Sunday, February 1, 2015

Speak Your Mind!

When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret. - Shannon L. Alder

Dear Ms. Alder! I know someone who was put in a situation like this not that long ago. He not only spoke his mind, but also consciously decided that nothing has the power to throw him off the chosen path and I admire him for his strength and determination. 

See, my dear friend joined a group of people who decided to make a major change in their lives. They were working hard for more than twenty weeks: weekly webinars, very long daily reading assignments, weekly blogging and networking with other participants of a program. 

I will not go into details here, but for the sake of clarity I want you to understand that the program was designed to help people discover their hidden potential and to develop a so called Master Mind. 

My friend is a man of exceptional qualities and integrity. He is a former Marine who served in the Vietnam War at a very young age. He worked on B1 Lancer and also in the Space Shuttle Program at the Space Center in Florida, but is very humble about his personal achievements. He joined the above mentioned program out of personal need for change. And for weeks he worked diligently reading, writing and networking.  

The Master Mind program is a very powerful tool and it requires a lot of self-discipline. It addresses personality, character, behavior, physical body and spirituality. Many people embrace the program with hope for grand changes in their lives, while others drop out after first few weeks when they realize that this is not what they expected. There are also people who continue with the program despite inner doubt. And some will not bother to do what they were asked to do by the organizers. They do not write blog posts and do not have much interaction with others. But not my dear friend. He worked hard from the very beginning despite the fact that he works full time, has a long distance relationship and has to take care of three young, demanding pets.

The program required a great dose of introspection and at some point, as participants progress in their self-discovery, they are forced to change their entire life philosophy. The entire framework of habits and beliefs collapses as they look deeper and deeper into their souls. Personal growth and transformation are very painful processes at any age, but I believe that fully formed adults suffer more than younger people. They have to revise and reevaluate everything they have learned and done in their lives, and have to face incredible inner resistance to change that comes from within and from without. They have to overcome the strong temptation to give up and return to the safe zone they cultivated for years if not decades. Only the very strong and determined participants continue despite a genuine emotional pain and they receive very little little support when you consider that some of them become incredibly overwhelmed and may require a therapy.

The inner change is often accompanied by cascading events in Master Mind program participant’s life that make the day-to-day existence even more unbearable and yet, they try to follow the program despite the doubts that surface from time to time. 

This was exactly what happened to my dear friend after one of the last assignments he received. The inner struggle slowed him down and he did not publish his latest blog-post on time as it was required of him. What followed next borders on ridicule and reminds me of a first grade school experience. He was told that he was disturbing the harmony and was punished with exclusion from the program like a first grade pupil who got suspended from school for misbehaving. Rules are rules and you will be punished if you don’t follow them. There was no room for emotional or spiritual support. No tolerance for a man in crisis.

The most interesting thing in the whole situation was, though, that my dear friend did not break down completely. He was so strong and so wise, and so much beyond the framework of the program! I believe that he simply arrived at the crossroads where the program did not work for him anymore. He had the courage to speak his mind and I admire him for that. The “punishment” only precipitated his "liberation" from constraints and a decision to continue walking on his own chosen path. 

I do not intend to make a judgment about the program, but as an objective observer I have an opinion and it is a valid one. The whole program sets inner processes in motion, but the participants are left alone without much psychological support when catharsis occurs unexpectedly. This is quite irresponsible.

Most participants face their pain bravely and try to use help of their support groups. What they need while moving on is empathy and support, not punishment and exclusion. Such actions remind me of dubious gurus who punish and ostracize their pupils at will to exert desire behavior and submission.

Many people face punishment, exclusion and power play in their daily lives. Only the very strong can survive without a scar. Such a casual “mistreatment” in the Master Mind program seems a bit out of place, but it can also be used to some advantage.  It may help strengthen participants who were let go. A few weeks earlier they might have become desperate and even depressed, but now they are strong enough to deal with the situation and maybe even laugh about it. Just like my friend!

 By Dominique Allmon


Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Art of Not Being Offended

The Commencement of the Quarrel by John Pettie, 1889 (detail)

When we quarrel, how we wish we had been blameless. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Dr. Jodi Prinzivalli

There is an ancient and well-kept secret to happiness which the Great Ones have known for centuries. They rarely talk about it, but they use it all the time, and it is fundamental to good mental health. This secret is called The Fine Art of Not Being Offended. In order to truly be a master of this art, one must be able to see that every statement, action and reaction of another human being is the sum result of their total life experience to date. In other words, the majority of people in our world say and do what they do from their own set of fears, conclusions, defenses and attempts to survive. Most of it, even when aimed directly at us, has nothing to do with us. Usually, it has more to do with all the other times, and in particular the first few times, that this person experienced a similar situation, usually when they were young.

Yes, this is psycho-dynamic. But let’s face it, we live in a world where psycho-dynamics are what make the world go around. An individual who wishes to live successfully in the world as a spiritual person really needs to understand that psychology is as spiritual as prayer. In fact, the word psychology literally means the study of the soul.

All of that said, almost nothing is personal. Even with our closest loved ones, our beloved partners, our children and our friends. We are all swimming in the projections and filters of each other’s life experiences and often we are just the stand-ins, the chess pieces of life to which our loved ones have their own built-in reactions. This is not to dehumanize life or take away the intimacy from our relationships, but mainly for us to know that almost every time we get offended, we are actually just in a misunderstanding. A true embodiment of this idea actually allows for more intimacy and less suffering throughout all of our relationships. When we know that we are just the one who happens to be standing in the right place at the right psycho-dynamic time for someone to say or do what they are doing - we don’t have to take life personally. If it weren’t us, it would likely be someone else.

This frees us to be a little more detached from the reactions of people around us. How often do we react to a statement of another by being offended rather than seeing that the other might actually be hurting? In fact, every time we get offended, it is actually an opportunity to extend kindness to one who may be suffering - even if they themselves do not appear that way on the surface. All anger, all acting out, all harshness, all criticism, is in truth a form of suffering. When we provide no Velcro for it to stick, something changes in the world. We do not even have to say a thing. In fact, it is usually better not to say a thing. People who are suffering on the inside, but not showing it on the outside, are usually not keen on someone pointing out to them that they are suffering. We do not have to be our loved one’s therapist. We need only understand the situation and move on. In the least, we ourselves experience less suffering and at best, we have a chance to make the world a better place.

This is also not to be confused with allowing ourselves to be hurt, neglected or taken advantage of. True compassion does not allow harm to ourselves either. But when we know that nothing is personal, a magical thing happens. Many of the seeming abusers of the world start to leave our lives. Once we are conscious, so-called abuse can only happen if we believe what the other is saying. When we know nothing is personal, we also do not end up feeling abused. We can say, “Thank you for sharing,” and move on. We are not hooked by what another does or says, since we know it is not about us. When we know that our inherent worth is not determined by what another says, does or believes, we can take the world a little less seriously. And if necessary, we can just walk away without creating more misery for ourselves or having to convince the other person that we are good and worthy people.

The great challenge of our world is to live a life of contentment, regardless of what other people do, say, think or believe. The fine art of not being offended is one of the many skills for being a practical mystic. Though it may take a lifetime of practice, it is truly one of the best kept secrets for living a happy life.”

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Air Travel, Lack of Civility and The Good Thing About Getting Old

The good thing about getting old is that your short term memory does not work very well anymore. You quickly forget the bad things that happen to you. - Mr. Monheim 

Everyone who travels by air has at least one story to tell. Most of the time these are the stories of lost luggage, delays, flight cancellations, obnoxious fellow passengers, or the impertinent cabin staff. We tell the stories because they happened to us. We want to warn our friends to spare them the indignity of spending five days without luggage in Cairo or being stranded for a day in "Timbuktu" only to miss our connecting flight that would have taken us back to civilization if we were lucky enough not to be tricked by our travel agent back home. Most of the stories, though, are less dramatic, but still worth telling and some of them do not even happen to us. 

The story I am about to tell happened only a few days before Christmas in the Business Class of an European airline during the Atlantic crossing. After a meal that wasn't too horrible, most of my fellow passengers went to sleep. Those who sat at the window pulled dawn the window blinds, but a few of us remained awake. Some were reading, others watched movies. 

Just across the aisle a gentleman in his 70s had his window blind open. He was reading a newspaper. He did not even wear reading glasses. I found this quite remarkable. Most of us would probably be able to retain a fairly good vision until old age if we had the discipline to read with natural daylight and tried to stay away from artificial light sources and reading glasses.

My thoughts about aging, perfect vision and reading were interrupted by a rude remark that came from a woman in her 40s who was traveling with her husband and two teenage children. "Hey you! Pull down the blind! I want to sleep!" As it happened, a steward was passing by. The frantic woman asked him, in a voice laud enough, to "tell the senile idiot to pull down the blind." The young man was certainly in shock. He probably was just as shocked as I and the elderly gentleman on the other side of the aisle. What happened next was like a short movie on civility and human misery. The steward asked the elderly gentleman if it was all right to pull down the shade, but before the man could even utter a word, the husband of the frantic woman woke up and shouted even louder: "Tell the old, senile imbecile to pull down the shade! Tell him to turn on the reading light." 

The steward wanted to be diplomatic. He told the couple that this was a daylight flight and no one could be forced to shut the window blind if he did not want to. He offered them sleeping masks. 

One would think that this should have been enough, but no, the couple became even more agitated and wanted to talk to the chief steward. When an uniformed man in his mid-50s arrived, the couple complained very loudly that they could not sleep because "that old senile imbecile kept the window shade open." This, apparently, was scandalous since they paid so much money to travel in the business class and believed they deserved a better treatment.

The couple "spoke" very loud and did not care that they might wake up other passengers. They spoke loud enough so that the elderly gentleman at the window could hear every single abusive word that was addressed to him. He was neither senile nor deaf. He heard everything. 

The couple was indignant. They refused to wear the sleeping masks and demanded that the window blind was shut. The elderly gentleman eventually pulled down the blind. He tried to read for a few minutes with the help of the reading light, but gave up after a short while. His eyes got very tired, I learned later. The couple went to sleep and woke a few hours later as if nothing ever happened. 

The flight was uneventful until landing, but the lack of civility and the verbal brutality of my fellow passengers left me shocked and somehow frustrated. I felt that I needed to talk to that elderly gentleman who was so unjustly abused on the plane. When I caught up with him at the conveyor belt I told him that I was very sorry for what happened to him during the flight. He smiled and said that this experience was indeed very painful, but was happy to be old since old age was a real blessing. His short term memory didn't work very well anymore and he had already forgotten that unpleasant incident. 

So much wisdom! And such a detachment form things that are hurtful or unpleasant. A real Zen mind! 

I am not sure, and there was not time to ask, whether he developed this attitude with growing age, or was that the motto he lived by for the most part of his life. It doesn't matter. What matters is that all of us would be so much happier if only we learned how to detach ourselves from bad experiences and forget them quickly. 

However, if letting go cannot be learned, age will do it for us. And that's the good thing.

By Dominique Allmon

Dominique Allmon©2015

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