Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Emotional Healing and Love

Jeff Brown is a wonderful writer who posts many of his reflective pieces on his Facebook page. I thought this piece on Emotional Healing and Love was very well said.

"One thing that is clear to me is the value of emotional healing work both in our efforts to prepare for love and in our efforts to sustain it. This is not to say that love cannot enter our lives when we are emotionally unhealthy, but it is helpful if we can do some work to clear our debris in advance."

"When we don't do it, it becomes difficult to recognize love, to attune to love, to hold love safe. This is 'the power of then'- although the physical body travels forward chronologically, one's emotional consciousness always lingers at any point of departure. To move forward on the path, we have to go back and heal the wounds and memories that obstruct us. We've got to be there there before we can be here now."

"Clearing our emotional debris has many positive impacts. It creates more space inside for love to enter and it gives us more energy to see love all the way through. Unresolved material is like undigested food-- it blocks the channel and prevents new nourishment from entering. All bunked up, we may not even notice love when it walks through the portal. Releasing our emotional holdings cleans our lens, allowing us to notice love when it comes. With a dirty lens, love is blind and we are blind to it."

"And working through our issues expands our awareness, providing us with the tools we will need to manage our triggers and patterns. Of course, love will bring up new challenges from their burial ground, but with more intimacy with the processes of pattern recognition and healing, we stand a better chance of staying out of our own way. If you don't know the stuff you come in with, you are going to have a hard time managing the new levels of material that love excavates."

"This is the actual new earth. It isn't a place where we imagine that watching our pain body will actually transform it. It isn't a place where we confuse dissociation with expansion. It's a place where we jump right into the heart of the emotional material, shaping it like clay into a newer, truer lens. Real presence is a whole being experience."

The Six Principles of Compassionate Living

These points are from Pema Chodron, as summarized by my colleague Brock Davis. They offer a wonderful context within which to begin the new year.

1. Generosity: Giving as a path of learning to let go.

2. Discipline: Training in not causing harm in a way that is daring and flexible.

3. Patience: Training in abiding with the restlessness of our energy and letting things evolve at their own speed. If waking up takes forever, still we go moment by moment, giving up all hope of fruition and enjoying the process.

4. Joyful enthusiasm: Letting go of our perfectionism and connecting with the living quality of every moment.

5. Meditation: Training in coming back to being right here with gentleness and precision.

6. Prajna (or transcendent wisdom): Cultivating an open, inquiring mind.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Roots of Male Violence

My colleague, Jed Diamond, an expert on male psychology and male health, wrote a very timely article, "The 5 Hidden Reasons Men Become Violent and What We Can Do About It to Make the World Safer." In the wake of the Ferguson situation, this subject is particularly relevant.

While violence is perpetrated by both men and women, and clearly both men and woman are impacted by violence (and contribute to a culture of violence), more men perpetrate violence and are the victims of violence than women.

Jed defines violence using the World Health Organization's definition:

There are three kinds of violence, all inter-related:

1. Self-directed violence (including suicidal behavior and self-harm)

2. Interpersonal violence involving family and/or an intimate partner

3. Interpersonal violence involving the larger community (individuals involved may be unrelated)

Here are five hidden factors that Jed cites as contributors to male violence:

1. The Male Brain is Not Wired For Empathy

Jed writes, "At its core, violence is a failure to empathize." When we don't empathize it is easier to "other" another human being, turning them into an object, separate from us, rather than someone we are inherently and inseparably interconnected with. Jed cites Simon Baron-Cohen, an expert on violence saying, "When our empathy is switched off, we are solely in the 'I' mode. In such a state we relate only to things or to people as if they were just things."

While most men have a capacity to empathize with others, because of the way men's brains are wired, it is much more difficult to do so than for women. Baron-Cohen believes it is because female brains are wired for empathizing and male brains are wired for building systems."

To help men grow their empathic capacity is conscious work. Placing oneself in the shoes of another person, listening for feelings and resisting an innate desire to problem solve are all parts of this work.

2. Males Have Higher Levels of Testosterone

Jed cites Dr Theresa Crenshaw, a leading expert on how hormones influence behavior: testosterone is a predominantly male hormone that women also have in smaller amounts. After puberty, men have 8 to 10 times as much as women do. Not only is testosterone responsible for men's aggressive sex drive, but also what she calls men's "'warmone,' triggering anger, competitiveness and even violence."

Jed references James Dobbs, PhD, who notes an indirect relationship between high testosterone levels and criminality. Dobbs studied young male prison inmates and found that those inmates with higher testosterone levels were often associated with more violent crimes and more prison rule violations.

To counteract the potential for violence, Dobbs and his wife Mary underscored the importance of keeping fathers involved with their children. Children raised with absent fathers are more likely to have delinquent behavior. Fathers can teach their sons that while "guystuff seems to be about building stuff, fixing stuff and blowing up stuff," it is better to focus on the building and fixing.

3. Males Generate Lower Levels of Oxytocin

Oxytocin, often known as "the bonding hormone," is associated with much of the good in relationships. Higher oxytocin can lead someone to act more generously and more daringly, including with strangers. Jed cites the work of researcher Paul Zak, PhD, who noted that oxytocin makes "people friendlier, more empathetic and more trusting," and that empathy drives moral behavior.

Not only do men tend to have lower oxytocin levels than women, but even more so, testosterone blocks the effect of oxytocin. Jed cites the work of Shelley Taylor, PhD, who suggests the difference in oxytocin release between men and women "accounts for women's greater willingness to reach out for others when they are under stress ('tending and befriending') rather than the male reaction of 'fight or flight.'

If men are going to increase their oxytocin levels, and therefore, their capacity for empathy, they need to engage in oxytocin generating activities, like getting a massage, practicing yoga, and working to increase their bonds of trust.

4. Men Have Fewer Friends Than Women

Jed cites his own personal experience leading workshops, where it is common for women to have 3 or 4 close friends, and very uncommon for the same to be true with men. If men have any close friends, it is usually one close friend, often their spouse. And if there are problems in that relationship, men do not have a network of close friends to turn to for support.

Men are more likely to bond over activities not heartfelt shadings about their lives, struggles and triumphs. Jed cites the work of Herb Goldberg, PhD, noting that men are often out of touch with their emotions and their bodies. By "playing by the rules of the male game plan, with lemming-like purpose," men destroy themselves.

When they are isolated, men often become depressed. When they experience inner pain without proper emotional support, "men often 'act out' their depression and become more aggressive or even physically violent." Helping men learn to have close emotional friendships is no easy task. But it is important to change the dynamics of how men behave in relationships.

5. Men React More Violently to Shame Than Women

Jed defines shame with the words of author Merle Fossum: "feeling alone in the pit of unworthiness." And Fossman believes shame "is much more deeply rooted than most people often believe."

"Shame is feeling bad about who we are, about our very being." And it grows like a cancer. Jed notes the work of John Gilligan. "After working with thousands of violent men, Gilligan was able to get to the core cause. 'I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed, and that did not represent the attempt to prevent or undo that ‘loss of face’—no matter how severe the punishment, even if it includes death.' Jed concludes, "Men crave respect and can become violent when they feel put down."

So, to help reduce violence in men, finding ways to build respect and trust are essential. Only then can men risk sharing their innermost feelings. And without sharing feelings of shame, they will continue to incubate, grow and often drive behavior in ways that impact self and others adversely.

Helping men accept their pain, their difficult feelings, their deeper feelings and then share them with loving others is important to reduce the tendency towards violence--to self and others.

For the complete article, visit Jed Diamond's website,

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Being A Lighthouse

As I have been leading workshops on the Power of Voice, a helpful image that I've found myself using frequently is that of the lighthouse. Voice is more than the ability to speak or sing. Voice is actually a sense of who we are at the deepest level: spirit, heart and soul.

Finding one's voice is another way of saying, discovering and knowing who you really are. As you connect inside with your heart, soul and deepest knowing, your sense of self will seek forms of expression. And the pathways of expression, be they speaking, singing, drawing, dancing, writing, inventing....or anything else...are your unique gifts or your unique frequency that you project out into the world.

In this way, as we become clearer about who we are, and can sense the frequency we resonate on, we become a lighthouse, with a unique beam of light to cast out into the world. If we let our light shine through our words, deeds, actions and being, we will naturally attract people, experiences and opportunities that are truly meant for us. Shining our unique light into life's larger harbor allows those "boats" who are seeking this frequency of shelter, protection or light to find us. If we don't know who we are, we can't shine our light. And if we are afraid to shine our light, then the people, experiences and opportunities we are meant to meet and have cannot find us.

To be able to connect with our unique light takes courage, and often skillful facilitation. It also takes patience and trust. Once we have found it and connected to it, life can feel more fulfilling and empowering. Trusting that we will meet who we are meant to meet and that our light is needed by others who seek to find us is an important part of developing the faith to walk a spiritual path in life.

