How Is Your Election “Hangover”?

Looking at the numbers from last night’s election it would be easy to state that about half our country is jubilant today and the other half feels despondent. .

Yet, looking at the exit poll numbers, it looks as if there is a third group that is equally large.

People in this group might feel a kind of indifference at the election result. Like there was no good choices anyway.

So if this is true, our populace in America today is almost evenly split in three groups: One that feels post-election triumph, one that feels post-election blues, and a third group that is coping with post-election indifference.

People in the triumphant group might be liable to “shout it from the roof tops” as if it were some sort of personal achievement that the “right man won”.

People in the group that feels defeated might feel profound loss and, as someone tweeted last night, a sense of “the world is over”.

The people in the third group might feel a variety of emotions from cautious optimism to moderate resignation to downright anger at not having someone in politics they can believe in. For many in this group the reaction might be a lack of interest and a sense of disengagement.

No matter which group each one of us are in, I think today calls for a reality check.

Our perceptions color our reality. For instance, it is clear that you can have two people watch the same movie and have completely different interpretations of what they saw.

Likewise our next four years can be colored by what we choose to focus on.

If we walk around in a exhilarated self-righteous daze, we will probably get disappointed at every “set-back” and every obstacle in the President’s future way.

If we see our world through fearful, hurt and disappointed lenses, we might find “scary” and “alarming” signs around every corner – and take them to mean things they don’t.

If we are indifferent we might find a place of resignation with our own ability to make a difference and our country’s leadership in general.

Maybe if we step out of our groups for a moment and look at our lives, it is good to remember that things to a large degree depend on our interpretation of them.

We can choose to step out of our assumptions and beliefs at any point in our lives. Instead of seeing ourselves and our world through the lenses of Republican defeated, Democrat victorious, or Independent indifferent – who are we really?

We all want to enjoy life, love and be happy. We want the children of the future to have opportunities for the same. It is blood that runs through our veins whether we are Democrats, Republicans, Christian, Muslim, American, Asian, African, Buddhist or Portuguese.

I wonder how our interpretations of the post-election season change if each of us step out of the tendency to segregate and divide – and instead step into a place of appreciation for our own individual blessings and our collective possibilities as a nation, and as citizens of the world too.

What can each of us do for peace and prosperity in our own lives, in the lives of our friends and neighbors, for our country – and indeed for the world in general?

If we take off the blinders of interpretation, we might actually be able to see choices and opportunities that we didn’t even know we had. If we step out of the jubilant fog, the defeated haze or the indifferent murkiness, we might actually find that each of us can make a real difference.

This difference might be just sending our neighbor a friendly smile even though he or she had that sign in the lawn that really irritated you for months.  Or it might be simply going to work comfortable in your own clothes appreciative of each moment, each blessing and finding yourself impervious to the despondence, jubilation or indifference all around. Just appreciative of what is. And the possibilities that we all have to make a difference.

It starts right here and now. With you and me.

Can We Be The Change We Wish To See?

The Scream. By Edvard Munch

– What do you see when you look at that person from the “other” political party speaking their “truth” at you like you don’t have a single functioning brain cell?

– What do you see when you look at the people from another religion who dress and act differently from you?

– What do you see when you look at the homeless person on the street corner?

– What do you see when you look at the man in the Ferrari, who just cut you off in traffic?

Many times we get triggered. We find ourselves irritated, angry, anxious or even afraid when we meet people who seem different from us. They look odd, they sound strange, they might talk about things that we find absurd. Or they might simply invade our personal space and push our buttons.

Yesterday I was having a delightful conversation with a group of people. We talked about if God has a face. Some of us felt the question was irrelevant. Others felt that God is an entity too large for personification. And then someone simply said:

– “Of course God has a face – it is the face of everybody I see”

I wonder what would happen if we started looking at everybody like they were a personification of God? Or if God is a concept you do not subscribe to, then what would happen if you looked at everybody like they were a part of you?

What would happen in our political process if the boundaries between “us and them” ceased to exist?

What would happen in religion, if we stopped name-calling (or killing) those from another faith than our own?

What would happen?

Maybe we would feel less anger towards “those other people”.

In neuroscience it has been found that anger interrupts the functioning of our frontal brain lobes where rational thought, compassion and empathy take place. When angry, we return to an emotionally charged and primitive behavioral pattern that is very useful if we were a dinosaur (or if we are in legitimate danger) – but maybe not all that practical for a modern-day human being living in a complex world. We tend to feel self-justified and self-righteous. We get reactive and are not able to respond with kindness or even with a rational outlook.

