I have been on sabbatical from writing. I got busy, bored with my own thoughts, tired of trying to communicate complex thoughts in simple ways, and yeah, I just had other things I wanted to do with my time; priorities.
Regardless, the result was still silence.
There is so much noise in the world. And yet, whether I listen or not, whether I speak or not, the world keeps on spinning, life keeps on keeping on.
In the past year, life happened. We moved to a new house. My sister, Brenda, died of a brain aneurysm at the far-too-young age of 62. Our grand-daughter, Alice, turned 2. We learned to play pickle ball. Our son nearly killed us on a hike in Utah…ok, maybe not, but it scared me too close to tears.
In the past year, life happened for others, as many document on Facebook. Something new happened in their life, good or bad. Someone near to them died. Someone near to them celebrated life. They learned something new, and something surely scared them.
If you don’t stop the noise of life, you won’t ever hear the silence. Finding silence is a learned skill and a skill worth learning.
Silence is golden because it’s where we find freedom from the noise of life, and connection to peace, wisdom, and contentment for living. Be quiet.
I recently stumbled onto something that is getting a frequent reaction of, “I thought a lot about what you said.”
Although that statement has historically made me hold my breath a little in a “Oh no, what’d I say this time?” moment, I get a little hopeful when I hear it these days.
When I noticed it, there was so much to say and only a short time left in an appointment. I wanted to help, but there was no time for talking through possible choices, or the associated anxiety, confusion, or sadness they might be feeling. I had to just spit it out.
“We both know how you’ve normally responded in these situations. You’ve been stuck. It’s not the first time you’ve felt like this.” They agreed. “Whatever you normally do, what if this week, you don’t do that? Whatever it is, do something different. See what happens.“
The following week, things were better for them. When I asked what had happened, “I just kept thinking about what you said. I did something different. I spent a lot more time breathing, and calming down, and I just made sure I didn’t do what I normally do. I feel a lot better.“
It wasn’t inspirational or too scientific. Just simple. It’s not the answer for all of life’s challenges, but it’s not a bad place to start.
Fundamentally, mindfulness is being aware of our thoughts. I invest time explaining what it is, why it’s valuable, and how to develop it.
Learning a different reaction to a repeating pattern is the solution for many problems. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. Do something different — much easier said than done.
If we want to change how we react, awareness of our thoughts and feelings matter. Under-thinking, impulsivity, or over-thinking, rumination, are opposite ends of the same spectrum. The most important thing we can do is slow down.
I enjoyed this recent article in the Washington Post, Why I’m teaching my 6-year-old to meditate. While meditation is similar to mindfulness, meditation brings focus to a thought while mindfulness brings awareness to our thinking.
Wait a minute. What? This is where describing a simple process quickly slips into the complexity of psycho-babble. It’s a practice because it’s simple but it’s not easy.
This is a 5-minute video I use from the Director of Contemplative Neuroscience at the University of Miami. Of the many available apps, I’m most familiar with Headspace.
Simply said, mindfulness can help.
In our culture of superlatives, “Be the best” and “Do your best” are encouraged and awarded. To be sufficient is just average, less than something better.
What’s wrong with wanting to be or do your best? Nothing if you are emotionally mature and know that performance doesn’t equal value as a person. Children, teens, and too many adults are not emotionally balanced.
Being and doing are similar in terms of behavior, but there is a huge difference between them in terms of identity: self-image, self-esteem, self-worth, and self-acceptance.
When our worth is measured on grades, appearance, income, or pleasing others, we often feel inferior or superior to others. It shows up as depression or anxiety in children to seniors, everyone trying to figure out if they have value.
People matter. We have inherent value as humans.
The opposite of a culture of superlatives is not a culture of mediocrity as many fear; it doesn’t “dumb down” our society. It is a culture of acceptance.
When we learn to just be, and it takes practice, we are at our best as wonderfully human. With this mindset, we’re often counter-intuitively more productive and effective also in what we do. Go figure.
Acceptance is desirable and can be elusive.
“You’re the only one that can accept you,” is flawed. Others can accept us regardless. However, if we don’t accept ourselves, we often push others away, judge, don’t trust, or even sabotage ourselves by acting unacceptably.
It’s a crazy cycle, and hard to explain, but I’m gonna try.
We are hurt or angry when we feel unaccepted. In the hope of acceptance, we try to get others to give it to us. “Maybe if I do this, then they will love me or treat me well,” which is basically trying to control or force someone to give us a gift. It’s a gift and up to them if they give it.
It doesn’t work either to more directly cry or scream, “Accept me dammit!” Besides feeling more hurt and angry, the people we’re depending on to make us feel better grow more resentful and exhausted with our neediness.
