There’s a new sheriff in town!

When I was growing up in the 60’s, my best friend was in a blended family; a regular occurrence today but very rare back then. Further, his dad had converted to Catholicism to marry his first wife, and then his second wife and her child converted before their marriage! Their family was very Catholic, the oldest son eventually becoming a priest, and I remember my mother saying folks that convert to Catholicism usually are more devout than those of us raised Roman Catholic.

Since then, I have found this to be true of most people in most things. When my mother stopped smoking, she did her best to convert every smoker into quitting. When she began to smoke again, she may not have tried to convert anyone, but she was scathing with anyone that said something to her about her smoking. Most folks that make life-changing decisions, addicts, religious, political, etc., are passionate in their conversion; one of mine is the subconscious. I chuckle now when remembering in my late twenties/early thirties saying to my ex, “If you think my actions are controlled by some hidden part of my brain, you are crazy!” Now, I would postulate that there is very little we do every day that is NOT influenced by our subconscious. Studies show that when meeting someone for the first time, subconsciously our minds have already taken in their posture, shape of their body, and evaluated the position of each of the 43 muscles in their face to pre-judge how we think they will act!

Likewise, in every situation we find ourselves, the subconscious immediately references past circumstances that were similar, influencing how we will react today, including when most memories, both conscious and subconscious, are formed, before we are seven years old. One psychologist I know describes this as, “Every five year old knows the unspoken rules in a house, most of which deal with not pissing off their parents!” And the memories just keep on coming, by 21, we have stored more information than is in most encyclopedias; like an iceberg, the conscious memories are only the tip!

Those “unspoken rules” are implicit memories, those that are subconscious. Most all think of memories as held in the mind; conscious memories are called explicit, mental, or declarative with implicit memories being deemed unconscious. Somatic psychotherapists differentiate implicit memories as not only mentally subconscious but somatic, meaning held in the body; these implicit memories somatically reveal themselves in what we call “character structures” or an “adaptive self.” In her book, Body Psychotherapy, Tree Staunton stated, “We have to remember that character structure is a defense—a defense against contact and relationship now as much as a defense against experiencing a past injury.”

As I have noted in other blogs, I attend a quarterly relational somatic workshop; initially, it included both somatic psychology instruction for a couple of days and then deep therapeutic sessions for each participant. After ten years, it has evolved into primarily the deep work, including the two facilitators, with the teaching piece coming from all of us after a therapeutic session. This past workshop, I started with my wanting to be more disciplined in my commitments, both physical like exercise and yoga, but also mental, like getting these blogs out more timely!

We found the cause behind the symptom of being undisciplined to be a very early implicit memory, which I will call, “What’s the use?” My early life until three years old was basically safe because we lived with my grandparents, but I did not feel safe around just my mother. As a raging co-dependent, I tried hard to please her, but nothing worked; so along with my consciously trying even harder, I subconsciously knew nothing would ever work, so why even try? In my deep process work, we found a dead area surrounding my heart.

Somatic memories are formed in a relationship, so it takes a relational somatic effort to access them and release them. Since the way out of an issue is through the issue, the other participants worked on my body while talking to me and then I had the inspiration to have one of my fellow somatic therapist pound on my chest, to the point of almost bruising it. Just as pushing on the chest can restart a physical heart, my emotional heart reawakened with his pounding!

The following morning, I had a dream where I saw someone dressed as law enforcement. When I asked him who he was, he replied, “I’m the new sheriff!” At first, I felt sad as I have had too many authoritarians in my life and told him I did not want another. He replied, he was “Sheriff Alive!” Wow, what a confirmation of the work I/we had done!

As in most deep therapeutic healing, the old personality has been fighting this new change; after all, it kept me safe for 60 years and has no frame of reference in how to live with this new aliveness. Slowly, however, my old defenses are succumbing to a new paradigm, and I am exploring the new freedom of living as I was meant to live, being fully alive. Indeed, there is a new sheriff in town!

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What’s in your cup?

A few interesting occurrences happened when I last visited my dad in an assisted living facility. I saw something earlier in the day on Facebook about spilling coffee. The vignette talked about if we were walking with the cup full of coffee and we got bumped, would it be coffee spilling? The answer of course is yes, but only because there was coffee in the cup. What if it was tea, soup, flour, or marbles? The point being, we spill whatever’s in the cup, and then the meme likened this cup to ourselves. So if you are inconvenienced, what spills out of you? What are you carrying that will come pouring out when someone inconveniences you?

So later, I took dad downstairs to dinner, which is a bit of an arduous task for my father who has emphysema and is on oxygen. With many stops to catch his breath, made worse because he breaths through is mouth when the oxygen goes to his nose, in the past I would have become very impatient at best or angry at worst. I would have been blaming him for smoking and not taking care of his health and now it makes a three-minute journey into 15 minutes. That is what I carried in my cup back then, lots of anger. Now, I just stay in the loving and enjoy be present with him; I like my cup much better now!

This metaphor was enhanced twice more when we finally made it to the dining room; there was a line waiting to get in and so we were standing there talking. A woman, also in a walker, comes up behind us and engages me in light conversation. She then asked if a table for four becomes open, could she join us? In the past, because I was so externally focused, I would have felt duty-bound to accept her request in order not to disappoint her, even if I did not really want her to join us for whatever reason.

