Birthday Reflections

Unrelenting Magnificence - Each day is a new birth
Unrelenting Magnificence – Each day is a new birth

Yesterday (January 29th) was a fantastic day. The weather was hot with a clear blue sky. I took a day off from an otherwise busy work month so prosperity, utility and leisure felt beautifully balanced. I spent the day with my darling Juanita, and had the pleasure of lots of birthday wishes flowing in. I had breakfast at a beach café, enjoyed a massage, and was taken out to dinner. All in all, I had a fantastic day.

The main reflection of my day was how blessed I am in terms of the relationships I have. I have a fantastic wife who is my friend, confidant, fan, and fills so many other fabulous roles. I have friends and family who I enjoy in my life, who I can and do turn to in times of challenge, and from whom I receive unique blessings and gifts because of their presence. The quality of my relationships can also be measured by the progress I have made with some that have been difficult, or how some unexpected difficulties within some of these relationships have been addressed and worked with.

As I look back over the past year it has been one of the toughest, most challenging I have ever experienced, with significant hurdles on a number of fronts that covered various aspects of my identity – father, partner, active and healthy man, and productive contributor to name a few – and for much of the time I had no idea how it could work out positively. I did hold a belief that it would. The key really has been founded in the quality of the relationships I have and trusting that whatever I was facing I would learn, grow and benefit from, and that I would ultimately thrive.

I am also very aware of the Buddhist concept of impermanence summarised as “and this too will change.” Nothing is permanent. Everything is fleeting. Whether suffering or joy, pain or pleasure, it will change. There are no guarantees about when, how or in which direction change will occur, only that everything will change. At the end of this very wonderful day I get to celebrate that regardless of what yesterday has been, and without knowing what tomorrow brings, I am alive in this moment, and I feel fantastic. How many fantastic moments can I string together through the web of experience that makes up my life? How can frame those moments I don’t enjoy into something I do appreciate and make meaningful, and move them closer to being experienced as fantastic? Can I approach every day in serenity and with appreciation for the fact I have life in me? That is indeed a challenge worth living for.

Hereditary Traits

You’ve probably had those moments where you realise you are indeed like your parents in some of their habits and behaviours. That may even be true for those that you promised yourself you’d not repeat when you grew up. Oh, the agony of realising that despite your best efforts, indeed perhaps because of them, you are like your parents in ways you’d rather was not the case.

Checking out DNA and hereditary characteristics
Checking out DNA and hereditary characteristics

That is not to say parents are bad. I have been a child of parents. I know there are definitely things they did that I did not wish to reproduce in my life. I am also a parent, and I get that at times my kids say, to themselves if not always out loud, “Dad, you’re weird. I will not be like that when I am older.” Good luck!

My dad left the family when I was turning 8. Now, after 40 years without contact we are developing a relationship, getting to know each other. Even with such a short period of influence on my life it is really surprising and interesting to realise that in so many ways I really am like him. Like magic… got you! I have found creative ways to exhibit some of his behaviours in my life. For example, I swore I’d never be into cars, gleaning more performance for racing, as I remembered him doing. Not me! Instead I spend my energy on my computer creating a better system for myself. Same behaviour, different application!

The flip-side to this is that I am also learning a lot that is great about him, and also about myself. I know more of his background that shaped him, and as a consequence understand some of the areas I have had to work on for myself. For example, I had often been in survival mode, expecting the world to deal with me harshly, and generally expecting the worst. Not all of that can be placed on my dad, but I now know he lived through the Second World War in London, was very much in survival mode, and on any given day there could be news that someone who mattered was dead. I have not been through a war yet I can see the influence of his war experiences in how I have lived my life.

What have you inherited from your parents? It can be an illuminating experience to review your behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, (including prejudices) and check which parent contributed them to you. Have fun!

Relationships of Trust

Trusted jump
Trusting child leaps to an adult

When you have a relationship with someone that is full of trust and honesty, fantastic things can happen. Trust is akin to feeling safe. You are able to jump into the scary unknown with assurance that you will be okay. A trusting relationship provides such a safety net in which you can work through your emerging fog in safety. Being able to fully express what is up for you, knowing the other person will not take it personally, and that they will listen without judgement is liberating. It enables you to be open, vulnerable and honest, walk where you might otherwise fear to tread, and as a consequence unearth and resolve older, deeper emotional and mental patterns. This is a significant purpose of relationship. Remembering that whatever arises from within you is your own, not the other persons, to work through, enables clear lines of connection in the relationship, no matter what you are working with.

I have such a relationship in my marriage. We have had some significant and robust discussions that required trust on both our parts, and strengthened our trust as a result. Often the sharing is much smaller but the act of sharing still requires trust, and is still beneficial. The act of giving myself permission to share what is going on inside is a major freeing step to take. Recently I awoke from a restless, dream-filled night, felt quite anxious and full of shame, and was able to share this. A burden shared really is a burden reduced, and my experience was an immediate lightening of my mood and I had a fabulous and fruitful day. In the past I might have carried my mood throughout the day and suffered for it.

Whether a partner, friend, or trusted community, it is worthwhile finding someone you can fully, freely and safely express whatever is going on for you, and be received without judgement. The act of choosing to be witnessed in a vulnerable state provides relief to the soul and a chance to expand into new space.

What Will My Legacy Be?

Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China, a national legacy

Following on from my previous blog entry, another train of thought that arose for me as I attended Christina’s funeral service last week was related to my legacy.

  • What will I be remembered for?
  • What value will my presence in this world have added?
  • How will others’ remember me?
  • What would I like to be remembered for?

