As a white person who does hope this is a tipping point for racial justice for our country, I am determined to stay involved and active. I want to learn and study and grow. That said, it is easy to feel overwhelmed at everything we don’t know or should do. Overwhelm isn't a bad thing, it can mean we are pushing our boundaries and are outside of our comfort zone, but if that overwhelm encourages us to give up, then it's not useful. We have to listen , read, and watch uncomfortable stories and conversations to be able to understand the suffering of others and to change it.
I’ve recorded this short reflective meditation to support anyone who is actively involved and wants to stay there. Whether it be with racial justice, environmental protection, support of healthcare and other essential workers during this pandemic, large organizational change, or whatever cause is near and dear to your heart. Instead of letting it overwhelm us, let’s stay strong and keep fighting.
How do we hold the energy for grief and action, while at the same time not shutting out the curiosity, joy, and connection that feed and refuel us?
I believe, one way is to purposely, regularly check-in. This is a brief, 5 1/2 min, meditation that I hope will act as a tool to support us in doing just this! It will support us in maintaining some connection to the grounding aspects of our life, while at the same time developing active involvement in societal and organizational change.
Ok, all you non-skiers out there, bear with me. I promise there is a Mindfulness related point!
Last week, I heard someone talking to a recent addition to our community. Referring to our ski hill, they said, “well you know, we have all conditions.” The reference being that skiing isn’t always rosy and perfect on our hill. It’s not all sunny blue skies, with endless ‘corduroy’ groomed runs, and feet of fluffy snow in the trees and bowls. My initial reaction was to be protective of our hill, which I love to ski. And then I laughed at the very absurdity of pointing out that we have all conditions. Of course we do! Even the large hills in Colorado and Utah have all conditions. When we used to live in SW Wyoming and ski Utah, they had good years and bad years. It’s the way of the weather cycles. On every hill there are days where one is thinking, “Best day ever!”. And, on every hill there are the days where the snow is hard and wind-blown, or icy, or mixed with dirt and rocks, or just full of thick snow that tweaks the joints with every turn.
Why am I making this point? Because when we think about what “all conditions” means, it makes sense that all hills have all conditions, depending on the year and the weather. Last year in Montana, we had above average snow pack the whole winter. Amazing skiing! But, very few blue-sky days – makes sense as snow comes with clouds! Other years we’ve had a lot of blue-sky days but average skiing, not as much snowfall. Or, some years are warmer than others and the skiing is hard and crusty all season. We don’t get to find and live near that one perfect hill that is always going to be good skiing and blue sky, no matter what is going on in the world around it that utopia doesn’t exist.
We can use this same analogy to make sense of the mind! Every mind experiences “all conditions”. Depending on our body, our surroundings, the world around us and a million other factors, we may be experiencing joy, calm, frustration, anger, sadness, happiness, distraction, focus, peace, confidence, fear, confusion, exhaustion, ease, disconnection, and so much more. Sometimes many of these conditions all happen in one day, and, there may be seasons where one of these conditions is the primary condition. Perhaps the political climate has us living with an underlying sense of fear for a while; or maybe, a tragedy happened to you personally and for awhile sadness is the main emotion flowing in and out; or for awhile life is good, work is good, there’s lots of blue sky and ease flows through each day. And yes, some people due to chemical imbalances, health struggles, etc. may lean more toward one ‘mind condition’ for periods of time, or even overall; but, every mind can, and will at some time, experience all conditions.
Just as people who may have spent their life here in Missoula think the skiing is always better elsewhere, it’s easy for us to look around at our friends and our social media pages and think, but that person is always happy, or confident, or content, why can’t I be like that? But we aren’t alone. Everyone in their individual way, experiences periods of worry or dissatisfaction. Most just don’t post about it on Facebook. Our challenge is to be here for all conditions, not wishing we had some other body, mind, or life that would be different. On the ski hill, I try to be with the blue-sky groomer days as much as the cloudy, can’t see days without desiring a different type of day. It’s important to note that hard ski conditions are easier to handle than a difficult mind, but that’s my practice.
