One of the biggest lessons I have learned, and continue to learn, is that when we grow and get past our “stuff,” it is always preceded with a moment of realization of misplaced judgement. Realizing that something we believed about our life or self is, in fact, wrong. These realizations come in moments of presence with our pain in that we have decided there must be some other way than to continue the current fight, (whatever it may be). Presence with our self and situations always leads to openings. And, it is not always easy. It requires us setting down our ego projections and looking at things from multiple perspectives, understanding that our experiences have dirtied our perspectives. We must use our presence to clean our filters. There is a great parable for this I share with clients, I honestly don’t remember where I heard it, otherwise I would give credit, (I googled it and couldn’t find anything, so I will take the credit!). It goes a little something like this:
A young couple move into a new house. The first morning they are sitting, eating breakfast and the wife notices that the neighbor is putting out her white sheets to be dried on the line. As she watches, she notices that the sheets are very dirty. She says to her husband, “Can you believe this woman, hanging out her sheets like that? She mustn’t think that is clean. I can’t believe someone would consider that clean, she really should do a better job of cleaning her sheets, she must keep an awful home.”
This goes on for a few weeks as they get settled in their new home. Every Saturday morning the neighbor puts out her disgustingly dirty sheets to dry. All of a sudden after 4 weeks or so, they sit down to breakfast and the wife notices that the neighbor’s sheets are now brilliant white! She says to her husband, “look at that! She must’ve gotten all new sheets!” The husband says, “No that’s not it, I washed the windows yesterday!”
This parable has worked on my mind for years. Everytime I come to a snap decision or judgement about something, I consider if my windows or filters are dirty in some way. I have a very poignant real life example of this exact thing playing out in my life that I am not proud of, but am very glad I was able to see the new perspective.
My wife and I had been dating for about a year and we decided to move in together. It was very exciting and fun, and we also both brought some baggage with us. That first year of living together can be a challenge as you learn each other’s routines and get to know each other more. Of course, we had some arguments. When I get angry and charged up, I pace around or do the dishes. There were several times when things would get heated, and as I was pacing around she would follow me, and if I went into the bedroom, she would close the door and stand in front of it. This would trigger something in me that I can only explain as the fear of being chased by a tiger. All I wanted was to get the fuck out of that room and she was the thing blocking that. In my mind, I made her the bad guy, the abuser, the problem with the world. None of which was true. You see, I grew up in a home and communities in which things that happened when a door was closed were not safe. This situation triggered a fear response in me that caused me to project misplaced judgement on my wife. To give some more perspective, my wife grew up in a home that when emotions were high and arguments happened, the people involved would go to the bedroom, close the door and work it out in a safe manner. This is what she was trying to recreate for us by following me into the room and closing the door. So when I would lash out against this, she and I both would escalate. I wanted safety, she wanted to resolve. Neither of us could see through our own filters at what the actual situation was.
This happened a few times before our couples therapist helped us see what was actually happening; how our past experiences were driving our current motivations and perspectives. We were essentially operating from the past. We still argue on occasion, but we do a much better job of not escalating because we understand how these filters operate on us and most of the time we keep them clean. It requires presence in the moment to be aware of our filters and “clean” them.
So what does it mean to be present in the moment? It is about letting go of any past ideas that are clouding your current situation. Dealing with anxiety for much of my life has taught me many tools to know that I am safe and present in any situation. One of the easiest things to do is feel your breath. If you are breathing, everything is okay. It is very rare that we question our presence when we are truly in a dangerous or traumatizing situation. If you’re running from a tiger, you’re not thinking about it, you’re just running! Similarly, if you’re questioning your presence and awareness, you’re capable of grounding and pulling yourself into the moment.
Grounding into your body is the best way to focus on the here and now. You can’t feel your body on the couch tomorrow, you can’t hear the crickets last night, you can’t breathe ten minutes from now. You can only do these things now. When you feel yourself in the moment, it helps to realize how your thoughts take you out of the present moment.
A simple grounding exercise I like to use:
Sit in a comfy chair or lay down.
Close your eyes.
