Seasonal rituals to support your life…

Silver maple buds in marchDaylight savings time starts on March 13th.  Before that, we’ll have some enlightening experiences here in the Canadian Maritimes.   Daylight will come by seven am.  This is a Big Deal, considering that in winter, most of us go to work in the darkness.  On the other end, before the clocks change, it will be light-ish outside until seven.   And when the big shift happens, of course it will be light until eight pm.   Unfortunately, the sun will also be rising at eight am (again).   Living on the far western edge of the time zone means something different than living in, say, the middle of the time zone.

But messing around with the clocks is one of those time-honoured things that logically makes no sense whatsoever (you gain an hour?  lose an hour?   Not really…..twenty four equals twenty four) but we do it because everyone else does it.  What makes a bigger difference for most folks is the actual change in daylight hours, which is a function of seasonal change and the tilt of the earth’s axis.

On a practical basis, early morning light means I don’t have to carry a flashlight along with the poop bag when I walk Max the Labrador in the morning.  It means that when I head home from the gym in the early evening before supper I don’t have to turn on my headlights.  It means that outside activities can continue later into the day.   It also means that my internal clock, which appears to be set to “hibernate” from the short days in December, has re-awakened.Silver maple flowers

I love that re-awakening process.  I like to watch it in the world and in myself.   Today, gray and cloudy and peculiar as the light is for late February, I can look out the office window and see the buds on the silver maples.  They are near to bursting:  silver maple buds form in the fall and when the juices start flowing the tress flower very early.  You do have to look pretty closely to see those flowers:  these are not flaming hibiscus calling for attention.  They are pretty subtle, feathery dark red things that open far earlier than most.  I’ve been living side by side with silver maples for ten years now, and I love that they are a very early reminder that the light has changed and that spring is coming, just as inexorably as winter came a few months ago.

Silver maple buds in january
winter maples

Another sign that I am waiting for is the song of chickadees.  Chickadees are a very common bird here;  so common we might miss what signals they bring.   The characteristic “dee-dee-dee” call is heard all winter in our woods.   But spring brings another sound;   a two-pitched dropping tone….maybe like from the fourth to the second of a major scale?   Yeah, my music theory is a little sketchy…but the sound is also characteristic of late winter/early spring in this part of the world.  I have an ancient association with it from my own children’s childhood.  There was a little segment on Sesame Street about tapping maple trees.  The horses pulled a sledge through the woods, while the farmer gathered the sap, and the sounds were of the animals, the sledge and the “dee-dee” of spring chickadees.   My Dearly Beloved, who knows about this stuff, tells me that chickadee call is all about finding a mate.  It is most decidedly a spring thing, and becomes increasingly rare as the season wears on, birds are nesting and raising young, and that biological urge goes underground for another season.5065-chickadee

I notice signs in myself.  I am eagerly awaiting the first of March so I can start feeding my houseplants again.  This is a rule I internalized from somewhere…stop fertilizing in October and start again in March.  I have no idea if there is a good reason to give them a break in the winter but I am willing to do it, as it supports my need for seasonal rituals.   The other thing I notice is my sudden interest in gardening again…what shall I try THIS year?   Where shall I put the tomatoes, for example?  What flowers worked best in the boxes last year?   Those thoughts, like the silver maples, have been in something of a dormant state for a few months.  I actually remember being relieved when I put the garden to bed in the fall…but a little time off from something can make it more attractive.

There is something, for me, at least, in seasonal awareness, and seasonal ritual.   We put little fairy lights on a timer in a big houseplant in October when the days get short.  When March 13th comes, it will be close to the time when we remove them, because the sun provides the light we seek.   There is comfort in these seasonal rituals, small as they are, comfort in listening for the chickadees and watching the maples bloom.   The world around us may be full of chaos, but earth turns, seasons change, and we go on.

Chickadee and Silver Maple blooms are Creative Commons licensed

Winter maples, Leslie Ann Costello

 

Shake it up, baby! On doing morning releasing exercises as a practice

If I am unwilling or unable to feel my emotions as they are happening, then I have to do something to keep them from being in my consciousness. So I tense my musculature, tighten and constrict so that nothing gets through.

