Thursday, November 20, 2008

We are Transparent

Current brain research and work by Paul Ekman confirms the old axiom--"actions speak louder than words." Even as we try to control and hide our anger, others will sense it unconsciously. They will detect our feelings through the tiny micro-expressions that pass over our face in a split second, or our involuntary vocal inflections, and incongruent body language. It is almost impossible to hide our emotions from one another. Even if we are unconscious of the messages that we're sending-our listener will "have a feeling." They might not ever decipher these feelings but the unconscious encoding and decoding of messages will continue to influence them and us.

This is why changing our interactions must happen on a very deep level within. If we start with recognizing our own feelings we can then appreciate the nonverbal messages we are sending out to others.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I sit in the sun on a warm winter day, soaking up vitamin D and images of blue sky. After a hard work-week, I wait for my conscious and unconscious minds to reconnect-- like lovers who've been apart-these two just want to gaze upon each other, silently. I feel like a third party to this scene, wondering what is happening as I sit doing the "nothing" I've so desperately craved.

I sit while Mind wanders. Although I have many (mostly pleasant) chores that beckon, I ignore them. My most important task is to listen for my soul's voice. I've been too busy to hear its subtle message and now, like an athlete who's had to miss training for a week, I'm hungry to resume meditation.

How lucky to have unstructured time! But it isn't only luck; I've been determined to secure this. I'll downsize if necessary-- to preserve a healthy balance of work and rest. It's vital for my well-being and the discovery of my own genius. Stephen Covey agrees-- taking regular downtime is his Habit 7 - "Sharpening the Saw."

So I sit and let Mind wander. Today it seems that I will never get enough of this "do nothing" time. But I trust the process. My extremely demanding schedule--is that why I seem so starved for quiet? From experience, I know I'll eventually move from "ebb" to "flow." Then I'll have one of my "aha" moments and a seemingly new idea will burst forth.

Meanwhile, I trust and wait. Both Jungian psychology and current brain science suggest that much of our thinking and many of our perceptions happen below consciousness. So, even though I can't know what goes on in these hidden areas of my psyche, I can help myself by believing in what can't be seen or measured. I can help myself by resting and listening to the still, quiet voice inside.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Have been working on a class on empathy today. Is that why today’s news seemed relevant?

The cordial meeting of our current and soon-to-be first lady shows me how differences are overcome when we recognize our shared humanity. Reports said that during the meeting of these two very different women, much of their talk centered on raising daughters. Was it this similarity—both are mothers with two girls--that created such a warm and friendly meeting?

Since I don’t have children, I don’t relate to parents in the same way that I relate to pet owners or gardeners or camping enthusiasts. When parents discuss their teething babies or grouchy teenagers, I have to work to find an analogy to understand their pain or joy.

But since empathy (and compassion) are born from sensing another person’s inner world, it is important that I work to understand. I probably won’t ever understand raising children as another parent would, but I understand the hunger for recognition, the fear of failure, and the pain of being misunderstood—emotional challenges that we all face, no matter our circumstances.

If we are similar, I can quickly empathize with your struggles and concerns. If we are very different, I’m often tempted to simply judge you. It is much easier (in the short run). But if I’m willing to push past my biases and keep an open, curious mind, I can be rewarded with empathy. Then, my world expands as I discover a more peaceful and compassionate heart within.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Power of Intention

Sophie wears me down with her focused intention. She wants some people food! She follows me from room to room. At the table, she follows me with her eyes. She is patient. She is vigilant. I forget that I’ve promised myself: I will not add additional treats to her already-doctored food. Her objective is working. Absentmindedly, I take my used plate and mix her dried food into the meat drippings. Sophie has trained me well. She reminds me of the power of tenacity.

Sophie is determined and will cajole me until I take her on our daily walk, give her some people food, and tug on her toy. If I can’t (or won’t) accommodate her desires, she may give up momentarily, but she will resume her quest again and again and again. Sophie gets more of what she wants because of her dogged (pun!) persistence.

How much could I achieve if I was half as tenacious as Sophie?

Disciplined Thinking in a Quick-Fix World.

Did an EI program today. While the bulk of the day flowed with excitement and laughter, our group did have some problems working through the 6 second videocamera exercise. This analytical tool can help a participant explore the costs and benefits of our behavior patterns. The exercise challenges us to delve deeply into a moment of our lives and extract the core thoughts and feelings that were driving our behavior. Then, courageously, we identify the pattern this behavior may represent. In addition to unflinching honesty, the exercise requires us to slow down our thinking and ponder a small interaction for its deeper meanings. To do this, we must strip away the (sometimes dramatic) distracting details of our encounters and state what happened in the simplest way. It is a disciplined way of thinking—one that is rare in our frenetic world. It reminds me that EI isn’t a quick fix—it’s hard work. (One of my participants endorsed the day’s offerings as “meaty.”)

Hard work pays off. I’m humbled (and also thrilled) to use very practical EI tools. With concentrated effort these tools can yield life-changing results.