Tag harmony

“I suppose it’s the human way to try this and that; we are a curious and resourceful species” – Our Interview with Jennifer Beggs, Registered Midwife …*

"I suppose it's the human way to try this and that; we are a curious and resourceful species" - Our Interview with Jennifer Beggs, Registered Midwife ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Jennifer Beggs

Jennifer Beggs

I am super excited about today’s interview, which is a first of its kind on two fronts. Jennifer is our first woman interviewee (it was starting to feel a bit like a boy’s club in here), though far from the last—we’ve got plenty more splendidly inspiring women coming soon. The second first, is that Jennifer is a personal friend. We met in September on our very first day of the Camino and it was my pleasure and delight to share my walk with Jenny for several days as we walked together to Pamplona. Kind, caring, smart and insightful, Jennifer is a registered midwife from Sydney, Australia. I’ll let her introduce herself:

Being the eldest of four and blessed with a wonderful mother, the nurturing gene came through strongly in me. Becoming a mother and a midwife were written in the stars. My children are my greatest education and joy, and my work with women during pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood has provided great satisfaction.

What really drives me though, is creating and making things. I have had this powerful urge since I was a child and have potted, painted, photographed, sculpted, crafted and designed intensely for short periods in my life. For much longer stretches I have had to attend to paying bills and raising children, but I have usually had some creative project going on the sidelines. It is however a calling that I have not yet succeeded in fully answering,….or is it perhaps just my ego reaching for something sexier?

What was the last experiment you ran?

I run micro experiments all the time, like brushing my teeth with my brush in my left hand instead of my right; saying “Hi” to people walking towards me on my daily walks (sadly many will instinctively avoid eye contact); varying my interactions with the world and seeing what happens. I suppose it’s the human way to try this and that; we are a curious and resourceful species. Having largely conquered basic survival (if we’re lucky), we search for meaning, connection and wholeness. In the West, and increasingly globally, we are all implored by self-help books, gurus and advertisers to do better and be better; the best of it sometimes leads to healthier and happier lives, the worst, to dissatisfaction and anxiety. Buddhist philosophy increasingly makes sense to me. In the last few years I’ve been enjoying practicing yoga and taking some long walks. Being a bit of a restless soul, I like change, discovery and adventure.

I’m fascinated by the science of nutrition, gut flora and bioscience and soak up any information that I can. I recently saw ‘That Sugar Film’ by Damon Gameau which documented Damon’s experiment changing his diet to include 30-40 tsp of sugar daily, which is equal to that of the average Western diet. These sugars were hidden in foods that many would consider to be a “healthy” diet. The results were alarming. Over the past 2 years, I’ve been trying to stick to the ‘5:2 diet’ developed by doctor, writer and journalist Michael  Mosley. I’ve had some success in dropping a few kgs. In addition to weight control, many studies have suggested that having a couple of lean days per week confers other health benefits. So far the best and simplest advice that I have heard is summed up elegantly by Michael Pollan who says, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

In my life I have been privileged with safety, plenty and love. Of course, I have fears common to many of losing loved ones. The fear that will have me lying awake at night with catastrophic rumination, is of something happening to one of my children, now young men. I have dealt with this by being completely candid with them about the kind of life choices I hope they’ll make in general, and naming the fears I have for them in specific circumstances. In short, I put my fears on the table and have a good look at them with them. Those conversations, though sometimes tense, have usually been very beneficial as we came to understand each other. I didn’t pretend with them; if I felt afraid for them I said so and said why. They didn’t always agree with me but they understood and respected that my fears came from great love. I recognize that ultimately I have to let go and trust them. I stand in awe of the great human beings that they are and feel blessed every day at having the privilege of being their mum.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

I believe in nature. We live in an incredible world that is complex and works beautifully. I surrender to this and remain fascinated by life. From witnessing women growing and birthing a child, to seeing my own babies through to adulthood, and my own life as it unfolds, I stand in awe of nature. For me there is no need to look for God, it is here in this wondrous life. When people are arrogant and think they are above and apart from the natural world is where disease and disaster starts. Again and again I’m taught the lesson that nature always wins, work with it, don’t fight it. We are a smart species and we have been incredibly inventive and resourceful to our great benefit. I remain hopeful that our innate good sense will help us to move towards harmony with the planet and all the life that inhabits it.

