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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: November 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Where Does Being Curious Get You? (And Barometers of Emotional Health)

So this question comes up a lot here in the office, probably because I'm a fan of curiosity.  Especially when it's a choice of being curious or being critical.  And especially when it comes to asking questions about ourselves and our motives.

There is an old saying that it's better to live in the solution than in the problem.  I think a lot of times we get stuck in the problem to such an extent that we cannot even begin to imagine that there is a solution or what that solution might be.  So that's where being curious gets you.  It gets you to start studying what's in the way of finding the way to the solution.   And it leads the way to something new, something different and hopefully something better.

People often ask me "What am I doing wrong?" Or "What's the matter with me?" Or "What's the matter with my partner that he or she can't or doesn't  (fill in the blank)?"  Or "Why me?"  Or "Why not me?"  So of course lots of the time these questions are understandable expressions of grief, sadness, frustration, anger, disappointment and more.  But sometimes they are more, or at least they can be more.  They can be the beginning of a good dialogue about what is really in the way of us finding out what we really want and how to get there, and how to heal, make progress and feel better. 

The key is that when we ask, we ask with curiosity and not self attack.  And we ask with an openness to study ourselves gently and sincerely and in a safe place where all feelings and thoughts are allowed to live and breathe and be.

A colleague of mine told me recently when I asked how she was: "If having all my feelings would be the barometer of health, then I'm doing fine." Her wisdom often resonates deeply with me, reflecting my own feelings in the most uncanny ways.  It seems to me that this self allowance and self acceptance, even when our feelings are difficult ones to bear, can be the torch light that opens us up to curiosity and helps us to just be, and of course, to grow.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Out of Power

I heard the following post Hurricane story today from a friend of mine.  He was relocating his elderly mother into a local motel after she had lost power in her home.   She could not stay with him because his house has many stairs and she is not able to manage them.   While he was helping her settle in, another elderly couple pulled up to check in.  They had their belongings in garbage bags and asked for help with their "luggage."  Being a motel, there was no help offered, so my friend took their bags (literally) and carried them to their room.  He helped them with the card key lock that has long since replaced metal keys. Since they had not stayed anywhere but their own home in many decades they were not familiar with the new door lock.

He said they were so deeply grateful for his simple good deeds, sending him looks of both gratitude and pleading.  He told them they could call him if they needed any further help and gave them his contact information.  Fortunately, their house survived the storm, but they were out of power still.  And it was getting cold, especially for them, with their frail bodies and limited mobility.

There are many stories emerging from the rubble of Hurricane Sandy. This one is not especially remarkable. Like the aftermath of many disasters, there are tales of pain and loss and sorrow and there are stories of fighting over necessities, like gas for heaters or food or safe drinking water.  And there are stories of selflessness, bravery and simple acts of kindness. 

New Jersey's governor Chris Christie said, in response to people topping off their gas tanks that you "can't legislate selfishness."  He might be right, but most likely he might have been more right to say that you can't legislate fear.  Because most likely it's fear that lurks underneath most selfishness.  Fear of not being safe, or warm, or healthy.  And fear pushes us to do things we might otherwise not be so inclined to do.  Not just during disasters, but often times during daily life and within the context of our relationships.  We often act out of fear for our emotional safety, though we are not usually aware of it on the surface. 

One of the many lessons coming out of yet another disaster is that we may be out of power literally over the environment, over other people, over our feelings and desires, but we are not always out of power about how to respond.  We can shine the flashlights on what we can do. 

The unremarkable small deeds go a long way. (Not to mention that most of us feel valued and helped when someone offers to carry our "bags" once in a while). The little things count.  They count when we do them in our relationships, when we do them for someone who needs a kind word, a smile or help carrying their bags.  Even as we study our own motives and make up, and when we are hurt, deprived or angry (and those feelings count of course) or edgy about the behavior of others, we most likely will come out much more resilient and content when we shine the light on our fears, and the fears of others and power on with compassion.