Thoughts.

“The good life is a process, not a state of being.” – Carl Rogers

I was listening to  a recording of the great cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, give an interview. The interviewer, Krista Tippett of On Being, said to him that it sounds as if he chooses joy as a way of being after he shared with her that he believes optimism to be a philosophy.

Our thoughts, emotions and behaviors intersect and impact each other.  We also have the capacity to change any one of these things, if we so choose to, so that we can affect the other two.

In my meditation tradition we call this correcting one’s intellect.  In the therapy world, we might put it under the umbrella of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), but it’s really at the heart of many therapeutic techniques. If I continue on with the meditation example, I can tell you that not only does meditation help us gain a greater acceptance of our thoughts as simply thoughts and allow us to not stick to any one thought so rigidly, but meditation also clears stress from one’s physiology. So perhaps I’ve changed a behavior, but what happens if I haven’t changed my thoughts? Let’s say I’m still pretty grumpy about much of what happens in life and have an overall negative lens on most things. Well, I’m just adding more stress to my physiology, creating more work for the meditation. And so I’d probably say, you’re not really getting anywhere are you?

It’s a little like trying to lose weight. Ideally, what’s needed is healthy food, good exercise, an affirmation and acceptance of oneself in the moment and a belief in one’s ability to make progress.  In my personal experience and observing others, this generally works. People lose the weight. But what about the ones who keep the weight off many years down the road? As we know many people gain the weight back. They are the ones who have fundamentally changed the way they THINK about being healthy and a healthy lifestyle. They do it because they want to increase their health span (how long one lives in a healthy state vs. life span, simply how long one lives) and they know that good health underlies almost everything else in their lives.

So when people say they want to be happy, I think, yes, you can DO many things to bring you happiness, but it is a process and it is a choice every day. Choosing joy is not always easy and it’s not just covering up the hard stuff that’s going on, but it’s re-framing the hard stuff and looking at it from a different point of view.

 

Connection.

 “It’s the relationship that heals.” -Irvin Yalom

I met an old friend for coffee yesterday. In person. For coffee. Somehow this is a rather novel idea these days with social media fooling us into believing we’re more connected to others than reality would say. Don’t get me wrong, social media has its pros. I have friends around the world that I simply can’t just pop in to have coffee with on any given day of the week, and so it is nice to see some portion of their lives from time to time.  But, that said, the downside of social media is that we can often believe we know our friends, or know what’s happening in their lives, by just a few brief posts or photographs.  Perfect example, just last week, I happened to post something and someone in my family said to me, “I had no idea you felt that way about that.” Hmmmm….this led to a real pause for thought, and a re-commitment to using social media in the way I feel most comfortable.

Irvin Yalom is basically the godfather of group psychotherapy, and I’m a big fan of many things he’s had to say over the years. He states it’s the relationship that heals and when it comes to therapy, I can tell you all sorts of modalities I might practice. Some of them may be meaningful to you, some may not, and at the end of the day, the thing that’s going to make therapy with me most useful to you is that we form a relationship, there is a good fit, and you trust me enough to help you walk the path. Training is important, yes, but what I find most draws people is authenticity and presence.

This is why so many forms of recovery, that are based on group models, work. It’s less about the dogma and the literature and more about the relationships that are formed that help people transform their lives. It’s about connection, and the kind of connection that brings meaning to our lives. This is why therapy works when the fit is right between therapist and client.

As I sat across from my friend yesterday, I realized how little I knew about her life beyond a screen showing me photos of her life, and just how lovely it was to see her face, the expressions on it, the voice, and the emotion that lies behind that. For this reason, I often have days where I’d like to just chuck the smart phone in a bin because I feel like they remove us from these very tangible experiences. We simply need more in-person connection because the world needs more healing.

 

 

 

 

Disruption.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neal Donald Walsch

This quote was on a magnet in my old office when I worked in Human Resources. Much of HR is discomfort, because it is just the nature of the job, and so it was a reminder for me to lean into the discomfort on a daily basis. The discomfort often had something to teach me, and admittedly I learned a lot about myself and other people as a result. It’s a little like learning to use that paddle board. You have to go through the discomfort of falling in a few times before you find just the right balance to stay on top.

I was recently directed to the podcast, Disrupt Yourself, so I listened to my first episode yesterday as I made a drive downtown. The premise of the show, as far as I can tell at least, is that each episode is an interview with someone who has made a major change in their life. They’ve created disruption – whether that be a change in themselves, their workplace, or their lives – and ended up on the other side, for the better. The episode I listened to was an interview with Pat Flynn, who lost his architecture job and became a successful online entrepreneur and digital marketer.  I finished the episode feeling inspired and reminded that we need to set big goals for ourselves and take the baby steps – and big leaps – to get there

But, I also contemplated what it is about disruption that scares most people?  The go-to answer might be a fear of failure, but I would also argue that it is often a fear of success. We don’t always believe that we deserve the best and so we keep ourselves locked into a mediocre “good enough” space because, yes, it is comfortable. But evolution doesn’t come from staying comfortable, it comes from putting ourselves in situations where we have to experience discomfort and exercise our skills of flexibility and resilience.

What is it that you’re too comfortable in at the moment?  A relationship dynamic, a career, a way of living? And, what do think it is that keeps you from disrupting the status quo?

I challenge you to consider how you might create a disruption in order to make space for creation to operate and something better to take hold. Set one big goal for yourself with a finite time frame and see what you can accomplish. Learn to fail. The worst that can happen when you fall in the water is that you just get back up on the board again, with more experience.

 

Life.

“Although life is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” – Helen Keller

Quite unfortunately, I’ve known about two incidents recently where people have taken their own lives. They were not clients of mine, thank goodness, but people in my extended community. People who had families and left behind not only people who loved them, but also many questions. Questions that may not ever be answered. For whatever reason, these two incidents have left me contemplating. Contemplating the suffering that these individuals must have felt and a deep empathy for them and their families. Truly, it must have been insurmountable in their minds – as I sat here holding my newborn, thinking that I can’t imagine ever intentionally leaving her behind without me.

When I was interviewing for my counseling internship in grad school many years ago, this topic came up and the two people I’d be working for and I got into a great discussion around exactly how preventable we believe suicide to be – in other words, once someone has come to the conclusion that there is only one way out, is there truly much any of us can do about it?  Now, this is not to say that I, as counselor or friend or family member, wouldn’t do everything in my power to prevent it. Of course I would as most anyone would. But, I also know that much in this life is outside of our control, including other people’s thought and actions.  It’s a sensitive subject, but despite all the preventative measures we might put in place, people can still do the unthinkable.

What I most want people to understand though is that we all have a responsibility to notice the people around us to the best of our ability. Take more time to look people in the eye and ask how their day is going – look for any changes in behaviors, attitudes, emotions and actions. This can even include someone who is struggling for a very long time who suddenly seems to be doing just fine –  it’s not a bad thing, but we need to understand the sudden change. We need to be supportive of people getting the help they need, if they need it, whether though psychotherapy or psychiatry.  Give people resources and outlets for help and acknowledge how it is more than okay to ask for help – keep shame and stigma at bay.

Remember: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

 

Luck.

“We have an infinite number of reasons to be happy, and a serious responsibility not to be serious.” – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

 

Two years ago, in March, I bought these baby clothes. Someone had given me the idea of “if you build it, they will come” when it comes to conceiving a child – in other words, buy some baby clothes, baby stuff, and keep it around – perhaps the baby gods will look kindly upon you and bestow you with that little bundle you’ve been so desperately hoping to receive.

A year later, which is a year ago, my husband and I sat in a doctor’s office, after some brief medical intervention, and he told us you have a less than 1% chance of having a child and there isn’t anything more we can do for you. Being in my early 40s, I wasn’t all together surprised, but I was still heart-broken. I had always envisioned being a mother. So, being the therapist and believer in personal growth that I am, I did the work. The grief work. I let go. Day-by-day, moment-by-moment. I performed little rituals in line with my spiritual beliefs, and told the baby gods, whatever it was they did or didn’t have in store for me, not only would I survive, but I would thrive. Because…well, that’s just what I do. In fact, I even took those baby clothes and put them in a chest from my husband’s home in Africa and wrapped them up in my stepsons’ baby blankets. A burial of sorts. And, in case you miss it, those are clovers on those baby clothes.

So June rolled around and we got married. July rolled around and I had this funny feeling and so I bought a pregnancy test. It was positive. I went to the doctor. That test was positive. Having known this doctor for close to twenty years, I said, “This is crazy. We were told we had less than a 1% chance.” He said…”Well, this just might be your 1%.”

He was right. It was our 1% and, believe it or not, our daughter was born on St. Patrick’s Day this year. That’s right, St. Patrick’s Day. Could I have taken out these baby clothes and put them on her?  My husband found them at one point and asked if I planned to use them. I told him those baby clothes would stay right where they are for now, and probably quite some time to come.

Call it luck, call it karma, call it a miracle, it happened.

Now, this isn’t everyone’s story, but the point is, I let go and even if this story hadn’t ended this way, I was at peace with whatever the outcome might be.

May you find your own peace.