If the eyes are the windows into our souls, then what I see is very sad for most people walking the streets.For me, it is sad to see the light behind the eyes of so many people dimmed or distinguished.This is a group that spiritual leaders call the “walking dead”.We get this way by being so beaten down with our own emotional baggage that the way to physical, emotional and spiritual contentment is extremely difficult to see.And to be honest, when are we taught how to be balanced and healthy?Nearly 100% of the people I ask say they are happy or content with most areas of their lives but the eyes of those people tell a very different story.
Look around at the people on the streets and in your lives.Do you generally see people who are laughing and smiling with their eyes?You know, the kind of joy that lights up the entire face.When I look around I see people who are cursing because the light didn’t change soon enough, making snide remarks about their spouse, miserable in their work and achy in their physical body.What has happened to us?Why am I surprised when someone does something that interferes with my activity, and they actually apologize?That should be a matter of routine rather than an exception.Have you asked yourself, “Where has our common courtesy gone”?Why do people leer at each other in traffic rather than being helpful or understanding?It has gotten to epidemic proportions how many of us are emotionally shutdown and yet, we still don’t get it.I know I didn’t until I took a walk up a hill.
Several years ago, I felt a strong urge to go on a short trip to anyplace that was warm.It had been a long, cold, foggy winter in Reno and I needed to go and warm my bones.I closed my eyes and randomly placed my finger on a map.The winner was Arizona!I quickly made arrangements, left my husband behind and flew to the Phoenix area for a long weekend.While deciding what I would do to fill my days, I decided to turn this into a mini vision quest.
On the day of my quest, I grabbed a light lunch to take with me, plenty of water, a full tank of gas and lots of adventurous spirit.I headed onto the Apache Reservation being guided my nothing more than my intuition.I drove for a while before coming to a mini tourist rest stop consisting of a restaurant, gift shop and a local band playing country music.Still using my intuition I pulled into the parking lot.I had a hard time believing I had been traveled all this way to have an ice cream in the middle of the Reservation!When gathering my bearings, I noticed a large hill behind the facility.I parked my Jeep in the only spot available and directly in front of me was a trail with a swing gate.I was so happy cause it looked like it this adventure was going to be so easy for me!I grabbed water and began walking up this wonderfully laid out trail.As I was walking, the trail quickly ended and my hike turned into bushwhacking.I am not a bushwhacker!I started grumbling loudly about why “everything had to be so hard” to all the cactus and rabbits that would listen.As I walked up the hill, the various cacti, sagebrush, and all else that could draw blood were busily scratching me.I encountered what seemed to be a “how in the world am I supposed to get up this” cliff, battled my persistent urge to turn around and go home (after all who would know), and complained the whole way (why couldn’t the universe make this easy for me?) until I reached the top!I was relieved and proud that I had persevered while at the same time I was bruised and banged up.I sat on top of my hill overlooking a beautiful valley.Just as I was going to nap for bit and enjoy the sunshine on my face, a buzzard started flying close around me.I got up and shook my hand saying loudly to go away as I was not dead yet.He seemed to say back “when are you going to come alive?”“When are you going to be a part of the living?”He continued to fly around me but I figured I had moved around enough to establish that I was not suitable lunch.I really wanted to nap but I felt a strong urge to get back down the hill right then.So I did, I headed back down the small mountain.Still annoyed and grumbling loudly as I didn’t get my nap and was still getting cut up by the shrubbery.I was exuberant as I made it back to the small gift shop and restaurant.It felt strange to be back amongst the hustle and bustle but in reality I had only checked out for a few hours.Everyone was eating food, enjoying ice cream and buying gifts.I knew they all felt as though they were having good time but I felt contented, proud of myself, and felt that even though I was bruised and bloody, I was the one that had really received the gift. I bought a piece of Apache pottery as a souvenir, and headed back to my hotel for a massage and pampering.In my book, it is a good thing when bushwhacking and pampering can converge!
It took a good bit of time for me to fully process what the buzzard seemed to be saying to me about waking up.I thought I had been awake!It had not occurred to me that I too was part of the walking dead. I had been working on bettering myself for years before, felt very contented with myself and my life, had gotten comfortable enough with myself that I no longer felt boredom and loneliness.But yet, I was still part of the walking dead? In retrospect, it has not really been until now that I feel alive and free inside.
The evidence around us is overwhelming that the fire in us has been extinguished.We have lived far beyond our material means, we are over weight and out of shape, the divorce rate is over 60%, and we are not thoughtful or considerate of others.Do other people yank your chain either in traffic or otherwise?Do you give control of your emotions to others?
The good news is we can do something about it!Learning how to be part of the walking aware, the truly alive, is simple.Start taking responsibility for our emotions.There is nothing about a new IPhone, WII Fit, car, a piece of chocolate, being a member of the clean plate club, or feeling wonderful and alive because there is a new male or female in your life that is emotionally healthy.We are wired to be able to sit quietly and take in the environment around us and feel content.So many people cannot be just with themselves without outside noise or distraction for even an hour.When they try it they feel anxiety and the urge to do something else to distract them from themselves.So they make a phone call, turn on the television or radio, check something on the internet real quick, anything to take up the silence.
It is in the doing of other things that we forget the being with ourselves.If we cannot sit with ourselves quietly for a period of time it is a very clear indication we are not comfortable with ourselves.Can you sit with someone else for an hour with out needing a distraction?If yes, then ask yourself “why is it hard for me to sit with me”?Learning to enjoy the company of oneself without the distractions of other people, phones, or noise in the background is essential to learning to feel contentment in one’s skin and essential in attracting and maintaining healthy relationships.For relationships the mindset is, “how can I expect others to want to be around me and enjoy my company, if I have a hard time doing it”?There is so much to write about relationships that it will take a whole series of articles.
A homework assignment that I have given quite often is to start small.When you are alone in your car, turn off the radio and the phone.Drive in silence.Notice how it feels.Anxiety?Next spend an hour by yourself somewhere either around people or not.Being around people means sitting by your self and observing others at the mall, or a coffee house but not being with others just watching.This is an interim step working your way to being all by yourself so if you don’t feel that you need to do it go ahead to the next step.Spend an hour by yourself in a quiet place of your choosing.Either out in nature somewhere or in your own home.Just sit and using all of your senses take in what is around you.This is called being in the moment when you are totally observing what is in our space at any given time. What are the sights sounds and smells, what does the couch fabric or the rock texture feel like under your hand?Next turn your attention to how your body feels inside.Are you calm?Anxious?Both?If there is anxiety or some other feeling that is not totally comfortable, ask yourself why is it there?Where is it coming from?The first answer that pops in, either loud or faint, word or picture is the correct answer. as it is coming from the subconscious.At this point, typically two things will happen; either we don’t like the first answer and our mind takes over and quickly says “that can’t be it” and substitutes another more palatable answer.Or we are blank and nothing at all pops in.If this happens, try reframing the question to yourself, “please show or tell me why I am anxious at this very moment?” and wait for a reply. Your subconscious is really the expert of you so trust it.
Getting in touch with ourselves and leaning to be comfortable with our own company is one of the most valuable gifts that we can give ourselves.It is an essential step in finding contentment in our skins.It is also a place of peace that we can conjure up no matter what the craziness is around us.This is the beginning of how we become part of the walking awake rather than the walking dead.
Recently, I was working with a man who seemingly has all life has to offer. With lots of money, he owns his own business, has a great wife, good kids, and enough freedom and money to do whatever he wants yet, he is unhappy. His misery is so engrained that he has come to accept his pain as “just the way it is”. However, one of his strengths is that he learned to channel the energy/anxiety from this depression and turn it into a force that motivates and keeps him going on with life. But still, at his core he is not a happy person despite all the outward appearances.
During one of our sessions, we were discussing his 17 year old daughter. He remarked how living with her was like living with his ex-wife. If you have an ex-partner, maybe you can imagine this was not a pleasant realization! I agreed with him that it would be exactly like living with his ex-wife, as his daughter's emotional patterns and some behaviors would be just like her mom's. Seeing his confusion, I explained. Most pre-teens or teenagers have said the mantra “I will not be like my mom/dad” at least a thousand times. We make diligent efforts to not be like our parents, yet one day we wake up and realize we are more like them than we care to be. YIKES! So we set off to change our behavioral pattern but where we fall short is in exploring the emotional pattern that creates the behavior. For example, if a parent yells a lot and we decide we don't want to yell, then we will work hard at not yelling. But, we will substitute another behavior, like not speaking to whomever we are angry at, or slamming things. Typically, we are not taught that emotion underlies all behavior and that we need to heal emotions in order to break dysfunctional behavior patterns. For example, when people quit smoking cigarettes, yet still crave them six months later, it is because the emotions involved with smoking have not been healed. The same thing applies to dieting. When we can not stick to a diet, or gain weight right back after losing it, it is because we have emotional issues to contend with that are driving our need to over eat. Or we may stop one behavior and then substitute another behavior that seems different but is really the same. For example, we stop eating excessively, but start exercising excessively, stop over spending, but go from relationship to relationship. All of these examples are forms of escape behavior and if the emotions creating the need for escape are not healed then the need will persist. We have to have an outlet for the emotion. Emotional/ behavioral connection is true of ALL behavior, whether we realize it or not. We learn our emotional patterns by diligently studying our parents almost from birth. So it is almost impossible not to grow up to be just like them, as we have spent our whole lives studying them. Of course most of this is done on a subconscious level, so we are not consciously aware of the process taking place.
My client, who likes to challenge my every word, bought all if this until I said “that the same concept applies to boys and their fathers”. Now, the discussion was getting too close to home, as he has a really low opinion of his father. Underneath the surface I know my client doesn't want to see how his own dishonesty is the same as his father's stealing from him. Nor does he want to see how his father's compulsive gambling is borne of the same anxiety that leads to his own obsessive/compulsive tendencies. To my client, the fact that his father never “double checks” himself means they are vastly different, as my client “triple checks” everything. However, what is the same is the fear and anxiety that creates the behaviors for both father and son.
Having never met my client's father, I can confidently say his father has a lot of fear and a lack of self trust. How can I say that? Because my client has a lot of fear and doesn't trust. How do I know that he did not learn these things from his mom? Because my client learned how to be a man, how to live in a man's skin, how to feel like a man by observing his father. We all do this. We learn to be women by observing mom and men learn how to be men by watching dad. This is not exclusive as we do get some strengths and challenges from the opposite sex parent but the primary patterns come from the same sex parent. That is part of the subconscious studying we do during our childhood.
So how do we heal this stuff? When we say “I am not like my mom”, “I am not like my father” we are probably looking at the superficial, easily seen, behavioral level. Again, behaviorally we may seem very different. However, we have to see how our emotional patterns are alike before we can begin to make progress in our own healing. Start with the premise “How am I like my mom/father?” and make a list of the similarities, both emotional and behavioral. This opens the door for us to objectively examine the core of who we are. Be sure to examine both strengths and challenges. While we learned our challenges from our parents they also gave us our strengths that we can then use to overcome our challenges. It is also a good exercise to acknowledge our strengths because we are usually so hard on ourselves that it helps our self esteem to explore our gifts. When starting to explore our challenges some people will have a sense of shame because we are acknowledging our own bad behavior. Please, don't use this as a reason to beat yourself up. We all make mistakes, this is why we are called human and it is just part of the life process. For me, it was easier to see my destructive emotional patterns by first figuring out what the emotional challenges were behind my mom's actions and then applying them to myself. At first it was very difficult, as I had dutifully said the mantra “I will not be like my mom”, so some of my behaviors were different. But, by not letting myself off the hook and exclaiming “Whew, we ARE different”, I stuck to the uncomfortable exploration and the patterns then became clear rather quickly. When I saw my mom's controlling behaviors, anxiety, fear of rejection, etc…it was much easier to apply these things to myself. I asked myself “what do I do that is out of anxiety”? “How do I control others in relationships”? “How am I insincere with others”? There were also times that I really worked on releasing the various hurts and fears pent up inside by reliving those memories while journaling, crying, or yelling, as the emotion came up. All of these exercises are designed to bring awareness to the patterns that are creating problems for us and release the emotion so that we can make permanent positive changes. While it is not an easy process it is one that is necessary and provides a big reward….peace.
Living with balance is vital to our health and happiness. Just as in the world around us we actually need it to physically survive and grow emotionally. One of nature's well known examples is the ecosystem. For an ecosystem to survive it must be balanced within itself, and if it is not, the system will get sick and eventually die. Humans are no different! For us, balance means a mix of hard ship and delight, fear and peace, calm and turmoil. The mix is necessary for us to experience because when we feel one it opens the door for us to also feel the other.
Two big symbols in nature that serve as daily reminders are the sun and moon. Would we understand and appreciate light without dark? We see it with emotions too. Would we be able to know happiness without experiencing sadness? Would we know and understand calm without chaos? A little known truth is that the depth of happiness we experience is proportional to the depth of pain that we have felt, it is balanced. To aid our journey, nature provides us with a system of balance that we typically ignore which leaves us spending our lives in an unhealthy state. Just as in nature, this state of consistent systemic chaos will eventually kill us both emotionally and physically..
Take a look in your world; are you living with balance between meeting your daily obligations and taking care of the most important thing in your life: you? Do you feel as though you are generally growing and thriving? If your day, or week, is filled with stress, anxiety, anger, etc….then you are probably not. The unfortunate reality is that most of us are not living in balance. All too often we feel burdened with the “ should's” of life and push ourselves to a state of exhaustion. Another exercise is to become aware of your language and explore how often you say “I should” or “I need to”. Can you feel your gut tighten when these words are spoken? We give and give to everyone and everything but what pleasures do we give to ourselves? Achieving a balance between ourselves and the world around us is a necessary lesson for all and it is in learning that lesson we begin to know peace.
Like a gymnast, we can approach our lives with the same dedication required to learn to walk the balance beam. In both cases it takes dedication, practice and patience to gracefully stay on top of the beam. Unfortunately, we are conditioned to be responsible in our obligations but are rarely taught how to set boundaries for ourselves. Typically, setting boundaries for ourselves is seen as act of selfishness rather than a loving act of self centeredness . Did you realize we can actually achieve more in a day, meet our emotional obligations, have better health, and feel more peace if we learn to pull back and set aside time for us? Not on a monthly or yearly basis, like through vacations, but in creating time on a daily basis for us. It doesn't have to be much time but it does need to be some. Be aware: if you find yourself saying “I can't make the time”, look at why you believe this for it is not true. We all can make room in our day for us time regardless of schedule or tasks. When taking care of ourselves truly becomes our priority we will work it out. Just as a gymnast masters the balance beam we too can master our life. Sure, it will take some thought, some juggling, some ability to say no, but when self care is at the top of the list; we will make it happen.