I’ve just been to the dentist. I feel tired. The procedure was more complicated than anticipated. I spent two and a half hours in the dentist chair with my jaw jammed open.
Not very pleasant.
So I feel happy to leave and bike home, an eight mile ride.
I love biking. I love the sense of agency and empowerment I get by navigating traffic, pedaling up a hill, zooming down the hill, feeling the sun and wind on my skin.
The second half of the ride I’m starting to feel exhausted. I have 650 feet of climb, mostly unshaded from the sun, and it is now 101 degrees. I feel too tired to stop and drink water. By the time I’m at 38th Street and Duval, within a mile of home, I feel completely overheated and worn out.
I stop at the traffic light and tap into the last of my resources to be considerate of the driver of the car next to me. He is in the right turning lane, and doesn’t have his turn signal on. I want to know which way he plans to turn. If he is turning right, I will move to his left and give him space. If he wants to continue straight, I will move to his right.
I try to get his attention to coordinate. He doesn’t respond. I turn toward him with some frustration, pointing at his non-blinking lights, and throw my hands in the air, trying to mimic that I want to know which way he’s going. Then he smirks at me and rolls down his window. I assume to coordinate.
He throws his booger at me. And drives off.
I feel shocked. I want more care, consideration, and respect in traffic.
Thank God I have learned Marshall Rosenberg’s term “tragic expressions of unmet needs”. Nonviolent Communication teaches that everything we say and do is an attempt to meet beautiful, human, universal needs. Sometimes these strategies do not meet the needs of others. That’s tragic.
This car driver tried to meet precious needs by throwing his booger at me. Maybe he wanted respect (he received my frustration as a form of criticism), autonomy (he wanted to follow his own choices in how to drive), or self-worth (he didn’t like the suggestion that he made a driving error, and wanted to reinforce the thought he was a capable driver).
When I understand that the car driver’s behavior was about his needs, I can take it less personally. I can see that he lacked creativity or support to meet his needs in ways that would nurture my needs too. I can have compassion for his inability to meet his needs in a more collaborative manner, and hold my unmet needs with compassion.
This insight didn’t help then. It helps now by seeing the human behind the tragic expression of unmet needs.
Let me know how this lands for you.
This is a repost from my newsletter, The Lovable Cockroach Gazette, Issue 23, July 21, 2017
I’m babysitting my friend’s dogs. I find them super sweet: when I wake up in the morning, they greet me with excitement, puppy ears up, tail wagging, head a bit slanting. I can hear them asking: “Are we gonna play? Are we gonna play?”.
When we go to the dog park … it becomes, hum … a bit of a challenge … As long as there are other dogs, Sol is fine. He can release his energy by running around with them.
But today, there are no other dogs. Sol decides to run off by himself. Into the fields. Chasing whatever he smells on the ground. I can see the tip of his tail happily wagging above the tall grass.
Then I see nothing. Nowhere. For five minutes. For ten minutes. I call him. I squeeze his squeaky ball — no sign of Sol. I call louder, squeeze the ball harder. I get anxious. What if he ran to the river stream, apparently home to coyotes? What if he got trapped and dies?
My anxiety turns into panic. My calling becomes yelling.
A fellow dog owner asks entertained if I lost my soul. I understand the pun.
I am not amused.
Then I see his wagging tail, followed by his perky ears, and big, brown eyes. It takes me another five minutes to break his hunting spell and get his attention. When I finally do, he runs up to me.
Sure, I feel relieved. But mostly I feel ashamed and deflated, and full of self-critical thoughts about my “shitty” pack leadership qualities.
Then I think of Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings about taking things personally. His message is: whatever someone says and does is an attempt to meet their beautiful needs. It is NOT a reflection of who WE are.
I look at Sol: whatever he does, it is a reflection of his needs, not a reflection of who I am. He probably needs exercise, or express his innate drive to hunt. He is certainly not trying to demonstrate that I am a shitty pack leader.
Sure, I haven’t succeeded yet to channel his energy and innate drives, so he follows me, not a scent. I’m not yet trained to be a pack leader who supports both play and safety of the pack. But that doesn’t mean I’m less worthy of love, acceptance, and belonging. And it certainly doesn’t mean that Sol is in charge of my sense of self-worth. That’s still up to me.
When we are aware that any behavior is an attempt to meet needs, we can take things less personally. Without the self-judgment, we can learn to balance all needs as effectively as possible, instead of trying to avoid shame.
What helps you to not take things personally?
Let me know. I would love to read from you.
