Nov 05

Don’t Make Assumptions

Don’t Make Assumptions

When people say things like: “The ocean is beautiful” or “There’s nothing more breathtaking than a sunset” do you ever find yourself robotically agreeing with them without consciously thinking about their statements? This is a common practice.


What if, when you really think about it, you discover you prefer mountains to ocean views, or would rather watch the sun rise than set? Do you know your own opinions? How easy it is to just agree than to be thinking all the time and even more to be feeling and to know what you are feeling?   It’s even easy to say, “never allow others to tell you what to think, who you are or what you should be doing with your life”. And yet, we all do it.


The Four Agreements are a spiritual practice based on the ancient wisdom of the Toltecs, a Mexican tribe of wise and knowledgeable people. These agreements teach us a way to be self-directed and ultimately free. So far, we’ve covered – well, actually, we’ve touched on – the first two agreements – they are: Be impeccable with your word –

teenagers I once taught summed it up for– only say nice things about yourself or others. Don’t take anything personally – not even the nice things others say about you!

And now we focus on Don’t make assumptions. Most of us don’t think we make assumptions. That’s the trouble; assumptions are assumed… they are not usually conscious.So, today, I’m going to share several examples of assumptions with the intention that we will all become alert to finding our own. Then, I’ll tell you a little bit about what to do with them when you find them.


I’ll start with an old joke:

A 70 year old man went to his doctor for a check up and the doctor was amazed at his terrific physical condition. Looking for an explanation in genetics, the doctor said to the man, “how old was your father when he died?”


The man said, “Don’t assume my father is dead. In fact, he’s 90 years old and he still plays golf every day and he walks the course!”


The doctor said, “Well then, how old was your grandfather when he died?” “Don’t assume my grandfather is dead. In fact, he’s 110 and he just got married.” The doctor said, “Why would a man of 110 want to get married.”   “Don’t assume he wanted to get married?”


Not all assumptions are funny. False assumptions occur everywhere, and can even be deadly. I believe this story is a true one.
“The confusion began at 6:18 P.M. Monday, when the woman’s landlord called 911, saying he had found her body in her basement apartment. Two technicians—E.M.S. employees with less training than paramedics—arrived within minutes and pronounced her dead at about 7 P.M. They notified the Medical Examiner’s office, which sent an investigator, a doctor, who assumed the woman was dead because the technicians had said so. The investigator had been in the apartment for more than half an hour when he heard what sounded like a single faint breath.” 
Needless to say, she was alive.  
Now, maybe the doctor should have known better than to assume the technicians’ information was correct, but most false assumptions don’t seem like false assumptions. They seem perfectly logical and reasonable at the time—so logical and reasonable, in fact, that you don’t even realize you’re making an assumption. Which is why it’s so easy for assumptions to create havoc with your good intentions. 


Next is the story of a runaway cat – this is a story told by a friend of mine, Naomi Karten, during a seminar she was presenting to a client company. We were discussing how easy it is to make false assumptions and how they can lead you astray in solving problems. Suddenly, a secretary appeared with a message for Tara, a manager in the group. The message was from Tara’s neighbor who had called to say that Tara’s cat, Panther, had gotten out of the apartment and was running around in the hallway of her building.

“Not again!” Tara exclaimed. She said the cat probably dashed out when her cleaning lady opened the door. I told her this was the first time I’d ever had a class interruption caused by a fleeing feline. Fortunately, Tara lived only a few blocks away from work. Her secretary was most accommodating and, as she’d done in previous runaway-cat episodes, offered to go to the apartment, retrieve the cat,
and return it safely to Tara’s apartment.

Which she did and didn’t. That is, she did go over to the apartment. But she didn’t retrieve the cat and return it. Why? It seems it wasn’t Tara’s cat. She’d met Tara’s cat before, and she knew this wasn’t it.


Tara had made an assumption. She had assumed it was her cat. It sounded like her cat. It was the sort of thing her cat had done before. There was no reason for Tara to question the situation before leaping to conclusions. As a result, the idea of calling her neighbor back and asking a few questions to validate that it was her cat never occurred to her. So she didn’t ask what the cat looked like. She didn’t ask where, exactly, it was found. And she didn’t bother to ask if it responded to “Panther.” The odds were that it was her cat. Except that it wasn’t.


The fact that Tara lived nearby eliminated the need to analyze the situation more carefully. It was easy enough to just check it out. If it had been her cat, the problem would have been quickly resolved. And even though it wasn’t her cat, no one had been seriously inconvenienced.


But what if Tara had lived further away? Or her secretary hadn’t been available? Or as accommodating? Or what if the temperature had been 30 below or raining you know what and dogs? Would any of these conditions have caused Tara to challenge her assumptions, or ask some questions, or avoid allowing strong circumstantial evidence to lead her to a false conclusion? Who knows?


False assumptions can create havoc when you assume that you and others mean the same things by what you each say. In important situations, the safest starting point is to assume that they don’t mean what you think they mean and vice versa — until you’ve asked questions, sought clarification, and offered explanations. That way, you are more likely to identify some of the false assumptions that could interfere with a successful outcome.


The next story is from a couple that does relationship seminars. “We just got back from a very powerful workshop on Spiritual Partnerships with Gary Zukav, author of Seat of the Soul, and his spiritual partner Linda Francis.

The great thing about attending a weekend workshop like this is that you get to learn a lot about yourself and your partner. We got to learn about how making simple assumptions can damage relationships very quickly. Simple assumptions that we make about each other and situations can lead to resentment, distance and emotional separation if left unaddressed.

During our 12 hour drive to the workshop, Susie had an apple as a snack. She asked Otto if he wanted an apple. He looked at the apple and saw only one and assumed that that was the only apple in the food bag. Since he wasn’t hungry in that moment, but knew he would be soon, he mistakenly assumed that Susie was about to have the only apple.

A short time later Otto had tortilla chips for a snack instead of the apple he would have preferred. Now he didn’t resent Susie for eating the “last apple” but he silently wished there was another apple to eat instead of the chips. Susie was unaware of his assumption and desire for an apple, and it wasn’t until the food bag was taken to the room and unpacked that three other apples appeared.

If Otto hadn’t assumed that there was only one apple in the bag, he would have had what he really wanted to eat instead of the chips.

Isn’t this what we often do in relationships?
We silently want our relationships to be more passionate, more connected, more loving but we don’t know how to communicate our needs to our partners, our families or our friends.

We assume what we want isn’t available or isn’t possible, without attempting to make the connection and speak our needs in a way that they can be understood.

Sometimes we know what our needs are but don’t express them because we are fearful what the other will say or how he/she will react. So it’s easier to keep silent.

If we don’t communicate consciously and constantly, we start to make assumptions about how the other will react in a given situation and those assumptions are usually dead wrong.

When we make assumptions, we’re not living in the present moment–we are either in the past or in the future.
I suggest that you not make assumptions about how someone else is feeling or thinking in any relationship–no matter how long you’ve been together and how well you know that person.

We are all constantly growing and changing. If we want to grow together instead of growing apart, the most important thing we can do is to constantly communicate, one moment at a time. Decide to consciously create life the way you want it to be instead of allowing it to happen to you. The apple is there if you want it.
So — How do you Steer Clear of False Assumptions? 
Keep in mind the one assumption you should always make; namely, that you and others don’t understand each other. Assume that others interpret what you say differently from the way you do, and that they mean something different from what you think they mean. Until you’ve gone through a process of information gathering and assumption challenging, it’s wise to assume that even if the words sound familiar, you’re speaking two different languages.  

#2  Don’t minimize the importance of assumption-checking  Become more aware of the fact that you and others (customers, partners, ministers, whoever) are making assumptions. One way to develop this awareness is to ask yourself what these assumptions might be. For example: 
What assumptions are we making about . . . this project we are discussing . . . the intended outcome . . . the schedule . . . our roles . . our constraints . . . our expectations. . . our criteria for success . . . our priorities? 
In most situations, I know I’m probably making an assumption when I hear myself say the words… it happened BECAUSE… and also when I find myself saying I JUST KNOW….


How do you know what you know in life? What’s your criteria for saying something is TRUE? I invite you to question when you say I KNOW it – have you heard yourself say something like – my mother or father told me when I was a child; I read it in the newspaper; or even – Rev. Toni said it last week or in her last book!


You are probably making an assumption when you say I KNOW it’s true…Even if we SEE it with our own eyes–WE INTERPRET – even things we think we are experiencing –can have a different interpretation than the one we give it.


It’s one of the most important Ancient Wisdom – We can’t trust what we SEE to tell us what is real…

Instead of making assumptions – we need to ASK questions.   to find out what the other person’s view on something is.


Don Miguel tells us –   Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. Leave no communication in question – — and be especially careful of saying things to a third person like — I wonder what HE meant – do you think she meant this. MAKE NO ASSUMPTIONS – ASK!!! Verify the TRUTH before you act on it and certainly before you spread it through the grapevine. – not just I have it from a reliable source.


From early on we learn to make assumptions

because we think we always have to have an answer

not just ANY answer – but the RIGHT answer!


At this moment, I invite all of us to open up to truly loving one another by giving up two things in life – THE NEED TO BE RIGHT – and the NEED TO BE IN CONTROL — both of those are illusions anyway.

In order not to make assumptions, we have to let go of these very basic needs; that’s why this is so tough.

Did you ever find yourself arguing for something that you don’t even know is true? We all have OPINIONS and we take a stand on them as if they were TRUTH.   When someone says something I disagree with – I truly work to take on the attitude, THAT’S INTERESTING – and REALLY try to hear why they think what they are thinking rather than ASSUMING I know what they are thinking.


Don’t EVER ASSUME you understand another human

being – or know why he or she is doing what they are doing — the TRUTH is we don’t even understand ourselves.


We all have a set code of ethics that we live by –

What’s important to you in life? Your ASSUMPTIONS are based on – what YOU think is important. I guarantee that if you try to do that list for your spouse, your partner, your best friend – you will probably be WRONG most of the time.


We all make assumptions all the time. Nothing wrong with making assumptions – we just ought to know what they are – and be willing to challenge them in order to grow if they aren’t serving us well.


Whenever you get UPSET, behind the UPSET is usually a FEAR – and a NEED TO BE RIGHT and IN CONTROL…

The best way to PRACTICE this agreement is to catch yourself whenever you get angry, annoyed or agitated (whatever word you use!) – and ask yourself – what NEED is active here – the Need to be Right – or to be In control?

Then, stop and ASK what assumptions am I making? What am I taking personally?


Recognize that we only see and hear what we want to see and hear. Our minds don’t like not understanding something, so we make an assumption about the meaning.


We make assumptions all the time about what other people are doing or thinking what we think they should be doing and thinking. Partners, couples, families, friends assume the other knows what we want, They should know me

If he or she loved me , he or she would know what I want without my telling him — and then when things turns out differently we TAKE IT PERSONALLY


“The day we stop making assumptions with our loved ones, our ways of communicating will change completely “ We know we have stopped making assumptions when we have no more conflicts due to assumptions. We stop taking things personally.


By making this one agreement a habit,

our life will be completely transformed.                            

Without making assumptions, our word becomes impeccable.



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Jun 29

Growing into Contemplative Seeing

Dualistic thinking is the well-practiced pattern of knowing most things by comparison. And for some reason, once you compare or label things (that is, “judge” them), you almost always conclude that one is good and the other is less good or even bad. In the first half of life, this provides ego boundaries and clear goals, which creates a nice clean “provisional personality.” But it is not close to the full picture that we call truth.

