raising healthy children? Is fear a requirement for a child or spouse to harbor to maintain the well being of a significant other?
Let’s examine the fear dynamic. Does the fear you harbor inside of yourself have any impact on the life experiences of the people you love and care about? No. Fear has no impact whatsoever on the lives of the people you care about.
Children in particular are very perceptive and know how their parents feel. The child who senses that the parent is worried will inevitably conclude that they are the reason for their parent’s anxiety and blame themselves. What occurs is a vicious cycle, parent stresses about child, which increases stress levels in the children, which then feeds the stress levels in the parent.
Anxiety decreases the confidence of the parent and interferes with the natural flow of life. Parents who make decisions from a place of fear will make vastly different choices when coming from those coming from a place of love and peace. For example, parents may limit their children from participating in worthwhile activities based solely on their own fears of such activities. Fear may result in a healthy child heading into a therapist’s office because the child is developing in a manner that differs from the parent’s expectations. In a case like this, well intentioned parents feel that they have somehow failed their child.
So what is the way out of the madness? Let’s examine the reason why fear exists in the first place.
Interactions I have with my clients go like this:
CLIENT: Yes, I can let go of my fear, but that would mean I don’t care? Right?
ME: Well…could you not care?
CLIENT: Well…NO absolutely not.
ME: So let’s look at what you’re saying without words. You care whether you’re harboring anxiety or not. So…What is the anxiety doing for you personally?
PARENT: Nothing, except making me sick!!!
This brings us back to the original point. Fear will change nothing except make for a stressed out parent. Fear is not indicative of nor proof of love for a child. When we can gradually begin to lift out of a fear mindset, many positive things can begin to occur. The children spontaneously become less anxious simply because the parent has done their own healing. Parents automatically feel better as the burden of anxiety is lifted.
As parents we want to do what is best for our children. As human beings we want the best for those we love and care about. Think about this for a while and see what happens as you start to realize the difference between love and fear. The results will be uplifting.
Know the feeling?? I think we all do. We feel like one wrong step and well….we don’t want to go there. Literally or figuratively. Is that our reality? Is that how life is??
While the cable is thin and suspended high above the ground, we need to realize that to the person on the cable that is their only source of stability. We have an advantage over the tightrope walker in that we have nowhere to fall. You may already feel nervous angry or depressed. So indeed you have “fallen”, but you are not harmed in a real sense. What you need to realize is that you are here. Your life is not over.
There is a documentary film entitled Man On Wire about Philippe Petit who in 1974 walked on a high wire between the towers of the World Trade Center. He was living in France as a 17 year old who immersed his life in high wire walking. He was at his dentist’s office going through a magazine when he saw a picture of the towers and he remembered thinking to himself that it was as if the buildings were being built for him. Years passed and his obsession with the towers grew. He spent countless hours practicing and simulating the walk. He had to spend another amount of countless hours figuring out how to elude security to achieve his dream. He was quoted as saying the following:
“If I die what a beautiful death… To die doing your passion.”
What can we gain from this?
Reflecting back on his fateful walk between the towers he said,
“I had to make a decision by shifting my weight from one foot anchored on the building to one foot on the wire. This is probably…I don’t know…the end of my life to step on that wire. On the other hand something that I could not resist and I didn’t make any effort to resist, called me up on the cable… and death was very close.”
Yes, he had the feeling of fear. He had to rely on others to help him rig the wire between the towers, and he wasn’t able to personally oversee the entire process. He could not guarantee that the team members did it correctly. He did not allow his fear to stop him. He had to allow himself to be at the mercy of the weather, which in New York could be very windy on any given day. By the end of his performance, he had made a total of eight crossings over a forty five minute span. He took time to kneel down and salute the crowd that had gathered below him. He even took time to lie down on his back.
For him the decision to step out on the wire was easy. He was driven and determined to follow his dream. Yes, he was afraid for his mortality, but his attention demanded more, his LIFE demanded more. He chose to pay more attention to his life force than his fear. He directed his attention to what he knew was more real. In the end he accomplished what he had set out to do.
Philippe went on to say, “I like everybody else, have a certain fear of heights, and I have to be very careful when I am in the clouds, but it is also what I love; it is my domain, so when you love something, you don't have fear.”
