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.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Waves, Anchors and Islands: What Is Your Relationship Attachment Style?

"Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own."

--Robert Heinlein

In his book, Wired For Love, Stan Tatkin suggests that people have one of three primary styles for attachment, which he calls waves, anchors and islands. To be able to better both your own attachment style and needs and the style and needs of your partner, it is worth understanding the characteristics and differences between them.

Tatkin lists strengths of people who relate in each style:

"Anchors are secure as individuals, willing to commit and fully share with another, generally happy people and adapt easily to the needs of the moment." This style reflects a person who is secure in themselves and therefore secure in attachment.

"Waves are generous and giving, focused on care of others, happiest when around other people and able to see both sides of an issue."

"Islands are independent and self-reliant, take good care of themselves, productive and creative, especially when given space and low maintenance."

Two anchors operate like a team, and believe "two can be better than one," and "we can do it together." But anchors don't always pair with other anchors. If they pair with a wave or an island, they can be pulled off their centers and become more secure in their attachment. Or on the upside, an anchor can pull a wave or an island into a more secure attachment pattern, and their partner may become more like an anchor as a result.

Anchors likely experienced security from their early caregivers. Tatkin suggests that an anchor "learned from early caregivers who placed a high value on relationship and interaction. Their parents were attuned, responsive, and sensitive to their signals of distress, bids for comfort and efforts to communicate." In adult relationships, anchors are "unafraid to fully share one another's minds without concern about negative consequences." Anchors both "respect one another's feelings and treat one another as the first source to share good news and bad."

Islands, on the other hand, need much more personal space and are less comfortable with the close attachment style of the anchor. The island might say, "I want you in the house, just not in my room...unless I ask you." Islands are very sensitive to what they perceive as intrusions from a partner. While an island's parent may have been loving in some ways, likely they were not touchy-feely or the kind of parent that responded quickly or at all when their child was sad or scared or needing comfort at night. The island, therefore, learned to be self-reliant and believe, "I can do it myself." An island may not expect frequent interactions with a partner, including sexual intimacy. Tatkin says "islands tend to experience more interpersonal stress than waves and anchors due to their higher sense of threat in the presence of their significant others and social situations in general." When an island's partner is away on business, they are more likely to feel the relief of the lack of interpersonal stress, rather than the loss of the partner's company.

Waves comes from families where they did not experience a sense of steadiness or security. In a partnership, a wave may be ambivalent about getting close. One part of him/her wants connection. The other part might be afraid of connecting. As a result, after a separation, a wave might envision connecting with their partner, but upon reunion, find angry feelings surfacing that prevent the easy connection. At some level, dating back to childhood, the wave feels that opening to intimacy might yield rejection, that the people closest to him/her won't get or be able to meet his/her deeper needs. The wave might feel, "I often feel as though I'm giving and giving, and not getting anything back."

Understanding your attachment style and your partner's attachment style is important in understanding triggers and conflicts that arise, and learning how to respond to them. During times of distress, even if an anchor gets triggered, they likely possess the inner resources to ground themselves and contextualize what is going on. Islands and waves have a harder time doing so. In times of distress, physical contact and non-verbal communication is often what is needed most to bridge a divide. An island relies too much on talking and may not be able to connect readily on a non-verbal level. An island is less prone to seek or even care about reassurances of love and security when stressed. A wave, on the other hand, may appear more "needy" and "insist too much of verbal assurances of love and security." The wave can appear "overly expressive, dramatic, emotional and tangential.

During a conflict, an island will focus on the future and avoid the present and the past. S/he will be at war, driven by a threatened left brain retaliating "by communicating attack or retreat." A wave, on the other hand, will focus on the past and avoid the present and the future. "'I can't move forward until we resolve what's happened,' is a common wave statement." Anchors are most able to stay in the present and work through the conflict in the present.

To help a wave in a time of conflict or emotional distress, touching them and providing a calm presence can ease the stress. To help an island in a time of relationship stress, speaking to them calmly in a reassuring rational way may break through their discomfort.

Tatkin believes it is very important to get to know your own style and the style of your partner, so you can understand the dynamics that come into play when conflicts arise, and how to most productively and respectfully deal with them.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

From Information Scarcity to Information Overload

In what seems to be a paradoxical way, I happened upon a very thoughtful piece written by Marriah Raphael Starr, a Facebook friend (who I also know in real life) reflecting on the magnitude of change that has taken place since the 1990's. He wrote a very thoughtful essay on Facebook, the kind of essay that I would have found in a newspaper or magazine article in 1990.

Marriah notes that in 1990, "We lived in environments characterized by low system noise, high vitality, intrinsic values, and symbols that accurately reflected reality." And in 2016, all of these aspects have reversed entirely.

Let me explain what he means:

LOW SYSTEM NOISE

Marriah describes the media environment of 1990 as "low saturation." He notes: Only 5 major television channels were available without a cable subscription: NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and PBS. And cable tv was very rare. Records and tape cassettes were stlll the media for people to listen to music. Phone conversations took place over landlines. Cell phones were rare and limited to phone conversations for the few that had them. We did not have 24-7 programming on tv. Word of mouth and the postal service were the predominant ways of receiving messages. Photos were taken on cameras using film and only a print photo album allowed people to share their pictures. E-mail did not yet exist on a mass market level. Nightly news broadcasts and the morning newspaper were the only ways to get state wide, national and international news.

Marriah called this "information scarcity, because information was hard to produce and hard to get." If someone didn't have access to the information contained in libraries, book stores, movie theaters and private homes, Marriah suggests that a "side effect of information scarcity was boredom." And being creative was the only alternative to being bored.

HIGH VIRALITY, INTRINSIC VALUES AND SYMBOLS REFLECT REALITY

Marriah defines high vitality as the likelihood that a good book, song or movie would go viral, because people were bored and any cultural product that received lots of attention, either quickly or over time would reach what Malcolm Gladwell calls "the tipping point." A key piece here, is what Marriah calls "intrinsic values." A good song, good book or good movie was actually good. Some intrinsic property "within the cultural product" attracted people to it. Too, Marriah adds, "when people read a news story in a newspaper in 1990, they could guarantee that the words written in the story reflected what actually happened. When a politician made a speech in 1990, voters knew that the speech reflected real events." Marriah summed this up by saying, "The map is the territory."

He then goes on to explain how all of these qualities have reversed in 2016:

* With the internet, smart phones and online social networks, we live with high system noise, instead of low system noise

* With all these media of information and system noise, "we have gone from information scarcity to information surplus in only one generation"

* Boredom has been replaced by a constant barrage of information from all of our technological information channels (e-mails, smartphones, cable television, infinite videos, infinite websites...)

* Marriah postulates that with such a high information management problem, persuasion is the last thing on people's minds. He believes that it is all people can do to keep up with all of the information that is "pushed at us."

* Marriah says products no longer have intrinsic values, but are designed for specific groups of people. Songs, books, movies and other products may not be inherently good, but with a large enough fan base, there is a market for them.

* As we have seen with the recent election, campaign speeches and news stories no longer have to reflect reality. And many people will still support a candidate regardless of the facts.

Marriah concludes that we have lost control over "the vitality of information, the intrinsic properties of information" and "the connection between information and reality." The best way to survive today, he suggests, "is to maintain low system noise and produce information that reflects our shared reality."

While all our social media are fun and informative in many ways, there is no substitute for the gathering of groups and communities of like-minded and caring people to talk real time, face to face. And from these conversations, organize to speak and take action.