The discipline of practising....
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: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=avaaz
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?