Rather than burning bridges…

While the year is very young, it is still possible to grasp the moment and endeavor to make some changes in 2014.  A belated resolution, if you will.

Encountering some old wounds over the past few days has brought my attention to an area of my life in which a focus on self-improvement is in order.  The issue is this: how do I set boundaries, and keep them, so that the negative and destructive behaviors of others do not evoke a similar response, or an escalated one, from me?

The typical step one would take is simply to ignore negative people altogether and to go about one’s day-to-day life as if these people do not exist.  There are two problems with this: one, they are still there, and pretending they are not is a practice in self-deception, never a good thing; and two, the attraction to them can be strong because, just maybe, they are the people we want to be close to.

It really comes down to “how do I deal with the inevitable negativity in a way that is not destructive?”  And, hopefully, “how can this powerful force of negativity be redeemed, changed into an enormous strength to build one’s character and to make one wiser?”

Start small

Perhaps, it is best to start small.  We can start by simply noticing the times in which we dwell upon a misspoken word or a fleeting facial expression from others that we convert into a criticism or strong disapproval.  As good as we think we are at knowing the thoughts of others, the fact remains that everyone’s thoughts are his or her own; we do not know them.  To speculate on them, for those who are prone to be self-critical, is to invite a prolonged period of anxiety, and sometimes, even a negative and destructive vocal response, or action, in order to feel that we have evened the score, so to speak.

By starting small, the positive changes can be quite large.  Simply by becoming aware of our own responses to these negative moments, and realizing that our instant interpretation of these actions is likely to be way off base, we allow the relationship to go on unimpeded, and perhaps, to be made stronger.  And, best of all, we are giving the other person a break from the same kind of inner turmoil we place upon ourselves.  And, everyone needs a break!

In time, I believe behaviors can change.  And, given even more time, love can grow from what could have been the ashes of a burned bridge.

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Beauty

While at a dinner party at La Calle Doce in Dallas, we saw this beautiful girl celebrating her First Communion.  Her parents were very gracious in allowing me to intrude long enough to have them pose for this picture.  Just look at the contented faces and smiles of her parents.  This is beauty.

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Redemption

I’ve been thinking a lot today about redemption, especially about the many, many times in my life I have personally been forgiven for things I have carelessly, or sometimes purposely, done that have brought unnecessary pain or troubles to others. In the whole course of life, there have been far too many. The experience of grace is a cleansing of soul and spirit.

Redemption comes in many places. In my life I have experienced it from my wife and daughter, my mother and siblings, and from friends who continue to bless me with simple kindnesses and warm relationships. I become aware of these redemptive moments in the quiet spaces I have created for myself while reading, gardening, cooking, driving, writing, or simply chilling with my hands petting a dog on each side where I am sitting. Grace is truly amazing!

Serenity

Over against the world with all its turbulence, distraction and worry,
one should cultivate a style of mind that can reach through to an inner
stillness and calm.  The world cannot ruffle the dignity of a soul that dwells
in its own tranquility.  Gradually, this serenity will begin to pervade our
seeing and change the way we look at things.

John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

Beauty in the garden and in the spirit

“Our deepest self-knowledge unfolds as we are embraced by Beauty.”

John O’Donohue, from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

Looking at some old garden pictures, these massive sunflowers are from my summer of 2011 seedings.  Caught up in the warm and wonderful memories of my childhood, when these grew wild in back of our suburban home in Dallas, in 2011 I tried to recreate the warmth and beauty of the fondest of my childhood memories of home.  These grew to about 80 inches tall and were loaded with seeds for the birds to eat.

Spirituality and gardening have a superior connection in my life.  Reading from John O’Donohue’s books assures me that I’m not alone in this experience.

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Certainty and uncertainty…finding a sweet spot

I like to think of myself as being spontaneous, even a bit compulsive, when it comes to living every day.  Those who know me well think quite the opposite of me.  To a large degree, they are right!

Rigidity

The more rigid side of me wants to know the rules to play by, whether it is at work, at home, or hard at play.  Along with my own willingness to play by the rules, I expect others to respect the fact that rules are rules, especially when it comes to things that matter, like the workplace, or in relationships.  I believe a certain amount of rigidity enhances trust, that it does not detract from it.  By trusting others to follow the same rules to which we oblige ourselves, we can gradually learn to rely upon our coworkers and friends, that they will not betray our trust.  With practice and experience, it deepens the level of friendship we can have.

Spontaneity and new relationships

On the other hand, rigidity can stifle opportunity for discovery, for relationships which our “safer” side won’t allow, for learning we can swim in the deep end of the pool after all.  When we open our lives to spontaneity, we open ourselves up to new and exciting adventures and motivation for living joyfully.  We discover the beauty of diversity, and we learn that people are people, not enemies vs. friends.

Taking risks

So, what’s the problem?

Whether we can see it clearly or not, allowing or creating new opportunity by stepping out of our comfort zones, involves fear.  We are afraid of risks.  Things like rejection, embarrassment, feeling “stupid”, looking too “fat, ugly, tall, thin… (fill in the blank)” are small, though overwhelming, fears that tell us risks are treacherous and can lead to bad things, and humbling thoughts.

Finding the sweet spot

The way of greater joy and peace, I believe, is to find comfort in those things that we truly trust and upon which we can rely.  Once we are sure of those things, which, by the way, has a lot to do with finding comfort in ourselves, we can gain the confidence that new risks won’t kill us after all.

By taking small steps into this scary new world, we find interesting people, richer relationships, and lots of new things to think about, talk about, and relax about.  This, I believe, is the right path for anyone finding themselves entrapped in a cocoon of safety, and often, boredom.

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