Beverly Schwartz and Mr. Rogers and The Importance of Self-Care

By Monica A. Ross, LPC

            We had a great class last night.  The energy of class flows better some nights than others. I smile a little as I look at the tired and weary faces of my colleagues and then glance at my own image on screen also looking a little tired and weary. Many of us have full-time jobs in addition to attending class.  It’s a lot we’re tackling here--this business of changing the world. 

Last night the discussion went from Beverly Schwartz to Mr. Rogers to seed funding.  Beverly wrote a book called Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World.  In one of her lectures which we watched outside of class, she talks about the stickiness of past experience—"for each of these entrepreneurs there was something with their past that collided with their present and set their future in motion—the problem sought them out and stuck to them by virtue of their past experience.”        
 
It’s the stickiness of past experience that has brought my colleagues and me here.  For some of us that past experience starts in childhood.  There was an influential event or an influential person in our lives that caused us to take the actions that we took that led us here today. We saw problems that made it easy for us to see because we've experienced them in some way ourselves.

I was thinking yesterday about choices—the choices we make in life.  How we make choices based on values.  True to my INFP nature, I put a high value on education and on meaning-making.

Different people, different choices.  If I do a values-based exercise with a client I’m truly wanting to know—what are your values and how will you make choices based on those values?  I wouldn’t attempt to give guidance to someone else based on my own value system. 

There’s not a book that I’m going to pull down from any shelf and say “well actually according to this, you should do this….” while others have tried.  That book, if it existed, would be the book that my clients write. All of these psychological tools that are available are there to promote the free and responsible search for one's own truth and meaning. 

There have been people I have come across who have commented on the commitment I’m making to student loan debt to complete this program.  Yes, it's quite a commitment.  If I had put a higher value on other things in life they would have led to other choices, outside of an advanced education, no doubt.

Schwartz throws out another great quote, this one comes from a friend of hers—“When you invest in human value there are never any taxes and you come out richer no matter what happens and when you speak from your soul you speak from a universal language that everyone can understand.” I liked that one too. 

I have made a commitment to human value.  I’m doing my best to speak from my soul. Mr. Rogers?  He comes into play because there is the new documentary coming out soon. He spoke before the Senate in 1969 to defend federal funding of public programs like his own.  In this clip of his testimony found here, he read the poem below. 

The Mad that You Feel

 

What do you do with the mad that you feel? This thinking is very much in line with Viktor Frankl and with existential psychotherapy—stimulus versus response. Between every situation or every stimulus and every response, there is a space.  That space is the power to choose. What I sometimes tell clients is that we can register our feelings about a situation very quickly—within milliseconds. 

The limbic or primitive portion of our brain that is also connected to the amygdala or our fear center makes it hard sometimes not to react immediately, especially when registering an event as threatening in some way.  This actually happened to me the other day at a social gathering. Ugh. It happens to us all, right? 

Before we know it we let some snarky comment get to us before we even know what happened.  Snarky comments can feel threatening.  And before you know it you can get caught in a kind of back and forth tit for tat. 

To be able to work on the ability to handle things tactfully when that happens is a real skill and so hard when our systems are down--when we’re stressed out to the max--all the more reason to implement acts of self-care.

The Loving Kindness Meditation for the Holidays

by Monica Ross

There is a meditation that I came across once in a church service here in Austin—The First Unitarian Universalist Church on Grover Ave. where Rev. Meg Barnhouse is senior minister.  I love Meg’s style of ministering with her emphasis on humor. 

It surprises me that the Metta Meditation or Lovingkindness Meditation is not one that I had come across before especially with all that time that I lived out in California and read about Eastern religion and philosophy. 

But then I sometimes catch myself saying that about other things, as if living in California one is supposed to get exposed to all there is that is alternative, enlightening, and well Buddhist or Eastern oriented.  It's built sometimes as some kind of training or testing ground for tuning out and tuning in and all things experiential.

I guess I got in and of there with what I was able to.  Or maybe this meditation is one of things I did come across and just don’t remember coming across in all that time, but at any rate, it’s now one of my favorites. 

You can find a link to it here with the extended guided practice of it. 

And here is the gist of the recitation.  It starts with “May I” and then moves to 1. A person with whom you feel unconditional love 2. A person for whom you feel neutral 3.  A person for whom you have hostile feelings towards 4. Then it extends to everyone and everything else

May I be free from inner and outer harm and danger. May I be safe and protected.

May I be free of mental suffering or distress.

May I be happy.

May I be free of physical pain and suffering.

May I be healthy and strong.

May I be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease.

What I love about this meditation and what I feel every time I sit and practice it is immediate peace of mind.  I feel a kind of a letting go of things and an acceptance of what is.  But it’s also a wish, an intention, a hope that gets to be expressed for others. 

At the end of the day it’s also a way of re centering—that despite all the miscommunications, misperceptions, mistakes we or others make in life, that at base these are the things that I hope for myself, for the person I love, for the person I feel neutral about, for the person with whom I feel hostile or irritated towards, and for everyone and everything really.

There’s not always the time or opportunity or maybe even the need? in life to go to these individual people directly for whom we have all of these feelings.  When there is that time and opportunity, great take advantage of it. 

In terms of repair there are so many people who go back to those they love and ask for it and for whatever reason, the repair never happens.  I mentioned in another post Judith Viorst's book Necesssary Losses which also deals with this topic.

I've dealt with this myself and it's sometimes painful to sit with others as they go through the dealing with it.

But there is something in the opening of your heart to this way of being and allowing the space for the time and opportunity to happen for the repair and to extend this intention to perhaps a someday face to face meeting, whether it materializes or not.

Why do this?  Why set this intention? And why set it even for the people with whom we truly have let of of and have no goal of reunification?

I had a stepfather from the age of about 6 to the time that I left for college.  I think that he attempted to do the best he could as a father for the time that he parented myself and my two younger siblings. 

But what ended up happening after I left for college and when both of my younger siblings were still in middle school is that he left. 

He left to start a new family and literally cut all contact with his us former family.  And for the past 20+ years he continues to cut contact with all us.  So here is an example of a person for whom someone could develop hostile feelings or even by this time perhaps neutral and a little numbed feelings, right? 

But the point of the story is...the point of letting go is...that we do this for ourselves not for the people who have left.

And that’s maybe why with this meditation it starts with “I.”  It’s a kind of a “May I” and by extension because I care for and value myself so highly “May everyone else.”

Maybe I’m thinking about this now because the holidays are coming up and they’re such a hard time for so many for some of the same reasons.  Let’s keep our focus on that maybe, on good intentions, on well wishes for the well being of others? 

Not so much for others although there is that, but also for ourselves.

Advice from a Close Relative

by Monica Ross

I got some recent relationship advice from a relative, an aunt actually.  We were speaking on the phone, but I could envision her turning towards me in real life, staring me down in a “Hey look, I’ve known you your whole life. At some point, accept some of the feedback I’m giving here” kind of way. 

Getting feedback from someone isn’t always a pleasant thing.

It’s not to say that it can’t be a pleasant thing.  And I think there are times certainly when we’re more open to feedback than at other times.  This time though I was intently listening...hanging on every word and desperately hoping that the advice given would resonate with me and save me from impending disaster. 

This is a person in my life who for the better part of my life I avoided taking advice from because I was determined to live out my life very differently than she.  So for me to stop and pay attention suggests that the time had truly come to seek out alternative options. 

My aunt has maintained a romantic relationship with the love of her life for virtually her whole life.  The relationship started in her 20s and she is now with this same person over 40 years later.  So I ponied up and with ears intent asked what is it you have to teach me about relationships?

Granted, I have a degree in psychology and I could pull a book by John Gottman or Stan Tatkin down from the shelf.  But here was a unique opportunity from someone who in some ways shirked all of that or perhaps came to some of the same wisdom via an alternative route.

Her advice?  I’ll summarize it here and add some thoughts of my own.

#1 Do Not and I repeat Do Not ask “What’s next for us?” from anyone you want to continue to see but have known for less than 6 months.  It’s a tendency that can be hard to fight against because you meet someone new and you think right away this person is incredible! You immediately want to know...where is this going or where could this go? 

The impulse to ask stems likely from being hurt over and over again--and so the desire to prevent that happening yet again.  To do that though can put pressure on the new connection, let’s not even call it a relationship at this point, while it’s in its infancy stage of exploration and play. 

It’s like introducing this dark cloud of doubt right from the very beginning—calling into question the legitimacy of what might not have a “next” but is at the same time just as valid, just as important perhaps as those relationships that do.

#2 Do not take anything anybody says literally.  Every word that comes out of a person’s mouth should be taken with a measure of skepticism, she explains.  At first glance this seems a bit cynical--like the point being made is that people on the whole aren’t honest.  But that’s not the point being made.

People may very well be honest when they tell you how they feel and what they think.  But people don’t always often know themselves very well, do they?  So their being honest is really an attempt at being honest at best.  It’s a way of characterizing how they feel, which at any moment can also change as the person gathers new information.

#3  Resist the urge to fill up space for other people with the fear that if you don’t fill it up they will find someone else who will.  This really stems from a fear of losing them.  But space is a good thing. 

It’s one of those paradoxes of life in that you would think it would be the opposite—spend as much time as possible with this person and they won’t have time to think about anything else.  But often in those moments when they are doing other things and they’re mind is focused elsewhere, their thoughts drift back to you.  We all I think that can attest to experiencing that.

It’s the--not everyone in our lives can fill every roll for us, nor should they, philosophy.

#4 The only thing that leads to the next level in a relationship is TIME.  Don’t be afraid of that either.  The closer we get towards the later parts of our years, the more the tendency to want to conserve and preserve time. 

There is the fear that time is running out.  But truly we never know how much time we have.  We assume in our younger years that we have plenty of time ahead of us, but then I think of those I knew from my youth who passed away at a young age.  So, no.  We don’t know any of us, how much time exactly we have on this earth.

#5  There are times when you don’t need to do anything.  This is an important one.  I’ve mentioned this one myself elsewhere.  Sometimes simply doing nothing can be very effective.  For one, it gives everyone a break and the time and space to think.  Again—time.  Space.

#6 Keep the connection fun and keep as much as possible from emotional reasoning.  That’s another one covered in an earlier post and it is a hard one to learn for those of us tagged as highly sensitive or intense.

When I’ve had couples in my office I’ve witnessed emotional shifts in energy taking place between two people first hand.  It’s an interesting thing to observe happening via body language, tone of voice, word choice. 

One person appears to be pushing and the other is pulling or vice versa.  When that happens it’s as though the couple has entered into Plan B Mode.  We want to avoid stepping into Plan B Mode. Plan B is when fun ceases because anxiety and worry and doubt are introduced. 

Things start to feel all around uncomfortable for both parties.  There is a disconnect.  And you know it and can feel it as a couple when you’re in that mode.

#7  Intimacy does not always mean commitment.  You can achieve intimacy with someone with whom you are not in a committed relationship with.  Let’s go back to the definition of “intimacy” or “intimate.” 

Privacy, closeness, familiar experience, personal connection, warm friendship.  

Some people think that commitment is a means to achieving intimacy because it fosters feelings of security and safety. But I suppose the opposite could be true—intimacy fosters commitment.  At any rate, you can have one without the other.  The two are not permanently linked.

So take it for what it’s worth.  I’m just passing along wisdom that was passed along to me.  This isn’t an academic discussion by any means.  This is just a testament to a close relative’s personal experience on the topic of connection.

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