One Word at a Time

Along with my fellow teacher, Terri, we had little idea about what energy was about to be unleashed. The number of participants was three times what was expected, vocal, well spoken and engaged in our teaching process. Keeping them all on one subject at a time was the only difficulty.

The class was held at the Park Hill Library in Denver and was our first outing with “Help Me Understand”, working through how to dialogue with each other about volatile or difficult topics without overt animosity. How to listen deeply, what words to speak encouraging us to get us to the next level of sharing, and what our individual culture has us do without thinking are major topics of the venture.

Terri and I have, what I think, are good stories to express situations of human dialogue that either fail miserably, or chug along without too many hurt feelings to go on with the relationship. Because one word can be a trigger to fear and anger and a break of property or heads, the need to be aware of your language in difficult situations or times is VERY Important…as is your tone of voice.

One of the books I have read over and over is Deborah Tannen’s “That’s Not What I Meant”. Her examples are the best…The first time I read it I saw why several of my relationships had floundered or failed. She also talks about the conversation pauses we all use, like “sorry”, to smooth things but it is not a true apology. (The first time I heard some one say “MY BAD” thinking that was enough of an apology, I almost fainted.) ok, that was a bit of an exaggeration.

Training your brain to take a breath or three before you swim into deep water is a free and easy technique to practice. Practice becomes habit.

Our audience said that they were a bit tired of just talking their “truth” to the few people who agreed with them. They could see that it narrows your world view and that is never a step forward in your life. So, get out there and join a conversation–and watch the words that are falling out of your mouth into the collective culture. Kindness and respect for other opinions are always essential, but especially in times of upheaval.

Speak with love,

Joanna

 

 

 

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Strange and Spooky

The yearly tsunami of candy is over for the year. Candy and princess costumes and a holiday without much meaning is how it seems now to me. But, as a child and older, the masks and dark and unknown scared the breath out of me. So, imagine the children new to this country and the overwhelming visuals and sounds of their first Halloween.

Watching the refugee families that my friend group helps was like watching a National Geographic Special. Our primary family has been in the country for six months, the 7-year-old goes to school, they have shopped and had doctor appointments and gone to Mosque and been to see the mountains. But this strange holiday was scary and too full of “new” to process easily.

Put this on top of the layer of fear from being Muslim in a country that welcomed them a few months ago because they had been a help to the American troops in Afghanistan, but suddenly they hear that they could be deported.  Friends who watch television and follow the politics of  the season had enlightened them. We had asked the family numerous times to join us at one of our houses for a light supper and conversation. After the rounds of “hate speak” they had heard, the women wanted to make sure the husbands were with the family when they visited us. That means we needed to do a Saturday or an evening. Then we begged them to come for Halloween and the two oldest girls could learn to go door-to – door with us in a safe neighborhood where parents walked with children.

The father, Abdul, kept calling Halloween evening to try to make excuses, but our leader was tenacious and just as it was getting dark, they pulled up in his new (old) van and they entered the land of what must look to them as science fiction. We were set up on the front porch with candy out in big bowls for the trick or treaters and the four women mentors, one husband and a small dog. Two of our group took the girls up the street with bags to learn how to trick or treat.Sugar and chocolate is a great incentive. Donna, who was an elementary teach, told the girls how to scream and be scared when they were and they all screamed their way to a new experience.

While they were gathering chocolate, we tried to explain to Abdul about All Souls Day and All Saints Day and bribing the ghosts to stay away. He then translated to his wife–I wish I knew what he really said. When the girls came back they handed out candy and with English skills being important, they repeated the names of the costumes or colors as we told them. They could see that the kids were just like they were, except dressed up. Lots of the younger kids who came up to the porch could not keep a mask on and that helped too to see the little faces. Our girls eyes were wide and shiny and they kept coming to us and hugging us with excitement. With our cultures appearing to be so different, the culture of being human was not.

Good parents worry about their children. In this case, the layers of fear and the unknown had to be peeled away one layer at a time. But, that one evening peeled several layers away at once. The adults trust us a bit more, the children think we hung the moon and the elders were thrilled to have such a special experience.