Sunrise thanks to creative commons
Okay, so today is only Day Three, and maybe that’s a little early to be making any statements about this new practice of mine. I am trying to commit to a 28 day practice of engaging in the sequence of bioenergetic exercises that David Bercelli has pulled together and labeled “Trauma Releasing Exercises.” Click here to go to his website: trauma prevention

I’m not sure I entirely accept all of the claims made by the proponents of the method but I do know that the first part of the series is profoundly grounding and the second part opens up the opportunity for the body to discharge a lot of energy in the form of movement.  I also know that when I work through a stress-release, stress-release sequence of movements, I usually can feel a lot more and mostly I feel better.

Cat stretch creative commons wikimedia

The FEELING more is what counts for me.  I am pretty good at shutting things down in my organism, i.e., my body.    I  look quite contained and relaxed, and situations and events do not visibly distress me.  I also have chronic tension in my neck and shoulders (my physiotherapist would just shake her head at this point) and sometimes stomach upsets and sometimes trouble with sleeping.  If I am unwilling or unable to feel my emotions as they are happening, then I have to do something to keep them from being in my consciousness.  So I tense my musculature, tighten and constrict so that nothing gets through.  Not feelings, not energy, and if I am particularly tight, I can even limit the flow of fluids through my tissues.  And I am not alone in this:  many people are expert at this sort of shutting down.  So opening up is a good thing!

On the weekend, I was delighted to have a group of bioenergetic therapists and trainees visiting me in my home and office.  We shared a lot of good ideas and some of our particular interests.  Margaret Bernard of PEI led our group through the TRE and that was a great reminder for me that daily bodywork is really a must for me to stay connected to myself.  I can readily connect with my thinking parts but find connecting with the feeling parts takes more attention. TRE helps me to bring that attention and also to let go of the holding and constriction.

So in only three days, I’m noticing that my feet are connecting to the ground differently.   I have increased flexibility in my toes, which is a bigger deal that you think.  Toes are a critical connector to the ground, and thus when we have good movement in our toes, they can hold on better.  Really!  Take off your shoes and try it.  Squinch up your toes and try to walk around. Yes, really do it.  Do it until your feet have some intensity of feeling in them, say, a seven out of ten. (Intensity, also known as PAIN!!!) Then mindfully spread out your toes on the floor, feeling everything (relief?) and try walking with all of them active and engaged.  Aahhh……thank you, toes.

Nicer toes than mine....flexible looking! creatve commons
Nicer toes than mine….flexible looking! creative commons

    So toes.  That’s good.  I also notice that when the vibrations get going,, I can let them move quite readily up my body but that things get hung up at my diaphragm and throat.  This is not new news to me; I know that I have blocks there, pretty typical ones from childhood.   But when I allow myself to make a sound with those vibrations, the blocks ease up a bit.  And when the sound starts to soar, almost like it isn’t part of me, then my body opens up to laughing and sobbing and all sorts of spontaneous movement.  It is very cool.

From traumaprevention.com with thanks
From traumaprevention.com with thanks

I stay aware in this process, too, because I know that these kinds of unusual movements often permit the free flow of thoughts, memories, images, and sensations in the body-mind. This is access to my unconscious, and I don’t want to miss a thing! What I have found is that after I am finished (and how to decide to be “finished?”), I sit to write in my journal and the ideas are also flowing….ideas about so many things, not just the constricted content of my usual thoughts.  Who knew that bioenergetic exercise would also open up my thinking self?

xmsba-logo.png.pagespeed.ic.jSphLBejkX

I’ll keep doing my daily practice and let you know how it proceeds.  In the meantime, you can do TRE also…there are books and videos available from that website and also therapists and bodyworkers who are trained to help you learn the sequence.  You can find a practitioner on the website. You can also just follow  your body into movement and charge and discharge, but I know that can be harder to do than it sounds.   Let me know how you do!  Below is a video about TRE.

TRE video

I want it my way or, the REAL cure for stress

Everything in my life would be so simple if only everyone did exactly what I want them to do all the time. In fact, that’s so obvious that I can’t really believe I have never said it before.  If you people would just do things the way I want them done, then I wouldn’t have all this stress.

Why can’t you conform to MY expectations?  Why won’t you give up your own needs, desires, and wants in order to  meet mine?   If you won’t do that, then LIFE IS NOT FAIR.

And you know what that means……I’ll have to be all stressed out about life not being fair.

2015-01-24 07.57.29

It isn’t really just people, though.  I want the DOG to do what I want.  And I really, REALLY want the weather to do things the way that I prefer them.  Like I’ve really just about HAD IT with the snow. We are in the middle of yet another blizzard (can I stand to write another blizzard post?) and I want it to JUST STOP.  STOP IT!!!

And that’s where the whole house of cards breaks down.  Becomes pretty funny, actually, when the absurdity is revealed.

I can rail at the weather all I want but it isn’t going to have any effect.  The weather is what it is. I can rail about the dog, too, and I could even do something to separate myself from him or train him to behave differently, but my major complaint is shedding and neither he nor I have any control over that.

We often live in a illusory world where we believe that we should be able to control other people.  We want to control not only how they behave, but often (and more insidiously) how they think and feel.   We want them to LIKE us, or think kindly toward us, or treat us with respect.  We get stressed in our attempts to manage other people’s thoughts about us and their behaviour toward us.  We think we know what’s going on inside other people, we think we can foretell the future based on what we think THEY think, and we think that there is something we can do about it.

??????????

Yes, that’s living in illusion.   A whole whack of layers of illusion.  Imagine the fabric that is called illusion….wedding dress stuff, layers and layers of tulle-like poufyness.  Then imagine what it would be like to have your hold on reality swathed in layers and layers of illusion:  not being able to find the ground, or find what is real….yes, that would be stressful!  Sometime we believe that the solution to the stress is for the other person to just Just Shape Up.  In other words, do what I want you to do, and do it now.  Then I won’t have to be all stressed.

If we look at the weather, the absurdity becomes obvious. If only the weather would cooperate, I wouldn’t have to suffer.  Not true! Suffering is a result of believing that I shouldn’t be inconvenienced. If the weather were perfect, I’d find something else to suffer (be stressed) about.  And I can’t change the weather anyway.  There’s got to be a better answer than that!

There is a better answer, one that actually works. The truth is that our thinking is wrong on two counts.   First, our stress is not a result of other people’s behaviour (or even the weather).  The stress comes from fighting with illusion….fighting imaginary tigers, if you will.  And the second wrong-thinking part is the idea that the cure for my upset (stress) is for the other person (or dog, or the weather) to conform to my expectations.  After all, I shouldn’t be inconvenienced if I haven’t agreed to it. That is not fair.  And that’s a thought a lot of us share.

The cure for stress is to get out of illusion, including the illusions that life contains no inconvenience and that life is fair. Imagine beating your way through the layers and layers of gossamer fabric, wrapped oh so gently around you, encompassing and wrapping you and keeping you in suffering.  The hardest part is to really allow yourself to wonder if you are in illusion. This is actually an empirical question.  It is testable.  You can ask yourself the question…”What do I know?”   And sit with that. What do you really KNOW right here and now? What do I know as opposed to what do I think, believe, or feel to be true?

I start with the things that are incontrovertible.  I know that I am breathing, for example.  I can feel it.  I can stop and notice my breathing.  Yes, I am certain that I am breathing.  Am I alive in my body?   Can I feel my feet on the floor?  Press them right into the floor and feel them there?  Yes.  I am breathing and I can I feel my body, beginning with my feet. So now I know that I am alive, a living organism, having an experience.   What else can I notice?

Then coming back to the upset at hand….what do I KNOW?   What have I seen, heard, observed?   Can I separate that from what I think I know about what I have seen, heard and observed?  For example, can I notice someone’s behaviour without engaging my beliefs about it?  Without the script or storyline? Can I just see what IS without all the layers of how it Should Be or or How I Want It To Be, or How Other People Might Think About It?

It is simple.   But it isn’t easy.  When I ask myself, what do I want to happen in this situation, I can see if I want to control something (or someone) else.  When I ask, what do I really know about this?, then I can better see what my own illusions are contributing

What do I KNOW right here in this moment?  Right here and now, can I separate my moment-to-moment experience from my thoughts, beliefs, plans, memories, concepts, and ideas?  Can I see what is mine and what is someone else’s?  Can I allow other people the same opportunity to be themselves that I want to have in my own life?  And when that becomes possible, what do I notice about my own suffering, or my own stress?

Freedom from illusion isn’t freedom from pain.  But it sure can minimize the suffering.

Popsicle Days

Here is a picture of my new “therapeutic” intervention.

Popsicle money

 

Yes, it is popsicle money.   I have been carrying popsicle money around with me all summer.  I have spent some hours on the bike path, either on the bike or running (or walking) and carrying my popsicle money with me, just in case I was in a place that had popsicles when I wanted a popsicle.

You may need to know that popsicles are not a regular thing with me.  In fact, they are pretty far off my usual list of foods to eat, and they certainly don’t instill any health benefits.   However, there is an opportunity for pleasure and even fun with those icy treats on a hot day when I have been exercising.  And so my quest for the pleasurable popsicle.

I tried to get one and had to settle for something similar one hot weekend day three miles into a four mile run.   Whatever that concoction of water, sugar and flavour was, it hit the spot.   It was thoroughly enjoyable and I made the very most of it.

wpid-img_20140713_163657.jpg

So I am sharing this idea, and in the therapy office, I have put out a tiny bowl full of change for popsicles, along with a sign to encourage people to plan to have some fun, plan for pleasure….plan for a popsicle.  Be prepared because you don’t know when the opportunity might arise to indulge and really, deeply enjoy.
Happy summer!  Happy popsicle days!

Reflection on the 2014 Retreat….

PEI lupinsThe 2014 Summer Bioenergetics Retreat on Prince Edward Island is history now.  It was and it will not come again.  There may be other retreats and they may be wonderful but this particular one will not be repeated.

I was fortunate to be a participant in the original retreats offered by Bethany Doyle and Rosalind McVicar.  I began in 2003 and attended annually through 2012, which was the final year of their program.   The retreat in 2003 was my introduction to bioenergetic therapy, and I was hooked, so much so that I applied for the training program that was starting that fall.   I was fortunate to be accepted and trained with Rosalind and Bethany, as well as with Michael Maley, Louise Frechette, and Chuck Lustfield, the International Trainers who traveled to PEI for us.  And I got to go to the retreat for all those years.

Several members of the initial training group are now Certified Bioenergetic Therapists (CBTs), and we have created a team to continue to offer a summer retreat on PEI.   Last month, we had our second retreat with 20 participants, three therapists (see below for contact information), offerings in creativity, spirituality, and grounding movement,  West African drumming, opportunities to share responsibility and support our community, plus to have massage and body work available.   During the week, I also felt my connection to those who have come before, as Rosalind and Bethany offered their best wishes, and from others in my training group who sent email and phone support.

PEI Aerial view

The heart of the retreat program is bioenergetics:  more exercise to increase body awareness and express strong feeling, group process where we all get to know ourselves and each other, individual therapy where people can work out material that comes up in the heightened context of the group.   The absolute confidentiality of the group makes it a safe place for people to work with what really matters to them, and the chance to work with deep feeling, whatever it is, opens energy for laughter and spontaneous play.    And there was much laughter and much spontaneous play last week!

I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to shape and support the processes of this retreat.  I learned a lot about myself and my connections to others, even as a therapist, and I appreciate the openness and willingness of all of our participants to engage in the process and support one another.

Planning for next year is underway!   Mark your calendar:  July 4-10, 2015, Saturday to Saturday.

 

Therapists:    Laurie Ure,  Gloucester, MA, USA   http://laurieure.com/

Jessie DeBaie, Nova Scotia, CA  http://www.bioenergetictherapy.ca/jessiepage.htm

Leslie Ann Costello, New Brunswick, CA https://frederictonbioenergetics.wordpress.com/

Massage and body work:

Ailsa Keppie, Halifax, Nova Scotia, CA http://www.aninspiredheart.com/

Could weeding this garden be my life’s purpose?

