Monthly Archives

May 2017

Intention, Love, Mindfulness, Nonviolent Communication, Personal Growth, Relationship

To be heard

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and could tell they were listening yet didn’t feel heard? I recently was getting to know somebody new and found myself perplexed at the lack of connection I was feeling with them. I shared with my therapist some examples of our exchanges that felt amiss. In one instance, I was talking to this person about the mood of the day, and referenced the building tension brilliantly captured  in Spike Lee’s, Do the Right Thing. That feeling when it it is so hot that it can’t get any hotter without everything boiling over into chaos, when things are on a precarious edge about to explode. I may have been overly dramatic in comparing the mood of the day to the film, but instead of engaging with what I shared, this person said to me: “Oh, I was almost in a Spike Lee video.” And proceeded to talk about that. Another time I was telling him that I loved the poetry of Coleman Barks who interprets the words of the ancient mystic, Rumi, in stunning simplicity. Again, instead of relating his experience of Rumi’s poetry or connecting to how I felt about Barks’ work, this person exclaimed, “I’ve met Coleman Barks. I’m friends with his girlfriend!” The fact that this guy is also a name-dropper is annoying, but not the real issue.  If someone tells me about a Sonic Youth song they love, I too, would likely interrupt to giddily announce that I met the band on my 16th birthday. The difference is that I would then shift back to focus on them and the feeling tone of what they were saying. I would respond not only to my own interest in the subject, but to my friend’s interest, experience, and emotions. The more important theme than the name-dropping was that this guy turned most of what I shared with him into an opportunity to talk about himself, even if it was only tangentially related. My therapist put it like this to me: “It sounds like he’s relating to the content of what you’re saying rather than relating to you.”

Relating to the content instead of the person.

For some reason the way my therapist stated this was a revelation. I thought of other friendships in which conversations lack a deeper connection and recalled a recent lunch date with a long-time friend. How was it that I could feel so drained after a meal with someone I like, someone who is sweet and kind? I thought back to our meeting–our communication never touched into that fulfilling place of sharing oneself below the personality, in a mutual exchange of feeling known, and of seeing each other, in our realness. It was something we never had in all our friendship, as much as I have tried. Our conversation constantly floats at the surface of our experiences, never drops into what we are feeling, really, what we want or who we want to be, really. When I share something, she says something that shows she was listening, with words that are similar to mine, on a topic that is similar, but it does not invite us to drop down and explore that more, does not really reflect on what was shared, it shuffles us on to a new example, and then back and forth like that. We move quickly from anecdote to story to random thought. And after an hour or two, I am weary and bored from having traveled so long yet not at all deep.

It was fairly easy for me to identify some friends and acquaintances who seem to have this superficial style of expression–harder to admit that I sometimes default into this lazy kind of relating when I don’t feel present or engaged. I started noticing myself doing this in some interactions, when I was more preoccupied with my own feelings and thoughts than I was focused on listening. We, otherwise well-meaning, caring people sometimes stay at the surface of things. Maybe we are tired, overextended, are only maintaining some friendships out of a sense of duty once we’ve grown apart.

We’re not perfect so we’re bound to do this sometimes, but if it’s a consistent pattern in some of your relationships, you might want to check out how much it’s serving  you to still be involved with that person or find a way to break this pattern and shift the energy to make for a more alive and dynamic relationship.

This practice of relating to the person rather than the content is very much what I’m learning as a counselor–to track the emotions and experience of the client who is sharing and respond with my whole being to their whole being. My life coaching trainer, Kate Courageous, reminded us of this approach with this phrase: “Coach the person, not the problem.” As friends, we don’t have to show up with the same standards that we would expect of therapists or coaches, so perhaps this is a steep demand or big ask of ourselves, but I tell you, in the words of Bjork, “it’s ever so, ever so satisfying” to really respond to the person, not the content.

Here are some ideas for how to breathe in some vitality into a connection that feels lifeless and lacking depth

  • Admit when you’re not up to it. If you can’t really attend to the act of listening because of your own stress, mood, introversion, or tiredness, accept and acknowledge this fact without judgment and schedule another time to have a conversation.
  • Make eye contact. Focus in on the connection, on each moment.
  • Don’t multi-task. Listen while listening, don’t get distracted by some other activity.
  • Bring mindful attention to the act of listening. Become aware of what you are hearing in each moment, of the fact that you are attending to this person’s voice, of your breath and sensations while you listen, turn it into a meditation.
  • Tune into the feelings behind what the other person is saying. Imagine what moods and thoughts they have as they are relating their story to you.
  • Ask them open questions to go deeper and resist the urge to move on to another subject.
  • Refrain from advice-giving, one-upping their story with a “bigger, badder, more extreme” version of your own, or pitying them. Stay with their feelings and thoughts rather than imposing your own or adding your opinions.
  • Speak up. Say it out loud if you are feeling disconnected from your friend or the topic–ask to experiment with either a new subject matter or style of conversation.
Awareness of Sensation, Compassion, Emotions, grounding, Love is Space, Mindfulness, Radical Acceptance, Sacred justice, Self-love, Spiritual Activism, Spirituality, Suffering

Lovingkindness in action

Yesterday, when House Republicans voted in favor of replacing the Affordable Care Act with their own version that would raise insurance costs, exclude benefits for an astonishing array of “preexisting conditions,” and cut taxes for the rich while penalizing the poor and middle class, I witnessed the tremendous wave of anger and pain that so many in our country were feeling, those who depend on the flawed yet essential coverage that ACA provides us and those with loved ones who rely on these benefits. Sure, this system is far from perfect, but it allows so many who previously were uninsured or underinsured to finally have the safety net to access care and get medications they need to live without going into debt. Feelings of despair and outrage are a natural response to such self-serving, irresponsible, and cruel legislation. I want to share, though, that as we make space for the pain we feel, we can also experiment with some alternate responses, to help us cope and build resilience in the face of a long 4 years. For my readership outside of the US, i am sure these ideas can be applied to other situations in which injustice and power-hungry demagogues prevail in your own lives.

  • Take action. Lovingkindness is the inspiration for my coaching practice, and is the deep compassion I want us to all have for ourselves and others. Lovingkindness means responding to our own needs and the needs of those around us.  Some people’s response to seeing anger in others’ is judgment, and claims that this is a “negative” or “toxic” emotion to be avoided. Some who identify with new age spirituality want to hold onto bliss experiences and therefore stay out of politics and avoid difficult subjects like poverty and racism. I’ve seen others spread the notion that love will conquer all, as if we don’t have to actually do anything but radiate some emotion and all will be well.  No spirituality is worth anything if it does not care about the suffering of others. Anger is an energy of protection, fierce compassion, and a commitment to justice. Honor its place and channel it into appropriate, loving action. While politics may be unsavory, they are a fact of how power is marshaled in our society to the benefit of some and to the detriment of a great many. We must be invested in the fate of those around us. We are responsible for standing up for what is right, making our voices heard, and holding our representatives accountable by making calls, donating to campaigns and causes for justice, and voting. Some of you might be called to run for office, and if so, that is great! But we don’t need to make this kind of commitment in order to be involved. Start here. Call your senators to oppose the AHCA. Or text “resist” to 50409 to easily contact your senators. Donate to organizations doing work for immigrants, refugees, racial equity, the environment. Find what resonates with you.
  • Focus on the facts. It is painful to realize that so many members of Congress are okay with gutting healthcare for our most vulnerable citizens. This is heartbreaking. And we also can get grounded in the moment and remind ourselves that this was only the first step to passing the AHCA. No one is yet being harmed or hurt by this bill. This is not to deny the potential threat posed, but to help propel us into moving with resolve to working to make sure it does not get through the Senate, and to help us not suffer so much with the imagined torment and dying that could happen under AHCA. We do not need to jump to the future yet and create nightmare scenes in our head that cause us more panic and pain. Stay in the present, focus on what is happening in the moment. Nobody is dying or being denied coverage due to this bill, and if we get consumed with fear over what could happen in the future, we may not be as effective in taking steps to stop it in the now.
  • Accept reality. This has 2 important pieces for me. The first, is understanding that given who these Republican leaders are and looking at the evidence of their values that came through in recent years of intransigence, racism, misogyny, and greed, it is not at all surprising that they passed this legislation yesterday. I can ease some of the suffering and preserve some of the wasted energy that comes out of saying, “I can’t believe they did this heartless thing,” and instead, with complete acceptance of reality say, “It makes a lot of sense, knowing what I know about these people, that they would behave in a manner consistent with a lack of heart and lack of mercy.” This does not change the facts or say they are okay or good, but helps me to not argue with the truth of what is happening. The second piece is similar. I ask: what part of me is refusing to accept that this is happening? In what ways am I resisting that this legislation and this awful administration is part of our reality? I am down with the #resistance, don’t get me wrong. Political action and justice organizing are essential, and, I think, more effective if they come from a place of radical acceptance. Check out this therapist’s advice on staying sane through these difficult times, using the principal of radical acceptance of reality. We aren’t saying things are acceptable as in good, but that we when we accept that things are the way they are, we can more effectively change them.

Offer yourself empathy, place your hands on the places in your body that are feeling constricted, tense, nauseous, or twisted up in pain and offer some soothing words and spacious breaths of allowance–it is understandable to feel distraught when those entrusted to protect people are intent to cause pain. But don’t get stuck there. Pick up the phone, focus on the facts, be honest about what is happening, and put that incredible compassion you have into action.