Archive for January, 2015

Heading in the Wrong Direction: The Problem with One Way Streets

January 29, 2015

We all know that old habits die hard. Mastering a new skill is a lot easier than unlearning ingrained beliefs and behaviors. It’s a lot less demanding to incorporate a weekly juice cleanse day into our diet than it is to give up smoking. Likewise, it’s more straightforward to practice compassion for an unpleasant stranger than it is to stop resenting our odious in-law. Letting go of our inculcated beliefs and expectations is a much greater challenge partially because few of us realize what our baseline beliefs are. Where did they come from? It simply doesn’t occur to us to wonder. We’ve been taught X, other people seem to believe X, too, so we plow forward based on nothing more. How unthinking is that?

 

Nine times out of ten, people stick with what’s familiar because it’s comfortable and easy. “It’s what we’ve always done,” they shrug. The end. Embracing anything new usually requires us to let go of the old and letting go can feel like an admission we were “wrong.” Nobody wants to feel wrong—it makes us feel stupid. So instead, we cling to customary beliefs and choices in order to remain within the framework of What a Successful Life Looks Like. (Examples—holidays must be celebrated on the precise day and must be spent with relatives, no matter what; the only acceptable jobs within our circle have certain parameters; having children is the highest and best expression of adulthood.)

 

Let’s begin our analysis: who is someone you know who has a rigid idea about how someone (whether themselves or others) should behave or be like? Has this stubbornness resulted in great unhappiness for anyone? Now that you have a personal example on which to focus, let’s deconstruct their beliefs. What is their hang up? Why do you think they are so obstinate? What are they afraid of? When was the last time they showed their true colors about this matter? (Did you get caught in their crossfire?) What might happen if they changed their mind?

 

Now, let’s shift gears from an obvious example to considering the sorts of dogmatic ideas people don’t realize they have. For instance, where do you come down on the idea of attending worship services? Do you disdainfully consider regular parishioners unthinking ninnies or politically correct sycophants? Maybe you suspect that those who don’t attend formal services invite hardship into their lives because, obviously, they have no wish to know God. So, where would people who have no discernable religious tradition but believe in Spirit and strive to live a life dominated by kindness and generosity come out in your assessment? Can such people be ok in your book or, underneath it all, do you shake your head, muttering something about their misguided belief in a just universe or, on the other end of the spectrum, being lost in the wilderness? Is there another, acceptable way to express spirituality, even if it isn’t yours? Can you bring yourself to fully respect someone for whom abiding faith plays a role? Can you make room for these types?

 

Now extend this line of questioning to concepts such as “family values” or “good friend.” What do these phrases mean to you? How did you arrive at these definitions? Is there another way to live up to such principles other than the way you have deemed acceptable: “If she were a real friend, she wouldn’t have done X.” “A husband who cared would see that this is a problem and be worried.” “To be compassionate means you have to do/vote/advocate THIS.” Really?

 

Whenever you find yourself thinking along the lines of, “There’s only one way,” you’re in TROUBLE. What I am saying is not relativist—it’s not that all ideas are equally good—but, if two people uphold the same principle—family values is a natural–the fact that they express it differently doesn’t diminish their dedication to the overriding goal. How I express interest in the kids may be totally different from how you’d do it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. Does what I’m saying make sense?

 

Let’s think back on your stubborn friend, the one you thought of earlier in this post. You can see how much unhappiness their attitude has caused. Isn’t it a shame that they haven’t managed to reverse direction? Might you apply the same assessment to yourself?

One Way sign

 

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Finding Meaning in the Madness

January 27, 2015

Late January is often a time when people like to ward off the cold by sitting down to a nice bowl of hot, steaming soup. The magical combination of broth, vegetables and meat can result in a meal that comforts and nourishes us, whether we’re sick or healthy. Those quiet moments spent at the table, enjoying such repast can restore our energy to get on with the tasks at hand. After all, we have a long list of things we need to accomplish, places to go and people to see. Usually, the meaning and value of our work is clear, but sometimes, we wonder whether we’re simply chasing our tails. “What is the point of this nonsense? Why do I bother?” we mutter. Sound familiar?

