Tag Archives: Embodiment

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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Suffering 101

I used to think suffering was caused by painful conditions and circumstances in my life. I didn’t realize that, in fact, there is a distinct difference between pain and suffering. After all, the two words are often used together as an indivisible unit — pain-and-suffering — as if we cannot experience pain without suffering. But it turns out we can. And it turns out this distinction is important because often we have no choice whether or not we experience pain, but we do have choice whether or not we suffer.

Definition of Suffering

Suffering is the inner experience of resisting or denying “what is.”

There are two major roads to suffering. The first is when we believe that what is happening (or what we perceive is happening) should not be happening. The second is when we believe something that contradicts Truth at a more essential level, at the level of Reality Itself. Pain, on the other hand, is simply an unpleasant sensory or emotional sensation. I love how Grace Bell expresses the difference between pain and suffering in her blog, Not Minding the Pain. She says, “It hurts, but I’m not upset about it.”

Whether our perception of what is happening is accurate or not, suffering comes when we believe the thought, “It shouldn’t be like this.” If my husband leaves dirty dishes in the sink when I explicitly asked him to wash them, and if I believe he should have washeddirty dishes them, I’ll have an inner experience I might call “annoyance” or “agitation.” I’m suffering because what I believe should be happening is not happening. Notice that if I didn’t believe he should have washed the dishes, I wouldn’t be suffering. My suffering has nothing to do with whether or not he did the dishes, but it has everything to do with if I believe he should have or not. Similarly, I might have an emotion arising within me (like anger), and, due to past conditioning, I believe the (probably unconscious) thought, “Anger is bad. I shouldn’t be feeling anger.” The result is an automatic repression of the emotion. The inner experience we have when repressing emotion in this way will be some form of suffering.

crepuscular raysWe also suffer when we believe something that conflicts with Truth on a more essential level. A simple but profound example is when we believe we are fundamentally flawed or “not good enough” at an intrinsic level. With a little inner reflection, we easily notice the suffering we experience when we believe this profoundly debilitating thought and how it affects our lives in far-reaching ways. When we believe a thought that conflicts with Reality Itself in this way, we will suffer at every level of our being, including physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. 

Resistance

If you have been around the block in the self-help world, you’ve probably heard the all-too familiar, “What you resist, persists!” While this may be true, what is resistance exactly? Resistance, in my view, is equivalent to suffering. It is the inner experience we have when we are in internal conflict with “what is.” We could be resisting something happening outside of us (e.g., “I don’t like that my hubby didn’t do the dishes.”) or something happening within us (e.g., “I feel angry, and I shouldn’t feel angry.”)

On our Healing journey, we begin to see that much of what we resist are natural flows of energy within us. For instance, emotion is simply a flow of energy that moves through us like a wave when it is allowed to flow naturally. However, we often learn when we are young that some emotions are wrong or bad to feel, and so we resist (repress) them. It is when that natural flow of energy hits the wall of wavy balljpgresistance within us that we have the inner experience called suffering. Often, this experience is what we might label as something like “anxiety” or “fear” or “panic,” depending upon the intensity of the natural energy trying to move through. (This experience can take many forms, not just anxiety.) Believe it or not, we can also resist energies like “joy,” or “passion,” or “excitement,” because somehow we learned those were wrong to feel when we were young. In this case, we have the same inner experience of suffering (in the form of anxiety or whatever other form it may take) when that energy hits the wall of resistance within us. Again, suffering/resistance occurs when we believe that what is happening should not be happening. If I resist or repress a certain emotion but the reality is the energy of that emotion is present, then I am suffering.

