Patterns, patterns, everywhere!

Last week I wrote about the Hoffman Process and some of the insights I gained at the retreat I attended.

You knew I wasn’t finished, didn’t you? I’m faaaar too wordy to condense a week of material into one post!

So this is more of what I learned. This is my distillation, as I understood the material. This is Hoffman philosophy, as interpreted by Sheila.

I learned a lot. One of the terms I heard over and over was “pattern.” We all have patterns, hundreds and hundreds of patterns. A pattern is the default behavior we develop to address circumstances, and our feelings about what is happening, or what was said, or even what we think someone is thinking about us.

Pattern behavior is launched at the subconscious level…so ingrained we don’t even recognize we’re doing what we usually do in a given situation. Acting out patterns typically comes from lightning fast judgments and assumptions we make, based on everything from physical appearance of another person, a specific situation, spoken words, stress, fear, feelings of low self-worth…oh, the list goes on and on.

Have you ever felt an immediate dislike for someone because they remind you of someone else? Have you found yourself reacting to a situation, based on what you tell yourself others are thinking? Do you find yourself repeating behavior automatically when you’re tired, or nervous about something, or overwhelmed?

Congratulations! You, too, are of the human race, and you have patterns, just like the rest of us!

We generally know we have habits. I brush my teeth after meals, I drink coffee every morning. These are habits. They’re different from the concept of patterns. Patterns are not just actions that I do habitually. They are reactive, not really actions of choice.

Typically we develop our patterns in childhood through adolescence. Our patterns are a reflection of a behavior or coping skill we learned and adapted from our parents, or someone who stood in a surrogate role to us; or, we developed our patterns as a reaction to the people who raised us…as in: I don’t like it that my mom/dad does (fill in the blank), so I’ll do the opposite.

Of course we don’t have that conversation with ourselves. This is all happening at a subconscious level. I think it’s fair to say that a pattern is not necessarily, of itself, destructive or negative. Some may be. But I believe most patterns are neutral behaviors. The behaviors become patterns, and become destructive, when we default to a specific action or attitude based on reaction instead of choice.

Examples: Someone threatens our sense of security, and we become small. It’s as if we shrink back to a role from childhood. Becoming small looks just like it sounds. Your physical presence is diminished…maybe you try to become invisible. You minimize yourself, still your voice, give up your opinion, even your right to have an opinion.

For others, feeling intimidated or threatened leads to a show of bravado. Literally, you embody: “You’re not the boss of me!” You talk loudly, maybe bravely. You stand up, make your presence felt. But it’s not authentic bravery; it’s a show of force to soothe your experience of fright.

You see? Two sides of a reaction to the same stimulus.

It can be confusing, to say the least. And it’s damaging when two people begin to react to each other…each feeding the cycles and patterns, in a crazy dance that grows from behavior learned in childhood.

Here’s another example: You run into a friend who is moving forward in her career, while yours feels stagnant. Your interaction is positive and you make all the right encouraging noises. Then you go and buy something on impulse to cheer yourself up, maybe something you can’t afford, don’t need, or will feel guilty about buying. But you buy it anyway.

You reacted to feeling “less than.” You felt badly about your life, so you defaulted to a pattern that helps you feel better, at least for the moment.

The next concept: vicious cycles. That’s when patterns join together to form a downward spiral. In the example above, you can see several patterns, with more on the horizon. You put on an act with your friend because you know that’s the socially acceptable thing to do. Then to make yourself feel better, you turn to buying something for that immediate fix…must.feel.better.now. Then, when you reflect on what you bought…you didn’t need another thing; you put it on a credit card and added to your debt; you feel guilt; you feel sadness; you wonder why you do this on a regular basis; and you spend the rest of the day vacillating between guilt and frustration.

None of this has anything to do with your friend, and you didn’t spend any time thinking about how to improve your career outlook. Instead you got caught up in self-pity, then buying something to feel better emotionally, then second-guessing yourself and feeling mad/sad/frustrated that you added to your debt.

Patterns are not about the other person, or likely, the real situation…instead, they’re a reflection of how we interpret an event, which we pair with a judgment about an event or others. Then we act, and often the first act only leads us down the path to more patterns…more unhappiness.

To find your way through the maze, it’s important to know what your values are. Knowing your values and having determination to live with integrity helps you to stay focused on the outcome you’re seeking. You don’t get caught up as easily in reactionary behavior. You can listen to your voice and know your mind, rather than being swayed by the opinions of others…or the opinions you believe others have.

It’s especially important to know that a lot of what we attribute to other people…what we think someone is thinking of us…is often just a story we make up to fit the narrative we’ve chosen.

