The other day, I met a man in his sixties, who left his wife and family over twenty years ago when he inadvertently fell in love with another woman. What made it even more of a betrayal for his ex-wife was that the new couple also decided to have a child together. He has been a devoted father to all of his children, who love him dearly – but he crushed his wife when he left her.
She never remarried. She never took lovers. In fact, she generalized her anger to include all men. She won’t employ a male workman if a woman can do the job. And she all but cut off all contact with her ex-husband.
To quote William Congreve from The Mourning Bride,
Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.
A year ago, this slim, fit woman who was largely vegetarian, suffered a massive heart attack which was so severe that to save her life she had to have a heart transplant. One could say she almost died of a broken heart.
Now there is no denying that this man deceived his wife and caused her great suffering 20 years ago. But I would suggest that most people would have moved on from such a devastating event after such a long time. They would have processed their pain.
By holding onto rage, this woman has given her power for happiness away to all men, and in particular to her ex-husband, and in so doing has lived a life of suffering that could only be described as much less than its rich potential.
The notion of forgiveness is not just some laudable spiritual esoteric notion. It really is a recipe for reclaiming our power to live our own best life, and not giving it away to others. It is in fact a decision that each of us has the power to make.
As the Buddha said,
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
The poem The Guest House by Jalaluddin Rumi speaks of the importance of being open and tolerating all emotions, even the uncomfortable ones. I think that we often amplify our distress by fighting those feelings which we regard as negative, and in this way we heap anxiety on top of the storm we are already experiencing, making it so much worse.
If we can be like an expectant mother in labour, and gently breathe into the “contraction” of pain, fear or despair – relax, and lean into it, cresting it like the wave that it is, knowing it will reach its crescendo and pass, then the discomfort in intense emotion becomes so much easier to bear.
I have noticed that uncomfortable emotions, as they are happening, can always be located in the body. Bring your attention into your body and see if you can find the physical sensation of it. Then, hold yourself soothingly in that place, comforting yourself, just as you would comfort a child. Be kind and loving to yourself, and see the difference it makes.
As Eckhart Tolle says in The Power of Now:
“Don’t look for peace. Don’t look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender.”
Enjoy this YouTube clip 🙂
We don’t need to be perfect. The artist Salvador Dali famously said, Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.
I was recently asked to offer specialized commentary on an online publication’s feature on “Bad girls” in society, in this case, women who behave “badly” to snare a man. But as part of the research I was asked whether I thought all women behave badly – and asked how in my opinion a “lady” should behave?
My first thought was that all people, men and women, contain both good and bad, the light and the shade within them, and for any of us to kid ourselves that we are perfect and incapable of bad behavior is totally delusional. On the other side of the spectrum, how many of us don’t sit with a relentless inner critic chirping on our shoulder, judging every move we make as being inadequate or defective, lashing us for not being good enough. We need to put that critic in its place and cut ourselves some slack!
Because Dali also said, Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that it will be possible for you to sublimate them.
So we all mess up from time to time, and according to Dali’s wisdom, for us to become better human beings, we need to understand and embrace our mistakes and to learn from them so next time we can do things differently.
But what of people who deliberately choose destructive patterns of behavior?
Once again, we need to throw out judgment and instead bring in our understanding. What is driving the impulse to self-destruct? Usually if you peel away the layers, you will find it is some kind of fear, which the negative behavior is numbing. By being courageous and reflecting on the question, What is it I’m afraid of? and owning it, real solutions can be found instead of the soothing, sedating but ultimately damaging option of bad behavior.
So how should a lady (or a gentleman for that matter) behave?
I believe she should try her best, but accept her mistakes, and try to understand and learn from them. A lady is courageous: she doesn’t run away from her fears -but faces them. She then puts her energy into finding real solutions that empower her to be the strong and beautiful woman that is her potential.
Public speaking is preferable to death for many people.
Public speaker, Robin Banks tells the story of a woman he met who when she heard what he does for a living, proclaimed that she could never do what he does. When she was little and had to give her first formal speech in class, she dried – and everyone laughed at her.
The humiliation haunts her still.
Now Robin, as a little guy, also got publically laughed at. Playing King Herod in a school play, clunky little boy that he was, he accidentally knocked off his crown, which bounced at his feet. Lost in his role, he grabbed his “sword”, swung it towards a soldier, and commanded, “Hey soldier! Pick up my crown!!!” The audience collapsed in mirth.
The delight inspired a career.
Granted, Robin is temperamentally an extrovert. But I started wondering, how are our feelings affected by our interpretation of events? The stories we tell ourselves about them.. The little girl’s thoughts no doubt went something along the lines of, “I look so stupid. Everybody thinks I’m an idiot..” Robin’s thoughts on the other hand (and bare in mind he’d been clumsy) probably went something like, “Wow! They love me!”
When we think of events that have challenged us, if we can separate out the dry facts, the objective events, from our subjective interpretation of them – and then challenge those beliefs about them – can we rewrite our emotional responses to them, and even change our belief systems, and along with that, our self-image?
I want to challenge you to something..
Take an event in your life that was really challenging for you to handle. Now tell it two different ways, from the differing perspectives of two Archetypes.
In your first story, cast yourself first as The Victim who suffers.
In the second telling of the same story, cast yourself as The Hero, who overcomes.
How was that?
Strange how perspective changes everything..
Now apply this to your life.
Whether you’re, CEO, HoD or Joe or Mary Soap, we all have stressful situations in our lives where we could do with that extra dollop of confidence. Going up the hierarchy, perhaps you need to ask a favour of your boss; going down the hierarchy, perhaps you need to confront a recalcitrant employee and call them to book. And if it’s not a courageous conversation you need to have, you may be going for a job interview, or having to give a public speech.
Is there anything you can do to prepare yourself so that you go out there and make it count?
Professor Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist at the Harvard Business School who has done considerable research on emotions, power and the effect of social stimuli on hormone levels. What she has discovered is remarkable. She has found that what we do with our bodies, changes our minds. And it is so simple.
Have a little experiment with yourself.
Stand as though you are anxious. Notice what your body is doing. You’ll probably observe that your head is bowed, your shoulders closed in, your weight is likely to be on one foot, and you will have slouched over your belly somewhat.
Now stand as though you are so confident, you own the world. What is your body doing now? Your head is likely to be square, your shoulders open, your weight evenly distributed on both feet, and your belly will have lifted.
So the mind impacts the body. BUT, Cuddy has found, the body can also impact the mind. And, with consciousness, we can through choice, control the body.
The stance we choose, actually has a chemical effect on our body which in turn affects our state of being. As Amy Cuddy says, Our bodies change our minds. Our minds change our behaviour. And our behaviour changes our outcomes.
This is huge: You have the power in your body to shape your world.
Here’s how it works. Testosterone is the “dominance” hormone, the key chemical for Power. Cortisol is our stress hormone. To prevail in stressful situations, we want high Testosterone and low Cortisol. By assuming what Cuddy calls power poses, we can get the desired chemical result in our bodies in just two minutes!
So, prep for your stressful situation. Find a quiet space, even if it has to be the bathroom. Stand like Wonderwoman for two minutes.
Now go knock ’em dead!
Enjoy the full TED talk.
Last week I wrote about how my hairdresser cruised some really challenging circumstances by kicking off from a point of acceptance. See Which “V” do you choose? (Three A’s to happiness in a storm.)
But how do you get to this point of acceptance when you’ve suffered a loss or a trauma in your life? The main thing is not to expect too much from yourself too quickly. The whole thing is a process, which goes through many phases, and even cycles backwards and forwards through the phases a few times. See if you recognize how you may have shown up in the past. And if you are undergoing a trauma right now, use it to give yourself a roadmap and hope that things need not always feel as bad as they feel right now.
You may have heard of the Five Phases of Grief, a model put forward by the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969, and still used today. Although it was first mooted as the way in which we deal with news we are fatally ill, she later modified it to include the way we deal with any form of personal loss – including things like bereavement, losing a job, suffering a major rejection, divorce or relationship break-up, and so on. It outlines the way we respond to even minor defeats.
When we suffer a setback, our first default position is Denial, where we kid ourselves that this isn’t really happening. Perhaps we just misunderstood the meaning of it! Once we can no longer deny the truth of our circumstances, we feel Anger, and we rage against the injustice of the world. And when the energy of this anger is spent, we try Bargaining – perhaps with God, perhaps with the lover who rejected us. We try to negotiate an alternate way of still being able to hang onto the circumstances as they were before they went wrong. When we finally realize that this isn’t working, we go into Depression, a withdrawal into ourselves, and deep grieving for what has been lost. Only then, do we reach Acceptance, that point at which we stop fighting it and begin to work with it.
It is from this point of Acceptance that we can find peace.
But be very loving and patient with yourself while you are getting here.
While I was at my hairdresser the other day, she got a phone call to say her four-year-old daughter had had a fit while at school. I heard her making a few more anxious phone calls, and then she returned to breezily finish off my hair. I was amazed at her equanimity under what I imagined must be such stressful circumstances! I asked how she managed to be not just calm, but cheerful, under these circumstances.
