All roads lead to India?

india-topographic-mapI’ve been wanting to do some foreign travel for some time, but I just could not figure out where in the world to go. Some said “Belize, you’ve got to go to Belize.” And then someone else said Scotland, and well, I do love castles. I wanted to honeymoon in a castle when I was young and dreaming about such things.

But then the other day, as I was eating Indian fast food for lunch, I was invited to a wedding—in India. And in a moment, I knew I must go. I must go to the wedding, and I must go to India. I mean for crying out loud, I love elephants. I’ve always wanted to see some elephants, up close where they live, not in a zoo.

But India, I have to admit I don’t know very much. I read George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” in school. That was depressing. I saw the movie “Gandhi.” That was inspiring and a bit depressing too.

OK, so let’s face it. I know nothing about India. It’s this mysterious place. Columbus thought he had found India when he arrived in North America. He obviously didn’t know very much about India either.  The Taj Mahal, Bollywood, Slum Dog Millionaire, crime, lots of people, heat, poverty, nukes, Kashmir, and terrorist attacks on the hotel where I would like to stay. This is what the Western media has told me about India. A lot of my stuff is made in India.

I mean any one who reads this blog probably thought I was headed to Russia. I thought I was going to Georgia.

But India. It seems crazy and yet it seems right.

So what am I doing to prepare?

Hindi. I’m learning Hindi. I’ve decided that I will learn the syllabary, and I will learn a few niceties (please, thank you, you’re welcome, hello, good-bye, etc.), and I will learn food words and maybe some discomfort words: I’m so freakin’ hot. There are tons of free apps for learning Hindi script and vocab. Plus, there’s YouTube. I’ve got no excuse.

Google Maps. I love Google Maps. It’s so cool to have a bird’s eye view of an area, plus labels over what things are.

Applied for my passport.

Watched a video on how to tie a saree.

Still to do: figure out to blend into a crowd. This of course is a great reason to go shopping!I found some incredible clothing sites. Oh. My. Goodness. Indian clothes are beautiful! And, I want to blend in as much as possible. In Russia, that was easy. I just wore clothes bought there and kept my mouth shut. Instant Russian. This won’t be so easy in India. Not only is my skin white, it’s freckled. I’m clearly from the far north. My hair is light brown with reddish tones. The only things I’ve got going for me are my large dark eyebrows.

I’ve booked two hotels and have reserved the flight.

Started researching museums and national parks. This trek looks awesome: https://www.thrillophilia.com/tours/trek-to-the-great-himalayan-national-park-shilt-thatch

Found a list of wildlife sanctuaries: http://www.thrillophilia.com/blog/top-10-wildlife-sanctuaries-in-india/

And, researched a list of books to read:

  1. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  2. The Upanishads, translated by Eknath Easwaran
  3. The Dhammapada translated by Eknath Easwaran
  4. The Bhagavad Gita translated by Eknath Easwaran
  5. The Ramayana translated by Ramesh Menon
  6. The Mahabharata translated by R. K. Narayan
  7. Maximum City by Sukheth Mehta
  8. A Free Man by Aman Sethi
  9. The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger
  10. A Strange Kind of Paradise by Sam Miller
  11. The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts
  12. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
  13. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  14. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  15. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
  16. Not Only the Things That Have Happened by Mridula Koshy
  17. The Shadow Lines by Amitov Ghosh
  18. Chronicles of a Corpse Bearer by Cyrus Mistry
  19. God’s Little Soldier by Kiran Nagarkar
  20. Serious Man by Mann Joseph
  21. The Lost Flamingos of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanrant Shanghvi
  22. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
  23. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
  24. A Matter of Rats by Amitava Kumar
  25. The Death of Vishnu by Mauil Suri
  26. Our Moon Has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita
  27. The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
  28. Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar
  29. Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

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

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

By Elizabeth Gilbert, @ 2015; Audiobook read by the author,

I’ll just cut to the chase. I loved this book. I can think of four people I want to buy it for, and I want to re-listen to is as soon as possible. Yes, it was that good.

That said. I’m totally freaked out,and I’m sitting here at 1 a.m. on a worknight eating cheese and drinking a leftover green drink made of spinach, kale, and other assorted goodies.

I loved the idea of living the creative life and of the blurring of the sacred and profane and of the trickster and of embracing curiosity when inspiration flags. I love it all. And I love that living the creative life is enough and the goal, not recognition or publication or any other of the other ego-gratifying things we tend to aspire to. I love the idea that this is all about feeding the soul. Yes. Yes. Yes.

That said. I’m totally thinking about eating more cheese. Totally. What’s wrong with me?

The election? The violence? The media? The news in general? My husband’s brain? Or his doctor, who I really like, but who is starting to seem like any other doctor. He actually asked me if I read. Really? Or is it the recent development that my therapist is leaving for Thailand and Vietnam to pursue “my dream” of travel and teaching ESL? While she tells me that I’m not stuck and that I have choices.

I’m sitting here literally cringing. Awake. Unable to think or to sleep. I’m supposed to see a lawyer tomorrow about advanced directives.

My husband seems to be doing better in some ways. He’s controlling his anger. He doesn’t seem as violent. I think this is because he’s started taking pottery classes. His doctor thinks it’s because he’s started taking Alka Calm. Regardless, I welcome the change. He’s still in his own world. He’s sweeter, but still distant. He wants to buy buy buy, and has no realization of what things cost or of trade offs. And I’m feeling so unequipped to deal with any of it. My life has turned on its head.

But speaking of creativity. Music has exploded for me. I just sit down at the keyboard and play, almost without thinking. My thinking is directional and spatial, but nonspecific. I don’t think in terms of notes and now, not even in terms of chords. However to expand on my creativity, I bring my focus back to chords and how I might alter them slightly. Rhythm isn’t my strong suit at the moment. And everything I play sounds classical. Ideally, I’d like it to sound Cuban. Planning to work on that.

Elizabeth Gilbert says that her way of coaxing creativity applies to everything, not just writing, but even scientific discovery. And I’ve been having these crazy ideas that match her description of inspiration, but around neuroscience, and I think wow, is this idea asking me to bring it into the world? Me? I’m not a scientist. But then I think I’m not doing science, merely reviewing literature and noticing patterns, which then lead me to questions. And then I think I know people who could help me if I need it. I know chemists and physicians and microbiologists. I have a collection of friends who speak languages that span the entire globe. There’s a rag tag team there waiting to be created and interrogated. If only I didn’t want to run away so very badly. Bali sounds nice this time of life.

Gilbert says that when an idea confronts you, you can say yes or no. She proposes that ideas roam the earth looking for humans to bring them out of the ether. It’s magical thinking. And while my sense of logic dismisses magical thinking, I also wonder if it’s merely the terminology that is throwing me and it’s simply a mystery we don’t understand. Why not embrace it?

Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert. Thank you for such an excellent book and for bringing this great idea into the world. Thank you. And now I will have to go and think about all this for a while and perhaps I’ll start drawing brains and tau proteins and tangles and microtubules and such. And maybe it won’t come to anything, but the act of doing it will be interesting, and diverting, and maybe I won’t have to move to Bali, or maybe, just maybe, I’ll set forth a plan to do just that.

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.

Notes from Memoir Class

Interesting writing is universal and personal at the same time.

When reading, pay attention to what is gained and what is lost.

The character’s job in a memoir is to reveal the narrator to the reader.

The narrator: where are we going and who’s going to take me there?

Have four major characters at most.