by Charles Zook, masterful Relationship Coach & co-leader of The Relationship Series
Have you ever tried to resolve a difficult issue, and wondered why you seemed to get nowhere? Still irritated, still angry, still not feeling heard. Chances are you may have been co-processing, rather than using an effective means of communicating in conflict.
Co-processing is a term I use to describe attempting to process more than one person's concerns at the same time.
To illustrate, imagine you're watching a bunch of kids in your backyard and suddenly they all converge on the kitchen, all voicing their individual concerns simultaneously.
Quickly realizing you certainly cannot address ALL of their various concerns at the same time, you say, "Whoa, whoa, hold on. One at a time!" You know that has to be the next step. Until the cacophony settles down and you are able to get them to voice their concerns one at a time, you know there is no way to proceed in any constructive or effective manner. Once you get them to voice their concerns one at a time, you know you will be able to listen and find a solution, one at a time, then the next, and the next, until each concern has been addressed.
I am asserting that a similar sensible approach needs to be put into place when, for example, two people move from a calm discussion to a heated one.
In such a situation, both parties are talking over each other, interrupting, or even if only one person is talking at a time the other person is not really listening. Rather than really trying to understand what the speaker is trying to communicate, the "listener" isn't listening, they are having a strategy discussion in their head about what they are going to say once the other person stops talking. There is no communication (no communing, no understanding), just two people doing their best to "win", to be right, to not be wrong, to be vindicated, to prove their point.
This is what has been modeled for us with most of our families of origin, as well as reinforced by daily doses of media. Generally speaking, we just do not get educated about, or shown models for, effective communication.
In effective communication it is critical to avoid co-processing.
As soon as it is noticed that there is what I refer to as "tender or tense", much less if the situation turns into an argument, nothing good is going to happen unless the parties move to a more constructive approach.
My model would recommend determining who is going to be the speaker and who will be the listener.This is similar to the Native American custom of using a talking stick, except I recommend that the listener employ reflective listening frequently throughout ("what I hear you saying is..."). This gives the listener something challenging to focus on AND confirms in the speaker's mind that the listener is in fact listening to and understanding what is being communicated. Once the speaker feels heard, they can switch roles.
Slowing things down and being effective SEEMS like it will take longer, but in actuality, using an effective method works better and supports finding satisfying outcomes much more expediently than ineffectively talking at the same time.
Give it a try! See what happens. Share your miraculous discoveries here.
We love you,
Jessica and my brilliant collaborator Charles
(that's Charles --> and he's totally rad)
With the passing of Prince, I am one of many in shock and grieving big time. But as I listen to my favorite songs of his -- Seven, Kiss, Adore, Erotic City, Purple Rain -- and the tears fall, it isn't only his death I am grieving. Prince is fine. He lived a phenomenal life and he's not in his body now. Yes, it's a loss. That voice, that soul, seriously. Hotness gets no hotter. And I mostly don't mean sexual hotness; I mean life fire. Indescribable life fire. My own life, particularly as a girl in the 80s and 90s, has been profoundly blessed by his talent, his passion, his soul. And all he gave and would continue to give, which so many of us had no idea about...
Yes it is a loss, and yet, while gripped by grief's gaping wound, I'm committed to not silencing its most profound message.
As I listen, a voice within me asks, "What is really the sad part in all of this?" How might Prince want us to feel, in honor of his life?
Whether or not you have children, you've heard this phrase:
It goes so fast.
While pregnant with my daughter, this was the most common thing people told me. Yes, yes, I would think, it goes so fast. You turn around and your child is graduating from high school and you're a sloppy mess of tears, wondering where your toddler went.
But I wondered, what do they really mean? What is the deeper message beneath this popular statement?
Years of reflection have led me to one core finding. And perhaps anticlimactically, it is the very same message beneath every great sadness, every great joy, every great union:
Be in love with your children, be in love with life, the whole time. As much as you can, be in love.
Fall in love with every moment and ounce of life that you can. Just aim for that. Then love yourself even when you aren't successful with it. Let love open you up; it's far more fun than the alternative. Listen to your inner voice. Tune out the noise and hear your own song. Cliche, cliche, cliche. Yet are we listening? Am I listening? Grief like this spotlights the places where I'm not.
How about you?
If you really love to dance, if your wild fire tiger comes unraveled in hot sauce when you move your hips to music you love... do you dance enough?
On a daily basis, are you captive to your To Do List, attentive to errands and appointments as afternoon comes, barely hearing the song of your heart's enormous capacity for feeling? Or do you open space for feeling every day, letting the grief that is present in life show you the way to greater love?
We step over feeling to favor something else. And that something else is there to block us from the most powerful thing a human can do: FEEL. And feel what? Love. Essentially, feeling grief for the passing of someone we cherish -- like Prince -- is an expression of Love.
