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

 

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Africa Volunteer team

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

Reckless love is not afraid to explode

while reason seeks profit.

as love suffers,

she remains steadfast, solid & strong

Risking everything

She lies beyond self-interest seeking nothing

Betting on every glorious gift life brings

Without reason life give life

-without reason, give it back!

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

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

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

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

Going Deeper:

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

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

#49: Happy New year, goals vs. intentions!

Hello readers, Happy 2017!  I am grateful for another year!  Like many people, I have spent some time this past week reflecting on 2016.

While reflecting, here are a few things I noticed that helped 2016 feel like a great year. I experienced lots of professional growth, including; stronger client skills, supporting the development of other therapists, more speaking engagements, and more teaching opportunities. I also experienced personal growth in openness, mindfulness and the ability to put my body and my own well-being first. (Remember this refrain from a past blog—Self-care is never Selfish!) 2016 also included more surfing and much more time spent having fun! Which is probably what I am the most pleased about. Sometimes we grown-ups can get so damned serious about life and accomplishing that we forget what all work and no play does to our bodies and souls.

While reviewing the list of intentions (not goals/resolutions) I made in January of 2016, I was gratified to see that many of my intentions were met this past year. And, even with the intentions not fully met, there was forward movement. I had heard so often that setting intentions is a powerful practice and opens up wonderful energy for moving us toward those things we intend.  The results of 2016 proved this to be so.

So my “intention” for writing this short blog today, as we end 2016, is to cheer you all on! Those who usually set a list of intentions for the New Year,  go for it!  Be bolder and more creative and courageous in your imagining and intending.  For those who don’t always set intentions, I encourage you to give it a try for 2017!  Think about what you would like more of in your life and move toward that. You will not regret it!

Perhaps it is helpful to end by clarifying my terminology. The reason why I encourage setting intentions rather than settling goals for 2017. While the term goal and intention can have similar meanings, they feel different and have a different energetic force. I have felt much better about the outcomes in the years I have set intentions, than years when I have set “goals”. That may be because goals tend to be tied to very specific outcomes, which can be disheartening or feel impossible to meet. So, I quit before I reach them. Here are a few popular New Year’s Goals/Resolutions; “I will lose 15 pounds, or, I will go the gym 4 times per week”. There is nothing wrong with these goals, and in fact, for some people this works great. They regularly set and meet specific goals. But many of us humans are not so lucky in this regard. And so, it is well known that many New Year’s resolutions/goals tend to bite the dust by mid-February.

On the other hand, an intention could be said to be less specific in it’s parameters, and thus paradoxically, more powerful overall. I.e.’ My intention for 2017 is to treat my body as a valued part of my being and care for it tenderly and lovingly’.  (Now meeting this intention could include going to the gym often and losing some weight, but it will also include giving my body plenty of food, rest, pleasure, etc). So the power of the intention for care and nurture has more compassionate-growth potential, or forward momentum/energy, than me telling my body it has to accomplish a certain outcome.ENERGY FLOWS WHERE INTENTION GOES!  (Which can tend to cause us to feel like our self-love and body love is conditional. Because let’s face it, most of us are not kind to ourselves if we do not attain a goal.)

So, thank you readers and fellow bloggers for journeying together in 2016. I am excited about 2017 and I encourage you to set your intentions for this New Year before it arrives. As always, I am eager to hear how it goes. I would love if readers would share with all of us some of your intentions for 2017. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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May your new year be full of flow and restful times!

GOING DEEPER

1.) I shared my connotations with the terms goals and intentions. What are yours?

2.) What intentions might you add to your list for 2017 that you may never have thought of or had the courage to say aloud before? What experience have you had with setting intentions in the past? What are some of the notable intentions you have set and met?

#48 Love & Anxiety: Election Hangover Blues

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This has been a tough year and a difficult election season. I think I speak for many of my fellow Americans when I say we are tired of the nasty, mean spirited smear campaigns that have been a hallmark of American politics for quite a few decades. We long for an atmosphere where groups of people who believe very differently can have honest and respectful discussions about the differences. And, finally, at the polls, the voice of the American people will be heard.

Regardless, this election is now past us and the real question is how are we going to move forward? We seem to be becoming more deeply divided as a nation. The gap between rich and poor is growing and the disrespect for other religions, ethnicities, and sexual orientation seems to be more prevalent and violent. This all saddens me deeply. We are all connected to the human race. regardless of our differences, we belong to each other. None of us is non-human! Though in anger and frustration we sometimes dehumanize our opponents, that is a more anxious mode of being, not a mature, wise position.

I would like to offer some thoughts of hope moving forward as we begin 2017 with a new president and a new group of folks in DC who seem to be in power. Because the character of my leadership matters to me much more than his or her policy positions, (as goes the leader so goes the nation), I am personally saddened that a person who is seemingly so angry, disrespectful to women, and dislikes so many different groups of people has been chosen by so many to be our President. But, that is not the point. The point is how do I act and live on a day to day basis regardless of my leadership. If we as Americans, as humans, keep meeting anger with anger and vitriol with vitriol, we add more fuel to a fire that is already burning too strongly and if we continue to feed it, will at some point consume us all.

It is time to stop name calling and attacking each other. It is time to stop fighting, band together and find out what we have in common within our shared humanity. We all grieve and laugh and hope and dream. We all deserve the same chances and opportunities to do these things.

Click the link  Human Contact experience  for a wonderful, short video that shows what people all over the world are doing to try to reconnect us to our commonality and our sense of belonging to each other. It is called the human connection experience. Strangers are coming together in parks and city squares all over the world to sit and silently and respectfully gaze into each other’s eyes for a few minutes. Watch and see the powerful results. “True connection is our pathway to peace!”

My hope for the future is that we stop focusing on fighting each other and our differences, that we begin to focus on our own inner worlds and our own attitudes and behaviors. We have the choice each day to brighten the world around us a tiny bit more. Or, we can darken it by our words, attitudes, and behaviors. How each of us acts on a daily basis MATTERS greatly. I know I keep quoting  Barbara Fredrickson but her books and research are so powerful and compelling. We can make our inner worlds more peaceful, improve our body’s health, decrease our anxiety while increasing our sense of love and wellbeing, just by having small but regular positive encounters with other human beings. People we know, and even with total strangers as you saw on the video. Love 2.0 is wonderful, read it if you have not. It has brought me so much hope for life and the future. Humans are amazing, they are wonderful, adaptable and resilient. We can bring change to our nation over time by the power of our positive and loving choices.

Let us show whoever is sitting in the “power seats” in DC this kind of true power. Our personal power to chose life and hope and love. Our choices to be a bright light in the world, to be kind to those we find easy to love and to those who are our polar opposites. A nation can help change its leadership, by their collective voices and their repeated actions. South Africa no longer is ruled by apartheid and racial hatred.

So whether you voted for Trump or Clinton, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, Green, or any other party, look at your own life and your own choices as we move toward 2017. Remind yourself and your loved ones of our shared humanity, of our commonality as human beings. The more we try to understand differences the less the differences frighten us. As you know from my many blogs, anxious and frightened people are not acting our of their best selves. Fear changes us negatively. So let us approach 2017 with hope and a renewed desire for our ability to find good, do good, and experience the good of living in America.  I am grateful to belong to this nation and share my citizenship with you all, regardless of the issues and struggles we face.

GOING DEEPER

1;) What emotions and sensations were you experiencing on 11/8 as you watched the news? What are you experiencing now? Do you feel hope or fear about the future?

2:) What helps you remember that we belong to the human race? What inner resources support you when you deal with people who are very different from you?

