Thursday, September 29, 2016

Laura Loved: A Tribute to Laura Weingast Nieratko

On Tuesday, September 27, Laura Weingast Nieratko, my friend of many years, sadly passed away after a 4 year courageous battle with stage 4 colon cancer. Laura and I met through the world of personal growth, a lifelong passion for both of us. And our paths crisscrossed many times over the course of many years through personal growth workshops and communities.

About 8 years ago, Laura and I were buddies in a workshop that focused on our life visions, and we started a wonderful ritual of weekly lunches together. During these few years, we grew very close, as we not only share our hopes and dreams, but also our journeys. There is something very special about touching in every week with a close friend, as life choreographs its various twists and turns, sometimes happy, sometimes sad.

It was during this time that Laura met the man who ultimately became her husband, Don. And I watched a very special and poignant love story unfold. Laura and Don met dancing, a shared passion for both of them, that allowed fate to bring them together. And when Laura and Don danced, there was a heavenly twinkle in both of their eyes. Looking back at pictures of Laura and Don dancing, the connection between the two of them and the love they shared is very palpable.

Laura had one of the most beautiful spirits I know, and devoted her life to helping children and parents desiring children find each other through her adoption agency. Laura's work was work of love.

And thanks to Laura, more than 6 years ago, I joined a very special group of women, my "women's group." And sharing ones life's journey with a group of heartfull and wise sisters as the years go by is both rich and deeply meaningful.

For the past few days, since Laura passed, I have been overtaken by waves of tears at all times of the day. Her voice, her memory and most of all, her radiant smile fill my thoughts and heart.

Beginning on Tuesday morning, I wrote a song for Laura, which seems very fitting to be part of my new "Say Yes to Love" album that I am currently recording.

Here are the lyrics:

Laura Loved ©2016 Linda Marks

With a smile With a warm embracing smile The light in her eyes was a beacon from her soul

With her voice With her clear and gentle voice Words of courage and wisdom were offered from her heart

Laura smile Laura shine Wherever you are, you are kind Laura smile From above We will never forget Laura loved

When she danced Laura's spirit would shine with joy She and Don would create heaven here on earth

Through her work Helping people, changing lives Planting seeds for children, growing happy homes

Laura smile Laura shine Wherever you are, you are kind Laura smile From above We will never forget Laura loved Laura loved

They say there are angels in heaven They say the good die too young Live your life with your whole heart Hold fast to your dreams and fly

Laura smile Laura shine Wherever you are, you are kind Laura smile From above We will never forget Laura loved Laura loved Laura loved Laura loved

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

When the Words Won't Come

I don't know about you, but for me, sometimes things happen that are just too hard, shocking or painful to fully grasp. When that kind of event happens, I am taken aback, left speechless, often stunned and just can't wrap my heart or head around what has happened. Even if I try to intellectually analyze the event or the circumstances leading to it, I just can't put all the pieces together, and have to just sit with the reality that what has happened is something that at the present time, I just can't understand.

I may feel sadness. I may feel scared. I may feel numb because it is all too big. And I may feel overwhelmed, knowing this is too big for me alone, and wishing there was someone I could turn to for connection or understanding or perspective or comfort, or all of the above.

But sometimes no one is there. I am alone. Much as I would like someone to come sit by my side, there is no one who I can actually call to do that. And I have to find a way to slow myself down, take some deep breaths and try to ground myself in the moment, so that I can create the internal space to ride the waves of what is so overwhelming, and hope that with time, I will have more internal space and feel less overwhelmed.

I have found that having even one person understand what I am going through makes all the difference in the world. But, when what I am facing feels really, really hard, and perhaps involves something I have not talked about with many other people, then it is hard to find the words to express what I am going through, how I feel and what I need. What if what is happening is so big that most people I might share it with will get overwhelmed themselves, and rather than just hear me and support me? What if a trusted listener will react, distance and judge me for what I have shared? That makes things worse, not better.

So, I have to be very selective of who I might consider sharing what is so hard with. Who can actually hear me and understand what I am wishing to share without judgment or overwhelm? Who can hear me with compassion, so that maybe I can actually feel into my pain or fear or tears? There are times, where my work is to reach out to God or a higher power, praying that the person or people in my life I am concerned about will be safe and watched over by a higher power. Can I find comfort in knowing that spiritually I am never really alone, even if practically, I am? I can also find comfort in the presence of my dog or cats, who are sources of unconditional love. They can offer love and empathy even when I don't have the words.

Initially, it may be hard to find words. But then later, even if I have done the internal work to find the words, what if there are not many people who might be able to hear them? Learning how to turn to my inner strength, and deepening my capacity for riding life's unexpected and often painful waves is its own kind of personal training. And hopefully, if I work hard with what is difficult, what will follow may not be so hard. And maybe I will be fortunate enough to find a person or persons who can actually hear my heart and hold it, like a messenger sent by God to remind me I really am NOT alone.

What I really need to do is be gentle with myself when the words won't come.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Power of Love in Healing

The Power of Love is a topic that inspires music. Luther Vandross sang a song about "the Power of Love." Burt Bacharach wrote "Love Power." Countless other songs talk about the power of love. Empathy and caring often make the difference in medical care. Many of my clients have noted that a caring, empathic doctor made them feel much better when leaving an appointment than a cold, facts only doctor.

At the 2016 United States Association of Body Psychotherapy Conference, Joan Borysenko noted that kindness is actually good for health and healing, and so are empathy and caring. Tender loving care actually reduces IL-6 and cortisol levels and increases HGH levels. Joan said, "when stress and the false self fade away, you become who you truly are. Loving awareness is a person's essential or true nature."

And loving awareness has a power to heal, both in the here and now and transgenerationally. The field of epigenetics explores how stress is carried through generations. Molecules of emotion cause epigenetic changes that can go our for four generations. If we can create calm, peace and healing, we can not only improve the quality of our lives now, but also we can transform trauma that was passed down to us from past generations, and prevent trauma from being passed down to future generations.

Most all human beings have a need for comfort or closeness. In fact, comfort or closeness can communicate love, and provide healing. Closeness is the root of intimacy. And intimacy can be defined as "in-to-me-I-see." When there is emotional safety, we can open up and let pain, fear and anger out, and love in. And in this process, we not only heal, but also transform our molecules of emotion.

Author Eleanora Wooley defines closeness as "a nearness to anything or a coming together to unite, whether the other is another human being, an animal, nature, God or another layer of oneself." Love can be experienced in all of these ways. Our cats and dogs are often sources of pure, unconditional love, and our personal healers. Aspects of closeness include: something shared, a sudden recognition, an experience often in silence, vulnerability (a capacity to be open and exposed to another), a sense of freedom, and for some, a bodily experience.

As we feel emotionally safe, we can let down our defenses, which let woundedness, pain and other potentially toxic energies out, and nurturing, healing energies in. In the process, we can both know ourselves more authentically and deeply, and be known by another more authentically and deeply. Love allows us to feel more connected, emotionally, physically, spiritually and relationally, and even transgenerationally, whether we can feel it or not. The power and energy of love is truly life energy. And opening our hearts to give and receive life energy is healing, regenerative and transformative.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Lasting Shadows of Inherited Family Trauma

In my early adulthood, as I diligently started the process of healing from past trauma, I became increasingly aware that, no matter how hard I tried, in my own personal work in therapy, personal growth workshops and spiritual practices, some issues persisted and never seemed to be fully cleared. I found myself wondering, could it be that some issues were bigger than me, greater than just psychological challenges and perhaps even issues that were passed down from past generations?

From my own studies and work as a body psychotherapist, I was aware that when any of us undergo a traumatic experience, the entire experience, including the memory of the experience, fragments into shattered parts, much like the way a windshield shatters upon impact. Trauma can be likened to a wrecker ball that crashes through the fabric of our lives, leaving words, memories, images, feelings, impulses and body sensations, broken into disconnected jigsaw puzzle pieces. We lose touch with many of the puzzle pieces, yet they remain stored in our unconscious.

An article I read recently on, "It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are," noted that "emerging trends in psychotherapy are now beginning to point beyond the traumas of an individual to include traumatic events in the family and social history as part of the whole picture." Different kinds of tragedy, of different intensities, from the loss of a parent or a child to illness, an accident or violence, to suicide, extreme poverty or war, can send "shock waves of distress cascading from one generation to the next." It may take going back three generations to understand the mechanism behind patterns of trauma and suffering that repeat.

