Nervous Energy: The Case for Peace

I’ve been all over the place lately. I’ve been almost frantic.

I went shopping a total of three times to purchase gifts for charitable organizations. I spent three hours last night frenetically picking up, putting away, and throwing away things from all over the house in preparation for the housecleaners today. Earlier this week, I baked three batches of popovers in one day trying to get the darned things to puff. I’ve been cooking full dinners with multiple side dishes. I’ve gone back to compulsively checking Facebook, e-mail, and blog stats (luckily I don’t have a smart phone or I’m sure I’d ignore my children even more than I already do). I’ve stopped journaling.

I have the feeling I’m trying to avoid something. I don’t know what it is, but I’m fairly certain I know how to get to it, if I choose to.

I need to sit still.

For a while, this frenzied activity leaves me feeling cleansed, like the feeling after a powerful thunderstorm. But it doesn’t last long, and I’m quickly thinking of other things to occupy my time and my mind.

I think about Tucker’s suggestion to postpone responsibility in favor of having fun. I still feel squirmy when I contemplate actually doing that, but I think that I could find some real value in the spirit of that suggestion, particularly if I translate it into, “postpone action in favor of stillness,” or even, “postpone activity in favor of awareness of beauty.” It removes the confusion and moral judgement I have around “fun.”

Now that I think about it, this really comes down to another issue of masculine energy of action and intellect vs feminine energy of reflection and emotion and connection.

Not that I’m avoiding all emotion and connection in the course of my frenetic activity. I mean, I’m carefully choosing and purchasing items for individuals in need, thinking about their situation and feeling empathy for them. But when I went to drop off the gifts at my friend’s house today, she and her husband made some comments about my generosity, and it really put into contrast how I actually felt while purchasing and wrapping the gifts. I didn’t really feel generous. I felt driven. I felt nervous. I was using this gift-giving to meet my own emotional needs in the moment.

Same with the popovers. My kids loved them regardless of how they turned out, and I was doing a very feminine, maternal thing by nurturing my family with food made by my own hands. But that wasn’t the reason I was cooking them, and it wasn’t what was motivating me at the time. I was motivated at the time by something of an obsession to get them to turn out the way the picture on the recipe website looked. All other considerations were secondary to my quest for the perfect popover.

I don’t think it’s necessary to stop making popovers or giving to charitable organizations. I think that, for me, I just need also to be aware of my purpose in doing so and reflect on the emotions behind these actions. I am generous, and I am nurturing, and I am maternal. I want to really feel these things and to be aware of them rather than letting them be subsumed by the more masculine focus on action.

While this isn’t directly focusing on fun, I think it’s necessary in order for me to experience fun. Or any not-strictly-intellectual sensation.

So, this is something to know about myself: I’m more comfortable in my mind than in my heart, and I will default to action and figuring things out intellectually in order to stay within my comfort zone.

I think about Maggie’s post about her ride home with the bar owner in Kigali. I really, really want this kind of connection. I know I don’t need to travel to Africa and drink Ugandan gin to connect with another person. But I do need to be still in my mind long enough to reflect and trust and feel. I need curiosity in addition to reasoning, logic, planning, and a large vocabulary. I need—not just want—to notice and internalize the beauty around me.

That, I think, will lead me to fun. And perhaps something bigger along the way.

Getting to the Nitty Gritty of my Perfectionism

My mom just visited for about a week and a half, which gave me the chance to observe perfectionism in action from the outside. Usually I’m just trapped inside, observing my own actions, which isn’t nearly so enlightening as watching from outside.

The way my mom’s perfectionism manifests itself during her visits is in non-stop projects. Those who have been reading the blog this past week or so have some idea of the frenetic levels our home-improvement (and “me”-improvement) binge reached. I get the impression that when my mom looks out at the world, she sees all of the things that are wrong with it. Then she focuses in on the things that she might be able to change and gets to work. I can recognize this because this is pretty much what I do (less with the home improvements and more with the self improvements, although I do move furniture an awful lot and used a caulk gun for the first time last night instead of going to bed at a reasonable hour).

