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!

Broken Spirits…..Part 2

After much reflection and filling half a journal, I have peeled off a few more layers of understanding about the impact that our protective armor can have on our spirits. I actually had a really big AHA moment this morning, which is the reason for this addendum to yesterday’s post.

What started this search was an explanation of how I fell back into old childhood patterns so late in my life. The clues were hidden in the fibers of my life story. I have often said that I lost my compass after Skip died in October, 2002. Now I can see more clearly just how incredibly true this was. But there’s some backstory that also deserves attention.

In September of 2001, my daughter Brelana was just beginning high school at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Virginia. This was her decision and anyone that knows my strong-headed girl can appreciate that she was all-in for this empowering decision she’d made for herself. Her devoted step-dad Skip was a graduate of VES and it was evident that she embraced this fresh start for herself as a chance to “belong” in ways that made her feel worthy and valued — by association, being the “daughter” of a respected, congenial graduate of this boarding school. While I supported her decision, my heart was aching because I knew I would miss her terribly. I knew all the reasons she’d made this decision, which is a story for another time. Just know that she was desirous of a clean break from a confusing pattern with her dad as a result of our divorce. While I would not have been able to articulate it at the time, I now know that I was very angry at having to pay the price of being separated from my daughter because of my ex-husband’s behaviors and choices. This pattern of paying the price for someone else’s actions has a very long thread in my life story and those origins lie in my childhood.

Skip urged me to go with him to Scottsdale Arizona where he was conducting an international banking conference for a week. He thought the distraction would be good for me. Bless his heart — he hated to see me sad and he could tell that I was struggling with emotion about my baby girl being so far away from me for months at a time.

Skip knew the bond that Bre and I have – he often told me that Helen Reddy’s Song, “You and Me Against the World” reminded him of the two of us. Each time he passed a bubbling water fountain in the Philadelphia plaza near his office, he would toss two pennies in it as a symbol of his pact with God to protect us.

Perhaps if I had stayed home, I could have processed all my emotions. The anger about who and what had prompted such a decision, the gratitude for Skip and the role model that he was for my daughter, the sadness about being apart from her and not having conversations over cookies after school.

But as often happens in life, that big life event got swept under the carpet very quickly. While the banking conference had indeed been fun and a distraction, it came to an abrupt and tragic halt on the morning of 9-11. Just typing 9-11, I can feel so many strong emotions coursing through me, the memory of that morning returning with such clarity that I can feel it in my bones. Skip’s adult children were scattered across the country, as were my three children. Phones were jammed as we frantically tried to make contact with loved ones. Bre’s classmates at VES had parents who worked at the Pentagon. The VES faculty were scrambling to keep kids safe and address their fears. In a split second, our world had changed so dramatically. Collectively we all felt fragile, vulnerable, scared.

Skip was a hero in my eyes with how he conducted himself at that conference, being a source of comfort and resilience to so many. Again, the full scope of his efforts are a story for another time. I have shared some of it in an earlier post. We got home, to a small apartment in the suburbs of Philadelphia. It wasn’t really home. It was a temporary place for us to live while our house was being built. Home for me was our cute townhouse back in Millersville, full of happy memories, familiar furniture, treasured keepsakes.

Ironically Skip had to leave shortly after our return for an international business trip. Flights had resumed and although there was much uneasiness in the day to day life routines, everyone was trying to get back to some sense of normal. That is, all while keeping a watchful eye out for suspicious white vans or shady activity. So I was home alone, in an apartment, where I did not know any neighbors. I’d go to work each day at PNC Advisors, grateful for friends and something to do to pass the hours. But things were changing rapidly at work due to the terrorist attack and safety precautions being instituted to protect clients and financial affairs. It was overwhelming to process it all especially with a healthy dose of fear added to the mix.

Cell phones did not get good reception in those days. We had not yet gotten a land line installed in the apartment, so I would go to a payphone outside the apartment complex gym to call Brelana or await a call from Skip. A few weeks of standing in the dark, talking on a pay phone hoping that I sounded cheerful, calm, and comforting.

Just one month later, my mother died suddenly. A blood clot from a surgery I did not even know she was having. Now my mother and I did not have a really good relationship, but we had been trying to get it back on track. Oddly enough I had heard some church bells ringing in the distance while walking our small dog at the very moment she passed. As I realized that coincidence, I took a little comfort from it. A sign that in the end, we were ok.

In 2002, I had high hopes for the pendulum to swing back to more positive experiences. The house Skip and I were building was a source of joy for both of us. But only two months after we had moved in, my beloved Skip passed away in my arms…..having just returned from a 2-1/2 week business trip in Cairo. My world went dark….and extremely quiet. So did I. There was just not an ounce of grit and determination left in me. I was beyond worn out. For a very long time, I felt numb. I think it is the body and soul’s way of protecting us — cocooning us when things seem so unbearable.

I know this story of mine is beginning to sound surreal — so many big, impactful life events all unfolding like dominos….one right after the other, without a moment to catch a breath, cry it out, start to heal.

Yet I am sure that if you look around, you will see similar stories that are unfolding right now — through this current collective event of a global pandemic. It is the impetus for me sharing all of this. To open your eyes and hearts to the many events and experiences that are breaking spirits of others.

A key similarity to my life experience and the pandemic is isolation. When Skip died, I was all alone. We had moved from my hometown to the Philadelphia suburbs. No family, no friends yet. Too much isolation during my darkest hours.

I believe that it was that isolation — that long lonely recovery period of grieving — that really put me in a tailspin and sent me spiraling backward into unconscious behavioral patterns.

In my post yesterday, I shared how even experienced practitioners can get snagged on emotional baggage from their past. These deep emotional experiences can have very strong currents that pull on us when we are most vulnerable. So often, we then begin to sift through old memories and excavate other painful experiences. I have done this myself, stringing together a series of past events where I was alone, vulnerable, in struggle. It amplifies our emotions and can flood us to the point of overwhelment.

I have witnessed this happening to people I love. They ask questions I cannot answer and those questions reveal the unhealed parts of their life that still snag them.

This is why I am sharing such personal vignettes with you today. It has only been through a lot of inner work, with the help of a cherished friend, that I have been able to go back and process what needed to be faced and healed. I was dragging around of lot of old baggage for far too long and allowing it to hold me back. This is precisely why we need to help each other with non-judgment, kindness and an abundance of empathy.