Category: Mindfulness

The Gift of Mindful Presence

There was a point when I noticed that everyone in my life seemed to talk a lot while I listened.

I wasn’t a talker.

I was pretty young; maybe my early 20s and I didn’t know things other people knew….like women talk more than men in general. Men think differently about sex than women. There are chick flicks. I could go on……….

You could say that I didn’t know much of anything about the world! I was really naïve.

However, I began to watch people. I thought that maybe something was wrong with me and I needed to talk more to be normal.

Not being like everyone else made me feel left out. Very lonely!

Being so focused on feeling like an outsider kept me from realizing that people were talking to me. It took me a long time (again! I’m a slow learner sometimes) to realize that many people told me things they didn’t tell everyone else.

The only way I even noticed was because I was told repeatedly: Oh my God, I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.

It finally dawned on me that maybe listening wasn’t such a bad thing.

My work as a grief counselor, years later, deepened my understanding that simply being present, being a witness to someone’s suffering is one of the greatest gifts we can give another.

Don’t most of us give advice when someone is hurting or something is not working in his or her life? Men especially (I figured that one out finally) are wired to fix things.

Advice-giving in general comes naturally to our species, and is mostly done with good intent. But in my experience, the driver behind a lot of advice has as much to do with self-interest as interest in the other’s needs (I know that’s a tough pill to swallow) — and some advice can end up doing more harm than good.

Many of us want to be really good helpers, making sure we say the right things and give good advice. We want to do the right thing and minister to the needs of the person whom we are helping, but taking the time and patience to really be present is often a challenge.

Presence is the essence of connection.

Yet especially when we’re in the presence of deep suffering we can barely stand to be there, as if we were in danger of catching a contagious disease. We want to apply our “fix,” then cut and run, figuring we’ve done the best we can to “save” the other person.

The more uncomfortable someone is with a situation, the more likely they are to offer advice…

Just recently a client had this experience when she shared with her good friend that she found out she has cancer and is very scared: His response was that she’d be fine and then started making jokes to get her mind off of her condition. She wanted to crawl away at a time when she most needed the comfort of being seen.

The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — it longs to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.

In being heard we feel seen. Listening, asking “tell me more” opens the door to the deepest parts of the other.
Someone who is unafraid to accompany another in his suffering makes the other less afraid of himself. It is the greatest gift to be present — simply and fully present — in the same way one needs to be at the bedside of a dying person.
It is at that bedside where we finally learn that we have no “fix” or “save” to offer those who suffer deeply. And yet, we have something better: our gift of self in the form of personal presence and attention, the kind that invites the other’s soul to show up.

We not only apply this over-zealous need to “fix” to others we see in pain, we often apply it to ourselves.

Often the best way to address what ails us is to be present with our own emotions, thoughts, and senses. We don’t need to “fix” ourselves all the time, but perhaps observe with curiosity what we’re feeling because there is a reason under that feeling that we need to spend time with.

 “This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” – Mary Oliver

So here’s my advice —

  • Be fully present, listen deeply, and ask the kind of questions that give the other a chance to express more of his or her own truth, whatever it may be
  • Don’t give advice, unless someone insists..
  • As you are being present… listening… you will know if and when advice is a wise thing to give.

I’m still not much of a talker. These days I don’t feel like such an outsider anymore. That’s a nice thing.

How To Get Out of a Funk

Three steps to get out of a funk.

We all have days when things don’t seem to go right and you feel down. You know those days when it would have been easier just to stay in bed.

You may know the reason you feel blue or you just woke up this way. I think most of these funks don’t actually have a specific cause but our mind tries to figure it out anyway.

It’s easy to get caught up in it, wallow in it …..for days even. You waste precious time looking for reasons. The funk doesn’t’ go away, so what do you do?

If you’re human you can’t escape these feelings. I’ve had plenty of those times and I wanted to find a way to get out of these random funks.

So I did some mindful things that I found really work.

  1. Acknowledge that you are feeling down.

Researchers have found that when we’re feeling any kind of negative emotion we can make it less severe by acknowledging it and labeling it.

Give yourself permission to be in a funk, acknowledge you’re in one and feeling whatever it is you are feeling.

What you resist persists. So stop resisting.

Our mind wants to make sense of things and giving voice to a feeling is a powerful way to acknowledge it. Everything in life wants to be acknowledged. Once we do that we find that a door opens to take away the intensity and something shifts!

  1. Move energy.

Everything in the universe is energy, and when you move that energy, you will see changes in your mood.

When we’re in a funk it’s easy to sit around, crawl back under the covers or remove ourselves from others.

But the best thing to do is something different. Get up, turn the music on and dance. Go out and meet a friend, exercise, take a walk on the beach, go to that party you’ve been invited to, go to the movies, to the park……anything, as long as it’s movement.

  1. Be kind to yourself.

Don’t beat yourself up for not constantly being peppy and excited. Life isn’t like that. It takes sadness to know happiness. Downs to recognize ups.

