Gaining Strength through Adversity Part II

Joan always wanted babies. From the time she can remember she had an array of dolls that she nursed and cared for like they were her own children. When she married she chose a man who also wanted children. She was very excited that the time had finally come when she could begin growing the family that she had always dreamed of. Eventually she became pregnant. How thrilling! Her time had finally come. Imagine how devastating it was for her when she miscarried. Her dreams were shattered and she was devastated. Mourning the loss she waited until her body was ready to try again.

Time passed, she prayed daily and was finally able to get pregnant a second time. Such joy! She had been given a second chance. She carried this child full term. Doing all the things that one does when expecting: they choose names, prepared a room, bought baby clothes and got ready for their new arrival. The child went a month beyond the due date. This was before you were forced to induce labor if the child was two weeks beyond the due date. How painful to wait and wait. Would this be the day when she would give birth? The day finally arrived and the child was stillborn.

How could this be? They had done all they could do to keep her healthy. How had she failed? The doctor told her that “some women are good baby makers and others were not. You are not.” She was beside herself with a deep sense of feeling shattered. The end of her world had come with the death of her baby. She was so sad, so deeply sad. Seeking consolation and understanding she visited her mother. Unexpectedly her mother got angry with her, “I am sad too and we will never speak of this again.” Joan could not take in what had been said. Again she was devastated.

Her whole world turned black. What meaning did life hold? She completely shut down. In deep despair and hopelessness she felt like she descended into Hell. Joan said, “ I am immensely grateful for my orthodox religion because in my bottomless grief I became Our Lady of Sorrows. She was the only one who would understand my pain.” Luckily as a child she was always encouraged to have a relationship with Mary. During this time Joan felt that Mary was the only one who would understand her despair. Mary was able to hold her anger and her outrage because she had been there herself. “I came to her as a black hole and felt her meet me with kindness, acceptance and intimacy. In that despair I learned of love. Her love became my love.”

Time went on. After many prayers Joan became pregnant again. She gave birth to a beautiful girl she called Genevieve, which means “of life,” and Simone, which means “the one who hears.” Joan’s prayers, her pleas, her begging and finally her surrender had been answered at last. The life of this baby brought Joan back to life. Every time she fed her, bathed her, changed her diaper she felt the preciousness that moment, of the gift she had been given and treated it like it might be the last time she would get to do that act. Each act was filled with immense gratitude and love for she was afraid her gift would be taken away from her. “This is the most loving act that has been ever done since the beginning of time,” she thought each time she fed her.

Finally she realized that she was terrified that Genevieve would die. The child who was bringing such love and purpose would be taken away like the other babies had been. Maybe this wasn’t such a good way to think about this beautiful gift. She began to shift her thinking. The child was here, was healthy and was thriving why should she continue to see her dying. It was time to celebrate life for the both of them. Several years later a son came to bring her the experience of joy. Willie was always so curious and full of laughter. Two beautiful children fulfilled her dreams. How magnificent.

And so these gifts given to her were the seeds of her awakening. From these experiences came her life work. They gave her acceptance, compassion, intimacy and the strength to be with someone else who is suffering and broken by pain. Because she was shattered and taken down into a living Hell she knows through her own experience and deep faith how to hold someone in divine love in order to help him or her discover the own road to recovery.

When I asked my friend Georgiana what was the most defining moment in her life she told me a story about October 1. She and Calvin were lying on a mattress together in a small apartment in Brooklyn talking while their spouses were off consummating their newfound relationship.

This was the 60’s and open marriages were the experiment of the day. While Georgiana had intellectually agreed that traditional marriages were too constricting her heart was telling her another story. She was in pain, in deep emotional pain. She and her husband had always done everything together. She had shaped her life to fit his. That is what had made their partnership work. But now he was off with another woman, her best friend, madly in love with her, not Georgiana.

As she was speaking with Calvin the light bulb went off in her mind, “Oh my, I have no sense of myself. I am so intricately interwoven with my husband whether we are in a traditional relationship or some other version. I don’t have a clue who I really am.”

October 1 became the beginning of a very long journey of consciously building a sense of self. In the end she has emerged a strong woman with a big heart who has a very successful healing practice and a successful long-term relationship with different man. “I am so glad that I am not married to my ex-husband even though I still have a place in my heart for him.” She has learned to love herself first and her love for her partner flows out from that center. What a gift that painful day became.

Another woman I know has been taking care of her father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He has been difficult from the beginning. There were always demands for perfection probably projection on his part. He was a brain surgeon. Eloise always felt like she could never measure up. Fleeting memories began to surface for her. Just how abusive was he when I was a child? What kind of abuse was it anyway? This became very confusing and disruptive. It was getting increasingly difficult to be face with him no matter how dysfunctional he had become. Taking care of him was extremely challenging. He was often mean and demeaning with little concept of his behavior a few minutes prior.

They were all invited to a christening for her brother’s daughter. Hoping to protect his child he had requested that everyone get a flu shot. Eloise refused. Why put that “poison” in her body? She took care to be healthy in other ways. Apparently her father was one of the only ones who had gotten the shot just before the ceremony. In the middle of it all he had a case of explosive diarrhea. How embarrassing! Eloise took him out of the room and helped him clean up. He was the only one who had come down with the flu.

When she and her husband were helping him into the car to take him home, Eloise gently put her hand on his. “Get your hand off!” he said loudly. Hurt by him again she jerked her hand away. There was a cold silence on the drive back to his home. Shortly after dropping him off he called her on the phone. “I am so sorry. I think that I hurt you. I love you. You were always my favorite.” She burst into torrential tears. How she had longed to hear those words from him. Who would have ever thought a case of diarrhea would end with those profound words?

