Archives for posts with tag: listen deeply

I’m sipping my Sunday morning coffee in solitude. Best that I do so. I’m in a lot of pain after a long walk on a windy winter beach, yesterday, which, while it provided wonderful time to reflect and listen to my own thoughts, was also physically taxing. I’m definitely glad I wore base layers, too; it was chilly!!

Windy, rainy, cold, and the tide coming in. There’s no stopping the tide.

Things went seriously sideways Friday night, and Saturday’s walk on the beach was moody and bleak. It felt wholly necessary, but there was little joy in the moment. This saddens me, even now. It is, at this point, just something I’m adding to the recollection. I breathe, exhale, and let that go.

…I got some great pictures…

Friday might not have turned into the emotional shitstorm it did if I had been paying more attention… or… if I were altogether someone else, I suppose. My Traveling Partner woke in pain Friday morning, and was in an absolutely foul mood as a result (not unlike where I find myself this morning). He made a point of saying so, and was very kind and careful in our interactions all day, although he was cross and irritable. I finally ended my work day and … the whole delicate considerate assembled-with-care framework crumbled. I’m still sipping my first coffee, right now, this morning, and my brain is not yet entirely “on line”; I struggle to recall specifically what went wrong. Something I said, or my reaction to something he said, and suddenly we were lobbing raw emotions at each other in the form of angry words. I wept. We took turns shouting. We both ended up triggered – and triggering each other – and just fucking mired in our individual pain and heartache. To call it “unpleasant” seems insufficient. To make more of it than that seems simultaneously disrespectful of any underlying legitimate concerns that ought be addressed with love and consideration – but also seems likely to elevate those painful hours to something more important than what they were. Chaos fueled by emotions. Emotions that had less to do with the moments we found ourselves in than other moments, in other relationships, that left us scarred. Both unpleasant and unfair. How is it “unfair”? Isn’t it always unfair to ask love to sweep up the mess left behind by circumstances that had little, if any, actual love in them?

Friday morning became a painting, instead of an argument. 8″ x 10″ acrylic on canvas, untitled.

Yesterday was strained and awkward. This morning I woke up in pain, and found myself saying so, much in the same manner that he had on Friday morning. A cold chill rolls up my spine, and my mouth goes dry, and my anxiety spikes over fear that today will be another Friday, and end poorly. I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I do it again. Then another breath. Followed by another. I keep at the breathing until the hinted-at-future-but-not-now feelings of anxiety recede. I definitely don’t need to invite or cultivate that shit.

I sit with my coffee this morning, thinking about my walk, my work, my relationships… I consider how my TBI affects the way I communicate, not just the part where I talk (a lot), or interrupt (too much), but also the part that is the step beyond listening; my ability to make sense of what I am hearing, and to correctly reply to what has actually been said. I do pretty well, generally, but… when I am tired, or in pain, or distracted, I’m not just “less good at that”, I’m pretty horrible – and when I look at that, and also consider the “performance pressure” I tend to feel that pushes me to answer any question very quickly, I see how easily this can go very wrong, leaving someone trying to have a conversation with me feeling perhaps I am not listening at all. It’s rough. It can go a bit like this:

“Did you hear from your friend about that painting?” someone asks.

“No.” I say, “Well, they texted me. I didn’t feel up to talking right then, so I said I would call back today after work,” I add, followed by “They did say they really like the painting, in their message to me.”

(no shit, a real conversation I had)

So… yeah. What the hell?? When I see it written down, I totally get why that would be not just incredibly frustrating to wade through to get a simple “Yes, they liked it.” It also tends to seem potentially … dishonest? Misleading? Manipulative? Crafty? Vague? Withholding? Dissembling? A whole bunch of adjectives could apply. It’s not actually about any of that, though. I started answering the question I was asked before I actually understood the question at all. Along the way, my brain mixed up “hear from” with “speak to” – similar but quite different – and entirely missed the point of the fucking question until I’d provided a bunch of utterly unsolicited other information. So… slow down? Fuck yes. Easy, right? Well… maybe? It’ll take practice. I’ll say very bluntly that I’ve had “reply immediately” literally beaten into me (first marriage was a domestic violence nightmare I’m lucky to have survived). It’s hard to change behaviors that were heavily reinforced with violence or trauma. It takes more work and practice and commitment and awareness and encouragement and kindness and support than I can describe. It can be done. My results vary, though, and every failure is heart-breaking for at least a moment of pure distilled disappointment with myself.

…This isn’t “all about me” though. This particular challenge is very specifically the sort that commonly affects the people interacting with me, most. I’m kind, honest, open, and well-intentioned, but I’ve also got PTSD… and I’ve got brain damage. That’s going to present a combinations of characteristics some people just aren’t going to be willing to deal with long-term. So far my Traveling Partner still chooses to share this complicated journey with me. I’m very fortunate, and very grateful. I know it isn’t easy.

Caution.

So, yesterday, I walked on the beach alone, reflecting on my challenges, my abilities, love, and life, and work, and gave some thought to life’s curriculum on the topics of boundaries, and of communication. I was missing my partner long before I noticed my knees were aching, and headed home when the rain began to fall heavily.

I find myself, now, bringing my thinking “back to basics”: breathing, listening deeply, my “Big 5” relationship values (Respect, Reciprocity, Consideration, Compassion, Openness), and the book my own beloved recommended to me, early in our relationship…

It’s hard to go wrong with good basics…

Yep. I am re-reading The Four Agreements, again. Sometimes beginning again is simply a step forward, with new thinking. Sometimes beginning again means a new commitment to something that is proven to work well, when applied consistently. Now there is a day ahead of me… I see sunshine through the window shade. The aquarium needs maintenance. There is housework to be done. In spite of aching knees, I’d enjoy a walk in the forest, now that the storm damage from the recent ice storm is cleared away. All of that, and Love to nurture besides… looks like a busy day ahead.

…I guess it’s time to begin again…

The morning is off to a difficult start. I woke in pain after a restless night. My Traveling Partner also woke in pain, and considering every time I was awake, he was also awake, I’m reasonably certain both of us have had less than ideal sleep. I make coffee. We don’t manage to enjoy it together – we aren’t enjoying each other very much this morning. While this does suck, it’s a temporary thing, and it will pass. I focus on other things.

I seek to be kind with my words, and to speak gently.

I already suspect today is one of those days on which whatever my best effort happens to be, it may fall short of ideal. I’m tired. I’m dealing with unmanaged pain. I’m aggravated. Is it me? Is it “us”? Is it just one of those very impermanent situations that will pass when it passes and simply be forgotten? Is it more important than that? I fuss quietly to myself, sip my coffee, and work on breathing through it, and letting it go. I work on not taking it personally. These are “practices” for me because they do indeed require practice. Steady. Regular. Repeated.

Kinda feels like I’m almost always standing in hot water. It’s frustrating, and this morning it is holding me back from enjoying this moment.

I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I focus on “now”, bringing my mind back to my breath, again and again. It’s something. Is it enough? I find myself wondering what conversations my Traveling Partner has with himself on mornings such as this. I wonder what he does to get past the difficult moments of life with a brain injured partner with PTSD. Doubtless it is not always an easy experience… How does he avoid fusing with my experience? How does he nurture and soothe himself?

Tomorrow, I am taking a break for myself, and driving out to the coast to walk on the beach, and listen to the wind and the waves, and be still and solitary for a little while before returning home. Another breath. Another moment to relax. I contemplate the drive without much eagerness in this particular moment right here. The morning is a difficult one, and I’m struggling to distract myself.

Human primates seem always to be trippin’ over something or another. Emotions are part of the human condition.

I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I turn to respond to my partner when he opens the door to ask me to empty the little trash can in my studio; it’s trash day. He’s preparing to take the bins to the curb for pick-up. Life is… so ordinary. Difficult moments are only that, moments. They pass. They are finite. Sure, they recur. My results definitely vary. I often find myself wanting or needing to begin again. I keep practicing, and instead of “looking for signs” that things are somehow worse than a moment gone wrong on a difficult morning, I let it go (again).

We put caution signs everywhere… but we create the hazards, too.

I am reminded that we make most of our own drama, and routinely blow small shit way out of proportion. Human primates are messy, complicated, and emotional. We aren’t as smart as we think we are. We’re prone to reasoning poorly, and reacting emotionally to circumstances in which our emotional reaction lacks value or utility – and expecting our emotions to have all that going for them is asking a lot of feelings. “Do not touch the edges of this sign.” No kidding.

Also? Stay on the path. Breathe. Keep practicing.

Begin again.

Some of my “favorite” practices feel the most difficult… or… it’s at least accurate to say that some simple-seeming practices present me with my greatest challenges. It doesn’t much matter whether it is the brain injury, or the PTSD, or the circumstances, or the particular relationship affected by either my ineptitude or the lack of proficiency on some thing or another… difficult is difficult. “Hard” is subjective, in this case.

This evening I’m watching the light fade, filtered through the window shade, and thinking about an important simple-but-difficult practice, “listening deeply“. Practices need practice. Maybe this is more accessible?

…Maybe this is relevant, too? (I know, I know, none of us want to think so, but, …_) I’m just saying.

Paying attention, really listening (instead of “waiting to talk”) isn’t “automatic” – and some of us really really have to work at it. I’m even saying that there is legitimate intimate and social value in doing so. It’s worth it to get to be a “good listener”. So… I focus on the practice.

I seriously need more practice, too… I cut people off while they are still talking, way too often. It really doesn’t matter whether I’m correct or incorrect about where the conversation is going – cutting people off that way, interrupting, is rude. I am aware this is something I need work on. I work on it. Practices need practicing. I can tell I still need more practice. So… yeah. Working on it.

…I get interrupted too. A lot. At work, at home, out in the world… I’m not the only human being who would benefit from working on my listening skills. I suspect maybe a whole bunch of us, maybe even “most”, would find life and relationships improved by tackling this important life skill.

So. Here I am. Sitting in the afternoon light of a winter day, and wondering “fucking hell, how do I still suck so much at this particular skill?” I mean… it’s meaningful to me, it matters to me, it is a lot of what I want when I converse with someone – that they listen to me. Just seems reasonable that they’d want the same…and yet… I still need so much practice.

…I sigh out loud, rubbing my aching neck…

…It’s time to begin again.

It’s been a few days of dealing with an “interesting” increase in my anxiety, recently. Like… a distracting, persistent, defiant amount of anxiety, of varying intensity… the sort of thing that surges back seemingly stronger than previously known (it isn’t, really), and difficult to manage. It’s been disrupting my sleep, and pulling my attention away from things that (truly) matter much more. Frustrating.

“Anxiety” 10″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic 2011

I woke early, pre-occupied with work, because that’s just the sort of thing Anxiety enjoys nibbling on before the day even begins. Any detail over which I’m less than entirely confident and comfortable with becomes fuel to her fire. Fuck Anxiety; she’s a liar. Anxiety forces me to view the world through a lens of fear, doubt, stress, and insecurity, and prevents me from embracing other qualities of my experience. I haven’t had to do such fierce battle with my anxiety in a long while. It’s fueled by the competing experiences of home-ownership and difficult (unpleasant) work-place relationships. The sense of obligation that comes of owning a home causes me to feel I “have to” endure more that is unreasonable, to set fewer clear boundaries, to be more reluctant to “draw a line in the sand” with higher ranking colleagues… all of which are uncomfortable, less than ideal, and probably also seriously bullshit. lol Anxiety, remember, is a liar.

I woke early, and spent my first minutes on meditation. It helps a lot. Coffee came later, because over the years I’ve learned too well that Anxiety likes a good cup of coffee every bit as much as I do, and not in a helpful way. lol Meditation first. Coffee later.

I looked over my work calendar, and quickly identified the source of my stress – it was really just one meeting on my calendar (that I own), and only due to a change of format being requested, for which I have had too little time to prepare. So… that’s not even “about” me. I reschedule the meeting to give myself (and another affected colleague) more time to make the requested changes. No harm done. Hell, it’s even a short week (after a Monday holiday) and so far it’s going very smoothly. Hard to argue with those results. 🙂

I feel my tension ease, my Anxiety receding into the background, returning to being “anxiety” with a lower-case A. Nice. A good start to the work week… I mean… good enough. Amply adequate, for sure. 😀

The weekend that is now over was a lovely one. I sip my coffee, free of the crushing weight of the anxiety that had been nagging me earlier, and think about the lovely miles of trail walking, the scent of fresh baked cookies that filled the kitchen all weekend, and my Traveling Partner’s smiles. A good weekend.

Sometimes the obstacles along the way are small enough to just step over them. 🙂

So, a new week, new beginnings – and new challenges. 🙂 Sometimes the “new” challenges just happen to be old familiar ones – I just get to practice handling them, all over again. lol Didn’t think I needed to take that lesson one more time, but there it is – and we become what we practice. 😀

It’s time to begin again.

One step at a time, eventually measured in miles. One day at a time, eventually measured in years. One moment at a time eventually becomes a life well-lived, on a beautiful journey. ❤

Sometimes I have to remind myself (yeah, and this at 57) that most uncomfortable or unpleasant situations I may find myself in, and very nearly all difficult interactions with other people, have within them an opportunity to learn and grow… if I can sort out what exactly the lesson is. Sometimes I find it less than ideally obvious what could be learned from some challenging moment.

I take a break from working to reflect on how conversations flow. I have a long-standing personal challenge with interrupting people. I’m sure it is a byproduct of impaired executive function, one of many pieces of my TBI puzzle. I’m not saying that to excuse it, I’m just pointing out that it persists for reasons that seem likely to be associated with the underlying nature of the issue. I continue to work on it. I continue to interrupt people. It continues to be unpleasant for those who are being interrupted – I know that with certainty, because I myself also dislike being interrupted (and as a woman in America often speaking with, among, or to, men, I experience it regularly, I promise you, but it’s not the topic today).

…I continue to work on it.

…I continue to interrupt people.

Fucking hell. I know that it’s necessary to begin again. Practice deep listening. Slow down. Find the balance point between considering what I’ve heard for so long that I’ve forgotten to reply at all… and jumping in to respond before someone has actually finished their thought. Make a point of really noticing, observing, when I “get it right”, and a conversation flows naturally, everyone feels heard, talking is in turns… savor the successes, to build an implicit comfort with that timing and cadence, generally. Breathe more. Speak in a measured, comfortable pace that allows me to continue to breathe.

…So much to practice…

I rather expect I’ll be working on this one until my actual last breath… but my results have been known to vary. I do begin again, pretty reliably, and we do become what we practice… eventually. 🙂 Consider this one a bit of self-nagging on the way to beginning again. 😉

We become what we practice. Now to practice not interrupting… 😀

It’s a journey with a lot of steps.