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Our language reveals how we see the world and our role in it. When we become conscious of
how we express ourselves, it’s easier to identify the places where we abandon our power. Our
personal power resides in each of us—we can’t “give it away.” When we don’t use our power,
we look outside of ourselves to explain our situation. By changing our language, we can
remember our innate power and step back into it.
This practice is particularly useful for those in a relationship with a victim-perpetrator dynamic,
like Michelle. She came to see me because she felt stifled in her marriage and controlled by her
husband. “He won’t let me go out with my friends after work. I have to come home and make
dinner for him. He makes me so mad, and I don’t know how to get him to treat me better,” she
said in our first session.
What Michelle revealed—hidden in her language—is how she perceives herself in her
relationship with her husband. Phrases like “he won’t let me,” “I have to,” and “he makes me”
are key indicators that she abdicates her freedom to her husband and believes his desires are
more important than hers. This way of speaking frames him as an authority over her and doesn’t
acknowledge her role in this dynamic. She believes she has no power and that he is the
problem, and her language reflects this.
The victim-perpetrator dynamic does a disservice to both parties. When two adults interact,
ideally they act as adults; when they adopt a parent-child dynamic, both parties lose. Michelle
looks to her husband for permission in the way a child would look to a parent, expecting him to
make a decision and take control of the situation. Until she sees her part in their dance, she will
not find a way to step back into her power.
One way to help Michelle shift perspective from the mindset of a victim to someone who is
taking responsibility for themselves is to have her change her language. In this example, if
Michelle were to be honest with herself, she might say, “My husband doesn’t like it when I go
out with my friends after work. Because I want him to be happy and I’m afraid he’ll get angry, I
come home and make him dinner and then blame him that I didn’t do what I wanted to do. It’s
easier to resent him than to take responsibility for doing what I want and risking his disapproval.”
While we may feel uncomfortable taking 100% responsibility for ourselves, it’s essential to
having healthy relationships. The shift in language illuminates the truth about the dynamic of the
relationship to Michelle and opens the door to the idea that she isn’t dependent on her husband
to change this dynamic. If he is not the perpetrator and she is not his victim, she is free to take
ownership of her behavior and make her own choices. When she does, the balance of power in
the relationship will automatically shift.
Taking responsibility for her choices might mean that she decides to meet a friend for dinner
one night. She might say to her husband earlier in the week, “On Thursday night I’m going to
have dinner with Pam after work.” Since this is an experiment, we don’t know how her husband
will react. He may be just fine with it, he may have a legitimate reason why that night might not
be the best, or he may be unhappy. If he’s not pleased and tries to manipulate or pressure her,
Michelle’s challenge will be to tolerate his unhappiness and stay steady with her plan. Over
time, either he will shift to follow her lead, or it will become clear that he is looking to control
Michelle, in which case she may decide to leave the relationship. Either way, Michelle frees
herself from living with resentment and anger, so she can be more loving to herself and others.
When we take the path of least resistance, we unconsciously set the stage for a dynamic that
isn’t what we truly want. Being conscious takes effort, but the rewards are great. When we are
honest in our language, we move away from our unconscious stories about our relationships
and see things as they really are. From this new perspective, we can make different choices.
This is the path to freedom.
The Art of Conscious Living Retreat is an opportunity to step away from the business of our everyday life so we can go deep within. After reflection and healing we emerge ready to return to our life feeling awake and energized.
We tend to get caught up with the demands of everyday life only to look up to wonder about the bigger picture of our life. What do we really want? Why aren’t we happier? Where are we headed? At these times, hitting the pause button can be very helpful. Far more than a vacation, The Art of Conscious Living Retreat is a time to rest, heal, reflect, and renew our spirit. As we step away from the daily tasks of our life – no meals to cook, no chores to do, nowhere to go – we are able to sink deeply into the present moment. Without the pull of deadlines, relationships, the Internet, or other media, our minds become less cluttered, and we are able to focus inside.
At the Wiawaka Holiday House, we will be surrounded by the beauty of Lake George and the Adirondack Mountains. As we tune-in and immerse ourselves in the sights and sounds of nature, we are better able to really listen when a bird sings, deeply breathe in the smell of flowers, and delight in a soft breeze blowing on our cheek. We have time to connect to the sacred geometry of the labyrinth, take a swim off the dock, or take a long, reflective walk through the woods where we can give each step our full attention.
