Thursday, July 27, 2017

Matters of the Heart: Exploring the Heart's True Nature

As a young woman, as I found myself in conversation at cocktail parties, often with male engineers, when I tried to explain that I worked with the heart, I would often get rolled eyes in response.

"The heart is a mechanical pump. It goes pump, pump..." was a far too common response. My own heart would feel deflated at times like this, feeling like I was fighting an uphill battle where hearts can hear heads, but heads can't hear hearts.

The head-heart split that is so predominant in our culture, creates the "mechanical pump" mythology about the heart that betrays it's true nature. It is actually a gland, the first organ to form in the body, and an organizing factor in physical formation, including brain formation. There is actually a "heart-brain" and we have cardiac ganglia.

In this age of big pharma, we are often not aware that the heart can act as an internal pharmacy, dispensing and communicating what is needed where and when without unwanted side effects. The heart puts out its own balancing and regulating hormones, and instantaneously communicates electromagnetic and chemical information to the rest of the body and to other bodies near it. The heart's rhythm and pulse can entrain all of the body's rhythms and cycles into coherent harmony. Each person's EKP is as unique as their fingerprints.

The electromagnetic field generated by the heart is much more powerful than the brain's electromagnetic field. The electrical charge generated by the heart is 60 times that of the brain. The magnetic field generated by the heart is 5000 times that of the brain. Our cardiac field touches people within 8 - 10 feet of where we are located, and perhaps in more subtle ways at greater distances. One person's heart waves can be affect another person's brainwaves. Heart-brain synchronization can occur between two people when they interact.

These scientific facts about the heart help us recognize that the heart's power is literal and not just metaphorical. As Jacquelyn Small notes in her book "Awakening In Time," "The heart is too big to be understood by the analytical intellect. It is better known through sensation/body experience..."

The heart is a SPACE, not a THING....

The heart is that place in consciousness where our identities are not just ideas we THINK about who we are...our identities here are intuitively felt, and in this way we are KNOWN...

While the ego's intellect can study isolated facts without linking them, the heart just naturally links them, seeing the relationships among them all...

What remains a mystery to the intellect is NOT a mystery to the heart...

Where the mind's intellectual arguments divide us, the heart unites us. Almost any controversy can be solved through heart-felt communication...

When our thoughts and intuition cannot agree, we feel pulled by what the intellect thinks OUGHT to be and what the heart KNOWS as true

Emotional intelligence is rarely cultivated in schools, the workplace, or the media, yet it is such a critical capacity for us to be totally human and live healthy, happy lives. Truly understanding the heart brings together many foundational pieces in our lives, and gives us a pathway towards purpose, meaning and connection.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bringing the Catatonic Chicken Back to Life: The Power of Compassionate, Heartfelt Presence

The ways professors choose to illustrate big concepts during college psychology classes can be rather dramatic. And in one of my big lecture freshman psychology classes, a demonstration made a lifelong impression on me. What I learned is NOT what the professor intended to teach me. However, what I learned went far beyond my mind, penetrating my heart and soul.

I think the concept the professor was trying to illustrate was "learned helplessness." For many years, I could not remember this because of the impact of the "demonstration." The professor began by bringing a young chicken into the classroom, and placed him on top of the marble slab at the front of the classroom, attaching an electrode to the chicken's head.

He then proceeded to zap the unsuspecting chicken with an electric current. The chicken started to shake all over. His eyes started to get really big. And before the chicken had a chance to acclimate to what was going on, the professor zapped him again and again until the chicken froze.

5 minutes went by and the chicken was still frozen. 10 minutes went by and the chicken was still frozen. The class ended and the chicken was still frozen. The class ended and I was still frozen. And everyone except me left the room. I sat in my chair feeling catatonic with tears streaming down my face. I was devastated that the professor had just zapped the chicken into a catatonic state. And I was also upset that the professor just left the chicken there frozen on the marble slab and left the room.

