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A Key to Thriving in Relationship: Tune yourself! Just Like An Instrument

You know those moments just before a symphony concert, when the audience is settling, the last rustlings of handbags and programs travel across the space, the air is sparkling with anticipation… and the musicians are tuning their instruments…

That sound. A wild-yet-synchronized cacophony of violins, cellos, double bass, clarinets, flutes, trumpets and harps sliding up to a sharp, down to a flat, up again a slice, down another, and then there it is: landing just so, placed on pitch, tuned and ready. Quiet. Poised. Deep breath, in and out. And Go. The concerto (from the latin concertare, which means to harmonize) can begin.

Similarly at a band practice, or alone with your fiddle in the living room: before you play, you tune your instrument. You know what happens if you don’t. The ensuing tunes will sound either slightly off or quite terrible, possibly even make a piece of music unrecognizable. I know. We have a harp in our house, and if it ain’t tuned, it doesn’t do the harp-thing at all.

When it comes to making music, this is all clear and accepted. It is the norm. We tune the instrument before we play it. If ever we drift out of tune we retune.

Now how about the rest of our lives, all those instances when we ourselves are the instrument?

Think of all the ways we relate to one another, the many ways we “make music” together (or not!) through our words, gestures, tone of voice, emotional quality, body posture: in conversations with our friends, our spouses and partners, in the interactions we share with our children, the myriad moments of engaging with one another on a daily basis.

Do we come at these tuned? Or out of tune? As we all know, the results vary hugely, depending.

When I tune my instrument – my self – I become present. I am both relaxed and attentive. My breath is calm. My emotions are regulated. I can make eye contact. I am at home within myself, and I listen and speak from this inner home. I don’t jump to conclusions. I remain curious, open-minded, soft-hearted.

When I am out of tune, I tend to be tense, turbulent, quick to react, defensive or avoidant, irritable, impatient, caught up in emotional storms, and often covering vulnerability with a hardened shell.

I’ve tested both versions many times – inadvertently and on purpose. The ensuing quality of connection is starkly different. Without fail, the former allows for greater intimacy, insight and connection. The latter tends to propel a relationship in a downward spiral, toward misunderstanding, hurt and separation.

We are hardwired to react when feeling threatened. We can quickly move to defense, offense or shutdown when we don’t feel safe in a relationship, when we are not met with empathy, kindness, and patience. Staying tuned in the fray of relating takes practice, lots of it!

I encourage my clients to practice tuning themselves for and in all their relationships, especially in their closest ones, with partner and kid(s). I explore with them how they can best regulate their emotions and get in touch with their inner home. Then I send them off with this homework: “When you’re ‘on’, engage. When you’re ‘off’, stop and recalibrate yourself. Make this a priority and see what happens.” The results are worth the while.

My husband and I practice daily too, have been for years now – as said, it takes plenty of practice! We have agreed that whenever we get ‘out of tune’, we pause the conversation and do whatever it takes to get back in tune. This is our priority. It can lead to rather abrupt ends to conversations, but we have consistently found that those stubborn “We will talk this through no matter what marathons” really don’t lead anywhere useful and tend to leave us both depleted.

Another place I get to practice daily is with my daughter. Just the other day, I was about to ask her for the fourth time if she could empty the dishwasher. I was getting aggravated and about to nag. On that day, in that moment, I caught myself just in time. I noticed where I was coming from, the irritated state I was in, and remembered my “being in tune before playing music” commitment. I took a deep breath. I let it go, refreshing my intention to communicate when “in tune”. By the time I was back in tune, the dishwasher was empty.

What if we check in with ourselves before each and every conversation and notice whether we are out of tune or in tune? And what if, whenever we slide out of tune, we stop what we are doing and retune before continuing?

It sounds so simple, yes? It is not necessarily easy; but it is a simple, straightforward, and extremely effective in navigating all our relationships with greater ease and grace. Tuning recalibrates us, allowing more consciousness to enter any relationship.

To make this a handy tool, I break this practice down into a few steps for you:

1) Awareness. This is where it all begins.

How am I doing as I enter this interaction? Am I emotionally calm, clear-minded, open-hearted, centered, curious?

Or am I out of tune?

Am I either ‘sharp’ – tense, high-strung, wound up, tight, reactive, full of emotions that need empathy, release and regulation…?

