As we approach Thanksgiving in the US, it’s a good reminder to shift our thoughts toward gratitude. Sometimes it seems as though there’s very little to be grateful for. If you’re reading this blog chances are good you have electricity, internet, a smart phone or a computer. Be thankful for them. It’s also likely you have a roof over your head, somewhere warm to sleep, and food to eat. If it’s hard for you to find things to be grateful for, start with these. We sometimes forget to be thankful for the basic necessities of life.
Watch the sunrise or sunset and notice the beauty it casts across the sky. Take pleasure in what nature has to offer you, even a weed poking though a crack in the cement. Observe the unique qualities in the people whose paths you cross. Look around you and find what you can be thankful for.
This is an exercise in seeing the positives in your life rather than focusing on the negatives. When we shift our attitude toward gratitude we open up space within to find contentment and joy. Try it 🙂
What to do about those unwanted thoughts or emotions? It’s crucial that you first understand what you are feeling or thinking. After naming it, find connections to help you understand why you are thinking or feeling what you are. Here’s an example: if you are feeling fear, what is the fear reacting to? Perhaps you just heard about impending layoffs at work and you’re not sure if you’re going to lose your job? It makes sense to feel fear when you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Now that you know what it is and why it’s there, you can work to change it. How will you benefit by continuing to feel the fear? Perhaps it will help you do your job well. Maybe it will help you update or start your resume, to begin thinking about the possibility of a job change for yourself. Think of channeling that fear energy into doing the things you can to prepare yourself, just in case.
Next, focus on the thoughts that led to fear. It’s likely something along the lines of, “and I’m going to lose my job.” What do you know is true and real beyond a shadow of doubt? Perhaps you received a memo from HR that announced upcoming layoffs. All you know is you received that memo. That’s it. You know nothing more so don’t add to the story: “Oh my gosh! I’m going to be laid off, I’m not going to be able to find another job and I’ll be living under a bridge.” You don’t know that won’t ever happen, but you also don’t know it will. You don’t have any data to support this. Have people lost jobs and ended up homeless? Yes. Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt it will happen to you? No.
When you put your thoughts through this test, it helps to minimize the emotion that is connected to the thought. Now you can free up some mental and physical space to work on your resume, just in case. It’s ok to prepare for the worst while acknowledging you don’t really know what will happen.
You will likely need to go through the process again and again of asking what is true and real about your thoughts on this very same issue. I like to say, “rinse and repeat” because our thoughts have a way of going back to square one. Just recognize what you are thinking and feeling, and repeat the process.
Do you ever wonder if you’re the only person who thinks and feels as you do? We often feel isolated in our experience, usually because we don’t want others to know what we’re really thinking and feeling. We are often too embarrassed by our experience to reveal it to others. And yet, here we all are doing the same thing and feeling alone. We feel odd so we don’t share with others who are also feeling odd. If we all shared honestly we wouldn’t feel so odd anymore.
Here’s a tip, every human who is capable of thinking has all kinds of thoughts and feelings, some that are acceptable and some that are not. We all have thoughts and feelings associated with anger, jealousy, fear, lust, sadness, inadequacy and joy. This is not an exhaustive list, just the first ones that come to mind. Lately, my thoughts and emotions have been connected to joy, anger, jealousy and inadequacy. I’ve experienced the others on the list as well, just not right now.
I think it’s our human nature that guides us not to share, we are hiders. If I tell you the truth about my experience you might judge me and I’d rather not experience the judgement so I’m going to hide my real thoughts and emotions to protect myself. But, as I stated in the very first paragraph, we’re all doing this and we know it. Or at least some of us are aware that everyone is doing it. Anyone who tells you they don’t ever feel anger, jealousy, fear, lust, sadness or inadequacy is lying either to you, to themselves, or both.
Some people work very hard to detach from the reality of their human experience, “I never think bad thoughts” they might say. It’s not true. They do, they just want you to see them as only good because the bad or seemingly unacceptable parts stir up unbearable shame; however, as I stated in my We Are Not All Bad blog, we have a mix of good and bad (helpful and hurtful, or acceptable and unacceptable) within us. I believe a large portion of our journey in life is to come to terms with the truth of who we are and what we are capable of both positive and negative.
Coming to terms with our complexity allows us to embrace and honor our reality. When we embrace and honor, we can work to process and understand our experience and be in charge rather than having unwanted thoughts and emotions in charge of us. How do we do this? Find out in the next blog.
I believe God and I read the Bible. There’s a lot of good information in there. There are some things I do not understand at all and there are some that are so challenging I wonder if I could ever do them. One particularly challenging action is loving my enemies. Related to my “I’m Back” post, I have been working on going beyond forgiving people to actually letting go of the bitterness I feel toward them. This has been incredibly hard. It’s easy to want good for my children, my grandchildren, my husband, people who are nice to me, people I don’t even know…But to truly love and want good for someone I have been hurt by or am angry with, well now, that is perplexing! When I am dealing with enemies, I want nothing to do with them. In my darkest moments I sometimes hope they drop dead (on their own, not by my hand; and yes, I really do think that way sometimes…not proud!).
Lately, I have been turning a corner toward loving and wanting good in the lives of people I haven’t wanted to love. This has been an elusive experience for me most of my life. It feels good to love and not harbor hate. I believe staying away from ruminating on the bad parts of these relationships has helped. All that tail swishing I learned from the horses through equine therapy is really paying off! I am not pretending nothing hurtful happened, I’m just not letting it rob me of joy or snatch my love for people.
I’m experiencing this breakthrough today. I take steps forward and steps back so I’m not saying I’ll never harbor icky thoughts or feelings towards others. What I can hold onto is knowing I’m capable of this previously unconquered thought shift. I will find my way back to it again because I know the way and it feels so much better than hate! 🙂
My neighbor has a home in Morehead City, NC. A fun little beach cottage she and her husband just finished remodeling and it sits right in the path of Hurricane Florence. We chatted at the mailbox last night about holding things loosely and doing the next right thing. Often when faced with some sort of adversity we may freak out, which doesn’t really help us at all. Other times we may try not being bothered in the least, which isn’t actually real. Either option is an extreme and extremes don’t tend to be beneficial.
So what does balanced look like? It’s when we are aware of the emotional impact of whatever is happening but we don’t allow the situation to own us. In my neighbor’s case, she feels the sadness of what might happen but recognizes she doesn’t actually know yet so she is holding some hope that perhaps things will be fine and if not she will then deal with it. Her words, “I’m taking the next right step.”
Closer to home, Anna (my daughter) is going through chronic rejection of her transplanted lungs. I’m focusing on what we know now: she’s fine, she’s humming along living her life even though she is well aware her lungs are failing. This is a slow progression for the time being so no action is necessary at this time. Anna understands this balance of living in reality but not letting her emotions take control. From her blog post in July:
“…yet as with all my fears they turn out to be not so bad and the things that suck are things I never really saw coming. Trust me I know from experience God really meant it when he said “DO NOT BE AFRAID”. There really is no point, it does nothing but get us all worked up, steal our present moments and lock us in a box of fear. Everything I have ever been afraid of happening that has happened was actually okay, there was no reason to get all worked up. And yet God also knew what he was doing when he said it over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over …. okay you get the point. Not being afraid is something I have to constantly remind myself. My latest mantra is the little bit of the song “don’t worry, about a thing, cuz every little thing is gonna be alright” and it is true!”
“Every little thing is gonna be alright” doesn’t mean everything will turn out as we want it to, but whatever it is, we can grow through it step by step.
My last blog post was on June 21, 2018. Over the last two months I have written the beginning of many posts but none felt right. I try to write about my own experiences and weave in a useful tool for you but I just couldn’t find a way to accomplish this that sat well with me.
I unravelled earlier this summer. I could feel it happening and I knew I needed help knitting parts of myself back together. I see our journey in life as layers. When I first embarked on my healing journey in 2005, I looked at parts of my life and childhood for the first time as I sought clarity for why I was in such a mess. Thanks to the help of counselors, coaches, EMDR, Shadow Work, and various experiential groups I healed many wounded parts. But I wasn’t done. I often tell my clients our work is not a one time experience where we find “perfection” and then we’re good for the rest of our lives. We’re more like rehab projects. You do all the work to get the house that’s falling apart shored up and looking good but over time the paint peels, the carpet frays and things need to be mended.
I went through a major overhaul between 2005-2008 as well as several tune-ups in the years since. These are just new layers that need work. I discovered some devastating aspects of my family of origin. From my perspective it seems we do not always have each other’s back through thick and thin. We were raised to be independent, like islands. As long as we are all just humming along, not being real, we’re good. As soon as we do or say something that is against a person or idea, we’re shut out. The phrase “blood is thicker than water” is not true in my family. In full revelation, I have been both the recipient and offender of this approach.
To heal, I spent my summer in the company of human and equine therapists. Yes, horses have been part of my therapy! I am not a horse person and have limited experience with them. As I looked into equine therapy, I felt tears rise to the surface and thought, “I really want to try this”. Since then, I learned that horses do not do well alone. They need the herd–their family. What irony or is it fortuitous!?
Most of my work has been on setting boundaries (1400+ pound horses are intimidating!) while simultaneously seeking to understand as well as accept others’ messiness. This is not generally a huge issue for me in most arenas of my life. With family, it’s become a very painful issue. I’m still in process on this. I work daily to swish away negative and unhelpful thoughts like the horses swish flies with their tails. I’m focusing on loving others as is. I’m in process. I don’t have this all figured out nor do I execute it in every encounter.
I’m grateful for my unravelling; the closer I stay to my humanity, the more compassionate I am with my clients. It also opened up my understanding of equine therapy (it is not just about brushing and riding horses…I did neither of those) but about bringing in their way of partnering with me in my healing process. I’m grateful for my four legged therapists – Three Socks*, Pierced With Light*, Guinness, Samwise and of course, Courtney (my two-legged therapist). 🙂
*Not their real names. I took the liberty to name them when I didn’t know what their real names were. When I learned their real names, I liked mine better! 😉