Category Archives: Blog

03Nov/17
Connection in the Midst

Feeling Connection in the Midst of…

When we are confronted with difficult circumstances, such as enduring a hurricane, witnessing acts of terrorism, having relationship conflicts, or facing serious health concerns, it is common to react with anger, hurt, or feeling separate, isolated, or victimized. Or maybe we shut down and become numb. But we live in an interconnected world and we are wired to be connected—with the environment, other people, and various aspects of ourselves. Connectedness can also be with something larger than we are—a calling, the universe, God, or another higher power. It essentially is connectedness to a deep peace within.

connection in natureAnd we are not separate from nature. The sun, the air we breathe, plants, and animals all provide humans life-giving nourishment. As Alan Watts so eloquently put it: Each one of us, not only human beings but every leaf, every weed, exists in the way it does, only because everything else around it does. The individual and the universe are inseparable.” What’s most available to us at any moment is our connection to life and others through our senses—seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching.

Bodily connection

Most of us take our body for granted and are disconnected from it. We stretch it, strain it, and often abuse it. We don’t get enough sleep. We consume food and substances that compromise our health and well-being. The body is a web of interconnections and is continually seeking balance and wholeness via signals to and from the brain. But we often don’t pay attention to messages it may be sending in the form of pain or exhaustion. Our bodies can also speak to us through our feelings, emotions, and thoughts. We forget, or maybe never learned, that our bodies are constantly speaking to us. This is why we have been endowed with our senses and ability to perceive.

Social connection

We are making connections with others every moment of our lives—with every person we meet, every colleague we work with, every stranger who opens a door for us or sits down next to us on the subway. Let’s not forget the connections we have with all the people who plant, tend, transport, and sell us our food. Yet, we tend to be unaware of this multitude of connections.

social connectionResearch has shown that social connections strengthen our immune system, lower rates of anxiety and depression, heighten self-esteem, and increase empathy toward others. When we hear of a major disaster or tragedy and the suffering of many, most of us feel empathy and compassion. In fact, according to Brené Brown, best-selling author of The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, & Courage, “empathy fuels connection.”

How often do we make judgments about other people because they appear different from us? It might be their race, religion, nationality, politics, or maybe just how they are dressed. So much in our society tells us to distrust others. In his book, The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Living a Compassionate Life, Piero Ferrucci writes of two worldviews. One is pessimistic and the other is optimistic. We can distance ourselves by suspicion, or we can draw nearer to people knowing we are linked to one another. Kindness brings us closer to people.

Empathy connection

My friend Ann was taking her daily walk when she saw a man she’d never seen before walking several dogs and headed towards her. She noted that he was quite overweight and was wearing torn, disheveled-looking clothes. Not the kind of person she would want to connect with, she thought. She became aware of fear and anxiety rising within her. But then something shifted inside her, compelling her to make a connection. Ann said hello and commented about one of dogs, which was quite small, saying how cute it was. Tom, who introduced himself, responded that he’d only had him three days and had found him on the Internet. He was a rescue dog from Houston made homeless by Hurricane Harvey. He said he and his wife decided they had room for him in their home—and in their hearts. Ann found her own heart melting and opening wide.

Peace connection

I recently found the following simple yet poignant definition of peace from an anonymous source on the Internet: Peace: It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” Even though this calmness can be buried beneath the ruble of accumulated life experiences, it is there and it is free and accessible to us all.

Not long ago I helped lead a six-day iRest Yoga Nidra meditation teacher training. Participants came from all over the country and as far away as Hong Kong. Short for Integrative Restoration, iRest is highly experiential practice that helps one achieve, or restore, groundedness and deep calm. Regular practice helps one live a connected life as this place of peace becomes naturally integrated into one’s daily life. A participant in the training I assisted in last year, a psychiatrist, told me that iRest helped her feel more present in her body and less stuck in her thoughts.

iRest is a simple guided meditation practice of mindfulness and deep relaxation. It helps us systematically and somatically move through the boundaries of feeling separate from others, from life, and from ourselves. It invites us to embrace our best qualities, which are already present, though obscured by conditioning.

Jacqui facilitating iRest

Jacqui facilitating iRest

iRest offers a toolbox of practices that teaches how to notice whatever sensations, feelings, or thoughts arise as the body-mind’s way of sharing messages. A physical sensation such as pain may be calling for us to inquire into its source and, in some cases, seek medical assistance. Thoughts, feelings, and emotions are also explored in a way that allows us to learn from their messages. Thus we become more aware and conscious of whatever may be arising in any given moment. Rather than allowing a negative reaction to form, we can feel back into our inner resource of peace and well-being and choose a more favorable response.

Other body-mind practices such as yoga, tai chi, and types of meditation are ways to access and deepen our connectedness. The same is true with activities that foster a connection with nature.

