Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sustaining Your Momentum: Releasing Resistance

In the midst of the countless demands on you every day, you may wonder how you can effectively sustain all the changes you want to make in your life.

How can you maintain the momentum of your efforts when so many external and internal obstacles threaten to drag you down or stop you?

Most people have been conditioned to believe that their successful changes require buckling down, pushing through, struggling, working harder, depriving, and other ways of "forcing" themselves to keep moving toward their goals.

This approach often fails to produce the desired results, and can generate many unhealthy physical and emotional symptoms such as resentment, headaches, guilt, digestive problems, loss of confidence, and so on.

As an alternative view, here's the first of three methods (ways of being and doing) that can help you sustain your momentum, or adjust your direction as needed, to create the changes you desire.

Releasing Resistance
In the Buddhist tradition, resistance is viewed as the source of all suffering. Although pain inevitably exists in the world, suffering is optional. When you resist, you have a judgment that "what is" should not be the way it is, and that you should be able to do something about it.

For example, imagine you're making great progress in a new exercise program at your gym. A month into the routine, you learn that the machines you've been using are unavailable for a week or two for necessary emergency repairs to that part of the building.

You would probably feel some upset and disappointment ("pain") about this unexpected event. If you resist what has happened ("what is"), and focus only on what you can't do now, your pain will become suffering and limit you. You will lose sight of other options you might pursue to keep your exercise regimen intact.

Similarly, suppose you love someone, and discuss a painful experience you have had with him. You talk about possible changes for both of you in the relationship, and express support for his efforts. After several months in which you have developed and applied some new skills, your lover says that he is unwilling to work on the changes you desire.

You feel disturbed and betrayed by his position. If you resist his lack of motivation ("what is"), and drive yourself to figure out what else you can do, your relationship pain will lead to your suffering. In your myopic state, you might easily overlook the benefits of your own growth, and the opportunity for you hidden in his announcement.

An economics professor from the University of Texas once told me about a class in which he interviewed "self-made" millionaires. Besides not having inheritances, these people shared one important characteristic that distinguished them from less successful businessmen and women.

In the development of a business idea, if they encountered prolonged blocks to progress ("pain"), they would stop, cut their losses, let go, and start something new, rather than continue to invest in a dying enterprise.

These people knew that resistance could create suffering, become counterproductive, and involve an enormous waste of time, energy, and other resources. They learned how to integrate their desires with the flow of events by releasing their resistance.

In this way, they practiced the spirit of this prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

In the next two parts of this discussion, I'll explore how "allowing" and "being patient" can powerfully nurture your momentum.

In the meantime, whenever you encounter some form of pain that threatens to stall or block your progress, pause to give yourself some space. Then, support the flow of your creative and meaningful changes by playfully entertaining this question:

"How easily can I release my resistance now?"

Love and Peace,

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Source of Safety

In Safety Matters!, you determined the critical importance of safety in your current relationships, and identified those qualities and behaviors you want in order to feel safe in your future interpersonal experiences.

Your list of desired qualities and behaviors may include: being present, asking questions, effective listening, expression of feelings, consideration, genuineness, empathy, consistency, humor, making and keeping agreements, and more. Such factors reduce the possibility of harm and enhance well-being in your relationships.

In addition to the interpersonal sphere, you might also consider those environmental conditions that support your safety.

Reflect for a moment on the quality and quantity of light, space, sounds, air, temperature, colors, smells, textures, "traffic" flow, and other features in various places you encounter. How do these characteristics affect your sense of safety?

As you can see, all these factors can dramatically influence your happiness and healthy functioning at home, in your workplace, at the gym, in a restaurant, or in any other setting.

Therefore, when interpersonal and environmental conditions favorably interact, you will experience qualities of safety that powerfully encourage your growth in love and belongingness (e.g., teamwork, family harmony).

However, as you know, relationships and the environment do not always nurture your safety.

You might find yourself in that situation with people (e.g., family, co-workers) with whom you need to interact at certain times. Or, you might be in an environment (e.g., housing situation, worksite) that you are not easily able to leave.

What do you do when interpersonal or environmental characteristics are not conducive to your safety?

