Tag Archives: suffering

Abundance Consciousness and the Art of Taking Full Responsibility

When we talk about ‘abundance consciousness’, what exactly do we mean?

Do we mean an attitude of, “Everything’s fine!”, no matter what is hitting the fan at a particular moment? Burying our heads in the sand in order to avoid discomfort? Magical, wishful thinking?

No.

Abundance consciousness simply means a focus on gratitude; acknowledgment of all the blessings that are, in fact, showering down upon us. Right now. As we speak. And it goes hand-in-hand with the art of taking full responsibility for our lives right now. In this very moment.

For example… I once worked for a food bank in the southern U.S. My job was to inspect 360 food pantries in 21 counties, ensuring that certain quality standards were met. One month I was inspecting a particular food pantry. The next month, now unemployed, I found myself visiting the very same food pantry. But this time, instead of carrying a clip board, I was empty-handed, and asking for food.

In that moment, I remember feeling a wide variety of emotions, most of them fear-based. Yet I realized that I had the choice to either focus on what I did NOT have, or to focus on what I DID have. I chose the latter, focusing on gratitude, and it moved me in the direction of happiness and the recognition of the abundance that was already present in my life. I shifted my focus to my arms and legs, which were still serving me quite well. I focused on my hearing, my eyesight, and other aspects of my physical health. I thought about how nice it was to have a car. To have a roof over my head. To have the privilege of having my own apartment. Of living near supermarkets. And food pantries. Of receiving this generous offering of food from this particular food pantry on this day. I shifted my focus to my good fortune of learning just a little more humility… of knocking just a few more rough edges off my jagged little ego.

And I remembered that I had choice. I had the choice of getting fired up, updating my resume and getting it out into the world. Knocking on doors. Getting up early. Hitting the pavement. Researching. Making phone calls. Following up. Smiling. Being friendly. Cheerful. Polishing my strengths and sharing them. Working on my weaknesses to improve them.

Focusing on gratitude helped me to keep my chin up during this time, and helped motivate me to move forward. Yes, there were times of intense pressure that required keen focus and sustained action. Times when the adrenaline was flowing and my nerves were rattling. But my focus on abundance consciousness helped me to remember that I had many talents, abilities, and gifts at my disposal; that it WAS worth trying, risking, and continuing to get back on that horse, no matter how many times I felt I’d been thrown.

I’m not so sure I would have taken the same path, made the same choices, and maintained the same positive outlook had I focused on deprivation and all that was going ‘wrong’ in my life.

I chose abundance consciousness, but I did not choose to try to shut out discomfort. (Okay, maybe once or twice.) It IS possible for us to choose gratitude while simultaneously choosing to fully experience all of our emotions, including discomfort. This discomfort can propel us forward, motivating us to persist in our efforts toward healthy, positive change. While discomfort is, by definition, uncomfortable, it certainly isn’t in-and-of-itself ‘bad’. It’s a signal. A street sign. A tool. It’s information. And if I let myself sit in its presence long enough, I can come to the understanding that it’s my teacher. My cheerleader. Maybe even one of my best friends.

Abundance consciousness does not say, “everything’s fine; no need to change.” Abundance consciousness says, “Wow… look at all the tools I have! Let’s get busy!”

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Van of forgiveness

We break out the board.

Two $500’s. Two $100’s. Two $50’s. Six $20’s. Five $10’s. Five $5’s. And five $1’s.

Take a few spins around the board. Then… what’s this? Hidden money appears magically from beneath a certain corner of the board. “I was just saving it.”

Tension mounting. Temperatures rising. Just a game? In and of itself, yes… But moreover, a game that serves as a doorway into Pandora’s Box of stuffed emotions. Anger. Fear. Frustration. Pain. Sadness. Grief.

Why these changes? Why a different world? Ask at your own peril.

Soon, board pieces will fly. The little hat will be lost forever, and the statue of the guy on the horse will end up beneath the refrigerator. The game will be rendered ‘off limits’ for one week, relegated to the top shelf of the parental closet.

But what of the broken hearts? (The broken hearts, they sing… the broken hearts, they sing.) Innocent children pulled the game out. They are not to blame.

