What's Your Strategy?

Most of the time when we establish a strategy to do something, we don’t think of it as a “strategy.” Once established, a strategy becomes automatic, disappearing from consciousness and residing only in the “unconscious” part of our minds. Humans aren’t the only creatures that use strategies, of course. The basic strategy for everything that lives is to do what’s required to say alive: “find food and water; eat and drink. Avoid being killed and eaten.” As far as we know, members of the animal kingdom are the only species that deliberately use strategies to achieve goals. That doesn’t mean that other plants and other life forms aren’t using strategies, but only that we aren’t aware of how they might be “planning” to achieve goals. All mammals, on the other hand, use their intelligence to plan.

A long time ago, we were in Boston for a convention. While walking through Boston Common we encountered a squirrel that had a strategy for finding food. The squirrel climbed Joel’s pant leg to see if he had food in his pocket or would otherwise provide something to eat. Somewhere along the way, the squirrel had learned to employ that strategy. Several of the squirrels that visit Joel’s deck in Kalamazoo, have learned to sit back on their haunches, put their front paws against their chests in a “prayerful” position, and stare into house until food is provided. Strategies are learned behavior. If a behavior works, it is repeated. Cats use strategies for catching mice, or for deciding which lap to sit on or where to sleep. We have seen one of Joel’s cats going through the process of deciding whose lap to sit on. They don’t say what factors they are considering, but they make it pretty obvious that they are aware that they have a choice before they select a lap.

The complexity of strategies increases with intelligence. We don’t usually expect squirrels, cats, or other animals to have strategies, but they do. They can also develop a strategy from watching other animals employ one. A well-know example of the transmission of a strategy from one member of a species to others is the so-called hundredth monkey effect. While the research doesn’t support the “automatic” transfer of a strategy from one monkey to groups of monkeys, monkeys are smart and good observers. A monkey sees another monkey use a stick to pull ants out of a nest to eat them, as they are evidently a monkey delicacy. Monkeys are also willing to experiment to find ways to achieve their objectives. When they succeed, they repeat the behavior. Other monkeys catch on quickly.

Most of the time we are unaware that we are developing and using strategies. When Joel was young, he was a terrible speller. He guessed at the spelling of a word based on how it sounded. One of his teachers told his father that he was the only student she ever had who could spell “only” four different ways. In about the third grade, Joel asked one of the other students who got all the words right on the weekly spelling tests how he managed to do so well. The kid had a strategy: he took the list of the words home and studied them. Joel started using that strategy, and it worked. For most of what we do, we can “model” or imitate strategies used by others use to accomplish an objective. That is, in fact, the main function of school, even when we aren’t really sure what we are learning or why we are learning it. Learning to learn is itself a strategy that can be modeled and imitated.

We have been fortunate to spend time learning from some individuals who are amazingly gifted as spiritual teachers and healers. Debra has been to the Casa in Brazil and witnessed first-hand the healing work of John of God. Debra was mentored in Healing Touch by Janet Mentgen, who founded Healing Touch in the U.S. We have seen Dr. Eric Pearl (The Reconnection), Deborah King (Be Your Own Shaman), and Donna Eden (Energy Medicine), just to name a few. We have attended countless workshops with Richard Bandler (co-founder of NLP) and consider him to be one of the greatest minds of our time.

One of the most interesting things about the development of NLP related to strategies is that when Richard Bandler and John Grinder were studying strategies of three therapists whose clients had predictably good outcomes (Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erickson) each of the three had different strategies for doing remarkably similar things. In fact, Virginia did not want Milton to be included in the study because he did hypnosis and she did not like hypnosis. Richard Bandler videotaped Virginia and Milton working with clients and showed her frame-by-frame that she was doing hypnosis, too! This illustrates that people do not always understand the true nature of the strategies they are employing.

Disagreements often arise around strategies. Annoyances, judgments, frustrations, and even partings can result because we see different ways of doing the same thing. We like our own strategies, but we don’t always like the strategies others use for achieving the same goal. Europeans and people living in the States have different strategies for using knives and forks while eating. Both strategies work just fine. Get used to it….

Strategies are related to “evidence procedures.” Joel uses the example of how you know if someone loves you. For some, it is based on what you see (gifts, a certain look). For others, it is based on something you hear (loving words, tone of voice), and for others, it is based on something felt (affectionate touch). How often that demonstration is required to communicate love varies as well. For some, once is enough.

You may have heard the story of the couple who were divorcing after 50 years of marriage. The attorney asked the woman why after all these years. “Because he has not once in those 50 years told me he loves me.” When the attorney asked the man if that were true, the man said simply, “Well, I told her I loved her the day I asked her to marry me. I have not changed my mind.” Because once established, a strategy disappears from consciousness and resides only in the “unconscious” part of our minds we can repeat self-defeating behaviors without noticing we are at risk of losing something meaningful.

Because strategies tend to operate below the level of conscious awareness, it’s worth spending some time bringing them into conscious awareness any time we aren’t getting the results we hoped for. If a monkey stuck a stick in a termite hole two or three times and the stick came out without termites, the money would look elsewhere. We need to do the same. If what we have been doing isn’t working, we need to start doing something else. So … what’s your strategy, and how is it working for you?

Changing Frames

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
~ Wayne Dyer

In an 1819 letter to his brother and sister, the poet John Keats said the common notion that life is “a vale of tears … from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven—What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you Please ‘The vale of Soul-making.'” He goes on to say that the purpose of our experiences is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul. Decades later, Gary Zukav would refer to the same idea using the expression, Earth School.

