I am trying to learn how to stop feeling my children’s feelings. Today at the end of a challenging basketball game, which our side lost, I was working vigilantly to bear witness to my daughter’s frustration without feeling it. When I mentioned that I was trying to stop feeling my daughter’s feelings to another mother, she said: “Good luck- let me know how that works for you…” I am not alone in this strange space, of allowing what other people feel to saturate you. It is a strange zone- this intense emotional sharing that happens in intimate connections.
Join Wendy while she works to master the art, study the science and discover the practice of positivity one day at a time. The growing body of scientific research in positive psychology proves without a doubt that shifting your thinking habits from negative to positive creates a thriving life. When you train yourself to remain open, curious and lean towards wonder, surprise, gratitude and occasional moments of awe, the way you see your life changes the life itself.
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To a large extent we are what we do every day. To an even larger extent, the human experience is a habitual one. This is why it isn’t that surprising that for the majority of us, even our thoughts are habitual. I have read that as much as 95% of our some 60,000 thoughts that fill our minds and shape the way we see the world are the same thoughts we had yesterday and the day before that. It takes a lot of energy and attention to think outside the box, especially our own box. Yet, most of us don’t even realize how stuck we are in old useless thought patterns that don’t serve us and even keep us from living the life we say we want.
Today I had the privilege of teaching a class called Achieving Social Justice Through Positivity Consciousness at our local high school’s Respect Day where a group of local community and spiritual leaders offer workshops. I was invited because of the Positive Change Club. The principle wasn’t sure about the link between positivity consciousness and social justice, so I reconfigured the workshop to demonstrate how all great social movements arise out of the potential that is unleashed when we strive to be our best selves. Cornel West wrote: “Social Justice is what love looks like in public.”
My stomach was so upset last night it wouldn’t rest. So it went with the rest of me. Food feels like a foreign substance, and even my beloved juice doesn’t quite taste right. Now it is time to learn what my belly has been grumbling and burping about for so long. Why is it that we learn to live with our discomfort so well that it takes a near emergency to get us to pay attention?
“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” -Kurt Vonnegut
Community is one of the values of living in America that has been shortchanged in our digital revolution. It’s demise began as our historic family structures have become dismantled as part of the no-fault divorce era. This destruction of our intimate units, where fewer meals are prepared and shared together and more kids are left alone for longer periods of time, has been mirrored in the traditional places where we have exchanged small talk and created neighborhoods. As our daily physical connections to each other have waned in favor of our virtual connectivity we have become confused even about what it feels like to belong to something larger than ourselves.
The mass shootings that are taking the lives of innocent people in schools, movie theatres and shopping malls are occurring at such regular intervals that no matter what side of the gun laws you sit on, we all share a palpable fear of the out-of control vulnerability of living so closely among so many. The mental instability and the anguish that goes unanswered belongs to all of us as we learn over and over again through these senseless acts of violence. Yet we also seem to be frozen and unable to have mature, rational discussions about taking steps to safeguard our society from the unfortunate and deadly encounters between the proliferation of guns and mental illness.
The only way out is through. I am not the first to say it and tonight it was my wise son who reminded me what I have always taught him and his siblings: that it is only with the courage to communicate and willingness to become vulnerable that releases us from our past injuries. It is an active process, this letting go, which commits you to becoming emotionally intelligent. Learning to recognize and name the basic emotional currency of our daily lives is fundamental to allowing life to move through us and not get stuck in the stories that can easily come to define us.
I have learned how to care for myself. Yesterday was a painful experience of witnessing and releasing some of the hardest aspects of my childhood. I am grateful to know I am not being held by the story anymore and what a fortunate circumstance to have a chance to enjoy the gifts of being American that I have only enjoyed once before. Our nation’s capital is awash in cultural richness. Within blocks any citizen of the world can witness the Hope diamond, a massive diamond necklace, a gift from Napolean to his wife Josephine, bigger than life skeletons of T-Rex and other Dinosaurs. At the National Art Gallery, Michelangelo’s David-Apollo is on tour. Rembrandts and Renoirs. A museum founded, built and furnished with old 1% money that was invested in cultural legacy by Andrew William Mellon (1855-1937) and his family.
I came to celebrate my mother’s 75th Birthday. I was committed to not making it worse. I was just aiming for 5% better. The thing about letting go of the past is that you have to be willing to experience the emotions to release them. Anything else is a lie, a cover-up, a turning away. I came to let go of the past and be with my mother as she is. I wanted also to apologize for the disrespect and disregard I have held her in my own defensive postures. I wanted to say I was sorry that I couldn’t value what it took for her to do what she did in her life.
A new friend reminded me today that the patience and tenderness that I seek for my estranged family is in reality a search for love in myself. Most of us have been confused by the idea that forgiveness is primarily an action we offer for others. This is the juncture where we lose our intention to love, because we believe that by forgiving other’s trespasses, whether deliberate or accidental, we let them off the hook. So instead of allowing ourselves to experience our own vulnerability again, we close off our hearts, unknowingly locking the hurt inside of us. In truth, forgiveness is not a free pass for others’ mistreatment of us, rather it is a release of that internal damage. Other people might benefit from our letting go, but the depth of the action’s healing is freeing ourselves from the past wrongs others have committed against us.