Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Closeness: Intimacy and Soul Nourishment

Our world seems to more and more virtual every day. So much of what used to be face to face is now done online--be it holding meetings, workshops, conferences and even coaching and therapist sessions.

While there are certainly conveniences of being able to participate in events with others from the comfort of your own computer, a lot is lost when we only meet in cyberspace.

Closeness, including emotional and physical contact, is a soul food group, and without enough of it, our souls and spirits can become malnourished. Unfortunately, like frogs in a pot of boiling water, this happens slowly over time, and we may not even be aware of what we have lost as we lose it. We become numb or frozen and start to define that as the new normal.

Eleonora Woloy has written a wonderful chapter called "The Many Faces of Closeness," in a book entitled Closeness in Personal and Professional Relationships edited by Harry A. Wilmer. Some of her points are good food for thought.

She defines closeness as "a nearness to anything, or a coming together to unite, whether the other is another human being an animal God or another layer of oneself." Woloy conducted a study and found that the following elements were key parts of closeness: "something shared, a sudden recognition, an experience often in silence, vulnerability, a sense of freedom and bodily experience."

Silence included "the experience of being with someone in stillness, without conversation, either sharing the same experience or sharing one's own private experience in the company of another." When we are face to face, our energies interact. In silence, this energetic interaction, be it our heart fields, our spirits or both, can become palpable. It leads to connection, and I believe to soul nourishment as well.

Sudden recognition was "a sense of sudden unexplained feeling of familiarity that led to a feeling of closeness." I believe when we share space and time with another person, including speaking and listening from the heart, as well as sharing silence, we feel that we know them better. And both energetically and informationally, we do. We start to see and feel ourselves in the mirror of another person, including energetically. This helps us feel more emotionally and spiritually nourished.

Woloy defines shared experience as "the experience of joining with another in some thought, feeling or particular action." If we really want to get to know another person, or want another person to really get to know us, having shared experiences is important. The act of joining leads to connection and over time, bonding. Is it not a surprise that we form friendships of substance with people who we share common experiences with, be it singing in a chorus, working on a project, serving on a committee, or even doing volunteer work feeding the hungry on a holiday?

Vulnerability is "a capacity to be open and exposed to an other." While many of us fear being vulnerable, developing a sense of connection, including shared experiences, helps us feel safer to let our guards down. When we open our hearts and share more deeply, we naturally nurture connection and intimacy. I believe the soul craves the nourishment that comes from safe, respectful and mutual sharing of vulnerability.

Freedom results from a sense of safe, acceptance and welcome of one another's core being. If we are seen, accepted and welcomed for who we actually are, we have many degrees of freedom to fly, create, express, explore and share.

By having an experience in the body, we can "move out of our normal time frame into circular rather than linear time with a heightened sense of vulnerability and knowing while retaining the freedom to not become lost." Being face to face our energy is shared directly. When we touch--holding hands, in an embrace, a supportive hand on the shoulder, we are very directly communicating presence and care to another human being in a way that just cannot be replicated without being physically together. I believe the soul needs this kind of physical contact and communication to be fully nourished, to be fully expressed, and to find full spiritual peace.

I believe a huge piece of face to face connection comes from being in proximity of one another's hearts. Our heatwaves interact without words and can be felt in their full power when we are 8 - 10 feet from one another. The meeting of our hearts, nourishes and expresses the soul. Meeting in cyberspace just cannot replicate this experience.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Me Too And All Of Us

So much is happening socially and politically in our country right now. Add in natural forces like hurricanes, and life can feel daunting and out of control.

This past month, the "Me Too" campaign that went viral on Facebook gave me lots to reflect on. Though not entirely surprising, it was powerful and deeply troubling to see just how many of my female friends and colleagues had experienced sexual violence.

And though my experience as a 16 year old surviving an attempted rape and murder has always been front and center, contributing to the body of work I evolved as a heart-centered body psychotherapist, until the "Me Too" campaign, I did not really focus on all the other experiences of inappropriate advances that I have experienced from my childhood through teenage years, through college and into my professional years. As I started to tally all the experiences, it was truly daunting not only that so many incidents happened, but also that I had put them aside, even dismissed them because none was as life threatening or significant as the incident that happened when I was 16.

It also seemed important to note that male friends and colleagues had experienced inappropriate sexual advances in addition to my female friends and colleagues. And that underlying this whole epidemic is a misuse of power and a lack of understanding of the sacredness of sexuality in our lives.

Sexuality is primal, a creative force and a drive that allows human life to continue. Conception, pregnancy and birth result from this primal sexual drive. Sexuality is also naked, raw and vulnerable. Love, safety and consciousness allow it to be sacred, where the body is the literal temple of the soul. To express our sexuality can be a form of worship in this temple.

And yet, in a culture that is so disconnected from the body, both our own human bodies and the body of the earth we live on, sexuality can be "reduced" or dissociated into just a "force" or "drive" that is powerful and can dominate, control and violate other human beings.

