Posts Tagged :

neural pathways

Gratitude: The Best Meal To Serve Your Hungry Ghost 640 480 Thayer Fox

Gratitude: The Best Meal To Serve Your Hungry Ghost

Gratitude is wishing for what you already have. For most of us, this doesn’t happen naturally. Good news is that our brains can be re-wired. Daily practice carves out neural pathways that will routinely lead us to fresh ways of thinking and experiencing the world. Grateful people are happy ones; there is nothing complicated about this equation.

Gratitude is a trendy word today. The star of self-help books and Ted talks, like the beautiful one given by David Steindl-Rast, gratitude’s power is undeniable. Gratitude challenges are prevalent on social media, people post lists for a period and then stop. Schools discuss ways to instill gratitude in children. Gratitude journals are sold at toy stores near the Uno cards.

The mass effort to bring gratitude to the forefront of our collective thinking is a positive step. But when something becomes familiar, we stop noticing it. It’s the reason we forget to wish for what we already have. The concept of gratitude has reached the tipping point of overuse, and people feel like they are cultivating gratitude by attending a lecture at their children’s school or highlighting paragraphs in a book. Engaging in a practice and understanding a concept are worlds apart.

For the first thirty years of my life, I didn’t have an ounce of gratitude. Growing up in an environment that kept my fight and flight response activated, the hungry ghost was strong inside me. I craved and schemed to obtain what I wanted as quickly as I could get my hands on it. It was never enough. Entitlement is the opposite of gratitude. There is no appreciation or relief in the world owes me mindset.

So how did I transform from an entitled wretch to someone who feels deeply grateful for my life? Slowly.

Gratitude has been a focus in the rooms of AA long before it surfaced in the mainstream. Fourteen and half years ago, after not drinking for ninety days, my sponsor told me that my thinking was now the source of my misery. She suggested that I email her a gratitude list every morning containing three items. I asked her how she expected me to be grateful sitting amidst the rubble of my life? With few people left, no job, depressed and over-weight, making a gratitude list felt like a cruel request.

When I would call my sponsor to complain that I had nothing to put down on my list, she would calmly ask me, “Did you have a bed to sleep in last night? A warm meal for dinner? A roof over your head?” Annoyed that she would suggest these necessities for my list, I was desperate to feel differently, so I did what she said.

For the next few years, I made gratitude lists daily. The lists became effortless as my life grew. They still included simple things like a great yoga class, walks around the reservoir in Central Park, a delicious meal at City Bakery, and a job that paid my bills. On challenging days, I would put down the three items that my sponsor mentioned when I started the practice. I didn’t just scribble them down anymore, I sat with each one, finally understanding that they weren’t as elementary as I initially believed. They were and still are enormous blessings.

My baseline well-being shifted with my thinking. There is always something right in front of me to be grateful for, it just requires a shift in perspective. I no longer write lists, but I end my two daily meditations by saying thank you for whatever blessings I am present to at that moment. What I focus on is my choice and choosing to focus on the abundance in my life always improves my mindset.

 

Is Compromise Creating Expectations in Your Relationship? 640 366 Thayer Fox

Is Compromise Creating Expectations in Your Relationship?

How much do you compromise in your relationship? What expectations do you have for your partner? Do you communicate them clearly? Have you ever considered that compromise is creating expectations in your relationship?

Smiling, my husband says that my idea of a great date night is couples therapy and a shrimp tempura roll. He is not far off. Maybe throw in a workshop, attended separately for optimal discomfort and growth. During our thirteen years as a couple, the best marriage advice that we received is to stop compromising.

Many people still believe that something needs to be wrong to seek out the support of a therapist or coach. I see it like going to the gym, if you don’t work that muscle regularly, atrophy is guaranteed. By the time most people enter some form of work together, it’s too late, neural pathways are Grand Canyon deep. The disparity between the amount of work we put into other areas of our life and our primary relationship is illogical.

Around six years ago, sleep deprived navigating the world of young children, we started playing a relentless tit for tat game of ping pong. Anyone in a relationship knows how this plays out- I did this for you, even though I didn’t want to do it, so now I have an expectation that you owe me in return. Meanwhile, this dialogue is taking place in our heads and what’s communicated in agitated tones is entirely different. The majority of conflicts take place in the gaps of communication that open up endlessly between the most well-intentioned people.

After a particularly heated argument, I suggested we go see my old psychologist Chris Ford. During my twenty years of Woody Allen Manhattan shrink trialing, she was the only one who made a difference. My husband was resistant at first, and in a rare moment of quiet, I asked him from the bottom of my heart. Little did I know that the way I enrolled him to see Chris initially, was the recipe for future harmony between us.

We started meeting in Tribeca every Wednesday evening at Chris’s office. She immediately picked up on our ping-pong game and asked us to list all the things we did for each other that we didn’t want to be doing. Revealing minefields of resentment, the length of our lists scared us. Chris calmly explained that our expectations had worn out our goodwill towards each other and from here on out, they must be communicated clearly and agreed upon by both parties. It was a set-up to make assumptions in our heads and then feel disappointed every time they didn’t manifest in reality.

Chris said that compromise is a slow death for a relationship. She suggested that we try asking each other, as if we were asking a close friend for a favor, from the bottom of our hearts. If we couldn’t muster a degree of authentic emotion around a request, it’s probably not that important. The lesson of The Boy Who Cried Wolf also applies to this system- you can’t make soap opera requests every week; thinking it through carefully before speaking is a crucial factor in building trust and listening with your partner.

You must also be prepared for your partner to say no, that’s still an option available to them if they can’t muster a pure yes to your request. If you can’t shake a loving no, that means you are back in the world of expectation.

With these guidelines in place, our dynamic started shifting immediately, although, it took years to uproot all our buried expectations. We started practicing after our therapy sessions at the sushi restaurant around the corner. Now when my husband asks me for something, I listen carefully. In this way, he makes around five or so requests a year. I usually say yes because I know how sparingly he uses this tool and how much he respects my individual needs.

In this world we live in where everyone is expected to be a team player, I never fathomed that giving up compromise would make our love flourish.