"I take responsibility for the power of my mind today."
I read that statement during my wife's and my spiritual growth time this week. My first response was, "Uhuh. Tell me something new. This is pretty obvious."
Do you ever doubt yourself and your ability to live out your purpose successfully? Do you ever compare yourself to other people and come up short in your estimation? Do you ever wonder what difference you can possibly make in the world when there are so many others doing it better than you? Are you ever tempted to simply crawl back in your hole and let life pass you by because you’re not noticed by anyone anyway?
Whom among us has never felt these doubts and feelings? It’s a part of our tender humanity.
The older I get the more I realize how significant it is to learn how to say No to some things in order to say Yes to others. And especially to learn which are the more important things to push back against and push forward toward. Here are two strategies for doing this well.
Distinguishing between all the roles you fill in your life from the personal Calling that you feel compelled toward fulfilling in your life is one of the most strategic discoveries you can make. Here are some ways to make sure you’re making the right distinction.
I'm currently reading a book titled 12: The Elements of Great Managing. It's based on Gallup's ten million workplace interviews - the largest worldwide study of employee engagement. It has some really profound perspectives on what it takes for people to feel deeply and effectively a meaningfully contributing part of organizations and teams. I'm realizing as I read that these principles apply to every social system like families, marriages, significant relationships, faith communities. The very first element that produces radically increased engagement among people is "knowing what's expected." Reality-based, clearly stated, shared expectations.
Now this may not seem like rocket-science to you (and it's not), but you would be surprised how often our relational challenges stem from unclear, unshared, and unreal expectations of each other.
I had two 2-hour sessions with a couple of faith community leaders who work together as a staff. Their relationship for the last few years has deteriorated to the point of both people considering leaving and finding separate ministry opportunities. Trust is at an all time low.
It turned out that both leaders had a certain expectation about each other's leadership style that wasn't getting met. And over time, these unmet expectations created serious tension, frustration, and what appeared to them as lack of respect for each other, and ultimately the disintegrating ability to trust the other.
Once I helped them see that each of their leadership styles were different from the other's because leadership style is based upon each person's top five strengths profile not some predetermined template for how leadership is suppose to look, this was able to shift their expectations of each other to a more realistic place. That new shared view of each other could be validated, honored, and respected - because both styles are good ... just different. It was heart-warming to hear both of them starting to complement and affirm each other for what they now saw as each other's unique strengths and style.
Expectations of the people in our lives has to be based upon reality - a clear understanding of who each other is and how we're each wired to be our best.
Clearly Stated Expectations
And we can't know what's expected of us unless the other is willing to clearly state their expectations.
As I work with couples and teams, I realize how often so many of us expect others to be "mind readers." We simply expect people to know what we're thinking and what we're needing without us having to tell them.
Now, most of us wouldn't admit that's what we're doing. But our behavior would sure indicate it.
Analyze a few of your last relationship arguments. Chances are you'll discover that at the heart of the misunderstanding or hurt feelings was your expectation (or desire) for the other person to simply know what you want. Some how, we give more points if they guess correctly - their attempts to relate have more value if they come unprompted. Right?
I want my wife to be so intuitive, to read my every micro-expression, to know me so well, so as to just "know" what I'm needing or wanting or expecting. And if she can't guess, then at least she should "pull it out of me" by means of her great relational skills of wise questions and sensitive, caring prompts.
But as you and I both know (in our saner moments), this is ridiculous! Unfair! And unrealistic!
Most of us simply aren't clairvoyant. We don't have a crystal ball with our partner's name on it. We're not mind readers with extra-sensory perception. Neither are the other people in our lives.
If we want others to know what we expect, what we need, what we want, we need to know ourselves and then be willing to state it. Clearly. So as to be completely understood. Otherwise, the onus is on us. Clearly stated expectations.
Only then can expectations be shared - that wonderful place where both sides not only clearly see and understand the other, but also where they agree to co-inhabit the expectation.