Our narratives may have nothing to do with reality.

Here’s an example from the course, in Sheila’s words: You’re going to a party and you don’t really want to go. But you go anyway. When you arrive, you feel intimidated…others are better looking, better dressed, seem like they’re having a good time already. You feel awkward, shy, “less than.”

See where this is going?

No one really notices you when you come in…everyone is involved in conversation. You tell yourself you’re being ignored. You go stand in the corner, and eventually find someone else to talk to who’s also standing on the sidelines. You talk to each other about the others there…how shallow they are, or some other critical observation.

The reality? Likely, no one thought anything negative about you, intentionally ignored you, or felt any ill will toward you. You made up a narrative to support your feelings of “less than.” And then your experience seems authentic. You felt disrespected and unseen.

Ah, it’s interesting, isn’t it, the world that lives in your mind, and how quickly you can evaluate and react to scenarios? Much of this is lightning fast, happening in our minds as we careen between our thoughts and the reality of what’s occurring, or what’s occurring as we see and believe our interpretation of events.

Think about it…we do it all the time.

This is another example: if we’re late to an event, we excuse ourselves…weather or traffic or something likely unavoidable caused us to be late. If someone else is late, we’re likely to see that person as unreliable. So this narrative that runs in our minds works in two ways. Either: We’re likely to give ourselves a pass, excuse, or benefit of the doubt. Or: we make ourselves the guilty ones, the bad ones, the losers, and elevate others when we write our stories.

Fascinating. Of course all of this is on a continuum. There are extremes to patterns, and some people are more mired in reactive behavior than others. The goal is to become aware of how much we live in a reactive state, and live out of choice instead.

Try this next time someone cuts you off in traffic: instead of telling yourself the story that this person is rude, dangerous, inconsiderate, a bad driver, etc., etc., etc., tell yourself the story that this is a couple racing to the hospital to have a baby. When that’s your story for why someone cuts you off, you feel different about what happened. You don’t get heated, or feel slighted. You feel compassion, understanding, sympathy or even empathy for their situation.

Sometimes we may understand the situation perfectly, and maybe the other person involved really does have bad motives, really does have ill will toward us. But you can still act out of choice. You can decide how to behave in the situation. You can choose to respond instead of react. That’s mature behavior. That’s breaking your pattern.

So I challenge you…look at the last day or two and see if you can find patterns for yourself. See how often you react rather than respond. It’s tricky, because actions can look mature, and yet not really be that.

I think the key is awareness. What do you do that is a predictable reaction, given a particular set of circumstances? When you look at those experiences, you can begin to identify your patterns. And when you become aware of being in a pattern, pause, slow down, and choose.

Choose. Respond instead of react. That’s all you need to do. Isn’t it simple?!

Well, I’ve got a little work left to do on myself…a few hundred patterns yet to address. But I’ve made a beginning, choosing to be more aware, more deliberate and intentional, less reactive. It’s a good road to be on, and it fits well with other choices I’ve also made along the way. Being intentional and living with integrity and choice marches together with my faith. All of this work reinforces the values I already have…I don’t want to go through life making assumptions and judgments based on a lot of false story telling.

I don’t think I do that too much. Do I?

Yes. Yes, I do. I don’t do it in ways that are extreme. But I do it. We all do it. And we can change if we choose.

Don’t believe everything you think. Your mind doesn’t always tell you the truth.

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Containers

If you can’t win one way, you look for another path. So the house is available for lease now, as well as for sale…whichever comes first I’ll take. I talked to my realtor about leasing options a couple of weeks ago, but felt I had to wait on the outcome of the offer on the table at the time.

I don’t want to own a house in Alaska forever, but for now, if I lease it that will be sufficient. So another waiting game begins.

I’m ready to take the subject of house off the table for a while and focus on other things. In the long run, as this whole ordeal has reminded me, a house is a thing. It’s a big thing, an expensive thing, as things go. And certainly houses are also homes.

But the real meaning of home travels around in the bodies of the people I love, and isn’t housed within four walls. Any four walls. Walls are just containers, really, like the containers you put your flour or sugar in to store in your pantry. The containers come in different shapes, and are made of different materials. But when I recognize walls of a house for what they really are…just containers for the people who live inside…suddenly, those walls take on their proper perspective.

I’m not going to tell myself I don’t like beautiful homes, and lovely walls. I do. And I’m not going to say that the structure I live in has no meaning. Of course our life experiences are shaped by location and the physical surroundings of our day-to-day.

But those surroundings don’t have to define experience, our very lives. And though I’ve known that, this has reminded me, again: I am not the house I live in. I don’t have to let it control the major decisions of my life.