I started to ask myself what was going to happen to the chicken now? Was a janitor going to come along and just scoop him into the garbage? That did not feel right or fair. I began thinking about what it would take to bring the chicken back to life after the experiment. And this question became a key teaching point as I started giving workshops and keynote presentations around the country after my first book, LIVING WITH VISION: RECLAIMING THE POWER OF THE HEART was published.

Some of the answers people responded with included: take the electrode off of the chicken, put the chicken into a safe environment, perhaps with other chickens, zap the professor, and perhaps most commonly, hold the chicken. After the traumatic experience with the electrode, respectful, present compassionate touch was probably needed to let the chicken know that he was safe in the moment, and that the human present with him now was there to help and protect him. Likely the chicken would be pretty frightened of humans after his encounter with the professor!

Watching for non-verbal cues would also be important. If the chicken started to slightly blink his eye, or shake a little bit or make any kind of physical movement, it might be a sign of slightly unfreezing. It would certainly be a message from the chicken's body that deserved respectful witnessing, presence and emotional contact. One would need to be very very patient with the chicken. Establishing trust or starting to unfreeze would take time over time. And caring for the chicken's basic needs, including warmth, food and water, and comfort would be important should the chicken start to unfreeze.

As I looked at my own response to the experiment I realized that many of us feel like catatonic chickens internally, even if some part of us is walking around, working and conducting life as usual. And that the kind of attention and care needed to help the chicken was the very same kind of attention and care needed to help people who have experience trauma unfreeze and come back to life.

Unfortunately, we are more often to be educated to think like the professor, who used the unwitting chicken as an object for his scientific demonstration, with little attention to or care for the impact of his experiment on the chicken's well-being. And once something really traumatic happens, we often don't see what has happened at the levels that really matter, much like the professor. So, people who have been traumatized are left frozen--especially emotionally frozen and spiritually frozen, since emotional and spiritual well-being often miss our day to day radar.

Developing more awareness of emotional and spiritual experience would bring us a long way in recognizing the often too invisible impact of our actions. And this awareness is a necessary foundation for cultivating compassion and heartfelt presence.

We need to become more emotionally embodied and grow our compassionate presence both to prevent people from being traumatized into the "catatonic chicken" state, and to help those who have been traumatized in this way to come back to life.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Moments: The True Currency of Life

"Moments, life is made of moments... a tapestry of moments...of every color and hue..."

From "Moments"©2017 Linda Marks

As we coast through life, feeling its rhythms, be it the Monday through Friday work week or the seasons, it is easy to forget that life is not only a long continuum of time, but also a series of very small units of time: moments.

And when we feel stressed out, overwhelmed or powerless, slowing down, taking a few deep breathes and getting grounded in the present moment, allows us to relax, feel more spacious, and hopeful. Life is indeed made of moments, and the moment is the point of power where we can take slow down to take care of ourselves, envision what we really want, count our blessings, and know that inevitably things will change, often in the next moment.

So many spiritual and personal growth books encourage us to live in the moment. When our minds are busy, and we find ourselves living in the busyness of the mind, we lose connection with the moment and all of its creative possibility. If we can slow down, breathe, and bring our awareness to our body and heart, we can open to an innate sense of guidance about what is next, and appreciate the current moment for what it is: one moment in time, joyful, scary, happy or sad.

I have been practicing the art form of living in the moment, and as a creative person this is essential. I never know what a song will start to permeate my heart and consciousness. To be open to the moment is to be open to that creative spark. When times are sad, rough, and hard, when I feel all alone, I try my best to feel into my body and heart and let the moment be just that: one moment. Some of those hard moments feel like they will never end, like they have been here before and will continue to come back to haunt me, and can really cripple me when I feel their weight. If some part of my innate wisdom can allow me to hold even that weight as an experience of a moment or a series of moments, I may not be happy, but I can hold out hope that a better moment is just ahead on life's highway.

As we have a greater sense of the moment, and can truly be present to each moment, our creative power grows and becomes more joyful. If I am going to the store to purchase flowers, being open to the moment and allowing for whatever presents adds to the joy of discovering what is available, what colors call to me at that time, and making a choice that is both beautiful and unique.

Learning to listen to our bodies and hearts in the moment helps us know about our rhythm, our pace, which direction to go in, who to reach out to or let in, and when to stop. And when we can truly savor the moment, we can experience beauty,love, connection and kindness in much deeper ways.

Empty moments are painful. But to feel them is part of being fully alive. Connected movements are magic, and if we can remember how they feel in our bodies and hearts, as well as through memories in our minds, life can be more hopeful and our resilience grows. I know that I am grateful for each moment of life I am given, since for all of us, the next moment is never assured.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Many Expressions of the Heart

In 1983, I founded a group called the Boston Arts Roundtable. I was a singer/songwriter seeking community. And I realized that to have an artist's soul, meant that there was a core sensibility that was deeper than any one genre of expression. While people can get pigeon-holed as singers or pianists or watercolor artists or photographers or writers, I found that many artists were actually multi-genred. And that expressive arts and the healing arts are interconnected as well.

I am very much a multi-genred artist. When I was in my 20's, I participated in a right brain/left brain workshop led by Ned Hermann. About 100 of us were in the training. And at the end of the training, all 100 people were lined up across a very large room, with the most left brained people to the left, and the most right brained people to the right. A visual artist and I were the top 2, most right brained people. That was an eye opener.

When I left my job as an organizational consultant at Digital Equipment Corporation in 1985, I had a business card made up that said, "artist of life: all forms, all media." And, in many ways, that was my most authentic label. Yes, I was a singer/songwriter. Yes, I played the piano and guitar. Yes, I could arrange other people's songs, and write harmonies on the spot. But I also was a photographer, a poet, a book writer, a gourmet culinary artist of healthy foods, an occasional painter or drawer, a dancer, an interior designer, and very centrally, a healing artist.

My healing work, Emotional-Kinesthetic Psychotherapy, many consider my greatest life contribution. It led me to write two books, to teach in Europe before people understood my work in the United States, to travel across the country leading workshops and giving talks, to appear on National Public Radio and on National TV, to co-found the first professional association in the country in the field of body psychotherapy in 1988 and to help found my national professional association in 1996. But even more importantly, to set up a school with an apprenticeship-based training model, where over 11 years, scores of people learned how to practice the heart-centered, psychospiritual method of body psychotherapy that I had developed.

I am very grateful that EKP has helped thousands of people over 32 years, and that some of the people I trained have extended the reach of this work to countless others.

But many people cannot understand how I can be both a singer/songwriter and a mind-body psychotherapist. I try to explain that these are just different expressions of the heart. A true artist sources much of their creative expression from the heart. There is a surrender to a higher power, to the universal wisdom, to a sense of God if one believes in God. And profound creativity and healing come from a deep place inside that is egoless, yet very grounded in an authentic sense of self.

I have found that the kind of self-care I do to be a master therapist (which includes going to the gym every day, eating healthy foods, meditating daily, doing personal growth work and therapy/supervision as a lifelong pursuit, nurturing my soul with beauty, connection, and joy) are the very same things I need to do to keep my creative channel open as a writer of songs or prose.

As a shy introverted who NEVER wanted to be the center of attention, and certainly not at the center of a stage, it has taken years of work in therapy and performance coaching to become a skilled ambivert, and overcome my inherent shyness to be able to touch others heart to heart in the way only performing music can. Public speaking was easier for me to do than singing. And stepping out from the safety of the piano to the nakedness of center stage at a microphone required facing all kinds of shadows, internal and external.

Whatever work we can do to deeper our souls, to heal our hearts, to find our voices, only enhances our creative capacity. I have found my heart called to different forms of expression at different times in my life. But the two most fundamental creative expressions, the ones that always feel like "home" for my heart, are EKP (body psychotherapy) and music, especially as a singer/songwriter and song interpreter.

