Using technology to connect to ourselves

Laptop on stumpTechnology is not the devil. There, I said it. Whew.

What a relief to admit that I don’t believe that email, the Internet, smart phones, Bluetooths, social media, YouTube, online news, television, radio, podcasts, blogs and vlogs portend the end of civilization. That they are so interwoven into our daily lives does reveal that civilization is changing extremely and quickly. So, perhaps it reveals the end of civilization as we know it and that we are smack in the middle of a massive paradigm shift most of us feel in our very cells…but not the demise of all.

Perhaps what makes us feel sometimes like the end of the world is nigh is that we are still struggling with the balance between embracing the new—innovations that help us connect, evolve and expand—and continuing to use and learn from the old—indigenous cultures, nature’s wisdom, naturopathic medicine, long form storytelling, human contact, the art of conversation and, most importantly, the spiritual connection and self-awareness that brings profound healing.

I believe it’s possible, and vital, to embrace both. (And, between you and me, this is the major theme of a novel currently in the works.) So, nothing thrills me more than when I discover a “new” use of technology that serves as a bridge to one of the less concrete qualities of the “old.”

I believe that’s its truest and highest purpose.

Reply All is a podcast about the Internet produced by Gimlet and hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. It tells poignant, weird and funny stories about how people use and react to the Internet. It produced its eighth episode in January, but as I’ve just discovered these 15- to 25-minute audio nuggets I just listened to this one about Paul Ford. He is a writer and programmer who creates Web sites to address most of his life issues, including a site to remind him of things decades away and a weight loss site only he and his therapist have access to where he records his daily calorie counts.

Healing through technology innovation, and a little humor

Paul also struggles with paralyzing anxiety. As he describes on the podcast, he constantly hears that niggling, negative voice in his head telling him he’s weird and bad and in danger, no matter what is really going on. His reaction, create anxietybox.com.

Here’s how it works. The site—or, more accurately, the bot inside the site—essentially outsources his anxiety’s voice. He can add as many anxieties as he likes and his email address, and the site sends him messages from his anxieties.

The horrible, negative things he used to hear in his head—e.g., “History will forget you because history forgets people who are unable to finish anything.” Or, my favorite, “People on Facebook look at your picture and think ‘in possession of a weird nose.’”—are sent to him throughout the day. They’re funny, but ruthless.

As I listened to the examples Paul read, I cringed. The host was similarly skeptical. Why would anyone subject themselves to these negative reinforcements? How could that possibly help? He was losing me fast.

But then Paul described his reaction, and I changed my mind completely.

Because he externalized his anxiety’s voice, he was able to look at it. Laugh at it. Even reply. He could see it for exactly what it was: his mind and ego, trapped in a cycle of anxiety and self doubt, intelligently crafting ways to make his true self feel badly.

Once he saw it, everything shifted. He understood the pattern of suffering and its source, and he was able to put it all into a broader perspective that helped him minimize its effect.

In Paul’s words: “It’s so ridiculous to scream at yourself all day long… Seeing it actually externalized as 20 messages in a Gmail inbox, it was so much like what my brain was producing. It was like, oh my god, I’ve been wasting so much time with this son of a bitch.”

Because of this simple technology, created by him, he was able to see the anxiety as something separate from his true self, soften it and eventually stop having anxiety attacks altogether.

He reminded me of a critical but tough lesson: awareness brings healing, and eventually peace. Once we are willing to acknowledge and truly see something or someone for what it is or who they are, their power over us diminishes. In the light of our gaze, it can only be exactly what it is. With the clarity of truth, we see ourselves for the perfectly flawed and mighty beings we are.

Truly looking at the things or people in our lives that we have created unhealthy patterns around is difficult. But once the truth has been seen, it can’t be unseen.

Anxietybox.com. Genius. Counterintuitive at first glance. But truly moving in its simplicity. Paul intuitively used what he knew—technology—to build a bridge to what he needed. This time it connected it to himself.

It doesn’t get more old school than that.

om

To find out more about Reply All, go here. To find out more about anxietybox.com, go here. To subscribe to updates on Rebecca’s upcoming memoir, Laugh at the Sky, Kid, go here. To find out more about her writing and coaching services, go here.

5 Ways to Avoid Being Misled, Deceived or Otherwise Hoodwinked

overprotected2We’ve all been there. You discover a secret, a deception, a falsification of fact or identity. It could be relatively innocent, perhaps finding out a friend lied about being busy to avoid a social occasion and didn’t want to hurt your feelings or your bachelor neighbor fibs about being divorced.

But sometimes it’s a whopper—a web of lies carefully spun and expertly crafted over the years with a deft hand, using the unique combination of words she knew you wouldn’t be able to doubt.

Once the truth is out, you and your ego feel hurt, angry, naïve, vulnerable, and—even though my son would call me out for saying this forbidden word—stupid. You begin to wonder if “they” make seeing eye dogs when your third eye is on the fritz. Are there spirit guides who hover next to your head and tug on your left earlobe when someone isn’t truthful? Two tugs when it’s a big one worth challenging.

I suppose you can get one if you like. I heard they might be available for a limited time on the astral plane, or craigslist. But, if you follow the below airtight tips, you won’t need one. There are things you can do that are (nearly) guaranteed to help you avoid the catastrophe and interminable burn of human betrayal.

Protect yourself. Build those firewalls carefully, people. Make them strong using concrete, cynicism, mistrust and doubts about the human spirit. Without impenetrable barriers, defensive weaponry and other forms of protection, who knows what kind of lies or energy or magic can creep into your space and taint everything, maim your dog and ruin Christmas. If you can’t fire at will upon what may or may not be out there with your worst interests at heart, what is the use of trying at all? And keep all your passwords in a safe place.

Keep quiet. Never share your thoughts, your truth or your real feelings. Openness only reveals you to be weak and vulnerable to attack. When asked nosy questions like “What would you like?” or “How are you?” change the subject, accidentally topple the interrogator’s drink or, better yet, distract them by pointing out a squirrel on a tree and run away. Best to evade any attempted intimacy or follow-up questions.

Avoid human interaction, relationships and all forms of social media. Repeat after me: Connection is bad. Knowledge is worse. We were meant to be distant. Communication should be difficult and slow. Relationships are supposed to be hard. These days we’re all way too close to each other. All this interconnectedness just gets us in trouble, and frequency of interaction—in-person, soul to soul or digital—only gives everyone more opportunity to share stories and spread falsehoods.

Don’t try to understand. It only opens the door to empathy. And empathy, my friend, is not your friend. Questions only lead to more information and more connection, both of which I’ve already explained are an enemy of any committed Deception Dodger. If you look for the pain, doubt or isolation that led to the lies, what’s to keep you from feeling these yourself? What’s to keep you from becoming a liar? You’ve never lied before, and you’ve surely never felt any pain that would induce you to mislead. So why start now? Best to allow them to wallow in their guilt and what surely is an uncomplicated existence focusing on only two things: a) deceiving you and 2) hurting you. Just leave them to it.

Never, ever love. Even if you don’t take any of these other tips to heart, please heed this one. To be a true friend, partner or family member—to truly love—is the most vulnerable and hopeful thing you can do. So, of course, it’s absolutely forbidden if you want to avoid being betrayed by your fellow human beings. And with our inherently flawed nature, how could any of us deserve it? It wouldn’t make any difference if we chose to offer love to someone who feels like they must lie to survive, or questions themselves so much they’re not sure what truth is anymore, or is caught in a cycle of addiction, programming, disease or imbalance that makes reality unbearable. To do that would validate them, acknowledge what they’ve done and why, or perhaps even help them. Worst-case scenario: you might forgive them.

And finally… We live in a universe where we have free will but our shared consciousness, our collective journey as both humans and souls, our beautifully complicated web of lives and identities, means we are all in this together. When one tether of the web shakes or falters, we all do. Some of us are closer to the shaky ones than others and more profoundly feel their imbalance, often manifested as deception inadvertently directed at us.

