Owner’s Manual

Every now and again, I come across something that just blows my curious mind in the best possible way. That is exactly how I’m feeling about the Enneagram. What a dynamic tool for lifelong self discovery and enriching personal relationships with others.

In a recent post I shared Beatrice Chestnut’s book, The Complete Enneagram and how it truly was a personal owner’s manual for each of us. Since then I have also read Ian Morgan Cron’s incredible book, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery.

 

I found his book so fascinating that I sent copies to a few friends with a note telling them that I laughed out loud at some insights and cried at others. I was sure they’d have a similar experience as they read more about their own Enneagram type.

Ian Morgan Cron has a popular podcast called Typology https://www.typologypodcast.com featuring a broad diversity of guests who help “explore the mysteries of the human personality” and help us re-discover our most authentic selves.

At the onset of the quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ian did a whole series on each Enneagram Type and Stress. The podcasts were short in duration and long in helpful personalized advice for navigating anxiety during this time of great uncertainty.

In a subsequent series, he dedicated his teachings to the Enneagram and Parenting. I found the series to be so enlightening that I posted it on Facebook and shared links with my family. Who doesn’t benefit from solid parenting advice especially in the midst of COVID when so much about our daily routines have changed significantly?

I’ll often scroll through Ian’s podcast library to find topics and guests that might have answers to current questions I am pondering, or to gain deeper wisdom about my own type or that of a friend or family member. To my delight, I recently found one featuring Beatrice Chestnut, who is one of the foremost authorities on the Enneagram — and she just happens to be a Type 2 like me. Her knowledge and personal experience was revelational for me.

Father Richard Rohr is often credited with bringing the Enneagram to the general population decades ago when he offered 10 cassette tapes about the Enneagram. As he tells it, it was the first time people were hearing a voice explaining the value and wisdom of the Enneagram. I have listened to many of Father Rohr’s own podcasts about the Enneagram. His soothing voice and grounded genuine approach shed a lot of light on human nature, learned behavioral patterns and our blind spots (those places where we get in our own way and stunt our personal growth).

The Enneagram is often used in counseling sessions and with good reason. It is an objective, non-judgmental way to look at all the parts of ourselves and see clearly where we have room for growth. Admittedly, this isn’t always fun or easy, but the truth is we usually know we’ve got blind spots but its often hard to acknowledge it. It is those blind spots that inevitably are the cause of most of our self-created roadblocks. And as Brene Brown teaches us, when we armor up in an effort to protect our vulnerabilities, we lose our connection with our authentic selves.

It’s not hard to see how the Enneagram is such an invaluable tool for couples counseling also. Imagine the shift in relationship dynamics when each partner can have such clarity about the other — what motivates them, what their driving need truly is, their strengths and weaknesses — all without judgment, just pure awareness. I recently shared with a family member that I got answers to questions my former partner was never able to answer once I learned the complexities of his Enneagram type.

My enthusiasm for the Enneagram has been spilling over into my family and into my friendships. I have found some of my friends to be very experienced with the Enneagram and our conversations shed light on the many ways it can help deepen relationships and resolve familiar patterns of conflict.

There is nothing I enjoy more than helping others (that’s a classic Type 2), and now I feel I have a resource that helps me customize the best way to do that — for them! This is such a win-win because in the past, I would often help too much (the blind spot of a Type 2) and in the end I was tired and my friend was resentful of my overbearing help. Who knew?

During this quarantine time, I have been so fortunate to have reconnected with old friends, gotten to know my newer friends on a deeper level, and been participating in lively discussions with dynamic women on an “Untamed” Zoom book club. The compelling common denominator is that all of us are striving for personal growth to enrich this chapter of our lives. We’ve come to realize that the learning never ends and there is always room for improvement — that’s life. We also recognize that it is our friends who support us through this journey. The more we know and understand our unique authentic selves, the better we are for all those whose lives we touch.

 

Here are some of my favorite resources regarding the Enneagram:

The Enneagram Institute https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/

Ian Morgan Cron Website https://ianmorgancron.com

The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self Knowledge – Author Beatrice Chestnut

The Chestnut Group – Empowering Change through the Enneagram https://beatricechestnut.com

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery – Authors Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

Conscious Course Correction

Five years ago, I was at a crossroads in my life when I finally stood silent and could hear the red flags flapping in a 40 mile an hour wind. For far too long, I had been looking outward for the answers to my deepest questions. It was time to do some serious internal self-examination and hit the reset button for the next chapter of my life. I even said out loud — “I need to be at my best for whatever the future might hold and I can’t be my best when I am so drained and feeling so disconnected from all that I love and value most.”