Off the hill, can I notice when I’m distracted and unfocused, without taking it personally, just notice and move forward thru my day with that piece of information? Can I notice, “Ah, this is fear? This tightness in the chest, this furrow in my brow, this desire to hide under the blankets; this is what fear feels like. Interesting.” In the next hour when I have coffee with a friend, can I notice, “This is connection. This warmth and openness in the chest, this lightness in my face; this is what connection feels like.” Just like that old saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change.” Allowing myself to notice when the conditions in my mind change and trusting they will change, often, throughout each day – this is my practice. Mind conditions may not fully change, for example: from doubt to confidence forever, but the clouds may lighten and the sun shine thru for just a few moments. Those few moments are worth noticing, so we can begin to see that yes, things will change. We can begin to look around and notice we aren’t alone. All minds experience all conditions.
We’ve all had those mornings, shutting off the alarm was hard, time flew by, we are grabbing things as we head out the door without a coat buttoned up and then we spill our coffee, and we are thinking: “It’s going to be a bad day.” or “Really, what else could go wrong!” or “What next?!” And what happens after that? Well, most of the time the day does continue in that direction. But, is it because the day is preset to be bad, or because we’ve already set that expectation in our head and our actions are, unfortunately, creating havoc. We may be moving fast without thinking, without being in the present moment. We are probably thinking about the meeting we are late for, or how this always happens, instead of consciously choosing where we set the coffee down or thinking about how we are driving.
Can we avoid those moments altogether? Well, probably not. The good news is we can definitely minimize these moments by staying in the present moment; planning ahead for our busy times; and developing practices that help our mind pause before it reacts, practices such as Mindfulness, Tai Chi, QiGong, and gratitude. The other news – we are still human and we are surrounded by other humans, and pets, that we can’t always control. Sometimes moments aren’t going to go as planned. Following are three tips for dealing with those moments when all you can think is “Why me?” or “Why now?”.
Breathe. Does every Mindfulness practice need to start with this? Yes. I’m pretty sure that’s the rule. I could say pause or slow down, but many people have been trained to believe that action is good. Therefore, they have an immediate negative reaction to being told they should slow down or pause or hesitate. Breathing is a way of coming back to the present moment and still taking action. Connecting with your breath at any moment is a courageous thing to do, because your breath is going to bring you back to the present moment and connect you to it. Truth be told, we often like to avoid many moments, pretend they don’t exist, hope they go away. Therefore, to always come back to the moment, with curiosity and an intention of learning from that moment is brave. So, when you realize you are in a crazy moment, the first thing to do is bring all of your attention to your breath and follow the flow of breath in and out of the body at least once, maybe 3 times, or until you feel like your head is no longer going to explode.
If you find the breath stressful, which is naturally true for a percentage of the population due to health issues or past trauma, please feel free to come back to the feeling of your feet on the floor or the weight and sensation of your hands instead. You can use breath, feet, or hands as your present moment focus.
Question Your Thoughts. If you are anything like me your mind is quickly searching for someone/something to blame for this moment. If only that person in front of me wasn’t driving slow, I would be on time. It’s my husband’s fault, he distracted me this morning and then I forgot …. Darn dogs… kids… they never listen. That person knows I had a meeting; they really had to stop by my office right then? Coffee was too hot. Food took too long to prepare. The person at the coffee shop was slow. You know the drill. The key here, after using your breath to back off the ledge, is to find a little clarity, and maybe some humor, in your thoughts. Ask yourself questions. “Is what I’m thinking true?” Usually we are trying to blame someone because then it isn’t our fault, but does it have to be anyone’s fault? The morning was a little crazy, that customer needed an answer, your child fell – it just happened. Ask yourself, “What just happened?” And without blaming or judgment, “What is my next step or action?” This gives us a chance to pause and choose our next response or action.
Remember, you are not alone. We are all human. I know I keep repeating this, but I’ve had those moments where I forget and think I’m some perfect being that can control myself and everything else around me, so I’m hoping others have those moments also. Even someone who lives alone in a cabin in the woods, probably has unexpected things happen to them. Seeing our moments as part of a larger human experience helps us realize that life is imperfect and we are not alone. And, if we are lucky, it helps us find some humor in the situation. Sometimes I find myself rushing and then I stop and remind myself, with some kind humor, “You know Christine, just like everyone else the rules of time apply to you. Given that, what can you realistically do before you need to leave the house?”
When we are in the mindset of this is all happening “to me”, it is much easier to get angry or frustrated. If, we can remember we have some control over how we choose to move forward, we aren’t alone, and time applies to everyone, it makes it easier to laugh a little at the spilled coffee or slow person, actually going the speed limit, in front of us and back down out of the stress of the moment.