There are lots of ways to handle it once it happens. Or you could simply follow the easy steps I’ve outlined above. Your choice.

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To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and coaching services, visit rebeccagifford.com. To get updates on the publication of her memoir, visit laughattheskykid.com. Thanks for reading!

It’s okay to forget.

present signpostIt’s September 11, 2013. For a few minutes this morning, I forgot. It was lovely.

As I woke to some unexpected quiet minutes to myself, I took a few to say hello to the world – first smiling quietly to myself. The cool sheets and soft mattress my body hadn’t yet unfolded from, the sunshine creeping through the blinds, the warmth of my son sleeping beside me, the squeaks and bangs of the morning shunting in the train yards those of us who live near Seattle’s Interbay know so well. My first formed thought: Today I will see my husband who has been in London for several days. I miss him and love him so very much. This will be a good day.

Taking the joy of my morning with me, I decided to say hello to the world on a larger scale and picked up my devices.

Bam.

Oh, yes. I’d forgotten. It’s September 11. Email, Facebook, Twitter, radio, TV. Within the first half hour images of the Twin Towers and the beautiful memorial in lights that now stands in their place and, of course, the words “Never forget” and “We remember” followed me everywhere.

In our world where every story that wants to be told has a place, today’s posts and messages recount endless memories of that day. Amongst my friends and virtual connections I have several New Yorkers, journalists, police officers, Red Cross workers, and a few flight attendants. But even amongst the folks like me who weren’t more directly involved or intimately connected to the events of 9/11, the memories are vivid and the emotions still present for so many. Everyone knows exactly where they were and exactly how they felt. And many feel they should never, ever forget.

Maybe it’s time we forgot a bit.

It’s undeniable that the country – the world – shifted in a profound way that day. Our sense of security, stability and priorities were challenged and changed in ways that we may never completely understand. Many lost their lives or loved ones, both on that day and in the violence and wars that continue 12 years later.

The sacrifices and loss are seen. They are appreciated and honored. They are remembered.

But I have to wonder what good comes from remembering, even reliving, the fear and sadness of that day. Why do we as a country feel it is helpful to hang on to our individual and collective experiences, as if it would be disrespectful not to? As if we need to vividly remember everything that happened and everything we felt in order to ensure it never happens again.

Only when we are able to move beyond the pain of the past are we able to truly heal.

The shift happened. The lessons are still being learned. The effects are still being felt. But the vivid memories do not serve us anymore, and it’s time to move on.

We honor the sacrifices of the firefighters, the police officers, the airline staffs, the soldiers and the innocents more by allowing ourselves to find peace and move forward toward an abundant future unencumbered by our memories and all that we attach to them. By living fully in the present day, with hope for generations of peace, with love for all of our fellow human beings. By not continuing to turn our lingering anger and fear about the potential for another such attack into endless military actions that serve only to continue the worldwide cycle of anger and fear. By taking what we learned on that day and all the days since and using them to better the future and live with purpose and joy.

We don’t need to remember everything to do this.

Just imagine. Next year you could wake up and feel only the smile of a quiet morning and the anticipation of a good day. You check your devices and see the same messages of hope and laughter you see every day. You look at the calendar and remember the loving sacrifice of so many 13 years ago and smile or send up a prayer in gratitude for the strength and beauty of humanity to overcome adversity and selflessly help others. Then you go about your day. And it’s a good day.

Wouldn’t that be lovely?

It’s okay. Just scream.

My son Henry has started screaming. Sometimes at the dog. Sometimes at me or my husband. Sometimes at no one. Often for no obvious reason at all. But almost always with a hint of a smile.

Of course at times he’s frustrated. Toddlers are, after all, easily aggravated, since they firmly believe the world is theirs and when anyone gets in the way of what’s theirs they must be punished. But mostly he seems to take great joy in it. As if he’s finally found his unique voice, a way to express exactly what he needs to, and right now it needs to be very, very loud.

It makes sense, actually. He’s part of this world, this humanity in the process of breaking open, breaking apart, releasing the pressure that’s been building for millennia. The entire planet is filled with souls quickly building to, in the process of, or in desperate need of a magnificent release. The earth itself is enjoying a much-needed good scream via extreme weather, earthquakes, natural disasters and massive change. Henry’s just following its lead.

If you ask me, and apparently Henry, we’re all not screaming enough.

This past election season is a perfect example. Many of us, including me, experienced much of the “rhetoric” of the day via social interaction and social media. Except, like me, most of the concerned citizens, political junkies and reasoned voters I know were conspicuously quiet. When we discussed such things, often instead of discussing the issues at hand, we all instead agreed that expressing even balanced political opinions or relatively benign jokes caused enough conflict with our vocal friends on the other side of the aisle or issue that it just wasn’t worth the hassle and frustration.

“No one’s mind has ever been changed by a Facebook post,” I heard more than once as I nodded in agreement. “It’s not worth creating conflict and contributing to the noise. I don’t need to be reminded that half the country thinks I’m an idiot.”

So, political opinions were left mostly to talking heads on the cable news channels and those on either end of the political spectrum who were just angry enough, and often more than judgmental enough, to continuously express their rage against those who dared to disagree with their beliefs to some degree and the organizations connected to such issues. The extremes, the angriest and most self-righteous of us all, were being heard loud and clear.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of us sat quietly in our ideas and explorations, safe in the knowledge that at least we weren’t contributing to the divisive language of the day, hoping against hope that once the election was over the screaming would soften to a simmering roar and we’d all accept and contribute to the tasks at hand – that we’d put down our pitchforks and work together toward the greater good.

Naïve? Perhaps. It’s wouldn’t be the first time someone’s optimism has been labeled as such. Naïve or not, so far this is not what has happened and if we stay on our current path, it doesn’t look good.

The angry are angrier. The self-righteous are even moreso. Everyone knows they are right and few with a loud enough voice want to compromise for the sake of progress.

Okay, universe, I hear you. Lesson learned…again.

When we don’t allow the release, the healing light can’t get in.

When we don’t allow some space for everyone to scream when they need to scream, then we all suffer.

My son gets it. He screams when he needs to. He lets it go. He laughs and plays and eats with joy the rest of the time, and he sleeps like a baby.

Here’s a radical idea: Let’s all speak our truth.

Be “brutally” honest. Say what you feel, even when it’s not politically correct. Express that emotion that’s been building in your throat for weeks. Stop apologizing for having unconventional ideas. Tell someone about them. Stop feeling ashamed for buying in to stereotypes or hanging on to old programmed beliefs. Instead, release them. Post that provocative political meme if it’s truly what you want to say. Be yourself, even if that self is exceedingly angry or sad or frightened or confused. Let everything just be what it is. Express it. Release it. Scream. Let it go.

In exchange, we agree to allow everyone else to do the same. We will support everyone’s vulnerability and release equally. We will allow everyone a voice, even those we desperately disagree with. We will openly accept and cheer on everyone who says anything that self-censorship previously kept them from expressing. We will hear everything they have to say. We will welcome disagreement, even angry (but not violent) disagreement, with love and enthusiasm. When people or organizations use negativity or power with the intention of quashing an honest opinion or manipulating a heartfelt belief, we will defend ourselves and others by laughing and enjoying that they are releasing that fear and anger – that soon it won’t be there at all. We will understand that even when you feel it’s being directed at you, it’s not about you at all. It’s personal only to those expressing it.

We’ll all let it flow out as long as it needs to. We’ll all keep screaming and cracking open and listening and cheering until enough of it has vaporized into light and love. We will wait. We’re all in this together – the country, the world, the universe. We’re not going anywhere. It’s okay. Just scream.

Then, when we’re ready, when enough has released and the cracks are big enough for the light to get in…

That’s when the healing will begin.

Are you in?

Greater than the sum of its parts

Anyone who’s been any sort of mother for even a day understands what I am about to say. Once these precious and adorable little beings become a part of our lives, we become less visible to the naked eye.

We are there, but somehow translucent — a way to get to the sparkly little creature we hold in our arms or who clasps our hand. It’s as if a Rachel Berry-esque bright white spotlight is constantly shining on our children and we are merely the nameless blondes in Cheerios uniforms swaying and ahh-ing in the background.

It’s not that people completely forget about us or intend to ignore us, and I know this oversight is not meant to hurt us in any way. In fact, most mothers have done it themselves. I know I have. We almost can’t help ourselves. We all are drawn to where the light shines the brightest.

This used to bother me. A lot. There are some, especially my husband Larry, who always are fascinated with my doings and beings. But socially this was is still the norm. I would pout or rant to my poor husband after conversations or dinners where well-intentioned folks would ask Larry about his work then ask me how Henry was doing, somehow never getting around to asking about me. It didn’t help that much of my professional focus is on supporting others in their creative, business and/or healing process. My days are usually spent toggling between meeting Henry’s needs – often involving loudly demanded sippy cups and making sure he knows “please don’t throw rocks at the kitchen window” actually means something – and meeting my clients’ needs and, oh yeah, my husband’s and my own needs whenever possible.

For the first few months after we adopted Henry, when we met with friends I’d enjoy everyone staring and playing and cooing over Henry for a while. As a typical parent, I firmly believe Henry is extraordinary, so how could you not stare and coo? Isn’t he sweet? Isn’t he smart? Isn’t he cute when he poops? Yes, yes he is. But after a while I’d stick in my energetic nose – or foot or hand or waving arms, whatever worked – usually answering their unrelated questions with some vague hint at an interesting anecdote from my non-Henry week. “Yes, we are going to Yo Gabba Gabba! Live, not that the tickets were easy to get. I had to go online at 9 a.m. sharp, during a conference call with a client, believe it or not…”

I did everything but strip naked and dance the Hokey Pokey. So much of my time is spent giving so much to Henry, so why does he get all the admiration? Women who spend a lot of time together adopt the same monthly cycle. Perhaps so much close proximity to Henry’s toddler maturity level was inducing mine to regress.

Over time I grew up a little and became used to it, expecting to be the mother-in-waiting and becoming genuinely surprised and grateful when someone showed interest in me. I started to understand that a big part of my job is supporting Henry (and my clients and my husband and my loved ones) no matter what, to hold him up, to help him be the center or the diagonal or the sideways or whatever he needed to be in that moment. I’ve gotten a lot of attention in my lifetime, and now it’s Henry’s turn. I accepted my role.

But until not long ago – too recent to not be a little embarrassing – did it all become crystal clear. After receiving a perfectly timed message from a beloved teacher and friend, I began to truly understand…

Being a conscious parent is exactly the same as being a conscious human being: It’s never about me. It’s not just about him. It’s always about “us.”

It’s more than not letting your ego drive the bus. It’s about knowing that when one of us shines, we all do. When we support and love each other unconditionally, it is a gift to the entire family, to humanity, to the universe.

This lovely teacher said a lot of things, but mostly she explained that we all know instinctively when someone makes us shine brighter or be “better” simply by being in our lives, by understanding intuitively what we need or by knowing exactly how to explain why we shouldn’t throw rocks at the kitchen window so we understand. Anyone who agrees to unconditionally love and nurture another is agreeing to a cycle of sharing and support that raises the level of everything we do. The result is much greater than the sum of its parts.

When Henry shines brightly, so do I. When I shine brightly, so does he. When anyone shines, it raises us all up. It heals us all. It honors us all. No one has a role to “accept.” We are a part of each other and therefore can never be made separate. And isn’t that beautiful?

Now, I am joyful when I walk through the grocery or the halls of Henry’s school or a family event and people involuntarily look past me and down at my child to return his infectious smile and offer an enthusiastic ‘hello.’ Now I know a part of me is in that smile, just as a part of him is in mine. We are extraordinary together.