Tag Archives: Suffering

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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What Is Suffering?

ContemplativeI used to talk about suffering as if it were either caused by, or an intrinsic part of, conditions and circumstances in my life (both inner and outer circumstances). For instance, if my suffering took the form of depression, I might have said I was depressed because of a chronic physical illness or because my marriage was falling apart. Yet, I began to consider another possibility. If my knee hurts and I am suffering, maybe the suffering is not actually the same feeling as the physical pain in my knee. In other words, perhaps my knee can hurt, and I don’t necessarily have to be suffering. Similarly, would it be possible to have a wave of sadness or anger move through me and experience it as simply energy moving — a form of Love — rather than as suffering?

energy Why is this important? Well, it’s possible (maybe probable) you are suffering in some way, and you want to feel better. You might assume that if whatever you are struggling with (physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually) is fixed, cleared, cleansed, healed, let go of, released, or otherwise vamoosed, then you will no longer be suffering. But if suffering is not tied to your inner or outer conditions and circumstances, then just because the conditions change doesn’t mean you will stop suffering. If suffering is not caused by, or intrinsic to, our inner or outer circumstances, then what is it?

Definition of Suffering

Suffering is the inner experience we have when we believe (or “attach” to) thoughts/concepts/models that conflict with our perceived reality or conflict with Reality Itself.

The first way we suffer is when we don’t like what’s happening, or more accurately, we don’t like what we perceive is happening. Of course, our perceptions can easily be mistaken, especially when we are assuming what someone else is thinking or feeling. Whether our perception of what is happening is accurate or not, suffering comes when we believe the thought, “It shouldn’t be like this.” My husband might leave the dishes in the sink, and if I believe a thought that says 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 have happened is not what happened (it’s not reality). 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 he did the dishes or not, 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 thought, “Anger is bad. I shouldn’t be feeling anger.” The result is an automatic repression of the emotion, a process often referred to as resistance, which is equivalent to suffering. (I will speak more about resistance a bit later.)

crepuscular raysThe second way we suffer is when we believe something that conflicts with Reality Itself. A simple but profound example is when we believe we are not good enough… not smart enough, not competent enough, not strong enough, not happy enough, not safe enough, not loved enough, not healthy enough, not evolved enough, not spiritual enough, etc. With a little inner reflection, we easily notice the suffering we experience when we believe these thoughts and how it affects our lives in profound and far-reaching ways. We suffer when we believe we are not good enough because it conflicts with Reality. It is an untrue belief at the deepest level of our Existence. Although somewhat esoteric, the realization and embodiment of our True Nature is a core theme in my approach, which I discuss thoroughly in, What Is Healing? on my webpage.

Resistance

If you have been around the block in the self-help world, you have 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 in that it is the inner experience we have when we are in internal conflict with reality (perceived reality or Reality Itself). 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 don’t like to feel angry.”)

In our Healing journey, it often comes down to resisting a natural flow 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 us. (This experience can take many forms, not just anxiety.) Believe it or not, we can also resist energies that we might call joy, or passion, or excitement, because we learned those were wrong to feel when we were younger. 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 a thought that says what is happening should not be happening. If I believe a thought that says I shouldn’t feel a certain emotion but the reality is that the energy of that emotion is present, then I am suffering/resisting.

The Nature of Suffering

Swirl in cepiaNow, I’d like to discuss an aspect of suffering you may not have thought much about. 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, even if we deny it. And when we try to affirm this desire away, we are simply adding yet another layer of resistance and suffering, compounding the issue. The desire for suffering to stop and the suffering itself are forever linked together. I call this the “cycle of suffering.” Being caught in this cycle feels like being caught in a gigantic feedback loop with the same information being regurgitated over and over. (By the way, this seems to be what’s actually happening from a physics standpoint: see Mind Candy: Theories and Explanations on my webpage.) 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 or “heal” 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 themselves shift and morph into other forms. This is the trap I’ve been caught in most of my life. At least it has kept me busy!

When I had this realization, I immediately understood that just because we are caught in this 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 in any form). We have come to believe this is all there is to us and to our lives, even if we don’t realize it.

the journey beginsWhat’s Next?

