Honoring special women

Honoring Special Women

Today I honor all the women who read my jottings and I trust you—all the men as well—will do the same by honoring the special women in your lives. Some of the qualities I most admire in women are courage, compassion, integrity and love.

As I watch and listen to the unfolding tragedy that is going on in Ukraine and neighboring countries today, I am so utterly saddened. But because today, March 8 is International Women’s Day, I find myself reflecting on two special people who have touched my life from that part of the world—a Ukrainian and a Pole. They both introduced me to this very special day that is celebrated in their cultures. As things unfold in their countries I watch in amazement as Poles graciously help Ukrainian women and children escape to safety.

I had never heard of International Women’s Day until several years ago. I knew that March has become the month to honor women in the United States. But I first learned about it at one of my tango nights. One year on March 8, Inga, a Ukrainian woman who organized our group, brought sweets and flowers for all the women. We have a lot of Eastern Europeans in our tango community. This was my first introduction to this celebratory day. Inga continues to do this every year on or around March 8.

A couple of years later when I was having my kitchen remodeled, Christopher, a very pleasant Polish man was doing most of the work. One day in March, I opened the door for him and he immediately bowed to me and gave me a box of candy. I was so moved! He later explained that this day was a really big deal in his country. ALL women are honored on that day–not just mothers—and they are treated like queens.

Origins of honoring women

This day was actually first observed in New York in 1909. But Clara Zetkin, a German feminist, pushed for it to be a holiday in 1910. It really took off in Europe and especially in Russia. There, striking women workers sparked the February Revolution on International Women’s Day in 1917. It later spread across the world as an important day to recognize the contributions women have made to both family and the economy. Dozens of countries mark it as an official or unofficial holiday—from Brazil to Afghanistan to Nepal.  In addition to flowers and candy, there are often parades and protests.

I suspect, that even though there is much disruption in these countries today, there will be tiny moments taken to celebrate the courageous women involved in this crisis. And perhaps we can honor these women and all women by honoring our own special women!

Check our my free classes: iRest Meditation and Hanna Somatic Movement–a gentle movement practice to release pain and enhance mobility.

holding space

Holding Space: Healing & Transformation

There are times when providing a supportive space (or holding space) for someone facing a challenge can be the greatest gift. The process of holding space means being compassionately present. And it may not be an easy thing to do—especially when the other is our child, aging parent, or intimate friend. Our tendency is to want to fix things or offer advice. But when we are instead able to just be there for someone, it allows them to dip into their own inner space. This allows for making sense of their circumstance and thus shift from feeling isolated, wounded, or victimized to feeling safe, supported, and connected. Ultimately, our holding supportive space fosters the other’s growth and empowerment.

tear dropHolding space can happen at ordinary and unexpected times. Have you ever had an experience of being suddenly and utterly present with a complete stranger? I remember when someone behind me in a grocery store checkout line. She mentioned she was buying nutritional shakes for her mom who couldn’t eat solid food anymore. Then there was the person sitting next to me on an airplane who shared that he was traveling to be with a dying friend. In both cases, I felt deep empathy; my heart spontaneously opened to them, and they poured out their emotions.

Holding space with compassion

CompassionWe may think of ourselves as independent persons, but we are all interdependent beings.  Holding space for another is a form of compassion, but it is not a one-way gesture; it’s a shared experience. The American Buddhist author and teacher Pema Chödrön has stated this eloquently: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and wounded. It is a relationship between equals.”

Often, when we show compassion for another, our own dilemmas surface. We want to say, “I know exactly how your feel.” But do we really know how another person feels? You may think that this response, and even sharing a personal story, will help them. But more often than not it will diminish the importance of their struggle. How do we know when to simply listen and when to offer advice or share our own experience?

No agenda

Holding space has no agenda or expectations or the need to help someone overcome a problem. All judgment must be set aside. Sitting silently and listening—in other words, abiding—creates a safe environment that invites the other’s heart to make room for whatever wants to be present. Don’t be afraid of silence.

Abiding is not suppressing your own thoughts, feelings, or sensations, but rather inviting them to take a back seat for now. Though your relationship with the one you are holding space for is “between equals,” you may not occupy equal space. You invite the person to occupy as much space as they need. As a back seater, you may want to take up more prime space. Be mindful when this happens. Simply say, as Messengeryou would to a small child, “Not now; later.” Mindfulness is noticing your attention and what arises to distract you. It also is recognizing that whatever arises in your awareness is a messenger with something to share. It could be a self-doubt, judgment, or even fear. Rather than killing the messenger, we also must hold space for the message to be revealed.

Avoiding sympathy, favoring empathy

While holding space, notice when feelings of sympathy arise, as they can lead to disconnection from the other person. According to Brené Brown, author and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, when we feel sympathy for someone, we feel sorry for them but don’t feel their pain or understand their perspective. Feeling empathy as well as expressing compassion strengthens our connection. There may be a fine line between empathy and compassion. When we are compassionate, we are conscious of another’s distress and desire to alleviate it, but we are not invested in understanding their perspective. But with empathy, we are aware of, sensitive to, and vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another. As a result, we become more connected to them. Empathy is putting yourself aside, stepping into the other’s shoes, and walking their path with them.

EmpathyBrown views empathy as being at one end of a continuum of connection, with shame at the opposite end and vulnerability as the equalizer. Shame and blame close us off and cause disconnection. In stark contrast, an empathic ear offers another the opportunity to be vulnerable yet feel safe in sharing his or her weaknesses. While shame says “I can’t let you see this,” vulnerability involves courage, compassion, and openness to connection.

Journey towards feeling whole

As I reflect back on my life, I think of many times when I needed to share my struggles with someone I could trust, who would listen lovingly and even feel my pain. There have been losses—a job, intimate relationships, parents. There have been life-changing challenges to address and decisions to make. I am fortunate to have had others who supportively held space for me. Some things, I’m sure, may have seemed trivial to the listener. Yet I have learned the value of letting go and allowing my vulnerability to surface with the right person. I have been able to do the same for friends and family, as well as countless people in my coaching work. I believe this is an important skill we learn on our journey toward feeling whole.

If someone we care about has acted inappropriately or been dishonest or hurtful, how can we hold space for and support them? Is it possible to set judgment aside and offer unconditional acceptance? Many therapists have learned that they don’t have to like a client or approve of what they have done. But they accept the person and constructively encourage them to move forward in their life. We can learn that same approach.

Fundamentals of space holding

Learning to hold space for someone can be cultivated as a form of spiritual practice much like meditation. Key components of this practice are:

  • Letting go of judgment
  • Opening your heart
  • Allowing another to have whatever experience they’re having
  • Giving your complete undivided attention to the other person.

Holding space for another invites our best self into the relationship. We trust the process to unfold organically. In sharing a journey with someone with an unknown destination, we foster their healing and transformation—and often our own.

listening in nature

Listening as Presence: Learn How

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

Listening to pianoI recently viewed a TV special with a segment from the PBS children’s television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in which Nick, a young boy, was invited to play the piano. As Nick played a Bach minuet, Mister Rogers listened in a way that suggested he was not just hearing the notes but actually experiencing them in the same way his young player did. He watched Nick’s facial expressions, not his hands, and was thoroughly present and connected in his listening. Indeed, a Mister Rogers hallmark was encouraging kids to connect with others, especially those different from them. That passion for connection is reflected in the title of both the song for which he is best remembered and the recent documentary film about him: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Passive and active

How often are you really present with what is happening in your life? Do you find yourself easily distracted while engaging in activities or listening only partially when people are speaking? Thoughts, feelings, and perceptions have always had their power to distract us from the present moment. But nowadays texts, emails, and various social media have become all consuming, taking us away from what is before us, and even what is inside us. Yet with all this connectivity, research reveals that Americans feel more isolated and disconnected than ever before. All these electronic distractions interfere significantly with our ability to truly listen, focus, respond—and even to feel fully alive.

Hearing is generally a passive experience. We are bombarded with a myriad of sounds as we move through our daily lives and simply cannot be present to all of them. But how often do we really stop to listen?

Listening is not limited to hearing through our ears. We have the capacity to listen with our whole body, heart, and mind. Although hearing depends on the transmission of vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear, sound vibrations also produce a felt sense in the body. I once attended a conference at which the entire audience was deaf. To my surprise, the event ended with a dance; the participants’ bodies moved with exhilarating joy to incredibly loud music. So loud it felt like my eardrums might burst. But I also felt its deep vibration throughout my entire body.

listening to cicadas

cicada

As I write this, the hissing sound of cicadas is present outside and I occasionally pause and listen. I feel it vibrating inside and around me. Listening can be an active inner experience that that requires our full presence and fosters openness and absorption.

Connection

We all have a need to tell our story and truly be heard. Our minds often ruminate over stories of our daily experiences as well as our life challenges, which can cause us to feel stuck or blocked. Sometimes just letting it out verbally can release some of what is pent up inside. But that may only provide a temporary fix. We all need a Mister Rogers–like listener. When someone truly listens to us, a powerful human connection is created. We depend on and thrive as a result of such inter-relatedness with others.

listening through journaling

Anne Frank

When no one is available to listen, journaling can be a meaningful outlet. Some people keep a journal as if they are opening up to another person. Thirteen-year-old Anne Frank was forced into hiding with her Jewish family in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in 1942. For two years she kept a diary in which she shared her deepest thoughts and feelings with an imaginary friend she called Kitty. Kitty became Anne’s safe and intimate confidante. Her diary, subsequently published as The Diary of a Young Girl, has become a classic that continues to inspire countless readers.

How to listen to another

I believe that most of us listen to one another halfheartedly, or, more colloquially speaking, we are half-assed listeners! When someone is speaking, a transient thought may surface in our mind, and we stop listening. We may think we’re listening, but we get busy thinking about what we want to say in response and become focused on when we might have the opportunity to interject our thoughts. The result is a fragmented conversation that does not provide the sense of connection we all need.

How do we listen? You might practice the following exercise with a friend or partner. Choose a time and place away from conflicts when your stress hormones are not activated. As one person shares something important to him or her, you, the listener, should slow down and breathe deeply. Perhaps evoke Mister Rogers! Become calm and absorb what the other person says—like a sponge. Set aside judgement and assumptions; don’t analyze and don’t interrupt. This is especially important when listening to someone whose views don’t agree with yours. Notice if you become triggered by what is being shared. Stay grounded and present with your breath while continuing to remain open and accepting; maintain eye contact.

Rather than wanting to fix, change, or give advice, be curious. Respond with nonintrusive, clarifying questions. For example, paraphrase what you’ve heard and ask, “Did I get it right?” Ask the speaker to “say more.” Ask about their feelings, which will allow them to know you care; they will feel validated, something we all seek.

Listening in nature

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: “In listening in naturenature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.” Nature may be our best teacher for learning to listen. As the cicadas continue to hiss outside my window, I feel their presence subtly vibrating in my body, calling me to go outside and walk amongst the trees. According to biologist David George Haskell, author of The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors, “There is no such thing as an individual within biology…. Instead, the fundamental unit of life is interconnection and relationship.” A tree shares the sounds of its leaves rustling in the wind; the insects and birds inhabiting its branches make their own unique and beautiful sounds. Nature’s sounds can help lure you away from your busy thinking mind. When you relax into listening, it’s possible to empty your mind of unnecessary thoughts. When you are deeply present, you experience the sound of silence and feel its peace and equilibrium. Listening can become your best companion.

As the spiritual philosopher Jean Klein, author of numerous books including The Book of Listening and The Ease of Being, said: “When you come to innocent, unconditioned listening, your body goes spontaneously into deep peace.”

 

 

Bebriending

Art of Befriending

What does it mean to befriend? The dictionary defines it as: “to make friends or become friendly with; act as a friend to (someone) by offering help, support or aid.” Diplomats, politicians and businesspeople are successful when they befriend the powerbrokers within the system. Whether with competitors, peers or enemies, getting to know each other personally creates a foundation of common ground to help broker future deals.

The art of befriending can also be a powerful skill to apply in many areas of one’s personal life. One person wrote about befriending the country to which she recently relocated. Another, ordered an extra Starbucks for the homeless person she passes on the way to work each morning. How about befriending yourself—your thoughts and emotions, disappointments and regrets and health issues. The art of befriending can have endless applications.

Foes as friends

In 2017 Oprah Winfrey led a focus group for television’s 60 Minutes. Fourteen people were selected from a community in Michigan. Seven supported President Trump and seven were against him. As expected the discussion was spirited and emotional.

