Bring your life into balance

Empathy works. It always does.


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How my bougainvillea can help you understand the difference between needs and strategies

Imagine a bougainvillea. You can imagine any plant you like, and I take a bougainvillea, because I have two in a pot that are blooming excessively.

Image courtesy to David NayerSo, we have this bougainvillea and she has certain needs. Universal, precious, plant needs. She shares those with all other plants: she wants growth, personal development, nourishment, protection, support. Since she lives in a pot and is dependent on me for her survival and thriving, she probably needs to be heard, so I understand how to best take care of her.

It took me a while to understand her non-verbal signals what she needed, and now I can proudly say that I get them. I know exactly what she wants and I am willing and able to meet her needs.

Does the bougainvillea care if I am the one watering her? Would she mind if my husband did that instead?

I doubt it.

I would be surprised if the bougainvillea would say: “Hey, I want water, and I only want you to water me, not David.” Or: “I want to be in the sun, and I want you to place me there, not David.”

She just wants her needs met, and is not attached to who meets them. She understands the difference between needs and strategies. Since she is not attached to a specific person as the only strategy to meet her needs, she can flourish and bloom, even when I fly to the Netherlands to visit my family and friends. She will happily be taken care of by David.

Now, it might be that I know better than my husband how to take care of her, which would explain if she preferred me as a strategy to meet her needs. But as soon as my husband is up to speed in taking care of her, that attachment would dissolve.

What goes around for plants, goes around for human beings. We all have the same universal, precious, human needs, like connection, support, understanding, growth. But saying I have a need for connection with you is confusing the need with the strategy. You might be the best strategy for connection, because I know that you understand, accept, support me. And as soon as he is up to speed with understanding, acceptance, intimacy, support, he is an option too.

Once you understand the difference between needs and strategies, you have way more opportunities to meet your wonderful needs.

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You want help to find more ways to support your needs? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.


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Smile therapy

Have you ever heard of smile therapy?

I hadn’t.

So I invented it.

Throughout the day I bring my attention to my facial expression and invite myself to smile. You wouldn’t notice the difference probably, my smile is fainter than that of the Mona Lisa, but I do.

Image courtesy to theartofchildhood.files.wordpress.comJust inviting a smile changes my experience. I soften and open up.

The Second Mindfulness Training “True Happiness” says: “I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy.”

So here I am, disappointed that I didn’t make the money I wanted, sad that my friend didn’t call back, scared that my parents will die this year, angry that the driver in front of me cut me off, and I notice the corners of my mouth turn downward in dissatisfaction with what life offers me.

And I start smiling.

I look around in my experience and notice this cognitive dissonance between my inner experience and my outer expression. Something isn’t right. I can’t have unpleasant feelings and smile at the same time. One of the two has to change to establish a sense of alignment and integrity. And since I am devoted to my smile therapy, it’s gonna be my experience.

Instead of holding on to my anger, disappointment, jealousy, grudge, or self-righteous indignation, I start searching for things I can smile about. What can I appreciate in this moment that aligns with my smile? Maybe it is the sun on my arms, or the mockingbird singing? Or the relief that we still live in our beloved house? Or the fact that my headache is gone? Or the joy of my Compassionate Communication Group last Monday?

And you know what?

It is super easy to find something to be grateful for.

Thich Nhat Hanh is right: I have more than enough conditions to be happy.

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You want help to find things you can be appreciative of? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.


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Generosity generates happiness

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that giving makes us happy. Since I lately struggle with feelings of fear, depression, and discouragement, I am willing to give it a try. In each and every moment I’ll focus on generosity and “share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need”, including myself.

Sitting as silent witness as Lisa Coleman is executed is my act of giving. I know my vigilance won’t save her life, repair the pain and suffering of the boy she beat and starved to death, or bring peace to those left behind. I only know that I can be with her in spirit and send her love and peace, while she counts down the last minutes of her life.

As I drive up to Capitol Hill I am noticing how appreciative I am that I am alive. How grateful I am that I can feel the sun on my arm, my hands on the steering wheel, my breath flowing through me. I might muddle through life, and yet everyday offers a new opportunity to live and love.

Image courtesy to WikimediaAnd as I sit and imagine her fear, despair, anger, and loss as she is strapped to her death bed, I feel my anger towards society dissipate. We are in this together. We are confused and lost as to how create connections that are inclusive, supporting, open, and loving. We don’t know how to reach out to those on the fringes of society, at the top of corporations, and bridge the differences. We make mistakes with sometimes horrendous consequences, and we punish by killing, because we lost sight of our compassion and interbeing.

I look at the cars stopping at the traffic light in front of us. I look at the drivers and the passengers and wonder who they are, where they are going, what they’re doing. I imagine their families, their loved ones. I see them as children, maybe happy, maybe unhappy. And I tap into this universal reservoir of limitless love: “May you be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit. May you be safe and free from injury. May you be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.” And all I wish for is that they will never kill, be killed, or lose a loved one to killing or execution.

Sitting as silent witness when someone is executed and sending out loving-kindness to everyone in this world is a simple way of giving, and I feel elevated by it.

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You want help to practice generosity and giving? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.


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Death penalty and doing enough

Tonight I am gonna sit with my Sangha as silent witness as Lisa Coleman gets executed.

What good does my sitting do? How is my sitting on the steps of Capitol Hill with ten or less people, hardly visible, not even at the place of the execution, gonna make a difference?

Sister Prejean and others, Sept 10, 2014I should be like Sister Prejean. She has been working incessantly for the abolishment of the death penalty for the last 30 years. She visits death row inmates, she travels the country non-stop to engage with the audience, she speaks on television and radio. Her story even got filmed as Dead Man Walking.

I should do so much more.

Marshall Rosenberg refers to Dan Greenburg to demonstrate “the insidious power that comparative thinking can exert over us. He suggests that if readers have a sincere desire to make life miserable for themselves, they might learn to compare themselves to other people. For those unfamiliar with this practice, he provides a few exercises.” Dan starts with the suggestion to compare ourselves to a male and female photo model. Just observe their body measurements and compare theirs to ours.

I don’t even need to do that exercise. Only thinking about it, makes me miserable: my belly is too poochy, my breasts are too small and hanging, the corners of my mouth growl down in seemingly dissatisfaction.

“Since physical beauty is relatively superficial, Greenburg next provides an opportunity to compare ourselves on something that matters: achievement… Greenburg lists the languages Mozart spoke and the major pieces he had composed by the time he was a teenager. The exercise then instructs readers to reflect on their own achievements at their current stage of life, to compare them with what Mozart had accomplished by age twelve, and to dwell on the differences. Even readers who never emerge from the self-induced misery of this exercise might see how powerfully this type of thinking blocks compassion, both for oneself and for others.” (Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication, 2003, p. 18-19)

Thank you, Marshall Rosenberg and Dan Greenburg, for your wisdom.

I will follow my heart’s calling and be true to myself. I will practice looking deeply to see how comparing myself to the achievements of others doesn’t nurture the peace, compassion, understanding, love, and support I want to bring into the world. I will honor myself and the contribution I can make with an open heart and sit as silent witness.

And that’s enough.

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You want help to follow your heart’s calling? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.


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Reverence for life and the death penalty

“Because all manifestation has both an individual an collective aspect, it would not be correct to say that a young man in prison bears the whole responsibility for his crime. He is the product of his family, his schooling, and society. If we look deeply, we may find that when he was younger, his parents often fought and caused each other and their child to suffer. Perhaps he was abused. Lacking love, lacking education, he tried to forget himself in drugs. With drugs, his ability to make good choices diminished even further. Committing a crime was the result.

Looking deeply, we see that the conditions for this young man’s actions did not arise only from his own mind and experiences. All of us bear some responsibility for creating the conditions that led him into the cycle of crime and addiction. If we only condemn or punish him, it will not help. People use drugs because they are in pain and want to run away from life. Putting someone who is suffering like this in prison is not the way to solve the problem. There has to be love and understanding, some means to bringing him back to life, offering him joy, clarity, and purpose.“ Thich Nhat Hanh, Understanding Our Mind.

Image courtesy to pbs.orgWednesday evening, September 10, 6 pm CST, Texas State killed Willie Trottie. Because he killed his ex-girlfriend Barbara Canada and her brother Titus.

I joined my Sangha to sit as a silent witness at the steps of the State Capitol in honor of our first mindfulness training: Reverence for Life. “Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivate the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life.”

I thought of offering myself as a replacement of the convict to take an active stand against executions as a strategy for safety. I thought about it a long time. Then I realized that I would be terrified, panicked, and anguished in the certain prospect of death. I am too attached to life, and too averted to pain and suffering. Instead of peace, trust, love, openness, and understanding of impermanence and interbeing, I would offer fear and terror. I am pretty sure that would not help.