As I write about each of these painful and courageous stories I am struck by a sense of the Hero/heroine’s journey. Often the call to engage in that journey comes unbidden. We get pulled up short because we are confronted by some unforgiving event, which makes us stop and pay attention. At this juncture we are at an important choice point. How are we going to meet the moment? Are we going to engage in an adventure that pulls us into the undertow, challenges us to the limits of our abilities and stretches us into new ways of responding and being? With sweat and tears, bruised to the bone we are given the opportunity to reap new treasures.

We are also given the choice to ignore it all by shoving the experience into some backroom closet. If we make this choice I believe that often that closet becomes jam packed over the years with numbers of skeletons that begin banging on the door trying to slide their boney fingers out from underneath the door. When they finally get our attention it is sometimes too late. Diseases are born of this inattention. Our bodies take the toll. Or we may choose to engage at this point with a full plate and years of bad habits of inattention. However it is never to late to change and become the hero or heroine of the journey.

Dr Rollin McCraty reminds us that if we take the time to practice moving into coherent emotional states (gratitude, appreciation, joy, happiness, caring, etc.) we establish familiar brain patterns that can be easily accessed when we are in more stressful or fearful places. This familiarity helps us reestablish much more quickly a sense of internal safety and stability. “Ultimately, when we achieve stability through our efforts, the results are feelings of satisfaction and gratification.

By contrast, when there is a failure to achieve stability or control, feelings such as anxiety, panic, annoyance, apprehension, hopelessness or depression result…. Where we focus our attention has a powerful effect on modulation inputs and thus on determining what gets processed at higher levels.”[1] P. 98 There is no doubt that practicing ways of accessing coherent emotions on a regular basis have far ranging effects.

We all have our stories those that turn out well in spite of the challenges and those that don’t. The key here is to practice ways to be in emotional coherence and to take the time to see the gifts that are being given. Sometime we can only see them in hindsight and sometimes we are able to understand with gratitude the unfolding of something new. Whichever way it comes for you if you can take the time to step back, release the “why me,” look for what you are gaining and be grateful for the experience that brings new insights and new gifts. As you center the experience in your heart you will be amazed at how much easier life will flow.

[1] McCraty, R. Heart-Brain Neurodynamics: The Making of Emotions. HeartMath Institute

 

The paradigm of non-action

Less and less you do to force things,

until you finally arrive at non-action.

When nothing is done,

nothing is left undone.

“A good athlete can enter a state of body awareness in which the right stroke or right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of conscious will. This is a paradigm of non-action: the purest and most effective form of action. The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can’t tell the dancer from the dance.” viii

Tao te Ching by Stephen Mitchell

I choreographed a dance once that was based solely on the deep inner impulse of felt sense in the moment. The most interesting performance was probably late in 1967 in New York City in an old warehouse that had been converted into a makeshift theater to show new experimental art films. It was a simple space: bleachers, a cement floor, a space between bleachers and the large white movie screen.

There was no music. The piece began in the dark. Humming on each deep out-breathing, I stood in front of the screen in the dark centering myself. When the spotlight came up a black cat was sitting beside me. As I began to move from an awareness of an internal impulse arising out of each moment the cat began to dart here and there chasing the light that was reflected from the dangling circles that hung from the headpiece that I wore. Each circle contained a small round mirror in its center.

The dance had been inspired by a dream I had had of Ruth St. Dennis searching for a place out of doors to perform a dance piece of hers. In my dream she decided on a small triangular platform under a grape arbor. As an early modern dancer/choreographer my impression of her was that she was very spiritual. The two “rules” that guided the dance were that I was not to move in space and I was to move only as my body wanted to in each unfolding moment. There were no predetermined steps or timing or body gestures. It was purely improvisational arising from the presence of some internal impulse.

This piece for me had come at a time in my own career when I had injured myself and was working under the guidance of Elaine Summers. She had observed that I moved with “much too much tension in my body” and had shown me her kinetic awareness exercises to help retrain my body. These exercises involved lying on the floor placing a 5-inch rubber ball at different places along the spine and moving imperceptively while relaxing over the surface of the ball. These exercises not only reshaped my body but also reshaped my life. I began to slow down to such an extent that I began to experience my body molecularly. I was beginning to explore a deeply introspective internal space.

So that night in the area now called Soho the cat and I moved in complete synergy each responding to our own inner impulses of non-action that became right movement for the right moment. When the light went out at the end of the piece and came back up the cat was nowhere to be found.

Often we want to be in control, to make something happen, to change someone else whom we think would be so much better off if they would only do it our way. The beautiful Serenity prayer from the AA tradition says it all. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Sometimes we need to step into the river of life, sit in our INNER tube and float. We’ll be caught up in eddies, rush down rapids and barely move through wide open expanses. It is how we meet the moment that counts. Heart-centered with full presence and an open mind are often very helpful.

A number of years ago I recognized that I had become a human doing. I was rushing around trying to push the river and make things happen on my time schedule. I decided to take a look. Who put me in charge of the world? I looked at the Native American woman’s tradition of the Moon Lodge and the Red Tent tradition of ancient Judaism. Women were seen at the time of their cycle to be in an internal place of spiritual power. They were more receptive to internal guidance. I was fascinated and recognized my own deficits. I needed to learn how to become a human being.

