Consider drawing a comparison between the act of de-cluttering and washing dishes.  Here’s what Geneen Roth wrote about washing dishes in her book Women Food and God:

“…If you focus on getting the dishes done so that your kitchen will be clean, you miss everything that happens between dirty and clean.  The warmth of the water, the pop of the bubbles, the movements of your hand.  You miss the life that happens in the middle zone—between now and what you think your life should be like.  And when you miss those moments because you’d rather be doing something else, you are missing your own life.  Those moments are gone.  They will never come back.”

Whether our clutter is in the middle of the living room or hidden away in a storage unit, how often have we’ve told ourselves, “If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of all this stuff, I’ll be free!”?  Heaving it all into a trash bag seems like such a tidy solution, but it doesn’t solve the clutter issue.  In fact, it will most likely come back and probably with a vengeance.  If we are determined to deal with our clutter, we must immerse our hands in the stuff we’ve accumulated from the past.  We must pull it apart piece by piece, admire it or disparage it, and determine what to do with it.

When we focus on the present, the clutter right before our very eyes, rather than on the shame or embarrassment for having it, we have the opportunity to be curious about ourselves.  Roth writes, “You become curious about feelings and sensations.  You start listening to your body.  You stop bossing yourself around…”  We enter into the sensual moment, what she calls the middle zone.  We touch, smell, see, hear and maybe even taste the no longer fresh or crisp past.  Is it a bit stale, maybe even rancid?  Dusty or crumbling?  Wrinkled or torn?

The Crux of the Issue

Take the example of paper clutter.  Let’s say we’re dealing with a pile of disparate papers; some are unpaid bills and financial papers; others uncompleted drafts of short story we’ve written; still others are cards and notes from friends. Just looking at that pile can evoke a tightness in our solar plexus or an uptick in our heart rate.  These physical feelings we usually ignore, or if they’re too distressing, we’ll shove them into the deepest sinews of our body.

Many of us can’t wait to jump into that pool of self-condemnation, the leap from the physical to the mental.  How am I going to pay for that water heater?  I still have to update my will.  I’ll never be a good writer, so why even try to finish that short story.  All those cards from friends I must write to or at least call!  That harsh litany of self-castigation is painful.  We want to avoid it, and this is where we get stuck!

Roth nails this situation so well in her book:  “If you get stuck, it’s usually because you’re having a reaction to a particular feeling—you don’t want to feel this way, you’d rather be happy right now, you don’t like people who feel like this—or you’re locked into [a] comparing/judging mode.”

She distinguishes between feelings, which are in the body, and reactions, which are in the head.  “A reaction is a mental deduction of a feeling…In an attempt not to feel what is uncomfortable, the mind will often rant and ramble and tell us how awful it all is.”  And that is the crux of the issue!

The Energy of Feelings

Dealing with clutter often, if not always, evokes uncomfortable feelings.  It’s dealing with the undealt with—the stuff we didn’t want to deal with when it first appeared.  Not everything has to be acted on when it first shows up, but eventually action is called for.  And if we don’t handle it, someone else will have to.  You can choose.

But what if we allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable?  Why not honor the uncomfortable feeling?  Where does it show up in our body?  Does it have a color?  How big is it?  Is it moving or stationery?  Is it hard or soft?  Does it have a shape?  Ask these questions and any others that come to mind.  Give yourself time to sink into it.  Breathe into it.  When we do that, we are in the middle zone.

A feeling has energy.  By honoring it, we allow it free expression. If we were to anthropomorphize it, it would most certainly want to speak its mind.  Once it had its say (and one time might not be enough), it would lose the air it needs to speak, like an inflated balloon whose opening is no longer knotted.  It becomes flat and lifeless, allowing us to move forward.

Asking for Help

If it still seems difficult to face the feelings clutter evokes, then get help.  If you have a trusted friend or family member who can serve as an objective witness to your facing your clutter, enlist his or her help.  If you believe a professional de-clutterer will serve you more effectively, don’t hesitate to call on one.  But sometimes the feelings blocking you are deep and complex.  If they continue to impede your progress, seek the help of a therapist.

Physical feelings and mental reactions are all part of the de-cluttering process.  Deciding whether to throw our clutter into a trash bag or “donate” box is just one aspect.  To get at the root of the clutter issue, a holistic approach is needed.  Even though our goal may be a clear, clean, clutter-free space, we benefit the most when we immerse ourselves in the present, letting the past drift off into the ethers and the future approach at its own pace.  We live our richest life when we’re in the middle zone.  Maybe we should all wash more dishes to get there.

