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Inner Guidance

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, 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, 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.