Some people worry that if they shine their light, others will turn away. There is some truth to this concern. However, it is actually a liberating truth. Not everyone WILL resonate with who you are or need to connect with you. And that is okay. The more we live as lighthouses in the world, the more places of harbor will be available. And then trusting that we will be able to give harbor or shelter to those who need our frequency of light...and those who need another frequency of light will be able to find their safe harbor where it is meant to be found.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Forgiveness Prayer

Grant me the will to want to forgive... Can I even form the words Forgive me? Did I even look? Do I dare to see the hurt I have caused? I can glimpse all the shattered pieces of that fragile thing That soul trying to rise on the broken wing of hope But only out of the corner of my eye I am afraid of it And if I am afraid to see How can I not be afraid to say Forgive me?

Is there a place where we can meet? You and me The place in the middle The no man's land Where we straddle the lines Where you are right And I am right too And both of us are wrong and wronged Can we meet there? And look for the place where the path begins The path that ends when we forgive?

From "The Book of Forgiving" by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu

Gridlock, Complexity and Overwhelm

Doesn't it seem that gridlock on the highways is getting worse? Rush hour seems to have bled into most any hour of the day. And whether it is road construction causing slow downs or seemingly more cars of the road, gridlock seems to extend to more places as well as more times of the day. And more "gridlock" experiences seem to be popping up in more parts of life: trying to call an automated phone number for a business transaction, waiting in a longer phone queue with a credit card company, bank or utility, trying to navigate the claims department of an insurance company....Add in climate change, ISIS and constant news reports of the Ebola virus and our fear of it taking over New York City or Boston or most anywhere leading to a catastrophic situation for all, and it seems like the world is rapidly spirally downward. Feeling overwhelmed and stuck in something beyond our control is happening more often to more people every day. As sociobiologist Rebecca Costa studied civilizations that collapsed ( including Mayans Khmer, Romans, Ming and Byzantine societies), she noticed, as my colleague Jed Diamond summarizes in his ManAlive newsletter, "the first symptom of impending collapse was that they all experienced gridlock when the magnitude of the problems they needed to solve exceeded their abilities. In other words, they hit some cognitive threshold where they could no longer understand or manage their biggest, most dangerous problems." As the cultures became overwhelmed they passed their problems on from one generation to the next. In her research, Costa began to ask why. And what she concluded was a simple but powerful force: complexity. In our current, as in past times that reached the brink of collapse, more information was being generated than the people alive were able to process and comprehend. Jed Diamond cites Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, as saying that every 48 hours we produce as much new data as we generated from the dawn of humankind to 2003. As a result, at any point in time, we need to make decisions with only a fraction of the available information we might ultimately need to make the best decision. When there is so much data out there that it is just plain too time consuming and overwhelming to find it and analyze it all, we work with what we can handle, which might mean missing some critical pieces. Diamond writes, "when things become too complex, we have way too many options to consider. The number of wrong choices exceeds the number of "right" choices, and we enter a "high failure environment." Think of yourself when you are stressed. What kinds of decisions to you make under that kind of pressure? Compare your decision making under high stress to your decision making when you can take the time and space to thoughtfully consider a decision. Too much information to consider creates a kind of mental gridlock, and one bad choice leads to another in a domino effect. What do we do to take care of ourselves in a climate of gridlock? How can we keep ourselves from getting overwhelmed and overstressed? 1. Realizing that gridlock is not just a matter of being on the highway at rush hour, but a culture condition, is a good first step. Consciousness allows the possibility for behavioral change. 2. Slowing down and turning to meditative and introspective techniques can help us ground ourselves in the moment and discern more intuitively what is true. 3. Turning off the tv, radio or getting off the computer can help us move away from the information and sensory overload of our media-oriented society. 4. Reaching out to connect with friends and loved ones face to face grounds us in our interconnection and the shared experience many of us have of life today. 5. Pet your dog, take a walk in the woods, sit by a pond or even on a bench in the park. Reminding ourselves we are part of a natural world, and not just an information world can help us ground ourselves and reduce overwhelm. As we slow down, reconnect and simplify, we can step out of the gridlock, even for moments or hours. And sometimes that change of perspective makes all the difference!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Force of Nature

"She breezes in, emotional genie. You can't keep her in a bottle. She'll touch your soul, even when you're sleeping. And when you're awake, just let her in. She's a force of nature. She's a keeper of the heart. She's a lighthouse for the weary. But this world is tearing her apart."

--From "Force of Nature" by Linda Marks

I know I have a lot of energy,whether you call it passion or joie d'vivre. And I am grateful I have ways to direct it positively to make a difference in the world--be it working with individuals, couples or groups as a mind-body psychotherapist, or as a singer or leader or organizer or human being walking the face of the planet. When I was a kid, people often told me I was "intense." I couldn't tell if that was an insult or a compliment.

When the speaker seemed scared or intimidated by me, then I felt it was more of a distancing comment or way to "other" me, separating me from other people. And that never felt very good. In my adult years, the word "intense" has been replaced by another term, "force of nature." Once again, it has been a mixed term, maybe an insult from some and a compliment from others.

I have done a lot of introspective reflection on both of these terms, "intense" and "force of nature." Who likes to feel different, distanced or "othered?" Yet, if I tried to focus more on the energy and life force both terms embody, I have felt more peace and less alone. When a light is very bright, we say it is "intense." Could it be that the light of my heart and spirit are just very bright, and people react to that kind of intensity?

And forces of nature have a profound, often undying directed power. Might I have the capacity to direct my life energy and my heart's power in a way that has a profound impact, often positive? When I turn to nature for my images and understanding, they are often more compassionate and complete than when I look at people's reactions in the context of what is familiar in our human world.

Is the sun not a force of nature or the rain? And aren't sunlight and water necessary to sustain life? Is the wind not a force of nature? And doesn't a sail boat rely on this force to move about the water?

If my intensity enlightens, me and others, and sheds needed light on the subject, especially when I or anyone I care about is moving through the dark, might that not be a gift rather than a curse? Being emotionally embodied, deeply reflective and introspective and actively engaged in projects out in the world, may actually all be good things. And if others feel their boats get rocked by my presence, might it be a gentle wave that keeps things flowing, rather than a scary hurricane?

Might we all not benefit from connecting with the light we are capable of shining in the dark corners of the world? And might our lives not flow better and more fluidly if we can find the part of us that is connected to the natural world and its rhythms? Maybe being a force of nature isn't so bad after all.

Embodying Compassion

"The more you listen, the more you will hear. The more you hear, the more and more deeply You will understand." --Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

What keeps us separate from self and others? What leads us to put up shields or walls to defend ourselves from the deeper experiences of life, including not only pain but also joy? Yes, we have lost, we have suffered, we have been betrayed, we have been abandoned....but is not the price we pay for closing our hearts even greater than the other pain and loss we feel when our hearts are open to both our own struggles and the struggles of others in this world?

Embodying compassion means finding the internal strength and courage to hold ourselves and others with love and sacred respect, and to create the safety within and without to take down our masks. When we take down our masks we can see heart to heart, soul to soul. When we take down our masks we can both see others and be seen for who we truly are.

Authors Joel and Michelle Levey believe, "It takes courage to wake up, to open our wisdom eyes, look more deeply, see more clearly, and feel deeply into the subtle, complex, and profound interrelationships that weave the fabric of our lives and world."

They continue, "To the fainthearted, it may superficially seem easier to live in denial, mindless of the intensity of beauty, joy, and wonder, numbed to the sorrow, suffering, and pain in our lives and world. Aloof and semi-disembodied, we distance ourselves from the raw, vivid, intensity, and intimacy of our feelings and our visceral responses to the suffering of the world within and around us. Such self-protective strategies keep us distanced from our heart, our feelings, our loved, ones, yet sooner or later, most of us get cracked open, one way or another, by the raw intensity of the nature of our lives and world."

Joel and Michelle suggest that when we eat each day we have a perfect opportunity to bring together some of the qualities involved in embodying compassion: "gratitude, wisdom and dedication." If we eat three meals a day, then we can take a moment out of our busy lives three times each day to focus on embodying compassion.

They suggest four levels of awareness to focus on:

1. Set the intention to be mindful and compassionate as you eat. When we set an intention, we focus on mind, our energy and our heart. When we are conscious of bringing compassion to our meals, to our food, to each bite we take and to each moment, our energy flows accordingly. Compassion helps nourish us as we digest our food, and compassion emanates from us as the food becomes part of us.

2. From a place of compassion, think about where your food came from and what that means. The Leveys invite you to consider where your food came from, how wholesome that environment might be, how the food got to you from its place of origin and how those involved in getting the food to you were treated--be they plants, animals or people involved in farming or food production. The more consciousness involved in the created, harvesting and distribution of food, the more compassionate energy accompanies the food we bring to our table.

3. Consider your own food choices if compassion were a screen through which you would make choices. Is the food you are eating now the food you would choose if you looked at your choices through the eyes of compassion? Would you consider more vegetables and grains? Do you know how humanely any fish or animals you eat were treated? How pure are the foods you eat? Processed? Organic? GMO free? Does reflecting on these questions inspire you to take an action step today?

4. If you were to eat in a way that truly embodies compassion, what would that mean? Would you make more choices that are life sustaining and health promoting? Would you share this consciousness with friends, family and loved ones? Would this consciousness move beyond food alone and into other products you purchase or create?

Since we literally become what we eat, food becomes a great laboratory for embodying compassion!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Anxiety and the Heart

In my work over the past 29 years, the relationship between the emotional heart and the physical heart has been very clear. As I have worked with clients who have atrial fibrillation or other forms of cardiac arrhythmia, I have noticed patterns of life arrhythmia, with corresponding emotional stress, including anxiety.

After her mother was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, my colleague Doris Jeanette found herself paying more attention to the physical heart and the relationship of the emotional heart to the physical heart. She started to notice the relationship between anxiety and heart disease, which makes great intuitive sense.

She noted that "numerous research studies reveal that people who have been diagnosed with anxiety are two to three times more likely to die from a heart attack." No one is immune from anxiety, be it a low-grade response to stress or a more intense and severe, even ongoing state of arousal.

Doris writes, "Your nervous system sends signals to your heart so it beats with the proper rhythm. This occurs automatically via the automatic nervous system, so you do not need to think about making your heart beat correctly. When you are anxious, your nervous system becomes very upset. As a result, this static energy, which is called anxiety, sends erratic signals to your heart, instead of harmonious signals. Your heart can become so upset it cannot pump blood fully to all the proper places." This can either be a momentary occurrence or become a chronic condition.

One bout of anxiety will not impact your health in a major adverse way. However, when anxiety becomes chronic and even an expected response, it indirectly and cumulatively compromises your heart health. Doris draws a parallel between anxiety's impact on the heart and the cumulative effect of acid reflux. She reflects that in and of itself, acid reflux is not serious. Yet, over time, it can "seriously damage your heart and scar your esophagus. When you are anxious, the acid build up in your stomach pushes the acid rapidly up your esophageal tube." Acid moves up towards your mouth, and pushes against your heart. "Over time, the chronic bangs to your heart can result in a heart attack," says Doris.

Sadly, in spite of scientific research and what it teaches us about the relationship between heart health and anxiety, most doctors, do not focus on the emotional health of their patients, and are often not conscious of the relationship between emotional health and physical health. As a result, they do not talk about the relationship between anxiety and physical heart health, and they do not recommend mind-body techniques to improve both emotional and physical heart health.

You can increase your self-care by:

1. Learning to turn your focus inward, and seeing how you feel physically and emotionally at different points in your day. Are there any points of tension? Do you notice yourself becoming anxious, and if so, under what kinds of circumstances? If you find yourself becoming anxious, how do you respond to yourself?

2. Slowing down and bringing safety and presence to your anxiety. Do you have a knot in your stomach or a lump in your throat? Place your hand on the knot and adjust your hand to just the right amount of contact. If your hand had a message to communicate, what would it be? And see how that feels to your body and heart.

3. Taking time out to sit in a comfortable position, and get grounded in your body in the moment. By finding physical support for your body and allowing yourself to sink into it, you relax your muscles and often soften your defenses. Your mind becomes more clear to your inner directives. And your mind gives room for the voice of the heart.

4. Listening to your body. Following your heart. Your body and heart provide critical information about where you need to be, what you need to do and not do and where you need to do it. Your body and heart provide the voice of your intuition--your inner knowing and ultimately, a very important compass for life direction and decision making.

5. Learning that discomfort, anxiety and tension is a signal with important information about who you are and what you need moment to moment and over time. Learning how to translate your heart's and body's language of discomfort or anxiety can help you identify what you really need…and then take steps to get it.

The better able you are to dig more deeply into the feelings and needs of your body and heart, the less anxiety you will feel and the more direct information you will have to be yourself and take care of yourself. This is all good for the physical heart as well as the emotional heart.

The Inner Skills of Leadership

"I've looked at some training programs for leaders. I'm discouraged by how they often focus on the development of skills to manipulate the external world rather than the skills necessary to go inward and make the inner journey."

--Parker Palmer

Leaders, by definition both assume positions of power and impact other people through their use of power. Two key questions are: 1. how do we define power? and 2. how does a leader use their power?

A familiar image of power is the "power over kind," where power is a currency granted to those at the top of a hierarchy, those with the greatest material resources or those who by virtue of being appointed take on positions of power. This kind of power involves manipulating the external environment, including the people who are part of it. In this model of leadership there are "power haves"and "power have nots." Power must be granted to the "power have not" by the "power haves." This model can feel highly empowered and sometimes omnipotent for those on top, and highly disempowering and sometimes impotent for those on the bottom.

Another image of power, one that may be less familiar in common circles, is a "power with" model. In this model, the "leader" may be in the front of a project or effort, but does not operate from a "power haves" and "power have nots" model. In this model, the leader does not wish to control or have power over. S/he seeks to cultivate the natural power that lives inside each of the people s/he works with. To the degree the leader develops his/her own inner resources, and develops an internally grounded sense of power, the leader holds a space with other people that encourages, models and may even inspire, internally grounded power in others. Parker Palmer notes that leaders in our society often rise to power by "operating very competently and effectively in the external world, sometimes at the cost of inner awareness." These people tend toward extroversion, which may include "a tendency to ignore what is going on inside themselves." The externally oriented model is focused more on doing and producing tangible results in a concrete way, than on being and the process by which results are produced, including the impact on the people involved in the process. Worked long and sometimes inhuman hours, overlooking our basic human needs, including the need to eat when the body is hungry, to take breaks to walk around and decompress, to go to the bathroom in a timely manner are common when we focus on the externally driven model of leadership and success. There is often a high personal price paid to succeed under these conditions and a high internal price paid to work for the leader who models and demands this kind of work environment. Some of the inner skills of leadership that need to be cultivated include: * Meditation and reflection, to develop and maintain a spiritual connection with self and the larger world * Learning to listen to and heed the signals of one's own body, including when to eat, when to focus, when to relax and when to go to the bathroom * Learning what ones own natural skills and gifts are and what skills are best sought from other people * A sense of internal power through knowing who one is, rather than seeking external power that can be granted or taken away by others * A sense of groundedness: emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually, that leads to "good decisions" in a wholistic sense. Good results are generated through a fair and healthy process for self and others. * An inner sense of timing. This includes a sense of right pace (for self and others), when to stop and when to proceed. * Using intuition as a sense of guidance in addition to facts and other concrete information. Integrating facts and intuition usually produces a more complete picture for decision making If a leader models the above skills, s/he will inspire others to do the same. And both our organizations and our world will reflect more fairness, equity and ultimately, sustainability.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Gift of Home Hospice For A Pet

Just a few weeks ago, I lost one of my beloved feline companions, a Russian blue colored kitty named Toss. My now 18 year old son and I got Toss from Buddy Dog as a feral rescue kitten when my son was just 4 years old. My son named him Toss after a similar gray kitty who was in a video called "Paws, Claws, Feathers and Fins," given to me and my son by a friend who worked as an animal control officer. In the video, a four year old girl goes to a shelter, adopts a gray kitten and names him Toss. My son followed suit and did just the same! I formed a very physical and visceral bond with Toss from the very start. When we first took him home, he was scared and shaking. I held him in my arms for 8 hours straight, helping him feel safe, until eventually he purred. Toss became known for purring as soon as I touched him. And he loved to sit on my lap. Whenever I would go into my "writer's cave," to write, Toss would come over, put his front feel on my legs, and ask to sit on my lap. Sadly, in June when I took him to the vet after watching him start to become frail and lose a lot of weight, I learned that he had either spleen or liver cancer, that in the eyes of the vet was untreatable. Many people I know, coming from a place of good intention, then told me to euthanize him so he "wouldn't suffer." While in no way did I want my cat to suffer, I felt equally strongly that if he was living reasonably peacefully, it was not my place to determine his life or death. I promised Toss that I would follow his lead. And as I spoke with him and petted him, of course, he purred. So, a hospice period ensued. Toss was having trouble eating dry cat food, so I started to give him mashed chicken breast, which he ate with great joy and abandon. So that he could eat peacefully without possible intrusions from our other cats, I set up a special feeding station in the bathroom, where we could close the door. Whenever I would call him for meal time, Toss would get up from under the china cabinet he found as his personal cave, and walk into the bathroom, co-creating a ritual that became very meaningful to us both. After he ate his fill, I would pet him and he would purr. Sometimes he would lie on the rug with feet outstretched and crossed in graceful sphinx position. Toss was a very graceful and elegant cat. As each day went by, he became a little bit weaker, yet every time I would touch him, be it under the china cabinet or in the bathroom, he would purr. When I would go into my writer's cave, he would still accompany me. He became too weak to put his paws up on my legs, so when he stood beside me, I picked him up so he could lie on my lap and purr. Yes, my beautiful companion was indeed transitioning. However, grace and contentment were his signature moods, not pain and suffering. Our ritual of crushed chicken in the bathroom, gentle caresses with purrs and lap visits while I was writing continued up until the very evening before he died. The night before he died, it became hard for Toss to get up from under the china cabinet and walk into the kitchen. He could not make it to the litter box, so I had to clean up after a regretfully incontinent cat. I brought him chicken and fed him from my hand. And up until hours before he died, he ate and he purred. Around midnight in his final hours of life, I could see he was in the final stages of transitioning. My other cats had gathered around him in the bathroom the previous night, somehow just knew to sit quietly and let him eat. It was as though they had gathered to honor him, and only wanted to nurture him and give him space to eat. I found myself asking should I stay up all night to accompany him as he passed, or should I try to get a few hours of sleep, because I had a long day ahead of me. I spoke with Toss, petted him, and he purred. And I got the message that it was okay to try to rest a bit. At 4:30 am, my Maine Coon Cat, Scarlett, clawed loudly at my door. I knew what that meant. I got up, and went to the china cabinet. Toss had just passed. His body was warm. His breathing had just stilled. I sat with him for a little while, petting his fur, and for the first time, not hearing him respond with his gentle purr. He had passed peacefully and gracefully, in the company of his brother and sister kitties. And now our hospice mission was complete. I was deeply moved by our connection from kitten hood through end of life. And being able to honor him and accompany him on his journey was a sacred and beautiful gift. Both my parents died in hospice care. And I am grateful I have been able to provide hospice care for almost all of my pets. To honor a life's journey through its final moments is priceless.

