Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Couplehood As A Spiritual Path

Many years ago, a client gave me a powerful quote that has been posted on the walls of my writer's cave. The paper is yellowed with age, but the message remains fresh, powerful and true:

"To 'listen' another's soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another"

--Douglas Steere, From Gleanings: A Random Harvest
Being listened to, really listened to, is a basic human need. Having a caring listener, who is emotionally invested in hearing how it is to be who we are, and who can share and follow us in our life's journey over time is empowering, healing, validating, and nourishing.
Being able to truly speak and listen from the heart to the heart, allows for much deeper feelings, thoughts and experiences to emerge and be felt and spoken. This kind of listening space is very sacred and provides a kind of relational heart meditation for both the speaker and the listener.
When we are in a relationship that is meant to last the test of time, and provide a structure for companionship and connection over the course of our lives, developing the ability to speak and listen from the heart can allow both the relationship and the two individuals who comprise it to develop emotionally and spiritually. In this sense, couplehood can become a spiritual path, if both members of the couple choose to envision and engage in communication from this special, deeper place.
In an interview published in the Ericksonian Newsletter (Volume 29, No. 3), relationship author Harville Hendrix notes, "When we ask listening partners to quiet their minds and focus on the messages of the partner who is sending, they not only listen more accurately and deeply, but they become more peaceful inside. They refer to this as being more centered similar to what is described by people who meditate."
In EKP couple therapy, when I invite a couple to slow down, get grounded, take some deep breathes, and begin to speak and listen from the heart, I witness a sacred safety and co-holding that allows both people to go much deeper within themselves and express much more deeply with one another. Heart to heart communication not only enhances emotional connection between the partners in the here and now, but also allows a space of healing to develop, in which past hurts, traumas, disappointments and misunderstandings can be released, rectified and processed in the here and now.
Hendrix explains, "When this happens, emotional memories, that have been housed in the amygdala are translated into words and relocated in the hippocampus--thus putting the past in the past. This process integrates alienated and isolated aspects into the self, thus contributing to the recovery of wholeness, which is another aspect of healing that is both spiritual and psychological at the same time."
In this sense, couplehood can be a spiritual path, and as Hendrix reflects, "dialogue is a spiritual practice." If those of us who share our lives with a partner recognize this possibility and develop the skills and awareness to slow down, take time and space and speak and listen from the heart regularly with our partners, the quality of both our lives and relationships can increase tremendously.
There is truly no need for fighting, reacting out of old triggers and "othering" a loved one. If we can only taste the possibility of emotionally safe, grounded, heartfelt relating, our relationships can become more meaningful and less limiting or entrapping.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Power of Appreciation and Gestures of Goodwill

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield became well known for his routine, "I don't get no respect." Perhaps, part of why so many people relate to his message is that we are often unappreciated and underacknowledged for all our good works and efforts, be it the simple actions of daily life or larger projects and undertakings. Too often, we are taken for granted, dismissed or passed over as those around us move on to what is "next."

In this context, one incredibly powerful tool we can all use to empower ourselves and others is appreciation. How do you feel when someone tells you that something you have done has made a difference or impacted them in a positive way? How do you feel when someone recognizes a thoughtful gesture you have made or even acknowledges how good it feels when you have noticed something that really mattered to them?

Appreciating and being appreciated both feel really good. And when we consciously voice appreciation of those around us, we help create a more positive and loving environment. Appreciation can be contagious. If we keep looking for opportunities to appreciate others, in time, they will likely mirror back their appreciation of us.

In addition to telling a loved one, a co-worker, or even the check-out clerk in the grocery store what we appreciate about them, we can consciously give others a "positive stroke," by offering a "gesture of good will."

Gestures of good will come in many forms, from noticing that a friend loves a special kind of cereal, so that when s/he comes to visit, you make sure it is in your cabinet, to choosing to disengage from a stuck position in a disagreement, and acknowledge you really do hear and understand the other's point of view. When we act in a way that shows another person that we understand them, hear them, value them, think about them, and care about them, we give the message that they matter. Being shown that you matter feels awfully good!

Often, it does not take a lot of work to offer a gesture of good will, mostly thoughtfulness and emotional attentiveness. The return on investment of a thoughtful gesture or emotionally attentive action is tremendous. And like appreciations, gestures of good will are mutually empowering for the giver and receiver.

Just as we have daily practices of eating breakfast, going to work, and maybe taking a walk or going to the gym, we can build appreciations and gestures of good will into our daily life. What might it be like if you tried to appreciate a loved one each day? How might you feel if once a week you offered a gesture of good will to someone you cared about or even a stranger? Perhaps this is the spirit of the "commit random acts of kindness" bumper sticker.

In the old days before transponders and the FastLane, it always felt like a special treat when the person in front of me paid for my toll on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Sometimes it even inspired me to do the same for the person behind me! Passing the good energy forward can send a wonderful ripple of healing and connection out into the world!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Alternatives to Violence When Conflict Arises

My son, Alex, and I had the privilege of participating in a SCORE Teen Mediation Training program conducted by Chandra Banks for students in the Cambridge Public Schools.

On the first day of the training, Chandra made some very powerful points:

1. People often don't think ahead about the consequences of violence, and end up doing needless damage to themselves and/or others.

2. While violence is a human phenomenon, the United States is a very violent place. In the US, people resolve their conflicts with violence. Countries where war is actively underway have fewer people going to the emergency room on a Saturday night than in the US.

3. Homicide has become so prevalent in the United States, that the Center for Disease Control now tracks it. Why? Homicide is considered a "preventable illness."

4. While a lot of attention is being paid to bulllying at school, school is actually the safest place for youth ages 10 - 24. School associated violent deaths account for just 1% of violent deaths for youth in this age group.

What do these messages say about the emotional climate we live in? While conflict is inevitable because of human differences, be they differences in values, experience, beliefs, culture or feelings, why do we need to escalate to the point of hurting one another, often in such deep and traumatic ways?

The lack of emotional and social education received by Americans seems to be at the root of our violent responses to conflict. While we highly prize a well-developed intellect, emotionall illiteracy in this country is very high, even amongst the rich, the educated and the "successful."

When kids are raised in homes where their parents yell at them, judge them, hit them, punish them without just cause, and treat them as "underlings" in a power struggle, how do we develop any capacity for mutual respect, understanding and non-violent conflict resolution skills?

The following are key tools and experiences that can help provide non-violent alternatives to conflict resolution:

1. Creating emotionally safe environments. Emotional safety is critical for understanding the roots of any conflict, including each party's most essential needs. When we don't feel safe, our defenses lead, and our deeper needs may stay protected and far from the conversation. Emotional safety allows us to slowly test the waters, and participate more fully in a collaborative conflict-resolution process.

2. Learning to see more than one side of a story. When we are in a conflict, it is too easy to become polarized, and think we are right and the other is wrong. Every story has more than one side, and until we can look at a conflict from multiple points of view, we are operating with incomplete information.

3. Participating in mediation. Mediation is a voluntary, self-directed, confidential, non-judgmental process that is future-oriented, focusing on solving a problem in a mutually agreeable way. Mediation provides a contained space to work on having parties' needs identified and considered, and a clearly articulated document can be drawn up once an agreement is reached. Mediators hear both sides of a story and help the parties generate a resolution that each can live with.

4. Speaking and listening from the heart. This practice creates emotional safety in any relationship. "While our minds' arguments can divide us, most any problem can be solved through heartfelt communication," says author Jacqueline Small.

5. Finding some common ground with another person, rather than making them an "other." When we "other" another person, we make them separate, distant and disconnected from us. At times, we can forget their humanity. With the anonymity the internet creates, it is easy to feel a distance between ourselves and other people. Finding tangible, meaningful ways that we share common ground can help take down the barrier of "other."

6. Learning to work with anger in a responsible way, rather than "acting out" in anger. When our boundaries are threatened, when people break important agreementsw, when we are treated unkindly or even inhumanely, becoming angry is a natural reaction. What is key, however, is how we manager our anger. If we learn to become more grounded, and have the space inside our hearts and minds to recognize anger, and consciously manage anger energy, our anger can give us the power to take healthy steps forward. If we are unconscious about our feelings, and reactive when angry, we can act out, hurting self and/or other.

7. Having models of healthy conflict resolution. Sadly, many of the models that are most familiar when conflict arises are not healthy and do not resolve conflict in any kind of mutually respectful way. If we act out in anger, leave abruptly, push the conflict underground, or engage in a power struggle, conflict will lead to hurt and defensive behavior. If we learn to recognize conflict as it arises, and develop tools to slow down, manage our energy, emotions and thoughts, choose conscious and constructive behavior, and seek containment from a third-party when needed, we can experience conflict as a breakthrough point, rather than a break down.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Today's "Emotional Education Movement"

In an "Ideas" section article in the Sunday Boston Globe on April 5, Drake Bennett wrote about "The Other Kind of Smart." Indeed, there is a growing "emotional education movement," suggesting that social and emotional skills need not just be learned by encounters on the streets of life, but can be broken down into skills and concepts that can be taught "in the same way math and critical thinking can be."

There are times I find it almost unthinkable that emotional literacy would be so overlooked or under the radar. Emotional intelligence not only impacts the quality of our relationships and lives, but also our intellectual development. Neurologist Antonio Damasio showed how "people rendered emotionless by brain damage became not more, but less rational in many ways."

While the heart is a very central and important organ in Chinese medicine, the brain has been the "highest power" in both Western medicine and psychology. I find it fascinating that while many other organs are important in Chinese medicine (including the lungs, the liver and the kidneys), the brain is not nearly as central.

The Western bias towards the brain and away from the heart and other body systems, have impacted the very fabric of our lives. How is it we have built a society focusing so singularly on the brain and brain development, overlooking other essential parts of being a human being? And is it a surprise that a culture that has overlooked emotional factors in both individual and collective living is riddled with threats to sustainability and overrun with bullying behaviors from the schoolyard to the boardroom?

Bennett notes that the emotional research field arose in the early 1990's with the work of psychologists John Mayer of UNH and Peter Salovey of Yale. Mayer and Salovey were the folks who brought "emotional intelligency" to light, even suggesting that our ability to process new emotional information and to work with emotionally rich situations contributed to an emotional IQ (EQ).

Daniel Goleman's 1995 best seller, Emotional Intelligence, written for a popular audience, brought the notion of emotional literacy into the public eye. Because we have not valued emotional literacy or emotional experience, the skills needed to be an emotionally healthy human being have neither been articulated nor taught in our educational process.

Is it a surprise that kids behave in primal ways when they feel upset, insecure, unsure of who they are, threatened, angry or ostracized? If we are not given tools, concepts and language to understand our human emotional responses, then we will respond in crude and often less than useful ways. Likewise, when emotions and emotional reality is judged, suppressed, considered to be "weak" and "unmanly" or even "signs of mental illness," it is unsafe to plumb the depths of this rich and essential territory and gain mastery of what it really means to be a human being.

Introspective skills are at least as important as analytical skills. Self-awareness is essential for being able to have empathy and connection with other human beings. Being aware of bodily feelings and sensations and being able to translate them into meaningful terms is fundamental to knowing who we are, what we need and how to communicate our needs to others in the moment and over time. Learning to listen, hear and reflect back what another person is saying is critical for healthy and mutually respectful relationships.

Emotional literacy skills are now being packaged in the framework called "emotional and social knowledge." And because we are becoming more aware of the intensity and insidiousness of the current bullying epidemic, emotional and social knowledge is gaining more visibility as an essential ingredient in solving the bullying problem.

I do believe that emotional illiteracy is at the root of the bullying epidemic, and emotional literacy is at the heart of unraveling the problem and changing the cultural and environmental context in which we think and live. My hope is that the emerging emotional education movement is not seen as a passing fad or a temporary trend, but part of an on-going, evolutionary groundswell, that in time, we recognize as a critical, transformative and positive step forward in human history.

If we can learn to define, articulate, and work with the power of the heart, we can, together, create a more sustainable and liveable society. Hearts can hear heads, but heads cannot always hear hearts. While differences in thought can divide us, most any problem can be solved through committed, respectful and heartfelt communication.

I look forward to the day when instead of doing therapy or personal growth workshops outside the primary chambers of wordly life, I can proudly step into the classroom and the boardroom, as a recognized and valued player helping people tune and enhance their introspective, self-management, empathy and communication skills, the same waythat today I might edit their writing or critique their business plan.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When Society Is A Bully

Last month, I wrote about the tendency to "blame the victim" in our bullying culture. As I have continued to explore the roots of bullying, I have become more and more aware of how deeply engrained bullying is in the fabric of our society.

Exploring and talking about bullying does not make me popular, and can even make me the target of hostility and bullying-type behavior. For example, I have been told by other people as I have tried to explain what I am doing regarding anti-bullying work:

"When are you going to just stop being such a pain and stop trying to meet with people and just let things be?"

"Bullying has been around since the dawn of humanity. It is human nature and it is never going to change."

"If someone wants to avoid being bullied, they need to make a list of things they are doing that might make them a target, and just stop doing them. If they don't stop, it is their own fault that they are bullied."

"Society expects you to conform and if you don't conform, it is your own fault that you are bullied."

My heart hurts whenever I hear these kinds of statements. Just because something has been around a long, long time, and perhaps, ALWAYS, does not make it right. Just because human beings have bullied one another for a long time, does not mean that we should continue to allow bullying to be a norm in our culture.

There may be ways any individual can take steps to avoid being a target, but sadly, there are too many cases where one can be a target just for being the way one is. And there are parts of our identities that are the core of who we are. What kind of society do we live in if we are told we need to give up the core of who we are if we want to avoid violence? If one is black or gay or smart or tall or short or male or female, is it fair or right to be a target of bullying? If someone is angry or jealous or scared or stressed out, is it fair to inflict their pain and anger on another human being?

And the pressure to conform at all costs is an oppressive and bullying force itself. A huge part of maturing as a human being is to balance have a personally defined and meaningful sense of self with a respect for the social context we live in. Yes, we need to understand social norms and respect them in many circumstances. But, no, not all social norms are healthy (such as the norms of workaholism, living beyond ones means, accruing debt, sexuality teens, eating junk foods and feeling so stressed out one cannot go to the bathroom when one's body calls).

When teachers or parents or kids or community organizations try to confront and address a bullying problem, they are often met with bullying. A parent bullies a teacher for informing them that their child has been hurting other kids at school. "Who are you to be singling out my child?" yells the angry parent. "That other kid is a wimp. I don't see what my child did wrong. I'd do the same thing." "You're a wimp to be standing up for Johnny," chimes in Tommy, who is both Johnny's and the advocate's peer.

These kinds of attitudes push the fundamental problem underground and pass the bullying buck. Bully, bullied and bystander all suffer from our bullying culture. And EVERYONE needs to be engaged, mobilized and collaborate if we are going to build the awareness to take action and create new models to allow for cultural change.

The bullying issue is so polarized right now, that it is very difficult to dig deeper and see the forest from the trees. If a kid behaves badly, they might be expelled from school, but then what happens? Is the kid left to sit at home watching hours of tv or playing hours of video games? Or does the kid then start loitering in the community at large, feeling isolated and bad about him/herself and then start getting into deeper trouble?

If someone is causing trouble, they are part of a troubled system. Kids who belong to gangs do not come from "stable, welcoming, emotionally literate homes." They are not loved and nurtured at home, so they look for belonging on the streets.

At a conference planning meeting I attended today, one of my colleagues made a very interesting point. Once, it was believed that kids who participate in high risk behaviors are more likely to have trouble with school. What's been recognized more recently is that kids who have trouble with school are more likely to engage in high risk behaviors. When we don't belong. When we feel lost and invisible. When we carry deeply buried pain or even contain pain just below the surface, things are not going to be okay.

As I have been working with a team of colleagues to put together a bullying prevention conference scheduled for June 8, we've made a list of key messages we want people to understand about bullying and bullying prevention:

* Bullying is serious; it isn't just a right of passage for young people growing up. (And it doesn't end with youth either. It can continue throughout one's life if not addressed and taken seriously.)

* Bullying has serious consequences for the bully, the bullied and the bystander. No one escapes the tentacles of our bullying society.

* Bystanders are key to fostering a climate of zero tolerance. We can't just stand by and ignore what is happening around us.

* Just because bullying has been around for generations (and perhaps millennia), does not mean: 1. it is or has ever been okay, and 2. it needs to continue to be tolerated.

* Creating environments that hold people accountable to the harmony of community are essential. A great deal of tragedy takes place when this kind of environment is lacking.

* Bullying prevention is part of an overall school climate. It is part of an overall cultural climate as well.

* Bullying is EVERYONE'S problem. It is a systems issue and can only be solved systemically.

* Emotional literacy is at the root of safe relationships, safe schools and safe communities. Sadly, our culture suffers from a low EQ, and few models of emotional literacy are available or visible.

Albert Einstein commented that we can't use the thinking that created a problem to solve it. That is very much the case with the bullying mentality that has been normalized in our society. Until we can integrate heart with head, spirit with intellect and self with other, we are at risk of suffering the painful separation that allows us to stand back from and remain numb to the bullying dynamic that really effects us all.

Each and every one of us can be part of the solution. And if we are going to overcome the bullying society, we all need to work together to find a different path.

Copyright 2010 Linda Marks

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Moving Beyond Hurt and Anger: Programming Oneself to Vibrate Healing and Love--Coaching Tips

The client who asked me how to program herself to vibrate healing and love asked me for some coaching tips.

Here are some I thought to provide:

1. Honor the ways you are angry, what you are angry about, and go deeper to the root of your anger. What are ways you might feel hurt, invisible, or treated unfairly. See what you really need deep down inside and honor that. By both honoring your anger and the deeper roots underneath, you start honoring yourself and vibrating love to yourself.

2. Notice, attend to and honor the sensations you feel in your body. By noticing them, presencing them and attending to them, you bring more self-love to yourself and nurture your heart. If you are hurt, you are literally hearing your heart at a heart level.

3. Focus on the vision of what you really want to create. Write it down. Draw it. Feel how you feel in your body when you think about and envision what you really want. Make a vision journal. Keep notes and read them daily. Review them weekly. Tune them monthly.

4. Make a list of people and places you'd like to vibrate love to. Vibrate love to them consciously and regularly.

5. When you hit obstacles, don't lose the vision. Honor the obstacles. Honor your feelings. Learn the lessons. And keep vibrating love towards the vision.

6. Get support whenever and wherever you need it. You don't have to do it all alone. And getting support is part of self-love.

7. When people do mean, thoughtless things, try not to take it personally, even if it impacts you personally. When people are not fully grounded, they operate in all kinds of ways that aren't right/don't work. Keep your vision on what is right, just and fair.

Moving Beyond Hurt and Anger: Programming Oneself to Vibrate Healing and Love

This week, a client asked me an interesting question. She was feeling lots of anger, and wondered how I might coach her to program herself to vibrate healing and love. As a software engineer, this idea of "programming oneself to vibrate healing and love," made a lot of sense as a framework for self-work.

Recognizing that human beings are electromagnetic generators, and that the heart is the strongest electromagnetic generator in the body, this task of programming oneself to vibrate healing and love makes a lot of sense. We do emanate what we feel in our hearts and souls. That frequency goes out and can be felt palpably by those within 8 - 10 feet of where we are located, and can be perceived in more subtle ways by those at greater distances.

The more grounded we are in the moment, our hearts and our bodies, the more consciously we can manage our vibration. The safer we feel, and the more embodied we are, the more space we have to breathe, think, feel and generate what we want and care about.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Boarding House Mentality In A Transient Society

I have lived in a large Victorian house for nearly 20 years. I bought it as a handyman special, and invested both money and sweat equity into fixing it up into comfortable home over a two year period of time when I first purchased it.

Since the house had been used as a two-family home for many decades prior to my arrival, although built as a single family home in the early 1890's, I decided that for both economic reasons and space sharing reasons, it made sense to have people live on our third floor.

My first housemate moved in 18 years ago, and stayed until he purchased his own condo in a nearby town at the beginning of the year. My other housemate has been here 14 years, and has no plans to leave anytime soon. I guess the early to mid-1990's were a time when people could find a place to live, settle in and stay. And the idea of a 1 year commitment was almost taken for granted. Who WOULDN'T want that?

Having been thrown back into the market to find a new housemate, although greatly altered with 2010 values and norms, I am finding myself getting a whole new education about how people view living spaces and housemate situations. Over the past 4 months, I have tried to use Craig's list to find a housemate, since even a realtor told me that's what she would do if I asked for her to help me.

Craig's list has yielded many applicants, none appropriate! The range has been newly separating men and women who need my therapy services more than space in my home, and whose emotional and life instability would never allow the one-year commitment I am requiring. There have been contractors from other countries, with short-term assignments in Boston, graduate students from the US and abroad seeking 1 - 3 month spaces to live while doing a project, elders who realize they want to live with other people, but don't have the financial resources to pay even the very modest contribution I am requesting for "rent," single parents with one or more children in very financially unstable situations, and people whose job situations would blow your mind.

Only one or two of more than 50 prospects even seemed to remotely qualify for our housemate position. And even then, a job instability or relationship instability intercepted our efforts at talking about their moving in.

Today, a woman called me who has been looking for a housemate for over a year, with no success. She was divorced and wanted to keep her home in my town, and hang on to her furniture and worldly possessions. Sadly, the cost of maintaining her home is beyond her means, and she thought having a housemate would help make ends meet. Now, she is considering BECOMING the housemate in a household like mine.

It seems many people are living with a "boarding house" mentality, wanting a place to plop down or sleep amidst 60 - 80 hour work weeks, short-term assignment and breaking relationships. They would like the amenities of "home," but without the commitment necessary to maintain one.

While I respect how hard the times are, how many people are in dire predicaments, and how much instability many people live with every day, my house is a HOME, and I want to keep it that way.

I will keep searching until I find a nice person who is stable, well-matched and even relieved when I bring up the infamous "one year commitment." But, I truly never expected the journey to have these kinds of twists and turns!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Exploring Intimacy: A New Book by Suzann Robins

I met my colleague Suzann Robins in two worlds we both travel in: the worlds of body psychotherapy and the world of integrating sexuality and spirituality. It seems fitting that her new book, Exploring Intimacy represents the juxtaposition and integration of these worlds. Suzann also integrates these two more contemporary bodies of work and world views with more traditional schools of thought about psychology, health and human development.

The subtitle of the book is "cultivating healthy relationships through insight and intuition." I might add my own subtitle: "developing an integrated framework to understand the evolution of relationships, energy and connection in today's world."

Suzann does a remarkable job of outlining an evolutionary timeline of the history of thought, the history of medicine and the history of holism, and brings them all up to date with an understanding of energy medicine, emotional intelligence, intuition, gender energy and the spiritual dimensions of intimacy and sexuality.

At the very center of human experience and human relationships is our life energy, a vital force that seeks movement, connection and expression. I love the way Suzann defines emotion or "e-motion," as "the actual energy charge in motion," and also a basic part of a sixth sense, intuition, "and intuitive intelligence that formulates ideas about other people and our reactions to them."

She continues, "Perceptions formed through our sense of intuition relate to our ability to 'read' another person's energy fields, which is different than how a body is positioned in space. We detect location, orientation and movements of the body through the nervous system, especially visually and within the semicircular canals of the inner ear. Reactions to others occurs within the internal systems of the body's mind. Different streams of information combine to send signals to the brain."

The more levels of perception we are consciously aware of, the more completely and subtley we can read other people, express ourselves and relate and connect with them. When we add the less commonly acknowledged lenses of the heart and the kinesthetic felt sense to more commonly acknowledged lenses of visual cues, sounds, and thoughts, we gain a more complete experience of ourselves and others.

When we add the energy dimension to human psychology, we unite an understanding of the body and the mind. When self-actualization expands to include the transpersonal as well as the personal, Maslow's hierarchy of needs can be updated to provide a more comprehensive progression towards an integrated self.

For the past two years, I have taught a class at UMass Boston on how to create mutually empowering relationships. We look at the history and evolution of relationships since the founding of the United States, explore the wide variety of approaches to counseling that have evolved over the past several decades, and in the case of tools from other than Western cultures, longer than that, and try to describe a contemporary model of healthy relationships that incorporates the challenges we face as we grow beyond our past models in climate of constant change.

Suzann's book could be a wonderful textbook for my class, skillfully integrating past and present,
with an eye towards the future, and encouraging us to know ourselves both more broadly and deeply, so we have the space and perspective to more deeply connect with others as well.

This book is fascinating for students and practitioners of psychology, energy medicine and counseling, and provides a template for what it means to be a human being, on ones own and in relationship.

Exploring Intimacy: Cultivating Healthy Relationships through Insight and Intution
by Suzann Panek Robins
Rowman and Littlefield, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Emotional Risk-Taking, Emotional Intelligence and Social Integrity

My son, Alex, participates in a wonderful community called Boys to Men. The community consists of adult men who recognize the value and even essential contribution of mentoring teenage boys as they transition from boyhood to young adulthood. A key part of the mentoring work includes developing a connection to their sense of integrity, courage, respect, compassion and leadership.

What is very sad is that many adult men have never had the opportunity to spend time with or relate to, in either a short-term or on-going way, with men who can model these very qualities. As a result, they never have the chance to fully develop into integrated men, who have the emotional space to pass the torch on to the next generation of men.

Jeff Kidman, the MA leader of the Boys to Men program made the comment that boys needs to engage in "emotional risk-taking," not just physical risk-taking. Every time a man takes an emotional risk, he grows spiritually and emotionally. And he also models and helps create a climate of emotional safety that empowers boys to take emotional risks as well.

Creating a climate that is safe for emotional risk-taking, that includes emotional support, and accountability for one's commitments, behavior and actions, not only helps individuals develop emotional intelligence, but also helps a group of boys and men develop a sense of social integrity.

Today's society fosters so much isolation and disconnection, we struggle to develop and maintain our personal integrity, never mind create and sustain a sense of social integrity. If we can build emotionally safe spaces that empower boys and men to be real, vulnerable, accountable, responsible and community-minded, we can transform the fabric of society, and remove the space that allows and perpetuates a bullying culture.

Jeff pointed out that kids need something to push against so that they can get internally stronger in their sense of self. Just like going to the gym, where we exercise muscles by lifting weights or running on a treadmill, which help us build fitness and strength, having relationships and social spaces that offer healthy limits, consequences and accountability build emotional fitness and social strength.

Although I am a mom, and the wrong gender to be directly involved in the weekend programs for boys and men or the monthly journeymen group, I can surely offer my behind the scenes support for such a powerful, impactful, valuable and needed program! And I can also offer my appreciation for people like Jeff and his comrades, who are growing this work here in Massachusetts, and elsewhere in the world!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Roots of Bullying: A "Blaming the Victim" Culture

I am having the opportunity to continue to reflect on the roots of bullying in our culture and why it is so widespread today. My 14 year old son, who is a straight A student, emotionally intelligent and literate, with a defined and grounded sense of self, all too often is in the pathway of insecure bullies, who "bully up." One of my friends was shocked to hear that a tall (he's over 6' tall), smart, mature kid would be in the line of fire. I explained that in middle school, when ANYONE sticks out as "not comforming for conformity's sake," they are in the line of fire.

My son was brave enough to go to the principal, along with an ally, his 7th grade history teacher, who is one of the most emotionally intelligent teachers I have ever met. My son presented a well-thought out and respectful picture of what was going on and what needed to be done.

One of the comments my son shared with me that really caught my attention was the principal's response to when my son was being bullied last year when he broke his dominant arm in two places on a school field trip, and brought a pillow in to rest the arm when it was first healing in a heavy cast.

The principal's comment after my son explained the constancy and the intensity of the bullying was, "why didn't you keep telling the teacher this was going on?" My son's point was, "If you keep telling the teacher, you get labelled a 'tattle tale,' and then you get bullied more for that."

My son's advocate asked the principal why there is so much responsibility placed on the bullying "victim," and why the teachers or the system can't be proactive and prevent this activity from happening in the first place, or respond the FIRST time a bullying problem is reported.

I thought the teacher's point was spot on. What it says to me is that there is a lack of EQ not only among the kids, but also amongst those in the administration, charged with holding the space the kids operate and live in during the school day.

Phoebe Prince went to the principal of her school the week before she committed suicide and reported the extent of her experience. She was sent back to class.

WHY do we keep "blaming the victim," rather than recognize that bullying is a systemic problem? It is not just about the kids--be it the bully or the bullied. It is also about the entire environment our kids are living in, which begins at home, and continues at school.

Until we can get to the root of the matter, and stop putting all the responsibility on the kid who is bullied, bullying is only going to become more epidemic.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Changing the World By Living From the Heart

"When the heart is completely liberated, it's impossible to deliberately harm another being. It's impossible to act acquisitively. It's impossible to take advantage of another being sexually or use your sense world indulgently. It is simply impossible. You can't lie or use speech in a harmful or deceitful way. It's as if the force of spiritual gravity won't allow it. There's nothing there that could cause you to bend the truth. . . Goodness feels good because the attitude resonates with reality. Lying and harming feel bad because they are dissonant with that reality of what we are. It's as simple as that."

-- Achan Amaro

I received this quote in the e-mail, and really liked it. When we are emotionally grounded and live from the heart, we create a very different world than the one we live in today. Our world is so emotionally unsafe, emotionally illiterate, and even emotionally dangerous. These conditions create a struggle for survival, gross inequities in the allocation of resources, and great challenges for any of us who wish to co-create and sustain meaningful relationships with others.

We suffer from a collective heart wound where truth is hard to come by, trust is rarely earned, and sadly, selfish self-interest can dominate when fairness and respect is needed.

The heart has room for difference, for authenticity, for uniqueness, for commonality and most importantly, operates on a foundation of respect.

If we treat others heartfully, acting on the power of the fully liberated heart, we create openings and possibilities that enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.

Healing our own hearts, getting to know our own hearts and building heartful principles into the fabric of our lives is a demonstration of social change at work. May more of us join together to support one another in healing our hearts, listening to our hearts and following our hearts--individually and collectively. Together, we can create a more honest, comforting, equitable and sustainable world.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bullying and The Battle of the Head and the Heart

When my son was in grammar school, I approached the principal of his school and proposed to teach the staff, the faculty and the students an emotional literacy curriculum free of charge, because the lack of attention to emotional literacy in our school system (and our culture) creates countless problems as children grow older and in the adult world as well.

I was told, "Yes, emotional literacy is a good thing. We just don't have time for something like this." Even in 4th grade, I saw bullying behavior develop, and because kids have no language, modeling or boundaries for "respectful" conflict. If one child wanted to provoke a classmate, saying mean things, poking, punching, hitting or stealing a pencil quickly escalated into all-out, uncontained primal behavior.

In one incident, when several boys were pinching and poking my son, and stealing his pencil, when Alex used "appropriate skills" for drawing boundaries, saying no, and telling the boys to please stop, he might as well have been speaking Serbo-Croatian. "Appropriate skills" only encouraged the boys to pinch harder and move to punching. Alex recognized the only way to stop the bullying was to meet the boys on their own level: the physical. So, he kicked the ringleader in the shin, where the boy already had a wound. It worked. The bullying stopped.

The only problem was that Alex was sent to the principal's office for disciplinary action. This is so typical of what happens in schools. The boys who were bullying, got off "scott free," and the kid who finally fought back got punished. This makes no emotional sense. In fact, it is emotionally illogical.

But somehow, in disciplinary matters, there is an intellectual rhetoric that seems to miss the heart of the matter. If a child who has developed "appropriate conflict management" skills is thrown in with kids who are emotionally illiterate, the conflict operates at the lowest common denominator.

This school, which did not have time for the emotional literacy program I offered to bring was spending countless time on behavioral problems that intellectual rhetoric was never going to solve.

As a child I used to say, "hearts can hear heads, but heads often cannot hear hearts." Heads can be "headstrong" and stubborn and think their point of view is "right" or the only way, ignoring or missing that there are other points of view. Hearts are more open to all the possibilities, and bring a greater sense of equity and fairness to a challenging situation. Rather than "either/or" and "judgment," hearts embrace a "both/and" and "understanding" point of view.

How much could this boys learn if someone would slow them down, and teach them to listen to their bodies and hearts, and ask WHY were they pinching, stealing and punching in the first place? And what might be the cost of this behavior to their relationships with others, and even themselves?

If the boys needed to establish a "pecking order of dominance," might there not be healthier ways to compete and EARN a position of respect? Can one not rise through right action, not just brute force? There is a very different outlook of the head and the heart.

Mind you, there is a time and place for most everything. And rather than being at war, might the head and heart not benefit from playing on the same team? Is it not worth the time we save addressing the growing litany of bullying situations, if we teach our kids emotional literacy skills from the start? Doesn't it take a lot more time helping a kid heal from trauma or recover from pain than to create an environment where trauma and its resultant pain are just not necessary in the first place?

While some adult men might say, "the only way to put a bully in his place is to throw him up against the wall and make him scared," I would counter, "in the short term, the behavior might stop, but in the long-term, does this not perpetuate another generation of bullies?"

How do we teach our children, and one another heartful and heathful ways to manage conflict?
How do we help each other learn that there are as many points of view as people? How do we help each other realize that if we work together and share our resources, we are all better off than by continuing the competition of the dog-eat-dog world?

Until we are able to let the heart have its rightful place at the table, we are all likely to be casualties of the battle of the head and the heart.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Overcoming Sexual Amnesia

My colleague, and writer's muse, Steven Otero, sent me a very interesting piece reflecting on how children and pubescent teens deal with" youthful sexual feelings and desires" in a sex-negative culture. Sadly, because our culture is neither emotionally safe nor sensually safe, we learn to cut-off, separate from, numb out or never develop our sensual and sexual feelings. We learn to dissociate from our sensual, sexual, emotional and bodily experiences, and seek safe haven in the intellect.

The result is an emotional, sensual and sexual deadness or numbness. In the piece Steven sent me, this "resulting lack of feeling is called sensory-motor amnesia." When it is not safe to have feelings and sensations, we learn to numb our emotional and somatic experience. When kids are taught to feel shame about their bodies, their genitals and their sexuality, it is safer to numb out and disconnect from sensation than to feel shame and fear about these vulnerable and very human parts of ourselves.

When children are sexually abused, to numb out emotionally, sensually and sexually is a common survival mechanism. What is sad is that in most cases of "sexual amnesia," the numbing out or disconnecting process is unconscious and involuntary. If a person has little or no sensation in their genitals or surrounding tissue, they may not even realize something is missing. Their numb or dissociated state is familiar, and gets labelled as "normal."

It is very rare that people find themselves in emotionally, sensually and physically safe environments where they can learn, heal and grow experientially. If a young man or woman has never felt safe, nurturing touch, all the intellectualizing in the world will never communicate what it feels like. If a young man or woman has not been sensually touched with sacredness and respect, this too will be foreign and perhaps, even incomprehensible.

I greatly appreciate the work of the Human Awareness Institute and its workshops on Love, Intimacy and Sexuality, because these workshops provide one of the rare, yet essential environments for safe, respectful and boundaried sensual and sexual education. The workshops provide a permission, modeling and invitation to learn, heal and grow.

If as teens or young adults, we had the opportunity to have an introduction to sensuality and sacred sexuality, in a safe, respectful, boundaried experiential setting, our capacity to relate and express ourselves as whole sensual, sexual human beings would be greatly improved.

Mind-body techniques can be used in pain management. They can also be used for sensory awakening and sensory discovery. I wish these kinds of tools were as available as internet pornography. Perhaps, if both teens and adults of all ages had access to sex-positive tools and experiences, we could provide much healing to our sex-negative, relationally-challenged culture.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Emotional Fitness

Many years ago, I found myself coining the term "emotional embody building." I go to the gym all the time, and watch people trying to attain physical fitness. Yet, there are no gyms for us to work out in to develop our emotional fitness. Sometimes developing one's physique is actually part of an emotional defense structure, to keep others at a distance. We need to strengthen our hearts in other ways to be emotionally healthy, and to create a relationship between our emotional fitness and our physical fitness.

Emotional fitness includes developing a healthy sense of who we are. Narcissism seems epidemic, sadly, starting with school age kids. My son brings home countless tales of his 8th grade classmates who are so self-absorbed, they have no clue about the impact of their behavior on others. Without some healthy feedback, and relational coaching, these kids will grow into relationally insensitive, self-absorbed adults.

We hear so much of "entitled" twentysomethings, who have carried on their middle school narcissism, without the benefit of emotional contact and mentoring to help them grow into adults who are both self-defined and relationally conscious.

Emotional fitness also includes the ability to see many sides of any conflict or dilemma. If we take the time to ask what it is like to be in another's shoes, we may see that different experiences, different cultures, different values and different understandings inform why this other person acts as s/he does. When we too quickly move into a "blameframe," we are likely to find ourselves in an escalating conflict where hurt and anger build, and ultimately, nobody really wins.

To truly resolve and move through a conflict, we need to create the safety, the space and the compassion, to hear what it's like from both sides. This expands our frame of reference, and allows for workable solutions we might never have imagined. Mutually empowering conflict resolution requires the complete information that comes from supporting two people to articulate and define their deeper needs.

Emotional fitness includes an authentic humility. If we are truly introspective in life, open to honest and respectful feedback, and allow ourselves to learn from our relationships, a natural sense of humility will start to evolve over time. No one knows everything. We all have blindspots. Well-intentioned behavior may still need tuning to connect with another human being. We all make mistakes. Perhaps it is a paradox that the more we are open to constructive coaching, the more humble and relationally competent we become at the same time!

Emotional fitness cultivates a value for mutuality, collaboration and partnership. When we can truly team with another person, the possibilities of what we can create together expand exponentially. When mutuality and partnership are lacking, we too easily end up competing, polarized or in win-lose scenarios. Mutual, collaborative relationships are self-sustaining and energizing. Competitive and polarized relationships deplete life energy from one or both parties.

Emotional fitness is built on a foundation of respect. This includes respect for self, other, the larger context we share, the things within our grasp and the things beyond our control. Respect and humility go together. We do not take others for granted. We allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable to the moment. Yet, by being grounded in our sense of selves, this vulnerability creates an emotional vitality, a heart power, that expands to include others.

As we become more emotionally fit, we build the foundation to really LIVE in our bodies, and appreciate our innate capacities including intuition. A relationship between two emotionally fit individuals is likely to have clearer and cleaner communication, and feel more enlivening to our hearts and minds.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

When Life Becomes "Medicalized"

On March 22, I encountered a really interesting interview in the Boston Globe's G Magazine with Brandeis Sociology professor Peter Conrad, entitled, "What is a 'disease?'

G magazine staff member, Karen Weintraub writes:

"Are you over 50? You must need your cholesterol lowered. Is Johnny having trouble at school? Don't ask about the quality of teaching, put him on medication.....Peter Conrad first looked at this 'medicalization' and its implications for health and society in the 1970's and early 1980's, and saw doctors and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous redefining social problems such as alcoholism and normal events such as childbirth into medical problems. When he examined medicalization more recently, he realized that the drivers had shift to drug and insurance companies and to the patients themselves."

I found myself reflecting on the question of whether medicalization was good, bad or indifferent....and why so many basic human experiences--some problematic and some not--were being defined in medicalized terms.

For example, childbirth is a natural part of the cycle of life. I have watched my cats give birth to kittens both when I was a child and two years ago with our male and female Siamese cats. Prayer, our chocolate point Siamese, managed to make her way through a normal pregnancy without any doctor's appointments, medical tests or monitoring, and through the magic of nature, intuitively knew how to give birth to her kittens, care for them at the time of birth, and encourage them to nurse and stay close in their early hours, so they could begin to thrive.

One of her kittens was born with a birth defect, and started to fail to thrive. I called the vet to ask for help, and she informed me that there was no way to help a two day old kitten other than to try to get the kitten to latch on and nurse or place a drop of water on the kitten's mouth to see if it would take the water in. I tried both of these coaching tips, but the kitten failed to thrive and died. Perhaps this was nature's way of ending a life early when there was a deeper condition underlying the failure to thrive.

Had I not had a complication with this one kitten, Prayer and her young ones would not have needed medical consultation until it was time for the kitten's first shots many weeks later. Prayer's pregnancy and birth did not need to be "medicalized." They could be understood in the continuum of life as a natural, healthy and feline (though also human) experience.

The line between medical support and medicalization is an interesting one. Many human women do have more complications during conception (such as infertility issues), pregnancy and birth. And because both a mother's and baby's lives are at risk, medical monitoring is indeed a safety measure for both mother and child. However, many of the natural instincts that Prayer demonstrated are also available to humans, if only they trust their bodies and the wiring that has been part of them for millennia.

But because we have been raised in a culture of medicalization, we tend to place our trust and our power to the medical establishment and NOT to our internal and intuitive wisdom.

Sadly, many natural experiences--parts of the human continuum of life--have been turned into diseases, rather than seen as natural evolutionary processes. In the article, Conrad notes that menopause is one of them.

All women who live into their 50's (and on rare occasions, 60's), will experience menopause. It is part of the fabric of life, just is menarche. For some women, the perimenopausal passage (the 10 year window from the start of pre-menopause to the cessation of menstrual periods, which is technically, what menopause means) is uneventful and nothing really changes significantly emotionally, physically or relationally. For other women, this passage is difficult and medical issues can arise. However, menopause itself is NOT a disease, but a natural biological process.

Today, the pharmaceutical industry drives medicalization because it is profitable to do so. If you create a drug, you need a market. Peter Kramer wrote, Listening to Prozac, exploring whether people who were not depressed but just wanted to be more extroverted or outgoing, might electively choose to take Prozac, because one of the benefits people reported from using the drug was this kind of personality change. In a world that rewards extroversion and go-getting, and pulls away from introversion and those who are judged "too sensitive," if a little pill can give you a personality makeover, it may give a boost to your career!

Conrad notes that Viagra is another example of how the pharmaceutical industry has pushed medicalization to sell drugs. "Viagra was introduced in (1998) as a drug that could help people with prostate problems and diabetes and other physical problems." But in a culture where eternal virility is as desireable as a fountain of youth, other populations became lucrative targets for the drug. So, old people, and athletes became spokespeople, and suddenly Viagra ad became not only grandpa's little helper, but also "everyman's" magic pill, the star of professional football games' tv ads.

Sometimes people want their conditions medicalized, because they face challenges in their lives and need help coping with society's demands. Conrad notes adult ADHD is a consumer-driven medicalization phenomenon.

When people struggle, they turn to the medical industry for help, not one another. There is no social or community catchment net. Everyone is too busy to bother with their neighbor's struggles. And who feels qualify to understand, never mind help, the complex experiences we suffer from in daily life?

Once upon a time some of the traits of ADHD might have been considered "hunter and gatherer" traits. In a primitive society, the very traits that make it impossible to sit at a desk for 8 - 12 hours, allowed people to do what needed to be done to survive. Is this really a disease or a mirror of how hard it is to adapt our neurology and physiology to a world of rapid change, and customs far different from ones our biological ancestors lived with for centuries if not millennia?

In this sense, medicalization compromises or even loses sight of our basic humanity. And Conrad points out, what to me is perhaps the saddest application of medicalization, it's use as a form of social control. He gives the example of the increasingly common use of psychotropic drugs in nursing homes. Many patients receive these medications not because they are actually psychotic, but because the medications make them easier to "handle."

When "medicalizing" creates tools for care and empowerment, it can be a good thing. But sadly, when money, power and politics are driving forces, "medicalization" can become a form of "dehumanization."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Weight and Eating: When Life Is Hard To Swallow

When looking at weight and eating, there's lots of information available about the importance of healthy food and exercise. What is less commonly voiced is the role emotional stress plays not only in eating behavior, but also, in weight gain.

Dr. Dean Ornish, a visionary physician who has spread the message that "heart disease can be reversed through comprehensive lifestyle change,"1 notes that to lose weight and maintain weight, we need to work more deeply than with just what we eat and how we behave.

In "Why A High Protein Diet May Make You Fatter" by Kathy Freeston (see 1 below), Ornish notes, "The real epidemic in our country is not only obesity, but also depression, isolation and loneliness. As one patient told me, 'When I feel lonely and depressed, I eat a lot of fat. It fills the void. Fat coats my nerves and numbs the pain.'"

In this sense, we can both overeat when life is hard to swallow. And we can choose unhealthy foods to offer emotional comfort and soothing, since it may not be readily available in other, non-food-based ways.

Ornish points out that emotional stress plays a big role in weight gain, even beyond eating or overeating foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

1. Ornish notes that "chronic emotional stress stimulates your brain to release hormones that cause you to gain weight, especially around your belly where it's most harmful and least attractive." Long-term stress (which is sadly, defined as stress lasting 15 minutes or more) causes the body to produce cortisol, which contributes to stress-related eating and weight gain.

2. "Chronic stress also causes stimulation of hormones such as cytokines that promote inflammation." He notes that obesity itself causes a low-grade inflammation, "which in turn, tends to promote more obesity in a vicious cycle."

3. Because chronic emotional stress causes you to gain weight, using stress management tools may be necessary to lose weight and keep it off. So often, we ignore our emotional and spiritual needs, including our need for connection with self, a higher power and others. And when we lack connection, we feel a void. Meditation, mind-body tools and reaching out to others can fill the void with emotional, physical and spiritual nutrients not available in food.

It is important we pay attention to our emotional, spiritual and relational diet when looking at health and weight management. As we nourishing ourselves emotionally, spiritually and relationally, our bodies will response by generating oxytocin, the love or bonding hormone, and we will experience a greater sense of peace and well-being at all levels.

There is a lot of truth that when life is hard to swallow, we might really need a hug, a shoulder to cry on or a hand to food--not a bag of chips!

1 = From "Why A High Protein Diet May Make You Fatter" by Kathy Freston, AlterNet, March 18, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Coherence and Incoherence and the Heart

This past Sunday, as I was leading a workshop on "Keeping A Vital Heart," I was showing the group a picture of the heart rhythms when a person is experiencing Frustration and when a person is experiencing Appreciation.

The difference in the images was very striking: while the amplitude between the high and low points in the "heart waves" was about the same, the patterns of the heart activity were very different. The heart pattern for frustration was very spikey, and irregular. The heart pattern for appreciation was much smoother and more regular.

Is it a surprise that we experience cortical inhibition and chaos when feeling frustrated, and cortical facilitation and coherence when feeling appreciative or appreciated?

The word "coherence" is very important in matters of the heart. Coherence means we experience life as purposeful, manageable and meaningful. The heart thrives on coherence and is stressed when our lives lack coherence.

I began to think about the word "incoherent," which is usually used in relationship to how someone speaks. Someone who is incoherent is hard to understand and may speak in a jarbled, chaotic and confusing style. We feel evoke more comfort in a listener when we speak coherently, and more discomfort when we speak incoherently. Interesting to see the parallel between our thoughts and words and the experience of the heart.

One of the workshop participants made a comment about an article she had read on how multi-tasking makes us stupid. As I reflected on this, it made a lot of sense. Multi-tasking can be chaotic, especially when taken to the extreme. The more chaotic, the more incoherent our thought patterns, actions, and most likely our feelings.

I would love to see the heart rhythm patterns of a person who is frantically multi-tasking as we so often feel pressured to do in our fast-paced world, and a person who is fully present and focusing deeply on one task.

Somehow, I suspect there would be parallels between the frustration and appreciation diagrams. Multi-tasking may make us "stupider" because we become incoherent, lose our grounding and no longer have a sense of what is most important. Multi-tasking surely is stressful, so our bodies generate cortisol, the long-term stress hormone. Focusing deeply on one thing is its own kind of meditation, and may release oxytocin, the love or bonding hormone that counteracts the effects of cortisol.

Perhaps we need to look for ways to be more coherent in all aspects of our life and reduce incoherence as well! This will bring us more focus, inner peace and healthier hearts!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Information on How to Survive An Earthquake

This is information someone in my community sent to me tonight, and I wanted to pass it on, in case it could help you or anyone you know.

I did not write any of this material. I am just passing it on.


My name is Doug Copp. I am the Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of the
American Rescue Team International (ARTI), the world's most experienced
rescue team. The information in this article will save lives in an

I have crawled inside 875 collapsed buildings, worked with rescue teams
from 60 countries, founded rescue teams in several countries, and I am a
member of many rescue teams from many countries.

I was the United Nations expert in Disaster Mitigation for two years. I
have worked at every major disaster in the world since 1985, except for
simultaneous disasters.

The first building I ever crawled inside of was a school in Mexico City
during the 1985 earthquake. Every child was under its desk. Every child was
crushed to the thickness of their bones. They could have survived by lying
down next to their desks in the aisles. It was obscene, unnecessary and I
wondered why the children were not in the aisles. I didn't at the time know
that the children were told to hide under something. I am amazed that even
today schools are still using the "Duck and Cover" instructions- telling
the children to squat under their desks with their heads bowed and covered
with their hands. This was the technique used in the Mexico City school.

Simply stated, when buildings collapse, the weight of the ceilings falling
upon the objects or furniture inside crushes these objects, leaving a space
or void next to them. This space is what I call the 'triangle of life'. The
larger the object, the stronger, the less it will compact. The less the
object compacts, the larger the void, the greater the probability that the
person who is using this void for safety will not be injured. The next time
you watch collapsed buildings, on television, count the 'triangles' you see
formed. They are everywhere. It is the most common shape, you will see, in
a collapsed building.


1) Almost everyone who simply 'ducks and covers' when buildings collapse
ARE CRUSHED TO DEATH. People who get under objects, like desks or cars, are

2) Cats, dogs and babies often naturally curl up in the fetal position. You
should too in an earthquake. It is a natural safety/survival instinct. That
position helps you survive in a smaller void. Get next to an object, next
to a sofa, next to a large bulky object that will compress slightly but
leave a void next to it.

3) Wooden buildings are the safest type of construction to be in during an
earthquake. Wood is flexible and moves with the force of the earthquake. If
the wooden building does collapse, large survival voids are created. Also,
the wooden building has less concentrated, crushing weight. Brick buildings
will break into individual bricks. Bricks will cause many injuries but less
squashed bodies than concrete slabs. Concrete slab buildings are the most
dangerous during an earthquake.

4) If you are in bed during the night and an earthquake occurs, simply roll
off the bed. A safe void will exist around the bed. Hotels can achieve a
much greater survival rate in earthquakes, simply by posting a sign on the
back of the door of every room telling occupants to lie down on the floor,
next to the bottom of the bed during an earthquake.

5) If an earthquake happens and you cannot easily escape by getting out
the door or window, then lie down and curl up in the fetal position next to
a sofa, or large chair.

6) Almost everyone who gets under a doorway when buildings collapse is
killed. How? If you stand under a doorway and the doorjamb falls forward or
backward you will be crushed by the ceiling above. If the door jam falls
sideways you will be cut in half by the doorway. In either case, you will
be killed!

7) Never go to the stairs. The stairs have a different 'moment of frequency
(they swing separately from the main part of the building). The stairs and
remainder of the building continuously bump into each other until
structural failure of the stairs takes place. The people who get on stairs
before they fail are chopped up by the stair treads ? horribly mutilated.
Even if the building doesn't collapse, stay away from the stairs. The
stairs are a likely part of the building to be damaged. Even if the stairs
are not collapsed by the earthquake, they may collapse later when
overloaded by fleeing people. They should always be checked for safety,
even when the rest of the building is not damaged.

8) Get Near the Outer Walls Of Buildings Or Outside Of Them If Possible -
It is much better to be near the outside of the building rather than the
interior. The farther inside you are from the outside perimeter of the
building the greater the probability that your escape route will be

9) People inside of their vehicles are crushed when the road above falls in
an earthquake and crushes their vehicles; which is exactly what happened
with the slabs between the decks of the Nimitz Freeway. The victims of the
San Francisco earthquake all stayed inside of their vehicles. They were all
killed. They could have easily survived by getting out and lying in the
fetal position next to their vehicles. Everyone killed would have survived
if they had been able to get out of their cars and sit or lie next to them.
All the crushed cars had voids 3 feet high next to them, except for the
cars that had columns fall directly across them.

