Welcome to HEN - Health, Environment, Negotiation
HEN is published each month by Julia Menard:
Helping Leaders Engage - One Tough Conversation at a Time! juliamenard.com
HEN arrives at the full moon - a time to see clearly.
Full Moon: November 28, 2012 - Year 10, Issue 12
Table of Contents:
HEALTH - Stay Kind for the Holidays
As the holiday season approaches, many of us start to feel excitement about returning “home” for Christmas.
And yet, in the last few weeks, I’ve also heard some sad and stressful stories about clashes and tensions that seem to inevitably come up at Christmas. Someone clutching their Toxic Parents book like a bible – hoping it’ll ward off evil spirits. Another person lamenting the lack of tradition in her family – they are like herding cats. A third feeling the pain of memories past with alcoholic parents missing in action.
Holidays have a romantic veneer – pushed more extreme by vendors wanting to sell a bit of material happiness. Yet family-gathering times can be deeply painful and even lonely for many.
So, it can help to go into the holiday season not only with bright-eyed enthusiasm, but with a healthy dose of self-compassion.
Why self-compassion? It’s becoming more widely accepted that we need to give ourselves empathy and compassion before we can extend it to another. And in times of increased stress, we need to be MORE kind to ourselves.
Research by author Kristin Neff, in her book Self-Compassion, have found that even many kind, caring people use ferocious self-criticism, using language against themselves that they’d never say aloud to another person.
From a Buddhist point of view, you also have to care about yourself before you can really care about another. From a physical health point of view, our harsh self-judgments reduce our ability to cope with difficult situations like holidays, and trigger thumping hearts and spikes in the stress hormone cortisol.
So, what can we do?
Neef suggests there are three components to self-compassion and that we must achieve and combine all three in order to be truly self-compassionate. These elements are:
Self-kindness - that we talk to ourselves gently rather than harshly with criticism and self-judgment. Easier said than done, but with awareness can you go into the holiday season with an intention of accepting your mistakes, your pains, your tender places? Is there a way you can remember to practice kind words to yourself? For example, a reminder note on your calendar? Perhaps buying an advent calendar for yourself and every day in December opening a little door with a reminder to be kind – in that very moment of opening the door!
Recognition of Shared Pain - A recognition that we have a common humanity, a feeling of being connected with others in the vagaries of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated in our own suffering. In the context of the holidays, I’ll use a personal example. My family of origin is 3000 miles away, so I can often feel sad at Christmas imagining other families getting together, loving one another and basking in some sacred bond of belonging. However, talking with those other people in the last few weeks, I was reminded that – although our suffering looks different on the surface, it didn’t mean others didn’t suffer at Christmas as well. That gives me some compassion for myself and my situation – in that I am not alone in my suffering. That is a recognition of our common humanity. So is there some aspect of pain in your holiday time experience that you think is unique to you? Think again! Is there a way that pain is somehow part of the human condition?
Mindfulness—for Neef, mindfulness entails seeing things for “how they are – in a balanced way – no more, no less.” We need to be aware of our own experience to feel it or else we are bound to ignore it. Conversely, if we not only acknowledge but exaggerate our story, we also suffer unnecessarily. Being able to notice our own thoughts and emotions allows us to be able to then pause and soothe and comfort ourselves. Starting before the holidays, it can be helpful to pause a few times a day to do this practice:
Breathe deeply a few times with your hand on your heart. Feel your heart area as you breathe.
After a few deep breaths, remember any moment you can with someone you feel safe with, loved, and cherished by. This could be a pet, a close friend, a saintly figure. Stay with that feeling for a few breaths until you feel the love and the trust in your body. Settle into it. Relax and breathe.
From this place of more relaxed and open compassion, ask yourself: “What am I thinking? “What am I feeling?” “What am I needing?”
Starting this practice now can get you ready to go into the holidays more mindful.
