belonging

Joy Dance

Life Model Bite #2 – Joy Dance

One of the basic skills taught in the Life Model and at the Thrive conferences is sharing joy with others, and thereby building up the joy center in our brain. It is the first of 19 vital brain skills that help us to reach the maturity appropriate for our physical age.

It’s a very simple exercise and we did it multiple times during the Thrive conference. Probably it not only helped us learn the skill of “Sharing Joy” but it also provided the connection with our training partner that we needed for other exercises. You can find it described in the “Basic Thrive Skills, Year 1” training guide, written by Jim Wilder, Chris and Jennifer Coursey.

I found a similar description of this exercise in a book from Susan Kuchinskas “The Chemistry of Connection” and she calls it “Attachment Dance.” Based on these two sources I decided to call it “Joy Dance”.

The following is a combination of the instructions of these two sources.

Wilder & Coursey’s description is more intended for intentional exercises, while Kuchinskas’ description is more naturally integrated into everyday life. Kuchinskas gives one description for parents and caregivers, and another one for adults. The following is based on her instruction for adults.

  1. Pick a quiet time and a situation where it is natural for you two to be face to face, such as sitting at a café or talking in your living room. Sit close enough that your knees could be touching.
  2. Begin to notice when you two look into each others eyes, and when one of you looks away. Give yourself the permission to look away whenever you feel like it. (This is not a stare-down contest à la Garfield.) 😉
  3. Intentionally hold your friend’s gaze for a few moments whenever comfortable. Observe your body reaction: Is your breathing slow, or do you feel a constriction in your chest? Are you leaning back, sitting upright, or leaning forward?
  4. Whenever necessary, let your gaze move around the room again. You may look at your friend’s mouth or hands, or at something else in your environment.
  5. Look back at your friend and notice when she (or he) returns your gaze. If it feels natural, say something positive about her or your relationship. If it doesn’t feel natural, say it to yourself. You might think something as simple as, “I really like her” or “She is such a precious person.” Think about what you appreciate about your friend.
  6. Continue to observe how your body reacts. Is there any change? Whatever you experience is ok.
  7. Repeat the process as long as it feel right.
  8. If you want to do this with a friend as an intentional exercise, agree to do it for 3 minutes, connecting and disconnecting as needed, and afterward discussing what the experience felt like.

(Wilder & Coursey p1-2; Kuchinskas p67-68)

The purpose is to stay in your comfort zone as you draw closer to the other person and then retreat a bit from connection. If the exercise is successful, you will feel a stronger bond with your friend. You will feel closer to that person and experience familiarity with her (him) as well as shared joy. In an unsuccessful exercise you will feel tension, anxiety and fear. You might feel like avoiding the person or running away.

Wilder & Coursey also mention that it does not work well when you are tired, or upset by something else, or you do not have a positive bond with the other person. In my experience, it won’t work well either when there is a lingering tension in your relationship. On the other hand, even if you don’t know the person very well but both of you are motivated to learn this skill, it can work very well despite the lack of a previous bond. At least that was my experience at the conference. However, it is not recommended to do it with a person of the opposite sex who is not your partner.

So, what is actually happening here?

The whole process is a nonverbal communication between the right-brain hemispheres between two people, communicating our most desired positive emotional state – that we enjoy being with another person. It strengthens our joy center, thereby increasing our joy strength, which enables us to better deal with problems and suffering. And it releases dopamine.

Recent brain science has discovered how our right-brains communicate with each other. A signal is sent from one person’s right brain (to be precise – the right orbital prefrontal cortex), and expressed through the left eye (or the left side of the face), perceived by the left eye of the other person, and communicated to the other person’s right brain. Then the same kind of signal is sent back, from right brain, to left eye, to other person’s left eye, and to the right brain. This back and force communication happens six times per second and grows stronger over time. Isn’t that fascinating? This is of course completely subconscious and cannot be faked.

You have probably seen people whose eyes sparkle when they look at each other. This happens when people are in love, but not only then. It also happens between parent and child. It happens between good friends. It happens every time when we are glad to be with somebody. It is our right brain telling our vis-à-vis nonverbally about our joy of being with them. Without this joyful experience of being with people who are glad to be with us, we cannot experience wholeness. Even though we can enjoy beautiful things, such as a sunset or a painting, joy is relational and therefore most powerful (and amplified) when experienced between people. According to some neurologists, the most basic human need is to be the “sparkle in someone’s eye.” Or in other words – to do the Joy Dance. 🙂

On this background, I am even more touched by the passage in Zephaniah 3:17 –

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,

with his love he will quiet you (or: calm all your fears),
he will rejoice over you with singing.”

It took me a long time to understand that God delights in me, rejoices over me, even when I have messed up. His love and joy over us does not depend on our perfection. It took me a long time to grasp and believe that God is doing a Joy Dance because of me. Today I know it’s true, and it fills me with great joy and thankfulness.

Belonging and Appreciation

Belonging and Appreciation

Yesterday evening I attended the revised Belonging module of the Life Model program. It was taught by Dr. Jim Wilder and I found it very insightful.
Two points stood out for me:

1. It is important to create belonging, not search for it, expect it from others.

Creating belong is something babies are very good at (maybe because of their unconditional acceptance?). On the other end of the spectrum “Elders” (meaning persons with a high level of maturity, Life Model terminology) are especially good at it, because they want to include everybody into the belonging. This does not depend on their age, nor whether they are Christian or not but on their level of maturity. We naturally feel drawn to these people and enjoy being with them. The challenge now is not to look for people who can do this for us, but to become people who can do this for others.

  • How do we create belonging? This overlaps with the rules for group interaction in this class:

○ Showing appreciation
○ No cross-talk
○ No advice giving
○ Supportive listening
○ Confidentiality
○ Creating space for imperfect attempts of doing new things (these are my own words, I don’t remember how he phrased it).

  • Creating belonging is work: I need to work to have other people close to me and for us to appreciate each other. I definitely want to learn to do that more.

2. Showing appreciation: When we put the “flashlight” (focus) on positive things, we create belonging. Focusing on negative things does not create belonging.

Or as Phil 4:8 puts it:

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (NLT)

  • Telling stories creates Shalom, (Hebr. lit. peace and rest) a condition where everything feels just right and nothing needs to be changed, everything is in the right relationship, right place, right strength, right amount, for God and people.

  • Story telling builds appreciation. So we practiced telling appreciation stories. Yesterday we focused on telling a story where we appreciated an “Elder”. Until the next evening our homework is to collect other appreciation stories and practice telling them.

Both, a) the importance of creating belonging and b) the fact that focusing on negative things does not create belonging, were light bulb moments for me.

a) I realized that I often wait for others to reach out to me, especially in unfamiliar surroundings or new groups. I can create belonging and usually do when I feel responsible for (e.g.) an event, a meeting, a new person in the group. In most other situations I usually don’t do it but would need to make a conscious effort to do it. It does not come natural. I still have a lot to learn in this area. I think yesterdays insight will help me be more conscious about it, and not wait for others to do it for me.

Recently I experienced a practical application of this. I went to a women’s retreat of my new church where I hardly new anyone. When I arrived at the retreat place in the mountains, I hang around in the lounge, not quite sure what to do as everybody seemed to know somebody else and I did not want to intrude in their conversations. After a little while one lady approached me and invited me to join their group which I gladly did. Most of the weekend I hang out with this same little group of three-four ladies; we often sat on the same table or reserved seats in the auditorium for each other. It was only at a later point that I realized that this little group had not existed before the weekend, but was the result of one person “creating belonging” with people she did not know before arriving there. She hardly knew anybody but she reached out to others, made them feel welcomed and included; she created belonging. Already at that time, I thought that her situation was not so different form my own, and I could have done the same thing. This not only made me feel welcomed, helped me to relax among people I didn’t know, but also it made me want to learn from her and do the same thing for others.

b) Where I grew up the general attitude was that if something is right, you don’t need to mention it. You only mention what is not right, so it can be corrected. So, the affirmative teaching style I often observed among Americans, feels very strange to me. In one interpersonal skills workshop I even said to my American colleagues: “If you only focus in your feedback on what I did right, and think that I will understand that the things you did not mention are the ones I should improve on, most likely I won’t get it. I need to be told directly what is not ok, what needs to be changed.”  Now after having visited the USA several times, I got more used to the encouraging feedback and I quite like it. Sometimes to the point that I grow irritated when correction comes in the direct (and often harsh) way of pointing out the negative things, with which I grew up. Still, sometimes when I hear teaching about positive feedback, affirmations, etc, I wonder how much of this is cultural and if this might only apply to Americans.

But when Jim Wilder said yesterday evening that focusing on negative things does not create belonging, I had my Aha-moment. Deep down I realized that this is true, no matter which culture, even if it is expressed in very different ways. Every human being needs acceptance and belonging, and pointing out faults usually does the opposite – it builds walls. I even got my practical lesson right afterward: after I had told my little story, my neighbor criticized that I had missed one point of a good appreciation story. I felt put down and grew defensive. When I thought about it later, I realized that she could have pointed out the same thing through an encouraging question, but the way she had said it built a wall between us. Wow! So, this is definitely something I want to learn to avoid myself.

At the same time I realize that this is a difficult balance. For example, as a consultant or teacher, I can encourage somebody, showing appreciation, for example,  for the good start in a writing project. But this will not tell him/her enough about which parts still need improvement. Having grown up in a context where this balance was rare, I do not have a lot of role models for this.

Can you share examples from your own experience where somebody showed appreciation, and still managed to indicate the points that need improvement? How do you do it yourself?

Restoring relational circuits

Restoring relational circuits.

A few weeks ago I blogged about relational circuits. I included some examples of a longer checklist that help us realize whether our relational circuits are on or off. Here are some more examples:

  • My mind is “locked onto” something upsetting.
  • I just want to get away, or fight or I freeze.
  • I don’t want to be connected to X (someone I usually like).

If you answer some of these questions with yes, it means that your relational circuits are OFF.

So what do you do when your relational circuits are off? That was the topic of the last two classes. I quote from a pocket card from www.thrivingrecovery.org that we received, which included a short checklist on relational circuits and steps to restoring our relational circuits:

My goal is to perceive the Lord’s presence, tell Him about my pain, and receive His shalom so that I can get my relational connection circuits back on line.

My strategy is to quiet my body and then talk to God about my emotions and thoughts even if I don’t perceive His presence yet, I invite the Lord to be with me and help me perceive His presence. I tell others how shalom helped me.

The exercises we learned are hard to explain with a few sentences but maybe I can describe them best as a combination of physical relaxation exercise and of quoting biblical truth to ourselves. Usually, in the first part of each exercise the body posture was a representation of tension, fear, anxiety (incl. fast and brief breathing in) while quoting, for example, “Whenever I am afraid …”. The second part would then be a transition into a relaxed body posture (incl. slowly and lengthy breathing out) and quoting “… I will trust in Thee oh Lord.” (Psalm 56:3)

The one mentioned above is called the “Fear Bomb”. Another one is called “First Aid Yawn” which starts in the First Aid position and includes yawning. Both belong to the group of “Shalom to my body” exercises, aiming at quieting my body (as mentioned in the strategy statement above).

The next two steps for restoring my relational circuits are, in my perception, somewhat similar and are called “Shalom to my soul” and “Lament with God”. In both cases I talk with God about my situation. I found it interesting to learn that talking to God about the other person that I am upset with will not help, but will keep my relational circuits off. I need to talk with God about my own emotions and thoughts (in Shalom to my soul) and about sad things that grieve both God and me (in Lament with God).

Shalom to my soul” is a personal prayer that follows in certain aspects the pattern of many Psalms. It includes describing how I feel at the moment, thoughts that come to my mind when I think about the problem, and what keeps me from experiencing God’s presence. Towards the end, I express how I perceive God at the moment, what I need from him, but at the same time remembering special moments with God in the past and my favorite Bible promises that have helped me in the past. The prayer finishes with asking God to remove barriers that keep me from knowing God’s presence and receiving his shalom.

Lament with God” reflects on the question what good things God wants me to have but that did not happen in this particular situation. This is then formed into a prayer, where I express what exactly are the negative things that happened and were contrary to God’s good plan, by saying: “I am sad that there was …… instead of your gentleness / kindness / mercy / forgiveness / justice / wisdom / comfort. I am saddened like you are. I really need your gentleness / … / etc. to create belonging.” An interesting aspect in this was, that focusing on sadness helps to become relational again and find shalom, while a focus on fear and anger would not be helpful.

The last step, which we will probably address in the next class, is called “Grow my shalom” through appreciation exercises.

All of these are steps to help me have “Godsight” – seeing myself and others like God sees them – and thereby turning my relational circuits on again. I will write more on what Godsight means in another post. [N.B. 2015 – recently they started using the term iSight as in Immanuel Sight instead.]

Relational circuits

Relational circuits.

This week’s revised Belonging class of the Life Model taught by Dr. Jim Wilder was again very insightful.

The topic was Relational Circuits.

These are things in our brain that can be on or off (or degrees of on and off). When they are on, there is no problem that is bigger than our relationships.  When they are off, our brain does not work well, our relationships don’t work well and we are not creating belonging and Shalom around us. We lose our peace and problems seem bigger than they are.

This was a real Aha-moment for me, when Jim Wilder mentioned the correlation between problems and relationships. For example, when a father yells at his daughter, the problem has become bigger than his relationship to his daughter. At this moment he no longer cares if he hurts her but completely focuses on the problem and his need to express his emotions.

When we suspend our relational functions, we treat people like objects.

Expressing our feelings and emotions become deadly weapons. We lose objectivity and perspective. Our communication hurts others instead of creating Shalom. We become as dangerous to others as drunken drivers because our relational capacities are incapacitated.

Right away I remembered situations where problems had become bigger than the relationships and things did not go well. Just recently I had to talk with somebody about a problem. And as much as I tried I could not put myself in the other person’s situation in order to be less judgmental. I knew it was not OK, but I was unable to change it. Now I basically got the explanation of what happened in this situation. (Next time we will hear about what to do then.)

We receive a checklist of indicators for when our relational circuits are off.

Here are some examples that I found very telling:

  • I just want to make a problem, a person or feeling stop or go away.
  • I become aggressive in the way I interrogate, judge or fix others.
  • I don’t want to listen to what others are saying.
  • When others are talking, I already know what they are going to say.

All over the world people are drawn to those that consider relationships as more important than problems, who value relationships over problems. I certainly noticed that in different African cultures, relationship are so extremely valuable – because they are their “social safety net” – and that they would not allow anything, things or problems to disrupt these relationships. My rationalization was that we in the West have social security, health insurance, retirement insurance, etc. and are therefore less depending on our relationships, and don’t care as much how our behavior might damage our relationships.

But maybe there is more to it. Our ability to create belonging and whether our relational circuits are on most of the time, are related to our level of maturity. Maybe people in other parts of the world have a higher level of maturity.

So remember:

Our relationship work better when our brain (relational circuits) is running, and not just our emotions and our mouth.
(Jim Wilder)  😉

Assuming Positive Intent

Assuming Positive Intent

This week’s quote is posted one day later. I am glad about it because I found the following neat story only this morning.

It’s the story of a “thoughtlessly scratched out a 30-second card” on Mother’s Day, which was very disappointing; … until the real reason came to light. I only quote a part of the conclusion:

Aidan’s card reminded me of something I learned about relationships from a counselor. Good family relationships are ones where each member assumes positive intent. Assuming positive intent is a relational term that means we don’t automatically jump to negative conclusions about the people in our lives. We give them the benefit of the doubt, even when the evidence might point otherwise.

This reminds me of what I called: “creating space for imperfect attempts of doing new things” in my post on Belonging and Appreciation. Both are an expression of GRACE.

Have a great week and times where you extend and receive grace!