Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Continuing the Thread of Loneliness

Continuing the thread of loneliness, I want to explore the idea (mistaken, as it turns out) that we are ever alone in the first place. When we are not in the physical presence of others, it can certainly be said that we are alone. Loneliness is a state of mind, though, not a state of being. Feelings of loneliness come from stories we tell ourselves; what we make the “isness” of the being alone (not being in another’s physical presence) mean.

This idea that loneliness is a state of mind is borne out in virtually every Challenge Day I’ve ever participated in (dozens). One of the questions asked during the activity called The Power Shuffle is “Cross the line if you have ever felt lonely or isolated at school.” Most of the time, most of the participants cross. Sometimes everyone in the room crosses. Imagine that. In a school with hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, many feel lonely and isolated.

Another example involves numerous surveys and polls taken over the years. Time after time, many people report intensely debilitating feelings of loneliness even when living in cities with hundreds of thousands or even millions of other people. Why does this seem to be such a nearly universal phenomena?

Well, as Challenge Day and others point out, it’s not a lack of people that typically causes loneliness; it’s a lack of connection between people. Having pointed that out, and owning that I have personally experienced this apparent truth many times, I want to repeat what I said earlier: loneliness does not equal being without immediate human companionship. It’s a story. We have a choice about whether to experience being alone as the “suffering” of loneliness, or to savor the opportunity to think, perhaps meditate, read quietly, listen to some favorite music, write a letter to a friend (or reach out and call them!) listen to some favorite music (or discover new music). The list is pretty much endless. As with the experience of suffering in general, a story of loneliness can shift in the blink of an eye. All it takes is the willingness to Notice that we’re running an old story (in this case around loneliness) Choose to do it different, and Act by trying out a new story.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Loneliness is a Choice

In my new book, Drunk with Wonder, I talk extensively about choice. The truth is that we have an opportunity to make new choices in every moment we remember to focus on our breath, become present to the magnificent Divinity we all embody, and let go of stories and limiting beliefs that no longer serve us.

I know firsthand about the awesome power of choice, having lived much of my life under a dark cloud of fear-based stories and beliefs about myself that I had taken on when I was very young. The belief that I'm looking at today, one that truly no longer serves me (if, indeed, it ever did) is that when I'm not in the company of others I am "lonely." Lonely literally means, "affected with or causing a feeling of being alone, destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship." I was inculcated with this definition as a small boy. Though I came from a fairly large family, including four younger brothers, I learned to measure what little self-worth I could engender by whether I had any friends, especially a "best" friend. My story said that if I was not with my best friend (assuming I had one) I was lonely, and lonely meant suffering. Suffering this way felt like an agonizing ache of longing.

50 years later, I still remember Gary Headberg, my best friend from the 1st through 3rd grades. I treasured that friendship, and it broke my heart when we moved away to the suburbs when I was nine. I took a while to find another best friend, and until I did I often felt miserable. Steve Randles, the friend I eventually made, remains one of my dearest friends to this day. One of the gifts Steve and my other friends have given me is to deeply value unconditional friendship. My friends are deeply important to me. And my very bestest friend in the whole world turns out to be my beloved JoAnn, who I am profoundly Blessed to have as my lover and wife as well as my dearest friend.

How does all this relate to feeling lonely? Well, JoAnn has been in San Diego helping her mother Lucy deal with some lingering health issues. After being gone almost a week in late October on the same mission, JoAnn found it necessary to return a week ago. During her first absence, I got triggered into my old story that made being alone mean that I needed to suffer. Suffer I did, big time. It was not pleasant, to say the least. I chose to isolate, then feel sorry for myself (poor me!) and our time apart felt endless and boring. I was so grateful when we reunited!

It seemed as though we had barely gotten back together when JoAnn realized that she needed to return and help her mother some more. My initial reaction was, as you might imagine, something like "oh no!" This time, though, I made a conscious choice to be present with my feelings. I remembered that I could choose what I made JoAnn's absence mean. I could choose to create more suffering for myself, but I had just done that, and it wasn't much fun. I decided to choose love, to remember that I am enough even when I'm alone, and that suffering is a choice. Yes, of course I miss my sweetie. But I've had, and continue to have, an amazing, full, high-spirited week. I created this amazing week with my choice not to turn the "isness" of being alone into my old story of suffering from loneliness. Suffering is a choice. It's optional! I urge you to choose love instead. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Challenge Day on Oprah

It's been a busy month (and barely half over!). We had two Challenge Days in Ukiah last week, culminating November 9th with Challenge Day being featured on Oprah. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been part of Challenge Day for nearly 12 years now. To see my dear friends, Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John, their organization and the amazing work they do with teens finally be acknowledged by Oprah was a dream come true for many of us in the Challenge Day family. To be able to participate in a Challenge Day right here in Ukiah, then run over to a local pizza parlor to watch Oprah on the big screen with the Challenge Day leaders and our Ukiah Valley Circle of Change, made a magical day just that much more fabulous (not to mention a bit surreal).

Those of you who know me, or at least have read my new book, Drunk with Wonder, know also that I hold a passionate belief that we can create a world where everyone feels safe, loved and celebrated. Challenge Day embodies this vision every day. I have never known anyone, or any organization, to be more relentless in walking their talk. Being part of this family has given me both the space and the tools to do a great deal of healing and growing up, and I am forever grateful. Now, the "secret" of Challenge Day is out like never before, and people are calling and emailing the office from all over the world. A common theme seems to be an ache to be part of something larger than themselves, something that is making a positive, healthy, lasting difference in the world. One thing I know for sure: together, united in love and purpose, we can do anything!

That's what Drunk with Wonder is all about. It's a blueprint that an Awakening Heart can use to craft stories of healing and joyous service. We find ourselves in a world that desperately needs our care, love and support. We need to hold each other, our children and grandchildren in a sweet embrace. Then, hand in hand, we must create a sustainable, friendly future for everyone. We can do this! And Challenge Day is definitely part of the solution.

Another part of the equation is the Institute of Noetic Sciences, or IONS. IONS is dedicated to exploring frontier science, helping us understand the role quantum physics plays in allowing dreams to become reality. The movie "The Secret" also has much light to shed on this topic. Learning and applying "The Secret" (which involves the law of attraction) in your life will utterly transform your moment-to-moment experience. Truly, we're all connected, there is no separation, and every time we choose love we make more love available for the entire world.

I hope you were able to catch my interview with Belvie Rooks on her excellent show, "ConverZations that Matter," on November 15th. I know there were as least 90 people on the call with us, and we had a lively and heartfelt discussion with people from all over the country. It was a great blessing to my heart to be asked to participate, and I am deeply grateful to Belvie for her warmth and support. The show will be available on the Shift in Action web site in a week or so (though you may have to become at lest a trial member to listen - it's only $1) We also plan to stream it on our Drunk with Wonder web site.

Remember, dear ones: You are the heroes you've been waiting for!