I love the changing colours of the seasons and it struck me today, that the colours are turning more noticeably now, in what is a somewhat later than customary autumnal period. As I walked around the park this afternoon, it occurred to me, change is constant in life. The human mind creates stability, filtering out most of the movement, so we see only snatches of the transition over time. It kinda makes it important to catch the moments we can, so we see the openings and opportunities for change in ourselves, not only in the world around us, don’t you think?
No, I am not referring to voyeurism. Nor do I have in mind people who appear to be trying to give each other a tonsillectomy or those who have become a little too amorous with each other in a public place you think; I wish they would go and get a room. So perhaps to be more precise I ought to say Watching people who love each other is beautiful.
I’m thinking more along the lines of people, regardless of gender (and any other label for that matter), naturally expressing their fondness for each other, who enjoy each others company, respect one another and have a natural ease with each other. This is a beautiful sight and I find it lovely to be around. I admit witnessing people with a genuine naturalness in the way they interact has brought a smile to my face and lifted my heart. If the people in question are in love with each other than that’s an added bonus, so too are people who are in love with life and being alive.
I would describe being in the vicinity of those in love with life or another human being and who express their affection for each other as a warming energy. I have noticed if I am in the moment then I am more open to receiving what I find with me at the time. When I am in the moment and I find this type of warming energy it can spark a compassionate and empathetic energy in me. It’s like when you see someone smile you find yourself smiling too.
Thought for the day: Love resides in each of us; it is in the world around us in many ways. It is up to us to be open to receive it, feel it, value it as it is and to pay attention so that we see it in our every day life.
Peer Support can be a beautiful thing. If it’s carried out in a compassionate, non-judgemental and constructive way, facilitating independent or collaborative action leading to independence.
I have been involved in Peer Mentoring since August 2015 with a local charity. This comes from my desire to share with others what I have learnt through my healing process in the hope that it may aid others in their process. The peer mentoring I am referring to is in the area of mental health and what it entails depends on the organisation, clientèle and the mentoring programme involved.
My experience is as a Volunteer as part of a local programme providing short term contact with someone who is experiencing mental health challenges whether it be anxiety, self-harm, depression, psychosis etc etc etc. At the end of the day we all have mental health challenges, we simply experience those challenges differently as we are at different points along the mental health challenges spectrum at any given point in our life.
As a Peer Mentor the primary aim is to provide support that enables and facilities an individual to take the steps they need to continue their ‘recovery’.
‘Recovery’ this word seems to mean many things. For me, I prefer to say healing as that is essentially what I have been doing. Healing and growing as a person; mind, body and soul. It is a continuous flow of action not a short term smart goal.
What makes for a useful, helpful Peer Mentor?
Critically, an ability to establish a safe environment for a dialogue to take place where individuals can speak freely concerning their needs, emotions, thoughts, and dilemmas. An ability to demonstrate clear boundaries and so act as a role model which assists people to learn to manage themselves.
Personal qualities of being non-judgemental and so accepting and respectful of other people, their circumstances, life styles etc, an ability to self manage be it in emotions, time, awareness of own needs etc and to be able to share space, by that I mean being able to let others exist for themselves. As a Peer Mentor we need to be able to let our mentee explore and learn in their own way and in their time. What worked for us may not work for our mentee.
It is important that Peer Mentors aid their mentee to move forwards. Our time with them is limited. It will be of no use to a mentee if we were to come into their lives, do what was needed for them and then leave. Who will take over after we have gone? It is far more beneficial to support an individual to take steps for themselves thereby giving them a blue print of taking action which they can build on. This is empowering the other person to make decisions for themselves, to take action when they consider it appropriate to do so, leading to increased confidence and independence. It is not for the Peer Mentor to take over things or tell mentees what to do. Our role is to support and facilitate mentees actions, as long as these are of course positive and constructive steps to further healing and so being able to focus on what has been achieved whilst simultaneously noting what needs to be done and reflecting to the other person the skills and qualities we see in them is of great importance. Through a Peer Mentors ability to do this they are aiding the other person to see another way of looking at themselves which may not have occurred to them or perhaps they didn’t have the confidence to believe was true of themselves.
Both Peer Mentor and mentee are on an equal footing, this means we can learn from each other through sharing and exploring solutions, ideas, experiences etc.
There is no one way or ‘right way’ to heal. There is only our way for ourselves, exploring and learning what works for us at any given time.
