Thursday, July 31st, 2014 Focus: I choose to accept the reality of what’s happening and deal effectively with my feelings.

The Actions of a Change Master: From Victimhood to Freedom
Written by M. J. Ryan
The Actions of a Change Master: From Victimhood to Freedom

Whenever we’re in a situation that’s changing, no matter what it is, the most common initial reaction is — you guessed it — denial, followed by anger. Almost immediately many of us respond to unwanted change with a knee-jerk refusal to accept what’s happening, or we rail against having to confront it, uttering (verbally or mentally) refrains like:

“It’s not my responsibility.”
“I don’t have the energy.”
“I don’t have the time.”
“This isn’t fair.”
“I shouldn’t have to. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
Sound familiar? Underneath all those messages is a plaintive cry: I don’t know how to adapt and I’m upset that I have to! These thoughts and the emotions underneath are natural, but counterproductive. They trip us up and keep us stuck.

Really, the best first thing we can do rather than stick our heads in the sand is get clear on what is actually happening so we can get down to the business of dealing with it. The acceptance phase is usually the hardest one. But it’s also the most important one, because if we don’t accept the reality of what’s happening and deal effectively with our feelings, we simply can’t respond in the most productive manner.

That’s why this part includes a number of insights to help you gather the facts. My goal is for you to end this part with a more relaxed, less panicked awareness of the situation and a greater ability to respond to it from a centered and clear- minded place.

Gather the Facts Like a Newspaper Reporter

Acceptance is not submission; it is acknowledgment of the facts of a situation.
Then deciding what you’re going to do about it. — Kathleen Casey Theisen

I’ve had a fascinating experience over the past eight years. I’ve been the thinking partner to several people on the same team at the same time. One consequence is that I have come to truly see that we’re all making up our own reality all the time. One person tells me the meeting was great; another, that it was a disaster. “He’s undermining everyone,” says one. “He’s doing a great job of supporting people,” says another. Sometimes I want to ask, “Do you even exist on the same planet?”

What I’ve come to understand is that we each exist on our own planet with its own rules, assumptions, and conclusions, most of which we created so long ago that we’re not even consciously aware of them. We’re not seeing life as it is, but as we conclude it to be.

This can be very dangerous, particularly in times of change, when being in touch with current reality is very important. How can you ride the wave of change if you don’t even have an accurate picture of what direction it’s coming from or at what speed? That’s why, as soon as you become aware of a change you need to respond to, the very first thing you need to do is get the facts. This may seem obvious, but actually it is not as straightforward as it may seem. First, the situation may be very complex, and it may not be clear what the facts are.

The Facts & Beliefs in The Layers of the Brain

But there’s a deeper reason that the fact-finding proposition is so important and challenging. It has to do with how the brain works. To avoid information overload, our brain filters out a great deal of data in any situation and pays attention only to some of it. Then, quicker than you are consciously aware, it takes that data and makes meaning of it. Organizational theorist Chris Argyris calls this process the Ladder of Inference: at the bottom of the ladder is all the observable data; one rung up, the data I select; then stories I add; my assumptions based on my stories; my conclusions; my beliefs based on my conclusions; and actions I take based on my beliefs. The higher up the ladder you are, the more rigid is your thinking — and the more unsafe you are because you are farthest away from the facts.

Interestingly, although Argyris developed this model decades ago, it seems to fit with a theory by Jeff Hawkins, author of On Intelligence. He believes there are layers — the ones closest to the brain stem take in information and are constantly being changed by incoming data, the ones farthest away have created beliefs about reality based on past experience and kick out all facts that don’t fit the frame they’ve already created, and the ones in the middle try to mediate between the never changing and the always changing.

What’s important about this regarding change is to understand that our minds instantly jump to stories, assumptions, conclusions, and beliefs, which can be dangerous if we get caught up in our interpretation of the situation and lose touch with the facts themselves.

What Stories Are You Telling Yourself?

The Actions of a Change Master: From Victimhood to FreedomYou can begin to become aware of your mind doing this by noticing what habitual stories you tell yourself in times of change. Here’s mine: Let’s say a client cancels a day-long training due to budget tightening. Instantly my mind leaps to, “I’m going to end up a bag lady on the street,” which, not surprisingly, sends me into panic. Welcome to the contents of my mind.

Your mind may do similarly unhelpful things — perhaps something like, “I knew this would happen because he’s a manager and managers can’t be trusted.” Or, “It’s all my fault because I am worthless.” Or, “This shouldn’t be happening because I deserve better.”

As soon as our minds do their jumping up the ladder, we start reacting from our assumptions rather than the facts. In my case, I am now in a panic, a most unhelpful and in this case unnecessary state of mind, since the facts are that it’s only one day that’s been canceled and I have other business.

That’s why, as soon as you become aware that a wave of change is coming your way, the first thing to do is get down to the bottom of the ladder. It’s more stable there. That means getting all the facts you can about the situation and resisting the impulse to jump to assumptions or conclusions.

Take a tip from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Often the facts aren’t as bad as our stories about them. And even if they are, once we know the truth of the situation, we can more effectively respond to it.

Ask and Ye Shall Find

Tim Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Work, has developed a great set of questions for gathering the facts of current reality which I’ve adapted here. I suggest that you sit quietly and write down your answers (or ask someone to quiz you), acting as if you were a newspaper reporter — just the facts without any conclusions.

You don’t necessarily have to answer all the questions. Depending on your situation, some will be more relevant and helpful than others. The point is to gather as much factual information as you can.

What’s happening? (I’m spending more than I’m making. I’ve been using my home equity line of credit to make up short falls between my income and expenses.)
What do you and don’t you understand about the situation? (I haven’t looked at what the gap number is and where my money is actually going.)

Do you need more information before taking action? (I need the facts before I make a plan.)
What have you been trying to control here? (I’ve been trying to control the situation by not eating out,but that’s not making a big enough difference.)
What is beyond your control? (The fact that I can’t tap my equity line of credit anymore.)
What could you control right now that would make a difference in how you’re feeling and/or your situation? (I can get the numbers and brainstorm ways to tighten my belt. I can work out so I feel at my best.)
For added help in getting clear about where you are, also consider these bonus questions from author Mark Nepo:

What keeps coming up, though you keep putting it down? (I keep thinking I should sell the motor home, even though I don’t want to.)
What are you needing to attend [to] but don’t know how? (I need to talk to my children about what’s going on in a way that doesn’t scare them. I saw a good article on that.)
Now that you’ve done your investigation, you should have a clearer understanding of the facts of your situation and perhaps an idea of how to begin to move forward. Acknowledging the plain truth is the first step in acceptance. It doesn’t mean you have to like what’s happening, simply that you acknowledge reality. And, as spiritual teacher Byron Katie likes to say, it’s no use arguing with reality because it wins every time.

How Have You Contributed to the Situation?

“When Bud lost his job, he immediately couched it — for everyone else and for himself — as ‘I got laid off,’” explains his wife, Mary. “But the truth is, he got fired. Yes, his firm did eventually lose some key contracts and downsize, but the reason he was the first to be let go was because he’d been told again and again that he wasn’t working fast enough. He’s very methodical and meticulous, which works brilliantly in certain industries, but not in the sports business, which is very fast paced.

“He was stubborn, refusing to even consider finding ways to move things along more expeditiously. I always wonder if he would have recovered quicker if he’d been able to actually admit what happened, rather than getting stuck in victimhood for nearly five years.”

Don’t pull a Bud. How have you contributed to the situation? What about feedback you’ve had from others — is there a grain of truth there?

You’re strong enough to face the fact and learn for the future. The truth can set you free.


Friday, July 25th, 2014 Focus: I recognize the teachers (and teachings) that surround me everywhere.

Animals As Teachers: Teaching by Example
Written by Marie T. Russell

Life surrounds us with teachers, if we are but willing to learn. Actually, everyone and everything in our life is our teacher. They teach by example something we’d like to attain or something we’d like to abandon.

One of my greatest teachers has been my dog, Angel. He appeared on our doorstep several years ago — a tiny wet black bundle of fur. It had been raining all week and he was huddled by the doorstep trying to stay dry and get warm. I brought him in and put a sign up on the street to let his human family know he had been found. No one claimed him — which was just as well since after a few hours I was definitely in love.

Part lab and part chow he was cute, affectionate, and a joy to have around. I named him Angel since I felt he had been brought to my doorstep by angels to serve as my teacher, my friend, my playmate, and be my guardian angel.

The Best Teacher is the One Closest to You

In the time that he’s been with us he has taught me many things. He’s reminded me to take time to play, to go out in the fresh air and walk (or in his case, run like the wind). He’s demonstrated exuberance for life, with a great capacity for joy, for excitement, for pleasure. He’s reminded me when I’ve been working too many hours in a row that it’s time to take a break and shown me by example that one must drink a lot — and I mean a lot — of water. He eats only when hungry, a few mouthfuls at a time and then goes on to something else. He gets very excited when something wonderful is coming his way.

Even the routine of a walk gets him very excited. He’s given new meaning to the expression “jump for joy” — he jumps, twirls, and is so excited to go for a morning walk — while I am barely awake, and going for a walk not only because I “should” but because I “have to” take the dog out. What a difference in attitude. He jumps excitedly — I drag my feet.

Loving Life and Living Love to the Fullest

He has demonstrated to me, day after day, the importance of loving life and living life to the fullest. When we go out on paths — me to walk, him to run — to watch him run back and forth is such a pleasure to see as he puts “his all” into it. He runs for the pure joy of it — not because he needs the exercise, or because his doctor told him he “should”. He runs for the pleasure of running, for the sense of freedom, and the sense of adrenaline that fills his body. He runs to discover new trails, and he runs with abandon on the old trails as well. He doesn’t care whether it’s the same old same old — he’s excited to be alive and enjoys “being”.

And he knows how to ask for love and how to accept it. When he rolls over to be petted, he simply lays there and enjoys. He accepts the love in the moment and then doesn’t hesitate to come back and ask for more whenever he wants more. Many times when I’m working, he’ll walk up beside me and stand quietly. If I’m busy and don’t notice him, he’ll simply walk away — talk about respecting someone else’s space.

At other times, he’ll bring in his toys one at a time — and when I’ve broken my concentration on what I’m doing, I’ll notice that I’m surrounded by his toys — a silent invitation to come and play. He reminds me that there is always time to play — and the opportunities are always there. He reminds me that I need to take short play breaks during the day — just to get up and stretch (he always stretches when he gets up), to go say hello to the person in the next room, to take a drink of water, or just to say “hey, I’m here if you need me”.

My Angel Dog: My Best Teacher!

Animals As TeachersWhat a teacher! He has reminded me of the importance of taking time for myself — to play, to laugh, to go out into nature and enjoy the moment. He has reminded me of the importance of being loyal to friends, curious and interested in strangers, and always willing to explore new territories and adventures.

He has taught me to greet each day with a wagging tail (or a smile in my case), to always be happy to see family and friends, to get excited about going for a walk, about seeing a rabbit or a cat — to be so delighted (and to show it exuberantly) when a friend comes to visit, to enjoy life to the fullest, and yet also know when and how to rest and relax to the fullest.

Angel Dog (his full name) is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. Since he’s been in my life, I’ve rediscovered the beauty of a free spirit. I now laugh a lot more. I take more time for me (and for him). I take time to play, to go out in nature, to remember to take short play breaks and short naps. He reminds me to stop and smell the flowers (or the weeds), to always be interested in exploring life, to start each day excited about going “out into the world” and checking it all out, once again.

