When you’re feeling fear, notice where your mind is ….
SHIFT Change Your Words, Change Your World
When you’re feeling fear, notice where your mind is ….
Recently, a friend of mine said she was feeling unfairly treated. It wasn’t just a passing feeling. She was feeling it deep in her gut.
She was also feeling conflicted because everything she read told her that she ought to forgive, she ought to turn the other cheek, she ought to be mindful. She was trying to do all the oughts, but somehow she just couldn’t seem to pull them off without feeling resentment.
My friend is certainly worthy of being treated well. She is a beautiful, charming, intelligent, gracious woman. Yet she felt treated unfairly Why?
Perhaps she is too kind, too intelligent, too gracious, too forgiving, too mindful – of everyone but herself.
Years ago, I was struggling with the same issue. I worked it through by writing a poem.
DOORMATToday … I noticed my anger and pain directed outward blaming … Again … I’d laid myself down like a doormat walked on trampled scuffed. … I didn’t deserve that treatment. …
Being treated fairly begins with self. If my friend feels she is not being treated fairly, she does not have to stay in the relationship.
It doesn’t mean she has to storm out in rage and blame. All she has to do is turn around and leave. As soon as she leaves, the unfair treatment will stop because she is no longer there to receive it.
The sense of unfairness my friend is experiencing has nothing to do with the other person. It has everything to do with her. I hope she is listening to the message. “Notice yourself. Take care of yourself. Be as kind to yourself as you are to others.” When my friend understands how to care for herself, she will also understand how to care for others.
Caring for oneself always requires noticing or mindfulness. It certainly requires self-forgiveness for not being perfect. It may or may not require turning the other cheek.
If my friend decides to turn the other cheek, I do hope she understands why she is doing it and makes sure it is because she wants to, not because somebody else told her she should.
A friend recently commented, “I wanted to believe I could choose what I wanted to see, what thoughts would be in my head, what emotions would be in my heart, and bring them into my life. It didn’t work. The people starved, were trafficked, raped, and plundered.”
Sometimes choosing what you want to see works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
You can never will yourself to see something that isn’t there. “Choosing what you want to see” does not mean hiding your head in the sand, nor does it mean ignoring your thoughts and emotions. Far better to be honest, see what you see, think what you think, feel what you feel, and stay open to receiving more information and clarity. Prayer and meditation help you stay open.
“Choosing what you want to see” does work when you’re looking at a half full or half empty glass or at an optical illusion such as the young woman or old hag. What’s out there doesn’t change. What changes is the way your mind structures what is out there. Hindus call it “maya” and strive to “pierce the veil of illusion”. This means you either experience awareness and oneness with no mental structuring or learn to mentally structure in many different creative ways. Sometimes you do one; sometimes the other. It all depends on your needs of the moment and the needs of those around you.
My friend made an observation based on his personal perceptions – an observation he couldn’t, wouldn’t, perhaps even shouldn’t release. But wouldn’t it have been more useful to ask an action question?
When I lived in a country other than my native land, I told my landlord that I needed to stay in his rental home until my own home was built. He agreed. We signed a lease giving him no rights of termination as long as I paid the rent and took care of the property. Under the law of my native land, I could have stayed forever.
After two years, my landlord sent me an email saying he had found another tenant who would pay more money and give him a three-year lease. Could I meet those terms?
The short answer was “No.”
While I might have paid more money, I couldn’t in good faith enter into a three-year lease. I expected to move into my own home within six months.
My landlord then gave me notice, commenting he was sure I would understand. Business was business.
Was I angry? I was livid. Did I pursue my legal rights in that adopted country in every way possible? You bet.
I talked with local friends. I talked with the local District Attorney. I talked with my own lawyer. They all said the same thing. Under the law of my adopted country, I had to move.
What if I didn’t move and forced the landlord to evict me?
I would just get a judgment against me. That’s not a good thing for someone living in another country by sufferance of their laws.
I had explored every possible avenue for asserting my moral and ethical rights. I had no legal rights or societal support. I moved out as quickly as I could so I didn’t have to pay the landlord any more money. I also let everyone in the neighborhood know exactly what he’d done.
There was nothing beyond what I’d already done that I could do. I shifted my focus, released everything, and let the Universe take over.
My landlord had breached his contract with me. Suddenly and without warning, his new tenants breached their contract with him. That house sat empty for eighteen months with not a penny going into my landlord’s pocket.
You can call this co-creation. Together, my landlord, his new tenant, the Universe and I created the end result.
