Effective communication Archives

freewriting_problem_solving

Automatic writing for problem solving

Freewriting, also called automatic writing, is a fantastic tool for problem solving. Even more than that, it is a wonderful tool for generating creative ideas, organizing chaos in your head and getting unstuck. I’ve got really hooked to this practice when I read “Accidental genius” by Mark Levy.

I consider this book a must-read, especially for visual learners, who want to become effective in their problem solving. The book is full of valuable exercises and methods for generating ideas painlessly and having them well organized. Although it reads as a workbook, it can certainly be appreciated without making the exercises step by step. You can  jump into freewriting directly. Even though the book is geared towards a business world, the concepts are directly applicable to these who want to use their brains creatively. Be prepared, though, that it is a dry or cynical read, at times.

The idea of automatic writing is to define your problem first, set a timer to say 15min ans start writing continuously and as fast as possible until the timer beep. The fast paces forces your mind to reach for its internal resources and partial solutions, hidden from the plain view.

According to the author, there are six secrets for a solution-focused freewriting.

1. Try Easy.

“A relaxed 90% is more efficient than a vein-bulging 100% effort.”

Just relax and start scribbling. When you do automatic writing, your goal is not to produce a breath-taking piece of prose, but to jot your ideas down on the paper, instead. That’s it. You are to collect your ideas, as if you are collecting leaves, flowers or conkers with your kid for some home-make projects.

Before you start freewriting, it’s good to have a small ritual where you remember to be easy with yourself and stay centered during writing. When you allow yourself to relax, your mind will set itself free. It will maneuver through the maze of thoughts the way it likes.

2. Write fast and continuously.

When you write fast you actually ask your mind to operate closer to the speed of your thoughts than to the internal critic or perfectionist inside you. By uncensored writing you put the editor on hold so
that the creative part of you can have a better possibility to emerge through the process. If you don’t know what to write just keep repeating the last word.

With experience, your mind will know that you will not stop writing so it will relax on opening the gate to half-baked or inappropriate ideas. These are your golden eggs as such ideas are usually brutally honest and in-depth insights, observations, or knowings.

The goal of the continuous writing is to have a brain-storming session with yourself with the exception that you don’t hold the judgement. The judgemnt will only come later when your writing time is off and when you can inspect your thoughts, and refine them when needed.

Your best ideas, similarly as the most beautiful diamonds, will show up in rough, unpolished stones.

3. Work against a time limit.

“The timer enforces a self-imposed behavioral contract”.

In brief, the time limit makes you more resourceful. The analogy is to sprinting. If you are to sprint over a short distance, you can certainly commit to it. However, if you only know that you are supposed to sprint for some distance between 1 and 20 miles (km), you will have a hard time to keep your focus on. The goal is too vague and too demanding. In contrary, the limitation, the deadline or the barrier will challenge you to think outside the box and explore unknown paths.

4. Write the way you think.

This is a good one, because your imperative is to get the raw thoughts.  These will later become your material for creating the solution. When you write the way you speak, thoughts have already been polished or digested. The novelty is hidden behind the horizon.

Thoughts are super fast and your goal is to use writing to record yourself thinking. Use your own slung or strong language, words abbreviation or whatever words come to your mind. Your ideas are flowing in your head and they need to flow easily on the paper too.

 5. Go with the thought.

Write your thought down and extend it. Don’t edit, don’t contradict yourself to disagree with the idea. Even when your thought is provocative or crazy, go with it. When a thought is written down, accept is as it is and continue to explore it further down. Your task is to explore the path where the thought leads to, to exhaust all the possibilities that show up in your mind. If A is true then B comes next. If B is there then C must happen etc.

If you can happen to explore on line of thinking in depth in the given time, just set the timer for an additional 5 min and ask yourself where another path lead. “What is a different direction I can take for an effective solution?”

6. Redirect your attention.

In automatic writing, your objective is to explore the problem  and the solution at depth and at width. The later means that you want to travel as many thoughts as possible (within the time limits). When When you feel that you may become bewildered on not knowing what to write next, redirect your attention.

A good focus-changer is an open question related to what you have just written. It may challenge you to explain this particular point of view differently, or to look for holes in your thinking. This redirection oftentimes comes in the forms of an open question such as “How else can I say that?”, “What am I missing here?”, “How can I describe this situation to X?” (where X becomes kids, a friend, the boss, a bookshop seller, a sportsmen, a Disney character etc), “What is the best case scenario?“, “How can I implement it fast?”, and so on.

