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Saturday, 28 December 2013

Taking Things for Granted

Recent post on Facebook

The recent power-outage in the GTA and beyond demonstrated just how vulnerable we all our because of our dependency upon basic requirements. Just one ice-storm... and havoc reigned for so many people. It was compounded because it happened just before the Holidays, adding disappointment to the even more dangerous element of being without heat and other necessities. Even as I write this, there are still some without power in Ontario.

And yet, in the midst of this turmoil, we witnessed the incredible ability of the human spirit to rise above the chaos and reach out to those around them. We saw stories of people opening their homes to friends and neighbours - even when they were without power themselves; we witnessed a new understanding of the plight of the homeless (not all are in that situation by choice); we were reminded of the millions of people who do not have the means to provide vital services for themselves and their families and some have resolved to get involved in relief work.  

There has also been an outpouring of gratitude for the many linesmen who gave up their own holidays to work to restore power - even from outside the province - and this sacrifice includes the families of those linesmen, who had their holiday arrangements interrupted.

It's so easy to take things for granted - basic, everyday things to which we normally pay no attention. It is rare for people to be mindful of every single aspect of their lives, 24/7. 

However, events like the ice-storm call upon us to reflect upon the fundamental things that we need in order to survive, and the people and resources that provide these necessities for us. 

Many of us do find time for reflection and gratitude on a regular basis, not just at times of crisis. When we set aside a few minutes each day to reflect upon all those things that make life beautiful, we attune ourselves to allow more of the same to come into our experience, and we may be inspired to take action that will create change. 

Happy, Fit, and Free!

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Thursday, 19 December 2013

Two Ears, One Mouth


When I was teaching in Elementary School, I participated in something called TRIBES - a tool which helps to build a cooperative community in the classroom. I attended a two-day course along with other teachers to learn the philosophy and principles that would enable me to implement it successfully into my classroom. The difference this made to the students in my class was significant and impressive – and this overflowed into other areas, including academic performance, and behaviour management.

Basically, the TRIBES system had four ‘Agreements’ to which everyone (including the teacher) would accept and strive to attain. One of the agreements was – Attentive Listening.

At the beginning of the year, I would ask for a volunteer (usually a confident student) and would demonstrate two modes of listening. The students would sit in a circle, and the volunteer would sit in the middle with me, face-to-face. He/She would be asked to share something that they had done during the summer holiday.

During the sharing, I would look at my watch, look around the room, yawn, and lean back on my chair – in other words, I would not really be paying attention to the speaker. After a minute or two, I would ask the volunteer how they felt. Usually, they would indicate that they felt that what they had to say was not important – that I wasn’t really listening, and that I was bored. It made them feel that they didn’t want to elaborate on what they were sharing. They, themselves, felt uncomfortable and unimportant.

We would then immediately repeat the exercise with the same volunteer, but this time, I would maintain eye contact, lean slightly forward towards the speaker, and punctuate what was being said with a few encouraging, positive murmurs (uh huh, oh?, wow - you get the idea) – without interrupting the flow of the sharing. Without fail, there was more elaboration, more detail, and more animated sharing as a result, and they would always report that they really felt that I was interested and cared about what they were saying. They felt a sense of importance and had the experience of being heard.

During the debriefing session, I would then ask the students in the circle what they observed about me as the listener in both of the sessions, and we would discuss the effect of body language upon those with whom we interact.

From this, we would practice Attentive Listening – focusing upon our body language, and our attitude. I would hold up the ideal of listening with our ears, our minds, and our hearts – especially with our hearts - so that we could try to find out what the other ‘heart’ was trying to communicate.

I don’t know about you, but I have often felt that people I have been talking to have not really been listening. They may be looking at me with their eyes, but I can sense that their thoughts are elsewhere. Whenever I experience that, I feel a sense of ‘shutting down’ inside and it doesn’t feel good. I ask myself if I have ever communicated that same kind of disinterest when listening to others – and was not happy with my answer!

It is not easy to listen attentively – especially with distractions all around us. I may endeavour to listen carefully to someone, but then another person mentions my name, or converses with someone about a subject of great interest to me, and my thoughts divert away from my conversation. However, the moment I take my attention elsewhere, I have communicated (usually non-verbally) my disinterest in the person who is entrusting me with a part of their lives.

Internal distractions are even harder to control. How often have I caught myself thinking of what I want to say next in the conversation, instead of listening and valuing what the person is saying.

One of our friends had an incredible gift of making me feel important – each time I spoke with him. This was evident when, on occasions, he would be directly interrupted by a third person and would momentarily be involved with that person. However, he would immediately return to our conversation and repeat the last sentence I had spoken. Not just some general comment like, ‘So, you were saying……), but specific, ‘So, you were saying that….). It was so noticeable that he had really been giving me 100% of his attention. It felt wonderful to be validated. You can imagine how much respect I have for him. I strive to be more like him in this regard. It is not only children who need to feel valued.

Some people have a natural talent of listening – really listening – to people so that they feel that they are being heard. Some of us have to work at it but, once achieved, it becomes a wonderful gift to offer to others - the gift of being heard. 

I’ve often heard people say, we have two ears and only one mouth, therefore we should listen twice as much as we speak. 

Maybe it’s time for us all to listen more and speak less. We never know what we may learn!

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Friday, 6 December 2013

The Power of Forgiveness - and the Freedom of Letting Go

The world remembers a great example of forgiveness and reconciliation at the passing of this amazing person. Nelson Mandela stands as a beacon of hope in today's world. He had every reason to be bitter and angry at the society which imprisoned him and the unjust rule of law that pervaded that society. Instead, he made a choice - and that choice led to the eventual demise of injustice and the growth of tolerance and acceptance in South Africa and beyond. 

I have watched the movie, 'Invictus' several times.... and the part that always stands out for me is when the character, played by Matt Damon, visits the prison that held Mandela's body (but not his spirit) and comes to the realization of the enormity of the problem - and the solution embraced by Nelson. 

Nothing is more inhibiting of true inner peace and freedom than when we hold on to past hurts - real or imagined - and when we stubbornly cling to our resentments. At the other end of the stick is the total freedom and tranquility that can be ours when we allow ourselves to let go of those things that are no longer serving us - bitterness, resentment, anger, jealousy, hatred, etc. 

We often hear the words, 'Forgive and Forget'. It trips off the tongue so easily that it can just as easily be dismissed as a platitude. However, no matter how difficult it may appear, and how hard it may be to do, it is the only way to find our balance in life and to experience the joy that life has to offer. In the end, our lack of forgiveness often affects our own peace of mind more than the person towards whom that resentment is directed. The truth it, by harbouring and replaying these thoughts and memories in our mind, we hold ourselves in a place that is not healthy - and these can often manifest themselves in physical ways and in physical illness. It's hard work to hold on to this stuff, and it tells upon us, in time.

So... how do we set about letting go? 

Many of us have found that when we entertain negative thoughts and emotions - things that don't feel good when we ponder them - we tend to attract more of the same. In a world that seems to be based upon a law which states, 'That which is like unto itself, is drawn', when we continue to replay thoughts of resentment, we will encounter similar experiences which will intensify the sense of injustice. 

Conversely, if we choose to look for things that are going right in our life - or things around us that make us feel good when we observe them - then we change our point of attraction and begin to experience more and more things to appreciate. We are not very successful at ignoring thoughts. We don't do well when we say, "I won't think of that thing which I am thinking about". So we have to replace those thoughts with ones that feel good to us. When we achieve this, we will discover that gradually, step by step, we can improve the way we feel and our experiences will evolve to match that new point of attraction. 

Finding thoughts that make us feel good and giving them our undivided attention is the key to being in alignment with our true selves. 

Nelson Mandela is a beacon of light. He chose to focus on the positive and give that his attention and the world around him changed dramatically. 

As we approach the Christmas and Holiday Season, maybe it's time for us to let go of the past, forgive and forget by refocusing our thoughts upon things that please us and give us a sense of relief. 

Not only will our own world morph into something more joyful and free, our new alignment - and the example of our own peace of mind will be a powerful beacon that will influence others to find their own joy. 
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