And it was innocent children who pulled the game out forty years ago. Lost, confused, surrounded by parents who drank. Parents who shot out the street lights with handguns, laughing all the way to the front door. Parents who disappeared. Parents who died with the engine running and the garage door closed.

Innocent children sent overseas to live with a sister. Scarred for life, at the hands of a brother-in-law.

Innocent children who found one another and did the best they could in a frightening world.

Innocent children who pulled out the game EIGHTY years ago. Doubled over with pain, gripping one’s stomach… flying into the night. Coming to a very abrupt stop.

Innocent children. Looking back across the generations, nothing but innocent children, as far as the eye can see. Aching for love, acceptance, compassion.

My brother stands up. Turning around, he spreads his arms wide. Generations of innocent children straighten up in their folding chairs, leaning forward to hear.

My brother clears his throat and speaks: “Only one remedy: Love.” he says.

“Love fills the tank of my van of forgiveness.”

He walks around the van, kicking the tires of understanding. Carefully washing the windshield of hope.

“This van doesn’t stop til the end of the line,” he says. “Hop in. There’s room for all of us.”

And as I turn from the pots and pans to look out the back door, scouring pad in hand, I see my brother, Johnny Boy, escorting a crowd of souls; helping them as they file, one by one, into his van.

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Why is rape so difficult for some people to understand? (Joanna Bourke)

Eradicating rape depends as much on educating people about this crime as it does on legal reform

Rape is painful, demeaning and destructive. Why is this so difficult for some people – including some influential men – to understand? People who have survived sexual assault and rape are right to be appalled to hear the minister for justice minimising the effect of rape when the attacker was well known to them. In a discussion about whether criminal sentences should be reduced if the accused pleaded guilty, Kenneth Clarke made a distinction between “serious rapes” and “date rapes”. He later retracted this distinction, but the implication that “date rape” is not “serious rape” is extraordinary for a man in charge of the criminal justice system.

This tendency to minimise the effect of sexual violence has also been seen in the furore over the arrest of the former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn for attempted sexual assault. It turns out that a great many people suspected that Strauss-Kahn had a dark side. The media and other politicians seem to have turned a blind eye. Michel Taubmann, Strauss-Kahn’s official biographer, even put forward the argument that Strauss-Kahn did not possess the “profile of a rapist”. Presumably, real rapists are knife-wielding thugs from some deprived inner-city neighbourhood.

In contrast, it is well known that most rapes and sexual assaults are carried out by people one knows. Indeed, Tristane Banon, the novelist and journalist who has claimed that Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her in 2002, chose not to report his alleged violence to the police because he was a family friend. He was also incredibly powerful.

There are many problems with diminishing the harm of sexual assault when the assailant is known to the victim. The breach of trust in this form of rape can be particularly traumatising. As one woman stammered after being raped by her husband: “He raped me … It emotionally hurt worse [than stranger rape]. You can compartmentalise stranger rape … you can manage to get over it differently. But here you’re at home with your husband and you don’t expect that.” Victims of rape by spouses or intimate friends are harmed in similar ways to other victims of rape, but they may suffer additional feelings of betrayal, inability to trust, and isolation.

Why do so many people remain opposed to making men fully accountable for sexually abusive acts? One reason is the fear of false accusations. This is a red herring. Fear of being falsely charged with rape has been stoked up by the vastly disproportionate media attention given to instances of malicious accusations. It is also stirred up by anxiety about the sexual act itself and the exact meaning of “consent” and how it is communicated.

In fact, false accusations are very rare. The most reliable statistics come from a major UK Home Office research project from 2000-03. Initially, the researchers concluded that 9% of reported rape accusations were false. However, on closer analysis, this percentage dropped dramatically. They found that many of the cases listed as “no evidence of assault” were the result of someone other than the victim making the accusation. In other words, a policeman or passerby might see a woman distressed or drunk, with her clothes ripped, and report it as a suspected rape. When the woman was able to provide an account for what happened, it proved that no rape had taken place. Once such cases had been eliminated from the study, only 3% of allegations should have been categorised as false.

Contrary to the notion that men are at risk of being falsely accused of rape, it is much more common for actual rapists to get away with their actions. Only 6% of offences reported to the police ever result in a conviction. Between half and four-fifths of sexual assaults are never even reported to the authorities in the first place. Fear of not being believed, concerns about re-victimisation, anxiety about being judged in turn, and the discomfort of the interrogation and medical examination are some of the factors responsible for failure to complain. Reprisals, especially if the offender is a partner or ex-partner, are common.

Clearly, rape is not an easy charge to make. The stigma attached to any person claiming to have been raped is significant, and in the (unlikely) event of a trial, the victim faces an ordeal that is often described as degrading in itself.

Eradicating rape depends as much on educating people about this crime as it does on legal reform. If the minister for justice can minimise the harm of certain kinds of violence, there is something seriously wrong. Good sex is a great source of delight. Being coerced to have sex, though, can be one of the worst experiences of a person’s life. To imply that it is somehow less harmful because of prior contact with the aggressor is simply astounding.

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Angry Subaru Man VS Road Bike Guy

Wow. So I’m riding my bicycle on E. 3rd Avenue (near E. 31st Street) at about 5pm on Tuesday, April 12. I see a fellow cyclist riding toward me on a road bike, in full gear.

A guy in a Subaru passes him, then slams on his brakes and comes to a stop right there, in the middle of the street. His tires even kind of squealed a little. Like in the movies.

The door flies open. The driver jumps out, runs up to Road Bike Guy and begins screaming. Cursing. Getting right in his face. Yelling obscenities that you can’t print here. For about five minutes. Seriously ranting about how the cyclist had cut the guy off. I’m pretty sure I saw spit flying.

I was so shocked I simply stopped my bike, got off, and just stood there watching. I wanted to make sure Angry Subaru Guy knew there were witnesses.

Road Bike Guy, to his credit, kept his cool.

After about three minutes of yelling, cursing, and claiming ‘champion cyclist’ status (“I’m a cyclist, too!”), Angry Subaru Man turned and started to get back in his car.

Road Bike Guy asked, in a respectful tone, if Angry Subaru Man had seen the stop sign. Angry Subaru Man gets BACK out of his car, goes BACK up to Road Bike Guy, and starts yelling again.

Meanwhile, no fewer than 7 cars are stopped in traffic. I counted.

Road Bike Guy, thanks for keeping your cool.

Angry Subaru Man, if you really ARE a cyclist, couldn’t you think of a better way to address the issue with Road Bike Guy? Do you think that R.B.G. somehow agrees with you now?

Were you worked up about something else? Lose your job? Going through a divorce? Times truly are tough right now. We’re all hurting, in one way or another. We live in community. We’ve got to cut each other some slack from time to time.

I’m pretty sure that any children who were in the 7 vehicles you stopped were watching you, learning one (less than ideal) way to deal with conflict. You were teaching by example, intentionally or not.

Thanks for the reminder that I’m teaching by example, as well. Next time I’m in my car and frustrated with a cyclist, or on my bike and frustrated with the driver of a vehicle, I’ll think of you.

Tim Birchard,
Durango

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Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with pet owners

“Oh, it’s okay… she won’t bite.”

As I open the car door and turn to step out of the car, I look up to see two dogs fast approaching. I raise my right foot and hold it in the air. The dog stops suddenly and takes a step back. The owner quickly takes hold of the dog’s collar and then, holding the dog’s collar, slowly brings the dog’s nose closer to my leg.

“She just wants to sniff you.”

I look at my fellow human being and wonder: Do I have any say in the matter?

Why is it that so many dog owners are happy to tell me that their dog is perfectly safe, and that I should have no concerns about letting this animal put its jaws and teeth right next to my leg to satisfy its curiosity? What happens if the dog smells something it doesn’t like and responds by biting me? Isn’t it then a little too late, now that I have to pay for a hospital visit and rabies shots, to run up, regain control of their dog, and apologize?

(I’m reminded of my routine bicycle ride to work last week, when I found myself face-to-face with an angry dog, up on its hind legs, teeth bared, straining against the leash as its owner struggled to keep it from lunging at my body as I rode by. Zen told me to keep riding, since the only thing that had been disturbed was my thought process. Still I find myself turning over and over in my mind the various other possible outcomes. So much for my Zen training.)

And setting aside safety issues and the potential unpredictability of mammals lower on the food chain, what if I simply PREFER not to have dogs rubbing their noses and fur against my body?

Whose needs come first: a dog’s, or a human’s?

It’s my responsibility to set and maintain healthy boundaries around my own body. It’s also my responsibility to make sure that my body doesn’t collide with anyone else’s body; by extension, it’s my responsibility to make sure that my dog doesn’t violate the personal boundaries around other peoples’ bodies.

So why is it that when a dog owner refuses to respect my personal boundaries and I’m put in the position to maintain them myself, she or he becomes so defensive and protective of their dog?

I’m sitting in the park minding my own business. A dog runs up and starts trying to sniff my body. I make adjustments to prevent the dog from doing so.

And suddenly, I’m the jerk?

In this case, I happened to be helping a dear friend with a project that involved being on the dog owner’s property. So I kept my mouth shut. More or less. But the more this pattern wore on through the day, the more unhappy I felt. Now that I’ve had some time to tease apart the issues at hand, I feel better prepared to articulate my concerns. I’m realizing that setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with people can mean making requests regarding how they control their pets. Now I understand that I need to be ready to make the following requests:

“I understand that you love your dog, and I respect that. I need to know what action you’re going to take to keep your dog at least three feet away from my body. If your dog gets closer to my body than that, I need to know what action you’re comfortable with me taking; do you prefer I move my leg quickly and make a sharp sound? Do you prefer I shake my gloves in your dog’s face? Because if you don’t care enough to control your dog and respect my personal boundaries, I certainly plan to maintain them for myself.”

“If you don’t like any of those choices, dog lover, then I leave it to you to maintain control of your dog.”

If that doesn’t work, then I make the choice to remove myself from the situation, whether other people experience emotional discomfort or not.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a ‘dog’ issue, or a ‘pet’ issue at all.

It’s a matter of respecting another human being’s freedom to choose whether to get close to animals or not. It’s a matter of recognizing that just because I love dogs doesn’t mean that everyone loves dogs. When I let my dog walk up and sniff you, I’m disregarding your freedom to choose that outcome. And when you protect your own freedom to choose by preventing the dog from getting close enough to sniff your body and I respond by chastising you, I’m demonstrating a total lack of awareness that your happiness may not include dog slobber on your clothing and body.

What do you think, fellow human being? Where’s the line?



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Leadership journey (part 1)

I remember the first time in my adult life I tried to get into ‘leadership’. It was back in the 90’s. I read a bunch of books that told me I should budget my time. I should be consistent, motivated, excited, energized, and ready to go above and beyond. They basically told me what I should DO and how I should BE if I wanted to be a good leader.

So I tried. Tucked my shirt in. Kept my hair cut short. Said ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’. Tried to speak up and ‘do the leadership thing’. Trouble was, I was trying to be someone I was not. And it showed. I never got the sense that people were ready to follow me anywhere.

I also began to notice that the more books I read on leadership, the more books were published. There was no way to keep up with all of the so-called ‘authorities’ on leadership. Furthermore, the books I did read often gave advice that conflicted directly with other books I’d read. “Act like you’re not afraid of anything so people will have confidence in you.” “Show your weaknesses and share your feelings so people will see you as human and have confidence in you.”

Ugh. What a mess.

I walked away from it all. I just wanted to be able to be myself. Wanted to strive for improvement, sure… but not to put on some phony act. If that’s what it took to be a leader, then they could keep it. I wasn’t interested.

At this point, I had some serious internal conflict. On one hand, I looked up to powerful leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, and a host of others. I could SEE with my own two eyes that leadership was real, dynamic, and powerful. That good leadership could change the world.

Yet on the other hand, my personal life experiences told me that leadership meant being fake, inauthentic, and phony; that in order to get people to follow me (and why would I want that sort of head trip anyway?!) I’d have to pretend to be someone I’m not. I’d have to pretend to be strong, confident, and comfortable in my own skin. Because at this point in the game, I wasn’t.

The next 10-15 years were filled with personal growth. And when I say, “filled with personal growth”, I don’t mean to suggest a pleasant afternoon stroll during which I gently stumbled upon the answer to life. No. I’m stubborn, and I often have to learn things the hard way. It felt more like crawling through rusty barbed wire and broken glass.

I skinned my knees badly. And often. Went through years of pretty savage discomfort as I learned to stand on my own two feet in my mid-30’s. About fifteen years behind schedule. But better late than never.

Started really looking closely at the concept of healthy boundaries. Began to realize that the only truly ‘clean’ relationships were those that I could approach without wanting anything from the other person. And I’d spent all my life trying to get something from the other person… love, admiration, food, money, safety, sex, security, a sense of self-esteem… you name it.

Naturally, the things I was searching for could only be found within me. It took me some years of counseling, meeting with groups of people in rooms, and experiencing some personal transformation through intense personal work (check out “Energetic Awakenings” by Scott Beebe and “I Am That” by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj) before I finally started to see some light, joy, and happiness in my life. At the heart of it all was the experience of sitting at the foot of the bed with my guitar, playing for a loved one as she died of brain cancer.

Finally I reached a point where I sense the presence of a force larger than me. And it’s not another person. I may have little time and patience for organized religion. But that feels very different from sensing something bigger than myself. Whether we call it ‘nature’, or ‘spirit’, or whatever… I know I’m part of it.

So how does this tie into leadership for me?

I was accepted into Leadership La Plata last fall, and over the past 7 months it feels like I’ve grown 7 years. As I dive more and more deeply into the concept of authentic leadership (using the concept of the Johari window as an illustrative tool), I’m learning that the intra-personal work I’ve been doing for 20 years — that is, learning about my limitations, my blind spots, the ways in which I’m selfish, arrogant, and insensitive as well as insightful, caring, and charismatic — is exactly the foundation upon which a good leader can stand.

But there’s more. There’s also a willingness to take responsibility. And that is a feeling that, in the past, I tried to dodge and deflect. It turns out that, for years, I’ve been giving about 20% of what I can give. More specifically, I’ve only been willing to reveal 20% of my gifts and talents to the world, because I was so afraid of getting ‘burned’; of not having what I need in life.

Now I see that my life is like the ultimate jazz trio… everything we need to make great music is right here in the room.

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What does compassion look like?

Friends,

If you know someone in southwest Colorado (or anywhere) who is considering getting a GED, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

And if you or someone you know has problems and thinks there is no way out except suicide, get help. TALK to someone. In the U.S., call 9-1-1.

I’m happy to help if I can. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can try to put you in touch with the appropriate community resources.

Here’s the catch: In order for any of us to get help, we’ve got to WANT to grow. We’ve got to WANT to make progress. If I make a call and then ignore the help that is offered and say, “Oh, well, they were no help at ALL!”, then I’m just copping out. Refusing to take responsibility for my own growth.

Tonbo (Dragonfly). Japanese calligraphy. Sumi ink on parchment. By Beth Wheeler.

I’ll be the first to say that growth can feel extremely uncomfortable. Like crawling through rusty barbed-wire and broken glass, on a good day. And there are sacrifices involved… once you grow and gain increased awareness, there’s no going back. You can never regain the ignorance that you once had. These are small prices to pay for the freedom, joy, and sense of power and self-worth that is available.

But no one can do it for me.

True compassion puts me in touch with this process and leads toward self-realization, inner-power and a true sense of self-worth. I think that’s why true compassion can take so many shapes. Someone getting in my face may appear to be unkind and uncaring. But if that person helps me to come face-to-face with my own avoidance techniques, my own pretzel logic, my own b.s., then it can help me move forward and grow.

If someone believes compassion simply means “being nice”, then they may lie to my face with a smile in order to prevent hurting my feelings. And to prevent experiencing the internal discomfort of taking that risk. Lie to me, tell me everything is fine… shield me from the truth… how can THAT be compassion?

I’m going to define compassion as ‘that which helps us, in any given moment, identify what’s needed to grow into fully-integrated adults’.

I guess we need another definition… I’ll define fully-integrated adult as “someone who clearly understands cause and effect and lives accordingly.”

What do you think, Gentle Reader? How do you define compassion? How do issues of compassion relate to your artistic process?

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