Take deep belly breaths.
Feel the parts of your body supported by the chair or floor.
With each exhale, allow your body to relax more into the support of the floor.
What do you hear?
What do you smell?
What is the temperature like?
Continue to breath and feel.
This simple exercise can be done daily or whenever you think about it. It is about tuning in to your senses and emotions in the now and allowing them to be.
What does it mean to walk the Intentional Path? For me, it is about taking responsibility for your choices and life, and moving forward with intention, focus and compassion for yourself and others. This can show up in many ways and each one of us will have a different path to walk. The first step of this, is the hardest. It takes admitting you are not happy, not following your true guidance and living life as a victim to your circumstances. It went a little something like this for me:
In January of 2012, I found myself with a raging headache, feeling ill, and feeling like I did not deserve to be where I was. I was foggy, trying to remember exactly where I was and why they kept waking me up to take my blood pressure and make me blow into a machine. I couldn’t exactly remember how I got there, the last thing I remember with certainty was the shot of 100 proof liquor I drank at last call. I had flashes of arguing with the bouncer, blowing a tire, pulling over and crying, followed by flashes of the police officer waking me up in my car and asking me to walk a line, which I could not do. I do remember telling him something to the effect of “I know I’m fucked, just take me in and give me a blood test.” This was something I remembered from my first DUI that had happened 14 years prior. My lawyer told me that blood tests were the best way to go. I also have a flash of getting to detox and having my first breathalyzer test done and then finally getting to sleep. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was here. I was sleeping in my car; that doesn’t deserve a DUI.
I had to call in to work and call my very recent ex-wife and tell her I would not be picking my daughter up that day. Once I sobered up, I had to call my dad, which is another story entirely, to come get me. He was super supportive and helped me out. I stuck to my story of sleeping in my car and how I was a victim, that I was being responsible and shouldn’t be punished for that. I was right, dammit. The system is so screwed up!! I went through all the bureaucracy of the court system over the next few months. Got the blood test back, it was much higher than we anticipated. My lawyer advised me to take the first offer the DA gave, because it was not going to get any better. I got 30 days house arrest, (ankle monitor) 2 years probation, the longest track of rehab and relapse prevention they offer, mandatory drug tests for 2 years, lost my driver’s license for 1 year, followed by 2 years of an Interlock system, (a breathalyzer that doesn’t allow you to start your car unless you are sober), community service and a $1200 ticket. And, I had to pay for everything as well. The commercials are correct, it cost me somewhere around $10,000 when it was all said and done.
I started rehab in August of 2012 after my house arrest was over. At this point, I was still angry, still being a victim. I had a bunch of paperwork to fill out to get started. One of the questions was, “what do you think the impact of your crime is on your community?” I balked at that question initially. For some reason, it continued to nag me for the next week until I started the group therapy classes. What I realize now was happening, is that question sliced a hole in my victimhood. In that first group session, I decided that I was going to take this opportunity to learn about myself, to feel the things I hid with alcohol and other disassociating behaviors and see where that led me. I realized that I was not happy. I was not taking control of my life and hadn’t been for many years. I was hiding from shame. I was holding on to so much pain that I was methodically choosing ways to punish myself because I didn’t think I deserved anything better. This was my first awakening to presence and intention.
I have a hard time apologizing. Especially for things I didn’t do. I also get triggered by those who apologize for everything and by those who apologize and it’s really just pushing off blame. But, what is an apology if it’s not a manipulation? I see this is what it has become for many people. I see the proper use of apologies as conveying one of two messages, sympathy or taking responsibility for an action that has hurt another person in some way. In the next few paragraphs I will try to elaborate more.
DO express sympathy when you feel it for someone. This is probably one of the easiest way to use those two little words, I’m Sorry. Someone has just mentioned that a relative or friend has passed away, the common courtesy is to say I’m sorry and move on with the conversation. This has become a social norm. I also use it when someone tells me something tragic that has happened to them. A simple, “I am so sorry that has happened to you,” can convey an open heart and connection to that person who may be in need of some healing. I caution that you use this type of apology only when you feel it for the person. No one likes to hear a hollow, routine apology. My father passed away last year and, to be honest, I didn’t really want to hear “I am sorry for your loss.” His passing was a tragic and beautiful and natural process. I appreciated those who really were conveying sympathy, and I could feel the difference when it was routine courtesy.
