How many things can you think of that are free, make people feel better, and empower the giver? I can only come up with a few, and they all involve saying something nice.
I’m not suggesting you lie, but if you pay attention, there is almost always something you can find to say that is heartfelt and positive.
Who doesn’t like hearing praise? Whether it is about someone’s style, intellect, taste, talent, wit, car color, organizational skills, sense of humor, creativity, hobby, or anything else they do, you can almost always say something that will make someone’s day and boost their self-esteem.
So, why aren’t we all complimenting each other 24/7? For some strange reason, there are people who seem to think compliments take something away from the giver. Others feel self-conscious. Saying something kind empowers both the giver and receiver; and, with practice, it becomes second nature. In addition, every time you point out something positive you will get an extra dose of joy from the delighted reaction on someone’s face.
I’m not suggesting you lard on the compliments. They have to be heartfelt, honest things you genuinely appreciate. If you’re seeing your new friend’s place for the first time and it’s painted in your least favorite color, comment on how bright and cheerful it is, or the creative use of space. There is always something positive you can genuinely say.
Just imagine what the world would be like if every time someone thought something loving, or emotionally generous, they said it. Wouldn’t you be happier if people noticed and commented on your strengths and talents?
Never underestimate the power of a kind word. I remember, a few years ago, I was in the supermarket. There was a middle-aged woman trying to decide which product to buy, and she was all decked out. I noticed, hesitated saying something complimentary because I thought she might think I was weird making a personal comment, and went ahead anyway. I said, “I have to tell you, you look so lovely.” She suddenly got a little teary and said she was having a very bad day and it meant a lot to her to hear that.
Most of us want to make a difference in the world. You can do that every day, by just paying attention, noticing all the little things that make life better, and commenting on them.
Have you ever thought something positive but kept it to yourself? I know when I keep my kind words inside I feel a little regret because I missed an chance to connect.
One caveat: don’t overdo it with the same people or they may think you are being manipulative or want something from them.
Remember Aesop’s fable of the Fox and the Crow? The crow is perched on a tree branch and the fox notices a big piece of cheese in his beak. The fox starts complimenting the crow on his shiny black coat, his regal bearing, and begins to wonder aloud what melodious tones could come from such a majestic throat. After a few minutes, the crow opens his mouth and lets the cheese fall out. The moral: Beware of flatterers. Excessive commentary, no matter how kind or heartfelt, may be seen as suspicious.
When we take the risk to connect with others it renews our optimism in people, life, and ourselves.
Don’t be stingy with your supportive words. Take the time to notice the effort people make. Whether it’s the person bagging your groceries so nothing gets crushed, the soloist at your church choir, or your child calling just to have some contact. Thank them all, point out their kindness, attributes, or thoughtfulness. It will soothe their soul and yours.
In this day and age, when things can be so impersonal, risk making that positive comment. So what if someone thinks your elevator doesn’t go to the top floor. They’re wrong. A kind word counts.
It takes guts to be open. Why be a scaredy cat who keeps all good thoughts inside when you can share them? I encourage you to try it for one day and watch people’s reactions.
Practice saying all those wonderful things you have kept inside and watch the world change, one word at a time.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Archives for 2011
Demons: Befriend Them If You Want To Change & Grow
Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.
If you are reading this, the demons haven’t won.
Facing your demons is part of life. From your earliest moments when you might have been hungry and the breast or bottle wasn’t immediately available to later life crises, like divorce, death, job loss, financial hardship, illness, and other challenges, everyone is beset with demons. When things are particularly rough, it may seem as if the demons are winning, but as long as you live and breathe, you’re the victor.
Demons are excellent shape-shifters and can morph from one torturous form to another in the blink of an eye. Fear of rejection, worthlessness, false pride, anxiety, failure, pain, jealousy, anger, depression, and giving up on oneself are just some of the guises they assume.
It’s important to remember just how resilient you are, especially in the midst of an invasion. When I say invasion, I mean those times when you feel so overwhelmed by life you think you simply can’t stand another minute. When the emotional pain, grief, or hopelessness is all you can see. At those moments, it is crucial to remember how time limited everything really is, including you. Even if you live a long life, it will still be a relatively short span in the body; and, being incarnate is fraught with all sorts of experiences. When the less appealing ones visit, it’s best to welcome them with open arms, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. By denying what is really happening for you, or repressing your feelings with addictions or unhealthy habits, you forgo the opportunity to grow. You miss the chance to spar with scary thoughts, ugly impulses, or overwhelming grief, all of which move you into a more evolved and compassionate place.
There are still many people out there, and I don’t mean drug dealers, who will offer you a way around your misery. Advertisers will tell you life can be rosy if only you buy X, Y, or Z. Some new-agers will claim a quick way to nirvana, and there are myriad options for dulling one’s pain with obsessive-compulsive behaviors of all kinds. Don’t be beguiled by their dog and pony show. Who wouldn’t want an easy way out from pain? Sign me up! I’d love to think there was some quick panacea; but, after 40 years of studying psychology, religion, and philosophy I truly believe the only way out is through.
That doesn’t mean you have to weather every storm alone. This is the time to ask for and graciously accept help. Whether it is from a friend, relative, therapist, hotline, clergy person, or 12-step group, please avail yourself of any support you can. Just because many of us were brought up with that old Calvinist ethic of independence and self-sufficiency doesn’t mean it was right. If you were traveling West in a covered wagon you needed to be tough, but even those intrepid souls recognized how interdependent they had to be.
Going back in time even further, they say when the Buddha was under the Bodhi tree seeking enlightenment the demons came. He tried to fight them off for days. Finally, realizing that, at best, they would reach an impasse, he invited them to sit with him. I like to think of this as the Buddha inviting his demons to tea. Take a page from the Buddha’s book, befriend your demons. Undoubtedly, you will learn something, and develop more resilience in the process.
Jung, Freud’s disciple, believed each of us has a shadow side and we need to embrace it to be fully human, alive, and whole. By inviting your demons to tea, you own your shadow. You bravely go where many fear to tread. You have the guts to face your anger, fear, jealousy, lack of self-acceptance, guilt, and anything else you deem unacceptable. By dancing with the demons you reclaim your power. If you keep trying to bury them, you unconsciously feed each one and it comes out in projection, attributing all your own issues to others. (Everyone does this to some degree, but being unaware of it is problematic.)
It takes guts to face your demons. Luckily, everyone has the innate capacity to tread this rocky path, and has. Have you been ill? Divorced? Child of divorced parents? Child of an alcoholic or addict? Moved to a place where you knew no one? Weathered a financial storm? Been estranged from family? Experienced the death of a loved one? If so, you faced your demons. You courageously soldiered on. It wasn’t easy or fun, but you persevered, even when you thought the pain would never stop. Slowly but surely, it abated. At first, you may not have even noticed the subtle lessening of your anger, anxiety, or grief, but as the weeks and months wore on you started to feel more alive and open. That resiliency supports you through every challenge, allowing you to stretch beyond what you thought your limits were, and finding more capacity to bear what you thought was unbearable.
You are here for the whole enchilada, not just the kittens and rainbows. The sooner you embrace the totality of life, its highs, lows, and everything in between, the sooner you will find some measure of peace. Practicing affirmations, self-soothing thoughts, meditation, a comforting prayer, or mantra, will ease you through those trying times everyone has. No one is exempt, no matter what their life looks like, or what story they tell you. Every life is mix of treasures and traumas.
By persevering, speaking lovingly to yourself when the going gets rough, and assuming the best, you will make it to the other side.
Just like all the molecules in you and around you, things are constantly moving and shifting. Whatever you feel at this moment won’t last. It can’t. That’s what makes life so interesting and bittersweet. By embracing the vicissitudes of life with compassion for yourself and others, you allow yourself to fully experience whatever is happening to you right now. Yes, this is also known as mindfulness, acceptance, and liberation.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Restlessness, boredom, and groundlessness
While there are a multitude of distractions and amusements available to anyone with a library card, it is not unusual to go through periods of boredom when not even the most scintillating book, movie, or conversation will sate the crankiness demon. At those times, it is best to stop whatever you are doing and simply sit with what is. Are you feeling annoyed, frustrated, agitated, sad, or self-critical? Welcome whatever comes up. Investigate it. Do something paradoxical and try to increase the feeling. This may sound counter-productive, but it will actually help you figure out what is going on. If you let yourself go deeply into your boredom the underlying issue will surface. Once it does, ask yourself how you want to handle it. Consciously choose to explore your thoughts and feelings though journaling, talking with someone (friend, relative, clergy, or therapist), or simply breathing, meditating, and allowing them.
Boredom is uncomfortable, and it is natural to want to banish it immediately. By exploring what is going on right this minute, you allow yourself to relax with what’s coming up. It is only a feeling. You have probably felt every emotion before, whether fear, joy, anger, love, anxiety, sadness, or grief, and you’re still alive.
Boredom is often a code word for something else. It seems to appear when your internal state is so strong anything external loses its power to divert you. The irritability comes from wanting relief from those simmering uncomfortable feelings and knowing the only way out is through. When nothing feels right or good, just breathing can be a refuge.
No one likes feeling irritable, bored, or restless. Nor should you. Perhaps, the purpose of these annoying feelings is to wake you out of a funk. Sometimes, an unpleasant state of mind is necessary when routine ways of being and doing have sucked the novelty out of life. Variety does spice things up, and without it living can lose its luster. Whether it’s trying different foods, listening to new music, taking a drive to an unknown locale, or going to an art opening, mixing things up helps you thrive. In addition to creating new neural pathways, unpredictability and spontaneity create a sense of surprise and delight. Of course, it has to be the right amount. Too much novelty and you feel groundless, too little and you’re bored.
Maintaining emotional balance is not easy. Life, with all its demands, intrudes on the best laid plans. So, boredom, restlessness, and groundlessness appear. Re-grounding yourself can be as easy as feeling your body sitting, standing, or moving, eating something mindfully, looking out a window and really seeing what meets your gaze, taking a walk, calling a friend, listening to music, writing in your journal, or anything else that uses some of that irritable energy. Even meditation, not an easy feat when you are feeling crabby, is helpful, since it reminds you this is merely a passing state you can label and release. Actually, you are not really releasing the state as much as your attachment to it.
Boredom, restlessness, and groundlessness are simply different terms for feeling temporarily stuck and uncomfortable. You will not stay in this state of mind. Everything changes, and that is what makes life so interesting. You never know what’s next. By sitting with what is, or actively shaking things up a bit, you practice mindfulness or self-determination. Sometimes, one will work better than the other. It’s always good to have a few arrows in your quiver since one day sitting with your feelings will be the right choice, and another doing something proactively will work.
The following grounding techniques utilize your ability to actively focus attention on something external to distract you from whatever thoughts and feelings seem unpleasant, overwhelming, or boring. (They are from another chapter called Grounding Techniques.)
5-4-3-2-1 meditation. Wherever you are, notice 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, and then 5 things you can physically feel. Continue with four things in each category, then 3 things in each category, then 2 and, finally, 1. Allow about 15 minutes to complete one full cycle. It is preferable to find new things, but not necessary.
Another 5-4-3-2-1 meditation. Wherever you are, notice 5 objects, 5 colors, 5 shapes, and 5 textures, then 4 in each category,, then 3, then 2, and 1.
Think of all the vocabulary words you can rememeber from another language you studied.
Recall your favorite foods, places you have visited, movies, books, or music.
Recite a poem you memorized as a child.
Describe in minute detail a mundane activity you do every day, like brushing your teeth: I pick up the toothbrush, I turn on the water, I wet the toothbrush, I put toothpaste on the toothbrush, etc.
Imagine a time when you felt very safe and describe it in great detail, using all five senses.
Sing a song.
Build a sanctuary in your head. Add as much detail as possible.
Focus on where your body is contacting the floor, a chair, or bed. Breathe into that place.
Widen and stretch your fingers and toes. Relax them and repeat.
Repeat a prayer, affirmation, or mantra. Use a rosary or mala beads to help anchor the repetitions.
Count backwards by threes from 100.
List how many things you can do, from the mundane to the most sophisticated.
Play old car games in your head, like Geography (where you say the name of a place and use the last letter of that place as the first letter of your next one) or I Packed My Trunk and In It I Put an A (apple), a B (beta endorphin), a C (color wheel), to Z, going through the whole alphabet, starting from A each time you add another letter.
Look out the window and notice subtle color differences in the sky, cloud configurations, trees and branches, or the various shapes and sizes of leaves.
Feel your breath. Remind yourself that you are alive, and whatever you are feeling is part of life. You are here to feel it all.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Sitting With Discomfort
I have a confession to make: I don’t believe you can feel happy 24/7, any more than you can feel anything every minute for your entire life. We are designed to feel a broad spectrum of emotions because, so far, they have kept us safe and helped perpetuate the human race.
We all know how something that feels bad can actually redound to your highest good in the future. But, being the hedonists we are designed to be, we naturally avoid pain and seek pleasure. What if sitting with discomfort helped us make peace with it, increased our frustration tolerance and our ability to accept life as it is? As Albert Ellis used to say, it’s a choice between short-term hedonism and long-term hedonism. If we forego the pleasure of the moment we can reap greater benefits in the future. In today’s society, delaying gratification is not popular; however, when we learn to sit with what we don’t like we actually build emotional muscle and can handle the next challenge with greater ease.
When we feel anxious, for example, our first inclination is for relief, which usually consists of avoidance. We can distract ourselves with TV, video games, pornography, food, alcohol, drugs (including prescription psychotropics), gambling, etc. and create new problems; or, we can do the last thing we instinctively gravitate towards: sit with the feeling. Yes, just allow it. Breathe into it. Can you feel the discomfort physically? If so, notice its characteristics. Is your breathing shallow? Is your back tense? Do you feel a headache coming on? Is your jaw clenched Are your shoulders hunched up? Is your abdomen tight? Breathe into whatever you notice.
Give yourself permission to feel your feelings. With practice, it will help you accept yourself and your reality. By resting in awareness you stop fighting what is true for you now and open to the possibility that it is all OK. You can handle what you don’t like.
Many incredibly intelligent and insightful souls, like the Buddha, Ram Dass, and Tolle have encouraged us to be here now. That means being with whatever comes up. Your job isn’t to like everything, but to be aware and open. Luckily, this becomes easier when you remind yourself everything passes, the pleasant and the unpleasant.
It is crucial to understand that the goal here is not necessarily to figure out why you are feeling what you’re feeling, but to stay with the discomfort. You may even want to cultivate some curiosity about what you are feeling.
Granted, mindfulness practice is counter-intuitive, but when you are fully in the moment you can actually relax into what is. Resisting your feelings often increases them and their power. No harm will come to you if you embrace your feelings, though it may be uncomfortable. In time, you will notice a feeling or sensation and, rather than avoid it, you will label and accept it. Another great benefit of this practice is that by gently and lovingly accepting where you are you become more compassionate with yourself and others.
Impermanence is the name of the game. Nothing lasts, good or bad. You may not care to remind yourself of that in the middle of an ice cream sundae (though it might make you more appreciative and increase your enjoyment), but it is helpful to remember when times are tough.
Once you allow yourself to be with what is true for you now, remember the quote: “Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” By resisting the urge to rate your feelings, or yourself as bad for having them, you will begin to know the peace that comes from acceptance, and your discomfort won’t morph into suffering.
Here are some exercises to help you on your path to emotional freedom:
Consciously stop yourself a few times a day to do an internal check.
What am I feeling now?
Can I allow this feeling, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, without trying to repress it, or distract myself from it?
Stay with whatever comes up, especially if you don’t like it.
Try to label what you are experiencing. For example: tightness in my throat, muscle spasms in my low back, tension in my jaw, etc.
Name your emotions as if you were simply observing them, like: anxiety, sadness, anger, resentment, grief, etc.
Breathe into any area of discomfort, and keep drawing your breath there until you feel it relax.
Immerse yourself in Buddhist thought by reading books by Pema Chodron, and listening to podcasts on iTunes like: A Quiet Mind, The I.D. Project, or interviews on Sounds True.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
When people show you who they are believe them.
If hope is the thing with feathers, as Emily Dickenson said, then trust floats on gossamer wings.
Most people lose that child-like trust with the end of a first love, but not all. I have known a handful of souls who maintained it until death, or appeared to, but it’s certainly not the norm. Life intrudes on the fantasy that someone will be an all-loving, supportive parent. Paradoxically, if you had toxic parents, it’s even harder to relinquish this desire as yearning for a kinder, gentler life becomes a mission to get what you missed as a child.
Whether trust is broken by an affair, an addiction, or the gradual departure of someone’s heartfelt interest, it requires a radical shift in your world view. Emotionally adjusting to that cognitive terra incognita takes time and energy, but is worth it as it builds maturity and a commitment to being responsible for yourself.
At the end of the day, if you truly trusted someone and found out he or she was unworthy of that level of faith, you may swing to the opposite side of the pendulum and feel wary of everyone. That’s OK. It’s temporary. When you have been badly burned it’s natural to fear fire. Eventually, you will allow people into your heart again. You may never trust anyone else 100%. That’s fine, because the real task is learning to trust yourself. Before we explore ways to build self trust, let’s look at what trust entails.
Trust may mean your parent, child, mate, friend, business partner will:
Take care of you when you’re sick or old.
Tell you the truth.
Treat you kindly.
Keep your secrets.
Honestly, and with compassion, share most of their thoughts, feelings, and personal information.
Listen to your thoughts, opinions, and concerns.
Have your best interests at heart.
Everyone has their own notion of what trust feels like. On some level, trust is having faith in someone else’s ability to truly know and support you. This may mean nurturing, protecting, listening, contributing financially, knowing what you are thinking without you having to say it, anticipating your desires, etc. As you can see, it’s a tall order. The most realistic approach is to hope someone who loves you will do their best, most of the time, to act for your highest good. It doesn’t hurt to remember that everyone is after their own happiness, and they will usually put that before yours. So, if the relationship is reciprocal and they feel they are getting most of what they want, they will make a bigger effort to please you. If not, they will have less incentive.
There are three important things to remember about trust:
1. Your decision to trust someone is a gift to you, not to them. You do it for peace of mind.
2. You can always trust people to be themselves.
2. If they betray you, it is a reflection of who they are, and says nothing about you.
If you have been betrayed and your trust was breached, it may be a good idea to use the above concepts as mantras until they become automatic. When something bad happens, it is all too easy to let feelings of insecurity, vulnerability, and grief distort your perception. Thinking more clearly will change your feelings from anger, despair, worthlessness, hopelessness, depression, and anxiety to acceptance, optimism, sadness, and concern, all of which will help you adjust to a new reality.
Trusting yourself is much harder than handing yourself over to someone else. After all, you came into the world as a helpless infant who needed adult care and attention, so on some very deep level, it’s tempting to want to feel fully nurtured by someone. Since everyone has some abandonment issues, this desire is heightened by the fear that those we love the most will eventually leave. The good news is until you drop the body, as they say in India, you can always count on yourself. It may take a lot of practice to prove to yourself you are truly capable of healthy self-care, but you are. Keep at it and the emotional rewards will accrue, until, one day, you will automatically guide yourself towards self-loving thoughts and behaviors.
How can you build inner security and self-trust?
Patiently accept your own pace as you move forward in your journey.
Take responsibility for yourself emotionally, financially, physically, socially, intellectually, vocationally, and spiritually.
Practice supportive self-talk by saying loving things to yourself. Even if you are lucky enough to have friends, family, or a therapist who repeatedly tells you calming,
helpful things, there is something deeply soothing about being able to hear those words in your head, and comfort yourself with them anytime—knowing you really mean them. Either way, the more you hear them, the more quickly they will become second nature, eventually eclipsing the cacophony of internal self-downing you may have been immersed in for as long as you can remember.
Everything, no matter how awful it might feel in the moment, is for your highest good and personal evolution. When you are struggling, miserable, grief-stricken, and saturated with anxiety, it seems almost impossible to remember this deep truth. Even if you don’t believe it, just keep repeating it. Eventually, you will see the way life constantly shifts and changes. It’s just like a seesaw, only now, you know you are the fulcrum.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Complaining: A Path To Authenticity and Less Pain
“What annoyances are more painful than those of which we cannot complain?”
Marquis de Custine
“Things are seldom what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream.”
From H.M.S. Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan
Have you ever noticed yourself vacillating between feeling grateful and complaining? Take heart, they don’t cancel each other out, nor do they have to compete. As strange as it may seem, both are necessary for you to maintain a balanced view of life. Repressing negative thoughts and feelings is not healthy or desirable. Allowing the full spectrum of emotions is your ticket to a more authentic, content life. If we weren’t supposed to experience rage, frustration, anger, irritation, jealousy, envy, or any other “negative” emotion they would all have been extinct by now. The fact that everyone has the full complement of feelings is evidence they are necessary. Having them and acknowledging they exist is not the same thing as expressing them inappropriately. It is far better to write in your journal than to escalate your anger into road rage, or homicidal behavior. Unfortunately, many people, especially women, are trained to think they have to be “sugar and spice and everything nice” as the old nursery rhyme used to say. Not only can this be stultifying emotionally, it can morph into all sorts of physical issues, some of which can be painful to the point of immobilization.
Dr. John Sarno, who wrote a number of books, beginning with “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection,” has always maintained emotions you find unacceptable get expressed physically in the form of TMS, tension myositis syndrome. The purpose of this muscle tension, and the pain it produces, is to distract you from negative thoughts and feelings you deem inappropriate to your self-concept as a good, kind, loving, generous, person. The cure is to allow 15-30 minutes a day to journal your nastiest, angriest, and most loathsome thoughts. On the face of it, you may think this goes against everything written on this site about envisioning the best and allowing it to come to you. It doesn’t. To paraphrase Carl Jung, we all have a shadow side and denying it only creates misery. By taking time every day to let your darkest thoughts and feelings rise to conscious awareness, you keep them from festering and expressing themselves in other, more insidious ways.
According to Dr. Sarno, it is typically the nicest people who suffer from TMS the most. They are do-gooders, perfectionists, self-critical, overly responsible, and prone to guilt. Naturally, allowing and acknowledging a slew of negative thoughts and feelings is anathema to people whose very existence has depended on being perceived as loving, giving, and kind-hearted. But, if not allowing yourself to peer into your dark side produces chronic pain, or other challenging physical symptoms that intrude on your life, you may want to experiment with a little emotional spelunking.
Do you want to be the person who is so invested in being seen as 100% lovely, kind, generous, patient, self-sacrificing, etc. that you are willing to live with inner emotional turmoil and physical symptoms? That may sound like a rhetorical question, but it isn’t. Many people choose that route because it can be incredibly ego-gratifying. If you find yourself suffering from chronic pain, migraines, IBS, insomnia, or other intrusive physical issues, you may want to give Dr. Sarno’s prescription a try. Let your inner two year old out, even if he or she is having a tantrum. You don’t need to express this part of yourself in public, but by acknowledging it exists you can blow off some steam before it implodes through a physical symptom.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang