Archive for the ‘Personal Development’ 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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The Art of Gratitude [and Vision Boards]

Written by Kate • March 18, 2013 •
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When I’m ready to try something new, I often try to make sure I am doing things “right”. Thankfully I know this about myself so I often just get past that concern and “do it”, whatever needs to be done. Like so many other people, I wan to do something well from the beginning and part of that involves doing it right. Another, bigger part, involves just doing it despite the fear.  And just wading in, after as much research as I can do, gives me so much insight.

Lately a lot of things have been coming together and I see now that when something isn’t effortless, it’s time to tinker with the process. I’m also not afraid to try to understand why something isn’t working rather than beating my head against the wall and just keep at something, when I’m not getting the results I want or when it doesn’t feel good. Tinkering while still moving forward seems to me to be best way forward in pretty much all things.

Gratitude

My view one morning this summer visiting a lake

My view one morning last summer visiting a lake

One thing I’ve tried to do, with varying levels of success, is to make sure that I say my thanks at the end of each day, that I give gratitude for all I have, all I’ve experienced, seen, and felt. I see now that the reason why it’s been with varying levels of success is that I didn’t realize how much I was just doing it by rote.

I’m so grateful for the day I had. I’m so grateful for the wonderful bluejay that flew past my head today. I’m thankful that it’s nearly spring.  On and on with at least five things, aloud or on the page.  In retrospect, I was just saying those words aloud. What I was NOT doing was feeling the gratitude, that the words didn’t penetrate my heart or evoke any feelings.

So now as I say my gratitudes before going to bed and upon wakening, I say them AND I focus on those things for which I can actually feel the gratitude such that it starts in the pit of my stomach and spreads all through my body.  This is a very different feeling from what I had before and I’m so grateful [pun intended] that I stumbled upon this truth.

 Vision Boards

On a related note, the same goes for your Vision Board.  As Martha Beck states her Oprah magazine article on How to Create a Vision Board, the images we may first put down on our Vision Board are about ocean, money, great bodies, and all of the surface concerns of life. But to truly fire our imagination and inner self, we need to use images the help us envision what our real selves want, beneath the surface concerns that the social self would like.  If your Vision Board doesn’t make your imagination and heart race, if you’re not utterly inspired by your board, create a new one and then another until you gotten that board that makes you  feel alive. The time investment is so worth it.

What is your experience with feeling the feelings?

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What Peace Corps Taught Me – Fame

Written by Kate • June 27, 2012 •
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Peace CorpsI am sure this sounds like the most ridiculous idea but during my Peace Corps service, I really got a taste of fame and I didn’t much like it. Lemme esplain.

I lived in a small town in West Africa, maybe 3000 people in Sekou and all of the several villages surrounding Sekou. Essentially no one but the Proviseur, who I mentioned in my last post was the only other person I knew who had traveled,  and I had ever traveled more than 100 miles from where people were born, grew up and lived and died.  Certainly no one had been on a plane and no one but the Proviseur and I had ever left our families for any length of time.

So my arrival, like all other volunteers in the small communities we were placed in Benin, was big news and I was big news.  Children would freak out with joy at seeing me and rush me and want me to give them money, wisdom, and lots of attention.

Author with High School Kids - HIV Prevention Education in Sekou, Benin

Author with High School Kids – HIV Prevention Education in Sekou, Benin

The long and the short of it is that I was a thrilling and novel presence wherever I went. Children would watch me read. Whenever I went for a run or a bike ride, strangers would want to race me because if they could beat me, well life just got better for a moment.  Walking past an elementary school became something I avoided. Children would yell for me, surround me, want my money, and to touch me.

I soon learned what living a fish bowl constantly being watched felt like. I finally really understood what it’s like not to be able to go about doing the ordinary things that all people must do without others following you, watching your every move, judging and commenting on you in the moment, and wanting a piece of you.

Because of my own experiences, I respectfully ignore famous people that I randomly encounter. A few examples are of once boarding behind John Cusak on a plane and sitting in a secluded airport waiting area with David Lee Roth.  Not a word to either of them.

In my experience, fame isn’t what is cracked up to be. And it’s amazing to me that I was able to learn this lesson through living in a very small town in West Africa. You never know what life will serve up to you.

 

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What Peace Corps Taught Me- Connection

Written by Kate • June 21, 2012 •
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Peace CorpsIn an ongoing series about what I learned from my service in the Peace Corps, this article is on connection. My first two articles in this series are:

What Peace Corps Taught Me- A Series

What Peace Corps Taught Me- Presence

I arrived in Benin with the largest contingent of volunteers to ever arrive in one training group. Apparently, our Peace Corps Director at the time decided to minimize the disruption to Peace Corps Benin by unifying the normally two separate training groups and creating one large group to be trained at the same time.

Side note: This wasn’t a total disaster but let’s just say not every detail was understood about what effect 80 volunteers would have on training resources. For example, there weren’t quite enough rooms for everyone so some of us had to live in the teachers quarters. Not a problem at all. But in the mess hall, there was never quite enough to eat as the staff didn’t know how to make meals enough for the 80 Benin volunteers plus the [unknown to me] number of Togo volunteers with whom we were training. I began to feel a vague “Lord of the Flies” mentality descend over the group as we all started to make sure we were there at the start of the meal and to take as much as we possibly could have wanted because there was never ever going to be seconds. For this reason, I still avoid buffets to this day because, despite their obvious abundance, it invokes in me a sense of lack.

Back to the main story…We 80 Benin Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) trained in Togo together for 6 weeks and then another 6 weeks in Benin. Obviously, with 80 people living together in stressful circumstances, it wasn’t easy going. I fell in with a group of volunteers that I really liked right away but thought that many of the others and I just didn’t click. There weren’t many that I outright didn’t like but I just didn’t make that heart connection from the first. And so I, and many others, started to form the inevitable cliques where we sorted ourselves with other with whom we had a natural affinity.

Off To Post

We then all got sorted out and shipped off to our posts, where we would live for the next two years. I had wanted to be in the south of the country because I felt I wouldn’t have been ready for the tougher life au Nord (in the North) where there was no water, electricity, or other Western comforts. As it turns out, I was posted in the only 10 KM area in all of the south that did not have electricity.  And there was no running water. So I ended up in a very small village that was the heart of voodoo without any of the comforts I had been hoping for while in training. But life often knows better.

I learned to love my life where I was, as did the vast majority of the other PCVs. Learning to love your experience wasn’t universal. Some people just never adapted and left early. Once I figured out my water situation- I paid someone to bring me water from the town pump. -Let me tell you, water is very very heavy. I once tried to carry it on my head in a large bowl the way the Beninoises did it and I thought I would crush my neck downward.-  But living without electricity, without street lights, without light pollution became one of the true joys of my life. I had a shower next to house- which consisted of a cement flooring and 3 and 1/2 sides of screening that were created by lashing together 10 foot dried palm fronds. Because it was so hot there, almost everyone ended up taking two showers per day, one in the morning and one at night, to cool down and to get rid of the day’s sweat.  Taking a cool shower outside in the warm night, looking at the stars and seeing the sky’s vastness, is something no one should miss.

Circumscribed World

As you can imagine, pre-internet, information became a one-sided affair. Newsweek was provided by Peace Corps so that we would have an understanding of what was happening in the wider world and I became a BBC and VOA junkie. And I would call my family once a quarter and write to them as often as I could, as would they. But life got simpler, smaller, till it felt like my life was about me, my village, and my fellow PCVs.

As I settled in, dealt with my homesickness, and adapted to my new living situation and Benin’s culture, I started to make friend with several of the villagers in my town. One of my closest friends, Romaine, just showed up one day and wanted to see the new PCV in town. She was wholly different from anyone else I met in that she had enough courage to just come over and introduce herself. We sat around chatting one afternoon and it was very pleasant. Then she came back and I settled in for another chat but she didn’t just want to sit. So while we were talking she did my dishes, over my protests. At some point, she and her two children just moved in with me.

For her, this was a very logical move. She just knew that no one could be happy living alone, it was anethma in Beninois society. And she needed a better place to stay after having left her cheating husband and his uncaring family. She wouldn’t take the single mattress I had in my living room in case her 18 month old daughter had an accident in the night- so she and her kids laid out a mat each night and slept on the floor. So I provided for her family in terms of food and shelter and she became my housekeeper of sorts. Her presence and her children gave me even more additional insights into Benin. It ended up being such a blessing to have her and the kids in my life.

Author with Friends

Author with Friends

In addition to Romaine, I became very good friends with four additional people in my village. One, the principal of the local technical school which provided agricultural training, was the only one who had traveled more than 50 or so miles from his home. He had lived in the USSR [Benin was communist until 1990] and taken courses at a University in Moscow. So he alone understand my homesickness although his was overlaid with the pain of the overt racism he endured in Moscow. So my five good friends and I. Life settled into a routine and really was quite simple for the rest of my time in Benin.

Time and Opportunity Enough to Connect

I would also travel often to the capital, since it was just an hour away, to get money or for my work as the President of the Women’s club. While at the PC offices in Cotonou, I would socialize with the other PCVs that were there. We caught up. We shared our experiences, our regrets, our failures, and our successes. With our shared experiences of life alone in our villages, the other PCVs and I all had a sense of connectedness that ran very deep. Our personality differences melted away and we were able to share a deep bond over what we were experiencing.

I remember marveling at the connection we all were establishing and it dawned on my that our three months of training for our Peace Corps service was probably one of the most stressful and difficult periods of our life, perhaps not the most auspicious way to begin a last friendship with 80 other people. I mean layer over the culture shock with language training with dysentery with immunization shots that could make you ill for days and even the most even-tempered of a person could become an irritable person, right?

But with our two-year commitment, we were afforded the time and the opportunity enough to connect, to share our deepest selves with each other.

Connectedness

The deep bonds I created with nearly 80 other people, through our shared experiences is one of the most profound of my entire Peace Corps experience. Without other distractions – no movies- no internet- no TV- no phone- no easy transport to take us away- all we had was each other.  We upleveled our interactions with each other.  We played cards, talked, and learned to be even friends.

It is this level of connectedness that I still seek today. I’ve moved to a small, exurban community and there are so many competing demands on our time. But on of the most profound ways we can spend our time is through our interactions with others in similar circumstances. It nourishes the soul.

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