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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.

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Be present and aware and start enjoying your life

You must just pause a moment and check where your mind has been focused over the last hour or half-hour. How much do you let yourself really be present and aware with what’s happening right now? For example, if you’re travelling to or from work, how much do you notice what’s around you, who you are with, what’s going on? Or is your mind preoccupied, such as with what’s been happening, or what might happen? Are you off ruminating about things? Is your mind doing what is habitually does?

So, take a deep breath or two, become really aware, let go of those thoughts and give yourself a moment to really be present and aware of this moment….and this moment…and this one too.

When people are dying they often express regret that they didn’t do the simple things in life, like being with their loved ones, enjoying a sunset, spending time in their favourite place, just taking pleasure in being alive.

We’re so often away with our thoughts about the workplace, what’s going on, worrying about might happen, catastrophising, being irritated with what someone did or didn’t do, and the million and one other thoughts we have that fill our mind and can give us grief. Just check again with the suggestion I made at the start of this post, and recall what you have been thinking about recently and see whether it fits a pattern. It can be useful to spot these patterns and interrupt them.

Mindfulness involves becoming present and aware, in the moment. It’s a superb tool for getting ourselves out of our preoccupations and ruminations, and getting off all those thoughts that don’t serve us. You may even already know this. But do you practice it, or does it just sit there as another idea, another “nice to do”, something I’ll “get round to sometime” (but not now)? Yet it is said that now is all you’ve got. This moment and the next. All else is our thoughts.

So spend some time right now being in the moment. Be aware of your breathing. And each time you find your mind has wandered, simply bring it back to the moment and being aware of your breathing.

And allow yourself to really enjoy this moment, and enjoy being alive, present and aware, as who you are. En-joy, breathe in the joy of this moment, and let your soul shine, as it is meant to do.

If you sign up for the free ecourse to the top left of this post, you can receive more help with developing this vital skill – and become alive once again.

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Manage your mind to still your busy mind and be at peace

It’s a common complaint that I hear from people, that their minds are too busy, they can’t get it to be still, they are constantly plagued by negative or unhelpful thoughts, or simple are unable to switch off. It’s no surprise in today’s very stressful life but it’s not something limited to stress situations. Your mind can take you to hell and back if you’re not careful. This is where having the skill to manage your mind is so important. The mind is a maleable instrument and we can deal with these tendencies if we choose.

In yoga and other eastern practices, there’s a very strong emphasis on managing the mind, of knowing what’s going on “between the ears” so to speak, and choosing intentionally to manage it, to put it on one side, to drop it, to let it go, or to undertake self enquiry to learn more deeply what it’s really about and what it has to teach us about who we are.

In yoga and other disciplines, doing practices like hatha yoga and meditation are designed to help us become present, come “into the moment”, and let go of what’s “on the mind”. We can be aware of the Now as Eckhart Tolle calls it, where we can access “portals to the unmanifest” (The Power of Now) if we so choose too.

Managing the mind is also very practical. It enables us to pause and put on hold what’s troubling us, to centre ourselves, connect with our essential Self as I was writing above, and Be as who we are as we make contact with the world. Thus it is a valuable practice in “self-management”, as it is known in Emotional Intelligence circles, where we exercise self-control. Thus we are able to put on one side whatever emotional stuff is going on for us and rise above it. We can in yogic terms be the witness of our process, not absorbed in it.

So part of the work is to get to know that still space within, and meditation is good for this. However we also need self awareness, to be able to “read” what’s going on for us, to develop greater self knowledge, and thus have greater clarity on what we need to manage. Then we can use techniques in managing the mind to deal with what’s going on, let go and enter our centred state.

Here is a short e-course I’ve put together to support you in this invaluable practice.

You can read more here.

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Create space for your inner creativity to emerge

You can feel deeply frustrated when you’re stuck in a rut in terms of ideas for a way forward. You’d not be alone, though it can feel lonely. We can, many of us, thrash around for new ideas and although we might come up with something, it might not in the end get us anywhere. Then we can think we’re missing the plot and be losing out in the rush of competition. Apart from a classic ego error, that of comparison with others, this can also miss some important truths about how the mind works in terms of creativity.

In our action-focused world, it is powerfully tempting to quickly get into action around any new ideas. Thus we can quickly generate ideas and put them into practice. The drawback however of this approach is to cut off access to more powerfully creative possibilities. Often we are schooled to think that “being clever” and “intelligent” means coming up with ideas quickly. It’s almost seen as a hallmark of intelligence.

Yet, it is not so often appreciated that good ideas come after lots of thinking and reflection. This can be when we actually go against the above pattern and take time out to be still, letting go of this fast-paced thinking stuff, and meditating instead. Or being in nature, walking, appreciating beauty around us, or listening to profound music, being around great art, going on a retreat, going away to where you don’t go everyday but where you feel inspired, being in the presence of the creativity of nature and life itself. Or just being around others, but just for the sake of it.

This is to actually slow things down and and be still in ourselves, so that our intuitive self can do its thing. Doing this is deliberately to allow the subconscious to work for us, to allow the inner recesses of the mind to present to us what we might otherwise miss. This is when the hermit within us can come out and teach us of the profundities of life. In this stillness new insight can emerge, new possibility, new awareness, unattached to the ego stuff that can distort our thinking when caught up in the pressure and rush of everyday life.

So it is important to have your own personal retreat, your own space where you can go from time to time, to allow this creative space to do its thing, and to deliberately create space for your inner creativity to emerge.Laparade garden angel

This is my space, a beautiful hill-top village in south-west France, very quiet, warm and rich in summer, full of green abundance, and with bright light, vibrant with energy, and yet still too, nourishing the soul, and opening to inner creativity. Where’s yours? If you don’t have one, how about going about creating one?

Of course, there’s two sides to this, there’s the outer space, the physical place, and then there’s also the inner dimension, the inner space, of your own heart. Both are helpful, the outer journey and the inner one.

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How much flexibility do you have with change

What happens for you when somebody does something that “upsets your apple cart, that changes things in an unexpected way that throws everything you’d been thinking and planning for into confusion and uncertainty? Do you respond in a calm, rational way, or is your first “knee-jerk response to feel an upsurge of emotion?

Daniel Goleman in Working with Emotional Intelligence states that a key competency in Emotional self-regulation is adaptability or flexibility. It isn’t the obvious one, since one would probably look to self-control as the vital ingredient in how we respond to situations and events that might “push our buttons”. It’s about how we respond to circumstances that could threaten us or disrupt our situation and outlook. Managing your mind, your responses to what occurs, is not just about bringing your emotions back to an even keel. It is also about what other strategies you might have available, how resourceful you are. And this is where flexibility comes in.

People can get very fixed in how they deal with situations. It can creep up on you unawares. You think you are a very open-minded person, open to new ideas and other ways of seeing and dealing with things, and then suddenly a whole new train of events comes along, and you aren’t! Or it can build up over time, an increasing tendency to see change as a threat rather than an opportunity. Or it can be some major event in your life, as a result of which you pull up the drawbridge, dig the trenches, man the barricades.

Look how historical are those metaphors I’ve just used, and all military! Yes, we get ready to do battle – rather than see what else might be possible. And it is behaviour that is past-focused, all about holding on, denial, resistance.

Of course it helps if you are open to new ideas and ways of seeing things. This is about being able to let go of attachment to your perception of how things should be, and manage your emotional reaction, so that you can take a bigger-picture perspective, or see things from multiple perspectives, and stay comfortable with ambiguity and be calm in the midst of the unexpected.

There’s something in here about being able to “allow things to be”, the calm detachment that comes with practice in mind management. This is where regular meditation helps, since this practice is all about doing just that, but a practice of mindfulness is also helpful. You can train yourself to discipline your mind, to become aware of and let go of thoughts and be present, aware of your breathing or using a mantra. Gradually, through practice, you start to discover the fruits of a calm mind, uninterrupted by distruptive thoughts and feelings. Then you have a massive residue of strength for when life does its number, every now and again – unless of course you find a way to manage that away too!


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Being present and aware in whatever you are doing

In all the busy-ness of your day, I wonder if there’s a part of you that doesn’t want to be doing what you are doing? Or a part that thinks you’ve got too much to do? Or doesn’t want to be where you are?

Apart from considerations of making changes in those situations in the future, it can be worth reflecting on the totality of your awareness in that situation. We can get so heavily invested in our dislike of our current circumstances that we don’t allow ourselves to drop it, let go, surrender and “be” in that moment. Like simply dropping the inner dialogue that is resisting the situation. While we are so resisting, we’re consuming energy in a negative direction. In a way, it is a “denial of life,” as Eckhart Tolle says (in Stillness Speaks).

The skill is to pick up, become aware, that there’s even a tiny bit inside that doesn’t want to be doing it, and to let it go.

“Being in the moment” practice can be done by becoming aware of the moment, noticing the inner dialogue, taking a deep breath, and on the out-breath say to yourself, “Let go” of whatever is going on, and then be aware of of your breathing for a few moments. This helps you become present. Then just allow yourself to focus on the Now, and on what’s going on. If your mind goes off somewhere, notice that, breathe, and come back to the present. Keep practicing that.

This is one reason why meditation is so useful, to give you training in letting go and being present. Mindfulness training does that same thing. So does going for a walk and being very present and aware as you do that.

Of course it helps even more if you can raise your awareness of your mind’s tendency to “go off on one” about whatever is going on in your mind, and how to manage that.

All this is included in our program, The Point of Awareness.

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Drop it and be who you are

“You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realising who you are at the deepest level of your being.” (Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks)

It can be a pattern for people to spend large amounts of their time and energy on matters that get them wound up and upset, angry or anxious, trying to avoid something happening that they don’t want, trying to make something happen that won’t happen, trying to change something that has occured, trying to change other people, trying to change something in themselves, trying to do or be something else, feeling depressed about life, their state, the state of others or the world, or the myriad of other ways that we suffer – and then at the end of all that, just let go of it and sit down and read an uplifting book or watch a good escapist program, or talk with a friend, or whatever, and just be in the moment, and somehow all that stuff doesn’t matter any more because we’ve let go of it.

We spend huge amounts of energy pointlessly on things that really don’t fundamentally serve us. We’re so often looking in the wrong place. Yet what we really seek is here all the time.

The skill and practice is to notice youself doing that, being caught up, and drop it, let it go – and be who you are.

As T. S. Eliot wrote in Little Gidding (From the Four Quartets):

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)

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Where do you go to be with your Self?

Inside ND de PeyragudeIt’s been very warm here in South West France. A clear blue sky, golden colours of autumn. A good day to go out. So we went to this basilica at Penne D’Agenais, Notre Dame de Peyragude. It’s a late 19th Century church, quite simple and with a very strong energy that touches my heart. Having walked round the various chapels round the outside of the nave, I sat down and meditated a while. It felt good to connect in the heart-centre with the energy in the place and allow the feeling to spread out from my heart and right across my body and feel very present in that space.

I like to go and meditate periodically in spiritually warm places and connect with the presence there. It’s another way of Being with Source, another way of re-minding.

We can do this re-minding anywhere. Perhaps some places have stronger energies than others and therefore it’s good to go there to plug and help hold and build your awareness and your connection. It can be a special place in your home, it can be a favourite walk in nature, it can be with a group of like-minded people, it can be looking at a painting, it can be contemplating great scenery, it can with watching a group of people in a city square, it can be a quite moment in a bar. Where’s your place?

Your place could be anywhere, right now, in this moment, when you pause, breathe, go within and sense your Self within, feel your heart centre opening, settling into the warm place within, your Place, and sense the love that dwells, always freely given, without condition, without expectation, always there, ever present, for whenever we care to take a look.

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Take time to connect with who or what really matters for you

You might already take a long time to get to work, in which case you might not be surprised to read how long many people now take to commute in the US. It’s happening here too in the UK. What was once the dream of away-from-the-city living has turned into a bit of a nightmare. For others, it is simply a result of getting around in today’s congested travel conditions.

So, as you get to the end of your week, you’ll be likely to be glad of a break from it, unless you’ve got a stack to catch up on that you didn’t get time to do during the week.

What can happen with busy lifestyles is that, under stress we lose touch with the things that really matter, until they blow up in our face. So, as you get to the end of your week, how about some reflection time around what really matters to you?

Like time with your partner, like really listening to them and what’s going on for them. Not easy to do if we’re out of the habit. Listening to others when we’ve got things on our own mind can be irritating: “why can’t they just sort it?” “If you think you’ve got problems, you should hear mine!” It can seem that we can’t afford the time to listen. The result? Others don’t feel we’re there for them. They feel unappreciated, unvalued, a bit like a lot of staff at work right now.

So, now’s a good time to shift the pattern. Listening to another enables them to feel supported and they just get to feel closer to you. It relaxes us. To really listen to another, we need to really let go of our own stuff, or put it on one side. So, it takes us out of ourselves. And we feel more connected.

So too, with going out together. If money’s tight, maybe a walk instead. It’s the quality time, when one is present for another, right there. The same can apply with kids, or relatives. For children, so many feel their parents aren’t really present for them. As in the example at the top of this article, people are out so long and then tired when they get back. It’s tough. Yet, in this assessment of our quality time, the point is to think about what really matters, or rather who really matters, and to give them our attention. It’s a nice test of letting go, and the benefit of that is a new freedom.

We can get so caught up in whatever that we lose sight of what really matters to us, until we wake up too late and they’ve gone, or we get terminally ill and we won’t ever get to do that, or we have an accident and lose what we value.

It’s time to pause in the seemingly ceaseless grind of life, breathe, connect and take in the very heart of life. It’s there as a gift for us, if we only take the chance to take it.

Have a good weekend.

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It’s hard to stay connected with all that’s going on

Do you feel you live in a nano-second world? Lots to think about, lots going on, feeling pressured, too much to do, no time?

As one who is used to encouraging people to slow down and really get into the deeper meaning of something, this can sometimes be a challenge!

I was having what I thought was an interesting conversation with somebody, in which I thought they were engaged, and I was making what to me was an important point – and I was really getting into it – when I became aware that they were no longer “there”. Their lights were on but they had distinctly gone somewhere else, and in fact started talking to someone else. I at first continued talking but quickly stopped since I was aware of just talking into nothing. I suspect they had completely forgotten what we were talking about – and they are very polite people and weren’t being rude. Their mind was elsewhere. Have you had this experience?

The sound-bite society: “Just get to the point, and then move on. Just nail it for me. Give me the News at 10 headlines. I don’t have the time to stick around. You’ve lost me. I’ve moved on to something else.”

No wonder we have children who suffer from ADHD. Modern technology, the fast-paced society with multiple stimuli, and the drivenness of the ego today, among other things, can make it very hard to get to the deeper meaning of something. Instead it encourages a partial, incomplete understanding. No more so than the ability to connect with the deeper, more profound parts of ourselves. Instead, it encourages a split in awareness, a crucial disconnection from awareness of Who we really Are.

The result? Profound unhappiness.

As an awareness check, how often do you find yourself flitting from webpage to webpage on websites, bombarded with short-lived stimuli? How often do you find that you don’t stay on one thing for long in life, but feel the need to move on to other things? What then would it be like for you to pause, breathe deeply…and breathe two of three times deeply again…and allow yourself to let go of all thoughts…and be very present in the moment…being very aware simply of breathing…being very aware of the sounds around you…of the sound of the air as it comes in through your nostrils…and out again…being very aware of the stillness…like it was everything?

How would that be?

Would it be a huge effort to slow down and pause the endless flood of stimuli, of rapid thinking, of always being on the go, and just rest awhile in the your awareness of the eternal Now?

It might be an effort, and your ego might resist it, but you can give yourself a moment of heaven. It’s in your grasp.

Through this week we’ll be discussing how hard it is for people to connect and stay connected in today’s world and why it is so important today to deal with this issue.