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Entries in vulnerability (11)

Saturday
May242014

The Loss We've No Time to Grieve.

It was Maya Angelou who said “I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

The life situation missing from Ms Angelou's short list is the one about "handles parenthood". Perhaps that's why we underestimate the impact that this momentous change in everything about our lives will have on us?!

After all, we spend a good few years working things out: finding our place in school; perhaps studying, getting a job, working out our place in the working world, finding our feet in relationships and getting to a place that society would call 'sorted' or successful or surviving.

Then we think we are ready to have children (or it happens) and so we begin that process. 

If we are lucky enough to have those little people arrive in our world, we are sure we are relatively prepared for what it all means. We can look around and say to ourselves "if they managed it, we will be OK". We buy or collect all the necessary (distracting) items required to help us raise our children the “right” way. The marketing tells us that to be good parents we need this and that. 

What we are not prepared for is the way in which the experience challenges our previously held ideas about ourselves and our place in the world.

Not only that but the experience of parenting and handling the challenges to our self-view are enough to completely knock us sideways – we were so sure of our place before ... and suddenly we are not. Instead we feel unhinged, disconnected, numb, clouded, and fragmented.

Some of us blame the baby: we feel guilty about that because a baby is so small and defenceless – that guilt makes us feel even worse about ourselves.  Some of us turn that blame on our partners: they don't do enough, they don't understand, it's their fault we are swirling around ... if they helped more we wouldn't feel so bad or so out of control or so out of our depth.  Our own parent's skills come into question: they did a bad job of preparing us, weren't there for us in this or that way. We blame the lack of money or the country we live in or the neighbours ... 

... but ultimately we suspect that WE are the problem. WE are somehow not good enough, not well equipped enough to be a parent. Afterall, WE made the choice to have a baby – a choice that, in our darkest moments, we regret because now we have gone and ruined the calm we had worked so hard to create. To add to matters, that choice we made has changed the relationship we have with our partner.

There is no turning back ... and the inevitable forward motion of life can be terrifying.

All of this conspires to rock our world so convincingly that many of us feel we are going mad. Combine that with messages via media that we are supposed to look and feel a certain way, back that up with comments from friends or other parents about how well they are handling it all – we can end up feeling very isolated, incapable and ultimately not up to the task.

It's no wonder we lose our confidence as parents, no wonder we struggle to remember what we wanted out of life before our children came along, no wonder we lose interest in careers or things that captured our attention before parenting. It's not that we don't have those interests, dreams, desires within us anymore. It's that our priorities have changed or we can no longer connect to the Self from before.

What we are never really told about becoming a parent is that not only will life never be the same again, Self will never be the same again. This loss requires a grieving process ... one we have little time, energy or headspace for when we have young children.

Sooner or later, we need to grieve the loss. If we don't, years, decades, lifetimes can pass without us reconnecting with Self. 

Sarah xx

 

Tuesday
Feb252014

The "how" of those difficult conversations.

I often get asked in sessions and groups about the HOW of speaking to others assertively. Most often the concern is about finding the words to do this in a way that does not make a tricky situation even worse. Above all, we are trying to have our feelings and our concerns heard by others. 

We all, me included, need reminders of helpful ways to have these conversations. I found this excerpt from Quest for Life's founder, Petrea King's, book Your Life Matters – The Power of Living Now. 

The formula of ‘I notice… I imagine… I feel…’ explained below, can be a very useful one for dealing with challenging conversations.  When we use this formula - perhaps not with the exact words - we’re endeavouring firstly, to describe the behavior or the situation that we see is happening.  Secondly, we’re endeavouring to compassionately understand how it might be for the other person, and thirdly, we’re letting the person know how we’re feeling about the situation.  This formula conveys that the other person is not the problem.  It’s as if we stand hand-in-hand together looking at the problem rather than seeing each other as the problem.  Here are some examples of how this formula might be used:

‘I notice that your room is a mess and I’ve asked you three times this week to clean it up.’ (Perhaps this is better directed at your children rather than your partner!)

‘I imagine it is not a priority for you, however, it is for me.’

‘I feel angry and upset that what I’ve asked you to do hasn’t been done.  Can we talk about this, please?’


This approach is very different from screaming at the kids and telling them how hopeless and feral they are. It can work well on the really difficult conversations that we often avoid such as:

Example 1

‘I notice that whenever I want to talk to you about what happened to me when I was a child you change the subject…walk out of the room…go to the fridge…tell me not to be silly…tell me it’s all past history’…or whatever the behavior is.

‘I imagine you don’t want to talk about it because it’s in the past…it’s a painful subject…you think I’m blaming you…’ or whatever you feel compassionately might be the root cause of their dismissal.

‘I feel sad…alone…humiliated…angry…estranged from you…because we don’t seem able to communicate about this subject.  Can we please talk about it together?’

