Ask and accept

hands askingSuch a simple act, asking, a transaction we take for granted … until we need it. Then it is hard to ask for help and even harder to accept it. When we need it most, our life is contracted and fearful and we shy from asking for help. Partly because we feel alone and partly because we believe we’re meant to do it alone. Somehow it is ‘cheating’ if you get help or you’ll diminish your eventual standing as a hero.

The Hero’s journey

Our culture venerates heroes. The cult of the individual, of the “self-made man” and “supermom” those who seem to have endless amounts of time and energy to be focused, ‘together’ and successful. They battle uneven odds, villains, entropy and all manner of hurdles to win out at the end. Those stereotypes make it hard for normal people like us to feel adequate, to feel ok about wanting someone to help us. We want to be a hero. We want to be Sam or Frodo, off doing deeds that bards will sing about when in fact we’re at home in Hobbitton dealing with overdue bills, an infestation in the crop and illness in the family.

Part of the bigger picture is that it is too easy to slip into thinking in binary. This kind of “win or die” sloganeering that suits the need marketing firms have for dramatic impact is not helpful for general living or for remembering the infinity of possibilities that are available to us. The pervasiveness of hero-based entertainment distracts from our emotional development in respecting our connections and relationships. That is fairly fancy-pants way of saying that when we want deeper, honest, trusting and intimate relationships, we’re ready to learn more about dealing with conflict and about asking for help. Here’s a tip for advanced players – they’re the same thing.

Fighting for your life

When our world contracts to difficulty and we tighten up around the hurt, we’re likely to feel very alone. That perspective is defensive in nature, it is a way of protecting what little we have left and our claim on what was taken away. We aren’t open to a lot of possibilities, normally we attach or even fixate to a single outcome “I want it back the way it was” and moving through that is a hard road. Some people can never find their way out of that grief and anger.

Maybe it isn’t you, maybe you’re standing by someone’s side as they face a dreadful outcome. Maybe you feel useless, or rejected, or attacked as the person you most want to help lashes out at those closest with blind pain or fury. We’ve all been both of those people at one time or another. Did you find the courage to love them through that time, understanding that their actions at that time were a symptom only? Were you able to accept the unknowing of that time and stay committed to standing by them, no matter what? I bet you did. You’re probably thinking that was a no-brainer. Maybe in hindsight you wish you’d done more or been stronger. Rarely do we consider what transformations might happen if we are softer.

Softly does it

If we can soften (sweeten, gentle, trust, surrender – whatever is the word that makes sense for you) in that time of need we can use a different type of power to create possibility and transform our relationship to need.
Imagine you are looking for a chance to help someone every day, that you decided to do this for your own needs or atonement – in that instance you’re actively looking for someone who needs some help. It might be some spare change, or directions on a busy street corner that you can give. It might be listening over lunch to someone’s problem and remembering that there’s an ombudsman who handles appeals or using your personal network to find accommodation for a friend out of town during a medical emergency, or that as your friend’s house floods on the night of her big birthday party you offer to host the party at your place so that guests who are arriving from all corners of the state and city can still gather to celebrate. Those last three are all real, by the way, and from the last week or so. There are some truly wonderful people out in the world (and the ombudsman reclaimed a lost $9 000 so this is not just hand-waving).
But why softness? And what does this have to do with conflict? For a moment think back to the last time someone was unexpectedly nice or kind to you. Did you just feel your shoulders drop a little or your breath deepen a bit? Think of someone who has been endlessly kind to you, and supportive – can you glimpse that warm and fuzzy feeling then? If you can visualise that feeling, feel it, magnify it, this glowing sensation is compassion, it is a type of love.

Not sex love and not alone

Now that you’re a grown-up, you’ve begun to realise that there are all different types of love. Not just lust and adoration, other types too (the love as a friend or as a parent for example). When you can feel that love for strangers (and it is possible) or from an outside source, you’re experiencing divine love. You can learn it if you like (search for “compassion meditation”) it is not hard to get a handle on. One of the amazing side effects of doing simple compassion exercises is the immediate shift in your perception of being alone. Within the concept of divine love, or universal spirit, or cosmic unity (once again play around until you find the words that work for you), how can there possibly be such a thing as ‘alone’? There isn’t. We are, literally and figuratively, all in this together.
Even at a practical, basic, functional level you’re not doing it alone. Someone grew the food you eat and someone else drove it to the store. There’s lots of someones keeping the internet running, making your clothes, building the trains and plumbing and selling you a ticket at the cinema to see the films that other people made. In every area of our life we are part of a vast and interconnected web of people. Don’t be confused by all this talk about economies. Money is an agreement between people – it is the people who really matter. We are fundamentally interdependent and our culture’s veneration of heroes and of ‘individualism’ is an epic case of ego. Like so often with the ego, it leads you towards a less useful place to be in (thanks for nothing ego!).

Gentle hands

Sometimes it is only when you get knocked badly and your knees slam into the ground that you surrender enough ego to open up to grace. You don’t have to make it that hard for yourself, but if you do, try something different and soften up to ask and accept.

Holding a space for someone else (some with whom you may be in conflict) to not be ‘wrong’ in their actions or behaviours means there’s an opportunity for both of you to grown through the experience. It us a challenge to the ego and it does take a high-quality energy but the results are wonderful, they’re transformative. Try it. Call out bad behaviour or bear witness to your own conflict from a position of compassion that gives both of you respect.

When you are in the other position, or being tight and needful, remember that you are part of a whole that includes the possibility of expansion, inclusion and grace. Sometimes it is only when you get knocked badly and your knees slam into the ground that you surrender enough ego to open up to grace. You don’t have to make it that hard for yourself, but if you do, try something different and soften up to ask for help and accept that which is given.

We are all in this together.

Relighting your candle

Do you feel that your flame is flickering?  This week we’ll take a look at relighting your candle. Here are five simple things you can do to help yourself get through tough times.

One candle is lit from another.Just so we’re all clear, if you find yourself fantasising about or indeed planning hurting people (including yourself) (either physically or emotionally) then you’re not well and you need help. Yes, sometimes bad shit happens, but hurting yourself or others is a sign that the situation you’re in is extreme and that you need some professional help – please ask for it.

Also, if you’re feeling blue, or very dark for more than a week or two and with no other extenuating circumstances, then you’re possibly suffering depression and once again, please ask for help.

A lot of times our society doesn’t provide  useful guidelines and it can leave people floundering with burdens that are simply too heavy. Simple rules with clear instructions are easy to follow. Sometimes, particularly when things are bad, you need an objective measure and those ones work. I’m not a medical professional, so we’ll leave dealing with the extreme end of the experience spectrum to the professionals, they will unburden you in stages and then help you to heal.

You matter

When it is all stacking up against you and you can’t seem to get a lucky break at all it is easy to become very despondent and give up. It might make sense to give up on your project, postpone it, modify it or sell it off to someone else, but don’t give up on yourself. Try not to take it personally. Yes, of course it happened to you (and there’s not much that’s more personal in that sense), but you still exist independent of the meaning you (and or our culture) may have ascribed to your project. This is a good opportunity to remember and utilise the quincunx and put your circles back into the right scale and context for you. If you like, try this on too, “all life is sacred“, that includes you (not just dolphins,pandas and enlightened gurus) and you don’t need to do anything to earn that. You just are.

Tough situations are not impossible

There is some comfort in knowing that in all the generations of humans that have gone before us, in the billions of lives that have been lived, others have survived situations this tough, and they probably did so without air-conditioning and smartphones. If you’re the competitive type, this idea is particularly helpful. For many of us, just knowing that it can be done is enough to help us keep getting up when we get knocked down. Just try again. Hard work is what grown-ups do, you can handle it. You won’t like it, it is not as nice as snoozing on the couch, but you can get through it.

Reject the idea of perfection

Oh, you want to do it the right way, and that’s what’s causing delays and hardships and suffering? Are you sure it is right  and not just a choice you might be making? Very rarely is there only a single right way to complete a project in your life or handle a setback. There are normally as many ways as there are people. Your unique outlook, skills, network, humour and style will see you muddle through. Don’t voluntarily add the burden of conforming to the illusion of perfection.

Be a light to others

Helping someone else can and does give you strength to face your own situation anew. Help in an area where you’re not under pressure, where your situation is strong or complete. It will remind you that you have things to be grateful for and that there is likely to be someone out there who would be willing to help you. There’s a light inside people that comes back into their eyes when things turn around for them. It can be infectious, but you only catch it by acting on purpose.

Keep your hands busy

Dwelling in your pain and hardship amplifies it. Literally keeping your hands busy (sewing, cooking, gardening, woodworking etc) edges you out of that stuck place. Meaningful activity gives your mind something else to occupy itself and stimulates your problem-solving and coping abilities. Combine this with helping others if you like and do handiwork for a charity. Can’t use your hands? Find away to serve with what you do have – read to someone who is lonely, walk a bedridden person’s dog. Not busy so you’re exhausted (unless that is likely to help) but active, engaged with the real world, not living completely inside your head.

Hot wax

Candles drip hot wax. That’s a fact of life. You’ll have excuses about these suggestions and a lot of it will be to do with discomfort. If that discomfort is coming from your ego, or an attachment to the status of being hard done by being able to blame others, this is going to take extra bravery on your part. Someone very wise pointed out that “once we’ve asked to be healed, our unhealed places rise to the surface.” You’re underway now and the wax and the falling down and the frustrations are all part of the mess of it, but you’re back on fire, you matter, and the situation is not impossible.

Shit happens

It is Leonard Cohen who moans best “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed” (go and listen) and goes on to enumerate the many ways that shit happens and the universe gives us the rough end of the pineapple. At some point we’ve each felt those words to be the truest thing we’ve ever heard. Sometimes, shit just happens, and there you are – at rock bottom.

Dung barrow - literally a pile of shitThere’s nothing darker, nothing harder. You’re stuck in a situation where the choices are all bad, where there’s no glib ‘out of the box’ solution, where you can’t sweet-talk or wiggle, or ‘leverage’ or visualise abundance or re-frame or negotiate or create a win-win. Here’s the moment where you realise you’re a grown up. This is with you.

Stinks, doesn’t it?

Usually, just to really make sure you’re in a bad place, no one can really help you either. What do you do? How do you cope? Why is life so unfair? Well I’ve got good news and bad news for you.

Bad news

Well the bad news is that there are no simple answers to solve whatever your particular problem, conundrum or situation is. The path ahead of you is going to be rough, uncomfortable and probably life-changing. Ready or not, you’re on it. Also, by the way, no one knows why life is unfair. It just is. That’s another shit thing about being a grown up, there’s no ultimate umpire on the field with you right now who can call a time-out, send off cheating players or award a ‘best and fairest’ to someone who didn’t score but was very nice. Finally, in a personal and physical sense, you’re on your own. You’re in your own head through this with all your demons doing their things. That’s a scary place to be stuck.

Good news

Life is contradictory. Fortuna is both bountiful and capricious.  She can change her mind and ‘whoosh’ the winds blow you in another direction.

Having just finished saying that you’re on your own and no one can help you, the opposite is also true. (This is another weird thing about being a grown up, you have to get used to being able to hold contradictory ideas (truths indeed) in one’s mind, and this is one of them.) Last week we shared ideas for being happier in life and we’re able to do that because so many of us have experienced the same things, just at different times. So if you’re able to accept support, there are people who have also been in a similar dark and hard place and they will share what they have already learnt with you. You’ll have to make your own way out, but at least there will be people cheering for you from the sideline.

Next week we’ll explore some things you can do and some ways to cope with tough situations and rough deals. This is a place for honesty, so let’s admit that we’re about to venture into the realm of grief, sadness and despair. Please be respectful of your own wounds, and those of others. The intention is that by sharing these things we can help to heal ourselves and others who may be lost.

If you are in need of help right now, please ask.  If you’re in Australia, Lifeline offer crisis support and phone counselling. Whatever country you’re in, there’s a charity or service standing ready to help you, please contact them.

Thanks for reading and also for the suggestions last year that we explore this topic.

Be happier

Why do we put off having a good time? Sure, technically, celebrating is normally reserved for a ‘significant event’ but that shouldn’t put the dampeners on enjoying our day-to-day living more.

That’s what we all want, right, to be happier?

shared mealDon’t wait to celebrate. It is a long way between birthdays and promotions through the year, those special events often slip by us anyway. Birthdays are particularly fraught with baggage in our culture where youth is venerated. What can we do to be happier in our lives? Time is ticking people, this is our life we’re talking about!

What stops us being happier?

We worry – but by definition worry is about things that haven’t happened yet. So we’re making ourselves less happy now to think about things that may not happen in the future.

We turn worry into anxiety. While worry is tiring, anxiety is crippling. It isolates us from support and undermines our confidence.

The world is noisy. There is an avalanche of data every day, we’re suffocating under information and opinions.

Lots of people are mean and selfish. Let’s not go into this one too deeply, but I bet you thought of an example immediately didn’t you? Probably from the last day or so. We live in a crowded and pushy world, where a lot of people are out to get what they can.

Never enough money to go around. Do you get to the end of your pay and still have some week left? Do you wonder where the last pay went to?

We don’t have time. So very busy all the time with doing things and buying things and planning things and worrying. Oh my. So much to do! Where does the time go!? Another month and still you haven’t gotten around to that important thing you wanted to start? Drive faster, work harder, try harder to squeeze it all in. ARGHHH!

We just don’t think of it. It is a bit of a rut, day to day, doing all the things you have to do. Plodding through work and chores and bills and buying groceries and getting that thing fixed and all the other details. Being happy just kindof slips out of the picture.

Seven things you can do this week to be happier

Live in the now. Take life a bit more ‘as it comes’, or as a wise friend used to say “one meal at a time”. Of course you have big-picture plans and a few things you really want to achieve, but let go of obsessing over the illusion of control. Roll a little as the waves of life come at you.

Count your blessings. Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for. It is the best ever antidote for other people being nasty. Why? Because it brings you back into a core space that is ok, a space from which you can worry less about other people being grabby, because you realise you probably already have enough. Want a challenge, send a postcard or a letter to someone and thank them for being in your life or for something particularly that they did.

Buy less stuff. Being happy is an experience, evaluate how you spend your money in terms of what you value.

Turn off the worry switch. Anxiety is a horrible outcome from a quirk of our clever brains. The capacity to think through events that had not yet happened gave early humanoids a survival advantage. These days it keeps the wheels of our minds spinning when we need to be sleeping. Not so helpful. Learn about sleep hygiene and mindfulness practices that suit your variety of worry. If you can’t act on your concern, mentally count numbers. Or do maths. Really.

Be in a bubble. Cut out some (or all media) and detach from the ‘stay informed’ imperative. You need some of that intellectual energy to deal with your own life, to solve problems (see ‘worry’, above) or to create and heal. You won’t miss much. If you feel like a challenge, learn how to meditate and give that a go. You’ll get the secret bonus that meditators know all about (true quiet).

Time travel. Pretend you already lived today and then time travel back to the morning and tell yourself what the one important thing to do is. Just do that. No matter what other random, confusing, urgent and distracting things happen, hold onto the knowledge that future you needs current you to just do the one thing. You’ll change the nature of your time. Trust me, I’m a Doctor.

Share a meal. No need for a special occasion or fancy food. Just enjoy an ordinary meal in company. Chat about your hopes. Listen. Relax and enjoy the taste of the food, feel grateful for the earth that grew it and the people who worked to bring it to your plate. Tell jokes, daggy ones you remember from when you were a kid.

There you go.

None of this is too complex to grasp and you don’t need to hire a professional to do the paperwork to get started. Don’t like this list? No problem, here are 10 scientifically proven paths to be happier and Dr G will point you to any number of similar lists.

The real trick? Just make one of them happen. Now’s your moment, act on a whim so you don’t over-think it.

This week, don’t wait to celebrate. Make the call and put an idea into action. You’ll be happier for it.

Worry knot

Back in July we first talked about provisional living  and making choices.  At that time those concepts lead into a long talk about consumption and debt.

a hand drawn celtic knot in the roundLet’s spiral back to our beginning for a pass at the topic from a different angle.
There’s another powerful way that provisional living and avoiding choices haunt us and that is through worry.

Worry is an old word originally meaning ‘to strangle’ but those edges are now softened by time and use. We modern types resonate with the sharper ‘anxiety’ (maybe we prefer the strong sounding Latin root).  Worry strangles my day when it appears because it has a ravenous appetite for eating up my confidence, contentment and ability to make a decision. Maybe you have felt that.

Have you agonised over a decision, well beyond the rational weight or need of the implications? You probably have spent time chasing down all of the possible consequences of each permutation of action and attempted to double and triple guess what it most likely and how best to juggle the outcomes and payoffs. It can go so long you lose momentum to actually make the step, or the opportunity passes you by. Worse still, you can finally come to realise your health is suffering, you’ve become worried sick.

You’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in Australia and both the U.S. and the UK (I stopped looking after that, it was too depressing). That’s a lot of people with a knot in their guts over things that are on their mind.

Some of the things that connect our worry to the earlier discussions is to do with the addiction we have to comparisonitis. We lose touch with enough and drift into judging our situation against what we perceive others to have or to be. This outward focus of our energy and attention is draining, it blocks empathy and kindness (to ourselves as well as to others) and it is guaranteed to help us lose our way.

In worry we get lost in a maze. In comparing ourselves to others, we let go of our own thread and our path and step into a wilderness of subjective judgments based on guesses and hearsay. We do not know what is really going on for anyone else. We can’t know what battles they’re facing, what burdens they carry or what pain they’re hiding. It is too easy with social media to compare your own inner turmoil with the show reel other people promote.

When worry starts to get you into a knot, be kind to yourself and bring your attention back to your own reality. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but there are techniques that are easy to learn. Interestingly enough some of them correspond to spiritual practices and we’ll explore that terrain in the new year.

In the meantime, if you’re in Australia and you would like some help with your worries, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

How can I help?
Suggestions are welcome for blog topics for 2015. Comment here or email me directly.

Image source

Revising a first draft for the first time

Last November I wrote about being half way through writing a first draft of a novel. It did get finished (triumph!) and now I am half way through revising it.

revision of first draft pages
This edit has already taken as long as the entire drafting process (in calendar days – I should have tracked working hours and didn’t) and the single word I would use to describe this process is humbling.

The focus for the first draft was to get it down, just get an entire draft done. Revising (with a patiently waiting small group of ‘first response readers’ standing by tapping their feet) is about all the usual editorial stuff, but the big thing has been to address all the bits that got tagged with “fix this later” or summarised as “something great happens here so they get to blah”.

Those were fine stopgaps at the time and the right thing to do to keep the draft moving, my challenge now in this first mammoth rewrite is to find fresh creative juice to solve the problems I made and then walked away from. Coincidentally nearly all of them are where the story took another turn away from the outline.

Each step away from the outline made the final shape of the story and of the characters different to what I had planned. A better, more interesting, and authentically driven from the characters’ viewpoints story, but different enough that now I feel on my own and overwhelmed trying to patch it seamlessly into a readable experience.

I’m loving the process, by the way, in case that sounded like a moan.

I’m learning too (I can’t help but learn when the red pen tearing the draft apart is my own) which is delightful. This is my first time on a big job. Over the New Year break I took the opportunity to read and re-read a few tips from those who’ve been down this path before me, and they all agreed on one thing “stop procrastinating and get back to work”.

What is your number one tip for taming a first draft?

Starting the hill

Climbing the hill

Starting over confronts me with the fears of not doing perfectly (or even well enough), the frustration of feeling “uninspiring” and the reality that with a full time job, community commitments, family and friends to stay in touch with, I’ve let my personal dreams get shuffled right to the bottom of the priority pile where they have cried themselves to sleep.

I started this blog the way some couples decide to have a baby – as a way to force things to be better – although there were lots and lots of much better reasons too! I was never going to admit that but in the spirit of radical transformation and honesty it seems that I won’t really be able to move forward with my creative pursuits until I get congruent with what is really going on.

Thinking about climbing a hill, planning the steps, hoping the sky will be blue, none of those things get us nearer to the view from the top. Putting one foot down in the right direction and then the next one and leaning into the wind and holding onto the hat. Dealing with the real hill.
That’s how to get to the views.

Have you ever put off answering your heart’s call? How did you start over?

Trust in the process

Learning something just doesn’t work unless there’s a moment of surrender and I make or let myself say “I don’t know”. When I was a child I didn’t have this challenge. I expected that I didn’t know lots of things but as an adult, I am attached to the idea that I already know things, that I’m already good at some things.

Learning just feels like a lot of failures and plenty of frustrations and errors. That doesn’t feel great. “I don’t know” is a vulnerable place to be in our world of specialists and competition. I can see the value in it too. It is my ego that stops me from admitting I don’t know. My ego holds me back from the chance of learning!

When I reach the surrender of “I don’t know” then I know I am actually ready to learn. From that point, I am truly starting fresh. Then I just have to trust in the process and let the ‘failures’ and frustrations show me the way from there.