October 22, 2020

Being Seen

Respect is not fear and awe; it denotes, in accordance with the root of the word (respicere = to look at), the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality. Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is. Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation. I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me. If I love the other person, I feel one with him or her, but with him as he is, not as I need him to be as an object for my use. (Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, 1956)

The businessman, the manager, politicians, and authoritarians share a mental habit of scrutinizing: they expertly assess people’s suitability and divide them into friends or enemies, insiders or outsiders, accomplices or victims. When everyone is judged only as means, rather than as ends, the capacity to see people for who they are diminishes. (Theodor Adorno Minima Moralia, 1951)

It follows that denying the strangeness of another person – their difference, what we don’t know about them, their life, their interiority – amounts to a supreme wrong.  Respect makes room for the other person’s difference, so that it is not trivialized or smoothed out in the name of human universality. Tact keeps a respectful distance, so as not to impose one’s subjectivity on other people.  One ought to be wary of feeding the imaginary of a relationship, (Roland Barthes, How to Live Together, 1977)

It is strange to feel invisible. I don’t remember exactly when it began to happen. The only thing I know is that I am not seen much anymore when I walk by people on the street. It is a little discomfiting, a little bittersweet. To be seen—to be desired, to be a person and not simply a role—is a beautiful human need no matter what our age is. (Man in his 70’s)

In South Africa, the people greet one another on the road by saying, “Sawubona.” It means, “I see you.” The answer is “Here I am.” In other words, you are not invisible to me. You are someone. 

You know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello.”

So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello.” (singer/songwriter John Prine)

Thought-Starter Questions

  1. What experience have you had with not being seen as you are?
  2. What factors do you think lead to not being seen?
  3. What reactions did you have? Thoughts? Emotions? Reactions?
  4. How has not being seen affected your attitudes? Your behavior?
  5. Who gives evidence of seeing you clearly?
  6. Whom do you see clearly?

October 15, 2020

FLOW

When is life at its best?  Positive psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura say it is when you are in a state of mind they call “flow.” He has also referred to this state as “optimal experience.” The flow state describes a feeling where you become fully immersed in whatever you are doing.

     You may have experienced that sense of fluidity between your body and mind, where you are totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction. Time feels like it has slowed down. Your senses are heightened. You are at one with the task at hand, as action and awareness sync to create an effortless momentum. Some people describe this feeling as being “in the zone.” This is the flow state and it’s accessible to everyone, whether you’re engaged in a physical activity, a creative pursuit, or even a simple day-to-day task.

     “There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback,” Csikszentmihalyi said in a 2004 TED Talk.

     When you’re giving your fullest attention to an activity or task that you are incredibly passionate about, singularly focused on, and totally immersed in, you may find yourself creating the conditions necessary to experience a flow state of mind. The mind’s usual chatter begins to fade away, placing us in a non-distracted zone. The feelings that would consume you under normal circumstances (inhibition, hunger, fatigue, or aches and pains) melt away, and all that matters is your dedication to your craft.

You lose awareness of time. You aren’t watching the clock, and hours can pass like minutes.

You aren’t thinking about yourself. Your awareness of yourself is only in relation to the activity itself, such as your fingers on a piano keyboard, or the way you position a knife to cut vegetables, or the balance of your body parts as you ski or surf, the needle point project, the flow of thoughts as you write, the feel of wood being crafted.

You aren’t interrupted by extraneous thoughts. Instead, you are completely focused on the activity—mastering or explaining a line of thinking in your work, creating tiers of beautiful icing for a cake, or visualizing your way out of a sticky chess situation.

You are active. Flow activities aren’t passive, and you have some control over what you are doing.

You work effortlessly. Although you may be working harder than usual, at flow moments everything is “clicking” and feels almost effortless.

You are challenged. Flow experiences occur when there is a balance between the challenge of an activity and the skill you have in performing it (see “High skill + high challenge = flow”). When your skill is high but the challenge is low, boredom is the likely result. Set the challenge too high, though, by undertaking something that is way beyond your skill, and you’re out of the flow again.

Invite Flow Experiences

  • Aim to surprise yourself and discover new things about your abilities and the activity.
  • Choose an activity that can provide you with new feelings, experiences, and insights, and allow your feelings and awareness to flow without attempting to interfere.
  • Pay attention to your bodily sensations and posture.
  • Overcome the urge to stop at every mistake. You are likely to be at your best when you focus on what you want to accomplish or experience and don’t allow mistakes to be distracting.
  • Accept that physical symptoms of nervousness are normal and will naturally ease off once you get going.
  • Try to work or play with others.
  • Maintain your sense of humor.

Thought-Starter Questions for Sharing

  1. When is your earliest memory of being really good at something?
  2. What contributed to your proficiency?
  3. How difficult was it to gain proficiency?
  4. How did you feel when involved in this activity?
  5. How did your feelings differ when involved in activities in which you were less proficient?
  6. What other activities in different stages of life have had the same kind of effect on you?
  7. What factors detract from getting full benefits of being in “flow” or in “the zone”?
  8. What opportunities do you have for new “flow” activities?
  9. Can past “flow” activities be applied to this stage of life?

October 9, 2020

Emotional Intelligence

Self-awareness: The ability to monitor one’s own emotion state and to correctly identify and name one’s emotions. Hallmarks include self-confidence, realistic self-assessment, and a self-deprecating sense of humor

Self-regulation: The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods, and the tendency to suspend judgment and to think before acting. Hallmarks include trustworthiness and integrity; comfort with ambiguity; and openness to change.

Internal motivation: The drive to work for internal reasons that go beyond money and status (external motivators) – such as an inner vision of what is important in life, a joy in doing something, curiosity in learning, a flow that comes with being immersed in an activity. A tendency to pursue goals with energy and persistence. Hallmarks include a strong drive to achieve, optimism even in the face of failure, and organizational commitment.

Empathy: The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people. A skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions. Hallmarks include expertise in building and retaining relationships and networks, cross-cultural sensitivity, and exemplary service.

Social Skills: Proficiency in managing relationships and building networks, and an ability to find common ground and build rapport. Hallmarks include effectiveness in leading change, persuasiveness, and expertise building and leading teams.

The good news is that emotional intelligence tends to increase with age, even without deliberate interventions. That’s a way of saying that many people mature with age.

Also, we can increase emotional intelligence by observing and copying people who are good at it. Even better is finding someone who can coach you.

Emotional intelligence coaching produces higher levels of happiness, mental and physical health, improved social and marital relationships, and decrease levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). 

Thought-Starter Questions:

  1. Who made you feel comfortable in their presence? 
  2. What did they do that made you feel comfortable?
  3. What were they good at in interacting with other people?
  4. Did you pick up any skills from being around people who were socially adept?
  5. What skills have noticed in your interactions with other people?
  6. Do you consider yourself as effective as most other people you know?   Less effective?  More effective?
  7. How effective have you been in making choices about relationships?  Spouse? Friends?  Mentors? Colleagues?
  8. What have you learned as a corrective?
  9. How are your interpersonal skills important at this stage of life?
  10. What ways can you use your emotional intelligence now?

October 1, 2020

HELP YOURSELF

          In his book Happier, Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar writes about the insights of people with terminal cancer:

An open confrontation with death allows many patients to move into a mode of existence that is richer than the one they experienced prior to their illness. Many patients report dramatic shifts in life perspective.  They are able to trivialize the trivial, to assume a sense of control, to stop doing things they do not wish to do, to communicate more openly with families and friends, and to live entirely in the present rather than in the future or the past. As one’s focus turns from the trivial diversions of life, a fuller appreciation of the elemental factors in existence emerge: the changing seasons, the falling leaves, the last spring, and especially, the loving of others. Over and over they say, “Why did we have to wait until now to learn how to value and appreciate life.”

          The answer, of course, is that they didn’t.  It was simply that their shift in perspective made them acutely aware of what they knew all along.  They had within them the knowledge of how they should live life.  They had been ignoring the knowledge or unconscious of it.

          We are living in a crisis time.  Multiple social, political, and health factors have disrupted the familiar routines that we had learned to count on.  Now we will decide whether to remain in a bruised, numb, pitiful condition or to shift our perspective about our existence. If, indeed, we have the knowledge that we need, then now is a good time to use it.

          William Glasser, originator of choice theory and reality therapy, said there are steps to addressing a problem.  When we look at them, we probably say, “Well, sure, everybody knows that!”  What everybody doesn’t do is apply the steps to situations that are disrupting our lives. I am suggesting that we access the knowledge that we already have to help ourselves.

Step 1: Identify and Describe the Problem

All  of us are trying to make sure we meet five basic needs.

  • Survival, or the comfort of knowing that our basic physical needs met
  • Love and belonging, or being part of a family or community of loved ones
  • Power, or a sense of self-worth and achievement
  • Freedom, or independence
  • Fun, which includes a sense of satisfaction or pleasure

When one or more of these needs go unfilled, we feel it in the here and now. So, the first step in helping yourself is to identify where you are feeling deprived. 

If more than one unmet need is bothering you, then each one should be met separately. 

Step 2: Make a Plan

The plan should address only one problem at a time.  Wishing the problem will go away is not a plan. Be practical about your capabilities and resources.

Including other people in the plan, as advisors and helpers, is acceptable.

Step 3: Work the Plan

Follow through on the plan enough that you give it a chance to work.

Step 4: Evaluate the Plan

Did the plan work as hoped? Did you work the plan?

Step 5: Revise the Plan

If the plan did not gain desired results, what changes could be made?  If you did not work the plan, what incentives can motivate you more?

Step 6: Repeat the Cycle

Thought Starters Questions:

Can I clearly identify and describe what is bothering me?

If several things are, then what is bothering me the most?

How effective was I at making a plan?

To what extent did I involve other people as advisors or helpers?

How carefully did I follow your plan?

What affected my application of the plan?

What aspects of the plan need changing?

Inevitable Choices of Aging

  1. Chooser or Victim

Making Choices or Feeling Powerless

  • Adaptable or  Rigid

Adapting to Life’s Stages and Circumstances or Being Captive to Futile Habits

  • Aware or Oblivious

Fully Aware of Physical and Emotional Realities or Hiding Behind Diversions

  • Purposeful or Adrift  

Having Satisfying Purpose or Drifting in Search Of Pleasure

  • Fulfilled or Surviving

Meeting Basic Human Needs or Settling for Survival

  • Real or Roles

Showing True Self in Relationships or Presenting Acceptable Impressions

  • Peaceable or Contentious

Seeking Harmony in Mind and Relationships or Being Constantly Aware of Irritations

  • Spiritual or Physical

Attending to Intangible Influences or Heeding Only Physical Reality

  • Helpful or Self-Absorbed

Helping Others or Obsessed by My Own Needs

  1. Together or Solitary

Part of Genuine Community or Emotional Separation

September 24, 2020

Our goals and aspirations are an important part of our life stories. An account of how we grew up and lived our life includes the goals we have had and the things we have been striving for. For some persons, goals may remain the same throughout life, but this is not necessarily true for everyone. Experience may have taught us that we should change our goals or trade in our aspirations for new ones that better fit with the realities of our lives or our changing values. What have you been working to attain or achieve in your life, and what kind of person have you tried to be?

  1. When you were a child, whom did you want to be like, or what kind of person did you want to become when you grew up?
  2. Did your role models change during adolescence? In what way?
  3. Where did you find your models – in the family, movies, or other sources?
  4. Which characteristics of your ideal self or ideal model were most important to you – accomplishments, athletic ability, appearance, money, reputation, creativity, philosophy, religion, or something else?
  5. How important were your teachers and education in shaping your goals? Did they lead to changes in your goals and your ideas about what you wanted to achieve in your life?
  6. Have you changed your goals during your life? How?
  7. What experiences or major events influenced the changes?
  8. What do you think have been the most important achievements of your life?
  9. Looking back over your life, would you now pursue different goals? What would they be?
  10. What aspirations do you have now, and what goals do you have for your future?

Meeting Format on Thursdays, 1:00-2:30 pm on ZOOM

This group is a fellowship of men and women who share experience, strength, and hope with each other so that we will all learn how to maintain happiness.

We remind ourselves of choices that lead to happiness. (from Older, Wiser, Happier by P. Clay Carter).

We are likely to be somewhere along the continuum rather than at one extreme. By reading, we remind ourselves of the crucial choices that are affecting our well-being.

  1. Chooser or Victim

Making Choices ___________________or_____________________Feeling Powerless

  • Adaptable or  Rigid

Adapting to Life’s Stages and Circumstances __or ___Being Captive to Futile Habits

  • Aware or Oblivious

Fully Aware of Physical and Emotional Realities __or____ Hiding Behind Diversions

  • Purposeful or Adrift  

Having Satisfying Purpose ___________or Drifting in Search Of Pleasure

  • Fulfilled or Surviving

Meeting Basic Human Needs _________or________ Settling for Survival

  • Real or Roles

Showing True Self in Relationships ____or______ Presenting Acceptable Impressions

  • Peaceable or Contentious

Seeking Harmony in Mind and Relationships or Being Constantly Aware of Irritations

  • Spiritual or Physical

Attending to Intangible Influences_____ or Heeding Only Physical Reality

  • Helpful or Self-Absorbed

Helping Others ____________________or _ Obsessed by My Own Needs

  1. Together or Solitary

Part of Genuine Community _________ or _______ Emotional Separation

  • At this time we will give our names and share what has our primary attention at this time.
  • Relaxation  – 12-14 minute guided relaxation

Ground Rules

  1. We respect and maintain the confidentiality of the group. What is said in the group is not to be repeated or discussed at any other time or place.
  2. We may share what we have said or felt in the group, without reference to other group members.
  3. We listen respectfully and avoid giving advice.
  4. We have the right to ask questions of the group, but refrain from asking probing questions of other group members.
  5. We accept people just as they are; we avoid making judgments.
  6. We give everyone an opportunity to share.
  7. We have the right to speak and the right to remain silent.
  8. We give supportive attention to the person who is speaking and avoid side conversations.
  9. We avoid interrupting. If we do break in, we return the conversation to the person who was speaking.
  10. We talk about what is present to us now and avoid telling lengthy stories about the past.
  11. We do not discuss group members who are not present.
  12. We each share the responsibility for making this group work.
  • Speaker for the Day and Topic for the Day
  • Members are invited to speak as they wish, keeping in mind our ground rules.
  • Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.