Posts tagged ‘Mindfulness’

Black Feminism: Smacked by Intersectionality ll Rev. Mary Coday Edwards

May 29, 2018
Black Feminism: Smacked by Intersectionality
 By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

Crossing bustling streets in Pakistan and Indonesia was like Han Solo navigating through the Hoth asteroid field: I never knew what might hit me and from what direction.

First of all, their citizens drive on the opposite side of the road. I grew up in the U.S. and conditioned to drive on the right—they drive on the left. Easy to forget when facing the churning labyrinth; you look LEFT instead of RIGHT, step into the street, and you’re a grease spot. Next, BIG always won. Everything scattered for lorries as their aggressive drivers pushed and bullied their way through the fracas (nationals learned this from their former European colonizers—white skinned, i.e., privileged, they pushed and bullied their way to the front).

And VIPs. Anyone in a car larger than a small Toyota assumed they fit that category.

And absolutely no one paid any attention to traffic lights or the brave policeman standing in the middle of the intersection on a reinforced concrete pillar directing traffic. In many cities, oxen carts, horse-drawn wagons, and donkeys vied for space along with the busses, lorries, cars, bicycles, and people.

Ain’t I Woman? Sojourner Truth, 1851

Lawyer and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw (Note 1) first coined intersectionality in 1989.  Imagine an intersection, she says (preferably the one I just described) and that traffic flows through it from all four directions. Imagine standing in the middle of that intersection (sans concrete pillar). Danger can hit you from any side.

That’s the black woman’s experience, she said.

A classic example that Crenshaw uses to illustrate intersectionality is the 1976 case of Degraffenreid vs. General Motors.  Five African American women sued car manufacturer General Motors for racial and gender discrimination. But the courts found that women in general weren’t discriminated against when it came to jobs as secretaries, and the fact that GM employed African American factory workers disproved racial discrimination.

It ignored the fact that the sheer majority of secretaries were white women, and factory workers were all men. So the black women lost—they lost to the white women for office jobs and black men for factory work. Pain hit them through the cumulative impact of both gender AND race.

Webster’s only added intersectionality a year ago and says it’s used to refer to the complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, and yes, intersect—especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups.

The key here is “complex and cumulative way that the different forms of discrimination combine and overlap.”  Antidiscrimination laws, feminist theories, and antiracist politics all fail to address the experiences of black women because of how they each focus on only a single factor. Crenshaw, who is black, writes that “[b]ecause the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”

Since its inception, intersectionality has expanded to include discrimination faced by anyone who identifies with the multiple social, biological, and cultural groups that are not favored in a patriarchal, capitalist, white supremacist society (Notes 2 & 3).

White women can’t claim the title of an “intersectional feminist: we don’t experience misogynoir

It’s also referred to as “misogynoir” in black feminist and womanist (Note 4) circles. Misogynoir is defined as the specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward black women. What black women face is different also from the racism an Asian or Hispanic may face because of that added danger of anti-blackness. Whenever blackness is added to that treacherous intersection—or asteroid field—of oppression, threat increases.

Can white women call themselves intersectional feminists? The word was created by a black woman to define black women’s experience. Just as you reading this cannot relate to my harrowing street-crossing misadventures unless you’ve been there, I as a white woman cannot related to the black woman’s experiences: I do not experience misogynoir. By claiming the title I obliterate the issue of anti-blackness.

Therefore, unless you are a black woman or a black non-binary person, the answer is no.

But we can call our feminism intersectional and we can speak about intersectionality.

“Black mothers & babies: a life-or-death crisis” (Note 5)

Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants: 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies. This is a racial gap greater than it was in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women—moms in Mexico have a greater chance of surviving. The United States now ranks 32nd out of the 35 wealthiest nations in infant mortality. In addition, we are one of 13 countries in the world where maternal mortality is now worse than it was 25 years ago. These rates are largely driven by the deaths of black babies and mothers.

And infants born to college-educated black parents are twice as likely to die as infants born to similarly educated white parents—so it isn’t only poverty and lack of attention to healthcare.

Evidence suggests that these deaths are stress-related, the daily and cumulative anxieties and dis-eases associated with standing in the middle of that intersection.

 Begging the status quo to let diversity into the game

My granddaughter told me about a smart, black classmate in her high school who wears a t-shirt that says “Feminism is Cancer.” This young lady must be a fan of conservative author and speaker Christina Sommers, a white woman who is considered an equity feminist, which is an off-shoot of classical liberal feminism. Sommers believes that the role of feminism is to insure that the right against coercive interference is not infringed—regardless of race, gender, ability or anything else that impinges on privilege.

In a perfect world I can agree with that. But until we as a society raise healthy children by focusing on what their interests and abilities are vs. their gender and color, we need feminism. As long as those statistics quoted above remain high, we need feminism. As long as the white Sean Spicers of the world believe they’re entitled to tell black women how to act, we need feminism. As long as male politicians continue to feel entitled to legislate women’s healthcare, we need feminism. Sommers wants us begging the status quo to let in diversity, to let us play.

If your interest is piqued by anything in this blog, check out the resources listed below. Follow Awesomely Luvvie . Read Bell Hooks. Listen to how Franchesca Ramsey uses humor to describe how intersectionality plays out in daily life,

Whatever you experience, don’t push it away but stay with it, welcoming this wisdom of transforming power and energy. And practice mindfulness, as Jon Kabat-Zinn taught (Note 7):

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose,

in the present moment,

and nonjudgmentally,

to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.

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Notes & Sources:

1.) Kimberlé Crenshaw Explains The Power Of Intersectional Feminism In 1 Minute. April 11, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectional-feminism_us_598de38de4b090964296a34d
2.) Intersectionality as Theory and Practice. Myra Marx Ferree. February 21, 2018. Sage Journals.
3.) Kylie Cheung. March 8, 2018. Https://Dailytrojan.Com/2018/03/08/Uterus-International-Womens-Day-Remember-Intersectionality/
4.) Womanist, definition: A movement and theory that is a response specifically to the oppression of black women. http://intersectionalfeminism101.tumblr.com/faq
5.) Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies are in a Life-or-Death Crisis. Linda Villarosa. New York Times. April 11, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/magazine/black-mothers-babies-death-maternal-mortality.html
6.) Breaking Up with Intersectional Feminism. Tamela J. Gordon. April 26, 2018. Medium. https://medium.com/@shewritestolive/breaking-up-with-intersectional-feminism-689cfab82b7e
7.) Kabat-Zinn, Jon. The founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, calls this practice mindfulness.

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About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

Beyond Mindfulness ll Erin Amundson

Beyond Mindfulness
By: Erin Amundson  

   I live a life that I love.  While I am not above feeling difficult emotions or having stressful moments, I’ve found a sweet spot to divine living that’s at least one step beyond mindfulness.  Sure, I started somewhere in being mindful, bringing conscious awareness to my thoughts, my actions, my food and my relationships.  But I quickly realized that none of this does anything for me if my subconscious mind is busy running other programs.

     If you aren’t familiar, the subconscious is the area of our brain that is responsible for things like our heart beat, our digestion, and our blood circulation.  It controls all the aspects of our functioning that our conscious mind doesn’t, kind of like our computer’s hard drive.  

All of these things happen without our conscious awareness. 

     In addition to regulating our body functions the subconscious mind also regulates some of our bad memories, sensations and emotions for us so that our conscious mind doesn’t have to carry such a heavy burden. This is a pretty ingenious survival technique, since we would actually go crazy or die in shock from too much trauma on the conscious brain.  Our subconscious handles what our conscious mind cannot. 

     If all of this isn’t enough, our Natural Technology holds the blueprint for our greatest gifts, our purpose in the world, our healthiest body, our most fulfilling relationships, and the keys to rapid healing for our conscious mind.  This is the stuff we all want in life – and it’s my mission to make sure we access it.  This is the journey to the sweet life, my friends.    

     I think most of us would say we want that sweet life, right?  Most of us try really, really hard to achieve it.  We read books, attend seminars, meditate, do yoga….and on and on.  I do all of these things, too, because I enjoy them.  Not because I believe any one is the key to my greatness.  Because, in my search for a great life, I discovered something really important.  No amount of yoga, fasting, reading or meditation is going bring me my best life if I have a wound operating out of my subconscious.   

