Neuroscientist Dr. Tania Singer was recently at Stanford University during the Dalai Lama’s visit. She was interviewed about the definitions and differences between empathy, compassion and courage. Her definitions are somewhat different than in a traditional NVC model and I enjoyed listening to her responses and pondering how her views matched or disagreed with mine.
I’m discouraged over how automatic and easy it is to blame. The other day I was driving in an area I didn’t know so I turned on my trusted GPS unit (Daniel) and entered my information. Daniel was taking more time than usual and so I started out in the direction I suspected was correct. No sooner had I gotten started when Daniel said in his calm British accent, “Recalculating.” And I said in a voice louder than I am proud of, “Well, you didn’t tell me where to go!”
Kaboom. I blamed a computer. I actually blamed a computer.
This morning I went to the club to swim laps. I had forgotten my swim suit a couple of days ago and so I asked the desk clerk to look in the lost and found for it. It wasn’t there and so I said out loud (much to my disappointment), “I can’t believe someone stole my swim suit!” I went back to the locker room so see if it was there and then went back to the clerk and said, “Is there anyplace else you can check? I just can’t believe someone would steal my swimsuit.” He checked a few other places and determined it wasn’t there.
Not having other workout clothes, I couldn’t think of anything else I could do for a workout so I hopped into the Jacuzzi. While sitting in the Jacuzzi, I started to notice my thinking which went something like this, “I can’t believe someone stole my swimsuit.” “I’ve been coming here for years and nothing has ever been stolen.” “I’ve lived in Flagstaff for 20 years and nothing has ever been stolen.” “This used to be such a safe place to live.”
After about 5 minutes I woke up. Sat straight up in the Jacuzzi and said out loud (fortunately, no one else was around), “Mary, what do you actually know?” I answered, “That I left my swim suit here on Tuesday and Thursday it wasn’t here.”
I said this to myself a couple of times until I calmed down. Then, I felt embarrassed of what I had said to the desk clerk and my thoughts in the next several minutes, so I gave myself empathy for wanting to be more conscious, to live without blame, to Live in the Observation. Deep breath.
To me, Living in the Observation, is a spiritual, moment-to-moment practice. It requires me to WAKE UP, notice what I’m thinking or saying, and bring myself right back to the observation. In doing this, I don’t allow myself to linger in the suffering I cause by what I make up about a situation. In this case, what I made up was that someone stole my swim suit, that Flagstaff wasn’t a safe place anymore, and that my club wasn’t a safe place anymore. All of those thoughts caused me suffering – self-induced suffering. When I can bring myself back to what I know “I left my suit at the club on Tuesday and it wasn’t there on Thursday,” I can pull myself out of suffering and relax.
I don’t know what happened to my suit. Maybe it was stolen. Maybe it was ruined (because I left it in the sauna to dry) and so someone threw it away, maybe something else. The point is I don’t actually know what happened to it, so imagining what might have happened to it only causes suffering. I prefer to Live in the Observation so I can enjoy my life experience more.
Okay, so here’s a bit of gratitude. The time span from the time I walked into the club and when I woke up in the Jacuzzi was approximately 10 minutes. I used to live entire years in self-induced suffering. I am incredibly grateful that I WAKE UP much more quickly now.
Today I got a handwritten card from someone who is visiting family in Ohio. She wrote to tell me how much she appreciates my book Peaceful Living that was published in 2005. Then, she mentioned that she was writing because she’d heard about the forest fires in Flagstaff and wanted me to know she was thinking about me and wishing me well. I don’t know this person and don’t recall having any previous correspondence with her.
I am so touched by this card and the sentiment because of the community, care, and love I receive from it. You know, sometimes I just go about my life and forget how many lives I touch just by living. Do you ever feel as if what you’re doing isn’t making a difference? Or, that you’re not making progress?
I have felt that way many, many times in my life. And then today I get a card from someone in Ohio who tells me she’s thinking about me and appreciating my book and hoping I am safe.
I believe my role is to live each day in integrity with my values as best as I can. To keep showing up for life valuing all needs, focused on the life in each of us, and committed to nonviolence. When I do this I feel better about myself and I feel better about everyone who crosses my path.
I am so grateful to be reminded of this, and equally grateful to know that there are people thinking of me and wishing me well, even when I am not aware of it. This helps bolster my commitment to live in NVC consciousness.
I write this now because I want to express gratitude and to let you know I’m thinking about you; whoever reads this, I’m thinking about you and sending love.
I’m in Hawaii for three weeks offering a variety of trainings. Nearly every day I express my gratitude that I get to do work that I love so much, in a place that is so beautiful to me, and to work with people whom I love. Ahhh.
There have been many moments that I have thought, “remember this for the blog, Mary,” but have been distracted by all the beauty and joy and snorkeling and hiking with friends. So, this morning, I will write about one thing and I hope to write again tomorrow.
I was in the second day of a 4-day retreat and I noticed that I felt uncomfortable with one of the participants and my inner chatter was saying, “He’s not satisfied with the workshop” and “He’s smirking” and “I actually have no idea what’s going on with him!” I became aware of my jackal howling at the lunch break.
Does your jackal howl in your ear for a while before you notice her? Sometimes, mine howls for a while before I become aware of her. I believe this is because it is so familiar to have judgmental or critical thoughts. NVC is teaching me how to become more aware of my jackal inner voice and to respond to her much more quickly, rather than be complacent in my judgments.
Yesterday I boarded a flight from Phoenix, Arizona to Oahu, Hawaii. It was to be a 6.5 hour flight. I had taken special care to reserve a window seat. Upon boarding, I realized that I was seated in the middle seat, in the middle of the plane. I was so frustrated and annoyed! 6.5 hours in the middle seat!