“You picked HIM!” That’s what a therapist said to me as I was licking my wounds from a failed relationship when I was in my twenties. My reply, “No, I didn’t!” Then I went on to explain that HE approached me and that some kind of chemistry enveloped me. I couldn’t escape. I was caught in the magical web of attraction.

Now more than 40 years later I finally got it—what the therapist was trying to tell me. I did choose HIM. I chose to write his name on my dance card, and then I chose to dance with him until he decided to dance with someone else. He left me. I was left holding the detritus of a fantasy.

I writhed in the grief of abandonment and victimhood for a good long while…actually too long. I claimed my victimhood, made depression my best friend and shrouded myself with self-protection. As much as I wanted another relationship, I wasn’t going to let this scenario happen again. The sad thing is that it happened several more times.

And why was I seeking a relationship anyway? I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was operating under the false premise that if I had a relationship I would be complete. It was the tangible proof I was lovable—a necessary notch in my self-esteem. Without it who was I?

Are You Really Taking Responsibility?

Taking responsibility is not an easy thing to do, especially if you’ve been ignoring its role in your life or worse—thinking you’ve been taking responsibility all along when, in fact, you haven’t been.

This notion started coming clear to me just a few years ago. The story begins in 2005, when I started a new career as a Tarot card reader. As destiny would have it, I quickly met and became friends with a Tarot entrepreneur in my area. I was hungry to learn. She offered classes, workshops with renowned Tarot experts and opportunities to read at Tarot parties. Why wouldn’t I befriend her?

About a year later, she suggested we teach a class together using Tarot cards and essential oils to unlock blocks to prosperity. It was a cool idea and since I teach and create classes, I was in. As we developed the class I started noticing her sidelining my ideas. She named the class, wrote the marketing materials and developed the agenda. My job was to say yes and carry out the role she had slotted for me.

Sacrificing Integrity

That insidious feeling of “being controlled” started inserting itself into my psyche. I expressed my concerns, but timidly because I felt beholden to her for all those opportunities previously mentioned that she appeared to offer. Ah, the classic case of sacrificing your integrity in order to get something you believe you can’t get on your own. I saw her as my doorway to new people, experiences and business. Arguing with her that my ideas merited attention wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t jeopardize the relationship if I wanted to get more of the “goodies” she offered.

I am not proud to admit this. On the other hand, this friendship did give me many opportunities to learn more about who I am and how I choose to live my life. We had a friendship for at least nine years and during that time I learned a lot, not only about Tarot but about myself. The control factor, however, became intolerable. I found I didn’t trust her. I didn’t want to share my thoughts and feelings with her. I wanted her to go away. Eventually I went away.

Two years later I learned about the Emotional Freedom Technique, known as EFT or tapping. Because I kept stewing about this relationship, I decided to tap on it. (For those who don’t know about tapping, check out www.thetappingsolution.com.) I held no expectations that anything would happen when I started the tapping protocol.

Midway through lightning struck—a moment of blinding clarity came through. I saw my complicity in this relationship in a way I had never acknowledged before. It was visceral. I had to admit that once again I had written a name on my dance card and chosen to dance with that person. I had been feeling victimized and controlled when I was just as much a player as she. I had agreed to the tacit contract we both signed.

Here’s the Secret

Feeling like a victim takes time and energy. It can suck you dry. I spent an inordinate amount of time perseverating over the shards of this friendship gone awry, resenting her, feeling hurt and, yes, struggling with its loss. The moment I learned of my complicity in that tapping session was the moment I freed myself from those painful emotions. I could move on. I could take responsibility. I could claim my power again. I could independently blaze my own trail in the Tarot world.

Gregg Braden in his book The Spontaneous Healing of Belief, Shattering the Paradigm of False Limits (Hay House, 2008), underscores the point I am making:

“The fact that someone else did what they hadn’t been able to do themselves plays right into their subconscious beliefs of limitation.

When this happens, people tend to look to someone or something else to intervene where they feel powerless. They’re looking for a savior, whether it’s a drug or another person performing a miraculous healing. If we’re convinced that we’re powerless and dependent upon something beyond ourselves in order to have the experience, then we’ll also feel the need to return to that “something” again and again to get what we need. We will, that is, until we realize that we can do for ourselves what is being done by someone else for us. It’s at this point that the savior is no longer needed and we’re truly healed.”

In both cases with the boyfriend and the Tarot entrepreneur, I was seeking completion outside myself. I handed my power to them and deemed them my savior. These may seem like easily reached conclusions, but they’ve taken years to solidify in my mind. I can now pick them up, look them in the eye and claim responsibility for how things unfolded and turned out.

Ask the Question

September 7, 2016

Years ago I was having no luck in the relationship department.  A divorce by the time I was 29 and then several failed relationships followed me well into my forties and early fifties.  I kept telling myself, “I am a nice person. Why can’t I have a decent relationship?”

My blurred vision obscured the fact I was the one constant in each equation.  Years of psychotherapy wrested the cataracts from my eyes so I could see the role I played in every choice and action I made.  If I was going to progress and move beyond my hamster-wheel of failed relationships, I had to ask the question, “What was/is my role in all of this?”

Extracting those cataracts wasn’t easy.  In fact, making sense of what propelled me to choose Mr. X or continue with Mr. Z, felt like scraping wallpaper off a wall.  Issues like self-worth, abandonment and neediness had to be identified and explored for me to understand why things hadn’t worked out.  Of course, wading through all of this was painful.  Oh, my gosh, very painful.

Who Makes The Decision?

Recently a friend of mine shared her relationship blues.  This made me reflect on my own vertiginous past.  Only when I discovered I was the decision maker of my life did I see things differently.

My friend had broken up with a man after dating 10 months.  They had gone back and forth ending it several times.  Finally my friend told herself and him, “This is it!  I am DONE!”  She called it “OVER!”

In this day and age when texting is the premiere way of communicating, he decides to send her a text.  In fact, a complimentary one.  Being polite and not wanting to appear insensitive or rude, she feels obliged to send a thank you.  He returns the text.  She responds and soon the entire exchange turns ugly once again.

Now, you may be scratching your head and asking, “What went wrong?”  It’s easy to make a judgment here.  She told him it was over.  He writes her.  She responds.  However, if it were truly “OVER” for her, why did she respond to the text?  Because when she responded, she chose to continue the conversation.

The Could-Have-Been Moment of Truth

This is where it can get confusing.  By responding, did she somehow want to continue the conversation?  Even though she wanted to end it, perhaps she wasn’t ready to do so.  There were many good parts to the relationship.

When she was deciding whether to respond could have been the moment of truth, had she asked herself, “What am I doing?  Why am I doing it?”  What if she had taken time to understand her own feelings?  A part of her loved what they had together and didn’t want to let it go, but another part of her most definitely did not and was ready to sever the tie.

How can she best be true to herself?  Only she can answer that.  To get the answer, she is best served to take time to sift through her feelings about the relationship in order to understand “What am I doing?  Why am I doing it?”

The Grand Scheme

When we take the time to understand our choices and behavior, we learn why things unfold as they did and do.  We more clearly see our role in each relationship.  We begin to see the red flags when they pop up.  Instead of pushing them aside, we pick them up when they appear and examine why they appeared.

We can be more objective and begin to choose more carefully with whom we spend time and share the vulnerable parts of ourselves.  It’s all part of the grand scheme of life—learning and evolving.  Let’s not only ask the question; let’s take time to explore our feelings and discover the answer.

Starving and Obsessed

May 13, 2016

As a Tarot card reader, I am given the privilege of hearing people’s deepest desires, searing hurts and glorious dreams. I am honored to be privy to such intimacies.  In the searing hurts category, many come with a broken heart or one that is breaking.  More often than not I wish I could wave a magic wand and say, “You’re healed.”  But it doesn’t work that way.

Countless times people come to me stunned.  Someone they shared intimacies with has now blocked their calls and  texts. That “other person” has vanished without a goodbye or any indication they’ve chosen to recede into the annals of the past.  No discussion, no declaration that “We’re done here!”, no leaving in a huff.

This, to me, is a cowardly, despicable act, and it is so painful to the one on the receiving end.  Maybe the best way to describe the anguish my clients feel is being thrown out of a moving car and left by the side of the road—pretty much like roadkill.  The one left behind asks repeatedly, almost addictively, “What did I do? Why has this happened to me?”

The most asked question clients who’ve been through this scenario want answered is “Will I get back together with him/her?  Is there a chance?”  Some of the more wounded will bark, “That person will never find anyone as good as I am!”  Angry and bereft, they’re left starving for something they thought they had and obsessed with the disbelief they don’t.

The answer is not as simple as many would believe.  Subtleties, nuances and denial come into play.  By the time someone in this state of anguish comes to me, it’s likely it’s not the first time this has happened.  So, what transpired for this to happen again…and again?

Jumping the Gun

Perhaps it’s haste in making a judgment.  I, too, have had such experiences.  Finally with the help of a therapist I discovered I was the common denominator in each scenario.  Switching my focus from blaming the other person to taking responsibility was not a pretty picture.  You might think it was easy to flip the switch, but it wasn’t.

I had to ask myself, “What caused me to pick the wrong person time and time again?”  First, I had to accept that I PICKED the person.  How could this be?  I was always looking for that magical zing.  The zing consisted mainly of the externals.  Was he good looking?  Did he have a good job?  Was he fun to be with?  Was he nice?  When I would meet a Mr. X, the zing had to be there and pretty instantaneously.  I concluded I wasn’t the one choosing Mr. X, but rather it was just a synchronous, albeit magical, encounter.

For the longest time I couldn’t admit I was making a choice based on external factors without getting better acquainted with the internal factors, the true makeup of his character.  I would attach myself to a person I didn’t really know.  I’ve since discovered it takes time to know someone—to really know.

Patterns Set By Our Parents

Now, this is where it gets tricky.  A good therapist can help you see how patterns set by your parents play a role.  For me, my father left an indelible imprint—he died when I was 10.  As an adult I would consistently choose partners who couldn’t be there for me either emotionally or physically or both.

Subconsciously the unavailable man was attractive to me.  I told myself that if I couldn’t keep my father alive, perhaps I could keep my relationships alive with the unavailable man.  I would do this with what therapists call—manipulation.  Unbeknownst to me until I finally wised up, I used manipulation as one of tools in my arsenal to hold onto a relationship.  When I did this, I was a shocked to discover I wasn’t being true to myself.  And I was  exhausted doing this time after time.

The Big Kahuna—I Must Not Be Worthy

The biggest reveal I learned from all this was my sense of self-worth.  If asked whether I was worthy of a wonderful, loving relationship, I would respond without hesitation that I am.  All my clients are, too.  But the subconscious is a stealthy predator.  For reasons we don’t always know, our subconscious self tells us we aren’t and then keeps directing us to the choices that are the perfect fit for fulfilling our diminished sense of self-worth.  For me, that would be choosing the unavailable man time and again.

For most of us, it takes time to understand this.  As our awareness grows, the kinds of choices that didn’t work for us in the past are not worth hanging onto.  We can choose to no longer passively stand by and wait for the other person to direct the relationship.  Instead we decide for ourselves and take whatever steps are necessary to end an unhealthy relationship.  In fact, once we’ve figured it out and we are ready to engage in a healthy relationship, the available partner will show up.  Not always on our timeline, but at a time and in a way that works best for both parties.

 Why Can’t We Bypass All This?

It turns out we all come into this life with specific lessons to learn.  These painful relationships are a catalyst for us to grow physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  The sooner we get the lesson of each painful experience, we can move on.  Other lessons await us.  We progress.

Sometimes, though, we get only a piece of the lesson.  We may feel as if we are back where we started.  We aren’t.  Through each experience in intimate relationships we become more aware of our role in that situation.  We have choices at all times.  Knowing this, we are empowered to change, for the better, for ourselves.

Many people are averse to taking responsibility for what occurs in their life.  Looking within doesn’t seem to be an option.  After all, it’s got to be the other guy’s fault.  Introspection, however, is a necessary step to seeking and keeping a happy, healthy relationship.  Gaining awareness as to why we make the choices we make is essential.  A Tarot card reading can help us go within when we are in a relationship turmoil, or when we are ending or beginning one.

Say No!

August 9, 2014

“Whenever we deny our need to say ‘no,’ our self-respect diminishes.  It is not only our right at certain times to say ‘no,’ it is our deepest responsibility.  For it is a gift to ourselves when we say ‘no’ to those old habits that dissipate our energy, ‘no’ to what robs us of our inner joy, ‘no’ to what distracts us from our purpose.  And it is a gift to others to say ‘no’ when their expectations do not ring true for us, for in so doing we free them to discover more fully the truth of their own path.  Saying ‘no’ can be liberating when it expresses our commitment to take a stand for what we believe we truly need.”

–John Robbins and Ann Mortifee, In Search of Balance: Discovering Harmony in a Changing World

“My relationship to money was no different from my relationship to food, to love, to fabulous sweaters:  Because I was never aware of what I already had, I never felt as if I had enough.  I was always focused on the bite that was yet to come, not the one in my mouth.  I was focused on the way my husband wasn’t perfect, not the way he was.  And on the jacket I saw in the window, not the one in my closet that I hadn’t worn for a year.”  –Geneen Roth, Lost and Found, Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money

 

 

The Map Analogy

April 30, 2014

“Some people seem well-suited to following maps, while others are always looking for new ways to get where they’re going. In the end, the only reliable compass is within, as every great spiritual guide will tell you.” –Madisyn Taylor, from her blog The Daily Om

Years ago I asked a friend to drive me to the airport from work. This was in the days when Mapquest was the rage and GPS systems were just a glint in someone’s eye. I had dutifully printed Mapquest’s directions. With my bag, purse and directions in hand, I hopped in the car and off we went.

It was the beginning of rush hour and in Northern Virginia. That’s not a pretty picture, especially when you’ve got a plane to catch. My friend Kathy had a meeting to attend as well.  Time was of the essence.

We seemed to be buzzing along fine at first, until Mapquest led us off the main streets and into a rural area. Kathy started asking questions, and I anxiously tried to assuage her that I had had great luck with Mapquest in the past. Their directions certainly wouldn’t lead us astray. Before we knew it, we faced a roadblock on what seemed to be a dirt road with no human habitation in sight. Where had “trusty” Mapquest led us?

I won’t share with you the panicky feelings I had on whether I would make my plane or the embarrassment I felt urging Kathy to drive the Mapquest way. The only thing we could do was turnaround and find a main road that would lead us toward the airport. We eventually felt our way back to civilization and the airport.  Kathy made it to her meeting on time and I made it to my plane, but not without a lot of anxiety.

What’s This Say about Maps

Madisyn Taylor goes on to write, “The maps and travelogues left behind by others are great blessings, full useful information and inspiration, but they cannot take the journey for us. When it is time to merge onto the highway or pull up anchor, we are ostensibly on our own.”

Kathy and I had to figure out how to get to the airport on our own. We knew the general direction, but the exact route had to be discovered by our own choices. This meant taking steps we weren’t sure would lead to our desired destination. It also meant possibly making mistakes and missing our respective appointments. The pressure was on.

Maps are a good thing because they get you headed in the right direction, or at least in a direction that feels comforting to start with; however, they are based on, what Ms. Taylor calls “observations from the past.” New roads are built every day; highways cut through neighborhoods we thought were sacrosanct. That map we’ve been using could be woefully out-of-date.

With or Without a Map

A lifelong challenge of mine has been believing in myself. So, when I read Ms. Taylor’s blog, it gave me pause. For years I’ve tried following the guidance of therapists, mentors and gurus. In some cases, their advice has been invaluable, just like a map. In other instances, I wasted, or at least I thought I had wasted, valuable time and money that didn’t get me to where I thought I needed to go. I had reached another roadblock. I had to turn around and find my own way.

That stirred up feelings of anger, hurt and resentment. I wanted someone else to tell me where to go and how to do it and then I would discover that’s not where I wanted to go or how I wanted to do it. I had to deal with those feelings and learn that that was just another bend in the road, one that wasn’t on the map I was following.

Ultimately, I had to decide for myself which way to go, what would serve me best, and how to honor my true self.  Ms. Taylor describes this awareness as “moments when we learn to attune ourselves to our inner compass, following a map only we can see, as we make our way into the unknown territory of our own enlightenment.”

Attuning to Our Own Inner Compass

Perhaps the best thing we can do before we embark on any new project or direction is to check in with ourselves. This may be difficult when some expert has had so much success with his/her approach to the same issue we are wrestling with. We see the possibility for our own success using that person’s step-by-step approach.

Our enthusiasm for it can be blinding, so much so we can’t see the compass needle, which is telling us to do whatever we are seeking in another way that uniquely works for us.  At the same time the enthusiasm for following another person’s path drowns out our own inner voice–a voice that always speaks the truth.

Essentially it’s a battle between the inner voice and the ego. Discerning which is which takes time, practice and perhaps a number of missteps. For some of us, it takes many missteps before we slow down and start listening.  Maps are good, but we are the only true experts on our individual journey of life.  By believing in ourselves and paying attention to our own inner compass, we’ll get to where we want to go, perhaps with more ease than expected.