Joy of Zentangle

By Suzanne McNeill, Sandy Steen Bartholomew, and Marie Browning

The first sentence caught my attention:

“This book will change your life.”

How’s that for bold? If I were to subtitle this book, I would say: Joy of Zentangle: What to do to not go crazy. Something like that. Has my life changed? Well, I haven’t drawn everything in the book! But I do feel a bit more relaxed. I have something I can go to when I want to check out, when dissociation doesn’t come fast enough.

The authors insist that when you are drawing these forms, you are not doodling, you are “tangling.” There is a special certification program you can sign up for if you get really into this. Simply go to Providence, Rhode Island to become a CZT (Certified Zentangle Teacher). For more information, visit zentangle.com.

Here are some of my first tangles:Art swirls

cube cross hatch

Cubs pop ups

Doodle leaves

Doodle bricks

Doodle fern

eyeballs in space2

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Anger

In my review of Nonviolent Communication, I also neglected to cover anger. And since anger is a big part of my life right now, it’s worth it to me to dig into it.

Rosenberg encourages us to express our anger fully.

I would suggest that hitting, blaming, hurting others—whether physically or emotionally—are all superficial expressions of what is going on within us when we are angry. If we are truly angry, we would want a much more powerful way to fully express ourselves.

The first step in expressing our anger is to divorce the other person from any responsibility for our anger.

(Tell this to my husband!)

We are never angry because of what others say or do.

Say what?

Others can provide a stimulus for our feelings, but not the cause. And it is important to establish a clear separation between the stimulus and the cause.

This is like Greek to me. I like it!

Rosenberg says that it’s easy to equate the stimulus of anger with the cause in a culture that uses guilt as a means of controlling people.

In such cultures, it becomes important to trick people into thinking that we can make others feel a certain way.

“The cause of anger lies in our thinking—in thoughts of blame and judgment. Whenever we are angry, we are finding fault—we are judging the other person for being wrong or deserving punishment.”

This is the cause of anger.

Anger is a result of life-alienating thinking that is disconnected from needs. It indicates that we have moved up to our head to analyze and judge somebody rather than focus on which of our needs are not getting met.

When stimulated to anger, we turn off that feeling of anger by focusing on our own needs and feelings or the other person’s feelings and needs.

So isn’t anger sometimes justified?

To this Rosenberg says that rather than agreeing or disagreeing on the righteousness of anger in different situations, we serve life better by focusing attention on what we are needing.

When we judge others, we contribute to violence.

At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled. Anger can be valuable if we notice its presence as a need that isn’t being met and that we are thinking in a way that makes it unlikely for that need to be met. It’s time to connect empathically with your needs:

“I am angry because I am needing…”

And remember it’s important not to judge. If you put a label of “wrong” on anger, you are judging. It’s better to be inquisitive about anger. What are the thoughts that are fueling the anger?

Step back. What needs aren’t being met?

How do you feel? Scared?

Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment.

People trick themselves into believing that pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.

Hmm, I’m still struggling with this. I still think those neurologists who were so callous with my husband need to be punished. I guess somewhere I’m not following. I understand how my unmet needs made me angry and the neurologists didn’t meet my needs and I’m still angry—at the neurologists.

I suppose I could find out what the unmet needs of the neurologists were, but they weren’t seeking help. They weren’t in a vulnerable situation, as was my husband.

Nope. Still angry.

I can make all kinds of justifications for them and it still comes down to they had a sacred duty and they shirked it. I don’t really care why. I don’t care about their needs. They took our money and our insurance’s money and they didn’t render the service we needed them to render.

I want my money back and I’m still angry.

I guess though, the NVC process helps me from being blinded by anger. It has a calming effect. A slowing effect.

  • Steps to expressing anger:
  • Stop. Breathe.
  • Identify our judgmental thoughts.
  • Connect with our needs.
  • Express our feelings and unmet needs.

Ah, so maybe here is what I’m missing. I need to express the feelings and needs to the neurologist. I need to be heard. I need to know that they know. Ah, I need the other party to connect with what is going on in me.