So, I set out to heal my subconscious, and in the process, educated myself to provide healing to others. 

     NOTE: A subconscious pattern creates a problem in our life that operates automatically, without our conscious awareness or any understanding of the cause or solution.  Most of us store some form of hurt, rejection, trauma or limitation in our subconscious minds.  The most common of these are rooted in childhood because our underdeveloped brains are less capable of processing heavy emotion and experience. 

     Young children have undeveloped brains that cannot think abstractly.  We cannot separate what happens to us from who we are.  Our conscious mind also is not developed enough to deal with certain levels of pain.  This can happen with a traumatic event at any age, but our child brains are especially susceptible.  So, for example, when a child is abandoned by a parent or suffers the death loss of someone very close to them, this pain is often stored in the subconscious.  

     Then, throughout life, the subconscious creates automatic emotional, physical and sensory responses to triggers that resemble what is stored there.  For example, having an intense emotional response to a good friend wanting some alone time or a close co-worker deciding to move to another country.  To the subconscious storing the old memory of abandonment, this trigger event causes a great deal of tension in the adult relationship that feels unsolvable.   

In addition, the subconscious will cause us to make choices in our life from this automatic response based on a wound, or core shame message, we are not aware of.  Most of us are unaware that we make choices based on both the conscious and subconscious mind.   Now the wounded subconscious begins EVERY time to chose partners who end up abandoning the person.  This, of course, causes a lot of pain.

     The victim of this subconscious program usually believes they are worthy of love. They spend a lot of time in therapy trying to figure out why this keeps happening. The problem is, we can never solve a subconscious wound with our conscious, rational mind.  It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how much you practice mindfulness, if you don’t know why you have the problem in the first place. 

     Many of us have some kind of limiting problem that feels bigger than it needs to be. 

There is some area of our lives that we just can’t seem to master no matter how smart we are, how much therapy we’ve done, or how successful we’ve been in other areas of life.  Perhaps we have the perfect partner but can’t seem to find meaning in work.  We may be happy in every area of life but have a fear of flying.  Good news.  I have a new solution for you that works – and it’s your own Natural Technology that is available to you any time.   

     Anytime we cannot consciously understand or process a problem in our life, there is an invitation to look in the subconscious.  Developing an ongoing relationship to the subconscious, learning its language, and engaging it regularly has been the key to success for me and hundreds of those I’ve worked with in the last 10 years.   If you have a problem you can’t seem to solve in your life no matter how many things you’ve tried, I encourage you to explore approaching it through the subconscious in dream work, past life regression, astrology or Depth Psychology. 

Your life WILL change.


Erin currently practices as a depth psychotherapist in Denver, Colorado and via the internet around the world.  In addition to her dream work, Erin is a certified past life regressionist, an intuitive astrologer and a lover of travel, snowboarding, deep conversations and cooking delicious food, all of which she enjoys practicing while she sleeps.

Light and Dark: Living a Seasonal Mythos ll Mary Coday Edwards

Blog 21
Light & Dark: Living a Seasonal Mythos
By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA

     Like a light dusting of snow covering a bleak industrial landscape, our religious leaders cloak crass and frenetic Christmas consumerism with a barren literal religiosity, embedding the Christ mythos into the Santa mythos in order to sanctify our materialistic voraciousness.

     For those of you who barely endure this season, can you scrape off that corrosive disdain and turn your gaze to a mythos of promise, perhaps through your own faith? Or instead mythologize these days through contemplation of the long nights and the returning of the sun/light, a mythos that gave succor to our ancient ancestors?

“If professional religious leaders cannot instruct us in mythological lore, our artists and creative writers can perhaps step into this priestly role.” Karen Armstrong

     A beautiful word, mythos, and infuses our lives with significance when understood in its original meaning. Myth is rooted in mythos, but it has come to mean a lie, a falsehood, or an untrue story.

     As defined in Karen Armstrong book, A Short History of Myth, myths contain universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our lives. They provide narratives that remind us of what it is to be human, narratives that are reinforced through ritual. Our Western, enlightened society asks, “Did that actually happen?” while pre-Modern cultures were more concerned with what an event meant.

     Physicist-turned-theologian Ian Barbour in his Myths, Models and Paradigms, says a myth provides a worldview or world picture by endorsing particular ways of ordering experience and acting in daily life.

     We are a meaning-seeking species. At some point in their lives, most people will engage in mythological thinking: “It just wasn’t my time,” someone says, after barely escaping a calamity, not quite sure who or what might be controlling what’s going on behind the scenes, but only seeking to make sense of that avoided tragedy.

     In my late teens I let a rock star define my mythos. I lived out Paul Simon’s lyrics: “I am a rock, I am an island. I touch no one and no one touches me.”

     As an 18-year-old freshman at university I ate soybeans as a paid experimental guinea pig for a month so I could travel alone to the UK for three weeks: “I don’t need people,” I told myself.  Navigating a new culture at 18 where strangers compassionately came to my rescue more often than I cared to admit, I was lonelier and more miserable than at any other time in my life. I returned chastened.

     I took Simon’s song literally and isolated myself, whereas Simon’s universal truth/myth relates to being grounded inwardly in who we are, vs. being tossed about like a rudderless ship based on our perceived notion of others’ opinions of us—and therefore being under their control. One hour we’re up—“She said nice things about me! I’m so together!” and the next hour we’re down: “No one ‘liked’ my Facebook post. I am such a loser.”

     Unknown to me at the time, that traveling and insecure 18-year-old was living out other universal and timeless truths/myths, which Joseph Campbell names in his hero/heroine’s journey (Note 1).

     As an initiation from childhood to adulthood, the protagonist leaves the comfortable nest, experiences the road of trials with its tests, enemies, and unexpected allies, and returns wiser.

     I did return wiser: humans function best living in community. But because I was miserable, I wrongly concluded that I was incapable of making good decisions and jettisoned the entire adulthood effort and crawled back into childhood. I joined the Jesus Movement which soon morphed into an authoritarian hierarchy controlled by the patriarchy.  I regressed to the “father” controlling my life.

     And because—for those of who are mentally capable—adulthood/maturity is our destination, this mythos, too, would be rearranged. But that’s a story for another day.

What mythos informs your holiday season?

     When celebrating this season, many find themselves around the middle on a continuum with “Everything Non-Religious” on one end, and “Everything Religious” on the opposite—which this year includes Christianity, Judaism, and Paganism/Wiccan.

     Jesus may be ONE of the reasons for the season—but not THE reason. December 25? Fake news: Pope Julius 1 in the 4th Century officially designated it as Jesus’ birthday in order to Christianize the Pagan festivities already occurring around the Winter Solstice, OR the god Saturnalia, OR Mithra’s birthday the Iranian god of Light, OR the unconquered sun god of the Romans Sol Invictus, OR Egypt’s god Ra—take your pick. Most Christian historians and scholars believe Jesus could not have been born in the winter months of December, but MAY have been born in March. But look deeper: What’s the mythos embedded in this story? Titled the light of the world, Jesus calls us to be imitators of him. For those who follow Jesus, what does that look like for you?

     This year Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, began Tuesday, Dec. 12 and ends Wednesday, Dec. 20. Hanukkah centers around the lighting of the nine branches of the menorah, commemorating the successful Jewish revolt against their Greek-Syrian rulers in the second century B.C. The story goes that in rededicating the Jewish temple by lighting the traditional seven-lamp menorah, they found only enough uncontaminated ritual oil for one day. The one-day oil lasted for eight—thus Hanukah’s eight-day celebration. The menorah itself stands for light, wisdom, and Divine inspiration.

     Unlike other Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Jewish scriptures.  Is this mythos? Not necessarily an untrue story, but a story based in an actual event which contains universal truths for how Jews make sense of their world, truths that give meaning to their lives.

     Pagan and Wiccan celebrations of the Northern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice remind us that the sun will return. It’s the promise of light returning to the world. Pre-Christ astronomers observed that at a certain point the days began to get longer—the season of starvation and pestilence was winding down. To ward off death and disease, centuries before Christianity the Scandinavian Vikings believed their sun god Balder particularly favored evergreens and hung them up to court his favor, while other Pagan cultures believed evergreens warded off evil spirits. Festivities sprung up, honoring what’s now called Winter Solstice.

     Advent means the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. Pagan cultures prepared for their Advent—the return of the sun—by honoring the night, a time of rest and restoration for the land and its many creatures. Of course, minimal resources to spend on candles or torches encouraged this withdrawal into their caves—and perhaps into themselves, where stories, songs and poems spring from.

     During this season of Advent peace settles over me as I sink into the deep rhythms of nature and that transcendent Energy flowing through all life.

     Can the seasonal drift toward the coming light infuse your spirit with hope?  What symbols within your mythos resonate within you? Can you lift beauty from the core mystery of what remains? Can you be a light-bringer to those around you? Can you sit with the dark, the night—symbolic often for suffering—and contemplate what life holds for you?

     If any words in this blog pinged your psyche/spirit, sit with them mindfully: paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, and nonjudgmentally (Note 3).

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Notes & Sources:

1.) On myth: Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Carl Jung’s map of the soul, Clarissa Pinkola-Estes work on fairy tales, and Ian Barbour and John Polkinghorne on the intersections of science and religion.

2.) “Where did Christmas Come From?” https://biblethingsinbibleways.wordpress.com/tag/winter-solstice/; the author uses excerpts from various documents.

3.) Kabat-Zinn, Jon. The founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, calls this practice mindfulness.

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About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

Unconscious or Subconscious: Does it Matter? || Mary Coday Edwards

Unconscious or subconscious: Does it matter?

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

 

Two words often bantered about with imprecision, we do well when speaking of our own spirituality to use clarity when venturing into these underground realms.

As a word person, my first stop on this journey of exploration is a dictionary (1).

First coined by French psychologist and philosopher Pierre Janet in the early 1900s, the subconscious is defined as that part of our mind that is currently not in focused awareness.

Unfortunately for the majority of us, it’s impossible to hold the bulk of what we experience with concentrated attention, and therefore it’s spirited into the subconscious, to perhaps later be retrieved.

For example, you may be hiking along a forest trail in deep conversation with a friend. Later, sitting on a sun-warmed boulder, lunching on your peanut butter sandwich, your friend remarks on those wildflowers  bedecking the wilderness floor passed by earlier, at which point your mind might recall the blue sea of columbines that at the time registered with your visual sense – but without conscious focus.

Past-learned skills also find their way into the subconscious.

In every country I’ve lived or worked, I struggled to learn the local language and/or dialect, measuring success by how accurately I could buy peanuts from the shopkeeper in the bazaar.

Grocery shopping, Kabul, Afghanistan; April, 2007

And although I’ve been back in the States for a few years, these languages still surface in my dreams. People I knew then show up, conversing in their native tongue – sometimes I have two different language conversations occurring in the same dream and while my dream self understands both parts of the dialog, my dream characters do not.

“I never know when somebody’s going to knock on the door of my own unconscious in a way that I wouldn’t have anticipated.” Anna Deavere Smith, Actress, Playwright, Professor

Said to be contributed by 18th century philosopher Friedrich Schelling, Freud took the word unconscious and divided it into the id (instincts or drives) and the superego – sometimes referred to as the conscience.  He regarded the unconscious as a storehouse of repressed socially unacceptable desires, wishes, and ideas, as well as painful memories and emotions. The key concept here is repressed, and thus not easily accessible to our day-to-day operations of living but yet exerting their influence upon our behavior.

Carl Jung retained Freud’s notion of the unconscious mind as the storehouse of repression, but added another stratum called the collective unconscious, which is a reservoir of unconscious memories that we inherited from our ancestors. From this collective unconscious arise other of Jung’s concepts, such as archetypes, anima, and animus (topics not addressed in this blog).

“I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at.” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

While the material stored in the subconscious can be recalled with deliberation and effort, that which sits in the murky regions of the unconscious is, generally speaking, not accessible through one’s own self or one’s efforts via the ego (2).

And ego, in today’s language milieu and simplistically speaking, is that part of our mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious. It keeps us safe from what might be deemed unacceptable to our parents, teachers, or peers. Long after it’s done its job, the ego still maintains its habit of refusing questions and killing curiosity – required steps in growth of consciousness.

Transformation and personal growth require that our unconsciously driven behaviors be brought to the light of consciousness. We learn to watch for and respond to unconscious stress signals vs. reacting with fight or flight.

Unfortunately, ego’s very good at convincing its host that what it believes/thinks/wants is the ultimate and only truth or reality. Mindfulness and mediation practices reveal our ego’s dictatorial bent and personal bias.

A dream is a small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens up to that primeval cosmic night that was the soul, long before there was the conscious ego.” Carl Jung

My above-noted dream scenario serves as an example of both the subconscious and the unconscious at work.

Symbology is one of the many tools our unconscious uses to get our attention, with dreams being a conduit to consciousness.  Without going into dream interpretation, my unconscious took my subconscious material – foreign languages – and turned it into a symbol representing a lack of communication between parts of me, which I then can explore.

But first I must consciously address my ego who is right there upon my awakening, insisting I ignore this gift of a dream from my psyche. “We have more important things to attend to!” it insists.

Honoring all parts of myself – after all, the ego did keep me safe – I remind if gratefully and compassionately of its past and current job descriptions.  I tell it that when other bits of me are ignored, denied participation in the conversation, or left to die in a neglected corner of my soul, I incur stress which brings sickness, disease, and an early death – not a hopeful outcome for ego.

Through mindfulness practices, we watch attentively for emerging unconscious behaviors, beliefs, and values which come knocking on our door.

And as always, People House ministers, counselors, therapists, and staff are here to assist you on your path of transformation. No one can do it for you, but you can’t do it alone!

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Notes & Sources:

1.) Psychology Glossary, https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/psychology-glossary.php

2.) In my early teens I asked my mother what the term “male ego” meant, a popular phrase in those days, usually with the word “fragile” attached to it. She refused to discuss it, which sent me to the dictionary – not finding it of course, and “ego” with its 10-15 word definition did not do the word justice to my teen brain. I perceived uncomfortable emotions attached to her refusal – correctly or incorrectly – and so did not risk pursuing the topic further with other adults.

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About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

Bumping into the Lost Parts of You || Mary Coday Edwards

Bumping into the Lost Parts of You

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

April 4, 2017

In my 20s I found myself tricked and captured by the mythological Greek bandit Procrustes, known as the stretcher.

According to Greek mythos, Procrustes’ house was near the road between Athens and Eleusis, and he’d invite travelers in for a meal and the promise of a bed that would fit them perfectly.

But as the unsuspecting travelers would soon discover, this perfect bed came with a steep price: Procrustes would stretch short limbs to fit and cut off any overhanging bits.

In today’s world, the Procrustean bed is proverbially defined as a forced conformity to an arbitrary standard, often through violent or ruthless means (1). 

We do this unconsciously to others when we take our own cultural values and beliefs as absolute truths and impose them on the world around us, angrily judging that which doesn’t fit.

I’m part of an online “Freethinker” group – and its more vocal members have no qualms stridently slashing out at others whose thoughts don’t fit the arbitrary Freethinker Procrustean bed.

Family members force this on each other, as do our religious, educational, political, and economic institutions. Without even realizing it, we allow others to chop off vital parts of our beings, our psyches: “This part is acceptable, this is not.”

Thus we regularly empower our egos to brutally damage our true selves to serve what we perceive as society’s norms.

Fitting into the box of conformity

I knew nothing of Procrustes when an image popped into my head more than 30 years ago, leaving its blunt message forever engraved on my psyche: I saw myself stuffed into a box, with limbs sticking out – the pieces that just wouldn’t fit into that box of conformity – but, “Not to worry! We’ll just saw them off at the edges, and look! Now you fit perfectly!”

Some history: Having abandoned my childhood faith when I was 13, I eventually fell into the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, which then morphed into a patriarchal authoritarianism. 

“Jesus will set you free,” I was told by the male leaders, “but only free to be what I tell you.”

Fast forward a few years. Carl Jung writes that within each of us is an innate drive for wholeness (2), and eventually if those parts that we have deemed unacceptable aren’t brought out of the shadows and incorporated into ourselves, lethargy sets in along with a deep sadness that won’t go away, as well as despair and hopelessness.

John of the Cross calls this the Dark Night of the Soul.

And this despair, this deep sadness, this dark night – they are all gifts to us from the deepest part of who we are.

“Wake up!” it’s telling us.

So, when people come to me in despair, dying inside, they soon see the gift in the anguish – and they work with what’s emerging from their soul.  

The Sacred Way

This road by which Procrustes lived is known as the “sacred way,” because it was the route taken by processions when celebrating the sacred rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries. These mysteries relate to the myth of Demeter, mother of Persephone, when Persephone was abducted by the king of the underworld, Hades.

Demeter, goddess of the harvest and agriculture, goes into deep mourning for this lost part of herself – her daughter. While searching for Persephone, she caused a drought during which time people starved and died. These rites describe the descent (loss), the search, and the ascent – and of course, the representation of life restored.

Symbolically speaking, we can see the pattern in our own psyches: how while traveling the sacred path of our life’s journey, we can be tricked into violently rejecting parts of ourselves not acceptable to what might be an arbitrary standard.

We’re hobbled by rejecting these vital pieces of who we are, but we continue on until the wake-up call can no longer be ignored – usually because of emotional, psychological, or physical suffering. 

And it’s here we have a choice: We can give into despair, believing things will never change.

OR, we can begin the descent into our psyches, searching for these lost parts of ourselves – and if we’re fortunate, we find apt guides who aid us in interpreting the signs along the way.

Those at risk for suicide teeter on the edge of hope. People are bumping into this lost part of themselves and don’t know it. Hope sets us off on a journey to find our missing pieces. You might end up down a path with just enough light to see that next step. You will develop new awareness skills through mindfulness practices

Wherever you end up, you won’t be the same. The energy consumed in ensuring that those wiggly pieces wouldn’t reconnect themselves is now set free and you will live your life differently.

So, what’s emerging from your soul? What beautiful fragments of you will you find?

And as always, People House ministers, counselors, therapists, and staff are here to assist you on your Sacred Way. No one can do it for you, but you can’t do it alone!

_______                                                                              

Notes & Sources:

1.) For Procrustean bed and Eleusinian Mysteries, see online sources, such as Wikipedia and Britannica, Greek mythological figures.

2.) Jung, C.G. Collected Works of C.G. Jung: The First Complete English Edition of the Works of C.G. Jung. Routledge; 2015.

________

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

 


Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

In the Land of Pain: Grieving a Suicide || Mary Coday Edwards

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

March 10, 2017

Ranking 10th highest in the nation, Colorado’s suicide rate of 20 per 100,000 residents is more than 65% higher than the national average of 13.8. In 2015, about three Coloradoans per day chose to kill themselves.

Research suggests that for every suicide, at least six people experience a major life disruption, but it can impact up to 25.

The Walking Wounded

That’s a lot of sad, suffering people (see chart ).

Entity, 2015 Rate, Per 100,000 population+ Total Deaths Total Population Suicide Loss Survivors, @ 6/ Suicide Suicide Loss Survivors, @ 25/ Suicide
U.S. 13.8 44,193 321,418,820 265,000 1,105,000
Colorado 20.0   1,093     5,466,000     6,560       27,325
Denver County 13.9       94        682,000       564        2,350

Sources:  See Notes 1 & 2.

+Suicide rate = (number of suicides by group / population of group) X 100,000

Some facts defining this wounding:

-The majority of men will use a firearm; women will use poison.

-Men are about four times more likely than women to die of suicide, but three times more women than men report attempting suicide.

-Nearly all completed suicides are among individuals with mental illness.

-Nationally, one suicide occurs every 11.9 minutes; therefore, there are either six or 25 new suicide loss survivors every 11.9 minutes.

-In the United States, suicides outnumber homicides about two to one.

-At-risk population groups are men over age 75 and in mid-life.

-Other groups include:

     -young people struggling with their sexual orientation/identification,

     -veterans and military personnel, and

     -Native Americans.

In this blog, I’m not addressing assisted suicide or Western attitudes of fear and perhaps terror over death.

Nor will I focus on the morality of suicide: “is it right/wrong, good/bad?”

Instead, my focus is on the suffering of suicide loss survivors.

“ … you learn to dance with the limp.” ― Anne Lamott

Grief is messy, not so neat and tidy as the drawing on the left, which shows grief actually stopping before it ends.

The picture on the right not only shows a back-tracking, circuitous entanglement with grief, but more accurately, we don’t just dust our hands off and walk away. The arrow continues.

We as a species are hard-wired to grieve; it’s the universal, instinctual, and adaptive reaction to the loss of a loved one. It’s normal.

I like that idea.

We come packaged not only to love, but to grieve the loss of our loved ones (3).

We are equipped to mourn death.

But suicide loss short-circuits that instinct.  

Grief Reactions and Characteristics

Grief has been described as one of the most painful experiences an individual ever faces. In his work on suicide bereavement, Illiant Tal Young (4) subcategorizes grief as follows:

Acute grief: the initial painful response, characterized by numbness, shock, and denial, anguish, loss, anger, guilt, regret, anxiety, fear, intrusive images, depersonalization. Constant feelings of anguish and despair eventually give way to showing up as waves or bursts – pangs of grief. A memory hits us when we’re least expecting it. For me, a dearly beloved passed about six months ago, and I’m hit with this loss when I catch myself saying, “I must tell Bob about this.” And then remember I can’t, at least not in the way I used to.

Integrated grief: Under most circumstances, acute grief instinctively transitions to integrated grief. Signs of this happening include the ability of the bereaved to recognize that they have grieved, to be able to think of the deceased with equanimity, to return to work, to re-experience pleasure. For many, new wisdom and strengths, as well as broader perspectives emerge in the aftermath of loss.

Complicated grief (CG) is a bereavement response in which acute grief is prolonged, causing distress and interfering with day-to-day functioning. Acute grief remains persistent and intense and does not transition into integrated grief. CG is sometimes labeled as prolonged, unresolved, or traumatic grief.  

And it is in this land of complicated grief that suicide loss survivors often dwell.

More than Feelings of Loss, Sadness, and Loneliness

Questions haunt their existence: “Why didn’t I see the symptoms?” “Why didn’t I do more?” “Why wasn’t I there for her?”

Not seeing all the factors that went into the choice for suicide, the bereaved takes on unnecessary responsibility, resulting in self-blame.  The suicide is seen as an event that could have been prevented.

Survivors may feel abandoned, rejected, or angry at the deceased for “checking out”, leaving their loved ones behind.

In some cases, suicide is still stigmatized – along with mental illness. This can keep the bereaved stuck in shame, afraid to truthfully discuss the cause of death. Isolated from the community, they cut themselves off from counseling and the support of loved ones.

The majority of suicide methods involve considerable violence to the body, which can leave the survivors in trauma. Suicide loss survivors are more likely than other bereaved individuals to develop symptoms of PTSD.

And suicide loss survivors are at a greater risk of committing suicide themselves.

“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” – Megan Divine

Summarizing, Young says treatment should include the best combinations of education, psychotherapy, and pharmacotherapy, often with a focus on depression, guilt, and trauma.

Through mindfulness practices, the bereaved can train in paying attention non-judgmentally to their body’s stress signals.  They learn to respond vs. react to the flight-or-fight chemicals coursing through their bodies, spawned by emotions of self-blame, anger, rejection, and possible stigma-induced shame.

Support groups have proved invaluable to those finding themselves unable to talk with family or community members.

And as always, People House ministers, counselors, therapists, and staff are here to assist individuals and families navigating this painful territory. People House contact details are provided on our home page at https://www.peoplehouse.org/ as well as a drop-down menu listing People House Practitioners.

