Wikepedia suggests that active listening includes, “suspending judgment and avoiding other internal mental activities to fully attend to the speaker.” Suspending judgment and avoiding internal mental activities? That’s a lot of work!
Indeed it is. However, I find that the more people I meet that have successfully manifested joy and fulfillment in their lives are adept at the practice of active listening. Think about the people you know who demonstrate the highest levels of happiness and fulfillment. They are often the ones who cease multitasking, who maintain steady eye contact and who even go so far as to verbally recap what you just said.
There is another aspect to active listening though that takes it to the next level insofar as truly connecting with others.…and that aspect is empathy.
As the queen of physical and mental multitasking since childhood, hearing my mother tell me, “I lost my mother when I was eight-years old there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss her,” was an uncomfortable nudge in the gut. I listened enough all those years to hear what she said, but I resisted the connection. I never really truly heard her. My listening didn’t include the empathic aspect, which would allow me to consider her as a woman with all her experiences rather than just my mom.
Until I was able to find my own strength, joy and fulfillment in life and work, I was not able to stand in someone else’s shoes. And until I was able to truly stand in someone’s shoes while I listened, most of what I would hear from others registered mentally as either background noise if I was deep in the throws of multitasking, or as bits and pieces of factual circumstances.
Today, I find that active listening has become a wonderful tool in my relationships. In both work and play I am watching the effects trickle in – from a warm response from a friend to a successful business interaction. To improve relationships and enhance the connections that I have with those around me, I am committed to tweaking my listening skills. I still love to multitask, but if you need me to hear you, I’m listening!
Relationships. The most challenging area of our lives seems to be in this complicated, exciting and sometimes painful arena. When any relationship turns sour, often the first thing we want to do is to become actively engaged participants in “the blame game.”
What if instead, we resisted that game? What if we looked at our relationships as reflections of how we perceive our relationship with the universe? (Notice I didn’t say, “as a reflection of our relationship with the universe”, but rather, as our perception of that relationship.) What if every difficult tête-à-tête with a loved one or coworker was just a mirror of what we think the universe “thinks” of us? Here are a couple of examples:
Sharon perceives herself as a minuscule drop in the cosmos, powerless and stripped of a meaningful role. She believes that the God she was raised to believe in is too big, powerful and busy for her and is basically left to fend for her own. As a result, her manager, who she rebels against in passive aggressive ways, always seems too busy for her and doesn’t acknowledge her accomplishments. She also attracts coworkers who act bigger and more powerful than her and finds herself in almost constant conflict.
Curt sees himself as a victim; his life is filled with unfortunate mishaps. Though he believes in a God and tries to enrich his spirituality by attending church and volunteering, he perceives his relationship with God as one-sided. To Curt, God is “unavailable”. As a result, his personal relationships are riddled with people who do not reciprocate, communicate or commit – and leave him feeling “less than”.
If all success begins at the source, then do we stand a chance at having more joyful encounters if we create a good relationship with the universe? When we do that, when we start listening, cooperating and paying attention to that relationship, (often letting go of what we “think” we know), then communication channels open up. Then your relationships either fall away because they no longer fit who you are or they will change for the better to support you!
What is your perception of your relationship with the universe?
What is fear? A.K.A.: False Evidence Appearing Real. In this sense, fear is neither “good” nor “bad”, but it does serve a REAL purpose in your personal growth. In the recipe for greatness, fear is a necessary ingredient. Without it, we would not know success – just like we can’t know light without darkness. While contrasting shadows and light doesn’t soothe the pain, fear is part of the “chiaroscuro” of life that turns on positive change. The key lies in knowing the purpose of fear – but how?
Get Quiet. Fear is often masked at first by guilt, sadness and a plethora of other misnomers. Get quiet and unmask the first set of feelings. I guarantee you’ll find fear underneath. Then ask questions such as, “What is this fear showing me ABOUT me? Am I doing something out of step with myself?” Lean into it. Interrogate it with curiosity. Engage it in a line of questioning.
Allow: Become tolerant of uncertainty. Get comfortable with allowing time for the answers to evolve organically. The universe is not a cosmic crystal ball but a fascinating, unpredictable set of intricacies that is there for the taking. For example, the phenomenon of taste perception called layering explains how we perceive flavors sequentially rather than altogether, offering sophisticated blends that pique and fade across the palate. (A good curry sauce!) The universe can provide clarity through layering. So, fear can be the precursor to pain, followed by emptiness, followed by more fear, followed by clarity, etc.