I think the only thing that helps is practicing compassion, understanding, love, and mindfulness in our thoughts, speech, and actions. For ourselves, for our beloved ones, for our not so loved ones, and for our society. So that we would help create a society where everyone receives so much support, acceptance, belonging, understanding, and compassion, that no one needs to kill to get their needs met.

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You want help to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.


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Buddha of suffering

“If when I die, the moment I’m dying, if I suffer that is all right, you know; that is suffering Buddha. No confusion in it. Maybe everyone will struggle because of the physical agony or spiritual agony, too. But that is all right, that is not a problem.” Shunrya Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

Image courtesy to Robert Boni: Shunryu SuzukiBuddha of suffering.

I feel so relieved when I read this quote. There are just many Buddha’s, not just the peaceful one. Buddha of confusion. Buddha of stuckness. Buddha of anger and fear.

Being on a path of mindfulness and compassion doesn’t mean that we feel happy, peaceful, and open all the time. Even Thich Nhat Hanh writes about moments of anger and sadness in his life. Being on a path of mindfulness and compassion just means that: being mindful and compassionate of all that arises. Our sadness, our fear, our anger, our jealousy, our depression. Embracing all feelings with love and care, no discrimination. Using our experiences to really understand what it means to be a human being. “Oh, this is what anger looks like. This is how it feels in my body. These are the thoughts that come with it. These are the impulses that grab me.”

Usually we aren’t in this space of openness. We have an aversion to our unpleasant feelings. We want them to go away, and we will go to great lengths to get rid of them, yelling, slashing out, blaming included. Or, we have an attachment to our pleasant feelings. We want to be happy, peaceful, calm all the time, and we hate it when these feelings disappear. Or, we are deluded and ignorant of what’s going on inside us. We zap our time away, drink, drug, sugar coat our experience, or lose ourselves in mindless reading, talking, gaming, watching television.

Aversion, attachment, delusion, the three causes of suffering according to Buddhism.

The less we can stand our feelings, the less able we are to connect with people and situations with openness. Instead of being penetrated by our feelings, and standing our discomfort, we look for a scapegoat, someone we can blame for our suffering. We want to make them wrong, hoping this will make our experience better. We are unable to observe clearly and truthfully, and start creating enemy images in our head.

If we want to connect to the reality of life, we better learn how to accept our feelings. Then we can separate our pain and suffering from the trigger, and look deeply into the causes of our suffering. We might have wrongful thinking. We might carry emotional trauma. We might have unmet needs. When we stand our feelings, we can see the causes of our suffering, and we can connect to the beautiful, precious, universal needs underneath our feelings. Then, and only then, can we make requests that enriches all life.

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You want help to stand your feelings and connect more openly to life? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.


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I am never bored…??!

My sister tells me that she feel impressed and inspired, because I am never bored. I happily confirm the assessment. “You’re right, Saskia, I am never bored. Especially not since I started meditating. I have always something to do, even when I am waiting, because I can always focus on my breath and observe my thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

I feel proud, relieved, and excited that I have found something that brings me joy in every moment.

Image courtesy to WikimediaAs the days pass, I start to pay attention. To the truth of my experience. How utterly bored I feel on my meditation cushion, many, many times. Just focusing on my breath, and nothing else going on. Not enough distraction, not enough entertainment, too much antsyness. I follow Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions:

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

In.

Out.

Okay, okay, I get it. Focus on your in-breath as you breathe in, and on your out-breath as you breathe out. But 20 minutes in a row???! I get the idea in two minutes, can I do something else the rest of the time?

Let’s try Pema Chodron’s advice. Sit up straight, tongue resting lightly on my palate, mouth lightly open.

Breathing in, I adjust posture.

Breathing out, I let go.

Way better. My neck needs adjustment. I need to straighten my back. Relax my belly. I have something to do, some distraction. Then there is a ring-tailed cat outside. Cool! I have to pay attention to her. You see them seldom, because they are so shy. Now I have an interesting thought. Let’s elaborate on it, it’s a perfect outline for a post.

I am never bored??!… I am bored all the time. Especially with what’s most crucial to my life: my breath.

Jack Kornfield has this story:

There once was a Zen Buddhist student monk. His teacher shared one practice with him: focus on your breath. The student practiced for years, and years, and years. Then finally he tells his teacher: “Master, I have practiced focusing on my breath for all these years. I’m getting bored. Can we add another practice?” The teacher grasps his head, pushes it down the water basin and holds it there till the student grasps for air. Then he lets him go and asks: “Are you still bored with your breath?”

That student is me. Learning to find delight in each and every breath.

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You want help to enjoy every breath? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.