Tag Archives: Relationships. Communication

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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Emotions: Mirror, Mirror, go away!

imagesWUOG13IYI lost a dear friend last year. Not to death but to illusion. Her perpetual absence has me mourning her. Some days, I wake up and think about what we shared over the years and my heart aches. Sometimes, those memories leave me angry. Always, I doubt myself and wonder if I had only done or said something differently, would she have reacted the way she did? I send loving energy her way and imagine her calling me. I think of calling her and saying, “okay this is ridiculous, life’s too short not to talk this out!”. Then I remember her last words to me – not spoken, but written in an angry email that wiped out six years of friendship – and I can still feel the seething quality to the words. So, I keep from making the call.

“Who says that to someone?,” another friend says to me. She gives me her sage-like glance, “you know when someone calls a person those things, it’s because it’s a problem they can’t deal with within themselves, right?”

I know. Lordy, do I know. I’m a therapist, after all. I talk about ego defenses and shadow sides all day long. Yet, somehow, when the table’s turned and I’m on the receiving end of someone else’s disowned stuff, it hurts. It hurts because, the truth is, my friend was right. I am those things at times. I’m those things enough that I can’t write down what she accused me of being. I also know that it’s my stuff – in all its uneasiness and embarrassment – that shrieks back at her. It stands formidable like the wicked witch’s mirror reflecting the wrinkles and blemishes she’d rather kill for than acknowledge.

Our struggle with the personal shame of disowned feelings is never more apparent than within our interactions with others. Our psyches are drawn to those who echo our perspectives. The traits we admire in others, are the traits we possess in ourselves. The nuances of our mindset and the way we feel about ourselves is always reflected in the people we choose to be around. We manifest our private circles this way.

Inconveniently, we’re also drawn to those who possess the darker, less examined aspects of our Self, and this can sometimes be the same person whom we think hung the moon. Insecurity, selfishness, fear, manipulation, self-loathing, uncertainty all attract like. We may think we’re attracted to powerful people because they’re “fabulous” and we feel special around them, yet the shadow side of powerful people is a fear of powerlessness. The darker the shadow, the more troubled the relationship. The addict is drawn to the codependent. The narcissist to the anti-social. The unconscious aspects of Self work in mysterious, sometimes contradictory ways. As we attract the familiar, we are unknowingly disowning the negative traits and placing them at the feet of the other.

In his classic work, Love and Will, Rollo May argues that love and will are the conjunctive process of being. Combing love and will is a reaching out to influence others; molding, forming, creating the consciousness of the person we love. This is only possible when we’re open to the influences of the other. Love must first follow. Because without love, will becomes a form of manipulation:

The interrelation of love and will is shown, furthermore, by the fact that each loses its efficacy when it is not kept in right relation to the other; each can block the other. Will can block love. The overemphasis on will, which blocks love, leads sooner or later to a reaction to the opposite error, love which blocks will. (pg. 276)

If we’re willing to look in the mirror, to see ourselves without the illusion of what we want to present to the world, then we can accept the wrinkles. We can also see the spark in our eye, the great smile on our face and the smoothness beneath our aging. We can embrace all parts of our Self no matter the discomfort. We can – at the very least – be open to the possibility of growth.

Our higher Self knows instinctively that having to face our issues regularly is the only way to resolve them. Our ego – what we prefer to see in the mirror – rejects all that’s unattractive. That unattractiveness may come in the form of another person who’s holding up the mirror to us. Sometimes we reject the whole person no matter how much love we have for them, because our will not to see is stronger than the engagement of acceptance.

Will blocks love when we’re not feeling complete. Fixations on another’s flaws are those infantile aspects of Self. When we decline to acknowledge them, we don’t have to take responsibility for them. If we can allow ourselves to be sidetracked by the ineptitude of another, we can delay the journey that may take us deeper into our own healing. May says we can’t change unless we’re willing to open to the influence of the other. In this case, it’s looking deeply into the mirror then asking, “What in this mirror drives me to want to kill?”.

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

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.