Example 2

‘I notice whenever I want to talk to you about driving more slowly you become angry…speed up…go quiet…get moody…laugh it off.’

‘I imagine that driving fast is something you enjoy…you don’t realize that you’re speeding…that it’s just the way you drive.’

‘I feel really frightened when you drive that way and I’m wondering how we can talk about it together.’


Example 3

‘I notice that when I try to talk to you about the fact that I might die from this disease you change the subject…try and cheer me up…tell me to be positive…tell me I’ve got colour in my cheeks…pour a Scotch…stop me.’

‘I imagine that you might be as frightened of the future as I am…might find it as difficult as I do…are as sad about the possibility as I am…it might be your worst nightmare too…you don’t have words for it either.’

‘I’m feeling more and more alone with my thoughts because you only seem able to hear the “positive” or cheerful parts of me and I need to talk to you because you’re my best friend…I’m sad and lost and want to share my thoughts with you…I’m isolated by my fears and need to talk them through with you…I can’t make arrangements and let you know what I want in the future and I feel anxious about that.’


Example 4

‘I notice that when I’ve mentioned your driving in the past nothing changes…you become angry…you laugh at me and tell me I’m a scaredy cat…you ignore me.’

‘I imagine that my thoughts and feelings on the subject are of little interest to you…an aggravation for you…of no consequence to you.’

‘I feel angry and upset that you ignore my pleas for you to drive more slowly and I’m letting you know that I’ll be making other arrangements to arrive at the destination…I won’t travel with you in the future…I’ll be driving from here on in.’


Sometimes this simple formula is best presented in the form of a letter.  If the subject that you want to discuss is considered a thorny one and conversation about it seems impossible, then putting it in writing can have real benefits - it enables the other person to read your thoughts and react to them privately; they can throw the letter on the floor, re-read it and weep, ignore it or mull over it and come back to you later for a discussion.

Sometimes it is enough to have conveyed the information about how you feel and things begin to change automatically.  And sometimes it’s not even about the other person at all but communicating the feelings fulfils our need to understand and heal our emotional self.  Don’t expect a response from the other person.  If they choose to ignore what you’ve written, then you know more about that person and their ability to respond.  Their response might equally come in the form of a hug, a gesture, a kiss on the cheek or a flower on your pillow.

The important part is that you have fulfilled your responsibility, which is to acknowledge and express yourself in a way that was never intended to wound - our intention is very important.  If there is any intention to wound the other person, there will be a hidden barb in your words.  Make sure your intention is honourable and that it is an honest communication based on the need to share your thoughts and feelings.

I Notice...I Imagine...I Feel I Notice...I Imagine...I Feel (58 KB)

There are plenty of models to choose from when it comes to conflict resolution. This one struck me as both easy to remember, and easy to execute.

What do you think? 

Sarahxx

 

Tuesday
Feb182014

Sitting in the discomfort.

It's been 4 months since we started our life in this new environment with a different language and culture, different schools for the children, different friends, different groceries in the supermarket, different climate... I was starting to feel settled. I was proud of what I had achieved in that time and amazed at how well things had been going. 

Just over a week ago I got a phonecall that has really shaken the "settle".

I am amazed again ... this time at how instability feels - how uncomfortable, how terror-filled, how nightmare inducing (literally!) and above all, how shocked I am at how temporary things are - even though I "know" in my head that it's always been this way and always will.

The hardest part is not slamming the door shut on hope. At different times I want to give in to my Mind that is taunting me with "see I told you this was too good to be true" and "I knew it - nothing THIS good could be real or last".  

I've been through all the emotions I can imagine. It hurts and it's hard. The work comes not from running away from the feelings, but in resisting the temptation to do so. I know this is life. And! (not but) the discomfort is excruciating some days.

So the work I am doing is to sit in it ... to just sit there in the discomfort, the pain, the fear, the anxiety and the not-knowing how it will all turn out. 

In doing so, I notice feelings of shame: shame at having let myself go, of having fallen so deeply in love, and having believed that I could have this wonderful experience. Shame that I had dropped my defenses enough to truly feel, to be vulnerable, to live whole-heartedly. 

I notice that naming my shame, my feelings and my fear has helped me stay in the experience rather than running away. Realising what I feel ashamed about has also reminded me of how I want to spend the time I have in this life: to live whole-heartedly no matter how excruciating the pain, true to my experience.

That realisation is where I feel myself lift - up out of the pain, the fear and the confusion - into a place of acceptance: acceptance that whatever is coming is going to be OK; of trust that I can cope with it, whatever it is. 

Beyond acceptance, I am grateful for the experience and it's lessons in vulnerability. I am thankful that I am still learning, noticing that I continue to find the courage to practice the things I say I want to have in my life: courage, whole-heartedness, sitting in the discomfort - walking the talk!