So treat yourself with compassion and love. Imagine how you would treat your child or best friend. You would be gentle and kind…..

Do kind things to make you feel treasured. Take that hot bath, have that special cup of coffee, take time to just be.

It’s not a license to binge on chocolate or alcohol under the guise of being kind to yourself. That won’t make you feel better. You know the difference.

Loving actions toward yourself are ones that make you feel good, increase your self-respect, honor you.

Try these things and let me know how they work for you. No, you won’t suddenly be Tigger, but you’ll feel better. A little more alive, less funky.

How to Stop Letting your Emotions Hold you Hostage

Have you ever gone into a fit of rage and come out barely remembering what you said or how you got there in the first place?

I think this is true for many of us. So when I found this article by psychotherapist Danielle Benvenuto I felt it was worth sharing. She uses my favorite approach to life: Mindfulness

Here you go:

Have you ever been seized by sheer panic while waiting for a response from your new crush, a state so powerful that sending a text message every hour on the hour, wondering aloud if something terrible happened, felt like a good idea?

Have you ever convinced yourself that you’re not good enough, cool enough, smart enough, pretty enough, woman enough, man enough, tall enough, skinny enough, (fill in the blank) enough and that the whole entire world must think so too?

We all have our triggers—certain experiences that take us to emotional places we prefer not to go.

For some, it’s feeling neglected. For others, it’s being criticized. The list is a long one. We all have our own set of life experiences that help to create a place where our emotions can get the best of us. I have dealt with a fair share of my own and because my line of work is in healing, I witness it every day and in many different forms.

So how exactly do we get held hostage by our emotional states? And what can we do to find our way back to solid ground, where we can see things from a clearer perspective?

Here are two fundamental ways we allow our emotions to get the best of us and how the power of mindfulness techniques can help. They not only help to ground us when we’re losing our grip on reality, but also foster a more solid foundation so that, over time, we can catch ourselves before we slip down into that much-dreaded but familiar rabbit hole of emotion.

Two things that contribute to emotion overload:

We go on the chase.

The moment we start chasing a train of thought or emotion, we begin to hand our power over to it. We do this when we judge, obsess, and over-analyze.

For example: You are feeling anxious because you have an important job interview. You begin the “chase” by thinking: I’m probably not going to do well on this interview. This thought causes anxiety and uncomfortable sensations in your body. In response to the anxiety, more thoughts occur: I bet normal people don’t feel this way. I’m such a mess. Why do I feel weird? I need a drink. Why am I such an anxious person? Which contributes to even more anxiety: I’m going to completely bomb this interview. I must get rid of this anxiety right now…but, wait, I have no clue how to do that either. I must be a failure at everything!

Instead of giving the anxiety-provoking thoughts and feelings space to breathe and make their way through uninterrupted, they get amplified by a judgmental attitude similar to the above and flare up like an out-of-control fire. One of things we don’t want to happen while in the midst trying to put out that fire is for massive gusts of wind to pass through.

Imagine this fire as an emotional state you are prone to experiencing and a strong, forceful wind as the judgmental stance you typically take about this particular emotional state. We make ourselves feel worse by fanning our emotional flames, and more importantly, we leave no room for our feelings to naturally die down with time, which, by the way, is what emotions typically do if given the chance!

If we don’t create space, we also don’t allow room for reason or intuition to emerge to help with whatever we’re experiencing.

The mindful alternative:

Mindfulness asks us to take a curious, open, and non-judgmental stance to all that passes through our minds. For example, say: I think that I am not good at job interviews and this is causing me to feel anxious. Or: Right now, I am experiencing anxiety. It’s important to not make meaning out of the feeling or have it be a reflection of your self-worth or the current reality.

Instead, observe it by saying something like: “I must be a failure” is a thought that is passing through my mind. I’m feeling like a mess, but this doesn’t mean I am a mess. It can be helpful while making these statements to hold your heart. Doing this sends the communication that you are here for yourself while sending loving energy through your hands. This reminds me of Thich Nhat Hanh’s to difficult feelings, in which he advises us to say, “Anxiety, I am here for you.” Replace anxiety with whatever emotion you are experiencing that you want to fight or judge.

Another approach is to imagine the thought as a cloud passing through the sky. The sky is your essence, pure and untainted by the self-defeating narratives you make up about yourself, and feelings and thoughts are the weather (a cloud, a snowstorm, rain), which is always subject to change. Watch the thoughts and feelings as phenomenon passing through you, instead of being you.

It can be helpful to  find an anchor back to the present moment—using your breath or the sensation of your feet touching the floor—when you find yourself drifting away.

We Give The Silent Treatment.

The second mode we engage in is denying our thoughts and feelings their right to exist. Repressing thoughts and feelings, however, only makes them fight more adamantly for self-expression.

