Six active daily choices to be altogether conscious and aware.
Beginning my journey to conscious living was really out of desperation. I had been depressed since my suicide attempt at thirteen years old. My first step out of the depression that had led to me thinking of suicide passively was learning how to journal in 1992. I don’t think anyone would have believed I was passively suicidal. I was so busy being everyone’s hero in my career, my family and my community involvement. They were all looking super successful. My life was certainly more successful than I had ever expected. I was making more financially than any of my contemporaries in a job I loved, I had a beautiful, loving wife and two adorable children, and I had secrets; secrets that led me to thinking about driving my car off a cliff. I would shake the thoughts but continued to take chances like playing games on my laptop while driving as well as high risk sports of all kinds. My brother-in-law would always ride behind me so he could see the epic crash of the week while mountain biking. I would take risks while river rafting or free climbing.
This adrenaline addiction led to more of the high sexual and social risks that had begun the guilt and shame trail to more passively suicidal behavior. I was crying for help in all the wrong ways. When at home with my family, I was happily invested in playing the children my wife and I loved so dearly. My wife was nearly perfect, meeting every possible desire I had, and running our business while I performed my professional services in three counties.
Finally, my behavior was too much for me. I was so tired of pretending to be everyone’s perfect hero. I was really only a silhouette of a man, hollow on the inside and completely oblivious to the core of what was driving my behavior. That first step in keeping a journal daily led me to the next step, which was getting certified as a Relationship Coach to facilitate court-mandated domestic violence offenders through a 21-week course. Surely, if I could help these convicted felons, I could most certainly help myself.
Eventually, after much heartache for myself and my family, I got the real help I needed, and continued helping others through Relationship Coaching. Together with my wife, we found what we refer to as the shortest shortcut to conscious living. These 6 steps are the beginning of character development: We begin by avoiding punishment, and quickly learn that by pleasing others we can secure positive benefits, then begin to discover this also creates conflicts. So even if we try to avoid these choices we still have made a choice, and that choice is to stay immature and land squarely in arrested development.
These six choices are ever before us daily, and how we choose to engage with them each time determines the quality of our character. Many times we are making these choices on automatic mode and do not even realize we are making them. This is dangerous when we make the wrong choice and are not aware.
After a foundation of the daily disciplines of reading, journaling, humility and accountability, it is these daily choices that allowed me to be fully conscious and aware of my needs, and the needs of those of whom I was in relationship.
These six work best if done in the order of 1) Forgiveness 2) Focus 3) Gratitude 4) Vision 5) Mindfulness and 6) Communication. The following is an excerpt from my book that will be released in February.
The Short Story
Forgiveness leads to truth and truth to boundaries. When we have boundaries about who we are and what we are willing to do, this gives us a clearer focus. This new focus leads to an ability to separate ourselves from the entanglements that keep us down and leads to and immense amount of gratitude. Gratitude begins with our breath and widens to include the not yet discovered regions of space. Gratitude allows for a new vision of ourselves, our connections to others, and our community. Once we have a full vision of our purpose in this community we find ourselves we are now able to develop mindfulness. Mindfulness, like gratitude, is an ever growing skill that allows us first to see that our feelings and desires stem from our choices and are themselves choices. This is where we learn to choose how we feel and master the ability of empathy. In this new mindfulness we are now ready to communicate with ourselves, our partners and all whom we aspire to be connected.
Six Ever Growing Challenges
Most people think that each of these six areas are a one time deal. We often here people say, “Oh I already do that” when, in fact, there is most often a misunderstanding of what is really happening in their lives. So the foundational challenge is to allow ourselves to learn first and make decisions after. I learned a great lesson from the movie Apollo 13: when making a decision or action with only ten seconds on the clock, “Take nine seconds to think about it and one to act.”
These are not one time decisions, but daily choices that require a new level of intention if we are going to be the person we dream of becoming. Here are the Six Choices to Become a Conscious Man:
Forgiveness is probably the most misunderstood concept in the western world. This is particularly sad because it limits all kinds of community connection and the ability to recover from bad choices.
There has to be a realization of the distinctions drawn between moral principles and legal principles. What is legal or allowed is not always kind, and as we develop our understanding of what the rules are we begin to recognize first that we have had pain. What is right is what is initially handed down by authority, and disobeying the rules is always by definition “bad.” So shame enters everyone’s life. No one escapes. So we can use this powerful tool of forgiveness to free ourselves of shame and begin to heal.
First forgiveness does not make what was done or not done okay for the offender. It does not allow for the deed to happen again and it is NOT letting them off the hook. It is actually a recognition of a wrong, and the unburdening of the person who forgives: you. Forgiveness is a power move that allows for the forgiver to take charge of the situation for themselves and make a new boundary. Boundaries are a whole other topic that is best tackled after working on these initial six building blocks for life.
Forgiveness identifies exactly what was wrong and calls it out, and is a choice to let that particular offense off the books. In it’s place is a new boundary, a new valuing of the self. It clarifies the pain and in doing so is an expression of the pain caused by the infraction. This allows for both parties to start in a new place of respect. The surprising thing is this starting over place is true even if the offender knows nothing of the forgiveness. The offenders knowledge of the specifics is totally irrelevant most of the time.
The real surprise though is that forgiveness is always for the forgiver. At the deepest level I needed to know that I had forgiven myself before I could ever accept forgiveness from my wife, or anyone else for that matter. When we forgive others, we receive a piece of what we need for ourselves. It is best done in physical handwriting, and at PassionProvokers.com we have developed a forgiveness tool that is foolproof, allowing for a deeper and deeper level of power in each step taken towards this often misunderstood and constant process. And guess what? I utilize this tool of forgiveness on a consistent basis. The next layer of the onion sometimes comes up and slaps me upside my thick skull, and I realize it’s time to forgive something else, something new.
The choice is to forgive and see a bigger truth that leads to better boundaries, or to pretend that we forgive when in actuality you are holding a grudge so tightly in your balled up fist that it takes a decent set of pliers to pry it open. The later is destructive to relationships, both those connections that have hurts already, and inevitably those that will.
As we learn to forgive, we learn of a higher reward system, one that is based on personal well being and the well being of others. We begin to see boundaries as healthy instead of punishment for ourselves and others. It is the first step into building consciousness.
This is the most obvious of the six choices, although that often does not make it any easier. Distractions are everywhere and most often this comes in the form of conflicting advise or information. This key skill is the ability to take confusing and conflicting information and make a final decision. Choosing a focal point has to to do with many factors, and these demonstrate our highest values, considered or not.
As we progress in development we first try to apply the rules that we learn at home to cover the whole of our local community. Choosing a focus that allows for your specific rules to apply keeps you at the center of your world. Many people stay in this stage for their whole lives, deriving moral principles from social or religious authority figures and they are never able to think about morality for themselves. This is the seed of narcissism that is on a severe rise in the world today.
What we focus on we become, or at least begin to change in that direction. Of the six challenges, this is the most constant choice as more and more distractions press against us, attempting to distract from what we claim as our desired outcome. It is the skill most likely to help us achieve a goal and it is vital to developing humility. The bigger the goal, the more people we will need to motivate to reach it, and the biggest achievers of peace and accomplishment have focus.
The choice here is seemingly obvious, but it is not. To focus on the present moment and who is in front of us, or to allow distractions to allow us to objectify people is the never-ending blue pill, red pill adventure. There is a trade off here. We are learning to put off distractions for the benefit of our highest values. It is a subtle awareness that develops because we have learned the beginning of forgiveness, a skill that I have to practice continuously in order to develop a fully conscious life. I am a work in progress, and my path is perfect. So is yours, by the way.
