Tuesday, March 15, 2011


it's past 6:30 and the sun is still up!!!! The snow is melting and life is stirring.  Spring is my favorite season because it is a time when I feel energized, excited and full of awe at the beauty of nature.

In recent years popular psychology has incited us to be more aware of our emotions. In practice I see that most people who have cut themselves off from their bodies will notice their uncomfortable emotions first. I also notice that when speaking with children parents and caretakers will name emotions such as fatigue or frustration but rarely give words for more pleasant states such as happy or joyful.

I specify "cut off from their bodies" because one of the most powerful ways to tell the difference between an emotion and an interpretation or judgement that we are telling ourselves is to notice if we are basing ourselves on our thoughts or on what is happening in our bodies. I have met people who swear they are happy because their life is going good but their body language creates dissonance and makes me think they are sad.

On the flip side popular psychology also encourages us to be positive. I have met people who take this so seriously that they would never admit to being human and vulnerable enough to feel fatigue or irritation.

The NVC approach asks that we speak about feelings and needs. Since feelings are considered to be a way to detect underlying needs the ability to detect and name  a full range of emotions that are present from moment to moment is important. Moment to moment awareness though is not enough. We also need to cultivate a non-judgmental attitude towards the experience.  

What I love about this approach is that it encourages people to be aware of both comfortable and uncomfortable experiences and to honor them all. When I meet people who are cut off because we are a society that dislikes discomfort and judges it to be bad and something to eradicate, I feel sad because most of the time this also means being cut off from our ability to sense emotions such as joy, tenderness, awe ect...

Honoring it all means being aware of and fully experiencing those wonderful moments in life. Too often when I ask people about their last happy or pleasurable experience they have no idea. Take the time to savor the feeling of expectation of a good meal. Savor the meal, notice the joy a smile brings.

It also means noticing the sadness, the irritation, the feeling that something is not how you want it to be and allow these feelings to be. Listen to what the discomfort is telling you. These feelings are valuable for knowing what our needs are. Honoring them allows you to start inviting possible strategies to meet your needs into your life.

So what are you feeling at this moment: happy, sad, confused, excited, angry, dissonance, torn, joyful, calm? Are you inviting what is or is there a thought that pops up like "I should not be sad look at all those poor people in Japan"

Knowing what is there in every moment and welcoming the full range of experiences is a wonderful way to live life. The first time I experienced this state of presence I remember that what struck me most was a sense of internal space that was just immense.

It reminds me of the following story. (Don't ask me where I heard it) 

A student is experiencing some distress since his studies are not going as well as he wants them too. He goes to see his teacher. The teacher asks the student to take a walk with him down to the lake. Once on the beach he tells the student to pick up two handfuls of sand and invites him to put one in a cup of water and drink it. How does it taste he asks? The student a little bemused replies "terrible". Now put the other handful of sand in the lake and drink some water from the lake the teacher says. The student drinks the water and finds it refreshing and good.

The teacher goes on to explain that in both cases the same problem, a fistful of sand were encountered. In a small container there is no space and the sand mixed with the water is terrible. But mixed in a vessel as big as a lake the sand has almost no impact. If you can have less sand then great but it is better to grow to be as big as a lake or ocean so that no matter what the problems you have you have the internal space to receive them and not be overwhelmed.  

The practice of moment to moment awareness coupled with non-judgement supports the creation of this immense internal space. When I went to see the Dalai Lama speak in Montreal he said that training the mind is like an ocean. Although there are waves on the surface underneath it all their is calm and space.

My daughter is trying to catch my eye and I am going to go savor this moment with her.

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