Dream denial comes in all kinds of forms, packaged seductively inside facts, rationalizations, statistics, or morality. I would hear things like, “Well, let’s just be realistic here. Banks don’t make business loans to companies with your cash flow.” Or “It’s even more expensive to take care of your own horses than just board them at a stable,” Or said for my own good like “Do you want to have all that responsibility?”…
Hypocrite – noun / hyp·o·crite / ˈhi-pə-ˌkrit /
1. a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
2. a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings
Many years ago when I was the editor and publisher of Kindred magazine, I became the butt of a certain joke with my children. Kindred explored human development through the lens of culture, education and science and within that genre, the bulk of the articles were about parenting. Not just parenting, mind you, but about how to do it consciously and mindfully.
A single mother trying to make my entrepreneurial ends meet so I could work from home to be with the kids, and get dinner on our table, I immersed myself day and night in my work, often at the expense of my kids. ‘Mum!’ one of them would invariably call out over their homework, ‘…can you help me with….’
‘Not now!’ I’d call back without even looking up from my keyboard, feverishly trying to make deadline on an article about how to be a better parent.
My children learned about irony at a young age.
And they also learned to meet it with good humor and compassion. But those moments dogged me for years. How in the hell could I possibly not only be involved with Kindred, but at its helm? I felt like a hypocrite.
Friends would console me limply saying rote things like, you teach what you most need to learn. Which only made me feel worse, like I was somehow victimizing the entire readership of Kindred by learning at their (and my children’s) expense, all the while parading around in a relatively high profile position of leadership.
While wrestling with my sense of hypocrisy internally, I projected it externally too, pointing accusingly at organizations and leaders who couldn’t walk their talk. After all, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a non-profit espousing non-violence that self-destructs with in-fighting, a school whose mission is holistic education yet abuses children, or a spiritual teacher who preaches peace yet has a problem with domestic violence.
Eventually I made a certain peace with my own humanness and understood that waiting until I was ‘perfect’ so that I could (fill in the blank) was no way to live professionally. So with my imperfections tucked under one arm, my calling to be of service to the world tucked under the other, and a stiff upper lip, I kept aspiring to walk my talk as well as possible, while learning from my mistakes. I discovered my flaws brought an essential element of precious humility to my work as a coach and mentor. But I still judged my learning curves with severity.
Then the other night I had a realization, thanks to my dear friend Toby Herzlich. Toby is a wise-woman. The founder of Biomimicry for Social Innovation, a senior trainer with the Rockwood Leadership Institute and co-founder of Cultivating Women’s Leadership, she has a lot of experience working with people and organizations striving to do good things in the world.
I was joking about a recent situation I had had where I was facilitating a workshop on connection and communication, all the while feeling freaked out, scared and disconnected because of a fight I was having with someone close to me.
She looked at me with a smile.
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘I call that “mission-shadow”. I used to think that it was hypocrisy. But I’ve begun to see it differently.’
She went on to say that whenever we are called to do a certain work in the world, or when an organization declares its dedication toward a particular virtuous mission, then we are presented every opportunity to learn about that subject. And we would, just like inside any robust education, grow through failing, falling down and getting back up again with new insights.
If we had chosen for example to be electricians, she said, then our work would offer every lesson there was to know about electrical wiring. And while learning those things over years and years of experience, no one is pointing a finger at the electrician and calling him a hypocrite.
‘But we didn’t choose that,’ she continued. ‘Instead we chose to be in service to facilitate social change, conscious relationship and innovative leadership. So we get to fail, fall down, and get back up with new insights around all those things, thereby growing to master them over time.’
I lit up. Yes! What she said really resonated with me. And so I had to share it with you.
If you find yourself called in any way to be of service in anything of substance — be it relationships, money, sustainability, leadership, balance, wellbeing or justice, then expect the lessons to be brutally revealing. If you are a parent and are committed to your path to being a good mother or father, it will be the same. If you are called to apply your values in any way that you work or live, individually or in leading an organization, expect to be taught over and over through the humbling art of failure and integration.
