Life unfolding

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Portrait of Gwen Randall-Young

Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
– Max Ehrmann

Much of our frustration with life comes when things do not go according to plan. We plan an outing and it rains, we do not get the job we hoped for, the relationship ends or illness happens. “This wasn’t supposed to happen!” we say with dismay.

Like a child stacking up blocks, ego has a vision in mind and admires what it is creating. When the tower suddenly collapses, ego collapses too. There may be sadness, disappointment, anger, a sense of betrayal and unfairness, even utter devastation. Ego feels victimized and goes into contraction.

It is interesting to consider how the little child reacts to the blocks tumbling down. Isn’t it true that most toddlers love it? They know a force outside of their control is eventually going to act on their little project. The game is to see how high they can build it before it falls. Sometimes, they like the falling part so much they will actually make it fall and delight in starting anew.

These children are little Buddhas. They know how it works and decide to have fun with it. They do not get attached to what they are building. They seem to know it is the process of building and rebuilding that is important, not the end result. We could learn from them.

There is so much in life over which we have no control. A surfer has no control at all over the waves, but he can develop the ability to ride them. Similarly, life is less stressful when we understand it is about how we deal with challenges that is important, not hoping we do not have any, at least no big ones.

Imagine people were put into groups and they all had to build something with identical raw materials. They were told they would be evaluated in the end and they focussed on building the best, most creative, most outstanding “thing.” Unbeknownst to them, they were not being evaluated on what they built, but rather on how they worked together, how they dealt with problems and frustrations and how the wellbeing of others was more important than “winning.”

Who knows if we will have exit interviews at the end of our lives? Maybe we will have one with ourselves. Hopefully, by then we will have realized life is not a race or a competition, and neither fair nor unfair. It is an opportunity – an opportunity to work with whatever we are given and to grow and evolve in the process.

It is an opportunity to trust that we co-create with an unfolding plan, and even if we don’t like what is unfolding, to consider the possibility that we are being guided in a different direction than we had planned – one that serves our highest good.

So many times I have counselled clients who were broken and devastated when their partner left them. They do not like this program and just want to press “delete.” In time they do survive and eventually meet someone new. They tell me they cannot believe how wonderful this new person is, how much they have in common and how much better it is than their old relationship. The universe knew something they did not and made the blocks tumble down.

So it is okay to be sad, to grieve and to resist a little. Then start building something new.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books, CDs and new “Creating Healthy Relationships” Series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

Quiet your busy mind

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Portrait of Gwen Randall-Young


Have you ever been listening to a song and it suddenly became so irritating you had to flip to the next song? If you had continued listening, you would have become annoyed and irritable. Sometimes your thoughts are like that when you are worrying, replaying an incident or reliving past hurts.

With a listening device like an Ipod, we program the music and we are in control of what we hear. Interestingly, with our minds, we have not consciously programmed the content and most often it controls us. Unless we are practising mindfulness, our thoughts can be like a series of bad dreams we have while awake and we can’t wake up from them.

The mind is great at taking a thought about a financial worry, a job or relationship concern and creating all kinds of worst-case or “what if?” scenarios. A worry thought is like a little fire and each possible negative outcome we imagine is like throwing another log on the fire. It keeps getting bigger and we may well have more than one of these infernos going at the same time.

And they’re not just worry thoughts; sometimes they are what I call “bully thoughts.” This is when we beat ourselves up and think of all the ways we are not good enough or we compare ourselves to others who we think have it better.

All of these thoughts have a way of taking over our consciousness like a propaganda machine. But it is not only our thoughts that are affected. Our mood and emotions are coloured by these thoughts and our physiology is affected too; stress chemicals are produced in the body and our immune system is suppressed.

Our view of the world and sense of reality are impacted by our thoughts. If we think people cannot be trusted, we will be suspicious and guarded in our dealings with others. If we argued with a partner and we keep thinking of all the things we do not like about him or her, we only make things worse.

For some, the problem is not so much the content of the thoughts, but rather the quantity of thoughts. They just cannot turn off their thoughts even when trying to sleep.

All this thinking about problems can be helped by learning to press the “mute” button on our minds. We can think of it as “thought stopping.” Our thoughts actually take us away from our true self, whereas, when we stop thinking, we can tune in to our essential selves.

