Sunday, February 25, 2018

Connection And True Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Loneliness Kills

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Self-Care and Empowerment in Crazy Times

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

From "Alone" ©2017 Linda Marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Closeness: Intimacy and Soul Nourishment

Our world seems to more and more virtual every day. So much of what used to be face to face is now done online--be it holding meetings, workshops, conferences and even coaching and therapist sessions.

While there are certainly conveniences of being able to participate in events with others from the comfort of your own computer, a lot is lost when we only meet in cyberspace.

Closeness, including emotional and physical contact, is a soul food group, and without enough of it, our souls and spirits can become malnourished. Unfortunately, like frogs in a pot of boiling water, this happens slowly over time, and we may not even be aware of what we have lost as we lose it. We become numb or frozen and start to define that as the new normal.

Eleonora Woloy has written a wonderful chapter called "The Many Faces of Closeness," in a book entitled Closeness in Personal and Professional Relationships edited by Harry A. Wilmer. Some of her points are good food for thought.

She defines closeness as "a nearness to anything, or a coming together to unite, whether the other is another human being an animal God or another layer of oneself." Woloy conducted a study and found that the following elements were key parts of closeness: "something shared, a sudden recognition, an experience often in silence, vulnerability, a sense of freedom and bodily experience."

Silence included "the experience of being with someone in stillness, without conversation, either sharing the same experience or sharing one's own private experience in the company of another." When we are face to face, our energies interact. In silence, this energetic interaction, be it our heart fields, our spirits or both, can become palpable. It leads to connection, and I believe to soul nourishment as well.

Sudden recognition was "a sense of sudden unexplained feeling of familiarity that led to a feeling of closeness." I believe when we share space and time with another person, including speaking and listening from the heart, as well as sharing silence, we feel that we know them better. And both energetically and informationally, we do. We start to see and feel ourselves in the mirror of another person, including energetically. This helps us feel more emotionally and spiritually nourished.

Woloy defines shared experience as "the experience of joining with another in some thought, feeling or particular action." If we really want to get to know another person, or want another person to really get to know us, having shared experiences is important. The act of joining leads to connection and over time, bonding. Is it not a surprise that we form friendships of substance with people who we share common experiences with, be it singing in a chorus, working on a project, serving on a committee, or even doing volunteer work feeding the hungry on a holiday?

Vulnerability is "a capacity to be open and exposed to an other." While many of us fear being vulnerable, developing a sense of connection, including shared experiences, helps us feel safer to let our guards down. When we open our hearts and share more deeply, we naturally nurture connection and intimacy. I believe the soul craves the nourishment that comes from safe, respectful and mutual sharing of vulnerability.

Freedom results from a sense of safe, acceptance and welcome of one another's core being. If we are seen, accepted and welcomed for who we actually are, we have many degrees of freedom to fly, create, express, explore and share.

By having an experience in the body, we can "move out of our normal time frame into circular rather than linear time with a heightened sense of vulnerability and knowing while retaining the freedom to not become lost." Being face to face our energy is shared directly. When we touch--holding hands, in an embrace, a supportive hand on the shoulder, we are very directly communicating presence and care to another human being in a way that just cannot be replicated without being physically together. I believe the soul needs this kind of physical contact and communication to be fully nourished, to be fully expressed, and to find full spiritual peace.

I believe a huge piece of face to face connection comes from being in proximity of one another's hearts. Our heatwaves interact without words and can be felt in their full power when we are 8 - 10 feet from one another. The meeting of our hearts, nourishes and expresses the soul. Meeting in cyberspace just cannot replicate this experience.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Me Too And All Of Us

So much is happening socially and politically in our country right now. Add in natural forces like hurricanes, and life can feel daunting and out of control.

This past month, the "Me Too" campaign that went viral on Facebook gave me lots to reflect on. Though not entirely surprising, it was powerful and deeply troubling to see just how many of my female friends and colleagues had experienced sexual violence.

And though my experience as a 16 year old surviving an attempted rape and murder has always been front and center, contributing to the body of work I evolved as a heart-centered body psychotherapist, until the "Me Too" campaign, I did not really focus on all the other experiences of inappropriate advances that I have experienced from my childhood through teenage years, through college and into my professional years. As I started to tally all the experiences, it was truly daunting not only that so many incidents happened, but also that I had put them aside, even dismissed them because none was as life threatening or significant as the incident that happened when I was 16.

It also seemed important to note that male friends and colleagues had experienced inappropriate sexual advances in addition to my female friends and colleagues. And that underlying this whole epidemic is a misuse of power and a lack of understanding of the sacredness of sexuality in our lives.

Sexuality is primal, a creative force and a drive that allows human life to continue. Conception, pregnancy and birth result from this primal sexual drive. Sexuality is also naked, raw and vulnerable. Love, safety and consciousness allow it to be sacred, where the body is the literal temple of the soul. To express our sexuality can be a form of worship in this temple.

And yet, in a culture that is so disconnected from the body, both our own human bodies and the body of the earth we live on, sexuality can be "reduced" or dissociated into just a "force" or "drive" that is powerful and can dominate, control and violate other human beings.

When I look at my own experiences of sexual violence, sometimes the perpetrator was driven by fear (my own father's reaction to the fact that his 16 year old daughter might no longer be "pure.") Sometimes the perpetrator was driven by a desire to conquer or overpower that which was vulnerable (namely me--a child, a student, an up and coming professional...). One time the perpetrator was driven by pain (the man who violently assaulted me when I was 16 was in deep and dire pain). And one time the perpetrator was on drugs and not in his right mind. In my case the perpetrators were all men. But, it could have just as well been possible that I could have been assaulted by another woman.

What I find incredibly sad, even tragic, is that each of the people who harmed or tried to harm me lacked grounding, heart, and consciousness of the impact of his actions. Did these men feel so insecure at a core level that they needed to act out in order to feel better about themselves? Were these men so wounded that they needed to "pass on the wound?" We all know the saying "hurt people hurt people."

I saw first hand that the man who violently assaulted me when I was 16 was in psychic agony and he did not really want to be hurting me. He could not help himself. His pain was too great. And I went from crime statistic to sacred intimate when I somehow tuned in to this truth and connected with him in the midst of the assault.

How can be bring more healing to one another? How can we bring more heart? How can we create safe spaces where people not only can come out of the darkness and say "me too," but also get to the heart of the matter so that we can change a culture where sexual violence is so prevalent, even if it lurks powerfully in the shadows?

When we are wounded, it is only natural to develop a shield or defense mechanism protecting the wound. We don't want to be hurt again. But if our hurts are sublimated and remain unconscious, they come out the sides or the back. The energy of the wound does not go away.

Better to create safe and respectful ways to appropriately work through layers of defenses and reach the heart of the matter where healing can take place. It needs to be safe to feel. We need to feel safe to reveal our deeper and too often darker experiences. And we need the emotional intelligence and compassion to great these deeper and darker experiences with love, compassion and appropriate contact.

Until we bring more consciousness and compassion to ourselves and one another, and until we become more aware of the spirituality in our sexuality, too many of us at all stages of our lives will continue to experience assault, intimidation or violence from other human beings.

Somehow we need to learn that heart power is more fruitful than the power of domination. And because we are all interconnected, when one person is hurt, we all feel the pain one way or the other. When one person heals, it opens the door for the rest of us.

May we be courageous enough to find ways to open our hearts to ourselves and one another and create more safety and healing, and less trauma and pain.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Power of Grace In Crazy Times

2017 has been a year of truly horrifying and crazy events, one after the next. Alternative facts. Fake news. Scary threats between leaders of the United States and North Korea. Hurricanes destroying life on islands like Barbuda, and imperiling life in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico. Our president stepping outside of expected boundaries to insult and threaten professional athletes. The list goes on and on.

How do we keep our grounding in the wake of such chaos and craziness? A wise coach of mine advises, "when someone is acting insanely, don't join them in their insanity." Committing even more deeply to our own personal growth and spiritual work is critical to help us be in the world but not of it during crazy times. Cultivating qualities like grace and peace is a powerful path of action we can strive for.

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we are all evolving individually and collectively. Becoming conscious of this evolutionary path allows us to take our experiences, including painful ones, as opportunities for learning and growth. Rather than letting ourselves feel powerless and victimized, we have an opportunity to learn to listen to the wisdom of our bodies, including the wisdom of our hearts. Every life experience offers us lessons, should we be able to mine them. Learning to introspect, meditate, reflect and act on our deeper intuitive guidance can help us become more grounded and steer clear of the drama being broadcast rapidly by our media driven culture.

In my own life, I have aspired to cultivate the qualities of grace and peace both internally and in my interactions with others. Walking this path includes daily meditation, keeping my heart open with my feet on the ground, mining my experiences to discern my own sense of truth and seeking to be kind, while being able to be fierce when necessary. Surrounding myself with trustworthy friends and wise coaches/mentors who can provide me with both a space to be heard deeply and wise sounding boards for feedback fortifies my commitment to self-care and integrity.

Growing into my own wholeness as a strong woman has brought more and more peace and grace. As I embrace wholeness and stay there, no matter what, I invite the people around me to join me in a space of peace and grace. As my wise coach says, "stay in heaven and wait for others to join me." Everyone has their own path, with its own timing and trajectory. The best I can do is wish others well and let them be. If I focus on cultivating peace and grace, everyone wins.

When someone tries to pull me into a place that is not peaceful for me, that is their unconscious place. If I stay in alignment with the divine by meditating, listening to my body and following my heart, I have the opportunity to bring a bit of heaven down to earth. Walking around the world in this state of consciousness brings grace and peace to others in an organic way.

Many years ago, I used to notice how people would just start opening up and talking to me about their lives when they were next to me on the cross trainer at the gym. One of my apprentices used to joke that I had a sign on my forehead in invisible ink that said, "safe person, vent here." I look back now and realize those moments at the gym were actually quite sacred. My own effort to cultivate peace and grace within myself was organically inviting others to a more graceful and peaceful place. If we operate at a higher frequency, if we live our lives with a greater sense of consciousness we can humbly and naturally bring light into a crazy, too often dark world. This takes commitment and effort. But the rewards, both personal and collective, are priceless.

Thursday, August 31, 2017


We are told that giving is a good thing, and it is. Giving allows other to receive. And giving feeds the heart of the giver as well as the receiver. Yet life is not black and white, and sadly even something that is inherently good can be bad when balance is lost.

What can make sincere, heartfelt giving "too much?" And what is the hidden cost of "over giving" to the giver and to the receiver? I have had to reflect on this question very deeply and very personally recently. And it has been painful, sobering, humbling and absolutely essential for my growth and learning.

Let me tell you a story. As a child, I was born into a family of well-meaning, but deeply traumatized parents. Both of my parents had their own stories. My mother was a "motherless daughter." She lost her mom to mental illness when she was only 12, upon the birth of her younger sister. With her own mother gone, my mother had no choice but to step up and pick up the slack. She was a loving, nurturing presence to her younger sister. But the void within her own heart and soul remained, and was passed on to me when she became a mother to her own daughter.

My mother, a kind and gentle woman, suffered from depression, and likely undiagnosed bipolar disorder. When she was depressed, there was a huge void. And I became the one who had to pick up the slack, because if I did not, bad things would happen or the void would remain and become unbearable. As a young child, I would go into my mother's room at night because she had fallen asleep with the light on and a cigarette burning by the bed. I would turn off the light and put out the cigarette so that my mother could sleep peacefully and so that we all would be safe. My mother did not want to cook when she was depressed. So, I picked up the slack and became an accomplished cook by the time I was 12. I even wrote my own cookbook. What I could not possibly have realized was that a young girl like me should not have been having to pick up the slack, and that I was not being given the experience of receiving some basic experiences one deserves to receive as a child.

There was a second level to the dynamic. I was always a generous, loving, kind, well-behaved girl, who pitched in, did what needed to be done and rarely complained. When my mom was ailing, I would help, pitch in, step up. This included offering compassion and emotional support as well as doing practical tasks. And there were many times when I felt more like her mother than her daughter. And at times she really needed these things from me. However, there were also moments, when she got angry that she needed these things from me and that I so ably provided them, and she would turn on me. I would be hurt, devastated and confused. I was just trying to be a good person, a loving daughter. Why would my mother push me away, reject me and be angry with me after I gave her the best that I had?

As a child, I was in a double bind: my mother's struggles created a very dark hole, and I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't. Do nothing, and I would watch my mother suffer, risk the house burning down, and live with the never ending tension of a person struggling who could not find their way to the light. Do something and I might ease her pain in the moment, prevent a cigarette-induced fire and forge a kind of loving connection, but I would risk having my head chopped off when she realized I was providing things a child should not have to provide...and perhaps she felt guilt or shame that she could not provide these things to me.

While there is an axiom that it is better to give than to receive that axiom betrays us. While giving does open the heart, and giving helps us for love for those we give to, when there is not a balance of giving and receiving, relationships get profoundly out of balance. Someone who chronically receives can take the giver for granted, and can even resent their rock solid presence because it casts a shadow on their own conduct. Though frozen and at times paralyzed, my mother was a good person and it hurt her NOT to be able to give, even though at times she just could not.

Sadly, what became ingrained in me was an instinctive pattern to fill voids before me and pick up the slack in relationships when the other person was struggling, challenged or asking me to help out since they could not do so. I wanted to be kind. I felt badly for the person and their struggle. I wanted to be helpful. But when the relationship dynamic became founded on my picking up the slack, the give and take needed for a mutually fulfilling relationship ceased to be. And without meaning to or even realizing it, I was denying the other person the opportunity to step up, to take up space, and to want to make themselves a better person because they cared about me. Coming to realize this truth has been heartbreaking. And essential.

By over giving, I was not allowing myself the space to receive love--from myself as well as others. I was not even aware that I SHOULD be receiving love in return, because it was such a foreign experience for me as a child. I remember in my early 20's, a healer I saw invited me to shower myself with the same abundant generosity I showered others with. I became more and more skilled at loving myself. But this one particular blindspot, the over giving part, remained elusive to me up until present day.

The lesson? If another person is struggling, if someone is NOT living up to their part of an important relationship, there is a time to pick up the slack and there is a time to just sit in the void. Maybe a plan does not get made. Maybe a bumpy moment stays bumpy. But the person who is struggling or confused or taking things for granted has the space to struggling, unravel their own pieces and step up to the plate...or not. I have learned that I must step back, rather than step forward, and just let, rather than do. And only then can someone I care about who cares about me have the space to CHOOSE to be a better person. And only then can a person have the space to do their work and struggle and learn and come forward in their own way and time.

I realize how important it is for a child to be held and loved and protected in a healthy give and take, so the child learns when to give and when it is truly their turn and birthright to receive. Then the child learns how to give space, let, be, and dance with the flow of the universe, which ultimately wants to bring us love.