Some things you just can’t do on Zoom. Like holding your friends’ hands while saying grace for food. Tucking your baby in at night and singing him a lullaby. Taking out the trash for your elderly neighbor.
So when my dad gets hospitalized in June, I fly out to support him and my mom. Calling him on the phone won’t get his hair brushed. Seeing my mom on Zoom won’t get her to the hospital. Empathy won’t help with cooking dinner. I need to be there in person.
Zoom is great, but not for everything.
The same is true for email. Wonderful if you want to appreciate what your colleague did. Use it to inform others of your upcoming travel plans. Very practical for sending your team the agenda of the meeting.
But don’t use it to express frustration or resolve conflict. Then the ‘enter’ button is your enemy. With just one click on a button, you risk ruining a relationship that probably already is challenging.
“Message sent, is not always message received” is true for any communication. But even more so with email. You cannot check the facial reactions as you talk, you don’t see the shift in body posture as you deliver your message, and you can’t notice the change in breathing as you share your frustration.
So it is very hard to know that your message is received the way you intended, not even if you ask them to email back a summary of your key points. How do you know they didn’t just copy and paste your text, let alone have true empathy for the underlying issue?
But resolving conflict by phone isn’t necessarily a good alternative either. Even though it has the immediacy of the interaction and the nonverbal cues of your voice, you don’t know if their silence means that they are reflecting on what you said or have put the phone down to do something else.
The best way to resolve conflict is to meet in person. Especially if you use Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Beginning Anew.” It is a sequence of sharing appreciation, regret, and then requests. The focus is on improving the relationship by nurturing honesty and empathy so that your requests are true requests, not camouflaged demands.
With practice, this process becomes second nature. But you do need to know that you are practicing the right way. That’s where coaching with a mindfulness coach comes in.
Since 2011, I have practiced with Thich Nhat Hanh’s community and taught many of my clients how to use this process. If you want to see if working with me would help you too, you can schedule a free discovery session with me.
It could help you wipe off the yuck of even the most contaminated relationships!
Use this link to schedule your free session.
Habits are hard to break. And when they have been cultivated over the years, your body will execute those habits without your mind ever having to think about it.
Driving our car is an example. Brushing our teeth. Chopping the veggies. And throwing toilet paper in the toilet bowl after wiping our butt.
Usually, that’s not a problem. But here on La Palma, it is. The sewer system can’t handle more than a few sheets a day. In each and every bathroom, there is a friendly reminder to throw your paper in the wastebasket.
Of course, I’m all for keeping the sewer system unclogged, so I am adamant about complying with the request.
Unfortunately, I fail more than 70% of the time. No matter how mindful I’m breathing while on the potty, how much I use the tools for building new habits, and bang myself on the head when I fail: my hand automatically drops the paper in the loo.
Since I’m not willing to drag them out, I regretfully have to flush them away, keeping my fingers crossed that the sewer system doesn’t spill over on my bathroom floor.
As yucky as all of this might sound, it can be a good image to keep in mind, the next time you react to anger and criticism.
If building new toilet habits is hard, building new conflict resolution skills is even harder because our needs for respect, self-worth, and emotional safety are on the line.
We need to pay attention to the friendly reminders for mindfulness, or we end up seeing those needs float in a yucky interaction.
Worse, the communication channel gets clogged with enemy images and future interactions will be contaminated with the residues of this one.
There is a better response: empathy. When we listen to the precious needs behind the tragic expression of unmet needs, we can drop our judgments and evaluations and decrease the risk that we have to get down on our hands and knees to clean up the distasteful remains of our relationship.
How important would that be to you? Which relationships could benefit from your ability to stop your habitual reflex to conflict and instead choose a mindful response? How would your life be different?
If you imagine life would be yummier, you might enjoy signing up for my free webinar “Mindful Conflict Resolution”.
Not only will you hear how to empathize skillfully but you will also get two other tools to help to transform conflict into collaboration. Make sure you reserve your spot: I only have a few left.
This is what Charlie Rice says about the webinar:
“I appreciated that you kept the discussions pretty brief and spent most of the time going over your material. These strategies will really help me going forward and it is so nice to have a framework to practice.” – Charlie Rice, Austin
Sign up here.
My husband and I are on our daily walk around the block. We do that twice a day, to connect, listen, and hold hands. It’s always the same circuit, more or less 1.5 miles long. It’s drizzling, so I’m extra worried and aware that cars might not be as attentive as I wish.
And heck, for sure: an SUV backs out of the driveway, straight into us. Being alert, we’re already on the lawn of the opposite house by the time it would have hit us.
I feel annoyed. Mainly scared, but it shows up as annoyance. As a committed commuter cyclist, I have had my fair share of almost being hit by cars who don’t look around enough. For the last three years, at least once a month, I have to jump the curb, swivel around, or do an emergency break to avoid being run over.
I confess, I have thoughts of breaking car windows to teach this damn driver a lesson.
Thank God I don’t.