_______                                                                              

Notes & Sources:

1.)USA Suicide: 2015 Official Final Data. American Association of Suicide. http://www.suicidology.org

2.)Denver County Births & Deaths 2015: http://www.chd.dphe.state.co.us/Resources/vs/2015/Denver.pdf

3.)Exceptions are there, of course, when mental illness robs us of that capability and/or childhood trauma – to name only two.

4.) Young, Iliant Tal, et al. Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384446/ Published 0nline June 2012

________

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

 

Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

 

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Conscious Relationship and the Three Dimensions of Caring || Dorothy Wallis

Conscious Relationship and the Three Dimensions of Caring

By: Dorothy Wallis

Conscious Companionship

As the consciousness of humanity evolves and changes so has the structure of marriage, partnership and relationships.  We are in a transitional stage of relationship moving away from the concept of two independent autonomous people cohabiting together and attempting to get their individual needs met in a hierarchical structure with fixed roles.  A companionship model of conscious partnership consisting of mutual interdependence, interpersonal relating, intimacy, equity and commitment to placing the relationship first while aligning with what is best for each other is arising.  The focus away from a singular insular preoccupation with self and my needs to what are the needs of the relationship is a step towards greater love, compatibility, understanding, intimacy, and surprisingly getting more of your needs met.

Intuitively you know that you are not an island.  As much as you were taught that independence and self-sufficiency were the mark of maturity, what you discover is that it is simply a phase on the way to a deeper level of learning about yourself and how to love.  An important phase for sure, but development does not end with self-interest.  No matter how self-sufficient you create your life to be, you are always dependent on other people for more than mere survival.  As your basic needs are met your need for intimacy, connection and sharing take the forefront.  You seek relationship with others.  You seek a greater depth of love.
 
Falling in love is a magical experience.  It directs your attention to another; you begin to care about someone other than yourself.  You open up and share your thoughts, feelings, and interests.  Caring and sharing with mutual reliance on each other seems easy at this stage.  Keeping this level of interest and caring is often challenging. 
 
What happened to us?  The Zing, the Romance, the Pizzazz is gone!
It makes sense that the first blush of all encompassing love must end.  No one can keep that level of exclusive attention.  It wouldn’t serve you or your relationship.  What does not need to be forgotten is your level of Caring for your partner.  Once the courtship is over, your zeal to find meaning, purpose, and promote your individual needs and desires focuses your attention back on the self.  Career, children and the usual demands of everyday life may find you leading an independent and parallel existence without much connection to your partner.  You end up feeling bereft of intimacy and caring.

 

“Participating in Caring behaviors with Attuned Presence and Concern is a vital component to Sustain a Conscious Growing Relationship”

 

Participation and Presence
Relationships get into trouble when there is a lack of caring.  Studies of couples in therapy revealed a disquieting commonality; dissatisfied couples expressed the belief that their partner loved them while at the same time not feeling deeply cared about.  Without the feeling of being cared about discontentment increases with the likelihood of conflict, resentment, distance and separation.  In this day and age relationship requires participation and presence. 
 
Caring Relationships Heal Childhood Wounds 
Caring is the act of displaying kindness and concern for another.  Caring presence accords a special focus of attention on your partner that expresses they are of primary importance to you.  When you have someone you can rely upon, who understands you, accepts you just as you are, supports your highest aspirations while demonstrating affection and nurturing, you are able to move into the world securely.  Being nurtured opens up neural pathways and heals toxic emotional childhood wounds.  A caring relationship is the soothing tonic that restores secure attachment.
 
Three Dimensions of Caring:  Putting the Zing back into Your Relationship
In their research, Paul and Evelyn Moschetta identified three dimensions of caring that are vitally important to maintain a healthy, growing, mutually satisfying and loving relationshipThose dimensions are Sustenance Caring, Intentional Caring, and Reverential Caring.

Sustenance Caring

“The kind of caring that supplies the emotional necessities of life; nurturing, supporting and strengthening the other.  Sustenance caring cannot be known on an intellectual level only; it must be a felt experience as well. Study subjects said that receiving sustenance caring left them feeling loved, “warm” inside, happy, sexually responsive, stable, secure, trusting, capable of facing problems, capable of reaching out to others.”
~ Paul and Evelyn Moschetta

Being present, attentive to the needs of your partner, and displaying affection feeds and nurtures their emotional well-being.  Sustenance caring requires action and empathic attunement creating a foundation of safety and trust.  Your relationship is the blending into One.  Treating your relationship as a sacred form keeps it alive and growing.  It creates a safe, secure container for each of you to be free to explore your full potential.  And…who reaps the greatest benefit from giving your partner tender loving Care?  You do!  People in secure connected relationships are healthier, have less stress, are happier and feel more fulfilled. 
 
Helpful Actions to give Sustenance Caring to Your Partner:

  • Be present and attentive to the needs of your partner
  • Be generous with your time; your partner comes first over others
  • Be available in times of need
  • Give frequent displays of affection both physically and verbally; give hugs and gentle touch
  • Be aware and attuned to your partner’s moods
  • Demonstrate trust, generosity and unselfish concern for your partner
  • Be genuinely interested and involved in your partner’s life
  • Be an expert on your partner; learn what soothes and pleases them

Behaviors and actions that undermine Sustenance Caring:

  • Not sharing your deeper feelings and thoughts
  • Shutting out your partner by withdrawing, ignoring them or neglecting their thoughts, feelings, and presence
  • Not showing physical or verbal affection
  • Lack of attunement to their moods and emotional needs
  • A big No…Flirting and emotional intimacy with someone other than your partner (rule of thumb: any conversation or behavior that may hurt your partner if they heard or saw you…is off the table)
  • Hiding or keeping secrets that have an impact on the relationship: health, finances, affairs, travel arrangements, purchases etc.

Intentional Caring:

“Takes the form of actions purposefully undertaken to help one’s partner grow.  It is the expression of a commitment to foster growth, and conveys a deep interest in the other’s full use of talents, capabilities, and potentials.  Study subjects reported that receiving Intentional caring left them feeling courageous, unafraid, more adequate, liberated, more adult, able to invest oneself, capable of doing a great deal, capable of fulfilling potentials.”
~ Paul and Evelyn Moschetta

Helpful actions to give Intentional Caring to Your Partner:

  • Be interested in your partner’s ideas and pursuits
  • Be your partner’s advocate, promote and champion their direction of growth and interests
  • Appreciate their talents, capabilities and potential
  • Encourage and assist your partner when challenges arise  
  • Be cooperative and flexible
  • Be willing to share responsibilities
  • Maximize growth opportunities for your partner
  • Be willing to let them know when they are going in a direction that is potentially harmful to them: health, financial, with other people etc.

 
Behaviors and actions that undermine Intentional Caring:

  • Undermining your partner’s confidence
  • Lecturing and parenting your partner
  • Sabotaging or subverting your partner’s dreams
  • Enabling and co-dependent behaviors
  • Controlling your partner
  • Blaming your partner rather than listening and finding solutions or requesting amends

 
Reverential Caring:

“Means valuing the other’s individuality, holding them in high esteem and making them a top priority.  It means having intense interest and admiration for the other.  Reverential caring conveys an acceptance of one’s partner as he or she actually is without illusions, or preconceived or accumulated images.  Study subjects reported that receiving reverential caring left them feeling important, valued, wanted, worthwhile, free to be oneself, capable of seeing one’s shortcomings, accepting of oneself, proud, grateful, fortunate.”
~ Paul and Evelyn Moschetta

Helpful actions to give Reverential Caring to Your Partner:

  • Always make your partner Number 1 in your eyes; say and do things to remind your partner that they are tops with you
  • Establish each other as your primary ‘Go to Person’
  • Treat your partner as an equal, neither below you or above you
  • Accept your partner just the way they are with all of their foibles and idiosyncrasies
  • Value and freely appreciate your partner’s abilities
  • Have your partner’s back especially in the company of others; this means supporting your partner even if you do not agree (express your opinion in private)  

Behaviors and actions that undermine Reverential Caring:

  • Criticizing your partner
  • Demanding perfection
  • Ridiculing, berating, belittling or shaming your partner (if joking means making fun of your partner, it is demeaning and will cause hurt and resentment)
  • Embarrassing your partner with your words or actions
  • Disrespecting or diminishing the worth of your partner
  • Dominating your partner

Caring is a day-to-day and moment-by-moment opportunity to create a long-lasting intimate and joy filled relationship.  Loving energy directed toward your relationship is life enhancing and brings the greatest reward, which is learning how to give and receive love.  

Creating the New Between Pain and Suffering || Mary Coday Edwards

Creating the New Between Pain & Suffering.

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

October 24, 2016

pain

This is by no means a complete treatise on pain and suffering – just three suggestions on how to work with it.

Creating the new through pain and suffering includes the following steps:

  1. Recognizing we’re in pain, we pay attention to what our bodies are telling us, whether it’s physical, emotional, or psychological pain.
  2. Sitting with it mindfully, nonjudgmentally and with compassion welcoming it as our teacher (1);
  3. Breathing into the pain, asking our intuition, our higher self, what we can do next.

Now, of pain Dan Mager says (emphasis mine): “Physical pain has distinct biological and psychological components that represent stimulus and response. The biology of pain is the signal transmitted through the central nervous system that ‘something is wrong.’ The psychology of pain is the interpretation or meaning we give to that pain signal—the internal self-talk and beliefs about it which then drive our emotional reactions” (2).

“When we resist change, it’s called suffering ….” Buddhist Nun Pema Chödrön.

As an example: Recently I hurt the tip of my index finger on my right hand – an appendage of significance, as I am right-handed.

How I did so remained a mystery. Thinking it might be an in-grown finger nail, I tried minor surgery on it – exacerbating the pain a millionth-fold. Excruciating, throbbing pain now kept me awake at night.

Since it wouldn’t bend due to its swollenness, I unconsciously held the pained finger straight out.

Not a good idea; our physical world is designed for bendable digits. Plugging a cord into an outlet meant I rammed my finger into the wall – several times as a matter of fact. And into drawer fronts, doors, and the steering wheel, leaving me in tears.

I knew I was in pain, and all I wanted was for it to GO AWAY.  

I was resisting change, and my unconscious adaptation strategy of holding my finger straight out was not working.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.

Of the biblical prodigal son who was competing with the pigs for food scraps, scriptures say “he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17).

I too, came to mine, making this pain conscious, moving from impatience with myself to gentleness and compassion. “What can I do differently?” I asked myself – finally.

“Live in the now.” 

I was operating unconsciously, going about my day ramming my finger into non-movable surfaces. But the now, this moment, is all we ever have. The past is gone, the future is yet to be – this is all we’ve got.

Also, the now is sacred; it’s where we experience divinity. I was rushing through what I declared mundane, to move on to what I believed was “important” and hence missing the divine moment by moment.

I asked if there was anything else.

“Stop using your right hand, use your left.”

OK, that’s like a mini death – a death to my standard mode of operation. Using my left hand meant I approached life slower, more deliberate and measured – a dying to a life driven by efficiency.

But creative suffering usually includes an element of dying – and then a rebirth.

Having spent about a decade in John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul, I was familiar with the concept – not mastered it, of course, how does one get used to a continual dying to what’s so familiar? And in a dark night experience, what dies is a worldview with its treasured beliefs, attitudes, and values.

And so I slowed down, using my left hand, shifting from frustration with myself to compassion. I felt a different part of my brain light up, a different energy was released.

Suffering occurs when your ideas about how things ought to be don’t match how they really are.” Author Brad Warner 

Summarizing my process:

– I became aware of my pain, my resultant suffering, and that the status quo wasn’t working anymore.

– Instead of just living in my reptilian brain of fight or flight, I brought this into consciousness, asking my higher self what I could do.

– I experienced a death and rebirth in my daily routine:

+ it increased my mindfulness, as I was forced to pay closer attention to each moment – my now – that’s all I have, this moment, and the next, and the next.

+ in the process, I was forced to slow down in the doings, my routine, of everyday life. Again, it changed my focus to my now, recognizing the sacred.

+ doing something with the opposite hand normally used can be psychologically beneficial as well as artistic, as it engages a part of the brain not commonly exercised.

Living consciously is at the heart of spirituality. Through it we learn to take responsibility for our actions and for our own happiness, without relying on outside influences. Yes, my finger hurt. But I didn’t have to wait for it to get better before I could experience joy. After all, there’s ALWAYS something or someone out there who can and will create havoc in our lives.

“Paroxysms of pain and twinges of desire leach from universal sources. All human suffering buttons itself to the pang of wanting.” Kilroy J. OldsterDead Toad Scrolls

_______

Notes & Sources:

  1. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, calls this practice mindfulness and says it is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”
  2. Mager, Dan, MSW. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/some-assembly-required/201401/pain-is-inevitable-suffering-is-optional
  3. Chödrön, Pema. Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change. 2013. Shambhala.
  4. Steele, John W., PhD. https://peoplehouse.org/services/articles/chronic-pain-as-path/

­________

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

Rejoicing with Chaos || Mary Coday Edwards

Blog 8: Rejoicing with Chaos!

final chaos pic

August 30, 2016

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards.

“When the persona is gone, chaos remains. To know that has a magnificence,” said John Heider (1).

Persona literally refers to the mask worn by actors in ancient Greece – the characters they played in their performances.

Our own persona, or mask, begins to form in early childhood in order to adapt to the desires and expectations of parents, teachers, and peers. Children quickly learn that certain behaviors and attitudes are acceptable and will win approval while others may earn punishment. These suitable qualities are then woven into the persona, while what we perceive to be unsuitable gets sent to the basement of our unconscious, stored away in the dark, which Carl Jung called the shadow.

And our ego has a vested interest in keeping this mask intact, as our ego has spent decades perhaps protecting us from what it perceived could harm us, and the persona plays a valuable part in ensuring that safety. Unfortunately, that safety also required the ego to shut out valuable pieces of our true selves.

Now, I do believe ego gets an undeserved bad rap as it’s because of the ego that consciousness arises; i.e., as we begin to wake up to our true selves, our ego is that part of us that reflects on what is arising from within, that necessity within that is calling us to incorporate that which we have denied, have relegated to the shadows; that which is calling us to return to our true selves, our essence. Jung used the term “Personality No. 1” to refer to our outward, adapted personality, and “Personality No. 2” to refer to our true essence buried under the layers.

This persona can begin to crack and fall apart at any point in our lives. In last month’s blog, I wrote how the path of growth includes bumping up against the scary unknowns, which are designed to wake us up.

“ … chaos remains.”

About chaos theory, physicist John Polkinghorne  says that “… there are many complex systems [in nature] whose extreme sensitivity to the effects of very small changes makes their future behavior beyond our power to predict accurately”(2).

A few ideas regarding this annoying inner and/or outer chaos: first of all, our psyche, our unconscious, can be sending up through dreams, synchronicities, and shifts in our moods and our body VERY SMALL CHANGES and we just need to be paying attention, mindfully.

We don’t have to go through life-altering, heart-rending circumstances for what appears to be random chaos to emerge. 

Ruth McLean, in the first verses of her poem Awoken exquisitely describes living with her chaos:

I awoke, one morning,

from shades of sleep,

to find my world had changed …            

 

The ground on which i had always placed my feet,

had subtly shifted with the darkness.

 

The firm beliefs and solid suppositions

that ordered my daily decisions …

had evaporated before my eyes …

 

… caught and helpless,

uprooted and airborne,

I existed …

 

dangling in space

between the old

and the new …

 

one eye was fixed with longing to the past

   the other,

 

with an urgent expectancy,

to what might lie ahead …

 

Next, this chaos is temporary, if we can go with the flow, if we can just allow it, staying with the experience non-judgmentally.  

Lastly, part of staying mindfully with chaos is like the theory: we must remember that there’s a good chance our future may look drastically different from our present – if only in our outlook. 

“…To know that has a magnificence.”

But KNOWING this, PERCEIVING this, that this chaos is a result of personal growth and subsequent transformation, has a MAGNIFICENCE, has a SPLENDOR, has great light, a brilliance.

Metaphorically, this perceiving brings the light of understanding into our circumstances. It does NOT mean that now life is good and I have great wisdom as to what’s going on and what the next step in my journey is.

But we DO know that this seemingly random chaos in our lives has meaning, has purpose, and that we can work with our ego, our persona, and our unconscious to bring out more of our true essence, Personality No. 2, to life every day, that we can truly give the gift to the universe of who we are.

So while we’re stumbling around in the dark, or up on that plateau where the path is difficult to find, keep in mind that magnificence of chaos!

_____

Note 1: John Heider, among other things, studied and helped direct long-term programs at Esalen Institute, taught at the Menninger Foundation of Psychiatry, and directed The Human Potential School of Mendocino, California. He is the author of The Tao of Leadership.

 

Note 2: Polkinghorne, John. Quantum Theory, A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, New York, 2002: pg. 68

_____

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Too Busy for Wellness? || Jenny St. Claire

By: Jenny St. Claire

People House Featured Blogger

time

A friend asks for your help in moving.  Your sweet kiddo wants to play a game.  Your partner wants to go for a hike. One of your favorite co-workers wants to go for a walk.  What’s your response?

“Sorry, I’m too busy.”

“You want me to WHAT?”

“I’ve got SO much going on I can’t possibly add something else.”

“I don’t have enough time.”

“Yeah, right!”

“Maybe when my schedule isn’t so full.”

How many times have you found yourself saying something like this, or at least thinking it?

Saying no to others is often a mixed bag of desire and overwhelm.

 

You want to see them, but your gut is clenched with all the pressure of what you have to get done.  How often do you deny others the gift of your time and company?   If you’ve found a way to say yes, awesome!  If not, is it worth it?  Is getting something else off your never ending checklist worth the price of missed time with a loved one?

What if the person you keep saying no to is yourself?  You’ve been meaning to go get that mole checked out for a year now.  Even though your tooth has been killing you for a week, you put off going to the dentist because you just can’t get caught up at work.  In fact, you’ve been working on the weekends for the past six months trying to get a handle on things.  Your body is sore from sitting too long seven days a week and you’re so irritable from having no kind of break that every little thing sets you off.  Perhaps you’re drinking 6 more cups of coffee than usual because you’re exhausted. How often do you put yourself on the back burner?

“Busy” is a Status Symbol

If you ask anyone how they are these days, it’s likely that 80% of the time you will hear, “I’m SO busy!”  Isn’t that weird?  I’m sure you want to know how they actually are.  Happy, sad, frustrated, brimming with excitement??  When did we start replacing how we are feeling with a commentary on our productivity?

It used to be that becoming a partner in a firm, getting tenure at a school and having enough money to buy a nice car and house were signs of success.  Now, being busy has become a new sign of value in our society.  Sure, it’s overwhelming, but if you look closely, most people puff up with a sense of pride.  If they are busy, they must be important, and therefore worthy!

so busy

Is that how you want to rate yourself?  What’s important to you?  Are you living up to your own values?  Is being so busy you don’t feel how badly your body hurts, or have time to think, or notice that your spouse needs a hug worth the supposed value it will bring you?

We need to start shifting the idea that productivity is the only thing that brings us value. 

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we started high fiving each other every time we did something to care for ourselves?!

What is Wellness, Anyway?

Most people immediately think of physical well being when the topic of wellness is broached.  Our health is certainly important; however, wellness is ultimately defined by each individual. I think of it holistically, believing it involves the whole person.  Here’s a brief breakdown:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Financial
  • Social
  • Community
  • Spiritual

What else does wellness mean to YOU?

Get Creative

Too busy for wellness? I say, “BULL!”  It’s important, so you’ve got to make it a priority. Better to make time for it now than to let things escalate into a serious issue, and then you’ll have to make a priority (those times are not fun!).

If we tried to bring every area of wellness into perfect balance right away, we would totally hit overwhelm!  Review your definition of wellness and see what aspects are calling for your attention first.  Pick one or two and let that become your wellness focus.

Get creative!  Make a list of at least 10 ways you could fit your wellness focus into your daily life.  Fill your list with both sensible and crazy ideas.  The purpose is to open your mind and world to make room for your wellbeing.  Then, talk to your family and friends and ask them for an additional 10 ways you could make time.  In fact, include ways you can address your wellness with your loved ones.

The small amount of effort you put into this exercise will reap you big, long lasting rewards!

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About the Author: Jenny is one of the many phenomenal interns working in the People House Affordable Counseling Program. With over 15 years of experience as a Spiritual Counselor, 4 years as a teacher of meditation and energy work and 2 years as a Wellness Coordinator, Jenny is a wonderful addition to the People House community. Jenny is a gentle and reflective soul who is committed to inspiring her clients to reconnect with themselves, find meaning and create positive changes. For more information or to contact Jenny, please see her therapist bio.

Living Consciously| Spirituality in Daily Life || Mary Coday Edwards

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards

People House Featured Blogger
mindfulness
As I mentioned in my first blog regarding contemporary spiritualityno one institution or religious practice owns its definition. Spirituality does seem to imply, however, a two-way search: We seek for a connection with something greater than ourselves and at the same time, seek through self-knowledge to live a fully human and integrated life.

How can we do that? Mystics and poets through the ages stress being mindful – to paying attention to your NOW. After all, that’s all any of us have! The past is gone and our future hasn’t arrived.

All we have is this moment. And this moment. And this moment.

Yes, we make plans, but we hold onto them lightly. Our NOW holds the seeds to the future; this is where inspiration hits, where creativity manifests itself, or when answers to life’s challenges break into our consciousness. When we’re ruminating over the past or anxiously planning our future, we miss those revelatory moments.

And speaking of life’s challenges: They are designed to increase our consciousness.

As humans, we automatically have ideas and beliefs about the world and these determine what is important and what is not important to us. This is our worldview or world picture, the way life is and our place in it.

When our worldview isn’t serving us anymore

Often our worldview lies unconscious and unchallenged – we’ve just soaked up what our parents told us or our culture through its various delivery points, such as advertising, social media, TV, Hollywood, government, education, or religion.

Gordon D. Kaufman says,

“A worldview or world-picture is working well when (1) it performs the indispensable task of providing communities and individuals with order and orientation in life, that is, when it is able successfully to organize and interpret the experience of women and men in such a way that they can come to terms with it and life can go on; and when (2) this orientation provides sufficient meaningfulness and motivating power to enable them to continue to struggle even against serious adversities and troubles, indeed catastrophes” (Note 1).

Life’s challenges are intended to wake us up, and by paying attention to our assumed values, beliefs, and attitudes, the Universe presents us with opportunities for to examine our unchallenged way of life. Having lived all over the world with so many people of so many stripes, I’ve had opportunities aplenty!

 

Letting life change us – before we explode!

My journey began in Peshawar, Pakistan, about 25 years ago when I set off to look for universal values. It was also when, at the time unknown to me, cracks were forming in my own worldview. Unaware that these cracks originated deep in my soul as shifting tectonic plates, I spent a long time holding them together with duct tape before I would recognize them as the gifts they were and allow them pull me apart.

Through these past five blogs, you have been the recipient of my resultant changed interior landscape, my upheaval.

I learned to delight in mystery: Blog 2.

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Anak Krakatau, Indonesia, taken by Edwards.

 

While living in Pakistan, I was ready to jettison the God baggage, but what I realized was that I wasn’t throwing out God – just the metaphor/model that I had embraced in my late teens, when I joined the Jesus Movement.

A metaphor is used when we don’t know what something is in order to give it some sort of meaning that we can connect the concept to.

Life, as well as every religion’s scriptures and/or holy books as well as science, uses metaphors and models to explain the ineffable. I had God in my worldview, and my metaphor/model wasn’t serving me anymore.  Someone has said that the God we believe in must be compatible with the way in which we understand the fabric of reality.

However, a downside of living with mystery, with uncertainty, can be a weak character, one who takes a stand for nothing. If nothing is completely “right”, then why study? What is the good?  What is justice?

 

Which takes us to Blog 3: Critical realism as a guide to the real.

The meaning of truth is correspondence with reality, but what is reality? We have a pretty good idea, for example, of what’s in an atom – otherwise I wouldn’t be typing on this computer, but not an absolute. We have an inkling also of spiritual realities. Although their experiences are not as easy to duplicate, all of us can relate to some of the spiritual nuances revealed by generations of seers, mystics, poets, and artists.

Therefore, we have a form of realism, in that some aspects of the world are accessible to us, but it is a critical realism because our scientific – and spiritual – constructs are also reflections of the imagination and intuition of our human minds; they are extrapolations.

Consequently, based on the fabric of reality shown by quantum physics, I live my life as if my efforts mattered (Blog 4: The physics of prayer: choosing mystery). At a subatomic level we live in an observer-influenced world.  Compassion for sentient beings might indeed make the world go ‘round – including compassion at a distance.

 

And translating this all into action – why should I care? Why should I exhibit compassion?

Blog 5: Values, Morals – and Quantum Ethics. Because we’re all hitched together, as John Muir wrote in 1911. Father of our national park system, Muir spent time with and in nature and sensed those interconnections just when Einstein’s Nobel Prize winning discoveries were beginning to disturb existing worldviews.  Relationality, inclusive patterns and interconnectedness appear to be deeply imbedded in the fundamental structure of our physical world. Elements in a system adjust themselves to other modifications and system laws develop.

For up to 4,000 years various versions of the Golden Rule, “Do not do unto others as you would not want done unto you”, have appeared in nearly every religion and ethical tradition.

And this was before the Internet, so these great intuitive thinkers for the most part came up with this with little interaction amongst themselves.

In summary – and speaking as a critical realist – mindfully practice your spirituality, comfortable with mystery. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, says mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”

Be grateful for everything; circumstances wake us up so that we learn to bring all of ourselves to every life event, we show up as ourselves.

This may mean drastic changes to your worldview. Embrace them, mindfully, living the question of “Where is this taking me?”

And tentatively perhaps, base your values, ethics, and decisions on an interconnected world where your efforts matter.

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Note 1: Kaufman, Gordon D. In Face of Mystery, A Constructive Theology. Harvard University Press, USA, 1993; pg. 47.

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About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Fostering Positive Emotion || Craig Freund

By Craig Freund, Affordable Counseling Program Intern
New posts every other Tuesday

A great deal of psychological and self-help literature is largely focused on how to deal with unfortunate life circumstances and associated emotions. Similarly, therapy often focuses on working with traumatic past events or challenging negative thought patterns. Even in conversation with our close friends we might talk about how to deal with depression or how to manage our anxiety. All too often it seems that we hope to find wellness through discussing these negative details. However, a more recent and deeply profound movement in the world of mental health has been dubbed positive psychology.

Positive psychology is the science and research of what it is that makes people happy.

Fortunately, pioneers in this domain of mental wellness have made important discoveries. We’ve come to learn that we can intentionally work to foster positive emotions in our daily lives. While it is certainly necessary to work with traumatic experiences or to discuss the deep sadness of a depressed state, it is also important to understand that as we move through negative emotions we must replace these with positive more helpful emotions. As we overcome depression or work through anxiety, we must also work towards promoting the development of positive emotion in our everyday lives.

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When it comes to fostering positive emotion, we must deliberately engage in activities that bring us joy and happiness. With this, fostering positive emotion occurs with purposeful attempts to improve our emotional well-being. This seemingly sensible step towards wellness occurs where common sense meets intentionality. In general, we are aware of certain environments, activities or individuals that promote positive emotion within ourselves.

By taking our understanding of activities that we love and by actively engaging in these activities, we take a simple understanding of the things we enjoy and apply this to promote positive emotion within our life experience.

This is certainly easier said than done, especially if you happen to be in a depressed or highly anxious state of mind. By keeping this principle in mind and by taking even small steps to engage in these positive activities, the hope is that the light will eventually outshine the darkness and that any unwelcome emotions will be transformed into a more enjoyable life experience.

The first example of potential avenues for fostering positive emotion is with positive activities.

This might range from cooking a meal, painting a picture, cleaning your home or even staring at the clouds. Although the most effective positive activities will certainly vary from one individual to the next, everyone likely has a collection of these sorts of activities and if you don’t, compiling a list of positive activities may be the best place to start. Along with this, exercise is one way in which we can foster positive emotion in our lives.

A great deal of research has shown that exercise releases neurotransmitters that promote feelings of well-being. Additionally, when we exercise we often feel positive for engaging in an activity that we know is beneficial for our health. These first suggestions for fostering positive emotion in our lives may seem fairly obvious, but by intentionally utilizing these to foster positive emotions we can begin to experience wellness.

Another activity that can be used to foster positive emotion is humor; you might watch a comedy, look up jokes or find some humorous videos online.

Laughter or any expression of humor is a natural way to ease tension, relieve stress or to simply feel better.

As I’m sure you’ve experienced, a good belly laugh can really lift the spirits. By actively seeking laughter and by finding humor in simple everyday quirks, we can take an active role in fostering positive emotion in our lives. Imagine feeling down and in the dumps, then while watching your favorite comedian you begin to laugh and find yourself relieved to be feeling less depressed. This is a simple technique for fostering positive emotion known as opposite emotion action. With this technique we simply identify how we are feeling and identify an action that would allow us to feel the opposite.

In another example, if you’re feeling low, possibly related to a poor self-image, you decide that an opposite emotion action might be to get a haircut. By engaging with the opposite emotion action we are better able to foster the positive emotions that we’d like to have more of in our lives.

Yet another well researched and empirically validated technique for intentionally fostering positive emotion in our lives is the practice of gratitude.

We all have so much to be grateful for, we can be grateful for the ability to make choices, for basic necessities, for loved ones or even for beautiful weather.

Regardless of what it is that we are grateful for, counting these blessings on a regular basis will foster positive emotion in our lives. We all have certain characteristics that we can be grateful for and by reminding ourselves of these characteristics or attributes we can further foster positive emotion.

sending-gratitude-to-the-universe

By taking advantage of positive self-affirmations, we can experience the positive emotions that often come with a healthy self-image. For example, one exercise focused on promoting positive emotion, is to make a list of self-affirmations, this might range from a reminder that you are smart, funny or at the very least unique. If you’re having difficulty with this exercise, check-in with a positive or supportive friend or family member for ideas. Once you’ve got a healthy list of positive self-affirmations, put them on separate slips of paper and place these slips into a jar. Anytime you’re feeling down, pull an affirmation out of the jar and remind yourself how blessed you truly are. These affirmations can also be incredibly helpful to deliberately challenge those negative thoughts that can creep into our consciousness.

Finally, when engaging in activities that are intentionally directed at fostering positive emotion in your life, it is helpful to bring a mindful presence to each activity.

By being fully present with each exercise, we are better able to take advantage of all that each activity has to offer.

Intentionally focus on every detail of the activity, notice your own emotions and pay close attention to the positive emotions as they begin to arise. Although each technique for fostering positive emotion is certainly powerful, it’s possible that you may be feeling so stuck that you are unable to engage in these or that the positive impact is fleeting at best.

If you find yourself in this situation you may benefit from some time with a psychotherapist. A trained psychotherapist can help you to overcome anything that might be preventing you from fostering positive emotion in your life. In summary, take charge of your life, become a happier more joyful person and intentionally work to foster positive emotion in your life.

 -Be Intentional

 -Engage in Positive Activities

-Opposite Emotion Action

    -Express Gratitude

    -Find Humor

    -Utilize Self-Affirmations

    -Challenge Negative Thoughts

    -Reflect & Embody Positive Experiences 

 


About the Author: Craig is one of the many exceptional interns working in the People House Affordable Counseling Program. With over 4 years of experience as a Mental Health Counselor working in residential, crisis and hospital settings, Craig is a wonderful addition to the People House community. Craig is a gentle, compassionate and genuine person who works to tailor his therapeutic approach to the specific needs of each and every individual. He enjoys working with a wide variety of individuals with various life experiences and personal interests. For more information or to contact Craig, please see his therapist bio.

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.

 

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.  

 

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