Out Of Your Mind


by Steven Reeder, ACC

At some point, we all spend perhaps more time than we should ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future. When we do this, some would say "our life is passing us by." I think those people are wrong. Our life is in fact right there in the moment, where it always was, and it's not going anywhere. Of course, that is precisely the problem with immersing ourselves too deeply in either the past or the future. Our life isn't going anywhere and neither are we. So how can we stay present in the moment?

When I was a teenager, every KISS tour prompted the same regimented routine [which I realize today was a lot of work without the internet]: get the tour dates, find the date for tickets on sale, save up the cash, camp out at local ticket outlet (even if just one hour before), store the tickets somewhere that wouldn't get lost, and make sure I have a reliable ride to the show.

There was one more routine I had to go through every time. It was the obligatory questions from my dad. The same questions, every time: "Why are you going to see them again? What the hell is so great that you have to see it again? He's (as if KISS was a single person) gonna stick out his tongue, breathe fire, blow everything up and go home!"

What papa didn't understand was the deep feeling of gratitude inherent in those priceless moments of the concert. For whatever reason, I imprinted on KISS records. The aural quality of the electric guitars was a form of sonic power to which I was immediately attracted. I believe I have the same childhood-induced attraction to commercial jetliners, with their exceedingly loud, ground-rocking jet engines.

If KISS records meant sonic power, a live KISS concert was the ultimate party of light, sound and camaraderie to celebrate that power. And of course, knowing every note, reading every interview, air-strumming every riff and studying every poster, the guys in the band seemed downright familial. Every show was not only exhilarating, but also like seeing old friends.

What was obvious during every show was that the show lasted a finite amount of time. Once they hit the stage, they would be gone again in less than two hours. In those precious few minutes, I wanted - needed - to be as present as possible, to absorb and relish every fleeting moment that would never come again (at least, not until they toured again).

This keen awareness appeared more recently with another passion of mine: roller coasters. Lots of people complain that they wait over an hour for a two-minute experience (as if a line was designed to take a pre-determined amount of time, which the park management arbitrarily adjusts throughout the day to make you more or less perturbed). And yet, the people wait. Why? Because the experience of those two minutes of bliss are worth the privilege of waiting.

I noticed this most poignantly this past year. I got the opportunity to ride roller coasters while going through some painful life circumstances at home. I knew I could have two minutes of bliss so long as I chose to be in bliss. If I was to enjoy the ride, I could dwell neither in problems of the past, nor in the apprehensions of the future. Once the train left the station, it didn't care if I enjoyed the ride or not. It will run its cycle and be done in two minutes. I knew I could not stay in my head while my ass was in the seat. I had to be conscious, deliberate and present for at least those two minutes. I could put my attention to what I saw, perhaps the falling and twisting horizon. I could focus on the sensation in my hands, either gripping the bar or the wind between my fingers high in the air; the shaking of the car underneath my pelvis; the falling in the pit of my stomach. It was then an experience not for my head, but my whole body.

Granted, I find roller coasters to be great physical catalysts for bliss. One day, perhaps I'll be able to will myself into bliss as easily as with a catalyst; I'm working on it. When we can get out of our minds and experience life as it is right now, whether we judge the present to be good or bad, we find it is truly the only real moment we can affect. The past is dead, and the future has yet to be "real-ized." Living in the past and/or future is to live in your head. I speak from experience. Sometimes it's great to be out of your mind. I recommend it.


 

Seven Choices You Always Have


by Steven Reeder, ACC

I recently saw a news article showing that an individual in Alabama purchased an auto vanity plate. The vanity plate is pink with graphics indicating support for breast cancer awareness. The plate holder chose for the vanity inscription to be "NOHOMO."

I was made aware of this plate and subsequent news article through an online friend sharing it in social media, presenting this incident as validating his own persecution complex. My first reaction was sadness, not over the article, but of my friend's admission. I have my own history with a persecution complex (sometimes, it's not even history) and it can be a painful place to be. I also recognize the incident not as the cause of the persecution complex, but a trigger for a pattern that has already surfaced and been reinforced a thousand times before.

There have been so many news articles in recent months that have highlighted the many opponents and detractors to gay and lesbian equality. It sometimes seems as if we have no choice but to feel persecuted and shut out. Yet we actually have seven distinct choices in every circumstance of life.

Choice #1: Suffering

"I can't believe this is happening to me. I'm always being put down. No one accepts me; everyone is out to get me. This is terrible, and it's going to get worse. There's nothing I can do about it. I'm consumed with fear, worry and guilt. I lose."

Choice #2: Conflict

"What a jerk! Someone ought to beat the crap out of this person. Those people are so stupid. I'm pissed off, and have every reason to resent you. I'm entitled to have my way, and will take you out to make sure I win."

