How Taking Part in Webinars can Help Us Increase Our Listening Awareness

What was that? Can you say it again?

Your mic is muted. 

I cannot see your screen. 

Your screen is frozen.

Have you recently heard yourself anything similar? These must be some of the most pronounced sentences by those of us who participate in webinars. The sound or video disturbances certainly affect our learning and engagement experiences.

In one of the webinars I organised, one of the participants struggled to hear with clarity my words. The internet connections of the other participants were good. So, I expeditiously suggested she’d log out and in again. In vain. I did continue the presentation but she eventually got frustrated and left the virtual meeting. Who can blame her? What’s the point of sticking around in a meeting when the communication is broken. Either you cannot hear what they say. Or they cannot hear your questions. 

We may be thinking, “I knew it that technology cannot be trusted! So looking forward to the day when we can meet face-to-face.”. 

An experienced teacher or speaker is aware that effective communication, where the takeaways are clear, requires frequent reviews of the key information as the presentation progresses. The repetition may be annoying for the active listeners in the audience. But there’s a good reason to do it. And the reason is not that the speaker is boring.

Dr. Ralph Nichols, who spent 40 years studying the art of listening, understood that people can pay attention for a short amount of time, which can be as low as 90 seconds. Every few seconds, the speaker’s words trigger some associations in the listener’s mind, in the form of new connections, judgements or other concerns. The listener’s attention is turned inwards, chasing a new trail of thoughts. Meanwhile, the speaker has advanced with the presentation and the listener has a gap in what she/he has heard. This is why it’s important to repeat the learning points over and over again. This way the speaker is helping the listener to stay on the same page.

Effective communication in presentations and meetings is like a tango dance. Both the speaker and the listener have their share of contribution to keep up the engagement. In the end, everyone involved leaves the meeting being more inspired than at the beginning of the meeting. 

Let’s focus on the listener. What can the webinar experiences tell us about our listening abilities? A good listener is a person who can concentrate on understanding at three levels:

  • Facts.
  • Speaker’s feelings.
  • Speaker’s intentions.

It’s a reality that technology can impair our learning experience during webinars. But is it a fact that in person meetings will lead to clearer understanding? In face-to-face conversations, we are distracted by the instinct of finding some pauses when we would be adding our views. Whether present online or in person, our minds are the main barriers to understanding and learning. In a webinar, where we have the option to turn off the video and mute ourselves, there is a great opportunity to exercise our listening awareness.

Provided you’d like to improve your listening skills when attending a webinar, you may find it useful to increase awareness of what happens in those moments when your mind strolls away from the speaker’s narrative. There is a self-talk taking place in parallel with the speaker’s talk. What might the contents of the self-talk be and how could you bring your mind back to one of the three levels of listening, – facts, emotions or intention?

  1. You may be making connections between the newly received information and the information stored in your memory. You are thus getting new insights related to the topic. Jot down the new ideas and get back to listening. Or, you may be confused or having some doubts about the validity of a particular learning point. Rephrase these concerns as questions and write them down in the questions box. They may be addressed at the end of the webinar.  
  2. You may be experiencing some negative emotions, triggered by the way you judge what’s being said in the presentation. You can shortly write down these reactions, “The speaker said this … and I interpret it this way ….” Then try to remind yourself of your intention when joining the webinar. Why did you join? What were your expectations? There is always something new to learn even when the initial expectations are not met.
  3. You may be observing that you spiral down to a rabbit hole of reflections on the current life situation. Things that have nothing to do with the topic of the webinar become like a magnet to your mind. With patience, try to write down what it is that you’re worried about. “I am afraid that I will be jobless by the end of the year.” or, “Am I good enough to homeschool my kid?” or, “What is that bee doing at my window?” Once you wrote down the short notes of concerns, try to get back to the speaker’s narrative. “What is this person talking about now?” You can let go of the written concerns. How you are going to tackle them is something to work on when the webinar is over. Since they keep coming to mind, they must be important and they may want you to address them properly.

At the end of the webinar, look at the list of side notes: notes of learning points and questions, notes of judgements and notes of concerns. Which ones are predominant? You can congratulate yourself for being a good listener if the majority of notes consists of learning points and questions. However, if you see more notes of judgements and concerns, then you know that for the time being, your mind is quite distracted.   

Can you hear me?

