Category Archives: Blog

The Insufferably Cheerful Server

A few weeks ago, I was at one of those restaurants where you order at the register and they buzz you when your meal is ready. The guy at the register was really, really cheerful. You would have thought I was his long lost friend he thought had died, now miraculously appearing before him alive and well, ordering a margherita pizza. As he greeted me with robust enthusiasm, I found myself grinning like an idiot, attempting to somehow meet his cheerfulness in equal measure, as if we were in a battle for who was the happiest. I’m pretty sure he won the battle by a long shot. Even on my most boisterous days, I could never match that kind of enthusiasm. Plus, it turned out that day happened to be a challenging one for me, so my attempt to engage at that level was not only unsuccessful, but also inauthentic, exhausting, and painful.

I walked away from the encounter feeling oddly irritated, sad, and empty. I struggled to make sense of why I felt so awful after encountering such a cheerful man. It wasn’t that I felt he was being inauthentic, although whenever anyone acts that way my cynical side does tend to wonder if it’s some sort of facade. Even if it was a facade, though, I knew it was something else—something deeper—that I was struggling with.

At the time I came to conclude I was upset because we had completely missed each other in that brief exchange. There was no genuine connection. I wasn’t able to come up to the clouds to meet him where he was, and it seemed he did not notice my somewhat quiet and somber mood. And so it was yet another vacuous encounter, all too common in this often superficial culture.

Then I had another experience which deepened this realization further. I watched a recording of one of those online webinars where a presenter/guest comes on to share her wisdom. In a way, the woman on this webinar reminded me of the insufferably cheerful server. She smiled and giggled for at least an hour straight as she shared about her passion and offering. It seemed that a permanent smile had been plastered on her face. Don’t get me wrong—the joy beaming off this woman was powerful and contagious. I could immediately understand why thousands of people flock to her workshops. Just being in her “virtual” presence felt comforting, like somehow her joy would seep through the screen into my bones.

The group who hosted this event consists of people I love and highly respect. I must admit to being morbidly curious about what would happen when she finished and the group had a chance to ask questions. Surely this brilliant and highly conscious group would bring forward insightful, probing questions, right? Wrong.

Instead, I was stunned to watch most of these articulate, brilliant people react to this woman in much the same way I had reacted to the insufferably cheerful server. They smiled strangely fake smiles. They giggled and laughed and heaped praise upon her. As I witnessed this strange scene unfold, I must admit to being shocked and somewhat mortified. But now, thinking back on my reaction to the cheerful server, I realize that almost certainly I would have acted similarly if forced to interact with that woman in those circumstances. After all, only weeks before, I had behaved in pretty much the same manner in an ill-fated attempt to somehow connect with the all-too-energetic server.

We human beings have a deep and profound need to connect in a meaningful way with one another. As I imagined myself in the position of having to interact with the webinar woman, I felt this sort of frantic, panicked energy arise. What would I say? How would I act? How would I—a mere mortal with a full range of human emotions and failings—connect with someone who seemed only willing to expresss a mix of giddiness and delight while subtly denigrating the “lower” emotions as unenlightened? Trying to connect with her would have been like trying to connect with a whisp of smoke. No depth. No real connection.

We cannot connect with another person at a human level if we are unwilling or unable to be real. An important way we connect is through vulnerability. Vulnerability starts with being real with ourselves, and then slowly moving into being real with others. Spiritual bypassing—which is what I believe this webinar woman was doing—is by definition ungrounded and simply a way of avoiding the messiness of being human. Yes, being human includes joy, but it also includes grief, and longing, and confusion, and despair, and a million other things. If a plastered-on smile and cheerfulness is all that is welcome in an interaction (and we know when this is the case, have no doubt), then we will not connect at any real depth because we are limited to sharing a teaspoon of who we really are.

It takes two to tango, as they say. I once heard a story of a check-out lady at the grocery store who noticed a man in line was looking sullen. Rather than meeting him with a blast of cheerfulness, instead she said, “Hey, what’s wrong, honey?” He told her a bit. She responded empathetically and gave him a piece of wisdom to boot. They connected at a real level. It was the man I heard this story from years after the encounter. We remember connections like this. It is what we all want. It’s what I wanted with the insufferably cheerful server; it’s what I want with everyone I meet.

