On Listening and Being Heard

“Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.”

Cuban proverb

 

It’s a relief when we know someone has really heard and ‘gotten’ us.

But most of us, especially in heated situations, aren’t really very good listeners. We don’t really hear what is being said to us because we are so emotionally reactive, we are busily planning our response/retaliation—interrupting, justifying and defending ourselves, instead of listening carefully and attentively.

Constructive dialogue is a communication process that creates real contact, and deepens the connection and level of empathic attunement between two people. It is a way of speaking from a place of equality, openness, respect and compassion.

Reflective listening is a means of clarifying communication so the breakdowns do not occur. Good reflective listening includes presence, interesting with the person has to say, and respect for their perspective and inner wisdom.

The procedure involves three parts:

Mirroring, or reflecting the content of what you’re hearing,

Validating the logic of what you’re hearing, and

Empathizing, or reflecting the feelings being expressed in what you’re hearing—without judgment.

Here’s how the process works:

Mirroring is paraphrasing what is said to you, and the requesting confirmation that you have received the whole message correctly.

“What I’m hearing you say is______.  Did I get that right?  Is there more?”

This replaces the reactive response, and helps people grow towards greater contact, connection and understanding.  The listener’s job is to stay as close as possible to what is being said, without interpreting, responding or reacting to the content. The speaker keeps speaking and the listener keeps mirroring until the communication feels complete. This also gives the speaker the opportunity to correct and clarify if the listener didn’t ‘get it’ quite accurately.

Validating means seeing from the other’s point of view and telling them that you can understand the logic in their perspective. Validating doesn’t mean you agree with what they’re expressing, however.

“I understand that this makes sense to you because ________”

Empathy is being able to image what the other person is feeling, and helping them feel emotionally understood.

“I imagine you might be feeling _______ about that . . . “

Even though this can be challenging and stressful, especially at first, with practice it becomes easier and more natural. When you become able to do this more fluidly and automatically, it helps de-escalate the feelings of distress in your relationship, thus alleviating the need to defend against each other.

This process works wonderfully with children, as well. And with employers, employees, clients, parents, friends.  It slows down reactivity and pacifies stress, as the listener just listens and is present with their partner, knowing their turn to speak will come when the other feels complete.

It is important for the speaker to present themselves in short, manageable sound bites, so that the listener isn’t overwhelmed with so much information they’re unable to successfully mirror back what’s being said.  A few sentences at a time works most effectively, remembering that they have as much time as they need to complete the expression of thoughts and feelings.  Concise and deep is best.

The point of all this is to create a relationship where both parties ‘win’.  Where the goal is care, clarity, support and cooperation. This allows you to have more happiness, peace, understanding and compassion—internally, and in your relationship with others.

Resolving Conflict–the Art of Apology

It can be scary and uncomfortable to say we’re sorry.  To own up to the fact that perhaps we did something less than stellar and that it negatively impacted someone we care for.

We want to just brush it under the rug.  To have it let go.  To not have to meet and experience the discomfort of dealing with it!

But there are important reasons to learn to address and clear conflict.

It offers a truer possibility of letting it go.  It completes the infraction. It allows for the re-building of trust.  And it brings the relationship closer.

There are three steps to resolving any conflict.   Acknowledgement, Accountability and Apology.

I begin with Acknowledgement.  I own that I did whatever it was.  I humble myself.  “Yes, I did that.”  Deep breath.  No defending.  No counter-accusation, or what I call “the ‘yeah, but you’ syndrome”.  Just a simple expression of self-awareness.

Then I express Accountability.  Not only am I Acknowledging that I did it, but I’m letting you know that I know it hurt you.  That my actions had repercussions.  That you have suffered because of my actions.  This is the extension of empathy, compassion.  The expression of humility.

And then finally, I Apologize.  “I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.  I want to restore peace and goodwill between us.”

The energy and tone of this process are key.  Many of us think we’re apologizing when we blurt out a hurried, defended, “I’m sorry!  Okay??”  Like, ‘get off my back!’  But that never really works!

We need to have our pain heard. We need to feel cared for. We need to know the other person gets it, and that they will do their best to become more conscious and not do the thing again.

