An Invitation

You can create a life you love… right here, right now.

You’re going to work with the raw material of your life… exactly as it is.

Start with a willingness to practice creating moments of
Peace, Joy, Empowerment, And love… in each day.

What would that look like?
What is peace? Joy? Empowerment? Love?
How does one live those qualities?

Peace is a deep inner quiet we each have within us, that can be accessed anywhere, any
time, by briefly pausing, breathing deeply and allowing one’s self to be still.

Joy is the exuberant feeling that comes from being aware and awake to the small miracles
and wonder of life in each moment.

Empowerment is recognizing one’s ability to take action, and taking action.

Love is making a choice in this moment to support one’s divine potential or that of
another with kindness and compassion. Love is not an adjective, it is a verb.

You can create a life you love by bringing these qualities to the circumstances of your life
as they are now. All you need is a sincere “yes” to yourself… and a daybook…

A daybook can be on your phone, I-pad, computer. It can be a big beautiful journal or a
little notepad that can be carried easily in a pocket or purse. It can be a graphic journal
where you draw instead of write.

Each day just take a moment to record:

When today did I create a moment of peace?
When today did I create a moment of joy?
When today did I create a moment of empowerment?
When today did I create a moment of love?

As you begin doing this right here, right now… your life will change and you will begin
creating a life you love.

Posts made in October, 2014

Creating Compassion vs. Criticism

“After criticism lost his glasses, he discovered that he did not need them anymore. His focus is less acute, but he can see the whole picture better.”
–J. Ruth Gendler, The Book of Qualities

 When I saw actress, Renee Zellweger’s new look, I noticed how peaceful she seems.

And when I heard a clip of Monica Lewinsky’s recent speech, I was astonished by her courage.

Renee-Zellweger-Plastic-Surgery-Before-After-PhotosRenee Zellweger’s face has changed drastically. For years many people have made fun of her unique, but beautiful looks.  And then recently she appeared at a celebrity event with a face most of us didn’t recognize, which she attributes to aging and being happier in life.

Monica Lewinsky, who was in an affair with President Bill Clinton while she was a White House intern nearly 19 years ago, has been living a very private life due to the relentless shaming directed at her. And then recently she entered the public venue by speaking on Cyber-Bullying at The Forbes Under 30 Summit.

And the backlash toward these two women has been galling.

“She destroyed her once beautiful face,” one person wrote about Zellweger. And another: “She might as well change her name to unrecognizable one.” And finally, ‘LOL Butterface.’

Sadly, most of the comments about Lewinsky are so vulgar I wouldn’t print them. I searched the Twitter account she recently opened and comments following her recent speech.  I was revolted by how base many of them were.

Painting by William Holman HuntCriticism is a mirror that reflects our own defects.  Criticism allows us to turn others into scapegoats, cloaking them in our shadow.  Anciently, the proverbial scapegoat was in fact an actual goat that villagers symbolically cast their sins onto and drove out of the village believing the goat could carry away what the individuals weren’t willing to face in themselves. Such “elimination rites” are an apt metaphor of online communities as shaming forums.  If we’re criticizing others we can avoid taking our own inventories.

monica-lewinsky-auction-mainMonica Lewinsky’s willingness to come forward and speak candidly about her own past was directly connected to reading about the Rutgers student, Tyler Clemente, who killed himself in 2010, after his roommate secretly videotaped him kissing another man and released it online.

Lewkinsky said that she nearly “disentegrated” after the ongoing public humiliation she suffered when embarrassing details of the affair with Clinton became common public knowledge nationally.

“Quite sadly, the trend of being humiliated to death online has only continued,” Lewinsky said in her speech last week. “No one is immune.”

“Fear is the issue underlying most criticism,” Connie Honer, a psychotherapist in Portland, OR, told me. “Quick societal reactions arise when people feel threatened in some way, and want to distance themselves. Reactions are just that, reactions. They have nothing to do with the facts or truth at hand.”

Connie offers an invitation to respond versus react:  “Response vs. reaction demands a willingness to sit with, listen to, be curious about, and attend to what arises in the part of our self,” which is triggered by another person’s actions, both negative and positive.

Criticism arises from judgment, which is an emotional state that robs us of feelings of love and peace.  We can’t judge or criticize without being affected by the acidic pain ourselves.

imgresJudgment and criticism are opportunities to explore our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses.  Our own shame is casting its shadow when we criticize instead of offering compassion. This is true not only with others, but with our self-criticism.  Each of us has suffered terrible lapses of judgment in our early years, but they didn’t result in fodder for the international press, and scrutiny by the entire U.S. Congress.

Returning to Zellweger’s new look, no matter how it came about, it is relevant in reminding ourselves how vulnerable we feel about our appearance in a culture that worships at the altar of beauty and youth.  It was difficult for me to publish the photo of myself holding my granddaughter in my last article. My eye was drawn to the loose skin beneath my chin and my unkempt hair that day.  The bigger picture was that I got up one morning, just put on my jeans and my favorite writing shirt and went to the woods with my family!

It is so much easier to project onto another’s face what we don’t want to face in ourselves.

hester-prynneYes, Monica Lewinsky was reckless.  But what the general public has failed to see is the profound imbalance of power that existed in her relationship with a man old enough to be her father, and in fact, one of the most powerful men in the world at the time.  The onus was on him, because of his power, to take control of the situation instead of taking advantage of it. Just imagine if she was your daughter. Isn’t this modern day Hester Prynne entitled to a second chance, to a life beyond her past?  Aren’t we all?

And whether it was plastic surgery or a miraculous state of bliss that altered Renee Zellweger’s face, isn’t her face her choice?  Perhaps we doubt that a different face can bring someone happiness, perhaps that is why the zingers and one-liners are flying.  But what if the process behind it, the choices she decided to make for herself contributed to a more empowered sense of self?

And there is a very real reason why Zellweger would want a whole new face: as a culture we were all incredibly mean to her old one, which was beautiful in its uniqueness.

“Pointing, gawking, and screaming about it says more about our media, our vanity, and the type of society that would lead a star to completely rearrange the most personal part of her body than it ever will about Renée Zellweger,” wrote Brian Moylan in his articleLeave Renee Zellweger’s Face Alone,” in TIME magazine online.

The-Compassion-RevolutionI like Lewkinsky’s invitation to a “cultural revolution” to address what she calls, “a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis.”  Maybe eventually it could lead us to let go of our ‘Scarlet Letter’ mentality and to think in new ways, like these lines from poet Robert Bly.

“Think in ways you’ve never thought before . . . When someone knocks on your door, think that he’s about to give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven.”

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Feasting on Life

“The time will come, when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome and say, Sit here,
Eat. . . . You will love again, the stranger who was your self. . . .
Sit. Feast on your life.”
–Derek Walcott, from Collected Poems, 1948-1984

OK, I admit it! I bought a bag of Candy Corn, a bag of caramels, and two dark chocolate Hershey chocolate bars at the store a couple of nights ago!

Candy corn? Really?

2009_10_21-CandyCornIt’s just that I adore those cute little sweet orange, yellow, and white slices of October life!  It’s probably a childhood thing. No problem . . . except when one is grabbing a handful every time one passes the candy dish.

We are approaching the dangerous Bermuda triangle of over-eating—Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas!  It’s an apt time to ask ourselves why eating becomes compulsive and how we can become more conscious about food.

roasted-asparagus-3In some ways it isn’t like me to just start munching on junk food.  I am a convert to healthy eating: fresh asparagus stalks gently roasted with a little olive oil; deep red apples loaded with antioxidants because of their hard work growing a brightly pigmented skin to protect themselves from the sun; the perfect salmon salad made with fresh greens, chunks of avocado, grapefruit, warm asparagus, and topped with pine nuts! mmmmmmmm.