DO apologize for accidental mistakes that cause others time or pain. We all do it. You leave a dish out. You elbow somebody in the face. You bump into someone at the grocery store. None of these things are really that bad, but they can affect others. It is never from a malicious intention, but maybe absent mindedness or being lost in our own world. I recently dumped a package of raspberries on the floor at the grocery store in front the of the gentleman stocking the raspberries. They went everywhere. It was great. I am pretty sure I turned as red as the raspberries. I quickly apologized for the mistake and cleaned up what I could while he helped.
DON’T be self deprecating with your apology. In the case with the raspberries, I could have easily said something like “I’m so sorry, I am so clumsy sometimes.” This makes an excuse that you are the less than or have something wrong with you. We are all human and make mistakes. Instead, I stuck with “Oh man, I am so sorry, let me pick these up.” This acknowledges the mistake, takes responsibility and moves forward without harm to your own ego. We like to explain ourselves, apologies are not the time for that.
DO apologize when you are hurtful toward another person; whether intentional or not. This is where it gets tricky. These are usually the actions that we justify because of our own hurt inside. Remember, hurt people hurt people. We are all guilty of it. This apology is for saying the mean thing to your spouse or child. Or losing your temper at work. This apology comes after the heat of the moment and should be heartfelt and stick to taking responsibility only. If you are holding on to justifications of what you said or did, that is even more reason to apologize. Those justifications are your ego knowing it did something hurtful. Whether it is calling a name, yelling, being forceful, or worse, take responsibility and apologize for your action: “I am sorry that I reacted so poorly to you and called you ____.” “I apologize for yelling this morning about the dishes not being done.” “I am sorry I got so angry and yelled at you while trying to help with your homework.” I think you get the idea.
DON’T justify your actions in your apology. We have all had this one said to us, “I’m sorry I did that thing, but you make me so mad.” This is not an apology. This is a manipulation and argument tactic. Apologies are about you taking responsibility, not the other person and what they did. This is a hard one to swallow. It is easy to justify our actions when others are being mean or hurtful also. Eye for and eye, right? Wrong! If we really want to start seeing change for the better in our lives, pushing off blame is not the way to go. Others will do it to us. I still do it to others. Some awareness can go a long way.
DON’T apologize for setting boundaries. We all have them. We should not apologize for them. “I’m sorry, but, can you not do that, it makes me uncomfortable.” This comes from fear. It also takes away from who you are. We should never apologize for who we are. I do think it is important to understand where our boundaries come from. Sometimes they can come from trauma or fear. If you notice that a certain boundary is causing you distress, that is something to look at within yourself, but don’t apologize for it. Many books have been written about setting healthy boundaries, this is not that. I just don’t want you to be apologetic about them.
DO accept apologies. Especially when they are true and heartfelt. It takes a lot to muster up the courage to truly apologize for something you have done. If someone comes to you and apologizes without blame or excuses, accept it. Say thank you. Accepting an apology does not make the action okay, it does not take away accountability. It does give that person the opportunity to take responsibility, be accountable and to do better. We all need some grace from time to time. We are all the monster in someone’s story. Practice apologizing better and we start to see that those monsters are not monsters at all. They are hurt people that usually want to do better and they are all of us.
I'm sorry if I bothered you with this blog post, I like to ramble sometimes, but, you decided to keep reading to the end.