It is like when you see mountains or a beautiful lake and you just stop and look. You take a deep breath and feel so peaceful. It is partly the scenery that makes us feel so good, but it is also the fact that we have momentarily stopped our thoughts. Meditators know this; that is why they spend time just sitting in silence.

If you do not meditate, you can simply practise using your imaginary “mute” or even your “delete” button when you are having negative thoughts. If it is a busy mind that keeps you agitated, learn to give it time-outs. At sleep time, turn it off completely. (Go to www.gwen.ca for a sound clip of hypnosis for “Quieting the Busy Mind.”)

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

When life hurts

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Portrait of Gwen Randall-Young

There are times when the pain of life can feel unbearable. The loss of a loved one, the break-up of a relationship, losing a job or having a serious illness can cause one to feel overwhelmed. The emotional pain is intense and sometimes the problem cannot be fixed.

At times like this, the future can look bleak. It seems impossible to imagine ever being happy again. Life seems unfair and we question why this had to happen to us. We may lose our ability to function as normal.

When we feel this broken and there are few, if any, signs that we are beginning to heal and cope, even as significant time passes, it may be that our inner child is having a reaction. The inner child is a concept that refers to the part of our psyche that retains feelings as they were experienced in childhood. It is the childlike aspect we all have. There is the playful, curious, fun-loving part and there is also the vulnerable, scared part.

Children thrive with security, but that security is easily threatened. A little one loses sight of mom or dad while shopping and sheer panic sets in. The child feels abandoned. They are too young to reason that, if they just stay calm and in one place, the parent will find them. Instead, they fear they may be lost forever and that thought is completely overwhelming.

As adults, certain events may trigger, albeit subconsciously, that same overwhelming sense of fear, dread and panic. People say supportive things to us and our rational mind understands, but it does not help our inner child any more than telling the lost child everything will be okay.

We may not realize our inner child is having a severe reaction. Worse yet, the inner child takes over and starts driving the bus. Then we feel even more out of control. We lose the ability to take the steps or think the thoughts that might help us.

What can we do about this? Therapy can be helpful because there is a wise adult who can help to comfort the inner child and assist in the healing process. Ultimately, however, what we need to do is to activate our own inner wise adult and bring comfort to our inner child. We may picture ourselves as we were as a young child and in our mind see that child feeling so lost and bereft because someone has died or left us.

Our wise adult part has to embrace the inner child with assurance that he/she is not alone because you are still there. Tell that child that he/she can count on you because you will never leave. Acknowledge that it is very hard, but tell that child again and again that we will get through this and in time things will get better.

Even if it is physical pain or illness we experience rather than abandonment, it is still important to tend to that inner child. Children are afraid of pain or being sick. When we have chronic pain, we tend to reject that part of us and with it the wounded inner child. So in this case, we give comfort, love and compassion to our vulnerable part. Try saying, “I know it hurts and it makes you sad, but I love you and will stay here with you.”
If you are in emotional or physical pain, try a little of this inner child work. It can be very powerful. (Visit my website www.gwen.ca for CDs that can assist in healing the inner child.)

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

Challenge your life

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Portrait of Gwen Randall-Young
Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging. – Joseph Campbell

It is normal to feel frustrated or disappointed when things go wrong. It is also normal to feel a sense of unfairness when we carry burdens to which others seem immune.

The quality of our life is more a function of how we look at it rather than what is actually happening. We all know people who seem to have everything yet are always unhappy.

The real challenge is to program our minds to function in such a way that we maintain a healthy or positive perspective. The truth is life is full of challenges; things will go wrong; they will not always go according to plan. This, of course, is most disturbing to ego, which sees the world from its own limited perspective. It is like the four-year-old who wants what he wants right now and has a tantrum if it does not happen.

There is so much over which we do not have control and if our ego aspect is dominant, life will be characterized by struggle and drama. There will be much criticism and judgment of others as well as anger, hurt, resentment and gossip. Not much room for joy here.

If, on the other hand, we relinquish that control, which we do not have anyway, life goes more smoothly. This requires that we see life as an unfolding story – one where we don’t know what will happen from one chapter to the next.

Think of a tennis game. If you stand in one spot and expect the ball to come directly to you every time your opponent hits it over the net, you will be frustrated. If, instead, you remain flexible, ready to move and alert to all possibilities, you can enjoy the game. With the first approach, you become a victim; with the second, you are a challenger.

We can challenge ourselves to draw upon our wisdom, to function with integrity, to treat others with kindness and to look for solutions rather than someone to blame. If bad things happen, we can challenge ourselves not to become bitter, to get back on our feet and to use that misfortune to grow ever stronger.

If we see life as a series of puzzles to be solved, hurdles to be cleared, mountains to be climbed and we embrace those challenges, we grow stronger and wiser. There is no time to complain about how hard it is or to lament that we should not have these challenges. There is no time to sit around judging others or trying to change them.

Life is not really so much about what is out there, but rather about how we choose to deal with it in here. Happiness is about our own state of mind. If we make it dependent on things being a certain way, then it is a gamble. When we attune our consciousness with all that is positive and all that we have to be grateful for, it is no longer a gamble. Ironically, the way we choose to think is the one thing over which we do have control. But we do have to learn to exercise it.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

 

Are we dreaming?

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Portrait of Gwen Randall-Young
I recently listened to a documentary about parallel universes. The suggestion is that the visible universe could lie on a membrane – combined strings of energy – floating within a higher-dimensional space. Two of these membranes could lie very close together and gravity could leak from one to the other. Of course, it is much more complex than that, but I started thinking about the concept of membranes. A membrane is a thin, pliable layer that separates what is inside from what is outside and often is permeable to some things.

I thought about how Deepak Chopra explains our bodies are mostly empty space; if you took out all the space, what is left of us would fit on the head of a pin!

I took these two ideas and speculated about what would happen if we thought of our physical form as a membrane instead of a solid object. I was thinking how stress and worry affect people. The body goes into contraction and the thoughts are ‘heavy.’ We talk about the weight of the world being on someone’s shoulders.

If a person holds on to past hurts and resentment do these things somehow ‘solidify’ in the body? Does energy become blocked and does the system begin to stagnate, setting the stage for illness? If we are ‘weighed down’ with worries, fears, distrust and the like, do we end up carrying extra physical weight?

Then I visualized my own being as a membrane. I saw myself just allowing experiences, thoughts, images to simply pass through me. I noticed them, but then let them float away. Instantly, I felt incredibly light, like I was floating. My body felt free and flexible, my consciousness felt open and alive. It was refreshing.

A few days after all this thinking I was flying home from vacation. Travelling can sometimes be stressful, so I decided I would just be a membrane for the duration. I would observe, but let everything pass through me.

I had the most amazing experience. I became a total observer, but more importantly I began to see beauty everywhere. It was like I had just arrived in this universe and was seeing everything for the first time.

I saw beauty in the incredible variety the human form can take. I noticed parents interacting with children, the customs agent joking with passengers. I saw art everywhere, even in the parking garage in the Seattle airport. I noticed the shape of the concrete pillars and the auras around the ceiling lights. Everything seemed effortless. It was a little like a dream.

Since returning, I have held on to my membrane metaphor. Several times each day I take a deep breath and remind myself to be a membrane – to just keep letting it all flow through because it feels so good and because, in the end, we may realize that life actually is “but a dream.”

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

Endings and beginnings

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Portrait of Gwen Randall-YoungSometimes, when relationships end, both parties are in agreement that it is time to move on. Difficult though it may be, it is even harder when it is over for one, but not for the other.

When we first fall in love, it is all so romantic. We romanticize the love as well as the other person. We begin to build a new world with our love object at its centre. We know our love is special and that it will last. So sure are we in fact, we may even commit to “until death do us part.” This assumes we can and will continue to will ourselves to keep on loving.

Love, however, has a life of its own and cannot be controlled and orchestrated according to our wishes. Love is like a bouquet of roses. Sometimes, the roses last and last and we cannot believe how well preserved they have been. Other times, even a bud will droop on its stem without ever opening.

Yes, there are many things we can do to extend the life of roses and to nourish and support our relationships. We can commit to being faithful and to do our best to keep the relationship flourishing. We can work hard to overcome problems or differences. However, if the love is gone, trying to keep the relationship alive may be like keeping a vase of wilted roses on your desk.

We are all on our own individual soul journey and those couples whose love lasts a lifetime are truly blessed. We grow and change over the years and sometimes one partner outgrows the other. It may be too that we came together for specific learning and that learning is complete.

Ideally, if we truly love another, we would want what is best for him or her, even if it means separating from us. More often than not, ego kicks in, in a big way. Ego tries to convince the other to stay and does not really listen to what is being said. Ego bargains: “We can make it better… Give me another chance… You have not really tried… No one will love you like I do.”

Ego has its hands full. It desperately does not want to let go of the loved one and at the same time panics about being alone. In some ways, it is like a death and one could experience shock, disbelief, anger and grief. It is not uncommon to cycle through stages, including denial and bargaining, before gradual acceptance begins to emerge. It is hard to imagine carrying on in life without the one we love.

It reminds me of the Monarch butterfly, which flutters into our awareness delighting us with its presence. We enjoy its beauty and stop what we are doing to really take it in. We know we cannot keep it.

Love comes to us like that too. I believe that, if we treat it as a rare gift, savouring it and nourishing it together, it can keep growing and deepening.

However, there are times when a love has a built-in lifespan and there is more growing that needs to happen for both people that would not happen if they were to remain together. Hopefully, we can realize this, transcend ego and release our partner in love. Then our task is to move forward towards whatever the universe holds in store for us.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

Living True

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

“What you think of me is none of my business.” – Terry Cole-Whittaker

• It is amazing when we stop to think how much of our culture is based on what people think of us or more importantly what we think they think of us or what we want them to think of us. Fashion magazines, beauty products, cosmetic surgery, automobiles, brands of beer, computers and cell phones – all are marketed with an eye to help us look better to the world around us. This is all pretty superficial.

A deeper aspect of the problem comes when the concern for what others think is not based on our appearance or on what we have, but rather on who we are. We are driven to speak and act in ways that will garner the approval of others. The fear is that if we show who we really are, we will be criticized, rejected or diminished in the eyes of others.

This all starts in childhood, particularly in school. Very young children have a Garden of Eden type of naked innocence. They are all about being and do not even have a concept of what others think. It is only when others begin to criticize, judge or make fun of them that they begin to feel the need to cover up their real self, or at least aspects of it.

Many years ago when I was a new teacher of a grade two class, I was puzzled by the fact the children followed their answers with a question mark. When asked, “What colour is the sky?” they would respond “Blue?” They already knew there was a difference between the truth of which they were quite sure and the ‘right’ answer the teacher was seeking.

When I first entered graduate school, there was one professor I challenged in class a few times. One of my classmates took me aside and told me if I kept doing that I would get a poor mark in the class. I must have been quite naive as this information shocked me.

In my practice, I see many people who just ‘keep quiet’ about things that bother them because they do not want to make waves, create conflict or risk offending others by disagreeing. Interestingly, it is often people who are mature and wise who feel this way. The unwise and immature seem to have no problem speaking up. I like to point out that, if the ones who see a situation from a wise or more evolved standpoint keep quiet, life aligns with the lowest common denominator.

If we set our course according to the opinions of others, it is not really our authentic path. We are like an animal in a cage, restricting ourselves by the boundaries we have set, assuming that only within those confines can we be accepted and liked.

If we are to evolve as individuals and as a species, we need to place a higher value on independent thinking and speaking our truth. We must not be afraid to model a higher path, to demonstrate moral leadership, whether or not others follow.

Our truth can be spoken quietly, in a gentle, non-confrontational way. If someone chooses to judge or reject us for it, they do not value our authenticity. In any case, as friend and author Alan Cohen once said, “If you have never been crucified, you have never done anything worthwhile.” Wise words that can allow us to embrace our crucifixions throughout our lives.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

Open-hearted communication

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

• Imagine a kindergarten class about to have “show and tell”. Every student in the class has a hand up because each wants to be the first to have a turn. When one finally goes first, a few pay attention, but many are thinking about what they will say when it is their turn. Others are just waiting for the speaker to finish.

When the speaker is done and the teacher tells the class they may now ask questions of the speaker, invariably some students will ignore what the speaker said and rather than ask a question, they simply tell a story of their own. Basically everyone wants to talk and no one wants to listen. Well this is kindergarten, after all, and people that age are expected to be ego-driven.

Many adult conversations, however, especially disagreements, seem to be conducted much like our kindergarten students. Each is arguing their point or position. Rather than really listening to what the other is saying, those comments are used as a jumping-off point to further elaborate upon what was already said. Rather than a real conversation, the discussion is a battle to try to get the other to see things our way and change their mind. No wonder so many couples say they have communication problems.

The word “communication” comes from the root “commune,” which means to be in a state of intimate, heightened sensitivity and receptivity. This would imply a level of closeness and being very open and sensitive not only to the words, but to the intent and the feelings of the other. Being receptive is defined as: able or inclined to receive; especially: open and responsive to ideas, impressions or suggestions.

Thus, to truly communicate, we would need to be both sensitive and receptive to the other person. I would suggest that sensitivity and receptivity are higher-level qualities that need to be developed.

Of course, this also describes the ego energy that is often carried into adulthood. Growing up is not synonymous with being evolved. We live in an ego-based culture and one really does need to transcend the values and ways of the culture and often the family of origin to move forward.

We call people heroes when they go out of the way and perhaps even face danger to help another. There are some cultures where this is so common and expected that it is not seen as anything particularly unusual. Mother Teresa was a model of compassion and unconditional loving. There are countless less famous people who spend their lives listening, learning and understanding the needs of those who are suffering.

These are people with very open hearts. There is no ego involved here. They only want to help and desire no recognition. These examples may be on the extreme end of the compassion scale, but the principle of open-heartedness is the same whether we are building a hospital or building a relationship.

It is hard to talk to someone who is not open hearted about sensitivity and receptivity. Having meaningful, positive communication is not so much about how we talk, but about who we are.

For communication to be different, we need to be different. It is not, however, about changing the other person, but striving to change ourselves.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

Choosing the high road

UNIVERSE WITHIN

by Gwen Randall-Young

A portrait of Gwen Randall-Young

Back in the 1970s, Jonas Salk wrote a little book called The Survival of the Wisest. This was a shift from the older paradigm of “survival of the fittest.” The concept of the fittest surviving was based on strength, force, aggression, competition and win/lose.

In order to survive and thrive, Salk proposed there would have to be an inversion of those old values so that co-operation, understanding and finding win/win solutions replaced the old polarity/adversarial approach. He was envisioning humans evolving in a more positive direction.

Interestingly, evolution of the species can mirror evolution within the individual. Babies are completely self-centred and it takes years for them to learn to share or to consider the impact of their behaviour on others.

Becoming more evolved is not a given. Looking at ourselves and the people in our lives, we can see a variety of evolutionary levels at play. Consider a situation where someone does something another doesn’t like. The most primitive response is to beat up or even kill the offender. Still primitive, but a little less so, is a verbal attack. More evolved is to talk it over and try to come to some agreement or peace about the issue.

Evolving consciously is a choice. We can either go through life reacting from ego, much as we did as a child, or we can choose to access our inner wisdom and maturity. We have both capabilities within us. It is not always easy to take the high road, especially when dealing with one who is unevolved.

What does this look like in everyday life? We are coming from a more primitive, ego-driven place when we find ourselves engaged in blame, judgment, confrontation, polarity, anger, jealousy or any behaviour that is out of integrity.

We are coming from a more evolved place when we demonstrate encouragement, patience, openness, co-operation, helpfulness, kindness and being non-judgmental.

How evolved we choose to be has nothing to do with those around us and everything to do with how we choose to be in the world. It is easy to be evolved when all is going well. The difficult people and situations we encounter offer us the opportunity to practise being true to our highest self.

Ultimately, the most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. Are we conducting ourselves in ways that, if we look back tomorrow or in 20 years, we can be free of regret? Are we speaking and acting in ways that could be aired on national television?

Choosing to evolve consciously requires we make a commitment to ourselves to not do or say things that are mean, negative, untrue or lacking in integrity. It requires we do this even in the face of temptation to just lash out.

Sometimes, it means we simply have to walk away from the situation or out of someone’s life. It requires the courage to let others know we will not participate in gossip or negativity. It may mean we lose friends who are uncomfortable with whom we are becoming.

Evolutionary change must first manifest in some individuals in a species. Some will not, in this lifetime, have the awareness that allows them to make more evolved choices. If you recognize the existence of a higher road, choose to walk that one.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca.