Get Your Head & Heart Together

What is it with the intellect (the head), and the emotional state, (the heart), that makes life so challenging?  As has been commonly recognized, men are more in their heads / intellects, and women are more in their hearts / feelings.  On the surface this might sound like an argument for the superiority of women, but its not.  Both are needed for effective living.  We need the male and female aspects of our psyches to be integrated.  We want to live in the “yin yang” of life.  

The intellect has gotten a bad reputation over the years because it has run rough shod over the heart in so many ways.   This is what happens when patriarchy reins.  When men are overly dominating a society the head tramples the heart in people’s thinking.  Life is approached with cold eyes and little feeling.  Things get reduced to a math problem or a jig saw puzzle.  The dominant intellect says, “Its a “dog eat dog world”, “the survival of the fittest rules life”, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, “money is the goal of life”, and, “boys don’t cry".  Nature is reduced to a means to economic gains.  People are tossed into the streets with an “everyone has to take care of themselves” cultural attitude.  Brutality is justified with an “ends justifies the means” rationale.  Being cut off from deep feeling we can be confident of our aggressive actions without considering the  impact on other people, animals, or the earth itself.  War is entered with an ignorant, dangerous gusto. 

When the head leads decision making and we end up in bad positions we usually hear ourselves say things like, “I knew he was a player when I married him”,  “I knew this house would be a money pit”,  “I didn’t trust my gut on that car purchase”,  or “I got talked into this job.”  

When the heart dominates the mind in an over indulgent way, feeling can submerge reason.  We become over emotional, touchy, hyper reactive to challenges. We might become mired in self-pity, anxiety, helplessness, or hopelessness.  We can be “love addicted” to others - “I can’t get her out of my mind”, be easily manipulated, find ourselves once again rescuing the “poor” friend, be overly soft when firm decisiveness is called for, or taking care of the forty year old son who “needs me”, etc.  An overweight woman complains, “But I love ice cream so much.”  A sexually addicted man argues, “I just love women.”  Life gets arranged around a need to tend to our very sensitive feelings, or the feelings of others. 

As we all have the male and female / yin & yang of life within us, life is most effectively handled when these aspects are balanced.  This can be achieved in different ways.  If you had a distant or abusive father it may be a good idea to enter therapy with a man who can be nurturing as well as firm.  If you had a withdrawn, neglectful mother, you may want to enter therapy with a loving, gentle female therapist.  We internalize both the positive and negative attributes of our father and mother.  If our parents were not able to embody the best aspects of their male or female attributes they will not be able to pass them on.  They may have “nothing to give.”  

What about “following your heart” ?   This is good advice.  Due to the heavy influence of patriarchy many people are directed by family and society to make major life decisions by following the intellect.  This puts the heart in the second position when it should be first in decision making.   When the intellect is in charge of decisions you might get married because, “I’m getting older”, or “He has a lot of money”,  or “My family wants me to marry her.”   You could get into a job because, “the money is good”, or “Its the family business, we all go into it”,  or “My mother wanted me to be lawyer, doctor, accountant, etc.”  These “head” decisions can  lead to deep regret, a mid-life crisis, and a life riddled with depression or anxiety.   

The heart is  the place where clear intuition arises, a polestar for guiding right decision making. It has recently been found that the heart has its own brain or intelligence.  When it is allowed to open and guide a persons life it also emanates an electromagnetic field that effects those around them and the world as a whole.  I have friends that it just “feels good” to be around.  Being in their presence can be enough to open my heart more.  

The heart is the natural leader to the authentic life.  It shows where your true work is, what your mission is, who is the right partner, where your gifts are.  The intellect should be in service of the heart.   For instance, you might be in love but he wants you to give him a lot of kids when you have no interest in being a mother, join his religion you don’t agree with, and move to Antartica  (brrrr)  etc.  This may be where the head steps in and says, “Not a good idea, there’s other loves out there for you.”   Maybe you found a house to buy you just love and your head looks at it and says, “That house looks shaky. You need to check the foundation.  It’s probably a money pit.”  My friend was once in escrow for a house she loved  with a realtor she loved when the realtor said, “Umm, this house doesn’t have a foundation, it sits on the dirt.  But you can lift it up and pour a foundation.  People do it all the time.” She cancelled escrow and got another realtor.  When the heart leads and the head agrees you know you are on track.  You got the Corvette at a great price, the dream house passed inspections with flying colors, the man you love is doing work you respect and wants dogs instead of children. You think, “Yeah, no diapers, no throwing up for weeks, and I get to paint!”  

An integrated person with a balanced intellect and heart is nurturing, rational, and able to take action when needed:   Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Nelson Mandela, Harvey Milk, George Harrison,  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg,  the Dalai Lama, Justice Sonia Soto Mayor, Melinda Gates, etc.  

Click below to hear The Heart Math Institute describe the wonders of the heart’s intelligence, its electromagnetic field, and what it means to lead with the heart:   

 

Let’s Talk About Sex

Sex and patriarchy have been in the news a lot lately.  As usual it involves men behaving badly.  A lot of sacred cows are being slaughtered in the public eye.  Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Bill Oreilly, Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, President George H.W. Bush, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Anthony Weiner, Charlie Sheen—the list just keeps growing.  Sex is an equal opportunity myth buster when it comes to men getting into trouble.  While women can certainly get into deep water with sex, the tendency for men to crash their lives over it vastly outweighs the female numbers.  The multi-billion dollar porn industry would likely go bust if men stopped clicking on their favorite sites.  

Sex can serve as a panacea for many things that ail men. It can cover up a feeling of being “not enough”, it can temporarily soothe anxiety, depression, loneliness, boredom, and fear (only to exacerbate them when the sex high wears off), it can be used to express anger (S&M, revenge sex, etc.), it can be used to self-validate, get high, feel powerful, be in control, or feel better than other men (yes, locker room bragging on the number of sex conquests is a real thing).  The ways men use sex destructively is seemingly endless. 

From an Imago theory standpoint the roots of sexual abuse can be understood by seeing how deep patriarchy runs.  When one sex is dominated by another from the beginning of our country’s history, sexual abuse is an inherent outcome.  Patriarchy is the systematic oppression of the female population by the male population in the areas of political leadership, social privilege, moral authority, and control of property.  The psychology of patriarchy turns women into lesser human beings, even objects.  The link from power to objectification is not a hard one to connect. Women are thought of as objects to serve men.  They should go along with what the men believe, clean, cook, bare children, be ready for sex, tolerate lewd sexual comments, harassment, and settle for less across the game board of life. 

Imago counseling helps to break out of patriarchal psychology and establish an egalitarian relationship wherein both people are seen, heard, mirrored, and understood as equals.  When women are seen as equals the psychology of both changes.  He no longer sees her as someone who can be used for his animal instincts (remember where our president said you can “grab” women?), and she no longer goes along with it.  When a female staffer complained to a female producer about Charlie Rose’s sexual harassment, the producer shrugged and said, “That’s just Charlie being Charlie.” 

When the idolized Hugh Hefner died and commentators across the airwaves mourned his loss, I heard a number of women proclaim, “I’m not interested in shedding tears for someone who was celebrated for making money by getting the culture to objectify women.”  Gloria Steinem, the iconic warrior against patriarchy and the founder of Ms. Magazine, covertly got a job as a Playboy bunny to experience first hand the workplace of institutionalized sexual patriarchy.  She says it was degrading on every level: financially, the costume she was required to buy and wear, emotionally, and physically. 

In some cultures patriarchy is so lethal it is legal to beat, burn, and even kill their wives.  We in the U.S. tend to rightly look on these practices in horror and blindly deny how rampant the lesser versions of the same problem are part of our collective national unconscious.

Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz states that every woman in patriarchy has a little demon on her shoulder that whispers, “You’ll never amount to anything. You know why, because you’re a woman.” Von Franz says that women can’t get rid of this demon; they have to educate it through therapy, direct communication, self-value, and coming together in groups.   

Some of the men named in the current rash of sexual harassment cases are admitting and taking responsibilities for their bad behaviors (Al Franken), and some are running for the hills.  The wounds are being exposed and the culture of patriarchal sexual objectification is in a free fall.  This is often the necessary “dark night of the soul” that can lead to a collective transformation. 

When sex is mutual, intimate, and an expression of connection it is regarded as psychologically healthy.  When it is used as a form of objectification, is forced, is part of medicating emotional pain or trying to establish power, it is dangerously neurotic.  

Further, men that participate in patriarchal sex are kept in a developmentally delayed, “boy psychology.”  Women who go along are kept in a developmentally delayed “girl psychology.”   Maybe it is really time.  Maybe we are finally going to grow up and become adults around this thing called sex.

 Click below to see Gloria Steinem talk about her experience as a "bunny" inside the walls of Playboy:

TIME TO MAKE THE DONUTS

“It’s not enough to have a dream, you have to have a work ethic.” 

                                              - Amanda Hocking, bestselling author

There was a famous series of Dunkin Donut commercials in the 80’s.  The commercials showed a tireless worker getting up before dawn, stumbling out of bed, and going off to the donut shop muttering, “Time to make the donuts.” It became a catch phrase for anyone willing to get up and put in the necessary work to see their goals achieved.  My hard working mother used to wake me up for school with the same catch phrase. She’d snap on the lights and tease, “Get up, time to make the donuts.”      

Many people are big on dreams and short on getting up for the work ethic involved in achieving them.  It makes for a lot of misery, self-doubt, and feelings of victimization.   It could be said that if someone isn’t willing to work for their dreams they might be better off “playing it safe.”  There’s nothing wrong with getting a safe job, making money, and retiring. If you are not willing to live with the uncertainty, lean times, and hard work of pursuing your dreams you could be setting yourself up for lifetime of misery attempting to do so.  This might sound like  “reverse psychology”  (arguing for a negative outcome knowing it will be heard as a way to motivate someone)—but its not.  There are “type B” personalities who do not want to go that extra mile.  They may be content with a loving family life, a retirement account, and a sandy beach in old age.   My cheerful, hard working mail woman was very happy to retire after thirty years of delivering envelopes.  I could honestly say that she was generally happier than most people I know. One of my childhood heroes was my school bus driver who used to shout, “Look, flying mud turtles!”  We’d all rush to the windows before he’d invariably say, “Oh, you missed them again.” 

From a “time to make the donuts” perspective you have to raise the bar on your work ethic if you are going to achieve dreams.  If he had an off night and lost, Kobe Bryant would go to a gym after the game and practice free throws.  I was once in an airplane with the actor John C. Reilly.  When I asked about his success he said he never thought about becoming famous as an actor, he just focused on being a working acting.  I later had the opportunity to ask Laurence Fishburne the same question and got the same answer.

When someone is trying to achieve their dreams but does not put in the necessary work ethic they are often convinced that other people are “special”, “gifted”, “lucky”, or otherwise super natural.  The truth is the people they are talking about were usually just more committed, harder working, and less entitled.  They often have an all out work ethic and a do or die attitude about their dreams. Howard Stern interviewed Steven Van Zandt, the lead guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s band. When Howard asked why Van Zandt didn’t give up and quit like his fellow band members he said, “I was all in. I never had a plan B.  Those guys had other options.” 

Many people who achieve their dreams had someone who believed in them on the road to success. That’s not a small thing. The crippling self-doubt that destroys work ethic can often be countered by a parent, a coach, a therapist, a friend, or anyone else who can stand by you and say, “Keep going, you can do it. I got your back.”  Oprah credits her “best friend Gail” for being the only one who believed in her when she said she wanted to leave her news anchor job in Boston to try doing a small talk show in Chicago—up against Phil Donahue, the then undisputed king of talk TV.  Without Gail’s encouragement Oprah might still be reading the news today.  Have you seen those boxing movies when the boxer says to the coach, “I want to take this fight but I can’t do it without you.” (?)  They aren’t kidding.  Boxers without a coach are knocked out in the first round.  There is a whole line of support people behind most success stories. 

We all need someone in our corner when we fail, get up, and try again.  The right attitude toward failure is a key component to successful donut making.  When failure is “part of learning” it is helpful, as we all need to fail to learn.  When it “means I’m a failure and I’ll never succeed” –we are lost and about to close shop, complaining about how Starbucks has taken all the donut business away (even though Starbucks doesn’t sell donuts).

Is it your “time to make the donuts”?  If so achieving the necessary work ethic involved will be up to you, but support is available.  Reach out, ask, get someone in your corner. 

Below a few of the usual suspects talk about work ethic, dreams, and the way to the next level:

 

YOUR MISSION, SHOULD YOU DECIDE TO ACCEPT IT. . .

People can get pretty depressed when they say no to their mission.  Psychotherapy can help unravel what someone’s mission is, but it can’t do the mission for anyone.  It might sometimes seem that a therapist is “curing” a client.  In truth therapy is simply leverage.  It is an opportunity to change, not a guarantee.  The bulk of the work in therapy is done by the client.  As has been stated before, we all have to take a hundred percent responsibility for our lives before things can change—including responsibility for finding and executing our mission. 

So, what is a mission and what does it matter anyhow? A mission is something you have innate talent for and that calls you.  It is, as they say, “a calling.”  Further, you are either doing your mission or it has been drummed underground by the beat of conspicuous consumption—either way, it is still with you.  That “beat” has been going on in the background of our lives since childhood. Our society generally plays the drums of a clear message:  life is dangerous, forget this mission / passion stuff, get a job, make money, and build a bunker.  Then you can play golf, drink, eat, and of course, go shopping.  In other words, “gain wealth forgetting all but self.”  Material gain as an end goal to life also gets drilled into us by what author Gore Vidal calls one of the only true American art forms—advertising.  “Hawaii, Mercedes Benz, the Bahamas, the beach, champagne, mountains of food, diamonds, tennis—what more could you want?  Just pay us and we will deliver your dreams.” 

Mission is something else.  It lives on the edges of society’s thinking.  It calls to us. It is that thing that brings passion and meaning to your life.  It is something that not only serves your heart, it serves the greater good. 

A mission is commonly well known by children. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  “I want to be a fireman.”  “An artist.”  “A writer.”  “An astronaut.”  “A brain surgeon.”  “I want to study the ocean.”  “I want to own a fishing boat.” “I want to be a physicist.”   By the time they reach adulthood many of these same children are satisfied with, “I want a retirement account.”  “I want to be a millionaire.”  “I want to retire by the time I’m 50.”  “I want to have a big house.”  “I want to play golf and drink and forget about the world.”  While none of these later goals are necessarily bad, they are often replacements for mission. They are goals that ring more of giving up than of living our life purpose. 

If someone is on mission few people wonder why they don’t retire, least of all themselves.  Has anyone asked Steven Spielberg why he doesn’t retire from the headaches of movie making?  Is Bill Gates ever going to give up this computer / philanthropy thing and end up on a cruise ship for his remaining days?  Did anyone ask Hillary Clinton why she would want to go for the presidency when she could retire ten times over?  Should Carl Jung or Sigmund Freud have found an easier gig so they could spend their old age drinking and lawn bowling?  Is Meryl Streep trying to make her 401-K stretch so she doesn’t have to take on another role? If asked about why they didn’t retire these people would probably answer something like, “Why would I give up what I most enjoy doing in life?” 

In the seventies TV show, Mission Impossible, every show starts with “Jim Phelps” going into a secret place to find a tape recording of his latest mission.  He looks around to be sure he is alone and presses the “play” button.  The mission’s obstacles are described in detail.  Then he’s instructed:

“Your mission, should you decide to accept it is to (save the world in such and such a way—there’s a new way each week!)  As always, should you or any of your IM forces be caught or killed the secretary with disavow any knowledge of your actions.  This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck Jim.” 

Jim turns the tape recorder off, looks pensively into the distance, and the tape bursts into smoke.   We know that look, the eye of the tiger. He’s going to go for it! 

The same could be said of our lives.  We are given a mission known only to us.  It is found in a secret place that we have to go to alone—within our own hearts. If we choose to accept it there are helpers that will come along (our “IM forces”).  If we fail in our mission the responsibility will be all ours, no one else can take the blame.  The mission is ours, the work is ours, and the success or failure will be ours. 

Will Jim Phelps accept his mission?  What kind of show would it be if he looked at the tape recorder and said, “Forget it. That’s way too dangerous.  I’m going to Disneyland.” . . .  Yet many of us do go to Disneyland.  Our life show goes on, it’s filled with entertainment, but in the end it’s pretty boring.  After all, how many times can you go on the teacups? We can end up spinning around, confused, and in a gnawing state of unfulfilled mission.  What happened?  We said no.  Our mission’s tape seems to have gone up in smoke.  But wait, something inside you still wants to say yes to the mission, risk it all, and take the consequences.  The good news is, it’s a new week, and the world still needs saving.  Look in your heart. Your mission is waiting . . . should you decide to accept it.

Below Jim Phelps faces the ominous message:

 

IT'S OK TO LAUGH ABOUT IT

"When choosing between two evils, I alway pick the one I haven't tried."                                                                       - Mae West

“I do not fear death.  I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”  - Mark Twain

Laughter shifts perspective.  It can release even the most seriousness of depression and help us “see the light.” 

I recently heard a story on talk radio about a woman named Sarah who woke up one morning in the hospital after a suicide attempt.  The nurse came into the room, drew back the curtain and said, “Good morning Sally, are you feeling suicidal today?”  Sarah broke out laughing.  The first reason she laughed was she thought a trained nurse should ask a gentler question of someone who just tried to kill herself the night before.  The second reason she laughed was that Sarah thought a nurse would be sure to get the name right of someone who just tried to kill herself.  But in that moment of laughter Sarah said a little light came into her life. She thought, “I’m laughing.  If I can laugh at this, maybe I’ll be ok”—and after a lot of therapy, she was.

Researchers have found that laughter uplifts mood by triggering release of endorphins, it reduces stress, it acts as a stop gap for distressing emotions (its hard to feel sad or angry if you are laughing), laughter helps protect the heart by increasing blood flow, boosts the immune system, and improves sleep quality.  Further, when sense of humor was measured as a quality of life statistic, those with a great ability to laugh were shown to have longer life spans.  

From a social perspective researchers observed that laughter strengthened relationships, was socially attractive to others, enhanced teamwork, diffused conflict, and promoted group bonding. 

Like anything laughter can take a shadow form.  It can be used to belittle others, deflect from talking about a serious subject in need of attention, or, in its worse sense, even be used sadistically.

But when we are talking about laughter in a healthy sense, it is invaluable to mental health.  A yoga teacher I studied with said that for mental and physical health and we needed to sweat and laugh every day.  Even forced laughter can have the physiological and mental benefits already mentioned.  For instance, I was walking on the beach one day and came across a “laughing yoga” group.  The group invited me to join them.  I hated the idea of formal laughing but pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone. With a frozen smile I nodded and took a step forward.  True to their name the laughing yogis simply stood around and laughed out loud.   I mean, really loud— screaming, bug eyed, belly laughs.   It scared me.  I wanted to run away.  Just give it a chance, I thought— frozen smile still in place.  Forced laughter always made me wince, and these people were really forcing it.  They were howling with laughter at nothing while one by one sticking their guffawing faces into mine.  My cynical, mid-westerner side was getting a lot of material.  “They can’t be serious. How can I get out of this?  We are really in California now,” I muttered.  But the laughing yogis just wouldn’t stop. Over and over each one came up and pressed their face into mine guffawing with the over the top, cartoonish, awful laughter.  After a while the absurdity of it did make me laugh a little (ok, my laughter was out of judgment, but still—).  I tried to force laugh my best and finally walked away waving, “Ok, bye laughing yogis!” (you idiots)  A few steps down the beach I stopped and realized something—my depression had lifted.

Below GloZell gives you a lesson in laughing: 

The Dalai Lama, Happiness, and Fart Jokes

 

The Dalai Lama, Happiness, and Fart Jokes

The Dalai Lama is not only a leading religious figure in the world, he is a leading world humanitarian.  His mission to spread the practices of compassion and unity have made him a savior in the eyes of many.  For his followers he is the literal reincarnation of the Buddha. 

His ideas about creating a happy life have primarily to do with the value of developing warm heartedness through a compassionate mind.  The Dalai Lama promotes that we are social creatures—that our contentedness depends on the ability to support and love others.  He states that many people are “I” centered—that they live life mostly out of an attitude of, “What’s in it for me?” (or my immediate family – “We four and no more.”)  This attitude naturally generates a feeling of distrust, competition, and suspicion in relationship to all others.  Because they are then cut off from deep connection with others, they generate loneliness and depression in their lives. Materialism becomes a way to medicate this pain. Media figures are celebrated, money becomes the end goal of life, and sense pleasures such as entertainment, food, travel, drugs, etc., become the predominant activity of life.

In the meantime, because there is not a lack of resources but a lack of compassion for others, society suffers rampant poverty, depression, isolation, and crime. 

Friendship is also a necessity for happiness in his philosophy.  If we are habitually entering life from an “I” centered perspective, the habits of distrust, competition, and suspicion also keep us from forming deeply intimate friendships.  We may say we “have friends” but still experience an emptiness and loneliness that has to do with the limited nature of those friendships.  Even within these friendships our hearts and minds can be somewhat closed.

Another big key to happiness according the Dalai Lama is recognizing that we are all the same.  We give up the idea that some people are innately better, more worthy, or more special than others.   In the need to be seen as special our seeds to unhappiness are sewn.  This need for specialness operates as another way to feel good but leaves us in isolation—disconnected from others in being “special” and as a result disconnected from our own inner well-being.

The important concept is not the intellectual agreement of such basic humanitarian ideas as compassion or love, but the actual practicing of them in our thinking and behaviors.  Many people can espouse the ideas of compassion and love while investing in businesses that enslave others, be competitive or cruel in their dealings with people, support legislation that increases prejudice, support unethical wars, and ignore the poverty surrounding them.  Is this compassion?  Is this love?

Lastly the Dalai Lama promotes that we pay attention to the progress that is being made. We don’t want to ignore the upsurges in organic farming, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the progress in sustainable energy, the millions working in social services, the progress in equal rights for women, African Americans, and the LGBT community, the spread of meditation, yoga, and other methods of expanding consciousness.  In the gratitude of what is working we also generate our happiness and our ability to contribute to others.

Below the Dalai Lama talks about happiness, specialness, and farts:

THE "G" WORD

 

“I don’t  believe there is a God, I know there is a God.”                                                                                                                                              -Carl Jung                                                                        

God is a touchy subject in psychology—for that matter so is Love (more on that later).  Certainly the field of psychology is not geared to benefit only those with a belief in the almighty.  Agnostics, atheists, those who are deeply religious, folks who are completely indifferent about this “God thing”— all are able to benefit from psychotherapy. 

Still, it’s hard to get away from God when talking about psychology. Carl Jung, one of the most highly regarded psychologists in history,  broke with Freud over his theory of the “collective unconscious.” The theory states that we all come from the same pool of consciousness. According to Jung there is no such thing as an absolute individual.  Further, within this pool we all have the capacity to express any “archetype”  (personality type) of the human experience—from the darkest villain to the holiest saint. If this sounds suspiciously like an argument for the existence of God, well, it kinda is.  

