Thursday, October 4, 2012

Resilience, Self-Worth and Self-Expression: Ben Speaks Louder Than Words

To feel happy, healthy and connected, most human beings need to feel loved and seen for who they truly are. This is particularly true for children, who grow best and thrive when they are in environments that cultivate their authentic selves in a safe, respectful way. Something has broken down tremendously in today's world, where bullying is epidemic from the playground to the boardroom, cutting across age, class, and education level. While we use the phrase "dog eat dog world," I have never seen two dogs attack one another with the intensity and impact of two human beings. We truly live in a "human eat human world," and the consequences are grave for our children as well as ourselves. Judy Giovangelo is working to make a transformational change in the tectonic plates that govern the socio-emotional practices in our schools, in our homes and in our culture at large. She founded Ben Speakes Louder Than Words after losing her middle son, Ben, to suicide on April 16, 2009. Judy shared that when she was presenting at a high school with 850 students enrolled, she learned that 75% had a psychiatric diagnosis and/or were taking psychiatric medication. 50% of the students smoked pot. The numbers are staggering. In our increasingly competitive world, there is no space for human emotion. If emotions are "energy in motion," and we have no room for them to move, our emotions, have to either implode or explode. In this context is it any surprise that cutting, road rage and bullying are epidemic as our emotions explode? Is it any surprise that addictions to food, video games, shopping, internet porn and substances are also epidemic as we numb ourselves to keep from imploding? We are creating a culture of disempowered youth, whose minds and bodies are filled with negative thoughts, words, feelings and actions. We are taught to look outward and feel the void of a connection with our inner voice. Judy's message through her work is that we must transform the way we think, feel, speak and act. We must learn to find our inner voice, and find pathways for meaningful self-expression. We must be the change we seek in the world. And change begins within. Our thoughts and feelings have great power. When we bring positive thoughts and love to our thoughts and feelings, this powerful energy informs our words and actions. Judy does a wonderful demonstration, inviting someone to come to the front of the room, and think about a negative experience while holding out their stronger arm. She invites the person to resist as she pushes down on their arm. Having been her test subject for this experiment, I experienced first hand how little power I have to resist her push when thinking about a negative experience. Judy then invites her subject to think about a positive experience, and pushes down on the weaker arm. When Judy tried this with me, my weaker arm was unmoveable. There is a short demonstration was a visceral illustration of the power of position thoughts. Judy's work invites us to empower ourselves. We must embrace our pain. It is part of being human. And we must meet our dreams with strong positive emotions. Joy creates resilience. We need to learn to take space to dream and set higher goals and take action one step at a time. We need to learn to walk through the world with gratitude, since gratitude only creates more circumstances that evoke gratitude. Judy invites us to live in our hearts, the place our power truly lives. She advocates mind-body practices, like yoga, which help us find this space within. She also underscores the importance of the arts in all forms, so that kids learn to express themselves rather than repress themselves. Whether you talk it out, write it out, sing it out, draw it out, pain it out, dance it out or rap it out, self-expression grows self-worth and self-esteem. At the end of September, Judy produced the 3rd "Concert To Remember" as a fundraiser for Ben Speaks Louder Than Words, but as a living example of the power of self-expression. For more information on this transformational work, e-mail or check out Judy's website

Meeting Our Basic Human Needs Creating A Village to Support Our Children and Ourselves

While Maslow talked about a hierarchy of needs, in our culture we tend to focus on the bottom of the pyramid, our needs for food, shelter and clothing. We often don't think deeply enough about our emotional and spiritual needs. "Self-actualization," which was at the top of Maslow's pyramid, always seemed to be an intangible, hard to grasp concept, unlike the physical and tangible items at the bottom of the pyramid. Clearly, we need food, shelter and clothing to survive, and if our basic survival needs are not met, life is very hard. However, in order to truly live and even thrive, once our food, clothing and shelter needs our met, we have other basic human needs. In 1990, my colleague Brian Schulz and I developed a list of 6 Basic Human Needs. Each one of them is fairly simple, yet most of us live our lives without our "recommended daily allowance" of most of them: 1. The need for abundant, nurturing, non-sexual touch and holding. 2. The need for full expression of emotions and a listener who responds to this expression with warmth, understanding and respect. 3. The need for play and pleasure. 4. The need for satisfying creative work. 5. The need for a satisfying and uninhibited sexual life with a loved and loving partner. 6. The need for immersion in and contact with the natural environment. In a culture that is increasingly virtual, crazy busy, disembodied and moving so fast that many of us lose our grounding, what is basic for the heart and spirit become luxuries or even points of numbness. When we rely on texting and Facebook for our communication, and don't take the time to stop, breathe and go within, we become increasingly disconnected from ourselves, the natural rhythm of life and the world around us. We forget that "the way it is" is not the way it has to be. What kind of template are we passing on to our children? Are we even aware that our own disconnection creates a new kind of poverty in a world of endless material possessions and electronic devices? The emotional and spiritual poverty level is rising, including isolation as a way of life for children and adults alike. Many young people have not been mentored in the art of conversation or even self-expression beyond the texting short cuts. Is it a surprise that when Ben Speaks founder Judy Giovangelo surveyed a high school population of 850 students, 75% had medical diagnoses and/or were taking psychiatric medications? If we do not learn to live in our bodies, express our human feelings, honor our feelings and body sensations as wisdom and personal guidance, and recognize it feels better to have trusted others walking beside us in this journey called life, we only dehumanize ourselves and our children. Children need some basic experiences to provide a foundation to be able to identify and meet their basic human needs as an adult: 1. Abundant, loving, nurturing, non-sexual touch and holding 2. Comfort with our bodies, their movements and sensations. 3. Being listened to with care and respect, with particular attention to our emotional experiences and needs. 4. Mentors, parents and other adult figures who will encourage and cultivate the process of finding our own voice. 5. Time for play, pleasure and fun. 6. Appropriate structure, support and freedom (the magic balance changes with age), as we learn to study, take in knowledge, write and do school work and projects on our own. 7. Immersion and contact with the natural world. 8. Models and rituals of spiritual connection, to teach us to go within as well as look outside to the larger world. To create this template, we need to work together. We cannot do it alone. And working together means face to face gatherings, where we as human beings share time, space and unfolding moments of life. Our cybervillage has certain advantages, but it too easily removes us from the fabric of face to face life. Slowing down, making time for self-care and time with others might seem like a radical concept in today's world. Yet, it is critical for our survival, and even more critical for providing a lost model for today's and tomorrow's children. Let's rebuild the face to face village and not get lost in cyberspace. My hope is that some of us still remember viscerally the joy and value of face to face human contact, and that we have not become sufficiently numbed out, drugged out, self-medicated out, and worked out, that those kinds of sensations, feelings and experiences are just a distant memory. Time to lose our minds and come to our senses! Copyright 2012 Linda Marks