September 2012: Moving Beyond Contention

by Brad on September 1, 2012

 “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince


Do you long for more collaborative, peaceful, relationships – at home, at work? Are you frustrated by the contention and conflict that seem to get in the way? Most people say yes to both, yet think things could change only by eliminating those who cause the contention and conflict. Here’s a simple approach to improving how you relate with others. It’s based in taking a look at how you respond to contention today.

Check in with yourself for a minute. When someone says something you don’t like, how do you respond? I ask this question often, and most people say they push back in one way or another, either with silence (holding their reaction in), or with disagreement (putting their reaction out there). Either of these responses, however, is based in the same root thinking – that there’s a need to defend yourself. Did you ever stop to ask where that thinking came from, and perhaps consider another way? Despite our wishes, life doesn’t change for us until we do consider another way. But here’s the problem. If you’re in the midst of defending yourself, you’re not likely to stop and search for a better way. If you’re not in the midst of defending yourself, you don’t need to! So the question often goes unconsidered. What if right now could be the time to step back and take a fresh look at what’s happening? Here’s a perspective.

Pushing back on others is an unconscious reaction, not a chosen response. It’s not a result of thinking, but a result of not thinking. When we’re not thinking, which, it turns out, is most of the time, the unconscious mind is in charge. Its main job is to protect us from danger, which it defines as anything from the past it finds scary or “wrong.” Whenever it perceives a threat, it defends. If you’re not aware of this, your unconscious mind chooses the reaction for you. The “fears” it uses for decision-making include fear of not being good enough, of needing to be right, of being controlled or manipulated, etc. Each one is based in a judgment about the self, others or world. If we don’t examine those judgments, we “become them” … through how we react to life. That’s where the conscious mind comes in – if we use it!

By choosing to look consciously at the thinking that underlies our behavior, we come to see ourselves & others more clearly, more objectively. Just by noticing our thoughts, perhaps for the first time, we open ourselves to asking new questions. What if it simply didn’t matter what anyone said? What if their words were simply a reflection of what’s true for them and had nothing to do with me? What if I didn’t feel the need to defend myself; what’s possible then?

The natural state of the [conscious] human mind is curiosity. It wants to understand. Understanding doesn’t require a response. Understanding is non-judgmental. Understanding is not the same as agreeing. Understanding is an opening to collaborative dialogue. It’s where learning begins. And that’s where better relationships begin. Understanding self leads to understanding others. Although there’s no need to continually tolerate bad behavior of some people, here’s an exercise that will guide you to more collaborative relationships, with yourself and with those who matter to you.

Exercise: The wisdom of non-judgment. Invariably, the act of examining judgments causes them to fall away. Invariably, not examining them leads to the same old contention. First, name someone you don’t know personally, but with whom you disagree; a politician might be an easy choice. Name the disagreement; be specific. Note that the disagreement carries judgment. Now see if you can name your understanding of their position. What are they saying? Be specific. Note that understanding, by itself, carries no judgment; it’s just knowing how they see. Ask yourself if the understanding you have is clear enough to support the judgment you have. If not, what new or added information is required for you to understand more fully? Are you willing to ask for that information? If not, are you willing to release your judgment? What have you learned about yourself? Now choose someone close to you with whom you disagree. Repeat the exercise. What have you learned – about conscious vs. unconscious thought; about understanding vs. judgment? Repeat this exercise daily for a month with several different people, searching for clues to your thinking. Over this period of time, what do you notice about peacefulness and collaboration in your relationships?

A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

For a week last month, I “checked out” for a visit with my brother in Washington state. And for 3 days of my visit, I “checked in” to nature, returning to one of my favorite places – a log cabin in the woods just outside Mount Rainier National Park. Life seems to proceed at a different pace here, as if clocks ran at a slower rate. But experience quickly reminded me that the pace is “nature’s pace,” a pace we may label as “something wrong” coming from the artificial insanity to which we submit ourselves in the everyday world. During the time since my last visit, nature had seen to it that more shade covered the deck of the cabin, that flowers grew along the stones of the woodland labyrinth, and that the trail to the meditation garden was a bit more difficult to find. Yet nothing was “wrong.” It was all so very right – a place of peace and love in the midst of a world that would have us believe there’s “no place for such a place” in our lives.

There’s a chalkboard at the edge of the parking lot. There you find a schedule for the hot tubs. Write your name into a block, and the place is yours for the hour. Without presence of “staff,” one could believe that forest gnomes came to re-do the board each day. During one of my tub visits, a pair of spotted owls landed on a tree next to me. The silence of the woods was eclipsed only by the complete absence of any sound whatsoever in their flight. This, I thought, is the joy nature intended we experience in her presence. Time seemed to expand, fueled by my rich experience of the present moment. Although I tend not to adopt the frenetic pace that defines our everyday world, I still find moments such as these as deeply contemplative and amazingly productive – despite the appearance of doing nothing. For me, this particular moment was also one of reverence and reciprocity, a striking reminder that indeed we are all one.


Openings to New Possibility


An invitation to bold possibility: I love to write about life-changing possibility, yet I am aware that most people will not integrate these perspectives into their lives on their own. I’m here to help you. Good ideas are just that – good ideas. They become your own good ideas only by developing personal felt experience of them. It’s often a struggle creating this personal experience because, left to ourselves, we use the same thinking that got us where we are to get us somewhere else. That’s like washing off paint with paint. If, despite workshops, programs and reading you’ve done, life still falls short of your dreams, consider a “guide for the unexplored territory” of your future. I’ll meet you wherever you may be on your path. Together we’ll challenge the thinking that holds you back, discover what matters most to you and chart a course into the territory of your potential. Contact me, and begin to shift forever your view of what’s possible.

The Road Not Taken website: Join The Road Not Taken Community, a subscription offering free of charge, giving you the opportunity to stay connected, to interact, to be challenged, to learn. (If you already subscribe to this newsletter, you’re enrolled.) Gain access to articles, newsletters, blogs; you’ll find “new stuff” on a regular basis. This newsletter is found as a blog entry (under category Purposeful Wanderings), along with several back issues. Available now: A Field Guide to Life, offered as an e-book for purchase, or free of charge as an on-going series of blog articles to which you can subscribe. I welcome comment on anything you read; this kind of dialogue is an example of how we may all learn together.

Book of the monthTao Mentoring, Cultivate Collaborative Relationships in All Areas of Your Life, by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch. The title may evoke images that belie its message. This book is not an eastern philosophy book, nor is it only about mentoring (although it is excellent as both!!).  It’s a beautifully done exposé on the depth of human relationships, and how to relate more meaningfully in all your conversations and connections, including ones you have with yourself. “The best relationships are like water; they benefit all yet compete with nothing.” The authors show how the best relationships are about two-way learning and respect; they offer both ideas and tools to understand yourself better, as well as to shift your way of being to one of reverence and reciprocity with others. … And, if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nancy Davison November 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm

thanks for suggesting I come to this “wandering”. It’s so important to be reminded of these things because even though I know this at some level, it gets lost in the daily routines.


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