Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Circle with No Exit


No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. ~Albert Einstein

I’ve been stuck for months in a thinking pattern about a certain situation in my family. When I think about it, I get upset. When I get upset, I want to “fix” the situation so that I won’t be upset. Fixing the situation involves getting the other people in this situation to behave in a different way, meaning, of course, the way I think best. If they would behave differently, then there wouldn’t be a problem and I wouldn’t be upset. It’s so simple.

As you can imagine, I’m not having much success with this approach. I know that, and yet I repeatedly return to it. It’s so easy and fall into that familiar pattern of making my own happiness and peace of mind dependent on someone or something else. I have to repeatedly remind myself that my well being is my own responsibility and is based on my own thoughts. When I remember this, then for a few moments I feel serene. Until I start to feel resentment towards the others for “making” me have to remind my self of this over and over. Sigh.

As my tai chi teacher observed, it’s a circle with no exit. As long as I am in that plane of consciousness, there will be attack and defense, gain and loss, us and them, winning and losing. And at the root of all of those...fear.

How do I get out of this circle? Ah, perhaps the solution is in the question. I can’t get out of the circle by searching the circumference for an opening. There is none. In accepting the reality of the circle, I’m accepting my confinement within it.

But what if I render the circle meaningless by shifting to a different plane, one where there is no us versus them, where this and the other dualities no longer exist? Where fear transforms from arrows into flowers like the evils hurled by Mara at the enlightened Buddha?

On this plane, the other people in my family situation are not sources of anger or frustration or anxiety. They are angels sent to me, leading me to my meditation cushion instead of my soapbox, opening my heart with compassion instead of closing it with judgment, teaching me to trust the basic goodness of the universe instead of my futile efforts to control it. And instead of feeling resentment, I am humbly grateful.

Here, there are no circles.

related posts: No One Wins in Court; On the Razor’s Edge

56 comments:

  1. You mention your tai chi teacher. Great stuff. I went to tai chi classes for many years and I haven't done it since my husband died... 13 years ago. Now I would like to do the forms again. There are other forms of martial arts here but not tai chi. So I'll struggle along with my dvd trying to get it back again.

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    1. Manzanita, It's too bad there are no tai chi groups near you. A DVD would be the next best thing. I really enjoy it, and kung fu, too.

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  2. I've not taken Tai Chi so I've no context, but I do relate to the analogy about circles. I've probably read this a different way,but I think we try and get out of situations for which there is no exit. We fight what cannot be won when we should hunker down and give way to trust and see where that leads.

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    1. brenda, The circle analogy could have come from anyone; it just happened to be my tai chi teacher who said that. Your take on the circle analogy reminds me of the serenity prayer--asking for the serenity to accept what I cannot change. That's another good way to look at it.

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  3. "They are angels sent to me, leading me to my meditation cushion instead of my soapbox . . ."
    Ah! To step away from the circle and enter the plane of peace. It's truly what we must do to maintain our mental, physical, and spiritual health and balance. Because, the sooner we realized we only have control over ourselves, the better off we are. I'm still trying to convince my 84-year-old mom of this . . .
    Great post, Galen! Blessings, my friend!

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    1. Martha, Good luck with your mom. I was never able to convince mine. But clearly, I have some work left to do right here at home! Blessings back to you.

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  4. When you feel humbly grateful it indeed is the first step, in solving anything don't you think? My favorite thoughts on this, is as old and worn out as many of our troubles and woes in life. Things, well, Everything, does have a way of working out, in the end. Sometimes not in the direction we hoped, but I know from my own stories within my circle of loved ones, sometimes the light finally enters where it needs to be. Good luck Galen, I'm cheering for you!

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    1. Karen, Humble gratitude sure is better than fearful judgment and defensiveness. Definitely. And yes, it will all work out. I appreciate the good wishes.

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  5. Thank you for writing this because I really needed to read it! I am struggling with some resentment. It seems to go away, and then I start thinking about the situations and get angry and upset again. I love the image of "angels sent to me." It's a wonderful way to picture those that we have "issues" with. I want to move beyond the issues to peace about the situations. You've provided inspiration for me!

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    1. Tina, Good! I'm so glad this post was timely.

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  6. Oh those relatives! Just want to smack some sense into them, some days. Since we can't, what I've done is lean back against the counter and observe them and the scene as if I'm just there on a soul level level, not in my ego. Funny enough, I do imagine it as circles! I look at each one and in my mind I say,"Thank you for coming in my life to drive me crazy, I'm sure that's something we agreed to do for each other and in some way there's only good coming from the lessons." Or something to that effect. And then I come back into my body, roll my eyes, and walk away :)

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    1. Julie, You sound just like me, only funnier! I'm going to use your line for sure, many times, I expect!

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  7. That's the way to take things I guess Galen!

    Relatives and family can often get to us some days, while on the others everything seems to be sailing so smooth. It makes us wonder why such things are happening in our lives, and is it only in ours or everyone goes through such phases. It IS a never ending circle or chain of events that tend to often bring us down , but yes...we need to fight those fears and move away to seek our own peace of mind and contentment - even though we know we have to live with things.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

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    1. Harleena, The end of your comment is the key for me--knowing I have to live with certain situations. I might not have control over that, but I can control "how" I live with it. I'll keep working on that part.

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  8. Galen,

    This sounds like a magical solution to a challenging, repetitive cycle! Are you able to shift to another plane? How do you do it?

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    1. Sandra, Yes, I am able to do it. How? I shift my thinking away from fear and all that is based in fear. I suspend judgment of the situation as "bad" and trust that there are aspects I may not be able to understand, sort of like God's ways are not my ways, although maybe not as literal as that. I start saying thank you for the situation and to the people involved in it, even if I don't really mean it! I know that true gratitude will come eventually. And I remember what the Dalai Lama said about our enemies being our greatest teachers, so I start looking for the lessons with open curiosity.

      Sounds great, doesn't it? I can actually do this...for nanoseconds at a time! I guess that's where the "practice" comes in, by repeating the process as many times as I find myself back in a fear based perspective.

      And that's where the next level of practice comes in because I start to get tired of repeating the process and I start thinking I should be better at it so I didn't have to do it so often. I should just be able to stay in that kumbaya serenity all the time. Ah, a whole new lesson in moving away from judgment!

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  9. Galen,
    I have the same repetitive cycle of thinking going on. It is a daily - I hate to say "battle" but, challenge to constantly remind myself not to get on my soapbox with the people I care about in my life too.

    I've finally gotten to the point where I am mindful enough to stop, step back and look for what within me is causing me to be so irritated. But, it is still a massive effort.

    Life is about growth and, as you know, we usually don't grow unless we are challenged. It's too easy for us to stay in our comfort zones. I love the idea of thinking that the people who upset me are "angels" sent to help me learn how to accept others unconditionally.

    Thank you for this excellent article. I needed the reminder!

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    1. Angela, So true that our area of growth is at the point of challenge, not where we are comfortable. Bummer-ha! I thought I would have to repeat this lesson less often as time goes on, but it seems almost the opposite. The good news, I suppose, is that I catch myself more quickly and I don't spend so much time in fear based thinking.

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  10. Great post...for me the best thing is not to enter the circle to begin with. Then the second best thing is think of it as a round-about and get out of it at the first opening. One of my fav motto is "I used to get angry...now I am merely amused".

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    1. The good thing about a round-about is that there are openings, if you can get to them! I remember my first time driving into the Etoile in Paris thinking I would never get out! Great motto. I will try to be amused about this situation.

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  11. I love the way you've self-talked your way to a wonderful conclusion, Galen. One thing I practice doing is pretend to leave my body in the circle and let my soul fly out and look within from the outside. I quite like that fantasy because it often makes me laugh. My Mom always said that Problems wrap/trap solutions and only if we peel them like a fruit, the solution emerges. If only life were that easy :-) But I like it...and imagine it to be like a banana whose skin can be stripped off in as many strips as we choose,and the fruit savored and enjoyed.

    The photo - I once saw a magicians busted kind of show where they demonstrate how they do their trapped in a bubble trick. Hugs to you!

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    1. Vidya, what a wonderful image of leaving your body in the circle and flying out. I'm going to use that for sure. And thanks for more wisdom from your Mom.

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  12. I've been working on this quote for the manifesto page on my Dream-Speak site, because I like to read and watch movies about happiness. Studies have shown that we are happier when we surround ourselves with happy people and we are directly affected by the people closest to us without even knowing it. But how does this fit into the puzzle of our own thoughts dictating our situations? It does though. Science has a way of coming at things backwards. They seem to start at the edges and work inward instead of the other way around. Maybe science is the act of proving what we manifest and spirituality is proving that we still exist without it. Anyway here is the quote -

    “If my happiness is dependent upon the happiness of those I surround myself, and the people around me are dependent upon my happiness, this makes my purpose easy to define; I can only, and must, work on my own happiness. It is the state of my own center that effects the world around me.” nicole~

    And yes, I see what you are saying, by changing the way you view the circle you have the ability to remove the circle. Kind of like looking at a spot on the window makes you see the window, but if you look beyond it to the trees, the glass disappears.

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    1. nicole, Great analogy to the window and trees--I like that! And thank you for sharing that quote. It would be great, wouldn't it, if we could restrict our personal space to only happy people. Then all our happiness would reinforce each other's. But sometimes unhappy people are necessarily in our lives, which brings us back to your guiding quote about being responsible for our own happiness, and thereby being a light of joy to others. Thank you for sharing that.

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  13. And then you WAIT.....love the perspective on this - we do have choice and good for you to chose to meditate and wait....
    Much love,
    Nancy

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    1. Nancy, Yes, life is bring me yet another opportunity to practice my word. And January isn't even over yet. This word is going to be like boot camp this year!

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  14. A great reminder! It's in how I view situations, circumstances, and events which leads my ego to want to run my show, not my heart and my ego can be N A S T Y sometimes if I allow it to be, so I try not to go there and keep my serenity.

    Life is so interesting; so very, very interesting. It can be as simple or as complex as I imagine it is, and just for today it's going to be a simple one! :-)

    Hope you have a wonderful day Galen!

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    1. darlin, It really can be simple, can't it? Simple and always interesting! Hope you have a great day, too.

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  15. This post was eye-opening to me. I have been praying about a situation with my husband on how to get him to understand that his viewpoint on an issue is wrong -- but I now see that what I have been asking for is for him to agree that my view is the right one! Am I really that controlling that my way has to be the right one? I've been looking at this all wrong! I've printed out the post to remind me that others are not responsible for my feelings and happiness - only I am in charge of that. Thank you! Thank you!

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    1. I'm so glad that this post is timely for you. It's true that we often see our view as the "right" one and we get frustrated with those who can't "get it." Our personal relationships often mirror the current political climate in the US in this way! Anyway, I hope this will help you shift your perspective and bring some peace to your spirit. Good luck!

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  16. Hi Galen,
    Oh I love the circle analogy. I've said for years that this is the Twilight Zone where nobody sees the same reality and its best if I try to remain the observer and let the Universe handle the details. I am always so grateful when I can pull that off!

    I'm going thru a divorce now and this process has taught me many things. I can finally give up trying to change things (him), and in accepting who/what he is, realize that to stay here just for financial security (selling my soul) is wrong. There is no blame, no fighting (been there, done that) and I am surrounding myself in peace and kindness. It is a difficult transition period so I am doing what I can to at least be compassionate for all concerned.

    You and your book came into my life at (of course) the perfect time!
    Hugs
    SuZen

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    1. SuZen, Blessings to you in this time of challenging transition. I've been there, too, trying to change someone else so that I will feel all right about the relationship. Aiming for compassion is a wonderful approach, including compassion for yourself, of course. (Love the Twilight Zone analogy!)

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  17. An episode with a friend last weekend had me resentful. She's been doing the same thing for 40 years and I want her to stop it. I called my sister and said, "I'm going to tell you a story and I want you to tell me what part I played." I did and she did. Turns out I wasn't taking care of myself. We talked about what I should do next time and I will. After that, the resentment was gone.

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    1. Linda, What a great approach! Maybe I could call you and tell you the story and you could tell me what part I played! I'm kidding about calling you, but I'm not kidding about using this technique. Thank you!

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  18. I get this entirely. I actually have to remind myself at times that I might be the one who introduces the boundary between those who are problematic and me and then I think it is a barrier I can't overcome. I loved the post and analogy, Galen and one thing I have learned is a problem is perceived differently when we stop giving it permission to control our thoughts. You seem to have recognized this without my saying it.

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    1. Kathy, Your point is well taken, and I need to think about what boundaries/barriers I have erected myself. Thank you.

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  19. I loved this post and can identify with it entirely. Sometimes the very barrier I think is preventing me from resolving the issue is a boundary I imposed, perhaps even unwittingly.
    I also have learned that you can perceive a problem much differently when you refuse to give it permission to hoard your thoughts, but you already seem to have discovered that. Love the analogy.

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    1. Kathy, I think you didn't see your comment right away and thought it didn't go through. I have comment moderation so it did. But since you rewrote this in a slightly different way, I published both comments because I think they are both valuable. Thank you.

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  20. What a great post! Over these past few years, I find myself focusing more and more on feeling and investigating my fears. Once I felt like I was completely fearless and the I realized I was living a life full of fear. Working toward focusing on living with less fear and expectations has helped me minimize the resentment that plagued me for years and years (and still does at times). Its amazing how easy it is to fall into the circle of resentment. I continue to work on viewing the difficult times and people in my life with gratitude and acceptance. Thank you for the reminder.

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    1. Kaylin, Me, too! I used to think I was fearless because I did bold and adventurous things. When a friend told me that I was driven by fear I thought she was full of baloney. I came to realize that she knew me better than I knew myself. I worked hard, like you, to change that and deal with my root fears so that I could live in joy instead of fear. But the fear sneaks back in sometimes, doesn't it? I need frequent reminders myself.

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    2. Kaylin, Your name links to your profile, but your profile does not link to your blog, if you have one. If you do, you might want to change that so that readers can find your blog through your comments on other blogs. I would love to read your blog if you will send the link.

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  21. a priest once told me to take it to the manager...took the pressure off me and gave me a whole new outlook. good luck!!

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  22. I certainly know what you're saying here. For me, learning about various different personality types has been greatly helpful in increasing tolerance and empathy for other people's points of view.

    I've kind of stopped expecting people to think like me, even though as you point out, I sometimes wish they did. But I suppose that would be boring in the end, and we wouldn't learn much of anything, which is the reason we come here in the first place.

    Without a little struggle there would be no gain. I'm not at all surprised to see that you grasp that too. Good for you! Keep calm and carry on. :-)

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    1. Jennifer, Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, and for the encouraging words. I had not thought about it in terms of personality types, but that is helpful. I also think about our own spirit's journeys here, trusting that we are all on the journey we need to be on.

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  23. Thinking about that WAIT word...from your writing...then just dashed around all my filing mess to find this quote I used at Wise Ears..
    "Imagine that every person in the world is enlightened but you. They are all your teachers, each doing just the right things to help you learn perfect patience; perfect wisdom, perfect compassion." Buddha

    It is measured in nanoseconds - this is true at least in my experience! But there is also the Positive use of force within Nonviolent Compassionate Communication (Dr. Marshall Rosenberg) I received hours of this lesson when my youngest was in high school...I could not have made it through with out our mediator - guide. A true gift to our future. The fear was driven by the possibility of her death or violence against her

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    1. Patricia, Yes, I'm learning a lot from my word...and the year is still young! Thanks for sharing the Wise Ears quote--perfect.

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  24. Galen,
    I too can get into this circular thinking and get nowhere with myself. It happened to me this week as well. I felt it painfully in my very cells. Old hurt, stubbornness. I tried to let the old story go and just allowed myself to feel without the old meaning. I just breathed into the tightness in my chest and eventually it passed. I never even acted on it (outwardly) and I am glad.:)

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    1. Jodi, Painful in your cells--that's a powerful image. And it reinforces that our view of a situation affects our whole being. Breathing into it. I'm doing a lot of that!

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  25. Hi Galen,

    I love the term - a circle with no exit. It fits for so many situations. I would go round and round when I was struggling with my children's substance abuse. I couldn't understand why, since it was so obvious that I had the answers, and that they should listen to me. I realized after awhile that there had to be a better way. Thanks so sharing your story.

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    1. Cathy, That is a perfect example (and a sad one) of exactly what I was trying to say. I appreciate how you are sharing that "better way" on your blog.

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  26. Wow, did I need to read this one today. In my family there is a volatile situation that got started on facebook. Luckily, I have them hidden so at least the war wasn't posted on my page. All I can say is it was awful and I want to fix it and I can't. No one can fix it and trying to make peace with it is difficult. Thanks you for your thoughts because I am looking at the situation in a different light.
    Blessings to you for this one!

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    1. LeAnn, Social media communication is a two edged sword, isn't it? There is something about online communication that lowers our thought process--we will say things that we would probably not say in person. Also, things are more easily misunderstood. And it's more public. I'm not sure that "social" media is all that social sometimes. I'm sorry for your family situation, and I hope time will heal.

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  27. As usual, my friend, your words are cause to pause. Thank you for the transparency of bringing your dilemma to your readers; it is helpful to know there are fellow sufferers out there! It's good to be reminded that the pieces of my life that seem broken are not . . . they are growth opportunities waiting for the perfect time to burst through the hardened ground that is often my own obstinant refusal to let go.

    Here's to bustin' through together!

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  28. Oh my I know that circle all to well. great post, just what I needed to hear today.

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