She replied that her daughter was born with fontanels that were fused at birth, and which caused her brain to be under pressure. They’d had to be surgically broken open as a young baby and the result was that she has since suffered from occasional fits. My hairdresser said she was able to be calm because she had such an amazing support system in place, which worked like an oiled machine when it was needed. She’d cancelled her next two clients – but knew her child was already at the doctor who knew her condition well, her daddy was with her, and so was her granny, and she herself would be heading over as soon as she finished with me. But she knew her daughter was feeling safe and cared for.
A few things occurred to me..
Some of us carry heavy burdens in Life, and we can either buckle as Victims or else rise in Victory, as she was doing. She wasn’t fighting her circumstances, or bewailing her lot in Life. She had made peace with her situation through total acceptance of it, and this had made her balanced and strong. From this sure-footed position she had assessed what was needed in order to be highly functional and efficient, and taken the best actions she could to provide the best solution to the problem. She had been as proactive as she could be. This allowed her to feel absolutely calm in the midst of what many of us would find to be very emotionally disturbing circumstances.
It brought home to me the power of
Accepting circumstances we cannot change,
Applying our minds to find solutions from a point of calm – and then taking
Action to implement the best solutions to our problems.
How amazing to be happy in the middle of a storm! To choose Victory instead of Victim.
This Harvard University longitudinal study on Happiness landed in my inbox this week. I found it riveting and profound.
Besides adding to your quality of life in the here and now, happiness is a protective factor into old age of both your health and your intellectual sharpness, and even your ability to cope with physical pain. I hope you find value in the findings of this unique study that was begun during the Second World War and is still continuing today.
It reveals the most productive area of your life where you should invest your time and energy in order to live a good life.
In the film The Best Marigold Hotel, Evelyn says, Initially you’re overwhelmed. But gradually you realize it’s like a wave. Resist, and you’ll be knocked over. Dive into it, and you’ll swim out the other side.
Sometimes life falls apart on multiple levels all at once. Perhaps bereavement or a divorce, coupled with resultant emotional adjustments, family relationship strains, moving home and some financial chaos – all happening concurrently! I had such a year in 2013 when my life seemed to go over a cliff on multiple fronts at once and I was buffeted by one severe thing after another, so rapidly in succession, my head was spinning!
I felt paralyzed by fear and pain, and literally suffered from inertia, an inability to take action on any level. It was terrifying. While I sat like a rabbit in a spotlight, mesmerized and unable to move, fortunately I had two people in my life who were willing to take over the reigns of my life and to whom I was very happy to give over my power. I don’t know how I would have survived without them and will always be grateful for the practical and emotional support they gave me.
But as I emerged from the shock and paralysis and began to regain my strength and equilibrium, it became very important to me to take back my life from these people. To become my own person once more – someone able to act powerfully and once again to be in control of my own life. And now, from a position of regained strength and calm, I am able to take stock, and evaluate the lessons I learnt from that frightening time.
On looking back, the first thing I notice is that while I was in the middle of my storm, it sometimes felt there was no way out, that it would go on forever, and that this would be the shape of my life to come. Well, this isn’t true. All things pass. So if you now are in the middle of a storm, breathe, and be kind to yourself. Sometimes at the very worst of times, doing nothing is just the very best you can do.
The second thing I notice, is the importance of practical and emotional support during that time our brains are frozen. Who do you have around you who can be a support?
The third thing that was very meaningful for me, was to establish a safe and stable home – a safe base from which to kick off. This is what I call my port in a storm. A safe little nest where one can lick one’s wounds in privacy and calm, and allow oneself to slowly heal.
Which you will.
A friend of mine in her fifties wrote to me with sadness about how she felt she had not reached her potential nor achieved the life she had imagined for herself when she felt so powerful at the age of 22. She said, “I think I was really smart!!! My life has been a mess! Never turned out the way I imagined it!”
I think she is not alone in her experience, and so I would like to share in this Blog my reply to her, in case you may find something helpful if you too are feeling this way:
One of the wisest things I ever learnt was at the age of 21.
In my HDE year at university I had a Psychology of Education lecturer called Dr Gordon Bauer who made us date all of our submissions and add the word AMPLOS next to the date. It stood for, At My Present Level Of Sophistication. Just so we needn’t be held accountable in 5 years time for the rubbish we wrote today. There is a quote, which regrettably I can’t locate right now – by I think Marilyn Monroe – who was a sensitive and conscious human being despite the alternate hype, which goes something along the lines of, No-one consciously makes a bad decision. We all make choices based on what feels wise at the time. That with hindsight some choices work out to have been not the best, is the curve ball that life throws at us, and I think we need to deal compassionately with ourselves. We are human and not infallible. We do the best we can. There must be those people, but I have yet to meet someone who isn’t trying their best within their situation and their emotional, intellectual, psychological and physical resources.
My instincts are, if things have not turned out the way you imagined it, make peace with that. Certainly don’t waste energy on regret and self-recrimination. That’s counter productive – punishing yourself, but not serving any generative purpose. Feeling bad actually reduces our ability to be powerful in our lives. Breathe. Love yourself. Honour the wonderful human being that you are – right now – because it is important to see the wonder in yourself. Take stock. Scan the landscape. See what dreams you can dream for yourself going forward. And start a new page.
What is it that can be meaningful for you from this point onwards? What does it need in order to action it? What do you need to harness in service of it? And after breathing and taking stock, go for it! You still have within you your 22-year-old potential. I know you feel tired, and the 22-year-old in you is hard to find, but it is not you or your latent talent that has changed, but simply the starting and endpoints that have changed. All you need to do is to locate, make friends with, and then harness that 22-year-old within you. What would she have done, given your present landscape?
Because I know you to be a wonderful and conscious human being, who can run rings around many others who tick many ostensible boxes in terms of non-messy lives. But they hold hidden defects in terms of their humanity. We only grow and develop in proportion to our suffering. The poet Rumi said, The Wound is the Place where the Light Enters You. If you show me someone who has had an easy ride, I will show you someone who is truncated in their humanity.
These are the words to a Leonard Cohen song that speaks to what I’m saying.. Of which the most important words are, Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering; There is a crack, a crack in everything; That’s how the light gets in, That’s how the light gets in, That’s how the light gets in.
Do you find that your relationships at work or in your family are less than ideal? Perhaps characterized by conflict, or worse – distant and cut off – as though people have stopped trying to bridge the gap with you, they’ve just given up? We can never change other people, only ourselves, so it may be a good idea to quickly do a personal check-in with regard to how we are relating to other people. Basically, it’s in our attitude to others, which shows up very, very strongly in the quality of our listening.
There are two kinds of listening, one of which alienates others, and the other, which deepens our bonds of co-operation and understanding.
The first is competitive listening. We pretend to pay attention while we wait for an opening to promote our own point of view, without really caring about the view of the other person. We listen for weak points in their argument where we can shoot them down, or formulate our points of rebuttal even while they are speaking. Sometimes we even plan that crushing comeback. We are in it to win it.
The second is active listening. Here, we genuinely want to understand what the other person is thinking, feeling and wanting. We check that we have understood both the meaning of their words but, importantly, also the feelings and any meaning below the words. We check out that we have correctly understood them, by reflecting back to them what we understood them to say. Perhaps we didn’t understand accurately and they can then correct us and we can recalibrate our understanding.
When people feel genuinely heard, this deepens the quality of their relationship with us, and builds bridges.
It comes down to whether we view the other as our adversary, our inferior, or someone equally worthy of respect. When people feel respected by us, they become our allies. We should treat all people well, irrespective of their status relative to ours. Here is a beautiful illustration of the value of respectful human interaction from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, made into the famous film, My Fair Lady.
LIZA [stopping her work for a moment] Your calling me Miss Doolittle that day when I first came to Wimpole Street. That was the beginning of self-respect for me. [She resumes her stitching]. And there were a hundred little things you never noticed, because they came naturally to you. Things about standing up and taking off your hat and opening door—
PICKERING. Oh, that was nothing.
LIZA. Yes: things that shewed you thought and felt about me as if I were something better than a scullery-maid; though of course I know you would have been just the same to a scullery-maid if she had been let in the drawing-room. You never took off your boots in the dining room when I was there.
PICKERING. You mustn’t mind that. Higgins takes off his boots all over the place.
LIZA. I know. I am not blaming him. It is his way, isn’t it? But it made such a difference to me that you didn’t do it. You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.
Eliza goes on famously to observe that Pickering treats flower girls just as he would a Duchess. So – if your relationships are strained, do a check-in. Are you treating the people around you like duchesses or like flower girls? It will be reflected in the quality of your listening.
Reading an old but pertinent article in Vanity Fair on Greece’s economic woes*, I saw the following idea: The smart person accepts; the idiot insists. This got me thinking about the concept of flow, and just how draining resistance is.
In his psychological philosophy Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, Albert Ellis takes this idea further when he speaks about how the shoulds, ought tos and musts in our thinking styles cause us suffering, and how when we subscribe to this mode of interpreting our experiences, we perceive other people and the world as letting us down. If we can instead change these negative and absolute ideas of how projects, the world, and others “should be” into preferences, then we experience the world in a far gentler way and we end up being much happier people.
But besides these emotional costs of insisting the world “should be” as we want it to be, there are also great costs to our energy and effort levels. If we stop insisting things must be my way or the high way we can release vast reservoirs of energy that we can then unleash productively both in our work lives and personally. Conflict is exhausting. Jostling for supremacy is exhausting. On the other hand, in any shared activity – at work, or in close relationships, or simply out there interacting in the world – if we can put our pride aside, take what lands on us, and dance with it, we can not only build hugely positive human relationships – but by putting aside the temptation to say No, but.. and instead embracing Yes, and we can also.., we can create great collaborative projects.
My own original background is theatre. The notion of Yes, and we can also.. is the essence of improvisation, which actors and jazz musicians use so creatively. So, I challenge you, take whatever lands on you and dance an improvisational dance with it. Go out – use the notes from that person’s trumpet, and add your own drumbeat. Pull together disparate elements, talents and contributions and make some beautiful music and movement in your life.
What are your driving nightmares?
Have you ever driven behind a really inconsiderate driver, the kind who on a nice road trip slows down up hills on a barrier line, and then speeds up like crazy just when you have the opportunity to finally overtake, so that you can’t? Or who parks on a red line which clearly means no stopping, let alone no parking, and so holds up all the frantic traffic behind! Or my favourite: the person turning right at the intersection who creeps forward timidly, making space only for himself – which means that when the traffic light finally changes, they are the only car that can cross the road legally, when there was at least space for three cars that could have made it. I’m sure you have many pet peeves of your own!
These used to really get to me. Until I had the realisation that after this sort of experience, I was the one left feeling off balance, grumpy and out of sorts. And the angry feelings would stay a while! And the perpetrator of the heinous traffic “crimes” would go on their merry way, either oblivious or unconcerned, continuing to inhabit their happy bubble.
So actually, who was I selling out to? I was giving the power to temporarily take away my equanimity and happiness to some inconsiderate and selfish idiot. This makes no sense!
So I resolved to take back my Power. I refuse to allow bad drivers be my puppet master pulling my unhappiness strings. I am going to be the one to decide whether I will be happy or not! There’s that tiny moment between stimulus and reaction where we can actually choose to “respond” instead of “react”.
And it’s not just about driving. It generalises to many aspects of our lives – to all the things that habitually press our buttons.
So I resolved next time I had a button pressed to ask myself: So who IS the boss? This, or me?
And I choose me. I’m the boss!
Most of the time ;-D.
Mending Wall, Robert Frost very famously said, Good fences make good neighbors. I say, fences are important even in your relationship with your significant other.
Good boundaries, are a sense of where you end and others begin, and are a measure of your self-esteem and your esteem and trust in others. If on some level you doubt yourself, or you doubt your partner’s ability to show up reliably in the world, you may allow your boundaries to become blurred and try either to take responsibility for your partner or allow them to control you.
Some red flags are, if you find yourself taking on more than half the responsibility for a relationship and then feeling bad if it isn’t working, the likelihood is that your boundaries are not as defined as they could be. If you find yourself trying to control your partner’s actions, or find your actions being controlled by them – then your boundaries are weak. If you feel responsible for the other person or allow them to be responsible for you, then your boundaries are blurred.
Boundaries can be emotional like these, but they can also be mental, material or physical.
Good mental boundaries show confidence in holding your own opinions and not needing to echo those of someone else, nor expecting them to necessarily agree with yours. Good material boundaries mean you don’t raid their wallets or read their text messages or have them do that to you. Good physical boundaries will mean that you have healthy negotiations around sex with each other.
In short, you are a separate person to your partner and you respect their right to be themselves. After all, that’s why you fell in love with them, isn’t it?
To quote Mending Wall:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Be the boss of yourself, not of your partner – and don’t let your partner be your boss either :).
Pine, and apple orchard.
As a very young woman, I trained and worked as an actress. I still act, but these days for pleasure and not for money. But play-acting has taught me so many life lessons and also lessons that I can generalize to my Coaching practice.
A play text is sparse. As an actor, when presented with a text, you see only the words the characters speak plus a few sparse stage directions. Characters say and do sometimes-inexplicable things and little context is given. It’s not like in a novel, where the writer, in great nuance and detail, fleshes everything out and you know what each character is thinking and what is motivating them. The actor’s challenge is to work out what it is that lies beneath, to think deeply about what precisely is happening and why, and in this way make meaning and thus imbue the text with life.
