Category Archives: communication

be the change: violent criminals

marshall rosenberg, the man known for his work in nonviolent communication, appears in the section off the cushion and into life in be the change: how meditation can transform you and the world). he works a lot in prisons.

the people there have done some stuff that i really do not like, like sexually molesting children. so i usually ask each one of them what need of theirs was being met when they did that. and i usually get back, “huh?” because nobody has ever asked them that question before. so i will say, “i’d like to know what need you were trying to meet when you were doing that.” then they’ll usually answer something like, “i do it because i’m a pervert.” and i say, “now you are telling me what you think you are. i am asking what needs of yours are getting met?” and they say, “what the hell are you talking about?” and i say, “i believe you are doing this for the same reason that i do everything. i think you are doing it because it is the best way you know of meeting some need you have. that is what i do every moment – the best i know to meet my needs. and i am confident that if we can get clear about what needs of yours are being met by doing that, i bet we can find other ways of getting those needs met that don’t create so much pain for you and others.

mindfulness is about attending to what’s right in front of us. right in front of marshall rosenberg is a person. it is a person with a past, who has done violence to a child, and a future, who may do it again, or become a priest, or die the next day. but right in front of marshall there is a person, and about persons marshall knows that they have needs. there is something starkly sober and yet infinitely loving about cutting to the chase like that.

“if meditation and mindfulness make me forget the horrible crimes people like that have committed – no thanks.”

“if meditation and mindfulness help me to be loving even in such a tough situation, i want it!”

i can understand both reactions. which one is yours?

motivation, marriage and work relationships

as you can see, i haven’t been a very busy posting beaver lately.  i’ve been watching my energy level and need to put some things on the back burner.  every morning i come up with all kinds of wonderful ideas for blog posts but by the time i find a moment to post something, there’s not much left in the ol’ battery.

but let me just say a few words.  here are some things i’ve been thinking about.  motivation is one.  motivation is something i think about a lot.  how come there are sooo many solutions to problems out there (and more importantly, in here) and we don’t reach for them?  doesn’t that baffle you, too?  “there are more solutions than problems” said one of my clients today.  i totally agree.  what is it that doesn’t let us go for the solutions?  there is a lack of drive, of motivation.  how can that motivation be increased?

i’m also mulling about a 7-part relationship model, comprised of physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social and cultural aspects.  obviously, that goes for romantic relationships.  not entirely sure why i keep insisting on separating the physical and sexual aspects.  will the model hold true for non-romantic relationships as well, say, for friendships?  and why don’t i have a financial aspect?

talking about romantic relationships.  some of you are probably familiar with the work of john gottman, one of the most important researchers in the area of marital relationships (my blogging friend from coffeeyoghurt talks about it here).  i’ve been wondering how to apply his findings to work relationships.  among other thingsm he talks about the “four horsemen” that herald a breakup or at least a major crisis in a marriage – criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.  probably i’m not the first person who’se been wondering this; maybe i’ll have time one of these days to check it out.

so there it is.  a few things to ponder.  hopefully i’ll have something a bit more substantive to say soon.  in the meantime: peace and love to you all!

spiritual language

a while ago we talked about the lack of scripts for talking about mental illness (at least in “polite society”), and before that we had a conversation about how uncomfortable it can be to engage in peaceful communication.  and now evan took up the topic the other day and asked how can we talk about our spiritual experience?

“i find it hard to talk about spirituality,” he says.  which is interesting: spirituality is a much talked-about topic, especially on the internet.  so what’s the problem?  let me attempt to summarize evan’s ideas:

we don’t share a widely understood language, notwithstanding the fact that many different religions are represented, from christian to buddhist to new age.  in the media, these languages appear side by side, almost as flavours to go shopping for.  this is very different from the experience of spirituality, which, to name but a few,  can go to the depths of who we are, can mean “waking up” or “dying and being re-born”, or can have a feeling of inevitability – very different from shopping.

the wide variety of languages that can be found can also be beneficial; we now have the opportunity to talk to people from many spiritual traditions, even those who have none.