That, too, was a cup I carried around. I am so lucky to now have, as I have stated in other blogs, what I call “healthfully selfishness.” I don’t get to see my dad that much and I want to maximize my time with him. I nicely thanked the woman for her invitation and politely begged off explaining why. To her credit, she graciously accepted; whether this is because I phrased my declination in a non-threatening manner or she too was internally focused, I can’t say. And then the next interesting occurrence happened.

A couple of women came up behind the lady I had been talking with, and a bit of an altercation started. The woman I had been speaking with accused the woman behind her, also in a walker, of running into her. They exchanged a couple of words and then even began to get personal! Literally like children, “Yeah, well you never smile!” “I do so!”

I almost started laughing out loud not only at what was being said, but because the woman I had been talking with actually had run into me with her walker when she first got in line! We tend to project on others, either negatively or positively, when we do not want to confront behavior we don’t want to see in ourselves. In this case, a woman who had encroached on my space and not wanting to see herself as rude, unaware, etc. jumped all over the woman behind her doing the same thing! Anytime (and I don’t tend to use the words any, every, etc. often, but in this case, it fits) we feel an emotion, it is a signpost to our internal state of being.

If we become angry with someone, it is because we see in him or her what we choose to deny in ourselves. Humans are a relational species, and we are constantly acting as mirrors for those around us and then the other person also acts as a mirror for us. When we accept this, we begin to use our emotions for what they are, a wake up call for internal introspection that we need to address. If my wife says something and I find myself reacting, I don’t see what she said as criticism, but wonder why I am taking it as criticism?

While we tend to see this more easily when the feeling is negative, it also works in reverse. If there is a person whom you admire, they too are acting as a mirror and showing you that you have the same positive traits within yourself that has you respecting them. Do you recognize this as reality or do you say to yourself, “I wish I were like them!”

The last idea I want to cover is the “coincidence” that happened, seeing the Facebook item and then having it acted out for me several times. Most people, when they observed something coincidental, tend to think that two random occurrences just amazingly happened at the same time. However, the “co” indicates joint or mutual; so instead of being happenstance, coincidental actually means the two incidences are working together to call our attention to what is occurring. We accept this when there is a hyphen in the word, such as co-ownership, co-writer, or co-morbid.

Certainly, there are words that start with “co” that do not mean joint, such as command or conscientious. But the hyphen has disappeared in some words such as coincident and cooperation. So reading that little vignette on Facebook and then witnessing the altercation behind me was truly co-incidental; it could not have been better scripted! When I was bumped from behind, forgiveness spilled out of my “cup.” Even if I didn’t voice any forgiveness, conversing politely showed my forgiveness. But when the lady doing the bumping was herself bumped, anger spilled out.

What’s in your cup?

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Let’s Talk Hate…

I am always amazed at the way people talk and the way in which they use words. Add in hyperbolized and selective usage and there is an excellent chance the speaker is, at best, negating what they are trying to say or, at worst, being a hypocrite. These days, hate is used quite a bit and, in my opinion, in an incorrect way. Now it is all over the news.

First, what is hate? Is it an emotion, a feeling, a thought, or a state of being? It can be all of these, but the one thing they have in common is these descriptions of hate stem from a mental construct. I hate lima beans, insects, bats, negative people, etc.; these express your opinion that you have possibly formed from experience. However, is it true? As Shakespeare stated in Hamlet, “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

So in the above example, hating lima beans as an adult might be that lima beans interact with your palate in a way that is unpleasant. That is an observation, not a judgment; but do you “hate” lima beans or just find them disagreeable? Also, ask yourself if you have objectively and with full attention evaluated lima beans in the last five years; remember, our palate is always changing.

What if you came into contact with lima beans, insects, and bats (or heard stories about them) as a child and determined you disliked then without actually giving them a chance. Children do this quite often over new foods, experiencing an automatic “yuck” simply because the parent wants them to try it. Children are also notorious for determining they “hate” a new food without even tasting it!

And then, our minds can change in an instant; this might be because we taste a formerly disliked food prepared a different way before realizing it is what we were supposed to hate! Peer pressure is also a huge determinant. Look at the diversity of behaviors when children react to many things; some play with spiders, other will run screaming. Seeing their best friend do something they thought they “hated” could push children to try, and possibly like, something they shunned.

Some think hate is the opposite of love; again, this comes from when we are very young children, and our brains think only in black/white. So when a child has to do something her mom says that the child does not want to do, they tend to say, “I hate you!” We can all probably agree that the child does not truly hate her mom; it is merely a go-to expression that articulates her dislike.

I think the opposite of love is indifference. We see children all the time trying to get their parent’s attention; if positive things do not work, they will do what the parent “hates,” as even bad attention is better than no attention. But this still falls under judgment, what one parent hates, another can love.

Now there is another word that I feel is frequently applied incorrectly. I remember my daughter at about three saying, “If you get me that (fill in the blank), I will love you forever!” Love can also be a state of mind (judgment) or a state of being. So now, like so often when I blog, we are getting into the nit-picky weeds! But those nuances around words are where the subtle energy lays. If I say, “I love ice cream!” would anyone think I am equating ice cream with my love for my spouse, my daughter, or granddaughter?

