Embrace your scars

Embrace Your Scars and Imperfections

“Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke

gounded beingI was in the midst of writing this article when the COVID-19 virus epidemic was declared a pandemic. Our Illinois’ governor mandated a “stay-at-home” order for all non-essential service employees. Much of my work halted, and like everyone, I was trying to adjust to the effects of isolation and uncertainty. I reluctantly cancelled my June Greek Island yoga retreat. And, I wondered when, or if, I’d get to dance Tango again! But my spiritual teachings and practices helped calm me with an inner knowing. No matter what happens on the surface of our lives, there is an unshakeable ground of being that is eternally present.

As the saying goes, we must “look for the silver lining.” We can choose to shine light on the positives that arise during, and because of, this pandemic. We can also embrace the residual scars that reveal the underlying strength, beauty and wisdom that emerges as healing inevitably pervades.


Gold and silver

I was so disappointed when a treasured statue of embracing dancers broke into many pieces last year.  I thought maybe I could glue it together, or better yet find a new one like it on the Internet. When my search proved fruitless, I consulted an expert on how to repair this item. His fee was far too expensive, but he told me on how I might do it myself. Because it was made of a soft soapstone, he cautioned that fragments could easily chip off. I gingerly glued the first two pieces together and waited many days before continuing with the next piece. When I finally got it all together, I was delighted to see it whole again—even though its imperfections were noticeable because of missing fragments.

Several weeks later, still admiring my accomplishment, I remembered referencing the Japanese art of Kintsugi in one of my articles many years ago, entitled, “Living the Wabi-Sabi Way.” When a piece of pottery has broken, the areas of breakage are mended with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Highlighting the cracks and repairs simply represents an event in the life of the object, and thus becomes a symbol of its fragility, strength and beauty.

embrace your scars Aha, I will paint the seams and imperfections with gold paint! As I did so, ideas began to flow on writing about Kintsugi as metaphor for life. Embracing our flaws, scars and imperfections offers us the opportunity to acknowledge our true strength, beauty and wisdom that comprise our essential wholeness.


Wounded, broken

Inevitably, circumstances shift and change and sometimes life seems to fall apart. Stuff happens, often catching us off guard. A relationship goes sour, a job is lost or put on furlough, finances take a hit—or we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic!  While we are not made of ceramic, our emotions and thoughts can become rigid and corruptible (corrupt comes from the Latin word corruptus, meaning broken in pieces).

When the future becomes uncertain, we can fall into self-pity and victimization leaving us feeling utterly alone and broken. However, what has been broken or lost has the potential to be repaired or recovered. With appropriate resources a relationship may be repaired, a new job found, physical and economic health restored—maybe even better than before. If a void still remains, this creates space for new possibilities and opportunities…a chance to create life anew.

Suffering is a natural part of the human experience; experience that is essentially impermanent. We won’t live in this flawed and imperfect body forever—the surgence of COVID-19 has made this very clear. We don’t need to hide our wounds and scars or pretend nothing happened—any more than we need to ruminate over the past. Every scar has a story behind it, reminding us of a challenge overcome, a battle survived or even a funny moment in our lives. The key is to learn and grow from the experience, knowing that the hurt is over and to not let emotional scars linger as the story.

Emerging strength

Phoenix Often, we need to seemingly lose everything before we can rise from the ashes like the resiliency of the Phoenix. George Mumford, an aspiring basketball player at the University of Massachusetts, had injuries that forced him give up the game he loved. Pain medications led to heroin as emptiness left him spiraling downward. Finally, after turning to mindfulness meditation and getting clean, he was called to help Coach Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls, a team in crisis after the departure of Michael Jordan. Mumford has since coached a roster of champion clients from Olympians to corporate individuals.

Moving through challenging times makes us stronger. It’s a strength that emerges from within—our connection with our truest self, our core of being. Just as a physical wound heals from the inside out, there is an inner strength within each of us that arises to help us heal. The stronger we become with each circumstance, the greater ease we bring to each new challenge. We can heal collectively as well.

As I write this, I hear of all kinds of people throughout the world who are volunteering in various creative capacities to help us move through this pandemic.

Nelson Mandela recalled a time when he was reading a newspaper while flying with other passengers in a 20-seat aircraft. Suddenly one of the propellers began to sputter and stop. A sense of unease filled the cabin with concern that the other engine would keep running so the plane could safely land. Mandela continued to read his paper as though everything would be fine. Later, passengers remarked on how much his calmness helped them. What Mandela embodied and demonstrated is something we have within us—an unshakeable calmness and ease of being that cannot be broken or shattered and is always present.

Beauty and wisdom revealed

Embrace your scarsJapanese aesthetics value marks of wear from use of an object, and find beauty in what has been broken. In Kintsugi art, when a piece is missing from a ceramic bowl, a fragment from another broken object is fashioned to fill the void. We do this with broken bodies. When a leg is lost a new one can be attached to replace it. Rather than hiding the prosthetic, some people allow it to be freely visible as though wearing it as a badge of honor. Isn’t this an authentic display of inner strength and beauty?

It’s often said that when we bring something into the light, we see it more clearly. This is true of the flaws, blemishes and imperfections of our bodies as well as our lives. Regrets, lost opportunities and hurts, when left to harbor inside, can fester and cause more suffering. However, if we shine a light on them gilding them with our reflections on what we have learned, we begin to put ourselves back together.  We can then accept our true uniqueness—imperfections, deficiencies, challenges, warts and all.

The wisdom of Kintsugi also teaches that acceptance of change is inevitable.  There is a part of us that holds our authentic beauty, that is not broken, accepts everything and forgives our perceived brokenness.  When we can truly forgive ourselves, our inner beauty radiates. Thus, forgiveness brings us back to wholeness.

Life’s golden journey

vein of goldThe healing of our brokenness is sealed with a vein of gold that shines out from the core of our authentic beingness. We only need to regularly open our hearts, rest back and steep in this ground of being with whatever inner practice works for us—meditation, nature, connecting with a loved one. Our life journey then becomes a reflection of that golden vein which nourishes not only us, but interconnects with others throughout the world, the earth itself and the Divine Universe. The COVID Pandemic has brought us to our knees.

Joy and sorrow

Navigating the Landscape of Joy and Sorrow

“Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.”—James A. Baldwin

“Your greatest joy is your sorrow unmasked.”—Kahil Gibran, The Prophet

Most of us desire to live as much as possible on the sunny, joyful side of life and avoid the dark, sorrowful side at all costs. Whatever precautions we take, however, inevitably the darkness of sorrow shows up at our door. When it does, we may tailspin into feeling hopeless and alone. But as James Baldwin implies, our failures and losses offer important life lessons. The devastating situations we face provide the opportunity for deep inner healing and growth. Unmasking our sorrows, as Kahil Gibran says, allows our greatest joys to be revealed.

Opposites inform

masks of joy and sorrowJoy and sorrow represent two sides of the spectrum of life. Everything has its complementary opposite. Day and night, hot and cold, bitter and sweet—these help to inform our lives. We can’t truly know the experience of one without having experienced its opposite. Of course not all sorrow is the devastating kind, such as the overwhelming grief experienced with the death of a loved one. Less significant failures, wounds, and losses occur every day. You miss a turn and get stuck in traffic; you make a mistake at work; your partner misunderstands you.

Our culture rewards people for qualities of courage and strength, success and independence. Yet, the downside is that we can be mercilessly hard on ourselves for what we did or didn’t do. We all make mistakes. As a consequence, we may become stuck, ruminating on what went wrong—or we can open up to what our mistake teaches us.

Unmasking sorrow

unmask sorrowSorrow may arise from a deep well within us. The conditions of our lives continually feed this well of sorrow. Early in our lives, wounds may form and get lodged in our body and psyche. Though they may be masked on the surface, their residue may continue to reverberate within us. This may take the form of negative thoughts and self-judgments, which may, even if we are unconscious of it, direct our lives. Without warning, this residue may spontaneously surface when we encounter another’s suffering. This often happens to me in the form of tears and heaviness in my chest or gut.

To unmask sorrow is to allow it to surface, be with it, and surrender to it. This surrender is not about defeat, giving up, or giving in. It’s about letting go of the resistance to feeling and acknowledging it. Resistance takes a lot of energy and can result in all kinds of chronic physical and emotional problems. Acceptance of our deepest hurts unblocks the energy and helps us become more connected to life.

Connection

ConnectionIn some indigenous cultures an individual’s wound, illness, or loss is not faced alone. Rather it’s encompassed by the community, which brings healing forces to the one who is suffering. Native American warriors returning from war are embraced by their tribe. Group rituals help the returning warrior process and ease emotional pain. Allowing feelings of sorrow and brokenness to be met with their opposites of joy and wholeness fosters true healing.

When we allow our hearts to open to another’s sorrow, our own burden may lighten. We may even, consciously or unconsciously, feel the other person’s pain as our own. Seeing that we are not alone in our inner suffering may enable us to harness the feeling of being connected to something beyond ourselves.

Well of joy

In addition to a well of sorrow, we also have a well of joy. Its contents are similarly determined by conditions in our lives. We may savor the taste of chocolate or a sip of wine, a beautiful sunset, a warm hug from a loved one, the birth of grandchild, or getting a job we’d competed for. Joy appears in laughter, a smile, a kiss, a hug, praise from another, winning an award, or being told we are loved.

Joy of a newbornThe desire for joy and happiness is perpetual in our lives, while the experience of it is ephemeral. As it comes and goes, it has the taste of bittersweetness, such as nostalgia for a place we once visited or someone who is no longer present in our lives.

True joy

There is something more beneath this joy and sorrow connection. At the core of our being there is another type of joy that is not dependent on life’s circumstances. It is an unchanging joy and is inherent in each of us. Everyday experiences can trigger the release of feelings of desire, delight, gratification, and exhilaration. These are actually messengers pointing us to this deeper unchanging joy and equanimity that exists independent of the objects and circumstances of our lives.

According to neuroscientist Richard Davidson, happiness isn’t just a vague feeling, it’s an actual physical state in the brain that can be induced through meditation. In iRest Yoga Nidra meditation, which I teach, we practice holding on to opposites like joy and sorrow at the same time, which ultimately enables us to open up to an expansive feeling of well-being.

From sorrow to joy

Deep sorrow can be channeled into something meaningful. Catherine Curry-Williams and her husband channeled their grief from losing their first-born child into forming an organization that has built 65 playgrounds in six countries. Through healing and forgiveness, Azim Khamisa, whose son was murdered while delivering pizzas, sought out the murderer’s grandfather, Ples Felix. They partnered to form a foundation dedicated to stopping youth violence through mentoring and education.

joyMaria came to iRest Yoga Nidra meditation sessions with deep grief over the suicide of her son, a veteran of the Iraq war. Within a year she was able to enjoy her work and family again. In a recent email she shared that iRest “continues to support me and help me to be mindful and live in the present. I strive to find JOY every day.”

Surrender, accept, trust

When our wounds, losses, or mistakes are faced lovingly they become integrated into the fabric of our being and help us continue to grow and even thrive. In their bouncing back from adversity, Catherine, Azim, and Maria demonstrate the resilience of the human spirit, which everyone has.

As a culture, we love rising up, but fear going down. Some say the true purpose of life is simply to “live fully.” In order to rise to this fullness, we must surrender to our pain and sorrow by accepting and learning from them, which allows us trust that in our deepest core reside joy and peace.

Resilience

Meet Life on Life’s Terms: Learn to love what is

Sunflower“Oh, what a beautiful mornin’
Oh, what a beautiful day.
I’ve got a beautiful feelin’
Everything’s goin’ my way.”

—Oklahoma!

There are those days when everything is going your way. Your intentions, plans, and expectations are being fulfilled just the way you want them to be. And then there’s a glitch that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Suddenly the beautiful feelings drain away. You may ask, “How could this happen? Where did I mess up?” Perhaps you put the blame on someone or something else as you are overcome by negative emotions like anger, disappointment, or sadness. Life goes on in spite of your emotional tailspin. You can remain here and suffer. Or you can step out of the event and into the present moment—meet life on life’s terms and do what’s needed most. As the Rolling Stones’ song says: “You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometimes you just may find/You get what you need.”

Life continues

“If only I could arrange my life in such a way that there is less drama and stress in my work and relationships.” “If only my spouse and kids would do their part.” “If only the politicians could get their act together.” Sound familiar? If only…if only…. We constantly live in a state of “I want” and “I don’t want.” Yet, what we don’t want shows up anyway and what we want is short-lived or never happens, leaving us with The laundreyunfulfilled desire. The title of one of meditation teacher Jack Kornfield’s books is After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, which neatly sums up our inability to control our circumstances.

In spite of what happens to us, life moves on in myriad ways. The cycles of nature teach us that change is constant and the future unpredictable. It’s a fallacy to think we are in control of much of anything in our lives, except our response to situations. Resisting or fighting life’s terms only blocks us from living fully.

While we can’t change the world around us, we can change ourselves. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all have visions of how we would like life to be—for ourselves, in our relationships, at work, and even in the world at large. Essentially we want to feel safe and cared for—physically and emotionally. Anything that threatens this can set off internal alarms in the form of fear-based thoughts and feelings. The best thing we can do is to become aware of these alarms and stop the fear-driven reaction in its tracks—and then respond appropriately.

Loving what is

loving what isThe German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche described his formula for human greatness as amor fati, which is Latin for a love of fate. This concept is rooted in Stoicism, a school of philosophy that began in ancient Greece and was later adopted in ancient Rome, with Emperor Marcus Aurelius being a key proponent. Nietzsche wrote: “That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it. . .but love it.” Now that is a tall order: to love whatever happens to us.

As fate would have it, I was given the perfect opportunity to test this wisdom shortly after I started writing this article. It was Saturday night and a part of a tooth broke off and I swallowed it! I became incredibly anxious. I recalled that during my last visit the dentist said that old fillings were breaking in that quadrant of my mouth and that I needed crowns. I told him then that it was not a good time.

I sat quietly, breathing for a few minutes, first observing that there was no pain. Trusting this problem could be addressed on Monday, I calmly—even lovingly—accepted my fate. And I even went out dancing. When I realized this wasn’t a huge fateful occurrence, I was able to regroup quickly, which was far different than my reaction would have been in the past. When I finally saw the dentist I told him I was ready to love my fate. This phrase became my mantra subsequently as he drilled away (though I admit I wasn’t fully loving every moment of that experience).

Another opportunity

Our guide Paz

Our guide Paz

I had another chance to witness this loving acceptance of what is recently while vacationing in the Mexican city of Puerto Morelos. I joined a tour that took us into the Yucatan jungle. The Mayan guide, Paz, was well versed in the medicinal applications of various plants and tree barks as well as the habits of local wildlife. There still are jaguars in the jungle and Paz explained that they are nocturnal and very catlike. Then he shared that a jaguar had actually eaten two of his dogs. Yikes! He said he lives in a rural village in a typical Mayan home with no doors and sleeps on the upper level. One morning he came down to find one dog missing. The next week he caught the culprit in action with his other dog—but was too late. “You must have been horrified,” I said. He smiled with near amusement, saying that the jaguar was simply fulfilling its nature. At least it appears that Paz knows how to meet life on life’s terms—and, he got another dog.

Meet and learn

Finding true personal satisfaction and contentment requires us to give up our desire for life to always be a certain way. The Buddha referred to this as “cooling the fire of desire.” To meet life on life’s terms doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take action to change things personally, or even globally. Instead, our starting point becomes life as it is in this moment and simply being with what is rather than reacting to it. In addition, we learn to meet life without clinging to pleasant experiences, which inevitably don’t last.

MessengerRichard C. Miller, Ph.D, founder of the iRest Yoga Nidra meditation protocol, has written, “Everything we experience is a portal that can bring us back home to our intrinsic wisdom, love, equanimity and contentment.” When we meet life on life’s terms—even doing so lovingly—every experience becomes a messenger that we can learn from. These messengers show up whenever we feel powerless, constrained, imperfect, or lacking in any way. They also show up as periods of ecstasy—and the laundry. When we catch the reactive messenger and allow it to share its message, we gain intrinsic satisfaction and wholeness.

Stoicism, Buddhism, and other philosophic traditions place the responsibility on the individual to act from a place of love and compassion. The Stoic sage faced with misfortune would be emotionally resilient, with “virtue” sufficient for happiness—thus bearing a “stoic calm.” For Buddhists, it’s coming to terms with the way things are, not imposing optimism and hopefulness on them.

Allowing life’s terms

Allowing everything to be exactly as it is from moment to moment allows peace and happiness to surface. With clarity and stability of mind and body we are then able to meet life on life’s terms with the most appropriate response.

Amor fati may be a bit stringent for most of us, but we can at least befriend its terms, learn from it, and move forward meaningfully.

holding space

Holding Space: Healing & Transformation

There are times when providing a supportive space (or holding space) for someone facing a challenge can be the greatest gift. The process of holding space means being compassionately present. And it may not be an easy thing to do—especially when the other is our child, aging parent, or intimate friend. Our tendency is to want to fix things or offer advice. But when we are instead able to just be there for someone, it allows them to dip into their own inner space. This allows for making sense of their circumstance and thus shift from feeling isolated, wounded, or victimized to feeling safe, supported, and connected. Ultimately, our holding supportive space fosters the other’s growth and empowerment.

tear dropHolding space can happen at ordinary and unexpected times. Have you ever had an experience of being suddenly and utterly present with a complete stranger? I remember when someone behind me in a grocery store checkout line. She mentioned she was buying nutritional shakes for her mom who couldn’t eat solid food anymore. Then there was the person sitting next to me on an airplane who shared that he was traveling to be with a dying friend. In both cases, I felt deep empathy; my heart spontaneously opened to them, and they poured out their emotions.

Holding space with compassion

CompassionWe may think of ourselves as independent persons, but we are all interdependent beings.  Holding space for another is a form of compassion, but it is not a one-way gesture; it’s a shared experience. The American Buddhist author and teacher Pema Chödrön has stated this eloquently: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and wounded. It is a relationship between equals.”

Often, when we show compassion for another, our own dilemmas surface. We want to say, “I know exactly how your feel.” But do we really know how another person feels? You may think that this response, and even sharing a personal story, will help them. But more often than not it will diminish the importance of their struggle. How do we know when to simply listen and when to offer advice or share our own experience?

No agenda

Holding space has no agenda or expectations or the need to help someone overcome a problem. All judgment must be set aside. Sitting silently and listening—in other words, abiding—creates a safe environment that invites the other’s heart to make room for whatever wants to be present. Don’t be afraid of silence.

Abiding is not suppressing your own thoughts, feelings, or sensations, but rather inviting them to take a back seat for now. Though your relationship with the one you are holding space for is “between equals,” you may not occupy equal space. You invite the person to occupy as much space as they need. As a back seater, you may want to take up more prime space. Be mindful when this happens. Simply say, as Messengeryou would to a small child, “Not now; later.” Mindfulness is noticing your attention and what arises to distract you. It also is recognizing that whatever arises in your awareness is a messenger with something to share. It could be a self-doubt, judgment, or even fear. Rather than killing the messenger, we also must hold space for the message to be revealed.

Avoiding sympathy, favoring empathy

While holding space, notice when feelings of sympathy arise, as they can lead to disconnection from the other person. According to Brené Brown, author and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, when we feel sympathy for someone, we feel sorry for them but don’t feel their pain or understand their perspective. Feeling empathy as well as expressing compassion strengthens our connection. There may be a fine line between empathy and compassion. When we are compassionate, we are conscious of another’s distress and desire to alleviate it, but we are not invested in understanding their perspective. But with empathy, we are aware of, sensitive to, and vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another. As a result, we become more connected to them. Empathy is putting yourself aside, stepping into the other’s shoes, and walking their path with them.

EmpathyBrown views empathy as being at one end of a continuum of connection, with shame at the opposite end and vulnerability as the equalizer. Shame and blame close us off and cause disconnection. In stark contrast, an empathic ear offers another the opportunity to be vulnerable yet feel safe in sharing his or her weaknesses. While shame says “I can’t let you see this,” vulnerability involves courage, compassion, and openness to connection.

Journey towards feeling whole

As I reflect back on my life, I think of many times when I needed to share my struggles with someone I could trust, who would listen lovingly and even feel my pain. There have been losses—a job, intimate relationships, parents. There have been life-changing challenges to address and decisions to make. I am fortunate to have had others who supportively held space for me. Some things, I’m sure, may have seemed trivial to the listener. Yet I have learned the value of letting go and allowing my vulnerability to surface with the right person. I have been able to do the same for friends and family, as well as countless people in my coaching work. I believe this is an important skill we learn on our journey toward feeling whole.

If someone we care about has acted inappropriately or been dishonest or hurtful, how can we hold space for and support them? Is it possible to set judgment aside and offer unconditional acceptance? Many therapists have learned that they don’t have to like a client or approve of what they have done. But they accept the person and constructively encourage them to move forward in their life. We can learn that same approach.

Fundamentals of space holding

Learning to hold space for someone can be cultivated as a form of spiritual practice much like meditation. Key components of this practice are:

  • Letting go of judgment
  • Opening your heart
  • Allowing another to have whatever experience they’re having
  • Giving your complete undivided attention to the other person.

Holding space for another invites our best self into the relationship. We trust the process to unfold organically. In sharing a journey with someone with an unknown destination, we foster their healing and transformation—and often our own.

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!

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)

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.

Loving Kindness

Embracing Wholehearted Living

“In a full heart there is room for everything, and in an empty heart there is room for nothing.” —Antonio Porchia, Argentine poet

We commonly think of the heart as simply an organ that pumps blood through our bodies. Yet we use  the word heart  in myriad ways in our everyday language. We learn things by heart, have a heavy heart,  are lighthearted, or have a heart-to-heart with someone. Our heart sinks or turns to stone, we suffer from a broken heart, or our heart goes out to someone. We follow our heart’s desire, give from the heart, or get to the heart of something. Clearly, our heart has many more functions in our lives than simply pumping.  These functions represent fragments of a greater wholeness of being we have a tendency to lose sight of.

Continue reading

curious cat

Curiosity-Driven Life

“Curiosity killed the cat,” as the proverb goes. We certainly can get into mischief when we get too nosy. However, there is a rejoinder to this proverb that states “but satisfaction brought it back.” Dr. Linus Pauling said, “Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”
Continue reading

moccasins

Empathy’s Transformative Power

As a child, I heard the Native American proverb “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” How does one walk in another person’s shoes? How can we know what they’ve experienced or how they feel? Why does it matter? It matters because we matter. You and I inhabit this world along with billions of other people, many of whom have difficulty getting along with one another. Continue reading