Finding Common Ground

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On a recent trip to Michigan -where everyone dreams of vacationing mid-winter- my family found ourselves in a hotel pool joined only by another family with a few rambunctious little pollywogs of their own.  We quickly struck up a conversation and as we discussed new awakenings, somehow the father of the other family turned the conversation to the pro life-pro choice debate. He had strong feelings about the issue, as many people understandably do. It is literally a matter of life or death…at times for the mother-to-be, always for the growing little one inside her.  

Historically, I tend to stay quiet (or a long time ago, hotly debate) when people communicate strongly in a direction in which I lean differently.  But as I watch the political divide ever-increase in the United States, people literally choosing to rub shoulders as much as possible and even live in neighborhoods with predominantly those of like-minded views, I see dischord, fear, and even a lack of our leaders being able to reach across the aisle and find compromise.  As Brené Brown points out in Braving the Wilderness, the current culture is full of dehumanization based on ideological differences…when we still have so much in common.  So on this occasion, I spoke up.

I didn’t attack my fellow swimmer nor pretend to agree with him. I focused on how I love that we can see things entirely differently, but both of our reasonings were based on compassion.  One was looking with compassion focused on the right of any human to get every chance to live. The other was looking with compassion centered on quality of life for both parents and children.

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There are so many ways to look at every issue.

No one formed an opinion with the intent to hurt others.  Both formed their opinions with a deep sense of compassion and care.

I omit my opinion on this topic today because this isn’t about me.  This is about us as humans finding common ground: with our neighbors, our relatives, our leaders, and those of different customs, religions, cultures and countries.  It is about seeing what we do have in common, what we share. This is a hope and plea that we see the light in everyone and remember as Mem Fox writes so aptly in Whoever You Are , we all smile, laugh, hurt and cry, share joys, love and pain.

handshake of the generations

I hope you find common ground in an unlikely place today.

Embrace the Closeness

This morning I awoke before dawn to my dog yelping in her sleep.  Sometimes she gets excited in her dreams. Inevitably, however, my nearly 9 month old daughter awoke as well. “Mamama” she called as she rustled in her crib.  I slid out of bed and walked the 3 feet to her crib. I picked her up, gently bounced and rocked her. She made playful airy noises through her lips, flipped her head back and forth trying to find the right position on my shoulder, looked up at me, then started to settle back into rest.

I returned her to her crib.

Immediately she rolled around.  “Mama” she called out again. I picked her up, told her it was “sleepy time” and this time offered to nurse.  She gladly latched on as we made our way to bed. She tried to convince me it was time to rise and make sweet googly eyes at each other.  I again encouraged “sleepy time” as I closed my eyes and eventually she dozed off again, unlatched and started to flail in a way that indicates “give me some space.”

Once again I returned her to her crib.  Once again she flipped over to her tummy, inch wormed forward to the edge of her crib, pulled up to stand and called out: “Muuuuuu.”20180614_063106(9)

Again I slid out of bed, picked up my precious baby girl and began to snuggle and swing her.  Her eyes closed, her body went sleepily soft, and as far as she was concerned, all was right in the world again.

One could say “that baby has got you wrapped around her fingers” and to some extent that is true.  But usually she does sleep well on her own. And on the sweet occasion when she just wants to be held, I turn to gratitude: for a child who trusts me, for someone who feels safe in my arms, and a loved one who requests a warm embrace.  In the grand scheme, these tender moments of closeness are rare.

20180307_074621I embrace the closeness and just smile.

Pregnancy’s Butterfly Effect

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“Let everything go.  Allow your worries, your thoughts, your anxieties to float away and for a few moments, just be here in this moment.”  How many times do we hear this yoga jargon in classes, especially the opening and while lying in Savasana?  I remember listening to similar cues in a class about a month ago and thinking, “I have a baby growing inside of me.  I am a mother now and no longer have the luxury of completely releasing because this little person is a part of me and my actions impact another now.

Long ago my mother started to teach me about how my actions had consequences that impacted other people, but growing a human inside and realizing -this body is not just attached on the outside of me with skin around it that attaches us, but truly growing in the center of my being- did my perspective take a huge shift in what parenting will entail.

As I began to think more and more about this idea that what I do can have significant impacts on another is certainly not a new concept, but it just brought up this idea with greater magnitude.

A few examples:

The substances I put in my body (food, drinks, and if I were to choose, other substances…you know, like gum) impacts my energy level, my moods, clarity of thought, lifespan, self-image and even health.  This can impact my productivity, relationships with others, and availability to work or engage.  How often do we think about these things as the fork covered with salad or the wonderful smelling donut is going in?  

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As you get dressed and prepped for your day, how often do you look in the mirror and ask: what do I want my appearance to say about the type of person I am and does this appearance communicate who I really am: be it confident, professional, warm and gentle, a lover of the earth, etc?

Do you set plans or goals for years, months, weeks, or each day that help you spend time being and becoming ever more who you really want to be in the grand scheme: whether this includes the types of relationships you invest in, service, professional, physical or educational pursuits?  Are you living in a way that truly makes you happy?

For this little window of pregnancy, I have the opportunity to be pulled into a vacuum of reminders that if I don’t eat frequently enough (or the right foods), it makes a more significant impact than  I realized – i.e. nausea, waking up in the middle of the night, random impulses to cry, etc.  This is preparation for remembering the importance of regularly feeding the little person who is about to come out and be a very significant part of my world for the rest of my life.

We don’t always have such blunt reminders in front of us that say: “Your actions directly and indirectly impact others!” But they do.  The words we speak and how we express them can be a pivot point in another’s day- and how many others can a grumpy or very cheerful person impact: from how they drive, to glances, to words they share with the people around them? dadreadtochild

Do you sit down to watch a tv show (that will inevitably suck you into at least 2 more) after work tonight or walk your dog who is already harassing you to get outside?  Do you tell your kids to go play so you can catch up on emails after dinner or spend a few minutes reading and maybe singing with them before the bedtime routine begins?  Do you check another gossip column online or call an old friend who has been on your mind lately?

We have so many choices every day and while we can’t see most of the consequences, we can remind ourselves that each choice makes a difference.  So even if your most recent decision wasn’t one of your best, you always have the next one to make more of the impact you want to share with the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Types of Friends Do You Value?

When you look around your circle of friends, are they truly the type of people you want surrounding you?  Do they help you be ever-more the person you want to be?  Do they engage with the world in meaningful ways that you respect and admire?  Then as you look around, turn your glance inward: are you the kind of friend to yourself and others that you desire?

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship for several months now.  Initially a couple of finger-pointing-300x185interactions with people led me to think about who my true friends are and what I really value in them.  These experiences lit up a hyper-awareness and time of reflection as I’ve engaged with friends since then and tried to remember the image of a finger pointing out mean three are pointing back at me.  So it seems reasonable that any standard held for others must be one I uphold for myself.  Here is a chance to consider some of the traits you may seek in friends…

 

A Genuine Listener

listen dogTo be honest, this was the first trait that struck me as vital to being a true friend in my book.  Someone who listens without an agenda to teach me something or prove a point.  A listener who is open enough to consider where I’m coming from out of genuine care.  Thank you Kritika for showing me this.

 

Humor

Not everyone is blessed with the gift of being funny, and some may struggle to even mildly learn the skill.  I know I’ve always wanted to be funny, but let’s face it, we can’t all be great comedians.  At our wedding, my vows brought mostly a few sentimental tears while my husband had our guests rolling with laughter.  I get to appreciate that he brings something to the table with far greater potency than his counterpart.  

Another consideration is that some of us live more serious existences than others.  Do you tend to prefer conversations with complete sobriety, a sprinkling, splash or ongoing waves of humor?  Do you have friends who bring what you’re looking for?  And even if you aren’t that funny, do you show your appreciation of those who are?

 

Motivator or Empathizer

I have found that there tend to be very different types of listeners.  Commiserators and motivators at times are found in the same person, but more I often I think they are separate individuals.  Do you know who to call when you just want someone to hear you and say: “Wow, sorry, that sounds rough!” and someone else when you know you could use a little: “Dust yourself off and I’ll help you back up on the saddle.”?  

 

Honesty, Tact, and… What You Think Someone Wants to Hear

avocado-fat-jokeDo you prefer the friend who tells you there is something in your teeth at a dinner party or the comrade who tells you look exquisite no matter what?  In the honest framework, there is also tactful and then there is knit-picky or unable to let things go.  Some of us are gifted with more gentle ways of giving feedback than others.  Like humor, this can be a skill to learn, while for others it may come more naturally.

 

Acceptance

Do you know anyone who absolutely loves you -just the way you are?  Isn’t this why we love having dogs for pets? A dog will faithfully comfort, accompany and adore you no matter how your hair looks, what right or wrong thing you say, and will endlessly forgive you for showing up later than you planned.  While I’m all for healthy personal boundaries, there are people who for one reason or another put you on edge and then there are those who put you at ease because it feels like they truly accept you as the person you are.

Kindness

Is it just me, or is this the factor we (at least under stress) tend to struggle with the most around those for whom we have the deepest regard and the closest relationships- including ourselves?  When I started at one of my previous jobs, I walked into my office the first day to find a pearl of wisdom left on the whiteboard: 

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The Dalai Lama’s simple, poignant statement remained as a wonderful reminder all three years I taught at that school.

There are countless other points you can consider, from respect, to shared interests, to people you like learning with and from.  The bottom line: friendship is a choice.  You get to decide with whom you associate in your free time (even on social media), how you treat others and how you treat yourself.  So I hope you invest your precious time with the kinds of people you truly value and who value you.

 

Simple Ways to Spread Love -S.O. not required

This time of year has always been special to me- whether I was a twitter-pated teen, a lonely “Single-Awareness-Day” celebrator, or deeply in love, Valentine’s Day has always called to me.  In the years of early adulthood, it finally occurred to me that it need not be a time to mourn the freedom of being single or be a day of pressure for men.  I realized, that like childhood when I spent hours creating the most beautiful box and valentines to take to school, it can be a celebration of creativity and sharing kind feelings for anyone in your life (self-included).  So whether you are 15 or 55, single or partnered, here are some ideas to get your creativity going to enjoy a day of love.

