Tag Archives: self-awareness

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.

Having A Sense of Belonging

Having a sense of belonging is part of being human. It’s one of our most important basic needs. Where is your strongest sense of belonging? To a church, an organisation, a tribe on social media, extended family? Where is it that you feel most valued and recognised? Sometimes we can feel strongly connected to many people and many groups or ideas. Then again, we might move through periods of our lives when we feel disconnected, separated, perhaps lonely. Are there times when you have drifted away from an idea or a group and lost your sense of belonging? What was it that took you away, and what brought you back?

Feeling a strong sense of belonging to a greater community, a cause or even a circle of friends, not only stops us feeling alone, it brings happiness, motivation and wellbeing. What type of effort and practice does it take to build and sustain this connection?

This was the conversation that Conscious Cafe Skipton had when 18 of our community gathered in Avalon Centre for Wellbeing, near Skipton at the end of February. Here are the insights from the three questions we discussed.

Not Fitting in

  • Perhaps our sense of not belonging comes from feeling that we no longer fit in to a particular group or even a way of life. Something might have changed in us and we have outgrown a situation. The period of time when we recognise the need to separate or disconnect can be very lonely. Even getting older can make us feel this distancing from a way of being that has felt natural to us before, but now we are shifting.
  • It’s a big decision to acknowledge that we no longer fit somewhere and decide to remove ourselves from where we previously felt we belonged -whether that was in a church, a career or a geographic place. Even though a voice deep down within tells us to leave, it can still be painful. These shifts and changes in our lives can be viewed as exciting, but we can also feel alone, caught between a past we have known and left behind and a future that has yet to emerge or present itself to us. Maybe we lose our sense of belonging until we begin to recognise our new self and seek out other people and places where we feel a better fit.
  • These transit points in our lives can be both powerful and painful .. walking away requires courage and strength but can give us a sense of liberation even if initially we might feel the loss of the familiar reference points that gave us comfort or that we were attached to.

Negative Thinking

  • Comparing ourselves to others is a negative way to think. Doing so can cause us to judge ourselves harshly and is a surefire way to make us feel separate. Having a sense of feeling inferior, less than or not equal to can really damage our right to feel that we belong.

Feeling the Difference

  • People from mixed race heritage can feel different as they grow up between the two different cultures of their parents. Being exposed to two different worlds and not feeling like they fit in to either. People can feel at odds with a family or community’s cultural expectations placed on them that are not in sync with a local culture that they are also growing up in.
  • For a variety of reasons, people have described feeling like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that is in the wrong box.

Where, when and how is the Strongest sense of Belonging felt?

Our discussions led us to express six key ways that help us connect and make us feel that we belong.

  • Family: the close bonds of connection with blood family are strong for most people but for some there can be one key relationship in their family that is their strongest anchor point. A pivotal and close relationship with a parent, sibling or child can provide deep nourishment and a feeling of safety where anything can be shared. Not everyone has this blessing.
  • Place has power: wanting to move to a different town or area, somewhere that calls to us at a certain time in our lives. Here we can make a fresh start, be inspired by the landscape, enjoy more activities and community perhaps in a more populated place, or simply feel like we are coming home, whether there is family there or not.
  • People: longstanding friendships that take us through the years, these provide deep nourishment if we are lucky to have them. New friendships are valuable too, particularly if we find friends with whom we can be our authentic selves. Being with others is important and many express a preference for the one-to-one contact rather than group gatherings where they can have an increased sense of isolation. As much as people can feel lonely or disconnected when they are in the company of others – perhaps at a social party with many strangers – if the gathering is mindful or purposeful, then we can actually feel deeply connected to a large group of strangers. Odd as it may seem, the reason that people gather, and the degree to which people are willing to open their hearts, seems to be more important than the quantity of people present.
  • Ritual & Ceremony: we feel the power of this and mourn the loss in our modern life. We recognise how this can unite us. The right kind of facilitation can change a group of strangers into a connected community in a very short time by providing an open forum for sharing. When we have the opportunity to see and understand our shared meaning, a community can be brought together quite easily. Grayson Perry did four programmes on Channel 4 about rituals for Death, Birth, Marriage and Coming of Age. These are still available for viewing online.
  • Spiritual Power: aside from what is happening in our lives, where we live and who we have the opportunity to meet (or not) we can always develop our own inner world of connection through our spiritual practice of choice. This can be done in a group, a church or an organisation that values mindfulness and meditation practice. Even then, there is no need to belong to a particular group when a personal practice of meditation and reflection can make us feel connected to a higher power that we can reach anytime. It gives us a transcendent ability for us to feel connected to everyone and everything, and continued practice can help us to sustain these feelings.
  • Purpose: we can feel a deep sense of belonging when we can engage in work that aligns with our values and which feeds our life purpose. Through work, we can find connection with others who share our values, our vision in the world and our role in it. If we are lucky enough to do what we feel we are here to do, that can give a strong sense of fitting in to the world in the right place and at the right time. That is powerful belonging, particularly when we are able to to set aside our differences and look forward to a greater cause alongside others who feel the same.

What helps us to shift, feel more connection and increase our Sense of Belonging – how to feel less lost?

  • Acceptance: accepting yourself and what is, is a big first step to belonging. We can’t ask others to do what we are not able to do for ourselves.
  • Self-Awareness: instead of us focusing on any difference we see in ourselves, turn that around so that we recognise and accept our own uniqueness.
  • Growth: understanding that we are always growing and evolving. Yes, that can sometimes present us with difficulties but that is what makes us grow.
  • Values: aligning with a strong cause can re-enforce our sense of belonging. Attaching our professional and work identity to something important that makes a difference that aligns with our values.
  • A new Third Age: later in life after retirement where our sense of purpose was totally wrapped up in our work, it is good to discover new ways to express ourselves and create a sense of belonging from other areas of our lives.
  • Open up: be more curious. Be willing to express our vulnerability. Allow new people and experiences into our lives.
  • Join in: deciding to say ‘yes’, make an effort. Sharing experiences with others.
  • Decide: making a decision to move forward, setting the intention, meeting the universe half way so we can attract in what we need. Step out of your comfort zone – push yourself.
  • Deeper connection: listen deeply to others. Concentrate on what we have in common instead of what might us apart.
  • Widen your circles: find a group that shares your interests or passions. Be open to connecting with people outside of your normal like-minded circle.
  • Follow the Love: open your heart – you get what you give. Be more loving and feel the love come back to you.

Our Conscious Cafe Circle: what were people taking away from the evening?

 

People thought the discussion was thought-provoking, enjoyed the different ideas expressed and liked having the opportunity to contribute and be heard.

More about Conscious Cafe Skipton events on our Facebook page.

Reflections on Love in Singapore

Hanna Krasnodebska with some of the members of the recently launched Conscious Cafe Singapore group

On Tuesday 26th February 2019, Conscious Cafe’s Singapore Group met at the cosy Reading Room to discuss the theme of “Love and Loving practices”, fitting with February’s holiday sentiments.

Hanna Krasnodebska, the group’s leader, started with the notion that love is an energy, and the highest frequency which connects us with the deepest part of ourselves; how love influences human biology, creating an internal environment for nourishment, connection and well-being.

The group discussed aspects of love in the context of forgiveness and gratitude, the giving and receiving. We talked about unconditional love, parental love as experienced from both familiar perspectives, that of a child in a family, and that of a mother who created and raised a family. One of our participants offered an insight: “a woman who experiences a rhythm of cycles has unique path marked with milestones of puberty, potential motherhood, life creating and nurturing family, menopause and becoming of a wise woman, a guiding elder.”

We explored self-love and how we find it challenging to accept ourselves as we are; how the family, community and wider environment influences us in our “quest for love and its expression”. 

The gathering comprised of women and we observed that it would be very interesting and complementing to have a male perspective.

All Good Vibes for Conscious Cafe Geneva

Since it’s humble beginnings, Conscious Cafe Geneva’s meetings have taken place at the MLC Café-Littéraire, a charming coffee-cum-bookshop in the heart of Carouge, run by the lovely Francis. Due to ongoing renovations, the café is set to close for while, which set group leader Debbie King the task of finding a new space.

“I thought it would be REALLY difficult,” says Debbie. “So I set aside a day to go hunting for one in Geneva, thinking it would be the first of several expeditions. And guess what – I found three! Not a single person refused me. At the venue I liked the most, the patron simply opened his arms and said ‘of course! Walk this way and look at this little room beside the bar which you can have all to yourselves FREE, whenever you want.’ AMAZING.”

Debbie left town feeling on top of the world, with the most powerful thought: the universe truly provides for a well-intentioned deed.

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.

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ConsciousCafe is such a wonderful concept and some pretty amazing people gravitate towards it.

Jessica Richards

I love Conscious Cafe- It was created by Judy Piatkus with passion, intelligence and love. Whenever I need a place to restore my spirits and hang out with like minded others, Conscious Cafe is my first port of call. There is a powerful sense of community and openness.Long may it run .

Malcolm Stern, Psychotherapist, Co- founder and Co-Director of “ Alternatives “

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