Revisit to People Are Who They Are..

I used to do a series of posts during the holidays with tips on negotiating some of the emotional minefields many of us have.  I think I’ve skipped a few years now, and thought I’d revisit.  I originally posted this in 2011 (hard to believe I’ve been blogging this long!):

One of my all time favorite teachings came from Serge King when he taught the Huna segment for my class at Nine Gates Mystery School (he doesn’t teach for Nine Gates any more): “People are who they are and they do what they do.” The more you know about who somebody is and what he does, the less you will ever be disappointed because you know you can’t expect him to be or do something else. When Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements came out some years later I found his “Don’t take anything personally” to be aligned; if you know your friend is being who she is and doing what she does how can you take what she’s doing personally?

That piece of advice has been so incredibly helpful to me and some of my friends have found it life changing too. One friend had a really unhappy relationship with her dad. She was a great believer in communication to heal relationships so she kept writing him letters in which she explained how upset she was by certain things he did. She was disappointed every time because her expectation was that he would change because of what she told him and he never did.

This had been going on for years when I described the concept and said, “seems to me he’s just being who he is.” As I explained it her eyes grew wide and her jaw dropped. As soon as she looked at it from that perspective the whole situation changed for her.

I don’t have a personal anecdote that’s as dramatic but in many subtle ways it has changed relationships and kept me from a lot of hurt feelings. It doesn’t mean you have to stop liking people or to judge them, it means you can make decisions about relationships based on knowing and accepting who people are.

For me that sometimes means creating a little distance and sometimes feeling more trust or closeness. I was always a little oversensitive and I’m so grateful for reducing the hurt feelings factor; I get it that almost everything other people say and do reflects everything about them and nothing about me.

In the holiday season when lots of people are dreading events that involve spending time with relatives, I think it’s a good time to take a breath and remember, “People are who they are and they do what they do.” Don’t expect that anybody’s going to be different and know that whatever is being said and done is not about you – don’t take anything personally.

Seeing the other view

English: Anti-apartheid protest in London, UK,...

English: Anti-apartheid protest in London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In all the finger pointing and rancor going on post-election, I keep remembering two big lessons about world views I got years ago.  I think they keep coming up for me because I see some assumptions being made in the jibes about those who voted for Trump and my lessons told me those assumptions are probably wrong.  In times like these it’s so important to be able to step back and at least try to understand another world view.

The first lesson occurred when I was a sociology graduate student, working on a big study for Northwestern’s Center for Urban Affairs.  I’d been assigned a couple of neighborhoods to interview as many people as I could.  One of the areas was a working class neighborhoodk with some big open housing issues going on.

Having done some networking, I went down one day and interviewed a group gathered in someone’s home.  Afterward, a few of the people took me aside and told me quite nicely that if I wanted people there to feel comfortable talking to me I needed to quit talking so “high brow”.

It came as a shock because I’d been very careful not to go into “PhD speak”, which I’ve always despised.  Eventually I realized that even though I grew up in a blue collar area, my family is loaded with college-educated people and all my friends growing up were the children of educated people — if not formally educated, the kind of people who read a lot and are always learning (often better than school, I’ve noted).  In many ways we don’t speak the same language as people who aren’t readers and learners.  The people I was interviewing were put off by my style of speaking and I could see I didn’t have a clue how to change my language to what they needed.  We literally talked past one another.

The second lesson came as a fairly new lawyer, back in the late eighties, when I joined a pro bono legal team who were defending a group of protesters arrested at the South African Consulate.  Our case intended to set precedent (and did) for using the necessity defense, in this instance arguing that the conditions under apartheid in South Africa were so atrocious it was necessary to violate the law by protesting (kind of a simplified explanation).  A lot of our case involved testimony from people who’d either been there or had some expertise about conditions under apartheid.

During the voir dire (choosing the jury panel) it was very important to both sides to know how much awareness the potential jurors had of the situation in South Africa and whether they already had opinions about it.  We questioned something like 60 potential jurors of many ages, races, jobs, etc, asking every one whether they regularly read the newspaper or watched the news and what they knew about South Africa and apartheid.

With two exceptions,  the startling answer was no.  No one read the newspaper.  No one watched the news.  They barely knew where South Africa was and they knew nothing about the apartheid situation or the call for an embargo, nothing about Nelson Mandela (he was still in prison and far less famous outside the circles who were informed about the situation).  Since my entire family and all the people I knew had newspaper subscriptions and watched the news, listened to NPR and stayed informed, this came as a great shock to me.

But it also stuck with me that I need to always remember the world view my circle shares, which assumes you need to stay informed by paying attention to the news, is not the only world view (and not one I share any more).  I keep seeing people accusing those who voted for Trump of being bigots, misogynists, etc. (and I did it in a post too) based on an assumption they heard and saw all the things he said.

While I am sure there were plenty who did know these things and voted for him anyway, the probability is that a significant percentage of those who voted for him do not read newspapers or watch the news and didn’t know most of the outrageous things he’d been saying.

The sweet spot for me at the end of the trial story:  when I went to the picket line at the Consulate after the trial was over, several members of the jury were there marching. As soon as they knew and understood what was happening they felt they had to take part in the fight to end apartheid.  The fact they’d previously chosen not to stay informed didn’t mean they were stupid or unfeeling, it meant they lived a different lifestyle than mine.  And when they knew they showed up to help.

We’re all divine sparks of All That Is.  Sometimes you have to be open to seeing that spark and trying to understand a different way of thinking.


Unsolicited Advice and Right Listening

qestion mark and exclamation mark

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Note:  Although I’ve been tagging all my posts with Nano Poblano, when I search the tag, my posts on this particular blog aren’t showing up in my reader.  If anyone from the Poblano group who also follows me can give me a heads up as to whether posts you’ve seen through your subscription also show up when you’re reading the Poblano posts, I’d really appreciate it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  So love and appreciate this crowd.  Hope you had a lovely holiday if you were celebrating and a great day if you were not.

After raising issues about what kinds of comments are appropriate in my last post I decided to refurbish and update the post I mentioned about Right Listening and Unsolicited Advice.  The issue was a comment that offered a lot of advice I’d not asked for.  Lots of viewpoints showed up in the comments and it seemed like a good moment to mention the notion of Right Listening and it’s guideline:  avoid giving unsolicited advice.

Right speech is part of the Buddhist Eightfold Path. It’s a huge topic with lots of subcategories. I almost feel as if right listening should have a ninth slot on the Path because it seems too important to be subsumed under right speech. In full disclosure, I’ve learned enough about it to be able to teach Right Speech classes and I have a couple of friends who’ve become master practitioners so I know what it looks like in action, but though I am good at it when I’m sitting in practice with someone, in daily life, well, let’s just say I’m a work in progress.

Both right speech and right listening require you to stay mindful and to learn to be honest with yourself and therefore in what you say. I think right listening has further challenges. For now, I’m just going to look at the aspect of right listening that asks you not to offer unsolicited opinions or advice.

Literally that means that if a friend has just told you about a problem she’s having but has not asked you to tell her what you think she should do, then you should not offer an opinion.  Nor should you hear about someone’s project or plan and immediately start offering advice on how to better it or why not to do it unless they’ve specifically asked you to give advice.

Right speech and listening is a dance of communication in which you each try to hold a space that helps the other person to explore deeper into their thoughts and feelings so that you communicate from the heart.  Your job as a listener is to try to put aside your own thoughts and feelings—a great spiritual exercise—in order to really hear what your friend thinks and feels and to ask neutral questions that help her to explore more deeply into her topic and what she feels about it than she has before.

Our conversational habit as a culture (U.S.) is to step in every time someone mentions a problem or question and start offering suggestions and opinions, so I think it’s a huge challenge to practice right listening.  In the world of blogging, this shows up when people write posts in which they complain or discuss an issue but do not ask for readers to supply them with solutions.  And then in the comments one or more people tell them what they should do.

Whether face to face or in blogging, when you jump in with solutions you’re burdening the other person with your opinions — often fueled by your issues, fears, and unexamined beliefs.  Instead of inviting this person to explore his/her own heart and helping them to examine their own wishes by asking neutral questions, you’re substituting your thoughts for theirs.

Even when you know someone well enough that you’re sure you know what they really want, try to step back and leave space for her to decide on something unexpected but even more right for her.  Even when you love someone dearly and want to save or protect or circumvent, get yourself out of the way and see what you can do to help him figure out what’s best for him– even if it’s not what you would do.

Many unsolicited-advice comments demonstrate a lack of familiarity with the post on which they’re commenting. Right listening requires, well…  actually listening.  Many comments I read on my blog and on other blogs feel like the writer has an agenda of some sort or had a button pushed by some phrase that unleashed a lot of words that don’t address the post’s content; in some cases they give advice that completely ignores what the post-er said.

