Peace comes and goes, like the waves, I guess. Maybe I’m just watching for stories in the clouds, but it seems that things just come together in impossible ways if you just sit back and wait a bit.
This photo is in honor of my youngest son, whose wave is building up again. May he ride it well, accept the break, and rise again with tide.
So may we all.
“At the first bend he lost sight of the sea with its labouring waves for ever rising, sinking, and vanishing to rise again – the very image of struggling mankind – and faced the immovable forests rooted deep in the soil, soaring towards the sunshine, everlasting in the shadowy might of their tradition, like life itself.”
Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
Did you find peace in that quote the way I did?
We think mankind is always moving forward, but in reality, over the thousands of years our kind has been on this planet, we rise, sink, vanish, over and over again. Individuals, families, clans, and civilizations, nations all have come and gone, only to build up and rise again. The next time I see the waves, I’ll think of that.
There’s no need to lose our minds over the state of society. We do what we can to enjoy the time we have here, to leave our space a little bit nicer than how we found it, if we can. And then we’re gone.
The only thing that continues is life itself, that immovable forest. People talk about humans destroying the earth, but really, we can only destroy the environment to the extent that we finally go extinct. And if humans are gone, the earth remains, life goes on as it always has since the beginning of time.
No one person’s life is that important in the grand scheme of things. It reminds me where to put my own focus. The place any of us can make the biggest impact is right at home. It starts with our relationship with ourselves, moves into that of our family and friends, and into our co-workers (or in my case, those people I see at the grocery store, or you).
If we all spent our days making our immediate surroundings more pleasant, wouldn’t the whole world be a bit more pleasant? What if we stopped fighting the crashing of our waves on the shore and enjoyed the ride, found peace in the cycle? Life will go on no matter what you choose to do.
Listen Like You Mean it by Ximena Vengoechea was a strange journey. It started strong for me, started to peter out, and then picked up again at the end. The author used her experience in business, as a researcher for apps, to explain how to better listen in conversation. It makes sense. Her job was to listen to people’s first thoughts, experiences, and usage needs of an app to make it work better for them and for the company.
I suck at wrapping up what I think of a whole book. Bottom line of this one was that I liked it. I got some good bits from it. And I hope I can practice some of the things I learned in it. That’s the key. Most of it was the stuff you always hear about how to be a better listener, but if you don’t practice new ways consciously and often, you’ll only fall back into your old routines and habits.
How does one practice better conversation techniques? Especially now.
One thing I noted to myself in the margins of this book was that much of these listening skills could really be used in self-discovery and self-talk as well. How we talk to and listen to ourselves is how we look at the world around us. Can I make some useful reminders to practice these techniques on myself at home? If I can master a few of them, make them a habit when alone, maybe I can use them more readily the next time I’m out to lunch with a friend?
Halfway into the book, I started to get frustrated. Some of it seems too technical and businesslike. Maybe these would be great for someone that was around a lot of people all the time, at work or school. I don’t feel like they apply to my lifestyle. I read but glossed over much of those chapters and kept reading instead of giving up and not finishing.
I’m glad I did because the chapters on difficult discussions and resting and recharging between conversations were especially inspiring.
“We can express ourselves with humility, admitting what we do and do not know, and with curiosity, staying open to how others may receive us in conversation. We can practice patience, become aware of when our body language is telling us we are closing ourselves off, and quiet our minds when our thoughts and fears get in the way of being honest. We can make the necessary space to be ourselves, just as we do for our partners.”
Listen Like You Mean It
See? Conversation is a give and take thing. We are all in need of that intimate connection with another human or two. The first step, like everything we wish to achieve, it ours to make.
Was the book worth reading? Yes, and it would be even more so if you happen to be in a situation where you work or live closely with a lot of other people.
This post is what magically happens when you don’t think you have anything to say, but write anyway because you told yourself you would. It looks like I’m learning more listening skills to practice than I initially thought!
This one is going to be short and sweet for two reasons. First, I’m writing to sum up one chapter simply to sum up the chapter, not because I found anything profound to share. Second, it’s Wednesday and that’s the day of the week that I spend galivanting around Southern California, so I don’t have all morning to think about this.
Chapter 4 – Clarify Your Role – From Listen Like You Mean It by Ximena Vengoechea
We all have our default listening modes. It’s usually based on your personality, your upbringing, and culture. Mine is “Identifier.” When I’m listening to you, I automatically think of ways that I am similar, how I can relate to your story, and show you by telling you a story of my own. It isn’t always what people want or need to hear and can be the spot where our relationship weakens and breaks down.
There are others and we all know them: the problem-solver, the validator, the interrupter, the diffuser, ect. Reading the descriptions reminded me of a sit-com cast. Gather together 4 to 7 stereotypical listening personalities and set them in a situation…see what happens!
With a little practice we can get closer to people and communicate better if we learn to identify the needs in a conversation and practice stepping into other listening modes from time to time. It starts with asking questions.
What?! I know!
Next time I’m in a conversation with a friend, I think I’ll listen more and talk a little less, ask a few questions, and see if I can’t determine what it is they need at the moment. I’ve already learned to step into other listening modes with close family members in the past, sometimes begrudgingly. As in, “This person can’t handle the REAL me, so I’ll pretend I’m someone else and make life easier for them. They can’t handle the truth!”
Yeah, I can be like that.
It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with attempting to be what another human needs because you care about them and want them to be happy. Setting aside what I need or what I feel for a bit and focusing on someone else doesn’t come naturally for me. I do it, but my initial reaction is to resent it. With time, I do start to see the benefits and change my mind, but in a face-to-face conversation, where everything is immediate, I have much harder time.
That feeling is what makes it hard for me to feel connected to other people. And it’s why I’m reading this book. So far, I think I’m really learning some new tricks.
Hmm…looks like I had more to say than I thought! Now, I’m off to head out into the world and practice some of these new listening skills. Wednesday is my weekly “going out” day. I spend it having breakfast with one friend, lunch with another, and dinner with a third. I drive from one town to another, talking on the phone or listening to podcasts. One goal I have this week is to take a few minutes between conversations to download my thoughts in my journal, meditate and relax, a way to clear my palate so to speak before I move on.
I’ll get home tonight socially satisfied and happily exhausted. “See” you all tomorrow!
“Listen Like You Mean It – Reclaiming the Lost Art of True Connection” by Ximena Vengoechea is my next read and I’m very much looking forward to it. It seems to be exactly what I need right now!
Something I have very hard time doing is listening in a conversation. I’m a talker. I’ll talk all. Day. Long. Non-stop. In fact, just yesterday I spent literally all day talking. I talked on the phone with one person as I drove down to have breakfast with another. I talked on the way to lunch with another friend. And then on the drive home with someone else. Once I got home, I talked about the whole day with my husband and talked with my son about his day as well.
Did I run out of words? Nope.
Can you guess what my biggest complaint is about the world? My immediately family will laugh and tell you, in my voice, without hesitation, “No one is listening to me! I feel so disconnected!”
Enter, “Listen Like You Mean It.”
Will this book help me out? Thirty-five pages in and I’m thinking, yes.
My first note in this book was, “I wonder if I can make reminders for myself, like a tattoo on my hand or a button on my purse.”
Two quotes from the first pages that have shown me that I’m on the right track:
“When we are on autopilot, we hear enough of what the other person is saying to hold a conversation, get our work done, keep in touch with our friends, and stay polite with our neighbors and shopkeepers.
…we tend to react based on how we wish to be treated, rather than respond to what our conversation partner is actually saying or in need of.”
“We may, for instance, assume that others relate to things in the same way we do, our of a desire to bond over a “shared” experience (You had a pet as child? Me too. It was great, right?).”
That’s me. I know I’m doing it and I’m believe that I’m doing it to show you that I’m just like you. We have something in common! But not everyone is telling their story to connect that way. They may feel upstaged or not heard.
Another thing I don’t do well is ask questions and get people to explain what they mean or how they feel. And that is a direct result of my surface listening. I’m only listening enough to connect what you’re saying to something I have done or felt, then getting ready to tell my side.
The very thing that I do to connect with others is the thing that makes most people feel unheard and discouraged from adding to the conversation. I’m creating my own feedback loop!
Listen Like You Mean It is going to be a game-changer for sure…if I can only remember to implement what I’m learning!
If you’d like to read along with me, go get the book at Thriftbooks.com and leave me a comment. I can’t wait to hear your stories!
Oh, my gourd, I see the words “find yourself” and cringe. What does it even mean? Is there a better term? Maybe…discover my own depths? Learn more about who I really am, what I want, clarify my thoughts and feelings and use them to my advantage, instead of running blindly through life?
“It is the very process of writing allowed the writer to tap unguessed levels of his own self, to achieve a kind of nonvolitional heightening of ordinary insight, as, analogously, the process of free association in psychoanalysis is supposed to do.”
The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age by Robert Alter
That is exactly why I write, here and in my personal journals. My process with almost everything I write is to start and see where it goes. With books, I read and make notes, then go back later and pull out the quotes that trigger to me think a little. Most of things I made note of at the time I was reading, usually mean nothing to me a few weeks later. But those that do still trigger me get marked and brought here for further use.
I write out the quote in a word document and start musing. Sometimes I wander far from the author’s original intent. Sometimes I wander far from my own! And sometimes the trail goes nowhere. That’s when I file it away and begin again.
The same goes for my “New Read” and “Why I Get Up” posts. There’s a trigger and then some meandering down the path of thought through words. My personal journals go the same direction, but they are never censored or edited for content. They are mine only and lead me to more ah-ha moments that I use in my daily life. I apologize to anyone that reads those. They are circular and quite profane at times. I’m sure they look the ravings of a mad person.
“Nonvolitional” is the perfect word. They all just go where they go, a free association of thoughts followed by new ideas, and thoughts on those ideas, in the hopes that some conclusion can be found.
Once I get a bit down the path and feel like I’m close to a discovery of sorts, I close the document and open the previous day’s work for editing. That’s when I try to put a bit more order and polish on my work. I didn’t use to. I used to post right after I wrote. I’d say it was some noble attempt to “be real” but honestly it was just laziness.
The past few months I’ve tried to be more consistent and deliberate with my work. I start in the same way, but spend more time editing and rearranging things so that they get across better the idea I’m attempting to convey. Hopefully, I’m starting to get better at it.
What I do know is that I’m enjoying writing more, I’m getting much more out of the books I’ve read, and I’m learning a lot more than I used to. I’m able to quote from and use the information and helps that I’ve written on, in my own life. It brings me happiness, a sort of personal purpose.
Not only do our life choices have an effect on the rest of our existence, they ripple out to the lives around us and down their timelines as well. But that doesn’t mean there are always clear “right” and “wrong” choices at the moment we’re making them. We can’t possibly know what all the results will be for all our options and which ones will lead us the “right” way, so we do the best we can with what we have and keep on living and loving.
“There are generations yet unborn, whose very lives will be shifted and shaped by the moves you make and the actions you take…tonight. And tomorrow. And tomorrow night. And the next day. And the next.”
The Noticer by Andy Andrews
Maybe we should limit ourselves to what will do us, and those around us, the most good in the moment we are in when we are considering our life choices.
I made a note at this line, “The Butterfly Effect.” Remember that movie? I think I’d like to watch it again. I remember the concept but not the details, the plot eludes me other than tiny ripples make large differences in the distant future.
I remember thinking about it when my kids were very little and becoming overwhelmed with the idea that what I do now, while they are so young, every day, can have lasting effects on their lives and their own families lives in the future. At the time I was feeling so not ready for the family situation I thought I had wanted. I remember walking home from the park pushing a stroller, my husband walking with his daughter a few paces behind, wanting out.
What have I done? My choices are going to destroy more lives, ruin more people’s futures. My family will be disappointed. My husband will lose what he thought was the love of his life. And my sons…another couple of children brought into this world and then abandoned. I literally wanted to run away, not divorce and reorganize, just run away from all of it. It was a rough time.
Luckily, I got some help and decided to stick around and see what happened. Today, I’m glad I did, but in all honesty, it wasn’t always so. It was touch and go for a while. Some days and weeks were better than others. And I still have bad days from time to time. But that’s all beside the point.
My decision to stay in the relationship, to raise my children with my husband, led me right where I am right now. It was one decision that led to another and one that will affect everyone around me forever. If I had decided to do the opposite, or chose and entirely different option, I can’t know what would have happened, unless we invent some way of seeing alternate timelines.
And that doesn’t necessarily mean I made a correct or best choice either. Life is good right now, but it could always be better. It’s good for me, but maybe it would have been better for my stepdaughter if I had left. My husband could have met someone else that would have made a better parent to her than I did. Who knows? All I’m saying is that every decision you make, everything that accidentally happens, every stroke of fate, leads you to another that gets you where you are now.
I became overwhelmed back then because I was trying to make “the right” choices to create “the right” future. But there is no “right.” There is only the moment we are in, with the information we have, and the people that are there now.
At some point in my life, I decided to stop worrying about making the “right” decision and started thinking about how I could make life nicer for the people around me in that moment, including myself. I stopped nagging about things I wanted done and did them myself. I stopped complaining about other people’s choices and focused on my own. It was only the beginning and I don’t even remember where that idea came from, what book, website, movie, or conversation led me to stop and think.
Inspiration to change comes from everywhere at every moment. As I walk through the store, drive down the freeway, or post on the internet, I try to remember that I’m influencing the world around me. I want to send positives out into the world, but sometimes the negatives influence others to do good things too. I’m not going to worry about any other timeline but the one I’m in and that branches out from what I’m doing right now, the best I have isn’t always that great, but it is what is and I can’t change that.
“Life is a journey.” It’s pretty cliché, I know, but sometimes a cliché just works so well we can’t describe something a better way.
Have you ever felt that life had become stagnant? A career had peaked and there was nowhere to go. A relationship had hit a plateau. A hobby you adore suddenly seemed pointless. That’s the mountaintop and life’s journey doesn’t end there.
“Think with me here…everybody wants to be on the mountaintop, but if you’ll remember, mountaintops are rocky and cold. There is no growth on the top of the mountain. Sure, the view is great, but what’s a view for? A view just gives us a glimpse of our next destination – our next target. But to hit that target, we must come off the mountain, go through the valley, and begin to climb the next slope. It is in the valley that we slog through the lush grass and rich soil, learning and becoming what enables us to summit life’s next peak.”
The Noticer by Andy Andrews
You can get to the top of a hill and think, “Ah, yes. Here I am. I’ve made it to the top.” You begin to set up camp, make a space for yourself, but then that feeling sets in. When you take a look at your immediate surroundings, it seems there is nowhere to go but down the other side. Is this all there is? I’ve gotten to the top and now I just sit and wait?
Nope. Not even close. Take a longer look out at the horizon, get your binoculars out if you have to. There’s another peak in the distance, maybe another small one or a big one. The valley below may be wide or narrow, swampy wet or bone dry, it may even look like perfect farmland, but it has to be crossed. This is growth.
We tend to look at our life as one long climb, interrupted by trials and errors. If we somehow manage to get to the top, we win, but most of us never get that far. Most of us keep looking at our feet, climbing is all we know.
What if instead we looked at our life as a journey, with up sides, down sides, hills, mountains, fertile valleys, and dry deserts? Each portion of the journey helps us get to the next. Each hill gives us a view to survey and decide which direction to choose. Each valley teaches us the skills we need for the next climb.
Each of us should be living our own independent lives, creating our own future, following our own individual paths. People join us on our journey, long and short term. We’re born to parents that attend us in the beginning, into families that help us through the first valleys, but at some point, we stand on a mountaintop and choose a direction of our own.
We meet friends and lovers, choose full-time, part-time, and occasional partners, build small and large clans that make it easier to pass through the next valley and up the climb to the peak. Again, we stand and survey the view, choose a direction, find out who will join us, and wish the others well on their own chosen journey.
At the end of our lives, we may be at any point on the map. We’ve met people and lost people. We’ve created relationships, lost some, built on old ones. I’d like the see the “location history” of a single life, with all the intersections of other’s lives, how long they moved alongside us, and where we all ended up.
This past year, I’ve been on a mountain top and had begun to feel that “Is this all there is?” feeling. The longer I sat on it, the more fearful I became about what was coming next. Stay on the mountain dreaming about the other peaks, waiting for something to happen, or head down into the valley to work through and then head back up another peak. Neither option looked like something I wanted to do.
But then I thought, “I can’t sit here enjoying the spoils until I die. It’s just too early in life for that!” I took a good look around, decided on a new general direction and headed down the hillside. I’m not sure what peak I’m headed to at this point. I only know that the journey isn’t over and that standing still for too long isn’t going to make anything easier.
Life is a journey that’s too short to wait on fear of the unknown.
“Rather, genuine compassion is based on the rationale that all human beings have an innate desire to be happy and overcome suffering, just like myself.”
The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
Assuming that others have positive (to them) intent, in the same way you do, is the first step to developing compassion.
All human beings? Even people that don’t vote like me or have a different religion? Even people that I think are racist?
Yes, they do. And accepting this and allowing others their space, without infringing on your own, is the way to feel genuine compassion for others. It also leads to happiness, for you and for those around you.
I’m am the worst when it comes to practicing this concept. I know it logically. I’ve written about it. I’ve read about it. I’ve meditated on it. And yet still, I come unglued when I’m faced with the fact that everyone does not think the way I do.
“If you’d only listen to me!” I scream in my head…mostly. “What you are doing does not lead you where you want to go, dumbass!” Dumbass is one of my favorites. I grew up hearing my Grandpa call people a dumbass and loved it. As a kid, it conjured up all kinds of hilarious images. As an adult, it’s even better. Not only is the person stubborn like an ass, but they’re dumb too. Blind, deaf, and mute to the actual world around them, digging all four hooves into the dirt and leaning back with all their weight against getting anything productive done. It’s such an apt name to call people.
I’m guilty of being the biggest dumbass just about every day. Why? Because I honestly believe I know what’s best for everyone around me. It’s obvious that I know more than you do. It’s clear that I’m smarter and more emotionally intelligent. If you’d only listen to me and do what I say, life would be so much easier for us all.
It’s sad that life doesn’t work that way. There are days when I want to scream and lock myself away in a remote cabin, far from the entire world. Just me, my books, my coffee…
Oh, who am I kidding? What’s the fun of living if I don’t get to attempt to control the behavior of others?!
We all do this to some degree. We all think we have the right answers for everyone, or at least we’re headed in the right direction. In all honesty, I wish we could at least know the right answers for our own lives, but that rarely happens too.
If only we could live like the Borg, mentally connected to each other so we could all know how everyone else felt, what everyone else was thinking, without the communication gaps. You know what I think we’d find if we could mind meld with everyone else? We’re all doing the best we can with what we have. We all have our own individual goals, emotional needs, etc. We’re all trying. We all want to be loved unconditionally by someone. We all want tacos for dinner. Once we realize that, nothing else really matters.
I wonder why it’s so hard for us to believe that. Can you imagine a world where everyone around you assumed you had positive intent? What if everyone you met believed that you were making the best choices to meet your own individual needs? And that if for some reason you overstepped another human’s boundaries, they would inform you gently and you’d respond in kind so that you were both comfortable?
Sounds peaceful, doesn’t it? We can start with our own lives with this one thought. Everyone around us, no matter what they are saying or doing, wants to be happy and is trying to relieve their own suffering. Get out of their way.
This doesn’t happen very often, but I didn’t know what I was going to read when I picked up “The Noticer” by Andy Andrews off the shelf. It’s a perfect case of judging a book by its cover!
Remember when I said I was going to try reading one book at a time for a while? You don’t? Well, I did. Maybe it was in my monthly newsletter (which you can go sign up for at my Autobibilography page). Anyway…it’s not working already.
I like a lot of wonderful non-fiction books but I’m not always in the right frame of mind to read them. Sometimes they are a more difficult read and I need to be fresh minded, or it needs to be very quiet in the house for me to focus. In the afternoon, that’s not likely to be the case, but I do occasionally have some time to grab a cup of tea and read a bit. So, what can I do?
Have a second, easier book on hand! That book is typically a novel. Fiction is imagination work and not as hard for me to read. I can jump in anytime, pick up where I left off, and enjoy the journey. That’s not so much true with non-fiction.
Backstory…just a little. Last month, you may remember, a reader friend of mine had to move out of state suddenly and gifted her entire library for me to redistribute. I know…don’t be jealous. Needless to say, I kept a few, ok several, maybe ninety, books for myself. What’s happening with the rest of them? That’s another post!
So yesterday morning, I walked over to that glorious stack of gifted books looking for a nice easy novel to read with my third cup of coffee and breakfast cookie (don’t judge me). I found this cute little book and figured it would be an inspiring read.
It has the quote “This is the best book I have ever read in my life” on the cover. How can I go wrong?
I took it to my spot on the couch and began adding the title to my reading journal.
Title. “The Noticer” Author. Andy Andrews Year published. 2009 Genre. I wrote fiction but then flipped the book over and found “self-help” in the corner. Groan. That’s not what I was looking for, but I was already in my spot with coffee and I’d already added it in my cute new book. I’m already too invested. I may as well keep going.
I’m hooked. It’s adorable! Have you read it? If you have, give me a comment about what you thought. Andy Andrews has a lot of inspirational books out and a podcast too! His website links to all his work.
“Giving yourself a little bit of time, even if it’s just a minute or two, to develop an opinion could help you catch yourself when you’re simply going along with the crowd.” 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do by Amy Morin
Even a “Mom’s Night” Gives You an Opportunity to Pause and Think
Have you ever been to one of these events? A group of Mom’s, either friends before kids or maybe they’re friends because of the kids; scouts, school, or sports, has brought these parents together. They’ve made connections while the kids do their thing, so they organize a “Mom’s Night” to have fun without kids in tow.
I never was one to have close female friends, even in school. Somehow the idea of hanging out with a group of women never appealed to me. I always felt like an outsider, a little too rough and “non-feminine” to hang out with the girls. I was far more interested in what the guys were doing, in more than a “can I grab myself a new boyfriend” way. I wanted to talk about fixing things, tell dirty jokes, and not worry so much about hurting feelings.
Amazingly enough, I have made female friends over the years though, mostly through homeschool groups my sons attended. And I have found myself at a few “Mom’s Night” events and had fun, despite my reservations about going.
How is this related to giving yourself time to think , Michelle? Get to it. We don’t have all day!
Well, one of the ways I practiced giving myself a minute to see if I was just following the crowd was at a “Mom’s Night.” Choosing a movie to see, a restaurant to go to, or what picture to paint at Paint Night, was a chance to take a second and think. Is this really what I want to do, or am I following what the women around me are choosing?
Many times, my pause to think allowed others to do the same and we ended up going in an entirely different direction.
At a dinner, when the waitress started asking, “What can I get you to drink?” and the table started with “iced tea,” “water,” or “cola,” I took a pause. I thought this was a night out?! I ordered a beer…and the rest of the table changed their orders, except one woman that really did just want a cola without her kids begging to have some too. We all laughed. We were doing what we thought everyone expected of us, not what we really wanted.
Our natural herd mentality is a strong instinct. Safety first! Right? Better to go with the flow and stick to what everyone else is doing! Except when the person that picked the direction of the flow in the first place is nothing like you or has none of the wants and needs that you do.
We don’t have to go against the grain in every circumstance. There is such a thing as common sense, behavior and choices that generally benefit humans. But we do need to watch ourselves and make sure that we are, in fact, making the choice to follow. If we don’t we’ll end up exactly where everyone else does and that might not be where YOU want to be.