The Trap of Avoidance

So often, when we are feeling something unpleasant, our first instinct is to try to get away.  The unpleasantness ~ be it pain, anger, grief, loneliness, hatred, jealousy, frustration, boredom, fear, or one of their many cousins ~ is perceived as a threat, and we go into a sort of unconscious fight (argue with the feeling), flight (avoid the feeling), or freeze (numb or distract from the feeling).  While each of these strategies may be effective (even useful) in the short term, over time the feelings we are trying to escape will reassert themselves, growing in intensity and complexity.  The more we struggle against the feelings (and fighting, fleeing, and freezing are all forms of struggling against the feelings), the tighter their grip becomes.

It is only when we abandon our struggle and move toward what pains us that we find our freedom.  It was never the feelings that were imprisoning us, but our own resistance to them.  Peace arises in the softening, easing, acknowledging, and allowing of our actual experience.

♥ ♥ ♥

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.

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 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.

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.

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 Believe Everything You Think

 

don't believe everything you think

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

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?

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.

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.

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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.