My stepmom was the best Italian cook ever. She loved to cook for friends and family at every holiday and gave me my first cookbook, inscribed with a loving message, a key to successful living. Mom said it best, “May you find joy and warmth in your kitchen – remember, it always tastes better if you add a little bit of love.”

She’s been gone 4 years now, but her warmth, wisdom and care for others continues to strengthen and guide my own aspirations for what it means to demonstrate what it means to love. She was a tough act to follow.

Mom aside, we just did Labor Day, the first holiday of the next few months. Holidays of any kind ramp up our expectations.

‘Madison Avenue to Main Street’ pitch, spin, and sell images of perfect family bliss along with every other saleable gadget under the sun. All those images of perfection are designed to create cognitive dissonance within so you will be moved to purchase what they are selling – which may or may not be an achievable story. And may or may not be a tough act to follow.

Times are tough. Families and friends are split over the uncertainty of effects of COVID19, politics, police funding, positions on BLM, protests across the country, upcoming elections – so much to parley and protect. It’s stressful.

There are also many of us who are unable to gather as a family. Spouses or parents may no longer be with us, others are gone from us, overseas serving in our military, separated due to fear of coronavirus exposure or unable or unwilling to gather together due to allegiance to personal beliefs. They just aren’t ready to connect.

At its simplest, we humans are either in ‘learning mode’ – open, curious, asking questions to learn more, or in ‘protecting mode’ – that state when the back brain takes over and we move into the fight, flight or flee model.

When in learning mode, relationships are fun, nurturing, and hold some of those perfect “Hallmark moments”. When in protecting mode, whether alone with your own thoughts & feelings or in a group, relating can feel like the WWE. It’s hard to hear oneself when overwhelmed with emotion whether triggered by loss or from a heated discussion in the moment.

Here is a simple self-care recipe to help you get through it and move from protecting to learning mode. It’s called, be your own PAL.

Take these key steps to greater relationship fulfillment.
P – Pause
A – Allow
L – Listen

Pause: Stop what you are doing. Breathe. If you are alone, go and sit in a familiar place. If you are in the presence of others excuse yourself and find a private spot that feels cozy and protected. If you feel like you can’t leave the conversation, take a moment to ground yourself in your body. Take a deep belly breath. Inhale slowly, hold the breath, and then release it. I like to inhale on the count of 4 seconds, hold for 4 and exhale on a count of 4. When I am really triggered, I will exhale on 7, slowly releasing the breath to the last second. Taking this action calms the parasympathetic nervous system and lowers the heart rate.

Allow: Notice emotions and feelings that may be coming up. Are you feeling angry, sad or hurt? Stay in the ‘no judgement’ zone. There is nothing wrong and nothing to be fixed. Your feelings are your feelings.

Listen: Take the time to listen to the sounds in your surroundings. The ticking of a clock, the rumble of an air conditioner, the tinkle of glasses or silverware, the sound of your own breath as you inhale and exhale. Be a witness and observe what you see and hear. In this moment, listen with your whole body. Those feelings that triggered you, what are they telling you?

Now that you have moved from protecting mode to learning mode you are at a place of choice. If you are alone you may want to write or journal your thoughts for further exploration now or at a later date.

If you are in debate or discussion you have options. You can Accept, Decline or Counter. You may want to Accept the current situation, lean-in and listen fully. If that is your choice, maintain your breathe work as you go. It will keep you in the moment.

If you decide to Decline to engage further let your counterpart know you want to discuss it but right now is not a good time for you. Invite them to circle back at a date that works for you both.

Or you may want to Counter with some other topics to explore together. If you include an invitation to circle up later when you feel more prepared, just be sure to follow-up and follow through.

For tips on how to make that follow up conversation easier to swallow or more productive, tune in to next week’s The Art of Living relationship recipe.

In the meantime, take a few minutes to practice being your own PAL each day. And ‘remember – it always tastes better if you add a little bit of love.

Just go to my website, or call 980.224.3554.

“Meet at the table. Leave together.”

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