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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016


“If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all.”

― Yogi Bhajan

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
-Viktor Frankl

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value"

"We cannot try to solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them"
-Albert Einstein

"Whoever wants to reach a distant goal must start with small steps."
-Saul Bellow

"You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day.  This is a power you can cultivate.  If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind.  That's the only thing you should be trying to control." - Elizabeth Gilbert

"Its funny:  I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience.  But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty end old tools - friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty - and said 'Do the best you can with these, they will have to do' and mostly, against all odds, they do.
-Anne Lamott

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it"
-Helen Keller

"The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.  You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.  Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever have earned"
- J.K. Rowling

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference"  - Reinhold Niebuhr

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Pointing in the Right Direction (What do we really want?)

We have all probably been there, and most likely over and over again.  There  being that point and place where we have in mind what we should be doing, or how we should be handling something, or responding or behaving, and how we do end up handling it or responding or reacting.  There being how we want to act or feel or respond. Or at least, think we want to.  Sometimes its with our temper (this is step one in anger management), with our food, with our relationships, with our wellness routines.  We think we know what we want.  And we do.  On some level.  Mostly.  Probably.  Consciously.
But when we don't follow up with actions that support it, and when habit starts slipping into obsession, or out of control behavior, or even just too many slip ups, we can be well served by taking another look at want we want and where we are really pointed any why.

Slip ups and set backs are a normal part of any quest for better.  They are a learning opportunity, a source of information and a reason to stay curious about life and about our minds and hearts and psyches and bodies.  Sometimes we don't respond the way we seemingly want ourselves to because old habits are deep grooves in our psyche.  Sometimes its because we are in the same mindset that we've always been in.  And usually the mindset that got us into difficulty is not the same mindset that can get us out.  Even if we say we want to.  We need a new way of looking at how thought works, and how to work with our mind.  We need to start, and restart, and restart and look again and again at where we are really pointed and why.  Even if we think we know.  Especially when we think we know.  If we keep slipping up too much, its a signal that we need to take a look at what we really want. And its sometimes not as simple as it appears.  We sometimes have compelling, innocent, understandable ideas and thought stories that end up ruling our responses, instead of what we say and "know" we should be doing, saying.

All the great techniques and therapies and programs in the world (and there are many!) won't take hold if we are pointed unconsciously in the wrong direction.  And we often are!  And for good reasons! For example, someone who repeatedly picks fights with their spouse and knows they shouldn't or is trying to work on things because they know words and communication and language are so important in creating relationships, may keep engaging in fights anyway.  Someone who wants to stop bingeing may keep doing it even though they think that don't want to.  There are so many examples!

But sometimes, underneath, we have competing reasons.  We are often ashamed of them, or think we should be.  We often think we don't have a right to them, so we can't acknowledge them.  Sometimes our only communication seems like it is through what we are doing, or we, want to be understood, feel right, or feel powerful or understood or avoid emptiness.  Sometimes we feel punitive or we don't want to let someone off the hook.  It's usually anger on top of fear on top of desire.  And we don't give ourselves permission to unpack our motives honestly.   Especially if our mood has slipped out from under us or if we are lacking sleep or nutrients or a place to talk it through.

We can do it though.  We can have mixed motives and forgive ourselves for them. We can take a look at what our priorities really are, where we are pointed, what effect we really want to have and why.  We can do it without shame, without filtering and without letting anyone else off the hook.  There is so much freedom in this, and then we can begin to walk where we want to really be walking.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Just Because

When we get curious about our minds,  we sway back and forth between philosopy and technique, mind and body, validation and exploration, and in doing so, we uncover many personal truths and insights that help us move forward to the better place we are seeking. In my chair, I listen well and deeply to the pain, the thoughts, the confusion of mind and heart.  I listen to human experiences -  universal, yet unique too.  And somehow, usually,  healing flows, through all the doubts and through life being life and thoughts and feelings being what they humanly are.  And mostly in the not-alone-ness of the process we start to find ourselves, and find clarity.  And so when I came across this poem, by Phil Maher I was reminded once again of the power of thought, of how we often believe our innocent human minds in any give moment and  that what flows from there, depending on how we tend to it, can pull us down, or lift us gently above the turbulence, without ever having to do a thing.  Just because being open can point us there.

Just Because

Just because I know something
Doesn't mean I have to say it
Just because I'm right 
Doesn't mean I need to show you that you are wrong.

Just because I know a negative truth about someone
Doesn't mean I don't have to be kind to them
Just because I'm attracted to someone
Doesn't mean they are going to like me

Just because I believe something strongly
Doesn't mean I have to make others believe too
Just because I see a lot of evil in the world
Doesn't mean there isn't a lot of good too

Just because I can't see God's plan
Doesn't mean He doesn't have one
Just because I'm tired of waiting, that it's taking too much time, or won't happen
Doesn't mean I'm supposed to do something to make it happen.

Just because I'm strong or good at something
Doesn't mean I can take advantage of others.

Just because I think something is true
Doesn't mean it is true.                             

-Phil Maher (February 2016)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Quaity of Our Lives

"The quality of our lives comes down to the quality of our choices.  If we accept responsibility for the quality of our choices, nothing can stop us.  If we always blame the world, nothing will move us.  The degree to which we accept responsibility is the degree to which we can move our lives forward, gain perspective, humility and joy." - Dr. David Lieberman

There is a lot of talk in my office about shame.  About blame.  About whose fault things are.  Not just in our relationships with others, but in our relationship with ourselves.  There is a lot of confusion, on both a spiritual/psychic level and a physical/external level about what causes what, what influences what, or who, and how, and to what extent.  Why do we think the way do?  React the way do?  What shapes us?  Why are we "shape-able" to begin with.  And whose job is it to work on things? To tend to the dynamics of things.  To care for us, to take care of our feelings, our needs, our desires.  What exactly is our responsibility?  And our ability?And our capability? What are we aiming for?  What do we need? Why do we need it?

Okay, lots of good questions.  Overwhelming questions sometimes, depending on how we are addressing them, if we are even willing to or interested in addressing them.  And of course when we are in emotional pain, or we don't have, or don't believe we have, the things that we need, or long for, or want, these questions take a back seat.  We often don't even want to know about them.  But that does not mean that they are not there.  That they are not bubbling quietly underneath the surface, quietly niggling at us.

I think that when we are afraid to notice them we stay stuck in what we think is shame, or laziness, or fear.  And when they become part of our consciousness, even when we don't have quick or easy answers, relief starts to flood in.  We somehow find ourselves tooling around in the solutions instead of wallowing around in the problems.  If we are pointed toward looking not only at the external circumstances, but also at our deeper questions, we see that things get better.  That tending to the internal and external together often goes hand in hand toward better feelings about ourselves that are genuine and lasting, and not built on distraction, avoidance and auto-pilot.  There is a feeling of movement and self acknowledgement that we can access that erases the shame, the blame and the anxiety, and points us toward something much, much, better.

photo credit:
©  | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Instant Better

"You feel good when you do good"

Sometimes, there is an instant fix to our moods.

Sometimes, we are just a thought, or an awareness away from a different feeling, a different experience.  And sometimes, an action can transform us.

Here are a few of my top picks for simple instant not-on-line, not-substance-related, not-purchase-related, not-time-consuming, pick you ups:

1) Do something kind for someone anonymously.  You can do it not anonyomously too, but anonymously can be more fun.  It's private and precious and yours.  When you do something kind, you are instantly kind.  Your character is instantly elevated, and you have evidence of your contribution to the betterment of the world and human kind.  Pay for someone's coffee.  Pay the toll for the car behind you.  Leave some flowers for someone.  You never know who needs it, or who is hurting, but you can know that you did a good turn in the world. Trust that it worked.

2) Say something kind to someone. Someone you know, or someone you don't.  Doesn't matter.  Keep it short and simple.  Give a compliment.  Love your dress.  Nice tie.  Good idea.  

3) Say thank you to someone.  Thanks for holding the door, pushing the elevator button, taking out the garbage, sending you info, giving you a call.  Mean it.

4)  Let someone go ahead of you in line.  Be gracious.

5) Feed someone's meter.

5)  Smile.  Yes, I know, its cliche.  But it works.

Of course, these are not cover ups for our emotional pain, or our struggles, but sometimes when we get out of ourselves for even a moment, our thoughts can shift, the way we see things can shift.  Our biochemistry can shift.  And we can go back to dealing with the things we need to deal with, to letting them run through us without running over us.  Try it.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Light Switch

"If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got."

I know, you've heard it a thousand times, but it bears repeating.  We don't sign up for our resistances, our fears, our defenses, our unconscious obstacles.  Our defects, our defenses (and they are often one and the same) are not things we actively and consciously chose.  But if we don't actively and consciously attempt to know about them they will continue to function.  Which is fine.

Except when its not.

Its not fine if our quality of life is suffering.  Its not fine if we are screaming at our kids, or abusing substances or money or food or someone else, or our self.  It's not fine if our mood is dark more than light, or we live in a lot in worry,  frustration, despair, overwhelm or hopelessness.  Its not fine if we blame others or  we are waiting for external circumstances to change so that we can feel better.
It certainly is delicious and relieving when they do, or when someone changes for the better, but if we are putting all our eggs in that basket, we will never eat.

Sometimes we are so immersed in certain beliefs that we cannot even see what might need to be changed or shifted.  We keep going, doing the same thing, driving down the same road wishing we would end up in a different destination.   And if we are not willing to talk about it, to keep the conversation going, nothing will change.

The mind does not work like a light switch most of the time.  I wish it did.  I wish that when we got an insight, we could just implement it and voila, a new feeling, a new circumstance, a new life. Sometimes we have to hear something many times in order for the switch to flip and for us to see that things were not what we thought they were.

Many times we are afraid that what we don't want to see is a moral issue, or problem with our value or self worth or ability.  Sometimes it is, at least in part.  But mostly, and even then, its just a matter of time and talking and faith and willingness.  We do have the ability to discover which of our thoughts are reliable and which are not, and just looking at that can point us in a new direction.

When we have a new thought, we have a new feeling.  When we have a new feeling we have new possibilities.  And when the light does go on, and things start to change and look different, we make better choices. And we we make better choices, we feel better.  When we do good, we feel good.  Even if the whole story doesn't change right away.

When we get caught in the hopelessness, the overwhelm, the "I can'ts" or the fear of being wrong or criticized or judged or devalued, when our egos are up and our self esteem is down, we don't even want to look.  But if we don't look, if we are not willing to look, for the light switch, if we don't at least know its there, we will just keep living in the dark.

Monday, April 11, 2016

What is a Miracle?

"Do you know what a miracle is?"  my friend Sarah asked me recently.  "What?" I humor her.
"A change in perspective."

So sometimes I think this is just not possible.  We are who we are.  We think what we think.  We know what we know:  "If he loved me he would put his socks in the laudry basket"  "If she is in a bad mood I can't deal with her" " I can't quit smoking, drinking, bingeing"  "I'll never find love"  "I don't really matter"  "I am limited"  "I can't stand my job, my life, my in-laws"  "This work is too hard for me" "I don't have time or money or patience or luck"  "S/he is awful"  My parents are impossible" "The other shoe is going drop.  And right on me" "We have to agree or I can't deal with him."  "Nobody really cares"  "If s/he does not change how s/he acts then I'm stuck/doomed"  "This will never work"  "There is no other way to work it out"  "S/he is so self-centered" "There is no hope" 

And we are so sure of it.

Often in my office, as we are unpacking the thought behind the thought and looking at the nature of thought and the different ways of looking at and living life, at both the very personal and the univeral wisdom about humanity and relationships, and when we are looking toward both insight and useful tools and strategies,  we hit upon an idea that seems to offer up some hope and some help:

We often live life from the outside in.  We focus on what needs to be changed in others and in the world, instead of how we look at things, at how we think and what we believe. This, of course, leaves us at the mercy of others and of the outside world.

 Amazingly, and often, when we take a closer look at our thoughts in the moment and how they influence our thinking, how we feel our thinking, we can often have a new experience of life, people, circumstances, of ourselves.

It seems impossible to some.  And preposperous to others - after all, we rely on our thinging, but what if much of our thought in the moment is not always reliable?  What if we humanly, innocently have thoughts that run through us and influence us that are maybe not true, or not the only truth.  What if how we view our thoughts and work with our perspectives could change our life?

At the intersection of personal emotional pain, shared and universal human wisdom and life expieriece and "coping mechanisms,"  we have the choice to learn to see through our thoughts and to examine our perspectives,  Often when we do so, we  come to have a different and much better
experience of life and people.  One that we never imagined to be possible.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fish Out of Water

My friend Julie shared with me an amazing story about her daughter's pet goldfish.  They got the fish at a carnival, and it lived well cared for in a small tank in her daughter's bedroom.  A few days ago, her daughter went over to the tank to feed the fish and could not find it.  They searched through the tank again and again.  No fish.  They stared and stared at the tank, trying to make sense of it.  Did it evaporate?  Could they not see it?  Was it under a rock?

They were just baffled beyond belief.  So focused were they on the tank, and on what they were sure they knew about fish, that it did not occur to them that fish can jump out of a tank.  They did not know this about goldfish.  And they were so focused on what they knew, or thought they knew, on what they believed to be true about fish, that they did not consider any other possibilities.

After a while they stopped staring at the tank and walked about trying to make sense of the mystery in their midst.  And the next morning as her daughter was getting out of bed in the morning something caught her eye that she had not seen the day before, on the floor, under a chair.  It was the fish.  And the fish was alive.

So I was thinking about how our minds work. And about how sometimes the harder we think about something, the more focused we are on what we think we know, the less we are able to see.

I was thinking too about how when something appears to be lost, it may be just out sight, but not far away.  And when we allow for the general knowledge that our minds don't work by forcing them, by straining them, by fighting the flow of thought that comes through them, we fare so much better.

Sometimes we have to stop looking so hard to find answers in order to experience the answer. Sometimes are so used to our thoughts and our routines and our circumstances and the people in our lives and what we believe about them, that we don't  realize that there are other options to explore, other possible thoughts, truths, ideas, insights.  Perspectives that can be relieving and life changing. The unexpected can happen, in a good way, if we are open to it.  If we are not so focused on what we think has to be, or what we are sure we know to be true, or think of as historical fact.

There's no trick really.  Just being open to the idea that just like fish will be fish and they can, actually, jump out of tanks, and live out of water for a while and be okay, that our human mind is our human mind.  Our thoughts flow through us naturally, innocently, and we have the capacity to be open to not getting so caught up in them and in believing everything we think.  When we allow thoughts to flow through our minds quiet down more easily and other ideas, insights, and perceptions can come through.  More possibilities become available and we can live more freely and with far more ease then we ever imagined.