Being Honest about Being Dishonest

At one time I was about $30,000 in credit card debt. I shopped and mindlessly charged in what I now realize was a desperate and misguided attempt to fill the emotional holes in my heart. My home was filled with stuff and no matter how much I bought, my heart was still empty. I was so tired of feeling out of control, like a hamster going round and round on a wheel.  

It was not easy to admit to myself how far removed I had been from personal responsibility. I ignored my gut and continued to lie to myself that shopping was good therapy. It was embarrassing and shocking to finally own up to the fact that I had been so dishonest with myself. Now I faced a huge financial challenge. Accepting the truth caused such a deep panic I remember falling onto the floor at the sheer impact of my situation. I was immediately filled with fear and worry.  I could not imagine how I was going to pay off all the debt. 

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and finally got control of myself. After a few days of living with the raw honesty of new reality I figured the only way to be free and to begin healing my heart-holes was to assume full responsibility for what I had created.  I tore up all my credit cards and established a payback plan. When the urge to shop hit I took a walk, sat alone outdoors in the natural world, called a friend to catch up, directly addressed the negative thoughts of my past, or went to a local organization and volunteered to help others. With time, each of the self-loving actions I took steadily wore away the need for something outside me to repair my broken heart. 

Over several years I did pay off the debt and today I am debt free. Getting free of such an irresponsible past was one of the biggest challenges I’ve overcome.  It happened when I became completely honest with myself. When I emotionally owned what I had created, instead of mindlessly ignoring what I did, I finally found the strength to successfully get off the wheel that was taking me nowhere.  

Today I am truly grateful for the experience. I know now the holes in my heart could only be repaired with self-love and respect. These are two of the things I found once I had the courage to be honest with myself about being dishonest with myself.

 

Let Go the Need to Be Proven Right

Through e-mail, I agreed to pick up and return my friend Katherine to the airport. Two weeks before her arrival, something came up that required me to change plans for transporting her back to the airport. Still through e-mail, I assured her I would find someone to give her a ride back.

She arrived and I was there to greet her. After some time together, I confirmed I was unable to give her a ride back to the airport. The news came as a shock. Nothing I said could convince my friend that I had sent a second e-mail two weeks earlier; she thought I was lying.

I can be stubborn, and I can be argumentative. But for too many years being obstinate and confrontational did nothing to resolve my conflicts. And clinging to the notion that I had to be proven right only added fuel to the fire in the disagreements I had with others. Through experience I learned the most positive action was choosing to overrule my self-centered ego.

It was not easy, but the truth was that no matter how much I wanted validation from Katherine, there was absolutely nothing to be gained by arguing with her. Leading with the heart is caring more for friendship than pride, so I chose to let go of my ego’s need to be recognized as right. I did not want to be angry with her, nor did I want our time together to be uncomfortable. The only option I saw to ensure peace of mind was to be patient, accept what was, and allow the situation to resolve itself.

A few weeks after my friend returned home, she was having repairs made to her computer when several mysteriously lost e-mails arrived in her in-box. Among them was the one I had sent.

I do not believe it is possible for us to agree with everyone all the time about everything. I do believe it is possible for us to stay agreeable when disagreeing. And simply because we disagree with someone does not mean that person is wrong.

My friend was also right! She had not received my e-mail before she left. Yet, for many months after returning home, she was distant. She was embarrassed for not giving me the benefit of the doubt. She was upset at herself for allowing hurt feelings to invent all sorts of reasons to justify turning her back on me. She was also angry at herself for discounting my history of honest and loyal behavior. She was frustrated for permitting herself to invent ego-illusions that my innocent actions were a personal attack.

In the overall design, you and I are only alive for a very brief period—much too short to waste time holding a grudge or settling for drama, fear, and sadness. When we place more importance on being proven right than we do on our relationships, we have, in essence, donned flowing silk robes and placed ourselves in the middle of a dense rose garden. Life situations and interactions with other people become masses of twisted thorns that rip and tear at the fragile material. No matter how painful the thorns are or how deeply they tear at us, we are uncomfortable shedding the robe of our prideful self-image. Without our egocentric self-view, who will we be?

