Archive | Relationship

Do you love to be in nature away from other people?

Is there a part of you that prefers to be in nature, away amongst mountains, by the sea or in the countryside, where there aren’t any people and you have to yourself the splendour of nature? Do you get times when you want to get away from the stresses and strains of dealing with your fellow humans and the crowded cities? Just recently someone was telling how she comes into her own when in nature, in the silence and stillness of remote mountains and their vast and massive rocky majesty. I thought, “me too!”

Your special place, if that is what it is, is very important. My correspondent was saying that for her there was this raw force of nature that was powerful, moving and brought out her passion and creativity. For me, there is a sense of Oneness, like I am connected to what I behold, as a part of me. Many have written of how they are moved by nature; in fact it helped spawn a whole artistic and cultural movement, Romanticism. For Wordsworth it was also a spiritual experience, beyond the material. It touches your soul.

There’s also this feeling that people and nature are somehow separate. It’s as though we can only be who we are in the depths of silence and stillness, as one can also find in meditation. Of course it is us having this experience and we are people! Yet for those of us who feel like this, we feel that we have somehow to get away from other people for this to work. Hence so many go off to live in isolated settings, being the hermit or in retreats, or having a house out on its own.

If you have this yearning, then try it, and see what happens after a while. For some it works. Others can find that all sorts of stuff comes up for them. One person told me how suddenly he felt acutely lonely and longed to be back with his wife. The aloneness was scary.

However, the other side of aloneness is at-Oneness. It’s perhaps where you put your focus. It might also be your understanding. It can be also be where you go when in silence and alone. There’s the whole thing about how you manage your state, and connect with your Self within.

Then, when you go back, if you do, to be with others, you might resist it. Then again you might feel refreshed and more ready to face what comes. It is worth reflecting that there too is Oneness. In the middle of a busy street, crowded with people, there too is God, or however you conceive of an underlying Presence of Being. When we resist our connection with others, and keep ourselves away, we keep ourselves separate, and can potentially therefore prevent ourselves from connection once more. It’s harder to do, of course, since this connection with others so often brings up our stuff. Yet there can lie our real challenge and our real opportunity.

I coach people to develop their real purpose, direction and life goals. To contact me click here.

Is the love-hate relationship between peoples out of control today?

Am I imagining it or is the love-hate balance tipping too far towards hate? Are you feeling uncomfortable about the seeming rise in antagonism towards minorities? Where’s the love and peace? We seem to be in the middle of one of those phases in public life where there’s a desire to blame the ills of life on scapegoats, be they Muslims, benefit claimants, Roma gypsies, immigrants, another religion, another nationality or whoever. Equally we have extremists who have fundamentalist outlooks and see themselves engaged in some climatic struggle against the forces of evil. So, how do we respond from a mindful perspective?

Just recently Muslim fundamentalists in Paris killed a number of journalists for publishing cartoons of the Prophet and attacked a Kosher supermarket. Around the world there’s been protests: “Je suis Charlie”, banners proclaimed, as many asserted the right to free speech. Others insisted on the right to offend, while many Muslims protested against the insults to their religion. All this of course is great recruiting material for extremism, Muslim, Neo-fascist or whatever. You might get the passions aroused, the mutual indignation, and sense of righteousness.

So what might God think of this? Righteous too on one side or the other, or bemused? I remember some words of a teacher of mine, “the benign indifference of the universe”. Taking “sides” doesn’t really fit from this perspective. S/he might simply be reflecting on how humans experience themselves and s/he too through them.

It’s not so easy to see our own shadow at work, that we too can be like this at times. How often have you flipped from respect to antagonism towards another? It’s hard to acknowledge that we humans have this inside us, that we have both the polarities of love and hate at the ego level. Yet this kind of awareness and humility can be helpful, since change starts with ourselves and releasing hate within us. Then we can more truthfully love. As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”, and he campaigned through non-violence.

There’s also a clue here, about our state of being. If you breathe, step back and witness all this, what are you aware of? I don’t know, but there might be you being aware of having just taken a breath and paused, and then a remembrance of all those thoughts about humans in the world of duality, of being polarised, and love and hate, and all that stuff. And here’s you, being more present and aware.

