Tag Archives: Joy

Blog 46: Love & Anxiety-What lights you up?

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What absolutely lights you up inside? By “lights you up”, I mean, fills you with passion, joy, and enthusiasm for more of this thing/person/situation. Do you know the answers to these questions? We can be lit up by an inherently positive experience, such as collecting old cars, creating art, cooking for others, traveling, writing, sports, etc. Or, our passion can come for overturning negative issues. For instance, eradicating sex slavery, overturning racism, feeding the hungry, finding a cure for a disease, etc. Humans experience passion for many things in life. However, most of us have a strong passion that lives in our hearts, blood and souls.

Many people already know their “passion” and are living energized and guided by it, but some humans are not so aware. Today’s blog covers the anxiety caused by confusion regarding the meaning and purpose in our lives!  This may sound like a 1st world problem to some, but this struggle can cause great ennui and significant anxiety in human beings.

Listen to George Bernard Shaw’s quote about living with meaning and purpose. “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” While I am sure none of my readers are “feverish selfish little clods”, due to dominant cultural messages many of us can become confused about why we are alive and what we hope to gain from our time here in this universe.

“Have it your way, & look out for number one”, are predominate cultural messages most of us have heard repeatedly, but are they wise slogans?  To live my life only for myself, in sole pursuit of my own happiness, does not bring a sense of meaning, purpose, or even long-term contentment. Living only for oneself may seem like the American dream as evidenced by some movies, TV shows, & popular music. However, if you believe having it all and always getting our way is the preferred option for human beings, why are selfish people so unhappy? You would need to turn a blind eye to the gossipy papers and magazines. You would have to ignore the often poor behavior, addiction problems, and relational betrayals that seem ubiquitous to many Celebrities no matter what their race or culture.

There is plenty of evidence that George had a good understanding of some of the benefits of living with meaning and purpose. If you look at studies of generosity and happiness, a very strong correlation is always discovered. Another benefit of generosity is a strong decrease in anxiety levels, along with an increase in awareness of how all humans are connected. I have volunteered overseas in developing countries. I have witnessed first hand, races of people who have very little material goods, but are full of love, joy, and gratitude for simply being alive and having a family. Many seem to have a strong sense of purpose, living for the good of the group, tribe, city, etc.

But you needn’t go overseas to help others, to make a difference, or to develop a greater sense of meaning and purpose. Those options are available right in your own hometown. It helps to know your passion, your purpose. What is your sense of purpose in life, why do you believe you are you here? These do not have to be spiritual questions, though they often are. They are great questions to ask ourselves as we move forward in life. It can be easy to spend years on auto-pilot, just making a living, collecting possessions, buying every new device, and just getting by.  Rather than putting effort and time into crafting a life that fits our desires, purpose, and passions.

Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meets.” Though these words were written many years ago, they still are relevant. As I have attempted to live these words my life has deepened and become richer than I could have imagined.

So, all that said, What is your meaning and purpose? What really lights you up inside? How does your sense of being a part of the human race impel you to reach out and make a small (or large) difference in your sphere of influence, or in the world in general. We tend to admire those people who make a great difference. People like, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, The Dali Lama, Nelson Mandela, Oprah, etc., but we might not consider what kind of effort and sacrifice it cost them. What passions and desires for the world’s betterment lives or lived in their breasts? And, how much time, money and energy have they sowed into the field of their passions and in the culture at large.

Being a hero/heroine is something many of us aspire to, Joseph Campbell spoke copiously about the heroes journey. Though, to become One also means that we must struggle, sweat, and often suffer, three things most of us don’t enjoy much. But great passion and great deeds come from great dreams and great effort. What great or small dreams live in our hearts, sometimes unknown and maybe unspoken? If we are not already living them out, can we begin to connect with them, begin to listen to them? Every great journey begins with a small simple step. What is yours?

Going Deeper:

1.) What does light you up? Is it easy to answer this question? Perhaps you have several things, which one burns brightest for you? If you don’t know, take some time over the next weeks to perhaps listen to your heart, to your life, and to the circumstances that you find yourself in.

2.) What dreams are you already living out that began with a passion? What bigger dreams may you be a bit afraid of trying? If so, besides fear, is there any other blockage to beginning to live toward your dream?

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Blog 45: Pleasure Part 3-Exercise:Tell me what you love!

So here is a great  exercise I learned at a Tara Brach conference. Tara Brach She is truly an amazing teacher and human being. This exercise is a great way to feel Enjoyment and Pleasure. It is also a great exercise to deepen loving bonds with partners, children, friends, family, etc. And, of course that will also increase your Pleasure.

EXERCISE:  TELL ME WHAT YOU LOVE!

Try this experiential exercise 1-on-1 with someone you love or desire to grow closer to, a partner, child, or friend.

1-Sit facing each other at a comfortable distance and set a timer on your phone for 2 minutes.

2-Decide which person is going to begin as (A), the Questioner and who is going to be (B), the Answerer.

3- (A) makes comfortable eye contact with (B) and using their name, asks this question. “      ______please tell me what you love?”

4-(B) provides a one word, or a one sentence answer of something they love or really enjoy. I.e. “Nature”, or “Being with you”, etc.

5-(A) registers that they heard this answer with a nod or a thank you, and then pauses for a few seconds and then asks the same question again…___ please tell me what you love?

6- (A) asks the same question, and (B) answers over and over for entire 2 minutes.

7- PAUSE and both A & B check inward with bodies and hearts and notice how the process has shifted any feelings, emotions and sensations so far.

8-Then you switch roles, set the timer for 2 more minutes and (B) begins asking (A) the same question. “_______ please tell me what you love?”

9- Again, PAUSE at the end and notice the pleasure, feelings and emotions this connection has generated in both of you.

10-There is no cross talk or commenting on the other person’s answers, you are just witnessing each other sharing what they love and increasing your emotional resonance.  Which is very Pleasurable.

Please give this and try and let me know how it goes. Couples who do this on a regular basis have a deepened connection and build up their Couple resiliency. This resiliency which helps balance out the effects of the normal relational conflict we all experience. And, kids love this one.

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One of the most deeply bonded couples I know!

GOING DEEPER

  1. What was that exercise like for you? Was there any discomfort in the process? Sometimes intimacy is difficult even though it is what most of us long for in a relationship.
  2. Which role did you enjoy most? What was the difference inside your body and heart when you were the questioner? When you were the answerer?

Blog 44: Love & Anxiety, Pleasure matters- Part 2.

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Hello all, and happy July! I received a few comments after the previous Pleasure blog expressing a desire for more content about how to get more Enjoyment from healthy Pleasure. So as requested, part 2!

My first suggestion comes personal experience. Learn how to SLLOOWWW DOWN! We race through our lives, cramming in experiences, relationships, long to-do lists, and job/career pressures. We are so busy, (I was so busy) it is hard to have any space to deeply feel anything, much less Pleasure.The pace by which we live our lives impacts our ability to feel our lives. The slower we move through life, the more time and space we have to FEEL our lives. Of course, this stance is challenging when it comes to unpleasant sensations. One reason many of us compulsively ‘water ski across the surface of our lives’. But the benefits of slowing become more evident when it comes to increasing enjoyment of our healthy Pleasure. Being Present is so much harder when we are racing about.

The best way to get more enjoyment out of Pleasure is to be “Fully Present” and solely in that period of time the Pleasure is occurring. In this way, allowing the Pleasure to deeply register in mind and body. This is important because what we FOCUS upon we potentiate, increasing its power. Rick Hanson’s research Rick Hanson suggests that we must focus upon, keep in our awareness, a positive experience for at least 30 seconds. This enables the brain to register the positive experience as stimuli that matters. Our brains are biased toward negative stimuli so it takes extra effort to register positive stimuli. In the past, by barely noticing when something pleasant occurred, I have skimmed over (missed) the Pleasure within that experience in my hurry to move onto what came next. And, consequently I missed enjoying that Pleasure.

Many of you have heard about  Mindfulness. But for those that are less familiar with the concept, here is a simple definition of mindfulness, or being “Fully Present”. Being Present occurs when you are aware and conscious of what is occurring, and keeping mind & body fully in the experience. This sounds easy but it is not. Many of us have an experience but do not register the impact or notice what is occurring within our own body. This can occur due to living in our head/thoughts, or in a different time zone. We think about the contents of our to-do lists, or worry about tomorrow, or obsess about an earlier situation, i.e. the past. Another words, we are not actually living in the Present, but in the past, or the future, or in caught in worry or compulsive mental loops.

Healthy Pleasure restores safety physiology, as I have previously stated. But did you know that experiencing the physiological impact of Pleasure (the Enjoyment) also improves heart health, deepens bonds in relationships, and balances out the pain and stress that can very easily overwhelm our everyday lives?  An additional benefit of Pleasure is that it increases gratitude, which has its own health benefits. When I feel the Pleasure of a loving encounter with friends, or the rush that comes while surfing (every day surfing is a good day even if I never catch a wave), not only does my heart rate slow and harmonize, my physiology settles and my sense of well-being and feelings of gratitude soar.

Our usual behavior creates our sense of Normal!” A very simple statement but a profound truth! What you and I do on an everyday basis, our habits, attitudes, and behaviors, create a way of life that feels normal to us. Though it may be far from normal when compared to that of  the general population. For example, when I was an inveterate workaholic, putting in 12-14 hour days and working while on vacation, to me this seemed perfectly rational and normal behavior. However, now, after years of personal work in therapy, spiritual direction, and Somatic Experiencing, I am shocked at how out of balance I was and saddened by all the life and Pleasure I missed while enslaved by my old “Normal behavior”. Life feels so much better now! I am far from achieving expert status, but I continually focus on attaining a healthy work/life balance and have made Pleasure and Enjoyment primary values and this has made all the difference.

I will close by suggesting we use the truism, “ your usual becomes your normal” for our benefit!  Experiment by changing your usual behavior gradually but consistently to include more healthy Pleasure, Mindful awareness, and Presence, in order to enjoy life’s Pleasurable experiences. Make a new habit of adding more self-care and Pleasure into your life, and/or more deeply noticing and enjoying your Pleasure until that becomes your new normal.

In the next Blog I will share a simple but profound exercise I learned at a Tara Brach conference. It is easy, enjoyable and Pleasure focused.  As always, I invite you to write in and let me know how the experiments go.

GOING DEEPER

  1. What does the term ‘Being Present’ mean to you? Does it have a positive or negative connotation? Where do you spend most of your time, in your body/being or in your head/thoughts?
  2. What keeps you from living fully Present to your life and relationships? Do you need to let go of some past pain, or surrender a future concern in order to really feel the overall goodness of your life?

Blog 43: Love & Anxiety, why Pleasure and Enjoyment matter!

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Adventure – healthy Pleasure

I thought we would take a break from harder topics today and think about something we love, Pleasure and Enjoyment! These these 2 concepts, while related topics, they are not the same thing. Though many of us assume that Pleasure absolutely leads to Enjoyment, this is not always true. Today, we will talk about the difference between Pleasure and Enjoyment and what this difference means to our bodies and Nervous systems, and how this difference deeply impacts our ability to either rest in love, or to flail in the chaotic sea of anxiety.

Let’s start with Pleasure! As I have recounted in prior blogs, healthy Pleasure is the best antidote to chronic stress and high anxiety. I wish more of us lived and experienced healthy Pleasure on a regular basis, if we did, this country would be a very different place. However, my experience as a human/therapist is that most of us do not experience healthy pleasure on a regular basis. America is a country that craves Pleasure, our advertisements are full of promised Pleasures, but we seem to have a difficult relationship between our desire for pleasure and our experiencing of Pleasure. Most people I know are craving Pleasure but enjoying very little of it.
TV Advertising extolls the joys of being rich, driving great cars, eating tasty (often junk) food, drinking beer and other alcohol, and having tons of sex with hot men/women, etc. While these options may seem pleasurable, why do they often bring so little Pleasure? Why do so many people get addicted to alcohol, food, more money, and sex, just to name a few of our advertised Pleasures?  My hypothesis to these questions does not come from a place of judging Pleasure or thinking it is bad and dangerous. My Mennonite heritage used to cause me to fear Pleasure. But those days are over, I have not been a Mennonite for a very long time, and I have learned how critical it is that I have plenty of healthy Pleasure in my life. My hypothesis comes from living, experimenting, and my observations of humanity.

We experience so little Pleasure because many of the things advertised to bring us Pleasure are either not healthy in certain situations/amounts, or are not actually pleasure, but a gateway to addiction. We all know that alcoholism often begins with social drinking or partying in high school/ college. It seems fun and a harmless pastime, a Pleasure even. But anyone who has lived with a human struggling with the weight of alcoholism can tell you there is NO pleasure in any drink they take. An alcoholic now drinks because they have to and because they cannot quit. What began as a Pleasure has become their Master.

Pornography is another example. AAMFT’s website states that 12 million people struggle with sexual addiction, which usually includes the use of pornography and a majority are now addicted to the use of it. (If you think you are not addicted to it, try to stop viewing it for good and you will know the truth.) It is known that pornography has caused many problems in relationships and that it causes people to become sexually attracted too an unreal human body (airbrushed men and women). Pornography is an example of how a healthy Pleasure, sexuality and the beauty of a human body, can become tainted and unhealthy because it has become an addiction. Addictions are often healthy Pleasures miss used, or run amok. Humans can become addicted to booze, drugs, food, work, sex, exercise, etc. So my hypothesis is that healthy Pleasure is often different from TV advertised Pleasures, and a healthy Pleasure is usually not something we are addicted to.

I make this connections because a healthy Pleasure is something we are able to ENJOY! Craving Pleasure is very different from Enjoying Pleasure. Many humans are not even enjoying the Pleasure they do have, but they are craving more Pleasure, so they run from experience to experience, from sexual partner to sexual partner, from new car to another new car, from one type of pornography to another. Desperately craving Pleasure but finding little enjoyment therein.

I repeat, Pleasure is a wonderful gift, we need Pleasure as humans to balance out all the stress and work we experience in life and relationships. Since American’s over-work compared to many other developed countries, it is no wonder we are a Nation that struggles with many addictions. But the Pleasures we need are healthy Pleasures and those we can Enjoy!  Many of us are adding healthy pleasures to our lives but not enjoying them either. Pleasure and enjoyment are not the same thing!

I have learned this truism over the years. I have had lots of healthy (and some unhealthy) Pleasure in my life but I have spent years not enjoying much of it. This happened because I was not living in my body, or living in the present moment, actually experiencing that Pleasure.  Instead, I was living in my head and in my thoughts. I was adding to my to-do list, or planning for the future, or regretting the past, etc., instead of actually feeling the Pleasure I was experiencing in that moment. If you are not in the present moment and living in your body (aware of your body sensations) you will not experience much Pleasure. This is not a hypothesis but a fact borne out by the last 10 years of research and study of the human body.

In closing I have found that most people agree walking on a beach, vacations, a loving relationship, warm baths, being in nature, eating a lovely meal with friends, sharing a great bottle of wine, a good workout or adventure, sports, art, creating, writing, etc., are all healthy Pleasures.  I will not try to suggest I know what your healthy Pleasures are, but I would suggest you find out and make yourself a list.  If you are currently not allowing yourself to experience your Pleasures ask why not. People who have enough play, rest and healthy Pleasure tend to experience less stress, less struggle with addiction, and more enjoyment in life. And, finally, when indulging in your Pleasure try your best to ENJOY it. After all this is why we really crave Pleasure, we want to enjoy our lives!

To learn more about pleasure and health, click this link.  Steps to perfect health, practice pleasure.

Going deeper:

1: What were your formative messages around Pleasure in general? Was healthy Pleasure modeled for you by your parents/caregivers.

2: Do you Enjoy your Pleasure? Can you resonate with the concept of having Pleasure but not Enjoying it? What attitudes or actions can you take to slow down and become aware of your life and your body so that you can actually experience your Pleasures on a regular basis?

 

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Blog 38: Love & Anxiety-Inner Restlessness

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Do you ever have one of THOSE days? You know, the ones where you feel antsy and so restless? You feel like you are missing out on some goodness, like you should be somewhere else but you don’t know where. You just feel off and full of angst. I had one of those days this past month. I have noticed, these kind of days are more likely to follow a season of big events or experiences, such as after a successful Attachment training weekend, or an important presentation. Right after I have felt “up” and excited about life and my place in it, if a restless day is going to roll in like a storm front, it tends to follow on the backside of the wake caused by  big “high” feeling. And, just like the wake from a big speedboat, those days tend to throw me off balance.

This sensation of restlessness I am convinced is a part of being human, especially now, in our way too stimulating, technologically advanced culture. For me, the restlessness manifests as a gripping tension in my belly and that unsettled feeling that keeps me from resting and settling, even if I sit and try to meditate. The “message” this sensation gives my body is that I am running out of time and that life is passing me by, that others are experiencing the good I am missing. Getting on FaceBook does not help. Since people post experiences of joy and triumph and not losses or failures, it can seem that everyone else is having the time of their lives. Can anyone else relate to this restlessness?

I will out myself and share an example of how restless sensations can distort beauty and reality. I was cycling alone up the bike path on the Strand a few weeks ago. I had been feeling restless all morning but during the ride I settled and became more awake and aware. I began to really be present to the experience. Suddenly, I had such a strong sense that we are all connected, humans, nature, even the caterpillars crawling across the path I was carefully avoiding to so as not to run over them. The sensation was so sweet. I decided to stop, look at the bay, and be open to anymore insights or epiphanies. Less then two minutes later, another cyclist, stopped at the same place and came up behind me and began to engage me in conversation. Instead of connecting, my old nemesis, restlessness, kicked in and I lost presence. I quickly felt antsy and frustrated that this person was “ruining” my experience of sitting with the Oneness and the sense of Divinity in that wonderful sensation I had just lost. I felt like the interruption “cost” me the good of this experience. I know, it’s very funny if you pay attention to life’s invitations, but I was not!  I was paying attention to the restlessness and the sense that I was losing this great experience. I know, crazy town! Here I was presented with an opportunity to deepen the sense of oneness with an actual person, but I totally missed it because I was in my own little world in my head letting the restlessness dictate how I thought things should go. (In case you were wondering, it took about 10 minutes for me to wake back up and notice my ridiculousness.)

This experience highlights one reason I try to not live in the restlessness for a minute longer after I become aware of it. The “inner voice” of the restlessness is so narrowing and self-focused. It tells me I am missing out and that if things would just go differently I would feel better. This will cause me to miss the gift or joy available right in the present moment. Luckily, I have lived long enough to have lots of practice catching the sensation and I know that sometimes you just have to ride out uncomfortable feelings and false beliefs. Sometimes, you have to hold onto your true knowing and just sit until they pass, which they do. This can be especially difficult because restlessness almost always brings along its Significant Other, a big dose of Anxiety!

One of my “cures” for the restlessness is to drop into silence and Being. To slow everything down internally and ask myself some questions. “What is really going on? Is there really any tangible thing I am lacking in this moment”? Usually the answer is no. I realize that silence may be easier for us Introverts. Extraverts can find silence frightening or annoying. So if you are more extraverted maybe your silence is a concentrated short time where you focus on connecting with your own being and the goodness therein. The gift of riding out the restlessness by sitting until it leaves, is a deepening sense of peace and calmness.

Another “antidote” for restlessness is love & connection with my beloved friends. Those wonderful beings who see me clearly and adore me anyway! Thank you to all of you, you know who you are. When the restless sensation hits your body, you could use it as an impetus to reach out and connect personally with someone you love and that loves you. In-person, or at least voice-to-voice, is more physiologically helpful than an email or text. Although any kind of connection is helpful to our body and nervous systems. The process of reaching out and experiencing the synchrony between you and your beloved, opens the door internally for positivity resonance to permeate and “wash” out the unpleasantness of the restless, anxious sensations. Barbara Fredrickson in her stunning book, “Love 2.0” speaks of Love and its “positivity resonance” and how it improves our mood, outlook, physical health and our ANS/physiology.  She speaks of Love as not just what you experience with lovers, friends, and family members, but also as little tiny moments of connection and mirror neuron resonance that can occur all day long. We are not “screwed” in the love lottery if we live alone and have no family living nearby. According to her research, you can experience all the physiologically and health benefits of love all day long in your short encounters with other kind and helpful humans. This can include a stranger on the street, an uber driver, your local barista, etc. I encourage you to check out her book, it’s a revelation and based upon research and neuroscience.

So, please reply and let me know that I am not the only one who experiences restlessness. Please let me know how yours manifests and what you do about it. Have a great week.

GOING DEEPER:

1.) How many of you laughed at my ridiculousness on the bike path? But do you ever have the experience of totally missing what is in the moment in front of you? How do you come back from numbness or lack of presence, or living in dialogue with the to-do-list in you head?

2.) Do you ever experience these restless sensations? If so, how do they manifest in your body? What are the messages they whisper to your mind? How do you ride them out, or what tools do you use that help you recover your equilibrium?

#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?

Part 3: Making New Associations; Moving from Craving Certainty to Welcoming Wonder

In our technologically advanced, “just google it”, and “ask SIRI” culture, every fact we could ever want is literally at our fingertips. Anyone with a Smart phone has literally turned into a know-it-all. Knowledge has never been so easy to acquire and you would think this would make us a more balanced and peaceful society.  But anxiety levels are higher than ever. It seems that the more we know the more stressed out we become.

It is easy to believe that knowing more should bring us more certainty, about our lives and our futures. But certainty, and especially future certainty, is an elusive concept in a quantum Universe where 96% of it is made up of black holes and dark matter. Where Light acts as a wave and a particle, though they are two mutually exclusive things, and when the Universe is expanding at a mind-blowing rate. When some of the atoms that used to be in me are now in you or in the veggies I grow in my garden. There are natural laws, yes, and then, there is mystery, wonder, the miraculous, the inexplicable, and unexplained phenomena. The new association suggested in today’s blog is to move from craving certainty to welcoming Wonder!

What is wonder? “A feeling of surprise mingled with admiration caused by observing something beautiful, unexpected, inexplicable”. This is the dictionary’s attempt to catalog the concept of wonder. But I would suggest that wonder is more easily grasped with images or memories. For instance, do you remember the exact moment your very first child entered the world, or the first time you made love to that exquisite being who you had adored with your heart for so very long? What about watching a massive thunderstorm over the ocean, or a double rainbow after said storm, or surfing a 40 foot wave at Mavericks and living to tell about it?  Wonder by its very nature is not certainty or knowledge or a gathering of facts. It is visceral and hearted/body based sensations that cause deep emotions, some would say it enlivens our very souls.

If I am like most humans, I long for wonder while wanting certainty at the same time. But I would posit, they are often opposite sides of a coin and being open to wonder may mean I let go of demanding control, the human means used to accomplish certainty. Being open to the present moment as opposed to controlling it so the outcome is as I desire, allows me to experience any wonder that may be lurking. (And the more I try to stay open, the more wonder I find lurking).

I will close this blog with a poem I wrote as a way for me to make sense of my decade-long journey to try to move toward wonder. I hope it reaches places inside you where my logical words cannot. And may you find Wonder and mystery lurking in plain sight as you go about your daily life.

CAMEL TRADING

A long time ago, I traded Wonder

for knowing, certainty, and a sense of control

like a shrewd camel trader

looking for the better deal.

Now, I’m still wanting wonder while

craving security, safety and knowing what’s coming.

In a competition between a want and a craving,

the craving wins every time.

What if I craved wonder with every fiber

of my substantial being. What would life look like?

And the craven voice of my fear-based life form,

why I crave surety in the first place,

whispers, “What will you have to let go of’?

Like a rock climber whose rope’s ripped,

clings to the crack in the rock for dear life,

my human, grasping fingers grip,

every shred of certainly and all I have gained

gathered and amassed along the way.

The fear of farther loss,

seems a blow from which I will not recover.

Though choosing to let go, and be emptied,

is nothing like

having self, personhood and dignity

ripped out of your body and being

from as far back as you can remember.

But to the body, loss is loss

and the fear runs silently, in the background

of my mind like a software virus.

Then, I watch imperfectly formed, bold outlines

of humans choosing wonder

and her wingman, JOY

and my grasping, gripping fervor

seems less appealing, and loosening,

my fingers enjoy the break,

while my heart opens an inch more,

and then God with infinite patience

perpetuates the cycle.

Year by year this rhythm repeats

until that day dawns,

when I will trade certainty for Wonder

and like that camel trader,

will walk away laughing because,

I got the better deal!

by Wanda Brothers

Going deeper:

1.) Where do you find yourself, if anywhere, in this blog? Do you crave certainty? If so, what is the hit or reward you get from being certain? What would it be like to surrender this craving just for a few hours?

2.) What relationships do you have with Wonder? Can you stop and bring to memory one or more instances of Wonder you have experienced? If you can, notice the body sensations that accompany this memory. Wonder is expansive, cleansing, and revitalizing. Watch children experience Wonder if you need a refresher course.

Part 2: Making New Associations: Moving from Scarcity to Plenty

So I was running on the beach today, listening Def Leppard, like you do, and a song caught my attention, as an good example for our blog today. We are going back to the idea that each one of us has a worldview and that includes our perception of what is “ENOUGH”, and of the concepts of Plenty and Scarcity. Today’s suggested shift is moving from a perception of scarcity to understanding there is Plenty to go around, moving into the life expanding concept of Plenty, instead of being sucked into the fear vortex of Scarcity. This shift can apply to area of our lives, though time and money first come to mind. We can either believe we live in  Plenty and most often experience a sense of grateful generosity, or live in the fear of never having enough. In so doing, struggle with envy, selfishness and the unhappiness that comes with feeling like you won’t be taken care of by the Universe, God, or those you love. (By the way, I know I am dating myself with the Def Leppard reference;)

The song is called “Get Rocked” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBcsCn9QyUQ and it could possibly serve as an anthem for many Americans. The young man only wants to take care of himself and his own pleasure 24/7. In one amusing stanza, his paramour puts classical music on the radio and he nixes it rudely and suggests a “rock”. Unless she is a robot, I bet he got nothing that day. Selfishness is unappealing to most of us, even as we struggle with it. He was stuck in the idea of Scarcity, that there was not enough pleasure in life and he had to push to get his first, all the time. Well, if he had listened to her classical music for a while, perhaps she might have considered his “rock”, of whatever kind he was suggesting!

Being stuck in a Scarcity mentality causes tremendous anxiety, sometimes selfishness, and often misery. When we believe there is not enough (time, money, possessions, friends, lovers, etc.,) our focus is rigidly fixated on not losing what we have. We can get stuck in a loop of trying hard to get more and keep that more in a pile that we can store and protect. A pile that will provide everything we need forever. The misery comes from a sense there will not be enough for us, NOT from the size of our pile! Please take a minute to let that sink in. It is an important understanding. When we mainly focus on what we do not yet have, or look at our pile as if it were insufficient, it is very hard to feel joy and optimism because our Autonomic Nervous System codes not having enough as a survival issue. Hence, focusing on scarcity, brings great anxiety.
Some of the happiest people I know have a rather small pile in comparison to others, however, their pile is not their focus and they live in grateful generosity and lots of joy. I am also honored to know people who have largish piles, but are so generous and open handed, because they are not stuck in Scarcity or fearfully protecting their pile. If you have a deep abiding sense that there is enough for you, and for others, it is hard to scare you. And, you will probably be willing to expand energy to share your pile with those who seem to be in deepest need. I am not suggesting there is no poverty or terrible places of scarcity in the world, but that there are not so many here where we live. And, we can change some of those if we are willing to live differently. To borrow a concept from a recent #Rob Bell kick ass presentation, the Universe is expanding, it keeps making more. People have children, who have more children, trees make apples that make more trees, etc., the Universe is a expanding self-giving reality. When we live with the understanding of Plenty we can change behaviors and conditions that might be causing scarcity for others less fortunate than ourselves. Just to give one example, food production experts have said for years, if Americans would change their habits and eat less red meat, so much more food could be produced. If you read the Omnivore’s Dilemma, http://www.amazon.com/The-Omnivores-Dilemma-Natural-History/dp/1594200823  he makes the claim the earth could produce enough to feed all human beings if we did things differently.

If you are wondering where you fall on this continuum, because it is one, and we can move back and forth throughout our lives, try giving a small treasured possession or some money away. Or do something for someone expecting nothing back for your time and expanded energy. How you feel will help identify for you, where you might fall.

The point is not that we are bad or defective if we are not living with a sense of Plenty most often, but that we are cutting ourselves off from joy, a sense of safety and a well-spring of gratitude that comes from living with a deep realization of how much we already have. I encourage you to try to notice your most predominate association with these concepts this week. I speak from personal, and professional experience as a therapist the past decade and a half, when humans move away from the concept of Scarcity, their anxiety drops substantially.  May this become your experience this week if you feel stuck. You can even use the sensations that come when you have an  experience of scarcity as your reminder to shift your focus back to Plenty and really look at all that you do have and all the good that is currently in your life.

African Sky Vista
African Sky Vista

Going deeper

1.) Which end of the continuum do you fall closest to much of the time? What sensations do you experience in your body with the thoughts of Scarcity or Plenty?

2.) What were your Family of Origin’s (FOO) most common attitude towards the concepts found in this blog? Did your parents’ differ in their examples to you? Remember, more is caught by a child than taught. How we see our folks act, becomes our normative experience. What do you desire to be your predominate attitude? That is what matters the most.

Join a 3 week Anxiety Reduction Workshop held here in San Diego monthly. Call 619-437-1465 for details.

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?

I invite you to join a 3 week Anxiety Reduction workshop. I provide them in my office as well as at your organization, school, or place of worship. Mention this blog for a 10% discount. Call 619-437-1465 for more information.

Love & Anxiety # 12: Participation vs. Perfection

So many of my clients struggle with the dark misery of perfectionism. Studies show that Perfectionists are less happy and less healthy than non-perfectionists. Today I want to share a simple shift in focus that can help with this bi_ _ _ of a habit. The shift from trying to be perfect in your life to full participation in your life! This is an important shift for your body, Perfectionists struggle with anxiety which is a health squelcher!

Whether your quest for perfection is due to a type A personality, early childhood messages, or just a desire for excellence that got twisted and turbo charged, you set yourself up to fail when you decide perfection is your only option. The more we fail, the higher our anxiety levels climb and the more miserable we feel about ourselves. The more we set ourselves up to be perfect and then miss that mark, the more we fear loss; the loss of respect, loss of other’s love, loss of a job, etc. Fear of loss, activates our amygdala and our body responds with a flood of stress chemicals.

The shift I am suggesting is to move from a drive for perfection, to a striving for full participation in your life, relationships, job, hobbies, friendships, etc., unencumbered by the fear of not doing these perfectly. This shift can be eased along if you think about offering the best you have each day, not needing to be at your best each day. 

On my best day, after a good night sleep, my energy is high. I am pumped full of seretonin, and all is going right in my life. On that day I may perform better than on my worst day, where nothing goes right and my energy is low. But even on my worst day, if I strive to offer my best, some kind of multiplication magic seems to occur. Somehow, my best seems to be enough for each situation. My intention of fully participating and giving my all, somehow is perceived by the recipient and people feel my care, interest, and love, even on my worst day! Try it for yourself! See what happens.

If you shift your focus from being perfect to full participation in your life, you  and those you love will enjoy your life so much more. News flash, if you are a driven perfectionist, you are often a challenge to be around. Others are picking up on your misery at not meeting your own impossible expectations, which sort of defeats the purpose of trying to be perfect! Don’t take my word for it, ask your loved ones if they think you might be a perfectionist. My clients report very positive feedback from their families when they make the shift from perfection to participation. 

So I invite you, this next week practice being proud of yourself for giving your all! Shut down the negative voice, the non-paying tenant in your mind’s prime real estate, that demands the impossible. It needs a break as much as you do. Your body, and your family and friends will thank you! Let today be the day you shift from perfection into participation.

ImageShelley & I, far from perfect, but having fun!

 Going Deeper:

1) Ask yourself why is being perfect is of utmost importance for you? What do you gain from trying to be perfect? Whatever you come up with, ask yourself if this gain is more important than good health and really enjoying your life. This may take a while to wrestle with but I encourage you to try.

2) Think about the last situation you struggled to be perfect. Try replaying it in your head, but this time imagine you are fully participating in the situation, giving it your best effort. Notice the difference you feel in your body with the 2 scenarios.

 To learn how to evict the anxiety in your life, join one of my 3-week anxiety reduction workshops. Go to http://www.sdtraumatherapy.com for more information. Mention this blog when you sign up and receive a 10% discount! Happy Loving.