Category Archives: Life Changes

BLOG 51- Love & Anxiety: Tips for tough situations!

Angry woman

Do you ever experience situations cropping up that you just don’t want to deal with? Situations that feel overwhelming and too much to handle? I would guess everyone knows what I mean because periodically having to deal with difficult situations is a part of being human. But that doesn’t mean we enjoy the process. Is there a better way of getting through these difficult situations? A way that feels positive, empowering, and life-giving, instead of impossible, awful and soul sucking? Yes there is, and it is possible to thrive in difficult situations, not just survive them.

The first step to thriving in challenging circumstances is to listen to the messages your body is telling you about this issue, to ask internally what your body expects, or fears, will occur. As stated in earlier blogs, human bodies use the language of sensations and emotions to communicate to the mind/brain, what is being experienced. So bring to mind that phone call, meeting, or that upcoming confrontation, and see what your body “says” about it. Ask the question about what your body fears with true, open curiosity. In response, you may (hear) feel sensations of heaviness and dread, or a shaky, quivery anxiety, or some confusion and collapse.

After asking your body what it expects, if the sensations are those of fear and dread, try identifying the location in your body where those sensations are the strongest. Discover the fear “zip code” if you will. Ask that place what it is specifically afraid will happen, or how you could be harmed? Sometimes you will hear a realistic fear, such as, “she will be mad at me”, or, “I will have to find another place to live”. But often, in current situations, our deep sensations of dread and fear are connected to earlier ages and experiences, times when we had less power and less ability to stand up for ourselves or to clearly state our needs. So if your body answers with a fear that sounds irrational, then you may be dealing with an earlier time and body state. In that case bringing in some form of support would be advised and helpful. Often we didn’t get enough support early in our lives, and adding it now makes a difference.

Sometimes, simply saying the irrational fear aloud helps us calm down because we can perceive that what we fear most likely will not occur. But if saying it aloud does not dispel the fear, try talking back to the fear gently and compassionately. Tell the fear what positive things you will do to make the situation better. Let your body know what it can realistically expect and how you will move forward even in the challenge. This may sound odd, but the body is a sentient being that does not feel or understand the same things that the mind does.

Just paying attention to the sensations that feel negative (they are not negative) allows most people to move through the feelings and to calm down. Paying attention with compassion will cause them to dissipate. When our Autonomic Nervous System ANS Video is in high Sympathetic charge mode, our bodies are full of fearful sensations and soaked in stress hormones. At that point our Neo-cortex can go off-line and we are left swimming in a sea of survival soup and have little rational ability left. Once the sensations related to fear, confusion, and disempowerment dissipate or are reduced and the Sympathetic charge lessens, your rational mind, the Neo-cortex, will come back on-line and help you to figure out the wisest course of action to take in this difficult circumstance.

Another aspect that makes a big difference in how we navigate challenging situations is our attitude toward the difficult circumstance. When we are full of fearful sensations and our ANS is full of Sympathetic arousal, our attitude is usually a negative one. We think things like, ‘its not fair, why is this happening to me, or everything is against me, I can’t catch a break’, etc.  But when we calm our body down and connect body, heart, and mind in unity to deal with the problem, we are able to perceive a more realistic  and more positive view of the situation. With a positive attitude we can think things like, ‘this will help me grow stronger, it can help me be more forgiving’, etc. We have known for years that hardship has great potential to help a person grow in maturity and wisdom. Although, It can also make people bitter. It depends on that person’s focus.

So the next time you face a difficult circumstance, try these tips. See how integrating your body, mind and heart makes for greater empowerment and a more resilient you in the midst of a difficult challenge.

Going Deeper:

1.) What is your Achilles heel? Are there certain situations that are just really hard for you to handle? What kind of support do you have, or bring in when things feel Sucky?

2.) Do you know your own body’s messages? Do you know what happens inside you when things feel safe? What sensations does your body produce when life gets challenging? If you usually only listen to your mind, trying adding hearing the body message, the more info you have the better you can navigate challenges.

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BLOG 50- What a 13th century poet knew about Love & Anxiety.

 

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Africa Volunteer team

Today I would like to share a poem  written by Rumi  a 13th century Sufi mystic in love with God and life. Let these words wash your soul and heart and notice your bodily response.

Reckless love is not afraid to explode

while reason seeks profit.

as love suffers,

she remains steadfast, solid & strong

Risking everything

She lies beyond self-interest seeking nothing

Betting on every glorious gift life brings

Without reason life give life

-without reason, give it back!

Wow, what a life we would lead if we lived even half as full of love as these words. If we feared neither loss or suffering, anxiety would be a cloud in our rear-view mirrors, rarely to be experienced again. If we trusted in the goodness of life and all the good we experience on a daily basis, we could risk expanding and pouring out our love and energy into life and other people, without counting the cost or worrying if “we are getting ours”.

What if we changed a fear-based mindset and thought differently? What if the person who keeps on loving even if they have been harmed, is the stronger person? What if loving more does not make victims but victors. What if the winners are those who loved the most? Some names immediately come to my mind, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Mother Teresa, to name a few, people who seem to embody the poetic words of Rumi. As you can see from these names. loving others does not mean we don’t stand up against injustice or wrong doing, but we do it in a firm and respectful manner, not stooping to the fear-based tactics of scorn, disgust and hatred.

I know it seem impossible in our world today, to live without fear and chronically worrying about our own profit. I know I often don’t live these words, but I would like to. The Happiness research studies repeatedly demonstrate that the people who have concern for others, a willingness to give, and a sense of how all humans are connected, score the highest the happiness inventories. So there is a power in love to bring us what we desire that selfishness might not, happiness.

So think about how 2017 could be a year where we risk expanding more, exploding with love & joy, willing to give of ourselves to those around us. Maybe we can’t live without fear or self-interest but we could work on lessening both.

Going Deeper:

1.) How does love and self-interest interact in your life? Do you find there is enough energy to care for self & others?

2.) What brings fear and anxiety into your life? Does scarcity mentality dominate your life? Do you believe there is enough, or that resources are limited? How does fear subside, is it something you do to vanquish it, or is it when the outside circumstances change?

Blog 40: Anger & Anxiety- Part 1

In today’s blog we will discuss Anger and Anxiety. Anger is an important emotion experienced by humans of every world culture. However, this strong feeling/emotion is often a tricky feeling to experience and to navigate healthily. We have all seen Anger expressed in unhealthy ways (just watch most action adventure movies) and for this reason Anger has often gotten a bad rap.

We will address healthy Anger in the next blog, but today we will explore how Anger and Anxiety are connected. While it may seem they are opposite emotions — Anger is often experienced as an emotion expanding our energy into the world, and Anxiety as an emotion that contracts us away from the world—they are often linked. So, what is the relationship between Anger and Anxiety?

First off, both Anger and Anxiety are sensations/emotions many of us experience as extremely uncomfortable, and the expression of both emotions are fairly hard to disguise.  Many people experience and express consistent Anxiety as chronic irritation, and may not even understand they are anxious. If you would measure their physiology, (levels of stress hormones and the amount of activation in the Autonomic Nervous Systems—ANS) you find their ANS is agitated and dis-regulated, hence the chronic irritation. If you are feeling happy, content, and life is going well, there is little need to be irritable, is there?

Frankly, Anger is scary for most of us, it is a big, and very powerful sensation and experiencing it can feel like it could swallow us whole. It can be extra difficult for women who are often socialized from babyhood that nice girls don’t get angry. We have often heard angry women being described as that “B” word that has kept many females stuck in the prison of nice. (Yes, I mean Bitch!)  Over the years many a woman has been stopped from angrily voicing her true thoughts and feelings, fearing that label. (Though it seems the new generation of young women are less bothered by it than my generation.) However, voicing our thoughts and feelings is critically important for our emotional and physiological health, as well as for changing things that need to be changed. As the bumper sticker so aptly states, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” I would argue that holds true for men as well. It is often the humans who have behaved against culture norms that have changed our world for the better.

Men often struggle with the emotion of Anger as well. However, often the male struggle is with controlling the expression of Anger, not so much not allowing themselves to feel it. Again, socialization plays a big role in our childhood, as well as our adult, behavior. Generally if you go watch young children at recess, the girls are often giggling and playing together, and the boys are fighting with sticks, or whatever vaguely weapon-shaped objects they can find. It’s our gender differences showing up in our play. Our brain wiring, hormonal systems and socialization are vastly different from that of the opposite sex. If we can understand that and work with those differences instead of stigmatizing each other, the world would be a kinder place.

So many human beings become automatically Anxious when we experience the emotion of Anger, whether it’s our own Anger or the Anger of someone else directed at us. Anger is not often handled well in workplaces, families, etc. Sometimes people get stuck in Anger and are not be able to discharge it healthily, or may not want to let it go. Anger can be a secondary emotion, coming up repeatedly after we have been hurt by another person. Sometimes after being emotionally wounded, it is easier (and often more pleasant) to feel Anger rather than the underlying hurt or sadness, or the helplessness to do anything about the pain of betrayal. Feeling Anger is correlated emotionally with the threat of harm, being stuck in Anger often keeps our bodies stuck in threat physiology, which causes physiological anxiety just by its very nature.

We will explore more about Anger and Anxiety and talk about healthy Anger in part 2 of this blog.  In closing, I encourage my readers to be curious about your own relationship to Anger. How does Anger impact your life, your health, and your relationships? I would love to hear any thoughts people are willing to share.

Angry woman
Frustrated and angry-A big emotion

Going Deeper

1.) What do you think or feel when you read about Anger? Do you have a healthy relationship to your own Anger? What about to your loved one’s Anger? Do you express anger directly, or do you let it leak out in other ways that are less frightening but still cause great damage? (I.e. the silent treatment, passive aggressive behaviors, etc.)

2.) How does your body respond to Anger in general? How does it react to other’s Anger? Do you retract, or do you desire to fight back and defend yourself?

#39: Love & Anxiety-Contentment at Christmas?

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I have read lots of blogs, books and articles raving about the importance of mindfulness in order to live in a peaceful mind and body, and I agree 100%! But what I would love to read or hear more about is another “state” or attitude, that of Contentment.  Contentment is related to mindfulness but is not exactly a buzzword in our predominately self-focused popular culture.  I was with a friend recently who will remain nameless, so as not to embarrass her and her kids. She spent a small mortgage on her day off to take her sons and their friends to one of those “fun zone” places (where junk food, quarters and over-stimulation reign supreme.) Unfortunately, even after her hours of sacrifice, the only sound heard on the way home was the song of complaint. Complaints about what they didn’t get, and frustration about having to leave “so soon”. There was not one word of gratitude and certainly not a shred of Contentment found in that car.  Not in the kids, or in my friend.  A sense of entitlement and unrealistic expectations often walk hand-in-hand and both kill our ability to feel Contentment. Gratitude and Contentment are not the same concepts but are related, supply energy to each other, and are the Yin to the Yang of entitlement and unrealistic expectations.

Why is Contentment so hard to achieve in our daily existence? There are several reasons besides those noted above. One seems to be, at times humans can mistakenly equate Contentment to stagnation or lack of ambition. The reasoning goes, “if I am content with where I am in life and what I have, how will I grow and improve and get more out of life?” But  Contentment is a great word and a great state to spend time in, dictionary.com defines Contentment as: the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind.  I like that phrase, ease of mind. The last blog was about human restlessness and how it negatively impacts our joy and increases our anxiety levels. Restlessness could be called unease of mind or even dis-ease of mind. Contentment then, is one of the antidotes for getting stuck in restlessness on a regular basis.

Contentment is not stagnation.  You can have goals, dreams, and desires but still live in Contentment on a regular basis. Because Contentment is not about specific outcomes but an overall ease of mind /attitude about life. Contented people usually have fairly realistic expectations (read appropriate) about  life, limits and their place therein. Contentment allows us to experience the overwhelming good that is our daily life without being tainted by seething restlessness or the frustration that comes from comparing our lives with the lives of others we believe are more fortunate.

Here is a fairly simple example. If at age 30 I take up the sport of football, there is very little possibility that I will be drafted by the NFL. I could become a great football player, if I am willing to put in hours of daily practice. But NFL level players usually have been playing football since childhood. If my expectations, or set goals, do not match reality, Contentment will be a hard state to attain. If I expect to be drafted I will be disappointed and discontented. However, If I expect to get really good and enjoy the sport, I have a much better chance of feeling Contentment with my choices and accomplishments.

Sometimes we paint unrealistic pictures in our heads about how life should play out, or even how we should feel on a regular basis. We can get the impression via reality TV, FB posts, movies, songs, etc. that life is one big happy adrenaline rush. We think we ought to feel immense love or excitement or joy 24/7.  Contentment is hard to find when living with those kind of unrealistic expectations.

Life was never intended to provide the same experiences all day long day after day. Let’s use art as an example to stand in for life and the various situations, moods, and sensations we all experience. A beautiful piece of art or a stunning photograph most often is comprised of various “objects”, shapes and colors. A green leaf is lovely, but in the fall when the leaves turn colors and become a  gorgeous palate of oranges, reds, yellows, and browns, that’s when tourists stream into New England to take in the art these multi-hued leaves provide. Very few people come to gawk in the summer when the leaves are only the color green.

Well, real Life is multi-hued as well. If you imagine feelings, events, and sensation as colors, there will be green moments and red moments, and purple moments. There are yellow feelings and pink feelings and black feelings, etc. Life is fluid and flows, it changes and morphs. When we realistically expect and accept there are green/red/blue/purple, etc, moments, we will not be thrown or upset when we don’t feel excitement or happiness all day long. We become more tolerant of the hues that we feel less fondness for but know that we can learn to be with, and learn from them. For example, we can allow ourselves to feel sad for a time which in turn allows us the awareness of how great it feels to experience happiness.

There is another great benefit to experiencing and enjoying life as multi-hued and morphing.  We become better able to sit and allow our own shifting internal states to BE whatever color they are without criticism and judgment. In so doing, we are more able to “tolerate” the shifting states of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones.

So friends the holiday season is upon us and it is easy to get caught in the busyness and the merchandise mucking about foisted upon us hourly via ads and TV networks. But I encourage you to settle inside yourself and find your own state of inner Contentment these next few weeks. Experience how Contentment may shift the energy of the Holiday Season and the family interactions during the many holiday themed events. As always, I would love to know how it goes for you so please let me know via comments.

GOING DEEPER:

1.) What is your knee-jerk reaction to the term Contentment? Is it positive or negative? What beliefs live inside your head and body about contentment? Do these block you from, or move you toward Contentment.

2.) Is my analogy normalizing life as multi-hued art, and not a single state of being, helpful to you? If not, come up with your own analogy or metaphor of life with its various permutations. Which colors/sensations/feelings are you most comfortable living with, and which are uncomfortable to you? Share your answers with your friends and loved ones if you dare.

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#37 Love & Anxiety: The loss of love & other things.

Friendships are like sunshine, not much grows without them
Friendships are like sunshine, not much grows without them

IMG_0317This past week I’ve been aware of feeling some sadness. A dear friend of mine had come to stay here in Coronado for the whole summer instead of traveling back and forth each weekend from AZ. It was such a treasure to have so much juicy time with someone I loved dearly. Healthy friendships are incredibly nurturing, especially if you are a single adult. But summer ends as it does each year and she returned home. I adjusted to the change, or so I thought. But I kept feeling sadness creep in.

I know from personal and professional experience when a feeling/sensation does not go away it means there is a message that would benefit me to heed. So when I sat down and welcomed the sadness for a while I realized that I still have an old somatic imprint, (in lay terms, a deeply ingrained message), that friends who truly love me, will abandon me. Memories began to surface from way back in childhood about friends I lost to mental illness, to death, to cruel manipulations by teachers or other authority figures. The friends I lost to motherhood, moves, job changes, and to cancer. I am sure most of you can relate. We all lose friends, lovers, family members. It hurts to lose love and loved ones. It hurts to lose anything really! Though I had not lost any deeply beloved friends in a long time, that old message from the early years was still deeply engrained in my body and physiology. (Tip from a therapist, they never go away really, unless we work on processing them in order to heal them. Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s research teaches us that our body never forgets anything that happens. Our mind forgets but the body does not.)

After the meditation of sitting in awareness with my sadness, I biked to the ocean to surf and understanding began to click in place. This experience and sadness were a gift for me. They triggered my forgotten/buried somatic imprint strongly enough for it to come into my awareness, so I could make a new association with the old sensation (imprint). I have not “lost” my friend, she had not abandoned me and she had not left me permanently, she just moved home. But our connection is still strong and she will be back. Instead of surfing, I sat and watched the ocean and allowed the deep relief of the truth of the situation to really permeate and “brainwash” over the old youthful imprint that intimated I would always be left without those I love. From past blogs you may remember, you must sit/pay attention to a positive event for at least 30 seconds for your brain and ANS to register it as a positive experience and to change your brain wiring.
As is often the case, as I was fully present to my environment and to the truth in my body, my understanding deepened even more. I realized that old imprint, and its false message caused me to wish Life was changeless. To believe that if I wanted something/someone’s love and attention, I should never have to relinquish it. That smaller, wounded part of me wanted Life to be like cement. BUT LIFE IS LIKE WATER NOT CEMENT. Life by its very essence is fluidity, changeable, it ebbs and flows, has seasons and a myriad of permutations.

Cement is set, immobile, changeless, so it is very stable. If life was more like cement all would stay the same, friends would not leave us and lovers would not bail out of relationships. Before I sat with my sadness a part of me would still have said “cement is stable lets go with that”. But in my soul’s heart, where I know what’s really true for me, I know that sameness and lack of change would deaden my senses, my desires, and my vibrancy. For vibrancy, joy and growth, humans need change, fluidity, new challenges, new relationships, learning how to grieve our losses and move on. Novelty and change strengthens our emotional and physiological muscles, allows us to deepen our self-awareness and broadens the personal power we weald in our own spheres of influence.

So currently, I am siting with the fact that Life is water not cement, and letting the goodness of that truth wash my mind and soul. I love surfing but at times the waves are really big and closing out (for non-surfers read a huge wall of roaring water weighing 1000’s of pounds, crashing down on your body, driving you to the ocean floor.) I get scared and won’t risk engagement with the surf, but all I lose is a chance for fun and exercise. Life is like water and when we refuse to go out into new and challenging experiences, into change and risking not knowing, we lose much more. We can lose out on great opportunities, new relationships, and broadening our skills and horizons. We build our courage by surfing bigger and bigger waves as we are able. When we accept that life’s very nature is fluidity and change, we are better equipped for it’s vicissitudes and at times erratic permutations. We can be grateful for all we have and gracefully surrender what is leaving or changing, as I had to with the loss of my summer friend’s company. We can let go of our death grips and controlling behaviors and as life’s waves come and go we can float on “surfboards” of love and connection and the embrace of the Divine Oneness that holds us and the love and support we have been blessed with thus far.

This week notice how you respond to life’s changing nature and lack of sameness. See if accepting and expecting that to be the case, helps a tiny bit with the pain of loss and change.
Let me know how it goes. I am eager to hear.

Life is like water! Changing and morphing, so enjoy the ride.
Life is like water! Changing and morphing, so enjoy the ride.

Going Deeper:

1.) What have you lost that has been the hardest to accept? How have you handled the pain of this loss? Have you moved past it, or does the grief of it still impact your thoughts and behaviors? Are there any old imprints or false beliefs stuck in your mind and body? If so, are you ready to let them go?
2.) Life is like water not cement! How does this phrase touch you? What phrase might you use that works for you? Do you wish like I did that in certain areas that life would never change, that you would always have certain things? Are you comfortable with water, with Life’s fluidity? How do you navigate the waves of change?

Blog 28: Love & Anxiety, New Associations. Part 1

This past week I got to experience a unique event, a “paddle out” for wonderful Lorton Mitchell. A man in his prime, taken from his family by cancer while he was still so young. For those trapped in the ocean-less midwest, a paddle out is a surfing tradition from Hawaii. When a surfer dies, the community gathers together, jumps on surfboards and paddles out to beyond the breaking waves. There a ceremony is held, one of remembrance and celebration. It’s a solemn ritual and yet some joy leaks in the cracks. Perhaps it’s the magic of ocean water, or the laughter of children, or the safety of being surrounded by loved ones and 100’s of members of the community.

The last blog was about the need to make new associations with old sensations. But making new associations can also occur in conjunction with old belief systems or world views. We can make a new association with the way that we live our lives. Lorton was larger-than-life figure, and the way he lived his life, full of vigor and joy provides an excellent example to emulate as the subject of today’s blog. I want to suggest that those of us who are stuck in busyness, or achievement pandering, or over-scheduled living, need to make a change. We who are stuck in a life dedicated to duty, can make a new choice, a new association. We can to deliberately shift our primary driving force in life from one of Duty to that of JOY.

Imagine with me two large doors in front of you. One is labeled Duty and one is labeled Joy. If I was to offer you a choice of which door’s attitude will most characterize daily life, most of you will pick the Joy door! But if we are really honest about how we live our lives, most of us are unconsciously choosing duty over joy most of the time. One reason why our culture is so full of heart disease, a flood of medications, addictions, obesity and the many other curses of our over-stressed, way too busy modern life.

Ask yourself this question, how much joy to do you experience on a daily basis? Would your family, children, lover, etc., list joyful as one of your predominate traits? Or, are you more focused on what must get done, on checking off lists, keeping ducks in a row, (why ducks, why not cats, they are even harder to control?)

As children, most of us did not struggle through the misery of puberty in order to grow up and turn into a distracted, busy adult who has little or no time for fun. We hoped to grow up and do whatever pleased us, to have fun and to enjoy life. But life’s responsibilities, pressure and stress conspire to turn us into the duty bound creatures that many of us have become. I am not suggesting that life is not challenging, nor that we should throw up our hands and toss responsibility to the wind. There are things that must get done, it is good to be a “high functioning, well-behaved member of society” sometimes, I think? But if our primary focus is on our duty and getting things done, we miss most of the joy that this busy, complicated life has to offer.

Joy is an all body sensation, a vitality affect, and one of the best antidotes to stress and trauma that can be found. If you recall a previous blog where I talked about the two sides of the coin in our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), this blog might make more sense. Joy is the other side of the coin! It is the opposite of stressed and busy, and anxious and traumatized. If you doubt the power and intensity of joy, watch some Youtube videos of babies laughing, or children and puppies (any baby animal really). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L49VXZwfup8 try this one for even just one minute and notice the shift your body experiences inside.Healthy pleasure is a great way to begin to experience more joy in your life. If you have not engaged in self-care or healthy pleasure on a regular basis, it will be hard to live in joy regularly.

While joy and laughter are not the same physiological event, they are related and very connected. The research demonstrates repeatedly that people who laugh often, are happier, and physically healthier and have a more positive outlook on life. Well-parented children laugh much more often than children with lower functioning parents.

This week try to notice your primary outlook on life in terms of duty vs. joy. Which attitude prevails most often in your life? If it is duty, try your best to begin to include choices and situations that bring joy to you. When you feel joy, really notice how it lightens and brightens and enervates your entire body. Let me know how it goes.

Joy, Uganda style.
Joy, Uganda style.

Going deeper:

1;) What is your association with joy? Is it a common experience for you or something you rarely encounter? Who do you know that is often really joyful? If possible, spend more time with them and see how it impacts you. We become most like those with whom we spend the most time.

2.) What is your attitude to duty? If you are one who feels stuck in this place, ask yourself where you learned this? What were your parents’ primary attitudes toward joy and healthy pleasure, another close relative of joy? Are your attitudes similar to your parents or different? Most importantly, are they what you would like them to be?

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