Thwarted: When Life Doesn’t Go Your Way

A friend recently told me a story.  When her niece was 8 years old, the child was out at a restaurant with her family.  At some point during the meal, the child’s parents said “no” to something she had asked for, and with the type of sincerity and intensity of purpose that only a child can muster, she threw herself onto the floor and into a full-blown, kicking-and-screaming tantrum. She really, really wanted that thing.

And from her longing, and through her tears, she sobbed one of the most poignant sentences I’ve ever heard:  “I never always get everything I want all of the time!”

Who among us has not felt this way?  For me, the precision of this girl’s description of her agony ~ that life does not always, or often, deliver us exactly what we want ~ captures a tender aspect of the human predicament.  I can find this voice inside of myself.  Our expectation, our demand, that life give us what we want is a source of profound suffering.  However, if we take this truth as the Only Truth, we risk falling into the equally insufferable fallacy that we can never hope for anything from life.

A wise friend once captured the fragile balance ~ between our always-wanting and the sometimes-yes-sometimes-no of the universe: “Allow your longing to increase, for surely you can have some of what you want.”

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this blog postcard was meaningful for you, please feel free to share it with others who may benefit.

Grieving from the Inside Out: Part 2

This entry is the second in a two-part series called “Grieving from the Inside Out.”

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” Pema Chodron

Sitting in the pain, all you can remember is pain.  All of the neural channels that relate to this particular type of anguish are firing, and even if you know this, know that this is a trick of your mind ~ that right now, with your amygdala all worked up, your memories are temporarily sorted into bins of accessible (the painful ones) and inaccessible (the happy ones) ~ even as you know that this will pass, emotionally the pain is all there is, all there ever has been, and all there ever will be.  This distortion of reality is all there is. Time stands still.  And as it does, you would be wise to find a loving friend or guide or counselor to remind you that you are ok, that you are loved, and that you will not feel this way forever.  Because this is not all there is.  Not even close.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this blog postcard was meaningful for you, please feel free to share it with others who may benefit.

Grieving from the Inside Out: Part 1

This entry is the first in a two-part series called “Grieving from the Inside Out.”

For just a moment, right at the beginning, right when the ending becomes clear, when beginning and ending are holding hands and not yet ready to let go — the ending of what you love and the beginning of that long slow journey through heartbreak — you taste clarity.  It is momentary and precious and profoundly important, because without this glimmer, the descent into the necessary darkness would be unbearable.  I don’t know where it comes from, or where it goes, but there is a voice in that moment that whispers the eternal truth: “You are ok.”  You drink in that clarity because you have done this — grieving an unimaginable loss — enough times to know that the clarity is not yours to keep, not right now.  You have to let it go, because letting go is what is being asked of you.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this blog postcard was meaningful for you, please feel free to share it with others who may benefit.

Unconditional Loving Presence

Joyful Balance Counseling Rafia Rebeck Introducing Wali

First things first . . . an introduction to Wali, the gentle, sweet Boston Terrier who recently entered my life and my private practice.  Wali is an Arabic word that invokes the divine quality of friendship, and Wali is truly a lovely friend.  Animals lend an extraordinary presence to the therapy process, and while their unique gifts vary, animals are wonderful teachers.

What I have noticed most is the opening that Wali creates in the areas of boundaries and needs.  Wali is a friendly dog who likes to greet clients when they arrive, allowing them to either meet his greeting or to set a boundary and let him know they would like to have space.  Likewise, Wali sometimes gets overstimulated and will retreat to his bed to give himself some space.  Animals invite us to get curious . . . how do we let others know when we want them to come close, and how do we let them know when we’d like to be left alone?  . . . how do we feel about setting boundaries?  . . . how do we feel when our boundaries are crossed?

Wali is also very good at asking for what he needs / wants (usually to be pet and snuggled).  He models a form of shameless request, making his desire known and either gracefully receiving pets and snuggles, or moving onto other things (if petting / snuggling are not being offered).

And while I love these opportunities for exploring boundaries and needs, what I most appreciate about Wali is his unconditional loving presence.  At the heart of all good therapy is kindness and presence, and Wali embodies these qualities.  For clients who love dogs, Wali is a warm blanket across their laps, welcoming the totality of their experience.  For others, he offers moments of comic relief and sweetness.  I am honored to be folding him into the world of Joyful Balance, and am relishing all of the joyful balance that he naturally brings.

Why We Need Each Other — Part 3

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Watching the news these days can be . . . disheartening.  We seem so committed to “othering,” to shaming those with whom we disagree, to shutting down the voices we don’t like, to ad hominem attacks and violent attacks.  It seems that we can so little tolerate difference that we’d rather dehumanize each other than sit with the discomfort of the complexity that life offers.

 

But we need each other.

 

We need people who are deeply concerned about the well-being of the planet, and those living in poverty, and income inequality, and social justice.  We need people who ask how we’re going to pay for our social programs, who are concerned about security, who value individual ingenuity, who are deeply concerned about protecting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

 

We need people who create order and form and rhythm.

We need people who create art and connection and fun.

 

We need people who teach us how to trust.

We need people who teach us how to question.

 

We need people who remind us how amazing and whole and complete we are.

We need people who show us the ways that we could use some improvement.

 

We need people who have learned to sit with their discomfort.  Who have learned to pause and not react.  We need people who can make space inside of themselves for the pain that arises when they don’t get their way, or when someone doesn’t agree, or when they realize they don’t have any control.  Who have learned how to stand for what they need and want without demonizing those who need or want something different.  Who can sit in the center of the chaos and breathe. We need more of this.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPCC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this blog postcard was meaningful for you, please feel free to share it with others who may benefit.

Why We Need Each Other — Part 2

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We all have blind spots.

Recently, I noticed that I felt triggered —  frustrated, irritated — by someone (let’s call him Jay) after a conversation.  Jay had made some bold (and I thought offensive) generalizations about a group of people that I identify with.  I couldn’t believe the audacity of his comment, the brazenness of his generalization.  During our conversation, I noticed that I was triggered, so I told myself to slow down, to breathe deeply, to give myself some time and space to understand why I was so upset.

Afterward, I called a friend (a fellow therapist) and told her what had transpired.  I could feel the part of me that wanted validation, the comfort of knowing that my feelings were “justified.”  At the same time, I already knew that I had missed an opportunity with Jay to contact the feelings that lay beneath the surface of his statements.  I had missed a chance to connect more deeply with him, to be curious about his point of view, and to stand in my own point of view, even as it differed from his.  I also know that I called this particular therapist friend intentionally, knowing that she would hold me to a higher awareness, that she would challenge me to look more closely at my role in what I was feeling.

I had a blind spot and my friend helped me see it.  Instead of telling me I was right and that Jay was wrong, instead of pumping up my ego and creating more separation, she held me accountable to myself.

We all have blind spots.

They are innocent and unconscious, and also potentially troublesome as we make our way through the world.  Having someone we trust to help us see our blind spots —  in an atmosphere of positive regard and lovingkindness — can be invaluable in our personal evolution and in learning to live more comfortably and honestly in the world.  External reflection challenges us to see what we otherwise wouldn’t see — and maybe don’t want to see.

I returned to Jay and owned my blind spot.  I apologized for any impact it may have had and asked him to share his experience.  And from there we had an honest, engaged conversation about our differences, without generalization, without irritation, and with genuine appreciation for one another.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPCC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this blog postcard was meaningful for you, please feel free to share it with others who may benefit.

Why We Need Each Other — Part 1

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In a culture that values independence, self-reliance, and the Almighty Individual, we are easily seduced into believing that we can — and ought to —  grow and heal on our own.  One of the ways this shows up in therapy is when clients state emphatically that “You can’t love someone else until you love yourself.”

Hmmm.  Is that true?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the impulse behind this beloved bit of pop psychology.  Often it is uttered by people who have realized that they have been looking to others to fill a longstanding feeling of emptiness, of unworthiness.  They notice that going into relationship from this sense of lacking creates an undue demand on their partners (or friends, or family members), and the relationships either don’t last or are fraught with conflict.  They notice that they don’t regard themselves with kindness and they sense that moving into relationship from a place of loving self-worth might yield an altogether different kind of relationship.

By questioning this beloved aphorism, I don’t mean to suggest that it’s altogether false.  I’m just not convinced that it’s the whole picture.  While I believe that it can be helpful to a point, I think the bigger picture of growth and healing requires a more nuanced and paradoxical container.  Because while we may love more fully and freely when we have a sense of our own inherent worth and lovability, we learn how to love ourselves in the context relationship.  Our foundational sense of self (from which blooms self-love) develops through our earliest relationships; when our brains are not yet differentiated enough to even know that we are discrete entities, we are learning about our value, lovability, and worth from our families, friends, teachers, and environment.  However we feel about ourselves as adults is a reflection of accumulated relationships and experiences (as well as our adult capacity for self-awareness).  While personal effort and self-reflection are invaluable in the process of claiming our wholeness, so too are relationships with other people who reflect our basic goodness.  Our sense of self is more of a conversation than a static quality: my relationships inform my sense of self, and my sense of self informs my relationships.

For some people, the work lay more in learning to how hold for themselves the healthy reflection of worth that is conveyed to them by life and loved ones.  For others, the work may be in finding people who are able to offer this form of loving reflection.  Regardless, this is not work that needs to be done alone, in isolation, when one is “ready.”  Rather it can be supported in the laboratory of authentic human relationship.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPCC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this blog postcard was meaningful for you, please feel free to share it with others who may benefit.

This moment

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In this moment . . .

. . . a young man sweeping.

. . . college girls leaning, talking, texting.

. . . static rat-tat-tat of a recorded drum beat.

. . . man clears his throat, sips his latte.

. . . door opens, door closes.

. . . my hand on a cool glass.

. . . confused mind, looking for answer, words, meaning.

. . . gentle thwacking: flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop.

. . . soft breeze kisses shoulders, hair.

. . . the musical lilt of voices nearby.

. . . dog collar jingles . . . Rufus howls.

Each moment passing, replaced by the next.

This moment.

Now this moment.

Now this.

Now . . .

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPCC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this blog postcard was meaningful for you, please feel free to share it with others who may benefit.

The wish to be exactly as you are

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Who you are is just right.  You don’t have to bend yourself into a pretzel trying to be someone else.  You don’t have to work so hard trying to stuff yourself into a tiny little box that is never going to fit.  “But I am a dandelion,” you say, “and it is so much better to be a rose.”  It is wonderful to love the beauty of a rose, to celebrate its magnificence.  But that doesn’t mean that you are any less magnificent for being an iris (which sometimes smell like grape soda), or a crocus (the Harbinger of Spring), or a dandelion (which keep the bees alive).  Your way is just right.  Are there things you can learn and appreciate from All the Other Ways?  Of course.  Is the world a far more beautiful place for all that variety?  You bet.  “Perhaps if someone cared enough to put dandelions in a vase,” you think, “or tie up a dozen of them with a wide red ribbon, and give them as a gift, I would be important.”  But if you pause for a moment, you might notice all the young children who proudly pick a rumpled up handful of dandelions to give to someone they love.  You might notice that your sturdy presence feeds the bees (who pollinate the world and make the honey) all season long.  You might notice that you are the one who receives the wishes of all the hopeful hearts and carries them into the world.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPCC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this blog postcard was meaningful for you, please feel free to share it with others who may benefit.

What to do when you don’t know what to do

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Sometimes inspiration doesn’t come.
Sometimes clear mind seems as far away as the next galaxy.*
Sometimes our thoughts get a little too quiet.
A fog settles in.

In these moments, discomfort can drive us to get busy.
“I’ve got to do something about this!”
“Something must change!”
“I have to work harder!”
“This cannot stand!”
But the “what to do” eludes us, leaving a pallor of shame on our cloud of discomfort.  The very mind that seems to be blocking our access, then blaming us for it, then demanding we take action . . . also refuses to show us the way out.

So what do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Rest.
Allow the stillness.
Notice what it feels like to not know.
Rest some more.
Breathe.
Make breakfast.
Take a walk.
Watch rain drops splash on a puddle.  Notice the sun lighting up a daisy.
Then rest again.

The world offers us plenty of doing.
Sometimes, through an act of uncomfortable grace, Life offers us rest instead.

So rest.
The sun will burn off the clouds eventually.
Clear mind will return.
In the meantime . . . settle into the fog.

*Did you know that there are ~100 BILLION stars in this galaxy alone?  And that there are ~100-200 BILLION more galaxies BEYOND the Milky Way?  Kind of makes this moment of personal dullness seem altogether impersonal and relatively small and perhaps not such a Big Deal after all.

Ending the War

Ending the War

So many of us long for peace in the world, but we approach this yearning from a place of opposition, of pushing away from what we don’t like or can’t accept.  In effect, we take the energy of war into our bodies and our beings and somehow expect that peace will arise from the fighting.  We harden our hearts against those who we feel have hardened their hearts against us (or against Truth, or against some Ideal we hold sacred).  We place the hardening over there, in those people who are doing it wrong, and fail to notice that we ourselves are also hardened . . . frightened, closed, and at war.

