The Vulnerability Connection

True connection with others often comes to us through some of the toughest moments in our lives. Isn’t it ironic that when we are our most vulnerable we are the in best possible place to receive love, support, encouragement and hope?

We shed our protective emotional armor in the face of our darkest, scariest moments and let in comfort, soothing words, a warm hug, caring helpers. The compassion, tenderness and kindness of others wraps around us like a warm soft blanket soothing our pains and fears.

Those caring helpers rise to the situation — setting aside their busy schedules, making time to listen, becoming more aware of another’s true needs.

When someone we love is struggling with a challenging life hardship, we step out of our comfort zones and find strength and courage to do what is needed. The desire to help overrides any fears we have about showing up and being really present for someone else.

All this happens very naturally in times of great crisis.

The phenomenon of being so vulnerable and having others recognize it and come to you with open arms and hearts is compassion in its truest form.

We learn a lot about ourselves when we are both the ones in need and also the ones who give.

When we are vulnerable, we break. open and soak in the offerings of love and support. We are just too weary, too scared, too overwhelmed to fight it. Have you ever silently powered through a difficult situation or problem, never once asking for the help or advice that might have eased the situation?

When we “show up” in a big way for someone in great need, we find our courage to be with someone who is in a very dark and lonely place. We take some light to them in the way of comforting words, shared tears, our time. That’s a big one — our time — suddenly we clear our busy calendars and we make time to just sit and listen. Do we do that enough in our every day lives?

Although it is often a big crisis that brings out the most nurturing genuine support and the willingness to accept it, there are so many small opportunities each and every day to make a difference in the lives of those we love.

Be willing to be a little more vulnerable and open us to those you trust and share your stories, your experiences, your problems. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness — it is an opportunity for someone who cares about you to feel valued by being able to offer support.

On the flip side, reach out to others in a meaningful way just in the course of ordinary daily life. A simple act of random kindness can truly have a big positive impact on another. A phone call, a coffee date, a handwritten card, an inside joke — these are all simple gestures that convey you care.

Our most meaningful relationships are often forged by stringing together all the small moments of real connection.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.” ……Brene Brown

Stay Calm and Problem Solve

Yesterday I had the most enlightened, dynamic conversation about our country with my shared ride driver – a 28 year old Russian immigrant.  In 30 minutes, I got quite a history lesson from his personal experiences.  No subject was left uncovered — immigration, gun control, drugs, politics, family and personal conflicts.  It was obvious he had much on his mind and in his heart.  Little did he know, but he gave me a fresh perspective on many things that were heavy on my mind about our country’s current environment.

I am always surprised by the nuggets of wisdom I get from chatting with others when I travel.  Regardless of age, race, nationality or religion, conversations often flow easily especially if we connect with each other by some common thread.  Could be grandchildren, travel adventures, current events or a book they are reading.   Many times I find that I am challenged in a positive way to broaden my perspective by seeing things through another’s eyes.

As I said goodbye to my Russian driver yesterday, I reflected on this simple concept:

If we spent more time on finding our common ground, we’d most likely find  the willingness to work together to solve our shared complex problems.

When we label, we are not helping — we simply create an “us vs. them” environment.

When we blame, we deflect responsibility for finding solutions.

When we  bristle at things we disagree with, we close the door on learning from another perspective.   Often the solutions to many problems lie in that space where things are really uncomfortable.  Not insurmountable, simply uncomfortable.  Get curious, ask questions, have civil and constructive conversations.

I have friends whose political views are quite different from my own.  Yet our core values about family, personal integrity and making positive contributions to others is in full alignment.  This collective group of friends have all experienced adversities in life where we depended on each other for support, encouragement, help.   We did not let our political or party differences create a roadblock in our personal relationships.

Social-Media-Overreaction

 

Thanks to social media, especially Twitter,  we are caught in an eddy of reactivity while being pelted with a hailstorm of opinions from news media and followers.  We can barely catch our breath yet alone take time to process major events for ourselves.

Often the vulgar language, the name calling, and offensive vitriol is what catches our attention first — and what we immediately react to — missing completely the main issue that needs a resolution.    We have examples of this poor behavior from both parties and celebrities.

It is a sad reflection on those who lose sight of their personal integrity by allowing their highly charged emotions to take control —  spewing remarks they most surely must later regret.  It is even sadder to think that many of these high profile people have a unique platform to present problems in an honest, intelligent way — and to solicit constructive conversations to find solutions.

Instead, that thunderstorm of contagious heated emotions clouds the core issues  we must collectively address.   We need to find our way back to civil discourse, courtesy and calm.

When parts of our country are hit with natural disasters (hurricanes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions), we seem to find our way back to humanity.   Communities unite to help each other regardless of political party, race, status, religion.  We band together to provide basic needs for survival and then for rebuilding.   Help pours in from everywhere  such as volunteers, fund raisers, even other countries offering aid.

Many of us are currently feeling heart-heavy, news weary and isolated from others because of labels.  Each day we are given opportunities to get out of our comfort zone, to get curious and ask more questions especially of those with whom we disagree.

Perhaps if we treat our country’s complex issues as our collective problem and not problems created by party, we can stop the us vs. them game that feels like tug of war.  We are all in this together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Practice of Meditation

 

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of meditation is how much spaciousness it creates in that crazy racing mind of ours.  Meditation is like a major decluttering experience for our busy brains.

e0692dbcfa3395cb7a304226437af0bd--meditation I remember so very well the first time I attempted to meditate.  Let’s just say it didn’t go so well — not only did my racing thoughts multiply, I heard every little sound in the entire house.  At the time, I was ready to throw in the towel and say “this is definitely not for me”.

 

Then I recalled that I also felt this same way about golf when I first began to learn that  complex game.  I was overwhelmed with swing mechanics, club selection,  rules and etiquette.  Yet over time,  I became passionate about golf.  In fact, it has enriched my life in so many ways not the least of which is all the incredible friends I have made.

Is it any wonder that meditation was equally challenging for me that very first time I sat cross-legged on the floor?  My mind was like a freeway of thousands of unrelated racing thoughts and no exits.    I didn’t have the knowledge or skills to quiet my mind.

So I decided I’d have to use a similar approach to meditation that I did for golf —  and not give up so readily.  I lowered my expectations to a more realistic level acknowledging  that I was not going to be instantly successful.  I adopted a more open-minded (no pun intended) approach to my “practice”.  Just as in golf, it is the tiny incremental improvements made over time that manifest themselves into big progress down the road.

Initially I found that guided meditation was an easier way to get started.  A skilled meditation leader is like a golf instructor — offering you a few helpful instructions at the onset and then providing quiet space to try it on your own.  Throughout a guided meditation practice,  your “coach” will quietly remind you to bring your wandering mind back to your practice.    Once you become aware of how often random, unrelated thoughts pop into your head, you begin to wonder how you effectively function at any task!

It was incredibly beneficial to have this guided framework for meditation.   I learned a lot from meditation coaches about setting an intention for the practice,  how to focus on the breath to keep the mind quiet, and how to train the mind to set aside distractions.

The “aha” moment for me was discovering that meditation is training the brain to be selective about thoughts and to discard thoughts that are interfering with the present moment experience.   Consistent meditation practice  helps you get more effective at doing this naturally in your active daily life.

Anthony-Profeta-Goal-of-meditation-quote

 

The beauty of meditation is that over time, you free up a lot of space in your cluttered mind and that spaciousness is really transformational.     You develop a newfound sense of awareness not only during meditation but also in your day to day life and in your relationships.

IMG_9406

 

 

I first realized that my meditation was having a big impact when I woke up one night with thoughts running through my head and my new natural reaction was to take a few calming breaths and start letting those thoughts drift away.   I was surprised at how quickly I fell back to sleep.

 

The most notable impact however is how my practice is now showing up during my waking hours.   This “training of the brain”  allows me to have a lot more clarity when I am making decisions, doing tasks and interacting with others.  An added bonus is that I am enjoying all of these things more than ever because I am less distracted.

images-2

When I first started my daily meditation practice, I confess that it felt like a homework assignment — an obligation.  Over time,  I found that I was beginning to look forward to that quiet chunk of time.  I now consider it an exercise program for my mind.  Just like physical exercise makes me feel stronger and even more energized, meditation makes me feel grounded and more aware.   I would have never guessed that one day I would look forward to my meditation practice with the same happy anticipation that I have for that steaming first cup of morning coffee.

youzignvvv.png

In today’s busy world where we are bombarded with a steady stream of external distractions (especially from our technology), meditation can play a meaningful role for our quality of life.   Decluttering our minds creates space for soaking up the moments in our daily lives that we treasure the most.

images-4

 

Valuable Resources for Learning More about Meditation:

Headspace App – guided mediation practices and animated informational videos

Mindful Magazine and Mindful.com – informational articles and links to resources

SoundsTrue.com – videos and guided meditation practices, articles

Meditation is Not What You Think –  book authored by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Also, check into local meditation classes which are now being offered at health club, fitness centers and yoga studios.  

 

 

 

 

 

Time for Change

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged though there has been so much on my mind and in my heart to write about.   Over the past few months there have been many reminders of how quickly lives can change.  What concerns me is how quickly we forget the lessons learned and go back to living our lives the same old way.

I’ve been so inspired by the young students from Parkland who show such courage in voicing their needs, their fears, and their outcry for changes.  Let us not forget that they are still grieving and still reeling from the trauma of such a horrific tragedy.   They never expected to be fighting for gun control reforms as teenagers in high school.

Their vulnerability is as raw as it gets.  And they use it passionately as a launchpad for their growing movement for change.  They are not fearful of conflict, criticism or failure in their quest.  These high school students lived through their worst fears ever on Valentine’s Day.

They want — and they deserve — to be heard, to be valued and to feel safe (at school, at a concert, in a movie theatre, at home).

In the past month and a half,  these young people have grown in a multitude of ways and  matured far beyond their age.  They’ve become articulate, poised public speakers and impassioned change makers.   Their accomplishments in that very short timeframe are compelling.  Not only did they set goals, they implemented them:   Walkouts at schools across the country;   amassing social media followers around the globe;  and the national March for Our Lives occurring today.

What stands out with these Parkland students is that they want safety in schools for everyone — students, teachers, everyone in our schools – for the common good of all.

Brene Brown (Research professor at the University of Houston and author of three #1New York Times Bestsellers)  offers this insight about many of the problems our country is facing today:

“When we ignore fear and deny vulnerability, fear grows and metastasizes. We move away from a belief in common humanity and unifying change and move into blame and shame.”

These high school kids get that.  They are sharing their emotional horrific stories about that fateful day and urging us to take immediate action so no other child may ever have a  similar experience.   They care deeply about each other.  It matters — and it matters to all of us.

Here is another quote from Brene Brown that drives home our responsibility to come together and find meaningful solutions to a growing, complex problem in this country.

“If we are going to change what is happening in a meaningful way we’re going to need to intentionally be with people who are different from us. We’re going to have to sign up and join, and take a seat at the table. We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.”

It is often noted that children teach us so much about what is truly important in life.  The  Parkland students have wasted no time in reminding us that ignoring gun violence is no longer acceptable.

Unknown-7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the world needs now

The past several months we have witnessed incredible devastation and loss of human lives due to hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, the tragic event in Las Vegas and the loss of U S. soldiers  So many people have suffered a myriad of physical, emotional and psychological traumas through their personal experiences with each of these events.  More than ever,  humankind needs us to be generous and not only with financial donations.  We need to be especially forthcoming with compassion and empathy, kindness and patience.

It’s hard to comprehend how many lives have significantly been impacted by all those events cited above.  It includes family members and friends, first responders, volunteers, hospital and emergency employees, power company employees, clean up crew members and so many more.  It’s a big ripple effect out into our communities, taking a physical,  emotional and psychological toll on each and every one.

I’ve heard some stories and accounts firsthand — it was heartbreaking to see the depth of emotional pain in another human being.  It will be a very long time for the grieving, the healing and the return to some sort of normalcy for so many people.

