How Can We Keep Our Hearts Open When People Hurt or Disappoint Us?

woman holding hot cup of coffee, with heart shape
…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are. ― Pema Chödrön

When my daughter started school many years ago, it was very exciting to meet all the parents and make new relationships. I found most people to be very friendly and enjoyed my time at school functions and drop off and pick-up. There was one father that I used to try to speak with who was not very friendly. He never said hello unless I said it first and never spoke with me unless I started a conversation. However, the times that I approached him we had some nice conversations.

After two years, I remember one day I got so annoyed when I saw him and again he said nothing to me. I actually felt a little tightening in my heart that day and I decided that I would not speak to him ever again unless he spoke to me first. Of course I still said hello if our eyes met, but thereafter I never approached him to speak unless it was a necessity. I felt quite justified with my decision. For a few days following my decision, I saw him and I was so closed off I felt nothing. I had shut down and right then it felt better than being hurt and disappointed every time I saw him.

The next week I arrived at school and learned that this man had passed away. I was consumed with guilt because the last few times I saw him I had barely said hello. When I attended his memorial service, I found out he was a struggling musician who worked odd jobs to support his family. I also learned he was very uncomfortable at school because he felt he was an outsider. He had been having trouble making ends meet and had no health insurance so he was unable to get the medical tests he needed. His friends all loved him so much and told so many stories about this man who I learned had a very loving and kind heart.

One could argue that he was shut down to me and my actions were warranted, but the fact is my actions accomplished nothing, and certainly didn’t help me to grow. Should every interaction only be about me getting what I crave? I felt rejected and unwanted so I closed my heart. Yet if I had taken these feelings as a teaching sign that here was exactly where I needed to refocus on love and grace, I would have kept my heart open. Who knows what we could have shared together? All of this heartbreak was going on with this man and instead of leaning in and showing kindness when I felt hurt, I shut down because I was not getting what I felt I needed.

That day I made a commitment to myself that I would not run away from my discomfort or my hurt. Leaning into each situation that I perceive as difficult allows me to cultivate more understanding about myself and the world in which I and my children live. If I feel excluded, frustrated or angry, I try to sit with it and examine it. I allow my heart to feel and I breathe and try to understand the possibilities behind a person’s response or situation. I try to see it less about what I am receiving and more about giving out kindness and love. And I have noticed that this change, this leaning into the situations that I fear may hurt me, brings me more peace and wisdom than shutting down ever did. It also has deepened my relationships with other people.

So Maybe all of us can keep our hearts open a little longer today. Maybe we can stay accessible for even just a few more minutes than we normally would. Maybe there is something to learn or someway we can help another individual that is suffering.

Maybe staying open-hearted is how the world changes a little bit at a time.

Does How We Look Make Us More or Less Lovable?

Love yourself concept. Smiling woman, holding, hugging herself

I was at a party a few weeks ago and a forty-year-old woman was talking to me about how she was trying to get back to her twenty-year-old body with a new exercise plan.  As if it were the most obvious thing in the world, she stated, “I am just not happy with my body anymore.” The minute I heard her say this, I immediate felt compassion.  I’m in my forties myself, and I definitely understood this woman’s longing for her twenty-something figure, but I also understood the level of suffering she was inflicting on herself.  I learned a long time ago that there are thoughts that take us right to pain and misery and “I’m not happy with my body” is one of them.

The mystery of when some of us begin rejecting our physical appearance is a complicated one. It might begin in childhood, or with the onslaught of images of men or women from advertising campaigns or the experience of noticing ourselves or others getting more or less attention because of appearances. For a while, we can manage the ‘need to look good,’ but as we age the gap between these images of how we “should” look and how we actually do look can grow wider. The aging of our bodies brings to the surface one of our biggest internal struggles – that we must be a certain way to be loved.  If we choose to reject our bodies, it initiates an unending inner dialogue that we are never good enough, pretty enough, or just enough in general.  It creates a fear that we are not lovable ‘as is’, and means never having the courage to wear that new bathing suit or pair of shorts,” never accepting our aging bodies in fear we will be ridiculed simply for showing up as we are in that moment.

