Genuine Heart Counseling, LLC


Some Snippets on Mindfulness

Modified from excerpts from: Mindfulness Instructor Training: Reflections on View, Practice, Action and Result, Chandra Lontz-Smith, Naropa University, October 22, 2013


Mindfulness is a natural ability of the mind to pay attention. The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to cultivate and strengthen this natural ability to be aware, with an intention to recognize life as it is, without judgment or a need to seek something or run away from something else. It is to get in touch with and develop one’s mental clarity, strength and stability (Mipham, 2003, p 25).

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality”

(John Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p 4).

“…meditation properly performed prepares you to meet the ups and downs of existence…The precision of your thought increases and gradually you come to a direct knowledge of things as they really are, without prejudice and without illusion”

(Henepola Gunaratana, 1991, p 17).

Training in mindfulness meditation is an important endeavor so that we may strengthen our tendency toward friendliness and curiosity and gain greater clarity about our choices, emotions, and behaviors. All of this allows us to engage life more consciously and with more compassion.

Some misconceptions

Mindfulness meditation is sometimes misunderstood as a way to get rid of uncomfortable situations and emotions or run away from reality. To the contrary, it is actually bringing us very directly into contact with our life. Henepola Gunaratana (1991) states, “Vipassana meditation is not an attempt to forget yourself or to cover up your troubles. It is learning to look at yourself exactly as you are” (p 28).

It can also be misunderstood as a technique designed simply for relaxation or as a great way to get high. Whereas relaxation is an important and developing aspect of meditation, and strong, focused concentration can bring about deep, blissful states of relaxation and profound tranquility, this is not the intention of mindfulness meditation.bliss

Gunaratana reminds us that what we are seeking in mindfulness meditation is awareness. In this practice we are not attempting to create blissful or trancelike states, but rather to become more alive in each moment, as we notice it, just as it is.

Natural wakefulness

Understanding that wakefulness, specifically the mental virtues of flexibility, clarity, strength, and stability are already present within us, provides a foundation so that we may begin to relax with the practice. Since we know (or come to understand) that these qualities are already part of our experience, we can begin exploring our situations and creating personal, experiential awareness of these inherent virtues. This cultivates trust and confidence in the practice and in ourselves as well. 

The goal

The goal of mindfulness, if it could be said to have one, is simply to be aware; although, perhaps it is more complete to say that it is to be aware that one is aware. John Kabat-Zinn (1994) states, “It has to do with examining who we are, with questioning our view of the world and our place in it, and with cultivating some appreciation for the fullness of each moment we are alive. Most of all it has to do with being in touch” (p 3).mindfulness

We have the natural capacity for mindfulness, and actively practicing this skill encourages a stronger tendency for this mindful state to be present in our life and with greater benefit for ourselves and others… Holding to a goal naturally takes us away from what is happening right now. We are looking forward to when we will attain our goal and often miss the experiences and successes that are happening right now. Although striving for results is a tendency for some meditators, especially new meditators, this tension is in direct contrast to mindfulness.

Mindfulness and the Nervous System

Mindfulness meditation supports the brain and nervous system by its very nature. Mindfulness is our inherent ability to pay attention to our internal and external experience, in the present moment and without judgment. This nonjudgmental, inward attention of meditation practice naturally activates our parasympathetic nervous system in three specific ways, namely withdrawing attention from stressful matters, relaxing, and bringing awareness into the body (Hanson and Mendius, 2009, p 85).

Stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system supports several aspects of wellbeing, some of the key aspects are:

  • strengthening of the insult, which is associated with regulation, perception and self awareness
  • strengthening of the hippocampus, which is associated with memory and reevaluation of threat
  • strengthening of the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with discernment, evaluation of consequences, and working toward a goal.

Meditation also

  • decreases cortisol, our bodies natural stress hormone
  • strengthens the immune system
  • increases the activation of left frontal regions, which produces a more uplifted mood (Hanson and Mendius, 2009, p 85).

Mindfulness and its naturally supportive and healing aspects are accessible to everyone; remember mindfulness is something we have a natural capacity for and the healing aspects are wired into our biology; it’s how our nervous system works. These are things we all do already… and this is not something we have to be really good at before it will bring us relief. Hanson and Mendius (2009) remind us that noticing “…even a single breath from beginning to end-or a single step on the way to work-can be remarkably centering and calming” (p 83).