This does not make you a hypocrite. It makes you human. And humble. It makes you a disciple of those things you value, honor and cherish. And that makes you a valuable and trustworthy companion to those on a similar journey because you’ve been there.
I disagree with the pop-psychology motto you teach what you most need to learn. It implies that we are all walking around with our pants down and that we are the last to know. I believe instead that we learn what we most need to teach. We learn what we are most called to serve.
In the Buddhist tradition, the future Buddha (replacing the current ‘Gautama’ Buddha) is called Maitreya. The prophecy of the arrival of Maitreya refers to a time in the future when ‘the dharma will have been forgotten by most.’
Like now, for instance.
Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. He is recognized as an enlightened or divine teacher who attained full ‘Buddhahood’ and shared his insights to help humanity. However Maitreya indicates another way in. The name Maitreya is derived from the Sanskrit word maitrī “loving-kindness”, which is derived from the noun mitra, “friend”.
So, what if, the future Buddha is not a person, but a consciousness? What if the era of the enlightened expert is over? And with it, the end of hierarchical thinking and structure? We’ve evolved and changed over the eons and now we need another way to learn and grow — a more horizontally collaborative way. What if we are dawning into a new era of ‘the friend’ – a consciousness of guidance and companionship that is more accessible, more in the trenches, so to speak?
Perhaps you are one of those ‘friends’. Perhaps there are many of us. Perhaps we are being called, and being trained perfectly for that calling in the boot camp of those brutal ‘hypocritical’ moments. And life is just waiting for us to quit judging each other and ourselves as ‘not perfect enough yet’, so that we can get out there and do our real job in this lifetime.
If you knew that this were true, and hence you had not only permission to be of service, but were compelled to, then what is your real job? What is your calling? What are you being trained to do, not through your expertise, but your lessons? To whom are you a trusted guide and companion?
And who are, not your perfect teachers or your idols, but your friends? How do they have your back? And what does their humanness teach you?
I can’t help it. The new year rolls around and I already have a list a mile long about all the ways I want to do better, be better, work better and be a better friend.
On top of that, in the aftermath of a soul-shredding election season, we are told this is our year to rise up. To show up. To be the change, because every human right, every civil right, and every acre of wilderness, we’ve fought for is at risk.
I believe now is our time to really show up in the world. And it will require our entire capacity—nothing half-hearted. We have too much to lose. But recently I noticed a deep exhaustion creeping into the edges of my resolve—and it’s only mid January.
When I traced the exhaustion back to its source, I discovered that a habit to please still pervades many of my good intentions. Yep, I’ll just come right out and say it: I’m a pleaser. It stings a little to confess. But it’s time the pleaser in me saw the light of day, because pleasers cannot be warriors.
The ‘Disease to Please’, as author Dr. Harriet Braiker coined in 2002, sounds like a kitten amongst the other pathologies. But make no mistake, underneath that fluffy exterior is a saber-toothed tiger that shreds relationships, and leaves behind veritable battlefields of collateral damage.
And if this is the year to rise up and show up, then my habit to please cannot come along. Not even a tiny bit. Pleasing creates an oxymoron of just about every virtue. It cancels out courage. It eradicates authenticity. It neutralizes strength.
After three whole decades of wrestling with my habit to ‘please first, and ask questions later’ (I’m a slow, yet thorough, learner), what I finally saw was not the ‘nice’ part of the pleaser facade, but a woman terrified of conflict. Now that was something I could sink my teeth into!
So instead of wrestling with the pleasing part of me, like I’ve done for so many years (with stellar lack of success) I’m confronting my fear of conflict. Specifically, I’m confronting my fear of all those uncomfortable sensations associated with conflict—anxiety, worry, hurt, fear and betrayal. I’m confronting my fear of anger, of being a disappointment, and of accusations. I’m facing my terror of being abandoned or cast aside. I’m walking straight into my fear of being judged as lazy or selfish.