We need to know they understand the significance of what occurred, and how it impacted us.

From here, we can begin to come together again.  Because the wound has been met with love.  Because we’ve been understood and our feelings have been attended to.

Here’s an example:

Acknowledgement:   “I acknowledge I didn’t call you when I said I would.”

Accountability:   “I know that left you hanging and that made you feel upset and that you couldn’t count on me.”

Apology:  “I’m sorry for how that hurt and inconvenienced you. And I will do my best from now on to be more aware of time, and take better care of our relationship by being more considerate and communicating better.  You are important to me.”

No excuses.  No defending.  No, ‘yeah, but you . . . ‘  Just a simple extension of care.  Pushing the re-set button, and bringing us more peacefully back into the now, where we can enjoy one another and move on.

How To Change Everything–with gratitude to Matt Kahn

For most of us, there’s a state of stress or distress we’ve come to call normal.  A humming of the cells. A vibration of the body.  A rant in the mind that undermines our sense of well-being and perpetrates great suffering.

This may have begun as early as the womb, if our mothers were under duress.  Or we may have evolved here, slowly and over time, as life forgot we were the embodiment of the Divine, God’s gorgeous gift, and we slumped into believing what we were told or assumed about ourselves—stupid, not good enough, ugly, unworthy . . .

We’re all taught these lies in one way or another. And we all suffer for them.

These messages become a loop in our thinking and we learn to contract, distract, withdraw and withhold ourselves from life, love, because we believe we’re undeserving.

Our nervous systems get amped and over-stimulalted, and fight or flight  becomes our way of life.

We believe that this is just the way things are.

Until we discover the possibility that this isn’t actually so.

And decide to do something about it.

I like to say, “Just because a thought is loud and repetitive, doesn’t mean it’s true.”

So, like the loving, soothing mother many of us never had, it is our job to calm and contain the over-stimulated nervous system, the frantic inner voice, to bring ourselves, slowly and gently, to a place of greater peace.

How?  By speaking kindly, and feeding ourselves, our cells, with love.

I often show my clients the photos of Dr. Masaru Emoto, the Japanese scientist who studied the effects of energy on water. Dr. Emoto took jars of water and put words or photos on them, or played music to them.  He then took a drop of that water and froze it into an ice crystal.  The photographs are phenomenal.

The water that had love, beauty, kindness broadcast into it turned into gorgeous ‘snowflakes’.  The water that had anger, meanness, chaos broadcast in turned into black, ugly swirls.

Our bodies are eight-five percent water.  Just as is the planet.  Each cell is a little water balloon.  That inhabits, incubates and demonstrates what we are broadcasting.

And, anything broadcast out, is also broadcast in.  We feel and receive whatever we are projecting toward another.

If we want to heal ourselves and become happy, we need to change the channel and broadcast beautiful sound, vibration, thought into ourselves.

The good news is that we just have to be aware and attend to this in the next moment.  Are we being kind or abusive?  Are we sending snowflakes or black swirls?

A simple way to practice this—whether you feel like it or not—is to stop, close your eyes, put your hand somewhere in the center of your body and begin telling yourself, “I love you.”  Simple as that. Simple, but not necessarily easy.

Especially if the habit has been unkindness.  Most of us are very good at some version of ‘I hate myself.’  But it’s time now for this to stop.

It’s time to begin infusing our bodies, minds and energy fields with love and compassion, kindness and care.

It’s time to change the world, one world at a time. Beginning with ‘me’.

So, hand on heart.  Eyes closed.  A gentle “I love you” to begin. And if there’s a place inside you that’s screaming, ‘No, I can’t!  I will not do this!’ see if you can love that. See if you can love yourself through the pain and patterning of your own unkindness toward yourself.

Doing this will begin to change everything.

Changing yourself, your cells, and ultimately your life and the world, one “I love you” at a time.

Being In Love Now

Most of us have been taught that love is a commodity. Something someone either has for us or not. Something that can either be given or taken away, won or lost.

Thus, we become dependent on an ‘other’ to make us feel happy and secure. But any dependency can be fraught with distress and danger, because it leaves us at the mercy of someone else for our sense of well-being. This is my definition of Conditional Love.

Unconditional Love is when we are in love as a state of Being—with who we Are, in our reverence for life, and in how we meet the world. This doesn’t mean we are perfect, or don’t have occasional disgruntlements, difficulties or disappointments. But we can choose to learn to address our challenges in another way, and become the source of our own well-being. Therein lies our freedom.

When we’re coming from that place of being source instead of victim, we’re not searching for love, or placing the responsibility on someone else to make us feel good about ourselves and life.

How do we start? By becoming aware of the inner critical voice, and simply, gently, correcting it. By replacing the critical voice with a voice of ‘inner love’, and through that, practicing being our own Beloved.

Many of us justify our self-abuse, while hoping someone else will treat us well! We are cruel to ourselves in our thinking, which intensifies our suffering and reinforces our belief that we are unlovable or unloved. Instead, imagine speaking to yourself the way you would a precious child or lover. Imagine giving yourself your own kindness. Be gentle and generous. Practice patience and compassion. A simple rule to follow is, ‘If you wouldn’t speak to someone you love this way, you don’t get to speak to yourself this way.’

Not so easy when the habitual pattern has been unkindness. But actually very simple.

So start now. Put your hand on your heart and, silently or out loud, kindly say your name. Then say, “I love you. I’m here for you. I want you to be happy and at peace. I want you to have a beautiful life. I care for you and will support you. I am sorry for the ways I’ve hurt you. I will do my best to be kinder, from now on. I am grateful to be you.”

This is a practice you can do, any time, anywhere, every day. No one knows what you’re thinking. So why not think kindness, love and support? That is what we all want and need, and what we hope love will bring us. Bring it to yourself. Be the source of your own comfort and peace.

And then beam it out. Be a beacon. We do not need to wait to fall in love. We can ‘be’ in love, and generate that energy. All that we give flows through us first. So give it, right now. To the busboy, the checker, the person in the car next to you, a passerby on the street. To the sky, the leaves, your reflection in the light in the store window. Why wait another moment?

And when you forget, when you slip and become self-critical again . . . as soon as you catch it, stop and apologize. Apologize to yourself for having hurt yourself, and forgive yourself, with compassion for your own humanness and the inevitable mistakes that come with the challenges of beginning to build a new skill. Then start again.

This is a practice. A spiritual practice. You are unlearning the old, and finally beginning to be what you’ve always wanted: Love. So be gentle with yourself. You are worth the effort of your own commitment.

Doing this one thing—this one immensely powerful thing—will begin to change every aspect of your life. It will create love for you, from the inside-out.

And that is something no one can ever take away.

Narrating The Present–Being In The Now

Sometimes we get lost. In the swirl and whirl of our thoughts. In the energy of our emotions. So lost, we can find ourselves angry, hurt, terrified, bewildered, or worried and out of time, in a memory we React to as if it were real in this very moment, or a prediction of a future that terrifies.

This is our imagination, and in that moment, we are our worst enemy. Because in that getting lost we forget who and where we really are, and what is really true.

This, of course, creates the opposite of inner peace. It creates inner hell, inner war. And to call a truce, we must find a way to raise the white flag of truth and call ourselves back to who and where we truly are. In this present moment.

Being in the present moment tends to have little to do with most of our thinking. It has to do with our ‘being’. And when we’re ‘being’ in the present moment, we become calm, peaceful, happy.

There’s a technique I teach my counseling clients and meditation students. I call it Narrating The Present. Becoming the narrator of what’s happening Right Now.

Here’s how it works . . .

The body is always in present time. It cannot be otherwise. The mind is seldom fully focused on what’s happening right now. It is mostly regretting the past and dreading the future. When we Narrate the Present we become aware of exactly where it is we are and what it is we’re doing. On a very specific, detailed level. We instruct the inner voice to become the conscious narrator of what is truly going on.

For example, as I’m writing, if I slow down, I can begin to narrate: “My fingers are typing, I am looking at the screen. Now I am breathing in, and now I am breathing out. My fingers are s p e l l i n g the word ‘spelling’, and now I am finishing the sentence and pushing the return key.”

Another example might be when we struggle with our minds when we can’t sleep. We have less distraction than normal in the middle of the night, when we are alone with ourselves and our thinking. So, I might begin by noting, “I am lying on my right side. I am lying in bed and my eyes are closed. Now I am taking a breath in. Now I am letting the breath out. Now I am moving my left arm and touching the pillow with my hand. Now I am adjusting my right foot and breathing in again.”

The more we can slow down and experience where we Are, the quieter and more focused the mind can become. This becomes a kind of moving meditation, because we are bringing our attention specifically to what is happening in the current moment. A very different place than where the mind tends to dwell. We are inviting it to dwell here, to bring ourselves peace and calm.

When we are in the moment, narrating the present, there is nothing to worry about. Because worry is a negative anticipation of a future that has yet to be. And we are simply where we are, observing it and making note, gently and carefully. Mindfully. Right now.

Having Faith—Expecting Your Baby Is On Its Way

What if the key to becoming ‘expecting’, was learning to practice Positive Expectancy?

What might happen if, even in the face of all of life’s uncertainty, we chose to become more resilient and hopeful in our thinking?

In my HypnoFertility and Conception Coaching work with women hoping to become pregnant, I am often met with a sense of urgency and despair. I hear a lot of “What if’s?” “What if I never get pregnant?” “What if it’s too late?” “What if my eggs are no longer viable?” Or worse, “What if I do get pregnant and lose the baby (again)?”

For women who’ve miscarried, this last question can be particularly devastating. They have learned not to trust their bodies, and this mistrust creates an energetic frequency that tends to be incompatible with the relaxation and hope that supports fertility.

There is another body of “What if’s?” we can begin to consider and cultivate. “What if I do get pregnant?” “What if the timing of this pregnancy is perfect for me and all concerned?” “What if my eggs are just fine?” And, “What if I carry this pregnancy peacefully and successfully to term?”

It is curious to me that we hardly ever “What if?” the positive. Most of us learned as children to be afraid and negative. Our culture perpetuates and thrives on fear. Just watch the evening news, or the build-up to it: ‘Stay tuned for the next terrible thing that you should feel scared about!’

Fear is an energetic frequency. Just witness what happens in your body when you think of something dreadful. So, too, is hope. Just witness what you feel when you allow yourself to be positively expectant.

Now, consider which one might be more supportive of fertility and conception.

A wise person once said to me, “Worry is negative prayer.” It is affirming the anticipation of what we Don’t want. Conversely, I believe that faith is positive prayer. It is affirming the anticipation of what we Do want.

While it’s not particularly easy to change our minds, the imagination is powerful and can be used to practice something other than fear. We can engage it to become more hopeful and helpful. To become positively expectant and support our well being instead of undermining it. It is never too late. And what we practice becomes habit.

Here are some suggestions:

• Buy some baby clothes and other baby items that delight you.
• Pick out names, and start talking to your baby, out loud or in your mind.
• Before you go to sleep and when you wake up in the morning, imagine greeting your child with sweetness and love.
• Give your future child a nickname or term of endearment, and use it when you speak to or about your future baby.
• Get a stuffed animal that you can hold and rock, and imagine it’s your child. Allow yourself to feel all the delight you will feel when you actually hold your own beautiful baby—including your longing to do so.
• When you make love, imagine the sperm swimming strongly toward your egg and joyfully and successfully joining with it, beginning your pregnancy.
• Imagine your uterus is a lovely, warm nest, and see your baby curled and cozy and happily thriving there.
• Everyday, give thanks for the beautiful, healthy baby that is now coming into your life.
• Schedule some HypnoFertility (Hypnosis for Fertility) appointments to help you align, body, mind and soul, with bringing in your baby.
• Choose an affirmation that supports what you want. For example, “My beautiful baby is now coming to me, in just the right way, at just the right time. All is well.”
• Every time you think about your baby, smile. Smiling is powerful and pleasurably energetic, triggering a flow of positive chemicals through your entire system.

And most importantly, be patient. None of us knows what’s going to happen next, nor what the unfoldment of perfect timing might be. But, since thoughts have power, the most helpful thing you can do is begin to replace your negative thoughts and beliefs with positive actions and intentions, and cultivate your capacity to be hopeful and have faith.

Taking Time-Outs–Stopping the Cycle of Violence with Yourself and Others

Life is stressful, and sometimes we need to take a break to re-group and self-soothe so we don’t become harmful to ourselves or others.

A “time-out” is a guaranteed method for stopping the cycle of addictive, self-destructive behavior toward oneself, or destructive, violent behavior toward another. All is takes is conscientious effort to work with yourself and a commitment to do the exercise faithfully.

Whenever you begin to feel frustrated or out of control, or you feel your desire to ‘use’ arising, say to yourself or your partner:

“I am beginning to feel _____ and I need to take a time-out.”

Then find an alternative behavior that will help change your physical and emotional state.

* Go for a walk
* Breathe
* Go outside and feel the wind on your face
* Write in your journal
* Call someone
* Take a shower
* Cry
* Meditate
* Dance
* Draw
* Attend a 12-step meeting
* Call your sponsor
* Brush your teeth
* Call a crisis line
* Scream into a pillow
* Talk to your ‘inner child’ and find our what is really going on
* Think about a time when not taking a ‘time-out’ led to real pain or problems in your life
* Fantasize what the worst-case scenario could be if you acted on your impulses right now
* Ask yourself, ‘what about me am I trying to avoid experiencing right now, and what would be so bad about experiencing that?’
* See if you can find compassion for the suffering you are experiencing, and treat yourself in a nurturing way instead

The point is to break the stressful energy, and to do something that will not be damaging to yourself or others.

You can also take ‘practice time-outs’. This means practicing whatever self-soothing, self-nurturing behaviors you find useful to you when you are not feeling in danger of using or abusing.

This helps incorporate these new stress-management tools into your daily life, so that they are there for you at all times, not just when you are in a state of potential crisis.

Diets Don’t Work!

Diets don’t work.

It would be great if they did.

If diets worked, almost everyone with a ‘weight problem’ would have handled it by now.
Because dieting is easy. Just change what you eat for a while, and presto!, the weight melts off and the body you’ve been dreaming of is yours!

But diets don’t work because our weight issues are not about our relationship with food. Our weight issues are about our relationships with ourselves. And how we manage stress. Or loneliness. Or anger. Or sadness. Or any other human state we find disconcerting, uncomfortable, or just plain unacceptable.

Because if we could ‘be’ with our feelings and emotions, we most probably wouldn’t overeat. Because weight is about the experiences we don’t feel we’re able to tolerate or handle in another way.

So we stuff them. We swallow them. We numb them out—with food.

When we are little, our difficult feelings are soothed, hopefully, by our parents and care-givers. We are brought to the breast. We are brought to the bottle. We are given a pacifier. We are held and cooed and comforted.

Or we might comfort ourselves with our thumb.

But as we grow older, we need more sophisticated, independent ways of dealing with our feelings. And most of us aren’t taught how.

We may have seen our parents, under stress, reaching for a drink, or a cigarette, or a box of chocolates, or zoning out in front of the TV or fighting with each other . . . They weren’t able to teach us how to manage our feelings, because they weren’t able to handle their own.

In fact, they may have silenced our feelings in any number of ways. Telling us to stop crying, quit being a baby, rise above, go to your room! They couldn’t soothe us because our feelings made them uncomfortable! For some of us, food was the only comfort we got. So we learned to depend on it and use it, as a means of taking care of ourselves.

Now we need to learn how to truly self-soothe. Ways that don’t result in more suffering. This means learning both new behaviors and new ways to talk to ourselves. Especially when we’re in pain.

Most people’s inner voices are habitually unkind. When we learn to think and talk to ourselves with kindness, patience and compassion—especially when we’re feeling bad—we can begin to make different, more effective decisions about how to treat ourselves.

Overeating is a behavior.

Not overeating is another.

So, ‘losing weight’ becomes not a matter of going on yet another ride of deprivation, hunger and distress, but of establishing a new relationship with ourselves.

One that is nourishing.

From the inside, out.

Seven Strategies for Managing Everyday Stressors

Life is challenging. We all know that. What we don’t often know is how to manage our reactions to everyday stressors. And, in general, it is those reactions that tend to make things feel bigger and harder, or smaller and more manageable. Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful in soothing your anxiety, and putting your next challenge into a less stressful perspective.

