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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.
Compassion, Dreams, Embodiment, Emotions, Gratitude, Healing, Inner Guidance, Life Coaching, Life Path, Love, Power Within, Relationship, Self-love, Transformation, Wisdom

the gospel of James Baldwin

I want to share a piece I was asked to write about my path to counseling and the work I am doing in my graduate program. My adviser nominated me to be featured in our department newsletter, which I found very touching and an honor. I wanted to use my story as a platform for something more meaningful than just simple autobiography. I hope the message resonates with some of you.

In the neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, across from the oldest church in Paris, lively conversation spills out of the cafés whose tables clutter the sidewalks. I found myself there this past August, after a relationship breakup and an airline credit flew me over the Atlantic to wander over cobblestone, take in centuries of art and architecture, and soothe my heart with an abundance of chocolate croissants. One morning I decided to map out the addresses of old haunts and habitats of my first and most enduring love, James Baldwin. I made a path through Parisian districts that followed the traces of where he lived, loved, and worked. Baldwin, the iconic gay black writer with the wispy, melodic, and powerful voice, raised in a strict Pentecostal home in Harlem, lived as an expatriate in France for most of his adult years. On my walk I paused at and peered into the places where Baldwin wrote his novels, Go Tell it on the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room—bistros, like Café de Flor and Les Deux Magots. I stood at the doorstep of his first Paris apartment along the tiny passageway, Rue de Christine, my feet pressing into worn stone where Baldwin’s feet had landed decades before. This self-guided tour was a sort of a pilgrimage for me, one that began at age 17.

Twenty years ago my high school English teacher gave me a copy of Another Country. Her scrawl in the margins of the inside cover told me: “I know you will love the honesty and passion of Baldwin.” Ms. Hepburn was a small and fiery white woman with a zest for life and a love of justice. The summer after graduating high school, when she turned me onto Baldwin, Ms. Hepburn and I met a few times to talk books. She confided in me then, that she had long been living with a woman, her true love. In our small town in central New York, she hid the most sacred contours of her heart for fear of losing her job. I hid mine in a home whose message was: you are too much, too emotional, too sensitive.  Finally, in Baldwin’s fiction, I found in vivid and breathtaking detail, the intimate secrets and wild frontiers of our relational lives, our connections and ruptures—across race and sexualities—studied, exalted, and celebrated as the heart of what it is to be human.

I also found in Baldwin’s essays and fiction, a new world, or like his title says, another country. It was, to me, as KRS-One raps on the album, Edutainment: “The language of the people ready to hear the truth.” In schools and at home, through textbooks, teachers, family norms and cultural myths that are passed down, I had learned a story of our nation, one that was wholly different from the reality depicted in Baldwin’s books. His voice was my entry into a body of work by black artists, poets, authors, and musicians in whom I found refuge from the delusion of an American culture that acted as if white was the norm, the only subjective experience, one usually cut off from our hearts and bodies, and which flinched and recoiled at real conversations about racism, past and present.

As an undergrad, I studied the history and politics of race and completed an Urban Studies semester based in Chicago that included a 3 day intensive anti-racism training. I continued to devour Baldwin’s books. The Fire Next Time said it clearly: white people are “still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.” Baldwin wrote of the past in an uncompromisingly candid yet compassionate tenor, understanding that no movement forward would be possible until we, as a society, acknowledged what we had allowed ourselves to become in upholding systems founded upon dehumanization—that we, in fact, were all dehumanized.

From the study of history in college and at the Masters level at the University of Illinois Chicago, to several years of clinic work at Planned Parenthood health centers in California, Chicago, and Chapel Hill, deep study of Buddhism and a side gig teaching moving meditation, and a foray into being a public librarian-activist and then case worker in social services, I finally made my way to NCSU’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program in the Summer of 2016. Being a Masters student in the Counselor Education Department has nourished and affirmed everything that Ms. Hepburn and James Baldwin first awakened within me when I was 17.  It is powerful to be in a supportive community of peers and faculty, where my strengths are valued and I am encouraged to grow and flourish. I feel a sense of belonging in both my cohort and in the field of counseling, which at the intersection of my passion for personal transformation and healing; embodied, heart-centered, authentic connection; social change and multicultural community; embraces all of who I am and yet holds me accountable to who I want to become.

In Dr. Marc Grimmett, I have an advisor and mentor who models compassionate, whole-person care, and displays self-awareness and sensitivity to the contexts of power, access, and privilege in which we and clients are embedded. That he and Dr. Helen Lupton-Smith developed the Community Counseling, Education, and Research Clinic (CCERC) , as a model of affordable world-class health and wellness services to reach underserved populations was an enormous draw for me in selecting NCSU’s Master’s CMHC program. I am honored and excited to be joining their team for my practicum and internship starting in January 2017.

Perhaps most unexpected and rewarding to me, is that I have been able to bring my passion for history into my counseling education. For a class presentation in Dr. Grimmett’s Intro to Clinical Mental Health Counseling, I made a website exploring the connection of historical memory to healing and what I can do, as a white counselor, to take action in recovering the past and de-centering whiteness for integration of the collective psyche. The website, Counselors for Courage, Truth, and Justice (http://counselorsforcouragetruthjustice.weebly.com/), is an ongoing inquiry of how I, and other counselors, can help foster healing, justice, and community in a nation that has not adequately addressed its white supremacist foundations and our inheritance of pervasive racism. The project integrates liberation psychology, theories of counseling, research, and interviews, and offers suggestions for historically competent tools, counselor-facilitated community consciousness raising groups, and the creation of safe spaces for public remembering and grieving. Dr. Grimmett encouraged us to submit one of our class presentations as a conference proposal to the North Carolina Counseling Association (NCCA). My proposal, “Historical memory and healing the national psyche,” was accepted and I am looking forward to presenting this as a poster board session at the 2017 NCCA Conference in Durham this coming February.

NCSU’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program and CCERC are exactly the settings I need to be in to become the kind of counselor I want to be. I’m eager to keep learning alongside and from fellow counseling students and professors and to find ways to build and broaden the multicultural community of care I experience here, out into the rest of the world. I see us, as NCSU counselors, carrying on James Baldwin’s s message of truth and love, for widespread healing and justice.

 

Compassion, Dreams, Emotions, Freedom, Healing, Life Coaching, Love, Meditation, Open, Power Within, Relationship, Sacred justice, Self-love, Soul, Suffering, Support, Tonglen, Transformation, Wisdom

A dream, deferred

It is normal for empathic people to feel emotional fatigue when reading the daily news cycle, or seeing video after video in our social media feed displaying global violence and chaos. Even more, for those who are among the populations who’ve consistently been targets of hate and rage, they may experience vicarious trauma and added fear for their safety in moving around the world. This can take a physical and psychological toll.

Even if we are not in a time of unprecedented violence, as some social historians argue, it sure can feel this way because our exposure to trauma occurs more rapidly and constantly.

girlOne piece of this is attending to the care of our souls and knowing when to take a break from technology and cynicism.

The other truth is somewhat paradoxical to the research that shows that today, more than ever before, we live in safer and more peaceful times overall, as a human community. There, at the same time, *is* a breaking point we are reaching. Someone in my Facebook feed posted this morning’s latest headline of Baton Rouge’s police killing with a comment that “this summer is filled with tragedy.” Tragedy, to be sure. But my first reaction was: No, this summer is filled with neglect. This is what happens when we do not respond to tragedy appropriately.

The Langston Hughes poem came to mind:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

 Or does it explode?

The first instance of neglect comes from the residual economic inequality left over after the Civil Rights Movement’s many successes in extending voting rights and desegregating public spaces and schools. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw that his aims for true equality would not be realized until economic injustice was addressed–it was a campaign against poverty that Dr. King was devoting his life to when assassinated. We’ve chosen to memorialize his dream without ever achieving it. We’ve let his dream fester and sag even while posting inspirational memes with his face all over social media on January 16th, or as a retort to present-day activists.

Secondly, we have never collectively faced our history as a nation. Just as in spirituality, bypassing over pain to get to bliss does not work. We keep thinking we can skip over acknowledgment, apology, and reparations by telling people to “get over” something that has never truly ended or been redressed. Slavery took on more protean forms in the carceral system and engineered ghettoization in our American cities and endemic poverty in rural areas. We need truth and reconciliation. We have to move through the worst of our legacy to get to our best. We cannot keep trying to preserve an image of ourselves as liberal do-gooders or colorblind soldiers of love without facing the reality of the racist and classist systems of power and knowledge that we inherited.

The third act of neglect is when murder after murder is captured on video and nobody is held accountable–no individual, no system, no society.

The final form of neglect I want to address is that we neglect each other, our most powerless here and abroad, when we over-fund the military and under-fund education, healthcare, and education. When our politicians more vociferously protect gun ownership than they do safety and civil rights of the vulnerable, that is neglect.

Terribly, 3 police officers were killed today. (Did your hearts sink so much when, in one July weekend in Chicago, 60 people were shot?). This violence was not promoted, not sanctioned, not perpetuated by activists like Black Lives Matter, despite what the media wants to insinuate. But you know who does promote, sanction, and perpetrate such violence? We ALL do, all of us who choose separation over love, who want to be right more than we want understanding. We ALL do, who allow the structural violence and the unrelenting brutality of poverty and racism to continue without taking a stand for those living in such conditions, and without taking responsibility for helping to create those conditions.

When we show up, valuing all lives–not just the white or the wealthy or the powerful, but the black and brown and poor and disaffected–home by home, neighborhood by neighborhood, then the culture may change. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other.

meditationtUntil then, it may not be so surprising that the dream, deferred, will explode.

I want to end this post with 2 pieces you can practice:

1. Tonglen–breathe in the world’s suffering (grief, fear, pain, stress)–on behalf of those hurting, take it on with a deep inhale, breathe out fierce love and compassion and relief to all in pain. Keep going…any positive return you receive from this meditation, breathe it right back out to those who need it, while continuing to breathe in all remaining pain.

2. Show up fully to every interaction with empathy on full-blast, looking out for opportunities to serve and be present for those in need, even in the smallest ways. When things are quiet and you are alone at home–turn that empathy inward, on yourself. Do tears come up? Sadness? Allow life to flow through you while loving all of it, all of you.

Celebration, Emotions, Gratitude, grounding, Healing, Intention, Joy, Life Path, Love, Relationship

the quiet power of being truly you

I cried when I learned that my downstairs neighbor is moving out later this summer. Yes, I cry at puppy and panda videos, so maybe it seems like that isn’t saying much, but, when my landlady told me the news, I felt a strong wave of sadness and loss come over me that surprised even me.

My neighbor and I aren’t besties. Save for a couple tarot readings she gifted me, we’ve barely spent time together. I’ve watched her affectionate cat during her trips away, we’ve exchanged updates on barred owl sightings, I’ve drunk in boisterous laughter traveling upstairs from rooms below, and we’ve met on her stoop for a few 5 minute conversations in passing. All of this, and more–something intangible and sweet in how she makes this brick fourplex her home–has helped to make it feel like my home, as well, these past 2 years.maria1

This is just to say that we don’t know how our presence affects another. Even if we are not having much interaction, how we show up and who we are being in the world, can truly make someone else’s life better, or in this case, make a space feel comforting, warm, like hearth and home.

Don’t underestimate the power of being a caring, authentic, and passionate person in your daily life. You might never learn how your presence is influencing the world of people, creatures, and things around you, but trust that it does. Living a heartfelt & genuine life matters in more ways than you can know. Cherish those around you who uplift your day to day. And be generous by living your best and most true to you, as others will benefit from your life-affirming energy and love.

Awareness of Sensation, Compassion, Embodiment, Emotions, Healing, Intention, Life Coaching, Love, Love is Space, Meditation, Open, Relationship, Self-love, Whole Body

Try a Lot of Tenderness

There we were, standing in his kitchen, just 6 weeks after we ended our 2 years together, when he announced his new romance. “I wanted to let you know that I’m dating someone.” At the moment that my brain processed the words, it felt like something shot into my chest and lodged there, inside my heart. Suddenly, it felt harder to breathe. I went home as soon as I could, to cry, tears that did not come as easily when we broke up, but now flowed. What a reality check: the person who still feels the closest in my world is moving on to become someone else’s closest and is entering the intimacy of her world.

mural-967953_1920

I’ve biked to cafes, walked and talked with warm and thoughtful souls, danced my heart out, snuggled my dog, delighted at frog and bird song, laughed with my best lady friends, practiced French, planned my trip to Paris, and hiked in lush woods along waterways. I’ve watched puppets and b-boys dance, worked myself out into a dripping mess of sweat and endorphins, found a polka dot bikini that fits, and indulged in ice cream. I can forget, when totally absorbed in the present of these joyous and connected moments, the sensation throbbing in my chest. But then, eventually, I am back in my room alone, or quietly walking across town in the rain, or I catch a glimpse of a romantic card at the store, and I feel it. I feel that something wedged into my heart. When I go into arguments about how it shouldn’t be this way, or start questioning how true his love for me ever was, or picture him kissing another, or remember the sweet beginning of our relationship, the pain brightens. I try to catch my breath. I feel it as both a chasm, a bottomless cavity, and as a clamp tightening and closing around my heart.

There is no outer relief. No friend who can make it go away. Nothing out there that can fix the feeling. There is no story I can tell myself to make it better. There is no name-calling, no judgement about him, no critique of the situation, no complaints about how it is too soon, no pettiness about who she might be, that can dissolve that heart-constricting crater. It has nothing to do with him, or her, anyway. It is about the need to be loved, to feel lovable, and this is mine, a human, normal, mine. These are the fears and wounds that our relationships show us–not so that we can demand love from others to feel whole, but so that we may be that love for ourselves. Relief only comes when I move toward that which is causing pain, and then soften around it…to discover that the around it is infinite. That infinite, is who I am. That I am, is loving and open attention.

I sense shallow breathing, choppy air, tight hollowness in my chest, my throat closing, nausea, and what feels like an inner fight, a resistance, trying to push all of it away.

chakra-685024_1280

I stop holding my breath, and let the air flow naturally. I soften…soften around my chest, throat, jaw, gut. I keep softening and allow what is happening to simply be. I stop pushing the sensations away and move my attention outward yet not quite outside of me–I look from just behind my eyes, and feel from behind my heart. I feel into the back of the body, breathing in my 3 dimensions. There is an energetic field extending outward from my physical body. It has eyes and ears and awareness all its own. I shift into this bigger sense of myself: the field of consciousness that surrounds me. Instead of fixating on tight heart, lumped throat, and strained breath, I move my attention up to the top of my head, to the right and left sides of me, to my front and back, then down to the earth, holding my attention on the outer edges of my body. I quietly and curiously notice the many sensations in, on, around me. Tingles atop my head, cool air passing over my face, that bird outside is a high pitched chirp in my right ear, sweat feels slick on skin, and so much space all around me. From the shrinking of fear, grief, confusion, loss and strained breathing, I move out to inhabit that space.

Inhaling deeply, I fall with a relaxed exhale into the awareness that sees and holds all of it. I invite the discomfort to come closer, to show me what it really is. At first I worry that if I give it permission to be, it will grow and consume me. But then I am surprised by the lightness and soothing comfort that arrives when I stop resisting and let it be all that it needs to be. Beyond apparent boundaries of skin, bone, and muscle, beyond my 5’8″ 160 pound frame, there is an endless and expansive me–way more infinite than that crack in my heart. Way more able to love than small, fearful me could have imagined.

You, heart-twisting, lung-pressing, breath-gasping, stomach-dropping tenderness, thank you for bringing me deeper into my life, and inviting me to love more wholeheartedly: him, her, myself, and you, this pain.

I do still feel tender and short of breath at times. The tenderness comes up, catches me and takes my breath, and for a moment I am lost in a story of suffering and loneliness. Then I remember to soften. Again and again, I move into the space around me and soften. It may take days, weeks, or months to move through this, but I am moving through with lovingkindness.

And as I continue to show tenderness towards those tender parts, I also want to encourage the fiery, fierce, and focused parts to keep alive my dreams of creating a life of inspiration, beauty, integrity, and purpose. Indeed, I am already living that life in so many ways, which is why I had to move on from a relationship that felt in conflict with these dreams. Though I may forget and get swept up in my sadness in moments, staying in a story of despair or shutting down in bitterness are not options. As I heal this sense of loss, I will keep my heart open and ready to receive wild, soulful, and romantic possibilities! What about you? Where will you offer yourself space and softness? What happens when you show up for your tender places with a lot of tenderness?

Celebration, Compassion, Dreams, Emotions, Gratitude, Healing, Life Coaching, Love, Love is Space, Meditation, Open, Radical Acceptance, Relationship, Transformation, Uncategorized

breaking up *is* hard to do

heartcracking heartcrackingheartcracking

 

 

 

We made it just a month shy of June 6th, what would have been our two year anniversary.

A few months before, I thought we would make it to June…and beyond. I prayed we would. At moments, I could picture a long life together. I wanted to believe it possible.

So much goodness danced between us, that made day to day life happier in many ways. Having a quirky and caring companion to share the mundane with…to laugh and cuddle with. That so much love and goodness was there, made letting go of what was ultimately not the right fit for each of us, that much more painful.

In my hopeful days, I saw a future together, but it was one that depended on my mate showing up differently than he wanted or knew how. I grew tired of striving and forcing, of initiating the long talks that never came to resolution, and I guess he, too, became tired of knowing I wanted more, of not just being able to be himself, to relax and experience ease in relationship.

We stopped and restarted in the winter, tried (briefly) couples counseling. I read relationship books and binged on podcasts about attachment styles and conscious loving. I questioned what were true needs from a primary relationship and what can be fulfilled from friendships and other connections. I wondered, frustrated at myself, how someone could be such a kind and wonderful person but still not be the right partner for me.

I came to a deep knowing that the romance was over, accompanied by fear of losing this wonderful friendship, and frozen with sadness as the dream of our future changed and our journey as partners came to a close. Too frozen to act. I hung and clung on a bit longer, though our connection became more strained and I depended on our therapist to help mediate misunderstanding.

My love for him, and for us, prevailed through all the difficulty, and for me, it was important to put that love in front of everything else, and to have that shape how we forged ahead in moving forward as friends.

I was so grateful he had the courage to end our relationship and so grateful, as well, he was open to being in ritual with me to honor our past, acknowledge the present, and bless the future (and for allowing me to share this here). Inspired partly, by one of the million podcasts I listened to, an interview with author Katherine Woodward Thomas on Neil Sattin’s Relationship Alive (episode 21, for those curious to hear), when she shared her own experience of moving through loss gracefully, in partnership with her now ex-husband. Because they didn’t go into detail about what a closing ceremony might entail, I meditated on how to ritualize our parting. Here’s what I came up with:

Step One: Use sage to cleanse his home  sage

Step Two: Use sage to cleanse one another

Step Three: Sit in silent meditation together 5-10 minutes (we did 7)

Step Four: Express gratitude for the relationship, speak to the gifts and lessons (Also in meditation, I typed up some prayer-like reflections on the purpose of relationship and the how we might find strength in letting go)

Step Five: Say some words to release the relationship and wish for each other’s highest good

Step Six: Light a candle and select 2 scrolls each from a vessel, each with 1 word blessing to mark a new beginning

Step Seven: Back alone in my home, sage to cleanse my living space

The ritual was very healing and love-filled for us both. If you can move back into love enough to remember what brought and bonded the 2 (or more) of you, this is a very beautiful way to say goodbye to the shared romantic vision, and transition into something new.

xoxo

“I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty.     I hear your need. I feel your feelings.” -Gandhi

Boundaries, Compassion, Curiosity, Emotions, Life Coaching, Love, Nonviolent Communication, Relationship

There is a field

In my relationships, I strive for honesty and openness. I want friends and loved ones to call me out if I do or say something that is hurtful, unfair, selfish, or inconsiderate. For a healthy, adult relationship, moving towards growth, there has to be room for us to tell one another how we feel and make a request for acknowledgement, apology, and change. What there is no room for, though, is SHAME.

shame

A lot of communication in our culture is oriented around judgment and blame, rather than connection and compassion. When we get on our high horse and give someone a piece of our mind, we may get a temporary ego boost and adrenaline rush of righteousness. However, when we do this, our relationships suffer, chipping away at trust and emotional safety. And, really, are we in integrity and practicing self-respect when we express ourselves in this way? Check it out for yourself–only you can know if this behavior is in step with who you want to be.

Honest sharing with an open heart deepens intimacy and friendship. If, on the other hand,  we make ourselves feel better by proving a point and haranguing someone, then we may jeopardize the relationship and push people who care about us away.

When people lash out, the anger is often covering up some fear or anxiety–of being alone, abandoned, smothered, maybe, even, of their own mortality. But instead of getting in touch with that feeling of fear and tapping into a deeper need, many blame the uncomfortable emotions on someone else. They miss out on an opportunity to be vulnerable, where someone can meet them in their tenderness with love and compassion. We can still feel compassion for that person who is feeling those difficult and scary emotions, but we need not condone or tolerate inappropriate shame and rage attacks.

Ways people use shame to stay in control and avoid vulnerability:

  1. They make you responsible for their feelings –You cannot make someone feel an emotion. While someone may feel hurt because of something we do, what they feel is their reaction and belongs to them. It is 100% valid for them to feel what they are feeling, but that doesn’t make it your fault. There is a difference between fault and responsibility–you can take responsibility for your actions and regret how they impacted someone, without being to blame for how they feel.
  2. They make it about you being wrong instead of focusing on how they feel. Rumi offered: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.” This field is where healthy communication happens. Even something that seems “wrong” is motivated by sincere human needs–when we work to understand what needs drove someone to make certain choices, we can feel closer to each other. When we understand what feelings, desires, hopes, anxieties, fears were behind the action and reaction, this makes for authentic connection. This changes the conversation from “You shouldn’t have done that,” to “Tell me, why did you do that?”
  3. They do not accept your heartfelt apology –Say you own up to what you did and accept responsibility.  You might say, “I can see how that hurt you and I really wish I had not said/done that.” If the person moves right past your apology and continues on the offensive, they are not sincere in wanting to heal the relationship. When we refuse to drop into the vulnerable place where we must meet to reach an understanding, we are less interested in building intimacy, and more interested in bolstering ourselves and asserting control.
  4. They call into question your character and worth –Again, rather than focusing on how they are feeling and what needs want to be met, they suggest that what you said or did “means something” about who you are, as a person. They hint that your actions show that you have a fundamental flaw. You are not flawed. At one time or another, we all say and do things–intentionally or not–that elicit difficult emotions in others. This does not make you bad, a failure, worthless, a fuck-up, stupid, or call into doubt your kindness, overall.
  5. They make personal attacks, roll their eyes, call you names, use sarcasm, express disgust or contempt –Who wants to spend time with someone who goes here? Beyond high school, we should be grown up enough to communicate without resorting to tactics to exert control or get our way.

If someone shames you, have compassion for what they are feeling under their criticism and anger, but first have compassion for yourself. Set boundaries! Lovingly disengage and remove yourself from the situation until the person is willing to communicate with openness and respect.

And anytime you want to communicate a grievance to someone, remember to approach with more curiosity and less judgment.

Celebration, Discernment, Dreams, grounding, Journal, Life Coaching, Life Path, Love, Open, Personal Growth, Power Within, Relationship, Soul, Spirituality, Support, Uncategorized, Wisdom

Spiritual Dream Team

This week I invited the women who participate in my Whole Healthy Living online support group to harness the power and energy of the most amazing women they know, as a collective of psychic support for body, mind, soul.

We’ve been focusing on journaling for the past few weeks and I wanted to share an exercise I’ve found helpful that my therapist shared with me. This is imagining and connecting to a few people who have your back and bringing them into your life, energetically, when you need! To turn this into a deeper journal practice, I added some more content. Check it out!

Who are the women you would pick to be on your spiritual dream team?

mystical-woman-huebner-7

A brain trust is a group of advisers and experts. Say you could have a brain, heart, and soul trust for life…who would you choose to be there for you? Who do you want with you as you move through life’s celebrations and challenges…and why are they there?

They may be women whose wisdom or insight supports you or challenges you, women who inspire you for their enthusiasm or energy, women who live boldly, embodied…who have been loyal friends. Whatever the reason, make a list of 12-20 women who you choose to be on your dream team. They may be real or fictional, living or passed on. These are the women you want with you, by your side, energetically. Women you can call upon in need for their clarity, strength, softness, kindness, etc. You decide.

Now next to their names, list the 3-5 traits they have that made you put the on your team.

So your page should have 2 columns

Name                                                                  |                      Why I want them on my team

1.
2.
3. and so on…

When you’ve finished writing down the qualities of your dream team members, see if you notice the themes that make up your community. What does it take for someone to be worthy of your appreciation, respect, or admiration?

You can take it further by reflecting on some examples when you showed up with these same traits and realize how, for those same reasons, you might be on someone else’s dream team. Write some thoughts about how you’ve had some of those qualities you most admire. Celebrate you and your community.

Compassion, Freedom, Healing, Intention, Life Coaching, Love, Meditation, Mindfulness, Open, Relationship, Self-love, Spirituality, Suffering

Freedom from Wanting

Last week in gathering with spiritual friends–2 women with whom I’ve been meeting for 2 years to share in sacred circle (or triangle) about our relationship with meditation, self-awareness, and trans/personal growth–we sat together and followed a guided meditation practice by Sharon Salzberg.

Our group moves through inspirational books together, though our meetings are not strictly book discussions. We open up, reflect, and listen to one another as we grapple with how the questions, quests, and heart lessons in these works land in our everyday lives.

We recently started traveling through life with Salzberg’s book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, as our companion. We began our first evening together with this book by listening to a 15 minute lovingkindness practice available on Insight Timer.*

The practice is like most metta meditations: well-wishes and compassion sent first to self and then expanding outward to wider circles of people, creatures, beings–friends who are kind to us, strangers we feel neutral towards, people with whom we have conflict, broader communities of beings and the world of life.

peace

In this focused endeavor of sending love, health, and peace to self, friend, foe, familiar and unfamiliar souls, I noticed something happen. In only 15 minutes i felt a sense of fulfillment, ease, and warmth that had felt out of reach for me all week.  In my ruminating and longing, hours and days before,  in my busy and noisy mind, my worry about the future, desire for different outcomes or pushing away of sadness or loneliness, I’d created a lot of suffering–all rooted in wanting to be happy. And in the simple attention on happiness as it already exists in my own present moment–and sharing that with others–suddenly that suffering was gone. In wanting to be happy, I felt pain. In connecting to happiness and wishing it for others, I felt…happy. It is unbelievably simple. Maybe I can’t metta myself into happiness 24/7, but this provides a tool to heal ourselves and pull us out of thoughts that cause suffering when we are really feeling down or lost.

A simple mantra and a focused heart can cut through such hurtful thoughts about our shortcomings, our failures, our regrets, our fears about the future, and all that ails us in a culture in which shame, self-hate, and self-doubt are so common.

A lovingkindness meditation will be some variation of these metta phrases:

May I be free from harm. May I be happy. May I be healthy. My I feel peace.

May you be free from harm. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you feel peace.

May all beings be free from harm. May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings feel peace.

Starting by turning inward, then to specific persons we like and don’t like, and then global communities.

 

Another that I practiced this week:

this is a moment of suffering. suffering is a part of life and all beings suffer.

may i be kind to myself. may all beings feel peace.

Repeating for several minutes (when something is troubling you set a timer and keep cycling through)

it’s an antidote to the wanting and despair that so often fills our minds. may you feel peace!

*Insight Timer an app that is free to download with many excellent offerings and a handy dandy chime timer for meditation.
Compassion, Discernment, Emotions, Healing, Life Coaching, Mindfulness, Power Within, Radical Acceptance, Relationship, Self-love, travel

family first aid

 

don’t get tangled in your family’s tree. listen to this audio on ways to stay sane while visiting family.

some nuggets

1. bring something from your home that reminds you of who you are–whole, complete, adult, or find a meditation that connects you to your center that you can use as a go-to when feeling shaky

2. bring a distracting or comfort activity to soothe yourself and engage your senses (for me it was a mandala coloring book with colored pencils)

3. find a way to stay connected to your community and chosen family while far away from them, such as scheduling a check in phone call for support, bringing notes of encouragement from friends, photos

4. create space for yourself to have time on your own and set appropriate boundaries

5. accept that your family members are who they are and how they are…don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting them to show up differently

6. keep noticing that you are breathing deeply and taking care of your needs as best you can in the situation

any other ideas?