Over lunch with friends recently, we talked openly about our life experiences with the loss of loved ones, of battling cancers, and a myriad of life tragedies that happened in our families.  Then we talked about what helped each of us most as we put one foot in front of the other each day as we slowly rebuilt our lives.  Without fail, it was the kindness and compassion of another human being that made a heartfelt lasting impact in our journey.

What the world needs now is lots of kindness and compassion, more love and understanding.   When my grandmother was passing away, I recall saying to my uncle that “all we could do was pray” and he turned to face me.  A smile crossed his face as he took my hands into his and he said “Everything we can do is pray.”    He changed my whole perspective with just one word.

 

You may not realize that the time you spend just sitting and listening to another as they unload their hurt and sadness is priceless to them.  It is everything.

You may not be aware that your handwritten note of sympathy is read a dozen times a day by someone who just lost a spouse or a child.  It is a tribute to the person they love and mourn.

Looking into another’s eyes and acknowledging them is such a simple gesture yet it has more impact than you can imagine.  Trust me, they will feel that human connection.

Human connection, being fully present for another person, opening our hearts to the struggles that others are facing and being a safe place for them to share — these gifts are everything to someone in need.  Make time to be more aware as you go through your day and engage with others.

This Saturday is National Make a Difference Day.    How odd that we have such a day.   Shouldn’t every day be an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life?

Just remember that what seems small to you just might be everything to someone else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vunerability

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to face our own vulnerabilities   Yet it is the only way to free our authentic self so we can be our absolute best.

ca724958af1fab4bbacac24f8b4d3183--brene-brown-quotes-courage-vulnerability-quotes-brene-brown

 

I’ve spent the past several years committed to mindfulness so that I could free myself from making the same mistakes over and over while wishing for a much different outcome.   Becoming aware of my self-imposed ineffective behavior patterns for dealing with conflict, resentments and disappointments was an eye opener — and often heartbreaking.  I had to face and own my life story.

It is exactly the place where Brene Brown encourages each of us to go.

Unknown-3

 

Before we can truly make strong positive human connections, Brene says we have to understand our own pain first.  It’s about getting up close and personal with our own vulnerabilities — and that takes blunt honesty and a boatload of courage.

It is our personal stories that shape us and keep our authentic selves at bay.   We develop coping mechanisms to deal with fear, shame and not being good enough.  We avoid conflicts, we stuff our hurts and disappointments, we get angry easily, we blame others.  And all the while, it just doesn’t feel good because we are not in alignment with our true selves.

images-9

 

During a recent Facebook live feed from her current book tour, Brene acknowledged that “anger is a catalyst for change.  It is also a terrible life companion.  Anger is too big a price to pay for our lives,”  she said.

I feel the same way about shame and fear.  All three of these emotions are often found in our life stories and in fact sometimes they are best friends to each other.

Once we can own our own stories and recognize where anger, fear or shame was the birthplace for our ineffective behavior patterns, we need to be kind and compassionate to ourselves.  Stuffing our emotions and letting our hurts marinate robs us of our joy.  Lashing out in anger isolates us from others and blocks problem resolution.  Avoiding conflict results in resentment, misunderstandings and low self-esteem.  Most importantly, we become disengaged from each other.  We lose our human connection.

QUOTES ON CONNECTION

 

I’ve been looking for the bridge between personal mindfulness and expanded connection  with others.  How do I take what I have learned from my mindfulness practices and build stronger, healthier, authentic relationships with people?

It starts with each of us gaining a deeper understanding of our own stories and taking responsibility for unproductive or destructive behaviors that we adopted because of our story.   We cannot let our stories deprive us of being the best version of ourselves each and every day.

And then we need to create that bridge to reach out to others — to listen to their stories, to show compassion and empathy,  to find some common ground and gain better understanding, to make amends, to seek compromise and solutions.

Not only is this relevant in our families and workplaces, it is increasingly important for our communities and country.

Brene Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness, is chock full of relatable, tangible ideas for shifting us back to a much-needed human connection.   I encourage you to read her book and check out her live streams on Facebook.  She’s refreshing, inspiring and she’s providing leadership tools for anyone who wants to make a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking the Cycle

Perhaps one of the most valuable insights we can have about ourselves is the impact that our habitual behavioral patterns have on others.   Sometimes we unnecessarily set off an unwanted emotional chain reaction that changes the mood and energy of a situation in a negative way.

When we get triggered and fall back on conditioned reactive responses, we lose sight of the bigger picture and other’s reactions to our patterns.  Unknowingly, we have invited another to participate in our pattern.   If that person gets triggered and fires back in their own automatic response mode, suddenly we have a whirlwind of mixed emotions, conflict and a big energy drain.  Everyone ends up emotionally distanced from the immediate problem and its resolution.  We get caught in the cycle of poor behavioral habits.

our-actions-are-guaranteed-to-affect-others-because-we-are-not-alone-in-this-world-much-of-our-quote-1

If we tend to shut down in a conflict situation, we just bury our truest feelings and desires.  We deny our loved ones the chance to really understand what is important to us.

If we blow up and blame, we disregard taking personal responsibility.  We deny others the opportunity to learn about our deepest vulnerabilities.

Invariably we end up wasting a lot of precious time and energy that we can never get back.

Years of patterns like this can erode marriages, sibling relationships and friendships.  It is also something that children learn by example and why so many dysfunctional behavioral traits get “inherited” within families.

The best gift we can give to ourselves and our families is to recognize old patterns that are not serving us well and break the cycle.

Unknown-1

 

It takes serious work to get “mindful” about yourself and why you get triggered by certain things — and how you routinely (and mindlessly) respond to those triggers.  Be compassionate to yourself as you delve into your issues with unabashed honesty.

The real test for making positive changes in conditioned responses is when you find yourself in one of your familiar “triggered” moments.  You’ll have to hit the pause button on the old automatic reaction and take some calming breaths.   Reframe the situation so that you can respond in a better way than you usually do.  I’ll let you in on a little secret — just being calmer in your reaction will go a very long way towards a more positive approach.

It is especially beneficial to talk with your loved ones about the changes you are striving to make and why you are motivated to do so.  It creates an opportunity to break down barriers that you’ve put up in the past.  It’s an active demonstration that you are taking personal responsibility for ineffective behaviors.   Ask for their help and support.

Treat your personal energy as the valuable resource it is.   Use it wisely for things that matter.   Someday you will need to draw on your energy reservoir for something serious — and you will be glad that you didn’t waste it on something trivial.

The same is true for time — we don’t really know how much time we are each allotted in this life.   Hindsight really is 20/20 and looking back, you are sure to find moments where  a shift in your attitude or behavior could have totally turned an experience around.  The time you squandered on a silly argument or pouting could have been better spent appreciating the moment.

Unknown

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness some of these transformations occurring in families who recognized a change was in order.   What has become so noticeable is the shift in energy.  There is more positivity and a lightness in the home environment.  Couples are feeling like a team, working together toward a common goal rather than feeling like opponents in a boxing match.   There’s a lot more positive reinforcement given to each other when new attitudes and better approaches are taken.  Apologies and forgiveness are offered more readily when the inevitable slip up occurs.

IMG_6380

Most noteworthy is how the young children in these families are benefiting from the improvements and positive energy.   Children pick up on the emotional energy and will often act out to deflect something that feels uncomfortable to them.  These children are also learning good emotional coping skills, along with trust and mutual respect.

 

I’ve mentioned this in prior blogs, and it is worth noting again.  Pema Chodrun reminds us that when just one of us makes mindful changes, we make it easier for others to do the same.    When we make the commitment to do the work to better ourselves and change bad habits, we become good role models for our children and others.  That is some pretty powerful motivation for positive change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get a grip on what triggers you, get a deeper understanding of who you are and how you want to be treated, and

 

 

 

 

 

If it is to be, it’s up to me…

I sat across the table from a young woman in her mid-30’s watching her face radiate as she showed me photos of her delightful 6 year old daughter.  At first glance, you would never guess that this happy, confident mom had such a troubled past.  I was awestruck by her resilience and her ability to let go of the past.  She was fully steeped in the present moment and had deep gratitude for her present life.  She had a better dream for herself and she made it a reality.

