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In-between-places and unripe figs

I am feeling a little lost this week - lost in between things. In between deadlines, in between schedules, in between others getting back to me…overwhelmed at the growing to-do lists. Internally, it’s like I have no cell reception, frantically looking to see if I have full bars on my phone or something.

I’m easily distracted and feeling restless.

When I was in our yard this morning I noticed some brown/purple figs with brown leaves, but perched next to them were some green leaves and new figs. Our tomatoes, although still sweet, seemed like they were hung over from an all-nighter, and the garden in general looked straight-up sad, despite wild carrot tops hiding their treasures.

I am reminded of where I am: the shoulder season - when it’s not quite Summer and not quite Fall. It’s an in-between-time, which unsettles me. My intuition reminds me that these days are when important transformation takes place, and this morning I experienced an invitation to slow down, breathe, and observe the change.

Still, I soon forgot the invitation when I sat in front of my computer just a few hours later, with a hope of making the ‘in-between-feeling’ go away. It’s far too easy to spin wheels, tighten the grip, bear down and try harder…which (drum roll, please) inevitably makes me feel worse!

But what if I breathe and notice what is happening with a bit of distance and perspective? I just might find space.

Recently, I had a conversation with a tenant who shared with me that I had spoken to them harshly and had made them feel bad about themselves. This was hard to hear, and my first thought was to justify my actions.The impulse was to move through the discomfort as quickly as possible. However, instead of defending myself, I took a big breath and asked a really tough question: “Is there more that you want to tell me?”

At that moment, the energy in the room changed.

There are lots of learning moments at Co:here - where I work for Salsbury Community Society to operate affordable housing. I’ve learned that unresolved conflict feels like an in-between place, like a messy garden nearing the end of a season. And one effective way we can soften our stances when we are in conflict or opposing positions with someone else is through curiosity and positive inquiry. Because without a bit of softness, trying to solve conflict between two hard-minded parties is like biting into an unripe fig - it’s unpleasant.

When one person helps to create a tender place of vulnerability - a softer place - it can draw another out of their hardness.

When I asked the tenant if there was more they wanted to tell me, we sat there for a while. I continued to breathe and prepare myself for what could be coming my way. When nothing was shared, the person said, “No. I think that’s all,” we both took a collective breath.

It was only then that the tenant became curious about where I was coming from and our conversation went from there. The conversation that followed was soft and kind, and despite feeling difficult feelings throughout, our conversation was generative and constructive.

When we are in a tough spot or in conflict with another, it’s important to pause and seek some softness, in order to remain fresh and compassionate - making some space within us for something new to emerge.

Recently, I have been nourished with the ideas and words of Buddhist monk and mindfulness teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh. Here are a few practical ways that he suggests we can seek softness through thoughtful communication:

  • Set an alarm throughout the day that reminds you to breathe and come back to yourself.

  • Drink tea in mindfulness (or any activity that can be done slowly like washing dishes or rubbing moisturizer on your hands)

  • Practice silence and mindful breathing regularly (i.e. breathing in and out 3 times while smiling to release tension).

  • Write a letter to the person you’re angry with - prior to engaging with them (for your thinking, not for giving).

  • Listen and become curious about your inner child or wounded self and consider what they are saying to you.

So before I bite into that unripe green fig or push through the hard feelings of ‘in-between’ or conflict, I am going to try and find space to soften and slow things down. Knowing that with time, new things will emerge, like carrots and sweet figs, and it’s up to me to notice them. I might even savor them.

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