Listen

Common words of wisdom get to be known as adages, axioms, platitudes, cliches, pearls of wisdom and truisms because they are repeated often and they are repeated often because they are true! If this is so and knowing that I heard them often, then why didn’t many of them sink in? It’s because I wasn’t listening with an open and authentic heart.

I found an article written by Lydia Sweatt titled 19 Wise Quotes for a Better Life and I loved it because of it’s simplicity, because I read it now, with an open and authentic heart and because I like the way she describes herself: “a freelance writer, bookworm, and bass guitar enthusiast. When she goes outside, a bicycle goes with her.” I encourage you to click on her name and read her article.

Some of the quotes she listed resonated with me not only because I’d heard them many times before but also because I used to feel they didn’t apply to me. For example, this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.” What??? I felt inferior all the time and truly believed that I wasn’t responsible for this state of mind, preferring to blame someone else and proudly assume the role of victim.

I struggled to understand this quote, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “He that respects himself is safe from others.” I thought I respected myself but the truth was that I had no clue what this meant. I was a true co-dependent – gauging my self-worth by what I believed others thought of me. I wanted everyone to like me so I said “yes” when I should have said “no”, disrespecting my deepest core values. I had no boundaries.

The quote, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” by Mark Twain is very well-known but I never related to it because there were times in my life when I wished I hadn’t been born. I never felt like I fit in, struggled in social settings and suffered from clinical depression. Sometimes I felt as if I was enduring my life. Thankfully, this changed with the help of therapy, medication, 12-step programs and learning the importance of spiritual connection. As I engaged in this work, I realized that I was beginning to feel purposeful. I felt filled with a renewed sense of value and even though I’m not sure of the exact day that I found out why I was born, I know that this has occurred.

It took a lot of time for these words of wisdom and more to germinate and take hold, like sequoias needing fire to release their seeds. I had to suffer for years before I was able to create the right conditions to truly hear the wisdom in these words and then to apply them to myself, honestly and with an open heart. It was only then that I could understand the fact that I was giving others permission to make me feel inferior and only then that I could understand the importance of personal boundaries and that respecting myself was more important than what others thought of me and only then that I could finally be grateful for and honor my birth and my life.

What conditions exist for you?

Flow is Freedom and Ease

Change begins with awareness which leads to an awakening. From there, a discovery might occur which can open the door to courage, action and finally flow. Once we’ve reach a state of flow, is this it – have we arrived? Can we always be in a state of flow? Can we always be happy, positive and optimistic – free from all emotional barriers?

Yes, with conditions. The first condition centers on our willingness to be in a state of acceptance of the things, conditions and people that we cannot change. The Serenity Prayer, whose origins are in dispute, reads like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

This doesn’t mean that we have to accept everything but if we truly are unable to change certain conditions then letting go and easing into acceptance goes a long way toward creating serenity. This is especially true when it comes to our human proclivity toward believing we can change other people. When I realized that the only person I could change was myself, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. All the time and energy I was directing toward the fruitless effort of changing a loved one could be directed to the things about me – my mindsets and behaviors that just weren’t serving me or others well and making the changes that I could.

The second condition requires the recognition that we must always stay in tune with the signals and information that we receive from our thoughts and our bodies. This information will alert us when we’ve hit a wall – when we are blocked or stuck. Paying attention to these signals lets us know when we are in a new cycle of change – it’s awareness waving at us again.

The final condition is remaining teachable – being willing to learn something new and willing to engage in the work to develop new mindsets and skills – being willing to be willing to change, if that is what’s required.

We might not always be able to stay in a state of flow but the time we are there will be lengthened with practice and with our ability to be attuned to the barriers that we will inevitably experience and then to be willing to do the work to move through these barriers, growing each step of the way. A beautiful way to experience life, I think.

Action is Color

Somehow, the first step just happens and, seemingly, in a moment taking action is the right thing to do. It was only in retrospect that I was able to identify all that went before that first step, allowing the path to open.

I felt every emotion possible that day. Fear, anger, shame, resignation, relief and hope all flooded through my body at once. As I look back on this moment I can see that exhilaration filled me and spurred me on even as my amygdala was sending me into flight mode. A kaleidoscope of color came bursting out!

And then, I had to wait and be patient, allowing all that needed to be done to find space on my calendar. In that moment, I wanted to dive in immediately but there were arrangements to be made, flights to be booked, schedules to be changed and explanations to be made. A dangerous moment, actually, because I could easily have said “NO” to everything and fallen back into what I knew – complacency, mediocrity, depression and self-loathing. Not a great place to be but at least I knew it and was used to feeling that way. But, I’d said “YES” out loud – the world and others heard it and I just couldn’t turn back.

I’m grateful for that because I’m not exactly sure where my resolve and courage came from. My religious friends and those of us who believe in a Higher Power tell me that this was a moment of Grace. It’s a mystery to me but I resonate with this. I haven’t wasted any energy trying to figure it out – it just happened this way for me.

This moment of Grace allowed me the time to find my guides and mentors – the people who instinctively knew me, had travelled the path, knew the twists and turns, the pitfalls and joys and had the willingness to show me the way. My journey has led to who I am now, a woman with 13+ years of sobriety and one who is emotionally centered and filled with life experience. I’ve earned a Master’s Degree in Psychology, trained as a Certified Coach Practitioner and Labyrinth Facilitator and I’m continuing my training to earn a certification as a Mindfulness Meditation Practitioner and Instructor – all with the goal to be a mentor and guide – maybe your mentor and guide.

Choosing to take action is a big step and one that deserves guidance because feeling worthy enough to invest in yourself may feel foreign. Send me a message or give me a call. We can talk and see where you are, what you need and whether working together might make your transition easier.

Let the color flow!

Courage Comes from Within

If courage comes from within, that means it has always been with you – just hidden behind curtains of fear. It’s so much easier to stick with what you know – to be complacent, and even to live in mediocrity, sadness, despair or fear rather than to muster enough courage to stand in the light.

I knew what I needed to do for years but I had to hit my own personal bottom before I dared to let myself be courageous enough to peek out. I had to experience years of emotional pain before I’d had enough and dared to move out of my own mediocre comfort zone.

Why is it such a truism that the biggest motivator for change is pain? It’s because we humans are hardwired to resist change. Our brain recognizes any type of change by releasing hormones designed to get us ready for fight or flight. So, in a primitive way, we are protecting ourselves. Changing a behavior or doing something differently becomes realistic when change seems less painful than the state we are in. The resistance drops away and the path becomes clear. Courage is then given the opportunity to step out into the light.

This type of work is very difficult to do alone. If you are on the precipice of change and need a mentor and a guide, consider giving me a call. We can talk and see if working together might help you better navigate your own process of courageous change.

Discovering that I’m Not Alone

It was such a relief to discover that I wasn’t alone and that I was understood. I wasn’t the only person to feel the way I felt. I wasn’t unique and many others had lived my life and had found the support they needed to feel whole. Yes, I felt relief but was I ready to listen, to learn, to heal and to change?

I went into treatment for alcoholism and depression in 2007 and I truly felt as if I was the only person who had ever been through what I had experienced in my life and that no one would or could possibly understand me. I expected to be loathed and shamed. I cried when none of this happened. I discovered that I was completely understood and that it didn’t matter that my experiences and circumstances were different from the other women in the room. The common denominator of underlying emotions, feelings and patterns of thinking were practically the same.

Those moments in early recovery opened my eyes and my heart and the feelings of shared experience allowed the walls I had built to crumble, leaving me exposed and vulnerable. I’m so grateful that I wasn’t alone then. I had people surrounding me who understood what I was going through even before I did. They were ready with the right words, or even no words at all – just their obvious understanding and willingness to be with me and offer words of wisdom when I asked for their help.

My heart sank when I realized that my alcohol consumption had only been a symptom of much larger problems. In order to be the person I wanted to be, I would have to look at all of the behaviors and mindsets that were practically part of my DNA – perfectionism, lack of boundaries, no self-respect, low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness, co-dependency and shame. These patterns had been learned in childhood and had become useful tools for self-preservation but as an adult they only set me up for isolation, anger, frustration, depression and alcoholism.

There are two sides to the coin of discovery – exhilaration, promise and hope on one side with fear, retreat, denial and consignment on the other. Discovery poses two questions – will you have the humility to be honest with yourself and others, to listen and to learn and will you allow others to help you find your way?

If you want to ask some questions of your own, contact me. We can talk and I might be able to help you see where you are in your amazing process of change.

Awakening Leads to Clarity

Do I really want to know the truth? I was aware of something niggling within me, and it kept up and got louder until I paid attention and then, there is was, right in front of me – I could see the truth – I was awake and my head and heart were clear and in alignment and what I saw scared me. Or was it excitement? Fear because I considered stepping out of my comfort zone and into the unknown? Excitement because my true and best self was peeking out and liked what she saw?

It was like this for me. I didn’t really want to know the truth, let alone see it, because that would mean having to do something about it. I’d have to be bold and willing to admit to something that I considered shameful, and I can’t do that. If I did that, I’d be breaking my family’s perfection code and I was a good team player. I didn’t want to rock the boat and every time I upheld the family code I reinforced my unspoken core belief that something was fundamentally wrong with me. What a dilemma!

I’ve been reading The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., and he says, “There’s only one way to get through the fog of fear, and that’s to transform it into the clarity of exhilaration.” He cites Fritz Perls, MD, the psychiatrist and founder of Gestalt therapy who said “Fear is excitement without the breath.” Dr. Perls pointed out that the “less breath you feed your fear, the bigger your fear gets.” The very same parts of our brain that produce excitement also produce fear and it is through the breath and mindful attention to our breath that we can calm the fear and sit with the exhilaration, allowing ourselves to feel happy for longer periods of time.

I can completely relate to this because as a child I got in trouble for being too happy, or too excited. My mother couldn’t tolerate “childish giddiness” and so I learned to keep my emotions within a narrow range – never too sad and never too happy. As Dr. Hendricks explains in his book, I had developed “a limited tolerance for feeling good” so whenever I felt too good for too long, I reached my “Upper Limit” and would find one way or another to bring myself back down. I usually did this by nurturing my natural state of depression by drinking daily. When I was finally diagnosed with a severe and chronic clinical depression, my psychiatrist told me that based on my history I had probably been suffering from dysthymia (long-term, low-grade, chronic and persistent depressive disorder) since childhood. Every time I felt happy for just a little too long, I felt uncomfortable and my alcohol consumption helped relieve this discomfort. Another side effect was my low self-esteem and a general feeling that I just wasn’t good enough and flawed somehow.

The truth that I didn’t want to see is that I’m not perfect but I am good enough and that there’s nothing wrong with me. Sobriety helped with this awakening, for sure, but learning to breathe and to sit with uncomfortable feelings, mindfully observing them with gentleness and curiosity, has allowed me to move beyond my incredibly low “Upper Limit” and to expand with happiness. My awakening led to the clarity I needed to move out of the fog and to challenge myself to be happy just a little bit longer, and then even longer and to begin the process of finding the person I was born as but trained not to be.

Emerging Awareness

It’s a new year – 2021 – and we got off to a rocky start. But today, I’m aware of a peacefulness and a feeling of being grounded that has been missing in my life for the last four years. I know I’m not alone. I didn’t realize how much anxiety I’d been carrying in my body until the end of the day on January 20, 2021. We witnessed a magnificent inauguration along with all of the trappings that covid-19 would allow – without incident. I felt profound relief.

The next day, I could breathe and when we took our dog to the beach for a walk, everything felt different. I felt relaxed and realized that even though I was masked and making sure I stayed a good 6-feet away from other walkers, I wasn’t feeling the hyper-vigilance I had become used to. I’m grateful for this.

I set a goal for myself this year – not a resolution but a goal to incorporate mindfulness into all the things that I do. I’m enrolled in an online Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training to augment my coaching practice and part of the curriculum is meditating daily as well as leading multiple types of meditations several times in order to become a knowledgeable and competent meditation instructor and leader. The day after the inauguration, I led an online body scan meditation which was a perfect way to release all of the tension that was being held in our collective bodies. Today, I led an online mindful walking meditation where I instructed the participants to imagine safely walking somewhere they loved within the parameters of their physical capacities and gave the following instructions:

~ arrive and be in the present moment ~ focus the attention on the internal and external experience ~ relate to the body with friendliness ~ breathe in and out as you move, fully and freely ~ feel your feet on the ground ~ notice where you are ~ notice the sensations you are experiencing ~ notice what you see, what you hear, what you smell ~ notice the air ~ is there a breeze or is the air still ~ feel your feet as they make contact with the ground ~ widen your awareness to include the experience of your whole body walking and to everything you are experiencing in your environment from sights, sounds, smells and sensations ~ ask yourself if you can be fully aware and present to walking in the middle of this very dynamic experience ~ beginning and ending with the breath and appreciation.

And then, I took myself and my dog to the beach and practiced this meditation again. I became aware of how connected I am to this interdependent web of all existence in which I reside. The air was cool and brisk on my skin and the waves were dark and filled with the promise of an incoming storm. The people I encountered all seemed happy – or was I projecting my own happiness onto them? I like this meditation.

I’m becoming aware of something new starting to emerge within me. I’m not sure about it’s exact nature yet, but I intend to give this little flame all the oxygen it needs so I can see what happens and where it leads. I intend to pay attention, be mindful and present so I won’t miss the experience.

Say No to Resolutions and Yes to Transformational Change

Research shows that as many as 50% of adults in the United States make New Year’s resolutions, but fewer than 10% keep them for more than a few months.  Why is that?  I searched the internet for studies about why this is, and I found an article by Dr. Charles Herrick, Chair of Psychiatry, Nuvance Health, and it made lots of sense to me ( https://www.westernconnecticuthealthnetwork.org/newsroom/article-listing/new-yearsresolutions#:~:text).  He says that we don’t stick with our resolutions for three reasons: we’re trying to break old and entrenched habits; we’re focusing on very specific outcomes; and these changes aren’t purposeful.

 Creating new ways of being and thinking require that we change old ways of being and thinking which is easier said than done.  Anyone who has tried to stop procrastinating, become optimistic rather than pessimistic, quit smoking, lose weight, exercise more or quit drinking can attest to this.  Our habits and thinking patterns are ingrained by years of reinforcement and have become second nature – we always default to them. For example, a smoking or drinking habit may be reinforced by your lifestyle, the places you go, the people you interact with, physical sensations associated with the behaviors, and other rituals such as drinking when you get home from work or whenever you are happy or upset. Your feelings, thoughts, and emotions related to smoking or drinking can also contribute to making the habit satisfying because you like the way it affects you – you’re calmer, you can forget your problems for a moment and you can avoid almost anything, for a while. How about eating, shopping, working or just fill in the blank?  All of these are habits have become a way to take us somewhere else, anywhere but here and now.

Often times, our resolutions are very specific – I’m going to lose 15 lbs. by March, I’m going to start respecting my boundaries right now, I’m not going to use my credit cards for a year, I’m not going to drink for a month.  What happens when these goals aren’t met right away?  I know what I used to do – I’d say, “Oh well, it was just a silly resolution,” and that would be the end of it – resolution forgotten.

When I said that my resolutions were just silly, I was actually saying that I really didn’t matter and, once again, I reinforced my core belief that I was worthless.  As I write this, my heart aches for the wounded person that I used to be and then fills with an immense gratitude that I was able to turn all of this around.  I often look back and still am amazed that a moment of clarity allowed me to say these words to myself, “I matter, and I deserve to be happy.” 

These words opened the door to purpose and when my goals had purpose, they really mattered and became easier to achieve.  The other thing I learned during this crucial time in my life was the concept of baby steps.  Taking small realistic steps made my goals feel achievable and then doing this work with others provided positive feedback and the reinforcement of my nascent beliefs of self-worth.  While working on my goals, I was breaking old habits and changing old patterns of thinking while creating new and healthy ones.  

This was a huge endeavor under any circumstances but this year, especially, the year of COVID-19, any thoughts of resolutions are more difficult to prioritize.  We’re all looking for comfort and are drawn to what we know, even if what we know isn’t good for us.  All the more reason to make goals that are significant or meaningful, healthy and holistic, accountable and actionable, risk and results oriented, and partnered:  SHARP.  

This leads to the question of how?  How do I know where to start and what matters most to me?  I’m a believer in the power of journaling and meditation and have been able to find clarity and insight as the result of journaling, just for myself, and mindfulness meditation. I recommend this as a starting point, and I also recommend working with others. This may be the time to consider working with a coach – someone who can intuitively pinpoint those sticking points or the most natural places to focus your attention. Someone like me. If you’re reading this, why not give it a try? What’s stopping you?  

With the Rain Comes Hope

It’s raining in Santa Barbara!  We haven’t had any significant rain for 8 months and we’ve all been feeling antsy.  This is not just a teasing rain but the type of thirst-quenching rain that makes all who live here breathe a sigh of relief as we inhale newly cleaned and refreshed air.  I can hear the soil sighing gratefully as it soaks up the moisture, the plants are expanding with joy and all of the creatures that pass through my yard are relaxing, knowing water can be found.

What a beautiful metaphor for what we are experiencing right now. We are leaving a terrible year behind – diseased, literally and figuratively, drought-ridden and riddled with fear by being bathed, cleansed and nurtured with life-sustaining rain as we move into a new year.  The rain has created a sense of hope within me and I can imagine myself walking arm in arm with courage, ready to face a new year. 

I wish you all a joyous and purpose-filled new year and I hope our paths will cross as we navigate this thing we call life.

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