Whether you have a dog as a teacher or not, there are many other opportunities to learn all these lessons — perhaps you have children who are great master teachers. They also are willing and able to demonstrate all these lessons on how to live in the moment and to enjoy life no matter what — rain or shine.

Addendum: Angel Dog left the physical body in October 2012 after gracing us with his presence for 10 years. He is missed and remembered with love and gratitude for all the love and joy he shared with us.

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 Focus: I am ready to surrender my self-righteous resistance and choose peace even while filled with anger.

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I was aware for a long time of the miracles that resulted from practicing forgiveness and love before I tested this practice in my daily life. It was easier to talk about the philosophy of changing my perception than to actually live it, especially when living it meant interrupting myself in the middle of emotional turmoil. I was able to forgive the people in my Personal Inventory, but choosing peace while filled with anger was a more difficult task.

With patience and an open mind, I listened to joyful, serene people who were previously angry and chaotic share their miracles, so I knew that it was also possible for me.

Each knot in my stomach that accompanied the anger and guilt in which I still indulged reminded me that the discomfort was my choice. As my pain increased, my awareness increased, and I slowly became ready to surrender my self-righteous resistance.

Excerpted from the article:
Blast Off To Freedom: Making a Conscious Choice Away from Anger
by Ellie Janow.
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A Time To Fly: How To Feel Good About Ourselves and Our Relationships

by Ellie Janow,

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Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 Focus: I choose to create clarity in my life.

When we are clear, the world is clear to us. When we have clarity of mind and heart, we know what to choose, where to go, and whom to travel with. When your body is clear — of chemical toxins, negative emotional residue, excess weight, and mental chatter — your soul can proceed in the direction of goodness, truth, and beauty. When your body and mind and heart are all clear, you can move steadfastly in the direction of loving yourself.

When your life is cluttered in any way, on the other hand, it’s hard to have this clarity. When your garage is crammed with old paint cans and rags, broken down bicycles and last year’s plastic Christmas tree, it’s hard to see where to park the car without bumping into something. When your mind is cluttered with self-judgment and accusation, it’s hard to see your talents. When your heart is clumped up by self-doubt, it’s hard to find love. When your body is compromised by a lack of self-care, it’s hard to be clear about your destiny.

When your body, your mind, your heart, or your spiritual being is cluttered with what doesn’t belong there, it’s hard to see who you are. It’s hard to become what your highest self is asking you to be, and it’s almost impossible to love yourself. Because clutter and complexity are opposites of clarity — the accurate self-seeing that is love — it is of the utmost importance that you clear things out. Seeing your self accurately and accepting what you see … is love.

Excerpted from the article:
How To Gain Clarity: Clearing Out Your Mind and Your Unconscious
by Daphne Rose Kingma.

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When You Think You’re Not Enough: The Four Life-Changing Steps to Loving Yourself
by Daphne Rose Kingma.

Through stories and examples, Daphne Rose Kingma offers a profound, yet simple process for practicing how to feel good enough, smart enough, and deserving of happiness. When You Think You’re Not Enough is a positive guide to a fuller, happier life; one filled with compassion for yourself and others.

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Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 Focus: I recognize that health, prosperity, rewarding relationships, and the other conditions we value and seek are our natural state.

The word disease contains a clue as to how to heal it.Dis-ease indicates that ease, or well-being, is our natural state, and for the moment we have dissed ease with some form of stress or resistance. The answer to disease, then, is to return to our natural state of ease. No dis-ease can live in the presence of ease, so restoring ease is the optimal route to healing.

To heal our lives we need to do a radical figure-ground shift on our understanding of how life works. We need to recognize that health, prosperity, rewarding relationships, and the other conditions we value and seek are our natural state, and everything else is the exception.

Just as a cloud passing before the sun does not mean the sun has gone away, a momentary condition of disease does not mean that health has gone away. The health is temporarily in remission. It can return as surely as the sun will return when the cloud has passed.

