Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What Did You Expect?

By Amy Phillips-Gary

Recently, esteemed Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested after he was “caught” “breaking in” to his own home in Massachusetts.

A call about suspicious activity at the house was reported to police who arrived to find Professor Gates, an African-American man, and his driver trying to force entrance into Gates' home because the front door was stuck.

What might have been a harmless and easily explained encounter quickly escalated and Gates ended up being booked for disorderly conduct.

In the aftermath of this incident, allegations of racism have been lobbed about and even U.S. President Barack Obama declared that the police acted “stupidly.”

I wasn't at the scene of this very unfortunate incident. I have not spoken with either Professor Gates or the police officers involved.

What I suspect, however, is that this situation did not have to turn out this way. The expectations of probably all involved created a scene in which an innocent man was arrested and a potential lawsuit with negative ramifications could follow.

So was racism a motivator in this case?

Yes, it probably was.

The U.S. has a long history of racism that will take a long time to unlearn. But that does not necessarily mean that the police officers involved are members of the KKK or even that they consciously or regularly discriminate against people who are not white-skinned.

I speculate that a context of racism-- that Professor Gates studies, observes and has probably experienced-- also played a role in Gates' reaction to being approached and questioned by the white police officers arriving on the scene with a report of a break-in.

Expectations on both sides most likely led to this situation that could have ended without incident.

What are your expectations?

We expect a bridge to hold us up as we drive over it. We expect the people we care about to support us when we need them. We expect the sun to rise and then set each day.

Most of us also harbor expectations that people will behave in specific ways because of the identity markers such as race, sex, class, ethnicity, age and sexuality we perceive.

We all have expectations, yet most of us don't realize how motivated we are by them.

When you tune in and begin to listen to your own expectations, you might be surprised and, perhaps, even feel a little ashamed. I can find within myself particular expectations that I am not too proud of.

Our expectations do not have to be categorized as dichotomously either “good” or “bad.” Instead, you could acknowledge what you discover about yourself and ask if it's pointing you in a direction you desire.

Are the expectations you have of yourself, your life and others-- whether they be family, friends or complete strangers-- allowing you to live the way you want to live?

This is the question to consider.

Too many times, our expectations severely limit us. We become closed in and stuck with a “this is the way it is” or “that is the way he or she is/I am” kind of mindset.

Open up and meet each person in the present

To acknowledge and question your expectations requires you to stay tuned in to your feelings and thoughts.

Expectations can sometimes feel narrow and closed. It's as if your beliefs and perceptions of yourself and others are like that stuck front door to Professor Gates' home.

What can you do to bring more ease to a situation so that your own symbolic door can freely open?

You might encourage yourself to form new expectations. Despite what you've learned, been told or have previously experienced, perhaps now you are willing to expect to connect and interact with others in peaceful and loving ways.

Meet every person and situation you come upon as if for the first time-- with an open heart and mind.

Practice staying present and awake. Really listen to what the people you are with are saying. Feel into yourself to decide-- in each moment-- how you want to respond to what's going on.

You might just be astounded by the effects.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Big Ole Belly Laugh

By Amy Phillips-Gary

It's a usual day on the metro. People read, listen to music or chat quietly with each other as they travel from one place to another.

Suddenly, a man-- sitting by himself-- begins to laugh quite loudly and boisterously. Those around him begin to look and wonder what has caused this man to laugh so heartily.

And then it happens.

The laughter starts to spread just minutes after the gentleman begins to giggle. Pretty soon, the entire train car is bursting at the seams with laughter.

Riders are shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders in surrender to the sheer pleasure of laughing.

This actual scene spontaneously occurred on a metro train. As I watched the recording of it on youtube.com, I couldn't help myself either. I joined in with the laughter.

And it felt so good!

It really doesn't matter what kind of laughter you experience. You might giggle, smirk, or chuckle. Or you may loudly guffaw and double over with a deep belly laugh.

There's no doubt about it. Laughter is a pleasing, releasing and relaxing activity to engage in.

Even if you can't bring yourself to a full-out laugh, you can almost always find a way to lighten up about what's going on in your life.

