On the Contrary

I beg to differ. I disagree. You’re wrong. Nuh huh. Yah, but …

How many times a day do we disagree with someone we’re speaking with? Our parents, our friends, our co-workers, our children, complete strangers, our significant others; everything seems like a debate class topic we must win in order to pass the course. Am I right? (Yes.)

Why is it so important for us to be right all the time, or most of the time? Why are we so dang contrary?

The answer is, it isn’t us, we aren’t actually all that contrary. It’s that ego of ours. The ego being that voice in our head, which really isn’t us. You and your ego are separate and learning to identify the difference and separating yourself from that voice in your head is actually one of the biggest steps you can take towards happiness and success. There are lots of books on the matter, I enjoy Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” and “Make Every Man Want You” by Marie Forleo. Both highly, highly recommended.

Why does our ego want to be right all the time? For validation. We, our true selves, are far more peaceful than that. We can take in all the information and agree or disagree without making a federal case about it. Can you imagine what our world would be like if everyone shut their ego up for a while! Ah-mazing! Don’t you think?

I was married to a man for many years who felt very strongly (gross understatement) about certain political points of view. If I told you that twenty-five years ago, our clock radio went off each morning to the voice of Rush Limbaugh before anyone knew who Rush Limbaugh was, yes, while he was still only on a local Sacramento station, you may have an idea of his beliefs. My (former) husband’s twin brother was as opinionated, but at the other end of the spectrum. The twins were extremely vocal, extremely opinionated and extremely loud, because the louder you were, the “righter” you were. Phone calls between them were long and insufferable, only hearing one side. It was far worse when they were together, in person. Family gatherings were always a nightmare. The women folk would always beg for a “no politics” family get-together, but that seldom lasted more than five minutes and any objection or enforcement on our part was drowned out in the din. Neither of them were completely right, neither of them were completely wrong in their opinions. There is no right or wrong, only opinion. I have mine. We’ll leave it at that.

Like “the twins”, the nation is divided, politically, about 50/50. What does arguing, bickering, and slandering get us? Annoyed and upset. And that’s it. You, no doubt, land on one side of the fence or the other, if not completely, then, at least on some of the key points of debate (e.g. gun control, healthcare reform, abortion, the budget for defense, education, Medicare). Tell me that anything anyone could possibly say would convince you to “switch sides”. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few areas we are pretty committed to as individuals.

Politics. And religion. Again, lots of heated discussion and debate here. I have admitted before, I hate bumper stickers. But, there is one bumper sticker, these days, as I have mellowed with wisdom in my advanced years, that I actually smile inwardly at (no, I will not put it on my car); the “Coexist” bumper sticker. I’m sorry, but are all the stories really similar enough that they could just be different interpretations of the same story? Who cares who is right and who is wrong? I’m a believer!!! I believe that if you live a good life, do service for those less fortunate than you, work hard and stay out of prison, you’re alright. Call me enlightened or call me a fool, but you’re not changing my mind by arguing with me. And if arguing is “saving” or “witnessing”, um, bye bye. I’ve got work to do and service to perform. See you in the “after life”, I’ll have time to chat about your righteousness then. Do you really think your god and my god are duking it out somewhere over which of them is right? Hint; pretty sure our “god” is all the same dude, just in a different storybook. Blaspheme.

We’ve covered a couple of taboo topics; politics and religion. Shall I venture into another? Sports. How is it that fans have become so rabid they are willing to kill for the sake of “their” team? Right? Meth-fueled, pit-bull walking, bumper sticker covered egos on steroids. Just my opinion. And what about the parents of future (or not) athletes; soccer moms and dads, Little League parents, hockey moms; they make Raider fans look tame! But it’s all in the name of good sportsmanship. Bang. Bang.

What is wrong with us? Let’s put down the energy drinks and the triple shot espressos for a minute and listen to ourselves! In the end, does any of this matter? At all? Um, no. In the end, no matter who you cheered for in Little League or in the Major Leagues, no matter which church you prayed in, which “god” you trust, and no matter who you voted for in whichever election year, we are all going to die, decay and turn to dust. And, at that point in time, we will be completely equal and, for the first time for most of us, at peace.

I prefer to pursue a little peace, now. So, whether you agree with me, or not, I really don’t care. My ego may care, but I don’t, and my ego is on a short leash these days and is not likely to engage in debate with you. I just want some peace and quiet so I can go about my day; work real hard, spend time with people I love and cherish, serve those less fortunate than I am, do something active and enjoyable, take in a new experience, improve my physical and emotional health, eat clean, maybe read a little, maybe write a little and get a good night’s sleep. Those are the things that are truly important to me, not how you vote, who you cheer for or who you worship. I have my philosophies, I have my beliefs, and I have my values. I have educated myself on them all, I have thought about them carefully, and yes, they are subject to change, but only I will illicit that change, if I choose.

Am I trying to change the way you think, or what you believe in? On the contrary. I only want you to consider thinking – for yourself. I only want you to consider believing – in yourself. The rest, is up to you, you’ll hear no argument from me.

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Visited my dad’s gravesite today. In the end, we all die, decay and turn to dust, no matter how loudly we express our opinions. No one is right, no one is wrong, in the end.

 

One Thing

As I continue to read and remember about the egoic mind and the essence, I challenge myself to overcome that inner voice, my egoic voice. It is difficult, of course, we are so accustomed to the constant inner conversation, it’s almost like breaking up with a lover or close friend. Most of us have taken what our inner voice has been telling us, for our whole life, as truth, as fact. Sadly, this is not the case, our inner voice has been lying, cheating and misleading us for, well, forever. Now that we recognize this, we seek to separate ourself from this unsavory companion.

One thing our egoic selves do is compare ourselves to others in an effort to elevate that ego of ours. The ego always wants to be right, to be superior and in the criticism of others, this is ensured. You know it’s true. For example, you see someone in a public place and you “size them up”‘ am I right? Women often inwardly critique every passerby’s fashion choices, hair, body, expression, shoot, shoes, handbag, companion(s), etc., nothing and no one is immune. Men, often, literally size other men up. This boosts our ego and sends out a very negative energy that makes us less attractive, less friendly, insincere, and disingenuous, probably not the type of person we’re trying to evolve into. We tear everyone around us down, in some way or another, to boost that ego of ours. Well, our ego does it all with our implied permission. It is high time to revoke that permission! Take charge. Take control.

In an effort to evolve, in an effort to become less egoic, live more in the essence, promoting living in the present and fostering genuine happiness, I have issued myself a challenge; to say, in my mind, or out loud, if the opportunity presents itself, at least one nice thing about everyone I encounter. Whether in conversation, in association or simply passing on the street, I aim to make at least one nice remark about absolutely everyone I take notice of.

I am putting this to the test, in a really ambitious way. Today, in Napa, it is hot. For some reason ninety degrees in Napa feels like one hundred six in Sacramento, which is indeed what the temperature is in Sacramento today. I accomplished another great challenge today; I got up, ate breakfast and went running. I know, I go running almost every Saturday. The difference, today, I ran all by myself. I have never just laced up my shoes and headed out the door for a run on my own. Running is always part of an organized group event. This was a big step, actually, about six miles worth of small, fast steps, but, I did it. It’s sets a new precedent for me, I can now run, by myself, anywhere, anytime. Remember that full marathon I have coming up, how else am I going to be ready if I’m not running more than one day per week?

To say I was quite hot and sweaty after six miles on the blacktop would be an understatement. Mom’s house is not air conditioned, so it is a bit warm inside, too. To combat the heat, she shuts all the curtains and turns on about a dozen oscillating fans. Though hot, it is a beautiful day out and I simply cannot bear being holed up in a dark, windy, still too warm cave all day and night, listening to the television spewing out the news at a decibel level I’m certain is unsafe. So, after my lovely post-run shower, here I am. My favorite public market place, The Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. Full of food and wine venues and free wifi,and hordes of tourists on this busy, summer Saturday, it is cool and comfortable. And I have no shortage of folks to try out my experiment with the practice of “one thing”. You could say I’m in a “target rich environment”, especially considering the heat and the amount of bare skin/skimpy clothes. It’s all good. I’m doing quite well.

It is pretty tough to make note of one good, positive thing about everyone that passes my table which is nestled dangerously close to and right between “Three Twins Organic Ice Cream” and the “Wine Merchant” wine and cheese bar. That ego of mine is quite hasty in making judgements while my essence, out of practice, is a little slow in taking it all in and making a positive note. We really have to be quick to dismiss the horrible and allow the enlightened. If you haven’t tried this, I recommend it. It is a little alarming just how quickly we pass judgement on people. Or, perhaps, that’s just me. I hope not. i suspect not, since i read about it in two different books in a ond day span. Whether its just me, or not, I’m making the effort to change. I’m making an effort to shut my egoic voice down. I’m making the effort to evolve! By the way, you look very nice today! And I mean that!

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Shut up!

For as much excellent advice as I have, I do have my own struggles. That’s why my blog is called “an effort to evolve”. I am making an effort, I am figuring out what works, what doesn’t work, for me. I’m sharing what I think, what I figure out, what I find helpful with all of you that you can try it out in your own effort to evolve.

I read, a lot. Sometimes I have more time to read than others, and sometimes, I just have a hard time fitting reading into the whole work, work out, prepare healthy food, attend to important relationships and get enough sleep, routine. But, reading really should have as much a place in my daily routine as waking up in the morning. I find it THAT helpful.

I will admit, I have had some struggles on almost every level lately. Yes, good ideas have still been coming to me, and I have made some progress in my evolution, but there have been some struggles that have been retarding my efforts to evolve. Despite my belief that happiness is something from within, that self confidence is the catalyst for the happiness you find within, and that you, solely, are responsible for your attitude, your actions, your behavior and your evolution, my attitude has been, well, sort of sucky lately. And, on several levels. Ok, on every level.

On the home front, in many of my relationships, with work, with fitness and with my healthful eating habits. I have found myself more prone to negativity and cynicism in conversation with those close to me, and in my thoughts, more prone to anger and frustration while traveling and driving and, well, just getting through the day. This slump has touched every part of my life. So, what gives? I need to shut up.

Shutting up is the key, and I misplaced the key, there, somehow, for a while. Maybe it got lost when I made the move into my mom’s house. Perhaps I mislaid it during the holiday season. Or maybe it got lost in the shuffle in all of my travels for work and my vacations. But, I mislaid this very important key. Shut up.

I found the key yesterday. Right where I left it. Right where I found it in the first place. And since finding the key yesterday, I have discovered it in a few more places. Now, that key is everywhere, like I was meant to find it again. Now, I vow, no matter how busy life gets, no matter if there are moves, or travel, or challenges, that key will be safely in my grasp.

The key is to shut up. Just shut yourself up. Well, no, to clarify, shut your ego up.

To explain. A couple of years ago, I read an excellent and life altering book by Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now”, that’s where I first found the key. After reading his book and employing as much of his teachings as possible, life got really, really good. I had incredible optimism, I had incredible energy, I accomplished tremendous things, I grew outrageously as a person, I achieved highly at work, my relationships were all aglow. I rocked everything in my universe. Then, somehow, somewhere, I forgot about the most important lesson in the book, the key to the whole thing. To shut up.

Yesterday, sitting in one airport after another, one delayed flight after the next, frustrated as hell, I pulled out my Kindle and was accosted with an ad for Audible, an audiobook subscription service through Amazon. I’ve had Audible before and never used it though I paid the monthly fee month after month after month after month and finally ended the service. The “free trial” book they were featuring in the ad on my Kindle yesterday, though, was by Eckhart Tolle, “A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”. The title alone made me feel good. And he is absolutely brilliant. I clicked the banner, signed up for my “free month” and my “free trial”. I downloaded the book and started to listen. His voice is as magical as what he writes. In the first chapter he recapped the relationship between us, and our ego. The ego, in a very simple, condensed version, is all the chatter that goes on in your head. All the “think speak” you hear in your mind, the voice you think is you. It isn’t, this is your ego. You are separate from that voice in your head that you listen to 24/7. Once you learn to separate yourself from your ego, all that noise, you learn to just shut up. Think about the constant dialogue in your mind, is it not mostly focused on the past or on the future? Pay attention. It is. Or it’s going on about everything that makes you mad, sad, frustrated, upset, etc. Either way, not much good is going on in that singular dialogue. Cynicism, bitterness, self-criticism. Your inner dialogue batters you, constantly, with self criticism; I’m not smart enough, I’m not thin enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m unhealthy, I can’t, etc., etc., etc. So, basically, you spend every waking moment focusing on the past you can’t change, the future you can’t reach and self-talk that is self-destructive, and, coming from a “reliable” and believable source, you. So just shut up.

Interestingly enough, after listening to a few chapters and picking up that lost key, I instantly felt better. I felt in control. I felt much more positive. Happy. Even though I was still sitting in the deepest, darkest, recesses of San Francisco International Airport, at a gate in a terminal I didn’t even know existed, waiting for a delayed plane. I picked up my Kindle, again started surfing for some books on relationships and found one that piqued my interest. I downloaded it and started reading it after boarding the tiny plane bound for Sacramento. I had plenty of time to read because there was a mechanical issue that required a mountain of paperwork to be completed before we could depart. We were aboard the plane for nearly an hour before we finally took off for the nineteen-minute flight. But, I was happy. Reading. And in the relationship book, everything I’d just heard in Eckhart Tolle’s new audiobook was being echoed, almost eerily, by the author, Marie Forelo (whom I admire and follow). I hadn’t realized she authored the book until I’d read the first chapter or two. But, again, the key, which she outlined foremost in her book, is to shut up. Shut that voice off in your head, or acknowledge it as separate from you and dismiss it. This is the single, most important, vital step to creating your own happiness. By shutting up that egoic voice that focuses on the past and on the future, you can be present in the only time that you can control, influence and live. Now. The present.

This concept was the main thesis of Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now”, the book that had such a positive impact on my life a couple of years ago. To find myself haphazardly revisiting this concept in not one, but two, unrelated sources on the one day I probably needed it the most seemed more than just coincidence. A blessing, to say the least.

I am shutting up again. I am acknowledging that egoic drivel in my mind and dismissing it. I am, again, regaining control of my thoughts, working on actually living in the present, not just preaching it, and living in the present, now, with a little more clarity, with the key in hand. I am certain that in very little time, with only minimal effort, I will be back on track in every area of my life. Right where I want to be.

What I hope you’ll take away from this; explore separating yourself from that voice in your head. Learn that you are separate from all that noise. If you are interested in learning more, look up the books I referenced above and devote some time to their well-worded lessons. And, above all else, just shut up.

 

There is beauty and magic in every moment we live in the present. Shut up! And let it happen.
There is beauty and magic in every moment we live in the present. Shut up! And let it happen.

Do You Have Change?

Change terrifies most people. We are truly creatures of habit and we fear anything that may disrupt our lives or deprive of us the control we seek to maintain over every detail of our individual worlds.

I once participated in an advanced leadership course with the Boy Scouts of America (Wood Badge, for those of you who know). Part of the lessons had to do with change. I remember one of the staff members, Norm, the cook, used to come out of the kitchen at random points during the instruction, always in a funny costume, carrying a sign. One side of the sign said “change happens”, the other side of the sign said “change is good”.  He would silently parade across the room showing one side of the sign, then the other. I was self-righteously convinced that I was open to change, adaptive, willing to embrace it whenever it came about. I scoffed inwardly at those who weren’t. What I didn’t really understand was this lesson would apply to far more than who the Scoutmaster of our Boy Scout troop was and what requirements were necessary for this merit badge or that. 

Life is full of change, big and small, good and bad. Over the course of the next decade, I learned to accept change, to deal with change, to embrace change and finally, to actively seek change. This is a huge part of my “effort to evolve”.

The interesting thing is, once you learn to work with change, the changes most folks would consider “bad” aren’t actually all that bad. They may seem so at first, but by God, we survive, grow stronger and move on, usually in a much better direction. The changes that most folks would consider “good”, or desired, or wished for, worked for, obsessed over, and manipulated into happening, often end up in the desired effect, temporarily, only to ultimately end in a “bad” change. And, if embraced, that “bad” change ultimately ends up “good”, and more lasting.

Through the events of my life over the past decade, the changes that have occurred, both good (manipulated into happening) and bad (as a result of manipulating the desired changes), I have come to a very important realization; one ought to be very careful what one “asks” for. 

Life was exactly what I’d asked for; the realization of many dreams – possessions and a lifestyle. With “getting what I asked for”, the trade off was imprisonment by those possessions, by that lifestyle. My life became all about being able to afford those things, to maintain that lifestyle, to a point where I could not enjoy those possessions, nor that lifestyle. When the inevitable happened and all those possessions and the lifestyle were lost, with a lot of reflection and a bit of discipline, I realized, with great relief, that I was free. The life I’d had before was very much an illusion; those possessions, that lifestyle, did not make me who I was. I identified myself to all as the person with this lifestyle, with these possessions, I was no more than a shelf upon which these acquisitions were displayed for others to admire and make conversation about. 

Now, I am far more real, I am more genuine, I am more authentic. I am a work in progress. I am so humbled. I have spent the past few years evolving into a person, a real person, not a mannequin of a certain lifestyle, a living display of a collection of desirable possessions. I am me, just a person. I have been stripped and I relish this freedom, this nudity. And I am very careful what I “ask for”. 

And I seek change. There is nothing in my life I don’t leave open to change. I flirt with it. I bathe in it and let it wash over me and hope it makes me a better person, that I learn more valuable lessons from it.

Through the loss of everything, I have become rich. I have also learned that I did not know first, the power of prayer, and second, that I’d been praying all wrong. I asked for “things”, in prayer, and would even justify them, in prayer. And I got them, the desired change. I prayed for the man, the spouse, the job, the house, all of it. Then I got the inevitable “undesired” change, because what I asked for was never meant to last. I think it was meant to happen, if for no other reason than to teach me what was truly valuable in life, part of which is the ability to accept and grow from constant change that I am not usually in control of. Now prayer, for me, consists of nothing more than offering gratitude and affirming who I am.

I find when I am anxious or depressed or in a quandary, it is usually because I am fretting about the possibility of an undesirable change. Once I wrench it out of my mind, let go of it, and stop trying to control it, things usually fall into place, do actually change, and for the better. I have to remind myself that wanting something to not change usually ends up with a worse result. Besides, everything has to change, time changes everything and time cannot be stopped. So, hoping something doesn’t change because currently it is good, doesn’t mean that, as time goes on, it will remain good. 

Take a relationship, for example. If currently it is good, so good that you don’t ever want it to change, just fretting about it never changing changes it, puts a strain on it, pressure on it, and this can actually become the catalyst for it to fail. I just finished reading a book, “The Soulmate Experience” by Mali Apple and Joe Dunn. I highly recommend this book, and it taught me so much about change as it relates to relationships. In the course of two weeks, I have totally changed my thoughts and attitudes about change, as it relates to relationships, and I am comfortable and at ease with whatever may change in that relationship. So far, it has only changed for the better.

As my life unfolds, through constant change, I grow and learn and develop. I do seek change, certain, intentional changes, but I don’t “ask” for them, and they certainly don’t consist of “things”. The changes I deliberately try to make, now, are more about developing my health, my attitude, my thoughts, my essence, not my egoic self. 

Today I took to the dump the last of the items from two very large storage units. Storage units full of the bits and scraps left over from all that I’d “asked” for, that I’d prayed for. Just junk now, as we speak, being turned into the filthy dirt. The last remnants of that much desired, past life have been discarded and now, I am that much more free. Free to seek change.