Remember all the tall tales parents recounted about the countless challenges they endured potty training us? My parents laughingly asserted that I was an official portable potty carrier, ready at any moment to perform, on or off a toilet.
Potty training not only focused on acceptable biological functions, but also included a variety of socially acceptable mores, ethical pointers, cultural norms, religious views, etc. that we either integrated into a code of conduct or pushed away.
Many of my early lessons focused on trusting or associating with people who shared my religious upbringing. Although Jews comprised less than 10% of the total Montreal population, the boundaries my parents drew in the sand kept us socially segregated from other minorities. And you know what happens when we place artificial boundaries between races/religions!
If we had to untangle the thousands of beliefs we have about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we’d be contemplating our thoughts for lifetimes. The thought-knots to which we’re tied are so numerous, and often so gossamer in appearance, we’re hardly aware that our reactions are a direct result of being snagged in cobwebs of belief.
We may be able to trace the “lineage” of a belief but transforming it so we give ourselves space to choose a course of action that’s neither harmful to ourselves nor to others, requires mental training.
When working with individuals or groups, I’ve listened to how rigorously they defend their points of view, even as they fight for liberation from oppressive thinking limiting their performance.
Like salmon swimming upstream to reproduce, many of us lead lives where we swim against currents, pushing away that which we think are bad or wrong, and pulling towards ourselves that which we think is right or good. Unlike salmon, human beings have the ability to question our beliefs, rather than simply accepting what we think, say and do as inherent to our nature. We imprison ourselves by how we stereotype men, women, families, work, marriage, religions, politics, etc.
We need a starting place to bring our opposing views into unison or more accurately integrity with our heart held values. I subscribe to what Ticht Nhat Hanh claims:
Love is the capacity to take care, to protect, to nourish. If you are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward yourself-if you are not capable of taking care of yourself, of nourishing yourself, of protecting yourself, it is very difficult to take care of another person. Love is a practice. Love is truly a practice.
What would it be like to love ourselves unconditionally so that we can love others in the same way? What different outcomes might you have? The formula I was taught by Michael Gregory, my mindfulness meditation teacher and founder of Mindfulness Meditation Centers, is Unconditional Love= Unconditional Acceptance + Unconditional Forgiveness.
Each part of the equation carries weight. If you dislike the formula then you might want to explore your relationship to these elements so you are clear about your current beliefs and how they shape your emotions, the actions you take and the outcomes you seek.
Wherever you put your focus is where you’ll bring your attention and intention to practice. For example, if unconditional acceptance feels unnatural or undoable then you can begin your inquiry here.
Since we cannot change what we don’t know:
i. First define the terms you're studying through with reading/research.
ii. Then take some time to contemplate what you’ve read, and heard.
iii. Implement a practice (or 2) to have a direct experience of the instruction. Why? Learning happens in the body.
It’s in the practice where can experientially understand how any concept lives and breathes (in us). As we say in the mindfulness meditation community: “There is what’s happening and there’s our relationship to what’s happening.”
When we begin unraveling ourselves from the many layers of beliefs informing our actions, it can be scary. Often what we uncover is not pleasant. The good news is we always have a choice. When we greet what we observe with acceptance and forgiveness, then we’re softening our hearts, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, acknowledging we carry thoughts that are harmful to our happiness.
Forgiveness for ourselves because we are unaware/ignorant of our own biases, loosens the knots to which we’ve become so tightly bound. Simply overlaying positive psychology on deeply held beliefs is a panacea at best. One is attempting to change results without taking the necessary time to reframe the belief to one that is liberating and heart-felt.
As a long time practitioner of coaching and as a mindfulness meditator, I’m encouraging readers to engage in a spiritual practice.
What if you take on the practice to nourish and love yourself for 21 days?
For the next 21 days commit wholeheartedly to nourish and love yourself unconditionally.
3 to 6x a day check in to see if your thoughts, speech and actions nourish & protect your heart or not.
Do not judge yourself right or wrong, good or bad. Simply observe the thought, speech or action. Make a note of the thought/belief you had.
Correct your thinking by accepting that the thought arose.
Forgive yourself for your conduct (If this feels contrived, it's okay. Fake it till you make it).
Promise yourself not to repeat the specific thought, speech or action for a particular amount of time (minutes to hours).
At the end of each day, practice gratitude for yourself for loving yourself enough to observe and change your conduct. Practice gratitude to others whose actions provoked you to take the opportunity to observe yourself.
For more information on how to close the gap between head and heart, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 941.554.8466.