L - Loving Alternative
This Weeks Video
This is Part 3 in the blog series on HALE, one of the key mindfulness tools taught in The Centre for Western Mindfulness’ mentoring program Pathways to Mindfulness. In the first blog in this series we looked at H - Halt. This is the first element of becoming an observer. In H, you halt what ever you are doing, thinking or feeling, and observe the facts of what was taking you out of your stillness, that is causing you to become discombobulated. A - After Effect is the second element of being an observer. In A, you take the time to recall (observe) what you have experienced physically, mentally, and emotionally previously when presented with this or similar scenarios.
In this blog we are looking a L, which stands for LOVING ALTERNATIVE. In essence, L is taking the time to consider or imagine what a more loving response to this situation might look like. Before exploring what these loving alternatives could be, it is important to remember that you are not expected to apply the loving alternative. The only thing that you have to do is to be aware of the possibility of a loving alternative. You may well ask, “So if all I am doing is just considering the loving alternatives, how does that help?” This is a fundamental principal of the western approach to mindfulness. The third of the five foundational principals of the Centre for Western Mindfulness states that healing is listening. We aren’t listening when we live our lives habitually. In the language of neuroscience, you are resorting to using the most established ‘old’ neural pathways in the brain when you function habitually. The minute you listen or become aware of what an alternative reality might look like, you begin to create a new neural pathway which results in having a choice to live your life differently. In this case, more lovingly. It’s the loving alternative that fosters healing.
Living a life committed to being mindful embraces an intention for love; love of yourself, of others, and of the planet. Given that intention, exploring a loving alternative in a less than loving situation is the mindful way to live.
If you aren’t naturally inclined to choose a loving alternative when presented with a scenario that takes you out of your peace, then this part of HALE can be challenging. It takes awareness (which is essentially expanded knowledge and understanding) to entertain a loving alternative. The Buddha taught that there where three things that blocked one’s ability to be aware; ignorance, avoidance, and attachment. Essentially ignorance is when you don’t know that you don’t know, typically meaning that you function habitually. Avoidance is when, through some form of suffering, you become ‘aware’ that you need to change, as your suffering could get worse if you don’t, but the effort and energy required to change is too difficult.
The third ‘block’ to being aware is attachment. This is where you expend the energy to adopt a more loving approach to life, i.e. being more conscious about your diet and exercise. In this case you choose a healthy eating strategy and stick to it, or maybe commit to an exercise routine and succeed, but challenging circumstances sees the wheels of commitment fall off and you fall back into your old patterns of behaviour, essentially an attachment to your old habits. Not only does your previous suffering eventually return but it is often compounded by the suffering that accompanies the shame and guilt of failure.
The loving alternative has to embrace two essential elements. It has to be both self-loving and loving to another. One of the biggest challenges we face is that many of us struggle to be self-loving. This makes sense given that in the West, the Christian model of love severely down played the idea of self-love. It was labelled a sin. Which is ironic given that Jesus said that the second most important commandment was to “love your neighbour, as yourself”. What many of us struggle with is understanding where the line sits between being self-loving (self-full) and being self-serving (selfish).
If fear is feeding the way we turn up in the world, we will be highly motivated to be self-preserving or choosing one or more ways to numb ourselves to what is going on. If those are our strategies for engaging life, contemplating a self-loving alternative will definitely take a back seat. Surviving our life-time narrative of one or more facets of feeling loveless and/or unloveable blinds us to the idea that a loving alternative could even exist.
So when it comes to being loving to another, that has its own set of challenges. Much of what we have been modelled around loving others in the West is called conditional love. That is, I will love you IF you behave in a certain way. From that place it is hard to imagine an approach to love that is unconditional, which is the type of love that is required for exploring a loving alternative in the context of HALE. Once again, the Christian blinkered approach to just loving others, as well intentioned as it is, when lacking the element of self-love, will result in burnout or compassion fatigue. Others can take advantage of your grace, or they can take if for granted. It makes sense that you would be reluctant to want to consider the loving alternative given your past experience of love. What a relief then, that even if you can conceive of what a loving alternative might be, you don’t have to act on it! This non-active approach to adopting the loving alternative will be discussed in more detail in the next blog in this series.
In the two previous blogs, I presented the scenario of a husband and wife with the core issue of the husband not being honouring or respectful to his wife. Let’s look at what considering a loving alternative might look like. Let’s set the scene. The husband has yet again left his dirty clothes on the floor, didn’t wipe down the shower after he had finished showering, and left the lid of the toilet seat up. Not to mention not putting away his shaving gear after his shave. Thank goodness this a just an imagined scenario!
Having applied the observation strategies of H and A in HALE, the wife is now ready to apply L, fully aware that she doesn’t have to do any of it. She comes up with three loving alternatives that are both loving to herself and to her husband.
Loving Alternative 1
She arranges a time to converse with her husband about this situation. This is away from both the bathroom and the immediate situation, maybe over a coffee. She explains that she has a more loving away for resolving this situation and would like to discuss it. In the discussion she states what the facts are that have been causing her to be upset and she also describes the facts of what she has been feeling, all of which is done without judgement or accusation. She observes how with all of the previous discussion nothing had changed sustainably.
Moving forward, she would like to set up a three pronged approach to doing things differently.
She will get some mirror chalk and write a reminder on the bathroom mirror.
There will be a weekly reward chart where he gets one of three stars each day for his effort. Green for excellent job, yellow for so-so, and red for bing-bong.
She will decide on the scale of weekly rewards if he manages to get sufficient green/yellow stars. There will also be a ‘special’ monthly reward for getting sufficient green and yellow stars.
Loving Alternative 2
This approach is a natural justice approach, more of a tough love way of doing it. Once again, at a time that is ‘suitable’, she explains the facts of her experience and that from this point forward she will be putting his items of clothing left on the floor in a box, the items of which she will not wash. She will only be washing them if he puts them in the laundry basket. From now on he will be using the shower, and find his toiletries in the spare bathroom. She will not be cleaning it, she will employ a cleaner once a week, to come and clean and tidy his bathroom. As finances are tight, to afford the cleaner, Netflix, Stan, and Apple TV subscriptions will be put on hold.
If, and when he demonstrates the ability to better manage his bathroom, then she will consider his coming back to their bathroom.
Loving Alternative 3
This is a more ‘spiritual’ approach to change. In this scenario she exercises faith in the idea that when something is observed it changes. In this model she practices observing the facts as previously discussed in H and A. The key here is that she doesn’t put the comma after her observations. No judgement, no anger or frustration. No wishing for things to be different. No complaining. She goes about having the bathroom be the way she wants it to be, just observing the facts as she does so. Once she has it in the way that she would like it, she again observes the facts regarding how it looks, and includes the facts of what he would need to be doing to contribute to it looking this way.
She could then entertain the notion of the change that would take place in the quality of their relationship if this stress wasn’t there anymore. She could then apply the same approach to any other scenarios where she is feeling less than respected.
Having imagined three loving alternatives, she might decide which one she prefers, remembering that she won’t have to engage in it, other than to be mindful that it’s a loving choice. From then on, whenever she goes to the bathroom, or the thought of it crosses her mind, she immediately goes to her preferred loving alternative and reviews it in her mind. This could happen 20 times a day. This is gold! The reason being, is that each time she reviews the loving alternative, she is helping to develop a new neural pathway. A new neural pathway that makes her old habits obsolete. In the next blog that explores E in HALE, I will be explaining why this is so important.
By the way, don’t forget the offer on The Centre for Western Mindfulness website to experience two free sessions from our Pathways to Mindfulness mentoring program. These are the primary steps to becoming the observer.
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