A Teaching Moment

Yesterday I took a bike ride. I rode one of my favorite routes to Cascade Lake. I like to go to this State Park Day Use area, sit on the rocks and watch the activities on the lake. I started out in the partial sun and arrived back at my current home in smoke-filled skies. What a change a few hours can make.

Something I will never do.

As I was riding on the paved trails I encountered a small garter snake. It was trying to cross the path as I was biking by. If you have read my previous post Snakes! you know that I am not fond of snakes. In fact, I am a bit afraid of them. They always surprise me and cause my heart to race.

Here is this poor snake, it sees my bike and I see the snake. I immediately think “Oh my God, I am going to run over this snake and it is going to get stuck in my spokes and be tossed on me. I freaked. The snake freaked. It started to squiggle back and forth rapidly on the trail, not knowing what direction to head to avoid that big object coming at it. Know that this all happened in a few moments of time.

After this event I began to think of this poor snake, rapidly moving back and forth on the trail trying to escape my bike and find safety. It finally succeeded and moved off the trail into the undergrowth. I was thankful and I imagine it was thankful too.

How many times have I done this in my life when confronted with the unknown and challenges and stressful moments? Do I move rapidly in many directions before I finally recognize the obstacle and figure a way to overcome the situation I am in? How long do I move back and forth and go through the darkness of indecision before I finally find my way out of my predicament? Is it a split second, days weeks, or years?

I believe that as humans we all do this at times in our lives. When confronted with the unknown or stress or the need to make a decision, we have to move back and forth and around, trying to figure out the best approach to find the most correct result. Sometimes the best thing we can do is move back to where we previously were. Sometimes we force ourselves forward to achieve that next goal or slip through the obstacle that confronts us. Sometimes we slither back and forth rapidly on the trail.

Avoiding decisions or opportunities is not possible, something will move us forward. We have to move in one direction or another. If one approach doesn’t work then it is important to look at other possibilities. Just like that little, harmless snake, we try out different things until the right way presents itself.

Who knew that this moment in time would give me reflection on a much larger and broader subject. I have thought about this snake a lot since I saw it yesterday. Symbols are important to me. Sometimes one word or act allows me to see the much larger picture or the smaller details. Maybe this garter snake was simply feeling everything out in a nanosecond and unconsciously chose the quickest way out. For me, it represented a bit more than the quick way out. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on this topic.

Cascade Lake

Today I am thankful for all living things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conversational Narcissism

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”                      Epictetus

Sunday I took myself out for a late breakfast at a restaurant near where I am camped in San Diego County. The Trails is becoming a favorite of mine. The menu is good and even though it is often crowded and there is a wait, as a single I get to sit at the first come first serve counter. I love sitting there. I never know who is going to be sitting next to me.

The first time I went I met a young man who shared with me all of his favorites on the menu. We had a delightful conversation. Since then I have seen him again. As I walked in he was walking out. Yesterday I met Dan, an older man, an author, and quite the conversationalist. I spent almost two hours chatting with him, learning about his unique and interesting life. For two whole hours, I left my cell phone ignored on the counter, and when it did ring I simply set it to message. I don’t do that often enough these days. It is definitely something I would like to do again and a bit more often.

Lately, I have had some sites cross my Facebook page regarding the topic of Conversational Narcissism. When I reposted it I was amazed at the responses I received. It appears many of us saw a little bit of ourselves in the related post: The Mistake I Made With My Grieving Friend. This article and further articles I have researched on this topic have made me very aware of my human fallacy when attempting to support and listen to my friends and others.

“Conversational Narcissism was coined by sociologist Charles Derber and describes the tendency to turn a conversation back to yourself. Conversational narcissists tend to keep the focus on themselves, so you’re getting attention but not giving any away. It invalidates the other person and what they’re trying to share. The problem is, talking about ourselves is natural, so it’s hard to notice when you’re overdoing it.” (Marissa Lalibert)

I have experienced this with Jim’s death, my own experiences with cancer and currently with the loss of Elsie the Cat. Many times the conversation was turned around to the person who was attempting to listen and support me. There are times that this made me feel unacknowledged and uncomfortable. Never, please never tell someone to move on. Need I say more.

Part of being human is recognizing my own frailties and learning how to change and grow from this recognition. I recognize that I have also been the one turning the conversation to myself. I hope that it happens less now. I am more aware of this conversational tendency and I can catch myself, take a deep breath and turn the conversation back to the person who is needing my support and love.

In my twenties and thirties, I studied medicine and spirituality with the Native American culture. I valued the “Talking Stick”. The Talking Stick is a tool used in many Native American traditions when a council is called. It allows all council members to present their point of view. It is passed from person to person as they speak and only the person holding the stick is allowed to talk during that time period. Using an object, any object is a visible reminder to those of us not holding the stick to be quiet and listen, really listen. The person holding the stick is able to complete a thought or idea. The speaker feels his opinion is respected and valued and considered.

The Society of Friends, more commonly known as The Quakers also practice this art of listening in their Silent Meetings for Worship. “During worship, a message may come to us. Friends have found that messages may be for our personal reflection or for sharing on another occasion. Or they may be led to stand and speak. Friends value spoken messages that come from the heart and are prompted by the Spirit, and we also value the silence we share together. Following a spoken message, we return to the silence to examine ourselves in the Light of that message. Meeting for worship ends when one Friend, designated in advance, shakes hands with his or her neighbors. Then everyone shakes hands. No two meetings are ever the same.”

Back to Dan at the restaurant on Sunday. He was a delightful man with a very interesting past. The longer I sat there, I realized he never asked me anything about myself. For almost two full hours Dan spoke of himself and his life experiences. Dan never even asked me my name. Although I enjoyed hearing of his life and the history of Los Angeles, where he grew up, and what he had achieved in his life, he never once asked me about myself. What was I doing there? Where did I live? The usual conversation openers when people meet for the first time were not present.

In certain circumstances, maybe Conversational Narcissism is OK. I learned a lot from Dan. He was a storyteller and wove the stories of his life in an interesting and ear-catching way. I had a delightful two-hour conversation with him. I did not feel devalued or left out. Even recognizing that he never asked me anything about myself, the two hours were delightful. I had no expectations just a good breakfast companion.

I also think that what we see as a one-sided conversation, maybe contributed to loneliness. Dan lived alone, I live alone. Sometimes when I am around others I will tend to talk more than when I shared my life with Jim and even Miss Elsie the Cat. Yes, I do get tired of my own company. Yes, there are ideas I want to share. I do try to catch myself when I feel like I am talking too much. I believe I do better at this today than when I was younger.

I am sitting in a coffee house as I write this. My ears are a little more tuned into conversations around me. The art of conversation is hard. Unless we have taken classes in the art of conversation, all of us struggle just a little with the whole idea of communicating with others. I was not taught how to converse as I was growing up. You just did it. Sometimes it was successful and others, well, not so much.

As we approach the holiday and we gather with family and friends, our conversational awareness will be tested. The family often is the ultimate test of conversation. They can be the most critical and the most supportive. As I approach Christmas day I hope that I can remember to take a deep breath and truly listen to the joy of others in the celebration of this day.

 

Learning to be Alone

It has been over two weeks since Miss Elsie the Cat took a walk. I try to remain hopeful. It is hard to do.

Since before Jim died over seven years ago, Elsie was a part of our life. She arrived as a wee kitty that could fit into the palm of one hand. She snuck her way into our hearts. She liked me and adored Jim. After Jim died, Elsie waited for five months before she decided that I was up to be part of the primary team.

Elsie was a remaining connection to Jim and my life together. The first week after she disappeared, I felt like I dove deep into grief again, similar to after Jim initially died. Grief for the loss of Miss Elsie. Grief for the loss of Jim. Grief for the loss of our life together. This kind of grief is not a good place to stay. I have been using my resources, friends and more to get me back out of that spot. It is OK to visit. It is not OK to stay long.

I am learning how to be alone. When Jim died, Elsie the cat was still with me and I could rely on her for good purry company. I love her companionship. I love how she would talk to me and look at me with those adoring eyes. Now that she is on an adventure, wherever that may-be, I need to learn to be alone. After having some type of companionship for close to thirty years, it is not an easy lesson to learn. I thought it would be easy, yet I find it difficult. I have been talking to her and Jim in absentia a lot lately.

How do I learn to be comfortable being alone? That is a loaded question and the answers are not clear as they seem to change by the minute, hour and day. It is hard to figure out the alone part when I dive into moments of sadness. I come back out and things look a little brighter and then, poof, there is another one that pops up. Sigh.

I am not looking forward to Thanksgiving or Christmas. They are holidays of celebration, joy, and fun. Being single and alone is not always fun. I decided this past week to stretch myself and ask for help. Well, actually it is asking to be included. Today I decided to ask my San Diego friends to think about including me in their holiday fun. I sent out an email to a few close friends asking them to consider including me, if not for the event, maybe for a walk or a few hours of their time. Now I want to extend that to the broader San Diego Community. I promise not to be maudlin or sad. If anything I think I will be joyous, just to be around others and enjoying the companionship and fun.

I know I could volunteer, yet this year it feels like I want to be included with those I love or those who love me or both. All you local San Diegans, if I did not email you and you want to respond to my plea of inclusion, it would be welcomed with open arms and an open heart.

I am grateful for my friends and family today. I am grateful for all those people out there in the cyberworld who are helping me look for a lost kitty. I am thankful for my time with Miss Elsie the Cat.

I remain optimistically hopeful.