just enough

I've put a lot of miles on my car in the past month, many of them in the pre-dawn hours.  I arrange my schedule to avoid the morning rush hour, so depending on my destination I've been leaving home between 4 and 6 am. 

I'm normally an early riser, so I was already aware of the magic of the dawn.  First light is my favorite time of day.  What I didn't anticipate was the bliss of being the only car on the road in the wee hours.

Cruising along on a mountain pass under a blanket of stars one morning, I felt almost as if I was being carried in the hands of angels.  Everything I needed was given to me at exactly the right time. 

I love to listen to the radio, and when I got too far from my home stations and started scanning, I heard songs I love.  My feet were cozy in my sheepskin slippers, I was in total control of the temperature of my environment, and there were tasty snacks in a cooler right beside me. The road was smooth and quiet, the skies clear.  I even saw a shooting star.

And those road signs!

notes from inside a prison

I had the good fortune and privilege of spending a day inside the walls of a state prison this week. 

I was there to help several corrections officers learn Motivational Interviewing (MI), which is a style of interaction that has been proven to facilitate lasting change. It involves calling forth people's internal motivation to change rather than "scaring them straight."

MI techniques help us ask thought provoking questions and listen deeply to the response.  We learn how to effectively acknowledge our client's perspective, as well as their desire and ability to decide when, how, and what they want to change about themselves. We are curious about what is important to them -- why they want to change.  We help them figure out what's in the way of making those changes, and when they are ready, we support them in making concrete plans to overcome those obstacles.

notice the new

hi!  I haven't been posting lately because I'm involved in a super cool project that's been taking tons of my time.  I'm sure I've mentioned here before that I coach probation officers in Motivational Interviewing.  Well, for several years I've been doing that by phone, but I've recently started traveling to various locations around the state of Colorado to help train probation, parole, and corrections personnel so they can in turn help their peers to implement this evidence-based practice.  It's beyond exciting to be surfing the first wave of a significant systemic change, and I feel tremendous respect for the folks I'm coaching.

So anyway, although I'm short on time I am still chock-full of ideas, and my desk is littered with tiny scraps of paper where I've scribbled things I want to write about.  Unfortunately, if I don't post while the inspiration is fresh, I lose the thread and my notes don't make sense to me anymore.  So I thought I'd better make time right away to write about an idea I heard from Elma Mayer at the end of her monthly teleconference this morning.

attack and defense

It might be true that the best offense is a good defense in some sports, but when it comes to interpersonal interactions, I'm not so sure that's an effective strategy.

For a variety of reasons, sometimes people verbally attack each other.  It happens. It's a rare person who manages to avoid being blamed, accused, or called names at one time or another.  And when we feel unjustly accused, it's natural to want to defend ourselves.  The only problem is that more often than not, defending ourselves or proclaiming our innocence only escalates the conflict. 

For example, let's say you head to the grocery store.  You don't even notice that other car waiting there, so you pull right in to a parking space that just opened up, happy to have scored such a sweet spot.  As you innocently exit your car, you are immediately confronted by a redfaced, sputtering guy standing way too close to you and yelling way too loud. 

How would you react?  Depending on your temperament and the kind of day you are having, you may insist that you didn't even see him there, and that it wasn't your fault.  You may raise your own voice and tell him to back off.  Or you may become too frightened and flustered to utter a syllable.  

What you probably won't do, unless you've been trained in some type of conflict resolution, is say, "I can understand why you are angry.  If I thought someone stole my parking space, I'd be angry too." 

What upset people need most is not correction.  They need understanding.  And until they get it, they are not likely to be able to hear or accept your version of what happened.  Speaking rationally to an upset person is just like talking to the dog.  All they hear is blah blah blah. 

What turns their ability to listen back on again is acknowledgment: I hear you. I get it. I understand why you would feel that way

So the next time you are blamed or falsely accused, pause a moment before you set the story straight to acknowledge the feelings or needs of your accuser:  You were waiting for the space and I pulled into it.  It seemed like I intentionally took your spot.  I understand why you are upset. 

This kind of response can very quickly defuse aggression. Later, after they've cooled down a bit, would be a more effective time to ask if they are open to hearing your perception of what happened, or find out what it would take to make it right.  Sometimes those conversations aren't even necessary, because after they feel heard and acknowledged, they settle down and their perception clears without your input.    

time and tide

I was delighted to find one sentence in today's Daily Om that perfectly expressed what I'd been thinking about on my morning walk:  Since we regard success as an inevitable eventuality, we tend to view time as meaningless.

I'd been considering how many friends, clients, and family members I have seen go through very tough times and come out the other side stronger, wiser, and happier than before.  I've seen jobs lost and found, relationships ending and beginning, children arriving and departing, educations commenced and completed.  I've been privileged to witness many dreams come true, many goals achieved, and many fantasies become reality.  These things did not necessarily happen as quickly as people had hoped, but happen they did.