* Consider the bigger picture.
Often in ‘the grand scheme of things’, the thing we’re upset about is really quite insignificant. It is our habit to React. When we can remember the bigger picture, and question whether this is worth getting upset over, we are more able to peacefully meet ‘life on life’s terms’.

* Question your inner self-talk.
All of us have inner voices. Under stress, those voices can be judgmental and self-critical. But just because they’re loud and repetitive doesn’t mean they’re true. It helps to get a little distance from the noise, as if you were hearing a radio playing in another room. Then ask yourself if what it’s saying is really true, or a habit of thinking that only serves to create more suffering.

* Speak kindly to yourself.
Most of us tend to be quite harsh in our inner self-talk. Instead, try talking to yourself in a loving tone, as you might to a child, a pet or a cherished friend. You’re in relationship with yourself every moment for the rest of your life. You might as well makes friends with and treat yourself with kindness.

* Cultivate your inner Witness.
Usually when we’re feeling something distressing, we’re quick to name it and then react. Instead of saying, for example, “I’m scared,” try reporting the sensations you’re experiencing: ‘My breathing is shallow and quick. I feel butterflies in my stomach. My mouth is dry and my palms are moist. My eyes feel sore.’ Or better yet, “The breath is shallow and quick. There are butterflies in the stomach,” etc. When we report, we are noticing, instead of identifying ourselves as the feeling. We become less attached to what we’re experiencing and more able to calm ourselves and observe with interest and inquiry. Like, “Huh, what is this I’m experiencing? This is interesting . . . “

* Say “thank you”.
Most of us are very good at seeing the glass as half-empty. Begin noticing what you do have that’s worthy of your appreciation. Expressing gratitude is calming, and puts our perceived stressors in a different perspective.

* Smile.
Smiling literally stimulates different chemical reactions in the brain. These reactions physiologically contribute to our sense of well-being. Even if it doesn’t feel authentic in the moment, smile. It is quite likely to change your mood, and help you feel happier and more at peace.

* Practice makes perfect.
We are all beginners here. Especially when it comes to mastering the mind and changing our habits of self-care. Be compassionate and gentle in breaking your patterns. It is worth the effort to try and try again; to remember you are worth taking kind and loving care of.

Awakening Grace

I go to the dentist today. For him to look at my rickety jaw. The jaw that clicks and moans, and that long ago popped itself out of its bony cradle, and now rubs itself the wrong way, making crooked again teeth that were once tamed into straight, proper rows by orthodontia.

I watch as he speaks. Soft round lips that I think about kissing. And a full mouth of not-too-perfect teeth, a little crooked, and ground down to an uneven slant.

His hands are on my face as he manipulates my jaw, the agile fingers tentative, careful. Warm, skin on skin. He shows me models and graphs, explaining what is wrong. Anterior this, posterior that. And tells me that the starting price for a splint will be fifteen hundred dollars. Then, if the teeth don’t fit once the jaw corrects, we can look at grinding, new crowns, orthodontia, oral surgery.

In his waiting room I have flipped through a Vanity Fair. A handsome blonde hunk with perfect teeth staring me down, alluringly, on the cover. The latest “Who’s Sexy Now?” tilting his chin, cocking his head, pouting those big, round, kissable lips out at me, in the pristine, antiseptic stench of this proper dental chamber. Pages and pages of his beauty shine out from the glossy slick paper. I turn them quickly, wondering who he is, where I might see him, and who gets to touch that face, suck those lips, stare into those big beautiful eyes, in person, whenever they please.

Thumbs latched casually through belt loops, his tan taut abdomen yearning beyond his jeans. Or posed mischievously, humping a Rubenesque statue. Or hands behind his head, staring up from a supine position. Beautiful, happy, wealthy, up and coming.

I flip through the next pages. Stark contrast. The war in Sierra Leon. And a little girl. The caption reads, “age three”. Her black eyes like chocolate, like deep pools of yummy three year-oldness. And the dark smooth skin. And the face, precious, close up. As adorable and remarkable and profound as any three year-old, really. Beautiful in all her newness and innocence. And an odd sight, just a page or two from Hollywood’s latest wonder boy.

But still I look. And I hardly see it. Not at first. Because the eyes call me in so deeply. Because I am as in love with three year-olds as I am with blonde, sexy hunks. The perfect skin. The wide, creative delightedness. The crazy joy in being incarnate, so that silliness and play reign, and we can be wild, wild alive.

She looks up at me.

I read the captions, but I do not see them.

How I would tickle and twirl her. How we would hold hands and skip. But there are no hands here. No arms. But two passive stumps that hang there. Victims of war. That some soldier—a man, I have to assume; a man quite possibly with precious children of his own—just hacked them off, as part of the rampage, part of the game of war, that would devastate tens or hundreds of thousands, and leave them to scream the bloody mayhem, and live their lives completely powerless over the little things we take completely for granted. Brushing, scratching, buttering, picking, caressing, writing, buttoning, unbuttoning, pointing, dialing, feeding, touching. Holding an entire lifetime, slaughtered, and left worse than ‘for dead’.

She is just a photograph.

I can turn the page.

I can look at other pretty people, the latest fashions, make-up tips, gossip about who’s doing whom, the camera catching stars in compromising positions. “News.”

A week earlier, I walk the town of Puerto Vallarta. Hot, humid, sweaty, loud, with the rush and chaos of taxis and buses, spewing exhaust and going somewhere fast. We clomp along the cobbled streets and on to the intermittent sidewalks. To my right, the seawall, and a long expanse of expensive tourist shops where the proprietors are anxious and overly friendly, promising a good price for stuff we can get cheaper back home. Ahead of me, the ocean, and a bandstand where people come nights—families with youngsters and grandparents—to hear music, eat a mango on a stick, buy a balloon of Buzz Lightyear or Mickey Mouse, and promenade the Mexican evening. To my left, looking down from the second story, is a large sign announcing “Hooters”, the double O’s the eyes of an owl, the firm round silicone breasts of what this American chain promises inside.

I am humiliated that this even exists, let alone here, and turn my back to it and walk slowly the little plaza where artists show their work. Airbrushed platters, and beaded bracelets, and bad renditions of other people’s paintings on poor quality greeting cards. I am polite, but hardly look.

I come upon a row of small paintings. Fanciful, detailed, lit brightly with color. Two cats looking down over the rooftops of Puerto Vallarta toward the cathedral. Whales smiling though the waves of a sunny seaside village. Outdoor cafes lit up at night by a vast twinkling of stars. Simple, but executed in great detail.

I could keep walking, but I notice the artist, working on a piece, the fine lines drawn with immaculate care. And I watch. His bare feet. His droopy old tee-shirt. A faded pair of baggy shorts. And the concentration, as he dips the thin brush into the paint, and with great focus and intention, adds another stroke. The brush poised, like a cigarette, between his teeth. His arms as droopy and lifeless and worn as the tee-shirt, the shorts, this hot, humid afternoon.

I speak to him, and there is love and kindness in his eyes. Ask him about the little black dog that is in each painting. In some, a tiny figure, watching. In others, falling from the sky in a colorful parachute. Or there, prominent, like in the piece I buy from him, of a naked woman reclining, face down, by her window by the sea. His daughter’s dog, whom he honors, with humor and grace, in each.

He tells me his name is Jaime Jimenez. I tell him his work is muy bonita. I take in the grace of him. Want to carry him home as a reminder, of one who didn’t give up. But became himself, in full honor. To help me remember, when I am feeling cranky and not good enough, and too vulnerable to leave my rooms and meet the world and be seen.

It is night as I write this, my hand gliding over the page, the paper smooth and soft and cool against my skin. All the tiny muscle movements, automatic, as I scrawl the ink into this speaking.

When I am done, I will close my book, pick up my glass and take it to the sink, the warm water gushing against my skin as I simply wash it and put it in the drainer to dry. I will brush my teeth and comb hair, turn down the bed and undress. I will check my e-mail and then put my computer to sleep for the night. I will live, as I always do, taking for granted my ability to execute these small, crucial tasks. As simple and easy and nonchalant as a hand. Turning the page, holding the cup, shutting off the light. That I have forgotten and now am called to wake up and remember.

To hold.

As if it were the world.