Bring your life into balance

Empathy works. It always does.


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I’m in a shame storm

I’m in a shame storm. I’m in our NVC group, practicing empathy with a buddy. My husband walks by. He says “I hope my eating won’t disturb you too much, honey.”

I feel the urge to explain to my buddy what my husband is talking about. “Well, uh,… you know,… I have this issue…”

My goodness, why did my husband say that? So innocently expressing his care for me. And triggering so much shame? As if I am exposed in my nakedness, covered in poop?

I look at my empathy buddy. He doesn’t seem too concerned by my stuttering. He just listens with a calm smile. I trust him to listen with empathy. I feel safe expressing honestly. “Well, you know… I hope you will not judge what I’m saying… I fear judgment… I get super triggered by eating sounds.”

Sigh… Relief… The truth is out… I never shared this with anyone, other than with my husband.

“It’s any eating sound: smacking, slurping, licking, screeching your fork with your teeth, or banging your spoon against a glass bowl.”

Another sigh of relief. My empathy buddy doesn’t seem too disturbed by my confession. He’s still listening. “You can fart as often as you want and I won’t mind. But making eating sounds drives me through the roof! I’ll get so triggered that I’ll either find an excuse to leave the table or I’ll turn it against you with something like: ‘There is something wrong with you for eating like that!’

My empathy buddy still listens with care, nodding understanding and acceptance. No judgment whatsoever. I continue “And the truth is, I think there is something fundamentally wrong with me for having this sensitivity. I have the thought: ‘I am defective, beyond repair.’”

I feel a sadness come up. It is the first time I speak about this issue I feel so ashamed about. And it is just as Brené Brown describes: my shame disappears. Shame only survives in hiding. If it is brought into the light and received with compassion and acceptance, it loses it’s power. In the connection, acceptance and understanding, we experience the opposite of what shame wants us to believe. We experience that we are worthy of acceptance, love and belonging. We realize there is nothing wrong with us for having an issue. We notice we are not an issue.

I’m still not proud of my issue. It’s a handicap I didn’t chose. My eating sound sensitivity might never change. And now that I talked about it honestly with an empathy buddy, I can make different choices around it. I can ask for help without blaming or criticizing the other person. I can expand my compassion for everyone else who struggles with their own issue. I can choose mindful walking when my trigger overwhelms me. And most of all, I can work on self-acceptance and my longing to connect, even while eating.

With empathy and honesty, we can explore creative solutions that work better.

Let me know how you deal with issues you feel shame around.


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Juggling and learning new things

I’m juggling. Four balls. My best is maybe five catches. I drop them a lot. Almost all the time.

My husband juggles too. He drops too. More than I do. He’s practicing seven balls force bouncing on a double stacked rola bola balance (watch the video, it’s insane). He has 107 World Records.

When we’re learning a new trick, building a new habit, or changing our situation, we can have a lot of misses. It’s inevitable when you’re learning something you haven’t yet mastered. If you knew how to do it, it wouldn’t challenge you. I would already qualify four balls, stop eating when I’m full, be more consistent and disciplined following my work plan.

Apparently, growth is not simple. We have to overcome homeostasis, the tendency of systems to revert back to an original set point. We can make a conscious effort to change our habits. And in that effort we can get lost, make mistakes, slide back.

For me, the trick is not to beat up myself, blame or shame myself, when I don’t meet my own aspirations.  The trick is to see that a failure in action is not a reflection of who I am, but of what I do in this specific moment. I am not a failure, because I failed here and now. If I can’t accept my failures as the natural consequence of sincerely trying, if I think I’m a failure when I don’t succeed, I would feel so discouraged and disappointed that I would stop trying altogether.

My challenge is to endure “creative tension” (Peter Senge in the Fifth Discipline). This is the difference between my reality and my vision — between where I am and where I want to be. If I can’t stand this tension, I resign to my situation and give up on my dreams. When I can stay with my thoughts and feelings around this tension, I can change my current situation and get closer to my dream.

For me, it means accepting that dropping balls is part of the path to learning juggling. What’s important to me, is learning and getting better, not being attached to the results.

When can you accept and celebrate your ‘mistakes’ as a sign that you’re learning and growing? Let me know, I would love to read your wisdom.


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Walking in my husband’s shoes

We’re at Sangha, my Thich Nhat Hanh mindfulness community and we’re starting our mindful walking. One step in front of the other, taking a breath with every step, solidly feeling the ground underneath our feet.

I always love this practice, it slows me down and solidifies me in the support I have from our Earth.

For the last couple of months I practice synchronizing my steps and speed with the person in front of me. A sort of bodily empathy.

“Can I let myself enter fully into the world of his feelings and personal meanings and see these as he does? Can I step into his private world so completely that I lose all desire to evaluate or judge it? Can I enter it so sensitively that I can move about in it freely, without trampling on meanings which are precious to him?” Carl Rogers, “On Becoming a Person”.

This time I walk right behind my husband. It’s enlightening to see where I’m stuck in my dedication to physically understand what it means to walk this Earth as someone else. I notice all kinds of judgments and evaluations come up: “That’s so unique: he drags his feet in a 45° to his other feet, as if he’s waltzing.” “That’s weird: he turns the corner in a 90° angle, as if he is in a military marching band.” “His steps are way too big!”

It reminds me of all the other times when I lose my empathic presence. Where I’m being triggered and focus my attention on my reaction to what someone’s sharing, instead of on their experience.

It usually doesn’t help with the connection, and certainly not with the understanding.

So now what?

  1. The first step it to acknowledge that I often hear two things at the same time: what they’re saying, and what I’m saying as a reaction to it.
  2. Then: honor that both voices are worthy of respect and being heard.
  3. And finally: make a choice what I want to do: pause the interaction and listen to the thoughts in my head first, or pause my inner voices and tell them I will listen to them after my connection to this other person.

When I am in that mindful state of knowing what’s going on within and around me, I can create the greater sense of connection and understanding I want: with myself and with them.

And you, what do you to maintain empathic presence? Let me know: I would love to learn from your experiences.