Once the car is out on the street, the driver rolls down the window. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…” I see a fifty plus woman with tears in her eyes. “I’m really distracted, … my mom is dying … I’m off to say goodbye to her …”
She stops the car and sits there quietly, I assume to calm herself, before she drives off.
I feel shocked. And embarrassed. Never in the world would I have expected that.
My enemy image of car drivers shatters in a thousand pieces.
I remember Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice to always ask “Are you sure?”. He invites us to write this question down and put it somewhere where we will see it: a bathroom mirror, the fridge, our calendar. And live by it.
As I regret my quick jump to the conclusion that she was inconsiderate of my need for safety, I stutter “I am so sorry for you.”
She drives off. I ask my husband to confirm which house she came from, and I make a promise to myself to drop off a condolence note.
I go home and write the note.
And a sticky note “Are you sure?”.
It’s up on my bathroom mirror to remind me to not jump to conclusions about someone’s intentions and character.
How does this land for you? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.
I’m up early. Before the crack of dawn. I love it. I feel energized and excited about a new day, about being alive and having the opportunity to contribute, learn, and receive.
I get dressed and make my tea. Green tea. Yum.
Then I hear the alarm on my phone go off. First softly, then loudly. I rush toward the sound, I don’t want my husband to wake up. It gets louder, the closer I get to the bathroom.
As soon as I think I am getting close, the sound fades. Shoot! So where is it? I don’t want it to go off next to his ear. I feel relieved to hear it again, in the kitchen. That makes sense, it must be on the counter, where I made my tea.
And again, as soon as I think I am close, the sound subsides. No! My husband worked late last night and needs his sleep. Where is my phone?!
The sound increases, in the dining room. I look around, more frantic now. Nothing to be found nowhere.
Then it dawns on me. My cell phone has been in my pocket the whole time.
My alarm sounds like ocean waves rolling on the beach: softer and louder with each wave coming in and fading away. The precious thing I was looking for, was right there in my jeans all the time.
It made me think of a story Pema Chodron tells in “When Things Fall Apart”. It’s about a woman who’s sent out into the world with only a coat. She ends up destitute, with no means to support even her basic needs for survival. She complains about her poverty. Her coat goes to shreds, and in the hem she finds diamonds. Plenty enough to sell and support her.
That woman is me, running around, looking for my Buddha nature, my Christ essence, my basic goodness. All the while, I’m stuck in my anger, fear, jealousy, and judge myself for having these feelings.
I hope there comes a moment where I realize that I had Buddha nature all along, buried in my hardened heart. The place where I stop, connect, and celebrate my innate compassionate nature. Where I acknowledge my love, care and gratitude as “enough conditions to be happy”. Where I see my happiness and suffering as expressions of our shared humanity.
Our shared humanity with people I like, and people I don’t like. People who think and vote like me, and people who do the opposite. People whose words and actions are in alignment with my values, and people who speak and act in ways that conflict with my dreams for our world.
I imagine that when I am grounded in my own goodness, I can offer my insight to help others see theirs. To help them pause, take a breath, and smile at life.
I think that thàt is the best gift I can give to others.
“The path of the spiritual warrior is to have the courage to face life.” Geshe Lama Phuntsho talks to a visitor at the Sand Mandala Dissolution Ceremony at City Hall Austin, April 17.
“We have six consciousness: ear, eye, nose, tongue, touch, and mind. Our suffering comes from our desire to see beautiful views, hear beautiful sounds, feel something pleasant, taste something yummy, and have enjoyable thoughts and feelings. We crave what we like, and resist what we don’t. That is the source of suffering. The spiritual warrior accepts all that is, and learns to see reality for what it truly is, without distortion and illusion.”
Did you ever sit on your meditation cushion, yearning for a sense of peace and quiet of mind? Did you ever get frustrated, self-critical, or hopeless, because your mind was racing with thoughts you didn’t want, you had the urge to get up, you got antsy, felt uncomfortable? “This is not what meditation is about! Meditation is about calming yourself, having these alpha and theta waves get stronger, being still! This meditation stuff is not for me. Meditation just doesn’t work!!!” And there you go, ready to give up on sitting on your cushion.
Wake-up, beloved friend! Meditation and mindfulness are not about trying to be this smiley, peaceful Buddha. Mindfulness is about having the guts to acknowledge all the places where we are stuck, all the places we feel hurt, and all the places where we want revenge, slash out, hide, disappear, disconnect, possess, hold on to, and be reassured that everything will be okay. Mindfulness is about opening up to what is true for you in each moment, engage with your very own, personal experience, accept that that’s your reality, and embrace it with care and compassion. That is what it means to be alive, to be a full human being, and to walk around on our precious Earth in your one wild and precious life. Your feelings, thoughts, sensations might not change on your meditation cushion, AND your compassionate and courageous heart can grow in the experience!
Isn’t that what we all want?
You want help to embrace your experience on your cushion with compassion? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see if and how I can help you.