How Images Frame

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“When words become unclear I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” ~ Ansel Adams

Meaning “reflection in a mirror”, the word image is early 14th century. The mental sense was in Latin, and appears in English language in the late 14c.

What we see has a profound effect on what we do, how we feel and who we are. Images can be impressive and compelling. They grab our attention. While reading takes work, the brain visually processes much faster.

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Images help educate. They enhance stories. And not surprisingly, vision is the far most active of the senses. Yet, do you intentionally create time to reflect on images and the empathy they can evoke? The teaching moment? Or the underlying sentiment?

When you seek to conjure memories or arouse emotions, do you find it challenging to find descriptive words? Rather than struggle with words, does an image more easily convey feeling, inspiration or thought? There is a reason that we are drawn to the works of photographers, illustrators and painters; there is promise, potential and reality in their renditions.

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Think about it. Would you rather go deaf or blind? To live in silence is difficult but to live in darkness would be devastating. There are messages in images, sometimes deep themes. Just as the adage “Stop and smell the roses” encourages us to pause and appreciate, perhaps some willful breathing space could awaken you to an image’s more nuanced meaning and significance. Just maybe?

When contemplating how you frame images or how images frame your perceptions, considering these points may be helpful:

  1. Images don’t actually change; only what we think about it has. There can be plausible, alternative interpretations.
  2. Be aware of intentional image use in marketing and advertising. The subliminal message may be far from the accompanying, pleasing visual.
  3. Your unique experiences leading up to the moment you encounter an image will shape your appreciation of it. Like what you like, even if you’re not sure why, or can’t put the reason to words.

To close, a warming (perhaps to some) image…

Opening photo: Il cielo in una stanza (2013) credit Loris Rizzi

Oops!

“Never neglect the little things. Never skimp on that extra effort, that additional few minutes, that soft word of praise or thanks, that delivery of the very best that you can do. It does not matter what others think, it is of prime importance, however, what you think about you. You can never do your best, which should always be your trademark, if you are cutting corners and shirking responsibility. You are special. Never neglect the little things. ~ Og Mandino

The title was a toss-up: Oops! or Neglect. The former seemed, catchy. The latter, foreboding. Catchy won.

On a piece of paper I started writing things we often neglect. In a couple of minutes I wrote the following:

  • bad habits
  • everyday pleasures
  • our minds
  • continuous learning
  • exercise
  • mental illness
  • common courtesy
  • good nutrition
  • hugs
  • car maintenance
  • connections
  • strangers
  • transitions
  • compassion
  • dental care
  • friends
  • charity
  • the homeless
  • good advice
  • learning disabilities
  • marriage
  • strangers
  • spiritual life
  • child abuse
  • parents
  • humor
  • asking for help
  • our emotions
  • animal cruelty
  • exploration
  • the elderly
  • to smile

Reflecting on this cursory list I wondered, why do people often neglect these? The answers are innumerable and we each have our own reasons (excuses).

I extracted from this list three things that, for me, are very important and I do not neglect. Before sharing them, I’d like to encourage you to come up with your own list. Then, from what you write, consider three that you believe deserve more of your time, energy, and intentional focus. My three:

Sleep. Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being. Getting enough quality sleep can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function (and you thought is was just time for your subconscious to play). 🙂 Damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can contribute to chronic health problems and harm you over time. It also contributes to how well you think, learn, react, work, and get along with others.

Being in the present moment. If you’re living in the present, you’re living in acceptance. You’re accepting life as it is now, not as how you wish it would have been. You realize everything is complete as it is. You can have peace in your heart knowing that everything that should happen will.

   Be more Self-aware. Get to know yourself. A little introspection might yield some discomfort but it’s likely to be revealing and helpful. Consider more deeply understanding your emotions, feelings, and what triggers them so you can effectively work through them and manage your responses. Tune into what’s going on in your body (another area you might be neglecting?) and learn from it. Discover your beliefs, assumptions, and expectations, and (just maybe!) how they affect what and why you neglect.

A Perspective on Loss

“We don’t let go of anything important until we have exhausted all the possible ways that we might keep holding on to it.” ~ William Bridges

It is fair to say each of us has strengths and weaknesses. What is interesting is on which we choose to focus. You can readily identify your most robust strength and your biggest weakness (acknowledging a weakness can be a strength and vice versa). And for all of my actual and perceived strengths, I know that handling loss is what I am least equipped to deal with — my weakness, if you will.

In two blog posts today, I read and was reminded of how common loss is. We simply don’t confront it until, somehow, it ‘hits home.’ And ‘home’ is a different place within each of us.

Losing someone or something you care deeply about is very painful. The range of emotions we experience, may never let up. There are many reactions to significant loss. And while there are no right or wrong ways to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew and permit one to move on.

Part of loss deals with searching for answers and meaning; trying to make sense of it all. While some may never fully recover, allowing grief to run its course is part of a time-undefined progression. In this vein, I recall reading a Robert Hall, Jr. perspective which he describes as the “fertile void,” a time of not knowing what is arising, what to do, or how to feel. And in this void people find themselves making changes to fill the void, sometimes even returning to something familiar — the way things were.

I know it’s cliché yet, “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” is something that can give one hope for the future after a long and difficult period.

We have countless ways to cope with loss. These four make sense to me. If you have others that you’ve found helpful, please feel free to share them in comments.

  1. Surrender. We cannot bring back what we have lost. We cannot undo a war or a natural disaster. Experiencing our loss and our feelings is a natural process, but it can lead us into deeper suffering, too. Surrendering to the situation as something we cannot change, and accepting that, can help us to release and honor grief in a healthy way.
  2. Write a brief letter to yourself or loved one of what you wanted to say before the loss. Putting your words on paper or expressing things you wish you could have said before the event or loss might help you work through feelings and emotions that you need to let out or put behind you.
  3. Connect meaningfully with others. Finding the right approach to deal with tragedy is a very personal thing. Pain in the short run in unavoidable, and that’s okay. The goal is not to let the pain break you in the long run. Consider being in “flow,” having an intense focus on the present day and attempting to connect with others.
  4. Believe that someone else is in control. Just as contentment and happiness come into our lives unexpectedly, so too does loss. Perhaps important, is to believe that another is in control, no matter what.

Being in “The Zone”

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” ~ Chuang Tzu

I intentionally chose this photo. It is the one place, a single activity, in which I can find myself in “the zone.”  According to Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, being in the zone or in “flow” is a single-minded immersion and represents the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. It is when emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.

Many of us have been in the zone. And describing how it feels there is unique to each individual. Some people can get ‘there’ easily; they have conditioned themselves and know what it takes to experience a feeling of spontaneous joy while performing a task, although being in the zone is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity, not even oneself or one’s emotions.

Being in the zone is often associated with peak performance, commonly practiced by serious athletes, writers, and musicians. But it can align with gardening and painting just as easily. In this state of completely focused motivation, one can side step the chaos, the busyness, the rat race of everyday life. And simply be, accepting whatever you are doing.

People find themselves in the zone when in the presence of nature, meditating, or at willful solitude. We often think we need a structured vacation or a getaway to be able to focus on one task. Not so.

If the prospect of getting into the zone appeals to you, here are four steps that can help to pave the way:

  1. Choose a singular task. To get the most out of your mind you need to concentrate all your attention on exactly one thing and one thing only. It ought to be something that you are truly interested in, your most important task at the moment.
  2. It’s important to have energy. If you’re barely maintaining consciousness due to a late night of cocktails or a restless night of sleep, getting into the zone is going to be difficult.
  3. Find the right environment. Figure out the setting(s) that facilitate your flow, be it a crowded coffee shop or a quiet library, and work in them whenever possible. An uncrowded swimming pool works well. 🙂
  4. Emotions are key. Being in the zone requires finding the feelings that allow your subconscious to take over. Music can help activate these emotions. Find songs or artists that put you in the right mood and block out distractions.

 

Physical, Visible, and Humble

Jan Maxwell

Jan Maxwell

“Perseverance, secret of all triumphs.” ~ Victor Hugo

Hailing from Fargo, North Dakota, Jan Maxwell hasn’t shed her humble roots. Those who know and appreciate theater, know Ms. Maxwell. The stage and television screen have been her professional home for decades. Critically acclaimed, Ms. Maxwell made and continues to make a name for herself while being a full-time mom.

What began as a “hobby,” Jan sensed early that she might be able to carve out a modest living as an actress. She enjoyed performing before live audiences and left North Dakota for New York City, unaware of how competitive and demanding her chosen field was and is.

Years later (she’s 57), she has five Tony Award nominations (she’s one of only three women to be nominated in all four acting categories) and countless other industry awards from her peers, yet she’s still Jan from North Dakota, a mom, and a woman who just happens to love her work. And, I’ll add, is very good at it.

Jan was my guest this week on the Awakening to Awareness Radio Show during which she talked about the irony in her profession being called a “play” when in reality, it’s hard work. She spoke about the range of emotions she has to exude while in character; making ‘real-time’ mistakes on stage and how she’s learned and practices “instant forgiveness”; her philosophy on aging and; the importance of perseverance on stage and in life.

When I invited Jan to share one take-away with listeners, she didn’t hesitate and said: “Follow your passion and do it now!”

Our conversation provided a glimpse behind the stage curtain; identified who she believes are the hardest working people in theater and; what she may find herself doing when she chooses to retire from a world many only see on the surface.

If you’re interested in listening to Jan’s thoughtful perspectives, here’s the podcast link.

Try It. You Might Embrace It.

“Intuition is perception via the unconscious.” ~ Carl Jung

When it comes to decision-making, are you logical or intuitive? A while back I wrote about emotional intelligence (EQ) and intellectual intelligence (IQ) and how EQ is replacing IQ as a new measure for business and social success. Today I paused, reflecting on the plethora of assessments used to test and measure seemingly every facet of human consciousness, behavior, skills, potential, and preferences.

But let’s bring this back to intuition, which to some is not considered a true science and is often categorized as parapsychology. Whether it is a true science or not, it exists. And those who are intuitive know that they do things differently. Here are three examples:

  1. They practice mindfulness. Meditation and mindfulness practices can be an excellent way to tap into your intuition. Mindfulness (paying attention to one’s current experience in a non-judgmental way) helps one to filter out chatter, weigh options objectively, and ultimately make decisions that you can stand behind completely.
  2. They connect deeply with others. Mind reading or “empathic accuracy” refers to the seemingly magical ability to map someone’s mental terrain from their words, emotions and body language. Tuning into your own emotions, and spending time observing and listening to others can boost one’s powers of empathy.
  3. They mindfully let go of negative emotions. Strong emotions, particularly negative ones, cloud intuition. The evidence isn’t just anecdotal. A 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Science showed that being in a positive mood boosted one’s ability to make intuitive judgments. Your intuition fares better if you’re able to mindfully accept and let go of negative emotions, rather than suppressing or dwelling on them.

It’s that age-old, mind versus gut ‘thing.’ Which do you trust more? With which are you more comfortable? If you’re interested in further exploring or strengthening your intuitive abilities, here are three (of many) ways:

  • Accept that you are not in control. Don’t try to shut down your uncomfortable emotions. You will return to a state of balance as those emotions evolve on their own. Making critical decisions can be gut-wrenching. And you know this. Consider being open to another source of self-knowledge.
  • Be spontaneous. Try new things and go with the flow. Notice how often you find yourself in the right place at the right time. Awareness, when coupled with intuition, can yield expanded insight.
  • Practice. It is important to practice using intuition. Begin with something small that has little impact on your life. For example, try to guess who is calling before you answer the phone. Guess which elevator will come first when you’re standing in front of a bank of elevators. Stay relaxed and focused so as not to be distracted by other mental chatter. As you practice you will gain confidence in using this skill. The greater your confidence about identifying your intuitive voice, the more you will trust it and be able to act on it.

Why Be Assertive?

“To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Over the past few days, I’ve observed some blatant passive-aggressive communication. A lot of “I’m okay; you’re not” behavior that focused on one-sided needs. There were visible instances of ‘attitude’ as well as self-serving and sarcastic expressions. Figuratively speaking, there were people who were being steamrolled and walked over. I wasn’t directly involved so I simply watched the interactions.

How do you cope in passive-aggressive situations? Do you bite your tongue? Do you take your displeasure out in other ways? Or do you use a little assertiveness?

Assertiveness has been described as a personality trait and social competency. It is expressing one’s thoughts, opinions and wants in a direct way. Being assertive also means treating others fairly and with respect – while respecting yourself. Knowing when and how to assert yourself can be an asset in work and social settings. Yet many people don’t know how to be assertive – at least comfortably.

Assertiveness is also connected to self-esteem, communication style and values. Keep in mind that putting the needs of others ahead of your own does not make one unassertive. Take charity for example. Most of us want to be charitable, but charity is a choice to sacrifice your convenience, comfort or resources for the sake of someone else or the common good. Personally, I have no problem hanging up on telephone solicitors seeking money. That’s just me responding assertively to their emotional extortions.

Some people are naturally assertive. However, if you’re not one of them, you can learn to be more assertive. Being assertive can help you:

  • Improve communication
  • Create honest relationships
  • Earn respect from others
  • Understand and recognize your feelings
  • Create win-win outcomes

If you want to communicate in healthier and more effective ways, here are four tips to help you become more assertive:

  1. Use “I” statements. This lets others know what you’re thinking without sounding accusatory. Consider saying “I disagree,” rather than “You’re wrong.”
  2. Do not assume to know someone’s motives. Just because someone is acting badly does not necessarily make him a bad person. Stick to the facts at hand.
  3. Keep emotions in check. Conflict is hard for most people. Although feelings of anger and frustration are normal, they can get in the way of resolving conflict. Wait a bit if necessary and work on remaining calm. (This took me a long time to learn.) When you choose to speak, keep your voice even and firm.
  4. Do not get hung up on the outcome. You can only deliver the message. How it is received is up to the other person.

Be comfortable and confident, and be okay with sticking your neck out. 🙂

Images and Feelings

Image credit: Louie Favorite Terri Gurrola is reunited with her daughter after having served in Iraq for seven months.

Image credit: Louie Favorite
Terri Gurrola is reunited with her daughter after having served in Iraq for seven months.

“Feelings are not supposed to be logical. Dangerous is the man who has rationalized his emotions.” ~ David Borenstein

Though we differ in the way we look at things and what we believe in, there is something we share: emotion. Human emotion is innate in all of us; it is something we are born with and something we die with. Happiness, sadness, love, hatred, worries and indifference – these are things that constantly occur in our daily lives.

As human beings we are all born with awareness. We can be aware of our environment, aware of our thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Yet self-awareness cannot be taken for granted. It can easily be lost. When emotions overwhelm, we can lose touch with our conscious awareness. So it’s important to recognize and manage our feelings. Most of us know that acknowledging our feelings is both healthy and a necessary step toward regaining our composure and clarifying our perspectives.

Image credit: Mark Pardew / Reuters A firefighter givrs water to a koala during the devastating Black Saturday brush fires that burned across Victoria, Australia, in 2009.

Image credit: Mark Pardew / Reuters
A firefighter gives water to a koala during the devastating Black Saturday brush fires that burned across Victoria, Australia, in 2009.

We frequently say a “picture is worth a thousand words”, but sometimes they are worth even more. A photographers lens can capture scenes that take us into deep emotional journeys, evoking feelings that range from uplifting joy to utter sadness. The thought-provoking power of images often starts us on a journey of feelings that exceed “a thousand words” with ease. Images capture moments filled with raw emotion and powerful stories and they frequently raise questions about how we feel and what we can do. This, in turn, can prompt compassion and action, but that’s for another post.

Internationally acclaimed photographer Sandro Miller said, “If you don’t look at photography and begin to think and wonder, and be able to start an intelligent dialogue with someone about the work, then I guess I haven’t done my job. I want people to really be able to go deep in their hearts and begin to feel things.”

Photo credit: Getty Images Helen Fisher kisses the hearse carrying the body of her 20-yar-old cousin Private Douglas Halliday, as he and six other fallen soldiers are brought through the town of Wootton Bassett in England.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Helen Fisher kisses the hearse carrying the body of her 20-year-old cousin Private Douglas Halliday, as he and six other fallen soldiers are brought through the town of Wootton Bassett in England.

Perhaps it is a photograph or a traumatic experience that triggers your emotions. Self-awareness and reflection yield feelings, too. People who have good emotional health are aware of their thoughts and feelings. And they have learned healthy ways to cope with the stress and problems that are a normal part of life.

For you consideration, here are some thought-provoking questions. When answered, think about how they make you feel:

  • Why do you matter?
  • What will you not tolerate?
  • How have you been a role model to someone?
  • What makes you likable?
  • What are three life lessons you learned the hard way?
  • What makes you uncomfortable?
  • What fulfills you more than anything else?
Image credit: via hfcsd.org Jewish prisoners at the moment of their liberation from an internment camp "death train" near the Elbe in 1945.

Image credit: via hfcsd.org
Jewish prisoners at the moment of their liberation from an internment camp “death train” near the Elbe in 1945.

Dealing With HSP

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” ~ Bertrand Russell

Sensitivity is your ability to pick up on sensory information with your nervous system. It is neural. It is like a sensitive microphone; it picks up on subtle sounds. Not good or bad.

Psychologist Elaine Aron has been researching a temperament category she describes as “highly sensitive people” (HSP). Her work has been gaining increased attention in recent years. This little understood inherited temperament could be impacting your life or someone you love in surprising ways. According to Aron, this trait is not a new discovery, but it is something that has often been culturally devalued, making life challenging for people who live with it.

HSP experience everyday sensory input in a uniquely heightened way that can cause them both pleasure and pain. HSP feel emotions deeply and, as they tend to be empathic, find themselves affected by the emotions of others. We often think of sensitivity as weakness for three main reasons: it is out of our logical control, it makes us vulnerable, and we don’t know what to do with it, which means that we suppress and judge it – so it has manifested in weakness.

Could you be among the 15-20 percent of the population that make up this group? Here are six tell tales that tend to be associated with HSP:

  • You were described as sensitive as a child.
  • You pick up subtleties in your environment.
  • You can easily become overwhelmed.
  • You fall hard and fast (as in love).
  • You are conscientious.
  • You have a vivid imagination.

Some HSP develop animosity toward their way of experiencing the world. Yet it is not a curse, but a path to wisdom. HSP who deny their sensitivity can lead to unhappiness but exploring its benefits can lead to positive change in yourself and others.

If you sense that you are a HSP and would like to experience more of your sensitivity, here are three ways to strengthen that awareness:

  1. Distinguish between sensations and emotions. A sensation is neural sensory information in your body (butterflies in the stomach, tension in the shoulders). An emotion is a personal response to a sensation (I personally feel scared about this).
  2. Give yourself permission to feel your sensations, then engage with them. For example, “I feel my body shaking right now and that is okay. I can shake.” Rather than judging it by saying, “Why am I shaking right now? What’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t be nervous now!”
  3. Remind yourself that you are an active life participant. See yourself as being on the chessboard rather than viewing it from above. Allow yourself to feel in response to the position you are in. Ask yourself “What would feel better right now?” and then let that come to you.

Your body knows more than you think. Consider starting where you are and taking a step in the direction of trusting your body and its nervous system. I have. 🙂

Emotional Intelligence

“Emotional intelligence is when you finally realize it’s not about you.” ~ Peter Stark

People once thought a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient) would guarantee that an individual would rise above everyone else. As a stand-alone measure, that outcome is no longer the case. Enter EQ (Emotional Intelligence), an array of non-cognitive capabilities, competencies, and skills that influence one’s ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures.

EQ is about being aware of your own feelings in yourself and those of others, regulating those feelings in yourself and others, using emotions that are appropriate to the situation, self-motivation, and building relationships. Another way to contrast the two: IQ defines how smart you are, EQ determines how well you use your gift of intelligence. People with high EQ’s are better equipped to make use of their cognitive abilities.

In 2009, I became certified to administer, interpret results, and debrief respondents of the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i), a premier tool used to measure emotional intelligence. When considered in tandem, IQ and EQ are important factors in determining one’s ability to succeed in life. Case in point: people with high IQ’s but low EQ’s sometime sabotage themselves because they are unable to relate to their peers, cannot handle stress constructively, and find emotional connections difficult to maintain.

There are many ways in which to heighten awareness of your emotional intelligence. If you’re interested in embracing your uniqueness and the uniqueness of others, here are four ways in which to:

  1. Become more self-aware. This involves paying attention to yourself and your surroundings in a positive manner. Knowing who you are comes in big here. If you don’t know who you are how can you expect to know others? Ask yourself: “Why do I act like that?” “Why do I have certain beliefs?” “Why do I find it so confronting to have my beliefs challenged?”
  2. Be more flexible. Being emotionally intelligent involves knowing when to stick to and when to switch your emotional attachments. When it’s time to move on, people high in emotional intelligence can make that adjustment. If you find change difficult, look at the possible consequences. What might happen if you stay with the status quo? On the other hand, where might you be if you go with the flow? Change is part of growth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  3. Tune into your reactions. In a given situation, when your voice begins to rise or you find yourself getting impatient, pause and name that emotion and then try to determine which of your core values is being challenged and thus, resulting in your emotional response. This begins to move you out of reaction and into a more considered response.
  4. If you don’t know how you’re feeling, ask someone else. People seldom realize that others are able to judge how they are feeling. Ask someone who knows you (and whom you trust) how you are coming across. You may find the answer both surprising and interesting.