Why practicing? Why training empathy?

by Mona Kino – June 2017

These are the most asked questions among others I come across. As I did today with a client.
Since I found my own answer, I am trying to avoid giving others an answer – instead I am interested and curious what their answer will be. In the past I oftentimes tried to explain and sometimes lecture – to convince others by listing up the benefits for body, mind and soul. But thinking of a quote I once read: seven billion people, seven billion perspectives – I trained myself thinking of this in a conversation and staying open to an additional answer.

Interestingly almost always I am meeting rejection towards my curiosity.

We are well trained in not being specific about what we really think or want. Mostly it seems dangerous to us and we are afraid to loose contact to the ones we are living or working with. Surely we are vulnerable when we say what we think or want. And surely it can be proven different then we expect it to be. One of the basic conflicts of us humans is that we tend to give up our integrity – to stand for ourselves – and choose to be valuable for others first, since we needed to chose that when we were kids and being dependent in our family-systems to survive.

I have to choose being valuable for the wellbeing of my kids many times. But since I am aware of that I am taking a choice – I am not depressing my integrity´s needs any more for my personal development. Instead I choose to say, yes, that´s how it is now and I promise myself to return to the impulse of my integrity´s needs later. It is not so much about acting out an impulse instantly, but to become aware of it and taking care of it five, ten or sixty minutes later. Even a day. Getting back to it proofs trust in your own sources in the long run – and stability in our sources in challenging situations. Like I once experienced: Everything up to that point went so wrong that day and of course I was in a hurry for a business appointment, too. But when the car broke down next in the middle of the lane during rush hour, everyone´s yelling and honking I sat there and said to one of the honking ladies: Honestly, this is the best I can do now.

My client was still resistant in finding his answer and I asked him: „What is bothering you?“ „If a day would have a twenty-six hours, sure I trained. Anything and empathy. But my day is already fully packed. Getting up, getting kids to kindergarten or school, getting to work, doing work everyone is avoiding to do, doing workout sometimes, shopping, picking kids up again, washing dishes, cleaning kitchen, calling parents, making dinner and so on… I even hardly have some time to meet some friends…“

I sometimes still fail in not giving answers, and I did so today again. But fully conscious. „I, know“, I said, „ What would you say if I tell you, that you have time?“ „Why is that?“ „We are training twenty-four hours a day. But we need to make a choice what we want to train: Things we already can do best or things we want to be more experienced with.“
He laughed, „Uuuharg, you just hit the nail. Tomorrow, first thing I do train, is putting the work everyone is avoiding to do back on their desks.“

An impulse training exercise:

Put a 5 to 10 minutes music piece you like in your mp3 or stereo –

Lay down on a mat or carpet.

Feel your whole body from feet, legs, back, front, hands, arms up to your head.

Then start to pay attention to your impulses.

Where in your body do you feel the impulse to move?
Move.

And again. Where do you feel the next impulse to move?
Move again.

Repeat paying attention to the next impulse until you are in a standing position when the piece of music ends.

It never matter´s how it looks like –

If you are practicing the exercise with somebody or in a group sit together afterwards tow by two and tell and listen actively each other what you became aware of while doing the exercise. Actively listening means one is talking the other one is just listening and not making any comments. 2-4 Minutes for per participant are sufficient.

Editing by Kerstin Schöps

Illustrated by Gesine Grotrian

Cold waters

by Mona Kino – May 2017

„Your text is cold, massive, shattering and analytical“

Bang. My colleague´s comment to one of my work papers hit me hard. I gasped, as if I were suddenly thrown from behind into a deep, unknown water. I felt a pressure on the solar plexus, which made breathing almost impossible. I could see that my reaction was palpable for her and an uncomfortable tension spread, but I did not want to give it room. At least I did not want to discuss the fact that I found this an unfortunate phrase.

I think, we all know such a situation or something similar.

Although not so light and easy (because my good old friend, the perfectionist, was finally also in the room), I was able to get some distance by avoiding direct eye contact. I followed my stumbling breath slowly and tried not to be judgemental by muttering my mantra: Just perceive how and whether your breath changes.

I was amazed at what was happening in me.