When I look at my own experiences of sexual violence, sometimes the perpetrator was driven by fear (my own father's reaction to the fact that his 16 year old daughter might no longer be "pure.") Sometimes the perpetrator was driven by a desire to conquer or overpower that which was vulnerable (namely me--a child, a student, an up and coming professional...). One time the perpetrator was driven by pain (the man who violently assaulted me when I was 16 was in deep and dire pain). And one time the perpetrator was on drugs and not in his right mind. In my case the perpetrators were all men. But, it could have just as well been possible that I could have been assaulted by another woman.

What I find incredibly sad, even tragic, is that each of the people who harmed or tried to harm me lacked grounding, heart, and consciousness of the impact of his actions. Did these men feel so insecure at a core level that they needed to act out in order to feel better about themselves? Were these men so wounded that they needed to "pass on the wound?" We all know the saying "hurt people hurt people."

I saw first hand that the man who violently assaulted me when I was 16 was in psychic agony and he did not really want to be hurting me. He could not help himself. His pain was too great. And I went from crime statistic to sacred intimate when I somehow tuned in to this truth and connected with him in the midst of the assault.

How can be bring more healing to one another? How can we bring more heart? How can we create safe spaces where people not only can come out of the darkness and say "me too," but also get to the heart of the matter so that we can change a culture where sexual violence is so prevalent, even if it lurks powerfully in the shadows?

When we are wounded, it is only natural to develop a shield or defense mechanism protecting the wound. We don't want to be hurt again. But if our hurts are sublimated and remain unconscious, they come out the sides or the back. The energy of the wound does not go away.

Better to create safe and respectful ways to appropriately work through layers of defenses and reach the heart of the matter where healing can take place. It needs to be safe to feel. We need to feel safe to reveal our deeper and too often darker experiences. And we need the emotional intelligence and compassion to great these deeper and darker experiences with love, compassion and appropriate contact.

Until we bring more consciousness and compassion to ourselves and one another, and until we become more aware of the spirituality in our sexuality, too many of us at all stages of our lives will continue to experience assault, intimidation or violence from other human beings.

Somehow we need to learn that heart power is more fruitful than the power of domination. And because we are all interconnected, when one person is hurt, we all feel the pain one way or the other. When one person heals, it opens the door for the rest of us.

May we be courageous enough to find ways to open our hearts to ourselves and one another and create more safety and healing, and less trauma and pain.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Power of Grace In Crazy Times

2017 has been a year of truly horrifying and crazy events, one after the next. Alternative facts. Fake news. Scary threats between leaders of the United States and North Korea. Hurricanes destroying life on islands like Barbuda, and imperiling life in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico. Our president stepping outside of expected boundaries to insult and threaten professional athletes. The list goes on and on.

How do we keep our grounding in the wake of such chaos and craziness? A wise coach of mine advises, "when someone is acting insanely, don't join them in their insanity." Committing even more deeply to our own personal growth and spiritual work is critical to help us be in the world but not of it during crazy times. Cultivating qualities like grace and peace is a powerful path of action we can strive for.

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we are all evolving individually and collectively. Becoming conscious of this evolutionary path allows us to take our experiences, including painful ones, as opportunities for learning and growth. Rather than letting ourselves feel powerless and victimized, we have an opportunity to learn to listen to the wisdom of our bodies, including the wisdom of our hearts. Every life experience offers us lessons, should we be able to mine them. Learning to introspect, meditate, reflect and act on our deeper intuitive guidance can help us become more grounded and steer clear of the drama being broadcast rapidly by our media driven culture.

In my own life, I have aspired to cultivate the qualities of grace and peace both internally and in my interactions with others. Walking this path includes daily meditation, keeping my heart open with my feet on the ground, mining my experiences to discern my own sense of truth and seeking to be kind, while being able to be fierce when necessary. Surrounding myself with trustworthy friends and wise coaches/mentors who can provide me with both a space to be heard deeply and wise sounding boards for feedback fortifies my commitment to self-care and integrity.

Growing into my own wholeness as a strong woman has brought more and more peace and grace. As I embrace wholeness and stay there, no matter what, I invite the people around me to join me in a space of peace and grace. As my wise coach says, "stay in heaven and wait for others to join me." Everyone has their own path, with its own timing and trajectory. The best I can do is wish others well and let them be. If I focus on cultivating peace and grace, everyone wins.

When someone tries to pull me into a place that is not peaceful for me, that is their unconscious place. If I stay in alignment with the divine by meditating, listening to my body and following my heart, I have the opportunity to bring a bit of heaven down to earth. Walking around the world in this state of consciousness brings grace and peace to others in an organic way.

Many years ago, I used to notice how people would just start opening up and talking to me about their lives when they were next to me on the cross trainer at the gym. One of my apprentices used to joke that I had a sign on my forehead in invisible ink that said, "safe person, vent here." I look back now and realize those moments at the gym were actually quite sacred. My own effort to cultivate peace and grace within myself was organically inviting others to a more graceful and peaceful place. If we operate at a higher frequency, if we live our lives with a greater sense of consciousness we can humbly and naturally bring light into a crazy, too often dark world. This takes commitment and effort. But the rewards, both personal and collective, are priceless.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Overgiving

We are told that giving is a good thing, and it is. Giving allows other to receive. And giving feeds the heart of the giver as well as the receiver. Yet life is not black and white, and sadly even something that is inherently good can be bad when balance is lost.

What can make sincere, heartfelt giving "too much?" And what is the hidden cost of "over giving" to the giver and to the receiver? I have had to reflect on this question very deeply and very personally recently. And it has been painful, sobering, humbling and absolutely essential for my growth and learning.

Let me tell you a story. As a child, I was born into a family of well-meaning, but deeply traumatized parents. Both of my parents had their own stories. My mother was a "motherless daughter." She lost her mom to mental illness when she was only 12, upon the birth of her younger sister. With her own mother gone, my mother had no choice but to step up and pick up the slack. She was a loving, nurturing presence to her younger sister. But the void within her own heart and soul remained, and was passed on to me when she became a mother to her own daughter.

My mother, a kind and gentle woman, suffered from depression, and likely undiagnosed bipolar disorder. When she was depressed, there was a huge void. And I became the one who had to pick up the slack, because if I did not, bad things would happen or the void would remain and become unbearable. As a young child, I would go into my mother's room at night because she had fallen asleep with the light on and a cigarette burning by the bed. I would turn off the light and put out the cigarette so that my mother could sleep peacefully and so that we all would be safe. My mother did not want to cook when she was depressed. So, I picked up the slack and became an accomplished cook by the time I was 12. I even wrote my own cookbook. What I could not possibly have realized was that a young girl like me should not have been having to pick up the slack, and that I was not being given the experience of receiving some basic experiences one deserves to receive as a child.

There was a second level to the dynamic. I was always a generous, loving, kind, well-behaved girl, who pitched in, did what needed to be done and rarely complained. When my mom was ailing, I would help, pitch in, step up. This included offering compassion and emotional support as well as doing practical tasks. And there were many times when I felt more like her mother than her daughter. And at times she really needed these things from me. However, there were also moments, when she got angry that she needed these things from me and that I so ably provided them, and she would turn on me. I would be hurt, devastated and confused. I was just trying to be a good person, a loving daughter. Why would my mother push me away, reject me and be angry with me after I gave her the best that I had?

As a child, I was in a double bind: my mother's struggles created a very dark hole, and I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't. Do nothing, and I would watch my mother suffer, risk the house burning down, and live with the never ending tension of a person struggling who could not find their way to the light. Do something and I might ease her pain in the moment, prevent a cigarette-induced fire and forge a kind of loving connection, but I would risk having my head chopped off when she realized I was providing things a child should not have to provide...and perhaps she felt guilt or shame that she could not provide these things to me.

While there is an axiom that it is better to give than to receive that axiom betrays us. While giving does open the heart, and giving helps us for love for those we give to, when there is not a balance of giving and receiving, relationships get profoundly out of balance. Someone who chronically receives can take the giver for granted, and can even resent their rock solid presence because it casts a shadow on their own conduct. Though frozen and at times paralyzed, my mother was a good person and it hurt her NOT to be able to give, even though at times she just could not.

Sadly, what became ingrained in me was an instinctive pattern to fill voids before me and pick up the slack in relationships when the other person was struggling, challenged or asking me to help out since they could not do so. I wanted to be kind. I felt badly for the person and their struggle. I wanted to be helpful. But when the relationship dynamic became founded on my picking up the slack, the give and take needed for a mutually fulfilling relationship ceased to be. And without meaning to or even realizing it, I was denying the other person the opportunity to step up, to take up space, and to want to make themselves a better person because they cared about me. Coming to realize this truth has been heartbreaking. And essential.

By over giving, I was not allowing myself the space to receive love--from myself as well as others. I was not even aware that I SHOULD be receiving love in return, because it was such a foreign experience for me as a child. I remember in my early 20's, a healer I saw invited me to shower myself with the same abundant generosity I showered others with. I became more and more skilled at loving myself. But this one particular blindspot, the over giving part, remained elusive to me up until present day.

The lesson? If another person is struggling, if someone is NOT living up to their part of an important relationship, there is a time to pick up the slack and there is a time to just sit in the void. Maybe a plan does not get made. Maybe a bumpy moment stays bumpy. But the person who is struggling or confused or taking things for granted has the space to struggling, unravel their own pieces and step up to the plate...or not. I have learned that I must step back, rather than step forward, and just let, rather than do. And only then can someone I care about who cares about me have the space to CHOOSE to be a better person. And only then can a person have the space to do their work and struggle and learn and come forward in their own way and time.

I realize how important it is for a child to be held and loved and protected in a healthy give and take, so the child learns when to give and when it is truly their turn and birthright to receive. Then the child learns how to give space, let, be, and dance with the flow of the universe, which ultimately wants to bring us love.

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.