 

I’ve thought the same thing many times; in fact, it’s something I struggle with a lot. What is the point of having worked as hard as I have only to have it disappear on me? What is the point of helping my dad when he pays no attention? How can I repair a relationship where the other person refuses to budge? Here are three themes: perceived loss, recognition, and control. Where in your life do you struggle with such issues? When have you experienced loss or a significant setback? Where do you feel your contributions aren’t being recognized? What situation is beyond your control? What meaning do you choose to extract from such difficulties or hurts?

 

The value we assign to these experiences can range from “nothing/who cares” to “life changing,” but the key phrase in this sentence is “we assign.” We control what importance any interaction or experience has in our life. Because it is January, I’m going to use a soup analogy to make my point. Homemade soup is delicious and nourishing and has untold benefits for the body. Just about anything can be used to make a wonderful broth. Certain people I know take pleasure in the challenge of seeing how much flavor they can squeeze out of the “dregs” of their refrigerator—old carrots, a forgotten head of garlic, chicken bones, that sort of thing—to create a wonderful meal. But, regardless of the quality of the ingredients, the cook must pay attention to what they’re doing and work to bring the soup about. “How do I make this a better soup?” I doubt any of you would happily accept a proffered bowl of tepid water where I left the ingredients sitting in the bottom of a pot for three days, but were I to utilize those same ingredients in a different way, well, I have every confidence you’d be asking for seconds!

 

By the same token, the primary task of any re-booter is to seek out the underlying, constructive value of any relationship or experience—negative or positive. We are here to learn something! We can use this situation to expand our capabilities, to be more resourceful. Instead of defining chronic pain as proof positive that a) the Universe is punishing us, b) my body hates me, or c) it’s more than I can handle, we dig deeper to uncover a far more solid purpose in confronting this challenge. Perhaps we will learn to see this pain as a fulcrum to develop better self control and patience with our failing body. Maybe we’ll grow to understand and be grateful for those around us who are supporting us through this trial. And if we believe it’s too much for us to handle, perhaps we are being called upon the break the problem down into manageable bits. The question we should be asking ourselves is how do we rise to this challenge?

 

If, like me, you don’t know where to begin, an excellent place to start is to study what we do well. In the arenas where we have met success, what is it that we do and think? We have confidence, right? We’re calm. We don’t get ruffled by other people leaping about or questioning our abilities. We start with the parts we know we can handle. We self-correct if the situation warrants. Our attitudes, our reactions, and our big picture view of what is occurring are entirely different when we experience success. These are transferrable skills.

 

For instance, what is it about handling difficult customers that might be applied to family members? If a customer throws a fit, accusing us of all sorts of incompetence or bad behavior and says he’ll never return, what do we tell ourselves so that we react calmly and can move ahead with our day? How might we apply the same attitude in other situations, such as when someone dumps us or purposefully insults us? Must we fall apart at the seams? Don’t tell me one relationship is personal and one is not. Think beyond this—you can apply the same (healthy) attitude you hold in one arena in another. And further, when such (more personal) unpleasantness arises, you can see this as a test of your maturity; it’s an opportunity to cultivate patience and compassion for someone who is upset. You are developing the ability to let someone do whatever it is they’re going to do without getting worked up. Do you see how powerful this is? But you can only achieve this if you set your mind to it. You are the cook who makes your soup.

 

My point is this: when you find yourself in the thick of something that feels pointless or hurtful or could be interpreted as yet another example of how you can’t get ahead, you need to change how you think about it. If you want tasty soup, you gotta stir the pot, you gotta believe there’s potential in that sad little celery, you gotta extract the flavor from the bones—the soup won’t make itself. The more practiced you become at doing this, the more nourishing and flavorful the end result.

Soup pot

Our Petrifying Ideas

January 22, 2015

Sometimes, we just can’t help ourselves. We read trash. We watch junk. We indulge in embarrassing behaviors which make us cringe, but…we do it anyway. This ridiculous form of conduct applies to me all too often. How about you? Is there some mindless drivel you indulge in? Now come on, ‘fess up: your secret’s safe with me.