Garden sweet peas

I sought my life’s purpose as if there was something Out There that had my name on it.  I was convinced, in my adolescence, that there was a Right Path that was mine and all I had to do was to find it.   I was so convinced of this that I changed life paths, or at least career paths, quite precipitously in the middle of my university education.

Now I see things differently.  Actually, it isn’t a matter of seeing things but more a matter of knowing in my body, in some deep place of knowing that isn’t cognitive, isn’t verbal or imaginal or even conceptual.  Which, of course, makes it pretty hard to describe in words.

If I am weeding this garden, then right now, that is my purpose.   If I am writing this blog post, then that is my purpose.   If I am helping someone to express a feeling that he or she has long held captive in the recesses of mind and body, then THAT is my purpose, right there at that moment.

Somehow, I guess, that purpose isn’t something outside of me that I have to find.   It is more about doing whatever I am doing with the intention of doing it fully and with all of myself.

2013-08-01 18.56.00

A walk in the woods

Today is March 5th.  It doesn’t feel like March to me, but it looks like I expect March in eastern Canada to look.   There is plenty of snow, and plenty of sunshine, but boy, it is still very cold, unseasonably cold.  There is no sap running yet in those maple trees.

My own sap seemed to have dried up some, too.   I resent the cold, ridiculous as that might be, and long for different weather.   Today, though, I took it upon myself to dress up and head for the park, ready to enjoy the sunshine if not the temperature.  Grateful for my day off, and that I finished an early draft of a presentation this morning, I layered up, pulled on the boots and thick mitts and  the warm and very ugly fleece hat that Dan literally found out in the woods some years ago, and I headed out.

It was not only my misfortune that I had to make a stop at the hardware store first.   I felt some mild pity for those who had to view my backwoods attire, but at least it was the hardware store and not some place where customer appearance might raise eyebrows.  If mine raised anybody else’s eyebrows, I was unable to see them from under my fleece hat.

I did ultimately arrive at the park, checking out the cars in the parking lot (How many people am I going to run into here?), the piles of snow at the edges of the lot, and securing my keys to avoid an unpleasant surprise upon my return.  These are all strategies to delay actually getting out of the car and into the cold.   But I finally did what I went for, and got out into the day.    There was an immediate payoff.   I discovered a lovely surprise:   someone had decorated a Mardi Gras tree!  Yes, purple, green and gold decorations on a charming little spruce just off the main trail.  The gold was glittering in the sunshine, though the tree itself was in the shade of the forest, but it sure made me smile, remembering Mardi Gras of years gone by, and making me wonder who, in this part of the world, would celebrate this way?

wpid-IMG_20140305_142632.jpg

So there was a bit of delight, but I had to move along and quickly, because my personal temperature was dropping fast there in the woods.   Walking was predictably hard but at least there was a track; first a rolled track for the skiers and then I landed on a snowmobile trail.  Say what you might about those noisy, gas guzzling, roaring monsters of the winter night, they do lay a nice trail on top of the snow for us walkers and especially walkers with dogs.   When I slipped of the track, I discovered just how deep the snow really is….that would be somewhat deeper than my leg is long.

But the moral of the story is this:   warm happens.   By the time I was up and down and around a bit out there on the trail, I was unzipping the jacket and popping off the hat for a bit of ventilation.  Who could have imagined that?   The warmth lasted, too;  I stayed warm for hours, warm physically with the movement and warm also emotionally, with the sense of connection to the world that I gained with my little adventure.

Sending you warm wishes for your late winter….Peace….

Leslie

Knowing by slowing…

Body psychotherapy isn’t as odd-sounding as it once was.  People are beginning to understand that the mind and body are not really separate, that there are tissues in the gut, for example, that are much like brain tissue, that emotions are experienced at the body level, and that even those classic “psychological” problems of depression and anxiety are body experiences.   The mind of course is part of them;  the kinds of distorted thinking that we engage in when we are experiencing depression or anxiety can most certainly make things a lot worse.   But I am not sure that the chicken-egg question matters here….I personally don’t care if how you feel affects how you think, or if your thoughts are affecting your emotions.  The point is that things are pretty bad, one way or another, and how can you live more comfortably?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So it is obvious, I guess, that developing awareness of what you are thinking can make a difference.  You can even change your habits of mind.  You can also change your habits of body, and your habitual ways of responding to situations, and those kinds of changes can be most helpful in trying to cope with symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Self awareness is the key to any kind of change.  You can’t change if you don’t know what you are currently doing.    And the key to self awareness is, for many of us, slowing down.  Slowing our everyday experiences so that there is time for self-reflection, slowing our thinking, so that we can become aware of thoughts as they arise and fade away, slowing our behaviour so that we can become responsive rather than in the perpetual knee-jerk of reaction.

What happens when you slow down?   Just take a moment to notice what happens….without judgment, without struggle, with compassion.   For many of us, slowing down generates negative thoughts (“this is unproductive,”  “I”ll never accomplish anything,”  “Does she think I’m not a busy person?  I don’t have time for this nonsense.”).   For some people, the open space of unstructured time feels uncomfortable, as if you should DO something.   For some, a bit of quiet allows us to feel our exhaustion, the fatigue that comes with forever and forever keeping up a front, being frantically productive and chronically stressed.

But without judgment and with compassion, what is it like for you to take time and space to just be?  What do you notice about yourself?   Who are you, really, when you separate yourself from the story inside your head?

Wherever you are is the place to work.  Notice sensation in the body.  Notice what you notice in your environment;  what are you sensitive to in this moment?  In the next moment?   Notice thoughts as they arise and fade out.   Notice which ones tug hardest on your attention.  Notice more sensations in the body;  try moving, and notice what that is like.   Can you feel the desire to move, the intention to move, before you manifest that intention into action?  Where in your body are you aware of that intention?   How do you KNOW, in your body, that you want to move?

Finding the deep desires of your heart

What is your heart’s desire?  What do you REALLY want?

Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/
Thanks to http://www.djrichardsdesign.ca/2011/11/16/hearts-desire/

Notice what happens inside you as you sit with that question.   What is my heart’s desire?  What do I really, really want?  Watch your mind generate all sorts of answers, excuses, plausible reasons not to even consider the question, and perhaps even responses that are socially appropriate.

Maybe you were taught that it is rude to WANT something.  Maybe you had many experiences of disappointment in your wants, to the point that you stopped WANTING.  Or you told yourself you didn’t have any WANTS.   Maybe you are very busy trying to make sure other people get what they WANT, and your own little wants have lost their voices.

Watch your thoughts as you start to consider this question.  Notice if you resist the question itself (“I don’t need to read this stuff.”)  Notice if you reject your ideas about what you might want.   How do we get past the mind’s pattern of criticizing itself?   It is hard to know what you really want if you have an inner critic telling you to shut up all the time.

A beautiful place to sit and ponder
A beautiful place to sit and ponder

Now try an experiment.   Get up on your feet.  Yes, you, right now, on your feet!   Jump up and down a little bit, get your breathing going.    Now hop around on one foot, then the other foot, and maybe even wave your arms around up over your head.    Yes, get silly and move around vigorously, shaking your head, letting your jaw go loose, maybe letting some sound out of your mouth….
“ahhhh,   ooommmmmm,  raaaahhhhhh,    bbbrrrrrrrr…” whatever sounds come out as you are jumping, jogging, shaking, and waving.

Oh, yeah.  Just let ‘er rip!  Let your body move, let your voice come out, get energy flowing all through your body.   It could be a dance, could be cheer-leading, could be gymnastics or calisthenics  whatever works for you, but it needs to be vigorous, free, and energetic.  Yahoo!

Now let your body come back to a still place.  Feel your feet firmly on the ground, feel the breath in your body, notice your heartrate, still elevated, and notice what is happening in your thoughts, in your mind.   And now, just standing there, let your answer come….What do I really, really want?   What is my heart’s desire?

Let go of any judgment, any self-criticism.  What do I want, now that I have let my body start to have its voice?  Just notice what ideas come up for you, and see if you can make note of them without commentary.  What do I want?  What does my heart want most right now?   Nothing is off limits…whatever arises for you, that’s what you want.

And your job is to let it be okay that you want what you want.   That’s all….you can want whatever it is that you want.  Just wanting is a big thing for many of us.  This  exercise is a beginning. Your heart’s desire is there waiting for recognition.

What did you find out when you tried the little experiment?   I wonder what would happen if you did it several days in a row?  Could you get more skillful at letting the body’s truth come out?  Could you start to recognize self-criticism and learn to just let that go?

Whose problem?

My friend calls me to tell me about her boyfriend’s latest critical comment.   She is angry, and she is calling for support and also to get some validation.  So I get mad, too, and tell her she should be angry, that he has no business talking to her that way, and that I want to tell him a thing or two.

So I get on FaceBook and send him a message that says he better shape up, because my friend deserves better treatment than that, and that all of our friends are going to be mad at him if he doesn’t start treating her better.  And I stay mad, and tell as many people as I can about what a jerk he is, and how their relationship is probably falling apart, and then she calls me up and says that everything is fine and why don’t I just leave him alone?  And I don’t know what happened but I am certain that she is making a mistake in staying with that jerk and so I tell her that.  Then she gets mad at me, so I post on FB that she is making some dumb moves and that he is a jerk, and then I block them both.  And I am mad.

Okay, if you know me, or if you have been reading my blog for awhile, you probably can guess that the above is a totally fabricated scenario…for me.  However, lots of people live like this on a daily basis.  Lots of people  find interpersonal drama to be the stuff of life, and get so caught up in it that they start to lose track of themselves.  When you can’t really feel yourself, one attempted solution is to get angry about something.  Anger is a feeling of movement, of motivation, and if you can figure out some way to call that anger “justified” or “righteous” then you can even turn it into a crusade.

So what’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that when we lose ourselves, we end up not living our own lives.  We are not in our lives, but in some surreal, in-between place, where our emotional involvement in other people’s stuff is our focus.

What to do differently?

The place to make a change is at the very beginning.  When my friend calls me, I can ask myself a couple of questions.  First, what does she want from me?  Perhaps she is looking for social support;  most people are, under these circumstances.  Social support means someone to LISTEN.  It doesn’t mean that I have to agree, or have to validate, it just means that I listen to her story but particularly to her feelings, and I validate the feelings.

Second, who has the problem?   In this case, she has the problem.  It isn’t mine, and if you look at the answer to question number one, she isn’t even looking to off-load her problem.  She is likely just looking for someone to say, “Wow, that sounds really hard to deal with.   I can hear that you are angry about that.”

If I grab that problem and get mad on her behalf (mad on her behalf?  Is there such a thing?  Sounds like yet another blog post…), I make her problem MY problem.  In fact, by the end of the story, she had solved her problem and I was left with a whole bunch of collateral problems.

If the problem is NOT mine, I can limit my involvement.

How would I know if the problem did belong to me?   Well, suppose she called to say that she was angry with me for MY critical comments.  Yes, then that is a problem for me.   Suppose she called to say that her boyfriend was making critical comments about ME…..wow, what do you do with that?  Who has that problem?  Is that a problem?   In my world, that is not a problem, but I do wonder why my friend would want to share that information.   Is she trying to create a problem?    In either case, we may have some things to talk about.

So….ask yourself if the problem is even yours.   Byron Katie suggests that there are three kinds of business in the world.  There is MY business, stuff that actually has to do with me directly.  There is YOUR business, which is pretty much everything that isn’t my business, so pretty much everything in the world.   And then there are the things that are not mine, are not yours, and really aren’t anyone’s business….like tsunamis and blizzards and earthquakes.  Those are God’s business.  Unless something is MY business, I have no business trying to manage it or even having big emotional stuff around it.  In fact, I can keep my thoughts, feelings and ideas right out of it.  It is Not My Business.

This week, check in and see if you can be clear about whether a problem belongs to you before you try to solve it, or before you even react to it.  What do you find out?