Cockroaches and Self-Compassion
My husband and I cherish our vegan household. We don’t eat animal products, we don’t buy leather shoes, we don’t spread poison to kill bugs.
As a result, we have our occasional cockroach visitor.
Since we don’t want to kill or harm them, we try to catch them and transition them to the compost pile in the backyard, hoping that’s nirvana to them.
It’s not easy. Cockroaches are fast, and have a magic ability to disappear between cracks I didn’t even know existed.
So when we spot them, we have to stealthily get a glass bowl from the drawer, put it over them, shove a piece of firm paper underneath the bowl, and run carefully to the compost pile.
My success rate is around 60%.
I am pleased with that, until a friend tells me it’s not difficult at all: you just pick them up and throw them outside.
Well, I don’t know which countries he has visited. Maybe Tibetan cockroaches have more equanimity and are happy to be picked up, but our Texan friends are fast, really fast.
Irritated at hearing his claim, I prove my point by acting out my catching strategy on the living room floor.
Exaggerating the speed in my demonstration, I land badly on my thumb. I can hear it pop. It’s extremely painful. I feel the blood drain from my head and I can barely get up. Still feeling the original irritation, I pretend as if nothing happened, waving him goodbye.
When he’s gone, I hear a roar of critical thoughts swell in my head: “You stupid idiot, you are unable to regulate your irritation! You made a fool of yourself by being caught up in your own self-righteousness! You deserve a sprained thumb!”
It takes a few hours, before these elements of self-compassion surface:
- Awareness. Just noticing my pain and suffering around these critical thoughts and my thumb. “Ouch, that hurts, that really hurts.” We cannot foster self-compassion, if we don’t acknowledge we’re suffering.
- Befriending myself, being on my own side. Just wanting myself to feel better, caring about my needs. Something like “I wished I didn’t suffer.”
- Shared humanity. I start thinking of all the other people who hurt themselves while trying to impress others. I breathe in their pain, heaviness, and suffering. I breathe out love, light, and relief to them. “May all beings be happy, peaceful, and light in body and spirit.” Myself included.
Working with these elements of self-compassion, I feel better. I see myself for who I truly am: an ordinary human being, whose behavior is sometimes a tragic expression of unmet needs. I don’t need to judge myself for that. I need to reaffirm that I am still unconditionally worthy of love, acceptance, and belonging.
How could these elements of self-compassion help you to accept your mistakes and learn from them?
Let me know. I would love to read from you.
Do you remember when I wrote about being accidentally bitten by a dog?
The grandma sent me a basket of flowers, arranged like a dog with a bandaid, and a big smiley balloon.
I have kept that basket on my desk. As you can see, most flowers are brown and droopy (except for one, which is hanging in there), and the balloon is deflated.
I find it a beautiful visualization of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on impermanence: No phenomenon is permanent, everything is constantly transitioning to the next manifestation. If the conditions of its existence are favorable, the phenomenon is here, if the conditions are unfavorable, the manifestation will disappear.
The flower transforms into compost. Compost turns into grass. Grass is eaten by insects and animals, who poop by the pecan tree. This autumn, I might be eating these flowers in the pecans I harvest, and the digested pecans might come out as words! Well, heck. Those words might show up in the newsletter I’ll be writing in November!
Impermanence also teaches me that death is a reminder to cherish life. Everything and everyone I love will eventually die, including me.
“We need to learn to appreciate the value of’ impermanence. If we are in good health and are aware of impermanence, we will take good care of ourselves. When we know that the person we love is impermanent, we will cherish our beloved all the more. Impermanence teaches us to respect and value every moment and all the precious things around us and inside of us. When we practice mindfulness of impermanence, we become fresher and more loving. (Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddhist Teachings, 1998)
I have a personal practice of reciting this Thich Nhat Hanh gatha (verse) every night:
“The Day has now ended, our lives are shorter.
Now we look carefully: what have we done?
Noble Sangha, with all our hearts, let us be diligent,
engaging with the practice.
Let us live deeply, aware of impermanence,
so that life does not drift away without meaning.”
This gatha inspires me with joy, gratitude and appreciation for everyone and everything I’ve been given.
When I find myself disconnected from someone, the insight of impermanence helps me realize that they might be taken from me in the blink of an eye. When I reflect on this, I find it easier to see that any struggle I am facing is smaller than our vast impermanence. And realizing this helps me to reconcile and reach out to reconnect.
What helps you to see the impermanent nature of yourself and those around you?
Looking at the wilting flowers and deflating balloon, I see the new seeds of life in it. And I feel happy, very happy.
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.
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.