So, that stuff is not all of you. There’s also you, being present. So you can change your state of being, just like that.

So, there’s all that love-hate stuff “out there”, and “in here”, now here, not nowhere, there’s another sense of who you are.

You could explore “now here”, mindfully, and not be caught up in “out there”. The world of duality, the world of illusion, is how we experience life at the level of ego. But it doesn’t have to be like that. The more we live “now here” the more connected to love we are likely to feel. Then we can manifest “as That” when we make contact with those “out there” who might still be caught up in ego. We can feel God within, whatever our belief system and however we understand it, and we can also see God in each other too.

Then we can be at peace, which by the way is one meaning of the word “Islam”.

Do you relate well to others?

Do you relate well to others personally and at work? Do you inspire, lead and motivate them well, or do you struggle in the “people” aspect of your job? It’s common for people to minimise this part but it’s crucial to things going well.

Business leaders have finally woken up to the fact that “soft skills” make a big difference to the bottom line, after years in which people have denied its importance and minimised the value of such training and coaching. Many in the Learning and Development industry will of course be thinking “told you so”, but it must still be a cause for celebration for many that at last the truth is out in the open, and it needs all the support it can get.

It is now being argued in a new campaign by employers that coaching and training in such areas as communication, initiative, interacting with customers and team working can make an impact to the value of £88 billion a year in increased productivity and reduced operating costs. It is said that this is particularly so in businesses that rely on “face-to-face human interaction.” An example of this relates to the field of Emotional Intelligence (EI). Research has been showing for a long time now that EI is far more important than IQ in terms of a leader’s capabilities, in the proportion of 85% to 15%.

My own experience as a coach has shown how true this is. One example is how time gets lost in needless conflict between managers and between their teams. Only when the managers have resolved their differences and found a better way of working together have results improved. I’ve often seen how personal differences get played out in intra-organisational issues. Another is where a manager believes that to manage effectively (s)he has to be strong to the point of bullying the team, and fails to build relationships and rapport with his or her team and results through such methods as simple positive motivation and encouragement.

Key to EI is self awareness, the ability to know your own strengths and weaknesses, but built on that key foundation is self management, the ability to self manage and act appropriately, and social awareness, in particular empathy, to understand and get alongside others. Then the fourth key area comes into play, the ability to build good relationships at work.

People need to get comfortable working with emotions, whereas historically they were viewed with suspicion by senior managers. A business that has a positive emotional climate is where people feel good to be there, where they feel connected to and supported by one another, where they feel safe to be themselves and feel confident in what they are about and where they are going, where they can be open and honest and trust one another, where they willingly collaborate to make things happen, and where their abilities are recognised and rewarded. That’s not done just by throwing money at it. It’s done by building engagement, involvement and commitment. That kind of organisation has a positive emotional climate, communicates well and gets good results from its people. It is very likely well-led.

I give coaching to build EI skills. To contact me, click here.+

Do you feel dumped upon emotionally by other people?

Do you often find that you’re dumped upon by someone? Like it’s their stuff but somehow you’ve got the problem, particularly if they have the knack of making it look like it’s your problem, or you have a way of taking it on board and thinking it is your problem. It’s easy to feel the victim in such circumstances but not so easy to hand the problem back to the other person, especially if you are not so assertive. Then if we try to hand it back, it comes back at us big time!

It helps if we can pause and see what’s really happening.

Feeling at fault

You might for example be one who easily feels “at fault” in situations and blames yourself. You might too readily take the blame. You might not feel so good in yourself and so when another directs anger or upset at you and implies that you are the “cause”, you might quickly act as if it is really you and your problem that has made this happen. You might too readily say “sorry” and apologise, to reinforce the other person’s sense of righteousness. They may act as the innocent party.

You might want to please the other person so as to preserve a good atmosphere and avoid conflict and angry exchanges. You might be afraid of their anger and thus give way too easily or endure their anger and moods to get a quiet life.

It’s not so easy in all this to take a step back and see what’s really going on. Yet this is what we need to do, be the witness.

So, let’s pause.

Pause…breathe in deep…breathe out long…and do that again…and let go…and allow the truth to be present.

Co-created

Problems in relationship, whether at work or at home, are co-created. We together make it happen, although it feels like it is the other person or us ourselves. Angry, aggressive, critical, irritable people tend to get together with people in the opposite polarity, more non-assertive, more passive, quieter, more peaceable-seeming. Some grab the power, others give it away, and one gets together with the other. Yet, we’re both doing it.

To break the cycle, one of us needs to step outside of the racket, see it, stop it, and let go of it.

Projection

We also need to see that each is a projection of the other, our shadow. Yes, we may take on board others’ stuff too easily, but we don’t find it so easy to see that we can be like that too, but tend to disown it and project it on to others. The key is to take back our power, be more assertive, but also acknowledge that the stuff we experience from others is also our own. “There I go too”.

This point may seem abstruse to the point of obscurity, but is very often the case. What we experience in others belongs to us too. There is usually a grain of truth. It can take a lot to see it, and it may not be the same as what we find in others but it can contain an element that is important to us. When we find it and express it more authentically it can be a great breakthrough, a blessing even. It may not be nasty and it can be simply be a power that others appreciate and find good.

We also need to recognise that we are taking on board other people’s stuff too, and of course hand it back. The art is to get off the “blame game” racket.

When we find truth in a situation, there is calm and peace. All is OK, because we feel OK. We have re-claimed ourselves, and know who we are. Then we can more easily love one another.

I give coaching in handling relationships, both at work and personally. To contact me, click here.

Are we losing our ability to have empathy and to connect?

We must have all done it, a family gathering at Christmas and at a quiet moment you come into the room and everybody is on their phones or tablets, with snippets of conversation in between. Perfectly normal, you might think: everybody is wishing friends a Happy Christmas. Except that that is what occurs a lot right through the year where people are together or alone. This world is now getting brilliantly connected. Yet do we notice any disconnect with others we’re with?

Being a big user myself but also a coach of relationship and interpersonal dynamics, I’m frequently observing what occurs in the use of the gadget in one’s hand. As the law now recognises, people can’t effectively concentrate on driving and use a mobile phone. The focus gets drawn into the latter and people miss crucial and sudden events on the road, with sometimes fatal results. When we focus on our gadget, our attention is drawn away from what is occurring around us.Thus we are at best only partially present to those around us. To another, it can feel, if they are so bothered, that “the lights are on but nobody is at home”.

The “inner world” of the phone or tablet is very absorbing. It is also very addictive. It’s now reckoned that people up to the age of 18 now spend over 7 hours a day so connected. However, more concerning is the potential cost to interpersonal relationships. It has been found from social-scientific studies by Sarah Konrath that there are now 40% lower levels of empathy for the age group under 30, that is roughly the so-called Generation Y, than earlier age groups had. It is also being suggested that people are losing the ability to cope with “doing nothing” and where we don’t have a distraction.

Empathy is arguably the crucial area of development for people interpersonally, and a fundamental aspect of emotional intelligence. As we grow and mature, we realise more and more the need to understand and relate to others and take their needs into account. Empathy is the ability to tune into another and get a sense of where they are coming from, to gain some awareness of their perspective. Without “social awareness”, people can struggle to connect at a meaningful level and others may sense they do not really have a relationship with them in a way that fulfills.

Being connected with others is not a digital occurrence although that is one way we can communicate. What is crucial is the ability to be present and aware of another, right now, in the moment, person to person, in the room, with all our senses engaged, and with our thinking, feeling and behaviour. We hear, see, feel, smell and taste another. Psychologically we are “there” for another, available, conscious, valuing, caring. We notice what happens for another. We respond appropriately. We become attuned and resonate, and become as one.

You don’t get all that from a screen.

The challenge is that there are many who don’t have good levels of empathy. It’s a major weakness for those in business, for example. Leaders who lack empathy are poor leaders at the people level. If you are in a job where people skills matter, it can be costly. In personal relationships it is what makes for a good relationship: how often do you hear people complain that their partners are not “there” for them when they need them?

The danger is that people don’t know what they are not aware of. Thus building self awareness is an important starting point, and getting feedback from others.

I give coaching to help people develop their emotional intelligence and their relationships with others, personally and in work. To contact me, click here.

Do you let loneliness get to you or choose to change?

After all the activity of Christmas comes the loneliness of January, in the depths of winter, with cold, grey, sunless days and long nights. What was all that festivity about if life is really like this? There are those who feel lonely in relationship and want a change, but there are very many today who aren’t in one and feel the lack of company very much at this time of year.

Statistics abound about the rise in the number of people in the UK living alone, around 16% in recent surveys, and in the US it is over 50%. Of course it will depend on what kind of singledom we are talking about, single parents, elderly retirees, professionals being consciously single, unmarried couples, young people, divorcees, etc. Yet, with this rise also comes increasing evidence of how loneliness is impacting people’s health and wellbeing. Such people are more likely to suffer from depression and other “mental health” problems, as well as poorer physical health and lower life expectation. As one writer states, it is the new, silent killer.

Curiously, we are social beings, having evolved over millenia in groups, the family, tribes, villages, friendships, etc. You can see how it works by observing human behaviour. When one person laughs in the room, others automatically smile. Equally one person’s upset triggers responses in others around them. We feel for others. People seek out partners in order to build the nest and have children. It is a biological driver. It is described by psychologists as a human need, to bond, connect and love. Much of a human’s difficulties in life can be put down to disconnects and breakdowns in those primal relationships early in life.

No wonder therefore that we feel the absence of such connection. We can avert our attention through distractions that abound in our current materialistically-driven society and yet it creeps up on us at some point, such as after Christmas. Some live with it, some make a virtue of it, some have given in to the reality of it reluctantly, and for some it is an ongoing pain.

Yet we can turn pain into a driver to action. This is why we have emotions after all, to draw our attention to what is perhaps out of balance. We don’t have to remain in resigned helplessness in relationship to how things seem. We can feel like we’re the only one having this experience, when in fact there’s countless numbers in the same situation. We have to find a way through what can seem like an impasse and shift our state and our attitude to one where we are motivating ourselves to reach out and make connections with others in some way. It is our own impulse to change that is the key driver for things to happen, rather than allowing ourselves to be the victim in relation to life.

It can be very hard when lonely to see where we are at. The great advantage of mindfulness is the ability to take a metacognitive approach, like the helicopter view, and observe what is happening to us and how we are thinking. We don’t always see how we are boxing ourselves in and not seeing where we have options and choices. Like the choice to connect. It is us who have to reach out, or to allow others in. It is us ourselves who change, in our minds. We can live in isolation, at the lonely end of the polarity, and then we can also live in connectedness, as One. It’s our choice.

I give life coaching to help people develop or change their relationships in some way, and create new direction. To read more, click here, and to contact me, click here.

We seem to be becoming a very divided society – or am I dreaming?

Am I imagining it, or are we becoming a very divided society and alienated from one another? And if this is true, then how do we respond to this, to our fellow humans’ tendency to differentiation, of seeing another as different and as a threat? One area that has been concerning me for some time has been the growth of a tendency in society to separate off from one another in terms of nationality, religion, ethnicity, gender, physical ability and welfare dependency, among other differentiations. At one level this may not seem new, one might think “T’was ever thus”, but at another level it seems to me to be very strong at the moment. Do we get engaged and make one group or another wrong and “us” right? Do we make a stand for mutual respect, love and tolerance? Or do we do nothing, or “rise above it” and say, that’s all ego?

I’ve heard recently from an South Asian-origin colleague of a Muslim being spat in the face on a bus by a white woman. I read of disabled people who struggle to work and yet are being deemed fit to work, of people being obsessed by alleged levels of immigration which don’t fit the facts, of a rise in racist abuse, of women being abused by men, or of nationalists wanting to secede. What’s going on?

At one level we might comment on the effects of economic recession and how that stimulates an “us versus them” mentality and the tendency to scapegoat minorities. At another we might want to join in the battle, and get engaged around some sense of conflict. So our minds can get absorbed by awareness of one human’s disagreement with and alienation from another.

Then we might also take the route of the  bigger picture, challenging though that can be.

We could support love wherever we experience it, in ourselves and in another. We could note how much that can be positive and uniting that can emerge when people drop their guards and their distrust and suspicion – and feel the real connection that exists between one human being and another.

When we observe disunity, we experience separation, and we project on to one another what really belongs with us ourselves. We don’t take ownership of our own sense of alienation from life. What we make wrong in others is what we really make wrong in ourselves. It is a projection of our dislike of ourselves and feeling separate from and at fault with the One. What we really need to heal is our own psychic injury, our own primal wound. Otherwise the current alienation from one another is another playing out of that age-old ego drama, as we see for example in the doctrines of Original Sin and other beliefs in human kind’s basic “badness”, where it is always the “other person” who has the problem.

We could simply see God in each other.

Sometimes it’s hard getting that others feel differently to you

Realising that others have a different perspective, that others feel differently, can be one that we resist. Moreover we can refuse to accept it, let alone empathise with it or see it as legitimate. Such is often the nature of disputes that keep us separate and at odds with our actual or former loved ones, neighbours or others we fall out with. Thus reaching beyond the divide, letting go of the pain and taking a higher perspective is often a necessary but challenging path. It’s like we just don’t want to let go!

As a continuing student of history and politics, usually an academic one, I often find myself getting caught up however in some drama that’s going on “out there” and needing to re-member, to see that there’s another perspective still. Thus I’ve been following the gathering dispute between the “West” and Russia over the Ukraine with some indignation and alarm, bearing in mind that such situations have in the past in Eastern Europe triggered two world wars. Without going into the drama itself, I just want to observe some parallels with how we humans are with each other.

The West lectures Russia on concepts like national sovereignty and self-determination, and Russia holds up the mirror over Iraq and also expresses the desire to oppose “fascism” and oppression of Slavic peoples. The two sides trade accusations and self-justification. Living in the “West” as I do, it is easy to take that point of view. It’s a bit like watching a couple fall out. Who’s right? And whose side are you on? Hold on a moment. Isn’t it all “judgement stuff” anyway, each judging the other? And what about the people in the middle, caught up in all this who just want peace? I was reminded of the terrible history of the Ukraine, which has been fought over by various bigger powers for centuries, most recently a famine induced by Stalin in the 1930’s (it is argued) and invasion by the Nazis in the 1940’s. You can imagine the children in the middle while the adults fight.

From a mindfulness perspective it is useful to become aware of one’s reactions to the unfolding drama and notice the process of being caught up in what’s happening. Not easy. At one moment you (or I) might be feeling for one position or the other, or even getting all righteous about world peace, which can be another drama, and the next taking the higher perspective. And then that goes right out of the window at the next upsurge in the drama and we’re back in the heat of battle. Hard work!

Even taking a higher perspective can be an ego trip too. “I know all about this and what’s going on. I can see it. “They” are refusing enlightenment and are choosing fear”, and we make a subtle judgement about that.

A mindful perspective is to step back from the whole thing, be present, and notice what’s going on, both “out there” and “in here”. We become the calm observer of our process.

That sounds easy. But it isn’t! Notice how the mind can so easily get back into the fray of what’s going on. Have you sat with the intention to meditate and found your mind going off on all sorts of dramas and upsets. Then we think we “can’t mediate”. Actually that today was your meditation. And you can still let go, be present and notice it. Here we learn something about persistence.

However what I’m drawing attention to are the very subtle ways in which even in our “holier than thou” perspective, we can still be engaged in ego. “They don’t get it,” can still be ego. If I sit with what occurs as the witness of it, I am neither one of the warring parties or him or her with the higher perspective. Stuff goes on and I rest as the witness.

Learning to rise above our dramas is an ongoing process, as it is for those around us.

I offer coaching for those who get conflict, struggle with difficult situations and need help to manage themselves and others in difficult situations. Click here.

Being mindful of our perceptions helps us to understand others better

Interesting that a woman’s selfie showing her against the background of a man on Brooklyn Bridge being persuaded not to take his own life has attracted notoriety on the net. It’s a good example of the assumptions we can make of people’s behaviour. To many, this is the ultimate in selfish “me first” behaviour, where people see more interested in themselves and how others see them than concern for what might be happening to others.

Some take it further to present this incident as about a disconnectedness within, where people don’t feel others’ pain and indeed can find humour in the suffering of others. At an extreme, this has been a characteristic of political oppression and torture. Being mindful of another and his suffering seems not to occur and there’s no corresponding empathic reaction within, like such sensitivity is switched off.

So, when you click on the link above and read the article, what’s your reaction? Or have you already read about it and made up your own mind?

Yet, the self aware approach in the positive sense can be to notice your reactions, to step back from them, and then ask what’s really going on. I showed this news item to my wife who said perhaps the woman simply wanted a way of capturing the event with herself in it. Maybe she identified with the man on the bridge? Another perception. What’s really important here is that we see something happen and then make up an interpretation according to own filtering system.

With mindfulness we learn the ability to step back from a situation, and crucially to step back from our thoughts, to be aware of what’s happening for us, and thus be better able to see our own thought process and the interpretations we make, and indeed with practice get to know better our own filtering system. Thus we can then be more open to different ways of seeing things and be better able to have a sense of how others might see things, to be more empathic.

You can learn more about the power of mindfulness and how to use it to better your life on our programs or through coaching.

When banter becomes abusive to another

When does banter become abusive, such as for example harassment? I was having an interesting discussion about this the other day and most in the group thought that banter was good-natured humour directed towards someone else. How can this be a problem? However, I suggested that one test as to whether it is no longer “good natured” is how the recipent might feel as a result.

If you look up the word “banter” the OED has it as “the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks”. In certain organisations banter can be quite common-place, and it can be part of the culture of groups and what helps cement how they work together. Many will say it makes for a friendly workplace, and would look askance on people who challenge it. Yet there can be a fine dividing line between humour which is innocent and that in which one participant feels uncomfortable. What is more, the culture or the character of the recipient may be such that people may be reluctant to “go public” and challenge the interaction.

Let’s say for example that the teasing, which for one person may be quite innocent may have uncomfortable connotations for another. Under the 2010 Equality Act in the UK certain “protected” areas include gender and gender reassignment, disability, ethnicity, religion or belief, age, and sexual orientation. Somebody might for example include potentially unfavourable references to aspects of another that touch on one of these areas of sensitivity. Or, one person might make uncomfortable references to another’s personal characteristics. All under the guise of “humour”. Then there is the distinction between “innocent” humour and that with a different underlying agenda, a kind of indirect communication at another’s expense. The gradations can be fine ones, and subtle too. One colleague who experienced the hurtful end of a certain kind of banter says that when banter has a less wholesome intent, “you can know it because it feels like a knife in the guts.”

Some are reminded of childhood experiences when they were teased at school and all would laugh at the jokes aimed at them. Many would learn to laugh with the others in the hope of deflecting the attention, and try to appear not to be hurt but instead to “take a joke”. It might even be more socially acceptable that you could do this.

What can be lacking in some of these situations is empathy, the ability to perceive another’s perspective, an aspect of emotional intelligence, how another might feel. By contrast, being able to sense another’s perspective can cause one to pause and reflect before speaking. What might work with one person might not go down so well with another.

Moreover the means by which people can enjoy humour can help foster one’s role in a group, and the level of influence enjoyed, and yet needs also a degree of integrity in the use of that humour, in that it is used with respect and which in turn honours another person’s rights. Our society is less geared to earning brownie points by the extent to which one person shows integrity and respect, as against power, influence and esteem in the group. Yet it might be a measure of how far we are progressing as humans in society when the former is what people in the ultimate are remembered for rather than the latter.

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