And guess what, pleasing everyone never prevented any of that stuff anyway.
So my resolutions are taking on a whole new flavor this year. Instead of all the ways I can be ‘better’, I’m going to take an altogether different approach. I’m going to risk the unthinkable: I’m going to be ok with disappointing someone.
With luck, I’ll disappoint a lot of people.
These times are calling for the end of pleasing. Instead, we need to challenge. We need to confront. We need to call out the difficult dynamic. We need to risk unrest and opposition. We need to send back the proverbial cold pasta.
As people pleasers, we run around doing things that on the surface seem compassionate or caring, even noble. Upon reflection, I’ve seen that some of my softer attributes were actually just cowardice cloaked in spiritual clothing.
If you find that you do a lot of the following, perhaps your pleaser factor requires attention: understanding, compromising, letting go, not attaching, ameliorating, subjugating, apologizing, tending, being flexible, bending, attending, appeasing, charming, entertaining, placating, pacifying, rescuing, fixing, complying, and obliging.
Love—real love—is part support and part challenge. When you compare those two parts in your life, which side is more weighted?
So how to change? Like all good brain rewiring, start with small actions, as many times in a day as possible. Think of it like brain weight-training. Start with ‘light weights’, and as many reps as possible. Before you know it, you’ll be creating resilient neural pathways that can face conflict with more confidence and courage.
Coach and mentor, Dr. Adrienne Partridge writes in the Huffington Post that a Google executive told her that when she was trying to stop being a people pleaser, she started making a point to disappoint someone every day. “Go out and disappoint someone today, “ she writes. “Tell your waiter how you really feel about the food, tell your family you are not coming home for the holidays, or say ‘no’ to a project at work because it takes too much time away from your children.”
Ending the addiction to please is a practice that requires presence and mindfulness. As you tell the waiter you are disappointed with their service, slow yourself down and breathe through his or her reaction, and your subsequent feeling-response to their reaction. Watch their facial gestures. Feel your uncomfortable feelings. Just stay really present and breathe through that really hard moment. You are literally building new neural pathways.
Recognize that pleasing actually does a disservice to the other. It assumes the other person cannot handle disappointment. It holds them small. It refuses a growth opportunity to the other, and keeps them mired in a limited environment.
Another great exercise is to make a list of what you love, and what you love to do. Make it exhaustive….hiking, dancing, drawing, playing with the dog. Think of things you used to love a long time ago, add them too if that feels right. Then go over it very carefully and see if pleasing has robbed you of any of those things. No more playing your guitar because you are too busy taking care of a project you never really liked in the first place? What about that yoga class you’ve been meaning to take, but you just can’t get away from the kids?
Slow down and take a moment before responding to requests. Get in the habit of saying things like the following:
“I’m not sure, can I get back to you about that?”
“I am willing to do that, but only for an hour.”
“I need some time to think about that before I commit.”
“I can only see you between 10 and 11.”
And lastly, start to build your capacity for uncomfortable feelings. Expect that as you practice saying ‘no’, you will feel anxious, conflicted, guilty, worried and scared. That’s ok. Good things sometimes require feeling hard feelings. Don’t interpret their presence as an indication that you’ve done something wrong.
I can tell you that as you break with your habit to please, life can get a lot harder before it gets better. People who rely on your bending yourself into a pretzel might get really angry with you at first. You are changing the game plan. That’s ok. Take the pushback you are receiving as a sign that you are growing. Inwardly thank those that give you a hard time. Imagine their resistance working like inner weights in the gym of your growth.
Over time, you’ll discover that relationships (the ones that survive) become more alive and vibrant. And you have more energy, joy and levity. Relationships that do not survive your shift were probably too small for you anyway. Bless them and send them on their way.
We need warriors. We need you. Start by disappointing someone today.
The holiday stir was all around us as we sat on the park bench clutching our warm coffee mugs in the freezing winter air. He looked up at the painted angels above a storefront. ‘I’m not a very spiritual person,’ he said while he absentmindedly stirred his coffee. ‘In fact, when things get really busy, it’s the spiritual aspect of my life that gets put to one side.’ He sighed. A twinge of sadness edged into his voice. ‘But I sure miss it.’ A friend for many years, he is a deeply present person and gifted musician.
I often here this kind of talk. Our culture holds to a narrative that separates “spiritual” from other kinds of “lives”, such as “work” life, “private” life, “public” life “family” life, and even the ever-elusive “balanced” life—one that implies that all the other lives work in perfect unison with one another. If I live in India and chant mantras then I’m a spiritual person. But if I sit at my desk and apply all of my attention and presence to an excel spreadsheet, then I’m an ordinary non-spiritual person, or at best I’m a spiritual person having a non-spiritual moment.
Many years ago (when I thought I was spiritual), I spent the better part of my days with a beautiful teacher in northern India. Many seekers from around the world would come to teachers like him in search of enlightenment. He often teased us, sometimes ran from us, and other times lectured to us. But the best teaching moments for me were when he was just quietly doing his life. It took years for that silent yet sacred instruction to sink in — that our simple presence is the connection to the whole.
Sometimes I get to watch my friend practice on his piano. His entire focus pours into every note. What fills the room is not only his music, but his presence. It’s palpable. So, huddling over our coffee that day I offered, ‘But John, your very presence is spiritual, no matter what you are doing or not doing.’ He smiled slightly, ‘I never thought of it that way.’
To say we are spiritual (or not spiritual) is a redundancy. We simply are. And this ‘are-ness’ is that which is both ordinary and holy at the same time. Animals have it. Plants have it. Stars, universes, galaxies all share presence. Even rocks and soil have it. Physicists actually confirm that what we perceive as dead inert matter is not dead at all. Everything is an intensely alive energy field. That aliveness is only an aspect of the aliveness or life that I am, that you are.
My dear friend and mentor, Uncle Bob Randall, the Custodial Elder of Uluru in Australia, said to me once, ‘It’s that aliveness—that “being-ness”—that connects us to all things. That is why we call the birds and the snakes and the trees our brothers and sisters.’
So my question then is, when are we not spiritual? One must then follow that question with another: when are we not being? When is that aliveness not happening? Answer: never. We are always being—even if we are distracted, unnerved, offline, and totally not present to our own presence! Even if we are dead, our presence goes somewhere.
My mother used to live just 20 footsteps up the hill behind my home. Last week she moved out to a new location. On the day after her move, I walked past her old home on the way to my backdoor. The absence of her presence was palpable. It wasn’t just that she wasn’t there. For I’ve walked that same pathway hundreds of times before and noticed when she was not home, perhaps playing golf or grocery shopping. But even then, she was ‘there’.
This whole idea of presence puts another twist on what’s known as the Holy Trinity, ie, the one godhead in three different persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Perhaps another way to look at it is that the Father is Source, the Son is all things manifest (people, animals, trees, et al) and the Holy Ghost is that ‘spirit’ within us of presence—alive-ness. All one thing.
Language perpetuates limited concepts. In an attempt to free it up a little, it has been said, “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience”. However, I would argue both are equally limited viewpoints. Why even separate human and spiritual? They belong together as one.
Given that it is the holiday season, perhaps now is a great time to celebrate the birth of ourselves—as sacred beings—already whole, awake and perfect. Perhaps we could celebrate the sacred, not in, but as, each other. Perhaps we can give ourselves and each other the gift of recognizing that we do not just have sacred ‘parts’ of ourselves, but that the entirety of ourselves and our lives are holy. Period. Without condition.
We can toss out the concept of ‘spiritual’ and all the ways we beat ourselves up with it, along with all the used wrapping paper and limp new year’s resolutions.