It’s simple, really. All we have to do is be real with one another, listen, and respond with humility, authenticity, and vulnerability. Piece of cake, right? It may not be easy, but we have to learn to meet each other in this way to have the depth of connection we all want and need.

Extra Crazy

A few weeks ago, I completely lost it. As one of my favorite integral psychologists (Dr. Keith Witt) would say: I went “extra crazy.” I take some comfort in the fact that we all go extra crazy from time to time, and that I’ve grown enormously as a result of the experience. Plus, my version of extra crazy (at least in terms of outward behavior) was pretty mild and short in duration compared to some other expressions. But still, there’s no escaping it. I went extra crazy, and it wasn’t pretty.

It was rage that consumed me, first directed at someone I respect and love dearly, then later that night turned against myself. It started out as simple irritation. Then I let it fester, and we all know what happens when we let irritation fester. It grew slowly into anger and finally into all-consuming, self-righteous rage. And unfortunately, I unloaded and expressed that rage in a hurtful way.

The grace of the situation was that the woman I unloaded on has enormous capacity to be grounded and present when extra crazy shows up, and even though it was hurtful for her, when I apologized the next day, all was forgiven and repaired between us. She could see I had gone extra crazy and that it wasn’t really about her, because she knows and has integrated that extra crazy part of herself — a part that we all carry.

The truth is the real violence happened within myself that evening as the rage turned inward. The outward expression of the rage was nothing compared to its ferocity when turned against myself. It morphed and transfigured into intense shame and self hate. The violence of my thoughts astounded me even as I was in the midst of experiencing their barrage.

I’m not sure how I made it through that night and showed up the next day to apologize and make repair with the woman who was the original target of my rage. I truly believe part of it was grace answering my prayer for help, as I knew I was out of control. But part of it also was all the work I have done over the years to learn to be present with the intensity of my experience when I am triggered. Even at the most intense moments, I was still in touch with another — and somehow truer — aspect of myself that was not suffering. This aspect was witnessing the whole thing, quietly but insistently whispering in my ear that maybe — just maybe — it wasn’t quite so black and white as I was thinking and feeling, that maybe there was more to me than rage and one hurtful act, that maybe I would learn something through this experience and have more capacity to love as a result. It was the “essential me” whispering truth in my ear. And the miracle was that I had the capacity to hear it and feel it at the core of my being.

In the days that followed, I came to fully accept for the first time that this extra crazy part of myself exists. I saw that I had been living in denial, believing until this experience that I was a purely “good person.” I saw that my concept of what makes a person “good” was completely made up and unattainable by any human being. And when I was finally able to turn toward this part of myself and meet it, I realized why it exists and what it’s trying to do.

This aspect is not often extra crazy, but it has the capacity to go there when triggered. It’s the part of me that has done everything it possibly can to help me survive and be as comfortable as possible in difficult situations. When not extra crazy, it’s the logical aspect, the part that analyzes challenging situations and comes up with solutions based on past experience. It’s the part of me that has figured out brilliant ways to make it through. It’s also my protector. It protects another part of me that finds this journey of life to be unspeakably hard and often doesn’t know what to do, and would simply give up if it weren’t for its protector. And it worked. I’m still here, even if a bit battered for the journey. With these realizations, I was finally able to embrace this part of myself with compassion and love.

Of course, this aspect of myself is also the part that can go extra crazy. It is all about me. It can seem like it’s concerned with others, but it’s really not. It’s manipulative, and it lacks compassion. It can only be in relationship on a superficial level. Connection, compassion, and empathy are not in its job description… although I realize now that before this experience, I expected it to be and do everything.