 

How to use compassion to gain a new perspective to the unexpected

Week 7 of isolation. What do you find surprising or intriguing about how you manage yourself in isolation? 

Let’s do a short recap of the emotional experiences in the weeks of physical distancing, so far, shall we? After initial reactions of disbelief and outrage against the emerging disruptions, moments of acceptance of what is may have followed. The gap between rejection and acceptance was filled by finding new routines. The new routines allowed us to continue the activities we were doing before. For me, new routines came with new activities also, like online yoga, which spiced up my days. 

By week 7, life in isolation is likely to be perceived as the new normal. A normality where we may have gotten used to e-see people, both in work and personal contexts. In the webinars that I facilitate, I do miss the richness of information that I used to receive from non-verbal cues in face-to-face communications.  

The other day, one of my uncles shared some photos taken two years ago at my niece’s baptism.  It dawned on me that in the new normality, I feel out of time and place. And I’m intrigued by this state. 

“On a normal day, people interact with somewhere between 11 and 16 weak ties on the way to work, while running errands, or on a break between meetings at the office.”, write the authors of the Harvard Business Review article, Why You Miss Those Casual Friends so Much. In the last 7 weeks, I interacted once from meters distance with a neighbour, a person belonging to my weak social ties. As for my strong ties, the initial enthusiasm of reconnecting with old contacts faded away and was replaced by the fatigue of keeping up this new habit. 

Without the physical presence of people who are part of my social network, I feel I’m flying high in the sky without being able to see the proximity of land. Does this sound familiar to you? Have you recently felt that your existence has shifted into a being nowhere normality? In week 7 of isolation, nowhere is my new address.

“It’s the most important place in the world – nowhere.” writes Tatyana Tolstaya, in her collection of short stories, Aetherial Worlds. “ Everyone should spend some time there. It’s scary, empty, and cold; it’s sad beyond all bearing; it’s where all human communication is lost, where all your sins, all your shortcomings, all lies and half-truths and double-dealings emerge from the dusk to look you in the eye with neither disapproval nor empathy, but simply and matter-of-factly. Here we are. Here you are. ‘And filled with revulsion, you read the story of your life.’ And you make decisions. “

Being nowhere means we are in the absence of the physical presence of others. If we choose to, for hours on end, the stream of our consciousness can go on uninterrupted by others’ sounds. This is how it must be like in a meditation retreat. And this is the beauty of the nowhere place. It’s like watching an ongoing parade of clouds, different forms, colors and sizes crossing a clear sky. These clouds are our undisturbed thoughts emerging in aloneness. As Tatyana Tolstaya writes, some thoughts, like memories of duplicity, personal flaws and lies can be menacing. And yet, what treasure chest memories are! Who would we be without our memories, both those we are proud of and those we are ashamed of?! 

Being in the nowhere space I found a gem in flashbacks of a beloved past, of great grandfather and father. Great-grandfather fought in the Second World War. Father spent the first half of his life in communism. In the second half, when realizing that the salary of a high-school teacher would not suffice to afford a good education for my sister and me, he learned the ropes of entrepreneurship and free market economy. 

Thinking of great grandfather and father triggered an overwhelming compassion for their struggles, of which neither of them spoke about. The compassion cloud which took over the space of my consciousness showered my heart in humbleness. In the last years of life, father fought cancer. His last intelligible words were, “I am glad.” When he couldn’t talk anymore, he would simply look into my eyes with smiling eyes. 

Great-grandfather didn’t talk about his war experience. I didn’t even know he took part in the war, until two years ago when one of us, his great grandchildren visited the old house. Somewhere in a wooden shelf, a letter was found. The pages had a yellow hue. The letter was written by great-grandfather’s captain, describing his bravery. Next to the letter, there was a small cardboard box where a medal should have been. The medal couldn’t be found though.   

Compassion smoothly arose in my being nowhere space. It connected me to the past and empowered me to make decisions in the present. How about you? What kind of clouds of the past might march through your sky? Allow yourself to observe and feel whatever content you glimpse. What might you notice? 

Being in the nowhere, we may discover that our life stories are at the intersection of others’ life stories. Our destinies are captured in a matrix of decisions and actions, which entangle our lives with the lives of the people who will ever matter to us. When we contemplate on their life stories, we can see our own lives in new perspectives. 

Beloved memories and hope! These are the most rewarding moments in being nowhere.

In week 7 of isolation, what do your hard times consist of? Do you miss giving a hug to close friends? Are you tired switching back and forward between work tasks and attending kids? Are you overwhelmed with the marathon of virtual work meetings? 

Exhaustion may have crippled in. How about asking yourself, “What would my grandfather have done in this situation?”, “What would I have done if I had faced grandfather’s challenges?”

Each generation copes with unexpected changes. You may have accepted that now it’s your turn to go through difficulties. But you may have reached a point when you feel you cannot bear any longer the physical distancing and all the consequences resulting from it. Ask yourself another two questions, “In what ways does the COVID-19 disrupt my life today?”, “Under the circumstances, how can I keep focus on what is essential today?”.

The corona virus outbreak may last longer than expected. And it may take unforeseeable turns. Manage wisely your energy. Spend some time in your nowhere space. You may find some inspiring thoughts. 

Update. In the New York Times article, How Long Will a Vaccine Really Take, published on April 30th, the earliest date for the distribution of an effective vaccine against coronavirus is August 2021.

How the experience of envy can take us to our authentic selves

“Hell is other people.” wrote Sartre, the renowned French philosopher, novelist and playwright in his play, No Exit. The famous quote is in the end of the play when three characters arrive in a place that appears to be hell. While they try to figure out what crimes they committed, they realize that the three of them are trapped in a room. They continue to get on each other’s nerves when one of the characters concludes, “Hell is other people.”

What do you make of this quote? One way to interpret this is that when an individual becomes conscious of someone else’s gaze, the awareness of being watched restricts the freedom of thinking and being as an individual. 

Sartre’s quote is a witty observation into the social nature of human beings. Other people give us a frame of reference and constraints to understand ourselves, our aspirations and purpose. We can be physically next to another person. Or, we can bring the other in our thoughts. Under both scenarios, our brains automatically scan the physical or imaginary presence in attempts to answer the question, “What is my status in this relationship?”, “Am I better off or worse than the other?” By design, we compare ourselves to others. Everybody does it, one way or another.

When dealing with an unprecedented life threatening situation, like the coronavirus outbreak, we have the tendency to compare ourselves to others more than normally. How do others react to the chaos? We perceive the environment with an increased sense of vulnerability. What do others do to adapt to the new reality of remote work? Is my colleague, let’s say Mike, performing better than I am? Is he more resilient than I am? 

Every few seconds, our brains scan the environment – both physical and virtual – in search of safety. Have you heard of the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”? Our brains may be designed to ensure our survival but when comparative thinking becomes obsessive, the good intention of protecting starts to backfire. 

For some of us, the experience of envy can be one of the main outcomes of this comparative thinking. Under the current circumstances of social isolation, remote work and homeschooling, we may end up stuck with envy.

There is hope. Living among others, even if the others are in our thoughts only, can reveal glimpses of heaven in us. Are you interested in understanding yourself, aspirations and purpose with more clarity? If you are, what may be of particular interest is what can we do about the envy ensuing from the impulsive comparison to others. 

There can be four ways in which we can experience envy:

  1. We unconsciously let the invidiousness manifest in reflective words and behaviours. In the mildest forms of envy, we give The Look. You know, that green with envy look. We may be unconscious about it but the other can notice it even in video conferences. What are the more severe forms of unconscious words and behaviours of envy that you have noticed in others?   
  2. We become aware of feeling envious. Unless we are masochists, we don’t like the taste of suffering that envy brings. Envy is a toxic feeling that burns the heart. What do we do? How can we fix the poisoning effects fast? We shift the blame on the other for making us feel the way we do. Or we find excuses why the other achieved something which we crave but could’t accomplish yet. “Of course, my colleague Mike is performing better. He is in better control of remote work because he has no kids.” There we go. We feel better. Next time we’ll experience this feeling, we’ll rinse and repeat. 
  3. Some of us respond with shame over feeling envious in the first place. We try to ignore the feeling. The ideal self who wants the best of us overrules the envy. “It’s not me to feel this way.” While it’s a virtue to aim at the greatest possible good in ourselves, we end up creating an illusion of goodness when we cannot look at the envy in the eye. It would be like responding to chronic headaches by using affirmations, such as “All is well”, “I am pain free”, “I am healthy”. Do positive affirmations take away the headache? Do positive affirmations lead to understanding what causes the headache?   
  4. The fourth way of reacting increases self-awareness, when we have better odds at gaining clarity on what is the problem and what solutions we can come up with. We can observe the feeling as it arises. If you can, pause to reflect on it. If you’re into the middle of some important task, set a date in your calendar when we can take a break and get curious to understand, “What lies behind my envy? Why do I feel this way?” 

The experience of envy shows us there is a need. Unprecedented situations make us more insecure and whatever unfulfilled needs we may have had before, they become now bigger. I’m thinking of the need for safety, employment needs, status, recognition or self-actualization. One of these needs may be important for us and not fulfilled yet. 

Whenever we experience envy as a result of comparing ourselves to others, we can take it as a barometer of personal or professional fulfilment. The point of envy shows us the status quo of fulfilment. Press reset. Embrace instead the path of authenticity. What aspirations and dreams are dormant in us? 

“Comparing yourself to others is an insult to yourself.” 

Bill Gates    

Each interpersonal interaction is like a mirror that shows us how to know ourselves better. The mirror can show the best sides we perceive in others, which trigger the envy. Press reset. Breathe. Look away from the mirror. Breathe.

Look back at the mirror. What is inspiring about how your colleague Mike is coping with remote work? Breathe. Look away from the mirror. Breathe. 

Look back again. The mirror can now reflect aspects of our ideal selves. We cannot copy and paste others’ best qualities. We can only discover and practice our best qualities. Breathe. Look away from the mirror. Breathe. 

Look back again. The mirror can show reflections of our authentic selves that will help us satisfy the important needs.

In the first days of self-isolation, when I was quite blown by the novelty of the unwanted change, I received messages from a couple of friends who shared their new calendars for the stay at home week.  

It was obvious to me that discipline was my friends’ strength. I was tempted to copy my friends’ action and come up with a new daily schedule to adapt to self-isolation with children. Yet, I’ve always known that discipline is one of my weaknesses and I would not have been able to follow through the schedule. Instead, I chose to look into what purpose the discipline served for my friends? 

What my friends were doing by exercising their discipline was to claim agency over their new lives, turned upside down by the coronavirus outbreak. They created a new sense of control for themselves by writing down a daily calendar of events for their work, for their kids and for their families. 

The human brain loves to have predictability. And since the coronavirus outbreak brought lots of ambiguity and uncertainty, the way to develop predictability is to set up new daily routines.   

The interactions with my friends brought me in front of the mirror of personal strengths. “Mirror mirror on the wall, tell me what is my best strength of all?” I had to find my strength to bring predictability in the daily chaos. And my strength is to take my kids’ perspective and be flexible to their needs. What did I do? 

schedule_6_year_kidIn the morning, as we woke up, I asked them to draw a plan for the day. As you might expect and can see in the above picture, my 6 year old drew all sorts of play activities. Play was my kids’ way to have agency over the changes in our lives. Therefore, day by day, when the energy in the room would be about to get explosive, I initiated some moments of dance and other physical activities with the boys.     

The mirrors that others place in front of us help us see more earnestly what qualities or strengths we may choose to lead ourselves through a trying life situation, such as the coronavirus outbreak.

Hell is other people if we focus on the best selves of others instead of focusing on our authentic selves.

 

To avoid feeling like a failure when working at home, have a short break of self-compassion

“I don’t manage to do anything.”, one friend, father of 3, mentioned during one of our survival chats this week. “I don’t manage to work. I don’t even manage to go out for a walk.”

Like my friend, after the outbreak of coronavirus, some of us who moved their office work at home may find ourselves caught between the work responsibilities and the responsibility as a parent. How can we expect to have high work productivity in one room, when our kids are crying in the next room? 

To manage the chaos that happens around us, we may need to learn to manage the storm of thoughts going on inside ourselves. A working parent may have the best intentions to finish her report before the next video conference. At the same time, she may want to attend her kids who are getting into a fight because they’re lacking attention. 

At this point, the voice of the inner critic is getting louder and louder. If we chose to spend some time with the kids, the inner critic would scold, “You should be working on your report now.” If we locked ourselves in a room to focus on work, the inner critic would be whispering, “What kind of a parent would do that?”

And to make things worse, the “comparing yourself to others” voice joins the inner conversation, “Other colleagues, some superheroes, like Wonder Woman or IronMan, must be better at managing this kind of situation.”  

The duo of the two voices can bring us down to the status that my friend was talking about. When we cannot work. When we cannot attend the needs of our kids. When we get lost in guilt and shame. 

What can help? We human beings have a paradoxical nature. We have a deep need to be seen and be understood. And we are looking for understanding from those around us. We need family members and friends to say kind and encouraging words to us. Yet, it doesn’t cross our minds to give ourselves first-help.

While waiting for external help, how about being the first ones who understand our own pain? How about telling ourselves what we would tell a friend who needs compassion? “I can see your pain. You’re not alone in this. Let me know what kind of help you need.”   

Self-compassion can be our first-help tool kit. Self-compassion, a term coined by professor Kristin Neff at the University of Texas, refers to the ability to genuinely care for our wellbeing, to accept our negative emotions and have the desire to recover after a setback, such as coronavirus disruption. 

I could relate to my friend’s overwhelm. I have days when I feel exactly the same, torn between work and children. And I feel disappointed both about my work performance and the interaction I’m having with the kids. Is there something we can do in those moments? 

How about giving ourselves a short break of self-compassion? Listen to the inner voice and let it go. Listen to the “comparing yourself to others” voice. Tell it “I’ll get back to you later.” The voice may be trying to tell you something but when you’re in a low moment it’s not the best time. 

What you need in moments when you feel you’re failing at performing a task is to be kind with yourself. It doesn’t mean you start blaming your kids or your boss or any one else for the situation. It doesn’t mean you start feeling like a victim, “Poor me, what a lousy situation I find myself in”. Being kind with yourself means that you empower yourself to take constructive action in the present moment. 

“I realize that now I feel I’m failing more than in other days. What matters most for me at this moment?”

In the long run, what matters most is that these difficult times produce the best versions of ourselves. In the present, what’s more important is to grow aware about choosing one thought over another. 

According to old wisdom, “Thoughts become words, words become deeds, deeds become habits, habit becomes character, and character becomes destiny.” 

And your destiny has great influence over others’ thoughts. 

 

How to invite more grateful thinking in our self-talks and conversations to cope with the social isolation

This Tuesday, March the 24th, I took my kids for a bike ride around the neighbourhood. It was a sunny but windy day in Helsinki. There were 10 meters wind per second. A plastic bag and a magazine were swerved by gusts of wind from the sidewalk to the street and back to the sidewalk.  

The streets were empty. Every now and then, we would bike past by some pedestrian or another biker. I felt a mix of nostalgia and gratitude. I am the kind of person that I used to feel good seeing people in the streets. When someone would look in my eyes, I used to feel joyful for a transient connection. I used to enjoy hearing voices and seeing clutter in the restaurant on our street. The restaurant was empty that day. On the other hand, I felt grateful that people are staying indoors.  

Gratitude has been on my mind more than ever. Feeling sincere appreciation of the wonderful people and projects in my life. Deep reverence for life itself. After 14 days of self-isolation, one of the best outcomes is an increased ability to be present in the simple moments of the day, like baking home bread.  

Have you noticed any changes in your ability to feel grateful since the outbreak of coronavirus?  

Grateful thinking comes more naturally to some of us. Some others have to make a bit of an effort. In moments of uncertainty, it’s beneficial for all of us to invite more grateful thoughts in our self-talk and conversations. Here’s why. According to positive psychology researchers, there are at least three benefits:

  1. Gratitude is a skill that can help us become aware of the kindness, help, love, opportunities that come from outside us, from the environment where we live. The more goodness we perceive around, the higher the sense of physical and psychological safety
  2. Robert Emmons, a scientific expert in gratitude, describes gratitude as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it helps us see how we are supported and validated by others.
  3. Gratitude makes us more resilient. Now when we are in one of the worst times for this generation, every little thought of appreciation of what is, can foster our emotional resilience.

There are 4 levels of depth in grateful thinking. Let’s go through each one of them and see where you find yourself at the moment. 

1. In the same way I felt grateful for my neighbours who self-isolated themselves, maybe you are silently observing the good things that others do for you – family members and friends. More than quietly acknowledging their contribution in your days, in what ways do you show you appreciate them? Like explicitly thanking them for doing a particular thing for you? For instance, as we parked our bikes in the bike shed, I thanked my kids for joining me on the trip. I specifically told them that their company warmed my heart. 

Are you feeling grateful for the positive events that happen for you now? A friend of mine mentioned that after a week in isolation she started to feel good about her time at home, with her family. It dawned upon her that she actually needed a break. Yet, being the empathetic woman that she is, she felt guilty over feeling that staying home was beneficial for her.

Nobody wanted the coronavirus outbreak. Staying at home started as an imposed action for my friend, who initially felt it as a punishment or as a conspiracy against her plans. If you are like her and you are growing aware of the need to slow down, how about allowing yourself to connect with yourself and your needs. How about giving yourself time to come up with new personal goals? 

However, in case the physical isolation drives you crazy, in the lowest moments of desperation, could you please remember to ask yourself, “What is one good thing that someone did for me today?”. 

Each person brings a hidden gift. Look closer and point out the good things that family and friends do for you. Allow yourself to enjoy the positive things that happen to you as you stay home. This is the first level of gratitude. Do you find yourself here? What other forms of grateful thinking might there be?  


2. Appreciate the good things institutions, communities and societies do for you.

During the coronavirus outbreak, we have opportunities to see clearer the interdependencies of the world. Each one of us, in accordance with our professional roles, can affect the quality of life, the wellbeing, the productivity and innovativeness of others. We all must have experienced the tangible impacts of disrupted services. Like never before, I felt how important the toilet paper production was when I went to the supermarket two days in a row only to find an apology poster where the supermarket personnel wrote that they do their best to bring new supplies every night.

In this web of dependencies, we are like pieces on a chess board. Unlike the classic game, the social game of chess is an agile game of collaboration, where each one of us can change roles and can make unique moves that can help the moves of some other players in the game. The other day I invested in a year long subscription to a poetry magazine. In times of crisis, we may be thinking that we need to keep the expenditures for the strictly necessary needs: food and shelter. And that’s what the artists, poets, writers, need also: food and shelter so that they can keep on creating and feeding our souls. Feeding our souls may be a luxury for some. But for others, it’s a necessity so that we keep on building pockets of energy to cope with the new reality. I thus invested in the poetry magazine as a token of solidarity for the cultural and artistic communities. 

Today I consider investing in a scientific magazine. These are my moves on the chess board. What kind of moves are you considering to make? What are the business activities, big or small, you care about to support by sharing a tiny bit of your income? 

If we can’t offer financial support, what other kinds of support could we offer to institutions and communities we care about?

Let’s think about the medical specialists. In the last few days, this group of professionals have been at the centre of my grateful thinking. The medical doctors, the nurses, the ambulance drivers, the hospital cleaners are exposed to the coronavirus as they are doing their best to take care of the people who were unlucky to get the virus. Do you have friends who have any of these professional roles? 

In what ways could we surprise these people who are now in the front lines of the battle and thus contribute to their wellbeing? They may be hungry. They may be missing their kids.They may feel discouraged. What can we do for them? Other than staying home?

If nothing else, how about praying for them or doing loving kindness meditation? May they be well. May they be healthy. May they have strength.

What is one thing that you’ve recently benefited from society? Observing some good things that institutions and societies do for us. This is the second level of gratitude which may inspire us to take further the ripples of goodness with new acts of kindness of our own. 

3. Accepting that life comes with challenges. Life comes with good and bad moments. Even if it’s hard to accept the bad we’re going through, we can look at the coronavirus disruption as an opportunity to test our integrity and humanity, i.e., controlling our emotions in tense moments; bring in more empathy and compassion to heal others; bring in more creativity in using our skills and competence to contribute to recovery plans and new development projects. The third level of gratitude is about valuing the discovery of the best sides in ourselves when life takes us through thick and thin. What might the fourth level be about?


4. Many of us are likely to experience existential anxiety when we get updated on the coronavirus situation, like the number of victims in Italy, Spain, in the country where we live. When we experience mortality salience, we may see how precious now is. Upon realization of the inevitability of death we may come to terms with the present. The peace may settle when we feel truly lucky to breathe, to love, to suffer, to panic or to hope in this second. This is the fourth level of gratitude when we live in awe of the miracle of life. 

At what level of grateful thinking do you see yourself? As we advance towards the fourth level, we may be noticing a shift in thinking, from “The world owes it to me.” to, “I owe it to the world.”,I owe it to the world to pay attention to the goodness that there is in it.”

I don’t know about you, but upon waking up, I smile to the new day. 

A new day is a gift.

A new day is a sign of generosity. 

A new day is our responsibility to make it worthwhile.  

Special thanks to the programmers and IT experts who work hard to maintain the internet and the online communication. 

Special thanks to groups of professionals, like the individuals in logistics, who continue to work so that our economies and societies can function in crisis.

May you be well. May you be grateful.

 

 

 

How are you reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic?

“Is this an overreaction?”. This is the question that I have often heard and asked myself often, in the last two weeks.

Each morning came with this question, “What decision should I make?” about things which yesterday used to be routine. Things like, taking your kids to hobbies, meeting a friend for a coffee, having the usual business travels, etc

“Is it an overreaction to cancel face-to-face social gatherings?”

“Is it an overreaction to postpone my travel plans, whether abroad or within the country?”

“Is it an overreaction to self-isolate in our home, which will become home office and school?”

The world has always been polarised on different issues, in each culture and society. The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought the most global polarisation, so far. Some individuals under-reacted, “This is a flu like any other. Why panic?”. Up until 2 weeks ago, I was one of the people who underrated the spread of coronavirus. “Death happens every second. Seasonal flu deaths happen yearly. Let’s stay calm and carry on.”

Some other individuals, like my husband, overreacted by compulsively reading coronavirus updates. Every hour, he’d resort to reading some piece of news about the cases in China and Italy.

Change, especially the life threatening kind that coronavirus is bringing, is something the human brain dreads. Underestimating such a life threat, we postpone thinking about proactive measures. By overreacting, we bring so much panic and anxiety upon us that we fail to see the most constructive ways of action. What would be a constructive reaction?

What the human brain loves is the predictability and hope for a future. So, how about helping the brain do what it loves most instead of allowing ourselves to go down to an apocalyptic mode of thinking?

The new reality is that we are facing a dramatic and disruptive moment in our lives. How can we work with ourselves to identify some things to focus on towards a future that will bring back the sense of safety and certainty. Other than under-reaction and overreaction, we have a third option. We can choose to take this virus seriously and focus on adaptive strategies.

What can we do? How can we help ourselves and the communities we are part of?

Here are some ideas about how we can learn to manage ourselves, our thoughts and emotions under uncertainty.

1. Accept the change. How do you know that you haven’t come to terms with the new reality? Do you have a feeling of loss? We all had planned events we were looking forward to. Events that were about to bring joy and other positive feelings are now cancelled. Of course, we experience loss. Over the night, hugs and kisses turned into a sign of unfriendliness. How about giving ourselves a big hug instead. We are together in this pandemic. What else can we do?

2. We can learn to accept the change by practicing gratitude for the now. The explosive contamination brought a disruption to our daily routine. While new practical arrangements need to be sorted out, there is a feeling of chaos and confusion.

In my family, considering one of us is in the group risk, we chose to homeschool our 8 year old son. This decision led to spending more time on figuring out and doing the teaching. Consequently, I have less working time and I am tempted to fall into lamenting. Yet, in all the chaos of the 5th day of new routines, there is also a warm feeling of reinforced connection with my children who mentioned, “You’re the best mom teacher!” 

Instead of lamenting the things we cannot do anymore, we can appreciate the new things we’re doing.

Gratitude for closer connection with people we thought we were connected already.

Gratitude for finally having the time to do the thorough house cleaning and reorganising we kept postponing.

Gratitude for being able to breath!

While we’re cleaning our homes in self-isolation, we can take this opportunity to rethink our lives and envision other ways of living. What are the activities we could stop doing to make room for something new? What positive changes could we initiate, i.e., studying for an online degree, learning a new skill? What else could we do?

3. Take care of our immune systems, SEE: Sleep well, Eat well, and indoor Exercise. Have you been accumulating deficit hours of sleep? Now it’s time to bring back some balance. The time spent on commuting can now be time spent sleeping. Do you have a waiting list of healthy foods? Start eating blueberries, broccoli, garlic, ginger, honey, lemon, eggs, etc. When the gym is prohibited for the time being, how about checking up the online exercise offers on YouTube? What else could we do?

4. Stay close in spirit to family and friends, by phone, email and social media. Social media addicts, now it’s not a good time to quit the addiction. Quite the opposite, it’s high time we abused online communication channels. Fingers crossed for apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Slack, etc, to support all the users.

5. Lead yourself and your community through the lowest moments of panic by using your personal abilities. Are you a funny person? Please come up with humour and spread it abundantly. Are you a poet? Go ahead and read poems to others. Are you a musician? Sing or play cheerful songs to the rest of us. Whatever strength you have, start using it to bring positive emotions and connection.

An African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Now it’s the time to walk together fast to the farthest possible futures. To adapt, we need to learn to be alone and reassess what we can do and how we can help. It’s time to learn how to co-create through social isolation.What if social isolation were the norm? What kind of communities, supply chain systems, education, life, would we build?

The faster we adapt to the unwanted crisis, the better for everyone.

How about you? What proactive measures did you come up with? And, in case you’re wondering if we stock piled toilet paper, the answer is no. We wanted to leave some for others.

In awe of what cannot be seen

October is the month when trees are parading with their leaves. Shades of yellow and rusty red are transforming from one day to another. It feels as if a painter is working all night long, perfecting all the hues of the leaves for the next morning.

As I walk by and look up to the sky, I breathe in awe in sight of the leaves still hanging on the branches.

I look down to where my feet touch the ground. I try to step next to the scattered leaves so I can leave their beauty undisturbed. They inspire sacredness.

I pass by breathing awe of the life of nature. Nature silently develops through four seasons. There must be a similarly amazing development of consciousness in each one of us. Alas, we can’t see it. We can only witness it, thanks to graceful self-awareness.

 

The long journey of feeling integrated in a foreign culture

What does it mean to be integrated in a foreign culture?

The competence of speaking the local language?

The ability to interact comfortably with locals?

The desire to maintain the cultural heritage while at the same time, being flexible to adopt new behaviours from the local culture?

As a person who’s been living abroad for 18 years, for me, being integrated is about having the authentic sense of belonging.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I was having a cup of coffee with a friend, who’s been living in Helsinki, for a decade. She married a Finnish man and has learned Finnish. Their son goes to a Finnish school. In her home country, she graduated from the Medical School. During all the years in Helsinki, she’s been going through all the required stages so she can become a generalist doctor in Finland. Fifteen months to go and she’ll be there.

“Where do you feel that your home is?” I asked.

She looked around the living room in the house where she and her family are living.

“I don’t know.” she replied hesitantly. “My home is here … but not quite. It definitely isn’t in the place where I grew up.” she continued. “People are my home. You. You are part of me, you know?”

Tears welled from her eyes and from my eyes.

She helped me understand that the sense of belonging – irrespective we live in the place of birth or abroad – comes from the way we relate with the people and events surroundings us. And when we define ourselves through close relationships, those people belong to us. And this is a great thing. Wherever we go, we take them in our hearts.

I guess that at a deeper level of the human psyche, to get to the stage of genuine integration, we may need the courage to look for the individuals that belong to our hearts.

  

 

Wouldn’t it be nice?

This morning, as I was walking with my son, with the corner of my eye, I could see a young woman and man catching up with us, on their electric kick-bikes. The young woman, my son and I were about to enter the same building, when we could hear the young man’s voice, shouting from the distance, “I love you!” And he continued his way somewhere else where he is needed. 

Imagine the emotional impact on the young woman. How uplifted she must have started her day!

No matter if we have someone who loves us, wouldn’t it be nice to start our days, being in love with the day that it’s about to unfold?

Hearing empowering music in our minds.

Engaging playfully with the daily activities.

Daydreaming and smiling.

 

Wouldn’t it be nice?

Compassion needs practice of three other foundational skills

We can’t be compassionate if we are not generous, empathetic and self-aware. To understand another person’s pain, we need to be generous with our time dedicated to build empathy for the other one. We need to be willing to observe him in his daily routine. Who are the people he meets? What kind of relationships he has with others? What kind of tasks he does?

When the observation is done, we need to be able to understand and feel as the other person does.

Each day is an opportunity to gain a deeper level of compassion. How willing are we to create the mental space to do it?

Neuroscience helps us understand that when we are engaged in cognitive tasks, a circuitry on the lateral parts of the brain gets activated. At the same time, the brain networks that are in the middle areas and are related to self-awareness and empathy get deactivated. Therefore, we would need a strong determination to spend some time away from cognitive problem-solving and use that time instead on purposeful compassion practices. What might that motivation be?

But please let us not say, “I feel you”, unless we feel it to be true. If we say it because we want to save the appearance of an emotionally intelligent dialogue, we only make things worse. The other person will feel we’re not feeling him, become more distant and still be in pain.