Thursday, November 05, 2009

Managing Anger

There is a popular idea that managing anger requires expressing it in order to “defuse” or “ventilate” it, but that has never really worked for me. The more I talked about anger the larger my anger became. Other lifestyle changes have altered me such that anger is no longer a measurable part of my life, so dealing with it is no longer an issue, but I came across a statement in a crime novel by Robert B. Parker the other day that I think is pretty much precisely right.

“Anger doesn’t have to be expressed. It is enough to know that you’re angry, and to know why, and not to lie to yourself about it.”

The pitfall, of course, is thinking that one can always manage that by oneself. I suspect it is a very rare person who can reliably manage that without assistance.

Notice two principles that are embodied in that, though; self examination and honesty with one's self. Are there any two principles that are more fundamental to recovery?

I had a friend many years ago, a retired Merchant Mariner named Ziggy. He would use the example of driving on the freeway and getting cut off by another driver. “That guy made me angry,” he would say, and then add, “But think about it. He didn’t. He just cut me off. I made me angry.”

His point, and I think it was well taken, was that anger comes from within and needs to be dealt with at its source. The driver who cut me off cannot come back and make me “unangry” the solution lies within me. When I attempt to resolve my anger by addressing the person or event that “caused” that anger am lying to myself, and whenever I do that things get worse, not better. Resolving anger is an inside job.

That’s why “talking about my anger” never helped me in the past; I wasn’t talking about my anger. I was talking about things outside of myself. I was blaming. I was justifying my anger, and of course that made it bigger.

When, instead, I can look at that event and ask, “What did that trigger inside me that made me angry?” then I can deal with that inside of me that was triggered. When I do that, the anger dissolves.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Being Underestimated

One of the nicest compliments I ever received was an unintended one from a client quite a few years ago. I was in her office whe we were interrupted by a phone call. After speaking for a few minutes she told her caller, "I have to go, my computer guy is here." In response to something her caller said she went on, "Oh, yeah, I've got a computer guy. He's awesome. He keeps telling me how much he doesn't know, but he makes everything work."

That's a complete reversal, of course, of the inflated ego which kept creating expectations that I could not live up to. I love being underestimated.

"He keeps telling me how much he doesn't know, but he makes everything work."   I still treasure that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Matter of Focus

Another advice column at Salon, and this one I disagree with altogether. The question is from a guy who abused his former wife, has gotten treatment and believes he is past the problem but wonders if he should tell his present girlfriend. He is afraid she will dump him if he does. The advice is that he should, but is accompanied with a great deal of narrative on how to soften it.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. This guy's question answers itself. The guy is worried about himself, not his girlfriend. He's not concerned with basic honesty, or on the feelings of his girlfriend, he is focused on his own self interest. He should have told her long ago, and he should not wait for her to dump him, he should get out of the relationship immediately. He is not ready for a relationship, and he is by no means recovered from his abusive personality.

Self focus is at the root of many ills, and losing the focus on self is the root of recovery. No real recovery can occur when the center of my universe is me. The greatest freedom of all is when,

"We move outward from self, toward God and toward others."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Not "Giving It Up"

There was an interesting article at Salon, here, about a woman who wants to find the right man and get married but is pained at the idea of "giving up" her present lifestyle of meeting neat guys at parties and sleeping with them. The columnist's advice is not bad, but it's not quite what I would have said, and it's quite interesting how many of the commenters suggested that she stop drinking for a while even though drinking was not mentioned in her story. I did sort of agree with the commenters.

I hadn't really thought of it quite as specifically until now, but the focus of my sobriety is that my life has changed. Initially it was that I had "given up drinking," but one needs to move past that and seek a change of life. If the focus remains indefinitely on "I'm giving up drinking," then sobriety is a negative and I suspect a return to drinking is all but inevitable. For me, sobriety is a very powerful and positive aspect of my life, to the point that the negativity of "I can't drink" is really no longer even a significantly tangible part of it. I don't drink, of course, but that seems almost incidental to my sobriety even while being foundational to it.

So my advice to the young woman would be to not focus on the "I'm giving up partying," and rather recognize that she is moving from one phase of life to another, that she has become a different person with new ambitions and values and that exploring that person is an adventure. She doesn't know where that adventure will take her, but that's okay, because the joy is not in the destination, it's in the adventure itself.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What You Think Of Me...

Well, so much for the “one post per week” idea; it’s been an entire month. As we used to say in the Navy, “No excuse, sir.” I don’t actually need one. It’s my blog; I can post whenever I doggone well please. If you think I’m not doing it properly, that’s your problem. Deal with it.

All of which is offered with my tongue in cheek and brings me to the topic. The full quotation is, “What you think of me is none of my business.” It comes from some book or other which I have long since forgotten, and as I recall it’s original meaning was that we should quit worrying about what other people think of us. There was a lot of stuff about discarding the worry regarding other people’s opinions.

I took a slightly different message from it, though.

All my life I not only wanted people to like and approve of me, I wanted it to a degree that caused me to try to become who I thought they would like and approve of. I was not me, I was an actor; acting not one role, but many roles. I acted a different role in each environment and all of it was, of course, massively dishonest.

It worked at times and failed at times; some people liked me and others did not. But it was not the real me that they liked or disliked, it was the role that I was playing that formed their opinion. Part of me knew that and, needless to say, I lived in a vast gulf of loneliness.

Honesty precludes role playing and today it seems that most people who know me think rather well of me. I don’t ask, because I don’t really live my life based an any need for approval, so it isn't something that registers with me. What I do know is that, whether you like me or not, it’s now the real me that you like or dislike, and not some role that I’m playing.

So whatever your opinion is, I earned it and I can deal with it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Enjoying Life

I'm a bit rushed these days, but I'm trying to maintain a post per week here. Many doctor appointments, as health has suffered another setback. Not only do I have little strokes happening once more, but a scan shows some little bleeding in my brain. The combination of blood clots forming one place and bleeding in another makes treatment options something of a challenge.

Life is full of challenges. Somebody told me that getting old sucks, but it beats the alternative. I disagree. Getting old does not suck. Even with all of the challenges that it presents, I love being old. I get a kick out of being an "old guy." I worked hard to get here and I'm enjoying every single day of it.

I look in the mirror and I'm not surprised by what I see. I see an old guy. I see a guy that looks a lot like my father. Well, that's pretty natural, and I could do worse. The older he got, the more he enjoyed life. Me too.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Purpose of Relationship

When entering into a relationship, I would suggest that we should ask ourselves a question, “What is the purpose of this relationship? What role is it going to play in my life?” If the answer has to do with meeting needs or creating our own happiness, then some second thoughts about relationship might be in order.

Picture yourself at the center of a set of concentric circles. Let each circle represent a level of your “community;” of that which “is” but is not “self.” What constitutes each circle will vary for each of us, but for most the inner one is the spouse or significant other. The next might be the birth family, or a support group. The next the community and then, working outward, the city, the nation, the environment… Surrounding everything is that “power greater than myself” which guides and provides the strength for daily life.

In the process, then, of “turning outward from self, toward others and toward God” my sense of self embraces all of that diagram so that I am no longer the center of it; all of it is part of me, all of it connects me to God and is part of my guidance and strength.

What role, then, does that relationship fulfill, sitting there as it does as the inner circle in my diagram? Or, if I have already made that happy turn, what role is that relationship going to play when I place there into my life?

If I am focused on what the relationship is doing for me, then wants and needs become confused, my view becomes clouded by unmet expectations and the role of that relationship in my life becomes an inward one and it is blocking me from the rest of my diagram. In my focus on the relationship’s contribution to my happiness or perceived needs I am creating an environment in which the relationship actually makes me smaller.

As I mentioned earlier in the approach to profession, when I see the relationship as an opportunity to contribute to something larger than myself, then its role is an outward one in my life and that relationship becomes a bridge to a larger me and a bridge to God. And in the process my needs get met and my happiness is abundantly increased; not by the relationship alone or by my efforts, but by the relationship and by the larger environment to which the relationship connects me.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Unmet Expectations

There is a saying that the benefit derived from an endeavor will be proportional to the amount of energy or effort that one puts into the endeavor. That saying is applied to life itself, to relationships, to business enterprises, to learning opportunities… You name it.

I have no argument with that saying, except that it rather encourages a focus on the benefit to be derived. It sort of fosters a “what’s in this for me” way of thinking, albeit counterbalanced by a sense of responsibility to produce the effort required to garner the desired benefit.

Still, there is the Prayer of Saint Francis approach to life that leads to a peacefulness of a life free of unmet expectations. When one is focused not on the benefit to be derived from an endeavor, but rather on the reward of being able to contribute to that endeavor, then the endeavor itself becomes the reward, not by what it contributes to me, but simply by its existence. As such it cannot “let me down” because I am not measuring its delivery, I am but recognizing its being. I derive my reward simply by being a part of that endeavor.

Certainly when I practice my profession I derive from that an income which is my sustenance, the payment which provides for my needs. That is a reasonable and necessary expectation, and few professions fail to provide for that. What a profession may fail to provide is for “wants” which masquerade as “needs;” a better car, a new house, more or fancier clothing.

When I focus on the practice of my profession in terms of what I can contribute to it then my needs will be met and I will be at peace. When I focus on what my profession is giving to me I am at great risk of confusing wants and needs, of creating expectations that remain unmet and disrupting my sense of peace.

And the only thing that changed was the direction of my focus.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Freedom of Being Wrong

"When two people hold diametrically opposite points of view, the truth does not necessarily lie somewhere in between. It is possible that one of them is simply wrong."

Being able to be wrong is a freedom greatly to be sought. There is huge relief in being able to let go, admit fault, make amends and move on. Being right all the time is hard work, really hard work, and being right in an indefensible position is utterly exhausting.

Some of the most rewarding apologies I have made, though, have been ones that I have made when I did not even think that I was wrong; apologies made because the relationship needed for me to make them. The situation was that the relationship was being damaged and I could repair it with an apology, and it was time to “man up” and remember that a relationship is bigger than self.

If you have not experienced that I cannot describe it, but doing that expands one’s sense of self, and cements one’s place in the relationship in way that is far more rewarding than being right.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Thinking Globally

I’m sort of on a kick of the “thinking outside of self” thing lately. It has so many ramifications for expanding my life and reducing the impact of the vicissitudes that life tends to bring along. Those things are just life happening, but it is altogether too easy to take them personally. To ask “Why is this happening to me?”

When I get wet in a rainstorm, it is not because it is raining inside of me. It is raining globally and the rain is falling on me. The rain is not happening to me, it is merely happening, and I am feeling the effect of that global event. I’m not alone, either, others are getting rained on as well.

I cannot make it stop raining, or alter the nature of the rain, but I can mitigate the effect of that rain by carrying an umbrella.

Some things are easy to perceive as global events, others less so. When I can perceive my emphysema, cardiac arrhythmias and Parkinson’s Disease as nothing more, nor less, than life happening, as global events of which I am feeling the effects, along with many others, then the “goodness” or “badness” of those things lies not in the things themselves, but in the nature and degree of their effect on my life. That effect, in significant measure, is within my power to determine.

My spiritual condition is my umbrella. Who I am does not depend on how my body feels or how well it functions. (Actually quite well, all things considered.) Who I am is both more and less central than that; it is the inner me that reaches out, and in reaching out becomes much more than self.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Expanding One's Horizon

In “Rain, Rain Go Away” I spoke of getting out of myself and turning outward toward others. When I do that the sense of who I am, the experience of self, does not go away. I do not get lost in that process at all.

I served in the Navy. When one is standing on the deck of a ship the horizon is seven miles away. As you climb up into the superstructure of the ship the horizon recedes farther and farther into the distance; the amount of the universe that is within the scope of your vision expands. At the top of the periscope sheers the horizon is twenty-two miles away and the area of your visible world has gone from 38 square miles to 380. You are no less aware of the ship beneath you, you are just more aware of the ocean upon which that ship rides.

That’s what getting out of one’s self is like. As my journey continued my sense of who I am grew to embrace an ever wider scope of my community; of everything, everyone, who “is” but is not “me.”

“No man is an island” indeed.

The needs of that community are no longer in conflict with my needs, even when those needs differ, because that community is part of me. When I put aside my wants for the good of my community I do not feel any sense of loss, for I am serving the needs of something of which I am a part. I can do that with a very real sense of peace.

Climb up and expand your world. Yes, there are some storm clouds on that expanding horizon, but there are some exciting new worlds to explore, too.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Important Words

words matterIn a segment regarding objections to President Obama's speech at Notre Dame, Keith Olbermann asked Dr. Whelan about the motives of the bishops who were voicing objection to the event.

"I think we have to be careful to pass judgement on the individuals who have spoken out," was the way he began his response.

A kind and thoughtful man, willing to listen to the words of another, not judgementally but with an open mind even in the midst of political discourse. Would that the arena of public debate contained more such men.

Words to live by in all aspects of daily life. "Be careful to pass judgement."

Friday, May 08, 2009

Rain, Rain Go Away

Rain is a bad thing if you are having a parade or a picnic; it’s a good thing if you are a farmer. Reality is that rain is just rain; intrinsically neutral. The “good” and “bad” are value judgements that we apply to rain, and we apply those labels based on how rain affects us. The value, then, is on how the rain touches our self interest, not on the rain itself.

When I can look at life without looking through the lens of self interest then I am freed of the need to judge things as being good or bad.

Getting out of myself is central to what this journey is all about. Turning outward from self, toward others and toward a larger world. Being able to see things as being neither more nor less than life happening.

Discarding the need for judgement is a tangible and very real freedom. It simplifies my life. It leads me to see things differently. It helps me to accept things and to integrate those things into my life. It helps me to integrate my life into the greater sphere of life as a whole. Everything is life happening and that includes me; all part of life, all flowing in the same direction.

I am not going to try to convince you that the severe emphysema which I experience today is a good thing, nor the heart problem, nor the Parkinson’s Disease. These things are just “things,” though, they are life happening. They are not happening “to me.” They are happening globally and I am experiencing them; as are many other people. I am not alone.

The degree to which these things are “good” or “bad” is in part the degree to which they affect me and that, in significant measure, is something which is within my power to determine. To the degree which I can make that determination I will do so. As to those things which I cannot change, I will bear and be strengthened by them, because I can choose to do that.

In a larger sense the degree to which these things are “good” or “bad” is the degree to which they touch upon my self interest and when my vision is not clouded by the lens of self interest, then the terms simply have no meaning and I am freed from the need to even make that judgement.

And that, dear friends, is a truly liberating experience.

I'm Back

I'm not really sure why I have not been active on this blog for such a long while. It's not that I'm not thinking on subjects related to the journey, since I still meditate in a formal sense at least once daily, and informally throughout the day as much as ever. I guess, I have just sort of gotten caught up in other writing efforts and let this one slide. I'm going to try to be more attentive to writing thoughts on the Journey, although it still will not be particularly frequent.