Thursday, June 28, 2007

Getting better

I haven't been writing here much because I've been on vacation, and while there, developed a medical condition that put me out of commission for a while. It still isn't totally resolved, but being back home, learning more about my condition, taking a hand in my own healing, and getting some good support finally gave me the first good night sleep in about a week.

I have always been quite focused on health issues and remaining healthy, but when this one came up, specifically, I have enlarged and painful uterine fibroids, I didn't cope well with the increased pain and bloating. Pain tends to make everything else in life irrelevant for awhile. It's hard to socialize with others because during this past week I have been pretty self-absorbed.

One of several turning points came last night, when our Nonviolent Communications Group met at our house, as it regularly does. NVC, as we call it, is all about compassionate communications. Our bi-weekly group has focused on things like observing without evaluating, taking responsibility for our feelings, making requests, and giving and receiving empathy. The leader last night took a good chunk of time demonstrating empathy (with me as the grateful receiver), continually digging deeper into my emotions, needs and responses. Like a thirsty puppy, I lapped it up.

The ability to engage in empathetic dialogue is a beautiful thing that requires skills many of us lack. The more normal response, when someone tells you something like: "I'm suffering from painful fibroid tumors," is to say something like "that reminds me of when my daughter had a similar condition, " or "why don't you consider treatment X?" or "I'm sure you'll feel better soon." None of these are empathic responses, but are rather self-referential, problem solving, or politeness, which is not the same thing as empathy. True empathy actually provides a feeling of relief in the sufferer, which is what happened last night. I slept well, and woke up this morning feeling drowsy and grateful.

If these skills of empathetic listening could be taught, volunteers could go into hospitals and hospices, and bring lots of relief to sufferers. Maybe some of this training is already happening.

Last night before I slept I opened a book of quotes from Rumi to the following:
"When you feel pain, ask pardon of God;
this pain has its uses.
When he pleases, pain becomes joy;
bondage itself becomes freedom.
When you take a clear look,
you'll see that from God
are both the water of mercy and the fire of anger."

Some of this mystifies me a little, especially the anger part. Then in this morning's paper, I learn that blues musician James Armstrong is coming to our community tonight to perform. Armstrong recovered from a senseless assault by a stranger 10 years ago. He now plays the guitar without all the feeling in his fingers. In the paper, he is quoted as saying: "I believe part of the reason it happened was to slow me down and look at life in another way," Armstrong said. "Everything happens for a reason."

I am looking for the uses and learning's from this pain

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Creating a complaint-free zone

Several years ago, my spouse contributed some funds to a Unity minister who was doing wonderful work charting the evolution of consciousness from a Christian perspective. As a result, we began to receive Unity Magazine, the publication of Unity Church, which seems to be all about positive spirituality.

The magazine that arrived today had an article that was made for my current situation. It explained the Purple Bracelet campaign, that started in a Kansas City church and has spread like wildfire around the country. The pastor of that church handed out 250 purple bracelets, and encouraged members to put one on either wrist. "He said that every time someone engaged in complaining, criticizing or gossiping, he or she was to move the bracelet to the other wrist. The goal was to avoid negative talk for 21 straight days--long enough, says experts,to change or form a habit."

Today I went to the website and ordered several of these free bracelets. If I could stop complaining and criticizing, if I could really stop it, I am sure it would have a transformative effect. I am all in favor of any practices that could dethrown the culture of criticism--both the quiet critical conversation that goes on in my own head, and the verbalized criticism of others.
I am a self-described expert on criticism. I have led several workshops on the topic, and have written a short booklet about the topic, which you can access for free on the link provided. Eleven years ago, my consciousness about the pervasive role of criticism in my life came upon me like a great awakening. I did a series of paintings on criticism and a host of other mental habits; the face of the chewing critic that initiated the series is at the top of today's blog. The entire process has been wonderful, but it did not cure me of criticism. I regard criticism, complaint and perfectionism as qualities that I struggle with, on an on-going basis, more than anything else.
For me, complaint and criticism is like a tumor that grows and grows until I aim the beam of awareness at it. Like a tumor, it periodically seems to grow for no particular reason, as has been the case of the last few weeks. So, I am delighted to experiment with, and tell others about yet another tool that may aid in shrinking the tumor of criticism and complaint.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How the world spirals

Blogging, by its nature, is a form of commentary. My internal commentary has been a bit quiet lately, and I've reasoned that you shouldn't say anything unless you have something of substance to say.

So, I will speak with paint. This is a work in progress. There are some things I like about it, but I am not sure about the black. That could easily be changed. I am inspired by the view from my window, and this mandala was an attempt to capture some of those colors.

Perhaps I am trying to capture the colors of the world as I walk through it. There is a summertime mellowness in Minnesota right now, despite all the rain we have had lately. School is getting out, graduations have been celebrated, and Garrison Keillor came to Lanesboro, Minnesota to perform at the rhubarb festival.

It is our nature to proceed forward with our lives in a business-as-usual manner, despite the fact that spring is at least two weeks ahead of where it was last year, despite the worldwide reports of erratic weather, despite the fact that business-as-usual desperately needs to be challenged in our politics, our schools, our businesses, and our social and consuming life.

I've listened to two interesting and sobering radio shows recently. The first features scientist David Fridley, of Lawrence-Berkely National Laboratory, speaking on energy, China and globalization. He explains why biofuels will fail to solve our energy problem, and explains how the growth orientation of China and the U.S. prevents us from taking the hard measures that we must to deal with declining fuel resources.

The second, from Minnesota Public Radio, features political philosopher Benjamin Barber, who has written a book about how consumerism is keeping us in a state of perpetual adolescence. Why are so many adults reading Harry Potter books? Do we just want to escape from everyday stresses and strains? And why are we in such a state of perpetually aroused desire for things that we not only don't need, but may be harmful for the planet?