A few weeks ago, I was a guest on George Noory’s show Coast-to-Coast radio. George is a very intelligent man who has dedicated his life to opening our eyes to things that often get overlooked. He asked me some great questions about Awakening Coaching, and we had some touching questions from callers from all over the world.
The last question came from Steve. He didn’t want anything for himself, instead he dedicated his question to how he could be more present with his wife. He told me that they had been married for a long time, he loves his wife deeply, and that she has “manic” episodes, where he’s not quite sure what to do to most support her. He asked if I had any suggestions: how to be more supportive, loving, present with her when she was in this phase. Steve called in just a couple of minutes before the show was due to end, so I didn’t have time to answer him live on the air. I said I would write something for him, and here it is.
Steve’s question is actually relevant for all of us. Words like “manic and “depressed” don’t just apply to a few people who suffer from mental illness. All of us, each and every day, and each and every month, go through cycles of hyperactivity, and then feeling sluggish and low. I feel like I know something about this topic, because I’ve been training coaches for 25 years. Awakening Coaching is all about the art of being completely present with another human being, being curious and asking the right questions, so that they can fully experience what is happening, and find the evolutionary potential in it.
Here are my five suggestions for you, Steve, for how to be with your wife when she is in a state of upset and disorientation. I hope that everyone reading will find these useful as well, when you are with someone you love who needs this kind of support.
1. Be in your body. When anyone around you is upset, or in excessive mental activity, rather than listening and responding to the story that their thoughts are creating, you can bring the gift of deep embodiment. This means feeling your feet deeply connected to the earth, sinking your weight, your center of gravity, lower in your body, and giving this sense of deep embodiment as a gift of presence to the other person. It is actually much easier to show you what I’m talking about, than to try to describe it in words, so here is a little video of just a few minutes that shows you how to sink deeper into your body and then to give this to another:
2. Offer non-sexual touch. After you have brought yourself more deeply into your own body, and connection with the ground, you can actually pass this on, and invite your friend or loved one to come deeper into their body as well: through non-sexual touch. This is a kind of touch which is more of a gift and stabilization than any kind of arousal. Rest your hand on the shoulder or the upper arm, or any kind of body contact like this, which is clearly giving something more than it is asking for something. This will help the other person to shift their attention from the incessant buzzing of thoughts in the mind to the calming reality of the present moment.
3. Use the words “I am right here with you.” When someone is feeling overactive in the mind, it tends to generate trajectories which go at high speed in multiple directions at the same time. Things to do… Things that could go wrong… Things to fear… Things to create… Things to destroy… Things to buy… New ways to make money…. It goes on and on and on. If you try to participate at all in the content of what the mind is saying, it can actually deepen a sense of anxiety for the other person. The mind is already acting a little crazy, if someone else takes it seriously, it can feel like nobody is home. Rather than supporting their ideas, or dismissing them as foolish, just stay connected, in your own body and sometimes touching theirs, and say the words “I am right here with you.” If this is your intimate partner, or a family member, you might add the word “honey” or “sweetheart” or “my love.” You can’t imagine how reassuring and stabilizing these words are, when someone is wrapped up in the craziness of too many thoughts. Just these words: “I’m right here with you, my love” is like a small ship finding the lighthouse in the middle of the storm.
4. Listen like the sky. There is an art to listening in a way that gives the gift of presence, while at the same time loosening the grip of the mind gone a little out of balance. Listening like the sky means to pay close attention, to be curious and attentive and present, but at the same time with the awareness that all of these fleeting thoughts will quickly pass. For example, if you’re with someone who is upset and suddenly worried about how to make more money, or too much to do, or concerned about some impending disaster, you can listen deeply not so much to the words but to the entire presence and being of the other person. Then you might ask a question like “how does that feel in your body?” Every time you buy into what the other is thinking as true or valid, and every time you argue with what they’re thinking as crazy or invalid, it deepens the grip of the mind. There’s another way to listen, when you hear the words, but you also listen through the words to the heart of the other person, to the place where there is no upset, where there is always calm. By listening in this way, you actually invite the other person to return home to themselves more deeply.
5. Don’t pathologize. Modern psychology and psychiatry has made great advances in giving us a deeper understanding of how the mind works, and identifying different states of imbalance. It’s hard to believe, but 100 years ago people got electric shock treatment, or were locked away for their entire life in an asylum, where today they could be treated, and often cured, with the right kind of medication: whether allopathic or alternative. It is a great step forward that we now understand conditions like schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar, and depression. We are a more compassionate and mature race as a result. But every advance also can carry a price, and the price of so much sophisticated understanding of mental and emotional states can be the tendency to over pathologize. I would say to Steve, when your wife is feeling imbalanced, keep away from words like “manic episode” or “bipolar disorder.” For anyone to think that they have a condition, particularly one which is often understood to be incurable, just deepens their sense of being in a hole. Now they are not only feeling upset and uncentered, but they have a diagnosis to live with as well. Rather than using language of pathology, I would suggest to constantly reaffirm what is good and beautiful and whole about the other person. Remind them of their greatest accomplishments, of all the things that are working well, and that this period of imbalance is temporary.
6. Be curious. When another person is upset, or has plans that seem crazy to you, let yourself get curious about what it’s like to be them in that moment. Ask questions. “What are you feeling? How deep is your breathing now? Tell me about what kind of emotions you are having. What kind of images are you seeing? How does it feel when I rest my hand on your shoulder like this?” It really doesn’t matter too much what kind of questions you ask, so long as they do not deepen and reinforce the grip of the story, but bring the other person back, in a reassuring way, to the reality of this present moment.
7. Give the gift of humor. When someone is really upset and disoriented, it can seem like the hardest task in the world to get them to laugh, particularly at themselves. But if you can manage it, you’ve given someone the greatest gift. As far as we know, humor is something particular to human beings. I’ve often wondered if our cat has a sense of humor, for example, or if dogs tell each other jokes. I don’t think so. Maybe dolphins? Who knows. We do know that human beings are able to not only laugh at things, but the laughter can be infectious. Whenever you see the humorous side of something, and whenever you are able to pass that humor over to another person, you immediately expand beyond the story, where it was contracted and tight and urgent and intense. Humor is a way of returning from the tyranny of the mind to the open acceptance of your deep nature.
Steve, I deeply apologize for the delay in getting these words to you. And I hope that they are helpful even after a few weeks delay. I hope that everyone may find an opportunity in 2015 to be a calming and stabilizing presence to a friend or family member who has become temporarily overwhelmed by the shifting quicksand of life.
And may we all find ways in this coming year to give, and to love, and to support. It is strange: the economics of love. With money, the more you give away the less you have at the end of the day. But when it comes to being present with other people, the more you give, the more you have, and the more you can become and live into.