The Heat of the Moment

“I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.” – Anne Lamott

One of the important things I’d like to think I’ve (mostly) learned over the years is not to make decisions in the emotional heat of the moment.

Sometimes, in the midst of an emotional storm, it’s tempting to take some action, to relieve the pressure of the intensity of our feelings. We can start to mistakenly believe that if we take drastic action, we will arrive at the solution to the problem, whatever it may be.

Unfortunately, this is rarely (if ever) the case. In my own life, I haven’t yet made a decision in a state of emotional turmoil that seemed wise when I considered it later. As an adjunct to this, conflict resolution became much easier when I learned that every thought does not need to be shared aloud. Indeed, there are a great many better left unsaid.

One of the things I noticed when I started meditating was the sheer amount of garbage manufactured by my mind, on an almost constant basis. I daresay this power would be impressive if it could be put to good use – though I think that’s the idea behind affirmations and positive thinking. But sometimes the mind has to be left to just wear itself out spinning crazy, awful stories.

And they are just that: stories. Fortunately, a regular meditation practice helps make that clear, because when we start to believe our own stories we’re treading on dangerous ground.

Eventually the mind grows tired, and we can step out of the “thought-emotion-action” loop, thereby gaining access to our greater wisdom. If we can weather the emotional storm, watching it until it dies down, and acting in the calm after the storm, we stand a better chance of achieving the outcome we truly want.

It’s a process, and a non-linear one at that. In the words of Anne Lamott, “You can get the monkey off your back but the circus never leaves town.”

That’s why they call it a practice.

On Courage

Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them.
— Orison Swett Marden.

Have you heard the story of the baby elephant tied to the stake? When it’s small, it cannot break free, and when it is fully grown, it still thinks it is imprisoned. But in fact, it could pull up the stake and free itself at any time.

Many of us are like that elephant.

At one point we felt small, powerless, and trapped. And it was perhaps true at the time. But things change.

And we change.

But if we fail to see that, we remain small and powerless in our own minds. And the obstacles before us seem insurmountable when in fact that is not the case. Unfortunately, we will never learn that if we don’t move beyond our comfort zone.

The world is truly wide, and we can choose to leave the safety of the familiar to grow into our own future.

Cajoling the Inner Critic

There you are, poised on the brink of accomplishing something, and it begins, that voice that tells you you’re no good, you’ll never accomplish anything, and you should just quit now.

Your inner critic (aka The Gremlin) is alive and well.

The inner critic specializes in sabotaging creative endeavors, but can show up anytime you’re in the midst of making an important change in your life.

In spiritual practice, the inner critic falls under the heading of negative mind. The negative mind, one of the Ten Bodies in Kundalini Yoga, seeks to protect us from problematic situations by pointing out hazards or pitfalls.

But if the negative mind is over-developed it can become an immobilizing influence. Thus it’s important the negative mind be balanced by the positive mind, which sees all the potential good in any endeavor. And it’s equally important that we be governed by the neutral mind, which is a manifestation of our higher self and rises above an ego perspective.

There are different ways to cope with the inner critic. Some might suggest doing away with the Gremlin altogether, though this is much easier said than done. Trying to squelch the inner critic isn’t necessarily the most effective approach, as it sets up a win/lose adversarial-type situation, an inner war of sorts.

I’ve found that an effective approach is to listen with the recognition that this is a misguided attempt at protection, and to silent express appreciation for the protective instinct – after all, this is an attempt at self-preservation – and then gently (but firmly) move forward with your endeavor.

Recommended reading: Taming Your Gremlin, by Rick Carson

Hopes and Dreams, Part II

Yesterday in the car I was listening to a cd of a lecture given by well-known leadership guru Orrin Woodward called 13 Resolutions for Life. In it Woodward discusses his 13 personal resolutions and the ways in which people create real change in their lives. In part one of this post, I characterized it as a question of grounded-ness and motivation. As an extension of that discussion, I’d like to share some elements from Woodward’s talk that shed further light on this issue.

Woodward identifies 3 factors necessary to create change:

  • Mind
  • Heart
  • Will

What he means is that it’s not enough to simply know, intellectually, what needs to be done, or what is the right action in a situation. Further, it’s not enough to become emotionally involved in what the right thing is (for example, to go to a seminar and have an emotional breakthrough). Lots of people do these first two things. It’s the third one, the will, that’s key.

It’s action, applied day in, day out, over a lifetime. This is what builds true character and creates real change. It’s not an easy process. But how many easy things are worth doing? In many cases the degree of difficulty of a task is directly proportional to the sense of satisfaction one has from doing it. Woodward suggests formulating your own personal resolutions for life. And then living them, throughout your life. Not just “taking up the resolutions, but being taken up by them.” Let the resolutions become who you are.

Now, without a doubt, we’re talking about a life-long process. Know that if you do this, you will fall short, you will make mistakes. But when you’ve gone off course, you will know it. Alexander Hamilton once said that people who “stand for nothing will fall for anything.” He makes a valid point. If we each, individually, take responsibility for identifying and aligning with our true purpose in life, and living that purpose on a daily basis, that is how we create real change in the world.

Change starts with each one of us – change starts with You.

Recommended reading: Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life, by Orrin Woodward.