We can begin to look at suffering in an entirely new way through what I call the process of Healing. This is not healing in the traditional sense most of us think of when we think of healing. The 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 begin to turn our attention toward this broader aspect of ourselves and, from that perspective, form a new relationship with the suffering. This is a process of deep self acceptance. Through this process, we begin to fully express our unique gifts into a world that desperately needs us to show up in this way.

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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Real Emotion vs. Suffering – Part 1

modern artWhen we were young, many of us learned to believe that certain energies are bad or wrong to feel or experience. These fundamental, natural energies could be called “emotions,” if you define emotion as simply energy in motion. For instance, if we expressed naturally arising energies such as what we call joy, exuberance, or love, and our parents held beliefs that those energies are wrong to express in excess or even wrong to feel at all, they will have attempted to squelch the expression of those energies in us. Likewise, if we expressed energies such as what we call anger or sadness, perhaps our parents believed those energies are harmful and so attempted to squelch their expression as well. When we bought into this — that is, when we ourselves began to believe those energies are wrong to feel — we then began to resist or repress those energies whenever they arose in us. The resistance/repression of those energies then becomes an automatic, unconscious reaction whenever they arise in us. And so now, as adults, we are in a situation where we believe (unconsciously at this point) that these energies arising in us should not be there, which puts us in conflict with the reality that they are there. Our resistance to these naturally arising energies (the clash between our beliefs and reality) is experienced by us as suffering. (If you haven’t read it already, please see What Is Suffering? before moving on so you’ll have a context for how I am describing suffering here.)

freeimages.co.uk medical imagesOften, this kind of suffering takes the form of experiences we might call anxiety, anger/rage, depression/despair, fear, jealousy, restlessness, or any other multitude of unpleasant (or downright awful) experiences. The confusion here is that we often label these experiences as “emotions.” But these forms of suffering are NOT true emotions. Actually, quite the opposite is the case. These states are instead the inner experience of the repression of natural emotion.

Why does this distinction matter? Well, if you have been around the block at all in the self-help world, I’m sure you’ve heard by now how important it is on your Healing journey to “feel your emotions.” (In fact, I talk about this in What Is Healing? as a critical part of the Healing process.) But, the problem is if you think that the rage you keep feeling repeatedly, or the anxiety, or the jealousy, or whatever else, are the emotions everyone is telling you you’re supposed to be feeling, you might be wondering when the healing is going to start happening because you still feel like crap even though you keep feeling all these “emotions” again and again! After all, you are feeling these things… over and over and over and over again… so shouldn’t you be healing by now? Even your psychologist might be encouraging you to keep going down these same rabbit holes, but nothing really seems to be changing in the long run.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe issue here is that you are not actually feeling the energy (the emotion) that you have repressed. Rather, what you are experiencing (repeatedly) is simply what it feels like when you repress that energy. In other words, the rage, or the jealousy, or the anxiety, or whatever, is not the emotion itself, but is rather what it feels like to resist that emotion. This suffering is the inner experience (how it feels to you inside) of the belief that you should not be experiencing an energy that is nonetheless present.

The natural energy (the true emotion), when actually experienced and allowed to move, feels nothing at all like these forms of suffering. In fact, when I feel authentic emotion, it is hard for me to even label it because it is so different than what I’ve been experiencing for so many years! A dandelion 3real emotion, when felt fully, rises in me like a wave, crests, and then naturally dissipates. It is simply an energy wave that moves through me. And, in my experience, on a deep level, it feels good to feel it, no matter what “flavor” the emotion takes.

It is actually very easy to distinguish between states of suffering and the movement of real emotion. States of suffering such as I described above (rage, jealousy, anxiety, etc.) will come in repeating patterns. They will arise over and over and over again, with no real resolution, no matter how much they are “felt.” They will probably escalate over time as well, because more and more emotion is being repressed and building up, thus more and more suffering is present in that repression. In contrast, a real emotion is a one-time deal. It will move through like a wave, and it will do so rather quickly (usually within a couple minutes, although not always). That doesn’t mean a similar emotion won’t arise again, but it won’t feel like it’s the same thing happening over and over again.

The states of suffering we experience and the underlying energy (emotion) being repressed are often related. For instance, the resistance of naturally arising fear might be experienced as repeating cycles of anxiety or terror. The repression of naturally arising grief/sadness might be experienced as chronic depression or despair. The resistance of naturally arising adepresssionnger might be experienced as chronic irritation or rage. The repression of naturally arising envy or inspiration might be experienced as overwhelming jealousy.

