Monday, March 21, 2011

My Patterns in Relationships

Do you know your patterns in relationships? We all have them. We have patterns for everything. It is a very basic human trait. In the book, The Slight Edge, Leo Weidner calls these patterns, mental models. He describes them as “the brain’s habit-building process.” Weidner writes, “This amazing built-in process takes everything you experience and stores it, as a part of a specific mental model. Each time you go to do something you have done before, the brain calls up this mental model.”

Take for example a task like driving a car. When you get in a car, your brain immediately searches out it's data banks to find the mental model that can accomplish this task in the most efficient way possible. Same holds true for how we experience other things in life, such as relationships. We do it the way we previously did it; because it is the brain’s way of being efficient.

Even if you change the person you are in relationship with, we often still activate that habit-building process. These habits or patterns are inevitable, unless we bring a conscious awareness to them and take deliberate actions to change them. (Of course, that is if you want to change them.)

My pattern in relationships involves two distinctly different types of men. The first pattern is with the type of man I labeled, Catnip and Kryptonite. The other pattern is with the type I dubbed, Devoted and Detached.

Catnip and Kryptonite Man
He can best be described as woman-magnet. He is attractive, charming and a big talker. In his company, I feel intoxicated, especially when he is lavishing attention on me. A gifted orator, he does not hold back on verbal praise. He also has an amazing intensity to his gaze that can easily weaken me. This man has the ability to have this earth-grounded, female bull (Taurus) floating on ether!

He often has some major money issues; despite the outward appearance, otherwise. Willing to overlook his shortcomings in the financial area, the relationship usually ends because of his infidelity. Inside, I collapse. Outside, I am cool and calculating, as I plot my withdrawal. My exit is usually swift, blinding and hurtful. He never sees the fast, sucker-punch to the jaw coming. By the time he realize it, I am GONE.

Devoted and Detached Man
He possesses a quiet demeanor (especially in unfamiliar environments), average looking, stable, dependable, and financially secure. He usually catches my eye because he is so incredibly decent: a good-guy. Since usually, I am coming out of a relationship with Catnip/Kryptonite, this new kind of man is a breath of fresh air.

He is very predictable to the point of being boring. You can set your watch by him. He does the same thing, the same way and sees no reason to change it. I feel safe with him. What I do not feel is that we “get” each other. He thinks I am too eccentric and I think he is disconnected from his heart.

The relationship with this man usually ends because we feel like strangers to one another, which usually translates for both of us as, “I must not truly love you.” The end is very hospitable: polite even.

My patterns are clear. My mental model in my journey in relationships is much like driving: I have taken the same road time and time again. When there is an accident on that familiar road (Catnip/Kryptonite), I take a quickest detour (Devoted/Detached) that I know.

It is time to take a new road to my destination. So I wonder if there is a THIRD type of man I could attract that would render a more favorable result. Someone who feeds my heart’s need for excitement AND my mind’s need for security. This new man is someone who I can feel loved by and safe with.

Oh, what shall I call him?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Love Yourself

“You cannot give away what you don’t have.” Are you familiar with that old adage? I often have to remind myself of this truth. How am I to be generous, patient and kind to others, when I find that I deny myself, am self-critical and try to use negative reinforcement to motivate myself?

“Your dress size is a clear indication that you do not need that ice cream.” This statement serves to motivate me to make healthy food choices. A more effective self-talk would be: “I lovingly choose foods that help me maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Charity truly does begin at home. My mission to use story to empower others to think critically, choose wisely and believe fervently in their ability to succeed must begin with me. So I must ask myself, “What stories are you telling yourself?” “Are the words you speak to yourself inspiring and empowering?”

To motivate myself to maintain my four-day-a-week exercise regiment, I remind myself of how far I have come in my physical rehabilitation, since my near-fatal car accident in August 2009. This story is far more encouraging than berating myself about my dress size.

That inner critic is an enemy to many people. If most people were to broadcast their inner voice, undoubtedly, it would be a barrage of negative self-talk. It is my strong belief that such self-sabotaging talk has absolutely no value. In fact, I would purport that negative self-talk is the major contributor to low self-esteem and a major obstacle to obtaining goals.

If you want to begin to silence that inner critic, spend just a few minutes at the start of your day speaking loving, affirming words to yourself, while looking in a mirror. If you need help with writing your daily affirmation, check out the book, You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay. It contains powerful, loving affirmations for every area of your life: relationships, work and health.

Start each day loving yourself and you will find you have so much more love to give to others.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tools to Use in the Valley

Living a life on purpose is not without its challenges. Without question, doing what you love and making a living at it is very rewarding. However, like all journeys, it has within it, mountain top experiences and valley experiences.

In the 17 years I have been a professional storyteller, the valley experiences have included:
  • Drastic fluctuations in my income
  • Feelings of isolation from working independently
  • Sacrificing personal luxuries to maintain financial stability 
How long I stay in the valley often depends on how effectively I use and apply the following tools:
  • Journaling: It is the best and cheapest brand of therapy.
  • Prayer/Meditation: If I am consistently spending time in quiet reflection, it gives me an inner calm that often can override the outer chaos.
  • Support Circle: It has been a blessing to be in a circle of people who can encourage and inspire me when I am in the valley. The organizations, National Association of Black Storytellers and Keepers of the Culture have given me immeasurable support on this journey. My own circle of family and friends have also given me unwavering support. If you do not have such a support circle in your life, it may be time to change your flock
On your journey, if you find yourself in the valley, employ these tools and let me know how they work for you. If you have other tools that you have found effective, please share, I am always looking for more. If you need help discovering your life’s purpose, check out my e-book. If you join the mailing list, you can get a free excerpt of the book.

Whatever path you take, just remember that the valley is the space between two mountains.




Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Be Generous

Lately, I have been reminding myself to be generous to myself; not with gifts per se, but rather kind words, patience, time and attention. My generosity has shown on in consistent trips to the gym and longer time in bed. When I open my eyes in the morning, instead of running down my long to-do list, I scan my body and assess whether I am rested enough. If I am not well-rested and my schedule allows, I remain in the bed. I may or may not go back to sleep, but I will lie in the bed and do some affirmations.

It dawned on me recently, that there was a time when I was in a consistent state of spiritual consciousness. I would start my day in a prayerful state and throughout the day use affirmations and breathing to maintain spiritual alignment. For years, my day started with this affirmation I read in one of Iyanla Vanzant’s books.

"I awake with clarity and peace of mind. I know who I am; what I am to do to; and how I am to do it. My clarity of mind gives me focus. The excitement in my heart urges me on. I know. I am sure. I am ready, willing and able to greet this day and all that it has in store. I am divinely guided and I know exactly what to do. I am on purpose."
It has been awhile since I have been that state of heighten spiritual awareness. Lately, I have been more in my head; throwing myself into my day mind-first; consumed by my never-ending to-do list. Now that I have made a pledge to be generous to myself, I find I am slowing down and examining myself more closely. Self-reflection often brings me back to balance.

Here is a song by India.Arie that captures this lesson beautifully. The song is appropriately entitled, “Beautiful Day.” Enjoy!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Balancing Creativity with Practicality

One of the most interesting things about this journey, called life, is the process of creativity. It never ceases to astonish me. There are moments when an idea will come to my mind, whether it is a story, song or poem; and it will come to me (or rather through me) in its entirety. All I have to do is get-up-out of the way and it will pour forth, as easily as a rain drop down a windshield. In those moments, I know that I am not creating the work; but rather allowing the work to come through me. I am but a vessel.

Case-and-point, on Thanksgiving Day, I was driving to my mom’s home and Joss Stone was crooning in the speakers. One song contained the words “color me.” Instantly, a completely, different song flowed over my lips. A brand new song that was ready to be birthed. I knew I needed to stop my vehicle; pull out a recorder; and get the song down before it got away from me. I also knew that if I did not stop at that moment, the song would be lost.

That’s when the internal battle between the Creative me and the Practical me began. The Creative one wanted to stop and the Practical one wanted to arrive on time to Thanksgiving dinner. The conflict between these two parts of me is a constant and frequent occurrence.

My challenge is finding the balance between the two. Both parts have their merits. The Creative one produces the work that feeds my soul and when I share that work; it feeds the souls of others. The Practical one keeps the order in my life that allows me the luxury of making my work as an artist, my vocation.

It is my firm belief that the reason I have been able to work for the past 17 years as a professional storyteller is because of these two parts of me. My Creative self is the visionary, who is always looking toward the future and asking, “What if?” My Practical self is the pragmatist, who is always in the present moment and asking, “What’s needed now?” My never-ending challenge is to nurture both parts me by giving amble time to each.

On that day travelling to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to settle the conflict by compromising. I recorded the song, as I was driving (Don’t worry. It was a hands-free recorder.) and arrived on-time to dinner. Unfortunately, when I arrived at my mother’s door, the song was not complete. The hook and one and a half verses and were done, but I knew there was more. The Practical part of me won by reasoning that the song was nearly completed and could easily be finished later.

It took a few weeks before the other half of the second verse was created. Several months later, it still feels like it is not yet completed. What is the moral of the tale? Hmm, good question. I am not entirely sure. I do know if I had to do it over again, I would have stayed in the vehicle longer to finish the song and risk being late for dinner. Surely, mother would understand.

p.s. When the song is completed, I will post the video :-).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Making Decisions

“When you make a decision have your mind made up.”

A friend quoting his mentor shared this pearl of wisdom. This message in this statement is to hold firm to your conviction and be certain that your conviction is indeed your truth. It is not about rigidity or inflexibility but rather about integrity and impeccable speech.

Often folks are careless with their speech and arrive at a decision through uncontrolled emotions that lead to making not too well-thought out declarations. When the consequences of that decision begins to unfold, the speaker begins to back off that declaration or when others offer their opposing opinions about the decision, the speaker begins to waiver.

Recently, a friend asked me questions about my decision to end some relationships. She asked me:

•Did you have regrets for moving on and letting friends go?

•Have your friends reached out to you?

•Did you make new friends?

•Was it worth it?

To the first question I would say, “No.” It really takes me a significant about time and prayer to end a relationship, especially a long-term relationship. Consequently, once I arrived at that the decision there are no regrets. To the next question, I would have to say that I did not leave much room to reopen the door, once it was closed. It is not that there is no chance for reconciliation later down the path. Once I see that the current conditions are not conducive for the relationship to continue, I end it. Normally, I do not outline what conditions have to change because then I feel like I am getting into the “you-must-change” mode, which rarely serves anyone. I do not believe you can change others or should ask others to change. You can only change you and the way you respond to others.

Did I make new friends? My new flock is evolving. I am thankful that in the evolution, I am enjoying my own company. Finally, to the last question: “Was it worth it?” I would say, “Yes.”

At the root of this decision was my desire to take good care of myself, despite the difficulties that come with ending a relationship. In the end, when I make a decision, I pray that it is for my highest good. This journey called, life, is an opportunity for me to create higher and higher versions of myself. I pray daily that this intention is the basis for all my decisions.