Unfortunately, many of us don't allow ourselves a really good laugh regularly. It seems too easy to get wrapped up in the “serious work” of being an adult.

After all, we have bills to pay, examples to set for the young folk in our lives and what can seem like the unending troubles of our world to contend with.

Who has time for laughter and lightening up in the midst of all that?

Laughter is essential...

I believe that it's time we all make laughter as much a priority in our lives as we do working out at the gym, eating our vegetables and keeping our minds sharp by completing the sudoku.

The health benefits of laughter have actually been documented. We have all hopefully experienced the delightful release of tension and stress after a good laugh.

You may also be aware that laughter releases those uplifting endorphins. The immune system can be boosted by laughter and benefits to the cardiovascular system can also result.

When you share laughter with others, a bond is almost immediately formed. It is truly difficult to harbor ill feelings toward another person when the two of you are laughing together.

Laughter can also help you get unstuck emotionally. A cleansing laugh can truly shift your perspective.

Laughter can't be forced...

When you look at your life and you are afraid, worried, angry, disappointed or even disgusted by what you see, it can seem impossible to laugh. You simply can't make yourself be happy or laugh.

Noticing that you are unhappy is a great first step toward lightening up and creating space for laughter.

Acknowledge what you're feeling. Don't discount your emotions or shove aside unhappiness.

Do choose to focus more of your attention on aspects of your life that feel lighter, easier and more pleasing.

Your lightening up process might start by watching your cat chase after a toy, for example. As the feline tumbles, leaps and tackles the fuzzball “prey,” you might notice a slight smile form on your lips.

Yes, your life is relatively the same as it was a moment ago, but by simply watching your cat have a little fun you lightened up. It wasn't forced. It was a conscious choice you made to shift your focus.

By Amy Phillips-Gary

It can seem irresistible.

Opening up your mouth and speaking your advice or assessment of a situation...

Even though you weren't asked for it.

Many of us stick our proverbial noses into the business of others and we are almost always well-meaning.

I know, for example, that a dear relative of mine cares about me and only speaks what seems to be true to him about my life and how I should be as a mother, wife and adult woman.

It doesn't seem to matter to him that I did not ask for this advice.

I myself struggle with this at times.

When my partner makes a particular parenting decision that is different than what I'd have done, it can feel like internal wrestling to just let him work it out with the child involved and not step in.

I don't always succeed in keeping my thoughts to myself!

The effect when I let my “wisdom” pour forth can seem discounting, mistrustful and even superior-- even as well-meant as I intended it to be. The original situation did not directly involve me; it was not my business and my advice was not requested.

We've all probably been on the receiving end of advice or labeling we didn't ask for and we don't want.

We've all probably also been on the giving end as we enter into someone else's life and affairs in an unwelcome way.

Of course, there is almost always love and care behind our words and actions; but ultimately, we just need to butt out!

Tricky business

When you stay awake and aware in your interactions with others, you can catch yourself before you launch into unwanted advice or other acts of getting into someone else's business.

But it can seem tricky.

You might feel frightened or concerned about the choices a loved one is making that don't resonate with how you're choosing to live. There is a chance your fears are warranted.

Notice when you get triggered by a situation that you are near to but not directly involved in. Ask yourself if this person is truly in danger or if the intensity of your emotions is linked to something inside of you instead.

This is an important difference.

There might be occasions when you choose to get involved in someone else's business because you believe that this is truly a matter of harm. For instance, if you see a child being abused, getting involved might save that child's life.

Most of the time, we butt in to situations that seem scary or risky to us, but they are really just examples of others living their lives differently than what we do.

Other times we get involved in another person's business in order to avoid something going on in our own lives. It can seem easier to dwell on the challenges in someone else's life than our own.

It can provide a false power rush to leap in and “solve” another's problems when your own challenges mostly make you feel helpless.

Pay attention to the advice you so want to give to this other person. It is possible that the solution or change that seems so clear (to you) for this other person is something you, yourself are being called toward.

When you butt out of another's business, you can be freer to more deeply engage with your own life.

Create Space for Connection

The more you dive down into your own business and explore those triggers you experience along the way, the more available to connection with others you can be.