When you feel you have explored a direction, just ask an open question to start a new conversation with yourself.

Thinking without anchor is poorly utilized

As explained in the previous post, thinking needs a physical anchor to make it a laser-concentrated focus towards a solution. Paper or a computer screen provide a powerful focusing force. Without the physical outlet, prolonged thinking often gets circular, or degenerates into daydreaming.

The process of freezing your thoughts onto paper is invaluable because:

  1. it helps you to create order from chaos
  2. it centers and grounds you
  3. it provides perspective and context
  4. it enables you to understand (over time and practice) of whom you are becoming
  5. it pushes you beyond your comfortable thoughts
  6. you access knowledge you have forgotten and consult inner knowing you were not aware you had
  7. it allows you to track the associative line of thinking back to its origins
  8. and  give you a solid, raw material to explore, expand and create from

Make freewriting a daily habit. Your genius is waiting to be consulted 😉

***

Photo copyright by Ian Sane, available on Flickr under the Creative Commons.

 

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problem solving

Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under Creative Commons on Flickr.

 

You love your problems, don’t you? They are your little friends that push you towards growth.

Problem solving vs thinking

Before I’ll talk about great approaches to problem solving, first I want to explain how not to solve your problems.

Do you know how?

By thinking alone.

“What?”, you may say, “You must be crazy. I need to think about my problems!”.
For sure, you do. No doubt about it. However, in order to tackle your problems you need other modalities alongside your thinking.

Thinking through your problems is a necessary ingredient for a successful solution, but it is usually insufficient. Thinking may work for simple problems, but it fails to buckle down complex ones. I don’t need to tell you this because, I bet, you know it from experience.

How many months (or years) have you thought about being in a job, relation or a situation you are unhappy with and yet little has improved?

How many months (or years) have you thought about being fit, becoming an entrepreneur, or traveling the world, yet little has changed?

How many months (or years) have you thought about improving your social skills or learning a new one, yet with no progress?

Perhaps you have analyzed some or all the aspects of your problem and decided that the “I don’t care” state is your safe haven. The comfort zone of inaction is, for sure, attractive. If this is your solution, you have convinced yourself to ignore the problem. If not, …

… thinking is not the way out

Why?

Because thinking may continue for a very long time without any dedicated action. Some perfectionists want to see the problem from all possible angles in order to find the best solution. The best solution, similarly as the best decision, can only be judged if there is a simple criterion or rationale, which is often not the case. Others want to understand the problem as much as possible. However, you don’t need a full understanding of your problem to actually solve it (ok, unless you tackle a complex math or physics challenge).

For instance, you don’t really need to fully know how an engine works, all the construction details and how to repair a car in order to drive it. You need to understand some pieces about the context, though. Similarly, you don’t need to know all the details of running a business or a project as you will learn while doing it.

There are two aspects of thinking that will keep you stuck in your problems.

1) Long-term thinking about your problem keeps you exactly in the reality of your problem.

What you think about, expands. In other words, whenever you think of what you lack, you are perpetuating the very state of experiencing lack. You may even deepen the experience.

Thinking about the job you hate will help powerlessness to root stronger. As a result, it will become increasingly more difficult to find another job.

Thinking about your stagnant relation will strengthen your feelings of self-pity and influence your overall well-being. As a result, you will have less attention, focus and love for your kids, friends and work.

Thinking about the lack of money will prove to be true. As a result, you will have less ambition and less courage to create new streams of income.

Long-term thinking with the premise for gaining understanding is only an escape from taking action.

2. Thinking alone may prevent you from finding intelligent solutions.

The first limitation is that your conscious span can only handle a limited amount of information. Therefore, it is difficult to hold different perceptions or views at the same time. (To realize that just think whether you can hold in your mind just four different views of a given object: front, back and two side ones). The second limitation is that you will look for patterns and ways to simplify things. As a result will tend to overgeneralize or make a hasty generalization. Finally, thinking often moves around a vicious circle circular by following the same types of thoughts.

In brief, thinking gets into a self-perpetuating mode, where with time, little novelty is allowed.