What a magical, creative world we could evolve if we gave ourselves permission to build lifework from the heart level up...So that the compartmentalized boxes we put people in need not trap us. Just as a healthy person can feel BOTH sadness and joy at the same time, healthy expression can be multi-media, and even simultaneously in unrelated media. The heart invites us to truly be an artist of life.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Third Body: The "We" In Our Relationships

"A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do not long at this moment to be older, or younger, nor born in any other nation, or time, or place They are content to be where they are, talking or not-talking. Their breaths together somehow feed someone whom we do not know. The man sees the way his fingers move; he sees her hands close around a book she hands to him, They obey a third body that they share in common. They have made a promise to love that body. Age may come, parting may come, death will come. A man and a woman sit near each other; as they breathe they feed someone we do not know, someone we know of, whom we have never seen."

--Robert Bly

When two people form a relationship, they often do not realize that they are birthing a new being: the "we." The "we" is more than you and I. The "we" is a kind of oversoul, that is greater than you and I alone. Building a relationship requires not only getting to know the "you" and "I," but also nurturing the "we." Kindness towards the "you" and the "I" provides seeds for the "we." However, without consciously attending to the "we," the relationship cannot thrive and grow to its full potential, and in some cases, be sustained.

Deep intimacy can give us an experience of this "we." When you anticipate another's thoughts or words before they come out of their mouth, when you just know the phone is just going to ring or you think of a loved one and a text message instantly follows...These kinds of experience grow out of the "we" connection between two people connected at the heart.

Caring for the "we" requires consciousness, time, energy, thought, conversation and actions. Taking time out of our busy individual lives to nurture the "we" connection is critical to feed the we. When people invest too much of their focus on their individual pursuits, the "we" can starve. Likewise, when there is an obstacle or difficulty, when something is not working in the relationship, it takes a commitment to bring the attention of both people to not only self and other, but the "we." Perhaps things have gotten out of alignment or have remained unspoken or unasked. And conscious heartful attention and communication are required to unearth the deeper roots of what often presents at a more superficial level.

The "we" can nurture and feed the two individual "I's" when times get tough and when times are joyful. It takes two people to have a relationship. And if one of the two stops attending to the relationship, the we suffers as well as the other "I."

Sadly, while it takes two people to have a relationship, it only takes one to kill one. And when one person abruptly leaves, not only is the other person a casualty, but the "we" as well. Ending a relationship kills the "we." And this is a loss that might be even greater than the loss of the other "I." Because the "we" gives us a sense of connection not only to another person, but to something greater than ourselves. The "we" is indeed the oversoul, or the deeper spiritual body created when two people open their hearts to one another, and choose, hopefully with love and consciousness, to create something together.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Truth Matters: Especially Now

I honestly never imagined living in a time where terms like "alternative facts," and "fake news" would appear abundantly in the newspapers I read, on social media and on the airwaves. Although Randy Rainbow has a fantastic satire on "Alternative Facts," and Saturday Night Live has lots of material for the foreseeable future, attention to what is actually true can be obscured in the and static of "alternative facts," many of which are made up or just plain lies.

The New York Times, one of the publications that was not allowed to attend a recent news conference by our Twitter-loving president, published a wonderful statement about why truth matters, especially now.

The truth is hard.

The truth is hidden.

The truth must be pursued.

The truth is hard to hear.

The truth is rarely simple.

The truth isn't so obvious.

The truth is necessary.

The truth can't be glossed over.

The truth has no agenda.

The truth can't be manufactured.

The truth doesn't take sides.

The truth isn't red or blue.

The truth is hard to accept.

The truth pulls no punches.

The truth is powerful.

The truth is under attack.

The truth is worth defending.

The truth requires taking a stand.

The truth is more important now than ever.

This piece reminds me that truth is something we know in our hearts, in our guts, and in the grounded part of our minds. Truth provides grounding for sense of self, our important relationships and the fabric of our lives. Truth is the foundation on which we build a solid presence in the world, and on which we make grounded, sustainable decisions.

Inundate us with falsehoods and alternative facts, and it becomes hard, if not impossible, to find vision, direction, connection and grounding for relationships, our actions and our lives. We become overwhelmed, isolated, afraid, trapped, and overtime, exhausted. Truth perhaps belongs on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

It is important to step back, step away and step out from the media tornado that is swirling around all of us, so that we do not get lost or swept away. We need space to listen to our hearts and guts, and think clear thoughts, so that we retain a grounded sense of reality, a grounded sense of self, and can make healthy choices for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.

It seems clear that truth is a basic human need. And it is critical for safety, understanding differences and finding common threads in our human experience. We do need truth now more than ever.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Healthy Imagery For Love: Love As A Collaborative Work of Art

Mindy Len Catron is a writer and an English teacher, who, in her own words, "gets paid to think about words for a living." Her TED talk, "A Better Way to Talk About Love," eloquently and directly addresses the way we talk about love and what's wrong with it.

The primary image we use for the beginning of a relationship is "falling in love." When I wrote Healing the War Between the Genders: The Power of the Soul-Centered Relationship, like Mindy, I recognized that "falling" imagery is neither healthy nor desirable really. Mindy notes that this imagery is not "jumping," and that it is "accidental, uncontrollable, and happens to us without our consent." We are "struck" or "crushed." We "swoon." Love makes us "crazy" and "sick."

Mindy points out that "our metaphors equate the experience of loving someone to extreme violence or illness." NOT a good model. And awfully painful and unhealthy if this is something we seek to have long-term. Love positions us "as the victims of unforeseen and totally unavoidable circumstances." This disempowers us, ungrounded us, and throws a big wrench into the fabric of both our lives and our sense of self, rather than supporting us to be more grounded, empowered, communicative and creative.

Mindy was curious how our language evolved to this imagery of romantic love as craziness and mental illness. She found that "the history of Western culture is full of language that equates love to mental illness." She notes that in "As You Like It," William Shakespeare wrote "Love is merely a madness," and Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "There is always some maddens in love." Contemporary music is full of song titles and references to "crazy love."

Interestingly enough, the neurochemistry of early romantic love and mental illness is very similar. Mindy cites a study from 1999 that used blood tests "to confirm that the serotonin levels of the newly in love closely resembled the serotonin levels of people who have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder." She also noted that "low levels of serotonin are also associated with seasonal affective disorder and depression." The early phases of romantic love can include swings in mood and behavior. This is associated with what I call "the new relationship energy phase" of relationship in Healing The War Between the Genders.

Eventually, however, this new relationship phase ends as intimacy progresses, and people move into what I call "the shadowlands," where our unresolved issues or triggers, and our deeper needs emerge to be worked or acted out in the cauldron of intimacy. The new relationship energy phase can last for just a short time, like days or months, or a few years. However, eventually, people go deeper into the emotional-spiritual cauldron of relationship, and many of the "highs" suddenly become "lows" and what seemed to be "perfect" becomes complicated, flawed or simply human.

Sadly, the media gives us lots of imagery of the pathological version of romantic love, and does not include the follow on stages, nor road map that allows us to navigate a healthy journey of long term romantic love. So, many people repeat the "falling in and out of love," model wondering what is wrong with themselves or their loved ones.

Mindy offers a wonderful, far more realistic and healthy imagery for love: "love as a collaborative work of art." I have always been a strong believer in conscious, collaborative relationship, where communication, self-knowledge, honesty, self-love that allows space to really see and love another are central to the dance and the journey.

Mindy notes, "So, if love is a collaborative work of art, then love is an aesthetic experience. Love is unpredictable, love is creative, love requires communication and discipline. It is frustrating and emotionally demanding. And love involves both joy and pain. Ultimately, each experience of love is different."

It is far healthier and more empowering to understand love as something that is co-created between two conscious people who like and respect one another. And this also suggests that the two people have the power to create the form, the structure and the very journey together on their own authentic terms.

Mindy reflects with this imagery of love, "you get to stop thinking about yourself and what you're gaining or losing in a relationship, and you get to start thinking about what you have to offer." As an artist, love and life can be more inspired and inspiring. And blocks and obstacles can be understood as a natural part of creative process. Learning the introspective and self-care tools to work through obstacles and blocks better prepares us to be creative collaborators. I hope this imagery gets more visibility and air time, so that we can transform the common imagery to this healthier notion of love.