This third level is a bit more tricky and difficult. It takes more compromise and commitment to each other; more trust; more desire; more willingness to find and achieve consensus; more persistence; more patience; more grace. More work.
But when something is mutually shared, it's worth a lot. Right? There's deep strength to it. Solid commitment. A sense of committed partnership and collaboration. Mutual honor and respect. A lessening of resentment, anger, and frustration.
This kind of shared experience (which includes clear and shared expectations) is what leads experts to call basketball "a chemistry sport." As a team practices and plays together, the players develop a "tacit knowledge" about each other--they have clear understanding about each other's roles, strengths, weaknesses, styles, quirks, typical patterns--and this knowledge ultimately enables the team to experience synchronicity. To the onlooker, it appears almost magical the way players can anticipate and execute and adjust to each other in a unified and effective manner.
Our relationships - our social systems - are chemistry sports, too. Which means we each take responsibility to develop clear, realistic, and shared expectations and understandings of each other if we want to live and work effectively together.
So how's your chemistry and synchronicity with the people in your life?
46th Session This week I had the 46th session with a coaching client. We started our journey together a year ago. This is the longest I've coached a client - 46 sessions! What has impressed me with this client's experience has been that it's only been in the last month that more visible break-throughs have been taking place. I have seen profound transformation in his way of thinking about himself and life and how he's showing up in the world. He has much more clarity as well as fulfillment these days.
My typical coaching approach has involved working with clients sometimes for a month, most often for 3 months, sometimes for 6 months (all involving weekly sessions). I've helped people through life transitions, establishing personal dreams, developing strategic plans for business or personal issues, helping them achieve clarity about their strengths and life purpose, defining a new personal faith. All very helpful journeys, according to their personal testimonies.
But in this case, we've continued for 46 sessions - mostly at his request - and certainly I've agreed with the value. But significant change has happened lately that has caused me to realize some very significant realities about life growth as it relates to this lengthier journey. Thought I'd share three of them with you in this week's blog post.
Regardless of your view of God and how God operates in the messy human process of growth, God rarely seems to simply "snap his finger" to transform people. Pray as hard as you might, growth isn't based upon a magical formula that occurs in the "twinkling of an eye." Genuine change takes time - it doesn't matter what the personal or relational issue, meaningful transformation simply takes time.
There's a reason why so many spiritual wisdom traditions call spirituality a "journey." Personal growth is a process, a path. Even Jesus called himself "the way." Notice he didn't say "the point" or "the moment." He's the way. He's describing the process of spiritual growth - becoming a follower on a path which involves a journey that takes place over time, in fact over one's entire lifetime. It's as though he's saying, "Follow me. Watch me. Consider me, what I do and how I do it. Walk with me and observe, reflect upon, question, weigh, and wrestle with it all. Practice what you observe with me. Learn how to lean into it. Be a follower on the journey." Those kinds of experiences don't happen over night. There's no simple formula. Personal growth takes time.
Two, personal growth involves developing new ways of thinking.
No wonder it takes time. Our thoughts create our realities. In fact, some experts say there is no difference between cause and effect - our thoughts produce our experiences (and vice versa) simultaneously. What we think, is. So if we want to change our experiences, we have to change our thoughts. Our thoughts are the fabric of all the stories we tell ourselves and others about ourselves, about others, about all of life, even about God. Our stories (what we think and say about all of this) are the sum total of the thoughts we string together to describe what we think we're seeing and observing. Our thoughts create the lens through which we see life. So if something isn't working well or serving us well in our lives, we have to evaluate carefully and honestly our lens (what thoughts we're stringing together to describe what we think is reality).
And if that lens is hazy or dirty or smudged or cracked, that impacts what we see. This is why spiritual traditions describe the journey of spirituality as the process of cleaning the lens or even changing the lens through which we look.
St. Paul described this process: "11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." (1 Corinthians 13)
He likens seeing through a cloudy lens as being a child. When we're kids, our ability to see and understand the realities of life are limited. Kids have nightmares or bad dreams about things that aren't real. And many of us adults still have that limitation. :)
I remember having nightmares as a kid about gorillas. I would wake up scared to death that the gorilla was in my room ready to eat me up. My mom says she would often awaken in the middle of the night feeling this "presence" beside the bed and when she opened her eyes she would see me standing there (still asleep) but white as a ghost. Rather unnerving for a parent (not to mention this little child). A child's ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy is not well developed. Kids are seeing imperfectly through "a cloudy mirror," as St. Paul put it.
As I've grown up, I don't have nightmares about gorillas anymore (thank goodness!). But I do have more sophisticated fears that can equally incapacitate me at times and which sometimes prove to be equally fantastical (not based on reality, not true). My gorillas have turned into fears about my worthiness, my ability to succeed, whether people will accept me or admire me, etc., etc. I've at times gone into situations with other people completely sure that they would judge me or criticize me because of my past, only to end up experiencing just the opposite from them. I almost allowed my "seeing through the cloudy mirror" to keep me from showing up in that group which would have caused me to miss out on a wonderful experience.
Kids don't understand the nuances in human relationships - life tends to be more black and white. Maturation, human development and growth, is about learning the process of seeing more clearly, and sometimes of even having to change the lens because the lens is simply not true.
Notice that St. Paul describes his current knowing as "impartial and incomplete." But he looks to that time when he will know everything "completely" (fully, accurately, wisely, without limitations that are self-imposed or otherwise), which he describes as the way God sees us. The point he's making is that that path between those two times (from unknowing to knowing) isn't bridged instantaneously. Personal growth takes time because it involves learning how to think more maturely and wisely, more divinely. We have to grow up, to develop. "By beholding, we become changed." Are we beholding truth and reality or old "truth" and unreality? Change the lens to behold clearly.
Three, personal growth necessitates personal patience and profound acceptance. I'm getting better at giving myself some slack for the lack of perfection in my life. That doesn't mean I'm choosing not to take self responsibility. In fact, I'm taking more ownership for my life with all its foibles and dirty lens and my determined responsibility to make necessary changes then ever before. But I'm learning to give myself more patience and self-acceptance along the way.
One author I was reading this week said that the most important gift we can give ourselves and others is acceptance. It's a counter-intuitive choice. Contrary to popular opinion, accepting doesn't prohibit or stifle growth, it actually fosters it. "Accepting people as they are has the miraculous affect of helping them improve" (Marianne Williamson, Return To Love, p. 162). In fact, this kind of acceptance is the most divine act we can engage in. That's what Paul was saying earlier - God knows us completely - and as the next verse says, God loves us just as completely. "13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13)
The power of divine grace is that God considers us perfectly acceptable every step along the way of our journey into greater wholeness and maturity and development (take a look at one of my favorite bible texts, Hebrews 10:14): Perfectly acceptable to God while we're in the process of becoming more and more whole.
That attitude of profound acceptance toward us is what empowers us with the courage to continue the journey of growth, to keep learning and struggling and becoming, to changing the lens so that we see ourselves-others-and God more clearly and perfectly, to being courageous enough to let go of the old stories we almost immediately tell ourselves when something negative happens to us, to changing our "childish" thoughts into more mature and loving ones. We end up showing up with way more love in all our relationships and life experiences.
Personal growth necessitates personal patience and profound acceptance.
My forty-six client sessions have been such an amazing learning experience for me. My client is not at the same place where he was a year ago. His old paralyzing stories - his cloudy mirror - are changing and being replaced with the truth about himself and the promise of his profound potential. There is tremendous value in allowing someone else into your life for such a long, specifically directed period of time. That's the power of having a coach or other trusted person to help guide the journey.
And the journey has helped to change me, too. Forty-six sessions!
The Pouting Boy SFGate.com ran a brief story today about an incident at the San Francisco Giants home game last evening. Interestingly enough, that story got more press than the impressive hitting by rookie Brandon Belt who belted a two out, two run homer to break the 3-3 tie and win the game for the Giants. The story? A little pouting boy. Watch this 18 second clip that has made the rounds on ESPN.com and all over YouTube.
Now I certainly don't blame the little boy for being disappointed about not getting the foul ball. It is after all every kids' dream (and even most adults') to catch a ball at the park to take home as a "I was there" trophy from your favorite player. And it was also gracious of the Giants' organization, after seeing the boy so disappointed, to make a special trip up to his section and give him a Giants' baseball. Everyone seemed happy in the end.
But there's something about that blatant pout that speaks to me about life. It's concerning how we deal with disappointment and unmet expectations. How easy it is to be experiencing something in the present and then suddenly wish we had something more, allowing our disappointment to take away our joy in the moment. Just being at your favorite team's baseball game is a pretty special experience for any kid--enjoying a father-son outing, eating hot dogs and garlic fries and a Coke or Sprite, sitting in the stands watching your favorite players on the field, cheering for your team, doing the seventh-inning stretch, singing and shouting the "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" theme song, looking at the big screen and enjoying the view, caught up with thousands of others in the joy. It's all a pretty great experience. That's why baseball is such an All-American past-time.
But like that little boy, we put a little pout on our faces--we allow our desire for more to dampen and sometimes even ruin our joy in the present. We start complaining about something:
"There's too much garlic on the fries!" "I ordered a Sprite not a Coke so why did you bring me the wrong order?" "I was standing up ready to catch the ball--it was coming straight toward me--so why did you have to reach up and grab it instead?" "Why doesn't the sun break out of the clouds and make it warmer for the game? It's always so cold here!" "Why does the guy behind me have to shout so loud? It's annoying!" "These seats are terrible! Why didn't you find us better ones?" "Why can't we make enough money to pay for better seats!"
And before we know it, we've run joy into the ditch and allowed disappointment, bitterness, resentment, complaining, even sometimes anger to take control. We lose the beauty of the moment.
Do you know any people who live like this? Have you ever allowed disappointment and unmet expectations to ruin your moment?
Pollyanna Wasn't Naive
"Many of us do this, but if you get into the mindset of thinking about what you 'could' be doing, you’ll never be happy doing what you actually 'are' doing. You’ll compare what you’re doing with what other people (on Facebook and Twitter, perhaps?) are doing. You’ll wish your life were better. You’ll never be satisfied, because there’s 'always' something better to do. Instead, I’ve adopted the mindset that whatever I’m doing right now is perfect."
Imagine developing that kind of mindset and how that would impact your experience of life. What you are doing right now is perfect. You have everything you need right now in this moment. It's perfect.
Is this too Pollyannaish? Interestingly enough, I was reading a book recently which talked about Pollyanna's story and how misunderstood her experience has been by so many people. Our culture uses her name to describe a negative quality--naive, refusing to face reality, living in a fantasy land, unable to handle the truth, etc. In fact, as her story actually describes, Pollyanna was well aware of the foibles and dysfunctions of the people that she went to live with. She had deep insight into their struggles and keenly felt the pain from their meanness and lack of respect for her. But she chose to look on the bright side. She refused to allow their attitudes to negatively affect hers. She chose to see the good instead of the bad. She chose to step into joy for the moment by looking for and finding and reveling in the positive experiences.
The Divine Nature
I'm reminded of the Bible text describing God which says, "Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart." The divine nature is about choosing to view people and situations from the best perspective possible. The divine nature chooses to give people the benefit of the doubt, to focus on the inner goodness and inherent value of people and circumstances.
This isn't a choice for naivete. Or maybe it is. Perhaps God chooses to be, like Jesus commended to us, like little children who tend to see the good, who quickly get over the negative and jump right back into relationship, who are quick to forgive, who do so well in living in the joy of the moment, grabbing all the gusto in the present rather than living in the past or the anxiety of the unknown future. "Right now is perfect. I have everything I need in this moment."
God certainly acknowledges lack, failure, inadequacy. God lives with a constant keen sense of incompleteness in the world God created to be perfect. God know what God desires and longs for and therefore what is lacking in the present. But the fact that the divine nature in scripture is always described in the present tense--I AM--shows that God lives in the Now, this Moment. And this truth about God sanctifies, makes holy, every Moment, Now.
The Empowering Secret
Reflecting this perspective on the divine nature, the Apostle Paul (one of the most prolific writers in the New Testament) gave his personal testimony with the words, "I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through the One who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)
There is strength and power in focusing on the divine attribute of the Now, the I AM, the holy Present Moment. God's presence lives in us, empowering us to capture the joy right now, to see the moment as perfect, to choose contentment by acknowledging "I have everything I need right now in this moment. Let me enjoy this present."
It doesn't mean there isn't hardship or difficulties or pain or sorrow in our lives. To deny that would be to short-circuit life. Even Pollyanna, and certainly the Apostle Paul, knew their harsh realities. But to allow unmet expectations and disappointment to run joy off the road is to live an unnecessarily unhappy life, never satisfied, never content, never at peace. Pollyanna and Paul refused to live that way. And their choice for joy and contentment paid them rich rewards. They had the "secret" to strong living.
The Spiritual Practice of Now
Here's how Leo Baubata describes his spiritual practice of the Now mindset: "I’m always happy with what I’m doing, because I don’t compare it to anything else, and instead pay close attention to the activity itself. I’m always happy with whoever I’m with, because I learn to see the perfection in every person. I’m always happy with where I am, because there’s no place on Earth that’s not a miracle. Life will suck if you are always wishing you’re doing something else. Life will rock if you realize you’re already doing the best thing ever."
I don't want to pout my way through life. I can easily fall into that trap--I know myself too well. As a "maximizer," it's my tendency to always want to improve things. That's okay. But if I allow that to never let me step into contentment and joy in the present moment, I rob myself, and my "wanting more" robs those around me of the joy of the moment, too. So when I saw that video clip of the little pouting boy, I was convicted to make a different choice in my life--to learn how to relish the joy of the moment--to practice saying, "This moment is perfect. I have everything I need right now. It's good and beautiful and I'm going to revel in it!"
And besides, who wants to get that "life sucks!" look on your face like that little kid every time something doesn't go your way? Almost embarrassing!
Sleepwalking Did you see this Coca Cola commercial that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl? It's titled "Sleepwalking."
Have you ever sleepwalked? Maybe not literally—but perhaps you weren’t fully present in a situation or time of your life?
I remember years ago when my kids were very young visiting San Francisco and staying one night in a motel right down town. We were awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of the door being opened. I looked up to see my daughter trying to pull the door open but the chain was keeping it from opening all the way. I called to her but she didn't respond. I got up and pulled her from the door--still no response. She was sleepwalking. And I my heart started pounding with fear at the thought of what could have happened had she been able to open the door and sleepwalk outside!
There are two sides of the same coin of sleepwalking: the potential of danger (the guy in the commercial walked through all kinds of situations with dangerous animals and didn’t even know it) and missing out on life (he was missing the beauty of the African Savannah). Both sides of the coin are sad and unnecessary.
Sleepwalking is a metaphor that mirrors so much of what happens in our culture. We are constantly being bombarded by ideas and concepts that burrow themselves into our brains and result in thought patterns, narratives, and stories we end up telling ourselves and then subconsciously acting upon. Right? Those paradigms and stories end up becoming second nature with us to the point of not even evaluating them anymore. We simply drift through life without thought. Analyze our culture’s evangelism: wear this, look like this, drive this, act like this, own this, be like this … and if you do, you’ll be happy or powerful or popular or fulfilled or successful. And the messages are endless of what is being promised to us to make us who we or "they" want us to be.
Ultimately we should be evaluating these messages: Are they true? Is this real? Am I what I wear or possess or accomplish, or is there something more fundamental and foundational and true about who I am? Or are they illusions, just dreams that I fantasize are true? Am I asleep or am I awake in this reality?
In fact, the concept of dreaming and waking have been used in spiritual traditions for thousands of years as a metaphor for spiritual consciousness and enlightenment. For example, the name “Buddha” translates as “the awakened one." And what was Buddha awakened to? He began to see with clarity what the causes of human suffering were. His awareness led him to develop a path of enlightenment--the way to waking up--to being present in the world in such a way that one sees the truth about self, about others, about life and what it is that brings contentment and happiness.
In the Gnostic “Hymn of the Pearl” from the Acts of Thomas, the son of a King is sent on a mission to retrieve a treasure, but falls asleep and forgets who he is. His father sends a letter to remind him:
“Awake and arise from your sleep,
and hear the words of our letter.
Remember that you are a son of kings,
consider the slavery you are serving.”
The spiritual process of waking up is remembering who you are--being clear about your true identity as a son or daughter of royalty. And then using that identity to measure all other messages and stories we're told by others or ourselves.
Jesus’ name means “Jehovah saves.” And during his life Jesus was called “The Word”—the revelation of God, God’s voice in human flesh. God saves us from ourselves by the inception of a new thought and idea lived out in his life—that we belong to God, God loves us with an eternal love no matter what, we are children of the King. Jesus comes to wake us up to this truth and reality because we tend to sleepwalk and dream, becoming confused into thinking that our dream is reality. So we’re not as aware and fully present as we could be in this life, always running after the wrong dreams.
It's significant to me that central to Jesus' life mission was the clarity he had of his identity. God’s voice and message to him were very real--“This is my beloved son; I am pleased and proud of him.” The Dark Side’s primary goal was to try to call into question that identity and Jesus’ awakened consciousness of it. The Shadow’s continual temptation was to get Jesus to think his identity was a dream—that he wasn’t who he said he was—to keep him from being fully present.
Unenlightened consciousness is indeed very much like dreaming. Our stories we tell ourselves and others, our personal narratives, are often based upon untruth. “I am what I wear or do or have or how others think of me.” “I am my failures or my successes.”
We become entranced with the little details of our lives and the stories unfolding around us. We forget and become unconscious to a larger context around us. We forget our connection to our highest self and become attached to the particulars. Many enlightened teachers have confirmed that the process of enlightenment is like waking up from a deep and not very nice dream.
So the journey of spirituality is the process of waking up to our true reality about who we are. We are daughters and sons of the King; we are containers of the Divine Presence, covered all over with the Divine Fingerprints on our souls, hearts, minds, and bodies. We belong to a Higher Power. We are called to a Higher Purpose.
Truth is, God is continually in us whether we’re awake to it or not. God is continually working all around whether we’re awake to it or not. That’s reality. But how much more effective and transforming our lives become when we awaken to that truth—to be able to embrace it, accept it, know it, see it, be enveloped by it, bathe and bask in it is to really live life fully.
No wonder the Bible says, “As a person thinks in his heart, so is he.” Our thinking, what we consider to be true and real, radically impacts our lives.
Parker Palmer once wrote: “Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
Do you know who you really are? Are you living the truth about you? Would you consider yourself a fully awake person? What tools do you have to help you remember your identity?
Spirituality is about awakening to the truth about who we are, who we belong to. It’s becoming grounded in the Center of our Being by embracing who we are in God. And from that grounding and centeredness, we live as awakened, enlightened, aware, fully present people boldly living out our identity as God's children. We move from sleepwalking to awakening.