Balance and Belonging

Finding balance and having a sense of belonging are two important experiences many of us strive for, and sometimes find challenging. We get pulled in so many different directions as we go about our daily life: self-care and care for others, work and relaxation, daily necessities and fun,and solitary pursuits and connecting with others can each be polarities as we strive to find balance. Authors Joel and Michelle Levey believe that our search for balance is not "just a solitary affair." This search extends beyond even our relationships with close friends and family, and how we integrate work and personal life. They write, "The sense of belonging to a larger whole is a fundamental force in our search for balance, one that begins in our need to be connected to a larger community, extending our to encompass the entire human family, and ultimately to all nature." Seeing where we fit into the larger web of life, gives us a sense of context, that brings both balance and peace, in the eyes of the Leveys. One might even ask is it possible to find balance solely as a solitary pursuit? Might one of the reasons we struggle with balance and often feel so alone be that we may not recognize how critical it is to feel our place in the larger whole of life in order to find the peace we are seeking? If we were to make a plan to find balance, might we try to identify steps to take at three levels: balance within oneself, balance in relationships with others and balance in our connection to the larger whole? In that sense, self-care gets expanded. Self-care can include healthy eating meditation exercise and meaningful pursuits, and also spending quality time and feeling emotionally connected to friends and loved ones. And it also includes engaging in activities that connect us to nature, to a larger sense of community and to matters that concern the greater good. The kinds of activities that help us pursue all these levels of self-care lead to the kinds of interactions and connections that help us feel like we belong. We cannot lead lives of quiet isolation, which can then breed quiet desperation. Building bridges between different parts within ourselves, between ourselves and others and with ourselves and experiences of the larger whole lead to a sense of integration and meaning most of us seek.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Social Allergens: The Impact of Annoying Habits

The Personal Journal section of today's Wall Street Journal had a headline that caught my attention: "I'm Sorry, I'm Allergic to You." The article highlighted the work of Dr. Michael Cunningham, a psychologist and professor at the University of Louisville, who for 15 years has been studying a phenomenon called, "Social Allergens," behaviors or habits that drive other people "nuts." These behaviors or habits can be, intentional or unintentional, personal or impersonal. All impact others in a way that causes discomfort, irritation and/or annoyance.

Dr. Cunningham describes four groupings of "social allergens." The first is "uncouth habits." When a person does something that is considered rude or breaks social norms for polite behavior, they may not be doing it intentionally and it is not personally directed at others. A person might be chewing their food loudly, getting food stains all over their shirt, or picking their nose in public. The behavior may make you feel uncomfortable, but the actor is not thinking about the others it impacts.

"Egocentric actions" are a second category of social allergens. While not necessarily intentional, the behaviors are directed at you personally. Have you ever had a friend who does not order dessert, and then, without asking your permission, helps themselves to half of yours? Or a friends who smokes their smelly cigarette so close to you that you are breathing in the smoke, whether you want to or not? Or the friend who helps themselves to your cellphone without asking your permission? Or assumes you will do something with them without asking or checking your availability?

"Norm violations" are intentional but not personal. Examples the article gives are talking during a movie, or texting while driving. Other examples include running a red light or not paying income taxes.

The fourth grouping of social allergens includes "actions that are both intentional and directed personally." Insulting another person, starting a fight by saying a provocative comment or making an insensitive comment like, "what are you doing eating ice cream when you said you wanted to lose weight?" are all examples of this fourth category. The speaker may not be aware that s/he is making you feel bad. But his/her comments/actions do make you feel bad.

People we encounter regularly in close relationships are plentiful generators of our social allergies. Just like with many physical allergies, like pollen or animal dander, repetition may trigger and exacerbate our allergic reaction. If someone does something moderately annoying once, we can just write it off as eccentric or "just the way they are." However, if a friend or colleague, or partner or boss repeatedly picks their nose, barges in on you without knocking, walks around the office with food stains on their shirt, our annoyance level, or allergy, grows more uncomfortable.

Dr Cunningham notes that at work, where our relationships are involuntary, we may experience more social allergens. We may be more tolerant or forgiving of our friends and loved ones. On the other hand, in romantic relationships, where there is initially "new relationship energy," where we put our best foot forward and see the idealized version of the other person for the first one to six months, as time passes and defenses go down, we might find ourselves increasingly annoyed by some little idiosyncrasy that we could initially just write off. The article calls this "de-romanticism." And people who once thought they loved each other can find themselves picking fights over which end of the toothpaste tube should be squeezed or how many paper towels are okay to use to clean up a spill.

How do we reel ourselves in and truly not sweat the small stuff, so that the small stuff does not blow up an imperfect, but very human relationship?

1. Learn to accept that we all have idiosyncrasies. We are all uniquely human. And we all have different habits or patterns or concepts of behavior. Letting the other person be on the small stuff, like making hospital corners on not when making a bed, or closing the refrigerator door right away after taking an item out versus leaving it open to go grab a second item, can ease tension and reduce allergic reactions.

2. Talk with the other person gently about their behavior. If someone you work with or are close to has an annoying behavior find a gentle and respectful way to talk about it. If you can tell a colleague, "I know your job involves a lot of phone calls, but when you talk on the phone it is often so loud I can hear your voice in my office. You may not be aware of how your voice travels," that is very different than accusing them of disturbing your piece or telling them they are a loud mouth and to shut up.

3. Work on your own reactions. See if you can give your colleague or loved one a little more slack. Take a few deep breaths. Don't react.

4. See if what is annoying you is actually a signal that there are deeper concerns or issues in your relationship. If you feel good about someone, their little annoying habits can more easily be brushed off. If you are harboring resentment about deeper issues, the little annoying habits are magnified. If there ARE deeper issues, address them respectfully. And if you can't do it yourselves, get counseling.

All in all, it is certainly good advice not to sweat the small stuff, and to pick your battles. We are all human. Can we learn to laugh with and at our idiosyncrasies rather than erupt in allergic reactions?

Dancing With Life: I Hope You'll Dance

"I hope you never lose your sense of wonder. You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger. May you never take one single breath for granted. God forbid love ever leave you empty handed. I hope you feel small when you stand beside the ocean. Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens. Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance. And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance. I hope you dance."

--Lee Ann Womack

As a little girl, I was always moved to dance. When my family went on vacation to the Cape, if we drove by a "sock hop," I would always ask my parents to pull over so I could go inside. My parents told me I was a little girl, and that I would not be allowed inside. But I asked and asked and asked every single time we passed a "sock hop" sign for months on end. And one day, perhaps realizing I just was not going to stop asking, they let me go inside. Child or not, I jumped right in and danced. And I connected with a very deep impulse in me that has always moved me, carried me and expressed me.

I learned that dance is really a wonderful metaphor for life. And while it was a sad occasion, the funeral of a teenage boy from the Boys to Men program's father's sudden and unexpected death, that reconnected me with Lee Ann Womack's poignant song, "I Hope You Dance," I am grateful to have her words reintroduced to my heart and mind. When given the choice to sit it out or dance, I always DANCE.

