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You'll never guess who just called!
by Marlena Field

It’s...difficult to hear that what we reject out there is what we reject in ourselves... Having compassion [for others] starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at.

 Pema Chodron, “When Things Fall Apart”

Sally was tossing and turning.  She finally just gave up and woke up Andrew.  “I’m sorry I had to wake you in the middle of the night dear.  I am driving myself crazy with this and I need your help.  I hope you don’t mind.”  Andrew rubbed his eyes and willed himself to wake up.  Sally rarely did this so he knew it must be really important and he wanted to listen to her with his full attention.

Sally began, “ I am so freaked out about Uncle Fred; about what he’s going to be like this Saturday at our family gathering.  Whenever he shows up, which is about every two years, he’s rude and has a way of putting people down.  I’m so anxious about him being here that I don’t even want to have anybody over.”  Andrew understood and felt some of Sally’s upset as well.  Over the years he’d witnessed the impact that Uncle Fred often had on family get-togethers and he also was anxious.  Andrew said, “I’ve seen the same tension happen again and again.  I wonder if there’s something creative we can do to try to change what typically happens.  I know that when Uncle Fred arrives at the door, everyone holds their breath and the whole atmosphere in the room changes.  It’s like everyone is waiting to be ‘bitten’ one way or another by Uncle Fred.  Let’s talk about how we can deal with it differently in the morning."  Sally still felt uptight.

Andrew was thoughtful for a minute and then continued, "In the meantime, I have an idea that may help you go back to sleep.”  Sally replied, “I’d sure like to know what that is.  I need to get some sleep.”  “Okay,” said Andrew,  “first I need to ask you two questions.  OneHow do you find yourself being put off by Uncle Fred?"  Sally answered,  "There's lots of ways, but a big one for me is the way he's so critical.”  She paused and then said with surprise, “Oh, oh, I just realized something.  I’m being the same way that I’m accusing him of being.  I’m being critical of him being critical.”   She chuckled at this realization about herself and felt a relief at the same time.  Andrew replied, “Wow, I can relate to that myself.”  He took some time to let that sink in and then said, “Okay, let’s go to question twoWhat’s one thing that you openheartedly want for Uncle Fred; something that you imagine would help to make his life better?"  Sally quickly responded, "What a question!"  Sally’s own negative inner dialog was so familiar that she had seldom thought about what Uncle Fred may be feeling.  She was quietly thoughtful and then said, "What I want for Uncle Fred is for him to feel more included and to have some real connection with his family - and that includes real connection with me."

Andrew suggested, "So here’s an exercise* I’ve found helpful.  It’s actually a combination of breathing and thinking.  When you start, breathe in with the thought that what you want for Uncle Fred is for him to feel relief from being so critical; knowing yourself that being critical can be painful.  When you breathe out; breathe out with the thought that what you want for Uncle Fred is for him to feel more connected with you and the rest of the family.”  Sally said, “Thanks Andrew.  I hope this works.”  Andrew also decided to do the exercise as a way for him to go back to sleep.

When Sally woke up, she remembered what had happened before she had fallen asleep.  She was amazed.  As she had paid attention to her breathing and was purposeful with her thoughts she noted that her body had become more and more relaxed and she experienced increased feelings of well-being.  She realized that this was about being openhearted and wanting things to be better for people; not about trying to make other people be different.

Over breakfast Sally shared her realization with Andrew.  Together they decided to use the breathing and thinking exercise throughout the coming week in order to maintain a compassionate attitude toward Uncle Fred and themselves.  They talked about the positive mood they wanted to create with the family and how they could contribute to it.  They wanted to be more aware of their own criticalness and to have better connection with the whole family.  They realized that their tension in the past had at times been in the way of them being more relaxed and openhearted.  They continued to have conversations during the week to help each other remember to stay with the possibilities rather than with negativity.

By Saturday both Sally and Andrew noticed that their anxiety had become considerably less.  As the family arrived there was a general easiness and people seemed happy to see each other.  A short time later the doorbell rang and one of the kids yelled, “Uncle Fred’s here.”  The tension in the room heightened and people  seemed to ‘steel’ themselves.  Sally was the first to the door.  “Hi Uncle Fred, I’m glad to see you here.  It’s been a long time.”  Although she had said similar words to him in the past, this time her words were authentic.  Uncle Fred could feel that she meant what she was saying.  He couldn’t help but give a slight smile along with his usual gruff greeting.

Throughout the afternoon Sally and Andrew paid attention to being more connected with all the family members.  Although there were a few tense and awkward moments, for the most part the atmosphere was different.  People became more relaxed and less guarded as the afternoon progressed.  The gathering turned out to have more easy conversation and good spirited laughter than ever before.  Afterwards, Sally and Andrew realized this was a good beginning.  They were encouraged about the possibilities for the future.

On Sunday morning Sally answered the phone.  Someone called to say ‘thank you’ for the party and how much he had enjoyed himself.  Sally was floored.  Nothing like this had happened before.  When Sally got off the phone she said to Andrew, with a smile on her face,  “You’ll never guess who just called!”

 *The Practice of Tonglenwww.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/tonglen1.php

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Marlena Field, PCC, CPCC, CBCC
Professional Certified Coach
www.SpiritDollWidsom.com
www.Body-CenteredCoaching.com
www.ReflectivePresence.com

marlena@spiritdollwisdom.com
778-353-0145
Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada



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