Adventure, Balance, Celebration, Curiosity, Embodiment, Emotions, Experimentation, Inner Guidance, Joy, Life Coaching, Personal Growth, Play, Psychology

Wellness is swell ish Part 2

In my last blog post, I introduced the concept of the Indivisible Self, and focused in on the coping self. Now I want to dive into the creative self, to encourage each and every one of you to cultivate that natural curiosity and aliveness that we all possess when we drop in and reconnect to our childlike wonder and willingness to risk and play.

First, a quick refresher on what the Indivisible Self is—it’s a wellness model widely used in counseling because it is back by research on how living in wholeness means that we are integrating body, mind, spirit through attending to these intersecting and overlapping components of the social self (family, friendship, and romantic love), the essential self (your spirituality, cultural identity, and self-care), the physical self (exercise and eating well), the coping self (what you do in your leisure time, your stress management, and your self-worth), and the creative self (your thoughts, your emotions, what you do for work/study, and your sense of humor), which is what we will now explore, in depth.

Not everyone will be a painter or professional dancer, but we all have an innate creativity that comes through in our ability to learn, laugh, think outside of the box, and express our authentic selves and natural talents. Tapping into the creative self means realizing how unique we are and recognizing the strengths and gifts we bring to the world just by being ourselves. Nurturing this aspect means attending to our thinking—being mentally active and open-minded, willing to learn and bring curiosity to our lives and interactions—and our emotions—knowing how we are feeling, and expressing those feelings appropriately. The creative self also includes our satisfaction in a job or vocation that we feel uses our skills, a feeling of mastery and competence and a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at our mistakes. There is a lot of research that supports the benefits of positive thinking, emotional regulation, and laughter—reducing depression and anxiety, while strengthening the immune system.

This list, I hope, will spark some ideas of how to connect to your creative self.

Engage in life-long learning. Take advantage of events and programming at your local public library, universities, or museums. Watch the 25 Most Popular TED talks of all time. Enroll in a free online class through Coursera, whether it is how to speak Korean, intro to philosophy, or how to do web design, there are so many fascinating topics to dive into and learn.

Understand the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Sometimes we believe that our goals cannot be reached or feel discouraged at a new challenge. Our thoughts are powerful and if we approach life with the idea that our abilities and knowledge are limited or “fixed,” then we are less likely to succeed or even risk the challenge of new opportunities. In a growth mindset, we know that with practice and effort we can learn new skills, adapt, and succeed. Catch yourself when you have thoughts like “I will fail,” or “I don’t have talent,” and turn it into: “Before people succeed, they often experience some failures along the way,” and “I may not be able to do it now, but with practice and effort, in time I can probably learn.”

Know your strengths and celebrate them. Take this free survey from the VIA Institute on character strengths. Read up on your gifts and take some time to appreciate what makes you unique. I’d love to see your results! Take a screenshot and send it to me, letting me know what top strengths most resonated or surprised you!

Pick up one of these books and open your mind! (have any other book suggestions for our readers? comment below!)

Thought experiments and whimsical, mind-bending instructions from artist Yoko Ono in her book, Acorn 

Inspiration and practical advice on getting to the work of being creative in Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a classic that can get you living your life more creatively right way through its many exercises

 

 

 

Check in with and validate your emotions. When we are very busy and have a lot on our plate, it’s easy to rush through our days without noticing how we are feeling. Get into a habit of stopping to sense what you are feeling, scan your body and notice any tension or stress and take some deep breaths as you visualize that tension leaving your body. Ask yourself: what are some deeper needs that I can give some attention to before returning to my to-do list? You might set an alarm or bell on your phone as a reminder to pause and check in with yourself. Use these helpful handouts to identify your emotions and needs.

Laugh every day. Even when times are tough or we face serious situations, it is important to remember to laugh. Comedy can provide relief and release tension, as well as increase blood flow, boost our immunity, and improve our emotional health. Spend time around friends or family who bring out your silly side, watch one of these funny movies, find hilarious clips on youtube, or take a laughter yoga class, where you can get an endorphin high without needing any real reason to laugh and instead treat laughter as a healthy exercise.

Share in the comments some of your own go-tos for getting creative and playful when life needs some lightness.

Balance, Boundaries, Celebration, Compassion, Dreams, Freedom, Inner Guidance, Intention, Life Coaching, Life Path, Personal Growth

Wellness 101, Part 1

Coaching or counseling can support growth and positive development for anyone, in any stage of life, and help individuals to live a full and
meaningful life. Central to this approach is the model of the Indivisible Self.  With over 25 years of research backing its efficacy, there are 5 components of this wellness model.  These are the social self (family, friendship, and romantic love), the essential self (your spirituality, cultural identity, and self-care), the physical self (exercise and eating well), the creative self (your thoughts, your emotions, what you do for work/study, and your sense of humor). I am introducing this series on wellness by focusing on the coping self (what you do in your leisure time, your stress management, and your self-worth).  This is a framework I sometimes use with my clients, when it feels appropriate, to assess which aspects of self are needing a little TLC, and also to identify where they are already thriving, so we can celebrate those successes.  I will detail here, in 5 installments, a little background about each component of the Indivisible Self, along with some practical tips for how to nurture those areas that you might be neglecting.

 

What is the coping self?

Coping relates to our ability to move through difficult emotions and events, and to adopt beliefs and behaviors that reduce our levels of stress. Knowing our inherent value as a person and having a strong sense of self-worth is one aspect of the coping self that can go a long way in fostering positive mental and emotional health. While self-esteem is based on our accomplishments, activities, and external standards of beauty or success, self-worth is instead based on who we are, not what we do or what we look like. We don’t have to buy into the mainstream competitive culture of comparing our relationships, careers, vacations, or attractiveness to anyone else’s. Instead, we can develop our self-worth by knowing our values, acting in integrity with them, and practicing self-compassion by speaking to ourselves in a kind way. Often, we are our own biggest critic, while we see the best in others and are willing to forgive our friends’ flaws and mistakes. Learning to encourage and assure ourselves the way we would a friend, can help to soften the inner critic.

How we spend our down time is another piece of the coping self. Being able to experience pleasure and find flow while absorbed in leisure activities and hobbies can help lift us out of the day to day routines of work and domestic responsibilities, and bring out our creative, spiritual, or social dimensions. Research shows that participating in enjoyable leisure activities or hobbies is linked to a decrease in stress, and to favorable outcomes in physical health measures such as lower blood pressure.

Lastly, learning to manage stress means understanding what brings on stress in your life, knowing how it impacts you, and developing tools to prevent or overcome stress. Stress management refers to the skill of organizing our time and energy so that we don’t get burned out or overextend ourselves.

Here are some specific ideas that may help you to build up your sense of self-worth, leisure, and stress management.

  • Take a self-compassion break. Writer and therapist, Dr. Kristin Neff, offers this exercise for when we are facing a stressful or painful circumstance: We bring the situation to mind and tune into what we are feeling. We then say to ourselves: 1) “This is a moment of suffering.” Or, “This is stress.” 2) “Suffering is a part of life.” Or, “I am not alone.” 3) “May I give myself compassion.” Or, “May I learn to accept myself as I am.” Choose language that feels right to you. You can also imagine what a friend would say to you in a challenging moment, and say these words to yourself.
  • Set healthy boundaries. Part of managing our time and energy includes being able to say “no” to invitations or requests on our time and effort, as well as building in free time into our calendars to account for unexpected events and distractions. Some questions you can ask yourself before agreeing to take on another commitment are: “Does this line up with my core values?” “Does this bring out my strengths or work towards my goals?” and “Is this something I will easily be able to fit into my schedule?” Alexandra Franzen offers this advice on how to say “no” to someone when you are worried about hurting a relationship or are feeling obligated to say “yes,” but know you cannot comfortably add more into your schedule.
  • Practice 4-7- 8 breathing. Intentional breathing with awareness can slower breathing, improve blood pressure, reduce stress and enhance wellness. Start by sitting up in a comfortable position, spine long, shoulders rolled back and body alert and relaxed. Touch the tip of your tongue to the ridge of your upper gums, behind your teeth. Slowly inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for another count of 7. Open your mouth slightly, keeping your tongue in place, and exhale for 8 counts. Repeat this cycle 4 times.
  • Rediscover an interest or develop a new passion that helps you lose track of time. Getting absorbed in an activity and forgetting about all of life’s lists and labors is great for your health. I lose myself in music and making mixes for friends. Some of my clients feel flow in their yoga practice, boxing classes, poetry writing, comic book reading, baking, or painting. Is there a craft, sport, or field of knowledge you used to love that you lost track of as life got busy? Carve out some time to reconnect or explore new possibilities in your community. If you’re not sure where to start, flip through your local paper’s events calendar for inspiration and see if something jumps out at you to join in, or explore classes at a local parks and recreation center.
  • Schedule some wellness counseling with me! I will take the time to listen to you, discuss your goals, and together we can create a wellness plan that nurtures the coping self, as well as the physical, social, creative, and essential selves. Contact me here.
Compassion, Freedom, Life Coaching, Love, Mindfulness, Power Within, Radical Acceptance, Sacred justice, Self-love, Spiritual Activism, Suffering, Transformation

The Summer of Love

We’ve all seen the violence in the news, felt the despair in our communities and our social media feeds. How could I call these past few months the Summer of Love?

Do you know what was happening during the historic Summer of Love? In 1967, at the height of the hippie movement, with the convergence of hundreds of thousands of “flower children” in San Francisco?

The Summer of Love was also the summer of the Vietnam War, clashes of anti-war protesters with police, disillusionment with the gains of the Civil Rights Movement that drove Dr. King to strike out with an economic campaign to eliminate poverty, while also speaking out against the government’s misguided, deadly efforts in Vietnam. The Summer of Love was the summer of race riots and a city on fire, in Detroit, and in Newark. Then, the KKK also sat openly, in public, their hoods atop their crowns but faces exposed. What other commonalities can we see between 1967, and 50 years later, in 2017? It’s what Rebecca Solnit calls “a glimpse of who else we ourselves may be and what else our society could become,” where in moments of disaster and crisis, people come together and inhabit the possible, enacting “an emotion graver than happiness but deeply positive.” Pick up her book, A Paradise Built in Hell to get more of the story about how humanity rises to the tragic occasions of the kind that marked 1967, and that trouble our nation, now. I am not interested in blithely denying the horror of this moment with flowers and warm feelings. Rather, it is a moment when the horror is more visible, but in many ways, no more horrific then when we who could afford to, looked away. We have the opportunity to love–not in the sentimental way–but in the real, compassion in action, a kind of “just mercy” way (there’s another *must read*), in how we face ourselves and how we show up in the world. You can start by donating to EJI or to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Those of you who’ve followed me on my journey, pre-coaching, as a coach, and currently, a counselor-in-training, know that I have been consistent in my message, and it should be no surprise that I’m talking racial equity in my newsletter, again. In some ways my coaching communique reads more like social justice missives. Here’s why: I had some bad-ass teachers when I was 15, 16, 17, 18 years old. They fucking taught Howard Zinn and Marlon Riggs and James Baldwin in high school. I went to my first anti-racism workshop as a junior in college in Chicago. It wasn’t on the news back in 1999, but I saw all of it first hand, when I interned at the Organization of the Northeast, under an amazing mentor of a community organizer, and witnessed how black and brown kids normalized daily abuse from police, while the city offered pathetic solutions like pizza and basketball. I cannot say I have formulated the real solutions, but believe that our society, or the critical mass we need, once well-informed, has the creativity to find ways to justice and healing. In many ways, it starts with people like me, white, with resources, to do things differently.

I want to be clear: when I talk about Love, this is not the same as being “nice.” I have surely upset friends, community members, and readers with my clear and firm voice on these issues. There is a kind of love, mother love, informed by grief and rage, that is designed to protect our vulnerable, our children, our people. I am not a mother by birth, but by living in a society that is willing to kill children and hold nobody accountable for their deaths. I am not afraid of using this loving force to speak the truth. This must be done by more and as many of us, especially us white Americans, who know the gravity of our collective history and how it has shaped the present experience of transgenerational trauma with which so many of our human family live. We need to place our own inherited racism to the side, see it for what it is, even if disguised as humanistic or lofty ideas, and really grasp the experience of the “other.” We all need support in this process, because it’s hard to see the water we are swimming in. There are wonderful resources and racial equity trainings across the U.S. I urge you to message me if you want help connecting to support in your community. I can also work with you as your coach to help you unpack the beliefs and biases you were born into.

As usual, this is a long post. I want to wrap it up by saying that my coaching practice has always been and will continue to center around living a life of greater presence, authenticity, and compassion for self and others. When I was introduced to the wide world of the coaching industry a few years ago, much of it made me very uncomfortable. I resisted the marketing techniques I saw, and decided to go my own way. It would have felt dishonest to promote myself as having reached some pinnacle of spirituality or happiness and sell these mythic ideals as a product. I could not imagine promoting a lifestyle, as a coach, of joy and achieved dreams, while ignoring the suffering of so many for whom there is obstacle after obstacle, socially designed and maintained by us all. Instead, my goal was to encourage and give clients the tools to accept and love themselves, without conditions, and bring that deepened connection with self into all of life. This continues to be my work.

Lastly, I want to share the amazingness that is Kelly Diels with you. In her writing about the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand, Diels identifies in a cogent and incisive way, the pitfalls of the coaching and spiritual marketplace. She describes the way some of the most successful women in the self-help/spiritual realm duplicate white supremacy in their marketing, all while co-opting the language of revolution, and how we might fall for its intentional social triggers, if we aren’t aware of the strategies being used.

Intention, Love, Mindfulness, Nonviolent Communication, Personal Growth, Relationship

To be heard

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and could tell they were listening yet didn’t feel heard? I recently was getting to know somebody new and found myself perplexed at the lack of connection I was feeling with them. I shared with my therapist some examples of our exchanges that felt amiss. In one instance, I was talking to this person about the mood of the day, and referenced the building tension brilliantly captured  in Spike Lee’s, Do the Right Thing. That feeling when it it is so hot that it can’t get any hotter without everything boiling over into chaos, when things are on a precarious edge about to explode. I may have been overly dramatic in comparing the mood of the day to the film, but instead of engaging with what I shared, this person said to me: “Oh, I was almost in a Spike Lee video.” And proceeded to talk about that. Another time I was telling him that I loved the poetry of Coleman Barks who interprets the words of the ancient mystic, Rumi, in stunning simplicity. Again, instead of relating his experience of Rumi’s poetry or connecting to how I felt about Barks’ work, this person exclaimed, “I’ve met Coleman Barks. I’m friends with his girlfriend!” The fact that this guy is also a name-dropper is annoying, but not the real issue.  If someone tells me about a Sonic Youth song they love, I too, would likely interrupt to giddily announce that I met the band on my 16th birthday. The difference is that I would then shift back to focus on them and the feeling tone of what they were saying. I would respond not only to my own interest in the subject, but to my friend’s interest, experience, and emotions. The more important theme than the name-dropping was that this guy turned most of what I shared with him into an opportunity to talk about himself, even if it was only tangentially related. My therapist put it like this to me: “It sounds like he’s relating to the content of what you’re saying rather than relating to you.”

Relating to the content instead of the person.

For some reason the way my therapist stated this was a revelation. I thought of other friendships in which conversations lack a deeper connection and recalled a recent lunch date with a long-time friend. How was it that I could feel so drained after a meal with someone I like, someone who is sweet and kind? I thought back to our meeting–our communication never touched into that fulfilling place of sharing oneself below the personality, in a mutual exchange of feeling known, and of seeing each other, in our realness. It was something we never had in all our friendship, as much as I have tried. Our conversation constantly floats at the surface of our experiences, never drops into what we are feeling, really, what we want or who we want to be, really. When I share something, she says something that shows she was listening, with words that are similar to mine, on a topic that is similar, but it does not invite us to drop down and explore that more, does not really reflect on what was shared, it shuffles us on to a new example, and then back and forth like that. We move quickly from anecdote to story to random thought. And after an hour or two, I am weary and bored from having traveled so long yet not at all deep.

It was fairly easy for me to identify some friends and acquaintances who seem to have this superficial style of expression–harder to admit that I sometimes default into this lazy kind of relating when I don’t feel present or engaged. I started noticing myself doing this in some interactions, when I was more preoccupied with my own feelings and thoughts than I was focused on listening. We, otherwise well-meaning, caring people sometimes stay at the surface of things. Maybe we are tired, overextended, are only maintaining some friendships out of a sense of duty once we’ve grown apart.

We’re not perfect so we’re bound to do this sometimes, but if it’s a consistent pattern in some of your relationships, you might want to check out how much it’s serving  you to still be involved with that person or find a way to break this pattern and shift the energy to make for a more alive and dynamic relationship.

This practice of relating to the person rather than the content is very much what I’m learning as a counselor–to track the emotions and experience of the client who is sharing and respond with my whole being to their whole being. My life coaching trainer, Kate Courageous, reminded us of this approach with this phrase: “Coach the person, not the problem.” As friends, we don’t have to show up with the same standards that we would expect of therapists or coaches, so perhaps this is a steep demand or big ask of ourselves, but I tell you, in the words of Bjork, “it’s ever so, ever so satisfying” to really respond to the person, not the content.

Here are some ideas for how to breathe in some vitality into a connection that feels lifeless and lacking depth

  • Admit when you’re not up to it. If you can’t really attend to the act of listening because of your own stress, mood, introversion, or tiredness, accept and acknowledge this fact without judgment and schedule another time to have a conversation.
  • Make eye contact. Focus in on the connection, on each moment.
  • Don’t multi-task. Listen while listening, don’t get distracted by some other activity.
  • Bring mindful attention to the act of listening. Become aware of what you are hearing in each moment, of the fact that you are attending to this person’s voice, of your breath and sensations while you listen, turn it into a meditation.
  • Tune into the feelings behind what the other person is saying. Imagine what moods and thoughts they have as they are relating their story to you.
  • Ask them open questions to go deeper and resist the urge to move on to another subject.
  • Refrain from advice-giving, one-upping their story with a “bigger, badder, more extreme” version of your own, or pitying them. Stay with their feelings and thoughts rather than imposing your own or adding your opinions.
  • Speak up. Say it out loud if you are feeling disconnected from your friend or the topic–ask to experiment with either a new subject matter or style of conversation.
Awareness of Sensation, Compassion, Emotions, grounding, Love is Space, Mindfulness, Radical Acceptance, Sacred justice, Self-love, Spiritual Activism, Spirituality, Suffering

Lovingkindness in action

Yesterday, when House Republicans voted in favor of replacing the Affordable Care Act with their own version that would raise insurance costs, exclude benefits for an astonishing array of “preexisting conditions,” and cut taxes for the rich while penalizing the poor and middle class, I witnessed the tremendous wave of anger and pain that so many in our country were feeling, those who depend on the flawed yet essential coverage that ACA provides us and those with loved ones who rely on these benefits. Sure, this system is far from perfect, but it allows so many who previously were uninsured or underinsured to finally have the safety net to access care and get medications they need to live without going into debt. Feelings of despair and outrage are a natural response to such self-serving, irresponsible, and cruel legislation. I want to share, though, that as we make space for the pain we feel, we can also experiment with some alternate responses, to help us cope and build resilience in the face of a long 4 years. For my readership outside of the US, i am sure these ideas can be applied to other situations in which injustice and power-hungry demagogues prevail in your own lives.

  • Take action. Lovingkindness is the inspiration for my coaching practice, and is the deep compassion I want us to all have for ourselves and others. Lovingkindness means responding to our own needs and the needs of those around us.  Some people’s response to seeing anger in others’ is judgment, and claims that this is a “negative” or “toxic” emotion to be avoided. Some who identify with new age spirituality want to hold onto bliss experiences and therefore stay out of politics and avoid difficult subjects like poverty and racism. I’ve seen others spread the notion that love will conquer all, as if we don’t have to actually do anything but radiate some emotion and all will be well.  No spirituality is worth anything if it does not care about the suffering of others. Anger is an energy of protection, fierce compassion, and a commitment to justice. Honor its place and channel it into appropriate, loving action. While politics may be unsavory, they are a fact of how power is marshaled in our society to the benefit of some and to the detriment of a great many. We must be invested in the fate of those around us. We are responsible for standing up for what is right, making our voices heard, and holding our representatives accountable by making calls, donating to campaigns and causes for justice, and voting. Some of you might be called to run for office, and if so, that is great! But we don’t need to make this kind of commitment in order to be involved. Start here. Call your senators to oppose the AHCA. Or text “resist” to 50409 to easily contact your senators. Donate to organizations doing work for immigrants, refugees, racial equity, the environment. Find what resonates with you.
  • Focus on the facts. It is painful to realize that so many members of Congress are okay with gutting healthcare for our most vulnerable citizens. This is heartbreaking. And we also can get grounded in the moment and remind ourselves that this was only the first step to passing the AHCA. No one is yet being harmed or hurt by this bill. This is not to deny the potential threat posed, but to help propel us into moving with resolve to working to make sure it does not get through the Senate, and to help us not suffer so much with the imagined torment and dying that could happen under AHCA. We do not need to jump to the future yet and create nightmare scenes in our head that cause us more panic and pain. Stay in the present, focus on what is happening in the moment. Nobody is dying or being denied coverage due to this bill, and if we get consumed with fear over what could happen in the future, we may not be as effective in taking steps to stop it in the now.
  • Accept reality. This has 2 important pieces for me. The first, is understanding that given who these Republican leaders are and looking at the evidence of their values that came through in recent years of intransigence, racism, misogyny, and greed, it is not at all surprising that they passed this legislation yesterday. I can ease some of the suffering and preserve some of the wasted energy that comes out of saying, “I can’t believe they did this heartless thing,” and instead, with complete acceptance of reality say, “It makes a lot of sense, knowing what I know about these people, that they would behave in a manner consistent with a lack of heart and lack of mercy.” This does not change the facts or say they are okay or good, but helps me to not argue with the truth of what is happening. The second piece is similar. I ask: what part of me is refusing to accept that this is happening? In what ways am I resisting that this legislation and this awful administration is part of our reality? I am down with the #resistance, don’t get me wrong. Political action and justice organizing are essential, and, I think, more effective if they come from a place of radical acceptance. Check out this therapist’s advice on staying sane through these difficult times, using the principal of radical acceptance of reality. We aren’t saying things are acceptable as in good, but that we when we accept that things are the way they are, we can more effectively change them.

Offer yourself empathy, place your hands on the places in your body that are feeling constricted, tense, nauseous, or twisted up in pain and offer some soothing words and spacious breaths of allowance–it is understandable to feel distraught when those entrusted to protect people are intent to cause pain. But don’t get stuck there. Pick up the phone, focus on the facts, be honest about what is happening, and put that incredible compassion you have into action.

 

Compassion, Dreams, Embodiment, Emotions, Gratitude, Healing, Inner Guidance, Life Coaching, Life Path, Love, Power Within, Relationship, Self-love, Transformation, Wisdom

the gospel of James Baldwin

I want to share a piece I was asked to write about my path to counseling and the work I am doing in my graduate program. My adviser nominated me to be featured in our department newsletter, which I found very touching and an honor. I wanted to use my story as a platform for something more meaningful than just simple autobiography. I hope the message resonates with some of you.

In the neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, across from the oldest church in Paris, lively conversation spills out of the cafés whose tables clutter the sidewalks. I found myself there this past August, after a relationship breakup and an airline credit flew me over the Atlantic to wander over cobblestone, take in centuries of art and architecture, and soothe my heart with an abundance of chocolate croissants. One morning I decided to map out the addresses of old haunts and habitats of my first and most enduring love, James Baldwin. I made a path through Parisian districts that followed the traces of where he lived, loved, and worked. Baldwin, the iconic gay black writer with the wispy, melodic, and powerful voice, raised in a strict Pentecostal home in Harlem, lived as an expatriate in France for most of his adult years. On my walk I paused at and peered into the places where Baldwin wrote his novels, Go Tell it on the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room—bistros, like Café de Flor and Les Deux Magots. I stood at the doorstep of his first Paris apartment along the tiny passageway, Rue de Christine, my feet pressing into worn stone where Baldwin’s feet had landed decades before. This self-guided tour was a sort of a pilgrimage for me, one that began at age 17.

Twenty years ago my high school English teacher gave me a copy of Another Country. Her scrawl in the margins of the inside cover told me: “I know you will love the honesty and passion of Baldwin.” Ms. Hepburn was a small and fiery white woman with a zest for life and a love of justice. The summer after graduating high school, when she turned me onto Baldwin, Ms. Hepburn and I met a few times to talk books. She confided in me then, that she had long been living with a woman, her true love. In our small town in central New York, she hid the most sacred contours of her heart for fear of losing her job. I hid mine in a home whose message was: you are too much, too emotional, too sensitive.  Finally, in Baldwin’s fiction, I found in vivid and breathtaking detail, the intimate secrets and wild frontiers of our relational lives, our connections and ruptures—across race and sexualities—studied, exalted, and celebrated as the heart of what it is to be human.

I also found in Baldwin’s essays and fiction, a new world, or like his title says, another country. It was, to me, as KRS-One raps on the album, Edutainment: “The language of the people ready to hear the truth.” In schools and at home, through textbooks, teachers, family norms and cultural myths that are passed down, I had learned a story of our nation, one that was wholly different from the reality depicted in Baldwin’s books. His voice was my entry into a body of work by black artists, poets, authors, and musicians in whom I found refuge from the delusion of an American culture that acted as if white was the norm, the only subjective experience, one usually cut off from our hearts and bodies, and which flinched and recoiled at real conversations about racism, past and present.

As an undergrad, I studied the history and politics of race and completed an Urban Studies semester based in Chicago that included a 3 day intensive anti-racism training. I continued to devour Baldwin’s books. The Fire Next Time said it clearly: white people are “still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.” Baldwin wrote of the past in an uncompromisingly candid yet compassionate tenor, understanding that no movement forward would be possible until we, as a society, acknowledged what we had allowed ourselves to become in upholding systems founded upon dehumanization—that we, in fact, were all dehumanized.

From the study of history in college and at the Masters level at the University of Illinois Chicago, to several years of clinic work at Planned Parenthood health centers in California, Chicago, and Chapel Hill, deep study of Buddhism and a side gig teaching moving meditation, and a foray into being a public librarian-activist and then case worker in social services, I finally made my way to NCSU’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program in the Summer of 2016. Being a Masters student in the Counselor Education Department has nourished and affirmed everything that Ms. Hepburn and James Baldwin first awakened within me when I was 17.  It is powerful to be in a supportive community of peers and faculty, where my strengths are valued and I am encouraged to grow and flourish. I feel a sense of belonging in both my cohort and in the field of counseling, which at the intersection of my passion for personal transformation and healing; embodied, heart-centered, authentic connection; social change and multicultural community; embraces all of who I am and yet holds me accountable to who I want to become.

In Dr. Marc Grimmett, I have an advisor and mentor who models compassionate, whole-person care, and displays self-awareness and sensitivity to the contexts of power, access, and privilege in which we and clients are embedded. That he and Dr. Helen Lupton-Smith developed the Community Counseling, Education, and Research Clinic (CCERC) , as a model of affordable world-class health and wellness services to reach underserved populations was an enormous draw for me in selecting NCSU’s Master’s CMHC program. I am honored and excited to be joining their team for my practicum and internship starting in January 2017.

Perhaps most unexpected and rewarding to me, is that I have been able to bring my passion for history into my counseling education. For a class presentation in Dr. Grimmett’s Intro to Clinical Mental Health Counseling, I made a website exploring the connection of historical memory to healing and what I can do, as a white counselor, to take action in recovering the past and de-centering whiteness for integration of the collective psyche. The website, Counselors for Courage, Truth, and Justice (http://counselorsforcouragetruthjustice.weebly.com/), is an ongoing inquiry of how I, and other counselors, can help foster healing, justice, and community in a nation that has not adequately addressed its white supremacist foundations and our inheritance of pervasive racism. The project integrates liberation psychology, theories of counseling, research, and interviews, and offers suggestions for historically competent tools, counselor-facilitated community consciousness raising groups, and the creation of safe spaces for public remembering and grieving. Dr. Grimmett encouraged us to submit one of our class presentations as a conference proposal to the North Carolina Counseling Association (NCCA). My proposal, “Historical memory and healing the national psyche,” was accepted and I am looking forward to presenting this as a poster board session at the 2017 NCCA Conference in Durham this coming February.

NCSU’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program and CCERC are exactly the settings I need to be in to become the kind of counselor I want to be. I’m eager to keep learning alongside and from fellow counseling students and professors and to find ways to build and broaden the multicultural community of care I experience here, out into the rest of the world. I see us, as NCSU counselors, carrying on James Baldwin’s s message of truth and love, for widespread healing and justice.

 

Compassion, Emotions, Love, Sacred justice, Uncategorized

Live the story of Thanksgiving

This Thanksgivng, I’ll pass on the turkey and cranberry and instead scoop up a big serving of lovingkindness. I’m going to take that in and heap extra care and lovingkindness upon you, too! I think we all are in need.

I am feeling grief over the contradiction of our Thanksgiving myths and stories and the reality on the ground as military force protects private interests and harms peaceful water protectors at Standing Rock. You can support the NoDAPL coalition and defend indigenous rights by contacting the people linked here or sending supplies.

Supply note: With at least two hundred injured last night, Standing Rock medics are in critical need of the following items:

Milk of Magnesia
Wool socks
Wool blankets
Space blankets
Hand warmers
Trauma kits (portable)
Suturing kits
Straw bales

Supplies can be shipped to:
Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council
PO Box 1251, Bismark ND, 58502
or if you are shipping via UPS or Fed Ex, please use the address:
220 E. Rosser Ave. 1251, Bismark, ND, 58502

Or you can donate to the Standing Rock medics.

If Thanksgiving is about fellowship, then let us embody that in our communities, by connecting with love, protecting the vulnerable, resisting the fascist and racist take over of our country with fierce compassion.

 

Compassion, Curiosity, Discernment, Emotions, Healing, Inner Guidance, Intention, Life Coaching, Life Path, Meditation, Path, Personal Growth, Self-love, Silence, Soul, Support, Transformation, Wisdom

An Inner Knowing

For many months in my previous partnership I struggled. Within me, when I got still and quiet, I knew that my soul had outgrown the relationship. Feeling strongly attached to this person and fearful of losing the comforts and safety of our connection, my heart wasn’t quite ready to let go. If I dropped into intuition there was a clear answer, an answer I avoided and pushed away. Instead, I kept going into my head to find and remind myself of the plentiful reasons to stay. He was kind, gentle, sweet, caring, affectionate, accepting, stable, steady, grounding, responsible, and a good cook (I miss his fish tacos and macrobiotic bowls!).

Even though on a soul level I knew I’d have to leave, my head sought out the insights of my therapist, my mom, and an elder with whom I had bonded. I sought counsel from self-help books and relationship experts. womanwater I took in any advice whether it was targeted to me or about relationships in general. In all of this I was looking for reasons to stay that would be strong enough to overcome the twisting and conflicted feeling inside that told me to move on.

I stayed with him for a year beyond what my inner guidance was telling me. I absolutely do not regret it. Following my intuition early on and ending the relationship when there was real, genuine care and comfort, may have led me to worry that I had not tried hard enough to make things work. The books, the conversations, the resources, and the counseling, all of it brought me to a place of acceptance. I had tried everything, given my all, and could leave the relationship knowing it was the right choice. And I was building a muscle. A muscle of intuitive trust, so next time there will be a recognition, –oh *that*, I know that feeling…that feeling is telling me what is true.

To the tenderhearted, lovelorn, and longing: there’s tons of advice out there, books on relationship rules, and gurus sharing wisdom on love, but it probably won’t do you a bit of good. People told me “stay!” because you can’t get all your needs met from one person. (I agree). People told me “leave!” because you are worthy of someone who really meets your nonnegotiable needs. (I agree). People told me that men aren’t that comfortable communicating about their feelings so I’m expecting too much. (Really disagree!) People told me to go, not to settle — there’s someone out there who wants to share their inner world with you. (I optimistically say, hell yes!) My point is: it didn’t really matter what people said. There were so many conflicting voices and I could find what I wanted to hear, but the only voice that really knew was inner guidance and I wasn’t ready to listen until I was ready to listen. Same with you.

Get still and silent, drop in, there is a knowing…oftentimes the head comes in and rationalizes, argues, and quiets that voice, but, really, truly, there is a knowing–of the next step, the deepest hunger within, your most authentic sunsetsit offering to the world in this moment. When we practice meditation and tune into ourselves, we can build more trust and attunement to inner guidance. Next time, it won’t take me so long to respond to the inner call.

Sending you love wherever you are in your journey. When you listen within and are open to where inner guidance wants to take you then you are in the flow. Yet even when you deny that voice you’re still on the path, and life will pull you into the wave of change even if you resist. Swim with the wave, breathe, love yourself all the way through.

Balance, Dreams, Emotions, Experimentation, Freedom, Life Coaching, Life Path, Love is Space, Movement, Open, Personal Growth, Support, Transformation, Wisdom

When the light leaves our path

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to catch up with a close friend who moved away last year.  I was excited to fill her in on all of the newness in my life, especially graduate school and all that I am learning on my way to becoming a counselor.

And I was also eager to hear where she was at, after completing an intensive training on her path as a healer. She shared some of the struggle that is common after going through a life-changing experience. In this case, when a craft or vocation that deeply resonates is shown to you, you can see yourself living this out, yet you are not entirely sure how to get from where you are to where you want to be. I went through this uncomfortable and disorienting phase after finishing a life coaching program that held me and guided me for nine months. When the 9 month gestation period came to a close, me and this tight-knit group of women who’d been meeting weekly, were set free. Suddenly in the absence of structure and with coaching certificate in hand I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. With the withdraw of community energy all supporting our learning and dreams, I felt some post-process blues, as I returned to my everyday life, wholly changed yet not able to see the change bear out. alone-971122_1280

It took almost as long to move through the phase of integration as it took to complete the training program itself, so I wanted to assure my friend that the period of seeming inaction and confusion after feeling inspired and motivated is normal, and may be necessary. In these periods of lull and let-down, we are still upgrading our psycho-spiritual processing system, and that can take time.
Giving ourselves a
healthy dose of spacious patience to move through change and integrate helps us to be more effective in our pursuits, and also allows us to model to others how to live during these difficult times of limbo.

Before I’d gotten to the point of clarity around wanting to coach and eventually counsel, when I was feeling completely lost as a librarian searching for my calling, that phase, also, was precious and valuable. I guide others through muck and distress. Having been deeply in it, myself, at times trusting that movement was happening when things felt stagnant, at times feeling excruciating pain of feeling lost and unsure of how to serve, and at times surrendering and calling out for help, all of it was part of the path.

I’d just had the realization the night before talking with this friend about those many years of feeling impatient and frustrated, when my soul and heart wanted to burst out of my skin because I knew my true calling was in there somewhere, wanting to be born, but I did not know how to birth it: I was exactly where I needed to be at the time. The pain I had felt led me to deep listening and tuning into inner awareness, tweaking my lifestyle in small and big ways, finding mentors and guides, and getting into dance to move through all of it and heal in community.surrender

Because of all of this I am able to bring a full, dynamic self to the craft of counseling, carrying many healing practices and approaches with me because I relied on them to get me here. I know that I can give my energy and effort towards excellence in my counseling program without compromising the rest of my life. I can live in harmony, so that grad school and my career path are just another expression of who I am, embodied and in my heart. If I had discovered counseling as my path 10 years ago, I would be bringing a lot less life experience, fewer tools and resources, and less perspective on suffering and the wisdom of all emotions. I would be studying and writing papers without feeling the fluidity in my body, without dance and meditation breaks, without a sense of my own wholeness.

What bell hooks says of “engaged pedagogy” applies as much to counselors, coaches, healers, or creatives as it does to teachers in the classroom. If I may adapt her proclamation from Teaching to Transgress to the practice of transgressive therapy: “Counselors must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to counsel in a manner that empowers clients.” That process is not always easy, it happens in the dark, and at times, on a road no one else has traveled before. We walk, we crawl, we curl up and take a nap, and with courage, we keep moving.

I envision with and for my clients a pervasive sense of well-being. Who they are when living a heartful and soulful life comes through in all that they do. But I also know that along the way to purposeful and centered we can feel stuck, at a loss, and alone.  Coaching can provide the support and teach tools of self-compassion, to move into the radical trust that you are on the heart-soul path even when it feels scary or stagnant. With courage, lionhearts!

 

Adventure, Autumn, Celebration, Compassion, Dreams, Emotions, Experimentation, Freedom, grounding, Healing, Intention, Life Coaching, Life Path, Mindfulness, Open, Personal Growth, Self-love, Soul, Suffering, Support, Wisdom

Letting go, creating change, a practice for magicians and wizards of self-love

A beautiful, sunny day that began with a walk with a friend and dogs, with weekend weather that’s allowed the delicious coziness of light sweaters and leggings.  An exciting new beginning as I’m catapulted into my life as a full-time graduate student, in a field fully aligned with my mind and heart, where I’m getting daily affirmation that I am on the right path. Also, close enough to my return from France that I still can recall how freeing the experience of traveling alone feels in my body, and can easily connect to the joy of walking miles a day on cobblestone to be wowed by gardens, castles, vineyards, ornate bridges, rose windows, public transit, and pain au chocolat.  These are days to cherish and savor.

IMG_2421

I turned 37 in July and when I left 36, I entered into possibility and adventure. I started inhabiting myself more completely, without the inner struggle and conflict that marked past years of grappling with career and relationship confusion, sapping my energy and attention (more on that, soon). I feel fully engaged and in my life, and I feel satisfied.

Except for when I don’t. There are times I forget and feel impatient about where I am on the journey. Instead of staying open to possibility and adventure, I close down around my desires and feel like I can’t be me until things or situations arrive or can’t be truly happy until things are arranged to my liking.

In some ways ending a 2 year relationship and starting out a Masters program can seem like certainties, specific finalities or futures planned out. Yet being single and in “beginner’s mind” as I embark on the path to becoming a counselor, so much is unknown and undefined. This is a vulnerable place to be, but truly, we all never know what will happen, even if things seem solid, small changes sometimes have a big impact, and small changes can happen at a moment’s notice.

For me, these next couple years will be a process of getting to know my philosophical orientation and professional identity as a counselor, getting to know people and clarifying my relationship goals and what I want to give and receive in my romantic life. There are a billion things I want for my life at 37 and beyond, some of which I am pursuing by going back to school for counseling, taking on new coaching clients, meeting people online and dating, dancing at home and in community, and forging friendships as I release old connections that I’ve outgrown. The constant practice, for me, is to not close up around my wants and get attached to outcome, to not craft an identity that I then get stuck in and am unable to flex and grow from, and to not feel discouraged when what I believe I want is not already here.

So, here I share a practice that I do to build my awareness around where I am attached and where I summon all the power of life and love within and without to break these fear-based patterns.

I meditate in stillness and quiet for 10-25 minutes before moving into this practice. Establishing the connection of meditation helps me listen more deeply to what is true under the surface grasping and whining. Then I go inward and check out what I am holding onto, what thoughts are driving my emotions and behaviors, what stories I’m telling myself, then I name all of it as I pull in a “clearing statement” from Access Consciousness, to help me cut through it with sharp awareness, wisdom, and compassion.  The clearing statement is like the abracadabra of a magical spell…”I  create as I speak,” or “May it be so,” invoking the power of language and intention to create change.

abra

Even in times of joy–sometimes especially, as we may be clinging on to things as they are, worried about losing what is going well–we can experience anxiety and insecurity. As this very amazing moment in my life opens me up to learning new things and loving new people, I find a lot of fear in and around my chest, a tightening jaw, flurried belly flops, repetitive thoughts pulling me into a spiral of anxiety, and a tenderness about emotional, intellectual, and spiritual risks that I am taking.

The process of tuning into all of this, speaking it, and clearing it out went like this the other day (note–these words came out spontaneously and were captured on audio so I could share with you–it is always unknown, unplanned, and uttered from the wisdom of the moment):

ALL THE WAYS I let fear pull me around, hook me in. All the ways I lose trust. All the ways I abandon myself and focus on someone else making me whole. All the ways I grab and cling and want to control life or know the future and ensure an outcome. All the ways I contract and get tight and small around my desires. Destroy and uncreate all of that. “Right and Wrong, Good and Bad, POD, POC, All 9, Shorts, Boys and Beyonds.”

ALL THE WAYS that I leave myself, my truth, my wholeness and grasp at something outside. All the ways I think someone can fulfill me, all the ways I feel afraid of rejection, abandonment, of not being lovable. Destroy and uncreate all of that. “Right and Wrong, Good and Bad, POD, POC, All 9, Shorts, Boys and Beyonds.”

ALL THE WAYS I forget that I’m already whole and already loved, all the ways I lose touch with my own heart and go into lack…all the ways I dwell in sadness and fear, that I feel sorry for myself. All the ways that I push away my experience and reject my emotions. Destroy and uncreate all of that. Right and Wrong, Good and Bad, POD, POC, All 9, Shorts, Boys and Beyonds.”

ALL THE WAYS I get self-absorbed and make my pain the center of the world, all the ways I don’t show up for others and don’t reach out to connect, or make my sadness bigger than everything else on earth, including my own heart. Destroy and uncreate all of that. Right and Wrong, Good and Bad, POD, POC, All 9, Shorts, Boys and Beyonds.”

ALL THE WAYS I believe I’m smarter than everyone, the ways I judge and criticize, all the ways I want to be right, all the ways I am not open to learning and challenging my world view. And all the ways I make myself small, don’t use my voice, doubt my intelligence and contributions. Destroy and uncreate all of that. Right and Wrong, Good and Bad, POD, POC, All 9, Shorts, Boys and Beyonds.”

Having been said, make it so, now. Activate growth, change, and healing.

Clearly, I could (and did) go on…that was just a part of what felt up for me on 1 day. I share this to show you that we are in this human experience together–all the ways we undermine our own happiness by identifying it as outside of us or in the future, when some external goal is reached. All the ways we humans think we are missing something and fixate on lack. All the ways we forget who we are. These are so common! This practice can help us see these for what they are and to get underneath, in the wise mind that knows the wholeness we already are, in the tenderness of our oh so human vulnerability. Vulnerability is not about something being absent, but the presence and fullness of love, compassion, and open-heartedness.

Naming our habits can build awareness. We cultivate the counter-habit of catching ourselves in the act, not to chastise but to chuckle, and say…there’s that again, that energy of wanting to control, that tendency to place the responsibility of my fulfillment on someone/something else.

When we truly believe in change, we see it leaving our field, we feel our bodies lighten from the lost weight of worry and grasping. It will come back, and we will practice again.We stay in compassion for ourselves and our habits. And sometimes, we forget all this meditation and magic and have a good cry with a friend and a cathartic release of all our crap, and move deeper into love with ourselves.