People Who Annoy us are Great Mirrors!

When we get annoyed, it is so easy to put all the blame on the annoying one.  The truth is, every time we get annoyed is an opportunity to grow.

I find that when people annoy me there are a few simple, but often hard to see things going on.

  1. They are reflecting back at me a trait that I have and despise in myself.
  2. They are reflecting back at me a trait that I used to have and worked hard to overcome and a part of me is jealous that they get to “act out!”
  3. They are reflecting back at me my own impatience, intolerance, or self-righteousness.

None of these are pretty.  It takes courage and a degree of humility to be able to see our own shortcomings.

Let’s take a closer look:

“They are reflecting back at me a trait that I have and despise in myself.”

When we become aware of this, we can start to be kinder to ourselves and begin to accept our whole being.  It can be as simple as when someone cuts you off in traffic, you can say to yourself, “I have done that” with kindness in your heart toward the both of you.  We all mess up from time to time.  If we can allow instead of resist our foibles, they happen less frequently and with less devastating effects.

“They are reflecting back at me a trait that I used to have and worked hard to overcome and a part of me is jealous that they get to ‘act out!’”

This one is all ego!  Eckhart Tolle said that the function if the ego is that it is never satisfied. This is a great example of that condition.  When we are judging people because they should “know better,” we can turn it around into gratitude that we have been able to transcend that obstacle and compassion because we know what they are experiencing.  They could be acting from pain or ignorance, but if we have been there, then why not give them a boost of encouragement in the form of understanding?

“They are reflecting back at me my own impatience, intolerance, or self-righteousness.”

A Buddhist nun that I knew said that anytime we are impatient, intolerant or self righteous, it is like the mindfulness bell, ringing to remind us to stop, breathe, and go inside to our compassionate nature.  This transforms the struggle that I might have with myself for being impatient!  So much of our misery comes from struggling against what is.  The vicious cycle can look like this: stimulus, reaction of impatience, and struggle against the reaction of impatience.  Instead, can you make a joke out of it?  You may think something like, “Wow!  I was really impatient just then!  How interesting!”

Your assignment:

Next time that you are annoyed, instead of going down the usual path, take a breath, take a look inside at what is going on and see if you can harness patience, compassion, or humor with yourself and the other.

Active Listening

An unsung hero in communication techniques is deep and active listening. One of the ways we want to set people up to win, is to give them a platform from which they can get real! When we give people the space to speak openly, all kinds of wonderful things happen, including connection, elimination of friction, and optimum mental health!

Deep and active listening means that we are not waiting for our turn to talk but are hearing every word that is spoken.

When we do this, we allow the other person to speak and finish speaking before responding. While listening to that person speak, we really listen rather than formulate a response to what they are saying. If needed, we can take notes and refer back to them when it’s time to respond.

Other key ingredients to Active Listening are:

  • Knowing that a response isn’t always necessary.
  • Abstaining from “fixing” the person who is speaking.
  • Giving the speaker the dignity of their own experience.
  • Listening without judging.
  • Not making it about you. Whatever your speaker is saying, you may hold the space and allow them to be who they are in this moment. It is not a reflection of yourself.
  • Abstaining from evaluating it or judging. You can evaluate my own experience and provide space for you to share your experience with me if you desire to do so.

Your Assignment:

The VERY next conversation that you have, try to apply three of the above principles of Active Listening.  Each subsequent conversation, add another principle to your repetoire.  With some folks it will be easier than others.  You will be a champion when you can apply all of the principles to someone who pushes your buttons.  Let me know how it goes!

Who Do You Want To Be In Your Life?

I came home a while ago and my husband, Vj, was in the middle of something.  In an instant, there was friction between us.  I went away and sulked for about 30 seconds before I made a decision to not try figure out what happened, but to just go and clean it up.

I waited until he was done with his project.  Then I went to him and said, “I don’t know what is going on, but I think that I am looking for reasons to get my feelings hurt.”  I got real, and I got really vulnerable.

Vj and I talk in times of harmony about what is effective in times of disharmony.  Because of those talks, he knows exactly what works with me when I am a little off center, so he knew what to do.

Vj looked up, crossed the room, and enveloped me in his arms.  He then apologized for specific things that may or may not have contributed to the friction.  He took full accountability for his participation, even though in hindsight, I don’t think that he had done anything wrong.

Lately, I have heard several very evolved people talk about their humanity and how they overcome ego.

I am much inspired! They each spoke about being in a situation that was unpleasant and that they resisted it, for a time.  Then, because they live an examined life, they asked themselves, “Who do I want to be in this moment?” and found that there was an immediate sense of relief.

Reconnecting with your higher purpose is an amazing tool.  I am able to do so when I make certain that all of my tanks are full.

One of my goals this year is to: Open my heart to failure, vulnerability, and rejection with faith, trust, and courage.  I am not inviting failure, vulnerability, and rejection. I am making a commitment that I won’t let the fear of them hold me back from anything.

Your Homework:

Who are you committed to being?  Decide what qualities that you want to embody and what kind of impact that will have on the world.  Then, write them down and keep them near.  When trouble hits, you can ask yourself, “Who do I want to be in this situation?” and you can consult your list!  As always, let me know how it goes.

It All Depends Upon Your Expectations

I was talking to my mother today about an Oprah show that she watched yesterday called “Marriage Around the World.” She, like so many Westerners (myself included) was really curious about arranged marriages.  My husband, Vj, is from India and so we have several friends and family members who have had arranged marriages.  This by no means makes me an expert, but I have a little familiarity with the practice.

From the Western point of view, it seems a tragedy that love would not be a part of the arrangement.  However, in arranged marriages, the expectation is that love comes AFTER the marriage.  It may seem more like a business arrangement but, my understanding is that, one’s parents are going to pick the best possible mate for their child and their judgment is unclouded by hormones.  We have all heard horror stories about arranged marriages that result in abuse or alcoholic situations, but in love marriages, that problem is also present.

Generally, in love unions, our partner does something that we view as “not acting right.”  We may not hear those exact words in our head, which can make it hard to identify.  Irritation and frustration by our mate’s habits and quirks is a form of this intolerance.

Often, as my mom pointed out, there is an unspoken desire to “fix” them later!

In an arranged marriage, the expectation is that the first year is the time of discovery.  Then when a mate’s habits or quirks are revealed, this attitude can allow for observation. The sentiment behind observation can be: “Oh, that is how he does that.” The expectation is more focused on discovering who they are rather than on changing or judging the mate.  I understand that this is not a universal truth.  There can be unhappy arranged marriages and love marriages can be approached from an observing and accepting perspective.

I wanted to share with you a simple shift of expectation.  I have seen in many arranged marriages, that each person goes into the union with a beginner’s mind.  They are open to discovering without judging. They observe rather than struggle against what is.

Your Homework:

Look at one of your relationships; it can be your primary relationship, a family member, or even someone less intimate like a coworker.  What can you do to approach them with a beginner’s mind?  Can you look at something that annoys you and think, “Oh, that’s interesting!”?  Are you willing to observe rather than evaluate?

The Art of Appreciation

What You Focus on Grows

Whenever we feel a certain way, it seems to snowball if we let it.  When we “wake up on the wrong side of the bed” or are “just having one of those days” we are caught in a trap of negativity.  The same thing goes for how we view our mate, friend, coworker and that particular relationship.

One time someone that I know who doesn’t know my husband called him “blonde.” This highly offensive comment was a damaging generalization of how blondes are air-headed and personally offensive to me because my husband is a member of Mensa and the nicest person I know.  That said, I went home that day and everything that he did looked absent-minded to me, it was all that I could see.  That simple comment tainted the rest of my afternoon.

When we have these damaging limits set on our mate, either from the outside or from within, it colors our experience of them. Our frame of mind acts as a filter through which we can only see that for which we are looking.

So here are the lessons that I learned from the above episode:

  1. I got an opportunity to use my words and let the person know that she is not allowed to speak disparagingly of my beloved to me.  She got an opportunity to defend herself, and then our relationship just dissolved without animosity.
  2. I got an opportunity to see how what I focused on grew into a monster seemingly beyond my control.
  3. I got to see that only people who are positive about relationships in general and mine specifically get to be in my inner circle of friends. The rest can be acquaintances.

Your Homework

Make a list of all the things that you appreciate in your mate, friend, coworker or family member.  Use “you” not “him/her or he/she”

Nothing is too small.  It can be that they make an effort to smell nice for you, that they soak a dish that they can’t get to right away, they hold the door open, think about you during the day, make a real effort to be punctual for you, etc.

Write at the top of the list:  “These are some of the many reasons that I appreciate (love, adore, respect etc) you” and read it to the person on whom you focused, if you like.  Definitely read it to yourself, especially when the person is challenging you!

Show appreciation for every little thing you possibly can in the next week. You can do this to EVERYONE that you encounter! “Thanks” “I appreciate” and “You are so awesome” are great words to use.  Find your own language.  My husband and I use “Good job, babe” constantly and it never gets old.  We all love appreciation.

What Can You DO When You Are FRUSTRATED?

I often get asked: “Sarah, what do you do when you are just so frustrated that you want to spit (or can’t speak, or what have you)?”

We all get our buttons pushed from time to time. Sometimes, we are so out of sync with our loved ones that we don’t know what to do. Those times are excruciatingly uncomfortable and often quite painful.

The first thing to do is BREATHE. And then breathe some more.

The second thing is to rest in the satisfaction that EVERYTHING is TEMPORARY. It will pass. That is a definite outcome.

The third thing is to remove yourself from doing more damage. The ego is a powerful persuader and can make very convincing arguments that “you” know exactly what will “fix” the situation. That message is often dressed up under all sorts of seemingly great intentions but really those are often masks for mischief-makers.

It can be very difficult to rest in something that is unresolved. It can feel almost like life-or-death urgency. That urgency (ego, dressed up again) can escalate uncomfortable matters into major disasters in a heartbeat.

Lastly, find something that quiets your mind. Go for a walk, go for a swim, listen to loud music, dance around the living room, go throw rocks at an outdoor wall, pray or meditate, create art, view art. Do something that fills your tank and release the other person into the guiding hands of a larger source. It may take some time to get your reward, but it will come and when it does, it will be so much more valuable that a self-righteous outburst.

If you don’t make it and an outburst happens: forgive yourself and the other person (if necessary) and move on.

Your homework:

Take no bait (real or imaginary) this holiday season. Make a decision ahead of time and stick with it to the best of your ability. Forgive yourself and others.

Breaking Up with Consciousness

When reviewing the objects of past hurts or grudges, we can release others to have their experience and then can support them from afar. What that often means is that you leave them alone.  Too many times the agitated or “monkey” mind will try to trick you into thinking that you must actively take care of or contact them.  Often, giving them the dignity of their experience means allowing them to be exactly who they are and where they need to be for lessons that we cannot see.  This can be excruciatingly difficult to practice. 

Years ago before we were married, my husband Vj and I broke up.  During that break,  I wanted so badly to contact him and my highest good asked me to wait.  I needed something more tangible than waiting impatiently.  I wrote loving emails to myself and left loving voicemail messages on my phone.  I redirected the love that I had previously expended on him to myself and I also satisfied the urge to pick up the phone or email him with that practical action. 

Taking care of myself and allowing him the dignity of his experience gave us both space to become more of who we actually are so that when we reunited, we did so very healthfully. 

I had done this before with relationships that never did reconcile.  Those actions helped me to release both the cast of characters and the stories into the benevolent hands of the universe.  With these practices, I saw that my curiosity about how my formers were doing did not matter.  Within moments, taking care of myself assuaged the urgent need to reach out and harm myself or others.

This lesson was hard fought.  In the past, I had done the opposite with heartbreaking results.  Each contact that I made was under the guise of good intentions, wanting to make certain that they were doing all right.  I later learned that there was no dignity in that practice.  Each time, going into it, I felt like it was a good idea.  But then after making contact, I always felt lousy.

I learned that I must take care of myself and let him take care of himself.  I was neither qualified nor invited to take care of anyone but myself.

“People come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa

I had to watch out for blame when relationships, of any nature, disintegrated.  This was tricky, since it was the default response!  I began to realize that blame was poisonous and only harmed myself.

When Vj and I broke up after being together for one year, we were both very hurt and surprised.  The day after we broke up, I went to an all day meditation retreat and wept and breathed. That night, I volunteered at a shelter to show myself that I could be in far worse shape than I was.  The day that Vj moved out of our home, I stayed at a friend’s place all day until he was finished. 

It was very hard for me to stop engaging with Vj, who was my best friend, however, I needed to take care of myself and get some breathing room.  We had no contact for six months.

I was sad and confused but placed blame aside.  I knew that blame was not the answer.  I did not know the answer, but placing myself in the role of victim would have been a disaster.

Heartbreak at the end of a relationship is very confusing.  Remember, that we are at our worst when we are heartbroken or suffering through a breakup. Bitterness comes from the victim consciousness.  The victim’s sentiment is: “They did that to me.” 

All relationships are two way street.  When lost in the victim consciousness, there is only one role that you can play–victim.  And you will attract either another victim, or a perpetrator.  Whether or not they do perpetrate, is not the question, because the victim consciousness is a filter through which all relationships are seen.

I met a man who had a tattoo of a street name on his arm.  He got the tattoo at the end of a relationship to commemorate the time that the pair had lived together on that street.  He had no desire to relive the past or to interfere with her current life, he merely wanted to honor their time and allow it to pass. 

This is a more uplifted expression of a past relationship than we normally see.  There is an entire industry of t-shirts, bumper stickers, jewelry, and other popular culture items that promote the victim and bitterness standard.  We can become aware of this tendency and ask ourselves: “What am I going to be?  A victim or a warrior?”

Your Assignment:

Review any bitterness or regret that you might have from your past.  Can you reframe it to allow the “perpetrator” to become your teacher?  What valuable lessons did that person teach you?  Can you release them to a bigger picture of which you are unaware?

An Invisible Power

Women are powerful beyond measure.  And yet, we don’t know it or allow ourselves to live it.

As I continue along the path of growing, healing, learning, and serving, I have witnessed time and again how immensely powerful women are.  And more importantly, how hugely they influence everyone around them.

After I started my relationship mentoring practice, I was surprised to find how many men came seeking my help.  I assumed that I would attract women who are like I was, frustrated and wondering how to get a fulfilling relationship.

I am finding over and over again how profoundly women affect men.  I knew that my life had been impacted by interactions with men, and yet I had held a selfish and self-effacing belief that I couldn’t possibly impact a man’s life.

How wrong I was.

I see now how brutalized men are by women who are unable to practice self-care.  When a woman is depleted, she leaves a wake of chaos and insecurity.  The same can be said for men, but the power to which I am referring is distinctly female.

I have been interviewing men lately about what it is like for them to be around women who are unhappy or dissatisfied.  The results have been interesting.

One man said, “All I want to do is make the women around me happy.  If a woman is unable to be pleased, it is excruciating.”

Other symptoms of being around a chronically depleted woman are: loss of vitality, feeling drained, no lust for life, decrease in productivity and more.  These words are verbatim from men describing their experience.  Simply by proximity, a woman’s energy and state of mind can have this huge effect on men.

One of my teachers, Yogi Bhajan said that it is our birthright to be happy.  When I heard this, it changed my life.  Not only could I choose to be happy, I would be aligning myself to the universal order.  Once I did that, I experienced how true it was.  I was in the flow.

Now that I see in my own clients and other men how profoundly they care about our wellbeing and how affected they are by our being, I know that it is not only our birthright, it is our duty to be happy.

I know that it takes work.  It also takes an awfully lot of courage to be happy.  Being truly happy opens ourselves up to a realm of depth that can be overwhelming.  It is not always easy to be happy, we are after all, still human and vulnerable to varying moods.  But isn’t being in the flow worth the risk?

Your Assignment:

Receive the gifts that you are given today with gratitude and happiness.  Can you be happy today no matter what the outside circumstances?  What small measure can you take to fill your tanks? Will you rest, read, look at art, putter in the garden, time with children?  Simply for today, please identify something that fills you up and allow yourself the opportunity to do it.


How To Be OK When Others Around You Are Flipping Out.

I got an excellent call recently.  A woman was witnessing chaos in a loved one and was miserable.

So many times, we are miserable because:

1.We feel like we are responsible
2.We are afraid of how someone else’s ungraceful behavior reflects on our image

3.We simply cannot deal with chaos or change

The problem is that there will always be chaos and change and just because we don’t like it, does not mean that it is “bad.”

We get caught in the dualistic thinking that discomfort equals bad and comfort equals good. When we are caught in this thinking, then we try to control our environments and out outcomes, which turns into a real mess.

From destruction comes growth.  Autumn and winter allow for the new growth of spring and summer.  Our lives cycle in a similar way.

I know of no illuminated people who arrived there easily.  Our most painful moments are often our best teachers.  A simple example is from my film school days. 

Our first year of film school, we each prepared all year to shoot our films.  Each of us had a crew of people to help us execute our plans.  The first person who shot her project had an easy time; everything went so smoothly.  I worked on that film and while it was fun, I learned very little from the experience.

Then it was my turn to shoot my film.  We lost our location and our cinematographer at the last moment.  We had other crewmembers who become sick or temperamental.  I had to think on my feet, remain calm, and be very flexible.  As it turned out, I learned so much more from that experience.  My experience was far closer to what can actually happen in the larger world of film so I was more prepared to be flexible and adaptable when I later worked in Hollywood.

This is a simplistic example of a larger theme.  We do not need to stand by when others are harming themselves or others.  However, sometimes we do not know the larger picture and therefore, cannot see that one person’s misery may also be their opportunity to shine and grow.

Your Assignment:

Can you watch someone be ungraceful and start to shift your thinking to: “Wow, I wonder what his or her lesson is?”  When we can approach people from a place of curiosity, we are better able to release self-righteousness and judgment.   A tiny shift in our perception today can allow the space someone may need to learn and grow.


Take Time to Allow What is Meant to Unfold


This is another way of allowing someone else the dignity of their own experience.  Sometimes we watch someone flail and want to go in a fix them.  It is not always for the highest good.  We may be interrupting a very important lesson.

It is hard not to meddle in other people’s business.  The closer they are to us, the more difficult it is to abstain from this.

When we interfere, we often arrest a deeply important lesson for our loved one.  Additionally, we clamp down on ourselves with fear and control.  This is lose/lose.

There are cases, of course, when one must interfere in order to prevent serious harm to them or others.  Those instances are not discussed here.

Over a year ago a friend of mine stopped returning my phone calls.  I was hurt.  After several months, I got a call with a feeble apology that did not address much.  I was still hurt and felt that I ought to address it, but again, was unable to reach my friend.  I gave up.  Up to that point, my attempts to communicate had been driven by an urge to control her or the situation.

I waited several months and asked for inspiration in meditation.  I had seen through other means that she had fallen away from many people and cut herself off.

Finally, the urgency of trying to fix things fell away and I could see more clearly that she was hurting but needed some time to figure it out.

My motivation shifted from what I wanted to get (approval, attention, friendship on my terms), to what I could give.

I made up my mind to stop by her home to let her know that I do love her and that I wanted to make sure she was ok.  I knew, too, that I would compassionately let her know that I had been hurt.  Being true friends means that we get real with one another, no matter what.

Several times I went by her home and she was not there.  Each time, before I approached her door, I got quiet and asked that the highest good of all involved be served.  It was very peaceful but she was never home.

I decided to call and leave her a loving message and leave it at that.

She called back almost right away.  I attribute it to the new openness that I had been granted through meditation.  I believe that if I had still been harboring my hurt and indignation, there would have been no room for her to reach out to me.  It would have repelled her like a force field.

Your Assignment:

Is there a person in your life who simply needs you to love them from afar?  Is there someone who would benefit from you allowing them to make mistakes but without judgment?  Can you be patient and wait for them to return?

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