How to REALLY Communicate

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Photo taken at the Tor, Glastonbury, UK

If there is one thing that has room for improvement, its interpersonal communication. There are only a few people out there that are really good at it, and well, the rest have a lot of catching up to do — including me. That does sounds harsh, but lets be honest here, communication wasn’t taught in standard schooling and isn’t practiced enough in a constructive way. The majority of the time, learning how to communicate came from watching our parents and feeling our way blindly through society. The communication I refer to is the common everyday interactions that tend to lack any real substance. How to REALLY communicate, requires a few key elements.

Trust:

In society today, trust is the element that is dangling in the wind — the point of view of the city life style. In small communities, trust is a whole lot stronger because people tend to know everyone anyway. However, trust plays a major role when communicating, it requires a certain level of vulnerability in an individual. Human connection is lacking in our modern day and, as time progresses, this connection will become weaker and weaker, if we let it. Not only is trust among people suffering, trust within ourselves is wavering as well. Learning discernment, and paying attention to how you truly feel are important factors to building trust within the self — this, in turn, will be reflected in our reality when communicating with other people.

Thinking:

Too often we don’t think deeply enough before speaking. A lot of the time there are reactions to what other people say and not enough responding. To react means to take what the another person says personally and immediately reflect back to that person an equally or more hurtful statement. To respond means to hear what the person is saying, understand how the person feels and use empathy. Its also important to be as clear as possible when conveying ideas and feelings with another person, as well as listening carefully.

If someone is in the position of the speaker and is leading a conversation which involves requesting something of another person, it’s best to be as clear as possible in order to not create confusion. In a marriage, a wife may say to her husband, in an irritated tone: “We never talk about anything,” implying she wants to talk about something more in depth. The husband could take this as an attack or criticism. He could also think: “We just talked about what to eat for dinner.” To communicate more effectively, and get what you want, the wife could say: “It was such a beautiful sunny day, how did you feel during work today?” This has the potential to open up a person for connection, more than hearing something that sounds like an antagonistic statement, rather than a clear request.

If the person in the position of the listener is left in a place where he or she feels they have to react rather than respond, its best to pay close attention to what the speaker is saying and choose a response that appropriately fits the situation. For example: A customer may say to a store employee: “You’re an asshole for not letting me use the restroom!” As a response to that customer, the store employee could say: “It seems you’re very frustrated at the moment, since you really need to use the toilet, however, next door has toilets that are open to the public.” The store employee does two things here; first, he or she doesn’t take personally what the customer has said to him/her; and secondly, assists in providing a solution that would fulfill the customer’s need. We all know the need to use the restroom has the potential to prevent us from being calm. In other situations, listening could require additional empathy, refer to my blog about Listening.

Finding the Bravery:

To open up and connect with another person you don’t know demands a lot of courage. A lot of people out there, including myself, are genuinely shy people — undercover introverts. However, if the desire to make connections is there, certain steps need to be taken. The first step is to assure yourself that the other person is NOT going to destroy you. As a person taking initiative in starting a conversation, it can be nerve-wracking, as negative thoughts about how the other person will perceive you seep into your mind. You begin to sweat, stutter, or loose track of what you wanted to say to begin with — take your time. The second step is to be confident in who you are, that means don’t be afraid to talk about yourself, but don’t forget to listen to what the other person has to say about themselves too. Often times, when you start a conversation, you find a common interest and things progress organically — that’s the goal! The third step is to realise that not everyone is going to want to connect with you right away — or at all — and that is perfectly fine. Keep in mind that the people who come into your life are meant to, even if things look horrible.

In short, how to REALLY communicate requires, trust, thinking, empathy and responding. With these tool at your disposal you’ll see yourself much more clearly and thus you’ll see other people a lot more clearly, too. You’ll establish connections that’ll be much more solid and long-lasting — that’s what it’s all about. We’re here to connect with each other and grow, spiritually, emotionally and mentally.

Calm In the Mist of Chaos

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Photo taken at 233rd St, The Bronx, NYC

Standing at the platform edge in a tunnel, a man with a blue knitted hat leans over the edge to check if a train is coming. Only darkness is seen, he steps back and shifts his weight to his left leg. He looks around and sees the long faces of his fellow train riders, waiting, as they type away on their mobile phones, one woman looking at her face from the front camera. He shifts his weight to the other leg, something pinches him in his pocket. As he reaches in, he frowns questioningly at a half bent paper clip. The screeching of iron on the tracks grabs his attention as a train pulls into the station. The people and the man gather by the train door, they make a small opening for people coming out.

The train car is filled with all types of people, lucky for the man he’s entered a train that has no air conditioning. A small baby crying in the distance from discomfort, laughing teenagers discussing Pokemon cards, a woman with a disgusted look on her face — most likely from the heat. Holding on to a tiny portion of the handrail, an asian woman with a large backpack rocks back and fourth hitting his chest. The man’s frustration slowly escalates as there is no where for him to move to, no air to breathe. He notices the tension in his right ankle as he stands awkwardly to keep his balance— the train swaying this way and that way. The smell of armpits in the air, he tries hard not to breathe too deeply. Swirling the paper clip in his other hand he hears angry chatter of how hot it is in the train, as if it’ll make it any cooler he thinks to himself. He closes his eyes.

He feels the thinness of the paper clip, following the curves with his thumb, the muscles in his shoulders release as they drop a little. Slowly his feet position themselves in a way that he’s able to keep perfect balance— slowly moving the paper clip between his pointer and middle finger. He begins to see a light pouring out of his chest like a small waterfall, bouncing off the ground, the light flows, filling up throughout the train car. The light streams out of the windows, like fire blowing in the wind. A puncture of light comes out of his back, flooding the train car more. The white light, seeping through the connecting doors, finds its way, filling up each of the ten train cars. He can see the entire train as it appears to be blaring down the tracks, spraying white light at each station. Ripples of light radiating from his body, each person drenched in brilliant white light. He feels tingles in his toes as his fingers on the handrail loosen.

The man opens his eyes. Only four people are in the train car, lips hanging from their face, fast asleep. He realises he missed his stop. He looks down to see the paper clip on the floor, no longer bent but in its perfect form. He sits down, picks up the paper clip and rides the train until the end of the line, allowing his day to end when it feels like it.

How Quickly Life Can Change

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Photo taken near the country side of Mottisfont, UK

Of all the many little things I’ve noticed in England, driving has stood out the most to me recently. Not that fact that they drive on the left, but how drivers don’t heed to the people walking. This of course increases your awareness when crossing the street, however, it made me reflect on how your life could end in an instant.

Taking a shower one day, I came to a strong realisation— a lot are buzzing around these past few days and weeks— that we are living so tightly to our rules, standards and how we want things to go specifically, all for it to just disappear when we die. Some of you may think this will turn out to be some cheesy blog about living your life to the fullest and such, but the hell with that. Take a good look at life, go outside and just look. Watch carefully how some people walk right out into oncoming traffic, how some walk directly to the crosswalk and wait until that blaring beep noise goes off in order to make it across the street safely — its like that in England. I know, I know, it’s for the blind, but I think it’s more for the seeing. I have to question: What the hell are we doing in life? More importantly, what in the hell am I doing in life?

Asking myself these questions throughout my life, I’m trying so hard to do the things I love to do in my life. Doing my mediations, staying focused, keeping myself light, calm and clear in order to reach the goals I set for myself. However, many reasons are floating around in the cosmos as to why I haven’t been able to do what I love with full force. I honestly just don’t want my life to end without doing everything I can to make it the best. Also the chronic urge to help people within my reach and send out love to all — the low key humanitarian in me. Well, even that isn’t going as well since many backs have turned.

Writing this, I’m thinking how this is turning more into a journal entry than a blog. I know for a fact that many who may come across this writing may have been asking themselves the same questions. Of course they’re answers, but no one can give them to you other than you. As for me, I understand the old ways of thinking are falling away, transitioning into new ones. Facing my fears and breaking new ground is really showing me the possibilities of reaching what I want in life. They’re becoming more and more apparent, kind of like when a shark shows it’s dorsal fin on the surface of the water— you know it’s a shark! As the situations, people and opportunities in life, they’re there, right below the transparent surface. How interesting it is to have to go through so many experiences and meet so many people in order to do the very thing you’ve desired from childhood. I consistently think: what a waste of time. Then, realise when you do get to the destination, it was a great ride to get there and all you want to do is go on the ride again.