Be Kind.

Joanna

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Perpetual Hesitation

Numerous habits of mine are annoying to everyone, including myself.  More than simply annoying, they are sad and limit my capacity as an elder who strives toward exceptional. But, seldom in my life has perpetual hesitation overtaken me. Depression and anxiety and anger and self-pity (for 15 minutes at a time, once a week) have visited, but not the aforementioned stagnation.

This pause before a decision comes in the form of doubting yourself, vacillating for a longer period of time or faltering for lack of courage. All, shades of grey in the process of having a firm decision–especially when that decision needs to be made before events are out of control and especially out of YOUR control.

Doubt before you gather facts and look at the balance sheet and talk to logical friends and family is expected…..but. This all goes back to the comfort zone and moving out to claim a fearlessness  versus constant reluctance to decide. Is it too late at an elder age to shift  habits? I would say no with caveats. Training and being aware help with the most minor of hesitations. That in turn helps with the big hesitations. Hearing friends talk about making big decisions on a whim, but not being able to choose an entrée at a restaurant don’t really reflect how our brain works. That big decision was undoubtably churning in your subconscious for a bit or a trigger from the environment and your previous choices helped you think it is fast, and the entree decision to me meant that you are not focused or not living in the moment.

Since the world is beginning the Fall quarter of school I am going to let you go back to school on this blog.  In 2011 I put together my favorite exercise of all time and slapped a copyright on it. Starting on the 4th of September you will be given a new practice to help you both loosen and tighten your decision and habit muscles. The exercises will be one a day for at least 10 days.

Rest and enjoy the time until you return to the classroom of your mind.

Joanna

 

Fearlessness vs. Comfort

Pain. Pain to heal. Pain to get to the other side of an issue. Physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual or just a pain in the buns, they range from fierce to annoying. The pain can be short-term or linger for what seems like forever.

First learning about the concept of the Comfort Zone in a language class, the teacher said that the best speakers would be fearless in trying the language in new settings, and would need to move out of the comfort zone of the class. Since then the picture of a bull’s-eye comes to mind when my gut tells me to get out of the center and move to the far edge. Now, even knowing that for about a zillion years, being fearful in some form, or for some lesser emotion, is still a heard in my ear and felt in my body.

Since all of us humans are fairly alike, my assumption is that, unless you are a practicing Buddhist monk or nun, you feel it too. What I have learned, is that visualizing that bulls’ eye helps. The yellow has lots of room in which to wiggle around and still be ok–the get to the edge and move slightly into red, and so forth. Imagine a child jumping off a diving board for the first time and then at the end of the summer when they are flipping like crazy people. All the chemicals from the brain warning us of danger and the physical reactions to that danger are the same ones that make us crazy with anger and fear and strike first or run.

There are lots of fearful and angry people in the world. And there are lots of people who love to blame anything or anyone who makes them feel pain…the pain of loss or unfulfilled dreams or lack of self-worth or shame or embarrassment for the way their life has gone so far. To become an extraordinary elder moving from the things you know to some activities or people or places you are not immediately comfortable with is a goal to set for yourself. Ask around about new places to do a daily walk. One year I went to eight parks in Denver where I had never been. I also found three new places for ice cream around the parks. If you are concerned for health and safety, tell someone where you will be and check in when you get home.

When did you last make a new acquaintance?  When did you last shop at a different store for groceries? Do you always go to the same type of movies? These are all basically low pain activities to get you comfortable with spreading your wings and moving to a different color on the eye. You can always run (well, walk) back to the center of the yellow. But, if you are out on the blue ring for long enough–it becomes your new yellow and you start your push to fearlessness again. It takes practice and you are not too old to learn this trick.

If you have children in your life you can watch them and see clearly how they push out and fall back and start over and over again to gain power over the pain of the unknown. We also see the children who have a high need for safety and moral support before they can flap those fearless wings. There is pain in doing and there is pain in not doing.

Some of those choices are yours.

Joanna

Enjoy the summer–we could be having snow in Denver in 5 weeks.