With pride at stake, we do not stop to question the cost of being right. An egocentric mind does not care about the feelings of friends, family, or strangers. Wounded ego is not content unless the whole world accepts we are indeed right and someone else is wrong. And on the occasions we are the one who is wrong, our ego is not interested in voluntarily confessing our guilt; we are fine remaining quiet as a mouse sneaking off with a piece of cheese.

To lead with our heart, we let go of the need to be acknowledged as right—even when we are. While there may be two sides to every story, there is only one truth between them. Truth has a way of surfacing eventually, making relationships worth much more than egotistically defending our personal pride.

Evaluate Rather Than Judge

One time my uncle’s car broke down on a sparsely populated stretch of two-lane highway. This happened long before cell phones, and he was stuck in the middle of nowhere. He had to depend on the off chance that someone would happen along.

After a while he heard a soft buzzing that sounded like a swarm of bees heading in his direction. As the noise grew louder, he watched the horizon. Soon a group of motorcycle riders crested the hill.

Even though my uncle had not personally encountered bikers before, he was terrified at the sight of them. He had formed a critical conclusion of motorcycle riders from others’ opinions and harbored a preconceived idea that they were all dangerous. He feared they would rob and possibly harm him. With nowhere to hide, he felt completely helpless as he watched them approach.

I’ve known several tattooed biker guys with scraggly beards, do-rags, and wallets on chains, and I realize how they might seem ominous. Yet, I know from experience that we cannot accurately measure the true character of any person or group of people based on a stereotype.

Most of the motorcycle group waved as they passed by my uncle. Two riders stopped and politely asked if they could be of help. They discovered the problem and repaired it, and soon my uncle was back on the road with a new perspective on people who ride motorcycles.

Evaluation is the process of determining the true value of something based on evidence and reasoning. Heart evaluation works the same way. It involves investing time to gauge ourselves, the situation, and others from many different angles, with the goal of determining the truth for ourselves.

My uncle made a critical assessment, an ego judgment, based on little or no evidence. This isn’t uncommon. Such opinions are often formed about those whose religion, ethnicity, political beliefs, or socioeconomic status is different from our own.

But remember that opinion is not fact. Opinion is: (1) a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty, and (2) a personal view, attitude, or appraisal.

Rather than jump to judgment, ask questions of yourself and others. Do your research. Evaluate and seek truth for yourself rather than blindly believing or spreading the opinions of others, or yourself. Seeking the facts, even about everyday issues you may consider minor, supports you in making the best decisions that avoid problems and make life easier for yourself and others.

Stop, and Choose Wisely

It was a Friday afternoon. I was working as a college administrator and had just overheard a department secretary address a professor as Mr. X instead of Dr. X. The professor arrogantly reprimanded the secretary in front of me, and I fired back a snide comment in her defense. Immediately embarrassed about what I had just blurted out, I rationalized my behavior and hurried off to my office.

When I returned home Sunday evening from a weekend getaway, I found a lengthy e-mail from Dr. X chastising me. Of course, my initial reaction was anger. My wounded pride justified my actions. Starting down the well-worn path of the victim, I began a scathing reply, all the while thinking, He started all this by being such an arrogant, self-absorbed ass. He may have a PhD, but he lacks the basics of civility. How in the world can he blame me for his rude, condescending behavior?

Suddenly, something deep within me shifted. I was not able to continue. In my honest heart of hearts, I knew the time had come to address some hard truths about my behavior:

  • Had I treated Dr. X as I would want to be treated? No.
  • Had my rudeness accomplished anything positive? No.
  • Would I feel better now if I had chosen not to engage in the first place? Yes.
  • Did Dr. X’s behavior change my responsibility for my own behavior? No.
  • Doesn’t attempting to control others really mean I am not in control of myself? Yes.

I stopped typing and deliberately asked myself these questions. That, combined with genuinely wanting to get the answers, was the jump-start my heart needed to at last overrule my defensive and offended pride. Through candid self-evaluation, I admitted my anger was, once again, not about another’s behavior. Choosing to take my disappointment out on someone else was not assuming liability for my actions.

In spite of the familiar ways I tried to project my resentment and frustration onto Dr. X, the magnificent aha moment was realizing it was my guilt pointing the finger of blame in his direction. I discovered my guilt was rooted in shame for once again putting my angry, insecure, and immature side forward. I was really mad at me for not controlling myself.

To lead with my heart, I must take accountability for my actions. Turning the eye of evaluation in my own direction, I realized that everything I do is a choice.

Another weight lifted off me the moment I accepted it is not possible to control or change anyone else’s behavior. I may choose to reprimand the professor for being arrogant. However, changing his behavior is entirely his job.

When I left the college to move to California, the single parting gift I received was from Dr. X. Our interaction changed me, and he will remain close to my heart. I am deeply grateful to him for being part of a great life lesson. The box of chocolates was his way of saying it had been important for him, too.

Your Path To The Best Life

Self-love, respect, and inner peace come from learning how to travel through life in the easiest and most fulfilling manner. Finding the path of least resistance requires accepting it is your actions that create your life. Through self-assessment, you identify those aspects of your behavior, beliefs, judgments, and fears that are preventing you from creating the life you truly want.

Confronting your behavior is not nearly as difficult a process as you may believe. Yes, it takes time to be comfortable looking candidly at yourself. At first, what you consider faults stand out under the bright lights of self-evaluation. So you may tell yourself it is easier not to look. Yet, if you do not look at yourself, it is impossible to see what you do like about you. Without self-assessment it is also impossible to identify those aspects of yourself that you do not like but can change.

Getting to the heart of the matter of self-change requires shifting your ego’s focus from the laundry list of what everyone else needs to do to make your life easier to concentrating on what you can change about yourself. To begin moving past your ego’s resistance to change, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you own your behavior, or do you pass the buck for your actions?
  • Do you evaluate yourself and others based on seeking facts, or do you allow reactive ego to jump to judgment?
  • Are you blindly following the beliefs of others, or do you seek to establish your own?
  • Does fear keep you tied up in knots, or have you chosen to walk in faith?

Don’t be upset or judgmental if what you discover by honestly answering these questions is disappointing. There was a time I was not the person I told myself I was. Today I am the person I always wanted to be only because I took time to determine what was not right about me.

Only when you know what needs changing can you change your path, so your life changes for the better. Positive change begins by being truthful with you, about you. Intentionally looking within, you reach the understanding of who you are, what you value, what about yourself is going right, what is not going right, and what wounds need to heal.

Questioning the path you are on allows you to become aware of and eventually break free from unconscious behavior patterns. By honestly looking at yourself, your heart begins to take the lead in creating your best life.

When Love Smells like Orange Blossoms

Early spring in my neighborhood in Los Angeles, California is a heavenly time to lay in bed at night with the windows open. The orange trees in front of my apartment building are blooming.  Orange blossoms, while fragrant during the day, become intoxicating at night. The sweet perfume wafts invisibly in on the light evening breeze and collects heavily within my room.

For such a powerful fragrance orange blossoms are actually very small. This past week I spent thirty minutes picking up many of the tiny, paper thin blossoms that had fallen from the trees. Seeing them from the ground in clumps is deceiving.  Only when I was squatted on the ground did I truly appreciate how little the blossoms are.  It takes quite a number of them to fill even the smallest package.  But I carried on determined and stayed bent over, squatting and kneeling under my orange trees until I’d picked up hundreds, cramming the teeny zip lock baggie full until it was bursting. I found a cheerful greeting card, put the sealed package of orange blossoms inside, and mailed it to my mother.

With everything mother has done in her 96 years, of all the places she’s traveled throughout the world, she shared in a recent nightly telephone conversation, that she has never once smelled orange blossoms.  As I sealed the envelop I felt the excitement of her surprise at opening the card. Of her wondering for a moment what in the world I’d sent her.  Of her opening the teeny zip lock package, and for the first time breathing deeply, taking in the intoxicating fragrance, the smell of my love for her in the form of orange blossoms.

“Knowing” with Emotional Responsibility

I do not comprehend calculus, theoretical physics, string-theory, or quantum mechanics. But there are lots of people who do. So people who understand these things may think that I should be able to understand them too. Maybe some people think I’m not smart because I don’t. The truth is I’m not unintelligent because I do not comprehend higher mathematics, physics, chemistry, cosmology or engineering. My awareness and intelligence lie in other areas. In fact, each of us is at our own level of intellectual and emotional awareness.

This is important to remember since we often get angry with people because we think they should know something because we know something. Just because you and I may comprehend and care about the downside to negative, rude, judgmental, abusive or self-centered behavior does not mean everyone does.

Yes, I intellectually knew stealing twenty dollars out of my dad’s wallet was wrong, but I did it anyway. One day I woke up emotionally. I put myself in his position and questioned how it would feel to have money stolen from me. Asking “how would it feel” connected me to a new level of emotional awareness, that I am personally responsible for the consequences of my actions.

There are those who know on an intellectual level but do not “know” on an emotionally responsible level how their behavior negatively impacts themselves and others. Accepting that some people are emotionally irresponsible does not mean we condone their unconscious or destructive behavior. It means, instead of approaching them with a “you should know better attitude,” we seek higher, heart directed ways to effectively communicate, interact and set boundaries with them.

Put Yourself In Another Person’s Shoes

I often keep the front door to my apartment open in the mornings and my little dog, Ruby, lies in the sunshine. Today a cable TV technician, who I did not know was around, left my next door neighbor’s apartment and startled Ruby who let out one loud super big bark. Startled he screamed, very loudly and with much anger, “SHUT UP!” as he passed.

His tone of voice was so sharp it felt like being hit in the stomach. Had I not stayed in control of myself I would have said something to him. But I did not allow myself to react. Instead I took a deep breath and put myself in his position.

Although Ruby was inside our apartment I would have jumped too had I passed by and she barked loudly. She is and always will be protective. While I appreciate the “doggie job” she does I can understand how startling it is when there’s complete silence and she barks. The same thing has happened to me when UPS sneaks up and I do not hear them approach the door but she does and lets out an ear-piercing warning bark. It sends me sky high. So taking time to relate to the startled man is what allowed me to let go of his screaming harshly at my dog.

I cannot tell you how dramatically life has improved for the better since I learned to stay in control of myself. I really work hard not to react, but to think. I learned that by taking a moment to place myself in the position of another person I am able to see their side. When combined with my own observations I can determine when to say something and when not to say anything. I did get up and shut the door so Ruby and I, and the man stayed peaceful as he passed by three more times. 

Look for Truth

Growing up in the Southern part of the United States I was told, “People who live in California are weird.”  I moved to Los Angeles 17 years ago and it is not at all what I was told.  Like most things in life we only get someone’s biased point of view when they give their opinion.  It takes much more than someone’s opinion for us to know what is true.  To find what was true about my new home I made it a point to get to know as many of my neighbors as possible.

We live together in the second largest city in the United States so we live close to one another.  In my neighborhood there are several apartment complexes along with single family housing. We have business owners with shops around the corner. There are several schools so there are lots of children. We are every color, nationality, religion, and for the most part, we live peacefully side by side.  So I want to get to know them as a part of my neighborhood family.

It is important to feel that connection with one another so we watch out for each other. We take care of one another. We appreciate and respect one another.  My life is so much better because I know my neighbors.  They are wonderful testaments to the peaceful, kind, and compassionate world we are creating. I feel blessed to live where I do.

I am also blessed to have learned that simply because someone believes something does not make it fact. People in California are not weird at all.  Just look at what I would have missed had I believed what I was told growing up. I am so glad to have a rebellious streak – at least when it comes to finding truth for myself.

A Movie to See

 

Last night I watched the movie “The Impossible.” There were three or four coming attractions and a request to support a related not for profit organization then the menu shot appeared. My hand shook as I tried to press play, then I began to sob and could not stop. It was only a picture of a peaceful beach but for about five minutes I was overwhelmed with the sadness I felt coming back into my heart.

I remember December 26, 2004 and the Indian Ocean tsunami like it was yesterday. And, it has taken me years to prepare my heart to go back to that space of raw terror and desperation for those who survived and sadness at the loss of over 230,000 of our brothers and sisters and so much life.

Watching violence or people getting hurt is so hard for me. I watched to be reminded what is truly important in life. I wanted to witness the miraculous and gut wrenching true story of María Belón Alvárez and her husband and three sons. My heartbreak for all those who suffered was tempered by engaging in the love, determination, faith, generosity, and gratitude of the human spirit.

I watched this film because I wanted to remember, to be there in a way, to crack my heart open wider. This film did that, and so much more. I am forever changed, in a very good way.