Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Foundation of Friendship

Friendships. Many types of friendships are experienced in one’s life. We have acquaintances in which you know someone with whom you’re friendly but you expend no additional time or energy on them except when your paths cross, or one or the other wants something. Then there are the ever-popular virtual friendships of Facebook. “Virtual” is a great word to describe these connections because most have never met in person, connect electronically via IM chats, and have less depth than those of acquaintances simply by the lack of personal contact. These are safe, low-risk emotional investments because they allow people to be someone they aren’t, or the person they are because they lack the confidence to do so in a live connection. There are “common ground” friendships; these bonding connections share something in common: work, a similar life experience, a person in common, past history, etc. These relationships can have depth and be meaningful as these friendships stand on one shared pillar if both parties are willing to expand the friendship by building other pillars for durability. Then there are those friendships in which “everyone” is your friend; genuine caring and concern is expressed for all to a point. Whether on the giving or receiving end, an instant connection of mutual understanding is felt as two people experience validation for the currently churned up misery, upset or turmoil that is experienced in life. Finally, there are those friendships that feed the participants in some way, either temporarily or long-term: sympathy, empathy, validation, confidence boosts, sense of belonging, victim pity, etc.

Each and every friendship mentioned above is valid and valuable in some way, as long as both individuals within the relationship are getting what they need and want. But are they healthy friendships? Are these supportive friendships that endure the rough seas of life and allow each person within it to grow? Do these friendships honor one’s personal power and authentic self-expression; filled with mutual respect, unconditionally acceptance and love? How deeply rooted in honesty and trust are these friendships?

Strong and healthy friendships are built to last on a foundation of trust, unconditional love and acceptance, honesty, and compassion. Just as a house can endure the elements of stormy weather, a true friendship will sustain itself in good times and in challenges through disagreement, crises, life’s transitional curve balls, and even distance. Foundations of frienships must be tended to with a conscious effort and willingness to do whatever it takes to maintain its fortitude. Just as a house foundation needs pest control to eliminate termites that can leave weak spots, and proper drainage to eliminate erosion around its base, a friendship must also be maintained to ensure that its foundation is not weakened or eaten away with pestilent activity such as demeaning language, dismissive regard for feelings, disrespect, or self-righteousness. These behaviors are the “termites” that will kill the longevity and stability of the foundation of a healthy friendship.

In contemplating friendships, I realized I’d forgotten what true friendship is and that I may have taken such beautiful friendships I have in Colorado for granted. I left behind beautiful people who I proudly call my friends. Together, we shared intimate vulnerabilities of the good, the bad and the ugly of our lives, which brought us even closer together as we recognized our soul connections through our human imperfections in our journey towards personal growth and spiritual healing. We unconditionally accept each other, regardless of our choices and human flaws; we see beyond the external into the beautiful Divine Lights within our spirit. We unconditionally love each other without judgment, criticism or condemnation. Through our shared past mistakes, poor choices, heartaches, regrets and less than stellar performances in this life experience, we connected deeply as we built a solid foundation of friendship based not on the "perfection" in which we project to the world, but rather the imperfections solidified in healing to create a united strength. Through this unified bond, we liberated ourselves and each other from the need to be “perfect” in this Life and world. We ceased living a life of lies as we surrendered our facades of “perfection” to express ourselves genuinely, authentically to each other and to all who were a part of our life. Ever conscious to learning from each other, we looked to the other as the example for authentic expression of the truest depths of our hearts.

For me, these are the friendships I find meaningful and empowering. I cherish and dearly miss my spirited friends. They allow me to be me to express whatever is on my mind, be it the good, bad and the ugly, whether they agreed or disagreed. They step up as true friends and lovingly call me out on my crap when I need it, and vice versa, and yet we unconditionally accept and love each other despite our shortcomings without persecution, judgment or criticism. These friends I trust with my most intimate secrets, my fears, and my dreams. We never cheapen or corrode our friendships with divisive gossip, superficial concern, or self-serving manipulation. We have each other’s backs and unconditionally support each other in whatever paths we choose to travel.

Thank you, Laura, Mary, Deb, Barb, Jane, Maggie, Lynn, Ba, Dena, Jan, Jim, Tami, Kelly, Tana, and Cheri. You and the qualities you bring to our friendship are the bench mark for all friendships in my life. Though we are separated by distance, I know the energetic bond between us lives strong. My love and heartfelt gratitude to you for teaching me what true friendship really means!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Moving Forward in Gravel Face-Plants

Over the last month, I’ve contemplated my life and my choices over the last three years, and everything that’s happened. There have been moments where I felt resentment towards Life itself for “pulling the rug out” from under me. Other times I’ve felt that it was everyone else’s fault that things didn’t work out in my life – loss of a parent, my business, a relationship, my financial affairs, etc. And then there are those crystal clear moments of absolute self-awareness in which I realize: I am the one living my life; I am the one making the choices and decisions along the way, and; I am responsible for my current state of affairs which I created through my choices and decisions. Well, shee-ott!

Unfortunately, a large percentage of the population remains unaware of how powerfully they create the state of affairs in their life. We sleep walk through life, unaware of the simple fact that every choice, every decision, every action (including NOT taking action), and every word we speak influences the outcomes that we experience in our lives. For forty years of my life, I spent most of my waking days in this state of unconsciousness, completely unaware that everything I do or didn’t do creates a cause and effect. If this rings strange to you, then I invite you to participate in a reflective exercise. Consider your life as the boat, and you are the captain at the helm navigating this journey. Each decision you make as the Captain takes your boat into the direction of calm waters or stormy weather. If you willingly take an honest yet objective look at every crossroad of your journey, you will begin to see how your choices have influenced the current circumstances in your life today.

Lets it break it down in a simple example: You come across a stranger who for no apparent reason in passing gives you a dirty look. You can A) take it personally and immediately decide what a jerk that person is; B) think to yourself, hmmm, someone isn’t very nice or friendly; C) shrug it off and go about your business without giving it another thought, or; D) give him an equally dirty look clearly expressing your displeasure that you are the target of one’s scowl. In this scenario, there is no right or wrong answer; EACH ANSWER IS A SIMPLY A CHOICE that will yield an effect or consequence!

In our society of self-righteousness, in which we must label everything as “right or wrong” in the name of morality, socially-defined acceptable norms, and what I call “the Joneses standard”, the bottom line is there is no right or wrong choice, just choice. Each choice yields an outcome or result, and in the example above, there’s not even one absolute definitive outcome. Why? Because each person making the choice brings a unique memory filter of past experiences to the situation which influences the choice made. Choice A may leave you with hurt feelings that nag at you for the rest of the day, telling one or more people about how awful that person was for giving you a dirty look for no good reason. In this case, your choice is to carry the other person’s emotional baggage that he dumped on you via a dirty look, thus turning yourself into a victim, a role that you really put yourself into by taking it on. Unless you asked the other person as to why you were getting a dirty look, you have ASSUMED it was about you. This self-righteous arrogance (because you instantly made it all about you) indicates insecurity or a low sense of self. Choice B frees you of the burden of the other person’s baggage, but places you in the seat of Judge, thus passing judgment on WHO the other person is, based on one look. Judgment is another self-righteous act, and makes us feel better about ourselves when we “put others” in their place, mentally or verbally. Debbie Ford, author of “The Dark Side of Light Chasers”, states that when we are judging others, those we judge are the mirrors of our own self reflection. Choice D reciprocates the dirty look, which creates the potentiality for a further unpleasant experience via your invite for confrontation. In this choice, you are dumping your emotional baggage of insecurity, etc. on to the other person. In any of these choices, one is taking the dirty look personally and making a huge assumption that it has anything to do with him or her. Perhaps, the person just had a fight with a loved one, is in physical pain, just lost a loved-one, or received bad news that he or she is losing a job? Or maybe s/he is just angry at the world and is taking it out on everyone!

Regardless of the reasoning behind the dirty look, Choice C invites us to simply dismiss the dirty look and not assume anything by it – a.k.a. not take it personally. Unfortunately, most people shift into automatic pilot and take other people’s opinions, thoughts, expressions, words, and actions VERY personally. Why? Because we are trained as humans to rely on external influences to feel good about ourselves. It’s why we overeat, shop beyond our financial means, have extramarital affairs, have revolving love relationships, or bitch and whine about how miserable our lives are so people can tell us we’re okay. We look to our parents to make us feel loved, friends to feel included, and lovers to know our worth as loveable. When someone looks at someone the wrong way, or says something unkind, most will take it personally because it’s a statement held in our insecure psyche that says “you’re not ok.”

When we are secure in our own sense of self, we are not easily influenced by what others say or think. We are willing to take more risks, stand by our truth and authenticity, AND be willing to fall flat on our faces when and if those choices don’t work out. When we play it safe doing what we always do, never taking responsibility for our life experiences (despite the fact WE made the choices), and/or placating others with whatever they expect of us (say, do, choose) so we feel accepted, loved, and “okay”, we stick our heads in the sand, and close ourselves off to being judged as failures, losers, etc. In doing so, we also squelch our heart and soul’s desire to fully express the joy, harmony, peacefulness, love (for self and for others), wisdom, abundance, and freedom to express authentically. Regrets, Judgment by Others and even Self-Judgment are the faces of Fear that grips many when making choices that take them “out of the box” to do something different rather than do what the they've always done or what the "Joneses" are doing. And while Fear always creeps up regardless of how self-aware and –confident one is, those who are grounded in a strong sense-of-self and self-awareness will find the courage to recognize Fear as illusion. Fears are as real as the monsters that live under our beds.

So, as I pick myself up and dust myself off yet again, and rethink my game plan for reaching my heart’s desires in this life, I’m comforted by Victor Kiam’s quote when the monster Fear rears its ugly head: “Even if you fall on your face, you're still moving forward.” I reflect upon past experiences, recognize my responsibility of making past choices, and I mine for the gold nuggets of wisdom. With this wisdom, I am more conscious to how I may choose more productively, understand where my pride and arrogance tripped me up, and humbly return to the Drawing Board to create a new navigational map that offers an even better and more abundant life than I’ve enjoyed thus far.