As I reflected on different stages of my life, I recognised that my legacy and how I would be remembered has changed over time. Twenty years ago I founded the Project Management Institute (PMI) New Zealand chapter, and subsequently served on the international board of PMI. At that point in my life I would have been remembered by a good number of project managers around the world, and some may have thought, “Stephen added value to my career. He made a difference to this profession.”

My ideas about what is important have changed (dare I say ‘matured’?) with time. That question, ‘what do I want to be remembered for?’ is much more significant for me now. I realise that I need to act congruently with my life purpose. I now have more of a clue what that is for me. When I am ‘on purpose’ I have energy and passion that I experience in no other way. I know that when I live in tune with my life purpose I don’t care what people will remember me for. Nor do I care how they judge me now. Instead I live my life for me. Then, I am fully intent on living a meaningful and satisfying life that engages my head, heart and gut in pursuing what truly matters to me. In doing that I maximise the likelihood of creating real value in my life that may benefit others, but that is a bonus, not the motivation. And I am getting better at staying connected with my purpose and living it.

What would you like to be remembered for? Are you living your life in line with your purpose? If not, when will you start doing so?

Reminded To Live and Love

relationship bridge building
Rebuilding a connection with another person

A dear friend of mine, Christina, died this week and as I went to her funeral yesterday with my partner several thoughts were foremost in my mind, aside from the loss of her from this mortal sphere. One was a deep reminder of the importance of living in the moment and making the most of what life has to offer, particularly my connection with others.

Avoidance happens all too often when we have conflict or have experienced hurt with others. While not addressed, there is wasted energy that goes towards maintaining the protections we erect against being hurt again, particularly by those we have cared about. Not only do we lose capacity to connect with the other person but we also deny or disown to some extent that part of us that actually cares about and loves that person. We deny that part of us because we don’t want to open our heart and be hurt again. We may even condemn that part for being stupid enough to  expose us to hurt. Have you ever loved someone deeply and had your heart broken?

I have learned there is amazing value in reclaiming that part of me that has loved another by healing through the hurt and opening my heart in love to them again. Then I can fully love and reclaim the part of me that loved them. This does not require that person to be in my life though that can help. There are a number of people who I love deeply that I don’t expect to ever connect with again. However I am freer as a person as a result of the healing process. I have reclaimed those loving parts of me, and don’t have to waste energy protecting myself in those areas.

I have had some fabulous experiences where I have enjoyed the fruits of engaging with my healing process related to someone and then, out of the blue, having them reconnect with me. One such experience was reuniting with my father who I had not had contact with for 40 years, and for much of that time had not known or cared whether he was alive or dead. When I did meet him, having already healed the past as much as possible, I was better able to deal with whatever arose in real time. Healing relationships with those we have loved is more about reclaiming ourselves than any specific outcome with the other person. Whatever we do, they may not wish to reconnect. In doing our work we become freer and better able to live life fully.

I Don’t Want To!

I Don't Want To!
You can’t make me! I don’t want to!

A factor that often influences our ability to achieve goals is the voice from within, perhaps accompanied by a stamping foot of a temper tantrum, “I don’t want to.” Why not? You know you need to, and perhaps want to, reduce weight, give up smoking, be more sociable, or whatever else it happens to be. Yet some voice within you resists. And when you attempt to carry out the goal other forms of resistance occur – procrastination, lapsing back into and bingeing on what you’re wanting to give up, or a strong voice in the head saying “You can’t do that. You’re useless” (or other such messaging). All manner of pressure may arise from within to stop you succeeding.

I have found that when this happens to me the part of me that does not want to do the “thing” is a three or four year old child within me. That is how it is functioning. And the messaging is what I heard from my nearest and dearest when I was growing up, or how I interpreted what I experienced.

Both the age of your internal voice and your nature of your messaging may be different. However many of the ingredients are likely to be similar, and so will the resolution.

With the child, become its loving parent and friend, someone it learns to trust to keep it safe, stay with and who will provide a sound environment to develop in. This includes providing the some firm, clear boundaries around what is acceptable, and some good reasons for those boundaries. Being your own parent is not easy. It takes practice and time.

With the negative messaging, you’ll need to reframe it into something positive, teach that critical part of yourself that what it is saying is neither correct nor acceptable. Be a role model to the critic, loving it as you want it to love you. That may go against years of patterning, but making that change can bring ease to your internal world.

How Do I See Myself?

New Year 2013 has arrived, and some questions worth asking are:

What do I see when I look at myself?
How do I see myself?
  • How do I see myself?
  • Am I comfortable, content, and at peace with myself?
  • Do I have a list of ‘Must Change’ or ‘Should Have Changed Already’ items?
  • Do I accept myself as I am?
  • Do I love myself unconditionally?
  • Do I hear a voice of condemnation ringing in my ears?

I recommend dropping ‘must’ and ‘should’ from your vocabulary, and use words such as ‘could’ and ‘may’. ‘Should’ and ‘Must’ carry a degree of aggression and force against yourself, compulsion to do things, and condemnation when they are not accomplished to the satisfaction of your internal critic. They arise from the Fight Survival Reaction, and is rooted in fear.

A gentler approach identifying what you ‘could’ choose to do, and ‘may’ accomplish does not remove the possible goals. It does reduce the dictator that we so often resist anyway. How many of the past goals you have said you ‘should’ or ‘must’ do have you actually achieved? No one like a bossy boots, even when it is us against ourselves. Developing a warmer, gentler, accepting and loving relationship with yourself could be a fabulous gift you offer yourself in this New Year.