You can call it the Law of Attraction. My landlord became the recipient of exactly the same treatment he had given me.
You can call it Karma. My landlord’s action in breaching our agreement and evicting me shaped his future experience of having his own new lease broken and not having any tenant at all.
Always give yourself permission to dance your own dance of consciousness. You’ll be amazed at the dynamics that evolve with those around you and the opening perspectives and enlightenment you’ll co-create and receive.
Recently, a visitor to my informational website, www.wordsculptures.com, commented on her struggles with low self-esteem and jealousy.
I’m 51 and I want to change my mindset. I want to have better self-esteem and bring positive changes into my life.
One thing I really struggle with is jealousy. I hate how it overwhelms me when I feel like I’m losing someone. It’s ruined many a relationship. What can I do?
Jealousy and low self-esteem are such miserable feelings. As my friend implies, they are also intimately connected. We only feel jealousy where our self-esteem is low. Where our self-esteem is high, we simply don’t care what others are doing. We may even join them for the sheer joy of play.
When we feel stupid, we may feel jealous if someone we care about is enthusiastically engaged in conversation with another person. If we believe we’re a poor dancer, we won’t like watching our partner waltz around the floor with someone else.
Once we understand where low self-esteem and jealousy come from, we can change our conditioned thinking and focus on nurturing our self-esteem.
Low self-esteem begins for many of us as children when someone on whom we are dependent (parent, teacher or priest) becomes angry, calls us stupid or hits us for not doing what they want. Because we are small and powerless, we believe they are right and we are wrong. We don’t understand that they are simply treating us the way they have been treated and struggling with their own self-esteem issues. That does not excuse their conduct. It just explains it so that perhaps we can feel a wee bit of compassion toward them, despite the suffering we have experienced. After all, we know from personal experience how miserable low self-esteem feels.
Early childhood dynamics create other relationship issues that carry over into adult lives. We come to believe that our wellbeing depends on doing what our abuser and controller wants – what any abuser and controller wants. We come to believe that we will not survive and cannot be happy without him. Then, when the relationship ends, through death, infidelity, or some other reason, our expectations shatter and we have to rebuild our lives – alone, angry, and confused. However, it is out of the dysfunctional ashes of a failed, abusive relationship that self-esteem arises.
Chaos and overwhelm are part of being human. They are friends bringing us messages that there’s something in our lives we need to change. When we listen and figure out the message, we can give ourselves permission to move on to something more pleasant.
Happiness and self-esteem do not come from someone else. They come from within. Nobody can give us happiness and nobody can stop us from having it except ourselves. Just think of the power and control that puts in the hands of each of us separately and all of us together.
I can tell from the way my friend writes that she is well on her way to better self-esteem and a satisfying, dynamic life. She knows what she wants. She’s already half way there. Until we figure out what we want, there is no way we can bring it into our lives.
What steps can each of us take to improve our own self-esteem? Here are some ideas:
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Matt. 7:16.
A friend recently asked a fascinating question: “How do I respond to people whose actions are cruel and hurtful but who say that what they are doing is part of their greater purpose?”
This question has so many aspects. Like so many other things in life, the answers become clearer when we ask clearer questions. Let’s explore a few.
Are the people who say they are living their greater purpose being cruel and hurtful to you or to others?
If to you, by all means find a way of protecting yourself. You serve neither yourself nor others by staying in the relationship and allowing yourself to be abused.
There is always a cooperative dynamic going on between an abuser and a victim. The abuser needs to hurt others to temporarily increase his feelings of power and importance. (Abusers are people with low self-esteem.) The victim indirectly supports the abuse by maintaining the relationship and making herself available to be abused.
If you choose to remain in an abusive relationship for whatever reason, get clear on why you are staying. Are you financially dependent on the abuser? Do you have children together? Is your own self-esteem so low that you think you can’t survive without this relationship? Do you love and trust too much? Do you believe in commitment at all costs?
Once you get clear on why you are staying, you will also be clear on what really matters to you. Maybe it’s financial self-sufficiency. Maybe it’s your children. Then you can find other ways to manifest what matters without having to subject yourself to abuse. While you may choose to stay temporarily, you can begin to plan your escape.
If you do stay, you will have to make moment-to-moment choices about how to respond to the abuse. What kind of abuse is it? Verbal put-downs? Screaming? Throwing objects? Hitting? Rape? All are potentially damaging, but you’re not going to change the abuser directly. Your power and effectiveness lie in changing yourself.
