What Are You Missing In Your Life?


Stoffherzen
“Life is available only in the present moment.”  Thich Nhat Hanh

A few years ago I went in a store, bought a drink, and left. A few minutes later I could not remember where I put the change from buying the drink. In fact, I couldn’t even remember the face of the cashier or any observations about the store. It’s not that I have memory problems; in fact my memory is very strong. So what happened? I realized I had been lost in thought. I was so lost in my own story of everything I needed to do and everywhere I needed to go that I was completely unaware of what I was doing in the moment.

I then started to wonder how many other parts of my life I was missing while lost in my thoughts. Was I really listening to my children, husband and friends? Was I going through the day missing interacting with people, my environment and even opportunities that came my way because I was thinking about my blog, my next meeting or my next meal?

So I did an experiment. I decided to silently recite a mantra all day long while I was moving from place to place so I would not get lost in my thoughts. I also said my mantra before meeting with someone or while engaged in any activity. The mantra I picked that day was “love first.” For me it worked as a constant reminder that my awareness, kindness and actions throughout the day were more important than my thoughts.

At first it was a little awkward. I actually felt “over focused” on everyone I came in contact with and everything I did. And there were also pauses between my words as I saw the color of each person’s eyes. Yet, as I laid my head down to sleep that night, I recalled the waitress at the restaurant who said she was tired because it was Friday, the doorman who told me he was taking care of his sick mother and my daughter who told me she had pasta for lunch. I remembered the breeze on my face as I walked to pick up my daughter from school and how a cup of green tea had tasted. I realized that I had gotten a lot of work done that day, and yet the day was filled with something much more. I had connected with so many people, my environment and I had even been aware of my feelings as I went about my business.

I also felt less burdened by the endless list of everything that I needed to do in the next few days because there was a new awareness of life as it was happening. I realized that there is little peace for me when I am lost in thought because the to-do list always grows and there are always more goals to achieve. Nothing ever feels completely done. Yet the replacement of my random thoughts with an ever-present mantra created a wholeness and completeness that left me satisfied exactly where I was in the moment.

Maybe try a mantra or word of your own that constantly brings you back to where you are and what you are doing. You might find that there is so much more to each moment than there ever was before. The trees have many more beautiful leaves and the sky offers so many glorious moments to pause and admire the awe of it all. We also might find that our sweet children have so much more to say than we’ve been hearing. And yes, ice cream. Eat ice cream while saying your mantra. It will taste like never before!

Just, Maybe!!

Who Does Your Anger Really Hurt?

 

Furious emoticon

If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put the fire out. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.” Thich Nhat Hanh,  Anger

My client, whom I’ll call Ann, called me the other day.  She has a tense relationship with her sister-in-law, and was very upset when her sister-in-law came to her house a few days earlier with her children, ate dinner, and left without saying thank you or goodbye. Ann told me that she felt so angry she did not sleep well that night and kept thinking about ways to confront her sister-in-law. She was so angry by the next afternoon that she had an acid reflux attack and had to take some medication. That night she spoke to her husband about it and she could not sleep again. I was speaking with her a full two days after the incident.

As Ann went over the story with me, she told me that she was more angry about the incident today than when it had first happened. All she wanted to do was yell at her sister-n-law and then never speak with her again. When she was done speaking, I acknowledged the pain that she was feeling. I then read to her the quote from Thich Nhat Hahn, reprinted above. “Let’s stop chasing your sister-n-law for a moment,” I said. “Let’s go back to your breath to cool your own anger. Let’s sit and just breathe and slow it down.” Ann resisted at first and tried to keep telling me about her horrible sister-in-law, but we eventually sat for twenty minutes breathing and saying nothing.

As she calmed down, Ann said, “You know, my anger was making me feel sick and after breathing quietly for twenty minutes I feel a bit better.  I also just realized that I am not as angry as I am hurt. My sister-in-law didn’t appreciate the fact that I spent half the day making that dinner. She never really appreciates me.” I acknowledged her realization and asked her to sit with it more for a few days but not to call her sister-in-law until we spoke again. Before Ann left, I read another Thich Nhat Hanh passage in which he asked his readers to attempt to understand the situation of the person who had made them angry, and in this way transform anger into compassion. Ann listened thoughtfully.

Ann called me a few days later and told me that, after breathing and quieting her mind for 20 minutes a day and thinking about the Thich Nhat Hanh passage about understanding, she did not feel angry anymore. She realized her sister-in-law was probably sleep-deprived from her baby waking up at night and remembered that her other two children were very cranky when they were at Ann’s house, too. It was wrong that her sister-in-law had left the house without saying thank you or goodbye, but Ann said she understood what it was like to feel overwhelmed with young children. Ann indicated that she would have a conversation with her sister-in-law about the incident, but she would also be there for her sister-n-law to discuss what she was going through with her children. My client also decided to take care of herself by not inviting her sister-in-law and her family over for dinner again for a while. They would all meet out at a restaurant instead so Ann could remain compassionate and understanding and not feel taken advantage of.

Of course, we are all faced with similar situations everyday that can make us angry, but I wonder how much of our suffering would dissipate if we took care to cool our anger first and then tried to cultivate more understanding towards others. By caring for our anger before we react to another person’s behavior, we can see the truth of what we feel and lessen our own internal suffering. Then, through understanding, we can give up the act of declaring the other person right or wrong and instead explore how that person might feel.  Doing this allows us to stand in our antagonist’s shoes and, although we might not agree with his or her position, doing so cools our anger and makes room for the insight we need to resolve problems.

Cooling and understanding. Maybe these two practices can be the key to letting go of our anger and finding a more peaceful and harmonious life with the ones around us.

Just Maybe.

 

Can Understanding Help Us Deal With Our Children’s Moods?


“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change”

—  Thich Nhat Hanh

When I read this quote the first thing that came to mind was, “how can I view my children and my husband as lettuce?” I loved the idea of not placing blame and being more understanding, but how can I not hold them responsible for their actions?

So I started with the thought of some flowers that I bought a few summers ago at a nursery. The woman at the nursery said the flowers would bloom all summer. The irrigation company said that there was enough water going to the area for the flowers to flourish. Yet a few weeks later all these flowers died! Although I really wasn’t mad at anyone (things happen), I did wonder about who I might blame for the incident. I thought maybe the woman at the nursery made a mistake about how long in the season these flowers live. Maybe the irrigation company was wrong and they did not get enough water. Or maybe I did a lousy job planting the flowers. But it didn’t occur to me to blame the flowers. I just felt one of the conditions was not right for the flowers to flourish.

So I began to wonder how can I bring this idea into my life so I won’t blame and be angry with people I love when I think their behavior is inappropriate or hurtful. Can I see them as the flower that does not thrive under certain conditions?

As I contemplated this idea, I started to think about the things that my children do that upset me. One thing that came to mind was how my children act when I pick them up from school (I live in a city where many parents drop-off and pick-up their children from school until they are older).  Often when I showed up at school for pick-up, within minutes one of my children would be cranky, moody or angry. They would start to argue with each other or me and the beautiful afternoon I had imagined unraveled. I would try to explain to them that their behavior was unacceptable and hurtful and they should be grateful for this time together. But no matter what I said, within days my children went back to their old behavior.

And then I thought about the flowers that can’t flourish under certain conditions. And it occurred to me that my children were probably tired, hungry or maybe something happened at school that day to put them in a bad mood. Maybe the conditions at this time of day are not conditions where my children flourish. Interestingly, the first thing I felt when I believed this thought was less emotional pain.

My change of perspective helped me give up the idea that things are not as they should be. I stopped trying to make pick-up from school the way I had imagined it would be and I felt more relaxed and peaceful. I no longer saw the situation as bad or blamed them for their behavior because I realized the conditions were not ideal for my children to flourish. I started to bring food with me for them to eat on our walk home and sometimes that calmed them down. I practiced a breathing technique before I picked them up (the Pause) as I was aware of the potential conflicts that lurked around the corner. Most of all I had compassion for their experience and understanding for their inability to handle that time of the day.  I believe my understanding has allowed all of us to move through afternoon pick-up the with more ease and less heartache.  It’s still not always perfect especially when the girls argue, but my inner peace with what is happening helps me stay calm, say they right thing and work toward creating a condition where they can better thrive.

On difficult days, I still speak with them about their behavior when we get home and I try to make them aware of how their actions affect those around them.  I hope that they will learn as they grow up to be kind and loving even when conditions are not perfect. But for now I can try to lead by example.

And those flowers. I planted them again for this coming summer with new soil and more water. Let’s see if the conditions are better for them to flourish this year. So far, so good.

What Are You Missing in Your Life?

“Life is available only in the present moment.” 

Thich Nhat Hanh

A few years ago I went in a store, bought a drink, and left. A few minutes later I could not remember where I put the change from buying the drink. In fact, I couldn’t even remember the face of the cashier or any observations about the store. It’s not that I have memory problems; in fact my memory is very strong.  So what happened?  I realized I had been lost in thought. I was so lost in my own story of everything I needed to do and everywhere I needed to go that I was completely unaware of what I was doing in the moment.

I then started to wonder how many other parts of my life I was missing while lost in my thoughts. Was I really listening to my children, husband and friends? Was I going through the day missing interacting with people, my environment and even opportunities that came my way because I was thinking about my blog, my next meeting or my next meal?

So I did an experiment. I decided to silently recite a mantra all day long while I was moving from place to place so I would not get lost in my thoughts.  I also said my mantra before meeting with someone or while engaged in any activity. The mantra I picked that day was “love first.” For me it worked as a constant reminder that my awareness, kindness and actions throughout the day were more important than my thoughts.

At first it was a little awkward. I actually felt “over focused” on everyone I came in contact with and everything I did.  And there were also pauses between my words as I saw the color of each person’s eyes. Yet, as I laid my head down to sleep that night, I recalled the waitress at the restaurant who said she was tired because it was Friday, the doorman who told me he was taking care of his sick mother and my daughter who told me she had pasta for lunch. I remembered the breeze on my face as I walked to pick up my daughter from school and how a cup of green tea had tasted. I realized that I had gotten a lot of work done that day, and yet the day was filled with something much more. I had connected with so many people, my environment and I had even been aware of my feelings as I went about my business.

I also felt less burdened by the endless list of everything that I needed to do in the next few days because there was a new awareness of life as it was happening.  I realized that there is little peace for me when I am lost in thought because the to-do list always grows and there are always more goals to achieve. Nothing ever feels completely done. Yet the replacement of my random thoughts with an ever-present mantra created a wholeness and completeness that left me satisfied exactly where I was in the moment.

Maybe try a mantra or word of your own that constantly brings you back to where you are and what you are doing. You might find that there is so much more to each moment than there ever was before.  The trees have many more beautiful leaves and the sky offers so many glorious moments to pause and admire the awe of it all.  We also might find that our sweet children have so much more to say than we’ve been hearing.   And yes, ice cream. Eat ice cream while saying your mantra. It will taste like never before!

Just, Maybe!!