Lately I'm considering the possibility that a large percentage of human suffering stems from impatience.  In my case, I'm estimating about ninety percent!  I think sometimes when things don't happen instantly, or at least within a few days, some of us start to wonder what we are doing wrong.  Are we not energetically aligned with our desires?  Not thinking positively enough?  Not putting out enough effort?  What are we missing? 

I've sustained several injuries in the past few years that have taught me a lot about this process.  No matter what I did or didn't do, healing took its time.  Yes, I could create optimal conditions for healing to take place -- nutrition, rest, exercise, etc -- but I could not force healing to happen. 

At one point I just sort of gave up on it.  I thought back to previous physical issues from my past and realized that I no longer had any of them.  They just eventually went away.  Then I thought of the Taoist expression that no storm lasts forever.  And I decided to stop trying to heal; to just get on with my life and let it go, even if it meant the problem might be with me forever.  I figured I'd either adapt to having it and forget what it had been like not to have it, or it would go away on its own. 

Most recently, I did this with an arm injury.  I was pretty ticked off about the range of motion restriction I was experiencing.  I finally became aware that I was giving it way too much of my attention, so I decided to accept it 'as is' and let it be.  The other day I happened to notice that it had healed and I have full use of my arm again.  I have no idea when that occurred.

So I wonder how it would be to do that with everything --  to place my order, like when I call for a pizza to be delivered, and then get busy with other things while the Universe whips it up for me.  I've thought about this, and probably written about this, before. But now, just in the past few months, I think I've finally hit the tipping point -- seen it happen often enough to believe and trust that life really can work this way.

If I felt certain that things would work themselves out eventually, I'd be much less uptight about when, where, and how.  Time really could become meaningless.

and of course a song popped right into my mind to go along with the title of this post, right?  Time and Tide by Basia.  How great is that?

just the next step

I've had several juicy conversations this past week about a concept with many labels: dharma, life path, mission, and purpose to name a few.  As with my progression of concerns theory, I am beginning to suspect that the idea of having a mission in life may also be left by the wayside at a certain point. 

Here's the metaphor I've been using to explain how this feels to me these days.  Odds are I'm lifting this from one of the hundreds of books I've read over the past thirty years, so if you can identify the source, please let me know so I can give appropriate credit where it is due. 

You know how they give that little safety demo on the airplane -- life vests, oxygen masks, etc.?  They usually mention that tiny lights on the floor will illuminate the path to the exits. If the cabin were to be filled with smoke, those tiny lights might be the only navigational aids available.  And if it's REALLY smoky,  you might see only the light that is a few inches in front of you.  But when you reach that one, another would come into view.  And simply by moving ahead to the next light over and over again, you'd eventually arrive at an exit.

Sometimes -- heck, maybe even all the time, I don't know -- we can only see one step ahead.  One of our options lights up for us, and we may not understand why or where we will go from there.  I almost always know exactly what to do if I focus only on my next step:  return this call, register for that class, listen to this song, scramble these eggs, write these words.  Confusion only sets in when I look too far ahead, or try to figure out why I need to do this next thing, or wonder which direction the step after that will take me. 

Trying to look too far ahead can trigger anything from mild angst to paralysis.  But just taking one little step, well, that's usually pretty easy.  So when I feel confused or unclear about my next move,  I figure I might be trying to take too big of a leap. So I look closer to where I am right now for the next light.  And I always find it.   

I have no idea where I'm going in life.  I suppose, being a mortal, that I'm heading for an exit.  What happens before I get there remains to be seen. 

karen's progression of concerns

Now that I've been listening to people professionally for over a decade, a pattern seems to be emerging.  I'm working on a model of human development that I call a progression of concerns.  Like any model, it can never fully capture the essence of what it represents -- maps are not territories, and menus are not meals. But I'm amused by this at the moment, and having a good time listening for which question folks seem to be working on answering.

Am I safe?

Am I right?

Am I ahead?

Am I happy?

Am I kind?

Am I loving?

Am I at peace?

Am I authentic?

Am I?


My theory for now is that we start at birth with the first question, and move through the progression at our own pace, rather than at certain ages.  Not everyone goes all the way through -- many people will be content to remain at one of the levels for a lifetime.

Once each question is answered, the concept it represents seems to dissolve into the background, become irrelevant, or even disappear.  For example, a person working on authenticity may or may not retain the desire to be kind or peaceful. 

And I think perhaps at the level of I?, the concepts of happiness or kindness may cease to have any meaning.  Everything just is.

Or maybe it's not a progression at all, but more like a merry-go-round, with seats available at any of the concerns at any time.  Like I said, the model is a work in progress, and I'll probably add, subtract, and rearrange questions numerous times.  I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on it.

surprise me

Fellow control freaks will probably appreciate the magnitude of what I'm about to confess.  The rest of you might find it underwhelming and may want to skip this post:  More often than not, I no longer care to know how, when, or where things will come together in my life.   

I know ... shocking, right?  You guys know that I've invested quite a bit of time and energy trying to predict and manage my future; consulted various oracles -- tarot cards, psychic readers, books, runes, palms, dreams, signs, clouds, you name it.  I didn't think I could truly relax until I knew what was coming, so if I couldn't predict what would happen, I would simply try to muscle circumstances and events into the mold I'd created for them.  I would just make it go the way I wanted.

But lately, I'm getting bored with all that.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, manifesting schmanifesting.  It's fun for a while, but it's overrated.  Why limit the possibilities to what my little mind is capable of imagining?  I find it much more appealing to let Love lead me where it will. 

I remember the first time I came face-to-face with the realization that there was more to life than I could imagine or understand.  It was probably 15 years ago, (yes, I am a slow learner!) and I was planning my first solitary retreat - an overnight to the hot springs.  I was nervous because I'd never stayed in a hotel alone. So when I woke up to a snowstorm the morning I was supposed to leave, I was a little bit relieved to have a good excuse to cancel the trip. 

As I lay there in bed thinking, Oh well, I guess I won't go, a voice in my head said as clearly as if it was right next to me: You are going anyway.  It was a command, not a suggestion. It sounded like my own inner voice, but louder, stronger, and clearer than usual.  And I could not trace the thoughts that led up to that one like I normally can.  It stood solid and alone. 

I was too shocked to argue with it.  I went.  And that solitary retreat kicked off a period of profound personal and spiritual growth for me.

There have been many clues since then letting me know that there's more going on here than meets the eye.  I've written before about my theory that life is like an iceberg, and only the tip of it is accessible to my conscious mind.  Under the surface, invisible to my conscious perception, there are immense forces at work.  Navigating my life using only my conscious mind now seems as crazy to me as not doing it that way used to seem.

With each passing day, I am developing more trust in what is under the surface of my conscious awareness.  It feels benevolent.  It has taken me to fun and interesting places I never intended to go.  I'm becoming more and more inclined to release my hands from the steering wheel, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

How does this look from the outside?  Sort of like a shrug and a smile.

My car breaks down? Well, this will be interesting

My appointment doesn't show?  I wonder who else I will meet here instead. 

The deadline got moved up to tomorrow?  Guess I'll see how it feels to get less sleep than usual tonight. 

Get lost while traveling?  Seems I'm exploring a new neighborhood today. 

I suppose what it amounts to is simply accepting whatever happens as if it is a special gift, even if I didn't ask for or expect it.  I don't do this all the time yet - I still have plenty of moments of resistance.  But I can tell ya, it's a lot more fun to embrace the wild mystery than to try to tame it.  It's a lot more fun to wonder what will happen next than to insist upon forcing what I want to happen next.  I'm just sayin'.

 Incubus says it better:  Whatever tomorrow brings I'll be there with open arms and open eyes.


identifying hidden rules

oh my goodness, there are so many! 

Remember, one person's hidden rules are not right or wrong, or better or worse than another's. What matters is that they are unspoken, and trigger discomfort when they are violated, even unwittingly.  So making them more explicit might be helpful in situations where we must interact with folks who have different rules than we do. 

Perhaps simply understanding that hidden rules exist might disarm some of their triggering potential, and we may decide that when in Rome, we'll actively try to determine the hidden rules and do as the Romans do.

Here are some I've noticed in just the past day or so:

It's rude to interrupt.
Talking over me is the best way to let me know that you have something to say.

Don't ask directly for what you need, just hint at it and let me offer.
Ask me directly for what you need, don't make me guess!

It's no big deal to be 5 or 10 minutes late.
Being prompt is a sign of respect.

Don't start eating until everyone is seated at the table.
What are you waiting for?  Eat while it's hot!

When you make plans, you keep them no matter what.
All plans are tentative, and can be cancelled for any reason at any time.

Cancelled plans must be rescheduled immediately.
We'll figure it out as we go along.

Our conversations should be half about me and half about you.
Structured reciprocity feels too repressive.

If you cared, you'd ask me why I am upset.
If you cared, you'd give me my privacy when you see I am upset.

If you respect me, you'll do as I ask.
I'm so glad you respect me enough to say no to my requests.

I am helping you by pointing out the areas where you need improvement.
I will politely look the other way when I see you faltering.

If someone really wants to help you, they will insist after you politely decline their first offer.
No means no, and I won't ask again.

If you don't offer to serve me food and drink, you are not a gracious host.
Because we are so close, my house is your house, so please help yourself to anything. 

You should always knock or ring the bell, even if my door is open.
Why are you making me answer the door?  Just come on in!

Family should never have to stay in a hotel when they come to visit.
I want to stay in a hotel so my visit doesn't make extra work for you at home.

We split the check each time.
We take turns picking up the check.
We get separate checks because it's embarrassing to haggle over the money.
I am insulted when you offer to pay.  Don't you think I can afford to treat you?

And this list is just the tip of the iceberg.  I go back to my original assertion that it's nothing short of miraculous that we manage to get along as well as we do.

navigating the minefield of hidden rules

Last week I attended a Bridges Out of Poverty overview as part of my training for the Circles Campaign.  One of the concepts that has been percolating in my mind ever since is that of hidden rules -- the unspoken signals, applications of language, and behaviors that identify us as a member of a group. Since these rules are unwritten and unspoken, we usually learn them indirectly, by soaking them up from our families and environments while we are growing up.

Dr. Ruby Payne has extensively cataloged the hidden rules of class, and she contends that most of the institutions in our culture operate using middle class rules, including banks, schools, universities, corporations, and our government. 

Workshops like Bridges Out of Poverty and Getting Ahead teach these hidden rules, so that unintentional violations won't become an obstacle to building the relationships and connections that can lead to overcoming poverty.

Here's an example of one of the hidden rules Payne has identified:  the subject of jokes.  In poverty, much of the humor is about people and sex.  In the middle class, it's often situations that we find funny.  In wealth, stories about social faux pas are the most amusing.

So an image consultant might be able to help a man raised in poverty to blend in physically at a cocktail party/fundraiser, but if he tells a joke that makes fun of someone, eyebrows would probably be raised and he'd be outed as 'not one of us."

Likewise, a person raised in wealth who tells a joke about a mispronunciation at a gathering of folks raised in poverty might be met with dead silence.  It might seem obvious that we can change our clothes to avoid standing out in an unfamiliar group, but how many of us would also think to change our jokes?

Since the rules that identify us as in or out are undocumented, they are frightfully easy to violate, especially if we were not steeped in them as a kid.  I think of the rules as being like water might be to a fish - so omnipresent that they disappear into the background and are taken for granted.  We are far more likely to notice when they are violated than when they are followed.

We typically bristle when someone around us violates a hidden rule, and feel uncomfortable ... maybe even angry.  We often do not realize that a rule has been breached, and instead feel a vague sense of  I don't know why, but that person just rubs me the wrong way. And because of this, people who may be intelligent, well educated, and very competent might not be offered opportunities for networking or advancement because other people feel uncomfortable around them. 

So now that the concept of hidden rules has been scanned into my awareness, I am noticing them everywhere.  Here are a few I've noticed in my circle of closest friends:

 ~ Almost every request is prefaced by What do you think about _____ or Would it work for you to_____ or Would you be willing to _____ ?

It might sound like this:  My car is ready to be picked up ... would you be willing to take me into town if you are going that way sometime today?  We would not say Hey, gimme a ride, or I need you to take me to get my car. 

~  Help is always acknowledged with a hearty thank you.  It's never assumed that we owe each other anything.  We don't keep track of favors or keep score.  We don't expect anyone to make sacrifices in order to help us, and it's understood that each of us will prioritize taking care of ourselves and our families first. 

 ~ When someone refuses a request or cancels plans, we don't ask why.  It's just understood that she has a valid reason, and if she wanted to tell us about it, she would have.  Asking why would feel rude and intrusive, as if we were demanding an explanation or justification. 

I was only able to identify these rules recently because I felt uncomfortable when I came in contact with a person who violated them.  Without the hidden rule concept, I probably would have been inclined to limit my future contact with that person, and might have said something like I just don't feel a resonance there

But now, if someone asks me Why, I have some different options available.  I may decide to unpack my hidden rules, sort through them, and see how important they really are to me.  Maybe if I understand that the question was not meant to assess the validity of my refusal, I might decide that it's no big deal for me to talk about my reasons. 

Or maybe it IS a big deal, and I don't want to talk about it.  In which case I might decide to bring the hidden rule into the light by saying something like, "I notice I am feeling a little uncomfortable talking about that, and would love it if we could just leave it at No, thanks. Would that be okay with you?"

There are surely lots of other effective ways to handle this, and since I'm new to it, I'd love to hear what has worked well for you in these kinds of situations.  Please feel free to post a comment below.

When I walked out of the Bridges class, I was in awe that we ever manage to successfully communicate with each other.  No wonder marriages and business negotiations and international relations are often so challenging!  There are so many obstacles to understanding each other; so many innocent assumptions that can severely incapacitate the best of intentions and place great strain on our feelings of goodwill toward each other.  It feels like nothing less than a miracle that we manage to get along as well as we do. 

Maybe that's a powerful testimony to the human spirit and its ability to love and forgive ...

more thoughts on minimizing defensiveness

Many mental health models attribute defensiveness or reactivity to a character flaw in the client.  Motivational Interviewing takes a different perspective by viewing defensiveness as a natural byproduct of certain kinds of interactions initiated by the counselor.

To translate that to real life relationships:  If the person I am talking to becomes defensive, it's usually a signal that I overstepped my boundaries in some way, and I need to back off.  Most of the time their reaction does not mean they are touchy or too sensitive or can't handle the truth. There are exceptions, of course, and some people are much more tuned in to this type of violation than others.

Most often, defensiveness arises because we have been disrespectful by implying that we know what someone else should do.  This can be very subtle - it may feel to us like we are just being helpful or offering a solution the other party may not have considered.  We may even feel really good about being able to offer our insight in hopes that it will solve their problem.  Nevertheless, if we dispense even well intentioned suggestions or advice without first asking if the other person is interested in our opinion, we risk triggering resistance.  

Implications that the other party screwed up, is about to screw up, or is otherwise less than capable are other common defensiveness triggers.  Interrupting, talking over someone, telling them they are in denial or not seeing clearly, or jumping to inaccurate conclusions are also likely to set it off.  Most people simply do not like being told what to do, or that they are wrong.

Of course, being abundantly human, we will all trip into this territory at times.  So it can be helpful to know how to back up, repair the damage to the relationship, and restore harmony.  Here's one way:

If I notice a friend becoming defensive, I can pause, take a breath, and look into his or her eyes. I can say, "Uh oh, I think I might have stepped out of line there.  I'm sorry -- does it feel like I am telling you what to do or saying you are wrong?" 

Then I can listen to the response, and reflect it:  "So when I suggested craigslist, it sounded like I thought you needed my help finding work.  Of course you can handle your own job search!  I'm sorry about that.  Please go on. I will focus more on my listening."

What's amazing is that even people we thought were impossible to deal with usually respond very well to this approach.  Most folks really appreciate having their autonomy respected, and will readily forgive us when we take responsibility for our transgressions.  This dance is not always an easy one, but it seems worth it to me...   

fight club

For the past four days now, a robin has been attacking my living room window. He sits on a branch in the pine tree two feet from the glass, puffs his chest up, zooms right at the window, hits it, and flies back to the branch, only to repeat this cycle approximately 4 seconds later.  His persistence is stunning. 

I told a friend about this, and he suggested the robin might be either fighting or trying to mate with his own reflection.  So I tried closing the curtain, turning on a light inside, and taping a piece of paper on the window.  But he didn't stop.  He starts at first light, and does not leave until dark.  I don't know when he eats.  He's really working overtime on this project.

On the first day, I was concerned that he was going to knock himself out and die, and that's when I tried all those tricks.  On the second day, I sat down to watch closely, and noticed that he wasn't hitting the window with his body, just his feet.  So I'm leaning toward the fighting hypothesis rather than the mating one, unless robins have something in their claws I don't know about. 

The day two thud wasn't quite as loud as day one, so the force of his impact had lessened.  And since he was still coming back for more within 4 seconds, I decided to just leave him alone.  Who am I to interfere with the free will of a determined avian warrior?  I started developing a grudging respect for his feisty determination. 

On the third morning, when he started again at 5:30 am, my daughter asked if we knew anyone with a BB gun.  I laughed, but started scanning my mental list of contacts. 

This morning, I had a revelation.  I sat there watching him during breakfast, and realized that he was teaching me something important about projection and aggression.  The more he felt threatened by that bird he thought was his enemy, the more aggressive his body language became.  And of course, the bird in the window immediately reciprocated.  And since neither one of them were backing down, an attack became inevitable.

Which made me wonder - where in my life could I also be perceiving aggression which is actually only a reflection of my own fear?  Hmmm.

So I thanked my messenger, and taped up a much bigger piece of paper on the window, trying to place it exactly where it would disrupt the reflection from his favorite perch.  He hit it one more time (habits die hard), then hopped around a bit looking for his enemy.  And not finding him, he unfluffed his chest, and flew away.  I haven't heard him since. 

oops, I spoke too soon!  just as I typed that sentence, I heard him again.  He found another branch with a view.  I'll tape up some more paper.  I spose one way or another, he'll eventually get tired of this or something will distract him.  Hey, does anyone know a pretty female robin seeking an alpha male for a mate?

a quick thought about minimizing defensiveness

I think I've mentioned before that I coach probation officers in a technique called Motivational Interviewing.  It's a set of communication skills that helps to minimize defensive reactions in clients, and assists them in resolving the ambivalent feelings that keep them from making the lifestyle changes they want to make.  I've recently noticed some areas of my life where I'd like to implement these skills more consistently, so these are sort of my notes to myself.   

The backbone of Motivational Interviewing is reflections.  A reflection is a statement that conveys to the speaker what the listener heard and understood of their message.  For example, if someone says, "How can they expect me to stop drinking when all my best friends meet at the bar every night after work?"  I might reflect, "So you are wondering how you could possibly give up something that's been such an important part of your social life so far." 

I offer reflections in my professional relationships every day.  And I'm not so hot at it in my personal relationships.  I seem to take for granted that there's a core of accurate understanding between us, so I jump right into my response without letting the other person know my understanding of what I am responding to. 

It's not that reflections need to happen constantly.  I don't need to respond to a comment that a hamburger sounds tasty right now by reflecting, "So you are feeling hungry and a hamburger would satisfy that."

