If you were at the beach as a child you may remember the feeling on being ankle deep in the ocean water and, as the waves were approaching, the previous waves would run underneath (the breaking waves) in the opposite direction. This gentle current, or undertow, gave the unique feeling of gliding as well as testing one's balance and then possibly falling into the water. Ocean conditions seem obvious by looking at the water and waves, but what we don't see clearly is the undertow. While the undertow can be more problematic for children or less experienced swimmers, to get back to shore, the larger concern is the rip current which looks like a calm path of water between two breaking waves, but is anything but peaceful. Rip currents affect even the best of swimmers.
In my practice I see individuals, couples, and families trying to navigate a range of currents. Some are ankle to knee deep in an undertow, and others are reaching out for help when they've been pulled into life's rip currents, trying to gain some control as they lose more and more energy after fighting so hard to avoid being swept deeper into the water towards the ocean floor. When they arrive to therapy, the desperation to make it back to shore is so great, that it takes time to adjust to the pace needed to start understanding that calming oneself, while not swimming against the current, is essential to making it back to shore. And at times, it's the letting go, accepting vulnerability, and trusting that before the current brings them back to shore it may be that the waves pull them further out to sea where there is calmer and safer water. At that point, one's energy can be restored, panic is not getting in the way, and judgement becomes easier on how to move with the flow, not against, and allowing to see more clearly what's ahead to support getting back safely to shore.
I remember hearing a story about a young boy who witnessed the World Trade Towers being hit on 9/11. He saw it from his classroom window and, after his father picked him up, they walked home and the boy drew a picture of what he witnessed. His picture resembled the horror, as well as adding elements (to the drawing) that could save the people from dying. This need to freely express himself, as well as showing compassion for others, says a lot about the living and familial conditions, that influenced his instinctive response, even if in his imagination.
I love how this story provides a glimpse into their relationship with only one moment in time. I imagine if the boy were with his mother, she would have her own unique presence to allow for her child to be safe. But in this story, the father picked him up from school and physically walked home with the child, providing a sense of safety, protection, and care that allowed the child to process the trauma immediately when he got home. I imagine this boy sees his dad today, not perfect, but as his hero.
What happens to the many children that don’t have the paternal presence and consistency that is so essential in early development? Joseph Chilton Pearce says the very biology of transcendence, that moves one towards meaningfulness, is that between the ages of 15-18 years old, if a young person is not presented with some great people or great vision, what sets in is a massive cynicism – because when not presented with a “big picture” then it is a massive dying off of brain cells and (without) this guidance the direction turns backwards.
Parental incompleteness is complicated and often intergenerational, but many of those stories go untold. When families share their stories, and talk about family histories with one another, it can allow for an opening, an understanding of the absence, brokenness, hardness, and distance that influences the “father wound,” so many children and adults suffer from - shaping worthlessness, longing for acceptance, and feeling insecure.
Pearce’s words resonate with me personally, as well as what I’ve witnessed with families I’ve worked with over the years. Seeing both the presence and absence of fathers being able to provide the big picture, in life, has such significant consequences, and (however present or absent the father) is likely a result of their own relationship with their father, or possible father wound.
There’s a powerful story in Dr Meg Meeker’s book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, where she says that “my father spoke a single sentence that changed my life.” Although, she said, it wasn’t his words, it was “his tone, inflection, and confidence,” when she overheard her dad talking on the phone (to his friend) about her. “My father believed something about me that I couldn’t believe in myself. He gave me a belief in myself and always made sure that I knew that he loved me.”
I imagine Dr Meeker sees her dad today, not perfect, but as her hero.
Spiritual - what do I believe in, value, how does this guide my life, how attuned am I to my mind body spirit connection?
Environment - what types of environments am I part of, purpose of each, how do they influence me, and what is my influence, how much of myself can I be in each?
Nutrition - what am I eating & drinking, how much thought do I give to it, why & when do I
eat & drink?
Physical & Movement - am I moving my body enough, resting enough, playing, improving health & preventing disease? How is my sleep?
Emotional – how do I view of myself, notice signs of distress, managing my emotions, my impact on others, others on me?
