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"That's Emotions, Mama"

Stop, breathe slow, and make a smart choice." Aldie, mindful paragon

Imagine yourself at bedtime. An adult processing the day. Think about where you did and did not make a smart choice. Do it without judgment. Calmly, tenderly acknowledge where you could improve.

Bring to mind the specific, various emotions you dealt with. The ebb and flow of their intensity. Sense your awe at the huge palette of emotions one can feel as a human being. Emotions...those incredibly amazing things that almost take your breath away.

And imagine that there are people in your world that stick with you through it all. Hearing your process. Accepting your emotions along with you. Sensing your awe. Loving you.

Now shift your focus to where you saw emotions in others. Perhaps you particularly noticed someone close to you. A relative or friend. Consider the events that triggered your dear one’s emotions.

Now see yourself having empathy about what is happening to your dear one. How they must be irritated. Now see yourself giving a bit of tender, warm, sage advice…like “Stop. Breathe slow and make a smart decision.”

If you can do all that, you have exceptional emotional maturity…almost as good as Aldie, a Prince George, Canadian, 4-year-old toddler whom millions have watched on youtube. I am watching and learning from Aldie as well.

The video goes like this. Aldie climbs into bed and starts talking about the day:

“You know earlier, I couldn’t go outside so I was a little sad. After I was a little sad, I was a little upset. More than a little,” he tells his mom.

“We all get upset sometimes. We don’t get what we want all the time,” his mother responds.

Aldie agrees and then mentions an incident earlier when his baby sister accidentally dropped a plate. Aldie says he saw his dad looking upset and he told him to “stop, breathe slow and make a smart choice.”

Aldie says he didn’t make the best choice himself when he got upset about not getting to go outside.

“Life is like that,” his mother tells him. “We get upset, we get mad, we cry –.”

“That’s emotions mama!” Aldie interjects… “Today I had a hard time doing my emotions.”

I totally get it, Aldie!

I’m thinking of the time Saturday I got hurt and angry. This Sunday I felt annoyed. And later, a deep sadness. Then there were the moments of confusion and overwhelm and …also wild happiness. That’s emotions! And lots of the time I have a hard time doing them.

Fortunately, my family and friends usually stick with me as I experience being human. Sometimes I stick with myself too. Not as well as Aldie, but I’m learning.

Related to this subject is some new research published in the journal, Mindfulness. (Of course, Aldie is truly a poster child for mindfulness as he enumerates his emotions and thoughts and considers his behavior).

Mindfulness is the first step, a very gigantic step toward compassion. Compassion for others and compassion for ourselves. And…when self-compassion and compassion for others are in “harmony,” we experience high levels of well-being. The good life.

That harmony piece may need a little explaining and a bit of background. A lot of studies as of late have detailed the benefits of both self-compassion and compassion for others. However, there have been some discrepancies. Self-compassion and compassion for others don't always travel together. Sometimes when we have a lot of compassion for others and little compassion for ourselves, we don’t experience well-being and happiness.

I once was speaking to a large group – a dental convention in Las Vegas. The adrenaline was kicking in, but when someone sat down beside me that all changed. He was a seeker. A man in pain. Suffering. He knew who I was and what I was going to talk about.

“I know you are going to talk about relationships and the good life and all that stuff. But what I want to tell you is that I have no problem loving others at all. I just hate myself.”

Sadly, at the time, I had nothing more to offer than a listening ear as the dentist recounted all his life's missteps (perhaps reminded by "sin city"). But I have never forgotten him. He came to mind when I read this research. The importance of self-compassion and compassion for others being in sync. Harmonizing.

I think a lot about compassion and the barriers to compassion for others, but I need to think more about self-compassion. How we take a non-critical, patient stance toward our own shortcomings and suffering. In the past, there’s been a robust link between increased self-compassion and psychological well-being.

A lot of folks have jumped on the bandwagon to come up with ways of increasing self-compassion (but beware of the “near enemies” of self-compassion…self-pity and self-indulgence)…ways of responding to our own flaws with gentle respect, positive regard, and support. Ways of tapping into our “soothing system” and away from our threat and drive system. We also know that a lack of self-compassion is correlated with psychopathology – stress, anxiety, depression, rumination.

And there are people like Dr Kristin Neff who have shown that self-compassion like compassion for others is malleable. She describes elements of self-compassion like kindness directed toward the self, as well as an ability to connect ourselves with all of humanity – acknowledge our common humanity which is just part of how we are made up…along with being versed in being able to articulate our emotions, observe, and accept them without getting carried away by them.

But pshaww on all that (to quote my grandmother). Let’s just watch Aldie (or read Aldie's words) and learn from him.

AND it helps to remember this new research... that self-compassion and compassion need to be in upward harmony…going upward together (and notice that self-compassion does not mean we get off the hook for our mistakes, but rather that we can face them with curiosity and kindness and understanding and perspective… and, therefore, better correct Aldie does). All that contributes to our emotional intelligence, social intelligence, mindfulness, compassion for others, self-compassion, AND well-being.

How might we learn more from watching paragons in mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and harmonic compassion and journey together to the Good Life?


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