I notice this warring in my Facebook newsfeed.  Folks I don’t necessarily agree with point their fingers at folks I may (in principle) agree with; then the folks I may (in principle) agree with point their fingers back.  Only these days the finger pointing includes a bevy of insults, derision, and personal attack.  No ideas are exchanged.  No one is listening.  No one is holding the space of open-hearted presence.  Everyone is so busy fighting each other . . . even the folks who claim they want to create a more peaceful world . . . even the folks who don’t outwardly claim to want this, but probably do want it on the inside.  Everyone is so busy fighting each other that no peace is possible.

If I’m honest, I also notice the warring sometimes in my internal “newsfeed.”  While I may not be one to engage in online conflict, being at war internally is not a more holy path, it is simply a quieter one.

We live in the atmosphere of whatever we rehearse.  This is a challenging practice to truly grok and really must be experienced rather than conceptualized.  If we wish for peace in the world, we must practice engaging from a place of peace.  We must learn to find peace in our own bodies, hearts, and minds, so that we can engage the outer world through the vehicle of that peace.  We must begin to recognize the war we are fighting inside our own minds, and choose to put down our weapons.  This doesn’t mean becoming passive.  It doesn’t mean stuffing our strong emotions.  But it does mean shifting our focus toward the kind of world we wish to live in, and moving from that place of peace, rather than perpetuating the energies of the world as it suffers and keeping the war going.  Because if we continue to believe that we are on the side of Good, and that the other is truly Other, we remain at war and miss the call to peace completely.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPCC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this blog postcard was meaningful for you, I invite you to share it with others who may benefit.

Don’t believe everything you think.*

*Or, why you are not your thoughts.

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“You are not your thoughts, my dear,” I said.  “You are so much bigger than your thoughts.”

She looked at me with bewilderment.  “I don’t understand what that means.  I’m the one thinking.  How could that not be me?”

One of my favorite — albeit colorful and slightly disgusting — metaphors to help people understand this principle is of a monkey throwing its own feces at the wall of its cage.  Monkeys in cages throw poo; it’s what they do.  Minds imprisoned by beliefs throw thoughts; it’s what they do.

Have you ever noticed that thoughts just seem to happen?  That you don’t have much (read: any) control over them?  Think about the last time you had to write a paper for school.  Either the thoughts come or they don’t.  You can’t will yourself to have the brilliant thoughts needed to write the perfect essay any more than you can will yourself not to have disturbing or hateful or self-aggressive thoughts.

So why am I celebrating this and not cowering in the corner of my poo-covered pen?  The quandary of the monkey mind lies not in the thoughts, or even in the Thought Maker, but in whether or not we choose to believe the thoughts. Rather than identifying with the monkey (the thought-making poo slinger), or with the thoughts (the poo), we can imagine ourselves as the space in which the thoughts are thrown, as the one who watches the whole spectacle from a place of detached bemusement, because honestly, it’s all a little funny.

Accepting that we don’t control our thoughts doesn’t mean that we let the monkey run wild.  If we are wise (or at least tired of the pain caused by our thoughts, which is its own wisdom), we learn to train the monkey (through mindfulness, cognitive practices, self-kindness . . . ).  We learn to question our habitual thoughts (“Is that true . . ?) and identify the core beliefs — held in our bodies — that are generating insufferable conditions of imprisonment.  With time and practice, the monkey learns to settle and may even start sowing flowers in all that compost.  Eventually, we may come to realize that the cage itself doesn’t exist and that our very nature is freedom.  So no, you are not your thoughts, my dear.  You are so much bigger than your thoughts.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPCC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this postcard was meaningful for you, I invite you to share it with others who may benefit.

Stepping into the river of guidance

Nothing Flows

I remember talking to a friend about money.  At the time, I was wanting to learn how to have a more conscious relationship with money, with a focus on saving and paying down debt.  This friend, who has lived in fairly constant struggle with money, offered me a spiritual teaching, about the importance of “not holding onto money, allowing it to flow.”  Now, I am not denying the profundity of this teaching.  There is certainly an energy of ease — where one is not resisting, grasping, tightening — that can surely serve the flow of abundance in one’s life.  However . . .

. . . this was not the teaching I needed at the time (nor do I believe it was the teaching my friend needed).  What I needed was a teaching about the strength in knowing how to allow money to accumulate so that it could flow more easily in my life.  If I continued to accidentally create the condition of drought — by “allowing money to flow” that I didn’t actually have — then the proverbial river would run dry.  And nothing can flow when the river runs dry.

This conversation illuminated for me the immense benefit that comes from having external guidance, of having a person outside of myself who I trust to see me clearly and lovingly, to help me recognize whether I am ingesting good medicine or simply following my sweet tooth.  I have noticed that I am often drawn to teachings (and quotations, memes, opinions, people, stories, etc.) that reinforce aspects of my being that don’t need strengthening (e.g., teachings on the importance of empathy), and that I can move away from teachings that don’t immediately resonate (e.g., teachings on the importance of developing strength).  Anyone who has spent any time reading spiritual teachings knows they are fraught with contradictions; this isn’t because spiritual teachings are hog-swallow, it’s because each of us needs different teachings at different times in our lives, to address our own unique constellations of biases and beliefs as we develop on our own unique paths.  Because of the very human tendency to move away from discomfort, it can be helpful to have another person helping us track, helping us see the places we don’t necessarily or naturally want to see.   This, for me, is an important function of the therapeutic relationship — having support to find our way to the teachings we need, so that we can unfold into the people we are meant to be.  And ultimately, with time, that external support develops into a wellspring of inner guidance that is overflowing.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MEd, MA, LPCC, is trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this postcard was meaningful for you, I invite you to share it with others who may benefit.

The Butterfly Effect

Nothing Changes

It can be really difficult to make changes in our lives.  There are so many things that fill our days and demand our attention: from family to friends to work to the many varied mundane activities required to sustain a life (buying groceries . . . paying bills . . . ).  In the midst of such swirl, the idea of making a change for our own personal development can seem indulgent if not impossible.  Often clients come to me in a state of deep dissatisfaction with their lives, yet when we turn our attention to what changes the client can make in order to move in the direction of happiness, out comes the laundry list of reasons why change is impossible.

Here’s the inconvenient reality:  nothing changes if nothing changes.  But reality always comes with a bright side, and the good news is that small changes can have an enormous impact.  Ever hear of the Butterfly Effect?  This is the mathematical theory that small differences in an initial event can have significantly magnified effects on a later outcome (e.g., a butterfly flapping its wings can impact weather conditions just enough to impact the trajectory of a hurricane that emerges weeks later).

Or try this on.  Imagine you are standing on top of the Earth, walking in very a specific direction.  If you were to simply alter your line of direction by a fraction of an inch, eventually — if you keep walking — you will end up in an entirely different place.

In other words, one small change now can result in big results over time.  Whether it’s taking a few moments each day to sit quietly, or keeping a gratitude journal, or learning to notice whenever you are being unkind toward yourself, or riding your bike to work one day a week — the small thing you do today turns out to be not so small after all.

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MA, NCC, LPCC, is a Nationally Certified Counselor trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this postcard was meaningful for you, I invite you to share it with others who may benefit.

Who’s Steering This Thing? (or “Why I Am Not a Healer”)

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I bristle at the use of the word “healer” to describe my work.   In the process of therapy, all change and growth and healing belong to my clients, to the wisdom of their own beings that draws them toward wholeness.  I am simply a space holder, a compassionate witness, a friendly resource, a guide who helps clients uncover for themselves the pathway back to themselves.

I can only walk with my clients so far along their path.  At a certain point, they have to want their own well-being badly enough to risk trying something new. Ideally, therapy is a place where clients learn to risk in a bite-sized way, in a supportive environment, until they are ready to risk more fully in their lives.  While I may serve as a steady hand on back of the bike seat for the one who is learning to balance, ultimately it is the client’s own inner balance that dares to risk for the sake of freedom.  It is the client whose hands grip the handlebars, whose feet turn the pedals, as I smile and whisper, “Yes. This.”

♥ ♥ ♥

Rafia Rebeck, MA, NCC, LPCC, is a Nationally Certified Counselor trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this postcard was meaningful for you, I invite you to share it with others who may benefit.

The BIG WANT and the tiny.little.steps

when-you-know-what-you-are-doing2Artwork credit: Marcos Perez

Once you have developed a habit of noticing ~ of mindful, gentle awareness ~ it is important to set a clear, simple intention.  You can think of this as identifying The Big Want.  What motivates you?  What lights the flame of inspiration in your being?  What is the guiding vision you have for your life?

While these questions can help you identify the big picture of where you are heading, there is an art to choosing a goal or setting an intention.  And research has demonstrated several ways in which we set ourselves up for failure in our desire for change / movement:

  • by choosing goals that are too abstract / lofty (e.g., I will conquer all of my fears) or overly ambitious (e.g., I will become fluent in a foreign language in three weeks);
  • by focusing on too many goals at one time (e.g., I will overhaul my diet, start a daily exercise regimen, work regularly on my novel, write letters to my friends back east . . . all starting now!); and
  • by failing to maintain adequate and appropriate resource (i.e., engaging the will takes energy and requires good nutrition, adequate rest, and exercise).

I invite you to recall your last attempt at New Year’s resolutions and notice how common it is to slip into these pitfalls of intention.  (Check out my post on New Year’s resolutions here.)

In order to increase the possibility of meeting your goals, experts recommend the following.

  • Attend to one intention at a time.  Touch in with the Big Want that motivates you, and then identify bite-size, manageable, attainable goals.  You are more likely to succeed by making successive small changes than by trying to leap from where you are to Where You Want to Be.
  • Make the goals clear and specific.  “I will refrain from eating refined sugar for three weeks, excepting one treat on Friday evenings and honey in my daily morning tea,” versus “No sweets.”
  • Keep your energy up.  Research indicates that willpower decreases as they day goes on.  Not only that, but we apparently only have one well of willpower to draw from, for all of the activities that require the will.  So eating good meals, with adequate protein and healthy fats, will help us maintain our resolve throughout the day.  Additionally, setting aside time in the morning (when willpower reserves are plentiful) for tasks that require our will (e.g., exercise) increase the likelihood that we will meet our goals.

Once your intentions and goals are in place, continue to resource yourself in gentle, loving mindfulness.  Notice how you feel when you meet ~ or don’t meet ~ your goal for the day.  Just notice, allowing the information to inform your resolve.  “Loving” is the key word to noticing.  If it isn’t loving, it’s judgment ~ and, more than anything, self-judgment is a surefire way to sabotage the will.  Part of this process ~ of loving awareness ~ is an acknowledgment of our present-moment wholeness, the realization that we are ok as we are, even before we engage a process of change.

This postcard is the third and final in a series on Engaging the Will.  

Rafia Rebeck, MA, NCC, LPCC, is a Nationally Certified Counselor trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this postcard was meaningful for you, I invite you to share it with others who may benefit.

Mindful-this: Stepping into Will

When you know what you are doing

Once we have decided that something in our lives is calling us to change, we must develop a capacity for awareness. I write a lot about mindfulness in these postcards, not because it is a popular buzz word in the field of psychotherapy, but because mindfulness is being demonstrated over and over by neuroscience as a fundamental factor in altering the mind, and by extension, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change, until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.” — R. D. Laing

The best first step one can make in developing the will is to engage a mindfulness practice.  This does not have to be a “Big Deal.”  Start with 5 minutes, ideally in the morning (our will diminishes as we grow tired), before your day gets underway (and everything else becomes More Important).  Simply sit quietly and notice.  Notice any sounds outside of the room. Notice any sounds inside the room.  Notice your skin and where your body makes contact with the air.  Notice any sensations in your body.  Notice the kinds of thoughts you are having (this is different from thinking . . . you are not engaging the thoughts, you are witnessing them).  Notice it all with an attitude of kindness.  If kindness is not possible, simply notice that.

The idea is to begin to exercise the muscle of awareness.  It is only with this capacity in place ~ the capacity to notice what we are already doing, what is already happening ~ that we can create the space to try something different.

This postcard is the second in a series on Engaging the Will. 

Rafia Rebeck, MA, NCC, LPCC, is a Nationally Certified Counselor trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting rafiarebeck@gmail.com.  If this postcard was meaningful for you, I invite you to share it with others who may benefit.

Where’s the Way to the Will?

Ready to Change

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way!”  This sentiment was perhaps crafted to inspire positivity and stick-to-itiveness in the face of challenging circumstances.  If the will is “the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action,” then the task, according to this platitude, is apparently simple: know your goal, intend it, act on it, and all will be well.

But if the will is the initiating force, where’s the way to the will?  Is the will an inborn quality, or is it a trait we can develop?  If you don’t naturally feel the force of will, how do you then find the will to develop it?

The first step is simply identifying that you want to engage your will.  For some people, this may be as simple as deciding:  “I have a goal that I want to accomplish, but I’m having difficulty taking the steps to get there.”  For others, it may require some inquiry into what they want from life. It may require nudging from friends, family, counselors, or colleagues who see, or are impacted by, their loved one’s stagnation.  For others still, it may require unpleasant circumstances that illuminate the limitations of not engaging the will:  “I’m suffering.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know what I want.  But something has to change.”

