Valentines Day is a day that we celebrate love, specifically the romantic, Hallmark-fantasy kind of love. And while romantic love is a fine expression, it typically falls short of what the human heart is capable of. Fortunately, life has a way of reminding us, prompting us, to open more deeply to the truth and power of the human heart. If only we will let it.
My 30-year-old niece is dying of cancer. Since her diagnosis 8 years ago I have bounced around in my own little world of this-isn’t-real disbelief, feeling useless and helpless, feeling triggered by unresolved issues between her Mom (my sister) and me, feeling ashamed of not doing more, and trying (unconsciously mostly) to protect myself from feeling and taking on the feelings of our entire family.
As a highly sensitive and empathic person, I have a lifetime of practice in trying to protect myself from feeling overwhelmed by the feelings of others and the pain of this world. The built-in structure of my work, as well as the tools I’ve learned, helps me stay balanced with clients, but my personal life is another story.
Last week I received a text from my sister describing a rushed visit and consult with MD Anderson and a horrible procedure my niece would have to undergo. Not long after, I felt a heavy constriction and ache in my heart that at times left me breathless. My niece and I are not particularly close and her mother and I have had our differences, so my mind dismissed my physical discomfort as having anything to do with them.
It seems however, that my heart had ideas of its own. Thanks to a shared DNA, shared molecules, and perhaps a shared history, no amount of trying to rationalize away or talk sense to it could ease the heavy-weighted drag on my heart. It was only when I took the time to feel into it and say, “I’m here for you,” did it finally break open, with deep wracking sobs, to tell me its story. It told me the story of suffering – mine, yours, my niece’s, everybody’s. It told me that growing up means accepting this world as it is - with betrayals and losses, illness and death, and so many things that we can’t control, and that trying to avoid these things is not the point.
When I finally reached what felt like the bottom of a deep deep well there was peace, but not just the kind of peace that follows emotional purging. This peace came from a power much bigger than me, that extended out from and beyond me, embracing the whole world in tenderness and compassion.
As the weight on my heart was replaced with a soft deep fullness, I came to understand the inherent gift in suffering and the alchemical power of the human heart. It seems that the bigger and broader and more deeply it opens to your suffering and mine, the more it exposes the truth - we are all connected by a holy thread, spun with an unlimited supply of love and compassion that ultimately we can't escape, even when we try.
Happy Love Day Everybody.
This article was originally published in 2018 for Natural Awakenings Magazine.
If you’ve tried to make changes in your life or in your behavior at the start of the New Year – or any other time for that matter – and find that you start out gung ho, but lose momentum, you’re not alone.
What I most want you to know is that this doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy, lacking in self-control, determination, discipline, or willpower.
In my experience, it simply means that the rational “thinking” part of you wants to make certain changes but other parts of you do not. These other parts of you do not live in the frontal cortex where rational thinking and problem solving take place, but live in the bodymind or unconscious mind. They consist of energy in the form of conflicting beliefs, programs, or suppressed emotions and were often set in place when you were much younger.
Let’s use losing weight as an example. I trust that you are informed enough to know what foods and exercise habits will support you in losing weight and which will not. So this rational informed part of you tries to eat right and exercise, but another part of you, which you may or may not be conscious of says, "Yeah? Make me. I want to eat whatever I want to eat when I want to eat it. Thank you very much.” There may be another part of you that already feels deprived and unloved and feels that you are taking away the only way she knows how to treat herself or comfort herself.
Any place in you that is hurting and feels unheard, may stay quiet and “behave” for awhile, but if you continue to ignore these parts of you, push them away, or try to control them, they will eventually act out with a vengeance. This is why people sometimes engage in secretive splurging and eventually sabotage their good intentions. This is how these unheard parts finally have their say.
(Sometimes people try to “program” their unconscious minds with positive affirmations. If this strategy works for you, then by all means, please continue. But I see so many people who have been unable to make their desired changes this way, and feel bad about themselves as a result. There are a couple of reasons this strategy often does not work. First of all, the unconscious mind is about a million times more powerful than the conscious mind. Secondly, this technique is often done with an energy of control versus love).
The way to escape this cycle is not through more self-control or beating yourself up, but by learning how to listen to these hurt parts of yourself versus trying to control them. Like all hurt children, they just want to be heard and understood. When you can learn how to do this with genuine compassion, they will release their grip and their demands will quiet.
Beyond goals and intentions, even beyond self-improvement, lie your heart's deepest desires. Driving every desire for more friends, more money, and greater health is the longing for the feeling state that you believe achieving or having these things will provide.
While it's perfectly natural for you to follow your dreams and desires, after all you were created by a creator and will always tend to ask, "Next?," it might be worthwhile to explore what's driving them. Doing so is not meant to bring judgment to your desires, but to loosen any angst around them, to release any sense of, "When ___ happens, I'll feel better/be happier" etc., and to essentially open up to the feeling state you're trying to achieve and its presence as it might be available right here, right now.
Have a pen and paper handy. Take time to make yourself comfortable, get grounded, and breathe. Scan your body and see if you can get a sense of anything you might be holding, either in the form of body sensations or feelings, and allow yourself to simply be present with them as you breathe. Take time to do this until you feel that you're in a relatively quiet, relaxed state. Then feel into your chest, in the area around your heart, and ask yourself, "What is my heart's deepest desire?" See if you can wait and simply allow whatever comes to come. Remember you're asking your heart, not your head. Whatever comes, whether it makes sense or not, jot it down briefly. If nothing comes, just breathe and ask again.
Ask as many times as you'd like, pausing to write down, sit with, be with, and breathe with each answer. You might notice that your answers change or they may stay the same. It really doesn't matter.
Select one of your most consistent answers or the one that feels strongest to you and ask yourself, "What feeling state will I have when I have this, that I don't have now?" Breathe and notice the first thing that pops in your mind. Then ask yourself, "If I could, would I be willing to let myself have that feeling now, in this moment, for just this moment?" Or, "Would I be open to the possibility of having that feeling now?"
You don't have to know how. You don't have to get into a debate with yourself about how you can't possibly feel what you're wanting to feel until __ happens. Just see if you'd be willing or be open, just a little bit, to having the feeling now.
Just do your best. If you'd like help with this, please let me know. If you've worked with me before, we can do this over the phone.
If you get nothing else out of this exercise, you will at least have some insight into what deeper desire might be driving the more conscious desire. And sometimes when you can validate the deeper desires of your heart, some of the angst about when and where and how you'll get them, will relax.
As I emerged from sleep last Saturday morning, my mind drifted forward to the day ahead - the plans I'd made, the things I wanted to do, needed to do, felt I should do. And I became aware of a familiar feeling - a low-grade dissatisfaction or boredom, and a sense of wanting more. I tend to blame this feeling on living alone or not having a greater sense of community around me.
So I started revisiting some thoughts I've had before about how to fix this. Should I move? Should I try to find and make more friends? Would I be happier being married? But as I imagined myself spending my day with my new imaginary friends and doing the things I think I would enjoy, I became aware of how temporary it all felt. At the end of the day, I would still come home and do my evening chores and deal with what was mine to deal with, alone. And if I was married, we would go to bed and start over the next day and one day, one of us would die.
If you're not yet 50 this might sound morbid. You might not think about death as much as I do. But there comes a time when death becomes more of a reality and less of something that's going to happen "one day," off in some sort of vague, distant future. And with this awareness comes a stronger desire to not only look to what's really important, but to reflect back on your life and question if getting your outer life just like you wanted it has ever really been the key to lasting happiness.
It was with this felt-awareness of the fleeting quality of situational happiness that I made a subtle but important shift. I turned my attention from the solutions, images, and strategies that my mind had conjured up, like a movie in my head, and came back to my body and my breath. When I did, I realized that what I really wanted was not more, but deeper. And so I sank into my own beingness and found all that I was looking for - belonging, connection, fullness, and peace.
From this depth, this felt-experience of oneness with Self, I feel I can accomplish most anything, and do so with a sense of freedom and fullness. There's nothing left to get, nothing left to fix, and no future state of being or feeling to achieve. It's all here now.
My New Year's wish for you dear friend, is that as you set your goals and intentions and reflect on your hopes and dreams for the coming year, that you're able to take the time to experience within yourself this deeper truth . . . all that you are seeking, you already have, and already are.
Best and Deepest New Year to you and yours.
Sometimes, when it comes to family or certain family members, we have a tendency to unconsciously resist or push against "the way they are." This can be exacerbated this time of year with feelings about "the way it should be." We also have a tendency during this time of year to unconsciously compare "the way it is" and/or "the way they are" with the way we wish it was or the way we wish they were.
It's a core human need, and therefore perfectly understandable, to want to feel respected, loved, appreciated, seen, and safe with your "tribe" or family of origin. Unfortunately, even fairly healthy family members can have their own "stuff" and fall short in this regard.
But here's a release that might help . . .
Take a moment to picture a family member. Check inside your body to notice and allow whatever feelings that arise to simply come up. Then ask yourself, "Could I allow myself to resist the way this person is (or the way it is) as much as I do?" And then take a moment to allow those feelings to be there. Then ask yourself, "Could I allow myself to accept the way this person is (or the way it is) as best I can?" and simply allow whatever comes up to be there as well. Go back and forth between each statement as many times as you'd like, keeping in mind that you're not trying to force yourself into acceptance or "affirm" your way into the acceptance that you want. Instead, you are patiently allowing for the possibility of the presence of both states.
The Sedona Method calls this process Holistic Releasing. Somatic Experiencing calls it "pendulation." In either case the process is the same. By welcoming the existence of seemingly opposite states (even if one is much stronger than the other) and resting your non-judging attention on each, they will neutralize, giving way to a more natural state of acceptance. Be patient with this process. Make sure you're taking time to be open to the feeling of each and simply watch what happens inside as you go back and forth.
Lester Levenson, whose teachings inspired the Sedona Method, said that if you can feel free in relation to your family you have achieved a high level of freedom. By free he meant imperturbable - free of negative feelings, free of expectations, and free to be with them or not be with them and feel at peace.
Lester understood that our basic core programming takes root in our families of origin and much of this programming is unconscious. So when we relate to our family members we are often relating through the filter of that programming instead of who they are and who we are now.
Feeling stressed around the holidays and being "triggered" by your family offers a great opportunity to release and untangle core programming. Any releasing you do with regards to your family will net you big gains and will carry over to other aspects of your life.
Here's how to stay grounded and in the present:
First of all, please try not to beat yourself up or give yourself a hard time if you get triggered by family members. It's very common. I still do.
Secondly, see if you can do your best to stay grounded, breathe consciously, and stay present - in your own body and with yourself when you're with family. If you can, during your interactions with them, take a moment to make sure you can feel your feet and the different parts of your feet. Also see if you can feel the muscles in your chest and/or belly as you breathe. Feel them expanding and relaxing. I will sometimes sort of pinch myself (literally), as a way to remind myself to feel and be in my body. You can also repeat the word "now" softly and silently to yourself as you breathe.
Simply practice this when you think of it and approach this exercise with openness and curiosity - as best you can:).
Just as you might be preparing to sit down and eat with the cast of characters you call your family, consider taking the time to periodically sit down with yourself and invite your internal family to weigh-in and have their say.
Whether you prefer to use the Internal Family Systems Model or something more like "Meeting the Committee," doing so offers the opportunity to bring to light subconscious material that might be sabotaging your goals or your sense of fulfillment. It might also reveal the source of stuckness you feel with certain clients. Bringing the body into the process can take it one step further.
Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks teach something called the Persona Interview. It begins with establishing a clear, bodily felt-sense of a feeling, belief, or part of yourself. Sometimes you're encouraged to assume a posture, stance, or physical shape. From this embodied perspective, you respond spontaneously, without censor, to questions from a partner or facilitator like, "What's the most important thing to you? When did you make your first appearance? What are you most afraid of?"
Answering from the bodymind, and bypassing the thinking brain, tends to offer surprising insight as to what unconscious material might be driving things behind the scenes. It's also a great tool to use with your clients. But like most techniques of this nature, it'll be much more effective when you've practiced it with and on yourself.
If you'd like some help or more information, please let me know. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours and all the parts of you - known and otherwise.
While it's true that finding things to appreciate and feel grateful for can elevate your mood, (as the guided meditation here might demonstrate), be careful that you're not using it as a way to by-pass, get away from, or resist negative feelings.
Judging yourself for having negative feelings, comparing yourself to others who "are worse off," and forcing yourself to feel grateful, will ultimately make things worse. Like positive thinking, it can simply add to the tension between the judging-you and the part of you who longs to be heard and needs your compassion.
Neither the judging-you or the hurting part of you is who you are. Think of them more like characters in your inner drama or play, who were created in response to stressors in your early environment, and who adopted the coping behaviors of others in your childhood "play." Who you are is the one who observes, who watches the play without judgement. Who you are is the space on which the play unfolds.
This you is big enough and vast enough to hold it all and the more you practice making a compassionate space for all of the parts of you to show up and have their say, the more you will experience and know yourself as the truth of who you are.
is one of the most common statements I hear from my clients. It ranks right up there with, "There are people in the world with real problems. Why can't I just get over it?"
I don't know when or where we got the message that only people with real problems are allowed to feel bad and that we are accurate determiners of what constitutes a real problem. But I can tell you that, despite your egoic mind's tendency to think it knows the answer to these questions, your bodymind is saying that somethin' ain't right and no amount of trying to convince it otherwise is gonna help.
In fact, your judging disapproval of your feelings is what prevents them from releasing. Like the upset child who is dismissed, ignored, or told to shut up, our feelings will retreat or hide for awhile, only to come out again when triggered.
The next time you feel bad, sad, depressed, or "sorry for yourself" consider the possibility that an unknown, unloved part of you wants and needs your attention. You don't have to indulge him or her, you don't have to let them take over, just see if you can breathe and let them be with you as you go through your day. Simply acknowledge their presence. You might just find that you both relax and that gratitude comes, not from trying to be grateful, but as a natural quality of breath-filled, fully-embodied, non-resistant presence.
Related Article: Releasing: What It Is and What It Isn't
Most of us carry, on some level, a sense of not having enough and/or not being enough. It creates a low-grade, chronic feeling of strain or push in the bodymind, which we may sometimes experience or refer to as stress.
Like most feeling states, it can be released. And with practice, its release can bring a greater sense of ease and freedom. But before you can release any unwanted thought, feeling, or belief you must first acknowledge its presence. If you want to release it at its source, you must connect with it at the level of the bodymind, as a felt experience. Here's how . . .
Begin by getting still, grounding yourself, breathing consciously, and quieting your mind. Then ask yourself, "Could I allow myself to welcome any sense of 'It's not enough' or 'I'm not enough?'" Then breathe. Take a moment to allow any sense of the not enoughness to emerge. Gently be with it for a few moments and then ask yourself, "Could I allow myself to be open, at least to the possibility, that 'It's enough' or that 'I'm enough?'" Breathe and notice what happens inside. And again, gently be with whatever arises for a few moments.
Go back and forth with these two sets of questions as many times as you'd like, while breathing and noticing what happens inside as you do. You may have to go back and forth at least ten times to notice a shift and it might be subtle. But take your time and approach this exercise with as much openness and curiosity as you can - as best you can:).
To learn more about releasing, you might want to read the following article and/or watch the helpful video below:
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