Treasure life while you're in it. Don't wait until your death bed and don't wait for other people's funerals. That's what people are saying when they say to new parents, "It goes so fast." They're saying: W-a-k-e u-p. And why is so often said? Because we all need 10,000 reminders to remember the Love we are made of.
Dear Prince Rogers Nelson,
Thank you for your gifts. I am FLOORED by your existence. Your music seduced my soul. Your profound passion kissed this planet into greater bliss and beauty with every song you sang.
My deepest bow goes to you as you shift from the precious body that housed you, to a realm where the freedom you lived for, reigns.
No, I don't have a crush on him. (We have to say that, right, in a culture that equates love with romance?) But I do think our mailman Ruben is a stellar example of "love at work" -- a spirit of love embodied in the workplace -- and for that he has my utmost respect. He has found a way to enjoy the task that eats up most of his waking hours, and this places him in the small minority among Americans.
More than once I've wondered how he gets his job done on time. Always willing to say hello, never giving off the feeling that he'd rather rush from house to house than spend a moment saying hi, he has a Buddha-like presence that's profoundly admirable. He is present. How many of us bring true presence to our working moments, day in, day out?
He wears a smiley face button on his hat and it's quite possible that iconic grin was made in his impression.
As I walk the neighborhood with my napping toddler, I notice him zipping along with letters in hand, always seeming to smile from the inside out. He chooses joy.
There is something simple about Ruben... a feeling that he isn't here to prove anything, that he just wants to enjoy life. And he does! From what I can tell, he has found a way to live in a contended state of mind, something most humans strive for to the grave.
Without knowing it, Ruben probably brings therapeutic wellness to dozens of people on a daily basis. We don't pay him anything (except a miniscule percentage of a penny from income taxes) and he loyally delivers the mail to us every day he works.
Is the U.S. Postal Service, his employer, partially responsible? Judging from the bulk of postal workers I've met in my life, as someone who's written and mailed 1000's of letters, I highly doubt it.
I think it's just Ruben. It is what he's chosen. He wants to enjoy his life and he has, through some of the simplest and most profound of values -- presence, joy, contentedness -- found a way to do that.
This morning a wise friend shared vulnerable words around a struggle with how we process death. In our culture that is afraid of the dark, the unknown, the mystery, the shadow, we tend to avoid acknowledging these things when somebody has passed away.
Sure, let's focus on their light and their beauty, yet...
Can we also elevate our capacity for holding, and love the whole of them, by giving voice to the parts of them that struggled to face this sad and beautiful human existence? Would this not offer us a greater sense of being seen from "the other side" (post-death of the body)?
Dear friends and family, please, don't just love the light in me.
Once I leave this human body, I sure would appreciate having my humanness honored too. My shadow spots, my struggles, my willingness to be with depression and to grapple with it out loud, my deep down kick-and-scream about feeling confined to a body, my cycles with sugar... I'd like that to be spoken of when my body dies, by my dearest loved ones. I would like to see, from the other side, that people were talking about how they loved me even when I was grumpy, how I was still precious even on my frustrated, crabby and cynical days.
That would feel complete.
To accept that we're in this human experience, and it's OK that we sometimes feel really, really messed up about that.
With great Love for those who've left their bodies, and all of us who someday will too. With deep Love to all who've felt the grief of a loved one's death, and to those who feel it every day for the collective, for all the dying that is happening every single second, of every single day.
May we practice leaning into light while we're here, but not deny that though we're made of light, this plane where we reside sure has its sorrow.
Popular culture sees intimacy as exclusive to romantic relationships. But anyone who’s done deep human work knows intimacy can happen between any two people, even strangers -- and even with yourself.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “into-me-see,” referring to how, when we share intimacy with another, we can see into that person’s inner landscape, and they can see into us. Being with someone where they’re at -- not where you wish they would be -- creates intimacy, closeness, a deeper bond.
Sounds great, I’ll take it! Right?
Ha! But there’s this. When someone asks, “Where do you work?” you’re likely to answer with what you do for income, your paid job, your career work.
Yet, as a lifelong student of what “makes life tick” for human fulfillment, I would assert that “work” is most appropriately tied to the deepest, most essential work: the work of intimacy, the work of relationships.
This is The Work. It is far from easy. It is work.
Last week I asked friends for insights about their experiences with intimacy. A handful of the wisest women I know responded. Here are some jewels from the conversation. I asked:
For those who have high levels of intimacy with your closest friends, peers, immediate family members and spouse/partner... What is your secret? How would you point others to find this same depth and richness in life?
“Being vulnerable with others and being curious about them.” Straightforward wisdom from former schoolteacher, outdoor enthusiast and supermama, Meno Reiner, who’s been a friend of mine for 19 blessed years. Her words pretty much sum it up!
Remembering whose shoulders she stands on, "grain-to-glass spirits" entrepreneur, former bike racer & schoolteacher, and supermama Jenny Daly Griffo said, “I feel that somehow finding a genuine interest in people drives a lot of my intimacy. I try so hard to emulate my grandpa who formed rich relationships everywhere he went. What I saw in him, was a genuine belief that people were interesting (beautiful humility) and a desire to hear their stories. Such a high bar!”
Even after years of developing intimacy and communication skills, I notice many women share the experience of still being challenged, and most challenged, by intimacy with oneself.
Lisa Kiehn, Supermama Extraordinaire of five children, massage therapist, psychic healer and birth doula, has been dedicated to intimacy development for many years. She says, “As I looked at my own issues of communication and a desire to hide or be shy, I pushed myself to come forward more because I desire intimacy. It was difficult in the early years but I would force myself to stay put, open myself to bravery and focus on their eyes. Honestly, this has been a lifelong journey. It takes bravery and a willingness to accept all that is present in the moment or many moments. I am willing to share, I am willing to be present, and my latest piece these many years is being open to receive myself.”
One of my “big sister” mentors of many years echoed this challenge with the Self.
She said, “The edge I've been exploring in intimacy this past year is with myself. Some aspects of my own experience are more difficult for me to be with. For example, I've spent an entire lifetime not-allowing myself to feel jealous or insecure or needy. I've been unwilling to love those experiences or the aspects of me who have them and have been extending myself this past year more courageously toward my own most hurting parts. Intimacy with me means loving all of me, being brave enough and compassionate enough to sit still and stay present for all of it, not just the fun and interesting parts. This is way easier for me to do with others than with myself.”
Does that resonate for anyone else? Easier to love other people where they are, with all their human “imperfections” than it is to love yourself in this way?
As the jewels of wisdom streamed in from these women, I was curious to hear from a man, too. So on one of our weekly collaboration calls, I stepped into Beginner’s Mind and got curious with my coach of 12 years, who is now my collaborator, Master Relationship Coach Charles Zook, CPCC. He’s coached 1,000s of couples and is considered a wizard in the world of relationship coaching.
Here’s what Charles had to say: “The word intimacy is not code for sex, it’s not code for a Hallmark card kind of moment -- a candlelit dinner -- it’s not code for holding hands walking on the beach.
"The definition we’re working with (in Leaning into Light’s Relationship Series workshops) is not those cultural connotations of intimacy.
"Intimacy means sharing human experience. If my partner is gone at work today, and I’m looking forward to having a fun, sexy evening with her after she gets home tonight, if I want to be intimate with her, I’m gonna have to be intimate with the experience she is having. There is no ‘fun, sexy’ that’s available right now.
"If I want to be intimate with her I have to meet her where she is, because that’s really the only place to be with her. In a Yoda kind of way, it’s the only place to be with someone: where they’re at.”
In other words, if you really want intimacy, you’re gonna have to be here now, as the famous Ram Dass book is titled. And that’s not easy; we’re culturally trained to want to be somewhere else, to want something else, and to just-wish for things rather than step up to create them.
“Rather than intimacy being a unicorn that we seek and wish for,” Charles continued, “participants in our next workshop will learn practical tools to generate intimacy and connection with others in your life.” Join me and Charles on Sunday April 24th for our phone workshop, Deepening Connection in Intimate Partnership (10:00-11:30AM PDT). That is, if you’re up for the work, and the rewards, of intimacy.
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about us humans it’s that we benefit greatly from reminder, reminders, reminders. We don’t make change until we’re ready -- no one can force this kind of choice upon us -- and especially when it comes to life's biggies, we need 100s of reminders before we are ready.
The benefits of being ready?
One is being seen in the light of day. Dabbling chef and mother of two, Juniper Rose shared, “I feel I have deeply intimate relationships. It takes courage to be wholly myself in any given situation as well as openness to growth. Being truly intimate means all those little pieces we hide from ourselves and others will eventually be brought to light.”
Sometimes, perhaps until we’re totally awake and can make decisions from a place of total self-love, as a benefit for All of Life, it can be motivating to know how our actions impact the whole world. If we truly care about life, we can step more fully into it simply because we know our actions affect the whole.
“Intimacy is an investment in our world as a whole,” says Lisa Kiehn. “I believe that once we become intimate and understand the way of intimacy, we will continue to be so with all aspects of our experience. Intimacy is a profound healer. It is proof of life.”
And in case you're wondering, why, YES! All of my mama friends are Supermamas.
Our featured free recording for March is an interview with Melanie and Dave MacDonald, Cross Country Family Adventure. You can listen here!
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. (Fred) Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.