Tag Archive | empathy

Life Isn’t Solved by a Facebook Post

Did you grow up with platitudes that don’t seem to work in everyday life? Can you recognize them as you scroll through Facebook?

A platitude is a statement, usually with a moral message, that is used so frequently that it loses it’s true meaning.

Even though my family was part of a positive spiritual community, I still grew up with several platitudes that I eventually had to unlearn.

Anytime we receive advice from others, or see an inspiring message on social media, we need to still run it through our intuition: Is this right for me? Will it help me resolve and move forward from my present circumstance?

What platitudes have you evaluated and found to work only in certain circumstances?

Thanks for watching!
Lynn

P.S. You might also enjoy Discernment versus Judgment!

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Discernment versus Judgment

I hear from many people who worry overmuch that they are thinking or saying something judgmental, when in reality they are making a clear and healthy discernment regarding a person or situation.

In this video, I help define discernment–which is healthy and helps us make wise decisions–versus judging, which generates negative feelings and energy for everyone.

The questions to ask yourself when you are worried that you are feeling judgmental are:

  1. What is happening?
  2. What is my experience of what is happening?
  3. What can I do about it?

Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences!

Take Time Apart

804972302Lately there has been much talk about how busy our lives are, the pull of technology, and the practice of connecting online more than in person.

Yet there is another practice that is emerging in the midst of busyness–electronic or otherwise: Realizing the importance of taking time away from it all! Meditation, yoga, sitting by the beach, and other forms of quiet time are finding their way into many people’s routine.

Sometimes clients share their involved story with me, then say, “I just don’t feel I am handling it well.” In most cases, they are handling the situation beautifully, but forgetting to handle themselves as conscientiously as the other people and events. I will gently reflect that perhaps instead of needing to do more, it is time to do less, to take time apart from the situation and renew themselves. Often this helps them see a situation anew.

What are some ways you renew yourself? Having a list of three or four things can help your renewal time feel fresh. Other people like their standby of one or two activities (or inactivities!). Taking a walk, listening to music, relaxing in a hammock, reading a book are other ways to take a vacation from busyness for a while.

I love riding my bike around a lake near our house. Biking has always been a refreshing activity for me—feeling the wind cooling me as I ride, looking at natural surroundings or pretty neighborhoods, and enjoying the exercise-induced invigoration when I’m done. My favorite trail is Busse Woods, passing the elk as I ride; but even shorter rides near home can feel like I was gone for hours!

If these activities still seem too time-consuming in your busy day, try taking two minutes two or three times throughout your day to breathe. Stop what you are doing and do some diaphragmatic breathing—breathing from your belly—in and out for two minutes. Try it right now…Refreshing, right?

There is always time to take time apart–and there is always the need to do so!

Scratching the Surface of Your Spiritual Growth – Part 3 / Finale

Continuing from my previous post in this three-part series on Scratching the Surface of Spiritual Growth…

sevenstepsebookA powerful forgiveness and resilience tool is Jane Elizabeth Hart’s Seven Steps for Successful Life Transitions. Hart created this method for releasing old patterns, beliefs and other life situations, based on her personal experiences of change, loss and spiritual growth. Each of theSeven Steps deals with an aspect of the situation at hand.  Journaling your responses to each step’s list of questions is suggested, tissues should be on hand, and laughter at some point is a must. (You can access the journaling questions at church or on the Center for Enlightenment website, www.cfenlightenment.org.)

Step one is ‘Gratitude and Acceptance’ and deals with all that you are grateful for in regards to the situation or person at hand.  Write down everything you can think of for which you are grateful.  What joy have these situations brought to you? Sometimes all I can come up with is, “I am grateful for the opportunity to release this [person or situation].”  Don’t worry if you can’t think of anything; simply return to it when you can. 

Step two looks at the ‘Good Times.’  Think of specific situations in the past that have been enjoyable for you regarding this person or situation.  There might be something that keeps bringing you back for more.  Again, skip it if you need to.  

Step three allows you to look at your ‘Hopes and Dreams.’  What do you, or did you, hope will happen?  What have you dreamt that this person or situation would be like?  Get those thoughts from swimming around in your head, creating unnecessary stress! It doesn’t mean that these hopes and wishes will necessarily come true; this is to help you let them go.

Step four deals with those ‘Disappointments and Difficulties.’  Ah, yes, the confrontations, the embarrassments, the arguments, the losses—everything.  What has disappointed you regarding this person or situation? What has been the most difficult thing to deal with? Can you see any unresolved issues within yourself that are surfacing to be healed?

The most important step is the fifth step:  ‘Forgiveness.’  This is how we heal.  Who or what circumstance is the hardest to forgive?  Why?  What does it mean for you if you don’t forgive?  What does it mean for you if you do?  When you can find it in yourself to forgive, you can handle future similar situations or people much better.  Remember, you are not condoning unacceptable behavior through forgiveness; simply accepting that it has happened, and now you have new information with which to make decisions moving forward.

Forgiveness requires a certain leap of faith—whatever yours may be—into a space of allowing another to be what they choose to be without it throwing you off-center.  Forgiveness pulls you out of the mindset that someone can ruin your day by not meeting your expectations; and puts you into a space of compassion and non-resistance toward outrageous behavior in others (and yourself!).  It’s tough, but as you are willing, you add to your inner management abilities.

Finally, ‘Release’ all these in the sixth step, and affirm your ‘Completion’ with the process in step seven.  I like having a ritual for my completion process, sometimes burning my journaling notes, or using Hart’s Seven Step meditation. 

The most important relationship is the one you have with yourself; and when you are okay with yourself, you can be open to better possibilities.  If you get stuck on a situation, be sure to seek further help.  

No matter what has happened in the past, every day opens new doors for you. Your job is to prepare your mind and heart for those opportunities to come forth, not so someone or something will change, but so you can.

Cooperating with the Bigger Picture

My dadI spent two weeks in July helping my dad and mom after my dad had major surgery. I felt grateful enough for being able to be there for them, but the experience of his light and courage topped the experience! My only real job was to cooperate with the bigger picture.

Before I arrived, I prepared myself for my dad to be incapacitated for the whole time I was there, with tubes coming out of him every which way. Indeed, he had a lot to overcome following his successful surgery! But by my second week there—two weeks after his surgery—he was home, walking around, looking and feeling better than he did before the procedure!

My dad’s courage, will, and perseverance shined through him, even on his frustrating days. He took every day in stride, joked with the medical staff, and displayed a positive, stoic determination that wouldn’t have allowed any other outcome!

My job was simple—stay above my own emotions. Fear had no place near him! Being human, of course I experienced it; but there was no space for that around him.

Fortunately, I had already worked my release process—a couple of times before I arrived!—using the “Seven Steps for Moving through Difficulties” formula I talk about all the time. Doing that helped me be less attached to the outcome I wanted—for him to survive and be whole again, even minus an esophagus!

But he is a soul in evolution, and this was his call to make, not mine! I had to get myself out of the way; I had to be prepared for any possible outcome. I released him to his highest good, knowing that whatever the outcome, that was the most efficient route for his soul journey. The most peace I felt was when I was simply in the moment with him, loving and appreciating his soul with no expectations or demands.

There were ups and downs through the process: How much cancer was there? Did they get it all? (They did!) Irregular heartbeat. Infection. Difficulties eating, and so forth. Each time something new arose, I had to be steady and not lose myself in fear, sadness, or hopelessness. Each time I grabbed hold of a faith I didn’t know was there—not a faith in some god that would give me what I wanted. Rather, faith in his beautiful, wise Soul that knew what it was doing—no matter what!

By the time I left, my dad was laughing, eating, walking and enjoying his newfound health! His healing process will continue for a while, but what a great start to that journey!

Where else in my life can I trust the bigger picture rather than my own puny ideas of what should or should not take place? Where in your life can you trust the bigger picture? It is always there! Trust it. Look for it. Let go of your ideas of outcomes and embrace the plan that is in place for the highest good for all concerned. Cooperate with the process!

Scratching the Surface of Your Spiritual Growth, Part 2

Scratch the Surface!

Scratch the Surface!

Last month I wrote about the process for spiritual transformation—which includes any kind of change you are making toward expressing your full potential.

The question now is, “How do I support myself in that process?” It seems that there is always something coming up and pushing you buttons, doesn’t it? People or situations demanding that you get out of your comfort zone, reminding you of that other awful thing that happened, and so forth. What do you do with that? It can seem like those “button-pushers” stand in your way, but you can use them to stretch and grow from the inside out.

There are three levels of processing demands: Observe and Release, the Agitated Energy Process, and Journaling to Go Deeper.

Observe and Release

This first level includes those thoughts or situations that come up and are easily pushed out of our minds. The trick is to be aware of those things—to be conscious of the thoughts that are going through your mind at a given moment. Observing your thoughts helps you to release the ones you don’t need and act on the ones that you do.

For example, if you are working on releasing judgmental thoughts of yourself and others, you would need to be aware of when those judgments arose. Once you are aware of them, you simply notice and release them on the spot, rather than jumping into a conversation about them in your head. No need to chastise yourself nor analyze the thought; you know what it is, you noticed it, you let it go. End of story.

Agitated Energy Process

This next level of processing involves looking more closely at what’s coming up from inside you. I learned the “Agitated Energy Process” from my husband, which he had learned from his mentor at the time, the late psychiatrist Dr. Mary Allen. Over the years I have changed it just a little bit in order to make it more accessible to the people I meet in my practice.

Here is the revised process:

1. When you feel emotion in your body, or simply become aware of surfacing thoughts that you aren’t able to Observe and Release, ask yourself, “What is the emotion that I’m feeling?” Try not to think about the answer; just let it surface. Gently label the emotions that you’re feeling. Is it anger, frustration, sadness, fear, or some variation of these emotions?

2. Next, ask, “What story am I telling myself that’s causing me to feel this way?” Again, don’t think too hard about it, just let the story surface. What is the emotion telling you about the situation at hand?

Using the previous example, let’s say I have been doing very well at not judging myself or others—Observing and Releasing like a pro. After a few days, I notice that one person at home or at work who did that thing to me that I keep judging and cannot seem to stop myself. You know who I’m talking about. If I am NOT able to simply sweep it away, most likely it is causing me to feel agitated, which is how emotions show up in the body. That is my wonderful cue to go deeper! First, I label the emotion. Let’s say in this example it is anger. Then I ask myself, “What story I’m telling myself about the situation?” Let’s pretend that I am telling myself, “That person is trying to make me feel bad about myself, and I don’t like it!” Excellent! I allow that subjective observation to surface, without judgment.

3. The final step is to ask, “What is the new perception I could take that would be calming to me?” Here, I am giving myself the opportunity to look at the situation in a different way.

Let’s say the new perception that arises within me is, “I don’t know what is going on with that person, but my job is to be in charge of myself, what I am feeling and doing.” Then do a quick self check-in and see, “Do I feel calm now?” If so, then, I am done with this process. If not, then I can restart at the first question, and repeat the process until I feel at peace. This is a deceivingly effective on-the-spot processing tool since it doesn’t take an hour of journaling, and you can do it anywhere.

What if that process does not calm you? Then what? Ah, then it’s time to bring out the big guns, which I will address next time. In the meantime, pick one of these levels of processing and practice with it. You’ll be surprised at your mental and emotional clarity throughout the day. Let me know how it goes for you! I would love to hear about your experience!

Self Forgiveness – How Do We Do It?

Many people around the world are observing Lent, the 40 days leading up to the Easter experience. Regardless of our religious affiliation, this is a time of year loaded with possibility and new beginnings. What could you do (or not do) for 40 days that would support the positive changes you want to make within yourself, to support your spiritual awakening? Here are a few thoughts on Lent…

Breathe. Reflect. Release. Renew.

Now that we are in full swing of the Lenten season, what have you released for this time?  Are you spending your energy staying away from chocolate or sugar?  Or have you decided to release something that will make even more of a difference to your Soul?  Even if you have no investment in the traditional Lenten season, how about ditching guilt and resentment towards yourself for a while?

It is so much easier to forgive other people, isn’t it?  I mean, we don’t have to live with those people (not the easy ones to forgive, anyway), so why should we hold a grudge against them?  But our own selves?  We have to see our own thinking and behavior every single day!  That starts building up after a while.  And if we find out we have been wrong?  Watch out!  We pull that guilt hammer out and start hitting ourselves with it so quickly!

How do we release these regrets and resentments directed at ourselves?

First of all, find out what you need to forgive about yourself.  Acknowledge it, understand it, label it.  This helps us have something more concrete to release rather than it being an abstract, generalized ideal.  For example, seeing times when I have been impatient with others over time is much easier to forgive than trying to forgive myself for being a “bad person”  over all.  “Bad person” doesn’t teach me anything, nor does it give me new choices for my behavior.  Impatience, on the other hand, I can grasp, and it has the alternative of being patient.

Secondly, speaking of patience, be patient as you transition from the old behavior that you are releasing to the new behavior.  You might have heard the saying, “A habit wasn’t created over night,” meaning that it won’t be changed overnight either.  You have acknowledged, understood and labeled your behavior, now let yourself practice the new behavior, with a gentle and wide learning curve.

Finally, during this transition, add energy to the positive choices you make, and quickly pass by the times you fall into the old behaviors.  Yes, see that you missed your desired mark, but move on quickly!  Don’t let that old hammer have time to resume its flagellating!  Take time to feel  gratitude toward yourself for your new behavior.

Forgiveness is not just about stating that we are suddenly just peachy about ourselves.  It is about making changes, with compassion, and moving into a new way of being with ourselves.  Enjoy your chocolate–give up the guilt!

Perfection Schmerfection

Last month, I had the pleasure and honor of co-leading a women’s retreat, with the theme based the book The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, PhD. What a powerfully moving and insightful experience for all who participated!

In reading and preparing the materials for the retreat, I had many opportunities to revisit my own perfectionist issue. Such a delightful activity to spend time on (not), especially since this issue already presents itself quite frequently. Half of my preparation began with, “God, You are funny, aren’t You?”

Yet, as a therapist, I tell my clients so often, “The only way to the other side is to walk through it”; and I am no different in striving to free myself from old thought patterns. So I embraced the process and here’s what I was reminded:

Nobody cares if I do it right or wrong. I just need to do it. And “it” can mean anything from speaking from my authentic Self, playing a game, singing a song, listening, supporting, or being supported.

“Perfection” is a made up thing in my head. What I think is “perfect” may be stodgy to someone else—and maybe to that person I am aiming to please in a given moment. There is no such thing as perfect. It is a black and white thinking fallacy in a world made up of beautiful shades of grey.

The question to ask is “Am I doing what feels right to me?” I shared this in the small group I led. This is the measuring stick to replace the perfectionist concept. Am I in tune with myself? Am I okay with me right now? That is what will bring the greatest peace of mind.

The more I stuck with these understandings as the retreat process unfolded, the more space Spirit had to move in and through the materials, my co-leaders, and every woman participating. We danced together in love, joy, and gratitude throughout the weekend. We were in the flow of the best kind of perfection—hearts open to our Higher Selves.

How Meditation Supports Your Soul Evolution — Part 2: How Do I Meditate?

Now that you are excited about the benefits you will receive from an ongoing meditation practice, the next step is to begin making part of your daily routine. Here’s step-by-step support for your budding meditation practice:

1. Make a commitment to yourself. Five minutes a day? Ten? Thirty? One hour? Commit to a meditation practice, no matter what daily quantity, for three months; then decide if you like it or not.

2. Choose your meditation space. Make it nurturing, comfortable, simple, relaxing, and peaceful. Use this same space each time you meditate.

3. Choose your meditation time. Meditating at the same time every day builds an automatic response into your mind and body. Your whole self begins to cooperate when you sit down for your time!

4. Find a spiritual symbol that resonates with you. Why? A symbol that is steeped in tradition or meaning for you will magnetize your innate spirituality.

5. Find a methodology that works best for you. Try a few of these to find out your own meditation style preference:

a. Perhaps a guided meditation would help keep you focused. There are CDs, mp3 recordings, YouTube videos, and even smartphone aps with all sorts of guided meditations. Find two or three that you like so you can use them interchangeably.

b. Centering prayer is a wonderful tool for a busy mind! Take a prayer that resonates with you, and recite it slowly to help you quiet your mind. Repeat slowly and sincerely throughout your time.

c. Mindfulness is the practice of observing your thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and breath, with detachment, non-judgment, and compassion. Being present with what is, without having a conversation about it in your head, is an excellent and very portable meditation practice.

d. Visualization is a method often found in guided meditations, but you can create your own. Imagine yourself spreading out of your body, filling the room you are in, then stretching through your whole house, then neighborhood, then city, then state, then country, then throughout the entire planet, then universe! Sit in that expanded state without inner comment.

e. Group meditation is a great way to keep your commitment to yourself. Although it may not be feasible to meditate with a group every day, once a week—or even once or twice a month—has great value. You receive a vibration boost from others when everyone is generating energy for the common purpose of meditation.

6. Keep a journal. Meditation is going to awaken you to new ideas, experiences, and insights. Writing them down helps assimilate those new understandings into your consciousness.

7. Practice every day, no matter what! Some days, your meditation will feel extraordinary, or maybe it won’t. Either way, trust that something is happening, even if you aren’t consciously aware of it. Go back and remind yourself of the benefits of your practice. Let it be okay that you don’t feel enlightened at the end of your first month. Meditation is like brushing your teeth—you just gotta keep doing it for the best results!

Now give it a try! You will be grateful that you gave yourself this gift of a meditative life!

Sympathy or Empathy?

There is often much confusion about offering sympathy or empathy. What is the difference? Which is appropriate, and when?

When I was at Unity School (now Unity Institute) taking a spiritual counseling class, our teacher, Dr. Robert Brumet, gave an impactful visual demonstration of the difference between sympathy and empathy. He approached one student and said, “Oh, you have a pen! Can I hold it?” The student handed him the pen. “This is a pen? How wonderful! Do you like it? Does it write well? Thanks for sharing with me!” Dr. Brumet then proceeded to walk away from the student—carrying the student’s pen!

“That’s sympathy,” he told us.

Then he walked up to another student and asked to see that student’s pen. He looked at the pen, turned it side to side, nodded understandingly, and handed it back to the student before walking away.

“That is empathy.”

This demonstrated that sympathy is taking on someone else’s problem as our own, carrying it with us, trying to solve it, worrying about it or taking control of it. It can disempower the rightful owner of the problem, taking away the learning opportunity inherent in every challenge.

Dr. Brumet’s demonstration defined empathy as understanding another person’s problem, seeing it for what it is, allowing them to resolve it as they deem necessary, and empowering them through our belief in their own competency.

When my husband and I first began processing together, he taught me the concept of “holding the space”. Holding the space simply means being a compassionate but neutral listener, open to guidance that might support the speaker. Is this not what therapy is in essence?  If he shared his process with me, and I walked away with it as my own, how would that help either of us?

In our work towards emotional healing, carrying around another person’s pain adds the pain of one person too many! We have our own work to do! While we can understand and support others, we do not have to solve their problems. What a relief!