You create space and possibility for yourself and for your relationships with others as you deal with your own business--
and continue to make that your primary focus.

From that place of ever-expanding space, you are freer to offer support to others in ways that will truly feel supportive to them.

When you encounter a person who seems troubled, you can listen and ask how you can be supportive to him or her.

From this exchange, a deep and meaningful connection happens.

Two people come together and acknowledge the inherent worth in one another's similarities and differences.

Two people listen to one another-- asking, giving and receiving what they each need at the moment.

This is the stuff of growth and expansion.

This is the place of connection and love where the world sits up, takes notice and is enriched.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Stuff it or Spew it?

By Amy Phillips-Gary

What to do with your anger....

Come on. As mild mannered as you think you are, you probably get angry from time to time.

We all get angry occasionally-- some of us more occasionally than others.

The question is do you tend to stuff down your anger in some deep, dark hidden place within or do you spew it forth onto anyone and everyone around you?

I grew up in a family of stuffers.

I remember watching my father kick in a car door because he was so steamed about something that had gone wrong in his life. Outbursts like this didn't happen very often at my house, thankfully.

But there were enough of them that the image is bright and vivid in my mind.

For the most part, I was brought up with the unspoken rule that anger is not allowed.

As with my father, my mother and I both had occasional meltdowns. These were rare. We generally bit our tongues and swallowed our feelings-- especially if they were angry ones.

You might tend to stuff down your anger just like I have in the past (and still tend to do today).

Perhaps, to you, anger is inappropriate. You might believe it would rage out of control if you allowed it, so you simply push it down and hope it will go away.

Sometimes pushing down anger does cause it to subside-- at least for a little while.

With enough stuffing, however, you may feel like that proverbial lidded pot that finally boils over, no longer able to contain all of that pressurized steam.

And if you do manage to control your anger and keep the “lid” on your emotions, you may encounter rashes, ulcers, grinding teeth, or other unpleasant and detrimental health conditions in your body.

Other people don't stuff down anger. Instead, they tend to spew it as they seem to fly off the handle about any “little” thing. Perhaps your boss, parent, your partner, even you yourself are like this.

It's as if the Incredible Hulk has raged into your life-- or inhabited your own body!

While spewers might get a certain release from their outbursts, there are also downsides to this behavior as well.

As you probably already know, relationships can be damaged and even severed by angry outrage. The overtly angry person can also experience health conditions such as heart and blood pressure problems as a result and indicator.

Re-thinking Anger

It's time to re-think anger. No, it's not usually pleasant. But it does crop up for just about every single one of us.

As many other sources have asserted, anger is just energy. We can label it “positive” or “negative.” When it comes down to it, however, it is simply energy.

What you do with anger is what can have the detrimental or, yes even affirming consequences.

Buddhist teachers counsel us to love, embrace and “make friends with” all of our habits, aspects and emotions. This absolutely includes anger.

Here are a few specific techniques for befriending your anger...

*Stay tuned in to your emotions. Notice irritations and annoyances before they turn into full-blown anger. You can deal more easily with whatever is going on for you when it is more manageable.

*Be fluid and flexible. Don't get stuck and rigid in your anger. If you can soften around whatever seems to be the source of anger for you, your emotions can ease.

*Remember to breathe. You can soften as you take a big, deep belly breath. You might find it helpful to forcefully expel your breath-- as if you were assertively blowing out a candle. Repeat this as you need to. Then gradually slow and calm your breathing.

*Interrupt your usual anger pattern. As with any habitual behavior, interrupting your usual reaction gives you space and clarity to make a choice about how you want to respond. Dance, sing, shout...

*Focus in on the feelings, not the story. If you can stop fixating on whatever or whomever appears to have made you upset, you can usually find quicker release around your anger.

Acknowledge and allow those emotions to run through you. Let them crest and then release. Now you can have that talk or handle the circumstances from a calmer and usually clearer place.

Anger may be one of the most difficult emotions out there. It is not bad and it's not necessarily good either. It just is.

As you learn to stay fluid and tuned in to you, the release of difficult emotions like anger can be a point of breakthrough and expansion.

It is another step in loving yourself more completely and moving toward being the person you want to be.