Dance is like love: each moment invites you to a constant opening, to be present, to use all of your senses, to let yourself move with what moves you. Dance, like love, invites you to let go of self-judgment, judgment of others and other inhibitions, and let yourself be moved from the inside out. Dance, like love, is, in the words of Kim Anami, "a constant choice to be loving, to be kind, generous and to take the high road in everything. To see the best in those around you." And to let your spirit guide your every move.

To dance with life is to be both receptive and co-creative. By being open and receptive to all of life's currents, and to what stirs your own heart and soul, allows you to not only tap your own internal creative well, but to join forces collaboratively with other people, spirit and the flow of life moment to moment and over time. Dancing with life allows you to fully embrace possibility, and opportunity. Dancing with life allows you to integrate vision and action.

In life, just like on the dance floor, there are many moods and tempos and beats. And some are slow. Others are fast. Some are happy. Some are sad. But it is the fullness and wholeness and variety and authenticity that brings the richness of the experience home. To be fully alive, we feel everything--dark and light. Our culture tends to value "positive" experiences and devalue or even reject what gets labelled as "negative" experiences. Realistically, some experiences feel better than others. But they are all essential, valuable and life enriching experiences. Some of us prefer a Latin beat. Others like hip hop. Or rock and roll. Or jazz. Or R&B. All genres are, as Stevie Wonder so aptly wrote, "Songs in the key of life."

The price of sitting out is high. Lee Ann Womack says, "Never settle for the path of least resistance. Living might mean takin' chances but they are worth takin'. Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth makin,' Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter, When you come close to selling' out reconsider." Dancing with life may not always be easy. In fact, sometimes it might be just plain hard or painful. Yet, if we can be present with hard and painful, we also have the capacity to be present will easy, and joyful. An open heart feels all there is to feel. And what more complete experience is there than to fully dance!!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Living A Succulent Juicy Life

Now that it is June, the supermarkets are starting to offer peaches, nectarines, plums and cherries--some of the delicious fruits that come with warm weather and summer. All of those fruits can be described as juicy and succulent. When you take a bite into a fresh ripe peach, the flavor and juice cascade out of the fruit into your mouth, bringing a wonderful sensation of joy and satisfaction.

What would it mean if the way we lived our lives was as juicy and succulent as a ripe, flavor-filled peach? Might we engage our whole bodies, our whole hearts and all five of our senses? Might we move beyond the limitations of our heads and brains, letting a sense of abundant sensuality drive us?

A succulent juicy life would never be boring. It might have quiet moments. Our minds might be clear of thoughts or worries sometimes. Or even pondering thoughts and worries sometimes. But full engagement in the moment, with our breath, with whatever is authentic, real and true would be the hallmark, more than idle busyness, running on a seemingly directionless treadmill or feeling pressured to do more rather than be.

I've always loved the phrase, "I've lost my mind and come to my senses." Ordinary life is too mental, cerebral, technological, time-lined and limiting. If we swim in that mainstream, we can become dead inside--numb to our hearts and disconnected from the rich landscape of our sensual experience.

The senses we embrace most comfortably, are in the words of anthropologist Ashley Montagu, our "distance senses," sight and hearing. Our "proximity senses," the ones that allow for greater intimacy and feeling, taste, smell and touch are "largely tabooed." Montagu notes in the preface to his book Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, that two dogs may use all five senses in their communication with a fellow dog. The same can hardly be said about two people.

It follows that if human beings are going to live a succulent juicy life, engaging all of our senses, and even our intuition, is necessary to feel a sense of joie d'vivre, of being fully alive. Finding emotionally safe spaces to take down our armor, to lower our defenses, first and foremost with ourselves and then with others is a critical first step. If we do not feel emotionally safe, we tense our breathing, and distance from the vulnerability of authentic feelings.

I find it very sad to discover how many people are truly numb to their hearts, their senses and their deeper experience when they first come to see me for EKP. After starting a session with a heart meditation, when I ask what is calling their heart's attention, many people answer, "I truly don't know."

Here are some steps we can take to open to the richness and fullness of what an embodied life can be:

1. Becoming safe within our own skin: Often we are uncomfortable with the feelings and sensations that emerge in our bodies and hearts as we go through the day. These feelings and sensations are like an internal GPS: they tell us where we are and where we need to go. Creating our own internal space, safety within our own skin, body and mind, to feel, hear and follow our hearts is a key step in opening to a succulent juicy life.

2. Learning to enjoy our senses: "Intensity" is often a scary experience. Sensual experience CAN be intense. If we feel strongly, we may find ourselves defending against the intensity of the strong feeling Learning to relax, breath and allow ourselves to just be is a practice that can help us enjoy intense sensual experience. Delicate sensual experience can also be joyful.

3. Becoming more embodied: I had a colleague years ago that said, "Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until it has gone away!" Everyone in my office laughed. But I was actually sad for my colleague. If we don't move, feel our bodies active and engaged in life, feet firmly planted on the ground or even running or dancing, we miss a wonderful part of the human experience. Becoming more aware of our bodies, how they feel, and whether we are in them or out of them is part of becoming more embodied. The body really is the temple of the soul. And a lot of joy can be experienced in the temple!

4. Learning to enjoy our sensuality and sexuality: Sexuality and sensuality both allow life's energy force to fill and move through our bodies, hearts and souls. Both can bring pleasure and connection with self, the divine and others. Sadly, both "s words," can be the source of shame in our culture. Sensuality and sexuality can be extremely earthy and spiritual experiences. If we can embrace them with love for self and others, they are a magical force of aliveness.

5. Finding means of self-expression: The spirit really does seek expression to feel alive. We are fortunate to have so many different possible means of expression: singing, dancing, painting, drawing, photography, cooking, acting, touching, gardening…..That is only the beginning. Finding modes of expression that feel true and authentic enlivens our experience and helps bring balance to our lives.

6. Becoming touchable and comfortable touching: Our skin is the largest organ in the body. It also is sensitive and sensual. We can feel and know so much through touch. Sadly, our culture teaches us to be touch-phobic rather than touch literate. We learn that if we let someone close, they can hurt us, and sadly, often this is true. We are afraid to reach out and touch another person. Touch is too often taboo. Yet the word touch has emotional as well as physical connotations. When we are connected with ourselves we are "in touch" with our hearts. If someone touches our hearts, we may want to touch them with a hug. If someone offers us a literal helping hand, they also touch our hearts. Emotions and touch go hand in hand Having comfort and fluency in this language allows us more joie d'vivre.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Power of Voice

“Everybody’s got a song to sing Everybody’s got something that they want to say And ageless voices stay silent while People dream of words they want to speak For the first time in their lives.”

--from “Everybody’s Got a Song to Sing” by Linda Marks and Lisa Wexler ©1981

In 27 years as a body psychotherapist, I have come to witness how powerfully the human spirit seeks expression and how finding one’s voice is a critical pathway in connecting with and understanding who we truly are.

Sadly, we live in a culture that does not encourage us to find our voice, and through the power of our voice, make a unique contribution to the world. Instead, beginning as children, we are drilled with messages that stifle voice, and often disconnect us from us deeper selves: “children should be seen and not heard,” “be quiet,” “you don’t really mean that, “ or most crudely, “shut up!” These messages hurt our hearts and spirits. But more powerfully, they stifle and silence our souls.

Having A Voice

The roots of voice originate in the spirit and soul. Having a voice allows us both to express or share our internal experience and to say things others need to hear us say. One challenge in our culture is that not all voices and not all messages are welcome. While, in theory, our culture embraces freedom of speech, in reality, between gender stereotypes, cultural biases and fear of emotion and vulnerability, many parts of us are silenced rather than welcomed.

It hurts our hearts when parts of our voice are silenced or disallowed, by us internally or by others around us. If we suppress our voices, we do so at great psychic cost. Voice movement therapist Deborah Crane is a voice movement therapist in Littleton, MA. She has the fascinating job of helping people discover their voices, and in many cases, connect with previously unwelcome or scary parts.

Deborah notes, “We silence some of our internal voices because our family, our neighborhood or the culture at large encourages us not to use those voices. Girls are not allowed anger. Boys are not allowed sadness. We end up not allowing parts of ourselves that are not accepted. So, we tend to focus on the parts of ourselves that are accepted.” To have a voice is to be vulnerable. When someone takes the risk of speaking their true thoughts, feelings or experience, we often say that they are “sticking their neck out.”

Rebecca Parris is a world renowned jazz singer and vocal coach for singers from Duxbury, MA. “We have been taught that we have to be strong and guarded and safe,” reflects Rebecca. “We’ve been taught to live from fear rather than openness. People don’t realize the weakness of fear, and they don’t realize their vulnerability is a power, not a weakness.”

Vulnerability allows us to express our deepest truth and our most human experience through opinions, thoughts, dreams and points of view. When we live in fear of sticking our necks out, we remain isolated, bound up, tense and unfulfilled.

The throat is mid-way between head and heart, and often serves as a bridge between the two. When we feel something that we think is risky, our throats may become tense and tight. When we feel strong feelings but are afraid to let them out, we may feel a lump in our throats. By gently placing a hand on the tension or on the lump in the throat, you receive the message that what you are thinking and feeling is welcome and okay. The tension melts. Tears may even flow. And the deeper feelings find their way out of the body, mind and heart and into the larger world.

Head Voice Vs Heart Voice

When I first started having my voice recorded, I noticed that I had two distinct voices: my head voice and my heart voice. When I spoke from my head, my voice had a tinny intellectual tone to it. I spoke more rapidly. When I spoke from my heart voice, however, there was a much more spacious, open and heartfelt quality. I would feel my body relaxing and melting. I learned there was a huge energetic difference between a voice that came from the head or the heart.

When we speak from the heart, we touch the hearts of others. Because the heart and the brain both generate electromagnetic energy, we can viscerally feel where energy is coming from, even if we are not consciously aware we are doing so.

Likewise, it matters how we listen to others. The way it feels to speak to someone listening from their heart is far more safe and inviting than someone listening from the head. Our heads judge, analyze and put meaning on words. That is fine in some contexts. However, for building intimacy and connection, to listen from the heart as someone speaks from their heart is much more effective, safe and fulfilling. Being aware that we have head and heart voices, and learning to use them consciously helps us more powerfully speak and be heard.

Why Voice Matters

“When we find our voice, what we gain is knowing who we are and noting the response of others,” says Rebecca. “We gain a true sense of being in the moment.” Without voice, we lose the depths and authenticities of relationships.

There are also physical, emotional and energetic costs when our voices are silenced or not allowed. “Unexpressed feelings, thoughts and sounds live in us as emotional energy blocks,” observes Deborah. “The voice is a vehicle not only for allowing our strength, but also allowing the stuck energy within us to move up and out of us. The cost of being silenced is that we never feel we can open up and allow deep emotion within, even for our own benefit with no one around. We become our own censors.”

In the lyrics my singing and songwriting collaborator Lisa Wexler and I wrote in our song, “Everybody’s Got a Song to Sing,” we express how it feels when we don’t have a way to express “the voice within us” that “wants to shout.” “It hurts so much because you want to say your words out loud. And no one knows the pain that you are going through.” When we don’t have a voice, we hurt. We feel alone.

When I was in grammar school, I remember an experiment where we took a prism and learned how to angle it so that it could direct the sunlight to burn a hole in a piece of paper. It seemed like magic that we could harness the energy of the sun that way. Living creatures are energy conduits, and our bodies generate electromagnetic energy that we can learn to consciously channel, like a prism channeling sunlight.

Our voices vibrate and those vibrations interact with the vibrations of other living things around us. The resonance of our voice touches other people and can literally change the energy in the room. If we want to plant the seeds of action, speaking our intentions is a powerful place to start. When we speak a vision, we open up possibility for all who hear it. “Once you find your voice, the possibilities are endless,” Rebecca notes. “In music, we have a microphone that reaches a lot of people over the course of a night. Our impact can be major. But you may impact one person who goes out and impacts a thousand. One would be surprised how many people their voice has touched in a lifetime.”

Six Tips for Finding Your Voice

1. Realize the voice is a “thing” — something to find and have. Kids need to hear the message that the voice is a critical human capacity. Learning to find it and use it is at least as important as learning to read or do math. In fact, writing is much easier when we find our voices.

2. Embrace all your emotions. It is just as important to learn to feel and accept your pain and anger as your joy and happiness. Being able to express what you feel in a way that is authentic and respectful of self and others feels empowering.

3. Be non-judgmental. Being curious and non-judgmental invites introspection, feeling, sensation and deeper thoughts. This allows us to find the seeds of what we know, feel and wish to convey.

4. Be patient. It takes time to find our voices and patience to be present with what is there, even if initially it feels empty or like nothing.

5. Focus on what you feel, not what you think. The quality of the voice changes whether it’s from the head or from the heart. Energy from the heart reaches the heart of the listener or the audience.

6. Listen to yourself, not the voices of other. Other people and the media tell us what to think, what to wear, what to do, and who we should be. None of these things may be right for you. Take the time to find out what is true for you by listening to your own voice.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Steps You Can Take If You've Been Identity Thefted

If you find yourself the victim of identity theft, here are the standard steps the police or any financial services company will ask you to take:

1. Notify your local police. Filing a police report may seem silly, since almost never is an identity thief someone who lives in your local community. However, as I was told by the officer who took my report, "It is done to give your case credibility. After all, no one is supposed to lie to the police, right?"

2. Fill out an FTC affidavit of theft. Honestly, this seems to be as futile as the local police report. But it is one of the required pathways for making a report. What I found most foolish about the form was on the one hand it asked you for very confidential information like social security number, driver's license number and date of birth....And then it sent up a warning saying this kind of information makes you vulnerable to fraudulent activity, so it is advised NOT to include it! Go figure! I chose to leave those vulnerable spaces blank for my own security!

3. Report your theft(s) to the credit monitoring bureaus: Equifax, Transunion and Experian. You may want a fraud alert put on all your accounts. And you may want to check your credit reports to make sure nothing is on them that you didn't authorize.

4. If you have an accountant, notify them. This is particularly important if you have tax identity theft or having retirement funds tampered with. The accountant can help run interference with the IRS and can help solve problems resulting from fraudulent use of your social security number of early withdrawal penalties for retirement money not withdrawn by YOU.

5. Hire a good computer security consultant. Whether s/he can find malware or spyware on your computer or even the smoking gun of the thief's attack, a good computer security consultant will provide you an eye opening education both about how thieves get into your on-line accounts, and what you can do to protect yourself.

6. Get yourself emotional support as well as practical support. Having your personal information stolen or tampered with and having hard-earned funds stolen is an assault. It can feel like a rape, a burglary or an attack. Your sense of safety in the larger world might be in question. Make sure you don't have to navigate what can be an overwhelming experience all alone.

Identity Theft For Real

You read about it in the paper all the time. You and most people you know have probably received lots of the spam e-mails about people who lost all their money in foreign countries asking for financial help or the members of European or African elite whose close relatives have just died. And most often it is just an annoyance of modern day life. But what happens when identity theft gets a lot more close, and invasively personal? Have you had your credit cards received charges you did not make? Or even more intrusive, have you ever filed your federal taxes only to be told someone has used your social security number before you did? Or most violating of all, have you ever discovered that someone broke into your financial accounts--be it retirement accounts, college funds for your kids or any other accounts, and actually stolen your funds? Over the past couple of years, I have experienced all of the forms of identity theft listed above. And most recently, someone broke into my retirement accounts and stole $13K in 5 transactions by opening up a bank account in Virginia in the name of an entirely different identity theft victim. Because my retirement account firm put up a red flag to have 5 transactions made the very morning a new bank account was attached to my account with them, the stolen funds were put on hold, and a week later, recovered. However, the experience of first having my AOL account hacked three times, and then having money stolen from what was thought to be a totally secure, professionally managed retirement account, felt like the modern day version of having someone break into your home in spite of a burglar alarm and no key. I was given a long list of steps I needed to take, from reporting the incidents to the local police, to contacting the FTC, to contacting credit agencies, to hiring a computer security consult to be sure that my computers had not been invaded with spyware or malware. Taking all the steps required countless hours and a chunk of money. And there is no guarantee any of these steps can help identify the thief or prevent this kind of occurrence from happening again. When I first learned that someone had stolen my social security number when I went to file my 2012 taxes, my accountant and I filled out all the paperwork and went through all the added steps necessary for an identity theft victim to first of all file their legitimate taxes and then attempt to make sure it did not happen again. When I went to my file 2013 taxes, voila. Same problem. And this time, after a 45 minute wait for an IRS agent, I learned there is no way to stop it from happening again. I was advised. "Just try to get your taxes in FIRST." I was ready to scream. I filed them in February, as soon as my accountant could provide them given all the paperwork a self-employed person needs to have in place to file taxes! In the case of the stolen retirement funds, my computer consultant was able to find the smoking gun. No malware or spyware on either my MacBook Air or old HP. Instead, having broken into my AOL account using my security question--the one you are asked to answer when someone has "forgotten" their password. I had used my mother's maiden name, and learned from the consultant that most of the security questions--like town you were born in, where you went to high school or college and mother's maiden name--are all very easy to research on the internet. So, for an identity thief, there is no security in answering these questions for real. I was advised to answer these questions with made up answers or complicated algorithms like we are now advised to use for our passwords: the kinds of answers that a regular person could never remember, and end up being locked out of their own account with unless they have a clear system for recording them and accessing them. So, I followed that model, changed my security answers. And voila, this very morning, someone broke into my AOL again twice as I was trying to send an e-mail to a friend! While I am going back to my computer security consultant to ask if any true firewall can be built to keep someone out entirely, I have a suspicion that there really is no way to keep these things from happening again. And yes, people say it is done on AOL, but I have had friends come forward and tell stories of having it done on gmail, yahoo and most every mail service. Cyberspace is a free for all for the most personal and intrusive of crimes in our overly cyber-world. When I went to my financial advisor to set up new retirement accounts (and to learn that not only were funds stolen, but there were early withdrawal penalties for retirement money to contend with as well), both my advisor's right hand man and secretary were horrified, because I was the very first client of theirs who this had happened to. While there are things I am proud to have pioneered, I assure you, this is NOT one of them! Both of them learned from all the steps I have had to take, and took steps to make their own accounts more secure! Long and short, identity theft is real and insidious. You may be able to find the smoking gun of a thief, but their identity is most often invisible. Who they are, where they live and their ultimate motives are beyond discovery. Perhaps a whole new kind of support group is needed for identity theft victims. And honestly, I advocate for the real time, face to face kind of group. For all you know, your on-line group might turn into yet another playground for cyberthieves!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Creative Power of the Empath

"Everything that is real on planet earth has vibrations. Empathic people feel reality via these physical vibrations. This means empathic people resonate with the reality around them by using their physical body."

--Doris Jeanette

Our culture is very intellectual and cerebral, often times forgetting that there are other ways of knowing and other sources of creativity and power, beyond the brain and even beyond what we understand to be "the mind." Empathic people tend to sense, know, intuit and feel information, experience, and energy. And their mode of perception is often what is felt in the heart and sensed in the body.

Doris Jeanette notes that "resonating with reality is powerful stuff." If we are conscious about our capacity to resonate with reality, not only can we take in valuable information, but also we can use our energy to create from the heart and with our life force. Finding ways to express what we feel deep inside and to find forms in which to channel our energy is at the root of the creative power of the empath.

It is also important to be able to choose what we resonate with. Just because we CAN resonate with external reality does not mean we choose to resonate with EVERYTHING that is out there. Doris Jeanette reflects it is important to become clear of what we WANT to resonate with, so we resonate with what we want and not with what we don't want. When we are able to discern what we care about, what really matters to us, and what resonates with our values, we develop a wonderful sieve through which we can process reality. People, projects and experiences that we care about, that really matter to us and that resonate with our values then command our attention. What we focus on expands. What we do not focus on fades into the background.

If we care about special friendships, colleagueship's or family relationships, and we invest our times, energy and attention in these relationships, our energy helps anchor and grow them. By focusing on physical and emotional energy, we not only think about loved ones, but more importantly, call them, text them and initiate get togethers to stay in touch and keep the connections alive. When we share time and space with another person, we invest in the connection we share with them. Because of the creative power of our physical presence, the possibility to both experience and enjoy a connection with another person is so much greater when we are face to face than in virtual reality.

When we feel something in our hearts or bodies, there is an energy signal that is transmitted between us and another person or living being. When another person or living being feels a connection with us, their hearts and body send an energy signal that we perceive at this non-intellectual, empathic level. Feeling the connection, expressing our sense of connection, and acting from the sense of connection all contribute to anchoring and nurturing a relationship with another person or living being. If we are kind, and exude kindness, others will feel nurtured in our presence. If we are soft and graceful, others' defenses will be more able to melt. If we are defended and tough, loved ones may need to put up their defenses and toughen to protect their vulnerable hearts.

The energy we emanate creates, consciously or unconsciously. The more conscious we become of our feelings, our bodily sensations and our energy, the more consciously we can use our energy to create desired outcomes--for ourselves and with others.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Making Our Dreams Come True

"A thin line stands between dream and reality. And only the heart knows the characteristics that correspond to either side." --Linda Marks, age 16 It seems my entire life has been about living with vision and living from the heart. As a child, I wrote poems about these two topics. They were in separately interrelated. When I was 20, I wrote a song called "When Dreams Suffer," which became my signature song. And the message of this song was at the heart of my first book, Living With Vision: Reclaiming the Power of the Heart, which came out in 1988.

We all have dreams. What is often the hard part is turning dreams into reality. What can we do to make our dreams come true?

Some of the messages in "When Dreams Suffer" are:

1. When dreams suffer, there must be fear in our way.

Believing in our dreams is a magical thing. If we keep putting positive, heartful, visionary energy into our dreams, and taking actions steps one by one, we are unstoppable. When we are afraid, we freeze, stop, give up and sometimes even crumble. Finding ways to find safety, support, rooting and faith are critical to making our dreams real.

2. We need to learn to both hold on to our dreams, yet let go.

If we hold on to our dreams too tightly, we can suffocate the life blood out of them. We remove the breathing room that allows life's energies to move and flow. On the other hand, if we don't hold fast to our dreams, they can die, as a beautiful Langston Hughes poem notes. We need to hold them in our hearts, yet trust that God will be our co-pilot.

3. We must both give space, and believe, even while nothing supports our beliefs.

Perhaps this is another way to talk about having faith. Faith is a kind of heartfelt, spiritually rooted sense of belief. Yet, it also acknowledges that we do not create in a vacuum. There is a powerful creative force in the universe that gives life in many ways, including to our dreams. Having faith in that creative force is critical.

4. We can't throw our dreams away. Instead, they can be our life guidance system.

Without our dreams, our life will be can "a barren field frozen with snow," to return to Langston Hughes' poem. Our dreams enliven our days and our entire lives. Yet when we don't the steps to take to make our dreams real, or when it seems like our dreams are not manifesting soon enough, it is far too easy to abandon ship. Learning how to frame our dreams as our life guidance system makes it easier to stay with them and follow them over time.

Another important principal in bringing our dreams to life is to take immediate action. If you feel inspired, capture the energy of the moment. Take even a small action step. Every step we take moves our dreams forward. When we wait, tell ourselves we can do it later or even worse, procrastinate, we deflate the energy and fail to take advantage of the power of inspired moments. Telling someone else about your dream and inviting them to team with you are two other ways to ground your dreams. I learned early on that when another person co-held a dream with me and/or partnered with me to work on a dream, the path was easier, more unexpected doors opened, and the dream took flight much more effortlessly and faster than when I tried to do it all alone. Taking action and involving others are two ways of committing to our dreams. Commitment moves our energy forward and opens up all kinds of divine energy to support us in realizing our goals. When we fear commitment, we diffuse the very things we desire that commitment can bring.

Learning to make our dreams real is like learning dance steps. We need to get a sense of the rhythm. We need to get used to the music. We need to gain a sense of the dance floor. We need to get our footing, so we know how it feels. In many ways, we use all our senses, even if we focus on our hands or feet to take action. And the heart is the ultimate compass, at the center of the entire process.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Looking At Living As A Loved One Is Dying

"Don't come visit me after I die...I needed you when I was alive...."


My 86 year old mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers 3 1/2 years ago. While watching her memory fade, can be sad and at times surreal, until she broke her hip in November, her physical health seemed to be strong and constant.

I had always heard that once someone breaks their hip, it is often the beginning of a downward spiral towards the end. But it is very different living this truth than hearing it as a "parable." While some of my mother's Alzheimers behaviors are quirky (like lying on the carpet picking up every piece of lint she can find for hours) or down right entertaining (like answering a question like "how was physical therapy today?" with a seemingly senseless tale of the Boston Red Sox hitting badminton-like tennis rackets at batting practice), seeing a loved one move into a rapid response crisis with congestive heart failure, with a team of twelve people working for four hours to stabilize vitals is a whole other matter.

I have been finding myself reflecting a whole lot more on living and what it means to be alive as I have been living through the decline of my mother's health as her life has been moving along the downward spiral, that only God knows is the last moment of life. One thing that has become very clear to me as my mother has spent countless hours and days in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, often called nursing homes, is how alone many people are as they ail and die.

I visit my mother as often as I can, but with work and commitments to my son and friends, I cannot be there nearly as often as I feel I "should" be there. I am very grateful that my mother has a nurse and home health aide who can visit her on days when I cannot. However, even with all of our visits, there are countless hours when she is alone. In a hospital, with telemetry equipment, IV's and a Foley catheter encumbering one's body, this can be very lonely, scary and overwhelming. No wonder disorientation moves into delirium. I am struck by how little our society focuses on the deeper emotional and spiritual needs of human beings, including their needs for connection, relational security and presence during scary and hard times.

When the staff has commented that the visits of me and my mother's nurse and aide have helped her immeasurably, I feel even more deeply for those who have no one coming to visit them when they are ill or declining in a public facility. When someone goes home after an illness or health crisis, it can also be incredibly lonely faced with what has just happened, and being all alone.

Hospice is a wonderful concept for a person's last months of life. Yet, I wonder about some kind of care-giving structure that focuses on companionship, emotional contact, a loving hand to hold, and continuity of emotional care for people going through hard time or transitioning as life draws to a close. Some people are fortunate enough to have large networks of family and friends. My mother is not one of those people. She has been a loner much of her life. I cannot imagine there are moments when she does not feel quite a lone.

The process of dying has surely cast a lens on the process of living for me. I have always realized life is fragile. And now the clarity of that truth is even more apparent. If there are dreams we have, taking action today is essential because we don't know if there will be a tomorrow. Telling the people we love that we love them can never be done too many times. Being fully present with the people we love and asking for them to give us their presence and time allows us to exchange the most precious gift of all--our presence with one another.

We are all irreplaceable really. Our virtual culture may lead us to forget this truth. But watching a loved one go through the downward spiral at the end of life brings it home loud and clear. As James Taylor said, "Shower the people you love with love." Ultimately, that is one of our greatest powers and one of the greatest gifts we have to give ourselves and others while they and we are alive.

The Extraordinary Power of Small Acts of Kindness

"Never get tired of doing little things for others. Sometimes those little things occupy the biggest parts of their hearts"


For as long as I can remember, I have consciously focused on kindness as a walking meditation. Initially, a commitment to kindness can start with a morning prayer, or stepping out of one's daily schedule for a moment to be quiet and affirm one's commitment to look for opportunities to be kind. Over time, when these practices sink deeply enough into our hearts and souls, being a bearer of small acts of kindness can become a powerful way of life. I have never ceased to marvel at the extraordinary power of even a small act of kindness.

If I am having a hard day, a small act of kindness from a friend or loved one offers comfort deeper than words. A hug or an arm around my shoulders can melt my tension or my tears. A bouquet of flowers can make me smile. On a good day, a small act of kindness magnifies the joy. It is always the right time to offer small acts of kindness. Being the bearer of kindness can make you a "magical stranger" in the the life of a loved one or even a stranger.

Here are some ideas of small way to brighten someone's day:

1. Be fully present to the person in front of you. Your full presence is a special gift. It can make someone feel like they really matter, that they are seen, or that they are not alone. Stopping, taking a deep breath, and really looking at someone, gently witnessing and sensing how they are feeling can be a quiet and gentle gift.

2. Help someone who appears to be lost or looking for something. If a person in your aisle in the supermarket seems lost, ask if you might be able to help them find something. If someone on the street looks like they need directions, stop and ask if you can help them find their way.

3. When a big moment is coming up in a loved one's life, proactively offer support.Is a a loved one going to a medical test? Offer to go with them. Is a close friend having an important interview? Ask if they would like to talk it through before they go.

4. When you greet someone or take leave, make it a habit to give them a hug (or a kiss if it is a close friend or loved one). The ritual of greeting and bidding adieu to someone with a loving gesture instills a spirit of love and good will.

5. Make it a habit to tell loved ones that you love them. Tracy Chapman wrote about how hard it often is to say "I love you," in her poignant song "Baby Can I Hold You Tonight." These words are often hard to say. And they may lead to a wish that we hear them in return. They are not said nearly enough to the ones we love. Speak your love abundantly.

6. Make time to listen.Sometimes a stranger needs a magical stranger who can just listen for a little while. They may be your neighbor on the cross trainer at the gym, or someone whose path you cross on the sidewalk. Or they might be your family member, friend or partner, who could really use a bit of your listening ear and heart.

7. Make a special effort to give loved ones the things they most need and want. Sometimes we react by pulling away when a loved one says they want or need something. In our culture "need" is often a "four-letter word." There is incredible power in freely and spaciously giving someone something they want or need, be it a foot rub, their favorite Thai take out, or even a special loving glance.

8. Adopt an attitude of "how can I help."If you walk around life with a "how can I help" framework, you will find yourself discovering many opportunities to offer small acts of kindness.

9. Learn your loved ones "love language."The ways we have learned to give love may not match up entirely with the way our friends and loved ones most feel loved. Whether it be a touch of your hand, gentle words, a thoughtful gift, special time or an act of service, any one of these actions can be felt as particularly loving when it translates to a loved one's "native" love language.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Rating Our Relationships?

Performance reviews are a useful tool to help us evaluate not only how well we are doing in the aggregate sense at work, but also and perhaps even more importantly, how well we are doing on critical components that add up to how well we are doing overall. In our most important relationships, we tend to get black and white when thinking about how well things are going. And it is too easy to focus on a pesky frustration, rather than systematically looking at the many components that contribute to our overall experience. I have heard many a person complain about how bad things are in a critical relationship, but lack the language or the tools to break down what is not working and what can be done to make things better. A Wall St Journal article by Elizabeth Bernstein explored the value of giving a relationship a "performance review." Using a method developed by marriage therapist Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill, both people in a relationship give a numerical rating to key elements, and use the ratings as the basis for identifying problems and talking about how to make things better. * Is there a sense of trust in the relationship? * Do the two people experience a sense of connection and companionship in each others' company? * How is intimacy in the relationship? * Do both people feel the other listens to them and hears them? * When there is conflict, how is it handled? * When something good happens for one person, does the other person celebrate? * Can the two people work as a team on critical tasks? * Does the relationship feel boring or can new activities be injected into the mix? Asking these kinds of questions allows a level of honesty to be reached, and can provide useful information about what is working and what needs to be changed. If you don't know what is broken, it's pretty hard to fix it! Any tools that encourage open and honest communication can work wonders if both parties want to do the work to make things better! And at the very least, two people can determine if they are on the same page or not...and which page they want to be on!

Healing Trauma Through Relationship

"Trauma can be an isolating experience. It's only through relationships that we can be most fully healed," writes Sojourners Associate Web Editor, Catherine Woodiwiss. In her article, "A New Normal: Ten Things I've Learned About Trauma, " Woodiwiss describes ten lessons she's learned about trauma and healing from trauma. Here are some of them. 1. Trauma permanently changes us. Woodiwiss believes there is no such thing as "getting over" trauma. Far more impactful than just grief and recovery, trauma is a "major life disruption" and leaves a "new normal in its wake." She points out this is not all bad: you can emerge wiser, stronger and more courageous. Your life will just be different than what you knew to be your "pre-trauma" reality. 2. Presence is always better than distance. Woodiwiss believes the belief that in times of crisis "people 'need space,'" is almost always false. She notes that trauma can be lonely "even when surrounded in love." Trauma disconnects and isolates us--including from ourselves. If we assume others are reaching out, we may be wrong. Woodiwiss notes, "It is a much lighter burden to say, 'Thanks for your love, but please go away,' than to say 'I was hurting and no one cared for me.'" If someone REALLY needs space, she advises to respect it. In other cases, however, she advises "err on the side of presence." 3. Recovery lasts a long time and is not linear. Woodiwiss advises us to expect "seasons" of healing. While as Laura Nyro says, time and love heal, with trauma, it is common to "get suck in one stage for months, only to jump to another stage entirely," and then find yourself revisiting the old territory again down the road. Best to go with the flow and not project a linear model onto a non-linear process! 4. "Surviving trauma takes 'firefighters' and 'builders,'" but very few people are both. Woodiwiss notes that we want the people dearest to us to be "everything for us." But this is nearly impossible. She suggests we need two kinds of people, who she calls "the crisis team" and "the reconstruction crew." The crisis team can drop everything to be by yourself in the thick of things. The reconstruction crew can gently help you after the crisis has passed as you strive to "regain your footing in the world." She acknowledges that one reason trauma is such a lonely experience is that virtually no one can "fully walk the road with you the whole way." 5. Grieving and healing cannot fully be done in private. While there trauma creates a private pain, Woodiwiss asserts that human beings are wired for contact. To this end, "it is only through relationship that we can be most fully healed." It is hard to screen out which people in our lives can really be there with us and for us when we are grieving and healing. It takes courage. Yet, as Woodiwiss notes, "it is a matter of life or paralysis." She encourages us to "practice giving shelter to others," as a way to learn to seek shelter ourselves. 6. "Every gesture of love, regardless of the sender," becomes a step towards healing. Not everyone knows how to respond to trauma. Not everyone knows how to or feels comfortable expressing love. So, love may come from unexpected sources--magical strangers who enter our lives. And love may also come from close family or friends we rely on. Woodiwiss feels "'Blessed are those who give love to anyone in times of hurt, regardless of how recently they've talked or awkwardly reconnected or visited cross country or ignored each other on the metro.'" Sometimes "surprise love will be the sweetest. While living through trauma teaches resilience, Woodiwiss also acknowledges, as Conan O'Brien said to students at Dartmouth College, "'Neitzsche famously said, 'Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger...'...What he failed to stress is that it almost kills you.'" Surviving trauma invites us to revisit the dark night of the soul repeatedly, often more times than we think we can bear. This is where love and connection and presence of others are so critical. It is excruciating to be alone in the dark. An amazingly warm light of hope is lit when we experience through the love of others, that we truly are NOT all alone. To read the complete article, go to