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.

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

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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.

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.

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

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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.

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.

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 . . .

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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.