responsibility

The Great Classroom Of Relationship; and Learning To Communicate In It

Relationship is not without complication, challenge, and difficulty, even in the most well attended to and mindful of our interactions. Being in relationship requires communicating, which can lead to misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and sometimes even the end of a relationship all together. As humans we communicate in more ways than just with our words, we use our bodies, our actions, our non-actions, the reputations of our past actions, the way we dress, the work we do, these things and more relate who we are to the world as well as what we intend to do while living, and where we place the value and meaning in our lives. Relationship is the place where who we perceive ourselves to be interacts with the world around us. We have relationship with people, animals, insects, and with inanimate objects like our favorite pair of shoes or our beds. Relationship is taking place when we touch a stone, enjoy the freshness of the air when it rains, and pump gas into our cars. The varying layers of relationship all share the commonality of the way each of us singularly participates in the animate world we live in. Our participation stems from our perception of who we believe we are and what we believe we are doing here in this world we live in. The beliefs of our experience formulate over the course of our lifetime and the varying relationships we have during it. Beliefs are created in the simplest observations of the people around us as children and the relationship those adults have to their perceived concept of the world, to the complicated study and discernment of heavy and weighted discussions on the cosmology of life and the universe, the presence of a power greater than one's own, and the unlimited nature of energy in its limited forms of existence in the manifest world.

In Sanskrit there is the word Shraddha which does not translate directly into English. This word roughly refers to the actions we take that are founded in sincerity and faith; the ways in which we relate to the world based on the beliefs we have about the world that rarely, if ever come into question. The practice of yoga asks the student to question their Shraddha, as does life and being in relationship, which all of us are until we lock ourselves into a cave not to be bothered.

Though I give my best effort to being a human of integrity who gives thought to a deed before action, and mindfulness to intention before participation, I have traversed the rough seas of conflict in relationship more times than I can count. It is not uncommon for my sister and I to come into misunderstandings as we rub up against the boundaries of our own beliefs of who we think the other should be and how we perceive ourselves to be in relationship to the other. Currently I am in a dispute with my brother that has us in a stalemate of no communication because the communication we were working with was unsuccessfully efficient enough to clear the misunderstanding and hurt between us. I have no shame in sharing my digressions as well as the truth that I have been known to be aggressive in my desire to be right in these personal conflicts as well as being the stubborn headed contrarian, sometimes even self righteous brat, who generated the misunderstandings to begin with. These truths about my behavior I have learned while in relationship with all of my closest people from my parents to my husband, sister, brother, business partner, and dearest friends who, having been on the receiving end of my sharp and angry tongue, have cumulatively reflected this more clear picture back to me.

Diving ever more deeply into the teachings of yoga and the desire to be a person who lives a life of peace and harmony in all of my relationships, I am required to be honest with myself about who I am, the role I play in these conflicts, (my Shraddha) the beliefs I have that allow the conflicts to persist, what I can surrender to bring more harmony into the relationship experiencing conflict, and most importantly how to do it all with love. In theory this all makes great sense and seems very straight forward however in practice, when the need arises for this quality of beingness, the circumstances surrounding the need are generally immersed in emotions that create heat as they are passionately tied to perceived beliefs of myself upon which my whole world rotates. Learning to communicate in the midst of my passionate emotions without unleashing the sharpness of my tongue which is only a defense mechanism of my ego afraid to let go of a belief that has allowed it to hold up its wall of an illusion of separateness, is one of the most challenging things I have done in this life to date. It truly does not come with ease for me. For this reason, I am impressed and enthralled when I have the opportunity to witness others communicate their perceptions of the circumstances of relationship that did not leave them feeling safe, honored, or respected without becoming defensive, angry, hurtful, and cold.

This week I had the great good fortune to be on the receiving end of a person I am in relationship with clearing the air of their perceived experience of a less than enjoyable experience with me in a way that was beautifully straight forward, without baggage, respectful, honest, clear, and then done. It was a wonderful example of the use of the four pillars of communication which I attempt to skillfully use myself when I need to communicate my perceived experience in relationship with someone who I feel has not treated me in a way that is safe, respectful, or honoring of my beingness.

The four pillars of communication are: 1. Is it true? 2. Is it necessary? 3. Is it timely? 4. Is it kind?

When using language as the means of communication to smooth out any roughness in relationship with other humans that are important to you, it is proposed that you ask yourself these four questions before initiating the conversation. If the subject matter that you wish to speak on is true to you, and it is necessary to speak about to create more harmony in a relationship, and you time the conversation in a way that the receiving participant will not feel ambushed and will be able to listen and hear you, and you then approach your truth with kindness, there is a higher likelihood that the air will be cleared, harmony will return to the relationship, and both parties will feel better for having participated in relationship with such excellent skillfulness in communication.

There are of course exceptions to this wonderful way of resolving conflict. Sometimes the other party is not ready to transition into a resolution of conflict, other times the conflict itself is rooted in deep betrayal that first must be forgiven by the offended party or the words received are merely hollow and carry no weight. In these cases, should the offended party in the relationship find the spaciousness to forgive the trespass and move into a shared space of conflict resolution, then not only are the words that are communicated by the offender attempting to relay a resolution to make room for a new state of being having a great need for honesty, the offended party will generally also look to other means of communication like the offenders current and past actions as well as their body language to validate the truthfulness of what is being offered. At times the digressions between people in relationship can be so painful to one, or the other, or both, that the relationship may perhaps never go back to the freely trusting state it was once in, however with willingness on both sides in congruence with focused attention to personal behaviors and beliefs, the relationship has the potential to evolve into one of even better boundaries, more respect, more love, and true harmony, more so than even seemed possible before.

On either side of a conversation seeking conflict resolution is an individual with their own perceived concept of the conflict and their own ideas of which direction they wish to see the relationship go. In the best of cases, like the incident in which I was confronted last week, the offender, this time being me, listens and responds with honesty and a offering to remedy the relationship, often an apology is the perfect ingredient. Other times the receiving party wishes only to be left alone, in which case patience, and the continuing pursuit of impeccable behavior in all other relationships may be the only remedy available in that moment. In any case, returning to the offering of love for self and the person(s) on the other side of the line of conflict generally generates the best feelings overall.

Having the courage to clear the air of a conflicted relationship in a quality manner can be very hard to do, even though, as it is with most things of value in this life, it is the hard jobs and the challenges that require the most of us that are most satisfying. In the face of adversity and conflict in our relationships with others, and most importantly in relationship with ourselves, may we utilize the tools that were given to us and continue to dare to be brave enough with our communication skills to try to smooth out the rough edges, willing enough with our spacious hearts to surrender the strong hold of our egos, and open enough in our incredible minds to expand into new boundaries of being, which may be better than anything we could have ever imagined.

Being in relationship with this animate and inanimate world is a wild ride, up, down, and every which way between. It is my wish to teach by example, to rise to the occasion and the invitation offered by the classroom of life with patience and loving kindness for myself and others, as I work my way toward owning the title of human being.

I'll continue to do my best.

In deep gratitude to those who have been patient, forgiving, loving, and beautiful teachers while in relationship with me.

With love, always, in all ways, for giving, in joy, Genevieve

The Unlikely Gurus

When I was twenty I got my first dog, a beautiful blue-eyed Huskie mix. As a naïve twenty year old I presumed it would be easy to “own” a dog and that I would have excellent dog “ownership” skills. Reflecting back on my perspective at that time in my life and my perception of “ownership” says much to me about the resulting relationship I had with Otis. It was a young and naïve relationship that lacked the integrity of steadiness, regular quality time spent together, the presence of patience, and most of all trust. The relationship of "ownership" ended in abandonment when a few short months into our journey together I decided to leave the country for half a year. Lucky for him and despite my poor parenting skills Otis was harbored for a few years in the loving home of my father, from where he went to live with and is deeply loved by my brother Josh. From time to time I have the pleasure of hanging out with him and going for walks. I am honored in his company by his forgiveness, which he offers with no restraint and his unconditional love, which is clearly present despite my truest betrayal and trespass against him. From Otis I have learned a form of forgiveness and freedom that is spacious and bright like the blue of his soulful eyes. In my mid twenties I thought perhaps I was ready to try again. My husband and I discussed getting a dog, we agreed that I was not a fit dog owner based on my passed experience however, he had had many growing up and was willing to be a teacher to me on the journey. The conversation was just that, a conversation, which never went past willingness to actually bringing a dog home. That was until a hot July afternoon when I received a phone call from my mother who had heard us discussing getting a dog, telling me her friend had found a puppy and I should come and check it out.

The puppy had been found in Ranchos very dehydrated, emaciated, and nearly dead. I took her out of her box and put her in my lap and I couldn't understand how this sweet little puppy, that couldn’t walk, with a big injury on its head, could have ever wound up in her position. I looked into her big black eyes and I fell deeply in love.

“I’ll take her.” I told my mom’s friend. However, she wasn’t ready to go anywhere other than to the vet, where she went for the next three days.

That night when my husband got home, I told him about our new puppy that my mom’s friend found, that was nearly dead and was at the vet and would soon be coming home to us. Despite our previous conversations, my husband was not eager about adding this particular dog, whom he feared may have brain damage to our family. I remember being very upset with him for not having compassion at that moment, yet as I look back on his position I understand his perspective. A brain damaged dog is a hard companion to live with.

“And are we paying for the vet too?” He asked me, disappointed and dismayed.

“Yes.” I said. “And we are going to take her in and bring her back to life, if she will make it.”

“Well,” he told me “if she turns out to be brain damaged I reserve the right to take her to the pound.”

Reluctantly, I acquiesced to his ultimatum.

Not only did we manage to bring that sick and dying puppy back to life, we found a way to include her in our lives with steadiness, quality time, and patience. It took me years to learn to communicate well with her, and to be able to understand when she was letting me know what she needed and wanted. It took even more time for me to learn to trust her and allow her to be the dog that she is rather than the dog I think she should be. Now, six years later the three of us are still in relationship, daily continuing to learn, grow, and mostly trust.

These days I call her His dog, as they just love each other so much and have so much fun. Every day when he leaves the house and can’t take her with him, she whines pathetically at the door. I on the other hand never get that kind of attention from her when I leave the house as she happily continues to lay in our bed not blinking an eye at the thought of me leaving, which I think means I’m just not as much fun. However, it is me she gravitates toward to have her most important needs met, like food, and care when she does not feel well. I like to think that’s because she remembers that day when she was nearly dead like I do, and how deeply I wanted to see her survive. As for me, I continue to delight in the newness of our relationship every day. Daily she invites me to play more, take more time to just enjoy the delight of the moment, relish the sweetness of love first thing and not forget to relish it again at the end of the day. Most importantly she continues to teach me to trust without hesitation. Experiencing witnessing her ability to ask for what she needs and wants, and trust that she will receive what she needs and wants, has taught me how to trust in spirit with more willingness and conviction in all that I need and desire. The way I understand the lesson is that you or I, like my dear sweet Onyx, only have to ask, and then allow ourselves to know and trust that spirit will provide.

Like the wonderful song in Pinocchio, “Anything your heart desires, will come to you.”

Yesterday was the first full moon after the Summer Solstice and marked the celebration of Guru Purnima, a Hindu festival honoring ones greatest, most noble and valued teachers. The word Guru is a derivative of two words, Gu and Ru and has similar etymological roots to the Latin word Gravitas. Gu denotes darkness or ignorance while Ru signifies the bringing of the light, the remover of the darkness, the moving of ignorance into knowing. The Guru therefore, is that which brings us from the weight or the gravity of our ignorance into the lightness of our being and the expansiveness of our knowing, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually as well. A Guru can be a person who’s company we enjoy with ease and whose teachings we willingly sit with to learn, as well as a person whom it is not easy to be with and through the friction or the gravitas of our relationship we come to know our own spaciousness more deeply. Gurus are not only people as nature too can be a teacher, as can art and music, as can our dreams or our pets.

Contemplating, honoring, and celebrating the many Gurus of my life yesterday filled my heart. As my husband and I returned home from dinner under the bright shining light of the full super moon I offered extra thanks for a most unlikely Guru in my life, the little black one who ran to the door with eyes full of deep and spacious love, so happy we had come home again to her. I now know I don’t “own” her at all.

With humble gratitude to all of my teachers, the furry four legged kind, the ones I choose, and the ones who propelled me through the cheese grater of life into the wide open planes of unconditional love, I bow and I welcome the next.

With Love, All Ways, For Giving, In Joy, Genevieve

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What I learned In Preschool, an Ode to Leaping Lizards

In the end of May 1999 I graduated from High School with intentions to set out and conquer the world. It was a typical adolescent understanding of the world as conquerable, coupled with an ignorant belief that the world would arrange itself to fit into me. Despite my delusions of grandeur I enrolled in University in Southern New Mexico where I lasted one semester before deciding Las Cruces, higher education, spending my days in classrooms that hummed under the heat of florescent lights, and the concept of academia, just wasn’t for me. Again, my adolescent hubris in alignment with my ignorance was calling the shots. As I perceive that choice now, I can say it was a thoughtless step that took me from my dorm room back into my mother’s home where I found myself suffering from the only bout of insomnia I have ever had in my life. To fight off the insomnia I read voraciously, filling the sleepless nights with books, most memorably, the Dalai Lama’s Ethics For The New Millennium. I knew at the time, as I read Ethics For The New Millennium, it would be pivotal to the rest of my life. I also knew my life was definitely changing, I wasn’t sure how, but I was sure I would never be the same.

Weeks went by and I spun my wheels wondering how I was now going to conquer the world. News traveled to my best friends mom who owned a Preschool that I was back in town. She called me and told me that she needed a substitute teacher and I should come to the school and give it a shot. I remember being resistant, telling her I didn’t like kids and I wasn’t sure if I was the right person. Lucky for me Jill would not take no for an answer. She rejected my resistance with an intelligent and insightful response. “It’s not that you don’t like kids,” she said, “It’s just that you haven’t spent any time with them and you’re afraid of them. You can stop being afraid and get to know some. Besides, you might actually like it.” By this time Jill had been in the business of kids for more years than I had been alive and she knew what she was talking about. In the end I had nothing better to do and I knew that spinning my wheels wasn’t getting me anywhere, least of all, on top of the world.

Once I got over the initial fear, I found myself, as Jill said I would, really enjoying the company of children. In alignment with the teachings and wisdom I had gathered in the Dalai Lama’s Ethics For The New Millennium, it was obvious that these children understood all anyone really wanted was to be happy. From the onset I could see that the children had excellent parameters for what was fair in the context of relationship in the relationships they were having with each other. The question of were they allowed to be happy while others were seeking their own happiness seemed to be the biggest problem to solve, aside from the usual Preschool dilemmas of nap time, wet pants, and sitting in a chair while eating lunch. It became apparent to me that I had traded in higher education for what in my perspective, became an even higher education, an education in being nice, or in yogic terms, being mindful and acting from a place of nonviolence.

This May, many of those fabulous little teachers of mine graduated from High School, and Jill closed the doors to Leaping Lizards after 35 years of educating children big and small. It blows my mind to think how much time has passed and now those children are the age I was when I was so curiously learning from them. Over the last fifteen years I have continued to study the value of mindfulness in relationship, with self as well as the world around me. I hold to the knowing that being kind and treating others and ourselves well while not squashing anyone's happiness is the most important thing any of us can do, no matter the size and age of our bodies. As the years have rolled on I have gained new tools that enable me to be present with my skillfulness in thoughts and actions of kindness, balance, and the obfuscated qualities of fairness. The practice of yoga adds tools to the toolbox as well as enhances the quality and respond-ability of these skills daily. I still like to play with toys, swing, slide, and play hide and seek. Story time is my favorite time of day and recently I am convinced everything anyone ever really needs to know can be learned from Peter Pan, hang onto your shadow and think happy thoughts.

Teaching at Leaping Lizards as well as reading Ethics For The New Millennium definitely changed the way I perceive the world around me, especially the way I perceive the people living in it, and my life has been better for the choice of dropping out of college every day since. Though Preschool may be many decades behind me, I continue daily to open the notebook to my deeper and higher learning through wonderful childlike play, and I continue to refine the greatest lesson I learned there, being kind. Through play I am often surprised and delighted to find myself enjoying the pleasure of killing dragons with my kindness and sometimes even turning them into my best friends. Rolling around on the floor in Cobra and other animal poses opens my heart and enables me to charm the venomous snakes and dangerous beasts within. Sinking into the seat of my inner warrior and exhaling helps me to steadfastly be more determined to breathe kindness, love, and humility into all of my actions through the shining and strong armor of my happy heart.

The thing about being kind and loving is that it is always rewarding. Being kind sometimes takes a little courage like going to the first day of school or making friends with someone new in the playground, and being kind especially takes courage in the face of adversity and fear. However, like Jill so elegantly said to me, “you might actually like it.” I believe being kind always beats the alternative.

If I could pass on any words of wisdom to those children now they would be to not loose your playful spirit, remember hitting hurts, it's good to take naps, and hugs always feel good. Higher education is always important and being open to learning can be more valuable than the environment you learn in. You are still young and it is always valuable to make well informed decisions, don't be afraid to ask for help.

I happily graduated from Preschool in May of 2001 at the ripe old age of twenty, knowing then that my desires to conquer the world were never really going to fulfill me. Rather, than and now, I graduated to just wanting to love the world, all of it, like a soft kitty cat, a great story, my dearest invisible childhood friend, or a day of absolute play.

My deepest gratitude continues to go to Jill Sanger for the giving me the opportunity to assimilate the teachings of the Dalai Lama in the classrooms of Leaping Lizards, incorporating the values of mindfulness, kindness, fairness, creative problem solving, and the positive vibrant love of play. It was my first peek into a life of an unconditioned heart.

With Love All Ways For Giving, Genevieve