I built a hut in the woods in back of my home. It was a simple structure made of bent branches whose ends were buried in the ground making a shoulder high dome shape, which then was covered with blankets and a tarp. For a year at the full moon I went out to that lodge to stay for twenty-four hours.   Choose the full moon because in Native tradition it was the height of the female power. I was also in perimenapause so my cycles were irregular. I was feeling the loss of that monthly anchor point in my life. The full moon would give me another.

I had one major rule. I couldn’t go tramping around in the woods exploring. I was to sit quietly inside or outside of the lodge and learn to simply be present to what was. I could journal or read a little but mostly I sat watching the moon and sun shadows move across the forest floor. I paid attention to what was moving around inside of me. I prayed when I felt inspired to do so and I listened. At first it was hard to sit still for that long but soon I became very grateful for the quiet sacred time. Life could be so simple, peaceful and beautiful.

You might challenge yourself to be on a quiet retreat for 24 hours with no television, no electronics and no interference. How sweet would that be? Or how difficult? Learn to BE simple and present and heart-centered at least for part of your life. How would that influence the rest of your life?

 

 

 

Water and Self-esteem

There is a Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto, who decided to investigate the impact of emotions on water. What an interesting idea! He went up into the mountains of Japan to a spring that reportedly had very pure water and brought back a large quantity. He put the water into smaller bottles. On some of the bottles he drew a heart or put the words, love and gratitude, I’m sorry, thank you in Japanese, Chinese, English, Korean, Italian, French, Italian and German. On another series of bottles he placed the words you fool, you make me sick, I want to kill you and the like.

He took drops from each of the bottles, placed them in Petri dishes, froze them and then took pictures of the water crystals. He also played music like Mozart, Bach, Tchaikowski, Chopin, the Beetles, Elvis Presley and Heavy Metal music, froze droplets from each and took photographs of the water crystals. The results were astounding. Look in his book, Messages in Water for the pictures.

Those frozen droplets from the positive words were beautifully formed crystals, each one having its own unique shape. Amazingly with Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel there is even a heart broken off from the body of the crystal. The negative words showed no crystalline formation. They looked like sludge.

He tells a story of going to a lake first in Japan and later in Brazil that was very polluted. There was a considerable amount of algae, dead fish floating in the water and a distinctly bad smell coming from the water. He had a group of people in the first case that stood around the entire lake and in the second larger lake he took a bottle of the lake water and set it in the center of a group of 30 people. These people prayed for the lake and the water, prayed for its healing and well-being. Both lakes began a significant healing process.

His work is very interesting and inspired me to think about its application in several venues. In regard to self-esteem we are told that our bodies are made up of 96 to 98% water. And we all talk to ourselves, but in what manner. Do you berate yourself? “I am so stupid, such a fool. What an idiot!” “I don’t deserve…” on and on with our favorite phrases. What is happening at that moment internally? Does all of the water we are made of turn to sludge.

On the contrary if we say, “Good job.” “Six gold stars for that.” “I made a mistake but look what I have learned that I never imagined.” Internally are we producing beautiful water crystals?

This may seem a little far-fetched but an interesting thought. The Heart Math Institute when examining the power of coherent emotional states on the brain backs up the positive or negative impact of our emotional states from a different perspective. The bottom line is that what we say to ourselves may have an immense impact on our self-esteem.

His work also inspired me to not take water for granted but to express my gratitude for the water I am drinking, taking a bath or shower in, watering my plants with and giving to my dogs to drink. It certainly makes a difference in my attitude.

A process for shifting negative core beliefs

Core beliefs are usually old beliefs that are held in a deep part of you. They often have a powerful impact on your behavior sometimes in very unconscious ways. They may run something like this: “I don’t deserve to be successful”, “to be happy”, “to be loved.” “I am unworthy.” “I am unworthy of good attention.” “I am broken.” “I will always be sick.” “I can never do anything right.” These beliefs are often formed as a result of something you were told or experienced when you were children. They can shape your adult behavior and create a self-fulfilling prophecies.

Here is a way that you can change them and embrace a pattern of new beliefs and behavior.

  1. Make a list of some of the core beliefs that you are aware of.
  2. Next make a list of some specific ways that you have had different experiences than your core belief. It might be helpful to do this with someone who knows you pretty well and whom you trust. They will help you come up with examples that you might not have thought of.
  3. Come up with a new core belief, one that you would like to believe about yourself, one that would support you in a positive way and open you up for new possibilities.
  4. Create a meditation for yourself about this new belief. This will help it become a part of you. Perhaps you can record it on your phone and play it back to yourself as much as you need to. After the following examples I will help you design a good meditation.
  5. Express appreciation and gratitude for yourself and in a genuine loving way talk to yourself positively about your new belief. Feel it in your body in addition to the idea of it. Notice when you see how this is manifesting in your life.

Here are some examples of the first three steps. Then I will give an example of a meditation/visualization that you can use for step 4.

Rita

  1. Core beliefs: I am not worthy. I should be seen and not heard. I am unworthy of good attention.
  2. Exceptions to the rule:
    1. I am a good artist. I am proud of it and people notice my work.
    2. I am a good nurse.
    3. I am intelligent and find creative solutions to situations.
    4. I give more than 100%.
    5. People notice what I do. Somebody that I helped gave me a cheesy necklace as a thank you present but it meant a lot to me.
    6. Worthy does not mean perfect.
  3. What do I want to believe about myself instead?
    1. I am worthy of attention and I am an excellent listener.