  • Chodron, P. (1991). The wisdom of no escape. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.
  • Gunaratana, H. (1991). Mindfulness in plain English. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.
  • Hanson, R. and Mendius, R. (2009). Buddha’s brain. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications Inc.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go there you are. New York, NY: Hyperion.
  • Sakyong Mipham. (2003). Turning the mind into an ally. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Why Is Managing Strong Emotions So Unmanageable?

I hope from my blog last month you got some helpful information. Now I’d like to offer a reflection on reality, to bring it home a little bit.

Last month: a concise, if not still daunting summary of our nervous system and how it takes in information from our environment and either gets (or keeps) moving in a more stress-primed direction or, hopefully, with attention, starts moving more in the direction of ease and contentment. Also, mindfulness is awesome and can be a resource for our well-being….

This month: a reminder of why practice is important for making this work, not just knowing about it, and a humbling example of what I said before about the challenge of change. Shifting habit patterns is not just about coming up with a great new way to do stuff. We can have great intentions and really helpful information, and it’s important to remember that making a change in our lives requires patience and firm yet gentle discipline, the type of discipline that knows and reminds us that we are worthy, just the way we are, and it holds us accountable while bringing us back in line with our intention for change.

Here’s the situation: My friend needed a kitty sitter and offered to bring them to my house for the weekend. I love cats, and I thought it was a brilliant idea. I had met them before and found them friendly and engaging and wonderfully and appropriately curious.

cat with weaponIt was clear within the first ten minutes of their arrival that this was not going to be the cute and cuddly snuggle-fest I had envisioned. My house, and very soon my sanity, was under attack. I had closed off as many rooms as I could, had relocated multiple plants, removed many objects from shelves and counters, convinced myself that the removal of their front claws meant my curtains, couches and yes, my walls! were safe. It was not realistic for me to completely cat-proof my house, nor did I want to, but even with my considerable modifications they proceeded to find something to mess with, chew on or otherwise threaten for the reminder of the night. My attempts at redirection provided a temporary distraction from the current object of fixation and therefore a moment of relief for myself, but within moments they had moved on to threaten some other area of my home.

By now, I imagine you get a general idea of the context of this situation, however the degree of emotional intensity, I assure you has not yet been felt, and I do not wish to bring it about for you. Suffice it to say, I was loud, angry, and nearly out of my mind.

I turned my attention toward myself. I got curious about my thoughts and underlying beliefs. I didn’t have to look far before I recognized –fear. I was afraid for my stuff; afraid they were going to destroy my house. Nothing felt safe, no area unreachable or off limits to their curious minds and ability to jump, and they didn’t care upsethow it affected me. I was afraid for them. The deadly plants had been put away at least, but if they ate certain other plants they could still get sick. If they fell off the half-wall by the stairs they could break a bone or kill themselves… The other piece to the fear-thing though was realizing that I had been attempting to use it to motivate behavior change. If I could yell loud enough, then they would not only get off the counter or out of the plant pot but they would decide it was a bad idea altogether and wouldn’t do it again. Really?! They just looked at me. Not only were they completely not persuaded to not do it again, it had no effect on the current behavior. It was not lost on me in the midst of the chaos and my emotional instability the apparent similarities between curious kittens and regular toddlers. It was also not lost on me that the content I had been so diligently working on for a parent workshop, specifically managing intense emotions with validation, compassion, and connection and employing self-care, was not being utilized at all! It’s a great idea, and yes, it’s going to help you and your children. It takes more than just understanding it though; it takes practice and a degree of regulation. Regulation, very simply, is an ability to notice one’s self in a situation, take a few intentional breaths, move his or her body and relieve the agitation in his or her nervous system. Regulation brings a person back to center and helps keep them connected: to the experience, to themselves, and to the other people (or cats) involved in the situation. I had all the information, but it was clear my emotions were in charge. The only thing that was happening was I was getting more and more worked up. Words got louder. Words got meaner. I was losing ground.

At no point was I able to step out of this experience far enough to see the humor, but at some point my wisdom and compassion did break through. I could see how much I was suffering through this, and I got curious about how my aggression was affecting their well-being. I decided I was going to meditate while this was going on, use it for practice. I sat down, set my timer and began watching my breath. I had the intention of “noticing the energy,” (as an alternative to reacting), like so many teachers suggest when dealing with intense emotions. Well, it wasn’t working. I was off the cushion and yelling before the slightest sound from their behavior had registered in my brain.

Pema Chodron says there are 3 times during a situation when we can work with our habitual tendencies:

1. After we have done whatever the thing is we usually do

2. When we notice that we’re about to do the thing, we pause, notice our body sensations, thoughts, feelings, etc and then we still do the thing we usually do

3. When we feel the underlying energy of the emotion, we notice it and chose to sit with it instead of reacting, essentially cutting through our tendency to do the thing we usually do.

Well, I was at #1. I’d fly up from my seat, yelling and pointing my finger at them and then stop and feel my body, revitalize my intention to stay with the energy and return to my cushion. Then they’d get into something again and away I’d go. After several of these rounds, I noticed I was more able to stay with the energy, for a few moments, then I’d hear them rustle something, and up and off I’d go.

Pema Chodron says, “It isn’t what happens to us that makes us happy or unhappy; it is how the mind is set.” This is about my perception of things. My sanity was not actually under attack, say, from some outside source, but I was beyond my comfort zone, beyond my threshold for staying grounded and regulated. This threshold is often referred to as one’s Window of Tolerance, and I was clearly outside of my own. The trouble is that when we end up here, changing our perceptions requires…well, a part of our brain that, for most of us, isn’t accessible right now. Like I mentioned, my emotions were in charge.

When we perceive a threat in our environment, (think back to the last blog and remember that our nervous system, our biology is what helps us manage these things) we get revved up (with the help of our Sympathetic Nervous System) to tackle the situation or flee it, or if it’s too much for us, we shut down (with the help of our Parasympathetic Nervous System) and “play dead,” in a way, by getting spacey or checked out or super sleepy. Another thing that happens when our situation feels overwhelming is that we “flip our lid,” as Daniel Siegel says. This is when the higher-order functioning of the brain is longer online. This is the part that would help us change our perceptions and allow us to notice that we’re about to do the thing we usual do. For the time being, we do not have access to our Prefrontal Cortex, the part of our brain that helps us consider the consequences and see the bigger picture. Instead, we are operating from the instinctual and emotional parts of our brain. The Prefrontal Cortex is what monitors the actions of these other parts of the brain, ultimately helping us calm the strong impulses, reactions and emotions that originate there, and right now it is disengaged.

My mentor likes to remind us that being regulated doesn’t mean being calm. I’m going to say that again. Being regulated doesn’t mean that we are calm. We can be angry, excited, overwhelmed, scared or sad and still be regulated. The difference between being regulated or not is our awareness. Are we aware of our body and how it feels in this state? Are we aware of the thoughts and beliefs that are going on in our mind about ourselves or the other person? Are we aware of ourselves in the room? Or our feet on the floor? Or our hands in fists? It is through this awareness that we can stay connected with ourselves, help keep our cortex engaged and respond to life from a more regulated state of being.

With practice.

Even after I’ve made some strides and can start seeing different responses to certain situations or feeling a little more room in myself for my emotions and experiences, I have little reminders or these big ones, that I am still in the process. It’s tough because I notice myself wondering if anything is really happening in my effort for a healthier relationship with my emotions, or if the expression of my emotions has gotten any less hurtful, to others or myself. I get frustrated, and I find that it’s often easier to shame myself and “should” myself than believe I am making any headway. I let myself believe my thoughts that somehow this should be easier than it is or I should have already gotten it by now. John Welwood says,

Emotions are our most common experience of being moved by forces seemingly beyond our control. As such, they are among the most confusing and frightening phenomena of everyday life. People often treat them as a nuisance or a threat…If we could let ourselves feel just what we feel, instead of reacting against it, condemning it, or trying to manipulate and suppress it, perhaps we would develop greater confidence about facing whatever life confronts us with.

