The piece that follows is a decidedly "chewy" one, that I wrote six months ago - on the last day of 2011, as I was contemplating how to reconcile what appeared to me as irreconcilable modalities of working with emotions employed by a few systems I was familiar and operating with.
Here is what I came up with:
December 31, 2011:
I have been contemplating this whole last year the apparent trichotomy of : 1) the emotional shifting that the teachings of Abraham - better known as The Law of Attraction - expound (avoiding the so-called “negative emotions” and cultivating “positive emotions”), 2) the equanimity of meditation practices and 3) the process work I have been involved with in men's groups that involves occasionally large amounts of very high intensity emotional releases – before anything new can be attempted.
One method involves staying as much as possible out of such emotions, and using an arsenal of methods to “change the vibration” internally to eschew them and feel better. The second just stays put "in the middle of the road" - and I feel better for it, and the third has one goes straight at it, and dive into an emotional catharsis to emerge clear on the other side – and I feel better here also.
Same endgame, quite radically different means sometimes.
This seemingly irreconcilable divergence was further compounded by my (not fully integrated yet...) years spent in a Fourth Way group, a spiritual tradition that also advocates the “non-expression of negative emotions”.
So it came down squarely on this – what is the difference between non-expression or changing vibration, and simply repressing, or, as we say, “stuffing” an emotion like this? Especially if it is obviously violent, damaging or unpleasant (as depression, rage, despair, hopelessness, to name but a few, have been for me).
And then it struck me that actually, the way I see it, to practice effectively what Abraham teach, a very high degree of emotional dexterity is required, as well as an unusually high level of discernment of one's own needs and how to deal with them as close to “in the moment” as possible.
Because at the root (as I espouse the NVC belief that emotions are signal for met/unmet needs), emotions are but signals, that allow me to course-correct, and they essentially mark when I am getting off track. Apart from the strong emotions arising in the moment (joy at some accomplishment, grief at a loss, anger at a boundary trespassed), most other emotions are “second hand”, i.e. I feel them not in relation the immediate experience that I am having in the moment, but rather at the story I am telling myself about it (often about similar experiences in the past). Therefore, this requires quite a level of awareness on my part to: 1) discern what the emotion is telling me in the moment and, deeper yet 2) what is true in the moment and what is based on a programmed reaction pattern I have based on previous experiences/wounds/fears.
So yes, if I were clean and healed, and the only negative emotions I have to deal with are those that arise in the moment, I can deal with them “the Abraham way”, in the moment, shifting my vibration.
However, as most emotions I am experiencing are built on some unresolved build-up, the vibrational shift is not quite as straightforward, and does not truly address the psychological scaffolding of beliefs that underlie my emotional reaction. And as long as that remains unaddressed, and is not disassembled (which often simply requires observing, examining, shedding light upon it), I will continue to cycle down into depression when certain situations happen (for example) - even if I become an expert vibrational shifter. Which is why so many are confused that the Law of Attraction is not working for them.
But then I run into another question – how to deal with these underlying beliefs/patterns/stories without getting stuck focusing on the obstacle instead of the desired outcome? (something Abraham specifically recommends, to basically look straight past the problem and feel/live/be in the place where the problem no longer exists, and by so doing dissolving the obstacle without having given it much attention at all)
The Buddhists have a different way of dealing with this: they refer to these conditionings (what amounts to our beliefs, patterns, habits, programmed reactions etc.) as “sankaras”, and it these that meditations techniques like insight meditation (Vipassana) are addressing, effectively unwiring them out of our neural circuitry. Albeit in a different manner than NLP and Gestalt do, as the one meditating does not necessarily know explicitly what beliefs are being altered in his brain as he progresses in his meditation, but simply experiences a much higher degree of internal resilience, peace, balance, equanimity, liberation, insight and creativity as a result. Not from focusing and eliminating the obstacles but from letting everything arise, and pass away, arise and pass away, and simply continuing to observe.
After trying to appease the goat, the cabbage and the wolf here, I am slowly arriving to the realization that this simply provides for me a broader toolkit to deal with different types and degrees of emotions I encounter, and that some are easier to be handled one way and some another way. That I may more quickly drop into meditation or the creation and implanting of a new belief if I first clean house. Catharsis is a powerful shortcut. And that in the moment, assuming I “keep my house clean” I can utilize Abraham's methods to shift away from the unavoidable “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that life brings along, as they will no longer trigger deep-seated patterns. And for the most part, I can rest in the equanimity of a meditative state, a tone of mindfulness and equanimity to meet life from a place of readiness, peace and ease.
