Growth Stories

The Gift of Consciousness 640 426 Thayer Fox

The Gift of Consciousness

My favorite commencement speech is called “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace. It offers us the gift of consciousness.

David’s message is enormous. It’s spectacular and shattering, and we rarely dare to speak it.

When you listen, you realize how subtle the line is between a lifetime of misery and a lifetime of wonder. We tend to think that those two worlds are far apart, but David makes it clear that they exist side by side in our minds.

Most people don’t realize they can choose what kind of life they get to experience. For thirty years I didn’t either, so I am not implying that this is an obvious choice.

Here’s what I learned from the pain of feeling trapped in a life shaped by unconscious decisions- we must be vigilant about the thoughts we choose to focus on because they become our reality. God or whatever name you feel comfortable with is the sacred force inside all of us that longs to rise and expand. When we live in the flow of that power, wonder becomes abundant.

Every morning when I turn my face into the light, I acknowledge and honor the darkness a few inches away before turning my back to it. Growth comes from being with all of it. We don’t get to experience the full heart moments without also experiencing the ones that crush our faith in humanity. We do get to wake up and start again every morning with a new intention no matter what happened the day before. Healing is not about completion; it’s a commitment to our rising.

David Foster Wallace is no longer with us, but he left us his consciousness in this beautiful commencement speech.

Today, I honor it, and I hope you do too.

 

Practice Takes Practice 640 426 Thayer Fox

Practice Takes Practice

Do you ever hear or read something that echoes in your head for hours afterward? Like it’s meant to find a home in you and is canvasing your internal landscape for a plot to settle? What if you choose to believe that everything that shows up in front of you today is meant for your growth? And the continuing cultivation of practice is your only goal?

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

Don’t start making that mean anything yet.

That seemingly disturbing sentence is called a koan. I heard it during a sermon at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan.

Tim Ferriss references koans regularly in his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, so I had a vague idea what they were when I heard this one. A koan is a riddle or a puzzle that Zen Buddhists use during meditation and in daily life to help them sink deeper into truths about the world and themselves. There are said to be 1,700 koans in all. Zen masters used them regularly to test a student’s progress. This particular koan is by Zen Master Linji.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kōan

Even though Reverend Cho at Redeemer explained the koan well, I walked away anxious to do my own research. The road reference was transparent; the journey of our lives is often referred to as a path or road in literature and poetry. After more investigation later that afternoon, I developed a cognitive understanding of the main two interpretations of The Buddha reference. The Buddha in that koan is anyone whom you believe contains greater wisdom and spirituality than you do. It can be a teacher, a mentor, a spiritual leader, a partner, a friend- anyone who you don’t measure up to in the game of compare and despair. The Buddha can also be inside you. It’s your relationship with the concept of your spiritual growth and enlightenment.

And this is the part I love- whatever interpretation of the Buddha currently applies to your life, kill it immediately. There is no such thing as achieving enlightenment. It’s ungraspable, the second you point to it, poof it’s gone. The Zen masters believed only in practice. Practice has many meanings and includes meditation, studying texts, doing chores, following moral guidelines and trying to embody spiritual ideals. There is no destination. No happiness to obtain, no person who will ever make you whole and complete. No one is more enlightened than you are. Once you kill the Buddha, quietly return to your work.

Koans were not developed to be understood and then discarded. Students would sit with koans for months and sometimes years. The longer they sat with one, the more they realized about the nature of Zen and themselves.

I don’t attend church regularly, nor am I instinctively drawn to Zen masters. I am however a believer in paying close attention to what the universe leaves at my doorstep. Steeped in an internal conversation lately about whether I am “good enough,” this koan is what I need.

For years I “worked” on myself believing that there would one day be a conclusion. Once I was sufficiently transformed, I would be ready to get started with whatever I settled on as my vehicle of contribution in the world. The voice in my head said that although I had grown immeasurably, there was still a lot of work to be done. It was never enough, and my development was always lacking some essential aspect.

Although I don’t believe in goals anymore, I continue to take my spiritual temperature, measuring myself against the phantom fully evolved Thayer. The woman in this comparison is the Buddha I must kill. Killing her once doesn’t work, I must do it as a practice. Anytime I attach myself to results instead of questions she returns.

This experience prompted me to order a book on koans, and after a little research I settled on:

“Bring me the Rhinoceros and Other Zen Koans That Will Save your Life” by John Tarrant. It’s simple and powerful. Every chapter reveals a koan with the story of its origin, meaning, and ways to work with it.

http://tarrantworks.com/books/bring-me-the-rhinoceros/

Trying to control your mind is a no win battle, but letting go of thoughts by focusing on ideas and questions that will support your growth is a technique that works.

Practice takes practice.

 

 

 

 

How Complaints Reveal Core Values 1024 668 Thayer Fox

How Complaints Reveal Core Values

Can you think of someone who complains chronically? Most of us can. Being around that person probably takes a toll on your energy. If you don’t know a complainer, you’re probably a complainer too. Instead of complaining about that person in your head or to other people, here are some suggestions on how to reframe the way you see them and ultimately interact with them.

I break complainers into three categories:

  1. Habitual complainers- they are the most draining. They don’t realize that they are complaining and are not seeking a solution. Habitual complainers feel powerless in areas of their lives; complaints are an expression of their victimhood and a way to release circular energy.
  2. Social complainers- people who complain to connect with others. They can be funny and use complaining as a vehicle for humor. Think Seinfeld. Amusing complaints are gossip dressed up as a concern with magnetic negative bonding power. Complain to someone about an issue at your child’s school and instant bond when they agree with you. Exaggeration is a technique that social complainers use to engage their audience.
  3. Coachable complainers- the last category I have come across are coachable complainers. You can sense that they are uncomfortable in the limbo of a complaint but cannot see a clear pathway ahead. They want to move into action, and their complaint is, in fact, a question.

I am an expert in the area of complaints because I am a recovering complainer who has transited all three categories in my forty-four-year history. Choosing not to complain is a work in progress, and I occasionally relapse when I am tired.

My complaining has evolved over the years, getting craftier as I grow.

It began as a child when I was powerless over situations that occurred in my household. Years after I stopped being a victim, my mentality would not relinquish the role. In my 20s I felt like a pinball, and my complaints were an expression of my immature psychology. Craving attention and love, I would suck the life out of anyone who would listen to me. I had a boyfriend use that exact phrase as he broke up with me. When I got sober in my 30s and learned how to take action, my complaining improved but my new pattern was to notice everything that was flawed in a situation or person. The more work I did on myself, the more harshly I critiqued others who were not living an examined life. These assessments manifested as complaints. My mentality embodied the saying,” When you point one finger, three fingers are pointing back at you.” I couldn’t stand people who reminded me of the way I used to be. It became necessary to take a closer look at my position when I couldn’t sustain prolonged periods of inner peace.

Around the same time, I started doing intense work within the EC and Landmark Education. I had a crucial breakthrough around my complaining after a conversation with a woman who I befriended in the EC. She told me flat out that I complained a lot. Typically, this type of comment would spark my temper, but her delivery was almost complimentary, so it threw me off. My friend went on to say that she listened carefully to my complaints to understand what I cared about. From my complaints, she extracted my core values of integrity, authenticity, and growth. She noticed that any person or environment that didn’t reflect these qualities caused a complaint to bubble up inside me. She went on to say that there was only one thing to do with a complaint; address it directly with the person or institution who could do something about it.

Blown away by this exchange, I started becoming more conscious of my complaining. The conversation also started shaping the way I listened to other’s complaints. When you turn a complaint inside out, it always exposes someone’s core values and reflecting those back to a person gives their battery a charge.

How to deal with people in each category who you know and love requires a different touch.

If someone is a habitual complainer, more in-depth work to resolve whatever caused them to feel like a victim may be necessary. Shame, a dominating quality of victimhood, is quicksand. You can’t get out of quicksand on your own; you need someone to pull you out with a rope. A habitual complainer may need to venture back into their history before baby steps forward become a consideration. I love this video by Mel Robbins about how to handle draining relationships:

https://youtu.be/Ul_QI81Wrxc

The social complainer probably isn’t interested in a solution if they receive positive feedback for their complaints. I have a few social complainer friends who are amusing for short periods of time. The amount of time I spend with them is crucial. If I am not careful, I can get sucked into their mindset quickly. Humor is seductive, making you feel connected while masking the content. From time to time, I will ask if the issue in their monologue seriously bothers them to create an opening for a more meaningful conversation. People become ready to grow on their own time, so never count anyone out.

The category of complaining that you can affect the most change in is the third one, the coachable complainer. Right-sized suggestions are critical in this scenario, otherwise known as the “Goldilocks Principle.” The principle is based on the part of the children’s story when Goldilocks samples the three bowls of porridge, and one is too hot, the other too cold and one is just right. For people to advance, advice has to fall between specific margins. Anything too extreme can be overwhelming and cause instant paralysis, anything too small enables their current condition. Here is a detailed explanation of the Goldilocks Principle:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldilocks_principle

This weekend I experienced my daughter being in a complaint. Instead of pulling her aside right away, I got triggered by her whining and responded in a snippy voice, threatening to take away her iPad which only made her complain more. Pulling the car off the highway to deal with a complaint immediately is imperative. As our interaction rapidly deteriorated, I realized what I was doing and asked her to speak alone. Her core value is connection, and conflict gives her no access to what she craves most. I reminded her of an outing we took the week before and how much fun we had together. She softened and agreed. We spoke about how she could make a request instead of complaining. There is more workability in a request than a complaint. She got it, and we snuggled before bedtime, no residue between us.

This week I am observing my complaints. What complaints do you have that you are willing to address?

 

 

 

“No” Is a Complete Sentence? 1024 685 Thayer Fox

“No” Is a Complete Sentence?

Do you have trouble saying “no?” How many invitations do you answer “yes” to because you are afraid to say “no”? Afterward, do you use the word “should” to justify your response? “I should stop by that cocktail party for twenty minutes.” Why didn’t you give a clean “no”?

I heard in an Al-Anon meeting years ago that the word “no” is a complete sentence. It was a breakthrough moment for me, and all the times early on in my sobriety when my AA sponsor said that I over-explained and gave away my power came rushing back. The woman speaking added that you could even say, “…thank you”afterward if “no” alone sounded too sparse. “No” does not need to be followed up by an excuse or dressed in elaborate details. Fear and guilt do not need to accompany a “no”.

As I have grown, so has my relationship with “no”. After years of saying “No thank you” without further explanation, I added another line when I was responding to people or organizations that matter to me. I now create an opening for a “yes” to exist. For example, when invited to a cocktail party (I don’t drink, and dislike standing around and small talking), I say “no thank you” to that invitation and suggest a walk in the park instead.

Tim Ferris has a great podcast about various ways to say “no”:

Listen to How to Say No from The Tim Ferriss Show in Podcasts. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-tim-ferriss-show/id863897795?mt=2&i=1000395251247

I have noticed that women have more trouble with “no” than men do. Does it reflect our societal views on femininity and the proper way for a woman to behave? Does a clear, female “no” transmit a vibration of conflict or disruption because of its rarity? Or do women intrinsically care more about being accepted and loved? “No” definitely threatens our need to belong.

I said “no” the other day, and it took two hours for the conversation that followed to exit my brain. It was surprising to me because I had gone through phases when “no” was as easy as “yes”. I was asked to participate on a committee at one of my children’s schools. It was a time-consuming endeavor that held zero appeal. I re-read the email three times and played out various scenarios. I was flattered by the kind reasons they gave in asking me to perform the role, but I knew that was not a reason to say “yes”. Saying “yes” to potentially boost my child’s standing or curry favor in the school community equally inauthentic motivations. Both of those reasons tie back to my ego and need for significance. The only way to arrive at a “yes” in this scenario is if volunteering at the school occurred to me as an act of love.

There was a cc list on the email, and I debated whether to hit “reply” or “reply all”. Would the committee discuss my “no” and create a narrative about me? Would I become a bitch or become difficult to deal with, or just be regarded as plain old selfish? The good news is that people already have set opinions of us and it takes a lot more than one volunteer role to alter the way someone sees us long-term.

Too many small and seemingly benign “yesses” separate us from self, from our WHY. I love the Derek Sivers philosophy—it’s either “Hell yeah” or “No”.

https://sivers.org/hellyeah

There is no middle ground. Being aligned with self-gives us access to power. After doing work to identify my values clearly, decision-making became a breeze. I will write a post about a process I went through to determine my values soon.

Another waste of time is rehashing a “yes” response. If you think carefully about your reasons for a “yes” or ”no” in advance, then once you say it, the internal conversation must be over. The amount of mental space I used to spend questioning my ”yes” and “no” decisions wasted more time than actually showing up at something for a few hours.

Take notice of your first response to a yes-or-no question. The yes or no is always present in our body before our brain starts computing all the reasons why or why not. Whenever we talk to ourselves using “should”, we are in “no” territory.  If the cellular response is “no”, stay present to the way your mind handles the “no”. Look through all the smart reasons it produces to change the “no” into a “yes”: it’s just this one time and if I don’t say “yes” I may not be invited again. What will a “no” cost you? Get in touch with that fear and see where else it dictates your life.

“Nos” open up the space to fill your life with “yes” experiences. If you are feeling blah or lukewarm, take a look at your “yesses.” Too many seemingly benign “yesses” will lead us to an internal dead zone. The “Hell yeah” trail always leads to exhilaration and growth.

What is Hindering Your Task? 1024 683 Thayer Fox

What is Hindering Your Task?

We all have reoccurring thoughts in our daily life. One of my many themes is the thought that something is always getting in the way of what I am supposed to be doing. If I could only eliminate that barrier, then everything would fall into place. What is hindering my task?

What I am supposed to be doing is never crystal clear; I just know it’s not what is happening around me. My daily life can show up as an obstacle course that I need to get through before I can return to my “real work.” The way I operate regularly assumes that my real work has nothing to do with my family or the rest of the world. Refereeing my children’s arguments, listening to my husband talk about work, and engaging in any social rituals that I find unfulfilling, all show up as tasks that distract me from what I am meant to be doing during my lifetime.

I operate with a fixed belief about what needs to take place for me to produce something that could be labeled as a “contribution” in the world. The bar is high, to Mars high. Being driven and focused when my husband is at work, and my kids are at school is one thing, but it’s never enough. I look for opportunities throughout the evening and weekend schedule to escape them and return to the intensity of my time alone. It’s a subconscious and nagging pattern. A part of me believes that when I am engaging in the work that I deem important, destiny will arrive and reward me.

It’s all bullshit. I had that breakthrough this past weekend after listening to the incredible podcast below:

Listen to Jack Kornfield – Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy in the Present from The Tim Ferriss Show in Podcasts.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-tim-ferriss-show/id863897795?mt=2&i=1000404894600

It’s a long one, and I listened to it over a two-day period. Jack Kornfield is an awakened soul.

There is an AA saying regarding how a newcomer should choose his or her sponsor that I loved right out of the gate, “find someone who has what you want.” Obviously, this doesn’t mean a great coat. A sponsor is a mentor who guides you through the 12 Steps of AA which is where the transformative power of the program lies. Old-timers suggest that you carefully listen as people share at the meetings and then approach someone afterward who embodies qualities you would like to cultivate in yourself. Fourteen years after first hearing this phrase, the concept still guides how I choose people who participate in my life. It’s never the words that grab me, always the energy underneath.

Jack exudes patience, humor, and humble purity throughout the interview. He talks about Spirit Rock, a Buddhist meditation center in Woodacre CA that he co-founded in 1998. They hold silent meditation retreats there regularly. I immediately grabbed my calendar, ready to figure out when I could slip away for ten days. My only hesitation was not being able to speak to my children after I took my vow of silence. My children are 7 and 10, and we talk every evening when I travel solo.  In my heart, my family is my number one priority, even when they are showing up as burdens. The wheels were turning in my head as I mapped out different scenarios to make a retreat at Spirit Rock a reality without breaking the connection with my children. Half listening due to my new inner struggle, Jack shared a prayer taught that he learned from his Buddhist monk teacher, Ajahn Chah, during his time in Thailand:

“What makes (family life) work is that you have that intention…. Not just to soldier through it…. (but to say) “Let this be a place where I awaken graciousness, an inner sense of freedom and peace as things come and go…. Where I awaken the possibility of presence… in pleasure and pain and joy and sorrow and gain and loss… and that in all the changes, I find an inviolable or a timeless place of becoming the loving witness of it all…. Becoming the loving awareness that says “yeah, now I’m having a family experience, this is the place to find freedom.” Because freedom is not in the Himalayas or the Amazon; the only place it’s found is in your own heart exactly where you are.”

I had tears in my eyes by the end. Freedom is where I am. Right here, right now. There is nothing needed. Everything meant for me, will continue to show up if I live with intention, committed to opening my heart daily. The next leg of my journey may not show up as exciting as spending ten days at Spirit Rock, but I know that by choosing what is in front of me, I will find fulfillment. The time for a Spirit Rock retreat will come.

I taped the quote that Tim mentioned in the podcast next to my computer

“That which hinders your task is your task.” Sanford Meisner

Whatever registers as a nuisance or distraction today is the exact thing that I need to embrace.

 

 

Systems Are For Winners 1024 768 Thayer Fox

Systems Are For Winners

Recently, I listened to How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. I read the paperback version a week before hearing it on Audible. I highly recommend doing either. When Scott said early on that goals are for losers and systems are for winners, I was hooked.

Scott’s an original thinker with a shrewd sense of humor. It’s evident that he is a humble guy who enjoys his life. HTFAAEASWB is not written as a self-help book, although I found it more helpful than most books in that category. The ease with which Scott shares ridiculous stories from his past gives the reader permission to lighten up around some of their perceived failures. Scott’s view is so optimistic and energizing that I walked away feeling enormously excited about putting his advice into practice.

A key distinction Scott makes early on in HTFAAEASWB is the difference between Goals and Systems. One of my new systems, for optimal material retention, I already mentioned in the first paragraph. When I read a book that hits home, even if I love and underline every word, most of it evaporates in a month. Maybe this is a 44-year-old female thing, or perhaps I am just running out of storage space; whatever the cause, I wanted to create a new system to integrate thought-shaping books fully into my DNA. Reading or listening to them once doesn’t get the job done. HTFAAEASWB is the second book I have tested successfully with this two sensory approach, so now it’s officially become one of my new systems.

Scott also says that goals are for losers. I laughed out loud as he explained this in detail. He goes on to say that people with systems are the successful ones. It’s helpful when someone gives language to something that you do and don’t realize you do because that way you can start doing it with intention. My life is full of unconscious systems, and I am a far more successful person now than I was back in my goal-oriented youth.

In my 20’s, I was always chasing some goal. Losing 10lbs, finding a better boyfriend and saving up for a new article of clothing were consistently the top three. Clearly, these weren’t lofty goals, and they still consumed my focus. Yielding rapid, tangible results, the 10lb goal was my favorite, and I would embark on new diet plans regularly. The pattern was the same; I spent a month focused on losing the weight, reached the goal and then abandoned whatever it was that I had been doing the past month. Most of the diets were of the extreme variety so that I could reach the goal as fast as possible. I wasn’t just a goal person; I was a cut corners to obtain the goal person. I would then celebrate my weight loss with a pig out meal of French fries and cupcakes.

Goals are great distractions packed with short-lived highs that keep us nestled in a false reality. They spare us from having to look a layer deeper. Gaining and losing 10lbs a few times a year kept me busy. It was a much more comfortable subject to focus on than my alcohol issues and unresolved trauma from my childhood.

In my 30s, unbeknownst to me, AA introduced me to the world of systems. Systems helped me stop drinking and stay stopped. Friends and family used to ask me when I would graduate from AA. People go to AA meetings their entire life because AA is a system for staying sober, the same as eating healthy and going to the gym is a system for staying fit. AA taught me that all permanent change happens within a system structure. Simultaneously, my standards got higher, and this was the key. I created a new identity based on my higher standards.

Goals happen outside of identity and systems happen within.

The issue is that most of us defined ourselves a long time ago based on outside influences. Our parents, peers, teachers, bosses created our identity. We didn’t choose who we wanted to be, so our standards are a reflection of other’s thinking. Lucky for me that I was forced to start from scratch when I entered AA. My character was too warped to salvage after years of excessive boozing and bad behavior.

It was hard work developing a new identity but what a gift it was long term. I continue to update it every year, building systems to support new identifying traits. For example, I just started calling myself a writer two months ago. I thought I wasn’t allowed to call myself that until my name was in print. We often have random rules like this, which dictate our future possibilities. Sure, I had a goal of becoming a writer one day, which existed outside of my identity. There were periods I wrote and periods I did not. In January 2018, I made a choice to call myself a writer. Bold decisions have magic in them, and the commitment solidified after a few days of sitting down at my desk and writing. Writers write regularly, that was my new requirement for membership.

Over that hurdle, I started experimenting with writing during different times of the day to figure out when I was most productive. The morning was the winner. The entire process took a month to cement. Now every morning I sit down at 8:30 and write to 11:30. It’s a non-negotiable new system like going to AA or the gym.

Updating your identity is a choice that is always available. Decide what you want to be and set up systems to support you. Habits may take a few months to cement but change happens in an instant.

 

The Gift of the Broken Shoelace 1024 684 Thayer Fox

The Gift of the Broken Shoelace

We all experience weeks where everything that could go wrong does. One thing that I know by now is that these weeks will pass, a blip on the radar of my life. It’s how I handle them that counts. Do I act out? Do I make them mean something about my spiritual progress? Will I allow a broken-down week to send me into a nosedive that requires a month-long repair? How quickly can I turn a breakdown into a gift?

I am at the end of such a week; it’s uncomfortable and not where I want to be. I have utilized every tool in my arsenal and relief is temporary at best. Prayer, meditation, sleep, exercise, service work- these practices which usually shift my mental state are not working, and frustration is only planting me more firmly in the space I am trying to escape from.

All the issues I have been dealing with are of the “broken shoelace” variety. I learned that term in AA. The substantial problems in life are not what take us down; it’s the piling up of the broken shoelace issues that slowly chip away at our serenity.

It’s easy to access faith when I feel great, and things are going my way. I also know how to plug into God during a calamity. Disasters spike our adrenaline and promise spiritual lessons that will eventually enrich our lives. Showing up during a traumatic experience is purposeful, spending three days dealing with a broken computer are not.

These off weeks are no cosmic accident either. They usually take place after I go through a high energy phase of productivity and inspiration. I have a tendency to become less vigilant about the maintenance of my spiritual condition when I feel good.

I have a list of the levels of consciousness by David R. Hawkins pinned on the board next to my computer. I have been staring at it a lot the past week during calls with the Apple and Microsoft help desks. How did I revert to a ping pong ball bouncing between anger and pride? Haven’t I put in enough work to earn my permanent slot between love and joy. What will it take to get back there? Do I still have to go through all the levels or could I just skip the line and jump right back in at joy after a great meditation?

David is the author of many brilliant books on the subject of consciousness. I have read two that I recommend: Transcending the Levels of Consciousness and Power vs. Force, The Hidden Determination of Human Behavior. I read them after I received the list below at a year-long course I took called The Evolutionary Collective.

Having this metric to track me has been life-altering. Knowing that courage is the portal to higher altitudes has helped me embrace discomfort and fear in a way that has not historically been my pattern.

It hit me as I was staring at the list and writing this that I can’t move past anger until I give up my judgments about anger. Self-judgment leads to self-loathing. To get to courage, I have to step into vulnerability- become a loving witness instead of a judge. Once I stop making anger wrong, movement becomes possible.

At Date With Destiny with Tony Robbins three months ago, I learned that my emotional home is anger. An emotional home is a primary emotion we default to when we experience setbacks in our life. We all have one. I had an angry father, and I used anger to protect myself. Anger served me for a long time, so I need to acknowledge its purpose every time I return to it. Building a new emotional home takes hard work, just like hammering together an actual structure. Consistent practices that wire me to positivity and gratitude are essential in creating new neural pathways. When I am vigilant, I spend a lot more time in gratitude and love than I do in anger.

Today I am practicing acceptance. I will passionately take on all the practices that open my heart, letting go of any results. Whatever shows up, today will be whole and complete just as it is. I am grateful for the week of broken shoelaces because it gave me the opportunity to recalibrate and recommit.

 

The Power of Listening 1024 768 Thayer Fox

The Power of Listening

Do you ever wonder why you enjoy talking to some people more than others? Most of us assume the quality of the talking is the determining factor. Consider that it is the quality of the listening. Who you are to the listener actually determines what is possible between the two of you in any given interaction.

Landmark Education teaches many valuable distinctions, and one of my favorites is called – Already Always Listening. Here is how Landmark defines this on their website:

“Already Always Listening™
In the Already Always Listening segment, we visit the notion that while we think of ourselves as open-minded and objective, in fact, our approach to ourselves, our circumstances, and others are often filtered and even obscured by pre-existing notions and ideas – by our upbringing, our values, our past experiences.”

We all have a preset listening to every subject and person we know based on past reference. We are never listening to anyone.

Thanks to my weekends spent in Landmark courses, I can sense people’s listening of me immediately. I get dizzy when someone “listening” is stuck in their head due to fear or their own noisy, inner monologue. I get quiet when someone is “listening” to me through an old filter because it’s a waste of energy to keep talking. Spending time with people who hear me as the woman I have worked hard to be today allows me to grow. Clear listening is powerful; we expand in its presence.

Having lived in the same place for forty-four years with a peaks and valleys history makes for a lot of old listening. Being held hostage in a past story is painful; I feel invisible. Old friends and family have long-running narratives on each other. This can be a good or bad thing depending on the consciousness of the person and your track record. The way we are listened to can move us forward or can keep us stuck. When we feel misunderstood, we often lose our will to communicate and connect. This is a red flag that we are in the wrong environment.

Other times the glitch in the listening can be subtler. I have one old friend who can listen well as long as any of her unresolved issues don’t get triggered. She occurs to me like a field of landmines; specific topics can blow the conversation sky high in seconds.

We all have booby traps set up, it’s hard to ever shed our shit and step over into someone else’s world for an hour. When I meet someone with that ability, I am in awe. Grab hold tightly if you know anyone with this capacity.

We often create stories before meeting someone that impact our listening so that person never has a shot at being seen. We Google whatever we can dig up and if possible ask mutual friends for feedback. No one is a blank slate in this data-rich world. We all love to use identifying labels to flesh out narratives. For example, if I know someone is a psychologist, I may be more explicit in my sharing and open to receiving advice from him/her vs. my taxi driver. And after forty-four years in the back of cabs and NYC shrinks offices, I have had more spiritual moments in back of taxis.

We can also ask people to listen to us differently; like running an update on our computer software. This takes courage and an open mind on both sides but can be done. I have worked on salvaging a few old relationships. My mother and I have an entirely different relationship at age 44 and 75 due to updating our listening of each other. It’s unfair to count anyone out before you step up and create that conversation.

When someone is listening to me from an open space, their listening allows me to be great. It creates my best ideas and fills me with energy. I feel connected and grateful to that person for bringing out the best in me because I can’t do it alone.

Next conversation, focus on the listening instead of the talking.

How Much Time Do You Spend in Agreement Reality? 683 1024 Thayer Fox

How Much Time Do You Spend in Agreement Reality?

Do you ever have conversations in your head for hours about something that is bothering you? Do you call friends or family to vent? Do you think that a solution and relief will appear if you keep hashing it out? How much time do you spend in agreement reality

It won’t until you get into action. In your head, you’re dead.

Frequently, I hear people talking about what is going on inside their heads as if their thoughts are a reality. I did it just the other day for over an hour. I knew what I was doing, and I stuck with it because I had some free time. “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” gets me every time.

Had I been sitting alone, talking out loud on a crowded New York City street, there would be no difference between me and the schizophrenic, homeless woman Paula, who sits on the church steps a few blocks away from my apartment. The difference between Paula and me is that I have a home, a cell phone and a few people who I can call who will listen to me.

After a little circular time in my head, I phoned a friend under the pretense that I needed her opinion. I didn’t really care about her feedback; I just wanted to run the tape of my internal dialogue. The specifics were that I felt a teacher at one of my children’s schools handled something poorly. My friend listened politely, agreed and then threw a few of her opinions into the fire. My friend’s well-intentioned participation and agreement solidified my story and what started off as a flame, turned into a bonfire. We analyzed the teacher’s personality and motives, rehashing what happened from different angles. Eventually, we pulled the lens up and made the problem more systematic, a sample of the more significant issues arising at the school. Our continued agreement kept stoking the fire, we settled in around it, roasting resentments in righteous tones.

What started out as a passing thought now had an entire structure to it and showed up as “the truth.”

This is an example of agreement reality.

Here is the definition:

“Agreement reality is knowledge acquired due to others telling you it is so.”

I wish venting and agreement worked and I walked away from such calls feeling better. The agreement creates and confirms positions and venting strengthen neural pathways. I left the call angry and disempowered, planted in a clearly defined stance. Whenever I am making myself right and someone else wrong, alarm bells eventually sound. There is no possibility when positions are fixed. Just a drop of doubt can allow workability to enter the space. Curiosity creates bridges between us.

We live in a world of agreement reality, it’s happening all around us all the time. People who disagree with prevailing opinions often stay quiet due to the spiral of silence. The gist of that theory, developed by German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann is that if you speak up against a well-received, societal agreement, you risk being kicked out of the campfire and eaten by wolves.

Here it is:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiral_of_silence

On my best days, when issues involving a person or organization arise I have two sound choices; I can go directly to the person or organization with my complaint, or if I am not ready to do that, I can pray or meditate. If I am too possessed by negative emotions to trust myself to engage in a fruitful interaction, prayer or meditation is always a good choice for further guidance.

I also have another tool I regularly utilize which may sound simplistic and is a gem. I write down the person or organization’s name on a strip of paper after I meditate or pray and put them in my “God box.” It’s an action when you are not ready to take action. My God box is a small box that I keep on a table in my bedroom. The idea is that whatever you believe in outside of yourself (God, nature, whatever) will give you guidance when the time is right, regarding the name you place inside of it. It works because it gets the name out of my head once I put the slip of paper in the box.

If my issue is some circular, self-loathing conversation about an area of my life I feel dissatisfied or helpless in, there are even more options available. Figuring out where I can effect change is the first step, and I use the Serenity Prayer as my guide:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to the change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” When I figure out what is in my power to shift, I can create an action plan to do that ASAP. If I am unwilling to take action required for me to feel better, I acknowledge that and pray or meditate for willingness.

Getting up and moving ( Move a Muscle Change a Thought ) is always a good idea when possible. I then drop the issue by creating a distraction. Depending on the situation, I turn on a podcast or pick up a book, or call someone who needs support. Service is the best way I know to turn off the constant stream of self-talk.

Even if you choose not to address the primary issue, there is always an action you can take to get out of your head.

Talking to your friends or your shrink will only be helpful if they are brave enough to offer a different perspective. An agreement will reaffirm your position and keep you in your head. In your head, you’re dead.

 

Tomorrow Never Comes: Make Today Count 681 1024 Thayer Fox

Tomorrow Never Comes: Make Today Count

Do you have something that you promised yourself you will tackle tomorrow? Will you start a new diet plan, or visit the gym you signed up for two months ago, and have not stepped foot in yet? Tomorrow, maybe you will get around to calling that out-of-touch friend who keeps popping up in your thoughts? Since you didn’t sleep well last night, tomorrow makes sense to start your job search. What about today?

The days and weeks go slowly and the years fly past us. Tomorrow never comes. The past and the future are hollow concepts. The time to take action is now. Today. The present moment is all we have and all we have ever had.

I have a game that I play when I find myself procrastinating too often. I visualize myself as a ninety-year-old woman in a rocking chair on the porch of our home in Maine, watching the wind blow the leaves backward on the trees in the yard. How will I feel about the past 90 years? Have I shared my love? What more can I give away? Have I allowed God to use me? Will I be at peace as I take my final breath?

After I do this simple exercise, sloth or fear or whatever is holding me back is gone. I become more afraid of sitting in that rocking chair filled with remorse. We regret the things we wish we had done, more than any of our perceived mistakes.

When I heard about the Stoic practice of memento mori, or “remember that you have to die” it gave language to my ritual.

“Memento mori is an ancient practice of reflection on mortality that goes back to Socrates, who said that the proper practice of philosophy is ‘about nothing else but dying and being dead.’”

Here is the link to the Daily Stoic describing this practice in detail:

 

“Memento Mori”: The Reminder We All Desperately Need

 

A few nights ago, when I was turning off the lamp in our living room at 10:30pm, I noticed bright lights beaming in an apartment across our back courtyard. Pressing my face close to the glass, I saw a nurse talking on her cell phone. She was waving her free hand around animatedly as she stared out into the darkness between us. I noticed movement behind her and focused in on an ancient woman tossing and turning in a messy bed. Staring blankly out the window, the nurse continued her call for over thirty minutes. I watched from the bench, wanting to make sure the lady in the bed was ok. When the nurse finally hung up, she pulled the bed back together and tucked the lady back in. Relieved after witnessing proof of care, I left my perch to go to bed.

I woke up the next morning thinking about the woman across the way. When I was out later for an errand, I stopped by her building. I have a friend who lives there and vaguely know the friendly Irish super, Joe. After inquiring about the lady in the bed, I learned that she has no visitors but her neighbors handle her doctor visits and nurse schedule. I walked away feeling uneasy but understanding that there was nothing I could do.

I took action because I don’t see that lady as separate from me. She is me, and I am her if I live another forty years. The only difference between us is time. I hope someone asks after me if I am alone in a bedroom. That lady is all of us one day not too far off. We come into this world alone, and we leave the same way. Death is the only road out of life.

The next time I feel scared or tired, or when I come up with reasonable excuses not to do something, I will think of the woman across the courtyard. What does my soul need to do before I lie down in my final resting place? I want to give everything away before I reach the end of the line.

How can I make Everyday Extraordinary? Even more, than I think possible.

We are all masterpieces, and it’s wasteful not to share ourselves. Let mortality be your motivator. Commit to living full out right this second; tomorrow will never come.