Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Living with "Bad" Feelings

If you're alive, you will inevitably experience "bad" feelings.

I'm not referring to the sense that something "bad" is going to happen. Rather, I mean the feelings that nobody enjoys such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, frustration, loneliness, hurt, regret, guilt, hopelessness, shame, and other "negative" states.

Since emotional responses usually occur along with various actions, physical sensations, and images (i.e., mental or internal representations of the experience), feelings create very powerful memories in your bodymind.

Imagine the following scenario.

When Jean feels lonely, she sometimes finds herself, automatically, reliving times in her childhood when she didn't have many friends and cried a lot. She can still feel her deep, uncontrollable sobbing, irregular breathing, and the ache in her chest. Jean also remembers her painful and depressing images of a future that continued her isolation.

If you imagined yourself in Jean's place, or in some other familiar setting, you probably experienced the unpleasant situation as if it were happening all over again. You may vividly remember sights, sounds, tastes, words, or physical actions specific to that event.

As a result of the intensity of these memories combined with a current "negative" experience, most people will often do whatever they can to avoid or ignore "bad" feelings, or to become attached to having something that feels "good" instead.

What else can you do?

First, in order to create a new view (or paradigm) about "bad" feelings, you might consider these alternative assumptions:
  • There's nothing intrinsically bad or good about "bad" ("negative") and "good" ("positive") feelings. These terms refer to different kinds of experiences that people judge in various ways. A "bad" feeling is not necessarily worse than a "good" one, and may basically be a difficult-to-feel experience.
  • You are not your "bad" (or "good") feelings. You have these experiences just like other things you have. They don't define you.
  • Your "bad" (or "good") feelings act as signals from your bodymind. You can use these signals to choose, and change, your responses to internal or external events.
With a new view of "bad" feelings, you're now ready to experiment using this practice:
  • Recall a time recently (i.e., minutes or hours ago) when you had an unpleasant (or difficult) feeling.
  • Relive the feeling and all your associated memories, images, and physical sensations . . .
  • Let yourself fully feel the experience in your bodymind.
  • Now, use some of your attention to witness your experiences without judgment--just accept whatever happens . . .
  • Ask yourself silently, "What's happening?" and as simply as possible describe your observations of your experience.
  • You can make written or mental notes (e.g., I'm feeling angry and confused, my head aches, and my muscles are tight) to respond to your question.
  • When you finish, consider, "What do I want to do?" and reflect on your possible actions.
  • Give yourself time and space, and let your response emerge from within.
  • If "I don't know" results, just take more time until you do know and feel satisfied with your response. Of course, "Do nothing" may also surface as well as specific action steps (e.g., call or write the person, change your behavior next time, forgive yourself).
When you use these two questions, "What's happening?" and "What do I want to do?" with witnessing, you develop your capacity to fully experience the complete spectrum of feelings (i.e., from easy to difficult). Then, without judgment of self or other, you may freely choose your responses.

Be patient and kind with yourself!

Love and Peace,

PS In the middle of writing the practice, my computer hard drive crashed! Immediately, I had a direct opportunity to test the strength of my own years of practice. As a result, I quietly witnessed a range of feelings and images move through me, noted what happened, and clearly decided on my action steps. In this way, my experience reveals that the reward for your dedicated practice is that you get to be You!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Communicating from Your Heart

Every day you encounter countless opportunities to apply the Art of Witnessing to make a difference in the quality of your living. A primary opportunity for this skillful practice involves your communication.

Since formats include email, audio, video, cell phone, texting, conventional phone, Skype, Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter, and other social media, you have a wide variety to choose from at any moment in time.

Of course, you can always rely on handwritten notes, memos, and letters, or even face-to-face dialogue as well.

Although these forms require different levels of technological expertise, they share a common, sometimes forgotten, theme. They all represent structures to deliver your message.

Besides the delivery format, you could also attend to the nature or characteristics of the message itself. Three qualities that I've found helpful originate in ancient yogic philosophy and still apply today. That's where witnessing comes into play.

Before you apply witnessing in your communication, you'll need an understanding of the three characteristics to guide your attention. The following questions offer various ways to define these terms:

  • Is your message sufficiently concise, clear, and focused to be understood?
  • Does your communication make sense?
  • Is your message appropriate for the time and circumstances?
  • Is your message gentle, supportive, appreciative, empathic, or compassionate?
  • Does the "tone" (i.e., voice, text, video quality) of your communication encourage listening, reading, or viewing?
  • Is your message relatively easy to experience?
  • Is your message useful, helpful, or valuable?
  • Does your communication provide any benefits?
  • Is your message necessary?
After you have some understanding of these qualities, you're ready to engage your witnessing skills.

You may want to begin this practice with communications that are written, then by phone, and finally in person. In this way, you give yourself some space for rehearsal and review until you're ready for more spontaneous communicating in the physical presence of another person.

To use witnessing with your communications, simply ask yourself, without judgment, if your message demonstrates to your satisfaction the qualities of measured, pleasant, and beneficial.

Your communications will vary in the degree to which they reflect these qualities. You aren't trying to construct the "perfect" communications. Rather, you are deliberately infusing your messages with qualities that enhance your exchanges and relationships. Have fun!

At some point, you might also want to try the practice on yourself. That is, witness how you communicate to yourself. Are you measured, pleasant, and beneficial in your self-talk?

Imagine how your life would change if you were . . .

As you non-judgmentally witness communicating with yourself and others, you'll learn more about you, and discover new opportunities to skillfully integrate these three ingredients to flavor your messages.

Nurture your messages!

Love and Peace,

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Art of Witnessing

On your path to reconnect with your HeartVoice and discover your possibilities for inspired living, you will engage many skills to support you.

One of the essential, practical tools for skillful living is witnessing.

When you "witness" an event, you observe your own or others' actions, and the context related to these actions. Some of this witnessing is within your conscious awareness, while most occurs in your subconscious mind.

You might also attend to any thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations you have. At some moment, you will probably use what you've noticed to make judgments (e.g., good/bad, pretty/ugly, smart/stupid) about yourself or others involved in the event.

As an alternative, you could intentionally continue your "mindfulness"--calm awareness--of the event without creating any judgments. In this way, you would be practicing witnessing as a life-changing skill.

When you use this skill and observe, you create "space" within yourself to pause and reflect. You enhance your listening to yourself and others. You decrease your tendency to react in situations, and improve the likelihood of your saying and doing what you intend.

In addition, you will experience more peace of mind, easy acceptance, creative expression, and health benefits when you embrace this skill.

How can you develop the art of witnessing?

Play with this simple In Your Palm exercise to deliberately cultivate witnessing:
  • Sit comfortably, feet resting on the floor.
  • Take several deep breaths--exhale and inhale smoothly.
  • Let go of any tension or concerns for this period of time, and allow your body and mind to relax . . .
  • Just be aware of your breath . . .
  • Now, place one hand in your lap, palm facing up.
  • Look at your hand, and softly place some of your attention in the middle of your palm.
  • Feel your hand . . . Take your time . . .
  • After several breaths, close your eyes and continue to be aware of your palm.
  • Now witness whatever happens . . . any thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, images . . . just allow these experiences to be as they are without making any judgments.
  • Continue witnessing . . .
  • After a while, move your attention back to your breath, exhaling and inhaling, as you witness . . .
  • Then, let go of of the attention on your breath.
  • Just let yourself rest and relax . . .
  • To end the session, rub your hands together, and place your palms over your closed eyes. Slowly remove your palms, and gradually open your eyes into your hands, then into the room, feeling calm and refreshed.
Once you have a sense of this exercise, you can experiment with such variations as extending the time, moving your attention to other parts of your body, and so on. You can even practice In Your Palm with your eyes open in the company of other people!

As you strengthen your practice of witnessing, you will be opening an important doorway into new possibilities for your life.

Enjoy the freedom of witnessing!

Love and Peace,