Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Wisdom of Children

I’m continually amazed at the wisdom of toddlers and young children. They don’t understand racism and inequalities. For the most part, they are just pure love. Since our granddaughter came into our lives, it’s even more evident to me on a daily basis that she knows much more about this Universe than I do.

I’ve learned that young children are still very connected to the place we all come from – until we manage to condition them out of that state. (As Wayne Dyer used to say, we trust for 9 months that God is in control and will be sure the baby has everything (s)he needs in order to be perfect upon birth into this world. Then once the baby is here we say, “Thank you God, we’ll take it from here.”)

While she’s not with us now, Jess lived with us on & off since her infancy; most recently from the ages of 2 to 5 1/2.  She’s now 7, and we are currently co-guardians with her mom, so we still have her on a regular basis.

During the time she lived here she taught me a lot. As I got her bath water ready every night, I would ask if the water is too hot. Her response was always, “It’ll be fine.” She loved to sing and dance, and make up funny stories that she told in a very animated manner. And she marveled at the pancakes she got at IHOP – the ones that had the bananas, strawberries and whipped cream that are shaped into a face. Even though we do spoil her at times, she still (to this day) gets so excited at a surprise, or when she sees a squirrel scampering up a tree that she squeals with joy. And she loves to run away from us when we’re walking down the sidewalk or getting ready for school or some other adventure, much to our frustration. But she’s giggling and squealing with delight every minute.

Where she gets this sense of optimism is beyond me, but her resilience is innate. In her young life, she’s had more than her share of heartache and scary situations. And, while she’s not by any means, the most quiet and well-behaved child, she is mature beyond her years in many ways – probably because she’s had some of these experiences. My husband and I have always done everything we can to let her know we’re always here for her, and that she is loved beyond measure.  While we make it clear that we may not like some of her behaviors, she also knows that has nothing to do with her “lovability”.

As adults, we become so jaded. Especially in the US, where we have so many riches that we don’t appreciate any of it for what it is. My granddaughter reminds me on a regular basis to stop and smell the roses; that being on time every place we go is over-rated, as is getting the dishes done or the house picked up.

I have a tendency to be pretty compulsive and like to have things planned out, picked up and  to be on time.  But as I’ve watched her take joy in every moment, I’ve come to understand that when we arrive where we’re going as we leave this life, no one is going to meet us with a clipboard and a checklist, and say, “On August 15th, 2016, you didn’t finish the dishes!”  As the old saying goes, no one on their death bed ever said “I wish I would have spent more time working!”   I think we’ll look back at our time here and evaluate whether we spent it wisely – and where it really mattered . . . whether – and HOW we loved . . . and if we took pleasure in every moment presented.
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“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” -Rumi

Life is a Choice

It’s my belief that we are here on earth to have experiences that help us evolve.  The majority of those experiences are through our relationships.  So if we feel stuck or victimized in some or all of our relationships, we have to look at ourselves to understand why.   We’ve all heard “no one else can MAKE you angry.”  And I think most of us would agree with that intellectually.  But do we really understand it?

When we are angry about someone else’s behavior or feel their actions have caused us pain in some way, we are allowing other people, and events to dictate our environment.  Some would argue that we have a right to feel whatever we feel.  I agree.  Just be sure that while you’re feeling, acknowledge that it is a choice you’re making.

Our emotions are not what our experiences generate, they are what generate our experiences (Neale Donald Walsh).   From this perspective, our emotions are chosen.  We feel a certain way about something or someone, based on our perspective about ourselves and our connection to that other thing or person (or what we believe to be true).  Our perspective creates our perceptions, which in turn lead to our feelings.

Beliefs are not innate. They are based on thoughts that come from our environment – our parents, our church, our education, our friends, and the things that have happened to us over years.  The thoughts generated from all these places that we feed are the ones that gain weight and eventually become our beliefs.

What is innate, is that which we “know.”  I’m not speaking of the knowledge we gain through our education  or life experiences over the years.  (As I said above, that is information that helps to form our belief system).  This kind of “knowing” is that “aha” feeling when we read or hear something that resonates to our souls.  It’s a feeling that “I’ve always known this.”  Sometimes we didn’t even realize we’ve known it; sometimes it’s been swimming around under the surface for a long time, but since it might be slightly different from the concepts that others around us articulate; we’ve never really formulated the concept fully.

This might be a bit confusing if this is the first time you’ve considered this angle to your life.  But, in any given situation, if you ask yourself, “what is another way I can look at this?” and you’re truly able to come up with an alternative perception, you can follow the process through and see how you are making the decisions at every step.

For me, when I can look at life this way, it eliminates the victim mindset that someone is doing something to me. All the minutia that wasn’t what I had planned, and that I think is screwing up my life, is just the weeds I know I have to wade through to get to the garden.

It gives me freedom to feel, and more importantly BE what I choose, based on the lessons I’ve learned on that trek through the weeds.  And what I choose is to be free of the constraints put on me by all the different “supposed to’s” from others – free to be the me I came to be.

Storing the Energy of Grief and Loss

The world has experienced a huge amount of loss recently.  Most of us are experiencing these  vicariously, via TV and social media.  That can distance us some from the energy of pain that is floating around. But there is also a lot of unrest around political campaigns, police shootings, racism and other issues of inequality –  and just general frustrations that things seem to feel out of control. Many of these things are also happening locally, not just “out in the world somewhere”.

Even if death is not involved, these experiences are losses, as well.  If nothing else, we’ve lost the perception of our culture as a safe and nurturing place.  And even if that perception was imagined, it kept us feeling safe. The world has never been completely safe, but because of instant TV and social media coverage, it brings it all closer to us.

For some, the losses are very personal.  While we all know we’re eventually going to go through the process of putting our lives back together after the death of someone we have loved or a divorce or loss of a job; when the time actually comes in our lives, it can feel like we never REALLY believed it would happen to us.  And when there has been violence involved, it’s even more difficult to process.

What makes this so difficult is the energy of fear, and because that’s too scary for us to manage, it’s morphed into anger, blame and helplessness.  Unfortunately, many people don’t have the skills to handle these emotions appropriately.

Below is a quote from Elizabeth Lesser in her book, BROKEN OPEN. In this section she is talking about grief, and how we do ourselves and our loved ones a disservice by trying to move on too quickly after the death of a loved one. Our society encourages this “quick fix” mentality of grief just like it does for other problems – take a pill, take a week off to get your affairs in order, and throw yourself back into work. If it takes longer, we’re seen as “weak” or mentally ill.  This is one of many reasons that so many people are diagnosed and medicated for anxiety disorders and depression. We don’t allow the time and space to experience our feelings all the way through to the other side. (Gospel According to Patti)  And, frankly, these days there IS no time between mass shootings/terrorists attacks or the myriad of other violence we watch or hear about.  We feel stuck in this heavy energy and we just want to escape.

What Elizabeth is saying goes for ANY loss. We need to learn to allow all the feelings to come and to sit with them. No one likes this. And sometimes it feels as if we’ll never be able to get past it, but she explains it very well:

“To have a store of energy accumulated is to have a store of power in back of one. We live with our psychic energy in modern times much as we do with our money – mortgaged to the next decade.

Most modern people are exhausted nearly all the time and never catch up to an equilibrium of energy, let alone have a store of energy behind them. With no energy in store, one cannot meet any new opportunity. Keeping the gap open after the death of a loved one (or any loss) is a way of storing valuable energy.”

Once we’ve allowed that energy to be stored, we can then move on.

She goes on to say something I’ve always told clients. I don’t like the concept of “closure”. It sounds so final, and to me, it means that the loss we just experienced is “done” and no longer has any meaning. When we grieve someone or something in our lives, we are honoring them/it. We’re never “over” loss. It’s difficult and it’s messy. But we can eventually get through it and integrate the lessons it’s taught us into our lives and come out stronger – and with more energy!

But we have to make room for it.  No amount of preparation can really get us ready for a loss of any kind. But some things we can do on a consistent basis all the time, so we can store that energy include: shutting off the TV, putting down the smart phone, pray, meditate, exercise, make time to spend with friends, volunteer to help others who have less than we have. . . In general, connect with other human beings in a positive and meaningful way.  But most of all, we need to slow down and give ourselves some alone time to just sit, read, and connect with our higher selves.


Obsessive Thoughts and Compulsive Behaviors

Confession time:  While I’m not going to share the specific issues, I will let you know that I’ve found myself recently getting back into some compulsive behaviors as a way to cope. My way of doing this is to constantly “manage” things and try to fix them so I can get past what I’m feeling. Depending on how deeply I get caught up in this behavior, I sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture, and forget to stay in the moment. I become obsessed with the future and try to control it.

I KNOW and share with others that we need to allow ourselves to feel things as they arise. But I, like everybody else I’ve ever met, have certain ways I’ve historically coped before I understood and implemented this tool, and at times of stress we tend to slip back into old behaviors, even if we’ve learned better.  I tend to go into denial and stay compulsively busy in order to not allow the feelings in. Some people drink or eat too much, others use sex, exercise, gambling or work to escape their feelings.

The purpose of obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors is to avoid what we’re feeling inside – which is usually some level of fear.  So we get hyper-focused on something on the outside. Obsessions are like a downward spiral. The longer we stay in them, the more difficult it is to stop. (For me, it feels like it’s just sucking me down against my will). And the more we repeat the obsessive thought, the more ingrained it becomes. This seems to give it a life of it’s own – and makes it much more difficult for us to stop the obsessiveness.  Then we go right into compulsive behavior, which is an attempt to control something, because we feel out of control inside. (As I said, it’s a way to avoid the fear we’re feeling, but we kid ourselves into thinking that controlling SOMETHING will help).

It takes a deliberate act to stop it. We need to make an effort to move away from obsessiveness. This usually means getting OUT of our heads and into some other part of our lives – physical activity, expressing emotions appropriately, communicating with others, distracting ourselves visually or with some other sense.

It can feel impossible to break an obsessive pattern, but it’s not. Like any other skill, it takes practice, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.  First, I encourage not judging our obsessions, but becoming conscious enough to be able to witness them with awareness, curiosity and self-compassion.  This way the old beliefs upon which the obsession is based can eventually become more clear.  Only when we recognize irrational beliefs for what they are, can we begin to change them.

Why is it important to change them?  Because we behave according to what we believe about ourselves and the world and people around us.  If we think about it, much of the marketing in our culture is based on fear:  We buy health insurance, auto insurance, homeowners insurance – the word insurance gives us the sense of a “guarantee” that even if the worst happens, we’ll be covered.  But even in selling us clothing, makeup or cars, the advertisements are aimed at our fear that if we DON’T buy their product, we won’t be cool, attractive to the opposite sex, or at least “OK”.

Look at a certain presidential candidate, for example.  He becomes verbally abusive when he feels he has been mistreated.  The fear (or irrational negative belief) underlying that behavior might be something like, “I am unlovable”, or “I am inadequate.” That’s why he swoons over those who pay him compliments.  His ego needs that validation.

Because I don’t know him personally, or enough about his childhood, I can’t definitively say what his fear is.  (And it’s never appropriate to diagnose someone from a distance). But there are patterns we can witness, and  I would guess that the reason he feels the need to boast and show his “strength” by hammering back at those who strike at him first (or those he perceives are aiming at him), is because he was deeply wounded as a child.  Behavior doesn’t come to be so extreme for no reason. He likely has a fear that he will not measure up – so one of his obsessions is to turn it around on his followers, by aiming for their fears.  He’ll say anything, true or not, to make them believe something awful is about to happen, then he sells them the insurance –  that HE is the only one who can save them. He needs to feel that sense of power to believe he’s OK.

Thankfully, most of us do not have the extreme issues of a Donald Trump. Because his behavior has been present for years, I don’t hold out a lot of hope that he will ever change to any degree. But most of us have some options if we choose to use them.

If obsessive thoughts are really interfering in your life, I suggest finding a good therapist. But if you’re like me, and they just pop up when you’re off your game a little, or when something out of the ordinary happens to throw things out of balance, I encourage slowing down your mind, changing your focus, and reconnecting with your emotions. If you’re someone who meditates regularly, I highly recommend that.

Here are some other activities that might help (notice many of these are getting out of your head and into your body):

1) Physical exercise. Helps if this is something fun for you – dancing, tennis, running or whatever you enjoy.

2) Belly Breathing. Breathe deep into your abdomen. If you can, breathe in through your nose. As you let the breath out, let it out through your mouth. Notice that each time you breathe in you have to work at it – you have to contract your muscles and draw the breath in. But when you exhale, all you have to do is – just let go. (There are other variations on this, but this is a good start).  Just get used to that feeling of “just letting go”.

3) Progressive muscle relaxation. There are different ways to do this, but one of the simplest is to start at your head and tighten each muscle, then relax it. Take a breath and notice for a few seconds – minutes how it feels to be relaxed in that part of your body. Then go to your neck, your shoulders, arms, and all the way down your body. Finally feel your entire body sink into your bed or chair and imagine what it would feel like to have no bones – to just be limp. Sit with that as long as you can.

4) Talk to someone you trust – and preferably someone who understands the issue you’re dealing with. OR just contact someone you enjoy visiting with and talk about a completely different subject.

5) Find an alternative (more positive) obsession. Work a crossword puzzle, or find craft or hobby – like gardening, repairing things, etc.

6) Other distractions. Reading or listening to calming music can be helpful. One of my favorite things to do after a stressful day is to watch Ellen or a stupid sitcom, or comedy so I can just laugh & release the negative energy. I also listen to spiritual or uplifting/inspiring podcasts or audiobooks as often as I can.

7) Practice healthy rituals. Positive affirmations (example: “I’m free of stress” or “I can handle this”), prayer, meditation and yoga are free and can be uplifting.

Finally, and for long-term success, work on staying fully conscious on a consistent basis. This means to stay in the moment. Our past doesn’t dictate our future, it only informs it. The future is not here yet, and worrying will not change it. As long as we stay in the now, we can make the choice to do or be different.

Obsession is a way of organizing our lives so that we never have to deal with the hard part. -Geneen Roth

Get Outside your Own Head

One of my favorite quotes is:  My head is like a bad neighborhood and I shouldn’t stay in there alone!

I’ve shared that with many people over the years.  What it’s always meant to me is that if I try to analyze my problems myself without verbalizing them to a trusted friend or therapist – or even just writing them down, or without allowing myself to actually feel through them – they just seem to take on more & more power over me. I call it the intellectual violence that I perpetrate on myself.

In the 12 Step Program we talk about getting outside our own heads, which I’ve taken to mean something similar – and also understood that if I carry the message on to others, then I will learn and grow more myself, as well as being of help to others.

At times when I’ve had some real hurt in my life I’ve meditated to help me stay in love as I dealt with it. Then, invariably, a friend or family member shared some very difficult problems in their lives. I’ve “gotten outside my own head” and reached out to them. I’ve put myself in their place and felt their pain.  As a therapist, I’ve learned the art of being compassionate while detaching at the same time, so I can remain objective enough to be helpful. It’s much more difficult with friends and family, but I’ve been able to use that skill to be there for them.

During the time I was focusing on my friends and their issues, I totally forgot my own problems. And sometimes the issue I’d been working through just turned completely around and started working well again. I know it won’t be that way forever but I’ve learned to live in the moment, and take joy in the good times when they are here without waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The part that amazes me is that I just know part of the reason it turned around is because I let go of it for a time, and gave from love to someone else who needed it. Don’t misunderstand.  Very often, our problems need to be revisited until we see them through.  But that means letting go of the obsessive thoughts about them and feeling the emotional part.  And it doesn’t help to stay in the problem constantly. Otherwise, we’d never move toward a solution.  Allowing ourselves to be there for others, even in the midst of our own pain (if we are able), can help us in that process. I swear what we put out there comes back to us – and even opens up the energy field for everyone else!

The energy in the world right now feels very heavy and sometimes dark – depending on who we are listening to or what we are focusing on.   We are all experiencing some very harmful, painful events, even if it is somewhat vicariously for most of us.  It’s difficult to just brush it off and go about our own business.

I have always been the eternal optimist when it comes to societal issues.  I believe we are on the cusp of a more enlightened civilization, but there are those who are not as spiritually or emotionally advanced, and they feel very threatened.  They are hanging on to everything they “know” because the unknown is too scary and they don’t seem to be willing or able to learn about that uncharted territory.  That heavier energy is felt by all of us.

But I do think we can combat it by doing just what I said earlier.  Let it go, even if for a few minutes at a time.  Do whatever works for you to free yourself.  Meditate, pray, play, plan the vacation of your dreams – even if you don’t believe you’ll ever really take it. Most of all focus on love.  Look for stories about the people who are helping in the horrific situations we wake up to on the news every day.

Nothing in this world happens that is not first imagined. Contrary to what you may have been told as a child, daydreaming is not a bad thing.  We need to envision the world we want to see – personally and socially in order for it to come to fruition. That’s the first step towards the solution.

“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”

– Eckhart Tolle