But when we are discussing emotional issues, and I sense closure or defensiveness arising, it is probably going to facilitate a more open and productive conversation if I remember to wait to share my response until I've clarified the other person's message, and we are both sure that I've understood what they want me to understand.

protesters may serve a different purpose than they intend

I had the good fortune to be on the campus of Boulder High School today as they were preparing to greet some extremists who travel the country picketing places they think need to be further educated about God's real will, which they apparently seem to believe does not include unconditional love or acceptance of homosexuality.   

The response of the Boulder High student body, known locally to be a diverse, tolerant, and liberal bunch, was very heartening.  The sidewalks around the school were chalked with colorful images and messages of love and inclusion. They were throwing a pizza party in celebration of unity.  There were handlettered signs and banners expressing kindness to all sexual orientations, religions, and belief systems.  Youthful exuberance overflowed into rainbows, hearts, flowers, peace signs, and a sea of tie-dyed tshirts.  It was quite a beautiful sight. 

I found myself silently thanking the traveling rabble rousers, wondering if they are aware of the blessings they are leaving in their wake -- people coming together in great numbers, unified in their intention to express love and support for those who have been targeted.  I found the whole thing so ironic that I couldn't stop smiling. 


judgment squared

today's abraham quote rang clear as a bell to me:

....the reason you feel bad [when others judge you] is because you are judging them about their judging.  - Abraham-Hicks
Although many of us think we feel bad because we don't like to be judged, the truth is that our suffering is actually self-induced.  When we condemn others for judging us, we disconnect from the flow of love in our own hearts. 
Since loving is the most natural state for us, we have to actively close off in order to condemn someone -- it takes effort.  When we withhold love and acceptance from someone else to punish them for judging us, we are sort of like toddlers holding our own breath to make a point.  Which is cute, but also kind of silly.
There is another way to respond that feels much better.  Love them anyway.  Let them have their opinions of you.  Keep your distance if you'd like.  But don't shut down your heart.  Send them a blessing, which they desperately need because it hurts to be judgmental, and then shift your focus onto something or someone that you can actively love.   

looking and listening

there is something beautiful in everything and everyone.  look for it, and you'll find it.  this practice is transforming my vision and my world. 

not only is there something beautiful in everything, there is also a song. 

seeking the beauty and listening for the song slows my pace down considerably, so I'm only doing it for a few minutes a day so far.  but I can already feel the desire to spend more time in this perceptual mode growing within me.  it's a very profound way to interact with my surroundings. 

turns out there have been blessings all around me all this time.  I just stopped noticing them.  They became part of the background, and I took them for granted.   

at the risk of sounding quite kooky ... those songs I hear in everything?  they're all love songs ...

letting it be

In my perpetual search to find remedies for my own "suffering", which I put in quotes because I feel like a whiner given that my issues are relatively minor -- aches and pains, eyestrain, obsessive thinking, financial concerns -- I've come up with yet another experiment.  Or I should say it came to me on my morning walk.

When and if I notice I am trying to wish something away (which can take quite a while to come to my conscious attention), instead of springing into immediate action and googling for solutions or natural remedies, here's what I'm gonna try:

Fully accept that the issue is happening. 
My head aches. 
My vision is blurry. 
I am worrying about the future. 

Remind myself that
Even though this issue is happening, I want to love and accept myself anyway.

Take my awareness right into the issue, instead of trying to distract myself or escape from it. Feel the ache in my head, or fully experience the blurry image without trying to change it in any way.

Shift my attention to the edges of the issue.  Notice how it interfaces with the rest of me.  Is there space, light, or relaxation around the borders of it? 

With my attention on its boundaries, allowing it to exist exactly as it is, see if anything wants to shift or release.  Play with it a little. Gently invite it to move if it wants ... maybe it can expand a little bit, or diffuse itself into that extra space.  Maybe its edges can soften to let the space, light, or relaxation permeate it a bit.

If it doesn't want to move, let it be.  In fact, I think I'll actually sing Let It Be to the issue.  And I'll try to treat it nicely, like a guest.  These things never stay forever anyway.  Besides, those well-researched 'remedies' I come up with often end up creating additional problems for me.  Might be worth just waiting until the issue shifts by itself rather than trying to hurry it along. 

my trip to the museum

My daughter and I spent the day at the Museum of Nature and Science yesterday. I have trouble conceptualizing time and space, and really big amounts of either usually just send my brain into tilt. So I was happy that the museum exhibits did a nice job of breaking things down to my level of understanding.

For example, I learned that scientists estimate the age of the earth at 4.5 billion years, and that if I started right this minute counting to one billion, it would take me 32 years to get there. So for all practical intents and purposes, I think it's fair to say the earth is REALLY OLD.

I also learned that 99% of all species that have ever existed on this planet are extinct. Ninety nine percent!! And the average temperature has vacillated between great extremes of heat and cold over the earth's lifespan. Apparently extinction and global climate change were occurring long before humanity hit the scene.

Suddenly it seemed sort of quaint and amusing to me that humans, who are basically a microscopic blip on the timeline of our planet, are trying so diligently to prevent global warming and preserve endangered species.