 

Hedonist that I am, I probably pamper myself in this manner far more than most, realizing that doing so does nothing to enhance my lifespan or productivity, but sometimes there’s nothing for it. The heart wants what it wants. For reasons I can’t fully explain, I recklessly insist on doing or watching or reading whatever it is, recognizing that these hours are forever lost. (The same would be true about the eons of time spent entering data into useless spreadsheets at work.) Putting aside such snark, I will point out that there are occasions when, buried deep within the bowels of these absurdities, a truth swims up through the dreck. This happened to me recently and got me thinking…

 

One dreary winter night, not so long ago, I found myself idly flipping through the channels, stopping to watch a mind-numbing teenage blockbuster, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. In this particular paean to romance and life wisdom one of the minor vampires murmurs, “We sat still for a very long time; we didn’t notice we were beginning to petrify.” This line so caught my attention that I actually heaved myself up off the sofa and wrote it down so I should not forget to share this bit of wisdom with you, dear reader. The ossification of ideas, attitudes, and approaches can creep up on us, unawares. Have you ever noticed elderly people whose taste in wardrobe, hair styles, and home decor have remained fixed for the past forty years? They selected one moment in their lives and have clung to whatever they did then, despite the fact that their children have grown and moved away, their bodies have changed, and the world today is unrecognizable compared to those days of yore. Interacting with such types is like stepping back in time. Talk about petrified wood.

 

Now, as someone who cherishes much about the past and appreciates the hard work and sacrifices our forbearers made, I am sympathetic to revering what has gone on before, but I am puzzled by their refusal to make accommodations for what is versus what was. What is this stubbornness all about? Life is not a hard and fast process; rather, it is fluid, dynamic, and continually swirling over and around us.

 

In this blog, I often write about the difficulties that accompany change—feelings of loss, fear, and inadequacy are typical when we are forced to confront new terrain. I recognize, too, that change gets even harder the older we become, but the hardening of ideas and attitudes that I have seen, well, much of it is fear based—these people fervently believe that things were better “before.” Steadier, safer, happier. For them, the parameters of the past are understood—the present, not so much. In other words, when people become petrified about the unknown, they take the ideas and ways that are familiar and embalm them. Their lives assume a passive, dull quality. Do you know anyone like this? When I see people living their lives in such a fixed manner, I often wonder, “Will they bend…or break?

 

Now, turn this line of thinking around and apply it to yourself: which ideas, attitudes, or assumptions have you embalmed? What is your sticking point? How petrified are you?

Petrified Forest

 

The Flight of the Drones

January 20, 2015

Given that this evening our President will be making his annual State of the Union speech, I have a DC-centric theme for this post. Patriotism is abundant in this country, so nobody would expect the nation’s capital of our Ship of State to be anything other than vibrant. After all, Washington DC is a great city, populated with all sorts of energetic and ambitious go-getters determined to make the world a better place. On the news, we see shots of monuments sparkling at night, limousines rushing down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House, and Important People dressed in pin striped suits (Congress notwithstanding). Alas, current conditions ‘round here are a lot more akin to the stomachache Shirley Temple complains of On the Good Ship Lollipop.

 

Recently, Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney wrote a piece that examines the sluggish economic growth that has befallen this region over the past three years (the exact, same years I’ve been back in town). He quotes a development expert as pointing out that the presence of bustling restaurants is a good example of ways people ignore the weak underpinnings of the job market. Those who have jobs are oblivious to the increasing seriousness of the problem for those who don’t. I am one such person and my struggles to make professional and financial headway in DC are very real. McCartney segues from the lack of job growth to the crumbling condition of the region’s infrastructure—our roads, bridges, and mass transportation were not designed to withstand current usage. In other words, although things may appear to be a hive of activity, the underpinnings have fractured significantly.