It might interest you to know this particular exercise does a few things. The heart has neural cells around it, so placing our hand on our heart and breathing deeply into that area activates the parasympathetic nervous system and begins to calm down the fight-flight arousal of the sympathetic nervous system.
Also, placing our hand on our heart and thinking of someone we care about primes our brain to activate the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the neurochemical antidote to the cortisol that fuels the “fight-flight-freeze” response to any perceived threat or danger. When oxytocin is rushing through our bloodstream, the calming parasympathetic nervous system puts the brakes on the activated sympathetic nervous system. This calms the fear response of the amygdala and our cortisol levels drop, blood pressure lowers - all is well.
If you are interested in doing more to strengthen your self-compassion practices going into this stressful time, my colleague Judy Zehr and I have teamed up to create a self-study program with audio recordings, an e-book, and recorded guided tools to bring you back to yourself, time and again. Click here to find out more about our e-course.
"In all the great spiritual traditions, at their heart is tenderness--just to be kind inside, and then everything rights itself. Fear rests. Confusion rests."
… Pamela Wilson
ENVIRONMENT - Why Urban Farming Is So Important
Thank you Gabe Epstein for passing this article along. Gabe is one of my food heros. We all need a few of those in our lives! If you don’t know any, find one or become one!
Five Reasons Why Urban Farmign Is the Most Important Movement of Our Time
"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it; and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied; and it is all one."
… M. F. K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
NEGOTIATION - Talking From the Heart
I am the daughter of an immigrant mother. My Mom fled the Ukraine during World War II when she was about my daughter’s age now – 15 years old. She left behind her family, her status, her village – all she knew. She spent the next few years in various areas of Eastern Europe – then a few years in Germany and Austria before gaining refugee status to Canada. She’s never been back.
I have great admiration for my mother – and – our dialogue is often quite primal. She hasn’t got a particularly sophisticated vocabulary: not only did her formal schooling end when she was 15, but she can’t read English and has a very heavy Ukrainian accent with a limited English vocabulary.
So we talk in “other” ways. As I get older, I realize these “other ways” are probably using other parts of our brain – our heart brain for one.
Recently, my Mother said she loved that I “talk from the heart.” She said not all people do. I loved that phrase and since then I've been trying to see if I can tell if someone is “talking from their heart”. And there does seem to be a palpable difference in how I communicate and how I experience others when I “sense” they are speaking from their hearts.
The heart, in fact, is starting to be thought of as having its own brain.There is even a branch in cardiology called “neurocardiology.”
We do know that during sustained feelings of love or appreciation, the blood pressure and respiratory rhythms entrain to the heart’s rhythm. The rhythmic beating patterns of our hearts also change significantly as we experience different emotions. Negative emotions, such as anger or frustration, are associated with an erratic, disordered, incoherent pattern in the heart’s rhythms. Positive emotions, such as love or appreciation, are associated with a smooth, ordered, coherent pattern in the heart’s rhythmic activity.
Experiments conducted at the Institute of HeartMath have found that the heart’s electromagnetic field can also transmit information between people. They have been able to measure an exchange of heart electrical energy between individuals up to 5 feet apart. They have also found that one person’s brain waves can synchronize to another person’s heart.
Think about that for a moment. What I’m thinking can impact your heart (well – so far only documented as far away as 5 feet… but!).
And, even more interesting, when an individual is generating a coherent heart rhythm, synchronization between that person’s brain waves and another person’s heartbeat is more likely to occur.
As far as negotiations go, that piece of info is the clincher. If I can create a coherent heartbeat (by thinking loving thoughts, by holding my heart area, by keeping in compassion) – I can calm another person’s heartbeat too.
Now that’s interesting!
Just today, I noticed a dog owner at a stoplight. She was bending over and putting her face close to her dog’s face. In that moment, it seemed to me time stopped. They looked like they were talking from the heart.
Now that we’ve had this little talk, see where you notice it next!
“A mother understands what a child does not say.”
… Jewish proverb