In other words, we’re not easy to love. Somehow, we have to accept ourselves in order to be able to receive acceptance or give it away.
An inverted version of the Golden Rule reciprocity explains it: Treat ourselves the way we would have others treat us.
When we accept and respect ourselves, we are more lovable (aka: more accepting, less judgmental and needy). Be easier to love. Accept yourself.
Although this is relevant in the holiday season, I use this story whenever someone needs help setting boundaries with extended family. They often say, “I never realized there were other options?”
When Jeff & I married, my parents had drama. Jeff’s parents didn’t. It happens.
I was an only child of my parents, but they had 6 kids combined from their 1st marriages. Their marriage was messy, and I grew up watching it, terrified that my parents would divorce.
I was 12 when they told me they were going to divorce. Maybe it was because I ran away crying, but it didn’t actually happen until I was 21. I worked hard to save their marriage during those 9 years; I’m sure they did too.
As a young wife, I was still enmeshed in the post-divorce drama of my parent’s lives. Jeff would listen to me in long conversations, still tenacious, trying to make sense out of nonsense or defending whichever parent I wasn’t talking to.
One night he snapped. I was in a “normal” evening conversation when I heard him say, “That’s it! This is enough.” He took the phone from me, said something firmly, and hung up.
Although stunned, I never felt more loved or cared for. It not only empowered me, it showed me I had options and how to break free from feeling responsible. It’s very hard to set boundaries alone; we need support to remind us that it’s ok to take care of ourselves.
He treated me like I mattered when I didn’t know it myself. I’m still grateful.
Willpower can be impressive.
If I want this, if I work hard, if I let nothing get in my way, if I stay focused on the goal…I can get what I want.
Willpower can also be dangerous.
I want this so badly, I will sacrifice anything to get it.
We want what we want regardless of the consequences…until we get the consequences.
When I give away my self-respect, my most significant relationships, my financial security, then it becomes clear. What the hell was I thinking?
When it’s clear we need to let go of what we want, we have to be willing to surrender.
Real willpower is understanding the power of our will. Use our will when it helps and let go of it when it hurts. When we do, we are often able to be more thankful for what we have.
People hurt us. We trusted them. We thought they were for us. They weren’t.
Intentional or not, they hurt us. They may not know we know. Maybe they are jerks. Maybe they were in a tough place, and their choices sucked. Regardless of explanations, there is no excuse.
There are at least 2 reasons to heal. Because hurt people hurt people, healing lessens the chance we’ll hurt others. The other motive is to feel better.
To live in the pain continues to give them power over us. We don’t have to let their crap control us. Screw that. Unplug from them.
I’m not endorsing an approach that ignores, dismisses, or thinks this is a one-time process often heard as “I’m over that. It’s in the past.” This is also not about the concept of forgiveness either; even wishing someone well does not remove the hurt.
It is a continuing process of acceptance. It happened. Feel the hurt again and again as it comes. Accept that it happened. It sucked. We do not have to live haunted by it.
Live out of love, not out of hurt. Treat others like they matter, and treat yourself the same way.
In my last post, I talked about people who lack hope and fear whether they can be helped. There are others, however, who don’t ask if they can be helped.
They often come off as cocky, even self-righteous, in their maladaptive behavior. It can sound like this:
The longer we stay in dysfunction, the deeper the roots. The maladaptive behavior is explained, excused, blamed, or rationalized. It can be hard to offer them compassion.
They are so attached to feeling crappy, they just don’t see a way out. They believe it’s hopeless. While change is less probable, it is still possible. There’s always hope.
The less lovable among us, often those who are more rooted in their dysfunction, have a greater need for acceptance from us. Find the balance between enabling and judging.
Rather than trying to change those deeply rooted in their dysfunction, change how you respond to them.
A question I am often asked is, “Do you think I can be helped?”
Change is possible.
Although we may have the symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, addictions, or even psychosis, the symptoms appear on a continuum; it is a very broad range for how the symptoms of any mental health condition may be demonstrated.
For insurance purposes, there has to be a diagnosed medical condition for mental health benefits to apply. However, it is dangerous therapeutically to speak in absolute terms.
When it is believed, “This is who I am,” it generally predicts and defines who we will be.
Neuroscience, the study of the nervous system and the brain, is complex. However, a basic principle of neuroscience is very clear: the human brain is adaptive.
Past experiences wire our brains for how we react to present experiences. However, if we adapt our wiring of past and present experiences, we can change how we will react to new experiences. It is fascinating!
When it is believed, “This is who I can be,” then it generally predicts who we will be.
Changing our brain is absolutely possible!