Day 350: Know thyself

I discovered a new word this week: Empath. I’m not sure if it’s a word in psychology, or if it’s pseudo-scientific, or paranormal hoo-ha, but whatever it is, that’s me. I know that one of my greatest strengths (and weaknesses) is empathy. I have an overt sense of feeling what others feel. But when I read about the empath this week, I was a little alarmed over how many items on the list seemed to be written about me.

In the article I came across online [and I’m sorry I can’t credit it properly because it seemed to be someone who was sharing someone else’s blog, but I didn’t see a name], the first line of the article was:

Empaths be like…I don’t just listen to your words. I listen to your use of words, your tone, your body movements, your eyes, your subtle facial expressions. I interpret your silences – I can hear everything you don’t say in words. 

Empaths have been described as being a sponge…they take on everything around them as if it were their own. For me, especially over the past 5-7 years, I’ve learned not to take it all on me, but to understand what’s going on and interpreting it through a lens so that it’s not happening to me. As such, I can still feel empathy for someone, but not be sucked into their pain.

I have always been instinctive; I just know things and when I tell people what I think is going to happen, most often, they don’t get it…until later when things unfold as I had said. Maybe that’s what makes me a bit stand-offish, because I’ve tried to learn to be quiet and let people figure things out their own way. But being so empathetic, that is so tough because I know the pain they will be walking through and that I could alleviate for them if they would just listen to me on the front end. It often feels like a curse; but it really is a special gift once I understood things about myself and how to protect myself. Of course, I’m still a work in progress.

A few things from the article that really resonated with me. An empath…

  • Struggles to work out whether they are feeling their own emotions or the emotions of those around them.
  • Puts others needs before themselves as though everyone else’s pleasure and happiness is more important than their own.
  • Tends to connect with people who are suffering and often wants to try to make the world a better place for them.
  • Sometimes just know things, without having any idea of where they gained the information.
  • Constantly…theorizes and philosophizes.
  • Is very creative and highly imaginative; writing, art, music, painting, dancing, acting, building and designing are a few of the traits that empaths are often passionate about.
  • Is highly sensitive to sounds, smells, bright lights and the feel of certain fabrics (or tags…freaky).

Those who know me well are probably chuckling right now. Of the 25 things on the list, all but one or two were descriptors of who I used to be or who I am now. The nice thing about growing is that we can work on those things that make us weak, and turn them into strengths. I can now hear things from my friends and use what I hear to pray for them or otherwise help them, without debilitating myself in the process with the weight of their suffering being pulled down onto me. It’s a much better place to be.

DAY 350 HOMEWORK: Marcus Buckingham, an expert on strengths, always said too much of a strength is a weakness. When you know your strengths, see where you overuse it and then learn to pull back. That will allow your strength to shine.

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Day 349: Remotely familiar

I was thinking today about how much more time I have on my hands now that I’m not watching TV anymore. Well, I will watch a movie from time-to-time, or we’ll watch an episode of The Profit on Hulu, [and I would watch Fixer Upper if a new season were on] but I used to sit every night and watch TV and then the news before heading to bed. I’d find some puzzle or project to work on while the TV was on, but my nightly ritual used to be sedentary and a bit mind-numbing.

As a result, I don’t feel as connected to all the bad news happening in the world. I totally missed out on the Olympics, and maybe some other feel-good information, but I’ve started exercising and, of course, now I’m writing regularly. It’s a great trade-off.

I thought I’d miss TV more than I do, but I really don’t, except maybe when people are talking about some show; I no longer have anything to contribute to the discussion. It’s a little surreal listening to people talk about TV now that I’m no longer informed. I don’t even know what the new season shows are, but as I listen in on the conversations, the dialogue about them seems so fake. Is that what I used to sound like? I’m sure it was.

I get the attraction, or the obsession. I was there for a long time. But it seems so meaningless now, and I don’t ever want to fall back into that habit. It’s easy to do when you work hard and come home tired; all you want to do is vegetate. But the more you vegetate, the more you want to vegetate, and it becomes a sludgy cycle. I’ve not thrown my TV away, but it no longer controls me, and that’s a very nice place to be.

DAY 349 HOMEWORK: Take a look at your viewing habits. Is it a bit obsessive? If so, cut off the cable, or drop it down to basic. It will force you to look at the time-wasters in your life. You can still choose to watch, but then it’s harder to work around the constraints, so it makes it easier to break free. The key, then, is doing something with your newly-found free time that involved connections with others. Try it out and see what you think.

Day 348: Sing back to me

I am a collector of quotes. They give me ideas to dwell on throughout the day, and allow me to share interesting thoughts with others. Of course, I collect quotes I like. Silly sentence! Who would collect quotes they don’t like? Well, I probably do know a couple of people who would.

Anyway, I love the following quote:

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you forget the words.” – Unknown

I wish I knew who Unknown was. I’ll bet he or she would be a kindred. Think about it. If the quote resonates with me, then I connect with Unknown. If Unknown lived next door, we’d have afternoon tea together, or we’d talk over the fence in the evenings. Maybe we’d run errands together, or go see a movie on the weekend.

That’s the interesting part about finding kindreds. It’s often a funny quip, or a pleasant exchange of words that draws us to someone else. It’s the beginning of a conversation. It’s a heart-felt moment shared at the water cooler.

The magic in finding a kindred is in keeping those exchanges going. It’s saying, “Let’s catch up over coffee” and then actually calling to set a date to do that. It’s texting or leaving a voice mail when you’re thinking of someone. It’s putting a beautiful card in the mail. It’s saying you’re praying for someone, and then actually doing it. And maybe following that up with a note of encouragement, or delivering a pie to their home. It’s breaking down our walls that we hide behind, and putting someone ahead of our comfort zone. It’s putting down our phones and really paying attention to those around us. When we can do those things, then we can truly get to know Unknown.

DAY 348 HOMEWORK: What are you doing these days to know the song in Unknown’s heart? They may need you to sing to them at some point, so keep the exchanges going.

Day 347: The Marble Jar

One of the stories I like best from Brene’ Brown (yes, I’m talking about her again) is the story she tells about her daughter’s teacher, who brought out a large jar on the first day of school. The teacher said if the kids behaved well, worked hard, were kind, etc., she would add marbles to the jar. If they were not all that, the teacher would remove marbles from the jar. The teacher promised a party when the marbles reached the top of the jar.

One day, Brene’s daughter was distraught because she had told one of her “friends” something that she had been embarrassed about. By the time recess was over, many of the girls in the class knew and were making fun of her. The teasing was so bad, that marbles came out of the jar that afternoon.

That night, upon discussing the terrible day with her mom, she said she thought the girl was her friend and wondered how she could tell if someone was a friend or not. Brene’ told her daughter that over time, you gain trust with people by their actions. When the actions are positive, you add marbles to their “jar” and when the actions are negative, you take marbles out. A light went on in the daughter’s mind and she happily reported she had 4 friends who were full-marble-jar friends, who had proven themselves as loyal and kind and supportive.

The marble jar is a great word picture. We have daily situations that have us adding or taking marbles out of a specific “jar.” The fuller the jar, the more trust has been built, and the easier it is for handfuls of marbles to be added exponentially to the collection. An emptier jar should leave us taking a step back and questioning motives, especially if it was once a full jar. It’s not that trust can’t be built up again, but once the marbles are gone, it’s very, very difficult to fill it back up again. Those marbles may have to come in one at a time and we may have to collect a bunch of them before we’ll believe any of the marbles really belong in the jar again.

DAY 347 HOMEWORK: On the opposite side of this word picture, what are we doing to add positive marbles to someone else’s jar? Or are we providing lots of opportunities for others to remove our marbles? Do your best to be full marble jar friends.

One final note: if you have difficulty knowing whether you can trust someone or not, think of their marble jars. What have they done to add marbles to the jar? And what have they done that made you want to take the marbles out, or maybe even smash the jar on the floor? When you can picture that, you have a better picture of how much you truly trust that person, and you can act accordingly.

 

 

Day 346: Alongside

Today, we had a speaker come and speak to our company for our women’s initiative; she was a former senator from Arkansas, the youngest female senator to ever take office and the first female on the Agricultural Committee in its over 100-year history. Some of the group who put the event together and a few executive team members had lunch with the senator before the event, and she was a delight to listen to. She talked nearly non-stop for 90 minutes before we even went in to the auditorium for the presentation. I really could have listened to her great stories for a couple hours more.

Her talk to the group was rather matter-of-fact. I could tell the audience was engaged, and inspired by her common-sense way of speaking. For a while, though, she could have been writing this blog, talking about the old days of politics, where it didn’t matter which side of the fence someone’s belief system rested on. She spoke often of the need to get to know others and hear where they’re coming from. It used to be easier, she said, for members of Congress to be neighbors and friends, barbecue on the weekends, and then collaborate as much as possible on initiatives during the week, for the betterment of all.

She said that today’s media creates a huge disconnect in politics because today, when someone votes one way or another, the media has taken a position either for or against the topic, and then reports it before a politician has the ability to drive down the road to talk with constituents one-on-one to explain why a vote was either good or bad. That pre-emptive nature of media is positive in that it allows immediate “knowledge” of what’s happening, but it is negative in that the old way of connecting and communicating is all but gone.

Of course, I can’t write everything she spoke about,  but she did really touch a soft spot in me when she said that our journey is not just arriving at the top of the mountain, having reached our goal. The joy is in the journey up the mountain, she said, coming up besides others who are there fighting just as diligently to reach a goal. For it’s in traveling alongside others on that journey, and in cultivating friendships, that makes the goal worthwhile.

She was a #FindingKindreds kind of politician, one I’m sure I would have been able to collaborate with, had I been a member of Congress with her. She even made politics seem interesting to me, no small task.

DAY 346 HOMEWORK: You can agree to disagree with someones, and yet cultivate friendships.Find joy in the journey towards the goals. That will be our goal.

 

Day 345: The long and winding road

I know I’m on the road. It’s taking me somewhere, and it’s OK not to know where. When I got up this morning to get ready for Sunday School, I must have been a bit out of it. I took my nighttime meds instead of my morning meds…not a big issue, except that my nighttime meds make me sleepy. It was sort of a happy accident, because I took an awesome Sunday afternoon nap, but I did sit and cry through most of that Sunday School class. The cool thing is that I didn’t have to explain myself; I just had the love and support of those in the class. A dear heart came and sat with me, and just hugged on me ever-so-sweetly.

The main points of The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene’ Brown, have showed me that I’m walking towards whole-hearted living. She says, in that book, to let go of:

  • What people think
  • Perfectionism
  • Numbing and powerlessness
  • Scarcity and fear of the dark
  • Need for certainty
  • Comparison
  • Exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
  • Anxiety as a lifestyle
  • Self-doubt and “supposed to”
  • Being cool and “always in control”

There’s no way that, before, I would have let others see me in the emotional state of this morning. Before, I would have walked out of the classroom before the tears came. I would have scolded myself for not staying in control. I know that I still fight some fiery arrows hurling my way, because twice today, people offered for me to reach out to them in the coming week, and my internal voice knee-jerked: “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.” But,  I will. I need others; and they need me. I have things that can help them on their road, and sometimes, I just need those who will come and walk beside me for a few miles.

It’s #FindingKindreds at its heart…being OK with not being OK. Connecting with those along the journey. Helping others, and allowing them to help you. It’s not being normal and acknowledging that that is totally normal. It’s breaking down walls of shame and self-doubt, and letting go the need to live up to what we imagine others think we should be. It’s a beautiful, glorious, but sometimes painful road, and we need not walk alone, for any of it.

DAY 345 HOMEWORK: Look back at the bulleted list from Brene’s book. Which ones strike a chord with you? Maybe you need to get the book.

Day 344: The expense of hardening a heart

If you wonder why I love Brene’ Brown so much, it’s due to a couple of things. First, her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, started me down the road towards easing up on myself and others, by breaking free of the need to have everything “just so.” Second, she thinks a lot like me, in that she really feels we need connection with others. In Daring Greatly, she says:

We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.

I know this to be true. For so long, I built up walls and wouldn’t let anyone in. Like Brene’ says, I too always had an exit strategy, a way out if I felt I had to engage too much. I suffered from depression and loneliness, even in the midst of gobs of people. I felt stuck, just getting up, going to work, working, coming home, making dinner, relaxing for an hour or two, and then going to sleep only to wake up the next day to do it all again. All the joy had gone out of life.

When I decided it was enough, I started getting out of my comfort zone, joining groups where I had to talk to people, where I had to connect. I’m actually OK at connecting in groups, but I still kept everyone at a safe distance. I didn’t want anyone to get too close. They might figure out that I’m not perfect or strong, I might have to make someone mad, or disagree with them. I might have to show my true self.

It’s taken me several years on this journey and I’ve still not arrived where I want to be. I’d really like to be free enough to disagree with others, to stop swallowing my feelings in favor of keeping peace. I love peace, but not at the expense of hardening my heart. I’m learning, but it can be a painful journey.

Brene’ opens up Daring Greatly by discussing Teddy Roosevelt’s “arena” speech. I memorized a good portion of it when I was in college, and it’s one you probably know, too; the one that says something like, “The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…and if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.” It’s obviously where she took her title from. But she makes an heart-piercing point early on:

When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.

I’ve done that for too long. I have sacrificed a lot, and lost too much. I have stuffed my gifts so deep inside of me that I lost my song for quite a few years, not a note, not a hum came out of me subconsciously. For those who know me well, they would notice that songless bird, but not know how to help. I was in a deep hole.

My song has finally returned, and I’ve been climbing back towards the sunshine, but it has not been without loss. I like who is emerging. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, what path God has in store for me, but I know it’s going to be a great adventure. I’m ready to step into the arena, with all my flaws, and dare to be who I was made to be.

DAY 344 HOMEWORK: Not sure where you’re at tonight, but what’s keeping you out of the arena? Get in there and fight, and be sure to let who you are to come out.