Nuggets of Wisdom – The Gifts of Awareness

I love those “aha moments” that show up in the midst of an ordinary day. Those “aha moments” grab our attention making us more aware of things we sometimes take for granted or are often too busy to notice. Catch an”aha moment” and put it in your pocket! Start a collection of “aha moments” and watch a little magic unfold in your daily life. This Nuggets of Wisdom in this post are about creating more “aha moments” by putting a little more awareness in each day — self-awareness, present moment awareness and other-awareness.

Meditation is one of those practices that begins to show up in your daily life in organic, meaningful ways. Take listening for example — when you meditate, you learn to be free from judging your own thoughts. You become more skilled at sifting out distracting thoughts. You become more attuned to listening to understand what you are truly feeling or experiencing.

When these skills sets begin to show up as you interact with others, you will smile knowing that you are taking your meditation practice from the “cushion to the real world.”

Improved communication and connection with others is a two way street — speaking AND listening. We can become better skilled at both! A skilled listener is non-judgmental and focused on understanding how another person is truly feeling.

Practice on yourself through meditation….then try it out IRL (in real life).

As we hone our skills to become more aware of our emotions, we might be surprised to discover that all too often we are giving those emotions much more control in the heat of the moment than we would prefer. It’s time to tell our emotions that they are always welcome, but they can’t do the driving.

During the course of a normal, busy, routine and occasionally chaotic day, we are going to experience a wide range of emotions. Sometimes when we are just being bombarded with too much to juggle, we inadvertently let our emotions run the show. Often it only makes a stressful situation worse.

Hit the reset button — take a deep, calming breath BEFORE you react/respond. That breath, that pause is often just enough to create awareness that it is your emotions taking over, not your integrity. And guess what? Your kids (and others) are watching…..and they’ll mimic your stealth skills if they see you doing this “reset” in times of stress, being calmer and more reasonable in your responses. That’s a win-win in the daily course of our busy lives.

In her newest book, Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown dives deep into helping us understand how so many emotions can look similar — and all too often, we assume that we know exactly how someone else might be feeling. Then, we respond or react to others from that place — how those same emotions would feel to us. Is it any wonder that we can really make things confusing when this occurs? First of all, we are snagged on our own emotions and that will often pull our attention away from another person and inward on ourselves. Second, we may be putting the brakes on the emotions that another person is trying to process and understand.

Brene introduces a new concept for us to embrace — story stewardship. When we become trusted stewards of others’ stories, we listen with open hearts and open minds, without judgment and with an intention of getting to better understand what their personal experience and emotions truly are.

All of us have stories that are hidden under the tip of our iceberg. It would be impossible for others to know why certain things land so hard on our tender hearts. Not everyone needs to know, or can be expected to understand, these vulnerable parts of our story. It is healing for us to share our stories with someone who has earned the right to know the depths of our experiences. It is also helping others to gain bigger perspectives, to deepen their empathy and curiosity and to release habitual judgments when we have the courage to share our stories.

One of the greatest lessons to be learned from Brene when someone trusts us enough to share their stories, is to ask the question “What does support look like to you right now?” Ask that question and wait for the answer….take it in and really listen to what someone needs. Too often, we are so uncomfortable when others are hurting we rush to fix, to distract or even turn away. Meaningful story stewardship means holding space (even when we are uncomfortable) and asking others what they need.

We sometimes fail to see, or forget about, the best parts of ourselves. When we look in the mirror, we see reflected back whatever our inner critic or racing thoughts deem appropriate to share with us. If you have a trusted friend, a caring parter or a supportive parent who reminds you of your goodness, your grit and your unique gifts, then you are truly blessed. Those people are your best mirrors — the best sources of encouragement when life gets bumpy.

It is not surprising that we often bring the best versions of ourselves to the outside world — to our workplace, our community endeavors, even to strangers in the check out line. Yet we find it more challenging to tap into those attributes with the people we know the best — and often the ones we love the most. If you have a trust buddy that reminds you of this, thank them. If you have someone who has your best interests at heart and holds you accountable to the better version of yourself, you have a committed teammate in life.

We get to be these mirrors for others all throughout life. When you spend time on your own self-discovery, you often enhance your abilities to see the strengths and gifts that others possess too. Speak up — tell others all the goodness you see. The way they make you laugh, how generous they are, how resourceful they are, how they stand up for others…..there are so many ways that each of contribute our unique gifts to the world. Sometimes we all just need a really good mirror!

The Journey

It dawned on me as I was chatting with my lifelong friend Judy that our big immersive conversations have shifted quite a bit as we progress on our personal growth journey. A few years ago, our focus was on ourselves –behaviors we wanted to change, what we wanted to heal and what lessons we were learning. While we continue to do this inner work, we have discovered that we are now more naturally attuning ourselves and our focus to others. As a direct result, our conversations reveal that we are more proactively participating in healthy ways to helping others find their own path. We feel more energized, fulfilled and purposeful. The feedback we are getting from others is reinforcing that how we are showing up for others these days is landing just as we had always hoped it would — in positive, helpful and constructive ways.