Dualistic thinking works only for a while to get us started, but if we are honest, it stops being helpful in most real-life situations. It is fine for teenagers to think that there is some moral or “supernatural” superiority to their chosen baseball team, their army, their ethnic group, or even their religion or gender; but one hopes that later in life they learn that such polarity is just an agreed-upon game. Your frame should grow larger as you move toward the Big Picture in which one God creates all and loves all, both Dodgers and Yankees, blacks and whites, Palestinians and Jews, gays and straights, Americans and Afghanis.

Non-dualistic thinking or both-and thinking is the benchmark of our growth into the second half of life. This more calm and contemplative seeing does not appear suddenly, but grows almost unconsciously over many years of conflict, confusion, healing, broadening, loving, and forgiving reality. It emerges gradually as we learn to “incorporate the negative,” learn from what we used to exclude, or, as Jesus put it, “forgive our enemies” both within and without.

You no longer need to divide the field of every moment between up and down, totally right or totally wrong, for or against. It just is what it is. This inner calm allows you to confront what must be confronted with even greater clarity and incisiveness. This stance is not at all passivity. It is, in fact, the essential link between true contemplation and skillful action. The big difference is that your small and petty self is now out of the way, and if God wants to use you or love you, which God always does, God’s chances are far better now!

Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,
pp. 146-148

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Oct 31

The 5 Things That Spook People Over 50

What to do about the scary stuff that makes middle-aged spines shiver posted by Donna Sapolin

Forget things that go bump in the night, global warming, Congressional paralysis, creepie crawlies and assault weapons. There are five other worries that make the hearts of middle-aged folks leap into their throats on a regular basis. The good news is it’s totally within our power to chase these evils away — or, at least, diminish their hold on us.

1. Declining memory Sporadic forgetfulness, slower reaction times and other glitches in cognitive processes can result from an aging brain. Some symptoms may point to dementia and Alzheimer’s; others shouldn’t trouble you.

On the bright side, the latest research tells us there are many things we can do to take advantage of the brain’s natural plasticity to reverse the aging process, sharpen our abilities and ward off debilitating brain disease. Examples:

Preserve mental health and acuity by engaging with the arts, particularly dance.
Eat less saturated fat from animal products, which cause the brain to produce beta-amyloid, a protein that contributes to Alzheimer’s. Instead we can consume brain-protecting foods like Vitamin E-rich nuts (about 1.5 ounces or 8 milligrams a day will do), vegetables, beans and a small amount of fruits and whole grains.
Exercise! Walking briskly just three times a week for an hour has been shown to boost the connectivity within brain circuits.
Get a good night’s sleep. A recent study, published in the journal Science, proves that during sleep the brain cleans out the toxic cellular waste products it creates during the day, thereby preventing their build-up. Remain curious, challenge yourself to learn new things and explore things you’re passionate about. By deepening knowledge and skills, we help our brains to thrive.

2. Increased loneliness and isolation Society is now afflicted with a growing isolation epidemic. More adults 50 and older are not only living longer, they’re living apart from family members, divorcing, and becoming separated or widowed. In addition, they begin interacting with fewer people, a fact of midlife.

But people who describe themselves as lonely are at far greater risk of developing dementia and other health problems. It’s vital that we seek out ways to engage with others. Here are some ways to do that:

Make new friends, both young and old. Sign up for classes, get active in social media platforms, hit the gym and join networking groups. Above, all, open your mind and heart to the possibility of fresh connections.
When retiring, think about living close to your friends and family members instead of moving far away, as so many people do.
Rehab your relationship dynamics by following Dr. Terri Orbuch’s (aka “the love doctor”) expert advice on Next Avenue. Overhauling unhealthy habits and participating in therapy sessions may be among life’s more difficult missions, but they can help you secure peace of mind and critical emotional nourishment.
Consider a communal living arrangement — the options are numerous and include co-housing, NORCs (Naturally Occuring Retirement Communities) and living with one or more roommates.
Mentor others. We can derive great satisfaction from passing on our knowledge and, in the process, forge enriching bonds.

(MORE: 9 Most Common Regrets of the Living and Dying — and What to Do About Them)

3. Big debts, little savings The 50+ crowd is facing a perfect storm: the prospect of living on a fixed income at the exact time that government entitlement benefits are at risk of being curtailed and health care needs and costs are soaring.

Many are counting on their ability to continue to work well into older age, yet they will need to sustain good health and secure employment despite the known difficulties of landing a job after the age of 55. Suggestions:

Analyze how much money you will need to retire and still be able to afford the lifestyle you expect. A good online calculator, like the Ballpark E$timate from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, can help.
Work on reducing debts, especially credit card bills, which carry high interest rates.
Prioritize saving. Evaluate all aspects of your lifestyle to see what you can cut back and then apply the ax. This may even mean downsizing your home. You should also contribute as much as possible to 401(k) accounts, reallocate your investments to reduce related fees and build a health care emergency fund.
Hire an astute financial adviser to help you devise a smart plan, which may include delaying Social Security benefits.
To find a job, implement these well-proven strategies: shorten your resumé and incorporate keywords into it, spend more time networking and less time using broad-based job boards and develop a strong, positive online presence.

4. Greater physical frailty and risk of illness The majority of us are carrying extra pounds; many have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol; and our knees, feet or back may be aching.

There’s no question that the aging process itself leads to increased frailty, but lifestyle behaviors magnify and accelerate health problems. Changing just a few of our habits can go a long way toward enhancing vitality and longevity. Here’s how:

Opt for a Mediterranean diet that emphasizes olive oil, fish, legumes, fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains — and vastly reduce your consumption of sugar and salt.
Try intermittent fasting, which provides enormous health benefits: Eat a Mediterranean diet (about 2,200 to 2,400 calories a day for men; 1,600 to 1,800 per day for women) five days a week and consume only a quarter of your usual calorie intake the other two (non-consecutive) days.
Sit less. Recent studies have shown that sitting more than three hours a day can cut life expectancy by two years even if you exercise regularly during the week. Get up at least a couple of times every hour when working at the computer or watching television and move around. Also, stand up while talking on the phone.
Instead of skipping your workout session because of aches and pains, learn how to adjust common exercises to accommodate your infirmities. To make exercise a priority, schedule your sessions in your calendar and find a workout buddy, which will help keep you motivated.
Reduce stress by practicing meditation, allowing yourself to focus on one task at a time, using relaxation apps and choosing to be happy.

(MORE: 30 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Die)

5. Death Every day, we get a step closer to “the end.” Although we are living longer than ever, by this point many of us have witnessed the passing of one or more loved ones and the final stage is all the more real and perhaps also scarier to us. To reduce your fear of death:

Take serious inventory: Think about how you would like to spend the second half of your life, what you would like to accomplish and what regrets you would like to resolve. Dr. Lissa Rankin advises that you be “unapologetically you.”
Connect with the most vibrant part of yourself — the child-like spirit that is endlessly curious, appreciates adventure and learning and dives readily into new things. Allow your dreams and passions to ignite you.
Practice forgiveness, which is about remembering and telling your story, confronting and absorbing it fully, refusing to give in to anger and revenge and holding on to your humanity.
Stop fighting your enemies. Anger and hostility and the underlying aspects of ourselves that fuel these emotions hold us captive. They are our worst enemies. We can transform our experiences with adversaries into deep learning experiences by recognizing that they are, in fact, our teachers.
Mend rifts with adult children and parents. Give up the need to be “right” and work on yourself (perhaps with the help of a professional counselor) to avoid repeating the same offenses. This will help you shape a new, healthier dynamic.

Remember, some of the fiends that haunt us are of our own making. But even if they aren’t, we can take action to bust the boogeymen.
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Oct 28

5 Secrets to Transform Your Experience of Aging

By Ed Merck from

My 15-year-old son Evan walked off the tennis court triumphantly, as if he had just won the U.S. Open. Up to that point, our matches had always ended in a tie: I made sure of that or, rather, I could make sure of that.

Now, toweling off while feeling an unfamiliar tug on my heart, I said to him, “Hey, Ev, did you ever wonder why the score always remained the same in our tennis matches over the years?” Then, in a suggestive whisper, I continued: “Maybe you could continue that trend — gracefully?” He didn’t respond, but I knew his answer. And it was deafening.

