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Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

PEELING THE ONION

            Anyone who has been on the spiritual path or seeking anything in this lifetime has probably heard the term “peeling the onion”. There are many possible interpretations to this metaphor. The onion is a vegetable that has layers of edible goodness that can be peeled, diced, sliced or julienned for baking, frying and sautéing. I happen to love onions. I digress, back to the metaphor. Getting to the root of our psyche and the causes for our emotional issues and mental traumas is often called “peeling the onion”. We peel away layer after layer of memories, perceptions and traumas to get to what mental health professionals call “core issues”. Core issues are thoughts, memories, or beliefs that color our perception of the world and create suffering. Often buried deep in our subconscious minds, we may not even be aware of these core issues. Many times they are only discoverable by the symptoms that surface into the conscious mind in the form of fears, phobias, prejudices and beliefs.

            There are as many different ways to peel the onion as there are therapists and patients. Peeling the onion can be specific to the person whose onion is being peeled, or it can be more general to help groups operate more efficiently and cohesively. Generally people start with what they know, and follow a path deeper into the core of their personality and belief systems until they find their core issues that are causing suffering in their lives. It could be a childhood event that took on distorted importance in their memories or a thought or belief that causes suffering.

            I want to suggest one way to peel the onion that can be beneficial to just about anyone that can be honest with themselves. We can lie to therapists and our friends because we don’t want to be rejected. We can’t lie to ourselves because we know at some point what the truth is. So as long as we don’t try the useless exercise of lying to ourselves, this works just fine.

            The first layer of the onion that needs to be peeled is the belief that we need someone to make us happy. A large part of the suffering I see among spiritual seekers is the angst of being with someone that is making them miserable or not being able to find that person that will “fulfill” them. We have to let go of the desire, the lust, or the need for someone else to make us happy. Let me be clear, this does not mean that we have to be a hermit or shun companionship and friends. It simply means that we need to let go of the feeling that something is wrong if that perfect “someone” isn’t living with us. Look at it this way, if we are peeling the onion to find out who we are, it is almost impossible to continue along this path if we are focused on people outside of us. To outsiders, they may not even know you have given up the need for a companion/soulmate. They may observe that you are a lot more relaxed and peaceful.

            The second layer of the onion that needs to be peeled is the belief that we are victims. We are not victims. Life does not happen to us. We are simply experiencing the end result of our decisions, thoughts and behavior prior to this moment. All we need to do is clean up our act and we will start enjoying life rather than suffer it.

            The next layer of the onion that needs to be peeled is our negative emotions. When negative emotions arise, and they will, we have to let go of them and not dwell on them. If we feel afraid, angry, jealous or other negative emotions, these are being caused by something deeper down and show us that we are on the right track. We have to sit with these emotions until we understand why we are feeling how we are feeling. The peeling process is simply the acknowledgement of the feeling and going deeper to the root cause. We do not resent the emotion; we do not fantasize about why we should feel this way, we simply say, “oh, I am angry. What is causing this?” and go look.

            The last layer to peel is judgment. Judgment causes most of our suffering. We judge something as good or bad, right or wrong, like or not like, and depending on how we judge it we either feel pain or pleasure. It is probably the hardest layer to peel, because it is the basis of who we are and how we perceive the world. If we let go of judgment, we don’t have to do anything, we just are. Once we let go of judgment, we will find ourselves in a very peaceful place. It is almost like we are floating on amrita and experiencing a joy we never thought possible. If you look at an onion, you will discover that when you peel away the last layer, there is nothing left. This is the perfect metaphor for your spiritual journey. When we let go of who we are, there is nothing left but the divine.

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

THE PAST IS OVER

            If our minds are focused on the past, we cannot see the present. If our minds are focused on the future, we cannot see the present. So it is of paramount importance that we live in the present, not the past or the future. We have the unique ability to plan for the future. I am not aware of any other animal that consciously alters its behavior in order to accomplish a goal or strive for a result. This is a blessing and a curse. When we do not judge the past and make positive plans for the future, we can manifest our dreams. However, if we regret the past and fear the future, problems will arise and we will suffer.