I realized a long time ago that if a thought was creating suffering in my life, I really needed to examine that thought.  The thought that our bodies must look a certain way as we age is one of those thoughts.  The only peaceful thought any of us can have is that we love our bodies “as is” in this moment. Does this mean that we won’t exercise or use facial creams? Of course not.  Does it mean that one day some of us won’t get face work? I have no idea.  But what I do know is that embracing our bodies in this moment allows us to walk through life in a state of acceptance. We can show up as us, not giving our power away to other people’s thoughts of how someone at a certain age should look.  If we refuse to reject our physical appearance, we can do our best to love our bodies, the vehicle that allows us to be here each day and function in this world.  We all have too much to do to sit around thinking that our bodies are not okay when in reality our bodies allow us to experience great joy in our lives.

Even though many of us are aware of how horrible rejecting our bodies makes us feel, the road map to love and acceptance is not always so easy. Here are some tools that my clients and I have utilized to help honor our bodies and paths in life. I hope it is helpful with your journey of self-love and acceptance of your body and you can find greater ease and joy in every day living.

  • At least once a day, express gratitude for the body that allows you to experience everything that you enjoy in life. If you find yourself getting down about your physical appearance because you are shopping for clothes, going to a party, and don’t like what you are wearing or even seeing an advertisement that makes you feel down about yourself, start the list of gratitude of what you body does for you everyday. Feel true appreciation for your legs that allow you to walk, your eyes that allow you to see and your arms that allow you to express yourself. Keep doing the exercise with different body parts until you feel lighter and gratitude fills your heart.   There is a good chance that wherever you are you will feel stronger internally and more secure about your physical presence.
  • During a quiet time in the day, examine some of the thoughts that make you feel bad, thoughts like, “I am fat”, “That other person is better looking than I am” or “Look how terrible I look with the wrinkles on my forehead.” How would you feel without that thought? Would you still be breathing without that thought? Can you still do all the things that are important to you without that thought? What will change if you let the thought go? Will most of your suffering be gone? Ask yourself these questions. Now try to examine what is really important in your life. Where do you want your focus to be? What makes you feel good? Without these negative thoughts about your appearance, you might feel light and joyous. The more you create awareness about these thoughts that come and go, the more they become less meaningful to you. What is really important will start to take center stage.
  • Try to take some long deep breaths when your mind starts having all of these negative thoughts about your physical appearance.   Our thoughts and emotions often control the way that we breathe and the way we breathe often affects how we think. Try to slow it all down with your breath and equally distribute your energy throughout your body.  Your mind will calm down a bit and you will be more likely to remember the 2 previous exercises especially gratitude for what your body does for you every day.

Isn’t suffering less and accepting ourselves the ultimate in self improvement? MAYBE we are perfect just the way we are.  Now that’s a thought that feels good no matter what our age!

 

 

How To Show Up For Life Like Derek Jeter: It’s All About The Breath!

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I know many of us have been watching or hearing about Derek Jeter’s last few games in Major League Baseball. During his last home game, when he hit the single that drove a winning run home, one of the announcers said, “When everything speeds up, Derek Jeter slows down.” Hearing this, I paused and thought to myself, “Now that is a key to success.”

For most of us, when life gets busy, the kids are screaming, we have a work deadline or someone we love is sick, our minds start racing. There are so many demands on us that we don’t have enough time to come up with immediate solutions to our problems. Life is moving quickly and we jump right on that fast moving train. The problem is that speeding up in our minds when life around us is busy and chaotic can cause a lot of stress, worry and anxiety. Sometimes we stop sleeping and it’s actually emotionally and physically harder to get everything done. Our thoughts take too much of our energy, while our bodies do not receive enough. We start making mistakes, dropping the ball as it were.

So how can we slow down when life speeds up and take the Derek Jeter approach to life? One of the easiest most available tools that we always have at our fingertips is our breath.

Our thoughts and emotions are closely linked to our breath. Our thoughts and emotions often control the way that we breathe and, in turn, the way we breathe often affects how we think. So when life speeds up and so many things are happening around us, we tend to focus on inhaling and breathing at a faster pace and our breathe becomes more shallow. Our speech speeds up or becomes unclear. We never seem to be able to get our point across clearly and concisely. This can lead us even further into feelings of stress, worry and anxiety. Also, even when we think we are breathing normally, our breath may actually be reaching only the upper region of our lungs, from which point the breath goes primarily to our heads. When our energy is all in our head, our thoughts take control of our body. We become consumed with our thoughts and lack awareness of our body or our intuitions. When we generate too many thoughts, we can become overwhelmed when emotions arise. Overthinking, we lose our focus.

Awareness of our breath, on the other hand, creates space in our minds and expands our sense of time. When we become aware of our breath, it is easier to pause and take long, deep breaths. Even one deep breath in the midst of chaos and a busy schedule can provide us with enough space and time to ask, “How do I want to react to this situation?” If you are able to take a few deep breaths, you may be able to prevent a knee-jerk reaction and calm your body down. With practice, the breath can become a safe haven that we can rely on in everyday life as well as in very stressful situations. As we become more aware of the rhythm of breath and slow it down, whatever is overactive in the body or mind calms down. Our thoughts and emotions align with the slower rhythm of the breath and we can relax more in response to whatever we face. As the breath slows down and grows softer and steadier, instead of depleting our energy we are able to nourish our mind and body with a peace and tranquility. In a more relaxed state, the outer world no longer controls our every thought and emotion.   We are able to find more of a balance and act more clearly and effectively.

The truth is I have no idea what Derek Jeter has done the last twenty years to maintain his composure and attitude, a stance that has played such a large part in his success. Maybe it is his natural disposition, his upbringing, or MAYBE he is aware of his breath! Whether or not we’re professional baseball players, most of us can use a little help every day staying calm and focused in whatever we may face with our children, work or even driving in traffic. Staying aware of the breath is a great way to try to balance our mind.

Try it. Maybe you’ll find you are more Jeter-esque and get game winning results!

A Simple Technique to Help Relieve your Child’s Stress and Worry

Mass pencils

My daughter came to me the other night worried about all of the obligations she had at school.  She wondered if she would get more homework than she could handle. She was also nervous about doing poorly on her history test the next day.  She asked if everything would work out and if she would be okay.

Many of us have had these moments with our kids when they become anxious and worried about the future or even just their homework. Our children can worry about everything from global warming, war and famine to exams and friendships.

The first thing I do is ask my child if she is okay in this moment. She usually takes a moment and says, “I think so.”

Then, I ask her to jump up and down, do some jumping jacks, push ups, head rolls and shoulder shrugs for a few minutes. This gets her a little out of her head and more in her body.

Next I ask her if she is absolutely certain that what she is worrying about will happen. She always answers, “no I am not absolutely certain.” Then I say, “Well if you are not absolutely certain then that means something else could happen. Maybe even something good. Maybe you will be able to handle your homework, and Maybe you will do well on your test.  Why worry that it will be bad when it also could be good!”

Then, I say, “And even if things don’t work out exactly as you want them to, the next moment will offer you Maybe once again. There’s an unlimited range of possibilities for your future!  

She responded “Mom, thanks! I feel a lot better. Maybe everything will be okay. And if it does not work out, with Maybe there is always another possibility. That feels good.”

It works like a charm every time!!

If your child is a little older it is sometimes effective to have them write their worries down on a piece of paper.  Then ask them to write the sentence, “Are you absolutely certain this will happen?” Usually the answer is no and then they can challenge their worries with a few Maybe statements such as:  Maybe my beliefs about my situation are not true;  Maybe what is happening is good; Maybe what is happening can get better; Maybe everything will work out fine.  Ask your child how these Maybe Statements make them feel?  Does your child feel more hopeful? Does your child see that the situation can work out differently than he or she was fearing? Try to review these statements with them a few times each day.  If you can, have them add more Maybe statements that challenge their stress and worry about the current situation.

Have them keep their attention on these Maybe statements the next few days and see what happens to their fears and worries. Maybe your child will be pleasantly surprised!