Jung also became fascinated with the symbol of the circle in his teachings.  He called the circle “the great primordial image of mankind—that in considering the circle we are analyzing the self. It expresses the totality of the psyche in all its aspects, including the relationship of man (and woman) and the whole of nature.  Through the ritual action [of drawing the circle], attention and interest are led back to the inner, sacred precinct, which is the source and goal of the psyche and contains the unity of life and consciousness."  Joseph Campbell, a friend of Jung, says the circle is, “representative of the center from which you’ve come back to which you go…it is the alpha and the omega.” The circle represents the coming and going from a source—whether that being from the womb to the tomb, the body’s journey from the earth back to dust, or the souls journey from God to the body and back to God. 

Let’s look at another idea concerning God and therapy.  If God is Love, as so many have stated, there’s no need to talk about spirituality in therapy.  As long as Love exists in the therapeutic relationship, we could, from this definition say that God is in the therapy.  But psychology usually doesn’t like the word Love any more than it likes the word God.  Theories such as Humanism tend to favor concepts such as having “unconditional positive regard” for a client.  Attachment theory talks about developing “positive attachments” with others—ultimately both are talking about Love.  Inner child work as coined by John Bradshaw does actually state that we need to Love our inner child.  Uh oh, God is creeping back in.

Further, I once knew a man who said he went to a therapist with a problem with alcoholism. The therapist said, “I can’t help you with that.  You need to go to Alcoholics Anonymous.  I don’t know why it works, but it does.”  Statistically A.A. is by far the most successful treatment for the often life debilitating and even life threatening problem of addiction.  As a result most therapists are trained to refer their clients to twelve steps if they are in the midst of treating an addiction. Therapy can help in the recovery but it is generally not intensive enough for the addict. The twelve steps are about developing a relationship with a “higher power” and surrendering your powerlessness  over the addiction to that higher power.  Through this surrendering the addiction if often successfully treated.  That God thing is coming through the door again.  

Another form of treatment becoming popularized in psychology is Mindfulness.  Mindfulness is a form of meditation whose origin can be traced to Buddhism.  It teaches the practitioner to “witness” his or her own thoughts.  This “witnessing” is essentially a way of giving up identification with the neurotic mind and begin identifying with something called pure consciousness. Others would call it, ahh, yeah—God consciousness.

While the physicist Stephen Hawking famously says, “There is no God.” Albert Einstein said, “I want to know the thoughts of God, the rest is mere details.” One thing we can probably agree on is that whether we need God or not is up to us, whether we need Love or not is a no brainer—we all need it.

Below Joseph Campbell discusses Jung, the circle of life, and God: 

HOW'S YOUR DRAGON?

According to the late author and teacher Joseph Campbell, mythology teaches that we all carry destructive “dragons” in our unconscious.  Dragons are learned conditional patterns in your psyche that constrain you. They are messages internalized from the culture or family that say you shall do something to be valued, approved of, or fit in: you shall make money your life goal, you shall have children, you shall belong to a certain religion, you shall not exceed your father’s or mother’s success, you shall not be an artist, you shall become a banker, you shall be heterosexual, you shall hide your ethnicity, you shall smoke, you shall get married, buy a house, become a house keeper, get a college degree, become an alcoholic (like the rest of us), etc.  Some of these “shalls” could fit your authentic life, others will not. 

Campbell teaches that the ancient tradition of slaying the dragon was metaphorical for slaying these “shalls.”  In the story of the warrior who slays the dragon, the warrior approaches the dead dragon and finds that on each scale of the dragon is written the words “thou shalt.”   The warrior then tastes the blood of the slain dragon—that is, he internalizes the power that it took to slay it.  He is then ready to lead his true, authentic life.

So what does this slaying of the dragon entail in real time?  It entails approaching and overcoming (i.e. slaying) the internal fears and doubts that hold you back.  This could look like psychotherapy, silent meditation retreats, twelve-step recovery from heroin addiction, alcohol, gambling, or sex addiction, etc. We could do primal scream therapy, deep grief work, Al-anon recovery, codependency recovery, etc.

When we are “running from the dragon” we are acting out our fears.  A friend of mine recently made a movie on heroin addiction.  One of the actors, a recovered addict himself, actually relapsed, overdosed and died shortly after the movie was released.  The dragon of addiction can be a treacherous one to slay. The“slaying” is usually a lifetime challenge.  One might get a good amount of recovery and turn their back only to find the dragon has recovered and coming back at them. 

The book Eat Pray Love is a true-life depiction about the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, who finds herself married, in a suburban lifestyle, and suffocating. She is living a “thou shalt” life.  Miss Gilbert didn’t want to be married, have a house, or get pregnant. She was doing what her dragon told her to do— what she “shalt” do to fit in, be accepted, etc.  She has a nervous break down, picks up the sword of her own truth, and goes on a journey of self-discovery by leaving everything behind and seeking teachers in Bali, Italy, and India.  In the process she “slays her dragons” and finds a life of deep authenticity and tremendous success. 

Oprah Winfrey recounts how as an impoverished girl in Mississippi she watched her grandmother hang laundry on lines outside.  The women in the family were traditionally all maids.  Her grandmother said to Oprah, “Now you watch me, you’re going to do this one day.” (i.e. be a maid).  Winfrey remembers even then saying to herself, “No, I’ll never do what you’re doing.”  Oprah was slaying thou shalt dragons early on. 

When we take our own authentic adventure into life we require a certain ferocity that throws off the “thou shalts” that do not fit, and also adopt others that will.  “I shall remain sober.”  “I shall become wealthy and contribute to society.”  “I shall become an artist.”  “I shall serve humanity in my career.”  “I shall devote myself to a spiritual path.” or, unlike my family, “I shall become an atheist.”  The key is that you find what is authentic to you and no one else.

Below Joseph Campbell talks on your Dragon issue.  Take a look:

WHAT ARE YOU AFFIRMING?

Affirmations have gotten a bit of a bad rap.  Some of that is well deserved, some not so much.  The idea of using affirmations to put a happy face on everything, see only the sunny side of life, or walk around with a plastic smile, is going to get a lot of us nauseous.  

Still, if we broaden the definition of what affirmations are maybe it can be easier to stomach. When considering that we are actually constantly using affirmations with what we think and say, we might want to take a pause and look at these affirmation things.  

According to author Louise Hay, whatever you affirm as the truth about your life becomes your reality.   You may be affirming something like, “I never have enough money” or, “I love money it comes to me so easily.”  Either one can be considered an affirmation of your relationship with money that will then get out pictured as your life experience with the amount of cash flowing your way.  The argument usually goes, “But I really don’t ever have enough money, am I supposed to lie about it?”—umm, yeah, kind of.

If “I love money” is too big of a stretch for you, maybe your new affirmation could be, “I’ve always had enough money to pay for what I need.  I am up for the challenges I’ve had with prosperity and am now welcoming an abundance of money into my life.”  This can help you practice a more gentle affirmation that stretches past the deep doubt you carry.  When you get good with this gentle stretch and more money does start flowing, then try a more simple, direct affirmation like, “Money flows to me easily and effortlessly.”

“Am I supposed to use affirmations for everything?”—your mind might argue again. Remember, you already are using affirmations for everything.  It’s just that most of the affirmations you use are probably negative: “I’ll never get what I want”, “Other people are special, that’s why they get what they want—like Oprah, look at Oprah. I’m nothing like Oprah!”, “Nobody loves me”, “No one in my family has money”, “I’m trapped in this marriage, job, house, etc.”, and the ever popular, “I’m not good enough.”  Any of these sound familiar?  They may be your affirmations! 

Choose affirmations that serve your highest good and all those around you.  Then phrase them in the positive, not the negative.  It isn't helpful to use a negative affirmation such as, "I'm no longer poor. I give up poverty."  Giving up being poor is not the same as becoming abundant. State the same affirmation in the positive, such as: "All my needs are met.  Money flows to me easily."  

To back up a bit, we do sometimes need time to cry, scream, be angry, mourn, and even get depressed in the face of loss, tragedy, and heart break.  It’s just that there is a big difference between affirming, “I feel heart broken, but I know I’ll be ok” and, “I can’t go on without her, I might as well kill myself.”  These two “affirmations” can lead to drastically different results.

Let’s talk about the subconscious and the conscious minds.  If these two minds are divergent in their beliefs, you got a problem.   That is, if your subconscious believes you’ll never have enough money, but you consciously want money, the subconscious, which is bigger and stronger, will win out.  We want to get the conscious mind and subconscious mind to work together and converge on the same goal.  Affirmations help us with this convergence.  They help us interrupt the subconscious mind’s negative self-talk that is continually creating negative outcomes.

Maybe we can start stretching, start affirming a little more hope, a little more courage, and a little more love to ourselves.  Maybe we can eventually get comfortable with affirmations like: “Marriage is for me.  Love comes to me easily."  “My body is getting stronger every day.”  “My new job is providing so much prosperity for me.  I can feel it.”  “I love driving my new car.”

Affirmations are most powerfully understood when we feel the corresponding emotions.  Try feeling what is in your heart when you repeat out loud three times the words, “Life is hopeless. I’ll never get what I want.”   Now try, “Life is on my side. It is always supporting my best outcome. I can trust life.”   Those feelings in your heart are the building blocks of your life experience. 

What are you affirming?  If you want to see the beliefs you carry, just look at your life circumstances—they tell the story of what you are affirming in habitual thinking. 

This week we honor the recently deceased Louise Hay, of Hay House Publishing.  Miss Hay was a leader in the mental health field and an author on the power of affirmations. 

Take a listen:

YOU GOT SOME SERIOUS CHOICES

"The choices we make will determine whether we pass on the sludge or the wisdom to the next generation." - Caroline Myss

Once we reach adulthood the name of the life game is choice.  Somewhere around age twenty or so we move out of the child position of complete dependence on others into the adult world of independence.  Funny thing is, even though our bodies reach adult size, we sometimes still think we are helpless children. 

We can still think we “don’t have a choice” when we make life decisions.   “I know I have diabetes but I didn’t have a choice about eating that pie, it was so good!”  “I didn’t have a choice about hitting him, he pushed me to the brink.”  “I know I’m out of control with sex, but all men are.”  “I had to find the rent money somewhere, that’s why I broke into the house your honor.”  

When we are stuck in childhood we tend to pick a new parent to blame or justify our bad choices:  the government, the boss, the judge, the school officials, the police, the landlord, the husband, the wife, the. . . fill in the blank—anything but take responsibility for the choices that created the current set of circumstances. 

Let’s be a little compassionate here.  If we were knocked around as a kid emotionally, psychologically, or physically, we might not have been given the tools to take on this thing called true adult hood.  We could be  “developmentally delayed” due to what we didn’t receive in terms of love, support, and guidance as children.   We could end up in the body of a thirty year old with the mind of a sixteen year old—wondering what happened and blaming the world for our problems. 

We might have to seek out a mentor, therapist, or guide that can help us learn to grow up, be accountable to our actions, and live in integrity.  For instance sometimes people will complain about not having money and make only half hearted attempts at getting a job.  A person might be sleeping around and complaining about their lack of relationships.  Someone might have an alcohol problem and wonder why they are depressed all the time.  It can help for another adult to look at these people and say, “You are creating this by doing what you’re doing, stop it.”

To be fair, there are an alarmingly low number of true adults in the world these days.  Many people are out to get there’s with little regard to how it effects others, society, and the planet as a whole.  A child in an adult body can be a dangerous combination:  greed, environmental degradation, addiction, domestic violence, obesity, wall street corruption, politicians in bed with lobbyists . . . the list is seemingly endless as to the damage those who don’t grow up can do to themselves and others. 

The idea of taking a hundred percent responsibility for our lives can seem daunting but if you want to lead an empowered, fulfilling life, its required.  Otherwise it is very easy to feel like a lost child in the world.

Depending on our choices we are going to end up in pain or wisdom says author Caroline Myss.  Our bad choices always catch up to us regardless of how well meaning we may have been, or how innocent we believed ourselves to be while making them.  We will either master our decisions and guide our lives with wisdom, or learn how much suffering it costs us not to.  She says we have to walk our talk, live an integrous life.  We need to be honest with ourselves and others at all times.  Myss advises that we make the choice to take risks—not hunker down and play our cards safe to avoid humiliation.  This hunkering down can lead to a death grip of stagnation on our lives.  Myss further recommends we change our choice of words and stop using “blame", “deserve",  and “entitled” .  She is talking about how we use these words to shun responsibility and think someone else should take care of us, give us what we want, and tuck us into bed. 

You are a strong adult, capable of more than you know.  You can make the wise decisions, take the responsibility, and be a beacon for others.  If you need help getting there just ask.  The world is full of coaches, therapists, mentors, sponsors, and business advisors to help you on your way.   

Below Caroline Myss gives her Ted Talk on Choices at the Findhorn Foundation.  Take a look:

LET'S TALK ABOUT YOUR FAMILY

Everyone, whether they had a big group, a single parent group, an adopted group, or a foster group— comes from a group of relationships called the family. 

In family systems theory the family has what’s called homeostasis.  Homeostasis is, “the tendency of any set relationships to strive perpetually in self-corrective ways, to preserve the organizing principles of its existence.”  To put it more simply, homeostasis is how the family decides to get along, what are the rules, rituals, roles, and myths are, and how are these are reinforced.  Each family can have a unique homeostasis.

The family might have rituals like:  We eat every night at six o’clock.  We go to church on Sunday.  We all watch football on Sunday.  We go to grandma’s house once a month.  Dad and mom drink every night while the kids watch T.V.  We decorate the Christmas tree every year at the same time. 

The family system might have rules like:  No one gets openly mad at dad.  Kids are seen but not heard. No hitting each other. We don’t curse.  No one talks about mom’s drinking.  Complaining gets you what you want.  Doing what you are told gets you what you want.  Being different than the rest of the family is going to get you in trouble.  Mom holds the anxiety for the family.  

There are family roles.  These are roles that children adopt around innate talents, needs to seen, needs to feel safe, or needs for approval:  Jane is the hero child who takes care of everyone.   Tommy is the family problem.  Sally is the artist. Bob is the good boy.  Tim is the rebel musician. 

The family has myths—stories told over and over that honor ancestors and give the family a sense of identity:  Our family has been making whiskey in these hills for ninety years.  Our great grandpa came from Italy and started the olive oil business.  We have been farming this land since 1901. 

In family systems theory a family member’s mental health is viewed in terms of how high their level of“differentiation” is from other members.  That is, how capable a family member is in being their true selves within the system.

Members who experience a high level of anxiety in their family generally achieve a low level of differentiation.  They tend to respond to the family stress by repressing their emotions and needs— and looking to others for cues on how to behave.  They come out of the family being undifferentiated, co-dependent, or unsure of themselves.

Members who are able to experience their families with low anxiety levels tend to have a higher level of differentiation.  They are generally more confident in expressing their feelings and needs, disagreeing with others, and living out their true selves within the system while still remaining close to family members.  They enter the world with a stronger core self, feel sure in their decision making, and faith that they can achieve.

How differentiated a family member becomes follows them throughout their lives unless they are able to do the work of differentiation once they leave. 