So when it comes to our own lives, we have to love life more than fear. Philippe has a passion for life and lives it to the fullest. He acknowledges his fear, but he doesn’t heed it. Fear will keep you small and prevent you from the passion of your life. In closing Philippe is quoted as saying, “Faith is what replaces doubt in my dictionary.”
Let us all take a lesson from a tight rope walker. We after all, have our feet on the ground.
© 2018 Michael Morris, MA, LLP
We heard so much about the soccer team that was rescued from the cave. There is so much we can learn from this experience. How did you react when you heard about the drama as it unfolded? Were you nervous? Did it reinforce your fear of closed in spaces? Were you thinking that they were not going to be rescued and they would die in an underground tomb? How did you feel when they were rescued?
The reason I am writing about this today is because if you had asked those young boys how their day was going to go, never would have told you that they were going to get caught in a cave for two weeks with no food and little water. They were trapped in a massive underground structure with no way to signal anyone as to their whereabouts. So what can we glean that would be useful to us living our lives on a daily basis?
Lesson # 1. Life doesn’t always go the way we plan. Prior to the exploration of the cave they didn’t know there was going to be a two week departure from their daily routine. Prior to the event happening none of them most likely ever worried about their survival in such a concrete way.
Did you worry about them and their survival? I’m certain that most everyone experienced feelings as the drama unfolded. Some people probably felt hopeful for them, others nervous for them. However the question needs to be asked, how much anxiety did you feel for them? Did it preoccupy you day? Even if it didn’t preoccupy your day, did your worry for them have any direct or indirect impact on them? What would happen if you didn’t worry about them? Would it mean that you didn’t care?
Lesson #2. Worrying doesn’t have any effect on the world or anything that happens in the world. When you worry, you only affect yourself and how you view and see the world. When you worry you look at the world through that lens and more worry get reflected back at you. Worry will only reinforce worry.
I was really struck by the news reports that said that the boys were in good spirits when they were discovered. Since there is no way of knowing exactly how they were feeling prior to being discovered, it is nice to know that they were described as being in good spirits. What if they themselves were a group of nervous youngsters? What would the effect of anxiety have on their physical bodies? We all know what anxiety feels like, could their bodies survive with the added stress to an already stressful situation? Perhaps the coach was the stabilizing factor. Or perhaps one or more of the children themselves were.
Lesson #3. One person can make a difference in the whole dynamic of a group. Never underestimate the power of one person who can change everything in a group dynamic. One reassuring presence can influence a crowd. They could have lost all hope and the results could have been different if their bodies could not sustain them during their ordeal. The reality is that in every moment they were still alive and that was all that was really required. Remember they had no way of even knowing that efforts were underway to rescue them.
How did you feel when they were rescued? I know from my own personal experience I was moved to see how the world celebrated. I watched how people were celebrating the safe return young boys who prior to the whole incident no one knew. I felt a sense of gratitude for their safety. I felt some sadness for the rescue worker who died. We have no idea what the life’s mission of that particular rescuer was. Perhaps his life’s mission was to facilitate the rescue of those boys. Perhaps the rescue mission would not have been successful if not for the presence of the one who died and the contributions he made to the effort as a whole.
The mission was not easy. Sophisticated technology was used to determine their exact location in the cave. The flooding that occurred meant that there was a tremendous amount of water that needed to be removed before the rescue workers were able to reach the stranded boys. The water was removed pumped out gradually, over time, until it reached a level that was passable for the divers to reach them.
Lesson 4: Life is about taking steps and not quitting. The rescue efforts could have been aborted if they felt that removing small amounts of water at a time was not enough. The water did not have to be removed all at once. They had a plan and they stuck to it.
To me, the example of the cave is an extreme example of how to live our lives to the fullest every day. As long as you have life, you always have possibilities. Nothing is impossible. The very fact that you can conceive of something makes it possible. No matter what the odds look like it really means nothing, because everything is possible. Life calls for flexibility, a willingness on our part to not be so determined to have everything go the way we want it to. Life includes everything even the certainty of death of the physical body. Know that it is the body that dies, not our eternal soul. Celebrate and make the most of your time here now. It is a gift. Do the things that you feel are in alignment with who you are, even if you think that it cannot be done. If these young boys can survive in a cave for two weeks in cave with no idea that anyone would find them, how bad is your own personal situation? You are reading these words…you are here NOW. Go make the most of it.
© Michael S. Morris, MA LLP