Through the Looking Glass of Perspective

I started this a few days ago on Star Wars day so a quote from Obi-Wan Kenobi seemed appropriate. “…you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” Perspective, or point of view, is the way we are able to frame our world, our place in it and how we make associations and even friends. It’s what keeps us sane. If left unchecked, it’s also one of the greatest limiters to new ideas and growth.

 

Perspective is shaped by experience, those around us and what we find comfortable. Perspective is a necessarily

fine 3d image of dark grunge prison

fine 3d image of dark grunge prison

narrowed view of the world. It protects us from things that we aren’t quite ready to see or accept, sort of like a psyche armor. Like armor it’s not meant to be worn at all times. Doing so cuts us off from others and what once served as protection becomes a prison.

 

Think about a plant left to grow in a pot. Eventually the plant outgrows the pot and needs to be transplanted to continue to grow. If not, then the plant becomes root bound and eventually dies. Similarly if we stay locked into our singular perspective, we will become mentally bound and like the plant, our growth will be blunted. While we likely won’t die physically, mental stagnation can be a type of death unto itself.

 

To move out of the armor of a singular perspective, I’ve found empathy, open mindedness and a willingness to step outside of my comfort zone to be a highly effective combination.

 

Empathy

Understanding Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

Understanding Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

The ability to feel compassion for others is what allows us to see things from another’s point of view, allowing us to understand them. Empathy isn’t just about when people are sad or depressed. Empathy can be used with happy emotions as well. Have you ever been happy and celebrated someone’s accomplishment even though you had no idea what they were talking about, or if it was something you’d never do? Empathy in action. The challenge is bringing that empathy to bear when you are faced with a point of view or opinion that challenges a core belief.

 

 

Open Mindedness

Human head withred ladder to opened sky window

Human head withred ladder to opened sky window

This might also be called acceptance or a suspension of pre judgement. Remaining open to the possibility that something you believe or “know” could be skewed, biased or flat out wrong is challenging for pretty much everyone. After all at one point, everyone “knew” the sun revolved around the earth and “knew” that the earth was flat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

Blackboard concept for leaving your comfort zone behind and moving in to the real life

Blackboard concept for leaving your comfort zone behind and moving in to the real life

Perspective is partially steeped in protection. A willingness and no small amount of courage is needed to step outside of that comfort zone. Being able to reevaluate your beliefs, judgements and ideals is one of the most difficult things to do. It’s also one of the most important when building trust, relationships and personal growth.

 

Applying these intertwined tools takes practice and patience but is well worth the effort. But if it’s so much work to take this step and so much easier to stay safe in the armor of perspective, why change? Why put in all that effort?

 

Because it’s one of the most powerful tools for growth we have at our disposal. Sadly it’s one that I see being utilized less and less. The adage of old that says you shouldn’t judge a man unless you walk a mile in his shoes comes to mind. It’s all about shifting perspective. Seeing things from someone else’s point of view. The reason to do that, is to better understand them and why they hold certain opinions and beliefs. This doesn’t mean you will change your beliefs or opinions, but you’ll gain a better understanding of why they believe the way they do. Understanding that is a cornerstone for being able to find common ground and acceptance.

 

Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

group of man and women during hiking excursion in woods, walking in a queue along a path. Low section view

group of man and women during hiking excursion in woods, walking in a queue along a path. Low section view

If your entire life was spent in tight, pinching shoes, a pair of comfortable, fitting sneakers would be a delight. But if your life was spent barefoot those same shoes might feel constricting. The shoes didn’t change, only the perspective of the person wearing them. Neither person is “right” or “wrong.” They have an opinion based upon their prior experience and preferences. And when put in the same situation, they came to different conclusions. Understanding h

ow someone else sees something, even if you don’t agree with them, is a powerful tool for making a connection and perhaps even learning something new. Who knows, maybe once you’ve tried running around barefoot, you’ll find you like it.

 

 

Like the plant moving from the comfort and safety of a pot to the open ground, there are potential pitfalls, challenges

Broken tomato plant roots in soil isolated on white

Broken tomato plant roots in soil isolated on white

and opportunities for growth. I suppose you could say it all depends on your perspective.

Non-Judgmental Compassion or Avoidance?

I’ve written a few times about the importance of being kind to ourselves, the use of a non-judgmental compassion. After all, each day is different and some days are just, well, good days to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers.

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

 

I’ve been asked how I know when I cross the line from being compassionate with myself and listening to what I need over to being just plain lazy. Unfortunately there isn’t an easy answer to this question. I did an article on how to do nothing and the benefits that can be garnered from doing nothing. But it’s a fine line between doing nothing take care of oneself and doing nothing to avoid doing anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have discovered a few telltale signs that help me distinguish between the two and listed them here:

  • Feeling regret about choosing not to work out or whatever it was that you didn’t do. Not the little “yeah I probably should have” type, but the “I really need to do that tomorrow” type of regret.
  • The activity in question is one that you are choosing to be “compassionate” with yourself on more than others. Say almost every time it comes up, “compassion” is the first thought you have.
  • You choose self-care over anything that happens during a televised game or show. Most of us have a DVR, Netflix or some other on demand service. If all else fails, they still have reruns and highlight reels.
  • The to-do list becomes a matter of life or death as you get closer to having to start what you are being self-compassionate over. When doing your nails suddenly comes to the top of our list, you might be avoiding something.
  • You fidget at the very thought of starting the activity you are being self-compassionate about. The anticipation of it sets your skin on fire and your stomach starts churning. A good sign you are avoiding. But sometimes what we avoid the most we also need the most.
  • You take any reason to help or support others (or just any excuse really) to avoid what you were going to do. See fidgeting above.

 

After running through that list, do any of those sound familiar? If not, great you probably have a nice balance in your life. But if you did, then read on, I have some tips on facing those things that you may be avoiding and maybe even make them less arduous.

 

Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

Image courtesy of { lillith }.

First, find a little time to set aside for yourself. Digging around inside can stir the emotional pot. Having some time to sit and deal with what comes up makes this process smoother and more effective. Once you have the time and a nice quiet spot, settle in and move through these steps.

  • Take a few minutes to just breathe and tune your mind into your body. Some breathing exercises such as Ujjayi, Dirgha or similar are useful here.
  • Take stock of your emotional state. Ideally a calm mind will allow you to dig out the root cause of the resistance in your life.
  • Think about starting the task you’ve been avoiding. Notice, without judging, what emotions, what thoughts and what physical sensations come up for you.
  • Next picture what you might feel once you’ve completed the task. Ask yourself if that feeling is enough to get you started. If it is, then breathe a little longer and get started.
  • If not, ask yourself if this is something that absolutely must be done. If it is, then accept that you must do it and look for ways to make it more pleasant, if not enjoyable. If not, consider dropping it from your to do list.

 

One of the biggest reasons we are resist something because it’s challenging us in some way that is outside our comfort zone. This is a good thing. Growth is challenging. It can also be daunting. The steps above can help you figure out why you’re feeling resistance and give you a little support in moving through it. If this doesn’t work the first time, I encourage you to keep at it. It can take time to deal with resistance and setting an expectation that it may take a few rounds takes pressure off yourself.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

 

At the end of the day, when you have a chance to sit and quiet your mind, you will know what you did to be kind to yourself and what you did to avoid something. Everyone has challenges and the key here is that even when you find yourself avoiding something, don’t judge or criticize yourself. Just acknowledge it’s happening and take the conscious steps in the direction you truly want head.

Why Letting Go Is Good for Growth

Spring cleaning. Growing up it was a ritual. Clean up, clear out, and move on. Growing up an Army Brat, we lived a pretty nomadic life. While I’m happy about the experiences, the countries and the people I was fortunate enough to meet and see, it also forced us to live very light on possessions.messy yoga

 

Moving every few years meant that everything we owned was packed up and shipped to the next post, and no one wanted to fill boxes upon boxes with junk. This was especially true when we were headed overseas. The houses were smaller; less room = less stuff.

 

Little did I know the very important life lesson I was learning; how to let go of things that were no longer helping me. I don’t mean that in the narcissistic way, but in the way that when looking at my stuff, I learned to quickly (before Mom did it for me….) determine what clothes I no longer wore, the toys I no longer played with, etc. And those things were let go. We would donate what was still in good condition, and what wasn’t, was re-purposed (dress shirts as paint shirts) or disposed of.

 

From that lesson (repeated many times throughout my childhood), I came to understand the necessity in cutting back or cutting away things and even people that no longer served a positive purpose for me. This might sound harsh, but it helps to understand that sometimes people come into your life simply to nudge you in a direction, and once they do that, they need to move on. Sometimes they need to be invited to move on.

Image courtesy of cirquedumot.com Page by Susan Silver.

Image courtesy of cirquedumot.com Page by Susan Silver.

 

Sometimes it’s a matter of sentimentality. Much like a favorite stuffed toy that we drag around until it disintegrates, some friendships we just hang on to. Maybe it’s habit, maybe it’s sentimental. Either way, some friendships are toxic and need to be evaluated, and if necessary, pruned, so that you can continue to grow.

 

Once you’ve identified what is no longer helping you, the next step (and sometimes more difficult step) is to actually get rid of it. When I was first given this advice, I was also given the analogy of throwing away the things I no longer needed. At least that’s what I was supposed to visualize. I sometimes found that visualization didn’t really work for me.

 

 

What I eventually came to visualize was simple; let it go. To throw something away, the very first thing I need to do is grasp it. When I grasp it (physically, emotionally, etc.) I hold it tighter. Instead I picture that whatever it is I need to move past is in my hand. Then instead of gripping it to throw it away, I simply turn my hand over, and let it fall away.

 

Image courtesy of www.naturerocks.org.

Image courtesy of http://www.naturerocks.org.

This subtle shift in how I prepare myself for “spring cleaning” has allowed me to make these changes in a way that is less jarring I suppose. Instead of the act of (at least in my visualizations) throwing something as hard as I could (emotionally and mentally linking that to a negative of get it away from me) I can picture a simple parting of the ways; acknowledging that for a time at least, this did help me and I’m grateful for that. The time has just come to part ways.

 

Whether it is a person, a thing, or some combination, it takes considerable introspection and sometimes brutal honesty to dig deep enough to see what is no longer working in our lives. It can be painful, but in the end, removing the toxic components from our lives makes room for new, healthier, happier things to move in. The next time you find it’s time to clean out, I invite you to not throw out what you need to get rid of, but instead, let it go.

Essential Tips for Beginning Yoga Students

Yoga can be intimidating. Walk in to a class filled with bendy, twisty, super in shape people with designer clothes, personalized mats and a language of their own. Throw in the Sanskrit, chanting and occasional harmonium and it can feel like walking into an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Image courtesy of wisdomquarterly.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of wisdomquarterly.blogspot.com.

 

My first few yoga classes were unsettling to say the least. Incense, strange musical instruments (the harmonium), lots of Sanskrit chanting and a little bit of over-sharing were what met me. But with some encouragement, I kept going back and today, I’m comfortable in that environment, chanting, Sanskrit over-sharing and all, even if I don’t always participate.

 

I thought about what might have made my entrance into this world a little less traumatizing, and I’ve written a brief Beginner’s Guide to Yoga to (hopefully) help others with the transition. I’ve broken this down into three sections; Entering the class, During the class and Leaving the class.

 

 

Entering the class

  1. The Yoga teacher will be friendly; genuinely friendly, it isn’t a mugging or a con.
  2. The funny smell tickling your nose is incense, it’s supposed to calm your energy; it still makes me sneeze.
  3. The front of the room is for the people who want to be seen typically; beginners are better off moving to the sides; it’s a great vantage point and the whole class won’t be looking at your butt.

    Image courtesy of NazarethCollege    / Flickr.

    Image courtesy of NazarethCollege / Flickr.

  4. Grab props (blocks and a blanket especially) if available, and if the teacher recommends anything else, grab that too; props are your friend.
  5. Introduce yourself to anyone who isn’t meditating or face down in some odd looking stretch. This is a community environment (most of the time).
  6. Don’t take it personally if someone you try to strike up a conversation with ignores you; Namaste!

 

 

 

 

During the class

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others in the class – some of them have been going for years, and looking around to see who is better is just going to distract from the purpose of yoga, being in the present.

    Image courtesy of shootingafly.blogspot.com.

    Image courtesy of shootingafly.blogspot.com.

  2. Be kind to yourself – yoga can be challenging, both physically and emotionally, accepting that every day is different and working to your best for that day is the best thing you can accomplish.
  3. Leave the outside world outside the door – for whatever time there is in class, forget the outside world and connect with yourself.
  4. Don’t worry about the sanskrit or the chanting – whether you choose to learn the sanskrit or develop/have an interest in chanting, neither is required for yoga.
  5. Yoga (unless otherwise stated in the class description) isn’t religiously affiliated. It promotes good, nice, friendly things (except for that person that ignored you in #6 above); you are not required to shave your head, get an Om tattoo or anything else that doesn’t feel comfortable.
  6. Be prepared to sweat. Yoga is hard work and uses muscles most beginners either forgot or didn’t know they had in the first place.

 

After the class

  1. Give yourself a minute before jumping up and running out. The first few classes can be very tough, and a good savasana can make you loopy in the head.
  2. Talk a moment and talk to the instructor; especially if the class felt comfortable to you. Learn to tell what makes a good class for you so you can find others like it. It’s also good to occasionally experience classes you don’t feel so good about so you know what to avoid.
  3. Ask questions about the teacher, the studio and other classes. Especially if you liked the class and the feel of the studio.
  4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Water is your friend, especially if it’s a hot yoga class.
  5. Be ready to be a little sore later.
  6. Don’t take it too seriously – yoga is about personal growth and improvement. The most authentic and wisest people are also the funniest in my opinion. Laugh at yourself, laugh for no reason, laugh when you fall and laugh when you soar. Like Om, laughter is a universal sound. You don’t believe me; try not laughing when a baby starts giggling uncontrollably.

 

Yoga is different from other forms of exercise in many ways. It also has a number of similarities. My best recommendation is to go in with an open mind, ignore whatever is just too weird at the moment, be kind to yourself during the class and have fun. Worst case, someone looks at you like you are a barbarian because you eat meat. Best case, you find a new fun way to build your mind, body and spirit and quite possibly, make a new friend.

By MIT-Libraries [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Flickr

By MIT-Libraries [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear of the unknown is a terrible reason not to do something. Not liking it after you’ve tried it is perfectly fine; you tried it. I have yet to find a yoga studio that kidnaps innocents out of the classes for brainwashing and robe fittings; at least they don’t do it on the first day. So try it out. You might just like it.

The Gift of Presence

This post was inspired by a conversation with my wife. We were discussing a presentation she had recently attended and how so many people who paid to be there spent much of their time focused on cell phones or tablets and not on the presenter. I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been just as guilty as anyone when it comes to digi-distraction. Most notably when I’m sitting in a meeting and the topic isn’t one that requires my attention. I pop my phone out, check email, text, play a game. Periodically I check back in on the conversation to make sure I haven’t missed anything too important and the meeting eventually ends. I hope someone was taking notes….

