Archive for the ‘Monica Myers’ Category.

Gracious Gratitude, Doorway to the Divine

Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.

Kahlil Gibran

After three weeks of rain, cooler temperatures and lingering cloud cover, I am certain I am not alone in my swelling gratitude for the sunshine, warmth, and abundance of lush green that have graced our home these past few days. And a meditation on “gratitude” seems an appropriate way to bring to a close my time blogging for People House.

The dictionary defines gratitude as thankfulness (Merriam-Webster), yet this definition falls short of capturing our human experience of the phenomenon.  Dr. Alan Morinis, a popular lecturer on the Jewish Mussar tradition, described gratitude as, “Making something of beauty out of what we do have, incomplete as it may be.”  I love this definition as it suggests an active intention or willing participation. Gratitude may describe more of a way of being or relating to the world, a gracious attitude or experience of acceptance of what life offers and a general state of thankfulness for life: gracious gratitude.

The feeling of gratitude is very much experienced in the body and is located in the heart.  One of Untitled-1my students once wrote, “gratitude:  smiles, smiles, smiles from the heart.” I experience gratitude as a pleasant tickling sensation that begins in the heart and expands with warmth throughout the rest of my body. Gratitude also seems to have the quality of slowing time down so that one is aware or conscious of the unfolding of reality.  The experience of gratitude has the temporal quality of illuminating the present moment so that one can remember one’s connection to the larger creative process that is unfolding.  When you acknowledge gratitude, it sends forth more generosity into the world.  I am reminded of the movie Pay It Forward whose premise is that if we all perform individual acts of kindness or generosity, we may influence with our intentionality and willing action, the collective fortune of humanity. 

Gratitude is truly a doorway to the divine.

Henry Ward Beecher stated, “Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” When we delve deeper into the experience of gratitude, it takes on a transformative quality. Gratitude helps us get over our limiting self absorption; it helps us get over placing ourselves at the center of everything, and instead emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things. In this way we sense the expansion in our hearts and in our bodies.

Since gratitude reveals life as a gift, it elevates and expands our consciousness.  It connects us with respect and awe for the hugeness and beauty of life and its meaning. It may be described as a coming home or returning to a primal state of divine bliss; the realization or remembrance of our interconnectedness in the unfolding creation and our place in the loving universe. Gratitude acknowledges a connection to the divine, the world God created encompassing oneself and the community.  Being thankful can many times be humbling.  In this space all is in harmony; there is no discord or separation or alienation—only the realization of being part of this glorious creation. From a Christian perspective one might imagine that gratitude returns us to the Garden of Eden. One individual described the freedom that touches her, “when you are thankful, it releases the guilt.” 

Recognizing that life is a gift is transformative—it gives life meaning.  In its purest and highest form, gratefulness calls forth love. “It makes you feel loved and love for the world” one of my students wrote.  When gratitude is recognized or experienced, the world gives back to you an awareness that you are being given something—the world is a gift and you are loved. Johannes A. Gaertner stated, “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.”

As a collective experience, how does the phenomenon of gratitude exist in the world today? Is it more of a challenge today to invite gratitude into our lives? 

It does not seem to go with our hectic daily lives, our self-absorption and our to-do lists.  It’s much bigger—it opens one up to generosity and interconnection and is not supported by over-identification with the ego. As one of my college students so revealingly stated, “Most people don’t stop to think that their life is great.”  It may be harder today to access gratitude in a commercialized world because in a world of profit there is never enough. We are always left wanting; the gifts go unnoticed.

As the living earth reveals humanity’s ingratitude for the life-giving sustenance we are dependent on, my hope is that we wake up to the gifts that are before us.

As Robert Sardello stated in his Meditation on Silence, “we may be shocked to notice that we had not even realized we had lost ourselves.” Gratitude exists in a dynamic relationship with the world and the movement of gratitude can deliver us from the bondage and suffocation of our attempts at control and domination.  Gratitude in present time can create a vision for tomorrow. To quote another student of mine, “Thank you goes a very long way, to a place deep in our hearts that just explodes with joy.”

We are all lacking something, and so we are all challenged to answer the question: Do we have the attitude of making something of beauty out of what we do have, incomplete as it may be?  This attitude may assist us in achieving greater fulfillment in our lives.

 

When words fail – Monica Myers

Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” He was definitely on to something.Untitled-1

 I am not an artist myself, and for the record, I’d like to put as much categorical space between me and Picasso as possible, when it comes to artistic talent and accomplishment. To be sure, even mentioning myself and such a genius in the same sentence makes me tremble.  Enough said—this discussion is not about artistic accomplishment or success. It is not even about a product, per se. It is about the process— the process of engaging in art as therapy. And, like myself, you don’t need to know a thing about art to do it or benefit from it.

As a therapist and a person with over 40 years of life experience, I intuitively know that art therapy works. I’ve seen clients heal themselves while I was merely a witness to their creative process. I am amazed at how healing can occur naturally and spontaneously—like we are hard wired to instinctively know how to heal ourselves, but sometimes we need to get out of our own way. Art is really powerful in this respect. Art can bypass our discursive and grasping mind to get to a deeper more intuitive place. Carl Jung stated, “Often it is necessary to clarify a vague content by giving it visible form…Often the hands know how to solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”

Although I intuitively understand that art therapy works, I still struggle to answer the question of how.  The easiest answer is perhaps that words often fail to capture our lived experience. While telling our story can be helpful, it often falls short in facilitating the processing of our feelings. Children frequently don’t have the vocabulary to express their experience and emotions. Art therapy works by giving a person a different way to express their thoughts and feelings – both through the image they create and the physical aspect of making the art.  Art can also be viewed as a “language” and its lexicon is that of the symbol.  Symbols, metaphors, dreams and wishes all have their origins in the unconscious.  Because art uses symbols, it can be an effective way to access the unconscious where a lot of our deeper truths reside.  Marion Woodman, a psychoanalyst, believed that when we attune to our psyche, images emerge that provide direction for our innate healing process. She stated:

 Since the natural gradient of the psyche is toward wholeness, the Self will attempt to push the neglected part forward for recognition.

 In this sense, art can act like a portal or a bridg, e from ordinary reality to an inward mind-body state that is deeply healing; a place where an individual has the power to envision, create, change, heal, and grow. In our imagination, we can glimpse images that heal us; it is the process of working with these images that is so powerful.

 Today, advances in neuroscience and psychobiology are helping us to clarify the benefits of creative arts therapies. While verbal and cognitive processing skills are mostly left brain activities, memory and images involve largely right brain processing. Art therapy works with images, but it is also a sensory experience as it involves a variety of tactile and kinesthetic activities. This sensory stimulation has many benefits for children and adults alike, particularly when it comes to healing trauma.

 Bessel van der Kolk’s research on the impact of trauma (2006) suggests that highly charged emotional experiences are encoded by the limbic system and right brain as sensory memories. Consequently, expression and processing of these memories on a sensory level is an important part of successful intervention. For some individuals, conveying a memory or story through one or more expressive modalities is more easily tolerated than verbalization, which can be re-traumatizing. Current thinking about trauma supports the use of more sensory-based interventions such as art therapy because they are predominately right brain driven.  Additionally, non-verbal expression through painting, play, or other imaginative activity may offer a corrective experience, in and of itself, for some people.

 MRI and PET imaging has further provided proof that art therapy has a positive effect psychologically and emotionally, precisely because it affects the wiring in the brain.  Studies have revealed that when someone imagines doing something like playing in an ocean wave or riding a bicycle, those areas of the brain involved in actually doing the activity light up.  Drawing or making an image is more powerful than simply imagining it.  It can and does make lasting changes in the brain.

 This knowledge of the brain has powerful implications for our daily lives and in terms of succeeding at reaching our individual goals. When we can imagine things, we can dream life forward. In other words, imagining something is the first step in manifesting it. If you can imagine yourself receiving that promotion, for example, actually creating a concrete image of yourself in that particular context in some form will help you to manifest the situation in real life. If you can’t see yourself doing something in your mind’s eye, you can’t make it happen. Therefore, working with imagery becomes a powerful tool for rehearsing and channeling our intentions. There’s something inherently spiritual or sacred about it…prayer, art and healing all come from the same source.

 Art therapy benefits the average person. In reality, everyone is an artist, possessing the capacity to imagine and to express imagination; and everyone has the capacity to heal him or herself through the creative process.

 

Monica Myers, MPH, MA, LPCC is a therapist who helps facilitate healing creative processes for her clients. Find out more about Monica and her practice online at the Boulder Art Therapy Collective.

Contact Monica:
monimyers69@gmail.com

Fluid and Flawed – Monica Myers

The concept is a bit of an oxymoron. A flawed human being…and a saint?

 I recently watched the movie St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray.  Bill Murray plays a retired curmudgeon who befriends 12 year old Oliver, a lonely kid who gets bullied by a bigger classmate. As his single mom tries to make ends meet, Oliver spends more and more time with his “old man” neighbor and the two form an unlikely bond. Oliver begins to see in Vincent something that no one else is able to: a misunderstood man with a good heart. In the touching conclusion (spoiler alert!!), Oliver chooses Vincent as his subject for a school assignment on saints. The movie is a bit sentimental—it is Hollywood after all–but it is a sweet reminder of a potent lesson—we are all flawed human beings. And despite our flaws, we are good and loveable.

 As spiritual people, we often strive, mistakenly, for some sense of perfectionism.  We think that if we commit to leading a spiritual life that that should equate to an absence of more ‘profane’ experiences. If we are truly on the path, we tell ourselves, our life should be all bliss, and happiness, and peace, right? Certain emotional experiences, like anger, fear, irritation, distress, or depression, don’t look spiritual to us, and we don’t want to experience them. In fact, we go to great lengths to deny, hide, displace, ignore, medicate and reframe them. We berate ourselves for feeling them.  But are we really serving ourselves by labeling such emotional states as ‘negative’ and unhealthy? Is perfectionism really the true goal?

We grow up in a culture that teaches us to judge, label and categorize our emotional experiences as positive and negative. This discrimination has taught us to resist what doesn’t feel good. Recently, though, a deeper understanding of our emotional experience is beginning to reveal itself as we realize how intimately emotions are intertwined with our health and wellness.

Neuroscientists, therapists, psychiatrists, and the world’s leading health and wellness experts agree that unprocessed life experience and emotions are held in our nervous system as stress. In this sense, there is wisdom in emotions.  Matthew Hutson states the following in the January/February 2015 edition of Psychology Today:

We have the wrong idea about emotions. They’re very rational; they’re means to help us achieve goals important to us, tools carved by eons of human experience that work beyond conscious awareness to direct us where we need to go. They identify trouble or opportunity and suggest methods of repair or gain. They are instruments of survival; in fact, we would have vanished long ago without them.

Emotions are a record of our past experience; they constitute our subconscious speaking and are stored in the body when they build up and are denied expression. Trapped emotional energy will often result in physical dysfunction. Over time, when emotions are consistently suppressed, this affects our immune system, levels of anxiety, and our ability to be our best selves.

The American Medical Association (AMA) estimates that 80 percent of all health problems are stress related, and even the conservative Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that 85 percent of all diseases appear to have an emotional element. Our emotional baggage may literally sabotage our health.

The irony/paradox of the ‘perfection myth’ is that as we open spiritually, the emotional places that are still congealed or triggering will naturally arise more into our consciousness and demand our attention. The only way out is for us to look at, respect, sit with and embody these unprocessed experiences. So, the idea of achieving some kind of ‘perfection’ as a human being, free from uncomfortable emotion, can actually get in the way of our spiritual maturation and alienate us from ourselves and other people.

What would it be like to let go of this ideal of perfection, this striving to be something we are not and attempting to ‘fix’ ourselves? What would it look like to surrender to our “perfect imperfections” and… to just be ‘ourselves’? What would happen if we moved closer to these places we’ve been trying to overcome, and met them with an attitude of welcome friendliness? Yes, there would be discomfort and vulnerability. But ultimately, you might find that your life takes on a new quality of expansiveness, richness and vitality. When we stop striving, we start living. The truth is, there is beauty in sorrow and without it, how would we come to know joy?

 Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets, wrote:

 Someone I loved

once gave me

a box full of darkness.

 It took me years

To understand

that this, too

was a gift.

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 Personally, I am learning to give more space to my emotional expression in real time; I appreciate how embodying emotion reveals the truth about my lived experience and my relationship to others and the world.

Many of us are afraid of feelings, especially the so-called negative ones. We are afraid that if we allow ourselves to feel pain or loneliness that it will last forever. But, feelings are by nature impermanent and changeable; I see them as gifts from the heart. And I now understand more fully how experiencing the repressed ones is a necessary part of the healing process—how untangling and unwinding liberates us. The truth is, we are all frequently, fabulously flawed.

 

 

Monica Myers, MPH, MA, LPCC is a teacher and therapist currently accepting new clients. She has offices in Boulder, Denver and Golden. She invites your comments, questions and responses. Find out more about Monica and her practice online at the Boulder Art Therapy Collective.

 

Contact Monica:
monimyers69@gmail.com
720-378-6603. 

 

Drawing Strength from the Goddess Archetype: Part 2 of 2 – Monica Myers

Feminine power isn’t something we go out and acquire; it’s already within us. Its something we become willing to experience. Something to admit we have. –Marianne Williamson

 

I remember encountering for the first time images of the Goddess when I was an undergraduate student taking an anthropology class. I was shocked to learn that goddess mythology predated Christianity by thousands and thousands of years. I had never heard of a goddess cosmology until then. In fact, the Great Goddess, before she was split into many different forms, is one of the most ancient symbols historians and archeologists have discovered, dating as far back as 30,000 B.C. when the first sculptures of bone, ivory or stone appeared. For me, she is the ultimate proof that an older grace and wisdom exists and is available to us today. Her image holds a key to the healing of our fractured souls.

 When you think of the feminine, what first comes to mind? Physical beauty? Nurturing? Submissiveness? Weakness? Feelings? Birthing? Sugar, spice, and everything nice?

The feminine archetype is especially misunderstood in our era, today.  Marion Woodman notes that “noisy literalism” now characterizes the struggle between the “ready-made masculine” and the “ready-made feminine.” A more authentic understanding of the concepts of “masculine” and “feminine” does not actually associate them with biological gender. In fact, a young woman may not be entirely at home with the feminine, just as a man may be intimidated by his own masculine energy.

 Similarly, a return to the Goddess is not about destroying the patriarchal ego, rather it’s about embracing the tension of opposites in a healthy, conscious and balanced way. 

As Woodman states, “The feminine is the instrument of recognition of the masculine, as the masculine is the instrument of recognition of the feminine.  The one is present in the other as the instrument of consciousness itself.” Carl Jung, too, believed that individual wholeness was dependent on balancing each within us.

In addition to embodying hope for a harmonious global existence, the Goddess has taught me many things about how to live my life. Briefly, I mention them here.

  •  Body as a source of the numinous. The Goddess has taught me to honor my body as sacred. According to the Great Goddess, the spiritual and the physical are two aspects of the same reality. The Goddess is embodied in every living thing; spirit is immediate and actual, not something earned later. Our bodies are a living source of the divine feminine, so connection to our bodies, equates to connection with the divine. This contrasts our cultural norm and practice of living primarily in our heads; of attempting to transcend our bodily existence.

 

  • Respect and honor for nature. The Goddess’s own body is the universe. Her image represents nature and the interdependence of the natural world. Humans, animals and plants are all seen as connected through the process of seasonal awakening, growing, fattening, and dying; the life force, growing powers and the death instinct are recognized as dwelling in all living things; therefore all of nature is sacred. Accordingly, as humans, our very existence is tied to the health and existence of other species and the planet as a whole.

 

  • Life on earth is constant transformation. Among her lessons is that the essence and beauty of life is a cosmic dance of perpetual and rhythmic change between creation and destruction, birth and death; there is no new life without death, both literally and metaphorically. If we want to change and grow emotionally and spiritually, we must let go of something, something within us must die.

 

  • Being okay with the unknown/resting in mystery. The true feminine knows life is cyclical and full of mystery and the unknown, and that security is achieved, not in materialism, but in spiritualism. In my experience, accepting this reality lessens anxiety about the future and cultivates a greater sense of presence, faith, trust and vitality. After all, all things are born of the dark.

This is challenging to write because I can hardly do justice to the fullness and richness, the rigor and dimension of the divine feminine in one short blog.  Above all, the Goddess inspires me to align my life with my heart. When we fail to listen to our heart and soul’s yearning, we are sleepwalking through life.  I don’t want to be a walking dead.  From a metaphorical standpoint, it’s curious that our culture has a current fascination with them.

We live in interesting times. Well-known and respected mythologist Joseph Campbell stated, “we are the ‘ancestors’ of an age to come, the unwitting generators of its supporting myths, the mythic models that will inspire its lives. In a very real sense, therefore, this is a moment of creation.”

There are no models for anything that is going on today. The old models are not working, and the new have not yet appeared. This is our present challenge: it is up to us to shape the new into existence.

In this moment of creation, can we really afford to be bound by myths about the feminine that keep us small, unbalanced, and fractured?

 

Monica Myers, MPH, MA, LPCC is a teacher and therapist currently accepting new clients. She has offices in Boulder, Denver and Golden. She invites your comments, questions and responses.

 

Find out more about Monica and her practice online at the Boulder Art Therapy Collective.

 

Contact Monica:
monimyers69@gmail.com
720-378-6603.  

 

Drawing Strength from the Goddess Archetype: Part 1 of 2 – Monica Myers

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International Women’s Day, which has been celebrated around the world since the early 1900s, was this past Sunday. In honor of the occasion, I dedicate this reflection to the Goddess archetype and/or the divine feminine, which has provided hope, strength, identity, and inspiration to me personally on my journey.

Many would agree with me in arguing that our patriarchal culture in the west has relegated conscious femininity to a subservient position at best, and further limits it to the realm of women.

But, the divine feminine resides in all of us. To deny her is analogous to cutting off a limb.

Let me explain.

It is a myth that only females suffer under a patriarchy.  Suffering happens at a cultural level as well as an individual level for both women and men.  Our western culture’s over-identification with the masculine has led to a neurotic drive for power.  We see obvious manifestations of this today in civil and international wars and we also see it in a culture that emphasizes competition and materialism over family nurturing and community connection.  We see it in our dominance over other life forms and in the systematic destruction of the environment that sustains us.

Loss of community is pervasive today.  Marion Woodman, a Jungian analyst, relates the feminine to a loss of soul and consequently to a diminishing capacity for connection. According to Woodman, individuals who lack a concept and understanding of conscious femininity are “cut off from their connection to their own soul values…where the heart is no longer recognized.” 

Without a connection to soul, we can’t have meaningful connection to one another or compassion for the human condition and this “reverberates right through our culture.” 

Now, if I’ve thoroughly depressed you in considering this historical moment, you are not alone. I have depressed myself. I have struggled with the question: how do we deflect the nightmare of self-destruction and find hope today when the larger state of affairs often feels overwhelming and hopeless? For me, this is precisely where the image of the Goddess enters and works her healing magic. She helps me to dream life forward with love.

It’s no secret that images have enormous and often unconscious influence on us, as evidenced by the mass of visual media and advertising in our culture. Marion Woodman reminds us, “Through a physical image, metaphor reveals a spiritual truth or condition…” In this sense, the image of the Great Goddess has enormous power to heal and free our psyches.

Above all, the Goddess symbol embodies the remembrance and possibility of a beneficent universe and a reawakening of our hearts.  She helps me to imagine a universe full of abundance, the possibility of living in harmony with one another as brothers and sisters and in an intimate relationship with our life-sustaining planet. She has given me a dream, grounded in my long ago ancestors, of the opportunity to realize a deep communication with all of creation.

As Michael Meade states, “The real problem is a loss of faith in the dream of life and the immediacy of the spirit that animates the world.”

 

Stay tuned for part two of this blog, in which the specific qualities of the Goddess archetype are explored in greater detail.

 

Monica Myers, MPH, MA, LPCC is a teacher and therapist currently accepting new clients. She has offices in Boulder, Denver, and Golden. She invites your comments, questions, and responses at monimyers69@gmail.com or 720-378-6603.

Play: Not just for Kids – Monica Myers

The opposite of play is not work, it is depression. –Brian Sutton-Smith

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Brueghel: 1560

 

The New York Times magazine described it as “Deeper than gender, seriously but dangerously fun, and a sandbox for new ideas about evolution.”  What is it?

 Play.

Play is actually serious business. It is universal and timeless; and it is the most productive and enjoyable activity that children undertake.

Free, imaginative play is vital for normal social, emotional and cognitive development. We now have the scientific research to document the crucial role it plays in the healthy neurological development of children. Unstructured, imaginative play has many benefits: it helps build social skills, strengthens confidence, develops a self-concept, improves problem solving, promotes emotional regulation, teaches boundaries and self-awareness, and the list goes on and on. In summary, it makes us better adjusted, smarter and less stressed.

These benefits seem pretty obvious to anyone who has ever observed children on a playground, and one wonders why we need science to validate them. The fact is that unstructured play in America has decreased so alarmingly in the past decade that the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others, are defending play in formal statements and recommendations.

Are today’s kids in danger of missing out on something essential, or is this adult nostalgia because children are playing differently than we did?

While pondering this question and conducting research for the Child Development class I was teaching, I came across an interesting TED talk by Dr. Stuart Brown. Dr. Brown is trained in general and internal medicine, psychiatry and clinical research and is also the founder of the National Institute for Play. I was astounded to learn that we had an institute dedicated to research on play, and it certainly piqued my curiosity. I learned that Dr. Stuart Brown came to study play through research on murderers – strange as that sounds — after he found a stunning common pattern in killers’ stories: a serious play deprivation history in childhood. Since then, he’s interviewed thousands of people to catalog their relationships with play, noting a strong correlation between success and playful activity.

I was impressed with Dr. Brown’s TED talk and struck by several of the images. The first was the collection of compelling examples of play in the animal kingdom. He poses the convincing argument that play is a biological and evolutionary imperative. Brown called play part of the ‘‘developmental sequencing of becoming a human primate. If you look at what produces learning and memory and well-being, play is as fundamental as any other aspect of life, including sleep and dreams.’’ Further, he insinuates that play is essential for social connection and bonding as “the basis of human trust is established through play signals.” He argues that we have begun to lose these play signals as adults in modern culture as we increasingly relegate play to the realm of childhood. Hmm…what are the implications of this?

Second, he compels us to take a historical perspective, and think about the dramatic changes in culture over the recent past. He makes references to historical images from the 15th century that portray entire communities—adults and children alike—engaged in various types of play (see Brueghel’s painting above) and asks, have we lost something today?

Why are adults not playing anymore, or at least not playing with such frequency, freedom and abandon?

I was reminded of Dr. Brown’s argument that play is not just for children the other day. It was a Untitled-1Wednesday and I could not shake my lethargy and sluggishness; I felt down and unmotivated. I had been highly focused and engaged in my work over the past several days, returning home in the evenings to my computer, researching, answering emails, and engaged in work-related tasks. Suddenly it was mid-week, and I felt lusterless. I remember pondering my heaviness as I drove to a commitment to help facilitate a children’s art therapy workshop. The transformation of my mood soon startled me. Literally within moments of entering the space of play, I felt shaken out of my three-day slump. The six year olds’ play was full of spontaneity, spirit, and pure joy and I found myself feeling inspired and creative as I joined them.

I have no doubt that play changes the brain’s biochemical situation and that adults regularly need its intrinsic rewards. We tap into our own youthful energy when we connect with the spirit of play and there is nothing more restorative. In his TED talk, Stuart Brown talks about the importance of play in adults to unleash collaboration, innovation, engagement and productivity. Stuart Brown’s research shows play is not just joyful and energizing — it’s deeply involved with human development and intelligence. But don’t take my word for it—check out his TED talk at the link below and see for yourself.

 

I welcome your responses, questions, and curiosities. Please direct them to Monica Myers at monimyers69@gmail.com.

Got Sensitivity? Radical. – Monica Myers

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”Helen Keller

As a child, one of the messages I received fairly consistently was, “don’t be so sensitive!” and “you’re too sensitive.” Things deeply touched me. I teared up easily—whether it was in response to my older brother hurling insults at me, the suffering of a small furry creature, or the lonely and dejected 12-year-old protagonist in a book. My rich and complex inner life was sometimes mistaken for shyness. Over time, without realizing it, I adopted an underlying assumption that “something is fundamentally wrong with me” and I spent my young adulthood struggling to overcome this weakness.

We can go to great lengths to bury the fear that something is wrong with us and we rationalize it away. We may not even be aware we hold these damaging self-judgments. On the journey to wholeness, though, they will make themselves known, without a doubt.

Before I became a therapist, I taught for many years in the English Department at Front Range Community College. Early in my career, perhaps in my second year of teaching, I experienced a potent moment in class that I can still see with vivid distinctness in my mind’s eye. My Basic Composition students were work shopping polished drafts of their personal narrative essays in small groups. This was a class of struggling “developmental” writers who generally had never been praised for their writing. I wanted my students to realize they had a voice and that their voice mattered, that their stories were meaningful and offered us opportunities for connection.

Untitled-1Toward the end of class, I asked if anyone wanted to read their narrative aloud. After a pregnant pause, much to my surprise, a student who I knew was taking the course for the second time, volunteered to read his paper. Jamie stood up and began with a faltering voice that became more confident as his reading progressed. I looked around to see an engrossed class. He told the story of a drug deal gone very wrong on the hill in Boulder. He was with his best friend and they were young and stupid, he said. Even though I knew the tragic ending to this true story, I still was unprepared for the well of emotion that began arising in me like a wave. His best friend, just a teen, lost his life that night. Jamie stood there humbled and unsure of himself as he finished reading and the class was silent.

I can’t remember what exactly I said that day in response to the courage it took that young man to reveal himself and his pain, but I do know that I was unsuccessful in suppressing my tears. The lump in my throat gave way, and suddenly I found myself crying. In front of the whole class. I was horrified.

In a competitive and achievement oriented society, we are taught that there are certain expectations and best practices around professionalism in the workplace, including rationality. Emotionality certainly isn’t one of them. Of course, I knew this. And I had failed miserably.

Or so I thought.

In fact, my tears did surprise the class, but in a very positive way. The class began to understand how sharing their truth and witnessing others’ personal stories can weave us together. Jamie was stunned to learn that his words had the power to move other people. After I got over my initial embarrassment, the following period the class dropped to a whole new level. We were able to deepen our discussion. Things became more real.

This experience marked the beginning of my resolve to release my self-judgments and work toward accepting my sensitive nature. Because our habitual tendencies can be so ingrained, it takes inner resolve and active training of the heart and mind to change the trance of our negative self-judgments. They are like familiar old friends lurking in the background. We are used to having them around.

I love Tara Brach’s term for this resolve and practice:  Radical Acceptance. She states,

Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is….When we practice Radical Acceptance, we begin with the fears and wounds of our own life and discover that our heart of compassion widens endlessly. In holding ourselves with compassion, we become free to love this living world. This is the blessing of Radical Acceptance: As we free ourselves from the suffering of  “something is wrong with me,” we trust and express the fullness of who we are.

I have deepened my appreciation for my own watery nature and now view it as a gift.

I have learned that emotions have great wisdom.

Personally, allowing their full expression gives me a greater sense of freedom. Most of the time, I am no longer swimming upstream anymore. And if the authentic expression of my inner experience gives others permission to do the same, I am filled with gratitude. My sensitivity has evolved from a weakness into strong intuition and emotional intelligence.

I think it’s okay to reclaim human dignity with heartfelt compassion and tenderness. In fact, I would argue, given the stresses of our modern society, we need to offer this to others and ourselves more than ever. In what way could you begin practicing radical acceptance?

Monica Myers, MPH, LPCC is a therapist and educator practicing in both Denver and Boulder. She loves to hear from you—please email your comments, questions, and curiosities to monimyers69@gmail.com

Finding Your Own Rhythm – Monica Myers

monica blog

Dancing has saved me many times. I have danced through pain, confusion, insecurity and the blues. I have danced through lost friendships, unemployment, miscarriages, and a broken heart. I have danced alone, and I have danced in community. And of course, I have also danced in celebration, as an expression of joy.

 

I have not always danced. It took my ego a while—probably until my mid-twenties– to get over itself. I was self-conscious about the way I looked. I told myself that I didn’t know how to dance, or that I wasn’t a “good” dancer.  I imagined that everyone was watching and judging me. I sabotaged my body’s natural ability to move by convincing myself that I was awkward. The result was, not surprisingly, self-constraint and awkwardness. But I know now, that the presence or absence of awkwardness is beside the point. Movement invites the expression of the full range of human emotions and experience, and in this way, taps into our aliveness. When we feel our bodies, we are feeling life.

 

We live in a culture that suggests that the arts, including dance, are reserved for a small group of innately talented individuals.  I had to unlearn this cultural myth, in order to remember how to dance. If you have ever watched a small child dance, you can’t help but smile. And you can see very plainly that the impulse to dance is innate within us all. There is a simple joy and a freedom in the physical act of movement. It becomes clear that physical movement is key to unlocking the spirit.

 

Our individual rhythm connects us to the flow of all of life, so that there are no separations or distinctions and we experience a deep sense of belonging and communion.

 

Humans, both children and adults alike, have been dancing for as long as they have been in existence. When I was an undergraduate student, I studied anthropology. Among my discoveries was the prevalence of ritualistic and community dance across all historical tribal cultures. “In many shamanic societies,” Gabrielle Roth stated, “if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed,” they would often ask: “When did you stop dancing?”

 

This begs the question today: Have we stopped dancing? In our modern times we lead a dangerously disembodied life.  From our sedentary lifestyles and our addiction to the passive entertainment of TV and the Internet, to chronic health issues like alcoholism, obesity, and eating disorders, there are many manifestations of this. Our achievement-oriented culture encourages us to be more often in our heads than in our bodies; we want to put mind and spirit above body, not fully aware that the two are intimately related.  When we are overly identified with our thoughts and our minds–with rational, scientific and dualistic thought, we neglect our bodies, including the heart. In his article, “Disillusionment and Hope,” Stephen Bennett states, “We might say that as we have become evermore indoctrinated by centuries of rational, scientific binary thought, we have lost our awareness of the heart as an organ of perception” (Bennett, Human Development, 2010).  And when we lose our connection with our hearts and our bodies, we lose our connection with our basic humanness.

 

The wisdom of our ancestors reminds us that the way to wholeness is to fully embrace our incarnated lives, not to attempt to overcome them.

 

“Dance is the fastest, most direct route to the truth,” Gabrielle Roth wrote. Its not just entertainment, it’s a path in itself, leading beyond our habitual ways of thinking and being. It’s a creative process that reveals a map to the soul. Ultimately, what we experience somatically is the mirror image of what we experience psychologically. By engaging in movement, we come to understand what areas of our bodies and psyches need attention and healing. As James Hillman suggests in his book, The Soul’s Code, listening to the body represents “a call from the soul already in full comprehension of our path, beckoning us to some understanding still secret to the ego.”

 

Now, if you are wondering, I am definitely not a professional dancer, and I have never even taken a formal dance class. But in my lived experience, music and dance are tremendously healing and transformative forces—dancing in my living room, dancing at concerts, and more recently, dancing in intentional movement groups.

 

Dancing is a way to get in touch with your deeper self. On the simplest and most basic level, I’ve come to appreciate dance as a form of play. Play is not just for kids, but as adults, many of us are seriously lacking in play time. To tap into that childlike spirit of play is essential to the renewal of spirit. When is the last time you danced? If you need a little inspiration, check out the father and daughter in this YouTube video:

 

Monica uses body awareness with her clients and is currently facilitating a therapeutic movement group for young women. She welcomes your comments, questions, and requests for more information. Please email monimyers69@gmail.com.

The Sweet Sanctuary of Silence – Monica Myers

I am comforted by the sweet sanctuary of silence. And most especially this time of the year. There is something about the frozen earth, diminished sunlight, and greater darkness – when all of nature is hushed and sleeping, awaiting cyclic renewal – that prompts me to seek out silent moments. It is an instinct, really.

All of our technological inventions, our conveniences and gear, our artificially warmed homes, have made winter conditions less harsh and more comfortable, but they have not – and for this I am grateful – made us immune to the organic rhythms of the earth. Our personal and collective human biological states are connected to the natural world in ways both subtle and obvious.  I take great comfort in knowing that nature holds profound wisdom and is perpetually reflecting life’s lessons back to me.

Now, I confess that I do enjoy winter and secretly take both pleasure and pride in the special quality of magical Colorado snow that blankets our beloved state. But those first winter days of biting cold and suddenly diminished sunlight can be shockingly rude (how dare Mother Nature!), as if one breezy door has careened shut and another, heavier door to a more subdued reality is beckoning. We humans are often unsettled by change and with the change of seasons I at first find myself uncomfortable, unsettled, and restless.

And then I remember.

It’s often a bodily remembrance first. I begin to move more slowly, crave richer foods, desire less socialization and more stillness. Then that bodily remembrance reaches inward, washing over my whole being. Just as the life force of the natural world folds in on itself in hibernation, I feel an inner call to withdraw energy from the external world and shift attention more directly to my inner world. It starts as a sort of gentle, friendly curiosity, this inner call. And then, something deep within my soul stirs. Listening to this voice, I move closer to silence and closer to greater connection with my soul.

When I allow this silence to settle, something amazing inevitably happens. The silence actually fills with a presence—not an emptiness. I know this presence to be a part of myself; it has been patiently yearning for utterance and in the silence it naturally and effortlessly comes alive.

Mahatma Gandhi said:

“In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.”

The expanded sense of self that often arises in an attitude of silence can also be referred to as “felt sense.” Elfie Hinterkopf, PhD., described:

“The felt sense is a wonderful phenomenon. It contains all of your inner knowing about a given situation and that which you do not yet know about yourself. Your felt sense can lead you to the next growth step. It can even sense an answer that has not yet been experienced. The felt sense is something before mind, body, and spirit are split apart.”

A felt sense can be about anything – difficult feelings and experiences or uplifting, positive ones. Either way we tap into the river of experience that is flowing through us and deepen our connection to the here and now. We instinctively attend to that which facilitates our transformation and growth.

Like other mindfulness practices, cultivating felt sense takes time.

All you need to start is a willingness to see what wants to appear. Then direct your attention to the body. You might begin by noticing your breath first and then other sensations, content, images, and intricacies. See what arises and welcome it. If something specific comes up, stay with it for a while, keep it company. The amount of time you may need varies. Don’t worry about doing it “right.” Explore, play, and listen to your innate intelligence. And let me know how it goes. You may find, as I did, that the silence is not so silent after all.

Feel free to contact Monica Myers at monimyers69@gmail.com with comments, curiosities, and questions.

 

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth