Tag Archives: Emotions

The Pursuit of Happiness…Sadness, Fear, Guilt & Anger

tinybuddhaThe pursuit of happiness can leave us feeling miserable. This sounds a little odd given I’m posting on Independence Day, but hear me out.

Our right to happiness is so engrained in our psyches, it’s the basis of our Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It’s the theme of our life’s purpose. It’s the right we own as Americans. Happiness, happiness, happiness. It’s the 21st century zeitgeist. Type the word into Amazon.com and you’ll get 20 pages of recently published books about “obtaining” this emotion. These books tell us we can earn happiness through business success, wealth, meditation, life coaching, positive thinking, changing our lives, having more money, having less money, on and on.

Take a moment and ask yourself, what happiness means to you. Formulate it in one sentence (go ahead, I’ll wait). Can you do it?

Happiness is not a bad thing. It’s the working hard to obtain happiness that creates confusion. Like gerbils running on a wheel to “catch” happiness, we’re condemning any other feelings. We see those emotions as getting in the way of our one-size-fits-all happiness that will solve all problems. We cannot heal when happiness is a goal. We cannot see what’s in front of us when we refuse to look away from our quest for bliss.

Every single day, people walk into my office suffering from anxiety. At the core of this state of being is avoidance of feeling more difficult emotions. They’ll do whatever it takes to keep from the discomfort of sadness or anger; staying too busy, dissociating, drinking heavily, complaining about others, binge eating. They say, “I just want to be happy.”

But, we can’t just be happy. We’re complex beings. Our emotions are our soul’s response to life’s situations. Sadness tells us we’ve lost something. Anger charges us to set boundaries. Fear sends signals we’re vulnerable. If we ignore these, we create despair that sits in our psyches and – one way or another – will demand attention.

How do we pull from other internal resources if we refuse to notice what’s occurring within ourselves? Our wakefulness, our willingness to be present to what’s happening in the moment helps us be whole. Psychologist and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction pioneer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, refers to this as living our full dimensionality. In his book, FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING, Kabat-Zinn states:

Since no map completely describes a territory, ultimately it has to be experienced for us to know it, navigate within it and, benefit from its unique gifts. It has to be inhabited or, at the very least, visited from time to time, so we can experience directly, firsthand, for ourselves.

If we let go of and become present to what’s within us, we release the exhaustion of pursuit. One of the main principles of Mindfulness is acceptance. If we’re sad, we’re sad. If we’re tired, we’re tired. It’s then we develop self-compassion because we know how to meet our needs.

Allowing this full dimensionality is how we create our new reality. it is not a feel good pursuit as much as it is noticing and making space for the “negative” feelings without them dominating our every thought. It’s awareness without pursuit.

Artwork courtesy: Tinybuddha.com

Emotion & the Sacral Chakra

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Transformation. The word strikes fear in the boldest of souls. To transform means to willingly stride into the unknown.

The Sacral Chakra is the seat of transformation. This vigorous, radiant axis represents spiritual and emotional growth. Change. The fire element of this chakra converts matter into form, sand to glass, wood to ashes. Immaturity to maturity. While the brilliant yellow of this chakra acts as a driver for forward movement, it also steers us to places where we feel exposed. Just like the snake that sheds its scales to make way for a larger self, we’re left vulnerable during the process of expansion.

Transforming enough to heighten our awareness and compassion takes commitment. It takes a willingness to enter the forest of denied emotions and discarded hurts. It takes fortitude to accept responsibility for our actions, to look inward at the issues that kept our defenses insurmountable. It takes quiet bravery, since the only rewards are internal.

A man or woman become fully human only by his or her choices and his or her commitment to them, writes existential therapist Rollo May. People attain worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make from day to day.

Moving beyond our current state of pain and discomfort to a place of clarity requires intentional progress. May says, a choice confronts us. Shall we, as we feel our foundations shaking, withdrawal in anxiety and panic?

No. Emotional transformation is just as essential as physical transformation. Someone just forgot to put that into the life manual we were handed at birth. The good news is, transformation also connotes a movement upward. The end result implies full formation and positive results. The prefix “trans” denotes going across, beyond or through. “Trans” is an active, forward, yet impermanent movement that implies willingness. Yet, when combined with the noun “form” (physical appearance, shape or presence), this movement finds a home, a new place to land and new way of becoming. Driving toward our true Self lands us in the middle of greater peace and freedom.

Flying Home…again

Pigeon Columbidae Bird Flying in Cloud Sky

In my constant search to find the meaningful connection between the benign and the spiritual, it occurred to me we’re all like pigeons (stay with me, I promise there’s a point to this). Here’s how this conclusion came to be:

Each day, while I’m working to stay present to my clients’ stories, I’m also working really hard to ignore this flock of pigeons that inhabit the neighboring rooftop. They cluck, they coo, they peck, they copulate, sometimes they even fly at my window. I’ve been told they’ve increased their population over the years, staying put and not flying beyond the roofs and gutters. This makes them easy prey. Recently, a hawk caught one of the pigeons. I heard a thump, a squawk, then saw a stream of grey feathers trickle between the buildings. It was like watching a disturbing cartoon.

As their quirky bird shadows invade my office and challenge my attention span, brave souls sit with me and share their deepest insights, feelings and fears.  My client’s bring vulnerability and pain to the sacred space I hope I’ve created for them. Each and every one of them is a soul struggling along life’s tumultuous journey. Many want reclamation of Self, inner peace, or understanding of the challenges they face. Others fight desperately to stay put, because they can’t  envision change and only want some temporary relief. Some come for existential reasons, others to battle the daemons left by trauma. Some are willing to make the journey, others refuse the call. The one thing they all have in common – as is the case with everyone – they’re seeking a way back to their center.

Life has a funny way of pushing us away from ourself in an effort to bring us back home, doesn’t it?

Journey in itself connotes forward movement and that means obstacles along the way, since no path is without its potholes or fallen trees.  In Joseph Campbell’s brilliant classic, The Hero with  A Thousand Faces,  the voyage of humanity is mapped out through the use of myth, dream and archetypes. In the beginning of everyone’s psychological adventure, we’re thrust into a departure, which repeats itself with each life experience. This call for departure incites fear of the unknown. We fight like hell against leaving.  We want to stay put, to cling to the familiar, to not look beyond the rooftop where we were born.

Yet, when we stay, we stagnate. We become psychologically (and sometimes physically) obese. We cling to illusions of self-importance. We use ego defenses, harmful behaviors or judgment to convince ourselves we’re right. Campbell writes:

Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered: for it is always possible to run the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or “culture,” the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.

      Despite our best efforts to resist this calling, life forces beyond our control will thrust us out of our comfort zone. In most cases, those very real energies show up as depression and anxiety. These are major indicators that something isn’t flowing, that we’ve resisted a call. If this pain grows big enough, we seek aid to help make it across what Campbell calls the first threshold. When we do this, we can then open up to new possibilities and integrate deeper meaning into our lives.

 “…some chance word, the smell of a landscape, the taste of a cup of tea, or the glance of an eye may touch a magic spring, and then dangerous messengers begin to appear in the brain. These are dangerous because they threaten the fabric of the security into which we have built ourselves and our family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of self.”

So many of us are like those fat pigeons outside of my office. We don’t want to fly great distances, we don’t think about what lies beyond our own rooftop, nor do we want to. We may not be content, since our stagnation makes us weak and annoyed, yet we know this rooftop.

There’s another type of pigeon, though. One that can look beyond its comfort zone and embrace what’s out there. It knows where it’s going because it’s flown great distances before. This type begins to fly short distances when it’s young, yet it always returns since it’s deeply connected to home. Over time, it gains strength and makes longer flights. It understands how to manage turmoil, since when in flight it reaches its legs back and hold its tail feathers to keep from fatiguing. This pigeon has the same ancestor as “old fatty” yet operates differently. The homing pigeon can push its way through high winds and bad weather. It brings back messages from far away places. It returns home with the wisdom it experienced and then it rests until next time.

Yes, we’re like pigeons. All of us. We can choose to exercise our wings and make strides. We can develop the strength to manage in times of trials. We can learn to fly out of our comfort zone – or not. We can embrace life’s journey or remain dormant and dependent. It’s our choice. Safe travels.

Artwork: Kim Seng

Mind: That Great and Terrible Wonder

images9QTLBV1MthinkThe brain is a filter that helps us make sense of our world. This organ, compared to all others, is the most mysterious, immeasurable organ in our bodies. We can love without a spleen. We can express feelings if we have an artificial heart. We can understand our meaning in the world with one kidney. We can’t do any of these things without our brain. Without a brain, we can’t have interpersonal relationships. We’re incapable of self-reflection. We can’t identifying what we feel. The function of the brain goes far beyond the reasoning process. The brain truly is the link to our Soul.

In the past decade or so,  research of the brain has yielded some fascinating insight. Scientists now understand from what regions of the brain energy flows, what hormones and chemicals are released to affect mood and what type of circumstances affect brain function. As a therapist who works with traumatized clients, this information has been invaluable in helping facilitate healing on emotional as well as energetic levels.

Through studies, the question of “how?” can now be answered. However, the question “why?” may never be determined.  Scientists cannot pinpoint the exact source that stimulates neurons and creates brain functioning. This is where the mystery of universal energy has to be accepted and embraced – perhaps even revered by those who seek to measure it.

This universal energy source is Soul energy. It affects every aspect of our multifaceted Self.  It charges our muscles with movements. Soul energy manifests feelings. Its power motivates us toward personal growth and healing. If listened to, Soul energy will guide us. Its force is wisdom and truth and stillness. Its intent is reconciliation with original Divine energy. The combination of Soul energy and brain are what I refer to as the Dimension of Mind.

It’s from the Dimension of Mind we first become aware of our feelings. These feelings bring us into the realm of relationships. The delicate symbiotic dance we perform through our interactions with others is one of the gauges by which we can understand ourselves. As Daniel Siegel states in The Developing Mind, the ability of one mind to perceive and then experience elements of another person’s mind is a profoundly important dimension of human experience. This dance can keep us alive, help us fall in love, or make the right career choices.

Mind reflects our awareness and our state of being. It provides us with the ability to notice what arises in us. It can get in our way and keep us from everyday functioning or it can release its limitations so we can connect to the universe. Mind is not only about an emotional connection with others, it’s the choice we make to live fully awake. Mindfulness practices are intended to still the constant chatter that thinking creates because our brains can get ahead of the rest of us when we’re not careful.  Mind Nature in Tibetan Buddhist practice is considered the universal existence. Mind creates happiness or suffering depending upon the person’s awareness and how they choose to use their thinking. The ordinary Mind (sem) is the one that creates duplicity, jealousy, pettiness, anger, aggression and many other states of discord. The aware mind (Rigpa) is the awake mind. Rigpa is present to the moment which brings us full connection to the Soul.

Our Soul seeks wholeness and has a need to connect to its Higher Source. It needs Mind’s assistance to accomplish this. Through an inner dialogue with symbols, we also connect to our world beyond the five senses.  Dreaming, visualization through meditation,  daydreaming, the use of art, form and movement are some of the ways we stay connected to the world beyond facts and figures.

Our preverbal existence (10,000 years or more ago) used the images  brought forth through Mind to connect with each other. Our more recent verbal society developed reasoning  skills which prioritized exterior facts as our primary communication. Our brains can handle both, but we’ve been taught in our modern world to value the tangible over the experiential. As a result, Mind wants to find answers to everything. It wants to measure, adjust, explain its way out of the subjective. It’s learned to stir dissent in our Self, to tell us everything about ourself is wrong and incomplete. This process has created inner conflict and is leading us down a road toward depression and anxiety that still again, our brain wants to reason us out of.

We’ve forgotten that brain doesn’t run the show and that it’s just one of many factors that complete the Dimension of Mind. Yes, brain is the steering wheel but not the whole vehicle. We can’t drive the car without it, but it can’t hold us hostage, either. Our brain and our Soul need to remember to work in conjunction. Both need to negotiate and sometimes our brain needs to slide out of the driver’s seat and let Soul steer for a while.

 

 

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The Art of Negotiating Boundaries

SCAN_PIC0001smallThe difference between living a life of happy engagement or miserable chaos rests in how we apply boundaries. In my work, I hear clients speak about boundaries all the time. However, when it comes to applying them they seem confused. A lot. So, here’s a primer.

A boundary looks a little different for everyone. A perfect metaphor is a fence. Some fences are higher, some are lower, some are more open, some are harder to scale. Boundaries are meant to protect, ensure, define. What a boundary is not is a fortress wall that blocks out everything. Nor is it an open puddle that anyone gets to run through. We’re responsible for setting our own boundaries. When we expect someone else to do it, we’ve pretty much violated ourselves.

Boundaries fit into two categories: outer and inner. The first is easily understood because outer, or physical, boundaries are a tangible concept. Physical boundaries include setting limits around your body, your possessions, your personal time, your work and living space. It also includes your etheric space. Etheric space is your physical or auric energy that expands beyond your skin and bones. It’s the unseen yet often felt “circle” that feels penetrated when someone you don’t know stands too close.

People have no right to touch you if you don’t want them to. They have no right to steal your things, tell you to do something that hurts you or make themselves at home if you want them to leave. They also have no right to drive your car without your permission or go through your desk drawers at work. These examples of boundary violations are pretty obvious. What’s not so clear is how to enforce the boundaries.

Inner boundaries are harder to assess because we can’t physically touch them. As a result, those boundaries get horribly dishonored – by those who possess them as well as by those who offend. This more dubious concept of boundaries bewilders people. It takes intentional work to first identify them and then to learn how to effectively set a limit.

What makes up the world of inner boundaries are your feelings, thoughts, beliefs, spiritual experiences, creativity, memories, fantasies, hopes and dreams. Yet, many people aren’t connected to theirs. We can determine where our body ends and another’s begins, but if we don’t know what we feel, believe or want, how can we know if we’ve been infringed upon?

Violations of inner boundaries range from emotional abuse – if the behavior is purposeful – to clueless insensitivity. Name calling, commenting on someone’s body, passive-aggressive behavior, withholding attention or affection, mocking and mimicking, adultery, raging or intentionally distressing people are some examples. Enmeshment, which is when someone wants to know your every waking thought or feeling and tells you how to think or feel, is a massive inner boundary violation.

The initial work to establish inner boundaries is to take a few steps back and develop a loving dialogue with yourself. Exploring your inner world and being able to identify the difference between your thoughts and feelings is important. Stating your dreams, developing your beliefs based on your sense of integrity, allowing yourself to visualize your future, all this doesn’t happen overnight. It’s extremely useful to do this work with a licensed therapist if you’re struggling, because more than likely there are influencing factors keeping you from committing to your individuation.

Defining if a boundary has been violated is about the ability to measure your discomfort level. If you’re okay with a house guest staying a few extra days, that’s one thing. If you’re desperate for time alone but find it’s easier not to tell him, then you’ve lowered your boundary threshold. Only you are able to determine what that threshold is. Is it a mild inconvenience or total violation? Saying “no” is not a bad thing. It may be a last resort after you’ve politely stated having a guest three more days doesn’t work for you, but it doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a person who respects your time, energy and space. When you respect yourself, so will others.

The gauge when enforcing an inner boundary is much like enforcing an outer boundary. Again, it’s about measuring your discomfort level. How do you feel about what that person said or did? What in you is unsure, even though you feel horrible right now? We can state that we expect better treatment from them. Whether they choose to give it, is out of our control.

Part of setting a boundary is to establish a consequence that you’re willing to follow through with. That consequence can’t be something hurtful to the other person or infringe on their integrity in any way. So, if you say to your spouse, “If you choose to ignore me the whole day after we argue, then I’m hitting you over the head with this frying pan!”, then you’ve completely overstepped his boundaries and are the violator.

A consequence is something within your control that sets a limit. It also must match the boundary infraction. “If you choose to ignore me the whole day after we argue, then I choose to go shopping and have dinner with my friends.” You can’t control if he choses to stonewall you, but you can control how to get your needs met in other ways.

It’s also very important to explore why you allow your boundaries to be manipulated. Are you afraid the other person won’t like you? Do you fear you won’t be heard or that you’re not worthy of being listened to? Boundaries don’t keep us from being intimate. It’s exactly the opposite. If we establish a boundary with someone, we’re negotiating with them. This requires engagement and exploration of the issues around the boundaries. We’re showing the other person we respect them enough to negotiate and more importantly – we respect ourselves enough to be negotiated with.

Thoughts verses Feelings

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“Give me the feeling that comes with that thought,” I’ll say to a client.

They stop, look perplexed for a moment, then say something like, “I can’t believe he would do that to me!?”

“That’s a thought,” I say. “Give me a feeling.” The client looks more perplexed, the frown deepens and they shake their head. Sometimes they lean closer and look at me like I might be a little crazy. So begins my lesson on feelings verses thoughts.

We all get stuck here. It takes real effort differentiating the two, but it’s really important to do this. Our thoughts, and the feelings that follow, work within a millisecond of each other. They’re so closely intertwined, we can’t see the pattern. Yet, distinguishing between the two is the difference between constant engagement with conflict and illusions or peace.

One is made up in your head. The other is the energy that arises in your body as a result of what you made up in your head. Do you see the difference? A thought is made up in your head. The feeling is in response to the thought and carries different energies through your body. Many times, neither of these reflect the truth.
The reason I use the simplistic term, made-up-in your-head, is because a majority of our thoughts are based upon our own versions of reality – the lens by which we see the world. That lens has history to it, because our brain is using past references to pull forward a schema it understands so it can stay in control.

You might think because your spouse slammed the door too loudly that she’s mad at you. If you stay with that thinking, feelings burst forth based on how you felt when your parents argued and slammed doors. Now, what kind of feelings rise up inside you? Anger, fear, sadness, guilt? Suddenly, you’re back in that place where parents were shouting and throwing things and you’ll respond accordingly to your wife. This is the illusion.

The narratives we make up (say it together), in-our-heads, cause all sorts of problems. If you challenge your thought and investigate why the door slammed, you might find the poor woman standing with a handful of groceries and having to use her foot to shut the door. Or maybe the wind slammed it shut. Or maybe she was so happy to be home from work that she pulled the knob too hard.

There’s a third part to this breakdown. It’s the emotion that occurs as a result of the feeling. Our language uses emotion and feeling interchangeably, however there’s a difference. Within that millisecond we talked about, where a thought occurs and a feeling is felt, we also respond. That’s emotion. Emotion is the rejoinder to the feeling, be it a smile, frown, yell, or freezing in place. This process feels so natural, it’s hard to imagine there’s a pattern at all. Though seeing this pattern can help us change ours. If we observe our usual process and not engage in it, we break the illusions that were driving us.

It’s also important to remember that a person or situation evoke a thought. If we can grow more aware of what’s occuring around us, we can pay closer attention. We can then slow down and observe what we’re thinking. In Buddhism, the way to peace is through the Eightfold Path. The first four of these eight are; right understanding, right thought, right speech and right action. If we’re to understand outer stimuli evokes us, then we can be aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise, and not speak or act in harmful ways.

The most damaging aspect to this is when we stay convinced that our thinking is the only truth. Then we cling to the feelings and emotions that flare as a result of that illusion. We rationalize our choices out of shame and maintain the attitude of the victim. This way we don’t have to reflect deeper on the nasty words or actions we spew onto others. We justify and spread hurt and darkness.

If we’re willing to acknowledge that our truth is subjective, then we’ll be more willing to notice what stimulates our thoughts, feelings and emotions. We stop engaging in blind ways that keep us running in circles with no clarity. In this way we spread light and we allow our own light to  burn brighter.

Emotion: Reconnection to Feelings

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Embracing your feelings and treating them with loving kindness is the first step on the journey toward psychological and spiritual wholeness. When you use your feelings effectively, they work like a compass, directing you where you need to go. You tap into your navigation system and this allows you to manage your life. Yet, for some of us, that compass appears short-circuited. The needle feels stuck in one direction even though you know you need to head in another. For others, the needle seems out-of-order, unable to pick up any polar energy that could point you to a place other than where you currently are. When your directional process isn’t working, it feels frustrating and overwhelming.

The main reason we become disconnected from our feelings is because of fear. Some people have been trained to shut their feelings down because they’ve been hurt or traumatized in childhood. They associate love and connection with pain. Others may have been mocked and demeaned – this particularly happens with boys – because they expressed their feelings and were told they were weak. We can dissociate from our feelings for less traumatic reasons, too. When we spend much of our lives attempting to please others, we’re not self-focused enough to know our own needs. Another way we sever our connection to true feelings is when we work really hard to cultivate an image and deny our authenticity. Regardless of how it happened, if we’re cut off from our feelings, we’ve cut ourselves off from our humanity. This is how anxiety and depression start.

In his book, How to Be an Adult, David Richo calls this state of disconnection neurotic fear. Neuroses is a psychological term that goes back to Freud. It’s an overarching description that basically means uncertainty in our sense of Self. Richo states that this neurotic fear is an indicator that we have not maturely integrated all aspects of who we are. “Fear is the opposite of love,” he writes, “because it is totally conditional. It keeps us out of the water; it excludes. Love is all-inclusive. To say that love casts out fear is to say that unconditional and conscious integration has triumphed over ignorance and inhibition.”

The basis of addiction and other destructive behavior comes from a fear of feelings. People who have suffered trauma have a hard time connecting love with peace. They misconstrue the ferocity of their experiences for feelings. They become numb on one hand, yet seeking intensity through drugs, sex, dangerous experiences, abusive relationships on the other hand. Intensity is a high. It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s not feeling.

Feelings are so much more. They’re deeper, yet more subtle. They’re like colors. They’re the energy of warmth, pulsation, friction and calm. We must allow ourselves the experience all of these colors and energies in order to be fully alive and integrated with Self. If we deny ourselves the so-called uncomfortable sensations of sadness, loss or anger, we’re also leaving out happiness, joy, and peace. Feelings are a package deal.

It’s important to begin a dialogue with our feelings. Listening deeply and embracing our own truth is the most freeing experience we can have. Within the complexity of our feelings is great splendor. It’s the Yellow Brick Road, the Hero’s Journey of life. We may not know exactly where we’re going, but we need to trust that the journey will get us there if we just put one foot in front of the other. Journaling, the use of art, talking it out or just sitting and allowing the sensation of the feeling to run through us are several ways to process these feelings. Combining all of these techniques to reconnect are the best ways. Some people are more tactile and need to process physically (dance, exercise, walks in the woods). Some need to use image (finger painting or other creative endeavors), some need to verbalize (talking it out with friends or therapists) and some need to understand what they are feeling on an intuitive level before they can share (journaling, reading self-help books or art).

Like energy, feelings need to move. Even to sit in stillness and allow the sensation of the feeling to work through our bodies and to determine where we feel this sensation, is movement. Some fear if they do this they’ll explode. That’s not the case. You can only “explode” when pressure is applied. And when we stuff feelings down into a proverbial sack by ignoring them, we’re creating pressure for ourselves that will generate depression or anxiety. Finding the best way for you to flow, for you to identify and feel the sensations of what you’re feeling, will help you reintegrate and reclaim the sacredness that is your Self. ~ Cheryl Lewallen, M.Ed, LPC

Artwork by Deborah Koff-Chapin

Creativity: the Essence of our Soul

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Creativity is the ability to be authentic through intentional output. All spirits are creative. Just watch children at play. They indulge in their imagination and are happiest when they’re doing it. Creativity is the engine that drives us. It’s the soul of universal power. The universe itself was not devised through molecules and atoms but a magnificent process that goes beyond anything we can imagine in our human form. 

Allowing ourselves to be Creative is allowing the engagement in a process that leads us to our Soul. Through creating, we’re in constant flux between the deepest aspects of Self as we negotiate and understand the reality of our outside world. As Rollo May states in his book, The Courage to Create, the creative process is “the act of actualizing”. Purposeful engagement with what we’re doing gives us this connection. Losing ourselves in the process is the deeper engagement with our Soul. There we feel joy.

We think of Creativity only as projects, but it’s so much more. It shows itself even in the more mundane parts of our lives. Creativity is manifestation and we manifest everything. It’s our creative process that shapes how we live. When we make choices and follow through, we’re participating in a creative process. When we speak, we manifest. When we choose to act – or not act – we’re manifesting the conditions of our world. Think about it. When we talk negatively about people, we get similar treatment in return. When we decide to shut people out of our lives, we eventually manifest isolation for ourselves. On the flip side, when we send out loving kindness, we get loving kindness in return.

Creativity requires being in the moment, like getting up and dancing because our heart fills with a need to express itself. To run, jump, crack a joke, laugh, be with friends. Presence is the touchstone of Creativity and this is the beginning of the path back toward your Higher Self. It’s also the sharing our Higher Self with others.

Those who trust their Creativity reach deeply into themselves and allow an internal dialogue to occur. They may not understand the outcome but they accept the journey. They enter into the engagement like a traveler enters into a new country, with humble acceptance and a willingness to engage just for the sake of expanding their experiences. When we expand our experiences we feel an intensity of emotion and a heightened vitality. We feel alive and connected in new ways. We feel connection with our Soul.

Empathy: the Connecting of Souls

images4 Empathy is the pinnacle of existence. It’s a full connection to others without attempting to alter their reality or have them change yours. Empathy requires being aware of and present to another’s reality. In order to do this, we must be “cracked open”. We must know ourselves through developing inner awareness. Our souls must lead and our egos shelved.

Empathy, by way of definition, is not sympathy. Sympathy distances us from others. When we sympathize with someone, we feel sorry for them. We’re damn glad we’re not in their suffering shoes. When we sympathize, we try to fix them or tell them what to do. Sympathy makes us feel better. There’s a judgment to sympathy that empathy doesn’t have. Which is why empathy takes a lot more work. Empathy takes being present without a verdict or opinion. It takes slowing down to listen.

One of the most majestic gifts in life is to hear and be heard. That’s the essence of love. Love Thy Neighbor means to accept those around you even when you disagree with them. As history has proven, this is probably one of the hardest acts to perform.

Unlike sympathy, empathy has boundaries to it. We don’t have to take people we would rather not be around into our home just to prove to ourselves – or others – that we’re kind. We don’t need to take on another person’s values or opinions to let them know we’ve heard them. We also don’t have to “fight back” and let them know they’re wrong for not seeing it our way. Then we’re pushing against their boundaries. Slowing down enough to understand doesn’t require loosening our psyches, changing our beliefs or allowing them to hurt us.

One of the hardest things for me to do was to move to a very conservative part of the country. I spent years internally rolling my eyes and judging those who didn’t seem to “get it”. Yet, when I took the time to listen – really listen – without enforcing my more progressive views, I found an interesting thing happening to me. I softened. I still didn’t agree with many people I talked to, but I realized people are going to believe what they want to believe and I found peace in that. After a while, I felt comfortable enough within my own self not to get upset. And miracle or all miracles, when opinions were labeled by us, we actually found some common ground. I learned to like people for who they were, not what they believed in. I learned that I could honor their beliefs and still maintain my own. If I was going to really be the person I saw myself being, I had to accept everyone as they are. I needed to stop judging. I needed to start accepting.

If I drew a linear scale that showed degrees of empathy, the least amount would be to tolerate others, the middle would be to affirm them, the most would be to honor them. Tolerating others is a good place to start. It’s acceptance with an effort not to judge.

Sometimes it’s hardest to apply empathy to family members or close friends. We have expectations of what our family members should do, be, act, or think. We know their foibles and vulnerabilities. The closer we are to someone, the higher our hopes are of them. Certainly the less tolerant we become when they don’t hit that raised bar we’ve imposed.

When we’re not careful, our egoic self sees family as a reflection of us. When we have unresolved issues, unaccomplished dreams, we place them on our children. Even our friends get the brunt of the shadow sides we would rather forget about. When we displace our discomfort onto them as blame we have lost our ability to be present and empathize.

Slowing down to listen to our children without inserting our own views can be our greatest challenge. It can also be our greatest gift to them. They will feel heard and they will learn the act of empathy through your modeling of it.

So, how do we become more empathetic?

Imagine being present for your wife without trying to tell her how to fix the relationship with her angry boss? When you listen to the words and notice her body language, you can develop a deeper connection with her. As you do this, you may see her emotions in a new way. Reflect back to her, “I see you are very hurt by what he said to you today” . Sounds pretty obvious. She might give you a big “duh” response at first, yet you might also see her soften and relax. You just indicated that you heard her. What you’ve just done is honor feelings that she felt have been dismissed by her boss

The second part of this is to also notice your feelings and reactions to seeing your wife upset. What does this bring up for you? An urge to rush to her side and stop the pain? An urge to rush to your man cave? It’s okay to sit in your own discomfort as you make yourself present to her. I promise, your anxiety won’t rupture your spleen. In fact, it may decrease as you stay open and present in the conversation.

What would listening to your child’s hopes and dreams look like without trying to enforce your own expectations onto him or her? How would you be if your husband came home and started to cry? What if, the next time a friend drives you crazy with what you perceive as one of her issues, you ask yourself, “what in them reflects my own unexamined problems?”.

Be present, be patient, be available to listen.

The Inner Boundaries of Emotion

Here  No matter how close we are physically or psychologically to someone, we have our own sense of what we feel and think. Our loved ones cannot feel what we feel, nor can we feel for them. Nor are we responsible for their feelings and what they choose to do with them.

This seems to surprise many of my clients when the subject comes up in our sessions. Who can blame them for the confusion when we’ve grown up with phrases like, “Two hearts become one”, or “Separate now whole”? We can buy necklaces with two halves of a heart that snap together to make a whole heart. Even in parenting, we tend to forget that this child we conceived and raised is actually a separate human being who’ll have his or her own worldview that might not reflect our own.

When we try to be “one person” in relationships, we’re decimating our wholeness. When we give up our beliefs, pleasures, emotions, likes and even dislikes to fit like a puzzle piece into another’s world, we don’t make us or the relationship stronger – we actually weaken it. When our children express an opinion that’s different from ours, this does not mean they’re rejecting us as people. We don’t have to hand over our identity to please someone and we don’t have to diminish another’s inner world to keep them close to us.

It’s our wholeness that creates true intimacy. It’s the engagement of sharing our own reality with another that’s fulfilling. It’s being present to understanding another’s reality that bonds people. Sharing what you feel and listening to what your loved one feels takes effort, intention and time. In order to be present for another, we must want to be present. This very act of slowing down validates your loved one. When we’re listening without judgment and without forcing our own views into the moment, what we’re saying through our actions is “You’re important to me”.

This simple process of being present and listening to another is true intimacy.