What has changed now is that I am no longer shunning this aspect of myself. I see where it fits, that it is an important part of me, and I also see where its role ends. I see that I had unintentionally abandoned this part of myself, simultaneously shunning it while expecting it to figure everything out. And at the same time, as I came to these realizations, I also more fully embodied what I might call my essential nature, the deeper aspect that is about love, and compassion, and empathy, and heartfelt connection. This deeper aspect finally showed up to embrace and support the other part that had been abandoned. And somehow through all of that there has been an integration into a greater whole, like there are no longer separate parts inside of me, but rather different aspects working together as a whole being.

So in the end, I suppose I am grateful I went extra crazy that day. It’s that exquisite paradox of both beauty and horror all wrapped up in one experience. I came out of it feeling more whole, more integrated, and more real. And yes, I came out of it with more capacity to love.

Healing the Brokenness

Tuesday of last week was one of my favorite days of the year: Global Oneness Day. Every year, October 24th is a day dedicated to celebrating the underlying reality of Oneness. Humanity’s Team, the non-profit that started Global Oneness Day, hosts an all-day online summit where they gather thought leaders in various panels to talk about not only waking up to our interconnectedness, but also ways to more fully live and embody this truth. As we embody Oneness, we can more effectively come together to implement the solutions needed to avoid global calamity and create a world of health, well-being, and flourishing for all.

This year’s panels were all fabulous, but one stood out to me because it connected so many dots between the healing work I do with individuals and the healing work of societies and the world. One woman in particular impacted me the most, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, who was on the “Restoring Real Community” panel. She is from South Africa, and the panel was discussing the concept of uBuntu, which can best be defined with this statement: “I Am Because You Are.” The concept became globally recognized after Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu explained in 2008 that uBuntu means that a person cannot not exist in isolation, and that this is the essence of being human.

This is a beautiful concept. Unfortunately, uBuntu often remains just a concept and not fully lived or embodied for people who have been traumatized. Dr. Ramphele spoke of this in relation to transgenerational trauma, but what she shares here applies to any kind of trauma:

When people have been traumatized in a transgenerational sense, their brain function alters, and it requires healing. That healing is not [only] about psychiatry or taking drugs. It’s about reconnecting the brokenness. Without that reconnection, human beings find it extremely difficult to have empathy, which is at the heart of uBuntu: “I Am Because You Are.” You don’t only know uBuntu — you feel it. And if there is brokenness, you lose your capacity to feel itHumiliation is the most traumatic bearer of pain. If we don’t heal that humiliation, then we have people in society who may speak the language of uBuntu, but they don’t feel. So there is a big gap between what people say they are and what they actually demonstrate.

uBuntu compels us to forgive — not because we feel sorry for the wrong-doer, but because without forgiveness, the brokenness will remain. To the extent that the person who humiliated me continues in that practice, that person is further damaged. I need to sit down with the person and hold hands — physically or spiritually — and say, “I forgive you, because you and I need to reconnect.”

That is why we do the work of healing trauma. She says it so beautifully and so poignantly that there is almost nothing more to say. Trauma, whether transgenerational or not, dramatically affects our capacity to be in healthy relationship. It affects our ability to feel connected both to ourselves and to others. To say we are interconnected is all well and good, but if we cannot feel it at an embodied level, the concept alone is almost completely useless. Needless to say, societies are built upon relationships. The health of a society is built upon the health of the relationships between the members of that society. Trauma happens in relationship, and it must be healed in relationship.

Dr. Ramphele speaks of forgiveness as the means of healing trauma. I have found in my own journey that forgiveness is key, but it is not all that is required. Healing the brokenness also requires a certain kind of grounded, compassionate support from others, a willingness on our part to trust and accept that support, and the slow work of building our capacity to be fully present with our experiences in the here and now. Compassionate presence is what allows for integration and healing of the brokenness caused by trauma.

I am grateful for people like Dr. Ramphele who are so eloquently and beautifully sharing the message of what it takes to embody Oneness rather than simply know it as an intellectual concept. We must heal the brokenness inside and in our relationships to truly live uBuntu.

My prayer is that we all have the courage to turn toward the parts of ourselves that have been hurt and embrace them with loving presence, so that we may know, embody, and feel the truth of our deep and unbreakable connection. We can do it if we do it together.

The Ultimate Resource

Last week I had the honor of assisting the first module of a biodynamic craniosacral training here in Colorado. I love the first module. Every time I come out of it, I have the profound conviction that what is taught and shared in just those five days is almost all that needs to be shared. As we learn to cultivate and embody the biodynamic principles, our lives and the lives of those we touch transform in ways we cannot even imagine.

One of the most important breakthroughs of the inside-out approach to healthcare has been the realization that the more we are able to “be with” our experiences in the here and now — particularly our challenges — the greater the potential for healing. I like to say it this way: Healing happens in the arms of compassionate presence. In some very real sense, building the capacity to be present is itself the healing process.

Needless to say, being fully present with overwhelming sensations, thoughts, and feelings can be extremely challenging. In fact, if we experienced trauma as a young child that was never fully integrated, likely our ingrained response to challenge will be to automatically dissociate from stressful sensations rather than be present with them. In addition, many of us were simply not taught how to cultivate presence and mindfulness. If this is the case, then how do we build our capacity to be present when experiencing extreme dis-ease, pain, or suffering?

One of the keys to cultivating the capacity to be with challenge begins with learning to orient to something else, to those aspects of us that are not in pain or distress. With extreme suffering, we can easily believe that our suffering is all there is to us. We literally identify ourselves as our suffering. But the truth is there is always more to us than our suffering… much more. Orienting to something else — often referred to as a resource — can be as simple as bringing our full awareness to a part of our body that does not hurt, or bringing to mind a person, place, or animal that brings us joy and mindfully noticing the sensations that arise in the body. As we practice being present with a resource, we can then learn to briefly bring our attention to more challenging sensations while simultaneously feeling the support of the resource. In this way, we gradually build our capacity to be present with our more challenging conditions.

Biodynamics takes this idea of working with resources one step further. The most fundamental principle in biodynamics is its orientation to the ‘Health’ that is always present. In the first module of the biodynamic craniosacral training, we learn to feel, in our bodies, the support of something greater, something whole and alive and dynamic at the core of our being. We practice simple exercises to feel into the dynamic Stillness at our core, as well as the the forces of Health and Creation that arise from that Stillness. We actually train ourselves to reliably and consistently experience, in an embodied way, various aspects of our essential nature. In my mind, this is the ultimate resource, the ultimate “something else.”

As we learn orient to this ultimate resource, we cultivate the ability to be present with even the most extreme challenges, and in so doing, create the conditions needed for truly transformational healing.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Lately, I’ve taken a tumble down the rabbit hole of trauma and trauma therapy. To say I’ve been humbled is a bit of an understatement. It has been an eye-opening process to see myself in the words and the stories I’ve been reading. I mostly don’t remember my childhood. The impact of trauma in my life has been pervasive and far reaching. Honestly, though, I would have denied it only a few years ago. I would have said I’ve never experienced trauma. I would have said that the amnesia, and the depression, and the rage, and the way my body shuts down have nothing to do with trauma. I would have said, “I’m lucky,” and I am, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never experienced trauma. In fact, now I would venture to say almost all of us have.

Just yesterday a new meme started going around Facebook: “Me too.” People were putting it on their walls to signify they have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the wake of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein. If we asked the same question about trauma, I’m guessing pretty much anyone who is honest would say, “Me too.”

I’m going to write a lot more about trauma in the coming months. But for now, I will say this: We can heal. I’ve been healing even being in some level of denial and ignorance about how trauma has impacted me. Our bodies, hearts, and minds want to heal. Our whole being wants to come back into harmony and equilibrium. As I practice presence — whether through meditation, heart-centered practices, feeling energy and creative forces, or tracking my body sensations — the energy held in my system around trauma inevitably arises. I don’t have to make it happen. I don’t have to dredge up painful memories. That energy is patiently waiting for the right opportunity — the right conditions — to begin the process of healing. It wants to be met in a new way. It wants to be digested, to resolve, and to let go.

I’ve come to trust this process. I’ve come to see that trauma begins to digest in the arms of compassionate presence. With trauma, our bodies and minds live in the past, though we don’t often realize it. But we can learn to trust the present moment. We can learn to trust our bodies, even when we feel like they have betrayed us in the most horrific ways. We can even learn to trust other people. We can heal together.

Me too.

Entering the Unknown

Many of us (maybe even most) are quite terrified of the unknown. Perhaps this fear has to do with a feeling of being out of control. After all, we have certain ideas and visions about how we want things to turn out. We often want to control the process as well as the outcome, or at least know what is coming in the hopes that we can somehow prepare and be ready.

I’m in the midst of separating from my husband. The unknown is now a part of my experience every day. I don’t know if I will ever find a companion and partner again. I don’t know how I will fully support myself financially. I don’t know exactly who I am in the world without my best friend at my side, or how to move forward with that hole in my life. I don’t know when the grief will well up, overwhelming and incapacitating me. I don’t know how my path will unfold, or the strength and resilience that may lie dormant in my heart. What seemed known only a short time ago is no longer known.

The process of Life Itself is unknown. We can either embrace this fact or resist it. When we come into contact with the unknown, we touch the invisible world. It is here where we encounter our shadow, those unconscious aspects of us, both light and dark, that tend to run our lives unbeknownst to us. When we shine the light of awareness on these aspects, suddenly we have choice.

map 3When we embrace the unknown, we also contact that part of us that is beyond conceptual understanding. Our minds can (and do) attempt to describe this world, but the descriptions and models in our minds are not the Reality Itself and never can be. The model is not the territory.

We touch the invisible world through direct experience. We can invite into our experience different aspects of our True Nature, or ask for our shadow to be revealed. Some of the more glorious aspects of our True Nature are often in shadow (unconscious to us), and have been called Health, Joy, Abundance, Gratitude, Clarity, Truth, Beauty, Peace, Unity… but these are just names. The key is that we invite into our experience something that is unknown to us.

Flower

We may have a concept, thought, or model of what it means to feel joy, for instance, or what it means not to feel joy. But Joy with a capital ‘J‘ is none of those concepts held in our mind. It is something else, and never what we think it is. The mind can only observe, label, and describe; the direct experience happens on another level. We must open ourselves to the unknown possibilities in order to experience who we are at a level we have never experienced before.

When we do this, what we experience is always a surprise. It is always a brand new experience when we invite in the unknown. And the truth is, much is unknown to us in this Life. Control is an illusion in so many ways… maybe even in all ways. Letting go into the unknown is the ultimate form of surrender to the flow of Life.

 

Healing Through Conditions

When I am working with clients, they often have particular conditions or issues they are facing which they would like resolved. I know that my clients have the full capacity to Heal through those conditions. But notice that I used the words “through” and also “Heal” with a capital “H.” Healing in the way that I view it does not necessarily mean the condition itself goes away. If a condition does in fact go away or resolve, I tend to call that a healing with a lower-case “h.” And of course this is a fantastic outcome! But sometimes the condition won’t resolve in the Healing journey. In fact, on the most extreme level, we can experience a full Healing and, at the same time, still die from the condition. In my own journey, when I really grokked on a deep level that all of us have a terminal diagnosis, the question of what Healing actually is became a much deeper inquiry.

All clients are their own Healers and hold their own answers. When I work with clients, I do not know the specific outcome or how the Healing process will show up in their bodies, mind, or spirit. There are many levels of change that can and will occur in the Healing process. When I work with clients, I am supporting them in Healing on all levels related to their specific condition or intention. Conditions and dis-ease provide a fantastic focal point because the center of the condition is actually the portal to the Healing process itself. That is why I say that we Heal through our conditions.

For me as a Healing facilitator, supporting Healing in this way involves reaching into unknown possibilities and inviting in whatever needs to happen for true Healing to occur. I never know exactly how that will look or what the outcome will be, but I have noticed the response is always Intelligent and beyond what my mind could ever have imagined or figured out based on my knowledge and training. I am amazed by my clients every single time. It is truly an honor to play a small part in their Healing journeys.