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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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Charting a New Course

 

A couple of years ago I was in a state of deep confusion from the heartache and disappointment of a failed relationship.

 

Along my path to growing from the experience, I had a few navigational buoys guiding me:

  • A girlfriend offering insight into another friend’s MO when it came to relationships and the pattern that kept repeating itself ending in a string of short term flings
  • A counselor educating me on behavioral patterns and good mental health
  • An introduction to mindfulness and meditation from a caring, supportive friend
  • A treasured mentor who devoted a lot of time to listen while also challenging me
  • A lifelong friend who took me for a walk down memory lane reminding me of what I had accomplished personally and professionally in spite of past adversities

These navigational buoys were all interrelated and as I bounced along in the healing process, I’d bump into them time and again.  It became increasingly clear that I’d lost my compass in life when my beloved husband had passed away so suddenly.  That shock and that loss clouded my heart and my emotions for many years.

When it came to that failed relationship, I was well intentioned in my desire to bring that same joy and happiness that Skip and I had shared to another.   But I was in foggy emotional territory and couldn’t see our values were out of sync.   I was grasping to fill a big void in my life but not paying full attention.    It’s like eating junk food when you are starving.  You quickly satisfy the hunger but later you realize you don’t feel so good.

Motivated by the fact that I did not want to repeat an unhealthy relationship pattern, I made a commitment to really get to know someone very well  — and that someone was ME.

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I thought getting a Series 7 investment license was hard!  This endeavor has been one of the biggest challenges in my life.

Although I was gaining a lot insight from my counseling sessions,  it offered very little in the way of practical tools to make meaningful lasting changes to a lifetime of developed behavioral patterns and triggers.  And it did not address the effects that the sudden loss of my beloved spouse had on my emotional needs for safety and harmony.

My friend’s introduction to mindfulness was not simply a navigational buoy — it was an enormous lighthouse shedding light and understanding into that murky fog of self awareness.

I’ve been practicing mindfulness and meditation for over two years now and it’s brought about incredible positive changes in my life.  In fact, it has become such an integral part of my relationships and interactions with others that it even shows up in my dreams.  Recently I awoke in the early morning hours smiling at the boundaries I had set in a recurring dream and the resulting dramatic positive outcome.  One mentor told me that when you start dreaming it, you are really beginning to own it.

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Looking back at that analogy of filling the void with junk food, mindfulness has been like a super healthy diet for my emotions and thoughts.  I became very aware that after battling cancer and the sudden loss of my spouse, I was highly sensitized to unnecessary conflicts and drama.  Ending a life-long pattern of rumination and lack of boundaries felt like dropping two dress sizes!

A very rich benefit derived from mindfulness is improved wisdom around my empathy for others.  You see, as I dug deep into my own life’s adversities and habitual patterns, I learned to treat myself like a treasured friend.  Lots of genuine compassion for myself became a soothing, healing balm.

It really opened my eyes to be more aware of buried emotional experiences in others.  While I have always been empathetic, I may have misjudged the motivation behind their behaviors or actions.  Mindfulness teaches us not to be judgmental, but to be curious.

My empathy for others is no longer just on a surface level, but reaches deeper.  I’m trying to become a better listener and to ask meaningful questions to help my understanding of another human being.

This is harder than you think — often we don’t really know what is at the root of our own discomfort or suffering.    If you journal, you might have some appreciation of how you sit down to right about one thing and suddenly find the page filled with 8 totally unrelated yet very relevant issues.  It takes a lot of time and hard work to peel off the layers.

I’ve always thought of myself as a resilient person able to rebound from trauma or adversity without turning bitter or negative.    Now I have a greater understanding of how my emotions and thoughts were genuinely impacted by some tough experiences.  That just might explain the large sack of rumination I used to carry with me all the time.

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Rick Hanson, Ph.D (rickhanson.net) has a great lecture on “Being for Yourself” (you’ll find it under the “Listen” tab).  In it he encourages us to take personal responsibility for wholesome change.  I smile when he says “unpack your feelings – let in light and air”.    That image of letting in light and air just feels so good to me.

If you find that you have some areas where your emotions are out of sync with what you want from life, take the time to sit quietly and get curious.  You might be surprised with your discoveries.

“Nurturing your own development isn’t selfish. It’s actually a great gift to other people.”
Rick Hanson, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorting it out….together

 

Recently a dear friend and I were sharing about conversations that we have with our grown  children and how we often inadvertently dismiss their feelings in our efforts to help them.

We want to console and comfort so we quickly say “Oh honey, you shouldn’t feel that way.” And since we can’t stop there, we babble on  — reciting a list of all the positives in their lives.