 

The “Flight of the Bumblebee” is an orchestral interlude composed by Nikolai Rimsky- Korsakov at the turn of the century; just about everyone has heard it at one point or another. I consider this piece a fitting accompaniment to McCartney’s column because when I listen to it, it reminds me of the high, whiny noise that indicates frenetic movement but disappears into thin air an instant later. Such superficial busyness can distract us from addressing core issues which make the difference between how, or if, we move forward. The same can be said about the process of re-booting our lives. Too often, we can get lost in the immediate and conveniently disregard fractures in our foundation. Although addressing such internal issues can feel uncomfortable, it does not serve us to close our eyes, murmuring that it will all go away, if only we wait long enough…

 

As I have struggled with re-booting my life here in DC, I have asked myself whether I am the Grasshopper or the Ant? When I was employed, my answer was, easily, the ant—I was all work all the time; pleasure was not part of my vocabulary. Now, I don’t know what I am. Have you ever felt that way? Aesop cautioned us, long ago, against the perils of putting off tomorrow what should be done today. We would be wise to take heed and take action in order to avoid the fate of the Grasshopper. As for me, I finally got to a point where I could delay no longer, so I took a clerical job. To accommodate the demands of my new temp job, I arise early, hustling down to Dupont Circle via the sporadic subway service that is Metro. Half awake, I stare at the coat encased worker bees gathering around me on the grimy platform, waiting their turn to crowd onto the trains, their eyes fixed on a spot on the floor, headphones drowning out all ambient sound. I have this odd feeling of isolation in the midst of a throng. To distract myself, I often dream up names for local sports teams such as the Washington Drones with a dancing bureaucrat as mascot.

 

I realize I’ve rambled in this post, but sometimes such sidestepping is necessary in order to tackle uncomfortable realities. You may not be struggling in terms of employment, but you’re struggling with something. What is it? What honest, first step can you take to begin to sort it out? Or are you busying yourself with a rearranging of deck chairs?

Ship run aground

 

 

 

 

Permanent Change for a Temp: Learning to Surf the Current

January 15, 2015

Sometimes, changes in the way we react to the most mundane of circumstances serve as proof as to how much we’ve matured without even realizing it. There we are, going along minding our own business, when Pow! Shazam! something happens (or fails to happen). In previous times, we would’ve done or thought X, but now, it hardly merits a blip on our radar screen. What’s going on?

 

Case in point: this week, I started a low level temp job at a quasi-academic trade association, downtown. (Fifteen bucks an hour gets you very little in this world, but it’s a new year and I have to scrabble together enough money to purchase way more in health insurance than I need.) I’ve only been there a few days, but this re-dipping of a toe in the workaday waters has demonstrated for me just how much I’ve progressed during these years in the desert. Before, I would’ve been eager to dazzle coworkers and upper management with my charm and wide ranging skillsets, believing that once they understood how terrific I am, they’d leap at the chance to have me. It’s also true that I’d have chafed at being told what to do by junior staff. (The height of hubris, I know.)

 

Today is a different story. My identification with and approach to such work is transformed. I no longer see a job—any job—as the definition of who I am and my value to this world. This is a huge, huge evolution. (As you’re reading along, please keep in mind that this same line of reasoning can be applied to whatever role you have declared all-important: Enthusiastic! Spouse, Unflagging Parent, Loyal Friend, Supreme Boss of the World, Enlightened Political Activist, a Person Who Rides in Private Planes, etc.) These days, I actually like having so little invested in where I am going—is that a bad thing? I can do my work and be on my way without any of the sticky expectations: no cookies to buy, no bullshit memos to read, no jockeying with others for seniority. What “mandatory activities would you cheerfully leave behind? What does this tell you about how important being this person is to your Inner Self?

 

I’ve asked myself if my new, relaxed attitude is genuine or is it more a symptom of resignation? After all, I’ve been looking for work for a long time with little success; it wouldn’t surprise anyone if I did. But, that’s not it. I’m not lackadaisical; in fact, I’m far more at ease with myself than I’ve ever been. Why? I know more.

 

What does this mean, exactly? Well, it means that I’ve smartened up about how I communicate, whether or not I’ll kill myself over a project, and how much I worry about the approval of others. I’m a lot savvier about reading the tea leaves and I recognize that life can be unfair. Just because you are energetic or smart or steadfast doesn’t mean that you’ll snag the brass ring (let alone be thanked). Good people get screwed all the time. There’s no reason to be bitter or disappointed because that’s just…life. It’s how the cookie crumbles. What do you think? Does any of this ring true?