Instead we turn into an emotional loud-mouthed (or internally raging) person.

What would happen if our political discussions were not conducted from this place of opposition, but rather from an inclusive place of “we’re all in this together”. Or if the warring fractions in religious wars reminded themselves that they are really both reflections of the face of God?

It takes a conscious intention to change the way our brain does business. But neuroscience shows it can be done. And reminding ourselves that our “enemies” are in fact a part of us, or have the face of God, might help. It is easy to look at a newborn baby and see the face of God. But can you look at Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner the same way?

Just food for thought.

Why would you want to?

Well, sometimes our normal anger response, the sense of “knowing better” and the feeling of the other side being inferior does not bring us any solutions or a lasting sense of achievement. We simply mire ourselves more and more in our habitual thinking patterns. And the world doesn’t change if we don’t.

So what do we have to lose? Next time we are tempted to go on the offensive whether in action or in our thoughts – maybe it makes sense to give it a try:

-“I am looking at the face of God”

-“I am looking at a part of me”

Maybe we will find that as we unlock new thinking patterns in our brain, new solutions come to mind.

Maybe, as we discover what it feels like to not hide behind our bastions of preconceived notions, we also find a new sense of empathy and understanding.

Maybe it is worth a try….

Decision Time

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

“Better safe than sorry!”

“The higher you fly the harder you fall.”

“Bloom where you are planted.”

“Better play it safe!”

These are all quotes from our upbringing and beyond. Well-meaning parents, teachers, friends, partners have at times tried to protect us by helping us take the safe route.

And this is fine.

And then there is this inner doubt that is created from this kind of conditioning. We fear failure.

It happens to each one of us many times in our lives: we are in a situation that forces us to make a choice. A choice between the known and the unknown. The known might have grown too small and constricting, yet the unknown seem like a mountain in front of us with untold possibilities and risks at even measure. We are at a cross road!

When we face new situations and with it our fear of failure is activated, we might look to inspirational stories. We all know the one about Thomas Edison and why he hadn’t failed but knew of 10,000 ways that didn’t work, etc. And there are many others. It is useful and inspirational to read such stories, yet might not really cut to the core of what we might be feeling.

Inside we might be hearing a little voice that sounds something like this:

“You’ll fall on your face if you try that”

“Who do you think you are?”
“They will laugh at you for trying this.”

“What makes you think you can make this work now when you couldn’t before?”

And no matter how many inspirational quotes and empowering stories we read to boost our courage, this little pesky voice always seems to yell the loudest. This voice  might even feel comforting, like a friend who is trying hard to protect us from our own foolishness.

This little voice does want to protect us. And it is important to acknowledge this. It is not an enemy we need to destroy or annihilate!

The problem comes in when that little voice of caution becomes so loud that it blocks our perception of what we might miss if we only listen for the cautionary tale it tells.

Are you going to take the Opportunity Exit – or just keep going?

This kind of work is often part of coaching sessions. We work on our inner voices of caution that hold us back from stepping into our highest potential. Here is a version that you can use yourself:

  1. Express your wish for new possibilities. Write it down.
  2. What will be possible for you when you seize this new opportunity?. Write it down.
  3. Welcome the voice of caution. It is trying to protect you. Do not fight it. Write down what it says.
  4. Ask the voice of caution where it comes from (is this the voice of a well-meaning parent, is it the voice of previous defeat, is it the voice of convention, etc.) Notice which parts of this voice truly feels aligned with your highest purpose and what parts feels constricting and not really your own. Write it down.
  5. Now with both want for new opportunities and fear of failure clearly separated out in front of you, it is time for you to make a more informed decision. You now have a clearer view of which part of these voices of caution are the voices of convention and conditioning versus the voices that align more fully with your highest purpose.

Keeping in mind that we rarely get all or nothing scenarios. Every new opportunity holds within it aspects that might be difficult to deal with as well as exhilarating new possibilities – and every staying within what is known and perceived as a safer (and possibly more comfortable in the short-term) choice likewise has perceived positives and negatives.

Here is to making a more aware choice in every decision in your life!

“I Never Get What I Want”

 – “You are always late !”

– “I am always the last to know!”

– “You never listen to me!”

Do you recognize this way of communicating? You probably know a few “Always and Never” people. You might even occasionally use this kind of black and white language yourself. We all feel the need for strong and powerful statements at times. And this is certainly high octane language.  However, it is often an exaggeration not based in reality. It hurts our credibility if used often. In addition, when we use this kind of communicating in relationships it quickly turns confrontational.

