Awareness Compassion Forgiveness Grace Relationships

Forgiveness: Playing a Different Game

Seeing ourselves and others as completely separate beings creates a game none of us can win.

Our connections remain temporary alliances of chance or convenience. In this game, partnerships are never fair, and we will all lose; everything we sought to gain, including the ego itself.

It seems easier to forgive those who have harmed us (or really just a part of ourselves) when they don’t realize the wrong that they have done. Examples include young children, the mentally impaired and those who harm us by accident.

Christ on the cross asked that we be forgiven for we “know not what (we) do.” We harm one another through the blindness and tunnel vision of our separateness – the illusion of the ego, the Maya of physical reality.

Forgiveness of others and ourselves requires letting go of that tunnel vision of the ego which perpetuates the illusions of separateness and loneliness.

It requires the greater perspective of your true self – the transcendent self that has always been connected with all, including the other.

This allows us to feel compassion – compassion for those who have harmed a part of our selves and a part of themselves.

This is the love that sees all, forgives all and sustains all.

Next: Forgiveness and Meaning in Our Lives.

Compassion Forgiveness Grace Growth Happiness Letting Go Positive Potential Relationships

Forgiveness: What Holds You Back?

What holds you back . . . from experiencing lasting happiness, from seeing the truth, from loving fully and from achieving your positive potential?

All things ego?

All that narrows your perspective to that of your self-interested ego alone and clouds your vision of your greater self. That greater self is connects you to all others.

This includes our fears – of loss, pain, loneliness and death.

It could be guilt or shame. We let go of this in the challenge of forgiving ourselves.

It could be anger and resentment. We release these through the forgiveness of others.

Tomorrow: The Challenge of Forgiveness.

Compassion Love Relationships Wisdom

Your Unconditional Love: Not Just for a Few

“Love” is one of the most confused and misused words in the English language.

We use the same word when we like something a lot (i.e. I love this cheesecake! I love that song!), when we admire someone we hardly know (i.e. I love that actor!), when we suffer the psychosis of infatuation (i.e. I’ve fallen in love!), when we’re physically attracted to another, and when we care deeply (i.e. I love you, dear. I love you, Dad.).

When two people say, “I love you,” they share an intimacy but may be feeling quite different feelings. One may feel some chemistry and physical attraction; the other, a deeper emotional connection or even a profound spiritual experience.

So it surprises those same people when love “dies.” If that “love” is built solely on physical attraction or a superficial acquaintance with the complete person, it will certainly dissipate and dissolve over time.

When we’ve made both an emotional and spiritual connection with others wherein from our perspective, their well-being is as important as our own, we experience a love that will endure. It is like a transcendent insight that once realized is never lost.

When we love one another at this deeper level, we and our relationships are transformed. Life is transformed and rendered more meaningful.

As for the lesser forms of love, we tend to reserve and hoard them as a precious commodity. We give our love only to the deserving – or at least those we judge to be good, attractive or irresistible.  We save our love for a precious few.

Ironically, the greater love – deep spiritual love – selfless, unconditional love – agape is perhaps the greatest power in human relationships and a renewable resource. Though it may seem a rare type of love, it is meant to be given away and in that selfless giving, it enriches us all the more.

As kids in Sunday school, we sang “Magic Penny” – a simple children’s song about a profound truth. Some of the verses have remained with me:
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.

But it has been in the living of life and the giving and receiving of love, that I’ve experienced it’s deeper meaning.

On the wall of that old church was a poster that said, “God is Love.” That too has taken on a deeper significance in my adult life.

This form of love is our connection to the divine. We cannot see God until we look at one another with love. We see the divine in each other. We transcend our separateness. We experience the divine when we love this way.

This greater love we need not restrict to just a few people in our lifetime but rather given freely to many.

Compassion Forgiveness Love Relationships

Learning to Love Unconditionally

The way we commonly experience love in our lives begins with the conflicted and complex relationships in our families of origin.

We love our siblings but at times, we may actually hate them. They can be our worst enemies. A not so benevolent sister or brother knows all your weaknesses and can exploit them. Children in the same home compete for food, money, clothing, the remote control, the compute, parental approval and attention. When children are raised in a competitive rather than cooperative home, unconditional love may not come as easily.

A parent’s love for a child may be a great opportunity to express unconditional love – love without judgement, complete acceptance and enduring patience. In reality, we all as parents fall short of such perfection. A parent may make his affection dependent upon his child’s obedience and performance. That child may be forever trying to live up to the father’s standards and perhaps never feel good enough or deserving of love.

Parents can tie up their own identity and self-esteem in their child, and act selfishly rather than selflessly in their relationship. The first step in nurturing unconditional love in ourselves as parents is to put the wellbeing of our children first. There will be times when we feel annoyed, disappointed or frustrated with our children’s behaviour and often our feelings are tied up with our own needs and a desire for control, but we must not let our reactions overshadow the positive expression of our love.

My model for unconditional love was my own mother. She devoted herself to all of us in her family. She nurtured our bodies as well as our spirits. She taught me to believe in myself by believing in me. When I misbehaved and when I fell, she would not abandon me. She always saw the best in me.

As we grew up, her circle of concern expanded. Already involved with her church and her community, she volunteered most of her time to help others in need. Each day, she would perform not-so-random acts of kindness to brighten someone else’s day.

When my mom died unexpectedly nearly 9 years ago, I felt a terrible void in my life. I missed her presence and that endless well of compassion and caring she shared with the world. But with time, I realized that her greatest gift was her love, and I saw that that love did not die. That love was within me, and it was for me to give to my children and the other people I could reach in my own life.

As imperfect as I am, I carry on my mother’s legacy by loving my children and others as perfectly as I can so that they too will love without judgement and without limit.


The Challenge of Unconditional Love

Being human and imperfect, we love one another imperfectly. One of the purposes of our lives may be to learn to love unconditionally. For many, the closest they have experienced this is through parental love, but even here, parental feelings can get caught up in the expectations and control of our egos.

Agape – the spiritual version of love – can bring us peace and real happiness, but not the manic high of romantic love. In contrast to the roller coaster ride of our emotions, unconditional love grounds us. It allows us to accept, appreciate, give and let go. It is like seeing and appreciating great beauty without wishing to possess it; forgiving and letting go without needing an apology; giving and expecting nothing in return.

We have received this love from many people throughout our lives – including the family and friends we have in our lives today. This is what connects us to one another. This is what endures and survives our relationships and our lives. We already have all the love that we need, and we need to continue to give it away.

Tomorrow: Learning to love unconditionally – the challenge of the family.

Compassion Emotions Forgiveness Happiness Love Positive Potential Relationships

The 2nd Confusion: Mistaking Lust for Love

In an earlier post, I wrote of the three confusions that can hold us back from experiencing authentic happiness: mistaking hedonism for happiness, lust for love, and self for soul.

Part of the joy of being human is to experience pleasure, to fall in love and to enjoy personal success. These can be the high points in the roller coaster ride of our lives, and these highs can help us endure the inevitable intervening low points.

But if we are preoccupied with the pursuit of sensual pleasures, romantic love and our personal interests, and allow these goals to consume all of our energies and the precious days of our lives, we may compromise deep personal and spiritual growth and fail to discover the greater meaning in our lives.

Physical attraction and infatuation inevitably fade, and for a relationship to endure it requires a deeper more enduring love.

The word, love has many meanings. Two people may each say, “I love you,” not realizing that each defines and experiences the emotion in very different ways.

Love is more than just emotion, attraction, infatuation and chemistry.

The real thing – unconditional love – is a spiritual experience.

With this love, we lose our selves – our little self-interested egos. This love is not jealous or possessive. It is accepting and forgiving. It is compassion and caring.

It is the love of a best friend – steadfast and reliable. It is the arms ready to carry you when you need a lift, the ears to listen when you need to talk, and the smile that says, “I’m so happy to see you.”

It is the love of a parent at its best – not tied to good behaviour, being successful or being perfect. It sees the beautiful baby in the terrible two and troubled teen. It is the love of the father for his prodigal son, always there and waiting for his return.

It does not keep track of rights and wrongs.

It is unconditional and omniconditional.

It sees the beauty and potential of your soul – the real you.

It makes life more than bearable. It gives life meaning, and makes it all worthwhile.



Coping with Loss Emotions Love Relationships

What’s in Your Emotional First Aid Kit?

In healthcare, we have to be ready for emergencies . . . at any time.

That’s why we have crash carts on every hospital ward. It has everything we need for a Code Blue. We memorize protocols, practice our emergency skills and anticipate a crisis before it happens.

Action plans are part of the standard of care for patients with heart failure, asthma and chronic bronchitis. When patients recognize the signs of an acute exacerbation of their chronic condition, they know what medication to take first and when to call the doctor.

But outside of medical emergencies and crises, we all have ups and downs on the roller coaster ride of life. To get through the inevitable low points, we could all think ahead and design our own emotional action plans for rainy days, Mondays, humpdays, dump days, stress days and regular down days.

What would you stock in your emotional crash cart?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. A letter from a friend.

We should all write letters to our best friends reminding them why we love them, expressing our appreciation, acceptance and undying adoration, and listing all the things that make them special to you.

You need a letter like this to open on your worst days at work, your last day at work, when you’ve struck out, when you’ve hit rock bottom, when you’ve made a mistake, or when you’re broken-hearted.

2. Letter to yourself.

Write a letter to yourself, and fill it with positive affirmations about you and your life. On your down days, they can counter the negative thoughts that can make you feel worse about your situation.

Include in your letter a list of the great things you have accomplished (especially how you have helped other people in your life), your unique strengths and all that makes life worthwhile and meaningful to you.

3. A playlist for the blues.

The next day you have nothing to do, mix a playlist of your all-time favourite music. You could begin with country music that reminds you that you’re not the only one to go through the blues. Include every song you find uplifting, including the ones you just have to sing out loud every time you hear them.

4. Your favourite movies.

Is there a movie that always makes you smile and laugh? Skip the ones that make you cry. Epic science fiction or fantasy (e.g. Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings) can take you to another world for a few hours . . . or if you go for the trilogy, a whole afternoon.

I like superhero movies, like Spiderman, Superman or The Incredibles.

5. Words that inspire you.

These are the books, articles and aphorisms that remind you of what really matters and why you are here.

6. Your life lines.

Who do you call when you need someone to listen? Where do you find unconditional love, acceptance and inspiration? Better than letters from your best friend is of course, your best friends.

Christmas Happiness Relationships

Happiness, The Real Thing

We seek happiness, and we find it in many places.

When I was a kid, I had a Charlie Brown book by Charles Schulz called “Happiness Is.” It was part of a whole series and reminded us of the simple pleasures of our lives, including a warm blanket (if you’re Linus) and a warm puppy (e.g. Snoopy).

Of course, Charlie Brown needed these simple pleasures to make it through his difficult childhood, punctuated by multiple missed pop flies and bullying by Lucy. I am hopeful that he eventually got real psychotherapy (more than 5 cents worth), discovered a greater sense of self-worth and found lasting happiness.

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts happiness series was not unlike today’s 1000 Awesome Things – the popular website and series of books by Neil Pasricha. These are the things that evoke warm, fuzzy feelings and make our daily lives more livable.

One of the warm, fuzzy moments of my Christmas was opening a present from my daughter (who always evokes warm, fuzzy feelings in me just by being herself), The Book of (Holiday) Awesome.

The new car smell and the new toy feeling are uplifting (albeit transiently) experiences that most of us can identify with. There is the excitement and pleasure of a first kiss, and the thrill of a roller coaster ride. These moments of joy are part of roller coaster ride that is life.

We can live our lives sustained by these moments of happiness. They can get us through the slow and tough times.

But what can inspire and energize us throughout each day – even during the low points in our lives – is a more enduring form of happiness. It is happiness of a different quality. It is the real thing. It is name-brand happiness. Maybe it should be capitalized: Happiness; don’t be fooled by imitations.

It can be found (1) in the search and realization of meaning in your daily life, (2) in living for something bigger than your self, (3) in connecting to others at a personal, emotional and spiritual level, and (4) in finding your unique place in the world.

This is authentic happiness – the real deal. Don’t waste your money and your life on counterfeits. Enjoy the simple pleasures of life, but realize that there is more to life . . . and more to live for.

Happiness Relationships Wisdom

Have We Confused Hedonism With Happiness?

Have you ever craved for one thing so badly that you could taste it, and your pursuit of it consumed your soul? Remember how delirious you were when it was finally in your grasp, but did that feeling remain?

We have all felt this way. It is part of being human.

We want to be happy, and early in life we equate comfort and pleasure with happiness. This is one of the great confusions – to mistake hedonism for happiness.

When what we have sought is in our hands, we may feel satisfied and enjoy it for a time as long as it brings us pleasure. Rarely does this bring fulfillment. We may then seek to fill the void in the soul with the pursuit of another pleasure.

We can repeat this cycle of confusion throughout a lifetime and never experience profound happiness.

This happens in relationships. Many feel the greatest pleasure in the pursuit and delirium of falling in love but when the romance and chemistry wane, we may feel disillusioned.

We seek a better job, feel excited when we land it but become cynical when it becomes routine or not what we had hoped for. We look for something better.

We obsess about the latest smart phone, iPad or car, enjoy it while it is hot and new, but soon our satisfaction fades. We save and crave for what comes next.

Hunger is like this as is sex.

We may start to see that life can be an endless cycle of craving, pursuit, consumption and emptiness. We can binge and purge until the day we die, and never feel satisfied.

Next: So how do we step off this train?

Emotions Happiness Love Wisdom Your Goals

The Secret of Your Unhappiness? The Three Confusions

Much of our misery comes not from our circumstances, bad luck and the wrongdoing of others. We can consume our hearts and lives in pursuit of counterfeit heavens – mirages that fail to fulfill us once we have arrived.

In my personal life and the experiences my patients have shared with me, I recognize three confusions:

1. Mistaking hedonism (pleasure) for happiness.  Enduring happiness has a quality distinct from simple pleasure. It is not simply the maximal pleasure and minimal pain. Key components of authentic happiness include a personal sense of meaning, feeling connected with others and your world, and being at peace with your life.

2. Mistaking lust (attraction, infatuation, craving) for love. Romantic love and infatuation can be exciting, intoxicating . . . and psychotic. When we are in the throes of romantic love, it’s like our emotional brains on drugs; reality is distorted, and the illusion doesn’t last. Falling out of this kind of love is like withdrawal. Enduring love is of a total different quality; it’s more a spiritual than emotional experience.

3. Mistaking self (the ego) for soul. The little self is changing and aging; it is the transient mask for your soul. What may seem good for the ego may not be good for your soul.

Next: How have you pursued happiness?