A couple of years ago I was in a state of deep confusion from the heartache and disappointment of a failed relationship.
Along my path to growing from the experience, I had a few navigational buoys guiding me:
- A girlfriend offering insight into another friend’s MO when it came to relationships and the pattern that kept repeating itself ending in a string of short term flings
- A counselor educating me on behavioral patterns and good mental health
- An introduction to mindfulness and meditation from a caring, supportive friend
- A treasured mentor who devoted a lot of time to listen while also challenging me
- A lifelong friend who took me for a walk down memory lane reminding me of what I had accomplished personally and professionally in spite of past adversities
These navigational buoys were all interrelated and as I bounced along in the healing process, I’d bump into them time and again. It became increasingly clear that I’d lost my compass in life when my beloved husband had passed away so suddenly. That shock and that loss clouded my heart and my emotions for many years.
When it came to that failed relationship, I was well intentioned in my desire to bring that same joy and happiness that Skip and I had shared to another. But I was in foggy emotional territory and couldn’t see our values were out of sync. I was grasping to fill a big void in my life but not paying full attention. It’s like eating junk food when you are starving. You quickly satisfy the hunger but later you realize you don’t feel so good.
Motivated by the fact that I did not want to repeat an unhealthy relationship pattern, I made a commitment to really get to know someone very well — and that someone was ME.
I thought getting a Series 7 investment license was hard! This endeavor has been one of the biggest challenges in my life.
Although I was gaining a lot insight from my counseling sessions, it offered very little in the way of practical tools to make meaningful lasting changes to a lifetime of developed behavioral patterns and triggers. And it did not address the effects that the sudden loss of my beloved spouse had on my emotional needs for safety and harmony.
My friend’s introduction to mindfulness was not simply a navigational buoy — it was an enormous lighthouse shedding light and understanding into that murky fog of self awareness.
I’ve been practicing mindfulness and meditation for over two years now and it’s brought about incredible positive changes in my life. In fact, it has become such an integral part of my relationships and interactions with others that it even shows up in my dreams. Recently I awoke in the early morning hours smiling at the boundaries I had set in a recurring dream and the resulting dramatic positive outcome. One mentor told me that when you start dreaming it, you are really beginning to own it.
Looking back at that analogy of filling the void with junk food, mindfulness has been like a super healthy diet for my emotions and thoughts. I became very aware that after battling cancer and the sudden loss of my spouse, I was highly sensitized to unnecessary conflicts and drama. Ending a life-long pattern of rumination and lack of boundaries felt like dropping two dress sizes!
A very rich benefit derived from mindfulness is improved wisdom around my empathy for others. You see, as I dug deep into my own life’s adversities and habitual patterns, I learned to treat myself like a treasured friend. Lots of genuine compassion for myself became a soothing, healing balm.
It really opened my eyes to be more aware of buried emotional experiences in others. While I have always been empathetic, I may have misjudged the motivation behind their behaviors or actions. Mindfulness teaches us not to be judgmental, but to be curious.
My empathy for others is no longer just on a surface level, but reaches deeper. I’m trying to become a better listener and to ask meaningful questions to help my understanding of another human being.
This is harder than you think — often we don’t really know what is at the root of our own discomfort or suffering. If you journal, you might have some appreciation of how you sit down to right about one thing and suddenly find the page filled with 8 totally unrelated yet very relevant issues. It takes a lot of time and hard work to peel off the layers.
I’ve always thought of myself as a resilient person able to rebound from trauma or adversity without turning bitter or negative. Now I have a greater understanding of how my emotions and thoughts were genuinely impacted by some tough experiences. That just might explain the large sack of rumination I used to carry with me all the time.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D (rickhanson.net) has a great lecture on “Being for Yourself” (you’ll find it under the “Listen” tab). In it he encourages us to take personal responsibility for wholesome change. I smile when he says “unpack your feelings – let in light and air”. That image of letting in light and air just feels so good to me.
If you find that you have some areas where your emotions are out of sync with what you want from life, take the time to sit quietly and get curious. You might be surprised with your discoveries.
“Nurturing your own development isn’t selfish. It’s actually a great gift to other people.”
― Rick Hanson,