Inspiration for You and Your Friends: Rules for a Peaceful Life, Part One

July 1, 2013

Build Relationships by Sharing
Stories of Motivation and Inspiration

Number 2

Discover the qualities of friendship and share them with the people you know.

Discover the qualities of friendship and share them with the people you know.

One day when I was organizing various inspirational pieces I found while cleaning out my office — see the post from June 3, 2013 — I went out to dinner with my husband. Afterwards, we stopped at the market while I sat in the car and he ran into the store for milk, orange juice, and toilet paper. (More than that might have required I go in, and I was too tired for a shopping adventure.)

As I sat there waiting for him to return, I reflected on the inspirational pieces I would include in the blog for the rest of the year and which one should be used first. That’s when I remembered this piece and was amused that I was not taking its advice. There I was, given the opportunity to simply sit and watch the trees across the street while someone else was inside shopping.

That’s when I noticed this tree with the very unusual branches. Don’t know what it’s called, but it rather reminds me of a tree in a Dr. Seuss book. So I sat in the car enjoying the moment, and appreciating the advice I offer below.

Strange “Dr. Seuss” tree in the evening. I didn’t know what it was.
Strange “Dr. Seuss” tree in the evening.
I didn’t know what it was.

.

Strange “Dr. Seuss” tree in a daytime photo. I still don’t know what it is. Do you?
Strange “Dr. Seuss” tree in a daytime photo.
I still don’t know what it is. Do you?

 

The list below is the first 12 of 35 recommendations (by an unknown source), many of which remind me of the article on Support4Change called The Marvelous Gift of Resting.

Consider which ones you need to take to heart and then share the list with friends who may also be in need of a little slowing-down advice. Since I assume you are like the rest of us and won’t completely change your work-too-much routine immediately, in 2014 I will share the rest of the list.

Suggested Method for Sharing Special Inspirational Posts

  1. Read the post
  2. Decide how it applies to you and choose to make a change in your life
  3. Think about a friend (or friends) who might enjoy receiving the inspiration
  4. Send a link to the post to a friend (or two) together with a few comments

 

Rules for a More Peaceful Life — Part One

  1. Slow down. You are not responsible for doing it all yourself, right now.
  2. Remember a happy, peaceful time in your past. Rest there. Each moment has richness that takes a lifetime to savor.
  3. Set your own pace. When someone is pushing you, it’s OK to tell them they’re pushing.
  4. Take nothing for granted: watch water flow, the corn grow, the leaves blow, your neighbor mow.
  5. Taste your food. It’s meant to delight as well as to nourish.
  6. Notice the sun and the moon as they rise and set. They are remarkable for their steady pattern of movement, not their speed.
  7. Quit planning how you’re going to use what you know, learn, or possess. The day’s gifts just are; be grateful and their purpose will be clear.
  8. When you talk with someone, don’t think about what you’ll say next. Thoughts will spring up naturally if you let them.
  9. Talk and play with children. It will bring out the unhurried little person inside you.
  10. Create a place in your home…at your work…in your heart…where you can go for quiet and recollection. You deserve it.
  11. Allow yourself time to be lazy and unproductive. Rest isn’t luxury; it’s a necessity.
  12. Listen to the wind blow. It carries a message of yesterday and tomorrow-and now. NOW counts.

 

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Ask Questions of Yourself and Your Friends: What Are Essential Questions?

June 17, 2013

Deepen relationships by asking questions
Number One

Ask Questions and Explore Answers:  Discover questions you may never have thought to ask yourself and share them with your friends. Come here the third Monday of each month to deepen your understanding of yourself, others, and the world.

 

To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions. — Sam Keen

❖  ❖  ❖

You know children are growing up when they start asking questions that have answers. — John Plomp
.

Children ask questions. How about you?

My children used to say that they enjoyed coming to places with me because they liked hearing the answers to questions I was not afraid to ask. It was easy for me to ask questions because I knew the answers would widen my world.