Charlotte

  1. Core beliefs: I am broken. I will never get better. I’ll always be sick.
  2. Exceptions to the rule:
    1. This is just a feeling and it will pass.
    2. I know how to experience myself as a strong person.
    3. Other people have worse things wrong with them than I do.
    4. I know how to experience myself as a healthy person.
    5. Inside my soul is strong.
    6. I am very grateful.
  3. What I want to believe instead:
    1. I am a happy person
    2. I am an emotionally stable person.
    3. My body is in the process of healing itself.

Dorothy

  1. Core belief: I am unlovable and generally unworthy.
  2. Exceptions to the rule:
    1. Mike might love me.
    2. Judy and Punch love me.
    3. Orion loves me.
    4. Adrian really loves me.
    5. Noel really loves me.
    6. Carmella thinks I am worthy.
    7. Mike thinks I am worthy.
    8. Robert thinks I am worthy.
    9. Romero thinks I am worthy.
    10. I got the led in every play I ever tried out for.
    11. In retail I was renown in the neighborhood for getting the exact right present.
    12. I must have some kind of charisma.
  3. What I want to believe about myself: I am worthy and I am lovable.

A template for a guided meditation to bring the new core belief home to your heart:

  1. Create a safe space that is comfortable. Let your clothing be loose and comfortable. Have music playing that has no words but is soft and affirming. If you can find a recording of a crystal-singing bowl that is the best but ocean waves, or a gentle stream moving over stones, or Native American flute, or a recording of Deuter will do just fine. It needs to be music that helps you feel very relaxed. You might have ear buds so that the sound comes inside of you and you feel it with your body as well as hear it. Be sitting supported or lying down perhaps with a pillow under your knees so that there is no stress or strain in your body.
  2. Close your eyes. Pay a lot of attention to your breath. Extend the inhalation and exhalation so that it is long and easy. Feel how you feel right this minute inside of your body with no judgment. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Just be present to the way that you are feeling right now. Do a body scan, paying detailed attention body part by body part beginning with your feet and move slowly up your body. Often if you do a comparison, for example, the right leg with the left leg you can experience differences and sameness more easily. Take your time and pay close attention. You are building good body awareness.
  3. After you have done the body scan you can include a tense and release exercise to relax even more deeply. Begin with your legs. Point your toes or tip your toes back towards your head and tense both legs at once holding them tight for a slow count of three or four. Then gradually release the tension feeling the support of the chair or floor under you. Take a nice deep breath into your fully relaxed legs. Repeat this again and then go to your stomach muscles and chest, then to your arms, then to your shoulders, neck and head. To complete this exercise tense then release your whole body, breathe deeply into every part of you and completely relax.
  4. Now focus on your breath again and establish a four count inhale and a four count exhale. Continue this breath pattern throughout the rest of the meditation. Focus your breath on your physical heart and recall an experience that you have had that brought you pleasure, happiness or a feeling of peace and calm. Be present to the experience as if it is happening right now with all of the colors, all of the sounds, tastes, smells and touch. Pay attention to where you feel the happiness of it in your body. When you have spent some time engaged with the experience then add a sense of appreciation and gratitude to it and feel that manifest in your body. Stay with this experience for a few minutes.
  5. Begin to talk to yourself out loud or internally about your new belief. If it is easier you can record your own voice or have someone you trust read it to you. Talk to yourself about all of the ways you have come to understand that this new believe is already showing itself to you in a variety of ways, like the exceptions to the rule that you wrote about in the second part of the exercise. Spend time feeling this in your mind and your body. Feel your spirit soar as you fully embrace this new belief about yourself.
  6. You may not fully believe this new belief yet but you are trying it on for size. Let yourself really experience how it feels to believe this about you. See yourself in your life, at work or at home or with friends or family interacting while you believe this new thing about yourself. Try on several scenarios. Play them out. Observe how things might be different. Have fun with it.
  7. To finish this meditation draw your awareness back to your heart and feel how you are feeling emotionally. Wiggle your toes and your fingers. Bring your awareness back into your body and then bring your attention to the back of your eyes and open them.
  8. If you have the time it would be great to journal and express in writing how this experience went for you. I would suggest that you practice this whole sequence as often as you like until beyond a shadow of a doubt you know that you believe this new core belief. It is you.
  9. Over the next week or so or maybe longer after this meditation has been completed and continue to talk to yourself and/or journal about your experience. Be sure to notice all of the ways you know for sure that this new core belief is real.                                                            You have created a monumental shift in your life!

 

 

Life as a dance

Life is a dance

Looking down on a well lit empty stage I knew was on next. Panicking I said, “I have no idea what I am going to do. I am 72 years old. It’s been decades since I have been on stage.”

As the creative impulse began to form I knew I would start with words and that the movements would grow out of an inner impulse combined with words. As they began to flow and the first gesture grew from them I woke up from a dream. I tried to go back to sleep. I wanted to see how it would unfold, how it would feel. But I couldn’t so I sat up to meditate and the words from the dream flowed into the meditation. This poem emerged.

Life is a dance

Gaining strength through adversity

When we cut ourselves a scar forms as the skin regenerates itself. This new place is stronger than before. Life is often like that. We fall. We get bruised and we learn to watch our step. Sometimes we dream: wouldn’t it be nice to have everything be sweet and smooth as we walk down life’s path. I remember thinking when I married at 23, “Well I am adult now. My husband and I will sail smoothly through rest of our years.” I was rather naive. I knew nothing about adult growth and development. I had no idea about the impact that our children would have on my personal growth, on my relationship, as well as on the family. I had a lot of growing to do. Now I say, “I hope that I will keep learning until the day I die because otherwise I will become bored.”