Looking through a scientific lens, feelings are energy, and since energy can’t be destroyed, the energy that comprises the feeling will find a form of expression regardless of our attempts to block it. In my personal and professional experience, this usually occurs through an experience that feels overwhelming and often completely alien. Depression or ongoing panic attacks—with no identifiable trigger or psychosomatic symptoms that have no medical diagnosis—may emerge.

We typically repress our feelings because we were taught through our various life experiences that it isn’t safe to have them. If anger is not an acceptable emotion to have, you will have belief systems in place that check the emergence of an angry feeling. However, eventually this system fails.

For example, you are angry because you find yourself more often than not taking care of other peoples’ needs before your own. You don’t assert yourself when you need to, and you ignore the anger you feel brewing at being taken advantage of. You question whether or not you have the right to get what you need. You’ve been doing this for years, thanks to an upbringing where self-sacrifice was the way you were taught to give and receive love. Alas, you find yourself in a fit of rage saying something hurtful to someone, barely remembering what you said, and then feeling guilty for losing control.

The mindful alternative:

Give yourself permission to have your feelings by honoring them as they arise: “I feel anger and l will take care of this feeling by letting it unfold and, if it helps, understanding what it is asking of me or trying to tell me.” Talk out the feeling with a friend or a therapist. Often, we don’t always know what we are feeling and by voicing it to another, insights about ourselves begin to take shape.

If a feeling doesn’t feel safe to express, start by journaling about it or noticing where it resides in your body. Walking or running is also helpful, especially since physical activity can help release emotional energy being stored in the body. This approach is particularly helpful when intense emotions are passing through and sitting with them feels nearly impossible. While moving your body, practice the same non-judgmental and open attitude I mentioned earlier with whatever emotional state is moving through you.

~

As you can see, the vicious cycle of being emotionally held hostage ensues in either mode.

If we switch to a mindful approach, where we observe our thoughts and feelings rather than chase or ignore them, we create a space to see how things truly are, instead of how our limited egos and the narratives we have been telling ourselves make them out to be.

This space we create becomes an anchor and with time, this space becomes a solid structure within ourselves—a home within our own bodies—where we can enter into a positive and more caring relationship with ourselves.

Author: Danielle Benvenuto

Read her article at https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/02/how-to-stop-letting-our-emotions-hold-us-hostage/

 

Practicing Non-Attachment

One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to allow our children to be who they want to be.

I just read a post by Madisyn Taylor of Daily Om about that subject. It reminded me of that timeless poem “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran.

She wrote a great article. It raises some interesting points.

There is very little information about how to accomplish this non-attachment once our children leave home.

It’s not an easy transition. It wasn’t for me.

As we nurture our children from tiny babies into adulthood, we constantly have to adjust through the many stages of childhood. Hopefully, we gradually decrease our need to be in charge to allow their independence.

Ideally, we slowly release the reigns and detach.

However, once they move out on their own, a huge chunk of our purpose suddenly disappears.

Like death, it’s something you cannot prepare for.

This new position we are thrown into is very confusing, often painful. Even if we have a career or a business, we may feel useless.

How do we figure out what role to play in our adult children’s lives now without being overbearing and demanding? Or, God forbid, making them feel guilty for not needing us as much.

We want them to be independent, right?! But we also want to be part of their lives.

So…..What do we want to be? Who do we want to be?

How do we now fit in their lives?

I know I want to be supportive, encouraging, inspiring, stable. I want to be someone they can confide in, someone who listens without judgment.

Someone who gives permission when they want to try something crazy, life-affirming, unusual, out of the norm (We all need permission sometimes).

The Native Americans have a saying: “Let your children choose their own path and it will lead back to you.”

What I found was that I had to take a step back (or two or three) in order to do that.

  • I had to let go of my belief that I know better. They have their own thoughts, their own inner knowing, which guides them.

 

  • I had to remember being that age. We quickly forget how we thought and acted when we were younger. My stuff made sense at that time (to me anyway)

 

  • I have to remind myself that my world-view is just that: Mine. Not everyone else’s. That means I work hard at trying to see and understand my children’s perspective.

 

  • I make myself listen, really listen……so they feel heard. So they feel seen, which is what we all long for.

 

  • Finally…sometimes, when I know that my input is valuable, I give it. Lightly, carefully….AND I only pursue the conversation when I see that it has fallen on fertile soil.

It’s an ongoing practice of mindfulness, since relationships are a living thing.

As always, I’m here if you need guidance or support on your journey.

 

Click here to read Madisyn’s article:  http://dailyom.com/cgi-bin/display/articledisplay.cgi?aid=56783

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

 

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

by Kahlil Gibran

 

 

The Dark Side

We all have a dark side and we are masters at hiding it.

We all have traits within us that we don’t like. Usually we choose not to look too closely or we practice complete denial. It’s not at all easy to get real with ourselves.

I found there are two types of people in the world, those who want to know and those who want to believe. People don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.

Interesting, isn’t it? You can see it if you look at the people in your life.

Do you know into which category you fall?

I know that I want to know. I want the truth.

One of my greatest challenges is to look at life with curiosity, rather than my same old accusing attitude. It’s a habit that’s been well taught and has become deeply ingrained in my psyche. As I started to observe myself doing that, it became the proverbial onion: I found many layers.

Looking deeply at my dark side was painful. I didn’t like admitting that I’m not all wonderful all the time and recognizing the various petty grievances I have.

I’m pretty spontaneous in general, but when I make plans and they don’t work out according to my schedule, I get pretty annoyed…..not only with the situation, but especially with the people involved. That annoyance can last a while.

I first noticed my attitude with bigger things, like planning a trip and someone throws a wrench in it, which causes us to leave late or worse, not at all.

You may think, oh that’s not a big deal. But then I saw that I do this not only with big plans but little ones as well. Like planning to have a cup of coffee and we have no creamer, because the last person to use it didn’t replace it. Grrr!

At the same time I began to notice people who don’t have my outlook for whatever reason.

I saw that they struggle too, they try to make sense of what is happening, but then some sunlight shines in and they begin to smile. They take on a positive mindset and move forward.

I quickly realized that it’s pretty pervasive, this attitude of mine. It shows up in areas I never even considered.

I want to change that. The fact is, stuff happens. If things don’t go my way, the alternative could be better, more exciting, interesting, whatever. If I can be open, who knows what great things can come out of that situation?

One thing I know for sure, nothing good comes out of my bad attitude. Definitely not peace. Only frustration for me and emotional distance from the person I care about.

So….. change! How can I change it? It requires daily practice to become present to this and create a different neural pathway.

A good way to visualize this is by imagining a well worn narrow path created by a heavy vehicle. You can literally see the tire tracks from the frequent use. It becomes difficult to navigate that path without slipping into that rut. It’s just easier to stay on that track.

Changing that path requires presence of mind and a deep commitment.

Mindfulness!

Deep within us there is resistance to something different, unless we create a ritual and some type of support for a new way of thinking.

At first, as we try to create a new path, we continue to slip back into that well worn groove, but with perseverance it happens less and less. We create a new neural pathway, which becomes stronger the more it is used.

It’s simple, but not easy.

Once you decide that you want to commit, here are some steps to support your efforts:

  1. It’s important to create some kind of ritual.

You have flexibility here, because we are all different. Find some moments of stillness each day. One of my favorites is mindfulness meditation and some Kundalini yoga. If you have no idea what that is, don’t worry, simply take a moment each day to sit quietly, breathe and focus on your goal.  Observe yourself, notice what you are doing, thinking. The object is to become present to yourself.

 

  1. You have to get support

Find someone with whom you can discuss your thoughts and insights. No man is an island. Being isolated in this pursuit is a surefire way to slip back into the same old groove. Like an alcoholic, or any kind of addict, needs a support group and a different environment, we need someone who holds us accountable. Otherwise the old patterns just push their way back into our lives.

If there’s no one in your life right now, find a group online. Find a MeetUp. Email me.

 

  1. Do not judge yourself harshly!

When we are tired we fall back into old patterns. When we are overwhelmed, we typically lose our ability to be positive and strong. Recognize when you need to just be. Degrading yourself for your humanness isn’t going to change your old patterns faster. The best way to see change in our lives is to be kind and loving to ourselves.

5 Essential Questions for a Better Life

 

When we are curious about the world we have a sense of wonder, we feel alive. Asking questions is one way we can do that. Questions are a deeper inquiry into our universe and they can help us to think about how we might improve our lives, our world.

These are 5 truly essential questions that will change the way you look at life. These points are from a segment from the Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education James Ryan’s 2016 commencement speech.

1. Wait, What?
The first is a question kids are fond of asking, and it’s one you may have heard teenagers ask — or maybe you still ask it yourself. The question is “Wait, what?”

Kids typically pose this question when you get to the point in a conversation where you’re asking them to do something. From their perspective, they hear you saying something like: “blah, blah, blah, blah, and then I’d like you to clean your room.” And at that precise moment, the question inevitably comes: “Wait, what? Clean what?”

“Wait, what?” is an effective way of asking for clarification. The “wait” part is a good reminder to slow down so you can fully understand.

2. I Wonder why or if?
The second question is “I wonder”, which can be followed by “why” or “if.” So: I wonder why, or I wonder if.

Asking “I wonder why” is the way to remain curious about the world, and asking “I wonder if” is the way to start thinking about how you might improve the world.

As in, I wonder why my relationships are so difficult, and I wonder if I could change this? Or I wonder why students often seem bored in school, and I wonder if we could create a different system?

3. Couldn’t we at least…?
The third question is: “Couldn’t we at least…?” This is the question to ask that can help you to get unstuck. It’s what enables you to get past disagreement to some consensus, as in couldn’t we at least agree that we all care about the welfare of students, even if we disagree about strategy?

It’s also a way to get started when you’re not entirely sure where you will finish, as in couldn’t we at least begin by making sure that all kids have the chance to come to school healthy and well-fed?

4. How can I help?
The fourth question is: “How can I help?” We have to be aware of the savior complex, of the position where we think we are the expert or hero who swoops in to save others.

One of the most humane instincts there is — the instinct to help. But we can’t act as if we are the only ones with the right answer. We have to be aware not to enable or rescue.

Therefore, how we help matters as much as that we do help, and if you ask “how” you can help, you are asking with humility, for direction. And you are recognizing that others are experts in their own lives and that they will likely help you as much as you help them.

5. What truly matters?
The fifth question is this: “What truly matters?” You can tack on “to me” as appropriate. This is the question that forces you to get to the heart of issues and to the heart of your own beliefs and convictions.

It’s a question that you might add to, or substitute for, New Year’s resolutions. You might ask yourself, in other words, at least every new year: what truly matters to me? This will quickly help you sort through your wants, so you can get to your true values in life.
————————-

So these are the five essential questions. “Wait, what” is at the root of all understanding. “I wonder” is at the heart of all curiosity. “Couldn’t we at least” is the beginning of all progress. “How can I help” is at the base of all good relationships. And “what really matters” gets you to the heart of life. If you ask these questions regularly, especially the last one, you will be in a great position to answer the bonus question, which is, at the end of the day, the most important question you’ll ever face.

The bonus question is from a poem by Raymond Carver, called “Late Fragments.” that starts with the question, “And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?”. Even so is the acknowledgment that life is also full of obstacles, pain and sorrow.
The poem then continues:
“I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”

So my wish for you, myself, and all of us, is that we never stop asking and listening, that we feel loved on this earth, and that we are kind and compassionate toward others.
Here is the segment of the commencement speech he gave at Harvard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bW0NguMGIbE

Save

Save

Save

suffering

Are you hurting?

The world loves a person who speaks loudly and shows no doubt. Just take a look at what is going on in our political arena right now.

We want to follow someone who seems to have answers, seems to know. I think, secretly, we all long for answers to the uncertain things in life. Maybe, just maybe, there is that one person out there who really does know.

However, the answer never lies outside and there is never one solution that fits all.

The answers can only be found within!

Whether it’s about our relationships, attitudes, diets, spirituality, actions, way of life, or whatever. The answer is unique to you.

So it becomes an exercise of willingness, openness, introspection, and personal responsibility. (A good therapist, who asks the right questions, can help).

We try so hard to make sense of our humanity, our weaknesses, fears, doubts and hopes. Wanting to make sense of life. Always striving for strength of character, strength in front of others and within, looking like we are having fun. The hard part is that our lives just aren’t that simple.

Life is deep and mystical. Mysterious yet straightforward, complex yet simplistic, full of hope yet full of despair….Life is the greatest paradox.

We will never completely understand it.

Through the millennium many great minds have tried to analyze it, pick it apart….. only to find more questions.

And that’s ok.

We can never fully know ourselves or one another. We are as mysterious as the universe. We are so much more than what can be seen and heard. Our words can never fully convey what lies within.

The best we can do is work on the things that are essential to our happiness and leave the rest. Sometimes we wrestle with fears and frustrations, but if they don’t make a huge difference in our big picture, we can simply set those things aside.

One of my fears is to go under water. Diving under a wave or even just jumping in the deep end, that so many people enjoy, is torture for me. Some deep primal panic takes a hold of me on those rare occasions when it does happen. I’ve looked at it enough to recognize that it doesn’t significantly change who I am and how I feel about life, so I let it be.

The important parts, however, like my relationships, who I want to be in life, my spirituality….those deserve my full attention. Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction can end up being the biggest step in our lives. Sometimes more is required.

Recently, seemingly, from out of nowhere, I found myself hopeless. My faith in God was gone. Everywhere I looked, people are struggling and suffering, animals are being mistreated, children are dying and I noticed all the pain everywhere. My own father, nearing the end of his life is in agonizing pain. I felt helpless, wondering who’s really in charge? Why all this pain? Life looked grim and pointless.

THIS needed my attention!

We can try to be present to ourselves and another, but within each of us there is a shapeless, shifting, deep inner being that is unknown even to ourselves.

So we don’t recognize that we are suffering. We are simply doing, drinking, eating, talking, sleeping, gambling….. too much. We have no balance.

At times, when things happen to us….. losing a loved one, being confronted with something previously unimaginable or perpetual struggles with issues….. we just crumble. The turmoil of life, after many years on this earth, can bring with it an exhaustion so deep, like the pull of the moon on the tides, we cannot ignore or push aside.

Maybe our lives are not what we had hoped they’d be. We grieve the losses, the hopes, the dreams.

What I know for sure in all this, is that:

  • love and kindness toward ourselves and others, heals.

  • Receiving is as great an act of love as giving!

  • We must trust in a higher power.

Somehow, given enough time and willingness, we can regain some of our energy, find answers, hope and the courage to go on. That is our built in survival instinct.

However, I wish I had a magic wand to take all the darkness away and leave only sunshine.

Please share if this was helpful.

sailing to cuba

Sailing to Cuba…..

We had a plan and as it often happens….plans don’t turn out the way you want.

Life happens, while you are making other plans, right!

Our plan was to sail to Cuba.

We have a large Catamaran sailboat, fully stocked, and after many months of preparation we were finally ready to go.

Very soon, a series of unplanned things happened along the way. Our engines broke, not just once, but 3 times. The plumbing started leaking into the boat and it had to be completely re-plumbed. We had to wait for better weather…..sometimes for weeks.

I really do enjoy being on a boat, cooking nice meals, making it comfy and appreciating the sun. Being out on calm seas is the most relaxing thing I know, because you literally can’t do anything else. I love the steady rocking of the boat and being on the water has a soothing effect on my psyche.

What I can’t handle is being at the constant mercy of the weather, wind and water. Everything is perpetually damp or wet. I am petrified when the waves are more than 3 feet and pound the boat, or you lose control of your direction, because the wind has other plans for you.

So when we hit bad weather, I learned that I’m not a sailor!

Everything in life has a good side and a bad, positive and negative. It’s life, the duality. How else would we appreciate the good, if we didn’t experience the bad?

The bad in this case is that we aren’t going to Cuba on a sailboat. Our lovingly planned trip isn’t happening. It’s a disappointment.

The good side is………….

When you are on the water, you meet lots of people of all ages and backgrounds. Boating people are generally very friendly, hospitable and generous. I think the transient nature of boating makes us become more open, stick together and support each other.

We help each other tie up as a new boat approaches the dock at a marina, provide a lending hand if there is a problem and easily sit together over dinner and a glass of wine.

In the course of this, you learn quite a bit about people. You learn their stories, their struggles and their triumphs. You learn about their lives.

What I learned was the almost infinite variety of life-styles that exist on this planet.

As good citizens of western culture, we grow up participating in the norm. We get educated, work at an accepted job, live in an acceptable home and generally follow the cultural “dream”.

We are conditioned to believe that is the right and only way to live. We don’t have another yardstick by which to measure. We believe that this is life and we strive toward it, often at the expense of ourselves….getting stressed out and worn out in the process.

It’s a case of “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

I didn’t know there was another way for a long time. I grew up in a middle class household. My father grew his business into success and my mother stayed home. All the people around us had similar lives. Discussions revolved around our expectations for this life and what we kids would become when we grew up.

We didn’t know people who went against the norm, who lived on boats, climbed mountains, traveled on a shoestring or chose to live with very few possessions, because they recognized what was important to them. Someone in the course of their lives gave them permission to do it differently or they had the calling and courage within to go against the cultural pattern.

Being an observer and a voracious reader, I learned that life can be done differently. It’s easy to see when we look at the lives of other cultures. Within those cultures we find the rebellious, the brave, the different. If we aren’t exposed to other options, we can learn by trial and error, as I did on our sailing trip.

It was an adventure explored. The good far outweighed the bad.

My point is: This is your life! No one else can live it for you, you don’t need approval from anyone. It takes courage to contemplate what you might like outside of the box that was set up for you. Being constantly stressed out with what you are doing might be a good indicator to re-examine things.

Socrates said: “The unexamined life isn’t worth living

It’s about feeling happy. When you feel good, you have more to give. A depleted soul has nothing to give.

Someone in one of my workshops mentioned feeling guilty when she did things for herself.

This is not about selfishness. Everything worth having needs to be nurtured. Especially the Self!

Ask yourself….how do you feel when you constantly neglect yourself and only look to please others? You neglect your body, mind and soul. Your body will get sick, because you don’t care for it properly. Your mind will be exhausted and frazzled by others’ demands, because you don’t know your limits. Your soul will feel no peace, because you are dismissing the very essence of yourself.

Whatever your philosophy, there are a few immutable truths in life:

  • What we regret most at the end of our lives are the things we didn’t do.
  • The degree of understanding and compassion you have for others is in direct relationship to how you treat yourself.
  • Quality friendships and relationships keep us happier and healthier in the long run.

So, go out and do what lights you up, excites you and invigorates you. Do it with others who are supportive of your life-style and show your appreciation and support in return.

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why do we judge

Why do we judge?

Years ago, while studying the Course in Miracles, I read that we shall not judge one another, because everyone is always doing their best in any given moment.

That stayed with me…….but I didn’t really believe it.

Looking around, it appeared that people should know better than to do hurtful things to one another, ignore each other, or make stupid choices.

Don’t we all feel that someone has wronged us?

⦁    That our parents did stupid things, hurtful things that we would never do?

⦁    We judge others’ lifestyles, because they look weird to us.

⦁    We see the husband cheating on the wife who believes she is doing her best to make the marriage work.

⦁    The man who chooses not to forgive the father who used to berate and beat him, but now desperately wants a relationship.

⦁    The friend who declares eternal love, but keeps “forgetting” dates to get together, doesn’t call, goes out with other friends and doesn’t invite you.

⦁    Or, the person in the super-market who won’t smile back, just stares or looks away.

⦁    The people that are so irresponsible, it’s hard to understand how they make it through life.

⦁    The person who lies about everything.

Observing all this, it seemed clear to me that it was simply not true that everyone is doing their best.

Some things are just obviously right or wrong and we should know this.

To be truthful, I just didn’t get it…. for years. I continually judged, because it seemed so straightforward to me that some people’s choices were just plain selfish, stupid and mean.

It took some painful events to wake me up (isn’t it always that way!), to humble me and my opinions.

To see it differently.

It took going deeper. It took realizing that we are sacred beings, each of us with a purpose that only God knows.

But it helps to understand. Our mind likes organization and order. So I began taking a closer look at what might prompt some of the behavior that looks so hurtful.

⦁    What causes a person to act selfish?

We are complex beings, but we have learned that there are certain things children need to become healthy, well functioning  adults. If they are deprived of those basic needs, parts of their psyche become misaligned or crippled.

Babies need touch. That’s a fact. Some years ago the tragedy was all over the media about some orphanages in Eastern Europe where babies and toddlers were left alone in their crib without human touch. They simply died.
Our body and psyche need to be connected, acknowledged and appreciated. We need to be bound to others, be nurtured, understood and cared for. Human beings are social animals.

When our parents are incapable of nurturing our body, mind and spirit, parts of us wither. Typically then it becomes difficult to develop compassion, integrity, understanding, generosity, kindness and connection as we grow into adulthood.

We first have to receive, before we can give to others.

If we do not receive compassion, we can’t give it. If we do not  experience kindness and connection, we can’t give it.

Worse .…..depending on the degree of isolation, we might become narcissistic. That is the epitome of self-centeredness, wherein someone is so lacking that they are incapable of forming a bond or giving selflessly.

So, selfishness, I found, exists on a continuum.

Our ability to give depends largely on what we received in childhood.

⦁    Why are some people always critical?

One of my clients was perpetually criticized and reprimanded as a child. The parents didn’t know any better, because that is how they were raised.
They had good intentions, they believed that this would make him an aware person, who would know the difference between right and wrong.

This young man found himself constantly being critical of others, either aloud or silently. Particularly of his girlfriend. He was letting her know that he knew better and she needed to listen to him. He was certain he was doing the right thing. Eventually she left him. This scenario repeated a few more times until he realized he needed some help.

He felt so insignificant as a child, that by degrading someone else as an adult, he made himself feel more significant.

It’s painful for everyone involved, because the person who is hurt by the behavior suffers and the person who perpetrates recognizes on some level that something isn’t right. They may even feel imprisoned in their emotional state.

⦁    What about all the other strange behaviors?

Sometimes we have a deep fear that we will not get what we need from others. That we don’t really deserve anything good.
We develop coping skills, we will find a way to survive.

That may include drinking, drugs, sex, overeating, anger, avoidance, denial, too much activity…..keeping busy so we don’t have to be present. We get quite creative with the possibilities.

Carol grew up in an uncertain, frightening environment. As a little girl, she watched her bi-polar mother being taken away in a straight jacket, never to return. Her father dealt with his despair by drinking, screaming and physically abusing his children. Carol’s brother left home to join the army as early as he could. Then her sister ran away. This left her unprotected, afraid and alone. She often had to sleep outside and didn’t know when the next meal would come.

This little girl only knew chaos, there was nothing safe and solid to hold onto.

As an adult, Carol can only focus on one thing at a time, she is easily overwhelmed. She is full of anxiety and needs to verbally outline everything she will be doing for the next few days. She has lived in the same home for most of her life and is very particular how her things are arranged.

One of her coping skills is denial.

Denial of her deteriorating marriage, her advanced age, the state of her deteriorating home, that time is not standing still…..

This is how she creates a perceived sense of safety.

She is doing the best she can.

⦁    Why do people lie?

As children we don’t want to get in trouble, we want to be loved and accepted. Yet at times there are things we want to do that we know aren’t allowed.

So we learn to say….it wasn’t me, I didn’t do that.

If there are many things that are forbidden, we become very creative. We develop a very sensitive radar to what is expected from us.
We learn that it isn’t safe to be truthful, because we won’t be accepted and worse, we will be punished.

This can become a habit, a pattern, as we grow into adulthood.

We all want to be liked. If we suspect that our behavior might upset someone, we just make up a little lie….or a big one, so we can look good to others and continue to be accepted.

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Once we step through the door of understanding, the door widens and……………

…when we begin to see others with compassion, with the intention to love, it becomes clear that everyone is always trying to do their best.

Even if we don’t know their history!

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In life the happy, joyful, peaceful times carry us forward and give us strength. The painful times help us grow…. if we are open to learning.

It’s how we all make it through life. When we know better, we do better.

Looking at it this way then, we are ALL always doing the best we can in any given moment.

The One Thing That Will Change Your Life

happy life

How do we change? Some of you have heard me talk about this before, but it’s so powerful, it’s good to hear it again.

Most of the time we learn through pain. I am no different.

There it was again, this sense of feeling trapped and helpless in my situation. Someone who means a lot to me had done something that rocked my world…..not in a good way.

This triggered old thoughts and behaviors, like “no one really loves me and I am a bad person”. I went into a downward spiral, feeling overwhelmingly alone and betrayed.

Before I knew it, I was in a dark pit, taking me to a scary place…… making me feel like this was the theme of my life.

Yet, some small part of me recognized that I had felt out of control like this too many times in my life!

There had to be a better way!

This led me on a journey where I discovered that there is an easier way to change old patterns than practicing psychotherapy. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it is invaluable to explore the origins of our thoughts and behaviors.

But it takes a long time…..and doesn’t always work.

I know……. I had spent my life exploring and analyzing and, still here I was, falling right back into my old patterns. It happened in a flash, like someone else was pulling all the strings.

 

You may recognize this. It’s not just something that only takes hold of me. I’ve seen this with clients, in classes and retreats.

A trigger sets off an avalanche of emotions and behaviors. We are feeling trapped in ourselves.

 

We don’t always recognize the fork in the road. I didn’t at the time.

Sometimes it’s an article, a workshop, a retreat or a person who has something powerful to share, but you aren’t quite ready to hear it all. That’s how it started for me, years ago.

However, a seed was planted. When the soil was ready, specifically, when I was open enough, when I had had enough pain, this seed began to sprout. From there it was almost magical. Information, people and situations showed up that guided me along and showed me the way.

Here is what I discovered: Being willing to stop, breathe and observe, changed my life.

It may sound simple, but it isn’t necessarily easy. It requires practice.

It’s a skill we have to develop, a muscle we have to grow.

We think we are our thoughts, we believe we are our feelings. Yet they are only a part of us, not the entirety. We are so much more!

  • You are not your thoughts

We think, all day long, as long as we are awake. That is what our minds do…..one thought after another. Random thoughts, habitual thoughts, deep thoughts, shallow thoughts. Our mind analyzes, plans, remembers, likes, judges, compares, blames…… thoughts perpetually rising and falling.

We identify with those thoughts. If something happens, our mind jumps to certain thoughts and runs with those, like I’m no good, for example. You know that you can create a whole painful scenario from that one thought.

Yet, when you stop and watch your thoughts, you become aware that they are impermanent.

When we are willing to stop, breathe and recognize that we are thinking, when we step back and watch ourselves thinking, we can take back our power!

It requires a willingness to observe without judgment, like a scientist.

It is similar to lying in the grass watching the clouds or sitting by a river, just observing what flows downstream.

You recognize this is not you!! These thoughts are not a fact. You are so much more than these thoughts. They cannot take your equilibrium, your peace, your happiness.

Because, you see, just by being willing to observe your thoughts, you acknowledge their existence. Whenever we are willing to acknowledge something, it loses its urgency.

  • You are not your emotions

Emotions arise from our thoughts.

We may not recognize when a certain feeling originated, what thought began the wild ride downhill. But if we are willing to step back and observe ourselves feeling a disturbing emotion, we create the space in which we can recognize that we are not this emotion.

There is no need to fight or resist what is there. Just breathe and observe.

This is not you! It is simply an emotion that arose from thoughts, which are floating in and out of our minds, because that is what minds do.

We may think that these feelings are facts, because we have felt them for so long. Whatever we think repeatedly begins to appear as fact. But that is not the truth.

Simply observing without judgment, allows us to move through whatever is there. You’ve heard the saying: “What you resist, persists.”

If we don’t resist, there is no need for anything to persist.

By simply observing your emotions, you will uncover patterns in you that are keeping you stuck…..in pain, in destructive relationships, in self-sabotaging situations.

Once we become aware and observe our thoughts and emotions, the resistance disappears and this creates a space for life to show up differently.

It has the power to change relationships, to ourselves and others. It changes what we attract into our lives.

It heals our life!

  • You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. They are part of you, but not the entirety of you. Learn to be aware of them rather than become them.

 

  • Like all things in life, we must practice this. You can’t wait til you need it and expect yourself to be proficient.

 

We had to crawl before we walked, we had to practice holding that spoon and aim for our mouth, we didn’t learn that new language overnight.

Practice by giving yourself time throughout the day to sit quietly, without distractions, to notice, to observe, to be…….like a scientist, without judgment.

Practice, when you are in conversation with others, when you are working on something, when you are watching TV…..

Just observing, not judging.

If you forget, it’s ok. Do it next time…..

Be kind and gentle with yourself…….and don’t forget to breathe.

To learn more, come to our classes http://www.mindfulnessevolution.com/events-and-classes/

or contact me http://christina@christinadevalencia.com

 

 

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