being human

History~memory~choice -Part 1

I believe we can find our personal empowerment in choice. Over time and/or through conditioning we sometimes narrow our perspective of ourselves and life situations, limiting our ability to see the myriad of choices in any given moment. Why not widen our scope (through awareness and curiosity) and discover the multitude of options around us for how we might feel, perceive, think and act in relation to situations and people.

I realize keeping our choices limited might feel easier at times. (Some people have expressed to me that having more options can feel overwhelming and that keeping it ‘small’ brings a sense of safety or control.) But I am only suggesting you become aware of the possibilities…….ultimately you don’t have to choose to feel or act differently. Even when we continue to choose what is familiar, the practice of expanding our awareness of other possibilities is a profound tool in our complex world as humans.

I imagine this can all sound a bit vague……so I will try to offer some examples.

Here is a possible scenario…….
Let’s say I am having a disagreement with a friend and I walk away feeling committed to the perception that they are wrong and I am right. I perceive the situation in black or white terms. (I can certainly stay in this perception and whatever happens will happen.) And……I can also begin to question elements of the situation without placing blame or sense of right & wrong. If I allow myself to soften I can begin to see more options of perspective and viewpoint that lead me into a a wider circle of possibility. These new possibilities of thinking can help shift me out of my old conditioning and limited perspective.
Again, when I let go of my attachment to the familiar ‘I am right’ then suddenly anything is possible as far as my ability to choose a new reaction, response or even become more compassionate.
(I know that I certainly feel more vulnerable when I let go of attachment and open up to other perspectives…..but ultimately I grow and in that there is greater freedom.)

When I find myself in any situation like this I often walk away and then begin to ask myself questions as if I were a neutral bystander. I ask gentle and probing questions into my behavior and also look to uncover as many ideas (without knowing which might be more valid than another) about the other persons behavior. The key for me is always just being curious but not attached to an ‘answer’ because in the alchemy of human interactions I have found there is rarely a single answer or ‘reason’. (And I know that when I describe it here it sounds so neat and tidy….but believe me…..sometimes my process might be a little messy as I sort through my emotions & protective ego along the way.)

This method of ‘black or white’ thinking (‘one or another’ as the only possibilities) is a prevalent form of human assessment. I think we take comfort in having an answer as opposed to seeing the many possibilities and not really knowing what might be ‘true’.
And yes, sometimes we have past experience that informs us and this is a fundamental way in which we learn. (I touched the hot toaster, I burnt my finger and now I know not to touch it again.) We come to know our world through this process and it often works quite well. But there is a whole realm of non-black or white (or hot/cold) situations…… remembering this can be liberating.
When we limit ourselves to only seeing things as ‘it is this way or it is that way’ or ‘they are this or they are that’….how does that truly serve us, others or the world?

Another example of limited perception is how we might feel about something that has happened in the past. We often unknowingly ‘assign’ a particular emotion to an event and perhaps don’t take the time to notice there might be a multitude of other possible emotions that are also true. At any point we have the power to choose how we feel and perceive. Even if the predominant emotion is ‘sad’ or ‘happy’ they are most likely accompanied by other feelings all interconnected. It is unlikely to have any of these emotions exist in a vortex on their own.
(All emotions have overtones of the others and we are able to find variation in our emotions when we change from thinking in singular and narrow terms alone…happy, sad, anger, fear).
When we open ourselves to a greater range of possibilities, we might discover new information about our relationship with an event and gradually begin to integrate what we discover, therefore shifting how we label and relate to it.

Any time we simply react or follow our habitual emotional response to a situation or memory, we minimize our personal potential because we forfeit choice.
Each of us is amazingly complex and has a continuous system of thoughts and feelings flowing through us. Due to conditioning we might end up having the same perspective, thoughts and feelings time after time.
A great analogy might be comparing this constant stream of thoughts to something like a river.

In this sense we are immersed in a river constantly (the ‘river’ being these thoughts/feelings) and you see the same rocks (perceptions) over and over again along the banks of this river. You might also attempt to cling to the same branch at a certain point. But through practice (opening our focus and letting go of attachment to ‘right or wrong’) we may begin to see the sky, trees, colors and even the horizon. Why not open our personal lens and practice taking in all that is possible? Why not allow a little bit of surrender while in that river of thoughts and emotions and see where it takes you? You can always return to the safety of the familiar rocks or branch…… but what if you choose to expand the landscape of possibility?  What if you could also perceive other thoughts, feelings and perspectives in the landscape beyond the familiar?

being human

History~memory~choice -Part 2

Try this…….
The next time you find yourself in a situation of challenging emotions, conflict or conditioned reaction…….try to imagine everything you are thinking and feeling as this river. By this I mean let go……. try to consciously allow it to flow over (or through) you without getting stuck on one thought or feeling. Let all possible thoughts, ideas, perspectives flow without limitation as you choose to look around and see what else there is.  Remind yourself you can always choose when you want to narrow your vision and grab that familiar branch or rock….. but see if you can surrender. For just a few moments see if you can sense that there are other possibilities for how you might choose to see, feel and think.
Notice how it feels to let go of ‘right and wrong’, certainty or the attachment to feeling or thinking a specific way. Let the river take you and see if you can notice something new for however long you are in it. Just notice what you see and feel and perhaps allow the waters to soften you. (I have found when I feel myself soften…..I am able to be with my past conditioning/responses but can also open to a new landscape in the present.)
**Perhaps think of it in metaphors you would enjoy…… maybe a fabulous crossword puzzle, a challenging piece of music, a math problem or an incredibly satisfying organization project. A place where you bring your attention and slowly reveal that which was not seen or known before.**

I want to share a personal story that is an example of what I am trying to describe.
This story is probably one of the greater defining stories in my life and had such impact on so many aspects of who I am.
My grandmother died when I was 12 and there was a consequent chain of significant events which contributed to her death being emotionally and psychologically complex.

I have spent quite a bit of time in the past few decades unfolding the layers of this grief, the loss and the story.
This time of year it is ever more present as a certain tangible melancholy seems to invade my cells starting around my birthday in early March.  And so it has become like a pilgrimage of sorts each year at this time……honoring my birth, the coming of Spring and my grandmother’s passing.
Perhaps that all sounds so clear and tidy……but it can be pretty messy along the way wrestling with so many ghosts of thought and emotion.

So…….now that you have some back ground let me share how this particular story of me connects to what I am writing about.

The other day as I was talking to a friend about how things unfolded with her dying (overflowing with all my years of personal reflection and insight). I realized again almost for the first time, as memory is sometimes conveniently attached to certain perspectives, that I was still choosing to perceive her dying  as ‘tragic’ and negative. There was only ‘black or white’ and I chose ‘black’.
As I softened and allowed myself to be curious I discovered (and remembered) so many other truths.
The truth that life unfolds with unknowable blessing and challenges. That it is up to me as far as how I carry those memories, how I tell those stories and how I let it permeate my sense of being in the world.
As a child I couldn’t do that….the only choice I knew was grief and deep loss and that was what I carried with me unquestioned into adulthood. This seemed like a fair assessment…….so why would I question it?

I choose to question it because I realized that only feeling the ‘grief and loss’ perpetuated the perception of ‘negative’ or ‘tragedy’ in some way. And when I allow myself to be in the river of thoughts and emotions and let all perspectives wash over me…..that is when I see there are so many other elements to the landscape other than the rocks of grief and loss.
The other day I wasn’t clinging to a branch where all I could see was the story of this as a ‘sad tragedy’. When I allowed myself to keep moving through the waters of possibility and not remain stuck in one perspective,  I could recognize I am amazingly who I am because of her passing and all that followed.
That it is absolutely possible to be with the grief, honor her life (and death) and also recognize that there was so much beauty that also grew from it. That her dying was not just an ‘end’ … planted seeds of beginning within me. From here I am able to both feel appreciation for her life and her death….as well as the other things that followed.

Arriving in this perspective has taken curiosity and permission (and still there are times I ‘forget’). I could easily stay attached to the familiar perspective of ‘sad tragedy’ but through practice I have found other ‘truths’ and through this I have found greater love, appreciation and freedom.
I believe this is true with most aspects of our stories, memories and lives.
Why not be curious? Why not gently unfold layers and discover new possibilities of how you feel and think in your skin and in the world?

We have this possibility every day…..every moment……..perhaps just pick one and see what you find……
why not?

Thanks for reading……..