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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