Mindful Interactions Blog
The Roots of Happiness
Would you like to feel more at ease in your relationships? Would you enjoy more cooperation and connection and less conflict and stress? Would you enjoy more understanding, more peace and less judgment? Would you enjoy the experience of being on the “same team” with the people you care about?
This 8-week course is designed to help you accomplish these things. It will teach you the basic skills of listening to yourself, your friends, your partners. Then it will teach you how to make requests that meet everyone’s needs. As you learn how to do this, you will relax, feel more confident, and enjoy your life more. And those around you will will enjoy you more!
When: 8 Monday evenings, 6:30 pm- 9:00 pm, starting April 6, 2015
Where: 554 Kelly Way, Palo Alto, Ca. 94306 s Fee: $ 200
For more information contact: Bob Niederman 650-857-0772
Also see: www.mindful-interactions.com
Parenting With Ease
Would you like to feel more at ease as you raise your children? Would you enjoy more cooperation and less stress? More connection and less antagonism? Would you like to reduce the amount of yelling and forcing your child to do things? Instead, would you enjoy the experience of being on the “same team” with your child and your spouse?
This 8-week course is designed to help you accomplish these things. It will teach you the basic skills of listening to yourself, your child, and your spouse. Then it will teach you how to make requests that meet everyone’s needs. As you learn how to do this, you will relax, feel more confident, and enjoy your family more. What’s more, they will enjoy you more!
When: 8 Tuesdays 10:00 am- 12:30 pm starting April 7, 2015
Where: 554 Kelly Way, Palo Alto, Ca. 94306 s Fee: $ 200
For more information contact: Bob Niederman 650-857-0772
Testimonials: “There are no words for how grateful I am for having this new set of tools in my tool box.” “Being in your class actually makes me happier.”
Many people are now drawn to the divine in their life. They are realizing that the way we are conducting ourselves in this world is leading to mass extinction of all life on the planet. A major shift in our awareness and in the way we lead our life is now something many of us are taking seriously and starting to do.
At the same time, many find living from divine consciousness challenging. They face day to day challenges that seem to call them out of their spiritual awareness and force them into acting from their ego- to protect themselves or their family- to provide food, clothing, and financial resources.
When life seems to be pulling me away from our divine origins, I find it useful to remember the giant redwoods. When I walk among these amazing beings, I feel I’m in a holy place. It’s quiet and sublime. It’s a place of deep peacefulness, of solitude, and immense strength. These ancient beings live in God’s world. I drink in their energy and I feel their spirit inside me. I ask the spirit that gave life to them to continue to support me in everything I do that is aligned with Her desire.
Fear inhibits us. It scares us. It leads us to contract our body and run away from the thing we fear. As children, this appears to be our only option. As adults, we become aware that we can stop running and face the thing we fear. But this thought often does not help us. It often leads us to feel guilt. Now, not only are we afraid, we feel guilty about it. We get tangled up in a guilt-fear mess.
When we approach our partners, looking for help, they often sense our fear and they too run away. Fear can be contagious. Who is able to quietly listen to another’s fear without reacting themselves?
But unless we bring tremendous energy and enthusiasm to our project, we are likely to revert to contraction. We try to hide from the world.
With help, we might be able to climb out of our hole and get ready for our next bold move.
Only to get scared again and revert to our hiding place.
What should we do when we are stuck under our desk hiding from the world? Or stuck inside our self-made glass jar? Find a friend. Get some empathy. Call me. Do what you can to climb out of your retreat. Or you can meditate until you are ready to come out by yourself! The main thing is to remember this: life is too exciting to live it hiding under your desk!
A friend is having a 60th birthday party. He was concerned about the fate of the world and asked each participant to report their vision for what the world of the future will look like. Here is my vision:
I grew up in a world where it was taken for granted that each person was an individual, responsible for themselves. When they accomplished something, some kind of reward was expected. If they did something “wrong,” some kind of punishment was expected. I spent a good deal of time expecting punishment for the “wrong” things I frequently did. I didn’t enjoy this system of separation and somehow always believed something was missing from it. But I accepted it as the way things are in this world: everyone is separate and we are all separate from animals, plants, and the natural world- including the universe- which is a vast void made up of empty space with stars and galaxies existing in an uncross able vacuum millions of light years from us. To me this seemed like a very bleak picture- but a “reality” I had to accept if I was to live in reality and not escape into a dream world. In a world like this, love, care, kindness, friendship, consideration, connection- these were exceptions to the rule of separation.
The world of the future that I see is very different from the one described above. There are many forces pushing all of us to reject that world and create a new one. One of the forces is observation that we are rapidly using up our natural resources and using them unwisely. Another is the observation that seeing people as separate from us leads frequently to seeing them as our enemy- if they do something we don’t like. This, in turn, easily leads to violence and war. Most people can see that we want to change this. A third factor is that there is a rising spiritual awakening throughout humankind. People are seeing that they are not really separate from others, from animals, from plants, or from the universe. They are seeing themselves as part of the natural world instead of separate from it. Finally, even science is helping us. It turns out that the universe is not just made up of a vacuum with stars millions of light years away from us. The universe is made up of space. The same space that we occupy, the universe also occupies. And there are mysterious forces at work in the universe that the experts not only cannot explain, they cannot even articulate! For example, scientists believe that the universe started with a big bang. Before it banged, the universe was so small it could not be seen. So, how do you pack a universe so large that it’s almost infinite and so massive that it’s trillions of times the mass of our sun, into a space so small you cannot see it? Nobody can explain this. Also, the universe is not just expanding. It’ expansion is accelerating. That means that something is pulling it apart. It turns out that 97% of the mass of the universe is made up of dark matter and dark energy- stuff we cannot see or measure directly. We are surrounded by and embedded in an unfathomable mystery. This explanation is called “science.” In other words, “science” has no idea what composes 97% of the universe or what laws really govern it. Then there are miracles- great and small that happen every day if we are on the lookout for them.
I no longer believe in the absolute separation of people and natural objects. I believe we are all connected on a deep spiritual plane. When I speak to my trees, they speak back to me. When I connect with others, they connect with me. We all share this planet together. As we all learn how to share together rather than grab for ourselves, we turn the culture of the planet around. We won’t agree to go to war. We won’t agree to pollute the place we live in. We won’t destroy the fish and wildlife and our water supply. I see greater numbers of people willing to make the shift toward higher consciousness and devote themselves to living from this place. I want to be one of the teachers that helps people do this. As these numbers increase, there will be a shift in consciousness. We will be unwilling to make the same mistakes we have made for hundreds of years. Like old alcoholics that have hit bottom, we will make a change from being embedded and identified with the material world to being part of the spiritual consciousness of an awakened new world.
That’s what I see and that’s the world I am dedicating my life to.
“I’m a failure!” A handsome young man was speaking to me. “I can’t trust anybody in my family. My brother cheated my parents out of their money, now they have to live with him. I don’t trust any of them. I had the perfect girlfriend. She left me for another man who supports her in a way I never could. I tried to reboot my career. I finally got a job. Then they let me go. When my unemployment insurance runs out I’ll have no place to live. Nothing works out for me! I’m a loser!” Everything this man said about himself was negative. I said to him, “I notice you are saying negative things about yourself. Have you noticed that?” He said, “No.” I was surprised, but not shocked. People in a hole often keep digging just out of habit.
“Well, do you think what you are saying is true?” “Yes! I just told you everything that going wrong for me! It’s obviously true.” “Are you absolutely certain it’s true?” “Yes! I’m absolutely certain!” “How do you feel when you believe this?” “Miserable!” (Notice this word: it divides perfectly into two other words: miser and able. This person is able to be a miser. That makes them miserable. When you cannot be generous to yourself, you become miserable.) “Who would you be without this thought?” “I’d feel pretty good!”
“What if the opposite were true?” “What do you mean?” “What if the opposite of ‘I’m a failure’ were true?’” “What would be the opposite? Anyway, it’s obviously true. Look at what Jesus accomplished. Look at Martin Luther King! Compared to them, I’ve accomplished nothing!” “Well, why are you stopping there? What about Alexander the Great? He conquered the entire world before he was 30! Of course he died on the young side. And what about Mozart? He wrote an entire concerto before he was three! And George Washington, he chopped down a cherry tree when he was only 6! What have you done compared to that?” “You are making fun of me.” “No, I’m making fun of the way you are using your thinking.” “What the matter with the way I’m thinking?” “Well, the problem is that you believe your thoughts instead of changing them. You are letting your thoughts run the show instead of you running the show. Your thoughts have this habit of going negative and you sit there agreeing with them. How about coming up with 3 thoughts in a row that are positive. See if you can do that.” He sat there for quite a while thinking. “Well, the sky is blue- that’s good.” OK, great, that’s one thought. Another minute went by. “I’m sitting here with two friends I like.” Great! That’s two positive thoughts in a row!
I made two requests of him:
1. Keep track of his thoughts. Every time he has a negative thought, stop it and replace it with a positive one.
2. Every day write down 5 things he is grateful for.
“Would you be willing to do this?”
He nodded his head, but he had a doubtful look.
“You are nodding ‘yes’, but your face says ‘no.’
“Well, I’m not sure I can do it!” This was an honest response. This man had the belief that his life was a ‘failure’. He was attached to that identity. Giving up attachment to a negative identity engenders fear. He didn’t know who he would be if he wasn’t a ‘failure.’ If he could let go of clinging to the failure identity, he would then be free to look around for other possibilities for himself. As long as he clings to the failure identity, he’s clinging to a log that’s going over a waterfall.
One problem many of us have is that we believe our thoughts without noticing what they are doing to us. We don’t tend to recognize that thoughts simply occur to us, we typically do not create them consciously. Therefore, there is no reason to follow our thinking, any more than to follow the thinking of another. We often disagree with the thoughts of others. When this happens we pay no attention to them. That person walks down the street and takes his thoughts with him. We dismiss the entire conversation. In most cases, I suggest we do the same with our own thoughts. Most thoughts are leftovers from previous experiences. They interfere with being present to this moment. They rarely represent connection to your highest Self. So I recommend that you seriously inspect what you are thinking. If you are having stale leftovers, put them in the compost heap where they belong!
I’m reading a wonderful book right now: “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves” by Naomi Aldort. I highly endorse this one! It’s great for the many wonderful stories in it which demonstrates how to use empathy with your children in difficult situations. One of her great suggestions is to “take your kid’s side.” Many times we find ourselves in situations where we want one thing and our child or teen wants something else. Often this leads to a “power struggle” where the parent attempts to impose their “authority” over this child. What other option is there? As Naomi demonstrates over and over, we can always take their side without giving up. At this point, most parents are thinking, “Great! That means I lose every time and I never get MY needs met!!” This is not accurate.
What actually happens, if you pay close attention, is that once the child experiences themselves as being heard and understood, they are no longer interested in the power struggle. The power struggle is the result of the child wanting to be heard for what they want. When you simply impose what you want over them, they dig in their heels. Think about it. Would you enjoy someone imposing their will over you?
When you take their side, they soften. They see you are willing to understand them. This is what they really want. They want to be understood and appreciated by you. They do not want to be overwhelmed by your power. Once they sense your understanding, they are often willing to hear your side. Why? Because they sense your love for them and it arouses their love for you. Now they want to be on your side too!
Several days ago I gave a talk to students at Stanford University on the subject of nonviolent communication and the importance of empathy. At that meeting one of the students asked, “What about ‘constructive criticism, isn’t that important?”
Here was my answer:
“Constructive to whom? We might believe that we are being constructive. We might have every wish to help this other person. We may want to provide excellent advice and direction about where they might now turn to give an even more exemplary performance. And this may satisfy our criteria for “constructive criticism.” We can then say, “I gave him constructive criticism” and feel quite satisfied that I have made a wonderful contribution to another person. Maybe it’s time for celebration?
Not so fast! Would it be worthwhile to check in with that other person to see how this “constructive criticism” was received? Do we find it strange that this kind of checking in is rarely done? Why do you suppose that is? Do we think we know the answer? “That other person must be grateful since I gave him such wonderful advice!” Also, how many of us wonder at this phenomenon: We enjoy giving advice so much! Have you ever noticed how much you love to give advice? Have you ever had this thought: “I’m enjoying giving advice more than this advice is actually worth.” Is it possible that we enjoy the experience of giving advice independent of any value in that advice? Is it possible that the experience of giving advice is mostly an ego gratification for the speaker? Is it possible that when we give advice we are telling ourselves- “Look how wonderful I am. I’m giving advice! I must know what I’m talking about since I’m the one talking!”
A wise man once said, “Everyone loves to give advice. Very few enjoy taking it.”
In many cases people are not open to receiving “constructive criticism.” When it’s delivered under this condition, it can often be experienced as “destructive criticism.” Because of this, it’s often useful to make sure the conditions are good for the proper reception of criticism. What are those conditions?
1. Connection- we ensure that the feeling of connection and care is secure.
2. Respect- we make sure that the speaker and the listener are held with high regard.
3. Social and financial safety- The social or financial status of the person is not at stake during the conversation.
4. Willing permission- The listener has stated their willingness to receive constructive criticism and this is genuine, unforced willingness.
5. Openness- the listener is genuinely open and prepared to hear what you have to offer.
This does not mean that you should never offer criticism except under the above conditions. It just means that it is less likely that your comments will be received as “constructive”. What does “constructive” mean? It means that the listener is likely to seriously consider what you have said, take it to their heart, and even willingly make a change in what they say, do, or think.
In nonviolent communication we make a distinction between thinking and feeling. But often feeling is the result of how we are thinking. When this is the case, we need to find ways to deal with thinking.
Here is an example. Recently I saw a young woman who was overcome with feelings of anger and jealousy. She herself said that these feelings were irrational but that did not stop them from plaguing her. Her mind raced thinking of her boyfriend having conversations with other women. She had no data supporting these thoughts but she was unable, on her own, to stop them. She was so pre-occupied with them that she stopped looking after her children and became instead obsessed by what her boyfriend was doing every moment of the day.
This woman was flooded by overwhelming feelings sweeping her away. What was the cause? Her thinking. She thinks, “My boyfriend goes to bars at night. He probably talks to women there. He might get their phone number and then go out for coffee. If that happens, he might get interested in them and then start having an affair. That means he is lieing to me when I ask him if he is dating someone else, etc.” She says she does not believe her thoughts are true. Still, on her own, she has not been able to stop them or the overwhelming feelings that accompany and fuel them.
In this case, the feelings stem from her run-away thoughts. So the easiest solution is through questioning these thoughts. Unfortunately, she has been unable to successfully question these thoughts. As soon as she thinks about them, she moves toward them. They have a strong gravitational energy that pulls her toward them, even though when she thinks them, she feels very upset and very unhappy. She had no idea how to get out of this obsessional pattern.
This is what I said to her” “Would you like to be happy?” “Yes!” “Would you like to enjoy your life more?” “Yes! I’m tormented by the way I’m living!” “Would you like to be able to trust your boyfriend?” “Yes!” “Are you willing to be disciplined in order to get these things?” “Yes!” “Ok. Please listen carefully. You see that front door over there?” “Yes.” “Do you see that it’s closed?” “Yes.” “Also, please notice, there is a lock on that door. Do you see that? What do you think that lock is for?” “Yes. It’s there so you can make sure no strangers come in your house when you don’t want them there.” “That’s right. And do you notice that the door is closed right now? Why do you suppose that is?” “Well, it’s because you don’t want anybody coming in and bothering you right now.” “Yes. That’s right. Now what do you suppose it would be like if I left that door open and anybody who wanted to could come in here, lye down, check out the fridge, take over my office, make some phone calls. What do you think that would be like?” “That would be terrible! You couldn’t get any work done and you would be upset all the time.” “That’s right! So that’s what you are like. You let your front door open so that any thought that wants to come in to bother you, you welcome in. In fact, you say, please sit down, make yourself at home, come on in and take some food. Stay for as long as you like. Sleep in my bed, take a shower. Make yourself at home! Now you know these thoughts make you unhappy but you still let them in. Why do you do that?”
“I don’t know how to stop them! They just come in by themselves!”
“Yes they do. They come in by themselves. Just like strangers would come in by themselves if I left my front door open and forgot to lock it. Now let’s say someone comes to my front door and wanted to come in. Do you think I’d let them?” “Only if you wanted them to come in.” “That’s right. I would check them out. I’d see if I knew them. If I wanted them to come in, I’d invite them in. You don’t do that. Your door is open. You are not paying attention to who you let in the front door. Every stranger who wants to comes in and makes themselves at home in your place.”
“But how do I stop them? I’m not in charge of my thoughts. They just appear!”
“Yes, they just appear. And it’s your job to check them out carefully when they do appear. You need to ask yourself- is this thought going to lead to me being happy or unhappy? Will it make me anxious or calm? Will I enjoy it? If you say, ‘yes, I would enjoy it.’ Then you let that thought in. If it will make you anxious, you keep it out. You don’t let it in. In other words, I want you to pay very close attention to what these thoughts are doing to you. You need to have a system. When the thought appears, check it out. If it has even the slightest anxiety attached to it, a huge red flag needs to go up. Alarms should sound. The loud speaker should come on and blast out this message: “Call to attention!! Call to attention!! Anxiety thought appearing at the door! Take all prevention measures at once. Close the door and to not permit entry! Repeat, close door and do not permit entry!” Do not permit any anxiety thought to enter your house. You need to keep it to yourself so that you can remain calm. Then you will have more time to pay attention to your kids and enjoy your life. Do you think you can do that?”
She was smiling now. “Yes, I think I can.”
“And I’d like you to do two more things. Find one act of generosity to do each day. And at the end of each day, make a list of 5 things you appreciated about yourself that day.”
I was coaching a man who was telling me about his concerns. I listened carefully, watching my feelings. After a short period I noticed I was bored. It was not that what he was saying was boring. He was making significant progress in many of the things he had set out to do. He was an entrepreneur. He had written a book that was receiving notable attention in Business Week and another national magazine. He was making progress on forming a new company. But his tone was lifeless.
I continued to watch myself to see what would evolve. I became more bored and stifled a yawn. Then I stifled several more yawns. Pretty soon I was in a constant state of yawning! I couldn’t stop myself. I felt deeply embarrassed because I could not stop my body from its reactivity. I had this thought: “This is pure torture! It’s like being stuck inside a prison cell, deprived of light and water.”
Finally, I said to this man, “Do you see the flowers over there on the table?” There was a large display of yellow lilies in full bloom. “And do you see those other lilies by the window and on the mantle?” He nodded that he did see them. “Well, in January, they were nothing. All of them were nothing but poor bulbs about 2 inches in diameter stuck in the mud. It’s now May and the plants that they come from are almost 6 feet tall. And as you can see they are bursting with color! They are blooming with life! Why is this? It’s because these plants want to grow. They want to bloom. They want to burst out of their cocoons and come to life! But it’s not only them. All plants, all animals want to live. They want to grow. They want to burst from their shells and become what they can become. But it’s not just plants and animals. Humans too belong to nature. Humans want to grow. They also want to become what they can become. What about you? It seems to me that you are trying your best to prevent any kind of growth from happening. Every time something hopeful turns up, a new growth occurs above ground, you go out there and pour Roundup all over it. You stomp it down. You prevent that thing from growing. You don’t allow the least flicker of creativity or individuality to enter your conversation. Who you are as a person is completely covered up. All of nature is out there wanting to display itself. But you are in here hiding away, covering yourself with blandness. You’ve got this amazing creativity and you are making surprising progress- why are you covering it all up? Do you suppose I don’t notice that you are killing every shred of emotional life that’s in you? Do you think you can get by droning on pretending you are communicating something? I mean, do you really believe yourself when you speak like this? Wouldn’t you enjoy connecting with something that’s alive in you?” (I wanted to wake him up!)
He started to laugh. He was smiling. I asked, “Why are you smiling?”
He said, “You’re right! I have been hiding out. And yes, I do want to live! Thank you.”
Sometimes you have to give a guy a kick in the pants, even if you practice nonviolent communication.
I have found in my coaching classes that most people have difficulty making powerful requests. They either make half-hearted requests or they avoid making them altogether. Why is this? Are they afraid of rejection? Do they think they will look weak or ineffective?
I think the reason is that they have not gotten clear what they want and who they want it from. In almost all cases the person they need to address is themselves. And the thing they want is some way out of suffering.
I spoke to a 66 year old woman recently. With anguish she said, “I’m a failure. I can’t get the relationships I want. I can’t get the clients I want. I keep beating my head against the wall over and over and over again.” She said, “When I was three years old I cried and cried and my parents did not come to help me. And tonight, in the group, I wanted help, I wanted you to resolve my problems. And it was some help, but after a while you decided it was time to move on. So you did! Here I was making my request. And what did I get? I was left alone with my problems!!” She said she was feeling anguish and what she wanted was peace, love, and connection.
I said, “I’m wondering if you are holding a grudge against your parents and against all the people who don’t help you resolve your problems. Are you holding a grudge?”
She said, “Yes! I am holding a grudge!”
“Would you be willing to make this request of yourself? ‘Would you be willing to let go of your grudge in order to gain peace, love, and connection?”
She said, “No! That would be too easy. It would be letting them off the hook!”
“All those people who have let me down in my life! My parents. My boyfriend. You!”
“Are you thinking that if you hold a grudge it will make all those people who have let you down pay? Are you punishing them for letting you down?”
Laughing, she said, “Yes!!” Now she was smiling, as if to say, “I know this is really stupid!”
“So would you be willing to make this request to yourself: “Would you be willing to let go of your grudge in order to gain peace, love, and connection?”
She said, “But who would I be without my grudge?!!!”
“Would you be willing to see who you would be without your grudge?”
“Are you asking me to do that right now?”
“Of course I am willing. There is no problem with that! It’s just that this little girl inside me doesn’t know who she will be without her grudge.”
“I’m not asking you. I’m asking that little girl. Would she be willing to see who she could be without her grudge?”
There was a long wait. Then, “Yes. She wants to see who she could be without this grudge.”
I work with a training company as a meeting facilitator. They happened to double schedule me for the first day of a two-day meeting. Unfortunately, I was on the agenda to open the second day and my job was to review the learning on day one (the day I had missed!) . Of course, I had the agenda of day one but I had no idea of the content. There were about 150 people in the audience as I sat off stage wondering what I was going to do.
Then I remembered what an Australian Buddhist monk, Ajahn Brahm, said he did before appearing on television. He had agreed to appear before learning the topic. Just before show time they told him the topic: “Sex in the marriage relationship.” Being a celibate monk he had no information about this! He was consumed by fear. What would he say? What could he do? How could he get out of this situation? Then he remembered his teacher who had told him, “When all else fails, have a good time!” So that’s what he decided to do. He decided that even if nobody else learned anything, at least he would have a good time. He did and the show got great reviews.
Remembering this story, I decided to do the same. When I got onto the stage I had a great time. I told the audience: “When I arrived late last night people recognized me and grabbed telling me how excited they were about what they had learned. They were all geared up and ready to knock the walls down! Now whenever I encounter this kind of thing at a conference I always think to myself, “What’s going to happen when these folks go back to their offices? In two days they are going to forget everything they think they just learned! Their excitement will fade, their enthusiasm will be lost and they will be buried in minutiae two miles high! My mother told me that to be forewarned is to be forearmed! So to make sure this kind of forgetfulness does not happen with you, let’s take 5 minutes, review what you learned yesterday, and make an action plan: 3 actions you will take based on what you learned yesterday. Then share this with your neighbor!” It went great.
As it happened the company had hired an expert in presentation skills. After each presenter he got on stage and told them his thoughts about what they had done well and what they could improve. During my presentation he whispered to one of our coaches, “What am I going to say to Bob? Everything he’s doing is perfect!!”
When all else fails, have a good time!
Several days ago I saw a couple in a coaching session. The woman said that every time she wanted to discuss something about their relationship her partner would go into some kind of avoidance behavior. She wanted to know what she could do so that this would not happen. I said, “Well, why don’t we ask him?”
The man said, “Well, she always wants to talk about ‘our problems.’ I don’t. I just want to relax and enjoy being together. When she brings up ‘our problems’ I’m thinking, “OK. Here it comes. I’ve done something wrong again! Of course, I’m not interested in this conversation!”
The woman turned to me and said, “This is what I mean. If I just talk about what it bothering me, I know he’s going to have this reaction! But if I don’t talk, I just get bottled up inside and feel tense all the time! I think that I can’t tell my partner what is on my mind! What kind of relationship is that? It sucks!”
I said, “Why don’t you try empathy?” So she tried.
She said, with tightness in her face and tension in her voice, “Are you feeling horrible and in pain when you think I’m going to bring something up about our relationship?”
I stopped her. “Wait a second. This is supposed to be about him, not about you. When you give empathy to someone you are guessing what he is feeling and what he is needing. Don’t confuse the issue by showing him what you are feeling and wanting.”
The man said, “Yes! When you said it like that, I’m feeling on guard and scared!”
“See if you can ask this question without injecting your own fears and concerns into it. Your job is to come from genuine curiosity. Imagine you are going for a walk in the forest. It’s morning. The air is fresh and and clear and you are on the lookout for flowers that are just now coming into bloom! You want to be awake for this moment! See what is out there right now! It’s amazing what happens when you take a look and stop imagining the worst! Are you willing?”
She said, “Yes.” She took a breath and then said with genuine curiosity, “Do you get upset when I let you know I want to talk about our relationship?”
The man said, “Now I’m thinking you actually care about me. I feel really open and I want to hear what you want to say.”
The purpose of Mindful-Interactions is to significantly increase the quality of our moment to moment interactions with ourselves and with others. This might appear to be a daunting task. After all, we have ingrained within us patterns of belief and behavior that have remained unchanged for decades. How could we now, after all this time, after all our failed efforts, make a shift? My answer: “we” don’t make a shift. The reason “we” have had such a difficult time changing is because “we” are the ones trying to change. But “we” are the ones doing what “we” are doing. The we in this case is our ego. Our ego has no interest in changing. If it wanted to change, it would. Actually, it seeks to continue as it has in the past.
A shift happens when our thoughts are questioned. At this moment, a shift becomes possible. Our ego, which had such a control over us, begins to soften. I like what Byron Katie has to say about this: “I don’t let go of my thoughts. I question them until they let go of me.” We are all capable of questioning our thoughts. Once we thoroughly question them, we can no longer believe them. We begin to recognize that we can be certain of nothing. When we are certain of nothing, we attach to nothing. When we attach to nothing we become free of suffering.
This is our purpose: to enable people to become free of suffering. When we are free of suffering we increase the quality of our moment to moment interactions with ourselves and others.
The first step in releasing suffering is the step of Presence. We bring awareness to the present moment. We see that it is fresh, it’s new, it’s alive with life! How wonderful! This moment- there is nothing like it! All these thoughts, these dreams, these ambitions, these goals, these distractions- none can compare to the aliveness in the present moment! We sense immediately that this is the way we are meant to live. How easy it is. And it’s one step right now. Anyone can do it. And it takes no time! It can be done now. How delightful! How light! What a relief- to know there is no process! 12 years of education are not required! Neither is a Ph.D.! There are no hoops to jump or rivers to cross. You don’t need to meditate for 3 decades or one thousand lifetimes. You can be present right now. Go ahead. See how it feels.
What is awareness? Let us rest in this question without attempting an answer. When we do this we become aware of something else: we become aware of awareness. This is a beautiful thing. Try this yourself right now.
When we are aware of awareness, there are no objects of thought. There is a sense of spaciousness, an opening, infinite possibility. There is an aliveness that we normally don’t feel. It’s possible to stay in this condition- being aware of awareness. We can hear the “hum” of being alive! This is a space of great beauty and joy!
We sometimes become aware of what we are thinking about. Then we notice the randomness of our thought. We also notice how these random thoughts clutter our mind. We notice our mind, this thing we are taught to be so proud of, is a kind of clutter machine! It operates like a vacuum cleaner. Whatever is around, it sucks into itself. It is constantly filling itself up with stuff- with the dirt and dust it finds laying around on the floor. Anything it sees, hears, feels, or reads gets sucked in. The difference between the mind and a vacuum cleaner is that the vacuum cleaner never confuses itself with the dirt it picks up. It always remembers what it is. The mind forgets.
How does this happen? We become attached to the stuff we have picked up.
We treat our thoughts like my neighbor treats stray cats. When strays wander through her yard, she feeds them. They come back day after day. Eventually she thinks they are her cats. Then she starts to think that she is in those cats. She worries about them. She wonders where they have gone. When they are injured she takes them to the hospital. When they die, she grieves for them. If someone criticizes these cats, she feels personally insulted and defends them.
We treat our thoughts like my neighbor treats her cats. Thoughts wander through our minds. We feed them, nurture them and they return to us day after day. Eventually, we think they belong to us. They become so familiar we think they are us. Finally, they take us over. We even feel proud to belong to them. Our lives are run by these stray thoughts, by these dust particles. They are our masters and we their slaves. We follow them wherever they lead. We rarely question them.
When our thoughts are with us, we feel a certain kind of familiar comfort. We feel protected. We know who we are. When we speak, we speak from the sure knowledge that our thoughts are true. We don’t think “these are our thoughts”, after all, but rather, “this is the truth.” We have forgotten that they are as random as stray cats, that they are no more than particles of dust we have vacuumed up from the rugs of our life. We expect others to share our enthusiasm for our thoughts. It’s shocking to discover our friends have no interest! When they reject these thoughts, we are stunned! I can’t believe that my friend is treating my ideas as if they are smelly old cats!
Why do I care? Because my ideas have become my operating principles. They are my guiding lights. When they are cast aside, I think “you are casting me aside!” What an outrage!!! I can’t help myself. I must insist on the importance of my thoughts! I must insert them back into the conversation and get you to accept them. I forget that my ideas are just dust particles. They are just stray cats.
Have you ever wondered: “Why are my thoughts so important to me? Why do I care that my friend accepts my thoughts?” Have you ever wondered if your thoughts were running you?