Digging deeper into the dirt

Digging deeper into the dirt

Sometimes I really slip up on my goal of regulating myself when I get into a bad mood. Usually that mood accompanies some judgment I am having.

We three housemates have a Friday night meal, and it was up to T. or me to cook. M. was working  that day and T. was busy on the phone and seemed content for me to cook the meal. I had hoped T. and I would be cooking together, and began to judge her behavior as “entitled.” M. came home from work and jumped into making a salad.

Some part of me is a really nitpicking score keeper, obsessing about fairness, and after dinner when M. was helping clean up, I said I thought she was helping T. too much–as if I was trying to even the score, for T. not helping us cook! In reality, we all have times when we are busy and do less, and times when we put in more effort on behalf of the household.

After dinner we were planning our gardens, and when T. started drawing the existing garden beds on the whiteboard, I thought I would contribute by adding a little piece, but T. erased it. This happened twice. I got triggered because I judged T. as “controlling” and left the room saying, “This is really annoying.” What I wish I had said was, “When you erased my drawing, I felt hurt and annoyed because I interpreted that as a lack of respect or negating my input. I was judging you as controlling. I value cooperation and collaboration, and I need to be seen and heard.” When I came back I played with my phone, not even looking at T.’s drawing. T. explained that it was easier for her to be the one doing the drawing and that she was open to verbal input. She acknowledged my discomfort and even came and rubbed my shoulders!

The next day, M. and T. got started digging out a garden bed to put a vole-barrier of hardware cloth into it. They had agreed to do that the previous evening and I was not actually asked to take part; however, I thought it was only fair for me to offer to help, so I started shoveling too. The hardware cloth needed to be bought, and that was easier than shoveling, so I volunteered but neglected to research the best place to find it for a good price. When I got to Lowe’s, the price seemed high so after phoning T. and M., I made several calls to other stores. I started feeling stressed that the cost was so high. M. had offered to help make calls and call me back, but I said it would take longer that way. She still offered to help, and I gruffly said, “Whatever,” and hung up. I had not realized how much time it would take to get the errand done and I was getting impatient, hungry, and hadn’t had lunch yet. Yes, I was “hangry!”

When I got home she expressed to me that she did not like how I had spoken on the phone, and especially being hung up on, and I apologized.

Later I wrote: “Were you feeling stressed, hurt and sad when I said ‘Whatever’ and hung up the phone, because you need respect, harmony, and consideration for how you’re trying to help? I’m feeling embarrassed and regretful because I didn’t self-regulate or attune to you.  Instead, I was out of control with my grumpiness! I did not mean it personally. I need more self-awareness and to walk my talk. I would really like to be more mindful and respectful with you.” She thanked me and forgave me.

When I have a day like this, I’m often hard on myself. I think, “Who am I to teach heart coherence or compassionate communication? I’m not practicing it when I hit a rough spot, and instead I vent my impatience and bad attitude on other people, the opposite of being compassionate!”

So I stopped myself, took a breath, and acknowledged that even though my behavior was far from my ideals, I had communicated in a better way afterwards and had been forgiven by both housemates. Going deeper into questioning my high reactivity, I was aware that I was feeling envious of T. for the important and meaningful work she is so deeply engaged in, and that I had been in a self-critical and financially stressed place over not having generated enough work for myself. I had been looking forward to an afternoon to nurture myself on Saturday, and didn’t like spending part of it shoveling and running errands, but imagined that there was peer pressure to do so…a story I was telling myself, since T. and M. said they did not have that expectation. The pressure came from my own desire to be seen as a collaborator, someone who does her fair share.

And so by writing this blog I am sharing with you the truth that we all struggle with our old patterns, I am not proud of my bad habits but they give me plenty of opportunities for growth and learning!

Charles Eisenstein and “the space between stories”

charles eisensteinAccording to Eisenstein, who spoke last week in Asheville, we are transitioning from the “old story” of separation to the “new story” of inter-being. The “old story” was domination and hierarchy, competition, judgments, and war; the “new story” is interdependence, relationships, and empathy. “If we really understood one another’s worlds, we would not judge,” he stated. “We would see that our judgments are delusional.” As in the process known as Circling, the question we want to ask in order to inhabit each other’s worlds is “What is it like to be you?”

“Real stories can pierce ideologies like racism and homophobia,” he said, whereas simply attacking police as racists changes nothing. For example, in South Africa there were Truth and Reconciliation committees in which people told their stories of suffering to the perpetrators of apartheid; there was no bloodbath, because people were deeply heard. How can we create conditions for people’s stories to be heard?

Why do we judge?

“Judgment is a deficiency in understanding. Judgment is chiefly a pain avoidance mechanism, channeling it into hatred of others,” said Eisenstein. “So we must learn to feel the pain, instead of channeling it into judgments.” He added that our society does not provide channels for grieving properly. “Judging ourselves for judging does not solve the problem either.”

“What’s wrong with you?!”

Every child hears this growing up, from frustrated parents and teachers. Is it any wonder that most of us grow up feeling deficient, not good enough, and believing there is something fundamentally wrong with us. In the “old story,” goodness or virtue was seen as overcoming our basic nature – like the concept of “original sin.” What if instead a teacher gently asked a misbehaving student, “What’s going on for you?”  “From true understanding comes appropriate action,” Eisenstein emphasized.

Why not focus on what is “right” with a person? The story we tell ourselves about others does determine our behavior toward them, and often the outcome. Eisenstein told a story of a woman who held fast to her story that despite their early criminal behavior, “These boys just want an education.” The result was that their behavior transformed for the better!