Category Archives: Happiness

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.

The Change We Don’t Want

steering wheelWhen it comes to healing, it doesn’t seem obvious that we resist change. After all, we are usually suffering with some sort of condition that we really do want to change. In general, we simply want it to go away so we’ll feel better. Oftentimes we believe our chronic disease or condition is something that is wrong or bad, something that is somehow separate from us, and something that should be, and can be, gotten rid of without affecting the rest of who we are. Yes, we want the condition to change (go away), but we often do not acknowledge the connection between the condition and the beliefs we hold about and toward the condition. In other words, we do not realize that our relationship with the condition is an integral part of the condition itself. We actually believe this separate “thing” can be healed without changing anything else about us. Indeed, this is the very premise upon which western medicine is based as well as several alternative therapies.

Healing Involves Change

Healing at a deeper level involves change on every level of our being. Many chronic conditions and/or so-called incurable diseases (autoimmune diseases, neurological diseases, gastrointestinal issues, cancer, hormonal imbalances, mental diseases such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, etc.) can and do resolve themselves through the process of Healing as I describe it. However, major shifts such as these involve change that extends well beyond the symptoms going away and a doctor declaring us “cured” (or claiming we must have been misdiagnosed in the first place). These changes are not optional, but are rather part of the Healing process itself.butterfly emerging from coccoonWhen we are in the cycle of suffering, we think our suffering is being caused by the condition we are facing. Therefore, we think if we get rid of the condition, we will stop suffering. Perhaps we go in for surgery and have a cancerous tumor removed. Maybe we have our knee replaced and the pain we had before is gone. Perhaps we leave our stressful job or our marriage and feel a huge sense of relief. In the traditional sense, many would call these examples of healing. The advances in western medicine are absolutely incredible and invaluable in our lives. But simply having a knee replacement is, in and of itself, not Healing in the sense I am speaking of here.

In my experience, both with myself and with my clients, even when a condition is “cured” as in the examples above, if there is no other corresponding shift on other levels of being, the suffering will continue. We simply refocus our attention on another condition or issue that is “not okay” (either inside or outside of us) and continue to be enmeshed in the cycle of suffering.

MaskOn the other hand, when we engage in the process of Healing on a deeper level, real change is inevitable. One of the most significant of these changes is a perspective shift about and toward the condition itself. As we begin to experience and embody that aspect of us that is other than suffering, we realize that we Heal through the condition rather than from the condition. We see the condition itself as our means of Healing rather than that which we need to get rid of in order to Heal. This perspective shift in itself can end the suffering (i.e., the resistance) around the condition. But in order for that shift to occur in a truly embodied way, many other changes on many levels must also occur. We simply do not get to keep our current belief structures and worldviews (our ego as it is constructed now) and Heal in this way.

This process is absolutely terrifying to most of us because it feels as if we are giving up who we are (and how we think the world operates) at a fundamental level. And indeed, this is true. It is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects for us to accept and embrace on our Healing journeys. Most of us want to keep our current perspectives and beliefs and simply get rid of the condition. In other words, we don’t want to change. However, the kind of Healing I’m talking about involves change, and there is no way out of it.

Part of the Healing process is learning to embrace change and recognizing what that means within ourselves. It can be a very scary prospect. But fear is part of the process too. Indeed, the fear itself can become a path and doorway to true Healing.

In Gratitude & Love,
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A Different Kind of Gratitude Practice

Looking Towards Heaven

In a recent post, I shared how I had discovered that a key in experiencing gratitude was not to go out looking for things to be grateful for, but rather to receive and allow in the beauty, the goodness, the inspiration, the truth, the love, and the gifts of whatever or whoever is in my presence in this moment. When I allow myself to receive, gratitude is then simply a natural expression/outpouring.

Following this thread and deepening further, I’ve come to another way of practicing gratitude, one that allows me to feel and experience gratitude on many levels, without all the effort of trying to force it. I came to this practice through a realization that gratitude is a part of who I am on an essential level, and my experience of it is therefore not dependent on outside circumstances. In other words, I don’t need something to feel grateful for in order to feel grateful. If I’m not currently experiencing gratitude, I can simply begin to open to it — turn my consciousness toward the energy and essence of gratitude already within me — and allow it to come to the forefront of my experience now (regardless of my outside circumstances). I like to think of it as tuning my radio dial to “gratitude.” The best part is that I don’t even need a mental concept of what gratitude is supposed to feel like to practice this.

Blue flowerThe practice looks something like this: First, I let go completely of trying to bring to mind someone, or some situation, which I want to be (or think I should be) grateful forInstead, I bring my attention into my still, quiet center, and I begin to allow myself to open. Then, I ask to experience the energy and essence of gratitude inside a particular part of my physical or energetic body. I like to bring in physical and energetic layers. For instance, I might ask deep into the core of myself, “What does it feel like to experience the energy and essence of gratitude in my bones?” I feel deep into my bones. Then, I wait and notice. What do I start to notice as I tune into my bones? My intellectual mind has no clue what gratitude would feel like in my bones! It has no concept of such a outlandish thing… thank goodness, because then I can just feel whatever I feel, no expectations. Then, I might ask, “What does it feel like to experience gratitude in my tissues?” or, “What does it feel like to experience gratitude in the fluids of my body?” or, “What does it feel like to experience gratitude in every cell of my body?” I allow myself to trust that whatever sensations I’m feeling, those sensations are the embodiment — the vibration and experience of — gratitude. Amazingly, the sensations I have felt are often surprising and are not what my mind would label as “gratitude.” And yet, at the same time, I notice myself starting to feel more and more gratitude in my daily life through this practice.

I used to think gratitude had to come in response to something in the world, that I needed to find something “worthy of gratitude” in order to experience it. Now, I’ve come to see that not only is it about fully receiving the beauty that surrounds me in the world in this present moment, gratitude is also already present inside of me. And when I allow myself to feel and experience the gratitude already inside of me, then (or sometimes seemingly simultaneously) I feel grateful for something in my outer world. There is no effort in this; instead, once I am embodying the “vibration” of gratitude, I really have no choice but to begin feeling grateful for things in my life. In this way, I don’t have to hunt with my intellect for things to be grateful for. It simply happens naturally once I tune in.

In gratitude & love,
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AFOG — Another F*&%ing Opportunity for Growth

One day, a little over ten years ago when I was feeling suicidal, I was explaining to my sister and her husband my rationalization for it being perfectly okay for me to commit suicide. I was sharing how I had realized that if I killed myself, everyone would move on and be fine. People die every day, I said. People move past these things all the time, I explained. I was so deep in my own misery that I then went on to say one of the most cruel and hurtful things I ever remember speaking out loud. You see, my brother-in-law’s little brother had recently died in a car accident. He was a teenager or at the most in his early 20s when he died. In my utter narcissistic despair and obliviousness, I proceeded to point out to my brother-in-law that obviously he had moved on from the death of his brother, and that that was the proof of my undeniable logic. A deafening silence followed. My sister glanced at her husband. Then she locked her eyes on mine, and I’ll never forgot what she said to me: “Yes, people move on. But nothing is ever the same again. Their lives are changed forever.”

Those words and the energy behind them pierced through the veil of my despair to shake me awake. Needless to say, I didn’t commit suicide. But more than that, never again did I trivialize the depth and breadth of what we experience as human beings in this life, including the deepest grief, despair, and pain. The experience of loss, for instance, is not trivial simply because all of us must endure and move through it at some point in our lives. In fact, the experience can be utterly transformational in the most horrendous and most beautiful ways. Indeed, we will never be the same again.

Recently I ran across an article written by Mark Sandlin called, 10 Clichés Christians Should Stop Saying. Some of these clichés are said by more than just Christians and are generally used in an attempt to comfort ourselves or others going through a challenging experience:

Everything happens for a reason.

God (the Universe) never gives us any more than we can handle.

We could debate (endlessly) whether or not these statements are even true. But more important is how these statements are often used as a subtle way of trivializing our own or another’s experience. I cannot tell you how often people start to share with me the depth of their pain only to stop themselves with a “but” followed by a version of one of these statements. Another common sentence to follow the “but” is, “I’m seeing this as an opportunity for growth.”

It is fantastic to see that everything happens for a reason, or that we can handle whatever is in front of us, or that every situation is an opportunity for growth and evolution. But when we start to use these ideas as subtle ways of avoiding and trivializing our own pain, then we are bypassing the very path we must travel to grow, transform, and heal in the most profound ways.

What is needed for true transformation and healing is the capacity to hold and feel fully both sides of this coin — both the horrendousness and beauty, the pain and the transformative power, the grief and the love. A friend of mine once shared that she calls these situations AFOGs — another f*%&ing opportunity for growth. I love this because the f-bomb acknowledges the pain of the situation, and “opportunity for growth” speaks to the transformative potential. I find that all too often, we want to leave out the f-bomb. We want to avoid the pain at all costs. But when we do this, we are denying an aspect of life itself. As Vera de Chalambert says:

“We must not send suffering into exile — the fear, the heartbreak, the anger, the helplessness all are appropriate, all are welcome. We can’t dismember ourselves to feel better. Difficult feelings need to be given space so they can come to rest. They need contact. We can’t cut off the stream of life and expect to heal.” ~From Kali Takes America: I’m with Her

The capacity to be fully present with both the pain and the inherent transformative power in these situations is often not easy. It takes an ability to differentiate and dis-identify from powerful energies which can be so overwhelming and all-consuming that we literally think they are us. For me, this is a journey. It is a continual discovery that pain and transformative power are often inseparable. It is a journey I embrace because, in that moment when my sister looked me in the eyes, I decided to live.
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Turning Towards

A healthy human being is characterized by a wider and wider capacity to experience [with presence] emotion and blends of emotion.” ~Dr. Keith Witt, Integral Psychologist

This assertion from Dr. Witt may sound simple, but I believe it to be extremely profound in its implications. In fact, I think it is key to understanding truly transformational healing and how it occurs. Dr. Witt and Jeff Salzman discuss this topic in Jeff’s Daily Evolver podcast episode entitled, “Transforming Trauma Into Power.” (I highly recommend listening to it in its entirety.)

What does it mean to have a wider and wider capacity to experience and be present with emotion? What is so challenging about it? And why is this capacity so essential for transformational healing?

Having the capacity to be present with our emotions means we have cultivated the ability to turn towards our unwanted feelings, pain, and other undesired material, as opposed to turning away through denial, distraction, or dissociation. One of the reasons this is so difficult is it goes against our most basic survival and instinctual drives, such as our ability to dissociate when experiencing a traumatic event. If we have used a response such as dissociation in the past and it worked to get us through a traumatic situation, our system will remember this success and use dissociation over and over again whenever it perceives danger (real or not). And this response will happen automatically and often unconsciously. That is, most of us are not even aware when we are dissociating.

Another reason it is difficult for us to turn towards our pain is we are often taught that certain emotions are bad and others are good. When we judge our emotions (and therefore ourselves) in this way, we tend to suppress those emotions which we have labeled as wrong. We do this in a variety of ways. We might dissociate (as already discussed above), go into denial, or use distraction (food, TV, drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc.). We might also shame ourselves in an attempt to control our feelings.

Why is it important to build the capacity to turn towards our pain? When we suppress our emotions or are otherwise unable to be present with our painful experiences, symptoms will eventually arise such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, psychosis, physical & immune system ailments, and in cases of extreme trauma, PTSD symptoms. The way to truly heal is to turn toward our pain and be present with the associated emotions and sensations. If we are able to meet our pain with compassionate understanding and radical acceptance, the energy of the held trauma naturally begins to metabolize, integrate, and heal.

One way to be present with our painful experiences is through what is called resourcing. This is a way of holding a resourced or healthy, powerful feeling in the body simultaneously with a challenging feeling in the body. Holding the two together in this way allows for integration and healing. Dr. Witt describes a simple practice in the podcast (at around the 36-minute mark) which you can try today that utilizes this principle.

I love what Jeff Salzman said when he describes this process for himself: “Whenever I find myself in a depression or anxiety or an anger vortex, I say, ‘This is good news! Here I have this ball of energy, and I have the opportunity to actually turn towards it and move into it.'” It is that willingness and that capacity to “turn towards” that results in growth and healing. It’s not just that you metabolize the experience and now it’s no longer a “block” or no longer causing symptoms. It’s that you actually heal with a big “H,” meaning you grow and you evolve. And that, I believe, is an important part of what life is all about.

Blessings,
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Reflections on Gratitude

Sunlight through treeYou probably know by now the power of gratitude. Everything seems lovely when you are enveloped in gratitude. You may even keep a gratitude journal or have engaged in other practices to help you feel gratitude every day. If you’ve committed to any of these practices and you’re like many people, you’re probably noticing significant improvement in your overall sense of well-being. After all, consistently feeling and experiencing gratitude is life changing!

You can imagine my surprise when I recently approached the big “G,” and instead of increasing feelings of gratitude and well-being, I felt as if I was on some sort of mad, desperate hunt for something to be grateful for. In fact, it even felt as if I didn’t have much of a concept of gratitude at all. As I began to look for things to be grateful for, my mind flipped through all the events of the day, one after the other, comparing and contrasting and categorizing, deciding if this or that thing was something I could (or should) be grateful for that day.

Well, you can probably tell already that I didn’t end up actually experiencing or feeling much gratitude this way! In fact, the whole exercise felt fake to me, like I was pretending to be grateful, hoping that the whole “fake it till you make it” thing would work out eventually. I figured if I thought about being grateful enough, it would actually start to happen. But to be honest, it never really did, at least not consistently, and definitely not easily. Surely being grateful doesn’t have to be so much work!

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Fortunately, a moment of grace in the midst of my struggle finally arrived. I realized I was missing an essential side of the equation: receiving. I came to realize that gratitude and appreciation are the natural expression/outpouring of receiving and allowing in the beauty, the goodness, the inspiration, the truth, the love, and the gifts of whatever or whoever is in my presence in this moment. Gratitude is not something I can force but is rather a natural and automatic expression/response that occurs when I allow myself to receive.

And so, in order to more easily feel the fullness of gratitude in my life, rather than looking for things to be grateful for and attempting to force the feeling, I look at what is in front of me now (no matter what it is) and make it my strong intention to open to receive the gifts — the beauty, the love, the teaching — being offered. I do not need to know what the gifts are when I open to receive. I simply ask to receive those gifts with all earnestness and trust, knowing they are there to receive. I pray in this way using words such as these:

May I receive and feel fully the gifts being offered in this moment.

May I receive and feel fully the beauty, the goodness, and the love this person is offering me now.

As I begin to receive the gifts being offered, gratitude and appreciation well up and pour through me naturally and without effort. The more I open to receive, the more gratitude expresses and moves through me, for it is a natural, reciprocal flow of energy. In this way, I never need to seek or look for what is “worthy” of my gratitude, for there is beauty in all things and in all beings, no matter the circumstance. It is only a question of receiving and allowing it in.

yin and yang

Energetically speaking, gratitude is a gift — an outpouring — a yang aspect of the flow of Love / Life / Energy. This is illustrated clearly in the expression, “to give thanks.” And, there is always a yin aspect to Energy, creating a balanced flow of the whole system (the toroidal flow of energy, the in and out, the yin and the yang). In this case, the yin aspect of the flow is the receiving and allowing in of the gifts — the beauty, the goodness, the truth — being offered in this moment. I find I cannot be truly grateful for anything if I do not recognize, receive, and truly feel the beauty in front of or within me in this moment.

It is in this recognition that I have shifted my focus to opening to receive the gifts in front of me, even if my mind is at a loss as to what gifts are present in that moment. I simply open to receive, knowing beauty surrounds me even if I cannot yet feel it. In only a few seconds, I often find myself overflowing with gratitude and appreciation.

With genuine gratitude,
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The Gift Within Your Health Crisis

flashlightWhen you are in crisis, the very idea that a gift lies within the experience can seem absurd or even offensive. What is the gift in receiving a life-threatening or debilitating diagnosis? How can there be a gift within being suicidally depressed or the experience of uncontrollable panic attacks? When you are the one in crisis, I have personally found that to be the most difficult time to see the gift. Of course, it is much easier to see the gift as an outsider. In fact, you will no doubt have at least a few people trying to comfort you with age-old clichés such as, “Well, you’re learning something, aren’t you?” or “Every cloud has a silver lining,” or “Don’t forget, everything happens for a reason.” In the midst of a healing crisis, not only can these tired clichés utterly fail to comfort us, often they enrage us because we feel completely unseen in the immensity of our pain by those whose profess to love us.

When it comes to facing a health crisis, whether mental or physical, it is very easy to dwell in fear, despair, and desperation. When you come to the point where your quality of life is seriously affected, or your life itself is threatened, you are in crisis. You will be challenged on all levels. There is no denying the difficulty of this challenge nor the painful feelings and experiences that often arise within it. But I have found that within the crisis also lies a gift, if you but choose to see it and focus your attention on it. This gift has many facets, and many of those facets will be unique to you. Here I wish to highlight some of those aspects of the gift that seem to be common for many of us.

Ironically, one aspect of the gift that lies within the crisis is the opportunity it gives you to notice its existence. No one can turn your eyes toward the gift but you, and that is part of the gift itself. When you make the choice to open to the possibility of there being a gift within the crisis, you are shown and experience unequivocally your own courage and your own power. You realize that it is within your power, and yours alone, to see and embrace the gift which lies there for you. You also experience, without a doubt, the enormous eye abstractcourage it takes to wrench your attention away from the despair and pain in order to look toward the gift, even if for only a moment. Within this profound realization, your power is given back to you (or rather, you see that it was yours all along). You realize you can choose where you focus your energy and attention, and ultimately, this means you have the power to directly affect your experience as you move through and meet your health crisis.

But there is even more to this gift, as if that were not enough. Another aspect of this gift is your own healing. When I say healing, I am not speaking of recovery from disease or injury as we normally conceive of it (although that is always a possibility as well). Rather, the profound healing I am speaking of could better be described as evolution. I just heard an interview with Jean Houston today in which she shared that the new paradigm of healing is not about fixing or curing, but rather about becoming. The gift within the crisis gives you the opportunity to allow your own unfolding into the next stage of your evolution — your becoming. More precisely, the opportunity is not actually in whether or not you will evolve (for that is inevitable), but rather to what degree and to what level you accept, allow, and embrace the flow of the evolutionary process itself. This includes the degree to which you are able to accept and love yourself — all aspects of yourself — as you move through the crisis and your own unfolding.

What will the experience of this healing and transformation be like for you? It will be unique to you. No one’s gift is the same, for we all unfold uniquely, even if we may all be heading in the same direction. It will depend upon where you are in your evolutionary process when you come upon your health crisis. It will depend upon countless other factors which make up the whole of who you are and the particular process you must go through. It will even depend upon your perception of the evolutionary process itself as you move through it. To what degree are you perceiving the process (your health crisis) as a gift and to what degree are you resisting it? This will be a factor in determining your experience of it. How much are you able to let go of the tendency to compare your own healing journey with another’s journey? This will also affect your healing experience. There are countless other factors as well.

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In the end, whether or not you experience this gift within the crisis as a gift or as a curse is a matter of perspective and choice. I believe we evolve through these experiences regardless of if we see the gift in them or not, although how easily, quickly, and consciously we experience that healing is largely up to us. None of what I’ve said here is meant to minimize or deny the challenge and pain in these situations. In fact, part of loving all aspects of ourselves through these times is in acknowledging the enormity of the pain we feel and then choosing to meet those parts of ourselves that hurt with unconditional love (rather than turn away with denial, avoidance, or condemnation). When we come upon these times, we have a choice in where we focus our energy and attention. Ultimately, we get to choose whether or not we see the gift because it exists as a possibility within our own hearts. The gift exists as an opportunity to experience, consciously and openly, our own evolution and healing.

In love & light,
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