            We regret the past when we have negative emotions around what we remember. Most people do not understand that our memories are subjective and many filters including our emotions and thoughts at the time color what we remember. Many studies have shown that memories are not accurate and even change over time depending on how we feel about what happened and subsequent events. If our underlying beliefs change, this will also change our memories. So, many times we suffer and regret events that didn’t even happen, we just think they did. It is most impossible to change our minds about a memory. Some of the most heated arguments I have witnessed involved people remembering the past differently. Even if they both witnessed an event, their memories will be different and each will be convinced they are right.

            The only solution to this phenomenon is to choose not to judge past events and to not regret them. Although we are taught to forgive others, and ourselves; forgetting is better. So the idea is to not let the past affect your life. We developed memories to enable us to transcend the past, not be enslaved by it. We beat ourselves up over events that may or may not have happened the way we remember. We often have euphoric recall, and remember things in the best light for ourselves. We also have limited perspective, we may blame ourselves for events that we were not responsible for and would have happened with or without us. In our arrogance we think we caused events to happen, but many times dozens of precursors came together resulting in the event. Nothing happens in a vacuum and we are never the sole cause of anything. So we need to forget anything that limits us and causes us suffering. If there is a lesson to be learned, we will get the lesson over and over again until we learn it. We do not have to live in the distant past and beat ourselves up.

            As we use our unique ability to plan for the future, we have to learn how to let go of the results. When we plan for the future and expect certain results, eventually we will experience disappoint when those results do not occur. We certainly don’t expect to get sick or experience financial difficulty, but even the best-laid plans do not avoid our karma. So obsessing about what will happen in the future is no good either. The worst of all worlds happens when we project the past onto our future and expect the worse case scenario to happen. Fear will always raise its ugly head when we expect tragedy based on what has happened in the past. Life is what happens when you have something else planned, so much of what we worry about doesn’t happen. Life just doesn’t work that way. So many times we suffer about what might happen, and it never does. So we have spent all of our effort to make sure that we continuously suffer. We are not at peace with our past, and we suffer needlessly about what will never happen.

            So we need to forget the past, plan for the future and let any attachments to future results go. In other words, we need to focus on what is happening right now. When we do good works in the present, that is the best assurance that good things will happen in the future.

            Finally, we have to focus on the positive. We have to find the pearls in the mud, the diamonds in the sand. If we are breathing, that is a reason to rejoice. Life is too important to be taken seriously, Oscar Wilde once said. We have to find and keep our sense of humor. Make it a habit to think about something funny when we first get up in the morning and kept that in our thoughts through the day. Have a mantra that uplifts you in your mind at the start of the day and keep it in your mind for the rest of the day. When we can focus on humor and uplifting thoughts, the past and the future will fade. We can’t keep two thoughts in our minds at the same time. When we focus on positive and uplifting thoughts, negative and depression will fall away. It really is our choice.

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

MASTER YOUR EMOTIONS TO MASTER YOUR LIFE

          Many people want to know the secret of life. The answer lies in mastering your emotions. How you experience life, both in the workplace and at home, depends on this. Consciously deciding how you feel will determine the quality of your life. Whenever people talk about mastery or taking control of their lives, one aspect of that process is to control emotions. This does not mean ignoring or suppressing emotions, it means controlling how we feel about our life from moment to moment. Emotions are states of feeling caused by our mind to deal with events that are happening in our life. How we respond to daily events, whether they are catastrophic or mundane, determines whether we are happy masters of our lives or suffering victims.

          Emotions are based upon our core beliefs, or how we view the world and ourselves on the most basic level. For example, if we believe we are defective in some way, we will probably react to stimuli with fear or anger. If we believe that we are unlovable, we will probably experience sadness and rejection. If we believe everything  happens for a reason, we will probably experience peace.

          The most basic negative emotions, fear, anger, envy, shame and grief, are generated in the reptilian brain—the most primitive part, or the fight or flight center. Higher, more positive emotions such as love, joy, gratitude and peace are generated in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and creative thoughts, with hundreds of secondary and tertiary emotions that arise from these basic emotions.

          Many people believe that we are victims of our emotions, unable to control how we feel.  Not true. We can control how we feel and what we feel in any given moment. We can determine how we feel by being better aware of our beliefs, thoughts and emotions, and how they are interconnected and interact. Researchers have discovered hundreds of identifiable emotions on a spectrum, determined by the vibration or frequency of the emotion, or “how they make us feel”. At the top is enlightenment and the bottom is shame. A sample of this spectrum is:

  • Enlightenment (Ultimate consciousness)
  • Peace
  • Joy
  • Love
  • Reason
  • Acceptance
  • Willingness
  • Neutrality
  • Courage
  • Pride
  • Anger
  • Desire
  • Fear
  • Grief
  • Apathy
  • Guilt
  • Shame

          We can go up and down this spectrum consciously with our thoughts. What we think determines how we feel. This is because the mind determines how to react to the thoughts and beliefs running around in our conscious and subconscious minds. The mind has learned that by creating emotions, its chances of surviving perceived threat is much greater. Thus fear motivates us to fight or flee in the face of threat. When the mind is experiencing bliss, it becomes focused on other aspects of life and is not subject to false perception of danger. So if we use thoughts comparing ourselves to others, wishing things were different, blaming others, we will go down the spectrum. If we think thoughts of gratitude, love, acceptance and kindness, we go up, and feel a higher emotions’ correlating vibration.

          Remember that we are not our beliefs, thoughts or even emotions. They are all products of our mind, and can be controlled with discipline and practice. As long as we don’t attach to our beliefs, thoughts and emotions, these products of our mind can be quite entertaining. If we attach to them, life can become quite difficult.

          So when you’re working, relating to others, exercising or walking down the street, be aware of the thoughts going through your mind, because that will determine how you feel. We can change our thoughts much easier than we can change our emotions. By focusing on positive aspects of our circumstances, we will experience more positive emotions. When we concentrate on what we are grateful for, we will feel more grateful. If we concentrate on how we can help someone, rather than what we are getting out of a situation, we will feel more worthy and valuable. How will you choose to feel?

          Other techniques that have proved helpful in raising our vibration and thus, emotional state include:

o   Breathing techniques

o   EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)

o   EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitivation & Reprocessing)

o   The Havening Techniques

o   Meditation

o   Contemplation

o   Mantras

o   Compassion

o   Professional psychological therapy

o   Alternative healing (to heal wounded inner child)

o   Be empowered (stop disempowering yourself)

o   Be present (stop living in the past or future)

o   NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) – Pattern interrupts/anchors

o   Exercise

o   Yoga

o   Laughter

o   Help someone else/service

You can learn more about mastery, these techniques and much more with me on Get Real Radio.  Tune in live on Fridays at 11 am PST / 2pm EST / 6pm GMT. Visit the archives here.

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

EMOTIONAL MATURITY

           By definition, the longer we live on this planet, we have to get older. There are various physiological changes that we experience as we go through the process of aging. Ignoring the legends of immortal beings that walk the planet, we all grow older physically. Genetics, supplements, a positive attitude, plenty of water, exercise and healthy diets can help us look young as long as possible, but the best we can expect is a cause of death that reads: “died of advanced age.” I remember the slogans, “live fast, die young.”  Now that I am over 60, I look forward to my life well after 100 years of age.

            Even though physical maturity is inevitable, emotional maturity is not. I observe that many people with emotional and mental suffering are stuck in their emotional growth process somewhere in their adolescent years. Greed, immaturity, fear, blame, shame, resentments, anger, confusion and suffering are all signs of arrested emotional growth.  When we get stuck in our emotional development, we cease to learn how to take responsibility for our actions and our lives. We get stuck at the point of some trauma that happens in our life that we don’t know how to let go of or to process. Abuse, death of loved ones, an unkind word or a fearsome event can all cause arrested emotional development. When we stop growing emotionally, life becomes overwhelming.

