Sunday, September 24, 2017

Forgiveness Is A Verb (Break The Shackles)

When I Googled the word ‘forgiveness’; (4) of the first (6) results were religious and Biblical in nature. While this was interesting and even comforting to me, it also made me wonder if the act of forgiveness took a measure of strength required from a higher power and that people, by nature, were not pre-disposed to forgive willingly. I suppose that is the origin of the phrase; “To err is human; to forgive divine.” Why is that? Why is forgiving someone such a monumental task? We all want to be forgiven for our mistakes, so what drives us to be so stingy when it is asked of us?  

Part of the answer to that question lies in the harshness of the standard we impose on others, while cutting ourselves a continuous break. Take, as a simple example, a common exchange in any household down your street. John is tasked with taking out the trash and Beth is tasked with picking up the milk. Both forget and fail to complete their tasks. Beth’s internal (and most likely external as well) dialogue goes something like, “You never listen. You don’t care. I’m not important.” She assigns an internal defect for John’s mistake; which makes it personal, bordering on intentional, and harder to forgive. When John then goes in later for the milk and finds it not there, Beth’s answer is, “You have no idea what kind of day I had. The kids…the job…the traffic….etc.” For herself, she assigns an external (and therefore uncontrollable) force for her mistake, which should be totally understandable and easy to forgive.

Now this example is not meant to stereotype domestic roles or to say that women find it harder to forgive; please do not make those inferences. The scenarios can go in both directions and the tasks are insignificant. The message, however, is the difference in how we view our failings when compared to those of others. It is also worth noting, that the types of forgiveness that trip us up in life go way beyond milk. My point here being, there is a psychological basis for our resistance to forgive. And we must learn to overcome it.

When a “legal transgression” has been committed, there is system in place to provide justice and restitution. It is not without flaws, but it does exist. However, when the damage is to the heart and the soul, there is no sliding scale for emotional restitution. The first steps to restoration have to come from within the person who has suffered the loss.

How do we start that process? How do we pick ourselves up from the rubble of disbelief and begin the healing? The first step is to FORGIVE, and it can be an extremely difficult thing to do because I’m not talking about repeating a simple phrase. I’m talking about a conscious choice, a willful act, a decision based in reason, and not emotion; to release the other person from the prison in your mind. Yes, YOUR mind. Because that is where they are. As long as you hold resentment, bitterness and hurt for the wrongs you have suffered, that person has taken up residence in your mind. You can never escape them. They haunt you constantly. Making the decision to forgive them unlocks their hold on you and sets you both free.

You don’t want them to be free, you say. You do not want them to walk around released from the weight of their guilt. Unfortunately, that part is out of your control. You can neither make someone feel guilt nor regret. There will be people who hurt you that will show true remorse and work to win back your trust. There will be others who either are unconcerned about the injury, or oblivious to the harm they have caused. Forgiving someone does not let them off the hook, nor does it mean you have suddenly developed warm and inviting feelings towards them. It is the choice that YOU make to break the yoke that ties the two of you together. Many others have said it, and it is true, the act of forgiveness is focused on your healing. We each carry our own burdens of shame and failings. Wishing for the one who wronged you to suffer may seem natural, but in the scope of the kind of future you want to have, it serves no purpose. They fight wars and enemies of their own that we will never know.

Many people today live in emotional misery, continuing to blame another for their internal condition. Blaming others only gives them power over our lives. We hand over the responsibility of our happiness to the very people who have mishandled it. People will hurt us in varying degrees our entire life. Most are not intentional, but the level of hurt it causes is 100% a combination of our reaction to the event and our internal triggers and chosen behaviors. We cannot allow anyone else to dictate the joy, or lack thereof, in our life. We must take back the controls of our life’s ship and sail back into the open waters of peace.

My dear Hopefuls, it is my sincere wish that no one reading today is fighting this battle; however I know that most of us have faced it and may again. I do not want anyone to live one more day in fear or bondage by the actions of another. You are strong enough to handle the setback. You are wise enough to make the right choice. Choose to take back your life. Choose to mentally kick out the enemy. Release them. Forgive them; actively. Get back in the game.

Hope With Abandon

Hope Out 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Your Life Is Beside The Point (And So Much More Than A Dot)

Now before you start scratching your head or crafting your strong rebuttal, hear me out. I promise you, it’s good news.

While scrolling (or trolling, depending on your outlook) Facebook recently, I ran across an article that described a professor and an experiment he assigned to his class. He walked in, told everyone there was a pop quiz and handed out the test paper, face down. He then had them all turn the paper over at the same time, only to find the paper blank save one small dot in the middle. The assignment was to describe what they saw. The students were confused and waited for the catch, but finally set out to complete the task. When they had finished, he gathered all the papers up and began reading them, out loud to the class. Collectively, the entire group had all written about the same thing, the dot. They gave details on the size, color, position on the paper. There was great emphasis and time spent on the dot.  And nothing at all on the rest of the pristine, clean sheet of paper.

I could ask if any of you were guilty of that; seeing and then focusing on the one, tiny blemish in an otherwise large, beautiful scene, but I already know the answer. Because you are human – we are human, we all are guilty. Why is that?

As richly blessed as most of us are, why do we push aside the good, the lovely, the joyful, and hone in with laser point precision on the trials and the struggles? Are we damaged, ungrateful, selfish? As it turns out, probably not. This is actually a hard-wired response from our brain’s processing center.

There was a study done at Ohio State where participants were shown images that would register delight (playing puppies, a gorgeous sunrise) and then images that would register dismay (burn victims, starving children) and the electronic responses in the cerebral cortex were recorded. The negative images had a much higher surge of activity.  This suggests that even while we appreciate the good, exposure to the bad makes a greater impact on our lives.

The reasoning is quite basic and dates back to the beginnings of mankind. Their daily survival depended on the ability to quickly and accurately pinpoint a threat and find a way to escape it, or neutralize it. The brain developed a unique threat assessment warning system that still exists today. This can be helpful in real life fight-or-flight scenarios, but wreak havoc in our every day existence.

There is a common phrase used when describing a situation where someone is worried about the immaterial and irrelevant stuff; that’s beside the point. Now I am not suggesting that the obstacles and problems in your life are immaterial; I understand we all face mountains that need climbing. However, we should be careful to appreciate the total landscape, and not just the mountain. Our journeys are filled with many glorious and precious gifts; family, friends, health, sustenance, integrity, values, love, talents and all of these are laid out on the glorious sheet that is your LIFE. 

These are bright and shining testaments to your motivation, spirit and hard work. When the moments come, and they will, where a small dot mars your sheet, it suddenly becomes the only thing we see. It jumps off the page and into our minds where, if we are not careful, we can focus only on the mar and forget the rest of the marvelous sheet. It is imperative we take steps to recognize and re-channel this response. How is this accomplished?

The same Ohio State researcher noted in order to not be overwhelmed with the bad, we had to counter-balance with the positive; only the ratio is not 50-50 as one might think. The actual ‘scientific’ number is more like 5 – 1; meaning we need to consciously register and appreciate five positive things to offset one negative. That may seem like a giant task considering how stressful it is to just watch the news, much less open your front door every morning, but, my dear Hopefuls, I absolutely believe it can be achieved.

There is beauty all around us. It is our responsibility to notice and fully appreciate it. Lift your head up away from your phone and look around. Take in a sunrise, go for a walk, savor a fine meal, find a winding road for an afternoon drive with the top down, call a friend, or your kids, or your grandkids. Pick up a forgotten hobby, or pursue a new one. Become part of another’s beauty by reaching out. Volunteer, help someone in need, offer advice, be the reason someone smiles. Re-train your eyes not to see the dot in the center of your page, but all the loveliness that surrounds it. Focus on all the ‘good’ that is ‘beside the point’; because that is where you true life and happiness is. All around the dot. The bad may not ever completely go away. You will still have health issues and deal with hurt, loss and disappointment. The dot will grow larger at times, and then shrink back down. The point is, for the vast majority of us, everything else around the dot will always outshine it. That is the good news for living beside the point.

My friends, our goal for today is to see beyond the dot; to experience all the glorious and wonderful things that inhabit the rest of your page. Love fiercely. Show kindness. Revel in the goodness that is your life. Dwell beside and beyond the point; owning your joy. Live your best life now; today!

Hope With Abandon

Hope Out

Monday, September 4, 2017

Are You A Candle Or A Bon-Fire? (The Winds of Toil)

I would like to point out before I begin that science was my least favorite and also least successful subject to study. For anyone reading this who determines I have mixed my metaphors or butchered the science, I apologize in advance.

Fire is a tremendous energy. It is a source of heat and light; a purifier and protection. It is one of the main elements of our sustenance. For the purpose of this blog, it is also an analogy of your life; your spirit; the essence of YOU. There is a fire kindled within each of us at the start of life’s journey that consists of our hopes and dreams for the person we desire to become. 
Unfortunately, this journey also brings obstacles and trials.  The difficulties and troubles we face along the way will do one of two things to our fire; extinguish it or fan the flame. The outcome is up to you.

Fire needs three things to survive; fuel – heat – oxygen. Too much or not enough of any of these will kill the flame and the darkness and cold will return. The fuel for our heart’s passion is motivation. It is the spark that drives us forward when we want to quit or get tired. It is the strength to endure and persevere. Our individual motivations are as unique as we are. Some are driven by financial success, some have a specific career goal, others are simply determined to carve a better path for those coming after. There are a few of us who are happy to just keep it together one more day, with the love of the dear ones in our lives to keep us moving.

The heat, well, the heat we are all too familiar with. The adversity that crops up when least expected. The struggles we conquer and then have to conquer again. The questions are always drifting in the air above us; the whys? Why must I endure this? Why did they leave? Why can’t I fix it? Why? There are few answers to these questions, and even for the ones we can figure out, the reality stays the same. Truthfully, as difficult as it is to believe at the time, the misfortunes in our lives often do result in the refining of our souls and the strengthening of our moral fiber. While this brings little comfort during the searing trial, we can often look back and measure our growth to see how far we have come.

The last, pivotal ingredient in your life’s flame, is determination. We have very little control over the adversity and struggles we face, and even our motivations, at times, can be suspect or even selfish, but our determination, that my dear friends is all up to us. We are the sole proprietors of the resolve we shoulder in to our obstacles. And it is this resolve that brings us back to the question, are you a candle or a bon-fire?

A candle gets its fuel source from the burning of the wax. As long as the flame continues to burn down the wick and releases chemicals from the wax, the fire burns. There is plenty of oxygen around to keep the candle functioning. The problem with the candle comes when the wind blows too hard. The rushing air travels faster than the front of the flame and pushes it past the fuel source. The candle goes out when the flame cannot melt the wax and release the gas to keep it lit. The candle cannot easily withstand the wind.  

Now the bon-fire is a different story. A bon-fire still has the same three elements, but this time the wind does not put out the flame. In fact, with the bon-fire, the wind intensifies the heat. Blowing on a fire increases the amount of oxygen, which in turn boosts the fuel consumption and the fire burns hotter and brighter. This is the technique that blacksmiths use to melt steel. The very thing that snuffs out the candle, strengthens the bon-fire. Is this reaching to your soul yet?

My hope for you today is to understand the power that lies within you. That determination and emotional stamina to withstand the pressure and the heat and to recycle this intensity to burn a greater desire to succeed, thrive and overcome. Not all trials by fire are the same. I know people who struggle mightily with physical illness or limitations, but do not succumb to self-pity and give up. I’ve talked to others with a history of abuse, both physical and emotional, who refuse to let their past define them. Then there are those of us who maybe have just made mistakes, bad decisions or fallen on hard times. The men and women who face each day with courage and press on. I would never mislead anyone to believe it is easy to tackle adversity, but I do believe in the overwhelming strength of the human spirit. I’ve witnessed it too many times to ever doubt.

My friends, candles can be beautiful and ornate, providing a lovely glow and a pleasing atmosphere, but you are so much more than an ornament on a shelf. You are a roaring source of emotion, love and brilliance. Do not settle for a safe life with a single wick that can easily be extinguished with the winds of time. Choose instead to be that bon-fire. Choose to lean into the wind and use its strength to feed into yours. Let your life be purified with the blemishes melted away. Determine that your fire will burn bright, hot and provide protection for those around you. Draw strength to keep you through the days ahead. Take comfort in the victories already won. Believe in the fierceness of your heart.


Hope With Abandon

Hope Out 

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