Archives for posts with tag: communication

I slept well last night, and got enough rest. I woke gently, and quietly made coffee, hoping not to wake my still-sleeping partner. I headed to the studio, sat down with my coffee, and started trying to put my thoughts together, words on a page, on a quiet Sunday. I’m grateful to have had an entire night’s sleep. Today, it looks like I’m going to need it.

This morning, my writing is interrupted, several times, for what I can only describe in this moment as “difficult interactions”. I’m not yet fully awake, and lack adequate emotional resilience for the irritated (I hear it as angry) tone of voice, so early in the morning. My thoughts are fractured, scattered, and now focused on feeling hurt, instead of nurturing something within me. My studio door gets slammed, probably without intent. My tears spill over. A quiet morning is apparently not on today’s agenda, and I am the hapless villain in this story – but who is the author? I feel frustrated, sad, and isolated (as much because I don’t really know what to do with these feelings, in this moment). It irks me that I woke up feeling so soft and amiably inclined toward my partner… and at the moment, I feel only the sting of his irritation, his disappointment with me (“What do I have to do to help you remember??”), and the visceral sensation along my nerves of a slammed door.

Sometimes “doing our best” isn’t enough to overcome opportunities to fail at something, or to miss a detail, and “trying hard” is not enough to ensure success. This is true with or without a brain injury. We have to choose again and again to “do the verbs” and to try again. We have to choose again and again to walk our path, or select a new one. It is also true that we don’t generally grow from the things we are reliably good at, or which we find comfortable and easy. So, okay – routine human shit between human primates. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it isn’t comfortable. Sometimes it is necessary to be reminded what the point of it is, and refocus our efforts, because it matters enough to do that. It reliably takes practice.

…What a shitty morning so far…and less than an hour into the day. Disappointment with myself, with the morning, with the circumstances, it all fills me up and spills over as tears, while I watch a little brown bird on the stoop, picking enough sustenance from the ground and from the sidewalk, just to get by another day. I watch the little bird, and try to nudge myself in the direction of recognizing that I am just experiencing some emotional weather; the climate in my heart (and, I assume, my partner’s) is fine. This? It’s just a moment. It’s useful to begin again, if I can start on that, somehow, then it’s not “a shitty morning” as much as a shitty moment. Moments are brief, and they pass.

This time, when my Traveling Partner opens the door to the studio, his face is softened, and he looks at me with love. The irritation is gone. He steps close, and strokes my hair. I apologize for the difficult start to his morning, through my slow, steady, tears. He tells me “it is what it is” and “I’m not angry”. He’s human, too. If I allow it to, the morning will shift gears to a happier place; we’ve made that possible, now it is just a matter of accepting that change and going with it. A matter of beginning again. I give myself a moment to appreciate having a partnership with so much resilience and potential to bounce back from a difficult interaction. I savor the feeling of gratitude that seeps in, as I contemplate the difference between this partnership, and others I’ve had.

I breathe. Exhale. Relax. Allow my heart to slow, and my posture to lift me more erect. I sip my coffee, and begin again.

I like communication. I think most of us probably enjoy it, or some aspect of it. My favorite, as much as I enjoy words and talking and writing, is being heard. ¬†I’d be surprised in that weren’t true of most people, but I’m not ‘most people’ in a lot of ways, so I likely shouldn’t go out on that limb. ūüôā ¬†I do enjoy being heard, however I have a lot to learn about listening; this is another statement I suspect is true of a lot of people, just based on observation.

It is a journey taken one step at a time.

It is a journey taken one step at a time.

I’ve noticed something strange…people who don’t feel heard are generally not listening (at least at that point at which they feel they are not being heard, themselves). ¬†“Communication” so easily turns into tit-for-tat bullshit that there are actually enough books written about communication as a subject to fill a library without help from any other topic. Amazon has 339,665 books on “communication” across a variety of subtopics, such as “communication skills” (very popular, right at the top) and¬†“law” (which I suppose gets involved when communication goes seriously awry). ¬†Human primates work hard to communicate – hell, we created language to facilitate that! We consider both verbal and non verbal forms of communication when we discuss language, and make a big deal over one versus the other, and when it is appropriate to use them, and how to interpret them. We make rules about communication and set up hierarchies of information to sort fact from fiction, lies from well-intended misstatements based on erroneous beliefs, and novels from religious tomes. Us versus them. We get our emotions involved. All that fuss and effort –¬†and we’re still communicating poorly, and taking shit personally based on untested assumptions, and expectations that source from fictions in our own heads.

Part of my own challenge in communication rests on the distinction between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’. You, too? Have you ever been in a heated discussion, or contentious meeting, and rather than actually listening with awareness to the speaker of the moment, you were investing time in formulating a reply – to something you heard moments ago, or something you are only half listening to in the moment? It’s a poor practice. I can make that assertion comfortably, feeling pretty sure you’ll agree with me – all I have to do is make that observation from the vantage point of the disregarded speaker, themselves. We’ve all been there – making a point that matters to us, doing our best to be clear, concise, and hold the attention of our listener, and… aware that we are not actually ‘being heard’; the vaguely distracted facial expression, and loss of eye contact, or lack of focused gaze, are a hint – the real giveaway is when our listener begins to reply or rebut, and it is apparent they are not speaking to the salient points at all, they are just downloading what they spent time considering – while you were talking. They weren’t listening, they were waiting for their turn. Awkward. Rude. Ineffective communication. It’s so easy, though, to get wrapped up in what feels like matters the most – and lose awareness that what actually matters most is listening while someone is talking. ¬†It gets more complicated if the person talking is an unqualified asshat, I get it, or espousing views that are “offensive” or inflammatory. That’s hard to take. Perhaps in that scenario the more effective communication is to say frankly that there is offense, or express clearly and simply that the information is in some way unacceptable¬†– then disengage without further rebuttal or reply? (Is every battle mine? lol I’ve been making some different choices, lately, myself).

Deceit, treachery, willfully misleading someone, treating them poorly or bullying them with language; my perspective is that these things are not good uses of communication between honorable beings making compassionate choices, and treating people well. We don’t always make our best choices in the moment, though, do we? It’s easy for a person, in a moment of anger, to be willfully cruel, or in a moment of frustration to be impatient or callous. We’re all very human.

I dislike imprecise communication, particularly regarding emotion. I’m not always good at it, myself, and I practice some things I find key, and I do so in a very planned and studied way. The things I put that kind of structured emphasis on are simple enough. I practice communicating willfully in words¬†– for me this means moving gently through physical space, and not using my body to communicate strong emotion instead of using words; no deliberate slamming or banging of cupboards, doors, drawers, etc to communicate distress or anger. It’s very upsetting and imprecise, and it tends (in my own experience) to foster panic, anxiety, and insecurity in the human herd without truly communicating anything with accuracy, or¬†honesty. It seems mean, and it causes¬†considerable extra wear and tear on household goods. ¬†(Do you slam shit when you’re mad? Why do you do it? What does that satisfy for you? I’ve been there, but I can’t say I find anything of lasting value in that method of communicating; I gave it up in principle some time ago.) I won’t claim any mastery; I practice continuously whether I am upset or not. ¬†The other key practice is listening, really attending to the words another person is taking time to share with me, without being distracted by the pressure of my own desire to speak and be heard, or caving to some need-in-the-moment to challenge or disagree. It’s very difficult¬†for me – the disinhibition issues I struggle with often get in the way; practicing is very important for reinforcing better habits. Not interrupting people is a good start on a basic level. (I am so not there yet! I work at it every day.) It matters that much to me, that people speaking with me feel heard.

It was slow going to reach a place where I understand that because I desire to be heard, learning to listen is critically important. It was also a struggle to reach a place where I understand that communicating emotions is not about pushing the visceral experience of strong emotion into the consciousness of other human beings against their will, or without their consent; it is about using gentle words, clearly and simply, while allowing that other consciousness to continue to have its own experience. There’s a lot of practice ahead of me. The day I realized I am practicing these qualities and behaviors because they are who I want most to be – and by intention, who I am – I became so much more able to step back from frustrations built around ‘I will when they do’ and ‘they don’t so why should I?’ or issues of unfairness, and suddenly I felt more heard – because I am listening to my own voice. That matters, too. So often it has turned out the person not listening to me, is me.

Savoring each precious moment through awareness is a nice place to start a journey of discovery.

Savoring each precious moment through awareness is a nice place to start a journey of discovery.

Some rambling notes on communication early on a Tuesday morning. It’s a good day to communicate with love, and with great attention. It’s a good day to really hear the message I am¬†sharing with the world, from the world’s perspective. It’s a good day to be kind, and to treat others with courtesy – not because they deserve it, but because it is who I am. Today is a good day to change the world.

Actually, roses need no defense. They are thorny, lovely, fragrant, bear fruit that has nutritive value, and when selected with care, amazingly low maintenance – so what’s to defend? I’ve often found myself defending roses, though, from the standard variety of attacks: too much fuss, too few/many flowers, too much/little fragrance, prone to rambling/stunted, wrong color, wrong scent, wrong location. There is a theme there.¬† Do you see the thread of objections weaving through the tapestry of human experience? Too much effort, too little outcome, not quite this, not quite that – dissatisfying on some level, perhaps to costly; the same objections each of us offers to pretty nearly anything we choose to object to. ‘Too much’, and ‘not enough’, are the battle cries of discontent.

I’m learning a few things about discontent. (Call it ‘dissatisfaction’ if you’d like, I’m not sure I’ve identified a real difference, myself.) I am learning that expectations drive discontent when my experience doesn’t ‘measure up’ to the expectations I have allowed myself to indulge. I am also learning that I am sometimes quite mired in the experience of feeling discontented or dissatisfied before I realize that I’ve gotten there, and that being mindful of the developing feeling can be critical to preventing it from escalating and becoming an even less pleasant experience, such as despair, or sorrow, or disappointment. I am learning to embrace my will as a path to an outcome I’ll enjoy more, because willful action is often quite satisfying.

I am learning, and practicing, making clear specific requests to address clear specific needs. (Well, damn, that seems obvious!) I have a lot of opportunities to practice, and it’s definitely worthwhile – because I have a lot to learn.¬† It sounds easy, but I find that asking for action, or change, is met with a variety of reactions – based on the person receiving the request.

  • Some people tend toward the ‘helpful by nature’, and receive requests comfortably, good-naturedly, and without much argument. It is sometimes too easy to burden those sorts of people too much, because they are so accommodating about the demands life places on them to start with.
  • Some people already face their world and their experience with a lifetime of resentment, summed up, saved up,¬† and returned as a volley of objections to any request for action or change.
  • Some people don’t quite seem to be having the same conversation I am, and I find myself wondering what they are hearing once they have finished filtering and interpreting the words that struck their ear drums, and then wondering whether to try to straighten it all out, or just wander off in search of sense and understanding elsewhere.
  • Some people choose to be reserved, indirect, withdrawn, sullen, evasive, or ambiguous – rather than communicating at all.

I’d like to understand all that more clearly.¬† But, in lieu of understanding, I’m working on ‘cleaning up my own mess’.¬† Learning to communicate more clearly than feels safe, more accurately with fewer words, with more willingness to slow things down to gain clarity and understanding, and more good-natured frankness about my own limitations. So far so good. I’m also much more inclined to be firm about my own boundaries and needs. That one is much much harder. I dislike confrontation, and I enjoy harmony. Communicating harmoniously with people who relish conflict is incredibly difficult – because our goals in communication are not compatible.¬† A challenging puzzle.

…Huh…this went on longer than I intended, and as I rambled I found myself drowning in words, half-formed thoughts colliding with the miscellany trickling through my very active mind, snagging here and there on a moment of urgent meaning, and suddenly…pointlessness. So…I’ll just stop now. Unfinished. Incomplete. Human.

Here’s a picture of ‘Circus Clown’ (Moore, California, 1991). I’m sure there’s a metaphor here, somewhere…

Fragrant, thorny, robust, and lovely.

Fragrant, thorny, robust, and lovely.

I woke in pain after a restless night, and too little sleep; my arthritis feeling like someone carelessly shoved gravel between my vertebrae, the pain a column reaching into my head and manifesting as an horrific headache. I took my time waking up, feeling groggy and dissatisfied, armed with grim resolve not to allow the pain to ruin my moment, my day, or my experience of life. I feel discontent. I feel angry – with myself? With my pain? With the content of my dreams? I don’t know. Hurting ‘mindfully’ isn’t my favorite experience, frankly.¬† It hurts. lol.

“Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the Bastard Time.”¬† John Steinbeck

I feel discontented. That feeling didn’t dissipate with my walk to work. I found myself distracted from the moment and wanting very much to suppress the feeling, wish it away, indulge in fantastical daydreams of ‘better things’ – anything at all to avoid acknowledging the feeling of being discontented.¬† My nerves feel raw, and I’m angry with myself for having this emotion, today.¬† Am I struggling with this because I am in pain? I have experiences that tell me the lack of sleep and the physical discomfort do have the potential to result in a general feeling of being discontented and disconnected from intimate relationships. Hormonal changes sometimes do it, too.¬† It is one of my least favorite experiences.¬† I’m also aware I am tired, and cross, and likely to be facing the world less rationally than would be ideal.

Learning to live more mindfully, and learning to ‘take care of me’ and treat myself well and with compassion seems to necessitate learning to express needs and boundaries explicitly…but learning to do those things at all isn’t quite the same as learning to do them well – I need more practice, frankly.¬† For now, I often find myself struggling with that – how do I express what feels to me like a profound and obvious sort of need to someone in a way that doesn’t result in an experience wherein they feel defensive, ‘blamed’, or simply don’t understand what I’m getting at? How do I put the focus on the need I am attempting to communicate, and succeed in simply communicating the need without demands, implied obligations, or creating conflict? How do I assert boundaries without hurting feelings? Always with the freakin’ questions, right? ūüôā¬† There’s another piece to learn, too, and it is more difficult – learning to being accepting when a clearly stated need may not be met (or even received well), or a boundary not being respected.¬† Getting the communication right matters.¬† The lessons never stop in this particular school; becoming a student of life and love has both benefits and burdens. lol.

There was a time in my life – most of it, actually – when I met nearly all my emotional needs through sexual contact. It’s only been the last couple years that I’ve really been developing a different understanding of my needs where things like intimacy are concerned (meaning intimacy as distinct and separate from sex).¬† I very much want to experience more touch in my every day existence…not sex (ok, more is nice, but it isn’t what I’m talking about, just now). ¬† I specifically mean ‘touch’: hugs, kisses, hand holding, flirty caresses, comforting embraces, sitting closely…every day contact. (I suspect almost everyone these days feels that way, with so much of our emotional connectivity being digital.)¬† Today is not the day to make decisions about personal challenges, clearly, I’m tired and I hurt way to much to rely on my decision-making where change is concerned. Still, I find myself wondering if putting sex on a back burner completely for a while would make it easier to figure out intimacy…I can’t help shaking my head and almost-laughing at the thought… me, considering putting sex aside for a while? Me?¬†Huh.¬† I’m not very skilled at intimacy; it requires a level of willingness to be vulnerable, emotionally fearless, and open to the unknown in a relationship that can be pretty intense. I’m only barely learning some basics there, so far.¬† I’d like to be better at it.¬† I’d like to be one of those people who easily connects with others, easily experiences compassion for themselves and other people, is kind, and experiences warmth and affection in their relationships as the largest part of their experience. I will keep studying, practicing, learning, and even maintaining a willingness to consider new approaches – I wonder where I will be in 5 years?

Well, I’ll say one thing for mindfulness…I’m not overwhelmed with angsty brooding, aggression, frustration, or a feeling of worthlessness.¬† I’d like ‘more/better’ out of myself, but I am learning every day, and making small improvements in my experience.¬† I am managing, at this point, to feel mostly pretty hopeful (in spite of the arthritis and the headache) and willing to keep learning, studying, practicing, living, and loving.¬† And, thanks, Dave.

I believe I could still, to this day, easily eat an entire box of Girl Scout ‘Samoas’… but each one of those tasty temptations is 75 calories! A cookie just about 2″ across, with a hole in the middle… 75 calories. “One serving is 2 cookies.”. Huh. I believe, in practice, one serving is closer to one box. LOL. I enjoyed the two cookies, one serving, entirely mindfully… tasting the sweet caramel-y flavor… noticing for the first time the slight wax-y quality… savoring the chewy goodness… no ‘will power’ necessary, apparently… it’s pretty easy to eat just two cookies, it seems, by doing nothing else but experiencing the cookies in that moment.¬† Interesting.¬† I wonder if I would similarly be satisfied with less sex if I were able to willfully savor each element of those experiences in fullness, also? Sounds like a very fun bit of theory to validate… would emotional experiences be more profound, more meaningful, or more ‘valuable’ if I really… did something different… and felt more of/about the feeling? I’m not sure at this point what I am attempting to express… something that feels very important. Language itself is getting the way of communicating.

Let’s talk for a minute about that – about language impeding communication. “Language functions by agreement.” I’m certain I am quoting someone…but when I google the quote, I don’t find it cited anywhere/when. Frustrating. I’m quite sure it is not my original thought. lol. It seems true enough, though, doesn’t it? As logical propositions go, it’s hard to argue with productively. When we don’t have a shared definition of terms, it’s pretty easy for any two or more people to find themselves having very different conversations (and reaching different conclusions) than they – or some other participant, or audience member, may think they are having. Confusion and misunderstanding become easier (and more likely) than any real exchange of information, problem solving, or consensus building effort.

Let’s use those cookies as an example… If I say to a friend “I had a couple tasty girl scout cookies today.” and their understanding of ‘a couple’ is quite specifically ‘2’, and two cookies is what I had, then we obviously understand each other clearly. On the other hand, if I used ‘a couple’ more loosely, to indicate some ‘acceptably low number of cookies, not further specified’ and my friend understands me to mean ‘2’, and what I actually ate was an entire box of those cookies, we no longer have a meeting of the minds on simply how many cookies I ate, or a number of later possible topics of conversation… like… weight-loss goals, and personal concerns about achieving them, or matters of self-control and the relative ease or difficulty of maintaining it… Hmmmm… someone important once suggested I use ‘simple, clear language’ to be more easily understood.¬† I see the wisdom of it… but damn, there are sooo many fancy lovely words… I’d hate to see all those wasted! ūüėČ

It’s a Monday, time to move on from words to numbers… I didn’t get much sleep last night, and find myself now both fatigued and distracted by things more important to me, than to the world, but the work day is here and I’ve a limited window of reliable alertness ahead of me, and putting the focus on the work at hand is now the thing. It’s a good Monday, though, a good day in general. I am, for now, enjoying my experience.