Unfortunately, not everyone is encouraged to ask questions. We aren’t encouraged to explore why we believe something. In school we’re taught to give the “correct” answer. And when we’re grown, we’re too busy to take the time to seriously consider why we believe what we believe, why we hold the opinions we hold dearly. We’re too busy to really consider why we accept the facts we are given as true without pursuing the facts further (especially if they are provided by people we like).

Questions for thinking people, including you and your friends

Because I liked questions so much, when I designed my second website, LearningPlaceOnline, I created a section called “Questions for Thinking People.” When that site morphed into the early Support4Change website, those questions became part of a feature called “The Ask Yourself Questions Club.” There you could find questions to help you expand your horizons, strengthen your relationships, explore social and political issues, and deepen your faith and spirituality.

Then there was my second book, Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life, in which I stressed the importance of learning how to ask yourself questions — and how to recognize that you have more answers within yourself than you have imagined.

Now I have decided that the blog is a good place to ask many of these hundreds of questions. However, this time, I want to encourage you to ask yourself questions on a wide variety of topics and then share the questions, and your answers, with friends and family.

Asking questions in the first person

I could present the questions by asking, What do you think about such-and-such? But as I said in my book about questions, our brains go on automatic pilot when we are asked “what do you think about this?” Our neurons quickly scan through a database of answers and we seldom give a second thought to why we believe whatever our brains accept as true.

But when we ask ourselves in the first person, What do I think about such-and-such, we have to pause. To answer the question we’ve asked ourselves, we are more likely to go beyond the quick, simple answer and explore what lies behind it.

In fact, we can explore many layers to the answers we give to questions. What do I believe? Why do I believe this? Why do I believe that? And so on.

So if you like the idea of discovering questions you may never have thought to ask yourself, I encourage you to come to the blog and ask yourself questions on the last Monday of the month. You will discover that you will deepen your understanding of yourself and of the world.

Use “how” and “why” to challenge your most cherished assumptions

As you explore the questions you will find here each month, pay attention not only to what you believe is the best answer to a particular question, but why you believe it. Also, consider carefully how you have come to accept the knowledge on which you base your answer as “fact.” This exploration can be far more interesting—and much more enlightening—than simply declaring you believe one thing as opposed to another.

In other words, in this new feature of the Support4Change blog, I encourage you to stretch yourself, even though you may be challenging your most cherished assumptions.

Ask yourself these questions about “essential” questions in this first “questions post” for June 2013:

  1. What questions do I believe are the three most important questions that humans can and should ask? Why?
  2. What question is the least important? Why?
  3. What is more revealing about an individual, the questions a person asks or the answers he or she gives?

After you consider your answers to these three questions, share both the questions and your answers with friends. When they have had time to offer their own answers, notice how and why their answers differ from yours? How do their answers expand your understanding of the other person? How do your answers help them understand you better?

I will be very glad to hear your response to this new feature of “Ask Questions of Yourself and Your Friends.”

 

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Inspiration for You and Your Friends: Very Good Friendship Advice

June 3, 2013

Build Relationships by Sharing
Stories of Motivation and Inspiration

Number 1

Discover the qualities of friendship and share them with the people you know.

Discover the qualities of friendship and share them with the people you know.

When I painted my office thirty years ago, the deep, dusty rose color was modern. Over the years, it has become increasingly depressing. With a crack in the ceiling and plaster damage from water that seeped around the wall air conditioner, it was clearly time for a change. It was not a change that happened easily.

Imagine a room with several book cases, loads of articles that an author or speaker might use for an idea she might want to write sometime in the future, broken pencils and pens with dried ink, loads of magazines for reference material, reams of papers she bought with matching envelopes that are now missing, and other “stuff” that it is easy to accumulate when you don’t take time periodically to cleanse the premises.

Fortunately, I hired my niece, who is an experienced organizer. She was not as emotionally attached to fifteen-year-old articles and notes from long-gone conferences as I was. However, she has gently cajoled me into letting go of instruction manuals for programs I no longer use.

A New Feature to Share with Your Friends

I tell you all of this by way of explaining that hidden within hundreds of files and dozens of shelves, I rediscovered many inspirational and interesting pieces that were just the kinds of things that would be valuable for the blog.

Not only do I think you would enjoy them, but I suspect your friends will as well. And while I imagine you forward a post to others once-in-awhile, you may get too busy to forward them to those in your life who might enjoy a little cheering up or who could use a little inspiration.

So I have created a special feature called “Inspiration for You and Your Friends” that will occur the first Monday of each month. Of course, this isn’t to say that much of the blog is not inspirational, but some posts just call out to be shared with special people in your life.

Passing on Friendship Advice to You from a Friend of Mine

To set the tone for this feature, I begin with one that initially appeared in Learning Place Online, an older site of mine that I no longer actively maintain, so you may have missed it.

These words of wisdom were sent to me by Patty Paul, who knows how to be a world-class friend. Several months after her husband died, she sent her friends an e-mail thanking them for their kindness and support to her and her husband, saying “This describes each and every one of you. I treasure your friendship.”

The e-mail listed thirty-three pieces of advice about friendship. Out of them I have chosen a dozen that illustrate the best qualities of friendship — qualities which Patty expresses every day. As you read them, think of someone who demonstrates each of the qualities and consider sharing this post with them.

Very Good Friendship Advice

1. Don’t worry about knowing people, just make yourself worth knowing.

2. Be friendly with the folks you know. If it weren’t for them you would be a total stranger.

3. Friends are those who speak to you after others don’t.

4. The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail and not his tongue.

5. The way to have friends is to be willing to lose some arguments.

6. Deal with other’s faults as gently as if they were your own.

7. A friend is a person who can step on your toes without messing your shine.

8. You will never have a friend if you must have one without faults.

9. You can make more friends by being interested in them than trying to have them be interested in you.

10. A real friend is a person who, when you’ve made a fool of yourself, lets you forget it.

11. A friend is a person who listens attentively while you say nothing.

12. A friend is someone who thinks you’re a good egg even though you’re slightly cracked.

Most important, A FRIEND IS A TREASURE.”

— Anonymous

If you have additional qualities you would add to the list, please share them with my blog readers (as well as with your personal friends).

 

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What to Say When Someone is in Crisis: PART THREE

May 6, 2013
Explore how people experience being in the middle of a crisis and how to respond to someone who does not seem to want support

Model of what to say when someone is in crisisIn the post of April 29, I discussed an article from the Los Angeles Times called “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing” when a friend is dealing with a difficult situation.

This is the third and final post on that topic. Here I discuss how our personalities and experiences help determine how someone responds to the experience of a crisis. Also, I explore what can happen when someone does not want to talk about their crisis.

Just as our personalities and experiences help determine how we respond to someone who is going through a crisis, when we ourselves are in the middle of a crisis, we each respond in our own unique way.

When You Are in Crisis and in the Center of the Circle

There are thousands of things that would place you in the center of the circle. They range from the diagnosis of a terminal illness to the death of a child; from a request for a divorce that is totally unexpected to a house swept away by a flood, from sudden blindness to loss of a job in a bad economy.

Whenever life throws something at you that you weren’t prepared for, or don’t have the resources to handle, your life has been turned upside down. You want to grab onto anything that can help turn you right-side-up again.

In fact, in such circumstances it’s not unusual if you would want your mother. Not in the literal sense, of course, though that might sometimes be exactly what you would like. But you would definitely want someone who could take away your hurt, tell you it’s going to be all right, assure you that things will soon be better.

Why Has This Happened To You?

When you have been thrown into a crisis, you are overcome with all kinds of emotions: anger, guilt, grief, and a sense that life has betrayed you. You were good, weren’t you? You did what you were supposed to do. Why hasn’t life turned out the way you expected? And like many people, you may even be angry with God for bringing you a tragedy when you’ve done your best.

On the other hand, you may be one of those whose faith will pull you through. You assume that whatever has thrown you off your stride is part of God’s plan. You may not enjoy where you are, but you are comforted in believing where you are now is where God wants you.

However, if you are a person who believes you are the cause (or co-creator) of everything that happens to you — a perspective on life that has become popular with books like The Secret — you may be very hard on yourself. You might ask questions like, “Why did I create this?” “What did I do wrong in my past life?” The more rigidly you accept responsibility for your disaster, the more difficult it may be to step back and notice whether this is just something that happens to members of the human race from time to time.

No matter what your beliefs, you may still ask yourself whether there is something you could have, should have, done to prevent the situation in which you find yourself. If you have lung cancer and have smoked two packs a day for twenty years, the connection between your actions and your health is fairly clear. On the other hand, I knew a lovely lady who never smoked a single cigarette and died of lung cancer.

Perhaps the best way to approach illness (and other crises) is to recognize that there is a place between believing “illness drops down from the sky” and “I am responsible for everything that happens to my body.”

Your Reaction to Your Crisis

First of all, remember that how you get through your crisis will depend on many factors. For example, a happily married woman is likely to tolerate breast cancer better than someone who is looking for a husband. A wife without children whose husband had good life insurance will have less to worry about when her husband dies than one who has six children and no insurance. A fire that destroys a house will be more traumatic for someone who is thirty-six and has had a very easy life so far, than someone who is sixty-six and has successfully dealt with many of life’s trials and tribulations.

Nevertheless, no matter what has happened to you up to this point in time, you will deal with what you have to deal with and will find inner strength and resources you probably never knew you had. So hang on, take one step at a time, and do the best you can.

And when you have gone through the storms of life, tossed and turned in ways you hadn’t expected, you can empathize with others when the winds begin to blow.

How Your Friends and Family Can Support You

Your friends want to help. When they say, “Let me know what you need,” you may not know what to say. But be assured that they are standing ready to help. In your first days of dealing with your crisis, you may need to brainstorm with a friend about you can help with what when everything seems so overwhelming.

Then, be grateful for all those who show their support, and remember that your friends are doing the best they can.

However, not many of us suffer fools gladly and it is more difficult when we’re under stress. People can mean well, but also make life difficult for you at this time. If you don’t want a certain person to bother you because it will take more energy than you have to give, forgive her for being who she is and find a way to tell her to back off.

Beginning and Ending Each Day

Especially during times of crises, I have found a technique that seems to help contain each day’s quota of stress. It goes like this:

Begin the day by holding your arms above your head with your palms up and say, “I am willing to do whatever I need to do to get through today. I accept the support of others in the spirit in which it is given.”

End the day by holding your arms down at your sides and imagining the events of the day flowing off you as you say, “I have done my best and now I let go of those things I may not have done as well as I would have liked. I am grateful for the help others have given me. Tomorrow is another day.”

What Can You Do When the Person in Crisis Won’t Accept Support From You?

I have a very good friend who recently had an operation on a tumor that could not be completely removed and there are no other treatment options. Unfortunately for her friends and family, including her parents, she is not willing to share the results of the biopsy. If it weren’t cancer, we believe she let us know the good news.

Why isn’t she letting us know? I imagine it is simply a reflection of her personality. She is friendly, kind, talented, a great mother — and reserved: Not telling us about the diagnosis is consistent with her personality.

If she doesn’t talk about her emotions when she is not in crisis, it doesn’t surprise me that she is hesitant to share her feelings now. She may simply be one of those people who need to take time to absorb bad news before exposing herself to the reaction of others.

If I were in that situation, I would talk to people — my childhood nickname was “Breezy.” I would want to get support from friends and family and even the grocery clerk. That is not her approach.

So while I would like to talk with her about this, I think of how she must be feeling and my heart goes out to her. If she is having such a hard time dealing with this that she can’t even talk about it with family, who am I to say she must?

Therefore, I do exactly what the circle theory suggests. I send my love in to her at the center of the circle and stay away from conversations with her that might raise the subject of the elephant in the room before she is ready. And when I think about my sadness in most likely losing her sooner than I would like, I call one of my friends, either in the circle in which I see myself or in one farther out. They let me cry and I find comfort.

It is important that we don’t demand people be who they are not. It is important we don’t ask them to share or talk about something they are not ready to share or talk about. I accept her just as she is, not as someone I think she “should” be; someone who would let us into her emotional center.

She is doing the best she can.

 

Did you enjoy this post?
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What to Say When Someone is In Crisis: PART TWO

May 2, 2013
Explore how people have different ways of supporting others and different responses to being supported and how that can help or hinder better relationships.

Model of what to say when someone is in crisisIn the post of April 29, I discussed an article from the Los Angeles Times called “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing” when a friend is dealing with a difficult situation.

In this second part of my response to the ideas of the “Comfort In, Dump Out” circle, I make some observations on why some people are better than others at knowing what to say or do when a friend is going through a crisis — and a few suggestions to help if you are unsure how to help.

We All Respond Differently to Someone in Crisis

Here are a few reasons — in no particular order of importance — why we are different in the way we respond to another person who is going through a crisis.

  1. Some people were raised by caring, nurturing parents who taught them how to be compassionate. With healthy egos, these people know, almost intuitively, how to respond when someone needs help.
  2. At the other extreme are people whose parents didn’t teach them compassion, but stressed the importance of success. Regard for others was down the list of skills they learned. Life may need to teach them a few lessons before they can generously support others without expecting something in return.
  3. We’ve all known people who never think before they speak and don’t seem to understand that words can have an impact they don’t intend. Then, when they discover they have offended someone, it is easy for them to place the blame on the other person for being “too sensitive.”
  4. There are those who are very hard on themselves when they make a mistake and are so afraid of saying the “wrong” thing that they offend by not saying anything at all.
  5. Similarly, those who were taught that there is always a “right” thing to say will take a very long time looking at get-well cards to find the “perfect” one. They may be disappointed if the friend doesn’t exclaim over their choice.
  6. We all have a “kvetcher” in our circle of friends and family; someone who loves to complain. The more trauma they can find to respond to (both real and imagined), the better they feel. The more they can “identify” with a victim — even though the other person is not as unhappy as they assume she is — the better they feel. Suggesting they complain to those who are less involved in the crisis would go right over their heads. They feed on the pain of others.
  7. In a similar vein, there are those who love to gossip. It makes them feel important and the more information they have to share about someone, the better. When they can get “inside” information about the person who is suffering, they think their value rises.
  8. Then there are extroverts and introverts. Extroverts draw their energy from connecting with others. When someone is in crisis, they want to respond immediately and assume the other person wants their help the way they want to give it. They often offer advice that isn’t wanted or appreciated as soon as they want to give it. They can be very helpful, but can also be exhausting.
  9. Introverts, on the other hand, can have difficulty expressing themselves when in intense situations. Feelings are not their forte, and since feelings are often aroused in crises, they are more likely to step back, or say very little, at least at first. Nevertheless, they can convey their support if they are willing to simply say, “I’m thinking of you.”

How to Support a Friend in Need

If you have often supported friends in need, you probably don’t give much thought to the “how” or “why” of your help. However, if you are unsure what you can do and want to learn how to best help a person in the circle, here are some suggestions.

  1. First of all, whatever you say or do, ask yourself this question, “Will it help or hurt the person who is going through a difficult time?” If your words come from love and caring, you are more likely to have a positive impact and be less likely to be misunderstood.
  2. Use whatever skills of good listening you have. Be as kind and as encouraging as possible. Try your best to comfort in the way you know how and don’t worry that you’ll say the wrong thing. A simple, “I am sorry you are having a tough time. I am here for you,” can work wonders.
  3. If your friend cries and you are uncomfortable with emotions, take a deep breath and fill yourself with love. Imagine the love flowing out of you and into the core of the other person.
  4. Everyone has a story in which they organize their thoughts about their experiences. Listen to her story without judgment, even if she repeats the story many times. Repeating the story may help her make sense of what has happened. For others, telling the story once to a receptive, caring listener is all they need. Just listen. Don’t analyze.
  5. If a person tells you something related to the crisis, ask whether you can share the information. If she says, no, then don’t do it! Not even to those whom you trust! In fact, you will do best to err on the side of not sharing something unless you are very clear the person wants others to know about it.
  6. Phone perhaps twice a week just to let them know someone is thinking of them. If you aren’t sure whether that would be too much, ask whether the person would appreciate a call. You don’t want to put too much pressure on the person to talk.
  7. If there is a piece of advice you think the other person can use, first ask whether she would like to hear it. If she says “no,” shut up. If she says “yes”— but from the tone of her voice you can tell she isn’t keen about hearing one more thing people think she “ought” to do — make the advice very short.
  8. Here are a few things not to say: “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” (Since the person in crisis is handling things as well as he can, he may conclude that he should work even harder.) If he has lost someone very dear to him, don’t say that “God needs her more than you do.” Don’t say, “No one ever said that life was fair.” Don’t say, “Let me tell you about someone who is worse off than you are.”
  9. Avoid saying, “I’ve been there!” You haven’t. Even if you have had the same disease or have experienced the same tragedy that your friend has, you are a different person and have reacted in a way that was specific for you. Don’t make assumptions that you know what she is going through.
  10. Let her feel sorry for herself. She has a right to be sorry that she has to go through what she is going through. By not wanting others to complain about their lot in life, you are saying, essentially, “Don’t upset me with your upset. Get over it so I don’t have to watch you suffer when there is nothing I can do about it. You are making me unhappy.”
  11. Offer whatever practical help you can. Arranging for meals is almost always appreciated. Taking down the holiday lights. Picking up the dry cleaning. Taking the children to the park or a movie can give her a little quiet.
  12. Give her time. Allow her to walk through her grief at her own pace and to make the adjustments she needs to make to what may be the “new normal.” Do not rush her or make her feel she is not recovering quickly enough or in the “right” way. Encourage any progress your friend is making but don’t expect her to work harder. She is doing the best she can.
  13. If she gets mad at what you say, apologize and let her vent. If you love her, it’s all you can do. On the other hand, if it is her pattern to run over people, you do not need to be a doormat. Hold her with love in your heart and keep your distance.

When No Words Seem Adequate

At one time or another, we have all been guilty of not knowing what to say. Then we miss the chance to help someone who could use the support of just a short visit, or a pat on the arm.

The following story illustrates the power of reaching out to someone in pain even when you don’t know what to say, even when the words are not elegantly expressed. This came from a reader:

I want to tell you of a time when a tragic and odd event happened, as a woman’s husband had left the St. Louis area to travel to Georgia, where his employment was. News came that he was missing after the death of the young Asian woman who signed his paychecks, and he did not become visible back home. It came out that he went into the unoccupied house next to his own, where he then took his own life.

I knew the wife only because we had golfed together and one day I had run her home. No connection beyond that, but as I thought of what she must be going thru, yet not knowing her well enough to phone, I sent her a note saying,

I am hearing some news that is incredibly painful. I pray it is not true, but if it is, I want you to know I am thinking of you and am available if you want to talk.

A week or so later, I got a note from her saying,

On a day that has been another day of this nightmare, I walked to the mailbox with TV trucks and news crews all around my home. It was the longest day of my life, but the one gift of doing so was that your note was in there. You have no idea what it meant to me as everyone is shunning me and I have so few friends in this area.

It was a note I treasure to this day, along with some of Marlo Thomas’ books, including What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say series. It is possible to acknowledge someone’s distress even if the words are not graceful.

Be sure to read the next and last post on this topic on Monday, May 6, Being in the Center of the Circle: When the Person in Crisis Won’t Accept Support From You.

 

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