Those lessons, which hopefully we can come to see as gifts, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes don’t they? After I finished college I went straight to New York City to dance and became involved in the avant-garde movement in the ’60s exploring new expressions of dance and music. It was a very creative time. Through the generosity of Judson Church in the Village, a large community of artists of all types came together. There were dancers, choreographers, musicians, playwrights, poets, and visual artists combining talents and opening up new avenues for artistic expression.

I was studying ballet with Russian ballerinas and Jimmy Waring and modern dance with Merce Cunninghan and other members of his company. What a joy! I worked just enough to pay for my dance classes, have a roof over my head and food on the table. There was a deep sense of community and collaboration. I was asked to join Jimmy’s company and eventually had a company of my own, New Roots in Music and Dance with my husband, Malcolm Goldstein. I thought that my career was really taking off.

And then one day in a class with Merce I injured myself. By chance a woman that I barely knew happened to be there that day. Elaine Summers told me, “I can help you. You are dancing with much too much tension in your body, but you will have to stop dancing and reteach your body how to move.” Oh my, couldn’t I just rest a short while and muscle my way through it? I took the time to think it over. I was in pain. I had pulled the muscles around my illiosacral joint on my right side and could hardly move as a result of it. I knew she was right so I stopped what I thought was great forward movement to lie down on the floor and slowly, very slowly move through the exercises that she taught me. She laughed at me, “You are the only one I know who has deflated one of the balls that we are working with by just lying on it.” I was rather tense!

These exercises took hours. Gradually I was able to slow down with the help of a lot of deep breathing. I taught myself to hum with the exhalation, which enabled me to feel into my body more and more deeply, relaxing bones and muscles. My body began to open up. In fact I remember being terrified that I would open up so much that I would splat out into the cosmos, molecules flying every where.

Slowly I was able to move again reacquainting myself with my body and learning to move from the inside out. In both modern and ballet techniques a lot of emphasis is placed on how your form looks from the outside. Dance studios are covered with mirrors so you can constantly observe your position and your movement into perfection. My orientation had completely shifted form the outside to the inside and with it my choreography.

I became interested in working with untrained people who loved to dance. I helped them discover their own authentic movement just as I was discovering mine. The impulse to move came from an internal impulse. While the dances I created had an overriding form, the movement was generated by each dancer as an improvisation based on his or her internal awareness.

One dance I created, Body Mass, was performed by myself and another dancer who was my height but much more angular in shape and movement. I became fascinated with how we moved when we were glued together as if there was only one center of gravity between us and how differently we moved when separated because of who we were each with our own authentic movement.

Other changes began to happen because of this shift. I began to study yoga. It became my introduction to meditation, spirituality and eventually psychology. In other words this injury, which was very hard to take at first, became an axial moment in my life bringing with it profound change that reshaped my life. What a gift!

If we look around we find many examples of how adversity, taken with a positive attitude can move us to new heights of awareness and being. There is someone I know who had a double mastectomy because of invasive estrogen seeking tumors in her breasts. She was a 36 double D and a little on the chunky side. Imagine the radical shift in body image when with reconstruction which was a 36C and thin. Her process was very intense made that way not only by her own surgeries but by the death of her parents and having to deal with their estate, by the caretaking of her disabled daughter and by the deep desire to divorce her husband who was also very ill. She had been working full time at a very stressful government job in Washington, D.C. as a type A perfectionist. There was just a little on her plate.

She was amazed at the help she receive from friends. When her parents’ house sold, they helped her move furniture and empty a house full of 50 years of living, when she was unable to lift more than 5 pounds. They drove her to and from doctors’ appointments that were often two hours away. Friends of her husband’s oversaw his health care needs. She was able to find a good reliable nanny to help her care for her daughter and just in the nick of time her disability came through so there was money to pay for it.

Work was equally accommodating. “Take your time to heal,” her bosses assured her. When she returned to work six months later they wanted to know what part of her work did she want to take. They even moved her to a new corner office with windows. When days were hard they encouraged her to go home and rest.

If she was going too fast her chest tightened excruciatingly. The message was clear over and over. “Go slow and be grateful. Pay attention from the inside out. Breathe.” She practiced tuning into her heart remembering all of the fabulous help she had received along the way and felt a deep sense of gratitude. Life was not simple, nor easy but her attitude became more and more positive. The more she tuned into the multitude of lessons she was learning on this journey the more grateful she became. Her eyes and heart became open to new ways of being that was a lot less about competition and perfection but more about friends, family, community, teamwork and the time it takes to smell the roses.

When my father died at age 96 he left among other things a house full of stuff. It seemed ironic that the man who was very good at commanding other people to get their stuff out of his house had done so little with his own. His home was his castle. I am the oldest of 5. We began to tackle the huge job of dispersing his things and prepare the house for the sale. We had been working together fairly well through those last months of caring for him but his death made it clear to me how fragile families can be during a time of intense loss. Each of us had different perceptions, opinions and skill sets. Each of us was a strong personality. It became clear that we wanted to continue our work together as a team but this was challenging. My youngest sister was the executor. In her mild manner she made it very clear that in regard particularly to financial matters she had the final say. She was very good at giving us honest information and asking us for feedback. “There are five of us so luckily there will never be a tie,” she would say.

One of my sisters did a yeoman’s job of cleaning out the beginning layers of what no one would want, like the food in the refrigerator and bags of old Halloween candy, etc., etc. She took his clothes to the Catholic ladies thrift shop and cleaned and cleaned the nooks and crannies that had long since been neglected. Two of my sisters devised a very clever plan for deciding who would get what. My sister, the photographer, numbered all of the items and took pictures of each. We all got copies along with a sheet with multiple choices for each item: “I really want it”, “not so much”, “if no one else wants it I’ll take it” and “not interested.” Bless her heart she went through and sorted the responses. Surprisingly enough it worked out fairly easily because when two did want the same item in the equal amount, we were able to work it out. The process was then passed on to the next generation.

We had lots of decisions to make along the way because we decided as a group that we wanted to fix up my father’s house with part of our inheritance to hopefully be able to sell it for more in the end. My brother who lives in a nearby town contributed a lot by overseeing  the work when we had to hire outside help.  He also helped to clean out the basement while my brother in law and my sister who design and build bathrooms and kitchens worked wonders. My sister’s ex-husband volunteered to do some of the painting and my brother’s ex-wife helped with the yard sale among other things. I came and went pitching in whenever and wherever I could as well as cheering us on through email and phone.

I am very proud of us. We came together beautifully as a team even when there were difficult decisions to be made. Each person had a voice in the decisions, popular or not. I believe that now that drawn together through adversity we have become closer than ever, honoring each other’s differences in perceptions, opinions and personalities.

HeartMath Institute (HMI) Research Director Dr. Rollin McCraty clearly states in his scientific monograph, Heart-Brain Neurodynamics: The Making of Emotions, that if we take the time to practice moving into coherent emotional states (gratitude, appreciation, joy, happiness, caring, etc.) we establish a familiar brain pattern that can be easily accessed when we are in more stressful or fearful places. This familiarity helps us reestablish much more quickly a sense of internal safety and stability.

“Ultimately, when we achieve stability through our efforts, the results are feelings of satisfaction and gratification. By contrast, when there is a failure to achieve stability or control, feelings such as anxiety, panic, annoyance, apprehension, hopelessness or depression result…. Where we focus our attention has a powerful effect on modulation inputs and thus on determining what gets processed at higher levels.” P. 98

There is no doubt that practicing ways of accessing coherent emotions on a regular basis have far ranging effects. See the blog post on “Creating a Sense of Internal Peace” for some strategies to practice.

We all have our stories those that turn out well in spite of the challenges and those that don’t. The key here is to practice ways to be in emotional coherence and to take the time to see the gifts that are being given. Sometime we can only see them in hindsight and sometimes we are able to understand with gratitude the unfolding of something new. Whichever way it comes for you if you can take the time to step back, release the “why me,” look for what you are gaining and be grateful for the experience that brings new insights and new gifts. As you center the experience in your heart you will be amazed at how much easier life will flow.

 

How to eliminate negative self-talk

This is an old cognitive behavioral exercise with a new twist that makes it very powerful. There are basically three steps to the process:

  1. Acknowledge the negative statement that has to do with how you view yourself, perhaps a core belief that you feel strongly is you. Write it down.
  2. Create a series of counter statements. Things that you know about yourself that show you how the negative self-statement is not all of you or not you at all. Begin by finding one example of how the first statement is not always true and write it down. No doubt other examples will soon follow once you start to think about it seriously.  If you are stuck get a trusted friend to help.  They may see parts of you that you don’t.
  3. Now write one or a series of statements of how grateful you are to have all of those counter examples. Don’t just write about the gratitude but feel it in your heart. Be aware of the internal shift that occurs as you can no longer fully engage in the original negative statement because it just isn’t true

First example:

  1. I don’t deserve to have successful life.
  2. Well successful has lots of parts to it. I feel very successful in keeping my home a delightfully pleasant place to live. I feel a lot of joy when I work in my gardens. I actually love the work that I do. (Do not make qualifiers. For example, you might be tempted to say, “I love my work but I can’t stand my boss.” Just let the first statement stay. Your boss may be another issue altogether.)
  3. I am immensely grateful for my beautiful home, for my gardens and for my work, which provides the abundance to get my bills paid on time. Yeah!
  4. If you wanted to carry it further you might begin to explore other ways that you can create a feeling of success in your life. Or you could take a look at what does “success” really mean to YOU. It may not be about fulfilling someone else’s idea of what success “should” mean to you. Perhaps it’s an old parental expectation that really belongs to them and not to you. Or what the message your culture gives to you about what success “should” mean. Whenever there is a “should” it is usually a good signal that it is someone else’s voice telling you what you “should” do. Do your best to find your own voice.

Second example:

  1. I am not good enough.                                                              I don’t deserve to have true love. I am scared to really trust.
  2. I absolutely deserve to be loved by him because it feels so natural.                                                                                    I am a good person. I am learning to love myself. He’s my peace, my happiness. I do trust him. I don’t trust other women and I have no control over their behavior. I am a very loving person. He likes how much I love him. He and I are very compatible. I am learning to trust that love is enough and won’t go away. (A positive heart’s desire today creates a positive future.)
  3. I am very grateful for the way he loves me every day. He helps my dad. Whatever I need he is there for me. He always makes time for me and is thoughtful. I can feel his love in my heart.

Third example:

  1. I am a terrible mother.
  2. I talk with my daughter. I make opportunities for her to be involved in activities. I am very affectionate with her. I tell her I love her. I tell her a lot how great she is.
  3. I am glad that I am aware of her needs. I am grateful that we can talk and feel close. I am grateful that I am doing my best to provide as much stability as possible for her.

Take the time to create your own negative self statements, counter statements and gratitude statements.  This is a powerful way to recreate the way that you feel about yourself and how others experience you.

Making my heart sing

I love to dance but rarely do it any more, except to say that life is a dance. But the other morning I woke up remembering several dreams I had where I was dancing, doing some kind of improvisation with someone else. I was so happy all morning long. “I ought to dance in waking life more often,” I thought but did nothing about it.

A month later I was driving back from MOM’s organic market listening to Bach on the radio. Earlier that morning I had spoken to my ex-husband about how I missed the Bach he practiced every morning and the string quartets he would bring into our home.   I remembered the joy I felt when I was pregnant for the first time and taking my child riding in my belly to his concerts. Now here was Bach on the radio. I could see and feel myself dancing to the music. Tears welled up. A long time ago it was my passion and my profession. Today I wanted to dance more than ever. I had done my yoga in the morning so I had confidence in my body but I was 72 not 23. “Don’t be silly! I feel like dancing and I will as soon as I get home.” The radio station had promised more Bach at noon.

In the last 40 years I have become very self-conscious about dancing. I don’t want to perform. I just want to dance freely from the fullness of my heart and body. Today no one would be watching. It was just me in the quiet beauty of my home. Maybe this would open the door.

My sister had bought me a thrift store dress perfect for dancing. So I quickly changed out of my jeans, put on the black dress with a pair of tie dyed leggings. This felt comfortable, free and fun. I swept the space. Moved the plants so that I would have more room. Even figured out how to get the radio station on my computer and hook it up to the speaker. I was ready ahead of the Bach.

Oh what joy to move my body to the rhythms of the music.  I didn’t even have to wait for the Bach.  The self-consciousness melted away as I stretched, moved, twisted and turned and became the music. I felt wonderful. My body felt so supple and strong. I felt such gratitude for a healthy, strong and supple body and the inspiration to be dancing again just for the fun of it. My heart was singing. My whole being was singing.

 

Creating an internal place of peace

The research done by the Institute of HeartMath (<http://www.heartmath.org go to the Research tab, then Research home, scroll down to the 72 page article on The Science of the Heart) affirms what those of us who have been meditating for a long time already know. When we are in an expanded state of being or what the HeartMathr researchers call a dynamic of coherent heart rhythms that come about because we are experiencing gratitude, appreciation, love, caring, happiness and joy, our bodies respond in some remarkable ways.

While trying to understand the role of the heart in relationship to the brain, the researchers discovered that the heart is like a mini brain with it’s own neuronal network. There are also cells in the heart that are like the cells in our brains. The heart in fact sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. It also has an energy field 60 times greater that any other organ in our bodies including the brain.

When our hearts are experiencing positive emotions, there is a profound physiological response. The heart sends a signal to the brain. The brain responds by directing the body to release DHEA, a rejuvenation hormone, along with a host of neuropeptides into our bodies that create health and well-being. Our immune system is boosted. Our heart rate is normalized. Our feelings of anxiety and stress become non-existent. Our vision is expanded allowing us to see a variety of possibilities and choices. As a result we are far more creative. We can problem solve much more effectively and we are resourceful.

On the other hand if we are in an incoherent emotional experience feeling stressed, fearful, angry, irritated, frustrated or hateful, the heart sends a very different signal to the brain. When received the brain responds by sending out the troops. Adrenalin floods our system along with cortisol, which puts us in a hyper alert, fight or flight place. We no longer have time to think about choices, we are in danger and there is one way to respond now. Our immune systems are suppressed, heart rates are increased, as is our breathing and pulse rate. In this state we no longer have time to consider creative options, nor do we problem solve particularly well.

This response is fabulous. Our human bodies are so complex and amazing. Back in the day if the saber tooth tiger was breathing down the back of our necks, we needed this response immediately to save our lives. The same is true today. If you are in a dark alley and the hackles go up on the back of your neck you know immediately danger is at hand. There may be no time to think out what your options are but an immediate and powerful response is required. In a very good documentary by National Geographic (2008) called Stress: the Silent Killer, one of the researchers says, “The problem with today is that we act as if that saber tooth tiger is breathing down the back of our necks all of the time.” This presents a huge problem to the human body. Our bodies in general are being over worked and constantly stress, resulting in heart attacks, cancers, back and joint pain, tight muscles, grinding down our teeth, etc. We all know how it feels and it does not feel good.

In the book, The Thinking Body: a Study of the Balancing Forces of Dynamic Man (1937) Mabel Elsworth Todd proposes that we have not fully evolved as a human species to an upright posture. She believes that we have to use our bodies with conscious awareness and good exercise in order to maintain a healthy supple body. The practice of Hatha Yoga as does, Qigong, Tai Chi, the Feldenkrais and Alexander methods to name a few are also built around these principles.

I have adapted a meditation from the Institute of HeartMath’s technique called Quick CoherenceR that is particularly useful to shift us out of an incoherent, negative state into a coherent, positive, life promoting dynamic and made into an expanded meditation.  Here are the instructions for the meditation.

Close your eyes, shifting your focus from the space    around you to your internal body space. At first just notice what you are experiencing. How does your body feel? What are you aware of? Are there certain parts of you of your body that feel more tension than others? Do you experience variations in temperature? What is happening with your breath?

Begin to deepen your breath by exhaling all the way and inhaling for a count of 4 or 5. (This count has been found through research to be a particularly effective way to help induce a coherent experience.) Exhale for 4 or 5 counts. Continue this breath rhythm throughout the entire meditation.

Now continuing to breathe also focus on your physical heart. How are you experiencing it right now? There are no right or wrong answers, just be present to your experience.

Begin to recall an experience that you have had in the past that brought you a felt sense of joy or happiness. It could be a walk on the beach, the smile on your grandchild’s face, your favorite cat in your lap, a walk in the woods on a beautiful spring day, etc.

Look carefully at your experience as if it is happening right now. What are the colors, the shapes or textures? Are there other things or people in this experience with you or are you alone? Be in the experience and notice these things without judgment. They just are what they are. Are there sounds like voices, music or bird songs? Is there any particular smell that is in the air or taste in your mouth right now? How are you feeling as you immerse yourself in the experience right now?

Now express internally your deepest appreciation or gratitude for having this experience that brings you such joy and happiness. Pay attention to your heart and feel how it feels.

Feel your heart broadcasting this sensation as an epicenter of gratitude, appreciation, joy and happiness moving out to the rest of your body. Feel it spreading out to your ribcage and lungs…to your diaphragm and belly. Feel the sensation of gratitude and appreciation moving up into your shoulders…and down into your hip joints.

Focusing back into your shoulders what is it like to experience joy and happiness cascade down into your upper arms…your elbows…your lower arms…your wrists…your hands and out to the tips of your fingers.

Bring your awareness to your hip joints and feel gratitude and appreciation flowing down through your thighs…your knees…your calves…your ankles into your feet and out to the tips of your toes.

Now from the souls of your feet let your awareness travel slowly up your body experiencing what you are feeling again with no judgment. Bring your focus up through your throat and neck…to the palate at the back of your mouth…and up into your brain, your crown, your scalp, forehead, eye brows, the muscles around your eyes, your cheeks, your jaw, ears, chin and mouth.

Now bring your awareness to your whole body. Rest in your awareness. Pay close attention to how you are feeling right now. Sustain the feeling and your attention for as long as you want to. Bathe in the delight of the feeling of gratitude and appreciation, joy and happiness. If your mind wanders simply bring it back to your heart.

Take the time to compare it with what you felt like in the beginning. Did anything change for you during the course of the meditation? How? Focus your attention on your heart and your breath. What does your heart feel like? Bring the energy from your heart up behind your eyes and open them. Take a couple of minutes to look around. Do things look differently to you, feel differently?

A client of mine had for most of his life been experiencing a great deal of anxiety and depression. He would first feel the anxiety as a knot in his stomach. Quickly it would spread to a paralyzing anxiety that would stop him dead in his tracks. We had done breathing exercises that helped him lower his level of anxiety until the next time. We went over the roots for his feelings and certainly found many connections to childhood trauma. He tried medicine to calm him, which it did for a price. He felt numb and foggy. It wasn’t the quality of life he wanted although some medicines he found were helpful.

I taught him this meditation and asked him to practice it. He went through the entire meditation several times but soon found that as soon as there was a hint of a knot in his stomach all he had to do was breathe into it and it disappeared. He came to sessions smiling. What a change.

He found that it was also affecting his experience both at work and at home with his wife. He was able to stay heart centered even with his very difficult boss. This changed their interactions. The man who had always been the bane of my client’s work life was not so difficult to deal with. Work became much more enjoyable and so did his wife.

This book will be filled with stories of what happens for folks, families, communities, workplaces, our global community and the Earth when we develop and share heart centered living. We can learn to easily move into a heart centered awareness in a variety of ways: the guided meditations like the one above adapted from HeartMath’s Quick Coherence technique and the Heart Bud meditation, prayers of gratitude, mantras and spiritual practices that emphasize love as Source. I hope that you will be inspired to find ways that work for you and reap the positive rewards that come from living from the heart.

 

The dog barometer

Joan had been having a fairly good day at work. She has been practicing slowing down her driven Type A personality to be more heart centered. This was making a big difference in her whole life with work, family and play. Her big, big boss had shown up unexpectedly. He had come to discuss career path choices with her, which was a very pleasant surprise. It was something she had been asking for, for several months.

 

Soon after he left she received a call from another important man in a completely separate section of the company. He was not her supervisor but she had attended several of his seminars sponsored by the company. He wanted to be sure she had seen this particular job posting. No she had not and if she had she probably would have passed it by feeling she was not qualified for it. Interesting that he took the time to point it out to her. Did he think she was qualified?

 

This really threw her off balance. It was the perfect job and a promotion to boot. It would give her the flexibility to not only work from home 80% of the time but she could choose which of several big cities on the east coast she would like to live near. She had really been wanting to move back closer to her family. How amazing! But her anxiety levels soared.

 

She drove the few minutes home from work with a million thoughts racing around in her brain. Could she do it? Was she really capable? It was not in the area of the company that she had been working in, was this her big break? On and on and on. Normally her very friendly lab greeted her at the door jumping with joy interspersed with a few slurpy licks to top it off. Mom’s finally home! But not today. He looked at her sideways and slinked off to the bedroom.

 

“What could be the matter with him?” was her first reaction. She stepped back and thought again, “Could it be me? My energy is certainly catawampus.” So she walked back out to her car, took some nice deep breaths, centered herself in her heart, felt her energy, thoughts and anxiety slow down. She thought about how much she loved her dog and was grateful for him. She had really been looking forward to taking him for a walk. She felt so much better as she walked back to her front door again. Here came her old familiar bouncy lab doing his jumping up twisting around greeting dance. Interesting she thought, “it certainly was me.”