Ultimately, this seed of the will ~ the will to engage the will ~ reflects an internal readiness for change, and emerges on its own when the individual is ripe for it.  There is no forcing it into being.  There is only nurturing the conditions ~ warmth, encouragement, awareness, lovingkindness ~ that will awaken the seed to begin to crack open.

This postcard is the first in a series on Engaging the Will.  

Beyond Boundaries: A Treatise on Truthfulness

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I am an advocate for boundaries as an aspect of healthy relationship with self and others.  A healthy “no” is a strong step in the direction of discovering where “I” end and “other” begins.  At the same time, I notice how setting boundaries can sometimes feel like being split in two ~ as if I have to choose between the part of myself that wants connection and the part of myself that wants separateness.  It can feel like an either/or proposition ~ defensive, divided, and downright terrifying.

I want to suggest a shift away from the narrative of boundary setting, to a narrative of relational honesty ~ rich, radical, loving honesty ~ with myself and with the world, about who I am, what I feel, what I need, what I value, and how I long to relate.  If my focus is on setting boundaries, I can feel so separate from you or the world that I forget we are both simply human beings, doing the best we can in any given moment. I can forget that I actually want to connect, to be included, to feel a part of.  In setting boundaries, I can become overly focused on keeping you out, protecting myself, only to find myself alone inside of my experience.

By contrast, radical honesty invites me to stay in full awareness of my experience and to use this awareness as a bridge for connection with you and with the world.  Because only when we are fully honest with ourselves about our own experiences ~ and only when we venture to share this truth with others ~ can we come into real relationship.  This is not a call to forego boundaries, but rather an invitation into a paradigm of truthfulness and sincerity, where “No” is still a complete sentence ~ but one that keeps us feeling whole and connected.

Don’t Bite the One that Feeds You

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A dear client recently lamented how tired she was of hating her body.  This is a common experience, certainly among women but increasingly among men as well ~ the rejection of one’s own earthly vessel, followed by the exhaustion that comes from both rejecting the body and rejecting the rejection.  Can you feel the endless loop of this?  In order to overcome something we don’t like, we all too often shift into disliking ourselves for the disliking.  It is like a snake eating its own tail.  Popular culture tells us that the best way to support positive body image (or positive self-image of any kind) is to replace our negative self-talk with positive self-talk.  Unfortunately, for most of us this maintains an atmosphere of rejection.  One voice yells, “I hate myself!”  Another retorts, “I love myself!”  Each voice grows louder and louder until we find ourselves engaged in an all-out civil war, our bodies&hearts the battlefield, our souls the collateral damage.

In order to truly heal negative self-image, we must instead learn to cultivate an attitude of total acceptance ~ an internal stance that allows each experience to arise and pass through us, a loving witness to All That Is.  From this place, nothing is rejected ~ including the part of us that rejects, including the part of us that rejects the rejection.  All resistance dissolves.  This is self-acceptance.  This is unconditional love.  This is healing.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

 

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Beliefs and judgements have impact on how we relate with the world, but they also have impact on how we relate with ourselves.  This is one of the clearest pathways between external and internal.  If we approach other.life.world, with a set of demands and expectations ~ beliefs about how Things Should Be ~ we will approach ourselves with the same critical narratives.  If we attack the beliefs.expression.beingness of another person, we can be certain that the teeth of judgment.criticism.hatred will be bared in our direction, by our very own mouths.  If we nurture the inner dialogue that makes others wrong, that same storyteller will tell the tale of our own brokenness.

How do we find our way out of this quagmire of belief and judgment?  “Surely the way is not to abandon our beliefs?” the mind protests.  “Surely not that!”   Maybe.  Maybe not.  My question is simply this . . . how might life be different if you didn’t cling so tightly to ~ or allow yourself to be squeezed so tightly by ~ your beliefs?  Slowly the breath returns to the belly.  Can you feel it?

What would it be like . . . ?

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“All the wars, all the hatred, all the ignorance in the world come out of being so invested in our opinions. And at bottom, those opinions are merely our efforts to escape the underlying uneasiness of being human, the uneasiness of feeling like we can’t get ground under our feet. So we hold on to our fixed ideas of this is how it is and disparage any opposing views. But imagine what the world would be like if we could come to see our likes and dislikes as merely likes and dislikes, and what we take to be intrinsically true as just our personal viewpoint.”  ~Pema Chodron

The War Withall

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“All truth passes through three stages.  First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”  ~ Arthur Shoepenhauer

This month I will wander into the realm of Belief and Nonbelief.  There has been a battle brewing on the internet.  I dare not, care not, to name it, because its content is irrelevant.  It is the same argument at the root of every war ever waged ~ internal and external.   “I am right.  You are wrong.  And I believe this so fervently, vehemently, that I will deny your very humanity.”

This battle is older than words and is so woven into the fabric of our defenses that we barely notice we are wearing it, warring it, willing it into being.  The trouble is that when we stick our heels into the thick mud of our own beliefs, we fail to be curious about the landscape before us.  We forget to wonder, to question, to imagine.  As Einstein hummed, “I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious.”  Insight, innovation, and clarity arise only from the muck of Not Knowing.

I am not suggesting that there is no truth, only that the perception of truth is relative, relational, and deeply dependent on our perspective.  If I could have tea with Arthur Shoepenhauer, I would posit this idea . . . that perhaps truth wanders through an infinity of stages, ever unfurling and hurling itself against the walls of our beliefs, shattering itself, shifting shapes, if only to keep us in intimate contact with the value of the unknown.

And then I would shrug my shoulders, because the truth is, I have no idea.

If you need a smile to weather the war . . .  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sKdDyyanGk

Which wishes will . . . ?

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It has been a part of my practice for many years to create intentions for the new year.  But this year, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  My intentions in the past have run the gamut from overwhelmingly ambitious (e.g., “I will completely overhaul every aspect of my existence in 42 different ways, immediately, and all at once”)  to woefully abstract, intangible, and therefore unattainable (“I will embody gratitude”).  Too often, setting intentions felt like allowing my superego to hold my face to an irrational grindstone of perfection, or blowing wishes into the wind and just hoping that some magical entity would bring them into being for me.  More than this, my intentions always cast my gaze into some future state where I imagined my contentment lived, leaving a bitter aftertaste of “right here, right now ~ just like this ~ is not ok.”

This year, I couldn’t quite figure out whether any of this was actually very useful, or even desirable.  So I sat in the discomfort of wanting to both honor this present reality as a beautiful expression of Life As It Is, while also reminding myself of what is important to me. In its own time, a question arose.

Does what I am currently

thinking / feeling / deciding / choosing / expressing

right now, in this moment,

contribute to my overall sense of balance and joy?

Instead of a resolution, I landed on an invitation to self-inquiry, a way of staying as close to my own heart as possible, of being held by Presence itself, of walking a direct path to my own this-moment inner guidance.  And so I offer you the question . . . what question is holding you right now?  And will you let it?

Light bright, light bright

baby shine light

It’s that time of year. We sit in reflection of the year gone by.  We imagine ways to shape the year to come.  We shine a light on our own beings with the innocence and wide eyes of our own child selves.  We make resolutions. We are resolute ~ “admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.”  The days are waxing. The light is increasing. And in this moment everything feels so . . . hopeful.  Our intentions are so very, very pure.

But what happens next month, or next week, or tomorrow, or even (as a friend of mine experienced) 11 hours later (8 of which were sleeping) ~ after defining our new selves so admirably, so purposefully, so determinedly, so unwaveringly ~ what happens when . . . *gulp* . . . we fail?  How do we meet our own precious humanness? Is there shame? Anger? Disappointment? Self-aggression?  Or is there possibly, even in the midst of a swirl of negativity, is there the sweet, tiny voice of compassion?  Is there a whisper of our basic human goodness? A reminder that we weren’t really all that broken to begin with? A remembering that even with all of the _______ that we wish we weren’t, and even without all of the _______ that we wish we were, that we are still and always inherently lovable?  Is there . . . ?  Maybe . . . ?  And how can you tune into the light that is already in you ~ the one that requires no resolutions to shine ~ the one that your child self lived unabashedly, unwaveringly, without resolutions ~ how can you tune into that place of inner brightness and find out?

Letting Go of Your Agenda

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I recently attended a workshop where I deepened in my understanding of the importance of nonviolence in therapy by experiencing its opposite. A facilitator without any training in human psychology or therapeutic ethics, who has positioned himself to train healers in how to work with grief, approached his “client” (a volunteer from among the workshop’s participants) from a place of arrogance and control.  He was the Healer, she was the Broken One.  When the client answered his questions about a very personal and tender life experience, he called her answers “trite” and probed until he got the responses he wanted.  When she objected to his use of a sexist construct in how he was framing her experience, he stated that her “resistance” was evidence that he had chosen the right words, that her being triggered was proof of his theorem.  When tears welled in her eyes, he failed to tend to her immediate experience and instead spoke to the other workshop participants about how “someone who is not ready for healing cannot be healed.”  He completely ignored his seat of positional power and failed to tend to the human being in his care.  She and I found the courage to walk out together, fully aware that our unwillingness to accept this aggression would stand as further proof of our “emotional instability” and “lack of openness to let go.”

“Violence in therapy is not just deliberate, physical harm.  It is a failure to accept the whole person who is client, a person with his own story, her own ideas, images, needs, wishes, capacities, pace.  Violence is being too much stuck in yourself and your own agenda to really be healing for another.”  ~Ron Kurtz

Nonviolence in the practice of psychotherapy is an attitude held by the therapist that sustainable progress cannot come from force, that the subtle tendencies of our hearts and minds are too intelligent, too complex, too agile to yield to the imposition of someone else’s agenda (in this case, the therapist’s).  It is sitting with patience, reverence, and curiosity in the presence of one who may appear shelled-up or guarded but who undoubtedly is a harbinger of great wisdom.

It is my great sadness that such abuses of power and violations of human integrity occur within the field of psychotherapy.  It is my prayer that all beings find the courage and strength to see through such mechanisms of control, to trust their own inner guidance, and to find helpers on the path who respect their dignity and inherent intelligence.

Better to Retreat a Yard

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Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.
~Tao Te Ching

I want to write to you about nonviolence in the practice of psychotherapy.  I claim no perfection here, only a clear and sincere intention to live in the pulse of nonviolence.  This quotation from the Tao Te Ching comes in the context of a war metaphor (see full verse below). However, the generals referred to are those nonviolent wielders of wisdom ~Malala Yousafzai, Ghandi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, H.H. the Dalai Lama ~ who realize that true healing comes from holding whatever is happening in an atmosphere of Loving Presence.  Victory comes not from squashing one’s enemy but from understanding the true nature of things and engaging nonviolent means to support healing.  Of yielding rather than opposing.  In therapy, this means not approaching the client ~ or any of the client’s thoughts, feelings, impulses, tendencies, behaviors ~ as enemies in need of subjugation but as allies in the making, as gatekeepers to an underlying peace that yearns for freedom.

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The generals have a saying:
“Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.”

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.

Life will bring you to your knees.

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“Life will eventually bring you to your knees. Either you’ll be on your knees cursing the universe and begging for a different life, or you’ll be brought to your knees by gratitude and awe, deeply embracing the life that you have, too overwhelmed by the beauty of it all to stand or even speak. Either way, they’re the same knees.”  ~Jeff Foster

Learning to be present won’t take away the reality of pain, but it will eliminate the unnecessary suffering that comes from resisting that pain.  Learning to be present won’t shield you from a broken heart or prevent those you love from dying or offer you job security. Nothing can do that.  But it will allow you to face those conditions with grace.  It will allow you to remain in precious contact with your own sweet being.  It will allow you to experience yourself as something very vast. It will allow you to relax your grip on a broken umbrella and actually experience what it’s like to get wet.  And it will alter your experience of being brought to your knees.  Because . . .

“Life will eventually bring you to your knees . . . either begging for a different life . . . or deeply embracing the life that you have.  Either way, they’re the same knees.”

How To Build Inner Strength ~ Pema Chödrön

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“You build inner strength through embracing the totality of your experience, both the delightful parts and the difficult parts. Embracing the totality of your experience is one definition of having loving-kindness for yourself. Loving-kindness for yourself does not mean making sure you’re feeling good all the time—trying to set up your life so that you’re comfortable every moment. Rather, it means setting up your life so that you have time for meditation and self-reflection, for kindhearted, compassionate self-honesty. In this way you become more attuned to seeing when you’re biting the hook, when you’re getting caught in the undertow of emotions, when you’re grasping and when you’re letting go. This is the way you become a true friend to yourself just as you are, with both your laziness and your bravery. There is no step more important than this.”

~Pema Chödrön

It helps to have help

Penguins

So presence is the difference between pain and suffering, and being present is simple, but not easy.  This is where the power of support comes in. It helps to have help.

Having support in the process of learning to be present is helpful so that we don’t have to experience the overwhelm alone. We don’t have to know how to suddenly be masters of being present with our pain without having someone to learn with.

Having support is helpful because an outside observer will notice things that we ourselves can’t see, the less obvious ways that we distract ourselves from the present moment.

Having support is helpful because my being in presence invites your presence to come forward. It’s simply easier.

It helps to have help.

Being present is simple, but not easy.

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So what does it mean to be present?

Simple.

Just notice.

Just notice what is happening right now, and allow that to happen.

Notice your thoughts, your feelings, your physical sensations, and let them be.

Just notice.

Simple.

 

Being present is simple, but not easy . . . because when we first sit down to be present, everything we’ve been distracting ourselves from rises to the surface for our attention. and initially, this is experienced as an increase in pain. so we turn to distraction . . . because we are well-trained in the art of self-distraction – whether through watching TV or shopping, eating chocolate or having sex, avoiding conflict or inciting conflict, reading a book or exercising, drinking alcohol or talking about spirituality.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that these activities are inherently distractions.  It’s a matter of usage.  Do we eat chocolate to savor its sweet earthiness, or do we reach for chocolate in a moment of stress, in an attempt to escape?  Do we sit to meditate as a way of welcoming our experience and allowing it to be, or does meditation become another way that we abandon ourselves in pursuit of not-here-now?

All of the ways that we habitually distract ourselves from our present experience are like addictions. We feel the scritchy familiar discomfort or pain arise and we reach for our addiction of choice, in effect turning away from what’s present within us. So being present is simple but not easy in the same way that letting go of any addiction is simple but not easy.  How do I stop smoking?  Simple. Just stop.  Don’t pick up another cigarette.  But not easy, because stopping means having to sit with the pain that arises, the pain that I have been avoiding by smoking.

So why would anyone decide to be present, if being present means facing pain?  Because the alternative is suffering.  Because on the other side of the pain is a vast, expansive sense of wholeness that can only be reached by letting go of the project of escaping ourselves.  Because when you are already soaking wet and cold in a rainstorm, it is more enjoyable to relax and maybe splash in a puddle than it is to cringe and cling to a broken umbrella.

The beauty of the rain

 

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I was driving in my car recently, thinking about how to understand the difference between pain and suffering, when it started to rain. I mean REALLY rain. It was torrential.  And windy.  And cold.  The wind was whipping the rain in every direction, so much so that it was hard to see very far.  Outside, in this pouring, driving rain, I saw a woman ~ soaked to the bone, running, gripping an umbrella that had been literally blown inside-out, every muscle in her face and body contracted in resistance to the rain.

And I thought to myself, “THIS is the difference between pain and suffering.”

. . . .Pain is getting soaked in a cold torrential downpour.  Suffering is gripping with tension to a broken, useless umbrella.

. . . Pain is unpleasant, uncomfortable, or unwanted experience.  Suffering is everything we do to avoid feeling pain.

. . . Pain is an inevitable. Suffering is optional.

My path to becoming a mindfulness-based therapist grew from an deepening understanding that all of our attempts to avoid pain actually lead to suffering, which is a great realization, but then, what’s the alternative?  Instead of avoiding and resisting our experience, we learn to be present to it. And this is the key to eliminating suffering because when are no longer resisting what is happening, there is space to be alive.  We realize that there is a wholeness inside of us that is vast and spacious enough to hold even the most painful experiences. We learn that we are so much bigger than our pain.  We learn to notice the beauty of the rain.

Lovingkindness is the difference

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Taking responsibility for one’s life, and feeling blame or shame for one’s life, are not the same thing.  Taking responsibility allows us to look honestly and dispassionately at how our beliefs and actions are shaping present reality.  It allows us to see ourselves clearly, with lovingkindness, and to shift and take action.  Responsibility is a hopeful, empowering stance.  Taking blame or falling into shame, on the other hand, immobilizes us, diminishes us, and keeps our view narrow.  It makes change unlikely if not impossible.  It renders us helpless victims in a hopeless reality.  Lovingkindness is the difference.  

The undefended heart

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The undefended heart is not fragile.  In fact, it is the opposite of fragile, because it welcomes and experiences the full impact of being human.  The undefended heart doesn’t hide from grief or despair, nor does it shield itself from joy.  It simply flows in the stream of What is Actually Happening.  The undefended heart is not at the mercy of life.  It knows to seek shelter in a thunderstorm and to draw a blanket around itself when the wind blows, but it does not run for cover in a soft spring rain or build a fortress to keep out the breeze.  The undefended heart knows that it is worthy of protection, but not at the expense of being fully alive.

Comparison: The Path to Nowhere

grass pathIn tender moments, it is all too easy to compare ourselves to other people.  In fact, few endeavors breed more unnecessary suffering than the act of comparison.  Your path ~ and your radiance on that path ~ are specific to you alone.  No one else can go the same way you do, nor can you follow the same way as anyone else.  When you simply notice the glory in another person, you are witness to a reflection of your own sweet glory, the glory that exists in the very nature of Being.  When comparison enters into this noticing, however, your own path becomes obscured, leaving you lost in the woods.  The hidden invitation in the midst of this pain is to fall in love with your own and singular expression of Being.  It is the only way out of the woods.

When the quiet enters into you . . .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There are times in our lives that are meant for rest and incubation.  Sometimes the quiet comes in the depths of winter, and we surrender more willingly to the call to be internal. But sometimes the quiet comes in the full heat of summer, and we resist.  We must learn to trust that there is wisdom brewing.  Our bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits know what we need, and in times of drawing inward, we are integrating, enriching our beings with the vitality that will allow our natural creativity to take root.  In these windows of stillness, resting is your gift and your responsibility.  Taking this time will enable everything you long for to flow.  So relax.  As much as you can, simply relax.

Mind Your Mind: What “The Secret” Kept Secret

Joyful Balance LLC Mind Your Mind

Many people were excited by a movie called The Secret, in which certain experts tried to explain the power of our thoughts in creating our own reality.  The examples in the movie were thin, focusing primarily on the acquisition of material objects and wealth and suggesting a kind of magical thinking: “If I simply want something badly enough, I will get it.”

This movie evoked a phenomenon I refer to as New Age Self-Hatred.  If my life is not going quite the way I want, then there must be something wrong with me (or at least with my thoughts), as if perfecting our thinking is the key to a life free from suffering.  As if it is even possible to have a life that is completely free from suffering.

And here is where many people get stuck.  They know they want to show up in their lives in a certain way.  They try to think positive thoughts.  But beneath the surface are hidden core beliefs, beliefs that seep out in unconscious gestures or habitual expressions, beliefs that are sending out signals about how they are really feeling.  It is these deeper intentions that shape the world we live in.

While pain (in the form of sadness, anger, jealousy, disappointment) is a natural part of being human, and while the level of discourse in The Secret is specious, there is truth in the idea that our thoughts ~ our beliefs, our emotional stories about ourselves and the world ~ have a tremendous impact on our experience.

Sufi mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan put it like this:

A person thinks, “Some day I should like to build a factory.” At this
time he has no money, no knowledge, no capability; but a thought
came, “Some day I should like to build a factory.” Then he thinks of
something else. Perhaps years pass, but that thought has been working
constantly through a thousand minds, and a thousand sources prepare
for him that which he once desired. If we could look back to all we
have thought of at different times, we would find that the line of
fate or destiny . . .  is formed by our thought. Thoughts have prepared for us that happiness or unhappiness which we experience. The whole of mysticism is founded on this.

If thoughts can accomplish this, so can love or imagination; even a
dream can accomplish it according to the impression which it makes.
Some thoughts are like things, like objects, other thoughts are like
beings. Some thoughts are like angels by our side, and some are like
devils. They are all round us, either helping us towards the
accomplishment of the objects before us, or drawing us back from
those things we wish to accomplish.

One of the reasons that somatic therapy is so powerful is that the mind does not exist only in our thoughts.  Neuroscience research tells us that there are neurons ~ the basic communication system of the mind ~ throughout the body, especially in the heart and in the gut.  The intuitions that we are trained to ignore (i.e., the gut feeling, the heartfelt sense) are in fact another manifestation of mind.  Somatic therapies, like Hakomi, allow us to include these channels of experience, so that transformation can happen on a whole-body level.  So often, clients say to me some version of, “I understand what you’re saying , but I don’t feel it in my body.”  This is where the full understanding of the mind ~ mindFULLness ~ creates a doorway to powerful transformation.  Including the body matters.

Believing is seeing ~ can you imagine a world where hummingbirds nest on a peach?

Believing is seeing ~ can you imagine a world where hummingbirds nest on a peach?

No amount of therapy (or meditation or prayer or . . . ) can completely eradicate the “inconvenient” emotions — sadness, anger, grief, disappointment, jealousy, shame, etc.  When someone we love passes away, it is natural to grieve.  When someone violates our boundaries, it is natural to feel anger.  However, our beliefs about these events, and about our natural responses to them, about ourselves as we experience them, and about what kind of world we are living in, have the power to shape that very world.  Therapy that works at the level of beliefs, including the whole body-mind system, truly holds the potential to change our minds.

For more information about Joyful Balance Counseling, please contact Rafia Rebeck, MA.

On commitment ~ Goethe

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy,
the chance to draw back,
always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative
there is one elementary truth
the ignorance of which kills
countless ideas and endless plans:
that the moment one commits
oneself, then Providence moves, too.
All sorts of things occur to help one
that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the
decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of
unforeseen incidents and meetings and
material assistance which no man
could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do or
dream you can, begin it!
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

~Goethe

Rafia Rebeck, MA, is a psychotherapist with Joyful Balance Counseling in Boulder, CO.

The power of the pause

Gardens offer a meaningful metaphor.  Soil is turned under, rich with compost, ripe with worms.  Weeds are pulled. Seeds are planted.  Sunshine. Rain.

*pause*

First sprouts . . . *pause* . . . seedlings  . . . *pause* . . . flowers . . . *pause* . . . fruit.

IMG_0727

The pause between planting and reaping is important.  Elapsed time allows for Things To Happen.  Fortunately, Life offers variety.  Lettuce greens sprout fast and easy, giving the gardener a sense of (near) immediate gratification.  The taste buds are satisfied.  But the sweetness of watermelon requires patience, waiting, the juicy non-urgency of Time.

In a culture that loves performance, activity, diligent doing, it is easy to overlook the fallow periods, the essential moments of rest and patience and waiting that make growth and activity possible.  While the activity of planting and cultivating are necessary, a seed will only sprout when it is good and ready.  This is true for our own growth and development as well.  Nothing can be rushed.  Everything in its own due time.

What eventually grows, in the garden or in the heart, is a function of which seeds we planted in the past.  It is a matter of attention.  The seeds we sowed yesterday ~ either consciously (by carefully creating furrows in the soil and gently dropping in seeds) or unconsciously (by ignoring last years weeds and letting them spread) ~ bear their fruit in our present.

The same is true in our hearts, minds, and relationships.  Therapy is a way of tending one’s inner garden ~ weeding out old thought patterns, sowing new behaviors, fertilizing with lovingkindness, cultivating with mindfulness and self-care, and harvesting the rewards of our efforts and intentions.  The seeds that are planted today ~ the stories we tell about ourselves and the world . . . the choices we make (or don’t make) to meditate, exercise, act with kindness ~ show up as fruits tomorrow . . . *pause* . . . or the next day . . . *pause* . . . or the next day.

Whether the seeds we plant grow into flowers or weeds is a matter of attention and intention.

That they will grow is simply a matter of time.

Rafia Rebeck, MA, is a psychotherapist with Joyful Balance Counseling in Boulder, CO.

We begin in the name of balance . . .

IMG_0470balance = sunflowers in a rainstorm

Every breath is an invitation, an opportunity to begin again . . . and again.  With each breath, whether consciously or unconsciously, we are drawing into our bodies the inspiration for this particular moment.  When we take the time to set an intention, and allow that intention to rise and fall with our breath, we are engaging in a radical process of personal, internal re-organization.  Beginnings are important.  Intentions are important.  Breath is important.

In this particular beginning, I hold an intention of contented equanimity . . . of joyful balance.  What does it mean to live a life of balance?  How do we aim ourselves in the direction of balance so that we find ourselves ever-so-slightly on its joyful bank?  And why ever-so-slightly?  Why joyful balance?  Why not EXTREME JOY?

It is my experience that Life prefers balance and rhythm over intensity and extremes. To give credit where credit is due, I am not the first person to notice this.  The Taoists have long-advocated for going with the natural flow, rather than fighting against it.  The Buddha called his path the Middle Way.  Time spent in the natural world reveals the Earth’s balanced rhythms . . . spring follows winter follows fall follows summer follows . . .

The heart has ways of finding balance, too.  If we spend our lives chasing extreme joy, Life often serves extreme sorrow in its wake.  In a sense, we can be forced into balance by swinging radically between extremes.  Or we can aim a bit more for the middle, where joy and sorrow still exist but perhaps with less devastating and destabilizing consequences.

The most immediate, inherent, intimate reminder of balance is our own breath.  Inhale follows exhale, whether we like it or not.  The beauty of the breath is its persistent pulse, its ongoing rhythm of invitation back to this moment, back to our intentions, back to the beginning, again and again.  What is your intention as you draw in this breath . . . and this breath . . . and this breath . . . and this . . . and . . .

Rafia Rebeck, MA, is a psychotherapist with Joyful Balance Counseling in Boulder, CO.