We are “here” (living a particular life) to learn. Exactly what we are to learn isn’t clear, but those who have been revered for extraordinary wisdom—and perhaps especially Buddha and Jesus—have provided at least some of the “lesson plans” for doing well in “Earth school.” The first, and perhaps the most challenging lesson for all of us, is becoming aware of our progress through “earth school.” More than one lifetime is required to learn the lessons of earth school. Just as all of nature evolves by imprinting wisdom from one generation to the next, you can say a soul lives more than one lifetime to learn the lessons being taught in earth school.

Fortunately, earth school allows “do overs.” Having to learn increasingly difficult lessons over many lifetimes is not as easy, of course, as living once, being judged “worthy” or “unworthy,” and packing your bags for Heaven or Hell, depending. If you fail the second grade in Earth School, you get to do it over until you get it right.

Those of you who know us have probably already heard Joel’s report of how the first time he was on Debra’s massage table for energy work she blurted out, “You killed me in a former life.” When Debra said that, Joel knew instantly that not only was it true, but he remembered the time, place, and circumstances of the event. Simply an hypnotic hallucination? Perhaps, but not likely. You may well have had similar experiences, even if you could not define them at the time. Such experiences are often referred to as Déjà_vu, meaning “already seen.” A few years later, Joel told the story of his first Healing Touch session with Debra to Caterina Pellegrino-Estrich (associated with the Brazilian spiritual healer John of God), and Caterina replied simply, “It is true. You did kill her in a former life.”

Current science would prefer that “normal people” didn’t have such experiences, but they—we—do. Most people have such experiences but dismiss them because of the bias against what’s often called woo woo. If you want to think about “memories” of past lives as energy and information being passed down through our DNA, that may a helpful frame. The concept of frame comes from linguistics and is based on the idea that if we change the “window” we are looking out, we change what we see. Two people looking out different windows will see different things. Just because others look out their window and see one thing, doesn’t mean that’s the only valid window through which to see reality. One of the good things about science is the demand that scientists keep seeking larger truths. It took a very long time, for example, before scientists agreed Einstein was right about spooky action at a distance. The forefront of science touches on the mystical.

In some ways, “spooky action at a distance” perfectly describes the idea of past lives. We recently had a session with a gifted woman who does spiritual readings, and that past life, along with many other past-life “threads” presented themselves quite clearly. Each of those threads represents a frame providing a more compressive view of our current life situation. No one knows for sure, of course, whether past lives are “real” or metaphorical. Being “sure” may not be especially important, or even accurate. What is important is an openness to learn from what you “remember” as lessons from your each lifetime (real or imagined). In some ways then, memories of past lives serve the same function as reading and watching movies and TV shows. We learn from the behaviors we see being modeled.

Most of us, for example, would rather “be like” the protagonist—the hero or heroine—than the villain. Charles Dickens begins his great novel, David Copperfield, with the sentence, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” The novel resonates because most of us have that aspiration, at least when we are young.

No one, after all, ever said that Earth School would be easy. One of the things Shakespeare said about Earth School is that one must face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The reason great literature, including writers as different as Shakespeare and Dickens in a few hundred years of English literature, often focuses on human struggles through Earth School, is that we are all here to learn the same lessons, and the great literature from all cultures in all times is pointing the way.

The signs and symbols pointing the way for you will not be the same as those we have encountered over the years, so we can’t tell you what your specific challenges will be. We know only that you will have them, and that it is up to you to recognize them. Another English poet, Richard Lovelace described some of the challenges we all face in one way or another while we are in Earth School.

Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As thou too shalt adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.

You, of course, are the only one who knows what challenges you face, and you, of course, are the only one who can face them. The first step in changing frames is to recognize you are being influenced by a frame. If your “frame” is that Mondays are bad days, you will likely miss having some great Mondays. If your “frame” is that all “blank” people (color, race, religion, creed) are something (lazy, dishonest, stupid, inferior), you will probably miss getting to know some wonderful folks. If your “frame” is that past lives are only metaphor, that becomes your belief, and that belief is probably limiting what other views are available to you.

One of our SCS/NLP students always suspended disbelief with a “what if” frame. Ask yourself what you might gain if you let yourself see things differently. Ask yourself what you might be missing. After all, changing frames can be a fun, safe, and easy way to feel better about the past and to picture a brighter future, can’t it…

A Wholesome Response

A Thought for Today from Brahma Kumaris [Need to specify the source.]

The secret of change is to focus
all of your energy,
not on fighting the old,
but on building the new.

This month’s Beyond Mastery Newsletter article was prompted by a June 2017 Townsend Letter article about a subject important to both of us: Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, CAM. The headline for the article caught our attention: The Next Big CAM Battle Is Here and It’s Ugly. In short, the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), the primary private Continuing Medical Education (CME) accrediting company, is trying to require Complimentary/Alternative Medicine groups to teach only “mainstream” (Western) medicine. The energy surrounding this issue prompted us to think about how best to respond in “wholesome” ways to “unwholesome” actions.

In the case of “mainstream medicine” versus complimentary and alternative approaches to healing, it is easy to see that the problem is one of “follow the money.” If a person opts for acupuncture or massage therapy instead of a traditional M.D. and prescription medications, “mainstream” medical institutions, personnel, and drug companies don’t get paid. The money goes instead to CAM practitioners. Western medicine, including surgery and pharmaceuticals, clearly has its place, and modern medicine has become an important part of our lives for good reason. That doesn’t mean, of course, that an M.D. and prescription drugs are always the first, best choice for the aches and pains that trouble all of us on occasion. The concept of “one size fits all,” has never worked well.

Several years ago Joel developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and was basically incapacitated by pain and fatigue. Because his tendency is to do research first and act second, he saw what physicians were doing for CFS, which was a combination of heavy-duty pain killers (opioids) and anti-anxiety medication. Two of the people he read about had been on the drugs and unable to work for six years. That didn’t appeal to him. With Debra’s assistance, he went to an acupuncturist. She made a big difference on the first visit, and within a month, he was almost back to normal. This is not to say that CAM is always the answer, and CAM practitioners will tell their clients to have surgery when it is required. Since that time, Joel has had two surgeries for problems unrelated to the CFS (cataracts and hernia). Our position is to use CAM when you can and save surgery and pharmaceuticals for when they are the best solution to your problem.

Medical problems are, of course, not the only situation that require responses when your choice is essentially between “wholesome” and “unwholesome.” This choice is not quite the same as between “good” and “bad.” A “wholesome” response is one that is good for the person making it, for others, and for the environment. “Unwholesome” responses, on the other hand, are not good or healthy. In that sense, it is an “energetic” term—what energy does it add to the universe? Virtually all situations producing either anger or fear (or a combination) provide the opportunity for us to choose a wholesome response.

Regardless of the specific outcome, a wholesome response is a better choice, but wholesome responses often result in unexpected positive outcomes. For example, a woman realized her wallet was missing when she arrived home from the grocery store. She called the store and was told the wallet had not been turned in. She had a significant amount of cash and several credit cards in the wallet, but choosing not to react negatively, she began to meditate using the mantra, “What is mine comes to me.” About 20 minutes later she received a phone call saying her wallet had been turned in. Half expecting (fearing) the money to be gone while driving to the store she intentionally continued with her mantra. She was delighted to have her wallet in her hands, especially so since she had all of the cards and cash intact!

Here is an excerpt from Money and the Law of Attraction, by Jerry and Esther Hicks, that seems relevant to this newsletter:

For every pleasing thing, there is an unpleasing counterpart, for within every particle of the Universe is that which is wanted as well as the lack of that which is wanted. When you focus upon an unwanted aspect of something in an effort to push it away from you, it only comes closer, because you get what you give your attention to whether it is something that you want or not. It is up to you to focus upon and attract what is wanted.

The ramifications of limiting CAM practitioners to present only what is already embraced as “mainstream” appear obvious, and, if such comes to pass, it is very easy to understand the risks for CAM practitioners and to their patients and clients. The options for a wholesome response, however, may be different for each of us. The old saying is, That which we resist, persists.

A good example is the use of hand sanitizers. We can all agree preventing the spread of germs is a good thing, but some of us also see how the use of sanitizer can a big part of the challenge of limiting the health risk of germs by making bacteria antibiotic resistant. Without awareness of the bigger picture, well-meaning choices can actually create greater risk…. Hand sanitizers alone are, of course, not entirely responsible for antibiotic resistance. Once antibiotics were discovered, they started being prescribed for almost everything with the idea that they would preclude bacterial infections. What happened, of course, was that every time the bacteria were exposed to an antibiotic, they evolved.The bacteria essentially “learned” how to resist the antibiotic. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t use antibiotics. It just means that we need to use them only when they are really required. For most day-to-day exposure to germs, the body’s natural resistance is ample.

The CAM situation and the lost wallet are only two of the situations that present challenges for those desiring to choose a wholesome response. A good friend recently shared her grandson’s challenges managing his emotions. One outburst included physical harm to his sister. This woman has valued insight found in Cliff Notes from raising siblings without rivalry. If your child says, “You’re always with the baby,” avoid simply dismissing the child’s negative feelings. Put the feelings into words acknowledging that the child does not like mom spending so much time with the new baby. This is not tolerating unwholesome behavior. It is being intentional with our words and actions so we confront unwholesome behavior with wholesome actions. Children (and adults) need to know that they have the right to feel the way they do and that they can change the way they feel by changing the way they think. The more we know, the less we fear. When we are not afraid, we are more likely to make wholesome responses.

A wholesome response requires both the desire to reduce the amount of violence in the world and the skills and courage required to make the wholesome choice.

“Someday, some time, I see the possibility that man will be able to live without any control – religious or political – because he will be a discipline unto himself.” Osho

If Martin Luther King, Jr., can go to the mountain top. so can we. As Ken Wilber says, “Be the most ethical, the most responsible, the most authentic you can be with every breath you take, because you are cutting a path into tomorrow that others will follow.”

Playing Games

We are at our best when we are playing. When we are playing, we are having fun, and this month we decided we would do some playing with the newsletter format. Previously, we have written separate articles for the monthly newsletters, and this month we decided to try something new and co-create one article. As we tend to work at different ends of the day from different locations, we decided to create a new online dual identity for the purposes of collaboration to avoid having our combined efforts being posted with just one of us being identified as “author.”

When we started discussing collaborating, we were reminded of the way improv actors work together to create comedy. One of the TV shows we both enjoyed has been Whose Line Is It Anyway, a show based entirely on improv.

Here’s an example of how improv actors just “make stuff up”:

Improv is fun, isn’t it…. It’s also serious business. A lot of research supports the idea of Learning Through Play, showing us how having fun is good for both body and mind. Our ability to “go first” is a foundational concept of energy medicine, so we decided to enjoy a novel way of co-creating this month’s newsletter. In thinking about when we most enjoy being together, some of our fondest memories are from the SCS/NLP trainings we conducted. Training with SCS included play—games designed to promote not only laughter, but learning various processes. We borrowed many of our favorite games from “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Questions Only is essentially self-explanatory. The only rule is that the entire conversation is based on questions:

        A:   Are you thinking about lunch?
        B:   Was my stomach growling?
        A:   Were you thinking it was?
        B:   Well, if it wasn’t your stomach, what is that sound?
        A:   Was it my asking about lunch?

The process continues until one person can’t think of a relevant question to ask. One student in our NLP trainings disliked the game immensely, and her only participation consisted of, “Why would you ask that question?” While it fit the rules of the game, it prevented the genuine joy of being able to laugh at ourselves and others as we learn. Having fun while learning is the point. Lack of fun may, in fact, be one of the problems with our educational system. One of the teachers in the Dickens novel, Hard Times is named Mr. M’Choakumchild. We suspect that you can remember teachers who made learning fun and those who had a “spare the rod, spoil the child” approach to teaching and learning.

Clever teachers think of new ways to have fun with learning. Another idea from improv, “Props,” starts by taking ordinary objects and imagining their being used for alternative purposes. A pen becomes a flashlight. A hair brush turns into a phone. A piece of play dough morphs into a booger. A similar improv concept is “If You Know What I Mean,” which uses analogies in an unusual way.

Our most memorable version of “If You Know What I Mean” was based on the work of Joseph, who made a living selling home improvement, including new roofs. In the game, each phrase appropriately related to the occupation is followed by, “If you know what I mean.” The resulting innocent suggestibility of sexuality opens up the second chakra, letting it’s creativity flow.

        “I’d like to tar her shingles, if you know what I mean.”
        “She’s got a nice pitch to her, if you know what I mean.”
        “She’s certainly not going to leak now, if you know what I mean.”
        “Her seams are nice and tight, if you know what I mean.”
        “Her chimney is smokin’ hot, if you know what I mean.”

What was most important in our use of improvisational games was that it gives students ample opportunity to have fun while learning. Without fun, learning something new, especially something as complex as NLP, can trigger fear of failure and/or performance anxiety. Being able to enjoy ourselves stimulates good brain chemistry. Laughter is a release of tension, much like sneezing or orgasm. Brain and body chemistry both change for the better. The best comics know this well (if you know what I mean).

In 1964, Norman Cousins was told by a doctor to “get his affairs in order,” that he had a 1 in 500 chance of survival. His strategy was unique at the time: He fired his doctor, found one who would work with him, started Vitamin C injections, and spent time watching funny movies, including the Marx Brothers and Candid Camera episodes. Oh, Norman Cousins did die, but not until November 1990. This was a full 10 years after his first heart attack, 16 years after he was told to get his affairs in order, and 26 years after his doctors first diagnosed him with heart disease.

Laughter really is the best medicine. One of the staples of television has always been “sitcoms,” or situation comedies. The “I Love Lucy” episode where Ethel and Lucy are working at the candy factory is a classic.

The episode on the Mary Tyler Moore show featuring the funeral of Chuckles the Clown has also become a classic.

And, if you’re old enough, you may remember many other situation comedies that provided your evening entertainment. Are you still watching comedy shows?

One of the things about current TV comedy is that the shows seem designed primarily for younger viewers, viewers probably too young to understand the implications of The Odd Couple, a show definitely intended for adult viewers. I suspect not only that TV has changed, but also audiences have changed. It seems as though there is a tendency for people to lose their enjoyment of life as they get older. A long time ago, a poet named Robert Browning, said ““Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!” For the complete poem, see Rabbi Ben Ezra.

Wherever you are in life, you can determine that the best is yet to be. And, under the premise that laughter is the best medicine and the key to remembering, here’s one more round of “Whose Line” episodes:


Sitting Still

Recently, I saw the following quotation in an article by Tommy Rosen, founder of Recovery 2.0, a tool that uses mindfulness (yoga) for recovery from addictions. Given that we are all dealing with aversion and grasping, longing and dreading, clinging and avoiding, the quotation can serve as the basis for all our recovery.

We turn and face our lives and we begin to look within. We are now on the right train. We become attuned to a deeper truth within us and we realize that all the things we feared which had become so big in our minds would be brought down to size when we sat still long enough.

We can all learn to sit still and this is the point of this missive. Stop running. Stop chasing. Stop complaining. Be still. Find your way to meditation and watch your life change for the better.

As Sadhvi told us, “No one ever died from sitting still.”

Sitting still is not just about our physical bodies, however. In fact, our minds can be winning the race of madness even while we sit on our duff. My sister shared an experience she had several years ago while floating in her swimming pool. There she was—totally supported by the water and two pool floaties—listlessly being held up. Awareness snapped in and she noticed her mind jumping from subject to subject, like a searchlight looking for things to worry about, circumstances to fix, people to correct. Although all of her outer environment was providing her with the perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy, her internal habit patterns were stuck on high alert, robbing her of the very bliss she was in the midst of.

This same habit pattern can seep in to and destroy relationships. Relationships are the fertile soil in which your personality is growing up. It has some catching up to do with the soul. Previous editions of the Beyond Mastery Newsletter have addressed Gary Zukav’s idea of Spiritual Partnerships. Like all relationships, these relationships are not free of challenges. The distinction is how challenges can be navigated skillfully allowing both people to come into true harmony. The result is connection that is in tune, relaxed, and just plain fun.

If you currently find yourself robbed of the genuine bliss of your relationship/s, rather than just being in relationship, you might be experiencing an entanglement.

You might be in an entanglement if:

   1. You keep having the same issues.
   2. You don’t feel safe or understood.
   3. Someone always needs to be right.
   4. It’s just so hard.

So what if you have the terrible feeling that you’re in an entanglement right now, or that you’ve been in entanglements before? Entanglements can be transformed to enlightenment!

According to relationship experts, Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks, you can relax and realize what you are experiencing is completely normal. Most people have been in an entanglement, and a lot of us have been in many. Humans frequently inadvertently drag past pain into the present destroying peace. Within that pain is a growth opportunity! Check out the tips in “Are You in a Fake Relationship?” to discover what you can do:

Identify that you’re in an entanglement.

Knowing whether you’re in a pattern of entanglement is key to resolving it once and for all. Otherwise, there’s a “blind spot” that keeps you from moving forward, and you’re doomed to keep repeating the pain and struggle.

End the entanglement or transform it into a real relationship.

Once you know you’re dealing with an entanglement, you can harness all that energy you’ve been spending on conflict, and instead use it to come up with creative solutions. You can transform the entanglement into a real relationship, or you can end the entanglement with peace of mind, armed with the insight you need to create love and harmony in the future.

This past winter, I had the opportunity to join a poetry group. At each meeting the group leader, Gail Berreitter, shares a different poetry form. One of our assignments was “Found Poems” where you take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. A sort of literary equivalent of a collage, “found” poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.

As a sort of poetic prayer for my loved ones, I took a quotation from Presence, Kindness, and Freedom and wrote a found poem. Published in my recent blog post titled Life’s Squalls, the foundation for “No Problems” comes from Barbara Brodsky, my meditation teacher:

No Problems

there are issues
that need to be resolved
you can relate to them in loving ways.
First, know that
there aren’t problems
just situations
asking us for our loving attention.
If you are
willing to risk,
be undefended
in a place of pain and with open hearts
to these
there is no “problem”
nothing negative, just a call for love.

by Debra Basham 2/24/2017

I appreciated the view of Kathlyn and Gay that every relationship is ripe with unresolved issues from our past. It is as though we are looking now to our partners to make us feel good about ourselves related to our own past hurts. Essentially, because we have found love, we can also experience pain and frustration.

Pain and frustration do not prove that we’ve chosen the wrong partner. We are each attending what Gary Zukav calls earth school. We are all learning to nurture our own soul. As written in my found poem, now we see it is just a call for love!

Relationships have certainly been written about for aeons. When relationships are challenging, disenchantment can occur. Perhaps the root cause of disenchantment had been that humans are also learning to sit still. Thankfully, as Sadhvi said, “No one ever died from sitting still.”

Cognitive Dissonance in Relationships

A long time ago (1957), a social psychologist named Leon Festinger wrote about the human need to resolve “cognitive dissonance,” the clash between alternative thoughts and emotions, the clash between something labeled “good” and something labeled “bad.”

Festinger described the basic hypotheses of cognitive dissonance as follows:

1. The existence of dissonance [or inconsistency], being psychologically
    uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the
    dissonance and achieve consonance [or consistency].

2. When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person
    will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase
    the dissonance.[57]

Dissonance reduction can be achieved by changing behavior, changing cognition, or selectively acquiring new information or opinions. To use Festinger’s example of a smoker who has knowledge that smoking is bad for his health, the smoker may reduce dissonance by choosing to quit smoking, by changing his thoughts about the effects of smoking (e.g., smoking is not as bad for your health as others claim), or by acquiring knowledge pointing to the positive effects of smoking (e.g., smoking prevents weight gain).[58]

Smoking provides a pretty clear example of how someone might resolve the dissonance caused by the conflict between enjoying a particular behavior but not wanting to experience the logical consequences of continuing the behavior. Before Festinger came up with the idea for cognitive dissonance, the common expression was “on the one hand, X, but on the other hand Y.” It’s in the language, but people aren’t inclined to say, “Gee, I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance.” My grandmother used to refer to the concept of wanting to “have your cake but eat it, too.” That saying refers to having to choose between two incompatible desirables, but if you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, neither choice is good.

When two individuals in a relationship have different desires, both experience cognitive dissonance that needs to be reduced if the relationship is to continue. As a simple example, consider something as “easy” as deciding what to have for dinner: One person wants “Chinese.” The other wants “Mexican.” While making that decision on any particular evening is probably not going to lead to divorce, the failure to establish equity in making of dinner decisions, could easily do so. People will accept the short end of the stick on occasion, but most balk at accepting it all the time. This example depends, of course, on time and place. In previous generations, the husband almost always got his way. At work, the “boss” usually gets his or her way. In some cultures, men usually get their way. The way decisions are made reflect the relative power of those involved the process. In most cases, the individuals involved never question the underlying morality of the social power structures that lead to such decisions.

For the most part, culture and social conditioning establish behavioral expectations. When the vast majority of relationships were established in previous times, men and women would have grown up in the same culture and would have had the same basic expectation for “what a man does” and “what a woman does.” A history of cultural expectations tends to reduce cognitive dissonance associated generally accepted behaviors. When cultures change quickly in unexpected ways, cognitive dissonance skyrockets. Think about what things were like in the US after Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. The bitter feelings still run pretty deep in some individuals. Giving women the right to vote, Women’s Suffrage, also produced significant cognitive dissonance for many (although I don’t think there were any lynchings). Also consider what we have been witnessing this past election cycle, with the fears generated by “true believers” on both sides. Would you believe that this last election cycle has led Republicans and Democrats to hate each other?

Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, you have probably lost at least one friend because of the cognitive dissonance generated by differences in political affiliation. This isn’t the first time in US history this has happened, of course. If you are old enough, you can probably remember the turmoil created by the Vietnam War, with the rallying cry of, “Hey, hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?” The conflict was easily as bitter as what we are experiencing today, and individuals did what they could to reduce their cognitive dissonance. In those days, much like today, we associated primarily with those who shared our political views.

It’s easy to see cognitive dissonance at work when you consider such major cultural conflicts. The same kinds of conflicts, however, occur between (and among) any two (or more) people in any relationship, and especially in close, male-female relationships. And it’s not just what to have for dinner, although certainly dietary differences cause plenty of cognitive dissonance. In most relationships, dissonance can be reduced by “taking turns,” whether “this week Chinese; next week Mexican,” or going to a restaurant that offers both options. As is easy to see in politics, the most serious difficulties occur when those involved are not satisfied with personal decisions but insist that others make the same decision, as in the case of abortion: Not only don’t I want one, you’re not going to be allowed to have one, either. It is, of course, comparatively easy for a man to say No to having an abortion.

Even when the issues are comparatively small and personal, such as who sleeps on which side of the bed, or the proper temperature for home heating and cooling, cognitive dissonance can and will occur. A long time ago I was teaching a master’s level class in business communication in which one of my students asked a question about the way her “friends” had changed. She had lived in one location where she had established close relationships with a group of people through high school and undergraduate college work. She moved away to take a job. Three years later, she went back home very much looking forward to reuniting with those who had been her friends. They didn’t want to have anything to do with her. She said, “I still thought about them the same way” and asked “Why did they change?” When she asked them what had happened, the reply was basically, “You didn’t call. You didn’t write.” The rest of the class and I understood what had happened.” Cognitive dissonance occurs over time and place as well as between people in the same time and place.

My sense is that cognitive dissonance is always present to a greater or lesser degree when people interact. Reasonable people are better able to compromise than those who insist, My way or the highway. For this reason, we need to be aware of our own lines in the sand and those of others, especially those who are close to us.

Three Syllables

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break.
And all things can be mended.
Not with time… as they say.
But with intention.
So… Go.
Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness
for the light that is you.

~ L. R. Knost
(from the Brahma Kumaris Thought for the day March 4, 2017)

Tenacity is such an amazing concept. To love intentionally, extravagantly, and unconditionally requires tenacious resolve. I recall stretching out on the floor of the skyroom at the Holistic Alliance after lunching during an NLP intensive, and fondly listening to Richard Bandler’s Personal Enhancement 6 CD set. I especially loved the one titled “Tenacious Resolve.” Synonyms for the word tenacious include: persistence, determination, perseverance, strength of purpose, resolve, steadfastness, and patience, just to list a few.

It certainly took tenacity for Zan Lombardo, artist extraordinaire, to complete her 30-foot watercolor painting. The painting (shown here at The Art Gallery at Franklin Commons in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania) is truly amazing, as is Zan.

From Zan’s website:

This is my 30-foot watercolor. It took me two years to draw and two years to paint, in little increments; 30 minutes while the laundry tumbled, 10 minutes while the pasta boiled.

(This poem is written along the bottom of the 30’ watercolor. Calligraphy in uncial font by Sheila Waters.)


Arcs of arms are reaching out from distant
Suns whose gestures stir the life of seeds.
To be here, now, requires our hearts to listen,
Watch, and know that Light fulfills our needs.

When gripped by stagnant vines of fear, relief
Springs from the pulsing centers of our chests.
False boundaries dissolve in prayer; peace weaves
The seeming chaos into something blessed.

Stay rooted. Stand witness. Be upholding.
Guidance from great Mother Oak whose limbs
Will move ours to join the sacred dance, singing
Aloud that work is love made visible.

Roused by poetic muse of rainbow voice,
What stirs us also presses us against
The thick embranglement of choice
In which our spirits rise and fall, unfenced.

One truth: that drawn by gravity and awe,
The world is in relationship with all.
-Zan Lombardo, 2011

Isn’t that how life is? We must capture, contemplate, and create the extraordinary right in the midst of the mundane.

That has certainly been the story of Debra, Joel, and SCS.

This winter, I have been sashaying with my shadow around stagnant vines of fear, as Zan would say. I finally managed to make a phone call to a man I felt had treated me unfairly. In my mind, I had pictured him conniving—going to all lengths—to stand in my way. I was at least honest enough with both of us to tell him I was calling to ask if he had done what I had already considered him guilty of. His answer was, “No.”

Zan’s painting is truly incredible, but the sharing of why and how these mystical and magical colors and shapes and images came to be is what moved me to tears. She was teaching when her work load was doubled and her prep time was cut in half. She ordered the 30-foot roll of artist paper because she wanted a safe place to go so she would not spend the last ten years of her teaching career bitter. In four-foot sections of paper and mere moments of time, as she created that safe place for herself, universal images and themes emerged.

What does it mean for you to know the truth that we can choose to not be bitter even when circumstances warrant bitterness? Relationships can trip us up. I read this quotation by an Armenian-Russian writer of fantasy and science fiction, Vera Nazarian, “Was it you or I who stumbled first? It does not matter. The one of us who finds the strength to get up first, must help the other.”

Zan shared the poem (the painting’s thirty-foot title) was complete, save for ten syllables in the very center. Underneath the skyward branches of the majestic tree which anchors the center of the painting, Zan’s friend said, “I was given a message for you. ‘Stand witness, be upholding’.”

Zan counted the syllables. One, two, three… seven syllables.

“I need three more syllables,” she confessed.

“Native Americans say if you have a question, you can put your forehead against a tree and you will get an answer,” her friend continued to breathe wisdom into the air that hung poetically between them.

Zan leaned her forehead against the tree. “Stay rooted.”

Three syllables.

Stay rooted. Stand witness. Be upholding.

What Ships Are Built For

In 1928 John A. Shedd published a collection of sayings (“Salt from My Attic”) that included the following saying, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” You may also be familiar with the saying, “Any port in a storm.” The recently recovered audio tapes from the El Faro that was lost at sea in 2015, clearly illustrate how risky the ocean can be even for experienced sailors. The Shedd quotation is often used to encourage people to take more risks and to discourage “playing it safe.” Progress occurs because people take chances, and not all chances pay off.

Our ancestors who went down to the sea in ships were willing to take extraordinary chances in the hopes of extraordinary rewards. They were, after all, in sailing vessels much smaller than either El Faro or the Titanic. Some of the rewards they were seeking were, of course, financial. Others went to sea primarily to learn more about what was “out there.” Charles Darwin, for example, wanted to learn more about the species with whom we share the planet. And he was not the only one curious about the world. The time between the early fifteenth century and the end of the eighteenth century became known as the Age of Discovery. During this time, the Europeans set sail on what became a global quest, not only to see what was “there,” but also for wealth. I am not sure why the extensive exploration of the world was dominated by the Europeans instead of the Asians, but I suspect it has something to do with the inherent differences in philosophical orientation between East and West.

To say that the different attitudes toward exploration resulted from the West having adopted Science while Mysticism dominated Eastern thought would not be fully correct. Nor would it be fully correct to say that those in the West prayed, while those in the East meditated. My guess is that those differences are, however, based on a fundamental difference in philosophical orientation. At this point, science has overtaken Asian thought to the same degree as it has Western thought. All things considered, those from the East and those from the West aren’t that different. Most of those reading this article will be more familiar with European history than with Asian history, but those histories have more similarities than differences. The Medieval period, for example, was marked by numerous wars in both Asia and Europe. Class distinctions were also similar, with strong divisions between royalty and peasants. In both East and West it took a long time before a “merchant” class emerged, forming the foundation for what is now considered the Middle Class.

Political systems were slow to evolve. In the West, we look to the Magna Carta as the beginning of the end of the absolute authority of monarchs. The poet William Blake said, For the Eye altering alters all. We gain perspective when we travel, regardless of our mode of transportation. I suspect that the saying applies to time as much as it does to space. We (including those we consider “less evolved”) are not the same people our ancestors were. Our sensibilities have changed because we know more. In general, the more you know, the less you fear. We tend to be more afraid of the unknown than we are of the known. That doesn’t mean, of course, that any of us would be glad to wrestle a grizzly bear or otherwise engage in risky behaviors. A long time ago, my parents came from California to visit me and my family one very snowy Christmas in Michigan. There was quite a bit of snow on the streets when my father and I went out to run a couple of errands. For me, driving on the snow had become relatively normal. However, I thought my father was going to jump out of his skin every time I turned a corner or came to a stop sign. Driving on snow and ice was an “unknown” for my father, so he had no way of knowing how hard it might be to turn a corner or stop.

The familiar is comfortable, whereas the new is not. The old saying is, Better the devil you know than the one you don’t. But that’s not what ships are built for. We need to remember that we are on a metaphorical ship, and our only real choice is whether we chose to set sail or simply stay in the harbor. Life will be more interesting if you choose to set sail.

Understanding Mohini

If you’re depressed, you’re living in the past.
If you’re anxious, you’re living in the future.
If you’re at peace, you’re living in the present.

Lao Tzu (Laozi), ancient Chinese philosopher and writer

We have been teaching this concept in SCS (energy medicine and linguistics) for decades, but I did not know the awareness of how emotions are related to our orientation in time was shared by Lao Tzu in ancient times. This idea is the basis for the Emotional Freedom audio. It makes me wonder how much other truth we are just now noticing that has been around. Perhaps we are all conditioned, much like Mohini.

Mohini, a white tiger, lived in a zoo. For many years her home was limited to a cage. She ate, slept, and paced in her twelve-by-twelve foot space.

Even after the zoo created a large natural habitat for her—complete with rolling hills, mature trees, and a pond—Mohini lived the remainder of her life pacing in one small 12X12 corner.

Everyone was shocked at her foolish programmed behavior, but are humans that much different? Learning about timelines (See Healing with Language: Your Key to Effective Mind-Body Communication, Bowman and Basham) and verb tenses really does empower you to help others and to help yourself. Awareness of the significant impact language has on our behavior is key!

When people are experiencing a problem—a stuck state—they often use an all-encompassing present tense: “I can’t learn new things” or “my supervisor is a jerk.” Notice what happens when the verb tense changes. “Learning new things has been difficult,” or “my supervisor has been a jerk.”

When a person seems “stuck” in a state or in the experience of a problem, he or she will often use a simple verb tense: “I am depressed.” Simply changing the verb to a progressive tense may help the individual see him- or herself as moving through a particular state or problem: “So you have been feeling depressed.”

We can all listen for the verb tenses people use when talking about their problems. We can skillfully use verb tenses to help others move problems into the past and solutions into the present and the future.

It is also helpful to think about the way you can use your knowledge of timelines and verb tenses to better understand your own problems and/or find appropriate solutions.

Remember that the universal present tense exists through time. When you say that something or someone is, by implication the tense includes past, present, and future: “I am depressed” or “Bob is a jerk.” Shifting to the past tense helps move the problem into the past: “I was depressed.” Using the past tense for such expressions also helps limit the context in other ways: “Bob was being a jerk when. . . .”

While in many ways our mammalian brain allows us, like Mohini, to live our lives captive by our own past experiences, we also have a human brain and you can step free from the trances that have limited your freedom. Freedom is possible!

This Page of Water [Understanding] card from the Osho Zen Tarot Transcendental Game of Zen deck speaks to the climate of freedom that is our true nature.

Tara Brach calls this unfolding the wings of acceptance. In Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of A Buddha, she writes, “When we are caught in the trance of unworthiness, we do not clearly recognize what is happening inside us, nor do we feel kind. Our view of who we are is contorted and narrowed and our heart feels hardened against life.” (p. 27)

I love these additional words from the commentary on the Understanding card, too:

You are out of jail, out of the cage; you can open your wings and the whole sky is yours. All the stars and moon and the sun belong to you. You can disappear into the blueness of the beyond…. Just drop clinging to this cage, move out of the cage and the whole sky is yours. Open your wings and fly across the sun like and eagle. In the inner sky, the inner world, freedom is the highest value—everything else is secondary, even blissfulness, ecstasy. There are thousands of flowers, uncountable, but they all become possible in the climate of freedom.

By living in the reality of this climate of freedom, we notice our thoughts. We take responsibility for our emotional reactions and change our lives. We do not have to live our lives like we were in a cage. We have the opportunity to enjoy the freedom that is ours.

Changing the verb itself is a very smart way to alter the interpretation of a statement of limitation. Consider using feel for conditions you wish to be temporary and am for conditions you want to be permanent. “I feel tired.” “I am confident.” “I feel lonely.” “I am capable of enjoying friends and family.”

I feel sad that Mohini died not knowing she was free to roam her new habitat, but I am excited that we know the sky is the limit because freedom is our true nature.

The Skinner Box Called Life

Debra’s article this month, “Mohini,” provides an example of learned behavior. Having learned how much space she was allowed, Mohini remained within her learned limits, even when more space was available to her. Behavior is often developed—shaped—by environment. Humans demonstrate this every bit as much as tigers and other animals. B. F. Skinner was a behavioral psychologist best known for creating the Skinner Box, designed for shaping behavior through Operant Conditioning.

Those of us who have owned dogs have doubtless used operant conditioning, both rewards and punishments, to shape the behavior of our dogs. If we’re consistent in providing rewards (punishments are not required), we can teach them to come, sit, stand, stay, and a variety of other things by rewarding some behaviors and not others. This works especially for dogs because they are pack animals and tend to do what the pack leader desires. Cats are not pack animals, so they can’t be easily trained with praise. The will, however, respond to operant conditioning as long as they are rewarded with something they really like. While dogs pay attention to “negative reinforcement” (punishment) because pack leaders will punish behavior they don’t like, cats can’t readily be trained with punishment. They have a “get even” mentality, and peeing on your favorite furniture is one of the ways they enjoy getting even….

When it comes to learning, humans have a huge advantage over other animals. Adult animals teach their offspring of course. Young ones typically stay with mom until they are old enough to survive on their own. Mom shows them what’s safe and what isn’t, where and how to find food, and how to navigate their territory. In primitive times, humans did essentially the same. We generally lived in groups for reasons of safety and efficiency. Parents and other elders passed accumulated knowledge on to children. We still do basically the same thing, but we have become more efficient at it because we have learned to disseminate information in a wide variety of ways. In primitive times, children could learn only what the tribe knew. We now have all sorts of printed information available, TV, movies, and computer-based information exchange. Communication gives us a major advantage not available to Mohini: We can learn from other individuals and other cultures. Mohini didn’t have another tiger available to say, “Hey, Mohini, this whole area is yours to explore now.”

The increased ability to exchange information also has a downside. What do we do about those who are different from us? Throughout history, the answer as typically been war: tribal warfare, racial warfare, territorial warfare, cultural warfare, and religious warfare. I suspect other kinds of warfare as well. In “Hamlet,” Shakespeare says that Fortinbras is willing to go to war over “an eggshell.” It isn’t always easy, of course, to know what makes something valuable to another. Shakespeare doesn’t tell us the Norwegian’s motivation for going to war against Poland, but we do know what Medieval warfare was like. Here in the States we have just had the most contentious election in a long time. Democrats and Republicans have been at each other’s throats, not only with a war of words, but also with some physical violence. The irony is that most of those on both sides want the same things for themselves and their families. But pack animals, and humans are essential pack animals, tend to do what the pack leader dictates.

Humans have been conditioned to follow one pack leader or another, so we are a lot like Mohini. We are free to choose alternatives, but “what we know is what we know,” and it is difficult to choose an unknown. You may have seen recent news stories indicating that the George Orwell’s “1984” are up. My sense is that increasing numbers of people are aware that something out of the ordinary is going on, even if they aren’t quite sure what, and even if they don’t yet know what to do about it. We may indeed be in the Skinner Box of life, but once we have figured that out, we will have a better idea of how we might avoid letting old conditioning control our behavior.