10) I discovered, while crawling inside of collapsed newspaper offices and
other offices with a lot of paper, that paper does not compact. Large voids
are found surrounding stacks of paper.

In 1996 we made a film, which proved my survival methodology to be correct.
The Turkish Federal Government, City of Istanbul , University of Istanbul
Case Productions and ARTI cooperated to film this practical, scientific
test. We collapsed a school and a home with 20 mannequins inside. Ten
mannequins did 'duck and cover,' and ten mannequins I used in my 'triangle
of life' survival method. After the simulated earthquake collapse we
crawled through the rubble and entered the building to film and document
the results.

The film, in which I practiced my survival techniques under directly
observable, scientific conditions, relevant to building collapse, showed
there would have been zero percent survival for those doing duck and cover.

There would likely have been 100 percent survivability for people using my
method of the 'triangle of life.' This film has been seen by millions of
viewers on television in Turkey and the rest of Europe, and it was seen in
the USA , Canada and Latin America on the TV program Real TV.

Spread the word and save someone's life... The entire world is experiencing
natural calamities so be prepared!

Thursday, March 11, 2010


It just seems counterintuitive that by bullying people and focusing on one's own self-interest at the expense of others, one can achieve long-term success, and even be part of a sustainable society.
Today, sadly, there are too many examples of abuses of power, and societal structures where the bully emerges victorious and dominant. To make matters worse, many "common people," feel powerless to change or improve their circumstances, because those "in power" have made it virtually impossible to organize and do so.

So, it was very inspiring to read an article on Alternet today, written by University of California, Berkeley writer Yasmin Anwar, entitled, "Do Kinder People Have An Evolutionary Advantage." According to research conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, there is "a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive."

This just plain makes sense. The people I define as most successful, and in decades prior to our current ones, were even successful in business, were those who displayed nurturing, compassionate and altruistic traits as well as good skills, pragmatism and a timely vision.

I worked at Digital Equipment Corporation from 1978 - 1985, a company whose motto was "do the right thing." That was what attracted me to work for Digital, and until market forces and too many MBA's diluted the entrepreneurial culture of founder Ken Olsen, this was truly practiced, not just preached at all levels: with customers, employees, stockholders, the community and other stakeholders.

My last organizational development project at Digital involved bringing 5 business units housed in the same complex in Merrimack, NH back to life. And by building a collaborative team, we succeeded in doing so in 9 months time. When I left, I gave my team members t-shirts that said "empowered and loving it." Not quite the way most people feel today when they come home from their corporate jobs.

The 1980's just seemed to be a more functional time in our society than the first decade of this century. And perhaps it was because people were more in touch with the empathy in our genes than they are now. Dacher Keltner at UC Berkeley and colleague Sarina Rodrigues of Oregon State University have found that "people with a particular variation of the oxytocin gene receptor are more adept at reading the emotional state of others, and get less stressed out under tense circumstances."

Oxytocin, which is the love or bonding hormone, is secreted by lactating mothers to help bond with their babies, but also can be generated by snuggling, hugging, heartfelt communication, doing yoga or petting your dog. It makes me wonder if we focus more on emotional literacy and try to raise our own EQ's if we will raise the level of "social oxytocin, so to speak, and change the qualities of interactions in our world.

People who take care of others and focus on the greater good, do receive sincere appreciation from those they help. Today's world of self-interest might call the sincere public servant a "chump," but to me, that reflects a cultural heart wound and a generally low EQ.

Perhaps, if parents start modeling altruism, care and service to their children, we can build the foundation for a higher capacity for empathy in the next generation. Without this capacity, those invested in the "dog eat dog" model might destroy our ability to survive.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More Than "Wiggle, Wiggle, Pop": The Inner and Outer Limits of Sexuality

One of my mentors, Stan Dale, the founder of the Human Awareness Institute (HAI), had a wonderful way of saying that "sex is more than 'wiggle, wiggle, pop.'" He'd focus on how the skin is the largest organ in the body, and sensuality is a whole body experience.

For whatever reason, our culture tends to place sex in a box--a heterosexual, penis-vagina penetrative, "success equals orgasm" box. Yet, sexuality is so much more than that. I always noticed the the letters "s," "e" and "x" in combination seemed like an abbreviation for something more, like "soul energy eXchange" or "spiritual energy eXchange." In sexuality there is the possibility for connection and expression at many levels: emotional, physical, spiritual, soulful and energetic, to name a few.

Our culture often forgets (or never thinks) to link the sexual with the spiritual, and "hard core pornography" with all its raw and graphic detail, makes no reference to the sacred, the intimate or the spiritual. It focuses on arousal, titillation, and "getting people off."

Mind you, the energy release of orgasm is pleasureable, wonderful and even transformational. When shared with a loving partner, it can be deeply bonding. In one's own personal sexual practice it can be a kind of sacred meditation. However, when orgasm, rather than being part of a whole landscape of sexual expression is the "sole goal," we can easily forget all the other dimensions of the sexual, sensual, spiritual landscape.

Touch, both emotionally-rooted and sensual, can be extremely relaxing and nourishing to the body and soul. It can be boxed as "foreplay" or celebrated as a "main course." Hugging, kissing, massaging, spooning, cuddling, placing a still, healing hand on a place of tension or pain, can all enrich the experience of connecting and expressing love and care.

Today, I was reading several blog posts and the Planned Parenthood definition of "outercourse," a term which has been coined in contrast to "intercourse," referring to "non-penetrative sexual contact." The Planned Parenthood website notes that "outercourse means different things to different people." To some, it means sex-play without vaginal intercourse. To others, it means sex-play without ANY penetration: oral, anal or vaginal.

There is a focus, with this term, on birth control, or as one blogger wrote, "abstinence without the sex-negative message." And it is harder to get pregnant without penis-vagina penetration (although if sperm cells are around, one must be careful where they travel). Some STD's are less likely to be transmitted if sexuality is limited to "outercourse."

While these concepts are all useful and interesting. And it's good to see a more sex-positive twist on a very old conversation, "intercourse" and "outercourse" still seem to focus on the box of "wiggle, wiggle, pop."

What if we could expand our language with words like "innerverse" and "outerverse," where when you go deep emotionally, physically, spiritually and sexually, you explore the "innerverse," which can be connected with loving, nurturing, sensual touch involving any or all of the body's "outerverse?" Space-like terms almost conjure the mystical and the spiritual.

Somehow, I think we can continue to be creative in evolving a language that is more encompassing all the things that sex is and can be. And in doing so, perhaps we will grow and evolve in our ability to connect and express deeply.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When Anger Becomes A Weapon

This past Sunday, my son Alex and I were getting out of our car in the driveway. It was mid-day, and the beautiful sunny day was suddenly interrupted by the skidding of tires and the eruption of a man with a loud voice at the intersection near our house.

The man was screaming at the driver in front of him, as they were stopped at a red light. Periodically, people display road rage in the most inappropriate places (is there ever an appropriate place for road rage?), and this was one of those moments. The poor man in the white car in front of this screaming man was trapped between a road rager and a red light. He had nowhere to go until the light changed.

The angry man got out of his car, slammed his door shut and taunted the man in front of him, "I dare you. Put it up. Put it up." The entrapped driver did his best to ignore the raging, fist wielding man behind him, and thanks to good luck, the light changed and he drove away.

Unsatisfied by his first encounter, our road raging protaganist pulled his car over, blocking the car in back of him, and went at him. I could not hear his initial screamings, but could feel the venom and contempt in whatever he uttered. The man in back of him, driving a green truck, yelled back, telling him to "shut up."

This only further inflamed the road rager, and he got out of his car, once again, and said, "I dare you. If you were a REAL man, you'd fight me." He said many other things, which I refrain from printing in this blog, including racist and sexist comments, a fine selection of swears and put downs, and about everything he could drag in to taunt the man behind him to engage in a fist fight. He then got back in his car.

The man in the green truck refused to take the bait, commenting that he would be put back in jail if he gave this man what he was asking for. The road rager chose to take this as fuel to his fire and then started verbally assaulting the man behind him about why he might have been in jail before and how worthless he must be to have ever been in jail. He got out of the car a second time, this time approaching the driver's window with his fists, and I am very impressed at the self-control the green truck's driver exercised in the face of this very direct threat.

Finally, the light turned green again, and the man in the green truck was spared further psychological abuse. The road rager decided he'd had his fill of raging at other drivers, got in his car, turned around awkwardly, and started driving down the street our driveway is on. I walked closer to the edge of the driveway to get a look at this man who felt such a need to verbally assault and taunt other drivers--just because they were there. I was a bit afraid myself, that if he saw I was watching, he might come after me with a vengeance. I tried to be inconspicous, hiding in the shrubs a bit, and he drove by.