Neff, Kristin. Embracing Our Common Humanity with Self-Compassion. http://self-compassion.org/embracing-our-common-humanity-with-self-compassion/
Seppala, Emma. (February 7, 2014) Benefits of Breathing The Scientific Benefits of Breathing Infographic. https://emmaseppala.com/benefits-breathing-scientific-benefits-breathing-infographic/
Today I asked my boss if I could take a sun day for gardening. In winter we take powder days for skiing, seems only logical! My boss thought that was a good idea. My boss isn’t perfect, she’s overly judgmental of herself and good at “shoulding(1)” herself; she always tries to do more than is realistically possible; and isn’t great at having the hard conversations that affect her, even though she can listen to others hard conversations all day! But, I like her. She works hard, always working on improving her abilities and she really cares about me and others.
[Just in case anyone doesn’t know – my boss is me.]
Today, as I was gardening, and actively working on letting go of the guilt of not sitting at my desk, I flashed back to a turning point in my life, a conversation I’ll always remember. One day when I was running a Distance Education department at a community college and getting my PhD, I sat down to tell my boss that I had to finish writing this dissertation and I wouldn’t be staying past 5 PM until I had finished, I had to make it a priority. I assured him I’d still get my work done. I remember clearly the look he gave me filled with kindness and caring, and there was no irony in his voice as he quietly said to me, “I never asked you to stay past 5PM Christine.” I just took that in. My husband used to always joke that I expected more of myself than anyone else could possibly expect of me, but this quiet comment from the best mentor and boss I’d ever had struck deep.
This memory made me think about the knowledge I’ve gained about Mindfulness of thought and mind. There’s a reason I call my mind a trouble maker. It doesn’t often seem to be on my side, although I know it’s just trying to watch out for me and make sure I don’t forget anything. And this memory has me contemplating who my boss is these days? Do I: A) Let my mind run things without paying much attention to it; or B) Does someone else make my decisions for me; or C) Do I mindfully act and react to each moment thoughtfully? To be honest, some combination of A and C, but there is more C than there used to be!
These thoughts make me wonder how many of you are in that same boat that I was, creating habits of judging and “shoulding” yourself? I hope not many. I’d love to be the only one! Do you expect more of yourself than you expect of others? Is your mind always busy reminding you what you “should” be doing or what you aren’t doing well enough?
Does anyone really care if I choose to pull weeds all day in the sun when I don’t have meetings today and I’m not missing anything? No, and yet there’s guilt to work through, to acknowledge. In Mindfulness we just keep trying to be aware and curious about each moment. Paying attention to our mind, and noticing without judgment, what the mind is doing. After spending so much of my life creating these patterns, I don’t expect them to magically disappear, but it’s nice to recognize them sooner rather than later, to laugh at myself or at the least give myself that little internal smile, and follow the exhale, letting go of the tension and returning my attention to whatever I’m choosing to do in that moment. And, sometimes I have to return and do that over and over again, before it takes hold, but it’s better than beating myself up for a whole day and not even realizing I’m doing it!
I invite you to think about this. What are the areas of your life where you forget to notice the joy, or where you forget to realize the next moment is your decision? Are you pushing harder and faster for yourself, or someone else, without taking in your accomplishments and the days around you? Of course I know that many really do have a boss, but taking this thought in, is your own internal boss harder on you than your work boss ever could be?
I invite you to continuously ask yourself, “What’s happening now?” My answer this morning, “Ah, judging myself instead of finding joy in this miraculous, sunny day without trainings or meetings. Good to know!”
(1) – Definition: Shoulding, (verb) To continuously tell yourself that you should be doing something else, something more.
Holiday.... just the word conjures up a picture of twinkly lights, joy, gratefulness, and sweets. Or that’s what the media tells us anyway. The reality is the holidays are a very hard time for people. There are the people who feel alone the rest of the year and the realization that they don’t have the friends or family they desire around them, for whatever reason, is even worse at the holidays; or, there are those people who have lost loved ones, whether this year or in the past, this time of year brings that loss into focus acutely; or, there are the many people struggling through illness, loss of work, or another personal tragedy. Then there are just the vast majority of people who live always busy between work, family, and any bit of fun time they can carve out and all of a sudden this season comes around where they are supposed to have extra time set aside for joyful gatherings of friends and family, time for baking, shopping, present wrapping, and more. Where is that time supposed to come from? Wouldn’t it be nice if our days came with an extra hour between Thanksgiving and New Year’s? It’s no wonder people get tired over the holidays as they cope with the lack of sleep, increased stress, the darkest time of the year, and the extra rich food and drink.
How do we work with this time of year in the kindest way possible? I suggest a focus on self-compassion, awareness, and connection.
I felt driven to write this blog post as the majority of people that hug me and say Happy Holidays seem to have an underlying sadness about them or they have a deer in the headlights look that says, “I’m nowhere near done buying and wrapping presents, my kids are off school starting next week, and I haven’t done any decorating or cookie baking – I’m so behind!”
One of the most important things we can do is to realize we aren’t alone. While we are made to feel like everyone else is happy and has all the time in the world to put up lights and bake cookies. It’s not true. You are not alone. There are others struggling in the same way you are struggling. I invite you to
Talk about your loved ones who are no longer with you and ask others about the people they wished were still sitting around their tree.
Acknowledge sadness or fatigue when you feel it.
Let people know you feel overwhelmed or tired. I bet most say, ME TOO!
To practice self-compassion, I invite you to be aware. What are you feeling? If you are feeling grateful, happy, or joyful, that is excellent. Now that you are aware of it, enjoy that feeling in your body! But, if you are feeling overwhelmed, sad, or anxious more than grateful and happy, just make note. Try not to judge yourself. Let yourself know. “This is normal. Many people feel this way. It’s a hard time of year.” Then take some time to think, what needs to happen? Do I need to take some things off of my to-do list? Do I need a little silence? Do I need to take care of myself in some specific way; maybe fresh air, exercise, or early to bed tonight?
Here are some additional concrete suggestions for how you might work with the time you have to both care for yourself and take time for the holiday activities that make you happy.
Instead of feeling like you should have more time, I invite you to try to find little bits of joy in the time you already have scheduled.
Do you love to bake, but the reality is you are feeling overwhelmed by it? Acknowledge that feeling; let go of the “should” in what you “should be doing”; and enjoy what you “choose” to do. Maybe you can only make two types cookies, instead of your normal 5 types of cookies, but you can really enjoy taking that time and not feel guilty.
Often during this time of year even those things we enjoy overwhelm us. It’s just too much, whether it’s coffee with friends, playing an instrument at church, etc. We just say “yes” to too much. Think to yourself, can I say “yes” to this request without getting overwhelmed? If the answer is “no” – say no. Another option is to realize that there may be something in-between no and yes. Can you say, “No, I can’t do ____, it’s just too much, but I’d love to ….. help with this other part … or meet you for coffee instead of a whole evening of drinks” You get the idea!
If there are activities that are “must do’s” on your list, try to take some time to make them work for you and possibly change your mind set about them. Again, be aware of things you are dreading. Awareness is always the first step! And then think, “what can I do to make this more enjoyable?”.
For example, make a cup of tea or hot cocoa and put on some nice music before settling in to do presents.
Stop for a favorite coffee drink, before attacking your present shopping, or maybe even meet up with a friend and shop together! Positive socialization and crossing something off the list! Win!
Do you usually have a holiday gathering, and you still want to do that but can’t imagine prepping all the food? Put the call out for pot luck or ask them to bring something specific. I can guarantee you that while people may honestly enjoy your cooking, they would love to bring something if it means you enjoy the party and they still get to gather.
And finally, keep coming back to the present moment. Enjoy each moment with a friend or grandchild, without wasting it thinking about how overwhelmed you are about tomorrow or the next week. Just take it one moment at a time. This is not easy, but it’s the practice, and it supports our ability to be grateful for our moments instead of just continually overwhelmed about what’s next on the list.
I believe in knowing and living by my values. This November 2016 election has made me realize the importance of this fact for me. But, this isn’t about being Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian. It’s not about the person I would have liked to have as my president. In fact, I believe politics should be less about these things. I would like to see people vote based more on their own ethics and less on who their “party” offers up.
This is about my own values, ethics, and moral code. It’s about my judgement of what’s important in life and the standards to which I hold my own behavior. I feel called to post this information, because I invite people all over to actually sit down and write down their own values. If we don’t articulate them, we can’t follow them.
When I was starting up, someone close to me thought maybe my website should not be about me as much as simply what the business does. I argued that I was the business, and that people needed to know and trust me if they were going to ask me to come teach them Mindfulness, meditation and resiliency. I still believe that, which is why I’m sharing this essay on my blog. It is also applicable here because, it takes a whole lot of Mindfulness to get anywhere close to succeeding some of the time as I work to align my actions and my values.
What I really believe after this election is, if this country has any hope, the answer is not to convince everyone to be on the same political side, but to find common ground in our ethics and moral code. Therefore, I wish to share with you my version of “This I believe”.
I believe in values. I believe in knowing my beliefs and ideals and allowing them to serve as my guidelines in all situations.
I believe that all human beings are interconnected. We rely on each other for food, water, and other necessities, more than we’d like to admit, and we have more in common than we have differences. Every being needs water, food, and love or we don’t do well. It doesn’t matter where we originate, these are the basics.
I believe in listening, without judgement, even though it may be one of the hardest things to do. I know it's the hardest thing I try to do. We will never understand each other without listening.
I believe we are the stewards of this earth. If we don’t maintain it, it won’t be here for future generations. It is our duty to take the environment into consideration with every action we take.
I believe money is not a value. It might be a need, but it shouldn’t be what guides our interactions with each other.
I believe my job in life is to do what I can to support other humans and I believe that I should be doing that in both my work and my personal life.
I believe in hope, even though I don’t always feel it.
I believe our actions should follow our values, whether those are the actions of voting, volunteering, playing, or working. I believe our actions shouldn’t follow random labels we assign to ourselves like liberal, conservative, progressive. Those aren’t labels that demonstrate our values, they are just random words.
I believe this is a big world and we (every single human being) can all succeed and live together. One group doesn’t have to fail, or be put down, for another group to succeed.
I believe it’s my duty to act with kindness toward everyone, because no matter what your skin color, religion, gender, place of birth, sexual preference, or disability may be, we are both human and therefore we are both equally important in this world.
I believe in self-compassion, because it’s hard to keep all of these things in mind every time I speak or act, and sometimes I fail miserably (as most humans do); but, there is nothing more important for me than how I attempt to live my life every day.
Almost every day, someone asks me, “So…. What is Mindfulness?”.
To begin, Mindfulness is a contemplative practice. As I explain on my website, it started in Buddhism thousands of years ago, and has been taught in a secular way in the United States since 1979. Since being taught in the U.S., there’s also been a lot of research done on Mindfulness and how it supports people's wellness, both mentally and physically. Contemplative practices have long been associated with spiritual traditions and have moved beyond spiritual traditions as they become recognized by the medical and health communities for the way they help people grow awareness of self and surrounding. This awareness supports each person’s ability to balance all areas of life. There is a wonderful Tree of Contemplative Practices found on the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s website, which can help describe the many areas of practice that fall in this category.
To help understanding, I’ve been thinking it might be beneficial to have a visual. This is my first attempt at creating a visual of a “Mindful moment” and below I describe the visual.
So with our understanding that Mindfulness is a contemplative practice, we learn that Mindfulness is more than a state of mind, it is a practice like yoga or running. It’s something that we dedicate time to in our busy life because we believe it will be beneficial to our health and happiness. Basically, I tell people Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment with curiosity and non-judgement. We learn to focus on each component of a moment, including, our breath, body, thought, emotion, sound/senses, and feeling tone. These are like the pieces in our Mindfulness pie. We can focus our awareness on any one piece of the pie or we can sit in open awareness of the whole pie at any one given moment. In addition, when we sit, whether focused on one area, or when we are holding open awareness of all areas, we sit in non judgement of whatever “comes up” and encouraging kindness toward our self. This kindness toward our self and our thoughts and reactions, allows us to acknowledge each moment without labeling it good or bad. By doing so, we are more likely to honestly look at that moment and purposely move forward in an appropriate way. In Mindfulness, we use meditation to practice our awareness of the present moment, so that we can take that awareness of each moment into every interaction and moment throughout our day. By taking this awareness into our day, we are better able to maintain our focus on any task and we are able to do so with less judgement toward ourselves and others. Non-judgement is important, because while it might be our goal to bring Mindfulness into every moment, we are human and we are sure to respond without thought at some time to a situation. In those times, we want to be able to laugh at our imperfect selves and try again.
If you’ve been following me, but were still unsure about what Mindfulness really was, I hope this has helped. Questions?
