Givers and Takers

A friend on Facebook recently posted on Facebook, and it brought together something my wife and I have been mulling. Are there just “Givers” and “Takers?” The gist of the post was a couple of health issues that kept her bed-bound for several months at a time and, except for her mom, no one visited. Her message to folks, commenting on the current lockdown, was to get over this intense, but relatively short coronavirus stay at home.

Via Facebook, I knew of one time, a surgery, and while responding with encouragement, I was not in Houston to even contemplate a visit. We are not close, but it still make me sad that no friends visited her. What led to this blog is, I am somewhat sure she is a giver having helped an elderly relative for many years. And I relate, having been a giver most of my life; I would now classify myself as a recovering giver.

Barb and I disagree a bit as she thinks most people are relatively balanced on the giver/taker continuum. I do know a few that seem balanced, but most folks I know are predominantly one or the other, and, I think, takers outweigh givers. Maybe because I have lived with so many takers and glad to love a fellow giver, I see the world more polarized in this area.

We all know takers, and while no one is always 100% a giver or taker, I have found that most takers only give when expedient for themselves. Many are narcissistic, but not all narcissists are flagrant takers. Where ever they are on the “taker spectrum,” I do not find takers ever having any doubts or concerns about being a taker; when deemed necessary to give, I see them as self-centered givers. While there have to be some, I have not come across any recovering takers.

I find that givers do reluctantly take at times, but only when they think it absolutely necessary. I know; been there, done that. So it is not surprising to me that, if my friend is a giver, she would not reached out during her recovery time to request something for herself. My wife is a “pretty much” a recovered giver; we jokingly call our tendencies to fall back into being a full giver, the “Chip and Dale” syndrome. After you, oh no, no, no, after you! Oh, no, no, no, I insist, after you! Etcetera!

Neither of us has lived with a predominant giver before and, while certainly not making us uneasy, it was very different! As I have said before, different is not either good or bad, but it can be somewhat disconcerting! We checked each other out in the way we were most comfortable. Being from Human Resources, she had me take the Myers-Briggs before getting serious!

Being a psychologist, I made us do a giver exercise; one of us talks for three minutes, saying all the wonderful things we like about the other and then switch. The one listening cannot say anything, just receive, and then it switches back for as many rounds as needed before running out of accolades for the other. Pure hell for a giver to sit and accept all those compliments without responding!

I initially theorized that givers do not like receiving because we think that will make us a taker, an anathema to our existence. But, as I have found out, that is incorrect. In the end, we givers cannot unconditionally give what we do not choose to sometimes receive. I call this healthy selfishness or healthy taking. So maybe we givers are not scared to be takers, we are just uncomfortable receiving!

Like Barb says, maybe some naturally fall in the middle, neither a taker or a giver. Are they simultaneously both naturally, or are there many more recovering givers/takers than I am aware? I do not know, but I will have to be more observant to find more normally balanced takers/givers!

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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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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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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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Yoga Festival Thoughts

When evaluating my thoughts on a strange or different event I have witnessed or a subject I learned about from a client, I often wonder when an observation turns into judgment? This is especially true when the client is reporting something in them or happened that society seems “bad” or “wrong.” I try to keep in mind a Shakespeare quote from Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

This observation/judgment issue has come up quite a bit in the media these days, what with the political talk on both sides and how the other is “bad!” It also came up for me personally several days ago when my wife and I spent a few days at Lake Tahoe celebrating our birthdays. While driving around the lake, we read in a local rag about a yoga event happening in Squaw Valley called Wanderlust 2016. It bills itself as “Our festivals are all-out celebrations of mindful living.”

Wanderlust offers education on yoga practice, classes, music, and food. We headed there on a Saturday and mainly walked around the booths, but also listened to a positive message rap band, interesting! The booths seemed to break down to about 50% clothing, 30% food, and 20% yoga equipment or art.

What had me thinking if I was judging was the materialism of the clothing, equipment, and art; everything was quite expensive. So, is this a judgment or an observation? These entrepreneurs had to pay a fee and need to put food on their table, but it seemed a bit counter to the “mindful living” pledge.

I have written before that I am an interesting mix of traditional and eclectic; well I am VERY traditional when it comes to yoga. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think all yoga is healthy and beneficial; however, I practice a style that is quite traditional and minimalistic, adhering to a strict interpretation of the Yoga Sutras. I show up in comfortable shorts and shirt with my sticky mat, a sweat mat, and a hand towel (even the latter is sometimes looked upon with askance!).

No music and very little socializing, just focus, breath, and movement. Again, I think I wrote about this also (too many blogs to remember!), but enough focus that I was a third of the way through my practice ten years ago before I noticed that Julia Roberts was across from me! These are some of what translates into mindfulness to me, not the newest yoga clothes or fad.

Judgment or observation, inquiring minds want to know? I was with a colleague last week that suggested a way to know was to ask myself, “What was my energy around these thoughts?” Maybe a little sad and dismayed, but there was also a bit of excitement and wonder at some of the innovations in mats and styles. I am guessing that, since I was not upset, I was not judging; at least I hope so!

Of course, eating great food, much of it free handouts, is sure to take the edge of anything!

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Stored Body Emotions

As you can see from my website, one of my specialties is Somatic Psychology, how issues are held in the body. Emotions are separate from our physical and mental bodies in that they are signposts that provide a window into our inner psyche, but that are also intimately connected to both the physical and mental bodies.

This is somewhat easy to see for the mental construct, if we experience strong negative emotions about something, we will label it “bad” and try to not place ourselves in a position to experience those same emotions again and the opposite is true for positive emotions. Less well understood is how emotions are held in the body.

I explain this by saying to imagine we are talking and, with no warning, I lunge at you. Naturally, your limbic brain will perceive this as a threat and before your cortex can interject that maybe I am playing some joke on you, your body will respond in a flight, fight, freeze, or feign death response, usually the former two unless the threat is perceived as too huge to even respond.

Another example that I sometimes use is when we round a corner and a child jumps out and yells, “boo!” Either way, your body will tense up to either move away from or to absorb the seemingly eminent assault. Because the threat was not real, we will either end up laughing about it or you will get angry and yell at me; both responses involve releasing the pent up energy that momentarily flooded your body, dissipating it and the adrenaline and cortisol that was released into your body. Watch two dogs or cats after they engage in play fighting; they will shake to release that same energy from their bodies.

When energy from some trauma is not released, it is stored in the body. This is easily seen in what we call big “T” trauma, a sexual or physical assault that causes the person to freeze in the presence of the perpetrator. It can also be seen after a major car accident where the driver is frantically checking their rear view mirror or side windows searching for another possible vehicle about to hit him or her. Less noticeable, but just as present in the body, are small “t” traumas, such as constant minor bullying.

In a somatic psychotherapy session, this pent up energy from some small traumas can be easily released with various techniques, but that energy can also be released by physical movement, such as a massage, yoga, running, etc. Ask any long term massage therapist or yoga teacher and they will be able to tell you of a client/student that begins to softly weep during a session. It has happened to me and did so again the other morning.

Since I believe the passage in 1 Corinthian “For we are the temple of the living God,” I take care of my body, along with eating healthy, I usually exercise three time a week and practicing yoga three or four times. I believe in an earlier blog I related that eating healthy, moderate exercise, and eight hours of sleep could almost match the healing of any psychotropic drug prescribed for mild cases of depression, anxiety, etc.

So yesterday I was doing weight lifting for the chest, and a song came on the radio, “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks. This was one of my best friend’s favorite songs, along with “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli/Sara Brightman, and probably more mine than his, “Friends For Life” by Gary P. Nunn. The two country songs we would sing together whenever on the radio/CD or when attending a concert. Not only was “Friends in Low Places” playing while exercising, but it was a live recording, so extra long and included audience participation; both the length and hearing others sing along did me in!