“The only way out is through” or “what you resist persists.” Without welcoming the fear and asking what it serves, we not only miss an opportunity for potential but we’ll probably have to face the same thing again in another form. In sum, we delay our greatness - a greatness that we often “pooh-pooh” with doubt and trepidation.
Caution: This post may create fear in you. Use it in a conversation with a trusted friend or use it as fuel for your own private inquisition, but please accept it as your invitation to greatness.
Music has an extraordinary way of healing, inspiring and creating ambiance but its biggest prowess is in the area of enhancing emotions and influencing creativity. I was raised on many genres of music that influenced my experiences with the guitar greatly since learning to play at the age of 9. These experiences convinced me that we become more flexible both personally and outwardly when we fall in love with music.
Example: Next time you watch a movie, focus on the background music. Watch how it influences your interpretation of the plot. Think of your exercise play list and how it creates that extra burst of adrenaline at the gym. Listen to the sounds of nature and take note of how they affect your level of peace and openness. Then think about how your mood is altered when watching the news on TV, dodging traffic while talking on the phone or at a crowded Wal-Mart. What does this do to your creativity?
I believe that music can remove the worst of creative blocks. I also believe that ingenuity and creativity return when there is less exposure to stressful or stagnant background noise.
So, if you want to bust open your writer’s block or shift your artistic direction, try changing the background noise. Listen to different types of music as you write, paint, or even cook. Then look at what you created and think about what you listened to at the time. You may be surprised at the results.
New Year’s resolutions. We often wince at the topic … Maybe we hear “restrictions” instead of “resolutions”. Futile attempts at change are what resolutions can become and after a few weeks we find we are operating back to as if it were any other day.
The problem with resolutions: they are often made from a place of shame or dread right after having spent a month gaining an extra 5 pounds, drinking too many cosmos, overspending, etc.
…As if the resolution will absolve us of our holiday sins.
Instead of “resolutions” think of “internal redesign opportunities” – redesigning a portion of life using a plan that resonates with the real you, supporting your life’s purpose.
For me, this New Year’s redesign began with reflection. I thought about what is working in my life because of my strengths and hard work and what I need to still purge. Each year is a long, winding staircase of successes and discoveries. Each time I climb the stairs, though what is down below doesn’t change, my view of it certainly does get altered, some years more than others, but I get stronger with each climb.
1) Looking at the “whys” behind the new choices and asking how they resonate with who I am.
2) Scrutinizing statements. (e.g. instead of saying, “I want to lose 10 pounds”, going deeper and saying, “I would like to have a healthier relationship with food/exercise.”)
3) Valuing what’s already there before embarking on changes. If a change is needed, I make it from a place of self care and love.
4) Being gentle with myself.
So how’s your internal redesign going?
What does it mean to play the starring role in life? For me, it means to co-create the script and call in all the actors. It means that sometimes we forget our lines and improvise as best we can. With each situation I see the plot develop and I see an opportunity for my character development.
Being the star means we orchestrate our own struggles and learn to grow into our joy from them. As an actor in my own life story, I try – though don’t always succeed at – accepting the challenging roles even if that means I’m not the star or hero that day. In fact, to the audience and sometimes even to ourselves, though we may not always appear to be the star, learning to appreciate a difficult decision can bring joy, as it is part of our training.
Whether you’re the star or “just an extra”, can you accept your role today? Can you use your energies to do the very best you can? Can you call in the great power of the universe for guidance and support? With a little patience, a wider view and some perseverance, you never know when your starring role will surface – and it’s best to be ready for it!
Does the term “exercise” in the title, make you groan or bring you joy? Are you excited about the word “exercise” or on the verge of not reading this because of it? You may as well keep reading since reading alone won’t make you sweat!
I loathed exercise and the concept of sweat until I turned 24 when I started going to a gym. Then after a bout of the “ho-hums” in my life, I sought out a new hobby and fell in love with biking 9 years ago when I did my first mountain bike ride. Since then, I’ve been on and off both mountain and road bikes and the experience has radically changed my life.
It wasn’t long before three things became very apparent to me:
- I was losing weight without having to diet
- I was becoming more confident
- I was getting better rest at night
- I had more energy throughout the day
- I was becoming addicted to physical activity
- My creative muse thanked me all the time!