It feels definitive, doesn’t it? Like the conversation is closed. When we encounter these types of statements we sometimes take the bait and get sucked right in. It can turn to quite a mudslinging fest before we know it.

– “You never pay attention to me”

– “Yes I do – I always pay you compliments and say I love you”

– “But you never mean it – you are insincere when you say it, I can just tell.”

– “How can you know what I mean – I always say what I mean, you know that”

– “Not that time you told your mother she looked great with the new haircut – that was as phoney as it gets – that is just how you are.”

And so it continues. This type of conversation is typically not going anywhere but directly into an emotional screaming match, into cold indifference and hurt feelings.

Always and never statements are rarely factual. They are however often an expression about how somebody feels.

In other words when somebody makes and “Always or Never” statement it is often an expression of an intense feeling of powerlessness, fear or shame on some level. Or it can simply be an expression of a limiting belief that is holding someone back from seeing clearly.

Often it is also an attempt to hook the other person in the relationship into a state of either Fear, Obligation or Guilt (FOG).This can be how intimacy is interpreted by some: “I am afraid, confused and hurt, so if you love me you will need to be afraid, confused and hurt too.”

And yes, when you are on the receiving end, it is rather hard to see clearly – you are quite literally in the fog!

  • 1. Fear: There is a level of intimidation involved: “Never do this again or else….”
  • 2. Obligation: There is an attempt to hook the other person into feeling that they really should be doing, feeling, thinking without communicating it directly….. “I have done the dishes three days in a row now – I always end up having to do everything…”
  • 3. Guilt: Ah, the big G-word: There is a direct implied accusation involved intimating that the other person is at fault.  “You always make me feel sad when you go away”.

Step one to not get hooked onto this type of manipulative communication is simply to recognize it is present. Some of my clients have developed an “Always and Never Alarm”. Whenever they hear these types of statements delivered – the alarm goes off in their heads; Awareness is step one!

Then it is helpful to listen beyond the message. Might there be a sense of powerlessness that is being communicated? What might the person be feeling? Discern what is an attempt to “hook” you into the FOG.  Ask questions before you respond. This can be a powerful way of gaining insights in what is really happening on an emotional level. This can open up the dialogue.

And sometimes, the person making the always and never statements is not interested in divulging the underlying emotional baggage. Or they are not able to. Depending on the severity of FOG that this kind of behavior adds to your life, it is draining to be in the FOG. It weighs you down.

I often refer to my mentor coach, Keith Miller, in situations where I encounter all or nothing, always and never statements:

“What others say and do define them 100% What you say and do define you 100%.”

Here is to keeping your own credibility, integrity and dignity no matter where you go, and who you go there with.

Are YOU in a Jackpot Relationship?

Yes, of course it is nice to win the jackpot. Yet, a Jackpot Relationship might be both draining and abusive!

People in such a relationship might hope that the relationship will magically change for the better even as the same patterns are repeated over and over. It is very much like the gambler who keeps putting money in the slot machine. Every time he or she is ready to quit – there is a small pay out that is just enough that the gambler keeps investing time, energy and cash.

We all have various degrees of rose-colored glasses attached to our faces when we fall in love. We see the person as we would like him or her to be. We see what we interpret as the potential (or as a former disillusioned client of mine called it: “the P-word”) in our new partner, and we see them as we think they are – or as we hope they could be. In addition we project our own expectations on them.

We then continue in the next phase of the relationship. We realize that our beloved is seeing things in us that are not really who we are. However, we play along. We know that by continuing the masquerade, we continue the feel-good hormones that flood our bloodstream when our new love looks at us admiringly.

Later, we take off the rose-colored glasses and stop playing along. The “Honeymoon is over” phase of the relationship. Here the naked truth is revealed. You no longer play along, flaws become mutually obvious.

 

Some relationships have what it takes to navigate the waters and transform into lasting and mutually beneficial unions. The partners learn to accept each other for who they are, give each other space to grow and mature. When they help each other it is not through self-sacrifice – but instead with a genuine and sincere desire to allow the other person the space to grow, develop and mature as they in turn take responsibility for their own growth, development and maturity. Supported not smothered. With mutual respect and love.

This is not a jackpot relationship. It is however a great recipe for a successful and lasting relationship.

So what is a Jackpot Relationship?

It is the kind where the masquerade from the initial rose-colored glasses phase keep going intermittently. Psychologists call it “Intermittent Reinforcement”. It is a type of relationship where one person has hurts, disappointments, loss or abandonment issues that have not been properly addressed and incorporated. As a result this person constantly plays out the hurts from the past in the changing cast of characters in his or her current life. Even though the original cast, where the real problems happened, are long gone. It is an instant replay of old hurts that recycles again and again.

