When Life Beats You Up!

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Sometimes life hits you upside the head and you are left defenseless.  Sometimes life takes your breath away and it’s all you can do to get out of bed in the morning.  Sometimes it seems like life is piling on the trouble and you feel helpless to control anything.  It feels like you can barely make it from your bed to the shower.  The thought of even going to work makes you sick to your stomach.

What do you do when it feels like life punched you in the gut?  What do you do when it feels like you’ve been knocked off center?  What do you do when you can’t seem to regain your composure?

Do you call in sick from work or school?

Do you turn to food and overindulge?

Do you increase the alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or smoking?

Do you become easily irritable and take it out on your loved ones?

Do you turn to religion or a higher power to rescue you?

Or do you put your head down and just charge forward like any other day?

We all handle stress and drama differently.  We all have our own unique way of dealing with the pain life throws our way.  There is no right or wrong way to cope with life’s difficulties.  You deal with it the best way you know how at the time and that works for you.

I used to get stressed out a lot easier than I do now.  I used to let life’s burdens pile up like imaginary weights being added to an imaginary backpack I was carrying around.  I felt powerless to deal with whatever the newest stress was that needed to be dealt with.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very laid back guy on the outside but on the inside I constantly struggled with the newest burden life piled on.

Eventually I came to discover the power of the present moment through authors like Eckhart Tolle, Alan Watts, Erich Fromm, Wayne Dyer, and Byron Katie.  I have been reading authors like these for several years but their message never quite sank in until I applied what Byron Katie had to say to my life.

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I never realized before that life isn’t the problem, the people around me aren’t the problem, my job isn’t the problem, or my car breaking down isn’t the problem.  Once I truly grasped the burden is never life, it’s what I’m thinking and believing about life that causes me stress, then I finally saw with open eyes the role I played in my own drama. My thoughts come and go on their own.  I’m powerless to control the thoughts that enter my mind.  But, I am able to question those thoughts and choose not to believe the ones that aren’t true for me.

I watched several videos on YouTube of Byron Katie helping people question their thoughts.  I began to see how when we let our minds run unchecked and our thoughts and beliefs unquestioned, then we allow suffering and frustration to rule our lives.  I watched in amazement how people questioned their thoughts and then released themselves from their suffering.  Byron Katie’s approach can be found on TheWork.com where she suggests every thought we have can be met with four questions in order to find peace:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react–what happens–when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

Before, I felt helpless to slow the onslaught of negative thoughts once they came rushing in.  Now, as long as I take the time to question my thoughts and beliefs I can usually find my way back to peace in no time.  By peace I mean I can find my way back to the present moment (Reality).

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Anytime my mind leaves the present moment I can expect suffering.  If I go to the future in my thoughts, I can expect fear, anxiety, and worry.  If I go back into the past with my thoughts, I’m sure to be met with regret, shame, and pain.  The only way back to peace is through Reality and the Now.  If I question my thoughts and come back to the present moment, I instantly realize I don’t have any stress or drama.  The stress or drama I thought I did have actually came from my unquestioned thoughts and beliefs.

Byron Katie’s message about Reality made more sense when I came across this quote from Erich Fromm the other day:

“The average person, while he thinks he is awake, actually is half asleep.  By ‘half asleep’ I mean that his contact with reality is a very partial one; most of what he believes to be reality (outside or inside himself) is a set of fictions which his mind constructs.  The average persons’ consciousness is mainly ‘false consciousness,’ consisting of fictions and illusion, while precisely what he is not aware of is reality.”

Why have I never considered this before?  Why have I let my thoughts control my life for so many years when they were mostly fictions and illusions?  I completely related to the “half asleep” reference.  I have spent large portions of my life unaware of the reality that looked me right in the eye.

Now instead of being half asleep, I attempt to live my life fully awake and fully aware.  It has made a difference for my life internally and externally.  Now when it feels like life hits me upside the head and I’m left defenseless, it doesn’t take me near as long to come back to the present moment. I question my thoughts, find out what reality is, regain my composure and focus, then allow peace to flow back into my life.

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Trust me, life still punches me in the gut on occasion, it just doesn’t take my breath away like it used to.

How are you dealing with stress and drama in your life lately?

 

Peace my Friends!

 

~Travis

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Four years ago, I wrote a blog post I Have Friends that Have Relationship Issues!  It’s a pretty good one and worth sharing again.  Peace.

Toxic People Suck!!

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We all have people in our lives that like to give us their opinion whether we ask for it or not.  Sometimes we have the courage to say “thanks but no thanks.”  Other times we grit our teeth and let them steamroll us with their tirade.

Whether these people are well-meaning or whether they are evil, sadistic, destructive, and hostile; you have the right to set a healthy boundary with them.  There is no law (that I’m aware of at least) that says you must continue to get shit on over and over and never put an end to it.  You may assume because they’re family or a life-long best friend you feel obligated to “take it,” but that thinking must be given careful reconsideration.

In The Art of Being, Erich Fromm says, “There is no contact between human beings that does not affect both of them.  (Bold added for effect) No meeting between two people, no conversation between them, except perhaps the most casual one, leaves either one of them unchanged–even though the change may be so minimal as to be unrecognizable except by its cumulative effect when such meetings are frequent.”

So I dare ask the question; have you ever gauged how healthy the interactions are that you have with people?

How many times have you been with a person and felt more alive, or in a better mood, or discovered new energy you didn’t realize you had?  You could have the worst headache in the world or cramps from hell (this applies a little more to my female readers in case you’re confused guys) and then an exchange with another human you admire will lift the headache like the sun lifts the early morning fog.  While talking to them you completely forget about your cramps and instantly life is good.

On the other hand, who hasn’t experienced the opposite effect?  You look at your ringing phone and your stomach turns when you see who’s calling.  Or that coworker who literally drains all your energy sits by you at lunch.  An exchange with someone that depletes your energy, causes you being depressed, makes you feel hopeless, or is an emotional vampire–they suck the life right out of you–these are the people you must establish a healthy boundary for.

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But if setting a safe distance or healthy boundary is not an option at the moment; Fromm gives some great advice: “Inasmuch as one cannot avoid bad company, one should not be deceived: One should see the insecurity behind the mask of friendliness, the destructiveness behind the mask of eternal complaints about unhappiness, the narcissism behind the charm.  One should also not act as if he or she were taken in by the other’s deceptive appearance–in order to avoid being forced into a certain dishonesty oneself.  One need not speak to them about what one sees, but one should not attempt to convince them that one is blind.”  So basically, in a nutshell, Fromm is saying to pay attention!  Don’t be sucked into their game and don’t fall for their fake niceness.

I can relate to being “forced into a certain dishonesty” like Fromm suggests.  I have been with people who have taken me in with their deceptive niceness and/or appearance only to realize after the fact that I was sucked into dishonesty–at the very least dishonesty with myself.

If you don’t feel the freedom to be your true self with someone, set a boundary.

If they cross the line over and over with their unwanted opinion, set a boundary.

If someone is an emotional vampire and is sucking the life from you, set a boundary.

If in your interactions with someone you notice you always give and they always take, set a boundary.

If you find you don’t like yourself very much after spending time with a certain person, set a boundary.

If someone always guilts you into seeing them, set a boundary.

Fromm goes on to give you the permission you may need to help yourself create healthy boundaries.  Remember, there is no contact between human beings that does not affect both of them.  With that thought in mind, he says; “If other people do not understand our behavior–so what? Their request that we must only do what they understand is an attempt to dictate to us.  If this is being ‘asocial’ or ‘irrational’ in their eyes, so be it.  Mostly they resent our freedom and our courage to be ourselves.  We owe nobody an explanation or an accounting, as long as our acts do not hurt or infringe on them.  How many lives have been ruined by this need to ‘explain,’ which usually implies that the explanation be ‘understood,’ i.e., approved.  Let your deeds be judged, and from your deeds your real intentions, but know that a free person owes an explanation only to himself–to his reason and conscience–and to the few who may have a justified claim for explanation.”

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There’s a healthy process we all go through while growing from a little boy or little girl into a healthy adult.  That process may be slowed–or halted altogether–if we lack the ability to set boundaries.  Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings–anyone who stakes a claim on your well-being–may be too attached to your life and your activities.  There’s a fine line in families between love and support and then the opposite which is manipulation and control.

Assuming you’re an adult and can make your own choices, what is stopping you from setting healthy boundaries from the controlling, manipulating, or opinionated figure in your life?  There’s a way you can tell who these people are without even being in their presence; you find yourself having conversations with them in your head when they aren’t even there.  You may be trying to justify an action or explain yourself to them before they even ask you about it.  That’s when you know you may have an issue.