I’ve heard it said that the brain requires more oxygen than any other organ, so a sedentary lifestyle it seems, can severely hamper the flow of creative juices. Therefore, it seems logical that the best way to get more oxygen to our brains is exercise! For me, the creativity factor suffers when I go days on end without moving my body. More creative energy, better sleep, improved health and improved confidence… all are the wonderful benefits of exercise.
So are you ready to get up off the couch?
There are times in our lives when the burden of feeling blocked leaves us restless and frustrated. We can feel stuck while missing our muse or lacking in creative impulse. But out of the stagnation, often there are lessons needing to be learned during this period of time which can usher in wondrous changes. We learn things about ourselves that cannot be learned when creativity is high. During that time, though our artistic energies can feel blocked, something probably needs purging and for the moment, we are tasked to clear out lessons for the next level of creativity.
It’s hard to see the lesson and not feel frustrated, but time has a way of opening the heart to understanding things we can’t understand when we are in the middle of a difficult, seemingly unproductive time. Bitter things, as Rumi says turn out to teach us about us and enable us to know joy and creativity as never before – or at least know ourselves better so that we can increase our ability to reach those greater heights.
Rather than judge what is happening when we are blocked, every day ask, “What is this situation wanting of me?” Each situation comes with an opportunity to be bigger, stronger, perhaps more creative than before. These situations lay the foundation for a more joyful, freer expression. Moving beyond the narrow heart of judgment allows us to truly hear and see everything differently. Our lessons will be learned, our hearts will be opened in a new way and creativity will expand. The burden of feeling blocked will then dissipate more quickly, leaving the door wide open to a new creative you!
Most of us want to go in the direction of what we have envisioned, what we want for our lives. Most of us want to be happy, successful, and healthy. When we end up going where we don’t want to go, we assume something is wrong or someone made us take a wrong turn. Does that mean we are robbed of our joy? Does joy disappear when things seem “wrong”?
What if nothing’s wrong? What if joy is still breathing underneath, but life is designed to give us a few challenges so that we learn to navigate reality as the continuum of ebb and flow? What if it just takes something major to wake us up, to shake us up so we see how we were blocked from letting joy work for us?
It’s a humbling experience when we can climb out of the bottom of the hole, sit on the periphery and gaze over the big picture. By the same token, it can soothe our ruffled feathers and remind us that there is so much more going on in our galaxy than the issue with this person at work or that person at home. It’s then we can understand that our joy is still very much alive, using our daily experiences and challenges to expand. This awareness keeps makes us larger than our minds and lightens things up.
Can we see discomfort as a gift offering growth and something better? Bearing witness to that discomfort and how we respond (or react) can impede joy or welcome it in. Joy is out there regardless of whether or not we let it in. During the discomfort, we can trust that there is an ebb and flow to lead us to the other side. And on the other side, we will evolve and grow with more courage – because we held onto trust.
See if this sounds familiar: Life is coasting along like a souped-up tricycle when out of nowhere… CRASH! You’re knocked over by a nasty twist of fate – a little monster I call, the “inner killjoy”. The inner killjoy is your own personal party pooper either you unwittingly create or pick up elsewhere like a germ. Violently, the inner killjoy drags you through unhappy chaos. It tends to happen in threes, if you haven’t noticed. Before you know it, you’re angry, frantic or worse, you’ve taken it out on someone dear.
One Monday, I met up with my inner killjoy after a prolonged, appreciated absence. Round two with this insipid force and my immediate thought was, “Can I not catch a break?” My next thought was, “These things happen in threes! There’s one more coming!” That last thought ushered in an escalation.
Joy disappeared along with sanity. I just wanted my joy back!
Two things I learned about its wrath. #1: Flailing about won’t rescue me and; #2: Most times, neither will my conscious mind. There is however, a power from within that can; a formula for keeping my joy. The formula and the prevention are the same: dedicated quiet time.
Most start their day off with a shower followed by the morning news, a little breakfast and a mad dash off to work. For me, it’s meditation first. Meditation or quiet time all accomplish the same purpose. They insert a sanity buffer between getting up and getting out the door. It preps the mind with a spiritual shower. As I heard someone say, we take a shower to wash off street muck from our bodies, so why wouldn’t we cleanse our minds as well?
Taking a daily spiritual shower makes energy ripe for a higher frequency. Even five minutes of dedicated stillness puts my thoughts in “time out” and gives me the ability to rest in that sweet spot where energy expands. Over time, it offers indescribable peace and connection. It allows for all that is. And the best part: I get to keep my joy.