I recall telling Judy years ago about some wisdom from Pema Chodrun. In essence, Pema said that doing our own personal work was not just for ourselves, but also for others. As we peeled off layers of old baggage and outgrown behavioral patterns, others would notice we were changing. At first they might not care for it because it would feel awkward to them. Over time however, they’d witness how much calmer and present we were and they too might be inclined to do some personal growth work. Pema offered that this is how we pave the way for others. She also explained that as our energy shifts to more positive, resourceful ways to respond to life, we will organically begin to attract more of that same growth mindset energy from others. Judy and I marvel at all the truth that is packed into Pema Chodrun’s wisdom. We have witnessed this transformation in our own lives and in each other. I don’t think we will ever lose sight of all the hard work we did together over these past few years and where it lead us.

Judy and I are both Type 2’s on the Enneagram — the helper. For most of our lives, we were like first responders for family and friends. Although our life paths took us in very different directions, as we revealed our stories to each other, we could easily recognize the all-too familiar patterns of helping too much, exhausting ourselves, enabling others and diminishing our own value. That would be the unhealthy end of the spectrum for a Type 2. We made a commitment to get to the healthy end of that spectrum — together. We would help each other stay on track. To be honest, we knew that there would be times that this might be really hard especially when the truth might hurt. Yet we had a strong foundation of trust to help us with our commitment.

A trusted friend is invaluable when it comes to discovering and addressing our blind spots, tunnel vision and insecurities. It is often so much easier to divulge our fears and vulnerabilities to a friend than to our family members. It just feels safer. Brene Brown calls these our “marble jar” friends.

A marble jar friend is your advocate – and they want you to be successful, happy and to flourish. They hold your confidences, can be trusted implicitly and aren’t judgmental. They are also realists who can sit with you in your darkest hours and hold space for you to cry, to vent, to pick up the pieces. If you have one, you are so fortunate. If you have several, you are truly blessed.

So often, I have heard a soft refrain of “me too” from one of my marble jar friends when I shared something painful or shameful. I can almost feel a space opening up to pour out hard stories when those words are uttered. It feels like a trust fall — “let go, you are safe – I will catch you.”

Judy and I have certainly deepened our friendship as we ventured hand in hand on our personal growth journey. We have also witnessed how our daughters have been watching us – how we maintained a lifelong friendship (with and without social media), how we have celebrated and supported each other through many life events, and most especially how we’ve transformed into healthy versions of our type 2 selves over recent years.

It is this “witnessing” of personal growth work in action that has become the most meaningful aspect of the journey for me. My own daughter sees and feels it in my relationship with her. The same is true for Judy and her daughters. Old patterns that we once had with our daughters have faded away giving us a more expansive space for connection, encouragement and wisdom. Judy and I love helping our daughters navigate the challenges of parenting, marriage, careers, friendship, family and life with the wisdom gained from the lessons we learned the hard way and the benefits of better responses.

Others in our lives have also witnessed — and experiencedhow we are showing up much more authentically now. Just as Pema Chodrun pointed out, others are drawn to the changes they’ve noticed and are asking us about our resources and tools. We are calmer, more energetic and resourceful. We listen more and ask better questions to learn more.

Here is another heartwarming aspect of the journey for me. Where once I was often interjecting my help where it may not have been needed or wanted, I am now legitimately helping others who are expressing a desire to learn and understand.

As we moved the needle toward the healthy end of being a Helper, Judy and I also ended up more closely aligned with our true nature and our purpose, especially at this chapter of our lives. We have always had good intentions, and now we have better tools and skills to support us.

I’ve been witnessing this same progression with my several of my dearest friends. The more we are engaging in growth mindset conversations, the more we are reading, experimenting with new tools and resources and sharing ideas.

I get so inspired by my friends as they share their stories of how they are evolving in their relationships with their adult children. Especially when it becomes so evident that all the work we are doing is shining a light on a new path for that generation — that they are shedding their armor much earlier than we did.

And with any luck at all, we will help our grandchildren travel through their lives with strong emotional intelligence, a firm grasp on their own authenticity and worth, and the confidence to pursue their passions with our wholehearted support.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Being Well Podcast (Two parts) with Dr. Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson- Debunking Self Help Myths:

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-dealing-therapy-trauma-and-resilience/

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-self-helps-biggest-misconceptions-part-2-no-pain-no-gain-hedonic-adaptation-and-meditation/

Such a great introduction to the Enneagram for anyone curious to learn more. The more you learn about all nine types, the less likely you are to take things personally — and the more likely you are to open up to understanding how another person is hard-wired and responding to life differently than you.