There is far more that can be said of Peer Mentoring, I hope this blog gives you an idea of what is needed to be a Peer Mentor that benefits a mentees process rather than hinders it.
No, this does not mean you need to get all mushy, although I personally like a bit mush, every now and then. Speaking from the heart is from the compassionate communication model, I referred to in previous blogs, developed by the late Marshall Rosenberg. Essentially, it is listening to hear the need of the other person (or ourselves) which may not be directly communicated.
At the end of the day, some people are more comfortable communicating their feelings and needs than others. We are after all, only human, some days are going to be better than others when it comes to being able to identify our feelings and/or needs and being able to communicate effectively. Imagine a world where we all accept this and we are able to hear what another is saying (or trying to) with a heartfelt understanding of this. I like the look and sound of that world. In some parts of the world this exists. I would like to see it more often. I would like to see this as the norm.
So what is it?
In Rosenberg’s communication model, one of the steps is to listen for the feeling and the need behind the feeling. This is applied to ourselves as well as to others. Obviously, with the latter scenario we need to check with the other person what it is they are feeling and needing. No one can really read another person’s mind.
Rosenberg proposed if we can listen to ourselves and others through our heart, by listening for the feeling and the need behind it, we can engage with ourselves and others more authentically and at a deeper level than the ‘thinking’, the intellectual level. In the feeling space: the being space, we can truly connect with ourselves and others.
For me, speaking from the heart is about our approach to being in the world, not only our communication with ourselves and others.
In my recent blogs, I referred to acceptance of ourselves and others as we are and to separating our interpretation from our observation, so that we have more opportunity to be in the moment and live our experience, before interpreting it through judgement, analysing, etc. In my last blog, I wrote of listening to hear by being physically present and consciously attentive. All of this can lead to listening and speaking from the heart.
Why do this?
I have found by incorporating these approaches into my life, that I have more capacity to be fully present with myself and others. From the being space, I can listen and speak from my centre. From my heart. This leads me to be fully present in the moment and so in the flow of my experience. I am aware of my experience at a sensory, emotional, physical and psychological level.
By taking away judgements, interpretations, expectations, demands etc, my mind feels free and clear so I have the capacity to accept myself as I am, as well as others for the way they are. Remembering of course that acceptance does not require us to like what is being accepted, as liking or disliking would require us to make some form of evaluation and so judgement.
This is not easy. For example, on the morning that I was writing this blog, I experienced some intense body memories and emotional flashbacks. It was not at all easy for me to accept my experience as the memories were so unpleasant and that is putting it mildly. However, reminding myself of the purpose of my engaging with the memories, namely that it enables me to heal so that eventually the memories will stop or lose their emotional intensity so they no longer cause me distress, I was able to accept my experience and move forwards in my processing of the memories and emotions that came with them.
When someone is doing something that causes us some distress or discomfort, being able to accept the situation and the way we feel is imperative for our own well being, so to is being able to identify what we need and how to express those needs. I have found listening and speaking from the heart supports my ability to do this in a constructive way leading to a healthy and authentic engagement.
Know the purpose of your actions
If we engage with ourselves and others from a genuine desire to connect rather than a feeling of having to, but a place of wanting to and not from any form of fear, guilt, shame etc. we give ourselves and others scope to grow and to live in the moment. We can take our time in the moment; we can explore our experience as it unfolds.
I admit this has taken practice and I am still practising. This is not something you learn once and that’s it. Yes, the process and stages will become more natural as we practise and we become used to this way of being. However, I find that bringing myself back to the principles of compassion and acceptance, enables me to stay awake to my communication with myself and others, so I can check I am still being true to my intention: to be compassionate.
If I can maintain a stance of listening and speaking from the heart, then this energy will hopefully be felt by the other person I am with. This can lead to the opening up of dialogue through a feeling of acceptance, which provides a feeling of safety and can lead to people feeling truly heard and known. There is of course no guarantee that this will happen. However……
For me, a combination of all of these approaches has been extremely beneficial as they have, in one way or another, assisted my healing process not only the development of my communication skills. My relationship with myself has changed to one that is more understanding, supportive and kind.
Listening is not a passive act, not if we are truly listening, as when we are truly listening we are physically present. We can take in the words and presence of another.
How much of our environment, let alone the people we interact with, do you think we take in when our mind is working so fast on the things we need to do, or to remember, or to say, or we are preoccupied with the way we are feeling or what others may be thinking? We may feel like we are being present and to be fair, to a degree we will be. However, the degree will be greatly diminished.
Effective listening is being involved in the act of listening or perhaps I should say process, as there is more than one layer to listening.
If we are thinking of how to respond whilst someone is speaking to us, then we are not listening fully to the other person. We are half listening, perhaps less. This means we are missing things.
Listen to hear what is being said, rather than considering what we will say in response or what we think and feel about what is said. Naturally, these things will happen, indeed, to be an effective listener we need to be able to interpret what we hear and see, but let it be part of the process, not the immediate thing that happens. Linking back to some of my previous blogs, be present in the moment and observe first.
Allow time for people to speak for themselves and in their way. Let there be a silence, short or long, people need time to process their thoughts and how they feel, not just us in relation to what we have heard. Silence doesn’t have to be cold and indifferent. Silence can be warm and loving, giving of ones time and attention and holding of another (and ourselves) through being physically attentive.
Listen to hear the words that are spoken, remembering that words have different meanings to us all. We have our own perception and interpretation processes which can lead us to give different meanings to words. Sure there is the customary meaning found in official dictionaries but even so, we still need to be mindful of our own personal interpretation. It’s always a good idea to check our understanding of what is said to ensure we are understanding what was meant.
Listening to all the cues involved in human communication, that’s facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture, energy levels and the words used. If we don’t listen to all of the communication and we don’t engage in the process of the communication itself, then we will miss at least in part, what is being communicated and an opportunity to truly connect.
In order to listen effectively we need to engage and to be physically present. Hear the words spoken, how they were said, observing body posture and respond reflectively. That is relaying in our words what it is we hear being communicated. The person/people we are with will clarify anything that has been misunderstood or perhaps the speaker may realise, hearing our reflection, they haven’t communicated what they thought they did.
Being physically present and attentive, consciously, leads us to naturally engage with others. Then listening attentively becomes something we do not need to think about, as we will be engaged with the connection we are experiencing.
For example, I felt I wasn’t heard when the person I spoke to automatically responded by recounting something they felt was similar to what I was talking about. Being on the receiving end of this, I felt what I said had been replaced and the person I was with wasn’t interested in what I was sharing with them. What would have met my needs and I did mention this to them, would have been if they could have engaged with me and what I shared, before sharing their own experience.
Reflecting the essence of what we hear using our own words (paraphrasing) can lead to feeling heard and understood. It can also highlight to the speaker whether they have expressed themselves the way they thought they had and if any clarification is needed. To be useful, the reflection needs to be concise, otherwise we could lose the other person, after all, we can only take in so much information, right?
So, thought for the day: Actively listen by showing through your body you are present with the other person/people, show that you are listening in your facial expressions, your gestures, hear the words spoken, be attentive to what you see in the other persons body language and take your time. There is no reason why human connection has to be undertaken as if we were all on speed.
Now this was tricky to learn.
This is one of the very first steps to tackle in Marshall Rosenberg’s Compassionate Communication model (Non-Violent Communication where one speaks from the heart) which I have mentioned in previous blogs.
It took time and lots of patience to acquire the ability to observe first and then interpret, my mind was wired up to interpret pretty much automatically and initially, when I was much younger than I am now, I couldn’t see there was another way of looking at things I was drenched in black and white thinking so heavily. However, I have found the benefits of developing this ability worthy of the time spent and effort taken.
So, what does separating observation and interpretation entail?
Literally we do as it says. Observe. We pay attention to what we see. Rather than what we think or feel about what we see. There is no interpretation, we do not take time to wonder, assume or infer. Obviously these things will happen, we are human beings, we are designed to do these things. However, by focusing on what is observed first, I feel I have more space in my mind to be with my experience more fully at the time. I am also able to see options and I experience more of what is going on around me, which does not increase my stress levels. If anything I feel calmer.
Essentially I have been learning to slow my mind down.
Why did I try to learn this?
Being able to see there is a difference between what I observe and what I think and interpret is freeing.
You may have read the above sentence and thought this ability is natural and perhaps you’ve been able to do this all your life. Great. If this is true for you, I am sincerely pleased for you.
However, not all of us have had this ability developed in us and we need to cultivate it for ourselves. If we want to obviously, it’s not for me to tell anyone what to do!
I learnt, from a very earlier age, how to treat myself with contempt and loathing. I was filled with a toxic level of shame and fear amongst other things. I held myself responsible for everything, including things that had absolutely nothing to do with me. As an adult, I saw I needed to change my relationship with myself. I needed to change my life so I could survive it. I started seeing a therapist. I started looking at different ways in which to live in this world. I looked at Buddhism, Mindfulness, meditation and cultivating compassion for myself.
I feel the observe first approach provides a mental pause before any interpretation arises. It provides a window of opportunity to see something new and to let the current moment into my conscious awareness at the time.
I have more capacity in my mind to hold information then if I were to go into immediate interpretation. In interpretation mode, I am with myself to the exclusion of the physical world, including the people in it. However, initially, I didn’t see it this way.
So how did I learn?
Patience and acceptance are important here.
Getting upset with myself because my mind automatically interpreted rather than simply observed, did not aid my learning to observe without interpretation or indeed do anything supportive to my self-esteem! What did help and still does, is acknowledging that I have interpreted rather than observed, accepting this for the simple fact it is and refocusing myself to what physically took place and to what I actually saw.
It is important to take our time learning new concepts, techniques and ways of being. The latter is what I have come to feel this technique is. A way of being.
In time and with gentle reminders of ‘observe only…then interpret‘ – which in the initial stages of learning I needed to do quite frequently – the way my mind responded, changed.
Through taking the time to say to myself ‘Now, what did I actually see…’ and boiling it down to the precise actions I had witnessed – acknowledging any emotions and thoughts I had were mine and not necessarily what was there for the other person – my mind began to slow down. I became able to acknowledge what I saw and accept it as such, without reading into a situation, or any form of interpretation coming up, straight away.
My thinking is sharper and clearer and my mind is calmer, when I am in observation mode.
When do I use this?
I use this observe mode, as I call it, in various situations. When I am with people I do not know or I am in a group of people, when I’m with people who are emotionally turbulent or if I am feeling strong emotions.
I find this observe first approach enables me to stay grounded and safeguards me from falling into a ‘reactive state’, where I may not be actively thinking but be more weighted in my emotional experience, which could lead me to misunderstand someone or a situation.
Emotions and thoughts are equally important. Balance is needed with both.
The benefits I have found…
Observing without interpretation or evaluation attached to it, provides scope for greater understanding and connection with ourselves, as well as others and for a more healthy and honest connection to occur.
When in observe mode, my mind is less cluttered, as I am not being distracted by interpretation and thoughts leading me to look at particular things, which may not have anything to do with what I am observing. I am more present in the moment and when I am focusing my attention on the shared physical world, I am able to be more responsive and spontaneous.
I have found the benefits of developing this observe mode has impacted my life in many areas in a positive way, that enhances my experience of myself, my life and my communications with others. I find it particularly useful in aiding my ability to stay in a dialogue with emotionally turbulent people, as well as aiding me to see my own needs more clearly.
I invite you, if I may, to try this (if you are not already) and see what happens. Feel free to share your experience if you do. I am open to constructive dialogues.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I hope you found it interesting.
If you want to find out more about Non-Violent Communication, check out the Centre for Non-Violent Communication which you should be able to reach via web address: https://www.cnvc.org/ or search for Marshall Rosenberg on Utube (https://www.youtube.com/).
When I say acceptance, I’m referring to accepting ourselves and our experiences as they are with compassion and an open heart. This means no attributing labels, positive or otherwise, no judgements, no blame, no shame making, no finger pointing etc. Simply, accepting what has happened and what we feel and think, as it is.
Depending on our circumstances and our relationship with ourselves this may not be so easy as it might sound. There are gradients of understanding and in turn levels of acceptance. Like or dislike has nothing to do with this. This is acceptance of what is not our evaluation of it.
Why is Acceptance Important?
Acceptance involves feeling all the emotions that arise including anger, rage, love, shame etc. etc. not avoiding them! Accepting our emotions and thoughts as they are, without judgement etc. releases us to experience and process the emotion(s) so we move forwards. In my experience, the moment I accepted what I was experiencing, the swifter the experience was processed.
Being human is difficult. If we can learn to accept ourselves the way we are and accept others the way we find them, this takes a lot of unnecessary pressure off ourselves and our relationships.
There is no such thing as perfection. We can aspire to it absolutely, strive towards the perfect version of us and/or our work etc. just remember, it is an aspiration. In reality, all any of us can do, is the best we can at the time. This does not mean we do not try or make an effort, just that we are fallible human beings. Accept this. Live from a place of authenticity through this acceptance.
How Learning Acceptance has aided me in my life.
Acceptance as I have been describing it, has aided my ability to cope with intensely difficult and distressing emotions and memories, which intruded into my life and to a degree still do. In order to heal, I need to experience the emotions and memories, know them as they are and come to understand them as best I can. Accepting them as they are is crucial for the healing process to work. Or at least, that’s what I have found. I learnt this the hard way. I had no guidance as to how to help myself. I gravitated towards Buddhism, Mindfulness and Compassion.
Whilst it is quite natural to respond to unpleasant intrusive thoughts by pushing them away and/or questioning ourselves, as to why on earth we are thinking such things, this actually makes it more difficult. Resisting emotions, pushing away knowledge and raging in a circular manner, either inwardly or outwardly (by this I mean the emotion is not actually met it just goes on and on and on….unresolved) does not aid processing of emotions, if anything it can get in the way of our doing so, as we are spending so much time and energy on resistance, pushing away or raging……etc. which is tiring at the end of the day and just clutters up our mind so we have no space to see or think anything else.
It was through learning to accept what I was experiencing, whether I liked it or not and so, not evaluating the experience, that I regained my strength and ability to cope and the emotions and memories could be processed and eventually calmed down.
From my point of view, learning acceptance, based on compassion, aids our emotional and psychological welfare. If an individual responds to things by being upset or angry, blaming themselves or others for whatever has arisen, their relationship with themselves and with others will suffer. Being blamed by someone is never nice, especially when it isn’t true. Even when it may be true, pointing fingers and blaming gets in a persons way of dealing with what has happened and learning from the experience, as well as being able to move on in a constructive and productive manner. This is true if we are blaming ourselves or others. Blaming others is likely to turn people off you. I know it had this effect on me when I was blamed for someone else’s experiences, which were totally out of my control and so, not of my doing.
I remember when I was younger, when I used to blame myself for things – including situations which had nothing to do with me – this drained my energy and filled my head so much there was no room for anything else. It also made a huge dent in my self-esteem and damaged my self-perception which became quite unrealistic. This type of communicating with ourselves is going to compound the situation we are in, rather than support us to deal with the situation. Labels confine and inhibit us. At times of need, stress etc. we require psychological and emotional room to explore.
There is a great deal of difference between blame and responsibility. Or at least there is to me. Blame, for me, is associated to the way I used to relate to myself when I was younger and held myself responsible for everything that took place. I blamed myself for my failings and told myself how I ought to have known better and done better. Responsibility on the other hand, is clear of blame, it is accepting, compassionate and respectful. This has an entirely different energy space and enables me to continue to communicate and function, as I have a clear mind and the energy to do so. Perhaps this is the way I have come to use these words given my life experience and blame and responsibility do not mean the same to you, as I have described here. As I mentioned in another of my blogs, words have their meaning as defined in a dictionary, as well as the meanings we attribute to them through our life experiences.
For me, through acceptance, I can take responsibility more easily. Please don’t misunderstand me, I have taken responsibility for myself in my life, although before learning to accept things the way they are, it used to be quite a painful experience to do so. Through acceptance, I retain self-respect, my self-esteem is enhanced rather than dented, I have sufficient energy available to deal with the situation as I am not getting caught up in a cycle of negativity or rumination, nor do I feel inadequate or unable to cope. Acceptance aids my ability to not personalise things too.
The potential of Acceptance
I want to contribute to building a society, that comprises of individuals, who want mutual respect and are capable of giving and receiving it. Acceptance with compassion is a way to achieve this. We all have our preferences in life. What I prefer may well not be what you prefer. I do not tell people what they do is wrong and to stop doing it because I do not like it. I would appreciate it if others afforded me the same courtesy. (I am referring to life and living in general terms here and within the realms of basic manners and non-violence!)
When we are not spending our time labelling, blaming, analysing, inferring, guilt tripping, finger pointing etc., we can focus our time and energy on the physical world we all share. We will be able to see ourselves more fully and the world around us. We will be able to respond rather than react. We’ll be living in the moment too. From this space, we can look for patterns and reasons as to why something happened and do so from a place of understanding and learning. The potential of acceptance is our evolving and moving forwards in a way that is healthy and harmonious for all.