As this kind of relationship develops the person, who finds him or herself being included in this kind of psycho drama, gets to the point where he or she realizes that they have had enough. They have invested their time, energy and love into this person and received anger bursts, cold shoulders, indifference and possibly worse back with increasing frequency. They want out. They are constantly paying the emotional bills of those who are seen by their partner as having caused their disappointments and hurts.

Now the person with Intermittent Reinforcement behavior has a sixth sense that their partner is about to pull back. And they then do a complete switch. They beg forgiveness, they cry, they plead, they serve food, sex, money, gifts or other commodities of the relationship. They promise they will change. Just like the slot machine pays out a small reward, when the gambler is about to quit. They bring back the hope that the rose-colored glasses can stay on forever!

And there might be a few good days following. The feel-good chemicals of the relationship are back in high doses. Both believe that from now on everything will be fine.

And then gradually or suddenly the old behaviors of the unresolved issues rear their ugly heads again – and the psychodrama starts its cycle anew.

Just like the gambler keeps hoping for a jackpot, so do the people caught in the cycles of Intermittent Reinforcement. The pay out of happy relationship feel-good hormones is just enough that they, like the gambler, keep pulling the lever again and again investing money, time, energy and love in the hope that one day the relationship jackpot will happen; there will be no more old psycho dramas to recycle, the issues will finally have resolved themselves. The promises of change and the words of admissions will finally work – and all will be well. And  without inner work, and awareness of the issues, this is just as likely as the big million dollar jackpot at the 5 cent machines in Las Vegas!

If you recognize this kind of behavioral pattern in your relationship, seeking help with a therapist or coach can help to end the seeming endless cycle. There are many ways of changing the behavior and depending on the type of issues at the root of the recurring dramas, ways of gaining awareness and taking control.

Winning the jackpot is a nice idea. However, the real winning relationship comes when we stop the charades and stop hoping it will “just happen”. For us to be in successful and lasting relationships we need to be able to step into our power and allow our partner to do the same. And there might be a few casts of previous characters to deal with before we can successfully do so. The main thing is to know that it is possible – and there is help to be had!

Why Death Doesn’t Scare Me… (It might not be what you think!)

Photo by: Jonathan Trout

I almost died when I was eight years old. The experience was one of resignation. I had gotten really sick. Nobody, in the whole country of Denmark, could figure out what was wrong with me. Nothing showed up on tests. And as they kept testing, I just kept losing weight. I could not eat. My legs stopped working and I lost my ability to walk – and eventually I was unable to even sit up in my bed. At the hospital they put me in isolation. And there I was; drifting in and out of consciousness, floating between realities. Most of the time I was in an alternate reality, which I found to be a peaceful place. I was still in this world of flesh, yet I had a sense of something much more “real” was just “across the way”. I did float out of my body on occasion. I had no major sights or experiences other than seeing the room, I was in,  from different vantage points. I had no visitations or voices come to me, yet I felt at peace and completely safe. Death did not even occur to me. I was in a place “between realities” and found the experience reassuring. It was as if my extra-sensory apparatus got enhanced as my bodily functions dwindled. And I did not care about pain. They stuck a big fat needle in my spine at one point to retrieve some spinal fluid without any kind of anesthesia. And it was just fine with me. It felt unreal. It felt as if my body was experiencing pain, but I was free of it. I could not be hurt or even care. I was ready to transcend all earthly pain and pettiness; I was ready to float away.

A nurse, who was assigned to be my caretaker, penetrated my bubble. She literally broke through my protecting barrier by lowering the metal bars around my bed. She sat down unceremoniously at the foot of my bed and started reading to me. As she read aloud, her soft, chime-like voice enveloped me like a supple blanket of sweetness. She read simple stories of love and heroism. Not the stories of “good literature”, my mother preferred, but novels from the Danish Women’s Magazines. The nurse gave me her un-divided attention. She brought me saucers with a few cookies and soda in a tiny metal cup. I had not wanted to eat food – but the orange soda and the cookies got my attention! She literally managed to get me engaged in trying to stay alive through her little spoonfuls of sugar! Never underestimate the power of well-timed and well-presented simple carbohydrates and easily digested pop literature! And her uncomplicated and ever-present care for me gave me enough reason to believe life here on earth might be worth living. Her undemanding company and emotional presence healed me. Her simple joi de vivre gave me the will to force myself back into this reality. She gave me a view of a way of life that allowed a lightness of being.

Since then life has been a choice for me. I choose to be here, and I also choose to make the most of it! The early brush with death taught me that the true value of my life is Joy, Love and Celebration. These are the values that I have sought to fill my life with, and to be a conduit of for others. In retrospect it seems to me that my “checking out early” was an avoidance maneuver for me. It was as if there was a more suitable place for me to be in the after-life, and only through the reminder of connectedness, made manifest in human love and compassion, joy and celebration, I was able to choose the plight of earthly life. We all know the elements that make the human condition a real hassle: The pain of birth, the heartaches, the disappointments, the terror of ownership, the fear of poverty, loss and the fear of death to name a few! Taking on human life includes the willingness to be the tossed on the waves of circumstance. Not at all an attractive a choice, if you have had a glimpse of what it might be like on the other side! However, I also feel that the human condition is uniquely shaped to demonstrate that Creation is what we make of it; that our consciousness shapes our reality. We are able to choose not necessarily what happens to us, but what we take it to mean! The human condition includes constant cross roads, where our choice ultimately is between Fear and Love. As creators of our perceptions, we also may co-create on many dimensions and in many realms. If the thoughts of a scientist can affect whether an electron “shows up” as either a particle or in  waveform, then our thoughts might be infinitely powerful in many ways. Life here is thus a responsibility where every thought, emotion and action has consequences for us, for others, for physical life on the planet and beyond. We can affect physical reality. This responsibility can be felt as a burden or as a gift. The choice is ours. And maybe we will be more inclined to experience the blessings of our physical existence, if we know more about the realities beyond it. An encounter with and awareness of a different level of existence might enable us to face the details of earthly life with more perspective and freedom to a live fully sans fear.

At age 18 I started a journey of self-discovery that included everything Stanislav Grof had ever written. I felt a resonance with his descriptions of alternate states of consciousness. His books gave me, for the first time, at chance to start to explain experiences, which up until that point had been non-verbal and only felt. This journey of discovery has continued ever since. Carolyn Myss’ work was another stepping stone in languaging the pre-verbal for me. From there Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ work was a revelation. Many other authors have helped plant their translations of the alternate reality in my garden of perception. And for their contributions to my piecing together my own understanding of the totality of being, I am profoundly grateful.

Soon I am embarking on a week long seminar with Raymond Moody as part of my studies. He is someone who likewise has been a pivotal documenter and translator of this reality beyond the veil of physical reality.  My focus will be on continuing to pick up ways to translate the experience of the “alter-life” to find expression here in our earthly plain. My overall goal in life is to be a bridge between these realities. I strive to find ways to help myself and others grasp the importance of not getting stuck in the narrow field of vision of reductive realism. At the same time it is important for me not to allow the flights of fancy and flakiness that comes from leaving behind one’s analytical faculty. So as I prepare for this intensive, I wish to engage my inner trinity: My brain, my heart and my intuition.

Ultimately my goal is to further my understanding of how to continually bring joy, love and celebration, the effortless lightness of being, that permeates the Universe into the field of human awareness. Studying our feelings and the facts surrounding the topic of death is ultimately only a useful proposition if we use it to further our understanding of a greater reality than our physical human existence.  This way studying the circumstances of death enables us to enjoy and appreciate our life more fully here and now – not in retrospect – but as we live it!

Shift Happens!

     Sometimes it happens! We are all set to embrace a certain direction in our life and then it happens: BLAM!!! A door shuts right in our face as we were ready to walk through it!

  …. Shift happens!

     So what to do? We can cry and wail. We can stare ourselves blind on the door that closed. We can look at it until we are blue in the face and completely drained of our life force. We can view ourselves as victims, who were “put upon” by a cruel fate. This is a pessimistic reaction.

     You might know that the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is not their assessment of the facts? It is that the optimist sees and creates an action plan where the pessimist sees him or herself without options for action.

     An optimist chooses to respond to the situation. “I cannot control what happens to me, but I can control how I choose to respond!

     Next time a door slams in your face, after you deal with the immediate surprise or shock, you can choose to look around. You can choose not to just focus on what is no longer possible!

      It is true that every time access is closed in one direction, ten other options might be ready to open. But you have to not stare yourself blind on the one that is no more! Instead look around and see what light might be ready to stream in through the windows, if you just lift the curtains.

     By choosing to respond like this you discover that there are other doors, other opportunities for you to explore. And yes indeed, they might be leading to paths you never even dreamed of!

     Here’s to an empowered, optimistic day!