But before those nasty neurologists will be able to hear me, I have to first empathize with what leads them to behave in the ways that are not meeting my needs, or the needs of their patients.

I need them to make it right.

But warning: as soon as people think that they have done something wrong, they will not be fully apprehending our pain.

People do not hear our pain when they believe they are at fault.

If we sense blame entering their mind, we may need to slow down, go back, and hear their pain for a while more.

 

 

 

Empathy

I reviewed Nonviolent Communication and didn’t touch on empathy.

What is empathy?

“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing….Empathy with others occurs only when we have successfully shed all preconceived ideas and judgments about them….Instead of offering empathy, we tend to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Empathy, on the other hand, requires us to focus full attention on the other person’s message.”

I wanted to add this post because I believe the information on empathy that Rosenberg gives is so critically important. It can be impossible to communicate completely with someone when they don’t know how to be empathetic. Sometimes, you just need to vent. Sometimes, you just need to be heard.

Rosenberg lists common behaviors that prevent us from being sufficiently present to connect empathetically with others:

Advising: “How come you didn’t…?” or “I think you should…”

One-upping: “That’s nothing. Wait ’till you hear what happened to me…”

Educating: “This could turn out to be a very positive experience for you if you just…”

Consoling: “It wasn’t your fault; you did the best you could.”

Story-telling: “That reminds me of the time…” (I call this shifting focus to oneself.)

Shutting down: “Cheer up. Don’t feel so bad.”

Sympathizing: “Oh, you poor thing…”

Interrogating: “When did this begin?”

Explaining: “I would have called but…”

Correcting: “That’s not how it happened.”

Oh man, I am guilty of doing so many of these when I really wanted to be there for someone, but didn’t know how. Now that my husband’s condition is so much on the forefront of my reality, I cringe at some of these when they are directed at me.

This communication language thing is very hard.

We know a speaker has received adequate empathy when we sense a release of tension or the flow of words has come to a halt.

When we can’t give empathy to others, it’s a sign that we need to give empathy to ourselves.

When we can speak our pain without blame, even people in distress can hear our need.

So why is empathy important?

Empathy allows us to reperceive our world in a new way and to go on.

And empathy gives us strength.

When we listen for feelings and needs, we no longer see people as monsters.

Empathy can help us mourn our past mistakes:

NVC mourning: connecting with the feelings and unmet needs stimulated by past actions we now regret.

There is incredible memoir fodder in the statement above.

Nonviolent Communication

By Marshall B. Rosenberg

What allows us to remain compassionate even under the most trying of circumstances? This is the question that Marshall Rosenberg seeks to answer in Nonviolent Communication. To answer this question, he examines the crucial role that language and and our use of words play in our thinking and communication.

Rosenberg points out that most of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to “label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgments rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing.” He believes that “life-alienating communication has deep philosophical and political roots.”

It originates from and supports hierarchical or domination societies, where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals to those individuals’ own benefit.

Wow.

The language of wrongness, should, and have to is perfectly suited for this purpose: the more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness and badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves—to outside authorities—for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good, and bad.

Nonviolent communication is a “specific approach to communicating—both speaking an listening—that leads us to give from the heart, connecting us with ourselves and with each other in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish.” When practiced, this communication method can help you move beyond feeling attacked to really listening and extracting other people’s underlying feelings.

NVC asks us to focus on clarifying what is observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging. When we focus our attention on clarifying what we observe, feel and need, we are more likely to get what we are seeking.

Our cultural conditioning leads us to focus our attention on places where we are unlikely to get what we want. That’s one reason why it can be so difficult for us to get along, and once we know how this works, it’s relatively easy to address our differences by communicating differently, more accurately, and with more compassion.

Our language leads us astray. Instead of articulating our needs and values directly, we insinuate wrongness when they haven’t been met. We say: Violence is bad. If communicating through compassion, we would state our feelings or needs and then our values: I am afraid of violence, I value resolution of conflict through other means.

Notice how the version without the judgement is longer and less fluid. To me this points to the fact that humans have not evolved to be nonviolent and our language (at least English) is a reflection of that.

Our language also helps us deny that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. This easily observable in the phrase: I had to. As in: I washed the car because I had to. This implies that someone was making us and we didn’t have a choice. Denying our own responsibility is “life-alienating.”

The NVC translation of “I have to” is: I choose to do X, because I want Y.

Our language obscures awareness of personal responsibility.

We deny responsibility when we attribute our actions to factors outside ourselves:

  • Vague impersonal forces
  • Our condition, diagnosis, or personal psychological history
  • The actions of others
  • The dictates of authority
  • Group pressure
  • Institutional policies, rules, etc.
  • Gender, social, age roles
  • Uncontrollable impulses

Rosenberg believes that it is in everyone’s best interest that people change, not in order to avoid punishment, but because they see the change as benefiting themselves.

The concept that certain actions merit reward while others merit punishment is also associated with life-alienating communication.

Four components of NVC:

  1. Observations (articulate without judgement or evaluation/interpretation the concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being)
  2. Feelings (state how we feel in relation to this action)
  3. Needs (state what needs, desires, values of ours are connected to our feelings)
  4. Requests (something specific the other person could do to make our lives better)

The other part of NVC is receiving this information from others.

  1. Connect with them by sensing what they are observing, feeling, needing
  2. Discover what would enrich their lives; getting their request.

With my husband, because of his brain injury, I am often in the dark as to what he is feeling and needing. NVC has shown me that a lot can be gained by guessing. It is also helpful to have this kind of conversation with yourself.

Your guess doesn’t have to be correct. What matters is that your guess is a sincere attempt to connect with the other person’s feeling or need. If this makes you feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, you’re on the right track.

What’s tricky is that our language sets us up to confuse thinking with feeling. For me personally getting these two straight is pretty difficult.

The other critical aspect of this is not to judge. I think we are all wired to judge. It’s a survival mechanism. So if catch yourself judging, becoming aware of that as soon as possible is helpful. Try to move past your judgement and into a space of curiosity. Question your perceptions. Find out if you are correct. Judging alienates us from compassion. Rosenberg includes great examples that tease apart simple observation from judging. If your observation contains an element of rightness or wrongness, you are judging. Try thinking through your observation once again to get to the bare bones facts. And don’t forget, comparisons are a form of judgement.

Classifying and judging people promotes violence.

If we can stop thinking and communicating in terms of what’s wrong with others, we get closer to our NVC goal. Instead if we ponder what other people are needing and not getting, we can open up an area of compassion in ourselves. By questioning others to see if our guesses are correct, we can begin a dialog with them and open up a space of compassion in them.

One thing I really loved about this book was that if clarifies a misquote that I’ve often heard and always doubted as false. People will say that whatever you think others are doing that’s wrong, you are actually doing yourself. They say you are projecting. Rosenberg puts this concept a bit differently:

Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values.

Now that, I can get onboard with. I get that. If I say you are hateful, it doesn’t mean I’m hateful. It means I’m needing something from you. Maybe connection.

My interpretation of you as being hateful is a judgement I’m making about you. This judgement isn’t helpful for me to get what I want from you: connection. What I need to do to get what I want is to find out what you need and feel. Once I do that, we can start to progress into a space where we both get what we need, and hopefully feel better.

Of interest to me in my new goal as a caregiver was this:

We all pay dearly when people respond to our values and needs not out of a desire to give from the heart, but out of fear, guilt, or shame. Sooner or later, we will experience the consequences of diminished goodwill on the part of those who comply with our values out of a sense of either external or internal coercion. They, too, pay emotionally, for they are likely to feel resentment and decreased self-esteem when they respond to use out of fear, guilt, or shame.

He goes on to say that each time they respond to our needs out of fear, guilt or shame, their compassion for us decreases.

Bingo.

Beyond putting NVC into practice in difficult situations, it also appears to be a good method of self examination for the purposes of introspection or for writing memoir. How can you nonviolently communicate with yourself? A good question for those of us who are plagued with negative self-talk.

In difficult situations, it’s helpful to take charge of our feelings. But how?

When making sense of your feelings, try this linguistic construction:

I feel … because I need …

We have four options for receiving negative feedback:

  1. Blame ourselves
  2. Blame others
  3. Sense our own feelings and needs
  4. Sense others’ feelings and needs

Worldwide, NVC is used to mediate disputes and conflicts on a wide range of levels.

The more directly we can connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond to us compassionately.

Read the book for exercises and to test yourself. Learn more about feelings and non-feelings and how expressing your own vulnerability can help resolve conflicts.

But because I can’t resist, here is one more example, of a  conversation between two people in a relationship:

Partner 1 (not having awareness and taking responsibility for their feelings): “You are so needy and dependent. It’s really stressing out our relationship.”

Partner 2 (enlightened by NVC): “So you find yourself in panic. It’s very hard for you to hold onto the deep caring and love we’ve had without turning it into a responsibility, duty, obligation…. You sense your freedom closing down because you think you constantly have to take care of me.”

Alternative a non-empathic response from Partner 2 where Partner 2 takes responsibility for Partner 1’s feelings could look like this: “Are you feeling tense because I’ve been making too many demands on you?”

This last version keeps both partners enmeshed in emotional slavery, a real bummer of a place to be.

You can use the components of NVC to tune into the feelings and needs of others in stead of blaming them or blaming yourself.

Winter Is Coming

Winter is ComingWhy Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped.

By Garry Kasparov

With the crazy state of the world today, I just haven’t felt like reading fiction. Craving news of Russia, as per usual, I gravitated toward this book, Winter Is Coming, by the famous Russian chess champion, Garry Kasparov.

After my very brief time in Russia in my twenties, I have always wondered: should I have stayed? Should I have tried to learn Russian really well and started some kind of business in Russia? My employer at the time had encouraged me to start a business tourism venture, where I would bring Moscow businessmen to the town of Vladimir. The idea was that I would promote the arts and culture of Vladimir to American businessmen or expats.

Even in my twenties with the huge sense of adventure I had back then, I didn’t think this was wise. I kept meeting people who didn’t seem quite trustworthy and with my language skills at only a low intermediate level, I was sure I was missing a lot of what was going on around me.

Mr. Kasparov seems to have confirmed my doubts in his book Winter Is Coming. I very likely would have gotten into trouble of some sort.

Since the recent Russian clashes with Georgia and Ukraine and the resulting territory grabs, I’ve been wondering as have others, just what is Mr. Putin up to?

Kasparov claims Putin is probably the richest man in the world. That by itself makes him interesting, especially given his roots growing up in poverty in Leningrad. Rags to riches stories are always interesting.

Kasparov’s disappointment with the West’s seeming lack of interest in the loss of civil liberties in Russia is apparent. We should step up and do more.

I was hoping for more info on Putin in this book, but instead I got a fair bit of lecturing by someone who understandably is quite emotional on the topic.

The text of the title Winter Is Coming suggests that something will happen and that the author will make some predictions based on some facts. The basic prediction was: Putin is bad. Watch out!

Ok, that’s fair, I suppose. But where will he strike next? What are his real aspirations? How likely is he to succeed? And what about the recent drop in oil prices? How is that affecting him? How strictly are the citizens of Russia watched now? With all the technology for eavesdropping have their lives turned into a version of 1984?

So while Winter Is Coming is an interesting book for someone way out of touch with current events in Russia, it didn’t fulfill the promise of its title. And the subhead: “Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped”—well, that’s a no brainer.  Of course enemies must be stopped. But how? And when? And is Vladimir Putin really an enemy of the free world, or just self-interested?  Who are all these enemies and are they colluding? Is there an organized conspiracy? What’s Russia doing with Syria? What’s the connection there? Oil?

There are soooo many unanswered questions.

I don’t expect fortune telling, but I was in the mood for some speculation.

Dan Carlin recently produced a podcast where he talked about Russia’s recent aggressions in Ukraine and speculated on the likelihood of the West standing up for one of the Baltic states if it were invaded by Russia. The question he posed was would we engage in World War III or would we turn a blind eye and ignore the aggression. And would Putin push his luck and try it?

I think Kasparov is answering this question in his book. Yes, Putin would try it and now is the time to stop him.

So all this makes Putin even more interesting. If Putin is the richest man in the world and he is already leading a superpower like Russia, what motivates a man to keep going? I mean, isn’t that enough? Why endeavor to enlarge an empire? What’s the motivation? Why doesn’t he rest on his laurels and enjoy the perks of his power?

Now I have to know more.

I hope that Winter is not coming, but I sense that it is. The world is a messy place and humans have a long history of violence. The horrors of World Wars I and II have been forgotten and U.S. citizens are lulled into a stupor by too much work, too many things, too much sugar, and too much television. Obviously many of us are completely ignorant of history—a fact made painfully evident by the popularity of a man like Donald Trump for president.

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1984

By George Orwell

I first read 1984 back in 1983 because my mother wanted me to read the book before the year named actually occurred. Since then, it’s remained one of my favorite books. Not only is Orwell a master when it comes to crafting prose and plot, he is also an intellectual master, a master of “great ideas.” Also, the idea of a dystopia captivated me like nothing else ever had.

Now many years later as part of my quest to teach myself about good writing, I decided to revisit 1984. Is it still one of my favorite books? And if so, why?

I think humans inherently enjoy struggling against something. It’s the reason stories remain popular with us. We gather round the television (or campfire) to learn about how to overcome obstacles. We learn about how others have behaved in certain situations in order to steel ourselves against challenges we too will surely face.

This, I think, is the appeal of 1984. Its the “us against them” mentality that resonates to our core. Human tribes surely must have had this kind of thought process, as do countries today, and social groups. How often is it that we form bonds of friendship by participating in pointing out the weaknesses of others? We like to have something in common, and one easy thing to have in common is hate.

I know I mention the “unhistorian” Dan Carlin a lot in my posts, but it is because my world seems bereft of “thought leaders” and Dan, for me, fits this bill. From listening to Dan’s accounts of warfare, the idea of strangers following and dying for a leader they have never met and would never meet in order to fight strangers that they might even like and have much in common with, seems increasingly bizarre. The fact that I find this bizarre may be my own personal thought crime.

As I revisit 1984, I am flooded with memories of Russia. I lived in Russia briefly in the 1990s and found it to be a magical place. The onion-dome churches had survived (many had), the communist party as had the faith of so many of the Russia people. In the days of the party, believers were heretics.

That strange pairing of words and ideas, where they initially seem at odds with each other but upon deeper thought ring true, is one of the great ideas of Orwell’s book.

“War is peace.”

“Freedom is slavery.”

“Ignorance is strength.”

Over the years, I have wondered if slipping into Russian culture would be similar to slipping into the pages of 1984? And, have we in the U.S., already embraced such a life?

After meeting many Russians as well as people from other surrounding republics, the idea of hating them and warring against them became ridiculous. I saw strangers help each other on the streets in Moscow. And yes, people did smile.

But we have our own problems with this 1984 lifestyle in the United States. Glued to our televisions, computers, and phones, we let a barrage of “programming” speak to us, and after my own experiences in listening to hate radio during Hurricane Katrina, I see how I myself could be influenced. “Why didn’t those people just leave when they heard the storm was coming?” This was the cry of the Republican right. I believe we are very easily influenced, even though most of us are certain that we personally are in complete control. It is my shame to this day that I listened and accepted even 5 percent of the “logic” spewed by hate radio in the fall of 2005. The lesson was an important one.

Other big ideas in the book are sex and love. Julia passes a note to Winston that reads: “I love you.” As a skeptical female, I am sent reeling. Of course she doesn’t love Winston. They don’t even know each other. The note should have said something else. Something more direct. Or, is it far better to imply what you mean?

So then, when does love start? And when does it end? How can it be created? And, how can it be destroyed? To what extent is love based on dependence? How much decision is involved? These are more questions the book raises.

1984 is a book that captures so much in a relatively small space. It leaves you thinking and reminds you that thinking doesn’t always feel good. So why do it? Why think? Why ponder? Why ruminate?

More good questions. Although after reading 1984, I’m not convinced that thinking is bad.

 

Once you’re convinced that someone doesn’t care for you, you can let go.

That’s where love ends.

And when it does, without all that craving and infatuation, we can return to an unnatural state of bliss.

Ignorance is power.

Bliss is ignorance.

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Stop the Clutter From Stealing Your Life

002By Mike Nelson
Read by David Elias
@2006
3 hours, 30 minutes

This year I moved from an 1800-square-foot house with a large shop into a 545-square-foot house with two small sheds. This required the wrapping, packing, hauling, storing, moving, re-storing, unpacking, unwrapping, and shelving of all of my worldly possessions. In the process, I sold some things and I gave many things away. And still, I was drowning in stuff. Since my mother, grandmother, grandfather, and great uncle have all passed away, I also have their stuff, everything that I have not already thrown out or given away. I have my souvenirs from Russia that for some reason are impossible to part with. And then there are the books.

015In the face of all of this, I still have the audacity to say that I don’t have a problem. I’m not a hoarder. I can walk through my house. My kitchen is clean. And yet, the 30 remaining boxes out in my white shed tell a different story, that after nearly five months of spending every weekend unpacking and recycling, I am not done. If it’s not my problem, whose is it?

My grandmother lived through the Great Depression and afterwards, she knew to hold onto everything. When she and my grandfather became rather affluent and in her old age, she decided to “invest” in collectors plates. And invest, she surely did. She also “invested” in butterflies and even though she was a conservationist at heart, she helped to drive many species of butterflies into extinction in South America.

My mother was a hoarder. That’s hard to say, but it’s true. They say that one can be genetically predisposed to be a hoarder, so then I have to ask myself: do I suffer from the same affliction? I want to say: no, certainly not! This isn’t me. I’m simply straightening up, for five months. And I’m tired of doing it. I’m so tired of stuff.

I checked out the audiobook, Stop the Clutter From Stealing Your Life, free using the Hoopla app. I listened to it as I worked on meeting my weekly quota of unpacking boxes and figuring out what to do with the stuff inside. Keep it? Throw it out? Give it away? As I listened, the book transported me back to my mother’s life and my grandmother’s life. As I listened to it, I was touching the things that used to be theirs before they died, things that were important to them, so they should be important to me too, shouldn’t they?

Does it bring me joy? So many things don’t, and yet I hold on to them. Does it bring me joy? No. Let it go.

And then in my denial, it occurred to me yesterday that this year, in fact last Monday, my mother has been gone for ten years. The stuff in my hands is mine. This clutter is my clutter. This mess is my mess. There’s no more blaming my family. These things are my things. And I can let them go if I want to. I don’t have to have a garage sale. I don’t have to recuperate the money. Time is money. Time is life. I can give these things away. I don’t need a porcelain statue of a cockatoo!

The books, of course, are harder. And the audiobook says that. Do the easy stuff first and do it fast. Do not sit down to read a thousand books and say you’ll throw each one away after reading them and clear the clutter that way. How long would that take?

Tonight as I write this, I have two boxes ready to go to Good Will and four boxes in my living room marked “documents.” And I think, how could this be? I have already shredded so many documents.

My strategy seems to be a good one. I am strict about my weekly quota. And I remind myself that it is a mathematical certainty—eventually I have to run out of stuff.

If you or someone you love has a problem with clutter, this audiobook is a great help in getting your mind around the problem and learning some strategies to make it better. It will also help you understand their thinking.

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