We will be led on this 5-day journey by Louise M. Finlayson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and transformational coach who is known for her ability to inspire lasting transformation in her clients. Through her expert leadership we will create a safe and accepting space where we can fully embody our authentic selves. We will experience deep connection with each other as we explore, grow, and play together. Through individual and group exercises we will come face to face with our joys, sorrows, and fears. As we learn to own our feelings and release them, we will feel lighter and more fully alive. We will shed old ways and beliefs that no longer serve us which clears space for us to focus on what we truly want in our life.
Art of Conscious Living Community (ACLC). Because transformation is a life-long process, Louise formed this group to help support us on our journey of conscious living. Membership is free and provides a number of avenues for continued growth and connection throughout the year.
Find out more about the June 2017 retreat at Wiawaka, Lake George
Do you have a sense of purpose in your life? What helps you get out of bed in the morning? What gives your life meaning? Many of us get so caught up with the hustle and bustle of everyday life that we lose sight of the big picture. Taking time to think about what is your life about is important. How are you serving some purpose greater than yourself? When we have a sense of purpose, our lives are richer and more satisfying. Not surprisingly, studies show that having a sense of purpose has a positive impact on longevity. Life transitions are excellent opportunities to re-examine and re-establish our sense of purpose. Mid-life events such as, divorce, empty nest, retirement, or the death of a spouse are times when many people feel a void in their lives, perhaps even a sense of loss of purpose. Take some time to ask, who am I now? What do I want? How do I want to be of service? What is my purpose?
When was the last time that you truly listened to someone, and completely focused on what that person was saying? If you are like most people, you listen with one ear. Perhaps you look at your phone, or drift off and think about your to-do list, work, the kids, sex, what you want for dinner, or a host of other topics. The most common distraction from fully listening is focusing on what you want to say when the other person stops talking.
Have you had the experience of having someone’s undivided attention when you were talking? Pretty powerful, isn’t it? How would your relationships change if you made an effort to truly listen? If you want more harmonious, understanding, and loving relationships, try it! Make eye contact, leave the distractions behind, and listen with both ears. You’ll be amazed how this simple practice will impact your relationships.
Spontaneity tends to get a bad rap. Spontaneous behavior can be seen as being flaky, irresponsible, or immature. On the other hand, staying in our comfort zone leads to monotony, and staleness. We may believe that we are happy in our comfort zone, but on closer examination, we are more likely feeling the absence of anxiety. Routine is a way for us to believe we have everything under control in this unpredictable world.
Happiness is not about the absence of anxiety, but about successfully navigating through life’s challenges, stretching our boundaries, and facing our fears. Think about peak experiences. How many people would describe their daily routine as a peak experience? No one!! Climbing a mountain, white water rafting, successfully giving a big speech, mastering a skill are the stuff that leads to peak experiences.
This is not to say that routine is to be avoided, but instead that a healthy dose of spontaneity keeps us growing, feeling alive, and living a dynamic life. So, go ahead, make a leap, take a chance, do something that feels uncomfortable in the name of growth!
There have been thousands of scientific studies demonstrating attitudinal, emotional, and cognitive effects on physiology, health, and healing. Despite this, most people don’t grasp how to use this to their benefit. For instance, we know that a positive attitude is health promoting. It sounds simple enough. It is simple, but not necessarily easy for most people to incorporate a positive mindset. In fact, many people actively resist making this change for fear of being perceived as naive or a Pollyanna.
Here is a simple exercise that you might want to focus on for the next week. In this exercise, you are not trying to change your negative thinking. Notice when you are making negative predictions. Just notice. Notice how you feel physically, emotionally, spiritually. Observe without judgment how you treat others, and treat yourself. See if you can be compassionately curious about yourself.
For example, “I don’t want to go to this meeting. I know it is going to be really boring.” Notice how you are casting human attributes onto a meeting. A meeting is just a meeting. Whether you are bored or not is your choice. You have primed yourself to be bored. You have externalized the reason for your expected boredom onto the meeting. Notice, are you tense, angry, frustrated, feeling trapped, defensive, tired, tuned out, or assigning negative attributes to people or ideas?
Here’s another example. Let’s say you are meeting your friend John for coffee. Before you even leave the house you might be thinking “I know John will be late. He’s always late. He’s so inconsiderate.” Notice how easy it is to be filled with anger, resentment, and judgments about something that hasn’t happened, let alone the negative feelings you are projecting onto your friend. Perhaps you tense your jaw and shoulders, as you recall other times when John was late. When John arrives you put on a game face and are jovial when inside you are burning.