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Compassion

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Compassion, Dreams, Emotions, Freedom, Healing, Life Coaching, Love, Meditation, Open, Power Within, Relationship, Sacred justice, Self-love, Soul, Suffering, Support, Tonglen, Transformation, Wisdom

A dream, deferred

It is normal for empathic people to feel emotional fatigue when reading the daily news cycle, or seeing video after video in our social media feed displaying global violence and chaos. Even more, for those who are among the populations who’ve consistently been targets of hate and rage, they may experience vicarious trauma and added fear for their safety in moving around the world. This can take a physical and psychological toll.

Even if we are not in a time of unprecedented violence, as some social historians argue, it sure can feel this way because our exposure to trauma occurs more rapidly and constantly.

girlOne piece of this is attending to the care of our souls and knowing when to take a break from technology and cynicism.

The other truth is somewhat paradoxical to the research that shows that today, more than ever before, we live in safer and more peaceful times overall, as a human community. There, at the same time, *is* a breaking point we are reaching. Someone in my Facebook feed posted this morning’s latest headline of Baton Rouge’s police killing with a comment that “this summer is filled with tragedy.” Tragedy, to be sure. But my first reaction was: No, this summer is filled with neglect. This is what happens when we do not respond to tragedy appropriately.

The Langston Hughes poem came to mind:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

 Or does it explode?

The first instance of neglect comes from the residual economic inequality left over after the Civil Rights Movement’s many successes in extending voting rights and desegregating public spaces and schools. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw that his aims for true equality would not be realized until economic injustice was addressed–it was a campaign against poverty that Dr. King was devoting his life to when assassinated. We’ve chosen to memorialize his dream without ever achieving it. We’ve let his dream fester and sag even while posting inspirational memes with his face all over social media on January 16th, or as a retort to present-day activists.

Secondly, we have never collectively faced our history as a nation. Just as in spirituality, bypassing over pain to get to bliss does not work. We keep thinking we can skip over acknowledgment, apology, and reparations by telling people to “get over” something that has never truly ended or been redressed. Slavery took on more protean forms in the carceral system and engineered ghettoization in our American cities and endemic poverty in rural areas. We need truth and reconciliation. We have to move through the worst of our legacy to get to our best. We cannot keep trying to preserve an image of ourselves as liberal do-gooders or colorblind soldiers of love without facing the reality of the racist and classist systems of power and knowledge that we inherited.

The third act of neglect is when murder after murder is captured on video and nobody is held accountable–no individual, no system, no society.

The final form of neglect I want to address is that we neglect each other, our most powerless here and abroad, when we over-fund the military and under-fund education, healthcare, and education. When our politicians more vociferously protect gun ownership than they do safety and civil rights of the vulnerable, that is neglect.

Terribly, 3 police officers were killed today. (Did your hearts sink so much when, in one July weekend in Chicago, 60 people were shot?). This violence was not promoted, not sanctioned, not perpetuated by activists like Black Lives Matter, despite what the media wants to insinuate. But you know who does promote, sanction, and perpetrate such violence? We ALL do, all of us who choose separation over love, who want to be right more than we want understanding. We ALL do, who allow the structural violence and the unrelenting brutality of poverty and racism to continue without taking a stand for those living in such conditions, and without taking responsibility for helping to create those conditions.

When we show up, valuing all lives–not just the white or the wealthy or the powerful, but the black and brown and poor and disaffected–home by home, neighborhood by neighborhood, then the culture may change. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other.

meditationtUntil then, it may not be so surprising that the dream, deferred, will explode.

I want to end this post with 2 pieces you can practice:

1. Tonglen–breathe in the world’s suffering (grief, fear, pain, stress)–on behalf of those hurting, take it on with a deep inhale, breathe out fierce love and compassion and relief to all in pain. Keep going…any positive return you receive from this meditation, breathe it right back out to those who need it, while continuing to breathe in all remaining pain.

2. Show up fully to every interaction with empathy on full-blast, looking out for opportunities to serve and be present for those in need, even in the smallest ways. When things are quiet and you are alone at home–turn that empathy inward, on yourself. Do tears come up? Sadness? Allow life to flow through you while loving all of it, all of you.

Celebration, Compassion, Emotions, Freedom, Healing, Life Coaching, Love, Meditation, Mindfulness, Open, Personal Growth, Power Within, Spiritual Activism, Spirituality, Suffering, Transformation

On suffering and the overcoming of it.

When I look at the tragic photos and news, I see both the horrors of the bombs and shootings and the thousands of helpers who have rushed in to care for all the suffering. It shows that the world has both suffering and the overcoming of it. It is in the overcoming of it that we are called to respond.
–Jack Kornfield on Paris attacks, November 2015

 

wall-1405964_1920US primary politics. Orlando. Brexit. Blocked immigration reform. Istanbul.

With distressing and heartbreaking headlines in the news, compounded with our own personal challenges, these past few weeks have been a time of heaviness and high emotions for many. Despite or maybe because of these private losses and tragic world events, I decided to focus on the small daily things that bring me joy or inspire me: the Carolina wren scaling my window screen in the morning, the scent of gardenias in front of my apartment, the outpouring of love after the Pulse tragedy and the music that love brought to me in the form of a mix made by a Chicago friend, and many moments of connection shared with loved ones and animals.

I acknowledge and allow the grief and heartache, while also doing my best to not add more suffering to the world. Following the lead of one of the women who I coach in an online women’s support network, who vowed to not get embroiled in heated social media debates that would do little to change policy yet do much to create stress and bitterness, I refrained, as well, and practiced privately sending compassion to each person who posted a view opposing mine online.

I understand why some cannot move beyond grief, fear, and anger. Particularly those whose communities are at the center of tragedies, bloodshed, or political upheaval. I, myself, treasure my own early experiences in gay bars. In the late 90s, the Hide and Seek in Colorado Springs, offered a glimpse into what beautiful worlds are possible when people are free to be themselves, living out their own personal style, flair, and fabulousness. The bar, and those I danced with there–the tight-knit friend group I found in undergrad–introduced me to brave love, universal acceptance, embodied sexuality, and authentic living. And even as I comprehend how grossly this sacrosanct experience was violated, I still choose to live in the celebratory space of my own queer heart that was raised lovingly during late nights at the Hide and Seek, by college friends in the LGBTQ community, and the fairy godnurturing queer friends of my early 20s, like T, who shared my love of girl groups and made me feel Supreme.

We do not need to wilt or shrivel when these horrors happen. We can mobilize for change, we can show up for others in need, and we can live our lives by following the lead of those who dance in the night–loving our own bodies loving other bodies, uplifted, buoyed, and emboldened by solidarity. It’s what happens when we totally embrace and inhabit who we are, and allow ourselves to be loved in a radically open and nonjudgmental way. Not to paint a naively Utopian picture or diminish the high rates of suicide, terror and discrimination facing LGBTQ people, but at their best, this is what queer spaces create: collective, often joyful, overcoming of suffering.

Overcoming does not mean we won’t feel the pain any less, or that we aren’t aware of our broken hearts–it is that we have learned to use that heartache to connect with ourselves and others. Vulnerability can bring us more deeply into the human experience and allows us to love that much more fiercely and compassionately.

We can do our own spiritual work that attends to the overcoming of suffering–the more practiced we are, personally, in the overcoming, the more we can share and serve others in healing themselves, as well. This is worthy work: your personal growth and transformation. It ripples out and allows you to show up strong for a weary world. You loving yourself without apology may give someone else permission to reveal who they are. Even better when we have strength in numbers. Find others around you who are willing to live courageously, wholeheartedly, and come together to create our world anew…we need you!

Awareness of Sensation, Compassion, Embodiment, Emotions, Healing, Intention, Life Coaching, Love, Love is Space, Meditation, Open, Relationship, Self-love, Whole Body

Try a Lot of Tenderness

There we were, standing in his kitchen, just 6 weeks after we ended our 2 years together, when he announced his new romance. “I wanted to let you know that I’m dating someone.” At the moment that my brain processed the words, it felt like something shot into my chest and lodged there, inside my heart. Suddenly, it felt harder to breathe. I went home as soon as I could, to cry, tears that did not come as easily when we broke up, but now flowed. What a reality check: the person who still feels the closest in my world is moving on to become someone else’s closest and is entering the intimacy of her world.

mural-967953_1920

I’ve biked to cafes, walked and talked with warm and thoughtful souls, danced my heart out, snuggled my dog, delighted at frog and bird song, laughed with my best lady friends, practiced French, planned my trip to Paris, and hiked in lush woods along waterways. I’ve watched puppets and b-boys dance, worked myself out into a dripping mess of sweat and endorphins, found a polka dot bikini that fits, and indulged in ice cream. I can forget, when totally absorbed in the present of these joyous and connected moments, the sensation throbbing in my chest. But then, eventually, I am back in my room alone, or quietly walking across town in the rain, or I catch a glimpse of a romantic card at the store, and I feel it. I feel that something wedged into my heart. When I go into arguments about how it shouldn’t be this way, or start questioning how true his love for me ever was, or picture him kissing another, or remember the sweet beginning of our relationship, the pain brightens. I try to catch my breath. I feel it as both a chasm, a bottomless cavity, and as a clamp tightening and closing around my heart.

There is no outer relief. No friend who can make it go away. Nothing out there that can fix the feeling. There is no story I can tell myself to make it better. There is no name-calling, no judgement about him, no critique of the situation, no complaints about how it is too soon, no pettiness about who she might be, that can dissolve that heart-constricting crater. It has nothing to do with him, or her, anyway. It is about the need to be loved, to feel lovable, and this is mine, a human, normal, mine. These are the fears and wounds that our relationships show us–not so that we can demand love from others to feel whole, but so that we may be that love for ourselves. Relief only comes when I move toward that which is causing pain, and then soften around it…to discover that the around it is infinite. That infinite, is who I am. That I am, is loving and open attention.

I sense shallow breathing, choppy air, tight hollowness in my chest, my throat closing, nausea, and what feels like an inner fight, a resistance, trying to push all of it away.

chakra-685024_1280

I stop holding my breath, and let the air flow naturally. I soften…soften around my chest, throat, jaw, gut. I keep softening and allow what is happening to simply be. I stop pushing the sensations away and move my attention outward yet not quite outside of me–I look from just behind my eyes, and feel from behind my heart. I feel into the back of the body, breathing in my 3 dimensions. There is an energetic field extending outward from my physical body. It has eyes and ears and awareness all its own. I shift into this bigger sense of myself: the field of consciousness that surrounds me. Instead of fixating on tight heart, lumped throat, and strained breath, I move my attention up to the top of my head, to the right and left sides of me, to my front and back, then down to the earth, holding my attention on the outer edges of my body. I quietly and curiously notice the many sensations in, on, around me. Tingles atop my head, cool air passing over my face, that bird outside is a high pitched chirp in my right ear, sweat feels slick on skin, and so much space all around me. From the shrinking of fear, grief, confusion, loss and strained breathing, I move out to inhabit that space.

Inhaling deeply, I fall with a relaxed exhale into the awareness that sees and holds all of it. I invite the discomfort to come closer, to show me what it really is. At first I worry that if I give it permission to be, it will grow and consume me. But then I am surprised by the lightness and soothing comfort that arrives when I stop resisting and let it be all that it needs to be. Beyond apparent boundaries of skin, bone, and muscle, beyond my 5’8″ 160 pound frame, there is an endless and expansive me–way more infinite than that crack in my heart. Way more able to love than small, fearful me could have imagined.

You, heart-twisting, lung-pressing, breath-gasping, stomach-dropping tenderness, thank you for bringing me deeper into my life, and inviting me to love more wholeheartedly: him, her, myself, and you, this pain.

I do still feel tender and short of breath at times. The tenderness comes up, catches me and takes my breath, and for a moment I am lost in a story of suffering and loneliness. Then I remember to soften. Again and again, I move into the space around me and soften. It may take days, weeks, or months to move through this, but I am moving through with lovingkindness.

And as I continue to show tenderness towards those tender parts, I also want to encourage the fiery, fierce, and focused parts to keep alive my dreams of creating a life of inspiration, beauty, integrity, and purpose. Indeed, I am already living that life in so many ways, which is why I had to move on from a relationship that felt in conflict with these dreams. Though I may forget and get swept up in my sadness in moments, staying in a story of despair or shutting down in bitterness are not options. As I heal this sense of loss, I will keep my heart open and ready to receive wild, soulful, and romantic possibilities! What about you? Where will you offer yourself space and softness? What happens when you show up for your tender places with a lot of tenderness?