get out of my shoes now

 

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Empathy is the new black.

Schools are teaching empathy to children. Leaders are encouraged to display EQ as much as IQ. Many books explore building empathy. It’s a core coaching skill. Developmental psychiatrists and psychologists are exploring the roots of empathy in animals and the deep nature of its place in our humanity. True empathy is good. Deeply human.

To be clear empathy, as opposed to sympathy, could be described as feeling with someone, rather than feeling for someone. “I feel your anguish” as opposed to “I am sorry you’re hurting”.

It is standing in their shoes to experience their emotions.

But empathy requires thoughts as well as feelings. It is also a two person activity. So to be truly empathetic we need to balance thought and emotion as well as balance self and other. Recognising and sharing in someone else’s complex emotional state is in itself a complex inner experience, and it requires considerable self awareness and control to walk that line, be useful, be safe, keep them safe.

Otherwise empathy becomes a trap.

We can feel we are being held hostage by the other person’s feelings. Imprisoned in our own thought / feeling response. Balance requires us to have the self awareness and the dexterity and subtlety to pay attention to another’s needs whilst not sacrificing our own needs. We need to be able to recognise what is our stuff and what belongs to the person we are empathising with. Also what emerges in the soup of the empathetic interaction. What needs to stay in the soup, neither theirs nor ours.

Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is something the receiver can find deeply rewarding. Addictive even. That puts the onus on us to know when to extract ourselves from their shoes. And how.

Equally, overly empathic people may lose the ability to know what they want or need. They may have a diminished ability to make decisions in their own best interest, experience physical and psychological exhaustion from deflecting their own feelings.

We need to be able to stand in our own shoes too.

 

time to flex your happy muscle?

happiness mindfulness meditation
For many centuries, great sages, such as Aristotle, Bhudda, Confucius and Epicurus have advocated the pursuit of happiness. They have suggested happiness comes from within, from creating an inner peace, from reflection. Happiness of the mind, rather than of things.

Now science appears to be catching up. I have just been reading about a study at Kyoto University. The research, reported here, has identified a part of the brain, the precuneus, which appears to be larger in people who self declare themselves to have meaning in their lives, who report positive emotional and cognitive experiences and describe themselves as happy. This has been correlated to studies into meditation, which show that the precuneus grows in people who make meditation a part of their lives – it seems that calming our thoughts, being present in the current moment can exercise our happy muscle.

The research speaks of psychological training that could increase the volume of grey matter in the precuneus, which in turn may enhance subjective happiness. The report’s summary says…

Psychological studies have shown that subjective happiness can be measured reliably and consists of emotional and cognitive components. However, the neural substrates of subjective happiness remain unclear. To investigate this issue, we used structural magnetic resonance imaging and questionnaires that assessed subjective happiness, the intensity of positive and negative emotional experiences, and purpose in life. We found a positive relationship between the subjective happiness score and gray matter volume in the right precuneus. Moreover, the same region showed an association with the combined positive and negative emotional intensity and purpose in life scores. Our findings suggest that the precuneus mediates subjective happiness by integrating the emotional and cognitive components of happiness

Time to flex the happy muscle?

Now that’s a happy thought…

 

would you step through?

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If there was a doorway. And through that doorway was a world where something you desire, was true. Would you step through?

What if you knew you would never be able to come back? There was a risk you would lose some things you currently have. A chance they would be absent, or different, on the other side. There would be many unknowns, through the door.

But the promise of something you long for too. A deep longing.

Would you step through the door? Would you take the risk? The chance to gain a deep desire, but with the risk of losing some things you value on this side? Would you take a chance? Would the excitement of the possibility draw you in? Would the call of the longing be too great to resist? Or would the potential loss, the fear of the unknown keep you this side?

The red pill or the blue pill?

A fabricated reality or the reality of truth?

Which is which side?

Risk or safety? Unknown or known? Heart or head?

Would you step through?

 

let’s see what the pain looks like

synaesthesia

Someone once uttered those words to me.

‘Let’s see what the pain looks like’.

The context was around an organisational change. I remember at the time being momentarily confused. Don’t you feel pain? I don’t know what it looks like, any more than I can taste it or hear it.

On reflection I realised it was an interesting insight to the speaker’s inner world. I regretted the missed opportunity of exploring with them what pain looked like for them. Did it have a colour? A hue? Was it a picture, a particular image, a personal memory? Was it sharp, blurred? Was it a still image, a movie? Was it 2D or 3D?

Beyond the curiosity about their representation, I wondered what had led them to see, rather than feel, pain. Was it that feeling it made it too real? Was it a defence mechanism, to stay a little removed and observe the pain rather than taking it into the body? Was it safer? Were other feelings also seen? Did they feel anything and, if so, what was ‘feelable’ and what wasn’t?

Was this only related to pain and other feelings or did they ‘see’ everything? Could they see smells or see tastes too? Did they see freshly mown grass when the smell wafted into their nostrils? Did they see musical notes as they listened or played? Did they have other synaesthesia, such as hearing smells, tasting sounds or smelling images?

A missed opportunity, but one that still serves as a learning, one that stays with me as a curiosity about the uniqueness of our human experience.

 

the folding bike of life

folding_bikes
If you commute at all, you will have come across travellers with the folding bike.

If you have ever watched the BBC spoof W1A, the folding bike was an ever present star.

I have never owned one. I have never folded or unfolded one.  Yet they seem to me to be a marvel of engineering. Collapsing wheels, pedals, frame, chain and saddle into a compact , small suitcase sized, ‘luggable’ package.

Ideal for the linking parts of the journey; fitting easily into the boot of the car, compact for the limited space on a train, portable for the walk to the office or ascending in the lift before you hand it to your office assistant, as in W1A.

Wouldn’t it be great if life was engineered like that? Expandable for the journey itself, practical, functional, expansive, whole, readily facilitating movement and progression as we go about our business of living and growing.

Yet collapsible too. Taking on a compact form for the linking moments of change and transition on life’s journey. Periods perhaps where being expanded can bruise us, or strain us, as we attempt to move through life. Where parts of our own self catch us out, banging against our shins of resilience? Periods when bits of our life maybe stick out, knock against someone else, physically or emotionally? Periods when being expanded, our natural whole self, simply gets us stuck in a doorway, challenges our manoeuverability through a narrow gap and makes change from what was, to what will be, somewhat cumbersome?

If only life were as well engineered and flexible as the folding bike.

when we would do well to be the beach

What is is

When you go to the beach, you walk on the pebbles. You see some pebbles are rounded, polished, worn smooth in the rub of nature. You see some are sharp, jagged, fractured in the storm of collision. Some pebbles carry history in fossilised form. Some are small. Some large. Some brown. Some grey. Some multicoloured. And you observe this and you allow it.

When you go to the beach, you see the sea. Water crashes in foam, surging for freedom. Water retreats in liquid fellowship. Foams, retreats, foams, retreats, foams, retreats in enduring rhythm. And you see this and you understand. And you accept the way that it is.

And in all of this, you don’t get emotional about it. You appreciate the beach. The pebbles. The sea.

What is, is.

But when you meet other human beings, you lose all that.
You say “he’s too this” and “I’m too that”.
You say “if only she wasn’t…” and “I should be…”.
You say “They are different” and “I am not enough”.

Judgement comes in.

Maybe we should see people as the sea and the pebbles, and appreciate them as they are.

What is, is.

Inspired by Ram Dass

 

when the solution we seek stops us seeing

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Freedom from the desire for an answer is essential to the understanding of a problem.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

This seems relevant in the context of recent world events. Our desire, and that of our leaders, to fix the current situation seems to blind us to the true nature of the problem. We must take action. Seek a solution. Find an answer.

What if we sought understanding? What if we employed curiosity? What if we questioned to heighten awareness, rather than to judge?

It seems this is a reflection of our society. The pace of change. The need to know, and to know now.

Contemplation. Reflection. Awareness. Stillness. Compassion. Humanity. These might be everyone’s ally.

#prayforParis