So, I was getting myself settled in my seat with an undercurrent of grumpy judgementalism. The first thing that happened was a man in the row behind me offered to hold my tea while I got myself settled. Next the man sitting to the left of me offered to hold my tea while I buckled my seatbelt. Next, the man sitting to the right of me offered me the Phoenix newspaper that he had just finished. This all transpired while I was grumbling internally, empathizing with myself, feeling worried about how uncomfortable I’m going to be for the next 6.5 hours, blaming airport employees for my miserable situation, etc.
Within 10 minutes, well before the plane started moving, I remembered that if I continue on this course, I will ensure that my flight is utterly miserable. So, I took a deep breath, began empathizing with myself in earnest (not just enjoying the jackal show!), and began to shift my attitude. Then, I napped for about 30 minutes because I realized (through self empathy) that the biggest obstacle for me was only getting 4 hours of sleep the night before.
I had an incident happen about a week ago and it took a few days for me to take the time to give myself self-empathy. What came up was my longing for softness. I have had a series of things that have happened in my life since September that have been harsh and hard and sad including my mother’s death, a very long and cold winter with over 160″ of snow, and a more intense than usual allergy season and many other things. So, when I connected to a desire for softness I cried and cried. I gave myself a lot of time to let this sink in and to remember other times when I’d received tender softness.
The mourning was very healing.
In an effort to support the need for softness I allowed myself long baths, longer than usual quiet time in the morning, and time to connect with a few friends who I find especially nurturing to be with.
Two days later I was on a plane that was VERY turbulent. It was only a 30 minute flight but the plane rocked vigorously the entire time. I ran to the connecting flight and only had about 3 minutes before getting on the next flight. So, I boarded feeling nauseous.
I wrapped myself in my shawl, turned the overhead fan on, closed my eyes and tried to calm myself and my body. I had a 3-hour flight and then a 35 minute ferry ride still to go on this trip. After a few minutes the man next to me tapped my shoulder and said, “Do you want the fan on?”
“Do you want the fan on?”
“Yes,” I said. “Is it bothering you?”
“No,” he said. “I just saw you wrapped in your shawl and I thought you might be cold. I wanted you to know that I could turn it off for you. I’m okay with it being on, though.”
He said all this with a huge and inviting smile. He had one of those really warm faces. The kind of face you just want to crawl into.
I felt so touched by his simple act of kindness and regard. And I instantly remembered my self-empathy and my request to myself and the universe for softness.
This is one of the reasons I love self-empathy….because I clarify what I want and then I recognize it when it arrives. Had I not just discovered through self-empathy that I wanted softness, I wouldn’t have noticed that my request was answered. I still would have enjoyed this man’s kindness (probably) but I wouldn’t have seen it as a response to my request.
When I see it as a response to my request then that meets my needs for appreciation, gratitude, reassurance, trust and so many more. My enjoyment and wonder deepens as a result. In this particular moment, it helped alleviate my physical discomfort too. And, ultimately moved me from an experience of fear (of throwing up in a bag! Ack!) to gratitude. Awwww. I just love that!
Here’s to the people who touch our lives so sweetly and who probably have no idea how sweet our passing was to us!
I’m sitting here staring at my computer wondering what to write. The thing that is most alive in me right now is too embarrassing to write about, I say to myself. “Pick something less revealing.” Unfortunately, nothing has come to mind after staring at the computer for 10 minutes so here goes, warts and all.
I met with a dear group of friends for our monthly book club meeting this Saturday. I got VERY triggered, my jackals were howling in my brain and finally I left rather abruptly. During the 2 hour gathering I had tried self-empathy and I made a few requests that weren’t well connected to needs and one could even argue about whether they were clear, doable requests, but the point is I made an attempt at shifting the situation and my experience of it. To no avail, though. I left shut down and in tears.
Yesterday was April Fool’s Day. This is a day when people play tricks on each other. My mother enjoyed playing little tricks on people so April Fool’s Day was one of her favorite holidays. One year when I was a little girl we were at the dinner table on April Fool’s Day when Mom said to my father, “John, did you notice anything unusual today?” “No” he said. “ANYTHING DIFFERENT ABOUT YOUR UNDERWEAR TODAY?” “Oh! Yes, I thought I had put them on backward and so I just dealt with it.” My mother was disappointed. Apparently, she had sewn the fly in his boxers shut the night before. My father had noticed a dilemma but had assumed he put his boxers on backwards and so just adjusted to it for the rest of the day. We all thought that was hilarious.
This funny little story has been running through my head for the last two days. This morning I realized that I often respond to things as my father did. If something goes wrong, I assume it was my fault in some way and I adjust to the current circumstances.
I recently got a letter from the IRS which stated that a mistake had been made in my 2008 taxes. I was certain I’d made a mistake. So, I took my letter to my accountant, apologizing. The mistake was his, actually, and not mine at all. I left his office elated even though I owed the IRS more money.
Why is this? Why do I (and my father and so many people) assume that we are wrong? Or even that anyone has to be wrong?
I think it’s a core belief that we aren’t good enough, or that we’re not worthwhile. Each time we believe this old, outdated thought, we negate our true self, our beautiful, spiritual self that has value and purpose just because we are breathing.
I’m taking a deep breath just writing this now. I remember watching my mother hang on to life, frail as a rail, unable to feed herself, or even talk but she had breath, precious, life-giving breath. I realized then that as long as we breathe we are spiritual beings with value.
I’d like to remember this more often. It’s so easy to get hung up on thinking I’m supposed to do something, be better, or create an improved model of myself. Today I want to remember that I am already good enough and this present moment is all that matters. When I remember this, there’s no need for right/wrong thinking.