Archive for the ‘Courage’ Category

The End of the Line- Stop seeking. Be.

Written by Kate • November 5, 2017 •
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End of the Line

Be Here. Now.

The End of the Line

There comes a point in each of our spiritual journeys that we know it’s time to stop seeking validation, knowledge, or input from any more external sources. No matter how enlightened the guru, skilled the expert, or inspiring the author, there comes a time when it’s time to just do the work.

The Work. Be Here.

Sit in stillness.

Listen to the silence.

Notice your thoughts and feelings rise up and float away.

No more seeking or fixing or trying.

Be here now.

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What Are Your Beliefs? How to Uncover the Unconscious Beliefs Running Your Brain

Written by Kate • November 3, 2017 •
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Break Free

Break Free From Unconscious Beliefs

What’s Running Your Brain?

There are lots of unhelpful unconscious thought patterns running your brain. Because they’re unconscious, meaning they are so ingrained in your neural pathways that once triggered, the thought patterns are nearly instantaneous and therefore essentially unknown to your conscious mind. I say “essentially unknown” because, in fact, it’s your brain and while you may not always be conscious of the thought pattern, with attention and stillness, you can be aware of the thoughts  and beliefs that arise, even in triggering situations, even if there isn’t anything you can do in that moment to counter the ingrained thought and resultant behavior pattern. While many of your thought patterns may be beneficial to you, some may be working against what it is you want from life.

What Do You Believe?

For example, as a child -and without blaming my parents for living their life based on their own thought patterns and beliefs, I learned that when you’ve had a really bad day, you have a stiff drink to help you calm down and manage your emotions. When you’ve been in a car accident, you have a stiff drink to help you calm down and manage your emotions. When you have a party or go out to eat, you have a drink to have fun. Party=drinking. Going out to eat=have a drink or two. One day in my early 20s, on a day with a few emotional upheavals, I started thinking about having a drink. I didn’t have any of my normal hooch in the house so I cast about for something else to drink. And I wondered why I needed a drink so much on this particular day. I then realized that with the ebbing of my emotional upheaval, in its wake I was left with a wrung-out feeling. And that wrung-out feeling meant, in a my habitual way of thinking, I needed a drink to fully calm down from the lows of my day. But really, did I need the drink? How about if I just felt my feelings instead? It was a novel concept: just deal with my bad day without the stiff drink that I was conditioned to think was normal (and necessary).

Later in life, I also learned, once I moved in my with partner 13 years ago, that despite being a feminist down to the bone, I believed that men take out the trash. That first month, the trash can got more and more full and I started wondering when the heck he was going to take out the trash. Finally, I just asked him when he was going to take it out. He looked at it me in wonder, asking me why I thought he would take it out? And I realized only then that I had an unconscious belief pattern that was running my brain without me being fully conscious of it. So I took out the trash and I take out the trash to this day, when it needs it and I’m the one who notices first.

I could go on and on about the beliefs I’ve uncovered with attention and inquiry. Over the years, I’ve become aware of many unconscious thought patterns and had glimpses of many more. I know I have or have had unconscious thought patterns and beliefs about money, how much money I should have, eating, travel, sex, relationships, healthy boundaries, spirituality, compassion, the Divine, and on and on and on ad infinitum.

Thought Patterns versus Beliefs

I use thought patterns and beliefs interchangeably here. There are more learned people than I who know about which is first, the thought pattern or the belief. I look at it as the chicken or the egg. Which came first is likely the thought pattern. And with repetition comes the belief. In regards to my belief about having a stiff drink, I remember my Mom came home one day when I was 9 years old or so. She was shaking and clearly distraught from a car accident she’d just been involved in. Dad immediately when to the liquor cabinet and got her drink, something like rum and coke or vodka and a mix. And she drank it and was much calmer for it. So I thought, “oh, that’s what you do to calm down. You have a drink.” First it was an external thought pattern that I held from seeing it repeated several times throughout my childhood and then an unconscious personal belief, as I began acting on that belief in my own early adulthood.

How To Undo Thought Patterns and Beliefs

There are many ways to uncover your thought patterns and beliefs. I think one of the easiest ways is to begin to be curious about what beliefs are running your brain. Always begin this type of inquiry with compassion. Don’t use this knowledge to beat yourself up for following your conditioned mind from belief to action. Just allow the knowledge to rise to your consciousness with curiosity about who you are and what’s going on in your brain.

These days, for me, because I meditate daily and have for several years. I know from these sessions how my thoughts come unbidden across my mind and how easy I can attach to and follow them. So it’s been easier for me to feel when a thought has hooked me and I am able to feel the unconscious thought pattern trigger me into a reaction. However, until I’m aware of the thought pattern, there’s nothing to be done to stop the triggered response.

The way I first began this inquiry into my unconscious beliefs was to ask the Divine to allow my to see my blind spots. I know I had them and in relationship with my partner and with my extended family, I could see and feel myself being triggered without being able to stop my conditioned response. So I just asked for these beliefs to be shown to me.

Because I want to be aware of my beliefs, I am increasingly aware of them. It’s just how it works.  When the thought pattern is not that important or so clearly irrational, it’s easier to substitute new thought patterns in its place. No, it’s not exclusively men’s job to take out the trash. Boom. Belief updated. Yes, I can have a bad day without having a stiff drink. (I have to say with that one, the pull remain strong and I remain confronted with the thought to have a drink after a bad day, so I know there are more unexamined thoughts beneath this behavior pattern plus years of habit!).

Some ways to become aware of your unconscious thought patterns and beliefs:

  1. Ask to become aware of them
  2. Seek out professional help with a therapist to uncover some of the bigger ones operating in your life
  3. Write your way to knowledge.
    1. Take a fresh sheet of paper. At the top of the paper, write “Here’s what I really believe about (subject)”.  (Money, Relationship, Food, Pleasure, You Name It)
    2. Begin to write in a stream of consciousness way without stopping or censoring yourself. State “I really believe that (subject) is … For example, I really believe money is hard to get, evil, corrupting, means selling your soul, etc. Or I really believe that relationship with someone else means the loss of myself, being chained to another person’s whims, etc.
    3. Keep going and write down at least 10 beliefs but try for more.
    4. Now that you’re aware of a negative belief that you’d like to change, try to tease out the thought patterns or belief under that belief. So if money is hard to get, what is the belief or thought pattern that supports that belief? Keep writing.
    5. Try on better feeling thought patterns and use a consciously created thought pattern as a response whenever the old belief arises, now that you can feel and/or know what the  conditioned, negative thought pattern is. For example, if you’ve believed that money is hard to get, what happens if you start thinking that money is easy to get, how does that feel? Can you believe that instead?
  4. With caution and care, ask a trusted and loving family member or friend what is one blind spot you have. Obviously, do this one with someone in your life who will tell you the truth about yourself in a way that isn’t finally the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to criticize you or go running with it as way to list your every perceived flaw. This is simply one thing in your life that they notice which it seems you’re not aware of.

Some Caveats

Some conditioned thought patterns are so deep and ingrained and arise so fast that they don’t cross your frontal cortex and you don’t have the opportunity to initially respond in a new and more thoughtful way. Be kind and compassionate to yourself in these circumstances (in every circumstance, ideally). Something profound in you is being triggered so don’t be dismayed if you can’t help yourself. (With the obvious exception if you’re engaging in harmful or self-harmful behavior. With these, you should get help immediately through professional help and remove yourself from the situation wherever possible).

If you can, just stop the triggered response. When you feel attacked and you’re in the middle of yelling back a response, just close your mouth and stop, even mid-sentence. Try to understand what thoughts arose in the situation and try to become aware of them. When you open your banking app, seeing your balance and feeling a wave of fear about to engulf you as you worry about all that needs to get paid, stand up and take a breath. Take a short walk and watch the thoughts that arise about fear, money, lack.

By engaging in new patterns as soon as you’re aware that you’ve been triggered,  you can start to unwind your conditioned response little by little even as the initial response is so fast and habitual that you can’t yet control it. And begin to start a new thought pattern that are helpful to you.

Willpower Doesn’t Help

An additional caveat- Don’t try to use willpower to change your response to unconscious thought or beliefs. It’s a losing proposition. You only have so much willpower and one day, you’ll be tired, hungry, or angry enough that your willpower will fail you and you’ll respond to the trigger in your conditioned behavior pattern based on your true/old beliefs.  Willpower is not a long term, permanent answer to negative thought patterns and beliefs.

Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life

By understanding what thoughts and beliefs are running your brain, you can replace them with more helpful and empowering thoughts.  Staying present with your thought despite a rising tide of conditioned responses will help you to understand and change your thinking- changing your life

More Resources

Steve Pavlina‘s blog is always a great source about conscious awareness and behavior change.

Martha Beck is always a great source. Period.

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal Ph.D. This is a great book that goes over how effective, and limited, willpower really is. It also shows how industry and corporations are highjacking your instincts and what you can do to become aware and counter these tactics. It also helps you become of aware of your habitual actions.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. This is another book that describes the power and the limits of willpower and our conditioned thinking.

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt. This book was formative in my understanding about biology and thought patterns.  His most compelling concept is one where the author, a psychologist, notes the mind is like an elephant of conditioned desires and impulses. On top of the elephant is conscious intention as an ineffectual rider. So using your willpower as a jockey riding an elephant of desires and conditioned thinking, you can see how ineffective willpower is. Instead, delving into your beliefs is one of the most effective ways to change your behavior patterns.

Byron Katie is amazing for using inquiry to question our thoughts. She has a lot of free resources. If you’re looking to understand your triggers and blind spots (after you’re out of the profound trauma of fresh tragedy), I think her tools are amazing.

How about you? What has helped you uncover and change your conditioned response?

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What Peace Corps Taught Me – Presence

Written by Kate • June 13, 2012 •
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Peace Corps

Peace Corps

When I arrived in Benin in 1995, I was your typical type A personality. I expected things to happen like a well oiled machine, for traffic to flow, for service people to get things done in an efficient manner, for me to accomplish something quickly and move on to the next accomplishment. I could use my will to move mountains and get other people to move faster, do the right thing.  This is my perspective of my life was before I left.

I arrived in Benin and went through a series of shocks. Of course, being in a African country itself was the first big shock. Benin is peaceful so there is no famine or conflict or mass migrations. Benin was full of people going about their lives in the most trying of circumstances, without access to education, without transportation, electricity, or running water. And it was damn hot. Tropical, a few degrees off the equator hot. So people didn’t stay indoors much so it was a puzzle to me why everyone was outside all the time. Didn’t they have homes? Benin finally yielded many of its mysteries to me and after a year or so, I was able to easily navigate ordinary life in Benin. I learned something new pretty much every day until I left and it became a warm, comfortable, hospitable environment very quickly.

Adaptation

I learned to love the people, the food, the quiet, the night sky without street lights obscuring my view, full moons, and taking outdoor showers.  I got used to 100 degree heat such that I distinctly remember being at my friend Colleen’s place and wondering if some crazy Arctic cold front had moved in to make it freezing in my part of Africa. I put on all my warmest clothes, two layers, and a blanket. Still cold.  So I finally consulted her outdoor thermometer to find out what level of freezing weather we had achieved in Benin to find myself shocked when it said it was 72 degrees.  In short, I was fully adapted.

Expectations versus Reality

One of the most painful changes I had to adapt to is the fact that no one had the sense of time we have in the West and people prefer to be polite and acquiescing rather than truthful. It took me too long a time to put these concepts together and until I realized that, I waited for lots of meeting to start that were never going to happen.

One of the things I took upon myself was to get out into the area I lived in, well off the main road, and speak with people about how they’re doing, what they need, and how I could help. But with only my bike as transport, I would ask people to meet me at a certain time at a certain place that was convenient to us both.  I laugh now at what I was expecting but at the time I didn’t know better. Most people don’t own clocks or watches and they don’t have the time to walk 30 minutes to where I wanted to meet.  And then there was market day, when everyone got together and sold their goods and wares. I didn’t realize that it was a vital day in the lives of EVERYONE.  No one could miss market day. But there I was, let’s meet on Wednesday, the 23rd at 2pm at so and so.

I would ride up on my bike and wait. And wait. And wait. They never showed. But in that hour or the two that I first waited, I went through such a range of emotion. First anger and then rage that they would make me wait like this. Indignation that they would make an appointment with me and not keep it. And I would focus on how badly I was being treated and how things “should” play out. Unfortunately, this had to happen three or four times before I realized something was wrong with the way I was approaching this with my neighbors, people I wanted to help that we’re consistently blowing me off.

Patience and Presence

As I waited for my neighbors and through other experiences in Benin where rushing through anything became simply impossible, I learned that patience is like a muscle. The more I tried to be patient, the better at I became. It helped a lot that in many circumstances, I simply had no choice.  So I could go around getting angry at people or I could step into the flow of life around me. It seemed a no brainer to step into the flow rather than be angry all the time.

As I became better at being patient, I noticed that I was able to use the time to enjoy the moment I was experiencing. I had no other place to be and no phone, TV, or other person to distract me. I sank deeper into the moments I waited and found the ability to experience each moment. Life seemed to expand in these moments and I felt such peace and an increasing sense of wonder at how lovely each moment is. Without knowing its name, I learned to become fully present for long stretches of time each day.

Reintegration

Upon my return to the US, I wasn’t prepared for the cacophony and distractions with which I was presented. All of sudden everyone had cell phones and used the internet 24/7. I got caught up, distracted, and lost my endless patience in the pace of modern life. But after several years of this, the whisper of what I had experienced was starting to get through to me.

I then began to slowly re-implement all of the “advances” I had achieved in Peace Corps. I stopped watching TV, stopped listening to radio. I added in moments of stillness and meditation into my daily life. And life seems to both slow down and to be far more enjoyable now that I’m able to be in the moment.

I created an e-book to help others learn what I had learned in Peace Corps, which can be found on my website called 8 Steps to Living a Tranquil Life.  In case you don’t want to download it, the five main ideas of the book are as follows:

  1. Begin to slow your life down. Find additional time in your life by eliminating as many distractions as you’re able.
  2. Begin to add meditation into your life, in any of its forms.
  3. Find time to pray or use visualization to connect to the Divine.
  4. Add in longer moments of stillness, starting at about 15 minutes per day.
  5. Begin to experience what it is like to be fully present in a moment. And expand from there.

The less you do each day, the more you’re able to live each day. Experience each moment through presence. And witness how truly magical life can be.

 

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What Peace Corps Taught Me About Life- A Series

Written by Kate • June 8, 2012 •
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Peace CorpsI joined the Peace Corps in 1995 after a few years in graduate school. I studied International Development which is a fancy way to say I learned about how to improve the lives of those living in developing nations. We studied economics, the environment, microcultures, etc. Every single person in my class of about 200 had been in the Peace Corps except maybe five others. And four of those other five had spent time in developing nations through other programs. So it was just me and a guy named Josh who had never been to a developing nation. At first that was fine. But then, class after class after,  I saw the sense of community, of shared experiences by all returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCV). They had this deep connection, this bond that was apparent after a few seconds, no matter where they had served.

And so I became very interested in joining and becoming a part of this larger community- and it was a great way to get overseas and pay back the mounting debt I was beginning to feel I owed to the world. I wanted to be overseas again, after having spent my senior year of undergrad in Paris, I wanted to give back to a world that had provided me with so much, and I wanted to be a part of a community.

I realized things were going to have to change. I let my perm grow out, I went camping for the first time in 15 years, and I applied to the Peace Corps. Peace Corps tried to not send me the application saying I wasn’t qualified enough. Please. So I told them to just send me the thing and we’ll see. This was pre-internet- by the way- so I couldn’t just go online.  And then I found out that this is something they do to everyone because hey, if you’re going to fold just because you someone hassled you about your application, you shouldn’t be wasting Peace Corps’ time and money on getting you overseas.

I applied. I jumped through their hoops; medical, dental, references. I got certified by my doctor that my hayfever didn’t pose a risk to me in a place where there is no doctor.  I got my wisdom teeth out- just in case they came in while in country. After 8 months of paperwork, doctor visits, and more, I was invited to go to Benin in West Africa for two years plus 3 months training.  I found out just before Christmas 1994  and decided to wait until January to tell my Mom -so I wouldn’t ruin her Christmas. I was going to leave in May.

I had never heard of Benin so I looked at the map in my office at the time and could not find Benin. Turns out the map was too old. Benin has been Dahomey until 1990.  Remember- no internet! So I found out about Benin through books and was very excited.

I had to tell my Mom and the rest of my family, give notice at work, buy supplies, and get ready to leave. What I didn’t realize about my 2 years of service is that I would get far more out of it than I could ever have given and that it was to change me fundamentally from the person I had been prior to my service.

I will be writing about the biggest lessons I got from my experience and apply them to life here in the US in a series of blog posts.

The other posts in the series:

What Peace Corps Taught Me – Presence

What Peace Corps Taught Me- Connection

What Peace Corps Taught Me – Fame

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Follow the Joy

Written by Kate • June 1, 2012 •
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O Be Joyful

Image Thanks To CameliaTWU

It seems like such a simple thing to do: “Follow the Joy”. Do what you makes you feel an abundant sense of peace, joy, well-being. But what if the joy you feel is caused by something you were taught was wrong, or impractical, or just “not done”.  What if your Joy is telling you to quit your job and back pack around Europe? What if your Joy is telling you to stop staying out late and start doing yoga at dawn each day? It’s easy to think that you’re the one who is willing to follow your Joy right up until your sense of Joy tells you to do something that feels inconvenient and scary. “Quit my job? How will I live?” “Stop staying out late? What about my friends and my community? No one I know does yoga or gets up at dawn”?

The down side to not following your Joy:

  1. Less joy. By allowing your beliefs about what is right and what is “allowable”, or by worrying about what “they” might think get in your way of following your Joy, you ignore what makes you happy and you do something else instead.
  2. Lessened ability to know what brings you joy. When you start to consistent ignore your internal guidance system about what brings you joy and you instead do the acceptable and practical thing, you become less able to hear the system and it becomes harder and harder to know what it is that feeds your soul.
  3. Numbness and despair. After years of ignoring your Joy, you end up in numb and in despair. Mid life crisis, anyone? And then you have to peel back the years and the layers of practical and fear to find that small, nearly silenced voice that is your Joy.

But why not bypass the typical approach to live and avoid your mid- life crisis and years of numbness and despair. Follow your Joy, no matter how impractical it may be.

The up side to following your Joy

  1. Increased confidence to follow your Joy. The more you’re willing to risk following your joy, the more you’ll able to do to follow it. You’ll see that although it may have appeared impractical to your mind’s eye, following your Joy actually makes a lot of sense to your life. And in a virtuous cycle, it just gets better and easier.
  2. Synchronicity. More joy. More confidence. More things clicking. You will become “lucky”. Things will go your way. You’ll start getting the right resource at the right time.
  3. Rich and happy life. As you build your confidence and momentum, life get happier and your life is full of rich content that feeds your soul.

So skip the mess. Have the courage to follow your Joy now.  Show others the way.

 

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