This is definitely a process, not something that we learn about and just do. Yes, the instructions can seem simple. It’s mostly just about noticing our experience, about feeling “just what we feel,” but it’s not easy. Sometimes, a lot of times actually, my emotions do feel like the “most frightening phenomenon of everyday life,” yet I am noticing that there are also times when I can take that breath and feel my heart open up and hold it.

By pausing in the midst of something stressful and checking in with our body sensations, we can help to bring our cortex back on line, start (or keep) moving our nervous system back in the direction of contentment and ease and perhaps, as Welwood suggests, cultivate greater confidence for whatever we experience. Offering validation, compassion and connection to our children, when we are hoping to support them in a space of emotional upset is key to strengthening intimacy in our relationships with them; being able to pause, notice our own sensations, thoughts and beliefs is key to being able to stay regulated enough to offer this validation and connection to our kids. Whether we are parents or not though, managing emotions is one of the most important endeavors of our life (and in many arenas, one of the least discussed topics, unfortunately). Managing our emotions supports our relationship with ourselves, our partner(s), our friends and family and those in our work experiences. As well, the process of managing our emotions helps us better understand our needs and triggers, and it reduces our overall stress through attending to these aspects of our lives and strengthening the supportive aspects our nervous system.

When we get stressed, we often lose access to the part of our brain that helps us think through things, challenge or change our perceptions, moderate our impulses, and maintain our awareness, so noticing these aspects of our experience (like our body sensations and thoughts), when life isn’t totally out of hand, strengthens the habit, and ultimately makes it easier when life does get overwhelming. Also, an important part of the support here is the cumulative effect on the general state of our nervous system. This kind of internal awareness helps to cool the fires overall and reduce our reactivity. And I’m realizing another really important part of this experience is the teaching on patience and self-compassion. I am often really hard on myself, so understanding this in the big picture is helpful and recognizing that my practice of learning how to manage these strong emotions also includes learning how to love myself when I don’t get it right. What an amazing, enriching, uncomfortable, inspiring, overwhelming, and totally normal experience of being alive! May we all have the blessings we need for our journey!

Our Nervous System: the Good, the Bad and the…Beautiful

(I gotta get this out here. It’s so much a part of my view, and I want others to start understanding a bit of my perspective so the rest of my blogs are held in some sort of context. The trouble is I’ve been looking for my sources, and I can’t narrow them down to the bits of information they provided. I’m going to list, at the end of this article, some of the main contributors to my understanding. Please contact me for further discussion if you want. I think that’s what it’s all about anyway. With this said, here I go…)


To explain very simply, a not-so-simple system, our nervous system (NS) is the relay system of our bodies. According to our nervous system is like a network helping our brain and our body communicate. Messages go back and forth from our brain to our body and our body to our brain, all in an effort to help us process and respond to our environment.

Here’s The Good, or at least part of it: our natural and most ideal nervous system state consists mostly of an activated Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS), which is our “rest and digest” system. This means our natural state is one of contentment, ease and peace. To balance us out and provide vitality and alertness is a slight activation in the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). We also have the capacity, when we need it, to activate (and manage) more substantial, occasional spikes in our Sympathetic Nervous System to handle threats and demanding situations and then to return to a state of rest.stress meter


stressThere is discussion at this point that most of us operate from a chronic, low-grade state of an activated Sympathetic Nervous System, rather than enjoying the benefits of having our Parasympathetic Nervous System as our baseline. This means we are most often engaging our lives from a state of “fight or flight.” This is due to the state of our lives, the pace of our culture, the introduction of technology, and, here’s The Bad: the result of riding the Negative Slide momentum of our nervous system cycle.


The cycle goes something like this:
Stimuli enters the Brain

>>>which activates the>>>


(for evaluation as a potential threat or opportunity)

>>>which activates the>>>


(which is hard wired to focus on negative information and react intensely to it,  specifically through fear/anger

>>>which activates the>>>


>>>which activates the>>>

Brain Stem

(that stimulates norepinephrine)

>>>which activates the>>>

Major Organs / Muscle Groups

(to get us ready for Fight or Flight)

>>>which activates the>>>


>>>which activates the>>>

Adrenal glands

>>>which activates the>>>

Stress hormones: epinephrine / cortisol

(reduces the immune system and activates the brain stem again)

>>>which activates the>>>

Amygdala further

>>>which activates>>>

More Cortisol


Which suppresses Hippocampal Activity

(which would normally inhibit the amygdala and help us re-evaluate threats)

>>>which shifts the>>>

Prefrontal Cortex

(our rational center for decision making and discernment)

in the Negative Direction

(so the opinions and thoughts of others’ intentions have a negative bias)



Okay, take a breath.




Strengthens the amygdala so we’re even more primed for the negative AND

Suppresses the hippocampus, which usually helps to inhibit the amygdala and calm us down

stress pic

So what about The Beautiful? Here’s the rest of the good news:

As I mentioned, our natural state is one of ease and peace. Masters of mindfulness, and now science, remind us of this. We are not trying to cultivate something new. We’re just strengthening a natural aspect of our beings, which in many of our cases, has become somewhat dormant or a bit atrophied from lack of attention. And attention is the answer: attention to our breath, attention to our bodies, attention to the present moment.mindfulness drop

Studies show that bringing our attention to the internal sensations of our body engages the Parasympathetic Nervous System (since this is the system responsible for keeping track of these sensations) and begins to strengthen it. Just as the cycle moves us, once it gets going, sadly and stressfully to a more dys-regulated, agitated, negatively-oriented state of being, once we begin strengthening our Parasympathetic Nervous System the cycle starts to move in the other direction.

As we continue to practice mindfulness and the momentum shifts, our attention turns toward ourselves and our sensations with greater ease and spontaneity. As our Parasympathetic Nervous System continues to grow stronger, we are naturally reducing cortisol, which lets the amygdala off the hook and our hippocampus begins to heal. With our attention inward, we are not only activating our Parasympathetic Nervous System, we are also practicing bringing our attention to the present moment. Pema Chodron says “It’s our storylines that aggravate our troubles.” With our awareness on the present moment, our attention is drawn mindfulness Nowaway from fears, doubts, criticisms, or whatever thoughts are stressing us out and brought toward what is: our heart beating, our body breathing, our weight resting. This is not to say we stop thinking. That’s not possible. It’s what our minds do. Thinking is the energy of the mind. It’s about not getting caught up in the thinking. Turning toward what is happening, instead of what we’re angry or afraid or excited might happen, provides a reprieve.

Much of what I’m probably going to talk about in these blogs comes back to this foundation: everybody’s natural state is ease and contentment; we can support and strengthen this state through body awareness and mindfulness of the present moment; when we feel stressed out or are getting overwhelmed with life, we can pause, breathe, notice ourselves in this moment and practice compassionate, non-judgmental curiosity about our body sensations, emotions, thoughts and beliefs; it’s simple and not easy; and it takes practice.

Through my training and my experience I have come to trust my body to support my well-being. As well, I’m still practicing how to utilize its support when I’m super stressed out and forget all the cool stuff I’ve learned. My aspiration is to offer some practical information based on our bodies natural wisdom and backed by experience and research. I hope you find it approachable and inspiring but most of all helpful. I want you to be able to use it. I’m on this crazy ride too. I know that life is busy and habits run deep. I know that change isn’t so easy. I also know that transformation is possible, and where I’ve seen or known it most clearly is when life is met with curiosity and the support is straightforward, simple and embodied.

Be on the lookout for more blogs about the nervous system, nervous system regulation and mindfulness.

With Blessings


Some of the significant authors and their books that have supported my understanding:

  • Pema Chodron
    • Don’t Bite the Hook
    • Wisdom of No Escape
  • Rick Hansen with Richard Mendius, Buddha’s Brain
  • Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English
  • Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are
  • Shantideva, Bodhicharyavatara (The Way of the Bodhisattva)
  • Daniel Siegel
    • The whole brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind (with Payne Bryson)
    •  Pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology: An integrative handbook of the mind
  • Sharon Salzberg

Significant mentors:

  • Asmus, Katie
  • Azreal, Dale
  • Clarke, Kathy
  • Dion, Lisa
  • Freeman, Duey
  • Mazuy, Kate
  • Niculae, Anca

Random research:

  • Harvard Health Publications
  • Harry Witchel(2006) Incongruence: do you send mixed messages that prevent you from succeeding 
  • On Being (Adele Diamond- The Science of Attention)
  • Tools of the Mind
  • University of Maryland Medical Center (
  • Lea Wireman. (Oct 2005 Vol 36, No 9) American Psychological Association. The Mind’s Mirror Department of Physiology, Medical School, University of Bristol, England

Martial Arts: More than Just Self-Defense

me and senseiI love the martial arts. A decade ago I never would have seen that statement coming, and at this point, 5 years into my martial arts journey, I can’t imagine not having it in my life. People come to martial arts for many reasons. For me it was partly about self-defense and partly about self-discovery. It’s still very much about this, but now it’s also about relationship, with myself and with others. And it’s about practicing speaking up for myself. It’s about acknowledging mbeltingy limitations and practicing not having to apologize for them or feeling guilty or ashamed about it. It’s about learning to care for myself and about asking others to care for me too. It’s about practicing letting them do so. The martial arts have helped me explore, establish and maintain boundaries. It’s provided amazing opportunities to explore the difference between hard work and perfectionism and the balance between pushing my limits and trusting them. I’ve learned how to listen to my body and how to take care of it, sometimes by taking a day off and sometimes by trusting my strength and training and going the extra ½ mile. It’s been about assertiveness, confidence, body strength, mind strength, vulnerability, and surrender.


For the others I see at the dojo, I notice them finding their own edges. I’ve watched several of the other adults soften through our years together. In the beginning I think we all wanted to be super cool, sometimes believing we needed to be tough. As we’ve grown together, I see others admit to the limits of their own bodies or begin to acknowledge the boundaries of their play (like they’re not actually comfortable getting thrown to the ground). I’ve seen them bump up against their own needs for perfectionism or the discomfort of their vulnerability.


We all have our personal challenges and limitation that we bring with us to the mat. For some of the students in there it’s about physical challenges due to injuries or age. For some, it’s a confidence thing. For some, it’s autism. No matter what our challenges are, it seems Sensei meets us where we are. He sees us with our strengths and our limits, which is a powerful experience. He encourages us to find and strive toward our own goals and then celebrates with us when we accomplish this next step.


As a counselor and play therapist, I am always looking for awesome resources and extra support for my clients and families. I believe the martial arts offer this for so many reasons, for children and adults alike. It is a wonderful opportunity for exercise, which is helpful for health and fitness, depression and overall wellbeing. It’s a great place to play, which naturally makes exercise more fun, offers opportunities for friendship, laughter and cooperation, and even provides opportunities for leadership. A dojo, or other training center, offers community and connection. Perhaps it’s other parents you want to connect with or other women, or maybe you’re seeking a way to bring your family together in a common activity or help your children meet other kids. Some students train for only a short time, but many of the students at my dojo have grown up there, often with others from their own family, and always as a member of the dojo family. I see many parents seek out play therapy for the same reasons they seek out the martial arts. They are hoping to help their children strengthen discipline, self-control, and respect for others as well as boost confidence, self-esteem and respect for themselves. From the time they walk in the door, they are learning what it means to be part of a larger community, how to be helpful and talk with confidence, how to work toward their goals and to be thankful for the people who help make achieving them possible. They learn about boundaries, how to speak up for their own and how to respect the other students’. Many dojos have teachings that go along with the cycle so students are learning about community, respect, courtesy, and discipline among other topics.


Not all dojos are the same, so go see the space and meet the instructors. Most dojos, kwoons and other training centers will give you a week to try it out. Look for how supportive they are of their students. You can usually feel it in the space and hear it in their words. Some training centers are there to train fighters for competition. Maybe that’s your thing; try it out. Otherwise look for a warm environment that encourages learning, dedication and respect as well as playfulness and family. I’ve checked out several training centers in the Longmont area and have been very impressed with their dedication to the values I’ve spoken about here. If you’re interested you can check out my website for some referrals, otherwise get out on the mat and see what your martial arts journey holds for you!

me and teacers black

Thank you Professor Austin and Renshi Denning!

Your friendship, care and training have changed my life!

Growing Pains of Therapy

A little about therapy.

It helps us get in touch with our emotions, and it helps us figure out how to manage the big ones. It helps us get clearer about our goals and needs. It helps us learn, adjust, and practice coping strategies for the tough stuff. It encourages us to challenge our typical ways of being in the world as we cultivate a deeper sense of courage, compassion and determination. It supports us as we become more honest, both with ourselves and with others and helps us find different, hopefully more effective ways to communicate. It helps us recoempowerment mountaingnize what aspects of our lives we have control over and which ones we don’t, and it provides opportunities to explore what we do about it then. It inspires us to find ways of allowing others to begin taking charge of their own lives and helps us find an inner permission to let go and begin taking care of ourselves.

Sounds pretty awesome. And it is.

As a client, I can say it’s an amazing journey of empowerment, growth and self-discovery. As a therapist, it’s an honor to be a witness to someone’s amazing journey as well as a participant in their unfolding transformation. Gone are the days of therapist-as-expert, you-sit-on-the-couch-and-then-they’ll-figure-you-out. Thank Goodness! This is an experience of collaboration, an…experiment, perhaps, in relationship.

With that all being said, there are also some growing pains in counseling.

contemplationSometimes a client wakes up one day, feels a new sense of perspective and confidence and thinks ‘I made it!’ only to notice the familiar feeling of anger or depression return the next day. Sometimes, as a client gets clearer about their goals and needs they may realize that these don’t actually line up with their partner’s. I witness it with my clients, and as a client, I have experienced some of it myself. As we challenge our typical ways of being in the world and search for a more self-nurturing and authentic way of living, others may question our motives or we may run into resistance from our loved ones. We might try speaking out honestly only to find someone expressing their own disappointment or frustration with our preference or decision.

In each of these experiences we are becoming more aware of our inner wisdom and cultivating a deeper friendship with ourselves.

And in most of these experiences we are bumping up against the boundaries between us and the other relationships in our lives.

These boundaries are natural and are always there in some form or another. We may not be aware of them or may choose to ignore them, especially when addressing them challenges our beliefs about family or friendship or getting along. A good counselor helps us get curious about the way we get around in our life, helps us explore the unconscious ways we are relating to things and helps us get to know it. A good counselor understands and respects the subtleties of change, including each of our own sneaky ways of resisting it and makes room for the process, they help us get to know this part too. There are countless experiences to illustrate the phenomenon that occurs when we break the status quo. It can be inspiring as well as uncomfortable. It’s all part of the process of rediscovery, of becoming more fully ourselves, and therapy can support this whole process. With awareness we get to make more conscious choices and can take responsibility and accountability for our lives.

Becoming familiar with this stuff can be uncomfortable. During this time of discovering, uncovering, and reorienting we will often have choices to make: about the people we want in our life; about the way we want certain people in our life; about how we’re going to prioritize things. I say we, because I’m right here with you. Some of the biggest and most challenging choices often revolve around whether we want to keep living for other people or more for our selves. This might include working through our fears about hurting someone’s feelings or fears about damaging a friendship by choosing a different way of relating. It might be about challenging our ideas and beliefs around selfishness and boundaries. Or maybe it’s about exploring our identity as a caring, helpful friend/daughter/son/spouse/parent and/or releasing beliefs about our responsibility to fix other people.

hands reachingCounseling offers a safe place, a sort of laboratory or play ground to practice with all of this. We get to try on these new ways of speaking or a new set of priorities and see if they fit. If we like the “new look” we have someone there to help us navigate the awkward, self-conscious period of making it our own. Having someone there during these times is helpful. Knowing that someone can see our growth and knows our challenges too can help us have patience as we integrate our understanding and create lasting change.

Joining the Dialogue

Blogging. Facebooking. What’s the big deal? Everybody does it. That’s the thing, though. Not me. My cousin gave me a hard time almost 20 years ago for not being up on my email. Now I have email, several of them, Facebook (2 of those, which include chatting, messaging, group interaction, check-ins, Likes, my comments, your comments, my comments to your comments, pending items, notifications, friend requests, and other stuff I probably don’t even know about yet), my Yelp accounts (2 of those too), my LinkedIn account, a website and now I’m planning on writing a blog. What am I thinking?!

So often I find myself staring at that little comment box on Facebook (the one that really only requires a sentence or two) underneath my friend’s picture of her new puppy or the kids’ first day of school and wishing I had something awesome to say. I get nervous it’s not going to be quite right. Sometimes I even write something kind of awesome, I think, and then I delete it! I go on to the next cute picture of my cousins or friends and run into a similar experience. I just “Like” it and move on, hoping they know I’m thinking of them but offering nothing really personal about the impact this picture had on my day…And now… I’m going to write a blog and share all kinds of things about how life impacts my day? Or how a certain perspective or skill can impact yours? I have grand visions for where this can go, but as Pema Chodron says, you have to start where you are. Well: super nervous and totally overwhelmed! (I’ve secretly started more blogs. I’ve got hours invested, and they’re totally chaotic. Concepts all over the place!) Seriously, what am I thinking?! How many pages do you think I’m going write out and delete?! Sometimes I think this is crazy. Here’s the thing though, I’m willing to do it.

Here’s my inspiration for this, with many thanks to Maya Angelou: “We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans – because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings. That’s why we paint, that’s why we dare to love someone – because we have the impulse to explain who we are…internally…perhaps even spiritually. There’s something which impels us to show our inner-souls. The more courageous we are, the more we succeed in explaining what we know.”

Well, this is definitely going to take courage, not to mention surrender, trust and vulnerability. I feel so vulnerable and self-conscious, wondering what I possibly have to offer in the ongoing dialogue of life that could really help someone out, feeling nervous about how I write it and the fact that I’m only going to be able to speak to certain aspects, never the whole picture. Apparently, I put a lot of weight on my nonverbal communication, like my eye contact or posture, to support my sense of self (or defend my humanness), because when I’m not there, when it’s just my words…I get really nervous. What if people disagree? I’m fine to get in a debate. I just want to be there for it. What if people don’t like what I have to say? That feels fine too, if we’ve had an opportunity to discuss it, and I got to hear their stance and they got to hear mine. There’s something uncomfortable about wondering what people thought about my comment. Even a benign comment rouses some sort of response in people: “Oh that’s witty. Ha Ha.” “Oh, that was sweet…” “I’ve never thought about it that way.” Sure that’s what I wish people would say about my thought-now-permanently-set-on-Facebook or in my blog. But what about: (smirk) “She bothered to post that?” or “I didn’t see her research to back that up” or “I’ve heard that a thousand times.” Ughh.

A mentor of mine pointed out (apparently at just the right time for me to really get it) that not everyone is going to like me. I don’t know where you stand with that. For me, it seems like ‘of course’, intellectually anyway, but emotionally that holds just a little bit more weight and psychologically and spiritually it holds a lot of potential. Can I see myself as more than just this decision or comment or view? Can I use this person’s feedback as a reflection of me and explore where parts of his or her comment may be true? Can I use this experience as practice: for staying attached to myself, for not taking it personally, for allowing them to have their experience of me or the situation without believing I have to do something about it? Can I practice really knowing that I don’t have to be any different than I am?

I’ve also been thinking about my own experiences of being offered some gem of wisdom. Sometimes what someone says just makes sense, opens my mind right up, and sometimes it seems I wasn’t ready to hear it or couldn’t hear it because of my beliefs about right and wrong or the beliefs I had about the person saying it. Anyway, there’s kind of a right-time, right-person, right-circumstances sort of phenomena that happens when we have great insight or gain some helpful awareness.

I can tell already that this is going to be an amazing journey for myself and pray that it can be so for others as well. Already I’m being challenged by this to trust a little more in my vulnerability. Already I’m feeling the nudge back to my center, orienting toward this space of inspiration and intention, finding strength and humility here and trusting more in the wisdom that not everyone is going to jive with my perspective on things. Already I’m looking at my world with more curiosity about how my experiences can be presented in a way that supports others on this crazy ride. I am so grateful for this opportunity. I hope that some of these right circumstances can happen right here and that my ramblings, personal stumblings, training and passions can be helpful. I’m excited to see who shows up here with me. Welcome.