I’ve found a spark of rebellion, and a healthy one I think. I’m ready to pull out of my slump and come back to the positive side of life. I’ve been trying to do that for a while.

Today it seems doable.

Today I’m reminded there are so many people who have issues larger than mine. It’s not about comparing, but it is about perspective. I want to always, always, come back to recognizing how much I have to be grateful for.

Life, any life, has troubles. I have my share of those, sure enough, and my share of sorrows. But gratitude resets me, grounds me, and oddly enough, allows me to take the focus off myself.

Today I am grateful for the freedom I have to believe as I choose, to express myself, to travel, to live where I want, to make of life what I can. I’m grateful for the people who keep freedom for me, and all who live in this country.

Thank you, thank you, for all you do.

Now that’s the proper perspective.

~ Sheila

Chooser

I often write about the challenges of life at my stage: empty-nester, part-time worker, full-time budding entrepreneur, wife, mom to young adults, grandparent, daughter, friend. The intent is to share the struggles and epiphanies I’m having with the hope of helping someone else who’s struggling too. I haven’t got it sorted out! Life is a work in progress, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’m a slow learner, and a late bloomer. But here’s what I know today…

It’s good to be home! I know, it’s a common theme with me. Two weeks out of town for vacation and a family visit, and then two weeks working at the Metlakatla clinic, and I’m done. At least for the next three weeks. These are mine to enjoy at home.

Home is complicated right now. We have a house in Ketchikan, which I love, but we’re spending limited time here these days. Between time working in Metlakatla, and time out and about for personal reasons, days to putter around in my own little nest are hard to come by. It hasn’t always been that way. In fact, most of my life has fit the norm…parenting, working, raising children, and though the location changed a few times throughout the years, the basic pattern was set.

A couple of years ago, Rob backed out of full-time practice with the promise to himself that he was done with that lifestyle. Too stressed, burned out, and exhausted to do full-time medicine any more. So now he works part-time, and for the moment, that’s in three different clinics in SE Alaska.

We tried the arrangement of me working in a full-time position and staying with the house, and him out and about, working, coming home, leaving again to work, coming home, leaving again…it was wearing, and lonely, and not what either of us signed up for. But for Rob, the variety is good. He enjoys moving about a bit. The change-up of the routine is good. And I’ll be honest, he’s not wedded to home and stuff as I am.

I like my stuff. I’ve spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money accumulating what I have. I love to putter about in the kitchen, using the gadgets and tools I have to try new dishes. I love pretty linens on the bed, comfy furnishing that have a look of warmth and tradition. I love the books on my shelves and the art on the walls. It all speaks to me, of people I love or a mood I want to evoke.

But that isn’t what comforts Rob. He’s a wanderer, and a nomad. Through much of our marriage he lived life in the traditional way, because that was the model we knew, and we were raising kids. But that’s changed, and with the empty nest has come new freedom. Freedom for both of us, in different ways. It has freed us financially, to some extent, and it has removed the need to keep a stable home base for growing children.

So now what? I’ve written about making the choice to leave my full-time work. It was two years ago in January. I’ve already lived a semi-nomadic life two years. Some of it has been amazing. Some of it has been fun. And there have been moments of weariness, times when I said, over and over in my mind, like a litany, “I just want my life back. I just want to go home.” Those moments have been few. But they have been part of the tapestry.

This week I said, as we sat over a late breakfast, looking out on the Tongass Narrows from our front windows, that it was good to be home. That I miss my things, that right now, I live a crazy life that keeps me on the run, and often somewhat adrift. Rob looked at me and asked, “Why is that?” I was in the process of answering when I got interrupted, and we never really finished the conversation. But I can finish it. I can give the answer.

I’m living a crazy life right now because I made a choice. I made a choice to match my lifestyle to what was working for my husband. He didn’t demand that I do it. He didn’t make it a requirement of the relationship in any way. I made the choice, and I’m committed to the choice because I realized, after trying to do it differently, it was all or nothing. I couldn’t keep a foot in both camps…happily married and living alone for weeks at a time. It wasn’t good for the relationship, and to be honest, I got almost no pleasure out of my things when I had them all to myself. Things do not replace people. And though I knew it in my head, it wasn’t until I found myself living that reality, that I knew it by heart.

If I learned anything about myself during the time that we lived mostly apart, it was that a lot of my pleasure in homekeeping and cooking comes from the relationships around me. If I’m cooking dinner for the two of us, or for a crowd, I enjoy every piece of it: planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, eating. Even the cleanup is a validation of time well spent, and spent with loved ones. If I’m by myself, I have little-to-no interest in any of it. My enthusiasm dries up. I lost weight when we were living apart. I hated to go to the grocery store, because it wasn’t for anything fun…it was just for food. And what’s the fun in that? And pretty rooms? They just don’t mean much when you wander through them by yourself, trying to enjoy the never-disturbed perfection because there’s no one around to move anything out of its place.

Why am I saying all of this? Because it’s important for me to acknowledge…this crazy life I lead is by choice. I could be home every night, in my bed, eating at my own table. But that’s not the priority of my life. In a few weeks I’ll be in a different setting, camping in the RV again. I’ll have time to write; work on my baby business that’s slowly coming to life; I’ll do some work for the Met clinic via phone and email; and all of that will fit between the plans of the day that Rob and I make together. Because that is my priority. And how can I be ungrateful for that freedom in my life? If this time looks chaotic…if it seems like we’re always on the move…well, we are. It won’t last forever, I’m sure of that. There will be a time when we make different plans…when we move nearer family, and we settle again.

But for now, this is my choice, and claiming it, owning it, helps me avoid the victim mentality when I have one of those moments of just wanting to be home. I am not a victim or a martyr to Rob’s choices. I have made my own. It feels good to recognize: if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, I wouldn’t have some of the opportunities that are on the horizon. I wouldn’t be in the process of developing a design for a logo and business card and a new web site. I wouldn’t be a budding entrepreneur at the ripe age of 53. I wouldn’t have the freedom to work from home, or from the RV. I wouldn’t have the flexibility to make my own commitments. And the reality is, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity and the financial stability to step out on this ledge.

And if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, and into my crazy life, I wouldn’t have the joy of seeing and doing the things that I seen and done in the past years, with the man I chose.

Life is complicated. But it helps if you know that you’re where you are by choice. So I’m a chooser. I’ve learned to choose love over things, experience over money, and freedom over security. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be traditional to be normal; that you can walk a different path and still get where you need to go. And I’ve learned that although head knowledge is good, there’s no replacement for understanding something from the heart. Because the heart gets final say; and if my choice has passed the heart test, I’m on the right path.

Dinner for two…

Things I’ve learned

In the past few months, I’ve learned (or re-learned):

~ I’m not too old to be a risk-taker!

~ I have no interest in creating cake pops.

~ I’m a writer!

~ I like chalk board paint on lots of surfaces.

~ I am not into re-purposing T shirts for other garments or crafts.

~ I have a limited tolerance for drama.

~ I’m really good at recognizing a great idea and copying it.

~ I don’t have a big ego, I like to share credit.

~ I’m a mentor in the right settings.

~ Green onions really do grow when you put them root down in a glass of water. Who knew?!

~ I’m always on the hunt for the perfect brownie and the perfect bread recipe.

~ Never write the end of the story in your head before the real story ends…you never know how things will turn out, and frequently the real story will be very different from the version you thought was unfolding.

~ True grace is unfailing and doesn’t ask to be repaid.

~ You can’t have too much shrimp in your freezer!

~ Books that spoke to you once will speak to you again. Reread and see what new things you learn.

~ When you know you have freely chosen, you don’t resent or regret the work it takes to make your choice work out.

~ Doing the right thing reinforces every other right choice you make.

~ Love means saying you’re sorry whenever you need to say the words.

~ I am stronger than I see myself.

~ Winston said it best: Never give up!

Monday calling

It’s Monday…here we go!

“I do not fix problems.
I fix my thinking.
Then problems fix themselves.”

~ Louise Hay

Leap of faith

The house is off the market, at least for a while. Not a good time to be selling at this price range in Ketchikan, Alaska. So the listing will get a rest, at least till spring, and regroup begins.
 
I ask myself: if I can’t control the housing market, what do I control? What is my response?
 
I’ve taken inventory of commitments, obligations, opportunities. I’ve talked with managers at my office who can work with me through a transition.
 
This is my plan.
 
I’m moving to relief status with my administrative position for the medical group in January. I’m also enrolled as a substitute teacher for the local schools. I can’t continue to keep both feet in Ketchikan on a weekly basis and maintain a life with Rob. So I’m choosing. I’m choosing opportunity for the unknown over security, change instead of stability, serendipity over structure. I’m stepping off.
 
The house will still be a commitment, and one that I have to support. So I’ll do it, but in a way that doesn’t require a daily presence.
 
I’m reducing my income, streamlining my habits. If I’m working relief, and subbing in school when possible, that’s just a given. I can’t have it both ways.
 
And what do I get in exchange?
 
I get more time to be with my partner, the husband I chose long ago, and the relationship I’ve committed to. When he’s in the region to work, I’ll work, and when he’s off traveling, I’ll travel.
 
I get more opportunity to be with others who are important in my life.
 
I get potential for adventure.
 
I’ll have time to develop new interests and hone new skills.
 
I get…I don’t know…that’s part of the charm and the magic. I don’t know what I’ll get!
 
Planning for this means that thought, budgeting, organizing, daydreaming, anxiety, stress, hope, excitement, and joy are all part of the process. There are days I am excited and days I am nervous. I’ve left jobs and income before. I’ve moved. I’ve sold houses. But I’ve never left a job behind, kept the house, and planned to stay afloat on part-time work, not knowing what the future would hold.
 
It’s a brave new world, for me, anyway. I’m sure I can do it. I think it will be like the sky diving adventure in June. The first step was the hardest, and after that initial leap out the door, the rest was easy, including the perfect landing.
 
Granted, doing this is possible because I’m at a time in my life when kids are grown, there are more resources and flexibilities built in. But it isn’t easy, and it isn’t automatic. I suspect, as is the case for most things that promise great reward, it will take a lot of energy to stay ahead of financial needs, work scheduling, travel arrangements, and syncing of schedules. But isn’t that life in general? Outcome requires input. Result requires effort.
 
I’ll be shifting my efforts come January. I’ll be living life in a different way.
 
When Rob and I did the sky dive in June, we were each hooked to a professional jumper, we each had a buddy who did the work for us. We were along for the ride. This time, we’ll have to hold on to each other. We’ll be doing the work ourselves. But I think we’ll be safe. We’ve held hands before, through some pretty rough rides. This one should be good…just have to take the first step out.

Unconditional love or approval?

I recently read a book that was amazing. Kitchen Table Wisdom, by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, was first published in 1996. Somehow I missed it when it came out, all those years ago, and just stumbled across it one Saturday afternoon when I was rambling in a local bookstore. I actually bought a small gift book edition, a condensed version of the full text. I found the writing moving and insightful.

I eventually discovered, when I mentioned the little book to Rob, that he had the full text edition in his books, stored in the basement. I hadn’t even realized I had read an edited version. I dug it out and read the whole thing in a few short sittings.

The book is a combination of personal reflections based on the author’s life and stories of wisdom drawn from her experience and years as a physician and counselor. There are many pearls of insight, but the one that was most meaningful to me is this:

Children can learn early that they are loved for what they do and not simply for who they are. To a perfectionistic parent, what you do never seems as good as what you might do if you just tried a little harder. The life of such children can become a constant striving to earn love. Of course love is never earned, it is a grace we give one another. Anything we need to earn is only approval.

Few perfectionists can tell the difference between love and approval. Perfectionism is so widespread in this culture that we actually have had to invent another word for love. “Unconditional love,” we say. Yet all love is unconditional. Anything else is just approval.

“Anything else is just approval.” That’s a challenging filter to pour my emotions through. Digesting this made me consider all the people in my life that I love. It can be a bit complicated to sort out all the reasons we love, and what feeds that emotion. This is not just an issue for parents and children. The principle applies to spouse, extended family, friends.

Of course the people in our lives may do things that may please us, or not. But the question is really less about what others do and more about how we respond. As a parent of young children, I always encouraged my kids to do their best. But I admit, what I often meant was “I know you can do better than that.” And the reality is that I was probably right when I had those feelings. They probably could have done better. But bottom line, the challenge was to take whatever they did and see the positive in it. Sometimes I got that, sometimes not. I believe, overall, I was able to escape being a perfectionist parent, but not because I completely understood the difference between love and approval. Maybe that was a grace that I was given, and in turn was able to extend.

It’s a fine line we walk….navigating between approval and love. Of course, I believe these two things can exist together, and should. I can choose to love, even when someone in my life is behaving in a way I don’t approve. Maybe the resolution comes when I recognize that although I may be the center of my own little universe, the people in my life are not obligated to behave in a way that I approve. No. They will make their own decisions and choices. As someone who is part of their universe, I may have an opinion about their actions. But it is my choice whether I love, or don’t love. I don’t get a choice when it comes to behavior. That’s their choice.

What about you? Are you loving the people in your life? Or just approving of them? Is there behavior that crosses the line? Spouses divorce. Rifts occur. Family members let go of others, quit speaking. I’m not saying there should be no boundaries, or that loving someone means you become a door mat. But it’s worth thinking about.  I want to be honest with myself. And I want my standard to be love, not just approval. And I hope that I’ll be given the same grace.