As a child, my parents let me eat all the candy I wanted to, and what is fascinating about that freedom, is that I would eat a little and save the rest for later.

But now I’m a woman in her sixties with a slower metabolism and the annoying pull toward emotional eating. I can at times lose a sense of passion and purpose about life and instead just trudge through life doing my duty.

In the past several months I lost weight, then I regained some, but not all, and perhaps writing this article is a way to recommit to what worked.

travelwriter_csThis is what worked: I was nurturing my passion for life, my purpose for being, and as I did my need to overeat was calmed. I was so engaged in writing I was concentrating on finding the best word, versus the best chocolate.  Instead of running to the fridge, I was riding my bike, basking in the wonder of nature.

I discovered from the classic book, Overcoming Overeating, Living Free in a World of Food, by Jane R. Hirschmann and Carol H. Hunter, that restricting food invites rebellion. And that ‘living a rich, full, self-accepting life,” is crucial to calming cravings.

This book first came out in 1988 and was based on groups the authors held to help people move from stuffing food into their mouths to slowing down and savoring.  One of their first group members was Susie Orbach, the author of the classic, Fat is a Feminist Issue; and Geneen Roth, who not only overcame an eating disorder, but went on to write numerous books on women’s struggle with eating, including her best seller, Women, Food, and God.

291810_10200168648964117_1963964621_nThe central principles offered up by Hirschmann’s, Hunter’s, and Roth’s work are learning to be mindful about eating by recognizing true hunger; eating only when we are hungry; eating what we want; and treating ourselves with kindness and compassion.

I attended a Geneen Roth workshop several years ago.  She invited us to participate in an interesting exercise.  We each were given one chocolate chip nestled in a tiny, pleated, white paper cup.  When Geneen gave the signal, we put the chocolate chip in our mouths and very  allowed it to slowly melt, savoring it as we did.  It is truly astonishing how much flavor and enjoyment one chocolate chip can offer when we slow down and savor.

allsortsjennyssewingroomI have a friend who has maintained her weight for years.  She has an interesting technique for Las Vegas buffets: she allows herself two bites of every entrée and slowly savors each bite. And when she’s not working and is at home, she has a sewing room set up in which she creates and plays. She becomes lost in the possibility of beautiful fabrics!

Foundational to my journey has been this principle: When I lose myself in a purpose, I lose the need to eat compulsively. As I savor life, I savor food, versus just stuffing the nearest edible into my mouth. When I lose sight of engagement with purpose, I am lost to the pull of compulsive eating.

Life is a gift asking to be opened. I want to open the opportunity held in each moment of life and the presence to embrace life’s wonder.

I recently spoke with a woman who had been struggling since retirement.  She was without a place to go every day, without structure and deadlines.  She was depressed and floundering.  As she looked within, she recognized a burning desire to revisit a place where she lived as a youth for several important years. She followed her yearning.

As she walked the streets where she had wandered as a young woman with her friends; as she visited the home where she had lived with her parents, now long gone; she realized how precious life is, how quickly the sands of time hit the bottom of the hour glass.

200292204-001She came home with a new appreciation for life and for living fully.  She recommitted herself to capturing a new sense of purpose: spending time with loved ones, nurturing friendships, helping others in need, writing, reading, and traveling. These kept her passion alive!

In his groundbreaking work on overcoming addictions and compulsions, Patrick Carnes says it is never enough just to stop.  The journey is not complete until we have moved into a state of being that is sometimes called “flow.”  When we are in flow with life we have clear goals, we are focused on constructive activities, we have a stronger sense of self and connection with self.  We are less worried and experience a sense of control.  We enjoy the satisfying feelings of focus and task completion.

We can approach the abundance of holiday food with conscious intent.  We can savor each bite – feast, versus just eat. But most importantly, we can feast on our life!

534632_10200168640803913_1104539878_n

 

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The Ongoing Quest for Connection

“here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

–e.e.cummings 

Perfect romance: The sky is swathed in periwinkle twilight and a full ivory moon, voluminous and glowing, is rising. It is just my husband Brian and I driving on a rural stretch of road through Idaho. We are caught in the wonder of the landscape before us, and the connection between us. In a few hours we will arrive at our daughter and her husband’s house and will be able to hold our 10th grandchild, Adelaide, in our arms. We are bonded in our shared love for the new grandchild we have yet to meet.

9780316133760_p0_v1_s260x420As we have traveled we have been reading Love Sense, The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, by Dr. Sue Johnson.  This is an enlightening book about the relevance and importance of attachment theory in adult love relationships.  Earlier in the day we had a snarky moment with each other in a minor conflict during lunch. But the book soon reminded us this was just another moment of imbalance in the important dance of attachment with each other.

My last article described the life-defining process of an infant’s attachment to its parents or other caregivers. (See Oct. 6, below.) An English psychiatrist, John Bowlby, who “changed the landscape of love and loving” forever, according to Dr. Johnson, described how infant bonding is an innate drive, which helps ensure that in their helplessness they will be cared for, and in their vulnerability will find safety, if healthy attachment occurs.

Adult romantic love is also an attachment bond, writes Dr. Johnson, just like the one between mother and child.  Bowlby died in 1991 before he could gather evidence showing that attachment was relevant to adults and their love relationships. But it only took a few years for social psychologists and others to pick up where Bowlby left off.  In the past 20 years, hundreds of studies have been published confirming, Bowlby’s theory that “our need to attach continues beyond childhood” and that romantic love is actually a form of attachment bonding for adults.

IMG_5526Holding sweet Adelaide, with her tiny head covered in coppery down, her blue searching eyes, and her little mews, I felt the sensation of falling in love all over again.

Dr. Johnson’s research tells me that my falling into love with Brian was also a neurochemical attachment-seeking process in my brain. Adults also have a need for connection, safety, and response from another person.

During the romantic love stage of relationship—a time of infatuation, obsession, and emotional yearning—we are asking the question “Does this person want me?” Dr. Johnson writes. We take great risks to get positive responses from the new person in our lives.  This stage is the building block of love.

Inevitably, this stage ends and we move into a stage of formal bonding.  By this time each person has begun to tip from the pedestal of new love. Our weaknesses have become transparent. We are now asking “will you be there for me?” The truth is, we aren’t able to always be there for each other. But we can be there enough, if we make the effort, for a good bond. If we marry, “the depth of that level of commitment formally transfers attachment from one’s parents to one’s partner,” says Dr. Johnson.

flat,550x550,075,fOver the years, the stress and strain of work, having children, our personality differences, and the effect of the weak links in our own original attachment with a parent or other caregiver, wear on the relationship. We question our relationship.

“But despite the beliefs of our starry-eyed, romance saturated society,” Dr. Johnson reminds us, “there is no such thing as a perfect soul mate.  Any partner we choose will hurt us at one time or another.  No relationship, even the most ideal, has unwaveringly smooth sailing; there will always be squalls and storms that roil the waters. There will always be differences between lovers.  How lovers allow their difference to affect the bond between them is the issue.”

Typically marriage counseling focuses largely on a lack of communication skills and bad behavior.  Dr. Johnson posits that more important is the root cause of these weaknesses which she describes as “the overwhelming fear of being emotionally abandoned, set adrift in the sea of life without safe harbor.  It is that fear of emotional disengagement that precipitates the demands, criticism, arguments and silences . . . these are just an attempt to call, even force, a partner back into emotional connection.”

love-couple-wallpaper-by-hdwallsizeBowlby came to understand, in his attachment theory, that relationship distress was a result of deprivation. As fragile partners in love we do deprive our loved one of the emotional connection they need as our own emotional connection is compromised.

The incredible and hopeful news is that we can repair our damaged bonding in love relationships. “The core attachment question—‘Are you there for me’—requires a ‘yes’ in response,” Dr. Johnson says. She teaches us in her book that a secure bond with our spouse or partner has three basic elements:

  • Accessibility—which is attention and emotional openness to the other;
  • Responsiveness—an acceptance of our partner’s needs and fears, and offering comfort and caring;
  • Engagement—being emotionally present, absorbed, and involved with our partner or spouse.

 

e7acace4b880e694afe8889e-first-danceIt is crucial to realize our difficulty in relationship is not based on our partner’s weakness–who perhaps feels like the enemy during times of conflict–but the pattern of conflict, of which each of us has a part.  It’s much like a dance where one or the other of us stumbles and activates a fall. Dr. Johnson calls these incidents, “demand-withdraw cycles.” These are always opportunities for “re-attunement and repair.”

Brian and I have been married for 36 years.  We have bonded and we have distanced.  We have loved and we have fought.  We have both blessed and hurt each other.  We have gone through joyous times and times of great sorrow and trial.  As others, ours is a work in progress, a continual journey to practice healthy connection with each other.

unnamed-1Recently, I had a profound moment of enlightenment about the importance of Brian in my life. He has a very light-hearted personality and tends to take life less seriously than I do.  He jokes and teases a lot (which our grandchildren absolutely adore) and he can say things to me that no other person could say without offending me.  Occasionally he has an observation that is both humorous and also spot-on in its bare, raw, truth.

For example, he once said to me, “When I married you, I knew I was getting depth, I just didn’t realize it was the Grand Canyon!”  In other words, “lighten up girl!”

Life-partnerI suddenly realized how his predisposition toward carefree and light humor has balanced and steadied me.  It has been the perfect antidote to my seriousness and the darkness and despair I carry at times because of my own trauma history. In my recent moment of increased consciousness about him, my eyes were opened to the beauty and wonder of his occasional irreverent offerings and his ability to keep things light—another invitation to connect—if, I will accept it. It’s not always perfect romance, but there will be enough of those moments if we will “carry each other’s heart” in the landscape of connection!

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Creating Emotional Safety

“The first and foremost instinct of humans is neither sex nor aggression. It is to seek contact and comforting connection.”  — Dr. Sue Johnson, Love Sense

The gazing has begun…

1891110_10205015769062314_2290546244167421483_nMy daughter Suzette and her husband Mike had their first baby on Oct. 1.  You can see by the picture here of Mike gazing at Adelaide and Adelaide returning the gaze that a bond is being formed.  This will be the most important foundation of Adelaide’s life, as with every child.  It is called attachment.

John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist, cracked the code for the successful launch of a newborn human: ongoing, repeated, physical and emotional connection with a caregiver. When the baby smiles, the caregiver smiles back, when the baby gazes, the caregiver gazes back. If the growing infant wants to explore she puts him or her down.  If the child wants to be held, he picks the child up. The responsive caregiver is continually seeking to assess the child’s needs and address them.

A warm and positive response by the caregiver creates a ‘secure base’ for the child. This is a feeling of safety that endows the child with the confidence to explore their world knowing they can always return to their caregiver when uncertain, afraid, or in need of assistance.

Bowlby’s colleague, Mary Ainsworth, identified that an important factor which determines whether a child will have a secure or insecure attachment is the degree of sensitivity shown by their caregiver—their ability and willingness to respond appropriately to the child’s needs—to feed them when they are hungry, comfort them when they are sad, etc. (And by the way, research shows that even the best of parents only get it right 50% of the time and that is still good enough!).

017Ainsworth was a bright girl with a thirst for knowledge who began reading by age three. Her father practiced healthy attachment with her as an infant. When she was a toddler, he was the parent who tucked her in at night and sang to her.

Besides providing a secure emotional base for humans, attachment actually affects brain development. In a recent workshop I attended, The Neurobiology of Toxic Stress, presented by Dr. Julie M Rosenzweig, PhD, LCSW, a Portland, OR educator and therapist, we were shown pictures of two child brains—one who had healthy attachment and one who had poor attachment.  Sadly, the latter brain was shrunken and smaller than the robust and healthy brain of the child with strong attachment. Poor attachment has been linked with mental illness, criminal behavior, and even eating disorders.

1902071_10205039398173027_2016539055468906186_n“Self emerges with the presence of other,” Dr. Rosenzweig said, “Our brains develop in a more healthy way with sustained empathy, attunement, resonance, compassion, curiosity, and reflection.”

This is wonderful information for those of you who are parents, grandparents, or other caregivers of young children, but what is its significance for each of us as adults beyond caregiving responsibilities?

We are all fragile humans, living on a dangerous planet where the threats to our well-being seem to multiply daily.  Even a brief glance at the news exposes us to appalling situations we never imagined. Our safety can feel threatened and we experience that emotionally.

neuroplasticityThroughout our lives, not just as infants and children, we thrive when we experience emotional safety; it is another form of the secure base. And the astonishing revolution in brain research reveals that the brain has neuroplasticity, the ability to rewire itself, which is crucial in creating change and healing from trauma, addiction, and compulsion.

Rewiring is fostered when we are given and offer emotional safety to others and even ourselves.

What does it mean to feel safe?

How do we get to a feeling of safety?

A while ago, I sat with a client who had experienced the most horrific trauma I have ever heard. A brilliant and unassuming man, he came to me because he was lost in the world of addictive sexual behaviors.

I helped him to understand that this was not about an insatiable need for pornography and sex. Instead it was a How-To-Meditateway to self-soothe. I taught him how to find peace by practicing emotional regulation and supportive thinking when he was confronted with the unconscious internal terror of his past. His need for compulsive and addictive behavior began to subside as he learned healthy ways to come to his own assistance.

Teaching supportive thinking and emotional regulations is standard procedure in my practice. Our experience of reality is largely created by the thoughts we think in response to our experience; and our ability to hold our emotions in an empathic and safe way.

I have my own challenges in life which require the same work I ask of my clients.  Years ago, my counselor tirelessly helped me to deal with the loss of my parents, who had died when I was young.  I still need and use the skills she taught me.  The most important, which I resented, but finally embraced, was that I needed to practice being my own mother, my own father. I needed to learn how to come to my own assistance—a skill we all need.

3550What that meant was giving myself what I call ‘there, there’ energy when I am sad, scared, angry, etc.  ‘There, there’ energy is the ability to meet the emotion with self-compassion and self-reassurance, to actually rock myself which is why our two rocking chairs still get good use. I also love to swing as a form of self-soothing!

Calming my thoughts basically means expanding them—moving from the scary stories I tell myself—to a narrative of trust, belief, and realizing that there is always something bigger happening in life that I can’t immediately see. For me, this is a spiritual practice that also includes prayer, meditation, and even retreating to the woods near my home, which I do often.

2215628As we give these gifts to ourselves we can offer them to those around us. “. . . We are never as safe and strong as when we are sure we are loved,” writes Dr. Sue Johnson in her new book, Love Sense, The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, a fascinating new book on attachment in adult love.

We can offer presence—versus fixing—to other’s fears, concerns, and cares.  We can validate their feelings and our belief in them.  We can cry with them if they are sad, throw rocks with them if they are angry, and offer a calm presence in the face of their anxiety—which ultimately is a sustained fear of being out-of-control.

These skills of creating emotional safety – both for ourselves and others – are an ongoing form of attachment which require sensitivity toward and awareness of  emotional needs; tolerance for difficult feeling states; and being able to step inside another’s story (and our own) without getting enmeshed and lost.  As we do, we are continually creating a secure base.  We are returning to the gaze . . .

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