Michael died about ten years ago, the brother I never had, and all these songs have been tough to hear and not cry, but I have gotten better at not bawling in public with time passing. Further, his passing came at a time when I was committed to really living life, to stop being a middle of the roader. That way of living was safe, never having to experience real pain, but it also blunted any real happiness. Really opening up to what I felt when Michael died was excruciating, and it also helped me relish all the good times.

As the old saying goes, time heals all wounds, but an extended live version, coming in the middle of exercise concentrating where my heart resides, it was too much; grief overwhelmed and I lost it. Even with all the releasing of that trauma around his death that I have done over the years, there is still a hole in my heart that I can fall into ten years later.

Further, here I was presented with a diametrically opposing conflict, my authentic-self wanting to grieve and the social mask of “be a man,” “don’t cry in public,” and, worse, in front of someone I only know only in a business setting, my personal trainer half my age! Luckily, I defaulted to my authentic-self, although I was helped somewhat by the fact that we were alone in a back room! Even while tearing up, I could still feel the battle going on between letting it out and conforming to social norms. I was grateful that I honored Michael, all our shared experiences, and myself. I am also grateful that my trainer was aware of how powerful shared auditory experiences during concentrated exertions can bring forth a release of stored emotions and that he honored my loss.

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Binge Music Favorites

Over the last few months, I have had an opportunity to engage in “binge” listening to some of my favorite performers. I do this usually when driving for many hours by myself and I will go through an artist’s entire collection that I have on iTunes. This first happened last year when driving home from the birth of my granddaughter and I listened to Chris Wall.

Chris is a Texas singer-songwriter that writes what I call Texas country, but others call progressive country or Americana. Nothing like the pabulum that comes out of Nashville; in fact, he has a verse in a song that states, “I’d rather be a fence post in Texas than the king of Tennessee!” I agree! I once heard that the reason Nashville country all sounds the same is they market test every song on a scale from 1-5, throwing out all 1s and 5s; turns out those are people on the tails of the bell curve and tend to either hate or love songs, but not in between. I fall into that group!

So, here I was in music heaven tooling down the highway listening to Chris and, ironically, stopped in his hometown of Austin about the time I finished all his albums! Despite his talent and repertoire, like another Texas singer-songwriter Ray Wiley Hubbard, he is known for one wacky, not-so-great (at least in my opinion!) song that another group got on the Country Top-40 chart!

Speaking of my opinion, I know my tastes in music are strange, but then I guess in many ways I am too! I recently sent an email to a British colleague to ask him a cultural question in which I described myself as, “an eclectic mix of anti-USA puritanical thinking, quaint southern US/Texas charm and traditionalism, progressivism, and roll-your-eyes New Ager” and my music reflects that.

The easiest way to describe what I like is to do so in the negative; I do not like any “hard” portions of genres, be it rock, jazz, country, R&B, classical, etc. Further, my favorites really do not fall into so much an individual ranking, but more by grouping. I like Texas Country, New Age, and World music the best, and then Rock, the rest of Americana next, followed by Jazz, Classical, and Alternative. I know, the definition of eclectic!

On Facebook, I have seen posts that ask, “If stranded on a deserted island and you could only listen to one performer/group, who would it be?” Up until now, I have always answered Yanni, but he has just been the first among many equals. Right beside him are Brian Crain, George Winston, David Anthony, Suzanne Ciani, Enya, and my new favorite, Paul Cardell, but they are only in the New Age group!

In the Texas group (every bit as much “top tier” as New Age and along with Chris Wall, I love Michael Hearne (he, Shake Russell, and Jimmy Stadler wrote the song Suz and I chose as our father/daughter wedding dance!), Gary P. Nunn, Shake, Tish Hinojosa, and Michael Martin Murphey (his early music, not so much his new albums). Under  the World genre, it is Jessie Cook (some call is music Jazz), Rondo Veneziano, Bau, Willie & Lobo, and Isreal Kamakawiwo’ole (okay, he probably should be in Americana, but I have him in World!).

There are no real Jazz, Classical, and Alternative performers I am really excited about, but in Rock, there are, of course, the Beatles, Beach Boys, ELO, the Moody Blues, CCR, and ABBA. Yes, I know some of you are gagging and going to quit reading with the mention of ABBA, but it is true, if stuck on a deserted island, I would be just a happy always listing to them.

I feel they have great lyrics and tunes and on a recent long flight, I got many of them in! Hate the movie, but love the play, Momma Mia, seeing it several times. So that is my life in the music fast lane. Now if I could only 2-Step to Angel Eyes!

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The Art of Asking

“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.” Lou Holtz

This morning, as I was walking the dogs out to the end of the driveway to collect the papers, a young fellow on his way to high school slowed, rolled down his window, and said, “You have a couple of great Irish Wolfhounds!” I thanked him and mentioned they are Labradoodles. As he pulled away, I thought back to my own teen years and remembered clearly how important it was to me at that time to sound learned.

This isn’t to condemn the young guy for stepping out and making a statement. In fact, I find many young people are reticent to talk to people they don’t know, so kudos to him for acting neighborly and communicating! Nor was he completely off the mark, we have had many people think that they were either Irish or Russian wolfhounds; being first generation Labradoodles, they do not have curly fur like the later generations. Being an educated guess, I definitely would not put him into the category of the Abraham Lincoln quote I used in an earlier blog, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

I also do not know for certain that this teen was doing what I did back when I was his age, that is my own bias, but I do see it in many teens, especially boys. And although many times it indicates low self-esteem when we present ourselves as an authority, as was the case in my life before my 50s, I have no idea that this was the case this morning. However it does point to something that I have learned and could benefit many people.

As I have also mentioned in past blogs, our perceptions in life our totally dependent upon our experiences. We see, hear, think, and expect what we have already experienced. As we have already learned much by the time we are teens (but not near as much as we think at that age!), it is natural to delineate the vast amount of information that we are receiving through our senses, pigeonholing that information into easier to understand categories. Even when faced with something totally new, our brains are constantly searching to find like patterns from the past.

Unfortunately, this can result into what is called a closed system, categorizing new experience that we have into an old familiar group, and then shutting out the possibility of there being a different explanation for that experience. An open system, while it might initially categorize a new experience like one from the past, is open to the possibility that that categorization is incorrect and seeks clarification. Too many of us fall into the former closed system.

That is because, whether real or perceived, the older portion of our brain is constantly searching for threats. This closed system helps us to survive, let’s a look at an easy example. If we lived in Africa and had seen a female lion attack another human, and then we happen to chance meeting a jaguar, the older portion of our brain does not want the newer, thinking and analyzing brain to wonder, “gosh, I wonder if this new animal that looks like that lioness, really is a kinder, gentler kind of cat? Our limbic brain quickly categorizes the jaguar as being sufficiently like the lioness, despite the differ color, as a threat to our safety, energizing us to flee.

The key to learning as we get older, is to revert back to our early developmental ages and question everything. Utilize the positive aspects of a closed system, but recognize that it may be closed. Treat every experience as if it were new; allow the limbic brain to do its work of comparing and categorizing, but then question the process. Had the young guy this morning done this, he might have stated and then questioned, “You have a couple of great looking dogs; they look like Irish Wolfhounds, are they?”

This inquiry is fairly benign as it dealt with my dogs, and did not reflect specifically on me. What if, however, someone makes a statement about you that you categorize as hurtful when in the other person’s mind they are actually paying you a compliment? We all have had the thought, “what did he mean by that?” Having a closed system keeps us from enjoying the differences in people. I have a friend that I met in a spiritual setting that, had I not met him there, was so different from me that I quite possibly would have dismissed him as a flake. Not allowing myself to be a closed system, I got to know this person, and we had many enjoyable experiences over the years.

This lets us draw on our experience, while still keeping our thought system open in order to continue learning. Keeping in mind that when we apply our categorizations to others without asking questions, we do not allow ourselves to really know the other person. As I have stated before, we can use “I” statements and questions to inquire without putting our interpretation on the other; then, keeping an open mind (system) and really listening without judgment, we will enjoy a more complete understanding of the other person.

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