 

Bake and Share Cookies      cookies

Have you been meaning to meet your neighbors and haven’t found the right ice-breaker?  Or maybe you have a couple of kids you know would love to be reminded how sweet they are.  Give a plate of treats to someone and just let them know you are thinking of them or want to be their friend.

 

Write a Note of Appreciation

When was the last time you emailed your sister just to tell how awesome she is?  Have you recently told your dad how you appreciate something special he did with you growing up?  Take 5 minutes to send a card, email, or even hand-written letter to someone who has touched your life.

dogwalkingWalk Your Dog

This may sound like an odd one.  However, speaking from experience, for those of us pooch-loving pet owners who sometimes get so busy that by mid-week that we short-change our furry friends with extra short outdoor visits, especially in the middle of winter, this can be great.  Give your pet an extra-long walk to show him or her some love, while gifting yourself with some exercise, fresh air, and if you get out while the sun is still up, a healthy dose of immune-boosting Vitamin D.  

Take Someone a Meal or a Cup of Tea

Do you know anyone who is sick, has a new baby, or is going through a really stressful time at work?  Make an extra portion, grab an extra coffee when you order one, or hand the homeless person on the corner a $5 gift card to a nearby cafe.  

Heart Attack Someone (the paper kind)

paper_heart_attackI remember going out with friends on a few occasions to cut out paper hearts, then tape them all over someone’s door with little notes of how the person was appreciated and loved. Years later, while leaving for work one day, I saw a beautiful display of hearts attached to skewers that sprawled the lawn of my apartment complex.  I was shocked and touched when I curiously went to see who they were for and found my name written on one of the hearts.  Trust me, this one is both fun to create and touching to receive.

There are so many ways to experience and express love.  It may, but doesn’t necessarily need to be romantic.  Just showing love for humanity can be simple AND make someone’s day.  So go ahead and fill someone’s heart with joy -you may notice that a certain “someone” will end up including you!

 

Plethora of Perspectives

Do you ever find yourself analyzing a situation, resolving it in your mind, and growing emotional about how someone’s choice that impacts you in the situation is clearly “wrong”?  Whether it’s with politics, work, your friends or family, we all run into moments of disliking the choices another makes that impact us in some way.

Why are we so convinced that our own perspective is right?

I recently read an adaptation of Rumi’s poem “Elephant in the Dark” and found it eye opening on this matter.  A group of people, curious about what creature has be placed in a dark room, decide they cannot wait, but must reveal the room’s contents.  One by one they enter, each eager to uncover the mystery, each sure of what she has found.  One feels the ear- like a large fan.  Another feels its long, curving trunk-it must be like a snake.  Someone else encounters one of its thick, strong legs-it is solid and wide like a tree trunk.  Each person  is sure he leaves the darkness with a firm understanding of what the creature is.  Yet with their limited perspectives, none grasp the full measure of the elephant.

This past weekend, I found myself in several situations in which the involved parties grew emotionally charged and all had their own perspectives: with colleagues reflecting on a workshop, my partner as we discussed communication styles, even my dog as we walked. 

A small illustration: Last night, Naya, my dear canine companion, was absolutely convinced that she needed to lick whatever was stuck to the street.  I had no idea what the substance was, but a) I was sure I didn’t want her tongue running along the foreign substance and we had somewhere else to go –right then– as I saw it.  I called.  She tried to hold her stance.  I started to walk away, she continued anxiously licking.  What was more important in that moment: moving on or embracing what I perceived as appalling and perhaps sickness inducing, or what Naya thought was an absolutely delectable road treat?  She licked and scraped.  I walked forward.  Eventually she followed and fortunately no sign of sickness has appeared- at least yet.  We certainly saw things differently.

I often present my  challenges to one or two people to hear their opinions when I’m upset about something, just to get some alternate views.  Like looking through a fly’s eye.  Consider how many different angles and slightly different views a fly perceives when looking at a given image. If we’re being “open minded,” we may consider more than one side of any situation, but how many opinions and perspectives are we actually willing to consider?

How often do we remember to consider and look through others’ lenses?

While perusing some of photographer Jon Sanwell’s recent work from Myanmar, I encountered a series of photographs of betel leaves in baskets, including the one below.  Just from my own lens, I initially thought about the beautiful shades of jade green, the eye-catching angle of the shot, the juxtaposed glossy leaves and natural matte finish of the wicker baskets.  I wondered why someone would so carefully stack all the leaves in spirals around the containers.  But perhaps some people look at these leaves as the means to fitting in (chewing betel is a popular social practice in the region), the destroyer of their loved one’s health (betel is carcinogenic), or maybe just a really unique way to capture a part of Southeast Asia.  That’s just some of what I considered.  What are your thoughts looking at this photograph?

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So the next time you find yourself frustrated, hurt, confused, or even elated, consider how others are impacted by the situation and your actions.  Perhaps you will listen and learn a thing or two from someone with a different take.  Remember, everyone’s lens is unique.