Monday, March 26, 2018

The Thin Line Between Dreams and Reality

A grade school friend recently posted photos from our high school yearbook on Facebook. Under the photo of me at age 16 is a quote I wrote that in many ways has been the tagline of my life: "A thin line stands between dream and reality and only the heart knows the characteristics that correspond to either side." Isn't it amazing that we are who we are from the very beginning. Over time, the threads of our core identity are woven together in a magical web. There can be different chapters and different expressions, but the same underlying message.

The quote evolved into my signature song, written in my early 20's, which evolved into my first book, which was published on my 30th birthday. Learning the art of creating from the heart has involved two critical and inter-related skill sets: 1. developing the capacity tap into deep dreams and 2. breaking down dreams into a series of action steps, building a pathway to bring dreams into reality. Yet even more fundamentally, learning to hold the space between dream and reality, allowing for vision to become real, is a profound point of power.

I think I first became aware of the thin line that stands between dream and reality in a grammar school science class. We did an experiment "bending light" with a magnifying glass at just the right angle to burn a hole in a piece of white paper. It really felt like magic. Without discovering the "thin line,"in this case just the right position for the magnifying glass, nothing would happen on the paper. Yet, discovering the right position allowed a kind of alchemy to occur.

The creative process requires and invites this kind of alchemy. Attuning to deeper feelings, thoughts and intuition through meditation, journaling, movement and introspection allows dreams to germinate and be captured tangibly in images, feelings, and words. By revisiting an image, a feeling, a thought or words, we can bring our conscious energy to the dream or vision. Our conscious energy allows the dream or vision to evolve and become clearer. Increased clarity allows us to translate the dream or vision into actionable steps we can take. Taking action steps and evolving vision become an integrated feedback loop. Each step we take clarifies what comes next. What results from each step helps us refine our vision.

Learning to hold vision lightly and with a heartfelt commitment is another kind of thin line. Human beings are often scared of the unknown and the unseen. And making dreams real involves starting with the unseen and the unknown. If we are scared, we hold onto vision tightly. This tightness can leave no breathing room for a creative process to unfold. Faith is a critical ingredient in giving vision space to breathe and unfold.

When we are afraid, it is hard to have faith. Learning to sit with an open space, patiently, quietly and faithfully is a kind of emotional or spiritual "muscle building." Initially it might hurt. With practice, we become stronger and better able to gently hold vision faithfully.

Over the years, I have had many opportunities to practice working with the thin line between dreams and reality. As a songwriter, I sit in an open space and a state of receptivity, never knowing when inspiration will strike. When I am struck and a song starts to come through my creative channel, it is my work to then sit with it, listen to it, receive it, and go to the piano to capture it. Making notes about chords and lyrics, and recording an emerging melody help me birth a song. Sometimes it comes all at once. Sometimes it comes in fragments. Keeping my mind open to how it will come through and when keeps my creative process fertile.

When I paint, sometimes I have a clear image I want to make real...and other times I am called by particular colors, both on their own and in combination. Working with acrylics in a pouring medium includes opening to the magic of what the medium itself creates. There is a divine magic at work, and the end result is surprise.

Starting a new project, bringing people together to build community, writing an article or a book, or developing a personal growth workshop all have elements of working with this thin line. When to listen and when to speak, when to apply oneself and when to step back, when to ask outwardly and when to ask inwardly....there are fine lines between each of these dualities.

Becoming comfortable and familiar with polarities and the balanced middle ground is all part of this thin line dance. Right brain and body wisdom can be a fine conductor of the creative journey.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Connection And True Safety

With all the cultural violence we are living through right now, sadly too often it is hard to truly feel safe. Schools, libraries and churches are places we would expect to be safe. One could argue that each of these places is even sacred. But the pain and disconnection that is ripping through both individual people and our society as a whole has brought violence into all of these safe, sacred spaces.

Even when we suspect violence is to come, as those close to Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida did, and as neighbors of Jeffrey Yao, who killed a woman and wounded a man at the Winchester Public Library in Winchester, Massachusetts reported and feared, the pathway to make a difference and stop potential violence is not clear. People reported concerns about Cruz to appropriate authorities. Nothing was done. Neighbors feared Yao would kill someone. Sure enough, he did.

Looking at both the personal and cultural pain and trauma that underlie violence is critical. Pain and trauma disconnect us from ourselves, from others and from the divine. Too often, we feel frozen, helpless and powerless in the face of senseless violence. We don't know how to protect ourselves. We don't know what can be done to stop more senseless violence from happening. And it takes a sense of disconnection to commit violent crimes. In order to hurt or kill other people, a killer must view them as just that, "other," separate from self. When we "other" those around us, they can become targets or objects of our pain and rage.

Guns do not make us safe. Guns are made to kill and injure. When used as an extension of rage, guns have become a weapon of terrorism and destruction, too often at a large scale. The idea of having more guns in the hands of more people frightens me greatly. The more guns, the greater the chance of gun violence. Gun violence cannot happen in the absence of guns.

The response of the students who survived the school shooting in Florida is powerful and important. When our leaders don't get to the heart of the matter, it is critical that individual people gather together, as have these students, and harness their collective power to truly fight for fundamental change. In addition to their courage and voices, these students are modeling the importance of connection in creating and restoring true safety. When we can feel each other's pain, when we can see that what could happen to you could happen to me, and what actually happened in one place could likely happen anywhere, including where we are, we begin to become conscious of the fundamental interconnection between us. And if we can truly see and feel our common humanity, our capacity for empathy develops and grows. As our empathy develops, so does emotional intelligence, which leads to more conscious, thoughtful, considerate behavior, and the recognition we need to heal our pain rather than act out from it.

Healing is a process that helps us restore all forms of connection, within oneself, between self and other and between self and the divine. When people come together around a common vision, common values and right action, one can argue the divine works with them and through them. Aloneness breeds disconnection, alienation and powerlessness.

When we feel that we are different in an alienating way, that no one understands us, that we are pushed to the margins and we are left to suffer in our pain, we experience a soul crushing sense of disconnection. This kind of disconnection is at the root of loneliness, addiction, and violence. We feel invisible. We feel we do not matter. Pain and anger can build up to the point of explosion. We can implode or explode.

In an era where the forces pulling us apart are often more visible than the forces drawing us together, we seek safety and self-protection as sole units. We hope that by pursuing money, individual space, and other material resources, we can protect ourselves. But often it doesn't work out that way. Our disconnected society creates more and more holes for people to fall through, and sociopaths pursuing personal interest at any cost to move through. The whole is really greater than the sum of its parts. So, we need to find ways to come together and form meaningful wholes. This is the kind of power we really need. And this is the kind of power that can make a difference and create real, tangible safety.

Weapons of mass destruction have no place in our daily lives. Guns do not belong in the hands of teachers or students. Building capacities for emotional literacy, deep listening, community healing and community collaboration are needed to truly transform our world to a place of true safety.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Loneliness Kills

A critical public health issue that Former US surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy is now focusing on might surprise you. And the toll this particular issue takes on our health is as great as smoking cigarettes. Too rarely do we value and focus on our emotional well-being and our health overall. But if we want to look at the underlying roots of the opioid crisis and addiction, violence, and cardiovascular illness, there is one key issue in common: loneliness.

In an interview published January 18, 2018 in the Boston Globe, Murthy reflects, "Loneliness and emotional-well being are connected to the issues we're reading about in the papers every day....Loneliness can contribute to addiction and can be a consequence of struggling with addiction." Much like the chicken and the egg.

The article notes that "there is a growing body of data and science that's telling us that loneliness is more prevalent than we thought and it's also growing over the last several decades." Being in as state of chronic stress contributes to serious health issues, including cardiovascular illness. "Loneliness places the body in a chronic stress state and increases inflammation levels." But even more sobering, loneliness can have the same life-shortening effect as smoking 15 cigarettes per day! This is the data Murthy presents that "is telling us that loneliness kills."

In a world where cyberconnection possibilities are seemingly endless, we can lose touch with the importance of connecting with one another face to face. Our cyberculture can isolate us. Working at home from our computers may have its conveniences, but it can also reduce our sense of actual connection. I notice that when I serve on committees or boards, not only do we stay more focused on our collective goals when we meet face to face, but we also nourish our common bond and our sense of team. I have found that conference calls and video calls can be done without the time needed to drive to a meeting, but they can not sustain spirit and creativity without sufficient face to face contact. When people are within 8 - 10 feet of one another, their heart fields connect without words. We lose the full benefit of this kind of heart connection when we have virtual meetings.

Work consumes a huge amount of our time and life energy. But with a transient work culture, where people move from job to job or organization to organization frequently, instead of staying at one company for a career, it is hard to establish or maintain close connections. In addition to it being lonely at the top (the article notes that "even half of CEOs admit to feeling lonely I their jobs"), it can be lonely throughout the organization. We live in a time where work follows us 24-7, since we can send and receive e-mails and send texts from the dinner table, on vacation or even in bed at night. This can eat into our tie for face to face connections and self-care, and can keep us from being fully present with the people we are with when we are actually with them.

Murthy advocates for making emotional well-being more of a priority in the United States is critical. Growing awareness that loneliness is a serious health issue is a critical task. Finding ways to live and work that consider and encourage emotional well-being is a worthy pursuit.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Self-Care and Empowerment in Crazy Times

"Some people are like frogs in boiling water. Others blink and choose to go to sleep. Special ones dare live inside the moment. Courageous soul deep divers pave the way."

From "Alone" ©2017 Linda Marks

2017 was a year of truly crazy times. Fake news. Alternative facts. Tweets and more tweets. Russian hacks. Questioning global warming. Dismantling the tax code. Unraveling health care coverage for millions of people. The #MeToo campaign, with celebrity after celebrity, well-known political figures in the spotlight for sexual harassment and more, unleashed an avalanche of stories from the shadows. Overwhelm and overload. Every day seemed to bring with it a new low.

Many people feel powerless, voiceless and scared as critical issues are changing in ways that impact us all. Yet the political factions making the changes are out of reach, and don't seem to care about the vast majority of people who are impacted by the changes. Do things need to breakdown to breakthrough? Can our country and our infrastructure truly be taken from us and overtaken by a small group of wealthy self-interested people?

Creativity abounds even in crazy times. Matt Kiser started publishing WTF Just Happened Today?" a daily newsletter giving you a point by point breakdown of the daily "shock and awe" (particularly involving all matters Trump), providing links to the major political news events of the day. An article in Fast Company magazine calls it, "a diary of our times," and one might shake their head at the amount of news Trump et al are managing to generate every single day. I find reading WTFJHT is grounding, since Matt's summary is well-done and it's an easy way of keeping ones finger on the pulse of the unfolding news.

Another wonderful interpreter of our crazy times is Randy Rainbow, a comedian, singers and writer, who has become a popular YouTube presence with his political parodies set to the music of many well-known Broadway tunes. The 2016 Presidential campaign was great fodder for Rainbow's creative talents, and his viral YouTube videos are brilliant, funny and on the mark. "Fact Checker, Fact Checker," sung to "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof, "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea," sung to "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria" from the Sound of Music and even a Broadway Medley of Trump's famous made up word "Covfefe," are just a few examples of Rainbow's brilliant musical satire.

So, while Matt Kiser will help you keep grounded in the daily news reality and Randy Rainbow will help you find humor in even the darkest realities, how do we keep our sanity when we don't know what to believe, what rug will be pulled out from under us next, and whether our economic future will be crumble to quicksand or solid?

I think gathering with other people and talking about your experience, your feelings overall, what you are scared of, what you can do and can't do is important to diffuse the overwhelm and isolation that so easily come from living in crazy times. Perhaps isolation is a version of the pot of boiling water we find ourselves in. And gathering together is a way to escape the inevitable slow death to follow.

Looking at where we CAN make a difference and taking action in ways that DO make a difference are important. Whether you mentor a child in your community or volunteer at the local animal shelter or even help good local candidates run for office and represent issues that matter in your community, being part of a positive change is both good self-care and empowering.

Letting yourself take space to slow down, meditate, find and keep your center, and keep working towards your vision and your values is critical. We don't need to buy in to the powerlessness the fake news generators are feeding us. Remember you are an active creator in this world and certainly in your own life. Create what inspires you and helps others. The moment is our point of power, and following our points of passion helps us direct that power wisely.

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.