Is it really so bad?

Well now I see I have posted nothing in over a year. I was not going to put any pressure on myself with this blog and clearly I have been successful in that regard. What impels me to begin writing now is frustration. I find myself in a decidedly minority position. I am recognizing that one aspect of being in the minority is that people actually don’t even hear what you are saying and it is always uncomfortable to not be heard. In this particular moment I am somewhat befuddled by the insistence most people seem to have for taking a negative perspective.

What I have noticed is a tendency to assume the worst. There are many things popularly believed that just don’t add up. America is in decline. Police are out of control, prejudiced and generally incompetent. The economy is failing. Our position in the world is slipping badly. Crime is rampant. Racial tensions are escalating and pervasive in our society. We should be afraid. The list goes on an on. While a generally irresponsible media is a large part of the problem, my concern is more personal.

Yes the media presents an unbalanced view of the world. It is also true that political candidates tend to focus on the negatives as they strive to get elected. After all, if there is no problem to be addressed why vote for me? My growing concern is not these processes however but more the question of why do we go along with this? Why do individual people seem to gravitate toward the negative? The media focuses the way it does precisely because that is what gets peoples attention. My current interest is in understanding why we gravitate toward the negative perspective. Let me give you a not quite hypothetical example.

A man came into my office last year complaining of anxiety. At our initial consultation he presented as anxious right in front of me; sweating, could not sit still, actually red in the face. He stated that he was unable to eat or sleep and found it very hard to concentrate at work. He also noticed he was very distracted and irritable with his family. When I asked what he thought was causing such severe anxiety he responded incredulously “Don’t you see what is going on?”.

I asked for clarification and he pointed out the most recent terrorist execution video, the fact that crime was out of control, severe racial divisions in our society and the failure of our economy as a starting point. The gentleman went on to give many details of how bad things are and I had to acknowledge that in such an apocalyptic situation, anxiety made sense. I then started to ask him about his individual experiences of life. I was needing to determine the stress points in his actual life that might be contributing to the anxiety.

I learned that he was an attorney working in a specialty area which was both fun for him and very lucrative. There was no marital distress, no unusual family problems and his kids were doing fine. Eventually I discerned a pattern. I asked him how far he had driven to our session and it turned out to be about an hour. I asked how many shootings he had seen on his drive. None. I asked how many times had he even seen police with their guns drawn. He hadn’t seen any. I asked, a whole series of questions to gather a sense of his experience of not only his drive to the appointment, but his daily life in general. He described a very peaceful, affluent and stable life. Clearly this person’s anxiety stemmed from something other than his actual life. There are all kinds of possible causes, trauma being very high on the list. My guess though was the culprit was probably TV. His actual experience of his life, his reality, was being ignored in favor of the reality presented by the media. This is the focus of my concern. Why do we constantly abandon our own direct experience and trust instead the artificial perspective presented by the media or politicians. Why not trust our own experience of life over that presented by the entertainment industry?

Here is another example. I have a friend. He is actually one of my best friends. He is terrified of Muslims for various reasons, including; they want to destroy America, they will be attacking our religion and way of life and are bringing violence to our neighborhoods. Again if this were his actual experience of life it would be of real concern. When my friend expressed his fears to me I became curious to hear the tale of how he developed these fears. What I learned is, he does not know any Muslims. There has been, to his knowledge, no Muslim directed violence in his neighborhood, or in fact, his entire town. He is not aware of any Muslim efforts to dissuade him from his religious beliefs, much less to torture him for them. In short, there has been no direct experience leading to the fear of Muslims. Again the sole basis for the fear is TV and social media. Events so far away and so rare have been brought into his living room and caused him to live in fear.

This is the pattern that I am aware of and somewhat at a loss to understand. Given my line of work I understand how such interpretations can stem from childhood trauma and many other sources. Fear itself is, of course and adaptive response. If we fear nothing we would be in great danger. The issue here is how we chose which things to be afraid of. Many times people choose fear objects that don’t even exist and never have in their entire life!

My own experience of life, and I am eternally grateful that is is from a privileged perspective, is that crime is almost non existent. I know it happens but it has not happened to me in decades, well except that my office was burglarized recently. I am not wealthy by any stretch but I have food to eat and a place to stay and I can even afford to feed my dogs. I know the poverty level is around 15% which is very unfortunate but has not changed significantly in my lifetime. At least it is not getting worse. I know there are many people who are financially luckier than me and have almost unimaginable wealth, but I do not begrudge them their fortune. While I have not asked directly, I do not believe any of my acquaintances of other races hate me. At least they still associate with me and are friendly and even helpful when I am in need. I have run into cops who I thought were a little too zealous in their enforcement but, since I do not resists their instructions, I have not found them to be abusive. In fact only once in the last 20 years of so have I seen officers with their guns drawn. All of this is to say that my experience of life does not drive me to hate others or fear an impending doom. I am aware, of course, that the picture presented by the media is much different. I prefer, however, to trust my own observations.

I understand that bad shit happens. It has happened to friends and to me in the past. I also do not belittle the painful experience of those currently involved in the bad shit. It is bad. I wish it never happened. I am not insensitive here, just concerned. Apparently many people do not make the effort to tell the difference between what is on TV and what is real. The result is our beliefs are very distorted. Believing is one of the most powerful forces in nature and clearly an incredibly powerful characteristic of human beings. What I believe determines the world in which I live. Believing is tied to imagination and together these have resulted in our domination of the world. Believing has resulted in miraculous changes in people I have been privileged to know. Sadly irresponsible believing also causes most human suffering. In particular, believing what the media and social media hysterics serve up has some very real consequences.

If we accept the doom and gloom perspective then we live in fear and scarcity. In addition, like my friend, we slide into hate and persecution of others. The ultimate consequence of these beliefs will be exactly what is predicted, a world none of us wants. I am not saying that, if you experience unfairness or poverty, or persecution, you should not face it and deal with it. What I am saying is that we need to believe responsibility. This means to trust our own experience over what is presented in the media. For the vast majority of people in the United States, things are not that bad. Deal with it.

We are caught

We are all caught in the web of life. It forms a labyrinth which we can neither escape nor comprehend. Our only choice, if we want contentment, is to accept “what is”. However, accepting “what is” means recognition of and being OK with all kinds of things that conflict with our most deeply held beliefs. Thus, to accept “what is” completely requires that we must first suspend all belief. For example try this out.

The reality appears to be that the fact of my existence creates suffering for others. It is unavoidable. How does this stack up with your beliefs? Can you accept this and actually decide that all of this suffering is actually OK with you? Walking to my office I probably stepped on several tiny ants or other creatures, consigning them to a very short and painful last day alive. In a more substantial arena, things I buy, clothes, food, etc. are often manufactured by someone being paid less than a living wage and lacking in basic creature comforts. Never mind that I may be unaware of the situation, my purchases, my existence affect others. In my career, I have known people to commit suicide because they cannot stand the idea of the amount of suffering in the world. How much more horrific to realize that I am the cause of some of that suffering. If we are not going to commit suicide and choose instead to live with this reality, in order to also have contentment, we have to be OK with the situation.

There is no contentment in constantly bemoaning the way things are. We cannot be truly content if we are dissatisfied with life or the conditions of life. To have true contentment we must be content with the way things are.

Last night Sandy stopped the car rather abruptly in our driveway to avoid squashing a mouse. I love her for it and I also wonder why? I wonder why she bothered with a somewhat risky maneuver in order to save a creature she is not particularly fond of (given her reaction when I produce one in a live trap). I also wonder why do I love her for the act? What difference would it make to me? Would I love her less if she had squashed the mouse? Of course not. I think I love the idea that, in spite of the fact that there is little any of us can do to substantially reduce the overall amount of suffering, she tries when the opportunity presents.

I think I have to admire anyone who comes to the realization that there is tremendous suffering in life, there is not much anyone can do about it, and it is OK that things are that way AND, when possible, they will do something to reduce the suffering of others. Accepting that the situation is OK provides a way to reduce our own suffering. I cannot be content if I am constantly bemoaning the way things are. Choosing to live on and do what I can in the moment to mitigate suffering is a compassionate and vulnerable decision, one which faces reality head on, without flinching. If I kill myself I do not reduce suffering, in fact I probably increase it for someone. To stay, and be OK and do what I can is the courageous decision which demands my admiration.