To have a fresh perspective, even if you need to tackle a problem that is similar to the ones you encountered before, it is still important to consider the whole context: raw facts, emotions, circumstances and obstacles. This means that any time you want to apply your problem solving skills to a problem that is similar to the ones you tackled before.

How to be successful at problem solving?

The simplest strategy is to get your thoughts out of your head into the world. Then, you use dedicated tools to release emotions and organize thoughts.

There are two good approaches to problem solving and both of them focus on moving from the non-physical world (thoughts) into the physical one. Thoughts and emotions are attracted to physical anchors, which are basically forms of expressive outlets. In general, your body acts as such an anchor but it holds all the thoughts inside. Once you want to move the thoughts and emotions into the world, you need to attach them to another anchor. It has to be a tangible one.

The spoken word is a step in the right direction, though not long lasting. A better anchor is created by the written word, or even an artistic expression (drawing, painting, collage, etc). Both the written word and the art expression can last for a long time, hence they are purposeful modalities. They can direct both emotions and thoughts from chaos to order.

These two approaches are:

  1. Talking-modality: coaching or talking through
  2. Writing-modality: self-coaching, journaling or automatic writing

Talking modality: coaching, talking through or a role play

In this modality, the role of the anchor is played either by a human or an object.

Women often talk about their problems, or rather they talk about their emotions (of course, I realize this statement is a generalization ;)). They hardly ever want an advice, but instead, they want to be heard and appreciated.

Women can perfectly describe the tiniest details and feelings. First, it helps them to relieve the tension. Secondly, it helps them to organize the thoughts. In fact, hearing yourself explaining the issues to another person is of a great value. And … If there is great active listener, he/she may direct them towards a solution.

The task of the active listener is to ask open questions that help the person to clarify the problem. In addition, the listener helps to challenge some fixed points of view, shift perspectives and reframe. An active listener is a blessing.

If you want to solve your problems effectively, one way is to talk through them with a willing and gentle soul. This person, however, should refrain from giving advice unless you explicitly ask for. He/she is there to be a genuine listener, caring for you and offering you full attention. Your goal is to be heard and understood. If you miss such a partner, you can still become successful at problem solving by creating an imagined anchor-partner.

The pillow exercise

For myself, I choose a pillow as a prototype, but you may choose any other still object/plant you like. The choice of a pillow is of course intentional. A pillow can offer a great service as an object to cuddle as well as to hit or cry to. It’s good for reconciliation too 😉

The best is to imagine that the pillow is a specific person, alive or not. It should be a person whom you admire and/or respect and whose traits you know. It can be somebody such as your beloved grandma or a friend. Alternatively, you can just imagine a certain kind of a person with a few specific traits or values such as honesty, kindness, courage, independence, etc.

Then you simply imagine a role play between yourself and the pillow character. You begin by explaining the problem, and then you project yourself into the mind of the anchor person, who is going to react to what you are saying by asking open questions. In doing so, you pretend to be the pillow character listening to you with empathy and total interest. You keep taking roles (while you remember your pillow is a gentle soul indeed) until you have said everything it was to say and your mind has become empty.

Of course, you may imagine such a role play directly in your head but it will stay in the realm of thoughts. It makes a tremendous difference whether you have a physical object that you can touch or cuddle and when you use a spoken word (in your normal voice). You will arrive at calmed emotions, clarity and the feeling of power.

However silly it may sound, I’ve found this exercise to work extremely well for a few complex problems involving lots of emotional baggage. As I my preferred learning style is a mix between visual and touch-and-feel approaches, I personally prefer the written word or an artistic expression. Nevertheless, it was my pillow exercise that helped me through when other modalities couldn’t. As such the talking modality is especially beneficial for people whose main learning style is auditory (i.e. they organize knowledge and learn mainly by listening).

 Automatic writing, journaling or self-coaching

In this modality, paper (or computer screen) plays the role of the physical anchor for thoughts. It works especially well for people whose dominant learning style is visual. However, when paper is used and doodling encouraged, the power of paper proves its worth for those with the touch-and-feel learning style.

Writing down thoughts as they come, especially in an uncensored way, is a great tool, often overlooked for problem solving. Writing helps for gaining understanding, releasing negative emotions and achieving goals. The majority of us hardly writes down about own problems, yet it is such an easy way to move forward.