How did I get so far from the fulfilling life I envisioned for myself? A simple answer surfaced — I had been living on autopilot, unconsciously relying on old behavior patterns. There is a natural evolution process that occurs as we go through life, shaped by our experiences and our responses to them. The secret to growing through our experiences is self-awareness. So often we inadvertently push away the growth opportunities waiting to emerge simply because we feel comfortable staying in the old familiar habits.

An inspiring resource for personal my growth has been Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith and he articulates exactly what I was feeling in that moment five years ago:

I feel this is very true today for our global community and especially true for our country. Our collective pain is being pushed around, back and forth — and the ongoing uncertainties are causing us fatigue. And I also believe that a larger vision is pulling us. I take heart and find hope in those people who inspire, educate and challenge us to pull together for the collective greater good.

There is a noteworthy common thread running through the lessons we have in front of us: It’s time to be consciously aware. If ever there was a time to stop operating on auto pilot with our preconditioned responses to things that scare us or that we disagree with, it is now.

Brene Brown’s most recent podcast is a solo episode where she opens up about why accountability is a prerequisite for change. She openly shares her personal experiences and her strategies for pulling her “thinking brain” back on line when she feels flight or fight energy. Her mantra is one I plan on using myself — “I am here to get it right, not to be right.” She also reminds us to be wary of calling, texting, posting or emailing when you are caught up in strong negative emotions.

Dr. Michael Beckwith shares that “people live in reaction or choice. Choice is when you have awareness.” We witness knee jerk reactions every day in the news and on social media. These emotionally charged reactions are not helpful and often create more confusion, more blaming, and no acceptance of accountability. Rather than throw another log on a raging fire, we can pause and let our own heated emotions settle down. We are capable of stopping our habitual reactionary patterns that often push away needed forward progress. Not surprisingly, one of Michael Beckwith’s most ardent suggestions is that we get very skilled at listening. Taking the time to truly listen is a lost art. When we truly listen (without planning our retort or response), we may find the answers to questions we never thought to ask.

As I have worked on myself, shedding the old patterns and embracing healthier new ones, I discovered that my awareness of others has grown exponentially. I have become a keen observer, patiently looking past the flurry of emotions that others armor up with and seeking to discover what is truly hurting them. I began to see that there were repetitive behavior patterns that emerged in others. Michael Beckwith calls this the “merry go round” and I laughed out loud recalling years ago when I told someone I would not buy a ticket for their emotional “merry go round” ride again. We can readily recognize these predictable patterns in the daily news cycle. If we want to be part of a meaningful change, we have to stop going in circles. Get off the dizzying merry go round.

Taking the time to educate ourselves beyond what we currently know, requires that we be open-minded about perspectives that are different than our own. Each and every one of us has stories of our life that has impacted us in unique ways. Our personal stories hold the connectors that will bridge our divides and help us look at the many facets of our very complex problems. Can we really hear another’s story and not feel our shared humanity?

Lately something has been happening so frequently that we have almost normalized it — using “dehumanizing language and labels” to fuel the “us vs. them” mindset for our collective issues. This creates an instantaneous divide laced with superiority or inferiority. It is an insurmountable impediment to facing the reality of our problems and finding over-arching solutions for the greater good of all. Brene Brown distills the devastating consequences of dehumanizing labels:

“Dehumanizing often starts with creating an enemy image. As we take sides, lose trust, and get angrier and angrier, we not only solidify an idea of our enemy, but also start to lose our ability to listen, communicate, and practice even a modicum of empathy.” — Brene Brown

Empathy is absolutely necessary to get past blaming and shaming so that we can get to the meaningful work of understanding how we are all affected by our collective struggles. Only then can we pull back the curtain that obscures us from taking a calm, comprehensive, cohesive reality check. Shame kills empathy.

Brene Brown has studied shame and vulnerability for over 20 years. She was diving into this work since before 9-11. She explains that empathy and shame are on opposite ends of a continuum. “Shame results in fear, blame (of self or others), and disconnection. Empathy is cultivated by courage, compassion and connection. Empathy is the most powerful antidote to shame.”

We are all very much connected and affected by our first time experience with a global pandemic and quarantine, by the ongoing systemic problems of racism and inequalities and with the divisiveness of politics. It is my hope that we can individually raise our consciousness so that we are contributing in constructive, positive way to find solutions to our realities.

Every day in this country, collectively diverse groups of people come together setting aside gender, age, race, political party and more to help us as a whole. They are health care workers on the front line fighting COVID-19. They are teachers, first responders, food industry workers, our military. They are also fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, grandparents, brothers and sisters, children. Coming together for the good of others, even those we disagree with, is more than possible. Dr. Michael Beckwith encourages us with these words “our potential is always greater than our problems.”

Maya Angelou so wisely said “When you know better, you do better.” Let’s consciously strive to do better.

Suggested Resources:

The New Normal Podcast with Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright (with Brene Brown). There is also a recent episode with Dr. David Kessler and one entitled the Power of Social Media.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvqEwUG3IbE&feature=youtu.be

Blog Post by Brene BrownDehumanizing Always Starts with Language:

https://brenebrown.com/blog/2018/05/17/dehumanizing-always-starts-with-language/

Mindfulness Magazine – In The Heat of the Moment Article – Take a Journey through bias with awareness and kindness:

https://www.mindful.org/in-the-heat-of-the-moment/

Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith – Pain Pushes Until the Vision Pulls (SuperSoul Sunday/OWN:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDrPrNjcnqE&feature=youtu.be

Unlocking Us Podcasts by Brene Brown: (I’ve listed a few that are most relevant to this blog post)

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/introducing-unlocking-us

  • Brene on Shame and Accountability
  • Brene with Ibram X. Kendi on How to be Antiracist
  • Brene with Austin Channing Brown on I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World made for Whiteness
  • David Kessler with Brene on Grief and Finding Meaning
  • Tarana Burke on Being Heard and Seen

Talking to Strangers – by Malcom Gladwell (Read this book and watch this video)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hgr1Wv8mwh8

Finding a Treasure Map

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across the most incredible tool for self-awareness and discovering our true potential in Brene Brown’s recent podcast. Brene’s dynamic interview with Chris Heuertz opened my mind to the encompassing transformational value of the Enneagram. His tender and compassionate way of describing what each of the 9 type’s biggest struggles are just tugged at my heartstrings.

The Enneagram is one of the most powerful and insightful tools for understanding ourselves and others. At its core, the Enneagram helps us to see ourselves at a deeper, more objective level and can be of invaluable assistance on our path to self-knowledge. —– The Enneagram Institute (www.enneagraminstitute.com)

I had once taken the Enneagram test online and was familiar with the attributes of my Type. At that time, I viewed it mostly as an affirmation of my personality much like a Zodiac sign or Myers-Briggs assessment.

What I did not know however was that basic summary only scratched the surface of what I could learn from the Enneagram.

As Chris Heuretz points out, most of us look at our Enneagram Type and happily confirm those attributes we view as positive and sideline those traits that make us uncomfortable. As a result, we end up fragmented by trying to hide or protect our vulnerabilities. Brene Brown has been teaching us for years , it is those very vulnerabilities that hold the key to our richest treasures — love, creativity, connection.

With his latest book, The Enneagram of Belonging, Chris skillfully guides us through the process of personal discovery to bravely face those traits we hide or protect. He gracefully coaches us to embrace our full human self with compassion and self-acceptance. You may ask why this is so important. Chris says “the truth is the way we treat ourselves is the way we also treat others.”

Chris believes that the way we make the world a better place is to start with ourselves and then let it flow out to our relationships, our communities and the world. As Maya Angelou taught “when we know better, we do better.”

Chris Heuretz is a longtime Enneagram teacher in addition to being the author of The Sacred Enneagram and The Enneagram of Belonging. His website offers blog posts, podcasts and other resources to broaden our knowledge. (http://www.chrisheuretz.com) I listened to a podcast he did with his friend and author, Beatrice Chestnut. Immediately captivated by her personal and professional experiences with the Enneagram, I just had to read her book too.

Beatrice Chestnut’s book, The Complete Enneagram is a compelling instructional book that was hard to put down. I quickly realized how her dynamic handbook would have expedited my own discovery process a few years ago. I had taken a more circuitous way to unearth my patterned roadblocks through mindfulness, meditation and lots of self exploration. As Beatrice writes about the Enneagram — “it’s like having your own personal owner’s manual.”

I began to view the Enneagram as a treasure map with a personalized Key for each Type that pinpoints the coping strategies and learned behavioral patterns we commonly use. It also provides the trail back to the origin of those patterns. We move through decades of our life leaning heavily on those familiar patterns, but unconsciously aware that they are making our lives more complex. The hidden treasure lies in growing into the most healthy potential of our Type once we understand what has been holding us back and learning to live more consciously.

As I began to absorb and process all that I was learning about myself, I could readily look back at various times in my life where my conditioned patterns showed up and see very clearly how they played out. Instead of chastising myself, I was now able to own it and even laugh about it in some cases. Perhaps the most impactful transformation for me was gaining insight about early life experiences that conditioned me to repress my feelings, to rush in as a soothing helper and avoid conflict at all costs. This knowledge is a powerful catalyst for conscious living today.

As Chris talked about all of the 9 types in the Enneagram with Brene Brown, my heart really opened up to what each and every one of us deals with through our own personalities, the life experiences that shape us and the way that we navigate our lives. Once we understand what our own Type wrestles with, our compassion for all the other Types just naturally seems to expand. Another bonus is when we learn to stop getting caught in a reactive response pattern and lean in more to another — to proactively listen and to be fully present. Both Chris and Beatrice provide many reminders that this work is on-going and part of the continual growth process. We get chances to practice every day if we are just paying attention.

Growth spurts can happen at any stage of life. It’s fun and rewarding to notice the positive changes in yourself and how it supports those around you. Mindfulness, mediation and contemplative practice enhance all that we learn about ourselves and others through the Enneagram. The changes we hope to facilitate for the greater good of all start with us.

Chris’s work has change how I understand myself and the people around me. It has brought me closer to myself and my true essence. I’m grateful for Chris’s willingness to clear a path and walk alongside us in love and compassion.” — Brene Brown

A Heaping Dose of Inspiration

Back in early March, I was in the midst of composing a blog post about shifting our perspectives in the hum drum “ordinary-ness” of our day to day lives and then seemingly overnight everything changed for all of us due to the COVID-19 health crisis. Now we are longing for the very routine things we took for granted (and possibly even complained about) just a few weeks ago.

I can’t tell you how many times over the past 6 weeks, I have sat down with my laptop hoping to ooze some comfort and words of wisdom only to come up empty. It wasn’t lack of inspiration, but rather a strong desire to share the full breadth of dynamic, eloquent, uplifting messages from many of my favorite motivators. So, I am dedicating this blog post to the invaluable resources that are keeping me hopeful, courageous, supportive and inspired through this challenging time:

Oprah & Deepak 21-Day Meditation Experience Hope In Uncertain Times https://chopracentermeditation.com/experience Several times throughout each year, Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra offer a free 21-Day mediation experience. This particular program was designed specifically for our current global health crisis. I used to think that having hope was just about being optimistic but after this 21-day experience I’ve come to revel in the fact that hope is as tangible and vibrant as love. Day 1 leaves no doubt as it is aptly entitled “The Power of Hope is Real.

Elizabeth Lesser on Facebook – Elizabeth is a best selling author (Broken Open) and co-founder of Omega Institute, the largest adult education center in the United States focusing on health, wellness, spirituality and creativity. I’ve often thought that she’s the kind of person who becomes an instant friend. Visit Elizabeth Lesser’s Facebook page for her poems, her livestreams, and her beautiful creative writings. Her recent poem “No One Told the Daffodils” will resonate with any nature lover. https://www.facebook.com/ElizLesser/

Omega Institute offers diverse content to awaken the best in human spirit. Be sure to check out the videos section and especially the one entitled “Love and Awakening in the Time of a Global Pandemic”. https://www.facebook.com/eOmega.org/

Brene Brown’s “Unlocking Us” Podcasts. The dynamic and oh so relatable Brene Brown launched her brand spanking new podcast series on March 19th — yep….right in the midst of our quarantine due to the pandemic. She had no way of knowing in advance that her focus on this very first one — on staying in the tough times rather than checking out — would be so poignant. And of course she skillfully addressed our collective first time experience of being in a pandemic. Since the initial launch in mid-March, she has added 7 more podcasts and she’s had some fascinating guests such as Alicia Keys, David Kessler, Glennon Doyle, Dr. Marc Brackett and more. My all-time personal favorite podcast was on March 26th entitled “Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball”. Brene has an uncanny ability to recognize how we are feeling no matter how we try to mask it or pretend otherwise. In this episode she talked candidly about falling apart, staying connected and kind, and giving ourselves permission to feel hard things. Brene happily recognizes that many us are logging a few miles on our fitness trackers as we listen to her podcasts. If you love Brene, grab your earbuds –you are in for a treat! I’ve been listening to her podcasts on Spotify. You can check them out on her Facebook page also. https://www.facebook.com/brenebrown/

Headspace — Just before the pandemic, Headspace had launched two new features on the app — Community Story and The Wake Up. As the health crisis unfolded, The Wake Up feature began to tailor its content to the myriad of emotions and real-life challenges we are facing as we “shelter in”. The Wake Up feature is a daily short video with engaging presenters chock full of solid ideas and inspiration. Some of these videos have been so fascinating even my grandchildren enjoy them. Headspace is offering free support during the healthcare crisis, so please go to their website to check out the details. https://www.headspace.com

For many of us, this quarantine has underscored the many small components of our daily lives that truly weave themselves into the fabric of our lives and makes us stronger, more grateful and more aware of how we are all so inextricably connected. Now more than ever, we can step back, take a deep breath and ask ourselves “What have we learned from this experience?”

A Tube of Toothpaste

I was searching for a mental image that would capture just how I was feeling about the constant barrage of emotional ups and downs of a loved one who lacked the ability to discern between a big deal and a small one. And that’s when it struck me and I said “I am like a tube of toothpaste and each time you squeeze me to respond to another temper tantrum, I use up valuable patience and emotional reserves that we will both need for bigger life events down the road. When that times comes, you do not want to be rolling me up tight and squeezing hard to get that last little bit out.”

I’ve used that “tube of toothpaste” analogy a few times in my life for people who needed to work on their emotional regulation and productive coping skills. It was something that I tried to instill in my children especially when they were teenagers. I was encouraging them to make a determination for themselves about whether their current issue was a 1 or a 10 on the scale of “big stuff in life”.

What I’ve come to realize over these past couple of years is that the sooner we learn tools for self-control and emotional intelligence, we not only have happier and more stable lives, we give our brains a remarkable gift.

Our thoughts and emotions contribute to our overall health. I’m sure you have experienced how your heart races and your breath grows fast and shallow when you are really upset. Imagine the toll that this is taking on you physically. And if you are getting upset often and easily angered, your brain is getting wired for this super-charged negativity bias. While it may not be as obvious as a racing heart or finding it hard to breathe, this is some serious toxicity in the the brain.

Consider what Dr. Rick Hanson shares in his blog post “Take in the Good”:

The negativity bias shows up in lots of ways.  For example, studies have found that:

  • In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.
  • People will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than they will work to gain the same amount of money.
  •  Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones.

In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That shades “implicit memory” – your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood – in an increasingly negative direction. (https://www.rickhanson.net/take-in-the-good/

As a parent, partner or close friend who is striving to balance all that negativity bias for another, it can be exhausting and contagious. I knew that I did not want to get “used up” on minor issues when later on down the road there would be weddings and babies, job changes, health issues and so much more.

What I wish that I had many years ago was the knowledge and experience of mindfulness and meditation — for myself and for those that needed some really good tools for dealing with their emotions and a negativity bias.

I recently completed a 21-day Perfect Health Mediation program with Deepak Chopra and Oprah (https://chopracentermeditation.com) and it was not surprising that the quality of our thoughts was mentioned frequently over the 3 weeks. One thing that really struck me was that our supportive relationships significantly impact the positive messages we send our bodies every day which invites greater health and well-being into our lives.

And that brings me back to my tube of toothpaste analogy. I intuitively felt that I wanted to save my energy to fully soak up the good stuff in life and to have deep reserves for those times when we needed strength to get through heartbreaking adversities. What I was striving for was balanced, supportive relationships where we counted our blessings and faced our problems rationally.

I know firsthand the toll that stress can take on our physical health. While we cannot control events and circumstances that bring stress into our lives, we can take proactive measures to mitigate unhealthy recurring and long-lasting responses to it on a daily basis. Practicing gratitude, taking walks in nature and calming yourself with a few deep cleansing breaths are easy tools to incorporate. Daily meditation offers some of the greatest benefits for calming our minds and becoming aware of how our thoughts are impacting our health and our relationships.

If you want to learn more about neuroscience and how “neurons that fire together, wire together”, I encourage you to check out Dr. Rick Hanson’s website https://www.rickhanson.net/.

Embracing a New Year…

A fresh new year and a brand new decade — how inspiring! There is something about a new year that invites both reflection and motivation.

Decades ago I would have been full of positivity with a list of goal-oriented resolutions in hand ready to charge full speed ahead — daring this new year to be better than the last. In this chapter of my life, I am a little wiser and acutely more aware that this coming new year will be chock full of many happenings that will be out of my control — experiences and events that I cannot even imagine today. New Year’s resolutions are less important to me now. What matters most is how I respond to the moments of my life in the coming year.

Mindfulness has really taught me the value of soaking up being fully present for the day to day moments of life. At the very least, I have become more aware of how easily we can be distracted — by our racing thoughts, our crazy phones, background noises and multi-tasking. As soon as we realize that we aren’t fully focused, we can turn our attention back — to that conversation with a friend, or a book we are reading to a child, or the rich colors of the sky at sunset. Being fully present and taking in all the goodness from these simple happy moments of life fills our reservoir and helps us become more resilient for the more challenging times in our lives.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can bring to the turbulent moments of life is simply being calm. Keeping our emotions in check and not adding to an already stressful situation can be a source of great comfort to others and it aids in effective problem solving. I’ve discovered that some imagery helps me when I want to remain calm — I imagine I am dropping an anchor into deep calm waters. Last year gave me more than a few opportunities to really practice being calm in the heat of the moment, What I discovered was that I felt in control in spite of circumstances being challenging. Most importantly I was able to pay closer attention to what others needed to feel safe and protected. I was able to use my energy and resources to be truly helpful and more responsive. Life’s challenges didn’t change. Finding a calmer way to face them did.

Over the past few years, I have come to realize that most of my angst in life came when I was wrestling with wanting things to be different from what they were in reality. I’m finding more peace and a better quality of life by replacing old behavior patterns with valuable life tools — setting boundaries, not getting attached to specific outcomes, making decisions consciously based on my values, owning my feelings and giving myself space when I need it.

The benefits I’m reaping from these changes have been quite noticeable. I have more energy, I’m sleeping better and my feathers don’t ruffle as easily. I have a deepened awareness of how others are struggling with their own issues and greater empathy for them. I’m learning to simply sit with others and listen rather than rushing to try to fix things for them. Everyone needs to process their feelings and their experiences for themselves. The greatest gift we can offer others in their time of need is to be there while those tears fall.

A few times over this past year, I have been the fortunate recipient of some incredibly kind and thoughtful gestures and often they appeared when I was feeling invisible or overwhelmed. What a heartwarming lift I got just when I needed it most! Those moments were not lost on me and they served as a strong reminder of the incredible difference we each can make in another’s life by showing kindness. Whether it is a stranger or someone you know well, extending a random act of kindness makes such a positive difference!

Happy New Year! May we all support each other in the best way possible through the trials and tribulations in 2020.

Small Moments, Big Steps

If you watch the face of a young child totally immersed in something that has captured his full attention, you can almost feel his sense of wonderment. That’s the beauty of being a small child — effortlessly they turn their complete attention to that moment, soaking up each detail with all of their senses.

But not even our little ones are immune to emotions and expectations that can quickly erode the most magical of moments. I confess to marveling at the ability of young children to accurately identify how they are feeling — “I’m frustrated, I’m angry, I’m all mixed up, I’m having a bad day”.

One day, I sat my befuddled 4 year old granddaughter on my lap and looked in her eyes full of big puddling tears as she mumbled, “I’m just frustrated.” I told her that I thought that was awesome that she knew she was frustrated. (That’s step one for all us when we want to diffuse our own disruptive emotions). Then I assured her that the feeling of frustration usually doesn’t last too long. (I let that sink in for a minute). I told her that she had a few things she could choose to do to stop feeling frustrated. Being a precocious 4 year old, she asked “Like what?”

“You could ask me for help. You could take a break from that puzzle. You could go outside and look at the pretty fall trees. Or you could read a book.”

She opted to ask me for help and soon we were giggling and making some progress on that puzzle. To my surprise, she said, “Gigi, I don’t feel frustrated anymore. It went away just like you said.”

Now I can’t let a good teaching moment go by, so I told her how proud I was that she realized she wasn’t frustrated anymore and how awesome it was that she was happy and enjoying her puzzle again.

About an hour later, my granddaughter and her younger brother were playing mountain climbers over a pile of boxes and pillows they had amassed. My little grandson got stuck and was visibly upset when he couldn’t free himself. With the sweetest little voice, my granddaughter said “Oh buddy, don’t be frustrated. Ask me to help you.” The student had become the teacher!

Perhaps one of the best lessons I can offer to my grandchildren is helping them to understand that strong negative emotions can dissipate pretty quickly if we pay attention — and that we can quickly turn our day around if we don’t let them linger and sabotage our fun.

Of course it’s much easier to do this when your strong emotions are coming from small life issues like puzzles, missed naps and spilled Cheerios.

Nonetheless, these small experiences are building blocks in emotional regulation and it will serve them well as they mature. I find it very rewarding to condense what I have been learning about mindfulness into digestible little nuggets for others, especially chidden. Heaven knows that life gives us many opportunities each and every day to practice what we are learning. Mastering these insights and tools early in life will definitely help our young ones to navigate life’s bigger challenges with more skill and grace later in life.

It’s a matter of trust

Earning someone’s trust is one of the most incredible gifts of human connection. It is not to be taken lightly because trust is the foundation of thriving, meaningful relationships. Long before we are old enough to understand the definition of trust, we instinctively know how it feels.

Recently I was inspired to listen once again to a Brene Brown SuperSoul presentation about the anatomy of trust.

At the onset, Brene offered this powerful definition of trust from Charles Feltman:

If you just let that definition sink in, you not only begin to understand just how much is at stake when we need to trust another, you can feel it. Complete trust feels safe and secure no matter the circumstances.

Brene then provided Charles Feltman’s definition of distrust:

“What I have shared with you that is important to me — is not safe with you.”

It’s unfortunate that often when others need our trust the most, we fail to see how much they’ve exposed their vulnerability. Vulnerability is when we pull back the veil and honestly express what we are feeling. It feels risky and scary. It takes tremendous courage to open up about mistakes, weaknesses, fears or needs.

It is at that precise moment that we can begin to build trust — a safe harbor free from judgment, the comfort of a warm hug, a willingness to simply listen without interrupting and the promise of complete confidentiality. Choosing words and actions that genuinely convey ” “you and your feelings are safe with me.”

While it is fairly easy to look back on our own life experiences and see the times when others have failed to come through in a trustworthy way for us, can we also take stock of the times when we have not truly understood how our own actions impacted something sacred to others?

Brene Brown says that when we trust, we are braving connection with someone. She developed the acronym ‘BRAVING” to help us remember the elements that are the anatomy of trust: Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-Judgment and Generosity.

Brene expounds on what each of these components really mean:

These straight forward definitions make it easier to articulate what we need in order to feel trust in a relationship.

Just as compelling is that these definitions provide us with a valuable way to check in with ourselves to ensure we are being trustworthy for another.

A few things I have learned about trust over these past few years have provided helpful insight. One is that I now recognize that it may take a very long time for me to “earn”” someone’s trust. And it may have little to do with me, but a lot to do with the lack of trust they have experienced in their lives. This reminds me to be patient in the process and to be consistent in my reliability, integrity, non-judgment, etc.

Another is that I only need a few truly “trustworthy” friends to be my buoys when the seas of my life get choppy. It is incredibly comforting to be able to call one of my “trust buddies” when I am struggling with something in my life that is breaking my heart and know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am 100% safe with them.

What happens when trust is broken especially in times of big struggle when vulnerability is at its height? It adds another dimension of hurt and insecurity to someone who has little resilience and makes their difficulties more complex. As I studied Brene’s anatomy of trust, I became aware that a sincere apology along with making genuine amends would go a long way to bridge trust in these situations. At the very least, we should avoid judging others who are in struggle and definitely not share their personal stories.

As I was reflecting and researching about this matter of trust, I began to notice how often trust is referenced in our day to day world. Simon Sinek (author and organizational consultant) often talks about importance of trust in his motivational talks on leadership in the workplace. As I watched a recent NFL game, the announcers talked about how a distinguished player had lost trust in his organization over his health issues. Oprah’s guests on last Sunday’s Supersoul series, Dr. Dean and Anne Ornish (practitioners and authors of Lifestyle Medicine) talked about the importance of trust for intimacy and deeper connection in long term relationships. And of course, there is that blind trust that only a small child can exemplify as he leaps from the top of the playground set into his father’s strong arms.

One of the noteworthy remarks from Simon Sinek really resonated with me — he said that there are a lot of resources available to us for “self help” but that we should also be focused on helping others. The gift of trust would be a profound way to help others.

If I knew then what I know now….

Being an active participant in a Brene Brown Discussion Group has opened my heart and my perspective in the most profound way. Brene’s Discussion Group is incredibly diverse in ages, cultures, experiences and challenges. The honesty and vulnerability that people are willing to share with strangers underscores how much we need to be heard and supported especially when we are struggling. This group of people is committed to kindness and not passing judgment. For many it is a refuge — a safe and trusting place to take their stories.

As I hear these stories in our Discussion Group, my empathy runs deep. Throughout the many chapters of my own life, I have lived similar experiences that others share. And although I have healed and moved on, I can recall the deep pain and disconnection I felt during some of my toughest adversities. This meaningful Discussion Group helps fill that void of isolation and disconnection for people who are in the “arena”. The support of others serves as a foothold for many who need a boost to keep doing their personal growth work.

What has struck me so profoundly is that many of the personal growth changes that people are genuinely working on are the same — feeling worthy, needing to be heard, speaking their truth, setting boundaries, self awareness, etc.

And the reason we need to work on these life skills is that we were not taught them when we were younger. In fact many people struggle because the cycle of dysfunctional behavioral patterns got passed along from one generation to the next.

When I began my mindfulness journey 4 years ago, I had a strong desire to share what I was learning with younger people in hopes of offering them some valuable tools to lighten their life load. I kept wishing I had known about mindfulness when I was a young adult. When I discovered Brene Brown I wished that I’d known all that she teaches when I was a young mother of 3 with a career and a boatload of stressful life challenges. When I added meditation to my resources for personal growth, it dawned on me that this beneficial practice would have alleviated a lot of sticky attachments to draining emotions and would have enriched my life throughout all my decades.

What if I had entered parenthood armed with some rock solid healthy behavioral skills along with my personal values about how I would treat my innocent children?

I’ve shared before that I had a very dysfunctional childhood and that contributed to some of my learned behavioral patterns such as being an enabler and co-dependent, and possessing a strong desire to avoid conflict. I had some pretty strong ideas about what I did NOT want to do as a parent for my precious children. So I did my best to create a very safe, loving, trust-filled and playful environment for my children. While I succeeded at avoiding saying and doing the things that my parents did that hurt me or shut me down, I missed some things that are critically important to living a wholehearted life.

Because I did not have good coping skills for high conflict situations, I taught them to be conflict avoiders too. I’ve witnessed both withdrawal and angry outbursts from my children over the years. Admittedly I was guilty of showing both of those behaviors when they were growing up. I surely could have taught them from an early age how to process their emotions and not to react to them immediately. And I could have role modeled respectful, calm ways to achieve conflict resolution.

I instilled a strong work ethic in my children but did not teach them (or show them by example) boundaries and balance. I brought a lot of work home and often worked weekends all while donning the supermom cape to make up for it by being a Cub Scout leader, Sunday school teacher, and making homemade Halloween costumes to prove to myself (and others) that I could “do it all”. I was exhausted but I could check off all the boxes. Today I see my adult children putting in long hours at their careers and finding the work-life balance challenging with their young families. While I can impart some wisdom to them now, it would have been far better to have taught them from an early age about boundaries and balance. I realize now that although I was physically with them for much of the time, my mind was always racing with that endless to do list. Being fully present for life provides one of the best frameworks for both boundaries and balance.

Another area where I could have done a lot better as a parent is asking for help — and most importantly, being able to “receive” that help . I know that I had a lot of pride mixed with insecurities that prevented me from admitting when I was overwhelmed and subsequently asking for help. And all too often, I would refuse help that someone would offer to me because I felt that it revealed some kind of weakness in me. Of course I now realize that accepting help is not only beneficial for me (the receiver) but so rewarding to another person who genuinely wants to lend a helping hand.

As I reflect on what I have learned in the past four years on my own personal growth journey and what I am now learning from my involvement in Brene’s Discussion Group, I find Brene’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto resonates with me deeply as a parent and a grandparent. If I knew then what I know now, I would have embraced my wholehearted parenting with broader, deeper skill sets.

Putting the Practice to Work

It was one of those days when everything just seemed to go sideways. We were all feeling the effects of moving day (actually more like moving week) and had little energy to deal with all the little problems that kept arising one after another. Turns out that this was going to be one of the best opportunities to put some mindfulness and better responses into full action.

It’s not surprising that family members weren’t fully cooperating about the best laid plans we’d made for a relaxing evening after a busy day of unpacking. Everyone was dealing with their own concoction of being tired, hungry and not quite feeling at ease in the new living space. In times like this, it is so easy to see that “tempest in a teapot” brewing.

What is not so easy is to keep ourselves from jumping into the fray, getting caught up in the negative energy of frustration and adding to the mess by losing our self control. And trust me, I have done that in the past and always felt awful afterwards. To be honest, I recall a very similar moving experience three years ago and I did lose my cool, embarrassing myself and hurting another’s feelings.

For me, it always helps to take a few deep breaths when tensions are rising. Initially there was a part of me that just wanted to join the fray and let everyone know that I was also tired, hungry and truthfully, feeling unappreciated. Fortunately I caught myself in time and took those few deep cleansing breaths. It was a testament to the benefits of ongoing meditation practice that helped me let thoughts pass and ground myself before I reacted to the circumstances.

Oh — the frustrations and lack of cooperation were still going on — but at least I had not added to it. That was a step in the right direction.

It wasn’t until I was ready for bed hours later that I realized that by not losing my patience and immediately reacting to my own thoughts in that heated moment, I’d actually downgraded my own emotions to the point where they didn’t urge me to act on them. That happened rather naturally. That was a big “aha” moment.

Something else I noticed as I reflected on the evening’s events was that I had a lot of empathy for other family members who had all their buttons pushed and said things they really didn’t mean. That enabled me to be more sympathetic to their situation and not to take personally what was being stated. This was another “aha” moment. In the past, I would have felt very hurt by snarky comments and innuendos directed at me and might have either shut down or got into a heated conversation trying to defend myself.

This lead to me being able to calmly and clearly articulate my personal boundary about acceptable behavior even in stressful situations. Setting boundaries is admittedly one of the harder growth initiatives that I work on. What I discovered was that because I had remained calm and kind throughout the challenges of the evening, not only was I empowered to state my boundary — I was also respected.

I began to see how all the pieces of the puzzle came together. By recognizing that I was tempted to jump on the frustration band wagon, I could ground myself with some deep breathing. That enabled me to avoid adding to the problems causing us stress. I diffused my own negative feelings in that moment so that I could focus on others. With empathy, I could look at others and sense how they were feeling on that stress-filled evening. I’ve been there many times as a young child, as a parent, a wife, and on my own. Moving is rarely easy. Being grounded and having empathy fortified me so that I was proactive in this situation and not reactive. From a place of strength, I could calmly articulate my personal boundary. I had used three valuable tools to successfully navigate a challenging situation — and avoided what could have culminated in a tense couple of days in the aftermath.

Its often noted that we do mediation not only for ourselves but for others too. When we are more self-aware and possess greater self-control, we bring our better selves to challenging situations.

Recently I had completed a meditation practice on “approaching conflict” on Headspace learning how to handle difficulties in a more skillful and compassionate way. One nugget of knowledge that really stuck with me was that when we get angry, we lose our kindness. Since kindness is a core value for me, I found myself very motivated to improve my reactions and responses in difficult situations. Who knew I would get that opportunity just a few days later? Life has a way of presenting us with learning experiences all the time.