This is where my perfectionism gets in the way of my happiness, I think. In addition to interfering with my sleep and causing me to ignore (or attempt to ignore) my children, the underlying belief driving all of this fault-finding is that things just aren’t right. There’s something wrong in my surroundings and there’s something wrong with me. There’s a related belief, which is that if I can eliminate everything wrong with my surroundings, that the wrong things in me will disappear, too, and vice versa. When I feel stressed and I get that “wrong” feeling, I immediately retreat to perfectionism. I make lists, schedules, routines. I track my food intake and develop rules for my eating. I either avoid social interaction or my conversations are peppered with long pauses as I attempt to say just the right thing (or at the very least to avoid saying the wrong thing). I can keep this up for a few days or as long as a week, and then I start to falter and quickly descend into chaos, from where I then lift myself out via perfectionism and the cycle begins again.

What’s interesting to me is that the chaos I feel inside doesn’t seem to show itself on the outside. We had dinner out with some friends from North Carolina last night whom we hadn’t seen in seven years. I don’t know how we got to it, but at one point the other three adults at the table all emphatically declared that I am very organized. I don’t often feel organized. I wonder if this suggests that the chaos and disorder I feel are mostly on my insides but because I don’t recognize that reality, I try to eliminate the chaos by changing my outsides.

My mom’s visit was like an orgy of perfectionism. Oh, look! This thing I’ve not done anything about because, you know, I’ve got two kids and I’m homeschooling…I can complete it and 15 other things I’ve not even thought of doing because my mom’s here to help. It was awesome and it was exhausting and now I’m trying to let myself down easy so I don’t drop into a pit of disappointment at my relative lack of productivity.

So here’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m going to follow my own advice and Not Jump to Solutions. When I feel that “wrong” feeling, I’m going to just sit with it. I’m going to observe it, take note of it, and just move along. I’ve got my decluttering, which I think will help to relieve some of the pressure that builds up when I just need to pull out the stove and clean behind it at 11:30 at night. But I’m going to do my best to avoid going to extremes and focusing so much on cleaning or on scheduling or on finding the perfect spot for the coffee table that I ignore the underlying feelings and beliefs that are driving my need to change things.

Last night I had a dream that I was in charge of planning nine weddings that would take place over the course of three hours. And I still had my kids to take care of. I had all of these favors and table decorations to assemble and the kids kept walking off with things I needed. I would stare at these tables covered in supplies and try to reason through how to get everything put together before the weddings began. Two of the weddings were for people I knew and one was for myself (the other six were for people I didn’t know). I updated my Facebook status (in the dream) saying that I was getting help from my friend in fixing my hair for my wedding. I remarked that it was something of a lost cause. My friend was getting exasperated with me because I was so clueless about how to pretty up my hair for an important occasion and because I kept trying to do more prep work for the other weddings. Then, even though I’d not finished all of the things I’d planned for the first wedding before it began, I saw that everyone was having a great time and the bride looked gorgeous. I cautiously considered devoting the rest of my energies to preparations for my own wedding, which was the last of the nine.

I don’t know. I think this dream just reinforces the importance, for me, of paying better attention to my own needs and improving my skills at observing and caring for myself. Most everything else can pretty much take care of itself, or at the very least won’t fall apart if I’m not in complete control 100% of the time. Another bit of my own advice comes to mind: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.

Like Alice, however, I always give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.

Best. Hike. Yet. – Renewing my Spirit With a Walk in the Woods (Week 9 Review)

I’m tired and I’m dusty and I’ve got a neck-ache from wearing the backpack, but I’m in a much better mood than I was last time I posted. And it’s all thanks to a great hiking experience.

We love hiking. I used to take my daughter on once-weekly Sierra Club Family Hikes when we lived in California, and I loved showing her Nature and getting fresh air and chatting with the other moms with whom we hiked. But since we moved to Utah, we’ve not had great luck with hikes. In fact, for a while we were almost convinced the state was out to get us. Before scrapping the idea of hiking altogether until we moved somewhere less rugged, I decided to make my best effort to find what everyone else loves about hiking in Utah. I made my proclamation: We would hike every Sunday this fall until it snows. My husband shrugged his shoulders in assent and I went in search of hikes.

Armed with the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Salt Lake City by Greg Witt, I set about listing all of the hikes described as “Family Friendly.” I prioritized them by altitude (we’d do the highest ones first in order to extend our hiking season as long as possible), distance from Salt Lake City, and whether they allowed mountain bikes on the trail or not (we avoid mountain bikes when hiking with little hikers). We give the highest priority to hikes that end at water features, particularly waterfalls.

Each week we choose a hike, and I e-mail the information about the hike to a group of friends who have expressed interest in walking with us. We did three nearby hikes, all around 2 miles round-trip, or less. Encouraged by our daughter’s enthusiasm for hiking, we decided to go for a longer (about 4 miles, round-trip), more distant hike that promised to have a spectacular payoff: Stewart Falls in Provo Canyon.

We were not disappointed. Just the drive up the canyon was worth the hour in the car. The fall colors were beautiful; golden-yellow aspens and orange-red maples stood out bright against the deep green of the conifers. The 2-mile hike to the falls was a little steep at times, but no steeper than the other hikes we’d been on. Our daughter walked the whole way, gathering rocks to throw in the creek when we got there and listing all of the things she would draw when we got home. Our son rode on Daddy’s chest in a wrap carrier (a blue-and-white Indio Didymos, for those who keep track of these things) and played with the leaves and rocks that my husband handed him.

The trail was well marked and led us right down to the bottom of the falls. The falls themselves were gorgeous, with several tiers of rock over which the water cascaded and eventually splashed down into a shallow creek at the base of the rock wall. We stopped and ate a snack and lamented that we’d forgotten our camera. One of the other hikers there offered to take our family’s picture in front of the falls and e-mail it to us, so we sat together on a rock on the edge of the stream and had our picture taken. The kids threw their rocks into the creek, the baby wading right in, shoes and all, and sitting down in the water. After a cursory cleanup, we headed back the way we’d come.

The trail began uphill, then went downhill to the falls, so when we returned, we first had a significant section of uphill, which elicited a fair amount of whining from our daughter. My husband saved our sanity by giving her a piggyback ride until the trail leveled off. He was quite the tough-guy with a 14-month-old on his chest and a 5-year-old on his back. Once the trail leveled off, my husband let our daughter down to walk again. We motivated her with talk about the picnic lunch we would eat back at the trailhead and a game in which she and I pretended I was a mother mountain lion teaching her cub how to stalk and pounce on prey. We ran up ahead on the trail, hid behind some foliage, and then jumped out when my husband and the baby came near. The baby laughed his little tush off at this.

On our way back, the trail was quite busy. We speculated about whether it was so busy because of people in town for General Conference, or if it was because of the fall colors, or if it was just always this crowded along the Alpine Loop. Whatever it was, Stewart Falls appeared to be a very popular destination this afternoon.

After lunch, we drove the remaining portion of the Alpine Loop to see more scenery. It’s trite to say, but the mountains and rock walls and fall colors really were breathtaking. And…we saw a moose! We didn’t even get to see a moose when we visited Glacier National Park before the kids were born! I was so excited. I kept scanning our surroundings the rest of the way to the highway, but I never saw another moose.

Back at home, I started dinner and did some more decluttering in the kitchen while my husband played outside with the kids. I found some Easter candy stashed on a high shelf. Apparently that was an effective method for getting our daughter—and us—to forget about the remaining peanut butter eggs and half-eaten Tootsie Pops. I’m relieved that no other creatures found them before I did.

I knew I enjoyed taking our weekly hikes, but today’s experience really brought it to another level. I started out feeling very discouraged and disheartened about the whole decluttering project, and I came home tired but more realistic about the task in front of me. I got some fresh air, a beautiful and mildly challenging walk, and I felt a connection with the landscape of Utah. For the first time since we moved here, the geography didn’t feel inaccessible to me. We’re already planning to return to Provo Canyon to hike—and maybe even camp—next summer.

Hopefully I can hold onto this peaceful feeling until next week’s hike.

Stewart Falls, from Sheryl McGlochlin's blog, http://liveandthrivewaterfallhikes.blogspot.com/

More Thoughts on Gratitude

A few weeks ago, I posted about a study that Ariel Gore wrote about in her book, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness. For those few of you who have not committed my posts to memory, the study found that people who kept a gratitude journal for six weeks reported an increase in happiness and a decrease in depressive symptoms. They experienced some improvement in as little as three weeks. Since reading this, I’ve been mulling over the idea of incorporating a gratitude practice into my Happiness Project, but I’ve yet to decide what form this practice will take.

In Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss, I found another twist on the idea. Weiner writes about a study at Kobe College in Japan. Psychologists divided college students into two groups. One was the control and didn’t do anything different for a week. The other group counted the number of kind acts they performed during the week. They weren’t asked to do any kind acts, just to count them when they did them. (This reminds me of Roger Rabbit when he said (paraphrasing Elizabeth Barrett Browning), “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand…”) At the end of the week, the group that counted their kind acts had a significant increase in their happiness levels compared to the first group. The researchers concluded, “Simply by counting the acts of kindness for one week, people became happier and more grateful.”

This may well have had a different result in a more individualistic country than it did in a more collectivist culture like Japan’s, but I still found this study compelling. The idea that I could feel happier simply by dwelling on the kind things I do every day is an interesting one to me. Knowing that memories are formed by laying down neural pathways, and neural pathways are reinforced by repeated use, it makes sense that traveling mentally back to the scene of a kind act could hardwire it in more firmly and make it easier to call up later on. If one has a clear sense of herself as someone who performs kind acts and is a helpful member of her community, I can see how that could lead her to feel more joy in her life.

So, which might work better for me, recording things for which I’m grateful, or counting the nice things I do? Or should I just cover all of my bases and do both? (Actually, in one of the links below, Randy Taran suggests they’re actually two different things, so it might make more sense to do them both. But would that be adding too much at once?)

Or I could just vacillate a little longer.

Week 8 Review: Hitting my Stride. Sort of.

I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon and setting it to post Sunday, since illness has hit our family, and I figured I ought to make the most of a quiet moment while I have it since I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

Now that the month is nearly over, I finally feel more comfortable with this self-care thing. It’s amazing how quickly I’ve recalibrated so that now things that were a huge effort just a few weeks ago—like eating more vegetables, consuming no sugar or alcohol, and even getting more sleep—are now such necessities that I feel it acutely when I don’t follow my resolutions.

My husband has a lot of omnivore pride: he can eat anything and is proud of it. He’s a healthy guy and finds my sensitivities to different food items a little mind-boggling. He accepts them and believes that they exist, he just doesn’t understand them. He does have a great appreciation for the value of sleep. While he’s got more empathy for my desire to sleep more, he’s had a little trouble adjusting to the reality that, if I go to bed at a reasonable time, I’m not staying up until all hours cleaning. Not that the house has ever been spotless as a result of my lost sleep, it’s just even less so when I’m well-rested. Recalibration has been a bit more of a challenge for him, I think, but we’re finding a new balance.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about acting as a team for the benefit of our family rather than keeping score of who’s done what. I find I hold a lot less resentment if I look at the things I do and the things my husband does as contributing to the well-being of our family as a whole than if I look at what he’s doing and what I’m doing as separate things.

Friday night gave me a great example of this team effort in practice. Just as I was finishing the dishes and getting ready to go to bed, my daughter came into the kitchen crying and covered in partially digested dinner.

I got her undressed, assessed the situation in her bedroom, and started her in the shower before I tapped my husband awake and apprised him of the situation. The baby was stable, so my husband came in and helped dry off our daughter after I’d gotten her all showered. I then set about spending 45 minutes cleaning up the mess in the bedroom while he manned the bucket and read books about mountain lions and bobcats.

I was impressed throughout the entire time, both last night and all day today, how well he and I worked together to meet our own needs and the needs of the family. We didn’t once resort to comparing who had the tougher job, who got less sleep, who wasn’t pulling his or her weight. We had one little argument when, in a calm moment, I tried to talk about what I’d been doing before doing the dishes the night before, which was trying to figure out how to spend less money. But even then, we were able to identify the pattern we were falling into (this is a common argument at our house) and make the decision to table the discussion until we could give it the attention necessary to talk through it calmly.

This is one of the benefits of self care that I hadn’t considered before I started: If I take care of myself when things are going well, I’m better prepared to handle adversity with aplomb than if my norm is operating just this side of losing it. It’s really very simple now that I see it, and I probably could have predicted this effect, but it’s different to experience the benefit than it is to theorize about it.

Ebb and Flow

Last week, I wrote about “flow,” the feeling of ease and contentment that comes when one is engaged in an activity in which there is a balance between challenge and skill. While experiencing flow, a person loses track of time.

I think what I’ve been feeling for this week could be called, “ebb.” Things feel effortful, halting. Time is not flying.

Renee commented the other day, “is our life just a bunch of happy or unhappy moments? does this all collectively make us happy or not?”

It seems logical that lots of little happy things would coalesce into an overall state of happiness and result in a Happy Person. But whether I’m happy or not doesn’t seem to be linked all that closely with what’s going on in my external environment. The same things that made me smile yesterday don’t make me smile today, and something that irritated the heck out of me yesterday doesn’t bother me today. This would suggest that the origin of my happiness (or lack thereof) is internal, someplace not touched by the things going on outside.

This is rather disheartening, because the inside stuff is so hard to change, but it’s not a new idea. Marshall Rosenberg in his book, Nonviolent Communication, talks about how we often say something “makes us feel” one way or another. He encourages people to change their phrasing and to say instead, “When X happens, I feel Y.” This, he says, helps us take personal responsibility for our emotions and gives us a sense of control over them. He notes that the same event, when experienced by two different people, can elicit two very different emotional responses. How then could that event have “made” either of them feel the way they did? The event wasn’t the origin of the emotion, but rather the emotion originated within the person and the event was just a catalyst.

While I appreciate the semantic distinction, I don’t find it terribly helpful in determining what course of action to take to feel happier. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to think that, no matter my life circumstances, I have the ability to feel happy. On the other hand, it’s not so much fun to know that, no matter my life circumstances, I have the ability to feel unhappy.

According to Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss, even the experts in the study of happiness have trouble determining which circumstances lead to happiness. There are apparently many contradictions when they look at the origins of happiness. Another argument in favor of the “happiness comes from within” hypothesis.

*sigh* Just my luck. At least I know that, in the fullness of time, this “ebb” will move back into “flow” whether I figure out how to make it happen or not.

Not so Fast

Photograph of a young girl listening to the ra...

This is me listening to This American Life. This is when I was stretching after I was done on the treadmill. (Image via Wikipedia)

Tonight on the treadmill, I listened to the This American Life episode entitled “Promised Land,” in which David Rakoff goes on a three-week fast and chronicles his experience on the radio show. Knowing that people throughout history have used fasting as a way to experience a spiritual awakening, Rakoff is curious to see what he’ll feel after three weeks without solid food.

As I was running, I considered the potential value of fasting to my project. I’ve planned some dietary changes, but fasting hadn’t entered my awareness, possibly because I’m nursing, and fasting isn’t a great plan while lactating. But the fact that it’s not really an option for me at this point didn’t stop me from considering the possibility of fasting as part of a path to increased happiness.

At the end of three weeks, Rakoff was disappointed to find that he felt much the same as he had before fasting. I’ve read enough about Buddhism to be fairly convinced that fasting isn’t going to bring a person enlightenment. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself, fasted like crazy but didn’t find enlightenment until he’d adopted the Middle Way. And if one is seeking enlightenment through fasting, they’re certainly not going to find it, because enlightenment is tricky that way; it eludes you if you’re looking for it. Like my car keys. While I wouldn’t expect to achieve enlightenment through fasting, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of spiritual growth short of enlightenment.

I realize that I’m operating under the assumption that spiritual growth would bring one happiness. Is that necessarily true? What exactly is spiritual growth? I guess I define it as an increased awareness in something that can’t be defined in physical terms. In my experience, increased awareness does seem to lead, eventually, to happiness, but I suppose that might not always be the case. I think it’s possible that, sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

I admit that, for me, the most compelling argument for fasting came when Rakoff mentioned that he had lost 14 pounds in three weeks (he didn’t mention how long it took to gain it back). I don’t really need to lose that much weight, but it must be ingrained in me that a quick way to lose weight is something to be sought after. The reasonable part of my mind recognizes that fasting likely isn’t a recipe for lasting, healthy weight-loss. The fact that some of his friends who didn’t know he was fasting thought Rakoff had cancer or something sort of argues in favor of that perception.

Would fasting be part of a Happiness Project for me post-nursing? Maybe. I could see myself trying it out just to see what would come of it. But if it worked, would the effects be lasting, or would they only last as long as I was fasting? I try to make my resolutions practices that I can do daily, life changes rather than actions that I do for a short time and then stop when I reach a goal, and fasting isn’t something I could continue indefinitely. Exercise seems to be bringing me a great deal of happiness (or is it pleasure?); would I be able to keep exercising while fasting?

When I’m avoiding judgment, I can argue myself into and out of something indefinitely. I was similarly stymied after listening to the This American Life show “Superpowers,” in which John Hodgman asks which you would choose if you could have only one superpower, flight or invisibility. I’ve been mulling that one over for weeks and still haven’t reached a conclusion.

Remembering to Pace Myself: A Pep Talk

As the end of August approaches and my Facebook News Feed fills with pictures of smiling children in new clothes and status updates about the first day of school, my thoughts have begun to race ahead to all of the other resolutions I have planned for my Happiness Project. I find myself considering rearranging my schedule or reorganizing the project entirely. There appear to be many very good reasons for putting the things I’m excited to do first (and all in the same month) and putting the things I’m anxious about a little later in the year (or maybe just dropping them off the schedule entirely).

But when I pause and breathe, I remember that rushing through this project isn’t going to yield the kind of results I want (and that Personal Commandment #4 is Don’t Jump to Solutions). I remember that I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about tackling Mindfulness first, even though it made a great deal of sense to do so, because it didn’t seem like I would be doing anything. One of the lessons I’ve learned (or relearned) this month is that when I’m doing the work and practicing every day and feeling almost bored with the whole process, the most profound changes just kind of sneak up on me.

I’ve tried FlyLady Marla Cilley’s Baby Steps and Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and any number of other programs designed to improve me and change my life. They’ve all had great ideas behind them, and I’ve found elements of each very useful, but with each, I’ve jumped in full force and then petered out when the everyday practice became tedious. The difference with this Happiness Project is that I’ve designed it for myself. I know what challenges I have, what tasks I postpone indefinitely, and what thought patterns I’d like to change. I’m hopeful that having a self-designed program using Gretchen Rubin‘s template will yield more lasting results than my attempts to apply others’ programs to myself.

What’s been happening behind the scenes here is a lot of vacillating and journaling on paper about how I want to change my plans midstream and all of my reasons for doing so. I’ve decided that all of this is evidence that what I’m doing is working. I’m not sure big changes can be happening if I’m not at least a little nervous. I’ll take it slow, trust myself, and stick with the plan.

Don’t Jump to Solutions

This is another lesson I’ve learned in my parenting adventures. I think most of the good stuff I know I’ve learned through being a mom. This one I applied several times a day when my daughter was in a tantrum phase. It involved stopping myself from trying to fix every negative emotion she had and instead to acknowledge her emotions, reflect them back to her, and make myself available to comfort her. I got out of practice with this in the past two years since she’s not had tantrums as frequently, and I’ve had to re-learn the skill to help her with her very fierce five-year-old emotions. When I remember to do it, I find that this practice helps diffuse the situation faster than trying to intervene, and it also helps her learn to identify her emotions and to learn gradually how to deal with them herself.

This is also a skill I’ve tried to use with myself and with other adults. I remember one time speaking on the phone with a friend in crisis. At one point, there was a protracted silence. I thought I ought to say something but I didn’t know what.

“I don’t know what to say,” I said.

“You don’t have to say anything!” my friend said through tears.

This phone conversation comes back to me frequently. I felt so ineffectual and powerless to help this person whom I so wanted to help. It wasn’t until several years later when I read Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication that I realized that sometimes all we need is empathy, both for celebratory situations and for crisis situations. I attended weekly empathy practice workshops facilitated by a Nonviolent Communication mediator when we lived in California, during which we practiced the active listening techniques Rosenberg introduces in his book. Every week it struck me just how powerful it is to reflect back someone’s emotions without judgment and without offering solutions.

Even in those situations when it’s appropriate to offer solutions, it’s often important to sit and reflect back the person’s emotions and let them talk through things before trying to give suggestions for action. There are often multiple layers to a problem that even the person with the problem can’t get to without talking it through. Sometimes, too, the person comes up with her or his own solutions just in the course of talking things through, which is much more empowering for them than having someone else give them solutions.

I’ve heard many times, in the context of Buddhism and meditation, “Don’t just do something; sit there.” That, basically, is what I’m trying to remind myself to do with this commandment. There is a time for brainstorming, but there is also a time to explore a situation without trying to alter it.