Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stop Talking

"Emotional entrainment is the heart of influence." -Daniel Goleman

We live in a culture that is constantly pushing answers at us all day long.  No sooner do you share something troubling you with a friend when that friend is offering all sorts of advice, sometimes before you've even finished your story.  We're taught that to care about someone means to help solve their problems.  But what if that weren't true?  Did you ever think that your mere presence could be enough? 

Recently I've been studying a concept called entrainment.  The word "entrain" means to pull along after itself, like a series of box cars on a track.  In a nutshell, it's a naturally occurring phenomenon about how we pull each other in synch, given proximity.  It was discovered by a seventeenth century clockmaker named Christian Huygens who invented the pendulum clock.  He would leave his studio only to find all the pendulums swinging in unison, despite his purposefully not setting them that way. 

You might not realize your energy works like that, but it does.  If you have a friend who is upset or sick, you can comfort that person simply by sitting near them and maintaining a state of peace.  Can you imagine how much better that friend would feel, compared to a visit by someone who spoke ceaselessly and advised them on all the things they needed to do to solve their problems?

Sometimes talking is overrated.  As my grandfather progressed through his nineties, his hearing became quite poor.  It became frustrating for both of us to try and have conversations like we used to, so instead I would just sit with him, smile at him and make funny faces, which he would return.  One of my favorite dinners we had was one where it was just the two of us, slowly making our way through three courses without much talking, just smiling, laughing and enjoying each other's company.

A really cool thing about entrainment is that it works just as well on yourself as on others.  With practice, you can slow yourself down, open your heart and surround yourself with peace whenever you wish.  You can train your heart to lead your mind, instead of the other way around.

Gandhi understood the power of silence so much that he devoted every Monday to it.  He believed not speaking made him a better listener and brought him more inner peace. 

While that ideal may be out of the reach of most of us from a practical standpoint, we can each consciously scale back our typical commentary.  For example, the next time you're with a friend, instead of diving in with a similar example, just empathize.  Say, "Wow you must have been so surprised," or "Gee that sounds rough."  You may find there is a lot more your friend would like to say, given the space.  And you may find you're able to be more present by simply listening, instead of waiting to speak. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

In A Box

 “How did it get so late so soon?” 
--Dr. Seuss

I had some losses recently. My beloved grandfather came within six months of his 100th birthday, but stubborn as he was, he just couldn’t quite make it there.  Not too long after, the only pet of my adult life reached a similar end, at a very ancient (for a cat) age of 20 years.  You’d think that having both of these wonderful entities in my life for such a long time would have lessened the grief at their passing, but it was not so.  Greedily I still wanted more time with them and found it hard to let go.

On a cold, early winter day, we lowered shovelfuls of earth on my grandfather’s grave, while on a dark, lightning bug-lit summers’ night we gently lowered our cat’s pinewood coffin into its secret spot.  But this isn’t an article about sadness or death.  Rather it’s about the shift that happened following these two occurrences.  I started thinking about “the box.”

Poppy will always be in a beautiful, shiny brown metal box with gold handles, while Ernie’s simple pinewood box is one we built ourselves.  Perfectly sized for him, I used a Sharpie to decorate the outside with his name, dates of birth and death, messages of love and a drawing of him with us, his forever family.  I picture both of them in their boxes now, at peace and just resting.  Turning back into elements, grass and someday stardust again.

I think about how there is a box somewhere waiting for me. It might not have been built yet, but the idea of it, if not the reality, is now firmly planted.  And there is a box for you as well.  There is a box for everyone.  (And if you plan to be cremated or dropped in the ocean, there is a metaphorical box for you.) 

Every day, every moment, you are approaching closer to that box and a simple hole in the Earth.  We will each go in there, maybe soon, or maybe (hopefully) not for a long, long time. Death and taxes, this is where we all trails end.

Truly understanding the hard truth of the box has changed me.  It has made me less afraid.  In perhaps a strange way, it comforts and encourages me, reminding me to make the most of the minutes and hours left to me. It helps me keep failure in perspective, and gravitate toward what’s real and feels important.  If there is something I feel a pull to explore, I now do it faster and with more abandon.  If there is a letdown that sandbags me, I recover sooner.  I must.  I am driven now.  Life needs to be lived fully because the clock is ticking down.  Days are precious. The box is waiting.