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Where do we get the skills to handle modern relationships?

Relationships have changed dramatically over the decades. Back in the day most people simply got married. Few of us got any skills training, roles were more clearly defined, divorce was rare and expectations were radically different. Where did you learn from, did you just model your parents’ behaviour? Were you influenced by the movies we watched and Hollywood’s idea of romance?

Today authentic communication is what is needed, but are we fully prepared for that? Mutual understanding seems to be a rare gift in a modern relationship. Over 20 years ago, Psychotherapist Malcolm Stern realised the deep need people have for learning how to be together. Since then, he wrote his book Falling In Love/Staying in Love and his experience working with groups and individuals led him to be the co-presenter of Channel 4’s prime time relationship series Made For Each Other in 2003-2004. We invited London-based Malcolm to join us at Conscious Cafe Skipton in March to talk about how we can develop the necessary skills to transform our relationships.

Relationships are where we learn about ourselves

Malcolm opened the evening with a sharing about his own personal relationships journey and how he came to specialise in this area. He said that being in a relationship is one of the greatest tools we have in our lives because you can’t hide in a relationship. This is where we are most exposed -there really is nowhere to hide. You have to be willing to grow, whatever age you are, because life is always about learning who we are and how we are being. If you want to develop yourself then you need to be in a relationship.

It’s all about LOVE

A relationship is really an opportunity to practice the skills of loving. We only have one task in life that is to learn to love. As much as we need to look after ourselves, we can’t really do this in isolation. Few of us ever fly alone in this world. In quoting from ‘The Prophet’ (Kahlil Gibran) Malcolm said “Relationships will strip us to the bone, they will show us where the shadow is in play”. 

The skills that we need to survive relationships, and for life in general, are kindness, thoughtfulness, listening and companionability.  

Relationships are rarely problem-free

To create learning for our evening, Malcolm offered the opportunity for an attendee to step forward into the centre of our circle and present their relationship problems for insights. Malcolm pointed out that the group dynamic has enormous power in creating a safe space for opening up and sharing our wisdom, and the most powerful thing that can be offered is our presence and our ability for intentional listening. This depth of sharing would educate us all beyond anything that Malcolm alone could offer. If we can find out what the learning is in the relationship challenges we have, or have had, that is a true gift for all.

  • Newsflash: Relationships are complex. We can learn from other people’s stories. Don’t fall in to the trap of creating something that fulfils the expectations of others. Social conditioning can run deep so keep in mind what it is you want in the relationship.
  • So far there is no training school for marriage, we simply do our best. In the end children are the witnesses to the relationship. They carry forward what they learn from you then they take their own trajectory, as we did from our parents.
  • You have to be strong for yourself inside a relationship as it does take strength and resilience to decide and then act on what you want for yourself. You cannot be in a sustainable relationship and let it stop you doing what you want or being who you need to be.
     
  • We can’t let the other in a relationship hold us back. A core feature of being human is the need for us to be able to live our lives in our fullness. Without this we would be poorer. There comes a time when we might need to leave a relationship because of this holding back and when we do, the ending has to be done with compassion. But it must be done. 
  • Never hurt anyone more than you have to. Learn how to say difficult things.
  • Be aware of new boundaries that you might need to draw around yourself. Saying a definite “No” to someone actually helps create a boundary for you. As hard as it is for some people to do this, and not be mealy-mouthed or wishy washy, practice and develop the skill of saying No. I can’t do that. That’s not for me.
  • Get to recognise what saying no feels like in your body. Thinking it is not the same as declaring it and owning the sentiment. That will have a feeling that you need to become familiar with. Are you freezing up? Are you remembering to breathe? Get out of your head and register your thoughts as feelings in your body. In my experience, most women find this easier, or more familiar, than many men.
  • The bigger the conversation, the more important it is to breathe.
  • When a relationship ends, moving on to another relationship to fill the void is never a wise idea. It is important to take time to process .. give ourselves space for learning before we move on. Fires and frying pans come to mind. Bearing in mind this may well be a time of great sadness, it is important to seek the support of people who can help you.
  • Explore your feelings and name them. You get a much clearer idea about yourself, your needs, if you can verbalise and put words to what is going on inside. It helps you to understand yourself more.
  • Get clear, get support, then make your choice.
  • Know when you are ready for a new relationship. Be able to say a strong yes when asked if you are. From being on your own and healing from your last relationship, you will likely reach a point, a ripening, when you know you have integrated your learnings and are ready to move forward in to the next relationship.
  • Know what you want in a relationship. Forget physical attributes and hobbies Yes, these are important, but relationship success is going to come from a set of values and qualities that you want to share with the other. Qualities like kindness, integrity, support and communication. And for each one, know what it looks like for you. Does support mean strong arms to hold you? It’s really helpful to be specific – precise.
  • For everything that is on your list of Wants, you have to be willing to give these back to the other.
  • complication of modern relationships, especially later in life, is the presence of children from former relationships and the need to create a blending of a new family. Not all families have to live together all the time – be creative in how you bring everyone together and consider the continuance of having two homes. Work out what you need to have for your personal relationship to work. What else can work in supporting the step-children to continue in the homes they know? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to create another nuclear family.
  • From double to single to double again? People who have been in long term marriages for most of their lives and then find themselves single in later life, have to look deeply into what they want out of a new relationship, if at all. Maybe we need to be creative about how we spend our lives and balance our need for intimacy and connection with our desire for personal space.
  • Is society expecting you to look for a relationship once you are single again? Is this what you want, do you really want to live with someone again and be in a relationship? We carry the scars from before, it’s up to us how we resolve these. Friendship and connections are really important to us – we have to look to our needs to see how best to satisfy them, in a way that is good for us.
  • Know what you want. Malcolm quoted Thomas Hubl who said “The essence of love is precision”. That gave us all something to think about, and you can see the quality of precision needed to ask yourself good questions: What do I need? What does that need look like? Really think about the essential qualities you desire in another so that you do not end up settling for less. The clearer we can be about our own needs, the better chance we have of successfully satisfying them.
  • Stand your ground early in a relationship – don’t put up with crap. If you partner acts weird you have to ask yourself if this is acceptable for you. You get what you tolerate. Something to think about.
  • Staying inside a relationship requires work to keep it successful. Everything changes all the time and you have to grow with that. It always comes back to your why – you have to ask yourself what do I want to get out of this?
  • The bottom line to a successful relationship is to really think about the essential qualities that are important to you in a partner and not to settle for less.
  • Are you right for each other? You need to have a resonance between you and there are four areas to look at:
  1. Physical: just being together feels right, walking, chatting with friends .. and of course a sexual connection that works
  2. Mental: even if you don’t have the same choice of newspapers being able to exchange ideas and a stimulating conversation is important. Being able to bounce a conversation back and forth.
  3. Emotional: can you handle each other at an emotional level? Can you handle their anger .. hold their sadness?
  4. Spiritual: does the energy between you feel sympatico? Do you have a sense that you are more than just two individuals and that there is a connection to the divine? What you are passionate about has to be there in the other person.

2019 and Beyond – How can I be my best self?

Thank you to all those who braved the snow to come to ConsciousCafe Geneva last night. We broke a record – one person had to get the train home to Bern afterwards! Our discussions on “2019 and Beyond – How can I be my best self?” were all about our values. It was fascinating that people prioritised very different values, and it helped with my life lessons on judgement to realise why people might not act according to MY expectations sometimes! Why are our values so important, we asked? Because they are our life guide and compass. They show us the way. They make us who we are. They are so important than when we live or work in conflict with them we can become ill, physically and mentally. Do we all live to our values? Even when challenged? We wondered, if asked, would your family and closest friends be able to say what your main values are? After very engaging discussions we ended by examining just ONE value we would like to strengthen in ourselves and a brief closing meditation focused on feeling, being and exuding that value as we went out into the world. Conversation at ConsciousCafe Geneva takes place at small tables, which we mix up several times, so the conversations constantly change and you meet new, like-minded people. For many reasons there always seems to be a very warm atmosphere and we all leave uplifted. It’s about the people contact I think, connecting on a deeper level than usual. And it’s really very beautiful! Join us sometime.

Expectations VS Reality

ConsciousCafe London met for their first 2019 gathering to enjoy a discussion on the topic of Expectations versus Reality.

As soon as we began to explore the subject, it became obvious that expectations versus reality touches every aspect of our lives several times throughout each day.

We have expectations of others and expectations of ourselves. Sometimes we are much harder on ourselves if we fail to achieve our own expectations than we are on others who we feel have let us down.

We have expectations of how people will treat us – at home and at work – and few people are able to live up to our ideals. We have expectations of organisations, expectations of systems and expectations of technology. In our Western society we expect things to work. When systems fail us – as happens frequently – we often struggle with disappointment and frustration.

In Western society we have little tolerance for systems not working. If we lived in a more fragile society, we would not know what to expect on a daily basis. We also don’t know what our expectations of the future of the planet might or should be. Our expectations are infinite and our knowledge very limited.

Our solutions to the problem of expectations versus reality included expressing gratitude for everything we have, focusing on what we receive from others that makes us happy rather than what makes us unhappy and doing our best to live in the present moment so that we are not constantly focusing on our expectations of what will happen in the future.

The topic was very enriching and people shared generously of their feelings – both expectations, disappointments and positive outcomes.

Thank you Gita Shri Kumari for a beautiful and inspiring meditation to start the event. Thank you everyone who took part. I hope I have expressed your experience of the event but do please add comments if I missed anything out.

We look forward to seeing you again soon.

** If you haven’t been to a ConsciousCafe discussion before, come and join us. Everyone present took part in the above discussion. We explored the topic in small groups and then came together to share. Our combined exploration resulted in much personal discovery. It was a great afternoon.

A Letter from Judy

Dear Friend,

ConsciousCafe has experienced a lovely 2018, full of expansion and innovation. We started the year with thriving groups in London, Bath, Bristol, Canterbury, SW Dorset (Dorchester), New Forest, Oundle, Skipton, Plymouth and Geneva. In March Nicola Foster facilitated her first discussion for ConsciousCafe in St Albans and in September John Sackett and Joy Sackett launched their new Bournemouth group. We have had several requests from people who would also like to launch groups. Viv Garbe will launch East Herts (Stevenage) in 2019 and Hanna Krasnodevska will create our second international group in Singapore early next year too.

Another first was receiving the special Editor’s Pick Award for 2018 from Kindred Spirit.  For seven years now we have created the space for people to come together and explore a wide range of topics in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and non-judgment. During that time we have shared many deep and intimate conversations and have seen beautiful friendships being formed.  We are all proud of what we have created and so it was a lovely gift to have our work recognised by Kindred Spirit who really ‘get’ what we offer.

Every group has a varied range of activities. Some groups have monthly discussions while other groups offer keynote speakers and events.

In London we have had a range of experiences.  Isabel Losada’s talk about Sensational Sex in March was hugely popular and has also been very warmly received at our ConsciousCafe Plymouth and Canterbury groups.

Jane Bailey Bain talked about How to Create Your Future Story to packed houses in both Geneva and London. Christa Mackinnon’s talk to our group in Plymouth was sold out and she will be sharing her presentation with Q&A in London early next year. Our groups in Skipton and New Forest also offer a wide range of activities as well as discussions.

Meanwhile ConsciousCafe conversations have taken place on a huge variety of subjects. There is so much innovation and creativity among all our members and our Group Leaders have been taking full advantage of that.

In London we have explored Self-Love, Overload Anxiety, Courage (an idea which originated from our St Albans group), Creativity, and Self-Care. Mikkel Juel Iversen facilitated a truly memorable conversation about Homelessness and Dina Glouberman, known to many of you as the co-founder of Skyros, spoke about the themes of her newly published memoir. In the autumn patisserie chain Konditor and Cook offered us gorgeous space for Colin Smith who gave us an excellent workshop on Improving our Listening Skills. This turned out to be a particularly fun evening as we held a networking event beforehand followed by supper at Pizza Express afterwards. We have also enjoyed a Summer Tea and a Winter Festive Tea, having the opportunity to spend time together in a relaxed atmosphere on a Saturday afternoon with no one needing to rush to catch their train home.

When we first launched ConsciousCafe the world was not in so much turmoil as it is now.  But as we approach 2019, after a challenging and difficult year for so many people globally, it is becoming increasingly important that we make the time to talk to one another about the things that really matter to each one of us. It is often only by speaking about them that we can truly explore what our thoughts and feelings and ideas are. And it is only by listening to one another in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, that we can hope to be able to understand each other’s differences. ConsciousCafe offers that space and the opportunity to connect with likeminded conscious people who we might not otherwise meet.

We thank you for joining the conversation during 2018 and hope to see you in 2019. Please feel free to invite your friends to ConsciousCafe. So many people tell us that their lives have been deeply enriched by having the opportunity to join this community.

Every ConsciousCafe leader gives their time generously and freely.  Huge thanks go out from all of us to Britt, Jo, Peter, Anne, Charlie, Cora, Helena, Gina, Nicola, Debbie, Grace, Alan, John, Joy, Viv, Hanna and all of you who are supporting them. All our leaders come from their hearts.

We offer a huge thank you to everyone who has helped us financially this year and especially our generous supporters. I work 2 – 3 days a week for ConsciousCafe and everything we do is funded by all of you who support our vision and our events.  We always try to keep the price as low as we can so that everyone can take part.

As always, we are very grateful to Joyce Deen for her care in admin and book-keeping and to Kate Cowan who is responsible and thoughtful about all our marketing. We welcome Tess Burton who has just joined us to develop our social media profile.

If ConsciousCafe has nurtured your soul this year and if you would like to help us launch more groups next year so that more people can benefit from what we offer, please become a ConsciousCafe supporter for 2019 (£50 or £40 (concessions)). 

You can find out more here.

Or if you simply feel moved to honour what we do in aiming to raise consciousness in the world through conversation and connection, please donate on our ‘From the Heart’ button on our website supporters page. Every small amount you are able to give us helps us to continue the work we are here to do which is to raise consciousness through conversation and connection so that, by developing mutual understanding, we help to make the world a better place to live in for each one of us.

We wish you all a very restful holiday and hope that 2019 will be a happy, healthy and abundant year for all of you and your loved ones.

With love,

Judy and the ConsciousCafe team 

John Danias – Why am I writing about mindfulness?

John Danias

John Danias

Living in this day and age I’m finding myself increasingly interested in ways of becoming more self aware and of experiencing life in greater technicolour. In Conscious Cafe I have found a community with similar interests and get to reap the benefits of learning and growing with likeminded people from all walks of life. It’s quite insightful to learn how the qualities of a mindful approach can play out in publishing, luxury hotels, supermarkets, branding, coaching…The list is endless.

John Danias

May we thank John for permission to share his recent article, posted on LinkedIn here.

Over the last 7 years, through ups, down, fears and joys, through the rollercoaster called “Life”, I’ve been really drawn to mindfulness.

“Mindfulness”, “meditation”, “self-awareness”: these are relatively unusual terms and consequently can have different meanings and associations for each person.

For me mindfulness simply means intentionally bringing some curiosity to the experience in hand.  This can be a work meeting, family banter, a boxing fight or a walk in the park. By attending more clearly to what is happening, bringing some awareness to the thoughts, emotions and body sensations playing out moment by moment, it is possible to gain a better understanding of how this “John Danias” experiences life and consequently take wiser actions.

 So, it’s about improving my confidence at work, interaction with my kid, reflexes when sparring, in fact anything that I am working on.

At work

During meetings I notice the acute desire to get my point across generates some anxiety and clouds the mind.  And I have no doubt that my nervousness, however subtle, gets communicated to some degree.  Using some specific observation-based techniques I can notice the process playing about (‘metacognition’ in scientific terms): mild tension on my shoulders just by the neck, slight straining in the eyes, shallow breathing and a charged internal dialogue questioning if it’s the right time to interject.  Recognising these signs, I initiate a subtle breathing exercise whilst continuing to attend to the meeting.  And gradually the possibility opens up for the tension to dissipate, the meeting being experienced with greater clarity, the point being put across with greater refinement and when not speaking, to just sit back and watch the show.

Clear, assertive communication, free from overthinking and second-guessing, is something I need to cultivate.  The science of neuroplasticity adheres to the ability of training the mind through repetition. Consequently, every skilful communication, irrespective of the context, can improve my communication at work.  Then why not practice at the grocer’s too? Why not with my family?

With family

I’m going back home feeling a bit down. When I tell my wife how I feel my instinctive reaction will be to highlight that it’s not a problem and reassure her. This time I will try an experiment. I will put aside my overthinking and will simply state it clearly and with presence. I will not quantify the ‘low’, and I will not add the habitual “but it will be okay”. Let’s see.

“I’m feeling low”.

The response is amazing: acceptance and support.  So nice to feel supported, so reassuring.  We’ve empowered each other through vulnerability – I will remember this lesson.

Why am I writing this article?

There is an incredible wealth of interesting techniques to cultivate a more mindful state.  Whilst I have explored a multitude, I have only touched the surface. They are becoming increasingly sophisticated and can be tailored to our aims, lifestyle and personalities.  Surgically precise meditation exercises can improve our faculty of attention and response. A technique called ‘Wim Hof Method*’ can enable us to voluntarily activate the autonomic nervous system.

Each one of us will embrace ‘mind training**’ at some point.  Now, in a year, in ten? I wonder…

I love talking about mindfulness. I love communicating what I’m learning from this practice and exchanging ideas. Every communication is my nourishment.  When you’re interested, when you’re ready, please get in touch.  Let’s help each other to grow.

* Link to scientific article here.

** Mind is defined as ‘the faculty of consciousness and thought’.

 

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