Tag Archives | relating to others

APPRECIATING OR JUDGING?

I was listening to a talk by Ram Dass, my teacher, the other day, and he said something that I found really challenging, about appreciating difference. He was proposing that we needed to learn how to simply appreciate the difference between different people who weren’t like us, rather than judging them as better or worse. He compared it to how we are with plants: we appreciate their diverse beauty and distinctiveness rather than judge them.

My initial reaction was to agree with him and castigate myself because I certainly judge other people some of the time.

As I thought about it more, I began to wish that he were here in the flesh, so I could debate it with him! I am good at appreciating our differences to a certain level: different histories, cultures, skin colour, shape, interests talents. I enjoy meeting people who are different from me because it is an opportunity to widen my own horizons.

The sticking point comes when they demonstrate values or behaviours which are at odds with my core values. I cannot accept cruelty, abuse, manipulation, misuse of power, to name a few. These go against values which are fundamental in every religion.

I then went back to the plants! I love my diverse mix of plants, I love woodland, but there are some plants which are definitely thugs! They may look attractive in the first place, but they take over the space, bullying other plants and using up the goodness of the soil. These ones I have to take out.

Now I know Ram Dass well enough to know that he would say that we should look past the behaviour and see that the soul of that person who’s behaving badly is either a ‘young soul’ that we could feel sorry for, that it has this incarnation, or that it has come to each us a lesson by being a nasty person, so we can remember what goodness and kindness is.

He was an amazing being, who could do that a lot of the time. I’m not there yet. I do judge some people for their behaviour and find it unacceptable at a fundamental level. I believe that kindness and consideration for others are crucial in this world and we need to stand up and speak out against those who offend these values.

What do you think?

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HOW CAN I HELP?

I do like to be helpful! When someone is finding life hard, I love to be able to suggest ways of making it easier. But it’s important to remember that we all walk our own path. I might think I know what will help, but I’m not living their life, with their lessons, their approaches, their beliefs. My view is only my view, from my perspective.

So how do we help others? I have had a to of help from friends over the last few months, so it’s obviously possible!

To begin with, we need to be in a good state ourselves. If we are OK in ourselves, we remind others at an unconscious level that there is that space to be OK, that it exists. We’re like the light at the end of the tunnel, saying: ‘You can come through this.’

Also, if we’re OK, we don’t need them to make us feel better by taking on our suggestions, our solutions. We’re not so invested in sorting it out for them, in order to make ourselves feel like a good person.

Then we probably help most by just being there to listen. By allowing someone to talk about their issues without judging or interrupting, whilst paying them proper attention, we give them the space to express it for themselves. This both relieves the pressure of it going round and round in their head, and often helps them to unravel it a bit for themselves. We call this being a witness – someone who is just there with you, supporting without interfering.

Now, as a witness, you have a different perspective from the person who is caught up in their story. You may notice that they have the problem out of proportion, or that a possible resolution is sitting there in their description, or that, if they looked at it from a different angle, it would feel different. Telling them what you notice can be helpful, but remember, they may not be ready to accept what you’re observing, and that’s OK.

Similarly, you may have ideas about what might help from your own experience of similar situations. And it’s good to offer them up as possibilities, but again, you have to accept that they may reject them – your ideas may not resonate with them in their story.

Finally, practical simple help can make a big difference. You may not be able to help with the problem, but you could read through that document they can’t make sense of, or get that thing from the shops for them so they’ve one less thing to think about, or just take them out for a coffee so they are literally in a different space for a little while.

When it comes down to it, being helpful is all about creating some space where someone has the possibility to sort it out for themselves. We can’t do it for them, but we can give them the room to begin to find their own way through.

And thank you to all my friends who have been so helpful to me in a time of turbulence!

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SOCIAL ACTION

I have taken my time to say something about the worldwide protests about inequality that were prompted by the death of George Floyd in the USA, because I wanted to reflect on the bigger picture of what’s happening. This is only my thoughts, of course, and I’d welcome any other ideas you may have that add to my thinking.

This felt like more than just a protest about a particular event, however horrifying that may be.

It seems to me that the lockdown we’ve all experienced has brought with it a greater awareness of some of the other things that are not right about our world. Our governments lie and bluster – they may claim that they’re doing things for the good of all, but it’s blatantly obvious that’s not true. Our way of managing economics means that some have money and some don’t, that businesses won’t survive this setback because of running a debt model, and that those people who will lose out the most are those who can least afford it. And our social policies have left vital areas of our public services unable to fulfil their intention.

I think that the time, for many, to reflect on what their lives are like, combined with daily briefings and covid-related news that serve to highlight some of the wrongs, have brought about a greater awareness of how our world isn’t working for the majority, and how prevalent the building of fear is.

We have massive redundancies and people losing their jobs; we have under-staffed care homes and hospitals; we rely on low-paid, often migrant workers to keep our economy going yet have policies to keep them out; and there are far more deaths from this disease in the ethnic minority communities. On top of that, most people were already under stress, working too long hours, trying to do more than is humanly possible, or struggling to maintain some dignity in poverty – food banks were already over-stretched, before the pandemic made it worse.

The intensification of that feeling of ‘It’s not right’ was given a particular focus by the killing of George Floyd – it gave people a reason to protest against injustice and inequality and they came out in their thousands – and yes, there were some fringe elements that caused problems, looting and fighting, but the majority were peacefully asserting everyone’s right to a decent and respected life.

It is more than a protest about inequality and injustice for black people, although that is undoubtedly a just cause, it is a protest about a world where that inequality and injustice is still a big part of the story, a world where respect and care for other human beings is lacking, where there are many versions of ‘them and us’, where basic support and care are lacking.

And if that is to change, we all need to make our voices heard. We need to move beyond the feeling of ‘it’s not right’ and begin to define what ‘right’ would be. Then we can stand up for what is right, rather than protest against what is wrong.

And please, let’s stand up. It is us that our governments, our policy makers, represent. Most of us are caring and believe in fairness. We need to ensure that those who represent us demonstrate our values in their actions and push them to listen to what we really want in our world.

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THE THINGS WE TAKE FOR GRANTED

It’s strange times we live in. Being asked to stay at home except for essential trips, and to maintain social distancing are great reminders of the normal things we take for granted.

A minor example: my watch stopped working, and I would usually pop into town and get a new battery inserted – but the places that do that are closed. No one is having their hair trimmed or their nails done. There are no yoga classes or gyms –and yes, you can find replacements to do it remotely on-line, but it’s not the same.

And the biggest gap in our normality is all those casual relationships that we don’t even think of – the everyday human contact, with shop assistants, people in the street, the postman or delivery person, the other people at the gym or class. They are only brief exchanges, and we may not even know their name, but they enliven our days and often give us reason to smile.

We are biologically designed to interconnect with others – it is a basic human drive. The upturn in the use of zoom, facetime, skype etc. is an indicator of that. People are making a big effort to keep in touch with those they are close to. But these other relationships are also really important – I’m certainly missing them.

So maybe in future, when we are able to go about our normal daily business, we will take a little more time to appreciate the simple human interactions we take for granted: speak to the bank clerk, the shop assistant, the people who smile on the street, the refuse collectors, the delivery person. They all contribute to our well-being and our need to be connected, to have human contact.

(By the way, since I wrote this, I have had a house fire – and it means I have had to move in with my son and daughter-in-law until the repairs can be done. I now have a greater sympathy with those who are not in their own home with those things we take for granted – so please appreciate your own bed, your own chairs etc. They also contribute to our wellbeing and make our home our own place of peace and refuge – so love being with them during this period!)

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KINDNESS IS THE WAY

We are all of us affected by what’s going on with Covid 19, and it is something which can bring out the worst in us. There is panic buying, flouting of the social distancing guidelines and other forms of selfish or mean behaviour. All of this is driven by fear – an understandable emotion right now.

However, fear, anxiety, stress, are the emotions that will make us more vulnerable to the infection, because they release chemicals into our bodies that suppress the immune system.

Kindness is the way, and there are more and more examples of kindness being reported:

  • People helping each other out
  • Strangers offering to help anyone who needs it in their community
  • Postmen who check that those they deliver to are OK
  • And the amazing response when the National Health Service in the UK asked for 250,00 volunteers, and got 405,00 in less than 24 hours.
  • Then there are those who are videoing concerts for people, or activities to occupy small children at home, or virtual classes for exercise – and the list goes on.

People the world over are showing their appreciation for those on the front line, continuing to maintain services, and the health workers who are caring for those who have caught the infection. And more and more people are coming up with creative ways to help each other out.

This is the best of human behaviour, and it is also a really good way to stay healthy. Kindness releases all the health-giving chemicals into our bodies, and helps us to build our immunity.

And kindness is also highly infectious! We see an example of kindness, or we experience someone being kind to us, and we get prompted to be kinder ourselves.

This time will change our societies. Let’s make sure it’s a change for the better, and spread the infection of kindness, to the point where it’s habitual rather than occasional. We can all do something: a phone call to a friend; a bit of food shopping for a self-isolating neighbour; a big smile and thank you to those who are working to deliver things to keep us going and to care for the vulnerable and sick.

Let’s infect as many as we can with kindness!!

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CLEANING UP YOUR ACT

We so often launch into things without stopping to consider what our intention is. And that’s OK a lot of the time.

Sometimes, though, it is useful to stop for a moment. It is those situations where you are ambivalent that benefit from that moment’s thought – otherwise we may find that we get caught in our ambivalence and end up doing it badly or resentfully.

I know that there are times when I am unclear about why I’m dong something. It may be a task: am I doing this ironing because it’s piled up and I should, or because I want to clear it and I’m in the mood? Once I’ve identified my own contradictory thoughts about it, I can choose which version of my intention to follow – or to leave the task until I’m genuinely ready to approach it in a positive way.

Of course, the same applies to interactions with others. We’ve all had those times where we’ve arranged to meet someone and then, as the time got nearer, wished we hadn’t. If we go into that situation without cleaning up our intention, we will be half-hearted in our connection and both sides will be dissatisfied.

Unclean intentions always result in muddied communication – a little sharpness in the voice tone, a lacklustre response, a misunderstood comment – which in turn can lead easily into disagreement or disappointment.

This doesn’t mean that we have to always approach everything in a positive way – it just means we think about what will work best for us, what outcome we want from the situation, which thread of our possibilities to follow, so it’s not accidental.

Those few moments asking myself what outcome I intend from anything I engage in can make my life easier and more enjoyable – and that’s always my intention!!

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TALKING STORY

In Hawaiian tradition, there is something beyond normal conversation. It is called talking story. It means creating a meaningful conversation with others by sharing stories from your life and their importance to you, or discussing things that really matter to you in a truthful and open way.

It is an exposure of aspects of who you really are, an intimate form of relating to others.

I love it – I have always preferred ‘big talk’, and this is big talk, with a built-in respect for each other’s points of view and differences.  When someone talks story with you, there is an understanding that their openness and honesty is received as a gift and the listener is non-judgemental, respectful and reciprocating, sharing their stories too.

During my recent visit to Maui, I was honoured in this way by Normand, a friend who lives there. He sat with me to talk story before dinner one evening, and chose to trust me with the stories of some very significant events in his life, ones that had changed his view of what life is about, and who we really are. The stories fascinated me, delighted me, moved me, and expanded my view of Normand to the fullness of what a lovely man he is – and I already thought he was lovely!

As I responded to his stories, so he took me further into them, showing me ‘treasures’ associated with them, and showing me his soul. It was genuinely heart connection: a sharing of our human-ness, our divinity, our uniqueness and our commonality.

This experience reminded me again that when we open our true selves to others, we share a richness that ordinary conversation just doesn’t give us. Talking story connects us to others in a loving, compassionate, honest way, and helps us to appreciate the wonder of human beings.

I received a gift beyond any price, and it will stay with me as a significant moment in my life, something to treasure. Thank you, Normand!

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IT’S NOT WHAT YOU DO, IT’S THE WAY THAT YOU DO IT.

I caught the bus into my local shopping centre the other day, and it was completely empty. As I registered my pass, I said hello to the driver, and commented on the splendid tweed cap he was wearing. He thanked me and welcomed me to my own private carriage – since no one else was there  – and we both laughed. We chatted, all the way to my stop, and I got off the bus with lifted spirits and a smile on my face.

People like that change my world every time I encounter them – and there are lots of them, often in the most unexpected places or roles. It just requires seeing beyond the transaction, the ‘costume’ the person has: their job, their appearance.

Our roles can take us over, so we are occupied with being the teacher, the CEO, the taxi driver, the street cleaner; or the parent, the care-giver, the partner. Yet none of our various roles really define us: it is our human-beingness that shows who we really are.

And that is something we all have in common – it is the place where the roles and expectations drop away and we encounter others with our hearts open, rather than our heads running the show.

When I come across people like the bus driver, I am reminded that there are some people who choose to be open-hearted most of the time – all the angels in various types of costumes who bring some lightness and kindness ad warmth to the world – and they give their gifts freely if you are open to the possibility.

And I am reminded that I can be one of those people if I open my heart and appreciate the person rather than the role.

We can all get stuck in the routines and busyness of the everyday, and we can all enjoy and be a part of the transformation of that everyday into magical moments of heartfelt connection with another human being.

I know which I prefer…

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HAVE YOU THE FAMILY YOU WOULD LOVE TO HAVE?

Most of us have a family we were born into, and a set of relatives that comes with that. And I often hear people say that they find it really hard to get on with a brother, or sister, or parent. This always feels hurtful because we have an expectation that these are the people who should care most for us. But it’s not really that surprising, because each of us is a unique personality, and we don’t get on with every other personality.

I like to think that we really have two sorts of family: the one we were born into and related to by blood, and the one we create for ourselves. This is our real family, because it is those we meet who become our mutual support network, people we feel genuine love and concern for. If we’re lucky, some of our blood ties are also in our ‘personalised’ family – we choose to have them as an important part of our lives – but it’s not compulsory.

And because this is a family we create throughout our lives, we are not constrained by numbers or categories or age – we can create according to any criteria we choose. I have lots of sisters and brothers, and many sons and daughters. When I was younger, I had more favourite aunts and uncles and elder brothers and sisters – now I think I’m probably the matriarch of my lovely created family!

When I was a child, we were encouraged to call friends of the family auntie or uncle. I think that was based on a form of showing respect because they were adults and we were children, but it also indicated that my parents felt they were part of the family really. And my favourite ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ were in this category. I felt loved and cared for by them as if they were real family, and of course they were!

So who have you got in your family? Let’s recognise our closeness and love for these special people who have agreed to be part of our family in this lifetime, just as we have chosen to have them in our family. Some of them will be very close to us: lots of contact and mutual support; some of them will have gone their own way, yet still be there if you need them; and some of them will be that somewhat eccentric or awkward one that you can’t help but love anyway!

Cherish these people – they are your real family. And if you meet someone you wish were part of your family, nurture the relationship and bring them in. You really can create the family you would love to have.

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I NEED A WITNESS!

I’ve recently had a series of glitches to deal with: feeling a bit under the weather, heating not working properly, not being able to find something I need to buy in any shops, a broken tooth, etc. None of it has been awful, but as they had accumulated, they had taken over and coloured my perspective, with the effect that life in general started to feel shit!

This is as unreal as wearing rose-tinted glasses, and nowhere near as pleasurable!

I am lucky enough to have a dear friend who is brilliant at giving me a dose of my own medicine. He listened to my sad, self-pitying story, and then kindly yet firmly challenged me out of it. He pointed out that I was letting some temporary setbacks take over my story and playing victim to fate. He reminded me that most of the time life feels pretty good to me, and this particular story is not who I am, nor who I want to be, and that I already know how to shift myself from that place I had got into.

After a few minutes, the clouds started to lift from my world, and I began to remember that quite a lot of my life was working well. In fact, I could talk about some of the good things that are happening, and could see some ways of dealing with those glitches.

Now those of you who know me will know that I’m pretty good at helping others like he helped me, but this reminded me of how important it is to have a ‘witness’ who is not caught up in your story and can remind you of the bigger perspective. We all get caught in self-pity sometimes, and we all lose our perspective on life. We don’t have to beat ourselves up about it – we just need someone who will prompt us to look at it differently.

Friends who sympathise and say, ‘Oh dear, how awful!’ confirm that your story is a hard one. Those who can challenge you back into a bigger version of who you are are invaluable.

Thank you Cliff!

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