Hardest Relaxation Technique Ever!

I was listening to NPR one morning and there was a discussion of relaxation.  A comment was made that a way to relax that people never think about is relaxing the jaw, and relaxing the tongue off the roof of your mouth. I did a moment of self reflection, and found that my jaw was grinding together, and my tongue was trying to push itself through the roof of my mouth in to my sinuses.  In that moment I worked to follow the advice.  It has has been one of the most difficult relaxation techniques I’ve ever tried.  The first 2 days I worked at it I didn’t quite know where to put my tongue in my mouth.  It didn’t seem to fit without gluing it to the roof of my mouth!  Over the next several days I would bring my attention to my mouth, and find my teeth clenched together, and my tongue on the roof of my mouth.

I have practiced relaxation for years.  I teach meditation, I practice yoga, I practice deep breathing daily.  I have never noticed how much I clench my jaw and keep my tongue on the roof of my mouth.  I am about a week in to a new practice.  I don’t grind my teeth as much, but 90% of the time when I bring my attention to it my tongue is on the roof of my mouth.

My tongue actually feels like it fits when I relax it, and I am surprised and grateful for that 10% of the time that I find that my mouth is actually relaxed.  I have found that through this practice my neck muscles have released some, and my jaw actually feels a bit better.  I never thought that there would be a relaxation technique that would give me such trouble, that would take so long to do with ease.  What it means is that I have been clenching my jaw and keeping my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth for years.

I look forward to mastering this new relaxation technique, and finding one day that I haven’t been clenching my jaw and using my tongue to try to push my head in to the heavens.  Until then I will practice what I preach, and practice relaxing.

Moving through lonliness

We are social creatures.  We live in not only family, but community groups.  This was necessary eons ago when we were nomadic hunter / gatherers working to live in an harsh environment that had multiple dangers that were life threatening.  The only way the weaker, slower humans could survive in this world was to band together.   Today we still need each other, if in a different manner.  I have someone mow my lawn, someone grows and picks the food I eat, bringing it to the store, with more people to sell it to me.  I still cannot live without the help of other man, but the environmental need for close personal relationships is diminished.  I do not need someone living with me to take care of my daily needs and for the most part I am able to take care of my extended needs either on my own or through the help of a service (though today as my battery dies in my car I need someone to take me to the store to buy a new one).

Today we maintain our social connections for emotional sustenance as opposed to physical protection.    No matter if you have a few select close friends or a large group of extended friends, most of us have a social network that we maintain in our daily lives.  We also work to find intimate (both physical and emotional) relationships with a partner.  We crave this contact.  Whether this is an instinctive need that is present because it was required to survive or it is taught to us beginning at a young age, we desire intimate friendships and contact.  This contact releases chemicals in our brain that create that warm fuzzy feeling we often consider “love” and we find that feeling filling and fulfilling.

Without it we experience loneliness.  Sometimes that loneliness feels a lot like emptiness.  We are addicted to the chemicals our brain releases when we are with friends and partners, and without them we go in to a type of withdrawal.  Like any kind of withdrawal this can lead to emotional symptoms of anxiety, emptiness, frustration, and depression.

Loneliness is not life threatening. We are inundated throughout our lives though television,radio and magazines on the need to have someone, how to find that someone, and the trauma of loosing  that someone.  There are very few influences that remind us that we are able to be alone, and that loneliness at times is a good thing.

Something that we forget the one person who is always there. The person who is there when  you are born when you die, and  for all of your life’s hurts and accomplishments: You.  But when you feel hurt or sad, who do you run to?  Someone else, chasing fullness and fulfillment  through others, safety and love through others.  Imagine the ability to find that within.  Imagine not needing to rely and lean on others. Imagine being able to walk through the world with the confidence to face everything that is thrown at you with your own strength and energy.

Ironically enough this confidence is extremely attractive to others.  The partnerships this self-reliance creates, when two people do no NEED to be together but can form bonds of love and partnership, can be amazing.

This confidence does not mean there will be no loneliness in our lives.  It means that we have the strength and confidence to survive those periods when all we have is ourselves.

Ten Years Later

When the mind is clear
and the surface of the now still,
now swaying water

slaps against
the rolling kayak,

I find myself near darkness,
paddling again to Yellow Island.

Every Spring wildflowers
cover the gray rocks.

Every year the sea breeze
ruffles the cold and lovely pearls
hidden in the center of the flowers

as if remembering them
by touch alone.

A calm and lonely, trembling beauty
that frightened me in youth.

Now their loneliness
feels familiar, one small thing
I’ve learned these years,

How to be alone,
and at the edge of alone-ness
how to be found by the world.

Innocence is what we allow
to be gifted back to us
once we’ve given ourselves away.

There is one world only,
the one to which we gave ourselves
utterly, and to which one day

we are blessed to return.

David Whyte

The shedding of ourselves

We all have things that we don’t particularly like about ourselves. Things that hurt others, or hurt ourselves, or create problems that we don’t want to have to deal with. One thing we need to be aware of is that the coping skills and techniques that often create the most pain both for ourselves and others are the ones that we put there on purpose. We put them there to keep away those that were dangerous at one point, or to manage untenable situations. Those things that may cause the most pain now were often put there to keep us safe and sane. Now, as you try to shed them it is natural to feel as though you are losing yourself, losing your safety, and possibly even losing your sanity. It is akin to ripping off your skin to replace it with something better. It won’t feel good in the process.

There must be a trust that it will be better once the process is over. A belief that the world will be easier, lighter, and smoother to move through is required to endure the physical and emotional pain that shedding our unhealthy life management skills will bring. Image the first couple months of working out once you’ve decided you want to shed those extra pounds and get in better physical shape. They suck. It doesn’t feel good to work out, you are hungry for your comfort foods all the time, and you’re often sore afterwards. It isn’t a fun place to be. Then one day you can walk up stairs without feeling your heart come out of your chest. You notice your clothes fitting better, you notice you aren’t as tired in general throughout the day, and often you even notice you aren’t as irritable with friends and family and generally feel better about the world in general. Once you start seeing the results of your hard work and dedication you see that while it was miserable at first, there were great rewards.

Letting go of the sarcasm you use to keep people at a safe distance, putting down the verbal weapons of criticism and contempt,  stepping outside of the house and going to the random meetup from meetup.com that sounded interesting, or redirecting your thoughts when you are focused on the bad and scary instead of the positive can have the exact same effect. It can actually even cause physical pain and distress in the form of stomach cramping, intestinal distress, and difficulty breathing. You are letting go of the security blankets that you have used for years to help you manage difficult situations. It won’t feel good. And yet when you see that people are happier to see you, even the cashiers at the grocery store are nicer to you, and you generally feel better throughout the day you will find that the hard work was worth it.

This process is often easier with a therapist or counselor. The therapist is someone that can hold you accountable. When they call you on your BS, while you will be hurt and embarrassed it is significantly better than your loved telling you that you are full of crap. A paid effective stranger giving you the spoonful of bitter medicine is always easier than a loved on that you want to see you as perfect. Where the loved on can be helpful is the honesty they can provide about the things that would make your life better if you changed. Our loved ones often know us better than we know ourselves. They know how we try to hide from hurts and pains. They know the defenses we put up. While it may be difficult, having out loved ones hold the metaphorical mirror up can give us direction for when we step in to a professionals office.

Shedding our problematic defenses and unhealthy coping skills is never easy. And yet the benefits always outweigh the difficulty of the work. It won’t be fast, and it will be messy. Things may actually get worse before they get better. Loved ones need to be aware of this, as they can get frustrated and think that you aren’t trying, even though you are actually making huge progresses. I talk to my families about the concept of successive approximations. You don’t go from using criticism and contempt to kindness in one day. And if you have a day where you manage to be kind and tender in all interactions, then the next day may exceptionally bad with the criticisms. It is still progress. You and your loved ones will need to find the patience for mistakes, bad days, and mis-steps. It will be worth it.

Planting a seed

Planting a seed

When you think of a leader, what do you think of? Many of us think of teachers, bosses, or someone like Ghandi or Mother Theresa. The truth is that all of us have the ability to be a leader. The moments that come back to me, that people tell me they remember the most aren’t the ones that I see myself as being a leader, they are the moments in which I was kind, open, and present with someone.

Usually the moments that I am told are the most impressionable are the ones in which I plant a seed. They are the moments that I tell someone that their hair is amazing that day, or that the hat they are wearing looks amazing. They are the moments that I sneak up on someone, unknowing and let them know that in that moment they are doing amazing. The moments I want to be teaching moments often have little impact. It is the tiny moments that have the biggest impact. It is the moments that I am kind during a moment of someone’s darkest moments that I lead the best.

The scary part is that I have no idea when this moment is. I have no way of knowing when someone’s low point, or when they are vulnerable. So in order to lead, this means I just have to be present, open, honest, and kind with people all the time. Think of a moment that you remember someone making an impression on you. The things you hold on to, that teach you a lesson. Some of these moments for me are the ones that are during actual teaching moments. And many of them are during random moments when someone did something that spoke to me in a way that I remembered.

These teaching moments are all around us, and they can’t be planned. A lecture to a kid isn’t going to be remembered. The moment when they are low and you cheer them up will be. The moment when you are in the check-out line at the grocery store and you ask the person in the wheelchair behind you if you can help may be the moment they learn that people can be nice to them they just need to trust.

Ultimately, this is a long winded way to say “be nice to people, you don’t know when they will need your kindness”. We all have the chance to be leaders. We all have the chance to plant seeds in people. When we honk and flip people off in traffic we plant a seed of violence and anger. When we give the person behind in the check-out line the penny, nickle, or even dollar they are short of their bill, they are taught a lesson of kindness. These moments sneak up on us, and often we don’t remember them as others do. We just need to be kind. As often and as much as we can, we need to be kind. This is how we plant seeds.

I want to be a leader in kindness. This means all day, every day I need to plant seeds. When I wave the guy in that is trying to merge on the highway, or say something nice to someone on the street. When I pick up the dropped object from the person with full arms, or even pay it forward at the coffee shop I plant a seed. These are the seeds I want to plant. I want to be a leader. I try to do so in my practice, but the moments people remember the most are the ones in which I was genuine, honest, and kind. Go out in to your day and be genuine, honest, and kind. You will plant more seeds than you know, and be more of a leader than you ever thought you could be.

Our double standards

Have you ever noticed the double standard we have for ourselves? I remember before my divorce  I held no judgment for the friends that were divorced, even my parents.  I knew fully in my heart and head that the friends and family that had divorced were better off.  Divorce was OK for everyone else.  But I was ashamed of my divorced status. It meant I was a failure.  In one of my personal writings I wrote; “part of me felt like I had a big D written on my chest. “D for Divorced, D for deficient”.”  I had an absolute double standard, what was OK for everyone else, and what was OK for me. 

A double standard I see frequently from clients is a belief that no one is perfect, and everyone is allowed to make mistakes, everyone but them.  We already know that we are our own worst critics.  Often the little foibles we see in others we don’t even give a great deal of notice to.  The same foibles in ourselves become mountainous warts on our own character.  It may be time to give ourselves a proverbial break.  The standards we hold others to are not light.  And yet we are more tolerant and forgiving of everyone else than we are of ourselves. 

The conversations we have with ourselves tend to be cruel and harsh.  The mistakes we make create an internal dialogue of words like “stupid” and “idiot”, along with many more.  I see someone trip out on the trail around the lake here in Austin and I think; “I hope they’re OK”; I trip and I call myself a clumsy idiot.  And while those are just words, and we all know; “Stick and stones may break out bones…etc”, words do have power.  They create labels, and put us in boxes.  Think of the word “slut”.  “Clumsy” and “Idiot” also create a label, putting us in a box.   Not a very nice one.

For those of you with children, you know when they make a mistake you (hopefully) tell them that their mistakes don’t define them. You hopefully tell them that they are good even when they screw up. Because they messed up, they aren’t screw-ups. We need to start having the same conversations with ourselves. You aren’t a screw-up just because you screwed up. The heartbreaking thing is that our kids will learn from the language we use for ourselves, not the language we use for them. If we tell them they are great even when they make mistakes, but then call ourselves idiots when we make our own mistakes, they know that mistakes really aren’t acceptable.

For the most part we allow those around us a great deal more leeway than we allow ourselves.   This is not to say that we should become lax in our desire to hold ourselves to high standards, to be the best person we can be.  It means that when our life doesn’t turn out the way it was supposed to, or when we trip and fall, we give ourselves the chance to learn from our mistakes instead of making those mistakes define us. 

Love, Happiness, Safety

Have you ever thought about why we do what we do? Have you ever looked at someone and wondered “Why on earth would you do that”? This includes the people walking through hip deep water from the storm Katrina with a 54” TV, the person that split their tongue in two and has implanted horns, and the person tailgating you going 80 on the highway. Why are they doing what they are doing? Well, the answer is they are trying to find love, safety, or happiness.

“But that doesn’t make sense!” I hear you exclaim. How does a person taking a TV with them while evacuating from the flooding from a storm help them find any of those three? I didn’t say it made sense. In that moment, their brain is telling them that they need that TV to live and to find safety. Sometimes the panic brain doesn’t make sense. And yet they are still trying to find safety. And the person tailgating believes that if they get where they are going they will be happy. And the person that uses body modification to express themselves is working to find love in a way that works for them.

Our base motivations are usually pretty simple. Why do people lie, cheat and steal? They believe that they can find happiness or safety in money or things. I worked with someone that was horrible to all of the employees. The ideas he came up with were ridiculous, and he always had a frantic energy about him. We all disliked him greatly. We found out that he had a brain tumor and he was desperate to keep the job so that he could earn as much money as he could for his wife and children after he died. The ridiculous ideas were his attempt to keep from being fired like the last three people that had had the job before him. He was trying to find safety.

When we start to see people through the lense of attempts to find love, safety, and happiness then we can start to find understanding and even some empathy in their craziness. The behaviors may not be conducive to getting what they want, and in fact they may in all actuality be accomplishing the opposite. And yet, even in our worst moments and cruelest behaviors we are working to accomplish love, safety, or happiness.

Often the things that drive us the most insane are when someone we care for goes about trying to find love in a way that drives us further away. In that case, it can often be helpful to let them know what they can do to get your affection. Letting them know (kindly!) how they can change their behavior to get your love, kindness or affection gives helpful and constructive feedback. It actually helps both people feel less powerless, and often more connected.

As a professional I have done things for money that I probably shouldn’t have, taken client’s that could have been served better by others with more training, or taken too many clients in a day just because I wanted to maintain my feelings of safety. I have driven faster than I should have to get home and be happy. I have made choices that have hurt people to make myself happy. I think we all have. Then there are the times that people’s attempts to find happiness or safety actually compromise your safety. People that are happy to lie, cheat, and steal in an effort to provide safety for themselves or their family. I can understand their motivations. If I lived in Russia and the safest way to keep my family fed was to hack people’s accounts and steal from them, if I were desperate enough I would probably do it. I don’t have to understand, like, or agree with their behaviors. I may need to keep myself safe from them though. I need to set boundaries, I need to maintain my own safety. I need to watch to whom I give my money, time, and love. Unhealthy people are looking for the same things, and will find unhealthy ways to get love, safety, and happiness. I can have compassion without making myself a victim.

I had a conversation with a client today about their path. They are in a place on Maslow’s hierarchy where they are able to start thinking about the more esoteric path they want to be on instead of just working to make sure they don’t lose the basic needs for safety of food and shelter. The path that looks at how he wants to feel about himself at the end of the day, about how he wants to go about getting love and happiness. Like me, he wants to know that he is healthy in finding love and happiness, and he doesn’t do at the expense of others. We all want the same things. The difference is how we go about getting those wants met. I also want to be able to find compassion for those that meet their needs and wants for love, safety, and happiness differently than I do, even if I need to protect myself from them. Underneath we aren’t that different.

Finding Gratitude during this Thanksgiving

Every day I run in to pet-peeves.  Just driving to work I hit triggers and frustrations, and my drive is only 2 miles.  As I move through my day I hear triggers from others, I hear frustrations and I hear difficulties.  Then comes the drive home on the same roads with many of the same people that hit the pet-peeve triggers to begin with.  Then I listen to the news and hear of the refugees flooding in to Europe that are being turned away, some of them dying in their attempts.  I hear of the cops killing people, and the people killing cops.  I see all of the hate, anger and suffering in the world.  It is easy to get lost in all of that.

It is easy to get lost in the hurt and the anger and the suffering of the day and of the world.  It is easy to lose sight of the other side of the coin.  Every day I see people find the best of themselves, taking strides forward.  I see watch other drivers show kindness to each other. I watch couples talk to each other with kindness, and strangers tell each other jokes at the bus stop.  Every day my partner gives me a reminder of his kindnesses.  If I look for it, every day I can find some kind of beauty.

It is easy to see the frustrations, the hurts and suffering of the world.  It takes intention to see the beautiful, the things to be grateful for.  Each day there are beautiful things to see and be aware of. These are moments of gratitude.   The moment your cat reaches over with her paw to draw your hand in to a pet. The moment you see other people fighting and recognize how safe your relationship is.  The moment you look up and see the sunset setting the sky on fire and see the beauty.  The moment you recognize the things that are beautiful, you remember that the world isn’t just suffering.  The world is also beauty.

Some days the moments of gratitude are easy to find.  Some days you see the little beauties of the world and they fall like leaves from a tree.  Some days it is harder.  The days you find out your best friends dad died and you watch her cry her heart out, or your partner spits up with you.  The days when just the act of existing brings up all the suffering of the world.  These are the most important days of all to find the moments of gratitude.

The next step is to share our moments.   There are many ways we can share our moments of gratitude, especially in today’s digital age.  First, if you have a family make it a part of your family to share, preferably on a daily basis those moments.  At dinner, at bedtime, or in your own ritual.  This keeps your family or partnership connected and helps through the difficult times.  If you are currently single, share with your friends, on your Facebook or instagram or even Whisper page.  We are so quick to share our suffering.  “A thousand candles can be lighted from the flame of one candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.  Happiness can be spread without diminishing that of yourself”.  Mahatma Ghandi

Gratitude reminds us that there are blessings in the world, that there are silver linings on the cloud.  Making a daily practice of gratitude keeps a reserve of sunshine when the clouds seem to be taking over.  These practices can help us when we’re alone and single to remember that we aren’t fully alone.  These practices can help us connect with our families at the dinner table, when each day everyone has to give their one thing, the one beauty they saw in the day.  Every day take a moment and fine at least one thing you can be grateful for in your day.  Find a way to share it, either with your friends or family or on Facebook.  We share our frustrations all the time, switch the script.

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is not an American celebration.  We are led to believe that the holiday is about the first pilgrims, but the Native American’s celebrated a similar feast every year in thanks for a good harvest.  The Jewish faith has celebrated a similar Thanksgiving for centuries to celebrate their God, and Islam has several holidays that give thanks to and for God.   In fact most cultures have a day to celebrate life and to give thanks.

Giving thanks is not a new concept, and along the lines the day has lost a little bit of its meaning as it has become a day to watch football, get stuffed and get ready for Black Friday.  In my family giving thanks happened for all of about 5 minutes before the stuffing of people actually started, and the rest of the day was dedicated to getting ready for the meal or cleaning up from the meal.

Because of the work that I do I have several clients that struggle to find things to be thankful for.  Every single one of them misses the small things in their lives that are amazing and beautiful.  I had this discussion with a client last night about having her child taken away from her by Children’s Protective Services.  She was able to see that it placed her son in safety while she was able to find continued sobriety and an increasing strength in herself.  She was able to give thanks for having the room right now to fail and learn from her failures if necessary while her son is safe.

Even our struggles help us on our path for growth, and often get us to someplace wonderful and amazing. It is only when we fall in to despair and forget that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that we get lost in the pain and don’t find the other side with the beauty. On this one day, can you see the things that are struggles in your life, that cause you pain and difficulty and find some way to re-frame them in to beauty?  That is true Thanksgiving.  Being able to see the beauty in even the pain, and finding the little things that we sometimes miss.

A daily practice of thanks gratitude is especially important now, as we as a country enter a time of upheaval and change.  I find gratitude that the change is happening, even while I am afraid of the change process.  I remember that any kind of change will come with trauma.  I have to remember that change never comes as I expect, and the storm is there to help tear down so rebuilding can happen.

  • My demanding cat that show She loves me by purring loudly by at 5:00 am, and licking my toes after I swim
  • The way the air smells the morning after a rainstorm
  • The things I have to loose in my life, because I have them
  • All of the goals I haven’t met, because they give me directions
  • The goals I have met
  • My struggles, because keeping with myself through them shows I have strength
  • The little tree in my back yard that has clung to life for 13 years and keeps on holding its ground
  • The disagreements I have with my Husband, because each time we find compromise we become stronger together.
  • The blue of the water, the blue of the sky, the green of the grass, the wind in the trees
  • The small moments every day that provide surprising beauty, that all I need to do is open my eyes to see.
  • The support of my family, even though they are states away from me, and we don’t always get along with each other
  • The trials and struggles of my past, surviving them has made me the person I am today
  • The flowers (both metaphorical and real) growing in places of strife and hurt
  • The people in our world that continue to fight for kindness and acceptance

I want happiness!

We have come to equate ego as self-esteem or self-importance.  If someone is said to have a big ego, they are believed to think higher of themselves than they really deserve.  But the Freudian concept of ego really is the concept of self.  We all actually have a very strong ego, we may like who we are or we may not, but we all are strongly in touch with our sense of self.  That sense of self however often is what gets in the way of our happiness. 

 Our sense of self is created as we move through the world and get feedback about our actions and the things that happen to us.  We create a concept of what we can and can’t do, our own personal value, and the value of the things around us.  Then within that concept we work to navigate our world.  It is also a great deal of what allows us to decide of we are happy or not.  We create definitions of what we want within what we find important and what makes us happy. 

 This is when things get tricky.  When the things we find important or the things we believe make us happy are not present we often struggle.  We then start looking to find happiness, chasing and chasing to find something that our ego, our experiences and our beliefs get in the way of us finding. 

Happiness is all around us.  There are things that will cause pain and difficulties, and yet even then happiness is still all around us.  The sense of I gets in the way of finding what we want.  I am in pain. I am struggling.  I can’t do what I want, or believe I should be able to do.  The I, the ego, can be a huge distraction from happiness. 

 Our ego makes a lot of decisions in our lives.  Can you see where it gets in the way of your happiness?  Do people tell you that you are beautiful, and you can’t believe them?  Do you try your best, do better than you’ve ever done, and it still isn’t good enough?   “There is no good or bad, our thinking makes it so”  Shakespeare.    Where can I get my ego out of my way for even a little bit of happiness?happiness-comic