Healing the Divide

A house divided against itself cannot stand. –Abraham Lincoln

What is really going on when you beat yourself up? In an assault situation, there’s a perpetrator, a victim, and sometimes a witness. When you assault yourself, you have divided yourself into these different parts. And you rationalize the beating by saying that the victim, which is yourself, deserved it somehow for being wrong or bad, or needs the “motivation” to straighten up and fly right. Have you ever heard these excuses given in response to a civil assault? The result is outrage. Where is the outrage when you abuse yourself in this way? And why is your “witness” part standing idly by and watching this all play out?

Last night I was listening over and over to “Halfway Right,” one of the last songs Chester Bennington of Linkin Park wrote before he took his own life.* The lyrics illustrate this dynamic perfectly. The verses allude to some cryptic, horrible mistake he made while high behind the wheel one night, and then comes the chorus:

I scream at myself when there’s nobody else to fight
I don’t lose, I don’t win, if I’m wrong, then I’m halfway right
I know what I want, but It feels like I’m paralyzed
I don’t lose, I don’t win, if I’m wrong, then I’m halfway right

What a heartbreaking choice for someone to make. I know, because I’ve been there, many times. I’m sure many of you can relate as well. We’re socialized to look for someone or something to BLAME for everything we see as “wrong.” When we recognize the object of blame, we lash out at it, because we really think that’s how to “fix” it. But when there is no outside entity clearly at fault, we determine that it must be ourself which is to blame, and play out the same pattern of violence by lashing out on the inside.

So who “wins” in this scenario? Let’s say the violent part “wins” by beating the blamed part into submission, which then is seen as “losing.” Or let’s say the blamed part “wins” by withstanding the abuse and not being “defeated” by the violent part. Either way, you end up feeling “halfway right” (and halfway wrong) because you neither lose nor win entirely. I would submit that in this scenario, it’s always a total loss for you. Not only do you FEEL paralyzed, but you actually are, because of your inability to take any kind of productive action, nor have you really learned anything of value or grown because of your experience. It also feels like paralysis because we get really good at numbing out the painful emotions this pattern inevitably brings.

Some may argue that beating themselves up actually does bring them positive results, and that by keeping themselves whipped, they accomplish their goals. But at what cost? Slavery did produce results by way of huge profits for plantation owners in the South, but it came at the steep price of the wounded hearts of both slave and slave-driver.

Kristin Neff, the pioneering researcher in the field of Self-Compassion, has done dozens of studies which show that beating ourselves up is actually the opposite of helpful. Think about it. If you beat yourself up every time you make a mistake, how likely are you going to be to pick yourself up and try again, or attempt something new or difficult? You probably wouldn’t; you’d shut down, in fear of the possibility of a beating. Also, think of a parent berating a child who brings home a poor report card. Is this action likely to bring the child’s grades up? Or would it be more motivating to sit down with the child and come up with an improvement plan, all while encouraging him that you know he’s capable of more and that you love him regardless?

By being kind and loving to ourselves, our capacity expands exponentially. Because loving ourselves results in a “whole” person, we become much more attuned to our true purpose, and our authentic goals unfold before us. We courageously strive, even when the chance of failure is huge, quickly forgiving and learning from our own mistakes and moving on. Our life manifests an abundant cycle of accepting and loving, giving and receiving, instead of the downward vortex of blaming and shaming, taking and losing.

Choosing to be wholehearted, to be merciful and kind to myself, is an ongoing journey that has brought me so much joy and peace. Stopping the cycle of self-blame and learning to love myself has also radiated outward and improved my relationships by helping me accept and love every person in my life as well. If you would like some support on your own journey, I can give you some tools that for me have proved invaluable. Please reach out! The wholehearted life is worth every effort, and it’s never too late to turn these patterns around!

 

*Disclaimer: I don’t presume to know the reasons behind Chester’s suicide. I am merely trying to show that he clearly understood this pattern well enough to portray it in such a way. The person who wrote these lyrics knows how it feels to be divided against himself, whether or not this led to suicide.