Putting it this way, these modalities were no longer irreconcilable, though effectively switching between them may require more flexibility than most people are used to.
Which one is best to use?
The answer to this is very personal, and depends on your particular nature, situation and unique preferences. I have met people who swear by one or the other of these, and are quite successful with them - and others who can freely swing between them as the need arises, with equal success and dexterity (myself included). It all depends on your individual choices and intentions.
If you need help making sense of this - or how to actually use it to advance your work, let's talk!
Always in Service,
I used to do that.
For more than a decade, I was a part of a spiritual group where one of the teachings of that particular tradition was "non-expression of negative emotions".
Makes sense, right? Who would not want to mindfully cultivate that, deeper self-control, for more harmonious relations and communications?
Trouble is, many of us did not quite get it how to do that and not repress them instead, which would do more harm than good. So, for many years, with the noblest of intentions, I methodically "stuffed" anything that was not noble, uplifting, positive and encouraging about myself.
Little did I know at that time that by exclusively feeding that one side of the polarity I was in fact invisibly increasing the pull, the sway that the "other side", the negative side, had on me.
And it did come out. Unconsciously, sideways, in surprising, unexpected and decidedly more harmful way than if I had worked with the turbulence adequately upfront instead of spiritually sneaking around it.
I learned later that some coined a term for just such a behavior. They call it "spiritual bypassing". It's almost like hiding behind spiritual practices and pursuits to avoid our messy, erratic, unpleasant and disturbing "humanness" - which inevitably will come back with a vengeance and claim our attention in ways not altogether pleasant, sometimes.
In my case, it was my family who ended up taking the brunt of my nobly "non-expressed negative emotions" - and if you asked them at that time about me, you would likely get quite a different picture of me than from all my other friends I was in that group with...
And this created a sort of "spiritual hypocrisy" in turn, where we were noble and positive in our "official" spiritual environment, but were quite different people, many of us, at work, at home, or at least when we are by ourselves, wherever we could put the pretense down and just "not make efforts", for a change. Not intended - it was not as if we were hiding on purpose...
We just wanted to believe the best about ourselves, and were not as keen to acknowledge that all that muck (the rage, irascibility, depression, anxiety, shame) was us, too. It was our "lower self", you see, something we were to leave behind, discard as some old clothing to our Higher Self that was beyond such ignoble and unreasonable behavior.
Additionally, I did not get very far in understanding the legitimacy of such emotions - that they are internal indicators of needs met or unmet, or things being out of balance. And that "turning them off" was like covering up my car's dashboard so I would not see unpleasant warnings such: speed exceeding 150 mph or fuel tank light on, almost empty...
I have learned something else since, and learned that the only way out is through my experience of being human - fully embracing what I am given here, when it comes. Listening to such deep and intense emotions when they come, for their message and their lesson. As I heard some say "What you resist, persists". Even the most despicable emotions: intense rage, deep depression, or hate, have a message for us - that need not be a clinical diagnostic - but a simple "Hey, there's something up that you have not been paying attention for a reaaaalllly long time..."
I still see that a lot in some of the "consciousness-oriented" people, and the "lightworkers" of my blessed Northern California whereabouts. Their exclusive concentration on the positive amounts to a sometimes stubborn avoidance of anything that resembles conflict, with internal (and external) results that are often less than optimal and makes it somewhat more difficult to relate to them as a "human being" (as their own humanness is disguised). A book came out recently called "The Dark Side of the Light Chasers" that highlights just that.
This often trumps the deeper work of the more serious seekers, because in focusing primarily on the light of conscious awareness, they are not able to sufficiently understand and incorporate the (often far stronger) drives and impulses of their darker, unconscious world - their "shadows".
It took me some years to learn that equanimity does not mean rejection of what disturbs balance, but rather balance amidst disturbance, embracing all of who I am, acknowledging, honoring and integrating all of me, so that there are no more shadows simply because they are all in the light, nothing is rejected, however horrible or unacceptable.
As Jung deftly put it: "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."
And now it's time to turn off the lights for the day and return to dreamtime for some of that work.
Always in Service,
"We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection." (
I have been asking myself recently: Why journal?
1) Intimate confession
I have been journaling since I was 16. Initially, it served mostly as a confessional to me - it was the only place I was willing to admit and disclose things about myself that I did not feel at ease sharing anywhere else, or had nobody I trusted enough to impart them to.