            Many psychologists believe that we go through stages of development in our physical life. These stages are youth, adolescence, young adults, adults, and elders. You will notice that even though there are ages assigned to these stages, everyone is different and some people can appear to stay younger longer than others. However, we have to go through these stages eventually.

            Emotion development also goes through stages, and if we are healthy the emotional development matches physical development. I believe that we go through the emotional stages of helplessness and need, formation of personality, fear and suffering, responsibility and acceptance, and finally, peace. Again, although we all start at the state of helplessness and need, these stages are not age specific. We all have probably met people who are stuck in one of these stages.

           Trauma and training have a lot to do with where we are in these stages. If we suffer trauma of abuse (sexual, physical, emotional) we will get stuck in the fear and suffering stages. We believe that life is unfair, hard and dangerous. We all know people who are stuck in this stage. With help and guidance we can all grow through the fear and suffering stage into the acceptance and responsibility phase.

          When we experience fear, anger, shame, blame, guilt, and other negative emotions, it is because we are stuck in some aspect of our emotional development. Let me give you an example I recently experienced. I was counseling a person whose former spouse died. The couple had divorced because of the years of abuse one heaped upon the other. Someone had told my client that the former spouse may have been schizophrenic which may have caused them to act out all those years.

          My client had latched onto that backseat diagnosis and started blaming him or herself that if they had been more observant they could have gotten the abusive spouse help and saved the marriage. I was dumbfounded by the acrobatic logic this person had used to feel guilty and take total blame for the divorce. I asked some more questions and discovered that the person was actually blaming himself or herself for the abuse they had suffered, sort of a “battered spouse” syndrome.  It was quite enlightening to see how this person insisted that they were to blame for their former spouse’s abuse because they should have seen the mental illness and gotten the former spouse help.

          I started asking myself “how would an emotionally mature person handle this situation?” My opinion of that was that an emotionally mature person may have grieved the passing of someone they loved for a long time, but would not have taken responsibility for the abuse in the marriage. It appeared that the client’s taking on the guilt of not being “all knowing and all seeing” was a bit like playing God.

          True emotional maturity involves taking responsibility for your actions, not the actions of others. If we have to protect ourselves, emotional maturity means we do not feel guilty about that. If we find out something later that might have changed our earlier decisions, we do not beat up ourselves about that. We simply accept the lesson and go on about our lives as happily as possible.

           I contend that to be truly emotionally mature is to be happy. Certainly life has its experiences and we do not need to be “Pollyannaish”, but when we learn a lesson in life we can be grateful for the insight and change our behaviors. Life is always about course corrections. We keep going on our journeys until we learn new ways of thinking and acting and we change our course and behavior accordingly. We do not need to know everything that will happen in the future, we just need to know what we are going to do for the next few minutes.

           When we want to drive from Florida to Washington State, we do not need headlamps that will light up the whole way. All we need is headlamps that will light up the next one hundred feet. Emotional maturity means that when we come upon a bend in the road or an intersection, we make the necessary course correction that will get us to where we want to go. That can be all the way to Seattle or the next one hundred feet, whichever brings comfort.

            Similarly, emotional maturity brings happiness and fulfillment no matter what we are doing. We do not need to know our life purpose, the reason we are here. All we need to know is what we are going to do for the next few minutes, hour or day. Everything else is a great deal of speculation. We can be happy and fulfilled being a doctor, lawyer, or shaman. We can be happy being a baker, banker, barber or masseur. When we reach emotional maturity, we understand that what we do has nothing to do with how we feel.  If we are emotionally mature, we have the discipline to do the things that keep us healthy and feeling happy and to not do the things that cause us suffering. This is the blueprint that everyone is looking for.

            I have a spiritual teacher that is forever telling me to “get over it.” I have learned that really means, “Grow up.”  When I grow up, I want to be happy.