Everyone has a story.  This young woman’s story had every plot twist imaginable.  Jane’s mother died of diabetes when she was just a teenager.  She became a surrogate mom to her three younger sisters and dad was overcome with grief and despair.  Not surprisingly, they all found someway to numb themselves from their loss.  For Jane it was heroin.  Heroin did not solve her problems or successfully numb her pain.  In fact, just the opposite occurred — she had more problems and her hurt was deepened as family and friends cast her aside because of the poor choices she was making.  She had a baby at 18 and had to give him to her dad to raise.  She continued as a nomad,  crashing on couches of people she barely knew, eating whatever food others would offer.  She was in such a dark place and in her words and she’d hit low spots often.  Until that day that she hit her own personal “rock bottom”.     I won’t share the private details of what happened to her that plunged her into “rock bottom”, but suffice it to say it was a real wake up call that shook her back into consciousness.   Her choices were affecting who she really was at the core of her soul and that became more painful than what life had been throwing at her.

After 8 years of heroin and running away (literally and figuratively), she took personal responsibility to change her life.

She is now in her mid-30’s with a beautiful daughter, reunited with her teenaged son, has a meaningful job she enjoys, an apartment, a car and a leadership role in her young adult group at church.

I was so captivated by her story of sadness, darkness, resilence and determination.  I asked her “what did you change about your life that set you on a good path and keeps you there?”

Her answer was profound.  “One by one, I put things into my life that I don’t want to lose.”

Take a moment to let that sink in.

For Jane, it started with a job.  She needed money to eat.  She got a job.  Next goal was an apartment so she saved and budgeted and she put a roof over her head.  She wanted to get her driver’s license back so she made that a priority and later, she bought a used car. These were building blocks for her independence and self worth.   As she told me her story, I could feel how much it meant to her to be able to hold a job, have an apartment of her own.  She created a safe, peaceful environment for herself where she could not only survive but thrive.  As she told me of each step, she emphasized — “I didn’t want to lose that job, I didn’t want to lose that apartment, I didn’t want to lose the car”.

Unknown

 

Eventually she fell in love, married and had a baby girl who is now 6.  Her face lights up as she flashes through the photos on her phone of her little artist, dancer and cuddler.

This is not a happily ever after fairy tale that ends here.  Far from it.  This is about a young woman who so dramatically shifted everything in her life that she has the resiliency and fortitude to capably handle the things that life throws at her.  She never loses sight of what is most precious to her.

Sadly, her marriage ended in divorce three years ago when he husband cheated on her.  Her precious daughter has special needs, and an addicted, dysfunctional sister leans on her heavily.

However, she does not lose her footing.  She has a remarkable capacity to “let go”.  She doesn’t have time to dwell on the past and she chooses to spend her energy caring for her daughter, doing a good job at work, taking care of herself.  She gets rejuvenated by her church, her faith and the good people she purposefully has in her life.  Jane gave herself the gift of self worth long ago.   It is what keeps her on such a good path now, even when life throws some pretty crappy stuff at her.

Jane has set boundaries so that all that she has worked for (and does not want to lose) isn’t jeopardized.  This has been one of the hardest steps for her, she confided.  And I have so much empathy for her around boundaries.   Jane does not view herself as a special, amazing person.  She is an everyday girl, just trying to be a better person that she was previously.   Although the personal work was hard, she believes in her heart that if she could do it, all alone without much support — then others should be able to overcome their addictions, dysfunctions and adversities too.  Especially if they have love and support from family and friends.

She has known a very special young man for a long time.  He has struggled with addiction and recovery three times already.  His mother is at a loss how to help him stay clean and get on a good life path.  Jane and his mother are very close — and it is obvious that Jane loves him and has for a long time.  She looks into his eyes and sees the good heart, the good man that he is at the core.   In her imagination, she can see him free from addiction and suffering — and the two of them laughing, loving and soaking up life.

And this is where the sticky part comes in.  Jane looks at herself and sees all that she has done to change her life for the better.  She did it alone.  Surely this young man, with lots of love, patience and support – with her as a good role model can readily turn his life around too.  Once she naively thought this was possible, but after experiencing his relapse time and again, she has gained deeper insight.