This context became important for me many years ago when I went to a therapist to explore issues arising in the breakdown of my former marriage. It was powerful to discover that an unaddressed piece of my father's history showed up in my own marriage. I did not even know how complete the parallel was until I brought my parents to therapy the one and only time they agreed to join me, and learned that my father's dark shadow exactly mirrored the dark shadow my then husband was revealing that challenged, and ultimately broke, our marriage. In essence, I was being asked to face and address the very issue my father had never truly faced, and instead had hidden away in the family unconscious.

It was quite shocking to discover first hand, that the unhealed trauma and the unresolved pain of past generations can come to haunt future generations. If we want to avoid passing pain and difficulty on to future generations, we must work hard on healing and clearing both our own pain and past pain. I learned of Bert Hellinger's Family Constellations work, where the healing takes place in the transgenerational energy field, and found this approach very helpful for addressing the dark shadows that felt bigger than just my own psychological work could impact.

Recognizing that when trauma exists in the transgenerational family energy field, we inherit this family trauma whether we want it or not. Intimate relationships--be they romantic relationships or relationships between parents and children, often provide a fertile ground for our transgenerational triggers to be struck...bringing the inherited family trauma to light. I see this frequently when working with couples and with families in my therapy practice.

For example, one couple, who felt they really had a soul mate connection, struggled greatly at the personality level due to core wounds that triggered deep developmental needs in both partners. One of the partners became extremely anxious as intimacy built due to a history of loss and attachments issues. This partner came from a family where his needs for object constancy as a very young child went unmet. As a result, he transferred his need for object constancy onto his partner, who felt controlled by his overbearing actions towards her. The female partner, on the other hand, came from a family where she did not feel loved. Her mother outrightly told her that she had not been wanted. Her father was a manipulative womanizer, who was mean to both the woman partner and her mother. She had a deep need to be loved that was as intense as her male partner's need for object constancy. Sadly, due to her family wound, she would overlook stalking, controlling and mean behaviors out of fear of loss of her partner's love. And sadly, due to his family wounding, the male partner could not give the female partner the space she needed to introspect, grow, heal and self-define. To truly understand the intensity of each partner's heart wounds and the impact of these heart wounds on present behavior, looking into the stories of both partners' parents and grandparents was necessary.

Creating a bigger context within which to understand and do healing work is essential to transform unhealthy dynamics in the here and now, and to allow people to break out of family trauma patterns and transform transgenerational energy wounds that were passed down from prior generations. When we are able to understand our biggest obstacles in the light of inherited family trauma, and to work through these issues at a body level, we can truly heal not only self and relationships in the here and now, but also prevent inherited family trauma energy and patterns to carry on in future generations.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Know Your Voice, Know Your Power

When I was in grammar school, I remember doing a science experiment with a prism, sunlight and a piece of paper. Our teacher told us that if we used the prism to reflect the sunlight onto the paper at the correct angle, we could harness the energy of the sun and burn a hole in the paper.

That sounded like fun and even magical to grammar school aged me. I remember trying to figure out what the correct angle might be. So many different possibilities existed, and many of them yielded no result. But after a lot of experimentation, I was overjoyed to find the right angle, and watch my prism bend the sun's light and burn a hole in my piece of paper. Once I found that right angle, I could repeat the process over and over again. And I felt like I had just been introduced to a super power!

As I grew into a singer/songwriter and even an author and public speaker, I realized the metaphor of the prism, the paper and the sunlight was a helpful one to explain and illustrate the power of voice. You may ask, "what is voice?" Voice is a very deeply rooted, innate sense of who we are. To connect with that innate sense of self requires not only introspection, but also embodied introspection. If we are not grounded, and feeling and sensing our somatic experience, it is hard to find that deep internal place that might be called essence or soul or spirit. That deep place is where we experience the part of us who just knows who we really are. When we find that place, voice gives us a way to direct our core energy through an expressive pathway and to create a mark in the world, however large or small.

Connecting with that core sense of self is a journey and a process. And even if we find our core sense of self deep in our heart or gut, being able to translate the felt sense into meaningful expression is a whole other process. I believe that human beings are innately creative, and finding a pathway to connect with and express our creative energy is important to health, well-being and joie de vivre. Our society is very verbal, so "voice" is often expected to be experienced and expressed in words. Words are certainly one form of expression for voice, but not the only one. Drawing, painting, taking photographs and other visual arts, dancing, just plain moving, singing, songwriting or any other form of musical composing or even acts of service towards others can also be expressions of voice. All of these forms can be very powerful both for the creator and the receiver.

What is most important is both the energy you direct and how you direct it. When the energy comes from your core, it can feel enlivening to channel it. Opening our creative channel to find an authentic expression of that energy, is a practice that can be enhanced by learning how to become present the moment, grounded in our felt experience and non-judgmental about what will come through, when and how. When an athlete is in the zone, they are likely connected to their felt sense of core energy, and channeling it through their physical art form. Finding our "zone" for living the dailiness of life as well as for creative endeavors helps us feel more powerful and authentic in our actions and interactions.

For women, the power of voice is even wired into our neurobiology. When a woman in stressed out, in order to decompress, she usually needs to write, vent, speak, or express herself in some meaningful way to another human being. If she is not allowed to express, she feels like she will implode. This is the equivalent of the way a man decompresses by sitting on the couch in front of the tv and channel surfing. Different neurobiologies is different genders lead to different needs for destressing and decompression.

Being able to express oneself to decompress and being able to express oneself to create or bring something into being through channeling one's energies are two very important examples of the power of voice.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

How Art Informs Life and Life Informs Art

As a singer/songwriter, I spend plenty of time agonizing on how my songs are going to fit into the world's genre boxes (they really don't), and how I am going to get the songs out to reach the people who might wish to hear them.

Seeing "The Boy From Oz," the Broadway musical about the life of singer-songwriter-dancer-Cabaret performer Peter Allen was really eye opening. I went into the show knowing many of his songs, including "Best Thing You Can" (the theme from Arthur, which won an Oscar), "Don't Cry Out Loud" (which I sing and will be on my upcoming "Coming Full Circle" album), and "You and Me" (sung by Frank Sinatra), but was truly moved and blown away when I learned the context of these songs in his life story!

In the life story of Peter Allen, it is clear that for most singer-songwriters, many of their songs DON'T fit into genre boxes. And that having songs find their way into the world is more about the journeys we take the good fortune of meeting people along the way who help weave together the unfolding and interconnected web of life. That Peter's own songs could be woven together to TELL his life story is quite a message of its own. He grew up in Australia, musical from his very youngest days, supported by his dedicated mother, while struggling with the coldness and sometimes abuse of his alcoholic father. Recognizing the need to "create an act," he teamed up with another musician and formed a "brother team," even though the other musician was not his actual brother. And as the "Allen Brothers," a stage name that was neither of the two performers' real life name, traveled to far away lands, like Hong Kong, they crossed paths with Judy Garland, who truly discovered Peter and set him on a trajectory towards visibility and eventually fame and fortune. As Peter became Judy's opening act, he also saw the dark side of the spotlight, in Judy's alcohol and drug plagued life. He befriended her young daughter, Liza Minelli, who became his wife, as he struggled with his true identity, as a gay man.

Peter was ambitious and persevered, writing songs that became most famous in the hands of other singers, even as he gained some recognition for his own Cabaret act. His life partner, Greg, helped with the image making part of his show (lights, costumes, set and the glitz), illustrating the power of collaborative partnership. But Greg contracted AIDs and died far too young, as eventually happened to Peter at age 48.

When art makes it into the public eye, it is genre-boxed, packaged and delivered with a market spin that may be far removed from the origins of the inspiration behind the art itself. Some songwriters pump out formulaic songs specifically to fit into market ready genre boxes. But many choose to let life inform and inspire them. And honestly, I think these are the songs that most connect with people and inform life.

Recently, a new friend listened to my "Heart to Heart" CD and asked me the stories behind two of my songs "How Can I Reach You," and "You'll Never Be Alone Again." He loved the songs and they touched him. But he would have never known the first one came out of my two year struggle sandwiched between my mother's last years as her Alzheimers progressed and my teenage son's struggle after two concussions in 10 months and the surfacing of his pain from his parents' divorce early in his life. And he would have also never guessed the second one was written by the 21 year old singer-songwriter version of me as I introspected and learned about the depths of life and connections between people. One thing that is magical about songs, and other forms of art, is that they tap into the universality of human experience. And so while the conception lies in the life experience of the artist, their own power lies in their connection with common threads of people's lives, so that we can all map our own life stories and emotions onto the canvass a song or other work of art presents to us.

In this way, when we are going through particular passages, we seek art that comforts us, mirrors us and helps us understand where we are. I was very moved when after giving a 69 year old woman working in a shoe store my "Heart to Heart" CD, after she asked what kind of music I performed (I had just purchased a pair of shoes to perform in), she looked at the cover and said to me, "Thank you! This is exactly what I need right now! I need something "heart to heart." She had tears in her eyes, and mine teared up in response.

I may never know the details of her journey or story. It is enough to know that she has one and that my own journey that led me to put together my own collection of songs will enrich hers in some way. That is a precious gift.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Integrated Mind-Body Decision Making: The Inner Board of Directors

While there is plenty of external stress we face on a daily basis, from gridlock during rush hour to worrying about ISIS bombings occurring seemingly randomly anywhere in the world, many of us have no shortage of internal stress as well. How do we balance professional time and personal time? How do we make space for self-care as we take care of others? How can we do not only what we HAVE to do, but also what we really WANT to do? These kinds of challenges that arise in daily life can evoke conflict between different parts of ourselves.

While we are often taught to think in polarities (right or wrong, happy or sad, now or later...), we may find that we think and feel in shades of gray or think or feel multiple thoughts and feelings at the same time. Something can be both right for us and wrong for someone else. We can be happy and sad and also scared at the same time. And maybe we need to work on a project in stages, some now, some in the short term and some in the long term. How do you make decisions in complex or multi-faceted situations?

Our culture socializes us to focus on thinking rather than feeling and intuition and to polarize the difference rather than seeing different as part of a multi-dimensional process. This causes us a lot of internal stress and fear of stressing our inner knowing. Our rational mind fights with our heart rather than working with it. Our intuition might scare us when we cannot understand why we sense something to be true. In actuality, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. If we find a way to listen to ALL parts of our internal guidance system, and develop an overarching wise part that can hold space for differing opinions to co-exist, we can make better, more integrated decisions, and feel that we are being more completely authentic and true to our whole selves.

Many years ago, I developed a fun and very handy mind-body tool called "the inner board of directors," which can help us listen to our different sources of internal guidance, and co-hold their input in order to make more integrated decisions. The members of the board are "the head," "the heart" and "the gut" with "the whole self" acting as chairperson of the board. When we have a decision to make, whether it be what to eat for lunch, how to nurture ourselves or what career direction is most authentic, we can call a meeting of "the inner board" to seek guidance and direction.

To call "the inner board of directors" together for a meeting, all you need is a question to ask the board members, and a pen and piece of paper (or an iPhone, iPad or computer) to write down the board members' answers. If the question is "what do I want to eat for lunch today," close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, center yourself with your feet on the ground, your tailbone anchored into your chair, and let yourself relax into the moment. You can play your hand on your heart, and ask your heart, "Heart, what do you want to eat for lunch?" Take a few deep breaths, and see what your heart has to say, and write it down. Then take a deep breath, close your eyes and put your hand on your gut (wherever in your body you experience your gut when you hear the word "gut") and ask your gut, "Gut, what do you want to eat for lunch?" Take a few more deep breaths and see what your gut response is. Write it down. Close your eyes again, take a few more deep breaths, and put your hand on your head. Ask your head the question, "head, what do you want for lunch?" Again, take a few deep breaths, see what your head has to say and write it down. Then review what your heart has told you, your gut has told you, and your head has told you, and close your eyes one final time to ask your whole self for its guidance. Write down what you whole self has to say, as it considers the heart and its response, the gut and its response and the head and its response. And see how you feel having listened to all four sources of guidance.

You may find that sometimes there is a conflict between two or more parts. And if that is so, it is worth asking each part what matters about whatever position it is taking. Is there something you are afraid of? How is the part trying to serve you? You can have a deeper dialogue with the parts to learn more of the underlying roots of the conflict. And having unearthed these underlying roots, call another inner board meeting and see what guidance your inner board has to offer now.

It is good to practice this mind-body tool in a wide variety of situations, so that it becomes a go to practice for decision making, simple or complex.