Is There Ever Just One Side To A Story?

houseEverything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.  Marcus Aurelius

One day my daughter came home upset that she was excluded by her two best friends. I had witnessed her being excluded on a prior occasion and my heart was breaking for her. She cried inconsolably and I couldn’t even understand most of what she was saying. The next day I dropped her off at school and saw the mother of one of the best friends. She mentioned to me that she had heard that my daughter was upset the other day. I then cautiously told her what my daughter had told me. Her response was to say that her daughter often comes home feeling excluded by my daughter and their other friend. As first, it was hard to imagine that this mom was telling me an accurate account of my daughter’s behavior and then I remembered a conversation between two characters in the book The Spiritualist by Megan Chance:

“Imagine you come upon a house painted brown. What color would you say the house was?”

“Why brown, of course.”

“But what if I came upon it from the other side, and found it to be white?”

“That would be absurd. Who would paint a house two colors?”

He ignored my question. “You say it’s brown, and I say it’s white. Who’s right?”

“We’re both right.”

“No,” he said. “We’re both wrong. The house isn’t brown or white. It’s both. You and I only see one side. But that doesn’t mean the other side doesn’t exist. To not see the whole is to not see the truth.”

No matter the facts of the situation, it turned out both of our daughters were feeling excluded. I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “to not see the whole is to not see the truth.” I knew I needed to respect and try to understand this little girl’s perspective of my child’s behavior regardless of what I originally believed. Maybe there was another side of the situation that I was not able to see from my vantage point. With this realization, I suggested to the other mom that we should speak separately to the girls about how the other one has been feeling and then let them speak to each other. The minute the girls got on the phone, they realized they were both feeling the same way, talked about for it for 2 minutes, apologized and began playing a web game together as if nothing had happened.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how someone else could have another perspective when we feel so right about how we perceive a situation. But if we are willing to pause and think about why the other person feels the way that they do, we might open our hearts a bit. Being right doesn’t always create the best relationships or resolutions to conflict, but compassion and understanding can work miracles.

So today, try to take a deep breath when you are disagreeing with your co-worker, your child, or a neighbor. Try to remember that you are only standing on “one side of the house” and there might be more to the situation than meets the eye. Try to step back from your position and see the situation from their perspective. You might not agree with the other person, but Maybe some understanding will lead you to a better resolution and improve your relationship. Just Maybe!

Finding Joy By Accepting Things That Bother Us

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Happiness can exist only in acceptance. George Orwell

The other night my friend and I went to see a show. It was very crowded in the theater so when the show was over it took a long time to exit. My friend started to get very uptight about people not walking more quickly and was really bothered. For my part, I really didn’t think much of it. We were talking about the show as we were shuffling out and I accepted the slow pace as part of what happens when you go to the theater. Part of my mind detached and looked at the situation. I found it so interesting that we were both having the exact same outer experience but such a different inner experience. My friend just wanted to leave the theater and in her mind it was wrong how slowly everyone was walking. But this thought created impatience and frustration on her part. I’m no Buddhist monk, but I accepted the situation and enjoyed my time talking as we inched out the door.

When I got home I was a little harsh about my friend as I repeated the story to my husband. But as I was repeating the story I was reminded of how I had been in a cab going to the show earlier that night and there was traffic. I got upset that there was traffic and that I would be late for the show. Recalling this, I laughed a little. There was no difference between me and my friend. Why? We were both resisting the moment. It doesn’t matter if one person’s thinking, “The line should be moving quicker” and another, “There should not be traffic on Park Avenue at this time of day.” These are just our stories of how life should be, stories that make us stressed and miserable. And even if my friend and I are right about these situations, does it matter? What “should be” is not what is happening in the moment and, because we are trapped in how things should be, we are not free.

So what is the key to internal freedom and joy? In a word, it is acceptance. Often when I speak to clients about the idea of acceptance their knee-jerk reaction, no matter what their problem, is “Why would I accept this? It is not right,” or “I am not going to just give up and accept these circumstances.” But believing that something’s right or that you have to give up is not what acceptance is.  For me, the acceptance is seeing things as they are in the moment and simply accepting this is the experience you are having. The struggle of, “Why is this happening?”, “This should not be happening?” or “This is unacceptable” ends when we accept things as they are. Sometimes there is nothing to do about a situation, as when we were leaving a crowded theater or when we are in traffic. The minute you accept the thing that’s driving you nuts, you stop struggling with it and you stop feeling pain. There is nothing to do but relax in the present with the experience and see what life has to offer. Other times, acceptance helps you find peace and less suffering even as you remain open to changing your circumstances in the future. Acceptance does not change your passion or need for change, but allows you to “show up” in the moment with peace about what is, and strength and focus to make things different.

Nowadays, when my kids don’t clean their rooms, it rains and I don’t have an umbrella, or a client forgets our meeting, I try to smile and say, “I did not expect this, but I accept this. Maybe everything is okay.” I take a big breath in and smile. I still tell my children to clean their room when they get home, I buy a five dollar umbrella that will break in a week, and I try to figure out an effective way to remind my clients of our meetings. I do all of those things at the same time I am accepting the moment for what it is. This is a true path for less suffering and more ease in everyday life.

Take a moment and think about a few aspects of your life that you are not accepting. How would it feel to not struggle with it anymore? Can you accept this circumstance and relax into the moment? Can you accept your situation and still try to improve your circumstances in the future?

Try the mantra, “I did not expect this, but I accept this. Maybe everything is okay.”

And then see what shows up in your life!

 

If You Judge People, You Have No Time To Love Them. Mother Teresa

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A friend of mine just moved away. We weren’t very close and one of the reasons was that I found it very difficult to be with her. She was often complaining about her ex-husband being the cause of all her problems, she was always starting new businesses that she never followed through on and I was not always clear if she was telling the truth. After she left town, I was sitting with a group of women and these women also thought my friend was complicated, but they all had amazing stories of great times with her. She was very spontaneous, funny and loved to go out and live it up. She was also very dedicated to her children. And yet I could not recall one moment that I had with her that was interesting or fun.

Later that day I came across the Mother Teresa quote, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Although I was always trying to help my friend, I realized my judgments about her had interfered with my enjoyment of her company. I am not really sure that I was ever present for her. Was she difficult? Absolutely, but my judgments about what she “needed to do to improve her life” kept me from having a more loving and enjoyable relationship even for just an evening or a moment.

Our judgments interfere with many of our relationships. They give us a sense of righteousness, but sometimes all that is really happening is that we are not getting what we want from the other person or they are not doing what we think is best for them. In fact, judging someone is an easy path. It is much more challenging to be loving, accepting and kind when the person in front of us is not acting the way we want them to. The act of loving is going beyond our “likes and dislikes” and surrendering our judgments so we can freely share our love with another person and celebrate their magnificence and not their failings. I’m not suggesting that we ignore the truth about how we feel someone acted towards us or how they acted in a particular situation, but that instead we also allow ourselves to see the whole person. Often we will find there is so much beauty when we are less judgmental and more loving. We can enjoy the essence of another person and the moment we are sharing together.

So even if we find our mother-in-law is difficult, our best friend is opinionated or our children are not listening or doing well in school, let’s try not to miss out on enjoying what we can with each of them. What could be more important about being human than sharing the warmth and love that resides in our heart? As for my friend, I don’t regret trying to help her, but Maybe when she comes back to town we can go out and just enjoy each other’s company! It could be a blast!

GIVE YOURSELF A HAND: REACTING LESS TO THE STRESS IN YOUR LIFE

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A few days ago I hurt my dominant hand.   It’s not a serious injury, but I have been trying not to use my hand so it can heal. Without the use of my hand, I need to take it very slowly and think about each step in my day, for example, making a morning cup of tea, the process of getting each item in my cart at the food store and typing on the computer with one hand.  I’m sure many people reading this blog who’ve had a physical injury can relate to this experience.   It can be a reminder to be more appreciative of our bodies and show us how to slow down and be more mindful of each activity. The most surprising aspect of this experience for me is that because I am moving slower and I am more mindful of my thoughts and actions, I am also reacting less to the situations around me.

I noticed my softer reaction when my daughter left her winter coat and some wet towels on the bathroom floor and also left the bathroom light on.   Because of my constant awareness of my hand, I was more mindful of how I was moving and feeling when I entered the bathroom.   I noticed a space between my feelings about her mess and my reaction.   Almost a pause that I did not plan.   Normally I would have approached her with an annoyed tone and asked her to go back to the bathroom to clean up her mess and shut the light. But that pause allowed me to be more thoughtful about my reaction.   I immediately realized it was not such a big deal, and I proceeded to think about how to shut the light and pick up the coat and towels with one hand.   I also was able to calmly tell my daughter what she had done and ask her not to do it again. I then entered the kitchen to find a sink filled with dirty dishes.   I gently asked my other daughter and husband to help me in the kitchen to empty the dishwasher and load the dirty dishes from the sink. I had the space within me to make a choice not to get annoyed about the dirty dishes that they had left in the sink all day. Instead, the pause gave me a larger perspective and a greater appreciation for what I really care about.   I had not seen them all day and the pause allowed me to get through the dish issue quickly and enjoy the rest of the afternoon with them both.   I even felt less of a reaction from a conversation with my mother-in-law!

I feel like my injured hand is giving me the experience of what mindfulness does for our lives. That space we develop from mindfulness between how we feel and how we react makes a tremendous difference in our experiences and our interactions with others.   With more mindfulness we can show up for the constant unexpected events throughout our day with more emotional control and not let each event throw us off course.   This leaves more room for us to cope with stress and worry and instead find the calm and joyful moments each day brings.

There are many techniques people use to create mindfulness so they are less stressed and reactive to events and people in their lives.   Here is a simple exercise that you may want to try that is similar to the experience I am having with my hand.   Try to focus on one of your hands and become more aware of how your hand feels, what it touches and how it moves for a few minutes. As you go about your daily chores or go to work, try to keep this awareness of the sensations from your hand.   First you may notice and appreciate all the experiences you were not paying attention to before from moving a piece of paper across your desk to how you hold the phone or a pen, how you type, eat lunch or hug a friend. Even though you are doing different activities and your sole attention is not on your hand, the partial awareness that you draw to your hand will keep you more grounded and present.   As your mind gets consumed with stressful thoughts at home or work, this is the moment when we are most in danger of overreacting to situations like our children not listening, a disagreement with a co-worker or a difficult client. Our uncontrolled reactions can damage our personal and business relationships, as well affect how we feel each day with a rollercoaster of emotions.   But by keeping a partial awareness of your hand, you will continuously bring some of the energy away from your mind and to your body and this will help slow everything down. You will become more mindful of each moment and you may just find that sacred space between how you feel about a situation and how you want to react to it.   This sacred space may help you show up with more ease, patience and kindness for your children, spouse, friends or business associates when you need it most.

You can also use this tool just at the moment you feel your stress escalating.   If you are getting very distracted with worry about the future or you find yourself overreacting or feeling overly uptight, just slowly bring some of your attention to your hand and you will bring some mindfulness to the situation.

I hope you give the exercise a try.   MAYBE the sacred space created by your mindfulness will be a new beginning to show up for your life with more ease and peace and open you to more joy in everyday