Following the show the fourteen people created a private Facebook page for further discussion and to stay connected. Then they took it a step further. BowlingThey started to socialize over pizza, bowling and even visiting a firing range—essentially befriending each other. When 60 Minutes learned about these remarkable happenings they decided to do a follow-up show filming some of their outings and once again having Oprah facilitate discussion. Interestingly, none of the members had changed their views. But they had learned to listen to one another and understand the others’ views–and they had become friends.

Befriending invites one to step outside oneself, and in an imaginative way, step into another’s shoes to experience his or her feelings and perspectives. In this way, befriending unfolds as empathy, which fuels connection, according to Brené Brown, author and professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.

Befriending encounters

Befriending isn’t a new skill to learn. You already know this naturally. But you can learn new applications.

Think about the people you shun who are different than you. How does it serve you to remain separate from them? What would happen if you were to get to know them and really listen—without judgement—to their views? Is it possible to be open, curious and welcoming so you might learn more ideas? Other befriending qualities might include: caring for, encouraging, and having one’s back. These are essential for raising children, and for showing up for a family member or friend who is in need.

WaterVery often befriending asks you to step outside your comfort zone. In the Academy Award winning movie, Shape of Water, a mute janitor befriends and eventually falls in love with an amphibious creature. One never knows where befriending might take you!

Sometimes you may befriend someone and then never see them again. Yet, you are both somehow enriched or enlightened by the brief encounter. This has happened to me many times when I’ve traveled. Some of my dearest friendships started this way.

For some people it is even possible to befriend a former partner or spouse. When my relationship with Tom ended a number of years ago, I really struggled. But with time and good therapy, I was able to accept that our romantic relationship did not work and no one was at fault. With a foundation of mutual understanding we later befriended each other and continue to share good times together. A deep trust and empathy have evolved between us.

Befriending yourself

 

YOU may be the most important person of all to befriend. There is much going on inside—thoughts, beliefs, stories and emotions. There are a myriad of things happening in the physical body at any given moment. How much of this do you take for granted…and possibly not treat very well?

The same befriending qualities such as curiosity, listening, non-judgment, etc., are equally applicable to knowing all facets of you. What sort of relationship do you have with your body: your health, your age? Is there something you want to change? Are there areas of disappointment or even disgust? Besides you, who really cares?

I love the title of Terry Cole-Whitaker’s book, “What people think of me is none of my business.” You can’t control other people’s thoughts about you—and sometimes your own. But, you can befriend the thoughts you think and the feelings and emotions that arise as well. Rather than block or resist them with sugar, shopping, TV or wine, take time to get to know them. Lovingly and tenderly befriend them.

Fear, for example, can be a rich source of insight. Rather than allowing fear to become an enemy that paralyzes you, befriend it. Sit with it and seek to understand it. Let your fear tell you what it wants. Let it show you what needs to be healed and let it become a companion to help you move forward. While this process initially takes courage, it also makes you stronger, wiser and more resilient.

Disappointments in life can often result in feelings of blame and guilt, especially when we didn’t meet our own expectations. Befriending can start by stepping back as an outside observer and witnessing the whole scenario or story about it. Make friends with the aspects that stand out, especially your beliefs and thoughts. Acknowledge what you have learned—which might even be a new skill that serves you later. The journey of life is filled with learning and growing from all experiences—positive and negative.

kindnessIt’s a law of nature that with every negative there is a complimentary opposite, which is often uncovered in the learning. Each informs the other. A line from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, Kindness, reads: “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”

Live from befriending

Living from a place of befriending invites you to welcome whatever comes your way, openly, lovingly and without resistance. The art of befriending has a multitude of benefits that can empower you. It helps you feel more connected to life and frees you to feel more whole and complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

handpring on back

Who’s Got Your Back?

I recently was a staff presenter at a four-day retreat in Chicago for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress. Each veteran brought a support person—partner, family member, or battle buddy. One afternoon an art therapist at the School of the Art Institute led the group through expressive art projects. To begin, they were given old button-down shirts to protect their clothing. Then they were asked to place one hand into a puddle of colored acrylic paint, plant their handprint on the back of their partner, and say, “I’ve got your back!” This experience was a powerful way for people to feel connected—and to experience things we all crave: feeling safe, supported, and cared for.

Basic need

I work with survivors of war and other traumatic experiences who continue to suffer long after the traumatic event. Vietnam was a highly controversial war. In addition to the traumas suffered abroad, those who returned home were not welcomed back. Many stuffed their memories and feelings just to get on with life. Those who have suffered childhood, domestic, or other forms of abuse or traumas generally harbor feelings of being unsafe, vulnerable, insecure, helpless, and alone.

Just as warriors need to protect one another in combat, we all need people in our lives who are there for us, have our best interests at heart, and will stand up for us. Yet, loneliness, isolation, and depression are now highly prevalent in our culture. A 2005 report published in the American Sociological Review found that one in four Americans felt they had no one they could talk to. According to Lynn Smith-Lovin Professor of Sociology at Duke University, that number has dropped to two. The proliferation of social networking over the last decade has changed the society in many ways but hasn’t offered a replacement for the kind of connectedness true friendship provides.

ConnectionCare, support, and protection are fundamental needs of infants, children, and even teenagers. Most young people have the assurance that their parents will always have their back. It would be wonderful if we all had that sense of security. The fact is, we are social beings, and our need for connection continues throughout our lives; such connections give us the resiliency to live fulfilling lives.

Trust and support

“Problems carried alone are problems doubled, while problems shared are problems cut in half.” David A. Grant, Founder/Publisher TBI HOPE Magazine

Even if we haven’t experienced war or abuse, we all have suffered—the death of a loved one, loss of a job, disappointment in a relationship, severe illness. When times are tough, who is there for you? Is there someone you can turn to who will listen, comfort you, and help you resolve or cope with your situation? If not family, who else can you lean on? Who really listens to you with a compassionate ear?

Even though we want to be accepted and loved, sometimes the prospect of letting another see us our flaws, failings, and weaknesses can be scary and make us feel vulnerable, not knowing if we can truly trust that person. We need people who can make us feel good about ourselves, not those who are negative or judgmental. While opening the trust door may seem risky, the alternative—being alone, anxious, and powerless—will not alleviate our suffering.

SupportSome of us are most comfortable one-to-one with a friend, partner, or counselor when baring our inner soul. But support can also be found in groups. Support networks for people with health challenges and addictions have been shown to be highly effective in helping reduce anxiety and depression. They provide safe spaces in which individuals can voice their struggles, listen to the challenges of others, learn from them, and realize they are not alone. Groups can also provide healthy peer pressure, nudging others to take steps that will help them. Learning to trust helps people feel better, develop better coping skills, and ultimately live happier, healthier lives.

I have greatly valued the informal networks of support I’ve formed over the years, both professional and personal. I cherish my lifeline of intimate friends whom I know will have my back when I need them, as I will have theirs. When it comes to writing these articles, I know I can depend on people who will honestly critique and edit my musings and let me know when I’ve missed the mark. When I teach courses or make presentations, I’ve learned to approach them with the understanding that my audiences want me to succeed—they want me to inspire or enlighten them. Why else would they be there!

Being independent and self-reliant is highly touted in our culture. But we are never truly separate or independent; we all depend upon our interactions with other people. We are also responsible for our actions and their impact on others. Life is give and take. While our life journey is individual, we thrive on healthy relationships; quite simply, we need one another.

Cultivate your inner resource

“There is no real security except for whatever you build inside yourself.”
–Comedian Gilda Radner

flower and stonesOpening our inner selves to supportive friends and loved ones can provide a pathway to uncovering an inner strength. As an iRest Yoga Nidra meditation instructor, I help individuals cultivate feelings of security and ease. We spend time in each meditation experiencing what we refer to as our “inner resource.” Let me guide you through this experience.

Recall a place, or one you would imagine, creating it in your mind’s eye as though painting a canvas. It may be a place in nature—resting on a beach, in a forest or field. It may be a place you remember from childhood or on vacation. There may be other people here, an animal or spiritual figure—or you may simply be by yourself. Most importantly, there is a sense of being grounded, safe, and comfortable here. Visualize the colors, forms, and textures you would see here. Then begin to feel yourself in this place, seeing 360 degrees around you. Feel the touch of air upon your skin and any smells that may be present. Most importantly, become aware of the feeling of being fully supported and a sense of ease and well-being. Like a coming home to your true self.

Our inner resource helps us access deeper levels of our being that have never been hurt or broken and don’t need fixing. In iRest Yoga Nidra meditation, as in many forms of meditation, we must be open to Infinite Awareness, also known as Eternal Presence or God, which allows us to know peace, happiness, and love—and to rest assured that our back is always covered!