For example, if a mother comes into therapy with anxiety issues we might discover that she “holds” the anxiety for other family members.  She may have grown up as a child hero—a caretaker who continually self-sacrifices and worries.  She may be constantly involved in taking care of the details of the household.  In this way her husband is free to work, golf, and pay the bills knowing that his wife is taking care of his anxiety and the anxiety of the children.  He can dump on her at the end of the day.  She will take care of the children’s needs and tantrums.  She won’t talk to him too much about her fears.  She will remain quiet.  She may pull her “good boy” son into the marriage (i.e. triangulate him) by confiding her fears more to her son than to her husband.

The therapy for this woman might include bringing in the family and having them discuss their treatment of each other— and how they can each take more responsibility for their own anxiety.  It might involve encouraging the woman to talk to her family about new boundaries, to address her husband directly, discuss how she is no longer going to be a dumping ground, or ask that he listen to her concerns as much as he she listens to his.  She may be encouraged to let her son be a child and stop confiding in him, and to let the children deal with more of their own problems without rescuing them, etc. 

The rules and boundaries for this woman and for the family system will become healthier.  The homeostasis willmature. Each family member can become more differentiated.  She may find that her anxiety lessens, that she is more assertive, that she feels more empowered, and that she allows others in the family to become more empowered. 

What was your role, your rituals, or your myths you grew up with in your family system?  How differentiated did you become?  Where do you feel you are still holding back, being undifferentiated, looking to others for how to live? 

In the movie American Beauty, a family system in desperate need of therapy hits a breaking point as the dysfunctional homeostasis breaks down, the rules and roles shift, and the members’ grope for greater differentiation.

In the second video Mometrix Academy breaks down the Bowen Family System.

Take a look: 

THE CHANGE MONSTER

Most of us fear change.  It’s not a great recipe for effective living—since life is always changing.  Why is it that change can feel so threatening?  The basic problem, according to Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, is that somewhere we decided that we are not ok, and we need to find a way to fix that problem.  Our minds then try to get the outside world into a fixed, permanent state that feels safe.  When fear of change arises our tendency is to go into denial of that fear and start reacting to the world.  This puts us into an unconscious, neurotic state of handling life’s challenges.

We tend to want to control the world and build an isolated bunker where we can feel safe:  making money the main goal in life, staying stuck in a “safe” government job, fighting for a bad marriage, believing you are trapped, never leaving your hometown for fear of the unfamiliar, turning down a promotion because you will have to move, eating, drinking, or taking drugs to numb the fear of change.

Still, maybe you do believe you have life safely arranged but regardless of how hard you try, life keeps changing:  your boyfriend wants to move in, the house burns down, the rich spouse gets sick and can’t work, the kids your life revolved around leave for college, someone dies, the business starts to fail, the business succeeds and consumes all your time, the government lays you off, you fall in love with your married coworker, you’re in an addiction from medicating fear, you get promoted and sent to China—life just won’t stand still and let you be.

Singer says that our job is not to make life a predictable, static thing that never changes so we can feel ok.  He recommends that with mindfulness training we learn to watch the fear, allow it to move through our hearts, and release it.  This may sound over simplistic but see if you can experiment with it. The next time you are in a state of fear around change start focusing on your breathing, allow the fear to come up, see if you can watch it without any attempt to move away.  You may find that the fear gets bigger but then actually moves through and dissipates with this simple practice.  After the fear is alleviated your thinking will also be clearer on how to make decisions to handle change most effectively.  Remember, mindfulness needs to be practiced continually to be effective. When change is coming to you the neurotic mind is often looking for a way to take control and build a bunker against it.  You are stronger than that.  Take a breath, watch the change monster rising, stay with it, and see it transformed into a little kitten.

Below Michael Singer talks to Oprah about facing the change monster:

WHERE’S YOUR BLISS?

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”  - Joseph Campbell

We can be talked out of our bliss by a lot of people.  “You’ll never make any money writing.”  “The odds of succeeding as an artist are next to nill.” “We can’t afford college.”  “Being a basketball player is such a long shot.”  “Starting a business is really risky.” “Make sure you are safe.”  “Get a real job.”  “There’s no money in teaching.”

Joseph Campbell was a professor and prolific author most known for his work in comparative mythology. Campbell travelled the world and studied the commonalities in cultural storytelling.   He found that myths across the world have the same basic themes that he coined, “The Hero’s Journey” (see the You Are a Hero post).  This work was also what George Lucas loosely based his Star Wars saga after.  One of Campbell’s most famous ideas was that if you want to find your fulfillment in life,  “Follow your bliss.” He says that the things in life that bring us bliss are also polestars to our authentic life.

Can anyone deny the wisdom of this?  How many people who truly live a fulfilling life don't follow their bliss or passion?  For example:  Obama’s love of politics, a doctor or nurse’s love of medicine, Bill Gate’s love of computers, Ansel Adam’s love of nature and photography, Einstein’s love of science, Frank Lloyd Wright’s love of architecture, Joseph Campbell’s love of myth and teaching, a gardener’s love of horticulture, Albert Cullum’s love of teaching.  Elon Musk’s love of technology in building PayPal, Tesla, and Space X. 

The simplicity of following your bliss brings our thinking from the head to the heart, from fear to love.   We are also invited into a deep level of trust, courage, commitment, and work ethic. We agree to confront all the fear based messages of society that work to keep us pinned down, struggling for money, or fearful of losing it.

I have treated many people suffering from depression and anxiety issues that are largely a result of spending their lives doing things they hated.  They bought the premise that they are trapped, less than, should settle, or otherwise give up on what would actually bring them a sense of joy, purpose, and bliss in life.

One retired man I spoke to said, “I take all these fancy vacations, but the thing that really fulfills me is my work at the animal shelter.”  What is it that will give you flow or bliss in your life?  Is there something nagging at you— a project, book, instrument, business, or passion that is lying in wait for you?  Can you take a step towards it?  It is yours— always has been, always will be. 

Below Joseph Campbell talks to Bill Moyers on “following your bliss.”  Take a listen:

 

SO WHAT DID YOU LEARN?

How you were educated probably had a bigger wallop on your life than you realize.  What was your schooling like?  Were you taught critical thinking?  How to be creative?  How to form a business?  How to communicate?  How to play?  How to learn with joy?  Or were you taught about Jack and Jill running up a hill, a math class in neat boring rows with equally bored teachers, a way to regurgitate facts and then forget them as soon as the test was over, how to pass a fill in the bubble test?

The way you were educated also informed your sense of self-worth, what your possibilities for life were, and your capacity to achieve them.  Many of our school systems are struggling to pass their students through the basic fundamentals.  The failures of the U.S. educational system are now widely documented. 

Some teachers have broken through the fray of mediocrity.  Jamie Escalante of Los Angeles broke through barriers of what poor students in East L.A. could learn.  He taught calculus to kids who were thought to only be capable of math basics.  He was immortalized in the movie Stand and Deliver.   Lean On Me was another movie that told the true story of Joe Clark, an African American principal who overcame great odds in New Jersey to turn around his failing school.

Robert Kiyosaki, of the Rich Dad Poor Dad book series, created the play money board game Cashflow.  His goal is to get the game, which teaches how to invest and grow money, into the public school system.

If you were not seen for your talents, encouraged to pursue them, or given the help you needed and the mentors to guide you, you may have given up on what would bring you the fulfillment you desire.  Have you considered going back to school?  Getting a degree in something you actually care about this time?  Getting your first degree?  Being trained as a firefighter?  Learning how to build a business?  Many universities offer adult extension courses for the public.  They also offer degrees that can be obtained by going to school one weekend a month to accommodate working people.  A friend of mine went back to business school and now leads Omaze (omaze.com), a new kind of for profit business that combines raising money with charitable giving. 

A Touch of Greatness is a wonderful documentary about Albert Cullum of New York who, after being bored himself as an elementary school teacher, decided to start using play as a form of teaching.  His young students were given confidence by being challenged with Shakespeare and other great literature, using play as therapy, and feeling loved in the process.  His students ended up becoming teachers, play writes, business leaders, doctors, historical preservationists—the list goes on.  Did these early experiences in elementary school shape their careers?  His students verdict—absolutely.

Take a look:

 

HELP WITH DEATH

Death is a rough time for all of us.  When a loved one dies there is a lot we go through.  Elizabeth Kubler Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist who, after spending hundreds of hours with dying people, discovered five universal stages of the grieving process. These stages are fluid.  They may seem linear but they can often be overlapping, revisited more than once, or gone through simultaneously. 

Each succeeding stage of grief becomes more dominant over time as we move through the grieving process.  The stages miss Ross detailed in her book, On Death and Dying are:

Denial:  Denial can take different forms.  We can deny our loved one has a terminal illness and cling to the notion that they will get better in the face of obvious deterioration.  Alternatively, once someone has passed, we can go numb and be in denial that the death actually happened.  Denial acts as a kind of shock absorber to our nervous system.  It allows us to approach grief slowly, without becoming disabled by it. 

Anger:  Anger is also experienced in a multitude of ways.  You may be angry with the doctors, God, the addiction that lead to death, even the person who died.  Anger allows us to take a step closer to the loss. 

Bargaining: If the person hasn’t died yet we may make bargains with God that we will change, donate money, change places, or otherwise sacrifice to ward off death.  After someone has passed bargaining involves obsessing on the details of the death.  This could include what lead up to the loss, how it could have happened, what we could have done differently.  This is our mind’s attempt to undo the unacceptable.  Once we realize we cannot undo the death, we move into the next stage of grieving.

Depression: This is where we finally experience the full weight of the loss and realize we cannot change it.  This is not neurotic, clinical depression, but a healthy way of processing the loss.  If we do not allow the depression it can become stuck in our psyche and experienced as ongoing, clinical depression.

Acceptance: Acceptance of death happens after we have fully grieved, cried, yelled, and done whatever we need to fully experience the loss.  Acceptance is the last stage of grieving and is the place we learn to live the “new normal” without our loved one. We may still feel pain when we think of the person, but we will not be disabled by it.  We will have grown stronger and wiser for having gone through the loss.

We can become stuck in unresolved grief if we don't get the help we need.  This takes place when we resist the loss or lack the tools to process our pain.  We may drink, refuse to cry, refuse to talk about it, hold in our anger, act out in an addiction, sink into clinical depression—even become suicidal. 

Rituals are essential ways of getting help grieving deep loss. Rituals are things such as:   going to the funeral or wake, gathering with others who knew the loved one, honoring the loved one’s memory with story telling, writing letters to them, joining a grief support group, seeking a therapist.  All of these rituals and more can serve to help support us through the grief process. 

Rituals can also help us process the loss of pets.  A church in Los Angeles has a “Pet Support Group” for members who have lost an animal family member. 

When helping someone else through grief it is important to be with them and not try to “fix” their feelings.  A priest I heard speak on death noted that he was shocked, when after losing his wife, his friends were consoling him with the same kinds of words he had used for years to help families going through the grieving process. His shock was that the words of comfort his friends offered, while attempting to be consoling, were experienced by him as attempts to shut down his feelings, not support him in going through them.  They were statements like, “It was her time,” “She’s with God now,”  “She’s in a better place,” “She’s out of pain,” or, “This is a blessing in disguise.”  These kinds of statements, while well meaning, don’t create space for the grieving person to experience the loss.  They can be heard as uncomfortable efforts to avoid facing the loss full on.

It could be better to offer statements that allow space for grief such as, “I’m here if you need to talk”, “This must be so hard”,  “It’s so hard to lose her” or,  “Can I do anything or do you just want me to sit with you?”  It can also be helpful to simply cry with the person, hold them, or share in the pain in whatever way they ask you to.

Below “Counseling Carl” details the five stages of grief.  Take a look:  

STOP THAT TRAIN!

Most of your thinking is useless.  That’s just a fact for 99 percent of us (I’m leaving out Eckhart Tolle, the no-thinking rock star).  The mind, as we recently discovered, is a Monkey (see the You Have A Monkey post:  https://www.charlesrosasco.com/blog/2017/6/20/you-have-a-monkey

The unchecked mind is constantly churning out useless tidbits of information that are usually fear based. Have you ever noticed that when a fearful thought starts, it sounds like a train starting its engines—  “Oh, my rent is due.”  Then it picks up slowly—  “Rent comes so fast.  I’ll never get ahead.”  Then it leaves the station— “What am I going to do when I get older?  How will I ever have enough for retirement?”   Its really moving now— “What if I become homeless?  Who will take care of me?  I can’t survive if I’m homeless!”  Now it’s barreling down the tracks—   “This country doesn’t care about me.  Nobody really cares about me!”  That train is really moving and it’s about to crash into a full on panic attack or debilitating depression.  You may even be anxious right now after having read this fictitious dialogue!

But what if you stopped that train the minute you noticed it starting the engines?  What if right after you said to yourself, “Rent comes so fast.  I’ll never get ahead”, you answered yourself with, “Is this useful?”  or, “Is that true?”  These might be considered questions from the “witnessing mind” referred to in mindfulness teachings.  When you find out the anxious thoughts are not useful, or that actually you have gotten ahead in life from when you were in high school or last year, you stop the "thinking train", set a new destination for it, and free up your energy.  Your train’s new journey might be, “What business can I start to make more money?” or, “How can I buy a place and stop paying rent?” or “Isn’t it great that I always have the money for rent?”, or “Is it time to ask for a raise?”   You give the mind train a new assignment, change your destination, and free up energy for action

The fear based train’s “actions” would probably be to “circle the drain” into panic, fear and depression. It’s destination would likely be to keep yourself stagnated, get a drink, or see if Oprah has a new show on. 

Maybe you can start questioning your mind, see if what it is thinking about is useful, and set yourself a new destination.  This is the essence of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)— looking at the unexamined thoughts and behaviors that have been conditioned by the past, changing the thoughts if they are self-destructive, and changing the corresponding behaviors.  Yes, this can seem like a lot of work, but have you ever considered the mountains of work involved in letting unexamined thought trains leave the station, go barreling a hundred miles an hour, and crash your life?

Below the "Mental Health Matters" dude shares his experience with stopping the train: 

MOVE YOUR BODY

Most of us in the west have a sedentary lifestyle.  It’s not a great way to live.  When the body is too still it becomes sluggish and the mind follows suit.  Exercising sounds like a drag to a lot of people.  Isn’t it a little scary that we have come to resent the need to move our bodies?  We have so many creature comforts we somehow think the good life consists of “taking it easy”, “relaxing”, eating, drinking, and “being merry.”  In the U.S. an enormous emphasis on sedentary entertainment is force-fed us every day.  For some people sitting, eating, and watching movies has become a substitute for living an active, adventurous life.

Ever seen those teen movies where the high school jocks are all walking around smiling, in great shape, and getting what they want?  Annoying right?  Yeah, maybe, but there are physiological and psychological reasons that exercise not only helps the body look good, but changes your mind—and your life.  Here are some of them:

1.  Exercising increases deep breathing. This can help balance emotions, detoxify the lymphatic system, assist with digestion by massaging the internal organs and moving waste out of the intestines, and eliminate excess carbon dioxide from the body.   

2.  Exercising is shown to improve blood and lymphatic circulation—reducing toxins and inflammation.  This increased circulation also gets more oxygen and nutrients to cells—keeping them healthier. 

3.  Exercising for the sweat of it.  The skin is said to be the “third kidney.”  It has a major role in detoxification through sweat.  Sweating releases toxins like salts and cholesterol as well as BPA—a modern toxin absorbed through plastics.  Sweating can also help prevent kidney stones.

4.  Get happy.  Stress relief is a well-known benefit of exercise.  The oxygenation of the blood, toxin elimination, and endorphins released during exercise are now well documented to increase mental clarity, increase happiness, and reduce stress. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, exercise is key for treating these issues. 

5.  Discipline is also a benefit of exercise.  As you discipline yourself in exercise you simultaneously train yourself to be self-disciplined about attaining goals in your life. 

Below the Raw Intuition guy guides you through the joys of exercise:

YOU’RE BEST THINKING GOT YOU HERE

Addiction is all throughout our society.  Addictions are essentially impulse disorders. That is, you have an uncomfortable feeling and you reach for something to medicate it with: sex, food, gambling, shopping, drugs, alcohol—even TV, video games, computers, and cell phones.   The problem with addictions is that while you don’t feel the uncomfortable feeling once medicated, the feeling has not gone away. It gets repressed, goes underground, and comes roaring back soon after your medication of choice wears off.  Each time this cycle of medicating feelings gets repeated, your life gets more and more messy.

The definition of an addiction is that it makes your life unmanageable in one or more areas:  You have a deep depression that comes back every time its not medicated—now its becoming suicidal thoughts.  Your relationships are a mess because of the addiction and your spouse has finally filed for divorce. You may experience violence, stealing, disease, legal issues, jail, obesity, debilitating anxiety, crippling debt, pervasive loneliness, extreme attention deficit, stagnation, etc.  It’s often said that the addiction, like a dark personality, has its own agenda—to either make your life miserable and put you in an institution, or kill you.  One sign of addiction is if you reach a state of “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.”

The best known cure for addictions is by far the twelve-step recovery program.  Founded by Bill Wilson and “Dr. Bob”, the twelve-step program was initially designed as a recovery format for alcoholism, that is, Alcoholics Anonymous, or “A.A.”. The twelve-step program has now been adopted for addictions of all kinds.  There is: Sex Addicts Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Smokers Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Clutterers Anonymous, Co-Dependents Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, and the list goes on. There is also a companion program, AL-Anon, for the co-addict—a person in relationship to the addicted person. 

The twelve-steps lead the participant through a process of getting a “sponsor” to walk them through the steps. In this process the addict learns to take accountability for their actions, turn over their will to a self-defined “higher power”, form a community of support, identify “bottom line behaviors” which they must abstain from, attend meetings, and be of service to others.  The process is meant to invoke a “spiritual awakening” in the member that results in sobriety, a more contented and productive life, and a life of service. 

Below are the twelve steps of A.A. Other programs replace the word “alcohol” for any substance or activity of choice that becomes addictive: 

1.    We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

2.   Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3.   Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4.   Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5.   Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6.   Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7.   Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8.   Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9.   Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10.        Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11.Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12.        Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The success of twelve-step recovery is unparalleled in the field of addiction.  If you think your life has become unmanageable you may want to check out a meeting and get a therapist who has experience in addiction treatment.  You can Google your addiction for a list of local meetings—and can even join meetings in phone formats.  If you think you have a problem but believe you know enough to do it on your own even after failing repeatedly, you may want to remember a slogan in the twelve-step program:  “Your best thinking got you here.”

Below “Austin” talks about joining A.A. and working Step 4, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” 

 

MIND YOUR ANXIETY GAP

Anxiety is not always neurotic.  For example, being anxious that walking down that dark alley might not be a safe short cut can be a healthy form of self-protection.  Being anxious that investing in a fund that seems “too good to be true” might protect you from Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme.  When I was in the London subway a message blared out as the train stopped and we were about to step on— “Mind the Gap.”  There was a gap between the platform and the train that you could step into if you weren’t careful.

Still, anxiety can also be neurotically triggered by a lot of non-threatening situations: you’re anxious about money even though you’ve always had enough, you’re anxious you’ll be late to the meeting even though your clock says you’re on time, you’re anxious you’ll be rejected on a date even though you don’t have any idea what this person is about yet or if you want to be with them, etc. 

In these situations we are usually projecting from the past into the future.  We are seeing things that aren’t there based on past conditioning. We might have had to be hyper vigilant as children to feel safe.   Maybe we came from an unpredictable alcoholic family,  maybe we didn't feel accepted socially, we could have been an outcast minority, had a handicap, struggled keeping up in school, etc.  When we go through enough fear based situations growing up we can have a lot of “free floating” anxiety around the challenges of life.  We can remain hyper vigilant around  when there is no need to . While life is always in “the now”, we project our fear based “What ifs” into the future.    What if I don’t have enough money to retire?  What if he rejects me?  What if I end up divorced?  This “What if?” thinking creates a neurotic gap between the present now of life and the future.  That gap is then  filled with free floating anxiety. 

We want to “mind the gap” and close it.  Emotional Freedom Technique is one way to close the gap.  In EFT we tap on meridian points, welcome the anxiety, let it move through us, and then ground ourselves into present time with affirmations.  The first rounds of EFT tapping might have statements like, “I’m so scared,” “I feel lost”, or “All this fear.”  The last rounds would affirm statements such as “I’m safe”, “I have all I need”, “I’m protected.”  EFT helps lower cortisol levels (the anxiety inducing hormone excreted by the amygdala gland) and lets the brain process challenges without undue fear or anxiety.  We can then get clear on the next reasonable action to take in handling a problem.  In short, we mind the gap and close it.

Check out this video by Brad Yates on closing your anxiety gap.

 

YOU HAVE A MONKEY

The phrase “Monkey Mind” refers to the idea that everyone, for some or most of their lives, has a very active mind that is jumping from subject to subject.  This jumping creates undue stress, anxiety, or anger. 

You may be driving down the street thinking, “Tina makes me so angry.  She never shows up for me. Who does she think she is?   Shoot, did I turn off the coffee pot?  I think I did.  What if it burns down the apartment building?  I can’t go back now . . . ugh, I hope work is slow today, I’m so tired.  I bet Tina isn’t at work.  I’m so hungry.  I have to stop and eat.  I’ll be late.  It doesn’t matter.  Wow the car needs a wash and I’m almost out of gas again.   Who has time for car washes?  I bet Tina is home eating donuts and watching The View.  She’s so lazy.  Hey!  Watch where you’re going idiot!” 

Is it any wonder we get stressed?  That is a lot for the mind to process on one drive—and each thought has an associated feeling these thoughts are generating. In the above example most of the associated feelings would be of the fearful, angry, anxious brand.  Who wouldn’t want to take a pill, a drink, or a toke of something after a full day of these Monkey Mind thoughts? . . . Anything to get that Monkey to shut up. 

Meditation is one way to quiet the Monkey Mind.  There are many types of mediations:  using mantra, affirmations, different hand positions, and guided meditations (check out the app Headspace, www.headspace.com).   The simplest meditation is to just pay attention to the breath and watch the Monkey Mind thoughts spin without following them.  This helps you stop getting caught up in the Monkey Mind and realize that there is a separate, witnessing part of your consciousness that remains in stillness.  As the identification with this witnessing consciousness grows, so does your coinciding peace and focus. 

Many people tell me, “I can’t mediate.  My mind is too loud.”  What they are really saying is that they don’t understand what mediation is.  They probably have an idea that meditation is listening to chimes and floating in a peaceful nirvana state on a woodsy mountaintop.   While this may be achievable after years of mediation, the more common version is to just sit, breath, and watch the “ Monkey Mind” jump.

A long time meditator gets better at not getting caught up in their Monkey Mind throughout the day when they are driving, working, or dealing with Tina. They learn to come back to the breath, identify with a still point within themselves, and watch the Monkey jump—and let Tina, well, just be Tina.

Check out the video below for a quick overview of the Monkey Mind meditation: