Thursday, December 20, 2012

I'm Dreaming of an Honest and Gentle Christmas

2008.12.09 - Three Candles by a.drian, cc license
I've been under the weather for the past couple of weeks and I'm finally coming out of my congested haze. This is pretty atypical for me. I don't get sick very often and when I do, I'm usually back to normal in a couple of days. It's as if, after finishing all of the work for my Master's (woo-hoo!), my body had had enough and insisted I lie low. And, after all, it's the holiday season and the end of the year: A time for laying low, taking it easy, and reflecting - right?

Yeah, not so much for me, either.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Defenses and Defensiveness

Gaddavir by Orlygur Hnefill, cc license
Last Thursday I defended my Master's thesis and passed. :) It was a wonderful experience. I had an incredibly thoughtful committee and a thesis adviser who places value on participation and rich discussions. To that end, she invited the friends who came along to support me to play an active role by asking questions and adding to the discussion. It was very cool and there were several times that I had to remind myself to focus because I kept getting caught up in reflecting on what a great gathering of people it was.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Give Thanks for Your Gifts: Inspiration from Temple Grandin

Rain Man's Rainbow by jurvetson, cc license
Jason and I like to listen to podcasts when we wash dishes and clean up the house every evening after Cadence goes to sleep (an exciting existence, I know). One of my favorite shows is Science Friday and, while catching up on post-Thanksgiving cleaning and a backlog of podcasts, I heard a segment they recorded with Temple Grandin. Among many other things, Temple Grandin is a teacher, a scientist, an engineer, a geek, an activist, and a person with autism. I find her to be an inspiration.

Temple Grandin has a uniquely objective empathetic ability and a keen sense of perception when it comes to understanding the world from another's perspective - be it human or animal. She is probably best known for using her unique gifts to design more humane slaughter houses.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sometimes You Have to Ask for What You Need

365.177 by Dyanna Hyde, cc license
My last five posts have been dedicated to finding ways to remain gentle in stressful circumstances. I've been in crunch mode, working on my thesis, and the stress has definitely gotten to me. It has been incredibly helpful having this space to reflect on the importance of self-care and to remind myself of the practices that will strengthen my ability to remain gentle. However, I have also come to the realization that there are going to be those times when I just can't do it without the help of those around me. And, until all of my loved ones are able to perfect their mind reading skills, I have to ask for what I need. And then, of course, in order to ask for what I need, I need to know what that is.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Speak Honestly and Gently During Confrontation

An argument... by Tambako the Jaguar, cc license
I had a confrontation with some roofers during the Summer. They were repairing the roof on a neighbor's house. We don't have what you would call backyards, but the back of the neighbor's house abuts a strip of our non-yard which is home to a couple of trees, two azaleas  a rose of Sharon  and our compost heap. It's not much to look at, and at the height of the Summer it was overgrown with weeds, but I have plans to convert it into a lovely outdoor space over the next couple of years.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Get Gentle by Asking Questions

Question mark by Marco Bellucci, cc license
I keep coming across this concept of being curious as an alternative to being judgmental. It keeps popping up in what I’m reading, conversations with friends, and podcasts. It’s almost as if the universe is trying to send me a message. So, okay universe, you have my attention.

It really is a great idea, to be curious about our own quirks or the behavior and motives of others, rather than judging and reacting. I’ve been developing my toolbox of strategies to be more gentle in trying situations, and I thought curiosity would be a wonderful tool to add. I thought that at the next opportunity, I would simply remind myself to be curious and notice what was happening, rather than judge and react. I didn’t really think that one through.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Get Gentle by Taking a New Perspective

Empire State Pigeon by ZeroOne, cc license
Exactly ten years ago I was preparing for my very first shift on the Contact Pittsburgh crisis and suicide hotline. Those first few shifts were frightening, thrilling, frustrating, rewarding, and many other roller coaster rides of emotion. As I relaxed into my empathy and listening skills over that first year, those weekly four-hour sessions became a sacred space for me. On the one hand it was challenging and heartbreaking work. However, putting myself in the shoes of the callers also gave me a break from my own shoes. It was utterly refreshing to take a break from all of my stuff and just hold someone else’s worldview and emotions for a while. I was hooked on empathy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Self-Care 101

Relaxing in the Tobago Cays by Jason Pratt, cc license
The past couple of weeks I’ve been shining a spotlight on my least-gentle moments. It’s been rather instructive. I’ve been reminded of how powerful it can be to just bring awareness to that thing you want to change. Noticing, but not evaluating, those ugly moments has given me some great insights. I’m transitioning from, “Argh! There has to be a better way!” to, “Ahh, there’s the better way.” 

Monday, October 8, 2012

You Won't Like Me When I'm Angry

The Incredible Sarihulk by Eneas, cc license
Lately, I’ve struggled with being gentle. There have been several instances in the past few weeks where I just lost it. My feelings of frustration and anger bubbled over and I lashed out at the nearest bystander. I really hate when that happens. I feel like the Hulk, as if this ugly alter ego has taken over my body and I can’t get back control. Worse than feeling out of control, I hate the hurt I cause.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Where Do You Keep Your Self-Worth?

my final belly ache by child is a rebel, cc license
The other night a friend was asking me about my thesis (the first draft did make it in on time) and how I was holding up to the criticism inherent in that process (my draft was promptly returned covered in red ink). I responded that I thought I was dealing quite well. I know that my advisor wants me to do well, so her red ink and comments were there to push and guide me. It certainly represented much more work in the weeks ahead, but it did not represent a personal attack on my ability to write or think. This reflection gave me pause; I have not always reacted this way. In the not so distant past, some red ink would have prompted an angry defensive response or complete detachment and significant time in the fetal position.

Monday, September 10, 2012

5 Ways to Observe National Suicide Prevention Week

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we’re not alone” 
- Fred Rogers

It is National Suicide Prevention Week, so I thought this would be an appropriate topic and a great chance to jump up on a soapbox that I haven’t occupied in a long time. Suicide is part of the human condition and it is mentionable (see, I just mentioned it). Not only is suicide mentionable, it is important to talk about it. When we don’t talk about suicide, when we deny its existence, or when we believe it is something that only happens to other people, then we further isolate those struggling between life and death, we increase the stigma around suicide, and we create a culture that is hostile to help-seeking for suicidal thoughts. Perhaps it is the pervasive myths about suicide (many erroneously believe that talking about suicide will make someone think about killing themselves, or that asking someone about suicide will make them kill themselves) that make suicide such a difficult topic of conversation. Or perhaps it is the fear that if we talk about suicide we’ll have to acknowledge the severe psychological pain that many people endure. Whatever the reason, I think the good that comes from talking about suicide outweighs the discomfort. In general, I believe our world would be a more compassionate place to live if we were able to speak honestly about difficult things. Suicide certainly falls into that category.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Practicing Presence

Danielle & Lilliyan by Robert Whitehead, cc license
For a long time I’ve been near the end of my master’s degree with only my thesis and a few other odds and ends to complete. This Summer, after working through some emotional hurdles and pathological procrastination, I finally carved out the time to work on my proposal and committed it to my calendar. However, I can’t tell you how many of those work blocks were hijacked by planning meals for the week, cleaning out my e-mail inbox, and other distractions. I had such a hard time switching gears from my mom/housekeeping role to sitting at a computer for an extended period of time, let alone thinking and writing academically. Two things eventually helped me nurture the focus I needed to write my proposal. I fully committed to the work time, staying at my desk even when I was completely unproductive, and I created rituals to signal to it was time to focus. My focus routine consisted of brewing a cup of tea, playing ambient music, and then flowing through a few yoga positions before sitting down to work. After some persistence and practice, I was able to be much more productive during my work sessions.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Be Gentle on the Path of Change

Forest Dream! by VinothChandar, cc license

Part of the fun of this blogging endeavor is that my husband now loves pointing out instances when I'm not honest and/or gentle. He finds many opportunities to help me in this way, including yesterday when we were out having lunch. Our family is currently on vacation near Burlington, VT, which is the site of Ben and Jerry's flagship store. Getting ice cream at this location was on my "must do" list for the trip, so we purposefully saved room for ice cream afer lunch. When our waiter came over to ask if we would like to see the dessert menu, I replied reflexively, without thinking, "No, we need to get the baby back for her nap." As he went to get our check, my husband gave me a look. "I know, I just totally lied." 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Free Yourself with Values-Focused Reframing

Transparent by Patty Maher, cc license 
Themes of honesty and dishonesty have been on my mind a lot over the past few years. I have spent a lot of time feeling angry about people who were not honest with me and people who asked/required me to be dishonest. I have spent way too much mental energy ruminating on things I should have done or said - way too much energy composing self-righteous speeches and retorts, well after the fact. I avoided, I withdrew, and I felt miserable. I tried to ignore the feelings and when that didn’t work I tried to interrupt my ruminating and practice gratitude instead. While that was a wonderful reminder of all the good things in my life, I still felt angry and the ruminating occurred just as often. I was sick of feeling this way and, one evening in the past year while preparing for an active listening training, I had a bit of a revelation: It was time to reframe.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Avoid Throwing Poop: Talk About Feelings

Photo by Amy McTigue, as per cc license
The ability to identify and reflect others’ feelings is the foundation of empathy and active listening. It helps you take interactions beyond the level of bare facts, allowing for deeper understanding and more profound growth. It is the most effective way to develop rapport and demonstrate understanding. So, it is only fitting to begin this blogging adventure with a discussion around feelings. Whose feelings? Our own feelings. In order to walk in someone else’s shoes, I need to be able to put aside the pair I’m currently wearing. In order to recognize others’ feelings, I need to be able to identify my own.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Formal Introduction

Me and My Munchkin, photo by Jason Pratt
Hi, there. My name is Mary. When people ask me what I “do” these days, I’m not sure what to say. Most of my time is spent chasing and nurturing a toddler, and trying to stay in the present while my mind wanders to planning our family’s next meal, designing workshops, or wondering if I remembered to switch the laundry to the dryer. For our purposes, it may be best to say that what I “do” is spend a lot of time thinking about, reading about and studying empathy, honest and compassionate communication, and listening.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Coming Soon! (Check back July 2012)

In July 2012, I will begin an exploration of a favorite mantra and the name of this blog: Honest and Gentle. Please join me in the practice of communicating with authenticity and grace day-to-day and in response to our most taxing challenges. This blog is for any professionals/paraprofessionals who serve others as well as anyone interested in personal development and empathy. See you soon!