Love & Anxiety # 47: Lost in a Strange Land!

fullsizerenderHello Friends. I have desired to blog the past 2 months but life keeps reminding me that I only have time and space for a FEW priorities. Luckily, since I love to travel, October’s priority was traveling overseas to present some educational workshops, one which was in Italy!

In a previous blog I shared that traveling is great for our bodies, and for opening us up to expansion and newness, as well as to other viewpoints.  But today I want to talk about a travel experience we all love, getting lost in a strange place! I am being facetious!  There are a few hardy people who are so confident, and have such great nervous system regulation, that they actually enjoy getting lost, but most of the rest of us hate the experience. Being lost in a strange landscape exposes our vulnerability, our fears, and our “alienness” or lack of belonging to that place. The street signs are in a strange tongue, the sights are totally unfamiliar, and the locals are all busily buzzing on their own trajectories and often appear indifferent at first glance.
But today I will share the good news about being lost in a strange place!  How navigating this experience benefits our body and Autonomic Nervous system, and how asking for help from strangers can improve our confidence, decrease anxiety, and even provide some Attachment healing/ feelings of nurture.

I write from my recent personal experience in Italy. After presenting the workshop in Naples, I ended up traveling alone for 5 days in Southern Italy. Prior to this experience I had never ventured south of Rome, and now I was headed south of Naples. I was excited to see some new territory and experience a slightly different culture. However, my Italian language proficiency is limited to a few important phrases such as “where is the bathroom, how much does this cost, where is the Hotel _____?”  So I was also a little anxious about the whole experience.

I determined on day 1 to know where I was going and to have an organized plan. The unknown feels unsettling, and most often produces anxiety in a human being. Our brains prefer knowing what to expect at any given moment. So, the idea I had a plan, mentally helped with the anxiety of the unknown—but the plan fell apart, as plans tend to do when exposed to actual life! Getting on my first train, all I knew was the name of my stop, Piazza Cavour, so I thought I was set. However, it turns out, the train’s screen malfunctioned and after 10 minutes it reported each new station stop was Piazza Amador. My belly began to tense. I knew this couldn’t be good for my plan. After the 3rd ‘P. Amador stop’ my fight or flight energy kicked in and I started trying to get off the train and find help. (I own a car in San Diego, so I am never on a train or subway system, it is an unfamiliar situation no matter what country I am in.)

Surprisingly, help came from unexpected quarters. A sweet 3-foot tall Italian grandma saw me looking stressed, and frankly a bit panicked. Though she spoke not a word of English, she pointed at me, at the screen, and said Piazza Cavour,  and then pointed the opposite way the train was traveling. I gathered from her excellent charade skills that I had missed my stop, one of the P. Amador’s was actually P.Cavour. Then, an urbane and well-dressed older gentleman who spoke a tiny bit of English, told me to follow him. I was at the point of “any port in a storm”, so I followed him off the train. He walked me to a platform about 5 minutes away and told me to get on this train and go 2 stops. Then he smiled and walked away.
After that experience my anxiety about traveling alone in Italy dropped away. If without asking for help I got the support I needed, maybe I could just ask for help at any point on my journey? So, when I got lost in Sorrento, I asked for help. When I couldn’t find the train station, I stopped a stranger and asked him. When the SITA bus to Positano dropped me off at the top of the town and I had no idea where my hotel was, I asked another stranger.  A few people could not help me or didn’t know the answer to my questions, but they all tried to help. Southern Italians are amazing, warm, kind and friendly. I was blown away by all the support and kindness I received. Even on the Circumvisiana train (where travel guide books provide dire warning about pickpockets abounding, paste your valuables to your body, etc.), Italians made conversation with me and I met many wonderful people. By my second ride I was not treating my wallet like it was one of my kidneys. My fears dissipated and I really enjoyed this “dangerous” train experience.

