Mental Wellness Challenge – 2020, December 18

Mental Wellness Challenge – 2020, December 18

The Winter solstice approaches, and another week has slipped by…  amazing how fast a week can go by…

Last week my challenge was to:

  1. Decorate your “life tree” … even just a little. Take some time to SEE the beauty you have created in your life.  Maybe even write some of those decorations down in a special place.
  2. Cut yourself some slack. I know that I tend to be my own worst critic… and in that – the critical lens often darkens my experience… so – give the critic a week off… or two… or three… (Wouldn’t that be incredible to be able to do just that?  Maybe it’s just that easy??? )
  3. Take time to look up a (ONE) mindfulness exercise and then do it. There are loads on the web of things… I would suggest finding a beginner’s session by John Kabat-Zinn.

All said – I did OK with my challenge last week.

I spent some time reflecting on some of the good things in my experience and making an awareness or decoration of those good things in my mind.  There are lots of wonderful things in my life – I only need to appreciate them and to bring my awareness to them to make them into decorations on my life tree.

It was while doing some work on this piece that I realized that I can and do sometimes decorate my façade as well… I became aware that I need to be very mindful – aware – of my propensity to represent myself as “being a well adorned Christmas tree” rather than the real “Charlie Brown tree” that I am.  I don’t know for certain, but I’m inclined to think that a large percentage of folks adorn their life trees for the benefit of others…  There really isn’t anything to be ashamed of in regard of my accomplishments… so I’m not sure why I feel I need to adorn my tree for anyone else… As is said – “What other people think of me is none of my business.”  Hmmm… some thinking on this is in order…

 

On cutting myself some slack… I’ve been working on this piece this week.  I made some ground here… I’ve been experiencing brain aches (migraines headaches) this past couple of weeks and I have been feeling ‘yuk’ a fair bit.  I find it tough to do a bunch when my head feels like its going to split in two or that my right eye is going to pop out of my head or that the piece of re-bar that is being shoved back and forth through the left side of my head is going to get nastier… pair that with some pretty gnarly nausea and well – I just don’t feel much like doing somethings as simple as bending over to tie my shoes… cuz… it hurts…  So – I have been taking things easy – working from home – and doing the best I can.  All that noted – I start putting myself down for the things that I haven’t accomplished.  This task or that, this meeting missed or for not getting out and exercising as regularly as I know (feel) I should.  I’ve been able to cut myself a little room.  I am doing what I can.  “I’m enough for me today.” (I was fortunate to see this on a sweater of a student of mine… I like it.)

 

I spent a little while each evening working on my mindfulness piece.  Mindfulness is a tool that helps me “be” in the same space as – say – my headache pain, and not focus on it.  I work to acknowledge the sensation and let it go – it might come right back into my awareness – but I acknowledge it and let it go again.  Being – just being.  I think mindfulness is a personal thing – it is accomplished differently by different folks.  For me – mindfulness kind of boils out to “being”.  To “being” the human being that is experiencing life.  MMM…. I am not my headache – I am not my disorders – I am not my successes or my failures… and while those things are pieces of my experience, I mustn’t become defined by them.  Mindfulness helps me “be” me…


A smile, a frown, a furled brow, a sneer or smirk…  If I think about each of those words, I get a mental picture of a face doing them.  I can see the words on the face.  Now, what happens when I apply those same words to a face wearing a mask… A pile of the non-verbal information/communication is lost…

I am a mask wearer… both actually and figuratively.  COVID had made mask wearing a necessity when in public spaces – and I do.  I wear the mask to protect others from me and myself from others.  I wear an emotional mask (kinda like that decorated tree from above) to do a similar thing… but mostly to protect me from others – and ya – there are certainly times where I need to put on the old “happy face” to protect others from where I am at…

The mask – in both cases – hides a part of my experience – from others.  You can’t see most of my face – and when my glasses are steamed up – you can’t even see my eyes…  I have also experienced difficulty in understanding what others are saying behind their masks and having others understand what I am saying behind my mask.

When I think about this, this masked communication is problematic.  I teach for a living – teaching online takes this “masked” communications to a whole other level.  Physical gestures, a simple facial expression of understanding, the little nod of a student’s head, the puzzled look of confusion or not understanding – those ques are all gone.  Communication in this mode is almost entirely verbal.  The simple hand gesture of showing a path that current might take through a circuit must be replaced with words or some other form of language.  I have to be very very intentional about saying or writing all of those things that I could have otherwise gestured in a face to face environment.  I suppose – in some ways – its very similar to what I do in this forum when I am trying to convey an idea or my understanding of something.  The problem is – when you the audience read my words – your understanding of my words may differ significantly from my intention.  BIG PROBLEM…

So – let me take this back to my social interactions with folks in my experience.  If I am wearing a face mask to help limit the spread of COVID-19, I am covering up at least a third of my communication.  I am covering up my smile, my smirk, my grin – etc… I still have my words and I still have my eyes.  Now – I am responsible as the sender of communication to be as clear as possible with my communications.  As the receiver of a communication – I have a responsibility to check that my understanding of the communication being sent is correct.

I’m really bad at reading others intention from spoken or written words alone.  I have a tendency to negativity – I lean that way.  I am working at checking for understanding but I still tend to wander into the shadows more than the sunshine… So – when I don’t have all of the non-verbal communication pieces that I have been used to reading for intention because a mask is in the way – I find it even more difficult to navigate communications.

I know this same phenomenon occurs when I am wearing my figurative mask – my – “I’m alright, don’t nobody worry ‘bout me…” mask even when I am drowning or feeling hopeless.  I really try to NOT do this – as I am not being authentic when I am wearing this… I’ve shared about my masks and hiding behind them in the past – and I suppose there’s room for more sharing about this another time…

OK – so back to my cloth face mask being a barrier to both droplets and some communications.  Its up to me to take the little additional time to understand what another is saying AND is up to me to make a bit more of a special effort to be clear on my intended message.  I need to communicate my intended message in a manner that is as verbally clear as I possibly can, checking for understanding along the way.  When I am texting back and forth in text messaging apps – I use emojis to communicate emotional intent.  So what do I do in mask to mask communication to communicate my smile?  I suppose I could say – “You make me smile” – but that’s not likely to happen in the spontaneity of a conversation…  I still have my eyes… and I can do my best to say “I’m smiling” with my eyes…  tougher for sure.

OK, so I think I’ve shared about this enough to where I can put my challenge forward…


This week – my challenge is about communicating more clearly…

  1. When your smile is behind a mask, try to communicate your smile with your eyes.
  2. (I’m going to borrow this one from Covey.) Seek first to understand and then to be understood.
  3. (I’m going to borrow this one from the 4 Agreements.) Don’t make assumptions, ask questions.

That’s it, I challenge you.

Next Friday is Christmas Day and I might not do a blog next week.  If I don’t, please make the very best of the holiday time.  I know some will be working, some may be alone, some may be busy with their bubble.  Make time to connect with those in your life that you love…

Please be safe and be kind.

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