Excerpted from the article:
Too Good to be True? or Good Enough to be True
by Alan Cohen.

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Enough Already: The Power of Radical Contentment
by Alan Cohen.

In a world where fear, crisis, and insufficiency dominate the media and many personal lives, the notion of claiming contentment may seem fantastic or even heretical. In his warm, down-to-earth style, Alan Cohen offers fresh, unique, and uplifting angles on coming to peace with what is before you and turning mundane situations into opportunities to gain wisdom, power, and happiness that does not depend on other people or conditions.

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Until recently, recovery from addiction was shrouded in public secrecy in the United States and in most other countries. Addiction has long been viewed as a personally and culturally intractable problem, and pessimism has reigned about the prospects of long-term addiction recovery. These perceptions have been fed by the unrelenting public visibility of addiction-related problems, but the comparable invisibility of stable, long-term addiction recovery. Historically, most people in recovery either completely eschewed recovery status (refused the addiction and recovery labels and culturally “passed”) or regularly cloistered themselves in “the rooms” of recovery mutual aid meetings before repeatedly and invisibly re-entering their civilian roles without acknowledgement of their recovery status. Such invisibility protected those in recovery from the potential stigma attached to addiction, but at a cultural level, it also left unchallenged a host of myths and caricatured images about addiction and addiction recovery. It is of great historical import that this state of affairs is changing.
People in recovery across the spectrum of secular, spiritual, and religious pathways of recovery are coming together for common cause in new and renewed grassroots recovery community organizations that make up the foundation of the new recovery advocacy movement. Those whose life circumstances allow and who are temperamentally suited for such a role are stepping forward to announce their cultural presence as people in long-term addiction recovery. Avoiding the pitfalls of stepping forward in isolation, they are amassing by the thousands to declare their status as “a people” with shared histories, needs, aspirations and potential contributions.
Recovery advocates are awakening as agents of change in local communities–forging visible space in which people seeking and in recovery can thrive in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and support. They are founding and staffing new recovery support institutions–recovery community centers, recovery residences, recovery schools, recovery industries, recovery cafes, and recovery sports venues. And they are creating recovery-themed literature, music, theatre, film and sports projects. An increasingly visible culture of recovery is flourishing in the U.S. that is distinguished by its singleness of purpose (Recovery by any means necessary under any circumstances.), its ecumenical character (There are many paths to recovery–and all are cause for celebration.), and its belief that recovery can spring from hope as well as pain (Recovery is contagious and can be transmitted by visible recovery carriers).
The phrase “the streets” has long been a metaphor for the space in which addiction flourishes; “the streets” have now become places where recovery is finding its niche in community after community. If we as a country were really serious about addressing addiction, we would infuse recovery carriers within the very physical spaces in which addiction is growing exponentially. That is what is happening under the direction of an army of people in recovery. “Paying it forward” (PIA) has long been part of the service ethic of communities of recovery–long before the PIA phrase was popularized. What is changing is that whole communities are becoming the recipients of these payments. To those on the frontlines of this movement to extend recovery from the rooms to the streets, you are my heroes.

Saturday, July 19th, 2014 Focus: I remind myself to pause, to slow down for as much aliveness as I can muster.

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We must repeatedly remind ourselves to pause, to slow down for as much aliveness as we can muster. By doing so, we reach an accord directly with time and obliquely with death. Otherwise, days run into each other without the distinction of our having paid attention, and we have the sense of hurtling swiftly toward the ending.

At the age of seventy-one, a woman contrasted the frenetic pace of her younger years with the serenity of her current life: “I was so scattered. I was running around all the time, barely keeping up. Now I can meditate. I am grounded. I can undertake something and stick with it. There’s really no comparison.”

By refusing the insistence of haste, we expand the hours in front of us. By reveling in what has been seen and heard and felt, we may find that time finally attains a pace that feels like living.

Excerpted from the article:
Slow Down! Beat Time by Slowing Down
by Wendy Lustbader, MSW.

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