 

The reality is that when anyone we care about is hurting, angry or losing it, they are overcome with strong emotions in that moment and it would be far better to acknowledge that and offer a compassionate ear or a shoulder to cry on.

Feelings are not right or wrong.  They simply are what we are experiencing in that moment.

Sometimes we are like pots boiling over, emotional flame on high and the bubbling concoction of life’s stressors heating up.   What is needed is a safe place to vent.

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Here’s a scenario that my friend and I discussed:

Our daughter might share that she’s feeling so hurt by a friend’s off-handed remark and we try to console her by offering “You shouldn’t feel that way”. Actually, she does feel that way and we’d help so much more by acknowledging that it feels pretty crappy when someone is rude.

In our efforts to be caring, supportive mothers we’ve dismissed our daughter’s feelings and then we charge on — offering a myriad of examples of the many positives in her life — and boom — we just laid a big guilt trip on her.   That is not what we intended!

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A better approach is to be kind and compassionate — acknowledging the strong emotion another person is feeling.  Like taking a couple deep breaths, this affirmation is calming and soothing.    Invite more dialogue by asking open ended questions or saying “tell me more…”

 

Both my friend and I have had some very positive experiences in our conversations with our adult daughters when we stop dismissing their feelings and encouraged a deeper exchange.  We actually empowered our daughters to process their feelings and reactions on their own.  We haven’t clouded their hearts and minds with our input.   We’ve given them a safe place to dump out all the puzzle pieces and sort it out for themselves.

We are beginning to gain long-lasting benefits from this approach.  We’re building a strong foundation of trust and safety when life throws us a curve ball and we need to let off some steam.

Best of all, it is a two way street.  Now when I go to my daughter with a frustration or concern, she no longer discounts me saying I am too sensitive.  She’s curious to know more about my perspective.   It just feels so good to know that we are truly there for each other and that there is a deep respect for our individuality.

One thing that really stands out for me in this process is the importance of not telling someone else what they feel or how they should be feeling.  I’ve had that happen to me often in a past relationship and it really created too much confusion and added unnecessary conflict.   I could spend days trying to process an emotion that wasn’t even on my radar!

I’m more cognizant of my own feelings now and what I label them.  It’s a mindfulness tool that calms a habitual reaction to emotions.  As a result, I refrain from labeling anyone else’s emotions.  They own them and they have exclusive naming rights.   We each process our emotions based on our individual unique life experiences.

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We only have so much energy and how we choose to use it is entirely our own decision.  My daughter and I have talked about how physically exhausting it can be to have a melt down, ruminate for days, or hold in negative feelings.   We need to attend to our “emotional pots” like we do the ones on the stove.

 

 

By practicing more affirmation and respectful listening, we’ve sharpened our awareness of other’s situations and are becoming more proactive in reaching out before a situation escalates. It’s like checking that pot on the stove and making sure that everything is under control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even strong people need support….your time, your compassion, your outreach is worth more than money

 

Apologize as soon as you can — the longer you wait, the more ingenuine it feels to the receiver

 

 

Time out

Watching a small child’s response and shift in attitude when given a “time out” brought home a valuable lesson about sitting quietly and reflecting on our actions.  Something as simple as “taking a break” from an argument or a strong emotional reaction can have powerful benefits for ourselves and our relationships.

When we give a child a time out, we want them to think about their action or behavior and the resulting consequence.  We want to increase their awareness so that the next time they contemplate running with scissors, they remember it’s a bad idea with some pretty painful consequences like getting injured.

So we give the child some time alone to calm down, to reflect all by himself.   Then when the time out is over, we scoop him up, look him in the eyes, have a conversation about what we’ve learned and send him on his way with a reassuring hug.

A self-imposed adult time out is just the ticket when we feel our emotions getting out of control.  Its a far better use of our personal energy than overreacting and making matters worse.

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On occasion, I’m caught off guard by another’s anger, accusation or adult melt down.  I’m working on not getting sucked into another’s emotional vortex and to remain grounded.  In my search to become better at navigating these situations, I read The Art of Communication by Thich Nhat Hanh (Buddhist Zen Master and peace activist).

Thich Nhat Hahn offers clear examples of how we judge others and situations, how we focus on our own needs at the expense of others, and how we habitually respond when triggered by events without a thought to long lasting, hurtful consequences.

He stresses the importance of becoming mindful of our habit energies.

Admittedly this takes discipline and requires personal courage.    Give yourself a  time out —  become aware of your emotions, reactions and patterns of behavior especially when you are in a confrontation.