Automatic writing exercise

In an automatic writing, called also freewriting, the idea is to open an editor or take a piece of paper (paper works usually better) and write about your problem. You need to have one or two good questions about it, such as “What is really my problem about?” and “How can I solve my problem in/while X?” (where X is used to specify your other constrains, e.g. “in the next three months”, “in the most effortless way”, “for the highest good of all involved” etc).

Write the first question down and set your timer for 10-15min (the old-fashioned egg timer is perfect for this, but you can also use this one). Begin to write your thoughts down as fast as possible. Even if you don’t know what to write, just write “don’t know what to write” or “this problem bothers me” or whatever else is in your head. The idea is to get all these annoying thoughts out. You may use single words or half-baked sentences.  Keep writing continuously in an uncensored way, i.e. without taking any care of spelling, punctuation, and a neat look. Write big or small, whatever suits you at the moment. Don’t pause to read what you have written or stare before you. “Keep writing” is the idea!

The idea behind writing fast and careless is to release the junk thoughts (“i can’t”) and pass your inner critic until you relax. Once the waste of your thoughts is out of the way, you will relax and open up to the stream of quality thoughts. You will notice that different words become to flow. Just keep writing until you hear the timer beep.

Then you work on the second question (concerning your solutions). Set the timer for another 10-15min and start to write again.

Of course you can ask any other relevant question, such as “What stops me from working out the solution?” or “Which resources do I need to solve this problem?”. Similarly as in the pillow exercise, you can also hold a conversation on a paper about your issue with a real or imagined friend.

Please know that this approach may not work well for the first time, as your inner critic may act too strongly. If you are persistent, however, with little practice you can be surprised by the quality of answers from your inner wisdom.

Why do you need a timer?

Without the time constraint there is no external push or force to make you work to find the answers. The limitations, when set, inspire your brain for activity and creative thinking.

Journaling

Journaling usually involves a longer time of writing and inspecting a few well-structured questions. It can be a method to use daily before or after the day to write about your goals for the day, the expected or experienced progress, disappointments etc. It is a way to get the perplexing thoughts out of your head and leave your mind empty for a creative work.

Self-coaching

Self coaching is a powerful modality that helps you to work towards improvement through a series of well-structured questions. Although it is imperfect substitute for a 1-to-1 coaching, it can nevertheless deliver great results with a small price. What you need is a way to phrase your problem as a goal or target and then explore the context, identify possible solutions and the obstacles and decide for the way forward.

This again works best when explored in a limited time frame (say 40-60min) and involves the written word, in answer to the questions.

Example questions include:

  • What is exactly your problem?
  • What tells you that there is a problem?
  • What is your key challenge that you need to overcome?
  • What are you afraid of when the problem remains unsolved?
  • What would you do if you had no fear and no limitations?
  • What is the first simplest step forward?
  • What is the most effective way forward?
  • How can you create, borrow, learn what you need?
  • What are your obstacles that you need to address?
  • How can you motivate yourself to work towards a solution?

If you coach yourself regularly, alongside the automatic writing, you will gain clarity and liberate yourself to taking action.

In summary

In order to move both the emotions and thoughts towards manifestation in the world, you need to find a physical anchor for them. All approaches to effective problem solving rely on getting the thoughts out of the head and make them explicit.

When thoughts are talked through or written down, the release of emotions leaves the mind with the partially organized thoughts. They are labeled, hence born to existence into the physical world. In fact, the thoughts are not ephemeral any longer; they become things, as they are anchored to reality. Inspecting the maze of the shaped thoughts, your solution to a problem boils then down to an intuitive insight or a recognition of what a good idea is.

To employ both modalities, write and repeat your solution loudly every day.
Keep taking the necessary action.

The power of the spoken and written word will surprise you.

***

 

open_questions
 Photo copyright by CJ Schmit available under Creative Commons on Flickr.

***

There is a saying:

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
Show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

The message is really simple. When you teach a person a skill it will serve him better than a direct response to his momentary needs. This is what we want to believe is true.

But …

Is it really?

Reality check

Have you ever given your whole heart to help a friend to end a toxic relation or quit an alcoholic (or other) abuse?
Yes? … (I have.)
All in vain, as you found out that the land of desperation was too attractive for them to leave.

Have you ever done your best to teach a friend strategies for personal growth when she was really a worrier and complainer?
Yes? … (I have.)
All in vain, as you found out that no matter your efforts she choose to complain.

Have you ever spent a huge amount of time to teach your friend a framework of healthy living (English / math / driving / whatever)?
Yes? … (I have.)
All in vain, as you found out that despite the initial progress he was worse off than before.

The willing

All these experiences taught me something deeply profound.

Love and compassion go hand in hand with frustration.

You can do everything what’s in your might to teach a person a skill, but it is not in your power to make him change. You cannot help someone who is not accepting this help. A person may follow your teaching for a while but unless it is fueled by their own desire to change, a transformation will not happen.

Despite the sincerity of intention you can’t help someone who is stuck in their perspective and refuses to take the obvious steps. Why? Because as long as they maintain their Self-perspective, your beliefs, arguments and methods will have no effects whatsoever, or little, at best.

They need to become aware of their own situation. This is the first ingredient. But there is another one, even more important. That is ….

The change simply comes to the willing. It omits the ignorant ones.Tweet: The change simply comes to the willing. It omits the ignorant ones. via @ElaPekalska

Indeed, the second ingredient is willingness. This is not the wishy-washy thinking, but an inspired action.

There has to be an inner drive for a change to happen. Even if you make a change possible – provide the right circumstances, share your resources and supervise the whole process, an unwilling ground will inhibit the growth. The planted seed will die even if well watered, nurtured and provided with sunshine.

Why?

Because it lacks the will to grow.

Simply …

Enabling change doesn’t lead to a change by default.

The will to change can be encouraged, e.g. when the consequences of the given behavior (say, from the lack of skill) are more profound than the value of this behavior. It still doesn’t guarantee the change, but it provides a spark in the awareness. Only then a person may develop their will.

As long as the behavior suits them even for secondary gains, they will remain without fish.

The act of giving

When you are willing to teach someone a skill or offer help, it’s important to check your motivation as well.  Are you offering your help to exercise your power or control (“I’m smarter/better off than you and …well.. I can mercifully teach you this…”)? Or, are you teaching a man to fish because of your compassion?

If you choose to help, do your best and let it go. If you give, give generously and allow the person to do anything with your offering: the learned skill, your time or the resources.

They may use it, abuse it or even abandon it. It’s up to them.

Even if you teach them to find the best fish, catch it and cook it, they may still choose to do it differently.

They may choose to catch the fish, make a photo and release it (as many Dutch people do ;)), while staying hungry. They may also wait to be served, or expect angels to come and provide them with food. Until one day their hunger perhaps outweights their laziness or whatever else that stops them from catching the fish and eating it.

Just give what you can give and let them be free to do whatever they choose to with your gift. Only then, in freedom, they can exercise their power to receive and become responsible. I know it can be painful at times to see your own resources being wasted but a true gift is free. Really. The receiver has no obligation towards you.

So, if you now think that all your efforts may be wasted, there comes …

The power of open questions!

Open questions have an important role to play.

Why?

Because the mind doesn’t like openings and holes. It strives to close the gap of the lack of knowledge or understanding. The mind will search for answers.

Therefore, a powerful question is your bait to encourage a person for a change.

So …

When you choose to give, give generously. Either feed the man or teach him how to fish. At the same time, however, leave him with powerful questions.

These are the open questions that start with the words: “what?”when?” or “how?” and touch the important issue. The purpose of the questions is to make a person think.

How do you recognize a powerful question?

Well, …, it’s usually such when a person says “oh, this is a good question”, or something along these lines. (I’ve tested this hundreds of times and a powerful question will always make a person to admit that.)

Example questions are:

  • How would you know if it were the time to go fishing / eat the fish (i.e. change / learn the skill)?
  • What can you do to feed yourself (i.e. improve your current situation)?
  • What is the easiest / fastest step that can move you forward?
  • What keeps you stuck in your situation? How can you overcome it?
  • Whom can you ask for help to overcome your inertia / lack of funds / confusion?
  • What could you do if you had all the resources/ money / time / help  available? (Would you open a fish restaurant? … just kidding)
  • What does it need to happen for you to make you to change (go fish and feed yourself)?
  • How can you use your skill of X to make Y happen?
  • What do you want to achieve in a 5 -year time? Whom do you want to become? What does it need to happen to be at that point?
  • If you are 95 and look back at your life, what would you like to have achieved? Whom would you like to have become? How can you ensure that you are going to reach this?
  • What would it be like if you could do  X or had Y?

The point is not to ask all these questions. Perhaps not even these questions. Just one question or a few questions, relevant to the issue at hand that are open-ended and will inspire creative thinking.

A powerful question will stay with this person for much longer than you may expect.
It will reach beyond the surface, pass their inner critic and the doubting mind.
A good question will keep sounding in the mind as a gong. Long and pervasive.
A good question will penetrate the person to the bones. Until they dissolve the resistance.

And, indeed, a will to change can be inspired by such open questions.

***

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
Show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
Ask a man a powerful question, and you ignite his desire for transformation.

That’s your task for the next week.

***

Note

Be very careful with asking WHY.

The why-questions are big spoilers. They are often subtly perceived as a form of accusation or telling off, where you call the other to explain himself. This is especially true when you put the emphasis on why. E.g. Imagine what type of feelings evoke in you when you hear: “So, why do you do that?” or “Why did you decide to go in this direction?” You can ask the same/similar question in a different way.

Use WHAT instead. Say “What encourages you to do that?” or “What was your motivation to go in this direction?” You notice the power of curiosity behind the what-questions, don’t you? Choose to ask what-questions.

This is what coaching is about!

***

 

 

Traveling with small kids is both fun and challenge. I do my best to maximize the former and minimize the later. Sometimes, the optimization process comes with a surprise as it happened during my last flight.

It started well as we arrived at the airport 3h before the departure. We suddenly had too much time, so we decided to run the kids around the airport to let them get rid of extra energy. It was a good move 😉 Then we had a meal and still plenty of time to go through the security. Since we were not in hurry, we ended up late in the final queue to enter the plane. As a result, we had little choice in choosing good seats (yes, it was a budget airline). We took the only possibility which offered us neighboring seats, somewhere in the middle of the plane.

It first seemed to be a good choice, but it soon became less obvious. The reason was a very noisy couple in the opposite seats. Since the plane was nearly full, there was no chance to find quiet neighbors. We could only let things evolve naturally and participate in the events. As it turned out, they were interesting.

Imagine a couple, a lady and a man, say 30-35 years old, who look and behave like rebellious teenagers. Loud and colorful attention seekers. Imagine strong make-up, tattoos, earrings, headphones in the ears and them singing aloud to the music, making noises and commenting loudly on everything in the news and around, including passengers and stewardesses.

The lady clearly wanted to be in the center of the attention, talking louder than everybody around, even interfering with safety recordings. Stewardesses approached her a number of times, asking her to be quiet. Each time she managed to become silent for 20-30sec to only comment louder soon after. It was both annoying and hilarious for the other passengers.

If this was not enough, soon the lady nonchalantly took an electronic cigarette out of her bag and started smoking. OK, it was not a real fume or course, but nevertheless I was annoyed. I don’t like cigarettes and I don’t feel comfortable when I see somebody smoking in the front of my kids even if  it seems not to be a cigarette. I must admit that there was no detectable smell, but it still made me feel uneasy.  When I was about to asked the lady to stop smoking, one of the stewardesses took an action.

What followed then was a series of discussions between stewardesses and the lady. They tried to stop the lady from smoking while she was vividly defending her stand: the electronic cigarette was not a cigarette and could be smoked on airplanes. The were some loud arguments, complains and the citations of the airplane rules. She was very stubborn so the stewardesses had to use smarter and smarter strategies to make her stop. And in meantime she continued smoking, of course.

On the top of that she made  discussion of which meals and drinks she would buy. After satisfying her hunger, she decided not to smoke any more, of course commenting loudly on injustice and the policy at the airplanes.

By that time I was already fed up with the whole situation especially that keeping my children occupied at the seats was challenging enough. 

Surprisingly, however, after some more minutes, the lady became quiet. She started to observe my kids and became interested in them. And in the following 15min she fully transformed herself into a new being, it seemed. She became a calm and charming lady, a lovely child carer, engaged in various plays with my son.

It was surprising, to say at least.

She was very enthusiastic, cheerful and simply fun for my son, applauding him for little progresses he was making in the plays. He simply loved interacting with her. In addition, she easily connected to the other two and was able to play with all of them on various levels.

It was a big surprise to me to see how easily she connected with the kids. She simply entertained them for the rest of the journey. There was no barrier between her and them. Everything was fun, easy, natural, as if effortless. The connection was just there.

During that time my son considered her as his best friend and had difficulty to say goodbye when we arrived at our destination. There were multiple hugs and kisses between them two. Quite amazing.

We learned she was a mother of two, having her four-day holiday away from the kids, first time in some years. She simply wanted to get crazy on her holiday, as she said. 

The moral

What is the moral of this story? A simple one is this: appearances are deceptive

Yet, there are two more important learning points.

First, what we see on the surface does not determine the quality of the inside.  Therefore, let us remember about the treasure each of us holds inside. A treasure that can be discovered, awaken or transformed when the right moment comes.

Secondly, what we perceive as a potentially negative feature, say a loud and childish behavior, has a complementary aspect which is positive, i.e. say easiness to connect with kids. Next time when we are willing to stigmatize an aspect of others, let us pause for a moment to find out what may be a hidden treasure beneath.

For sure, it is there. 

 ****

Other inspirational or educational posts:

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Many years back my friend was going through a painful divorce. She was my close friend some time before that event, but we lost the connection when we started to pursue different paths in life.

I learned about her divorce from others and I knew it was a tough experience for her. I wanted to call her, cuddle her and offer her my listening ear. I felt so much compassion that I could not bear it, in fact. Yet, I found myself completely blocked and immobilized to take any action. I felt lost.

I simply did not know what to tell and how to ask about her feelings. I did not know how to start a conversation and how to tell that I knew she was in trouble. I wanted to help badly yet I couldn’t make the step. Anything that I thought I could say seemed ridiculous. I felt it would be stupid to call her just because I had no clue how to start. I got stuck. I could not collect my courage, so I did not call.

Luckily, I connected to her later with a help of another friend, still in time to offer my understanding and support. To my surprise, the connection was perfectly easy and natural. All the projected fears of not knowing what to say and how to express my love were completely irrelevant. My care was enough for her to appreciate the connection.

I have learned something powerful from this experience.

You can conquer the whole world.
You can become the top achiever.
You can become rich and famous.

Yet, if you fail to ask a simple question:

“How are you, dear friend?”

you have not learned how to live.

And you know, there are times when it is extremely hard to ask this question.

These are the times when your friend or family member is going through a life-threatening illness, a painful loss or challenging life circumstances. These are the times when you just know your colleague at work is really lost and without hope, yet your supervisory or managerial position ‘does not allow’ to ask more, or you don’t even want to bother.  It is potentially too much trouble. These are the times when you see a stranger in tears,  yet it is not proper to ask her what’s wrong or how you can help.

We have the norms in the end, don’t we?

Have you noticed how easy it is to discuss jobs, progress, achievements or plans, but how difficult is it to ask about personal feelings? It is scary to ask about them sometimes. In the end we have enough our own troubles, don’t we?

When you ask the question, it is as if the shields drop down and you may see a naked truth. In such a moment you are willing to show how you are because your shields are down too. Floods of emotions may follow.

Are you prepared?

Like for Parzival who had to conquer the whole world and wander aimlessly for years before he could finally connect to others and himself, it is important for us to ask this powerful question. This is the question that heals and transforms. A question that Parzival had to ask his uncle Anfortas was  “What is it that troubles you, dear uncle?” And this single question, of pure love and interest stopped the illness and sufferings of Anfortas. It made him whole again.

If you ask “How are you?” with deep interest and care, you need to step out of your comfort zone and reach out to the other person. In doing so, you recognize a part of yourself in the other person, a certain vulnerability. You become receptive to learn something about the other and yourself. You recognize the part of consciousness you are both sharing. You give a gift of attention and love. You offer your willingness to change, facilitate a transformation and to heal.

It is not easy, perhaps. But it is essential.

My friend is dying now and I am sad. So, I hurry to ask “How are you, dear friend?”. Because it matters. We both need love and healing.

Is there any person in your life waiting for somebody to give him a seed of interest and care?
Don’t wait.  It is your turn to act now.

And, in meantime, let me ask  “How are things with you, dear friend?”

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The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on  www.ingeduin.nl.

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Addendum: My friend died two months after writing this post. I’m glad I was able to support him in the last days.

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