Here are some suggestions for dealing with these "unsafe" circumstances:
  • Do not ignore, deny, or compromise your safety needs.
  • Perceive (witness) the other person or the environment with as little interpretation and judgment as possible.
  • Acknowledge what's happening and how you feel in your body.
  • Let go of expectations that things will change. Whether they do or don't, you still have yourself.
  • Don't look for approval, appreciation, acceptance, or "visibility" from people who act in unsafe, casual, or unconscious ways.
  • Consider what you want to do. Realize that you are competent and can rely on your own skills, resources, talents, and strengths. You can also ask for help.
  • Express what you want with kindness, as you wish, and explore changes that might be made in the relationship or environment.
  • Take specific, relevant action.
By focusing on these practices in your communication and behaviors, you will gradually notice a life-changing shift. Although you will be aware of the effects of varying degrees of interpersonal and environmental safety, these influences will not determine your response. Instead of habitual or fear-driven reactions, you will make conscious choices about how you want to express yourself and engage with safe and unsafe people and contexts.

Your free choices cultivate a relationship with a deeper core of safety within you.

This inner safety allows for wholehearted experiences of love, intimacy, and community, and the development of self-reliance and interdependence. You are grounded in your body, you begin to trust yourself, you know whom to ask for support, and you feel capable of handling whatever happens.

As you expand in safety, you will embody increased self-esteem, connect meaningfully with your HeartVoice, and become creative and playful in your expression. In this way, your own inner safety nurtures all the building blocks for your joyful living.

May your essential safety within open the way to freedom!

Love and Peace,

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Safety Matters!

Imagine this scenario.

Brenda is waiting at a local coffeehouse for her first "date" with Jim. She met Jim through an online dating service, has spoken with him on the phone, and is looking forward to their time together.

Jim arrives a little late, and the two exchange pleasant conversation. Although Brenda feels a little apprehensive, she continues to engage Jim to learn more about him. He talks easily about himself without revealing much feeling or insight. His own questions of Brenda seem superficial and practiced. She think he's good looking, polite, and "hard to read."

Brenda responds to her experience by agreeing to meet Jim again. She attributes any "awkwardness" to the anxiety of a first encounter. After several similar, lackluster dates, Brenda is feeling frustrated and begins to doubt her own attractiveness. She becomes confused and physically demonstrative. Eventually, she sleeps with Jim, and does so periodically over the next three months before she breaks off the relationship.

Now, Brenda feels guilt and shame. With bitter self-criticism, she wonders how she ended up in this situation.

* * *

In my consultations with many women (and men) over 35 years, distressing experiences like Brenda's usually correspond to unstable or diminished self-acceptance and a powerful, repetitive pattern. In this manner, people habitually fail to acknowledge or casually disregard a core component of healthy relationship life.


In the interpersonal context, safety refers to conditions in which some form of harm to you and the other person is unlikely. Furthermore, your well-being is recognized and nurtured.

According to Abraham Maslow's hierarchy, after you meet your basic physiological needs (e.g., air, food, shelter, sleep), safety is essential before you can effectively meet your needs for love and belonging.

Additional support for the importance of safety comes from Erik Erikson, who created an eight-stage theory of emotional development across the life span. In Erikson's first stage, Trust vs Mistrust, the infant needs to develop feelings of comfort from a consistent caregiver. This constant, reliable care promotes the baby's sense of trust. If a child's needs are not consistently met, she can develop a sense of mistrust. As a result, she will be less able to delay gratification, and react to frustration with anxiety and upset.

In my view, this early trust forms the roots of interpersonal safety.

In Brenda's example, safety was missing throughout her relationship with Jim. Although she wasn't concerned about physical harm, she did have some initial uneasiness, didn't feel "visible," and lacked a sense of genuine connection and trust with him. As Brenda and Jim spent more time together, she felt less secure and more uncertain about herself.

Despite her disappointment with Jim's minimal support, comforting, and empathy, she became sexually involved. Brenda overlooked all these signs of being "unsafe" because she wanted, perhaps desperately, to belong, to feel loved, and to share intimacy. In Maslow's terms, she bypassed her safety needs to get her love/belonging needs met.

By acting without safety, she allowed her fundamental well-being to be ignored. As you might expect, this level of personal compromise led to her feeling isolated and distraught.

* * *

Of course, interpersonal safety is critically important in all your relationships. If you wish to enhance your safety with friends, family, coworkers, as well as with lovers, you need to first assess what you have now. Consider the following:
  • Reflect on your current relationships, and identify those people with whom you feel "safe" as discussed earlier.
  • What qualities and characteristics do these people possess that support your feeling of safety?
  • What behaviors do they express that promote your safety with them? What do they actually do?
Review your responses. Make sure you've been clear and specific.

By creating this list, you have recognized the significance of safety in your present relationships. Now, you can take that activity one step further with this question:
  • What qualities, characteristics, and behaviors do you want to experience to feel safe (or increase safety) in your relationships?
Some of your responses to what you want may come from your previous list, while others will be new.

In any case, your desired responses will help you notice those factors that are present when you feel safe (and when you don't) in various interpersonal encounters with familiar as well as unfamiliar people. As your awareness grows, you can make any changes to your wants as you wish.

In the next discussion, I'll go beyond interpersonal situations to explore the key to safety within. Until then:

Allow yourself to feel and appreciate the consistency, comfort, and nurturance of safe relationships.

Love and Peace,

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Revitalizing Labor

In 1894, Labor Day officially became a federal holiday with street parades to demonstrate to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community.

Besides activities that celebrate the economic and civil impact of the labor force, the nature of labor also carries less beneficial connotations.

The Biblical story suggests that after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God inflicted pain and suffering on bearing children, and on working hard to extract a living from the land. In this view, labor represents a curse or punishment.

Whether or not you accept the Bible, the relationship between labor and hardship has a long-standing history in the US collective unconscious.

When most people think about "work," they imagine some degree of toil, drudgery, unpleasant exertion, "earning a living," or a "grin and bear it" routine. These images testify to the pervasive societal expectation of suffering as part of life's labors.

In the context of the current economic crises, unprecedented unemployment, and high levels of job dissatisfaction, you need to feel some significant relief from these associations with pain and suffering.

Despite lay-offs, increased demands, less support, lower sales, decreased resources, global competition, and other new challenges, you can experience health and happiness in your workplace.

How can you feel re-energized and invigorated with these conditions?

To re-establish a refreshing and compelling foundation for your work, start by remembering your values. That is, consider this question:
  • What is important to you about the work you do?
You might identify security, money, friendships, benefits, teamwork, creative opportunities, intellectual stimulation, professionalism, cooperation, generating solutions, leadership role, customer service, and other factors as critical concerns in making your job or career choices.

Your values provide the crucial core of your paid as well as volunteer work responsibilities.

By identifying your values, you reconnect with something worthwhile and uplifting, the "heart" of your work. That's one way to reclaim a positive attitude.

You can find additional support for a renewed positive attitude by reflecting on these questions about the essential nature of your labors:
  • What is your purpose in work?
  • What are you working for?
Your desired outcomes and aspirations may involve such purposes as: providing for your family, supporting your parents, saving for college education, planning a vacation, building your business, creating a healthcare fund, developing a living legacy, making a difference, and more. In this process of clarification, you reveal a new way of seeing your work. You put your labor in a larger perspective, and no longer need to see your efforts as a burdensome obligation.

Rather, you can experience your work as a chosen responsibility. That is, you have consciously taken on this activity (e.g., work or anything else) for a specific purpose, and you do so freely without resentment. You take ownership for your choices. Now, with this transformational outlook, you have the space to introduce health, happiness, and even joy into your everyday work form of expression.

Finally, to help you embody these ideas in your work, nurture yourself with these practices:
  • Acknowledge that you aren't defined by what you do. Your Presence is much more than the sum of your actions.
  • Love what you do, even if you aren't doing what you love. Remember your core values and "big picture" purposes.
  • Engage you family, friends, and community in volunteer or other meaningful ways. Don't be limited by a workplace that provides insufficient opportunities for your full self-expression.
  • Bring a fresh, creative, vital you to work each day. Open yourself to discover possibilities for learning and growth wherever you can.
  • Experience yourself as resourceful, and play with new, inspired directions for your work.
May all your efforts be re-charged with joy!

Love and Peace,