Not that there's anything wrong with trying, if that's what floats your boat! But it seems like it may amount to nothing more (or less!) than building castles in the sand. If you happen to love building castles, or environmental activism, then by all means, go for it with gusto. But do it for the joy of the process, not the outcome. Because the outcome is in the hands of forces far beyond our control.

In the car on the way home, I told my daughter how I used to be quite the Earth Mama. I was big into recycling, saving the environment, stopping war, ethical veganism, yadda yadda yadda. And I told her how sure I had been that people who weren't being 'good stewards of the earth like me' were wrong.

As I spoke, I realized how little of my activism back then came from a place of joy or peace. It mostly came from a place of feeling fearful about the future, and wanting desperately to avoid the destruction of things I held dear. She said, "Gosh mom, you are such a different person now! I'm sure glad you got over that, or I might have followed right in your footsteps!"

I'm glad I got over it, too. And embarrassed about the judgment and arrogance I carried for so many years. *Sigh* I guess we all have our learning curves!

These days, I try to navigate using joy as my North Star, rather than targeting my actions toward preventing catastrophic outcomes from happening. Although I still slip back into prevention mode at times, I've definitely relaxed a lot.

I'm in no way implying that all environmentalists or activists come from a place of fear! I have no doubt that it's possible to be an activist simply because you just love the experience of doing so. But that wasn't the reason I was doing it. And so, many of my ideal-based goals and actions have faded away.

I still recycle and carry cloth shopping bags, but not because I think I'll save the earth by doing so. It just feels good to me to do these things for now. And I no longer try to convince anyone else that they should recycle or conserve, because that kind of interaction is simply not fun for me.

In the big scheme of things, nothing lasts. Everything is only temporary. Genghis Khan's empire crumbled, and even the most carefully preserved mummies eventually decayed. But rather than depressing me, my trip to the museum only increased my motivation to deliberately choose what I want to experience in each moment.

Because when it comes right down to it, history seems to confirm that every creation will eventually be destroyed. So there doesn't seem to be any redeeming justification for suffering in order to create what amounts to a sandcastle.

Mining all the joy I can from each moment is the only thing that seems practical. I happen to love creating some sandcastles, even though I know they will not last. To me, it's fun to write these posts, raise my kids, and bake cookies. So as long as it continues to be fun, I'll keep building. And when the waves level my creations, I'll just start making new ones.

stacking the deck for compatibility

Here's the post I mentioned about William Glasser's book, Staying Together. It seems to be out of print, but from what I can gather, it's been updated and morphed into sort of a newer edition, called Getting Together and Staying Together: Solving the Mystery of Marriage. As always, this post is about my interpretation of his work, so please read his book for a completely accurate representation of his theories.

William Glasser is the founder of Control Theory, sometimes called Choice Theory, which suggests that we really only have control over ourselves and no one else. So if we think changes need to be made in a relationship, we are the one who is responsible for making them. He suggests that all human behavior is an attempt to satisfy these five basic needs: survival, love, power, freedom, and fun.

My colleague and I created our own parenting model, Inspiring Connections, which parallels his theory in a way that is sort of spooky. We also identified what we call Five Core Needs: Autonomy, Basic Survival, Connection, Contribution, and Creativity. In our workshops, we teach parents how to help their children learn constructive and socially appropriate strategies for meeting these needs. So his theory makes a lot of sense to me.

What I learned from Glasser is that this model can provide significant insight into relationship dynamics when we realize that each of us prioritize these needs differently. He suggests rating the importance of each need for each person on a scale of 1-5, and then comparing them to determine whether a partnership seems to have genuine long term potential.

It was pretty enlightening for me to map out my priorities and compare them with my best estimate of the priorities of my past relationship partners. I could see pretty clearly what I had missed while I was blinded by love -- that some priorities are inherently more compatible than others. Although there are always exceptions, in most cases love is simply not enough to overcome deeply mismatched need priorities.

For example, I have a very high survival need, so I won't be a good match for someone who doesn't. I'm just not a big physical risk taker. Odds are I would be constantly freaked out and scared by driving fast, high risk sports, or traveling through a foreign country without reservations. I would feel destabilized in those situations, whereas a man who enjoys that kind of adventure and ranks fun as a higher priority than survival would probably feel stifled by my need for security. And indeed, that is exactly what happened in one of my past relationships.

Other examples:

- Someone who doesn't need a lot of love and affection is likely to feel smothered by a partner who is physically expressive and prefers a lot of contact and communication.

- Two people who prioritize freedom fairly equally can be a good match, whereas a major difference in this area can lead to a pursuer/distancer dynamic that is painful and frustrating.

- A high need for power and a low need for power can work well together. Put two equally high needs for power in a relationship, and things can turn ugly very quickly.

As I mapped out my own priorities, it became very obvious what priorities would be most compatible in a mate. Now my next challenge will be to remind myself to investigate this issue before I get too deeply involved with anyone.

I'd like to think that I've experienced enough painful mismatches to have gathered the motivation to do my homework first. Only time will tell ...

more books

my library card hasn't gotten much time to cool down between uses ...

Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart I'm typically a fan of John Welwood's work, so it's no surprise that this book is currently chock full of post-it arrows pointing to quotes I wanted to remember. Like this one:

Our birthright as human beings is to have direct access to perfect love, and our privilege is to serve as a channel through which it flows. Realizing this, we can see the folly of trying to earn love through efforts, looks, or achievements. We might be able to win approval, praise, or rewards by these means, but not the love that embraces us as we are, the love that sets us free, the love that lights up this world. Rather than trying to win love, we need to fully let it enter into us.
His explanation about how past experience can color present relationships is among the clearest I've ever read, and his exercise for feeling love fully is very profound. This book gets my highest recommendation.

I had to post this cover. Look at that man! Isn't he incredible? My heart just bubbles over with joy when I see his face. This book presents the most grounded and accessible treatment of Buddhism I've ever read, and believe me, I've read a lot of 'em. The author suffered from severe anxiety as a kid, and grew up to be this endearing, transparent, authentically real guy who also happens to be a monk. He knows what we normal people are going through, and he gently shines his light on the tunnel that leads to a more peaceful mind. It's quite a lovely read.

Miracles of Mind: Exploring Nonlocal Consciousness and Spritual Healing (that typo in the title came from amazon, not me. just so you know.) Remote viewing, psi experiments, nonlocality, healing touch -- can't go wrong with a list of topics like that!

A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives You can tell I'm in a 'brain' phase ... listen to these chapter titles: The Vain Brain, The Emotional Brain, The Immoral Brain, The Deluded Brain, The Pigheaded Brain, The Secretive Brain, The Weak-Willed Brain, The Bigoted Brain, The Vulnerable Brain. Too good to pass up! And a little scary. Seems I can't trust that wrinkly little gray matter nearly as much as it wants me to ...

Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict I think I mentioned this already. I'm cogitating a whole separate post about this one. It also earned my highest recommendation.

Getting Together and Staying Together: Solving the Mystery of Marriage The library had an older edition of this called simply Staying Together. William Glasser, the father of Control Theory (which says we cannot control others, but only ourselves) shares some very solid insights into temperament and compatibility. When I mapped out my previous relationships using his system, I was rather stunned at how obvious it all suddenly appeared. There will be another post about this, too. Five stars.

Don't you just love the cover of this book? I found it a bit too wordy for my taste, but I loved his assertion that the polarization of right and wrong underlies many if not all of our societal and relationship concerns, and that a paradigm which includes room for creative and constructive energy would serve us much better.

another cover I had to include a picture of. I'm new to Sedaris. I actually laughed right out loud as I was sitting there alone reading this book. When I take this one back today, I'm heading straight to his shelf for more. Absolutely hilarious. I aspire.

Dump 'Em: How to Break Up with Anyone from Your Best Friend to Your Hairdresser Honestly, can you believe this title in light of my post about my awful haircut? How could I not check this out? It turned out to be full of scripts for getting rid of anyone without burning bridges. I was pretty impressed. Even learned some stuff. I'm feeling all verbally empowered now.

urgency schmurgency

I love that whenever I talk to clients or friends, I always end up saying what I myself most need to hear:

The part of you that is calling for a BIG decision, whether it be about career, relationship, housing, or whatever, is the Mind, not the Heart.

It is the mind that creates urgency and desperation. It truly believes it cannot go one minute longer without a resolution. It hates ambiguity. Its job is to push for an action, a solution. It tells you to Just DO something about this! Anything! RIGHT NOW! because it doesn't think you can handle the pain of uncertainty.

The heart doesn't ask for big decisions or big declarations. It just rests quietly in loving stillness, taking each moment as it comes. It does not fear the future. It is okay with uncertainty, mystery, and unresolved situations. It knows that solutions and futures, like blooming flowers, usually unfurl themselves without assistance when the time is right.

So despite what the mind is saying, you don't need to force yourself to decide or act. You can wait, listen, watch for opportunities. Open to what is around you right now. Take note of what brings you joy, and look for small ways to increase that. Huge leaps of faith are rarely necessary. You can almost always get where you want to go in baby steps.

Don't let your mind terrorize you with its demands that you act or decide. It's actually just like the Wizard of Oz. Pull back the curtain and you'll see.

The mind is really just a tiny little part of you; so desperate to be important that it goes to great lengths to appear big and powerful. Which is very cute. But the heart, well, the heart is huge. Bottomless. Infinitely more trustable than that capricious little mind. Its grounded and loving guidance is always worth waiting for.

Nine times out of ten, when you think you simply must make a decision, you actually don't have to. It's a rare situation when you can't afford to get out of your mind for a while, even if only for one full breath. Let the panic and should-ing subside a bit. Settle into your heart, and see what you find there.