By the end of my trip, looking back, I could not believe I had any anxiety about traveling alone. Though this was my first time doing so overseas, my confidence in navigating around a foreign country had skyrocketed. Thanks to Steve Jobs and my iphone, I had no trouble finding transportation (no uber in South Italy), booking hotels on the fly, and deciding where I wanted to go next. I had wonderful dinner conversations at every restaurant. People talk to you when you travel alone in Italy. I made friends with Colombians, Australians, Britons, Spaniards, and even some wonderful strangers from Ohio! I felt so much safer in my body and in my own experience. This always happens when you face a fear or something that brings you anxiety. Triumphing over the fear brings out sensations of our natural empowerment and increases our sense of safety. It is impossible for your anxiety to keep telling you that you cannot do something that you are actually doing! It kicks the fear right in the ass.

In closing, the best news is that asking for help from strangers brings more love/care in your life. If you don’t believe me, believe Barbara Fredrickson  and the research that she includes in her wonderful book, “LOVE 2.0.” A simple encounter with a stranger when you are present and connecting, synchs up both of your brains, begins a flow of oxytocin (the love/bonding hormone, not to be confused with oxycontin the drug), increases your vagal tone, which promotes heart and overall physical health, and calms and soothes your Autonomic Nervous system! All that in just a brief encounter. Oxytocin is the hormone that counteracts the stress hormones that many of us have coursing through our bodies on a regular basis. So my mini encounters also helped me physically and emotionally.

My experience was that when strangers treat you as if you really matter and provide the help that you need, it increases your own sense of value, as well as deepens your awareness of how we are all connected as a human race. I felt more self-love during and after the trip just from the experience of so much help and care coming from so many strangers. I have wonderful friends and feel very loved on a regular basis, but there was something new and powerful that emerged as I repeatedly experienced being cared for by strangers.

So, my encouragement to you is to ask for help more often. Ask strangers for restaurant suggestions, directions, etc., when you travel. Whether you are going to Nebraska, Saskatoon, or Taiwan, let people help you when you need it. See what you notice in your body, mind and heart. Please let me know how it goes.

Going deeper:

1.) Have you ever traveled alone in a strange country? If so, what was your experience like? What sources of support did you use to find your way around? Did you ask any strangers for help? How did that experience work?

2.) Do you have a sense of your own confidence and competence in navigating the unknown? If so, what is your source of support or comfort? If you do not, can you imagine stretching yourself and trying something new, unknown or a little scary, but asking for support in the process?

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?

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 42: Anger & Anxiety # 3-Healthy Anger finally!

IMG_0914
Fight or flight- African Style

Today is the final blog about Anger & Anxiety, at least for now. One final way Anger and Anxiety are linked is that the strong fear of someone being Angry with us, scares the pee out of many of us humans. Unfortunately Anger can be, and often is, used unhealthily to control and manipulate others due to how uncomfortable most humans feel when someone is angry with them. Fear of loved one’s Anger causes great anxiety and often a loss of our sense of self. This is evidenced by how many people placate their angry family member(s), rather than firmly standing their ground and asking for what they really want. Some of my clients are living with an often explosive and angry family member. These clients live in chronic anxiety anticipating the upcoming explosion. The fact that anger’s eruption is somewhat unpredictable just makes the anxiety worse. Many humans would rather temporarily placate, and let go of what we desire, to avoid experiencing the blast of rage that may occur if we stand up for those desires.

I have lived with the fear of Anger a good portion of my life. In the past I lived with an angry family member (who was terribly treated and had a good reason for the anger, but not much control over it.) I have also feared friends and coworkers being angry with me. AND, what has caused even greater problems, I have feared and been blind to my own Anger. It has taken lots of work, with wise and professional support, for me to make peace with Anger and to stop fearing it. I have had to accept my own Anger, and the fact that at times, I can be an angry person. (Which wreaks havoc with my own image of my goodness). Breaking up with the need to be terminally nice, was a related issue, but one I will save for different blog. However, the journey has been well worth the struggle and living on the side of healthy Anger and the acceptance of this strong emotion has brought me great joy and much healthier relationships.

What I have found is that living in fear, and especially, ignorance of our own Anger is a harmful place to be. Unresolved and unaddressed anger leaks out and causes great harm and often, we can get caught in ruts of bitterness and resentment. Both of which cause irreparable harm to our bodies and relationships. I recently have been re-reading old journals and I came across a passage I wrote a while ago when I was really wrestling with my own unhealthy expressions of Anger. Though it is old material, I will include a small portion as it will illustrate my point about the need for healthy Anger better than just giving factual content.

Journal Entry: “Wow, what a journey this has been. Please continue to let the words and concepts of honesty and healing settle deeply into my soul, transcending and traversing any areas of blockage, confusion, or stuck buried resentment or bitterness. I want none of these now, they are not helpful to me, nor are they worthy of me.  For resentment and bitterness are at the core postures of helplessness and victimhood. They are knee-jerk responses that can come after experiencing being harmed, hurt or betrayed, but when I am not willing to deal with or confront the damaging influence. So the energy of angry pain, instead of being worked out through appropriate conflict coming from confrontation and the energetic attempts to make events feel fair and right to both of our body’s and beings, leaks out into stagnant pools of resentment and bitterness. This stuck energy swirls round and round but goes nowhere. These emotions are often a trap of self-pity, and fear of the energetic needs of real human relationships, which are messy & beautiful, harmonious & fractured, joyful & sad. There are seasons in every deep relationships. But resentment and bitterness keep the relationships stuck in dank cold water. The usual  warmth of connection, companionship & sexuality significantly decreased or absent all together.”  END OF ENTRY

Why talk about Anger anyway? Anger is a universal human emotion that often gets a bad rap, mostly because when humans are angry it is very hard to rationally make choices that improve the situation that is causing Anger in the first place. When we are very angry, our net-cortex is mostly off-line. Many times Angry energy causes people to act badly and use Anger for power and control, dominance, etc. No one likes to be scared so we give angry people a wide berth. But Anger is an important aspect of our humanity and an emotion we really need to pay attention to and learn how to properly express if we want to live a healthy and happy existence.

Anger is a good and important emotion. Humans need to be able to experience and express Anger in order to lead healthy lives. Anger is that strong message from our bodies that we feel threatened, that we have been, or are about to be, harmed or hurt. A healthy relationship to our own Anger allows us to perceive the “threat” early on. That allows the anger “energy” to help us say “NO”, or to set a boundary, or worst case, fight back to protect our lives. Allowing yourself to connect to your Anger in a potentially dangerous situation can save your life.

This actually happened to a friend of mine. In her early 20’s she was in a dangerous area late at night and 2 men tried to kidnap her. The driver stayed in the car while the other man tried to drag her into the back seat. Her Anger became her best ally. She felt a surge of adrenaline and rage, and she fought back with such powerful angry energy that she beat her assailant up and yanked out hunks of his hair. The other man drove off in terror, he was so frightened by her rage. (Imagine of the Amazon warrior woman archetype here.) So her ability to access her Anger was her best friend that night.

So in closing, don’t be afraid of your own Anger. It is an important emotion and one that allows us to be fully human. Even the Bible (written over  2000 years ago) has a saying, “Be angry but do not sin.” Practice allowing healthy Anger expression when needed vs. letting it leak out in other ways. Or keeping it inside and poisoning our own bodies.  As always, I am eager to here how it goes. Please write and share about your own journey with Anger!

Going Deeper

1.) Can you describe a time when you felt and expressed your own anger in a healthy and appropriate manner? How did it go? Who are the people who are more open to allowing your healthy expression of any emotion? If you have no one who can do this or very few, adding some new emotionally healthy friendships may be a great idea.

2.) How is your boundary system? In your daily life, how does anger and boundaries interact, if they do at all? Are you able to say NO, and hold your position even if the other person gets angry with you?

BLOG 41: Anger & Anxiety:Part two- Poems about rage.

Let’s take a break today from all the Left brain activity consisting of helpful facts and materials about Anger and Anxiety. Let us slip over to our Right brains and connect to the subject in the intuitive, feeling, and creative realm.

I find writing poetry a wonderful outlet for creativity (by that way, expressing our creative energies decreases sensations of anxiety), as well as for off-loading excess emotional energy and anxious activation caused by big feeling states.

This first poem was written years ago as I finally became aware of the old Anger still living in my cells and belly, that had been lurking mostly under my conscious awareness. (I bet the people closest to me were aware of it but I was mostly clueless.) So, when the Anger got so big I could no longer smother and ignore it, I became aware of it but had no idea how to express or get rid of it. I felt terrified and constipated by this stuck angry place inside of my body. So I wrote this poem entitled, “Lucky Bastards”.

Lucky Bastards

Rage is cadged, locked tight

in the castle of my heart

the key lost, some years ago

by my careless hands,

more concerned with building

a stage, on which to play a life,

unable to retain, what’s actual, real.

 

Preferring to paint pretty pictures

others praise, to the middle tint

of authentic life, clouded by gray days

and bouts of rage, marring the pretense

of perfection and poise.

 

Princesses can sulk and pout

but rage is beneath them.

It’s the province of paupers and Princes.

I watch as they rant and rage,

perched decorously on my perfect stage

thinking, “those lucky bastards.”

The second poem was also written a long time ago. My early work as a new therapist trying to support abused clients, was one of the catalysts that brought the beginnings of awareness to my own anger. This Anger, left over, from my own early years of being mistreated; at home at times, school bullying, abusive Spiritual leadership, and maltreatment from tyrannical nasty bosses. Not only did I feel my body’s truth, somehow I was still pissed about it all. Now I was also becoming more aware of new Anger arising. Infuriated by hearing the horror stories coming out in my counseling sessions with teenage clients. Many, of whom, were being mistreated and/or not protected by their parents. This poem arose from my body, almost like vomit from the belly. A visceral response to the counseling work with these young women.

“Helpless Rage for a drowning client”

My rage is hidden, shy, sly.

It rises and I turn to look

and it’s already gone

like the view in the rear view mirror.

 

The parents are killing her, I say.

But the Bureaucratic bunglers don’t stop them

everyone looks the other way

and she is drowning in front of my eyes.

I give her a breath of clean air

here and there, but stand aside,

as she thrashes, like a good citizen,

while they murder her by inches,

and hack her soul to bits.

 

I want to stab them, slash them

into ribbons, and feed her their flesh

but it will do no good

nothing does. So I take up

again, my useless vigil

and give her another breath.

By Wanda Brothers

As you could probably tell from the poems, at that point in my life I had not learned yet to healthily experience and express my Anger. These skills did, and are continuing to, come, but it took professional support and years of work.

We will talk more about Anger and Anxiety in the next blog in this series, focusing on a few of the problematic outcomes from refusing to accept, acknowledge and deal with old or current hurt and pain. These outcomes, Anger’s cousins, are called Bitterness and Resentment and they not only make us, and our loved ones, miserable but they cause tremendous anxiety. And finally, we will focus on healthy Anger.

Please send comments that let the rest of us know about your own struggles with Anger and learning how to deal with it in a healthy manner. We can always learn from each other in every aspect of life. It’s one of the things that makes life worth living.

IMG_0531 In a great mother and daughter bond, anger is still allowed.

Going Deeper:

1.)  What is your visceral/body response to either or both of the poems? Now, what are your emotional and mental responses?  Can you relate to the struggle of buried anger?

2.) How do you deal with old hurts and wounds? Most buried Angry/Rage comes from being harmed or betrayed by our loved ones or other humans. Are you able to confront and move on or do you carry old somatic sensations of Anger and pain inside?