For the person who wrote the post, that often feels like you weren’t “listening” at all.  If you want to really engage with another blogger, try to read/listen carefully. Pay attention and understand their post and if you comment, comment on material that’s actually in the post, not on the chatter that’s in your head.  If you’re not sure what something meant, ask.  If you’re not sure whether they want advice, ask.  If you want more info to figure out where it seems like they’re headed , ask.  Most people love to be heard.  When you ask for more information based on what they wrote, they feel heard and the questions feel like you really want to understand them.

It’s amazing how much deeper relationships can become when you’re really listening, when you set yourself aside and put the other person first.  When you learn to take your beliefs and opinions out of the equation and try to move deeper and deeper into the other person’s thoughts and wishes…   that’s when you’re connecting from the heart.

For a few years after I learned about right speech at Nine Gates I had a couple of practice buddies and a greater consciousness about the opinions thing so I was better about avoiding it. But old habits are hard to break and that particular habit is so much a part of the way everybody seems to converse that I fell back into it and I know I unconsciously offer that unsolicited advice more often than I’d like.

I try to shift that practice by taking a moment before I respond—can I be that mindful? whole other question… I like Sylvia Boorstein’s question, “Is what I’m about to say an improvement on silence?” I think a moment taken to ask that question would change a whole lot of what comes out of my mouth. Might change what you write in comments.  Anyone care to try it for a while? I’d be interested to dialog about how people do with it and how it feels.

Being Peace in Relationship

I’m posting this one as an entry in Kozo’s Blogger’s for Peace Monthly Challenge, which includes a number of possibilities for discussing peace in relationships.  I’ve chosen “4 things you can do to become a better partner”, which I’m interpreting in the broad sense of partners in any kind of relationship — friends, colleagues, etc.  This is also for Jenny Matlock’s AlphabeThursday , which is “B” this week.

My number one piece of advice for “being peace” in relationships is to know yourself.  Not just the surface you or the you you like the world to see but the deep, dark recesses of you.  Know what your issues are.  The more I’ve known about what my issues and hot buttons are the more I’ve been able to stand back from any conversation or confrontation in which I feel wounded or upset or angry “at” something someone said.  I can wind up seeing they had no such intent but happened to land on one of my trigger spots.  When you can own what’s yours and not blame it on anyone else, you’ve made a big step toward getting along better with other people.

Second, as Don Miguel Ruiz so wisely put it, “Don’t take anything personally”.  The chances are if someone is directing verbal ice picks into your ribs, they ‘re acting out of some of those issues and hot buttons that they haven’t acknowledged and it has nothing to do with you.  Huna teacher Serge King says, “People are who they are and they do what they do”.  If you can figure out who the people around you are and what they’re likely to say and do because of it, they won’t often surprise you and it will be easier to see what belongs to them and has nothing to do with you.

Third:  Communicate well.  Practice right speech and especially right listening.  Pay attention to what people are saying to you and try to keep your own opinions and attitudes out of it.  Ask neutral questions or mirror back what they’ve said in ways that invite them to move deeper into their own hearts about the subject.  It’s amazing how thoroughly you can connect when you make conversation a dance about connecting at the heart.

Fourth:  Do no harm.  Approach every person, every conversation, every action with the intent to create the greatest possible benefit and the least possible harm.  That means not being sarcastic, not criticizing other people’s choices, not cutting people off or ostracizing, etc., not manipulating or one-upping, lying, cheating, stealing, etc.  Since we (in the US) live in a culture that seems to admire a great put down or a smart remark, I find it takes a lot of mindfulness to avoid being thoughtlessly harmful.

I find the only way to do well with 2-4 is to be really good at the first suggestion and to be very mindful.

The instructions in B4Peace blogging include a link to another of the posts:  Perfecting Peace in Relationships.

Why did I attract that?

Wildflowers by street near downtown San Rafael

My second week in Marin I dined with a friend who’s particularly good at the right listening side of right speech.  We discussed the story of the big blow up that happened before I headed to California (see previous post).  She was the first person to realize that I’d been so upset because I’d been sent a psychic fireball of anger and she gave me a practice to clear it.  The practices I’d already been doing (lots of ho’ o pono pono and energy balancing) along with getting away to beautiful Marin had taken care of a lot of it and her suggestion finished the process.  The part I continue to contemplate is the question to which she kept returning, “why do you think this situation came to you?”

As previously noted I feel an overarching reason for this sudden shift is that I’d been ignoring an intuition that I should quit focusing on movement classes and put more attention on writing.  She accepted that but still came back to the question so I realized she felt there was more.  Looking deeper I could see a pattern that started with my mother’s ornery sister — a thread of people in my life with big stores of anger and unpredictable flashes of rage.  In fact, there were a lot of angry people around me as a child and, though I’ve managed to have lots of lovely friends who don’t indulge in angry outbursts, I’ve generally always had at least one in whom I could see the anger but ignored it in favor of the aspects I liked about the person — much I like I ignored that anger in my relatives.  I’ve known about the pattern for a while.  I realized this time that I’m ready to be done with it.  Even though other friendships along the thread had broken and I’d acknowledged relief to be out of each specific one, I’d never actually decided to be done with the pattern.  No more friends with unacknowledged lava pits of anger for me.

However, my friend continued to ask the question and I have a notion that she’s right, that there’s another level of the why and that one continues to elude me.  I’ve been in this place many times and I find it both fascinating and frustrating; the process of discovery can produce amazing revelations and yet when something eludes my scrutiny it’s maddening.  Whenever I discover a new issue or comprehend an admonition that I created after some childhood trauma, it feels so great.  Only when I know what’s there can I let go of it so every success in searching for underlying causes leads to a greater sense of freedom.  Even when frustrated I know this new way of handing it is so much better than my old way of letting my feelings fester,endlessly blaming the other person and always feeling “why me?”.  So I’m reminding myself this is better while I scratch my head and feel silly that I can’t see what else attracted a psychic fireball to me…

Here I come…

by User Urban 2004 on wikimedia

Saturday I head off for another house/cat sit in lovely Marin.  Already have a bunch of dates written in for visits with friends–can’t wait!–and in between I’ll be hanging out, walking,  relaxing and working on my next e-book project on the beautiful hill I love.  I’ll be out there with only my new tablet.  Haven’t tried to do writing of any length with it so I’m hazy as to how much blogging I will do (for the book I’ll have one of my trusty yellow pads as I’m a hand writing gal when it comes to books).  I’ll at least try to snap some pix and give you some visuals with brief updates.

Question Everything–Letting Go of Words

simple question mark on a blue background. Microsoft Clipart MH900289433

A long time ago I put up a post about questioning everything, intending to make it a sporadic series–it’s been so long there’s a bit more sporadic than series about posting this now, but here’s my next entry:

I’m a lifelong reader and writer so words have always been important to me.  In recent years I’ve been bemoaning the deterioration of language due to texting and twitter, etc. and the loss of bookstores (worried about whether there will be books).  I think I’ll always prefer to hold a book in my hands rather than a tablet (though I appreciate that I can carry dozens of books with me on my next trip by just taking the tablet, which would have been along anyway).  But in my question everything philosophy I stopped to examine my strong feelings about language and books and I find myself letting go.


Books (Photo credit: henry…)


When I do that I always try to ask myself what would really happen if the feared outcome should happen or what would the world look like in a different scenario?  In this case I started thinking about our oneness and the nature of interconnection that has largely been lost.  And then I began to wonder, if we didn’t have all these words standing between us, would we be able to re-discover our connection through the web and to communicate beyond words?

I also had to admit that while a great poem or a well-written book or essay can change people’s thinking or profoundly influence a community or nation, more often words become the occasion of misunderstanding, anger and division.  What if we connected through feeling tones, through our hearts?  Would we care about language or be addicted to reading?  For myself, would I be more calm or more at peace in some way if I spent less time with words between me and life?  As soon as I can see potential great outcomes from a whole different way of looking at the world, I can begin to set down the patterns of thinking I have held too closely to notice.

Now, I’m probably going to remain an avid reader and I’ve been writing since childhood so I don’t see myself stopping and because of those truths about myself I will probably maintain some sense that I prefer to see language used properly and that I like real books better.  But once I could see that my love for them doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re better or even good choices for humanity, it ceased to have the power for me that it once held.

Reading and writing are so deeply ingrained in me that it took quite a while of sputtering and fuming over the bad effect that social media has had on language skills and the potential loss of books from the world before it even occurred to me that this was one of the things that would be worth questioning.  Life is full of those ingrained repositories of thoughts and feelings and beliefs that keep us from finding peace in the moment.  What do you need to step back and question?