Some rights reserved by moonhouse

Some rights reserved by moonhouse

 

I started thinking about the differences in quality of connection; when I’m digi-distracted, and when I’m fully conscious and present. It struck me at just how out of step this was for me in my life. When I am with my family and when I’m teaching, I make it a point to be completely present with and for them. It allows me to tune into the students better, challenge and support them as they need. From a student’s perspective, when I have a teacher that is fully present, I have felt the entire class is all about and for, just me.

 

We have rules in our home around disconnecting from the television, tablets, computers, phones, etc. During meal time (with an occasional exception for movie Friday), the television is either off or on a music channel (and not visible from the table anyway). All other electronics are in another room entirely. We use the meal time moratorium to talk about our day, the good, the bad, the whatever. Sometimes it’s a silent staring contest (breakfast as we aren’t really morning people). No matter how it turns out, we give each other undivided attention for that meal.

 

When teaching Tae Kwon Do, it’s easier because wearing a phone or carrying some other device and looking at it while sparring is just asking to get kicked. In yoga, texting while doing a handstand offers more challenge than most students want to tackle. Outside of class I’m intrigued to see how quickly the phone/tablet pulls people back into distraction. Families who take class together and work as a team, step off the mats and snap back into their own distracted, disengaged worlds.tkd kick

 

 

 

 

 

 

This may sound like nothing, but think about the last time you actually stopped everything so you could pay attention to someone. And think back to the last time someone focused all of their attention on you and the impact that left. In our totally connected world where access, communication and distraction are a tap or buzz away, conscious communication isn’t so easy to find, and I think we suffer for it.

Some rights reserved by trix0r

Some rights reserved by trix0r

 

One way to do this with friends is during a meal, take the cell phones and place them face down on the table off to one side. For those who like a little competition, you can even institute rules around it. First one to reach for their phone, pays for everyone’s meal, or at least the drinks. Whether you put the punitive measures around it or not, be ready to bask in the focused, quality attention that is suddenly available between friends and family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you don’t already, I encourage you to choose a time where your family or your friends disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with each other; no digi-distractions.

Some rights reserved by JonDissed

Some rights reserved by JonDissed

 

Cultivating Silence

Silence.  Comforting to some, maddening to others.  In today’s world of constant connectivity and digi-distraction, silence is a rare and precious commodity.  The constant bombardment of texts, emails, status updates, tweets, etc. provide a constant stream of stimuli that leave no time or space for friends, our families or ourselves.

 

Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org.

Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org.

We have family wide electronic black outs during the week.  No TV, no email, no idevice.  It’s our time to connect with each other, to slow down and take time find out what’s going on in each other’s lives.  I also do this for myself.  Between meditation time, work outs, or just sitting and petting the cats, I cherish and cultivate my time alone.  I do this for a few reasons.

 

 

 

 

I’m an introvert. 

Let’s be clear, I’m not shy.  I can and often do talk to anyone.  But I am an introvert because my recharge time is solitude.  I find people have trouble distinguishing shy and introvert.  They are often shocked, or more to the point disbelieving, when I tell them I’m introverted.

 

Silence lets me tune into myself and the world around me.

Growing up I was constantly surrounded by sound.  Television, radio, magnetic tape and vinyl based mp3 players (some of you will get those references… I hope) were always on.  I could walk through our house and there would be a different device on in each room, generally on a different station and no one in the room.  This constant distraction kept my mind perpetually unfocused.  It jumped from one stimulus to another but never truly stayed long enough to appreciate any of them.  Silence gives me the space to focus on anything I choose.

Image courtesy of Hartwig HKD h.koppdelaney \ flickr.

Image courtesy of Hartwig HKD h.koppdelaney \ flickr.

 

Paying attention highlights the humor in life

Life is a funny thing.  Internet cat videos aside, life is much funnier when I watch it in real time and give it my fullest attention.  My daughter shares my sense of humor.  I know this because I was in the middle of some stream of consciousness word play/song and I got stuck.  She swooped in, threw in just the right word play and got me back on track.  We laughed for probably 10 minutes after that.  Watching my daughter’s mind work, watching the crazy things people (myself included) do sometimes is priceless and often good for the best laughs ever.

 

I find my balance

I discovered this benefit when I did my first Goofy race.  I was doing my first four hour run, alone.  Many people don’t like running that long alone.  I didn’t initially.  It gave me too much time to deal with my thoughts, which was tough in the beginning.  Eventually I reached a point where all the junk was cleared out.  I recognized the things I wanted to change; reactions, situations, people in my life.  I learned on those long runs to create space in my life to consciously react to situations.  This awareness (eventually) led me to consciously bring balance into my life through my choices.

 

Image courtesy of www.naturerocks.org.

Image courtesy of http://www.naturerocks.org.

Without silence, without that time of quiet where the outside distractions fall away I find it disturbingly easy to feel swept away and ungrounded.  My decisions aren’t necessarily the best or kindest and it’s easy to become reactionary.  While silence wasn’t comfortable initially I’ve come to value and relish my silent time.  Go for a run, a walk, sit alone outside or inside, pet the cats, dog, hamster, whatever you want.  But do it without music, electronics or other distractions.  And most importantly, do it in silence.  The silence can be deafening but it’s worth the effort.

Men, Emotions and Days of Significance

Anger, fear, jealousy, malice, love, passion, selflessness and gratitude.  These are some of the most powerful emotions we have.  They drive us to greatness, and they remind us of the greatest of pain.

These emotions can, if left unchecked, run our lives.  They can take us to the highest of highs and deliver us to the lowest of lows.  And if we let them, they will; over and over again like a bad roller coaster ride.  They can steer us in the direction of poor choices; either through the choice to chase after joy to the exclusion of all else, or to lash out blindly at anyone near us when we are in a low.

Emotions are a primal part of being human.  How do we get off that roller coaster?  Is it to become emotionless, ruled strictly by logic?  Living with nothing but steely logic leaves us with a lack of depth in our experiences.  Should we do nothing and let the emotions take us where they will?  How do we find that middle ground?  If you think of emotional content as a wave with highs (happiest times) and lows (darkest times) you find a space in the middle (for the math geeks out there, think of it as a sine wave on a graph).  As we move toward the center, there is less emotional “noise” whereas the fringes are more emotionally charged.

2sines

Our goal is to first make space for ourselves to observe where we are along that graph.  Next we can gently guide our emotions from the fringes a little closer to the center.  To be clear, I do NOT advocate an emotionless experience, nor trying to nudge all emotional experiences.  That is what the space is for; to allow for us to feel what our reaction is and then make a conscious choice.  Do I want to experience this emotion as is, or is it a drain or counter-productive?  If you want to experience it as is, then ride it out.  However, if you want to make a change, if you are not happy with the experience you are having right now, you have the space and the ability to change how you are reacting.  This is the beginning of emotional balance.

This doesn’t mean you will never experience a negative emotion or thought.  What it does mean is that those super strong emotions (whether positive or negative) and thoughts will not become the rule and they will not rule you.

Now it is time to breathe.  See how this lands with you.  And when you are ready, I have an exercise for you.

The next time you are in the middle of an intense feeling or thought (negative ones are easier to pick out at first) stop, take a breath.  Give yourself the gift of a moment to consciously decide if your current reaction is really how you want to react.  If the answer is yes, then proceed.  But if the answer is no, you now have the option to choose what comes next.  Continue as you are, or choose to react differently.  The first few ( or many) times might be challenging to make the change in reaction that you want.  Be compassionate with yourself.  Make a mental note of it and let it go.  You will have another opportunity.  And when you do make that first change, allow some space to celebrate.  You have taken the first steps in balancing your emotions by consciously choosing what you want to experience and how you want to experience it.