Choice #3: Responsibility

"Oh well. That person just doesn't know any better. The world is a tough place to be, I just have to be careful. At least I don't know anyone like this in my own life. Things are pretty good for me even when there are bad things in the world. I can cope with this. I will win by taking care of myself."

Choice #4: Compassion

"I wonder what that person is going through that they think something like this? I want to help them fix their perception and support them to have a better perspective. What can I do to help? I want that person to heal. I want you to win."

Choice #5: Opportunity

"It's great that people's opinions are coming out in the open. This offers a great opportunity to have a discussion about this important topic, which has not gotten the attention it deserves. How exciting to be given this opportunity for everyone to come to the table. We can work together. Everyone needs to win, or else no one wins."

Choice 6: Reconciliation

"How amazing it is to see that everyone has fears, regardless of what they are. I don't judge that person; they are being authentic to who they are, given their own model of the world at this time. In a world of duality, there's darkness and light. What I'm seeing is part of the bigger picture. We all win, because life is about having the experience."

Choice #7: Observation

"Everything is as it is. I am completely detached from the outcome. Any feeling (or no feeling) about this is perfect. There is nothing and no one to judge. All things in the material world, including winning and losing, are illusory."

 

To say the least, some choices are easier to make than others. Which choices do you make more often? Under what circumstances? What are your triggers? How can you anticipate your own triggers and make a choice that serves you better?

Granted, none of these choices is the right or wrong choice. You are always free to make the choice that serves you at the time, given your own circumstance and model of world as you see it. The important thing to remember is that you always have seven choices, even when you think you have none.

What's your choice?

 


 

Three Lenses That Distort Your Reality - and how to bring them into focus!


I wore glasses constantly while growing up, so I spent a lot of time behind a phoropter. A phoropter is that contraption at the eye doctor's office that we look through, while the doctor turns and flips a myriad of lenses, altering our vision. The doctor will ask, "Which looks better, A or B?" and continue to turn those lenses until we can see more clearly.

After a few years of wearing glasses, I made an interesting observation. If I tilted my glasses just so and looked through the bottom of the frames, the images I saw were even sharper than when I wore my glasses at normal level. I thought it an odd little secret I had discovered. Wouldn't it be something if my glasses could be made this clear all the time?

My clever secret to seeing the world more clearly was shattered however (though thankfully, not literally the glasses) during a visit to a new eye doctor. When I sat down behind the phoropter, he instructed me specifically to look directly through the center of the lenses. So that was how I got such clarity through the bottom of my lenses! Apparently, I had been slouching and looking through the bottom of the phoropter, thus that was where my prescription was being set! What nerve of those previous doctors to not tell me how to view the eye chart correctly! Often in life, we do our very best with the information we have at any moment. We may get an upgrade to our perspective from time to time and kudos us when we do! Until then, we may not even know what we're missing.

Part of the struggle we face when "creating our own reality" that we truly desire comes in actively managing our thousands of thoughts. It doesn't take much for our minds to run amok. Yet how we see the world is very much like looking through a phoropter. Each thought can act as a turn of the dial, or a completely new lens mounted on the phoropter of our own reality. Not only must we contend with our own lenses forming our vision, but we interact daily with other people who are looking through their own sets of lenses, set by their past thoughts and experiences at varying degrees of clarity (or distortion).

It would be overwhelming to wrangle those 3,000 thoughts per hour, and no one would recommend tackling them one by one. However, when we see these thoughts as having similar roots and origins, we can go a long way to identify those clusters of thoughts which have the most impact, both positively and negatively, in creating our reality. Here is the first of three thought patterns that can play havoc in spinning the lenses on our phoropter of reality, and what to do when you see them coming!


Limiting Beliefs

It is as it is... or is it? We often decide something is true that may not necessarily be so, but because we live our life as if it is true, we can then only produce results that stem from that belief being true.

It's better to be young than old. It's better to live over here than over there. There are not enough hours in the day. All Christians are homophobic. I can't get a job because the economy is so bad. Since this has happened to me before, it's going to happen to me again, so why bother? You can't teach an old dog new tricks. The key theme in all these is that they are beliefs, not truths! They are true only insofar as we believe them to be.

If limiting beliefs are holding you back from who and where you want to be, ask yourself some of the following questions: How true is that belief really? Is this true for everyone, or just me? Where did that idea come from? How does it serve me believe this? What could I accomplish if I did not believe this?

Take some time, get quiet and truly contemplate answers to these questions, and the implication of those answers. They're deep and merit your time and reflection. You're worth it.

Interpretations

Just as the word implies, interpretations are subjective conclusions we make about the words, people and events we encounter. We can form an interpretation about someone's actions when we have little information on which to base our conclusion. For example, if a friend tells you, "I'm upset with you," that's not open to interpretation. However, if that friend fails to call you on the phone at an appointed time, you can make interpretations about why you weren't acknowledged. It could be they literally forgot to call, or because they were preoccupied with their thoughts and missed the time, or because their phone died, or they are on an emergency phone call with someone else, or they're upset with you and don't wish to speak. Any one of these could be true, but you won't know for sure without asking that person. Choosing one interpretation without asking and accepting it as true can be cause for lots of unnecessary grief.

We can easily interpret signals such as body language and facial expressions people make in our presence. We can also get it really wrong when we do so. At rest, my face tends to look very serious. Strangers often think I'm stern or even unapproachable when I'm heavily concentrating on a task. I've also been attributed with having an intense gaze with my eyes of mixed gray and hazel. Truthfully I may have no idea what face I'm making at any given moment, much less how it's being perceived. If someone wishes to interpret my facial expression with no context, they do so at their own peril and my amusement. I'm amused, that is, until someone cuts me off in traffic, then I'm the one who's upset, because I know they did so just to insult me. No one is immune to flawed interpretation.

Some people even go so far as to construe natural events as having personal interpretations. How many times have we been told that some natural event or calamity has taken place because of the wicked behavior of some of our planet's residents? This may seem an extreme example, but it is a valid example of someone deciding that they are certain of the intention behind an event (in this instance, nature) because their interpretation is the only valid and accurate perspective, and thus the only one that need be considered.

If you think you're caught up in an interpretation that limits your options, consider the following questions: what is another way of looking at this situation? What might be the completely opposite view about this scenario? What are five other possible interpretations? What would someone else close to me say about what happened here? As you review these thought patterns and recognize them in your life, consider the feelings that result from these three thought patterns, and how those feelings drive your actions, and the results they produce. Ask yourself: are you pleased with the results? If not, what new thought could plant the seed for a different result? Take time (and a deep breath,) get quiet, and reflect.

The Inner Critic

There is a famous saying, "We don't see the world as it is, we see it as we are." This is to suggest that how we see the outside world, either a happy, sad, safe or dangerous place, is greatly dependent on how happy, sad, safe or endangered we feel on the inside. Our inner life and the lenses through which we see our own reality actively shape the world we encounter every day.

More so than the two prior lenses, the Inner Critic can be a major league block to happiness or fulfillment. Sometimes called a "gremlin," your inner critic can masquerade as a limiting belief or an interpretation, but beyond mere observations, the message of the inner critic is always judgment: I'm not good enough.

I'm not smart enough to go to college. I'll never have enough money to afford that. No one will go out with someone like me. I could never do what you do, I'm not that talented. I could never talk to a hot guy like that. I get so nervous when hot guys talk to me (i.e. because I'm not as hot as they are.) I hate my looks. I'm too short/tall/fat/skinny/young/old. I'll never get ahead. I'm such an idiot.

The power behind your inner critic is in believing that everything about you is flawed. If you feel inadequate in one area of your life, the voice of the inner critic can cause you to start believing that it is the whole of you that is inadequate.

Believe me when I tell you that I sucked at sports in school. All of them. A lot. Every trip from the locker room to whatever playing field we used brought with it a sense of dread and humiliation. More than once, I told myself, "I really suck at this. I'll never be good at this." I realize today that my focus was in the wrong place. It was not my fault, or anyone's fault, that I was not good at a particular sport. No one is a good at a skill if they have not practiced, or even been exposed to the skill set. Yet, I leveled the criticism at myself for being inadequate, rather than acknowledging I was simply in a situation where I was unskilled. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it is not. Being unskilled at a sport did not make me a bad person, a stupid person, a worthless person. I was in fact much better at other things, so it was only the situation that highlighted my lack of skill in that one area. I was not an inadequate person (and neither are you!) I simply lacked skill in one facet of activity, and took it personally.

Of course, it makes perfect sense that we would want to do our best in any given situation. If we're not doing our best, we could appreciate a voice that says, "That could be done better." That inner critic really does want us to be successful! Unfortunately, it often uses the harsh language that's been leveled against us by others (or that we use toward others) as a form of back-handed encouragement to do better.

In just merely critiquing ourselves, we can often do better. Whereas the language of the inner critic focuses on the negative (what you can't or didn't do), ask instead what you can do or accomplish, what you're good at, or how you can improve what you're doing or seeking. As you begin working with your inner critic, give yourself a break. Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you (that's what I call the Golden Mirror Rule.)

. . . . .

Granted, these concepts probably didn't occur to your teenage self, especially if forced into mandatory social activities where your shortcomings are highlighted. Those are tough situations as an adult, much less when your self-esteem is just beginning to form. All too often at that crucial time of development, we are given messages that we are not good enough: because we lack some social or competitive skill, or because of how we look, or how we act, or because of a label we've been given. These can all impact the quality of self-esteem we develop at a young age, and many of us are still feeling the repercussions. In upcoming articles, we'll be discussing the pillars of self-esteem, and ways to build those pillars staunch and stable.


 

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