In my work I encounter sometime tens of women daily, each of them going through pregnancy so ordinary, yet so extraordinary for each of them. I try to stay present and encounter each woman afresh; giving her my full attention and care in the time that I have with her. I delight in that moment of connection, which may be just a shared smile, or may become a wonderful conversation.

Just last evening a woman told me about the birth of her last baby in the bathroom of a department store. She felt no pain, just simply noticed a foot emerging as she peed. Yes, breech! Wow! I said expecting a tale of trauma. Instead she laughed and told me, “I was the only one who was fine, everyone else panicked. Another woman raised the alarm. We had the security guards, cleaners and shop assistants all there. The head cleaner delivered the baby just as the ambulance arrived.” That funny, relaxed woman brightened my day.

That same evening there were tears as another woman nearing the end of her pregnancy revealed her sadness around the ambivalence of her baby’s father. He had let her down once again after she had given him another chance in the hope that her baby would know his father. Her own mother sat beside her, distressed to see her daughter in tears, imploring her in their mother tongue to not cry. “It’s ok to cry mum, sometimes I feel sad,” this brave woman said. Through her tears she explained, “My mother loves us too much.”

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Quantum physics though I can’t even begin to understand it, is pretty mind blowing. The idea that our gut microbes affect our overall mental and physical health is incredible to me also.

Provocative? That there are people in this world who will kill for a belief, that there are people who rationalize and glorify immense greed and arrogance,… It’s disappointing beyond words. I guess if I’d studied more history this should have been no surprise to me, however I think 9/11 took away some of our innocence, it did for me anyway. I do believe though, that there is way more good than evil in this world.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

I guess I’m still looking for a transformational moment, a blinding light; that would be kind of wonderful. Maybe I’m not the kind of person who has an epiphany, I tend towards pragmatism and skepticism where high emotion is involved. Perhaps transformation has been more glacial in my life and hence only recognizable with hindsight. Making big decisions such as having  a child, buying a house and even ending a marriage have always led me to a better place often from a low point in my life.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

Tread lightly. Take what you need and leave enough to go around. Be thankful for your good luck and don’t take it for granted. Practice compassion, gratitude and kindness.

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THRIVING AS A HUMAN BEING?

In each moment remember to breathe. Keep making courageous and responsible decisions. Make your life meaningful. Remain curious and open to life. Enjoy and love. Don’t waste time. Do it now.

 WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How do I bring my efforts into alignment with my passion ? Where best to direct my energy?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIE YOU RECOMMEND?

So many. I’m still excited by the magic of the big screen and in awe of the many talented filmmakers. I like feature length documentaries and international dramas. Documentaries I’ve loved include: Bill Cunningham New York; Babies; It Might Get Loud; 20 Feet from StardomSearching for Sugar ManThe Green Prince. Dramas, too many to mention. Off the top of my head, Lost in Translation; My Life as a DogRumble Fish; AmelieThe Spanish Apartment; Talk to HerCrouching Tiger, Hidden DragonBabette’s Feast… Each has left my world and my heart a little larger.

Some great fiction by Australian writers that I could recommend include Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey; Eucalyptus by Murray Bail; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks; and Remembering Babylon by David Malouf.

. . . *

THANK YOU, JENNY!

{ Bless the Mess } The Dangers of Oversimplifying the Complexity of Self & Life Into A Single Narrative …*

{ Bless the Mess } The Dangers of Oversimplifying the Complexity of Self & Life Into A Single Narrative ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Storytelling has been identified as the unit of human understanding. It occupies a central place in early development and learning about the world, oneself, and one’s place in it. A critical function of the dominant left hemisphere of the brain is to continually make up stories about why things are the way they are, which becomes our understanding of the world. Stories are a way of putting disparate pieces of information into a unified context. As we grow, the drama of stories enliven us and the narrative structure tells us something about how things are and how things should be, whether we are listening to Big Bird’s take on life or Garrison Keillor’s tales of Lake Wobegon.

Stories remain central to understanding well after childhood. When people make judgments about right and wrong, even in politics or the jury box, they often do so as a result of a story that they construct about events that have happened. […] It’s just human nature.

-Stuart Brown in Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately–those we tell, those we remember, those we believe, and those we feel compelled to challenge and rewrite. As Stuart Brown highlights above, stories are the key unit of understanding in human life. We look up at the sky and feel compelled to connect the stars with imaginary lines. Yet, the dangers of becoming too wrapped up in a single story are very real. If we are only able to view human identity–our own and that of others–through a single lens, we run the risk of falling prey to essentialism and a complete breakdown of any opportunity for empathy and true human connection.

The insistence, if only implicitly, on a choiceless singularity of human identity not only diminishes us all, it also makes  the world much more flammable. The alternative to the divisiveness of one preeminent categorization is not any unreal claim that we are all much the same. That we are not. Rather, the main hope of harmony in our troubled world lies in the plurality of our identities, which cut across each other and work against sharp divisions around one single hardened line of vehement division that allegedly cannot be resisted. Our shared humanity gets savagely challenged when our differences are narrowed into one devised system of uniquely powerful categorization.

Perhaps the worst impairment comes from the neglect–and denial–of the role of reasoning and choice, which follows from the recognition of our plural identities. 

– Amartya Sen in Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Issues of Our Time)

How do we go beyond the single story or the first story that we create about ourselves and those around us? A few weeks ago, I wrote about the power of simply asking strangers and friends about their hearts and their stories. But I really am curious, how do you think we might go about getting a better sense of the plurality and fullness of each other’s identities? As I wait for your answers, here is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2009 TED talk, in which she poignantly addresses the perils of limiting ourselves to a single story.

So that is how to create a single story: show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become.
. . . *
The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
. . . * 
I have always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of their dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult, it emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.
. . . *
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and
to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity.
. . . *
When we reject the single story, when we realize that there’s never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story 

Pleasures vs. Gratifications – Understanding & Enhancing the Various Types of Happiness In the Present …*

One aspect of Positive Psychology that I find most exciting, is the way in which it nuances our understanding of happiness. We tend to view happiness as a single, static entity– something to possess or to be. Positive Psychology frames happiness as a multifaceted and dynamic process involving a wide range of emotions and magnitudes. It is not an all or nothing endeavor, happiness is a process–the journey is the destination— and it comes in many shades and intensities. So far, we’ve examined some scientifically vetted ways to increase happiness about the past and enhance positive emotion in the future, today we’ll turn our attention to understanding happiness in the present. Positive emotion in the present is divided into two main categories, what Seligman terms the “pleasures” and the “gratifications:”

The pleasures are delights that have clear sensory and strong emotional components, what philosophers call “raw feels:” ecstasy, thrills, orgasm, delight, mirth, exuberance, and comfort. They are evanescent, and they involve little, if any, thinking. (102)

The gratifications are activities we very much like doing, but they are not necessarily accompanied by any raw feelings at all. Rather, the gratifications engage us fully, we become immersed and absorbed in them, and we lose self-consciousness. Enjoying a great conversation, rock climbing, reading a good book, dancing, and making a slam dunk are all examples of activities in which time stops for us, our skills match the challenge, and we are in touch with our strengths. The gratifications last longer than the pleasures, they involve quite a lot of thinking and interpretation, they do not habituate easily, and they are undergirded by our strengths and virtues. (102)

For those of you familiar with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work, you will no doubt have noticed that the gratifications are interchangeable with the concept of flow. Seligman devotes an entire section of Authentic Happiness to the gratifications, which we will look at next Tuesday.

For today let’s focus on the pleasures, what they are and how we can enhance and amplify them in our daily lives. The pleasures can be divided into two categories–the “bodily pleasures” and the “higher pleasures.” The distinction between the two has to do with the degree of concscious thought that they require:

THE BODILY PLEASURES These delights are immediate, come through the senses, and are momentary. They need little or no interpretation. The sense organs, for evolutionary reasons, are hooked quite directly to positive emotion; touching, tasting, smelling, moving the body, seeing and hearing can directly evoke pleasure. (103)

THE HIGHER PLEASURESThe higher pleasures have a lot in common with the bodily pleasures. Like the latter, they have positive “raw feels,” are momentary, melt easily, and habituate readily. But they are considerably more complex in what sets them off externally. They are more cognitive, and they are also vastly more numerous and more varied than the bodily pleasures. (104)

The high-intensity pleasures include rapture, bliss, ecstasy, thrill, hilarity, euphoria, kick, buzz, elation, and excitement. The moderate-intensity pleasures include ebullience, sparkle, vigor, glee, mirth, gladness, good cheer, enthusiasm, attraction and fun. The low-intensity pleasures include comfort, harmony, amusement, satiation, and relaxation. (104)

3 PATHWAYS TO ENHANCING THE PLEASURES

As Seligman notes, no one is more expert on the things that bring you pleasure in your life than you are. What Positive Psychology can offer are tools for enhancing the pleasures that you enjoy.

{ COUNTERING HABITUATION }

When I was seven years-old, my family moved to the Netherlands and I discovered a veritable passion for Gouda cheese. I simply couldn’t get enough of it and decreed, with the characteristic pomp of young children, that it was all I wanted to eat for lunch. My mother complied and everyday, along with fruits and vegetables, I would find a Gouda sandwich in my lunchbox. My love affair with Gouda lasted a full month until one day, I opened up my lunchbox and found I had lost my appetite. My beloved Gouda now looked like plasticky orange slabs and I longed for the Brie and Camembert of my homeland. I went home that evening and proclaimed the Gouda age over. The issue with all external stimuli from which we derive pleasure–whether it be cheese, the smell of lavender, or a Fragonard painting–is that we are neurologically wired to stop responding to it once we are repeatedly exposed to the stimulus.

Rapidly repeated indulgence in the same pleasure does not work. […] this process called habituation or adaptation, is an inviolable neurological fact of life. Neurons are wired to respond to novel events, and not to fire if the events do not provide new information. At the single-cell level, there is a so-called refractory period such that the neuron simply cannot fire again for a time (usually a few seconds). At the level of the whole brain, we notice events that are novel and disregard those that are not. The more redundant the events, the more they merge into the unnoticed background. (105) 

Luckily, Seligman shares two potent antidotes to our innate tendency to habituate to external stimulus: strategic spacing of the pleasures and engineering surprise.

– STRATEGIC SPACING –

One key way to keep habituation at bay is to engage in strategic spacing and diversification of your pleasures:

Inject into your life as many events that produce pleasure as you can, but spread them out, letting more time elapse between them than you normally do. If you find that your desire to engage in a particular pleasure diminishes to zero (or below, to aversion) when you space it far enough apart, you are probably dealing with an addiction and not a pleasure. (106)

Try to find the optimal spacing that keeps habituation of your pleasures at bay. If you love the music of Bruce Springsteen, experiment with listening both more and less frequently. You will discover an interval that keeps his music freshest. (106)

– ENGINEERING SURPRISE – 

The second tool that Seligman proposes to keep yourself from habituating to your pleasures and losing the positive emotions that they create is one that I found particularly interesting, which is to engineer surprise for yourself and others:

Surprise, as well as spacing, keeps pleasures from habituating. Try to take yourself by surprise—or, even better, arrange it so that the people you live with or otherwise see frequently surprise each other with “presents” of the pleasures. It does not need to be on the scale of a dozen roses from the florist. An unexpected cup of coffee will do, but it is worth five minutes each day to create a pleasing little surprise for your spouse, your children, or a coworker: his favorite music on when he arrives home, rubbing her back while she is recording receipts on the computer, a vase full of flowers on your officemate’s desk, a simple note of affection. Such acts are reciprocally contagious. (107)

What an excellent design thinking challenge that is: how might we engineer more surprise into our daily lives and those around us?

{ SAVORING

Savoring, which is divided into four mechanisms: “basking (receiving praise and congratulations), thanksgiving (expressing gratitude for blessings), marveling (losing the self in the wonder of the moment), and luxuriating (indulging the senses)” (109) is about enhancing our experience and awareness of the present moment. There is a nascent field of study focused on better understanding the mechanisms of savoring, pioneered by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff of Loyola University, and their research gives us five tangible techniques to cultivate our capacity for savoring:

5 TECHNIQUES TO PROMOTE SAVORING

  1. Sharing with others – You can seek out others to share the experience and tell others how much you value the moment. This is the single strongest predictor of level of pleasure.
  2. Memory-building –Take mental photographs or even a physical souvenir of the event, and reminisce about it later with others.
  3. Self Congratulation – Don’t be afraid of pride. Tell yourself how impressed others are, and remember how long you’ve waited for this to happen.
  4. Sharpening perceptions- Focusing on certain elements and blocking out others.
  5. Absorption – Let yourself get totally immersed and try not to think, just sense. Do not remind yourself of other things you should be doing, wonder what comes next, or consider the ways in which the events could be improved upon. (108) 

{ MINDFULNESS

Much like savoring, mindfulness enables us to be fully aware and engaged with the present moment and counters our innate tendency to “act and interact automatically, without much thinking.” There are loads of available resources and articles on mindfulness and if you’re interested in learning more about its benefits and tools for enhancing your capacity for it, I highly recommend a visit to Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center website. As a preview, Seligman sites the following study from Ellen Langer on the effects of mindfulness:

Ellen Langer, a Harvard Professor and the leading academic in the field of mindlessness, had people try to butt into a line of office workers waiting to copy material. When the would-be-queue-jumpers asked, “Would you mind if I cut in front of you?” they were refused. When they asked, “Would you mind if I cut in front of you, because I have to copy something,” they were allowed to cut in. Langer has developed a set of techniques for making us more mindful, allowing us to see the present moment anew. Underlying these techniques is the principle of shifting perspective to make a stale situation fresh. Tenth graders, for example, are assigned a history chapter about Stephen Douglas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. One group reads the passage from the perspective of Douglas, asking what he would think and feel, and from the perspective of his grandchild as well. This group learns much more than one that is just assigned to learn the material. (110)

Mindful attention to the present occurs much more readily in a slow state of mind than when one is racing future-mindedly through experience. The Eastern practice of meditation comes in many forms, but almost all of them, done regularly, slow down the speeding Western mind. (They almost all are well documented to dampen anxiety as well.) This in turn supports a mindset that is attentive to the present. (110)

HAVE A BEAUTIFUL DAY – AN INTERVENTION FOR ENHANCING THE PLEASURES

In Authentic Happiness, Seligman proposes the following exercise to practice the various mechanisms that he shares for enhancing your pleasures:

I assign you (as I do my students) to have a beautiful day. Set aside a free day this month to indulge in your favorite pleasures. Pamper yourself. Design, in writing, what you will do from hour to hour. Use as many of the techniques above as you can. Do not let the bustle of life interfere, and carry out the plan. (111)

Why don’t they assign things like that in k-12?!

*

Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

Pleasures vs. Gratifications – Understanding & Enhancing the Various Types of Happiness In the Present …* | rethinked.org

My cat, B, a natural expert on enhancing the pleasures …*

%d bloggers like this: