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Face the Space…and Speak Your Truth

6 Aug

Victor Frankl said, “Between the stimulus and the response this is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

On my recent vacation I noticed the spaciousness that I felt- a sense of boundless energy unencumbered by the familiar minutiae of my days and the never-ending task list. I felt free.  Free to explore, free to be curious, and free to just be.

now clockWhat I encounter so often with those I work with however, is not this sense of space, with time and opportunity opening up to them. It’s a confining, imprisoned clinging to a pseudo-safe space. The space is small and not so tidy. It’s filled with fear and distrust of themselves. And it leads to a gravitation toward certainty, extremes, and control. The client who binged, for example, and then went immediately to setting up a new, rigid structure with which to follow for the next week.

The space I felt operated on a continuum…like the circular motion of the clock hands. No end and no beginning. Just perpetual motion. The space I see so many others contort themselves into is a narrow, limiting, suffocating space.

We keep looking for perfection...This type of space is what the pursuit of perfection feels like. And perfection grants us no choice but to strive to be someone better, someone smarter, someone prettier, someone with more willpower…you name it. Perfection says to us, “Once you accomplish __________(fill in the blank), THEN you can__________________.”

As a woman I think we’re faced with a different space than men. We have varied challenges to contend with. Sure, I’m speaking in generalities, but think about it. Our space has historically been the home. Our space has historically been with the children. Our space has culturally been to accommodate the needs of others and fill the care-taking space. Our space is genetically and biologically more emotional, yet so often we’re chastised for showing our feelings and “being emotional.” Hence, our space is often rife with a twisted, confused, and desperate longing. Our space is gradually opening up to allow us to speak our truths, however, and some of us take that space more readily than others, but it’s a conflicted space.

Trust YourselfThe space demands that we learn how to trust ourselves. And in trusting we learn how to let go of the expectations that we’ve let cling to us–the unrealistic expectations that we’ve created, the expectations of others, and the assumptions we make about what and how we need to be. We’re not victims. Far from it. And we’re not criminals for wanting to have a voice and our own truths apart of what we believe we SHOULD be.  But we can erroneously begin to take on that role and end up building our own prisons- a space with solid, iron bars and minimal light to allow us to grow into who we really are.

I described this compelling imprisonment to a client of mine just this morning: so often we’re navigating our days in automatic pilot mode. We’re putting out fires, we’re crossing off the items on our lists, we’re accommodating the needs of others, and we’re barely aware of what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, and what space we’re in. Until the day is over or we MAKE a space, intentionally and deliberately, to check in with our truth in the moment, and we finally breathe and realize just how much of a magnet we have been all day. We look down at ourselves and we’ve got stuff just hanging on us. And we can pick it off, piece by piece, and decide what can stay and what needs to be let go of. But without the space, we become everyone else’s truths, just dragging our own behind us…or barely aware of what they are at all.

Your Truth Sounds Exactly Like FreedomAnother client today spoke directly of perfection being a problem for her. If she were to step into a freeing space, we could examine together how her perfection is less a problem but more a signal of a deep desire to be and do something, to experience a sense of mastery, of purpose, but taken to an unrealistic extreme.  Underneath the behaviors and black and white thinking is intelligence and wisdom and talent. It was just taken too far. Stilted from ever getting past a certain point in various areas of her life she wondered why she couldn’t follow through. Perfectionism. With the goal of being perfect, a setback would annihilate her self-confidence and be the proof that she just wasn’t good enough. If she were to face the space and step into it intentionally and vigilantly every time she felt that controlling pressure to “succeed”, or every time she heard that voice that says, “See, you can’t do it” or “How come you can’t get it right…” she could then ask, “What is it that I can let go of now?”

If you were to face your space, step into it, honor and embody it, what truth would you speak? How would you respond differently? How would your life blossom?

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Don’t Kill the Messenger!

31 May

At the conclusion of my workshop earlier this week one of the participants expressed concern about the utility of a particular tool I’d recommended. I gave everyone 10 different tools to begin putting into practice that would set them on a course toward navigating the barriers we so often trip over and give permission (not often consciously) to minimize our goal persistence.

The tip, BOYCOTT THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, suggests that we would do well to become more open to experiencing what life hands us, to pay attention, to slow down, and to savor.

Open to ExperienceBoycotting the zombie apocalypse means we aren’t operating in the misconstrued land of “ignorance is bliss.” No. In fact, deciding to disengage from the automatic pilot mode that so many of us move through our days with, gives us hope for a new level of authenticity and importantly, choosing goals that actually resonate with who we are.

So my workshop attendee’s concern went something like this: “Kori, I’m getting stuck in the part where you talk about letting yourself experience emotion. Like pain. I’m worried that if I let myself feel it, I’ll just wallow in it.”

She related her perceived tendency to stay steeped in emotion, as so many of us do. But not because we’re consciously making a decision to invite it in and acknowledge it… when we get overwhelmed by pain, it is more a function of believing the thoughts that we’ve constructed about the meaning of our pain. And often the thoughts are distorted and untrue.

It is our nature to feel coherent and integrated. You know when you feel uncomfortable– like something is awry. Our bodies signal us through symptoms like an increased heart rate, lack of concentration or focus, or fidgeting. Our thoughts can clue us in to how we might be experiencing a situation as well, for example, “you’ll never finish this project”, or “he’s very angry with you right now.” These thoughts give rise to feelings that manifest in our physical bodies and can cause a host of behaviors. When we’re in zombie land, we move impulsively. We react. If we can slow down when we recognize these cues, we can respond in a more coherent, integrated manner.

It’s not our nature to tend toward wallowing and staying in the center of discomfort- we want to feel like we’re well oiled and calibrated. The body strives toward equilibrium as well. However, if, for instance, my workshop participant grew up in an environment where by staying emotionally engaged and emotionally intense she received attention and nurturing, perhaps her concern is valid. There were positive consequences for her to remain in the emotionally volatile place, despite its being uncomfortable and disintegrating.  Now, in her adult life, such behavior is likely not so effective. She gets to learn a new way of being with her emotion, and still “using it”, but in a different manner.

The pain is the messenger. When we try to push it away versus inviting it in and acknowledging it, we in essence, tell ourselves that we’re unimportant and that our bodies are misguided and we can’t trust them. I read this equation that is helpful to remember: Pain x Resistance = Suffering

Listen and LearnIf we resist the pain, we kill the messenger…and the message. And the messenger can be delivering some astoundingly revelatory and insightful information to us….if we’re willing to listen.

We don’t have to wish for pain or not-so-comfortable experiences. What I am implying is that through the adoption of a more open nature and a boycotting of the zombie apocalypse, you will experience a wealth of benefits including: greater emotional regulation and resilience in the face of difficult circumstances; higher thresholds for experiencing threats or stress; viewing all experiences as opportunities for growth and learning; fewer inclinations toward awareness distracting activities like television, video games, or compulsive behaviors such as binge eating; and the adoption of goals that are not only personally meaningful and relevant, but the ability to pursue them with persistence.

So don’t kill the messenger. The messenger is your friend. And as Carl Rogers once said, “All the facts are friendly” (1961).

Tell Me if I’m Wrong…Because I Want to be Right– Part 2

13 May

Listen and LookIn my previous post I posed this question:

In science, researchers seek out data than can disprove their hypotheses. Contradictory evidence shows them where their biases lie and signals how a new direction might need to be explored. They search for plausible rival explanations. Do you? Do you challenge your first thought and work at discovering alternatives that might prove you wrong?

Brene Brown, a social scientist, psychologist, and researcher at the University of Houston, calls this ‘showing up’ behavior, an act of vulnerability. In essence, it’s inviting in the discomfort that could ultimately prove to bolster your creativity, connection, and sense of belonging. Because to err is human, without the courage to experience failure, and to trust others to be with and hear our shame when we fail or make mistakes, we actively build a wall around the most basic psychological needs that determine our desire to be bold, to be resilient, to step into the arena, to show up even when we’re scared, and to keep trying despite numerous falls.

These needs include autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Take a few seconds to let these three words sink in, and recall the moments when in an effort to “fit in”, to feel accepted, to feel a part of the group, you’ve let go of your uniqueness. In essence, to enhance one need you’ve actively disengaged from another. I know that you feel the inner twinge that goes along with relinquishing what’s true to your core self though. Moving closer to one need does not demand that you leave the others behind. In fact, what we call those individuals who can intentionally create experiences in which they are both proactively indulging their desires to achieve uniqueness and authenticity, and demonstrate their core talents, virtues, and values outside of whether they are congruent with those of others and simultaneously dive into activities that connect, require empathy, and relate on a deeper level to others even if their views are discrepant, is differentiation. In other words, a person who is differentiated has the ability to  maintain a solid sense of self (i.e. non-negotiable values) within situations of stress and among relationships. Someone who lacks differentiation falls apart or becomes fractured when there is disagreement or when others feel or think in contradicting ways. But you can be so tied into who you are right now, feeling compelled to protect your self as a consequence of perceiving that a difference of opinion means you are “wrong”, that the ability to remain objective and unemotional disappears. Increasing differentiation requires a We do not see things as they are...defining of your principles and values– what makes you, you. Don’t mistake this, however, for “finding” a way and then rigidly clinging to it “because it’s who you are.” A rigidly differentiated person is inflexible, unyielding, and unwilling to explore how or why others believe differently. You might actually, through discovery, realize that what you’ve believed no longer resonates with you anymore, and through a process of filtering, you may redefine your principles or beliefs or “refine” them. Can you imagine how your life would change if you didn’t actively avoid others who might disagree with you?

In my final year of graduate school I wrote my thesis on differentiation and the first year of marriage. Care to guess why I was compelled to research this topic? I had never experience more internal and external conflict than during those 12 months after being married, and I needed to understand what was happening for me. What was this incoherent, chaotic, messy, craziness that had infiltrated what felt like every fiber of…me? I challenged myself during the next year to engage and disengage in new and often uncomfortable ways. I walked into the swamp land of mucky emotion, of tumultuous disagreements, and of quicksand-like consumption, and the whole time I actively pursued to discern what was mine and what was his and how I was well-practiced in entangling the two to the point that my heart-felt ripped to shreds. (Keep in mind that this feeling can be quite normal in relationships– you’re so close to a person that of course you’re going to feel a tremendous amount of emotion. But there is a very salient difference between a fractured, splintered, torn to pieces, completely disintegrated heart and one that has broken but is still open).

In my first year of marriage I was far, far from understanding myself or from understanding the foundation of who I was and how to weave my intricacies into the fabric of another life that I was to share. I had entered into the relationship initially because I was scared and uncertain and, just like I At any given moment...described at the beginning, desiring security and certainly. Well, I found it. This man not only had his life, but mine also, planned out for the next 50 years. As I embarked on the process of dissecting the words of my story– the one I had been telling, the one that had been told to me, the one I was currently writing, and the one I wanted to write–the lens I was looking through became clearer, the fog seemed to dissipate, and I experienced a sense of clarity. Comfortable? Not even close. But something in my spirit was recaptured despite it.

Brene Brown is the first to admit, and in doing so, reveals tremendous vulnerability, that she “doesn’t do vulnerability.” She has spent decades researching it, and still finds herself activity avoiding it. In her TED talk, she explains how it is not in her nature, but how the data she has collected on human connection, vulnerability, and shame has changed the way she “lives, loves, works, and parents.” I would argue that it’s not that she doesn’t do vulnerability– she recognizes and has shown through her research that we can’t avoid it  because it’s there, inherently, and we know when it’s there because we feel it–it’s that she doesn’t do it as well as she’d like to. Vulnerability is that “deer in the headlights”, “oh shit”, “what do I say?”, “how do I respond?”, “I can’t believe that just happened…I just want to hide” feeling.   You know it. We have all experienced it. So as Brene explains, it’s part of humanity. But many of us are great at– or think we’re helping ourselves by– numbing it. In my first year of marriage and in the years that preceded it, I numbed vulnerability, and in turn, anesthetized my heart.

In his inspiring book entitled Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker Palmer describes his experience of feeling “like a displaced person in my own land.” I recall vividly describing to a friend post-divorce how I had lost my self in the marriage and the immense and liberating grief and freedom I experienced when I listened to my heart and made the decision to move out of the land I had built with this person and set off on a  new, growth-oriented journey that would undoubtedly present more obstacles and scary detours, but opportunities that I would gladly unveil. I grieved for what I had lost and the time I had spent closing doors on my heart for four years, and I grieved out of gratitude for finally seeing my power to be courageous enough to open every door from that point forward. I don’t believe now that I had “lost” my self.  I believe that I’d not done the work to ever “find” my self in the first place.

Courage is what is takes...Palmer reminds his readers in the prelude of his book, after unabashedly yet carefully and humbly explaining his tendency toward depression and using his experience to create a meaningful foundation for describing how to nurture the essence of life, that the word heart stems from the Latin root cor, where the word courage comes from. When I read this the first time I had to pause. The familiar heavy, pressing intensity of emotion I feel in my chest when tears are planning their escape cued me to pay attention. “Listen,” my body reminded. Cor— when spoken, is the sound of me– the name my mom has called me since I was a little girl. Cor, as Palmer defines it, is where our emotions, intellect, intuition, intelligence, and the physical, relational, experiential, and imaginative aspects and centers of our lives converge to create the cores of who we are.  I had realized that my core was expanding. And retraction no longer seemed like a viable option if I was to engage in the “finding” of me. Even after the friend I had confided in said she no longer wanted to associate with me, the doors didn’t close. Comfortable? Not even close. And I still find myself wounded from what at the time I perceived as a rejection. But I was not fractured.

Too Much of a Good Thing

19 Feb

We are fickle, fragile, frivolous beings. Yes, yes we are.

We crave novelty, yet we fear change.

We desire security, yet we’re unwilling to take risks to move toward it.

We want intimacy, but we’d like to forget the vulnerability that goes along with it.

Try to Get Less ExerciseIs it ever good enough? We’re always searching for what we don’t have, yet when we find something we like, that feels right, and that seems to “fit”, we latch onto it. Can there be too much of a good thing though?

I pride myself on having a somewhat open minded nature (although some of you might disagree– if you’re reading, SHHH!). I work toward being flexible and not getting locked into having to do things a certain way. And I mentor others in recognizing the frailties of the human mind and its tendency to gravitate toward the familiar and routine and consciously challenging that paradigm to live more fully and less rigidly.

Inevitably, however, I catch myself getting sucked into the vortex of categories and dichotomous thinking, pushing to have it my way and believing that if it isn’t the world will crumble. More often that not it isn’t a catastrophic feeling that accompanies the merger toward the familiar; it’s just an “A-ha! I’ve caught you doing it again!” revelation and subsequent change of direction.

A few weeks ago I was grocery shopping and was standing in my favorite section of the store– the produce aisle. If you were to ask me where my “happy place” is– that image I’d use during a visualization exercise to attain a relaxed state– I would describe the space between the avocados and the zucchini. Gourds make me happy. So do cruciferous vegetables.

On this particular day I was enamored by the large bulbous heads of cauliflower …my heart skipped a beat when I  felt the firm, fresh, crisp flowerettes beneath my fingers. I gently placed one head in my cart but turned back quickly to grab four more. One head would last me one day. No, one was not enough. I quickly made my way home, excited about steaming up a storm.

cauliflowerThe following week I consumed all five heads of cauliflower. I was in a pillowy dream world of steamed, roasted, mashed, sauteed, and rice goodness. More than half of my meals each day was cauli-loaded heaven! The only downside was I would come home to what smelled like an unflushed toilet. Meh–  inconsequential in light of my amazing culinary adventures.

Prior to flying out for a work trip I made sure I had eaten every last morsel of my fiberful friend. Gone. I’d have to restock when I got back, I thought.

I noticed something different in the days just before I left that made me pause.  The fingers of my right hand, particularly the joints at the tips of them, were red, swollen, and incredibly painful. I’d wake up in the morning and barely be able to make a fist. Strange, I thought. Maybe I was eating too much beef. I had a 1/4 of an organic cow in my freezer and 3 of my 5-6 meals a day were beefalicious. Gout? I Googled for information. Family history of RA? Check. But how odd for it to pop up now, right? And only in 3 finger of my right hand? Hadn’t changed my vitamins lately or made any big changes to my nutrition. I’d give it a few days and see if things changed.

By the time I left for my trip, ironically the ends of my fingers looked like heads of cauliflower! I had club fingers! I wondered if the change in weather had something to do with it and thought it positive that I was going somewhere else to see if that made a difference.

I arrived home with normal sized phalanges. My nutrition had been different while I was away, no doubt. Less food all around because of the travel, less gluten I realized too. But it would be hard to pinpoint what my finger fiasco was all about without removing one food at a time. And it if was the beginnings of RA symptoms, it wouldn’t be unusual for it to rear its head and then remiss. Whatever it was, I was just glad to be able to make a fist– cauliflower can be tough to separate after all.

After arriving home I threw myself back into my work as is customary. My mom continued to ask me how my fingers were. “Fine,” I would say. I was documenting anything I’d notice, but there had been nothing to note. Another trip rounded the corner, and when I arrived home this time, and opened my frig to get some meals together for the following day I realized it had been at least a few weeks since I’d been to the store. “Man, I wish I had some cauliflower to just throw in a tupperware,” I thought. So easy.

CautionAnd it was then that it hit me! “A ha! I’ve caught you doing it again!”

CAULIFLOWER! I had become a uric acid cesspool!

Since my trips I had not purchased any cauliflower. And since my trips I had no club finger phenomena to speak of.

More Googling commenced, and I reached out to a friend who is a veggie maven. I posted a note to her on Facebook, and social media came through. Into my messages appeared a link to a medical website detailing how cauliflower and a few other choice veggies (all of which I happen to love), if consumed in copious amounts can cause a backlog of purines that increase uric acid accumulation!

“So what does your penchant for purine-loaded veggies have to do with anything?” you’re asking. Nothing if you look at it from the perspective of Kori just ate too much cauliflower. But if you put it in the context of life, it’s a funny and much less damaging (although my joints beg to differ) example of how we can easily get locked in a categorical conundrum just to feel good. This way or that way. Good or bad. Have to have a goal or if I don’t I’m hapless. On or off. Good diet day or bad diet day. Great workout or sucky workout. Wrong or the right side of the bed.

You get my point. But where does going all categorical get you?!

comparison is the thief of joyCategories prompt comparison and comparison far too often leads to dissatisfaction (read my previous blog for more info!). For some reason we think that if it isn’t like it was before then it’s not right. And if I don’t get the same or better results this time, then why do it at all? Except, what about what we just experienced?

Confused yet? Don’t be. Just remember to start approaching your circumstances with greater consciousness through a reduction in comparison to enhance your ability to create exploration to avoid categorical conundrums.

And for good measure, watch your cauliflower consumption.

Come, Walk With Me…

1 Jan

Pain demands to be feltWhen a friend of mine shared with me recently in an email that her mother “decided to die on Christmas Day” I took some time to respond. Given the situation and the rate at which the woman’s condition was deteriorating, it had seemed that weeks before, the possibility of death occurring sooner than later was imminent. My friend was her mother’s caretaker, and each time we spoke I was reminded of my own mother’s role. She is currently caring for my grandma, whose husband, ironically, would be celebrating his birthday this New Year’s Eve.

As I write this I’m struck with wrenching sadness. Unexpected. I let the ache fill my chest, and I suppose there are a few things happening for me all at once. The reminder of my grandpa’s death puts front and center the eventual passing of my mom. The thought of her absence leaves a gaping hole in my heart. I imagine too, her pain in being with her dad when he died, having taken care of him for over a year, feeling helpless to give him comfort as his body failed him and longing to have him argue with her in their typical sparring way that would so often leave her upset and fuming but would now give her reassurance that he was vital and energetic. It’s not my pain, it appears, that I’m afraid of then—it’s hers. All the same, I suppose I am afraid of not being able to take it away from her, afraid of the lack of control I’ll have?

But my friend’s words were poignant. Despite not knowing that her mom had chosen to make Christmas Day the day she would take her last breaths, she thought it. She gave her mom credit for a decision. Her mom was a strong-willed, demanding woman. It fit. Was that my friend’s way of making sense of an event she couldn’t easily wrap her mind around?

the most precious giftsThe reply to my friend was short. What could I say? I’m a therapist, and I know she needs to grieve. I know too that her process will be hers alone, distinct and beautiful in its own right. But I wasn’t sure of myself in this situation. I calculatingly expressed my sorrow for her…for her mother’s death. I remember pausing before I typed the word “death”, wondering if it would be more appropriate to say “passing.” But what difference would it make? I scanned her email before deciding on the former, hoping to glean a sense of rightness of fit from the context and her tone. I couldn’t. If she were in the room with me I’d just be with her. I’d reach out and hold her hand…hold her if she was okay with it. But I couldn’t do that across a thousand miles and a keyboard. I typed those words instead, worrying with every key stroke that it sounded trite, overly sentimental, and empty. Except it wasn’t, at least not to me. It is what I would do. But I proceeded to get on my own case about worrying so much about my words. Back and forth I went until I decided to land on the fact that this wasn’t about me. I expressed that she was in my prayers, in my thoughts, that I was having a difficult time articulating what I wanted her to know, but that I was there for her, whatever she needed. When a person dies, what do you do?

Death.

Last year I read Staring into the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death by Irvin Yalom. I’m not sure what led me to it. Perhaps it was on the recommended reading list in my psychotherapy journal. It very well could have been a discussion I had with a friend about how we comprehend death. Or maybe I was interested in better understanding the fear that so many of us have about dying. It seems our fear of death is often underlying the fear we experience in other areas of our lives. We desire connection and belonging, and we will, upon introspection about our behavior, lash out defensively and in anger when underneath such explosions is fear of isolation and rejection. Isolation—could this be the illusion linked to death? How are we to know  if we’re unwilling to ask questions about death though, of The fear of death follows from the fear of lifeourselves and of others? If death were within our awareness, willingly, would we all be walking around on automatic pilot so often? Going through the motions? Living with such an astoundingly depressing, in my opinion, lack of intention or sense of our own mortality. If we were really mindful of death, wouldn’t we be more conscious in life? If we asked ourselves what our thoughts are on death, wouldn’t it incite us to live more generously? Feel more passionately? Or, maybe by asking ourselves about death, we’d just be living in a perpetual state of anxiety.

If you are a follower of my blog, you’re aware of my penchant for mindfulness. It’s my belief that we all need to wake up and become active observers of ourselves and others, refrain from pushing away what is and away from pain, pay attention to what influences us and how we act, and pause long enough to respond rather than react. When someone dies I think the discomfort is less about the loss and more about the emotions that well up inside of us. And we try arduously to shove them away. I’m reminded of something a friend of mine said to me this week: “I’ve been holding back tears, and I’m not a person that cries,” she stated as she explained that her co-worker was leaving. This was a women 10 years her senior but who felt like her older sister and was her best friend.

The Tragedy of LifefIn this instance I felt sure of what I wanted to say. “What is a person who doesn’t cry? Non-human?” It’s possible this statement could have easily been taken the wrong way by someone other than a friend, but it was important to me that I convey to her that crying would, it seemed, be a pretty normal reaction to what she was experiencing. “Your sadness could be showing you how important she is to you; do you want to ignore that?” I said.

If we were more comfortable feeling in general, would we be more comfortable with death? If we more often said to the tears filling up the caverns of our insides, “Come, walk with me,” instead of “No, go away!”, would death be more easily experienced? What about before the death?

How do we manage what I would presume most of us will only experience once? Death isn’t like a meal, when we know we’ll have another. “This one just wasn’t satisfying,” we might think. “But I have lunch in a few hours.” No. Death means done.

At the same time death might mean an awakening of sorts, to our own fragility, to our meaninglessness, to meaningfulness, and to relationships we cut ourselves off from either purposefully or just through an abandonment of attention. Paul Auster in his book, The Invention of Solitude, becomes a son to his father and makes it possible to become a father himself, only after his father’s death. What if both had, if even obligatorily, run through the gaping holes of each other’s hearts and been vulnerable enough to get to know each other before? Would it have mattered?

forwardYalom (2008) quotes a woman in Staring at the Sun for whom it mattered immensely:

“I lost my beloved father two years ago and I have experienced previously unimaginable growth since. Before then I’d often wondered about my own ability to confront my finiteness and had been haunted by the idea that I too, will someday pass from this life. However, I have now found in those fears and anxieties a love for living I didn’t known before” (p. 116).

My current assignment for the course I’m involved in is focused on “Difficult Conversations” in healthcare. In palliative care, communication of what is often perceived as difficult has received much attention, primarily because of the intense discomfort that many physicians feel when they must bring it up to patients and family members. Little training is provided for healthcare workers during their education and practicums, at least not the type that provides them with confidence. Emotions can’t exactly be blueprinted. An “if”/”then” flow sheet for telling a patient that they will not recover, won’t cut it. So we come back to having the ability to be comfortable in our discomfort, to experience our own suffering as we face the suffering, but don’t assume the suffering or the decisions, of others.

As I conclude I am brought back to my most recent conversation with the friend I can be ultimately raw with, whom I can divulge what others might, quite possibly contract with horror in hearing or seeing.  He read me a passage from the book he’s absorbed in, which just so happens to be about dad’s…and death. I’m struck by the convergence in these last few days of my school topic, his readings, my friend’s mother’s passing, and the squelching of friend’s tears stemming from a loss.  All seem to be beveled in a tangle of  fear. They are Time to Growconnected. We are connected. I have with this friend what I imagine to be quite rare, a frequency that a mere fraction of could stabilize the air between life and the anxiety of death. Sogyal Rinpoche, in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, eloquently captures the essence of this strange marriage of the aloneness of death and its revelatory harmony:

“When we finally know we are dying, and all sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense…of the preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.”

The healthcare workers who sit with the dying and who reveal to their families the brevity of the life before them, the aging, the caretakers of those in their final days,  the dying who have accepted their impending endings, the dying who haven’t, the dead who had no choice, and those of us who fear what will come– might we face death with life, with breath, and welcome it to walk with us? For isn’t it always with us anyway?

To Think or Not to Think…That is not the Question

4 Dec

Brain as a ComputerEver have those days when you wish you could just CONTROL-ALT-DELETE your way to new thoughts, a different situation, or varied emotions?

I’m certainly not immune to moments of feeling frazzled and tired, maxed out, emotionally overloaded, or otherwise just wanting to left click on my hibernate button. At the end of each day I usually go into power saving mode, but I know well when it’s time to power down for a full battery re-charge.

During the work day I’m conscious of making sure the necessary downloads and back-ups are performed. I’ll need a lot of the information I create and collect later on. Fortunately, I also possess a pretty high tech machine that auto saves and regulates many of my running processes on its own.

You know what it also has though?  A bunch of default programs, many of which I am unaware of. And they surprise me sometimes.Those little pop-up warning boxes suddenly appear, and a noticeable shift in my usage level occurs. The list of running applications  gets longer, and I’m forced into either making a decision, freezing up, or short circuiting.

I used to choose what I believed to be the path of least resistance. I’d log off. I’d pretend that whatever was happening just wasn’t. I wish I could say it gave me the reboot I was looking for and everything ran more smoothly afterward. Instead, I just got bogged down, my RAM got closer and closer to the red, and viruses infiltrated my system  until I was forced to pay attention.

What I needed was a lesson in caring for my software, but also the skill to recognize and manage my hardware. I needed to learn how to regularly run the disk defragmentation and update processes.

Here’s the deal: like a computer with an operating system, we have background programs running constantly. These background programs- the lessons we learned as we grew up, the messages we absorbed that were conveyed to us by our early relationships, the environmental influences and genetic inheritances that exist for us that created our biases, limitations, fears, and conditions of our thinking– block our ability to fulfill our potentials. Rather, we fulfill our programming.

Unlike computers, however, we have the gift of consciousness. We can be critical and we can be vulnerable. But we also have to be willing to be these things. We can be more than empty operating systems just being run by the background applications, or we can engage our awareness, access our capacities, and grow our abilities and our sensibilities.

We can choose to install new programs, even a new operating system, but unlike a computer we can never erase what we were programmed with at the start. This makes our jobs quite a bit more interesting because it means we must develop a greater sense of our selves to live more  authentically. Those moments when you’re hitting max capacity or getting bogged down in details and you surmise,  “I think too much” , perhaps it isn’t that you’re overthinking. Perhaps it’s that you’re not thinking effectively. Perhaps the wrong questions are being asked. Perhaps the problem hasn’t been identified. Perhaps we haven’t thought enough to decide what  program we really need or how to write it.

effective-mind-controlIn essence, if the conscious mind becomes aware that the program isn’t good, you must do the processing to get a new program in. You must be aware of where you want to go, but also be conscious that you must act in another way for the program to work. All the while, your old circuits ( those self limiting, self sabotaging beliefs) will come into play. Slowly but surely, however, you can override them.

If we don’t think, we don’t feel. “Maybe that’s  good,” you may be thinking. A lot of feeling “hurts.” Except without emotion then we become robots. Without emotion we can’t experience empathy. Without emotion we live incomplete and disconnected lives.  Without emotion we can’t experience love. Without emotion we can’t be in real, genuine, raw, and fulfilling relationships. For you can’t share with others that which you cannot yourself understand. Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

How we think and what we think embody our perceptions and our attitudes, and these result in our emotional selves. The biochemistry of our bodies is altered with the feelings we experience. Fear produces cortisol, norepinephrine, and histamine, for example. And love? Well, love produces oxytocin and dopamine. Rather than the cells acting protectively like that password protection screen that pops up, they are enhanced, they grow, and they expand!

Love is expansive and all encompassing. You know what it feels like to be loved, to “feel felt”, to feel nurtured and understood. Can you imagine life having never felt love?

So we don’t want to do away with emotion. Other benefits exist besides becoming a more self-actualized person, however. Take, for example, the evidence that people who cry live longer than people who don’t, that gene activity is altered via the blood chemistry that changes as a result of emotion, & that love and compassion creates the optimal environment for neurogenesis. Yes, the cortex of the brain grows and expands. This is the area of the brain critical for our thinking and processing! But you’ve likely heard that we only use approximately 5% of our consciousness. That means that 95% of our behavior is based on the subconscious–those background programs, our ‘old stuff’ as I’ve referred to in previous blogs and articles. It’ll hang on, just sit back and watch, and see if you’ll respond when it pops up every now and then. And sometimes you will. Sometimes you’ll have what you consider to be an odd or extreme reaction and upon analysis realize that you were perceiving something that wasn’t there. In essence, the feeling wasn’t “real,” but the way in which it manifested in your body was!

“But what does all this mean?” you ask.

AuthenticityI’ll break it down into what I believe to be the keys to an authentic life:

  1. Learn to step away from your conditioned responses.
  2. Your old programming is what has been downloaded by others. You often didn’t choose it. Do you want to operate according to you or to others?
  3. When you live ‘consciously’ you empower yourself to create the life you desire.
  4. By paying attention, staying present, defragmenting, and constantly updating, you gain control.
  5. Authenticity means that you are not living in denial of who you are. Acknowledge and accept the old programs, and decide what you’d like to convert to a new file format or override with new programming.
  6. Ask yourself: “What is the highest standard I can hold myself to?” And update accordingly.

In my mind it’s not about thinking or not thinking.

I will think, and I will think often. But I will think well. And I will think critically. I will control-alt-delete my way to my task manager.

What to say when you don’t know what to say….

17 Oct

I think we could avoid a lot of heartache, hurt feelings, defensiveness and conflict in our relationships if we were willing to forgive ourselves more often and decide that we don’t have to have the answers all the time.

As much as I write about getting to know ourselves, developing our emotional intelligence, being able to discern what’s going on inside of us, defining the thoughts and emotions that are driving us so we can more appropriately respond to our circumstances, sometimes all we know is that we’re just darn uncomfortable. There is no word in that moment to articulate the feeling. The ability to articulate anything that we would classify as meaningful at all may elude us.

But rather than leaving the moment open to interpretation by the other party, rather than risking being misunderstood, rather than feelings being hurt unnecessarily due to the looks or context being mis-perceived even if we have no idea what to say to prevent any of these things from happening…..

what if we said just that.

What if we said “I don’t know what to say.”

What if we said, “I’m pretty uncomfortable right now. I want to be able to articulate what I’m feeling right now, but I’ll need some time to think about it.”

What if we said, “I need you to not think that by my silence I am saying ‘I don’t care what’s happening right now’, because I do.”

What if we said, “You’re so important to me that I need you to know that if I say something that ends up hurting your feelings, it’s not my intention.”

When you don’t know what to say, there are still things you can say…to be true to you… to be genuine in your relationships.

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