  • The first step is calming yourself down. Mindful breathing is so beneficial for this. Three deep cleansing breaths will lower your heart rate and clear your mind.
  • The second step is reflecting. Treat yourself like a compassionate friend and explore your emotions without judgement.
  • The third step is assessing if you are conducting yourself in a respectful, productive manner

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Taking your own feelings out of the equation and focusing on the other person’s perspective, you may discover that they have a misperception or have kept something bottled up for far too long. Rather than adding fuel to the fire by blindly reacting on our own emotions, we can listen with empathy and learn.  Thich That Hahn offers a refreshing concept to employ — Beginning Anew:

 

When a difficulty arises in our relationships and one of us feels resentment or hurt, a good practice to try is called beginning anew.  To begin anew is to look deeply and honestly at ourselves — our past actions, speech and thoughts — and to create a fresh beginning within ourselves and in our relationship with others.

Beginning anew helps us develop our kind speech and compassionate listening because it is a practice of recognition and appreciation of the positive elements of another person.  Recognizing others’ positive traits allows us to see our own good qualities.  Along with these good traits, we each have areas of weakness, such as talking out of anger or being caught in our misperceptions.  As in a garden when we “water the flowers” of loving kindness and compassion in each other, we also take energy away from the weeds of anger, jealousy and misperception.

We can practice beginning anew every day by expressing our appreciation to the people we care about and apologizing right away when we do or say something that hurts them.  We can also politely let others know when we have been hurt. 

                                                   —     An excerpt from The Art of Communication (Chapter 9)

 

Here’s what I have noticed since I’ve become more of an observer and less of an active participant in some stressful situations.  I’m a better listener and I have more empathy for what another is feeling.  Because I’m more thoughtful and composed in my responses and reactions, the tension often eases more quickly.   I’m following the advice cited in the Art of Communication and being patient, waiting for several days, before revisiting a situation and providing clarity to change a misperception.

Undoubtedly the most noticeable difference for me personally is that I am no longer jumping in to rescue or resolve. As a result, others face the consequences of their own negative behaviors and may even reach out for support to change unproductive habits.

Giving ourselves a “time out” just might be the best gift we give ourselves.

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Path of Least Resistance

Do you ever find yourself going along with something even though your heart is not in it?  Are you agreeing to things just to keep the peace?  Are you not speaking up for yourself for fear of criticism or backlash?

Too often when we take the path of least resistance, it doesn’t actually serve us well in the long run.  When we take the time to truly understand what our resistance is trying to tell us, we gain invaluable information about ourselves.   Armed with this personal awareness, we can make better choices and communicate honestly with others without an emotion overload.unknown-2

 

The path of least resistance comes in many forms such as procrastination, inaction, avoidance, and acquiescing.  We might be trying to avoid fear, rejection, a needless argument or criticism.

Sometimes we find ourselves choosing the path of least resistance with someone believing that if we just go along, they will be happy and peace will be restored.   If it’s not a big deal and we aren’t stuffing uneasy feelings to restore peace, that’s probably ok.  However when we find ourselves frequently in the same uncomfortable pattern,  it’s time to pay attention.

images-8That resistance you feel is chock full of valuable information.   Take time to reflect on the situation and be honest with yourself about how YOU are really feeling.   Just as importantly, get clear about your own needs and values.

My discovery was realizing that when I took the path of least resistance, I often was abandoning a personal boundary.  Ultimately I was disappointed with myself and resentful of the person I was placating.     We weren’t making any forward progress with an issue or with our relationship.   Neither of us was sustainably happy which is why the same old pattern would repeat itself.  The path of least resistance was a dead end street.

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We are prone to say or do things that are hurtful and detrimental to another especially when we are in a disagreement or stressful situation — or if we have held something in for far too long. It’s not a true reflection of who we are and it certainly isn’t helpful to others for whom we genuinely care.

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If you choose the path of least resistance and ignore your feelings, you are compounding the problem.  Maintaining healthy boundaries frees you from holding things in that most definitely will affect you, both now and later.

Mindfulness has been so beneficial in getting to really know myself and what I need to feel safe, respected and fulfilled.   I’m pushing myself out of an old non-productive comfort zone and am now expressing my needs to others in a direct and honest way.   Turns out when I was feeling unappreciated or disrespected, I was actually allowing it.

An added benefit of paying closer attention to my own resistance is gaining greater insight into what others resist.  I’m striving to be a better, more compassionate listener.  Helping someone identify what is at the core of their discontent is personally rewarding.  So many times we are on overload with life’s stresses and distractions, it’s hard to discern what the real problem might be.  Taking time to ask open ended questions and really listening with empathy often yields surprising observations.  Better yet, it can also provide some remarkable resolutions to misunderstandings.

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To help me with improved communication skills, I turned to one of my favorite resources – Gaia.com and found a seminar series with Nicolai Bachman that provided helpful advice.

At the core of his message is this axiom — Always strive to be helpful and productive in your communications.  Nicolai reminds us to be aware of how we talk and how we listen to avoid being hurtful and detrimental.  

Nicolai offers these simple guidelines for our conversations:

  • Don’t be afraid of the truth.
  • Mean what you say and say what you mean.
  • Strive for clear unbiased perspective.
  • Inner happiness drives outer behavior.

 

Sometimes we say yes to activities or people when our hearts aren’t really in it. We won’t be fully present for the experience and our companions if that is the case.  It’s okay to say no and it’s even better if you can honestly share your feelings for your decision.

Recently, a dear friend and I were deep in conversation about how we often say yes to things that we really don’t want to do, but find it hard to say no.  I shared with her something that I had read that helps me now when confronted with this dilemma — “If the answer isn’t a resounding “hell, yes!” then it is not for me!

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Helpful Resources:

Gaia.com – Yoga Lifestyles section – Nicolai Bachman’s Introduction to Yoga Sutras (including Non-Violent Communication)

The Art of Communication by Thich Nhat Hanh

Awareness = Empowerment

When life just isn’t going our way, do we react or respond?

Life throws stuff at us every day that makes us feel out of control. If we are exhausted from lack of sleep, stressed out about work, or overwhelmed with kids, laundry and housework, we are probably going to lose it! We yell at our spouse for being inconsiderate, honk the car horn repeatedly at the jerk who’s blocking traffic, send the kids to time out.

When life isn’t cooperating with us, we tend to try to control the situation to make it the way WE want it to be. We habitually activate our need for control and power when we feel discounted or insecure. Often when we try to control the situation, we do get some temporary cooperation, but overtime it undermines the long-term benefits of resolving an ongoing issue in a positive way.

Next thing you know, the same old problem keeps cropping up and we get more deeply invested in having things go OUR way, creating a chasm in our relationships and hurting people we love.

In my recent post “Patterns and Positivity” I shared insights that have been helping me become more aware of my habitual reactions and finding a fresh perspective to age-old behavioral patterns and conflicts.  It’s not surprising that a new attitude goes a long way when we try to work out our differences with others.

The hardest part is taking that deep breath and reminding yourself not to be so hasty to react when you are in the heat of the moment.

I have often been too quick to blurt out something and even it if was well-intentioned, the words I chose were not the right words and certainly my agitated tone contributed to a huge miscommunication.

It would be great to be given a mulligan in that moment so that I could reframe my response to match my true intentions. In hindsight, I often come up with a much better way to express myself. Coincidentally that usually happens when I’ve cooled off from the heated emotions and can see things from a bigger perspective.

Admittedly, I often get confused myself at how things get so crazy sometimes. I know in my heart that I really love someone and want nothing but the best for them. Yet in my efforts to help them while simultaneously respecting myself, it doesn’t feel like love and common ground at all.

At the heart of the matter is attitude and awareness — Being mindful of our attitude and being fully aware in the present moment.

Viktor Frankl (legendary psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor) observed this in the most profound way:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number but they offered sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing — the last of his human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Having control of our attitude, awareness and responses is empowerment — and that is much more beneficial in resolving conflict than evoking power by being controlling or judgmental.

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When we try to grasp control, we do damage to our relationships, often hurting someone we love. It’s really in direct conflict with what we want. We may “win” in the moment by being using intimidation, guilt or punishment. Over the long haul, we are getting further and further away from what we really need and want. Our reactive behaviors might be pushing away the love, respect and happiness we are really seeking.

 

If you find that there are constant battles with your child, a spouse or a friend, might there be a better long term resolution? A fresh perspective and an approachable demeanor just might open up a healthy dialogue. Try putting yourself in the other’s shoes and let go of personal attachment. You may be surprised at what you discover — about yourself and the other person too.

Look for patterns in your relationships and give yourself some time to sit with your own frustrations, angers and resentments. Bring mindfulness and compassion to where you get stuck. It’s human nature to feel the need to control when we feel disconnected and separate. We go on auto pilot wanting to defend ourselves to have less pain or gain more pleasure. Invest some quality time in getting to really know yourself and what sets you off.

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We can’t change the flow of life yet we can change our attitude. If we can practice being less reactive and more responsive along with that new attitude, it is sure to yield a better result for everyone. Less conflict, more joy — sounds good to me.

 

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.                         

                                                                  — Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning