Stay On Your Own Mat

Stay On Your Own Mat

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Tom was undeniably smart, and the knowledge he had accumulated in his field was quite impressive. He’d been at the organization from its beginning and had brought in a large number of clients. Unfortunately, as a result, he was basically given the right to do whatever he wanted, and he often showed little to no thought as to how his actions affected those around him. When I began working at this organization, I addressed some of these concerns. Although the management made an attempt to establish some new order, Tom defiantly resisted like a spoiled child.

I was completely appalled by Tom’s arrogant behavior and he knew it. This 33-year-old know-it-all had a masterful way of getting under my skin. He was rude, unkind, and blatantly unprofessional. Tom was a bully, and I would often hear him shaming and belittling others to get what he wanted.

Now I must admit, although I could often see through Tom’s behavior, it didn’t always serve me well. As I mentioned, Tom was a bully.  I happen to be a child-abuse survivor who was raised by a bully. Although I’ve completed years of life-altering therapy, Tom still triggered me.

Over time, I found myself falling into the same pattern I recognized in others: shutting down and not being myself when Tom was around. My smile became nothing more than a front to prop up my strongly held belief that I should remain professional at all times. However, there was no denying the measurable effect this was having on my level of performance. The worst part of this whole experience?  My awareness that I was allowing someone else to have that kind of power over me.

A friend of mine once shared how she often heard her yoga instructor using the phrase “stay your own mat” as a gentle admonition to avoid comparison and judgement. I’ve adopted that phrase as a constant reminder that the only person I have control over is ME.

In a moment of clarity, I realized I had an important decision to make. Would I lean in to my discomfort—the place where the greatest growth comes—or run from it?  I wanted the growth!

From that moment on, I made a conscious decision to stay on my own mat and stop looking at anything Tom did. I tried my best to allow him to be who he was and accept it. If he didn’t care about good people skills and professionalism as I did, I accepted it. If he chose to look the other way when I was talking, that was his choice. I made it my goal to stay completely indifferent toward him, but at the same time continuing to be myself with others.

Now let me tell you, this was not an easy task. There were many times on many days when I had to say, “Shawn, stay on your own mat.” Surprisingly enough, after I made this shift and stuck to it, things did change. But most importantly for my own growth, I changed.

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Silencing Our Self-Editor

Silencing Our Self-Editor

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Anticipation filled the room as we congregated around the large TV in the den to watch video clips from our previous sleepover at the church, which had raised money for hungry children in Africa. Laughter exploded within minutes as we watched Ed, the comedian in our youth group, turn on his charm for the camera with funny faces and hand gestures, and then as pretty, petite Ellen smiled modestly, quickly covering her face with her hands. As the youth director’s video camera slowly moved in my direction, my laughter abruptly faded. For the first time, I could see myself. I saw clearly my feminine mannerisms and facial expressions, which were more pronounced during my unrestrained, boisterous laugh. I was horrified! From that night on, I kept an inner vow that I would work hard to wipe out every socially unacceptable trait. I started with the laughter. As a naturally gifted actor, I learned through constant observation and study how to perfectly play the role that my inner homophobic critic had assigned. The problem with it all: I lost myself in the editing process.

Often rising out of a twisted heap of childhood hurts and painful experiences, our self-editor steps forward to take center stage in our lives. Constructive words to help us grow and move us forward are far from his vocabulary. He prefers negatively driven words and phrases such as, “You’re too fat, you’re too ugly, you’ll never be as talented as your sister, you can’t write; smart, you are not!” Like a voice recorder stuck in play mode, these critical words woven with sarcasm and comparisons relentlessly slash away at the core of who we are. The most detrimental part? We often believe it.

Reprogramming our thinking is the only way to turn off this deprecating voice in our head and silence our self-editor. The challenge for most of us is in the realization that the shutoff switch is directly wired to a life change.

We are a product of our environment, whether we choose to accept it or not. We WILL become like the people and the environs we espouse. If we want healthier thinking, we have to hang out with healthier thinkers. If we want to increase our emotional stability, we have to fill our inner circle with those who are emotionally stable. Health breeds health.

We also attract WHAT WE ARE. If we’ve been struggling with negativity and boundaries for some time, it is very likely that those closest to us are negative and lack boundaries. Quite often, in order to make the needed shift, we have to search for a healthier tribe. What do we look for? We look for others who are WHAT WE WANT TO BECOME.

Realistically, our annoying self-editor might never be completely quelled for some of us; however, by surrounding our self with a healthy and uplifting environment, that paralyzing voice will be muted sufficiently to lose its power over us.

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Reframe It! When we FEEL better, we PERFORM better

Reframe It! When we FEEL better, we PERFORM better

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On a certain Sunday morning, I woke up in one of the foulest moods ever. It was one of those days I wanted to stay hidden, buried beneath my bed covers. I’d spent much of the previous week at home sick, and everything had piled up: a writing deadline, cooking and storing my meals for the upcoming week, a mound of dirty laundry, and a stack of items on my desk screamed for my attention. I also had to attend a meeting later that evening. The more I thought about all the things I had to do, the worse I began to feel. With lethargic movements, I begrudgingly began to sort my laundry. It wasn’t until I snapped at my innocent partner for asking a simple question that I realized I had to do something before I traveled any further into my miserable maze of darkness.

I knew what I had to do: I had to Reframe it.

I quickly took action by self-talking it through, Reframing each thought. “I don’t have to work on my book; I get to work on my book. I’ve been given the gift of crafting words into stories that have meaning. I don’t have to cook my meals for the week; I get to cook. I’m able to utilize the knowledge I’ve acquired from years in the fitness industry to prepare nutritious fuel for my body. I don’t have to do my laundry, I get to. I’m appreciative of the wardrobe I have today. I can easily remember the days that I didn’t have many clothes to wash.”

By the time I’d Reframed every negative thought with a more positive, realistic perspective, my mood had completely changed. Within minutes I was happier, more energetic, and even singing along with the radio as I began to do my work.

Reframing my thinking about my work had a profound effect on the way I felt, AND on my performance. I ended up accomplishing more that day than just the things on my list. When we FEEL better, we perform better.

I think we can all agree that there is an undeniable need around us to FEEL better. And why not? Who doesn’t want to feel better? We’ll take medication to feel better, change jobs to feel better, change romantic relationships, buy a car, or buy a house. Some of us will even take on the latest exercise craze in the quest to FEEL better. And although some of the things we do might be necessary at the time and very beneficial, why do we so often find the “feel better” part to be temporary?

What is often missing is the simple understanding that how we FEEL is directly connected to how we THINK. If we want to change the way we feel, we first have to change the way we think.

We might not be able to control the things that happen to us, but we can control the way we perceive them. Regardless of how bad something appears, we always have the choice to Reframe it.

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Lift the Lid

Lift the Lid

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As a youngster, chasing the girls on the playground was something I really enjoyed. I loved the attention I received from them, and being really fast on my feet afforded me a boost of confidence each time I snagged one. I really liked girls and enjoyed spending time with them. They were fun, pretty, and sensitive—words that had often been used to describe me. I guess I related to girls in some way and felt more comfortable being myself around them. I had lots of girlfriends throughout my school years, but never kept one around for very long or allowed them to get too close.

Yes, I liked girls, but the hidden truth was, I also liked boys. I liked boys in a way that my Grandma and the preacher at the church I attended said I shouldn’t.

Anticipation, love, excitement, and gratitude are some of the common words I have heard expressed by people describing how they felt on their wedding day; for me, it was fear. For months I had been praying, meditating on Biblical passages, fasting, and believing that I would attain a passionate desire for my wife. The only hope I had to hold onto was the deep-seated religious belief that as we said our vows, God would supernaturally transform me from gay to straight.

It was a complete disaster! After four tumultuous years of marriage, I walked away from my wife and my flourishing ministry career.

I had lived my whole life caring more about what others thought of me than what I did, blaming God for not changing me, and immersed in self-pity. I lived stuck in a man-made prison for which I unknowingly had the key. The time had come for me to stop hiding from who I was and to come out of the shadows. Through much prayer, therapy, and unconditional support, I was able to leverage myself out from the endless tunnel of self-righteous judgments, shame, and self-hatred; redirecting a new path for myself.

How often do we buy into the lie that says if it’s supposed to happen it will be, or we are a product of fate and there is nothing we can do about changing it? When we do so, we live trapped; trapped in our poverty, trapped in our depression, trapped in our jobs, and trapped in our abusive relationships. We live blinded to the reality that we CAN LIFT the LID off our circumstances and climb out of the box that keeps our life small. What if LIFE is waiting on us?

When Tameka began to put on weight, she never dreamed that she would end up here: 280 pounds, depressed, lonely, and now, diabetic. As she sat alone thinking about the countless times that she had been asked by her friends to attend a Zumba class or join a walking group, she’d laugh it off saying, “I will one day.” Disappointed with herself but determined to make a change, Tameka took responsibility, picked up her cell phone and reached out to LIFT the LID.

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FEEL the pain

FEEL the pain

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In my early twenties, while driving to work in southern Illinois one rainy night, my accumulating back problems went over the edge when my car was broadsided by an oncoming vehicle. Treated for whiplash and a cervical spine injury, I was unable to work for weeks. I spent months going to chiropractic appointments and living with debilitating pain. Over time, I became able to return to my daily routines, but the chronic pain and the acute sciatica dominated my life and eventually led to my having a lumbar fusion at age 29. For several months following the surgery, it became increasingly challenging not to allow fear to completely submerse me in its grave of discouragement when I realized that little had changed: I could still FEEL the pain!

PAIN gets our attention; physical, emotional, big or small, we don’t like it. We live in a society that hates to FEEL the pain. We avoid it at all costs and attempt to numb it with anything in reach: pain killers, alcohol, excessive busyness, unhealthy relationships, and food. Pain is viewed as the enemy. But is it?

As I completed the fifth and final physical therapy session that my limited insurance plan provided me, it was quite obvious that I would have to take my rehabilitation into my own hands. Still walking with a cane and unable to tie my shoes, I hobbled out to the college running track night after night to walk my laps. My slow, feeble movements resembled those of someone much older, but each persistent step I took filled me with an inner strength and hope that I would not always be like this.

Pain is the warning signal of the mind and body that something is amiss, but is all pain bad? What would happen if we did allow our self to FEEL the pain? Maybe we would join a gym to lose the weight; forgive another to restore a broken relationship; hire a life coach to work on better decision making; go back to college to start a new career; see a marriage counselor to begin the road to healing; work through a twelve-step program to deal with our addiction. Could it be that in our hurried quest to shut out all the pain, we fail to realize that we shut out so much more?

As I fought for a return to my full health, walking and swimming countless laps to strengthen my back and regain what I had lost, I was often humbly reminded of the times that I had been so impatient at the mall or in the line at the grocery store when I encountered the disabilities of others. It’s amazing how the depth and insight of self-awareness and spiritual teaching becomes so much clearer when we allow our self to FEEL the pain.

Much more than our victories, PAIN makes us who we are.

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Safe Place

Safe Place

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As I entered the little white church alone at the impressionable age of seven, I was pleasantly startled by the tender touch of a soft, wrinkled old hand on my little shoulder. She said her name was Mrs. Grace and she asked me if I would like to come and sit with her during the service. I eagerly accepted her invitation and followed her into a nearby wooden pew. She must have noticed my anxiety and nervousness. I’m sure this scared, neglected, abused child with long hair must have looked so awkward and out of place, but Mrs. Grace didn’t seem to mind. As I sat there next to her, she put her loving arm around me and instantly created a SAFE PLACE for me.

“You can’t catch me!” yelled Belinda, her long brown ponytail wagging behind her as she dashed playfully around the spacious elementary school playground during recess. It didn’t take long before I caught up to her and grabbed both of her arms from behind her back, bringing her to a valiant halt. “Caught you!” I said victoriously. We both buckled over in laughter as we lavishly gulped up the fresh spring air.

Do you remember playing the game of chase when we were kids? In that game, there was always a specific space that we designated as being safe. When we would finally reach it, we would eagerly yell out the secret code word – “Safe!” In that moment, we knew we were protected and okay. Within each of us is a deep-seated need to be accepted by others—to feel safe. Isn’t it true that we feel safe when we feel accepted by others? It is equally true that we feel accepted when we feel safe.

I understand that feeling safe in this life is limited because everything meaningful involves some degree of risk. However, I believe that within the innocent child’s game of chase, with the gentle touch of a kind elder, we can find a very practical solution to satisfy this inner longing to feel safe and accepted. We do so by establishing a SAFE PLACE. As we create a safe place for others with our acceptance, we in return create a safe place for our self. It’s the universal spiritual law of sowing and reaping put into action.

Walking by the two young, perfectly sculpted women at the gym that afternoon, I heard their laughter and crude remarks. As I glanced over in the direction they were staring, I saw a frustrated, overweight middle-aged woman struggling to readjust the seat on the leg-extension machine. I quickly walked over and asked her if I could help. Startled, seeming surprised that anyone cared, and embarrassed by her dilemma, she timidly said, “Oh, I’m sorry, sir; I really don’t want to bother you.” “You’re not bothering me,” I said, reassuring her with a smile as I adjusted the seat for her. Appearing relieved, she smiled back and thanked me as she eagerly sat down in her new SAFE PLACE.

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