Pundits I’ve read recently on common mistakes bloggers make, my guilt is like an egg on my face in some of my latest blogs. If I have bored you in the past, forgive me. The most egregious error; my complaints about the state of publishing and the new avenues of dissemination of the written word in our burgeoning Information age, even, if as I believe, it is sadly adrift. So I apologize to my readers for trying (in my blog) to make sense of why I am so frustrated about all of this. Too personal (I have learned), no one wants to read about someone else’s gripes. According to the pundits again, readers, like mine, enjoy blogs on parenting, spirituality, books and other recommendations, nature, gardening, meditation and Buddhism, and one of my areas of expertise, the psychology of personality. (I wrote two books on this and have lead many international workshops.)

According to the E-model (the personality paradigm that I use) facing our avoidances is a huge step towards cultivating psychological well being. If you are faced with an unexpected dire illness or accident, extended family issues that involve your spouse, abusive behavior by a boss, or any other intense experience, how do you react? We each have a strategy of avoidance.

Let’s examine three common avoidances. One is to experience intense stress as pain, not physical pain but emotional and psychological pain. Do you or someone you know avoid dealing with pain? Ways to avoid pain are to push down on it whenever your thoughts enter that territory. Or push away from it, not wanting to engage with the emotions around the source of the pain. You say to whomever wants to talk to you about the stress, “Do you have to go there?” You hide behind emails and avoid conversations. The panacea for pain avoiders is to always have another plan or option in mind that takes them away from the pain and into a pleasant activity or to turn conversations to less stressful encounters.

Another avoidance is failure. The cause of stress is processed as your failure. You are ill because you failed to do enough to stay healthy. Your extended family is in turmoil because you didn’t juggle the pieces well enough to keep relationships running smoothly. Your boss is rude and harassing because (s)he found out something about you that you are unaware of about yourself. The panacea for failure avoiders is to only operate in arenas where they can feel successful and win approval. Therefore their resumes shine, they have avoided failure.

A third avoidance is vulnerability. Engaging in stressful situations is dangerous it leaves you vulnerable. You don’t let such situations arise. You exercise control from the get-go. “It’s my way or the highway, baby.” You walk away from stress before it can jump you. Illness? You power your way through with every resource you have, and never trust medical help until you have established control of procedures. The panacea for vulnerability avoiders is confrontation and control, “the bull in the china shop” approach. If everyone is wary of your energy and confrontational anger you are no longer vulnerable.

A methodology I teach for us to be able to enter our avoidances and include them in our emotional development is to write a letter to Dear Pain, or Dear Failure, or Dear Vulnerability. Ask what you are avoiding and why. Write a reply to yourself from these mind states. Continue the correspondence until you begin to engage with the avoidance. This is hard inner work but one way to ensure our psychological well being.

In my next blog I’ll look at three more common personality avoidances.

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“If only there was a cure for unhappiness.”

The other day someone spoke those words to me accompanied by a heartfelt sigh. Unhappiness is a burden we carry at times and it can be debilitating. Is there a cure? It is easier to contemplate the idea that we cause much of our unhappiness by attaching so much energy and attention to the cause—loss, unwelcome change, illness, our own or that of someone we are close to, disappointment and so on—than to change our state of mind about the situation. Yet change our attitude is exactly what we need to do. As Hamlet in the famous Shakespeare play of the same name says, “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Here are some proven “cures.”

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© amazon.com 2011

Many of my readers clamor for another post on Generation E. These are mostly readers who have found the early posts in this web blog on that topic of interest and helpful. One of my students recently read my book The Enneagram Intelligences: Understanding Personality for Effective Teaching and Learning , and found the E-model so intriguing that for a class assignment to create an utopia (after we studied Plato’s The Republic)  this student wrote a short essay on the topic. Here is an excerpt (printed with permission.)

Heptilibrium: A perfect balance of the nine ways to be in the world: Perfectionist, Helper, Performer, Dreamer, Observer, Questioner, Optimist, Boss and Peace Keeper. In order to create the perfect utopia, especially one that accommodates nine different aspects of living, requires a profound and complete educational system. The general principles of education will revolve around the core values of the utopia: equality, compassion, fairness, honesty and trust. Every teacher will be trained in the nine ways to live and with this broad spectrum of knowledge they will teach these principles and values to all students. The nine different ways of learning will be accommodated: every student can explore their own learning style. Students will learn how to compete fairly, treat each other with honesty and respect, and be guided to acquire true knowledge of life. Students will learn compassion and how to care for and be concerned about, others. Exploring various cultures (through the nine lenses) will teach them to forgo racism and respect the differences among people. Students will perceive the world through different perspectives. To elaborate on the core values, everyone is created equal and has equal rights under the law. There is no racism and separatism between the people; everyone is taken care of on an equal basis.

Heptilibrium is governed under the perfect balance of the nine. By forming harmony with nature, different cultures, moral principles and one’s inner self, citizens of Heptilibrium will walk the paths of happiness and live life content with joy while being responsible and upright citizens.

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We are in that mode again. Either already back at school, or anticipating the change from the summer months to the academic year. This is true for students, teachers, parents and anyone who is involved in any way in the educational system. Come the inevitable cycling of the seasons from summer to fall and we all experience an inner realization of the echoing internal shift of energy. If you are a teacher, as I am, no matter how many years you have been teaching–in fact the longer your teaching career–the more easily able you are to recognize the subtle internal signs of the approaching transition.

This blog could be, but is not about the ways different personalities react to transitions, it is about transitions themselves. Our entire lives are about transitions. We are in the womb, and then we transition to being alive in this physical reality. We breathe, we are alive, and then one day we stop breathing and we are no longer alive. This is the greatest mystery; we are no longer here. While we are here we live in a realm of duality. Every meeting implies a parting. We are born to our parents, but sooner or later we will be parted from them. And before that final parting there are many other transitional meetings and partings–friends, long-term loving relationships, career changes, moving year by year from grade school to college and even graduate school. We all go through so many transitions, even those from awakening in the morning and returning to sleep at night.

Transitions, the way we view them, and the energy we create around them are vitally important for us to understand if we are to live our lives more steadily in a way that can lead to stability, less reactivity and more inner spaciousness allowing us to be proactive and not at the whim of life’s changing patterns.

1) The only constant in our lives is change. Think about this, it is often a startling idea when you first hear it. Minute-by-minute, day-by-day, month- by-month, year-by-year, we change. We grow older, we learn more, we adapt our lives to our own expectations and the reality of those expectations. Medical research tells us that physically every cell in our bodies is changed every seven years. It makes sense then to grapple with ideas of transitions and change.

2) If the only constant is change, then all we have is each passing nano-second. In that moment try to be present to yourself, to the people around you, and to your current situation and  environment. Try and be fully present to every moment; avoid future-tripping,  or looking back with regret and nostalgia. This state of mind sounds so simple and yet is so hard to achieve. Staying present in the moment is among the greatest mind-training challenges you will ever undertake.

Have a meaningful and aware transition to this fall.

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Many young people want to know about meditation. Nowadays meditation practice is more accessible and more acceptable than ever. In every corner of the United States, Europe, Asia, and many other parts of the world, yoga studios have sprung up and most of them offer meditation as well as yoga classes. Hospitals everywhere have meditation sessions for patients and health professionals alike. Martial arts dojos, Buddhist and other spiritual centers, all offer their own traditions of meditation practices.

Among the immediate benefits of meditation is a sense of relaxation, a slowing down of our body rhythms to a more natural pace. Practicing deeper breathing carries more oxygen to our blood vessels and muscles. Most of these benefits arise from beginning meditation practices that teach us to focus on the breath while sitting cross-legged on the floor or sitting in a straight backed chair with our hands on our knees. The straighter our backs, the more aligned our vital organs, especially our fully opened lungs. The breath is a constant reference point; it is always with us from the moment we are born until the moment we die; so the first exercise in mind-training is to always return to concentrate on our breath when our mind wanders (as it always will because that is what minds do.) At the end of most yoga classes we assume shivasana or “the corpse pose” where we put ourselves into a comfortable position prone on the floor, cover our eyes, and sink into the darkness. This is another good time to meditate.

Meditation, however, has other attributes. Practiced correctly by preparing the ground in easy stages can help us master advanced concentration techniques. That is why many types of meditation practices are called mind training. Concentration on mantras, guided visualizations, chanting, a blank wall or just sitting and watching the breath can help us distill our mind to the most complete one-pointed concentration. The benefits of mind-training are to improve our focus and general concentration, as well as to foster a greater sense of inner awareness and spaciousness.

1. It is easy to get started. Find a quiet spot; sit cross-legged on the floor or in a straight backed chair with your feet on the ground and your hands on your knees. Close your eyes and become aware of your breathing. Follow the in breath and the out breath for as long as you can concentrate. Start with three to five minutes and build up slowly.

2. Make sure you return consciously to your immediate surroundings before you open your eyes.

3. Books on meditation written by meditation masters abound in book stores and there are many good web sites where you can learn more.

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Generation E: Creative Electric Energy

It is a rare gift in our busy lives to be able to step back, unplug, and find our core again–and a central purpose of our lives–in such a pristine setting. For the past almost a month that is what I have been doing in Rabun Gap county in the mountains of northern Georgia. I am writing a book on the material that can be found on this blog. The hours I’ve spent writing here have whizzed by.

One evening I drove on the valley road. There had been a rain shower in the area. The green hills were now purple, gray and deep brown–royal colors–with the white mist wreathing the valleys, ghosts from primeval times. We are a continuum of creativity and that is the presence here.

Some nights the sky is lit up with the flash lightning from electric storms over the mountains. They are magnificent. They are the outer expression of the inner flash lightning of my own writing and all the creativity of my fellow residents in this special place.

We may not all be writers, poets, artists, and musicians. But we are all creators of our own lives. We shape each moment, sculpt each day, and create music with the language we use and the emotions we evoke in that language. We write the story of our lives in the brush strokes of our relationships, the exquisite detail of the daily interactions with our loved ones, the broader strokes of work and social associations, the responsibility and love we show to our pets and gardens. We paint the colors of our lives with loves and hates, loyalty and disloyalty, passion and withholding.  Each day we create ourselves anew. Mary Oliver, a well-known modern American poet in her poem “Summer Days” famously asks:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

How You Can Find This Electric Energy

1. Follow your own dreams. Be passionate, creative, and believe in yourself.

2. Find the road map to your inner life so you can know what is your core purpose.

3. Learn what motivates you, and where the obstacles are to your own creativity.

4. Find and make ties with like-minded people who can help you sustain your dreams.

5. Never give up, no matter what the world tells you.

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As the June 21 summer solstice heralded the summer months many of us pulled out road maps to study the routes for our summer vacation trips. Do we want the scenic route through the mountains this time, or the quicker drive along the highway? Or maybe even we should try the third option we have always wanted to see­—the coastal route—even if it adds half a day to our drive time. Do we want to stay in a quaint B&B overnight and spend a few additional leisurely hours or does the hermetic and generic motel chain feel right for this trip? We compute miles and hours, consult Google maps for directions, maybe ask the AAA to compile a customized route map so we will know where to expect the road blocks and construction areas. Some of us call ahead and reserve rooms knowing we do not like to drive after dark, or for longer than eight hours at a stretch, or take a chance on a room being available. Others like to be spontaneous and stop along the way whenever and wherever highway exhaustion hits. But having a map, a route and a plan seems to be common sense and practice.

The Enneagram (e-model) maps the territory of our inner consciousness. We know that maps are never the territory, yet we all use them, as they certainly help us find our way; for none of us can drive blind fold! So why live the journey of your life blind fold when you have maps such as the e-model to point out directions to you? The e-model is the EEE of self-awareness—Expanded horizons, Expertise at knowing yourself and others, and an Explanation for what motivates our behavior. We are all traveling along the highways and byways of our life’s path—and the only sure direction we know is that of birth to death, an involuntary journey and none of us knows how long it will take. There are many such maps as the e-model and they put before us options so we can make wise choices about how to live our lives. We would all like to learn warning signals when we are about to go off the road, or how we can avoid accidents. Fortunately you can check out the e-model map (it comes with directions) at www.janetlevine.com

Have a wonderful summer filled with journeys and discoveries.

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