Authenticity and Blogging

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Photo taken in Dominican Republic

Throughout the last eight days, I have been participating in a thirty-day blog challenge with a close friend of mine from NYC. With each blog I’ve worked hard to produce pieces of writing that are authentic and close to me, however, some online magazines that republish blogs and articles have told me that one of the blogs I sent them for submission was in too much of a “bloggy” tone. Until this day I have no idea what that means, but it does raise alarm bells in my mind.

Being overall grateful to even get this kind of reply, I had to really think about my style. I strive to be as authentic as I can, writing in a way so that it feels like I’m speaking with you face to face. My favorite book, “Hector and the Secrets of Love,” has the style closest to what I want to achieve in my writing. The whole reason I decided to take on this blogging challenge is to practice how to use words in the best possible way. For the longest time, I believed my writing was the most horrible thing on the planet, and that my imagination can go far beyond the limitation of grammar and punctuation. However, being a film-maker and wanting to write my own scripts, I had to focus on creating texts that touch people’s hearts in a way that films can’t do.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my life being different and standing out; from presenting Japanese as a language portfolio in high school in order to graduate— Spanish being the only language taught at the time— to marrying my wife and taking her last name. I continue to ask myself: how authentic can I be when I do anything? As the years go by, it’s becoming harder and harder to be very different in a world filled with people all doing the same thing. Nonetheless, I still find some way to surprise myself and the people around me.

Blogging is certainly not an easy thing, especially on a daily basis. Spending a lot of time daydreaming, I tend to create things in pictures more than textual concepts. For so long, I’ve been training my awareness in order to take these daydreams and turn them into films, which was challenging enough. Now, bending my mind to be more aware of the philosophical concepts going on in my mind and translating it into text is new territory I’m venturing into. For those who know me, they would say I have a certain kind of wisdom to me. Blending the elements of blogging, visuals, philosophical concepts and wisdom into a 500 to 2000 word document without boring the reader sounds right up my alley for achieving authenticity and distinguishment — the joy of making my own words.

Only a few more days (21) until this challenge is over. I’m not exactly sure if I’ll keep writing every day after that but I’ll be sure to type away with a new heightened state of awareness. The keen desire for authenticity in all the things I do really drives my creativity and motivates me in life, and, it’s a fine time to take control and embrace this hidden talent in me. No need to worry, you have talents too, and they’ll be there until you are ready to see them.

What is More Effective, Empathy or Sympathy?

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Taken at Mottisfont, UK 

Probably one of the hardest decisions we have to make in our lives is how to be there for people or give people support. Much of the confusion we encounter involves our uncertainty about the use of sympathy and empathy. Naturally, many people lean to one or the other, but; what is more effective in creating a strong connection and giving rise to personal growth? To answer this question, we first have to know what empathy and sympathy are, keeping in mind that both of these traits can be learned —like most things in life.

Empathy:

Being able to be present with another person’s feeling is empathy’s playground. It means to co-exist with another, without allowing your own feelings to interrupt their current expression of their flow of emotions during a conversation. Empathy, you could say, is a non-judgmental state of mind in which all you’re doing is aligning your own feelings to the other person and seeing things from their unique point of view. In the state of empathy, there is a high degree of listening involved and understanding the meaning of words that are not said. For example, if someone tells you, “I hate seeing homeless children,” in a harsh tone of voice, an empathetic response might be: “It sounds like seeing homeless children really makes you upset, why is that?” By responding this way, you’re telling the other person that you acknowledge how they feel and are willing to further hear what they have to say. By doing this, you are creating a support structure and establishing a stable connection with the other person.

Sympathy:

Much more of a comparison of feelings with another person, often times having sympathy means feeling happy for a person or feeling sad. Normally it’s a reaction to how someone else feels and then matching those feeling with a same or different situation. Many would say that sympathy creates more of a disconnect, based on the fact that there is an invisible line of competition when it comes to the level of how someone would feel in a worse or better scenario. On the other hand, having sympathy can allow another person not to feel alone or isolated when it comes to their emotions. For example, if someone said to you, “It makes me happy to be able to watch my son walk for the first time.” A sympathetic response might be, “I know, I feel so happy too when I’m able to hold my daughter in my hands as she sleeps.” By responding this way you’re relating the same type of feeling in different situations, however, this can cause disharmony or create rapport, depending on the individuals.

What is more effective in creating a strong connection and gives rise to personal growth?

In the most popular cases, sympathy would be looked at as being the “natural” way to create a connection with someone; but how solid a connection? If a person is trying to explain how they feel, the consistent interruption of interjecting feelings can make a person more reluctant to open up further. Listening becomes much more rigid as a dialogue with a person who only gives sympathy; it will leave the speaker feeling like they’re not being understood. In a real life situation, if you take a moment to listen to how your friends, or even family, speak you can observe how in many situations feelings are being compared rather than one person actually listening to how the other feels. Responses that consist of giving advice right away or, conversely, trying to look at the brighter side of things, will not help the listener fully establish a strong bond with another person and this approach is most certainly not going to giving rise to personal growth.

However, from looking at the meaning of empathy you can see that making a lasting relationship is always possible. Allowing another person to say what they feel or think, without interjecting your own feelings gains trust on a level that exceeds that of sympathy. To be able to say what’s on your mind without judgment can open a doorway into yourself, allowing the progression of personal growth; for not only does the one doing all the speaking grow, but also the one listening. Listening to someone else’s experience and how they feel creates a union that dissolves the thoughts and feelings of separation — a state we all strive to avoid.

At the same time, empathy and sympathy are not only on a one to one basis, but can also be used on a personal level.

For the majority of my life, I would say, I’ve suppressed my own feelings when it came to many relationships and friendships. I was overly worried about other people’s feelings that my own discomfort was reflected back by those same people. For example, back when I first joined the US military, I did basic training before moving on to job specific training, which took place in Maryland. I met a beautiful girl who I thought was “THE ONE”. We immediately connected, and I knew I liked her and she liked me. After a while, and once I had the freedom to move off base, we spent an evening filled with events like walking in the mall, going to the movies and playing pool. That night we really hit it off. However, the very next day things flipped like a hot pancake. Her usual attentive behavior suddenly changed, where once we had looked at each other with affection from afar, now I became completely nonexistent in her world. I couldn’t quite understand what had happened and I tried everything in my power to regain her attention. I went as far as to march the entire company we were in, roughly 150 people, in a cadence that was purely about her and everyone knew it. Even after my time was over with that training, I drove back down to Maryland from New York City to confess my love to her. From her perspective I was probably a complete weirdo, but from my perspective I thought I was being utterly romantic. I kept telling myself sympathetic reasons why she didn’t like me anymore, such as: “She probably doesn’t want a relationship because she’s going on active duty in Germany and I’m going back home,” or “I have to be more persistent if I am going to have a girl like her.” However, I never gave myself enough empathy and I never acknowledged to myself how I truly felt; which in those times were anguish and grief at being ignored. If I had given myself more empathy and recognised my own feelings, I would have probably accepted her not liking me anymore and simply moved on. The way she ignored me was a reflection of how I was ignoring my own self.

In the end, empathy takes the medal home for creating a much richer connection with others over sympathy any day. Especially when it comes to giving empathy to the self. Focusing on personal growth not only helps the individual, but is a key to helping other people, too. And, doing so with empathy will take you much further than sympathy ever will, even if it comes at the cost of being alone.

True Stories: A Milkshake

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Disclaimer: The following story happened a year ago in NYC.

For some reason after watching a T.V. show, I wanted to have a milkshake. After countless stomach pains I got from having milkshakes in the past, I was a bit reluctant about the idea of going through the discomfort. However, I still wanted to experience the sensation of sipping on a strawberry shake through a straw while watching more shows on Netflix. I decided to take a trip to Burger King, which was right across the street from where I lived.

Standing in line, all I thought about was the agony I was going to feel after drinking it. I questioned myself: Why in the hell am I getting this if I all I’m going to do is suffer after? As I was about to turn around and leave, I remember a experiment that Dr. Masaru Emoto did involving how thoughts, words and music change the molecular structure of water in both positive and negative ways; I wanted my milkshake to have as much positivity as possible so my stomach wouldn’t suffer. Since the people making the milkshake were behind the counter and did not have enough time to attach words to the cup or play music, I’d have to get positivity into it from a different angle. I figured if I got the people preparing the milkshake to do so with a positive intention then I could get what I wanted. But, how exactly could I do that?

Approaching the counter, still not sure about what to do, I asked for my milkshake but then proceeded to ask: “Can you put some extra love in it please?” The woman behind the counter looked me straight in the eyes and said, “What’s love?” I made a bewildered face and said, “You don’t know what love is?!” The woman snickered and looked over to another woman at the drive-thru window. She called out to her and the woman looked back at her. “Do we have love here?” she asked jokingly. The people behind me started to laugh, I tried to keep a serious face as I was determined to get love into my milkshake. The woman by the drive-thru said “I don’t know what that is.” The woman behind the counter laughed out loud, then walked off to find another person in the back. She continued to ask if there was any love in the store and everyone replied questioningly. Everyone behind the counter was smiling, their faces revealing a bit of confusion. I thought to myself, I must be the craziest person to ask such a thing; my arm pits filled with sweat.

From all the smiling and lighter movements the people behind the counter were making, I wasn’t exactly sure if I achieved what I wanted— but they sure couldn’t stop talking about it. I stood there the entire time it took for my milkshake to get into my hands, sarcastic remarks flapping around the room, like a sea lion at sea-world. Even other customers had joined in and were joking about how they wanted love in their food too.

It wasn’t until later, drinking my milkshake at home and watching my T.V. shows that I realised that it did taste a lot better. Also, after a few days I noticed I didn’t have the usual harsh stomachache like I always did. I wonder if it paid off doing what I did. Or maybe, it was all in my head.

A Letter to my Teenage Self

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Photo, courtesy of a junior high school friend.

Dear Kevin,

    This letter may seem very weird, but I am writing you from seventeen years in the future.  Noooooo, this isn’t a random person, I’m actually you.  I chose to write you, at your current age of fifteen, because it’s the time where you’re starting to wake up from your depression.  You may not understand fully what I’m saying, but you’re becoming more aware of yourself and doing slightly better in school — after witnessing your mother cry over your ongoing low grades.  This is also the time where you’re writing more poetry and in love with a girl who wants nothing to do with you.  
    I’m writing you because there are a few things I’d like you to do for me.  The first, is to never stop loving people the way you do.  I know it’s very difficult as you are trying the best you can to get the attention of the girls your age, it seems all the stuff you’ve learned from watching romantic movies isn’t working.  However, I’d like you to keep doing what you’re doing with full confidence.  It’s important because your heart is magnificent and brilliant — it may not seem that way to others but trust me, later on you’ll see that it really is.  Second, I want you to really pay attention to the people who you’re reaching out to.  Many of them will push you away, others will use you for your kindness, again, keep doing what you do with full confidence.  Help those people, be there for them with an open heart.  They won’t say it, but they do honestly appreciate what you’re doing for them and with this pay close attention to how YOU feel about them.  You’ve already doubted yourself about certain things and people, and it cost you.  That day you got punched in the face and chipped your tooth is a result of not listening to your instinct to walk faster with your friend.  I’m not saying that to make your feel bad, just to jog your memory of a time not so long ago.  Third, I need you to not beat yourself up about being shy.  This trait will prove useful in the future, but for now, accept it as a part of who you are and when you hear the small voice inside urge you towards certain people who you can talk to; go for it!  Fourth, is that small voice.  I know you can hear it and a lot of the time you want to rebel against it.  That’s fine, rebel all you want, however, lets play a game.  For all the times you listen to that voice, note how often you feel good after following it, and, note how bad you feel from not listening to it.
    Lastly, I want to leave you with some words that may seem weird to you: I love you!  The element you’ll probably block out from messages  around you is self love.  Remember that I love you, seventeen years into the future.  I also know what you’re thinking: I’m not telling you anything to avoid or change, but believe me, from writing this to you it’s the result of going though the things you are about to go through and for that; we wouldn’t want to change it.  Keep your head held high and stay confident, things can’t get any worse than they already are.  Trust me.



P.S.  
    As a matter of fact, from May until the end of June 2003, DO NOT eat Chinese food.  Yeah, I changed my mind.



                                            With Love,
                                            Future Kev