Today, I invite you to pay attention to the parts of your day that tie everything else together, the transition times. These are the minutes that we have as we shift between our daily to-do’s. The drive or walk between work and home; the walk between meetings; the walk to lunch, or to the break room or to the bathroom; the drive home from work; the brief moments between dinner and putting kids to bed, and changing between activities such as reading, exercising, opening the computer to do more work at home … You get the idea. We have a lot of transition moments in our day and for many of us, these moments are filled with thoughts of where we came from and what we have to do when we get where we are going. They may also be filled with thinking, such as, “I better not forget to ______”.
Many of us don’t even think of these moments as transitions. We just view them as extensions of past and future to-do’s. But what if every time you transitioned between what you did and what’s next you used those seconds or minutes to find your breath and return to a sense of calm. Every space like this in our day gives us a chance for realignment, a chance to reconnect to the present moment. Every time we come back to the present moment, we let go of the stress that came with where we’ve been and the worry about where we are going. Beginning a practice of using the transitions to come back to the present moment gives us back our day! And, it brings our mindfulness practice into our everyday life!
I’m a big fan of practicing to find the hesitation between my automatic reaction and my purposeful response. The word hesitation can get a bad rap. It can be perceived as doubt or reluctance, unwillingness or delay. But, who can’t think of a time when a small hesitation would have served them well? Helped them say what they meant to say? This is what we are doing here, we are realizing that every time we change activity, go from silence to talking, etc. is a moment that we can use and we don’t have to do anything but recognize that as a moment of choice. For those that see hesitation as a negative, perhaps it would be better to use the word “pause”. A pause is a breathing space or interlude, a respite or intermission. Well, that sounds lovely doesn’t it? Our days would be like going to the spa with short little intermissions constantly throughout our day; intermissions that never interrupted us and always helped us to focus better on what was coming up.
Well, I might be stretching it a little, with the spa metaphor, but I speak the truth when it comes to this simple way of encouraging more focus throughout our days.
Here’s how it works. It is easier to invite Mindfulness into our day when we find a trigger that we can use to remind ourselves. Then it’s just retraining our mind to come back to the present moment, back to the anchor of our breath, or our feet, or our hands, whenever we come across that trigger. Just one breath or conscious moment of recognizing the weight and movement of our feet as they walk is enough to pull us away from the past and future back to the present. This one moment is enough to begin relaxing our shoulders and changing our attitude toward the next item on our calendar. The more moments we can insert throughout our day, the less crazed and out of control we feel. The more we feel like we can handle what comes next.
What is the trigger you use to bring yourself back to the present moment and away from your ruminating mind? A red light if you drive a lot between meetings? Walking to the bathroom?
If you ever have any questions about a blog post or perhaps the breath is hard for you and you’d like more instructions on using a different anchor point, don’t hesitate to drop me an email.
Recently I spoke at a conference with the theme of "Together we can …". This is the perfect title for a conference in our great community of Missoula. But, I like what it doesn’t say even more. It doesn’t say, “us versus them”. Now, of course, a conference wouldn't be titled "us versus them" as that wouldn’t be politically correct, but even when it’s not explicitly said, “us versus them” is the implication that we receive all too often in our society through our news reporting, social media, and even the workplace. There’s always an “us”, and “them” is always those “other” people. The people we don’t agree with, the difficult people. We separate ourselves on a variety of views, but, what if we could disagree with someone while still holding them as a fellow human being who is just trying to do their best – just like us? What if we could have calm, friendly conversations with people at work or with neighbors with whom we have fundamental differences? What if we could still work together with them toward a common goal at work or in our neighborhood? Imagine that world.
Imagine the stress right now of having to walk into a meeting and sit down across from someone with whom you always seem to butt heads. How is that conversation going to go when you both come to the table ready for a fight or prepared for there to be no middle ground?
At some time, we all have to work with people whom we’ve struggled with in the past. Here are some tips from the contemplative practice of Mindfulness to help each of us sense our community with others, so there’s less of a sense of “them” and more of a sense of “us”.
Connect with your body. I invite you to notice when you get tight – you know the feeling – your jaw clamps shut, your forehead scrunches down, or some other part of you tightens up. The feeling hits all of us differently, so identify where the feeling of anger and frustration settles in your body. You may already know, but it’s very possible you’ve never consciously taken note. But now that you have, this is your warning sign. Before you even feel angry, notice “Yikes, forehead scrunching! Warning!” By simply beginning to tie into our body and really notice what’s going on, we take the first step to move away from our thinking mind - the part that is starting to tell a story about why you don’t like this person or why this situation isn’t fair. We return to the present moment and we have a better chance of letting our rational mind return.
Breathe. You’ve connected with your body, now connect with the other piece of you that is always there waiting for attention and waiting to bring you back to the present moment, your breath. Before responding in any way, simply take a mere moment to follow your inhale and your exhale. This practice creates the hesitation you always need to properly respond to anything. Note, for some people focusing on the breath can make them anxious. If you are one of these people, instead try bringing your attention to the firmness of your feet on the ground.
Just Like Me. This is one of my favorite practices. It’s meant for each time you feel yourself start to get frustrated. You feel your breath quicken and your body start to tighten as the car in front of you moves at a snail’s pace or the person across the table says something that seems like it is just outright contradicting what you just said. Instead think,
Just like me, this person wants to be happy. It’s true; nobody is trying to go through life miserable. We may not agree with how they are trying to be happy, but still …
Just like me, this person is trying to get somewhere. Apparently, they gave themselves more time to get there, but still …
Just like me, this person sitting across from me is searching for the best solution. We may not agree on what the best solution is, but still …
“Just like me” really helps me move from “them” to “us” in my mind and my response. I hope these practices also help you as you work with the difficult people in your life. Maybe they even help you to see some humor in your own thoughts!
I hope you’ll allow me to begin 2016 out on a serious note.
There are things happening in the world, in this country, which sadden me greatly. This need many have to hate, to view other people by their political views, religious beliefs, culture, or color and to judge them outright without knowing them, to determine they are the “other side” and therefore not worthy. I am of the view that most of the hate stems from people who practice seeing other people as the “other side”, instead of fellow humans. We are faced with this every day in the news through shootings, war, and violence that takes many forms. Just the other day, I saw an example of this in my amazing little town, were someone felt the need to have a huge “Hippie Hater” sticker that covered the whole back window of their truck. I admit my first reaction to that sticker was aversion and dislike, and my second reaction was sadness. The question of “why” just hung in the air.
Why do we feel the need to hate other people?
Why do we need everyone to be like us?
Why do we automatically fear people that are different from us?
Why can’t all types of people, just be? Is the hippie hurting the cowboy hat wearing rancher – or vice versa? Please note, this is an example taken from that one instance. I know many, many cowboy hat wearing ranchers that are awesome, open minded people.
Instead of being disdainful of someone else’s views, why can’t we find it interesting that the person at the next table thinks a different way and just have a conversation about why they think that way? It wouldn’t mean we had to change our mind, but it would mean that we had some respect for that person’s take on life; some understanding that we are all raised differently and have had different experiences that shape us; some regard for the fact that through our actions, our speech, and our stickers we are passing this hate on to our kids and we are hurting other innocent children. What happens when a child sees that sticker and realizes his parents may be considered hippies, and begins to feel fear, begins to understand that for no specific reason this person could cause him or his family harm? That's the beginning of raising someone that knows fear and then begins to hate...
This morning I was reading a story on Nelson Mandela from Daily Good, and in it they were talking about what made him a lifelong learner and how he learned from others. Dr. Peter Rule researched Mandela and he determined that dialogue with others was crucial for Mandela. He says, “A striking thing about Nelson Mandela’s story is how he refused to dehumanise ‘the other’. Whether the person was an opponent or enemy – even prison wardens or Afrikaner politicians – he insisted on seeing ‘the other’ as a person who he could acknowledge, understand, interact with and learn from.
It is a dangerous path of hate this world is following. We must figure out a way to stop dehumanizing each other. Even if what we learn is that we fundamentally disagree with someone, they are still a person and perhaps by talking to them we’ve clarified why we disagree with their viewpoint, while still understanding why they have that viewpoint.
This week I’ve had another reminder of how life is too short and very precious. A reminder of how important it is to live each moment. It makes me wonder why some think their life is any more important than someone else’s. It makes me wonder why we’d waste our moments on fear, hatred, and dislike.
Each of us has one life. My wish for the world is that in this one life we realize:
Hate is a wasted sentiment.
As humans we are more alike than not.
It doesn’t matter what our views are, we all want to be happy.
We all want our family and friends to be happy and healthy.
We all feel pain and fear.
Causing pain and fear are never the way to happiness.
But, most of all I hope people start to realize that we create our own fear. The “other” people we are scared of aren’t causing that fear; our view of those people is causing the fear.
If there is to be any hope, we must start to treat every human as an individual, a person to be respected, someone who deserves a smile and a little understanding, someone who has as much right to happiness as we do.