Not too long ago, someone whom I barely know wrote a long tirade about me, unprovoked, on social media. One of the many unkind comments stuck with me. He stated that I was “small-minded.” I’ve put a lot of thought into those particular words. They are the words I’ve been looking to describe myself, as well as most of us, when we’re caught up in minor hassles, although I’m pretty sure that’s not what he meant by them. Many of us worry about daily hassles of no real consequence, but end up creating dangerous health consequences and unfortunate mood consequences in our worry about them. Often, I notice days consisting of a string of minor hassles and worry about these hassles all tied together, keeping me from staying on the path toward my dreams, my true purpose in life, and my higher, “bigger,” mind.
I want to have an expansive mind that keeps my eye on the larger picture of my life, the gifts that I can bring into the world, and how to truly live in the light while spreading light. There will always be garbage to take out, laundry to do, bills to pay, traffic jams, and car troubles. Sometimes, there will even be greater stresses, losses that blind-side us and cause us to feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us. But, in spite of all of these, I know it’s possible to get back on track and connect to my higher mind, keeping my focus on my North Star – my purpose on this earth. Doing this takes having an open and expanded heart, as the “mind” does not all exist in our head, but also in our hearts. Compassion is a key element of this mind-expansion. It’s also what grounds us in reality and keeps us from completely floating away into a fictional dream.
One major stumbling block that keeps our mind small and prevents us from this blissful expansion is our obsessional thoughts about the mud that is more than likely slung at us, at least once, along our path. It’s an inevitability that there will be people who are filled with pain and feel that this is a way to release their own pain. As I wrote about in my blog, Surviving and Forgiving the Critics, even people who care about us may become frightened when we take bold steps toward following our dreams and might react with intense criticism that isn’t always helpful. Therapist and author of The Five Things We Cannot Change, David Richo tells us that one of the absolute truths that we cannot change is, “People are not loving and loyal all the time.” That applies to even our closest relationships. But getting caught up in the slings and arrows directed at us will more likely than not lead us to stop the expansion of our own mind and cause us to end up living the words written about me, having a “small mind.”
There are some who think that I have my life completely together and there are others who think that I think that I have my life together. I can understand where those perceptions might come from, since I make a living at helping other people “get it together,” so to speak, and my writing is often about how to do that. However, for those who read my writing, I believe it’s more than obvious that neither of those two characterizations are correct. I’m very proud of being a work-in-progress on a bumpy, weaving road, which is sometimes smooth highway and, at other times feels like I’m slogging through quicksand. I’m inspired to journal my life along the path, the easy parts and the harder segments, passing along the lessons I’ve learned. This is one of those journal entries.
Observation #1: While many of my mentors and teachers along my journey have been those who have touched my soul with their light and helped me to find my own light, sometimes the biggest teachers have been those I’ve come across on the path who, like a venomous snake, spew their toxins at me from their own place of pain. The venomous snake can be one of the most impactful teachers with the greatest lessons of all. Often, what we learn is quite a bit different than what the snake has intended, so it takes a bit of digging to unearth the real lesson in that situation.
Observation #2: We’re living in a time when anger and meanness appear to be spreading like epidemics, including friends fighting friends on social media about differences of opinion, making it personal and becoming mean. There are bullies who make it their goal to hurt. Remember when we were kids and we used to recite the rhyme, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me?” That was a lie. Words hurt. We hear almost daily about suicides of teens that have been bullied with words. There appears to be an increase in a general lack of compassion. Some people are losing touch with the art of really listening to one another in order to fully understand what the other person might feel or to learn about their experiences.
Some Lessons I’ve Learned For Detoxing (And For Mind-Expansion)
Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned with my single-subject (myself) sample experiment, testing different methods to deal with toxic words, alchemizing them and transforming them into something to be used for healing, leading us to expand rather than to shrink.
1. Remember that a person who strikes out to hurt other people is someone who is likely in deep emotional pain. Very often people strike out when in pain. Sometimes, they put people down in order to feel superior to them. This does not make their behavior O.K. But, having that understanding helps us to have compassion and to not take what is said personally. “Don’t take anything personally,” writes bestselling author, don Miguel Ruiz. “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
2. Practice mindfulness meditation. When we practice mindfulness, we can take a step back, away from the venom, and see it more clearly as being more about the other person than it is about us. Mindfulness also gives us the ability to calm down and to better think through our response, rather than reacting in a more harmful way. “With mindfulness we can see clearly, free ourselves from reactivity, and respond wisely,” writes Buddhist psychologist, Dr. Jack Kornfield, in his book, A Lamp in the Darkness.
3. “When you come to the fork in the road, take it,” my dad used to like to repeat this Yogi Berra quote. At any moment we have the choice to get back on track if we have lost our bearings, no matter how long it’s been that we’ve been wandering. If we have the intention of living with an expansive mind and heart, knowing we have a purpose, and keeping our eye on the dream of sharing our gifts with the world, we won’t want to stay off-track for too long. We’ll be called back by our inner voice, our higher self, to follow our path once again. We can do this by asking ourselves, when we first wake up in the morning or at any time when we feel lost, “What can I do to serve humanity right now, today?” As I mentioned earlier, my purpose, my dream, or, as the Buddhists refer to it, my Dharma, has served as my North Star through the most difficult and darkest of times and has brought me great joy at the other times. I owe it to my dream to keep my focus on it, as it has done so much to bring me deep happiness and peace. I’m now committed to honoring it, in return. That makes me remember to not allow someone else’s toxins to cause me to lose my footing. “In any moment – even in this one – you can realize your own vastness. With mindfulness of the dharma, you shift from the small sense of self to infinite freedom and presence and timelessness,” writes Jack Kornfield.
4. Stop to smell the flowers. Getting out in nature, unplugging from technology, and just focusing on the most natural thing of all, our breath, can really help to clear our mind and start the detox process. Nature has the power of reminding us of the vastness of our life and the world we live in. One powerful example of this is when I was working in a nursing home just north of New York City right after 9/11. The parking lot where I parked my car was on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River. From that spot, there was a spectacular view across the river of the colors of the changing leaves along Palisades of New Jersey. Every day, I would get out of my car and walk slowly to the building, looking out at this view. Often, a flock of geese would fly overhead. While gazing at this miracle, I would think, “See, this is proof that not everything is bad or sad in this world,” and I would stop to breathe it in. I remembered this again, as I looked at the same view when my beloved dad spent his last days in that same nursing home just two years ago.
5. When Dara Kelly was a guest on my radio program, she gave the directions to a powerful “grounding” and detoxing technique. (You can hear her interview, with the directions, right here.) I use that imagery technique whenever I go out into the world, whenever I listen to the trauma of another, and whenever I feel there is something toxic given to me from another person from which I need to “detox,” such as an unkind comment. In addition, every morning, I silently recite a self-affirmation that I created, using Jack Kornfield’s meditation, “The Earth is My Witness” as a guide. “Let my body be solid like a mountain and my mind open like the sky. May I rest on the Earth like a Buddha and become acquainted with my capacity to witness all that arises and to remain centered and stable and steady in the midst of it all.” Imagery and affirmations can be quite potent in helping us to pull the lens back and expand the picture in front of us, rather than getting caught up in the small mind of feeling victimized.
6. After exposure to a toxins from another person, cry about it, if you feel like it. Tears are cleansing and can be a detoxing release. Also, release might be found by telling a close trusted friend about it, someone who can help to put things into a better perspective, help you view the bigger picture. Holding it all inside creates more intense energy, but talking about it over and over again actually also does the same thing. So, don’t keep talking about it, once you’ve released it. Also, choose your confidantes wisely. Not everyone has your best interest at heart and others may offer well-meaning advice that might create more problems. Sometimes, speaking to an objective mental health professional is your wisest option.
7. Surround yourself with positive people who treat you with respect and love. This helps us to see that we are worthy of love and it reminds us of how we want to be treated by others. It also increases our own self-love when we are around people who model genuine, not narcissistic, self-love for us (see my blog, 9 Ways to Be Good To Yourself – Starting Today). In addition, showing kindness and compassion to others, rather than taking out our sadness or anger on others, is extremely powerful in transforming negative energy into healing energy (check out The Benefits of Kindness and Generosity). And it serves our greater purpose by increasing the kindness in our communities. In addition, as I mentioned at the start of this blog, opening our hearts and having compassion, is one of the essential keys of expanding our minds. Writes Kornfield, “Your experience of being human in this way – opening to the ten thousand sorrows and joys of yourself and others – becomes a kind of salvation.”
8. I understand that detoxing from such poisonous words is much easier when the person spewing them is not a significant part of our life. What about when this is someone who is a major part of our life? Here is a tip from a friend who recently left an emotionally abusive marriage. She told me, whenever her husband would tell her that he knew her better than anyone, even herself, and he would then launch into a tirade of hurtful statements about her, she would think to herself, “He doesn’t know me better than I do. For example, he doesn’t know my favorite cookie.” This sounds funny, but it was very powerful for her. It was a comforting memory from childhood and a reminder that no one can take her deepest knowing about herself away from her. As she stated, it pulled her out of the “crazy-making abuse.”
9. Journaling about it, including about the lessons you’ve learned from it, like I’ve done here, can be extremely beneficial. It helps, not only to release difficult emotions, but also to put things into perspective, unearthing those lessons embedded in the situation. For me, being able to pass these lessons on, so that you might benefit from them, makes me feel inspired and more positive about the experience. Also, journaling about what we feel grateful for is one of the most powerful tools that we have to transform a negative event into a healing one. Oprah Winfrey often speaks about her gratitude journal, writing down several things that she feels thankful for each night, reporting that it has been life-changing for her. Research conducted by Dr. Robert Emmons, at the University of California, Davis, found that people who kept gratitude journals felt better, physically, and had a more optimistic outlook. Try writing down what you’re grateful for every day for one week and see how you feel by the end of the week. “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough,” writes Oprah Winfrey. This is true alchemy.
Remember, when we let the mud slinging of others become our reality, we rob ourselves of the expansiveness of our lives and who we really are. Freedom comes from knowing that our true self is the open-hearted observer of all that is and that we don’t need to be pulled into the mud all around us in order to be fully alive.
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