Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Undeniable Power of Modeling

I wrote about this topic in 2010, I have become my mother, proving once again that life lessons are slow in coming and easy to forget. Sometimes they must shout to get our attention.

There's nothing like going away and being quiet at a silent retreat for the weekend to help point out life lessons. Silence has a way of revealing things you can't see or hear while you're busy talking. When you are quiet you are observing and feeling instead. The moment I got to the 154-acre retreat center snow fell like minute feathers on the uncovered pathways. Crabby followed me out of the car as I realized how far it would be to walk from cabin to bathroom to dining room to hot pools. The cold air penetrated my blue jeans as we marched through the thin layer of snow dust to get to the Office to check in. Here I was in a place so rustic it had no web service and no hair dryers and I was silently fussing because I was cold and my hair was going to be a mess. The lesson was whispering but I was too pissed off to listen.

Luckily at this retreat, the teacher believed in music and moving as much as silence. So he played an eclectic array of tunes and gave us the option to move or not. If not we were to observe that choice and how we felt about it. While the first piano piece didn't evoke emotion, the second piece of Middle Eastern vocals and percussion cocked my head to the left and swayed my hips and shoulders in its rhythm. That is until I realized someone could be watching. I wondered how I looked, whether I was moving correctly and if people might see me as, God-forbid, geeky. I stopped and peeked to see what others were doing. The lesson raised its voice, demanding to be learned.

I noted some observations in my journal during free time. Mom was always dressed up, would never go to the beach for fear of losing her hairdo to the wind, or being cold. She was mortified when I told the neighbors about how she voted in the Kennedy-Nixon election and threw a blanket at me when her friend witnessed me breast-feeding in her living room. "Cover up," she hissed. Appearances were everything. The lesson shouted a breakthrough. The etchings of her modeling are so deep I have adopted her way as my way even when the behavior makes no sense.

I can't help but think of two women I've been coaching, one whose boss wants her to be nicer to co-workers and the other who struggles to set boundaries with the person she reports to. I wonder what kind of modeling they had from their parents. Since I'm not a therapist I'm on safer ground if I help them focus on how what they are modeling will affect those around them. In the former case, can she expect her direct reports to treat others respectfully if she doesn't? For the latter, what kind of behavior is she inadvertently teaching her 4-year-old if she doesn't have her own boundaries? Isn't the child more likely to do what she does rather than what she says? I think I'll ask her to fast forward to the teen years and speculate on how well she will deal with a 16-year-old daughter with no boundaries.

I even used the lesson the other day when a student asked me if I knew any books or tricks to use to help his fourteen-year-old find what he wants to do. I always recommend "Finding Your Own North Star" by Martha Beck, but wondered out loud if fourteen isn't a bit young for such teachings. I said to the guy, "The best thing you can do is model what it is you want him do. Are you doing what you want to in your life?" His slumping shoulders communicated his comprehension and regret.

So what to do with such life lessons? Most learning can be used for good or evil. I cannot blame my mother for my behavior all these years later. That would be evil. I cannot blame myself for modeling I inadvertently showed my own children. That too would be evil and self-destructive. What I can do is continue to learn. I can be more intentional about how I behave; that is slow down and decide how I want to act instead of acting out some pre-determined pattern. I can talk and write about what I learn with the hope that some day it will make a difference to someone.

1 comment:

Kim said...

I love this story and something drew me directly to this section as I was working on the "switching on creativity" piece for my workshop. I wanted to do something with movement and music and was afraid some people wouldn't do it. And of all things, I landed on your page, here. There are no coincidences. This is a beautiful blog!

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.