She now sees this relationship from both sides of the coin.  If her young man wants to make a lasting change in his life, he has to hit his own personal “rock bottom” and find his own motivation to start the process and keep it going every single day.

She holds steadfast to her personal promise and it has become a trustworthy boundary — she does not want to lose all that she worked so hard to gain.    She won’t jeopardize all that she has worked for personally trying to coax him into a better life.   She’s even adopted this philosophy for her sister, emphasizing that we alone are responsible for the choices we make in life.  “Get off the couch, sis….and make it happen.”

What impresses me so much about Jane is that she parted with a lot of painful baggage over recent years.   She is a lighter, happier, balanced woman as a result and she is setting a very good example for her daughter and her peers.

I’ve met with several young adults this week who are working on personal development due to depression, trauma, and self doubts.   These young people were visibly touched when I congratulated them on taking responsibility for changing their lives, for seeking meaningful help and sticking to it.   They shared that all too often they are challenged by people who think they can’t or won’t change.  Very few people offer encouragement or even recognize the baby steps that they have taken.

I witnessed a change in their facial expressions, body language, posture and tone of voice  when I offered compassion, a smile and a “well done”.   It felt like pouring cool water on a fragile wilting plant.

Pema Chodrun shares that if one person can connect with their authentic self — and has the capacity to open their mind beyond narrow-mindedness — it makes it that much easier for others.  She encourages each of us to find out what is at the root of our suffering and deescalate it.

When we have walked in another’s shoes, we have a greater appreciation for the challenges on their path.    So many young people are floundering in their efforts to feel safe, valued and part of community.   Human connection is sorely needed by all of us today.  Never underestimate the value of your empathy and encouragement.

Unknown-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing Eye to Eye

Take a moment to think about how much face time and eye contact we give our phones and devices every day.   Then take another moment to think about how often we really look into the eyes of our partner, our children, or the clerk at the store.

Scanning the local favorite breakfast spot recently, I saw 14 tables of people with their faces in their phones and only 1 table where the friends were actually looking at each other.  That table was full of energy, lively conversation and real honest to goodness eye contact.   The other tables were expressionless and quiet.  People were sitting next to each other gazing at iPads and although each person may have had a different reaction to what they were watching, there was no interaction.  Body language gave a good indication of how they were feeling, but no one in their group saw it.

I’d had a similar experience at a children’s park with my grandchildren.  Parents were staring at their phones while their children were swinging from the monkey bars, jumping off the swings and experimenting with new ways to traverse the winding sliding boards.  Had one of these children fallen or wandered off,  their parents would have never noticed.  Even when the kids were joyfully yelling to mom or dad to “watch this”, few looked up from their devices.

There was a young man in the ocean yesterday with his phone in hand, staring at it while waist deep in water, without a clue that a large wave was headed his way!

We stare at the card reader at the grocery checkout, waiting for the prompts to insert a credit card or enter a PIN number, chatting with the clerk but never really looking at her.  The experience becomes more like self-checkout and we miss an opportunity to engage with another person.

For several months, I have been noticing how little we make eye contact with others.   I’m as guilty as the next of being preoccupied and multi-tasking as I go through my day, so I decided to challenge myself to be more present, make eye contact and pay greater attention to the body language of others.

At first it was hard.  I realized that mindlessness habits I’d developed were stealing precious moments from me.   Turning my full attention to my small granddaughter rather than washing dishes, I watched her entire face light up with pure joy as she clapped her hands in delight over a small personal accomplishment of her own.  Looking into each other’s eyes at that moment was like adding fireworks!

Putting down my phone and facing my daughter when she was asking for my help revealed so much more than just her request.  What I noticed in her body language let me know that she needed a hug and some reassurance as much as she needed help with a clogged sink and a crying baby after another sleepless night.   Face to face, eye to eye attention has the power to change a situation in a very positive way.   We actually ended up laughing about the juggling acts of motherhood.   Its pretty remarkable how eye contact and human connection shifts feeling overwhelmed to feeling supported.

images

 

A lot of misunderstandings in our relationships could be minimized or even avoided if we took the time to look into another’s eyes.  It’s a fact that we make a strong neurological connection with each other when we give eye contact.

 

Observe someone’s facial expressions, posture, or other body language — that’s where the real story lies.  Often what we see tells us so much more than the words we are hearing.

I follow The Pact Institute Blog to learn more about neurobiology and relationships.

One invaluable tool that is used by PACT therapists to resolve issues in relationships is changing your physical position when a conflict arises.  Go sit next to your partner or child.  Face them directly and look into their eyes.

I’ve witnessed an angered spouse relax a bit when their partner put the phone down and gave them undivided attention.   It had a calming effect even before the conflict discussion began.  Why?  Because the angered spouse felt valued and seen.

I’ll let you in on a little secret — when we stop what we are doing (like putting the phone down) and turn our attention to the other person, we also avoid feeling annoyed that we are now distracted from whatever we were doing.  We’ve made a conscious decision to make our partner or our child a priority over that text, email or podcast.  Again, that is another positive neurological reaction firing in our brain.   It makes us feel good.

c3b456b20cec85ba88feef910f4281ce

 

 

 

In recent discussions with family and friends, it seems that social media and our devices are keeping us plugged in yet not really feeling connected.   Giving our full attention to our loved ones and friends will strengthen our relationships and enrich our lives as we rediscover that human connection.

And who knows, you just might make a new friend if you actually look at and interact with another person at the coffee shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give the Gift of your Presence

 

One of the best gifts we can give another is our time and our undivided attention.  Showing up when someone is in need is priceless.

I’ve recently been the benefactor of friends showing up for me when I was faced with a significant obstacle in the daunting project of moving over Easter weekend.   What could have been overwhelming and exhausting situation actually became manageable and fun.  What caused this complete turnaround in attitude and experience?

It was friends who physically showed up — proactively offering helping hands and a hot cup of coffee, brainstorming problem solving ideas and most importantly……making time for me when I needed a break.

Not only was my attitude improved in spite of some obstacles, my friendships with 4 very special people grew exponentially.  I was so grateful for their generosity of time and kindness in the moment.   What has so pleasantly surprised me is how that hectic week is now imbedded in my memory bank as a warm, positive connection.  That human connection and their support continues to sustain me whenever I feel a little emotionally off kilter.

It dawned on me how essential it is for us to really connect with each other — face to face and heart to heart.  The best gift we can ever give to another is the gift of our presence.

Little did I realize that in less than a week after that move,  I would be helping my daughter through a frightening and challenging experience and that my emotional reserves would be tapped significantly.    The kindness and support offered by friends served to fully charge me so that I was coming from a position of strength just when I was needed the most.

These generous deposits into my emotional reserves are not lost on me.  They are essential in maintaining a healthy life balance.  When you feel cared about, supported and valued, you feel it at your core.  It fuels your inner strength and fortitude.  It’s your springboard for paying it forward  — enabling you to be the one making those emotional deposits for others.

We often hear about random of acts of kindness and while I am a big believer in those, I am challenging all of us to be less random and more proactive in our outreach to others.

images-4

 

Make it meaningful outreach — a personal visit, a long phone conversation, a real Face (to Face) time.  There is no substitute for looking into another’s eyes, observing their body language, actively listening, giving a hug or sharing a laugh.

When someone is facing adversity, your presence will be invaluable.

 

Reflecting back on my experience with breast cancer 25 years ago, I was the benefactor of a lot of meaningful outreach from my family, friends and coworkers.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the outpouring of support gave me strength for that battle.  I am now more aware that it also touched my children in a positive way.  My kids were scared.  My family and friends proved to be a source of great comfort and encouragement to them.  I can’t think of a better gift to give a mom.

You can put a real exclamation point on your outreach if you follow through later with an act of kindness like dropping off a meal, sending flowers, or running errands.  Pay attention and you’ll probably get a great clue about something that would really mean a lot to another.  They will be blown away that you were so attentive.

Unknown-1

Last but not least, don’t wait for a life catastrophe to give the gift of your presence.  Show up in meaningful ways for those you love.  While birthdays and holidays serve to remind us to send a card or make a phone call, it is the times when you reach out for no special reason that put big deposits in our emotional reserves.

4efea47e3448544d69a68f34000ca7dc