 

I may very well have never learned these lessons had I met with unmitigated success; I’d have had no reason to reconsider my initial assumptions. My previous naiveté now makes me chuckle. These days, I am a far wiser and humbled individual who has a lot more patience and compassion for those who get kicked in the ass, bewildered as to how they landed in the mud. I know now that there’s usually more to the story. I’m also far more resilient. This doesn’t mean to say that I don’t have moments of frustration or despair or panic, let alone more to learn, because I do. How about you? How have you changed in your perceptions of the world? What do you manage better now compared to how you did a few years back? What personal difficulty has engendered patience and compassion and a good, knowing chuckle?

 

I don’t know how “it” will all work out because life can change on a dime—we all get thrown off course. I’ve come to appreciate how much better it is to have confidence in my ability to surf the currents, swim past the divas, and allow the sea to support me rather than sink like a stone—even on those days when I feel caught in an eddy. Looking at it this way, I’d say these realizations are a pretty good swap for $15 bucks an hour.

 Eddy depiction 2

If a large rock sticks up out of the surface of a river, then the current has to go around it. Holes and eddies often form behind large boulders.

Leveraging Our Artistic License

January 13, 2015

Because my mother is an artist, I have grown up listening to her observations and explanations about how light and shadow change over the course of the day and how this impacts what we perceive around us. Often, she will point out that the grey walls I notice aren’t really grey at all, but more of a cool blue or lavender that reflects against a dark driveway—that sort of thing. As a result, I am far more visually attuned than I would otherwise be. It’s not in my nature to discern such distinctions as finely as she does, but I’m very glad I’ve learned because such knowledge furthers my understanding of and appreciation for what it is I’m actually seeing.

 

The evaluation that must occur in order to recognize the difference between a “warm” blue and a “cool” one serves as a useful launching point for assessing how each of goes about composing our personal canvas. What I mean by this is if your life, today, were a painting, would you have filled the canvas with warm or cool colors? Dark or light? Would its structure be loose and abstract or tightly controlled with a distinct image rendered? What medium would you use: water colors, acrylics, or oils? You don’t have to know a lot about art to answer these questions—we’ve all seen paintings and know how differently the same image can appear, depending on the artist. In an effort to break down this exercise into more easily digestible chunks, let’s start with structure.

 

How tightly controlled is your life?

 

Personally, my answer to this question is a source of consternation for me because it’s definitely not the one I want. Right now, I’d say my life was so loose and abstract as to be spilling over the edges with practically no distinguishable form—and I’m someone who loves structure, where I know what I’m dealing with and everything makes sense. Sooo not my life these days. But, over the years, I have reluctantly learned to live with such flux—and, truth be told, it’s probably good for me not to have everything presented in easily digestible bits. I’m a very lazy person, so if it had been available to me, I’d probably have grabbed the first clear cut solution that came my way rather than work to solve the Gordian Knot that is my life.

 

Reflecting upon composition and form reminds me of how confused I felt as a child when looking at many of my mom’s paintings. “They’re messy,” I complained. “They’re just a bunch of squiggles. What’s it supposed to be?” Looking back, my strong reaction is sort of funny considering how much I loved finding pictures in clouds, but kids are odd that way. It took me years to see her canvases as anything other than a giant, abstract mess, but eventually, forms did emerge. Over time, I started to see what was there, even though it didn’t conform to my ideas of what a house or wooded glen or collection of shadows stretching across a field was supposed to look like. I started to appreciate the sophistication required to see more, to watch as images materialized from the negative spaces or forms emerged where, at first glance, none appeared. Today, I find great joy in uncovering the unexpected.

 

So, now, let’s turn our focus back to you. Do you define your life by warm or cool colors? Is there sufficient light for you to see or do you long for more shadow, a refuge from the glare? What amount of structure in your compositions feels most natural to you and is this reflected in how you live your life? Where do you measure on the scale of free, creative expression? How might you get closer to what you want? Take a few minutes and mull this over before you decide upon your final answer. Oftentimes, you need to go beyond your first, right answer to discover the truth.

Heart cloud

 

Drifting Along on Clouds of Cotton Candy

January 8, 2015

Sitting here in the seventy degree, January sunshine that Santa Barbara is famous for, it is easy to pretend that the polar vortex which awaits me in Washington doesn’t exist. Much about the real world is easy to ignore when one’s days are spent blissing out in paradise. As I relish my last few days here before returning to the confounding miasma that is our nation’s capital my thoughts wander onto ruminations related to diet, friends, and lifestyles. Odd associations, I know. My mind works in mysterious ways. What does one have to do with the other?

 

Just about everything I do gets measured on a scale I define as “cotton candy vs. chicken.” This is my way of determining how rewarding a relationship or activity is to me. Is the experience a light, frothy confection or a solid, nutritious protein that will carry me over the long haul? There’s plenty of room for both in my world, and each serves a specific need because there are times when nothing will satisfy a hedonic craving like cotton candy, but if I want real fuel, I must go with chicken. That’s the way I roll.

 

It’s fascinating to recognize how varied people’s needs are for serious fulfillment versus light fun. We’re all over the map on this one. But then, there are those who seem to have firmly fixed themselves to one end of the scale and refuse to budge. Alas, I know individuals in Washington and Santa Barbara who have forgotten what it’s like to let go, relax, and be silly—as though there were moral virtue in being serious all the time. And others who dedicate themselves to the most superficial of existences, keeping their heads firmly planted in the sand. This is not simply their temperament, it’s a conscious choice—a lifestyle of sorts. Why the aversion to the other, I wonder. What is it that they’re so afraid of?

 

Just to be clear, I want to set out my belief that an activity doesn’t have to be “serious” to be fulfilling or meaningful. We can’t all be ER docs and life isn’t meant to be lived as a non-stop crisis, anyway. Indeed, I have seen myriad examples of people engaging in what they would define as “serious, important” work (especially in Washington) that is meaningless and gets us nowhere. Is that time well spent?

 

What about you? How are you spending your time? Do you find yourself eating more cotton candy than you actually enjoy? Perhaps you’re sick of all chicken, all the time.

 

I posit this question because it’s easy for us to forget to take a moment and assess what it is we’re doing, who we’re doing it with, and if it’s what we need. Are you feeling fulfilled? Is there room in your life for silly pleasure? And, if not, what’s preventing you from making more room for that element? What will fill that nagging empty spot inside? Does the fear of being judged by others prevent you from engaging in activities or friendships that you might otherwise enjoy? Are you terrified that you’ll get overwhelmed or depressed by all the bad news and chaotic suffering in the world if you give it more than a second glance?

 

Each of us will answer these questions differently. But with the start of the new year, I figured it was a good time to examine where the balance is for us now and where we would like it to be.

Cleaning our Emotional House

January 6, 2015

With the changing of the calendar and another New Year’s demarcation behind us, many of us step forward armed with resolutions, goals, and promises to make this year better than the one before. A natural nexus to all of this is tackling various clean up projects—clearing out detritus we no longer need, organizing what we do, working hard to keep our little corner of the world swept up, nice and neat.

 

How good are you at cleaning up your messes?

 

Groan. I know. I feel the exact same way. While certain projects such as getting in shape or organizing our office are largely within our control, tangible, and clear cut, others are less so. What makes clean up far more fraught is when the messes are not of our own making. It’s a lot trickier to clear up misunderstandings or assuage hurt feelings when the offending action is something personalized by the other party. Do we apologize for something we didn’t do? What if they expect more than a, “I’m sorry your feelings are hurt” sort of statement, making it into a whole thing where a litany of additional personalized hurts gets tacked on. Who wants to hear all the ways they have fallen short of the mark?

 

Yuck, yuck, yuck.