Of course I don't feel the lift all the time - I am still learning the "how" on this one :-) - but I am able to step back from the experience every now and then, to notice the dance of Self and Mind, to appreciate the difference between these two and to sit in the discomfort of learning and evolving towards a place I want to be

Where do you want to be evolving to, and what discomfort are you willing to experience to get there?

Sarahxx

Wednesday
Oct242012

There is nothing 'wrong'.

This is a truly remarkable story ... so often we make ourselves and our feelings wrong. Here is how to take a different path. 

Originally posted on Huffington Post Healthy Living:

Sometimes when I talk about “Radical Acceptance,” I like to tell the story about Jacob, a man who, at almost 70 and in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s disease, attended a 10-day retreat I was leading.

A clinical psychologist by profession and a meditator for more than 20 years, Jacob was well aware that his faculties were deteriorating. On occasion his mind would go totally blank; he would have no access to words for several minutes and become completely disoriented. He often forgot what he was doing and usually needed assistance with basic tasks — cutting his food, putting on clothes, bathing, getting from place to place.

A couple of days into the retreat, Jacob had his first interview with me. These meetings, which students have regularly with a teacher while on retreat, are an opportunity to check in and receive personal guidance in the practice. During our time together, Jacob and I talked about how things were going, both on retreat and at home. His attitude towards his disease was interested, sad, grateful, even good-humored.

Intrigued by his resilience, I asked him what allowed him to be so accepting. He responded, “It doesn’t feel like anything is wrong. I feel grief and some fear about it all going, but it feels like real life.” Then he told me about an experience he’d had in an earlier stage of the disease.

Jacob had occasionally given talks about Buddhism to local groups and had accepted an invitation to address a gathering of over a hundred meditation students. He arrived at the event feeling alert and eager to share the teachings he loved. Taking his seat in front of the hall, Jacob looked out at the sea of expectant faces in front of him… and suddenly he didn’t know what he was supposed to say or do. He didn’t know where he was or why he was there. All he knew was that his heart was pounding furiously and his mind was spinning in confusion.

Putting his palms together at his heart, Jacob started naming out loud what was happening: “Afraid, embarrassed, confused, feeling like I’m failing, powerless, shaking, sense of dying, sinking, lost.” For several more minutes he sat, head slightly bowed, continuing to name his experience. As his body began to relax and his mind grew calmer, he also noted that aloud. At last Jacob lifted his head, looked slowly around at those gathered, and apologized.

Many of the students were in tears. As one put it, “No one has ever offered us teachings like this. Your presence has been the deepest dharma teaching.”

Rather than pushing away his experience and deepening his agitation, Jacob had the courage and training simply to name what he was aware of, and, most significantly, to bow to his experience. In some fundamental way he didn’t create an adversary out of feelings of fear and confusion. He didn’t make anything wrong.

We practice Radical Acceptance by pausing and then meeting whatever is happening inside us with this kind of unconditional friendliness. Instead of turning our jealous thoughts or angry feelings into the enemy, we pay attention in a way that enables us to recognize and touch any experience with care. Nothing is wrong — whatever is happening is just “real life.” Such unconditional friendliness is the spirit of Radical Acceptance.

Sunday
Oct212012

A step towards self-care.

Is it at all familiar to you? … the moment where you start to wonder if you are going mad or “losing it” because you no longer appear to be able to handle the pace of your life, you feel like crying or hiding away somewhere dark and private? It's a sign that your self-care needs ramping up. 

My work over the past few weeks shows that this is a feeling familiar to a lot of people.

I want to let you know now that you are not going mad. You might indeed be losing it – but we need to look a little closer at what that means … 

We need to begin by understanding what you are trying to manage right now, what is on your jobs list, what are your responsibilities, what are you carrying with you from the past too (because the more you are carrying from back then, the heavier the load right?).

We might even write it all down … to see it all there on paper, to recognise that it takes a while to get it all in print because there is so much of it.

And let’s be expansive about this. For example, if you are simply going to work each day and coming home, eating dinner and going to bed then perhaps you are assessing your life as pretty much what it's always been. But to get the full story you will need to go a step further and write about whether you like your job; you are eating in a way you want to be eating; you are sleeping a full night; you are waking up feeling refreshed from sleep and so on.  

Once you have your list and have expanded on it, take the time to look at the list and ask yourself “what else is going on?” – this will help you understand that while the day-to-day activities may not have changed or increased a great deal, your response to them has. 

Start by doing just this, for now. It’s enough.

To begin being conscious of what your life involves (not just the activities but your feelings and responses to them) is a step in sorting out why you feel like you are losing it/not coping. 

It’s a step towards self-awareness and self-care. 

Any step in that direction is life-changing. 

sarahxx