Bring your life into balance

Empathy works. It always does.


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A car driver shatters my enemy image

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.


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My dentist inspires me to transform my enemy image

I am at my dentist. I like her. She has an effervescent energy, a big smile, and bouncing red curls, and she explains what she’s gonna do. And, I get a heated cherry pit pillow in my neck and a bright pink blanket over my legs, every time I’m in the chair.

This time the procedure takes two hours. It is more complicated than she anticipated. In the middle of working with me, she walks away to work on someone else. I can hear them chatting cheerfully through the wall. She didn’t tell me she would be gone for half an hour, and she didn’t ask what she could do for me so I would feel comfortable in her absence.

I am left alone, confused and lost about what’s going on.

Soon, I need to go to the bathroom. I don’t know how to do that.  I’m hooked up to something and I can’t call for help to untie me, because there is a divider jammed in my jaw. All I can do is make a muttering sound. I can tell my mumbling doesn’t draw her attention: her chatter continues cheerfully.

After half an hour, she comes back, finishes up, and presents me the bill.

Ouch. Financially, physically, and emotionally: I wanted more care and consideration.

I am too exhausted to complain. Instead — I build an enemy image of her. “She is incompetent. She is an idiot. She doesn’t care. And I certainly should never, ever go back.”

It takes several days, before I find the compassion to unwind it. Nonviolent Communication offers the following advice to shift enemy images:

  1. notice your unmet needs and any feelings they bring
  2. guess the needs the “enemy” was trying to meet by their behavior
  3. acknowledge that their behavior left your needs unmet
  4. distinguish between who they are and what they do

This last step of distinguishing person and behavior is essential. The fact that my dentist acted in a way that didn’t meet my needs for consideration and care doesn’t make her an inconsiderate person. There is a difference between what someone does (specific in space and time) and who someone is (generalized and ongoing). Compare “I am a thief” and “Last Monday, I took a $10 bill from the desk of my employer, and I knew it wasn’t mine.”

Sure, there were things she could have done differently, but that doesn’t make her an idiot or an incompetent dentist. It makes her someone who didn’t have the spaciousness, awareness or creativity to figure out how to meet all needs. If anything, she needs help to succeed at that, not criticism or judgment.

I do want my needs to be seen and valued.  So my work is to receive enough empathy to know what I could ask of her at my next appointment. A request that’s about my experience, not her character.

Let me know how this lands for you.


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Running around, looking for my Buddha nature

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.


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Judgments, criticism, and blame are tragic expressions of unmet needs

Unfortunately, we usually hear them as a message of wrongness of us, of who we are in our core being. We take the message personally and defend or doubt ourselves, or we withdraw within.

It is often easier to hear criticism, blame, and judgment from a stranger, from someone who is not that close to us. As soon as the message comes from someone who matters to us and the issue is tied to our sense of self-worth, we struggle.

How’s that?

Empathy with a partner, dear friend, or sibling when they express blame, judgment, or criticism is harder, because they are more important than a stranger. Their opinion of us matters more than the opinion of someone we don’t care about. We spend so much time with them, that they become our main strategy to meet our needs for love, acceptance, belonging: essential needs for our human existence.

David Schnarch talks about differentiation as “your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others-especially as they become increasingly important to you.” Differentiation would be very helpful to hear hard-to-hear messages more easily. Unfortunately, differentiation is not something that’s being taught at school.

Image courtesy flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/8043877054Now what?

I offer two tips that can help you reach enough differentiation to hear hard-to-hear messages without too much upset.

Localize the criticism

Translate the negative message about you as a person into an event that is localized in time and place. Transform an evaluation of you as a person, into feedback about something you did. It is about, for example, the fact that you left without saying goodbye yesterday afternoon, instead of being judged as a cold and uncaring person. When you help your loved one distinguish between you and your behavior, it is easier to empathize with what they are trying to say.

Guess feelings and needs

We experience our shared humanity at the level of feelings and needs. We all know what it is like to feel sad, lonely, angry, disappointed, scared, ashamed, embarrassed. We all have needs for acceptance, love, support, understanding, safety, reassurance, connection, belonging, play, autonomy. When we move beyond the details of the story into the depth of feelings and needs, we develop a sense of understanding. We might even ask questions to better understand the other one: “Tell me what saying goodbye means to you?” “What rituals did your family have around saying goodbye?” “In an ideal situation, what would saying goodbye look like?”

Go practice!

I am pretty sure that these two tips help you to hear your spouse, child, co-worker share their hard-to-hear-message with more acceptance, compassion, and understanding.


You want help to listen with empathy to hard-to-hear messages? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session to see how I can help.


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Six steps to make conscious commitments

CommitmentHow do we make commitments we can honor? I hope these six steps will help you.

1. Connect to the underlying needs you’re trying to serve

In my desire to be an aspirant-member of the Order of Interbeing I try to nurture my need for help on my path of mindfulness and compassion. It also supports a need for belonging to a group I feel welcome and at home. I have a need for contribution, to use my practice to benefit others and relief suffering. There is a need for peace, to be more open and accepting of reality, and more joyful of what is in this moment, instead of what I want it to be. And there is a need for harmony and trust. This community handles conflicts with such peace, ease and grace.

2. Brainstorm other strategies

Write all your needs down on a big piece of paper, step back and look at the overall picture. Are there other strategies that might support all those needs?

I see my needs for support, community, belonging, contribution, peace, harmony and trust, and wonder which other strategies would nurture those needs. My marriage, moving back to the Netherlands, seeking certification with the Center for Nonviolent Communication? I don’t see they support all of my needs. This choice stands out as the best.

Maybe more needs come up at this stage. Jot them down, and re-do step 2. Do they reinforce your choice, or change your strategy? I realize my need for purpose and clarity reinforces my choice for being an aspirant-member.

If you have more strategies available, you can use the polarity matrix to check which one stands out.

3. Imagine yourself six months from now, after your commitment

Look at your future self, and feel, see, hear, taste, smell all the aspects of your life. What are your experiences, activities, surroundings? Do you like this future version of yourself? Do you get excited and enthusiastic to be that person? If so, go on with step 4. If not, this is not the right strategy.

4. Sleep on it

Let it go. Repeat “Everything is in divine order, everything will be resolved in God’s love and wisdom” or anything else that rings true. Trust your subconscious’ wisdom and guidance. Relax in the miracles of sleep.

5. Express your intention

You wake up with the same commitment? Express your intention to an accountability partner. Someone who is willing to check if this is really what you want. Hearing yourself express out loud what you want to commit to, will help surface any fears, hopes, reservations and longings. With empathy you can address them and include them in your choice.

6. Commit!

Go for it! That is the only way to know you made a true commitment. Even if it turns out to be the wrong choice, you can celebrate your sincere intention to consciously commit.

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You want help to clarify your commitments? Contact me for a complimentary, discovery session 512-589-0482


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Three steps to start anew

grandaspirations.orgTime for celebration

Today I want to celebrate my successful implementation of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Beginning Anew!

Avoid conflict

I have been part of a small group of Nonviolent Communication coaches/trainers. We talk on the phone once a week. I value the level of support, encouragement and integrity I find in this group. And yet, somehow, I started to dread the conversations, more and more.

My favorite strategy when something doesn’t work for me is to disengage, then disconnect. I am well-trained at that. Rescheduling calls, not making them, coming up with a lame excuse that I am too busy and have to quit. Stuff like that.

I love that strategy!

Trying something new

This time I decide to try something different. I decide to express my dread and take it from there. I’m gonna use Thich Nhat Hanh’s three steps of Beginning Anew, and use Nonviolent Communication to express myself in feelings and needs.

I first ask Priya and Adam if they are okay if I talk about our group interaction, using Thich Nhat Hanh’s steps.

I start to sweat, feel anxious, see doom scenario’s of how they will react. I am absolutely sure I will be rejected, criticized, discarded. (Yep, these are not feeling words, these are feelings mixed in with a thought, but you get the picture of the racing dialogue in my head).

I did not expect to hear “Sure! We would love to listen and support you. Take your time. We’re here for you.”

I take the first step: appreciate what I like in the connection, maybe even in the current situation. That is their commitment to empathize with me, their willingness to open up to my struggle, their ability to hold my fear and anxiety with compassion.

They reflect me back. They guess my feelings and needs. They give me space to talk.

I’m starting to relax. A thought pops up in my head: “Maybe it is possible to express myself authentically and still belong and be accepted? Maybe I can find a balance between autonomy and togetherness?”

I didn’t get to the next two steps: expressing my regret for my own behavior, and sharing what actually bothers me. I don’t mind. We will continue this Friday.

Try it for yourself

I feel relieved, open and trusting. I get the brilliance of Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice to start with appreciation. It builds relationship, a safe container for our feelings and needs. It supports seeing the other person as human, instead of the enemy in our head. We can see the positive in them, the good, the pure, the beauty, beyond anything that doesn’t work for us. They are not enemies, or obstacles to our happiness. They are human beings in their own right.

I feel excited about our next group call. I would never have believed that that was possible. It is. Try it for yourself.

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You want help to begin anew, with yourself or someone else? Contact me for a complimentary, discovery session, 512-589-0482


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Should I stay or should I go?

ChoiceShould I stay in Austin or should I go back to the Netherlands?

As soon as I decide to stay, going back seems better. As soon as I decide to go back, staying seems so much yummier.

Miller and Rollnick write about ambivalence and counseling with neutrality (Motivational Interviewing, 2013, 231-242). The counselor grounds herself in neutrality, unattached to either this or that choice. Her only focus is to support the client make a decision, even if that is to not make a decision yet.

Of course I am struggling to coach myself! I am completely invested in the “right” outcome. I am impacted whichever choice I make. How can I be neutral?

When you’re in a hurry, take your time

To make matters worse, I have this sense of urgency: if I don’t go back now, I might as well go back never. My parents are growing older, and now is the time to spend time with them. If I don’t decide now, they might be dead before I made up my mind.

There is something helpful in writing down the different thoughts I have in my head. Miller and Rollnick suggest making a decisional balance sheet with the advantages and disadvantages of each choice. That’s what I am doing in my head. It might help me to write it down.

What does love have to do with it?

I liked their paragraph on affirming best. Silent Unity makes a point that “God’s love and wisdom guides you every step of the way.” It is an affirmation that I am okay and lovable, whatever choice I make. Gosh, my choice has nothing to do with my self-worth. I will receive love, belonging and acceptance from my husband ànd my parents, no matter what choice I make. They have been trying to tell me this over and over again. Only now do I understand what they actually say: “Elly, follow your heart’s desires, be happy, and know that we will always be here for you, no matter what choice you make.

I feel 20 pounds lighter. I have more space to make a decision that supports the needs of everyone involved. This ambivalence has nothing to do with who I am, just what I chose. And I’ll always receive love, acceptance and belonging. Wow, that makes it a heck easier to stand my ambivalence and let God’s wisdom guide me.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Clash

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Contact me if you want help to resolve your ambivalence. I’ll coach you with neutrality 512-589-0482 


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How can I help?

Team

I wake up this morning, ready for my conversation with the director of an organization I want to work with.

 

Ready? Well. Not exactly. I feel grumpy, unmotivated and confused. It takes some effort to get moving. I take a shower and put on my snazzy outfit. My shirt looks shabby, my pants baggy. I put on my mascara. My eyes start tearing, the mascara gets smudged. I work on my eyebrows, they resist and keep hanging like downward dog. I look like a mess. And that’s just the outside.

The inside is even worse. I am anxious. I am sure I’ll screw up. Stutter, talk too much, be too pushy. Forget to ask the right questions. And sweat. Of course, sweat in my arm pits, for everyone to see.

And I need the income. I cannot afford to lose this lead. She has to hire me.

Then I hear this voice in my head “How can I help her? How can I help her help her clients? How can I add value and be part of the solution, how can I focus on serving her needs, instead of mine?”

A peace comes over me. This is not a sales conversation. This is a discovery session. Of two people figuring out if collaboration makes sense. She needs to assess whether she knows, likes and trusts me enough to engage me as a solution. I need to hear what her goals and challenges are to know if my services are a good match for her needs.

I remember an Irish saying “There are no strangers, only friends I’ve never met.”

I always loved that attitude. Just friends I’ve never met. She is not the big judge of my competence. She is a friend I’ve never met. She is a woman who might want my help to achieve her vision, dreams and goals. I am a woman who wants to contribute the best I can.

I left the conversation joyful, excited and honored that she asked me to write a proposal. She thinks I can help.

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Do you want help with your team to achieve your vision and goals? Contact me for a complimentary, discovery session. I would be proud and honored to help. 512-589-0482 


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Conversations about change: Shame (4/6)

This is a tender letter to all my friends who experience shame. Shame about the choices you’ve made, and how you think these reflect on you as a person. All my friends who have come to believe that whatever you do, it is never good enough. It is never good enough to cover up the fundamental flaws of your being. It is never good enough to get the love, acceptance, support, and understanding you so deeply long for. You just want to hide and never face the pain, fear and loneliness of this shame again.

You’re not alone. I am here. We are here. For you. For me. For us. We all know what shame feels like. We all know the devastating impact shame has on the freedom of choices we make.

We also all know the healing power of compassion.

Last year I participated in a yearlong program Nonviolent Communication. We were invited to offer a workshop to the other participants as a learning opportunity. I had two participants show up. Josie had 14. I felt deeply ashamed. Here was direct proof that I was not attractive, interesting, and inspiring enough to have anyone show up. When I shared my shame in my empathy-group a shame storm raged through my body. I hardly could look at anyone. Then they responded. With compassion. With care. With understanding. With a longing to include me, support me, reassure me.

I was flabbergasted. I was showing up naked, covered in my shit, and instead of the anticipated response of disgust, rejection and exclusion, I received love, belonging, acceptance.

I wish this healing experience for everyone in the world. I wish we all can find a friend, a coach, a therapist we trust. Someone who is willing and able to listen and empathize with us. Someone who doesn’t brush off our experience, or tries to cheer us up, but who is willing to be there for us in our suffering.

Then we can start to heal. We can start to heal the wounds of our childhood. We can start to believe that love, acceptance, and belonging are possible, just for who we are, with all our flaws. We can start to open up and be vulnerable. We can start to share our dreams, our aspirations, our heart’s desires.

After the shame storm is heard, we can listen to the quiet. We can hear everything that brings joy in our lives, and help us bloom, blossom and grow. Our vision will reveal itself, guiding us on the path of becoming more fully who we are.

May this year shower you with love, acceptance, and support.

You want help bringing compassion, healing and integration in your life? Contact me, 512 589 0482


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Self-Compassion, day 1: I’m doing the best I can

Wangari Maathai shares a beautiful story about a hummingbird and the forest. The forest is on fire and all the animals flee away, terrified of the fire and immobilized by fear of what will happen to their sacred home.

The hummingbird flies off too. To the lake. He picks up one drop and flies back to the forest and drops it on the fire. Then he flies back to the lake as fast as he can and picks up another drop. And another. And another.

All the animals watch him and ask: “Why are you doing this? It’s not gonna help? Your beak is too small, the fire too big, and your wings too slow.” The hummingbird pauses a second, then replies “I’m doing the best I can.”

Sometimes we feel overwhelmed with our situation, the situation of our world. We see all the suffering, within ourselves, in other people, nearby, far away. The task is too heavy, the stakes too high. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be done now, but whatever we have to offer is nothing compared to the grief and suffering. There is too much to do, and we stand to lose it all. The situation seems overwhelming, and we get paralyzed.

Those are the moments that we can stop. We stop to appreciate everything we are doing. Every thought we create, every word we speak, every step we take. We appreciate how we contribute to more abundance in the world, more prosperity, more security, more love, connection, peace, joy, and harmony. We acknowledge how our efforts bring more loving-kindness, compassion, support and understanding into the world. We appreciate how we work to sustain ourselves, our loved ones, and those we don’t know yet. We might not create the results we want. But, we’re doing the best we can.

And that’s enough.