Walking back to the car, I was consumed by the thought that my relationship with Evan (and with my life generally) was clearly at a crossroads. Staying positive as I aged would require letting go of capacities that were diminishing and embracing ones that were expanding.

(MORE: Free E-Book: The Aging Well Revolution)

Easy transition? No! Gratifying? Mostly!

Here are five secrets I’ve learned along the way that helped turn my experience of aging from a sense of loss into a sense of gain:

1. Learn to accept what is. There is no end to the expanding benefits of embracing life on its own terms. If I hadn’t accepted my inevitable decline in physical acuity — the awareness of which began on the tennis court that day — it would have led to nothing but suffering. Instead, by refocusing my attention on supporting, even celebrating, my son’s physical ascension from boy to early manhood, I was able to walk away from “defeat” feeling relatively good.

This mindset shift allowed me to interpret the situation, and many others that have followed, as a smooth, downhill coast, rather than a long, uphill trudge. It really is as simple, and as difficult, as just accepting what is.

2. Engage risk. Complacency is the enemy of feeling alive and vibrant. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to unknowingly slide into what is safe and familiar, especially as we age.

(MORE: Finding Meaning and Purpose in Later Life)

Risk (and its kissing cousin, change) is the counterbalance, and must be willingly embraced or we wither on the vine. Make a commitment to move into something new that has an edge for you.

At 63, after divesting from my successful software business, I sold my house, moved out of my community, bought an ocean-going sailboat and with no destination in mind, began sailing up and down the east coast of America. Along the way, I experienced fiery romantic trails, a deepening bond with my son, emerging spiritual insights and the blaze of self-transformation.

Was it tough at times? You bet! Today, however, at 68, I feel alive and ten years younger. (That journey towards wholeness is captured in my recent memoir, Sailing the Mystery.)

3. Settle into your body and open your heart. Most of us spend years in the workplace perfecting our strategic minds, and essentially living in the future. But engaging ourselves with vitality and gusto in the years after working full-time requires that we more fully occupy our bodies and hearts, which root us in the present moment — the only place where we can feel truly connected to our life experience.

(MORE: Secrets From the Island Where People Forget to Die)

To practice, try engaging anything that is sensation-oriented such as exercise, sex, or even falling in love — and not just with another person, but with life itself.

My mother’s end of life was filled with fear, and drawn out over many years. At first I tried to mitigate her pain using talking strategies, which only exacerbated the frustration for both of us. Then, when in her presence, I began working on just breathing deeply and moving more into my heart. Overnight, the connection between us changed; we grew closer, her trust of me increased and I experienced again the heartfelt juice of our mother/son relationship. Most noticeably, her suffering — and mine — decreased.

4. Practice equanimity. Many spiritual paths embrace the state of equanimity as their end point; that blissful place of being engaged without reactivity. Muting our temptation to be judgmental (“I am right, she is wrong.”) is key. Try dropping fully into the moment with as much empathy as is available to you — over and over again.

Several weeks ago, my friend Jason went a week without answering my increasingly urgent texts. At first I took his silence personally, which made me feel uncomfortable. Then, a moment of grace occurred: I dropped into my heart and wondered if he was okay. Rather than projecting more negative scenarios, I placed a call to a mutual friend, only to find out that Jason’s phone had died a week ago.

5. Soften the edges of your identity. To paraphrase Carl Jung, we spend the first half of our lives building up a sense of “I” and the second half tearing it down. Inflexible trees snap in the wind. The more we protect who we think we are in the face of major life changes, the more we’re at odds with the natural flow.

So, let go, loosen up and don’t take yourself too seriously while learning to open yourself to the new you that emerges in every moment.

I was able to do that on the tennis court many years ago. Ever since, it has become the ultimate win/win for both Evan and me.
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Oct 17

Fashion and Aging

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Sep 24

Healthier Aging – Inside and Out

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