Let’s be clear about something: A healthy boundary doesn’t mean you stop loving the person or you never talk to them again.  You can still love someone even if from a safe distance.  Like Fromm implied, Pay Attention!  If you feel like you can’t be yourself with a certain person, set a boundary.  It should go without saying, but the those that love you unconditionally will love you inside and out, top to bottom, whether they agree with everything about you or not.

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The bottom line is this: Spend as much time as possible with the people that give you energy and life.  Limit your time with people that suck the life out of you or try to manipulate and control you.

Toxic people suck! Avoid them at all cost!

I have more to say, but enough for now.

Peace my friends!

~Travis

I Hate My Job! . . . . and . . . . Three Ideas for Awakening

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As soon as you rise above mere survival, the question of meaning and purpose becomes of paramount importance in your life.  Many people feel caught up in the routines of daily living that seem to deprive their life of significance.  Some believe life is passing them by or has passed them by already.  Others feel severely restricted by the demands of their job and supporting a family or by their financial or living situation.  Some are consumed by acute stress, others by acute boredom.  Some are lost in frantic doing; other are lost in stagnation.  Many people long for the freedom and expansion that prosperity promises.  Others already enjoy the relative freedom that comes with prosperity and discover  that even that is not enough to endow their lives with meaning.  There is no substitute for finding true purpose.  But the true or primary purpose of your life cannot be found on the outer level.  It does not concern what you do but what you are–that is to say, your state of consciousness.  So the most important thing to realize is this: Your life has an inner purpose and an outer purpose.  Inner purpose concerns Being and is primary.  Outer purpose concerns Doing and is secondary.

Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth

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As I read this for the first time I instantly thought back over my own life.  The concept of simply Being without doing seemed foreign and uncomfortable.  I had to be doing something in order to feel good about myself.  I had to:

Get the girl

Pass the test

Make the basket

Get the job

Have the children

Build the house

Buy the car

Watch the show

Cheer for the team

Attend the service

Get the degree

Mow the lawn

Secure the loan

Work the overtime

Make the sale

Tell the funny joke

and God knows do everything else under the sun.

All my activities weren’t bad in-and-of themselves–I still do many of the same activities now.  But I turned to these Outer purpose activities as a means to gain Inner purpose.  As you can imagine, it never worked.  I constantly had my thinking backwards.  I thought I could do, do, do and that would lead to Being.  I let my mind run my life and struggled to ever find any balance or satisfaction.

“Your inner purpose is to awaken.  It is as simple as that.” Tolle goes on, “You share that purpose with every other person on the planet–because it is the purpose of humanity.  Your inner purpose is an essential part of the purpose of the whole, the universe and its emerging intelligence.”  When you first hear that, it doesn’t feel right so you disregard it.  At least I did.

“It certainly cannot be that easy, can it?”

“All I have to do is awaken?”

“If I awaken and that is my inner purpose, how can that change my life or the world in any way?”

“I am awake!”

Your mind is probably going in a thousand different directions as to why this can’t be true and your ego is certain to protect your standard mode of operation you’ve been living with for so long.

Spinoza said Joy is man’s passage from a lesser to a greater perfection and Sorrow is man’s passage from a greater to a less perfection.  In his book, To Have or To Be, Erich Fromm explains it like this: “Joy, then, is what we experience in the process of growing nearer to the goal of becoming ourself.”  Or, to put it another way, Joy is the result of seeking your inner purpose of awakening.

I have struggled off and on for years not being satisfied with my job.  On many occasions I nearly made the decision to quit and pursue a vocation more suited to my gifts and talents.  I’m sure if I did quit I would have been just fine finding a different way to make money.  But thankfully I didn’t quit my job.  I say thankfully because if I quit, I may not have learned the lesson that my inner purpose is to awaken.  When I made my job responsible for satisfying my inner purpose, I felt frustrated, lacking, and unfulfilled.  But once I realized my job was my outer purpose and my inner purpose was up to me to fulfill, then I could go about my business of awakening on my own time separate from my job.