No one is spiritual. No one is not spiritual.
Uncle Bob Randall, an elder of the Yankunytjnatjara people of Central Australia.
When my children were babies, I worried about every cough and fever. I frantically thumbed through my dog-eared copy of How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor (a powerfully helpful book written by an iconoclast pediatrician dedicated to the empowerment of parents), and spent hours on the Internet to assuage my anxiety. It was then I stumbled upon the miracle of homeopathy.
Precisely how homeopathic medicines work remains a mystery, and yet, nature is replete with mysteries and with numerous striking examples of the power of extremely small things. Packed into tiny sugar balls the size of cupcake sprinkles, this natural form of nanopharmocology dilutes remedies to the point where there may be no molecules of original substance left. The dilution, combined with rigorous shaking of the substance potentiates the remedy. This is called ‘ultramolecular’ dilution (in other words, way small).
To my delight, my children’s health improved dramatically more with these micro dosages, than with the heavier handed versions of conventional medicines. We are taught more is better, yet homeopathy reveals a radically different principal of physics that supports the view that small is powerful. Just look at the force released in an atomic bomb from smashing two atoms together.
When applied to personal development and organizational change, this principle holds true. Attempting to make positive changes through aiming for large fell swoop goals and achievements is not nearly as effective as making numerous very practical and achievable micro-moves towards an overall vision, calling or dream.
As a horsewoman, I’ve come to see that so many theories that work with eliciting real learning and collaboration for horses, work magically with their human counterparts. The brilliant horseman and trainer (as well as second degree aikido black belt), Mark Rashid, teaches how to ‘reward the try’, which rewards a horse in response to any of his ‘micro-tries’ towards the desired action.
“Because we are constantly looking for the big thing (the flawless lead change, the effortless transition, the sliding stop), we often look right past the most important part–the try that tells us our horse is understanding our request,” he writes.
The more sensitive one becomes to the smallest of tries towards the right thing, and the quicker one rewards those tries, the quicker and more solidly the horse learns and grows. It’s the same for us. The more respect we can give ourselves or each other for the ‘micro tries’, the quicker and more solidly we can grow.
My belief is that inside these micro-tries, no matter how small, is the most powerful of neurological rewards — success. From a neurological point of view (remember, we are talking small here) the bio-chemical stimulus of success is the same, whether it be a tiny success, or a huge one. But tiny ones are easy, and you can rack them up with much frequency. Which means you’ll grow and learn and thrive better, and faster!
For a lot of us, when we try to make big changes for the better, it’s too easy to get disheartened, cheat, and slide back into our old ways. Better to succeed in small ways, more often. A recent study by social psychologist Sung Hee Kim supports this idea. Kim advises undergraduate psychology majors at the University of Kentucky and has an interest in finding ways to help students follow good advice. To that end, she surveyed the various “micro” actions—those requiring little time, effort, or resources—that students engaged in that resulted in positive “macro” life changes.
Students recalled small actions, performed consistently, that they believed produced lasting, broader changes. The kind of micro actions ranged from getting up a bit earlier (10 minutes) in the morning, briefly reviewing course material, to writing down plans and assignments in a planner.
This principle of ‘small is better’ is the reason why, at the end of my sessions with clients I might ask, ‘What’s the one smallest thing you can do?’ I don’t ask for more than one, and I insist that it be as small as possible. Mostly I am met with incredulousness. Did they hear me correctly? Small? But aren’t changes meant to be big, monumental and life changing?
Another fine horseman, Warwick Schiller, reminds us to aim for only 1% improvement per day. ‘In 100 days, you’ve improved 100%,’ he says.
In one of his talks he recounts a story about his wife who suffers from panic attacks. She began working with cognitive behavioral therapy in hopes that it would help. As part of her treatment, every day she had to build her capacity to manage anxiety through creating micro moments of fear. She would sit down quietly, then summons an anxiety-creating trigger—only just enough to bring the anxiety on—and then sit quietly and breathe through that micro-trigger. Over time this created greater capacity to cope.
One day she and Warwick were taking a flight overseas. Warwick fell asleep. When he woke up, she exclaimed that she had had a panic attack, but was able to deal with it, and it went away quickly. They were both amazed that the simple act of practicing through tiny moments of anxiety, resulted in the ability to stop a panic attack on a plane, one of the most challenging places to have one.
The point being that she did not create this capacity by going on to many planes and dealing with the Super Bowl of anxiety producers. She achieved it through many very small successes.
The other day I stumbled into an app called YOU. It’s an app of small steps, micro-actions, to a ‘happier and healthier you’. I downloaded the app and was invited to do my first micro action – to take a moment, get present, look at my surroundings and capture the moment by taking a photo. Simple. Testimonials raving about the app include things like “It’s incredible how much has changed in the last months. Especially when it comes to self-love, leaving my comfort zone, ending procrastination, … or focusing on the right things.”
So, do you want to do something brilliant in the world? Do you want to be awesome, have bright, clear, loving relationships, and leave this world a better place? Start with something really tiny. What is one really small practical thing you can do today to make that happen?
I am a recovering drama queen.
It’s not that I loved drama; it’s just that I didn’t know any other way. As a sensitive person, I would feel all the emotions around me, and either numb and stuff my own, or — after holding an internal poker face for too long — explode. I felt sorry for myself. I felt too much for others. I ran away, clung, blamed, rescued, took too much responsibility, ignored and manipulated. Alas.
It makes me tired just thinking of it all.
Maybe it comes with age, and maybe (probably) I’ve grown tired of the collateral damage. But at some point I had to throw in my tiara, and get real about how to have sane, safe, secure, mature and mutually supportive relationships. It’s a lot of hard work. And anyone who tells you otherwise is a queen (or king) in sheep’s clothing. To be a student in the Art of Relationship, is to come face to face with one’s own family legacy, arrogance, ignorance and fear.
Our ability to show up authentically, skillfully and compassionately with others is a skill that not only benefits our personal life, but our professional one as well. Many of my clients, in spite of being high achievers and influencers, are surprised to discover that what potentiates their ability to succeed, is not due to their education, their acumen, their confidence, or their intelligence, but two things: their ability to relate authentically with others, and their ability to deal with emotions (their own and everyone else’s).
Yet this is where they find themselves most challenged. Like many of us, they suffer from a lack of education around skillfully navigating relationships and emotions. And as a result, ‘tune out’ all that difficult stuff, while remaining on task, yet never really fully being present with anyone, let alone themselves.
We certainly never learned this in school. And I’m surprised that we still do not teach ‘relationship literacy’ in the classroom. It’s one of the single most important skillsets. My guess is that most of the bullying that happens in the school yards would disappear if we taught our children how to relate authentically to themselves first, and through that, to others. But I’m not sure how many adults would be qualified to teach this art form.
Jeremie Kubicek, author of the new book 5 Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There Is Never Enough Time, calls relational intelligence the future competitive advantage for leaders. Relational intelligence, he writes, is about influence. “It increases your influence, your likeability, the desire for people to want to be around you,” he says. I would add that it increases people’s trust of you.
When embarking on relational intelligence, it is essential to understand one basic principle behind how our brain works in relation to the external world. That principle is that we are wired for love, and war, and it’s important to know which track we are on in any given moment. To oversimplify, there are two parts of the brain. The limbic, reptilian, reactionary brain. We’ll call that our ‘war brain’. And the relational and rational brain. We’ll call that our ‘wise brain’.
Our war brain keeps us from danger. It keeps us from being eaten. The first and oldest brain in our evolutionary hierarchy, it has the ability to hijack our newer, smarter brain, in order to keep us from being someone else’s lunch. Because when a tiger is pouncing at you, you don’t care what color it is, or if it’s male or female, or what particular variety of tiger it is. Nope, that war brain is designed to get you out of danger and quick.
We get into trouble when we perceive threat – through all sorts of verbal and non-verbal cues – and our war brain takes the steering wheel. Notice I say ‘perceive’ threat. We are not walking around with tigers in our midst. But the war brain doesn’t know that. Constantly scanning the environment for threat, this brain only knows danger and does not discriminate between real threat and that which is just imagined. The war brain shoots first and asks questions later. And it is absolutely not optimal as your leadership ally.
Reasoning with the war brain when it ignites is not only impossible, but just gives it more ammunition. Even reason itself can be perceived as a threat (who cares if the tiger is charging at us at only 35 miles per hour, stop wasting my time!). So reasoning with yourself — or someone else — when you or they are triggered, is a really bad idea.
The key is to learn how to regulate yourself and others, so that you become a ninja at supporting everyone to get back into the wise brain, and as quickly as possible. Regulation attends not to facts and reason, but to the fear itself. Listening without interrupting, keeping eye contact, breathing deeply and validating feelings are all part of the regulation arsenal you’ll want to create.
Knowing the difference between the two brains, and how to move from war brain to wise brain, will take you a long way towards relational intelligence. The following skills also help you and those you work and live with to stay in the wise brain, so you can cultivate more time being a rock star and bringing out the rock star in others.
Notes from the front lines of a recovering queen:
• Recognize and deal with triggers – How do you know a trigger? Your heart is racing, you want to cry or rage, you start compulsively cleaning pantry…these are just a few signs. Think of triggers like lightening quick reflexes that react upon perceived threat. They put you in war brain. Triggers were hardwired into your brain when you were a child. Virtually every trigger you experience in real time traces back to something formative when you were small. Learn to interrupt yourself when you are triggered. Pause and breathe, and wait for your wise brain to get online again before you react.
• Learn how to receive – Receiving care, respect and support from others, from a neurological point of view, floods your nervous system with oxytocin and other anti-stress feel-good hormones. This makes your brain operate more coherently, and wisely. And it gives others an oxytocin boost too. Learn how to be vulnerable enough to recognize what you need and want, and then ask for it.
• Build capacity to feel (especially the hard stuff) – We are taught at an early age to feel the good stuff and avoid the ‘bad’ stuff. Our avoidance brings us stress, anxiety, depression, addiction and an ‘emotion averse’ culture that has a pill for every sensation we experience. Slow down, breathe, and just allow what is arising to arise, and feel it purely as sensation, while avoiding all the mental narrative that the sensation wants to drive. As Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön instructs, let the ‘weather pattern’ — the pure energy of it — just flow through you, like wind flows through the trees.
• Own your projections, assumptions and inferences – There is a lot of material about projections and how to deal with them. Watch how your mind will witness a fact, and then run up an entire ladder of inference and assumptions to come to some final story about a person or a circumstance. That final story seldom bears any resemblance to truth, and has a whole lot more to do with our own projected lens.
• Welcome relationship pain – If you are in relationship with anyone – your partner, your coworker, your boss, your team, then you probably experience pain through those relationships from time to time. Someone hurts or disappoints you. Someone is unskillful. Let the pain point you to places in yourself that are unresolved, need healing and need attention, growth and learning.
• Practice generosity – Give what you want to get. If you want to be understood, then seek to understand. If you want to be seen, endeavor to really see others. Generosity not only comes through gifts, but through actions and a graciousness of heart.
• Slow down – Slowing down allows for you to spot those primitive receptors that want to throw you into a limbic hijack. It allows you to more precisely attend to others when they are in war brain too. And it gives you the space needed to become more self-reflective, listen to others more closely, and spend time being a bit more curious.
• Learn the art of a ‘true’ apology – I’m sorry that you are feeling that way – is NOT an apology. Apologies require that you clearly understand the impact you had on another. You may never have intended harm, but your impact on them is also real. So here are the three steps to a real apology:
– State your feelings, besides the apology — ie, ‘I feel sad that my lack of communication caused you to worry.’
– Admit your mistake and the negative impact it had on the other — ie, ‘I was inattentive and it caused you to be late and miss an appointment.’
– Make the situation right. Even if you don’t know how, you can ask them what you can do to remedy the situation.
• Make clear boundaries – Boundaries are not solid, immovable places that keep people away. They are dynamic and porous. They invite people to authenticity. I define a boundary as the line where I begin to lose myself, or trade something, or bend too much. So, payingattention to that line, and stating where it is to others, is a constant practice.
• Be present – First, be present with yourself. Make it a priority to take several moments throughout the day to pause and pull yourself into the present moment. Then, use that skill to be really present with others. Do you stop what you are doing to listen, or just really be with another?
* Practice active listening – Listen without thinking about your response. Validate the other’s feeling. Repeat back what you’ve heard. Make sure you really understand. Use eye contact and body posture to reflect your interest.
We can never fulfill our greatest dreams without the goodwill and support of others. And being a part of the human community means that all kinds of opportunities to relate well, or badly, will present themselves all the time. Being relationally literate allows you to reduce the stress of unspoken and unresolved issues, and have more energy for creativity and innovation. And it’s a lot more fun than being a drama royal.
I know, it’s the holiday season, and you may have expected a blog post on gratitude, love, forgiveness, generosity or some other altruistic virtue. Which is precisely why I chose the timing. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be kind, accommodating, and loving — especially during the holidays. But in the bootcamp of love, I’ve learned a very hard lesson: real love cannot happen without equal measure of indifference.
In 1961 Joan Didion’s seminal essay ‘Self Respect: Its Source, Its Power’ graced the pages of Vogue magazine. She describes self respect as a discipline, ‘a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth’ unconditional upon failure or success. Then she turns the conversation slightly a few degrees, and aims it right to the heart, ‘To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference.’
With self-respect emerges the imperative to be indifferent…an altogether under-celebrated capacity of the heart, and one that is essential to the authentic expression of fierce love and compassion. Indifference allows us to be liberated from our need to please, to be liked, to be a hero. It liberates others from our manipulation, fear and cowardice.
The Buddhist counterpart would be nonattachment. People talk about being ‘unattached’. But that word never really hit home to my inner Frieda Lawrence to D.H. She was too convinced that pleasing was some kind of Medal of Honor, validating her place in the world, evidence of her generosity and kindness. And besides, the spiritual overlay kept the concept inside some kind of theoretical, heady domain. Oh yes, I’m so unattached. Like it could be proudly claimed somehow, whilst sporting ochre robes and beads, with a pat on the head from the Dalai Lama himself.
Indifference is an altogether grittier word. It hangs out in the bone marrow of existence. It’s not something to be claimed but rather quietly, humbly understood. When I first read it in Didiot’s essay, my Frieda couldn’t argue.
Cloaked in adjectives such as cold, cool, hostile and heartless, indifference remains an untapped and greatly misunderstood resource, especially to those who need it most…the sensitives, the pleasers, the overwhelmed among (and within) us. So allow me to lift that veil a little, and reveal its true face.
Indifference is spaciousness – for yourself and for others. It is freedom. It is clean. It allows others to truly be themselves, and live inside the dignity of their (and your) own choices and consequences. It wards away victimhood and martyrdom. It helps you to sleep at night. It extinguishes panic. It banishes anxiety.
When indifference is allowed to settle inside your being and take it’s rightful place next to authentic kindness, honest care and love, it ignites an alchemy forging the foundation of self respect, or as Didiot writes, ‘character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues’.
So, for this holiday season, I want to place a little something under your tree, wedge a small trinket in your stocking. For this holiday season I wish for you the permission to be indifferent.