General

A 3-Minute Attunement (Reconnecting Within)

{2:30 minutes to read}

A 5-Minute Attunement (Reconnecting Within) by Rachel Alexander

3-Minute Attunement Transcription

Let’s begin by just slowing down. Finding a comfortable seat. Coming to wherever you are, sitting quietly, and finding your way into your body. Let’s settle here. Just slowing down together. Taking a few breaths now together.

We’re just going to have this space for a few moments and say hello to whatever is happening inside and acknowledge it. Here we are simply attending to and developing the inner relationship with one’s self; strengthening the ability to be present for and with one’s self, to keep company with.

Noticing your breath. Noticing if the breathing is constrained or easy. Not forcing it, not deepening it, just being with it exactly as it is. Dropping in, asking what the weather is like right now. Perhaps putting a hand gently on the core, on the belly, right below the navel. Just saying hello to whatever is there. Noticing if there’s a sense of a softening or maybe the presence of an unwanted feeling, maybe something jittery, tight or heavy. Seeing if you can say hello to all of that too, without deciding about it or interacting with it, just greeting it, perhaps with an easy nod. I see you there. I’m here too. We can be here, together, just as we are.

See if you can notice the back, the back body, behind the shoulders where the wings would be. Just sensing into that space. Perhaps inviting the whole system to let go a bit, allowing gravity to do its part to support you. And with this awareness, this mindfulness, this slowing down-ness, coming back and returning to whatever requires your attention. Allowing a “keeping-company-with” your own inner sense of how you are, even as you now begin to include the outer environment into your awareness. Know that you can come back to this space, make use of this tool, anytime to return to yourself; to reconnect with your own friendly companionship.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

A Triumph for the Best Interests of the Child

A Triumph for the Best Interest of the Child by Rachel AlexanderThe Overruling of Baures by the NJ Appellate Court

{7:12 minutes to read}  Relocation is among the most difficult family law issues for families and courts. Relocation is when the parent with sole or primary residential custody chooses to move out of state with the children. The change in parenting roles and developments in attachment theory, along with other areas of psychology are reflected in a recent court decision. The case of Bisbing v Bisbing went to the New Jersey Appellate Court about the issue of relocation.

In the case of Bisbing, the parties mediated their divorce, including agreeing to a parenting schedule for their twin daughters. While the parenting schedule reflected the mother having more overnights than the father, the father had significant weekly parenting time. He was integrally involved with the girls, coached their ski club, and had regular weekly parenting time.

The mediated Marital Settlement Agreement included language whereby the parents acknowledged that a move of either parent of a significant distance, in a manner that would dramatically affect the children’s access to both parents, would potentially impact the children negatively. The agreement stated that the parties recognized the importance of both parents being involved with the children in the manner proximity enables.

In this case, not long after the parties divorced, Ms. Bisbing notified Mr. Bisbing that she planned to remarry and move to Utah with the children. Had Mr. Bisbing consented, the matter would have ended there. Without the consent of the parent of alternate residence, the matter went to court.

The initial court granted Ms. Bisbing’s request to move with the children, presumably following the analysis under Baures v Lewis, and Mr. Bisbing appealed this ruling.

The Baures analysis follows:

Provided the custodial parent is relocating in good faith, for legitimate purposes – such as remarriage, availing herself of more family support, or a substantial employment opportunity – and not for the sole purpose of denying parenting time to the non-custodial parent, the court generally permits relocation. The reasoning is that the custodial parent should not be so restricted by her parenting obligations as to prohibit her enjoyment and enrichment of life. As the custodial parent achieves and accepts new opportunities, so too, the reasoning goes, are the lives of the children improved.

This rational made good sense in the days when one parent, typically the mother, would have close to 100% custody of the children, with the secondary parent being perfunctorily, often minimally involved. In such instances, it would be profoundly unjust to limit the primary parent’s mobility and ability to get on with her life merely to ensure the non-custodial parent a continuation of nominal parenting time. The Bauers analysis provided the moving parent a wide girth – provided the move would not cause inimical harm to the children, and the court would generally permit the relocation.

The Old Standard for Relocation

One of the issues in this case was whether the mother knew she wanted to move away with the girls and did not negotiate in good faith during the mediation. The Marital Settlement Agreement, the result of the mediation, included a provision about relocation stating neither parent would relocate more than 20 miles without the consent of the other parent. There was other language stating that the parents acknowledged that living within proximity of and having access to both parents is deemed to be important, and that relocating might detrimentally affect the children’s relationship with the other parent.

The New Standard: From Inimical Harm to Best Interest

In the case of Bisbing, Baures was overturned by the Appellate Court. This case reversed the looser standard of inimical harm to the child, in favor of the new standard: whether the move would be in the best interest of the child. This new analysis shifts the burden to the moving parent not only to show that the move is in good faith, but also to show that the move is in the children’s best interests. This showing needs to outweigh the presumption that the children are generally best served by having regular access to both parents. The new analysis also no longer rests on the presumption that what is good for the primary custodial parent is necessarily best for the children. In Baures, the analysis was the much lower standard such that if the move would do no harm to the child, it was permitted.

Important input from the therapeutic community says that children are served generally by having significant access and opportunity to build stable relationships with both parents, and that involvement of both parents in raising the children is optimal. This also reflects the changes in parenting that the last decades have seen, with more equal parenting time favored and 50/50 custody often being the norm. As the social, familial structures evolve, so inevitably does the law.

A final note: A couple years ago, a family judge fairly new on the bench, disclosed that relocation cases are the toughest and most gut-wrenching cases over which he presides. There is no outcome that leaves the parties untouched by some loss. On the one hand, this change may limit a divorced parent’s ability to get on with their life by remarrying, moving, or taking advantage of opportunities available to him or her. On the other hand, the non-moving parent and the children could be denied the fundamental opportunity to share these very important growing years, and may forfeit the opportunity to forge the sort of attachment that endures and provides a vital resource for a lifetime.

We will continue to see the law on this complex subject develop. Importantly, the needs and best interests of the child are perhaps being allotted the gravity they deserve.

Stay tuned.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

What is an Attunement? (And is an Oil Change Included?)

What is an Attunement? (And is an Oil Change Included?) by Rachel Alexander{4:30 minutes to read}  A focusing session usually begins with a “lead-in” or something called an “attunement.” An attunement, much like a guided meditation, is a way of bringing awareness into our body and our attention into the present moment. It is an invitation to resource into what is immediately available to us. This begins with a sense of our body in its environment.

An attunement can be a valuable tool for people going through divorce or experiencing stress. It invites a safe return to solid ground. Divorce is particularly reviled for its power to destabilize and dysregulate people, muddling thinking and impairing decision making. Taking a few minutes to attune can help one to re-anchor back into the integrated self.

Before meeting with your attorney, before, after, and, if necessary, during a mediation, playing an attunement or using a few prompts from the practice, can help one reorient and reorganize.

With this in mind, I am creating a series of recorded attunements for my clients, so they can have additional tools at their disposal whenever they might be needed. These are meant to guide you back to your own wholeness, whether before seeing your spouse for a custody exchange, or after a difficult phone call regarding parenting or finance. It offers a way to come back into presence with yourself and to come back into grounded contact with the day.

An important part of focusing work involves learning to be a compassionate observer of whatever is occurring internally for you, right now.

Amazingly, when whatever is occurring has your full, friendly attention, no matter how unwanted or unpleasant it may be, it transforms.

When we’re grounded in our bodies, and in the moment, we have the ability to deal with everything else from a wiser place.

The attunement is a tool you can use anywhere and take with you everywhere. The more you practice with it, the more easily you will return to a grounded state. And there might be a shorthand way you’ll find for yourself, to get into this space — a new way of keeping company with and rescuing yourself.

Focusing Style Attunement Video

What follows is a transcript of the above Focusing Style Attunement video file:

So just finding a comfortable space where we can be together for maybe fifteen minutes or so. Putting down whatever you might be doing. Taking your time to get comfortable in your body.

You might have both feet on the floor, and your back supported so that the spine can be straight but not strained. Notice sitting, and give yourself a moment to observe how it is with you, just now. What is the quality of the surface you are on? Noticing the points of contact that your body is having with its immediate surroundings.

Introduce the notion, gently, that this piece of furniture is supporting you here and now. You do not have to hold yourself against gravity, or hold yourself up with your own mind. You can settle into what is there and is supporting you. Right now.

So however disconnected or overcome you may feel sometimes, which can happen in moments of great stress where you don’t even feel your body, it’s still here. It’s still here. Sometimes the awareness can be obfuscated, or blocked, but even then the body is still right here.

Notice the quality of your breath, is it easy or constricted. Not trying to change it, just exploring whatever is there.

Click here to read the rest of the transcript.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

If I Can Waive Alimony, Why Can’t I Waive Child Support?

If I Can Waive Alimony, Why Can’t I Waive Child Support? by Rachel Alexander{5:45 minutes to read}   If I can waive alimony, why can’t I waive child support?

Fair question. Here’s why: Alimony and child support are two different things and are treated differently under the law. Alimony might be a right of a spouse, but child support is the right of a child. And just like I cannot waive my neighbor’s rights to quiet enjoyment, I cannot waive the right of my child to be supported by both his parents.  

Distinguishing one’s child from one’s self is emotionally nodulous. When legal rights and obligations affect parenting decisions, parents may feel that a most personal aspect of their lives is being invaded.

Under child support law, a child has certain rights and privileges, and is separate and distinct from the parent. However, under other laws the parent is liable and totally responsible for the child as though not fully distinguishable. This complexity is slippery to tread not only in the legal field, but in psychology and philosophy as well.  

When is a child recognized as a detached being even though still wholly dependent upon the parent?

Fortunately, for this article, we do not have to realize the depths of existentialism, separation, and individuation to glean the following:

Children have the right to financial support from both parents.

Child support is not meant to penalize or punish, but to protect. Children of divorce, historically, could face economic instability and deprivation, and legally mandated support was designed to address this.

Child support is commensurate with the income and finances of the parents. Support considers the needs of the children, what the child has become accustomed to and reasonably expects, and what can realistically be provided given the family’s increased financial obligations in transitioning from a single into a two household family.

Supporting one’s children is simply a codification of what parents are already doing — supporting their children. The privilege and aggravation of budgeting around your children’s best interests — their hobbies, needs, hopes, future education and career aspirations — is an integral part of progeny. The ability to have children, love, raise, and provide for them is one of life’s blessings. Divorce neither retracts this gift nor relieves parents of their obligations — financial or otherwise.

New Jersey has child support guidelines which provide a recommended monetary amount for the rudimentary needs of the child, based on the income of the parents and the time the child will reside with each parent. However, often the child support recommendation is insufficient or untenable for the family, or the child’s actual needs. Additionally, many expenses fall outside of child support, but within the parents’ attendant obligation to provide.

In divorce mediation, child support can be managed so that it works for all parties. Parents may set up a distinct account to be used for the child, each contributing to the account in a manner based upon his/her income. Parents might agree to each pay directly for specific costs for the child in a manner established during and consistent with the child’s life so far.

The central, organizing principle is, as always, the best interests of the child. Providing financial consistency and stability, to the extent possible in light of the changing circumstances, is in the best interests of the child. Appreciating child support as anything other than for the child is a sure way to derail the family and well-being of the child. Financially demonstrating a toxic relational dynamic through finances, particularly by compromising the child’s sense of financial stability and attachment security, is clearly inconsistent with prioritizing the child.

Parents are not on the hook for support because they are getting divorced — they are obligated because they have children. In fact, the commitment of financial responsibility has precious little to do with your spouse. It’s about your child.

When in the dark, this is the guiding light and principle. When we can meet our children’s needs we do so because we are parents. Because but for us, they would not be here. Because we love them and they are our primary concern.

This is part of the social contract and the human compact we entered. We support our young within the limits of our capabilities, financial circumstances, and what life has brought.

Child support is not so much about divorcing as it is about parenting.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

Ungrateful and Pissed Off? A Curmudgeon’s Survival Guide for Thanksgiving

Ungrateful and Pissed Off? A Curmudgeon’s Survival Guide for Thanksgiving by Rachel Alexander{6:00 minutes to read}

Don’t look now, but here comes Thanksgiving!

When you are already in survival mode, a holiday can add insult to injury. If you are bracing for the holidays as a newly divorced family, maybe spending your first Thanksgiving without your kids or extended family, “celebrating” anything can seem absurd. Forced festivities can increase the sense of what’s missing and highlight not only what you are not grateful for, but what you’re actually pretty pissed off about.

During the holidays there is an expectation or even social insistence that you feel one thing when you’re actually experiencing quite another. That disconnect can be difficult to tolerate much less navigate. Here are just a few recommendations to normalize this experience and help us all get through the holiday intact.

1. Take it in small bites; which is also good advice for your digestion on this holiday anyway. How you may or may not be feeling this holiday is no indication of how you will feel in a week, a month, or for any other Thanksgiving hereafter.

Be invited to back away from a sense that this experience is prescient of the rest of your life. It is just right now that needs to be dealt with. And deal with it we will!

2. Trying to force yourself to feel anything other than what you’re actually experiencing tends not to work. It also tends to be a way of devaluing and negating yourself, and that’s something most of us do not need a repeat experience of.

Rather than forcing yourself to contrast how you would like to be or feel with how you actually feel, put your attention on being kind to yourself as you would a dear friend or beloved pet. Keep this simple. Check in with yourself frequently. Make yourself a cup of tea. Even treating yourself with more patience by giving permission not to rush is a kindness we rarely afford ourselves.

3. Do something that will distract and give your overstimulated emotions a break. Whether that’s watching a funny, stupid, scary or thrilling movie, or hiking with a group through the woods, do something that introduces another aspect of your capacity and emotional range. This can help create internal space and balance in a way that focusing on what’s wrong cannot.

4. One of our best resources is our own bodies. A simple, effective way to ground yourself and manage difficulty is through bodily awareness. A little bit of movement and physical activity can be enormously helpful. Even tapping your left then right foot several times while bringing your attention to the sensation of contact with the ground beneath can help stabilize run-away emotion. The body returns us to our connection with the earth and this moment.

5. Be here now. Focus only on this moment; this hour, what you’re doing now, staying away from a global interpretation, because our minds tend to go there when we’re feeling distraught.

6. Finding our way to gratitude when feeling like a curmudgeon is more like it. Let’s interact with gratitude by keeping it small and specific:

What am I grateful for right this minute?

It might be that you have a cell phone. It could be that you don’t have a cell phone. It could be that you have feet, if you have feet, or that you have a car that you were able to drive wherever you needed to go. It could be that you’re able to breathe easily and are over last week’s cold.

The act and importance of gratitude has more to do with reorienting ourselves to experiencing the fullness of what we already have rather than doing an actual tally. It’s a shift in how we relate to what is already here for us. It can be simple and basic; the sun rose and the moon is still held in the sky.

Or perhaps it can be wildly inventive. I for one am grateful I’ve never had to undergo an exorcism or be aboard an alien spacecraft (although some who know me may think that’s how I arrived here). I’m grateful not to be a giant octopus or sardine (they may be perfectly joyous but I think I would be cold).

All of these are just suggestions to help you navigate if you’re having a rough go during the holidays, particularly during Thanksgiving, when you might be put upon to identify what you appreciate.

This is holiday first aid.

If you’re having a marvelous holiday, good on you! You can disregard all of this. Feel great and rejoice! Extend extra kindness to those who need it.

Wishing everyone peace and love, now and in the future. A grounded, supported, and above all gentle Thanksgiving to all.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

The “We Space”

The "We Space" by Rachel Alexander{4:12 minutes to read} The “we space” is what is created when two or more people are in a relationship. A couple has a different energy than each person on his own; a family has a whole dynamic greater than the sum of its parts.

Sharing a story about your day might be a different experience depending upon who you are telling. Recounting to your 15 year-old, your best friend or a work colleague will be a whole different thing. Not only might you use different language, emphasize different aspects, frame the story so it’s relatable to your audience, but your experience of being heard and being with your listener will vary.

Even a non-verbal experience, like watching the same movie, would have a whole different feel if shared with your wife as opposed to your ex-girlfriend. You are ostensibly the same, the movie is unchanged, but the experience is affected by the “we.” The difference has to do with whom you share the experience. Not only your sense of who you are while with the other, or your sense of who the other is, but all of what is created in your being together – the something between the two of you – the relatingness itself – which has its own particular quality. In fact, when couples choose to divorce, it often has to do with a deterioration of their “we space.”

“Me Space”

How we pay attention to ourselves and stay tuned-in and online with ourselves is the “me space.”

“Ooh! I’m getting a – I don’t know. I know we just walked into this restaurant, but I’m getting a weird feeling here. You know what, I’m gonna check out the menu next door.”

“You Space”

The “you space” is the other person, who is a whole kind of mystery and universe unto themselves. Often we are attracted to people who have an intricate and unique “me space,” where they are managing their own stuff in a particular way that appeals to us.

A relationship is more than the people inhabiting it. It is the relating that occurs between them. What happens when we sit down together on the sofa and engage? What is created between the two of us that is neither me nor you? We are both the players, contributors, but there’s something else. Almost like a child that is created between the two of you; without both of you it would not be there, and yet it’s neither of you. It is distinct and can, and ought, be treated as such.

The “We” of Divorce Mediation

The “we space” provides an opportunity in mediation. The “we space” is sans blame, sans judgment. Without the focus on what is who’s fault.

When we focus on what is between the two of you – two people in conflict, often in pain – we can begin to work with something much more malleable and faultless then either of you, your shortcomings or past foibles. In shifting our attention from each of you as separate entities, to the relating born of the two of you, we have an entry point for our work, and can begin to engineer something new together.

Like copilots of a ship, a Relation Ship, rather than determining who must walk the plank, we can direct our course towards the brightening horizon.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

Mindfulness and “Self-in-Presence”: A Tool for Divorce Mediation?

{5:18 minutes to read} How do we get present?Mindfulness and “Self-in-Presence”: A Tool for Divorce Mediation? by Rachel Alexander

Last time we looked at the importance of mindfulness and getting present, so how do we do it?

Practice, practice, practice!  And, softly, softly, softly.

One suggestion: set an alarm on your smartphone to sound a gentle tone several times during the day.  When you hear it, simply bring your awareness back to yourself and your body, perhaps offering yourself the gentle prompt: “How am I right now? How am I feeling just now? Where is that located in my body?” It’s very simple, and takes less than a cluster of seconds. It’s merely taking a pause. A simple checking in, noticing, without trying to rectify, manipulate or adjust anything.

Grounding techniques also encourage mindfulness. Simply tap your feet on the floor, left then right, several times until you are able to bring your awareness into the feel of your feet in your shoes, stockings, and on the floor beneath. Simply paying attention to the sensation can bring one back to the present. Physical exercise, meditation, prayer, yoga, and time in nature all help bring us into conscious awareness. Anything that helps our senses return to our surroundings and our attention return to our bodies reorganizes us to the present.

Mindfulness and “Self-in-Presence”: A tool for divorce mediation?

Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin, inventors of Inner Relationship Focusing, developed the term and concept “Self-in-Presence.” They suggest that “self-in-presence” is required not only to experience a “felt sense” (a bodily experience of something not yet articulated, at the edge of one’s awareness) but for meaningful personal change to occur.

What is “self-in-presence?” It is a state of grounded, non-judgmental awareness. It is the ability to turn toward whatever is arising in you: experience, thoughts, emotions, and so on.

This is similar to the “observer” self in Buddhism and mindfulness practice. There is an awareness of the body in space, on a chair, in contact with the world around it. There is a focusing attitude of “interested curiosity,” a turning towards oneself in the way one would turn towards a lost child or young animal upon first meeting. This is an approach of care, a slowing down, an attuning to. It brings a listening intent. It keeps company with.

We are in self-in-presence when we can acknowledge our internal and external environment with a compassionate curiosity, a befriending, a welcoming of everything exactly as it is.

To summarize:.

  • Simply turn toward yourself exactly as you are in this moment — do this by pausing and bringing your awareness to your body and breath now, and in any moment you remember.
  • Notice that you are having an experience and see if you can get a sense of it in your body. See how that might feel different than the sensation of being indistinguishable from the experience you are having.
  • Practice keeping company with yourself — your feeling or your perception — rather than identifying as it. When you notice yourself having a strong reaction, you are already expanding, as you are now both the one experiencing something and the one observing the experiencing.

Try taking this further by changing what you say to yourself from “I am _______ (furious, thrilled, overwhelmed) ” to ”something in me is _________ (furious, thrilled, overwhelmed).” For example,“I am angry” becomes ”something in me is angry.” By experimenting with this linguistic shift (which I learned from Ann Weiser Cornell), you create more space for the vastness and complexity of all of you.

Regardless of how overcome we feel by a particular sensation or feeling at a given moment, we are each — always — much more than any one thing. This is also called “disidentification.” You are not your emotion, or only your emotion. By making this shift, you invite the more of you that can notice the angry (or activated) part without merging with it. The you that can keep company with all of what is occurring for you.

Once we are in (indeed, are) this expansive, observing space, we can be both with ourselves and one another differently. In this way we welcome wholeness, healing and conclusion.

Special thanks to Ann Weiser Cornell for her comments and suggestions on this article.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

Mindfulness and Mediation

Mindfulness and Mediation by Rachel Alexander{3:30 minutes to read} In some spiritual practices, a bell sounds several times a day calling the observant to prayer. Like a mindfulness bell, it brings the devotee back to what is important: her God; her Self; the precious here and now.

When people are not in the here and now, they are in a default-geography of past and future. A space that does not, in fact, exist. The past no longer exists and the future similarly has not yet been born. It is the landscape of fear, unconsciousness, muddled and circular thinking. It is where unhappy, historic narratives are recited, churned and finally stagnate into algae-clogged swamps.

It’s the habitat for loud, punishing declarations. “I’m getting an attorney/walking out/telling the children what you did.”

This is the place of Nothing Good Happening.

When people are in the conflict of divorce, repeating reactive behaviours, the inclusion of mindfulness practice helps slow things down. Slowing down makes one observable to one’s self. Slowing down helps one catch up with oneself.

Like slowing down film footage in order to see the material more precisely – to glean what is otherwise unobservable, or slowing down the car when finding your way through a foreign neighborhood – we slow down when emotions are high and what we are doing matters.

Mindfulness slows us down so we can make better decisions, fewer mistakes, and take the appropriate level of care. Counterintuitively, slowing down helps us ultimately pick up the pace sooner.

Getting divorced without mindfulness is like holding a board meeting with most of the members absent. The decisions made will be less informed. The required quorum might not exist, so no decision reached will hold.

Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Shifting gears into an aware, thoughtful space immediately shifts people from causing problems to resolving them. When divorcing clients are attuned to themselves, they can better:

  • Simultaneously observe and engage, interact purposefully;
  • Access their innate intelligence;
  • Identify authentic wants and needs;
  • Regard the other party with clarity and spaciousness, experiencing relief; and
  • Cooperate to problem solve and co-parent.

When people are fully present, they have access to their best selves. They are not ruled by what is old and outdated – be it behavioral patterns or “unfinished business” that continually surfaces and runs away with them.

Mediation is about listening purposefully and intently. This can only take place in the present. Almost every mediation client identifies the breakdown of communication as a primary catalyst in the collapse of the marriage. Listening is how conflicts get resolved. It’s the balm for emotional abrasions.

So how do we get present? More on that coming up in our next blog.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305