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.
"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
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
“One, know all their names by tomorrow. Two, it’s more important that they know you than that they know what ya know.” Greg Boyle, the author of Tattoos on the Heart, received this advice from a seasoned teacher on his first day teaching high school. Since then he’s founded Homeboy Industries and has been working with Los Angeles gang members over 25 years.
His stories reflect the nourishing of relationships, especially those affected by guilt and shame from countless experiences of darkness and distress. For many, guilt and shame leave an impression on the soul and stifles the ability to love – to love one self and others - resulting in an inability to live. Fr Boyle says, “guilt, of course, is feeling bad about one’s actions, but shame is feeling bad about oneself. Failure, embarrassment, weakness, overwhelming worthlessness, and feeling disgracefully “less than” – all permeating the marrow of the soul.”
Fr Boyle’s relational approach is about consistently showing up, listening, sharing, and much less about exhibiting what he knows is best. To be mindfully present, especially with those in need, can open people up to a deeper level of vulnerability that opens the door to healing and feeling connected. James Finley says, “when we risk sharing what hurts the most in the presence of someone who will not invade us or abandon us, we unexpectedly come upon within ourselves, the pearl of great price, the invincible preciousness of our self in our fragility.”
May we all take some risks in moments that provide an opening to share a bit more of ourselves and to be there for others.
One day many years ago, I was walking into school with my 7th grade class. As we were walking upstairs, my teacher, Mr. B, told me to get out of the line and to wait for him outside the principal’s office. I knew it wasn’t for a good reason, but I didn’t know why. (As I’m writing, I’m surprisingly noticing my increased heart rate and a certain residual level of shame even decades later.)
When he finally came down to meet with me our conversation was a dance around why we were meeting. I don’t remember exact details, but eventually he referred to me cheating on a test. I remember (to this day) how I deceitfully did it, but back then there was no way I was going to admit it. So, I adamantly denied it for a good part of the conversation, which only seemed to be stalling the inevitable. Mr. B realized I wasn’t confessing so he showed me some proof and it was over. I’m still not sure why the interrogation lasted so long, but I imagine it was some mix of his testing my character, teaching me a lesson, and playing into the control he had over me. Shortly after, we had a parent/teacher meeting and little came from it outside of my apologizing.
When I reflect on this experience, I think about the elements that influence the ability to grow in relationships - safely being vulnerable, able to express inner and relational conflict, allowing for mistakes, realistic expectations on change with other people. In my case, I wish it had gone differently and that it aligned more with these elements. First, I shouldn’t have cheated. Just as significant, I wish the conversation could have allowed for a greater understanding of the deeper meaning beyond violating the school’s academic code. The true lesson could have come through the openness of expression, regarding an unfortunate choice, influenced by certain demands/tensions and feeling incapable to make a better decision. I could have also learned the possible deeper meaning that Mr. B experienced. I see these types of conversations having the ability for real movement and fulfilling the increased need for trust and respect with one another.
Alain de Botton, author and philosopher, talks about having a “capacity to tolerate our differences with generosity.” He shares that all of us are defective and while there are not any perfect matches, in relation to compatibility among us, there should be an “awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us, and we will (without any malice) do the same to them.”
Life as a student, teacher, colleague, spouse, friend, sibling, neighbor, parent, calls us, as de Botton says, “to accommodate ourselves to wrongness, while striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners.”
Over the past several years, there has been growing conversation focusing on American colleges struggling to meet the demand of student counseling needs, as well as managing and responding to students in crisis. As schools report increasing numbers of counseling requests, the staffing and budget limitations are some reasons for making it unmanageable to meet the overall needs. As a result, schools are steadily relying on community mental health providers to support their campus population.
In regard to student mental health, college years (undergrad & postgrad) present as some of the most vulnerable, as young adults are beginning to manage much more on their own, adapting to new environments, while working to understand and define their identity and purpose. For some, this becomes too much and creates serious challenges, while needing added support to help them through.
I was encouraged by a recent STAT News online chat that focused on college mental health. As a provider in greater Boston MA, some of my work is with students and families. I'm including some things to consider for students, faculty/admin, and families upon entering the fall semester.
+ Start early - before arriving to school, or early in the semester, research and interview therapists/coaches that may be a good fit, are close to school, and right for your budget. It helps to have someone in place rather than scrambling to find a suitable provider when need is greatest.
+ College counseling centers may be the first step to assist with referrals. For those preferring to research themselves, websites like PsychologyToday.com (throughout the U.S.), and TrySophia.com (for Boston area), are a few of multiple search options online.
+ Keep in mind, school counseling centers usually only offer a few sessions before referring students to community providers who can offer longer-term support.
+ Therapy/Coaching may be new to you. Reaching out before challenges become overwhelming is key. This can help in many areas, including self-care, academic and social concerns, as well as potentially avoiding a higher level of treatment, or temporary medical leave from school.
+ Find a provider that is a good fit, while able to work with your schedule and needs – while also supporting you so you’re not going through the experience completely on your own. Also, if you would like to have the option for video/phone support, this should be discussed.
+ Research shows that family/network involvement is significant with good outcomes. The level of involvement could be discussed with your provider.
Some signs that it may be helpful to reach out to a professional would be:
+ Notable changes in mood, anxiety, loneliness, social withdrawal, sleep, intrusive thoughts, spiritual disruption, self-care, over an extended period of time (1.5 weeks +)
+ Active thoughts, plans, and actions, regarding harm to self, others, or suicide.
+ Using harmful amounts of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, technology, to distract and fill the void of deeper personal experiences.
Mental health setbacks can happen to anyone. Be aware of moments when thinking, I’ve got this under control, it won’t happen to me, my daughter, son, or friend.
Additional thoughts regarding support:
+ Share your concerns – with a family member, a friend, a therapist, advisor or professor. Going through it alone is often not helpful.
+ On-campus support groups are often led by peers, who have their own lived experiences.
+ If you notice a student may be going through a difficult time, or doesn’t seem like their usual self, a gentle approach of asking could make a difference, while letting them know you’ve noticed, care, and want to help.
+ If you’re trying to help someone through a difficult time, getting support and guidance for yourself, from a peer or professional, is recommended.
+ Recognize, Respond, Create a Network – This is Cornell University’s approach to helping students in distress.
The last time I remember using the words "mentally ill," I was talking with a friend-colleague years ago. As soon as it came out of my mouth I immediately felt a distancing between her and I. I used it when discussing a "clinical" situation at work, but even before her response it felt inadequate and one-dimensional. After I said it she simply said, "I hate the words mentally ill." I knew why she didn't like the words, and I felt like I betrayed her, as I knew it had deeper meaning in her life. Looking back it seems like my words were not only insensitive, but clichéd and only limited the possibility of deeper conversation. I thought using these words allowed me to describe an experience that fit in a box, made it understandable, and provided a level of certainty. Yet, all of this is further from the truth when related to a person's health and whole being.
I hear the label "mentally ill" used on a regular basis - in the media, within the community, medical groups, and with some families I meet with in therapy. I rarely hear it when I meet with someone individually in therapy. They often use words that describe their experience in much more personal ways, which opens up conversation and allows for their story to develop and grow over time. The same happens among family members when there is a shift from using medical jargon to relatable language, which then allows for curiosity and thoughtful discussion.
Since working with families and clinicians, I can't remember witnessing the words "mentally ill" being used and it brought about deeper understanding and connection among those involved. Mentally ill is just one example of the jargon used in our culture when trying to define someone in need. From my lens, it seems to create more distance, hierarchy, and limitations with respect for another – making it a greater challenge to understand and define what is needed to get through a difficult period.
So what are the appropriate words? There are many, some surprising, some familiar, some feeling incomplete, but using the words that the person uses to describe their own experience (I find) is really the key. If they call it "stress," I use the word “stress” in our conversations. If they use "anxious," or "fearful," or “overwhelming thoughts,” I use the same. By reflecting these same words it can move towards a level playing field as well as a sense of being together. This approach supports making decisions together, while listening in a new way and not providing someone with a label that fits my agenda. Also, it allows for a story or conversation to evolve, not stopping it in its tracks.
The words we use to describe ourselves, as well as those to describe others, make deep imprints within us. Words can build walls and tear them down, encourage and dishearten. But a language that is identifiable, shared between each other, has a way to cultivate understanding, and respectfully face challenges in safe ways - creating the possibility of feeling both vulnerability and hope that things are going to change.
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.
This morning I headed out for a run. It was almost ideal running weather, 55 degrees, partly sunny, light wind, and I was motivated to get outside. I felt good starting off and even though a couple moving cars came a bit too close, out of a driveway and parking lot, it didn’t really bother me (unlike other days!). I then decided to run along the Mystic River, which is a wooded area and a rougher terrain than my usual concrete path.
As I was quietly running, stepping over tree roots, rocks, and dirt, I must have picked up my head and ended up stubbing my front foot on an exposed root. I knew I was in trouble. I ended up in the air and coming down head first to the ground. As I dropped my phone I put my hands down to protect my fall and landed quite hard before rolling on my back. As I let out a moan, I immediately felt pain. My reaction was to get up quickly, but a voice inside told me to take a breath or two, which I did. I then got up and looked around to see if anyone had witnessed my fall. It was strange because I wanted to look up and see someone there in case I needed help, but also I was embarrassed and relieved to see no one was around.
As I got up, I started to run off. Again, the voice inside told me to stop running and to walk, while paying closer attention to my body. And again, I listened. As I began walking I noticed the cuts and blood on my hands. At this point I was concerned about infection. I knew there was a small gas station ahead, but began debating whether to ask to use their bathroom to wash up. As I’m writing, it sounds strange, but it was a tough decision (ultimately asking for help). Also, my experience has been that these businesses haven't always accommodating. I was in a bind. I didn’t want to bother the anyone for them just to say no. On the other hand, if I didn’t, I risked the cuts getting infected. So, I decided to ask.
When I approached the mechanic, he politely said, “yes, the bathroom’s over to the left.” In the bathroom cleaning up, I found more cuts on my legs and arms, but thankful I didn’t hit my head or break any bones. The mechanic came over and asked if I wanted a band-aid and some ointment, which I gratefully accepted.
This 10-minute experience changed my mindset and I felt less shaken. This guy, who I'd never met and expected almost nothing from, was so kind and hospitable. He was one step ahead with helping me out, giving me what I needed, and didn't expect anything in exchange. After he handed me the bandage, he walked away and I didn’t see him again. I then left the station and ran the remaining 1.5 miles home.
Now that the adrenaline has leveled off, I’m feeling more soreness. Although, I’m looking forward to my next run and eventually going by the gas station to ask the name of the mechanic, and let him know how meaningful his gesture was in giving me strength during my vulnerable moment.
In April 2014, Desiree Linden was on a challenging path towards healing from some serious foot and leg injuries and may not have imagined she’d win the Boston Marathon 4 years later. Even today, she talked (after the race) about “feeling horrible” and at mile 6 thought “no way, not my day,” and thought she’d eventually drop out. Until then, she decided to support a couple other female elite runners and help them along before dropping out. As she continued, she found herself in 3rd place and, although deciding to continue, the self-doubt persisted through the race until she was about 1 mile away from the finish.
I was moved by her story with a lot of it feeling relatable. I often feel that recovering from an emotional/spiritual/relational breakdown is a lot like running a marathon. Each mile looks and feels quite different and there’s a great deal of pain and unpredictability. Watching and being influenced by the other runners is part of it and can provide hope. Also, the range of cheering and support, from the sidelines, changes with each mile while some of the route feeling pretty lonesome. The poet Mary Karr says the deeper the breakdown the greater opportunity for a breakthrough.
“I may not be on the path I want to be on right now, but this one is offering some pretty nice alternative routes.” –Desiree Linden 2014
Congratulations to all those who ran in today's Boston Marathon! It was incredible to witness such high levels of vulnerability and perseverance on such a cold and rainy path.
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.
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.
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?
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