Yoda_LukeThis is about how to turn a great relationship into an even better relationship.

My mother, Jackie Isaac, of blessed memory, and I had a great relationship.

Truly, we had a lot of laughs together. We traveled together. We drank Scotch together. We went to funerals. We went to baseball games. We went to fancy — and not fancy — restaurants. She made candy for my plays.

She kvelled. And so did I.

Of Course, There Was Tension.
There's always tension between a nice Jewish boy and his nice Jewish mother. (Perhaps you can delete "Jewish" from that statement. But don’t strike "nice.")

We challenged each other. I challenged her to grow to become more like me. She challenged me to become more like her. We both succeeded. 

Yet tension was sometimes in the way. 

The End Of Tension
When Jackie was about 80 years old, I learned a Buddhist breathing technique. I adapted it for this relationship and it worked. 

Here’s The Technique.
When I would visit my mother, as I sat down for our conversation, I would breathe in with the word "acceptance" and out with the word "compassion." Just three breaths:

  • Acceptance (inhale). I accept you as you are. You are not mine to change. Your opinions are not mine to correct. I am not embarrassed about your perspective. I accept you as you are.
  • Compassion (exhale). How can I show my love for you?
  • Acceptance (inhale). I accept you as you are,….
  • Compassion (exhale). How can I show my love for you?
  • Acceptance (inhale). I accept you as you are,….
  • Compassion (exhale). How can I show my love for you?

That's It. Three Breaths. No Big Deal.
But it was a very big deal. Immediately, our relationship was perfected. At the very first visit. And it was perfected indelibly — for the rest of her life. 

I practiced the technique a handful of times. Maybe during three or four visits. Just at the beginning, as we sat down.

It wasn't hard to do. I just had to be intentional about it.

And She Knew.
Jackie had a keen sense of shifts in the Force.

"What’s going on here?" she asked one day. "Something is different. You are different. You are doing something. What are you doing?"

I laughed.  

So I told her, "I'm breathing in with the word 'acceptance,' and out with the word 'compassion.' Acceptance: I accept you for who you are. I am not here to change you. Compassion: How can I show my love for you? I'm not doing it all the time. Just a few breaths at the beginning of a few of our visits — and it has changed me and, I believe, us."

Jackie laughed…

What Happened Next.

(This is how I remember it. But, be warned, this might be one of those fanciful, self-aggrandizing additions to an otherwise accurate story.)

…Jackie laughed. And then she practiced this method with her friends. And their already great relationships were improved — to even greater — immediately and indelibly. She told me so.

(Or she didn't. I don't know. I often presume that truths are also facts. Anyway, who cares? It's a better story as I remember it.) 

What I Missed
I missed an opportunity to elevate my technique. I wish — it just occurred to me today — that I had substituted "admiration" for "acceptance." I admired my mother. Acceptance could have been admiration. 

I missed that opportunity. I'm sorry.

With My Friends
With gratitude for my ongoing studies at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland…

Especially with my Vistage members and coaching clients, I am going to breath like this:

  • Wonderment (inhale). What don’t I understand? What makes me curious?
  • Candor (exhale). What do I think and feel? How can I best express what is happening in this moment within me — and, perhaps, for us?

When I Travel
I change the words. As I walk around unfamiliar environments, I breathe:

  • Curiosity (inhale). What's that?
  • Creativity (exhale). Yes, and… 

Your Turn
You can play the home version of this game. Choose your own words. Or try the ones above.