All I could say was, "wow!"

Anger is a primal human emotion, and being able to feel and express appropriate anger is very important for defining our boundaries, defending our position when under attack, and having a sense of entitlement to take up space, have a voice or be treated with respect. Rage is different than anger, and most often appears when someone's boundaries have been violated and there is the need to "redraw the line" back, further away from the intruded upon or wounded party.

The image of having a neighbor throw their trash across the fence into your yard, and your politely, yet firmly, taking the trash and returning it to the source, is a healthy expression of anger. Anger need not be violent. Anger need not be cruel. Anger need not involve verbally hurtful statements. Anger can be clean, grounded and contained and deliver its message elegantly and even respectfully.

When anger becomes a weapon, as it was for the road rager at the intersection near my house, the person doing the raging is often taking a deep hurt from past experience and projecting it forth into the present. Sitting on a raging volcano, the slightest provocation unleashes the emotional lava which simmers just under the surface much if not all of the time. The rager does not think about the implications of his/her behavior on his/her target. The rager does not think about the consequences of his/her action. The rager just spews his emotional lava with great intensity, as though purging himself of a hot potato, without making the connection between the source of this anger and the incident in the here and now.

While the road raging man could greatly benefit from therapy, introspection and some anger management tools, I am afraid he is unlikely to encounter them unless he ends up in jail after "going off" on another innocent person at the wrong time. Would the road rager have behaved the same way in front of a police officer? Or is he smart enough to know that then he would likely be held accountable for his conduct and stopped?

Uncontained anger, sadly, is a weapon that is passed on from "victim" to "victim" in an unconscious chain of actions. Pain brings more pain. Victim becomes victimizer. Until one's wounds are held, honored and explored safely in a healing setting, it is very hard to put the "weapon" down.

I hope the road rager one day finds a healing place. But until then, I wouldn't want to be in front of him or in back of him at a traffic light!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Power of the Heart and Neural Buddhism

Today, I chaperoned my 14 year old son, Alex's, Coming of Age class on a field trip to the Shambhala Meditation Center in Brookline, MA. In the Coming of Age program, the kids spend a year doing community service, learning about different faiths and belief systems, take a class about relationships, love, intimacy and sexuality, work with a same gender mentor, and write a statement of their own beliefs and values (a credo) for the graduation ceremony at the end of the year. Today's field trip was a journey into Buddhist practice.

In an interesting confluence of events (or what we can call synchronicity), my friend Steven Otero asked me if I had heard of "neurobuddhism." My response was initially, "no," but within a matter of moments, I had googled the term and quickly started getting up to speed about this interesting thread that might be injecting some spirituality into the hard core materialism of brain science.

I was fortunate enough to come across a wonderful essay by NY Times Op-Ed columnist, David Brooks, dated May 13 2008 and entitled, "The Neural Buddhists." One section of the article grabbed my attention. Having been a vocal advocate and educator for the literal power of the heart, since the heart generates the strongest electromagnetic field in the body, and heart waves can entrain brain waves, some of the sentiments of neurobuddhism, as Brooks explained it, seem to speak of properties I associate with "the power of the heart."

Brooks writes, "First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships."
In a workshop, a support group or even a business meeting, our heart fields reflect a dance of "the dynamic process of relationships," even without our conscious knowledge that this is actually taking place. In spite of the many way we feel isolated in today's compartmentalized world, when we are to face with others, our hearts are wired to participate in a dynamic relational dance. Even if intellectually, we may feel alone, when gathered in a real-time group, our hearts know we are interconnected and not alone.

"Second," continues Brooks, "underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions." Qualities of heart transcend culture, geography and religion. What the heart knows to be true is very basic and human. Loving one another, respecting the natural world and caring for our children are core to our cardiac fiber and our emotional DNA. While religions can get us into political battles, heart-deep values can bridge most any divide.

"Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when the transcend boundaries and overflow with love," adds Brooks. This is the very experience I create in heart-based workshops, be they "healing the traumatized heart," "healing and nurturing the heart," "keeping the vital heart" or even "integrating sexuality and spirituality.
When our heartfields interact, we create a profound, deep and powerful container, where healing is exponential to what we could do just 1-on-1.

When we learn to slow down and focus through the heart (which is its own form of meditation, and perhaps a variation of the Buddhist practice we were guided through today), we are present to ourselves and others, and the moment's experiences and sensations flow through us with ease.
We lose the limitations of our often-busy and ever-thinking mind. We feel the energy of those gathered around us. There is a spiritual richness in the air that we can both breathe in and often touch.

If we proceed to Brooks' fourth point, "God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is," we could say that journeying deep into the heart allows us a sacred, God-full experience, and a sense of interconnection with all that is.
The nature of the heart is pure, spiritual and sacred. The energy of love is universal energy generated and received by the heart.

Often, people have asked me if my work as a heart-centered body psychotherapist wears me out. I have always answered, "No!" Working from a heart space is actually nourishing, enlivening and inspiring. Call it a kind of living meditation-- a relational meditation in the moment and over time. Even when someone's heart space is blocked or inaccessible due to trauma and the anger or wall that often protect the traumatized heart, the act of creating the emotional safety to let the person open and heal, is itself a sacred act.

I would be willing to bet that is a research scientist studied the brain wave patterns that took place between therapist and client doing heart work, they would find some very interesting data that helped bridge the gap between science and spirituality.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Food and Sex Addiction: When "Abstinence" Isn't Really A Healthy Option

The term "addiction," according to an article a colleague sent me from Alternet, "was originally and properly defined as a physiological dependence on a substance to which the body had grown accustomed, such as alcohol, nicotine, heroin and various other drugs. The cure was to end the dependency and abstain from further use of the substance in order to avoid a recurrence of the physiological dependency."

In the case of substances that we can easily live without, and truly do not "need," abstinence makes a whole lot of sense. Over time, however, the scope of the term "addiction," expanded to include more than drugs and alcohol, to include other substances and processes (including food, sex, money, computer games and internet use), some of which ARE essential for our existence and well-being.

Food, for example, is on the basic level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, along with shelter and clothing. We need to eat to live. And if we don't eat a reasonably healthy, balanced diet, we become ill, and can even die.

Sex, is a basic human need, and a source of connection and expression, as well as reproduction. Without sex, we would become extinct. Without the connection of sexual intimacy, love relationships would lose a major contributor to bonding, mutuality and long-term staying power.

Yet, when our relationships with food or sex become imbalanced, when food or sex become compensations for trauma, emotional wounding or unmet needs at other levels, we can develop behaviors which today are called "eating addictions" or "sex addiction."

Clearly, an unhealthy relationship with food or sex can jeopardize our health and at worst, our lives. However, the "simple" abstinence approach to "beating"the addictive behavior is not really an option. Somehow, we need to connect with, face and heal our wounded places while still relating to the nourishing and healthy parts of food or sex.

In some cases, we've either lost touch with or never developed a healthy relationship with food or sex. For example, do you really know the signs when you are hungry? Do you pay attention to what you eat, when and why? Do you understand sex to be a sacred connection with a loved one? Do you practice safe and conscious, consensual sex? For some people, when they feel a bad feeling, they eat for comfort or to stuff the uncomfortable feeling down. If a person turns to sex because they are angry, bored, feel trapped or have no other outlet for emotional discomfort, they are "using" sex to fill a void rather than connecting with the healthy and more complete experience of sexuality.

In today's world, junk food, fast food and lots of food are easy to come by. Likewise, junk sex, fast sex and lots of sexual imagery are easy to come by. Often, it is just a few key strokes away.
Helping heal from an unhealthy relationship with food or sex does require stopping the unhealthy behavior. But it also requires noticing the uncomfortable feelings the behavior is "self-medicating," and learning to uncover what we really need and how to get it.

There are some parallels, in this sense, with healing from a drug or alcohol addiction. Until we stop engaging with the substance, we don't have the space--either biochemical or emotional--to discover the pain, trauma or difficulty feelings we are "running away from." However, in the case of food or sex, we need to somehow re-establish and new and healthy relationship with these life fundamentals, rather than living a life without food or sex.

In all cases of trying to heal from or overcome an addiction problem, we cannot do it all alone. There is an emotional component. There is a spiritual component. There is a behavioral component. It takes at least one other human being to tell your full truth to--a safe, compassionate human being who will listen deeply and who really understands. And it really does take a village, whether that village is a 12-step program, a support group or some combination of resources that hold you accountable, let you know you are not alone, and give you emotional, practical and spiritual support in a constant, regular way.

It is too bad that we so easily reduce human struggles into one or two-dimensions, when in actuality, they exist in more dimensions. And I find it most sad that so many human beings end up so isolated with their pain, that they turn to a substance or process, rather than another human being for consolation.