So acting taught me that I need to do this in life as well. People’s intentions and their reasons for their behavior are not always clear. So when faced with unexpected behavior from someone, before leaping into judgment, it’s really helpful to pause for a moment and to consider what may lie beneath, to try to really understand them – and if in doubt, before jumping to conclusions, to try and first check out what is happening.
Another thing that acting taught me, and for which I am eternally grateful is empathy. As an actor, you get to submerge yourself in experiences that are entirely outside of what you may ever encounter in your own life. As such, you learn to imagine what it must feel like to be living someone else’s life.
Among his vast writings, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato said two important things in this respect. Firstly he said,
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.
It’s very important to try always to be kind. Kindness means people need to know that you understand not only their words, but also how they are feeling about any issue of contention. But the other thing that Plato said is,
Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.
If you’re an actor this is really helpful in understanding the text you are working with. As a conscious human being, this is really helpful in understanding other people in the Drama of Life.
To negotiate scratchy moments in life, see if you can work out where the other person is coming from in terms of how much they know, how they feel about the situation, and also what they want. This is incredibly helpful in helping two minds to meet. Plato was a very wise man in my opinion.
As a young parent, we are often tempted to compare the development and achievements of our children with that of their peers. Sometimes we coax and cajole them to do better, achieve more, attain it faster.. Who of us has not experienced impatience with the struggle of an unaccomplished child, and felt the temptation to take the difficult task out of their hands and finish it off on their behalf?
In his book Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis says,
I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the back of a tree just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened; the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath, in vain.
It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.
That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the external rhythm.
And so it is with our children. Their struggles are crucial to their development and to the process of cultivating skill and resilience. We must be wise enough to back off. We mustn’t intervene or try and save them from the struggle, which is their essential learning process. Similarly, no two children will unfurl their talents at the same rate. A rose will bloom in its own time. So don’t compare your child to another. Just love them, and allow them to unfold their potential in their own divine time.
So how do we prepare our children for the wild, wild world?
The other day I noticed a mother stopping her little boy from climbing a tree because it was “dangerous”. She was worried he’d fall out and break an arm, and she had to pull a wailing child away from the tree he was so desperate to climb.
Functional parents want their children to be both safe and happy. But does keeping a child completely safe make them happy? Clearly not in this case! And I began to think, instead of protecting our children from the risks of the wild, wild world, should we rather not be giving them opportunities to engage with the risks and in so doing teach them over time how to negotiate and manage risk?
H. Tovey in Outdoor Provision in the Early Years (edited by J. White), says that risky play that involves a chance of injury – things like climbing, sliding, balancing, jumping from heights and hanging upside down – gives children the chance to explore their limits, as well as teaching them life skills. Their failures encourage them to explore different approaches to problem solving, and their successes show them what works!
In a 2003 publication of Early Years, A. Stephenson found that the physicality involved in this kind of rough play, is vital for developing children’s balance, coordination, motor skills and body awareness. Not only that, but research published by D. Coster and J. Gleeve, in 2008 also found that children who engage in risky play experience feelings of fun, enjoyment, excitement, thrill, pride, and achievement – in other words, a feeling of happiness and being truly alive. Exactly what our little aspirant tree climber was after and his mother wouldn’t let him have!
It is a wild, wild world.. Of course we want our children safe. But don’t we also want them to build both physical and psychological muscle so they learn over time to withstand any challenge it presents?
Parenting can often be a battle of wills – a standoff between adversaries that can degenerate into aggression and negative feelings, which if repeated often enough, can tarnish a very important life-long relationship. So how does one constructively handle these difficult situations?
I first learnt about this technique when my first baby was a year old, and it has been one of the most powerful lessons I have ever learnt – with profoundly positive long term benefits for my relationship with both my children!
The first thing to watch is your language! How dripping in judgment is it? Keeping the example of tidying the bedroom in mind, are you using words like “pigsty”, “cesspit” or anything of that ilk??? Shaming your child in this way is very destructive to their self-esteem and your long-term relationship. Try to keep your words neutral by simply sticking to the facts. Rather talk about the clothes and books on the floor.
Avoid blame by owning the problem yourself. Talk about your own response to it. “I don’t like your clothes and books on the floor. I feel much happier when the place is tidy,” is better than saying “You always leave your clothes and books on the floor.”
Ask for what you want respectfully but firmly. “I want you to put the books on the shelf and your clothes in the laundry basket now please. What are you going to start with?”
Reward good behavior like crazy, with lots of praise as well as perks if appropriate. “If your bedroom is nice and tidy you can watch TV / have pudding tonight / go to movies on Saturday.” But don’t underrate how powerful a motivator simple praise is. So make sure you acknowledge to your child how beautiful you think the tidied room looks.
A great rule of thumb: focus on the good and downplay the bad. Try to catch your children out doing things right rather than on their mistakes.
Making Relationships Last
I was reading research on relationships by Prof John Gottman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington. Gottman was recognized in 2007 as one of the 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century. Research at the Gottman Institute in Seattle USA has focused on why some couples stay together while others fall apart.
Their research shows that to make a relationship last, couples must become better friends, learn to manage conflict, and create ways to support each other’s hopes for the future. This blog is focusing on what it takes to become better friends.
Gottman’s research shows that three things make up such friendship:
The first thing is building what he calls “love maps”. This means really striving to understand your partner’s inner world and that which inspires, shapes and moves them. Asking open curious questions of your partner (those that need more than a yes or a no for an answer) is a way to do this. Questions like, “So how are feeling about that project at work at the moment?” or, “Now that the children have left home, what are your dreams for the foreseeable future?” Questions like these try to get a deep understanding of the other person and what is important to them.
The second thing Gottman says makes a good friendship, is building a “fondness and admiration system” of respect, appreciation and affection. Looking for where your partner does things right and not being on the lookout for where they are screwing up, and expressing your appreciation.
The third ingredient of such friendship he calls “Turning toward”. This aspect is crucial as the essential ingredient that builds Trust in a relationship, and without trust there can’t be a relationship. “Turning toward”, is when one person makes a “bid” towards the other person – sometimes subtle, sometimes not – expressing a need for affection, conversation (connection), interest or emotional support – and the other person responds and acknowledges this, even if only in a really tiny way. If they don’t respond to the bid at all and ignore it, Gottman calls this “turning away”. Or if they respond with hostility, this is called “turning against”.
By employing these three techniques, all close and important relationships can be improved. It works for parent-child relationships and for friendships too.
It’s lovely to be motivated to effect change in your life like losing weight and living a healthier life. It’s a great way to re-establish control if things are going a bit pear shaped in your life at the moment.
So you may be tempted to go on a diet.
My experience of all diets is that they don’t work over time, even though there may a burst of weight loss in the beginning. This is normally followed by a slow-down in your weight loss, accompanied by a sense of frustration. Perhaps at this point you fall off the wagon and beat yourself up over your lack of will power. The whole process tends to be accompanied by a lot of self-loathing. What kinds of really nasty things are you saying to yourself in your head, I wonder?
But perhaps you do manage to reach your goal weight, and stick to it for a while. But often, over time, it creeps back on, plus, plus plus!! You know the story..
And then there’s the question – why did you pack it on in the first place??
I bet you know what you ought to be eating and what you ought to be avoiding, but – statistically – there’s a good bet that you don’t follow through on that. Why? Why on earth is that so hard? Why do we ignore our own best wisdom?
The answer to that is that we eat because we are hungry. The only problem is, the hunger we are feeling is not for food. We just think it is.
We are so, so hungry that we need to soothe that hunger, and some Diet telling us not to makes no sense at all to our poor starving subconscious brain. Would you tell a starving person they must not eat?
I would like to declare that the only way to permanent weight loss is to properly identify, and feed appropriately, that hungry part of ourselves that needs to be soothed. In this way, we don’t need to overfeed our bodies, and the weight melts away as though by magic, never to return as long as we are attending properly to our real needs.
So when you are overeating, or eating when you are not physically hungry, or eating the wrong foods, you are doing so to satisfy a genuine and powerful hunger for something else that will not be denied. Instead of beating yourself up about it, try to become curious about what is actually going on within you.
In their 2005 article in the Journal of Nutritional Educational Behaviour, Sjostrom and Steiner-Adair* identified the following hungers, all of which except for the first one, we may mistakenly try to satisfy with food:
Tummy hunger needs nourishing food
Intellectual hunger needs stimulation
Physical hunger needs movement
Friendship hunger needs companionship
Solitude hunger needs space
Spiritual hunger needs meaning
Creative hunger needs invention
So, next time when you are not physically hungry and you find yourself reaching for the biscuit tin or that tub of ice-cream as a reflex, take a moment to pause. Tune in to your emotional and psychological state of being. Ask yourself, what is really going on here? What am I really craving at this moment?
Then find the book or your sudoku, dance to your own music, phone a good friend, go for a solitary walk, think about what would add meaning to your life, or write that poem or paint that picture.
Try and find the true connection to what is driving this hunger, and satisfy that.
Of course you should! And I’d like to state that you can eat junk and still lose weight. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I believe you won’t win your weight loss battle unless you eat some junk!
The reason for this is that we eat not only in order to nourish our bodies, but also to give us pleasure, and in this way to feed our souls. Deprive yourself of the joy of eating for long enough, and your soul will go into rebellion – big time! Here is why you fall off that diet wagon.
