Thursday, December 9, 2010

How Healing Happens...

Once again, as I approach the task of writing, discomfort arises naturally... a rumble from underground since writing reaches down below the surface and touches on my inner life.  What is my story and how do I heal, become whole?!  I trust that speaking the truth of my life will speak to others as well. 

I manage to avoid the question as long as I can with seemingly endless distractions.  Yes, there are so many important things to "do" and that must be done.  Cumulatively, the lists of people to contact and errands to check off amount to an obstacle in disguise. In Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach states that the  the Chinese ideogram for "busy-ness" means "heart-killing."  While Chinese scholars may take issue with the pseudo-Oriental wisdom so espoused (see:, the thrust of her point is in the right direction. As neutral or even valued as busy-ness may appear, it often is used to avoid and deny the call of the psyche, that inner process.

By answering the "summons" that requires me to put words to my experience, I face the dread of owning up to my own defensive strategies.   As long as I immersed myself fully in helping others transform their suffering, I maintained some protection from looking at my own.  But taking the inward journey and expressing myself consciously strips me of that protection.  I am exposed to myself and to readers alike.  Facing fear and doing it anyway,  a great title for a book (see, is one part of how healing happens.  But it's not all about "doing" and it's not that simple.

My clinical experience over and over again showed me the path to healing for others was helping them safely approach an experience or affect that previously overwhelmed them.  Although based in past experience, whatever overwhelmed the psyche continues to accumulate energy and shape who we are and what we become.  In Jungian terms, those packets of energy are "complexes" and all of us have them. 

Only by becoming conscious of our individual complexes can we begin to engage maturely in the mystery of our lives.  Instead of being "fated" to live out a destiny shaped by our history, identifying our complexes gives us new options, choices that we can act on, to expand the narrow space that seemed to be our "self."

But...yes... BUT!  We may have choices, but our complexes have accumulated energy over our lifetime. Those old patterns are as if embedded within us through the force of habit.  To alter their automatic function, we have to develop a counteractive awareness practice that can impede their force and direction.  It's far from easy to see the force of the train coming and turn it around before it rushes on to its destination.  At the least, for healing to begin, we have to start with resolve and determination, on the lookout for the patterns that prevent us from being whole.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On The Transformation of Suffering

Almost 30 years ago, I completed graduate school.  My intention was to become a professional clinician with the skills necessary to help reduce suffering in the world, one person at a time.  I did believe, and still do, that "saving one person is like saving a world." 

Over the course of my professional practice, I know that I did indeed help reduce suffering - for some more profoundly than for others.  I learned a range of techniques and modalities, constantly on the quest to go deeper into the source of the suffering and to find better ways out of it.

Now here I am, recently returned from our extended road trip, in somewhat of a standstill.  Yes, I can crank up the wheels to get my private practice going again, but I've been paying close attention to my inner direction and I notice my reluctance to seek clients now.  What am I waiting for?

I started this blog with the image of "confronting my tiger."  Even after several entries, I'm aware that my anxiety continues to surface when I think about writing.  What conditions from my past continue to limit me in the present?  Wouldn't rushing back in to help relieve the suffering of others be my personal addictive strategy - albeit a socially acceptable one! -  to distract myself from my own buried pain? 

I brace myself.  Right NOW is the opportunity to look deeply at the source of my own suffering.  If I understand it, I can hope to transform it, however long it takes.  The lessons I've learned in the course of my own professional practice  - about how healing happens - can help me transform my own negative habit patterns. My entries about my own process, as I confront my tiger, may provide me with a map of where I went and hopefully, how I successfully got the hell out of there!  Even though the map is not the territory, as we know, somewhere down the line my map may be useful to a reader who feels lost or in peril.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Supportive Community

Risk taking of any kind can be daunting.  The ultimate question - "can I survive?" - may not come up consciously, but the body still responds as if  the question had been asked.  Knowing what 'tiger' confronts us, what risk we have to take to become more fully ourselves, is the first of the Five Questions that provoked my entry into the world of blogging. (see my blog entry 

As I confessed at the start, writing feels like a very risky enterprise for me.  Despite repeated ventures in that direction, whenever I approach the task, my anxiety mounts.  My overreaction naturally derives from my history and what I'm bringing to the endeavor - fear of criticism and judgment, no doubt.  Others may experience similar overreactions triggered by social encounters, financial dealings, or major decisions they perceive as risky...the list is endless.  I imagine that you, dear reader, might already have identified your own "tigers" that tend to provoke a similar response.

To face the "tiger" - rather than run from it - requires courage.  But how can courage be mustered when previous conditioning has so strongly imprinted the message of DANGER?  I propose that a supportive community can do wonders. To change old patterns that have become so deeply ingrained can take more than the mere will power of one.  Even one extra support- a friend, mate, or mentor - might do the job.  More than two can be even better yet!

Ideally, family serves as the primary source of nurture and support.  A family's offer of unconditional love and a place of belonging certainly would seem to set the scene for the growth of healthy and creative individuals.  However, as I know from my own personal experience and as a psychotherapist, the treasure that family can transmit is too often hidden, distorted or apparently absent for too many of us.

So how do we find the courage to face challenges and take risks when we lack sufficient inner strength? Just as toddlers venturing out to explore their surroundings need parents to provide a strong base of security from which they can assert their will, so do we all need a base of support. When we fail to draw strength from our own inner reserves, a supportive community can be vital.

As with the list of individual challenges each of us confronts, there is also an endless variety of  communities or groups: work groups, school groups, neighborhoods and online chat groups.  One can find or create a group for any common interest or goal -  study or recreation, parenting or gardening, spiritual pursuits or following the twelve-step program (see, etc.  But what turns a mere group into a supportive community?

I have come to believe that the prerequisite for genuine support is emotional safety.  When communication is based on deep listening and deep sharing from the heart, we are safe.  (To learn more about HOW to develop compassionate communication, see  More on that in a future blog!)  Instead of intellectual analysis, judgment, criticism or blame,  if we communicate with empathy - exposing our feelings and needs and helping others do the same - then we can take a breath, relax and return to the present moment. Then, despite whatever cloud haunted us in the past or whatever fear loomed from the future, we can stop in the present and notice.

And so I do.  I sigh to myself and am aware: I took a risk, confronted my tiger by expressing myself, and Whew, I'm still here. I'm ALIVE!  

Readers:  Please share your reflections, stories and questions below.  Your authentic communication helps provide a supportive cyber-community from which all of us can benefit!

[Pictured above is one of my supportive communities at a recent Day of Mindfulness in Miami (see  Together, they help me remember that the present moment is the only place to find happiness.]

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Next Phase: The Journey Inward

It's been two weeks since I returned from points west to our new home at 4 Foxfire Road, Hollywood, FL 33021. In the midst of traveling the country, I felt saturated daily with the myriad objects of my perception, from the wide open golden plains and blue skies of Nebraska to the chill of majestic mountains and bugling elks in Colorado to the sandy pueblos and painted desert of Arizona.

Now that I'm back and have soaked in the extensive variations of that environmental marinating process, the next phase of my journey begins.  I sense it's time for me to get cooking and give equal time to explore the inner terrain as well.  The idea that there's no separation between what's "out there" and what's "in here" has floated in my awareness for some time.  The ever changing cloud formations and weather patterns to which I was recently exposed have a corresponding internal dimension within my own psyche. 

Inasmuch as I indulged my five senses with glorious new stimuli and was eager to record what I saw -- my digital camera was often at hand -  I now commit myself to explore the objects of my mind - mental formations of the present and stories of past experiences that have become almost permanent psychic fixtures - and to put them out "for the record."  I hope that by investigating the phenomena objectively I will gain further clarity about that inner terrain and shed light on the perpetuation of or possible liberation from suffering. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

My True Home

There's more to say about those "Five Question," but I've been interrupted.  In the midst of our travels across country, we got a phone call telling us that our bid on a foreclosure we had submitted before we left Florida (and that I had been delighted to forget) had just been accepted. 

Good news and bad news both!   Selling our home this spring and taking to the "open road" as nomads has been a living inquiry into the question of what HOME means to me, in the truest sense.  Then suddenly with that one phone call,  the question became very immediate and very concrete.  Did we or did we not want the HOME?  The interruption of this blog resulted from shifting my focus away from the quest for my "True Home" and towards the decision to sign a contract for a place we that we could now own.

My practical side can certainly recognize the value of ownership, a good investment, timing in the housing market, etc. etc. But as for the rest of me - Oh My!  I had so recently felt liberated by letting go of possessions - the house, furniture, fixtures, clothes and collectibles and yes, even the enormous quantity of books I had carted from one place to another for years!

Once on the road, as we traveled the scenic roads in Georgia and South Carolina and then along the Blue Ridge Parkway,  trees and wildlife were our new neighbors and I felt as expansive as Julie Andrews with arms wide open, singing "The Hills Are Alive..."  The thought of another roof and more walls,  practical as that might be for a future time, began to elicit some kind of anticipatory anxiety for me.  I was afraid I might let my perspective succumb to a mental contraction.

Thich Nhat Hanh 2009
Last year around this time (August 2009),  I had the privilege of attending a Mindfulness retreat with the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh.The retreat had been titled "Be Peace, Be Joy, Be Hope."  Sitting with hundreds of others in meditation, I followed  the sound of the bell and let it lead me back to my " "True Home."  Spacious and peaceful. 

Sunrise Walking Meditation, Stonehill Retreat 2009
During the walking meditation,  the words of our teacher "Thay" helped me concentrate as I placed one foot down after the other.  "Peace is every step," I repeated to myself as I brought my attention to the solid sensation of the earth supporting me in the present moment.  "I have arrived." With every step.  Here and now.  "I am home." 

In the rarified ambience of the retreat, I was grateful to have experienced a beautiful place within, beyond the mental limitations of my thoughts and emotions.  Now, faced with the prospect of another home in the material sense, I recall the peacefulness of the retreat and strive to center myself again. 
Just as a snail carries its home outside itself, I too carry my HOME, but within.  Being mindful of that, I begin to ease into my comfort zone again, as I let go of the fear that my external  home will entrap me.   Knowing that my mindfulness is the ONLY thing over which I have control, I can celebrate this newly purchased property as a shelter to which I can return, a space to host guests, a place to call home.  Wherever I come or go, to places strange or familiar, far or near, that I own or not -- I breathe in and out, knowing that my home within can be my only True home.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Five Questions That Change Everything...

As I was saying in my first (Belatedly, Beginning...) blog, I attended the above titled workshop last weekend at the Kripalu Yoga Center. The title promised a lot and surprisingly, it delivered! Led by John Scherer and Lynnea Brinkerhoff, the workshop was structured around the Five Questions, also the title of John's book and website (see

If you're like me, you might want to know what those questions are straight away. I know I did. Not to keep you in suspense, I've cut and pasted them directly from John's website and here they are:

The Five Questions
1.What CONFRONTS me? What ‘tigers’ do I need to face?’

2.What am I BRINGING? What is my history with this situation? What am I saying to myself that makes it hard for me to face this ‘tiger’?

3.What RUNS me? Where am I ‘on autopilot’ and don’t realize it? How is that affecting what I do all day long-and in my life in general?

4.What CALLS me? What bone-deep gifts, talents or capabilities do I possess that call out to be expressed more fully in my life and work? What kind of difference would I like to think my life could make in the world?

5.What will UNLEASH me? What will it take for me to finally get out of my own way and BE fully who I am in the world?

Opening up even one of those questions could be daunting, but doing so within the nurturing ambience of support that John & Lynnea skillfully cultivated was energizing and provocative.  As a team, they masterfully balanced each other, providing structure while also mindful of process -  knowing when to teach content and when to let experience itself be the lesson and how to weave it all together into an integrated whole.  High praise, eh?  Yes, but it was well deserved.
For myself, the learning happened on different levels.  As a professional, I was curious about how they'd pull off the program's promise.  As a participant, I noticed my traditional critical stance, waiting for them to make errors, to stumble or even to fall.  As the program unfolded, I couldn't help but confront my own tendency to withhold my full engagement, to hold myself back in reserve.  As ready as I was to criticize and judge THEM, I noticed my tendency to preemptively protect myself from criticism and judgment.  
So, there you go.  I answered the first question.  In order to keep myself safe from critical judgment, I have been reluctant to face the tiger of expressing myself openly.   Taking the risk of expressing myself - in the blogosphere no less - is a huge stretch for me.  But, didn't I signed up for CHANGE?!!   Isn't that the promise I hold out to clients?  If it's going to work for them, it has to work for me.  So here I am - vulnerable & sharing, both scarey and refreshing.  There's more to come...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Belatedly, beginning a blog...

Back in April, 2010 when I first announced that our house in Miami Beach was to be sold with no other to take its place - that instead my husband Tom & I would take to the road and follow our hearts' content - the suggestion that I blog kept repeating itself.  Now, here we are in August and I'm actually going to begin.

Despite ambivalence, I'll stick my neck out here because I am now navigating with a new GPS - a Greater Purpose Statement that helps me set my direction and stay on track.  Here it is:

"Curious, caring and evolved, I am determined to harness my full power, taking risks in expressing my truths so that I can inspire positive action to alleviate suffering, orchestrate harmony and reveal joy in the world."

That (evolving) statement is the product of a workshop I took with 17 others in the Berkshire Mountains a weekend ago at Kripalu, a yoga retreat center (see 

Traveling in the area seemed a perfect time to check Kripalu out, especially as I still needed additional Continuing Education Units (CEU's) to renew my FL psychotherapy license by March 2011.  Perfect!   The workshop offering the most CEU's that weekend was "Five Questions That Change Everything" with John Scherer and Lynnea Brinkerhoff.

I'll share more about the five questions in the next blog.  But for now, I can say, the blog has begun!