Or ‘flat’ – not fully here, not engaged, tired, not caring enough, feeling victimized, distracted, have I already given up…?

2) Commitment. Imagine a world in which we tune ourselves consistently before engaging with one another… as neighbor and friend, as partner, lover, parent, teacher, politician. Imagine a partnership in which you only ‘play music’ when you are both tuned. Imagine parenting with this awareness. The results are well worth the commitment.

Commit to only communicating when “on” (grounded, open soft heart, centered).

When you feel “off” (contracted, tense, shut down, defensive), pause and instead do a time-in (time to regulate until ready to communicate again). Whoever notices the “off-ness” calls a time-in. No discussion. Just time to regulate, recalibrate, each in one’s own way. It takes discipline to contain the momentum of reaction.

3) Regulate. As needed, regulate. Do whatever it takes to tune yourself-as-instrument. For each of us, this may look differently. Here are some ideas (find out what works best for you): Go outside; take a walk; drink water; breath; put your hand on your heart and remember you are loved; meditate; stretch your arms up and out and remind yourself that Life is not ‘out to get you’ (nor is your spouse or your kid, generally they are just working from the capacity they can access in any given moment); take a nap; dance; have a shower; cry and release any pent-up emotions until your heart is softened; talk with a friend, listen to music; and breath some more, focusing especially on your outbreath.

More in-depth regulation involves tracking reactive patterns, noticing predictable triggers, doing shadow work, somatic trauma release, and making use of any other ways we change our state to gain insight and heal the un-integrated aspects of our self. Becoming whole is a journey. Working with a therapist or a mentor can be very helpful. You don’t have to do this alone.

4) Reconnect with ongoing awareness. When you feel regulated again, check in with your partner, your child, your friend: “Is now a good time to pick up where we left off? If not, let’s set a time for that.”

Then, when you try again, repeat and keep going for as long as you can, while remaining open-hearted and centered. As soon as you trip up and slide ”off”, repeat the regulation practices.

And whenever possible, tune while interacting! This involves ongoing regulation, which hinges upon ongoing inner body scanning for sensations (tension registers there first). Pay attention, and you’ll notice a ‘storm’ brewing before it erupts. As soon as you notice early signs of arousal, you can regulate (deep relaxed breathing and soothing hand on heart) while continuing the conversation, becoming a virtuoso — a truly skilled ‘musician’.

5) Practice. Awareness is like a muscle. Regulating is a learned skill. They both take practice and witnessing presence. You will stumble. You will trip. But over time, one interaction after the other, gradually, you will build momentum for a safe, joyful, conscious container to relate, to communicate, to make ‘music’ together. Over time you will become adept at navigating through challenging patches and phrases in your conversations and interactions.

This ongoing tuning is a core skill in approaching parenting as a spiritual practice.

It is foundational for conscious partnering.

To become aware of when we are off-key, to then bring ourselves into tune, and to play from there: that’s where the music happens.

Then you have readied yourself for the duet, for the band practice, the symphony orchestra, the love-in-action.

Then you are modeling for your child how s/he can calm down, communicate and learn to self-regulate.

Then you are conversing with your partner in a shared container that allows for deeper understanding and insight, rather than throwing gas on a fire, speaking words you later regret, and going at it from an aroused system rather than a grounded, clear-minded one.

So, next time you are about to chat with your partner, check in with yourself first: is my self-as-instrument tuned?

If yes, go ahead. If not, go tune yourself. And if you slide out of tune during any interaction, pause and re-tune. As you get more adept, you will be able to tune and retune right in the midst of your interactions.

And then, let the concerto begin.

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If you would like to join me and a wonderful, international group of parents as we explore these kinds of practices and how they can be applied to parenting, I invite you to “Parenting as a Spiritual Practice – an 8-week online course that runs May. 1 – June. 26, 2017.

This course is designed to bring to life the full potential of parenthood: a transformative vessel for evolving yourself, your child, and the future. During these eight weeks I offer you perspectives, practices, discernment and insight that will help you discover an unshakeable ease and delight amidst the inevitable ups, downs and doubts of parenting. >> www.integralparenting.com

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Change ~ from the Outside In

FROM THE OUTSIDE IN ~

So much of my focus – in both my personal life and work with clients – is to explore, practice and ignite CHANGE from the inside out.

But! There is also the other way, which is to go at change from the OUTSIDE IN.

I first came to really appreciate this approach to change, healing and development during the writing of my Masters thesis on Dance Therapy in 1994. Studying the pioneers of this therapy form, a thread ran through that spoke of changing the body to change the mind. Moving the body to discover new states and perspectives. Working with the body to grow new wings – to play with contrast, to expand beyond familiar habits and ruts, to discover other ways of being and living.

To remind myself of this option, I keep this little figurine on my desk. My daughter gave it to me for Christmas a couple years ago. It makes me smile every time i look at it.

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Today, a day that feels a little grey to me… a friend speaks of the “lovely spring rain” in an email, whereas I’m seeing the dreary non-color of snow-melt-not-yet-spring reflecting my interior… I look upon this wee statue and remember. I stretch out my arms, even though really I feel like crawling under a blanket. I smile as I stand in the shower. I lift the muscles in my body, inviting in an interior lift. a change of state.

Does it work? A little. And sometimes a lot. To shake it loose, those blues. To not take them so seriously. To shift state like clouds moving across the sky. To remember: I HAVE emotions, they inform me, they move through me, they are part of my humanness and often carry important (and sometimes skewed) messages. But I AM NOT my emotions.

In addition to all my own focus and my coaching and counselling with others on noticing, being present to and learning from the emotions that move through us, there is also this, and it is such an important “also”: To not take our emotional states so seriously all the time.

Can we do both?

Be present to them. Witness. Empathize with ourselves and others. Let those feelings move.

AND remember: I am not my emotions. I have freedom to change – both from the inside out, and from the outside in. Because I am a unity – there is no clear line between where my inside and outside start and end – CHANGE is most effective when I do both, listening to the moment… is this a time to give in to the pull from beneath that blanket? Or is this moment to say to myself “Just drop it, love, stretch out those arms, remember to expand and shake it loose?
Is this a moment to feel-think myself into acting, or is this a moment to act myself into thinking-feeling?

To discern what is truly called for in any moment takes practice. Lots of it.

Today I choose some of the “outstretched arms” and some of the “simply be present with the feelings”. As the day progresses, the state shifts, the light changes, the weather pattern moves on, and space opens up for new Life, new moments.

And you? Perhaps today as you parent, as you relate, as you live this human adventure, stretch your arms out, take some deep breaths, and shake whatever may be bogging you down, so that a new moment, a new choice, a new possibility emerges.

With love, m

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The Art of Parenting: Learning to Live at the Edge of the Unknown

As parents — as people! — we all (I’m pretty sure all of us, yes?) wish there were a simple way, a method that is tried and true and guaranteed to get us the results we hope for… be this a fitness program, a healthy diet, a supplement protocol, a parenting handbook, a financial plan, a spiritual practice, a qualified approach to ANYTHING.

“Just tell me what to do and promise me it will lead me where I want to end up, and I will do it!” Sound familiar?

Our ego-minds want so very much to know, to be sure, to have the secure, guaranteed path and outcome laid out for us.

But, as you may have noticed, Life has other plans. This earthly existence keeps derailing the “for sure’s”, keeps throwing curve balls our way, keeps nixing our perfect plans and visions, and instead nudges, forces, coaxes, calls, yells, whispers and pushes us to: let it go.

What?!!

Yes. To let go of this fabricated, deeply ingrained notion that “there is one way to do it right and if I just know what that one way is, everything will be all right”.

Let it go.

Are you sure?

Yep.

You know, as we all do, as we all experience repeatedly, that Life is otherwise.

And, when it comes to parenting — this crazy, exquisite dance between our self and our child—Life utterly derails any such notion of “predictable, known, for sure and for certain”.

This is not to say that many of the parenting books and parenting methods and parenting tips and parenting know-hows and parenting experts and parenting “fill-in-the-blanks” are not helpful; they often are, supplying encouraging tips and insights to try out and help us along.

But all of them will only go so far.

They won’t ever get you to that solid place that you so wish you could get to. It’s impossible to provide the “right” response to the zillions of possible parenting moments, dilemmas, disasters, questions and curve balls you encounter.