we need to represent our spiritual experiences, with poetic and academic words, with images, with sound – and we will probably be telling our spiritual stories for a long while before we will start understanding the language.  we will need to become sympathetic and respectful listeners and viewers and doers. our language will need to stay close to our experience.

this is different from religion, which has often been presented in terms of intellectual belief. this leaves out much of our experience: the delights of the senses, the connecting with others through emotion, moments of transcendence and intimacy …

evan finishes the post with this:

this post i hope is just a preliminary. i would like to hear about your spiritual experiences and whether these experiences have led you to any particular tradition; have you drawn on various different traditions, or even formulated your own? what aspects of your life do you regard as spiritual? are there some parts of your life that you don’t see as spiritual?

i am curious about that, too.  before we go on to exploring this, i thought it would also be interesting to go back to the two posts i mentioned at the beginning and see whether some of the commenters have ideas that may apply to spirituality.

make it positive

alexander zoltai suggested framing things in positive terms.  so perhaps rather than saying “it’s difficult to talk about spirituality” we could say “discussing spirituality is new for me and i’m excited about experimenting with different ways of talking about it.”

avoid labels

evan himself had the idea of avoiding labels.  instead of mentioning the catch word spirituality or words like god, church, prayer, etc. one could describe the actual experience.  “the other day i went for this beautiful walk; the leaves were of all conceivable shades of red, gold and brown, the sky was blue, the air was fresh and clean; it just made me so happy and grateful to be there right at that moment!”

do we really need to talk?  how about listening?

listening is something that ian from quantum learning said is important: “listen for what sits under the words of others”.  talking is about communication.  communication is as much, or more, about listening as it is about speaking.  listening closely to what the other has to say, or wants to say, may give us clues about how to engage with them regarding spirituality.  or it may just end up being that listening to them will be our spiritual experience.

choose who you talk to

sandy said that in connection with talking about mental illness it “takes quite a bit of getting to know someone before they’ll own that their life has a problem.”  in my experience, they same holds true regarding spirituality.  maybe that takes us back to listening again.  through listening we form relationships, relationships that may then be ripe for a discussion of spiritual experiences.

yet another commenter wrote that it feels good to share such experiences with others who have been there themselves.

using the written word

marie said “having a blog that brazenly describes what is going on with me ‘in secret’ is helpful. i write under a pen name; but when i want to share that side of me with someone in my 3D world, i can simply point them to my blog.”  this reminds me of a minister i was once friends with.  we could talk about a gazillion things but not about spiritual matters – for that we needed the framework of the pulpit, from which he spoke most movingly.

just keep talking

another commenter recounted that the only way he achieved a well enough state to have nice conversation as well s complete wellness was by continuously talking.  so here the advice would be to just keep on talking, no matter what.  this goes with what another commenter mentioned, namely that it’s important to remember that when we are afraid of judgment by others for talking about “strange” subjects, it often comes from being afraid to be judged my ourselves.   not everyone will understand, and that’s ok.

what do you think?  how can we talk about spirituality?

understanding parents

a few semi random musings on parents …

through my parents, a lot of challenges came my way. but through them, i also learned how to build the tools to overcome those challenges. for example, creativity was highly encouraged.

parents irrevocably shape most of the way we view the world. some of that can be changed. we can add to it. we can move the furniture of our world view around. we can accept the limitations of our worldview and strategize around them. but the basic neural pathways that our parents influenced in our first years cannot be completely changed.

parents are people, first and foremost. as adults, we need to acknowledge that. it’s hard to do that, both intellectually and emotionally. it’s much easier to comprehend intellectually. our parents muddle through their lives, they understand only a fraction of what’s going on inside and outside of themselves, most of their mistakes are honest mistakes, they are sexual beings, they want to feel useful, they want to feel loved – just like everyone else. on an emotional, subconscious level, it’s difficult to grasp that they are not particularly powerful, that they can’t read our minds, that looking after us is not their primary task.

if parents don’t look after themselves emotionally, they have a hard time looking after and appreciating the emotional needs of their children, whatever their age may be. yet 99% of all parenting books are about the feeding and caring of the child. a parent who never understood, when you were a child, how to feed and care for themselves as parents, may have a hard time understanding your needs as an adult.

