Looking back and thinking forward

Month: February, 2015

It’s all about compassion

Quote of the day:

Within two hours of welcoming students to a retreat on using food as a doorway to their inner lives, I ask them to list 10 criticisms they've hurled at themselves since they arrived. "Just 10?" someone usually asks. Then I introduce the concept of The Voice. I ask a few people to read their lists out loud (using the tone in which The Voice usually speaks to them). Some things I've heard: "I can't believe I came to another thing on weight." "What is wrong with me for thinking I could wear a sleeveless dress?" "My toenails are disgusting." "I'm wasting my time and I should go home." You probably wouldn't let anyone else talk to you the way you talk to yourself. You're inured to insults from this inner critic who sounds so much like you that you believe it is you. You think you're telling yourself the truth.

How do you free yourself from The Voice? You begin by becoming aware that it exists. One good way to do that is by listing the ways you've berated yourself and reading the insults out loud in the voice of The Voice, the way my students do. Next, you work on disengaging from The Voice – understanding that it isn't you. You can begin to separate from The Voice by remembering a time when you knew the delight of being happy for no reason, a moment when The Voice was silent and you were your essential self. 

When you stop believing The Voice, when you know it isn't you, when you talk back to it, you are free. You have access to yourself and every thing The Voice pretends to offer, but doesn't: clarity, intelligence, strength, joy, compassion, curiosity, love. When you stop responding to the continual comments on your thighs, your value, your very existence, then you can ask yourself if you are comfortable at this weight; if you feel healthy, energetic, awake. And if the answer is no, you can ask yourself what you could do about it that would fit into your day-to-day life. What you can live with, what you can maintain. What feels good, what stirs your heart. And you can give that answer in your own voice. Geneen Roth, February 22, 2015.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about compassion. In the new book I am writing, I have been describing my pedagogical principles, and compassion features strongly. It leads me to wonder how I can get teachers of young children to understand this. Most of us growing up have not experienced much validation or respect for our emotions, so how do we know what it feels like to do that for children?

And then about a week ago, I watched Alive Inside, and was made to wonder about compassion even more. How do we help people understand about empathy and compassion when they have never experienced it themselves? Or, are some people born with a compassion gene, and others not? There are skills that can be taught: like listening without judgment, for example. But how do I teach that skill when most of us know only what it feels like to be criticized or shamed? How do I help people feel what it is like not to be judged, and thus not to judge? 

Is it impossible?

I am not able to stop what Geneen Roth [above] calls, "the voice" inside my brain either. My inner critic is relentless! Therefore, I struggle to hold back my judgment of others too – just like any pre or in-service teacher I teach. I mean, I judge those who are critical of others, and who lack compassion, for goodness sake! 

For the past forty years I have observed teachers and families as they interact with children. Their expectations are too many to list … children are judged for being too much of everything:

  • noisy
  • quiet
  • fat
  • thin
  • strong
  • weak
  • whiny
  • needy for attention
  • slow
  • fast
  • good
  • bad …

Mostly we need people to be like us – within our own comfort zone. When they are different from us, we try and squeeze them into an obedience box of our making. We feel comfortable with those, who follow our orders, or do as they are told – forgetting that most of our expectations we learned from adults, who were critical of us when we were young. Sometimes, we reach for the opposite of what we were taught, especially if it was painful. Either way, unless we become aware and reflect about how we were brainwashed as children, we will find it impossible to learn the skill of listening without judgment, develop empathy, and become compassionate. 

At the foundation of my pedagogical principles must be compassion, for it contains within it empathy, and, while we can never fully put ourselves in someone else's shoes, we can try to feel what it might be like for others. If we cannot feel what they are experiencing, at the very least we can learn to listen to them – really listen – without judgment – and hear the story as they experience it.

As I wonder out loud about all this, I can already hear caregivers and teachers wailing at me: "But there is not enough funding – we have no time to stop and listen to everyone. there is so much to be done, so much paperwork, so many expectations on us!" 

So – then – it follows that one of my pedagogical principles must be:

Building time into this institutional structure for practicing listening without judgment; validation of feelings; and respect for each individual voice.


Quote of the day:

Keep typing until it turns into writing. David Carr

Inspiration. Ten minutes … go (Natalie Goldberg):

People, who do great things. Women after my own heart. People, who speak the same language. Resilience in others. Watching them survive great ordeals and come out wiser and more compassionate – not bitter. Kindness inspires me. Imagining greatness as a way to help people through dark moments. Writing down my story and having others identify with what I am saying. Watching the "aha" moments in students' eyes when they understand something emotionally as well as cognitively. Feeling excited and exhilarated with a new idea, strong feelings, or being acknowledged and validated. Having lunch with an emotionally intelligent friend who understands my humor. Reading poetry. Reading Deborah Feldman's two books recently. The arts. Great book, movie, painting. My son's piano playing. Singing with him accompanying me. Walking five miles in the brisk, cold air of winter, crossing a field of snow and ice, and making it to the other side. Music, music, music. Dance, dance, dance. Waking very early in the morning and feeling the quiet of the house with just the gentle mewing of cats as they wait impatiently for their breakfast. Watching the sun struggling to shine weakly through the wintry morning. Oh, and did I say resilience? For resilience inspires me. Just getting through it and seeing that it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Remembering now that first "A" grade on my first paper back in 1988 when I went back to school at age 39, when I thought I could never do it. And I did it. Memories of resilience through hard times – coming out stronger, more loving, with my heart wide open. In the early morning, shall we rise and find our greatest thoughts and feelings accompanying us in our hearts and minds? Spilling them out into Cyberspace for no one and everyone in particular to read. Just to be heard even in silence. Closing my eyes and sensing the new day approaching. Feeling hopeful, heart expanding into what each new moment will bring. Boredom perhaps. Regret. Just to be heard.

Even in silence.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: And now … coffee

On being “dumped” …

Quote of the day:

Often I’ve heard that the people who become writers are those who can’t satisfactorily express themselves or have any power in real life. My desire for autonomy came out through my writing … Writing allows me to describe the world in the way that it is. That’s the thing my real life won’t allow. You try describing your own experience of life and someone will come along quickly to tell you that you’re wrong or you’re being contrary, or you’re getting on your high horse. When you’re writing … you can create a … world that expresses whatever you want to express. That allows for proper freedom, which day to day life just doesn’t. Sophie Hannah

Recently, I was given the opportunity and privilege of reading Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women, by Nina Gaby, prior to its publication date in March, 2015.

It has had a profound impact on me.

Sitting in Starbucks on the corner of Broadway and 81st this icy, wintry morning, I wonder if the timing could have been any better for me to have received the gift of this book. It speaks to me, as I am sure it will speak to women of every age and stage. Each story in this anthology tells a tale of the loss of friendship. Through each page, voices of women poignantly cry out in shock and agony at being "dumped," very often for reasons they cannot explain. Often they learn about themselves along the way: about life, friendship, awareness, forgiveness, anger, and letting go. Sometimes their pain is accompanied by humor, and all are gut-wrenchingly honest about their experiences from childhood years to high school and into older adulthood. 

Each personal story I read pulled up my own memories of friendship loss, for I have certainly had my share of being "dumped." Mostly, after I have been cast aside, I spent time begging to get back, or try and be a better person so as to be included again – even as I was mostly bewildered and shocked, not knowing what it was I needed to do to improve. I consistently experienced the feeling that I was to blame for whatever had transpired. It was a painful and humiliating process to be sure – rendering me helpless and pathetic. Many times I was simply grateful to be wanted at all. But then that speaks of the way I perceived myself since earliest childhood. Understanding the reasons why I have felt, and often still do feel this way helps. And so, I must admit that while reading the stories, I found myself confronting my own discomfort at every level of my friendship history. Some memories I had repressed years ago rose to the fore, and the most recent "unfriending-of-me" experience hurt all over again!

On the other hand, as I concluded the final pages of the book, I realized that reading about so many different women's stories had validated my own in a deep and healing way. It felt as if there is a universal support group out there, and that there is not something innately lacking in me to have caused some friendships not to work out as I had hoped. Indeed, sometimes there simply is no explanation for the things that happen. "It's not always about you!" It is complex. Each person's dreams and expectations, desires, hopes, and earliest childhood experiences are valid, and influence the success or failure of one's relationships.

Once again I realize that life is hard for me because I want to understand it all so much. I don't want to take anything for granted. I want to know why and how, what and when! That is why I love the consistent support of a professional therapist to bear witness and validate my need to uncover all this complexity and confusion. I am the richer for it. 

Just as I am richer for having read Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women, by Nina Gaby. You can be sure that I most likely will read some of the stories again and again, because in some way I have joined a sisterhood of unfriended folk just like me. At the same time though, I feel a renewed appreciation for my women friends, who have unfriended and then friended again; and for those, who have stayed staunch and true, accepting my idiosyncrasies and failings, and loving me all the more for them. 

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Speaking of guilt

Did you know?

Well, finally it happened. I was tagged. You know. The five things you may not know about me, meme.

Jean at This Too made the suggestion and I laughed out loud. "What on earth have I left out about me that you do not already know?" I thought to myself. But when my friend Jean calls, I answer. And so, here goes:

Number One:

Well, well, I noticed that someone, who "lurks" out there in Cyberspace, is reading my blog from "cover to cover." Sometimes I go to the page they have just read. Today, I found this old blog post of mine from January 2007. I enjoyed reading all that "stuff" about me – and especially enjoyed the comments from readers at that time. Thought I would share it again, for all those reasons.