Reading People

time lapse photography of people walking on pedestrian lane

Does understanding lead to empathy?

In the book ‘Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything,’ blogger and book addict Anne Bogel examines the various methods we use to define and understand personality.

Like most folks, I’ve taken personality quizzes online and have categorized myself with the Meyers-Briggs method (not that I can remember the results at the moment). Bogel uses a different approach.

Instead of a focus on labeling and the judgement that implies, this book offers a gentle approach to the quirks we all have and the similiarities we share. Seems to me the focus was on acceptance, tolerance and open mindedness – qualities I can always use a little more of!

This is an excellent topic for journaling, as the things that are most exasperating about others may be qualities we ourselves own.

Exercise: Choose one person whose personality seems to clash with yours, and write out the specifics. Are they “too” noisy, too quiet, too messy, too neat, too lazy, too much of a perfectionist? Then write about a person whom you admire: what specifically do you like about them?

Writing to the Higher Self

white angel illustration

When we have a troubling relationship with another, the waters often calm when we take pen to paper and write to that person’s higher self.

This practice bypasses the human side and gets right to the soul. Spiritual author Catherine Ponder writes about this concept in the book ‘The Prospering Power of Love.’ She notes that when disputes, ill feelings or malaise arise between her and another person, she writes to that person’s higher self, asking for guidance and affirming right results. Inevitably the relationship either improves or harmoniously dissolves.

I have used this form of journaling over the years, mostly, I admit, when other tactics fail. It has always worked to bring me peace of mind and I believe has caused a miracle or two.

Exercise: Select a frazzled relationship and during your journaling time, write a letter to that person’s higher self. Write as specifically as possible of your struggles and ask for guidance and clear direction. Close with gratitude. Watch what happens.

The Beginner’s Mind

questions answers signage

‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s, there are few.’ – Shunryu Suzuki

What’s wrong with being a beginner? Everything, it seems.

We live in an age of expertism. Through all forms of media, we’re told that there is someone who knows all about that – whatever that is. Often, they’re willing to tell us, sometimes for a price.

In the midst of all this, something is lost, and that is the willingness to learn, to be open, and to ask the true teacher, the one within.

Getting quiet and asking – sometimes over and over – is a skill I’m still learning. Journaling helps with this, as I believe it’s one of the most effective ways to tap into the inner wisdom we all share.

I know there is no question too large or too small for the inner guide to answer. Part of the fun in writing as a conversation is discovering answers I knew all along.

Exercise: Choose a specific question you would like an answer to, something simple, about your daily life. Write it at the top of a page, and then freewrite for a page. Don’t be discouraged if an answer doesn’t appear immediately. The writing may be priming the pump, and answers that don’t appear on the page often arise unexpectedly as we go about daily life.

Three Rooms

home real estate

Stay where your feet are. – Anonymous

By now, we all know how important it is to stay in the present moment. I’ve heard many speakers talk about this, I’ve read books about the Now, I’ve followed my breath and snapped a rubber band around my wrist when my mind wandered into the past or the future. Still, it’s a struggle!

I heard a talk that illuminated the idea for me. The speaker said to visualize our minds as having three rooms: Past, Present and Future. Throughout the day, our thoughts may move in between the rooms.

Noticing which room we are in, and returning to the room of the Present, is awareness. Done consistently, the practice could (I’m hoping) become automatic.

This one resonated with me. I can visualize three rooms; I’ve watched enough episodes of House Hunters for that. I’ve been using this analogy and it’s fun. Oops! I think as I drift to the left (for some reason, the Past is to the left, probably for what’s left behind.) The future is to the right, out yonder on the horizon. The Present, of course, is right in the middle.

Exercise: At the end of your day, think back to the three rooms in your mind. Which events or activities activated a shift into the Past or Future room? Write about those times.


sky space moon outdoors

The moon has been so big and bright lately. Some early mornings when I go out to walk it’s as if an extra streetlight has sprung up overnight.

Looking up at that vast sky always centers and calms me, and brings me to my true sense of place. Here I am, trudging along consumed with my own thoughts, while this grandeur is going on all around me.

C.S. Lewis once said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

I don’t claim to be an expert on that underrated virtue. I do know that when I remember the world doesn’t revolve around me, and that I am not the Creator but one of the creations, I tend to have more peace of mind, less anxiety and fewer tendencies to people please or seek accolades. My focus shifts naturally from ‘doing’ to ‘being.’

I’m still a ‘doer.’ I’m just less tied to the outcome.

Exercise: Write this sentence at the top of your page, and then go on and finish the page. “Today (or yesterday, if you write in the morning), was I a human being or a human doing?”


Sacred Objects

close up photo of arranged stones

I’ve been finding heart shaped rocks all over the place lately. Last week I brought one home and placed it on my dresser. That evening I read about a man who prays using a special object to center him. His object was a stone that said “Faith.”

Immediately I thought of “my” rock, and that night I wrote in my journal while holding the stone in my left hand. Journaling, of course, is a form of prayer.

I felt a little goofy doing it, but it seems to be working. I am reaching a level of clarity in my thoughts, and am experiencing more peace since I began this practice.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Exercise: Find a sacred object of your own, and either hold it in your hand, place it in your pocket, or set it where you can see it before you begin journaling. Write at the top of the page: “What do I need to know right now?” and go on from there.

Just Show Up

adult business desk document‘90% of life is just showing up.’ – Woody Allen

There’s a magic about the old Nike slogan, ‘Just Do It.’ When we put feet to our plans and get the body where it’s supposed to be, momentum takes over. Instead of trying to talk ourselves into something, we bring our physical selves. We act our way into right thinking, and right behavior.

I’m a big fan of action. Journaling is action; it’s taking time to communicate with ourselves. Just showing up at the page can seem like not such a big deal, but faithfulness pays off in this, as in any healthy habit. We all have much wisdom inside and when we actively listen, our lives improve by following the counsel of that inner voice.

Exercise: Just show up at the page today, with this question: “What do I need to know today?” Write, without stopping, for at least a page.