Recently this daily choice to be grateful has received much attention in the blogosphere. The science has finally caught up with the age-old practice of being thankful. It is no accident that the happiest people practice this skill often without realizing it. For the rest of us gratitude is a discipline. For the rest of us we have to remember and it is best brought to our conscious thinking every time before we speak. :-> To start this practice, write out five things you are grateful for every day. Getting the list to over fifty on a regular basis, without too many repeats from the day before leads to mastery.
Realizing that there is plenty to be grateful for, we begin to grow into an understanding of how we can relate to people in a new way. This new skill can have a dark-side if we have a tendency to manipulate people for approval. Mastery in gratitude is demonstrated when you can tell someone what you appreciate about them (and is about them not something they are born with or happen to have) and it is received as an authentic contribution with no shame or hint of pandering being present.
The choice is to be grateful for our circumstance and move forward, taking advantage of the gifts we have been given, or we become bitter about what we have or do not have. This also allows for a greater role of accountability in our lives. As we invest in community we begin to see a much bigger picture. This picture is humbling, and making the choice to be grateful for other’s contributions allows us to play a role in how those contributions are parlayed forward.
Vision is a double choice. It is what to look for and what not to look at. The goal is the ability to see a bigger picture of what is going on around you, how you fit into the community you find yourself, and to stay true to the values that you choose. It is the beginning of mindfulness that comes later. It is also the choice not to look at the distractions of life, the things that take us away from the truest goals like intimacy and justice.
In this choice is the vision of our own place in the world, recognizing that our specific culture is not the only one, and that we have independent value. It has to do with having healthy attachment to healthy things, as well as allowing ourselves to feel pain instead of medicating that pain. When we are attached to what feels good more than what we truly desire we have very little vision of where we are going. This is a big limiting factor for moving forward, as too often what is easy to look at is not leading us to growth.
The choice here is to look ahead and face the challenge of a good life or to look away into the path of self-soothing. It is easy to let the hurts of life fester and distract us away from this critical step. We begin here to see a justice that is less concrete and punitive, and a grace that allows for lessons to be learned without shame. Being human, after all, is a common condition to all. Are you a human being or a human doing? Where does your value come from? A corrected vision will allow you to experience life through 20/20 and know exactly where your value originates.
This is the ability to detach from our point of view and become aware of our feeling choices, and to ultimately choose what we desire to feel. It is also being aware of the feelings of those we are wanting to communicate with. It takes much discipline and practice of the prior choices above. Mindfulness is the realization that reciprocity and mutual benefit is possible in most situations where people are open and able to be flexible.
The choice here is to attach to those feelings that serve our needs at the moment instead of those that used to work for us. It is not being attached to the outcome but rather being attached to being present to the current moment. This does not mean that we do not choose to influence the outcome of events, it is just that we recognize our true power to do so.
Becoming mindful allows us to take action in the direction that will help all, not just me, or my community but all communities. This is where true leadership shines brightest and is all too rare. Choosing mindfulness is my true North.
Simply stated this is speaking clearly to what is able to be heard. To be a fully effective communicator it requires the consistent, daily practice of all five of the previous skills. It is the difference between expressing yourself and being heard. At the level of true communication, we live our principles and highest values in our words and actions. This is where character is revealed to ourselves and others. When we are communicating healthfully we are dealing with values in a practical way and allowing for empathy for people who have not yet attained this level of development.
True communication happens at the heart level, and when done effectively anyone is able to feel heard, understand and then they are able to listen with intent. A good way to know if you are communicating well is that your needs are being met by those who you communicate with as a result of your asking for what you want in a way that can be heard, understood and acted on. Real communication is the foundation of a powerful, loving, and connected relationship.
In the 20 years since my wife and I began Relationship Coaching, these six concepts have stood out as the most critical actions to becoming a conscious man. In order to be a confident leader and a compassionate partner, I choose to engage daily in each of these six areas. It takes very little time, and with practice not much effort. This daily, conscious decision has allowed me to fill in the silhouette of the man I used to be with character, integrity, humility and strength.
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