You will still come face to face with situations in which you are at loss, in which you really have no idea what to do or say, in which you have tried all kinds of things and nothing seems to be working. At the end of the day you will still be left wondering if you shouldn’t have, couldn’t have done “it” differently—“it” being any aspect of parenting you can think of. You will never know for sure whether you should have protected your child more or challenged her more. You will still wonder if he needed more guidance or less, if she would have been better served had you trusted her more or directed her more, if he needed more comfort or more stimulus, more independence or more connection.

When traversing the territory, when engaged in the actual doing of parenting, it is not this or that method that will offer you a solid handrail to clutch on to. It is not the “apply this or that” technique that gives you the ultimate ground to stand on as you seek your way through the storms and the sunny sky days.

It is INSIGHT. Learning about how children develop, how they mature and flourish. Understanding how their brains, their hearts, bodies and spirits: grow, make sense of the world, integrate or get stuck, release tension, connect and repair.

It is DISCERNMENT. Making choices from a place of seeing, rather than guessing. Making sense through awareness, rather than because someone else said so.

And it is EMBODIMENT, which is another way of saying lots of practice.

The practice of learning to stand calm and steady, to breath with a cracked-open heart, and to keep breathing when a knee-jerk reaction is about to burst out of you.

The practice of self-awareness. Knowing your self—your tendencies, your type, your strengths and growing edges, your shadows, your soul. Also, continually inviting yourself into a fuller sense of belonging. You are not alone. You belong. You matter. You are loved. Receiving that fully, and living from that knowing.

The practice of presence. Of slowing down and being there, for your child.

The practice of listening between, beneath and beyond words. Listening for the emergent response, not memorizing what the ‘parenting book’ said.

The practice of trusting your innate, silent voice that knows because it loves. The voice that is there when all else becomes quiet.

The practice of forgiveness, to yourself and your child, for being human.

The practice of choice: thinking outside the hand-me-down box. Being brave and creative so that you discover and live what matters most to you and your child. So that you stand up for what is true for you and your family.

The practice of releasing attachment to your own subjective perspective, and of looking behind your child’s eyes, over and over.

The practice of meeting and engaging with your child as a sovereign person, while guiding and parenting him.

The practice of making love bigger than whatever else may be happening.

The practice of including and transcending ego. Gradually and consciously, coming home to your true self and enabling your child to live and flourish in his true self.

And the practice of practice! We can easily trip up on “Oh no, I’ll never be the perfect parent and I’m so stressed about that!” To evolve rather than perfect. To strive for consciousness while enveloping your efforts with generous doses of kindness, forgiveness and humor. One step at a time.

Discovering the simplicity on the other side of the complex territory that is Life, that is parenting, is about getting a hang of how to relax in the middle of the unknown, in the plenty of chaos, in the multitude of possibilities—that is the spiritual practice. That is the way forward to dancing at the edge of the unknown and coming through with your heart and her heart intact (perhaps a little frayed, but good and solid).

Remember: Your parenting flows from your being, much more than from your doing. As you become comfortable with living at the edge of the unknown, finding calm confidence within yourself while life continues to whirl and spiral in and around you, you will have truly learnt how to “dance in the rain, instead of waiting for the storm to pass”. You will become weatherproof!

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If you would like to join me and a wonderful, international group of parents as we explore and practice this comprehensive and underlying approach to parenting, I invite you to “Parenting as a Spiritual Practice – an 8-week online course that runs Oct. 10 – Dec. 5, 2016.

This course is designed to bring to life the full potential of parenthood: a transformative vessel for evolving yourself, your child, and the future. During these eight weeks I offer you perspectives, practices, discernment and insight that will help you discover an unshakeable ease and delight amidst the inevitable ups, downs and doubts of parenting.
www.integralparenting.com

 

Article originally posted on Huff Post, Sept. 29, 2016

 

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Tender Hearts Walking Around in Adult-looking Costumes

June 21, 2016

A daily practice that is growing in me and becoming a welcome habit is to view my fellow adult beings with the additional perspective of imagining them as the child they were. I find it a quick, effective way to have more compassion, to understand an other more fully, to judge less and inquire more.

We are tender hearts, wrapped in adult-looking costumes.

Let’s not forget this as we interact with one another.

Behind the facade, behind each exterior is a tender heart, a vulnerable self.

Remembering this can help us soften, listen, bring forth kindness, curiosity and a generosity of spirit as we relate with each other.

Tender hearts walking around in adult-like costumes.

Yes, even the grumpy co-worker. And the impatient woman standing in line behind us at the grocery store. The nervous, fluttery chitchatting mum and the quick-to-react, intense spouse too, as well as the “whatever” uttered too often too easily. All of them. All of us.

There is an innocence tucked in each person. There is a vulnerable tender heart at the centre of us all. Under the mask of the coolest styliest person, under the slightly distant turning away of the shy one, under harsh words that are uttered, under the closing down of communication, under the overbearing loud in-your-faceness, under all of it, there is the tenderness, the innocence we share, we all had and were at the beginning.

Keeping this in mind opens us to seeing deeper, not excusing current behaviours, but understanding more completely, and then, with this bigger view, possibly hearing under- and overtones that could easily be overlooked, swept by and missed… and yet, if seen and heard, can provide doorways to presence, to healing and regeneration.

So this my invitation today: look for the tender hearts walking around in adult-like costumes.

With great love to your tender heart, whether you carry it out on your sleeve, tucked in gently and safe but within easy reach, further under the surface or deeply buried,

Miriam

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To Wait Actively

Today I offer you these questions from Sue Monk Kidd’s “Where the Heart Waits”:

“What has happened to our ability to dwell in the unknowing, to live inside a question and coexist with the tensions of uncertainty? Where is our willingness to incubate pain and let it birth something new? What has happened to patient unfolding, to endurance? These things are what form the ground of waiting.”

I invite you to sit with these questions. Don’t think too much, just sit with them, next to them. Or hold them on your lap or in your heart.

What arises in you?

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Exploring Trust

Last week, during our homeschooling English class, A. and I watched this wonderful talk by Brene Brown on the Anatomy of Trust.

We took our time, we paused it here and there, discussed sections, took notes, and had an incredibly rich and insightful conversation about how and if we trust ourselves, and others.

Read more

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Regret: Facing, Feeling and Healing the Heartache of Lost Possibilities

A friend and colleague, recently turned 40, shared the following sentiment, “I have now reached the age when I experience regret. And it sucks.”

There, he said it. Just like that. I remember the relief I felt, hearing someone speak this out loud. Not whitewashing the experience with something like, “But it’s all good!” or negating the uncomfortable recognition by focusing one-sidedly on all the benefits of choices made and all the good intentions held. Just the raw and honest expression of regret, which, I find, gets spoken rarely these days.

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Inspired by Moments of Emotional Brilliance — Tender and Tuned In: Part 3

Here’s the third and final vignette in my three-part blog series on delightful expressions of emotional health and capacity in children, ones that surprise and hearten us amidst the journey of helping them develop emotional intelligence (you can find the first one here> and the second one here>). This one was shared with me by a fellow mother about her daughter:

Since she is little, Maggie loves visiting stores with cuddly, soft stuffies, pretty shiny things, cute booklets, dollies, and the wide array of beautiful, creative toys and trinkets available in certain stores – these things make their way into her heart on a weekly basis when she goes to town with her mother. For the past few years, each time they are in town, she has felt compelled to get something, one thing. Sometimes her mother has acquiesced. Other times she hasn’t. Quietly her mother has wondered (and at times worried) why her daughter feels such a need to have and get all this stuff. “Have we raised her too materialistically?” “Why this drive to consume?” “She has so much already”. Read more

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Inspired by Moments of Emotional Brilliance — Tender and Tuned In: Part 2

Here’s the second vignette from my three-part blog series about delightful expressions of emotional health and capacity in children, ones that surprise and hearten us amidst the journey of helping them develop emotional intelligence (you can read the first one here>):

It’s a golden late summer’s day. My daughter — 11 now — steps on a lazy wasp while playing with a bundle of kittens she is fostering from the local animal shelter. Startled by the immediate and powerful sensation of pain zipping through her foot, she tries to shake it off, and gets stung a second time. Read more

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Inspired by Moments of Emotional Brilliance — Tender and Tuned In: Part 1

Children rely on our support and guidance in navigating the emotional ups and downs of life. Developing emotional intelligence takes time and is an ongoing journey for every human being. And yet our children sometimes also surprise us with delightful expressions of emotional health and capacity.

Over the past few months I have witnessed a few of those and find myself heartened every time I ponder them. I’d like to share some of them with you in a three-part blog series. May these vignettes encourage you too. May they inspire you. And help you notice the gems that may be happening right in front of you.

Here’s the first one: Read more