relationships

Why we can all benefit from regular Loving-Kindness meditations.

 

Loving-Kindness Meditation

I’m currently reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living” , which was recommended to me as the best place to begin my mindfulness journey.

I’ve been reading it for months, a few pages at a time, as I gradually integrate mindfulness into my life. My progress is intentionally slow, as I stroll along smelling the flowers and enjoying the scenery, rather than racing to the finish line.

To begin with, I felt a self-imposed pressure to finish the book, but the more time goes by, the more it feels like an integral part of the growth process, and less like an item on the to do list. I no longer feel guilty picking up a novel knowing that I’m not even halfway through Full Catastrophe Living. Instead I’m enjoying making it last.

I’ve noticed that since expanding my mindfulness practice, my overall awareness of self-imposed pressures like this has increased. I hear that little voice in my head more clearly, and question it more quickly. This isn’t what I expected mindfulness to give me, but I’m not complaining!

However, heightened awareness isn’t all about peace, harmony and relaxation, as I discovered when I recently came to the section on Loving-Kindness Meditations.

The Loving-Kindness Mediation, also called a ‘Metta’, is about cultivating unconditional love with wisdom; a softening of the mind and heart to experience friendship, concern and warmth, regardless of whether we think or feel that someone is deserving.

I embarked on this mediation expecting to encounter resistance to wishing good things on those who have hurt me the most, but that wasn’t what happened.

The mediation began with the request that I repeat silently to myself:

May I be well,

May I be happy,

May I be peaceful,

May I be loved.

I stumbled over these phrases, and experienced an incredible rush of sadness and loss, as well as a powerful resistance.

Overwhelmed by the strength of my reaction, I delved into the internet to find out more about the origin of this meditation, and came across this quote:

The practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself. If resistance is experienced then it indicates that feelings of unworthiness are present…. there is work to be done.

Buddha Dharma Education Association

It doesn’t matter which phrase I resisted, or why, or which you would find the most challenging, if any. Maybe you’d struggle more with wishing ‘May you be happy’ to someone who has recently hurt you. We all have our own challenges to face. You either acknowledge them or you don’t. I have revisited the Loving-Kindness Mediation many times since that first encounter, and it’s getting easier. Easier, but not easy.

Being kind to those who have hurt us the most can be an uphill struggle, if we even bother to try, but so can being kind to ourselves. The Loving-Kindness Meditation is the perfect companion on this path, when you’re ready to take it.

Here is an example of a guided Loving-Kindness Mediation for you to try at home.

May you be well

May you be happy

May you be peaceful

May you be loved.

I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else.

 

 

 

 

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Um… I think maybe I need help

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A few days ago I was asked some challenging questions. One of them was this:

What do you do to support yourself during difficult times?

I knew the answer.

Do you?

I know, not because I am somehow emotionally more robust or superior than other people, but because I’ve had practice, LOTS of practice.  My husband and I are currently blinking into the light at the end of the adoption tunnel, where these sorts of questions are the norm rather than the exception. When you get asked often enough, and are expected to know the answer, it focuses the mind.

Although there is no perfect, one size fits all, answer to this question, some answers are definitely more People Voodoo than others. “I don’t do emotions, thanks” doesn’t cut the mustard, nor does, “I just eat chocolate”, “I hide under the duvet” or “I take the next flight out of here”. Not that there is anything wrong with self control, chocolate, a nap or a holiday, but not for every size of problem. None of those are a healthy longer term strategy when the issues are emotionally overwhelming, complex or multiple and others are relying on you.

Life does like to offer up surprises, and not always in the form of a chocolate egg with a toy inside, (note to self about the second reference to chocolate) so it’s good to know if your support mechanisms are robust before the storm strikes.

As today is as good a day as any to mull it over, I thought this week I’d pose 3 questions you could ask yourself about your own needs and support systems.

Question 1: Do you know what your emotional needs are?

If you are lucky, your emotional needs have mostly been met in your life and you’ve not had to give this much thought. Do you know for example if you need regular hugs to feel loved and supported, or time alone, or time together, or to be told you are loved, or to be made cups of tea? If you could only have one of those, what would you prioritise? If you were suddenly forced to choose, could you live without the hug or the being told you are loved?

If you don’t know what you need or you instinctively know but you can’t quite explain it, I recommend the 5 love languages, as a good starting point. This is also great for trying to work out the needs of others you care about so that you can support them.

Question 2: Do you express or suppress emotion?

When emotion strikes, do you go with the emotion or try to contain it? I went to boarding school, where at that time, the solution to homesickness or upset was to be strong and keep busy. It has taken me many years as an adult to break this habit of suppressing emotion by denial and distraction; the pretending I’m fine, working late or cleaning the house rather than just getting angry or upset. Emotions are definitely better out than in and serve a stress relieving purpose (yes, there’s evidence).  20 Things To Say To Your Child Instead Of “Don’t Cry” is a great way to make sure children learn to accept and manage emotions. This article might be aimed at parents but I’ve tested it on adults and it works just as well on us too.

Question 3: Do you put all your eggs in one basket?

Now think about the last 3 emotional challenges you’ve faced (relationship break-up, bereavement, badly delivered feedback, job loss, health issue etc) and how you handled them.

  • How soon if at all did you ask for help to process feelings or thoughts?

If you did ask for help:

  • Who did you ask?
  • How did you make your choice? Did you have choices?
  • If that person wasn’t available suddenly, where would you go?
  • How big would it need to be, or how bad would it need to get before you seek professional help? and then do you know where to look?

It was only a few days ago but I can’t remember exactly what answer I gave to What do you do to support yourself during difficult times? I imagine that acknowledging and expressing feelings rather than letting things build up was in there somewhere. Sharing with others and getting professional advice as early as possible also featured, as did accepting help.

Oh, and chocolate!

 

 

Are you believing without really seeing?

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Did you know that the police now catch more criminals with CCTV than with DNA? According to a BBC documentary,  CCTV footage is increasingly being used to link multiple crimes, and catch criminals. Not everyone thinks surveillance is a great idea of course, as CCTV conjures up images of George Orwell’s  1984, where ‘Big Brother’ watches our every move, BUT the concept of the watchful eye might just help you practice People Voodoo.

Imagine if you looked at all situations as if through CCTV; if you could switch off your emotion, personality, life experience, values or upbringing and just capture the raw facts before carefully drawing conclusions.

Unlike Agatha Christie’s fictional Hercule Poirot, who painstakingly applies the ‘little grey cells‘ to the situation before unveiling a murderer, most of us are a little more fast food than slow cooker about judging others. Let’s face it, we don’t often have the time to challenge our own conclusions or check the accuracy of our assumptions.

‘He attends a meeting without saying a word’ quickly becomes ‘he’s not very confident’ and ‘she re-reads her e-mails several times’ translates to  ‘she’s obsessive’.

When you strip back to what can be seen on CCTV and then try applying alternative motives to the behaviours and events you see, judgement turns to curiosity and you become a people detective. At work this curiosity could mean the difference between a complementary working relationship or one riddled with misunderstandings and conflict.

If for example, I type quickly and struggle with proof reading my own work, then a colleague with high attention to detail has the potential to be my worst enemy or my closest ally. I’d probably have a good working relationship with them if they don’t want me to make a fool of myself and offer to help me by having a quick look. I’d be less likely to value them as a colleague if I heard them openly comment that ‘typos are just a sign of laziness’ seconds before sending me an e-mail pointing out my typo on page 3.

If this is an area of People Voodoo that you’d like to hone, here is something to get you practising.

Activity – Get behind the camera (not literally!)

Step 1 – Like a CCTV camera, become a keen observer of what people do and how they do it. Later, review your own mental footage and be careful to separate what actually happened from what you think, feel or presume to know about why. It takes some practice.

Example: Matilda arrives 5 minutes late for the 9am team meeting 4 Mondays in a row. When she does arrive, she enters quickly, keeping her head down, and takes a seat at the back.

Step 2 – Notice if your reaction is one of judgement or is open and curious. If it is judgemental, try to come up with some alternative options.

Example:

Option 1 – Judgement

Matilda has terrible timekeeping, isn’t committed to the job and doesn’t respect everyone else’s commitments.

Option 2  – Open minded and curious

There is a reason that Matilda is late every Monday. I don’t know why. I wonder why that happens. e.g.

  • Matilda’s contract doesn’t start until 9.30 but she makes an effort to get here early on a Monday for this meeting and doesn’t want to disrupt the meeting.
  • Matilda has an 8am meeting at the other end of the building and this is the fastest she can get here, because they always run over.
  • Matilda is nervous about these meetings because there is someone in the room who bullies her. It takes her the best part of 10 minutes to build up the courage to come and she feels really awkward when she arrives late but tries to hide it.

 

Just Remember – Observing or asking yourself questions doesn’t improve your working relationships, in the same way that watching CCTV doesn’t catch criminals. You do need to take action. Try starting with a simple question, e.g  I see we both attend the 9am meeting but never sit next to eachother. How does that happen?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you felt an electric touch?

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When is the last time you were touched by someone? Was it powerful?

How much ‘being touched’ by people you hardly know would you say is acceptable? necessary? or even desirable?

Does the idea of being touched at work, electric or not, make you feel just a little bit uncomfortable or do you secretly hope that this blog is your ticket to becoming electric?

I wonder if your view changes when I define ‘being touched’ like this;

‘When something happens that moves you to emotion; when you feel affected or emotionally stirred’

Touch can be physical. It can be wonderful, especially the romantic variety, but rightly gets some pretty bad press if it’s inappropriately used or is non consensual.

Touching people emotionally is just as powerful and can be much longer lasting than physical touch. It can trigger passionate anger or deep compassion. It can be the making or breaking of a great relationship, creating the intimacy needed to build trust or demolishing years of hard work.

I can remember so many occasions in my life where a word or a gesture stirred extremely powerful emotions in me.

As Maya Angelou so beautifully put it;

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

How do you make people feel?

NEWS FLASH!!! If your ‘anti-fluff’ alarm has gone off, then let me reassure you that this may be about emotion but it’s not at all fluffy. It’s actually rock solid. It’s about emotionally intelligence; the capacity to acknowledge, manage and express emotion in your relationships with others appropriately, and it is critical to relationship success.

Practicing People Voodoo is about being an opportunist; seizing big and small opportunities to connect with others in an authentic and meaningful way, so emotional intelligence is very close to my heart.

If you’ve been told that you have a natural ability to connect with people then you have a real gift. Congratulations, use it well! If not, then don’t worry, because emotional intelligence is something you can learn and develop. You just need to work out a bit, to build your emotional muscle.

So today, let’s start at the beginning – with the senses!

One of the biggest barriers to connecting with others is being unable to connect with yourself; acknowledging your own emotions and what stirs them.

I know that when I feel hurt, it’s a if someone has grabbed my heart and squeezed it and for a split second I can’t breathe. Then a red hot surge in my chest, like a ball of hot lava, rushes from my chest up my neck and to my eyes, whilst the rest of my body feels heavy and numb like it’s encased in concrete.

Even though I can feel anger and love just as strongly, they feel physically very different.

Your turn.

  • What do emotions feel like in your body? Can you describe them?
    • Does your breathing become faster and more shallow or slower and deeper
    • What is your heart doing?
    • Do you feel any heat anywhere? or any tension?
    • Is it more of a thud or a whooshing?
  • How do the sensations change between being excited or angry, proud or frustrated, happy or afraid?
  • What situations stir emotion in you?
    • Do you know the triggers?
  • Who do you know who has an electric touch?

People Voodoo is about being kind to yourself, so please resist the temptation to judge what you find. Every sensation is an important message to be listened to. Anger and fear serve a purpose, it’s what you do next that matters.

For the next few days why not spend some time fully experiencing your emotions in all their electric glory.

I’ll be back for more about reading emotions in others another day. Remember to sign up to get People Voodoo via email if you don’t want to miss it.

 

 

Are you a top monkey or limping lion?

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If you had to describe the culture of your organisation or your team how would you describe it?

I once heard about a sales team that described themselves as being like a pride of lions.

Sales aside, does this sound like a team you’d want to be a part of? top of the food chain? majestic? powerful?

It turns out they were pretty unhappy and ineffective. They felt the environment was too hot most of the time and spent their days looking for opportunities to laze in the shade waiting for food to run by. When it did, the females would pull together and pounce on it and the males would fight over who got the biggest share. They did just enough not to go hungry but not much more. If success were a 100 metre sprint this team would be last to limp across the finish line.

I’ve worked with many teams and organisations over the years with cultural challenges of this kind. Laziness, distrust, infighting, exhaustion, favouritism, self-focus, sexism and a variety of other -isms and bad habits that had become deeply ingrained in ‘how we do things around here’.

Where there is a negative culture, there is unhappiness and suffering and that can show up in many different ways including bullying, blame and cover ups. That doesn’t end well.

Luckily, if you practise People Voodoo at work your hands are not tied.

Here are 3 steps that anyone can take to start improving the culture.

Step 1 – Turn 3 again

What is it that 3 year-olds do so well?

They ask WHY again and again and again.

Let me put this into context with a well known story.

A group of scientists put 5 monkeys in a cage, hung a bunch of bananas above them and placed a ladder in the cage that allowed them to reach the bananas.

When a monkey climbed the ladder to reach the bananas all the monkeys were sprayed with cold water.

It didn’t take long until the monkeys pulled down any monkey that tried to reach the bananas. Soon they all stopped trying.

The scientists then replaced a monkey, who unaware of the water, climbed up to the bananas only to be attacked by the other monkeys. The new monkey soon learnt not to try.

A second monkey was then substituted and the situation repeated itself with the first new monkey now joining in. The same again on a third substitution until none of the original monkeys were left in the cage.

None of these monkeys had ever been sprayed with water and yet none of them climbed the ladder or let others climb the ladder.

They didn’t know why – they just knew that this is how things are done around here!

This is not a real experiment (and no monkeys were hurt in the making of this blog) but the message is important. It’s easy just to go along with things.

You have a huge advantage over these monkeys; you can ask why everyone is missing out on bananas. Be inquisitive about why things are the way they are. If you don’t understand the root cause for the existing negativity it can be hard to change it.

Step 2 – Stop joining in

If your behaviour is respectful and appropriate then there is no harm in opting out of the negative culture. Stop beating up the monkey who is trying to climb the ladder.

Yes, this can be easier said than done – which is why there is step 3.

Step 3 – Find allies

You won’t be the only one who feels that things could be better. Find others who respond well to your more positive approach and bring them on-board.

Taking the high ground means you are vulnerable to being pulled back down by those who are comfortable with the status quo. The more of you there are to resist the pull, the more effectively you can resist it or pick yourself up if you do fall into bad habits.

When it comes to making a difference, one person practising People Voodoo is alone, two are company but three are a tipping point for change.

 

A change is like a…

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If the saying is true and a change is like a holiday, then the UK leaving the EU is like a two week break in the Maldives!

Maybe not.

In reality, change can be hard, especially when it is forced upon us. Actually, it can feel like a real punch in the face.

Why? Because it’s emotional. It’s about loss.

We need to go deeper than facts and process to help each other navigate change. This means there is plenty of opportunity to apply People Voodoo.

Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross gave her view on this topic as far back as 1969. She may have worked with the terminally ill, but when she concluded that we experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance in loss situations, she might as well have been describing the effects of the EU referendum.

Denial

This is the shock stage where we think there must be a mistake. Maybe votes have not been counted, the screen hasn’t refreshed. Of course, if it’s all over Facebook and every news channel, then denial doesn’t last long. If it does, then People Voodoo would recommend to allow a bit of time for it to sink in. If it helps to check the facts, do it. If it helps to repeat it several times, do that. This is a normal response to loss, it takes as long as it takes. 

Anger

Another reaction to change is to question why. Frustrated, we seek out the reason or the source of the problem which can result in blaming; people or events. We might be angry with those who voted differently, those we think lied or those who use it as an opportunity to pedal their own agenda. We might be angry with ourselves for being taken in, for being complacent and letting this happen, or for making the wrong decision.

Before we judge, and expect others to accept things and move on, it is worth considering how accepting we are being. Anger is a normal response to loss. Someone who is grieving is suffering, even if it comes out as anger. Where People Voodoo can help, is with being respectful to others in the messages we put out during this time. Anger is not equal to aggression. It is possible to honour the anger without doing harm to ourselves or others.

Bargaining

This is a negotiation or compromising stage. For People Voodoo this is the perfect time for listening. What is being bargained about, tells us what is really at the root of the suffering. We can’t go back to life before an event (yet), but there may be other options for going forward. If someone tries to bargain for what you believe to be a lost cause, just remember, this is a normal response to loss. Listen and help them work through the arguments or options, there may be something there to work with.

Depression

This is the ‘what’s the point’ stage. The sadness. This is a normal response to loss and maybe the one we most easily associated with it. We may become recluse, stop engaging in the discussion and disassociate ourselves, emotionally or physically. The People Voodoo approach here is one of being available as a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear, offering and encouraging kindness to ourselves and others.

Acceptance – not to be confused with feeling OK about it all!

This the point where we can start to prepare for what is to come. People who feel they have suffered a loss won’t suddenly feel happy about it, and we can’t expect them to. What acceptance gives people is the space to plan ahead, without anger or sadness dragging them back. People Voodoo is all a bout getting here as fast as possible.

What about you?

What was your reaction to a recent change? Are you one of the lucky ones who flies past the other stages on the way to acceptance? Are there changes that you accept more easily than others? How are they different to the ones you struggle with? If you do get stuck in any of the stages, where do you stay the longest? Why do you think that is? How do you move yourself on?

Change will certainly feel more like a holiday if we can all get to acceptance faster with minimal time spent suffering on the way.

 

 

 

 

Voting and Voodoo

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As a UK resident it would be a lost opportunity not to apply People Voodoo to today’s referendum result. No politics here, just Voodoo.

As the drama continues to unfold across the country, there are happy and angry outbursts, accusations and upset. Facebook is awash with joy and jubilation, fear and frustration. Shock has gripped millions.

Voting on a subject that is about identity is never as simple as win or lose. Many of those who lost the vote are grieving the future they feel has been taken from them, and as often is the case with grief, are lashing out at those who won. The winners are being accused of ruining lives, and hurt by the attacks, are snapping back or gloating.

There is suffering all around, win or lose; people being washed along by the raging river of shock, change and uncertainty.

Luckily, there are also those who never jumped or fell into the river, or who have quickly managed to pull themselves back out. They have seized the opportunity to apply some People Voodoo to those still caught in the rapids; helped them climb out, thrown them a lifeline. They have offered respectful congratulations to those who won, empathy and kindness to those who have lost.

There is an opportunity here to practice kindness. It is especially hard to be kind to each other when we are grieving or under attack, but it’s the time that we all need it the most.

 

 

I swear, it really hurts!

man-stress-male-faceHow do you feel about swearing?

Not the ‘making a solemn promise under oath’ kind of swearing. The offensive language, cursing, or using profanities kind of swearing.

People Voodoo seeks to reduce suffering, so you’d think that swearing would be on the list of things to avoid, but it’s not. If used wisely, swearing can actually be good for you!

If you take a dim view of swearing, or feel generally uncomfortable about, or around swearing, then please be reassured that People Voodoo does not promote swearing as a daily activity. There is however value in it for remedial purposes.

There is evidence that swearing helps you feel less pain. Yes, in the name of science volunteers put their hands in icy water and if they were allowed to swear, it reduced their pain experience compared to those who were only allowed to use neutral words. But look out, if you overuse swearing, the benefit reduces. It’s only effective in moderation.

So, regardless of how you feel about swearing, there is an opportunity to apply People Voodoo to a swearing situation. Try asking yourself:

Is this a physically or emotionally painful situation where someone is using swearing to manage their pain?

  • If yes – does the person need help to reduce suffering, and can you help?
  • If no – what’s really going on? maybe this is  a swear-oholic who might benefit from some People Voodoo.
    • Before you rush in, just be prepared that they might not want your @!!*%’! opinion.

And when you next stub your toe, grab the opportunity to be kind to yourself and swear!

If you think any of this sounds challenging, here is a reminder that progress does not happen overnight.  A ‘hole’ lot of progress.

A ‘hole’ lot of progress

People Voodoo aims for a more humane approach to self care and the care of others in our daily lives. It’s not about being perfect; its about having the right intentions and making progress. It’s also about sharing our wisdom with each other.

Many years ago, someone shared a poem with me. It had such a profound impact on how I review my own progress, that I’ve retold it many times since. Today I want to share it with you.

rainbow-background-1149610_960_720 “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson

Chapter I

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

Chapter II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V
I walk down another street.

 

4 steps to being less green

Today I want to talk about being less green.

No, not less environmentally friendly, just less affected by the green-eyed monster! Yes that old chestnut; the painful feeling that someone is taking something that we value, away from us.

Green as a colour gets some pretty bad press. It’s not just associated with jealousy (also known as the green-eyed monster), it’s also associated with envy; that horrible feeling that others have something we wish we had.

biometrics-154660_960_720In this context, lots of green in our lives can cause two types of suffering;

  1. To the person experiencing the envy or jealousy.
  2. To the people who are on the receiving end of the reaction or response to either of those.

Envy and jealousy in any relationship are like a rotting apple in a fruit bowl. If you remove the rot quickly the impact is contained; leave the rot in the bowl with other fruit and it all goes to rot. At its worst, jealousy can be a motive for murder, (not recommended) so it’s worth understanding it and learning how to reduce and manage it in our own lives. If you’re practising People Voodoo you’ll also be able to help others with it.

So, what is the 4 step People Voodoo approach to being less green?

Step 1 – Learn to recognise it

Jealousy and envy are feelings that can be recognised by sensations in the body. We all feel it differently. I feel a weight in my heart and at the same time a kind of intense heat in my chest and in my arms. My chest feels tight and constricted and it’s hard to breathe.

Learn what it feels like to you, so that you can recognise it and look the monster right in its green eyes!

Step 2 – Accept that you can’t fight nature

The reaction you are having is normal!

It’s a survival reaction to the fear of losing something. Babies cry when the person who feeds them and keeps them warm leaves. In nature, loss of a caregiver means certain death, so our response needs to be big enough to take action. It’s the fight, flight or freeze instinct and when the danger is fire, you’ll be glad you’ve got it!

Step 3 – Breathe

Whilst your body is gearing up to react to danger, you don’t think straight. Your body has no need to debate complex issues and solve problems when you are running for your life.

Deep breathing is one of the ways to reset the balance. Deep breathing is about breathing deep in the body. Not to be confused with breathing in hard. Imagine a balloon in your stomach. Breathing in deeply is about inflating the balloon in your stomach as big as possible and then pushing all the air back out again. (In through the nose and out through the mouth) Try it a few times! If you can learn to do it well when you are not feeling green, then it’s easier to switch it on when you are.

Step 4 – Think Voodoo

When you are calm enough to think straight, consider what is really going on. Are you really losing something? Are you really being threatened? What’s the evidence? Do you have all the facts?

When you’ve had time to work through it properly, free of emotion, you can decide what to do next.

Whether you decide to let it go, or speak to someone about your feelings depends on the situation of course. Just make sure that you consider being humane to yourself and others in whatever you decide to do.