"And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed." ~Kitty O'Meara
In this time of isolation and panic, it is easy to get caught up in the anxiety of what will happen. We are in a time of transition right now, where the world that we all knew just a few weeks ago is gone. We are grieving not only the people who have lost their lives to this disease, but the other losses as well. The loss of proms, conferences, vacation plans, hugs from friends, and many other things we took for granted.
With all of this change happening so quickly and dramatically it is a concern in the mental health field that people will be traumatized by the sudden shift and magnitude of losses. There are seven elements that have been identified which can lead to trauma. Traumas can happen when any one or combination of these elements occur. In order to avoid being traumatized by the events of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would like to share these elements and what you can do to avoid being traumatized by them. These are based on the work of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a leading trauma researcher.
Lack of predictability- .Trauma can happen when we lose the sense of predictability and routine in our lives. Without a natural day to day rhythm we may feel lost or disheveled. In order to avoid being traumatized, create a routine. You may set your alarm to still get up at a certain time, go for a walk or do some exercise at a scheduled time. Create a schedule and routine doing what you can and what you enjoy.
Immobility- During trauma our body is often not able to move to avoid the danger, for example, being trapped in a vehicle or being held against our will. Although we are now sequestered in our homes, it is important to keep moving. Too much sedentary activity can lead to trauma. Get up, dance, walk, run, garden, clean. It is important to keep the body active and moving.
Loss of connection- Trauma creates a sense of being isolated and feeling alone. It is extremely important to retain our social connections during this time of physical distancing. Call friends, write letters, send a text, connect via social media. We are human and humans are hardwired for connection. It is in our DNA. Connect in creative fun ways with other people.
Numbing out/spacing out- After a trauma the pain is so overwhelming that we don't want to feel it, so many people use numbing or disassociation to cope. Right now it is important to stay connected to our bodies. There is a tendency to want to numb by using substances, addictive behaviors or vegging out. While it is okay to binge on a show for a limited amount of time, when that becomes the day in, day out routine it leads to avoidance of the pain instead of tolerance of it. Limit any numbing or spacing out time. Seek help if the pain feels too unbearable.
Loss of sense of time/sequence- The part of the brain that judges time is affected by trauma. It makes a day feel like it lasts forever and the current situation feels like it will never end. Remember this is temporary. Even though we can't leave the house, fill up your calendar with fun things to look forward to. Schedule a zoom lunch with friends. Go to a virtual concert, set up a regular time to go for a walk. I have loved watching New Yorker's celebrate at the change of every shift at the hospitals. Doing something at the same time each day gives touchstone points throughout the day to keep the sense of time intact.
Loss of safety- This is a real challenge right now because everything and everyone seems dangerous. The packages that get delivered, the groceries, anyone who passes by feels like they may be a potential threat. While we do want to take recommended precautions, we also want to focus on our sense of safety. One of the things I often do with clients is to have them look around the room and name everything that could be dangerous. The lamp could catch fire, the ceiling could collapse, the scissors could cut me, etc. Then I ask them to look around the room and name what is dangerous without using the word 'could.' Suddenly there is a sense of safety. Right here, right now the lamp is safe, the ceiling is safe, the scissors are safe. Right now in this moment you are safe. You have enough air to breath, food in your body and shelter around you. You are safe in this moment. Breath in the sense of safety in this moment and feel your body relax.
Loss of sense of purpose- We don't always know why traumas happen and there is no good answer for why so many people are dying from this virus that satisfies our quest for why. The better question to ask is what can we learn from this. In that question we find purpose. I love the poem that I opened with by Kitty O'Meara. It has been shared by thousands of people during this pandemic because it gives a sense of purpose to this. When we can find meaning and purpose we can heal. Take this time as the opportunity it is to find purpose. How can you help? How can you show up? How can you grow during this time?
Although this is a challenging time, it does not need to be traumatizing. We will get through this together. We are being called right now to take care of each other and support each other. At no other time in our lifetimes has the whole world been affected in such a way that we are all experiencing the same crisis situation simultaneously. This is a unique opportunity to know that we truly are all interconnected with each other. Let's heal together to become a better world.
"Don't fear change - embrace it." -Anthony J. D'Angelo
Wow! 2020, the start of not only a new year, but a new decade as well. Change is in the air. We don't have to watch the news very long to see how our political, economic, social and environmental systems are struggling with change. The world is not the same as it was a decade ago. We are in a time of tremendous change and that is terrifying for many people.
Personally, I am in the process of opening my own business. We purchased and renovated an office and I left the group I was with to open my own practice. It has been a terrifying leap of faith and one of the most exhilarating things I've ever done. Change is like that. It is both scary and exciting. It forces us to look at things we may have preferred to not look at before, as well as to grow in ways we may not have thought we were capable of doing. Being human is amazing. We have the complexity and depth to be able to hold two diametrically opposing emotions simultaneously. We can be scared and excited at the same time. We can be intensely angry at someone and love them deeply. We can be deeply saddened at the loss of a loved one and deeply grateful for the gifts they gave us.
Change is not easy. Watching people and our systems struggle with change can feel depressing. I know though, that every change also creates an opportunity for something new. I am very hopeful that all of the struggle we see around us right now is teaching us to be better. Can we be better citizens who participate actively in our political process? Can we learn lessons from economic mistakes? Can we create social equality for all? Can we be better stewards of the environment? Of course we can! We just need to embrace the opportunity that change presents. We are capable of feeling scared, and also moving forward. I would not have completed the office or started my own practice if I listened to the fears that wanted to stop me (and they were loud at times!). As Susan Jeffers says, "Feel the fear and do it anyway."
Here is to 2020, a new year and a new decade to embrace change and grow in some exciting new ways! What changes do you want to create in your life?
“Every moment and every event of every man's life on earth plants something in his soul.” --Thomas Merton
As a former kindergarten teacher, I taught lessons on plants and seeds many times. I always asked what it takes for a plant to grow and got the usual answers; soil, sunlight and water. I never appreciated something very important though. We could put a rock in fertile soil, give it adequate water and sunlight and it would never grow. The most important thing needed for a plant to grow is the life inside the seed itself. It is life that makes the plant grow. The soil, sunlight and water are simply the conditions that allow life to emerge from its potential and express itself. I know that we all know this, but for some reason I was struck by this simple fact in a way that I never was before recently.
A quote from the Talmud says, Every Blade Of Grass Has An Angel That Bends Over It And Whispers..."Grow, Grow" The first few times I heard that quote, I dismissed it as odd. I couldn’t imagine an angel for every blade of grass and knew that it wasn’t true. I didn’t really get it. Recently, I heard that quote again and was struck by it. As soon as I heard it this time, I realized how much we take for granted the gift of life. Each seed contains life, a gift from the universe to be in expression in this physical world for a very short amount of time. The drive that pushes the grass to grow isn’t different from what is in each and every one of us.
We are not awakened in the morning by our alarm clock. We are awakened by life. Each day life gives us the opportunity to express itself through us in the unique way that only we can bring forth. It is an amazing miracle that we often take for granted. Life is cheering us on. When we hold a reverence for life, we are grateful for the gift of being alive in this very moment. Take a breath and feel the aliveness within you. You are life and life is a miracle.
“Self-doubt is real. Everyone has it. Having confidence and losing confidence is real, too, and everyone has been in that position.” --Venus Williams
Who do you think you are? You’re not smart enough to do that! What are you thinking to even try that?
Does that internal voice sound familiar? We all have an inner critic. It is the voice of doubt and fear that arises when we venture outside of our comfort zone. The inner critic is sometimes a very vocal part that voices its displeasure. Our inner critic wants to keep us safe. It wants us to stay in the known and predictable. It wants everyone to like us and approve of us. When we reach for a dream, try something new, or make a mistake, it turns up the volume.
So why is it that some people seem to move forward in confidence, while others cower under the voice of the inner critic? It all depends on how aware we are of it and how we talk back to it. It is not that people who have confidence don’t have an inner critic. They have just found ways to keep it quieter. I use the analogy that our inner critic is like our little toe. We all have one, yet we often don’t pay much attention to it. When we stub that toe, it is forefront in our mind and that is all we think about. When we are getting ready to do something new, challenging or important, it is like stubbing our toe. The inner critic activates, and the voice suddenly becomes all we hear.
At any moment, we can focus our attention on our little toe and feel it. Our inner critic also has a body location. Some people feel it as butterflies or churning in their stomach, others feel it as a heaviness on their chest, while others feel a constricting in their throats. It can be almost anywhere in our bodies, but it is important to begin to notice where we feel the inner critic the most. When we can associate a bodily sensation with the voice, it gives us an important clue to start noticing that we are no longer in our authentic self and have slipped into the critic part. The awareness of the critic’s activation is the point of power we have to start noticing and talking back to it.
As soon as we recognize the internal voice of our critic we can name it and make a decision. Are we going to allow it to continue to berate us, or will we choose to put on another, more compassionate part who will be able to handle the situation? Start noticing the voice of the inner critic and turn down the volume on it.
“Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” --Stephen Covey
If you ask any couple, they will tell you that trust is foundational in the relationship. Violations of trust are the most common reason that couples seek help. It is devastating when a partner breaks the trust that has been established. It is not easy, but with work and effort trust can be rebuilt.
I often use the analogy that as a couple, you are building a city together. The longer the couple has been trusting in the relationship the larger the city grows. If there is a small trust issue, it may just damage a building or two, but the rest of the city remains strong. When there is a major violation of trust it is like an earthquake hits and the entire city crumbles. All the forms and structures of the relationship that were once known are gone. The city is now just dust and debris. It becomes dangerous to navigate and feels foreign. If the couple tries to ignore the problem and move on without proper clean up, it is like building new structures on top of the rubble. It is not a firm foundation and it won’t be long before the new structures fall. It is only when couples make genuine repair attempts and work to gain trust again that the debris starts to be cleaned out. Reaching out to make a genuine apology while listening with the intent of understanding, is like the removal of a wheelbarrow of debris. It can’t all get cleaned up in one ‘I’m sorry.’ Clearing is arduous work. It takes time and a willingness to be vulnerable, but the work starts to clear enough solid ground to start rebuilding.
Couples can start creating their new city while sections of debris remain. The beauty is that they get to choose how they would like to rebuild their city. In this new city, they can decide what was working from the old and incorporate it, while they can leave out what wasn’t working. When they continue to communicate with clarity, they begin to rebuild and remove debris. Eventually, a new relationship is created that may, or may not, look anything like their old relationship. I emphasize that this is a brand-new relationship and it must be treated with the respect and reverence of any new relationship.
Violations of trust do not need to end a relationship. They can become an opportunity to create a new relationship which better meets the needs of everyone involved. It takes a willingness to do the demanding work of clean-up and rebuilding, but it can revitalize your city.
"I think that the most difficult thing is allowing yourself to be loved, so receiving the love and feeling like you deserve it is a pretty big struggle. I suppose that's what I've learnt recently, to allow myself to be loved." --Nicole Kidman
Many of us are natural givers. We enjoy helping and supporting others. We take pride in giving and look for ways to be in service to others. But, are we as good at receiving? Only when it is a two-way street are we able to fully benefit. The same pride that we take in giving, often blocks our receiving. We would rather struggle and do it ourselves then allow others to help us.
I once heard the story of a minister, who was in the hospital after an accident which left him with two broken arms. One of his congregants came and offered to feed him his meal, but in pride he declined the congregant’s support. A nurse, who was in the room asked the minister about the interaction after the congregant left. The minister stated that it is his job to take care of his congregants and he could not allow one of them to take care of him. The nurse asked if he gave sermons about the joy of giving. The minister replied, ‘Of Course! As the Bible says, It is more blessed to give then to receive!’ But then the nurse pointed out that the minister robbed the congregant of the joy of giving by refusing to receive.
I often imagine the flow of giving to be like a water wheel. Many of us are good at giving the water, but in order for the buckets to fill, we need to receive the water from the stream. If there is a dam blocking the flow of water, we are unable to receive and will eventually have nothing to give. In our pride, many of us build a dam that blocks our ability to receive. We then give until the point of burnout. When we limit what we receive, we limit what we have to give. The wheel can't move unless it receives. Unfortunately, society seems to have the perception that it is a weakness to receive. We are told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and do it ourselves. The truth is, we are an interdependent species. We do depend on others for our survival. When we allow ourselves to receive gratefully, we are practicing self-care. We can say ‘thank you’ with a grateful heart when someone gives us a compliment, offers to pay for our lunch, or helps us with a task. We can choose to accept the support of others and keep the flow moving, instead of adding to our dam.
What blocks in receiving are you willing to remove in order to restore the flow?
“All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.” --Pope Paul VI
We live in an unpredictable world. Just when things seem to be going well, a storm hits and things change. We all have to face the storms. They are an inevitable part of being human. But, why is that some people seem to weather the storms of life unscathed while others struggle?
I often use the analogy that it is like we are on a boat anchored by the shore. When the storm comes, if we don’t have a strong anchor, we will be pulled out to sea. We need a strong anchor to keep our boat secured during the storm. So, what makes for a strong anchor? It is clarity on what we value and living in alignment with our values. Every time our words, behaviors and actions are in alignment with our core values, we add weight to our anchor. The more we live life from our values, the stronger our anchor becomes. When we forget and get busy with things we don’t value, our anchor weakens. Often, it is only when the storm hits that we notice we are without a strong anchor. We find ourselves drifting aimlessly in confusion and without direction.
Every day is a new opportunity to demonstrate our values. We can choose to interact with others in ways that are in alignment with who we say we want to be, or not. When we notice that our anchor is not as strong as we would like it to be, it is an opportunity to decide how to strengthen it. Every moment is a choice point for how we want to show up with the people around us and for ourselves. Every interaction can either strengthen or weaken our anchor. The choice is ours.
What can you do today that will strengthen your anchor?
“The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” --Albert Einstein
Life has a way of putting obstacles right in our way. It happens frequently. We finally decide that we are ready to take action and go for what we want, when an unexpected expense or event pops up that stops us. Many people take that as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be, so they turn around and shrink back into their old life. What if that block in our way was just a test to see if we really wanted what was on the other side?
When I work with clients, one of the first things I ask clients is what they want. Solution-Focused Therapy refers to this as the ‘Miracle Question.’ It is a question that asks clients to imagine that they went to bed tonight and a miracle happened, which removed all of their problems. When they woke up tomorrow, what would be different? What would indicate that all of their problems were resolved? Asking this question is a great way to help people clarify what they want in life. What is important to them? If they didn’t have the limits and confines of their current life, what would they want for their life? How would their relationships be different, how would their jobs be different, how would the way they see the world be different?
When clients are clear on what they want, the question then focuses on what is blocking them from getting what they want. This is trickier than it sounds. Most people are not aware of what the blocks are because we become oblivious to them. They become such an everyday part of our life, that we are blind to what is blocking us and unaware of our power to remove it. The beauty of the ‘Miracle Question’ is that it puts people in the mindset that the miracle has already occurred, so they are able to imagine life on the other side of the block. I often imagine the obstacles to be like a one-way valve that stops us when we are trying to get to our dreams from our current perspective. But, if we start on the other side, where the dream is and imagine ourselves coming from the dream, the valve opens right up and we are able to put on our dream and bring it to us. When we start imagining our self as already having what we say we want, new ideas and possibilities open up that bring what we want to us.
So, the next time that obstacle is in the way, think about what life would be like on the other side. How would I think, how would I talk, how would I act if I had what I say I want? Come from that place and see what new ideas come to you.
“Love is three quarters curiosity.” --Giacomo Casanova
As I work with couples and individual clients there is one word that I use frequently; Curiosity. I encourage couples to become more curious about their partner and I encourage individuals to become curious about themselves. Curiosity is key to breaking free from old patterns, but what exactly is curiosity and why is it so important?
Dictionary.com defines curiosity as “the desire to learn or know about anything; inquisitiveness.” Curiosity is a natural state. Watch any young child and they are immensely curious about the world around them. They want to know everything and ask ‘why’ relentlessly. But, as they grow older and begin to learn more, that curiosity takes on a different shape. There is excitement and energy when we are curious, but unfortunately, once we believe we know, that curiosity fades. We feel satisfied in our answer and we move on.
There are four basic stages of learning, as developed by Noel Burch. We start by not knowing, what we don’t know, which he calls Unconscious Incompetence. It is not on our radar and we have not put any energy into thinking about it. We are blissfully unaware. The second stage is when we know what we don’t know, Conscious Incompetence. We realize that there is something we need to learn. Mistakes are common in this stage as we develop a new skill. The third stage is when we know what we know, Conscious Competence. We begin to feel competent in our knowing, although it may still take a significant amount of focus and energy to perform the task successfully. The last stage is when we gain mastery of what we know, which he refers to as Unconscious Competence. Our knowledge is integrated and fluid. We are able to perform the task with ease.
When it comes to relationships and emotional understanding, many of us, unfortunately, have a skewed perception. We think we know who we are and who our partner is, so we lose curiosity. We assume that it is obvious how we are feeling and no longer put any energy into exploring what the anger or sadness truly is. Unless we have done some significant work in this area, most of us fall into the first stage of learning when it comes to our own emotions and knowing our partner’s emotional landscape. We are unaware that there is more to know. Admitting that we don’t know what is going on internally is critical because it gives us permission to become curious. Stage two is when we begin to focus our energy and become inquisitive. This is where the magic happens in relationships and self-development. It is where we begin to get clear on who we are and get to know our partner intimately. Curiosity is critical for growth. It changes you from the inside out. Will you dare to be curious?
"For me the greatest beauty always lies in the greatest clarity." --Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
‘Mindsight’ is a term developed by Dr. Daniel Siegel to describe our brain’s ability to be aware of itself. As humans we have the unique ability to think about our own thinking. We can focus our attention internally to notice our emotions, behaviors and thoughts. We can choose to change them once they are in our mindsight. By turning our attention inward and developing an awareness of our internal landscape we gain clarity in our lives.
One of the most important pieces of mindsight is the understanding of neuroplasticity. Scientists used to think that the brain stopped growing by the end of childhood and was then fixed. We now know that the brain is capable of learning and developing throughout the lifespan. As we experience the world, neurons in the brain fire and create pathways for our experiences. By focusing our attention, we strengthen existing neural pathways and create new ones. The brain, through neuroplasticity, is able to create new patterns of firing which allow previously separated areas in the brain to integrate. Through focusing our attention on our internal experiences, the brain becomes more interconnected and adaptive.
Dr. Siegel outlines three components that are critical to developing our mindsight and creating clarity in our lives. They are openness, observation and objectivity. Openness is being receptive to whatever emerges as we focus our attention inward. Observation is the ability to perceive our internal experiences from a distance. It is the ability to step back from our experience to notice the experience we are having. Objectivity is the ability to discern the difference between our experience and reality. We can perceive our internal experience without being swept away in it. By utilizing openness, observation and objectivity of our own internal experience, as well as to what is going on inside others, we are able to connect in new ways. The more mindsight we develop, the more our brains change and the more clarity we begin to have in our lives. Make this the year of mindsight growth.
Based on the book Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.