The Cycle of Suffering

Swirl in cepiaNow I’d like to highlight an aspect of suffering not often acknowledged. I said in the beginning of this post that we have choice in whether or not we suffer. From what I shared above, it may seem the choice would be to simply stop resisting “what is.” Indeed, an entire self-help industry has been built upon this premise. But here is something that is often overlooked or denied: If we are suffering, we want it to stop. That might seem obvious, but this is actually one of the most important breakthroughs I have ever had. Let me put it another way: Intrinsic in the nature of suffering is the desire for it to stop. We have no choice in the matter. If we are suffering, we cannot talk ourselves out of wanting it to go away. No amount of contriving and affirming will make that desire disappear. And when we try to make this desire go away — try to stop resisting — we are simply adding yet another layer of resistance (resisting our resistance), thus compounding the issue further. The desire for suffering to stop and the suffering itself are forever linked together. I call this the “cycle of suffering” because being caught in this cycle feels like being caught in a gigantic feedback loop with the same information being regurgitated over and over. And what happens when we have a desire for the suffering to stop? We will try to find ways to make it end. We will search, seek, analyze, plan, experiment, cajole, beg, plead, and try just about anything to make it go away, “heal” it, or “transmute” it. Unfortunately, all of that searching is a part of the suffering itself. It cannot lead to anything other than suffering, even if the conditions we blame the suffering on shift and morph into other forms. This is the “self-help” trap I’ve been caught in most of my life. At least it has kept me busy!

So… What’s Next Then?

When I had this realization, I immediately understood that the only way out of this cycle is to shift our attention to “something else” within us that is not suffering. This can be the hardest thing in the world to do for many reasons. Suffering is extremely compelling. It is addictive. And it is often literally who we think we are. Furthermore, we are convinced that we have to somehow directly address the suffering itself to make it go away. But the truth is, resisting our resistance (suffering) only keeps us in the cycle.

Our choice is not in whether or not we are resisting “what is.” If we are suffering, we are already doing that. Our choice is in where we place our attention next. Just because we are caught in the cycle of suffering doesn’t mean there is nothing else to who we are. Many of us do not realize there is anything else to us. Our entire lives have become almost entirely about trying to control and avoid what we don’t want (suffering).

the journey beginsThe process of Healing begins by noticing there is more to who we are than the cycle of suffering we are caught in, that there is “something else” to us. We can begin to turn our attention toward this broader aspect of ourselves and, grounded in this Resource, form a new relationship with our suffering. When we do this, our suffering will be transmuted. At its core, this is a process of deep self acceptance.

Would you like to read more about the process of Healing? Check out the section on my webpage entitled, What Is Healing?

In Gratitude & Love,
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Depression/Bipolar Part 2 – What’s Working for Me

In Part 1 of this series (Depression/Bipolar Part 1 – Why Traditional Western Therapies Weren’t Enough for Me), I explained why the traditional western therapeutic approach to treating mood disorders (in my case, depression and/or bipolar II, depending on which psychiatrist you ask) wasn’t enough for me.  With the traditional approach, I was merely surviving, but not thriving.  In this post, I’d like to share what is working for me.  But before I go into that, I’d like to make clear that I don’t mean to imply that I am now happy at all times with never a moment of depression.  Yes, it’s true I can now say that I finally understand what it means to truly live and that I have experienced and continue to experience true joy, creativity, passion, gratitude, and love to depths I had never dreamed of before.  Yet, I still have times when I will sink into the depths of depression.  Even now, my mind sometimes falls into those old habitual thought patterns that have been engrained over the course of 35+ years.  These times are much less common and don’t last nearly as long, but they still happen.  So maybe it would be more accurate to say that the approach I’m about to describe is simply a process that I suspect won’t end at some final destination where I am eternally blissful in every moment of every day.  Perhaps that state of being is possible, but I’m not holding my breath.  My sister, who is the CEO of a small business, recently shared an insight which illustrates this idea.  She has been noticing that many young people fresh out of college have the expectation that they should be able to find a job in which they will be happy all the time.  She pointed out that this is simply an unrealistic expectation, and that no matter how much you love your job, not every day will be perfect.  There will be days when you wonder why you didn’t just stay in bed.  (My sister is wise.  That’s why I call her Yoda.)  The same is true for me with my mood.  I’m a work in progress.  Still, the approach I’m using now has been so life-changing and so much more effective than the traditional approach that I feel it’s worth sharing in hopes that it might resonate with some of you struggling with similar issues.

Everything started to change for me during my training in the therapy I now practice called Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (BCST).  This training wasn’t your typical class.  It was organized into ten, five-day modules spread out over almost two years, which means there were about two months between each module in which to integrate what we experienced/learned into our everyday lives.  I quickly learned that in order to be an effective practitioner of this therapy, I needed to live the teachings myself.  To be honest, this was the only way I could prove to myself that this therapy really works.  I wasn’t going to practice a therapy based on someone else’s stories or just accept without question the underlying theories.  I needed first-hand experience.  And so I decided to dive in head first, allow myself to embrace the experience, and see where it led me.  It was over the course of those two years — with support through my group training and from individual BCST therapists — that I began to transform.  I discovered that the therapy I was learning to give to others was the key to addressing my own issues, most prominently the debilitating depression I had been living with since I was a young child.  Below is an explanation of the three main components that have been vital for me in this process.

  • Listening to my body with a perspective of appreciation.  One of the most important steps I took was to simply feel and listen to my body with curiosity and appreciation.  This is easier said than done, believe me.  To do this, I first had to let go of all the analysis about why I was depressed.  My teachers called this “letting go of the story.”  After many years of therapy, self-help books, and personal growth seminars, I could easily name all of my underlying belief systems which I was sure were contributing to my depression.  I could list my childhood traumas or talk about my parents until I was blue in the face.  Unfortunately, that approach was largely ineffective for me.  I also had to let go of the idea that there was something wrong with me that I had to battle and eliminate.  The key for me was a change in perspective from one of judgment and pathologizing to one of appreciation.  I began to recognize the incredible intelligence behind how I manage my experiences.  I realized that I had made it this far for good reason, and that whatever I had been doing worked.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be around to debate it.  I’d be dead.  So with this perspective, I started to listen to my body in a way I never had before.  I let go of the story and started listening and looking for the intelligence in my system instead of the problems.   A whole new world opened up.  I was (and continue to be) amazed at the incredible intelligence at work behind my so-called detrimental “patterns” and “belief systems.”  Bit by bit, simply by listening to my body, I experienced more and more ah-ha moments where I realized certain patterns I had always hated in myself (e.g., shyness) are very intelligent responses to my particular life circumstances.  These reflexive patterns are how I managed and currently manage my experiences to survive and to fulfill specific vital needs — and they work.  This change of perspective was a huge key for me because my bind of self-hate was finally released.  Once I stopped fighting and hating myself, other possibilities I could not previously see began to open up.
  • Connecting to my underlying healing forces & who I really am.  One of the focuses of BCST is supporting the underlying intelligence/healing forces/healing ability of the body.  As a practitioner, I can actually feel these forces at work in the client’s body.  But in order to feel these forces in someone else, I needed to feel them in myself first.  And as I started listening to my own body with curiosity and appreciation, I started to palpably feel these forces at work within myself.  This connection to the underlying intelligence of my system led me to felt-sense connection to who I really am at a core level — the one underneath the depression — the one who could heal my own heart and mind.  I suppose some people might call this core level the “soul” or “spirit.”  Whatever you call it, this connection to that center of who I am somehow led me to the insight that I am the one with my own answers.  In fact, I am the only one with my own answers.  I have found that, for me, working with my depression is not about fighting it; rather, the work is about staying connected to my core or center.  For me, this is a tangible experience with incredible results.  The more I focus on staying connected with that core part myself rather than on fighting my depression, the more my state of being is one of joy, love, gratitude, beauty, creativity, and inspiration.
  • Surrounding myself with proper support.  The most critical part of this process for me has been having the right kind of support.  Basically, I need people around me who can recognize and reflect back to me who I really am at the core level.  In addition, these people all share the following crucial qualities:
  • They recognize that I am unique and complicated.  They know that what will work for me will be unique to me.  There are no cookie-cutter solutions.
  • They realize that I have my own answers.  They are not there to give me answers.  Instead, they support me in finding my own unique path to health.
  • They have a perspective of appreciation rather than pathologizing.  They are not interested in fixing me or making me better.
  • They trust and recognize the underlying intelligence at work in my system and know that they do not “know better” than that intelligence.
  • They trust my process and are neutral as to the outcome or results.
  • They can see who I really am at the core level.

Of course, many of these people were classmates in the BCST training, my teachers, or therapists who had done the training.  I have also found a few amazing friends who share these qualities.  Having these people in my life is vitally important because they can see through all of my crap to who I really am, even when I cannot.  Oftentimes, it is that reflection of my core self that helps bring me out of my states of despair and back to a connection with my center.  These people are rare, but they’re out there.

My hope is that some of you reading these posts might resonate with some of what I’ve shared of my own experiences.  If so, I’d encourage you to first find people to support you who have the qualities I listed above.  It’s easy to find all sorts of people who think they have your answers and want to fix you.  You might even feel like you need to be fixed!  But for me, the trick was to find those people who recognized that I have my own answers and know that the keys to my own healing are inside of me.  That is true empowerment.  That is how I learned to take real responsibility for my own health.

Aloha,

Penny

Live Like It’s Your Last Day: Permission to Eat Pizza & Ice Cream?

A few years ago, I decided to take the plunge into the world of personal growth seminars.  During my very first seminar and after several emotion-filled days of mind-blowing transformation and realizations, they figured it was time to hit us with the real whopper.  Our facilitator told us to imagine these were the last few minutes of our lives.  We could write a letter to whomever we wanted in those few minutes.  The facilitator gave us a specific time limit (not very long, if I recall correctly).  I began furiously writing to my loved ones, attempting to express all my love and gratitude in those few, brief moments.  Then, before our time limit was up, somebody suddenly shut off all the lights.  We were plunged into darkness.  Gasps filled the air.  I’m pretty sure my mouth hung open in dismay and righteous anger.  I hadn’t finished writing!  It wasn’t fair!  After a dramatic pause, the facilitator whispered into the darkness:  “You never know when your last minute will be up.”  He then suggested to all of us that perhaps it’s time to start living like this could be our last day.

The experience was actually rather dramatic given the state I was in at the time, being raw with emotion and feeling quite vulnerable.  It was a powerful way to drive home the point.  Still, once I took a step back and pondered this age-old advice, I started to wonder exactly how to live every day as if it’s my last.  The catch with this whole concept is, of course, that we generally don’t know for certain this will be the day we meet the Grim Reaper.  But when we start to think about what we might do (or not do) if this were our last day, we have already inserted the assumption that we know today will be our “expiration date” (as my dad would put it).  For me, I inevitably start to fantasize about eating pizza and ice cream all day long while being surrounded by close friends and family, all of whom also know I will die when the day is done.  Because of this awareness, it is easy for all of us to express our undying love and gratitude for one another freely and without restraint.  It’s a beautiful fantasy.  Unfortunately, it also has no bearing on reality.  This is because, in reality, I don’t know ahead of time that this will be my last day.  So, of course, I generally choose to refrain from stuffing myself with pizza and ice cream all day long in an attempt to maintain my health, and I don’t call all my close friends and family daily to express my love for them, as it would become fairly meaningless to both me and them after only a few days.

Of course, whoever came up with this sage advice probably wasn’t implying that I eat pizza and profess my undying love for everybody on a daily basis.  So I figured I probably needed to dig a little deeper.  But some of the so-called deeper meanings that are often given also left me unsatisfied.  One example is that by pondering the thought that we might die today, we can begin to sort out what is most important to us.  For instance, since most of us would choose to spend our last minutes with friends and family instead of cleaning our house or doing laundry, that must mean friends and family are more important than cleaning and laundry.  But for me, and I suspect a lot of people, that isn’t exactly a big revelation.  Plus, I still feel like I need to clean the house and do laundry, regardless of how important my friends and family are to me.

So what I’ve finally come to realize is that I needed to look at this advice as just another pointer.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that this advice helps to point me toward a way of being — an experience — of what it means to live like it’s my last day.  There are many other pointers out there that guide us to a similar experience or state of being, such as “live in the present moment” or “appreciate the preciousness of every second of your life.”  When I started to inquire what it really means to live like it’s my last day, I simply couldn’t figure out with my logical mind how to practically implement this concept into my life.  But when I eventually had an experience of what it’s like to live this way, I finally understood what it means.  My point is that I don’t think this advice is meant as a some sort of directive to suddenly go out right now and live life as if this could be the day you meet your maker.  Most of us would have no clue how to do that.  I think, instead, it is meant as a launching pad of self-inquiry, which eventually leads us to an experience of what it really means to live every day with appreciation, knowing it could indeed be your last.

Aloha,

Penny