I was at retail store recently and got into a very short but robust conversation with someone who worked there when she discovered I was a mediator.
She told me about a friend of hers who attended a mediation but the other person in the conflict didn’t show up.
She said her friend was quite frustrated and believed that the other party was “just trying to spite” him. My new friend said she told him she didn’t think that was a good theory but she wasn’t sure about that or about what else to say.
So, firstly I validated her observation and let her know that her friend’s theory about the other person’s intentions is known as attribution error – defined as an individual’s tendency to attribute another’s actions to their character or personality. We tend to think the worst of people when their behaviours impact our own negatively.
I also shared that our intentions are hidden unless we express them and are often a complex range of intentions anyway, mutable even according to our level of hunger (ever heard of “hangry”?).
Although we don’t know what another’s intentions are unless we ask, after listening to thousands of people in conflict over the decades of my practice, I was able to tell my new friend with some confidence that a more likely and more helpful theory about why the other person didn’t show up was that the person was probably afraid… of something.
Thinking of what the other person might be afraid of can give a more constructive direction than thinking they are trying purposefully trying to spite us. That could also be true, but it’s a matter of expanding the possibilities and our preparation.
I told her that if her friend wanted to get the other person to the table, he could try to reflect on what that other person might be afraid of. If we don’t have a reason to engage in a conversation, if we don’t see any benefits for ourselves, we generally don’t participate. I also offered that he think of persisting – with love. Not persistence with force or persistence with focusing on the most negative intentions of the other person. But, persistence with love.
My new friend concluded by saying how she and her whole circle of friends are often left trying to figure out how to deal with conflict on their own – without the skills or education. She said they simply share stories of what they think might work or not.
Lived experience is powerful – her intuition told her that it might not be helpful for her friend to think only of the worst intention of the other person.
And, education also helps. She left our conversation with the courage of her convictions and new ideas like attribution error and what else to advise her friend about how to increase the chances of bringing the other person to the table.
As I left, she said: “I’m trying to remember everything you just told me!”
Now that was a satisfying conversation.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” … Nelson Mandela
Archives for December 2021
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With the holiday season in full swing, it seems only right to focus this month’s attention on Green Walls and Good News. It has been a European tradition to bring trees inside the house at this time of year, to celebrate the “yule” and give reverence for the bounty and evergreen of trees.
So, some good news on our beleaguered environmental front: green walls are becoming more popular as a way to absorb more CO2 emissions.
There is an initiative called the Great Green Wall in Africa, which is halting desertification and poverty near the Sahara. More than 20 African countries have joined together in an international mission to plant a massive wall of trees running across the continent. That’s good news.
Green walls of all sorts act as carbon sponges, which helps mitigate climate change.
Check out green walls for yourself.
Late last year, I came across Dr. Jeffery Martin’s work on fundamental wellbeing. He interviewed over 1,000 people who said they felt fundamental wellbeing most of the time, to study what they did and how they showed up in the world. His research is solid and important, as his programs are teaching people how to create a greater sense of peace in their worlds.
Since January, I have been on a quest to settle into a deeper sense of wellbeing and each month this year, I have been using this space to reflect on the experiment, with you along for the ride!
This is the last month of my year-long experiment and this month my reflection is about the journey.
In January, I listed a few definitions of fundamental wellbeing. Jeffery Martin defined it as: “a relatively quiet mind, positive or peaceful emotions… that things are okay, regardless of life circumstances” I added my definition as well: “a type of unwavering faith and a surrendering trust, that all is ultimately well.” Creating my own definition of fundamental wellbeing helped me situate my quest and help me understand what it was that I was looking for.
In February, I considered that trusting life might be at the heart of fundamental wellbeing. Trusting life has become a theme for me for many years and relates to two other words important to me: surrender and faith. These words: trust, surrender, faith carry a lot of power and weight. Exploring my relationship to trust, surrender and faith challenges me to continue to decide and choose what I want my relationship with life to be.
Locating and Feeling
In March, I started to identify what fundamental wellbeing might feel like and be located. Jeffrey Martin locates it inside oneself and outside, in the all. So, I realized I already have something inside myself which I could call fundamental wellbeing, I just didn’t have the vocabulary for it. It’s when I focus on my breath and intentionally connect with that stream of goodness inside me and feel the space around my heart come alive.
I also related to the connection to the all. One way that can happen for me is as a place that feels like energy or a buzzing inside of my body, then I extend that noticing to outside my body. If what I am feeling is energy inside my body, then it stands to reason the energy is outside as well. Sometimes I can actually see and sense a feeling of internal energy merging with external energy. Hard to explain but it feels very good. Many of us get experiences of merging in nature, with music, in sex, in great conversations. That’s what fundamental wellbeing feels like!
Having Enough Gratitude
In April, I experimented with a basic gratitude practice so key to fundamental wellbeing. It was a practice inspired by a podcast interview Tami Simons did with wealth management investor Spencer Sherman. Sherman does an equanimity practice he calls “having enough.” He notices what he already has in his life, to offset the pain of focusing on what he doesn’t have, as there is always not enough. A core practice in cultivating fundamental wellbeing is to notice, appreciate and nurture what we do have in the here and now, to be grateful. I love to be reminded of having enough and it stimulates instant gratitude!
Feel You Feelings
In May, I focused on the power of paying attention to our feelings as a pathway to wellbeing.
Use a Mantra
In June, I adopted the mantra that “things are unfolding exactly as they should.” As I read that now, I am thinking I’d like to take that one on again! It makes me feel good to read that. Yes!
Love as an Acceptance Practice
In July, I explored the power of love in wellbeing, quoting Gerald Jampolsky telling us:
“In order to experience peace instead of conflict, it is necessary to shift our perception… Fear is really a call for help, and therefore a request for Love…If others do not change in accordance with our expectations, we are likely to regard them as guilty… Peace of mind comes from not wanting to change others, but by simply accepting them as they are.” The practice of love as acceptance.
Love Expressed as Gratitude
In August, I once more talked about love, this time combined with gratitude. I was reflecting on my mother’s birthday and realized I had not expressed my love and gratitude to her, to the extent I would have wanted, before she died. Riding the waves of love and gratitude as ways to wellbeing.
In September, I was exploring Jill Bolte Taylor’s latest practice, which was to notice when you experience any unwanted emotion, observe yourself engaging in the thoughts and emotions, notice what your body feels like and see if you can notice the sensations passing in 90 seconds or less. You can label the emotion if you want (“I’m feeling anxious”) and notice the physiological reaction leave your body in less than 90 seconds.
Growth Mindset to Challenges
In October, I outlined the wins and the mindset I experienced while getting into cycling this year, from March to October. I spoke about an emerging belief that I can achieve goals (I called them “mini-goals”) – that I am able. It reminds me of Carol Dweck’s Growth mindset, where challenges are seen as exciting. I was surrounded by that mindset in the cyling club I joined, and noticed myself strengthening into that growth mindset through my mini-goals, the fuel I received accomplishing them and the people in the cycling community.
In November, I explored four types of breathing. I have found breathwork to be a powerful way to induce fundamental wellbeing instantly.
Which leads me to today and what I learned by going through this journey. Here are a few things I learned:
- Fundamental wellbeing already exists in us, we simply need to uncover it. Before I started this exploration, I thought fundamental wellbeing might be something to do. I still recognize there are many practices I could be doing and that help bring wellbeing to the forefront. But it’s not something we have to do, it’s something we are. I’ve often asked myself a question attributed to Albert Einstein saying the most important question being whether the Universe is friendly or not. For me, that inquiry was settled a long time ago: despite the horrors and the pains, I still believe the Universe is fundamentally good. For that, I am grateful.
- Fundamental wellbeing can appear to come and go, but it exists in us all deep down. Paying attention to the existence of fundamental wellbeing month after month, made me realize it was always there, just under the surface. Although my life could take curves and jumps, I knew a deep well of wellbeing was there underneath it all. I discovered what my friend told me in my January article. She took the Jeffrey Martin course and felt her life flip to Fundamental Wellbeing and told me that she realized her life on the surface can be topsy turvy. And that’s okay. That didn’t mean she didn’t have fundamental wellbeing. I understand that now too from my own experience.
- Don’t Slow Down. Calm Down. I’ve often said in my mediation practice that we need to “Go slow to go fast.” Recently, I came across the Bob Proctor quote: “Don’t slow down. Calm down.” That made me realize that is what I mean as well. I don’t want to let anything throw me off that calm centre. But sometimes I do. Sometimes my amygdala reacts faster than I can. Sometimes my past traumas come up and hijack my desires for how I want to be. And that too I want to meet with calm and equanimity. I am enough. I feel that in this moment.
- Accept, forgive, transcend. Through it all this year, I would fail and fail again. I would want to take on a practice, whether it was breathing with more intention or integrating a mantra multiple times a day. There are many practices I did do, and still do, but there were ones I didn’t. And, through it all, the most important thing I think I’ve learned in this year of fundamental wellbeing is simply this: I am okay.
I don’t need to make myself “better.” I don’t need to fix myself. I am me. I want to grow and expand and be the best me I can be – I still want to embrace that. What I can leave behind after this year of experimentation is any impulse to make myself wrong if I don’t “achieve.” I am alright just as I am.
And, you know what?
So are you!
Thank you so much for joining me on this year of fundamental wellbeing. It has been incredibly meaningful for me to share this journey with you.
I’d love to hear what you have learned as well.