On the holiday yesterday I was reflecting a bit on the notion of space.
I learned through some reading (and probably a podcast as well) about a Japanese concept called “Yutori” and it caught my attention. It describes a notion of spaciousness. It’s leaving time between appointments so you can get there early and look around. It is allowing time for meditation or mindfully and slowly engaging in a quiet practice of some kind.
I really love this notion. The more I learn about this concept, the more I realize I have been actively trying to embody this notion in my daily life. From the desire for a more minimalist space to my conscious efforts to increase my meditative practices, I am pursuing this desire for Yutori.
As I allow for more spaciousness in my life, my creativity seems to open to ideas I might not have considered before. My days “resist” too much scheduling, but invite just the right amount of activity and rest to feel more integrated.
Though I am far from perfecting this notion, the concept and its appeal for me is driving me toward my next venture. I can feel that, as much as I occasionally feel I must accelerate things. Somehow I firmly trust that giving the spaciousness enough soil, air and water, I cultivate an amazing garden of inner richness.
Where and when do you find spaciousness in your life?
I have been experimenting with different titles on my Linked In page lately and the results are fascinating.
Recently it occurred to me that “researcher” describes a lot of what I do best and still love to do – constantly learning and taking in new “data” while evaluating and coming up with theories about how to apply knowledge in new ways. It made me giggle when I described myself in a new way on my page. I also added my company name (which is a little generic right now, a place-holder for the freelance LLC). I suddenly I had a lot of congratulatory messages on the new job. Ha, I thought. I am just making this up,people!
No titles can ever encompass the totality of what makes you YOU in a professional or a personal sense. When you seek employment with a company, typically titles mean something specific, and have a particular job description that accompanies them.
When you are a freelancer, or are starting a company of your own, nobody tells you what title you can have. A lot of folks like the “grand” titles: CEO, President, Creator, Founder… I like those too. But they imply a lot of things that I just don’t care to embody in my new venture. I don’t plan to have a slew of employees, so they do not apply.
I landed on “Principal Researcher” (for the moment) because it reflects a large part of what I truly enjoy, and I like it better than the generic “consultant.” But there are so many other phrases that could describe what I like to do – Creative Director, Facilitator, translator of cultural norms, etc. The “glue that holds a team together…” But since I am Minnesotan and we are taught not to brag, I’ll move right along. 😉
What’s great is that I get to make this up as I go along, and I can change it when I wish. There are NO rules! That’s liberating. I like to defy definition. Of course, I am more comfortable with ambiguity than most, so that works for me.
What about you? What title would you give yourself, if you could just make one up?
I hope you are well. This week I recommend a beautiful poetry blog, Vita Brevis. It is curated by Brian Geiger. There you will find some lovely pieces by emerging poets, usually accompanied by artwork as well.
In these days when reading time becomes precious to me, I appreciate poetry more and more. I love the magic of an idea or a scene expressed in the medium of poetry. It is a pleasure and a gift.
Do you ever notice what tone of voice you use with yourself when you make a mistake?
We all talk to ourselves (it is part of the human condition) though some people are not aware of what language they are using.
For example: you forgot to pick up your dry cleaning (again) and you wanted that clean shirt for tomorrow’s presentation. Do you say, “sheesh, you idiot, why did you do that again?” Or do you say, “Oh well, I guess I’ll wear a different shirt. I’d better put that reminder in my calendar next time.”
When you realize you did something you did not intend, do you have compassion for yourself? Do you speak with yourself the way you would speak to a beloved friend? Or do you self-flagellate and add insult to injury?
Quite simply, the way you treat yourself has a lot to do with how much compassion you can extend to others as well. If you realize we all make mistakes, that it is not a character flaw, and resolve to do it differently next time, you can learn. If you criticize yourself or use harsh words, you break down your relationship with yourself.
Language can powerfully shape the way we think. If you speak to yourself with kind and loving words instead of harsh and blaming ones, you honor your being’s inherent tendency for growth and development. When you blame yourself or put yourself down (even if you do not intend, or if it is just habitual) it can erode the trust you have in your own wisdom.
It is interesting how I can observe family members or friends when they do this, but I didn’t realize when I was inadvertently doing this myself. I first discovered this during meditation. I used to “say” things like – oh dear, can you REALLY not concentrate for more than 30 seconds?”
Now when I meditate I say (to myself): hmm, how interesting that I’m thinking about X or Y. Then I gently pull myself back to my breath, or my body, whatever I am focusing on for the moment. Then 2 minutes later when I am planning my work for the day (while meditating), I say: “it’s okay, I know you are concerned about that. But it will be there when you are done meditating. Come back now.” It is a loving voice, gentle forgiving.
If you cannot access your thoughts through meditation, try a “thought download” – take a sheet of paper and just unload all of your thoughts for 5-10 minutes It might surprise you what is in there.
Curiosity and compassion will get you SO much further than blaming and shaming.
Yesterday I arrived in Buenos Aires and attended meetings in the afternoon with a relatively new contractor who started with us in January to cover for the maternity leave of another employee. We started things off with a meeting at one of our clinical research sites, a well-known cardiovascular specialty center that is also a teaching hospital. Two prominent physicians met with us, along with their medical fellow (who does most of the actual work of entering patient data).
When I make an appearance now and then and travel here from far away, these physicians like to “talk research” with me and present ideas they have about new therapies and studies in which they enroll patients. It is an engaging and interesting discussion and I really enjoy the enthusiasm of these fellow researchers. They ask hard questions! Fortunately I was on my game, even after only 4 hours of sleep on the plane the previous night.
After the site visit, my contractor and I sat to have a late lunch, since I had skipped that in favor of getting to the site visit on time. We had time to visit and get to know each other in a casual environment. I learned more about her career path in this field. We have both been in clinical research for 11 years, and we both entered though a “side door” not knowing the field existed prior to entering.
I work with an international team, with all of my direct reports living in other countries. We spend a lot of time on conference calls, corresponding via email and doing a lot of what I think of as virtual, rather than real-time communication. It is nice that electronic tools give us the flexibility to work remotely when necessary, and to come together as a team for our monthly operations meetings, for example.
I believe there is NO substitute for some old-fashioned, face-to-face, trust-building time with your coworkers. None at all. Video-conferencing can be helpful, and I am glad it exists. Looking people in the eye, and getting to absorb their gestures and body language is simply irreplaceable, especially when there may be language barriers.
My Spanish has improved greatly in the 11 years I have worked in a Latin American division, without question. But it still is my second language, not my first. Being able to know with real-time feedback whether communication is understood, or whether there is a gap, is SO much easier in person. It is also more relaxing, and you may not feel like you are “on stage” the way I sometimes do when I’m on video-conference.
For this reason, as well as many other cultural factors that are probably relevant to trust-building in Latino cultures, it is very important for me to have in person meetings to set the foundation for trust. There is something irreplaceable about real human contact, and there are certain messages that are easier to deliver in person. For this reason, even though travel makes me a bit weary, it is always worthwhile to make the journey.
I just love Brené Brown’s work on how to use what she calls “Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice.” She is a Texas born and bred professor, researcher and storyteller who studies shame, wholeheartedness and how we use story and narrative to shape our lives. Her Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability has been viewed over 33 million times. It is one reason I decided to start this blog.
Her definition of spirituality as a belief that humans as inherently interconnected, and in a loving force greater than ourselves is something I truly align with personally. Brown’s work is starting to make its way to families, government and leadership in large organizations. Her approach has wisdom that has been profound for me.
She uses a term coined by Anne Lamott which is a personal favorite, the “shitty first draft.” Her process of identifying the stories we get “caught” in, and realizing they are stories we make up in our own heads to explain things, but that they are not reality, has helped me enormously. I wrote on this theme last week, but I want to explore it from a different angle here, since I finished re-listening to her audio program again recently.
The idea is that we need to recognize when we are in a difficult emotion (the reckoning). Instead of eating it or damping it down with alcohol or buffering it by numbing out on facebook, we get curious. We examine those feelings, own our story, and “rumble” with it. This step means we get honest about the stories we are making up, challenge them to determine what is true, what’s self-protection and what needs to change.
The final step is the revolution, in which we write a new ending to our story based on the key learning from our rumble. We then use this new, braver story to change how we engage with the world and to ultimately transform the way we live love, parent and lead. (summary from page 37 of Rising Strong).
Some of us who have been to therapy recognize this is something that counselors do while we are figuring out what is causing pain for us in our lives. When suffering from depression or anxiety, it is critical skill to understand that it is our thoughts that cause us emotional pain, not our circumstances. Sure, if we are experiencing grief or loss or a traumatic event, then there will be pain. This is human, and though we are terrible about allowing grief as a culture, it is absolutely necessary for healing.
The tricky part is that we often add to our pain by layering shame and self-hatred on top of those life experiences. “I should be happy” we tell ourselves. “I should feel grateful” all of the self-help books tell us. But “shoulds” are not helpful. Feelings are what they are. They are not good or bad, they are part of being human.
Feelings often provide some helpful clues to us on what and who we want to move towards or move away from in our lives. Brené Brown makes the point that we often believe we are people that THINK and sometimes feel. But the actuality is that people always FEEL and sometimes think. Perhaps this is a remnant from the Descartes’ idea that “I think therefore I am,” but it is inaccurate.
Neuro-biologically we are wired for emotion. We are wired for story. Our brain actually gives us a dopamine hit when we create a story that explains whatever disparate facts are in front of us. It makes no difference whether the story is true, it just takes comfort from making sense of the world. The stories we tell shape our lives. And when we tell them enough times, they evolve into theories about how the world works. Any theory we belief for long enough becomes a belief.
The awesome thing about humans is that we can choose to believe new things. When we encounter a belief that is causing us pain, we can unpack it, question it, and possibly change it. We often find we believe things we may have been taught when young, or observed in our family systems.
What if we write our stories as though we are the heroes and not the victims? What if we are able to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made, and the mistakes others made? When we can free ourselves in this way, we free our energy to stop living in our past and to take brave steps into the future.
If you want a free link to this roughly 3-hour audible presentation on this topic, where Brown explains her work, and also answers questions from the audience please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to share this with anyone who may want to do similar personal work.
My husband is an amazing man with a kind heart and a wicked sense of humor. Last year we were apart on Valentine’s Day because I was traveling to Peru for work. Actually about half the past few years we are apart, because I tend to travel in February. This year I managed to postpone my trip until Feb 19-24 so I could be home on Valentine’s Day.
While I was headed to dinner with my work associates, I happened to check the email on my phone and he had sent me a series of 7 messages called “7 reasons why I love you.” We had been together nearly 7 years, and it brought tears to my eyes to read these beautiful messages.
Hubby typically expresses his love through acts of service. If any of you know Gary Chapman’s “5 Love Languages” you know that people tend to express their love in particular ways. I tend to be in the “words of affirmation” camp, and we both express love through physical touch as well. But this surprised and pleased me so much, when he expressed his love for me in my love language.
This is the first year we are celebrating Valentine’s Day as a married couple. He surprised me by having some luscious chocolate dipped strawberries and a dozen red roses delivered to me yesterday. He has always been so thoughtful and kind. He is terrific at picking out gifts I will enjoy, and he is generous with his time and talent to our families in so many ways.
Last February when we set our wedding date and began planning for the big event, it was a big breakthrough for me. I had been processing some of my old baggage about marriage in therapy, which is something I highly recommend when necessary.
But one day it was like a switch flipped in my brain. I realized what a great privilege and gift I had been given: this man loves me, despite my flaws and imperfections. He wants to commit to working through our struggles and being with me for the rest of my life. Sometimes I’m not even sure *I* have the patience to be with myself to work on my own neuroses. If I miss the boat on accepting his love, and giving it freely in return, I will miss the universe’ invitation to really grow in our relationship and develop spiritually.
So today I want to express gratitude for my favorite guy in the world. He is a great partner and is patient with me and with my struggles. I am so honored to call him my husband and I am so happy we get to be together.
I hope you have someone in your life that you love, and that someone that loves you. Tell them how much you love them. Being loved and accepted begins with yourself of course, but it is such a sweet bonus when you find someone who loves you for you. What an amazing and delightful miracle.