Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I Love a Parade!

If you are getting run out of town, get in front and make it look like a parade.

I haven’t written for several days because I have been trying to practice what I preach. A few days ago, something happened that threw me for a loop. My feelings were deeply hurt. I struggled with how I was reacting. I felt angry and misunderstood and unappreciated. I felt confused and agitated. Old habits beckoned like the Sirens luring sailors to shipwrecks on the rocky shore.

I wanted to lash out with righteous fury. I wanted the person who hurt me to be sorry. I wanted other people to sympathize with me. I was feeding the victim wolf a whole buffalo (Which Wolf are You going to Feed). I was blaming and judging. I was separating myself from the other person. I was calling for love big time (Calling for Love). Fear blossomed like nightshade.

I was at least able to refrain from overtly reacting while I sorted things out. I sat with my feelings and tried to breathe into them. I knew I did not like the way I was handling the situation, but I was hooked. My feelings were stuck. Your feelings are your feelings – you can’t order them about. So I went down a level.

Our feelings are based on our thoughts and beliefs. Unlike feelings, we can choose our beliefs. If we can change our thoughts or beliefs, we can change our feelings. The Dalai Lama uses this method of cognitive intervention to replace anxiety generating thoughts with well-reasoned positive thoughts. I like it because it honors our feelings rather than denying them or trying to force them. Changing our beliefs gently and naturally changes our feelings of separation to feelings of connection.

For example, let’s say you are walking down the street and you pass someone you know who doesn’t acknowledge you. You might feel hurt or annoyed. But look underneath the feelings to the thoughts or beliefs. You might think that the person is upset with you, or that the person is a snob. Then you might think you have done something wrong. Or that you are not good enough in some way. Ask yourself if you know for sure that these beliefs are true. What if you changed them? What if you considered that the sun was in the person’s eyes, or perhaps the person was deep in thought about something and not aware of the surrounding people? Or perhaps the person was having a really bad day and just not feeling friendly. These thoughts generate very different feelings, even compassion. The event didn’t change, but your feelings are different now because you questioned the underlying beliefs.

So I tried it. And guess what – it helped. A lot. I am much better prepared now to meet with this person and talk about what happened. I hope I will be able to listen with an open heart and express love. I am feeding the other wolf now.

This method goes by several names, such as CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) and REBT (rational emotive behavior therapy). You can google either of these to get worksheets that will lead you through a series of questions. It is also described as recasting or rewriting the story. A short formula that is easy to remember is ABC – activating event, beliefs, consequences. This formula is a good reminder to question the B part, the beliefs.

And if you are still having trouble with changing your thoughts, here is a prayer I read this morning in A Course in Miracles.

Father, this is your day. It is a day in which I would do nothing by myself, but hear Your Voice in everything I do; requesting only what You offer me, accepting only Thoughts you share with me.

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