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Byron Katie

The Secret to Escaping Life’s Frustrations

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The Mindful Path to Self Compassion

The Mindful Path to Self Compassion: The secret to escaping life’s frustrations is something I learned when I was eight years old. However, I never applied that knowledge until recently.

“What’s this?” I asked my dad as I held up my prize.It was the spring of my fourth-grade year, and my school was hosting our annual PTA spring fair. My school’s cafeteria, now a boardwalk of homemade carnival games, smelled of popcorn, cotton candy, and sweat.  I had just tossed a ping-pong ball into a cup and won this contraption.

“That,” My dad said, “is a Chinese finger-trap!” He smiled as if he had a secret.

“How’s it work?” I asked. “Stick your index fingers in it, one on each side,” my dad replied. I placed my fingers inside the cylinder of woven bamboo. “Now try to get out of it,” he smiled.

As I pulled, my fingers were indeed trapped. The harder I pulled, the tighter the checkered device became. My dad looked more than amused as I struggled for a good couple of minutes until I felt like my little digits were about to pop out of their joints. Seeing my frustration, my dad said, “Don’t pull. Just relax. Now push in.” As I did, the trap loosened. Low and behold I was able to free myself.

“Where’s my little brother!” I said, scanning the crowd with a deviousness grin.

***

Somedays I feel like I am that nine years old, stuck all over again. Only this time I’m snared in my day to day struggles; traffic is bad, taxes are due, cars breakdown, deadlines loom, and people get cranky. I don’t mean to be negative, but the little boy in me wants to scream “Give me a flippin break!! Why can’t things just be easy for once?” I know, “First World” problems, right?  Nevertheless, I get angry, frustrated, anxious and sad, along with a myriad of other painful feelings when things don’t go my way.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, for centuries, every school of religion, philosophy, and psychology has attempted to answer the question of human suffering. While they disagree on many things, they all tend to agree on this; Life, like the Chinese finger trap, is a paradox.  The more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to see that what I learned that day at the school fair applies well to life: Release control, press into “what is” to find my way through.  

As I’ve been thinking about this, I identified a few areas where releasing control and pressing into might make my life less complicated.  

Pressing into the uncertainty of the outcome
All too often I have already determined the “desired outcome, ” and I want things to work on my terms.  However, what I want and what I get are often mutually exclusive. When I have an expectation that goes unmet, it typically manifests into a resentment.  Resentments cut the soul with the blade of disappointment leaving the scars of discouragement and discontent.  Yet, when I release control and press into the uncertainty of the outcome, I free myself to explore other possibilities. The magic then is that I find the peace of mind I was looking for in the first place.

Pressing into the unpredictability of others’ behaviors
Oh, this is a bitter pill to swallow! Why can’t others just do what I want them to do or not do the things I don’t want them to do? After all, I only want what’s best for everyone… right? Truth be told, even under my most altruistic desire lays ego gratification. When I try to control others, I am in their business, I ultimately suffer and so do my relationships.  As Byron Katie (author of Loving What Is) puts it, “If you are living your life and I am mentally living your life, who is here living mine? We’re both over there. Being mentally in your business keeps me from being present in my own. I am separate from myself, wondering why my life doesn’t work. To think that I know what’s best for anyone else is to be out of my business.” I’ve found when I stay in “my business” I’m no longer stuck obsessively controlling others, which lead to greater satisfaction and enjoyment in my relationships.

Pressing into the uncontrollability of circumstance
My argument is that if I give in and let everything happen, I become a victim of circumstances.  I mean do I just accept injustices? Do I allow poverty, disease, global warming, homophobia, and bigotry to go on while I grab my banjo, folk song and bury my head in the sand? And yet the ugly truth is that I cannot change the circumstances of the world! Then I remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”  I unlock freedom when I press into the knowledge that I can only choose to control and change myself, and I become the change I want to see in the world.

All in all, I’m learning that there is a flow to life. Lao Tzu said, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Life is like a stream that runs a course, and I’ve often thought there are but two choices: go with the flow, or swim against it. The rebel in me wants to go against it.  But pressing in has taught me there is a third option: I can get in the flow and use self-control as my rudder steering out of the way of suffering.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find my nephew and show him my Chinese Finger Trap.

 

A Simple Way to Stop Screwing Up Your Relationships

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Chances are you are doing something that you’re not necessarily aware of that is screwing up your relationships….

It’s causing you a lot of pain and discourse with your significant other. This “thing” is the source of nearly every argument, it’s the germination of all resentments, and it ultimately leaves you disconnected with the one you love. The one thing you and I do to screw up our relationships is … we have expectations.

Expectations are our ego driven desires to control people, places, and things to conform exactly as I say, think or plan with little fluctuation …. Basically it’s me acting like a Diva.

Everyone has expectations; You do, I do, she does, they do … we all do. An expectation is a core belief that the other person should do something … that they shouldn’t do something… that we should be allowed to do something … or we shouldn’t be expected to do something in some way that is different from way we want things to be. Expectations are our ego driven desires to control people, places, and things to conform exactly as I say, think or plan with little fluctuation …. Basically it’s me acting like a Diva.

When I have an expectation, my ego is attached to the outcome and because I am unwilling to have it any other way than my own, I tend to make things difficult for everyone around me. Yet the funny thing is that when I have unmet expectations, I am the one who ultimately suffers! As Byron Katie says “When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time.” An expectation is arguing with ‘what is’ … it always ends with defeat.

An expectation is a resentment waiting to be born!

Nothing will kill your relationship faster than having expectations. An expectation is a resentment waiting to be born! When someone doesn’t meet my expectations, I judge them harshly, creating distance as a means of self-protection and get bent out-of-shape like a pipe cleaner caught in a garbage disposal. The resentments grow, because I feel justified in my expectation. The reality is that my inability to release my expectation only serves to create division rather than a solution. Think back to your most resent argument and ask yourself if there wasn’t an unmet expectation that led to a resentment.

The distinction is that an unmet expectation leads to resentments, whereas a boundary is setting a limit on unacceptable behaviors.

“Wait just a second …” you may be saying to yourself.  “Do you mean to tell me all expectations are bad? If I don’t have expectations won’t people just walk all over me? I mean if there were no expectations there would be chaos in the world!” Here’s where we need to make the distinction between an expectation and a basic human right. I believe that as humans we do have certain rights; the right to safety, security, fidelity, respect, etc. When I’m clear on what my rights as a human are, then I can set limits on what I will tolerate and what I will not. For example I won’t tolerate being called names, being yelled at, or being disrespected, because I have a basic human right to safety and consideration. I can set a boundary by simply stating, “I won’t tolerate being treated with disrespect.” It’s important to set boundaries, and it’s my responsibility to set the limits when someone is infringing my rights. The distinction is that an unmet expectation leads to resentments, whereas a boundary is setting a limit on unacceptable behaviors.

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So how do we overcome expectations and resentments? Like any other bad habit, we need to replace it a positive one. Replacing a habit takes a conscious effort and practice … through repetition. I love the quote by Bruce Lee, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”  So here is your kick: “I am responsible for releasing my expectations.”

There is massive power in this! By making a monumental shift in thinking and behaviors, we move from a “me-centered’ perspective to aspiring to be “others-centered.” By releasing my expectations,  I now move forward in repairing my resentments.  I do this by making amends and admitting my ego-driven expectations and their consequences. Trust me, when you practice this you will find peace and calm for yourself and in your relationships such as you have never experienced before.

Practical tip:  I have found that one of the quickest ways for me to change my perspective from me-centered to others-centered is to practice what I call the Three A’s: Adoration, Admiration, and Appreciation.

No one ever starts a significant-other relationship with someone they don’t first adore.

1. Adoration: When I adore someone, I have reverence for them, I respect them and I am committed to them. Adoring is an act of love that reflects of the qualities in the person I’m in a relationship with. I remind myself what is true. When I aspire to adore I change my game from “what you’re doing to me” to  “how I treat you.” No one ever starts a significant-other relationship with someone they don’t first adore. If you’re having a hard time, think back to when you first met. What was it that you adored? Make a list and write it down.

2. Admiration: When I admire someone, I value their personal qualities, abilities, competence, and skills. I appreciate what they bring to the table. I hold dear their contributions. What we admire is often the things we are grateful for. Make a gratitude list for your special person. How do they contribute to your life? If you can’t find something to be grateful for, think about what you would miss if this person was suddenly taken from your life. Life’s pretty fragile and can change in a instant. Add to your list all of the things you admire and for which you are grateful.

Want to end a resentment fast? Read your appreciation list to your significant other.

3. Appreciation: This is where the rubber meets the road … When I appreciate someone, I acknowledge my adoration and my admiration towards them. Appreciation is a verb, an action, a implementation. Want to end a resentment fast? Read your appreciation list to your significant other. Sure, it requires an act of humility, courage and vulnerability, but it’s true act of strength!

My experience has been, that when I am vulnerable, and communicate adoration and admiration through appreciation, the power of resentments from unmet expectations dissipates like sunbeams burning through a mist. Love is a always an act of self-sacrifice. When I turn my ego from centered-towards-self to centered-towards-others, I act in accordance with my values. Give it a shot … all you have to lose is … your expectations.

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