When I hear a client say he loves his spouse/partner, I ask questions because I do not know his frame of reference with that word. Is it love (lust, companionship, how it makes him feel) or is it Love, he reveres them and only wants for them? Is it Love like Robert Tizon states, “I would rather have eyes that cannot see, ears that cannot hear, lips that cannot speak, than a heart that cannot love.”

That is where I feel the word “hate” gets misused these days. I like to look at issues as being on a line; where on the intensity line does it fall? I would think that most of us would say that hating lima beans and hating a murderer denote different points on the intensity line. And yet, any hatred, these days, seem to be homogenized, notwithstanding their disparate impact.

Why has the nation devolved into infantile black/white thinking? Why is it so hard to compartmentalize our feelings? My dad is a wonderful dad and also a bigot. Out of earshot of other (mostly), he still uses the “N” word. Every time, I feel udder disdain and call him on it. And yet he consistently received the Teacher of the Year Award from students in an inner city, poor high school teaching black and Hispanic (yes, he has a word for them also) students that he championed to excel. By not allowing something I loathe about my dad become all consuming, I can pigeonhole some things he does, and I can love him for all the amazing things he has done and continues to do for me.

When I was pursuing my master’s in Spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica, we were taught that when we feel bereft of being Loved in some aspect of our life, we feel fear. When we live in that fear long enough, we become angry and retaliate.

This hate quandary is where Charlottesville falls. So the neo-Nazis and white supremacists get a legal permit to march and do so, spewing their intolerance. Gross, but protected free speech. Antifa then shows up in masks and with clubs (without a permit to march) and attack the neo-Nazis who, it turns out, also have weapons. Where on the “hate line” do both these groups fall? Are they not the flip side of the same coin? As John Lennon said many years ago, “We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.”

Hate is hate. You cannot attack hate with more hate; this will only increase the level of hatred. Further, when we enter into an agreement with others to hate, our greater numbers further magnify that hatred. Hoards of angry folks will commit atrocities that many of the individuals would never do on their own. Agree with others to apply Love, and the same magnification occurs!

Don’t believe me? I offer two powerful examples where Love overcame hate… Gandhi and Martin Luther King; using peaceful demonstrations are what Cuba’s Women in White are doing now. We laud their accomplishments and peaceful protests, acting in the spirit of Love! We revel in how, with persistence and non-violence, they succeeded (or, with the Women in White, are trying to succeed). Why then do we persist in opposing hate with hate?

Words and the actions that follow have meanings; since everything in this universe is made up of energy, so do those meanings. Mother Teresa was asked to join an anti-war rally, and she declined, saying (and I paraphrase) she would, however, march for peace. This example points to a huge distention and pays homage to the meaning and energy behind words.

Worse, this undifferentiated, black/white hated is invading all aspect of our lives. I read an article recently where a yoga instructor said, “I get angry at the way yoga seems synonymous with whiteness, spiritual bypassing, and cultural appropriation.” Wow, did we study different yoga courses to become instructors? Her supposition may be correct (I wholly disagree), but why would she respond with anger? The yoga teachings I received and practice stress Love, oneness, and unity. I feel the same when I read some postings by my USM classmates, did we study the same spiritual psychology based on Love?

In every minute, we have a choice, are we responding to life with Love or are we responding in fear or anger? Are we going to be a beacon of a light of Love shining on anger and hate, or are we going to add to the level of fear and hatred? And do not be fooled, while the intensity of wielding a baseball bat against another human and writing of feeling angry with a person is different, it is a matter of adding a few hundred dollars to darkness or adding a few cents.

I am sometimes accused of being “Woo-Woo” when it comes to this energy of words and living in Love stuff. Well, then I am in good company; another John Lennon quote, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”

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Stay single until…

A yoga instructor I know posted on Facebook a list of positive qualities to look for in a guy before deciding to marry him. We became friends while in the same Ashtanga certification class and I would see her from time to time either in the studio or her place of work. She is still single and dating, so I can see why this speaks to her.

Checking the source, I realize I have seen some of this website’s (https://thoughtcatalog.com) other postings on Facebook, but I had not checked any out until now. For the most part, I agree with most of the list; maybe this is showing a bias against millennial (and Gen Ys) guys, but if a guy does even half these things, he is probably a keeper!

The qualities are:

  1. Stay single until you meet a guy who opens every door you walk through.
  2. Stay single until you meet a guy who makes sure you walk on the inside of the sidewalk away from the street.
  3. The guy who holds your hand shamelessly and will kiss you in public.
  4. Stay single until you meet a guy who wants to bring you home to his parents.
  5. Stay single until you meet the guy whose friend’s already know about you before you meet them.
  6. Stay single until you meet the guy who will drop whatever to be wherever you need him.
  7. The guy who says, “text me when you’re home safe,” and stays up until he knows you are.
  8. Stay single until you meet the guy you’d proudly introduce to your father.
  9. The one who doesn’t try and change you.
  10. The guy who always texts back no questions asked.
  11. Stay single until you meet a guy who doesn’t have time for games and is brutally honest always.
  12. The one who pulls you close in public and kisses your forehead.
  13. Stay single until you meet the guy pays out of respect for you and doesn’t let you touch your wallet.
  14. Stay single until you meet the guy who keeps his word.
  15. The one who knows when to apologize when he’s wrong.
  16. The one who sends you flowers to your office, just because.
  17. The guys who sends sweet texts in the middle of the meeting he knows you’re stressing over.
  18. Stay single until you meet the guy who makes you want to be a better woman.
  19. The one who motivates you to achieve more and be better.
  20. Stay single until you meet a guy who is sure of you and never makes you doubt how he feels.
  21. The one who is certain of you and his career and a future he wants you apart of.
  22. The one who says I love you first just because he wants you to know.
  23. Stay single until you meet the guy who never stops trying to keep you.
  24. Because he knows getting you wasn’t the hard part but constantly giving you a reason to stay is what you deserve.
  25. Stay single until you meet the guy who makes you feel more beautiful just standing beside him.
  26. The one who still gives you butterflies when you walk in a room.
  27. Stay single until you meet the guy who makes you not want to be.
  28. The one who changes the standard you once had and suddenly no one can compare.
  29. Stay single until you meet the guy you can’t live without.
  30. Until then. Stay single.

Naturally, I have some comments on a few of these and would add a couple more!

  1. I encourage clients to refrain from using words like “every,” “none,” “always,” “never,” etc. I do not know the author but have heard “Always, and Never statements are always false!” Every door! So a guy ticks off 99% of this list and forgets to open one door and you supposed to dump him; I do not think so! I also think this applies to everyone, a nice courtesy to a fellow traveler on Earth.
  2. Wow, that is an oldie, but goodie. I remember my dad telling me this 50 years ago!
  3. & 4., 5. Yes!
  4. Come on. Drop something unimportant for him and very important to you, yes. Otherwise whatever he is doing should be considered just as important to him as what you want to do is important for you.
  5. & 8. Yes!
  6. Yes and vice-versa! There is an adage that women marry men with a list they want to change in him, and men marry women thinking they will never change; both are so wrong!
  7. Yes!
  8. Here we go with “always” again! And what is with the word “brutally?” Honesty, yes, yes, yes; brutally, a big no! Many guys think that “softening” the truth (still a lie!) will make it easier on the relationship when the opposite is true. Bad news gets worse with time. However, in love, the truth is not brutal. In love, hurtful truths need kindness, understanding, and no expectation on how it will be received. The truth might still shatter a relationship, but truth wins more often than not.
  9. Yes!
  10. Another blast from the past. Today’s women do not need taking care of; they are quite capable of doing this for themselves. Money can be a HUGE issue in relationships, but only because it is not usually discussed until there are problems. Just talk about who is paying for what before going out, but do not allow the relationship to degrade into an accounting ledger!
  11. & 15. Yes!
  12. & 17. Mostly yes! Sending flowers to her home is one of life’s few absolute “yeses!” But to work, forgo the surprise and ask first to ensure it is appropriate. Same with texting during a meeting, this can be very inappropriate. He will give the same boost doing it before the meeting and then again afterward.
  13. & 19., 20. Yes!
  14. Mostly yes! Again, this is an area relationships may have problems if not discussed early on and revisited as situations change. Most guys are internal processors, to whom the five worst words are “Honey, we need to talk!” External processing and negotiating when the issue is not hot will usually allow for a smooth relationship journey.
  15. – 25. Mostly yes!
  16. Yes and… Relationships are like a warm fire; both sides need to fed, stoked, and nurture that fire to keep it burning.
  17. & 28. Yes!
  18. Yes and… This sounds romantic, and I am parsing words here, but words have meanings. What if your guy dies, are you really going to not go on living? Feel like it, yes, but not literally.

Oh, and ladies, do the same for him; each of you is 100% responsible for your 50% of the relationship, so don’t think he can carry the whole load. One last pet peeve of mine (I can be so old fashion sometimes!): Guys, ask what your date is wearing and match her effort! I am amazed at the number of young ladies I see on dates “dressed to the nines” with a fellow in a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. Have a little pride in yourself and show respect for your dates! I know, I know, now I am judging!

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Heaven or Hell?

It has been a while since I wrote on my blog, partly because we’ve been moving which both sucked up all the available spare time and partly because there was so much going on that I encountered what I have affectionately termed “moving mind!” Luckily, we have now been stable long enough that I can get back to my writing. One other note, probably more to myself since I don’t believe I actually have any readers for this blog, I’m going to allow my writing to become a little more “edgy.” Up until now, I have stayed somewhat professorial in my writings; I am now going to become a little bit more, at times, paternalistic (I can see my daughter’s eyes rolling in anticipation of the lecture)!

Almost every morning, I enjoy reading out of a book by Alan Cohen entitled “A Deep Breath of Life.” It is subtitled a daily inspiration for heart-centered living and is filled with wonderful one-page inspirational stories for each day of the year. There was an interesting juxtaposition between yesterday’s passage, the one for today on the Fourth of July, and what is transpiring in some areas and/or some subsections of our country. Up until now, I have shied away from anything political unless it simply highlighted an underlying psychological, developmental, or emotional issue; daily we are now confronted by all three stemming from both President Trump, the 24/7 media coverage, and the incessant need by some to discuss him.

Yesterday’s reading was entitled Heaven and Hell and talked about a samurai warrior commanding a Zen Master to teach him about Heaven and Hell. The Master laughed at the warrior, ridiculing him, and the samurai, duly insulted, drew his sword to kill the Master. The Master then pointed out, “That, sir, is hell.” The warrior was overcome with humility and thanked the Master, who pointed out “and that, sir, is heaven.” The point is that, as all Master and Saints have pointed out, while there are external Heavens and Hells, we are able to choose to live our life on this planet either in heaven or hell by way of our thoughts, emotions, and actions.

Today’s reading, “Declaration of Inner Independence” talked about celebrating the birth of our nation, freeing us from British rule, but asked the question, are we “… free of the inner bondage of fear and separation?” I would point out that, to me, this is redundant, we live in fear because we are separated from our true nature of love. Once again, this is a recurrent theme throughout time from every Master and Saint and, since I was brought up a Christian, I will point out two instances in the Bible; however every religion and spiritual path say the same thing. As an aside, when studying many different spiritual paths, I used to marvel at what seemed to be constant plagiarism! Genesis 1:27 states, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” And in Matthew 5:48, Christ says, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The latter passage, of course, plays into the narrative of doing “good” on earth to reap your rewards later; it is equally true as a directive to live in perfect love daily, in this human body, in this present moment, and in every moment. To live separate from this perfect love is to live in fear and anger. Think back in your life to a time when you presented yourself as someone you were not or thought you were not. Did you not live in fear that you would be found out? This was true in middle school when trying to fit into a group or as an adult when making a presentation to peers having self-doubt, thinking and feeling that you will be “found out” to be a “fraud!” Now think about a time when you were living outside of your authenticity, and someone called you on it, did you not vehemently protest, trying to extend the lie?

When we are in our authenticity and integrity, we know who we are and when someone calls you on it, there is no emotional response. Why would we care if someone else thinks bad of us when we know who we are and live it; especially if that person, like so many, are themselves living, acting, and speaking out of fear out anger. There mere fact that they spoke out against you speaks volumes; remember, if they are living in their own authenticity and integrity, they will not care that something you say or do seemingly conflicts with their way of life!

So there is always fear and anger that accompanies living outside of love. In my Master’s course in spiritual psychology, we were taught when we live outside of the loving, we descend to the next level down, fear, and then below fear is anger. We were also taught that any issue that we are facing is not the issue; our response to any issue is the issue. If we are responding out of fear and anger, that is the issue; namely, we have now stepped out of being in the loving and are living a lie.

So what do we make of those around us that are in constant turmoil over some issue, be it President Trump, climate change, corporate greed, etc.? These are all legitimate issues that need addressing, but how will we successfully succeed in working these issues if we are coming from anger and fear? If we have a flat tire and are living in our authenticity, we simply replace the flat tire with the spare, call ahead if we are going to be late for a meeting, and do our best to keep moving through the day in love. If we allow anger to take over, we may damage the car with a kick or hurt ourselves changing the tire since we are not focused. Or we might suffer from some fear over what might transpire in the future surrounding the flat tire event. Either way, we are in anguish, and that impairs our functioning, not to mention the damage it does to our physical bodies.

I marvel that Post Traumatic Stress is so easily accepted if caused by a large, external event, war or car crash, also known as a big “T” trauma, but not recognized, or worst dismissed, when internally generated by our response to some issue (small “t” trauma). The Big “T” trauma might be seen to exact a bigger toll on us, but that is because it is a Big “T” trauma. Think in terms of a knife wound; we would rush to a hospital if we accidentally stabbed ourselves deeply, but wouldn’t hundreds of small nicks each day also severely maim us physically, even to the point of finally killing us? It is the same with small “t” traumas.

So on this Fourth of July, Independence Day, let us do as Alan suggests and begin to cultivate inner independence, freeing ourselves from the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual hell that is living in fear and anger. For you, President Trump might be considered the ultimate challenge to live in the loving, but that can lead to the ultimate healing. Then we can experience Independence Day from fear and anger every day!

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Don’t Be Defined By Your Past

One of our greatest strength and also our greatest issue is the ability to remember the past. Children and mammals have this to a much lesser degree and, interestingly, it serves them better for it. So, let us look at their way of remembering the past first.

While I strongly push not punishing, if done with young children and, in the animal kingdom let’s use, dogs it is imperative to punishment immediately after their transgression. The reason is they are so in the present moment, they have moved on mentally within minutes and do not actually remember that transgression.

I am sure some of you are thinking, “that’s not correct,” but that is the problem with punishing. Sure, if you punish a young child or dog, they do remember, but they remember the punishment, not the reason why. They may or may not associate the punishment with the issue.

There was a joke I heard many years ago which, while funny, also illustrates this. A dog messed in the house, so the owner grabs it, sticks its nose in the mess, shakes it while yelling, and then throws the dog out the window. This punishment happens a few times, and then the owner comes home to find a mess and the dog immediately stick its nose in it, shakes, and jumps out the window. That is why no current day trainer uses punishment to train any animal, so why do we continue to punish children?

I would add that, even in this story, the dog will run into the house and will have moved on from the incident. Every new moment is another adventure, and they do not lie around thinking, “Oh, I was a bad dog! I’ve done this so many times; I will never get it right! I must be worthless and doomed to failure!” But how many of us do this?

Remembering the past is a wonderful way to insure that we learn from our mistakes and help our lives to become ever more productive and easier to navigate life. Such as to better fit into our family, our “tribe,” our religion, our business, or with whatever group we choose or need to associate. Unfortunately, it can also be a way to keep us or others tied to the past.

I knew an estate attorney once that was the baby of his family of seven. He worked at a prestigious law firm and was on their partner track, so hard working and smart. He told me about having to go home because his dad had died and the family expected him to handle the probate, but then continued to treat him as if he was the baby, not competent, and needing their constant input. Unfortunately, while this upset him, he was unable to break out of the family system that kept him subservient.

Everything in the past, whether we label it “good” or “bad” has made us what we are today. There is no “If only that had not happened to me!” If it hadn’t, we would not be who we are today, and there is no guarantee that the alternate path would have been better or easier.

Use the past, but do not live there; live your life in the present moment! An analogy I use is your life is like a motorboat; you can continue to look out the back and bemoan every log, sand bar, and wrong turn you have ever made, or you can turn around and grab the wheel. Use the lessons and knowledge of the past, but apply it today. Just like the advertisements for stock brokerages, past performance (in this case, missteps) does not guarantee future failures, but only if you quit beating up on yourself and learn! Lament the ill-conceived choices you have made, celebrate your successful choices, and utilize the lessons learned from both without identifying with the old you. She or he is long gone.

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I’m Back!

I haven’t written a blog in quite a while; in fact, I haven’t written much of anything for several months. First, it was just a general malaise that I was able to work somewhat through, but not completely solve. The body-mind has a way of insuring that what needs attention or to come out does and so I then tweaked my lower back while exercising. Some kind of pain, mental, emotional and/or physical, happens to us if we don’t try to track down the emotional signposts given to us, but that was not the case for me; nothing was revealed despite working the issue for a couple of weeks. However, when I did not follow through, my back began to spasm.

I have not had a part of my body hurt this bad in a long time. Normally, I have an agreement with my body to give me a not-to-severe wake-up call, but this time I quit working the issue. When it struck again, I couldn’t stand or sit for very long and was reduced to tears a couple of times. Needless to say, exercise and yoga were out, and my limited movement and pain put a real damper on Thanksgiving. Nothing like hurting and not being able to even stretch to help the situation!

Luckily, my relational somatic psychotherapy workshop, where we do exceedingly deep work, was scheduled in the first week of December. There, I got in touch with the issue and was able to work through it. Between a couple of massages, cranial sacral sessions, and chiropractic appointments, both before and after the workshop, I was also able to release the stored trauma from my body.

This brings me to a video I have seen lately on Facebook, which says quit blaming your parents, environment, and other external factors for the choices that you make. This is one of several lines of simplistic conservative thought that is akin to yelling at a panhandler, “get a job.”   They can be both correct and incorrect at the same time; in the latter example, the panhandler might be searching for a job while at the same time feeding his family.

A simplistic liberal line of thinking would be to offer assistance and provide some government service, a Band-Aid for the present moment, but does not address the underlying issues. As long as any assistance is temporary while also encourages the participant to move back towards being self-sufficient, that support is beneficial. As shown in these two examples, they both “feel good” and ultimately do not help.

Going back to the video, I agree that, as adults, we have to begin to make choices that are positive for us notwithstanding any situation in our past. Simple enough, but can be very difficult to accomplish. I know this stuff, and it still took almost four weeks for me to find the issue that developed before my being 18 months old. While I was not blaming anyone for my circumstance, I was also unable to extract myself from it on my own.

To suggest that we are not affected by what happened around us from conception through about seven is absolutely not true. Our “choices” back then are determined for us, and without intervention, we will slavishly hold onto them; this usually is because we were punished for making the “wrong” choice as children and while we may not consciously remember the incident, the subconscious does. Then we add judgments to those not make our same “choices” to justifying our choices.

Unfortunately, the subconscious is just like water to a fish; it is all we have ever known! We keep making the same “choices” because a part of the subconscious that does not want to be punished again. However, the subconscious also remembers wanting to make the other choice before we were punished and so replicate the original issue, again and again, to help the adult grow beyond what the child knows to be true. We will continue to be constricted our by the past until we allow new information to change our thinking.

So while I do agree with the video that blaming our parents, etc. as adults is not healthy, I disagree with it because it takes some type of intervention as adults to obtain new information to free us from that subconscious constriction to make another choice. If we seem not to be able to make a different choice despite wanting to or begin to feel negative about the choice we made or what comes from that choice, use that emotional signpost to begin to discover why we are stuck making the same selections over and over. As what happened with me, the subconscious will continue to ramp up the hurt, be it mental, emotional, and/or physical, to push us to become more authentic. Unlike me, do not wait until the pain is excruciating!

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Masks

I have always enjoyed Halloween, both as a child on the receiving end and now as an adult in handing out treats! As a somatic psychotherapist, Halloween has taken on a whole new meaning for me. This blog is a bit late as Halloween has already passed, but is still pertinent.

In somatic psychology, we talk about how everyone in the world is wearing social masks. That is, do to events that happened in our early childhood, we have had to adapt who we wanted to be, first to fit our into family rules, and then to conform in school cliques, amongst different groups of friends, in the workforce, and then full circle to our adult family dynamics. We have had to become someone other than our authentic self. Some of us recognize that we seem to take on different personas when in various social situations while others switch their social selves without any awareness.

How interesting that while most of us never recognizing the social masks that we are constantly cycling through, we are fascinated with a holiday that glorifies wearing masks and pretending to be someone we are not. Even in countries that do not celebrate Halloween, costume balls are big events, and there’s a whole profession of actors who daily put on the “masks,” literally or figuratively, of characters when performing. So how do we learn which social mask to put on?

Somatic psychologists have put forward the theory that, when an infant or a child encounters a “No” of any kind, and this “No” always occurs within some social relationship, if that “No” is not resolved then and there, then it can result in a physical and emotional block. The child will pull back from the painful experience and adapts to continue to get a limited version of what she wants without incurring that painful experience again. The cause of the block can range from simply not getting a new toy, through many levels of active abuse, to abandonment: again, all these occur in relational settings.

Depending on when, and the extent to which, the developmental blocks occur (and are reinforced over time), the resulting contraction (or contractions) leads to the formation of particular adaptive selves, character structures, or social masks. A great book on the subject is Stephen M. Johnson’s Character Styles. I remember a dynamic, comptent, and confident estate attorney in his mid-30s telling me had to go home due to his father’s death. He was, of course, expected to handle all the legal aspects surrounding his father’s death, but because he was the baby of the family, he was still treated as the “baby” in every area except when he was handling his father’s estate!

Have you ever missed several high school reunions and then showed up to find you were treated by everyone just like you were that student back in high school, even though you are now 40 and a different person? How about not following the career path your parents always considered “best” for you? While some families encourage individualism in their children, it is usually not the families that had a career picked out for a child and those families are not really happy when he exerts his independence! It is said that a child knows by the age of three all the unspoken rules within a family system.

The good news is, our authentic self truly wants to discard the adapted self, to rid itself of the various social masks it has learned to employ. The bad news is, as Einstein states, “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” Further complicating the solving of this problem of inauthenticity, is that our social masks were formed in a relationship and it takes another relationship to undue that inauthentic self. While this can be worked out within our families of origin, that is usually not the case (Einstein’s quote)! Luckily, there are somatic psychotherapists who are well aware of how the social masks or character structures are formed and know that the way out of the inauthentic self is working back through that false self, that social mask, to reconnect with the authentic self!

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Decisions, Decisions

A Classmate from the University of Santa Monica, where we studied Spiritual Psychology, emailed me the other day to ask my opinion. The question she asked was, “I remember in class, that [one of the leaders of USM] said changing your name is a big thing. I was wondering what your thoughts are about me using my middle name. I have never felt comfortable about my name. But of late, my middle name just seems to resonate with who I am becoming. Me, not what everyone else feels I should be, but me, the person I truly am.”

Wow, I found this to be an interesting question! Partly because I well remember what was said in class and also remembered another classmate caught a bunch of grief when she changed her name in our second year, but she tamped down the criticism since she only changed to another common nickname variation of her real name. I also found it interesting that this classmate directed this question to me; I cannot remember if I ever told her that I had changed the pronunciation of my last name or if asking me was simply another amazing coincidence in my life!

Whether this question or any question about a change that any of us might be considering, I think the key to the answer lies both in the timing of the decision to change and the origin of the solution. When addressing the timing, I told my friend that her decision now is different from when we were in class. The Master’s program at USM includes many deep personal process sessions, much more that you would find in a typical graduate psychology course. I feel anyone truly taking in and practicing what we learned at USM and beginning a journey towards greater authenticity must feel as though they are a becoming new person.

However, even over a two year period, that journey is still very new, and we were still embracing and deciphering all we learned. Any decision in our lives that is not well thought out can be erroneous, hence the timing factor. We have all been victims of saying or doing something in our past that we wished we could take back! Parenting books stress the ten-second rule before disciplining children, and that rule works equally well in any situation!

The bigger the decision, the more time we need to tease out any unseen motivations and, equally important, unforeseen consequences. I have not found anyone that likes the adage that if an action or decision is correct, it will be correct in a few weeks; usually, when we make up our minds, we want to jump right in! However, it is sage advice, and so we need to give ourselves time to allow the solution to percolate and think about and feel into any unforeseen consequences.

The second factor is the origin of the decision; unless we are taught to rely on internal support, we tend to want external support. This process starts in childhood seeking our parent’s praise (or, unfortunately, to escape their wrath) and is magnified in middle school when we so desperately want to fit into a group; we learn to be someone we are not just to fit and be accepted.

We don all types of social masks, each an inauthentic self, to ensure we are not ostracized, and this external validation becomes a template for the rest of our lives. Hence, another reason behind being told in class not to change our names; the decision is probably externally based. Changing something outwardly, such as our name in society, if not internally based, is an effort to garner or force support from others to bolster our decision. I do not think we were told in class to never change something eternal about us, such as our name, but to consider why we wish to do so. One of my favorite quotes is from Hamlet. “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Before going to USM, I already knew I was changing and so celebrated that change by taking the pronunciation of my last name back to the original Scottish, as opposed to the phonic pronunciation. I did not know anything about internal/external focus or being true to myself, but I instinctively took the time to feel into the decision and then acted. This was somewhat easy for me as I traveled to the west coast to attend graduate school, so everyone out there knew me as “Coburn;” the tougher time came later when I moved back to where I grew up and had to re-educate all my old friends and acquaintances!

Since ten years have passed, I do not believe my classmate is making a hasty decision, and her explanation showed she was relying on her internally based, body led (as opposed to being brain led) understanding and told her so. One example of a body-based, as opposed to a brain-based decision, is being in a big city late at night and having to go all the way around a large block to arrive at your destination. There is a dark alley that will cut your time in half, and so your brain, being logical, tells you to take it, while your gut is doing back flips because of not knowing what might be lurking in the darkness. In this case, the body’s knowledge is probably “smarter” than the brain’s! I feel anytime we follow our heart, despite the good intentions or “help” of others, we are on the right path for us.

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Non-Sexual Touching

I was at the United States Association of Body Psychotherapy conference in Providence, RI, a couple of weeks ago and this year’s theme was “Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Body; The Art and Science of Somatic Psychotherapy.” I always enjoy going to conferences, getting reacquainted with classmates, professors, and peers and then meeting new people! Some of the offerings at conferences do not interest me, but most do; unfortunately, too often two or more sessions I want to attend are presented at the same time!

At this stage in my continuing education, I have found that what I learn at conferences and workshops tend to follow a normal distribution or bell curve. The left tail represents information I knew, but had forgotten; the left half of the curve, the information I remember, but rarely utilize, so it is nice to have a refresher. And then the right half of the curve is information I know and use, but presented in a new manner that opens up new possibilities, and finally, the right tail represents new information!

I was surprised to find so many breakout sessions at this conference that did not expound on the theme past what I learned in school. Probably the best was a pre-conference, half-day session entitled, “Is Our Access To ‘God’ Sourced In Our Loins? The spiritual call of sexuality and death.” What a mouthful! Had that session not been taught by a mentor and now friend, I might have gone to the other half-day just based on the title!

However, I anticipated that his way of teaching the session would make it fascinating, and I was not disappointed; the session was more tantric based, the spiritual and meditative branches of tantra, much of the time an excellent juxtaposition of dance movement and quiet meditation. There were several experiential exercises thrown in, most we did ourselves, but three of the exercises required a partner.

My friend asked us to find someone to work with early in the session without telling us what the exercises would be; the woman next to me and I agreed it was just easiest to choose someone close. My partner shared that she recently moved to the Denver area (where my dad lives) from Europe, was married, and starting a coaching business (another area of mutuality). As it turned out, the exercises we did were very intimate and sensual!

There were three practices towards the end of the day, the first in which we washed each other’s hands. We were in an unused area of the hotel, so whether the group was same-sex or co-ed, we just chose a restroom and shared a couple of sinks. Having someone else wash my hands, something most of us do several times a day, helped me to be much more mindful of the process. This exercise was an excellent example of awareness; how often do we engage in repetitive tasks throughout the day without staying present and bringing our full attention to what we are experiencing?

In the second exercise, we twice sat cross-legged with foreheads touching for five minutes; the first time, just feeling the other’s presence within our “personal space.” Starting again, we explored our thoughts, bodily feelings, and deeper emotions rather than just noticing having someone so close. As a body psychotherapist, I have done this type of intimate touching many times, but not foreheads; I remarked that I did not believe I had ever had my lips so close to another’s for that long and not ended up in a kiss!

For the last exercise, we gently stroked the other’s face for five minutes as we saw the Buddha in them, and then received the stroking; we were encouraged to have our eyes closed and drop into our feelings, but our eyes could be open if we were uncomfortable. If the first two exercises were intimate and sensual, this last one was on steroids! I received first, and while it was very pleasurable and relaxing, it was nothing compared to giving. For me, this was partly because my eyes were closed in the first when receiving, so I did not have any visual clues of what my partner was feeling, and partly because I am a giver, rather than a receiver, and so the second iteration was more significant to me.

When I was doing the stroking, I felt so blessed just to be with another and offering love without any thought of getting anything in return; pure, unconditional giving and love. It seemed profound to my partner as she cried throughout her receiving. I say “seemed” because, unfortunately, other than a general discussion about how powerful the exercises were, we did not delve into how they affected us. Then, for the rest of the conference, without being rude, she seemed very distant.

I am grateful that, with all my work, I have embraced a healthy internal locus of control (psychology-speak for holding myself responsible for my thoughts, feelings, and actions). I took the exercises for what they were and relished the experiences without taking any responsibility for any outcome; further, I never had the chance to ask if my perception of my partner being distant was true.

One of Don Miguel Ruiz’s four agreements is not to take anything personally. If indeed she was distancing herself from me, it was her choice and had nothing to do with me. All that being said, as a recovering co-dependent, my tendency is for my mind to take off exploring possible reasons despite trying to remain internally focused, despite knowing that my observation may not even be her truth!

Maybe she was afraid of that much intimacy with a stranger. She hinted at this by saying after the last touching that she almost felt she was “cheating.” Maybe she deemed that level of sensuality and intimacy to be an invitation to make a sexual advance. Maybe my earlier remark seemed to be flirting! Maybe, maybe, maybe said my mind; what an exercise in futility and a total waste of precious time.

As I teach, any reason I might have conger up is based solely on my frame of reference and past conditioning which is different from hers. There are a million other reasons I would never come up with, assuming she was distant! So I had a fourth exercise from this pre-conference session – how to recognize my tendency to make meaning from an experience and to drop back into my core, releasing my thoughts, taking nothing personally, and returning to calm, peacefulness, and the present moment. What strange creatures we are; when experiencing anything hints of sexuality, whether real or imagined, that strangeness is highlighted!

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