“I Saw You Suffering”

Am I the only one who has kind of a morbid fascination with suicide? Well, with not the act of suicide itself, but the mindset of someone who would make this kind of drastic and irreversible choice; the factors and environment and thought processes leading someone to no longer want to exist on the planet anymore. In college I did a lot of research on suicide in literature. And whenever there are public suicides reported in the news, I haven’t been able to resist being drawn in.

Last week was another case of a well-known and successful person choosing suicide: 52-year-old Chris Cornell, best known for fronting the rock groups Soundgarden and Audioslave. I’ve immersed myself in his music for days, ever since I first heard about him taking his life by hanging. I recognize in him the soul of a poet–a deep thinker, a deep feeler.

“Choosing suicide” has been called into question by Cornell’s widow, Vicky, whom he called his “soulmate.” She insists that he never would have intentionally committed suicide, and that he wasn’t himself that night after taking too many prescription anxiety pills, which the shy loner needed in order to perform in front of large crowds. If that really was the case, it adds another heartbreaking dimension to this tragedy, and goes to show to extent to which drugs, even legal and prescription, can alter one’s mind and personality. But that’s a topic for another time.

It’s common for people to look for suicide messages in everything the victim had said or done before the death, or in this case wrote and sung about. I certainly saw some things in his music that can be read that way, such as this portion of “Worried Moon:”

Yeah if it all goes wrong
And I’m a heart without a home
Maybe you can talk me out
Of doing myself in

But since we all have our moments of depression, heartbreak, and despair, I decided to look for other kinds of messages he may have been trying to convey. Because he produced dozens of albums and hundreds of songs with four different groups, I’ve decided to limit myself to just his most recent solo work: Higher Truth. (Just the album name itself conveys importance and meaning.)

To start, enjoy the lyrics to his song “Misery Chain:”

Won’t you take one link, from this misery chain?
Keep it to remind you of a long-forgotten time or a place,
So that you recognize its shape, when it’s near,
Any time or place this misery chain should appear.

Take the locks and shackles, and melt all of it down.
Shine a light upon every shadow, every acre of ground.
The hidden corners on it all around,
Any way you feel this misery chain should be found.

When we’re gone, and it’s all said and done,
What will we leave?
Stories told, will they speak of us, when God only knows
What those words will be.

And if I should fall, from the top of the world
To the depths below, so far below where our belief could exist,
Down further still will be the one who hides the key.
And there to try to put these misery chains on me.

Won’t you take one link, from this misery chain.
Keep it to remind you, of a long-forgotten time or a place.
So that you recognize it, ’till it’s understood
That every trace of this misery chain is gone for good.
‘Til every trace of this misery chain is gone for good.

There’s a lot of meaning here, but what I took was that we need to hold on to just a small piece of the painful experiences in our lives. Not enough to cause us to relive the pain over and over again, but to be a reminder of it, so that we can learn from it and avoid going through something like that again. This allows us to “shine a light upon every shadow” and see things as they really are. We don’t want to hold on to the whole chain, because it’s too heavy and would enslave us in misery, but just one little link of that chain, in order to be equipped to rid ourselves of any future misery chains.

I also love the idea in the chorus of this song: “When we’re gone, and it’s all said and done, What will we leave?” It’s so empowering to think about the mark we’re making on the world because most of us are typically more focused on the daily trivialities of life. But we must all depart eventually, so hopefully by that time, we leave the world better off for us having lived. Also, it’s only God who knows the full story of our lives. We may think we know enough of certain people to speak of them and tell their stories, but our view is limited.

Here’s a portion of another song along similar lines: “Before We Disappear:”

Time ain’t nothing if it ain’t fast,
Taking everything that you ever had,
And giving nothing in return
But a cold bed in a quiet earth.
If there’s a door to every cell
A pearl inside of every shell then
How hard can it be
To share your love with me?
How hard can it be
To rise with me each morning?
I know that it feels like
We will live forever,
But I fear
That time will hide the years.
Life ain’t nothing if it ain’t hard,

It’ll show you who you truly are,
Knock you down when you get too tall
Till you’re spun around in a free fall.

But somewhere out there past the storm
Lies the shelter of your heart.

I know that it feels like
We will live forever,
But I fear
That time can hide the years
Like we were never here,
So hold on tightly my dear
Before we disappear.

He was clearly thinking a lot about his mortality and the short time we have to be alive. There’s a sense of urgency in the title “before we disappear.” Sometimes we lose touch with just how temporary our mortal existence is, and we waste time because “it feels like we will live forever.” But this song speaks to me of the importance and necessity of our relationships. Are we letting time steal the years we have, “like we were never here,” or are we making the effort to truly love each other?
This life is far from easy. In fact, it’s meant to be hard, to “show you who you truly are,” and to keep us humble. If it were easy, we’d gain nothing from it. It’s such a blessing that through it all, our loved ones can give us much-needed shelter from the storm.
Along similar lines to these songs is the chorus to “Our Time in the Universe:”
Save the dying arms of midnight
For the patience of the lapse of light
Cuz it’s our time in the universe
Well I don’t mind
If we’re blessed or cursed
And it’s our time in the universe
Yours and mine
Just being here and alive is something to be celebrated. At times we may consider ourselves either “blessed or cursed,” but that’s only a matter of perspective. Our existence here must eventually come to an end, so seize the day! As another lyric in this song goes: “So don’t worry on what tomorrow holds for you,” but live in the present moment.
The lyrics that resonate with me the most come from these selections of “Through The Window:”

I saw you suffering
Through a foggy window in the rain
When you thought no one was watching,
Going through your memories
Like so many prisons to escape
And become someone else,
With another face
And another name
No more suffering…
I saw you suffering
Through the cracked and dirty window pane
I was ashamed that I was watching,
Going through your imagination
Looking for a life you could create
And become somebody else,
With another face
With another name
No more suffering

…spit the ashes from our mouths
And put the grey back in the clouds
And send them packing with our bags
Of old regrets and sorrows
‘Cause they don’t do a thing but drag us down
So far down
The past is like a braided rope
Each moment tightly coiled inside

I saw you suffering
Through the yellow window of a train
With everybody watching,
Too tired for imagining
That you could ever love somebody else
From somewhere far away
From another time
And another place
With another life
And another face
And another name
No more suffering.

So many around us are suffering. Do we see them, through those foggy, cracked, dirty, or yellowed windows? They may think that no one’s watching. Do they know that you are there for them? Or are you too ashamed that you were watching them in their pain? Our culture teaches us to value independence above all, so we hide our pain and struggle from others, and assume that they want to hide their pain and struggle from us. When someone is “caught” looking, it can seem like a humiliating thing, for both parties. But is it really? There’s something so vulnerable about seeing through those windows into the pain of another. Anything vulnerable can seem scary, because our culture teaches us that in order to be strong and safe, we must keep our shields and defenses up. But is this really so? What if true strength is found in being ourselves and connecting with one other’s hearts?
What causes our suffering? It almost always results from being removed from the present moment. You may be stuck in the past, “Going through your memories, Like so many prisons to escape.” Or you may be living in the future, “Going through your imagination, Looking for a life you could create.” Either way, you will suffer. Memories and imagination serve important purposes, but they’re abstractions, and when we spend too long there, we become removed from what’s real and productive: right now. Anytime we want to be something other than we are, in another place than that which we’re in, or yearn to have another life or place or name, we are going to suffer.

I love the idea of sending “old regrets and sorrows” packing. Other than the little bit of the “misery chain” that is constructive to hold on to, these regrets and sorrows “don’t do a thing but drag us down.” The braided rope of the past, containing each moment that has gone before, is a heavy thing to drag around. When we can let it go–relinquish, move on, surrender, forgive–that’s when there will be “no more suffering.”
Since I’m currently reading the book Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, I can’t help but read into this song a perspective of seeing ourselves suffering. Even if no one else can see through those windows, we can see it in ourselves. We can comfort and soothe our own pain. When we can do this, everything becomes so much clearer and we’re equipped meet our own needs so that we can let go of that “braided rope” of the past that’s dragging us down. And once we’ve seen our own suffering, we will see so much clearer in order to be aware of it in others. Sometimes just knowing that we’re seen is all we need.
Although it’s so tragic that Chris Cornell is no longer among the living, I’m grateful for the impact his music has had on my life. I fully consider this recent delving into his Higher Truth album to have been a mentoring experience, and I hope that you have found some gold nuggets here as well!

Lend Your Voices Only to Sounds of Freedom

I didn’t expect to be inspired by my kickboxing instructor last week. Nor did I expect to suddenly become obsessed with a Jewel song. It doesn’t exactly rock, so it’s really not “my kind of music.” But the message resonated with me so deeply from the moment the instructor played it for the cool down of the workout. Following that, she did something very unusual, but awesome: she remarked on what these ideas meant to her. (Just goes to show that mentors are all around us, in any place.) I went home and played “Life Uncommon” on repeat for most of the day, making more connections each and every time. You can listen here, and see the lyrics too:

Freedom is a principle that’s been majorly on my mind lately. As we are on the cusp of a significant election, I’m sure I’m not the only one. Political freedom is important, but the principle of freedom really is at play in all areas of our lives. Do you realize that at each and every moment, you are making the choice whether to free or to enslave yourself and others?

Every belief in your subconscious mind is either freeing you to live to your greatest potential, or it is limiting you. Every conscious thought you think either frees you or enslaves you. You are either freed by positive emotions, or enslaved by negative ones. Everything you speak either frees or enslaves yourself or others. Every action you take contributes either to freedom or slavery. And every result you set in motion either adds to the overall freedom of people in the world or takes away from it.

The song’s chorus shares this beautiful message:

Lend your voices only to sounds of freedom
No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from
Fill your lives with love and bravery
And you shall lead a life uncommon

Most of us know to use our voices only to build people up, not tear them down or limit them, whether it’s our speaking voice or our voice online, in social media, in texts, etc. This is a behavior we must continuously be analyzing, and since you are the audience reading this particular blog, I’m sure you’re conscientious about this.

I want you to consider your thoughts as your inner voice to yourself, whether or not you talk to yourself out loud! Are you lending this voice only to sounds of freedom? Your thoughts lead to your emotions, and positive emotions charge us with energy, while negative emotions deplete energy. So when you dwell on negative thoughts, you are actually lending your strength to those things, which makes them grow and attracts more of it. It seems counterintuitive that we’d put energy into what we don’t want, but we do it often, without even realizing.

You may identify with some of these situations:

  • “I’m too busy” and “I don’t have time” are statements that create HUGE problems for most people. Freedom to do what we want with our time is so appealing and valuable, but a lot of us never get there, and it’s because we’re so focused on the stresses and the busyness of our lives. If you like being busy, that’s great; keep going with that. But if you’re like me and don’t enjoy the feeling of always playing catch-up and rushing around like a crazy person, stop lending strength to the idea that you MUST accomplish A, B, and C in order to be a good (parent, spouse, student, employee, citizen, etc.). Prioritize your time, of course, but remember to pat yourself on the back for what you DO accomplish, and let go of the worry about all you didn’t get to or didn’t do well. You will always have time for what’s important.
  • The way you speak about your finances tends to come true. If you keep saying, “I don’t have the money,” or “I can’t afford it,” or “Money is tight right now,” this will be your reality. Instead of lending strength to the scarcity mindset that imprisons you, focus on what you’re grateful for and put greater effort into more value to other people’s lives. You will experience abundance when that becomes your focus.
  • Have you ever tried to break a food addiction, but constantly focused on what you “can’t” eat? Willpower gets worn down over time. We must instead replace the negative habits with positive ones, and never shame yourself for slip-ups. Kate, an overweight character on the current TV show “This Is Us,” illustrates this perfectly. She constantly defines herself in terms of the size of her body: “This is always going to be who I am.” She thinks about her weight all the time: “Even when I’m not thinking about it, I’m thinking about it.” She tells herself not to eat the unhealthy food in her fridge, attaching sticky notes that say, “Don’t even think about eating this cake” and “Seriously, what is wrong with you?” Although it makes for humor in the sitcom, it’s actually very sad. Speaking to yourself in such ways only lends strength to what you don’t want.
  • When the signs appear that a cold is coming on, some people immediately give in to it. “I’m sick,” they declare in resignation, bracing themselves for the inevitability of impending discomfort. They lend their strength to the illness, and then the illness overpowers them. Do you believe that you are stronger than germs? I do. Instead of saying, “I hope I’m not getting sick” (your subconscious won’t hear the “not,”), I affirm out loud, “My body is strong and healthy,” and “I have limitless energy!” while taking steps to strengthen my immune system and rest my body. I won’t allow myself to even imagine being sick. (I can tell you that it really works. I haven’t dealt with anything more than congestion or an upset stomach in several years.)
  • When couples only talk about relationship issues, they attract more of the same problems and bad feelings, leading to disconnection. This one has been particularly challenging for me. I had thought that once the issues get resolved, greater connection will automatically follow, but this is usually not the case. The issues just get multiplied! Instead of doing this, constructively build on positive feelings of love and connection. Patience, unselfishness, faith, hope, and commitment will free your relationship to be the best it can be. Put your energy into these things. Most of the “issues” will naturally fall away on their own.

Set down your chains, until only faith remains…Set down your chains.

It strikes me that we can “set down” our chains. They don’t bind us tightly; we merely hold tightly to them. The power is in us. We can choose to hold onto faith instead. This same imagery can be found in scripture:

Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust. (2 Nephi 1:23, The Book of Mormon)

These chains that we allow to enslave us bind so loosely that we can merely shake them off. We were meant to “arise from the dust” and claim our birthright as children of God. Don’t remain in obscurity; come forth as the divine being that you are! Don’t deprive the world of the gifts that only you bring.

I’ll leave you with some final lines from “Life Uncommon:”

Let your words enslave no one and the heavens will hush themselves
To hear our voices ring out clear
With sounds of freedom

Remember that the one who is primarily limited and enslaved by your words is you. When you choose to have compassion on yourself, you will have compassion on others. And then you will not be afraid to let your voice “ring out clear with sounds of freedom.”

Reading this message will have done you absolutely no good unless change something, no matter how small, as a result. Look at your life. Determine the areas in which you feel limited. You’ll probably notice that you’ve been focusing on the very limitations that you resent. “No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.” Choose faith; decide to focus on what you actually want: how you want to feel, think, and believe; what you want to have, do, and be. Soon you will know how great it feels to be free!

Re-Present Yourself

Each weekday last week, I was busy sunup to sundown. Cleaning up messes, preparing food, driving kids around to all their activities, exercising, keeping tabs on the landscaping work in the backyard, laundry, diapers, Email, that sort of thing. All while listening to audiobooks or giving an ear to my children’s constant chattering. I was trying to pack as much into a day as I possibly could. Even though I thought I was getting a lot done, still I can’t point to any one thing that now feels like an accomplishment. I know I had grateful and happy thoughts, but I can’t recall a joyful moment, and not once did I truly feel alive. Being totally in my head, I hadn’t really felt much at all. My brain is always going a mile a minute–planning, analyzing, reviewing, reflecting, rehashing, evaluating, and on and on. Does anyone else get stuck in this mental mode, or am I the only one?

It wasn’t until the weekend that I realized that I hadn’t really been living life. Instead of the joy ride that life is supposed to be, I had been sitting there spinning my wheels, for who knows how long.

But Saturday was refreshingly different. In the morning we traveled to beautiful Paradise, Utah, where we attended my nephew’s baptism. He had the unique opportunity of being baptized outdoors in a river instead of a font inside a church meetinghouse. It was sunny, secluded, green, and so beautiful. The sound of the birds, the river, and the breeze through the trees added to the tranquil scene. The peace of that morning was greatly soul-soothing. And I was filled with joy for the wonderful event that was transpiring in my only nephew’s life, and which my only daughter is also soon to experience next month.

Later that same day, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend the Utah Blues Festival. Before I got married, I had been a head-banging, hard-rocking chick, but my husband has helped me branch out and appreciate other genres of music, one of them being blues. Anyone who thinks it’s “depressing” hasn’t really ever listened to it. The blues is all about deep and soulful expression, carried through the guitar, and the lyrics are usually not much more than an afterthought. In my opinion, blues, more than other genres, is music you have to feel, rather than think about, to appreciate.

bernard

Bernard Allison

When we first arrived at the venue, I saw that there were still five bands to go–more than seven hours of music. I found myself planning things to do during that time: returning email, typing in my journal, reading Kindle books, etc. But soon I switched out of “get stuff done mode” and just wanted nothing more than to be present with my husband, my baby boy, and the music. Oh yes, and the delicious food truck food. 🙂 By the end, when the best bands were performing, I was deeply enthralled. Live music is one of my favorite experiences, because you can feel the beat through your whole body, not just your ears. And you feel kind of at one with the crowd, since everyone is experiencing the same thing at the same time. (Well, maybe except for the girl in front of us who did nothing but photograph her own face the entire time!) And there is little that inspires quite as much awe in me as a great drum solo!

The thing about live music is that if your mind wanders away from the present moment, even for just a moment, you miss something that is now gone forever. And even if you are paying attention and being present in it, you can’t hold on to it. You can only surrender to the sensations of that moment and then let it pass on.

And isn’t this really how it is with everything meaningful in life? You can hold on to the memories of experiences and feelings that come and go, but the memory is only a fragile shadow of what you had experienced. While you can hold onto physical objects, they can never, in and of themselves, bring you that feeling of being alive. And although we may have people in our lives, we don’t really “have” them. People, and relationships themselves, are in a constant state of flux. If we aren’t present in our relationships with others, those chances for connection are gone forever. (More about this in a future post.)

Anyway, yes, it is easier for me to be fully engaged in the present moment in unique experiences, while away from home and other distractions. But what about everyday life? Doesn’t stuff have to get done? This is the part that’s difficult for me. You can live in the present moment while in your regular routine; you just have to choose to, and continue to do so at every opportunity. And you can still get a lot done; you just have to let go of a lot of your unproductive thoughts about the past and future that take you out of the present. I suspect that men find this easier, as their brains tend to be more compartmentalized than women, allowing them to focus more deeply on one thing at a time, but this can be challenging for anyone in this modern era, as distractions surround us constantly.

Here are some suggestions for engaging more fully in the present moment:

  • When someone is talking to you, stop what you’re doing and physically turn toward him or her. If it’s a child, get down on his or her level. Maintain eye contact. This isn’t possible every time someone talks to you, (otherwise, as a mom, I’d spend all day down on one knee!) but remember to do it when you can.
  • Try to be present whenever you eat food or enjoy a drink. Slow down and really let yourself savor what you’re smelling and tasting, and feel the textures and the sensation of chewing and swallowing. Feel gratitude in your heart that you are able to enjoy this food and be filled by it. A new rule I’ve set for myself is to only eat sitting down, although it’s been hard to break the snacking-in-the-pantry habit! (While in Japan, I was impressed by the cultural expectation that you always sit to eat. That shows that they honor food and the experience of nourishing the body. If there was no place to sit, they would stand there and eat. When I licked my green tea ice cream cone while walking down the street, I got some weird looks until I realized what I was doing!)
  • Find time each day to be outdoors and just be. Working and playing outside are great, but stop and take time to notice what you see, hear, smell, and feel, especially out in nature. This morning before 6 am, when my baby woke me up, I caught the most vibrant, colorful sunrise, already starting to fade, and it changed to muted and dull in just a matter of seconds. Yet that small moment has impacted my whole day.
  • You don’t have to stop and be still to be fully engaged in the present moment. Instead of constantly being distracted by thoughts of what you’re going to do next, think about what you’re doing now. For example, when house-cleaning, notice how much better it looks than it did before and feel gratitude that you have the energy to put in order and beautify your surroundings.
  • Train yourself out of the Pavlovian response of jumping up and grabbing your phone every time it chimes. In most cases, text messages can wait a few minutes or even a couple hours. It may feel uncomfortable to sit there and keep doing what you were doing without checking your phone right away. But if you keep trying it, you will begin to feel a sense of liberation as you realize that you are the master of this tool and not the other way around. You can choose to act rather than being acted upon.

I’d love to hear from you, readers. What really makes you feel alive? In what ways do you bring more presence into your life? How do you reduce distractions that pull you out of the present moment?