The discipline of practising….

January 2017

The new year has begun! From us at BraveHeart, we hope it will be a year filled with rich opportunities for learning and growth – each year usually is!

Time away from teaching the Thinking Environment, and being on holiday, has afforded me an experience from which I have developed even deeper insight into Thinking Environment practice. I am now more convinced than ever that this is an essential and life altering element of being effective and happy in the world.

I don’t think I had realised as clearly as I do now, that teaching the Thinking Environment provides me with a structure in which I get to practise, daily, this 5:1 ratio of appreciation to criticism that we invite people into an awareness of, as part of the embodying of the Component of Appreciation.

Because I am teaching, I am experiencing and expressing appreciation all the time. My ratio, during my working life, is possibly way above the recommended one. And I get to receive appreciation as well, often!

Early into my holidays in December, I was faced, baldly, with how the automatic drift of life is far removed from this daily, abundant expression of appreciation.

Drift: to move slowly, especially as a result of outside forces, with no control over direction (Cambridge English Dictionary)

Drift: a general underlying design or tendency (Merriam-Webster)

What I noticed, with increasing amazement, was the drift into which we wake, and live our lives in this world. It is, for the most part, one of complaint: of noticing what is wrong, what is missing, what didn’t get done, how much more one person is doing than the other, what is happening that should not be, what isn’t happening that should be – it is inexorable, and it carries us along like flotsam in its wake.

I also noticed, that unless I practise combating this drift with the explicit noticing of and saying what it is that I value, love, appreciate, am grateful for, before long – despite the overwhelming bounty of blessing and well-being in my life, I could find myself sitting on my patio, overlooking my swimming pool, and my lake and mountain views, moaning about the wind, the state of the world, and the tardiness of my teenagers when it comes to tidying up.

December and January have been hard in many ways: family members are unwell, friends have lost a child in an accident, yet others a brother to suicide: there are unanswerable sorrows and tragedies every day.

The Component of Appreciation is not an invitation to ignore or pretend avoidance of these terrible experiences that can gnaw at one’s psyche with agonising “what if’s” and “maybes”. AND, at the exact same time, countless acts of kindness, love and generosity are being expressed every moment of every day. And yes, it can feel contrived, to notice that, not only did someone cook me a yummy frittata for breakfast, but that they also delivered it to me without my having to move from my patio chair, along with a steaming mug of coffee, cutlery, and the salt and pepper – this in comparison to the news that a dear friend’s brother was found hanging in the garage. What comparison can there be between life’s little graces and mercies, and its catastrophic tragedy?

The feeling of contrivance can make the practice seem trite, and this assumption could be one that stops us in our tracks (from where we will quickly, without much effort, slip back into the drift).

I have learned how important it is to replace this limiting assumption that appreciation is fluffy and unrealistic with one that supports me to keep appreciating, even in the face of trauma and pain.

After I had noticed this drift, and realised that without the daily support structure of my teaching life I was going to have to “up the ante” if I wanted to be experiencing the 5:1 ratio of appreciation to criticism, I asked a friend and my husband to join me in a “let’s count our blessings” round as we sat on the patio. None of us felt like it – we had all just been bewailing the state of the world. But we made ourselves. We did it grudgingly to begin with.

After a few rounds, however, I felt the oxytocin in my brain. Honestly! I am not exaggerating! And I could feel how, with each dose of oxytocin, I heard fresh ideas emerging about how I could respond to the hard stuff happening in the world around me. I literally started having more frequent and better ideas, I heard my creativity start to emerge, my physical and mental being shifted.

And into this space entered more ease, more encouragement, feeling stronger, being more open to the ideas of others, feeling more connected, safer, and a deeper sense of belonging to vs. alienation from this wild, wonderful, challenging experience called life.

Into my inbox early this year came another piece of proof for this learning. Avaaz: the campaigning community bringing people-powered politics to decision making worldwide, released this slideshow, with a view to creating a sense of renewed hope for their millions of members. Watch it, and notice what happens in your way of being and your thinking as you watch:

So this is my first new year’s resolution: practise a 5:1 ratio of appreciation to criticism. Practise whether I feel like it or not. Practise especially when I don’t feel like it. And in return for my practice, I now know for sure, I will get to be someone whose positive impulse in the world can contribute to shoring myself, and those around me, up against that implacable morass of complaint.

And maybe we will then be able to think better about how to face what needs facing and turn around the things that need turning around so that the world can be a better place for us all in 2017.

Will you practise with me?

So much more yourself..

December 2016

This month I’ve been hearing and seeing evidence of the profound impact on personal growth and the development of one’s truest-to-oneself way of being in the world that comes from learning to create a Thinking Environment.

This is something that I’ve known personally in the last 12 years during which I’ve been intimately engaged with this body of work: best described as a way of being in the world.

I had done a lot of what people call personal development work before I came across Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment and if I’m honest I would say that, at the time I came across her work, I wouldn’t have credited the amount of personal growth I’ve gained from it as even being possible – arrogant as I am aware that sounds!

Of course we know now from the field of neuroscience that change and growth is perpetually available and possible for us, and is a necessary activity for brain health. But I felt a little bit jaded about the whole notion of personal development. I was aware that there were issues in my life that, despite my having taken them in to workshops, therapy and countless conversations with friends, not a lot had really shifted around them.

The journey to being a conscious practitioner of the Ten Components of a Thinking Environment is a journey which invites us to develop a personal expression of these ten individual and symbiotically connected behaviours. The journey is one of applying this way of being towards self and others.

Whenever I am teaching the Thinking Environment I invite people to start to notice, from the get go, which of these components come easily to them and which ones are going to require more of a journey before they are easily expressed and embodied. This is the profound heart of this practice.

Developing an intimate, personal relationship to what it means, for example, to be listening in a way that is felt by the person being listened to as if there is no place else you would would rather be, no one else you would rather be listening to. Through the connective threads between this component of Attention, and it’s neighbouring components, there is no competition in our minds as we listen – causing us to want to interrupt, disagree with, dismiss, invalidate or change the other person’s thinking to which we are listening.

I hear back from them along the pathways to accreditation, how that journeying towards more ease and elegance in “being” the components with which they struggled at the outset, has lead them into an expression of themselves, which is so much more themselves than they were at the start.

Many people who are interested in the world of mindfulness find themselves attracted to the Thinking Environment. It’s intriguing to notice how many mindfulness practitioners, even though they already know so much about this, are profoundly impacted by the slowing down that the Component of Ease invites us into. Mindfulness may have been an already deeply embedded practice for the participant, and yet I still get to see how the addition of the components enable even further deepening of attention, ease and compassion towards others and, maybe even more importantly, towards self.

The Thinking Partnership manual starts with a sentence which reads:

A Thinking Partnership is a powerful individual-development tool.

In recent newsletters I’ve been saying that, in addition to what I’ve described above as the journey towards embodiment of the Components, that the other aspect of personal development that comes from this practice is the removal of untrue limiting assumptions. Assumptions that are embedded in the view that we have of ourselves, others and life. These assumptions shape our behaviour, our actions, and ultimately the results that we get – which have a nasty habit of confirming those assumptions – driven as they are by the assumptions in the first place!

The systematic uncovering of these untrue, limiting assumptions every time we give ourselves permission to have thinking sessions means that, over time, less and less of what you have allowed yourself to become limited by remains true for you. Instead, those beliefs have been consciously and choice-fully replaced by assumptions that are true and more liberating and which, in due course, enable more positive outcomes in one’s life.

The other really delightful aspect of self development that comes from thinking sessions is that you give and receive appreciation at the end of every session. Giving yourself permission to have thinking sessions on a regular basis therefore means that you give yourself permission to hear and (hopefully) receive the many qualities that other people see in you, many of which could be qualities that you do not initially identify with. If you keep hearing people value you for that quality over and over again you start to have to include it in your lexicon of how you would describe yourself. This can shift the tectonic plates on which your life is built!

This feedback moves from being something you hope you could be to something you begin to know you are. The practice of giving and receiving appreciation is life-alteringly transformative because we have, many of us, been raised with and in environments that say back to us that the only real thinking: proper, intelligent, worthwhile thinking, is critical thinking – thinking that finds fault with, unpicks, undoes someone else’s point of view.

On top of that we were raised by people who were probably tired and stressed and snapped at us, and projected their unowned fears on to us and blamed their embarrassments on our behaviour. Without meaning to, these experiences break our sense of belonging in the world and lay down the foundations from which our sense of shame, and our often, in fact usually, untrue limiting assumptions arise: I am not worthy, I am not love-able, I am not good enough, I will never get it right.

The Thinking Environment is a practice in kindness.

However, it is not fluffy, airy-fairy or mushy. It is deeply rigorous, very boundaried and inside its rigour we discover a version of ourselves that enables us to be more and more of who we truly are. From there we can craft our vision, world view, values and beliefs in ways that enable us to express ourselves more fully in the world. Personal development and life enhancement rolled into one!

Many people come to engage in learning the Thinking Environment because of the difference it will make to their interactions with others, and it certainly delivers on that.

But I think one of the most precious impacts it delivers is a profoundly altered relationship with ourselves, from which everything alters for the better.

An accurate view of reality..

November 2016

For all the years that I’ve been teaching Generative Attention in the Thinking Environment, I’ve been using Brangelina as a perfect example of what happens in one’s ‘second stream of attention’.

I’ve explained it like this: we know that Attention is the first, and arguably foremost, component that creates an environment in which another can do their best, most courageous and creative thinking. We also know that inside each and everyone of us is a competition for attention every time we listen.

We want to indicate to the person to whom we are listening that we are interested. We want them to feel our respect for their thinking, our wanting to know where it is they are going, even if they don’t know where that is.

In order to provide this quality of attention we have to notice, and manage our ‘response’ stream. This is our own busy, active mind that is either (a) getting busy to respond to their thinking, or (b) is drifting off to some unconnected concern that pops up and demands our apparently ‘urgent’ attention!

Hence my Brangelina reference! People always laughed, (that laugh of recognition), but I’ll never know if they actually believed me when I admitted my drifting off was, oddly, often in Brangelina’s direction. Firstly, my thoughts would wander to how likely it was that such a fairy tale of talent, beauty, making a difference in the world and looking gorgeous to boot could ever last? Then I became worried about her bold mastectomy statement, and post-op about the marvels of modern day constructive surgery. Suffice to say, though, my sharing made the point.

People connected to my example and learned from it about the challenge we face in remaining mindfully connected to the thinker’s thinking: where it is now, and where it might be going next?

Now it turns out that I was right! I did need to be concerned about them, as recent ‘news’ reports testify. On a recent long-haul flight I had the delicious joy of re-watching Mr & Mrs Smith, made poignant by the news of their impending divorce. It’s at times like this I find myself wondering if I should seriously be trying to get hold of them (well, at least Brad) and offer them the gift of a Thinking Session! If they had the Ten Components as a checklist for living at the moment, we might be looking at the fairytale’s next triumphant chapter, instead of its horribly predictable disguise.

I know a thing or three about divorce! I know how relationships can fold in on themselves, about how love can crumble into the rubble of disconnected resentment in the absence of what we know a Thinking Environment can provide:

    • When we no longer listen to one another with genuine interest, and without interruption,
    • When we think the other’s weaknesses outweigh our own, that we are a better, more superior form of human being than they are
    • When we are filled with an urgency to be done with them, to move them out of our way. When we no longer have time for them,
    • When all, or even mostly, what we can focus on, are their faults and failings, rather than on their beauty, goodness and truth,
    • When we don’t care, anymore, about how they feel – and maybe we actually want them to feel hurt,
    • When we no longer want to know the cutting edge of where they are striving to go in their thoughts and ideas. When we no longer consider the possibility that they could create a breakthrough solution to save us from the mess we are in, when all that matters to us is that we trump their thinking with our own,
    • When we do not want to face them, or ourselves, tell the truth, or face the hard facts,
    • When the ways in which they differ from us do not meet our expectations, are no longer of genuine interest, no longer valued by us as adding enrichment to our lives,
    • When what we assume to be the truth about them limits our ability to love and respect them,
    • And when we want to move them out of our sight, instead of create a space for them that tells them we care, and that they matter.

When this happens, it’s game over! How could it not be? And yet……turning around any one of these could signal a new possibility – it could, and it does.

And because the Ten Components of a Thinking Environment make way for each other, and need each other for each to thrive, I am sure that if someone could listen to Brad and Angelina with genuine interest: that dispassionate, yet deeply connected witnessing of the other that happens in a Thinking Session, could lead to the restoring of possibility for them. It could lead to the strengthening of an accurate relationship to their reality, even as they become disillusioned with their own fairytale.

In his book Thoughts Without A Thinker, Mark Epstein talks about how “the relentless demand to make relationships flawless squeezes the life out of them.” He goes on to add that “all usual efforts to achieve solidity (certainty, security) are ultimately doomed.” But, one of “the most compelling things about the Buddhist view of suffering is the notion that the causes of suffering are also the means of release.” It is the sufferer’s perspective that determines whether a given realm is a vehicle for an awakening or for further bondage.

What an enormous gift it is, then, that we can listen to each other, treat each other, in such a way that a person’s view of their reality can shift profoundly, and that in the presence of a Thinking Partner, we really can spin gold out of straw!

On being the bigger person..

October 2016

I’ve been taking a further look at the human dilemmas that arise in our relationship to conflict.

Last month I wrote about seeking to maintain the capacity to connect so we can think together to resolve difficult situations with conflicting needs.

As I observed what happens with me, or others, that blocks the way to this reaching towards another, I noticed the power and purpose of cultivating a practice that includes crafting and responding to “Incisive Questions”. One such practice is giving yourself permission to have Thinking Sessions.

“Incisive Questions” is the 9th Component of a Thinking Environment. As Nancy Kline says, the liberation of the human mind lies right inside the Incisive Question.

Why does practicing crafting these kind of questions matter so much when it comes to being able to resolve conflict? I’ve been teaching in businesses for most of September. I’m always captivated by the litany of “yes, this is wonderful, this makes so much sense, this is, of course, the way we should conduct ourselves in our lives and especially at work……… but……….”. Invariably that is followed by the list of those with whom it will not work: “My attention-deficit Board of Directors, my boss, that person on my team, my husband, my wife, my kids……”

I’ve been asking people: “What do you think you might be assuming that makes you think it will not work with so-and-so….?” And the answer is, again with a certain kind of inevitability, a limiting assumption. An assumption that contains criticism of some sort; an assumption that is being lived as though it is not an assumption, rather a fact about that other person, or group, or place or situation.

It’s a fascinating conundrum, this attachment to being right and making someone or thing wrong. When we sit comfortably on this side of the “make wrong” fence, never extending ourselves toward the other, we remain stuck with our unchallenged assumptions.

We all live along continua that at their extreme ends, result in mental illness – personality disorders, psychosis, narcissism. We’ve all got doses of these conditions within us. An everyday form of psychosis is these assumptions we make that cause us to pull back from and act with suspicion, guardedly, towards others. One of the easiest ways to dispel the likely mythic disproportions of our assumptions is to check them out….yes! That’s right! Ask the other person, something along the lines of, “When you said that thing……I thought you meant/thought/were saying x about y………..and I assumed that meant a, b, c…….. Is that what you were saying, thinking, feeling, meaning?”

It’s a bit of a Catch 22, because we really need to have the conversation in order to find out just how wrong we are, and be released from the psychotic grip of our assumption (automatically tipped out from a whole store of them gathered up over the course of a lifetime!) But the very thing that assumption is likely to do, is to pull you away from the person or thing towards which the assumption is being made!

It strikes me then, that cultivating a habit of Thinking Sessions, as a practice for supporting your life, growth and development is such a brilliant practice. Being a Thinker in a session gives you the opportunity to hone your skill at loosening up your assumptions. You step back from them and asses them with a dispassionate eye, selecting the most oppressive amongst them over and over again, and then…………voila! You choose to dismiss them and replace them with carefully chosen and tenderly articulated alternative perspectives that are true and liberating and free your mind to soar to new possibilities! Fresh ideas, plans and actions become available that have hitherto been inaccessible, languishing beneath hardened assumptions, that keep us trapped in cycles of repetitious conflict.

I’m thinking of this as cultivating the art of “being the bigger person”. This means allowing myself to be vulnerable when I feel threatened. This means choosing again and again to seek connection as opposed to settling for the smug comfort of being right. When connection is threatened, can I practice questioning my assumption FIRST? That is, instead of opting for an assumption which will shutter me up against the hurt I fear, can I instead choose to engage in a process of healing the old wounds by replacing the assumptions that underlie them with freely chosen new truths that invite me to be the bigger person?

If I knew that each of us is very likely doing the best we can with what we have at any given moment, how would I question the boxes I’ve placed people in that prevent me from treating them with love, and compassion and respect?