 

It is precisely such circumstances that test the mettle of a dedicated Re-booter. It is our cultivated ability to rise above our defensive reactions and to draw upon a wellspring of compassion for this beloved other in order to find a way through such messes. This isn’t easy and we may not do it perfectly but that’s ok, because at least we’re trying. When I found myself in one such unfortunate scenario, I reminded myself of a few things: 1) this is what it feels like for the other person when you personalize things, Chrisanna; how do you like them apples? 2) this person is obviously feeling fragile, so try to see beyond their immediate accusations and communicate with their more mature and grounded self; 3) how would your Ideal Self—the person you want to be—handle this interaction in order to increase the likelihood that both parties can move forward in a constructive manner? and 4) give them time to settle down while also demonstrating that you care about them. These are the guideposts I aspire to use, especially when I’m feeling defensive or fed up or insulted.

 

How do you tackle such interactions? What strategies have you tried? How have they worked for you?

 

Re-booters recognize that kerfuffles such as these do crop up from time to time—in the spectrum of any close relationship, they’re bound to occur—so, we take it in stride. Having made the decision about how we want to handle ourselves when confronted by such unpleasantness gives us the confidence to react in a more measured manner, with compassion for the unhappy other. The good news is that tangles such as these don’t come up too often. It gives cleaning house an entirely new meaning.

Sitting With Silence

January 1, 2015

Ok, so, it’s a new year—2015 to be exact—and it’s time to get going. Once again, I wish to take this opportunity to thank you for reading Dignitary’s Retreat; I know you have a lot going on in your lives and the fact that you take the time and trouble to read my blog is appreciated. If you get even half as much out of reading my posts as I do writing them, I’m delighted.

 

We all have things that we do which relax or center us. For me, during this extended period of upheaval and transformative change in my life, writing this blog has provided a sense of purpose and refuge, so, in a way, your willingness to accompany me on this journey serves an important part of my reinvention. Thank you.

 

With the ringing in of a new year, I have been thinking a lot about silence. For someone as verbal as I am, it’s a lot easier for me to fill gaps with quick and noisy replies, guesses, prognostications, etc. than it is to sit and allow an answer to reveal itself in the fullness of time. Perhaps because I am a high energy person who loves to accomplish specific goals each day, summoning the patience and maturity to sit still and wait does not come easily for me. I realize that part of my impatience stems from the intense anxiety that arises when an answer is not immediately forthcoming. I hate the not knowing; I fill such gaps with dire (and usually wildly wrong) projected conclusions of my own. Alas, the gods are uninterested in alleviating my self-perpetuated angst.

 

As time moves forward, I recognize more and more how hugely varied people’s natural rhythms are. I see now that there are many people who don’t feel the need to answer every question or return every quip. Others require time to sort through multiple possibilities before reaching a conclusion. And then, there are those who just take longer to think. For people such as these, the gaps I find so agonizing are simply a necessary and reasonable part of any calculation. I know that part of my struggle with silence comes from the fact that I grew up with a parent who used silence as a form of punishment, so it has all sorts of negative connotations that I have had to overcome. Where do you fall along this bell curve? How good are you at sitting through prolonged silence?

 

Of late, I’m starting to recognize how much better things go when I serenely wait out the pauses. And, as reluctant as I am to admit it, it is also true that the first answer I reach is not always the best. In fact, as I recently counseled a friend, we cannot see all the possibilities available to us when we are upset or frantic or feeling out of sorts. In fact, our best choices may not reveal themselves until after we have withstood a period of quiet, removing ourselves from the source of stress. Until then, we cannot begin to imagine what wonders await us, if only we have the eyes to see.

 

Giving people the room and the time to interact with us at a pace that suits them is a cultivated skill. They are not like us and we are not like them. Easy to say, hard to understand. Just because we would do x, y, and then z doesn’t mean that their strategy is lesser, despite the fact that were we to behave the way they do, we’d be sending another message, entirely. Does what I am saying make any sense?

 

So, your homework assignment for this first post of 2015 is to consider your relationship with the silence of others. How do you react when people are quiet or slow to respond? What if they don’t respond at all? Do you personalize their silence? Do you interpret it as an indication of their esteem for you? Do you even notice? One of my goals for the new year is to bring down the level of internal chatter in my life, to let people be who they are, as they are. How about you?


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