Then, crazily, we label ourselves as weak and often the cruelest self-talk begins to rattle around in our brains. But really, you are not weak. You are actually being strong – because in reality you are saying to yourself, “I won’t be controlled by someone else’s rules any longer. I’m in charge here and I will do what I like!”
All “diets” are built on some form of deprivation, and we will only allow ourselves to be deprived by someone else’s rules for so long and no longer. Then we have a backlash. We may even go overboard – gorging foods that are not nourishing and in great quantity as a reaction. And in this way the yo-yo spins.
So, how about shifting perspective instead?
How about giving yourself permission to not only eat junk – from time to time – but to enjoy it? I invite you to throw out the guilt.
Surrender completely to the experience of tasting that ice-cream, savouring those crisps, delighting in that glass of wine? Feel it in your mouth, taste it on your tongue, take your time in holding it in your mouth before swallowing. Revel in that moment of eating. Make your experience of it as complete and joyful as you can.
So often we guiltily bolt food we have labeled “forbidden”, so that we don’t have to entertain it in our consciousness for too long. We don’t even taste it let alone enjoy it, and then we feel disgusted with ourselves for having eaten it. And what’s worse is that we then have a reason to throw healthy eating completely to the wind!
But if you shift your perspective on eating some junk, and give yourself permission to indulge with total joy, you feed your soul – and your rebellious self is contained within proper boundaries and won’t go into backlash.
Eating is one of the pleasures of life. The problem with diets is that they negate this essential aspect of our relationship with food, which we eat for joy as well as for nourishment. Putting a string of embargoes on what we may and may not eat saps the pleasure from eating, and encrusts our relationship with food with guilt. It can get to a point where we never put a thing in our mouths without first evaluating it as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Where’s the fun in that?
I watched a toddler the other day, whose relationship with food had not yet become complicated, eat one of those a large ginger biscuits from Woolies. She was engrossed in the eating of it, full of delight. And then, all of a sudden, she lost interest, and threw it aside, going off to play instead. Her body just told her it had had enough.
If we can make sure that we truly love and honour our bodies by nourishing them well with a healthy variety of nutritious food most of the time, and then treat our souls with joyful eating a little bit of the time, we will be able to recalibrate any dysfunctional relationship we have with food. The trick is to become like a toddler – tune in to what is happening with your body, and stop when it says, “I’m bored now, what else is fun?”
I’d like you to shift your relationship with your body from that of your mortal enemy out to sabotage you through its desire for “forbidden” foods, to your best friend, so that you look out for its interests. You want it to be healthy and to enjoy itself. So give it everything it needs for both. This means you nourish it properly with proteins, unrefined carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits. You give it treats. And you exercise it.
I was away from my dog for an entire day last week and so needed to lock him inside. My neighbor loves him, and I’ve given her a key to my home and she always lets him hang out with her when I have those days. But she had a frantic day too, so Badger spent a long time indoors. When I got home, he ran around the driveway like a maniac. Sheer joy in movement. Our bodies are animals. They need movement to be happy too.
So I invite you to take back your power from the diet gurus, and make your own body your guru. Honour your guru with nourishment, joyful eating, and movement.
But listen to it when it tells you “Enough”. If you tune in, it has great wisdom.
I’m not speaking about people who have genuine and deeply psychological eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia. I’m referring to people who have a mildly dysfunctional relationship with food caused by the diet industry and the messages we get from the media about the shoulds and musts of eating.
If you were to ask most of these people what the worst kind of eating is, they would probably speak about binge eating – you know, the classic Hollywood scene of the girl who gets dumped by her boyfriend: cut to a week later, and the apartment is littered with pizza boxes, ice-cream containers and chocolate wrappers as she soothes her misery with food. We’ve all been there and done that. Be gentle with yourself.. This is not the most iniquitous form of eating. If you find yourself here, take note of the storm you are in, notice what you’re doing, and treat yourself compassionately. Once the storm is over, your equilibrium will return and those kilograms you picked up will drop off once more.
No. The most iniquitous form of eating, the form that packs on kilograms silently over the years, is unconscious eating. When you sit in front of the TV with that jumbo packet of crisps on your lap, and when you next look, the bag is empty and you don’t even remember what they tasted like, because you were so engrossed in the movie. The eating on automatic pilot. It has traumatised your body yet not nourished your soul.
By all means eat crisps. But tune in while you eat them. Taste and enjoy every bite. Truly feed your emotions while you eat. Tune into your body and your soul. Be curious: at what point are your body and soul satisfied? At what point don’t you need any more?