Share a Cup of Wellness

Share a Cup of Wellness

Once when my youngest daughter was ill with some childhood malady, she called to my mother, asking for a cup of tea. Her grandmother was only too happy to oblige. My daughter thanked her but insisted through her tears that what she wanted was some cup-a-tea. My mother was confused. My little girl explained that she could hear all of us moving about the house while she lay in bed, feeling lonesome and neglected. “I just need some cup-a-tea,” she repeated between sobs.

It took a while before we all understood that what my three-year-old wanted…and needed…was some company.

Every time we awake, from slumber or daydreams, we have choices. We want to cling to the good feelings planted within our brains from our rest and flights of fancy. Or we need to clear the cobwebs from our thoughts or get started on that nagging list of things that must be done. We remind ourselves that it is time to get up and get things done. This is what humans do; our lives demand it. All the thoughtful platitudes scrolling across our social media pages reminding us to relax and simply be will not get dinner cooked, clean the litter box or pay our bills for us.

Human psychology states we affirm wellness when we seek balance in six areas of our being: bodies, emotions, intellect, spirituality, occupation and community. We achieve and maintain wellness when we reach our potential. We also recognize that same need exists in others—we connect to help each other find full potential in all six facets. Wellness is a wonderful state to be in and to produce in others through our actions.

We can resolve then to make more conscious choices, ones that bring us into a desired state of wellness in all six areas. Whether we call our persistent thoughts habits or unconscious patterns, we know some of them are beneficial, healthy even. Others are less so, and there is every shade of gray between the two ranges. To strive for wellness then, we need to determine which are worth keeping and which need changing or casting off? How is wellness enhanced when we connect with others?

The calendar is filled with special months, weeks, and days that raise awareness for a variety of important issues. As humans, we love advocating, supporting and working together for worthwhile causes. We share conversation, food, feelings, thoughts and ideas because we are, at heart, social creatures. Reaching out to touch others, we find connections. Our shared humanness helps us to recognize that we all must do certain things to sustain health. The twin states of being and doing make us feel alive and well. We can also find this when we seek to bring wellness to others.

No matter where we are on the calendar, wellness is always a worthwhile cause. It is both journey and destination. A cup of tea is as good a place as any to start. Shared in the company of friends, it is even better.

Submitted to April 2017


Emotions, Part I

Emotions in Communication

I attended an all-girl high school in New Orleans back in the 70s. Although I was not a particularly spiritual student, I looked forward to Religion class for one reason: the nun that taught it shared an affinity for the music of Simon and Garfunkel.  Her class primarily consisted of listening to their songs and then analyzing the lyrics to tease out its possible meaning or message. Today, I cannot hear The Dangling Conversation, Sounds of Silence or El Condor Pasa  without being transported back to that three-storied, circa 1906 building that exists now only in my memories.  The dust motes dance in front of my teenaged self, sitting at her desk jotting down her inspired epiphanies. Music communicates! It touches our emotions in inexplicable ways.  Without a range of emotional experiences in our repertoire would we even know we are alive?

In 1995, Communication theorist Daniel Goleman gave us the term emotional intelligence, (EQ), which he posited was just as critical for our success as cognitive ability, and further, was also measurable. Goleman’s research set out to assess EQ, as well as prove the value of its effects on our self-esteem, perceptions and overall satisfaction with life.  Emotions are an integral part of the human ability to communicate, but what exactly are they?  We know from research that emotions can be influenced by many factors, including personality, culture, gender, societal norms, social roles and emotional contagion.  Further, emotions cause physiological changes, so we know that emotions are not simply experienced in our heads.  Without our being aware of it, our emotions often manifest themselves in non-verbal reactions. What we say and what our bodies say are interconnected – do we sometimes hear what another is saying without their saying a word?  Of course we do!

Although we may be experiencing a variety of emotions, our bodies often respond in very similar ways.  Angry people perspire, tense up their muscles and feel a rise in blood pressure, but so do excited and happy people.  How can we listen to what our own bodies are saying to us when we interpret our emotions?  Further, do we stop to reappraise what we felt from the distance of a few hours or days after we originally felt them?  This can be critical in our communication with others; we do not have to act on an emotion simply because we felt it. Being annoyed with a friend or loved one can be maddening, but walking away rather than saying something hurtful can be a relationship saver at times, can it not?  Yes words can be powerful tools to communicate how we feel emotionally.  But again, simply saying you are angry rather than acting out your anger is certainly more beneficial in most instances.

Emotions are tricky at best – we have little say so over how we will react to something we hear.   How do perceptual differences when they are so complex and multi-dimensional?  In the next blog, we will discuss how we deal with “incoming” data.

Emotions, Part II

How do emotions affect our ability to listen and respond?  

One line in Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer  has resonated with me since I first heard it in that classroom, especially when I consider the research on how we listen: “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”  Simon & Garfunkel certainly touched a universal chord with that line, didn’t they?  What did the popular duo want us to “hear” when they penned those words?  There are many interpretations, but for the purposes of this blog, let’s examine what that oft-repeated line has to teach us about our perception of emotions in communication.  Why do we only seem to hear those things that we perceive will benefit us, while eschewing other things that we perceive as unnecessary?   Moreover, why does the truth in that line arouse such an emotional response in us?  For me personally, the words tap directly into my frustration at so often being a bad listener.  In the next few blogs of this series, I hope to share a few salient points that I have learned, but not always practiced, about learning to listen more effectively and attempting to rid myself of some bad listening habits.

In an earlier blog we discussed the Schema Theory, which speaks directly to our ways of making sense of our world. We construct our realities based on our personal schemata, using them to attach meanings to what we perceive.  We are constantly bombarded with more input than we can handle, so we make unconscious choices constantly about what to “listen to” and what to ignore.  Following that selection of incoming information, our minds must arrange it in a way that makes sense to us.  We organize people and events, often generalizing them to keep things simpler, such as “all women do…” or “all political rallies are….”

Next we have to attach meaning to our perceptions – is he smiling at me because he wants to be friendly or should I interpret that smile as a romantic come-on?  Are you picking on me because we are such good friends and like to tease one another? Or are you genuinely irritated with my behavior?  Again, the schemata kick into full gear: If a friend teased you so badly in the past that teasing crossed over to bullying behavior in your mind, how likely is it that you will jump to that conclusion whenever this happens again?  Interpretation of this information helps us to make sense of it.

Finally, we influence the perception of others by a process communication theorists have termed negotiation. In its simplest terms, negotiation is the adage that there are two sides to every story.  If I perceive that someone’s treatment of me is benign teasing, but another person witnesses it and tells me I am being bullied, I have a choice to make.  Our interpretations are different; how do I negotiate this difference?  Do I stubbornly cling to my perceptions or try to renegotiate them?  Do I listen to what another has to say or disregard it?

To complicate things further, how I listen, what I choose to regard and what I choose to discard are all dependent upon a variety of factors, some of which I have no control over.  In the next blog, we will look at what influences our perceptions and assumptions?