The week of Thanksgiving is upon us and our thoughts turn to turkey, pumpkin pies, family gatherings and … football—ew! Sorry, football fans. I couldn’t restrain myself.
To me, football seems … well … brutish. Don, my partner, who just so happens to be a former football coach (go figure), tells me I’m suffering from a narrow perspective, and he’s taken it upon himself to correct that. Wish him luck.
Not long ago, he showed me a video about a middle school football team that plotted to help a teammate with a learning disability make a touchdown. Forfeiting points wasn’t their concern. Helping Keith experience a life-changing moment was their sole priority.
Yes, Keith scored, and at that moment, something big took root in him. He’ll probably never be quite the same. And neither will his fellow teammates. Keith gave them something that was equally grand and equally life-changing (the video spells that out).
In essence, Keith gave them an opportunity to open their hearts, rise above personal gain, and redefine the word “victory.” Such opportunities lurk everywhere just waiting to be stumbled upon. They show up on (yes) football fields, in restaurants, board rooms, at work, on the phone, in our car, and in every one of our relationships, to name just a few.
According to the late theologian Paul Tillich, “The first duty of love is to listen.”
I rank listening right up there at the top of requirements for a well-running relationship. This includes love partnerships, parent-child relationships, friendships … you name it.
Listening is a lot bigger than the mere act of hearing with our ears. It entails reining in our straying thoughts, our knee jerk assumptions, judgments and impatience. It entails listening from a heart-space, not solely from an intellectual space.
It’s hard to master. I find that true both personally and professionally. One couple comes to mind—Ross and Sara. Ross expressed … no, he wowed me with a complaint common among many of my female clients:
“Just because someone says, ‘Get over it,’ doesn’t mean it stops hurting.”
He directed that comment to Sara after she discounted his feelings in our counseling session. He was sharing a painful incident, and instead of taking his pain seriously, she trivialized it.
Another client, Mindy, feels exactly like Ross. Her husband, Sam, not only discounts her feelings, he’s frequently sarcastic and has an explosive temper. In one of their marital sessions he said, “She cries over anything. I’m convinced she’s incapable of controlling her feelings.” I challenged him: “You accuse Mindy of being too emotional and incapable of controlling her feelings. Isn’t anger an emotion?” Read their stories here.
Whether the one we love is our partner, our child, a friend, relative or acquaintance, statements like “Get over it,” “Why let that bother you?” and “You’re too sensitive” fail to relieve the hurting heart. Not only that, they can create a chasm between two people—a chasm that, if allowed to continue, may not be bridged.
At a young age, we begin the habit of limping in order to harmonize with friends, our family, a job, a social order. By the time we’re adults, it’s become so much a part of us that we do it unthinkingly—automatically. To stop doing it now would be jolting because we’re used to it. But it’s limping. And limping doesn’t make us happy . . . it does the opposite.
My friend, Pat, limped for the greater share of her life. Instead of warmly accepting herself—enjoying her uniqueness—she spent most of her days hunkered down, feeling inferior, seemingly ashamed of who she was. Fearful of others’ negative opinions, she was careful about what she said and did. Submerging her true essence, she presented everyone with a watered-down version of herself. But something happened that changed all that. I call it a gift—so did Pat. Click here and read her heartfelt story.
Well-being is the reward for doing the things that feed our spirit. When circumstances prevent us from doing that, we need to very quickly tackle those roadblocks to the ground. Everyday we struggle for our life. Not necessarily because we might die … at least not physically. Our essential self—that spark within each of us—fights to stay alive.
Young overachievers are rehearsing for a harried lifestyle. What’s amusing and ironic is that several years down the road these same people will be told—probably due to health problems—that a major course correction is in order. In their stress management, yoga or meditation classes, they’ll cultivate the ability to pace themselves and take time out to smell the roses. They’ll also learn that the way they’ve been conditioned—behaving like crazed hamsters on an ever-spinning wheel—is all wrong. It’s not how life should be lived. A lifestyle that creates high anxiety and ulcers cannot be healthy or happy.
Here’s a quote by William James: “The essence of genius is to know what to overlook.” That statement tells me two things—first, I’m not even close to genius status, and second, William James wasn’t born in this century or the last.
Relinquish the need to be perfect. Effort is perfection.
Imagine a roomful of babies all trying to perfect the skill of walking. What we witness is a lot of bumping into things and falling down. We don’t expect babies to get it right immediately—we don’t scold them for failing in their attempts. No. Instead, we’re warmly amused by the sight. So why are we hard on ourselves and each other for not getting it right? Babies need practice. So do we.
This is what I explained to Lorena, 24, who has a tendency to judge herself for being imperfect. She has judged herself for things like making mistakes on her new job, not following her diet faithfully, and for getting less than an A in her classes at college.
I gave her some strange advice: “If you get a C, regard it as a victory.”
Confusion was written all over her face.
“I say that because for you, an A is intimately connected to self-acceptance. It will mean progress for you when you feel self-acceptance no matter what—even when you’re less than perfect.”
Not long ago, Lorena gave me an update on her progress. She had written a report for school and instead of obsessively perfecting it “I told myself it was good enough.” For Lorena, that’s progress.
A friend of mine, Patti, who helps me with my tech challenges, wowed me with something that caused me—without any reservation—to demand that she write it up for my blog. She did just that and here it is:
I was gazing out my kitchen window the other day, captivated by the beauty of the changing leaves in my backyard. For some reason, I was struck by this question: Why do we see the changes in these leaves as they near their demise, and say, “Beautiful! Gorgeous! Breathtaking!” yet when humans change as they age and approach their “end” on this earth, those changes are perceived as ‘ugly’? So ugly, in fact, that we go to extreme measures to erase them, bleach them, surgically remove them, inject poison in them, etc. Why can’t we see those changes as just as “beautiful” as those changes in the leaves? In fact, I propose that we see them as even more beautiful, because aren’t we more beautiful than leaves? Aren’t we more precious than leaves?
After mulling over Patti’s insight, I had a thought. One of the gifts of the aging process is a lesson about beauty. Our discernment of beauty changes over the years from what our eyes see to what our heart sees. On second thought, I think babies have this mastered. They don’t even notice age. Maybe, as we grow older we go back to viewing people through the eyes of a baby—purely.
Depression and dissatisfaction with your life may be direct feedback from your inner guidance system telling you that you’re not fulfilling your true nature.
Branches on a young bonsai tree are wired down and shaped to conform to a fixed design. In time, the wires are no longer necessary. The bonsai will hold its forged shape. Like the bonsai, we were shaped at a young age. But unlike the bonsai, when the wires are removed—that is, when we grow up—we have the option to remain fixed, shaped permanently, or return to our original and natural form. We have choice.