Because these states of suffering become repeating patterns that often escalate over time, they will often be labeled as mental disorders such as anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, paranoia, etc. Eventually, they will begin to manifest physically, and are then diagnosed as “diseases” such as digestive disorders, autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue, nervous system diseases, cancer, high blood pressure/heart disease, etc.

Perhaps by now you can see that these states of suffering (i.e., the resistance to the emotion) effectively distract us from experiencing the underlying emotion, for we become focused on the unpleasant feelings and “diseases” and on trying to rid ourselves of those feelings, symptoms, or illnesses. Because we believe (usually unconsciously) hypnotizedthat the underlying energies are wrong to feel, the experience of our resistance to them (the anxiety, rage, physical illnesses, etc.) is designed to distract us away from the experiencing of the original emotion. Essentially, we become hypnotized by our own resistance (the suffering). Thus, we enter into the cycle of suffering. (See What Is Suffering?)

The rubber meets the road in your Healing process when you finally turn toward the aspect of you that is suffering and meet it standing in your True Nature. The rage, the anxiety, the jealousy, the illnesses… when these experiences are met with Love rather than animosity, the emotion that is being resisted and repressed will finally be allowed to flow as it was meant to flow. I have found this to be the crux of true Healing.

turtleIn Part 2 of this post (Real Emotion vs. Suffering – Part 2), I’ll be discussing another way in which suffering arises in a form that we often confuse with true emotion. That aspect of suffering takes the form of protective mechanisms that we create in order to protect us from feeling the soul-wrenching pain of some of our most deeply held (and profoundly false) beliefs. Doesn’t that sound fun? Stay tuned!  🙂

In love,
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Suffering: It’s All Smoke & Mirrors – Part 1

RoosterKauai has lots of chickens.  Lots.  They’re everywhere.  The roosters like to crow.  It’s their job, and they do it well.  They do it all day long.  I’m not even sure how much they sleep because they even do it at 1 a.m.  It’s apparently a very important job.  Now, let’s just pretend one night I’m happily sleeping away, dreaming of angels and whatnot, and a rooster crows right outside my window at 3 a.m.  It is a piercing, startling sound.  How am I supposed to sleep now?  Intense irritation arises inside of me.  Why won’t that damn chicken just shut up?  He crows again.  And again.  And again.  He’s still right outside my window.  I am so angry now I decide to take matters into my own hands.  I run out the door, screaming and waving my arms like a mad woman, and chase the horrible little bird far away from my window.  Now I feel a little better.  That rooster sure got what was coming to him!

Let’s look at what just happened here.  What happened is pretty much a lot of nothing, except for suffering on my part and a startled chicken wondering about that crazy lady.  In my case, my suffering took the form of anger and irritation.  Let’s examine the very beginning of this incident.  What caused my irritation to arise?  Was it the chicken?  No, not really.  What caused my irritation to arise was an unconscious resistance to what was happening in that moment: a chicken was crowing for about one second outside my window.  Big deal.  But to me in that moment, it was a big deal, wasn’t it?  My reaction was automatic and unconscious, meaning I didn’t think it out like this: “Oh, a chicken just crowed, and it was loud.  I don’t like loud, piercing sounds.  I think I’ll get pissed now.”  No, I just got pissed automatically.  What was happening is some unconscious part of me thought it was not at all okay for a chicken to be crowing at 3 a.m. right outside my window.  That part of me then produced irritation in order to affect my behavior, in order to motivate me to do something about what I thought was the problem (the chicken).  Now, it felt like I had some measure of control over the situation. After all, I chased the chicken away, didn’t I?  Peace and quiet abounded (until the next chicken comes along, which is within the next minute or so).

But what if the irritation never arose in the first place?  What if I were perfectly happy with a rooster crowing right outside my window at 3 a.m.?  Then I wouldn’t have suffered at all, Eyeand neither would’ve the chicken I scared to death with my crazy arm waving, 3 a.m. madness.  There would have been no “problem” then, would there?  There would have just been a rooster crowing, and a happy woman in bed enjoying the rooster crowing.  What caused the problem was my unconscious resistance to what was happening.  In this case, that resistance (=suffering) took the form of irritation.  Do you see what that means?  It means I created the problem.  The rooster had nothing to do with it.

When you think of it like that, it becomes clear that the real problem — the suffering itself — is DCF 1.0phantom-like or not quite real.  I mean, it was real for me in that I suffered: I felt irritated, ran outside like a crazy woman, and scared a chicken.  But really what happened is I created a problem inside of myself (suffering) by resisting what was happening, scared a rooster who was just doing his duty as a rooster, and then finally came back to planet earth feeling quite accomplished because I had figured out a clever way to get rid of the problem… yup, the problem I just created myself.  It’s a whole bunch of hand-waving (literally) and quite exciting, but wouldn’t it have been nicer to just enjoy the rooster and go back to sleep?  No problem created.  No suffering created.  Happy me, happy rooster.

This is true for more than just irritation arising when a rooster crows.  This happens all the time.  Unconscious resistance arises whenever something happens in the world that we have learned to define as something that shouldn’t be happening.  It arises when whatever is happening doesn’t fit our concept of how things should be.  The range of this resistance is enormous… it goes all the way from slight disgust, such as when my hubby drools on my pillow yet again, to feeling horrified at the slaughter of millions in mass genocide.  In all cases, the problem for me is arising inside of myself — that is, I am creating my own suffering by resisting reality.  The reality is, for example, my hubby just drooled on my pillow and there is mass genocide taking place.  If I don’t think those things should be happening, resistance (=suffering) arises within me in various forms such as anger, sadness, despair, horror, etc.  A problem is created inside of me, and I suffer.  I’m not doing it consciously, but I am doing it.  The truth is, I would not suffer if I didn’t resist reality.

What most of us are doing is going around doing all sorts of things to try to get rid of “problems” we created inside ourselves.  We think that our horror and worry aBlue smokend disgust that arises when we witness something like mass genocide is actually caused by that circumstance, but that’s not true.  Those feelings arise due to our own resistance — due to the fact that we learned somewhere along the line that mass genocide shouldn’t happen (as an example).  We mistake those feelings as being caused by the outside circumstances, and so we do not know that when we take action to “help,” we are doing so primarily to relieve the discomfort — the suffering — inside of ourselves that we ourselves created.  It’s just like the chicken.  It’s an illusion — not quite a real problem — although it’s real to us in our suffering.  But it wouldn’t be real if we never resisted in the first place.  I’m not saying that mass genocide isn’t real or that we should simply put our feet up and let it happen.  I’m saying the problem inside of us would not be there if we didn’t resist.  We ourselves would not be suffering.

A couple questions might come to mind after pondering this:

  1. Where would my motivation to act in the world come from if I wasn’t motivated by a feeling that something should not be as it is? Why would I take action to change anything if I accept everything as it is? Sure, I’d be happy as a clam, but what about all those people out there being slaughtered in wars or otherwise enmeshed in horrific circumstances? Why would I care about doing anything to help them? Or on a more personal level, what if I have pain or disease in my body? Why would I want to do anything about that — to try to heal — if I just accepted it as it is?
  2. Okay. I can see how I am the one creating my own suffering. But how do I change my unconscious, automatic responses, the key words here being “unconscious” and “automatic”?

Good questions!  Stay tuned for Part 2 for my thoughts on this.  In the meantime, maybe the answers will come of their own accord as you watch yourself and notice what’s happening.Have fun noticing!

Aloha & peace,
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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

Depression/Bipolar Part 1 – Why Traditional Western Therapies Weren’t Enough for Me

You might think from the title that this post will be yet another rant from one of those woo-woo types who wants to rid the world of the evils of western medicine, particularly in regard to mood disorders such as depression or bipolar.  It’s true, my husband recently declared that I am officially now “one of those woo-woo people.”  Ah, well.  Even if I have crossed over into woo-woo land, I still like to think I can… well, think.  And the truth is that I have seen medications and good counseling save far too many lives to discount these treatments so easily.  I have one friend in particular who says that when she found the right medication to treat her mood disorder, she finally felt like she could be more of who she really is and at long last knew what it felt like to truly live.  Still, in my particular experience with depression (or bipolar II, as it was diagnosed by one psychiatrist), I found that medications and psychological talk therapy were not enough.  What does “not enough” mean?  Well, these treatments did help me to survive because they gave me enough of a boost to refrain from committing suicide (a real plus!).  But the truth is, I still felt directionless, hopeless, and without passion or vitality.  I could not see the beauty around me.  I did not feel gratitude for my life nor see a greater purpose.  I did not feel true joy, love, or inner peace.  I was surviving, but not thriving.  And so I knew I had to find another approach (in addition to all I was already doing) if I ever wanted my life to be about more than always struggling to keep my head just above the water so as not to drown.

Some of you might also be wondering why medications and talk therapy haven’t been enough for you.  Perhaps you might still have a glimmer of hope that there must be some way for you, too, to begin to thrive, not just survive.  In this post (Part 1 of 2), I’d like to share some of the reasons the typical western approach to treating mood disorders (diagnose, medicate, and support with psychological therapy) wasn’t the cure-all I’d hoped it would be for me.  In my next post (Depression/Bipolar Part 2 – What’s Working for Me), I’ll talk about what did work for me and why.

1.  Fight, Fight, Fight!!  Wait, who am I fighting again?  For me, a big component of my depression was self hate.  I suppose there are some people who are depressed and also love themselves unconditionally, but I would venture to say that would be a rare person.  Usually, there is some component of self loathing, even if it is just because we hate ourselves for not being able to just be happy already.  The way I was taught in therapy and support groups was to look at my depression as a disease, as something somehow separate from me which I had to battle and eliminate.  After all, if mood disorders are diseases like cancer, then we have to fight them!  That’s what we do to survive — fight and destroy!  But for me, seeing my depression as something to battle ended up backfiring.  This was because of that pesky self-hate component to my depression.  It turns out that “my depression” and “me” weren’t actually all that easy to separate.  In the end, all I succeeded in doing was beating myself into a bloody pulp (emotionally speaking).  You see, it turned out the battle I was fighting was with myself, not with some entity called “depression” lurking within me.  The truth is there was no such entity.  There was only me, a person experiencing depression.  All I was doing was heaping another dose of self hate on top of the large, steaming pile I’d already created.  This was one case where I had to stop fighting to win the battle.

2.  I’m complicated, thank you very much.  Seeing depression and other mood disorders as diseases also has another effect:  categorization.  The doctor needs to label your disease (give you a diagnosis) in order to prescribe the correct medications and provide the right kind of counseling to treat the disease.  I must say, I despised this process.  I did not want to be labeled.  Some part of me screamed inside that I am a unique individual, that what has gotten me to this point in my life is complicated and not so easily analyzable and medicated away.   I found the idea of being put into some sort of box called “depression” or “bipolar II” (as if that explains everything and can now be managed appropriately) to be wholly inadequate.  I am not a puzzle to be solved.  Where was the recognition of me, a real, live, complicated person?  This kind of recognition was missing in this whole process, and it turned out it was critical for my recovery.

3.  Medicate my troubles away. Not so much.  I want to emphasize again that medications are absolutely critical for some people.  Sometimes it comes down to life or death, literally.  My intent here is to share my experience, not convince anyone to take or not take medication.  With that said, I have found that for me, at least right now, medications just aren’t the answer.  Part of the issue, I admit, is that I have a real problem with the fact that we just don’t know much about what these things are doing to us.  As I said, we’re complicated.  These drugs do much more to us than help treat our mood disorders (as is evidenced by the numerous so-called side effects, which are actually just effects, of these medications).  But even more importantly, when I finally found the supposedly “right” drug combination according to my psychiatrist (after many horrendous wrong combinations), the effect was a numbing of my feelings.  I could not feel the lows anymore, but I also could not feel the joys.  To me, this wasn’t living.  I admit I could have tried more combinations.  But there came a point for me when I said to myself, “This isn’t worth it.  I need to do this another way.”  I knew deep inside this wasn’t the right path for me.

4.  Analyze, Analyze, Analyze!!  Wait, I’m dizzy.  Through approaches such as talk therapy, self-help & spiritual books, and personal growth seminars, I began to make all sorts of amazing discoveries about my underlying (and previously unconscious) belief systems.  I discovered what they were, where they came from, and why and how they contributed to my depression and every other aspect of my life.  This was transformative and really the beginning of finding my way back to the land of the living.  After all, awareness brings with it the opportunity for change.  But then I fell into what I lovingly refer to as the “self-help trap.”  (I must admit I still stumble into this trap more often than I’d like.)  Here’s how it goes:  1) I see a belief system in myself like “I’m not worthy” affecting my behavior and running my life.  2) I understand where it came from and that it “no longer serves me,” as all the self-help gurus so helpfully point out to me.  3) I nonetheless still behave/feel the same way, regardless of this awareness.  I don’t know why.  It’s stupid (I think).   4) I become disgusted with myself for behaving/feeling the same way yet again.  5) I beat myself into a bloody emotional pulp for doing the same damn thing over and over again.  6)  I feel depressed because I’ve just beat myself up AND I’m a self-help failure.  And down the rabbit hole I go.  This obviously doesn’t work for me.  I had to stop analyzing myself into a hole.

So where did all of this leave me?  Alive, but barely.  I certainly wouldn’t describe my state of being as truly living.  But hope springs eternal (at least on my good days)!  I thought there surely must be another approach that would work for me.  I couldn’t possibly be the only one thrashing about aimlessly in the self-help rabbit hole.  In my next post (Depression/Bipolar Part 2 – What’s Working for Me), I’ll delve into what actually did work for me.  Who knows?  Maybe it will work for you, too.  Stay tuned.

Aloha,

Penny

“There are kids starving in China.” Huh. Yep, I still hate peas, but now I feel guilty for hating peas!

As a youngster, I despised peas.  Peas were the enemy.  But for some reason, my parents insisted I eat them.  I accomplished this horrific task by attempting to swallow them whole as quickly as possible so as to hardly taste the awful things going down.  I also tended to drench them in butter and salt, which basically counterbalanced any nutritional value they once had, thus making the whole exercise fairly pointless.  I’m not sure if it was my parents or someone else who then pointed out that there are kids starving in China, so I should be grateful I have food on my plate at all.  We’ve all heard this line of reasoning in one form or another.  The problem was that I still hated peas.  Now, on top of being forced to eat peas, I was also horrified that there were kids starving in China.  I wondered why I was such a bad person to hate peas when those kids in China would be grateful to have them.  Ah, sweet, sweet guilt!

Even though most of us know by now the ridiculousness of that argument, the truth is we still do the same kinds of comparisons every day in hopes that we’ll suddenly feel better and grateful for what we have because someone else is supposedly worse off.  Lately, I’ve been noticing a somewhat disturbing tendency in my friends and clients to dismiss their feelings by comparing themselves to those “less fortunate.”  For instance, a client might spend five minutes pouring her heart out to me about how she just doesn’t feel passionate about her job anymore and is actually quite miserable.  Then, suddenly, she goes on to exclaim in an unconvincingly chipper voice, “Well, at least I have a job!  I know so many people who don’t have work.”  While it’s true that many people don’t have work and that situation certainly presents its challenges, this fact has absolutely nothing to do with my client feeling miserable in her current situation.  So why do we do this?  Do we actually feel better by comparing ourselves to people we think might be more miserable than us?  In the long run, I don’t think so.  I think we actually feel worse.

I believe the reason we feel worse is because all we succeed in doing is adding guilt to our misery, and guilt + misery only equals more misery.  The fact that we are feeling miserable for whatever reason doesn’t change, but now we also think we shouldn’t feel miserable because, after all, someone else would clearly feel grateful (or so we think) to be in our situation.  Sure, for a short time, we might feel better as we realize how lucky we are in so many ways.  That’s fantastic!  Gratitude is a wonderful thing.  Unfortunately, though, the problem is that after only a few hours or even a few minutes we often revert back to our original feelings, only now we are also disgusted with ourselves for not being able to stop those feelings.  I remember many times in my depressed states hating myself because I would look around the world and see the absolutely horrific atrocities happening to millions of people, and then I would look at my cushy little life and feel that I simply had no right to be depressed.  I ended up dismissing my feelings as invalid and had added yet another reason to hate myself.  You can imagine how well that worked out for me!

So the next time you are tempted to perk yourself up by comparing yourself to some poor, suffering soul like Kim Kardashian or Charlie Sheen, remember that being grateful for what you have has nothing to do with what other people lack, and your feelings are valid regardless of your situation compared to others.  For me, this realization was one small step toward loving and accepting myself just the way I am, pea-hater and all.

Aloha & blessings,

Penny