parents make big mistakes. miss-takes. they honestly think that grounding you was a good idea when you kept coming home after midnight. little did they know that being cooped up in your room was one of the major things that contributed to your depression. how were they supposed to know? so much of human development is a mystery; there are just so many forks in the road, all day long. yes, there could have been more communication; perhaps much more communication, and that’s maybe how they could have known. but the truth is that we live in a culture where honest, in-depth, loving, peaceful communication is not supported, and we all get swept up in that culture – some more, some less.

kids drive parents crazy. even the best parent pulls out their hair when little lance or teenage tom or college colleen whine, play blaring headbanger music and leave jam on the counter for the 1,482,487th time. because wanting to pull out your hair is a fabulous memory anchor, most parents find it hard to forget those lovely character traits and still interact with you as if you whined all day long, even when you’re 42 and have become a university professor specializing in rational communication.

forgiving your parents is a tricky thing. you need to figure out for yourself what you mean by forgiving. is it acting as if the thing (the incest, the yelling, the stony silence) never happened? is it behaving civilly, without engaging in behaviours of the past? is it stopping punishing your parents? is it creating your own little truth and reconciliation roundtable? something else completely? whatever it is, i recommend to put off forgiving them until you actually mean it. in the meantime, behave like an adult.

understanding understanding

after reading this morning that BC philosopher and counsel to psychologists sydney banks had died, i thought i’d write a bit about him.  alas, i cannot find in myself any interest in his work.  he talked about the three principles of mind, thought and consciousness. if there’s a sydney banks fan among you out there, please feel free to enthuse and educate me!

instead, i decided to play a “follow the link” game on wikipedia.  i started at “psychology” and the game landed me at “understanding” (not so different from what banks talks about after all, is it?).  want to understand understanding?  here is the article.  material to talk about for quite a while.

understanding (also called intellection) is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object.

an understanding is the limit of a conceptualisation. to understand something is to have conceptualised it to a given measure.

  1. one understands the weather if one is able to predict and to give an explanation of some of its features, etc.
  2. a psychiatrist understands another person’s anxieties if he/she knows that person’s anxieties, their causes, and can give useful advice on how to cope with the anxiety.
  3. a person understands a command if he/she knows who gave it, what is expected by the issuer, and whether the command is legitimate, and whether one understands the speaker (see 4).
  4. one understands a reasoning, an argument, or a language if one can consciously reproduce the information content conveyed by the message.
  5. one understands a mathematical concept if one can solve problems using it, especially problems that are not similar to what one has seen before.

is understanding definable?

it is difficult to define understanding. if we use the term concept as above, the question then arises as to what is a concept? is it an abstract thing? is it a brain pattern or a rule? whatever definition is proposed, we can still ask how it is that we understand the thing that is featured in the definition: we can never satisfactorily define a concept, still less use it to explain understanding.

it may be more convenient to use an operational or behavioural definition, that is, to say that somebody who reacts appropriately to x understands x. for example, one understands swahili if one correctly obeys commands given in that language. this approach, however, may not provide an adequate definition. a computer can easily be programmed to react appropriately to commands, but there is a disagreement as to whether or not the computer understands the language (see the chinese room argument).

according to the independent socionics researcher rostislav persion:

in the cognitive model presented by MBTI, the process of introverted thinking (TI) is thought to represent understanding through cause and effect relationships or correlations. one can construct a model of a system by observing correlations between all the relevant properties (e.g. the output of a nand gate relative to its inputs). this allows the person to generate truths about the system and then to apply the model to demonstrate his or her understanding. a mechanic for example may randomly, or algorithmically probe the inputs and outputs of a black box to understand the internal components through the use of induction. 

INTP, ISTP, ESTP and ENTP and all use TI and are usually the best of the 16 types at understanding their material environment in a bottom-up manner. these types may enjoy mechanics and digital electronics because of the 1 to 1 correlation between cause and effect relationships in these fields.

understanding is not limited to these types however as other types demonstrate an identical process, although in other planes of reality; ie. social, theological and aesthetic. a potential reason for the association of understanding with the former personality types is due to a social phenomenon for asymmetrical distribution of gratification.

in the field of engineering, engineers probe or study the inputs and outputs of components to understand their functionality. these components are then combined based on their functionality (similar to computer programming) to create a larger, more complex system. this is the reason why engineers attempt to subdivide ideas as deep as possible to obtain the lowest level of knowledge. this makes their models more detailed and flexible. it may be useful to know the formulas that govern an ideal gas, but to visualise the gas as being made up of small moving particles, which are in turn made up of even smaller particles, is true understanding.

people who are understanding (through the use of TI) usually value objects and people based on usefulness, as opposed to the people who use extroverted thinking (TE) who view people or things as having a worth. in order to test one’s understanding it is necessary to present a question that forces the individual to demonstrate the possession of a model, derived from observable examples of that model’s production or potential production (in the case that such a model did not exist beforehand).

rote memorization can present an illusion of understanding, however when other questions are presented with modified attributes within the query, the individual cannot create a solution due to a lack of a deeper representation of reality.

another significant point of view holds that knowledge is the simple awareness of bits of information. understanding is the awareness of the connection between the individual pieces of this information. it is understanding which allows knowledge to be put to use. therefore, understanding represents a deeper level than simple knowledge.

the concepts of comprehension, thought and understanding are also used in the short science fiction story understand by ted chiang.

religious perspectives

in catholicism and anglicanism, understanding is one of the seven gifts of the holy spirit.

related topics:

will and willpower

while my blog was in hiatus, i was not entirely silent. conversations happened on twitter, for example this one regarding the concepts of “will” and “will power”, mostly with gassho.

i was going to comment on some of these, also give you the tweets of what other people were saying. but perhaps it would be interesting to read this as is? what do you make of it? does it inspire you to think of the ideas of “will” and “will power”?

(just three hints for those of you not familiar with twitter: 1) read from bottom to top; 2) the “@” followed by a word is to draw the attention of the person you’re tweeting with – in twitter, instead of saying “hey, gassho!”, you write @gassho; and 3) RT means “retweet” – it’s a repeat of what the person with the @ sign has just recently tweeted)

.@gassho what you’re saying about will makes me think that you see will mostly as some sort of creative force. would that be correct?

.@gassho @dtclarinet will as “oppositional” insofar as there is a connotation of overcoming obstacles

.@womanmonk yes but what IS that “will”power? “power=ability to act” – totally agree

.@gassho i wouldn’t associate the spontaneity of jumping with joy with will power. also can’t see how flower turning to light = willpower

.@gassho can you give an example of “will” in flora?

.@gassho @johnfw @moneycoach eg “i will myself to get out of bed”? interesting – hard to think of will other than as an oppositional force

1 of th reasons why im concerned about “will” is bec “lack of willpower” is often cited as reason for addiction. sad. #mentalhealthmonday

.@gassho @johnfw @moneycoach we could ask ourselves, “is will different from intention, commitment and drive, and if yes, how?”

.@gassho @johnfw @moneycoach wikipedia’s entry on “will” is not bad

.@gassho @johnfw @hrheingold says some interesting things re how “will” is so easily distracted by the monkey mind

.@gassho @johnfw love the idea of co-willing with higher power/god/buddha nature. q still: what is the will?

.@gassho what is the personal will? what are its mechanisms? what drives the will?

.@gassho how would you define spirit-full will power then?

RT @gassho Just like anything else, will can be & needs to be spiritualized.

RT @gassho .@moritherapy Just b/c at all levels of society will manifests in macho form doesnt make will macho. Its simply a power.

.@gassho i guess someone who has studied nietzsche in detail would be helpful to discuss “will”. @akarra?

.@gassho in german, there’s will as in willpower but the aux verb to denote future is “werden” = becoming

.@gassho what is “will” then? interesting btw that in english, “will” has two strong meanings (“willpower” and “i will do this”)

i will now use my willpower to clean up before the carpet cleaners come

.@gassho … or will power can be a hatchet that attacks more than it creates. not saying it’s “bad” but often misunderstood

.@gassho “macho” isn’t gender specific either, it’s an attitude. IMO will power can be a fickle tool that gets dull if used too often, or –

hm – too macho for my taste: RT @mentalhealth1 RT @gassho RT @ScreamingEagle1: “Great souls have wills; feeble souls have wishes” #quote

a script for mental illness

life happens despite our best efforts! i’m sitting here, sweating like a pig, mostly because we have a heat wave but also because all of a sudden my mother has moved into the old-old stage, complete with confusion, needing to move into a home ASAP, and all of that happening in germany.

and with all of this i’m happy to be back blogging again! what an eventful 5 weeks. my husband was absolutely wonderful in healing this blog, i hardly did anything myself. it’s almost completely back to normal, just a few hiccups left. the people at dreamhost, my new host, were also incredible.

so that’s the hot, sticky, confused and bloggy side of life.

now on to something else.

talking about mental illness!

this is something i’ve discussed before, here and here for example. the question is: how do you talk about mental illness?

how’s that for a conversation:

“how are you?”

“not so hot. i’m on the downswing again.”

if you suffer from depression or bipolar illness, how many people do you know with whom you could casually have this exchange? zero? one?

the thing is, we don’t have a script for this. most casual conversations have a loose script. like

“how’s little lydia?” (script: ask after person’s kid, spouse, dog, etc.)

“oh she’s fine. bit of a problem with math at school but otherwise great. really enjoys skating. and doug?” (script: answer the question, give a bit of detail but not too much. then ask a similar question.)

but there’s no script for mental illness – not in “polite society.”

we all know this needs to change, for so many reasons. the biggest one that comes to mind has to do with isolation. isolation of two kinds: the isolation of stigma is one (because mental illness is not supposed to exist, and if it does, it needs to be swept under the carpet). the other is the isolation that is built into many types of mental illness. in many ways, experiences like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or anorexia – to give just a few examples – are illnesses of isolation. the sheer act of opening the mouth can seem almost impossible when one’s throat is constricted with fear; the effort of sending forth a sound can so often not be mustered when depression has laid a leaden blanket over everything.

it is in those moments that we need others to help us out of isolation. and once again, there is no script.

in a way this is exciting. those of us who want to change this state of affairs are in the position of helping to open up the world to create a script, maybe even a whole language of mental illness.

who wants to contribute to this new language? what’s your experience with talking about mental illness?

twitter rant

twitterokay, guys ‘n’ gals, i gotta get this off my chest.

as you know, i’m an avid twitter (over) user.  i love it.  and there are two things that have made me roll my eyes quite a bit lately.   it’s easier to pontificate on this on a blog, so i’m using this platform.  (as you can see, i already have way over 140 characters).


when you reply to someone, be specific.  how am i supposed to know what you’re talking about when i get a @reply that says, “that was great!”  WHAT was great?  if you’re afraid of the 140-character limit, one or two words will usually be enough.  for example, i could reply to robert hruzek from middle zone musings fame by saying, “right on re transparency!” and he’ll know what i’m talking about.

or you could do what i just did – you could include the link to the actual individual tweet.  you do this by clicking on the timestamp right underneath the tweet.  then you get something like vancouver’s famous miss 604’s tweet asking for links to events in vancouver.

DMs – direct messages

and the other thing?  impersonal, spammy direct messages or DMs.  direct messages show up in my email inbox, so it better be something that’s directly related to me as a person.  not as a consumer.  please DO NOT auto DM me, or send me a DM if i don’t know you to give me a “gift” of a video that plugs your ideas/services/product.  margaret mason has a good article on how to use twitter politely, including the use of DMs. pete quily is a great example of someone using DMs intelligently.  that’s pete from ADD strengths (the world’s best blog about ADD/ADHD – attention deficit disorder, or as i like to call it “the gift of chaotic attention”).

oh, and why do i give you all the links to these people?  is it just link bait?   i don’t think so.  it’s all about making connections.  that’s what social media is about.  making meaningful connections.  please help your fellow tweeple understand the connections.  tell them what you’re replying to.  and when you want to make a new connection, it really isn’t that difficult.  impersonal, meaningless DMs irritate me; retweeting and replying will get my positive attention.