Monthly Archives: September 2011

Children Full of Life

Children Full of Life
Children Full of Life

The following links direct you to a 40-minute-or-so documentary called “Children Full of Life.”
This video is a beautiful illustration of how human beings can be close to themselves and one another, allowing for the full range of emotions and differences. Acknowledging, sharing, and releasing suffering, rather than burying it and running from it. And ending up together in love.

Part 1 (9:45)
Part 2 (8:02)
Part 3 (9:46)
Part 4 (6:39)
Part 5 (5:54)

May we all be children full of life.

You Don’t Get to Say How it Will Feel

You Don’t Get to Say How it Will Feel
You Don’t Get to Say How it Will Feel

If you’ve got eating issues, any other sort of addiction, or any long-standing bad habits, it’s almost certainly true that you do a lot of automatic predicting about feelings.

Whether you’re aware of it or not at the time, every choice you make about whether to stay in the moment or distract yourself is a choice that indicates your current level of confidence in your ability to handle feelings.

I remember hearing someone explain how you can consider each purchase you make as a vote – if you buy an apple, it’s like saying “1 Yay for more apple production!” At that moment apples are supported and pears are not.
There’s also a quote from somebody, probably Buddha or somethin’, “You’re always practicing something – you’re either practicing suffering or practicing peacefulness,” or something to that effect.

So with these two notions combined, my point is, every time you go down the path of that bad habit, it’s like casting a vote for that bad habit to continue.

This is NOT to add fuel to the fire of blaming yourself for “how pathetic you are” for continuing to engage in the habit. This is rather to clarify what’s at stake, AND more importantly to say that it’s not worth the escape – because you DON’T KNOW what’s on the other side.

When you reach for a 3rd serving of food or a cigarette or to hurt or distract yourself in some other way, it’s because some powerful part of you has decided that doing that is preferable to having A CERTAIN FEELING in the next few moments instead.

And I just want you to be aware that that’s the choice you’re making, so that you can make a conscious decision about whether you want to keep making that choice. Do you really want to be constantly betting against yourself, that you vote you can’t handle the passing sensations of boredom or sadness, anger, frustration, tiredness? Do you want that underlying current of self-doubt to own your life, to determine your level of self-respect, authenticity, and sense of aliveness?

You can take the leap into potentially yucky feelings, and see if you survive, and go somewhere brand new (!!!) Or you can reinforce for yourself, that you must engage in your escapist coping mechanism right now because the alternative is too unbearable.

Lemme put it this way: Right now, you don’t get to say how it will feel to stay in the moment and feel your feelings instead of run. Why? Because as someone who’s still suffering greatly from a longstanding eating issue or other painful habit, unfortunately you have not yet had enough experience feeling instead of running. Otherwise you wouldn’t be in this position! By definition you’re someone who doesn’t have enough direct experience with allowing difficult feelings.

So – here’s a vote of confidence from me, that you can handle not jumping on board the train of your next compulsion/distraction. Watch it barrel towards you then pass you by. IT IS SO POSSIBLE.

Get your freedom back moment by moment. You are so much more than this suffering.

Why Your Personal Work is So Important

Why Your Personal Work is So Important
Why Your Personal Work is So Important

It’s really easy to get absolutely fed up with “working on your personal issues.”
Some days it’s all you can think about, and you get inspired and you sign up for something, or make a plan, or journal and feel like you’ve reached a very important insight.
But many, many other days, you’re just sick of the same old shit happening… over, and over.
Sometimes, you get disgusted with yourself, not believing how “selfish” or “pathetic” you are for constantly thinking about your own flaws and problems.

But, here’s the thing. There’s a reason your mind keeps bringing you back to your own suffering again and again. It’s because deep down, you’ve always had a sense of what you’re like when you are truly being yourself, and a sense of you-when-you-are-happy. And you’re secretly in love with that, we all are.
It’s actually a great thing: Your best self won’t let you off the hook, won’t let you live a half- or quarter-life when you already know how life could be.

It would be so much worse if people paid less attention to their personal suffering. That means they would go about their days feeling defeated and shitty – and how do people act when they feel that way inside? They may become withdrawn and isolated, they may externalize their pain by “letting it out” on someone else, they may actively or passively cause damage to their surroundings because they just don’t have it in them to give a damn at the moment.

Your personal work is so important because: If everyone truly allowed themselves to focus on and work to heal their own suffering, the resultant peaceful minds and hearts are what we would all be interacting with when we go out into the world.

There’s no heart in this world that doesn’t want relief from suffering, peace. Consider even a drastic example: a suicide bomber wants to eliminate what he believes is displeasing to his God; he believes his God knows what is good. He wants to please his good God because it gives him peace; there’s nothing like believing that God is good and that God loves you, and that therefore all is well and at peace. We all live a version of this when we are tiny children. There’s nothing like knowing that mom and dad are smiling, proud of you, everything safe and happy for the moment: peace.

The thing with the suicide bomber is that something has gone terribly awry when one adopts the delusion that violence can lead to true and lasting peace. It’s the same crisis that unfolds when you believe war can lead to no war, that shame can lead to positive change, that deprivation can lead to a feeling of enough-ness and abundance. These are all terrible substitutes for the mechanisms of change that really work: patience, learning, understanding, lack of instant gratification, tolerance, sustained effort, genuine interest, respect, humor. It all amounts to a lack of loving attention. Out of that lack comes a desperate and forceful attempt at change. We know from both our personal and global experience that those types of attempts do not work.

When you do the hard work and you do find some peace, you cease to have a desire to harm yourself, others, or the surrounding world around you in general. You are naturally gentle, loving, energetic, giving, happy.

So if you find yourself completely sick of working on your eating behaviors, your negative self-talk, your resistance to living a life you love, then firstly, notice that you are actually suffering in this very moment. Then, remember that every bit of healing you create for yourself, takes away a bit of the conflict in the world.

There’s no better work for you to do. Your inner state affects EVERYTHING you do, every interaction you have with any other beings. Work with the suffering you have right now. That is your most important work. You can’t skip over it, you can’t put it on the back burner and expect it to go away because you’re doing other “good and important” things. If you’re not paying attention to your own suffering, then you’re off doing those other good and important things with less energy, happiness, authenticity, and effectiveness than you could be, by far. Your creativity is WAY held back. Others don’t feel how much you love them as much as they could, no matter what words you say or even what acts you do. It’s the feel of you.

It’s about how you REALLY feel, NOW. That is what needs attention. Know it will be excruciatingly frustrating at times, but keep going. Remember what the world could be like if everyone did this. We have no idea what difference one person who’s truly on fire can make in this world – cliche or not, you know it’s true. Trust that you are enough, you are important enough to spend your full attention and compassion on. Touch the depths of yourself. Go all the way. You are the only one you can do this with, I don’t care if you’re a therapist, lover, spiritual teacher, mother – you can’t touch anyone with the same intimacy that you can touch your own self with. But the closer you get with yourself, certainly, the more you can offer that depth to others.

You are so important. Pay attention, do the work, do it now! =)




I just had a cheeseburger, fries, and mozzarella sticks.
I was having menstrual cramps FROM HELL.
I said to my sister: “It’s time to get cheeseburgers, to numb my midsection to the point that I don’t feel the cramps anymore.”

But later, I thought…
What if I have a daughter one day… And she’s having really bad cramps?
She’s 14 or so, and she’s pouting, and suffering.
Would I tell her to go numb out her stomach with cheeseburger?

…No… that’s not what I want to do.
I want to say, “My poor sweetie, I know, I know.” I’d make her a cup of hot tea. I’d get her a heating pad to curl up with. I’d have her lay her head on my lap and I’d stroke her hair. I’d get her some aspirin if she wanted.

I certainly wouldn’t want to exponentially increase her pain level by adding layers of emotional pain, acknowledged in the moment or not, resulting from overeating.

I have compassion for myself, for why I ate all that stuff.
At the same time, I seek to care for myself as a beloved child.
We all deserve that kind of love. I wonder how I would feel right now if I had done that earlier, instead of eaten the cheeseburger. Right now I’m feeling pretty bloated…

The more you allow and touch your own pain, the more you can truly empathize with others, as well.
If and when I say, “I know, I know sweetie,” I want that to be true. I don’t want to only know a shadow of what feelings feel like, because the full colors were numbed out with food.
I want the depths of sorrow and the heights of joy.

A cheeseburger’s no worthy substitute.


Write Thank You Letters

Write Thank You Letters
Write Thank You Letters

This is a great exercise that will quickly open up your heart.
Think of someone you are presently feeling grateful to, or someone you are having fond thoughts of at the moment. If someone doesn’t immediately come to mind, think about earlier today and yesterday and find something that served as a pick-me-up, and who might have been responsible for it.
You can use a friend, relative, stranger, someone alive or dead for this exercise. The purpose is not really to shower someone else with praise, rather it is for you to feel your own loving heart flowing.
Once you’ve chosen the recipient of the letter, write a thank you letter! There’s no real guidelines here, just spend at least 5 minutes on it and see where it goes. Here’s some examples:

  • Writing a short card thanking someone for a specific action
  • Leaving a post-it note with a positive message
  • Write a long letter to the author of a book that deeply affected you
  • Write a letter to the leaders of a favorite organization
  • Write a letter to someone saying how much you admire them
  • Post on someone’s wall or send a Facebook message to give a quick appreciation
  • Make a thank you cake! :D

Obviously get as creative as you’d like, but the point is, to feel the happiness of acknowledging something you’ve been given. Not to mention you will probably cause someone to smile and feel appreciated. But again, even if you don’t send the letter or if the recipient is no longer alive or unidentified (Dear-The-Person-Who-Invented-Glitter), the purpose is for you to acknowledge and feel what you already have, what you love.


Resistance to Taking Excellent Care of Yourself

Resistance to Taking Excellent Care of Yourself
Resistance to Taking Excellent Care of Yourself

It’s the nature of all life to evolve in the direction of surviving and thriving. Every living organism is wired to move towards pleasure and move away from pain, and every living organism either adapts well enough to survive or they die.

If you’re reading this, you adapted well enough to survive. And you can be damn sure you did a lot of adapting.

You’re born as this little creature whose first task is to come to terms with the fact that it is a separate body. You spent 9 months NOT being a separate body, and now you are separated and experience the primal fear of abandonment. You never before felt the pain of not being fed on demand, of not being warm enough, of over-stimulation to the senses, and suddenly these are a daily reality.

Already at this point, some babies “fail to thrive,” and die. Making it through being a newborn already implies that you as a tiny creature adapted to tolerate the new stressors of being a separate human being-body.

Then, as self-consciousness develops, we gain a sense of our autonomous capabilities, as well as their limits. We delight in our powers of throwing a ball at the wall and we cry at the disturbance of the ball bopping us on the head in rebound. We begin adapting to the physical reality we find ourselves in as we learn the laws of physics, and play with manipulating them.

By age 4 we’ve also adapted to something not having to do with the physical body or its physical surroundings. We’ve adapted to the emotional reality of the people who are raising us. If this seems like a stretch, consider the fact that if a mother and father hate (an emotion) their baby, they may decide to not feed it, or otherwise physically harm it. It is not some archaic psychoanalytic theory that states that for an infant, the emotional is completely interwoven with the physical. This is simply self-evident. If an infant screams, a mother can physically calm the infant’s body by holding the infant and conveying emotional soothing. Or she can scream with the emotions of frustration and anger and cause the baby’s body to release more of the physical chemicals of anxiety. Have no doubt that for you, for me, for all human beings, our first few years of life were completely vulnerable to and dependent on the physical AND emotional landscape of our surroundings, in a way that is very different from adulthood. For example, when we are adults, someone else’s emotion of anger almost never directly threatens us with abandonment to the point that we will not be fed or sheltered.

Looking back to age 4, it is clear that a system of behavior has been internalized, as indicated by developmental theory as well as common observation of children. Kids don’t act randomly at age 4. They’re already acting certain things out, and more crucially, they already have a sense of what’s safe and what isn’t. They know what makes mommy sad, they know what makes daddy angry. And they behave accordingly so as to not “get in trouble.” We learn what physical and emotional behaviors get us fed, get us played with, and get us praised. And just like all other living beings, once we learn that information, we increase those behaviors so that we survive and thrive to the maximum we deem possible.

Think about an animal that gets beaten. Soon, if the abuser merely raises his hand, the animal flinches. It’s made the association and it automatically adapts its behavior for optimal survival in response, before the impact. Now what if we look at an emotional analogy? When you were about to cry, did those around you say, “Sweetheart, that was hard for you wasn’t it?” (positive, affirming feedback)? Or did they say, “Now now, you’re okay,” “No need to cry about it,” “I should be the one crying!” “There you go again, trying to make everyone feel bad for you meanwhile…” “I can’t believe you’re crying over that,” etc.? These latter responses are all feedback that amounts to a rejection of a child’s own experience, and a child’s own sense of self. Whichever form the feedback takes, the child subconsciously records, “This is the feedback that letting myself cry results in.”

The point of this is not to blame those who may have had those responses. The point is to understand why an adaptation you developed in order to enhance survival/thriving years ago may manifest itself in your behavior today. Unless you’ve spent time literally re-training yourself, you operate according to your default systems. You may find yourself eating when you’re not hungry, and attribute it to lack of discipline or willpower. But, upon further examination, if you could freeze that moment in time and look at what was going on in your heart and mind before that moment, you would undoubtedly find a trigger that used to signal severe turbulence ahead. To continue with the example of crying, let’s say something very upsetting came up earlier in the day. Right underneath the surface, it actually upset you enough to make you want to cry. But, as it was wired into your very nervous system years, decades ago, you learned that crying leads to negative feedback. You might also have learned that not crying earned you positive feedback, such as comments that you were “strong,” “tough,” “reliable,” “mature.” Your brain now automatically perceives the trigger of might-want-to-cry, and routes it into take-evasive-maneuvers. We can spend other posts talking about why you developed the particular evasive maneuver of eating, but nonetheless, your brain routes the trigger into the action of eating.

What does this accomplish? You don’t cry. (Evolutionary success: negative feedback from caretaker avoided!) And while you may swear that at this point in your life, you’re perfectly okay with crying, you want to cry if it would heal you, you truly think there’s nothing wrong with crying – your body-history learned otherwise, painfully. There’s nothing like pain to wire in the deepest anxiety-association in the nervous system. It’s how organisms grow safer and stronger and avoid death. Where would we be if, decades after we were first taught verbally or through experience that the stove is hot, we decided: “Yeah… but.. really, I’m okay with touching the stove now.” We’d burn our hands. Decades passing does not change our very body’s ingrained, visceral, instinctual knowledge of pain triggers – and remember, as a very small child, painful emotional feedback is just as threatening as painful physical feedback. So we really are talking about the same intensity of avoidance of crying, in this example, as the intensity of the avoidance of holding your hand on a hot stove.

So intellectually or even spiritually knowing “it’s good to be open to my own emotions now” is not gonna cut it. Your body, your subconscious, your inner toddler, however you want to think of it, is not interested primarily in emotional healing or any of your enlightened thought – it’s interested in staying safe and secure, and you’re talking about being open to getting burned. Would a toddler listen to you explain the biology of why it’s good to eat vegetables often and chocolate less often? Would she listen to you explain what emotional freedom means? No and no. With this level of your self, you have to operate using only the concrete reality of cause-and-effect. Think: How the toddler feels after she’s guided to eat in accordance with the needs of her body (energetic, light, healthy), versus trying to convince a toddler to automatically eat this way because she should know better after you explained the nutritional principles to her. You’ve heard you’re supposed to feel your emotions instead of eat them – well, that has very little effect on the part of you that’s driven to do so.

If you find yourself – over and over, and over again – not taking care of yourself in the way you want to (for example, to feed yourself in an attuned, healthful manner), you can be certain that it is because there is a threat, wired into the deepest levels of anxiety in the nervous system, resulting from some current trigger.

It is not because you suck. It is not because you are lazy or don’t care enough. It is not because you are pathetic. It is not because you are not meant for greatness. It is not because it is impossible for you to change.

It is because those old threats have not yet been faced and lived through – they persist as full-fledged demons with the emotional weight of impending death and abandonment. They are fed by every additional act of avoidance, just as the monster in the closet becomes more and more terrifying the longer you don’t open the door to discover it’s not there.

It has felt and continues to feel like taking care of yourself is giving yourself your little hit of soothing (eating, drinking, shopping, gossiping, virtual reality, you name it) when you feel like having it.

But would you take care of a child by saying, “Okay, okay, we’ll sleep in the other room tonight since the monster is there”…?

Maybe once or twice. But knowing that this child needs to grow to stand on her own two feet, with confidence and ambition for exploring the unknown world, you would quickly lead the child to open that door and realize she survives and is not overtaken. That would be taking care.

If you experience great resistance to taking care of yourself, if you feel that for so… so long, you have stood in your own way, understand that you have not yet been able to risk the consequences of not giving yourself your shots of reassurance. Which logically implies that there has been an ongoing need for these shots – an ongoing sense of triggers and threats. That’s what you’re living with.

The healing work that’s possible is this: (1) to admit and identify what it looks like when you are reacting/giving yourself superficial shots of security (2) to identify the triggers that cause these reactions and (3) to allow yourself to experience the emotional consequences of facing a trigger, rather than reacting to it by taking your familiar shots.

Just say no to drugs n all, right? =)

Yeah, it’s not that simple. But, it is doable, and you become more alive each time.

Remember the rush of a child’s discovery that there is no closet monster. The bedroom is free! The closet can be used to play and hide in! You can smile as you rest your body and fall asleep rather than curl up in anxiety about making it through the night.

There’s such delicious reward to be had in going through this process.

Sending my heartfelt support.


Teaching Yourself how to BE Happy Again

Teaching Yourself how to BE Happy Again
Teaching Yourself how to BE Happy Again

The reason most programs-for-change (diets, self-help books, even psychotherapy) very often don’t result in lasting change is that we sign up for them expecting SOME aspect of ourselves to change, while a much more fundamental shift is required in order to have a truly different ongoing experience of ourselves – which is what we’re looking for.

Let me break that down.

We’ve heard this common wisdom before, that happiness must come from the inside rather than the outside, that there are no quick fixes, that no one thing can make you happy. And we’ve all had moments of agreeing with these sentiments, being cynical about them, struggling against them, trying to accept them. We hear these lines, and perhaps unconsciously accept the ideas as “true but not practical for MY life”: somehow you can’t simply convince yourself to not want a new iPhone, to not want the perfect significant other, to not want to be thin, to not want the fulfillment of a particular dream you’ve ALWAYS had. You just want what you want, and you believe certain things will make you happier if not happy with a capital H – even though you’ve heard all those lines, and even though you might sincerely want to be the type of person who’s “down-to-earth,” “knows what’s really important,” a person who lives a simple life, etc.

The problem is not that you have the wants. The problem is not even the ideas you have about how a certain change might make you feel (for a few moments or days or weeks, a desired item or change in ourselves will affect our mood).

The problem is when you become an unhappy person who always lives feeling as if what you want, the things that would grant you peace, happiness, and ease, are always out of reach. This leaves you with an ongoing sense of depression, that on some days is very far in the background, and on other days completely knocks the spirit out of you. Bottom line, it’s there, threaded throughout your sense of being, so deep that you don’t recognize it as resignation, hopelessness, sadness… You just see yourself as a “realistic” type of person who is “responsible” and “does what she has to do.” (Read: your lust/energy/life libido, your spontaneity, your ability to feel fully whole and engaged in a moment, have all become severely weakened), and the only way you deal with this is to fantasize about the next thing you need to acquire or do that will remedy the situation. You find something (or many things) in your current situation that are THE PROBLEM, and you spent a GREAT DEAL of your mental time criticizing and plotting yourself into what you should be and could be doing about it.

MEANWHILE, a much deeper solution is called for. Even in psychotherapy, which I believe is one of the best ways to come to understand yourself and get to the roots of longstanding issues, it is possible to get used to a cycle of thinking about the reasons for a problem, struggling to work against it, and then becoming depressed that all that work only leads to seeing more problems to be fixed.

At some point, you actually need to make a fundamental decision to BE happy again.
This is radical when contrasted to a lot of the other mechanisms-of-change that are suggested to us. And again, we’ve heard things like this before, that make it sound so simple, and even if we’d like to be the type of person who could just make such a decision and then “be all better,” it’s never really worked for us.

What I’d like to offer in this post is a reminder of why deciding to be happy IS realistic and IS necessary in order to make true change. If you reflect on our deepest motivators in life, it doesn’t take too much philosophizing to uncover love, comfort, engagement, peace, and happiness as primary reasons that people choose to live at all. It’s really not debatable that as children we all start out with a default of wanting ourselves and others to be happy – and, in the absence of abuse or trauma, very young children are happy most of the time!!

You’ve heard this before too. Oh, why can’t we just learn to be childlike again, be interested in the blue sky and get more playtime. Again, we think it’s a good idea, and are unable to implement.

What I believe we’ve forgotten is that we don’t need a reason to be happy – and very young children have not had the life experience or mental capacity to mentally conclude themselves out of that truth yet.

As human beings we are physiologically and spiritually/emotionally built to feel peace and happiness when we feel that our needs have been met – when we feel that our existence is being supported wonderfully.

After enough years of conditioning, we learn to link up whether or not we are being accepted with whether or not we are going to survive. (As a child, if your parents do not accept you, and leave you alone to fend for yourself, you would die). The evolutionarily beneficial nervous system response of fear to not getting our needs met, gets hooked into our later interpersonal life. So that when we’re 12, or 25, or 45, we have a completely out-of-proportion response of despair if someone rejects us, when really, we are still completely safe physically despite that rejection. We will still feel joy again despite that rejection, we will still eat again. But, because the fear-wiring is hooked in, we are susceptible to feeling bound to many, many, many things as derivatives of needing to be accepted. “Needing” to be successful, to be seen as savvy, to be seen as physically beautiful, to be seen as funny, to be seen as having “made something of oneself,” these all derive from feeling a “need” to be accepted – and we feel this “need” regarding others AND regarding our own selves. We internalize all this so that we feel like WE will not accept ourselves if we are not physically beautiful, if we have not “made something of ourselves” by a certain age.

The antidote is to realize the fundamental delusion in believing that we cannot be happy, we are not okay, unless _______________. It’s not new-age-shit, it’s not Buddhism, it’s not low standards, to understand that it is a delusion to think that ANY certain condition determines whether or not you can be okay, whether or not you can be happy. The reason it’s not true is the fact that we are born with a default of happiness – physiologically we are evolved to feel peace and happiness when we feel our existence is being supported – in other words – THAT WE ARE, that we continue to be in this moment, ALIVE. Even ONE moment of aliveness requires every cell in the body to be functioning well enough to allow us to inspire and expire air. When we calm the hell down and feel this (often known as meditation, or taking stock of what you’re grateful for), we DO automatically touch peace, and happiness is never far behind.

I know this has been perhaps a bit dense, but I wanted to explain why I believe programs-for-change often go on endlessly and leave us feeling essentially the same as when we started the program in a very deep way. What doesn’t change despite the amount of self-change work we do is our deepest orientation towards whether or not we are okay, whether or not we can be happy right this second, and this second, and this second.

It’s true that you can be. It is 100% definitely, completely about letting yourself be. You don’t have to create your happiness, manufacture it, will it, work on it, hope it into existence.. It is everyone’s default and your suffering is in direct correlation to how far you’ve been led towards believing the opposite, that happiness is something you may have lost a long time ago and that you as you are now cannot have it.

You as you are now has it, but you won’t let yourself believe that. And although this is a simple truth it is not a quick fix because you have to re-orient your entire way-of-being. All the moments in your day where as a default you slide toward unhappiness, you have to consciously wake yourself up.

But it’s do-able, and it creates permanent change..
Once you’re on board, you can already start experiencing yourself as a “happy person.” You don’t have to wait until you’ve suffered enough to deserve it. You’ll make the fundamental shift from “depressed person who struggles to be happy” to “happy person who works to remind herself that her existence is always being wonderfully supported, whenever she forgets.” You’ll forget less and less. You’ll get your energy back.

This is the difference between chronically struggling and waking up right now.