How many times have you looked back at your supposed mistakes and thought, "I knew that was going to happen," or "Why do I keep making these same choices that lead to me feeling terrible?" When I started Intentional Path Wellness, I knew it was going to bring some pretty big healing for me and hopefully some others as well. The idea of consciously choosing our path to healing was at the forefront of my mind and I realized that I was not so good at following the direction laid out in front of me. I was so good at not listening and paying attention over the years, that I was hit by many Universal 2X4s, as I like to fondly call them. These are those defining moments when your deeper knowing has tried to communicate with whisperings, nudges, murmurings until finally it screams with things like chronic pain, losing a job, divorce, DUI. (that's my story anyways.) It has been a few years since any big 2x4s have swung my way and I realized the reasons for that are my ability to listen to the whisperings and the foundational process of the healing center I created in Intentional Path Wellness. I have found four steps I used over and over again to grow and make changes in my life for the better. Sometimes it is quick and sometimes it takes a while. Sometimes it is easy, and, most of the time it presents challenges to overcome. It is always simple, the steps build on each other and it always works, eventually.
So here they are:
Presence is a state of being. It is not about doing, however, there are some things you can "do" to help yourself feel more present in any moment. Feeling your breath is always a sure way to be present, as you can only breathe right now; you cannot breathe yesterday or tomorrow. You are always one breath away from total presence in any moment. When caught up in making a decision or ruminating on anger, fear or sadness, it is all too easy to find ourselves focusing on the past or fearing the future. Feeling into one breath can bring you into the present moment and allow disruption of those patterns, even if for only a moment. The more you practice, the easier it gets. Everything we need is available in the present moment. We must find it. If feeling your breath doesn't work for you, you can also try feeling a part of your body like your feet against the floor, or your butt against the chair. Focus on physical sensations only. Whatever you feel is perfect. Stay with it for as long as you can. Once you give up what you feel to your presence, it has to change.
Once finding a sense of presence in your body and taking a moment to feel it, you can start asking some questions about your situation and what aligned action is best to take. One of my favorites to ask when I am feeling overwhelmed is: "What can I do, right now?" The answer is clear and not always what we think it is. Sometimes the answer is nothing, which means we breath and be present for longer. Sometimes it does not make sense. I was once given clear direction to move a table when I was struggling with some decisions for business. That simple movement streamlined a process that was gumming things up at the office. Play around with these. If you are not getting a clear answer, it may not be time for you to know the answer to the question you are asking. Try a different one. Always come back to presence.
Trust Your Answers
This step and the next one are probably the hardest and they flow back and forth into each other. They go against the mind's ability to figure things out and rationalize. The answers you gain from presence are true to who you are and most of the time don't make sense to your rational mind. They come from deep within. They are simple directions and will most likely stir up some type of emotion at first. Trust yourself enough to know that if you are given a clear direction from presence that you cannot mess it up. Do it. You may need to use parts of the next step before finding the courage to do it, but know that you will. You can trust your self through this process.
Harmonize with Gratitude
Undoubtedly, the mind will start kicking and screaming when you start to trust in your deeper understanding. It has protected you from your self for most of your life. It will tell you that you should listen to reason, it will get you to talk to experts to justify your actions. It will be very angry and sad and fearful. All of those defense mechanisms coming up have been put in place to serve you well and protect you. If they are coming up in this situation those feelings are ready to be harmonized with gratitude. SO, what does that mean? Dig deep, find something that you are truly grateful for, that you have unconditional love for. Feel the sensations that thinking about it brings in. Now turn that same sense of gratitude toward your fears, anger and sadness. This is the simplest and hardest part. If that is too hard at first, start with the idea that you want to feel gratitude for these things or that you wished you could want to feel gratitude for these things. Opening up the willingness for this part of the process is where all the magic happens.
Putting It All Together
I have had this process go as quickly as two breaths and as long as several months. It depends on what part of your self you are uncovering and how long it has been "protected." My suggestion is to start with small things. If you are feeling overwhelmed cleaning your house, take a deep breath, ask 'What can I do, right now," and do that. This can also work with any larger problems you are facing. The only requirement is the willingness to do it. It will bring you closer to who you really are. It will help you see many things that have been in your way. It will show you how to navigate your own life from presence and stop judging the poor decisions.
I wish you the best in your journey through this. Please reach out for help from those that support you the most, if you need it. Thank you for tuning in again.
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Nate Ewert, RMT. Owner of Somatic Synergies Integrated Bodywork and Intentional Path Wellness; Founder of Denver Hiking Club.