Brokenness

The further we move away from our own brokenness, out of touch with our own darkness, we often harden. Loneliness, lacking compassion, inability to be present, and unintentionally sending wrong messages, interferes with the light and influence we have during our most vulnerable times being connected to our broken self.

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"Rembrandt is as much the elder son of the parable as he is the younger. When, during the last years of his life, he painted both sons in Return of the Prodigal Son, he had lived a life in which neither the lostness of the younger son, nor the lostness of the elder son, was alien to him. Both needed healing and forgiveness. Both needed to come home. Both needed the embrace of a forgiving father. But from the story itself, as well as from Rembrandt's painting, it is clear that the hardest conversion to go through is the conversion of the one who stayed home." -Henri Nouwen

Annunciation

 
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Even if I don’t see it again

nor ever feel it I know it is

And that if once it hailed me

it ever does

And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction

not as towards a place but it was a tilting

within myself, as one turns a mirror

to flash the light to where it isn’t

I was blinded like that

and swam in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one

and so specifically myself I thought I’d die

From being loved like that.

- Marie Howe

 

Stillness

 
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Over the past year I’ve made an extra effort to introduce mindfulness meditation in my sessions with people. In my own life, I’ve grown to rely on taking moments throughout the day to simply focus on my breath, reground myself, and to calm my mind of the many thoughts or emotions that can carry me away at times. So, I thought this may be helpful to include, in my meetings, as a brief meditation at the beginning, or a pause at heightened moments during a conversation to notice what’s happening, or simply at the end of a session before wrapping up.

I always check in afterwards and ask what they’ve noticed and frequently hear that it was calming, some noticing tension in parts of their body, others realizing the intensity of thoughts flooding their mind, some more in-tune to heart rate, and becoming attuned to their deeper emotional state.

Although the feedback isn’t unexpected, when it’s shared by someone in such a personal way something happens in that exchange. There’s also an energy shift that seems to happen when sharing a quiet space together, while over time creating an unspoken trust. As a result, the thin (or at times thick) layer of superficiality is pealed away. Taking the time to focus within seems to take away the need to avoid the small talk and reflect more from one’s internal experience.

In meaningful dialogue, I find there’s a balance of both listening and sharing – a give and take with one another. I’m noticing with even a short period of focused breathing, or guided meditation, it’s influencing a deeper level of comfort with sharing things someone may have been holding back on and a greater openness.

MLK

I recently read a children's book, on Martin Luther King Jr, with my daughter. When I told her my January blog was going to be a reflection on MLK, she asked if she could give me something she wrote. Thank you to my daughter for her thoughtful words and meaningful contribution. Here it is with a few minor edits...

I have a dream. Do you remember Dr King, the fighter of rights, the person that helped half of the world? You probably know who helped us treat people better, if you don't, it was Dr King! When he was 11 years old, he played football and baseball, and his best friend was white and, of course, Martin was black. One day his white friend's mom told him that they can't hang out with each other anymore. Plus they can't anyway because of a dumb rule that whites and blacks don't go to the same school, just because their skin color is different! I know sad, huh, but anyway Martin didn't understand why. 

That night at the dinner table Martin told his mother and father what had happened that morning, they told him why, and Martin flipped out. Hate is all he wanted to think about, his friend and his father, but his mother told him, "hate is the last thing you put in your mind no matter what." Martin agreed hate is the last thing he should put in his mind, so he did. 

Martin got older and stronger and he wanted freedom now. He wanted it so bad he went to jail more than one time for doing that. My point is to TREAT PEOPLE LIKE THEY WANT TO BE TREATED. Please!

 
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LIGHT

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There is something intriguing about a person’s first name. The meaning, who chose it, where it came from, as well as how it identifies and connects us. I think of my friend Moses, who I met in 2001. I had never met anyone by the name Moses, but know the Old Testament stories of the brothers, Moses & Aaron. This in itself connected us, in addition to my friend’s kindness and loyalty. He never forgot a birthday and taught me the importance of visiting people when they’re in the hospital, especially those who would rarely have visitors. His inner light was bright and full of compassion. At the end of 2018, I’m remembering Moses and all those who have died. I’m thankful for who they were and the impressions they left that continue to be a guide.

Transformation

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It seems nearly impossible to go through a day without hearing about major social and political injustices throughout the United States and the world. It’s clear that people and groups in power have a lot to do with the exploitation, and abuse, with a goal of self-preservation. There doesn’t appear to be any interest in transformation, or change, just self-protection. These worldly adversities are an added weight creating deeper cracks in the foundation and jeopardizing our structural integrity - with a need for extensive repairs made of Truth, the only real sustainable and secured reinforcement.

“Each of us is born with two contradictory sets of instructions - a conservative tendency, made up of instincts for self-preservation, self-aggrandizement, and saving energy. The other is an expansive tendency made up of instincts for exploring, for enjoying novelty and risk - the curiosity that leads to creativity belongs to this set. We need both of these programs. But whereas the first tendency requires little encouragement or support from outside to motivate behavior, the second can wilt if it is not cultivated. If too few opportunities for curiosity are available, if too many obstacles are placed in the way of risk and exploration, the motivation to engage in creative behavior is easily extinguished.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Mihaly’s quote makes me think about the process of ongoing spiritual transformation. The self-preservation makes sense in our early years, children to young adults, with those closest to us supporting and helping define a healthy identity and purpose. Yet, many did not have the safe attachments that require consistency and reliability - as a result spend a lot of life trying to sustain a certain level of safety and self-preservation, while living a life that is not compatible with one’s true self. I sense that the self-preserving ends up creating the self-doubt, insufficient relationships, and overcompensation to protect from inadequacies and vulnerabilities.

To live life fully, as adults, it requires the hard work, and discomfort, of moving away from extreme self-focus, looking at the bigger picture, and opening up to the search outside of ourself and transforming towards truth and relationship.

PLAY

May your summer have extended moments of fun, at the beach, walking your dog, going for a swim, barbecuing with friends, singing along at a concert, dancing, watching fireworks, traveling with family, reading a new book, bike riding, playing with kids. If we can have experiences that allow us to be present, and express ourselves in light and imaginative ways, it has the potential to bring a sense of relief and allows us to love in deeper ways. 

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Learning from Trees

Last Tuesday, I woke up and did my best to head out early and shovel as the first wave of the blizzard hit. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I kept telling myself it’s mid-March and spring is just days away!

When I walked outside I looked at the lovely fern tree in our yard. It has been on my mind quite a bit this winter. Mainly, because I didn’t cover the tree and it has been taking a beating from the extreme cold, snowy, and windy winter. I wish I had a good excuse for why the tree isn’t covered, but it's also not the first winter it hasn't been covered up.

I love this tree and it's an important part of our yard. The branches grow vertically from its base, straight up to the sky, and its green all year. Although today, it looked like it was in disarray and doing its best to make it through the storm.

                                                       3/13/18 - blizzard day

                                                       3/13/18 - blizzard day

When seeing the tree, I immediately went over and shook all the snow to lighten the load from the branches. By now, the durable tree was becoming so weighed down by the snow and was quickly losing its natural shape. As I was shaking the tree, I got this feeling I wasn’t as helpful as I intended to be and maybe doing more harm than good.

As the day moved along, I had this thought that, as difficult as it may be, maybe I should stop reacting with trying to save the tree, and let it try to get through this storm on its own terms in the natural element. So, I decided to step back and allow for natural consequences and respect the tree to respond as it will.

In Peter Wohlleben’s book, "The Hidden Life of Trees," he talks about trees being highly social and that they care and support each other to help with stabilizing one another - even in extreme weather conditions. He also talks about how they feed and support one another, without having conditions for each other, no matter what type of tree - and that while caring for others the tree is also caring and taking care of itself - seeming to realize that to feel well the trees need one another.

Suzanne Simard, an ecologist and professor, at the University of British Columbia, also talks about the trees being in network with one another, and the elaborate root systems underground are massive communication pathways. She refers to trees not being individuals, due to constantly interacting with one another and helping each other to survive. She also refers to the high levels of resiliency, among the trees, as a result of the different species and the diversity of the network. This resiliency develops through the back and forth communication among the community of plants and trees, and those that are most in need, receive carbon and wisdom from the others, including how to enhance their defense system.

Another fascinating observation Prof Simard states is from the older trees. At the end of their life they are passing along an increased amount of their resources, especially to their kin, but also to their network to support the community's growth and stability.

After learning about this research, I’m hopeful that my tree will be okay, as well as knowing its ability to self-heal has little to do with being alone.

                                                  3/15/18 - 2 days after storm

                                                  3/15/18 - 2 days after storm

Together with

My wife and I recently had a mid-year meeting, at school, with our daughter's teacher. We talked about the usual things, what's going well and areas to work on. The teacher then shared about a time she noticed my daughter struggling with an assignment. She said she went over to her desk and sat next to her. She added, "I didn't say a word, I just sat with her. I knew she could do the work and I sensed being with her would help her out. And she completed the assignment."

Of all the things she talked about, at the meeting, it was this simple gesture that spoke volumes and left such an impression on me. Even as I write this I'm not sure she realizes the influence she had. The words that come to mind, regarding the teacher's action, are peaceful and gentle. These are not always the actions taken with those closest to us who are struggling. Yet, I imagine most of us can think of a time in life when something similar had a positive impact us, whether with someone close to us or outside our inner circle. 

When I work with people, families, there is often the desire for the "quick fix" approach, a will power mindset, or pushing better ideas, one's ideas on someone else. Our culture promotes these hierarchical approaches. In my experience, this often has little to no traction and moves others further away. The slowing down of the pace and expectations, while sitting with moments of silence and uncertainty, has such a powerful force that movement and decision making gain much greater traction. It also creates an inner space for trust, healing, and deepening of relationships.

Is there anyone in your life who may need you to spend some quiet time together?

Loneliness at Work, School, & Home

Last week, I attended a talk by the former US Surgeon General, Dr Vivek Murthy, on “How Loneliness Is Bad For Business.” Dr Murthy made a health comparison of those intensely struggling with loneliness to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. While practicing medicine he said the most common illness he felt he saw, from those hospitalized, was loneliness. He also mentioned a study of students on 51 college campuses, which included nearly 30k surveyed, and more than 60% reported feeling profoundly alone. Another survey from several years ago reports half of CEO’s experienced loneliness that interferes with their performance.

As I was listening it struck me how the feelings of being alone and having minimal social connection, in the workplace, were similar to the descriptions that couples and families share about their feelings of disconnection at home. The inability to openly share one’s life experiences with others can be depressing, and provoking anxiety and anger. It can also create a silencing, followed by shame, and brings about issues with self-doubt, loss of voice, hopelessness, rejection, and brokenness.

Another similarity is that families and organizations have an opportunity to bring people together, share philosophies, culture, accept uncertainty, hold different perspectives, and get to know one another in a deeper way. Yet, although families tend to do a better job at it, many fail to do so – and even more so with organizations/companies – and this is when things fall apart.

For those who are in a position to reassess and make changes regarding the stability of a family, or work group, these questions may help with addressing loneliness and need for deeper connections:

-       Am I present and listening?
-       Often trying to fix or have all the answers?
-       Is there a greater need for transparency and openness?
-       Is hierarchy and power becoming a barrier to connection & inclusion?
-       Allowing for input and feedback?
-       Able to sense problems and opportunities?
-       Acknowledging mistakes and insufficiencies?
-       Balance with decision making and providing guidance?
-       Tolerating different perspectives?
-       Facing the truth or hiding/ignoring?

“You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.” 
                                                                                                                   Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Listen

When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice, you have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn't feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.

 When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems,          you have failed me.

Strange as it may feel....Listen.

All that I asked was that you listen, not talk or do, just hear me.

I can do for myself. I am not helpless, maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless. When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and inadequacy. But when you accept as simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and get about the business of understanding what's behind the irrational feeling. And when that's clear, the answers are obvious and I don't need advice.

Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what's behind them. That's why prayer works sometimes, for some people, because God is mute. And He/She doesn't give advice or try to fix things....just listens and lets you work it out for yourself.

So, please listen, and just hear me, and if you want to talk just wait a minute for your turn, and I'll listen to you.

(author unknown)

What is around you...

I had an experience recently with going to a family event. I wasn't really looking forward to seeing certain people, but I knew it was still important to be there. The reason I was less interested in being there was due to political stances of others, and having to deal with comments that I rather not hear. Yet, something important happened to me. One of my family members, who I had reservations about seeing, and I, had a conversation for well over an hour. We talked about stuff that we've never discussed before and it had a lot to do with his life struggles and how he moved through it.

I walked away from that conversation with such an appreciation for this person. It reminds me of a clip I saw with Stephen Colbert. He was asked about how his mother was able to raise 9 children following the death of her husband, and 2 children, in a plane crash. He said, she was a woman of strong faith, taught her kids to love life without bitterness, and that everybody suffers, and accepting and being grateful for our pain is how we understand people better.

I know my conversation with my family member was so meaningful, because it was sharing about experiences in life that made such a serious impact. I could identify with his pain, through my own experience, and it brought me closer to him. My ego that was getting in the way, earlier in the day, was swept aside through sharing a vulnerable part of his life I knew nothing about.

One of the greatest pieces of advice I received, as a young adult, was from a mentor who helped me with a challenging supervisor. He told me, you need to spend more time with this person. Find a least one thing you have in common, and see what happens from there. This advice continues to guide me.

“You understand so little of what is around you because you do not use what is within you.”  -Hildegard of Bingen

Back to School

It's definitely in the air. Labor day is quickly approaching and my neighborhood is becoming active with signs of students moving back to school. Late summer & early fall often bring a sense of newness, fresh starts, and excitement. For many this is the beginning of a new phase in life, as a parent and a young adult. 

Yet, with all the excitement, there will be students that feel like they are in over their head. The optimism that had carried them to this point can easily shift to being overwhelmed by a greater sense of separation, increased expectations, developing new relationships, keeping up academically & socially, redefining identity, plenty of opportunities to drink & get high, and family much less present on a day-to-day basis. This is a lot of change for anyone, especially someone who may be more sensitive and vulnerable with adapting to new environments.

A common question, for families, is whether their son/daughter can keep up with all the changes. I would say that although it is often unpredictable how one will do in college, being aware of the signs of serious struggle may be key on how things turn out. Here are a few thoughts from my personal and professional experience with setting up conditions to best support yourself or a family member:

1) Have an understanding in regard to a balance with frequency in communication - facetime,                 phone/text, in-person visits.

2) If you're sensing there is struggle, let them know you want to help and you're in this together -             being mindful of not overreacting, arguing, or being judgmental.

3) Being alone in the experience (as a parent or student) may enhance the issues - explore supports on     campus or outside help.

4) Set-backs are common and how families thoughtfully anticipate and respond can have a major           influence on the outcome.

5) Recognize the things that are going well (that could be overlooked), while providing a message of       hope.