Live your life on purpose . . .

Monday, August 22, 2016

How Deeply Do You Listen?

I’m sure you’ve heard many times how significant listening is in communicating with others. In spite of all we know, we often lack good listening skills, struggling with our own overwhelming need to be heard. I admit that I experience this problem almost daily, although I’m working on becoming a better listener as a result of a book I’m currently reading. This book, The Art of Communicating, was written by Zen master and Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. In it, he speaks of something called “deep listening” as one of the key components of successful human communication.

So what is “deep listening” and how does it differ from the kind of listening (or non-listening) we normally find ourselves doing? At its very heart, deep listening requires “mindfulness of compassion” for the speaker. Nhat Hanh says that our purpose must be to reduce his or her suffering by paying close attention to what is being said, refraining from interrupting, and exercising a non-judgmental approach. This sounds really difficult to me! Yet, such is necessary for true understanding, paving the way to a more loving and sincere relationship between speaker and listener. It’s also something that, undoubtedly, takes focused effort and training.

Assuming you’re willing to attempt to put all this into practice, first take a moment to honestly answer a few important questions. How many times do you listen to someone with the intent of helping them feel a sense of ease? When you listen, do you try to really hear where the other person’s words are coming from – do you pay attention to their heart and not merely their words? Do you also try to withhold opinion, correction, or reproof as you listen? These are fundamental considerations if we want to improve our connections to the world around us.

I challenge you today to spend more time really listening to others and less time talking. Since we were given two ears and only one mouth, we should be listening twice as much as speaking! Being mindful of your verbal interactions with others, pause in your day and make a deliberate attempt to listen deeply. You’ll probably learn something new about the other person, and you might even learn something about yourself. Most importantly, when you listen to someone in this way, you will have made them feel important, special, and loved – something we all need from each other.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Have an Attitude of Gratitude!


It’s pretty easy to feel on top of the world when things are going our way. We are able to experience satisfaction when our needs are met, when we feel appreciated and loved, and when we are able to move through life with ease. The trouble is, no one completely dodges pain and suffering, no matter how fortunate their circumstances may seem. Complaints arise, emotions such as anger or bitterness edge their way in, and in extreme instances, a sense of hopelessness replaces former contentment. Suddenly, life seems like a drag.

Experts tell us that it’s important to our happiness that we practice gratitude, but how is that possible when we feel that the universe has us under attack? Might be easier to just hide under the covers at home for a few days until troubles subside. But that’s not realistic either. There’s a better way, if we are willing to develop a new mindset regarding difficult situations. What I mean to say is that, it’s entirely possible to look at problems as a means for teaching us lessons in gratitude. Before you decide that I’m making no sense, hear me out. Some key points regarding gratitude are as follows:
  1. The practice of gratitude can be learned. While it’s true that most humans are pretty selfish, it is possible to step outside ourselves and focus on the world around us. We can mindfully look around and see others whose circumstances are much worse. This might help us put our troubles in perspective and feel less negative about them. Even more importantly, however, we might even begin to see how our troubles can sharpen our life skills in a way that constant success cannot.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  2. Demonstrating thankfulness in one’s life can increase levels of joy and connection to others. Giving the gift of appreciation and returning kindness to someone else acknowledges them as an important being. We all have a basic need to experience that from others, and we all benefit from knowing that we have reached out to another person. It just feels good to put a smile on someone’s face, after all.                                                                                                                  
  3. Gratitude is good for our minds and bodies. Studies have shown that practicing it decreases blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, reduces anxiety and depression, and enhances relationships. Apparently, it works even better than the latest dietary supplement or superfood!
There are many easy ways to get started strengthening your gratitude muscle, but one idea I recently came across is that of creating a “Gratitude Box”. In her book entitled More Language of Letting Go, Melody Beatty suggests taking one slip of paper for each problem one is currently experiencing, another slip of paper for everything/everyone you are worried about, and yet another for persons you wish to bless (both loved ones and those you resent!). Put these slips in a small box, then spend a few moments each day giving thanks for everything in the box, or take out one slip of paper at a time and give thanks for that. Leave the box where you can see it every day, as a continual reminder that practicing gratitude can change your way of looking at your situation. Give it a try. Soon, you will see how much having an attitude of gratitude can transform your life!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Learning From Pain

Learning From Pain

Although it’s been a year now since I suffered from an impinged shoulder, I still remember what it felt like. I can recall how, try as I might, I could not raise my left arm straight over my head. And I couldn’t bend my arm behind my back without pain. It took 3 months of hard physical therapy to finally get back to normal. All the while, I kept wondering whether things would ever be the same again, whether I would regain the easy mobility I had enjoyed before the injury.
I call it an injury, but really, I’m not exactly sure how my shoulder got to be that way. Everyone, including my physician, asked me what I had done to it. Even today I am fairly clueless. Could have been related to lugging a suitcase on wheels over several paved city blocks on a trip to San Francisco late in the year, nearly five months hence. Or hoisting said suitcase into the overhead compartment on the plane. I just don’t know. Anyway, I do know that I ignored the pain and stiffness for a while, thinking that maybe it would go away on its own. It didn’t. Finally, I saw my physician, and he recommended physical therapy. I had done just that a few years earlier for a rotator cuff injury on the other shoulder, an injury which I might say only took 6 weeks to heal. But then again, I was much younger. I’ve noticed that the older I get, the longer it takes to heal.
Anyway, in my mind, physical therapists are both sadistic and saintly. They put the injured party through some painful exercises, all the while apologizing for the discomfort. However, my threshold for pain is not what it used to be. In fact, might I say that I liken the squirm factor to childbirth – or is that being too dramatic? Whatever the case, physical therapy works. That’s where the saintly part comes in, because my physical therapist was nothing short of a miracle-worker in the end. But that’s another story for another day.
All the weeks of stretching, strengthening, and such gave me plenty of time to develop my mental state as well as my physical abilities. As I was whining to myself (and sometimes to others) about how much it hurt to move my shoulder and how having this injury limited my mobility to the point of preventing me from going through my normal active day – I  began to imagine what it must be like to have chronic pain. I’ve been fortunate in the health department, I must admit. But some people, even a few close to me, suffer daily from conditions that prevent them from functioning without great pain. I’m not talking about something that can be treated and eliminated in a few weeks or months. I’m referring to constant, day in and day out trauma. I can’t even fathom what that must be like.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That seems to apply here both literally and figuratively. I did become physically stronger over time. I learned a lot about movements to avoid as my body ages, in order to prevent future problems. But I also gained an appreciation for those who experience no light at the end of the tunnel, folks who must go through the remainder of their days only reducing the pain at best, but actually learning how to live with it. For them, the only solution is to find a new normal and make peace with that somehow. Once I contemplated that, I became a bit embarrassed about my whining. I gained a new respect for those in chronic pain, but also a new awareness of how blessed I am to have a body which responded to healing therapy in such a finite time. I now take the time to treat my physical self with more lovingkindness. Hopefully, my new insight will pay off in better overall health for me, as well as increased compassion for those who suffer daily.