Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stillness on the Path to True Love

My husband and I often go out for breakfast together on Sunday mornings after church. While our children attend Sunday school, we head out to a favorite cafĂ©. I like to look at the couples around me and guess at how long they’ve been married or what their relationship is like; I watch them interact with grandchildren and friends, wonder about their joys and sorrows.

I used to wonder about couples who sat together at breakfast and never talked. They would almost meditate on the ritual of their dining, occasionally make a comment, but mostly sit in silence. In contrast, I tried to fill silences with happy chatter at my husband about my “brilliant” life philosophies and observations.

I have come to realize that one of the most important things we can do in a relationship is to shut up! Sit in stillness. Enjoy the blessing of being together.

When we are silent, we give others the opportunity to talk. This is a gift. It is also a great parenting strategy. My eldest daughter will often offer up the most wonderful stories or some of her concerns while I sit with her silently. A great time to do this is in the car or at bedtime. Avoid distractions like the radio or your to-do list and wait for your child to break the silence. It might take a few car trips, but it works.

Don’t be quick to respond. The other person may have more to share. Take in their comments without judgment. Signal to them that you are listening intently. Ask a question to clarify. Look at them in the eyes.

When I stopped worrying about how to fill dead air, I learned the most incredible things about my family. I created a safe zone for them to express things more clearly. I wasn’t focused on the next thing I wanted to say or defend or debate. I opened space to just be with them.

This is a humbling experience. To focus on another’s wellbeing and needs sometimes requires me to bite my tongue and sit in stillness until the other person feels heard — or is ready to talk. This skill works just as well in business as it does at home. Most people just want to feel heard. Then the project can move forward. The communication can begin.

The worst kind of talking is the kind used to draw attention. Children learn this early. They will prattle on louder and louder until someone pays attention to them (or tells them to be quiet). It is important to teach our children to respect when others are speaking. They should learn the importance of silence and listening — of thinking through their replies. If we don’t teach them about this, they will continue to make their presence known through speech with little value.

There is a time to talk. There is a time to be silent. Both are valuable in their proper turn. May you have the wisdom in life and in business to know the difference.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Contradiction on the Path to True Love

When my daughter came home from school one day and complained that a little boy was teasing her, I smiled and told her that the boy must really like her. I told her that the next time this boy teased her, she should say, "I know you like me."

This idea surprised her. She smiled herself and vowed to try it.

Contradiction can be an empowering experience. It is part of our path to wholeness.

I have a dear friend who is very good at sweetly smiling at people when they ask ignorant or probing questions. Her silence unnerves them. Her smile freaks them out. They awkwardly change the subject and look sheepish.

When people are looking for a great leader and they get a tiny, Indian nun, that is contradiction.

When people are looking for a huge sign that they are going in the right direction and they get an overflowing toilet, that is contradiction.

When people are filled with resentment and are confronted with love, that is contradiction.

When people want a way out and they end up digging a deeper hole, that is contradiction.

When people have to lose themselves to find themselves, that is a definite contradiction.

Consider one person right now who you are not very fond of, who gives you bad feelings and makes you want to spit or swear. Now replace those bad, damaging feelings with the image of a flower, a silent prayer for their wellbeing and success, an earnest wish for peace in their lives.

This is the ultimate contradiction that brings love and peace flowing into your own life. We are all children of a loving God and universe. We need to change our perspective or continue to suffer.

By the way, the advice I gave my daughter worked. The boy didn't tease her anymore. And she handled him with loving contradiction.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Praise on the Path to True Love

A thought for today: Count the number of times today that you praise your children for something compared to how many times you criticize them.

Now listen for words of praise for yourself compared to criticism from others. Criticism can come in the form of not saying anything as well as a verbal critique of what you have failed to do or how you've done it.

We are quick to criticize and find fault. We are slow to praise and see the good.

One suggestion for this is that we do not love ourselves and therefore we cannot truly love others. Our minds are filled with self-criticism for what we have done or failed to do, how we look, how we handle our lives.

To love and care for others, we must first love ourselves. That does not mean mirror-gazing narcissism. That form of self-love is damaging in that it closes the heart to others and leads to isolation and spiritual emptiness. No one measures up, including ourselves. We are constantly seeking the attention, pleasure or power that will fill us. We hate people when they fail to meet our emotional needs. Our love barely touches the surface of another human being, and eventually we feel nothing from or for them.

Here are the marks of true self-love: We are slow to anger with others. We recognize the good in them. We see life as an opportunity to serve our neighbor, not grudgingly or because it will get us something in return, but because it brings us joy. Our work is fulfilling because we know that it serves a purpose for others, not ourselves. Our friendships and relationships are respectful, honest and loving to the point that it would wound us deeply to hurt another person. We are grateful for any small kindness. We are moved when we see others acting with love.

We have nowhere to go, no one to be, nothing to get. We are enough. We were created to be enough.

If these traits are not true for you today,is it because the praise in your life is so much less than the criticism? Have you gone so far down the road that you are numb to any kind of feeling or concern for others?

Start on a new road with more praise and less criticism for your children, your spouse, your co-workers. Actively look for ways to praise others. Praise is contagious. It creates chinks in your emotional armor so that true love can come in. When you finally meet this love, no other will compare!

You will finally be free to love your neighbor as yourself.