Is it necessary, is it the truth, is it kind?

This blog may be covering something that has been in existence since man began to speak, I may be more sensitive to this issue as I have grown older, or both! The title of this blog may be recognized as a Buddhist admonition before speaking or writing something for others to read. Due to the length of what I want to say about this concept, I will be breaking this statement down into three separate blogs.

Unfortunately, I find the question, “is it necessary” to usually not even be in the realm of consciousness, much less utilized. We have all run into people who are either talking to themselves out loud, such that it can be heard by those within several feet around them, or to those who seem to talk incessantly about anything that comes to their mind. This latter point reminds me of a wonderful saying I heard a couple of summers ago, “Your mouth does not have to repeat everything your mind thinks!” I am not really blogging about these folks, but all us “normal” people.

While I will go into what the mind thinks in further detail in the next blog, we have to keep in mind (pun intended!) it as not a free thinker. Our bodies, emotions, and thoughts are all a product of our past experiences in life. No one is born a racist, abuser, liar, cheat, etc., these and everything else that we think and feel are all learned first in our home, at school, and then as we interact with everyone in the world.

The mind is a meaning-making machine. Unfortunately, all of the initial meanings that we place on our experiences early in our childhood are done with a child’s simplistic mind. The mind then looks at every subsequent experience to determine if it is something new or fits into a paradigm that has already been set up. Our ego then, in order to validate what we “know to be true,” seeks like-minded companions or sets about convincing everyone else they are wrong.

Hence, we speak and write about things that are not necessary. When others speak or write, we do not usually listen or read to really understand the other’s point of view, we almost immediately begin to form a reply. Not only have we not use the mind’s ability to possibly integrate new ideas; we do not even use its ability to thoughtfully reply.

Further complicating this lack of true communication is laziness. It takes time and effort to truly communicate effectively with others, constantly perception checking, and engaging in an unemotional dialogue. Speaking what is necessary in short sentences is hard for many of us and I’m not even addressing those people we know who go on and on and on so they don’t even have to hear the other persons ideas. Speaking even three separate ideas in a short statement tends to engender a response to only one of the ideas, meaning the other two truly were not necessary.

Perception checking means the listener repeats back what they think they heard and asked is this what the speaker meant. Talk about making for a stilted conversation! However, I am always surprised at how even seemingly easily understood statements can be heard incorrectly. Finally, we rarely engage in an unemotional dialogue. Now, of course, I am not suggesting that we should not be passionate about what we discuss. What I am talking about is when someone inadvertently gores one of our beloved ideas causing us to become angry. That anger automatically engages the limbic brain, shutting off the prefrontal cortex, and rendering our higher cognitive functioning useless.

It is this latter emotional state that we so assiduously try to avoid and drives us into like-minded groups. Unfortunately, doing this locks us into a closed system. That is where the feedback we want is fed back to us, which we think then validates what we just said, convincing us that, naturally, we were right all along!

This can be accomplished by only talking to like-minded friends, reading only those magazines and books that support our ideas, and watching or reading news sources that agree with us. It is both scary and hard to truly listen to an opposing point of view, not make any comments at that time, and to contemplate its validity.

This blog came about when to friend on Facebook posted some talking points on liberalism. I took exception, as the liberalism of today does not match up with the liberalism I grew up with. Back then, we welcomed and even defended divergent speech, even when it was offensive (ACLU) and we did not try to stifle speech. We were civil in the face of intolerance, trying to educate a racist, not calling them one, much less throwing that ugly word around for political gain as seems too often to be the case today. Liberals read William F. Buckley and listened to Barry Goldwater as well as Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal, not booing and creating disturbances to keep those whose ideas that did not match ours from giving speeches.

It seems to me that if we would apply this first section, “is it necessary?” to all we say and write, we would all enjoy respectful, well thought out, and interesting ideas no matter where on the spectrum they fell.

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A Most Wonderful Accident!

I had a very interesting Saturday this past weekend. There is another instructor at one of the studios where I sub that I had briefly “met” once before, although her reputation as a wonderful teacher was well known to me. I put quotes around the word met, as we were not actually introduced (a subject of an upcoming blog!), she spoke to our yoga teacher training group last month and we heard each other’s name there. Yep, even though I’ve taught yoga for years, I confess I was a renegade teacher and only just now got my teaching certificate! But I digress.

After not really interacting with this teacher previously, I ran into her twice this past Saturday, we talked for several minutes each time, and then I e-mailed her at the end of the day. We spoke once in the morning at a yoga studio and then again at a grand opening celebration of another yoga studio later in the day. Both times were pleasant, mainly a light banter about yoga and the studios in which we found ourselves. However, later in the day something happened that I found to be very impactful for me in several ways!

Shortly after we spoke in the afternoon, I was eating and enjoying an Indian mantra band when she and her daughter walked by to join in listening to the band. One would think that as a child psychotherapist I would be better suited to gauging ages, but figure her daughter was about five or six and she was dancing to the music, lost in her revelry as they passed. Just as they began to stop, the daughter, in her exuberance, hit the paper plate of food her mom had and it fell to the floor, landing upright, but still spilling some of the food.

Ah, one of those moments when time seems to stand still. Her mom was facing away from me, so I could not see her expressions as she bent to begin picking up the small mess, but her daughter was in full view and, as children are wont to do, a wonderful mosaic of open emotions. I saw surprise, concern, contritement, embarrassment (as she quickly glanced my way), and confusion. All this as her body went ridged not knowing what to do next.

So how was this wonderful? I didn’t see fear. I cannot tell you how many times I do see this emotion when observing children that have an accident and find it so sad. How do I know there wasn’t fear there? How do I know her daughter was concerned, not scared? I can wholeheartedly empathize with that moment in two ways. First, I remember too well feeling terror when I had an accident.

As I hinted in another blog, my mother has only two main settings, as easy going as a narcissistic, full blooded German Scorpio can be and an atomic bomb. I remember not caring anything about even a serious injury I sustained in high school, but what was going to happen when she found out; was she going to nurture or punish? Second, in that stillness before we begin to act in response to what has just happened, I remember unloading on my daughter several times when she innocently had an accident, repeating the sins of my mother; it brings tears to my eyes even now.

Although they express themselves somewhat similarly, I could tell the daughter was concerned and not afraid because her body was slightly leaning into her mom, not pulling away. Even if she was too young to know what to say or how to react to the accident, hence the rigidity of body caught up in indecision, her limbic system was not in the freeze mode of flight, fight, freeze, or feign death that fear automatically exerts on a body.

Wow, I was impressed at this woman’s relationship skills that in a moment that would expose any parenting flaws, she, in a seemingly calm fashion, cleaned up and her daughter was not fearful. Several things happened following this incident, the first being I offered my napkin and then went to get more and a spare plate to allow her to clean up the spill. I then thought on my training and how effortlessly the analysis of the situation and recognition of all its facets revealed itself to me! And then, I was confronted with something I have been working on, stepping into the limelight.

For a variety of developmental reasons, I do not really reveal me to others easily and I sure do not step up and inject myself into a stressful personal situation! Luckily, as an excellent psychotherapist I know from Taos always said, “recognition is the key” and I recognized my reluctance to praise this woman for her skills. There was enough happening, what with the band playing and her talking with others (how convenient for me to indulge in my reluctance!), that I did not overcome my hesitance to talk to her at the party and then needed to leave. However, once home, I stepped up by e-mailing her, albeit in a much less personal and somewhat less comprehensive manner, letting her know my thoughts and feeling on what happened and was rewarded with a kind reply.

Had this woman brought this incident into a psychotherapy session, there was, as another semi-mentor of mine would say, a “teaching moment.” Especially with children this young, but at any age even through adulthood, remember to always start off by telling them you love them and that you know it was an accident. Tell them you love them even when it is not an accident and consequences will need to be assessed! She could have also begun to teach and/or foster empathy and responsibility in her daughter by adding that although it was an accident, she needed help cleaning up the mess, asking her daughter to fetch napkins and then having her throw away the trash. These are little things that pay big dividends in the future.

While these would have been added bonuses, the mom had already hit a home run with doing no harm, both previously and in that instant. In many ways, that Saturday was magical from the moment I woke up until I went to bed. I am so very grateful to be sixty, still learning, still growing, and every day embodying ever more my authentic self!

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