Peace within the midst

A core teaching of Viktor Frankl (1905–1997), Austrian psychiatrist, neurologist, holocaust survivor, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, was that our power to choose our response is the source of our growth and freedom. He also said, “If you don’t go within, you simply go without.” In other words, we lose our sense of connectedness.

We all have the capacity to feel grounded in peace. We can learn to live that way in the midst of whatever circumstance we encounter. When we experience this profound peace in the midst of turmoil, our connection is infinite.

09Sep/17
connection in nature

Being Aware: Live Joyously, Drunkenly, Divinely

“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” —Henry Miller

Are you aware of all the thoughts in your mind at this moment? One research study revealed that humans experience as many as 60,000 thoughts each day, one for every second of waking life. Thoughts are like corn kernels popping in our consciousness one after the other. Most of our thoughts are transient and many are recurring. But thoughts are only one thing that occupies our attention. Feelings, sensations, memories, and perceptions all intermingle with our thoughts. Behind all of this activity in the mind is an infinite stillness. Being aware of this stillness can have a profound effect on our lives.

Out to lunch

worm on leafEach part of nature knows what its job is, usually performs it to perfection, and amazingly, knows to do it. Take, for example, a worm patiently edging and nosing and fitting a fallen leaf into its hole for a later meal. It’s totally present to its experience and doesn’t dillydally. The worm ultimately may become lunch for a robin, or be consumed by lesser creatures after it dies naturally. Either way, it’s lived in simple awareness and purposely fulfilled itself. Worms, robins, and the rest of the animal kingdom live purposeful lives, are never absent-minded or “out to lunch.”

We humans are an exception to most of nature. We are born as fully present, curious creatures wholly absorbed in each moment. As we grow and adapt to our world, we learn to create boundaries and determine where to direct our attention while the outside world bombards us with way more than we can possibly focus on. At the same time, a continuous flow of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions floods our minds, keeping us separate from our present circumstances.

robin with wormWhile working on writing this article, I watched YouTube videos of a worm going about its business and then a robin snatching it up, and my imagination took flight. I wondered what it might feel like to be the bird and the worm in these circumstances. I was repulsed by the worm’s demise but immediately felt a pang of hunger and wondered what I would have for lunch, and then I thought about what I needed to prepare for a picnic/concert I was going to that evening. Then the phone rang. Confronted with something of more urgency, my writing project got pushed aside. At that point I realized that I’d been unfocused and “out to lunch” for a good part of the afternoon.

Being occupied

occupied with TextingWhen I was growing up we didn’t have many activities to engage in outside of school, though we had lots of free time to play with friends, be creative, and explore. By contrast, the lives of today’s children are often highly structured with many activities. For most kids, school is demanding and parents and society push them to achieve. Beyond school, they may play sports and take music and dance lessons, where the performance pressure can also be intense. In what little spare time they have, a large majority of youngsters are engrossed in social media, playing video games, texting, shopping online, or surfing on the web—oblivious to the presence of family and friends. Spending time just being, playing for enjoyment, or just thinking is virtually unheard of among youth today.

Of course, adults are not immune to this busyness obsession. We are conditioned to be constantly doing. Even practicing yoga can become just another form of doing rather than being a way to experience inner peace and awareness. The idea that our happiness and fulfillment are only achieved through engagement with the outside world has become the norm. We don’t know how to tap in to an internal sense of being, much less be aware. And why should we?

Realm of awareness

The truth is that true peace, happiness, and love can only be found internally. Searching outside always falls short and never offers long-lasting joy. Recall any situation that brought you happiness or exhilaration—a roller-coaster ride, first kiss, landing the ideal job. The feeling—real as it was at the time—eventually faded.

Take a moment to ask yourself, “Am I aware?” You may be mildly aware of your body, the flow of your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, and the sights and sounds around you. But what is the source of that awareness? Free yourself to be an observer.

Being aware, said philosopher and writer D.L. Harding, is “living from one’s space instead of from one’s face.” Living from one’s space means bringing attention and presence to everything we experience in life. The result is that we do a better job with whatever we engage in, and with more ease and joy. Fear, pain, and life challenges lose their intensity. We experience more peace and serenity and heighten our capacity to meet whatever life presents responsibly.

Becoming divinely aware

Let’s face it, it’s practically impossible for us humans to eliminate our thoughts, memories, and perceptions, which cloud our true awareness. In fact, we don’t need to get rid of anything. Instead, we can welcome whatever shows up in our awareness. At the same time, we can learn to move our attention beneath the veiled surface of the mind and body to a place where we find stillness that is changeless.

sensory-gardenThere are many ways to get to that stillness. Formal mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation help us align with this deepest core of our being. We can also practice by simply listening with all our senses. This can be done while walking or practicing pranayama (breathing techniques). Slipping into a warm bath helps to access awareness. I find that the Chicago Botanic Gardens is a good place to practice cultivating stillness and awareness, especially in the wonderful Sensory Garden. There you experience being fully aware while seeing, touching, and smelling everything you encounter—plants like soft furry lamb’s ear and fragrances of curry and dark-maroon chocolate cosmos! You experience how deeply rooted nature is in stillness.

Try this exercise: Look at an object in front of you. See it in its entirety—shape, color, texture, etc. Then soften your gaze and take in the whole landscape before you without paying attention to any one thing. Try this with your eyes closed, concentrating on hearing just one sound, and then allow the whole spectrum of sounds to permeate your awareness. When thoughts and feelings arise, set them free. As a witness, experience all that is present, and then allow deep stillness and peace to encompass you. See your core of awareness shining out as your true Self–God’s infinite being.

Broaden and deepen your awareness in all you do—work, play, experiencing solitude. Rupert Spira, spiritual teacher, author, and potter, has written, “When doing slows down, the thinking that is at its origin is exposed; when thinking dissolves, the feeling that is behind it is uncovered; when feeling subsides, the Being that is at its heart is revealed.”

Being aware is like inhabiting a home built for living and loving, which has no room for hurts, fears, or regrets. Inhabit this home and let yourself become joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware!

 

 

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11Jul/17
handpring on back

Who’s Got Your Back?

I recently was a staff presenter at a four-day retreat in Chicago for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress. Each veteran brought a support person—partner, family member, or battle buddy. One afternoon an art therapist at the School of the Art Institute led the group through expressive art projects. To begin, they were given old button-down shirts to protect their clothing. Then they were asked to place one hand into a puddle of colored acrylic paint, plant their handprint on the back of their partner, and say, “I’ve got your back!” This experience was a powerful way for people to feel connected—and to experience things we all crave: feeling safe, supported, and cared for.

Basic need

I work with survivors of war and other traumatic experiences who continue to suffer long after the traumatic event. Vietnam was a highly controversial war. In addition to the traumas suffered abroad, those who returned home were not welcomed back. Many stuffed their memories and feelings just to get on with life. Those who have suffered childhood, domestic, or other forms of abuse or traumas generally harbor feelings of being unsafe, vulnerable, insecure, helpless, and alone.

Just as warriors need to protect one another in combat, we all need people in our lives who are there for us, have our best interests at heart, and will stand up for us. Yet, loneliness, isolation, and depression are now highly prevalent in our culture. A 2005 report published in the American Sociological Review found that one in four Americans felt they had no one they could talk to. According to Lynn Smith-Lovin Professor of Sociology at Duke University, that number has dropped to two. The proliferation of social networking over the last decade has changed the society in many ways but hasn’t offered a replacement for the kind of connectedness true friendship provides.

ConnectionCare, support, and protection are fundamental needs of infants, children, and even teenagers. Most young people have the assurance that their parents will always have their back. It would be wonderful if we all had that sense of security. The fact is, we are social beings, and our need for connection continues throughout our lives; such connections give us the resiliency to live fulfilling lives.

Trust and support

“Problems carried alone are problems doubled, while problems shared are problems cut in half.” David A. Grant, Founder/Publisher TBI HOPE Magazine

Even if we haven’t experienced war or abuse, we all have suffered—the death of a loved one, loss of a job, disappointment in a relationship, severe illness. When times are tough, who is there for you? Is there someone you can turn to who will listen, comfort you, and help you resolve or cope with your situation? If not family, who else can you lean on? Who really listens to you with a compassionate ear?

Even though we want to be accepted and loved, sometimes the prospect of letting another see us our flaws, failings, and weaknesses can be scary and make us feel vulnerable, not knowing if we can truly trust that person. We need people who can make us feel good about ourselves, not those who are negative or judgmental. While opening the trust door may seem risky, the alternative—being alone, anxious, and powerless—will not alleviate our suffering.

SupportSome of us are most comfortable one-to-one with a friend, partner, or counselor when baring our inner soul. But support can also be found in groups. Support networks for people with health challenges and addictions have been shown to be highly effective in helping reduce anxiety and depression. They provide safe spaces in which individuals can voice their struggles, listen to the challenges of others, learn from them, and realize they are not alone. Groups can also provide healthy peer pressure, nudging others to take steps that will help them. Learning to trust helps people feel better, develop better coping skills, and ultimately live happier, healthier lives.

I have greatly valued the informal networks of support I’ve formed over the years, both professional and personal. I cherish my lifeline of intimate friends whom I know will have my back when I need them, as I will have theirs. When it comes to writing these articles, I know I can depend on people who will honestly critique and edit my musings and let me know when I’ve missed the mark. When I teach courses or make presentations, I’ve learned to approach them with the understanding that my audiences want me to succeed—they want me to inspire or enlighten them. Why else would they be there!

Being independent and self-reliant is highly touted in our culture. But we are never truly separate or independent; we all depend upon our interactions with other people. We are also responsible for our actions and their impact on others. Life is give and take. While our life journey is individual, we thrive on healthy relationships; quite simply, we need one another.

Cultivate your inner resource

“There is no real security except for whatever you build inside yourself.”
–Comedian Gilda Radner

flower and stonesOpening our inner selves to supportive friends and loved ones can provide a pathway to uncovering an inner strength. As an iRest Yoga Nidra meditation instructor, I help individuals cultivate feelings of security and ease. We spend time in each meditation experiencing what we refer to as our “inner resource.” Let me guide you through this experience.

Recall a place, or one you would imagine, creating it in your mind’s eye as though painting a canvas. It may be a place in nature—resting on a beach, in a forest or field. It may be a place you remember from childhood or on vacation. There may be other people here, an animal or spiritual figure—or you may simply be by yourself. Most importantly, there is a sense of being grounded, safe, and comfortable here. Visualize the colors, forms, and textures you would see here. Then begin to feel yourself in this place, seeing 360 degrees around you. Feel the touch of air upon your skin and any smells that may be present. Most importantly, become aware of the feeling of being fully supported and a sense of ease and well-being. Like a coming home to your true self.

Our inner resource helps us access deeper levels of our being that have never been hurt or broken and don’t need fixing. In iRest Yoga Nidra meditation, as in many forms of meditation, we must be open to Infinite Awareness, also known as Eternal Presence or God, which allows us to know peace, happiness, and love—and to rest assured that our back is always covered!

21Apr/17
comfort zone

Your Comfort Zone: Time to Let it Go?

Comfort, ease, and safety are core elements that contribute to our overall sense of well-being. We are wired to seek comfort, and familiarity feeds this neutral state of being. Our habits help us move efficiently through our daily activities and feel mentally secure. Getting too firmly set in our comfort zone, however, doesn’t necessarily free us from worry or depression. Rather, it can cause us to function on autopilot. As a result, we miss opportunities to grow and create and experience authentic joy.

Stress and risk

Our comfort zone can be defined as the space where our activities and behaviors minimize stress and risk. Sometimes, though, we’re not truly comfortable in our comfort zone; yet the thought of stepping outside it can cause anxiety and stress and even panic. Since stress is considered the cause of many illnesses, it makes sense to want to minimize it.

Child risk-takerChildren, in their innocence and fearlessness, are natural risk-takers. They know nothing about a “comfort zone.” They experience life with a sense wonder and curiosity. A leaf, an animal, the sky, a shadow—all can delight them. Beyond childhood, however, most of us succumb to conditioning that pushes us to seek a safe and familiar path.

Feelings of stress and fatigue are often caused by the constant discourse buzzing inside our minds. If you stop to listen, you’ll notice how that discourse is generally uninspiring rumination. When allowed free rein, such ruminating thoughts can become an internal tyrant telling us how flawed and incapable we are. Over time, we become psychologically conditioned to fear failure, though that’s what we expect of ourselves. We find ourselves stuck in a treadmill-like existence until a crisis occurs, forcing us to act or make a change.

Fear and growth

On the other hand, instinctive rather than conditioned fear can save our lives. It’s in our DNA to recognize a threat and self-protect, as did our ancestors. We are designed to move naturally between threat, action, and comfort. The space just outside our comfort zone is called “optimal anxiety,” where stress levels are slightly elevated—a healthy state. Venturing into this space motivates us to act. We build the flexibility and resilience not only to meet adversity but to take advantage of opportunity—as long as we to return to a state of comfort with relative ease.

Taking risks can be very frightening. While we tend to like things that are easy, even a path with a seemingly low resistance can be strewn with unknowns. Experiencing trauma such as death of a loved one, job or financial loss, or abuse can cause us to retreat into our default comfort zone and remain there. Yet, isn’t this life we’ve been given meant to be lived in a way that enables us to bring our best self into it? Allowing our best self to flourish requires courage.

Our lives are all about learning and growing. The more we learn to flex between comfort and action, the easier and less stressful life becomes.

Two courageous women

I’d like to share examples of two women I know who are in the midst of moving beyond their comfort zones. These women have taken risks to bring greater meaning and purpose to their lives.

Maria was recovering from the recent loss of one of her two war veteran sons to suicide. After several months of attending the iRest meditation program I teach, she shared how she was able to integrate the practices into her life. She now sleeps well and is able to fulfill her responsibilities as a speech pathologist for autistic children. An organization I’m affiliated with wants to videotape testimonials about services that have helped veterans and their families. When asked if she would participate, Maria said, “So you’re asking me to go beyond my comfort zone?” After a long pause she said that if it would help just one veteran she would do it.

Undertow bookDiane Madden Ferguson is a survivor of sexual trauma that occurred during her five-year tour in the Navy. When she got out, she married a man she knew from high school. During their 38 years of marriage, she raised two children, got a master’s degree, and had a successful career in law enforcement. After retirement, her life fell apart. She had never told anyone, not even her husband, about the sexual abuse. Two years ago she finally had the courage to step out of her comfort zone. Her healing journey began with therapy and culminated with the publication of her memoir, Undertow: A US Navy Veteran’s Journey Through Military Sexual Trauma, in 2016.

Fear and love as allies

fear and loveI am the least likely person to venture beyond my comfort zone, having been a shy, introverted child. Yet, as I reflect back, I’m amazed at how many times I have gone far outside my comfort zone… and how many ventures (many of which did not pan out) and adventures have enriched my life.

Long ago a co-worker challenged me:, “Why don’t you travel?” I proceeded to make a hobby of traveling to far-off lands—usually alone. A friend said, “Let’s take a belly dance class.” I later became a principal dancer performing with a dance company for more than 20 years. Later a colleague said, “I have space in my office. Come start your own business.” And I did. Another colleague suggested joining a Toastmasters club to overcome my fear of public speaking. Now teaching, coaching, and speaking are second nature to me. Fear has been my companion along much of the way. But it always arose with a message compelling me to take the leap and experience the rewards—even when the chance of failure was great.

As I have learned to move beyond my comfort zone, I have found that fear always brings along its unlikely companions—love and joy. Somehow I knew that if I did that thing of which I was fearful, I would ultimately do what I love and enjoy what I do. I was inspired to embrace life and bounce back even when things didn’t work out. The words of two famous writers truly capture this message for me. In You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” And the poet Rumi wrote: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

Taking the next stepThe next step

It’s never too late to recapture some of the innocence and fearlessness of your inner child and become comfortable outside your comfort zone. Rather than waiting for others or circumstances to push you into action, start by making small changes in your routines, traveling different routes, or trying new things. Notice when autopilot thinking is occurring, and relax with deep breaths to quiet your mind. Shift your attention to something you love or something that challenges you.

In order to grow and be transformed, you musk risk failure. But your life will be richer and more rewarding when you allow love and joy to be your allies, right along with fear.

13Mar/17
Relieve stress

Relieve Stress: Three Simple Ways

Relieve Stress, Build Resilience, Find Inner Peace

Do you have trouble sleeping, suffer aches and pains, overindulge in food or alcohol? These are just some of the common symptoms of stress, the number 1 health risk in the U.S. What is the cause of your stress? Is it the news, deadlines or financial issues, challenging relationships? It may surprise you that none of these create your stress. The real cause is how you respond to them.

We all have the capacity to build resilience to stress and bounce back from adversities in life. It was built into our DNA back when humans confronted or escaped wild beasts, or endured hard weather conditions.  While the “beasts” in our modern world are totally different forms, our thoughts and emotions are just as heightened—except it’s 24/7—never a break.

Relaxation, mindfulness and meditation are powerful and proven ways to help restore your resilience and well-being. These ancient practices are being used today as complimentary to traditional medical, even in the military.

Turning the thinking mind off is one of the first challenges since thoughts can cause emotions to flare. Clarity and wisdom have no way to break through.

Three ways: to help you relax your mind through your body:

  1. Bring attention into an area of the body, maybe your hands or feet.
  2. Take a few deep breaths with long exhalations to help you feel into the present moment.
  3. Recall a real or imagined place where you feel safe, grounded and at ease—and allow yourself to feel these qualities in your body.

In Relieve Stress with iRest® Meditation you’ll learn to integrate practices like these into your life along with many others. iRest, short for Integrative Restoration, is a proven approach to help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic illnesses and so much more. It helps to build inner strength and resilience to better meet life from a place of joy and inner peace. It’s easy to do sitting comfortably or lying down and following the guided meditation. (Check Courses page)

07Mar/17
The next step

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

We live in a culture that views success as a process of steadily moving forward, while moving backward implies failure. The title of this article was a phrase used by President Obama in his farewell speech to the nation; he was referring to the historical forward and sometimes backward movement of our country’s progress. Let’s put aside the debate as to whether the U.S. is currently moving forward or backward and consider the phrase as a metaphor for our personal lives. While time marches on linearly, as much as we may wish it to be different, our lives often fail to progress in the same manner, and discouragement may prevail.

Just as tides ebb and flow, there is a continual back-and-forth movement in the ebb and flowtrajectory of our lives. Our best-laid plans can fall short or, for whatever reason, not come to fruition. Taking a step back periodically is a natural and sometimes necessary component of life. It can help us replenish and build the inner strength and courage to meet life circumstances. The key to our growth as human beings is the ability to welcome the backward movements when they come—as they inevitably will—and learn from them, rather than allow discouragement to stifle our spirit and motivation.

As Oswald Chambers, an early 20th-century Scottish Baptist evangelist, wrote, If you are going through a time of discouragement, there is a time of great personal growth ahead.” 

Backward resistance

Backward steps, as well as side steps and twirling, add intricacy and enjoyment to social dancing. But when it comes to our personal lives, going backwards generally doesn’t feel good. We may even try to avoid it at all costs. It may be a cliché, but whatever we resist persists. Resistance in fact may be hazardous to our well-being and ultimately cause much pain and suffering.

resistenceWhen obstacles block our path, a knee-jerk reaction may be frustration, anger, dismay, or outright grief. There are times when the backward movement seems far greater than just one step. Many people are bitter about the outcome of the recent election. But losses are inevitable and come in many forms. We have all faced the loss of a loved one or relationship, a job or opportunity, or an investment in a dream. I’ve personally had my share of such losses. But rather than let our losses put us into a tailspin, I’ve learned that at least initially it is best to surrender to the emotional plunge rather than resist it.

In the midst of a backward movement, old beliefs and fears may surface. The situation may require not only a step backwards but also a side step into uncharted territory where we don’t feel safe. We may become overwhelmed and think “I’m not good (smart, capable, strong) enough.”  We may ask “How did this happen?” “Why me?” “What did I do wrong?” We may feel alone, unloved, unseen, unheard, or unappreciated.

Worst of all, we may succumb to being a victim and just give up. But giving up only stifles the spirit. When we surrender to the “poor me syndrome, which can give rise to addictive behaviors as we seek ways to numb our pain, we tune out from life.

Uncovering courage

heart The Latin word for courage is cor, which literally means “heart.” The original meaning of courage is “to stand by one’s core.” The prefix dis signifies a moving away from or a reversing force. When we continue to feed our discouragement with negative thoughts and emotions, we move away from our core, our heartfelt values, and aliveness.

When fear and other negative emotions take over, we “disour courage. Power is taken away from what truly wants to emerge—our inner wisdom and strength. While our physical body constantly seeks the homeostasis of health and harmony, our emotions and thoughts can be examined and soothed to enable them to reestablish harmony. We can benefit deeply when we step back and just be present with what is. When we take this opportunity and set judgment aside, we create space to be open and understand what is getting in the way of our emotional harmony.

Mark Nepo, author of Facing the Lion, Being the Lion: Finding Inner Courage, teaches us how to face the lion, our inner core of courage, and then stand by it, live through it, and encourage others to do the same. We admire those people who summon up the courage to help in life-threatening situations, stand up to an abusive partner, or bounce back from a major life setback. Those people, Nepo says, have an inner courage. “By inner courage,” he writes, “I mean the ground of quiet braveries from which the more visible braveries sprout.”

We all have this inner courage that can help us meet the disappointments in our life without overreacting to them. When we connect with our inner core, we are better able to meet our life circumstances in a grounded way. We stay open so that we can be engaged with life.

self compassionHeart of courage

The human spirit has an amazing resiliency; we truly want to be happy.  Yet, it’s easy to get stuck in the muck of our setbacks.

One clear way to access our inner core is through love and compassion—not just through our feelings for others but through self-compassion. Many of the people I work with find it a tall order to be kind to themselves, especially those who are struggling to recover from trauma. But by accessing our inner core of courage and learning to stand by it and live from it, we honor our values and can be true to ourselves.

Having learned to step back and both face and listen to my core of courage has enhanced my ability to encourage others to do the same. You too can find your heart of courage and once again take big steps forward.

31Jan/17
beginnings from endings

Beginnings from Endings: Hope for Something Better

Every ending creates space for a new beginning to emerge—a seedbed of potentiality and hope for something better. It’s a law of nature that life continually seeks places to germinate. Beginnings from endings can be an exciting time for us with opportunities for change. A time to establish a new habit, relationship, city, or a completely new way of life. But it also means saying good-bye to what we have known, loved, or lost.

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”—Lao Tzu

“We grin and bear it ’cause the nights are long. I hope that somethin’ better comes along.” — The Muppets

hope for something betterExperiencing an ending, loss, or defeat can cause us to become immobilized. We might grieve for what once was or might have been, as Lao Tzu (ancient Chinese philosopher) and the Muppets realized.

Beginning a new year in the North, with its long winter nights and bitter cold, can be trying. What I’m most motivated to do is snuggle up by a fire, sip hot tea, reflect, and turn in early. Nature turns inward at this time of year to conserve energy. I believe we should as well.

Moving through any transition means allowing space for self-reflection. This space invites our heart’s deepest longings to be revealed. Being fully human is to learn from what has ended, find something that gives us inspiration for the future, and take action by cultivating new seeds. But we must also be prepared for future endings.

Learning from endings

Every ending is ripe with messages to learn from. But how can we learn from endings that cause disappointment or grief? If we simply try to bypass our emotional reaction to the ending and get on with life, we miss the chance to honor the best parts of those experiences or find closure through acceptance or forgiveness. We also risk stuffing unresolved emotions that can plague us in the future.

new beginningThere is a Buddhist story about a woman whose only child had died. Unwilling to accept his death, she sought out the Buddha and pleaded with him to bring back her child. He promised to create a medicine for this if she would gather mustard seeds from all the neighbors in her village who had not been touched by death. She, of course, discovered that everyone had been touched. She was then able to accept the death, find peace, and move forward with her life. When we acknowledge the sorrows from our loss, we can begin to cherish a new beginning.

As humans, no matter what our religious faith, beliefs, ideologies, or values, we have much in common. When we attempt to gather “mustard seeds,” we find that everyone experiences some kind of suffering.

Everyone experiences losses and disappointments. Everyone has fears, including fears of getting sick, getting old, and passing away. Everyone has desires and unfulfilled dreams. Everyone wants to be safe and secure and experience peace. Everyone wants to be happy and feel loved and cared for.

Choosing one’s own way

With the increasing disharmonies and divisiveness in the world, isn’t it time to rethink our connection with others and value the things we have in common? Isn’t it time to learn how to live our lives with less effort and more ease rather than great effort, stress, and dis-ease? Isn’t it time to reflect on what is really important in our lives and contemplate our spiritual nature and maybe even how we fit into the bigger scheme of things?

Search for meaningVictor Frankl, who survived two Nazi death camps, wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning about the men who walked through huts at the camps comforting others. He said, “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances….” He went on to say that to choose one’s own way is a spiritual freedom that can’t be taken away—and it makes life meaningful.

Emotional suffering from circumstances in our life and in the world can compromise our physical, mental, and spiritual health. In spite of what is going on in and around us, this concept of spiritual freedom can help us shift our perspective—and our health. When an individual can face death and still find purpose, imagine what we can do when we take time to contemplate our deepest longings. Uncovering what we value—what we believe in and care about and what brings us joy—can give us  hope and inspiration. While this may seem like a lofty process, when we regularly take time for self-reflection—through journaling, meditation, a solitary walk, or a talk with a trusted confidant, the answers begin to become clear.

Hope, Inspiration Action

InspireThe root of the words “inspire” and “spirit” is spiritus, which means to “breathe.” Living in harmony with our core values inspires us to breathe in hopes and ideas and animates us to take action.

Whether changing a habit, identifying a new life direction, or beginning a new project, it’s important to be aware of obstacles and find ways to overcome them. What may block you from living in alignment with your values—lack of time, resources, distraction? Taking action requires not only letting go of the past but also controlling the outcome. Remain open and curious about future possibilities, and the hope for something better.

When endings leave us feeling broken, we may also feel isolated. Hope and faith can help build an inner sanctuary of safety to help us move beyond our own condition. Having human connections provides us essential support and the security of community. These connections may even “conspire” to new help us find a meaningful path. Conspire means to breathe together in harmony.

Embrace the light

The poet Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” When we embrace the light of hope, faith, self-confidence, and compassion for others, we move beyond our own condition.

Desmond Doss

Desmond Doss

Desmond Doss is an example of someone who exuded this approach. He was a 145-pound World War II medic of the 77th Army Division who served at Hacksaw Ridge (also the title of a book and recent movie) on Okinawa, Japan. As a conscientious objector, he refused to carry a gun. Yet, following battle, but still under enemy fire, he single-handedly rescued 75 men and lowered them to safety below the ridge over a 12-hour period. He continued to say, “Lord, let me find one more.” If you can stomach the war scenes, it’s an incredibly inspiring movie.

Whenever plagued by inner anxieties and self-doubts, take time to reflect on your deepest values. You’re bound to find a spark of hope. Savor each step forward, each accomplishment, and every tiny pleasure. Draw inspiration from your endings your new beginnings to flourish.

16Nov/16
Islands: connection in the deep

Connection: Feel Supported, Valued, Loved

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep,” wrote American philosopher and psychologist William James over 100 years ago. Modern science is now revealing how we are “connected in the deep.” We are born with the natural urge—wired in our brains—for connection, and this urge continues throughout our lives. Ironically, however, even though social media connections continue to grow exponentially, we seem to be more separate now than at any time in history, as loneliness, isolation, and alienation are reported to be on the increase.

Heart – love in actionAs social beings, we crave to feel supported, valued, and loved. It is well documented that true social connection lowers stress and improves physical health and psychological well-being. Isn’t it time to get back to valuing true connection and learn ways to improve or enhance our connectedness to one another—and especially to ourselves?

Disconnection

Everything in life is about connection. When we leave the nurturing, loving environment of our mother’s womb, we are suddenly separated from our source. From that point on, we seek ways to reconnect and make new connections. But inevitably there are more disconnections. Our mother is not always available, there is no one to play with, etc. As we grow and move out into the world, life circumstances change. Losses, failures, and unfulfilled dreams leave us feeling isolated or even that something’s wrong with us. When a friend or confidant is nowhere to be found, the tendency may be to stuff our feelings. Our reaction might even be something we’ve witnessed in the adults who mentor us. Such a situation can turn into a lifelong conditioned response, and we lose the ability to trust others and share our true feelings.

In the May-June 2016 issue of Scientific American Mind, an article entitled “Friendships: The Remarkable Power of Our Closest Connections” revealed that 50% of American adults now report that they have zero close friends. This is down from two close friends reported in similar studies 10 years earlier. Yet, according to Brené Brown, professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, “We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” So what is the disconnect here? We crave connection, yet we’re losing our ability to achieve it.

interconnected with natureConnectedness was an essential part of life for early humans. Not only were they connected to one another, but they also had an interdependent relationship with nature. Being social was just as essential as having food, water, and shelter. In today’s world we no longer have that deep connection with our tribe or environment. In our busy lives we have ready access to connection on demand that helps us surf the surface of other people’s lives but neglects the depth. We’re becoming emotionally lazy, as we’re drawn to connect via methods that are fast, easy, and always at hand—and that don’t require physical presence.

Genuine connection

According to Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, “Genuine connection and companionship involves emotional risk—the risk of being authentically yourself, of being vulnerable, honest, and open.” Intimacy is what’s most essential. But human bonds take time and care to form and maintain. Intimacy involves trust with someone who can be a true confidant, who has our back, and who is not critical of our flaws.

MIrror neurons

Mirror neurons

Human connectedness runs deep in our brains. Neuroscientists have discovered that we have the capacity to read other people’s minds. I’m not referring to psychic abilities. We are able to become attuned to another person‘s actions and nonverbal behaviors through a phenomenon called mirror neurons. When we tell a friend about a happy experience we’ve had, for example, neurons in our brain light up in all the networks associated with that memory. As we convey this experience through words and body language, the mirror neurons in our friend light up as well. In turn, our neurons pick up her signals that let us know we’ve been heard and accepted. This could help explain how and why we feel empathy for people when they are suffering.

Research has also revealed that whenever we finish doing something analytic or engage in nonsocial thinking, the network in the brain for social thinking lights up almost instantly, like a reflex. This spontaneous reaction prepares us for the next moment in our lives. We switch from taking in information to being ready to send it out. Our brain prepares us to be in the world socially.

Deeper connection

connectednessIn this vastly changing world, I believe we are charting new territory in exploring what it means to be human. We can’t go back to living like our ancestors. But we also must not cast aside the basic elements of body, mind, and spirit that connect us with one another. Let’s explore some ways we can learn to enhance our connections.

Touch: What’s drastically missing in the connection-on-demand culture is physical touch. “To touch can be to give life,” said Michelangelo. When we touch someone we strengthen bonds and give life to a relationship. A pat on the back, a caress of the arm, a hug—especially a big hug—are primary ways of expressing caring and compassion. Touch is fundamental to human communication and it provides incredible emotional and physical health benefits. A simple touch activates the vagus nerve, which can calm the body and stimulate the release of oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone. Even the sound of loving words can resonate in the body, touch the heart, and deepen connection.

Deep listening: Probably the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. Being fully present to another cannot be accomplished through a text or email. Physical presence is essential. It requires setting aside our own needs and agendas and not rehearsing what we’re going to say in response while the other is talking. When we become fully present, we open our hearts and minds to the deeper being beneath the words, and do so with a curiosity and openness. This intimate way of listening is particularly powerful following a great loss or during a difficult change or transition. It can create space for compassion; when you lose yourself in another, feel what they feel. But it also exposes our vulnerability as we face the possibility of hearing disturbing truths we don’t want to hear. Ultimately, though, it can open the door for mutually experiencing a deeper sense of self-acceptance and self-appreciation.

Befriend yourself: It’s often recommended that if you want a friend, be a friend. What better place to start than with yourself. Believing in yourself helps you to enjoy your own company. This sense of “okayness” with yourself can transmit to others, conveying that you are a caring person whom others will want to be connected with. I can vouch for this approach; being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. It can actually provide an opportunity for your heartfelt life mission to be revealed and unfold. If you don’t have a partner, you can still feel connection to life. We all need to give ourselves a hug every now and then!

Connect to life!

Few have understood connectedness as well as Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

Are you ready to take the challenge of finding ways to become more “connected in the deep”?

14Nov/16
stress-relief with iRest meditation

Post-Election – Pre-Holiday Stress-Relief

Have you felt overly stressed during the recent election season? Do you feel dis-heartened with opposing ideologies and uncertainty about the future?

I offer you this short 6-minute stress-relief restorative iRest meditation. May this help you de-stress, re-harmonize, and access an inner resource to help you restore resilience to meet whatever shows up during the coming times ahead.

20Sep/16
hemmingway

Using Your Three Brains to Access Grace Under Pressure

Evoking the quality and tone of the modern era, Ernest Hemingway coined the phrase “grace under pressure.” In his major works of fiction, he created protagonists who face defeat without panic, much as he did in his own life. Today, personal and societal pressures have never been greater, which can take a massive toll on our health and well-being, and keeping one’s cool under pressure may never have been harder. When pressures arise, we need to learn how to engage our three brains — head, heart and gut — to help us realize our true self and access the grace to meet life with a resilient spirit.  Continue reading