Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spontaneous Attention to the Well Being of Others

My final weekend of "connecting" month went well. After the drama and emotion of Thursday, we headed out to western mass on Friday--our favorite weekend getaway destination. We were supposed to meet friends from NY, but they got snowed in under 3 feet of snow (!) so we wound up with more free time than anticipated, which worked out just fine actually. (Even though we were looking forward to seeing them.) We got to see Becca and Bil and their newly-turned-one son, Raviv, who is super cute. And we got to have TWO long, lingering, engaging meals with Kate, which was also a treat since we haven't seen her in SUCH a long time. And she doesn't really do facebook, so I kind of suck at keeping in touch with her when we both get busy at work. We also got time to connect with each other, and ourselves. We had a jacuzzi room, and we brought soap confetti and bubble bath and LOTS of snacks and wine. On Saturday, we hardly left the hotel room. We watched movies and read books and relaxed in the jacuzzi and ordered fun flavored wings to get delivered to the room.

And I was finishing up this month's Oprah magazine, which had a section on "spring cleaning" your life (just a month late) and an interview with Thich Nhat Hanh. Reading it reminded me how important it is to find your center--and stay centered--and to stay in the present and find compassion--for yourself and others. How can you ignore life advice from someone who has spent a lifetime practicing peace, compassion and happiness?

After all the conversations I've had with people I care about since Thursday, I've gained a little more perspective on the negative dorm feedback. I've recognized that many students didn't fill out the survey--and our boss is going to encourage more to complete it, which will (hopefully) give a more well-rounded view of things. And I've remembered that adolescents aren't really known for thoughtfully processing before acting, and they often take for granted those that care for them. It's a luxury of being cared for. They're kids. They're meant to be taken care of. They should be able to take it for granted. And the truth is, most of them show their appreciation pretty regularly. They open their lives to us, asking for help when they need it, and filling the dorm with laughter and generally stay out of really serious trouble. They're good kids. And the REALLY negative, vindictive comments...well, they come from somewhere. Those are kids who aren't feeling good and happy for one reason or another. And I've seen and heard a few things that could make me understand why they might lash out. And they are young. They might need a little compassion too.

We still have our review on Wednesday...and we hope to address the feedback at next week's dorm meeting--the last one before spring break. I think all four dorm parents will share some of the more constructive feedback and how we plan to address it, and thank them for it. And then, I think we'll note that there was some less constructive feedback that we were surprised to receive and that we don't really know what to do with. We can read out some of the worst of it and invite any and all to help us figure out how to address it. And if no one tells us how...then we can just all move on. I have a feeling the rest of the dorm will be pretty surprised to hear some of that negative feedback. This isn't really the kind of community where that kind of hateful language is tolerated. So that's our plan. We'll make use of what we can, and leave the rest. I'm feeling a lot better about it, but I am still having a hard time calculating the cost-benefit analysis of dorm parenting on a broader, more long-term level.

Meanwhile, it's time to reflect on February, the month of connection and intimacy. I'm not sure it was as resounding a success as de-cluttering month, but I did learn some things:
  • Connecting with friends and family DOES feed my energy, but I can not engage in the pursuit of connection if I don't HAVE any energy. Thus, I need to focus on my own health and emotional well-being in order to make the most of the relationships that feed my heart.
  • Even when I feel most like distancing myself from the world-at-large, it is worth reaching out to others. The resounding support and love and help that comes from it really allows for some perspective.

  • One of the things that really allows for connection is compassion, and compassionate listening. (This is straight from Thich Nhat Hanh.) As he describes it, compassionate listening helps relieve another's suffering. You listen with only one purpose: to help another empty his or her heart. (He also notes that if you find yourself wanting to correct his perception, or give her advice, you wait for another time. You don't interrupt or argue, because then he loses his chance to suffer less.) I came to appreciate this month the friends I have who listen well. And I have made it a goal of mine to be a more compassionate listener.
  • Authentic relationships lift you up. Always.
  • I have a LOT of really good people in my life. One of the articles in my magazine this month was about spring cleaning your friends...getting rid of the ones that tear you down and celebrating the ones that life you up. "The deepest friendships have nothing to do with proximity; they aren't based on how long we've known each other but on how well we love each other." (Oprah, March 2010) You can identify these friends because you never wonder where you stand with them, you can tell them anything and know they won't use it against you or belittle you or gossip about it. And it made me think of friends I know who have the "toxic" friends in their life. And how truly blessed I am--I couldn't think of a single friend of mine that fell into the toxic category.
  • Though I didn't have the in-person connection I wanted with all of these good people this month, I did raise my awareness about when I was connecting and when I wasn't. I learned to close my laptop when Gina is sitting in my living room, and to stop unpacking when talking on the phone. I was MINDFUL about connecting. About the joy it brought into my life, and the balance my life requires in order to have time for connecting.
So far, we've been pretty darn good at maintaining the level of organization January brought to our apartment. I'm hoping I'll be able to maintain this awareness of connection, as well.

So that wraps up February, and I can't say I'm super sad to see it go. I'm still debating about next month's focus, but I'm leaning towards learning Danish, because then I'll have lots of time to practice and improve before heading to Denmark in July. Two other contenders are "meditation and exercise" and "creating."


Sarah Jackson said...

I love Thich Nhat Hanh! You know one of his monasteries is in Pine Bush, right? I did two New Year's meditation retreats there and loved it.

February is a great time to practice connecting, as it is soooo easy to disconnect during that dreadful month. Hope a lot of that is carried over into March for you.


Melisa K. said...

OMG I did NOT know that. I do remember reading about your meditation retreats and I've been wanting to do one ever since. But I had no idea. I'm going to have to look into that. I need more of a weekend deal though. =/