Heart to body: “Do you have an idea? Shall we get up, leave the room? Make a coffee?”
Body to heart: “I’m still too exhausted from this hit and still want to sit.” Meanwhile consciousness spits out something deposited somewhere inside my brain:
“Traumatic experiences are stored in the nervous system.“ My body and my breathing relax. My creativity tunes in: „Let´s look for an alternative to fight or flight.”
More relaxation is spreading through out body and breath.
Creativity makes contact with the heart: “What do you think?”
“I just want an uncomplicated, structured, open and curious work related conversation.”
And turns to my consciousness: “Can you get something out of this?”
Even before consciousness answers, creativity speaks:
“Heart, what do you think of doing the work alone? You can make this very simple and structured?“
Heart shakes his head, no.
Silence.
After a while consciousness speaks up again: “Hello, this is only a working text that says nothing about you as a human being.” And creativity adds:
“Exactly, this was not about literature.”
After another pause, the heart adds:
“Yes, that is how it is sometimes. Sometimes we write texts that are cold and analytical, and I think these are qualities that can be used for a working text. In a love letter, however, they are not so appropriate. ”
I have to laugh and my body says: „Guys, I need a break now, I will get up and make some tea.”

I was calmer again. Another challenging comment from my colleague about how the text felt so sad did not agitate my nervous system anymore. This time I could interestingly connect directly to the word “sad.” I remembered that I had already collected some funny ideas for the implementation of my text and told her this.
I had climbed back into the boat, from which I had fallen into the water. We both laughed – and the worries of my colleague, that everything could become too dreary, and for which she had no idea, were dissolving.

This morning, I wanted to deal with that hardened feeling that I had perceived in the solar plexus.

Writing and meditating are very close to each other. In both cases thoughts come and go. Only that when writing, a kind of intermediate step (the physical activity of moving the pen) is inserted before the next.

With a breathing exercise, I opened the area around the Solar Plexus, then I started writing.

Yesterday I had felt being hit by an unexpected comment. Now an early memory of this unexpected thrust came to my mind. My father wanted me to learn swimming. He grabbed me from behind when we were together in the swimming pool and threw me into the water. I was three years old and was so afraid of what was happening to my body under water. I was struggling, panicking. Gasping for air, crying, screaming, trembling. When I appeared on the surface of the water I saw my father standing at the edge of the pool, laughing. He looked up at my mother, who was lying on a couch reading a book, and said, “See, this is how you do it.” As I swallowed water and made my way to the edge of the pool, they continued fighting over their educational methods. And what I felt in my solar plexus now while writing down this memory was hatred. Hate of my parents, who, because of their conflicts, disregarded my boundaries and desires.

And so for me today a circle came together.

I understood that  ever since that incidence when someone or something, so to say, threw me into cold water, I was reacting with my nervous system as I did back then.

In contrast to back then I have a choice today. I do not have to swallow water, rage or hatred, but I can and may say, “Hello, sorry, that was just really unpleasant and I need a break to meet you sincerely and with all my senses.”

Even if the exercises with the solar plexus are more concerned with the unpleasant feelings than with the pleasant ones that are located in the heart, I find them now essential.

For as long as the unpleasant feelings are not felt and named, they will distort all our encounters, also the ones of love and joy, like a kind of coloured filter.

 

Open the area around solar plexus with your breath
Place yourself in a comfortable position.
Notice your breathing. Notice how you inhale and exhale.
Notice how your breathing makes your body move: stomach, chest, diaphragm or elsewhere.
Place your fingers on the solar plexus. Perhaps it is tense or even a bit painful, remember, there is no right or wrong – your solar plexus is as it is.
Breath in and loosen your fingers,  While you breath out, press your fingers against the solar plexus and turn to the left. Breath in, let loose, turn back to the middle. Breath out, press and turn to the right.
Beginners start with 2-3 minutes.
When you get more used to it you can practice for 10 minutes.
Then take 15 Minutes to meditate in a comfortable position on what is happening in your body, breathing, heart, creativity and mind.
If you want, you can listen to some music.
Then share with one of your collegues as described in the blog before-
If you are alone you can make some notes instead of meditating. Just write what is coming up into your mind. Also here – there is no right or wrong-

 

Illustrations by Gesine Grotrian

Edited by Kerstin Schöps

Endless Shades Of Love

by Mona Kino – April 2017

Have you ever thought T H I S is love! — I did. — Should I have given words to what T H I S is – it would have been impossible for me to put it in one sentence or word, neither a felling.  Except confusion or the sight out of a dirty window after a long winter.

Hence we are all individuals there is no such thing as standardized love. So what is love?

With this exercise you can weep the window and explore what love is for you.

If you are practicing Yoga or Thai Chi start with a grounding exercise you like. Five to ten minutes are fine. If you are not practicing any awareness body work I introduce you to this simple exercise.

Grounding exercise

Stand with the feet together and the arms by your sides
Bend the right knee, raise your right thigh and bring the sole of the right foot as high up the inside of the left thigh as possible.
In the beginning it might just as high as your left ankle.
Balance now on the left foot, raise both arms over the head keeping the elbows unbent and joining the palms together.
If you feel uncomfortable with your arms raised over your head bring your palms together in front of your heart.
Hold the posture for a couple of breaths.
Lower the arms and right leg and return to the standing position with feet together and arms at the sides. Pause for a few moments and repeat on the opposite leg.
The challenge of this exercise is maintaining balance on one leg. Poor balance is often the result of a restless mind or distracted attention. Regular practice will help focus the mind and improves concentration, balance and coordination.
When doing this exercise it may help to imagine or picture a tree in your  mind.
Imagine that the foot you are balanced on is the root of the tree and the leg is the trunk.
Imagine your head and outstretched arms are the branches and leaves of the tree.
You may be unsteady for a while and find the body swaying back and forth, like a tree bending in the wind.
As you advance in this posture and are able to remain standing for more than a few moments, try closing the eyes and maintaining your balance.  Hold it as long as your comfortably can. Repeat it two or three times on each leg.

Then sit relaxed on a chair or cushion. Scan your feelings in your body from toes to head, then focus on your breathing. When you´ve connected your body with your breathing focus on the area around your heart.
When being in touch with your heart let a person you love arise. It also can be a child or a pet you love. People can have strong feelings of love for animals and even things. Again there is no right nor wrong in this exercise. Repeat this three times.

The first person who came into my mind was my daughter. My love for her felt like a warm shower in the morning. You can imagine the big smile on my face. Second my son came up.  My love for him was like being surrounded by millions of different spices in a Moroccan souk. Thirdly my love for my partner came up which felt like warm tender naked skin.

I I realized that love has as that many different shades and I accepted too, that my confusion was no wonder at all but a fight for a definition for the one and only love. Sure there is a special kind of love for all of us which leads us to those we want to share our life with. But we can also feel love for those we don´t want to share our life with. Feeling love for someone is no need for taking action in a specific way.
My love list is growing ever since. For my children, my partner, my friends and also for the guest dog we sometimes taking care of. Today I added pink and white marshmallows to the Moroccan spice bag on my sons list.
If you are a teacher or pedagogue or just a parent or partner- try out for yourself and share your experiences this way. Sit together ear by ear then decide who wants to talk the first five minutes and who wants to listen.
If you don´t want to say anything, don´t. Just be aware of your impulses.

Illustration by Gesine Grotrian

Editing by Kerstin Schöps

Birthday girl

by Mona Kino – April 2017

Shortly before my last birthday I had a dream: one of my friends youngest daughter screamed out loud, arms wide open: „Hello world, I am the birthday girl.“

The joy in her face accompanied me for a couple of days. It made me realize that I don´t  like celebrating my birthday a lot. I mostly celebrated it in the past because I thought I would start to like it if I just jumped over the first step of resistance. Unfortunately it never worked out for me. The resistance became even bigger every time I crossed that line. But when I chose not to celebrate my birthday at all I didn’t feel better either.

So with the birthday girl dream in mind and knowing that strong emotional reactions are related to childhood experiences I decided to explore both: my withdrawing from and longing for celebrating my birthday.

I grew up with sentences like: „You just have to try hard enough, then things will change.“  So naturally I started working very hard to change the past by seeing it in a positive way.

I even created great birthday parties in my mind, at home with my parents as opposed to boarding school where they actually had taken place. But all this didn´t help. And I had to realize that you can work as hard as you want, it is impossible to change that what had happened in the past.

However it is possible to change how much power we allow the past to still have over our lives. Hence I decided to turn it around: in the past the message I got as a child having to celebrate birthdays away from home at boarding school was that the day of my birthday wasn´t worth celebrating for my parents, and being dependent on my parents as a child I identified with that message, inflicting a deep lack of self worthiness.
So I sat down for the first time in my life and asked my friends and family for a favor as a present: I asked everybody I invited to my 50th birthday to describe how I enriched his or her life.

Looking now at the vast variety of different presents I got, from a bonsai tree to self made fortune cookies that contained answers to my question, to hand written letters from my kids (imagine that from an iPhone addicted teenager) – I still feel overwhelmed. Before my birthday I knew why I was connected to my friends. What they contributed to my life to be enriched. Now I know how I enrich their lives and that my humor seems to be a big part of that. And that they think that I lead my life with a heart „as big as a bus“ – an unexpected perspective that helps me a lot when my try-to-understand-everything-brain goes around in circles again.

The exercise that inspired me to all this happened during a module of training empathy. We were asked to evaluate our relations to each other in the smaller working groups with following questions:

What made it easy for me being part of the group?
What made it difficult for me?
What did I contribute to the group?
What did I get from the other participants?

Try for yourself with your family and friends. Or if you are a teacher or pedagogue try it with your colleagues or students. Sit together at least once a year and ask yourself this question: how do we enrich each others lives?

It is great getting to know the actual status quo from the ones most beloved or important in our lives.
If you feel the atmosphere is a bit shaky add a grounding exercise before.

Three steps grounding

1. step
. Place your-self in a standing position with parallel feet hip-width apart.
. Bend you knees as much as you can without lifting your heels. Knees are pointing straight forward.
. Lift yourself from flat feet to standing on your toes without stretching your knees. Knees are still bended pointing straight ahead
. Lower your heels to the floor. Now your back in the starting position.
. Find your own rhythm and do the little sequence a number of times.
. Stand for a moment. How does your body response to the exercise? And what about your breathing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. step
. Place your-self in a wide legged standing position
. Shift your weight from one foot to the other.
. Press your foot into the ground.
. You can bend your knee to get the movement a little bigger. Keep the other foot in the ground.
. Move from side to side in your own rhythm a couple of times
. Place one foot in front of the other.
. Be aware of the contact between your feet and the floor
. Shift your weight as you did before from on foot to the other.
. Role through your feet so that you feel each foot from the heel to the toes.
. Find your own rhythm and repeat a couple of times
. Switch legs so that the other foot stands in front. Repeat the exercise.
. Stand for a moment. Be aware …

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. step
. Place your-self in a standing position with parallel feet hip-width apart.
. Make a small release in your knees
. Make a full body stretch raising your arms to the ceiling
. Be aware of your feet and your breath while stretching
. Be aware of the two directions in your body. Stretching into the ceiling and grounding down into the floor at the same time.
. Let go off your arms and let them relax down the sides of your body
. Bend your head and move slowly into a forward fold. Let your awareness follow the movement of your spine.
. Come as far down as possible. Stand for a short while in the position. Relax your head, your arms your face.
. Move back very slowly to the standing position.
. Stand for a moment. Feel your feet on the floor and the impulses in your body.

 

Illustration by Gesine Grotrian

Editing by Kerstin Schöps

Straight from the heart

by Mona Kino – March 2017

I´ve received this letter last week.

Dear Mona,
it´s been a while since we´ve met and I hope this email finds you well.
Me and my family are still working out new ways to solve our conflicts. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we run into the „mines“ as you suggested. It helped me a lot to accept that they are part of our lives and that you’ve mentioned, not to avoid them. Even though it´s not easy to handle somedays- the atmosphere at home is better than ever before.

The reason I write to you is something else I want to share with you. It made me laugh the other day and I thought it might be an interesting feedback from a fourteen year old.

Me, Ruby and Emma recently went to Prague to visit Ben at work for a week. The morning before we returned home, Ruby told me, that she couldn`t fall asleep last night and that she became very desperate because of that. Rolling her eyes she added: ‘And you know, all that Jesper-Juul-and-Helle-Jensen-meditation-and-empathy-stuff  you always bring home really worked out.’

I was curious to understand more of what she was mentioning. And she continued: She woke up in the middle of the night hearing a noise she couldn´t locate. First she thought it was in her head, then she thought it was the refrigerator in the kitchen, or maybe the heating system? She didn´t want to wake us up and got up to locate it herself but couldn´t find it. The idea that it was in her head grew and made her feel more and more uncomfortable. When she thought it could be a tinnitus the uneasiness swell and ended in fear. But then, she said, she remembered an exercise we once practiced in our mutual sessions at your practice.
She set herself up in a quiet place in the apartment and did a „heart-journey“. After a while, she said, the noise was still there, but the fear was gone. I  asked her what she thought made  it go away. And she replied, as she became aware that it was just a noise wherever in or out of her body and no-one trying to catch her, she felt relief. She no longer felt as a victim of the noise. She gave me a smile and said, I then added a short moment to focus on something nice that had happened to me the other day. And in my mind I saw this new pair of shoes I got from you, and I could easily feel relaxation in my body and I fell asleep shortly after.

With warm regards,
Betty

The exercise we did in the counseling session is the following:

Someone You Like

Place yourself comfortably in a chair.  
Notice how the chair supports your body, the backside of your legs, your buttocks and perhaps your back.
Then notice the contact between your feet and the floor. How the floor meets your feet and how your feet are pressing against the floor.  Bend und stretch your toes.
Notice then the contact between your hand and the place they are resting on. Bend and stretch your fingers.
Now shift your awareness to your head. Make some funny faces to relax the muscles of your face.
Now see if you can feel your body, feet, hands and head at the same time.
Shift your awareness to your breath.
Stay with it for a while. Breath in- breath out.
Just watch it, don´t judge it.
Now shift your awareness to the area around your heart.
Maybe you can feel how your heart is beating, maybe not?
Stay here with your awareness for a while. Feel how the area is like.
Think of somebody you like or love. Now feel somebody you like or love in your heart.
It can be a member of your family, a good friend, a pet and even your teddybear.
Let the comfortable feeling now run through your whole body. Into your feet, your hands, hair-roots.
Stay with this feeling for a few minutes. Feel how it is.
Notice your general mood as it is right now and prepare yourself to end this exercise.

 

Illustration by Gesine Grotrian

Editing by Kerstin Schöps

Shake it off, a fifteen minutes gift

by Mona Kino – March 2017

„How did you wake up today?“ Was your basic mood more like Beethoven, Mozart or Bach?“

Peter Hoeg asked us while we were standing barefoot with closed eyes in the seminar room. To be honest I didn´t like any of them too much to make a pick that day. Beethoven too dark, Mozart too light and Bach too genius. But while I was searching in my own inner music box from Abba to Zappa, Peter Hoeg added that most people wake up with one specific basic mood throughout their lives (or at least for longer periods in their lives) which are comparable to the works of these three musicians.
Ok, I thought, if there is no other choice I am brave and take the Beethoven, even though this choice will reveal that I am obviously hiding a drama queen inside me. But that’s one of the topics why I am attending this training: getting to know myself better and becoming more empathic with myself. I’ve never met too many people in my life who acted empathic towards me or others as I’ve never heard about many of such experiences in my friends, clients and colleagues lives. I think it is what today’s world lacks most:  Empathy. Even though many of are us using the word quite often. But more likely in the sense of compassion. As I realized  throughout the exercise that I started to like my Beethoven mood more and more Peter Hoeg instructed us with the next step of the exercise. We should shake the mood off from every part of our bodies to make space for the other moods, the lightness of Mozart and neutralism of Bach. And I thought, holy shit, that is what awareness is all about. I don´t have to label my moods, I don´t have to fight it nor take it with me throughout the day. I just have to realize it, feel it, take it just as the basic mood it is and shake it off. What a gift.

And now- now I am playing Diana Ross´s Upside down.

Illustration by Gesine Grotrian

Editing by Kerstin Schöps

Same, same but different.

by Mona Kino – February 2017

Yesterday I went ice skating. For a few month I have been taking classes to refresh what I learned from age six to eight. At age eight I was sent to boarding school, and I was told I could continue taking skating lessons if my grades improved. As that never happened I had to say good-bye to skating.

Because it is exactly what I do now. I practice something that I know, but need to learn to use differently.

Before having been sent to boarding school I was taught to focus on what others wanted or needed from me. In the following seven school years this demand grew even bigger and I lost the contact to the five inborn domains of competences. I specialized in caring only for others, which lead to me losing the authentic contact to myself and even to the ones I tried to care for. Which all lead to a burnout.

When I started the exercises during the training of empathy, I felt similar to how I feel during my skating lessons. I had to redirect the awareness I was taught to reserve for others and use it first for myself. It felt wobbly in the beginning, and it was uncomfortable to face my imperfection. But similarly to how I understood today how I had to change my weight distribution on my feet while skating along, I experience more and more often when I meditate for twenty minutes in the evenings, that I do not only face my resistance, my fatigue, and all those many thoughts, but also myself. I am aware of my body from head to toe, I follow my breath and feel my beating heart. I feel  better, healthier, in privat and in my job.
Not long ago for example when my husband is away on business I would have gotten up in the morning despite a fever and feeling sick. I would have done the school run crawling on my knees so to say. Today I can accept my children´s offer to take the bus when I am sick. Even tough the acceptance does not yet come as easy as I wish it would.

An exercise that came easy to me in the beginning, and which made me want to open up more and more to this change in patterns is this one:

Look for a quiet piece of music. The piece can be three to five minutes long. Check out „Chord left“ from Agnes Obel as an example

Sit down on a chair (you can also lie down). During the time the music runs, raise yourself and stand up. Try to leave the concept of „Standing-up“ behind and only focus on your impulse to stand up. Nothing what you do here is right or wrong. Maybe you already stand up while only half the music has been played, maybe there is another impulse to stand differently, maybe there is the impulse to kneel down again. To raise the arms up and down?
We all have different impulses and different timing.
Sometimes I repeat the same exercise backwards. I sit down again. If you do the practice with others, share your observations. If you do the exercise by yourself , write them down. It can be very nice to revisit all those different things one has experienced during the same exercise.  Because that is how it feels: same, same, but different.

 

Illustration Gesine Grotrian

Editing Kerstin Schöps