By changing yourself, the dynamics of your relationship with the abuser change. As a result, you may change him indirectly. Changing the abuser cannot, however, be your motivation. Aim instead to improve your own life and to focus on the things that matter to you personally.
Whatever you do, keep a calm head, make your own choices, and don’t allow the abuser to suck you into his game. You will only escalate the ugliness.
Can you say, “Please stop that. I don’t like it when you act that way?” Can you say, “You seem very angry. What is it you need? I’d be happy to help if I can.” Can you simply walk away? There are shelters for abused women. (Are there also shelters for abused men?) Or do you want to learn krav maga, karate, or other self-defense techniques?
If you are perceiving others as victims, you are in much trickier and more difficult dynamics. Instead of one relationship, there are now three: Abuser to victim, you to abuser, and you to victim.
Again you simply have to make moment-by-moment choices as to how you are going to respond depending on the resources you have available (time, money, energy) and the context of the situation. Do you confront the abuser? Do you encourage the victim to stop enabling a dysfunctional relationship? Do you detach and allow the abuser and victim to work through their relationship and personal growth issues on their own?
There is something else going on here. Sometimes pain is necessary for growth.
When I think of my own life, it was only when I felt driven to divorce that I developed the courage to became a lawyer. It was only when I was filled with terror that I was willing to humble myself and ask for help from a Power I couldn’t see or understand. It was only when I was horribly abused that I learned to take care of myself first and others second. It was only when I lived in a no-recourse culture (the police and legal systems were totally ineffective) that I learned self-preservation, fortitude, creativity and patience. It was only when I became so angry that I could have murdered that I learned how to shift my focus away from things that anger me to people and environments that bring me peace.
As far as people saying they are living their greater purpose, how do they know? Why should you believe them? What do you believe? About them? About yourself?
The biggest danger with words is self-righteousness. Often, without even realizing it, we grab hold of someone else’s words and repeat them, massage them, exaggerate them, and argue for or against them without any direct experience with which to give the words appropriate meaning. We manipulate these words in our heads without making any experiential or emotional connection to what we are saying, other than learned emotional connections that are triggered by the words themselves or by whether we like or dislike a particular speaker. Whenever we do this, we are functioning entirely in our heads and subconscious emotions without any grounding in the context of awareness of our own personal experience and choice.
How many of us take the nightly news as gospel when we haven’t personally experienced Iraq or Afghanistan and the many different nuances that play out in those countries in every single moment in every single life? Have we even stopped to consider how distorted and limited the view of a single reporter may be, and yet, many of us accept it as truth without thinking further.
Words are Shorthand for Human Experience
Just as shorthand is a method for transcribing words quickly, words are a method for understanding and communicating our human experiences. Even words like “heaven” and “hell” can be given meanings related to personal human experience.
From the moment we are born, parents, priests and educators teach us to chop our experiences up into words: “Mommy” and “Daddy”, “blue” and “green”, “good” and “evil”, “right” and “wrong”. As science, technology, psychology, and philosophy develop, we make up new words: iPod, space station, animus, ego, epistemology.
Sometimes we use the same words to chop up our experiences. Sometimes we use different words. None of the words is either right or wrong. They are simply little black marks on white pieces of paper or guttural sounds we utter.
However, we all give words emotional overtones. We can call this “creating filters”. Suddenly, those guttural sounds or little black marks on the white pieces of paper become charged with fear, anger, love or joy. The emotional charge often depends on what each of us has experienced in the past in relation to the words we are hearing now and the emotions with which we’ve filtered those past experiences.
The Same Words Can be Used to Describe the Same Experience
Sometimes we use words in the same way to chop up our experiences. For example, if you and I are both looking at a daffodil, we might exchange words about the beautiful yellow flower with the strange odor. We are using the same words to describe the same experience. Our communication is clear because we are both focusing on the same object.
The Same Words Can be Used to Describe Different Experiences
Sometimes, you and I may use the same words to chop up different experiences. If you are standing on the gray sand next to the Atlantic Ocean in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the cold, gray waves may be rolling in as breakers, the beach may be crowded with bathers, bikinis, tan bodies, little children building sand castles with their fathers, red, yellow and blue umbrellas, seagulls squawking overhead, black scallop shells, a boardwalk peppered with bikers and joggers, and casinos in the distance. The water may be cold, murky, and thick with stirred-up sand. With a land breeze, nasty, biting black flies appear. You might verbalize this experience as a “day at the beach.”
I, however, if I live in Roatan, Honduras, might use those same words “day at the beach” to verbalize a very different experience. On Roatan, it is rare to see breakers. The sea is often a clear, placid mirror of blues, greens and turquoises. Seaweed gently washes up on the white sand. Weathered driftwood and palm trees dot the deserted, narrow stretch of sand bordering the sea. An occasional boat accents the skyline. There are no sun tanners here, for the tropical sun burns tender skin far too quickly. Instead of nasty, biting black flies, I am tormented by chitres, those dastardly, invisible no-seeums that, with a single bite, leave a welt the size of a tennis ball.
Atlantic City and Roatan are very different “beach” experiences, but you and I are using the same word “beach”. Our communication is not as clear as it could be. Instead, it is as murky as the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. If you had never experienced the Roatan beach and I had never experienced the Atlantic City beach, we might even argue about whether beach sand is really gray or really white or whether the ocean is really gray or really blue.
With the words “heaven” and “hell,” many of us have been taught that these are physical places “we” go after our bodies die. How can anybody really know that?
There is, however, a different meaning we can give to the words “heaven” and “hell” within the context of our personal experiences. Who has not suffered the hell of his own anger? Who has not suffered the torture of her own fear? Who has not experienced the total beauty and personal immersion in a heavenly sunset? Who has never experienced the limbo of his own purgatory where he feels stuck and unable to move forward?
Different Words Can be Used to Describe the Same Experience
Sometimes you and I chop the same experience up differently. For example, if we are both looking at the same flower garden, you may be looking at roses and I may be looking at trellises. You may talk about the beautiful red flowers with an exotic odor and I may talk about wood patterns and climbing thunbergia. Different words can be used to describe the same experience where the speakers have different focuses. When this happens, communication again becomes as murky as the Atlantic Ocean. Until you and I realize we are simply looking at different aspects of the same experience, we may argue about what is really in that garden we both see.
Old Hag or Young Woman?
You absolutely can get what you want simply by shifting your focus from what’s “out there” to what’s “in here.”
It’s all about noticing your thoughts, noticing your emotions, choosing the ones you want, and taking the necessary action steps to make them happen.
What’s “out there” doesn’t change. What changes is what your mind and emotions do with what’s “out there.”
It’s just like looking at an optical illusion. Once you understand the different ways your mind can organize “what’s out there”, you can choose what you want to see, what thoughts you want in your head, what emotions you want in your heart, and bring them into your life.
For more food for thought, listen to Linda S. Thompson’s interview of Janet Smith Warfield on The Author’s Show,
A visitor to another website of mine, http://wordsculptures.com, asked, “Is God real?”
What a fascinating question! What does this question mean?
What does the word “God” mean? Are we talking about an old man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud with a thunderbolt in his hand waiting to punish sinners? Are we talking about a king sitting on a throne? Are we talking about something we’ve been told is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, but something that remains a mystery? Are we talking about nature: the chatter of a squirrel, a gorgeous rainbow, a babbling brook, a magnificent sunset? Are we talking about an energy, like electricity, that we can’t see but somehow know is there because we can see the results – the lights go on?
Getting clear on what we mean by the word “God” allows each of us to clarify for ourselves our own answer to the question “Is God real?
Maybe it’s more useful to ask, “In what sense is God real or unreal to me?” You may decide that sunsets and babbling brooks are real, but an old man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud with a thunderbolt in his hand is not.
A friend of mine who was struggling over a similar question suddenly realized she could believe in God when she substituted the word “good” for the word “God.” She somehow knew what good was, even though she didn’t know what God was.
What do we mean by the word “real”? Is it what everyone agrees to call real? Or is it what feels real and makes sense to each of us?
If you and I are both looking at, smelling and touching a daffodil, we would probably agree that the daffodil is real. On the other hand, in the fourteenth century, most human beings agreed that the earth was flat. Was the earth really flat, just because everybody thought it was?
So what does it mean to say that something is real?
I would encourage you to explore this question in a way that seems appropriate to you and come up with your own answers. You might try setting aside some focused time to journal. The answers you come up with for you are the ones that you will be comfortable with and the ones that will work for you. You might even be able to say with authority, “This is what I believe.”
My answer? From an intellectual perspective, I don’t know. I certainly can’t prove there is or isn’t a God.
However, I have chosen to believe that there is some energy or power greater than myself that somehow supports me and directs my life in miraculous ways that I could never figure out on our own. I have chosen to believe because it has been the only way I can cope with terror. My choice to believe has come from a place of sheer desperation, from hitting such a low spot that I’ve known I simply can’t cope by myself. I’ve had to let go and ask for help, and I wasn’t going to ask other humans. They were the ones who betrayed me.
I know from observation that when I choose to believe, my life suddenly becomes more harmonious and centered and I can deal with life’s challenges more courageously. Is this really real? I don’t know. It surely feels real.
Sometimes, “making the connection” feels like turning the dial of a radio. At first, I get nothing but static. Then, suddenly, I’m tuned into a crystal clear channel that guides my actions easily and effortlessly. Do I know where I’m going? No. I simply trust that there is much more to this wonderful life we’ve been given than any of us can begin to fathom.
Why do bad things happen to good people? There is always a deeper spiritual purpose behind the “bad” things that happen in the physical realm. Time, experience, and hindsight ultimately provide answers.
Many “bad” physical things have happened to me: my divorce from my first husband, struggles caring for a family member hooked on drugs, the sudden death of my second husband, a landlord who evicted me because he thought he could get more money from someone else. At least, they felt bad, unjustified, and unexplainable at the time.
Is this Higher Power’s way of strengthening me with courage, deepening me with compassion, clarifying my values, and moving me along the path I am intended to go? Not my will, but Thine?
I never thought I would divorce my husband. I believe in commitment and accountability. Yet when he became involved with another woman and refused to end the relationship, I found myself sitting in a spiritual limbo. I felt degraded to nothing more than a baby sitter, cook, and housekeeper. I had lost my partner. Perhaps I never had one. We were simply on different spiritual paths.
I agonized for months over whether to stay or whether to leave. After all, we had three children, all of whom I loved dearly. I struggled with anger, guilt, and fear. Ultimately I left the marriage and applied to law school.
I had never considered being a lawyer. The divorce radically shifted my path. After almost twenty years of staying home to care for husband, home, and children, I had to find a way to support myself financially on the physical plane. On the spiritual plane, I felt compelled to find a way to speak about the mystical experience I had had years ago. Law school could teach me to think and speak with more clarity. None of this was easy.
Would I have become a lawyer had I remained married? Probably not.
My struggles in a relationship where a family member was addicted to cocaine propelled me into Naranon, a twelve step support group for families and friends of addicts. Would I ever have become aware of my own addictions to people and relationships, but for that experience? Would I ever have realized the value of setting boundaries and tough love? Would I ever have learned to focus on my own issues and stop trying to change others? Would I ever have learned the value of using first person singular language when speaking? The words then become simply my own thoughts. They are no longer ideas I am forcing on others, but, at the same time, I am free to express what I truly think and feel.
When my second husband Don died suddenly of a heart attack on Roatan, Honduras, it was, of course, a terrible shock. My life immediately afterwards was not easy. His death changed my life direction drastically. Among other things, I no longer had a home in the States.
Don was 14 years older than I. He had heart problems and had begun to lose his balance and fall a lot of the time. His mind was not as sharp as it used to be. It was becoming a full time job to care for him.
When I look at his death from hindsight, I can’t help but wonder if the timing and manner were exactly right. Have you heard of people making agreements before they enter this physical life to relate to one another in a particular way? I can’t help but wonder if Don and I did that.
After Don’s death, I simply holed up in the house in Roatan and wrote Shift, the book I’ve known for 35 years I had to write. Would I have had the time and focus to write a book had Don wasted away for years? Probably not.
When my landlord in a foreign country evicted me because he thought he’d found another tenant who would pay him more money and give him a longer term lease, I was furious. The anger again made me aware of how important commitment , accountability, and trust were to me. I struggled to find ways to enforce those values in a country that had little respect them. On the physical plane, it was not a struggle I could win. Even though my landlord had violated our agreement, I soon discovered I had no legal right to stay. On the spiritual plane, I had help in ways I could never have imagined.
I left as quickly as I could. With the breach of trust and lack of accountability, I didn’t want to pay this man any more money than necessary. I had to let go and trust Universal Energy to take care of the “bad” physical things. I was not disappointed.
Shortly after I left, my landlord’s wonderful new tenant breached his lease with the landlord. He hasn’t rented the house since.
An astute, spiritual friend said to me eighteen months ago when I was first having challenges with the builder of my home, “Haven’t you figured out yet that you aren’t supposed to live there?” No, I hadn’t. I’m stubborn. I will exhaust every viable avenue I can think of to resolve a situation or relationship issue before I’ll walk away. However, when Higher Power doesn’t want me to stay where I am, She just keeps slapping me harder and harder and putting more and more roadblocks in my way until I have no choice but to move in a new direction. From hindsight, the new direction is invariably the one my spiritual path is intended to take.