The process of awakening is a slow and ever-evolving process.  I spent many years in therapy and began to dissect my thought processes one at a time.  I walked away from my comfort zones in order to intentionally weed out any beliefs that didn’t serve my inner purpose.  Rather than blaming my upbringing, or other people, or circumstances beyond my control, I found greater purpose in focusing on my reactions to things.  I’m a fairly laid back person anyway, but for me, learning to simply be, instead of react, turned out to be my best response.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I was an expert at figuring out what was expected of me and giving people what they wanted, but I did not always acknowledge what it was that I wanted.  With every fruitless search for external gratification, I lost touch of my own intrinsic happiness until I finally set my sights on my inner purpose.

Awakening doesn’t mean that I have “arrived” and I’m somehow superior to those not considered awakened.  Awakening, to me, simply means I show up every day–I listen when spoken to, I strive for awareness in each moment, and I’m open to the mysterious flow of our existence here.  Awakening means I bring my true self to every encounter instead of relying on my alienated self or one of many false selves.  By being real, I am free to grow.  Awakening means I let go of my regrets, shame, guilt, and accusations and instead I accept what will be will be.  I attempt to let go of my attachment to any outcome and find joy in any circumstance.

Interestingly enough, as I turned my focus on my inner purpose of awakening, my outer purpose shifted into alignment with my inner purpose.  Instead of hating my job, I actually began to enjoy myself there.  I found purpose and contentment in an environment where bitterness and begrudging once resided. The joy that I experienced in my early-morning writing and meditation snuck into my lunch pail and accompanied me throughout the day.  The constant wrestling with ideas in my mind while I was at work shielded me from the petty gossip and never-ending drama that unfolds there.  Some days I added fuel to the fire just for shits and giggles but I could easily detach myself from taking any of the drama too seriously or too personal.

This whole idea of awakening may seem foreign to you.  If it does we could talk about it if you’d like.  Otherwise, here’s three ideas for your own awakening:

  1. Consider the difference between your inner purpose and your outer purpose.  In what ways have you been unjustly making your outer purpose be responsible for your inner purpose?  It wasn’t until I realized the importance of my inner purpose that I began to give it the attention it deserved.  Let go of the idea of awakening as only a Buddhist reference.  Awakening, Being, Presence, Aliveness, True Self, etc. are all deeply spiritual references and can be applied to any religious preference.
  2. Consider the different ways you stay distracted.  Instead of turning to your phone, TV, or novel reading, open up a pad of paper and write down your thoughts.  Journal about your uneasiness or discomfort of sitting still with yourself.  Is there too much pain your hiding so you don’t want to be alone with yourself?  Putting your ideas and feelings on paper where they can be wrestled with is a wonderful step towards healing and awakening.
  3. Consider a regular practice of meditating.  Meditation was difficult for me at first.  I could only start with five minutes without going crazy.  Eventually I grew to love that quiet time where I completely shut off my mind and focused on nothing by the air that filled my lungs and diaphragm, and then on that same life-giving air as it left my body.  You don’t have to sit a certain way with your hands in a special pose; just get comfortable, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing while everything else melts away.  As your mind shoots a million different thoughts at you, simply see the thought and let it go the way you would see a butterfly land on your knee and then let it fly away.  Don’t judge yourself for having too many thoughts–especially at first–because the mind is very difficult to silence until you get comfortable with it.

As always, any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to comment, call, or email.

Peace my friends!

~Travis

What Women Want: An Introduction

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Life is mysterious.  Life can be frustrating.  Life most definitely gets messy.  And when I started out with honest intentions to ask What Women Want from their partner, I was a little overwhelmed by the wonderful feedback I received.  The last thing I wanted to do was rush together a list, publish it, and call it good.  Women are more mysterious and deserve more effort than narrowing them down to a simple list (which, I must confess, I do have a list thanks to your helpful suggestions).

Just because I have a list to choose from doesn’t mean I have to spew it back to you in bullet point fashion.  As I read through all the great responses I received from my initial question about What Women Want from their partner, the patterns didn’t hit me at first until I decided to take a pencil and put a star by the ones I felt were bare-bones necessities just to keep a relationship going.  Then, I drew a little triangle next to the responses that I thought were extra bonuses (or above and beyond bare-bones).  Next, there were many responses that had to do with teamwork so I scribbled a T next to them.  And, finally, the last group of responses were the added spices, or the whip-cream-and-cherry-on-top suggestions that you gave me.

I wracked my brain for a couple weeks trying to decide whether these four areas were pillars, layers, components, or all-encompassing and I finally decided they do build on each other.  So I came up with a pyramid that starts with the most important aspects of What Women Want from their partners as a base and then moves up through the aspects that are still important, but not as crucial as the first one.

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I feel as though I should state the obvious here.  I am by no means an expert on What Women Want.  Just ask my wife or any woman I dated in years past (actually, it’s probably best you don’t ask them about me). 😉  I have tried and failed miserably over the years and even now I struggle to grasp the larger mysteries of What Women Want. I attempt to be the best possible partner for my wife but even after all your helpful suggestions I still fail on occasion.  Some days it feels as though I’m chasing after the horizon.  Even though I chase after it, no matter how close it feels I may never get there.  But I try anyway.  Sometimes trying is half the battle.

I appreciate how Erich Fromm (1956) described this issue of love in The Art of Loving:

There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.  If this were the case with any other activity, people would be eager to know the reasons for the failure, and to learn how one could do better–or they would give up the activity.

Since I haven’t given up on love just yet, I have decided to be eager about some of my reasons for failure.  Thus, the deep interest in love and relationships.

Just so you understand where I’m going with this, I will give you a few examples of how I categorized your responses and narrowed them down.  In future posts, I will share in greater detail each aspect of the pyramid and give some insight for each one. As a teaser, here’s what I’m working on:

SHOW HER SHE’S #1

  • Be Honest with her
  • Be Faithful to her
  • Show her Respect
  • Show her Honor
  • Be Appreciative of her
  • Good communication (listening and sharing)

GIVE HER AFFECTION

  • Hold her hand
  • Kiss her
  • Tell her you love her
  • Small gestures
  • Smile from across the room
  • Show her passion

INVITE HER INTO TEAMWORK

  • Work together
  • Help her with the kids
  • Encourage her
  • Be Patient with her
  • Help her with daily chores
  • Thank her for every meal

OFFER HER THE ADDED SPICES (OR THE WHIP-CREAM-WITH-CHERRY-ON-TOP)

  • Be Spontaneous
  • Humor her, make her laugh
  • Have Strong Faith
  • Find new ways to woo her
  • Surprise her in and out of the bedroom
  • Please her sexually
  • Take her on vacation
  • Be adventurous

As you can see, I have a lot of information to unpack.  There’s enough here to fill a book, let alone try and write a simple blog out of it.  That is why I decided to break it up into installments.

I understand that all women are different and some things might be more important to you than they are to others so I’m not trying to minimize what might be important to you personally.  You might find the area you are lacking the most in your relationship is the area you would say is the most important.

For instance, you might have a partner that is great with the spices; he pleases you in the bedroom, makes you laugh, and keeps things adventurous. But he fails miserably with all other aspects of the pyramid.  He’s called a friend-with-benefits, not a genuine partner.

Your partner may do a great job of showing you you’re #1 (faithful, honest, respect, appreciates you, etc), but the spices are GONE and the affection is hanging on by a string.  This relationship is in jeopardy just as much as the relationship with the unfaithful partner.

Or, you and your partner may make a great team.  You take turns with the chores, you help one another with the kids, and you share the financial burden as equally as possible.  He may not show you affection like you wish and the spices might be stale but he’s a good man.  Some days you feel more like a roommate than a romantic partner.

As you can see, simply saying SHOW HER SHE’S #1 is the most important aspect of What Women Want is very misleading.  It isn’t the most important aspect but it is the base on which the rest of the aspects build on.

A quick note to the men that stumbled in here: Guys, if we don’t show our women they are #1, give them affection, invite them into teamwork, and offer them extra spices; we are headed for a world of heartache.  Life is mysterious, women are mysterious.  Life can be frustrating, women can be frustrating.  Life most definitely gets messy . . . you get the idea.  I can tell you this, guys, its easy to sit on a pedestal and keep our macho-man ego out of harms way, but there’s a lot we can learn from our partners if we let them influence us.

I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to scratch the surface of What Women Want.  Be sure to follow this blog so you don’t miss future installments.

I’d like to close with a direct quote from a wonderful lady who added a fresh perspective to this issue for me:

I think all women want to know they are the most important person to their partner… all women want to feel loved and cherished and important. When we don’t receive tenderness, touching, those little looks and genuine interest in conversation, we feel like we aren’t appreciated and loved.

I would love to hear your feedback.  I much prefer this (and future posts) to be a conversation about what we are learning from one another instead of me simply stating What Women Want.  So please, share your thoughts.  Share this post and invite others to give their feedback.

Peace and Love!!

~Travis