Turn Around and Face the Monster

When we are afraid of something, we often turn away and refuse to look.  In looking away, the thing we fear swells, assisted by our imagination, by our projections, by our worst nightmares.  It grows out of proportion to reality, and as it grows, it begins to control us.  

But the thing we fear is rarely up to scale with this projection.  Imagine a child whose toys were left on the floor in such a way that a night-light casts a shadow of them on the wall that looks like a scary monster.  If only the child would notice the toys, notice that the monster is just a shadow ~ an illusion ~ and that the scary thing itself is nothing more than a little mess to be cleaned up.  

Even with the things in life that we fear the most ~ illness, death, loss, heartbreak, humiliation ~ the actuality is rarely (if ever) as scary as the shadows we make of them.

♥ ♥ ♥

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.

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.

If It Isn’t Kind, It Isn’t True

Clients often try to convince me of how terrible they are, that they are uniquely selfish or jealous or angry or impatient or irritable or irrational or unworthy or needy or controlling or boring or or or or or or or . . .  It is as if the part of our brains responsible for negative self-appraisal sits alone in a tower of Eternal Punishment with no sense that every other human brain has this same part locked in a very similar tower.  From the brain’s negativity bias (a powerful evolutionary adaptation that has us scan for threat and focus on danger / negative feedback in order to stay safe and maintain connection) comes the ultimate in isolation: it becomes very difficult for us to witness ourselves honestly, without getting locked in a tower of our own shame.

A big part of my work with clients (and with myself) is helping them learn to notice with kindness.  In my office, I have a saying: “If it isn’t kind, it isn’t true.”  This is not a clever form of therapeutic denial.  In fact, I want my clients (and myself) to develop a raw and vulnerable form of self-honesty.  But when cruelty accompanies our noticing ~ especially our self noticing ~ it impedes our ability to see clearly.  And there is always a kind way to notice and name reality.

♥ ♥ ♥

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 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.

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.

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

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?

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.

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

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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.