There are other “facts of life” which appear odious but which we must accept in order to accomplish contentment. This is a good starting point though. It is one most of us struggle with and must resolve on our path to contentment.

Why Not Happiness?

Happiness is certainly something most of us want. (Let me be clear, when I use the word happiness I am using the definition in my book. If you have not read the book, it defines happiness as contentment. Happiness is knowing my authentic self and liking me and being ok with me and whatever I have or have not done. It is not the same as having fun or excitement. It is not the same is being pain free … it is acceptance of my SELF. It is unconditional compassion for my SELF.) I see suggestions about achieving happiness on Facebook and other social media many times every day. Almost all of these cute quips accurately describe happiness as something that comes from inside, as opposed to being the result of external events or other people’s opinions. I believe this is so and clearly I am not alone.
If we look back to some of our earliest writings, Lao Tzu says “At the center of your being you have the answer…” Buddha says “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without”. Jesus says the “…Kingdom of God is within you…” The stoic philosophers, well they are pretty clearly not big on externals. Our declaration of independence states we have the right to the “… pursuit of happiness”. All of this is good stuff. It verifies that our happiness is up to us and is not dependent on success, love, better cars or an excellent shrimp cocktail. I become curious then why so many people who are enlightened and have the personal relationship with the creator or have accomplished ultimate serenity in the moment are not happy all the time. This is the thing nobody talks about. This is the other thing about happiness that I also believe but that I don’t see much reference to.
I watch the news and see people wailing and crying because of the tragedy of the moment. Many of us appear to be willing to give up our happiness in the face of loss or pain or hideous behavior on the part of others. It is as though we are looking for an excuse not to be happy. Sure life is pretty random and understanding the why of things is way out of scope for even the smartest of us. But this is always true of life. It is not news nor unusual nor unexpected. Why should it be a reason for letting go of our contentment? My suspicion is that the happiness, or serenity, or contentment that many people claim to have is bullshit.
Think about it. If happiness is an inside job, and not dependent on things out in the world then it follows that we have the choice to be happy all the time, no matter what is happening to us or around us. I can be in the middle of the most horrific situation of my life and, if happiness is truly and inside job, I can decide to be happy anyway. I may be suffering monstrous torment of one kind or another, whether inflicted by nature or my fellow man and I can decide to be content with myself nonetheless. Furthermore, there is no moral imperative that we ever be unhappy.
I am not aware of any sacred texts or philosophical treatise which requires that I give up my contentment just because something I don’t like is going on. Regardless of what is happening to us or around us and no matter how bad I may have screwed up, it is OK to know and accept myself and remain content.
I believe contentment or happiness is something that can coexist with other emotions. I can feel the pain of loss and be ok. I can be in terrifying and dangerous situations and be ok with myself. I can feel excruciating guilt when I notice that I have made mistakes or committed sins, and be happy at the same time.
There is not and never has been a requirement that we be unhappy regardless of what is going on, except possibly in the media.
After all, contentment does not sell on TV or social media. Only hysteria, gnashing of teeth and other unnecessary and unhelpful reactions merit the attention of the networks and internet addicts. The media teaches us we should be unhappy when bad things happen. The reality is that there are no bad things happening. Whether a thing is bad or not is solely dependent on my perception. Shakespeare said “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” I am not sure about the bards’ qualifications as a philosopher or guru but this speaks to the point. When a natural disaster occurs or a tragic death occurs there is no question we will have feelings about it. Fear, grief, confusion, etc. are all logical feelings in these situations. However there is nothing that says I can’t be content with myself at the same time. I can decide to be happy anyway.
If I accept myself, and my feelings, including uncomfortable feelings like sadness, shame and guilt, then I am going to be content all the time. At that point happiness then is in my control and I can choose not to give it up to circumstance. Ever. I have not yet been presented with a good reason why I should not be happy. I would like to know if there is some authoritative statement somewhere that explains when I should not be happy. In the meantime, and probably even is such a command exists, I choose contentment.

Judge Not

I have an observation. I have been a counselor of one sort or another for over 40 years. (that’s not the observation.) The observation is that in those 40 years I have noticed that the act of judging others is bad for our mental health.

There are lots of criteria for diagnosing behavioral health problems. There are many theories about the causes and basic processes. One of these is that shame under lays much of the emotional and psychological suffering people endure. I happen to agree with this last theory. Time and time again in my life I have seen how shame in one manifestation or another is the cause of depression, addictions, anxiety, relationship difficulties and most other forms of misery. One symptom of shame is judgment.

If I am uncertain in my beliefs about myself and my worth, and not comfortable with the uncertainty, then I will develop a need to check for external validation. In other words I will look around to see if other people believe as I do or if there are other indications in the environment that my beliefs are accurate and therefore that I am OK. Or, if not exactly OK, that I at least am making a good effort at pretending to be OK, or to be normal, or to be like others or whatever. When I see such evidence then I can relax a bit. When such evidence is lacking, however, there is a problem. This is the first cost of judgment, hyper-vigilance.

Having to be hyper-vigilant is a strain. It does not matter what my particular area of judgment might be, my need for validation means I am constantly on alert. This level of attention has a cost in terms of my ability to relax. In other words it creates a constant pressure on my system and a low level stress response. So for example, if I have bought into the unrealistic cultural expectation that I must be thin, and I need the external affirmation to compensate for my shame, then I must be on constant alert, watching not only my own weight and diet but that of everyone around me. This is a lot of work. In this case, the judgment that I may pass on others who have ‘let themselves go’ is a symptom of my own sense of uncertainty born of my perception of my inadequacy. It creates a constant tension. This is a continuous low level activity. Although it may be out of my awareness this is a constant in my life and it limits my capacity to just be, or to remain in the present.

A second cost of judgment is social. If I need external validation for a sense of peace and I discover someone who does not believe as I do, I must take action. This demand for action is even more compelling if the individual in question is apparently happy in spite of their failure to believe as I do. The action I must take is often in the form of either condemnation or proselytizing, or preaching. The result of either of these actions is disconnection. The upshot is damaged relationships and isolation. This of course confirms my original belief that I am different or not good enough and I sink further into a black hole of shame. This is yet another cost of judgment.

The best cure for shame, as with all emotional difficulties, if first to sit with and acknowledge the emotion. As soon as I engage in judgment of others, however, my focus is on managing them in order to feel better. I lose out on the experience of shame and all that it is trying to teach me. Admittedly, sitting in our shame is very uncomfortable. There is a reason why most therapists, coaches and teacher exhort us to do exactly that. It is the only way to get through it. Engaging in judgment is a whole lot like drinking, or gambling or any other addiction in that it medicates our shame and thus prevents us from working through it. If I am attending to the behavior and beliefs of other people, I cannot attend to myself. Thus I become disconnected from my own inner experience, my self.

As I said at the outset, being judgmental is not a problem in itself. It is a socially oriented emotion and there are times when it performs a useful function. When it is unnecessary or excessive it is a symptom of underlying shame. The outcome is reduced ability to connect, compromised relationships and almost constant hyper-vigilance. This is not a recipe for serenity. It is a guarantee of misery. When I find myself judging others, no matter how outrageous I find their behavior, appearance, beliefs, or statements, it is worth taking a look inside to learn what is my motivation. When I find myself trying to shame others or convince them to believe as I do it important to search out the root causes. What is the reason I am giving up my serenity? Recognize that my judgment sacrifices only my own tranquility. There is little payoff in judgment, even when it is necessary. It is really true that when I judge I give up a piece of myself. In judgment there is no peace.

How can there be?

Almost daily, both in my practice, and in my regular life I keep having FOL #1 discussions and am always impressed with how difficult it is for people to believe we are all alike. Lately his has come up in the context of someone having been victimized in some brutal way. The sentiment is often something along the lines of “I can’t believe that people like that exist” or “These cannot be actual people, they have to be something different than regular people” (sociopaths or psychopaths, or monsters or just plain evil). It seems inconceivable that regular human being can do the things that have been done to us or that have been done to someone we love. It occurs to me lately that the problem is that, if I accept certain behaviors as within the realm of human, then I have to accept the possibility of it in myself.

I can think of events and behaviors I have had to deal with in my career that, even as I write this, bring a chill to the very center of my being and I shirk the recall. I understand the difficulty of comprehending the reality of certain acts. I also am aware, however, that these things happen every day. They are happening somewhere right this moment. They are, like it or not, part of human nature. And, I am human.

If I doubt my sameness to others then all kinds of problems arise. It becomes intolerable to have disagreements with others because it points to my difference. If you don’t believe as I do then I must worry that I got it wrong so I must convince you. Or I might find I cannot accept my own impulses and random thoughts because they might not be the kinds of things other people experience (After all there is occasionally some spooky stuff going on in here). My fear of self, of my apparent difference from others also leads me to attempt to deny some of my impulses and urges. If I cannot allow consideration of my own internal state, then I also cannot accept it in others. When someone demonstrates brutality, especially if it echoes some stray thoughts that may have floated through my head, I have to separate from that completely. I have to deny that they are anything like human because that would acknowledge the connection I have to that person. If I do that I must face my own shit. I might have to actually examine my self and my humanity and the parts of me that make me think I am not human or I do not have it right. It seems much better to deny the other person’s humanity and perspective thus avoiding consideration of the darker side of me.

When I cannot understand another person’s behavior or beliefs it is because I do not understand or accept my own. When I ask “how can there be people like that” I am really asking “How can there be people like me?”

Beleive Me

Belief is a powerful force. You could say it is one of the most powerful forces in the human experience. The power of the mind to create and recreate our perceptions of the world, our very reality is amazing. Here is the thing though: people will believe anything.

Human beings are capable of conjuring up incredible schemes to explain everything. Belief drives both the loftiest and the most horrendous pursuits of humanity. This is because having first convinced ourselves to believe something we are then willing to live and die for that belief. If the belief includes some sort of mandate from a higher power to convert others or annihilate disbelief then we will kill in service of that belief.

I used to live in an apartment complex that had a security fence with signs at the gate which said “Residents Only”, “Private Property” and “No solicitors”. Because I worked an evening shift at that time I put a sign on my door that said “Please do not disturb”. None of these requests however, deterred individuals who at least once a month, would come ringing my bell in order to save me. (If they were persistent enough to keep ringing until I got up and got to the door they were actually the ones in need of saving.) This disrespectful behavior was driven by nothing more than the power of belief. In particular the belief that what they believed entitled them to disregard my right to privacy or anything I might believe.The world is full of misery created by beliefs like these. Just open up any news site and you will see tons of evidence to that effect. In fact most human misery is created by beliefs. Here is another thing though; the power of belief can also be used for good.

It is by the nature of my beliefs that I can gain positive control of my contentment. If, for example I choose to believe that my feelings come from outside me, from the world, then I will be a perpetual victim. I cannot do anything to ensure my contentment. I must wait until the world decides to give it to me. Or, I must manage and manipulate others so that I can feel good. On the other hand if I choose to believe that my feelings are an inside job and under my control then the world becomes a much more enjoyable experience. By deciding to believe that I control my contentment I become able to protect myself and respect the beliefs of others. By choosing this belief I banish depression, anxiety, loneliness and the pain of unrealistic expectations. As a consequence I also banish hate, intolerance and fear from my interactions with others. It is a simple choice of beliefs with huge consequences.

If every person on the planet made this choice, and leveraged the power of that belief, there would be no war, no poverty and peace in the heart of humanity. If we all would harness the power of belief in service of joy, love, passion and purpose we would accomplish the ultimate dream of peace on earth and good will for all. It is not a fairytale. It is real. The choice is ours. Believe me

Convincing Contentment

“Your attitude toward life is a direct reflection of your opinion of your self.” I don’t know who said this, I saw it somewhere today. I believe that it is absolutely a true statement. Most of us would hopefully agree that the chronic complainer or consummate martyr is a miserable person at heart. Such negativity cannot arise from a core of joy. Interestingly, another place I notice this very often is in people who are extremely dedicated and energetic about repeating positive mantras. Check out Facebook sometime for the number of people stridently proclaiming that life is beautiful and their gratitude for the gift of life knows no bounds and how magical was the most recent sunset or the last tree they noticed, etc., etc. I have come to realize that such proclamations are often desperate cover ups.

As I work with clients and observe their journey from shame and fear to acceptance and peace I hardly ever see anyone loudly announcing their accomplishment. In fact I have become a little doubtful when someone arrives in my office all excited about having achieved contentment. All of my experience tells me that arriving at true contentment is a personal, self contained, affair.

We know from scientific studies that certain things are calming. If we pet a dog our blood pressure goes down (and so does the dog’s). If we believe we are being listened to, and understood, our entire system calms. When we are in the company of someone who accepts and does not judge us, we relax. All of the studies I am aware of, and my own experience of contentment, points to it as a soothing experience. The first impulse is to simply sink into and savor the sense of connection and serenity, not to run out and announce the experience to the world. In fact such announcements can actually be problematic.

It is almost impossible to adequately communicate these experiences. Sometimes with my partner I can share something of it. This is of course based on our already established level of connection and even then there is the probability that in attempting to communicate the experience I will lose my focus and the experience may be jumbled. A habit of contentment is even more difficult to communicate because it arises from a foundation of automatic thinking, so there is not much to talk about. I cannot be accepting of the world unless I first accept my self and the experience of that kind of acceptance is not exciting, it is gentle and peaceful. This is why loud proclamations of connection and contentment seem to me discordant.

If in my secret self I believe I am in fact a piece of shit and then I try to convince myself and others that I am ok with declarations of joy, the artificiality shows through. Unfortunately no amount of vociferous declarations to the contrary will change my inner reality. In fact on occasion, when I have found myself describing my serenity to others in great detail or with effusive enthusiasm, there is usually a quick realization that I am attempting to compensate for something inside. Now when I find myself with a desire to convince a friend how happy I am I have learned to shut up and ask myself why? What is this need to convince and who am I convincing? Trying to convince myself or others that I am content may be more difficult than just being content. I am pretty sure contentment is something better experienced than communicated.

Contemplating Contentment

Over the past couple of weeks, especially in our Facts of Life workshops, there have been a number of interesting discussions about contentment. Turns out it is one of those things that is hard to define but you know it when you see. Or, more accurately you know it when you experience it.
I said before that contentment occurs when we discover and accept our authentic self. This is definitely the case but a workshop participant asked “What does this have to do with the belief system you spend so much time talking about”. This is a good point. After all the belief system is implicated in so much or our misery it is only logical to wonder how it is related to our contentment.
I believe that contentment occurs when the belief system produces mostly functional emotions. This highlights the fact that contentment is itself not an emotion. It is a habit of thinking, a way of being in the world that results in more balanced and responsive emotional experience regardless of what happens to us or around us. This is also why contentment, or happiness, can sit alongside the full range of human emotions. I can feel pain, anger, joy, anxiety, passion, and all the emotions and be at the same time content.
It is when any of my emotions are dysfunctional that I lose my contentment. By definition dysfunctional emotions disconnect us from others and from ourselves. I cannot discover or appreciate my authentic self if I am disconnected from it. So, having out-of-control or dysfunctional emotions means we are not content. This is also why effective cognitive therapy must involve mindfulness.
Mindfulness in general is about contemplation and increased awareness. Cognitive therapy requires that we be somewhat contemplative. Instead of contemplating our navel, however, we need to contemplate our self. Notice the similarity of the words contemplation, and contentment. They sound related. Since I am not an etymologist I don’t know if they actually have the same root. Being a therapist, however, I firmly believe they are related in practice. We can’t have one without the other.

Is it me or is it you?

Over the past week I have had a bunch of clients who do not have a grip on fact of life #9. As astute readers you will know that fact states that “Everybody’s behavior is mostly about them, not me”. I don’t think I can overstate the importance of this. For me there is a clear choice. Either I believe that other peoples behavior is about me or I believe it is about them and has very little to do with me.

If I believe that someone else’s behavior is about me then there are all kinds of consequences. I hear statements like “…walking on eggshells…”, or “I can’t be myself”, or “…I have to make her happy…” and many more. This is a very difficult situation. It is also extremely disrespectful to the other person.

If I assume the power to make someone else angry, or sad, or anything then I have taken away their ability to maintain their own contentment. I am saying in effect that they are not competent human beings in their own right. Whether or not they collude in this process is irrelevant. The professional victims of the world are all too glad to make it someone else’s job to keep them happy and to manage their emotions. That does not mean I have to join them in this futile, dead end activity. The fact of the matter is that we are all totally responsible for our own happiness. It is the only thing we can control in life. My efforts toward happiness need to be focused on my own happiness where it can do some good not on somebody else’s happiness which is out of my control. There is one caution, as usual.

In not assuming responsibility for your happiness, or your feelings it is important to maintain some level of polite containment. That is, there are things I can say that make it easier or harder for you to maintain your boundaries and your contentment. It behooves all of us to have a basic respect for everyone. In other words there is some shit I need to keep to myself. Respect for each other’s reality and personal struggle just makes it easier on all of us.

The fact is I am my own person and you are your own person and we are both capable of maintaining our contentment in the face of whatever life throws at us. I am me and I am not you. I am also pretty sure you are not me. With this in mind there is really no way that my behavior can control your feelings or yours mine. What you does not define me. Bottom line is not to confuse ourselves.

We choose our behavior. Life chooses our consequences and we choose our response to those consequences. So my behavior and my emotional well being are all that I am responsible for. If everyone focused on this, and kept themselves happy no matter what, and was respectful of others, imagine what kind of world it would be. No depression or anxiety, no hatred, no war in short a world without misery. All of this is possible just by keeping in mind what is you and what is me.

Apples and Macaques?

So, I got this email from a friend. He points out that human and chimpanzee DNA is 98% the same. I immediately launched into a frantic search of the internet learning, among other things, that the most recent estimate is 95% and that in addition there are lots of other factors (like whether to include insertions and deletions and a lot of other stuff) so that it is sort of like comparing oranges and orangutans. Fortunately before going too far down that particular rabbit trail I realized it is beside the point of FOL #1.

The point is that connection is what matters and connection is most easily facilitated when we pay attention to our similarities instead of our differences. It does not matter if we are trying to connect to a person or a cat. Then I thought that if we pay close attention to our similarities with monkeys we could connect better with them and that is not a bad thing, right? That is also not the point. It did make me realize that connection to everything is not a bad goal but there is a built in sequence or priority list that generally has to be followed.

Connecting to monkeys instead of other people would not be particularly satisfying. In fact, never minding the monkeys or anybody else I believe we cannot connect to another until we first connect to our very own self. It is only when I am fully aware of my own humanity and all that entails that I become able to recognize and connect to that humanity in others. If I cannot notice my own self how am I going to apprehend or appreciate somebody else’s self. One of the things to notice is my quirks. The labyrinth that is my mind (some of which you are seeing right here) can be a scary place.

On noticing some of my thoughts I might become concerned; concerned that I am not normal. Or, worried that there is some sort of troll living in here. I can be convinced that normal people don’t think like this. The fact is that all of us have weird thoughts, so what. I have been told by my significant other that “…you have some weird shit going on in there”. This of course usually happens when she asks “What are you thinking” and I tell her. The interesting thing is that generally after a few moments thought she will add “…yeah that makes sense” or “I have had that thought too” or something that lets me know I am not really all that weird. However if I become so afraid of my self, so convinced there is in fact a monster lurking then I won’t be looking around in there.

By not looking, not acknowledging my authentic self, weird shit and all, I am signing up for a life of shame, fear and isolation. So the first task in the connection journey is to connect to ourselves. The way Sandy puts it in our weekly workshop is we must “discover and accept our authentic self” (I think I say it in the book too but don’t tell Sandy because I don’t believe I gave her credit). This is probably the hardest part of the journey. It is, however, a necessary part of the connection sequence.

The sequence goes something like this: first connect to myself; second, connect to another person; third, connect to all other people; fourth, connect to another life form; fifth, connect to all life; sixth, connect to the world and; seventh connect to the universe. This is cool since I just made it up and it sorta corresponds to the levels of awareness described by Deepak Chopra and others. I think we might call it the seven levels of connection and make it a whole big thing.

Since I am not into big things I will just leave this topic with the reminder that whatever is going on in the universe, we are part of it. Some of us believe in God. Some of us believe in a universal consciousness. Some of us just stand in awe of what we see. Some of us don’t like other people’s behavior or race or religion or whatever. Some of us want to change other people’s beliefs and behaviors and some of us are more tolerant. Some of us might think we are different than the fundamental terrorist, or not as good as the rich and powerful. Some of us kill and some of us heal. Some of us hate and some of us love. AND we are all human being doing the best we can with what we have. In the end we are all people.