It felt strangely relieving, at the time, to extract these things from my life and experience, and by the sheer process of "putting them outside myself", somehow let go of them, and release the hold they had over me with fear, shame and self-judgment. Writing the difficult things down brought detachment and acceptance, which at the time, I did not trust were available anywhere else. It was only later, when I had the opportunity to confess with a priest, that I felt anything similar.
2) An inner dialog
It also allowed me to have a conversation with myself, since quite often the "me" writing things down would already be quite different than the "me" who had experienced things in the first place, and a dialogue of sorts could take place, where I would examine the reasons, motives and learnings from the experiences being recorded. Seeing these different parts of myself (that are often not very in touch with each other) was hugely revealing. It was like discerning the presence of something just by the tracks it has left, like the pictures of colliding particles from the high-energy colliders.
3) The practice of self-examining
In time I have come to further expand the use of journaling, and went through some periods of time where I held the practice of journaling daily (which did not always come easy). I would occasionally use it the way Benjamin Franklin did, to hold intentions for some given timeframes (day, week, month, year) then go back and assess how I did.
4) Patterns & the Big Picture
Once enough material accumulated, it allowed me to get a bigger picture view of my life, and track some patterns or habits that were not visible from a workaday perspective.
It also progressively helped me ease into what I considered one of my most important gains in this past couple of years - acknowledging progress.
When in a day-by-day battle to change, shift patterns, create new habits, make things happen, it was most common for me to be quite hard on myself, and beat myself up over how far I was from my goal and how constantly I was failing.
However, in reviewing records from journals past, I would realize how far I have come, even if the daily or weekly progress was barely noticeable. In time, that reinforced my patience (something you should know I do not have enough of) and helped me develop an eye and appreciation for small progress I would make, so as to switch from complaining to celebrating.
5) Sharpening language & expression
I also happen to be innately passionate about languages and fine expression (something I only later learned to harness in more "immediately productive" ways as an actor, storyteller and now as an aspiring public speaker). The gift of eloquence is all but lost in our day and age, and I attribute a lot of my facility with language to this process of expressing, decanting, refining and examining that the journaling made possible.
6) Ligthening up
Last but not least, journaling made it possible for me to not quite take myself as seriously. Some dark, morose note from a few weeks ago would seem so out of keeping with where things turned out to be in my life in the meanwhile... Worry and distress over some imagined trouble turned to be just that, a hallucination... And so in time, this build some resilience and ability to take things on a lighter note, however heavy my state.
For, as I used to hear a lot from my friends a few years ago, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."
I would love to hear what uses journaling has had for you - and would strongly encourage you to make this one of your mainstay habits.
Always in Service,
"The mirror between us is
breath mist when I speak.
Your face in water:
I reach, the work grows muddy.
Even friend and beloved
are wrong words for this.
Even ahhhh retreats
back into my mouth,
the same as if the moon's
behind cloud or being released.
A pure silent look is better."
A couple of months ago I decided that for a few days I will hold silence. To center my mind, to observe what comes up, to create spaciousness in my day and find some clarity I needed at the time. Mind you, this was not at some silent meditation retreat (like Vipassana, which I had done before), but in my daily life, while still around my roommate, going shopping and walking around the neighborhood. So this was not done in isolation, and that was the intention - can I hold the silence even amidst the noise, the distractions, obligations and judgements?
I needed to go out to put some posters up in coffee shops and bookstores, something I had not planned for before starting my "speech fast", so I found myself faced with a dilemma, or so it seemed. Do I break my silence to ask the people there to put them up, do I just sneak them up on my own, or do I give up on the idea? As always, there are way more options than we usually think - and one that arose for me was to write my request down on some notepad I could carry with me.
It worked. And it also affirmed for me just how powerful of a sacrifice silence was for me. The resolution it required in order to hold it.
It also turned out that while the outside was silent, the inside was just teeming with mind activity. As if bustling to get out and getting log-jammed. I would occasionally find myself even blurting out some word to myself, some innocuous exclamation, or humming some song.
In time, my awareness caught up with that and no stray sounds escaped me anymore. Now imagine taking that to the next level - cultivating the same discipline on the inside!
I added to the silence: no media, no phone (of course, talking on the phone, one-way, would be kind of odd, but I would not even listen to messages), no Internet, no music, and no reading. Only meditation, writing, journaling were allowed.
Effectively depriving the mind of most of its usual escape routes and "filler activities".
Alone with just myself, my thoughts and my experiences.
Cultivating the clear mirror Rumi describes in the poem.
The outcome of this experiment I will share some other time.
However it fits your life, I do strongly encourage you to do this some time. You will have some very interesting insights.
And when you do, please drop me a note, too. I would love to know what you learned.
Always in Service,
I have passed through quite a few stages recently when I lost hope that my work will ever take off, that people will respond and resonate with my message.
I got discouraged.
And yet, even then (and more so, I should say) my work was to continue doing the same. To encourage other despite being discouraged myself - which felt very strange at times. But also deeply rewarding. And it allowed me to slowly alter my own state and perception as "the Universe reciprocated". Often it took time until that happened, and that required faith and perseverance - sometimes ridiculous amounts of it - but in the end, it unfailingly showed up.
I remembered these words attributed to Zig Ziglar, that inform how I work: "You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want".
Holding the practice in smooth times is easy, holding it through times like this is what fuses it into the core of my being, to the point where it becomes second nature, seamless.
For those who work from their Passion & Purpose there is NO work - their very life IS their work. Who they are is what they do.
Until the next minor or major epiphany -
Always in Service,
Occasionally I pass through times in my life when confusion reigns, and I do not quite know which way to turn, or exactly what to do.
Commonly, in the past, my habit was to "just keep swimming". No matter what, don't stop, keep moving - just do... something.
In time, I came to realize how inefficient, and potentially harmful, this was. And I am not talking about keeping swimming when I knew which way to go, and the waters were rough, I am talking about being lost at sea.
So, slowly (and painfully, for a hyper-active type like me) I had to learn how to relax, to ease and release into the not-knowing and develop the habit of becoming still. Quieting the mind, meditating, relaxing, journaling, whatever helped the body and mind relax and meander. So that the stress and go-go-go mode give way and in the spaciousness created, in that silence, I might just hear the quiet voices inside that tell me where to head to next.
Instead of being in a constant state of "doingness", just slow down, stop, reassess where I stand and my direction - regain my compass.
Turning the usual popular adage on its head: don't just do something, stand there!
Always in Service,
I went with my two daughters to an Anusara-inspired Yoga class tonight. They did remarkable well, considering it was their first time. Especially for a fire-brand 6 year old...
One of the ideas that the instructor reminded us about as we rolled through the positions was:
"Roots to rise"
Essentially, that we have to have strong grounding, center and balance, in order to rise into the more upright and stretchy poses. Dig out toes into the ground, feel the connection, before extending.
That reminded me later of how I see most people wanting to go about their lives. Very often, going straight for what we want is not beneficial. Even if that arrived in our lives tomorrow, we might not be ready (even willing) to accept it, receive it.
I know of many people who work with affirmations, the Law of Attraction, mission statements and so forth - but without having confronted their own shadows, their own deepest fears, without really having embraced themselves fully and completely accepted themselves as who they are. Farts, warts and all, as I heard someone put it once...
In my view, the first step is to create the foundation, to till the soil, to remove the weeds - to prepare the ground for what is to come. So that the grafting of the affirmations, visualizations, meditations, can catch.
Did you ever dig your fingers into soil, spent time just make friends with the earth? Getting dirty? It is out of this soil, full of rotting remains, worms, ants, bugs and the excretions of countless creatures, that bounty grows.
Many "light workers" I know often shy away from this, from doing their "shadow work", from embracing their "dark side" as a legitimate part of them just as worthy as love as their "light side". To experience there is not really any "dark side" but what we make so (or our programming and conditioning did, early on in our lives), and that it is this separation that is the cause of much suffering.
As Jung once said: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”.
And it is in this embracing and re-integrating of polarities that real healing and real progress lie.
Always in service,
When you were a child, did you use to ask 'Why?' repeatedly - trying to find out the answer to some question (whether about the sky, birds, or your parents' habits) - until you drove your parents crazy?
Well, I did not.
But I am doing it now.
I started to catch up with it right before getting married (my wife can tell you that, it drove her crazy). And it has only gotten worse since...
Something really interesting happens when I ask someone this question until they can no longer answer it. When all the excuses are aired - and promptly dismissed (as soon as they are heard, excuses rarely hold water). When all the "stored knowledge" and the immediate, ready-made answers are disbursed.
All of a sudden, the only thing left is the profound, tangible experience of being present in the moment. Being present to "not knowing". A silence, not confusion as much as emptiness, settles in, and out of that silence sometimes new and quite startling answers emerge.
A different mind is answering the question.
The Zen Buddhists employ a technique especially for this by asking questions that do not really make sense to the logical mind, that they call "koans". They are used to test and develop insight.
The point is to not just know something, by hearsay, second hand, explained by others, however true and accurate it may be - but to have that direct and personal experience and understanding yourself.
Especially when that pertains to you!
The As a Zen master once put it: "Even though that is true, if you do not know it yourself, it does you no good."
It takes curiosity, humility, a "beginner's mind" - and perhaps having a little child nearby, for inspiration. And it's OK to say "I don't know"...
You could do it sometimes, see what happens.
Always in Service,
See the Sea? © Eli Jenkins, www.aligndesign.com
I am sitting this afternoon at the Happiness Institute, on Market St. in San Francisco:
http://thehappinessinstitute.org/With a remarkable group of passionate and hopeful young people creating a community built on Gift Economy in the very heart of the big city.This connection is being continuously reinforced, in my life and my work: the connection between giving (my gifts, myself) and happiness. Not only the happiness of those receiving, but also (and especially, how selfish of me) my own!I am reminded again and again about the New Year resolution I took for this year. I was sitting in a friend's dance gathering. While all the excitement and celebration was going on around me, I suddenly had the clear sense that the last thought of that year (2011) would be the first thought of the new year. So I was quietly sitting by myself, and just carefully watching my thoughts, to see what would come up.
And I was very startled to hear:
"I let Happiness be my guide."I have to tell you: it has been a really interesting year so far...
Always in Service,
Two of Me, by Eli Jenkins, www.aligndesign.com
I know that (if you're like me) some of you may bristle at generalizations like this, but nonetheless, it's been my experience so far...
In my time of being around men, whether working together on projects, working with them, as my own clients, sometimes in other transformational processes, or simply hanging out, there are three things that appear remarkably seldom in our language.
And no, this is not just a "royal we", I am saying "our" to include myself in this, because these things are, or at least have been, quite rare for me as well.
So here they are, with their underlying "shadow" messages (the subconscious beliefs that lead to them, in my own case) - for your quick reference :)
1. "I don't know"
It's one of the last things I want: to appear ignorant, or, worse off, stupid. It may be OK to not know much about a topic, but there is almost an obligation to at least have an opinion about it. Otherwise, it's like an incrimination that I do not have a clearly defined identity, in relation to it.
Underlying belief was: "I am stupid".
This is a know fact, of epidemic proportions, that most men might rather die than ask for help. I can remember my many years of utter misery, depression, thick layers of rage mixed with despair, when my wife, seeing me sink or seethe, would encourage me to seek out a friend to speak to about my troubles - and I would obstinately resist the idea.
For the most part, if I happened to be around someone who would ask me what is going on with me, I would not resist the helping hand - but to go out and seek it, no way.
If help is offered: "Maaaybe...", but asking for it: "Never!!"
I often wondered why, and only way later understood the subtler layers of meanings and belief I attached to this simple act of asking for help.
My superficial excuse was: "I do not want to burden them with my problems..." (frankly, not even I really believed this one)
Next layer down: yes, it was a matter or personal pride, not wanting to ruin the "good image" people have formed about me by showing them my "ugly face".
Peeling it off, underneath it was something much deeper: I did not want to be vulnerable. I feared that my friends might think I am weak and, if not actually hurt me in some way (even inadvertently, by judging me) then at least shun my company. After all, I am a man, I should be able to deal with whatever comes up, right?
My underlying belief, that I projected into the minds of those I was fearing might judge me for being vulnerable, was: "I am weak".
3. "What about you?"
This is a more subtle one. This question might not sound quite the same for everyone. But what I mean by it is: how many time have you witnessed men willingly, naturally, graciously, give space in a conversation? Genuinely expressing a desire for hearing, and, better yet, considering, what the other person has to say?
What used to be a competition for territory and physical space for our ancestors, seems to have become a competition for "relational" space in our interactions. One that we "win" or "lose", instead of just "being in relation".
This is a very broad generalization, I know. The more introverted man may not utter that for a completely different reason (they'd rather go hide, or stay hidden), while the more extroverted one will not because they'd rather stay in the limelight and talk about themselves. With many hues in between.
What I found for myself as a message underneath this behavior in me is either: "I am more important [than you]" or "I am not good enough" (or "not as good as you are").
Rounding it all up now, these all seem to collude in the old paradigm, of competition: "more for me is less for you". The new paradigm of relating is one of collaboration, though many of us still need to acquire and practice the skills for that.
So, I don't really know... Help me out here, what is it like for you?
Always in Service,